Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987
Night of the Were-Bat
Notes: The characters are not mine (except Cassiopeia). The original story idea here is by Harry2, but the final, fleshed-out product is mine! ThickerThanLove helped with bouncing off other ideas throughout. 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.
Baxter was in his office, looking over a new script that had been placed on his desk, when April appeared in the doorway. "Hi, Baxter. How would you feel about a trip to the zoo?"
Baxter raised an eyebrow. "For work or pleasure?"
"Work," April said with a wry smile. "Apparently some of the viewers are getting bent out of shape over the vampire bat story we ran the other day. Now we need to do a follow-up with the zoo's veterinarian to reassure people the bat isn't going to go preying on them in the middle of the night."
Baxter shook his head. "Somehow I'm not surprised. But Mr. Thompson specifically wants me there? Why?"
"Further insurance," April said. "He knows you minored in biology."
"Alright." Amused, yet still not fully sure what to think of being interrupted, Baxter got up. "But why weren't these issues addressed in the original news story?"
"Mr. Thompson made Vernon take it and he's still a terrible reporter," April sighed. "He got hold of some information that vampire bats will occasionally prey on humans and blurted that out on the air."
Baxter cringed. "Mr. Thompson should really keep Vernon out of the field, at least on stories like that one."
"I didn't want it either," April said, "but now we're both stuck with it."
"Oh well," Baxter said. "It should be interesting. It's been a while since I've done much with my biology training."
"Why did you study biology anyway, Baxter?" April wondered as they walked down the hall. "Was it to help with your Mousers?"
"Only partially," Baxter said. "I was fascinated by animals and plants as a child. I always wanted to learn more about how they worked."
April smiled. "I think that's great. And maybe it'll help if say, the Turtles or Splinter ever come down sick."
"Maybe," Baxter said. "I haven't studied much about mutants specifically. Their bodies seem closer to humans' for the most part, but some things are still more animal than human. It's fascinating, but I don't fully understand it. Or how things happen such as that Mona Lisa girl having the body of a salamander with hair and err . . . other mammalian traits . . ." He blushed.
"That's unusual, alright," April said. "Oh, speaking of Mona, I heard from her recently and she's doing great!"
"I'm glad," Baxter said. "I really felt for her. She was stuck in an unwanted mutation, just like I was. And while mine was destroying my mind, hers was destroying her body." He shuddered.
"She's sure glad to be human again," April said. They reached the elevator and she pushed the button. "And I'm glad her family accepted her even when she wasn't."
A far-off look came into Baxter's eyes. "Yes," he said softly.
Suddenly April realized she'd made a mistake. "I'm so sorry," she exclaimed. "I wasn't thinking about how you weren't accepted. . . ."
"That's alright," Baxter said. "I'm glad that she didn't have that sorrow."
"You shouldn't have had it either," April said.
The elevator arrived and they stepped in. Baxter pressed the ground floor button.
"It seems strange Krang hasn't tried making any more mutants lately," he said.
"Just wait and he probably will," April said wryly.
Baxter's Turtle-Comm went off as they neared the bottom. "Hello, Michelangelo," he greeted when he opened it.
"Like, hi!" Michelangelo chirped. "Are you and April still coming for dinner tonight, Bud?"
"As far as I know," Baxter said with a glance at April. "But we have to film a news story first."
"Gnarly! Is it gonna air live?"
"It is," April said, leaning into the viewscreen.
"Then we'll all be watching!" Michelangelo promised.
"I know you will," Baxter smiled. The elevator stopped and they got out. He kept talking while heading for the parking garage. "How are things there?"
"Mondo perfecto," Michelangelo said. "I'm trying out some new pizza recipes!"
"Dare I ask?" April moaned.
"Oh, they're normal, Dudette," Michelangelo promised. "Only the best for our aunt and uncle!"
Baxter chuckled. "Thank you. I guess we'll find out what they are soon enough."
"Yeah! I'll have everything ready," Michelangelo said. "Do you think Barney and Vincent might be able to make it after all?"
"Only if their meeting doesn't run overtime," Baxter said. "Barney said they couldn't afford to miss any more of them."
"That makes sense," Michelangelo said. "I guess they have had to bail out of a lot. Well, I plan to save some for Barney anyway."
"Good," Baxter smiled. "I can take it home with me if they can't make it."
"Totally! Oh, I think something's boiling over. Gotta boogie!" And Michelangelo quickly hung up.
Baxter looked amused as he and April got in the news van. "I wonder what Michelangelo is making."
"I hope it really is normal," April said wryly. "Normal to a Ninja Turtle might not be normal to everyone else!"
"He knows we don't like marshmallows and barbecue sauce together," Baxter said. "I'm sure whatever it is, is perfectly fine."
"You're probably right," April conceded. "Michelangelo is always thoughtful."
"He is. And it's such a relief that he's getting back to his usual self," Baxter said.
"It sure is. How about you, Baxter?" April gave him a sideways look.
"Me?" Baxter blinked in surprise. "But I wasn't . . ."
"You've been hurting too," April said softly. "You've tried to hide it and probably hoped the Turtles would forget about it and just focus on Michelangelo, but I remembered."
Baxter looked away, touched. "I'm a lot better than I was," he said. "The more Michelangelo improves, the more I do."
"I thought as much," April said. "You two really have a special bond."
"It's strange considering how we started out, but you're right," Baxter said. "He means everything to me."
"And that's wonderful," April declared. "The Turtles needed more friends. And you did too, of course. It was a win-win situation!"
"It certainly was," Baxter said.
Central Park Zoo was crowded, as it usually was. And the veterinarian, Dr. Jane Goodfellow, was ready and waiting for the news crew at the bat cage. "Hello, April," she greeted as the reporter came into view.
"Hi, Jane," April smiled. "Has Michelangelo been around lately?"
"He's come to look at the animals, but he hasn't brought me any new ones to heal," Jane replied. "Hello, Dr. Stockman." She looked to Baxter.
"Hello," Baxter nodded.
"I didn't think you two had met yet," April said in surprise.
"I was with Michelangelo the last time he came here," Baxter said. "We stopped in to meet his veterinarian friend."
"I introduced Michelangelo to Jane the first time he had an injured animal that needed help," April said. "We met several years back when I was covering a big story involving the zoo."
"Yes, that was when Shredder first appeared on the scene and stole those animals to help create Rocksteady and Bebop," Jane frowned. "Anyway, let's get down to business. This is Cassiopeia." She indicated a small creature hanging upsidedown from a tree branch inside the exhibit.
"Somehow I thought vampire bats would be bigger," April remarked. She stepped closer to the glass for a better look. "She's barely bigger than a package of M&Ms!"
"Vampire bats are definitely not among the largest varieties of bats," Jane agreed.
"She doesn't seem bothered by us," April noted.
"She's asleep right now," Jane replied, "but she'll wake up around her regular feeding time."
The cameraman was already filming. April asked, "And she's fed a steady diet of animal blood?"
"That's right, mostly from local butchers," Jane said.
"And I'm sure you take every precaution to ensure she won't get out," April said.
"Of course," Jane replied.
"And even if she did, she'd be much more likely to try feeding off a nearby animal rather than a human," Baxter added.
"Yes," Jane nodded. "And I shouldn't really need to say this, but vampire bats are not mythical vampires. They don't turn into the undead. They're ordinary animals who just so happen to feed on blood. People's imaginations ran wild when they first became aware of the vampire bat's existence and it ended up with the name and a whole lot of unfair stories and myths to go with it. Even now in this modern age, some people's imaginations still run wild." She quirked an eyebrow.
"Apparently so or we wouldn't need to do this follow-up interview," April said with a bit of a smirk.
The bat stirred and looked over at them with sleepy eyes.
"Does she often wake up in the daytime?" April said.
"At times," Jane said. "Of course, bats are nocturnal, so she's much more active at night."
"What's her personality?" Baxter asked.
"She's very standoffish," Jane said. "Not dangerous, but I'm pretty sure she sees people only as meal tickets or annoyances." Smirking wryly, she added, "And of course, she would only see us as meal tickets because we bring her food, not because we are her food."
"Vampire bats are only native to one small part of the world, I believe," Baxter said.
"That's right, in Latin America," Jane nodded. "We're heating her cage and making it more like the environment she's used to."
"One misconception about bats in general is that they're rodents," Baxter said. "They aren't."
"That's right," Jane said. "Actually, they have a group all their own called Chiroptera. Also, bats are not blind." She looked amused. "Cassiopeia can see us just as well as we can see her."
Cassiopeia seemed decidedly bored with the sight. She closed her eyes and presumably went back to sleep.
The Turtles were gathered around the television set, observing the live story.
"I never thought I would end up knowing so many useless facts about bats, vampire and otherwise," Raphael intoned.
"It is always wise to keep learning, my Turtle," Splinter said. "You never know when such information might prove useful."
"Yeah, right. Sensei, when would I ever need to know that bats aren't rodents?" Raphael countered. "Or that they're not blind?"
"Perhaps someday you will," Splinter said without skipping a beat.
"Anyway, it is interesting," Leonardo said.
"Especially with our friends hosting it," Donatello added.
"For sure, Dude," Michelangelo nodded. "I wanna talk to them about it after it's over!"
"Well, you can talk to them about it when they get here for dinner," Leonardo said.
"Oh, that's right! I've gotta get back to fixing it!" Michelangelo leaped up and ran for the kitchen. "Let me know if anything else happens!"
"Like what, Cassiopeia turning to look at the camera?" Raphael yawned. "You can rest assured, Michelangelo, nothing's going to happen that anyone will want to put out national headlines about. Or even local headlines."
Shredder was not in a good mood. Neither was Krang. At the moment, Shredder was watching Krang stirring a huge container of what looked like mutagen.
"Why are you doing that, Krang?" Shredder whined. "We need to be thinking about getting that last bit of energy we need for the Technodrome!"
"I am!" Krang retorted. "You and your mutants can't seem to do it, so I decided it's time that we should try again to create another mutant to help out."
"But that never works out either!" Shredder shot back.
"Well, this time it had better!" Krang snapped.
"What are we even supposed to mutate?" Shredder growled.
"Go to the zoo," Krang said. "There's always something fierce there."
"Yeah, only Bebop and Rocksteady always manage to mutate the wrong things!" Shredder snarled. "And the new mutants never want to help out!"
"Then maybe you should do it yourself so there won't be any mutants to blame if something goes wrong!" Krang scooped some of the mutagen into a handheld pitcher and tightly pressed the lid down. "Here!"
Shredder scowled. "I'm going, I'm going!" He headed for the nearest module.
Krang went to the transdimensional screen. "I'll just watch your progress on this," he said. "So if you fail, you won't be able to lie to me about it!"
That earned him a dark glower.
Shredder was relieved that when he arrived at the zoo, it was dark and already closed. He frowned as he looked around, walking up and down the streets in search of the perfect animals to mutate. Without Bebop and Rocksteady along, he had to admit he was getting a little excited. There were so many possibilities. And if by some miracle he could get hold of an intelligent mutant, there was no doubt that their plans would finally succeed at long last.
The last thing he was expecting was for another portal to open just as he was nearing the vampire bat exhibit. The door was open as the zookeeper threw in the nightly dinner. As Bebop and Rocksteady tumbled out of the portal with a yelp, they crashed into Shredder and the pitcher flew out of his hand and into the cage.
"NO!" Shredder roared.
The zookeeper screamed and fled.
"Hi, Boss," Rocksteady sheepishly greeted.
"What are you two idiots doing here?!" Shredder boomed. "Krang didn't want you to come!"
"Well, we thought we could help," Bebop said. "After all, we have some of the memories of the animals we was mutated with. We thought we could direct you to some of their friends."
"As if I'd want to mutate any friends of those animals!" Shredder snarled. "Now look at what you've done!"
They all turned to look. The mutagen had splashed on the bat. Right before their eyes, it began to morph, changing into an anthropomorphic creature with a familiar auburn hairstyle.
"Why does it look like April O'Neil?!" Rocksteady exclaimed.
"She must have been near it earlier!" Shredder retorted.
At last the bat's transformation was complete. She straightened, flipping the red locks away from her face. Her low-cut tank top and heavily slit skirt were the complete opposite of the clothes April would wear, and the look she was giving Shredder and the other mutants was very unlike April as well.
"Uh . . . hi?" Bebop ventured with a gulp.
"Who are you geeks?" she returned in a bored sort of voice.
"She sounds like April too!" Rocksteady exclaimed. "Well, sorta."
"My name is Shredder," Shredder told her. "These mutants' names are of no concern to you. You won't be working with them."
"Peh! I'm not going to work with you either." The bat stepped out of the cage, shaking her hair with one hand.
"How dare you!" Shredder boomed. "I created you just now! You will not defy me! I am your master!"
"Get real. My name is Cassiopeia and I hold no allegiance to you or them or this stupid zoo. I'm liberated at last!" She reached down, swiping the packet of blood that had been left for dinner. "But I'll take this free meal and be on my way." And with a huge flap of her wings, she was airborne.
The villains stared after her.
"Gee, Boss," Bebop said. "I guess she don't wanna join us."
"This is all your fault!" Shredder screamed. "If you hadn't interfered, I would have mutated something that actually might have helped us! Now look at what you've done!" He turned to stare at the cage. "The mutagen has already dissolved into the floor! She's all we have and she won't cooperate!"
Rocksteady scratched his head. "So uh, what are we gonna do?"
"We'll have to try to recruit her somehow!" Shredder said. "But right now, I can't imagine how."
The sound of the comm-link was not what he wanted to hear right then. "Shredder, you moronic misfit!" Krang shrieked. "You mutated a bat and you can't even keep hold of it!"
Shredder pulled the device out of his belt, glaring diggers at the alien brain. "It was Bebop and Rocksteady's fault!" he snapped. "You saw it! Now the only real question is, what are we going to do about it?!"
Krang scowled. "I don't know whether to say to keep trying or to forget about it. Mutants have enough brute strength that trying to force them to work for you is all but impossible. And we need to think about getting the rest of that energy. Maybe the bat will keep the police so busy causing chaos that we can run off with the fuel and no one will notice."
"It's a nice thought, but we've tried using distractions before," Shredder retorted. "It never works!"
"Well, let's try again!" Krang shot back. "From what I saw, she's the type who'll keep making herself very visible. A new mutant, especially such a fearsome one to superstitious idiots, could be just the distraction that will work! Forget about recruiting her and go try to collect that energy!"
"Fine!" Shredder snapped. "But that won't work either. You'll see!"
"I'd better see something other than failure!" Krang screeched.
"Alright, alright!" Shredder hung up and glowered at Bebop and Rocksteady. "You heard him. Let's get going!"
"But what if Cassiopeia won't be distracting enough?" Rocksteady worried.
"You'd just better pray she is!" Shredder snarled.
"We will, Boss!" Bebop exclaimed.
"Then come on. We have work to do!" Shredder stormed towards the front gate.
Exchanging a worried look, the two mutants followed.
Barney and Vincent were just coming out from their meeting, exasperated that it had taken so long. The chill autumn breeze nipped at them and Barney shoved his hands in his pockets.
"The others have probably finished dinner by now," he remarked.
"But they'll save some for you, of course," Vincent said.
"Of course." Barney drew out the Turtle-Comm. "I'll call Baxter and let him know we're finally out."
At that moment something swooped overhead and they both looked up with a start. "What's that?" Vincent exclaimed.
Barney squinted. "I can't tell. Some kind of large, winged animal."
Vincent studied it again, this time with infrared. "It's a bat," he reported. "A mutant bat!"
"Well, that's new." Barney held off placing the call, instead watching as the bat flew down to land in front of them. Then he could only stare in sickened disbelief and alarm. "April?" he gasped.
She whipped around to look at him. "The name's Cassiopeia," she retorted. "But if you want to go somewhere and party, I wouldn't mind." A smile curled her lips and revealed her fangs.
"That . . . isn't my thing," Barney stammered. He had never had trouble turning down a flirt before, but when this one talked and looked like April, he couldn't help being shaken.
"Whatever." She tossed what looked like an empty packet into a trash can and took off into the sky again.
Vincent stared after her. "You don't really think that's April," he gasped.
"I don't want to." Barney dialed Baxter and waited impatiently for a response. "We know she's been mutated on several occasions."
"But she only acted out when a mind-control collar was put on her," Vincent said.
The Turtle-Comm beeped and Baxter appeared on the screen. "Hello, Barney," he greeted. "What's going on?"
"We just got out of our meeting," Barney reported. "Is April with you?"
"No," Baxter said in bewilderment. "She had to leave early to cover a breaking news story. I'm still with the Turtles. We were about to go over there too. Apparently there was a theft at the zoo."
"A bat?" Barney frowned.
"Yes," Baxter blinked. "Why?"
"We just saw a bat, Pal," Vincent said worriedly. "It looked and talked like April. Only it didn't act like her. You don't think that maybe . . ."
"Shredder wanted to mutate the bat and somehow mutated April instead?" Baxter's heart sank. "I don't know."
"Bogus!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "I'm gonna call April and she'll answer! You'll see!" He took out his Turtle-Comm and pressed the button to call April's. But when nothing happened, he wavered and Baxter's heart sank.
"She's not answering?" Barney frowned deeply.
"Let's all meet at the zoo," Baxter encouraged. "Maybe something will start making sense."
"Or like, maybe it won't," Michelangelo gulped. "If April's gone gonzo, how can anything make sense?"
Baxter laid a hand on his shoulder. "We'll fix it," he promised. "We have the retro-mutagen ray gun. And if Shredder's controlling her, that should be easy to discover."
"But maybe not so easy to fix," Michelangelo worried.
"You're the one always encouraging us," Barney barked. "This isn't the end of the world. One way or another, we'll save her!"
Michelangelo started and looked at Barney in surprise through Baxter's Turtle-Comm screen. "Thanks, Dude," he said softly.
"We'll be at the zoo in a few minutes, Michelangelo," Vincent said. "We'll see you there."
"Gnarly notion," Michelangelo said, and finally smiled.
"We're leaving too," Baxter said. "Let us know if you see her again."
"We will," Barney grunted.
As it turned out, no one saw the bat on the way to the zoo. And when they arrived, they stood and stared in astonishment at the sight of April unwinding a camera cord from the Channel 6 news van.
"Hi, guys," she greeted with a smile. "What's up?"
"April!" Michelangelo exclaimed. "You're you!"
She quirked an eyebrow. "Um, yes, I would hope so. What are you talking about, Michelangelo?"
Barney stepped forward. "We saw a mutant bat," he explained. "She looked and sounded like you. We were worried that somehow it was."
"Well, you can see it's not," April blinked. "A mutant bat! That must be the one that disappeared from the zoo tonight!"
"Maybe it simply took on some of your traits because you were the closest to the cage earlier today," Baxter said.
Michelangelo swallowed hard. "On the other hand . . . what if April got mutated into a were-bat?!"
"Oh come on." Raphael rolled his eyes. "A were-bat? Really?"
"Well, why not?!" Michelangelo shot back. "Don't forget what happened to Irma and Vernon because of The Rat King's mondo bizarro mutagen! They flipped back and forth! And when they turned human again, they never remembered what they'd been doing as rats or even that they'd been mutated at all!"
April bit her lip. "Michelangelo, you're starting to scare me."
"And The Rat King's moved his Lair too," Donatello moaned. "We tried to find it after he helped Don Turtelli try to kill Vincent, and everything was gone!"
"That didn't bode well then and it's sure not kosher now!" Raphael declared.
"Only The Rat King wouldn't want to turn April into a bat!" Michelangelo said.
"He didn't intend for were-transformations at all," Raphael said. "Something went wrong then and it could have gone wrong now. Or maybe it wasn't him at all," he quickly added. "I was just thinking that if he had more of that tutti-frutti mutagen, he'd be the most likely candidate!"
"Ugh!" April cried. "I don't want to think about this!"
"Why didn't you answer your Turtle-Comm, April?" Leonardo asked.
"I didn't even hear it going off," April said in surprise. She took it out of her pocket and opened it. "Somehow it got set to Silent Mode."
"You've never done that before, Dudette," Michelangelo exclaimed, his eyes filled with worry.
"Obviously it was just an accident," April said. "Michelangelo, I'm not a were-bat! Surely you're not going to believe nonsense like that!" She looked to each of her friends in alarm and desperation.
Barney stepped back. "It's far more likely that the bat simply took on your physical traits," he said.
April swallowed hard. "Only I didn't think I was closer to the cage than someone else might have been, like the zookeeper," she quavered. "How am I going to know for sure?"
"Well, if you and the bat both show up in the same place at the same time, that's a pretty good indication that it isn't you," Raphael quipped.
"Oh, thanks a lump," April retorted. "As if that's going to happen!"
"Hey, it might," Michelangelo said.
April swallowed hard. "And if it doesn't?"
"Well, we can't risk using the retro-mutagen ray gun on you unless we know for sure," Donatello said. "We'll have to keep a really close eye on you until then."
"You can't follow me everywhere," April shot back. "Oh . . . what am I going to do? I might transform on the air . . . or on assignment. . . . Oh great, now you've got me wondering if it's really true!"
"I'm sure it isn't," Baxter soothed.
"Hey, maybe Vince could scan you for any trace of mutagenic properties!" Raphael suggested.
"Maybe," Vincent said slowly, "but what if April still has traces of mutagenic properties from past mutations?"
"Would she?" Barney frowned.
"We know so little of how mutations really work," Baxter said. "But considering I have lingering physical and psychological effects from mine . . ."
April placed her hands on her head. "Stop! Guys, you're all just scaring me. I'm one hundred percent human! I don't have any after-effects from my mutations, except nightmares now and then. And no one turned me into a were-bat!" She turned to the camera she had been setting up. "Now, I'm going to do this broadcast about the missing bat and we're not going to say anything more about it. Are we?!"
"Not me," Raphael said.
Everyone else fell silent as well.
"Dudes," Michelangelo whispered, "the sign says it was a vampire bat in the cage." He swallowed hard. "Doesn't that mean mondo trouble, whether it's April or not?"
"Vampire bats rarely ever feast on humans, Michelangelo," Baxter said. "And I doubt they'd like mutant turtles either. Mostly they feed on livestock. And they only take a tiny amount of blood from their victims. The animals don't die from it. Nor do they become the undead."
Michelangelo shifted. "That sounds logical and all, Baxter, but it's hard to forget the kind of stuff they show on all those late-night horror flicks."
"Well, just try to put them out of your mind," Baxter said. "Surely you don't believe that what happens in them is true."
"Oh no," Michelangelo said. "I know there aren't vampires or Frankenstein's monsters or stuff like that. But on the other hand . . ." He looked worried. "Were-creatures exist. Maybe werewolves are real. And maybe some vampire bats really do act like they do in the movies. . . ."
Baxter laid a hand on his shoulder. "Michelangelo, I promise we're not in any danger from the mutant bat. Not unless she decides to work for Shredder or one of our other enemies."
Michelangelo still looked tense, but he tried to relax as he looked to his friend. "You mean it, Baxter Dude?"
"Of course," Baxter said firmly. "And right now, April needs our support. Whether she is or is not the bat, the news that the bat looks like her must be highly distressing."
"Oh, you're totally right, Amigo," Michelangelo said. "We'll all go all-out to support her! Right, Compadres?"
Everyone else chorused in the affirmative.
Baxter smiled. "I know you will."
"I wonder what the zoo is going to do," Donatello said. "I hope they won't try to contain the bat now that she's a mutant."
"Do you think they would?" Leonardo asked in concern.
"Hey, with humans, it's hard to say," Raphael chimed in.
Barney raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
". . . With some humans," Raphael amended. "Present company excepted, of course."
Donatello nodded. "I mean, I'll bet they paid a lot for the bat. They won't want to lose their investment. And oh gosh, none of us have even been thinking enough about how she got mutated in the first place! It was probably Shredder's doing. Or The Rat King's," he added. "Either way, whoever did it will be trying to get her to work for them!"
"And if she agrees, ho boy, one more enemy mutant to deal with," Raphael sighed.
"And chances are, she'd be more competent than Bebop and Rocksteady," Donatello said. "We need to try to find her now, not just to prove she isn't April, but to try to convince her not to join the bad guys. If she hasn't already."
"Well, that should be easy as pie," Raphael snorted.
Michelangelo gulped. "Maybe I could try talking to her?" he quavered.
Leonardo smiled, pleased that he felt confident enough to offer. "That's a great idea, Michelangelo," he praised. "You make friends so easily, you probably have the best chance of getting through to her."
"I agree," Barney said.
"Of course, actually finding her is another thing altogether again," Michelangelo moaned.
"We'll see what we can turn up," Leonardo determined. "She has to be around somewhere!"
"Like, that's what I'm afraid of," Michelangelo whispered.
Vernon was just leaving the Channel 6 building and heading to his car parked in front when a large, winged creature swooped down in front of him. "Hello, tall, dark, and handsome," she purred in a very familiar voice.
Vernon immediately lost control of his keys and they clattered to the ground. "Oh!" He stood, shaking, staring at the anthropomorphic bat facing him. He had recognized the voice, and upon really looking at the mutant, the hair was also unmistakable. "A-April?" He swallowed hard. "W-What . . . happened to you?"
Her eyes flashed. "Why does everyone keep calling me that?!" she snapped.
"I . . . I . . . isn't that your name?" Vernon's knees were uncontrollably knocking.
"My name is Cassiopeia," the bat retorted. She smiled seductively. "But I'm willing to overlook your mistake. Why don't we go somewhere and have a blast?"
Vernon went stiff as she ran her hands down the front of his shirt. "Cassiopeia?" He felt faint. "Isn't that the name of the vampire bat at the zoo?"
"I'm not at the zoo anymore." She threw her winged arms around his neck and leaned in close.
Vernon shrieked and pushed her away. "Don't drain my blood, I beg of you! Go find someone who can afford to lose it!" He flung the car door open wide and practically threw himself inside. As he revved the engine and flew past her, she regarded him in annoyance and rolled her eyes.
"Get real!" she called after him. "Why would I want to drink your blood?! A nice cow's, maybe, but a human's?!"
Her lips curled in annoyance when Vernon didn't stop or slow down. "Maybe it's time I find this April," she muttered. "She's spoiling all my fun without even realizing it. Well . . . her and everyone's prejudice against bats. I wish just once, we'd be appreciated like we should be. I should be able to walk freely down the streets like everyone else. Or get someone to party with me."
And she took to the skies, turning the unfairness of the situation over and over in her mind.
"I'll show them," she said at last. "There has to be someplace in the city where I'll be welcomed. I'll just have to keep looking until I find it!"
The fuel plant was completely in darkness when Shredder and the mutants arrived.
"Wow, not even any guards?" Rocksteady blinked.
"They really have let down their guard," Shredder sneered.
"Unless it's a trap or somethin'," Bebop said nervously.
"Just in case it is, you two can have the honor of going in first." Shredder pushed them ahead of him.
"Aww, do we have to?!" Rocksteady whined.
"Yes! Now just get going!" Shredder boomed.
"Alright, alright." The mutants creeped up to the door and suddenly kicked it in. Nothing happened. They slowly advanced into the room.
"Nobody's here, Boss," Bebop said at last.
"Good!" Shredder strode in after them. "Here's a dolly." He grabbed it and wheeled it out. "Let's fill it up and get out of here!"
"Oh boy," Rocksteady giggled. "We get to commit a crime without being interrupted!"
"Yeah," Bebop grinned. "This is gonna be great!"
April was not in a good mood when she arrived back at the apartment house that night and found Irma worriedly waiting for her. "April!" Irma exclaimed, leaping up from the couch. "Are you okay?! Did you see the . . ."
"The giant bat that disappeared from the zoo and has been running around town causing chaos?" April sighed. "Everywhere it goes, people get scared of it and it has to move on. It was last sighted at a nightclub, I think."
"The really creepy thing is that it looked like you!" Irma said.
"So everyone keeps telling me," April muttered. She sank onto the couch. "And what's worse is that every time the bat's been seen, I've been alone and can't account for my whereabouts!"
Irma stared. "You don't really think . . ."
"That it's me?" April finished. "Oh, Irma, I'm trying not to think it. But what if I'm undergoing some kind of were-transformation like you and Vernon did and that's why I don't remember?!" She slumped back on the couch and stared up at the ceiling.
"I'm sure that's not it," Irma protested.
April sat up. "Why, Irma?! How?! How can you be so sure?!"
Irma rocked back, surprised and stunned by the sudden outburst. "Well . . . it doesn't act like you either," she said. "And it doesn't dress like you. When I transformed, I just kept my regular clothes."
"But you and Vernon were under The Rat King's spell and neither of you acted like yourselves," April said. "And once when I was mutated, Shredder tried to mind-control me and turned me into something completely opposite too!"
"Oh yeah." Irma frowned. "That's true."
"So that's not really any guarantee of anything," April said morosely.
"I guess it's not." Irma sighed. She hesitated. "It would be awful enough for you to have to worry like this if you'd been mutated just once, but when it's happened so many times it must be even worse for you."
"No kidding." April covered her eyes with a hand. "I try not to think about it, but with this problem staring me in the face, I can't help but think about it! All the times something went wrong by accident . . . or some nutcase deliberately turned me into something awful. . . ." She shuddered. "The last thing I want to think is that it's happening again and I don't even know it!"
"Seriously." Irma nodded. "Sometimes I still have nightmares about being a were-rat."
April gave her a wry smile. "And no one can blame you. I'm sure Vernon has nightmares like that too."
"And Baxter probably has nightmares about being a cross-fused fly," Irma said. "Have you ever talked with him about being mutated and stuff?"
"A couple of times, mostly right after he was turned human again." April sat up straight.
"Well." Irma smiled. "I'm glad you're talking about it with me now. And honestly? I don't think you've mutated into a were-bat."
"I sure hope not!" April sighed. "And I hope Burne doesn't meet the bat. He might think it's me too!"
"Oh brother," Irma groaned. "Yeah, I guess that's possible!"
"On the other hand, Burne can be kind of dense sometimes," April mused. "Like how he assigns Vernon to dangerous things and me to the boring stuff. So maybe he wouldn't make a connection between the bat and me."
"Actually . . ." Irma cringed and hesitated, but she had already said enough for April to get the picture.
"Even you thought it looked and sounded like me?" April moaned.
"I really did have to wonder," Irma admitted, looking guilty even as she said it.
"Oh . . . I can't blame you." April made a face. "I'm going to make some hot chocolate. Do you want some, or did you start that latest diet you were thinking of?"
"These diets never help anyway," Irma scowled. "They never make me more attractive to men. I'm all for hot chocolate!"
April chuckled as Irma bounced up. "Let's have some then." She headed for the kitchen.
Irma trailed after her. "Do you ever miss when Baxter lived above us all the time and would sometimes come down or we'd go up?"
"I do, sometimes," April nodded. "It was nice having him here more than just between shifts and when he wants to plan inventions. But I know he's happiest living with Barney and Vincent and he belongs with them, so I'd never wish him back here all the time."
"Yeah. Same here," Irma agreed. "Living alone isn't fun. I'm glad he doesn't have to anymore. Even though it isn't because of romance."
"Romance isn't the only kind of shared relationship that's meaningful," April said in amusement. She washed her hands and took out the kettle.
Irma helped by getting out the hot chocolate mix. "I know. He told me that I should be grateful for all the things I have in my life, instead of focusing on what I don't have. He's right. I have a lot-a well-paying job, family nearby, good friends . . . including my best friend, who is most definitely not a bat but would still be amazing even if she was."
April laughed but was moved. "Thanks, Irma. You're pretty amazing yourself."
"I'm glad someone thinks so," Irma muttered.
Leonardo was tense as he gripped the steering wheel. They had been going around the city for what seemed like hours without success. Every now and then Donatello or Vincent tuned in a report on her latest location and they tried to head out in time to catch her, but so far they had always failed.
"I don't know," Raphael mused, "but if you ask me, it's like she really is April and she knows we're after her and she's deliberately missing us."
"It's just a coincidence," Leonardo insisted.
"Maybe," Raphael said. "Or maybe you'll just have to accept that she might really be April, O Fearless Leader."
"I don't want to," Leonardo frowned. He sighed and his shoulders slumped. "But I know you're right that it's possible."
The Cadillac pulled alongside the Turtle Van and Vincent rolled down the window. "There haven't been any new sightings in a while," he reported. "Maybe she's given in to her human side and gone to bed."
"Which is probably what we should all do," Barney said.
"You're probably right," Leonardo acknowledged. "Maybe just a little bit longer. . . ."
"I'm totally ready to call it a night," Michelangelo said with a wide yawn.
"I'm sure we all are," Baxter smiled at him. "Why don't we check in with April one last time and then go home to bed if she answers?"
"I'm all for that," Raphael said.
Donatello pulled out his Turtle-Comm and dialed. "Hi, April," he greeted when her image came up on the screen. "We haven't found the bat yet. We thought maybe we'd stop for the night."
"I don't blame you," April sighed. "But tell me this. Do you still think she's me?"
"We hope not," Donatello said.
"Well, if there's been any sightings in the last hour, I've been with Irma," April said.
"I don't think we've heard about any sightings since we checked in with you before you went home," Donatello groaned.
"So I'm still a suspect," April said flatly.
"I wouldn't put it like that," Donatello said.
"It might as well be put like that." April put a hand to the side of her head. "I'm going to go. I'll see you later, Donatello."
"Goodbye then. . . ." Donatello hung up looking gloomy.
"We're going to find the answer," Leonardo vowed.
"I just hope it's soon," Donatello said. "It will be awful if April has to keep worrying that she's turning into a bat. Or thinking that we're thinking she is."
"We are, aren't we?" Michelangelo said.
"We're worrying about it," Leonardo said.
Baxter smiled at them. "Maybe things will look more hopeful in the morning," he suggested. "We'll see you later."
"Right." Michelangelo managed a smile back. "See you tomorrow, Baxter Dude. And Barney and Vincent."
Each vehicle turned to head for the occupants' respective residence. The mystery was no closer to being solved and everyone was worried. Hopefully, Baxter thought, they would all be able to get to sleep.
Krang's eyes gleamed as Shredder and the mutants came in through the portal with a dolly of drums. "You got the fuel?!" he exclaimed.
"Nobody was around!" Rocksteady sneered.
"The cops and the Turtles finally let down their guard," Bebop agreed. "Or maybe it really was Cassiopeia distracting them!"
"Hmph. Then I suppose I'll have to say that you idiots have done well," Krang said. "Even about mutating her."
"And before you put this fuel in, you'd better make sure that there aren't any leaks in any of the tubes or tanks," Shredder growled. "And coming to think of it, just having full power wasn't enough to get us out of the well before. Levitation isn't one of the Technodrome's inherent abilities. We only flew before because OMNUS hacked into a hyper-thruster and hooked it up to us. Do you have a solution for that?"
"Of course," Krang sneered. "We'll travel under here until we can roll or bore up to the surface."
"Hmm. Not a bad plan," Shredder mused.
"Yes!" Krang said. "These hicks won't even know we're gone at first. And we can come up in the middle of New York City!"
"I like it!" Shredder cackled.
"So let's get fueled up and start moving," Krang grinned. "We don't have to wait any longer to rule the world!"
"Krang, that's music to my ears!" Shredder pronounced.
Barney wasn't really surprised when he came downstairs later that night and found Baxter laying on the couch, staring up at the ceiling.
"It's late," he grunted.
Baxter started. "I know," he sighed.
"You're thinking about April?" Barney deduced.
"Yes . . . and myself," Baxter confessed. "It was horrible enough knowing what was happening to me. To think of April having to worry that she's undergoing a transformation without even knowing it . . . !" He shuddered. "And she's been mutated so many times already . . . once because of me. . . ."
Barney sighed and sat on the edge of the opposite couch. "I'm sure she doesn't still blame you."
"But I blame me," Baxter frowned. "How could I have been so far gone that taking revenge on the entire world made sense?" He rested a hand over his eyes.
"People who are out of their minds see everything differently," Barney said. "And that's without a second mind taking control."
Baxter shuddered. "I should just be focusing on April's problem and how she's feeling, but it's bringing my own problems to the surface again. I can't refrain from thinking about that as well. And wondering if that could ever happen to me . . . being mutated again and not knowing it . . . and transforming back and forth. . . ."
Barney set his jaw. "Of course, anything seems to be possible in our bizarre world," he said. "But after seeing what happened to you after Shredder tried to mind-control you for five minutes, I don't even want to think about what another mutation would do to you. Naturally if it happened, we should be able to correct the physical problem easily enough with the retro-mutagen ray gun in the Lair."
"But emotionally and mentally, I might be shot," Baxter said softly.
"No," Barney snapped. "You wouldn't be! It might take a long time, but you would get better. Everyone who loves you would be fighting for you. None of us would give up!"
That brought a smile. "I know you wouldn't."
"Anyway, I doubt April has been mutated now," Barney said. "We all really think it's just the bat taking on some of her physical traits."
"And it probably is," Baxter agreed. "But knowing what happened to Irma and Vernon, we're very much aware that were-transformations aren't impossible. And it's not unreasonable to worry about it having happened to April."
"No, I suppose not," Barney relented.
"The Turtles are probably having a similar discussion right now," Baxter noted. He sat up.
"Probably." Barney studied him. "Are you feeling any better?"
"Some," Baxter smiled. "I don't want to keep you up. And maybe I can go to sleep now myself."
"You haven't slept at all?" Barney wasn't really surprised by that either.
"No," Baxter admitted. "I was too shaken up."
Barney hesitated. "I know I don't know what it's actually like to be mutated," he said. "I suppose the closest I've come to it was being . . ." He grimaced. "Encased in gold. And that was my own fault."
Baxter gave him a weak smile. "At least it was just an encasing," he said. "I know we often kept phrasing it as being turned to gold, but of course no one really was. If you had actually, literally been turned to gold . . ." He trailed off.
"I would have been dead," Barney said. "Not to mention I would have killed Michelangelo." He ran a hand through his hair. "I haven't even thought about it in a while."
"I'm sorry I had to drag the memories back up for you," Baxter said. "I haven't thought about it either. It was so long ago."
"In my darkest moment, I almost threw you to the goose," Barney growled.
"And then you knew you couldn't," Baxter said softly. "You sacrificed yourself instead."
"But didn't it still hurt that I was going to?" Barney shot back. "Doesn't that still hurt?"
Baxter paused. "It's hard for me to even think about that," he admitted. "I'm so caught up in thinking how you couldn't do it. Obviously you didn't ever really want to, even if you thought you did for a moment. And even when you were thinking it, you were also thinking you'd rescue me as soon as you had the antidote."
"That's true," Barney conceded.
"You were never bad enough for Shredder's team, no matter how much you believed you were," Baxter said.
"That goes for you too," Barney said. He stood and went into the kitchen for a drink of water. When he came back, Baxter was still sitting there, looking thoughtful. Vincent was sitting next to him.
"Hi, Buddy," he greeted Barney.
"Hello," Barney nodded.
"It looks like we're all awake tonight," Baxter remarked.
"We were just going to try to go back to bed, though," Barney reminded.
"That's a good idea," Vincent chirped. "Neither of you have had enough sleep."
Baxter turned to look at him. "How much sleep does a computer need, Vincent?"
"Oh, we can get going again after only an hour or two, if we have to," Vincent said cheerily. "But we like it better to have more. I usually sleep as long as you two do."
Baxter smiled. "Well then, let's see what we can do about that." He started to get off the couch.
Barney and Vincent followed him up the stairs. But when he suddenly stopped halfway up, they nearly crashed into him. "Now what?" Barney frowned.
"I just thought of something." Baxter turned to face his brothers, the worry clear in his eyes. "We've all been so focused on worrying about that bat and whether she could be April and finding her to convince her not to join forces with the enemy that we haven't even stopped to think about what the enemy might be doing if he isn't actively trying to find her too."
Barney stiffened. "Such as if it's Shredder, he could be taking advantage of the commotion and gathering fuel."
"Exactly." Baxter's eyes shone with worry. "I wonder if the Turtles have come to the same conclusion."
"If they have, they might have gone out looking for Shredder without calling us," Vincent said. "They probably wouldn't want to wake us up."
Baxter ran up the rest of the stairs and into his room. "Well, I'm afraid I'd better wake them up if they haven't thought of it," he said in concern. He pulled his Turtle-Comm off the nightstand and opened it, pressing the button.
Michelangelo appeared on the screen, very much awake and looking worried. "Oh hey, Baxter Dude," he greeted. He sounded and looked distracted.
Baxter gave him a weak smile. "Have you suddenly realized Shredder might be using the bat as a distraction?"
"Heck yeah," Michelangelo said. "Leonardo thought about it when we were almost home and we've been combing the streets looking for him since then."
"Without luck, I take it," Baxter said.
"Exactamundo," Michelangelo sighed.
"Except . . . oh no," Donatello moaned. "A report is just coming in that there's been a big robbery at a fuel plant! A lot of drums of fuel have been stolen!"
"Shredder!" Leonardo cried.
"Well, now what?" Raphael sounded exasperated. "We head on out to High Falls?"
"I'm going to call Billy Jim Bob and see if he can check on whether the Technodrome is still in the well," Leonardo decided. He hurried to the Turtle Van phone and dialed. The others waited impatiently, but when Leonardo hung up, his grim expression said it all.
"Don't tell us, the Technodrome has departed for parts unknown," Raphael said.
"Worse," Leonardo said. "I'm sure we all know exactly where it's coming."
"Like, right here," Michelangelo groaned.
"So we have to catch up to it before it arrives and keep it from getting here!" Leonardo declared.
Donatello groaned too. "And that means the portal. Otherwise, we'd never reach it before it gets here! It moves faster than the Turtle Van!"
"Alright," Baxter said. "Go try to get the portal working. We'll meet you at the Lair."
"I really don't have much hope," Donatello grimaced. "But I guess I'd better."
"It's too bad we couldn't get that bat to help us," Vincent remarked as Baxter hung up and hurried to get dressed again. "She could pinpoint the exact location of the Technodrome. Well, of course I could too, but she could fly out there and get there ahead of us. Or take one of us to try to shut it down while the others are trying to get there some other way. Donatello's right that it will get here long before anyone could drive out to meet it. We need to find it and try to stop it before it arrives, because once it does, we all know it will start destroying the city."
"Your idea isn't a bad one," Barney admitted. "And you're right about time being of the essence. But it would be very dangerous. Whoever would be on the Technodrome might not get off again."
"I know," Vincent said quietly. "But maybe there'd be a chance, especially if the bat would help us."
Barney pointed out, "There's no guarantee she's trustworthy, even if she isn't April and isn't working for Shredder."
Baxter pushed his door most of the way shut while he changed clothes. "It's worth a try," he said through the open crack. "Let's look for her on our way to the Lair."
Barney headed for his room to get dressed as well. "Alright," he said slowly, warily. "But if she agrees, I suppose you'll try to go with her."
Baxter swallowed hard. "Flying all that way . . . trusting she won't just drop me. . . ." He shuddered, the fear gathering in his eyes.
"You don't have to be the one to go, Baxter," Vincent said. "Actually, it would be more logical for it to be Barney or me. We're much more familiar with the Technodrome than you are and might have a better chance of not being caught."
"That's true," Baxter said slowly. "But . . ."
"And she already tried to flirt with me," Barney remarked. "If she's interested in me, I might be able to use that to my advantage. Not to flirt back, naturally." He grimaced at the thought. "But she might simply be more willing to take me with her after our prior encounter."
The twins opened their doors and stepped into the hall with Vincent. "Let's see what we can find," Vincent encouraged. "We might not see her at all."
They headed down the stairs and out the door to the car. "There's always the chance Donatello will be able to get the portal going again before too long," Baxter hoped.
"But it's unlikely, I'm afraid," Vincent said softly. "When I spoke to it before, it didn't see how it would ever do it."
"Then the Turtles should really just focus on driving to High Falls," Barney said. "And we'll have to try to find that bat so someone might be able to get there ahead of everyone else." He revved the engine and sped off the property once everyone was safely inside. "Keep a lookout for anything unusual in the sky."
"Or on the ground," Vincent added.
"If she did decide to settle down for the night, I wonder where she'd go," Baxter mused. "You don't think . . ."
"What?" Barney flatly asked.
"That . . . well . . . she might go to April's?" Baxter worried.
Barney shot him a look. "Why would she?"
"I just wondered if she might have received some of April's memories as well as her physical attributes," Baxter said. "We know so little about mutants, in some ways. . . . Especially animals who have become anthropomorphic. Aside from the Turtles, most mutants we know were once human. And the Turtles were so young when they were transformed. I don't know if they would remember if they had any of Splinter's memories or not."
"It's worth a try," Barney said gruffly. "Let's try April's apartment."
The Turtles were almost at the Lair when Donatello's Turtle-Comm went off. He quickly opened it. "Hi, April. What's up?" He blinked in surprise. "I thought you'd be in bed by now."
"Donatello, Raphael said that if the bat and I were in the same location, it would prove I wasn't her," April exclaimed. "Well, look!" She turned the Turtle-Comm to point at the window. A huge bat was lifting it and climbing inside.
Donatello's jaw dropped. "Uh oh. We'll be there as soon as possible, April! Meanwhile, try to find out what she wants!"
"I think she wants my apartment," April whimpered. Her eyes flashed. "And she's not going to get it!"
"April! Don't try to fight it!" Donatello gasped.
"Totally!" Michelangelo yelped. "You'll lose!"
But April had already set the Turtle-Comm aside and was running over to the intruder. "Alright!" she snapped. "Just what do you think you're doing?!"
"I can't have any fun because everyone thinks I'm you," the bat retorted.
"So what?" April retorted. "That's not my fault!"
"It kind of is," the bat said. "You were standing close enough to me that I picked up your appearance when I mutated."
"Well, it's not like I was expecting that to happen!" April fumed. "I don't owe you my apartment!"
"I have to go somewhere," the bat said. "The most logical place is here."
The knock on the door was a relief. April hurried over. "It's about time you guys got here!" But she blinked in surprise when she opened it and the Stockmans came in. "Huh?"
"I thought the bat might come here," Baxter said. "Apparently I was right."
The bat folded her arms. "Oh, you guys again." She looked to Barney and Vincent. "And you've brought a friend."
"A brother, actually," Barney said.
"Yeah, I guess that makes sense." She gave a lazy stretch. "I keep forgetting you humans all look different unless you're related."
"Can you make her go?" April demanded.
"I . . . don't know." Awkward, Baxter stepped forward. "My name is Baxter Stockman."
"I'm Cassiopeia," said the bat. "So?"
"We need your help," Baxter said. "A deadly war machine is on its way to the city." April gasped. "It's going to be here in a matter of moments and we want to stop it before it gets here."
"Whoa, time-out. No way!" Cassiopeia shook her head and spread her winged arms. "I'm not getting mixed up in a suicide mission. Even though I haven't had much luck having fun."
"We just need you to track its location with your sonar," Baxter said. "And . . . maybe to take one of us there? Whoever you take would try to stop it. You wouldn't have to do anything."
"If it gets here, you can bet you'll never have a chance to have fun," Barney spoke.
That brought a frown. "The guys in the war machine. They wouldn't happen to be the idiots who mutated me, would they?"
"Most likely," Baxter said.
"I didn't want to work for them," Cassiopeia said. "But I don't want to work for you either. Still . . . all I have to do is track it?"
"Yes," Baxter nodded. A bit of hope glimmered in his eyes.
"And take one of us," Barney said. "I know the war machine best. It would be the most logical to take me."
"Hmm." Cassiopeia looked back and forth between them. "Well, you're both kind of cute. And you don't look like you'd weigh much, especially for a mutant to carry."
Baxter colored. "We wouldn't," he stammered.
"Okay," Cassiopeia said at last. "Let's go." She turned and headed back to the window and the fire escape balcony.
Worry filled Baxter's eyes. Of course they had known that this was dangerous, but now that the moment was upon them, it was really sinking in that Barney was putting himself in terrible peril. In spite of his fears, Baxter was tempted to say he would go instead, yet he knew Barney and Vincent were right that it would make more sense for it to be one of them. So he wouldn't waste his breath on such a comment.
"Be careful," he implored.
"I will be," Barney promised.
"We'll start driving out towards High Falls," Vincent said. "I'll try to keep tracking you."
"Good. And let the Turtles know what's happening." Barney climbed out through the window. As soon as he was securely gripping Cassiopeia, she took off for the skies.
Baxter, Vincent, and April ran to look out the window. "I hope you haven't made a big mistake!" April moaned.
"So do I," Baxter said softly.
The Turtles burst through the still-open door. "What the heck is going on?!" Raphael cried.
"We like, heard everything on the Turtle-Comm!" Michelangelo added.
"Then you already know what's going on," Baxter said. "Come on! We have to try to keep them in sight." He swallowed hard. "Barney's going to try to stop the Technodrome by doing something to its mechanical process. But if he can take care of that without being caught, there's still getting off of it alive."
"You know this was a really, really crazy idea?!" Raphael snapped as they all ran out, April included.
"We all knew," Vincent said quietly. "But we also all agreed it was the best chance of stopping the Technodrome before it could reach the city."
"Well, losing Barney isn't acceptable," Raphael snarled. "So let's get going and make sure we do keep him and that bat in sight!"
They practically flew out of the building and into the Turtle Van.
"We'll come with you," Baxter said. "I'm sure you get better mileage than the Cadillac."
"And we're really going to pour it on," Donatello promised. He floored the accelerator and sped off.
Barney was quickly both unnerved and annoyed by the ride. His hair was blowing into his face from every conceivable angle and a few he wouldn't have imagined, but there was nothing he could do about it. Reaching up to brush it away was most certainly out of the question. And every time he opened his mouth with the thought of talking, he ended up with a mouthful of fluffy red hair. He soon determined that staying quiet was the best option.
Cassiopeia was quiet too, but when he dared to look up at her, it seemed to be because she was either deep in thought or concentrating hard on trying to find the Technodrome. Barney wasn't sure how far out of the city they were when she finally spoke.
"I hear something down there, under the ground."
Barney dared to look down, something he had steadfastly avoided until now. They were over a grasslands area with nearby trees and brush. His heart and stomach both dropped, for different reasons.
"It's not on the surface," he gasped.
"So this wasn't what you were expecting?" Cassiopeia frowned.
"No," Barney said. "We won't even be able to get to it!"
"Peh. Brilliant." Cassiopeia rolled her eyes. "So now what?"
"We keep tracking it," Barney replied without skipping a beat. "And we look for a way to get below the surface. How far are we from the city?" He didn't think they'd been flying for very long, but part of him hoped he was wrong. If it was too close, how would they ever stop it in time?
"We're 45 miles from New York City," Cassiopeia replied.
"It's already traveled halfway from High Falls," Barney whispered in alarm. "I need to contact the Turtles. Is it safe to reach for my Turtle-Comm?"
"Hey, if you're okay with holding on to me with one arm, you are welcome to try it," Cassiopeia answered. "And I might as well fly lower to the ground right now."
"Yes, you might as well," Barney retorted. He waited for her to descend before daring to fumble the device out of his pocket. He clutched the bat close as he opened it and pressed the button with his thumb.
"Barney!" Baxter looked both amazed and relieved. "What's happening?"
"Well, we found the Technodrome, but we can't get to it," Barney scowled. "It's traveling under the surface! We're 45 miles out of New York City."
"44 miles now," Cassiopeia corrected.
"I think we're almost at your location," Baxter said. "Donatello, does the Van have a device that would let us drill underground?"
Donatello smiled. "I knew we might need it someday!"
"Seriously?" Cassiopeia stared. "What kind of souped-up van have you got?"
"Oh, it's a beauty," Donatello said, the pride clearly showing in his voice.
"We see you!" Baxter said in relief. "Can you fly over the exact spot where the Technodrome is right now?"
"That's what we're doing," Cassiopeia said. "If you wanna start digging, knock yourself out."
Donatello steered the Turtle Van until it was directly under them. When he pressed a button, a drill emerged from the underside of the Van and began boring through the earth.
"So exactly what are we going to do?" Raphael wondered with a frown. "Drop through the hole and try to catch a ride on the Technodrome?"
"Exactly," Leonardo nodded. "Then we'll all try to stop it."
"I'm glad it is underground," Baxter sighed in relief. "Barney didn't have to go onboard alone."
"I'll hack into the computer and get the Technodrome open for us," Vincent offered.
"Great," Donatello said. He moved the Van forward. "The hole's made. I didn't have to drill very far, actually. The Technodrome is really close to the surface."
"Well, bombs away." Raphael jumped out of the Van, attached his grappling hook to the top of the hole, and slid on down. The other Turtles followed suit, accompanied by Baxter, April, and Vincent. Cassiopeia flew down into the hole with Barney, who looked up at her.
"Thank you," he said. "You've accomplished your part of the bargain. You don't have to stay here any longer." He nodded to the back of the Technodrome as it pressed forward in the tunnel it was making as it moved. "We'll take it from here."
"Hey, this is more fun than being kicked out of nightclubs," Cassiopeia shrugged. "I'll stay."
Baxter smiled at Barney. "I'm so glad you're safe. It really was a foolish thing for us to try."
"I know," Barney grunted. "But it was worth it."
"I was starting to regret having suggested it," Vincent said softly. "We were both worrying about the worst, even though we were trying not to."
"I certainly thought about the worst possibilities too," Barney said. "But there's time for talk later. Let's get onboard the Technodrome!"
Vincent concentrated as they hurried forward. "I'm in," he announced after a moment. A hatch opened near the bottom of the machine. "But we'll still have to climb up the treads to get to the hatch."
"That's doable," Raphael shrugged.
The Turtles moved up with ease. Baxter and April stumbled, but held on tight and made it up. Vincent managed alright and Cassiopeia flew up with Barney. Soon they were all through the hatch and inside the fortress.
"Okay, so now what?" Cassiopeia asked.
"We need to get into the engine room," Donatello said. "We've been in it before, but it's so easy to get turned around when we don't come here very often."
"I can lead the way," Vincent said. "Let's go."
"And be careful of Foot Soldiers," Leonardo cautioned. "They're everywhere!"
"If we see them, then what?" Cassiopeia wondered as they started out.
"Disable them if you can," Leonardo said. "They're just robots."
"Very low-functioning robots at that," Raphael added.
"Is there any chance of Shredder and Krang finding out we're here?" Baxter asked in concern.
"I'm trying to keep their monitors focused on areas where nothing is happening," Vincent said. "I don't know if it will last. The main computer is being cooperative right now because I'm a computer too, but maybe it will decide to start fighting back since Krang is its controller."
Donatello moved up to walk next to Vincent, much to the computer's surprise. "You're good with other computers and mechanical things," he observed. "Of course, that isn't a surprise, since you're a computer, but I guess sometimes I'm still a little amazed by what you can do."
"I was the best my home planet could make 485 years ago," Vincent said. "And still the best compared to the technology of Earth computers."
"And definitely the most sentient computer we've ever met," Donatello said. "And the most caring. Even though once I never would have thought so."
"I was afraid of you for a long time, even after we started trying to form an alliance," Vincent admitted. "Of course I couldn't blame you for trying to find solutions to the chaos Baxter was causing in the past, but naturally after being on the receiving end of your torture, I was leery."
"It took me a long time to forgive you and still longer to trust you," Donatello said. "But I did before Raphael did. You've said how sorry you are for encouraging Baxter in his revenge schemes. I'm sorry I felt pushed into hurting you and threatening you. I hope you're not still afraid of me."
"No," Vincent mused. "I know you won't hurt me now, since I am not a threat to you or the other Turtles."
"And since you're a friend," Donatello firmly added. "And an uncle."
Vincent peered at him. "You see me that way?"
Donatello smiled a bit. "I wasn't sure if I would, but yeah, I do."
"You're definitely a friend," Vincent said. "I think it will take a while to get used to the nephew idea, since in some ways I don't feel old enough to be an uncle, but I'm sure I will."
"Foot Soldiers!" Leonardo suddenly exclaimed.
Everyone snapped to attention as a troop of purple-clad robots charged them from the side. The Turtles quickly dispatched most of them, with the Stockmans tripping and electrocuting others and Cassiopeia casually knocking one into the wall.
"Wow, they really aren't much, are they?" she mused. "These bad guys are ridiculously inefficient."
"That's putting it mildly," Raphael quipped. "But don't let things like this catch you off-guard, Honey. This war machine should tell you that they can mean business when they want to."
"So what are we gonna do to stop them?" she asked.
Baxter smiled. "I was thinking of cutting their fuel lines and putting them in reverse. As the last of their fuel drains, they'll be heading back towards where they came from."
"Sounds good to me," Raphael said. "If we can't send them into Dimension X, that's the next best thing."
"Here's the engine room," Vincent announced, throwing open a door.
Everyone stopped and went stiff. Shredder, Krang, and their mutants were already in there waiting.
"Welcome, Turtles," Krang sneered. "And allies."
"Welcome to your doom!" Shredder added.
"I knew it was going too easy," Raphael said in frustration.
"We knew you'd be comin' along sooner or later," Rocksteady sneered.
"So what are you gonna do about it?" Raphael taunted as he drew his sais. "There's more of us than you!"
"You forget about our Foot Soldiers," Shredder smirked. He pressed a button and what looked like a dozen or more lumbered into the room.
Cassiopeia snorted. "Seriously? These guys walk like zombies. A breeze would knock them over." To demonstrate, she flew into the air and then flapped her wings directly at the Foot Soldiers. Most of them sailed backwards into the wall. The rest spread out and attacked the group.
Bebop pulled out his chain, wrapping it around Cassiopeia's ankle. "Okay, you wouldn't play with us and now you've joined the enemy? You're goin' down!"
Cassiopeia snarled, straining against the warthog's pull. Instead, she failed and crashed to the floor.
The Turtles were busy battling Shredder, Krang, Rocksteady, and the other Foot Soldiers. "Somebody's got to get to the fuel tanks!" Leonardo exclaimed as he ran a robot through with his katana.
"Allow me." Barney was the closest. He reached out, cutting through two of the fuel lines.
Krang lifted him up by the back of his coat as soon as he did. "Oh no you don't," he snapped. He pitched Barney halfway across the room and then grabbed the fuel lines, desperate to not let the precious fuel get away. "Somebody bring the electrician's tape!" he yelped as the dark substance ran over his hands.
"Sorry, Krang, but who's got time to get that?" Bebop retorted.
"Not you," Vincent smiled, blasting him back into the wall.
Baxter ducked under Shredder's sweeping arm, his eyes filled with worry as he looked to where Barney had fallen. "Barney?!" he cried.
"I'm alright," Barney growled, pushing himself up on his hands. "Put it in reverse!"
Baxter turned his attention to the nearby steering console. It was on Auto-Pilot. He ran over, desperately searching for the way to set it on Manual Drive. As he worked, a Foot Soldier soared overhead and crashed on the top of the console. He jumped a mile.
"Whoops. Sorry," Raphael called. He stabbed two more Foot Soldiers.
"Be more careful in the future!" Baxter snapped. He adjusted another dial and pressed a button. At last the console flashed Manual Drive On.
"Get Baxter!" Shredder roared. "He's going to ruin everything!"
"It's already been ruined thanks to Barney!" Krang snapped. Fuel was still spilling over his hands. "No one's getting the electrician's tape!"
"You know, I think it's time we made a hasty exit," Raphael remarked. He kicked a Foot Soldier out of his way and headed for the door.
"Totally!" Michelangelo added. He tripped Bebop as he approached. "Later, Dude!"
"You little creep!" Bebop howled.
The Turtles started to troop out, followed by Cassiopeia and April. Vincent, Barney, and Michelangelo lingered, waiting until Baxter pulled one final lever. "There."
The Technodrome lurched and started to roll backwards. Shredder and Krang fell over. Fuel spurted all over the floor and them.
"I don't think you're going to get very far on what's left," Vincent said softly.
Baxter smirked. "Farewell."
The group ran out, their footsteps thundering down the hallway as Shredder and Krang roared behind them.
"Are we going to make it?!" April exclaimed.
"If they don't follow us, and I'm pretty sure they're a little busy right now," Leonardo laughed.
Indeed, there were no delays and everyone managed to get out through the hatch. "The Technodrome hasn't reached our hole yet!" Donatello observed. "We have to get out before it rolls back that far!"
"Either that or like, maybe we should just stay on and let it roll us over there," Michelangelo suggested.
"That's a good idea," Leonardo praised. "On foot, we might not get there before it."
They waited patiently, gathered in the doorway, until the hole Donatello had cut was visible up ahead. As soon as the Technodrome went past, they jumped off and ran back to the hole. "Now, let's get out of here!" Donatello directed.
No one protested. Back up the ropes they went and into the Turtle Van. Cassiopeia paused, listening.
"Is it still rolling?" Barney asked.
"It stopped," Cassiopeia smirked.
"Well, so they're in the middle of nowhere once again," Raphael grinned. "At least that should make them happier than being stuck in that hick town."
"And hey, like, you really helped us out," Michelangelo said to Cassiopeia. "I wasn't sure I wanted to work with a vampire bat, but it was mondo awesome!"
"Eh, it wasn't bad," Cassiopeia said. She leaned against the wall of the Van.
"If you'd like to stay on and help us out . . ." Baxter started to say.
"Whoa, I'm not hero material," Cassiopeia replied. "I'm a party girl. I'm from a land that loves to party, don't forget."
"Are you planning to go back there?" Barney wondered.
"I was going to," Cassiopeia said, "but I've been hearing a lot about a holiday coming up that celebrates everything creepy and weird."
"Yeah, Halloween!" Michelangelo chirped. "It's epic! You get to dress up and get candy . . ."
"And for once, bats aren't reviled," Cassiopeia finished. "Even if it's only for one night. I thought I'd like to see this Halloween firsthand. Then maybe I'll think about going back home."
"So . . . where're you gonna stay in the meantime?" Michelangelo wondered.
"I'll find someplace," she shrugged. "Maybe I'll hang upsidedown from a tree in Central Park."
"It's getting cold now," April frowned.
"Then maybe I'll find an old abandoned house," Cassiopeia replied. "Bats love those."
"Well, drop us a line when you get settled," Michelangelo offered. "We'd be happy to show you how to get down and party on Halloween!"
"Maybe I will," Cassiopeia mused, folding her arms.
April sighed in relief. "And now we all know that I'm not a mutant bat," she said.
"Except for that idiot I tried to flirt with outside Channel 6," Cassiopeia remarked.
April went stiff. "What?!"
Raphael snarked. "Oh brother. If that was Vernon, he might already be broadcasting that it was you, April!"
April scowled. "If he is, I don't think Burne's going to like his shoddy reporting and research. And I know I won't like it!"
"We'll set everything straight," Baxter promised. "And I know Vernon will be very relieved that you're not a mutant again."
"We all are," Leonardo said.
"And we're also relieved that working with a bat wasn't a bad thing," Michelangelo proclaimed.
"Yeah, just don't except it to happen again," Cassiopeia said. "But it was kind of a nice diversion."
"Hey, if you stay here, are you going to keep your hair looking just like mine?" April exclaimed.
"There's probably not much I can do to change it," Cassiopeia retorted. "Unless maybe I color it black or something."
"Anything!" April pleaded.
"I don't like being mistaken for you any more than you like it," Cassiopeia said. "I'll think about coloring it."
"Thanks," April said in relief.
"You know something?" Raphael exclaimed. "None of us have had any sleep! Or if we have, it hasn't been much."
"At least we're not teaching a morning class today," Barney grunted.
"And after being up all night getting a story, hopefully we won't be expected to go in early," Baxter said to April.
"One can only hope," April muttered.
"Are you going to stay nocturnal, Cassiopeia?" Leonardo wondered.
"I hope so," Cassiopeia said. "Even becoming a mutant doesn't make me want to be up in the daytime."
"Hey, nighttime is gnarly," Michelangelo said. "We're often up in the night."
"Fighting crime, not partying," Raphael pointed out.
"Well, our paths will probably cross sometimes then," Cassiopeia shrugged. "But I'm ready to crash now. It sounds like you guys want that too."
"No kidding," Raphael declared. "Let's all go home and get some sleep and maybe then we'll feel like celebrating stopping the Technodrome in its tracks once again."
"And we're all safe and sound," Baxter said in fond relief. He leaned back, smiling at Barney.
Barney looked back, smiling gruffly at first but soon melting it into something softer. "Yes," he said. "We're all safe."
Shredder glowered as he shoved his cape away from his face and tried to stand, only to fall back in the slippery spilled fuel again. "What is it, Krang?! Surely you're not blaming this failure on me!"
"If you hadn't spilled the mutagen on that bat, the Turtles wouldn't have tracked our location!" Krang shrieked. He also tried to stand and fell on his back, all limbs waving in the air.
"I wouldn't have spilled it if Bebop and Rocksteady hadn't come crashing through the portal!" Shredder snapped. "Why weren't you keeping a closer eye on things?!"
"Why weren't you?!" Krang countered.
Bebop pulled himself up by balancing on the console. "Do you think we should leave and let them figure this thing out?"
"Oh, they'll just blame each other and us, like always." Rocksteady stumbled up. "At least there won't be any more idiot farmers banging on the hull to get us to come out."
"I feel like playing a video game," Bebop said. "Do you think we should?"
"Eh, probably not, but who cares." Rocksteady wiped the fuel off his feet and headed for the door. "Let's go play."
"I hope Barney's okay," Bebop worried as he followed. "Krang threw him pretty hard."
"He looked okay to me," Rocksteady shrugged. "He got up and walked off."
"Yeah. . . ." Bebop tried to relax. "I wonder what the boss is gonna do now."
"Well, he probably won't wanna make any new mutants for a while," Rocksteady predicted. "And that's just fine with us, right?"
"You said it," Bebop nodded. "Especially if they're gonna go straight."
"Yeah!" Rocksteady snorted. "She must be crazy."
"It would be kinda nice to work with Barney and not against him, though," Bebop said.
"Hey, we kind of try to help him when we can," Rocksteady said. "That'll have to be good enough."
"I guess so." Bebop fell silent as they walked.
"You're not still thinking about quitting, are you?" Rocksteady asked in concern.
"Not really," Bebop said. "But I guess I am a little worried about what will happen if someday I really do have to make a choice between hurting Barney and calling it quits."
"Let's not think about it," Rocksteady advised. From his tone of voice, he was afraid of what Bebop would choose and how it might affect them as a team and as friends.
"Okay," Bebop replied.
But he kept thinking about it anyway.