Things had been relatively peaceful for a while. Of course, for the Turtles and their friends, that meant several days. But it enabled them to have a nice 4th of July, filled with watching a parade, having a cookout at Barney's and a Turtle wrestling match on the front lawn, and a front-row seat for the fireworks.
"Man, I don't know when I've ever had so much fun on a holiday," Michelangelo smiled as he leaned back on the beach chair, his arms folded behind his head.
"And coming from you, that's saying a lot," Raphael laughed.
"It's the first big one we've all spent together," Michelangelo said. "Including Barney and Vincent."
"And that is definitely cause for celebration," Splinter agreed.
"I hope everybody in the other dimensions had a good time too," Michelangelo said.
"I wonder if that first Baxter we met went to jail," Raphael remarked. "Especially since he was directly involved in the creation of Bebop and Rocksteady."
"I guess it depends on whether or not he received complete immunity for testifying against the Foot Clan," Donatello said.
"And for getting his Barney to close the portal and prevent a dimensional war with the villains uniting," Leonardo said.
"I like to think he did," Baxter said.
Barney nodded. "His Barney needs him. It's possible a compassionate judge would decide the same thing."
"If not immunity, he might just get probation for several years," Vincent said.
"I wonder if we'll ever see them again," Michelangelo mused.
"It's more likely we might see the second set some more," Vincent said. "I don't think the first set will dare open their portal again."
"The second set was sure upset when they came the second time and learned that Shredder had been inspired to make the Turtle Terminator Version 2.0 because of meeting that Barney," Donatello said.
"It sure was nice of them to check in, though," Michelangelo said.
"It was," Baxter agreed.
"The other me wondered how I could not be furious with him for inadvertently inspiring Shredder," Barney remarked. "Maybe if you or Vincent had been seriously hurt by the robot, I would have been."
"Instead, you were the one hurt the worst!" Vincent interjected.
"But I can't be angry with the other Barney when he was just worried about his Baxter," Baxter said quietly. "He had no idea that he would inadvertently inspire Shredder to commit some new evil."
"I feel the same," Vincent said. "Oh, Turtles, I was talking with Zach the other day and he said how happy he was that you showed up to help with the class field trip to the museum."
"Yeah, that was a blast," Michelangelo said. "I'm glad we're trying to include the microdude in more stuff. I can't believe we didn't realize how left-out he felt." He frowned.
"I think we all thought and hoped that maybe he was happy with his normal life," Leonardo said.
"He would never forget his friends, no matter how happy he had become with his life," Splinter said.
"Some children do outgrow certain friendships," Barney said.
"Not Zach," Michelangelo insisted. "He's always gonna be our fifth Turtle."
"I agree," Vincent said. "I can't see Zach ever not being interested in all of you."
"Imagine what it'll be like when he gets interested in dating," Raphael said. "If he's still our pal then, he'll probably want to bring the girl to meet us!"
"He might want to do that before he even brings her home to his family," Leonardo said.
"I do hope that he can draw closer to his family," Splinter said. "I know that they genuinely care for him, even though they do not often see eye to eye."
Barney nodded in agreement. "Even if he thinks it's useless to keep trying now, he may regret it somewhere down the line. Or his family will." He exchanged a look with Baxter.
"Or they all will," Baxter said quietly.
"Very true," said Splinter.
"Zach told us at the museum that he was glad he'd made friends with you too, Vincent," Donatello said. "He said you two email each other a lot."
"We do," Vincent smiled.
"Doesn't that kind of clog up Barney's email?" Raphael wondered.
"The email program is very efficient," Vincent said. "I can direct certain emails to go to certain folders. They don't get in the way of Barney's at all."
"Well, that's handy," Raphael said.
Leonardo's Turtle-Comm went off and he pulled it out. "Hi, April," he greeted. "Did you have a good 4th of July with your family?"
"It's been great," April smiled. "And tomorrow Burne's actually putting me on an interesting story!"
"Oh really." Leonardo smiled too. "What's that?"
"Well, normally I hate assignments in the entertainment industry, but they're making a movie here in town and there have been some really dangerous accidents on the set," April replied. "It's an action film, and so far the volcano was filled with real lava, someone replaced the fake arrows in the double-crossbow with real ones, and the star was nearly run down by a mysterious figure on a motorcycle!"
"Please tell me it's not The Phantom of the Movie Studio," Raphael sighed.
"No, there's no ghost stories here," April said. "But someone is clearly trying to shut the movie down. The star is ready to walk off the set!"
"Who is the star?" Leonardo asked.
"Rondo." April rolled her eyes.
"Oh great." Raphael made the same gesture. "What is this, Rondo 100?"
"9," April said. "Well, I'm off to bed. I have to get up early to check out the movie set!"
"Good luck," Leonardo said. "Call us if you need help."
"If things keep being as bad as all that, I might," April said wryly before hanging up.
Raphael leaned back against the porch pillar. "Why do I just know we're going to get mixed up in this somehow?"
"Like, because we always do?" Michelangelo supplied.
"I still don't understand the point of films like that," Vincent spoke up. "Don't they just jump from one action scene to another with only a very thin plot in between them?"
"Pretty much," said Barney.
"And we've met the real Rondo," Raphael said. "He's a first-class, Grade A, number one wimp!"
"Well," said Baxter, "he is an actor. Surely you didn't expect the real person to be as larger-than-life as the character."
"I guess not," said Michelangelo. "But we didn't expect him to be so polar opposite, either. Or I didn't. I think I was the only one of the guys who actually liked the Rondo flicks."
"You don't now?" said Barney, raising an eyebrow.
"I don't think I've even tried watching any of them since we met the dude," Michelangelo realized. He looked down. "I guess I was kind of disappointed."
"I just separate the actor from the character so I can keep enjoying their work even if I don't like them as a person," Vincent said. "Or vice versa."
Barney nodded. "That's useful. And logical."
"Huh. Maybe I should try that," Michelangelo said. "I really did get a kick out of the movies."
Baxter smiled. "Then it's worth a try."
"Are you going with April in the morning?" Michelangelo asked.
"Not that I'm aware of," Baxter said. "Mr. Thompson might assign Vernon to go with her, but I don't see what use a scientific consultant would be on the set of an action film."
"Because of course, action films have very little, if anything, to do with science," Raphael intoned.
"On the other hand, he made Irma run cameras before she officially took on technical duties," Donatello said. "So who knows."
Baxter grunted. "I really don't want to go," he said. "I'm not interested in action movies. But I'd go if I thought April might be in danger."
"And she might be," Leonardo worried. "Those disasters she was describing could have been serious! Who could want to stop the movie that badly?"
"Maybe they don't," Donatello said. "Maybe they're after Rondo."
"Well, offing him would kinda stop the movie," Michelangelo said.
Raphael snorted. "Come on! What could he have done to make anyone care enough to want him dead? He stays out of trouble wherever possible!"
"What if he's worth something dead?" Barney suggested. "There's probably more than one life insurance policy for a star of his ranking."
"I can find out," Vincent offered.
"So what is this?" Raphael rolled his eyes. "Are we getting involved in this mystery without even being asked?"
"April's involved," Leonardo said. "For that reason alone we should probably investigate. And I'm sure none of us want to see Rondo or anyone else get hurt."
"Yeah, but things like this are for the police to investigate," Raphael said. "We're not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Bodyguards!"
"We're crimefighters," Leonardo said. "We're supposed to protect our city. This is something we don't want happening in our city!"
"Leonardo is right," Splinter said. "Only something very sinister could be at the root of such catastrophes. Even though it is only an action film, we do not want this type of evil afoot."
Raphael finally heaved a sigh. "Okay, Sensei. Okay. We'll check it out."
"So, like, does this mean we're going down to the studio in the morning?" Michelangelo asked.
"Definitely," Leonardo said.
Baxter nodded. "I don't know if I can get away, but I'll be ready to come if I can. Mr. Thompson might insist that I stay at the station."
"Let us know if you are going," Barney said. "We don't have a morning class tomorrow."
"How's Gloria doing?" Baxter asked in concern. "She still seemed subdued when I last spoke to her a couple of weeks ago."
"You knew that she found a counselor. She's making good progress," Barney said. "I'm sure she'll be alright."
"That's good," Baxter said. He absently touched the spot on his chest where the knife had plunged. Being stabbed had been a horrible experience. He never failed to be amazed that he had been deemed worthy to be healed by the religious relic that had belonged to Gloria's uncle.
Michelangelo stretched. "Man, summer classes. Do you dudes like teaching in the summer as well as the rest of the year?"
"I like to keep busy," Barney said. "Especially since I'm still trying to get used to this 'living honestly' thing. Teaching summer classes was optional. We chose to do it. I don't have any particular feelings for summer or feel that I need a summer vacation."
"I like getting paid," Vincent grinned. "But I'd be happy whatever Barney did, as long as he was truly happy and I was there."
"Well, whatever floats your boat," Michelangelo said. "Me, I love summer! The true season of relaxation and partying!"
"Not to mention hundred-degree temperatures," said Raphael.
"Even though I don't tolerate the cold quite as well as I used to, I still don't especially care for summer heat," Baxter said. "It's too hot to walk most days."
"Fall temperatures are great for me," Raphael said.
"At least summer nights are usually cool," Leonardo said.
"Hey, Baxter," Michelangelo said, "did you ever think of trying surfing?"
Baxter shuddered. "Aside from the fact that I will not tramp around in only swim trunks, I would be far too terrified to even think of climbing on a thin piece of wood and trusting that I wouldn't fall off."
"Yeah, that probably never would be your thing," Michelangelo agreed. "Ah well. Walking is bodacious!"
"And we'll be doing a lot of it on the movie set tomorrow," Leonardo said. "Maybe in the morning we can see if April can get us free passes."
"And if not?" said Raphael.
"Then we'll do what ninjas do best and keep to the shadows," Leonardo said.
"Whoopie," Raphael scowled. "We're going to watch the making of Rondo 9000, a true American classic."
Baxter had to laugh.
"We've got the director running scared, Boss," Rocksteady crowed.
"Yeah," Bebop nodded. "After that phone call we made to his house, he called the producer and said he's quitting."
"Marvelous!" Shredder's eyes glinted. "Then they'll have to take me on as the director if they want filming to resume tomorrow."
"I still don't get why we're doing this, Boss," Bebop said. "Why do you want to direct?"
"Because, you nitwits, Krang wants us to be sure to insert those subliminal frames into the film!" Shredder shot back. "And because there's something on the lot that I must have!"
"What is it?" Bebop asked. "An original prop from West Side Story?"
"Ooh! Ooh! Simon Oakland's autograph?" Rocksteady guessed.
"No, you idiots!" Shredder roared.
"How about a dinner plate from The Patty Duke Show?" Krang smirked as he arrived in the doorway.
"This is something genuinely powerful that will be useful to us!" Shredder insisted. "One of the props they're using for the Rondo movie is real!"
"Gee, are you sure, Boss?" Bebop said in surprise.
"Of course I'm sure!" Shredder snapped. "I knew it the moment I saw it pictured in the paper. It's the Crown of Yokohama!"
"And just what would the real thing be doing on a movie set?" Krang scoffed.
"I don't know!" Shredder shot back. "Nor do I care. But I want that crown and I'm going to have it!"
"Is it anything like the Eye of Sarnoth?" Krang closed one eye. "We don't have time to be chasing down relics like that again."
"If I possess that crown, I can bring the entire city to its knees in worship of me as its ruler!" Shredder declared.
"Pah! I'd rather put my faith in the subliminal messages Bebop and Rocksteady are going to slip into the film as they edit it," Krang said. "I've had enough mystical mumbo-jumbo from you in the past, Shredder. It never works."
"Neither do your scientific or psychological approaches," Shredder countered. "The Turtles and their friends always find a way to ruin our plans no matter what we come up with!" He shook his fists.
"Uh, this might not be a great time to mention it, but April O'Neil is going to be at the studio tomorrow," Bebop said.
Shredder whipped around to look at him. "WHAT?!"
"Uh huh," Rocksteady nodded. "We heard the director saying he wouldn't be around for her visit because he was quitting."
"And she'll recognize me," Shredder mused. "I really didn't want to kidnap her again. That would be so inconvenient. Plus, someone would start asking questions if she didn't return from the set."
"I guess you'll have to use a disguise, huh, Boss?" Rocksteady said.
"Yes." Shredder smirked behind the mask. "I am a master of disguise, even though it isn't a talent I utilize very often. "I'm sure to find something that will fool that meddling reporter."
"Why do I have a bad feeling about this?" Krang muttered.
"What's going on here?" she asked the security guard.
"Well, our director quit and we figured we wouldn't be filming today, but we got a new director at the last minute," he explained.
"That was a coincidence," April said. "Or maybe not." She frowned. "It seems awfully convenient, him turning up right then."
"He seems to know his stuff," the guard shrugged. "And he had the proper credentials and everything. Here's your pass, Miss O'Neil." He held it out.
"And do you have the passes for my friends that I called about?" April queried.
"Right here." The guard patted a small stack to the side of the window. "They can pick them up when they come."
"Great. Thanks," April smiled. She affixed her pass and headed through the gate.
Two muscle-bound workers were carrying a large cupboard between them as they crossed April's path. One glanced at her nervously before ducking behind the cupboard.
"Those eyes looked familiar," April frowned to herself. "I wonder what's going on."
As she came to the set, a mysterious man in a director's cap was leaning back in his chair and calling out directions to everyone else, including the two workers with the cupboard.
"Set that down to the side," he barked. "The evil ninjas are supposed to come out of it as they gang up on Rondo."
"What are you doing with that chandelier?" he demanded of a set designer. "It's supposed to fall right where Rondo is standing. He jumps out of the way just barely in time."
"Evil ninjas? Falling chandeliers?" April muttered to herself. "That seems a little low-key for Rondo."
"Well," came a familiar smooth voice from behind her, "it's more my speed now after what happened at the premiere of Rondo 8: Hit Hardest."
April turned and found herself looking down at Rondo, who was about the same height as Baxter and Barney. "Do you really think your audiences will buy the new Rondo?" she wondered.
"It's worth a try," Rondo said. "It should tell me who my real fans are. Anyway, there will be scarier villains later when someone accidentally releases a twelve-foot goblin."
"What do you think about the accidents that have been happening on the set?" April asked.
"I'm hoping they're going to end now that we have a new director," Rondo said.
"You mean you don't think you were the target?" April blinked.
"Why would anyone want to target me?" Rondo retorted. "I'm so lovable. The director, on the other hand, has a lot of enemies."
"And that's why the accidents have all endangered you, because they're really targeting the director," April said ironically.
Rondo flushed. "Well, they could have been," he said. "If there's one more accident on the set, I'll be looking into breaking my contract."
"And thus audiences will never know how Rondo 9 would have turned out," said April.
"I'd rather make sure my life will turn out," Rondo said with a shudder.
"Have you met the new director?" April asked. "He already seems to know exactly what he wants."
Rondo glanced to him, a bit of nervousness in his eyes. "I have this feeling he's going to be even more temperamental than the first director," he moaned.
"Oh, the tortured life of a top-ranking celebrity," a new voice commented.
April and Rondo turned. The Turtles were approaching, their passes swinging on lanyards around their necks. It was Raphael who had spoken.
"Hey, April," Michelangelo chirped. "Rondo." He waved. "Anything bizarro happening yet?"
"Aside from the sudden change of directors, no," April said.
"Are you investigating the accidents on the set?" Rondo asked the Turtles.
"We're hoping to," Leonardo said. "For starters, what can you tell us about the motorcyclist who chased you yesterday?"
Rondo shuddered. "It was a horrible experience! I was just walking to my trailer when he came right at me! I had to jump into a bush. It took two hours to remove all the twigs and leaves from my hair!"
"What a tragedy," Raphael intoned.
"Maybe if you guys actually had hair, you wouldn't brush it off so easily," April said. As much as she wasn't fond of Rondo, she had to admit that sounded pretty nightmarish. I probably would have exploded with rage if that had happened to me!
"Touche," said Raphael.
"And no one saw the material in the volcano or the arrows being switched?" Leonardo asked, deciding a change of subject was in order.
"No one," Rondo whined. "There's no clues to the culprit at all!"
"You said the old director had a lot of enemies," April said. "Who, for instance?"
"Well . . . Marlo Harris, who's playing my leading lady, doesn't like him," Rondo said. "She wanted to help me fight the ninjas and the goblin, but he insists she should be a damsel in distress."
"I wonder if he's been keeping tabs on our adventures with April," Raphael muttered.
"Jonathan Loomis, the producer, hates how temperamental he is," Rondo continued. "He probably won't be very happy with the new director either."
"Like, aren't most movie people temperamental?" Michelangelo blinked.
"Yeah, but they won't admit it!" April said wryly.
"Rondo!" the director bellowed. "Get on the set!"
Everyone jumped a mile. Rondo actually looked embarrassed. "Oh. That's my cue. I'm sorry; we'll have to continue this later." He scrambled onto the set.
"You know, there was something awfully familiar about that yell," Leonardo frowned.
"I was just thinking the same thing," Raphael said.
"Shredder?" Donatello supplied.
"No way!" Michelangelo stared. "What would he want on a movie set?!"
"He does like the idea of fame," April remarked. "And you're right, guys! It did sound like Shredder!" She turned to look at the man in the director's chair. "But he doesn't look like Shredder. . . ."
"Hey, sometimes he can actually disguise himself," Raphael said.
"Let's keep an eye on him," April said. "Maybe we can find out what he's up to!"
"But try not to let on that we suspect it's him," Leonardo said. "Then we won't learn anything!"
"And action!" the director yelled.
Rondo started down the hallway in the mansion set. The chandelier above him rocked, but didn't fall. As he approached the cupboard, it didn't budge. Then, instead of opening, it wobbled.
"Hey, what's going on?!" someone yelled from inside. "I can't break out of this thing!"
"I'll get you out!" Rondo exclaimed dramatically.
"Does he realize that's not in the script?" Raphael blinked.
"It's totally gnarly even if it isn't," Michelangelo grinned.
The director looked bewildered. He grabbed the script and started skimming through it, seeming almost desperate to find the added dialogue and other alterations to the scene. "Rondo, what are you doing?!" he barked. "You're not supposed to say that or rescue anyone from the cupboard! Those morons who set it down must have done something wrong!"
But Rondo was already running at the cupboard. Just as he tried to pry the doors open, the chandelier rocked again and this time came free.
"Look out!" Leonardo exclaimed. He barely tackled Rondo out of the way as the heavy prop crashed to the floor.
"CUT!" the director roared.
Rondo lay on the floor, shaking, staring up at Leonardo with a traumatized look in his eyes. "I . . . I could have been killed!" he moaned.
"But you're alright," Leonardo said.
Suddenly Rondo sat up, his eyes flashing with anger and determination. "And I'm going to stay that way!" he vowed. "I'm calling my agent and my lawyer and we're going to break this contract!"
"And I think I'm gonna call Baxter," Michelangelo exclaimed. "Something mondo bizarro is going on!"
"Rondo was almost beaned by a falling chandelier!" Michelangelo said. "Now he's threatening to quit! And the director walked off the set last night and a new one conveniently came in and we think the new guy is Shredder!" He hissed the last part.
Baxter could only stare. "Why on Earth would he become involved in something like this?!"
"I don't know, Dude, but it's mega weird," Michelangelo said. "Oh, and Rondo suggested a couple of people who were mad at the old director. He hoped maybe everything was being done to get at that guy and that it would stop now that he's been replaced! But that is oh so not true. Do you think you could look those people up anyway, though? Maybe they're mad at Rondo! Shred-Head, or whoever the new director is, seemed pretty cheesed off when the chandelier fell. Whatever he's doing here, I don't think he had anything to do with that!"
"I'd be happy to look them up." Baxter set the script aside and went to the computer.
"Awesome!" Michelangelo grinned. "Oh, here's their names." He rattled them off and Baxter typed.
"Hmm." Baxter looked through the search results with a thoughtful frown.
"What's that mean?" Michelangelo blinked. "Did you find something?"
"Well, unfortunately it's just a celebrity gossip site, but it says that Marlo Harris and Rondo dated for a while," Baxter said. "They broke up because she wanted to be tough and felt that she couldn't compete when her boyfriend was Rondo. Still, considering the source, I don't know that you can trust it."
"Hey, it's worth asking Rondo about!" Michelangelo replied. "What about the producer guy?"
"It says . . ." Baxter stiffened. "He's been an outspoken anti-mutant activist!"
"Oh great," Raphael growled in the background.
"Not cool," Michelangelo frowned.
"You should probably all get out of there," Baxter pleaded. "You won't get much of anywhere with someone like that!"
"No can do, Bud," Michelangelo shook his head. "April's staying, and if the director is really Shred-Head, we've gotta know what he's up to!"
"Oh. . . . Then at least I'm coming out there," Baxter insisted. "And I'll inform Barney and Vincent of what's happening, as they requested."
"Hey, if this guy is so anti-mutant, he probably won't like you either," Michelangelo said in concern.
"Then he'll have to not like me," Baxter said. "I want to be there when all this chaos is happening! Maybe I can help."
Michelangelo smiled. "You've come a long way, Baxter. We'll be looking for you guys. Maybe April can get you set up with some passes."
"That would be helpful," Baxter said. "I should be there soon. I'm sure Barney and Vincent will be as well."
"Okay, two humans I get. But what the heck are you?" He pointed at Vincent, who was not impressed.
"I'm a computer. What do I look like?" His hands went to his hips.
"You look . . . like a computer," the guard stammered. "With a body."
"Which is exactly what he is," Barney said flatly. "April O'Neil called to see about passes for us?"
"Oh. Right." The guard handed them out but could not refrain from gawking at Vincent.
Rondo was just passing by the booth. He jumped a mile. "Oh!"
Baxter frowned at the movie star, who had jumped so high he was now clutching a tree branch. "Vincent isn't dangerous," he berated. "At least not to you."
"That's . . . good to know." Rondo slowly uncurled himself from the branch and dropped back to the ground.
The guard shook his head. "Wow. It's uncanny how you guys are the same size," he commented. "Of course, Rondo's got all the muscles and stuff, but you're the same height and you've all got shaggy hair."
Barney folded his arms. "I don't consider it a compliment to be compared to an action star who hides in trees at the first sight of something unusual."
Rondo flushed. "You'll have to excuse me," he said. "Everything's been so terrible on the set. Now my agent tells me I can't break this contract! He's not even concerned that I could have been killed by all the 'accidents' that keep happening!"
"Hmm." Baxter looked to his brothers. "That's interesting, isn't it."
"Interesting?! You're heartless!" Rondo fumed.
"What he means is, we have a new suspect," Barney said.
"My agent?!" Rondo stared. "Why would he cause all these accidents?! He knew I didn't want to have anything to do with really scary things in this picture."
"And was he happy about it?" Barney asked.
"Well, no, but doing this only makes it worse!" Rondo wailed.
"Do you have a life insurance policy with him as the beneficiary?" Baxter asked.
That gave Rondo pause. "Yes . . ."
"I'm going to look up more information," Vincent volunteered. "What's his name?"
"John Atlas," Rondo said. "But I can't really believe . . . !"
"Maybe he isn't responsible," Barney said tersely. "But we need to investigate him."
Michelangelo and Donatello ran up then. "Hey, Amigos!" Michelangelo greeted.
"The others are keeping an eye on the director," Donatello said. "What's happening here?"
"Rondo's agent is a new suspect," Barney said.
"Hello," Baxter greeted. "What's the director doing?"
"Throwing a fit about the cupboard getting stuck," Donatello said. "He definitely didn't mean for that to happen."
"Unless he's like, a really good actor," Michelangelo added.
"Oh, Rondo, Baxter says that you used to date Marlo Harris," Donatello said.
"Yes, that's right." Rondo gave him a wary look. "It didn't last long. What does that have to do with anything?"
"Maybe nothing," Donatello said. "She's a possible suspect if the target is the director, remember?"
"I do remember, so my very legitimate question is what I have to do with it," Rondo said.
"Hey, what if she was hoping to kick you out so that she could take over as the star instead of being the damsel in distress?" Michelangelo suggested.
"Somehow I don't think so, Michelangelo," Baxter said.
"She isn't that extreme about it," Rondo retorted. ". . . I don't think." Uncertainty flickered in his eyes.
"You know, I've been thinking," Donatello mused as they all walked away from the booth. "Regardless of who the target is, the accidents always happen around Rondo. Maybe if we could deliberately draw the culprit out to cause another one, we could catch him."
"I refuse!" Rondo exclaimed.
"Oh, I wasn't thinking of you, Rondo," Donatello said. He looked a little hesitant. "I was thinking of someone we might be able to fool the saboteur into thinking is you."
Michelangelo's eyes went wide. "No way, Donatello! Just because Baxter and Barney are the same height as Rondo doesn't mean they should have to put themselves out there like that!"
Baxter looked frightened at the very thought. Barney just looked unimpressed. "In case you haven't noticed, we don't have the same physique."
"That's right!" Rondo nodded. "They could never pass for me! Why, look at this!" He grabbed Baxter's arm and held it up. "There's no muscle here!" He poked Baxter's upper arm.
Baxter jerked his arm away and glowered. "I'll thank you not to invade my personal space without my permission."
Rondo ignored him and continued, "Well, at least you're not flabby."
"Scientists having protruding stomachs is such a tired stereotype," Baxter sniffed. "I would never let myself get in that condition."
Barney had to smirk. Baxter was still arrogant and vain about his appearance. Not that Barney was much different.
"Anyway," Donatello interrupted, "I was looking at the script. Some of the early scenes call for Rondo to walk around in a coat. We could do that so they wouldn't have to show their bare arms."
"But they'd still be in danger!" Vincent frowned.
Donatello sighed. "Can you think of another way to draw the saboteur out?"
Michelangelo's shoulders slumped. "No, but . . ."
"I'll do it," Baxter said softly. "My hair isn't the right color, though. . . . Neither is Barney's."
"We'll go to a dimly-lit area," Donatello said. "I'm sure whoever it is won't be able to tell that the hair is the wrong color. Now, my idea is for both you and Barney to dress up as Rondo and be at different parts of the studio. It could provide greater protection for you and also help to confuse the culprit if there's two Rondos."
Baxter and Barney exchanged a look.
"It's degrading, but as long as I don't have to wear a tank top and pretend to be completely 'ripped,' I'll do it too," Barney said.
"You don't," Donatello said. "The coats will be closed. But you'll need to wear the bandannas around your foreheads."
Baxter sighed. "If we must."
"I still don't know about this," Rondo frowned.
"Neither do we, but it's something to try," Donatello said.
Michelangelo scowled. "I don't like this plan."
"Nor do I." Vincent's expression was dark. The lights on the laptop were rapidly flashing. "Both Baxter and Barney could end up hurt, instead of this plan helping to keep them safe."
"Naturally we'll be right with them," Donatello said. "Two of us will be with Baxter and two with Barney."
"And I'll have to choose one or the other," Vincent realized in dismay.
Baxter laid a hand on his arm. "No, you won't," he said. "I'll choose for you. Watch over Barney."
"Don't be ridiculous," Barney retorted. "Vincent, stay with Baxter."
Vincent threw up his hands in despair.
"Hey, I've got an idea," Michelangelo said. "Why don't you kind of hang out in the middle? Then you can rush to whoever might need you."
"Unless they both need me at once," Vincent said. "But alright. I'll try it."
"Hey, did you learn anything about my agent?" Rondo interrupted.
"I haven't found anything conclusive," Vincent said. "However, he does have some debts. Your life insurance policy could certainly help him with those."
Rondo flinched. "I still can't believe it."
"And maybe it isn't true," Baxter quickly said. "It's just another possibility."
Michelangelo frowned, suddenly thinking of something. "Donatello, did you clear this plan of yours with Leonardo?"
Donatello hesitated. "No, but I'm sure he'll see the logic in it."
"Well, let's talk to him before we go setting Baxter and Barney up as scapegoats," Michelangelo encouraged.
"Yes," Vincent pounced. "Let's."
"Or better yet, I'll just call him," Donatello said.
Still, his attention wasn't on that plot. He wasn't sure if the director was Shredder or not, despite the yelling. Now that Rondo had walked off the set, the man didn't seem that inclined to get him back. In fact, Leonardo realized as he listened to the director talking with Jonathan Loomis the producer, the director seemed almost pleased.
"We should really get a new leading man anyway. Rondo's too short. Who would buy him as a powerful hero?"
Raphael snorted in anger. "Hey, we're even shorter than Rondo and look what we do!" He waved a sai.
"Shush, Raphael!" Leonardo retorted.
"Rondo's been our star for eight pictures," Loomis retorted. "The audiences buy it fine. We use camera tricks to make him appear bigger."
"Well, I say you should cast someone else in the role," the director barreled on. "Someone like . . . me, for instance."
"You?" Loomis raised an eyebrow. "You're an actor?"
"Try me. I'm excellent!" the director insisted.
Raphael snarked. "Oh, give us a break. Can-Head's love of fame and his shame at being beat by us and the Stockmans knows no bounds."
"I don't know," Leonardo said. "Maybe he has some other reason for wanting this role."
"Oh yeah? Like what?" Raphael countered.
"If the producer lets him try it, maybe we'll find out," Leonardo said.
But Loomis was not buying it. "No way would you be accepted as Rondo," he frowned. "We've got a good thing going. I'm sure we can straighten out this mess with Rondo."
"Well, I don't aim to let you try!" the director shot back. He snapped his fingers and the two workers from earlier appeared behind Loomis.
"Now I recognize them!" April cried. "It's Bebop and Rocksteady!"
"So that is Shredder!" Leonardo jumped out with both katanas bared. "Alright, the jig is up!"
Everyone whirled. Loomis's face twisted in his disgust. "Mutants!" he spat.
"Yeah. Mutants who are trying to save your sorry life," Raphael snapped.
"Hey, how do you know this is the boss?" Bebop frowned.
"Well, who else would it be?" Raphael replied with dripping sarcasm.
The director gave him a frosty look. "Very well. No more games!" He ripped off his disguise.
"Oh! Shredder, you're despicable!" April snarled.
"Why, thank you," Shredder sneered. He ran forward and grabbed something off a table on the set. "Now I've got what I want. You two bozos can stay and help Krang if you want to. I won't need any puny subliminal messages to do my bidding for me. Not when I have this!"
The group stared as Shredder lowered a golden crown onto his head. "What is that thing?!" Leonardo gasped.
"It was supposed to be a prop!" April wailed.
"Are you all insane?!" Loomis snapped. "It is a prop!"
The ground underneath them began to shake.
"If it is, then how come I can suddenly do this?" Shredder sneered.
Above them, the booms started to give way, followed swiftly by the support beams and the pillars. Screaming in terror, Bebop and Rocksteady immediately fled the studio.
"Don't look now, but I'd say this problem rates a 10.0 on the Richter scale!" Raphael yelped. "With Shredder wearing that thing, it looks like anything is now possible!"
April clutched the wall for dear life. "I'll have to agree!" she moaned. "If we can't get that crown off of him, the world is doomed!"
"Not to mention all of us," Raphael muttered. Louder he said, "Any ideas, Fearless Leader?!"
Leonardo watched as Shredder swung on a rope up to the rafters and stood on a catwalk. "Somehow we have to get up there without falling from the force of the earthquake!" he exclaimed.
"Oh, is that all?! How come Shredder isn't falling, come to think of it?!" Raphael wondered.
"Sheer willpower," Shredder sneered.
"More likely, he ordered the crown not to let him fall," Leonardo said. "If Donatello were here, maybe he could throw his bo and knock the helmet off!"
"In the absence of Donatello, we'll have to come up with a new strategy!" Raphael retorted.
On the catwalk, Shredder's comm-link suddenly went off. "Shredder, what are you doing?!" Krang demanded.
"What does it look like I'm doing?!" Shredder shot back.
"It looks like you're making a complete idiot of yourself!" Krang fumed. "What about the film?!"
"Rondo walked off the set," Shredder replied. "Now we're going to do things my way!" Before Krang could respond, he turned the comm-link off and shoved it into his belt.
"I feel completely ridiculous," Barney scowled.
"We dress like that all the time," Donatello said.
"It's not the coat, but the idea of pretending to be that idiot," Barney retorted.
Baxter slowly tied the bandanna around his forehead. "I still don't think we're going to fool anyone."
"We won't," Barney grunted.
Then the earthquake started.
"Whoa! Like, what's happening?!" Michelangelo wailed.
"Someone's causing an earthquake," Vincent gasped. "Someone right in this building!"
"Ordinarily I'd say that was scientifically impossible, only it looks like it isn't!" Donatello exclaimed.
Everyone slipped and fell to the floor before managing to right themselves. Baxter clung to a doorknob. Barney grabbed the wall.
"So now what, Dude?!" Michelangelo demanded. "This plan obviously isn't going to go ahead!"
"Vincent, why do you think the earthquake isn't happening naturally?" Baxter asked.
"Because I'm suddenly picking up an ancient object being used," Vincent said. "It's a crown. The wearer can bend things around him to his will."
"Uh oh. Like, that is seriously not cool," Michelangelo said. "So it's an alien crown or something?"
"Actually, no," Vincent said. "It's from Japan. I saw it on a trip to Earth before the crash."
"Whoa. So it's mega old then," Michelangelo said.
"What's more, Splinter might be able to tell us something about it!" Donatello exclaimed.
"It's called the Crown of Yokohama," Vincent said. "I can sense it being used because even though it's from Earth, it was clearly made with extraterrestrial technology and some sort of computer. I can't seem to take it over, though. I can only observe it from the outside looking in, so to speak."
"That's still mondo awesome, though," Michelangelo said. His Turtle-Comm rang and he answered it. "Yo!"
"Michelangelo, we need you guys over on the set of the Rondo film!" Leonardo said. "Shredder's put on a crown and climbed on a catwalk. Donatello might be able to knock it off him!"
"I'm sure he's activated a force field," Vincent said. "You won't be able to penetrate it with a weapon!"
"Oh, well, if you know so much about it, what can we do?!" Raphael snapped.
"Maybe if we could distract him," Donatello mused.
Baxter's heart dropped. "You mean, such as if he thought Rondo was coming after him?" he said quietly.
"No way!" Michelangelo cried. "That's too dangerous! And the saboteur is still out there too!"
Barney straightened, tying the bandanna around his forehead. "It's dark on the catwalk. He won't know who's coming after him," he said. "Especially if someone such as Michelangelo plays a recording of Rondo bellowing out his ridiculous lines."
"And while you guys distract him from both sides, one of us may be able to do something even if there is a force field," Donatello said.
Baxter exchanged a look with Barney. "We'll do it," he said quietly.
Michelangelo stared at the catwalk on the set they were at. "At least there's a railing on these things. . . ."
Baxter gave a weak smile.
Shredder cackled in triumph as the earthquake died away. The studio was in shambles, with booms and beams scattered in every area where his enemies had tried to run. "Now you've seen a small taste of my power!" he crowed. "There's so much more!"
"We're still going to stop you, Shredder!" Leonardo cried.
"With what?" Shredder taunted. "You're no match for me now!"
"Prepare to face the wrath of an enraged Rondo!" boomed a voice.
Shredder stiffened. "What? That coward can't possibly be thinking of facing off against me!"
"Oh yeah?" Raphael retorted. "Then who's that?"
Shredder whipped around. A shaggy-haired figure had emerged on the catwalk and was running towards him, head low. "Bah! It will be child's play getting rid of him!" Shredder sneered.
"Are you so sure?"
Again he turned. "This can't be!" he gasped. "A second Rondo?"
Suddenly Donatello's bo was under his feet and he was falling forward on the catwalk. "You wretched reptile!" he roared.
Michelangelo's nunchucks whipped around his wrists, binding them to the railing. Shredder struggled in outrage to free himself, but to no avail.
The first Rondo jumped on his back and grabbed at the crown. It slipped free into his hand.
"Go ahead," Shredder smirked. "I know who you are now. You're far too light to be a muscle-bound Rondo. But if you want to repair the damage before this building collapses on all of us, Baxter Stockman, you're going to have to put the crown on and give it the command."
Baxter straightened, frowning at the crown. "Is that difficult?"
The catwalk groaned from the added weight and activity.
"No," Shredder said in delight. "In fact, you may find it all too easy. You may decide that you like the power it affords you. You may not want to give it up."
"Don't listen to him," Barney snapped. "He's right; we'll never get off this thing if you don't undo what he's already done. You're the closest one to it. Logically, it should be you!"
"You can do it, Baxter!" Leonardo called up from below.
"But . . ." Baxter trembled. "What if I do like the power? What if I won't want to give it up?"
"You're not the same person who was tempted by the Eye of Sarnoth," Barney said. "You're not oppressed and abused anymore. That was why you snapped and decided to take possession of the Eye. You don't need it anymore."
"But we all need your help, Baxter Dude!" Michelangelo exclaimed.
The catwalk groaned again. So did the remaining beams holding up the studio.
"It's coming down!" Raphael yelped.
"No, it isn't." Baxter jammed the crown on over the bandanna. "Put everything back the way it was!" he ordered.
The crown glowed. As everyone watched in amazement, everything began to revert to normal. The beams and booms flew back into position. The catwalk strengthened and leveled out. Even the broken objects on the set repaired themselves.
"Alright!" Raphael exclaimed. "It worked!"
"Totally gnarly!" Michelangelo grinned.
Baxter looked around, fully taking in that everything was restored and they were all safe. Then he fell to his knees on the catwalk with a pained whimper.
"Baxter?!" Barney leaped over Shredder's restrained arm and over to his brother. "What happened?!" he barked.
"Aw, the mental energy required to operate the crown was too much for him," Shredder mocked.
Vincent leaped onto the catwalk, danger in his eyes and electricity in his hands. "That's a lie," he said darkly. "You did something!"
Michelangelo was afraid to add his weight to the catwalk, but he stared up at it in horror and alarm. "Baxter! Come on, Bud! You've gotta be okay!"
Barney gently took Baxter in his arms. Baxter slumped against him, still seeming dazed. The crown rolled free at the movement, taking the bandanna with it.
Shredder pulled himself free of the nunchucks at last and stood. "You're right. I knew you would make some foolish attempt to get the crown away from me, so I gave it an order that if anyone else tried to use it, they would be permanently punished." He started to reach around Barney to pick up the crown.
Vincent immediately shocked him. "Get out of here," he ordered.
The Turtles suddenly appeared on the next catwalk over. "If you don't leave, we'll make you wish you had," Leonardo added. His voice was cold and filled with danger.
"No duh!" Michelangelo added. There was no joviality in his tone.
Shredder looked from the crown to Baxter's furious brothers and the enraged Turtles. "Krang!" he wailed. "Get me out of here!"
"Oh? And why should I?" Krang retorted from the comm-link. "You ruined my perfect plan in order to fool around with some mystical crown! I should just take Bebop and Rocksteady and leave you there!"
"Please give me another chance!" Shredder begged. "We'll do it your way the next time! I promise!"
Vincent took several menacing steps forward.
At last the portal opened. Shredder dove through and it closed after him.
With Shredder gone, Michelangelo immediately leaped to the other catwalk. "How is he?!" he demanded.
Baxter slowly looked up. "What happened?" he mumbled. "I was dizzy there for a few minutes. . . ."
"I don't even know," Barney growled. "Apparently the crown did it to you on Shredder's orders."
"Well, I feel alright now," Baxter mused.
"Good," Barney said. He hugged Baxter close. "I'm the one who encouraged you to put that stupid thing on. If anything had happened to you because of it . . . !"
Vincent relaxed. "I knew I didn't really think Shredder's order would have worked," he said as he and Michelangelo hugged Baxter as well. "The crown can't directly kill anyone. And even if it's given the order, it won't harm someone whose intentions are pure. But I'm still outraged that Shredder tried."
"How does it know whose intentions are pure?" Barney raised an eyebrow.
"It scans the wearer's mind," Vincent said. "That's probably why you got dizzy, Baxter. It was made centuries ago, before the technology was invented to perform mind-scans without the person even knowing."
Baxter looked amazed, even awed. "Then . . . I really wasn't tempted," he whispered.
"Of course you weren't!" Barney retorted. "You're a good person and no longer desperate and hurting. You don't feel that you need the power of the Eye of Sarnoth or this thing or anything else, except to protect your loved ones."
"I'm glad," Baxter said softly.
They slowly stood. On the other catwalk, the other Turtles were beaming in relief, Donatello especially. If Baxter had been seriously hurt or worse, Donatello would have blamed himself in spite of Barney blaming himself instead.
"So everything's okay," Leonardo declared.
"That's wonderful," April called from below. "But we still don't know who the saboteur is!"
"Uh, that was us," Bebop suddenly announced.
Everyone looked. He and Rocksteady were standing in the doorway, looking sheepish.
"You?" Barney frowned.
"Yeah, but it was an accident," said Rocksteady. "We did those other things to get the director to leave. There wasn't supposed to be anything else happening."
"But we accidentally locked the cupboard when we set it down," Bebop said. "And Rocksteady backed into the rope holding the chandelier and caused it to fall."
Raphael rolled his eyes. "Leave it to the Two Stooges."
"This is wonderful!" Rondo exclaimed as he leaped out from where he had been hiding. "This means we can get the old director back and there won't be any more calamities! Rondo 9 will get made!"
"It looks that way, alright," Raphael said. "And what do you know, you were actually right about the director being the target. Who'd have thought?"
"There's just one thing," Leonardo said. "The prop department will have to make their own crown. This one is too dangerous to have around."
Rondo gulped. "By all means, take it. I'll say it was destroyed in the fight or something."
"Thanks, Rondo Dude!" Michelangelo exclaimed.
"Well, it's nothing, really," Rondo said. "I just don't want to know what would happen once we'd get to the scene where one of the characters puts on the crown."
"I don't think any of us want to know that," Donatello said.
"By the way, what happened to the producer?" Raphael blinked.
"Oh, he ran," Rondo said. "Which is what I should have done."
Raphael sighed. "So I guess he'll still hate mutants, right?"
"Maybe you should tell him that a former mutant saved his studio," Leonardo smiled. "See how he reacts to that."
"Maybe I will," Rondo said noncommittally. "But I wouldn't expect too much from him."
"Don't worry, we won't," Raphael grunted.
"What are you going to do with this?" he wondered as he passed it to Leonardo.
"I think maybe we should ask Master Splinter what to do with it," Leonardo said. "Maybe we should destroy it. On the other hand, maybe it's something we should hold on to in case we ever need to use it in the future."
"I wonder how it wound up in New York in the first place," Vincent said.
Barney scowled. "I'm sure we'll find out eventually, whether we want to or not."
Donatello had been largely quiet. "Hey," he said at last. "I'm really sorry I pushed you guys into dressing up as Rondo. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but Michelangelo was right that it was really dangerous."
Barney sighed. "Danger is par for the course. We were each aware of that when we became part of the team."
Baxter nodded. "I want to pull my weight. That said, I hope there won't be another occasion like that any time soon."
"You do pull your weight, Baxter," Leonardo said. "And you too, Barney. But there are other things we need help with that wouldn't require as many hands-on experiences. You're welcome to those any time you feel like it."
"That's the problem, though," Baxter mused. "I'd always 'feel like it,' and yet I don't want to take more of a background role. As I told Michelangelo recently, I care about all of you too much to want to stay out of things. I want to be fully involved. If I wasn't, I'd always worry wondering if there was more I could be doing to turn the tide."
"And as long as Baxter is involved, Vincent and I will be," Barney said.
"But by this point, we would be in any case," Vincent said softly.
Barney nodded. He supposed that was true. Part of him wondered how much good he really did and whether someone else could do better, but at the end of the day he really believed he did make an important contribution. And he couldn't see himself refusing to help. He did genuinely care about the Turtles. Sometimes it was still strange for him to process that after their rocky beginnings.
"If there's ever anything we can do for you, we want to do it," he said.
Leonardo smiled. "We know. And we will always be grateful."
Baxter checked his watch. "Oh, you'd better hurry if you're going to make it to the university on time," he exclaimed.
Barney unlocked the Cadillac. "I know. Are you going back to work?" He frowned a bit.
"I'm alright," Baxter smiled. "But I think the main thing I needed to do today besides the broadcast is to look at scripts. I'll just rest on the couch and read them."
"You do that," Barney said gruffly.
"We'll see you after class, Pal," Vincent said, laying his hand on Baxter's shoulder before getting into the car.
"Before anybody leaves, I just want to say I'm grateful to all of you for coming to help," April declared. "This is going to be a great story on the 6 o'clock news!"
"Yeah, I'm sure Burne Thompson will be thrilled," Raphael said.
Michelangelo waited until Barney and Vincent had left before saying, "You're sure you're okay, Baxter? I could drive you back to Channel 6."
Baxter paused. He really felt he was alright to drive, but the company sounded nice. "Alright," he smiled.
"We'll see you back at the Lair," Leonardo waved as he, Raphael, and Donatello climbed into the Turtle Van.
"Bodacious!" Michelangelo waved back and hopped into Baxter's station wagon.
"Let us know what Splinter says about the crown," Baxter said, though he suspected Splinter might see the value in holding onto it for a while instead of blindly destroying it.
"We will," Leonardo promised.
"See you around, kids," Raphael said with a wave.
Baxter chuckled. "I'm a kid, am I?"
"You're Michelangelo's best bud aside from us," Raphael said. "You're not old, but let's say that in some ways, you're a kid at heart. That's probably part of why you bonded so close. That, and Michelangelo's forgiving nature, which was just what the doctor ordered."
Baxter leaned on the open door as he pondered that. "Yes," he mused then. "It was exactly what I needed. But I've never thought of myself as a kid at heart. I never even had that much of a childhood."
"Well," Raphael said, "at least you're someone who genuinely laughs at Michelangelo's wacky videos with him."
"And that's awesome, Bud!" Michelangelo grinned.
Baxter smiled. "It's nice to have something worth laughing at," he said. He climbed into the car and handed Michelangelo the keys. As they drove off, the other Turtles and April watched for a moment.
"I'm glad Michelangelo has Baxter for a friend," April said then.
"It's been good for both of them," Leonardo agreed. "And for all of us too, really." He started the engine. "See you later, April!"
Raphael and Donatello added their Goodbyes as well.
April waved to them. "Bye, guys."
She smiled as she took one last look at the movie studio before getting into the news van and driving off as well.