Family, Friends, and Foes

Chapter Three
Meet the Mutates

"Man, even Keno didn't come up with anything?"

Leo rolled his eyes as much as he could while driving and joined the collective sigh from the other passengers in the Turtle Van. He loved Raph and could sympathize with his brother's frustration. But there are times I wish he'd never learned to talk--like now. "We have to give him more time. He said he had some promising leads but it would take time to develop trust."

Raphael turned his red-masked face to look out the front-seat passenger door's window. He growled impatiently under his breath.

Zack leaned on the back of the bench, draping his arms and head over it between Leo and Raph. "Maybe we should talk to some of Allie's contacts," he suggested.

A disparaging snort was Raph's only comment.

"That would be a great idea except we don't know how to contact Allie's contacts." Mike reclined in his seat in the back and drummed his thumb and two fingers against the shell over his stomach. "Taro disappeared on us, remember?"

"Probably joined them on their crazy adventure," Raph muttered darkly.

"Well, Mona is a looker. I can understand why he'd find it hard to stay away."

Raph bristled under the goad and twisted in his seat belt to glare at his nonchalant brother. "I don't think he's into green. Probably prefers blondes."

Mike grinned. "Most guys do, but Allie scares him. Guys don't like blondes that scare them. Which explains why Pamela Anderson hasn't played a psychotic killer in her illustrious film career."

Raph rolled his eyes and turned back to the window.

Leo glanced at Zack in the rearview mirror. Their amused eyes met in the glass before Zack returned to his seat. "We know about Nickey's Blues Bar," the blue-masked Turtle suggested as he returned his attention to the street. "Maybe we could find some information there." He parked the yellow and green van in an inconspicuous spot in an alley. "Right now, we patrol."

Raph saluted sarcastically as he jumped out of the van. Leo sighed to himself as he climbed out. Zack sympathized with him. Raph hated it when someone got a jump on him, and couldn't drop the subject until whoever was guilty of the transgression had been punished. It led to some monotonous conversations after a while. Zack climbed out of the side door of the van, and Leo joined Raph in the middle of the alley in front of the human. "Have you got a better idea?" Leo asked, annoyed.

"No, Fearless Leader, I don't. I just don't like these guys getting away with shooting me."

"We don't even know who these guys are." The blue-masked Turtle tried to soothe with reason. The problem was that reason never really worked with Raph.

"Snake-eyes might." Zack rolled the balls of his feet against the asphalt while waiting for Donnie and Mike to climb out of the van. The name and the conversation had finally returned to him.

Allie's sharp blue eyes were focused on the black leather jacket she was carefully placing on a hanger. Zack had just delivered another box of her clothes to her new bedroom in April's apartment. "Look, Zack, if you ever get in trouble...."

He hadn't been in a mood to listen. "I'm always in trouble, Allie. Having an insane megalomaniac with a league of ninjas at his command wanting to kill you puts you in trouble a lot."

She dropped the jacket on her bed, grabbed hold of his shoulders, and shook him firmly. "Non-Foot Clan trouble, Zack. And something worse than the bullies at school. I'm serious. If I'm not around to help you, go see a guy named Snake-eyes. He owns a club on the East Side called the Snake Pit. Go to him, tell him you're my brother, and tell him what the trouble is. He'll help you."

He broke out of her grip. "One of your famous contingency plans?"

She smiled wryly. "Humor your big sister, will you? Sometimes, she really does know best."

"Okay, okay. Snake-eyes, the Snake Pit. Got it."

"Who is Snake-eyes?" Raph demanded.

"Look out!" The end of Mike's nunchucks hit the metallic sphere trying to sneak around the back of the Turtle Van. It spun out of control and slammed into the brick wall of the alley.

A large piece rolled in front of Zack, stopping at his feet. "These things are more annoying than the Energizer Bunny!"

"We've got more company," Donnie yelled.

Leo whirled, pulling his katana out as he pivoted. A group of about thirty uniformed men approached them from both ends of the alley. They wore dark-blue, lightweight, body armor with a matching helmet that had a large magenta visor covering their eyes. Their leader spoke into a microphone headset attached to his helmet, but he stood close enough for the Turtles to hear the orders to the rest of the armored crew. "The Mutates are armed. Only need to take one alive."

"Ain't that typical," Raph muttered.

"The human must be captured alive," the leader concluded. And the men moved in holding strange-looking rifles ready to fire.

Zack grinned. These guys obviously had no clue who they were up against, nor how much experience the Turtles had with fighting opponents with guns. Leo leaped and somersaulted neatly over the leader's head. A kick aimed back sent the leader through the air, landing him against the open passenger door of the van, which slammed the door shut. A kick, pivot, and two neat slices with a katana disabled the guns of the nearest men.

Zack pulled his pair of sais out of his belt and felt a shell come up behind him. He glanced over his shoulder. Mike covered his back and flashed him a grin before wrapping his nunchucks around an attacker's neck. Not really surprising, Mike and Donnie were the two who watched his back the most. A uniformed man rushed into Zack's zone, bringing his rifle to bear. Zack yanked the rifle out of the owner's hands with his sais. A scissors kick knocked him out cold. Zack heard the nunchucks wrap around a rifle and crush it, its owner's gasp of disbelief, and Mike's fist knocking him out.

Leo and Raph were working on the group coming from the end of the alley closest to the van. Raph was tearing through his half of them. His sais mangled their rifles and his feet and fists mangled their bodies.

Mike pivoted and Zack moved with him so now he looked at the other end of the alley. Donnie's bo tossed a couple of attackers against the brick wall. The purple-masked Turtle pivoted and thrust his bo into the stomach of his next opponent. "Are you guys sure you don't want to talk this over?"

Leo kicked away another attacker and something whizzed past his head, barely missing him. A dart hit the guard standing in front of the Turtle. The guard crumpled to the ground as Leo looked up. More men in the unfamiliar dark blue armor were lining the rooftops. "Snipers! Fall back!"

Mike grabbed hold of Zack and tossed him in the still-open sliding side door. Zack cut off his protest when Mike jumped in after him. Donnie reached the back doors and climbed inside. He batted a couple of attackers in the head and slammed the doors shut. Leo yanked open the passenger's side front door and found Mike already climbing into the driver's seat.

Outside, the snipers began to fire laser beams from the odd-shaped rifles. Raph somersaulted through the barrage and jumped into the van. Zack slid the door shut and yelled, "Go!"

Squealing tires carried them away. Raphael lurched to the front seat. "Go back! We can't let those creeps get away!"

Mike glanced at Leo. The blue-masked Turtle nodded. "We gotta know who they work for at least." Mike gritted his teeth and gave the wheel a sharp turn. The van quickly circled the block and returned to the scene of the attack.

Their attackers were gone.

Zack stared at the empty alley visible through the windshield. Raph swore under his breath. Mike hit the steering wheel in frustration. "They called us mutates! The least they could do is watch the news and get our names right."

Donnie made some sort of soothing response, but Zack wasn't listening. Allie was always right, especially when she made a contingency plan. And she had thought Zack might need more help than just the Turtles. Or maybe different help. Or maybe the Turtles needed help.

He turned to Mike who stared glumly out the windshield. "Did Allie ever tell you about Snake-eyes?"

"No. Who is he?"

"Someone she told me to see if I ever got in non-Foot Clan trouble."

Raph came up angrily to Zack's side. "You want to trust this to one of Allie's hoodlum friends?"

"Allie's hoodlum friends have helped us out before," Donnie pointed out.

"I don't like the idea of telling the lowlifes of the city that we can't handle these guys." Raphael folded his muscular green arms over his shelled chest and glared at everyone equally.

"This does qualify as Non-Foot Clan trouble," Donnie remarked.

"Donnie," Raph said warningly.

"Where do we find this Snake-eyes?" Leo asked Zack.

"When Allie told me about him, she said he had a club on the East Side called the Snake Pit."

"This is a bad idea, Leo."

"It's the only lead we got." The blue-masked leader twisted angrily in the seat. "If it came from April, Keno, or anyone else, you'd be driving like your shell was on fire to get there. We're going and that's final."

Mike eased the Turtle Van into gear. "East Side, here we come."

Raph stared at the deteriorated neighborhood. "This place is familiar. I think this is where we ran into Mona."

"You got her on the brain," Zack said as he climbed out of the Turtle Van.

The Turtles shrugged on their trench coats and fedoras, and followed Zack down the outside stairs to the basement club. At one point in its life, this seven-story building had been classy apartment housing. But now it had fallen into squalor along with the rest of the neighborhood.

A beefy, neck-less bouncer almost as wide as two of the Turtles shot a thick, hairy arm in front of the door. "You're underage, kid."

Zack took the lead. This was his idea after all. "We need to see Snake-eyes."

A sneer widened the bouncer's face. "Yeah, and who should I say is calling?"

"Allie Baker's little brother."

The sneer vanished and his swarthy features paled. "Sweet Mother of God, I'm just doing my job!" He lurched out of his spot next to the door, wrenched it open, and escorted them inside.

"Neat trick. Does it work at other clubs?" Mike whispered.

"I don't know. They don't sell alcohol at Gimmicks."

The bouncer wiped his sweaty brow and turned to the hostess who blinked large orange and black eyes at the group. Zack looked hard, hoping he wouldn't be caught staring. Her eyes were like an owl's and the brown mass on top of her head was feathers. Zack knew his sister kept strange company, but this was weird even by his standards.

The bouncer sucked some air into his massive chest. "Call the boss, Fancy. Allie Cat's little brother wants to see him."

The hostess blinked her orange eyes at the group again focusing them on Zack as her sharp talons dialed a phone on the counter. "Kitty-kin's little brother? What has she been up to? She hasn't been here in ages."

"She's out of town," Zack answered. Hopefully, this bird-lady--who he was damn sure wasn't wearing a costume--wouldn't ask why.

The voice at the other end of the receiver snagged her attention. "Hey Bossman. Kitten's kin has shown up. No, he isn't alone. He's got four guardian angels." She chuckled. "Nah, they don't look like the types to let him go all by his lonesome. Can't say I'm blame them; he's cute."

Zack turned beet-red at her appraising look and following wink. The Turtles chuckled slightly at his discomfort. She hung up the phone and turned back to the bouncer. "Okay, Magilla, back to your post. I'll take them up."

The bouncer's shoulders sagged with relief. "I don't want Allie Cat mad at me, Fancy."

"She won't be mad at you," the bird-lady assured him as she signaled a waitress to take her place behind the counter. The massive bouncer went back outside as she joined their group. "Poor thing. He made the mistake of laughing at Allie after she'd had a really bad day. It was hours before this place was presentable again. But he's been careful not to step on her tail since then." Fancy chuckled as she led them into the interior of the club.

Zack took a cursory glance around the club. A large dance floor took up most of the space in front of a good-sized stage. Two large freight-elevators stood alone on the walls staring at each other through a throng of bodies. For being still early in the night--only about eleven o'clock--the Snake Pit had a sizeable crowd. Waiters and waitresses worked the people in the sidelines for drinks.

The hostess was clearing a path to the elevator on the same wall as her station and the main door. Zack's eyes came to rest on the creamy skin of her back, revealed by the back-baring halter-top she wore. Of course, she couldn't wear a normal shirt. Not only did she have a line of feathers down her spine, she also had two protrusions between her spine and shoulder blades. Protrusions, Zack realized, that were misshapen wings. Wings that the bird-lady could never use. What was she? Where did she come from? And how the hell did Allie know about her?

Raph yelled something at Mike. The orange-masked Turtle shook his head and watched the singer on the stage as he followed the group. The girl with long red hair, dressed in a shimmering blue robe, belted out a song without the benefit of a microphone and it filled the space. The band behind her played the music.

"Runnin' Down a Dream" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Download the Wars Are Won By Those Who Dare: Family, Friends, and Foes Soundtrack here

It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down
I had the radio on, I was drivin'
trees flew by, me and Del were singin' little Runaway
I was flyin'

Yeah, running down a dream
that never would come to me
workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads
Runnin' down a dream

"You're always lookin' at girls!" Raph shouted at him, disgusted.

"She sounds just like Tom Petty!" Mike yelled back as they all gathered in the elevator.

I felt so good like anything was possible
I hit cruise control and rubbed my eyes
the last three days the rain was unstoppable
It was always cold, no sunshine

Yeah, running down a dream
that never would come to me
workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads
Runnin' down a dream

Fancy chuckled as she inserted a key above several buttons and turned it. The elevator car began to rise. "Mimic is good, but it's like having a jukebox up on stage." She stuck her tongue out for a second. "The Bossman would send out the regular talent on a job. But then if Famous Grin can't do it, nobody can. Do you know her?"

Zack shook his head at Fancy's probing orange eyes. "Why don't you use their real names?"

A smile tugged her lips. "Nobody uses their real names around here. And I like word games. Betcha can't guess my official code name?"

"Flight of Fancy?" He remembered those misshapen wings.

"Right." The look of appraisal she gave now had nothing in common with her earlier one.

Raph nudged Mike. "You never answered my question."

"No, Allie never told me about this place, all right!" His voice wasn't quite distressed, but Zack heard the note of concern. Mike knew better than Zack Allie's reasons for not telling people about the things she knew.

I rolled on as the sky grew dark
I put the pedal down to make some time
there's something good waitin' down this road
I'm pickin' up whatever's mine

Yeah, running down a dream
that never would come to me
workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads
Runnin' down a dream

The elevator car passed a mezzanine floor that held tables and overlooked the stage and dance floor. The third floor was quieter--sealed off from the rest of the club and filled with more tables. The music floating up with them through the elevator shaft was growing further away. The fourth floor was a long hallway of closed doors.

Fancy led them out of the elevator and down the hall to a door at the end. She knocked and opened it when the masculine voice on the other side commanded her to. She stood by the door, shooed them inside, and shut it firmly behind them.

The man behind the desk was slick, Zack decided after glancing over him as they entered the office. A small-boned Hispanic man with thick black hair gelled back along his skull. A pencil-thin moustache lounged against his upper lip. The suit he wore was Armani and the small stylish shades that covered his eyes were Ray-Bans. A poser, someone Allie would have no patience with. Why had she sent Zack here?

Donnie recognized the other occupant of the room before Zack could. "You!"

The cat girl from the alley sat across the desk from the slick poser. She was easier to see in the better light and without a drug-induced haze. She belonged in Cats. They wouldn't even need make-up because the tawny fur and tail were real. The points of her ears peeked through her mane of dark-gold hair. Her green-gold eyes flicked over Zack and the Turtles as her lips turned up in a smile. "'It's a Small World' absurdly comes to mind. And you're Zack. The last time I saw you, you were just starting kindergarten."

"Funny, I don't remember any strange cat people hanging around." Zack tried not to frown too hard.

"She wasn't a cat then," the man behind the desk said in a native New Yorker accent. "Now, what's the problem your sweet sister and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can't handle?"

"Are you Snake-eyes?" Zack asked neutrally.

"Cautious, ain't you? Yeah, I'm Snake-eyes and she's Di," he pointed to the cat-girl. "And you're Zack Baker and they're the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

Raph snatched the fedora off his head. "Allie told you about us?"

"Do we know the same Allie Baker?" Snake-eyes leaned back in his chair. "She never told me about you boys--that red-headed dame on Channel Three Evening News did. We figured somebody was domesticating Allie Cat, but she don't squeal. Mona Lisa told me she was hanging with you guys."

"Mona! How do you know Mona?"

Snake-eyes's eyebrows rose high above his shades. "You must be Raphael. She described you as an insecure type heading for a heart attack."

Leo grabbed Raph's arm before he leaped across the desk to throttle the man. "Cool it, you're embarrassing us. Zack, tell the man why we're here."

Zack quickly outlined the previous night's adventure and its interesting sequel, leaving out what had happened to Raph and summing up with the decision to see Snake-eyes.

Snake-eyes's lips and moustache twitched. "Not normal behavior." He turned to face Di. "They're gunning for the norm kid and don't want to capture a whole group of renegade Mutates. What gives?"

"Get it right!" came from Mike before the cat-girl could answer. "We're not mutates, we're mutants. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And we're definitely not renegades."

"Don't be too upset." Di's tone soothed without descending into sugary sappiness. "When the reports started circulating in New York about you, we thought that you were Mutates, but not fighting our fight." She turned her somber gaze to Snake-eyes then back to the Turtles again. "Only wanting one of you means Val Tech knows they didn't create you. Which means they're just interested in dissection. But how did they learn you're not Mutates?"

"One of those silver orbs hit Raphael the same way it hit Zack last night," Leo explained. Snake-eyes bolted upright in his chair and the Turtle added, "Zack didn't say anything about it because Raph didn't want to come, and we weren't sure if you could help us."

"Is there anything else you're leaving out?" Snake-eyes demanded. "Like where your sister and Mona Lisa are?"

"We don't know," Zack answered. "Don't you think I would get her here if I could? Evidently, she knows what we're dealing with, and I would really like her here to deal with it!"

Snake-eyes started easing back in his seat. "She has complained about not being appreciated lately."

"That's my brothers." Mike ignored the dirty looks from Raph, Leo and Donnie. "Me and Zack know what Allie's capable of."

The black lenses of Snake-eyes' shades reflected the light as he watched Mike. "You're the one she killed for."

The orange-masked Turtle studied the floor. "Yeah."

"You had Mona spying on us?" Raph choked out.

"I had Mona spying on the Ronin."

"This is getting us nowhere. Allie's not here and wishing isn't going to bring her. Right now, we need to decide how to help you." Di turned back to Snake-eyes. "Unless you want to call down Allie's wrath?"

Snake-eyes sighed and rubbed his eyes under his shades with practiced ease and without revealing his eyes to the light. "Hell no, I rather go back to the lab!" His face turned to Zack and the poser image was gone. "Val Tech has tagged you. They planted a radioactive tracing chemical in your system along with the tranq. Our standard procedure is to make the tagged Mutate disappear."

"We send them to another city until the tracing agent wears off." Di added with a small smile at their alarmed expressions. "But they're not Mutates," she chided Snake-eyes.

"So the usual methods need not apply? If you're not Mutates, what are you?"

Every pair of eyes in the room turned to Leo. "Huddle time," the blue-masked Turtle announced. The four Turtles gathered their heads together tightly and whispered while Zack, Di, and Snake-eyes pointedly ignored their conversation.

They broke the huddle and Donnie nervously cleared his throat. "Back in 1975, a company named TGRI accidentally created a mutagen. We were exposed to it while we were baby turtles and we grew," he finished with an embarrassed shrug.

Di's jaw dropped open, revealing her sharp fangs. "You were animals!"

"Well, I ain't met any walking, talking plants yet," Raph replied sourly.

Snake-eyes's clenched fist rested on his desk. "If Val Tech got their hands on that stuff!"

"There is no more ooze," Leo interjected. "We made sure it was destroyed. Now what's got you so rattled?"

Di took a deep breath and recovered first. "Val Tech has never been able to create higher intelligence by mutating other animals. So they use humans."

Now it was the Turtles' turn for their jaws to drop. "Mona was a human?" Raph asked with wide-opened eyes. He let his body slack out of his on-guard stance.

Donnie stared at Di, finding the underlying human traits beneath the cat ones. "That's just... just wrong! It's evil and unscientific."

Di's green-gold eyes lit up, but Snake-eyes chuckled. "You got an interesting criteria for what's wrong with the world."

Mike's eyes eagerly followed the exchange between Donnie and Di, then added his own comment. "Why?" Everyone turned to him. He settled in a chair next to the desk and continued mulling out loud. "Why go to all the trouble and expense to mutate a group of people who obviously don't want to be mutated and are mad enough about it to involve Allie? And as for Allie, you're the group she was involved with when she ran away."

The look of astonishment on Raph and Snake-eyes' faces was worth being chased by another group of crazies to Zack. "Where did that come from?" Raph demanded.

"Wise man say: everyone either student or teacher. Wise people become both." The deadpan delivery also infuriated them both. "Al never did tell us about you," Mike continued. "All she said was she joined up with a biker gang and got busted for being a runaway. But cops don't bust runaways like Allie was busted, and they don't personally escort them home."

Zack had always wondered how much of the story Allie had shared with him. "But if you knew the story was fishy, why didn't you say anything?"

"I figured she was protecting somebody. Thought it was that Skulls guy. But I guess it was you guys."

"She understood that the world's not ready to learn about us yet." Di sighed. "I hope you can, too. Have you ever heard of Val Tech?"

"No," Leo, Raph, Mike, and Zack chorused.

"They're a bioengineering firm about to go global, headquarters in the U.S. Eight years ago when the CEO changed, they announced they were starting work in genetic manipulation and not much has been heard from them since," Donnie answered. And before Raph could even open his mouth, he added, "It's called reading. You should look into it."

Raph fumed but remained silent as Di spoke. "They did work in genetic manipulation and succeeded."

Donnie's jaw dropped. "They succeeded? Why didn't they publish? Too many people are working on genetic defects; they need all the information they can get."

"That would expose what they have done to us to the entire world," Di answered. "Unwarranted testing on humans would get them shut down. Tabitha Val loves her power trip too much to see it end. And sharing what little information we do know on the process would put my people at risk."

"It's a permanent structural change in the double-helix strand?" Donnie repositioned another chair in front of Snake-eyes' desk to face Di better and sat down.

"Yes, but the change is random. The process unhooks the nucleotides and recombines them, usually activating dormant sub-structures. Enhanced human characteristics are the most common; gaining mammalian traits after that." Di looked down at her fur-covered hands and sighed. "There doesn't appear to be any way to predict the outcome of the mutation, or any way to insure that the mutation can be passed to the next generation."

"No viable offspring?"

The green in her eyes darkened. "There will be. I don't intend for my people to become a footnote in the history of humanity."

"Is barrenness a side effect of the mutation process? Or is it an instability found in the altered DNA?"

"Write your thesis later, Donnie," Raph interrupted.

Mike rubbed his head. "Rewind a sec. This company Val Tech experimented on humans and made you guys. You escaped from the lab, got together, and now you're trying to stop them without alerting CNN?"

"Yes, that about sums it up." Di smiled. She glanced back at Donnie and dropped her gaze suddenly.

"Professor X would be pleased."

"But why?" Zack glanced at Donnie before looking at Di. "Even taking the Frankenstein/mad-scientist complex as a given, what does Val Tech hope to accomplish?"

"World domination," Snake-eyes spat out.

Di shook her head. "That's the story they feed us during our creation and while trying to make us loyal to Val Tech. But I don't think it's the whole reason."

"The why doesn't really matter, kid. What matters is that they tear people's lives and dreams away. Mona was on her way to becoming a rock star before they got a hold of her. Now the only place she can sing is in my club for the other freaks."

"Yeah, well, you look pretty normal," Raph said belligerently.

The man sighed and pulled his shades off his face. He opened his eyes and cold, amber reptile eyes stared at them. A forked tongue flicked out of his mouth. "How normal do I look now?"

"Snake-eyes is one of the lucky Mutates," Di said as he replaced his shades. "He can pass for human. Most of us can't. Some have to have special environments just to survive. The ones who escape Val Tech and decide that they can't let them continue hurting people, we call them Mutates. They usually team up with us. Sometimes norms find out about us and join our fight. Like your sister."

"Until she got caught," Mike added.

"It's possible they see Zack as a way to get Allie or as a way to get you guys. Either way," Snake-eyes shrugged, "It's not safe in the city for any of you."

"We don't run from a fight," Leo said quietly.

"It's not running. You and you," he pointed to Raph and Zack, "have been tagged. Not only do they have your DNA ID, but they've also plugged your system with a radioactive tracing chemical. The only reason they ain't converging on us is because we have these five blocks under signal scramblers."

"You leave here, and they'll follow you back to where you live. And they'll use the ones you love to get to you. They're prepared now; they know how you fight."

Leo watched Di calmly. "So you want us to run."

"Choose your battlefield more carefully. If we leave tonight, the head start will be sizable." Di actually sounded like she knew what she was talking about.

"But we give up any strategic points that comes from knowing the territory."

"You might have less strategic points than you think. Zack has friends and family that they'll learn about with a minimum of surveillance. You have a very vocal supporter in the media. Val Tech once tried to kill off an entire precinct of cops in San Francisco to get to one of our people. How safe do you think she is? We and they'd all be safer with us on the road."

"What's all this we stuff?" Raph demanded.

Di smiled softly. "I'm leaving tonight. More company wouldn't be a bad thing." Her eyes glanced over to Donnie and dropped away again.

"Di, are you crazy?" Snake-eyes demanded. "Val Tech wants these guys. We can't lose you."

"I think it'll be safe. But it's Ryan's decision. We'll be riding with the Black Bones for protection."

"Wait a minute, we haven't agreed to do this." Raph glared at everyone.

"Huddle," Leo said with a sigh.

This time Zack joined in. "I think we should go."

"They got you scared, kid?"

He shot Raph a dirty look. "You guys have never been out of New York. A road trip sounds fun. And I don't like the sound of a group that is willing to kill off cops going after Splinter, April, and Karen. And you guys don't like it either." He added, seeing Mike's uncomfortable expression.

"They could be good allies," Donnie mused aloud. "I think we should get to know them better."

"You're just hot in the shell for the furball over there," Raph goaded.

Mike came to the rescue of the stammering Donnie. "Don't you wanna know more about Mona?"

A bleak look crossed Raph's red-masked face but was replaced quickly with a sullen expression. "Don't know why I should. She doesn't care about me."

"Then it's settled?" Leo looked at his brothers and Zack's faces. "We're going." Raph opened his mouth to say something but the huddle broke apart before he could. Leo turned and faced Di. "All right, we'll play this your way. But there are people we need to contact."

"Not to mention road trip supplies," Mike added.

"First we have to see if the Black Bones mind you coming." Di stood up. Snake-eyes pantomimed washing his hands and she sighed. "Okay, no one will hold you accountable. Does that make you happy? Let's go."

Snake-eyes led the group out of his office and back down to the third floor. The oddest group of bikers Zack had ever seen surrounded one of the tables. But he recognized the black leather jackets they wore. They sported a skull embroidered in white thread and a pair of crossed bones under it embroidered in shiny black thread outlined in white. Allie had kept a matching jacket hanging in her closet for years.

So these guys are the Black Bones, the ones Allie ran away with, Zack thought to himself as they approached the four bikers. Or at least the current roster. I wonder if Allie's had any contact with them? Best not to say anything. That way Raph won't hit the ceiling because we're trusting more of Allie's connections.

The girl was about Allie's age and practically Olive Oyl thin. Her leather jacket was pushed off her bony shoulders but still managed to look sexy. Her black hair was parted straight down the middle and fell flat on both sides of her head, brushing against her shoulders. The rest of her scalp was shaved.

Sitting to her left was an older, large African-American man with a shaved head, eating. He was huge. One of the Turtles could sit on one of his shoulders with room to spare.

On her right was a young man her same age. His light brown hair was gelled straight up, but it was too short and too clean to make much of a biker statement.

Beside him was a scrawny runt with the largest forehead Zack had ever seen on a human. His lank, dark-red hair fell off of it in a widow's peak. He also wore thick, coke-bottle glasses that enlarged his muddy-brown eyes.

Snake-eyes snapped his fingers and another table was added to theirs. The girl looked amused as they sat down. "See, Ryan," she drawled. "I told you he was an autocrat."

"Rope it in, Trash," the clean-cut biker answered. He looked at Snake-eyes after glancing over the group. "Have plans changed?"

"This is Di, your original passenger. She's the one changing things."

The cat-girl grimaced. "He doesn't approve, but his approval isn't necessary. The boy has been tagged, along with one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Val Tech is changing procedures to get them. They need a neutral location to fight from. Chicago should do nicely."

"Provided we get them there," Ryan added.

"The Black Bones are the best."

Ryan grinned, but there was only a hint of how charming it could be if he tried. "That kind of flattery worked on Skulls. It doesn't work on me."

"Oh come on." Trash rolled her bright hazel eyes. "It sounds like fun. Doesn't it sound like fun, Eight? Smarts?"

The large black man only grunted and continued eating.

The eyes behind the coke-bottle glasses blinked. "Your concept of amusement is neither in conformity nor representative of the group's ideas."

"Buzzkill," she muttered. "Don't you wanna help these people?"

"Yeah, but not by missing something." Ryan turned his attention back to Di. "The last battle we were in took out too much of our equipment. We don't have enough firepower to go head-to-head with Val Tech, if they wanna make pests of themselves."

Leo and Di both shook their heads at the same time. "We can fight our own battles," Leo said.

"Just escort duty, same as for me," Di added.

Ryan nodded thoughtfully and gazed at Leo. "You got wheels?"

"Yeah, a van."

"Okay, then meet us here in an hour. And be prepared to clock some mileage."

Trash grinned and tucked some of her hair behind her ear, revealing her shaved temple. "Now that that's settled, what so special about the norm?" She jerked her thumb in Zack's direction.

"I just have that kind of personality," Zack answered flippantly. His heart pounded.

"Funny too. Have we met before, cutie?"

Zack could feel his face getting hot as the Turtles snickered over him being called cutie. "Don't think so."

"You look familiar."

"Maybe you slept with his older brother," Ryan suggested scornfully.

"Possible. I think I've slept with every male in the country except you and Smarts."

Ryan glared at her, then turned his attention back to the Turtles. "Ignore her. We'll see you in an hour."

"Fine," Leo answered as they started to stand. "We'll be here."

"I wouldn't go back to where you live. Keep Val Tech from finding them," Di suggested.

"Right, thanks."

Mike walked beside Zack as they left the club. Donnie was off in another world. Leo and Raph were arguing. No one was going to listen to them. "You know who they are, right?"

"Yeah," Zack answered.

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"And hear Raph pitch another fit? Besides, I wanna go to Chicago."

Mike grinned. "It's gonna be an interesting trip."

Zack returned the grin. "Yeah, but why do I think we're the only ones who'll enjoy it?"