Michelangelo gets his first big surprise, as he sees what Raphael is up to in the alternate world.
The Battle Nexus Champion
"Whoa!" said Mike, blinking his eyes a few more times to make sure they weren't deceiving him in some way.
The room he was in now was... well, it was definitely his room -- at least, it had the same shape and size, and that annoying crack in the wall that was always the first thing he saw when he opened his eyes in the morning was right there where it always was -- but all of his furniture had gone, and what was worse was that his comic book collection was nowhere in sight either.
Instead, the room was filled with various random objects, organized in different stacks or piles. Some of the objects was stuff he had never seen before, but others were very familiar -- he recognized Don's first computer and Raph's old teddybear, Pookie (which Raph had thrown away at the age of seven and afterwards furiously denied the existence of).
"Now what's all this junk doing in my room? Oh, wait," he added somewhat sheepishly. "World where I was never born. Got it. Guess that this isn't technically my room, then... looks like they're using it as a storage space here."
"That is correct, Michelangelo," said Splinter softly. "Welcome to the world in which you were never born."
He waved a furry hand, and the air in front of them began to shimmer, not unlike how it might during a heat wave or over a burning fire. In the middle of the shimmering, an image appeared; somewhat blurred and unclear, but easy enough to make out -- a trafficked road somewhere in New York. Mike was about to ask what this was, but then his eyes fell on the small boy in the crowd on the pavement.
"Whoa!" he said, looking at the glass jar in the boy's hands. "Is that --?"
"Your original owner, yes," said Shredder in a bored tone. "Well, this reality's version of him. Since you were never born in this world, the pet store didn't have any more than three turtles for him when he came to buy. He was planning on returning later for a fourth one, but wanted to take the first three home as soon as he could."
Fascinated, Mike watched the scene that developed in front of him. He had heard it described so many times, but couldn't actually remember it taking place. Now, he saw Splinter's story of their origin play out right there: The TCRI truck, the old blind man, the almost-accident. And the canister, unnoticed by most of the crowd as the violent motions of the truck sent it flying.
Almost in slow motion, the all-too-familiar canister hit and smashed the glass bowl with the three baby turtles in it, causing the newly-made turtle owner to drop it. There was a moment of horrible chaos... and then, both canister, glass shards and turtles went down the manhole and into the darkness of the sewers.
The scene changed, showing the three baby turtles crawling around in the glowing green ooze that leaked out of the broken canister, as the pre-mutated Splinter scurried up to them, peering at them with curious eyes that already seemed much too intelligent for a normal rat. Mike watched as the rat tried to clean the ooze off the turtles before gathering them up in an old, discarded coffee can, which it dragged away to its nest.
"You might notice that in this world, there was much more room in the coffee can," said Shredder sardonically. "Three turtles do not take up as much space as four, so your brothers had much more elbow room... at least until the mutagen started working."
"Whoa," said Mike again. He had often wondered what things had looked like back then -- and somehow, when he saw it now, it turned out to be completely different from how he'd imagined it."That was brilliant! " he exclaimed as the image faded and the air turned normal again. "Can you show anything else like that? How about cartoons? Can you show cartoons?"
"Actually," said Splinter, with a hint of a smile, "yes. But this is hardly the time and place for that, Michelangelo."
"Oh, right," said Mike, trying to pretend he wasn't disappointed. He'd wanted to ask if he could possibly get to see that Bugs Bunny cartoon he remembered from his childhood, the one he could never recall the name of.
"This show was merely meant to serve as an introduction to this world," Splinter went on. "As you could see, your brothers' and master's origin remains unchanged, with one notable exception."
"Me," said Mike.
Mike nodded thoughtfully and looked towards the closed door. "So... out there is a world where I don't exist, and my brothers and father don't know me." It was a slightly frightening concept, but also somewhat intriguing. How did everyone manage without him?
"Why not go out and have a look for yourself?" said Splinter, as if he had read Mike's mind.
"Won't they get slightly suspicious when they see a strange mutant Turtle just coming waltzing out of the storage room?" said Mike. " Hi, I'm your brother from an alternate world. You don't know me, but I know you. Ask me anything. No, I'm not a spy, don't attack me. Somehow, I don't think that'd work"
Shredder growled. "You are still not in your body, Michelangelo!" he snapped. "They will not be able to see or hear you -- or us! We will just be observing, not interacting!"
"That's not how these stories usually go," said Mike dubiously. He wanted to add something else, but was cut off as Shredder gave him a hard shove, sending him tumbling towards the closed door. But instead of a painful collision with the door, he fell right through it, as if it wasn't there at all, and suddenly found himself in the main chamber of the Lair.
Picking himself up, he looked around. The Lair seemed to be pretty much the same as ever, he noted; the only real difference he could see was that the wall he had once gotten it into his head to paint green just to see how it would look, was still its original color -- and that the other wall, the one he had inadvertedly destroyed and discovered that elevator to the surface was still whole. Oh yeah, and he had never seen Raph giving ninjutsu lessons to a group of kids in the old Lair.
Mike blinked and looked again.
True enough, there in the usual practicing area, was Raphael with a group of human kids, demonstrating a few simple ninja kicks for them and having them mimic him afterwards.
With a mixture of curiosity and astonishment, Mike moved closer to them. The kids -- there seemed to be almost a dozen of them, varying in age from around ten to fourteen -- were busy doing their best Raph impressions as the red-clad Turtle himself walked among them, correcting them individually where needed.
"Okay, students," he finally said in a satisfied tone that Mike had seldom heard from him. "Very good. Everybody take five -- you too, Angel," he added with a smirk, as one of the girls kicked out in the air with an enthusiasm seldom seen outside Leonardo.
Angel (there was just no mistaking that purple hair) gave a mock-bow. "Your wish is my command, oh great Sensei."
"Smart-aleck comments will earn ya twenty extra push-ups," said Raph casually. "So will laughin' at a fellow student's punishment," he added, looking at a small boy who seemed to have problems controlling his mirth. "Go on, before the break."
As Angel and the boy exchanged looks and obediently got into position to do the demanded twenty push-ups, turned to Shredder and Splinter, who had appeared just next to him.
"What's going on?" he asked. "What's Raph doing playing Master Splinter?"
Shredder crossed is arms gleefully. "Well, it appears that in this reality, Raphael is the Battle Nexus champion. Since you were not there to defeat him by that fluke --"
" Hey! "
" -- he went to the final round and won. His victory provided a great inspiration both for him and for others. I believe that he thought that if he, an outcast in his own world, could raise to greatness like he had, then others would be able to do the same. He founded his own martial arts school to teach children who might be in need of some discipline and direction in their lives."
"Raph and children?" Mike rubbed his head. "I hope he doesn't lose his temper with them, then... Raph can be pretty scary when he's angry."
"I would not worry," said Splinter. Though he may be loath to admit it, your brother has always had... a soft spot... for children. He will not cause them harm."
"Also, in this reality, he is much better at controlling his temper," said Shredder. "It seems that since you were not around to hog your Master Splinter's attention, the rat was able to spend more time with Raphael and teach him better self-control. All the children you see here, Michelangelo, were outcasts who had difficult lives. In your world, all of them end as juvenile delinquents or even Purple Dragon members. But here, thanks to the guidance of the Battle Nexus champion, they are learning how to get order to themselves and making something out of their lives."
"Oh." Mike suddenly felt guilty. He had never thought of anything like that after winning the Battle Nexus. Why hadn't he thought of anything like that? "...And Master Splinter didn't mind him doing this? I mean, showing himself to so many humans, and even inviting them to our home?"
"He was dubious at first," Splinter answered. "But he had to admit that Raphael had a positive effect on these children. And after the security for your Lair got an extra upgrade, courtecy of Donatello, he was eventually convinced there was no risk."
In the background, Angel and the boy had finished their push-ups, and were getting to their feet with slight bows to Raphael, who returned the bow and grinned to them before strolling over to the table, where a glass of herbal tea stood ready for him.
Mike shook his head slightly, in disbelief, as Raph downed half the glass in one gulp. Much as he hated to admit it, Raph seemed to be handling himself very well -- if not better -- without Mike. But, of course, maybe it was all on the outside. Yeah, maybe Raph was secretly unhappy because he didn't have a little brother to spar with and who could kid around with him, and was just trying to compensate for his lonely unhappiness by playing Splinter to a group of kids.
Still... it was nice of him to...
The thought was interrupted by the sudden ringing of a Shell Cell. Instinctively, Mike made a grab for his, only to remember that he wasn't carrying it. He smiled sheepishly at Shredder, who just shook his head and pointed at Raph.
The red-clad Turtle had picked up his own Shell Cell. "Talk to me," he said flippantly. "Oh, hey Donny. Yeah, I'm trainin' the kids today. Yes, " he added with a sigh, "I did forbid 'em to enter your work area. No, they're not gonna enter it, jeez! Have some faith, okay? Nobody'd be stupid enough to go messin' with your stuff after that demonstration of how dangerous it is."
("It's obvious that this Raphael has never met you, " Shredder muttered, nodding towards Mike. The orange-clad Turtle decided not to answer that.)
"Yeah, okay, I'll tell Master Splinter you'll be late," Raph finished. "I'll save ya some lasagna too -- you can just heat it up in the micro, you can manage that, right?" He snickered. "Kay, bro. See ya later."
As he hung up, Mike turned to Splinter. "Lasagna?" he said. "I didn't even know Raph could cook!"
Splinter shook his head. "In your universe, he cannot, Michelangelo. In this universe, he is quite adept at it. It seems that with your absence, Raphael was the one who most often was given the cooking duties. He proved to have somewhat of a talent for the culinary arts, a talent that he in your universe never needed to exercise and thus never developed."
"He also had a somewhat easier time of it," Shredder interrupted. "You Turtles have always lived off what you could scavenge, and as you're aware, the food and money you can find on the streets of New York, especially when you have to stay hidden at all times, is hardly enough to feed five mutants. With only four, it was easier to find enough to sustain them."
"C'mon, I helped doing that," Mike protested. "What about that time I found a twenty-dollar bill, huh?"
"In this reality, it was Splinter who found it," said Shredder. Mike was sure he was wearing a smug grin on his face behind that stupid metal mask. "The rat always was better at spotting details than any of you Turtles. Your participation in these scavenging missions was not so great that it made up for you constantly eating more than your share, particularly when you were younger."
"Well... I was a growing Turtle?"
"So were your brothers."
Mike sighed. He stood a while in thought as he watched Raph call out that the break was over, and the kids, who had been scattered in groups around the lair, talking amongst themselves, all came running back and stood before him. They really do seem to respect him, Mike thought. Seems like Raph is a lot more... respect-worthy in this world, too. Is that all just because of the lack of a certain, adorable younger brother...?
Suddenly, he became aware of Splinter watching him with concern in his eyes. He snapped out of his thoughts and turned to the rat, grinning apologetically.
"Are you all right, Michelangelo?" Splinter asked.
"I dunno, really," Mike admitted. "I mean... Raph looks much more adjusted here... he trains kids and apparently does a good job of it, he flies off his handle less, and he's a good cook... I'm happy for 'im, and I'm happy for Angel and those other kids, but it's sorta disturbing that all it took for things to end up this way was to not have me around... Does he still fight with Leo?"
"Some," said Splinter. "But I believe Donatello most often acts as a peacemaker between the two."
"And he's better at it than you ever were," Shredder taunted. "You've always fancied yourself a bit of a peacemaker, haven't you? Well, Donatello is a natural at it. He has stopped more fights between Raphael and Leonardo in this world than you ever will in yours. Part of the reason why is because in this world he didn't have another brother to spend time with when Raphael and Leonardo got into one of their tiffs. So naturally, if he wished to be around another Turtle who wasn't fuming in anger, he had to learn how to douse the anger in his two brothers. Yet another area where your absence turned out a blessing for your brothers, I might add. Are you ready to admit that your life hasn't been worthwhile yet?"
Suddenly, Mike felt a surge of anger flare up. Truth be told, seeing Raph's situation he had, briefly, pondered whether Shredder had had a point, but now he forced that thought out of his head. Shell if he was going to let this pseudo-Shredder taint him like this! "I admit that Raph looks like he's doing well for himself, but that doesn't mean my life is worthless! We've only begun to see this world!"
"That is true," said Splinter calmly. "There is much going on outside this Lair. Shall we perhaps investigate?"
"We shall!" said Mike firmly. "Let's start with Donny. Where is he? What's he doing in this world, other than make security systems and play peacemaker? Where did he call from and why's he gonna be late?"
"By all means," said Shredder. "Let's start with Donatello. His life in this world is definitely interesting."
"Uh, yeah," said Mike a little unsurely. "So, how do we find him? We can't really ask Raph for directions... maybe we can trace the call?"
"Unnecessary." said Splinter. "We only need to do... this. "
And the world began spinning again, pulsating with lights as the Lair vanished around them.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Author's notes: Yeah, I know. I'm mean. But Mikey's right, he has only begun to see the world, and there are things going on that he doesn't know about yet... so we'll just see what happens in the next chapter, when we see what this world's Donatello is up to...