It's going to take two Splinters (and one Shredder) to sum up this one.
The Unfortunate Ones
"Interesting," said Stockman, tapping his chin thoughtfully as he looked at Mike through the forcefield. "We have no way of confirming or denying whether his claims about an alternate reality is true, but I believe it's worth finding out more about."
"You're not saying you believe him?" said Leo, looking at Stockman with a mix of disbelief and suspicion. "Stockman, he all but accused you of being a traitor and a villain!"
"Accusations which you, my dear Leonardo, also made the first time I returned to Earth with Leatherhead and the Utroms, unless my memory is completely off." Stockman grinned. "I do know that they say there's a fine line between genius and insanity, but I like to think I still have some rational thought left. Tell me, spirit --"
"Mike," said Mike heavily.
"Ah yes, pardon me. Mike -- you say you know me as an enemy in your reality? I suppose this means that I never went to the Utrom world there -- that was really the big turning point in my life here."
Mike nodded. "Well... yeah... first you worked for Shredder, and then you..." He paused, deciding to skip how Stockman had been with Leatherhead and how Mike himself had been indirectly responsible for their failure to finish the teleporter. "Well, you worked for this guy named Bishop. Dunno if you know him here... Heads something called the Earth Protection Force and is obsessed with aliens."
"I think I've heard of an Agent Bishop," said Leatherhead. "The Utroms mentioned him... do you know anything more about it, Professor?" he turned to the Utrom, who hadn't said anything yet.
"Agent John Bishop?" said the Utrom.
"That would be him," Mike agreed.
"Yes, we know him. I never met the man myself, but he apparently gave us quite a bit of trouble when we re-established our base here on Earth. Almost came to blows between us, but we managed to work it out. I believe he works with us now..."
"Of course," said Mike with a sigh. "Of course Bishop is a good guy here as well. What about the Foot Clan? They're a peace-loving and good-natured clan of philantropes who devote their lives to research and finding a cure for the common cold, right?"
Everybody, including April, stared at him. The forcefield wavered a little, but as the woman caught herself and began concentrating again, it returned to its original strength and shape.
"No," said Leo slowly and carefully, as if he believed he was talking to a crazy person. "They're a dishonorable clan of thieves and murderers."
"Oh." Well, Mike thought, some things had to stay the same.
"Funny you should mention a cure for the common cold, though," said Leatherhead. "I've started working on that. With the help of the Utroms, and my good friend Dr. Stockman..."
"Oh, you flatter me," said Stockman with such a huge amount of fake modesty that it was a wonder he didn't collapse under it. "I merely suggested a few things. You and our esteemed Utrom friends are the ones doing most of the actual work."
Mike hadn't thought it was possible to feel worse about himself than he already did, but now... His mere existence was -- in a roundabout way, but still -- hindering a cure for the common cold to be found?!
"We still haven't decided what to do with this spirit, though," said Leo."That was why I called you here. I would have contacted Donatello as well, but he's still out with Casey, and I don't know where Master Splinter is..."
"Right here," came a voice from the other end of the room. Splinter came walking in the door, looking like the exact same old and wise rat from Mike's reality -- and Mike's eyes widened as he saw that he was accompanied by two very familiar-looking spirits.
"Do forgive us for being so late," said the spirit-Splinter to Mike, and it was obvious that neither Leo, Stockman, Leatherhead or the Utrom could hear him ."We just needed to get some help."
"Not that you deserved any," said the spirit-Shredder, and it was obvious that the others couldn't hear that either.
Splinter -- the real Splinter, or possibly the alternate Splinter, or the physical Splinter, or whatever Mike was supposed to call him, walked straight up to the forcefield. "So," he said, calm and gentle like he always was, "you are Michelangelo. I apologize for the reception you have gotten in our reality."
"Master Splinter?" said Leo uncertainly.
Splinter turned to him. "My son, you have done a great disservice to this wandering spirit. He means no harm."
No, thought Mike glumly, I never meant any harm...but it looks like I've done a lot of harm without meaning to.
"He's been spying on us, Master," said Leo. "And when we caught him, he came up with this story about how he's from a different reality where you have four sons instead of three. I thought --"
"I know." Splinter smiled wearily. "But I can vouch for him. He is not evil or untrustworthy, and he is telling the truth." He turned to April. "Miss O'Neill... if you would please let him go?"
April blinked and seemed to come out of her light trance. The forcefield wavered again and vanished.
The effect was remarkable. It was clear that now that Mike was free again, Leo and the others couldn't see him. Stockman in particular looked fascinated, straightened his glasses and stared directly at Mike without seeing him.
"Master, are you sure this is wise?" said Leo. "And..." he frowned."There are two more spirits here. What are they --?"
"Patience, Leonardo," said Splinter. "I will explain all later. If Michelangelo would care to follow me, we'll get this straightened out at once." He nodded to Leatherhead, Stockman and the Utrom. "Forgive me for not staying, but I have an important matter to tend to with Michelangelo."
"If you say he's harmless, mister Splinter, then that's good enough for me," said the Utrom solemnly. "Your judgment has never been wrong before, and I for one am willing to trust it."
"As am I," said Leatherhead. "You've helped us out too many times in the past for us to ignore your advice now."
"I hope I can prove myself worthy of the trust you place in me, my friends" said Splinter, bowing. "I will see you all later."
With that, he turned and motioned for the spirits to follow him. Mike, a little uncertain, had no time to decide what to do before the two other spirits each grabbed one of his arms and dragged him along with them, following Splinter.
"Okay," said Mike as he was dragged down the sewer tunnel, not in the mood to fight or struggle. "Fine. Brilliant. I give up. You win, Shredder. The world is officially a better place without me in it. Happy now?"
"How can anyone be happy when they have to listen to your whining?" Shredder snapped. "Isn't it enough that you are worthless? Must you also display such a complete lack of dignity about it?"
"Are you being a complete idiot and jerk on purpose or something?" said Mike. "I said you won! Everyone is better off without me! What more do you want? "
Splinter -- the non-spirit variant -- turned to look at the three spirits. "Why do you say that the world is better off without you, Michelangelo?"
"You can see me?" said Mike, the surprise momentarily making him forget his misery. "Even outside that freaky forcefield bubble thingy?"
"I can see you all perfectly clear," said Splinter. "I must admit, I have never before encountered a spirit that looks like my exact double, not a spirit that was the exact double of one of my mortal enemies, but --"
"I apologize for that," said his spirit counterpart. "My esteemed colleague and I appeared in forms that would be familiar to Michelangelo. We hadn't counted on being spotted by anyone else -- we were only meant to observe."
"I see," said Splinter. He turned back to Mike. "But you have not answered my question, Michelangelo. Why do you claim the world is better off without you?"
"Because I've seen it," said Mike, his misery returning. And before he really knew what he was doing, he told Splinter about his own world -- the world where he existed, and spent all his time mucking up everything for everyone without meaning to or even realizing. "And I come here," he finished, "to find that Raph is the Battle Nexus champion, much more level-headed, and a respected martial arts teacher who makes a big difference in people's lives. Shell, he even cooks, and likes it. Don and Casey are single-handedly reducing the amount of street-level crime in New York, and seem to have fun doing it too. Leo is... still Leo, just even more, and he's got more allies and friends to call on if he needs to. April is a powerful psychic. Stockman and Bishop are good guys. Leatherhead gets to live with the Utroms and probably doesn't have that 'berserker' thing going for him either. All because I wasn't there to ruin their lives for them. "
Splinter had listened in silence the entire time. "Michelangelo... everyone makes bad decisions in their lives."
"Doesn't look like I've done anything but make bad decisions."
Splinter shook his head. "I am certain this is not so. But even if it was...Michelangelo, I have three sons. And I would not, for anything in the world, have given up any of them. Even if they had not made the accomplishments they have... I would not have wanted to be without any of them The Splinter in your world feels the same way about his four sons. As do the Leonardo, Donatello and Raphael in your world."
"How do you know that?"
"Because that is what makes a family, Michelangelo." The rat smiled. "Tell me, is there any of your brothers you could look at and honestly say you'd rather have been without, that you would have been better off if he had never existed?"
"What? No! " said Mike, horrified at the idea. "But that's not the same!"
"You think not?"
"Well, look at them! They..."Mike sighed. "They're the ones who matter. They do things that really makes a difference... and they've made so many lives better. What have I ever done apart from messing up? Oh, and telling a lot of jokes," he added as an afterthought. "I guess I might've made some people laugh a few times, I'll give myself that. Doesn't really make up for everything else, though."
"It certainly does not," said Shredder.
Both Splinters sent him a harsh look.
"Can you not think of a single instance where you made a positive difference, Michelangelo?"
"I kinda thought I had with Leatherhead," Mike muttered. "But turns out that was just another blunder. And everything I've done in my team efforts... seems like it was either unnecessary, or someone else did it. When I got back the Time Scepter when we were stuck in prehistoric time with Renet... well, someone else musta caught that fish that had swallowed the Scepter, and probably didn't annoy everyone with jokes about fish going to waste either. And as for the Silver Sentry..."
Both spirit-Splinter and Shredder stiffened, however briefly.
"...well, why should he have needed me for anything? Really? He's a big superhero. The one time I did help him out, I mean really helped, it was just against some freaky mind control bug. Every superhero gets mind-controlled at some point in their career and they all manage to get out of it somehow..." he trailed off as the spirit-Splinter, wordlessly, waved his hand and made the air in front of them once again go blurry.
As in a movie, Mike saw the Silver Sentry fly across the sky, graceful and swift as always, but... Mike squinted to make out the details in the blurry image. Was it just his imagination, or did the superhero have a sort of... blank look on his face?
Mike remembered it from before: From the lair of the evil Dr. Malignus, whose freakish mind-control bugs had taken over a good deal of people and made them do his bidding. He'd managed to get to Silver Sentry as well, but Mike had, in his newly invented "Turtle Titan" identity, managed to remove the mind-control bug from the back of Silver Sentry's neck, where it had attached itself to control him -- and one superhero team-up later, Dr. Malignus had been defeated and taken to jail.
It looked like Malignus had succeeded in taking Silver Sentry over in this reality too, and without Mike there to remove the mind-control bug in time, it seemed like the mind-control had lasted for long enough that the superhero actually managed to get out and...
Mike froze. Silver Sentry had landed in the street, and was now surrounded by a number of armed policemen, all of whom were pointing guns at him.
"Silver Sentry," one of them called, looking both nervous and upset at once (probably a fellow Silver Sentry fan, Mime surmised). "Give yourself up! There are too many witnesses to your current crime spree, but if you come quietly now, all the services you've done for the world are sure to --"
Silver Sentry didn't answer. Instead, he lounged at the policeman, both fists extended and slammed into him, beginning to pound on him with massive fists. The other policemen, obviously shocked, began firing their guns, but the superhero didn't even seem to notice the bullets as they bounced harmlessly off him. He just kept on hitting the policeman, again and again...
All of a sudden, he stopped, stiffened and let out a huge scream, so powerful that most of the policemen covered their ears. One of the bullets had hit the mind control-bug on the back of his neck, and now Silver Sentry took several steps back and looked at the fallen policeman in horror.
"No..." he said. "Please, no..."
And Mike knew that the policeman was dead. Silver Sentry had killed him.
"The Silver Sentry never recovered from this," said spirit-Splinter solemnly as the image faded away. "He had broken his most solemn oath and taken a life. Not of his own free will, admittedly, and he was let off by the police force after the story with the mind control devices came out, but he could not continue as a superhero after what had transpired. He put away his costume for good and stopped being the Silver Sentry."
"What?" said Mike. "But... he's a hero! He did so much good for... for everyone! And that mind control thing totally wasn't even his fault! He shouldn't give up just because..." he trailed off as the others looked at him. "Okay, I get it. I'm giving up, just like he did, huh?"
"The parallel did strike me as obvious," said Shredder dryly. "Of course, the difference is that while Silver Sentry did make a huge difference before he gave up, and would have gone on to make a huge difference if he hadn't given up, you ... well, you are quite worthless either way."
"I would not say that," said the non-spirit Splinter. "If Michelangelo, in his world, stopped this mind-control device before Silver Sentry could harm anyone, then he actively saved the life of that poor policeman. Furthermore, all the people Silver Sentry might have saved in the future would die because he gave up his life as a superhero. Even if Michelangelo had not done anything else worthwhile in his life, that alone is proof enough for me that he is far from worthless."
"And what good did those lives do?" said Shredder. "Policemen are a dime a dozen, and it's not unheard of that one of them dies on duty. And most of the so-called lives that were saved by Silver Sentry were more or less like Michelangelo himself -- quite without any meaning or worth. Compared to saving an entire world from the likes of the Utrom Shredder, or saving the entire city of New York, feats that his brothers accomplished just fine without him, that's absolutely nothing."
Mike rubbed his head. It's hard to get rid of so much misery all at once, and he still felt a little dubious, but... "I didn't even know that policeman. I mean, I didn't set out to save him, or... well, I just kinda blundered into it. But, you can't say it didn't matter that he died. I mean, he musta had people who loved him and..."
"They got over it. They all knew there was a risk anyway." Shredder's voice was deadpan.
"Maybe..." Mike began. And then he stopped. And stared.
In front of him, the air had begun shimmering again, and another scene was playing out in front of him; a winter scene on the streets of New York -- as far as Mike could judge, not far from where the unfortunate policeman had met his end in the earlier vision. In an alleyway, half-buried under piles of snow, a small shape lay unmoving... a small shape with tabby-patterned ginger fur...
" Klunk! " said Mike, trying to reach out for the kitten -- but of course, it was only an image in the air, and his hands went straight through. "Aw, no... Klunk..."
There was silence.
"There is nothing to be done for him, Michelangelo," said spirit-Splinter softly as the image faded. "Because you were not there to take him in that Christmas, he suffered the fate of so many alley cats. The cold and hunger was too much for him... He died only a few days after you would have found him and given him a home, had you been present in this world. Nobody else bothered to even take notice of him."
Mike couldn't answer. His throat felt like it was trying to close up, and his eyes grew misty as he fought to stop the tears. The image of his beloved pet lying there in the snow, not even allowed to grow up to become an adult cat, because nobody had taken an interest in him...
"Oh, please," said Shredder. "He saved the life of a worthless cat? That's supposed to convince me that he's not worthless himself? As if there weren't too many cats in New York already! That kitten didn't make one bit of difference --"
That was when Mike hit him. For the first time during this entire bizarre experience, Mike lost his temper, and hit Shredder with such force that the armored man flew through the air and landed on his back.
"That's my cat you're talking about!" Mike hissed. "Klunk might not ever discover the cure for cancer or save the planet from aliens, but he's still the best cat in the world, and if this world doesn't have him, then I say this world is poorer for it!"
Shredder didn't answer, but the two Splinters looked at Mike with clear approval in their eyes.
It was the non-spirit Splinter who spoke first. "Had you existed in this reality, Michelangelo, I would have been proud to call you my son. And Raphael, Leonardo and Donatello would have been equally proud to call you their brother."
Mike smiled ruefully. There were many answers that pressed on, many comments that yearned to be made about... well, everything that had happened. About making a difference and about realizing potentials and helping and hindering others in their paths through life. Or even about the life of a small alley cat that could have been saved if people had just bothered to notice it.
But somehow, it seemed like it would just be too much to say all that. So instead, he just sighed and said the one thing that he felt the strongest, the one thing that summed up everything else anyway:
"I think I wanna go home now."
TO BE CONTINUED...
Chapter notes: Home stretch, people! The next chapter will also be the last, and that's where everything is summed up, and hopefully the last few lingering questions will be answered!
Curious, though... did anyone here not see that "Klunk" plot twist coming? I mean... who else would have saved him if Mike hadn't?