As the massive ship shuttered into its landing, Mike had begun to fidget, his heart beating double time as the pilot's voice continued to give updates over the PA. Don had noticed about halfway through, giving his arm a squeeze with a reassuring smile that only took half the edge off.
Mikey always had the tendency of getting car sick. April won't even lend them her van anymore after he barfed in the back seat. And Mike has gotten space sick enough to know his affliction doesn't only go for cars. That's what really had him nervous. The way things have been lately, he couldn't trust himself.
Luckily the utrom ship nestled into port smoothly enough to leave him only with an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach that's really been there all along. It kind of ruins some of the fun of landing on an alien planet, but he can tell Don can barely curb his enthusiasm as they wait for the massive hatch doors to crack open into the light and fresh air of relative freedom.
"It's amazing," he gawks as Glurin leads them down the metal platform ramp, spinning around to take in the view with his good hand pressing against his forehead.
It's midday at the landing docks in the Utrom city of Kin'Kuran. Twin suns beam down hot and bright in the red-orange sky. The air smells spicy under the clean tang of metal and that familiar, sanguine smell of utrom techno-organics. All around them, rounded high rise towers in polished chrome jut from the ground like bullets, connected by delicate webs of veins and arteries of tissue. All around them, utroms swarm on hoverpads around the freshly landed ship like flies around a carcass. Far overhead, shuttles of all types pass like weird birds, casting strange shadows in the pale sun.
Further down from where they landed, another ship takes off with a sudden roar of engines that cuts off like a scream. And Donatello drinks it all in like a kid at Christmas. This is the Utrom Homeworld, home to some of the most brilliant minds in the universe. Thirty-six hours of pre-fight planning, getting beat to hell, worry, and insomnia can't even put a damper on his excitement.
Mike has more fun watching Don than taking in the sights, smiling shakily and still feeling a little off-kilter. But he has to admit, it's pretty cool, even compared to the other planets they've been on.
"Welcome to Kin'Kuran, capital city of the province Zexon al Jur," Glurin says with a proud fondness possessed by only those coming home after a long journey.
Earlier he had explained that their crew had been on an intelligence gathering mission on some hostile planets not far from Earth when they'd been flagged by the Professor's broken signal. It'd been months since he'd seen his homeworld, and after spending so long as one of the utroms trapped for centuries on Earth, any time away from his planet felt like eons.
"I'm sure you're both exhausted," Glurin begins again, "but I've been instructed to make sure you both eat before we check into the hospital where the remainder of your injured family members will be transferred. I know of a place that's not too far from here, if you'd like to follow me."
"Yes! I would kill for a cheeseburger and fries right now," Mike whines, struggling behind the pair on his crutches as they head off toward the crowded main street. Even if his stomach hasn't really been up to par, they've been through a lot, and he's been craving some serious comfort food.
"Oh, no," Glurin says, not stopping to talk or even slowing to let him catch up. "The utrom are strictly carnivorous. And dairy products are native only to Earth, from my experience. Though there are some other options to be had in places that cater to off-worlders. There are quite a few by the landing ports."
"The utrom only eat meat? It does make sense," Don says, mostly to himself. "They do share a lot of convergently evolved characteristics with Earth carnivores."
Though apparently, Glurin is listening. "Yes, that is true. The Utrom Homeworld cannot support the organisms you know as plant life, though some can be brought from other worlds and cultivated in our greenhouses. The majority of the native organisms on this planet are single-celled microorganisms with an extremely high ability to differentiate into specialized colonies. Similar to your Earth creature, the Portuguese man-o-war, though far more advanced. All of our food, our buildings, our ships… even the skins we synthesized for our exosuits were made from our surviving cultures of these organisms. It is even believed that the Utrom themselves were born from an especially advanced differentiation of these cells."
Thanks for the lecture, Mike grouches internally, blaming his sour mood on stress and hunger. Snooze fest! He started zoning out somewhere around "microorganisms". But Don is eating it with a spoon, and Glurin seems more than happy to indulge him, leaving Mikey lagging behind and utterly lost.
Don gapes, taking in the vast cityscape all around them. "So this entire city-?"
"Is made of colonies of microorganisms carefully cultured and engineered to serve their purpose, yes."
It takes a long, long few minutes before Mikey's brain starts processing what the heck they're talking about. "Wait. So you mean," he says, his voice raising an octave with every word, "everything around here is alive!?"
And he thought the worms were creepy!
Don positively beams."Isn't it amazing?"
Mike gives him a long, sideways look. He's glad all of this has given his bro a chance to get his mind off things, but this is weird. Creepy and weird. "I guess that explains why everything looks like guts."
"Precisely," Glurin chirps, obviously feeding off Don's enthusiasm. "Everything is interconnected. All of our buildings, our ships, even entire cities work together as one living, breathing organism that provides us both food and shelter, as well as a place to reproduce."
"Urgh," Mike groans. No talk about reproducing, please. As if he hasn't been through enough suffering already. "Weren't we gonna get something to eat?"
"Do you always think with your stomach?" Don chides, glaring mildly over his shoulder. But Luckily, it's all Glurin needs to steer them back on track.
"Yes, of course," he says, veering off the main street to a pucker in the skin-like wall to their left. When they near it, the pucker opens and the utrom ducks inside with a hurried, "Right this way."
Don follows behind without hesitation, but Mike waffles anxiously on the sidewalk for a second before rushing through. This place is gonna give him a complex, he thinks. He's been eaten alive too many times not to be concerned.
But inside it's pretty nice. Dim, orange lighting in a large room full of big, round tables. Utroms, along with aliens of all shapes and sizes, gladly dine together on plates piled with brightly colored, oddly delicious-smelling food. They cross the room and settle down beside a pair of large, red, elephantine aliens who greet them politely with a series of grunts and clicks. Glurin replies in the same bizarre tongue before turning back to his guests.
"Friends of yours?" Mike asks, partly joking.
"No, no. We've never met. That was just a simple greeting," the utrom laughs, taking a… well, what Mike thinks could be a menu, but mostly just looks like a weird, hand-held computer screen with a bunch of brightly-colored squiggles on it. "I know you both can't read Utrom, but I'll try my best to order you something close to the tastes of Earth."
Not being able to read Utrom or not, Don is busy squinting at his own menu-thing, hastily trying to crack the code. When the waiter comes to take their orders, Don interrupts by placing his own in what sounds like complete gibberish. Glurin and the waiter exchange bewildered looks before the red alien guys burst out laughing, patting Don roughly on the shell. Don only grins sheepishly, trying not to wince at the jostling.
After he finishes placing their order, Glurin grins at Don, still chuckling to himself. "That was very good."
Mike can only smile at all the goading. "What did you order?"
"Honestly?" Don replies, shyly rubbing at the back of his neck. "I have no idea."
Again, one of the red guys leans over to Glurin and laughs something in that same strange language.
"What?" Mike pipes. "What did he say?"
Glurin offers them a toothy smile. "He says your accent is terrible."
Mikey snorts a laugh as Donny's face grows dark with embarrassment.
"But it was very good for an outsider," Glurin assures, placing his menu back on the table.
"An outsider?" Don asks after the general rowdiness has boiled down a bit. In a place like this, surrounded by all kinds of unique life forms who are not only accepted as equals, but share tables with complete strangers and are accepted like family… This is the last place he would think he'd be accused of being an "outsider".
"A term for those from planets that reside outside the Intergalactic Alliance," Glurin answers smoothly. "It is much like your planet's United Nations, but it encompasses hundreds of planets throughout the known universe. Those from planets outside the alliance are seen as 'backwater'. Far less advanced."
"So they think we're dumb," Mike blurts out, already realizing how jerky that sounds. At least it's not like anyone but Don and Glurin can understand him.
"Mikey," Don hisses, making him shrink a little in his seat.
Luckily the food comes seconds later, dishes piled high with various types of mush and glop. Mikey gets handed a plate of yellow goop with green mush and a brown hunk of something. Don's plate is mostly red and brown gunk with beige bits in it. Glurin's order is an unappetizing tray of whitish mystery meat. Pretty gross, but Mikey is starving and it smells weirdly good. So they dig in, the distraction breaking most of the tension.
"They're Taurians from the planet Eldarond. Diplomats," Glurin says between bites. He's obviously talking about the big red guys finishing their meals next to them. "Their planet was one of the most affected by the tyranny of Ch'rell. Many lives were lost."
"Ch'rell…" Mike trails off, his food turning to paste in his mouth.
Don swallows hard. "The Shredder."
"Yes," Glurin replies grimly. "In a few days the Utrom High Council will hold a meeting with diplomats from the planets and communities that have been the most affected by his evil."
Silence falls over the table. If he wasn't so hungry, Mikey would've been put off his food. Do they seriously have to talk about that guy? The guy who almost killed Master Splinter and Raph? The guy who almost made them commit suicide? And just when he was starting to enjoy the distraction, too.
"Mr. Mortu would like to speak to you about this meeting tomorrow evening over dinner. Though that is all I can tell you for now."
"Really?" Mikey cries. "That's it? Now you're just gonna leave us hanging?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Do you know if he wants us to come?" Don asks. "Or does he just want to ask us questions?"
"I'm sorry, Donatello. What I've told you is all that I know for now."
"Okay," Don says, letting out a gusty breath before he stabs another mouthful from his plate. Between this and struggling to feed himself with his left hand, it's hard not to let his temper flair. But if that's all Glurin knows, he'll just have to worry about it later, and try not to let his mind wander too far in the meantime.
Yeah, he thinks to himself, chewing moodily, good luck with that.