Family, Friends, and Foes

Chapter Ten
And the Surprises Keep Coming

Sparks clenched his teeth and slammed his fist down on the computer terminal. "I should be out there helpin'!" He glared at the terminal's screen, which was split between Zack's vital stats and a view of the fight outside.

"You stay put." Charley had the same tone that Roddie always used when she thought his good idea wasn't that good. He turned to find the human woman standing in the medbay door. Zack was still out cold on the bunk between them.

"But Dad needs help!" He gestured to the part of the screen where the large grey mouse on his motorcycle struggled inside a metal net.

"And you're not going out there to give him something else to worry about! Besides, look. Throttle's made it back with lots of help." He turned to watch four bikes led by the tan-furred mouse pull into the fight. Charley sounded relieved, "I'll be in the cockpit."

"Cheese, this sucks." He pulled his feet in the seat of the chair and rested his snout on his knees.

A low chuckle came from the bunk behind him. "Same thing here, too?" Zack's weak voice sounded amused.

Sparks scrambled out of the chair bolted in front of the terminal and stood next to the medical bunk. "What same thing?"

"Never letting you help 'cause you're just a kid."

Sparks made his bleuck face. "I should be used to it by now, but it sucks."

"Big time. The Turtles were just starting to get used to me helpin'. After this, they ain't gonna take me anywhere."

The mouse propped his elbows on the bunk. "Turtles?"

"You haven't heard of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? I guess April needs to take 'em national." Zack's wide smile quickly shifted to a grimace.

"I've only been on Earth for about a week."

"They'll forgive you then. They're my friends. Giant mutated Turtles that fight with ninjutsu. Val Tech didn't make 'em, and that's why they want 'em. Dissection. I hope they didn't get 'em."

"Is that what they wanted with me?" Sparks swallowed hard.

Zack's dark brown, almond-shaped eyes winced. "Yeah, I bet they've never come across a Martian before." He turned his head reluctantly, glancing at the metal walls. "Where are we? Your spaceship?"

"No, this is Tala's spaceship. More Hot Stuff."

The white teeth gleamed against his darker purple lips as he chuckled. "I like that. Gotta remember it the next time I play a smuggler. She was here earlier, right? Is she hot stuff?"

"Vinnie thinks she is." Zack's chuckles at the reply abruptly ended. He curled up, inhaling sharply with pain. Sparks jerked off the bed. Could he get Charley in time? But Charley didn't know what to do.

The human boy panted and forced his body to lie flat on the bunk. He raised his hands and stared at the purple skin and the hard purple casing forming on his fingers. "What's happening to me?" He whispered hoarsely.

Sparks swallowed hard. How could he tell him what was wrong? Where's a grown-up when you need one?

MC's electronic voice answered. "Your DNA is rearranging itself, resulting in physiological changes."

Zack blinked. "I'm mutating?"

Sparks nodded vigorously as MC continued. "That is the vernacular way of putting it."

He took a deep breath. "Allie's gonna go berserk. Why couldn't I've just gotten bitten by a radioactive spider?"

"The climbing walls with no ropes would come in handy."

"No joke." He turned his hands over again. "What the hell am I turning into?"

"You got me."

He sighed wearily and dropped his hands on the bed. "Got ya out of a jamb and became a useless mess. Sorry."

"Don't be sorry. You're supposed to help people that need help. 'Sides, you helped me. And if you can't help your friends, you don't need to help anybody. At least that's what Roddie would say." A nervous twitch lashed Sparks' grey tail against his blue-jean-clad legs. "We are friends?"

"Sure we are," Zack grinned again. "We've been prisoners together. It's like a rule to become friends after that. That's what happened to me and Ron, for as long as that lasted." The flicker of pain that crossed his face had nothing to do with the pain in his body. "But that's a long story."

And one that hurts too much to tell, Sparks realized. "That's what happened with Roddie and Axle. And Dad and the guy he was in the Pits with, Manuelo."

"And we have so much in common."

Sparks's muzzle wrinkled. "We do?"

Zack chuckled. "Well, we both get told to stay put. And you got my Spider-Man reference."

"Roddie taught me English with her comic book and movie collection. Bootlegged from Earth."

"Roddie has good taste. Your stepmom?"

"No, she was raising me before we found out my dad was still alive."

"April does that for me now. We got that in common too. Do you role-play?"

His grey bangs fell back in his eyes as he shook his head. "Roddie has a couple Dungeons and Dragons books. Said they were Throttle's before he discovered motorcycles. But I never could find anyone interested in playin'." His feet shuffled. "I haven't had any real friends before. And everybody here is Dad's friend, not mine."

"You have one now." Zack grabbed a fur-covered hand with his purple-skinned one. His arm jerked away as his body began to spasm again. He grabbed his face and moaned.

Sparks peered around the room. He was the only one here. "MC, do somethin'!"

"Administrating half dosage of ibicoian." A robot arm holding a clear plastic IV bag filled with a blue-tinted liquid jerked down beside Zack's head. Another arm held down the mutating human's arm while a third carefully inserted the IV's needle.

Sparks clenched his fists. The spasms calmed down, and Zack's left hand fell away from his face. Hard ridges had started forming under his eyebrows. And he was out cold. "You hafta help friends. I don't know what they'll let me do, but I will do it."

Allie felt like screaming. The Hounds were only sent out when Val Tech didn't care who got hurt. For them to send them after Zack and the kid mouse.... She felt sick.

"Modo!" Throttle gunned his bike to the large grey mouse struggling inside the net.

She turned the trike to the right, parking at the mouth of the alley. "We need to take the high road."

"Or this fight is gonna be over before we win." Mike met her eyes seriously. "You need a lift?"

"Yeah, I'm out of grappling hooks. Save the weapons. If those nets are strong enough to stop Modo, they might come in handy."

"Just imagine the trout you could catch with 'em. Maybe even Jaws." He swung his custom-built grappling hook and rope to the roof. Allie grabbed hold of his shell and he hauled them up to the rooftops.

As soon as it was within reach, Allie grabbed the rim of the roof and pulled herself in a crouch next to Mike. Two snipers, about fifteen feet apart, were in front of them. Another sniper was on the building behind them.

Mike touched her arm. He touched his chest and jerked his thumb over his shoulder. Allie nodded to show she understood, then creeped to the first sniper. Mike waited until she was close to him and then leaped to the other roof.

The sniper never looked up as she crept behind him. One blow to the back of his neck and the Val Tech guard dropped the shoulder cannon and slumped to the floor. She picked up the cannon. It didn't look that hard to operate.

"Hey!" The other sniper in front of her yelled. He dropped the net cannon and grabbed a laser rifle. The shots weren't coming anywhere close.

Allie rested the cannon on her shoulder and fired. The Val Tech guard dodged the net and started firing at her again. So he completely missed the other net coming down from a different trajectory.

Mike trotted up to her, a net cannon propped cockily on his shoulder. "He wasn't expecting that, was he?"

"No, he sure wasn't."

They walked up to him warily but his arms were pinned so he couldn't fire the gun. "You dirty freaks!"

"Your mom must be so proud," Mike sneered.

Allie picked up the second cannon and slung it over her shoulder with the handy strap. She walked to the edge of the roof. She scanned over the fight, "Oh no. Eight is hit."

"How bad is that?"

"He's like Darkman now. His pain receptors don't work and he could bleed to death in the middle of a fight."

"Doesn't feel ouchies, can't talk, no control when he poofs away; didn't he get anything good out of his mutation?" Mike asked.

"I never had the guts to ask any of them that. You gonna help the others?"

"Yeap." He set up the grappling hook and rope. "Dog creature bad, right?"

"Right." Allie climbed on his back and they repelled down the side of the building, splitting up on the street. She forced Hounds out of her way until she reached the giant black man.

He balled his fists, raised his arms to punch, and snarled down at the black-clad figure in front of him. Allie jerked her empty hands up. The net cannons hanging on her shoulders almost upset her balance. "Easy, Eight! You're bleeding!"

He lowered his fists as he stared at her. Recognition dawned on his face. He made a surprised grunt and swept her up in a bear hug.

"I missed you too, you big lug! Now put me down."

Eight set her down gently on her feet with a sheepish grin. He took the net cannons off her shoulders and dangled them in his right hand.

"You need patching," she said briskly. "Where can we go?"

His expression turned thoughtful. He pulled of the microphone headset and handed it to her.

Allie took the headset and spoke into it. "Hello?"

"Who is this?" The electronic voice snapped in her ear.

"Eight has been hit. I need a place to patch him up before he bleeds to death."

"There is a medbay on the second level. Please enter through the street door. The garage is locked down."

"All right." Allie glanced to the building they were in front of, a seven-story brownstone. The way to the front stoop was mostly clear. "Let's get inside, quickly."

"Modo!" Throttle gunned his black and chrome bike and pulled up alongside his Plutarkian shrink-steel-wrapped bro and bike.

The grey-furred mouse struggled to shift the strands of the net in front of his bike's laser cannons. His eye glowed red from the fury of being restrained. He shook his head as much as he could as Throttle started to dismount. "Don't worry about me. Help Vinnie and Tala; they lost their bikes."

"Alright, Big Fella. Then we'll get Tala's can opener." He didn't like it, but he respected Modo's wishes. He scanned the alien-filled street and spotted Tala and Vinnie near the other side. The dog-like humanoids reminded him of Sand Raiders.

He took another glance at the battle, locating the other good guys. Tala and Vinnie were fighting back to back. Ryan and Smarts charged on their bikes into the fray twirling chains above their heads. Leonardo and Raphael cut through their opposition. Allie and Mike had disappeared.

He gunned his bike and moved into the thick of the fight. Unlike Sand Raiders, these creatures didn't run from a fight. Most dodged the laser bolts from his bike to slam their furry bodies against his. He shoved one snarling beast away with his right foot and plucked another one off his right side with his tail.

Four more replaced them. A pair of clawed hands wrapped around his arm and yanked. Another shoved on the opposite side. "Gonna hafta do better than that, Milkbone breath!" He wrenched his arm to reach for his gun. Before he could clasp his pistol, his left side was tackled as the guy on his right arm yanked. His bike wailed as she wobbled and fell to the right. He cursed as he tried to break free but the bodies added their weight to the momentum. He crashed against the pavement and grunted with pain as his bike and the dog-like creatures pinned his right leg.

A snarling mouth in a long snout inched closer to his ear.

No hassles kept Allie and Eight from finding the converted infirmary inside the old apartment building. The examination table there was strong enough to support Eight's weight. He waited patiently on it while Allie dumped the net cannons and headset in a corner, then found a chair to stand on so she could reach his shoulder.

The wound wasn't as bad as she had thought it was--one slash, about an inch deep, with a couple of scratches beside it. "Your jacket took the worst of it." She pulled the black leather Black Bones jacket off his lap and tossed it beside him on the examination table.

He grunted in agreement and touched the black spandex mask on her face with gentle, curious fingers.

"It's my secret identity." She paused in pressing down tape across the gauze she had placed on the wound to pull her hood off. "The Ronin. I even made the news in New York."

Eight harrumphed and traced a bandanna around his eyes.

Allie shrugged as she resumed bandaging his shoulder. "They think they're the only ones who can fight. Mike is the only one who knows what I can do."

His eyebrows shot up. Then he grinned and made kissing noises.

She blushed. "That's none of your business. What about Zack?"

He shrugged an I-don't-know gesture with his right shoulder and switched to sign language. *You know Zack?*

"He's my brother."

He winced. *They didn't tell us. He's here.*

"I know, the mice got him away from that skyscraper. And I know he's hurt."

*Val Tech did it.* His face hardened to black stone. *The little mouse boy said so.*

"I figured." Finished with the bandaging, Allie climbed off the chair. "Let's go find him."

They headed up in the freight elevator. It took a long time to reach the next floor, a metal catwalk stretching from the elevator to a door on the opposite wall. The elevator finally stopped inside a huge warehouse-like room created by knocking out the floor between the top two stories. Parked inside was a sleek black spaceship. More Hot Stuff was painted across its side in white. "Of course," Allie muttered, "they're Martians. They have to have a spaceship."

Eight tugged her jacket sleeve to get her attention. He pointed to himself, then drove an imaginary steering wheel before pointing to the ship and wriggling his eyebrows with a grin.

Allie managed a wan smile. "Well, maybe if you asked really nice with you big, brown, puppy-dog eyes. Zack?"

The shout brought Modo's son down a ramp under the spaceship. "Who are you?" He asked with a suspicion-hardened expression and a laser pistol in his hand, aimed at them.

"Take it easy, kid. We talked before, remember?" She raised her empty hands.

"The girl on that weird communicator. That still doesn't mean I should trust you. You were wearing a mask."

Her opinion of the kid's intelligence went up some more. "You sure you're not from New York? BatWing doesn't like me. Does that count for anything?"

Sparks considered that and lowered the gun. "You got good taste in enemies."

"Thank you. Is my brother in there?"

"Your brother? What's so scary about you?"

Eight laughed with a deep hoot and signed quickly. *Everybody asks that.*

"Not everyone. Come on, Sparks. I really need to see him."

The kid looked pensive. "Charley, is it okay?" He called back into the ship.

"Let them in." Sparks led them up the ramp into a metal hallway. Eight had to stoop to keep his head from hitting the ceiling. The red-brown-haired woman Allie had met earlier greeted them. "Look, I just want to warn you. This might be a little shocking."

No, please, no. Allie felt her whole body stiffen. "Where is he?"

Charley sighed and led them a short way down a metal hallway to an open doorway on the left. She shot Allie a worried look before stepping out of the way.

Allie took a deep breath and stepped into the futuristic doctor's office crossed with an assembly plant. Zack was tucked comfortably into the bed beneath the robot arms. Her heart lurched as she stepped closer. I left him. I left him, and he got hurt. He got hurt because of me. Eight moaned in the doorway behind her but it only registered in her inventory of details.

Zack's skin had turned dark purple. His face contorted with pain, even though his body had mercifully passed out. She brushed his straight black hair away from his eyes. He always needed a haircut. Bumpy bone ridges were growing underneath his eyebrows.

What have I let them do to you? A small voice in her mind sobbed in heartrending pain. The louder, rational voice kept reiterating why this shouldn't be a surprise. How she knew Val Tech had her DNA on file and how their computers often made identity mistakes between siblings. Zack had been tagged and they had chased him here thinking he was her. And underneath both voices, rage boiled with the desire to strike back, with the need to make the ones responsible hurt as badly as she did, as badly as Zack did. Her black-gloved hands clenched into fists. She had to consciously straighten her fingers. And that was exactly what she could not give into, if she wanted to prevent becoming a hate-filled monster. She focused her thoughts on pulling off the gloves and taking Zack's right hand in hers.

Eight turned away; his stomach clenched into a knot. Her brother, the only family Allie Cat had and Val Tech had found him. He gazed down at his large, strong hands. But he hadn't the strength to protect that little boy. And he didn't have the strength to take away Allie Cat's pain.

He looked up at the norm woman called Charley and the Martian mouse-boy Sparks. She bit her lip with worry watching the two in the room. The little mouse looked like he was going to cry again. He snapped his fingers to get their attention. *How many injections did they give him?* He signed with his hands.

Sparks looked confused and turned to Charley. She shrugged apologetically and helplessly. "I'm sorry; I don't know sign language."

"That's sign language?" Sparks asked. "That's not what the Coyote did on those old cartoons."

Eight sighed with frustration. No, I couldn'tve ended up with telepathy or something. I have to play charades to talk to anyone. He pantomimed injecting a syringe into his arm and pointed into the room.

Sparks figured it out first. "Yeah, they gave him an injection. Howdja know?"

Eight sighed again and pantomimed the injection, this time holding up one finger then two.

"How many did they give him?" Charley guessed. Eight nodded.

Again the mouse kid supplied the answers. "One, something called M-175. Then they locked us up in a cell and we broke out. And then Zack started gettin' sick."

Oh hell. Oh hell. It's worse than I thought. Eight's shoulders slumped. He turned and looked into the tiny medical room. Even if he could fit his bulk inside, there was nothing he could say or do to help her deal with the pain and the rage. He recognized the determined rigidity of her shoulders. That hadn't changed in five years. No one could find the right thing to say to rid her of it. He turned and lowered himself out of the ship, sitting down on the bottom of the ramp. He was right; it held his weight.

He sat there, lost in his jumbled thoughts, until a hand touched his right shoulder. He looked up the ramp to see the young woman with sad green eyes looking back at him. He stood up awkwardly to give her enough room to get down.

She reached the floor, looked up at him and brushed her hair back with a nervous gesture. "I want to talk to you. You know what's going on. Why did they, Val Tech, do whatever they did to a child?"

Eight wearily sat back down on the ramp and rummaged in his jacket for a battered notepad and pen. He tossed the jacket on the ramp and started writing. Why do it to any of us? They want to get back at Allie Cat. Val Tech probably thought they were chasing her and when they discovered the truth, it didn't matter. Snake-eyes should have told us who Zack is. We could have protected him better if we knew.

Charley read the note quickly. "You fight Val Tech? That's what the Black Bones are doing now? And who's keeping the gang going?"

Eight chuckled. Do you want the answer to life, the universe, and everything while we're at it? Yes we fight Val Tech. Skulls found us, trained us, and made us badass bikers. You got a claim to the name? We've earned it. Skulls said so.

"Sorry, everything's a little crazy right now. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. Why does Val Tech want revenge on Allie? And what do they want with my friends?"

So she knows Skulls. He filed the information away to inquire about later. He raised his hands and made big mouse ears on the sides of his head.

Charley's lips twitched in spite of herself. "Yes, those friends."

When she rode with us, Allie Cat was the worst terror for Val Tech. She has a knack for breaking and entering into their labs and for fighting by figuring out their moves and beating them to it. We had the highest success rate of all teams. Why do you think Val Tech wants the Martians? What have they done to you?

"Allie called her BatWing. You know her?" Eight nodded grimly. "She grabbed Sparks, probably to bait a trap. She knew all about the guys. But Allie's being with us knocked her for a loop. She changed her mind about whatever she was doing and took off with Sparks."

You're lucky to get him back unhurt. I don't know of a reason why Val Tech would chase after them, but they never seem to need a reason to hurt people.

She sighed. "I hope Throttle's found out something."

Another Martian? Man, what are they doing here, starting a colony? Need to remember to drop Ryan a hint to find out. But first we have to stop Val Tech. Eight waited to see if Charley had any more questions but she seemed lost in her worries.

The snarling mouth in the long snout inched closer to Throttle's ear. The tan-furred mouse struggled, but his leg was trapped under his bike and the dog-like creatures kept pressing against his arms and shoulders. He glanced up at the one getting closer. "I'm glad I got a helmet on. Your breath must be killer."

The creature didn't appreciate a sense of humor. Its clawed hands whacked the back of his helmet. Throttle winced at the sound of metal on asphalt, but was glad it wasn't his face. "Done in by some Plutarkian lapdogs. Not exactly the way to insure a place in the hero hall of fame." The fist whacked his helmet again.

"Throttle's down?" Vinnie's voice squawked over his helmet's radio link. "When did Throttle get here?"

"Never mind, Mr. Observant," an unfamiliar female voice answered. "I see the Hounds on him. Leave him alone!"

A booted foot slammed into the skull of the Hound batting his helmeted head. Bones crunched and its body spasmed. The foot shoved the dead weight aside so it wouldn't land on the mouse. The other two Hounds holding him down released him to face this enemy.

The female laughed a little wildly. "Oh you want a piece of me? Here doggie, doggie!"

The Hounds leaped with a growl. Throttle heard fists smacking and more bones crunching. He saw the Hounds fly over him and his bike. He grunted and started to push his bike upright.

"Hang on a second." Two human hands wrapped around the bike's frame and lifted. His bike settled back on her wheels, and Throttle scrambled to his feet. His right leg felt bruised but otherwise fine. "Such a sweet ride," the girl crooned, and Throttle turned to thank her.

She was a biker dressed in tight blue jeans and T-shirt with the very familiar Black Bones jacket wrapped around her. She was skinny and angular, yet she possessed an aura of dangerous sensuality. Her shoulder-length black hair draped over the left side of her head and showed her pale shaved skin up to a Mohawk. "Yummy, yummy, yummy." Her hazel eyes blazed with an appraising lust that finally clued Throttle onto what girls meant by being stared at like a piece of meat. "And I thought the other two were cute. You got a name, Fuzzy?" She leaned provocatively toward him, letting the jacket drop off her shoulders.

He felt glad his bike was between them, but he also didn't think it would deter her much. "The name's Throttle, ma'am. Thanks for the assist."

She chuckled low in her throat. "I'm not a ma'am yet. Hmm, think you can regulate my speed?"

He reddened under her provocative expression and pose. Oh man, if Charley's listening to this, I'm dead. "I really don't think...."

"I don't believe that," she purred. "The airheads don't blush like that."

As much as retreating rankled, sometimes it was necessary. Like now. "We should get back to the fight."

"Looks like the others have things under control."

Throttle cursed silently seeing that she was right. "Then I need to help my bro."

She peered back up the street. "He still stuck in that thing? Lead the way."

That wasn't what he had in mind, but he sighed and climbed on the bike. She leaped on the bike behind him and pressed her body against him. Throttle gulped but didn't say anything. Maybe if I just ignore her, she'll take a hint. He started his bike and turned back to Modo. Her arms circled around his waist. I'm okay with this. I'd rather it was Charley. I'm okay with this. And he was, until her fingers brushed against the fly of his jeans.

He choked on his breath and twisted the handlebars with an involuntary spasm. His bike beeped angrily at the treatment and righted herself. The girl's arms came loose and he took the opportunity to pin them to her sides by wrapping his tail around her. "Don't do that again!" He growled as he regained control of himself and the bike.

His anger and embarrassment didn't faze her a bit. She glanced down at his tail then into his eyes that glanced over his shoulder. "Into kink or just a control freak? Either one works for me."

"I've got a girl!"

They reached Modo and he turned her loose with exasperation. His bro's face contorted as he struggled to keep from laughing. "Havin' difficulties?" he finally managed to get out.

"Do you want out of that thing or not?" Throttle snapped.

"Hell yeah, I was meant to ride free."

Throttle sighed, dug into the storage compartment of his bike, and pulled out the portable welding torch. He examined the net, darkened the faceplate of his helmet, and started cutting through a strand. The flame barely melted the metal.

The girl peered over his shoulder. "What is that stuff?"

"Plutarkian shrink-steel." Modo grunted as he eased his foot away from the strand Throttle was cutting.

She blinked. "Okay. What's Plutarkian?"

"Later," Throttle answered tersely. "If you don't know, we'll have to tell the rest."

"Alright, but why don'tcha just slice halfway through a whole bunch of 'em at once?"

"Cause Modo still won't be able to break it."

She sighed. "Who said anything about him? Just do it, will ya?"

Throttle sighed. The strand was about halfway cut, so he shrugged and moved up. He got seven strands, then she nudged him out of the way. She grasped the long vertical strands and began to pull the weakened area apart. He was prepared to laugh at her efforts, but instead his mouth fell open as one strand after another broke apart.

She shook her arms loose as she stepped back. She looked at Throttle and winked at his still-shocked expression. "Impressed yet?"

He snapped his jaw shut before saying. "You pull while I cut, Miss?"

"Trash, just Trash."

They worked quickly after that, and Modo and his bike both stretched gratefully. "Man, that stuff's always a tight squeeze."

"Speaking of tight squeezes," Trash turned her intent gaze on Throttle again.

His bandana felt tight around his throat. He was spared having to hear the rest of her statement by the silver Ninja racing bike roaring to a stop next to them. Ryan pushed up the faceplate of his dark blue helmet, revealing his smoldering expression. "Where's Eight?"

"Out there fighting," Trash answered a little bewilderedly.

"Not. Why don't you try looking for him instead of your next bed partner?"

Her face went scarlet, then paled. "I was helping." She turned and marched back into what was left of the fight. Ryan glowered at Throttle and Modo for a few more seconds, then raced his bike back into the fray.

Modo blew out his breath. "What did you step in the middle of?"

"I didn't step in nothin'! She made a pass at me!" Throttle pulled his helmet off. He could feel his antennae dropping with his sagging shoulders. "And Charley's gonna wail into me."

"Look, that Trash girl is trouble. Anybody with half a brain can see that." His bro laid a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. "Just show 'em both that Charley's your girl no matter what."

"I hope it works. Vinnie's the one who gets his kicks havin' women fighting over him."

"Yeah. So how come it's never happened to him in real life?"

Mike gave his nunchucks a final twirl and tucked them back in his belt. The vast majority of the Hounds lay dead in the street. The others had turned tail and were running into the night. No one was yelling to chase them down, so he straightened his bandanna and adjusted the net cannon slung against his shell.

"That self-righteous prig! What right does he have to tell me who to sleep with? Just because he has issues with having fun!" Trash's angry face stalked past without really seeing him.

"Hey, so this is where you poofed to."

She pulled herself to a stop and tried to calm her anger. "Yeah, landed right in the middle of the invasion from Mars. Have you seen Eight?"

"Allie grabbed him to patch him up. Don't know where they ended up."

She froze. "Allie? Allie Cat Baker? She's here?"

"Oops, I probably shouldn't have said anything. But then, she probably went to check on Zack."

Her face went pale. "Zack is her little brother?"

"Yeah, look we should've told you but Raph was throwing such a fit. It'd just get worse if he knew you were friends of Allie's."

Mike wasn't sure what reaction he was expecting, but he wasn't expecting her hazel eyes to well up with tears and her face to crumple. "Val Tech hurt him. That's what they said." Before Mike could ask anything, she whirled and ran. He jogged after her as she headed for a woman in a tight, red and black jumpsuit and a white-furred Martian mouse.

"Well, apparently, that's over with." The woman pulled off the grey helmet shaped like the ones the Martians wore, revealing the sharp profile of a human woman with short, dark blonde hair. "Now, can somebody tell me what's going on?"

"I bet everyone else is clueless too." The mouse answered before Trash grabbed him by the green straps he wore across his chest. "Whoa! Watch the merchandise, sweetheart!"

"Not again," the woman sighed.

"What did Val Tech do to Zack?" Trash demanded in a distraught voice.

"Let him go. You learn a lot more if you ask before choking."

"I'm not even close to choking him!"

The woman in the jumpsuit continued as if she wasn't interrupted. "And it's also a good idea not to shake down the least-scientific knowledge of the group."

"I just love the way you jump to my defense," the Martian grumbled as Trash released him.

"How to explain this in small enough words for you to understand." The conversation was starting to draw the attention of the others, Mike noticed. "His DNA is...."

"Mutated," Trash snapped.

She looked surprised that Trash had somehow anticipated that announcement. "Mutating, ongoing. And I can't find a way to stop it."

Trash's face fell even more. And then her face grew furious and her vocabulary took an interesting turn. Everyone's eyebrows rose with her combinations of cuss words. She finally regained her temper long enough to ask, "Ongoing? They only gave him one shot?"

"Don't look at me." The white-furred mouse stepped back. "I wasn't there!"

Ryan and Smarts drove up on their bikes. Leo ran up, his katana still in his hand and Raph reached the group after him. Throttle and the grey-furred mouse freed from the net rolled up on their bikes. "What's going on?" Leo, Ryan, and Throttle asked at the same time.

Trash whirled, grabbed Leo's shell, and nearly yanked him off his feet. "Why didn't you tell us Zack is Allie's little brother? They got a hold of him and now he's going to die!"

I hate to leave ya in a lurch, Leo, but I'm needed elsewhere. Mike eased away from the group and headed to the only building that looked occupied.

The front door opened into an alcove, which opened into a hall. A freight elevator was at the right end of the hall and up on a higher floor. He hit the controls and watched it come down from the top floor. "Well, somebody's up there."

It moved up quickly, and soon he saw the warehouse-like room and spaceship parked inside it through the wire-grill of the elevator door. "And I thought our garage was cool."

"Hold it right there!" A lady with sharp green eyes and brown hair with a red tint leveled a funny-looking gun in his face.

He blinked and decided to cut her some slack, because he didn't know what kind of day she'd had. After all, April had shrieked at the top of her lungs when she had met them. "Hi. I'm looking for my girl. This high," he waved his hand near the top of his head, "blonde, dressed in black, scars on her left cheek, and probably real bummed right now."

She lowered the gun, and he got a good look at her pretty but confused face. "Your girl?"

The silent, giant African-American man lumbered toward them from beneath the spaceship. "Hi Eight. Where's Allie?"

She turned slightly to see Eight. He circled his thumb and forefinger into the okay gesture and then pointed at Mike. Then he pointed to the ship and waved his hands in a no way gesture.

"She's in the ship but I should leave her alone?"

Eight nodded vigorously.

"Can't do, man. She needs me. Here." He passed the net cannon to him. "Take care of this."

He trotted up the ramp underneath the ship into a metal hallway. Another Martian--a little boy--whirled around from a door. "Who are you?" He demanded with a sniffle.

"Take it easy, micro-mouse-dude. I'm just looking for Allie."

He looked confused and unhappy. He pointed into the room he had been looking into as he turned away. Mike braced himself, gave the kid a comforting pat on the shoulder, and went in.

Allie had taken off the Ronin's hood and gloves. She stood next to the bed, looking down on Zack and holding his hand. Zack was a mess and in a helluva lot of pain by the way his face grimaced. Mike felt his chest heave with fury. Zack was a brother, even without his relationship with Allie. For someone to do this to an innocent kid for revenge or kicks... he felt his fury solidify into a cold resolve. They would pay and justice would be swift, merciless, and green. And if Donnie's shell were so much as dinged, it'd be so nasty they'd all be wishing for a career change before it was through. That is, the ones that get a chance to think about it. He glanced back up at Allie and winced. Her stony expression and guilt-filled eyes told him everything. Zack had paid the price for deeds she had done. "Allie," he said quietly, "say something."

"Kill," came out of her throat in a savage, choked voice. "I could kill them all!" Rage found release in her voice. "I want to kill them!" Her face twisted with horror as she realized what she had said. She let go of Zack's hand and stumbled away from him and Mike. "I destroy everything." Her body shook. "I'm so tired of being evil!"

He grabbed her as her knees buckled. "Ssh, ssh, darling, don't." He buried his face against her blonde hair. "You're not evil; you've never been evil."

"I killed. I wanted him dead, and my heart.... I loved it. I loved seeing the fear in his eyes."

"Look at me." He took hold of her head and turned it to face him. "I want these Val Tech people too! Evil people enjoy the hurtin', and do it over and over again."

"Just like me," she whispered.

"No!" He shook her. "Allie, you ran from feeling that way again! And you never want to hurt innocent people, just the ones who do. Come on, you know me better than I do. I want these guys to suffer." The savageness in his voice surprised him and Allie's bloodshot sky-blue eyes opened wide. "And they deserve it."

She hung her head. "They hurt him because of me." A tiny sob escaped before she clamped down. She pulled away from him, and her fingers roughly brushed across her face until Mike caught them gently in his green hands. "We have to get started. Donnie and Di still need rescuing. We have to figure out a cure."

"Allie," he said gently, as she tried to pull her hands away. "Don't shut down. Just stop. Let it out."

Her eyes welled up with tears. "I can't... I can't stop. I have to make this right. It's all my fault." The dam broke and he pulled her down till they were sitting on the floor, Allie cradled in his lap. She sobbed against his neck. "It's all my fault. I should've said something. I should've told you."

"We'll make it right." He rocked her gently and pressed a kiss against her scarred left cheek. "We'll make it right."

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