by zara hemla

Danny, pale against the shadows, rarely sleeps anymore. Time has so little meaning in Shredder's warrens that sleep seems unnecessary. Instead, Danny wanders.

He has poked his head into many places that he shouldn't. Some days, the knowledge of Shredder's secrets makes him crazy with guilt. Others, he's giddy with stolen power. Perhaps it's a teenager's lot in life. Bad breath, acne, split personality.

For instance, how about this secret? Down in the bowels of the dungeon, Shredder is keeping a talking rat. Not just any talking rat, either -- though, come on, how many talking rats were there -- no. Like a rat himself, Danny has listened to the guards' chattering, and has figured out that the rat's name is Splinter, and he's some kind of enemy of Shredder's.

Danny has mixed feelings about Splinter. On one hand, seems like he's peaceful, he's never hurt anyone. He hangs on his chain like a limp sock. On the other, he's Shredder's enemy. And Danny's a good little soldier in Shredder's army.

Isn't he?

Under a conglomeration of warehouses, deep in a half- neon darkness, Danny plays pinball. He skateboards sometimes, half-heartedly. He listens to a lot of music with a loud backbeat. Wears what he wants. Doesn't have to say shit to his dad -- the best part.

And every day, in twilight or afternoon or bright morning, he steals electronics from citizens of New York City. He feels neither guilty nor powerful about this work. It simply is. You do what you gotta do to get a spot on the team. In this case, especially when the team's got lots and lots of babes on it. Danny smiles at the thought of the babes. He's much too shy to actually talk to any of them, but the possibilities . . . oh. When Danny becomes on of the Foot, gets to wear the mask and uniform, then he's gonna be a chick magnet. Mostly because no one will ever have to see his pasty face and red hair again.

It may be Monday or Tuesday today, but Danny's watch says 6:45 PM (FRI). Which may also be. Nothing ever stops here, exactly. The games go on all day and all night, the dope flows freely, and all the time with the MC Hammer and the Sinead O Connor. Danny has no real affiliation with music -- other than a deep love for early Cure -- but he is sure that "Nothing Compares 2 U" is an affront to music in the known universe.

MC Hammer, however, is bitchin when you're high.

'Course, FRI is often the day when the brass gong rings and Shredder's army gathers to hear another pronouncement from their hissing metal leader. Danny doesn't worry about that. He never misses a chance to gape at Shredder's massive helmet, his cloak that seems to be made of metal feathers, his boots that ring like doom in the wide hall. It's better entertainment than WWF.

Danny wanders out of his room, scratching his arms, and takes a lukewarm shower in the communal "pit." One thing the place doesn't have is water pressure, and Danny's hair always looks greasier than it is. Which is pretty greasy, considering all the oils that a teenager produces. There are many, many other boys in the pit, but no one really speaks. Danny pulls on his one change of clothes -- he does laundry at home -- and then finds some cold salami and cheese in the kitchen, which he puts on some bread and wolfs down.

Danny has very pedantic taste in food and prefers this half-hearted sandwich to the odd Japanese cuisine that Shredder routinely dishes out to his children. Right when he'd first come, the cook had laid a plate of fish-head soup in front of him and he'd nearly spewed. So he (and other pedantically minded teens) eat cold meat and cheese and liked it. Just one of the perks. At home, his dad goes out nearly every night. Probably doesn't miss Danny a bit. Hah.

Walking out into the hall, he self-consciously adjusts his black t-shirt and makes sure he doesn't have a trail of toilet paper on his shoe or something. Bad enough being a redhead with a fishbelly complexion and no muscles. He slouches down the hall into the common area.

It's huge. It's massive. It's full of arcade games and of course the skateboarding arena, the stage for the dancing, the iceboxes full of 'coolers and cheap beer, and the couches on the side where the reefer gets passed around. Shredder doesn't care what you do, as long as you go to your job in the morning. Danny loves dope. It makes him invulnerable. Makes lights brighter, sound smoother. High, Danny's someone else.

The music is pulsing and the spotlights glaring onto teenage bodies, lithe and chubby, boy and girl, all getting their groove on. Danny can't dance for shit, but he likes to watch. There's a girl on the speaker doing a disco thing. It's neat, and she moves perfectly, so he can't help but stare at how her skirt slits to mid-thigh. She catches his eye across the room, winks at him. He smiles a little and turns away, embarrassed.

Over on the couch, he sees his buddy Jason. Jason isn't exactly a friend, more of a partner in crime. Literally. They both lift TVs from apartments across Queens. Jason gets really excited about stealing. Whatever. Jason is round-faced but not fat, with dirty blond hair and an impressive set of biceps in a white t-shirt. He also has a redheaded girl lying in his lap.

Jason shouts at him. The girl turns her head toward him, blows a plume of smoke, grins. Gives him the finger. Her name is Amanda. Her hair is permed and ratted about a mile high. Danny's felt it before, and it's hairsprayed to hell and back. Nasty. She gets high with Jason and him a lot. She'll do almost anything when she's high. It repels Danny and attracts him at once.

He slouches on a plaid chair across from Jason, accepts the reefer.

"Where you been all day?" asks Jason lazily. "I had to go out without you."

Danny remembers a scene with his dad and a haze of wandering across the city.

"My dad gave me shit. I had to walk some."

Amanda grins and sing-songs, "Poor Danny must've walked all over this fucking tow-own."

Danny says nothing, rather affronted by the tone, but mellowing out quickly. The three of them have talked about parents before. Amanda's parents are rich and live on Long Island, and to hear her tell it, they locked her in a closet and made her perform Satanic rituals or some shit. Neither Danny nor Jason believe her.

Jason just shrugs. "Okay. What you gonna do tonight?"

"Guess I'll just chill. Wait for Shredder. 'S Friday, right?"

"Oooohhh," groans Amanda. "Friday. Now we gotta lissen to Metal Man giving his damn lecture."

Neither boy replies. Jason gives Danny a look over her head like, girls. Danny nods. Amanda closes her eyes, losing interest in the conversation entirely.

Danny finishes his toke. Jason pulls another one from his shirt pocket and lights up. Danny lolls his head back on the plaid couch and frees his brain.

"Know what I saw this morning at April O'Neill's house?" he says lazily.

"April O'Neill? The news chick?"

"She works for my dad."

"Dude, she is one smokin' babe."

"She's kind of . . . old," snaps Danny petulantly. "Plus, I'm talking about me. What I saw."

"Fine, don't get your panties in a twist," giggles Jason. "What did you see?"

"Under her kitchen table, there was this, like, this . . . giant . . . turtle." Danny grins. "With a scarf around its eyes."

Jason snorts and coughs out smoke, laughing over Amanda's slack face. "Giant turtles? Turtles! Dude, you are so fuckin' schizo."

"Yeah," says Danny. He'd known that Jason wouldn't believe him, but he feels rather disappointed anyway. He makes a vow to not tell anyone else about the turtle, because it does sound pretty psycho. He hadn't been high then, but giant turtles? Must have been a fever dream.

Over on the floor, the music begins to sound familiar, like it's calling him. Danny sits up slowly. Whoa. They're actually playing something he likes for once. Some kind of remix of "Never Let Me Down Again."

"It's Depeche Mode," he says to Jason, who looks at him blankly.

"Pesh what?"

Danny just feels it. Feels the smooth beat. As if he's on strings, he gets up and makes his way toward the dance floor. He's hungry as hell but the song won't leave him alone. Munchy mode. Depeche Munch. Heh.

He pretty much just stands at the edge of the floor and sways, but it feels good enough. And out of the crowd slinks a tall, dark-haired girl in a stretchy blue dress. She winks at him, smiles, and he recognizes the girl from before, who was doing the disco moves on the speaker.

Feeling very smooth, he holds out a hand, and she is in his arms almost before he can register. She is exactly as tall as he is. Her eyes are dark in the dark. Her smile crooks to the left.

"You're awful pretty," he says, or thinks he says.

She laughs into his neck. They are crushed together, smashed, hip to hip. He lets her lead, and she does it very well. Danny lets himself dance for once and feels a sharp exultation. He smells her sweat and the cherry stink of amaretto. They swing around and around.

And wham! Something hits him hard in the thigh, and he sprawls backwards. His head hits plastic and his feet come off the floor. As he tries to catch himself, he hears a robotic voice in his ear, saying the same thing over and over.


The girl catches his wrists and walks slowly around him, positioning both arms above his head. Danny realises that a) he is lying on a pinball machine and b) he's safe enough. So he lets her do it. He even leaves his arms there when she lets go. Why not? Shredder says they can do anything, and it's public but dark, and she wouldn't do anything. Would she? He desperately wants to know.

Spotlights flash pink, then blue, then green, and she comes around to his head and she grins at him and he grins back. She puts one hand (strong enough, he knows) on his shoulder and another on the plastic covering the delicate pinball system. And they commence a French kiss that Danny is sure will malfunction the machine with its own electricity.

Danny ain't bad at kissing, but this girl is better. She drives every stray thought out of his head, every pain from his hips, which are twisted at an odd angle. So when he feels something wet go 'round the edge of his earlobe, it takes him a full minute to catch on. He breaks the suction and whips his head to the right, startled eyes meeting those of another girl.

She is dressed in velvet, something dark red or blood-black. Her hair is extremely short and green. She bares her teeth at him and hisses. Startled, Danny begins to bring his hands down, but blue- stretch girl slaps a hand on them and bends down to whisper in his other ear.

"That's just Daria."

And she turns his head back and kisses him again.

Ohhhh -- kay, says Danny's body to Danny's brain. And the brain, which hasn't worked in weeks anyway, gives in. Daria moves down and makes what she can of his neck, then slides her hand into his shirt.

He can hear himself exhaling into blue-stretch girl's mouth, making sounds that would embarrass the hell out of him, if he could make himself care. He can hear Daria giggling a little as she pushes his shirt up and his back makes contact with cool plastic. And he hears a third voice say, "Are you girls starting without me?"

This voice is also female. Blue-stretch girl breaks contact long enough to say, "As you see."

"Hmm," says third voice. "You're not leaving me much room."

Blue-stretch girl hisses into Danny's swollen mouth, then turns her head and says viciously, "So go get your own, bitch."

"Fine, Stacie. Just don't expect me to share next time." The voice is huffy but also amused.

Danny catches a very short glimpse of blond hair and black jeans with sparkles. And then he's co-opted again. Stacie says shortly to Daria, "This scene's played. Let's get him downstairs."

"If he can walk," says Daria with a gravelly laugh. And indeed, Danny is not sure that he can, but he will damn well make an effort.

"This one, I'll carry if I have to," replies Stacie. And then time runs out with a bang -- well, a gong. The brass clash shuts down the music, the skateboarding, even stubs out the reefer. No one in the building dares to miss Shredder's audience.

Fuck, says Danny's body. Stacie curses quietly and Daria laughs again.

"Bad timing." And with a last, quiet smile at Danny, she slides into the crowd. Stacie and Danny look at each other for a minute, and she grins at him. "Don't worry, kiddo. I'll be back for you. I know where you hang out." She waves a hand at the plaid couches.

Danny has nothing to say, absolutely nothing. She holds out a hand to help him off the pinball machine, but he shakes his head slowly.

"You'll be okay in a minute," she says with authority. "Gotta go." She turns away, turns back, mouths "later," and then is gone.

Eventually, Danny does get up. Shredder sends members of the Foot to roust slackers, and they aren't gentle about it. He even makes it to the meeting before Shredder appears. And when Shredder mentions Turtles in his voice like a dropped transmission, Danny's mind clears enough to remember a kitchen table with a giant turtle under it. He raises his hand; he speaks.

The rest of the day is a blur. Shredder himself hears the information and thanks Danny for it. But when Shredder says something about a reward, all Danny can think of is Stacie's hot mouth.

Shredder the general, the father, then sends an order to annihilate the turtles and April O'Neill for good. Which is the right thing to do. Isn't it? Danny hates April with an amorphous teenage hatred, but she doesn't deserve to die. It's all very confusing, and Danny wishes sincerely that he hadn't gotten stoned.

When he finally stumbles from Shredder's well- appointed conference room, he is weaving in exhaustion. He sleeps so long that Jason comes looking for him, quizzing him on where the hell he has been. They have to then go out and heist, and it is very late before they get their quota.

Entering the common area, Danny sees Daria almost at once. He is leery of approaching her, remembering how she hissed at him, but does it anyway. He's been burning for two days, on fire with dreams he can't put a name to, and he wonders why she hasn't found him yet. As he walks over, Daria grins at him. Her green hair shines eerily in the blacklight as she tells him, "She was picked up yesterday by the cops. Tasered one of them. Sorry." She arches an eyebrow at him and adds, "And you're not really my type."

He's sworn not to be disappointed, but he is, and he curses his way out of the warehouse with unshed tears like acid in his lungs. Stumbling down the street, he wonders where to go, what place could be dark enough. And he remembers the place in the sewers, the place they got the rat from. That place would be deep. Dark. Deserted. No one will look for him here. Not his dumbshit dad, not Shredder, not even a girl who promised to come back and didn't. Like he even fucking cares. No way!

Danny plugs into his headphones: "Plastic passion is a gold guarantee / The plastic passion is murdering me." He lets himself down a manhole and splashes through two inches of standing water. He breathes quietly in the dark silence of an uninhabited place. There is time here, time to recoup. Danny has a feeling that soon, under this ground or another, he will have to decide what's important. He hopes he can do it in time.


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