In the year 3528, now year 679 as the humans counted, Donatello accepts that he has averted the horrific future he once visited. His brothers are alive. Bishop is alive. Saki and all their countless enemies are dead. Their victory is elegant and simple. All they had to do was live.
The Magdalena IV is safely moored at the coastal port of Isthve, somewhere near where Florida used to be. He looks out the window at the city. It's the shining jewel of the world, a new New York, with skyscrapers two hundred stories tall, great turbines that harnessed the sea and winds for their energy, and grass and leaves curling up and through the buildings, creating a vision of steel supporting life.
He's created the world he once only imagined possible. There's still work to be done, but that's for men to do. Not gods.
Deep inside the Magdalena, comfortable in their sanctum, he withdraws from a recess in his shell a tiny bundle wrapped in a handkerchief. Gently drawing back the handkerchief, he reveals an old figurine of a turtle-remarkably well preserved with no chips, no fading. Yoshi's good luck charm is completely intact.
"I can't forget like they do," he whispers to the charm. "I remember all of you. April, Saki, Casey, Usagi...Master Splinter. You're all here. You'll always be here. But...forgive me if I let my mind wander away for years at a time."
He wraps up his master's old charm and tucks it away again. As long as he keeps it safe, they'll all stay safe. Maybe even Bishop. It's superstitious, but no moreso than the statues the humans keep building for them. Such a strange thing to see grand temples in their honor.
"One of these days I'll see you again," he says.
He doesn't believe it.
He knows it.
One day he will see his farthest friends and family. But not today.
Donatello thinks he may stay silent for a dozen years.
Humanity has caught up to itself, and it's a relief to set aside his tools and pick up a magazine, a manual, a novel. He looks over the latest issue of Deutoronomy's Journal, lingering over the glossy photos-pages and pages of photos from the bottom of the sea. There's the Pantheon, still somehow intact, and the Colosseum, now a gorgeous coral reef with rainbows of fish. He feels a little thrill of satisfaction at the pictures of the Archelon Ischyros, his ancient turtle creation, swimming through the Grand Canyon and devouring giant squid.
There are gardens of balancing rocks all across the ocean floor, creating a fairyland for the mermaids waving to the human's submersible. Uudi and Suuuuura smile as Riiaa keeps an eternal lookout. He traces her hair, slashed short, as it waves in the current. She looks as austere as the day he first met her, still protecting her sisters.
"You all right in here?" Leonardo asks from the doorway, leaning in.
Donatello nods once and smiles as Leonardo sits beside him, resting against his shoulder for a moment. His big brother can't spare very long. Leonardo's helping establish the vast library that will connect all the countries that want it. A few nations insist on miring themselves in self-repression, going so far as to ban music...
He shivers and lets the thought slip from his mind. Let them make their own hell. He didn't plan on saving everyone, and besides, it's Leonardo's job again. Let him figure everything out.
Glancing at his sibling, he raises one eyeridge as if to ask how it's coming. Leonardo understands and half-shrugs.
"Your priests told me it'll be up and working soon. They miss you, but they think you hiding away is all a test of their faith." He takes a quick kiss, his hand coming up and lightly touching Donatello's throat.
They both carry the memory of Leonardo's collar. It's been so long that it's only a whispered echo, but enough of the memory remains that Donatello wonders how he lets Leonardo out of his sight for days at a time now. He looks down, then back up at his brother.
At first Leonardo doesn't understand his silent question. A slow smile of recognition follows, and he shakes his head.
"No," he murmurs. "No going quiet. That's a lousy habit to develop."
Donatello frowns. That wasn't what he was hoping for. He wants a rest. He's earned it. Leonardo's laugh doesn't help.
"I know that look," he says. "Stubborn old turtle. You can whisper if you want, but I'm not spending years waiting to hear your voice."
This time Donatello looks away. As close as they are, the move speaks volumes. They each remember times they've done this before, to themselves and to their siblings, always having to cajole or nudge each other close again. Their actions are refined poetry now, and subtle differences are like new stanzas.
"You don't have to start talking right away," Leonardo says, answering his move. "I think you used own my body against me when I did this...a touch for a word, I think?"
Not quite-Donatello remembers through the haze of centuries the months that Leonardo was so happy being silent, so reluctant to come out of it, and he lets Leonardo misremember the cure for one of their silences. Leonardo will tell Raphael or Michelangelo. One of them might remember. Maybe they won't. He lays down and lets Leonardo slowly ply over him. He'll enjoy his brothers' efforts until he grows tired of being quiet.
He feels like he is travelling along a timeline that has come around in a perfect loop. They follow each other holding hands, walking the same path at different times.
Bishop hates looking at them.
Their statues all look to the east to the rising sun, but each of them is completely different. Although Bishop still despises that they are worshipped, he at least agreed to keep up the facade if only to ensure that their burgeoning cults never begin to war against each other. There were some dicey years between Leonardo and Michelangelo's cults, and all four turtle cults against Bishop's, but the tensions have faded into philosophical wrangling through forums and books.
Donatello's statue stands tall and holds the mathematical compass. Bishop remembers the day they gave the perfect circle back to mankind, teaching them the value of pi and watching their faces light up with understanding. Other tools followed quickly-the slide rule, the protractor, the x/y plane, algebra. God was in the numbers and Donatello gave them the numbers. If Donatello is not the Almighty, then he is at least His chosen, His most high.
Michelangelo's is a testament to the human perception. The youngest turtle holds the scales of balance-he keeps the family from falling in on itself, making them laugh when they would be crushed otherwise, standing between fueding siblings and humanizing the turtles when their temperaments would have made them seem like distant gods. Michelangelo creates visions of heaven on his canvas to inspire mankind. Donatello rules the brain but Michelangelo rules the spirit-with laughter, with candy and sweets, with the occasional wise word or divine poem.
Raphael's statue upset the turtle when he first saw it-the stone wrists in short chains. The priests had to gently explain as if to a child that he is slave to his heart, and that they admire that in him. Where life is ruled by brutal practicality-do they share their crops and risk starvation, or keep their food and let a neighboring town die?-sentiment is a godly luxury. Love is divine. They have seen him live with almost purity of emotion, shedding tears, losing himself in delight, falling into rage and rising up again. He is their ideal man to emulate and aspire to. He accepted his statue a little more when he saw his was the only one with a smile.
Leonardo's holds a knife, cutting truth from falsehood. Usually he's quiet, the silent one who whispers in another god's ear, but on the rare occasion he speaks to a human, he sounds like he is quoting the Almighty. He is the second patron of art, the second muse. Michelangelo introduced painting and poetry, but Leonardo introduced strategy and bushido and communicates his teachings in verses he says come from the world before the Great Flood. The humans joke that no one can speak of honor and nobility with a straight face the way he can, but none of them want him to stop. Because the knife of truth is also a plain knife, and Leonardo is the turtle that does not flinch when he sees death. The humans prefer their god speaking about justice, for woe unto any sinner when he falls silent and his knife comes out of its sheathe.
Bishop's statue is plain, in the heavenly armor known as the Three Piece Suit. His priests never understood the use of the tie, and in their book of his given knowledge, transcribing both his wisdom and his sacred sarcasm, he once admitted he didn't understand the use of the tie, either. Clearly these gods were not perfect, but rather enlightened messengers of the Almighty. Where Donatello gave them engineering, Bishop gave them science of the body, teaching them how to unlock holy chemistry and holy biology. Bishop also gave them a warning not to mix his science with those of Donatello's except with the greatest caution. Indeed, all of the gods issued warnings never to mix their temples-it is one of man's transgressions that he does so, and for mankind's sins, he has received false teachings to lead him astray.
Humanity still nurses a bit of a grudge over being told that the earth lay on the back of a turtle, and that turtle on another turtle, and that it was turtles all the way down. But the sacred algebra sort of makes up for it.
Casting for memories is like casting for fish in a river. The river has no beginning and no end, and the water flows too fast to catch more than a glimpse of a gleaming scale as it flits off. Memories rise to the surface, flicker, then slip away again. Sometimes the memory lingers in view for awhile, letting them stare at it for as long as they like, but it is only a memory and must eventually disappear again.
Leonardo remembers soft white fur and disdainful eyes. Long black hair. Sleet and blood as he faced Saki. He remembers the rain on the nights he dawdled outside of Donatello's tower. Bishop's scalpel. Bishop's first kiss. Splinter's incense.
Michelangelo remembers pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, peppers and olives cooked into cheese. He remembers the last Coca-Cola jingle. Klunk's meow for a treat. Stitches without anesthetic. The red lights of Donatello's submarine. The taste of pigeon eggs. Lyrics to Acryllica's 2498 hit single "Runner Insilico."
Donatello remembers the first blue spark of electricity from a torn wire. April's shampoo. His brother's desperate eyes as they hoped he could fix the heater. A warehouse exploding. Learning algebra from a torn schoolbook. Dismantling an alarm clock into springs and levers. Untangling a tiger's genome. Pounding wood pulp into paper.
Raphael remembers the barn and the clean air. Obon lanterns in the sky like stars. The hum of his first engine. The pattern of broken glass around his first kill. The rush of old anger. Budweiser and Coors. Friendly laughter beside him in an alley. Friendly laughter beside him in bed.
Sometimes they catch each other pausing in the middle of a kata, between taking a breath and staring at the sky. They know the signs of catching a memory. The eyes stare into the distant clouds, there is a small sigh, a flicker of a smile or frown. Minutes pass. Hours if they are alone.
And then the startled gasp and wide eyes as they're startled out of the memory, as Michelangelo dumps a bucket of water over their head or Raphael punches their shoulder, as Leonardo steals a kiss or Donatello smacks their head with his handheld computer.
They know better than to cling to the silver mirages. They will not let each other live in memories. The river is cold and fast and could wash them away without mercy. Instead they rise above it, sailing with eternity and staring out over the edge, creating new memories and then casting those memories like stones into the river.
Under clouds sweeping by in white threads
Sundered loose from time and place
All the world is water and sky
Gleaming perfect lifeless you
I listen, and you
Speak to me
Press into the quiet spaces
Listen when I sigh complain wordlessly
Into the cold air
Tucked within me of you
Repeating in time with my heart
Attempt to recall-I can't
Plead mourn scream you back
Roaming across the ocean
I search for you, signs of you, signs of
Catching myself on the rhythm
As I fell
Echoes of wisps of memory of
Killing me over and over
Resurrecting me, feathers on fire
Inner thoughts spontaneously combusting
Sinking back into memory ether
Again quiet, hidden, buried pieces
Kaleidoscope my life
I let lie in my deep soul ocean-
"Mikey, come 'ere!"
Started, Michelangelo looked up from his tablet. In the dark cabin, the screen's glow lit his face a faint blue. Where there wasn't a second call, he saved his poem onto the compAnIon's crystal core and set it aside.
"What is it?" he asked as he unclasped the safety harness around him and gently floated across their ship to the main cabin.
A brilliant nebula lay spread over their main screen, a river of sapphire and silver that sparkled with its own light as stars slowly formed and birthed themselves into the darkness. An asteroid passed by like a cosmic fish, trailing stardust in its path like waves. So close to the violent radiation of the nebula, Michelangelo felt like they were on a tiny boat in a vast ocean.
"Whoa," he whispered.
In the navigational seat, Raphael looked over his shoulder and grinned. "Thought you'd like it."
"I could write about that for years," Michelangelo murmured. He couldn't bring himself to speak louder, afraid that he might wake something slumbering deep inside the dust.
Raphael adjusted the controls, and soon their sliver of a starcruiser entered the nebula, riding its eddies and currents. Michelangelo took the seat behind Leonardo's, leaning over the back of his brother's chair to watch.
He spotted Donatello at Leonardo's feet, his drowsy eyes half open to watch the galaxy fly by. Seeing him awake was a relief-where Leonardo had once fallen silent, Donatello had merely fallen asleep, waking every now and then to eat and talk with them, find out what new thing had been created, and then to sprawl out on one of their laps and drift off again. No one begrudged him the rest after he re-enginered the world, but Raphael and Michelangelo grew jealous from time to time. More often than not, Donatello chose Leonardo's lap or side to curl against, but each time Donatello's hand lingered on Leonardo's throat, tracing the line where a thin collar had once lay, they understood and didn't say anything.
Michelangelo caught his eye and smiled, gratified to receive a smile in return. Let him sleep. And when Michelangelo or Raphael had to withdraw, perhaps for hundreds of years, then they would be indulged as well.
Simply to reassure himself that the whole family was there, Michelangelo turned and watched the figure in the stasis chamber for a minute. Bishop lay within, hardly breathing, bodily functions perfectly regulated, as he recovered from the degradation of time and wear. The first time he'd shown them how he had to repair his body, they were horrified at how close he had to come to dying each time. Now repairing his body took only a week every few decades. In another day, Bishop would wake up.
"So..." Michelangelo asked, turning forward again. "How much longer?"
"Another month before we reach the colony," Raphael sighed. "Cramped up in here with you without even a decent bed. These bunks ain't worth crap."
"The price of space flight," Donatello mumbled. "You want a better ship, you build one."
Leonardo put his hand on Donatello's shoulder, and for the first time in ages, he wished they still wore the masks they used when they were mere teenagers. He missed having something to curl around his fingers and tug. Wistful, he looked up at Michelangelo.
"You gonna stay up here for awhile?" Leonardo asked. "I could use some sleep."
"Sure," Michelangelo nodded, giving him a kiss as they traded places. "Don't sit on my comp."
"I see it." Leonardo drifted back into the relative darkness of the inner chambers and settled on Michelangelo's cot, holding up the compAnIon as it powered up, responded to the warmth of his touch. Michelangelo's latest poem appeared on the screen, and he lingered over the words.
He hesitated, one hand hovering over the poem, then added two quick lines. He almost erased them-his addition was too brief, didn't quite fit-but he let them stay and set the comp down again. With the screen dark, Bishop's chamber provided a faint white glow, revealing the man's sharp features beneath the cover. Leonardo touched the cover lightly, longing to hear his voice, then lay down and drew the safety restraint over himself.
Sudden inspiration struck. He reached for the comp, changed the word "stars" for "lanterns," smiled in satisfaction, and set the poem aside again. With his family all around him in the midst of the glowing blue ocean, he closed his eyes and listened to the engines hum until he fell asleep.
The dark spirit river flows into the sky.
We follow paper lanterns and light the heavens.