Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987

Wednesday Night at Willie Wombat's

By Lucky_Ladybug

Notes: The characters aren't mine and the story is! I was watching Phantom of the Sewers and decided a deliberate send-up of Five Nights at Freddy's would be fun. ThickerThanLove helped with some plot elements. This is part of my Exit the Fly verse. Baxter is human again and an ally of the Turtles. His brother Barney no longer works for Shredder.

Irma clutched Vernon's arm as they advanced, trembling, along the darkened street.

"Just what are we doing here anyway?!" Vernon moaned. "There's nothing to see here but the ratty remains of that pizza restaurant!"

"You know what Mr. T-Thompson said, Vernon," Irma quavered. "People have been disappearing and we n-need to c-cover the story."

"But I don't want to!" Vernon wailed.

The strange sound of moving gears froze them both in their tracks.

"Vernon?" Irma whispered. "What's that?"

Now a hulking silhouette was approaching them from the shadows. More squeaking gears. Then, the most horrible sound of all.

"Because it's fun to be a wombat, a wombat, a wombaaaat . . ."

The silhouette stepped under a streetlamp.

Vernon and Irma dove into each other's arms with shared screams of horror.

xxxx

The sounds of Michelangelo's current computer game had been driving the other Turtles nuts for the last two hours. Finally Raphael walked over to him in frustration. "Michelangelo, what are you doing?" he demanded.

"Hey, chill out, Compadre," Michelangelo retorted. "These creepazoids keep getting the better of me!" The character on the screen went to the door and a grotesque face was suddenly leering in at him. Michelangelo yelped, falling back in his chair. "See what I mean?!"

Game Over flashed across the screen.

"Okay," Raphael said. "That's a perfect place to stop."

"But, like, I almost had it!" Michelangelo protested. "Just one more game . . ."

"No!" Leonardo and Donatello echoed.

"Sorry, Michelangelo, but I need the computer now," Donatello added.

"Major bummer, Dudes," Michelangelo sighed. "I wonder if Baxter would let me play on his computer. . . ."

"Probably," Raphael grunted. "Why don't you go topside and ask him?"

Before Michelangelo could reply, his Turtle-Comm went off. He flipped it open. "What's up, April?" he greeted.

"Guys, do you remember Willie Wombat's Pizza Pan Theatre?" April exclaimed.

"Do we!" Raphael declared. "That Chuck E. Cheese ripoff still gives me nightmares!"

"Well, now it's giving nightmares to a whole lot more people!" April said. "For the last several nights, people walking in that area have been disappearing! And now Irma and Vernon have been added to the list!"

"Oh no," Michelangelo gasped. "Say no more, April. We're coming up!"

"Yeah, and Michelangelo is especially qualified after all the hours he's put in on Five Nights at Freddy's," Raphael said with a roll of his eyes.

"Actually, this is starting to sound like the plot of those games," Michelangelo gulped. "The site of an old pizza pan theatre, people disappearing and all. . . ."

"Baxter and I'll meet you guys there," April said.

"Have Barney and Vincent been told too?" Michelangelo asked.

"Yes. Baxter let them know where we're going in case something goes wrong," April said. "And it probably will. I'm sure they're all set to fly out the door."

Leonardo was already rushing to the exit. "Let's go, Turtles!"

The others wasted no time in following him.

xxxx

Baxter was tense when the news van pulled up next to another news van on the now-desolate street. "There's no sign of Vernon and Irma," he frowned.

"And all the doors are standing wide open," April cried.

The Turtle Van pulled up just as they were getting out of the news van. "Whoa, mondo bizarro," Michelangelo exclaimed, his eyes wide.

Baxter walked over to the vacant property and peered at the wrecked building. "The entire restaurant is back on the surface," he said in disbelief. "Shouldn't it be underground, in pieces?"

"Oh, there were pieces," Raphael retorted. "They floated past the Lair for weeks!"

"But now, somehow, the majority of the building is intact," April said. "It's no wonder this area has been condemned since the explosion!" She looked to Baxter. "As for what it's doing back on the surface, I have to admit I don't know. Naturally the hole was repaired by the city months ago, but I don't remember hearing that they brought the building back up and cobbled it back together!"

"Seriously spooky, Dudes," Michelangelo intoned.

"And I have worse news," Leonardo said. "We're going to have to go inside to solve this mystery!"

"Well," Raphael gulped, "a Turtle's gotta do what a Turtle's gotta do." He gripped his sais and tried to steadfastly march towards the building.

The last thing any of them expected to hear was the sound of music tuning up inside.

"What the heck?!" Raphael ran to the window and looked in. "Alright, who's in there?!"

"Maybe it's Vernon and Irma, trying to send some kind of S.O.S.!" April exclaimed.

"Well, if it is, I don't see them anywhere!" Raphael retorted. He went over to the open doorway and stood there, trying to see into the darkness.

"Let's just go in," Leonardo encouraged. Deciding to take the lead, he walked past Raphael into the building.

The others followed.

"Whoa," Michelangelo gulped. "This place seriously looks reminiscent of Freddy's in the dark like this."

"Freddy's?" April raised an eyebrow.

"You know-that mondo creepy game where these animatronic things are out to get you and you have to keep them away," Michelangelo said.

"Which Michelangelo has been tying up the home computer with for days on end now," Raphael said. He looked around uneasily. "And honestly, that's probably a pretty accurate description!"

The group arrived in the restaurant room and Baxter took out a flashlight to beam around the broken tables. "The music is coming from up there," he announced, pointing the light towards the back of the room and the stage. One curtain was half-off, while the other was still upright.

"But there's nobody on the stage," Donatello frowned.

"Maybe not, but surely you can't deny that there is sound and that it's coming from there," Raphael said.

"Well, no, I can't," Donatello admitted.

"Oh, this is ridiculous!" April fumed. She ran ahead of the rest of them. "Irma! Vernon! Is that you? Where are you?!"

The only answer was the continuing music.

"It's no use," Leonardo sighed. "We're just going to have to keep looking around."

"Maybe we should split up?" Raphael suggested. His tone conveyed that he would rather do anything else.

"No way!" Michelangelo gasped. "That's the worst thing you can do! When groups split up in horror flicks, somebody always gets it!"

"Well, this isn't a horror flick," Donatello frowned. "This is real-life, and we really need to cover as much ground as possible!"

"I think for right now we should stick together," Leonardo said. "This place isn't very big." Something creaked on the other side of the large room and he flinched. "I mean, there aren't that many rooms."

Baxter jerked his flashlight in the direction of the sound. "That's odd," he frowned. "I don't see anything . . ."

He trailed off as what looked like a badly damaged rabbit robot leaped out at him, its mouth open wide in a grin that would ordinarily be welcoming but was now horrifying. He yelped, jumping backwards into Michelangelo, who also shrieked. "What the heck?! These things should have floated out to the ocean months ago!"

"Okay, see? Now this is why dolls and animal mascots are utterly terrifying!" Raphael burst out.

"Oh, come on, guys," April said. "It's just a bunny rabbit. What harm could it cause?"

It held out its arms and knocked Baxter's flashlight somewhere to the floor. The light clattered across the old wood and clicked off.

"That, for starters!" Raphael cried.

Donatello pulled out his Turtle-Comm and opened it. "These will give a little light," he said. "Of course, we'll have to be careful not to run them down all the way in case we need to call for help."

The rabbit continued to clomp across the floor. When Donatello shined his light towards it, it was heading for the stage.

"Oh no," Raphael said flatly. "It isn't."

"It is," Leonardo sighed. "It's going to sing."

The rabbit reached center stage, spread its arms wide, and started to not only sing, but dance.

"I'm a happy little bunny, hopping by to say, Willie Wombat's Pizza Pan Theatre is the best in every way!"

"Okay, I can't be the only one who sees how disturbing this is," Raphael said.

The rabbit leaned forward and nearly tipped over. Bare wires and gears showed through parts of its chest, arms, and legs.

April was busy filming. "This is incredible!" she exclaimed. "Who could have rebuilt this robot enough that it can still function?!"

Michelangelo gulped. "Uh, maybe nobody did," he quavered.

Baxter turned and raised an eyebrow. "What are you saying, Michelangelo?"

"Well . . ." Michelangelo shifted. "This is already so much like Five Nights at Freddy's. Maybe just like there, the robots can get up and walk around by themselves and stuff. I mean, it's not like they were ever shut down."

"Hey, we shut them down!" Raphael countered. "They never could have got up and started walking and dancing and singing after we trashed them!"

"Actually, aside from the three we fought, I think they mostly trashed themselves," Leonardo mused.

"Whatever," Raphael snapped. "The point is that there's no way they got up and started moving without someone to rebuild them enough to get them going!"

"Whom do you suspect?" Baxter asked, folding his arms.

". . . No one right now," Raphael said helplessly. "Unless Bogart Flywheel did it. . . . I mean, he was kind of cracked, thinking of these things as his children. . . ."

Baxter gave Raphael a sad smile. "Then every scientist and creative genius must be 'cracked,'" he said. "If you work hard on something and pour your whole heart and soul into it, then yes, it becomes like your child."

"Are you saying your Mousers are . . ." Raphael trailed off and shook his head. "That's just too weird."

"Maybe someday you'll understand," Baxter said softly.

"Well, right now I think we've got bigger problems!" April gasped. "Look at that!" She pointed to where three more robots were emerging onto the stage with the rabbit.

Baxter stared. "A water buffalo, a hippopotamus, and a walrus."

"Oh my gosh!" April cried. "The walrus! It's wearing thick pink glasses!"

Raphael's stomach dropped. "Just like Irma's, huh?"

Without waiting to reply, April ran forward and started to climb onto the stage. "Alright, you walking menaces! What have you done with Irma?!"

"April, get down from there!" Raphael yelped. He chased after her.

"Yeah!" Michelangelo exclaimed, hurrying after him. "You should really leave the zombie robots alone!"

"Zombie robots?" Baxter blinked.

"Well, they kind of are, aren't they?" Michelangelo said.

April had just managed to snatch Irma's glasses from the walrus when the rabbit hit a loose floorboard. The stage crumbled, taking all four robots and April along with it. The reporter's terrified scream rent the building before it was suddenly silenced.

"April!" the remainder of the group cried in horror.

Raphael ran and hauled himself onto the stage, peering into the darkness below. "April, come on! Where are you?!" He shined his Turtle-Comm into the hole.

"Do you see her, Dude?!" Michelangelo demanded.

"No!" Raphael continued to stare in disbelief. "I don't see any of them! But . . . that's not possible! They have to be down there!"

"Uh, guys? I have more bad news," Donatello spoke up. "My Turtle-Comm's power is running low. They weren't meant to stay open for extended periods of time."

"I see my flashlight," Baxter announced. "It's over by you, Michelangelo."

"Oh." Michelangelo bent down and picked it up. "Maximum bummer! It's cracked!" He showed it to Baxter in dismay.

Baxter cringed. "I should have known."

"Then . . . we're going to be completely in the dark as soon as our Turtle-Comms all run down," Leonardo realized. "We can't go down there without being able to see anything! We might step through a hole in the floor or get assaulted by one of those robots! That wouldn't help April at all."

"We have flashlights in the Turtle Van, don't we?!" Raphael exclaimed.

"They're not exactly standard ninja equipment, Raphael," Donatello pointed out.

"There should be some more in the news van," Baxter said.

"I'll go get them," Raphael volunteered. "We have to get down there and find April!"

"And obviously Irma must be in the vicinity as well," Baxter worried. "And Vernon, most likely."

"Yeah," Raphael said quietly. "But in what condition?"

No one knew how to answer. No one was sure they wanted to.

xxxx

"Barney. . . ."

Barney looked up at the sound of Vincent's worried voice. They were in the laboratory while Barney was going over some plans for a new invention he had been pondering. Vincent had mostly been quiet, looking at the plans with him and entertaining himself by checking on the latest news. Barney hadn't expected the sudden outburst and his glasses slipped almost completely off his nose when he raised his head.

"Barney, maybe we shouldn't have let Baxter go off on that dangerous news assignment without us," Vincent said.

"We can't hold his hand on every assignment," Barney grunted. "Nor would he want us to."

"Yes, but don't you know how many people have disappeared in that area in the past several days?!" Vincent exclaimed.

Barney frowned. "Baxter said he and April O'Neil were going to look for their coworkers."

"Vernon and Irma were only the latest in a long string of disappearances," Vincent informed him. "The police have been trying to keep the full story from getting out because they don't want to create a city-wide panic. I just hacked into their files. Barney, 10 people are missing!"

Barney had been about to comment on Vincent's illegal activities, but the findings caused him to rethink his priorities. "Then we have to get out there," he determined. "Baxter no doubt needs our help." He passed the Turtle-Comm to Vincent. "Here. Try to reach him on this."

Vincent opened it and pressed the button for Baxter's frequency while they hurried out of the laboratory and towards the front door. "Baxter?" he called.

The picture that he got back was very dark. He could barely make out Baxter's silhouette. "Vincent!" The relief and the fear were both strong in Baxter's voice.

"Pal, are you alright?" Vincent demanded.

"I won't lie to you, Vincent. Something is very wrong here." In the background it sounded like an overly cheery voice singing. "The restaurant is back on the surface. Not only that, the animatronic robots that should have been completely destroyed are apparently still operational. They're going about performing their usual duties, from singing on the stage to mingling with the guests. April fell through the stage with some of them, right after discovering Irma's glasses on one! Now we can't find her or get her to respond. And there's at least one more of these . . . these things going up and down the hall!"

"It's totally like Five Nights at Freddy's!" Michelangelo wailed. "Raphael went out to get more flashlights and he hasn't come back yet!"

"His Turtle-Comm must have died," Donatello added. "We can't reach him on it."

"Like, did you have to use the D word?" Michelangelo quavered.

"Light seems to keep the robots away, at least minimally," Baxter said. "But the first one we encountered rather shamelessly knocked my flashlight out of my hand. And all of our Turtle-Comms are almost out of power!"

"We're coming right now," Vincent promised. He and Barney were outside now and hurrying to get into the car.

"I hate for you to risk your safety too!" Baxter fretted. "But so many are potentially in danger here. Please hurry."

"We should be there within twenty minutes," Barney barked. But that was plenty of time for more things to go wrong. They might get there and find no one around at all. The thought chilled his blood.

"Thank you," Baxter said softly. "I'd better hang up and try to conserve the power."

"You do that," Barney agreed.

"But please try to contact us again if something else goes wrong," Vincent begged. He flew back against the seat as Barney pealed down the driveway and off the property.

"I will," Baxter said. "Oh my goodness!"

"Something's already wrong?!" Barney snapped.

"That . . . that thing just went past the doorway," Baxter choked out. "And I'm almost positive it was carrying Vernon!"

Vincent was stunned. "Did he look alive?" He hated to ask when Vernon was Baxter's friend, but he was growing more terrified for Baxter's and the others' safety by the moment. He wanted to know just how badly he needed to worry.

"I . . . I don't know!" Baxter wailed. "It was carrying him in its arms. He looked very limp."

"Was he bleeding?" Barney asked.

"I couldn't tell," Baxter said. "His clothes looked badly torn." He hurried to the doorway and looked out. "I think it may have gone into the kitchen."

"Whoa, mondo bizarro!" Michelangelo gasped. "What would it take him in there for?!"

"I can't imagine, but I can't just stay in here after I saw that!" Baxter cried.

"Well, you're not going alone," Leonardo said. "You're right, we have to try to save Vernon. But someone needs to wait here for Raphael and to see if April tries to get through to us. She might wake up and start calling for help."

"I'll stay," Donatello said.

Leonardo frowned. "I don't like to leave you here by yourself."

"Yeah!" Michelangelo gasped. "The dude left alone always gets it!"

"I won't 'get it,'" Donatello insisted. "We don't know how many of you it might take to beat one of those things. They were pretty formidable before."

"They should be easy now," Leonardo said. "But I don't know that I can bet on that." He sighed, weighing things in his mind. "Alright, let's go."

Barney didn't like any of this. "You could be walking into a trap," he scolded.

"I know," Baxter shuddered. "But what can I do, Barney? This is a horrible situation. Several of my friends are missing. I can't do anything about April at the moment, but I have to try to save Vernon!"

"Of course you do," Barney grumbled. "Just be as careful as you possibly can!"

"I will," Baxter said with a weak smile.

Vincent stiffened as Baxter disconnected the call. "What do you think is going on there, Buddy?" he worried.

"I haven't the vaguest idea," Barney frowned. "Shouldn't you have some thoughts on the matter, considering that those animatronics are electronic creations?"

"Well . . . someone could be controlling them," Vincent said slowly. "But they could also be operating completely on their own. In my experience, all technological wonders, even Earth ones, should never be underestimated."

"Will you be able to override them and shut them down?" Barney wondered.

"You'd think so," Vincent said. "I'll certainly try when we get there."

"What about the restaurant appearing on the surface again?" Barney persisted. "Do you think they had enough presence of mind to do that?"

"Honestly, from what I've heard about them, I wouldn't think so," Vincent said. "It sounds like they're just doing what they were programmed to do. But then again, since part of their programming was robbing banks and presumably lifting safes, I wonder if they possibly could have moved the restaurant to the surface."

"I don't know how to handle any of this," Barney said, shaking his head. "It's too outlandish." His eyes narrowed. "All I really know is that Baxter and our friends are in danger. And we have to save them."

"I wonder if the creator of the robots could help," Vincent suggested.

"Try to contact him," Barney immediately responded. "It couldn't hurt."

Vincent looked up the man's contact information and soon sent off an email. "We'll just have to wait and see if he answers," he said.

"Meanwhile, we'll do everything we can to solve this without his help," Barney vowed. He prayed hard in his mind. This was a menace against which he had no idea how to fight. But fight they would to save their loved ones.

We should have just left as soon as Baxter told us about this assignment, he thought to himself. I was never protective enough. I didn't want to slip back into that behavior again!

"Barney?" Vincent was looking at him in concern. "Are you alright?"

Barney growled. "Why is it I can never find a proper balance, Vincent? I never wanted to mollycoddle Baxter or act like a mother hen with him, so I went overboard in the other direction. So many times he honestly needed help and I did nothing because I was trying to get him to handle his problems on his own!" He glowered out at the night. "I always handled mine that way. I wanted him to be strong and tough so he wouldn't get hurt. And instead my strength was a mask for my weakness and Baxter's supposed weakness was also his strength."

"You've been doing a lot of soul-searching about yourself lately, Buddy," Vincent observed.

"I know." Barney frowned. "I always knew that about my reasons for not helping in the back of my mind, but you really started making me realize it on a conscious level."

"You've been trying hard to find that balance," Vincent told him. "You've been protective when you've recognized he needed it, but you've stepped back to let him handle things that he can deal with on his own. And when you realize you've made a mistake, you rush to correct it."

"Yes, but in this case, am I realizing too late?" Barney retorted.

"I don't think so," Vincent said. "We'll be there in a few minutes. I'm sure they can hold them off that long."

Barney grunted. "I hope you're right."

So do I, Vincent thought to himself.

xxxx

Baxter didn't know what kind of horrible sight they would see upon entering the kitchen. But as they creeped up on it and slowly pushed one of the swinging doors open, his jaw dropped in utter and complete horror.

A chipmunk robot was lying on the steel counter like it was a slab. It was also open along the seams like a book. Most of the inner workings were gone, as well as the head, and Vernon's limp body was being placed inside in the missing parts' stead by the aardvark robot that had been carrying him.

"No way!" Michelangelo gasped. "What's it doing to him?!"

"It's going to use Vernon to power that other robot," Baxter cried. He ran into the kitchen. "Stop! Leave him alone!"

The aardvark's only response was to attach several wires to Vernon's head and snap the chipmunk closed. When it flipped a switch, Vernon's eyes opened, but they were blank. The chipmunk robot slowly sat up.

Baxter fell back in shock. "Vernon . . . !"

One arm slowly raised, revealing a blaster in the wrist. Baxter only barely managed to leap aside as the Vernon-powered robot blasted at him.

"Oh my gosh!" Leonardo exclaimed. "Maybe this is where all the missing people have gone! Maybe they're all powering the robots!"

"Only there has to be at least one that's an actual robot that started abducting people," Baxter shuddered.

"This is totally nutzoid!" Michelangelo burst out. "Vernon, come on, wake up! You don't want to do this!"

Vernon responded only by blasting at him and Leonardo as well. Then, blankly, he clomped out the door. The aardvark robot followed, completely unconcerned about the non-robot entities in the room.

Donatello ran to the doorway of the main room and looked into the hall. "What's going on?!" he gasped.

"That robot put Vernon in another robot!" Michelangelo told him. "Somehow it's, I don't know, hooked up the controls to read his brainwaves or something. Vernon walked off in it, but I don't think he even knows what he's doing!"

Donatello stared at the two robots lumbering down the corridor in the direction opposite from him. "This is incredible," he breathed, his eyes wide. "I wonder if Irma is inside the robot that had her glasses!"

"We have to get them out of there!" Baxter burst out. He felt so helpless! It was a horrible feeling, to watch a friend be used against his will in such a bizarre and cruel manner. And he hated to think how Vernon would react when it was over.

"But we have to figure out how to do it without getting blasted," Leonardo said. "If we could pull those wires away, maybe it would break the robot's control over Vernon." He looked worriedly down the hall. "We really need Raphael here. I think I'd better go outside and look for him."

"Like, maybe he got back inside but one of these things is chasing him!" Michelangelo suggested.

"That's possible too," Leonardo grimly agreed. "Donatello, you stay in the main room and keep trying to get April to respond. Michelangelo, you and Baxter try to track those robots. I'm going to look for Raphael."

"Right, Dude," Michelangelo nodded.

"Be careful," Baxter exclaimed.

"Like, seriously!" Michelangelo agreed. "Now we know the robots are also still responding to those criminal commands Rufus Higbee gave them!"

"And we thought they were bad before," Donatello moaned.

xxxx

Deep in the hole under the stage, April finally stirred to the sound of muffled cries and one of the robots shaking. "W-What on Earth?!" she gasped. Quickly she opened her Turtle-Comm as a light source and set it down as she stared at the walrus robot. "That sounds like . . . Irma! But . . . that's not possible! . . . Is it?"

She reached out and attempted to unscrew the robot's head. It came fairly easily, to her surprise. And to her shock and horror, Irma was staring back at her!

"April!" Irma's eyes filled with tears of relief. "Thank goodness you've come! Get me out of here!"

"How?!" April demanded.

"I think the body clicks open on the side or something." Irma struggled. "Me and Vernon got kidnapped by one of these awful things and we saw it putting someone else inside a robot. When we tried to run for it, they chased us down! I don't know where Vernon is. One of the robots knocked me out to stuff me in here! They hook up wires to our heads or something. They must have come loose on me in the fall."

Finally April located a seam. "I think I've got it!" She pulled and it clicked open. Inside, the body was mostly hollow save for Irma. She scrambled out, still shaking.

"Oh, you haven't seen my glasses anywhere, have you?" Irma asked.

"Yeah, I did." April looked around and soon spotted them. "Here." She held them out.

Irma gratefully accepted them. "We'd better open these other robots and see if people are in them!" she said.

"I know." April searched for the seam on the next one. "This is just so surreal! I can hardly believe this is happening! They're kidnapping humans to power themselves?! What for?!"

"Search me," Irma shrugged. "Maybe they were too busted to run any other way."

"And one of them had enough intelligence to come up with this method of keeping the other robots alive?!" April exclaimed.

"I think you've been hanging around Vincent too long," Irma said flatly. "There must be some other explanation."

At last they opened the other robots. Humans were indeed inside every one of them, all unconscious but all still alive.

"Oh wow!" April gasped. "I've gotta get in touch with the Turtles and tell them all about this!"

"Vernon's not here," Irma said morosely. "He must be upstairs somewhere." She shuddered. "I hate to think how he'll deal with this."

April reached for her Turtle-Comm. "Were you really aware of anything while you were inside the robot?" she asked.

"Not when the wires were attached," Irma said. "Then it was just like I was connected to this weird computer and I had no choice but to obey its orders."

"That is so creepy!" April scowled as the Turtle-Comm's light dimmed. "Oh great. The power's almost gone!"

"Hey, don't worry, April!" Donatello's voice suddenly came from above. "I'm right here."

"Can you get us out of here?!" Irma demanded. "There's some other people down here too!"

In a moment a rope came down near them. "Here's my grappling hook," Donatello said. "Come on up."

"The other people are unconscious!" April told him.

"Then I'll come down for them after you two are safely up here," Donatello insisted.

The girls were more than happy to comply. After an uneventful climb, they came down from the broken stage while dusting themselves off. "Where's everyone else?!" April asked.

"Raphael went to get more flashlights so we could go looking for you in the dark, but he never came back," Donatello said. "Leonardo's looking for him. Michelangelo and Baxter are tracking two robots. Vernon's . . . er, in one of them."

"There's humans in almost all of them!" Irma squealed. "I was in one, and those other people down there were in some more!"

"This is so bizarre," Donatello said, shaking his head. "But you can tell me more later. I'll go get those other people." He slid down the rope. "Don't go anywhere!"

"Don't worry; we won't," April said dryly.

The sound of gears brought them to attention and they stared as a grinning elephant robot approached their position from backstage.

". . . Unless we have to," April moaned.

xxxx

Raphael had actually returned to the building with the flashlights long ago, but even though he should have easily found the restaurant room, somehow he hadn't. A wrong turn had taken him down a hallway that never seemed to end or get back to the main room.

"Oh man, this is ridiculous!" he fumed to himself. "Where the heck am I?!" He shined a light up and down the corridor. "Guys? Hey! Where are you?! Come out, come out, wherever you are!"

The last thing he expected to see was a robot abruptly turning a corner and coming towards him. A robot clearly powered by a blank-eyed Vernon.

"Gah!" Raphael beamed one of the flashlights directly at him. "Vernon, what the heck are you doing in there?! Cut it out! Wake up!"

Vernon did not react other than to raise one wrist and blast at him.

Raphael barely managed to somersault out of the way in time. "Oh brother!" he gasped. "What am I going to do about this?!" Fear stabbed his heart. This was already so much like that game of Michelangelo's. What if Vernon was . . . dead in that thing? Raphael couldn't see anything other than his head. Maybe the rest of him was hopelessly twisted and mangled. The Turtle swallowed hard. That was a fate he wouldn't wish even on Vernon.

"Raphael!"

He looked up with a start as Baxter appeared from the other end of the hallway. "Oh boy, am I glad to see somebody acting normal!" he cried. "Look what happened to Vernon!"

"I know," Baxter said sadly. "Michelangelo and I have been tracking him."

Michelangelo ran up next to Baxter. "We've gotta get him out of that thing!"

"Are you sure there's even anything left to save?!" Raphael retorted.

"The robot is mostly hollow, save for some components in the wrists, feet, and near the top," Baxter said. "Wires have somehow been hooked up to Vernon's skull. I believe it's so his brainwaves can power the robot. Barney could probably tell us more. He and Vincent are on their way."

"Yeah? Well, what do we do in the meantime?!" Raphael shot back, dodging another spray of laser blasts from the wrist gun. "Just casually walk up to him and pull out those wires?!"

"First let's tie him up!" Michelangelo said, swinging his grappling hook. It wrapped around Vernon, binding his arms to his sides. "There! Just like a Thanksgiving turkey, heh heh."

Vernon tore free of the rope in the next moment and turned to start blasting at Michelangelo.

"Yeah? Well, now you're the duck!" Raphael cried. "The sitting duck!"

"There were two robots," Baxter suddenly remembered. "Where's the other one?!"

Almost as if on cue, the aardvark robot ran out of another room and clomped towards them.

"Oh, way to jinx us, Baxter," Raphael growled.

Baxter dived between its legs and got behind it. "Maybe if I can just wrench its head off . . ." He leaped on its back, fighting with the robot's head. But when it clicked free and he fell backwards to the floor, there was no human inside the rest of the robot.

"Uh oh. Maximum bummer, Dudes," Michelangelo gulped. "This must be one of the ringleaders!"

The aardvark robot turned, grabbing the head back from Baxter and replacing it. It tried to blast him, but he skittered out of the way.

"Where's Vernon?!" he gasped in realization.

"Oh great! While this thing distracted us, Vernon got away!" Raphael exploded in frustration.

"We have to find him!" Baxter insisted.

"Then you and Michelangelo keep looking," Leonardo suddenly said as he ran up the hallway. "Raphael and I'll take care of this one!"

"Uh, we will?" Raphael raised an eyebrow.

"Unless you want to look for Vernon instead," Leonardo said. He leaped at the aardvark with both katanas. It spun just in time, grabbing one sword between its hands.

"Eh. I'll help here," Raphael said.

Michelangelo and Baxter hurried off in search of Vernon.
xxxx

Barney and Vincent were just pulling up at the site when the Turtle-Comm went off. Barney grabbed for it this time. "Baxter?!"

"I wanted to let you know that the situation has grown even more serious," Baxter gulped. Quickly he explained about Vernon and what the robots seemed to be doing.

"They're putting people inside the robots?!" Barney was in disbelief.

"Yes! Please be careful," Baxter pleaded. "I don't know if they're planning to use any more people or not."

Barney got out of the car. "There's 10 people missing," he said. "Do you know how many robots there are?"

"I'm afraid not," Baxter sighed.

"I can look it up," Vincent volunteered. "Oh, here's a message from Bogart Flywheel. He says he's coming right out."

"He's the man who created these monstrosities?" Baxter blinked.

"That's right. He still likes the idea and has been building some new robots for a solo pizza restaurant venture," Vincent reported. "But he sounded very angry in the email. I guess he's never gotten over what happened to the first batch."

"I wonder if you should wait for him," Baxter said slowly. Something crashed in the background and a piercing scream split the soundwaves.

"Let's not," Barney retorted. "He can find us easily enough when he comes."

"I suppose that's true. It sounded like Irma screaming!" Baxter looked towards a corner. "I'd better go."

"We'll catch up with you," Barney said as he disconnected the call.

xxxx

Irma had indeed screamed. She and April were flinging tables and chairs at the lumbering elephant robot, trying to stop it in its tracks. But it merely stomped over them and kept coming, forcing the girls to run to other parts of the room.

"Donatello, are you almost done?!" April demanded.

"Give me a break!" Donatello retorted. "It takes a while to bring up three unconscious people, even for a Ninja Turtle! But yeah, this is the last one." He set the stirring person down and grabbed his bo to join the fight.

Irma was staring at the elephant as she ran behind an arcade game. "Vernon?" she quavered. "That's . . . that's not you, is it?"

The robot pushed the game out of the way and Irma shrieked, flying over a video game's racing car with amazing skill.

She nearly plowed right into Vernon as he entered through another door.

"Oh. . . ." Irma backed up as Vernon advanced on her. "Vernon? Vern? You can hear me, right?" She swallowed hard. Who was she kidding? She hadn't heard anything when that other robot had used her brainwaves to control itself. She had been little more than a zombie. And Vernon's blank eyes said that he was not aware of her or anything else.

Donatello looked over in alarm from where he was leaping on the first robot. "Irma, get out of the way!" he warned. "Vernon's packing firepower!"

Vernon raised a wrist and blasted at her at that moment. Irma jumped out of the way and tripped over a toppled table. Vernon continued to advance.

"Oh no!" April cried. "Irma!" She grabbed a chair and ran at Vernon, smashing the chair on the robot's back.

The only thing that happened was that Vernon turned, picked her up, and threw her halfway across the room.

"April!" Irma peeked up over the edge of the table when she heard her friend scream. But when she did, Vernon grabbed her sweater and lifted her into the air.

"We could really use some more help in here!" Donatello cried in frustration. He was trying to remove the elephant robot's head, but it grabbed his bo, snapped it, and went for him next. They tumbled across the floor.

"And help has arrived!" Michelangelo declared as he and Baxter ran into the room. "Holy guacamole!"

"Vernon!" Baxter said in horror. "Put Irma down!"

Irma struggled, kicking her legs in mid-air. "Vernon, I know you can't hear me, but please, don't do this!" She reached up, gripping the chipmunk robot's furry arm. If she could only reach those wires!

Michelangelo was hoping to leap on Vernon from behind and pull them out. But before he could, a bear and a cow entered through the opposite side of the room and matter-of-factly blasted at him and Baxter. The Turtle yelped as he tumbled to the side, taking Baxter with him.

"What on Earth are we going to do?!" Baxter exclaimed.

"Well, I know what I'm going to do!" April fumed. She got up and started to run forward, but the bear grabbed her from behind and started to squeeze tight against her ribs.

"It's trying to give a new meaning to a bear hug!" Michelangelo gasped. He ran for April; she was now in more immediate danger. "Hey, why don't you pick on somebody your own size?!"

The bear robot turned, dropped April, and grabbed for Michelangelo's nunchuck. It pulled hard, sending Michelangelo soaring overhead.

"Michelangelo!" Baxter cried in horror.

Vernon, meanwhile, had flung Irma to the floor and now was standing over her, both blasters positioned at her chest. Irma went stiff with fear as she looked from the barrels of the weapons to Vernon's cold expression.

"Vernon," she whispered. "Please don't do this. Can you hear me at all? I can't stand to see you like this. You're my friend. I . . . I love you."

It was hard to say what was more shocking-Irma's words or Vernon's reaction. He wavered, a bit of life coming back into his eyes. "Irma?"

Then Leonardo and Raphael were rushing in after defeating the aardvark. Leonardo pulled the wires free from Vernon's head and the man stumbled back, shaking. "What . . . what's happened to me?!" He stared down at himself and went sheet-white. "I'm some kind of mad scientist's experiment! They've turned me into a monster!"

Irma got up. "No, Vernon! You're okay! You're just inside this stupid robot like it's a mascot costume!"

Vernon looked to her. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure," Baxter said, stepping forward. "Michelangelo and I saw a robot putting you in this creation." He felt along the side. "Here!" It clicked open and Vernon staggered out, looking at his hands and feet in sheer joy.

"Oh thank you!" he exclaimed. "I'm myself again! Oh joy!"

"Don't thank me alone," Baxter smiled. "Leonardo took out the wires. And Irma brought you back."

"Irma?" Vernon looked back.

Irma was flushing in a bit of embarrassment now that it was all over and it was dawning on her what she had said, but she was genuinely happy that it had worked. "I'm so glad you're alright," she said.

"I . . . I don't remember much," Vernon stammered. "I . . . I was trying to hurt you, wasn't I?!"

"Not you; the robot," Irma said.

"And you said . . ." Vernon trailed off, staring at her.

"I know," Irma said. "It's true."

"While this is all very touching, kids, we're still not out of the woods yet," Raphael interrupted.

They started and looked up, really focusing on the continuing chaos around them. "Oh gosh," Irma gasped. "April, are you okay?!" She stared as her friend struggled up, clutching her ribs.

"Just peachy keen," April scowled.

"I finally got this one!" Michelangelo said. He dropped a boom from the ceiling onto the bear robot he had been fighting with, pinning it underneath.

"And there's another person in this elephant!" Donatello announced. "I'm getting him free!"

"So that leaves this one . . ." Raphael lunged at the cow with both sais.

"And there's at least one more," Leonardo worried. "If all of them have been active, that is."

The sound of singing began to float to them from down the hall and they all turned, staring towards the doorway.

"Because it's fun to be a wombat, a wombat, a wombaaaat . . ."

Vernon went stiff and clutched at Irma. "Horrors! That's the one that kidnapped us!"

"Oh, Willie Wombat himself, huh?" Raphael sighed. "I should've figured."

When the wombat robot came into view, everyone continued to stare.

"He's shorter than most of the others," Vernon said in disbelief.

"Well, Baxter and Barney already proved that size matters not," Michelangelo intoned. "Guess it holds true for robots too."

Willie displayed both blasters and leveled them at the room.

"Take cover!" Michelangelo yelped.

Everyone hit the floor as blaster fire rang throughout the room, shooting up tables, chairs, and walls. Then, suddenly, it stopped.

Slowly Raphael looked up from where he and Leonardo had tackled the cow robot to the floor. "Is it out of ammo?"

"No," came Vincent's welcome voice. "I overrode it." Vincent appeared in the doorway, Barney at his side. "There's no human in this one." With a casual push, Vincent knocked the wombat over.

Baxter scrambled up and ran over to his brothers. "I'm certainly glad you didn't wait for Bogart Flywheel!" he declared.

"Seriously," Raphael agreed. "You really saved our shells. That thing probably would have hit somebody if it'd kept blasting."

Leonardo pulled the head off the cow robot. "And there's a person in here too!" he announced.

"At least two of the robots didn't have people inside them," Baxter mused. "So if 10 people were missing, there must still be two hidden in here somewhere!"

"Oh great," Raphael scowled. "So we're not done yet."

"Maybe I can help," came a new voice.

Again everyone looked up. Only the Turtles and April recognized the newcomer, but he was also a welcome sight.

"Hey, Dude!" Michelangelo bounced up and went over to him. "How've you been? Oh, this is Bogart Flywheel," he announced to the humans and Vincent.

"We guessed," said Barney.

"I was doing just fine until someone emailed me and told me that my children were going berserk again," Bogart said. He stared at the room. "How on Earth did it happen?!"

"We were hoping you could tell us," Leonardo replied. He opened the cow robot and took out the dazed person inside.

Donatello nodded. "From the looks of things, Willie Wombat and the aardvark robot somehow reactivated and started kidnapping people to stuff into the other robots. They must be responsible for bringing the restaurant back to the surface and rebuilding it."

"They certainly weren't programmed to do anything like this!" Bogart said in horror.

"They also started blasting at intruders," Raphael said. "Namely, us. And when they plugged in the humans, the humans controlled the robots into carrying out their programming!"

Bogart shook his head. "I think I had better take all of them back with me," he said. "Maybe I can figure out what went wrong and fix it."

"You would really trust these things in your new laboratory or house or wherever after everything they did?" Raphael exclaimed.

"Of course!" Bogart insisted. "I created them. I should be able to repair them." He picked up Willie almost reverently. "I thought they were all lost in the explosion. But here they are!"

Raphael shuddered. Clearly, he still thought Bogart had more than a few screws loose. "Well, have fun with that," he said uneasily.

Bogart straightened and finally noticed Vincent. "This isn't one of mine," he blinked.

Vincent folded his arms. "I'm not a robot," he retorted. "I'm a living computer."

"And he's the one who emailed you," Barney added.

"Incredible," Bogart breathed. "Did you make him?" He looked to Barney.

"I only made the solid energy generator," Barney said. "But you said you might know where the other people are?" he asked pointedly.

"Oh! Yes." Bogart led everyone backstage and opened a door. "This leads downstairs to a storage room."

The Turtles and the Stockmans followed him down. At the bottom, he held up a flashlight and then gasped. "Oh no!"

Everyone stared at the sight of two more people caught near the ceiling in what seemed to be spiderwebs made of wire and metal. Baxter shrank back against Vincent, who laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Now this is something we can take care of!" Leonardo declared. He rushed forward, slashing through a web with his katanas. Michelangelo caught the stunned girl as she fell out.

"I've got you, Dudette! Everything's gonna be okay now," he promised.

Raphael freed the other person, who was caught by Donatello. "Are you all alright?" Bogart queried.

"If we never have to come back here again," the man quavered.

"What were the robots going to use you people for?" Leonardo frowned.

"They made us help them rebuild this restaurant," said the girl. "Then they put us down here!"

"Whoa. Mondo bizarro!" Michelangelo gasped.

"Well, it's all over now," Barney assured them. "If you're not hurt, you can return to your lives."

"Although we're going to have to let the police know we found everyone," Vincent prompted.

"We will," Barney grunted.

xxxx

No one knew quite what to say when all was said and done. The police were just as flabbergasted. But they were relieved that all the missing people had been found alive and relatively unhurt.

As April stood outside and did her report on the event for the 11 o'clock news, the others slowly started to walk back to their respective vehicles.

"Man, I just . . . there are no words," Michelangelo shuddered.

"So you're not going to go right home and start playing Five Nights at Freddy's again?" Raphael asked with heavy sarcasm.

"After living it?!" Michelangelo retorted. "Playing the game now would be majorly boring!" He swallowed hard, looking embarrassed. "And uh . . . I'm probably gonna want the nightlight on tonight. . . ."

"You won't get any arguments from me," Raphael shuddered.

"If Bogart Flywheel ever gets his pizza restaurant going, I think that's one establishment we won't want to frequent even for pizza," Leonardo remarked.

"That's something I never thought I'd hear one of you say," Barney said as he, Baxter, and Vincent came over to the Turtle Van.

"I can totally resonate with that notion, though, Dude," Michelangelo said.

"I don't blame you," Baxter shuddered. "I'm sure a lot of us are going to have night terrors tonight."

"Yeah. Electronic objects going berserk are always creepy as heck. Oh." Raphael actually looked guilty when he saw the look in Vincent's eyes. "Sorry, Vince."

"No; that's certainly true," Vincent said. "I don't blame you, Raphael. I'm amazed that you would have anything to do with me after Krang caused me to lose my mind."

"Hey, you're back to normal," Raphael said. "And you're intelligent, unlike those can-heads over there." He nodded to where Bogart Flywheel was loading the robots into a truck.

"Only they must have been more intelligent than we think, since two of them came up with this whole scheme," Donatello worried.

"Unless someone really was pulling the strings behind it all," Raphael frowned. "I'd rather believe that than that they did it on their own. Only I can't think of anyone who'd do it!"

"They did it, Raphael," Vincent said softly. "I tapped into the wombat robot's memory banks. It engineered everything."

Raphael shuddered. "Well, that's a pleasant thought to take to bed with me tonight."

"I wonder what Vernon and Irma are gonna do," Michelangelo said. He was looking to where they had wandered back to the news van they had brought earlier that evening. They looked awkward and hadn't said much.

"Probably have a long talk," Raphael said. "A really long talk."

"Hey, I thought it was gnarly that Irma got through to Vernon," Michelangelo said.

"Yeah, but like that?" Raphael shook his head. "She always has had bad taste in men."

"She probably meant she loves him as a friend or a brother, you know?" Michelangelo shrugged. "Anyway, he's really been changing from what he was."

"I still highly doubt that it would work out," Raphael said.

"In any case, it's their business," Baxter said firmly. He smiled. "We'll see you tomorrow."

"For sure, Baxter Dude," Michelangelo said. "And err . . . would you mind if I call you up if I can't sleep tonight?"

"I probably won't sleep for a while either," Baxter said wryly. "I'd welcome a call."

"Bodacious!" Michelangelo chirped. "Night!" He waved to the Stockmans.

Goodbyes were exchanged all around as the two sets of brothers got into their vehicles. Vernon and Irma watched them leave, then glanced to April doing the news before looking to the truck. The last of the robots was just being loaded.

Vernon trembled. "I can't believe we were actually kidnapped by one of those horrible things!" he exclaimed. "And . . . and . . ." He stared at the remains of the chipmunk robot. "Put inside them!" He sank down onto the driver's seat of the news van and leaned forward, trembling, digging his hands into his hair.

"Hey, at least you don't really remember the details," Irma said softly, laying a hand on his shoulder.

"Seeing them makes me remember more," Vernon replied. "I was completely at the mercy of that thing's computer controls! I kept blasting at everyone. . . . Dr. Stockman . . . you. . . . I think I threw April across the room!"

"Yeah, you did," Irma quietly admitted. "But she doesn't hold it against you under the circumstances. I don't either. And I'm sure Baxter doesn't."

"I never wanted to hurt anyone!" Vernon looked up with unshed tears in his eyes. "Did your robot try to hurt people too?"

". . . No," Irma admitted. "It just sang on stage."

"Well, at least you had it better than me, then," Vernon sniffled. "At least where it came to that. But you had to deal with me holding those horrible blasters on you!"

Irma bent down in front of him. "It's okay, Vernon," she said. "You didn't hurt me. And you broke free."

"Because what you said got through to me," Vernon said.

"I meant it," Irma said.

"But . . . how?" Vernon stared at her in utter awed amazement. "How could you possibly . . ."

"I always saw that spark of goodness in you, Vernon," Irma said. "I guess that's why I put up with all your garbage and liked you in spite of yourself. And thanks to Dr. Stockman, you've really started letting yourself shine. You've become someone very special to me."

"I never would have thought . . ." Vernon gazed into her eyes and saw only the truth written there.

"Me either, honestly." Irma straightened. "Hey, I'll be right back."

She had noticed that April was just wrapping up the news. As April headed over to the second news van, Irma walked over to her. "April, are you okay?" she asked in concern.

"I'm fine, Irma," April assured her. "Although I'm probably going to be stiff for a few days." She grimaced.

So did Irma. "You probably shouldn't drive," she said. "Why don't we take you home?"

"Phil can drive me," April said, referring to her cameraman. "We need to get this other news van back."

"Well, okay then. I'll see you back at the apartment building!" Irma waved to April and headed back towards the other news van.

"Is April upset?" Vernon mumbled.

"Nah." Irma got in and snapped her seatbelt. "Why would she be?"

Vernon swung his legs into the van and pulled the door shut. "Because of what you said to me. . . ." He blushed, looking awkward.

"She knows we're becoming friends," Irma said. "I never thought we would. It's nice."

"It is," Vernon agreed. "I don't think anyone has ever said they love me before. Well, other than my sister and Foster. Of course . . . it didn't help that I was always putting my worst foot forward. . . ."

"That's true," Irma said flatly.

"But you still cared anyway." Vernon sounded awed. "It's incredible."

"It kind of is, isn't it," Irma mused.

"And about what you said. . . . I feel the same about you. I love you, that is," Vernon stammered, but he looked and sounded completely sincere.

Irma smiled. "I'm glad."

She leaned back in the seat. She had been applying Baxter's advice of being grateful for everything she already had, and it was working. Even without romance, she felt happy. There were many ways that someone could be special, as her friends had been showing her. To fully realize and accept that Vernon had become so dear to her that she loved him was a milestone that she was amazed yet glad to reach. And she was sure Vernon felt the same.

xxxx

Michelangelo was quiet on the drive back to the Lair. He sat on the front seat with folded arms, staring out into the night.

Not that the other Turtles were much more talkative. They were all fairly shaken by what had happened. And yet, as far as Raphael was concerned, what really was there to say? It had been creepy as heck and they all knew it. Why repeat it over and over? Still, the silence was uncomfortable and finally he opted to break it.

"I'm sure glad Vince isn't like those things."

"No duh," Michelangelo immediately responded. "Vincent is a nice guy. And talking to him is just like talking to one of us. You can't really communicate with those creepazoid robots. You just have to slice and dice them!"

"I can't believe that Bogart Flywheel still thinks of them as his children," Raphael continued.

"Baxter had a good point," Donatello said.

"Oh, it figures you'd agree with it," Raphael grunted. "Inventors stick together."

"Well, maybe you should try spending time creating something and see how you feel," Donatello said.

"Let's not argue," Leonardo interrupted. "Especially about something like this. We all know that we're feeling miserable and shaken about what we've just come through."

"With good reason!" Raphael shot back.

"Well," Michelangelo said, "at least all those people are okay. . . ."

"No kidding," said Raphael.

"At least they're okay physically," Donatello said. "I'm sure it will take them a while to recover emotionally."

"We'll have to let Master Splinter know we'll be keeping an extra light on tonight," Leonardo said. "I'm sure he'll understand."

"I'm sure he will too, especially if we say why," Raphael remarked. "Not that any more cutesy-poo critters are going to attack us."

"But like, just being able to see your surroundings is mondo comforting," Michelangelo said. "As long as it's just for the first night or two, Splinter won't mind."

"I don't even want to see mascots at sports events after this," Raphael declared. "And I don't care how many nights pass. I'm sure I will still feel the same!"

"Nobody here blames you, Raphael," Leonardo said.

"I wonder how Baxter feels," Michelangelo mused. "I mean, he doesn't like artificial intelligence. Those robots are way less advanced than your standard A.I. program."

"Except for the part about two of them conspiring to put this whole thing together," Donatello said.

"Did you have to bring that up again, Donatello?" Raphael cringed.

"Well, it's just that I would say they're more intelligent than most A.I. programs," Donatello said. "At least Earth A.I. programs. Show me Cortana or Siri or Alexa masterminding anything like that!"

"I wonder what Vincent would think of them, coming to think about it," Raphael mused.

"Like, he'd probably be disappointed that he couldn't really carry on a conversation with them," Michelangelo said.

"Do you think he ever wishes he lived with other computers like him?" Raphael wondered.

"No way, Dude," Michelangelo frowned. "Like, Baxter and Barney are everything to him. And he really seems more human than computer."

"Yeah, but he's 'proud to be a computer,' as he told us," Raphael said.

"He's a computer-person," Michelangelo said. "He's both. And I think that even though he can communicate with all kinds of computers and stuff, he fits in better with organic beings than computers."

"You're probably right," Raphael said.

"And we're all glad of it," Leonardo smiled. "Vincent is one of us."

The other Turtles chorused in agreement.

xxxx

Barney was quiet on the way home. Baxter and Vincent both knew that wasn't a good sign. But tonight, instead of waiting to be prompted on what was the matter, Barney went ahead and volunteered the information.

"I'm sorry," he said after several blocks.

Baxter blinked. "What on Earth for? You and Vincent came just in the nick of time."

"If we'd come in the first place, maybe none of your horrors would have happened," Barney said. "Vincent would have taken control of all the robots and the captive people would have been located right away." He glowered out at the night. "I was trying again to give you space and let you handle the problem on your own. And once again it was the wrong choice."

"Oh Barney. . . ." Baxter reached for him, then slowly drew his hand back. Barney looked tense. Physical contact might make it worse. "Barney, I don't blame you," he said softly.

"Of course you don't. You never did," Barney retorted.

"We both know that isn't quite true," Baxter said. "But in this case, there was definitely no blame to be had. I'm an adult, not a child. You wanted to give me the chance to do my job without interfering. But you were ready to come the instant you knew you were needed. That's how a brother should behave. At least, I think so."

"I should have known right away that this was one of those occasions," Barney objected. "You said your friends had disappeared. And I knew something of the other recent disappearances. I just didn't know everything until Vincent told me 10 people were missing."

"No one knows everything, Barney," Baxter said. "We're all going to make mistakes. Not even the Turtles have a perfect family relationship. Why, Michelangelo had a misunderstanding with the other three just recently. His feelings were deeply hurt by something they did."

"But I bet it wasn't potentially life-threatening, was it?" Barney growled.

"Well, no," Baxter had to admit.

"Then what I did was worse," Barney insisted. "My mistake could have cost you or someone else their life!"

"But it didn't," Baxter said. "We're all safe, Barney. And maybe next time, all of us will make better judgment calls."

"That's the best you can offer, isn't it?" Barney grunted.

"Yes," Vincent said. "There is no easy fix. You'll probably continue to feel terrible about this for a while, Barney. So will I. I went along with your decision until I learned more about what we were up against. But I'm just going to focus on the fact that we got there in time and everyone is alright."

"I always used to think I was logical," Barney said. "Now I see that I was usually one of the most illogical people around. You, on the other hand, Vincent . . ."

"Am not always logical either," Vincent finished. "Even though I'm a computer."

"You used to say no one is perfect, except for computers," Barney remarked.

"Well . . ." Vincent gave a bit of an embarrassed grin. "Let's just say I've been learning that even computers are only human."

Baxter laughed and hugged his friend. "We're all still learning," he said. "But I'm so happy we can all learn together."

"I'll agree with that," Barney relented. He pulled into the driveway and shut off the engine.

"Brothers," Vincent said, holding out his hand.

Baxter smiled and laid his on top of it. "Brothers," he repeated.

Barney placed his on top of Baxter's. "Brothers," he echoed. "For always."

Baxter blinked, surprised that Barney had been the one to add that. But then he beamed. "For always," he agreed.

As Vincent gazed at the twins who had once been so deeply estranged that such a sentiment wouldn't have been conceivable, he couldn't have been more happy. "For always," he said emphatically.