|Earth (Dimension <Null>); San Diego, CA, July 20TH, 2006 A.D.|
A teenaged kid and what looked to be his father or older brother—evidently both dressed up like Superman and Superboy—stopped and stared at the fivesome. "Whoooa, awesome light show, dude!" the kid piped.
Raphael nodded and chuckled. "You like that, Supershrimp, you ain’t seen nothing ye—ow!" Raph rubbed the back of his head after Michaelangelo smacked him on the back of it.
"We gotta blend in, Raph," Mike scolded Raph.
Raphael harrumphed. In a broad gesture, he waved his arms around him, pointing at the various passer-bys all headed in the same direction. He began skipping around, almost doing a mock-dance in front of his brothers, Venus, and Renet. "Look around you, guys... take a good frigging look! This is some kinda freak festival—we’ll be all right, y’know?"
"Just the same, Raphael," Venus began, "Let us not completely throw caution to the wind... just yet."
"That’s right," Renet agreed. "You guys may be able to walk around freely while this... festival here is going on, but don’t take it for granted—it is only in your own dimension that the Utroms land and have their peace conference in 2004 that allow mutants and aliens to freely walk the streets of mankind."
"Whatever," Raphael grunted. "Let’s go."
The five made their way into the general flow of traffic, all congregating toward a structure that appeared to be near the coast. It wasn’t a tall building, but extended back a considerable distance. Palm trees lined the scenic street before its entryway.
Renet paused for a moment, drawing the digital Sacred Sands of Time Sceptre from her robes. She examined the readout on its base, nodded, and tucked it back away. "Confirmed... there’s definitely something inside that building. I can’t be sure if it’s the source, but it’s certainly related to it somehow."
They were nearly at the gates when a man stopped dead in his tracks in front of them.
"Oh... oh... oh, holy crap!" a twenty-something man in strange attire with a strange plastic helmet shouted at the top of his lungs. "Dawn, Brina, GW... get your butts over here!"
Raphael lunged forward and got in the man’s face. "Move your ass, fanboy! Yeow!" Raphael turned angrily back to Mike, who raised his hands helplessly. He turned to Venus, the true culprit this time, who wagged a motherly finger at him. "Yeah, yeah..."
The helmeted man fidgeted, clearly nervous in front of the gathering. Quickly he was joined by three women, each wearing some article of green clothing that seemed to display various incarnations of the Turtles. As if with the women next to him bearing witness to the Turtles as well he could somehow believe what he was seeing was true, he began to speak more confidently, "M-my name is Dave... my friends call me Tokka."
"My name is Dawn, or Dawnatello," a lady with straight brown hair spoke, a grin from ear to ear. "Don’t worry about Tokka... he’s still trapped in his terrible twos!"
Dave nodded emphatically. "You got that right!"
"You can call me Brina," another lady spoke. "It’s... it’s a pleasure to meet Turtle fans with... such awesome costume-making skills."
Dawn nodded at Renet. "Forgive me if I’m a little bit rusty, but you look like the Renet from... about issue number forty-two, yes? Volume one? Am I right?"
Renet bit her lip, blushing at the sudden attention. "Um..."
Greenwillow cast a glance at Venus, smiling. "I love the costume, miss, but may I ask... why the red bandanna? Venus wore a baby blue bandanna, if memory serves."
Venus bowed at the woman, meeting her glance respectfully in the manner in which it was intended. "I wish to... honor my new family; share their color."
Dave looked giddy, waving a finger gleefully at Venus. "Wow, I mean, wow! Even the voice! Check this ooout!"
The Turtles gave a sigh. The last thing they were expecting was to be celebrities in this new reality, complete with their own fan club. It took all of Raphael’s discipline to hold himself back from tearing a path through these people right then and there.
"Easy, Raph... easy..." Mike whispered to his brother, noting his rising temper.
The three ladies and Dave exchanged a knowing glance. Suddenly, they all nodded, as if sharing the same thought.
Dawn was the first to speak, "You guys gotta come inside. You simply must meet Kevin Eastman! Oh man, he’s gonna get a kick out of this for sure, guaranteed, you’ll see!"
Donatello winced. "Kevin who...?"
"Kevin E, man!" Dave exclaimed, working himself up. "Kevin E! The man himself! You guys gonna tell me you’re wearing costumes like that and don’t know who the man is? Awww... c’mon, c’mon!"
With that, grudgingly, the Turtles and Renet allowed themselves to be shepherded up the short stairs and on their way into the Convention Center itself.
A twenty-something man with blond hair in a Spider-Man costume walked out of the Convention Center as the Turtles and the other fans headed in, a girl about his age with him and another man as well. "So yeah, Andrew," he spoke to the goateed man walking beside him, "I was thinking, y’know when we wrote the second chapter of that story last year—"
"Jeff, look!" the goateed man shouted, pointing a finger at the Turtles as they disappeared inside. "What the fuck?!"
"Holy shitballs!" the Spider-Man fan exclaimed, looking perplexed. "Isn’t this... just as we..."
"This way, follow me," Greenwillow spoke back to the Turtles.
Passing some enthusiastic Ghostbusters posing for a photo—strangely, there seemed to be five of them—the fivesome and their guiding fans navigated their way through the crowd of Batmans, Catwomen, Borg, Mr. Spocks, and other costumed fans of comic books, science fiction, as well as many other multimedia fantasy at large.
A couple of mid-twenties boys dressed like Power Rangers in full regalia snickered and laughed as the Turtles and their entourage made their way through the gathering of who were apparently
The lead Power Ranger made a snide remark, barely able to hold himself back from laughing, "Nice... pfft... costumes... very... pfft... retro..."
Raphael missed a step on purpose, stumbling forward with his elbow jabbing forward to catch the taller Power Ranger in the nose of his helmet as he made a big showing of losing his balance. Raph came back up as the Power Ranger stumbled back, a little bit disoriented. "Sorry, man... I have to watch where I’m going! My bad!"
Neither Mike or Renet, over even the four fans that were leading them through the crowd, made any comment as they passed the Power Ranger duo. It was Venus, instead, who spoke as they passed, giggling, "It is Morphing Time!"
None noticed the duo giving the Turtles the finger after they were long behind them.
Further navigating their way through the thick gathering of fans, the Turtles and their fans finally came to a fateful table near the easternmost corner of the inside of the Convention Center.
Magazines were on display both on the table itself and on the wall behind him, something called "Heavy Metal."
Dave rushed up and sat on the edge of the table, nodding to the man sitting there. "Yo, Eastmaaan," he greeted the man. "Yo, my man, check these five out! Whoo-ah!"
The man at the table seemed genuinely taken aback by his five visitors. "Wow... my god, Jim Henson and Chiodo Brothers be damned, where did you four get your hands on those suits?"
The Turtles and Renet exchanged a measured, quizzical glance.
Ending the uncomfortable silence, Donatello finally offered, "Now that would be telling, wouldn’t it?"
The man gave a hearty laugh, stood from his chair, and offered his hand. One by one, he shook each of the Turtles’ hands along with Renet’s, to whose he gave a gentlemanly kiss before sitting back down. "Kevin Eastman," the man introduced himself, "great to meet you guys! You’re just killing me with those costumes, goodness! Killing me!"
"Hey, who’s killing who here?" Raphael said with a sneer.
Renet quietly pulled Dave, Greenwillow, Brina, and Dawn aside. "Would it be too much trouble for you to... give us a few moments alone with Mr. Eastman?"
Dave nodded enthusiastically. "Absolutely! You guys probably got stuff to discuss... movie plans, I bet! Forget that CGI business, you guys have the lo—"
"Thank you... Tokka, was it?"
Left alone with Kevin Eastman, the Turtles and Renet now converged over his table.
"So tell me," Eastman began, "I see the four of you here, Venus among you—love the red bandanna, by the way—I gotta ask... where’s Leonardo?"
Renet gave a sigh. "That’s kind of why we’re here."
Eastman cocked an eyebrow curiously. "Oh...?"
Renet took a deep breath and dove in. "This is going to sound... probably insane. Crazy, even. Nonsensical. All I ask is that you... at least humor us, just for five minutes, and assume that we’re not completely insane."
Eastman looked around him, at the Turtles all leaning over his table, Renet acting as the ringleader directly in front of him. Suddenly, for Eastman, it seemed the walls were getting a lot closer. "Um... all right... I’ll play."
"We are here because we believe you are responsible for a disease that is killing us," Venus spoke, her voice even. "Additionally... we think you may have something to do with... or at least know something about... the disappearance of a member of our family. You know his name, you spoke it."
"Tell us who you are, what your connection is to these Turtles," Renet asked simply.
"You mean... you don’t know? You really don’t know?" Kevin gave a sigh. When many moments of silence passed, he had his answer. "Well, let’s see..." His gaze wandered around the room. "In 1983, with another guy by the name of Peter Laird, I helped create the... Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
Raphael grunted. "How sweet of you. Keep talking, Big Daddy."
"I love the attitude, your role-playing! You’re just so very... Raphael!" Kevin remarked, hearing the Turtle grumbling shortly thereafter. "Well, it all started as a black and white comic... with Turtles that look very much you four... and then became a cartoon series, action figure line, video game series, movie series... suffice to say, things took off!" Kevin paused, as if reflecting on things himself. "Eventually things died down a bit... the cartoon was cancelled... some comics were cancelled... we tried to do a live-action series with a female Turtle—that’d be you, sweetie," Eastman nodded to Venus, who tipped her head respectfully, "... but it never really caught on as strongly as Fox Kids would have liked, so it got the axe."
Venus seemed slighted. "I got... the axe?"
"Hey, don’t take it personally, honey," Eastman quipped. "I was going to have you be in the fourth live-action movie. We were almost set to go... my wife, Julie Strain, was gonna play the baddie from another dimension, it was going to be about Kirby and his dream crystal and... oh," he stopped himself, "back on point. Anyway, so we’re at about 1997, 1998 now. There was still the Image Comics, Volume 3, going... I dunno, a lot of the fans didn’t really catch on. Y’know, they made Donatello a cyborg, took away his shell, Raphael’s eye—"
"And it hurt like a bastard, by the way," Raphael seethed. He leaned even more forward, Donatello, too.
"Mr. Eastman," Donatello spoke, painful memories brought back to the surface, "why do I get a feeling you’re responsible for these things?"
Eastman drew back. "Hey, hey, hey... before you get all worked up, lemme tell you you’re barking up the wrong tree. The live-action TV show was the last thing I really had my fingers on... when that crashed and burned I pretty much said that’s it. You want to punch somebody’s lights out about that stuff, I can give you Erik Larsen and Gary Carlson’s address... really..."
Renet shook her head. "Please, Mr. Eastman. If you are who you say you are, you may be the key to what’s happening... if you created the Ninja Turtles, your fate may be intertwined with the malady that has stricken these Turtles."
Eastman shrugged helplessly. "Look, I know Ninja Turtles have made a big comeback since the nineties... there’s a new cartoon now, a new CGI movie coming out next year, a new toy line, new video game line... things are really in a good way for Turtles now... but the truth is, I have nothing to do with it anymore. Not a thing, not even moral support."
Donatello winced. "What do you mean by that? You are saying you created us in this... this reality. Surely you do... own the rights to us, right?"
Kevin Eastman leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms behind his head. "Call me crazy, call me stupid—god knows I do, sometimes, Julie, too—but no, I don’t. Not anymore, folks."
"And we should believe you... why?" Raphael asked.
"Yeah, why would you give up on some sexy mutants like us?" Mike inquired, jokingly.
Venus jabbed him in the side. "You could talk like that in our home in the toilet, not here, Michaelangelo!"
"Sewer, Venus, sewer!" Mike corrected her. "Good god, sixteen years, you still haven’t gotten it right, and we don’t even live there anymore!"
The female Turtle grunted. "Do not shout at me."
"All right, Eastman, you still haven’t answered my question," Raphael persisted.
Eastman sighed. "Look, what you do is up to you... but to tell the truth, you’re kind of creeping me out right now and I think your five minutes are almost up."
"I do apologize, Mr. Eastman," Renet said. "Do go on. I promise you we will not bother you much longer, just please tell us more."
Eastman leaned forward again and, rubbing a hand over his face, continued, "Yeah, so, around 2000 I sold my half of the rights to Peter Laird. All of it, the whole kitten caboodle."
"May I ask why?" Venus asked.
Eastman ran a finger over one side of his closely-cropped mustache. "That would depend on who you ask. Some would tell you... I’d given up after the live-action series... that I thought I’d done all I could do, so I turned it over to Laird to see what he could do with it—Lord knows we didn’t see eye-to-eye over you, the female Turtle, but I went to bat for you." He gave a bemused chuckle. "Others would tell you I just wanted to concentrate on Heavy Metal... that I wanted to distance myself from the Ninja Turtles, both in the interests of my time as well as my day-to-day focus. Others yet might even tell you... I lost the damned card game." Eastman broke out laughing for a second.
"I’m real glad we amuse you, Eastman," Raphael spoke.
Eastman gave another sigh, regaining his composure. "You ask an honest question, sometimes you get an honest answer. But I’ll tell you Turtles, you fans, or whatever you are... if you guys are looking for the guy in charge of the Ninja Turtles now... the head honcho... you guys are looking for Peter Laird, then."
"Can you tell us where we can find him?" Renet asked.
"Catch a plane to Northampton, Massachusetts. Look up Mirage Publishing. You’ll find your man there." Eastman nodded to the fans that had escorted the Turtles to his table, Greenwillow, Dave, Brina, and Dawn. "Those fans over there can probably point you in the right direction if you need any more help." Eastman stood from his chair, regarding the five in front of him with a stern expression. "Now if you don’t mind, I think I’ve been pretty liberal with your five minutes..."
After the Turtles stalked off, Renet stayed a moment longer to bid Eastman a courteous, "Thank you for your time," before rejoining them.
As they began heading out the way they came in, once again having to contend with the gathered mass of various fandoms, Renet shook her head. She seemed to be in a state of disbelief.
"What’s wrong, Renet?" Venus asked.
"I’m not sure... I know I wasn’t certain if the source was at this location... but I was certain that at least a fairly large piece of the puzzle would be here. If it’s not this Kevin Eastman character, then..."
A lone teenager with blond hair, about seventeen, dropped the stack of comics he had been carrying in his hands and came to a standstill in front of the Turtles and Renet. His jaw lowered at once yet he didn’t make a sound.
It wasn’t like the other fans they’d met, this was something else... something deeper.
"What you lookin’ at, kid?" Raphael challenged the teenager.
"I-I don’t believe it..." the teenager spoke at last. He looked uncertain, his posture wavering. He looked as if his knees would give out at any moment. "It’s... it’s been so long... I-I... thought I was crazy... everyone did..."
"Spit it out, kid," Don spoke, with Raph on this one. "We’re on a real tight schedule, if you catch my drift."
"I-I know you don’t recognize me," the kid continued, his voice desperate now, "but it’s me! It’s Leonardo!"
All eyes fell on the blond teenager.