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What Comes After

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Chapter Text

April sighs to herself, surveying the forty-seventh sealed room she’s cracked open in the Kraang’s former home base. It’s mostly empty, not a vat of half-formed mutants merged with machinery or stockpile of weapons in sight, thank god. She’s seen so many of those the last while, and has sometimes had to make the call to put down the experiments who were too far gone to salvage.

It’s hard, but it’s also just… her life these days.

She puts a finger to the communicator in her ear. “Irma? You getting any signs of life or readings of radioactive materials? I’d like to avoid losing the rest of my hair or being attacked again.”

“If you’d exercise some of that handy psychic power of yours, maybe you wouldn’t get attacked,” Irma says unhelpfully over the line.

April crosses her arms, shooting a look at the camera in the corner of the room they’ve just brought back online. She raises one eyebrow pointedly at her friend through the lens.

Oh wait, I forgot,” Irma says snidely. “You took an oath.”

“We’re trying to undo what Kraang Prime did, not continue it,” April reminds the other woman sternly. She sighs for the hundredth time today, running a hand against the short buzz cut she has, thanks to an unfortunate accident with a flamethrower a few weeks ago. Thank you very much, Jones. “Look, it feels really, really icky. Like roofieing someone mentally, except worse. Plus! If I start using the hivemind whenever I want, people are gonna get pissed and probably try even harder to off me.”

Mm, true enough. Though it’s not like you could just utilize the armada and take out Bishop and the council-”

“Irma! Jesus, I’m not backstabbing the Utrom! Or our own species, for that matter.”

It’d make things a lot easier, if we’re honest here. Do you know how many meetings it takes for them to even decide what the agenda for the meeting is going to be? A stupid amount, that’s how many.”

April rubs her temples wearily. “Irma, you’re my friend, but you’re also worryingly power hungry.”

Irma laughs. “It’s a better quality of mine. And think of where you’d be if I wasn’t here to coach you in political scheming?” She doesn’t wait for April to answer. “Dead. You’d be dead. Humans are assholes and scaredy-cats and the Utrom aren’t much better, and you, our benevolent overlord Hive Queen, are not nearly enough of either.”

“Don’t call me that,” April says with a frown. “I’m not an overlord.”

“Tell that to the fourteen dimensions we’re currently trying to de-colonialize.”

April rolls her eyes, because it’s been months since she- they, really- assumed power, and people still haven’t gotten the message that no, she isn’t planning on becoming Kraang Prime the second. She’s not nearly big enough to fit into Kraang Prime’s old… metal suit-thingies, anyway.

Inheritance of even more psychic powers notwithstanding, April doesn’t plan on being anything like Kraang Prime. Or Subprime, weasely little shit he/she/they(?) are. Someday, they won’t need their knowledge of the empire anymore, and April will be able to properly see them put away. For good.

Until then… she has to keep them, reluctantly, within her council. At least letting Casey rough them up a little now and then is cathartic to watch.

April appraises the room one more time- it’s all stored equipment, now to be added to the list for the Utrom scientists to come and look at more closely- and turns on her heel to march back out. A series of mental queries assault her as she does- does she want to lock it again, does she want defenses put back in place, does she want this particularly nasty lethal force defense system turned back on-?-  and April spams it with no, no, FUCK no, until it shuts up and goes back to being silent. This far into the base, deep in the underground corridors, everything requires her permission or denial. And, to make things even better, no one can enter or even approach any of the rooms she’s exploring without her first disarming the defenses.

Kraang Prime might have been a massive, pulsating monster, but she certainly wasn’t stupid with how she guarded its secrets. Even Irma, who is tapped into every conceivable digital network the Utrom and Kraaang and humans have to offer- the first and last being unaware and a political scandal in progress, god- can’t see into the deep base rooms. Every locked door holds - so happily!!- a surprise inside.

April hasn’t slept nearly enough in weeks, and the constant migraine she’s suffering does nothing to ease that awfulness. Kraang Prime’s size makes a lot more sense lately- being the center of a massive spiraling hivemind is exhausting, especially since April isn’t exercising total control over the recently freed Kraang population. Their transition to being Utrom has been rocky, since they’ve all been genetically altered to remain hooked into the hivemind no matter what the Utrom and human scientists try.

April has been using a lot of the painkillers the Utrom have available. They are blessedly so much more powerful and effective than terran ones.

“Let’s say we see what’s behind door number… forty-eight,” April says, walking towards the next door. All the rooms are spaced out unevenly, depending on their contents. This one is only about thirty feet down the hall, so hopefully it won’t contain anything too troublesome.

“Gimme a sec, I need to get a drink. This processed air is giving me dry mouth.”

“Hurry,” April reminds, thankful and unthankful she doesn’t have to wear an oxygenation collar like Irma, or any other human for that matter. Perks of not being human, ha.

Being part Kraang gets no less unnerving as time passes, especially since her twenty-first birthday four years ago. Waking up to find her pupils and sclera doing less than human things was not pleasant. Narrowing, stretching pupils and leaking iris colors… that’d been disturbing as hell at first, to April and everyone she knew.

…At least she has night vision now and doesn’t need oxygenized environments to survive? It’s not the best trade off, but it’s not the worst thing April has ever had to deal with.

The oddly sharp canines though, she could have done without.

“Open fucking sesame,” April mutters, placing her palm against the print scanner.

It’s technically designed for tentacles, but she’s recognized by every single piece of Kraang tech as the… okay, as the reigning overlord. So it opens the door with a soft hiss, prompting yet another collection of queries. Is she alone, if she isn’t alone would she like to be, does she want the room to be cold or warm, does she want the poison gas sprayers to turn on-?

April turns off the gas sprayers permanently, cussing to herself as she has to reconfirm the command twice before it responds. April isn’t fond of Kraang technology, useful as it is in rebuilding civilization on terra- earth, jeez, now the political parties from other dimensions have her calling it that, too.

April is awfully tired of being so far from home, spending all this time trying to wrestle enslaved colonies and uneasy peace treaties into order. What she wouldn’t give to just sit around a fire and eat crappy ration food with her squad again.

April looks around the room she’s standing in the threshold of, watching it become illuminated as the light come on. It’s brought into full focus after her eyes adjust to the light, and…

She grimaces. Shit.

Along the far wall from where she stands, what she knows to be stasis capsules are set up. Long hoses and tubes and wires connect to their shiny silver sides and backs; the frosted over glass fronts offering no view of what lays inside, even though April already knows.

“Irma?” April says, walking towards the capsules with growing dread. “I might have live ones.”

Some fumbling comes across the comm line, Irma dropping something or bumping into her table. “Shit,” Irma mutters, loud typing starting up. “I’m trying to get the cameras up but it’s- Jesus, this room’s on a whole different network I haven’t cracked into. April, be careful. Whatever you’re looking at might turn out to be seriously bad news. How’s the whole room set up?”

“Four stasis pods,” April relays, observing the cylinders with a careful eye. It’s been months since she took down Kraang Prime, and these poor people have been down here the entire time; having already experienced god knows what. “They’re the only things in here, ‘sides a table of…” She glances at the table, on her right. “…Definitely torture or control gear, dammnit. If these guys are still alive, I doubt they’ll come out quietly. Dispatch the medical team soon as you can.”

“Already did, they’re headed your way. Jones is with them- says he’s, and I quote, ‘Not being left out of the actually interesting shit’, end quote.”

April snorts. “Of course that’s why he’s coming down here, not because I could potentially be in danger.”

“I told him you said that. He says he can multitask.”

April would chuckle, admittedly fondly, but she’s distracted by the foreboding feeling in her gut. Her refined sense of premonition has improved with her ascension to Hive Queen status, and she listens to it often as she can. Her Sensei taught her that much.

But… she has to investigate closer, sooner or later, and besides. April has total authority over every machine and being in the base, and she’s no slouch when it comes to defending herself. Certainly not since her psychic abilities expanded to ridiculous proportions.

So. Control panels. She’ll start there.

April cautiously taps the darkened screen of the closest panel, attached to one of the middle capsules. It comes online with an eye searing pink light, displaying Kraang text in its diagnostics and monitors of vitals. Well, that looks like a good sign. Stasis pods usually keep their inhabitants- or prisoners- alive and well for a good while, even without attendance. April hopes they won’t find anyone who’s croaked without notice inside the capsules.

She’s gotten much better over the years at Kraang language- she had to, otherwise half the technology she uses would be incomprehensible, and communicating with former Kraang slaves would be a nightmare- but some of the glyphs on screen are ones she’s not familiar with. They don’t match up with any near English equivalents she can identify, so likely they’re terms made for these captives specifically.

April tries to scroll down on the touch screen, looking for glyphs she’s more familiar with, and her fingers don’t quite manage it. She hits a button to the side of the text instead.

The pod she’s investigating makes a gurgling noise, and what sounds like locks unlocking. As it does, the door to the room shuts without her consent, audibly locking in parallel to the unlocking of the pod, and April freezes.

“Uh oh,” she says.

Uh oh? April, why did you say ‘uh oh’? What did you do.”

“Just so we’re clear, Kraang put their buttons and scroll tabs too close together.”

“Oh god you did something stupid and impulsive again.”

“This was an accident!” April defends, and then switches back to being really, really concerned that the capsule is making noises. The tubes and hoses connected to the sides of the stasis pod start sucking out bright green liquid, and lights come up all along the glass’s edge.

April steps backwards, hand going to the katana on the small of her back and a pulse of power rising from inside her. She’s ready for whatever comes out of this thing, she’s certain.

April, however, isn’t prepared for the glass to clear of opaque white and reveal a face she knows.

Hanging from tubes and wires inside the steadily draining tank is a being she didn’t soon forget, even with all the things she’s seen and the people she’s met over the years.

“Holy shit,” April breathes, staring at the bizarre turtle that caught her in its arms a full decade ago, the same night the Kraang stole her and her father.

“What? April, what’s going on? April!”

April doesn’t answer, stepping closer to the tank again and examining who she now knows is a mutant. Mutants are fairly common these days on earth, due to the Kraang occupation of majority of its surface and their tendency to experiment on whatever they wanted, plus mutagen spills. This one though, she met ages before mutants became a known species.

She puts her palm to the tank, and senses the faint pulse of life inside it.

Their- his?- body is humanlike, with enough turtle still to be recognizable as one. April’s blurry memories of the night they met supply that his mask is missing. It’d been purple, she thinks. And he’d carried a weapon made of wood, a bo staff. He’s still slick with green preservation fluids, but April picks out cleanly symmetrical lines up and down his arms, leading up to visibly foreign materials on either side of his skull. They shine silver, and April knows with a clench of her gut it’s more biotech experimentation. There’s more up and down his body, sunk right into his green scales, but April doesn’t want to keep looking at it so closely.

So this is where he’d ended up, after all this time. April had nearly forgotten about him and his… companions? The other three mutant… turtles…

Oh.

Four pods, four mutants who tried and failed to rescue her that fateful night.

April drops her hand and steps back, a swell of painful emotion in her chest. They tried to save her, and this is where it got them. Captive and no doubt unwilling experiments of the Kraang.

“-pril! April!”

Irma’s demanding voice in her ear pulls April out of her melancholy.

“-Sorry!” she says, pushing all her upset feelings away. She has to be strong; regrets of the past won’t help anyone. “I’m okay. I just- I just blanked for a moment there.”

Why? Are they that bad?”

“No… maybe? It’s not only that,” April says, watching the liquid drain further from the tank, revealing more and more of the mutant inside. She eyes the air mask over his mouth and nose, and all the cables hooked directly into his body. There’s docking ports there for them, and that’s yet another thing to make April feel ill. “I know these guys. Also the door shut on its own and I think it’s locked.”

Back the hell up- what?!”

“I’ll explain later-” April cuts off as the pod’s hatch hisses loudly, and she prepares for the worst. “He’s waking up. ETA on Jones and the medical team?”

“Five minutes. You’re way down there, April. It’ll be even more with the door in the way. Be careful.”

“Aren’t I always?” April lies, and Irma doesn’t laugh. The glass retracts upwards from the tank, releasing a wave of chemical reek. The mutant turtle slumps as it does, wires and cables being the only things holding him up. With a sudden jerk, the machines bring him back online.

The cables and wires spark, the turtle’s eyes flying open and showing bright, bright glowing red- and he inhales sharply. April steps back even further, darting glances over his whole body. Multiple scars, shiny and old, some ragged, some surgeon precise- a thick one shaped like a T across and down his cartilage covered chest, old and healed over- bits of metal shining in the overhead lights of the room and glinting as he takes a stumbling step out of the tank. April is tense as he wobbles there, one hand on the side of the pod and taking heaving gasps.

He coughs, once, spitting up green fluid and shuddering. Then he abruptly stands up straight, glowing eyes fixated on her and an eerie expression in place. April waits for him to make the first move; watching him watch her, taking in her form, seeming to analyse her-

A query pops up in April’s mind. It asks her if she wants to take full control of- of subject T-003?

Before she can tell that query to fuck off, the mutant- T-003- speaks.

“-Kraang Prime,” he says, and his voice comes out raspy at the beginning. Out of use. He blinks rapidly, processing something, and then sinks down onto one knee.

“Oh, no,” April manages weakly. “You don’t- I’m not-”

“Reporting for active duty,” T-003 says tonelessly, nearly robotic, and- April doesn’t want this, dear god. This is even worse than if he’d come out of the pod swinging.

She takes a slow breath. This is salvageable; he’s not attacking and clearly waiting for orders. That’s… not too horrible? All things considering.

“Please stand up, you don’t- oh.” April is taken aback how swiftly T-003 stands, at attention. She can’t help but stare at him, trying to find the right things to say. He just stares at her as she’s silent, watching and listening. It’s so awkward April wants to squirm.

Well, starting from the beginning usually works, right?

“Do you… remember me?” she asks carefully, watching his reactions.

T-003 nods once. “Yes, my data updates were flawless. You are the new Kraang Prime.”

“No, no, no I’m not,” April says hurriedly, and T-003’s expressionless expression hints confusion for a split second. “I’m not Kraang. Like, at all. Mostly. It’s, uh. It’s complicated, but I’m not…”

“But… no, the system…” He nearly frowns, and then smooths the expression. “You’re April O’Neil.”

“Yes!” April encourages. “Yes, that’s definitely me.”

“You’re our new Prime,” T-003 says, and April wants to groan. “With the old Prime’s death, all control of the Kraang Empire is now yours. It is yours to utilize as you see fit, and I am at your command, Kraang Prime.”

“I’m- I’m not Kraang Prime, okay? Just- call me April or something, please.” She’s given a nod at this- dammnit, she gave him an order. April doesn’t want to do that. “I’m not here to command you to do anything, I promise.” T-003 doesn’t look like he believes her, and April… sees no hint of recognition besides her unwanted title. “…Do you really not remember me, from before?”

T-003’s lips twitch in a slight frown. “Before? Did you wake me prior to now and wipe my memory? If so, I apologize for delaying your orders.” He shows no emotion as he says that, but April’s senses catch a faint thrum of fear. Of being punished. This is just getting worse as they go along.

“Please, my mission?” T-003 asks, and April is getting stronger and stronger hints of his emotions and thoughts- must be that his brain is syncing back into pace with the hivemind, which April is the center of. Soon, unless she turns it off consciously, she’ll be inside his mind whether she’s controlling him or not.

April hastily turns off the connection, leaving herself open only enough to get the barest hints of T-003’s emotions. She won’t broach his sentient rights to privacy any further, but she’ll keep an eye on his triggers.

“No mission,” Aprils says kindly and firmly as she can. “I’m not here to give you a mission of any kind.”

“Then… how may I be of assistance?” T-003 asks carefully, watching her warily. He’s confused, and getting more so the longer she doesn’t give him orders.

April refuses to do that. Clearly, he’s already lost too much of his freewill as it stands. She won’t take any more of it.

“Jones and the medical team are outside,” Irma breaks in, reminding April she’s got someone listening to her half of the conversation. “April, can you tell me what the fresh hell is going on? What’re you talking about ‘missions’?”

April raises a hand to T-003, putting a hold on their conversation. “You may wanna get that network hacked right about now, Irma. I think these guys are-”

“The Stealth Squadron,” T-003 supplies immediately, confident again with something he knows how to speak about. “Kraang Prime’s more subtle method of dealing with insurrectionists and enemies to the Empire. We specialize best in single assassinations, but mass eliminations of up to fifty are well within our capabilities, I assure you.”

And there’s the seriously disturbing confirmation to her suspicions, holy fuck. April swallows dryly. “…yeah, okay,” she says tightly. “Irma, you have anything for a ‘Stealth Squadron’ yet?”

“-oh my shitting-!” Irma exclaims a beat later. “April they’re a- you really need to get out of there- they’re a specially designed experiment modified exclusively for swift and brutal executions. Oh god that’s a very long list of dead enemies- and highly weaponized biomods oh fuck-”

April feels a bead of sweat on her forehead. The relatively docile and attentive T-003 just became a lot scarier.

“And there’s… four of you?” she asks, ignoring Irma’s ramble of body counts and biotech modifications and April needing to run for the hills right this moment.

T-003 nods. “Yes. Myself and my brothers. We’ve all been optimized to meet any and all expectations of our Prime, and should you require one or all of us, we await your orders.” He brightens, almost smiling. “You’ve only just risen to power, yes? No doubt there are enemies who want to use this as opportunity to attack. We’d be excellent bodyguards for the duration of solidifying your power.”

April is unsettled how pleased T-003 seems at the idea of being needed to fight. Shouldn’t he want to do anything but, now that he’s free?

April then remembers that she has no idea what Kraang Prime did to T-003 and his brothers- brothers, they were a family and she got them captured- and something may very well be forcing T-003 to be excited about violence. That’s as sickening a thought as any April has had the past… nearly five minutes? It feels longer.

“Stall,” Irma says in April’s ear. “Stall until Casey and the medical team can cut their way through the door. They’re getting laser saws right now.”

T-003 tilts his head questioningly. “Prime only needs to ask the door to open, no need to force entry.”

April splutters. “You can hear her?”

“He can WHAT?”

“Yes? It’s part of my programming,” T-003 says, like that’s not horrible or terrifying in implications. He lightly taps the metal plating on his skull, twin circular disks on each side. “I’m specialized to be able to indirectly interact with any tech within thirty feet of myself, and as far as needed when I’m connected with our base’s main systems.”

April looks at the metal set into his scales, surrounded by nearly invisible scar tissue- and feels quite violently ill, despite trying to get used to this sort of thing. It hasn’t gotten any easier yet.

“Uh,” April says, scrambling, “so I can- open the doors, now?”

“If you want, yes,” T-003 says that like it’s obvious, and April nearly does give the verbal and mental command, but he then adds, “But it might not be safe for anyone other than you, if you activate my brothers.”

April cuts off the order for the doors to open, hesitating. “…Why wouldn’t it be?”

T-003’s emotions flicker for a moment, and April catches fear and concern. “Not all of us are as… easily adjusted as I am. That’s not to say they’re not in perfect working order!” T-003 hurries to correct, making a twinge appear in April’s chest. He’s scared for them and what she’ll think if they can’t be managed. “They just may have a harder time with the sudden transition of command, that’s all. Once they’ve been given a chance to update, they’ll understand who you are. And even if it takes a moment, there’s protocols wired into us. None of us can hurt you.” He almost smiles, like he’s trying to remember how to comfort someone, and the implications of them being wired to not hurt April is. Is.

Unspeakably inhumane, just like everything else about the Kraang Empire.

“But before that… they may lash out at anyone other than you,” T-003 continues, a pang of worry coming from him. “If you’re going to wake them up, it would be best to be with just us. I can’t guarantee I could protect all of your other drones while they updated.”

“They’re not- never mind.” She’ll tackle that correction later. April centers herself again, firmly pushing aside fight or flight instincts. “So. Because this is abrupt and unplanned, your brothers won’t know me right away, and may hurt my people before they can snap out of it, right?”

“Right,” T-003 confirms. “But once you’ve established full uplink with all of us, there won’t be any problems.” He pauses, confusion creeping in again. “…You haven’t linked me into the hivemind yet, Prime. May I… ask why?”

Oh boy. “Because I’m not going to,” April says, trying to not let the question rattle her. It’s horrifying, that she holds that power over his head. “Like I said: I’m not Kraang Prime. You won’t be mind-controlled or assimilated into a hivemind ever again. That’s not how I run things around here.”

T-003’s expression wavers, his blank calm turning softly confused and… cautiously hopeful?

“Oh,” he says, small and quiet, like he doesn’t really believe that’s true. April jerks a nod, trying to not let it get to her.

“None of you are going to be mind-controlled anymore,” April says gently, sensing the tiny, nearly painful hope underneath T-003’s confusion. “No one is going to take away your will like that. I’ll make sure of it.”

“I… yes, as you wish,” T-003 says, pulling himself together. He straightens, slipping back into attentiveness like he hadn’t faltered at all.

April purses her lips. That’s a step forwards and backwards at the same time.

“Uh, so!” she says with forced enthusiasm, pulling herself out of that thought and boosting her confidence. T-003 sort of startles as she says that, and April winces a little. “We’re, uh, doing it the old fashion meet-and-greet way, then.”

“April… don’t do anything stupid,” Irma says slowly over the comm line. “I can hear you thinking stupid thoughts.”

“I can’t leave them in there, Irma,” April says, watching a carefully hidden excitement appear in T-003’s glowing red eyes. “And you heard what I said. People will get hurt if I don’t diffuse this here and now.”

“The only people who are going to get hurt is YOU, idiot!” Irma exclaims. “You don’t have to let them out now, we can wait until we have better preparation- get the area secured before making any rash decisions about letting loose a bunch of mass murderers. Please listen to me, April, just this once!”

T-003 visibly stiffens, obviously having heard Irma’s suggested plan of action. He very carefully says, “If… you want to wait, the stasis containment will keep them in perfect condition for up to a few- decades, longer.” T-003’s emotions flicker to painful, aching loneliness, to resignation, to fear of not having his family returned to him at all-

April yanks herself out of that myriad of feelings, reeling back in her powers. She needs to be more careful about that, drifting into the links without even noticing. Being in close proximity to former hivemind slaves makes that particularly hard.

“No,” April says, and T-003 glances at her, blank but afraid underneath. “No- we’re getting them out right now. No one is sitting in stasis any longer than they have to.”

Irma makes a series of indecipherable curses over the comm, and April says, “Tell Jones and the medical team to stand down until I open the door. And if I die, Irma, I hereby delegate my position as benevolent overlord to the Utrom queen. You have that on record now, because I know you record all our conversations these days.”

“April- NO-!”

April shuts off the comm before Irma can finish, giving T-003 her full attention. He’s looking at her differently, not so much like an empty shell waiting for orders. More like a starving man suddenly offered a meal.

It’s not any less sad, honestly.

“…Before we do this,” April says, “do you remember your name, from before? I- I want to know it. T-003 isn’t exactly a name you’re given at birth,” she jokes, feeling it fall flat. T-003 doesn’t seem to mind.

“My… name?” he asks, voice softening, and April watches him think for a moment. It takes just long enough for it to hurt April’s heart. “I… I was called Donnie, by my brothers.”

April forces herself to smile, aching all the way through. “Donnie it is, then. Nice to meet you. Mind introducing me to your brothers, now?”

Donnie nods, shaking off the blanket of mystified emotions covering his thoughts. He turns and walks briskly to the furthest tank, going to the control panel. “T-001 will be best to start, he’s the least mobile upon waking and second easiest to re-assimilate after stasis.” He stops, catching himself as he hovers just in front of the control screen. “Of course… if activating him is what you want, Prime.”

“April,” she corrects. “And yes, that’s exactly what I want. And his real name, not his serial code,” she adds gently. “Please.”

“…His name is Leo,” Donnie replies after a pause, and then sets to opening the capsule. As he’s tapping buttons faster than April’s eyes can follow, Donnie adds quietly, “He’s my older brother.”

The obscuring fog across Leo’s tank fades away, and the liquid suspending him begins draining. April watches Donnie and the machine, biting her lip as she prepares herself for whatever comes next.

Leo is shorter than Donnie, and broader across the shoulders. On either side of his head he has the same metal implants that Donnie does, and the same thick T shaped scar on his chest. April eyes it, yet another uncomfortable feeling crawling into her gut. Both of them having the exact same scar means something, and April doesn’t want to see how deep this well of misery goes. But she has to. She owes them that.

Inside her, something is curling up in shame and heart wrenching guilt.

This is my fault. They tried to rescue me and were captured for it. Everything that happened to them is my fault.

April shakes off that thought. There’s no time for that right now.

The tank’s door hisses as it unlocks, and as it slides away Leo hangs limply the same way Donnie had; suspended by cords and wires plugged into ports all over his body. Then, just as it had gone for Donnie, Leo jerks as the stasis pod brings him back online.

He gasps, reaching out wildly for the sides of the door, and Donnie is there without prompt to grasp Leo’s slippery hands. April expects Leo to stumble forwards on unsteady legs as the wires and cords detach, but he doesn’t. He falls, with Donnie taking all of Leo’s weight as he does.

April’s eyes dart to Leo’s legs, and its then she realizes they’re covered in purposeful scarring. Jagged lines inches thick, up and down the two limbs. They slide across the floor as Donnie gently lowers himself and Leo towards it, and Donnie’s brother doesn’t make any move to try standing back up.

April realizes with a sickening lurch that Leo’s legs don’t work.

She covers her mouth, horror stealing her breath for a moment. She can’t even focus enough to answer the queries probing her mentally; just staring at the two brothers as Donnie whispers fast and low to Leo, telling him to stay calm, that it’s alright-

“-hh- nh,” Leo whimpers, clutching Donnie’s arms and looking absolutely terrified. “D-Donnie, I- I can’t see! Why can’t I see?”

April looks at Leo’s wide and scared eyes, and sees they’re milky white and surrounded by scars.

April can’t breathe.

“I know, I know,” Donnie whispers gently, wiping green droplets out of Leo’s eyes, even though it won’t do anything to help him see better. “Calm down, you have to turn on your sensors.”

“Wh-what? I-”

“Update. You have to finish updating.”

“I- no- no not again-”

“You have to. I’m- I’m sorry, Leo. Just let it happen. It’ll be okay, it’ll be okay…”

April watches, struck silent by her overwhelming horror, as Leo calms down bit by bit. Donnie is nearly curled around his brother, whispering to Leo as he slows his breathing from erratic panic. And like Donnie had, Leo abruptly seems to gain control over his confusion and fear; sitting up best he can while still holding onto Donnie’s supporting arms, blank gaze fixed on April, somehow.

“Kraang Prime,” he greets gravely, inclining his head in approximation of a bow and looking right at her with his ruined eyes. “I look forwards to serving your empire.”

Hysterically, April thinks And how are you supposed to do that with dead legs and dead eyes?

“You-” April stops, swallows thickly. “Your legs. And e-eyes.”

Leo’s brow knits for a moment, and then he seems to understand. “Oh, no. I don’t need my eyes anymore. I’ve got my range sensors, implemented on the previous Kraang Prime’s orders.”

“And you just need to turn on his legs, Prime,” Donnie adds, as if the last sentence made any sense at all. As if that one makes any sense at all. “T-001- I mean. Leo. Leo is perfectly functional.”

“I apologize for the messiness of my reawakening,” Leo says, demure and sincere. “I’m not as- uh, uniquely connected to the hivemind as T-003 is. It takes me a moment.”

April’s head is swirling with too many emotions to process- condensing into mass of choking feelings she can’t bear. These two brothers, both mutilated and twisted in irreparable ways- looking at her for orders, treating her like- like she owns them-

April takes a deep breath, locking every emotion down and clearing her head by force.

She’s losing it, and that’s unacceptable. She’s not a child shell-shocked by the universe’s horrors anymore. April steadies herself and turns her focus back onto Donnie and Leo.

Donnie is still somewhat curled around his brother, and April notes a steady undercurrent of protective fear coming from him. The same from Leo. Despite looking calm and placid on the surface, underneath they’re readying themselves for whatever she’s about to throw at them.

April’s heart can’t take this. She’s seen and done so many terrible things, but this new tragedy strikes her just as harshly as all the previous.

“…What did you mean when you said I had to ‘turn on’ his legs?” April asks, backtracking mentally to that information. She’ll question the ‘range sensors’ later; his ability to walk under his own power is more important.

“I… I made a mistake, once,” Leo swallows, and April feels a thrum of old grief mixed with new fear. “I tried to run away against orders, and my legs were- were altered. As punishment. So I couldn’t try that again.” He smiles, somehow, for some reason. “I learned my lesson, though! Even if I could I wouldn’t ever again, I promise.”

There’s an ache under those words of apology, stemming from a trauma that flashes brittle sharp through the emotions April is sensing from both Leo and Donnie. It’s there and gone so fast it feels like a needle thin slash. It hurts, and if April is feeling just the tail end of it, she can’t imagine how painful it must be for the brothers.

She slowly kneels to their level, removing their need to stare up at her from below. April won’t make them do that anymore in any sense. They watch her with confusion; not understanding why she’s lowered herself to be face to face with them.

“How do I turn them on?” April says gently, keeping a waver out of her voice.

“…You need to give me permission,” Leo explains. He takes a hand off Donnie’s arm to tap his skull implants. “I’ve got programmed blocks in place so I can’t use them unless I’ve been given explicit clearance.”

April receives a mental query as he says that.

(Permission to activate free-roam mobility functions y/n?)

She quells the tremor of disgust inside her, and replies.

|y/n. Permission granted.|

April sees physical relief sweep through Leo as the blocks are removed. He sighs, quiet enough she wouldn’t have heard if she wasn’t listening, and slowly begins standing up. Donnie helps him, hands skimming along Leo’s arms in jittery motions, like he wants to help more but can’t figure out how. Then they both stand at attention, and April is the one staring up at them.

Even in this position, the power she holds over them is near tangible, and April hates it as much as she hates anything else Kraang Prime wrought on earth and other worlds. Including her unwilling ascension to power, and the powers she possessed even before then.

Leo’s blank eyes are still somehow locked on her as she stands, and that’s a question he hasn’t answered yet.

“So, uh,” April hates this, hates asking this. “How do you see, exactly? You said you had… sensors.”

Leo smiles, an emotionless gesture. It’s all for show, to please whoever he’s addressing. It’s a terrible expression.

“The previous Prime wanted to see how far she could push my innate spacial senses. I’ve always been very aware of my surroundings, and our Prime saw potential in that awareness. The loss of my original sight was a side effect of the surgeries.” He’s still smiling, blank as his eyes, even as a tremble of old pain laces through him. Leo continues on without faltering at all. “I can ‘see’, so to speak, because of that awareness. I know exactly where everyone is in this room, the exact dimensions of it, and how many people are on the other side of the door. One of them seems very desperate to get inside; they’re trying to break the lock with… a metal stick?”

April pinches the bridge of her nose. Of course Jones wouldn’t stand down like she’d ordered.

“How far does your range reach?” April asks, internally sighing about her friend/subordinate Officer.

Donnie answers for Leo. “His sight range is approximately fifteen feet in diameter. Getting a clear look at things through a certain width of wall or blockage can be harder, but it’s doable if linked into the hivemind.”

Leo’s hands twitch ever so slightly at the mention of the hivemind. His smile however, does not; even with the same resigned dread and fear Donnie had felt earlier growing inside him.

April slowly cocks a hip, crossing her arms. “Well, don’t worry about that anymore. The hivemind option is off the table.”

Leo’s useless eyes blink in surprise, genuine confusion written all over his posture. Donnie puts a hand on Leo’s shoulder, leaning close to say, “No more hivemind, Leo. We’re not getting linked up.”

“But…” Leo starts to say, and then shakes his head. “As you wish, Prime.” He accepts the change immediately, burying hope and excitement under careful blankness. April has seen it many times over the years; the act of shutting down any unrealistic expectations before they take root, and just letting the good things last however long they do.

War does that to people. It did that to her, once. And then April killed a Hive Queen and suddenly had all the options in the world open to her.

She intends to give all those options to these brothers, and then some. As she does to every poor soul dragged from the recesses of the Empire’s vaults.

“And Leo, just so we’re clear,” April says, keeping her voice firm but gentle. “There will be no more serial numbers, no more missions, and no more hivemind control. Period. I might not like it, but I’m the…” She allows herself a sigh. “The Hive Queen. And we’re playing by my rules now, not Kraang Prime’s.”

Leo nods obediently. “Of course, Prime.”

April wants to sigh again. She can already tell he’s just saying yes to appease her and not actually taking any of what she’s said for truth. Donnie’s hand slides down Leo’s arm to his hand, squeezing once, and a confused expression flits across Leo’s face.

April’s periphery senses inform her that subjects T-003 and T-001 are having a mental conversation together. They ask if she would like to connect and monitor, or perhaps take away their privilege to private uplinks.

April gives those options with a firm refusal. As much as she is disturbed that they’re so thoroughly altered they can speak mentally even without the hivemind, she will absolutely not take away that small amount of privacy from them.

Leo and Donnie’s silent conversation lasts a handful of seconds, enough for April to make a promise to never, ever broach that privacy, and for Leo to briefly show a flicker of aching emotion in his expression.

“…Oh, really?” he nearly whispers, and April feels disbelief all through him.

“It’s true,” Donnie confirms, squeezing his brother’s hand again. “Things are going to be… different.”

How he can already trust April to keep her word, just like that, is beyond her. But April knows she’ll do nothing to dissuade that belief.

April then glances away as Leo looks up at Donnie, whitened eyes wide with confusion and looking for stability. She feels distinctly uncomfortable as they share the moment of suspended disbelief; slowly trying to accept that she’s telling the truth and she’ll never make them do anything terrible ever again.

April has an entire empire at her beck and call, a mental suggestion away from resuming the effort to conquer planets, and she has long since taken an oath to never abuse that power. The guilt and sympathy filling April, seeing the cautious hope grow in these two mutants before her, reinforces that oath.

She will never let them be used like that again, especially not by her.

“…So, who’s next?” April asks after a long moment, glancing at the two remaining pods. Donnie’s former stasis chamber separates the two still occupied.

Donnie and Leo both look at each other, something clearly passing between them that April isn’t privy to.

“Raph,” Donnie says with a grimace.

“Raph,” Leo agrees, also grimacing.

“Raph?” April questions.

“T-002,” Donnie supplies, gesturing to the tank between his and Leo’s. He’s still grimacing somewhat, which is the most prolonged emotion he’s shown thus far. “He’s… volatile upon awakening.”

“Linking him immediately into the hivemind prevents him from lashing out, though,” Leo offers, blankly smiling again, even as unwillingness permeates his emotions. He doesn’t want his brother to be brought into the hivemind again, that much is obvious, but this is what he’d been trained for, been programmed for, and really, it was only a matter of time before the Hive Queen in front of him finally got tired of them having to verbally communicate and just hooked them into her all-encompassing will-

April grits her teeth as she forcefully pulls herself away from Leo’s dread drenched thoughts. It’s so easy with them, syncing with their thoughts and very nearly hearing them with proper clarity. It’s something she knows she’ll have to be very careful of for the length of time they’re together.

It’d been like this with the Kraang at first, too. Accidental link-ups, syncing her thoughts with a drone and threading through their minds without resistance; it’d taken long hours of meditation to build her mental defenses up against that.

All of the Kraang currently in existence are biologically predisposed to falling under her mental sway. It looks like the brothers’ alterations have left them no different.

“…I won’t be doing that,” April says, finally pulling herself together enough to respond. She ignores the relief that washes through Leo; it hurts too much to acknowledge. “Could you two calm him down instead? I want as few injuries as possible to everyone involved here.”

“We can calm him down, yes,” Donnie says, stepping tentatively towards their brother’s stasis pod. “It’ll only take a few seconds to update him once we’ve got him restrained, and then he’ll understand what’s happened.” He stops, casting a worried glance at April. “There will likely be… slight property damage during that process, Prime. Are you sure you’re not going to…?”

“No,” April says curtly. No mind-control whatsoever and she’ll keep repeating that as many times as it takes to get it through their skulls. “And I don’t care about anything in here, as long as you’re all out of the tanks. His safety is the priority, not any of this- this junk, alright? Do whatever you need to get him back to his senses.”

Donnie and Leo both look at her with ever deepening confusion. April is nothing like they’re expecting of a Hive Queen, and she knows for certain none of her behavior thus far has been anything like they’ve experienced. She doesn’t plan to deviate from it in the least.

Donnie shakes off the confusion simultaneously with Leo, and they both move into different positions. He goes to the control panel next to the tank, while Leo approaches April with a respectful and apologetic look on his face.

“You may want to stand back,” he suggests, placing himself between April and the stasis chambers. “Our brother’s reactivation won’t be pretty.”

April automatically puts a hand on her wakiszashi hilt, then holding herself from fully gripping it. She’s not here to fight; she’s here to free.

She takes her hand off the sword, fighting most of a decade’s instincts to arm herself. April puts all her trust in the two mutants between her and their brother, and doesn’t feel afraid of doing so.

She catches Leo tilting his head towards her curiously. She smiles encouragingly, though he doesn’t return the expression; attention set on Donnie and the hissing of their brother’s pod. Perhaps, April belatedly realizes, his sensors aren’t finely tuned enough to see me smile.

There’s no time to debate that possibility, though, as Raph’s pod fully empties itself and lifts away its thick glass door. April sees Raph for the first time, and takes in his appearance with a dull feeling of now familiar horror.

He’s much stockier than either of his brothers, broader than both of them combined. Implants are in similar places to Leo and Donnie’s, where the steadily detaching wires and cords were hooked into. But oddly enough… he lacks any sort of scarring at all.

April searches for scars, for any sign of past injury period- but finds only perfectly healthy scales and cartilage. Raph lacks the blatant marring of his body that his brothers bear; if it weren’t for the implants slickly shining in the overhead light, he’d seem like a perfectly healthy mutant.

April opens her mouth to question that, but her voice gets caught in her throat as Raph’s eyes abruptly snap open- brilliant acidic green- and he lunges out of the tank with a feral howl.

April recoils instinctively, putting distance between her and the rampaging mutant. Her stance drops into defensiveness, and her powers come to her in a hot burn of building energy in her skull. She scarcely holds herself back from lashing out; a decade of increasing PTSD demanding she strike first before she’s killed.

Raph throws off Donnie, who’d all but tackled his shorter sibling as soon as he’d begun wordlessly shouting. April then is surprised when the mutant ignores her completely and instead attacks the nearest stasis pod.

Raph’s arms strain, metal shrieking as the tank is pulled away from the wall. Pipes burst and wires snap and April is stunned to see him pry away machinery probably three times heavier than him, and lift it with ease.

Faintly, April is impressed. She’s only seen a few mutants pull off stunts like that so effortlessly.

Then she mutely dodges as Raph turns with a furious scream, and tosses it across the room.

April skims backwards, keened for another attack, but none come. After the initial destruction of the pod- his own, unsurprisingly- Raph is snagged before he can destroy any others. His hands leave crumpled and broken machinery as he pried off the next closest- Donnie’s- by his brothers. April nearly plugs her ears; the amount of raw sound Raph is producing is deafening.

And, as April feels sharply- it’s heartbreaking to listen to.

Leo and Donnie have wrapped themselves around their struggling brother, holding onto him as Raph keeps screaming without coherency. Raph’s legs kick and his arms flail- but he doesn’t actually hit either of his siblings. He just carries on, wordlessly screaming in rage and agony.

April hears his thoughts without trying to, and they’re so loud she can hardly shut them out.

[-can’t make me won’t let them NOT AGAIN NEVER AGAIN I won’t let them do it again LET ME GO I WON’T LET THEM TAKE US NO MORE COLD DARK DEATH strangling choking I’m dying I’m dying NO MORE can’t think can’t feel only them NO MORE OF THEM let us go let me go I won’t hurt them again NEVER AGAIN please no no no NO THEY WON’T TAKE ME-]

April’s fists shake and she bites through her bottom lip’s delicate skin. The tang of iron on her tongue hardly distracts her from the torrent of terror and pain and fury. The amount of emotion that pours out of the mutant is excruciating, April can barely resist reaching out and forcing it to stop.

She holds herself strong, walling up her mental defenses thicker than ever and fiercely ignoring repeating queries for her to seize control of the spiralling mutant. The brothers said they could calm Raph down, and April trusts them to.

It feels like an eternity, but Raph’s voice finally cracks and dies down. The air is left ringing in its absence, now filled only by the ragged breathing of him and his brothers.

April stays where she is as Donnie and Leo finish calming Raph down. Painfully slow, they release the restraining locks they have on Raph; simply holding him up as he slumps, breathing harsh and fast. Raph’s head remains tilted downwards, eyes on the floor as he leans completely onto his brothers. The storm of emotion quiets completely, and April senses Raph having a flurried conversation with his brothers through their links.

Raph is shaking, clutching at both Leo and Donnie desperately, and April feels the show of hollow vulnerability isn’t something she should have ever seen.

“I’m sorry,” April catches Leo whispering, hoarse and hardly audible. His brother’s whole body shudders at the words.

And then he lets go of both Leo and Donnie, and kneels on one knee. April’s throat clenches as he finally lifts his head, piercing green eyes locked on her with visible resignation and hate. He hides nothing from her, unlike his brothers, and April distantly wonders why.

“I. Apologize,” he says, halting in his words. “Kraang Prime, I apologize for my disrespectful behavior. It won’t happen again.”

“…It’s fine,” April says faintly. She shakes herself. “It’s fine,” she says more firmly. “It was a completely understandable reaction and you. Uh. You’re good. No one’s in trouble. Please, stand up.”

He does, some of the hate in his expression leaving. His eyes dart between his brothers on either side of him, silently asking a question. Donnie gives the barest nod to his brother, answering the question through their link, and Raph’s brow furrows.

“…No hivemind?” he asks tentatively, which sounds out of character to April, despite them having only known each other for a few minutes.

“No hivemind,” she affirms. Raph’s shoulders lose some tightness and then hunch again. Suspicious, and rightly so. April will let him come to his own conclusions later; they still have one more brother in the tanks.

“Let’s get your last brother out of there,” April suggests, starting towards the final chamber. “Then we can all go… talk about the future, I guess.” And get them all proper medical treatment, maybe psyche evaluations, discuss with the Utroms how to undo as much damage to the four brothers as possible… but April doesn’t say any of that, since she feels it may freak out the twitchy mutants.

“Uh, wait- please, Prime?” Donnie says, definitely nervous. April stops, glancing towards him, and he flinches minutely. Afraid of backlash for questioning her, or interrupting her, or who knows what.

“It might not be best for you to be… so close to him,” he says, apologetic and careful. “T-004- I mean. Mikey is. He’s difficult. If you. Um. Please, let me?”

April blinks at the amount of stuttering in that sentence; Donnie has been so precise and clean with his words thus far. But nonetheless, she steps back as requested. Relief goes through Donnie as well as his two brothers, and April presses her lips into a thin line.

“Further? Please,” Donnie asks, moving into where she’d been. April steps back again, and then even further when she catches a dubious look on Raph and Leo’s faces.

“It’ll just be a moment,” Donnie is saying, quick and rushed as the tank hisses and clears. “He’s integral to high risk stealth missions, I’m sure- I hope you can overlook his shortcomings. He performs perfectly otherwise speaking and I’ll make absolute certain he stays in line for the duration of our missions-”

April watches the stasis fluid drain around Mikey, who is smallest of his siblings and sports similar scars to his brothers, besides Raph. April sees no eye or leg scarring, and beyond the thick T shape scar down his chest, Mikey doesn’t seem like he suffered too badly. Why Raph lacks all those things she still needs to ask.

“-just integrate with him, and the hivemind should solve any issue of insubordination, I promise, Prime. He’s really not- not that bad, he’s just- willful, sometimes.”

“Willful?” April questions, but her voice is drowned out by the opening chamber’s depressurization. She sees Leo and Raph move to be between her and Mikey, and again has to fight her instinct to arm herself properly.

The last brother hangs like the others did, limp and eyes shut, and his siblings move forwards with cautious movements. Mikey is mostly blocked from April’s view by his brothers, and she waits anxiously for him to jerk awake and do something even worse than Raph had. But he doesn’t. Hanging silent and deathly motionless, and April’s heart clenches at the possibility that he really is dead and she got here too late to save him.

The abruptly, Mikey is just- gone.

April blinks rapidly, listening for a thud of someone hitting the floor- did he fall?- but he’s just gone, as though he wasn’t there to begin with.

She catches the beginning of the brothers saying something, the hint of rising panic, and then Raph stumbles and cries out and something invisible hits April hard.

She goes down, back meeting the unforgiving metal floor and losing all her air. In the instant following, someone rematerializes above her, physically holding her down and staring at April with black hatred in his eyes.

April feels large hands around her neck, and meets Mikey’s furious gaze with her own shocked one. His skin shimmers, going immaterial seeming but his weight on top of her never lessening. He bares his teeth in a snarl, and April is certain that the naked rage in his expression is the last thing she’s going to see before he crushes her throat.

But he doesn’t.

April waits another collection of breathless seconds, before realizing there’s no pressure on her neck at all. Mikey isn’t killing her. He had his chance, catching her off-guard before she could muster a defense, and she can see very clearly he wants to kill her, but he’s not.

April notices that his arms are shaking, and rough breaths are heaving in and out of his clenched teeth. She sees him twitch violently, shuddering, eyes skittering away and then back to her, and he’s trying so hard to actually kill her, but he physically can’t.

The protocols.

The protocols Donnie mentioned, the hardwired inability to hurt her- they’re the only things keeping her alive, and Mikey is obviously fighting them tooth and nail to break free.

April then notices the buzz of racing thoughts, just on the edge of her senses, and gets the aftertaste of vicious emotions, roiling like a storm and dripping in years of buildup- all repressed, over and over, kept at bay by the monster that stole them, twisted them into this, twisted him, stole everything good from them, locked him away his brothers away locked up his thoughts his wants his dreams his love and hatred-

-his voice, they took his voice, his brothers can’t hear him even when he’s screaming and no one, no one is coming no one will listen to him why can’t you just die, let me kill you- you hurt us them ME enough just DIE ALREADY-

April feels her eyes fill with tears, and Mikey stills over her.

Sorry,” she whispers, feeling the absolute agony wrought through him. “Sorry, I’m-” It hurts, it hurts so much, how can anyone live with that much abject despair-

“I’m so sorry,” April says, and it’s not enough, it won’t ever be enough to fix this.

And he stares at her, panting still, but expression changing. Hatred, yes, but now with… confusion. Disbelief.

“Mikey!” someone yells, and his weight is dragged off April’s chest. She coughs, inhaling roughly and rolling over to her feet to get up unsteadily. She swipes at her cheeks quickly, wiping the sudden tears from her face.

Her ribs feel bruised from the fall, and she puts one arm around them as her dominate hand goes for her sword’s grip. The brothers are dragging Mikey further away from her, clustering tightly together and pushing him to his knees.

“We’re sorry, Prime, that was completely out of line,” Donnie, high and tight. “My- T-0-- he’s sorry, we apologize for his- his insubordinate behavior, it won’t happen again, we swear, the update and- and hivemind will prevent mistakes-”

“Please, he just gets confused, he knows how to follow orders,” Leo adds, face pale enough with fear his scars start to blend in. “Punishment is- n’t- it’s necessary, we understand, but please, consider being lenient-”

“I volunteer,” Raph says, shifting himself to the front of their shield around Mikey, even as Leo’s hand tries to pull him back. He shakes his brother off, jutting his chin. “It won’t compromise my performance during missions; I’ll take his place for reprimand-”

All through this, as the brothers are falling over themselves and kneeling low, trying to cover for Mikey’s attempt at her life, their brother stares at April through their protective barrier and doesn’t break eye contact. The gaze is accusing, challenging, seeming to say to her: Don’t you dare touch them.

April raises a hand, silencing the three older siblings instantly. She ignores the uncomfortable feeling at that immediate obedience, and focuses on Mikey.

“An apology is all I need,” she hears herself say, though most of her is distantly reeling from being attacked. And that he went invisible, oh my god, how the hell did the Kraang come up with that one. She has so many questions that can’t be asked, for the moment. “No one is getting punished, okay? Say sorry and we’ll call it even.” When no one moves, April tries again. “Mikey, can you, um. Can all of you stand up? Let’s just shake hands. No one got hurt, and I think that’s all that matters.”

The four of them rise together, but there’s a definite reluctance from the elder three to let their brother out from behind them. Hands lingering before dropping down, fight going out of them. Mikey walks forwards with silent steps, eyes hard and expression set.

Difficult is an interesting word to call Mikey. April would have said outright defiant.

She moves towards them, towards Mikey, and holds out a hand in peace offering. For a moment, Mikey stares at her with something between disgust and distrust, before taking her hand and shaking it. His wide palm is calloused, like April’s slender one is, and up close she can see the dizzying array of scars all over him.

“There,” April says, dropping his hand. “No harm, no foul. We good?”

Mikey stays silent, still staring at her. April waits another beat, and gets nothing. A disquieting suspicion forms in her mind.

“Um…” April glances at the other brothers. “He’s not… deaf, is he?”

His brothers all shake their heads, and Mikey starts making a truly terrible sounding wheeze.

“No,” Donnie says, as Mikey’s wheeze gets louder. “He’s, um. He’s mute, actually.”

April’s eyes go back to Mikey, and he gives her a rictus grin, crackling wheezes still coming from his mouth. A broken approximation of laughter, April realizes. Horrible, anger filled laughter.

<She cut me open over SEVEN YEARS AGO,> he shouts through an abrupt link between them. He jerks a thumb across his throat, where neatly made lines are nearly hidden when his head is down. <Can’t talk, can’t whisper- can’t swear either, which really sucks ‘cause let me tell you, I’d have a LOT TO SAY TO YOU, PRIME.>

The title is anything but respectful, and April is taken back by the utter lack of it. Unlike his brothers, Mikey doesn’t seem to have anything of the obedience they do. Beyond just the inability to kill her, he seems to have kept his free will.

“Oh, wow,” April says, desperately relieved to point she feels a little faint for it. “That’s incredible.”

Mikey balks, nasty anger flooding his expression, and April hurries to correct. “No! Not the voice thing, or- or any of that stuff, I mean- you’re you, and not bowing or anything and wow, I’m just. Amazed you managed that, even with all the… protocols.” She stops herself there, words not coming across how she’d like them to. She coughs, looking away from Mikey’s conflicting expressions. “Anyway, let’s get you guys out of here. This is no place to have a conversation.”

The moment she’s done talking to Mikey, and steps away, his brothers pull him back into the cluster they’ve got going. Putting him where they can keep him close, keep him from getting into any more trouble. Mikey’s remain on April’s for another moment, and then slide away. His mental uplink with her has already withdrawn, and she feels the lingering sensation of absolute distrust from him.

Well, things aren’t going to start out easy, she knew that. It’s to be expected.

Being Hive Queen is so exhausting, honestly. For however long it takes to thoroughly dismantle the Empire from the inside out and establish peace in all the dimensions it ravaged, this is going to be April’s life. Every single day.

At least she’s done something today, something good and right and incredibly painful to think about. At least she’s started the process of giving the brothers their freedom back.

It’s not much in the grand scale of things, but it’s everything to them. It’s their lives, their whole world, and she’s going to give every part of them back to themselves. That much she should be able to do, as the unwilling sovereign of their former abductors.

The brothers follow her wordlessly, and April pretends very hard she’s not totally aware of their presences behind her back. Opening the door takes more effort than it should- no, she’s not concerned the subjects behind her haven’t been assimilated, yes, she does not want them to be neutralized, and hell no are their weapons stored in the wall to be offered. She’s not giving four extremely traumatized super soldiers weapons on top of everything.

The door finally opens, after somehow sulking none of the system’s suggestions were approved. April wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the base itself is sentient, but at the moment she has enough cans of worms open as is, thanks.

The door shunts itself open just as a long metal weapon swings at it, swiping at air as its target disappears. Casey fucking Jones stumbles as he overbalances, barely missing April by inches with his metal hockey stick.

April,” he says, sounding exasperated and scared. “What the fuck were you-”

Powerful arms lock around April and drag her back, the same time as three green blurs tackle Casey.

In the course of five seconds April has Raph insert himself as a living shield between her and everyone else, his three brothers get Casey on the ground and relieve him of his weapons, use said weapons to force the ring of soldiers and medical staff back, and Casey seems to invent at least a dozen new oaths to shout.

“Stop! STOP!” April demands, trying to be heard over the chaos of guns cocking and Casey’s yelling. She shoves Raph physically out of the way, and he budges probably only because of her authority- which she pours into her voice as she screams, “CEASE AND DESIST AT ONCE.”

She may have added a layer of psychic power to that scream, totally by accident/instinct. Said power reverberates in the stagnate air of the hallway.

Everyone backs down, weapons dropping towards the ground and going silent. April inhales slowly to calm herself, and puts up her empty palms. No weapons or threat here, see?

“Everyone just calm down, alright?” she says in a more level voice. She glances at the collection of human and Utrom soldiers, as well as at the brothers and Casey. “We’re all on the same team here, they just got a little spooked, that’s all. No one is going to attack anyone, okay? Let’s all just… be calm.”

Her staff- which are not drones, thank you Donnie for putting that in her head- all tentatively relax.  The Utrom and human soldiers take their fingers off triggers and the similarly mixed medical team stops looking like they’re going to (imminently) die. Donnie seems reluctant, but he gets off of Casey’s back and releases his arms from their lock. Casey is up in a flash, cheeks burning with frustration at being taken down so quickly.

Give me that,” he hisses at Leo, and snatches his reinforced alloy hockey stick; specially commissioned when Casey couldn’t get the hang of guns, even after leaving the resistance. Leo lets him without even a hint of emotion, and remains that way even as Casey sneers at him. April thinks that Leo either has the best poker face ever, or really just can’t see people’s expressions anymore.

She sighs, even more exhausted for the conflict that only lasted… possibly under a minute? God.

“Um, excuse me, ma’am?” One of the technicians edges around the side of the group, wincing at something. “Could you turn on your communicator? Please? Langstein is, um. Getting very loud.”

Oh, whoops.

April turns on her comm, and flinches as her friend’s voice screeches through the line.

“-don’t be an idiot, I said. Don’t make impulsive decisions, I said. What does she do? She LOCKS HERSELF IN THE ROOM WITH FOUR MASS MURDERERS.”

“Hi Irma,” April says weakly.

“DON’T YOU “hi Irma” ME, MISSY. I swear to god April, I’m not even thirty and my hair is going white with stress. Maybe I was into dyeing it stupid colors once upon a time, but not anymore, motherfucker. I ask one thing of you, one thing. And what do you do? You do the OPPOSITE of that one thing! Every SINGLE TIME-”

“It turned out alright!” April defends, but Irma talks over her.

“-always running into danger, always going with ‘gut instinct’ or whatever you call that psychic bullshit, never waiting for her best friend to make sure she isn’t going to DIE or anything, like my livelihood doesn’t depend on you staying alive and in power, you ungrateful asshole,” Irma is typing loud enough it makes it through the ranting, clearly pissed off to the point she’s probably grinding her teeth. “There. I cleared the way up to meeting room number seven in ward C, aboveground level number three. Take your new charity project up the stairs and secondary elevator, and please try to avoid maiming anyone on the way, okay?”

April smiles. “Thank you Irma, I love and appreciate you and promise you’ll get a raise soon as possible.”

“You couldn’t afford the raise I deserve,” Irma snipes, and stops talking. April shakes her head. She has the best of friends, really.

Even including the one eyeing the brothers, like he could honestly fight them all and not end up dead in the process. April heads that off before Casey can start a grudge match, clapping her hands and getting everyone’s attention. “Okay, according to our eye in the sky, or I guess our eye in the hallways- we’ve got a straight shot up to one of the conference rooms on the aboveground third floor, no interruptions. Let’s get a move on, shall we?”

There’s a clear amount of side eyeing between everyone- the brothers sticking very, very close to April’s side; Casey and some of April’s more familiar staff wary of them being close to her at all- but they manage to start up journey to one of the converted Kraang rooms. Redecorated and refurbished into something presentable for meeting and greeting dimensional ambassadors and military leaders. Not that they have many of those at the main base. People tend to get jumpy at the thought of going straight into the heart of Kraang territory, even with April in control.

Or maybe because April is in control. Mutants might be fairly well integrated into human society now- given that large swathes of their population were converted into mutants during mutagen spills, mass abductions, and bombing- but April is an outlier. Mutants made by the Kraang are one thing. Mutants that are part Kraang is a whole other.

Especially considering the position she holds, and the power she possesses.

April doesn’t know how she’ll explain that one to the brothers, if they haven’t already guessed from her eyes, teeth, and authority as the new Hive Queen. Probably speaking, it won’t be a pleasant conversation at all.

As Irma promised, the hallways are empty as they pass through them. April picks up the presences of people behind shut doors, but none of them make a move to come out as they go by. Probably for the best, since just the twelve men and women and individuals in their group are making the brothers twitchy. April catches the wisps of louder thoughts from them- ones that blare every time someone drifts even a fraction closer to April or them.

Protect is the main impression she gets. Fear, suspicion, anxiety are the others. The drive to protect is always the most overwhelming though, and April has a feeling it’s been programmed into their skulls to have a single top priority: protect their Prime.

She’ll get her people on the task of undoing that as soon as possible. She can take care of herself just fine, and April doesn’t want anyone to be compelled to keep her safe. Not against their wills like that, and not to point she fears is at the risk of their own wellbeing.

The elevator ride is the worst part. The lifts are large, since this was and is a military base, but it’s not quite large enough everyone feels comfortable. Not with four unstable individuals crammed in with them. April’s staff has to divide their numbers into two trips, and she can see how uneasy they are about that. Casey silently insists he stays with April, placing himself to her left and between the brothers and her. Which aggravates the brothers and kicks off a stream of incoherent chatter on the edge of April’s connection with them, definitely tinged with the acidic taste of fear and impulse. She mollifies both groups by standing in front of Casey, thus allowing him to watch her back and the brothers to not be blocked from access.

She can feel the palpable tension between everyone regardless. April plans to find the nearest source of painkillers as soon as possible for her headache.

It’s as they enter the upper floors that someone takes April’s arm. There’s a wave of reaction from the brothers, who all turn towards the woman with flat, dangerous stares. The effect is immediate on the rest of the group- everyone freezing in place and hands twitching towards weapons.

April raises a calm hand. The brothers don’t drop their guard, but do relax into casual attention.

“Yes?” April says to the woman, who she vaguely recognizes. Maybe they’ve passed each other in the mess hall before?

“You have a call,” the woman says, calm as anything despite the moment of potential attack. April admires that kind of steadiness in a person. “The council would like to speak with you.”

About the Stealth Squad, she doesn’t say, but is heard anyway. April nods. Unearthing one of the top secret projects of the Kraang Empire always does this, whether sentient or not. April turns back to the brothers, who are the people who she really needs to address here.

“I have to take this,” she explains to them. “I’d like it if you could follow Lieutenant Jones the rest of the way to the conference room. Soon as I can, I’ll rejoin you all. Alright?”

“Yes, Prime,” Donnie, Leo, and Raph respond simultaneously, no inflection or expression. Mikey remains silent, for obvious reasons, and glowers at her.

April feels the wave of unease from the humans and Utroms around her, unnerved by the behavior of the brothers. She understands, since she herself feels the same. Still, it bothers April that everyone around them is looking at the brothers like ticking bombs. She senses fear and severe distrust all around her, from everyone including the brothers, and this much negative feeling always makes her a little ill.

As she turns and walks away, following the Officer to the telecommunications room, April gets feedback again from the brothers. Abruptly thrust into a different setting than the one they’re used to, and none of the captors that used to hold them in sight, they’re holding onto the last source of stability: their programmed loyalty to protect whomever is in change. Being apart from April is already causing a reflexive anxiety in them, unable to watch for threats around her.

They’ll just have to bear it until she can get out of the conference call. April feels sympathy for their situation, but she has a job to do. Ignoring it would only cause worse problems down the road.

The screens of the telecommunications room are already turned on as she strides inside. April hears the door shut behind her, and she notes that she is the sole person left in the room. She goes to stand in front of the control panel, a semi-circle in the center of the room.

“Your Majesty,” she greets politely to the Utrom Queen. “Generals,” she nods to the rest of the Utrom council, as well as the human members of it.

“Prime O’Neil,” the Utrom Queen replies, and even though she’d told the brothers not to call her that, April is forced in a political environment to accept the title. Her fellow queen is without her humanoid suit today, hovering on screen in her mobility assistant. “We’ve heard word that you’ve uncovered… something dangerous.”

“Have you contained and neutralized the threat yet?” questions one of the human Generals- General Williams, one of the few military figures to make it through the whole of the Kraang war. His scarred left eye is boring into April, as it always does. General Williams is a little less than lenient towards potential threats to earth, which is likely what got him through the war mostly intact.

“There wasn’t any threat to contain or neutralize, General,” April responds calmly. She puts her hands behind her back, clasping her arms above her sword and standing with square shoulders. “They’ve been programmed to respond to and obey only my direct commands. Unless I say so, they won’t do more than breathe.”

“We know of these… assets, from prior encounters,” Rook says, her humanoid suit’s eyes glinting on screen. “There are records of their attacks on Utrom military and civilian settlements, as well as some of our allies’. They’re highly skilled, and even more so dangerous. I would move for their immediate imprisonment until further examinations can be conducted.”

“I would move for the same,” General Kane agrees, sweeping her dark brown eyes over April. “Prime, while they are currently in your possession, these assets would better belong in my care, or the Utrom’s. Your base hasn’t been designated for containment of war prisoners, excluding Subprime.”

“With all due respect, General,” April says carefully, slightly irked by the phrasing ‘possession’ towards the brothers. She can still feel the four of them even now, getting more restless by the moment. “The simple fact is that these brothers would not go quietly if we tried to move them. Their… connection with me. It’s unique. Attempting to remove them from the premises could do any number of things to their psyche. I think its best we have them examined here first, and then decide how best to help them.”

“Are we even certain they can be helped?” General Williams asks. “Your Intelligence Officers sent me a file of specs, and its contents don’t bode well for these four. That kind of trauma isn’t something a man, or in this case a mutant, comes back from. They might be too unstable to do any good for.”

“I won’t give up on them without trying,” April says firmly. “They’ve survived unimaginable torture- don’t we owe them at least a chance to have their lives back?”

“That is all well and good, Prime, but how can we be sure-”

“I will not let them be disposed of like that; they’re still living, thinking people underneath it all-”

“Prime,” the Utrom Queen interrupts. April quiets, reeling herself in. Her equal in authority regards her with tranquil, but concerned green eyes.

“These four brothers, they are very, very dangerous individuals,” she says, not coldly, but certainly not kindly. “We’ve lacked the right information to put names to them for a long time, but with these files there is now a long list of crimes that can be connected to them. Without their integration into the hivemind, I question just how they will react now that they’ve been released again. This could become a tragedy if handled wrong.”

“I know,” April says. She lifts her chin slightly, challenging subtly. “But can any of those crimes really be named theirs? They were mind-controlled, same as every other integrated victim of the Empire. You granted asylum to the survivors of the Kraang Empire’s destruction- why would we deny these four that? They’re no guiltier than any other enslaved party.”

“Might I remind you, the common Kraang soldier doesn’t quite measure up to their destructive prowess,” Rook says icily. April knows Rook’s sections of the Utrom nation were badly hit during the final stages of the war; she holds little sympathy for anyone still loyal to Kraang Prime. “To be frank, you have right now four assets that have and still can change the tide of a war. Assassins of that level aren’t to ever be underestimated.”

April levels a look towards Rook, keeping the burn of protective emotions hidden under a socially appropriate mask.

“They won’t be assassins anymore,” April says plainly. “They are, from here on out, to be designated as civilian casualties. They’re as much a victim of the Kraang Empire as we all are, no matter what position they held while enslaved. They deserve their lives back, and they deserve every bit of support as we’ve given to others who went through similar tragedy. Whether you appreciate that decision or not, they are in my care and under my authority. Whatever happens from here on out, I’ll see that they receive the best care possible.”

“And will you take responsibility, if they don’t recover as you hope them to?” the Utrom Queen asks. Her small pink tentacles fold together in front of her, considering. “If they at any point cost the lives of others during their treatment, are you willing to shoulder that blame?”

April nods. “Same as any other Officer under my authority, and any civilian in my care. Their actions are my own.”

“I don’t agree with this,” General Williams says tersely. “This isn’t a bunch of traumatized civies, Prime. These are weaponized assets.”

“They are people, not things, General,” April counters. On the edge of her senses, she feels them; all interconnected, all reaching towards her unconsciously. Protective and loyal.

Perhaps one day that will be purposeful and real. Perhaps it won’t. It doesn’t matter.

“Whether it’s a risk or not, I won’t let them be treated like mindless tools of war any longer. That’s my final statement on the matter.”

There’s an uneasy murmur from around the counsel, all of them wearing disapproving expressions at her choice. But though she still holds authority within the militant resistance of earth, April is well above anyone else’s control now. The only one left to counter her political power is the Utrom Queen, and even then. They all know that’s only on paper.

If April felt like it, the council wouldn’t last more than a few hours under attack by her. Maybe even less. There is, functionally speaking, no other equal in power to her anymore. It makes everyone a little uneasy, most of all April.

“Very well,” the Utrom Queen says. “Then let us hope your gamble plays out in everyone’s favor, Prime.”

April nods, and the screens all flicker to black. She is left in the room with only herself and her resolve. To better the lives of everyone the Kraang hurt during the war; even the ones who seem too far gone to do so with.

Exiting the telecommunications room, April presses her fingers to the comm in her ear.

“You get all that?” she asks.

Yep, and then some,” Irma replies smugly. “Their communication lines are going nuts right now, by the way. It’s like you kicked the hornet’s nest and then did a tap dance on it.”

“Isn’t that always what happens when I do anything?”

Usually, yeah. Because you’re just that much of a drama queen.”

“Do you guys in Intelligence have a handle on it all?”

“April, please. By now we’re all experts in dealing with whatever you stir up.”

April smiles. The release of the files to the other members the council was something she expected- keeping the brothers a secret would only result in her being accused of plotting something, given their reputation. Rather than have it break as a scandal, Irma followed the protocol they agreed on ages ago: control the information right from the start.

The ball is in their court, and it will stay there. They’ve complied with the laws set by the council- hoarding old Kraang resources is an absolute no- but the brothers and their security will remain within April’s control. So long as they remain under her authority, she can choose how they’re treated. Which will be with the utmost care, instead of just being transferred from one prison to the next.

“Are the brothers being examined yet?” April asks as she walks, taking her time now that the meeting is over. She wants to clear her head before anything else, as well as find water and pills.

“Medical is looking at them, and so far no complications,” Irma relays. “The file is good for that info at least. Their compliance to testing evened out to total obedience by the fourth year of their experiments.”

“That is the worst thing I’ve heard all day,” April sighs. She feels sick and furious at the same time on behalf of the brothers.

Well, buckle in for stuff even grosser than that. I seriously don’t envy whoever’s gonna have to work with these guys in therapy. They’re like, walking talking trauma. I’m probably not going to sleep well the rest of the week when we’re done with this, and I’m just reading this stuff, not experiencing it.”

April rubs her temples. She needs to read those files too, but oh does she really not want to. “Can you have someone come and show up conveniently with ibuprofen and a glass of water? I need to think outside of my headache.”

Dispatched accordingly, ought to show up in the next minute or so. You okay, April? Asking as a friend, not your advisor and top Intelligence Officer.”

April sighs. “I’ve been much better, but I’ll live.”

Good. Because we’ve been over how much I need you to live.”

“We definitely, definitely have been over that.”

After that, Irma goes quiet again, and April walks through the halls of her base almost alone. It’s a bubble of peace, just for a blessed moment.

Her life has been filled with turmoil since she was still a teen, and it’s only just begun to even out a little bit the last while. Earth is no longer at war, and her authority grants her luxuries few others have. All the ever increasing responsibility of being the Kraang hive-queen is the price she has to pay, for being able to every now and then have a day where she just curls up in her room and pretends the world doesn’t exist. Before, during the years of the war, the only rest anyone knew were the brief pauses between devastating skirmishes.

Millions of humans- killed or mutated. Thousands of mutants- subjected to unthinkable horrors of science or turned into war dogs by the military. April once knew a little girl, who’d been barely ten at the time April was twenty, and had had to treat her like any of the adults in their platoon.

The little girl’s name had been Alexandra- Lexi, she preferred- and she’d been mutated with the DNA of an adult grizzly bear. At that point, mutants didn’t have status as actual people yet, and any managing to escape mutagen spills or capture by the Kraang were detained immediately by military and resistance forces. Or shot on sight.

April remembers vividly the shock collar around Lexi’s wide neck, and the fact that her favorite thing to do when they weren’t fighting was to read. Any piece of literature she could get her claws on, Lexi would read it. April spent many dragging nights, when her own thoughts were too terrible to linger on, talking with the bear mutant. Lexi had been so much bigger than her, but had always handled with care the cups of extra water rations April brought. Delicate and careful, trying hard to achieve gentleness not easy with her strength and limited dexterity.

No one had viewed Lexi as a child, or a person. April still remembers the night she was shot, right through the eye and into her brain. The laser wound exploding the socket and liquefying the tissue inside.

They’d left Lexi’s corpse in the rubble of a partially collapsed building. April had been forced to turn her back on the little bear girl, and numbly run away as their forces were overwhelmed.

April’s full power came in, soon after. Her pupils cracked and became horizontal waves, her teeth fell out in pairs as sharper ones pushed through, and a split of skin opened up along the top of her head. She dropped a whole building on a Kraang war machine the next week, and finally outed herself for what she really was.

After that, and the years prior to that night- everything had been one long blur of pain, confusion, and loss. No rest, save for the periods when both sides retreated to lick their wounds. The fact that April can take the time to just lie in bed some days… just remain hidden under her blankets from the world and what it and she has become… it feels more alien than all of Dimension-X combined.

So. This time in the hallway, all to herself? It’s the only break she’s gotten in a number of weeks, and the only one she’ll allow herself for another couple at least. The amount of sheer devastation the fallout of the Kraang wars have left won’t let April rest, not without heavy guilt on her conscious. Maybe she’ll give herself a chance to sleep in an hour longer, but otherwise… she just can’t.

As April rounds a corner, someone looking like they belong to Irma’s Intelligence division is standing with a metal cup in one hand, and a packet of foil sealed pills in the other.

“Thank you,” April says gratefully, taking the packet and cup. The Officer (Officer Orion, proclaims her visible dog tags) raises her hand in a short salute to her dark hairline, and then vanishes back into an adjacent room. April pops three of the specially ordered blue pills into her palm, and knocks them back.

“You ready to rejoin the party, or do you feel like wandering aimlessly a little longer?” Irma asks in April’s ear. “Because April, I think we need all hands on deck for this.”

“What now?” April whines, not letting her status as alien royalty stop her from expressing childish exhaustion. She is so overwrought already, can’t she please wander aimlessly a little longer? Five more minutes, mom.

Well, for starters T-003 is choking one of our best medical staff.”

April is already sprinting by the time Irma finishes saying ‘choking’. Her cup is dropped to the ground as her boots thud against the floor.

“Don’t choose now to be calm about this!” April yells.

I’m trying to monitor and document three different categories of top secret communications that goes dozens of conversations deep- give me a break! I’m distracted!”

Why is the telecommunications room so far from the conference rooms? Why this. April pushes herself to keep top speed as the halls fly by, and dodges around anyone even close to being in her way (never mind that when they see who she is, they dive to the side like their lives depend on it (and it kind of might)).

April gives into the necessity of things, and starts flying.

She skims over the floor the rest of the way, and hits the ground with her heavy boots at a run. She bursts through the blockade of soldiers in the doors of the conference room, and gets inside just in time to see Casey and his subordinate Officers ordering Donnie to drop the medical staff now, or-

“-we will shoot,” Casey is yelling, hand up and prepared to signal live fire. “You get your fucking hands off him right now, or-”

“Access code incorrect,” Donnie says mechanically, hands around the man’s neck and glowing red eyes on Casey all the rest. His brothers are all around him, defensive stances and blank expressions. “Access to core programming: denied.”

The medical staff member in his grip struggles; clawing at the wide wrists of Donnie’s arms. Donnie doesn’t seem to feel the weak attacks, and tightens his fingers in a way that makes the man twitch and gape like a dying fish and go slack-

April throws her hand out, and with a lash of her powers, she sends Donnie and the captive human flying apart.

Her subordinate hits the ground and crumples, but inhales, and coughs violently. April keeps her grip on Donnie, using her telekinesis to push him up against the wall and pin him there. Mikey immediately jumps towards her, teeth bared, and April has no choice but to grab him too and shove him down to his knees. She locks Leo and Raph in place as well, just for insurance, and tries not to register their sudden and stark fear.

Out, every single one of you!” April commands loudly, directing it at the humans and Utrom of the room. They all stare at her, guns aimed at the pinned brothers, and April’s temper slips her control enough she bares her sharp teeth. “That is a direct order. GET. OUT.”

“If you think I’m leaving you with them,” Casey starts up, an explosive projectile of his own design and his alloy hockey stick both in hand.

Jones,” April snaps. “You heard me. This is not the time.”

His law goes tight, clear rebellion to her in his eyes- but the dictation of their stations demands that he obey her orders.

Casey snaps at everyone else to haul their asses out already, and April is grateful he decides not to make today a day he treats her more like a friend than sovereign leader. He himself marches over to grab the still coughing medical staff member- throwing the man over his shoulder and taking them both out of the room, shooting a furious look behind himself as he does.

When the doors slam shut, April releases her psychic hold on the brothers. Raph and Leo both shudder as they come free, and Donnie slumps to his knees against the wall.

Mikey disappears from sight, but April feels him moving around in her peripherals. Her ambient awareness lets her keep track of his movements- which is him springing away from the group in rapid steps, and retreating to be- up the wall? Mikey stops moving only once he’s put himself in a corner, high up and right next to the ceiling. April isn’t sure how he’s staying so perfectly still, even though he’s only just come out of stasis and there are few individuals that can even pull that trick off, but she tucks that question away for another time.

At the moment, she can feel all four of them buzzing with fear, and that’s priority over Mikey’s nimbleness.

“…Okay,” April says, slow and calm. She flicks her eyes between each of the brothers, watching their reactions (and feeling for Mikey’s, as he remains invisible still). “I’m sorry I had to do that, but you guys can’t hurt people, alright? I know this has got to be scary and overwhelming, but lashing out won’t do anyone any good.”

{…I thought that’s what I was supposed to do.}

April blinks, feeling the connected link of their minds the same time those words are spoken. Or… thought, more accurately.

April looks towards the person who’s connected himself to his Prime’s hivemind willingly, even if he’s still not completely integrated. Donnie is standing carefully, hand on the wall and a blank expression that does nothing to mask the whirl of confusion and fear April can feel.

{I’m sorry, Prime,} he thinks, says, sends to her, {the protocol… we can’t reveal top secret information to outsiders, in case they use it against the Empire. I thought I was… doing the right thing. It. It was to protect the sanctity of the Squadron, Prime, I swear. I apologize for the mistake, and. And take full responsibility for our actions; I’m the one who triggered the order. Please.}

He moves closer, steps deliberate and silent. His brothers shift, split second expressions flitting across their faces as Donnie moves to kneel less than ten feet from April.

{Please, punish me exclusively,} he says, still inside her mind, opening up the link to include nearly every part of his mind, offering, submitting. {The other units were only doing what I told them to.}

He doesn’t move as April kneels in front of him, but she feels a flinch go through his emotions. Fear, fear, fear, regret. It’s a toxic cocktail.

|I’m not punishing any of you, Donnie,| April swears, gently refusing the offer he’s made with his splayed consciousness. She pushes the weight of his self from their link, closing it up so there are only their voices remaining. |You were following the protocols that Kraang put in you, and… we should have been prepared for that kind of response.|

Conditioning them to protect the Kraang’s secrets, April should have considered that possibility. One of the first steps of making use of your brainwashed slaves is always ensuring they won’t betray your secrets. April’s seen it in a few other former Kraang slaves, though not quite to the brutal extent of the brothers.

|But you can’t hurt anyone else like that, though,| April cautions firmly. |These are good people, and we’re trying to help you all. You have to let us help you if you want this to get better.|

Donnie’s blank face remains at odds with his internal conflict; his expression tranquil as still water, while a storm of confusion and half-finished thoughts lurk just beneath that surface.

“But the protocols,” he says, tight and nearly a plead. For stability, for normality.

“You don’t have to listen to them anymore,” April soothes. It’s the first step to their recovery, giving them autonomy to share whatever information they want to.

<Yeah we fucking do, idiot. It’s literally HARDWIRED into us. Especially him.>

April looks away from Donnie’s bowed form, straight at the source of those vitriol coated thoughts. The place where Mikey is remains empty seeming, but April feels him there with multiple senses.

His connection is tainted with thick bitterness and hate, unrepentant in that fact. <You think he did that for fun, huh? Because he just fuckin’ felt like choking someone? He did it because he had to. Even if you’re not mind-raping us right now we’re still your god damn puppets, Prime. You sent us to a bunch of stupid humans and drones who know shit all of the codes they need to in order to have access to us. We’re not just fucked up, Prime. We’re a special clearance kind of fucked up. If you wanna have ‘em pick our brains, better hand over the keys first.>

April stares at the spot Mikey is holding himself in, letting the wash of hate slide past her senses. After a few seconds following, she feels him start to squirm. Unnerved by her lack of reaction, even after being cussed out by him.

His brothers radiate fear, no doubt having heard every word of Mikey’s insubordinate and downright rude rant. None of them move; all eyes on April as they wait for her response.

April thinks nothing of the insults and anger. She’s busy aching about how much harder their rehabilitation will be, now that this information has come to light.

“…I didn’t know that,” April says, collecting herself. She feels Mikey’s wariness, feels all of the brothers’- and forges on. “Thank you for telling me, Mikey.”

Mikey’s wariness bursts into a cloud of surprise and confusion. The whiplash of emotions in him is almost funny, honestly. It erases the miasma of hate and anger for a moment in him, and reveals that maybe… he’s not totally a hopeless case; still capable of other reactions beyond fear and defensive anger. Like his brothers, as they’re all feeling their own sparking clouds of confusion and surprise.

April offers a hand to Donnie.

“Let’s try this again,” she says, meeting his red eyes evenly and unflinchingly. “How about we have that chat I thought we should, and get to know each other a little better. It’s… it’s obvious we’re going to need to, so no one else gets hurt. Especially you four. Would that be alright?”

Donnie’s mask of calm breaks, cracks of an emotion that just about hurts it’s so raw and confused. April’s heart aches for him, for all of them.

His hand is shaking as he takes hers; a gingerly touch, terror and hope mixing together as she draws him up again. Like this, he towers over her; his circuits and eyes glowing faintly in the room’s lights, a purse to his lips that can’t seem to figure out what emotion he’s trying to show.

She releases his large hand, and purposefully walks to the circle of couches and chairs that the conference room has.

Record,” April whispers to Irma through the comm, and hopes her friend will know what that means.

April takes a seat in one of the chairs facing a long couch with a coffee table between them; putting her wakizashi blade to lean against the armrest.

“If you’d like, sitting would make things more comfortable,” April says, gesturing at the couch. “But you don’t have to if you don’t want to. As long as you can hear me and I can hear you.”

If the medical staff can’t talk to them at the moment, then it damn well will have to be April who gets an assessment from them. It’s been a while since she talked to anyone about something besides politics and military plans anyway.

And, judging by the way her connection to the base is informing her that the room has been activated of all its cameras and audio recorders, Irma got the message. The medical staff will gain information about the brothers second-hand from April asking them questions; using what she remembers from her childhood growing up with a psychologist father, the things she’s learned about PTSD, and the sixth sense that gives her premonitions about the right choices to make.

Donnie is cocking his head, looking around at the room. Clearly, he knows what Irma’s done, but isn’t commenting on it. Leo meanwhile has already sat himself down on the couch, as requested. Raph is hesitantly remaining standing, just behind it. Mikey is still in his spot near the ceiling; how he’s still holding that position, April doesn’t have a clue. She’s seen fully trained ninjas struggle to keep that rigidly still, never mind in such an awkward place.

Donnie chooses to sit on the couch. A beat later, and Mikey drops from the ceiling; silent and invisible. His form shimmers back into sight when he’s made his way to the couch, sitting in the far corner of it by the armrest. His eyes are watching April with open suspicion, which she doesn’t resent him for.

“Alright,” April says gently, leaning forwards over her knees, “let’s start slow. Just how much of the information about your… you is restricted access?” Her stomach twinges, and April realizes she hasn’t eaten since the beginning of the day. That gives her an idea. “Oh, and are of you hungry? I think I skipped lunch myself. I’ll call someone up with something to eat if you’d like.”

“Oh, please, don’t trouble yourself,” Donnie says quickly. “We won’t need to eat for at least another forty-eight hours, or more. Our modifications make it simpler with our maintenance and upkeep, as a lot of our base biological needs are met by nutrient injections.”

April senses him feeling like that’s the correct response, something to be proud of rattling off so eagerly. Leo and Raph’s faces remain neutral, while Mikey scowls darkly and looks to the side of the room.

“But… even though you don’t need to,” April tries carefully, “do you want to? It’s not lavish, but our cafeteria rations are better than some.”

“No thank you, we won’t be bothers,” Donnie insists, and April examines how he’s phrasing his refusals. Won’t be bothers, don’t trouble yourself. It sounds very much like someone trying to minimize their needs as much as possible, to avoid punishment for wanting too much.

Perhaps she’ll just have to take some liberties here, since… getting them to actually ask for things doesn’t look like it’ll pan out.

“Well, I’m feeling quite hungry myself, so I think I’ll order some food,” April states, and puts a finger to her comm in a somewhat exaggerated fashion. “Irma? Send us whatever’s the special today.”

Of course, I love being a spy master and your personal waiter. Consider it done, oh benevolent Prime.”

Donnie tilts his head slightly, reminding April he can hear the conversations. “Your drone isn’t very respectful.”

“Irma defaults sarcasm and snark when she’s overworked,” April says with a shrug. “And she’s my friend anyway, I don’t mind.”

“You’re friends… with a drone worker,” Leo says slowly, definitely confused by that.

April nods. “I’ve known her since before the war, so yeah. We’re good friends. But I wouldn’t call her a ‘drone’ either way. Nobody here is a drone; we’re all working towards the same goal, equally.”

“The f---” Raph starts to mutter, then winces, and snaps his mouth shut. He glowers at the floor and doesn’t try speaking again.

“…We got sidetracked here,” April says, watching Raph’s behavior and wondering if it’s yet another protocol in place. “If you could, please. Explain to me how much of your… designs, are off limits? Then we’ll figure out how to take off those limiters; so you can talk freely.”

Donnie sits up a little straighter, taking head of their response again. As he talks, explaining different levels of clearance depending on the rank of a drone, how all of their internal modifications are mid-level clearance and their cranial modifications are highest level clearance- April watches and listens more than she responds. Donnie lists each new bit of information in the same way he talked, fresh from the stasis chamber. Barely inflection in his voice, each word utterly precise; like a bland guidebook for a machine’s usage.

April tries to memorize as much as possible, but she knows she’ll need to review the bulk of the info dump later in written format. The people recording and transcribing the conversation will get that ready for her.

Eventually, Donnie finishes, and caps it all off with, “and other than- Mikey, we all adhere to those codes and protocols. Mikey has… a few others in place for him.”

April turns her eyes to the smallest turtle, who’s staring at her already, and has been for most of the conversation.

“Mikey, would you like to tell me what those are?” April asks, making sure to phrase it as an option. “I’d like it if you did, since it’ll make it easier to get rid of them later.”

She lets herself wonder, since because Mikey has somehow remained free of his brainwashing, in comparison to his siblings at least, just what further mental shackles the Kraang forced onto him. He’s clearly still himself, so what could they have done to him?

Mikey remains silent, not reaching out to establish a link. His glare doesn’t waver the longer the silence goes on.

“You’ll have to formally request him to do so, Prime,” Donnie says, jumping back into the conversation. He gives an apologetic look that feels as false as it could be. “Most of the time, getting him to speak requires a direct order from someone. Here, allow me.”

Before April can tell him to stop, Donnie’s eyes- which she suspects to be artificial implants- flash red, and his voice echoes through the air without his mouth moving.

{Command: override code T-003, unit control-leader. T-004: disclose all following information.}

Mikey flinches all over, teeth grit and a hand going to the side of his head.

{List restricted information categories, including: disruptive and noncompliant language, disruptive and noncompliant actions, disruptive and noncompliant memories. Confirm order: y/n.}

<Confirm order: y/n,> responds Mikey, a hitch in his breathing as he shudders. <Restricted information categories protocols: disallowed from sharing information pertaining to pre-integration memories with other units, disallowed from encouraging insubordinate behavior in other units, disallowed from instigating noncompliance in other units, disallowed from speaking with derogatory or profane language to other units. Fuck you with a fucking pike, T-003.>

Mikey then lets out a gasp, curling forwards and digging his nails into his skull. None of his brothers react to the obvious distress and pain, eyes straight ahead and body language stiff like statues.

“Apologies, Prime,” Donnie says, voice and expression coldly blank, “T-004’s adherence to some of the protocols can be troubled at times. His restriction of foul language is particularly difficult.”

April is breathless with horror, disgust, and how viscerally wrong it was to watch Donnie force his own brother to comply like that. Her fists are shaking in her lap, the room abruptly feeling like a steel box locked around her. Cramped and without enough air, filled with poisonous miasma.

“Don’t do that,” April says, fighting an angry tremor in her words. “Don’t you ever do that to him again.”

“Prime?” Donnie asks, confusion flooding him, and April has to stand up, walking around her chair and running a hand down her face as she paces. “Prime, I… I thought…”

“You can’t do that kind of thing to someone,” April hears herself say, strained, “you can’t make someone just. Do whatever you want them to. It’s. It’s horrible, don’t you get it? You can’t just- just-”

April, get a hold of yourself,” Irma interrupts her, speaking for the first time since the conversation began. “Freaking out at him like this isn’t going to help any of them; you have to stay calm. And they’ve literally spent the past decade like this- what did you even expect?”

“I’m sorry,” April says quietly, closing her eyes and blocking out as much as she can. “I just. It’s just it’s like…”

What I can do, she can’t force herself to say, feeling the molten core of her powers even now, while they sleep. Thousands and thousands of minds, all connected to her irreversibly and unwillingly. And whatever she tells them to do, they’ll do it. No resistance, no hesitation.

Like what Donnie’s just done to his brother, because of how badly he’s trying to please her and the brainwashed behaviors ground into him.

You can admit you don’t know what you’re doing, April. No one will blame you for being in over your head.”

“I’m not allowed to be in over my head,” April says snappishly. “The fact is that it’s my responsibility to be on top of everything at all times, and if I’m not then someone will get hurt. Irma, they… look at them. They’re my responsibility now. From the moment I killed Kraang Prime- everyone she hurt became my responsibility. If I can’t help them, then…”

I’ve failed.

April feels the stares of the brothers on her back, particularly from Donnie- his fear and confusion is a bright and burning thing in her senses, along with the ache of old and deeply rooted betrayal from Mikey.

Irma sighs, and it’s the same sigh she always makes when April has hit a roadblock, but is continuing to beat herself against it out of stubborn determination. “April, I know you’re doing your best, but-”

The wail of alarms interrupts their conversation.

“Fuck,” Irma says, while April whirls on her heel to look at the four brothers, all of them equally startled by the sirens. “Oh, FUCK! April we got hostiles incoming- how did I miss them, they’ve got at least two dozen ships-”

April curses, grabs her katana from beside her chair and hooking it in place again, and strides towards the exit of the room. She feels the brothers fall into step behind her without a word, and fine, that’s better than leaving them unattended. As the door slides open, responding to her psychic command- speed is of the essence, she’s skipping the act of appearing ordinary- Casey and the other soldiers are all already hustling to respond to the sudden attack.

Casey meets her eyes as they come out, and he makes a subtle gesture at the four mutants. Problem?

April shakes her head. With what’s happening right now, the brothers are the least of their worries.

“Irma, talk to me,” April says briskly, waving for the higher ranking Officers and Casey to follow her. She doesn’t bother with the brothers; they’ll follow automatically, she can tell.

Those assholes HACKED US, oh my god. They put a loop on our long range sensors so they wouldn’t be detected until the base’s security camera network caught sight of them. Oh ho, now that’s a nice trick. I’m going to rip their cloaking algorithms in half if it’s the last thing I do-”

“Irma, who’s attacking us?” April asks sharply, because they’ve got so many enemies it’s hard to keep track of.

“The Stivalkians,” Irma replies grimly. “Looks like they lied about having no military might left to speak of.”

April almost groans. “I knew negotiations with them were going too easy. What are their demands?”

That we surrender ourselves to our doom and righteous deaths and blah blah blah lots of angry coup talk, you know the sort. Our efforts to have peace treaties drawn up with them failed, obviously, and they’re saying they’ve decided they don’t believe your intentions towards their race are any different than Kraang’s were. Also they’re already starting to open fire on the base.”

The lights of the former Kraang base flicker above April, and the frenzy of military and non-combatant personal in the halls and rooms they pass increases in fervency. The echo of attacks against the base’s exterior vibrates in April’s bones, sparking the tinder of her temper and creating the beginning of an inferno.

How dare they?

“Who’s attacking?” Casey asks, because right, not everyone has direct communications with Irma (who isn’t really supposed to be monitoring everything, but is anyway).

“Stivalkian ships, nearly two dozen. They’re here to destroy what’s left of the Kraang Empire; even though I told them at least ten times I’m not continuing the genocide of their species. Negotiations of a ceasefire are a no go, too,” April informs him and the other three Officers marching alongside them. Casey growls and puts a finger to his own comm line, starting to relay rapid-fire orders to have people at the ready for live combat yesterday.

“Belay that order,” April says, receiving a confused look from Casey. She narrows her eyes, summoning up all the fury and horror she’s been repressing the past- god, barely under an hour, and so much has happened.

“I’ll take care of them myself,” April tells him, and casts a glance over her shoulder at the four turtles still following her. “And I want you four to stay with Casey until I get back. Please refrain from choking anyone else, alright?”

“What, no,” Casey says, looking distinctly uncomfortable with the sudden custody.

“Prime, we could be of use,” Leo protests, blind eyes beseeching, looking for a way to garner approval.

April shakes her head, and says firmly, “No, you four don’t have to do that anymore.” She stops, and while she waves all three of the extra Officers off towards the elevator to wait for her, she levels a look at the brothers. “You might have been Kraang’s soldiers, but you’re not mine. After this, as soon as I can arrange it, you’re going home.”

Confusion flickers through Donnie, Leo, and Raph- and Mikey, too, though it’s drenched in suspicion. She sees Raph dart a glance at Leo, who doesn’t return it with eye contact but a subtle incline of his head, and Donnie steps forwards.

“But… this is our home,” he says slowly, as confused by her statement as he has been by everything else. And that hurts as much as his words do.

“This isn’t anyone’s home, Donnie,” April says, almost gentle. Then she straightens up. “This is a place of misery and pain, and soon as we’re done here, I’ll make sure it’s destroyed. I’ll wipe out Kraang’s legacy with my own two hands if I have to. No one, and I mean no one, is going to go through what went on in these halls ever again. And that goes especially you four.”

On impulse, she moves closer and puts a hand on Donnie’s shoulder. He flinches, eyes darting to her hand and then back to her, and the whirl of his emotions are nearly too quick to keep track of.

“Stay with Casey,” she tells him and his brothers, and tries to exude a calming aura for their sakes. “I’ll be back soon as I take care of these assholes. In the meantime, stay safe. Rest. You’ve earned it.”

“We… but…” Donnie says, visibly trying to find words, eyes flashing their eerie red, and April can’t linger any longer, dropping her hand and backing away again. Donnie’s eyes follow her steps, and as do his brothers’.

“Jones, take care of them,” April tells her friend as she passes him, and Casey rolls his eyes at her.

“Fine, fine, go hog all the action to yourself, O’Neil. I’ll just hang around and play babysitter.”

April smiles sweetly, knowing that for all his bravado and posturing, Casey is someone she can trust explicitly. Her smile slips as she resumes the grim march to the elevator, her fury and power swelling in her once more.

“Irma? Give me an exit before I make one,” April tells her friend, breathing through her rage and pressing the button to bring them down to ground level.

“I’ve already relayed to have everyone evacuated from the area. We’ve only got defensive fire now, so… blow ‘em out of the sky, April.”

April nods to herself. “I’ll leave enough of them alive for hostage negotiations afterwards.”

Yeah? Wasn’t betting on that, but that would be a nice show of mercy on our part. Good for press and public face later on, whenever this gets out.”

“Irma, your true colors are showing again.”

April, I was in a Kraang internment camp for nearly two years. I’m allowed to be a little schemish with my survival tactics.”

The joke of Irma’s experience as a prisoner is one that’s light, but heavily weighted nonetheless. Such is how most of their jokes are. April manages a faint smile. “That’s fair.”

Yeah it fucking is. Now go kick some ass.”

The elevator doors open, and April steps out. The three Officers that have been accompanying her salute April in unison, and separate from her side to go start organizing the droves of human and Utrom soldiers filling the ground level area. April ignores the shouting and chaos around herself, wading through it unhindered as everyone gets out of her way.

One after another, the Officers salute April as she passes them. The trust they have in her, in her abilities, in their shared cause- it bolsters her, fuels her determination. It’s their lives she’s going out to defend, their families she has to return them to.

How dare someone attack her base? How fucking dare they put all these people at risk? They’re working to undo the damage done to the subjugated dimensions, not court further war. April is done with war, despite continuing to be drawn into one battle after another.

She’s going to show them who they’re messing with. She might have decimated the size of the Kraang Empire’s fighting force by freeing its slaves, might have willingly handed over the bulk of its aerial and ground weaponry- but April’s Empire, whether she wanted it or not, isn’t someone’s easy target for revenge.

April has had a rough day.

She’s feeling a little worked up over a lot of things.

The riptide of power rushing through her, the quiet shush of her antennae frill flicking up in agitation, the way her lips are pulling back to bare her inhumanly pointed teeth- it feels great to just let go already, and open up her floodgates.

Sleek ships are approaching in the near distance, none of them of Utrom or earth origin, and April reads the wave of hostility permeating their auras. They’re all firing on her base, damaging the outer shell of it and blackening whole sections. People are inside those walls, people she has to protect.

April starts to walk quicker, jogging, then sprinting- racing towards the edge of the tarmac and ignoring pilots and soldiers trying to defend their ships from fire. The edge comes quickly to her, opening up over a pink abyss that has no bottom.

April leaps off the island, and falls.

Her psychic powers catch her and she propels herself upwards, going so fast the rocky islands surrounding their main base blur past her. The enemy armada is directly in her sights, turning their fire on her as April ducks and weaves her flight path through the barrage.

With a snarl, April summons the ocean of power resting inside her, and with a spin, thrusts her open palm at the ship closest.

The inferno inside her burns.

The unleashed attack flattens the front of it, metal screeching and an implosion coming right after. April’s psychic blast continues its path, pushing the ships having taken point backwards into their own fleet. She rockets towards the chaos, bringing up a shielding bubble around herself as she flies directly into the fray.

She’s disrupted their entire formation, already drawn first blood- and she doesn’t slow down, hitting the next ship with her forcefield like a battering ram. Its hull crumples under her hands, losing the fight immediately to her telekinetic attack. April spears the ship through with the next blast of power, sending it wildly off course and directly into the paths of other ships trying to regain their bearings. She flies out of the way before anyone can attempt retaliation against her, turning her sights onto those remaining.

Two ships have managed to train their guns on her, but April simple bats away the laser fire with a thought. Wind whips through her short hair as she flies, but nothing else of the fire and debree touches her.

April sends out a pulse of her power, locating every lifeform on the ships around herself. Two years ago, she wouldn’t have been able to cover the whole of even one ship.

Now, April can encompass all of the two dozen ships, and wraps each of the still living aliens aboard them in a protective forcefield. With their future hostages safely prevented from doing anything more than watching the destruction of their armada, April breathes in.

And breathes out in a rush, the sound ripping free as a furious scream.

In an invisible explosion going all directions, April lets an ocean’s worth of psychic power slam into the ships around her. The closest ones are crushed immediately, their engines and fuel igniting in a bloom of fiery destruction. April flings the survivors of each one towards her base, keeping her attention to their forcefields focused enough that none of them go splat when she drops them on the tarmac.

They break a few bones, but that’s something that fills April with vicious emotion. It serves them right, they’re the ones who attacked her, tried to kill her soldiers. They’re lucky, like every other person who tries to get in the way of her goals, that she doesn’t just wipe them out.

She went toe to toe with Kraang Prime herself. April killed the old Hive Queen with a sword and her wits, and the karmic justice of turning the monstrous abilities they bred into her back onto their masters.

April turns her bubble of forcefield into a sharpened arrow, aiming herself towards her next target. She dives straight into the hull of the ship and lances right through, tearing a massive hole and setting off another deafening explosion. The combustion and spray of shredded metal doesn’t even slow her warpath, as April’s tendrils of power grab a smaller ship and throw it into two others nearby.

A feral howl comes from her mouth, and April grabs another two ships the same way. Bringing her hands together, she sends both of the ships crashing into one another and obliterates them both in a spectacular act of rage fueled telekinetics.

The pink horizon of Dimension-X becomes awash with red and black, fire and smoke billowing into the atmosphere as April tears through one ship after another. The survivors are tossed towards her base with less and less care, her anger drowning out almost everything else.

For however long it lasts, April is simply the vessel of her powers and fury, and nothing in the entire universe can stop her.

When the final ship has been sent spiralling down, falling into the abyssal depths of Dimension-X’s endless sky, April rises from the ashes and smoke to hover there. Her body is electric with her powers, her jaw aching as she snaps it open and shut- searching for another target, another object or person to take her storm of emotions out on.

None arise.

April has, sufficiently speaking, utterly decimated her enemies. The ringing silence of the world around her slowly makes it to her senses, bringing her back from the haze of something uncomfortably close to truly mindless bloodlust.

Closing her eyes, April forces herself to reel in her psychic powers as they lash and writhe around her. When she opens her eyes again, her racing heart is starting to slow and she folds her antennae back out of sight.

Centering herself so she no longer feels the need to keep searching for another fight, April flies back to the island base. As she nears it, she takes in the fact that her soldiers have already begun restraining each of the prisoners she sent their way. The Stivalkians are an insectoid race, heavily armored and with mandibles that clack and snap as they’re put into cuffs; kept at careful gunpoint by those assisting in the process of capturing them.

Only a few of the prisoners have to be taken away on stretchers, and they are so very lucky that April was taught early on to control her sometimes scalding furies. PTSD and her high stress levels make it hard sometimes, but today, she’s managed to remember herself enough that she didn’t commit mass murder.

April maneuvers herself so she lands on the tarmac feet first, sighing as the last of her power sinks back down into the deep well inside her core. She then squares her shoulders, striding forwards with all the authority and calm arrogance any leader has.

The crowds around her shift out of her path, eyes following her steps, emotions ranging from fear to gratitude, and April shoulders each of the lives she’s just saved. They are all proof of her efforts being worthwhile, being justified, and she lets them soothe the ever present sting of having grown into something no one can stand in the way of any longer.

It’s very lonely, being the king of the hill.

The benefits, however, make it worthwhile. The people around her are alive because of her powers, because of her willingness to keep dealing out destruction onto their enemies. They have, to her knowledge, suffered zero losses in the midst of a full-scale invasion. Even the Stivalkians being taken into custody are alive, having lost probably a bare fraction of their numbers.

April may be what constitutes as a nuclear warhead in a human package, but she can only be so sorry that she possesses the powers she does. With it, she ended the Kraang war, and has smothered nearly every attempt to upset the uneasy peace since then. This battle is just one of many she’s been called to fight, and it won’t be the last.

The road to true interdimensional peace is a long ways off, but with the power she wields as both a living weapon and unintended Hive Queen, April will see that the road is travelled no matter what.

April detects the presence of someone she’s more than familiar with ahead of her, and she finds the shaggy black head of Casey in the crowd; standing just inside the entry back into the base, arms crossed and eyebrows raised. He, as he tends to whenever she cuts loose, looks impressed by the sheer scale of devastation she’s capable of.

It’s nice, having someone around who’s never felt fear for April or the abilities she was born to have. If there is one thing she can appreciate (and find constantly exasperating), it’s that Casey Jones is practically fearless, even when faced with someone who could have been the earth’s key to destruction.

Near Casey are the four turtle brothers, clustered together and carefully blank in expression. However, April still senses their awe, and resigned fear, of what she’s just done. They’d already accepted that she has control over them, back in the first few minutes of them meeting her one by one- but there’s a solid knowledge now, that April is so far above their level that it’s almost laughable.

She’s more powerful than Kraang Prime could have ever hoped to be. April doesn’t begrudge anyone for being afraid of her; even if it always hurts, at least a little.

“You didn’t even leave any scraps for us,” Casey says as April approaches, and it’s in a teasing tone. “Jeez, O’Neil, anyone ever tell you about the phrase ‘overkill’?”

April rolls her eyes, managing a slight smile. “They were the ones who declared war first, just so you know.”

“Oh, I know,” Casey replies, falling into step with her as they continue walking. The brothers follow along silently, twitching now and then when someone comes too close. Casey barely acknowledges them, excluding subtle checks of their position near his person. “I think every damn person in the whole alliance knows, now that you lit up everyone’s sensors with an unscheduled Fourth of July show. Irma gave me a ring so she wouldn’t distract you; the upper echelon wants you in the communications room for another round of complaining about you getting shit done.”

“Joy,” April mutters, and sends a glance towards the brothers. “Are you all holding up alright? That was probably a lot so soon after stasis…”

Donnie, the closest and most attentive, as is the emerging pattern, shakes his head. “Oh, don’t worry about us, Prime. Our energy levels won’t need to be replenished for a while yet.” He inclines his head, offering a flattering smile. “It was an honor to see you in action.”

April’s stomach twists at the falseness of those words, the lie blatant to her senses. But, likely speaking, none of the brothers know of her innate ability to tell truth from lie, and she’ll let them keep that illusion of privacy a while longer.

“Thanks,” she replies half-heartedly, and then sighs. “Looks like I’ll have the rest of my day taken up by meetings. Do you four think you wouldn’t mind staying with Jones through that all?”

“It would be safer if we were with you, Prime,” Leo says, giving a smile as false as Donnie’s had been. “You’ve already just had an unprovoked attack directed at your base; we should stay with you, to guard you.”

“You won’t have to bother with the small fry that way,” Raph offers in quick succession. “They’re not.” A stutter in his words, faltering at that, and then he continues, “They wouldn’t be worth your time.”

The hint of Raph fighting his programming is a glimmer of hope, judging from the way his words stop and start every so often. Mikey however is the true beacon of hope, remaining sullen and suspicious even under the influence of April’s immediate presence. If he can break from the brainwashing like so, then there’s a chance yet that his brothers will recover.

“I’m more than capable of taking care of myself,” April reminds calmly, and tries for an encouraging smile. With her teeth, it’s probably only mildly successful. “You don’t have to worry about me, promise. Worry about yourselves, and the Lieutenant if you can. We’ll be able to sit down and talk again… hopefully soon.” She winces internally, already dreading the upcoming council meeting. “I don’t know when, but we will. In the meantime, just… hang tight, alright? And remember what I said: no hurting anyone else. We’re just trying to help you. Lieutenant will take care of you during that. Right, Jones?”

“Right,” Casey says, slightly belligerent. He shoots April a smirk. “I can’t believe you’re causing a second alliance meeting within like, a half hour of the last one. Good job, O’Neil. Your ability to send everyone running around like their heads got cut off continues to be fucking hilarious.”

“Oh, shut up,” April says with a snap, but it’s all in good humor. “You’re just jealous you didn’t get a piece of the action.”

“Bro. Half the reason I hung out with you all those years was ‘cause you attract this shit like the plague. Course I wanted in.”

“You’re insane.”

“Says the lady that just blew up two dozen fully armed war machines. With your mind.

April has more political sway than any one person across fourteen dimensions. And yet, here is one Casey Jones, gleefully bantering with her like they’re still just scared kids in the midst of trench warfare.

April genuinely hopes that this part of their friendship never changes, no matter where their life paths take them.

She shakes her head, deeming Casey’s comments unworthy of answer. Instead, as they stop in front of the elevator, April turns to the brothers. Their attention is already trained on her, ready and waiting for her orders.

April sighs internally. Bad enough she’s got a couple hundred ordinary soldiers doing that to her; and those are all men, women, and individuals who chose to work under her. With the brothers, how they are, how their programming demands they act… it just feels wrong.

“You remember what I said, right?” she asks them, and everyone excluding Mikey nods.

“We won’t hurt any of your drones, Prime,” Donnie replies on behalf of his family. Then he adds quickly, “Unless they pose a direct threat to your safety, of course. But we’ll only subdue instead of eliminate, if you’d prefer that. Your safety and well-being are of the highest priority.”

“I’d… prefer it best that in a situation you think someone is a danger, you run it by the Lieutenant first,” April says, picking her words carefully. A few extra points occur to her, and she adds, “And in the event someone tries to harm you, I authorize usage of self-defence to a point. No injuries if you can help it, and please, please check with the Lieutenant before you engage further. And, seeing as you guys, uh, don’t take well to people other than me asking questions… and since I’ll be very unavailable for the foreseeable future, can you answer those questions if I give you explicit permission right now?”

Donnie’s emotions do a series of twists, and his expression betrays the barest hint of those emotions. “…I suppose so, yes. But… what if they plan to use the information against us in the future, or you and the Empire?”

“They wouldn’t,” April promises him. “I picked each and every one of the humans stationed here, and the Utrom council selected all of their representatives. They’ve been better vetted than anyone else in the military, resistance, and Utrom forces combined. You can trust them to use the information wisely.”

Donnie’s lips press together in a thin line, and there’s a subtle shift that passes through all four brothers; a quiet flow of communication and debate. It only takes a brief moment to discuss whatever they are, less than three seconds, and Donnie nods. “Alright. If those are your orders… we’ll disclose whatever’s asked of us to.”

Orders. April almost grimaces, but that could be taken wrong by Donnie and the others. Instead, she nods, and wishes she’d thought of this earlier… but gives herself a bit of slack, considering she’d been worked up over the brothers’ situation as a whole.

Nothing like destroying an entire fleet of ships to clear your head, huh?

“Good,” April manages to say, and a glance at Casey is all she needs for confirmation that he’ll keep an eye on them through all this. If worse comes to worst, Casey has a bizarre knack for surviving just about anything he throws himself into. He’ll be fine, no matter what. “I’ll see you all soon as I can. Go… get checked out, and then someone will see about a sleeping quarters and meal for you guys. That sound okay to you?”

“Yes, Prime,” three of the brothers reply in unison, while Mikey just huffs and looks away. Casey shoots April a look that already says how quickly he’s tiring of the brainwashed babysitting duty, and April neatly ignores it.

“Then I’ll see you all later,” she says politely, just as the elevator doors open behind her to let out a collection of reinforcement soldiers. They all salute her before moving on to do their jobs, and April walks into the emptied elevator.

She presses the button and stands facing the closing doors. As they do, someone’s eyes catch hers just before the metal door shut.

Mikey’s intense examination of her lingers, even after their gazes being disconnected again. And it’s as April is sighing deeply, exhaustion both mental and physical sweeping over her suddenly, that an unexpected link is established with her.

<…You’re stronger than she was, aren’t you?> says Mikey, suspicious in every way, but… curious, now.

April breathes in slowly, quelling her own emotions.

|Yes, I am. I’m stronger than anyone, now, and I can protect you. I don’t know what the future is going to look like, but I will protect you four. I swear that on my mother’s grave.|

A long beat of quiet, and then something like a psychic huff of dismissal comes across the link. Mikey disconnects right after, and April doesn’t try to hold onto him as he does.

She’s left alone in the elevator, and with a gentle tug on the intricate systems hardwired to respond to her every whim, April slows it to a stop between floors. Sinking down against the wall, April finally lets herself have a moment to just curl around her knees and put her head down.

She is… exhausted, and definitely suffering from whiplash, given the nonstop drama. She’ll get up and be Hive Queen again in a moment, she swears, she just… has to stop, even just for a few seconds.

It’s all so much. Her responsibilities, her powers, all the lives she’s got tied to her will… some days, she doesn’t know how she handles it all.

“April?” Irma’s voice asks gently, coming from April’s comm. “The council is waiting. You good to go?”

April takes a slow breath in, and then lets it out.

“Just… gimme a minute. I’ll be up soon.”

“Alright. Hang in there, hon. I’ll be with you the whole way.”

“I know. Thank you, Irma.”

Any time.”

April closes her eyes, and for the next five minutes, just takes slow breaths as she digests everything that’s just happened to her. The brothers, the first alliance council meeting, breaking up the fight, hearing and seeing all those awful things done to the brothers, the attempted invasion…

It’s barely mid-waking cycle for them, and April feels like she could sleep for a million years.

But, unfortunately, duty calls.

April stands gingerly, reactivating the elevator and putting an end to her moment of solitude. Squaring her shoulders once more, April watches the level numbers flash by on the screen beside the doors. When she reaches her floor, she walks out with posture that is once again confident and calm.

She’s won the day’s battle. The war, however, continues on.

 

 

 

“And your full names?”

“T-001, T-002, T-003, and T-004.”

“…Your names, not your serial numbers.”

“Oh. That’s what we’re registered as in the system, but… I’m Donnie, or…”

Mikey slides his eyes away from the corner he’d been staring at, watching his brother’s expression tighten on the edges with confusion. As Donnie thinks harder about something, Mikey has to drop his eyes again, unable to watch any longer.

“I think it was Donatello. The memories of pre-integration weren’t necessary, so I can’t be entirely certain. But that feels about right.”

“What do you mean… they ‘weren’t necessary’?” asks the doctor lady, and slowly, the quiet noise of the room goes silent. Waiting for Donnie’s response.

Mikey can almost hear the pleasant, sickly fake smile Donnie gives; a last ditch attempt to soothe the perceived mistake he’s just made.

“They were counterproductive to our efficiency,” Donnie says, almost brightly and proud, “so they deleted the vast majority of what our Subprime at the time deemed worthless.”

Mikey remembers when that happened. Remembers his brother coming back to them with glowing eyes and twice as much biotech crammed into his skull.

He remembers Donnie saying I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, over and over through their uplink until it was done. After that, their other two brothers had gone limp in their restraints, and Mikey had felt the last light in them go out.

After that… there just wasn’t any hope left.

“So you don’t… you don’t remember anything from before you were captured?”

“Not a thing,” Donnie replies, and fuck Subprime for doing what she did to him. For turning Mikey’s intuitive and intelligent sibling into a subservient tool of control.

“…Can you tell us at least where you came from? If you have any family?”

“Our family is the Empire and each other. We don’t need any other, and don’t have any other.”

Mikey sighs, and wishes he still had a voice to scream with.

<We lived in New York and had a father, dumbass,> Mikey sends to Donnie, and as it has every other time he’s done so, for years, it rebounds back at him with a notification of its contents being denied. Flinching, he endures the sharp pulse of pain inside his skull for the act of rebellion.

The movement attracts the Jones guy’s attention, since he’s carefully watching them all for signs of danger. Mikey is half tempted to flip him off with a backwards V; the surveillance isn’t necessary. The Prime directly gave them orders not to hurt anyone, so the most they could possibly do is lightly bruise a person, if that.

Donnie continues on speaking with the doctor as though Mikey hadn’t said a thing, ignoring him completely except for extending a wordless link to Mikey again. Using the connection to psychically yank on Mikey’s restriction programming and remind him that just because it didn’t go through, doesn’t mean Donnie missed his near insubordination. Mikey inhales slowly, breathing through the pain of his reprimand.

Mikey kind of really hates his brother, even if it’s not entirely his fault he’s like this.

Shame none of these assholes are bothering to give him a pen and paper, instead just letting his brothers do all the talking for him. Mikey has a million and one things to tell everyone here, especially his brothers.

But, of course, just like everyone fucking else has for the past decade… they ignore what he has to say.

Mikey’s inability to speak for himself, or speak the truth of who they are, cuts as deep as it always has. The fact that his own brothers help enforce those laws onto his person… that lances him right through the chest, lead and poisonous.

The uneasy murmur among the doctors and physicians looking them over rankles Mikey, because what did they expect? Unless every ounce of their real selves were sucked right out of them, his brothers would never serve Kraang willingly.

Erasing someone’s entire memory makes them a lot easier to control, obviously. And surgically removing the vocal cords of- plus slapping on a dozen restrictions for good measure- the one that resists the brainwashing takes care of every other problem.

Sometimes, Mikey envies his siblings. At least without memories, they’re… vaguely alright. Punishment less frequent, time spent pressed into a cell corner talking nonsense mostly eliminated.

Ignorance is bliss, right?

Watching his siblings back up Donnie’s perspective of needing only the Empire, loving only their Hive Queen, wanting to serve no one but the Empire and Hive Queen… it turns Mikey’s stomach, but hey. At least they haven’t been trapped in a prison of silence for the better part of a decade.

Mikey could intervene, could ask through fucking charades for a pen and paper, but… who knows when this new Prime could turn on them? Mikey hasn’t managed to survive the past decade by trusting people blithely, and he is definitely suspicious of this being a drawn out test to see if any of them break protocol.

If he were to start running his mouth (metaphorically, obviously, ha) about who their father had been, where they lived, about anything of who they were before this… chances are Mikey would end up either in re-education again, or in the Freezer if someone’s feeling like slow torture instead.

Not worth the pain.

He’ll keep scoping out the situation until he’s certain it won’t just get them all in shit. And then… maybe…?

Mikey shakes off that thought. No. There’s no escape from this. Whatever promises the Prime keeps making, they’re lies, and false hope hurts so much worse than resignation.

Mikey saw what the new Prime could do. Saw her face an armada all by herself and crush the invasion under her might. It doesn’t matter how many times she says she’ll help them, Mikey has seen what lies beneath her mask of humanity.

She’s as much a monster as Kraang had been; only she’s even worse for playing at being nice.

But then… why did she spare her enemies like that? Why capture them when she could have just left them to die in their destroyed ships?

It doesn’t make any sense.

The human aspect of her doesn’t make any sense either, even if that could be explained by some twisted experiment she’s done to herself. But the question would be… was she a human who made herself part Kraang, or a Kraang who somehow became human?

And… why does it feel like he’s seen her somewhere before?

That thought, the sensation of déjà vu- it leads back to a part of his mind and memories that are clouded by time and trauma. Wherever he thinks he might have seen her before, the effort to draw on the memory is like reopening an already ragged wound.

Mikey stops trying to before the combined pain of protocol restrictions and faded terror overwhelms him.

He feels Jones’ eyes on him again, and this time Mikey goes so far as to shoot a glare at the human. Staring at someone is rude, you know? Even if the person staring is technically his Handler at the moment.

Jones, oddly enough, looks away with an expression close to apology. Mikey doesn’t know what to do with that. Handlers don’t feel sorry for offending him; they don’t feel sorry about anything.

The longer he collects information on their new situation, the more none of it adds up correctly.

In a way, Mikey suspects he’s going to miss the simplicity of being taken out of stasis for a mission, completing said mission, and going right back into the tank. No muss, no fuss, no confusing aberrations to their miserable lives that could lead to even more misery.

Someone is approaching him slowly, and Mikey remains still in his seat as the doctor comes to sit on their portable stool in front of him. She holds out a pen and clipboard to him, offering the writing tools. “Um… Mikey, is it? Why don’t we try talking now, since it seems you’ve got more recollection of yourself than your brothers.”

Mikey looks up from the doctor’s shoes, meeting her eyes and examining the careful gentleness to her dark face. The fact that they’ve finally decided to try talking to him through these means is almost enough to bring an unfriendly smile to his lips.

Instead, he scoffs.

<I could try and tell you literally everything I know,> he says on the open link between him and all the other Stealth Squadron units, because no one else can fucking hear him, <but it wouldn’t work, ‘cause those guys would stop me, and I’d end up giving myself a nasty electrocution for my troubles. Plus, you’re all just fucking bait and I’d rather break my own fingers again than talk to you.>

The cuss words and refusal to comply with the order result with him receiving a jolt of pain anyway, even though there’s a whole bunch of conflicts in doing what she wants.

Not that their Handlers or the Subprime ever cared about programming conflicting protocols into them. Fuckers.

{T-004.}

The warning tone of Donnie’s voice in Mikey’s head is enough to quell any further acts of insubordination to his protocols.

<Sorry,> Mikey says, and takes the clipboard and pen, ignoring the questions the doctor is trying to ask him. He writes his name, that they’re all brothers, and then one last comment.

A weapon doesn’t need a past. Only a mission.

Subprime’s scratchy, gleeful voice echoes in his skull, repeating the words she told them over and over since the very start of their programming and enhancement process.

They are not people. They are weapons. And they have a new master to please.

Mikey hands back the clipboard, satisfied the answers will suffice and pass him through this test. And it’s a very thorough one, seeing as the acting skills of their Handler and his drones are so good. It’s almost like they genuinely mean the horror and pity in their expressions.

{Good work,} Donnie tells him, and while the context of his words is just another incredibly fucked up situation for them, it’s nice to hear a little bit of praise for once.

<Whatever, just keep them off my shell and I’ll behave,> Mikey replies, barely respectful. Donnie lets the tone slide, and resumes keeping the majority of the room’s attention on himself. Better to have their control-leader handle the bulk of things, since Donnie can update their information as needed later on.

As the doctors on the other side of the room finish with their precursory physical examination of Leo and Raph, Mikey and Donnie are asked to swap places with them. Mikey is more than glad to stand and walk away from the doctor and her tempting pen and paper.

He already knows the drill, what it takes to please a Prime and her immediate subordinates. And trying to convince someone to let them go free, let them go back home, let them find out if their father is even alive still-

Yeah.

None of those are acceptable requests to make.

Mikey swallows down those impossible wants, and sits down for his physical. This, at least, in the midst of all this change and aberration, is normal enough. Always clean and maintain a weapon before and after its usage; that’s just common sense.

The fact that their Handler is still watching him so closely makes Mikey grit his teeth, and fight the urge to just camouflage himself from everyone. He doesn’t trust Jones, or the doctors, or anyone here, and being under the microscope of their scrutiny is draining.

One slip, and they’ll all be punished. And now that’s he’s seen the true extent of the Prime’s power… Mikey had been poking and prodding her originally, hoping for some pushback, a way to inconvenience their overlord, but he’s not actively suicidal. Not these days, at least. To court the new Prime’s wrath is to obviously court death.

Mikey is willing to bite his tongue hard enough to draw blood in order to avoid that. He doesn’t want to be taken from his family, even by that sometimes tempting permanent release.

His brothers feel similarly, no doubt. They’ll do anything, anything to stay in good graces.

The remaining question is… just what does their new Prime want them to do?

Mikey doesn’t know. And that’s terrifying.