A fair warning I give to all of my stories. Expect slow updates. Especially as I'm currently also working on 'The art of Trying' and 'Gravity Falls: Red Moon' and in the middle of renovating my house which does not leave me with much free time to write. But I just had to write this, after seeing 'Raphael: Mutant Apocalypse'.
I plan on finishing all three stories. I just can't give you a time stamp on that. Concider me a far less talented, slightly less attractive, discount GRR Martin.
Chapter one: The Holy Chalupa
Regard what was once a marvel of life and beauty, amongst the dead waste of dead space. What was a ball of blue and green and white and brown, hurtling against all odds through the void of the universe. Once unique, like all planets that contain life, in it's own special way. An oasis.
And regard it now, a sickly yellow and black swirling through it's atmosphere. Come closer and bare witness to the sands. Deserts where once plants grew. A place teeming with life, where animals rummaged for food amongst the woods and the oceans and the skies themselves. A place where humans roamed and thrived. Where people had busy lives in small villages and big cities. Where they worked. Where they built a future for themselves and each other. Where laughter was heard as well as the trotting footsteps of children playing. Where old men and women sat comfortably in soft chairs, remembering the good old days when the world was far more green and much more new and simply more… more.
If they only were here to see it now. They'd truly have something to complain about.
Wasteland. As far as the eyes can see. Voids that drive men mad. Winds that will tear the skin of your bones. Air that chokes the life out of you, slowly. Rains that will consume you whole.
A world, once full of potential. Now not empty, but filled to the brim with insanity, decay and regret.
There's hardly any room left, as a matter of fact, for hope. Perhaps only a single spark, a mere flicker, in this shell of a planet. And that spark is found in the last green. A hidden, lost oasis amongst the harsh voids. A large stretch of land with water and trees and mountains, uncovered by four turtles and a meercat. It serves as a final sanctuary for the mutants that had not lost their humanity, far and few in between they were. And amongst it, over the years, more like minded were gathered, found and brought back. Like picking up the pieces of a broken reality. For once reunited, the four brothers did what they'd always sworn to do. That what they'd been taught by their master, father and sensei… The one mission they'd failed. To protect the earth.
Perhaps one day, through their efforts, the green would once again expand across the world and cover it. A lovely thought for sure. A tremendous spark to be had. Alas it was not the one preoccupying Donatello's mind.
Observe Donatello. His metal body, though rusty, hard as can be. The purple horizontal line on his face, acting as his eyes. His lean, metallic turtle features working tirelessly on a new invention, deep inside the last bunker. His never-changing visage does not allow for a worried look. And yet, he appears haunted and distressed. Fidgeting in his lab, what he fears most is stopping. He can't stop. Not now.
Once or twice between scribbling down notes in the dark, cold lab, his hand reaches out to the star-sticker on his chest. Covering where his heart would have been. His sharp, robotic ears twitch at every sound. He dreads what is coming. What he can't escape.
And yet… As the smartest soul on the world, even if his soul is all that remains of him inside a robot body, should know; as with the destruction of the earth and mankind, some things are out of your control.
The loud knocking on the door makes it way into his synthetic ears. The don bot was startled, dropping both the gizmo as well as the screwdriver in his hands.
"Bunker apples." He moaned to himself.
The metallic door opened, uninvited, letting in a stream of light into the dark room. The face that poked through was tired and worn out. As well as covered in fur and sporting pointy ears. She'd never grown taller. Even if she had turned into a middle-aged meercat.
"Donatello?" Mira the mutant meercat inquired.
"What?!" His tone more brimming with rage than he had any right to out against her, he knew.
He regretted it the moment he saw her hurt look. It was a hard thing to produce emotions such as grief, fear and distress without the proper brain and glands in your body. And yet, somehow, the robot he'd built seemed to be doing an admirable job. There were times he cursed his own intellect.
Balancing himself on his desk, he lowered his computerized voice. "What is it?" He asked again.
"You know what." She said. "He's asking for you."
He looked over his shoulder and saw her stepping closer. In her eyes, he read his answer. And yet, he had to ask.
"Has he changed his mind? Has he agreed?
It seemed to break Mira's heart too. "Donnie..." She implored, before continuing to chew her lower lip.
He hung his head. "He's as thick as that shell of his." His hand palmed his square, metal head. He couldn't feel it's touch. Not really. But even after all these years, his learned reactions came natural to him. A moment later, he pounded it hard on the desk, denting it deeply.
From the corner of his cybernetic line of sight, he caught Mira's flinch and felt instantly ashamed. Eying the destruction of his actions, he whispered out loud. "Why is he so stubborn? Why were they all so damn stubborn?"
He heard her draw close to him. Her hand landed on the shell on his back. It was as close to his shoulder as she could get without straining herself. He turned his head to meet her gaze. There was something resembling a smile in it. Miserable little thing though it was.
"I suppose it runs in your family." She spoke compassionately, her head bobbed slightly. "Won't you go see him?"
"What is the point if he won't say yes?" His hand fumbled through a heap of electronics located on the desk until it found a disc. "I have the answer right here." He said, accusingly. "It doesn't have to be like this. I can fix it!"
"Donatello. This isn't about you. It's about him. He's your brother. You need to be there for him."
"He needs to be there for me!" Donatello let escape.
He knew how selfish it sounded. Heck, how selfish it was. But he couldn't help himself.
So he doubled down. "He needs me?" He accused. "I need him." He held up the disc. "I need him here."
She could have done a million things. She had her whip on her, for one thing. And an impulsive slap or a kick against his shin would have been most understandable. Even if it would have wound up hurting her more than him. Instead she flung forward and hugged his waste. He froze for a second and felt all the anger, wherever it came from without the right hormones, flow away; driven out by inescapable realization and grief. The disc in it's little case fell onto the desk. His arms found their way to her back as well.
"Why does he want to leave me, like the others did?" He continued. Not in anger, but in vain. He knew he'd lost this discussion. His pointy ears and head sagged down. "He can't do this to me. Leave me out here alone..."
She broke the hug and looked up at him. He could see the aqua in her eyes. "I lost my entire tribe, Donatello." She confessed. "All taken away from me. I can still feel them." She gestured to her heart. I will always carry them with me. All the memories. All the love." She swallowed. "And all the regrets. Donatello, please, don't part with a regret."
"I don't know if I can see him." He spoke honestly.
"I know you will."
"Heh, yeah? How are you so certain?"
"I know you. I know you can't not."
She looked up at him. He nodded.
"Alright." He conceded.
As vibrant as the oasis above him was, down here in the bunker, Donatello didn't feel any of it. He didn't 'feel' anything, in any case. Not really. He couldn't feel the sensation of concrete passing under his feet. He registered, but did not hear, the heavy footsteps with which he moved. He couldn't taste the moldy air around him. He couldn't even smell the reek of death growing stronger as he made his way through the lonely, dark corridors.
But he did 'feel' in a different way. Separated from the rest of the world, as an imprint of what once had been the real Donatello, he could only truly experience his own mind. Or whatever you wanted to call it over a long night of philosophical debate and a good brandy or two. For starters, there was a coldness. Not the cold of the cool temperatures provided by the bunker, deep underground and deprived of sunlight. It was a cold that ran deeper into his digital soul. One stemming from the lack of his own body and the freezing metal trapping him inside like some ghost in the half-shell. He felt the darkness imposing on his mind. He felt lost in the web of decaying hallways, even though he knew where he was headed. In a way, it was the destination that made this sensation all the more powerful.
As dead and cold the bunker was, finding it had been a blessing. The oasis provided clean air, food, water and a sense of awe worth dying for. But for Donatello, who unlike his brothers or Mira couldn't experience the full what the green offered, the bunker had been a different kind of sanctuary. Seclusion. Walls. It reminded him of happier days in his lab just as often as he cursed it for reminding him of his own robot body. And he was reminded of the latter just about anywhere, in any case.
Plus, it had contained a limited supply of medicine, technology, spare parts and even a small generator capable of providing minimal power to the complex for another century. All courtesy of the army of the good old US of A. The community they were building would need to learn to work without it, sooner or later. But it could help them along the way. Even so, as useful as it was, the mutants at the bottom of the hill shunned the place for the most part. He could hardly blame them. They'd spent most of their lives living in such places. Where air was stale and true sunlight was non-existent. And yet again, these were things that didn't matter to the don-bot.
He made his way through the, dark underground complex, dreading every step. He didn't need to follow the green arrows pointing him to the hospital ward. He knew the entire lay-out of the place by heart, near well enough as his own circuits, conductors and transducers. And when he stopped for a second by the foreboding door, it was purely to give himself a second. His scans already told him who lay inside and exactly what condition he was in. Getting the signal of the machinery keeping his brother alive sent to him through concrete and steel had been a great effort. But he'd managed it all the same. Because some things were important.
He pushed open the metal door gently and poked his head through, greeted by the familiar beeping of Mikey's heartbeat registered by one of the seven giant computers, monitors and machines hooked into him. The youngest turtle, though now not young by any standards, seemed even more frail than when he'd seen him but hours ago, when they'd had a fight Donnie regretted to his very electric core core. But he'd be damned if he let this conversation run the same course.
"Hey buddy." He said, his voice trailing softly as he peered inside through his purple line of sight.
The shape in the simple hospital bed moved slightly, beneath the many clothes. The face hooked up to Raph's old breather, now re-purposed, stirred. And beside him, on a table, in a coolbox filled with ice-cubes, an ice-cream kitty poked it's head out.
"Meow." It said.
At the sound, the ancient Michelangelo opened his eyes, both of them. The blind, gray right one and the troubled left. They darted towards the door and seemed to take a moment before the recognition hit. In his old age, sometimes it took a while.
As Donatello entered slowly through the door, his brother's three-fingered hand removed the breather.
"Hey, hey." Donatello ushered. "Carefull there."
"How's my favorite brobot?" Mikey croaked softly as the equipment fell into the soft cloth.
Donatello took his familiar place in the poorly lit room by the sturdy, metal chair. His hand found his brothers and squeezed it slightly.
"I feel awful Michael." He answered, truthfully. "I'm sorry."
Despite it sounding like a rattle, his brother seemed to chuckle.
"It's cool D. I know you only meant well."
"Well… It might have been more selfish than I'd have cared admit, before Mira talked some sense into me." He sagged his head. "In any case. I left the disc upstairs. I mean..." He added hopefully. "It's still there if you change your mind but..." He cut himself short. This was dangerously close to leading to another argument. And they didn't have time for those anymore.
"Mrow." Ice cream kitty intervened, breaking the tension.
"Haha." The old turtle turned his head in the soft pillows to face his pet. The cat too had aged, but the cold seemed to preserve it much better than it's master. "That's right ice-cream kitty." He managed before he broke into a fit of coughing.
Donatello rose and held his brother with feverish worry until he finally managed to calm down and climb out of the fit. Luckily none of the tubes and wires going into him seemed disconnected. He ran a scan to be certain. The holy chalupa seemed exhausted by the time his breathing returned back to somewhat normal, but otherwise, he was doing just as well, or poorly depending on your point of view, as a few minutes ago.
The beeping finally normalized though.
Beep … Beep … Beep
Donatello sank down, back on his chair and looked at his brother. If only stubborn old fool agreed…
"Don't look at me like that." Mikey smiled miserably. His one tooth showing like a rotten piece of corn. His crow-feet wrinkled kindly.
"I don't have eyes or an actual face. I can't shoot you any kind of look." Donatello retorted, feeling inexplicably caught.
"Yeah you can." He cleared his throat in the aftermath. "I know that look anywhere dude."
"Fine." Donatello challenged. "It's just: you always liked robots too, Mikey. I don't see why you would be so stubborn about this. Or Raph. Or Leo for that matter." It was hard to contain his rage by now. Wherever it came from. But he was doing an admirable job, he felt.
"True." Mikey conceded, grabbing Don's metal hand with both his own now. Mikey always had a way of staying up-spirited about just anything. His raspy voice continued. "You are far out heavy metal, dude. But it's not quite for me."
Deep down, Donatello figured as much. Michelangelo was a turtle made to celebrate life and all it had to offer. A prison like his own, barely bearable by the aloof Donatello would be pure torture. And still, he wasn't quite ready to throw in the towel. Exactly because the ancient nun-chuck ninja was such a junkie to life.
"Why do you choose death, Mikey?" He asked bluntly. "We could see so much more of this world together.
"Don't fear death brah." The answer came back. "It's like, just another journey. Just another path to take."
"I don't fear death." He answered. And found that he meant it. All cards were on the table now. And looking into those mismatched, kind eyes, there was no anger left in Donnie's voice. Just regret. And a twinge of shame, as he realized even on his deathbed, Mikey did everything to resolve any strife between the people he cared for. "Do you think the prospect of me living forever, in this shell of a body, is an enticing one?" Donnie's generated voice droned on. "Without you or Raph or Leonardo? As the last soul to remember what once was?" Purely for dramatic effect and out of habit, he sighed. "I'm separate from this world, Mikey. This body is a cage. Nothing more. I see others bask in sunlight. I see them enjoying the taste of water. I see them holding hands, sharing love. And I…" He squeezed his robotic hand gently. Mikey's one (sort of) good eye lowered. "I know I'm holding your hand, Michael." Donnie implored. "My scanners indicate it. It's sending all the information to my conscience downloaded into this prison. I know how much pressure I'm applying. I know what digits of yours I'm holding. How firm they are. I know it, Mikey."
His brother nodded.
"Mrow?" Ice cream kitty asked.
Shaking with the effort as he did so, Michelangelo raised his arm. His middle finger found the cat's head and stroked it gently. The cat purred happily. A few moments later, Mikey brought the finger to his mouth and sucked up the excess treat.
"Dang girl." He whispered. "You're still as sweet as ever, gonna give me diabetes for sure." Then the old turtle turned his focus back on Don. "You know." He agreed. "But you don't feel." Michelangelo's voice wheezed sagely. A defeated grin crept on his face, brought on by nostalgia. The display was quite a feat for an old turtle with just one tooth left. "Didn't master Splinter used to say…?"
The old memory sparked in Donnie's matrix too. "Yeah. That I spend too much time thinking of everything, too little time feeling." He chuckled miserably. "But I'm a conscience downloaded into a shell, Mikey. Thinking is all I've got left these days." He paused for a second. "Just like you... You're all I have left of back then. And when you're gone, I won't even be able to remember what it was like."
"D." His brother's free hand rose up and found Donnie's shoulder. "You are more than wires, metal and static. I sense you, brah." The hand crept up and palmed his head softly. "Not just here." It trailed down to his chest and found April's star, one of the only things taken from the ruins of Old New York. One thing Donatello could not make himself part with. His brother's hand pressed softly on his chest. "But here as well. I know you don't feel it brobot. But I do. You're not just apart from his world. You are a part from this world."
The holy chalupa's hand lowered softly, back into the soft blankets covering him. "How's that?" He asked smiling smugly.
"For fins' sake." Donatello had to laugh, despite it all.
"Like a turtle do, huh?"
"How messed up must this world not have gotten to have you as the wisest person alive?"
"It's 'cuz I got that mad life wisdom, yo."
Suddenly, a spasm of pain rushed the senior mutant ninja turtle's face. It was almost gone as fast as it came. But not fast enough to pass by Donatello unnoticed. Inside the robot's hull, red alarms flashed brightly.
"Mikey!" He shouted. All pleasantry fading like snow before the sun. The panic was pounding at the door, demanding entrance.
"It's cool Donnie." Michelangelo reassured, closing his eyes and groaning. "It's cool."
Donnie didn't seem to notice. He checked the machines next to his brother, ready to fidget with any number of the present buttons. "I can whip you up another batch of morphine?" He asked, hastily. "Where does it hurt? What can I do for you?"
"D. D." The dying turtle said, peering through the slits of his eyes and placing his hand on the robot's wrist. "D." He repeated. "It's cool." He nodded.
Donatello came down. He felt more empty than ever before. "What can I do for you, Mikey?" He implored again, slower this time. And despite his voice being computer-generated, he could hear the tremors in it himself.
"Don't give up, Donnie." The turtle swallowed. "We'll all see each-other again, in the end. But you are needed here. I can sense it, yo. Death isn't so bad. But only when you know it means something. Life… Life didn't turn out like we'd hoped. The earth got totally wrecked. But we've built something good here, in the mess of the world around us. This is a good place, and I helped make it happen. But you… You might be able to do more."
"I don't know dude." Mikey croaked. "I wonder if this is what Master Splinter and Leo felt. Like a premonition or something far out like that. I feel in tune with the universe. And the universe, it speaks to me. Soon I will be one with it, truly. But by then, when I know what it is I sense, I won't be able to talk to you about it. It's just what I feel. A great purpose."
Donatello wanted to answer. A great purpose? Mikey, this world is dead. There is nothing left. Least of all purpose. But he couldn't. He bit his tongue instead. Or would have, if he'd had one.
"A great purpose for this here tortoise." His brother shot him with his finger, making the words rhyme.
Donatello didn't even have the heart to tell him they were turtles, actually.
"So don't give up, bro." The old turtle sighed, smiling thinly.
"I won't." Donatello lied. "Anything else I can do?"
Mikey seemed to think it over. "I…" He managed in the end. "I would like to see the sun one last time."
Beep … Beep … Beep … Beep … Beep … Beep
Donatello clenched the sheets and took the longest time to reply. This was the last thing on earth he wanted to do. There were a few failed starts before he actually said anything. He looked over to the machined plugged into Mikey's arms and shell. Those were the fluids keeping him alive. Keeping the turtle's pain in check. There were monitors displaying his current condition. Machines. So many machines. Dependable machines. Mikey might not have long for this world anymore. But to unplug him now… it was like a death-sentence.
And yet… There was something so youthful in his one-eyed look. Something childlike. Something Mikey had never lost and that made him, well, Mikey. Something more than machines and medicine and bedrest. Something more than a failing body. The unbeatable joie de vivre of the one-of-a-kind party dude.
"Mow." Ice cream kitty opted, eventually.
Donatello took the time he needed. There was nothing else for it. It took a while to kill a part of yourself. To say goodbye, hold it under water and drown it. It took some time to recover. In the end though, he met his brother's gaze. "Yeah. Sure." He conceded, trying his best to sound lighthearted but stammering the words. "I'll take you up."
Michelangelo seemed grateful. As content as he'd seen him in a long while.
The process of disconnecting all the wires and all the tubes from his last remaining brother was one of the most painful ones Donnie had ever experienced. With every needle he took out of his brother's body, he felt like he was plunging in another knife. Still, his brother just sat there. Smiling. Wincing in the discomfort, yes, but smiling nonetheless. Wearing a childlike glee with anticipation written all over his wrinkled old face.
Donatello kept talking. There was nothing else he could do. He explained in detail and with a soft voice what it was he was unplugging. He told his brother to be careful and to hold on. Anything to avoid the silence and blot out the screaming voice in the back of his head. A voice that demanded he leave his brother be. That he had to stop, because he was murdering him.
Lastly, before they were ready to take one last journey, the robot-Donnie wrapped the blankets around his brother's body whole.
"Like a snugly hotdog in a bun." Mikey laughed in a raspy voice and outstretched his arms. They were scrawny, feeble things. Shaking as they reached for the tin-can-turtle. And in a flash, Donnie stopped seeing the old man Mikey had become, but rather the excited runt of the pack he'd been when they were but turtle toddlers. When they'd been young, the youngest of the four brothers had often wanted to be carried.
As Donnie bent closer, his brothers' arms clasped around his metallic neck and shoulders. He placed his own cybernetic arms underneath the frail old body's back of the knees and underneath his shell. Mikey's head rested in his palm. He was so light. He couldn't feel him in any case. Though he could measure it up to a hundredth of a milligram. And he was so damn light.
"Sorry it's so cold." Donnie apologized for his body. "And hard."
"You got me bro." Mikey wheezed softly. "That's all that matters." He cradled his head against the cold, reinforced metal.
"Meow!" Ice cream kitty protested from inside her cooler.
"Okay." Donnie conceded, trying to sound cheery and failing miserably. "Come here you."
Somehow he managed to grab the container, allowing Mikey's legs to rest on his right arm without losing balance.
"You comfortable?" He asked his brother.
"Booyakasha." Mikey coughed.
Donnie turned and walked out of the room. His heavy steps echoed through the halls. Their sound broke the shallow, irregular draws of breath of the old, withered turtle in his arms. He walked on, despite every shiver. Despite every cough. Despite every grunt. Even if each and every sound broke his heart and sent him into an array of fear. But to slow down, was to give up. If he stopped moving, they'd never make it.
When finally they'd made their way out of the maze of corridors and reached the steps; a large, turning staircase. Donnie finally found the courage to speak.
"How are you holding up, Mikey?" He asked, ascending.
The holy chalupa grunted. His strength seemed to be slipping.
"We're almost there." Donatello comforted.
They were almost half-way up the stairs before Mikey managed to answer. "B-team for the win."
"That's right." Donnie replied. Because it was easier than saying nothing and much easier than saying anything worthwhile. "B-team for the win, buddy."
"Can you smell it?" Donnie asked when he reached the final stretch of steps. He couldn't, himself. But he hoped the fragile reptile in his arms could. "The fresh air? Can you feel the breeze?"
There was no reply. Nothing, except for the thinnest smile Mikey had ever smiled. His eyes remained closed.
With great care not to cause his brother any discomfort, the mechanic turtle used his back to open the iron vault door, left open by a crack.
Donnie cursed loudly when they stepped out into the light. Mikey, his grasp fading with each passing second, opened both his blind as well as his seeing eye. He saw the dark clouds too, blotting out the sun.
"I'm sorry, Mikey." Donnie said. "We'll try again tomorrow." He added, turning back into the bunker. He had to get him back to his bed. Perhaps then he could…
"No." The defiant croak was enough to halt him in his tracks. It would have been enough to tear his heart out, if he still had one. A single drop of rain splashed on Mikey's jaw. "No." The old turtle repeated, with great effort. "This is good… perfect."
"Mikey…" Donatello tried.
But there was something imploring, begging, in Mikey's eye. Something making absolutely, crystal clear, that there would not be a tomorrow.
"The hill…" Mikey asked, sagging his head against his chest once more and closing his eyes. He wasn't smiling anymore. He seemed to be biting through the discomfort and the pain. Seeing this, Donnie couldn't possibly refuse.
Donatello looked out. He saw the nearby hill looking over the lake. It was abandoned. From time to time, some of the souls they'd saved came to pay their respect. But not today. Down below the mutants of the village were settling into their homes, unaware of the fate of the holy chalupa. They were seeking shelter for the coming storm. Donatello preferred it this way, honestly. This was family-only.
He nodded to his brother, even though his little brother didn't see it. "Let's go see them." He added, trudging on.
They were long and heavy drops. The frequency with which they broke increased steadily. Donatello did his best to ignore it, focusing on the two trees atop the small hill. "Almost there." He said, amongst other, empty reassuring things one says when a true silence proves more than one can bare.
The storm broke fully, when they'd reached the summit of the hill. Mikey groaned in his arms. Donnie figured he ought to be grateful it was just rain. Atop a hill, a tall, metal turtle would not do well when lightning was involved. And with his brother in his arms… He clamped Mikey slightly tighter, holding him firmly as they sank to the ground next to the two budding trees. Ice cream kitty's container was placed on the ground with almost as much care. She held it's red lid over her head to shelter herself from the rain.
Donnie hugged his brother. He knew he did this. But he didn't feel it.
"Look. We're here, Mikey." Donatello managed. His voice rising over the constant downpour.
Gingerly, the one seeing eye opened and the old turtle craned to peer through the heavy rain. Donnie moved to aid him, putting him in a better position to see the two simple tombstones underneath the growing trees. One read 'Leonardo', and underneath that was inscribed 'The leader in blue.' In a ninety degree turn, the other one loomed, reading 'Raphael.' And 'Cool but crude'.
"Hey bro's…" Mikey uttered, but his voice but a whisper. An echo of what it once was. Donatello noticed him grabbing hold of him slightly tighter, as if in defiance. He replied in kind.
"Thanks… D." His one eye looked up at him.
"Anytime…" He nodded, it almost hurt too much to say anything at all.
To his horror, Michelangelo closed his eye and folded his arms close to him. "I love you, bro." He whispered.
It took Donnie a moment to realize it had been with this last breath.
"I love you too, bro."
He bumped his metal forehead against his brother's, gently. If he fooled himself well enough, it was almost as if his brother was sleeping. Almost. He held him close, pressed against his metal exterior. There was no logical reason to do this. He knew neither of them could feel it now. But there were some things you couldn't let be.
All around him, the rain crashed mercilessly. He heard it splashing relentlessly on his exterior. It were times like this he wished he could still cry. He couldn't feel the pouring water. Nor the cold winds.
What he felt was much, much worse.