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CHAPTER SEVEN
ASHES TO ASHES

Raphael hopped off the railing of the rooftop the Turtles had spent the last six hours resting on and waved his arms. "Hot damn, we’re saved!"

Leonardo stirred at Mike’s premature announcement. Yet, premature though it was, their salvation appeared to be fast approaching them.

It was a large space-faring vessel that was hovering above them, unusually large for the typical aircars and trucks that flew D’hoonib’s air traffic lanes. As the two strips of yellow landing lights on the vessel’s underside marked its descent, the dumpster-sized hover turbines could be seen, each mounted vertically at each of the vessel’s four corners.

Raphael seemed sure it was coming to their aid, but Leo was not quite as presumptuous. It could be Blanque’s men, looking to eliminate the Turtles now that they have outlived their usefulness. It was not a possibility he liked to consider, but it could be one of the Predators’ vessels—perhaps the alien hunters’ honor was not yet satisfied?

"Would you relax, Leo? It’s not opening fire on us, is it?"

"No, but—"

"Look, fearless leader, we can just chill on the rooftops waiting for some Transmat ray to beam us home all we want... but that’s not going to get us any closer to finding a way back."

Leo nodded, surrendering the argument to his brother. "Let’s just keep on our toes."

No one could dispute that recommendation.

As the vessel lowered to within five feet of the edge of the railing, the Turtles cautiously neared it.

"Come on, Mikey, easy does it." Carefully, Donatello helped his brother up on the Styrofoam-like mattress he’d rounded up. He’d done his best to make Mike comfortable, but there would be no quick recovery for the pain he felt that was both physical and mental.

The four Turtles froze as an audible spray of pressurized air escaped the ventral side of the vessel. A sidedoor unlatched and swung open vertically, a ramp then telescoping downward.

It was neither another Predator or a Human Federation soldier that appeared at the open doorway of the vessel.

It was the Fugitoid.

The waist-high droid gave a mock-salute to the Turtles with its mechanical arm. "Professor Honeycutt, at your service!"

"Fugitoid!" Mike shoved his pain aside just long enough to shout out.

"In the flesh! Well, not anymore, I suppose. This sorry excuse for a droid my mind is stuck in is still my prison, even after all these years." The perky, wide-eyed droid shook his head. "But enough about me. You guys had yourselves a little adventure here, didn’t you? I picked up your signals when General Blanque Transmatted you over here and I’ve been monitoring you guys ever since from low orbit. You’re just lucky I was swinging by these parts for fueling, otherwise your adventure might have been cut short."

"Adventure?" Leo asked grimly. "I suppose we did have one. But we still couldn’t save D’hoonib."

Fugitoid motioned the Turtles to enter. Hesitantly, they began to ascend the ramp to the hovering vessel. "You did all you could and then some. Fighting the yautja on their own terms, infiltrating an Alien hive, taking out a queen, Blanque’s ‘Alien King,’ and quite nearly exterminating the whole nest is no easy task, I can assure you." He started, then seemed to remember something. "Oh, Blanque is dead, by the way."

"He is?"

"I heard Peblak Bay was overrun by the Aliens just a few hours ago when I was keeping track of the radio traffic."

Raphael grunted. "Look at me, I’m cryin’ my ass off over here."

"Since when do you have your own spaceship?" Don asked, paying extra close attention to the high-tech interior of the craft as the doorway slid to a close behind the Turtles.

"Parting gift from the Utroms. They gave me one of their transports when I told them it was time for me to leave. I call her the Sojourner—go figure." Fugitoid moved behind the Turtles and began herding them forward to the cockpit. "Sorry, you guys, but we really do have to make tracks here. Get out while the getting’s good."

"Are we in a rush?"

Fugitoid gave Leo a strange look, then led them to their seats near the navigation controls. Nearly the entire cityscape of Peblak was visible through the frontal viewports. "Let’s just say we don’t want to stick around for what happens next."

Trusting their old friend, the Turtles took their seats and let him man the controls.

There was a sudden jolt the instant the vessel went into high speed before the acceleration dampers kicked in. The view of Peblak veered up to the crimson sky as it shot for the stars. Even with the dampening on, the many Gs the Sojourner was soon pulling could be felt to some degree.

A flash of piercing light blinded the Turtles. A second flash just as brilliant followed, and then a third. When a minute elapsed and no more flashes were seen, all of them uncovered their eyes, save for Don, whose eyes could take any amount of punishment. They could be ripped from his skull and it would be only a minor task for him to regenerate new ones.

Fugitoid solemnly looked back at his passengers, then nodded to the rear viewport at the aft end of the vessel. "Look if you must."

One by one the Turtles went to the rear of the ship. Even at their increasing altitude, it took only a glance to know the horrible truth.

Peblak was no more.

Enormous, blossoming mushroom clouds the size of four city blocks apiece were still dissipating, every one joining together to spell atomic annihilation for millions in the surrounding regions, if not billions. Where there was once the megalopolis of construction and skyscrapers was now smoke, cinders, and craters that looked as smooth as glass.

It was as if, just then, the D’hoonib capital had been carved off the face of the planet.

"With Blanque dead, it was one of his subordinates that gave the order for Operation Clean Sweep," Fugitoid explained. The Turtles, even Raphael, were too astonished to reply. "It was their last option."

"Millions dead... just like that..." Leo rasped, unable to believe it.

"And millions more to come from the radioactive fallout," Donatello said. "Nuclear winter. Only thermonukes could do that kind of widespread destruction. Thermonukes or worse."

"Millions dead..." Leo repeated himself. "How can they do that to their own people?"

"The Alien threat had to be dealt with, to say nothing of the yautja. Their seed had already manifested—if allowed to continue the entire planet would be forfeit, to say nothing of the risk of spreading it elsewhere."

Leo dipped his head. "Then we have truly failed."

"Christ, Leo, you're kidding yourself if you think we did anything less than all we could for that hell hole!" snapped Raphael. "We’re just lucky we got off that rock with the shells on our backs. Damn lucky if you ask me."

"Iím not asking you," Leo retorted.

"Please listen to your brother, Leonardo," Fugitoid coaxed.

Leo left the others and went back to his seat, not saying a word. Burying his head in his hands, he spoke, barely audibly, "Just take us home."

Fugitoid and the other Turtles all turned hopelessly to Leo. It was going to be a long trip.

Donatello was still held in awe long after his brothers had gotten over it. "Fascinating," he said for the fourth time.

Impossibly, the all-too familiar sphere of Earth now filled the viewport. After only a few minutes of preparation and calculations, in a fraction of a second, the Sojourner had lanced across half the galaxy.

"Sorry, the Utroms didn’t give me a working Transmat Device," Fugitoid apologized, looking up from the navigation control board. "Or any Transmat Device, for that matter, much to my disappointment. I may have designed Transmat Devices, but when it comes to building them, I do need materials. I had to use the Sojourner’s Space-Folding Drive to get you to this region of the Milky Way so I can now drop you guys off manually in... what was that place again?"

"New York."

"Oh, yes, New York." Fugitoid nodded, then keyed something into the board. "Just let me activate stealth mode so as not to alarm whatever air force your planet has at its disposal. There we go. Hang on..."

The deck tiles began to shudder as the Sojourner blew down through the upper atmosphere of Earth. They were well past critical velocity, and were going faster by the moment.

They were coming up on the East Coast, and they were coming up on it fast.

The Turtles tensed when the vessel passed through a blanket of clouds. It came out directly over eastern New York City, and George Washington Bridge was in plain sight. It was late night, which was disorienting for the Turtles, as on D’hoonib less than an hour ago, it had been early afternoon.

"I’m thinking I’ll let you four out on one of the rooftops in Manhattan. Is that all right?"

"Anywhere in the Big Apple in fine with us," Raphael said.

Don remarked, half-humorously, "Beats walking."

After just a few more moments of skimming over the grand city that the Turtles called home, the Sojourner began to slow to a gradual hovering halt over a squat five-story hotel in midtown Manhattan.

"This is your stop, guys. Ready to go?" The Turtles muttered an acknowledgement and Fugitoid opened the hatch, releasing the ramp that would take them to the hotel rooftop. "Damn, something fried my second landing light set. One of the hover turbines is compromised, too. Oh well, probably just minor damage from the Space-Folding jump surge." Fugitoid shrugged and looked back to his passengers. "It really was great to see you guys again. You going to be all right, Leo?"

"I will survive." Leo gave him a beaten look. "I give you our sincerest thanks. Your assistance has not only returned us home, but has saved our lives. We are in your debt."

Fugitoid waved a hand. "You’re not in anybody’s debt, Leo. We’re even now."

Leo smiled bitterly, then extended a hand to shake Fugitoid’s. "You take care of yourself, Honeycutt."

They parted then, the Turtles saying their goodbyes and exiting down the ramp.

"Where to now?" Don asked as they headed for the fire escape. "Home?"

Somehow the idea of returning to the residence they had set up in the mausoleum vault of Westwood Cemetery did not appeal to any of them, at least at the moment. All four brothers did believe Splinter would be concerned about their well-being by this point but there would be a time for that.

"Nah," Raph replied, "let’s go see if our pals are still up."

Much as they had missed the rising figure on D’hoonib a short time earlier, the Turtles similarly failed to notice the animal-like scratches gouged into the underside of the disappearing Sojourner.

"Anybody home?"

Raphael’s call into the living room of a spartan New York apartment was answered only by low groans from within the room.

A man stumbled out of the darkness, shaking the hair out of his face even as he tried to shake the sleep from his eyes. "Raph?" he called. The man seemed to be unsure whether he wanted to lash out or remain calm. He chose to simply stay on-guard. "Raph! Guys!"

"Case-man!" Raphael went ahead of the others, giving his friend a firm hug, accompanied by a clap on the back.

Casey Jones stood back then, taking a moment to look at the Turtles as the rest of them came into his apartment. "Jesus, Raph, you look like shit..."

Mike grunted at Raph, then turned back to Casey. "I think net boy over here got off easy."

Raph scratched at the scabbed grid-like cuts over his shoulder. "All right, Mr. Mom."

"Hell, where’ve you guys been?" Casey prodded. He nodded at the television set in the living room. Various issues of TV Guide, Nintendo Power, and Cosmopolitan lay strewn about the floor. "Day before yesterday you were sitting there playing video games with Shadow. I go to the kitchen to get us some brews, come back, and you guys are gone. Gone!"

"Long story."

Casey seemed to notice the Turtles’ cuts, bruises, and scorch marks for the first time. "I’ll bet! Why the hell didn’t you invite me?"

"Um, Casey..."

"C’mon! I may be a dad now, but I can still bust heads every now and again."

A slender woman stepped out of the bedroom, fighting to throw on a long T-shirt as she walked into the room with a young girl holding her hand, a gray cat following close behind. The woman’s unsteady gaze focused on the four visitors. "Guys—that you?"

"April, Shadow... Klunk!" Michaelangelo called. His discomfort seemed to fade wholly upon the sight of young Shadow and the cat that followed.

April let Shadow leave her and run to Mike, who was ready with open arms. "I heard you disappeared on us a while back. What happened?"

Everyone in the room looked to Leo, as if expecting that he alone held the answer.

"Might as well tell’em, you know," muttered Raph.

Leo took a deep breath. Pulling up a chair at the dining room table he prepared to recount the exploits of the past couple of days to an anxious April and Casey.

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