Disclaimer : I do not own Biker Mice From Mars and I make no money off this work. The characters Turbo, Tala, Hot Rod/Roddie, Vev, Cutlass, MC, Bola, Blade, and Tamara belong to me, so please don't use them in your stories. But feel free to draw them and send me a copy.
Thanks to Firefox for giving me the name "Tamara."
Lyrics to "Leader of Men" by Nickelback, "Wayward Son" by Kansas, "Leather and Lace" by Stevie Nicks and Don Henley, "No More Tears" by Ozzy Osbourne, "Nothing Can Come Between Us" by Sade, "Children of the Sun" by Billy Thorpe, "Children of the Grave" by Black Sabbath, "Obsession is Such an Ugly Word," and "This is the Part Where People Usually Scream" by Alesana are used without permission.
This story contains cussing, graphic depictions of violence, drinking of alcoholic beverages, and sexual situations. If you're not mature enough to handle it, go read something else.
This story takes place in May 1996, six months after Biker Mice From Mars: Let Us Give Thanks.
"You sure are going to a lot of trouble." Vinnie leaned against the bathroom's doorjamb, and watched Throttle buttoning the black, long-sleeved shirt. "You two should be way past the bribing into her pants stage."
Throttle rolled his cybernetic eyes. Who in the universe picked me to teach Vinnie about relationships? "Trust me, it's easier if you keep the lady happy. Charley wants to go to this concert, and I want Charley happy." He finished tucking the shirt into his jeans and studied the result in the mirror. Cheese, Uncle Cutlass was staring out of the mirror at him. "Hand over my vest."
The white mouse pulled the black leather vest off the hook on the bathroom door and tossed it. "But a concert? Dressing up? Where's your self-respect?"
"Did you even look at what concert I'm taking her to? It's Chicago Orchestra's Night at the Movies, and they picked science fiction movies. So Charley gets culture, and I've actually heard the music before." He straightened the vest, and pushed Vinnie into the garage bays of the Last Chance Garage building.
"Modo, he doesn't get my point."
The grey mouse filed his metal fingers. "I don't know why ya think I can help. I don't get yer point either."
"Why are you so worried about it? You don't have to go." Sparks didn't look up as he wrote in a notebook.
"Why am I the only one who sees the problem here?"
"That fact alone makes us think there isn't a problem," Modo answered.
Vinnie moved out of the pounding reach of both Modo and Throttle. "Pussy-whipped worked so well between you and Carbine. How can you even consider taking the same route with Charley?"
Throttle's field specs slid down his tan snout. "What?"
"You heard me. Now it's a concert, but what comes next?"
"Haven't you even heard of compromise? A relationship doesn't mean one person calling all the shots." Throttle pushed his field specs back into place. "Do you call all the shots with Tala?"
"But she just kicks my ass if she's not happy."
"What do you think Charley's gonna do to me if she's not happy?"
Modo wrapped his flesh hand around Vinnie's mouth. "This is for yer own good. Whatever is in yer head should just stay there. You let it out and they're both gonna kill ya."
Vinnie crossed his arms and glared at Modo.
"Why would I want to kill Vinnie?" Charley entered through the swinging door from the kitchen. She wore a brown skirt covered in a pattern of red roses growing from green vines. The scalloped neckline of her red shirt showed off her creamy pale neck and shoulders. Her dressy brown boots were new too. Her green eyes darted from the dumbstruck Throttle to Modo preventing Vinnie from talking to land on Sparks. "I don't want to know, do I?"
"I think it's one of those things I'm supposed to understand after puberty," Sparks said as he glanced at the older mice. "And I think that's awfully optimistic."
Throttle shook his head and freed his tongue as he reached for her hand. "Vinnie is just being an idiot. Ready to go?"
Her grin dazzled him. "I've been waiting for this all week."
"You guys have fun," Modo said as they mounted Throttle's black bike. "We won't wait up."
Throttle's grimace melted into a real smile when Charley's arms wrapped around his waist. He revved the bike's engine as they shot out of the Last Chance Garage and headed for Grant Park where the outdoor concert was on the lakefront. Vinnie was an idiot. He wasn't making the same mistakes with Charley that he had made with Carbine. Charley was too important to make mistakes with.
Finding out who had killed her father had rocked Charley. Jack MacCyber's visit during the Christmas holidays had been short. Not that Throttle was sorry to see the human man leave early--he fought off jealousy much better than Vinnie ever had but nobody liked such blatant reminders of past affairs--but Charley had been just short of snarling at him. MacCyber took it well, dropping off presents, meeting Tala, and leaving his current contact information, so Throttle felt the need to apologize for his girl. Her ex-boyfriend shrugged it off. "We broke up while she was still grieving for her father. I'm not surprised she doesn't want to remember that right now. She'll reach out when she's ready."
Given the sexual tinge to the whole stalking thing, Throttle had been careful not to push that. Plus he wanted to atone for the sex to get his mind right without the important conversation first. He was still in the wrong for that, and if the mistake with Carbine was moving too fast physically, he was damn sure not going to repeat it. Normal dates--that was the key.
The glow from the outdoor stage lit the entire seating area. Throttle parked and grabbed the picnic supplies. She squeezed his arm. "Did I tell you how much I've wanted to do this?"
"Are we counting before I bought the tickets or after?"
She laughed. "I guess I've been really excited about it. But we haven't had much alone time lately."
"If that's what you want, I'll be blunter with telling Vinnie and Modo to scram." Throttle spread the blanket on the empty space on the hillside. "None of us are good with hints as you love to remind us."
"Yet Sparks has no problems picking up on them."
The tan mouse shrugged. "He must get it from Stella."
"We don't need to worry about it tonight." She dug into the small basket for the food. "And I intend to enjoy that completely."
The blue planet filled the cockpit window. The light-brown furred pilot paused the landing procedures to turn up the radio.
The light in the window is a crack in the sky
A stairway to darkness in the blink of an eye
A levee of tears to learn she'll never be coming back
The man in the dark will bring another attack
Turbo's whiskers twitched. Earth music always kept him calm, especially when the singer was poetic about death and destruction. He needed to stay calm to make sure the Plutarkians weren't wrong again. He had been disappointed before, when they had said Throttle had died while in transit to Plutark.
Your momma told you that you're not supposed to talk to strangers
Look in the mirror tell me do you think your life's in danger here yeah
No more tears
No more tears
He drove the ship through the atmosphere, homing onto the North American city listed in the records. He saw the local Plutarkian's skyscraper in the skyline as he swung around the city and landed outside its limits.
Another day passes as the night closes in
The red light goes on to say it's time to begin
I see the man around the corner waiting, does he see me?
I close my eyes and wait to hear the sound of someone screaming here
While the engines cycled down, Turbo turned from the ship controls to pull up the records again on the computer. It was only his hundredth time checking. One Lawrence Limburger, a Plutarkian assigned to Chicago on the planet Earth, reported that three Martian Freedom Fighters had crash-landed in his jurisdiction. Upon further altercations, he reported that they were captured leaders who had been reported killed during transit to Plutark for execution. They had turned a local garage into their base of operations. The names of the Martian Cave Mice were Modo, Vinnie, and Throttle.
No more tears
No more tears
No more tears
No more tears
He paused on a security image. It was Throttle alright. Even if he hadn't grown into a rebel version of his father, he still had the black bike. Turbo snarled and his tail slashed across the floor. Throttle had no right to that bike, not with Tamara's blood on his hands. His finger punched the computer's power off. He took the hallway to the cargo hold, queuing up the song to continue on his motorcycle's radio.
Just a hand in the bush
Turbo ran his hands across the dark golden crankcase with the matte finish before mounting. The ship withdrew the ramp and locked the doors as he peeled out. The highway sliced through the dark woods that concealed his ship before winding its way into the city. He took advantage of the deserted road to accelerate as fast as he dared. He remembered when Martian roads were this smooth. Not that he had seen the destruction of Mars. Cutlass had made things too hot for him to stay on the planet.
Twelve years earlier, Turbo had pressed into the shadows of the hallway with a silent snarl. The troop of police officers marched through the wider spaceport hallway ahead. Who the hell could have guessed that Cutlass had the resources to call out this kind of manhunt? Or was law enforcement more eager to hunt for the sake of a scared little girl and boy? Where the hell was their compassion when he was ten and lost in the desert? Nobody had looked for him then, and he took the only chance of salvation and revenge he was offered. Only Throttle had ruined all those carefully laid plans. Just like he had ruined these carefully laid plans.
He moved through the public spaceport with a purpose. The color of his jumpsuit and his stride could fool people into thinking that he worked here. However the gig would end if he got to a restricted area. Good thing that wasn't part of his plan. He ducked into the hanger bay picked off the list of scheduled flights.
The older man peered into one of his dark blue Cyclodrone Thunderpipe's exhaust pipes. Probably spent his retirement years cruising the asteroid belt. "Excuse me, sir."
He whirled around. "Yes?"
"Terribly sorry, sir," Turbo continued, "but I have to double check all passenger lists. It is only you on this flight, right?"
The older man bristled as he came closer. "I'm not in the habit of lying on my flight manifests. What's going on?"
Turbo shrugged. "Wish I knew. My supervisor told me not to waste his time asking questions like that. I just need to get your signature." He reached into his jumpsuit, pretending to look for a sheet of paper. The old coot stepped closer to him, so Turbo had a good look of his shocked expression when the knife rammed into his throat.
That was the last time he had seen Mars, but he had heard reports of the destruction from other expiates and prisoners supplemented with official documents from Plutarkian sources. The superior quality of the pavement ended when Turbo reached the city limits.
So now that it's over can't we just say goodbye?
I'd like to move on and make the most of the night
Maybe a kiss before I leave you this way
Your lips are so cold I don't know what else to say
The crumbling and half-demolished buildings mixed with craters labeled "Limburger Industries" and craters holding half destroyed construction equipment. He shook his head, wondering what Earth officials blamed the destruction on if they didn't know about Plutarkians. Not his problem, and why did Throttle make it his? Where was that noble streak for Tamara when he should have spared her? Turbo's hands clenched the handlebars tighter. Keep cool, just a little bit longer, and he will pay.
His bike's computer navigation software linked into the local version of a system. It looked like Earth had just started building one. But primitive as it was, it led him close enough to the building he wanted, straight to the right block. He snorted at the billboard-sized motorcycle illustrations above the garage doors. Throttle had Tamara's motor head all right; it would only be more obvious if they had moved into a Harley-Davidson dealership.
The bike scanners picked up an activated alarm system. Turbo's blue eyes widened at the detailed specifics, a blend of Earth and Martian tech with electrocution capabilities just short of lethal. Why didn't they set up gun turrets while they were at it? The war made the brats that paranoid? Or did they have something worth protecting that much?
I never wanted it to end this way my love my darling
Believe me when I say to you in love I think I'm falling here
Nothing about the alarm system prevented his looking through the large ground floor window, but he didn't touch. Nothing extraordinary about the modest garage; parts and tools hung on the walls and stacked on shelves, tool chests parked along the walls, and two bikes at different stages of completion tucked out of the way to free the majority of the space. Nothing extraordinary at all, unless you counted the male mouse pressing the human female against a ladder to the ceiling and kissing her senseless. One of her pale legs wrapped around Throttle's thigh and her hands splayed across his head and shoulders to keep the lip lock going.
Turbo grinned. He could see all his teeth, barred and ready for the kill, in his reflection in the glass. The alenish had a woman to protect. That always made them vulnerable. He crept away from the glass before the occupants noticed him. He needed to observe before setting plans into motion, and he also had to make sure he wouldn't be interrupted during the hunt.
No more tears
No more tears
No more tears
No more tears
Just a hand in the bush
The night couldn't get any better. Charley ran her fingers through Throttle's hair fur as their tongues danced. They could move upstairs and make the night fantastic but she had no idea how to bring it up. How had it become a problem? She hadn't felt romantic because that was why Dad had been killed, and Throttle had received the brunt. Between holiday craziness and Limburger's schemes, it was easier to let being together slide. Throttle hadn't protested and now that worried her. Had her past pushed him away?
But here he was, taking her on a real date, making her heart beat harder and skin tingle. His lips moved down her neck. She tightened her leg around his. Her fingers clutched at the leather smoothed over his back, but couldn't find purchase. "Throttle," her voice had gone breathy.
He lifted his head. "I should go," he whispered.
"Stay." Yeah, that whimper sounded seductive. "Stay with me tonight."
"I don't want to make a mistake."
Her limbs jerked back to her. "I'm a mistake?"
Throttle reached, but she ducked away from his embrace. "That's not what I said."
"That's what it sounded like." She stopped in the middle of the garage, and aimed her glare at him as he turned. "There was a bad patch, but nothing has changed. Except you don't want to be with me."
Throttle huffed, "I am with you. What do you call this?"
"First base with some taunts at stealing second. I'm ready for a home run!"
He pulled off his shades and blinked his red eyes. "What does baseball have to do with this?"
She growled with a foot stomp. "To borrow Vinnie's vulgarity, why aren't we upstairs knocking boots together right now?"
Throttle sighed, "I thought we weren't moving fast."
"We've been together for almost a year. Glaciers move faster than we have been." Another fear struck her heart. "I am the rebound girl."
"Then what is it? My emotional breakdown scared you or I'm just a fling while you're on this planet?"
His hands curled into fists at his sides. "You were there when I said I didn't want to go back to Mars. Did you think I was joking?"
"I give up trying to read your mind, Throttle, because I'm not any good at it." She huffed. It should have just been a 'yes,' no thinking involved. Where had things gone wrong? "And you also said it before we were a couple and never brought it up again."
"I didn't think I needed to."
"News flash, you need to explain things! Here I am telling you I'd like to have sex and you're calling me a mistake. That would be something to explain, Mr. Rebel with a cause!"
His mouth twisted with a grimace. "I said I didn't want to repeat the same mistakes I made with Carbine."
And men think the headache excuse is flimsy? "I'm not Carbine."
"I know that…."
"I don't think you do! So I'm the stand-in to get things right this time?"
"Why are you twisting everything I say? You're not a rebound girl or a stand-in."
"But you don't want to have sex with me because of Carbine. No tail, no fur, no antennae, live on planet Earth; does any of this ring a bell?"
"Carbine doesn't have anything to do with this." He took a step closer.
"Then why bring her up? I'm not Carbine, and I'm tired of everyone assuming I'm going to behave the same way she did when it comes to you."
"Who made that assumption?" Throttle opened his hands at his sides.
"If Modo or Vinnie offer advice, it starts with 'don't be like Carbine.' Maybe you should come back when you can tell the difference between us."
Throttle stepped closer. "You don't mean that."
"Get out before I find the crescent wrench!" She fled up the ladder, slammed the trapdoor shut, and kicked the latch into the locked position. Her whole body shook as she threw herself across her massive bed. The beautiful bed the others had picked out for her and Throttle, but she had slept in alone since it was set up. The sob shook out of her body before she pressed her face into a pillow.
How could he think, after everything they had been through, that she was another Carbine out to hurt him? And after everything they had been through, was there any way to change his mind? Did she even want to bother with changing it? Her chest ached like a piece had been torn out of her. She heard his bike leave, and didn't hold back the tears.
Modo paused the Law & Order episode video cassette when he heard the motorcycle engine. Vinnie rolled over in his hammock as Throttle parked his bike. "Aren't you headed for the wrong bed for putting up with an orchestra?" The gray mouse glanced at Sparks in his bed. His son was asleep, thank goodness, but he needed to remind Vinnie about age appropriate conversations again.
Throttle threw his helmet at Vinnie, who caught it with a startled oof, and stormed out of the scoreboard through the door into the stadium.
"Was it something I said?" Vinnie used his tail to set the helmet on the floor.
Modo sighed as he turned off the television set and VCR. "I'll see what's wrong. You've done enough."
"But I didn't do anything!" Modo shut the door on the protest.
Throttle sat on the top concrete edge and stared down at the city. Modo hung his legs over as he sat. "Wanna talk about it?"
"Women are crazy no matter what planet they're from." Throttle's tail slashed through the air.
"Ya got somethin' specific to base that theory on?"
"Or Vinnie cursed things by opening his big, fat mouth."
"The sandstorm hit at the goodnight kiss." The tension ebbed and confusion replaced it. "I tried to leave, Charley turned it into a rejection, then she brought up baseball, and then the conversation turned to sex. What the hell does baseball have to do with sex?"
Modo silently thanked Meat Loaf for having a song on this subject, otherwise he wouldn't know either. "It's a metaphor. How far a girl let's you get corresponds with the bases. The conversation was pretty much all about sex." He leaned back on his hands while Throttle processed that.
"I guess that makes sense. But I still don't understand how we went from great time to Charley ranting that she's not falling into the rebound girl trap and I should come back when I can tell the difference between her and Carbine."
"You didn't compare Charley to Carbine, did you?" Modo felt his fur spike.
Throttle glared at him. "I'm responsible for doing somethin' stupid in the romance department tonight, but I'm not that stupid." He looked across the street. "I said I didn't want to repeat the same mistakes I made with Carbine."
"Did you tell Charley what those mistakes were?"
"I don't think I ever had a chance," he hung his head.
"Then how does Charley know what not to do?"
"This has nothing to do with Charley; it's me. And Vinnie's right, I was pussy-whipped by Carbine because we jumped in the sack too soon. Even your momma told me not to base a relationship on being grateful for losing my virginity." He blushed so hard Modo could see it by the streetlights. "Don't ever repeat that."
"No worries. But tell me you didn't put up with all her shit because you felt obligated."
"Carbine's a survivor. Plutarkians can't kill her. No one would try to subject her to Eroite."
Modo's fur spiked again as his tail knotted. "That shit is over with. No one would be crazy enough to do that with the survival of our species on the line."
"Doesn't change the fact it was a reason I stayed with Carbine. And it wasn't all bad."
"Charley's a survivor too."
"I'm not mixing the two girls up in my head," Throttle said. "Carbine and me rushed through things without talking, and sex was the only thing holding us together too many times. It wasn't enough." He frowned into the sky. "I love Charley too much to let my libido derail us."
Modo took a deep breath. He hated wading into TMI waters. "Bro, I understand being hands off while Charley recovered from the race and everythin' that brought up. But you two have been official for almost a year and known each other for three before that. You expect me to believe there has been no sex?" Throttle flinched. "You made a drunken pass at her on Mars. I can't believe neither of you have built off of that."
"You said nothing happened!"
"And nothing did besides Charley finding out how you felt. Unless she lied, and I don't think she did. She was worried about you."
"Same reason she had sex with me later. Worried and wanting to make me better," Throttle aimed the bitterness at himself. "I had no right to use her, even if I was having a breakdown."
"Cheese, bro, and I thought Vinnie had a talent. No wonder you two kept acting weird."
"Thanks, Big Fella, that really helps."
"Has Charley ever thrown it in yer face?"
The tan snout wrinkled. "No, she never has."
"Then you're the one making a big deal out of it. Believe me, women remember what they consider bad, even after they promise to forget it. So basically, you gallantly turned down sex, because ya feel guilty that ya had sex without establishing the relationship first and that's what derailed ya and Carbine. With Charley who you've dated for a year and knows nothing 'bout the history with yer ex. And ya wonder why she reacted like ya rejected her?"
Throttle dropped his chin to his chest and groaned.
Modo couldn't resist a smirk. "This will probably take jewelry to make up for. Though Charley isn't much for jewelry; maybe ya should buy her that air compressor she's been eyeing."
"I can't believe I screwed up like this," Throttle groaned. "I'm better at reading people than that."
"Everybody screws up relationships. It keeps therapists in business. And Charley will think it's sweet that ya screwed up by trying not to screw up. Eventually."
"Provided she ever talks to me again."
Modo clapped Throttle's shoulder with his flesh hand. "It won't be that bad. She hasn't thrown any of us out on our ears."
"Seriously, it sounds like Charley is ready for the next stage. You two need to talk about that after you're done apologizing."
"If she still wants to. She threatened me with the wrench."
Modo pulled Throttle to his feet. "But she didn't get it, right? She just wanted to get yer attention. Now I ain't saying it'll be easy. You should bring flowers."
"I don't do flowers."
"It's yer tail I'm lookin' out for that's all. Ladies melt with flowers."
"I'll keep it in mind," Throttle said as they headed back into the scoreboard.
Limburger sighed as he leaned back. Once his eyes were out of the pool of light created by his desk lamp, he felt marginally better. Had Camembert eaten bad slime worms? Did the Council honestly expect the amount of supplies for this month to come from him? Three years and most months he only scraped together a space transport bin of rubble from his Towers. He snorted. If those rampaging rodents really wanted to get rid of him, all they had to do was stop blowing up his skyscraper. The Council would replace him with someone else who could meet quotas.
Too bad he didn't have enough gold gills stashed away in his Swiss Cheese account to retire from the shark race. That option grew in appeal the more time he spent on Earth. Maybe he should turn Karbunkle's attention to counterfeiting gold gills. The masked Plutarkian sat up. It was infinitely more useful than all the mad doctor's other inventions. And as long as it didn't disintegrate after deposit, it didn't matter if Karbunkle used it for his own gain too. Even if they had to counterfeit it slower than they did the paper currency of the United States.
The whole building shook as Limburger reached for the vidscreen intercom button. He pressed it but now his question changed. "Karbunkle, what's happening?"
"There is a spaceship landing on top of the building, your cheddary-richness." The humanoid scientist wrung his black-gloved hands.
"Are we expecting anyone?" He hoped it wasn't a spot inspection. But the Plutarkian hierarchy liked to announce it once they arrived in the solar system and let the inspected sweat until they arrived.
"No announcements, and," Karbunkle gulped. "It's a Cyclodrone Thunderpipe!"
Limburger felt like exploding, but he didn't have anything in mind to yell. The last time a Thunderpipe came to Earth, it had disgorged those vile vermin. "Why would they be landing on my roof? Instead of going to that ghastly hovel of a garage?"
"Or crashing into Quigley Field's scoreboard," Karbunkle muttered. "I don't know why, your fulsome fragantness."
"Right." Limburger sounded the alarm. Greasepit and a squadron of goons ran into his office. "Be ready for anything. A spaceship landed on the roof." Greasepit gulped, but didn't say anything.
The air shimmered in the center of the office before a blue flash of light filled the space. The Martian mouse with light brown fur grinned as the goons circled him. "I should have expected a welcoming committee." Limburger discreetly activated a search for the mouse's face in the database of enemies of Plutark. "I'm looking for Lawrence Limburger; the name's Turbo."
Limburger cleared his throat. "And what do you want, you masochistic miscreant?"
Turbo's grin didn't diminish. "That's awfully personal considering you don't know me. I'm not a Freedom Fighter."
"The only Martian cave mice alive are Freedom Fighters!"
Turbo's eyebrows rose. "My, my, how they have gotten under your scales. Believe me, I have experienced their antics first-hand too."
Antics is putting it mildly, Limburger thought. "If you are here for the Biker Mice, you landed in the wrong part of Chicago." He gestured and the goons aimed their weapons at the mouse.
"So they gave their little club a name? Right out of the legends, no less." The mouse shook his head. "So presumptuous but hardly surprising." His blue eyes bored into Limburger's, and the intensity reminded him of someone. Turbo continued before he remembered who. "They chased me from Mars before you Plutarkians invaded. I don't care about your war or the fate of this planet."
"Then why are you here, stressing the structural integrity of my Tower with your spaceship and wasting my time?"
"Because I don't want to be interrupted." Turbo crossed his arms. Limburger forced himself not to gulp. There was something reminiscent of Mad Sam DeStefano in Turbo's grin. "Help me and I can guarantee the one thing no one else in the universe can give you. What all the gold gills of Plutark can't buy."
Limburger leaned his hands on his desk. "And what, pray tell, is that?"
The only sound in the carpeted office was the hiss of the air conditioning system and gurgle from the aquarium tubes. Even Greasepit held his breath. The Plutarkian signaled for the guns to be holstered and sank into his desk chair. "Isn't that intriguing? The last time someone sauntered in here promising me the heads of the Biker Mice, she was working a double cross with them. Cost me three and a half million in Earth currency and another Tower. So Mr. Turbo, you'll understand my suspicions about the whole matter."
"Keep your money. What I need is information, no interference, and let me park my ship here."
"And you'll get rid of the Biker Mice?" Limburger raised an eyebrow.
"No, only Throttle. But Modo and Vinnie shouldn't be that much of a problem without him."
Limburger hummed. "Provide parking, my goons leave you alone, what do you need to know?"
"Does the female fight with them or do they leave her behind?"
Turbo looked taken aback. "Throttle's, at the garage."
So they are together. He had wondered after the ice-water calm demeanor of their leader had given way to panic when he had transported the human female away. Another trap that failed. "That meddlesome mechanic? She's only slightly less destructive than those mice, but just as troublesome. And using her as bait typically goes awry."
"Can they be separated?"
"She tries to keep her garage open during her operating hours. We've also seen them dump her off their bikes before they attack."
The Martian nodded. "My bike is gold. Draw them out of the city tomorrow."
Limburger's eyebrow rose again. "Any particulars on how to do that?"
"However you want to. I just need them a few hours away from the garage." The easy manner dropped like a ruined disguise suit. "Do whatever you think best, but don't take Throttle's death from me." The blue light flashed again, and he disappeared.
Greasepit gulped, "So we're goin' after the mices tomorrow, Boss?"
"Looks like it, my dear boy. But we will plan it in the morning. Dismissed."
The goons left and Greasepit muttered to himself as he closed the door. "I sure ain't killin' the tan mouse. That mouse is scarier than the Biker Mices."
Limburger didn't say so out loud, but he agreed with Greasepit.
Nubs practice kept them trapped in the Scoreboard until noon, when they escaped to the garage. Charley bent over a motorcycle engine sitting on a worktable. She turned when they entered and Throttle's heart thumped to see her bloodshot eyes in the magnifier lenses before she lifted the goggles. "Time got away from all of us?"
"We can't freak out the ball players, sweetheart." Vinnie straddled a chair backwards at the table. "The sports experts say they have a shot at the championship this year. We can't be responsible for them losing."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm glad you have the team's interest at heart."
"Team's? It's self-preservation. The Nubs fans are nuts!"
She shook her head as she went into the kitchen. Modo made a shooing motion with his hands. Throttle sighed, but followed her into the kitchen. She didn't look over her shoulder as she poured the water out of the crock-pot. "Charley."
"That's right. I'm Charley."
"We need to talk."
She kept her back to him while she dug out a serving bowl. "Nothing sounds wrong with your vocal cords. Nothing is wrong with mine. So talk."
Modo had warned him this wouldn't be easy. At least, she hadn't thrown the hot dogs at his head. "I'm sorry about last night."
Charley froze before she pulled out a couple of packs of buns out of the pantry. "Sorry about what exactly?"
Vinnie thrust his body through the kitchen door. "Hey, where's the grub?" Throttle sighed again, and stayed silent as Charley handed the white mouse the bowl of hot dogs and the packs of buns. "Assemble your own," and she shoved him back into the garage. "Sorry about what exactly?" she repeated without looking at him.
"I…" he swallowed hard. Would it be easier if she would look at him? "I didn't want to hurt you again."
"You skidded off the road with that goal." There was a hint of anger in her voice but instead of looking at him, she cleaned the crock-pot.
"I know. I forget you weren't around for the stuff on Mars." He rubbed the back of his neck, trying to ease the tightness. "Carbine and me ignored our issues for sex."
The crock-pot banged around the metal sink. "The issue I have is no sex, damnit!" She whirled around now, soap suds dripping off her fists.
"Right, but that's the mistake I was talking about. That's the mistake I don't want to repeat. I care too much about you."
"You have a lousy way of showing it." She blinked her green eyes before turning back to the sink. "Does this mean we're never having sex again?"
"No, that's not what I'm saying." Maybe he should have written his points down. "And I'm not trying to hurt you when she comes up."
"Then why bring her up at all?"
Vinnie bounded back inside and Throttle dodged before the swinging door hit him. "Where's the chili?" He headed straight to the pantry. "And aren't you two eating?"
"In a minute, so don't inhale them all. And I'm out of chili."
"You expect us to eat dogs without chili?"
Throttle pulled Vinnie out of the pantry by his bandoleers. "Go grocery shopping if you don't like it." He shoved him back into the garage bays. "Where were we?"
Charley's back straightened. "You were about to tell me it's a Martian custom to compare your current with your exes. Not how we do things on Earth. You acknowledge you had a past and then never bring it up again unless your therapist says to."
"It's not a Martian custom, and there has only been you and her."
She glanced over her shoulder. "You expect me to believe that, fuzzy and buff?"
You need to explain it to her. Let her know exactly what she's getting into. Icy fingers clutched his insides harder than he had ever experienced on the battlefield. If she didn't know what he feared, what other families feared when they told their daughters to leave him alone, what Carbine had laughed at someone doing to her, she would stay. Nothing would happen to her.
He slid off his field specs. "There has only been you and Carbine. You know how it ended with Carbine. I didn't…." He broke off as Modo entered.
"Sorry, but," the taller mouse cringed at Charley, then cringed more at Throttle, "condiments!" He beelined to the fridge, scooped a few jars out, and cradled them between his arm and chest. "Sorry." He fled without prompting.
Throttle stared at the ceiling. Maybe this is why one of Earth's religions used the closets to confess things in. They probably had occupied latches on them. Could they borrow a couple until he got things patched with Charley?
She picked up a dishtowel and dried off the crock-pot. "I understand you don't want to go through that again, Throttle. I wouldn't even wish it on Rod. But I can't believe that's how you think I would break up with anyone." The towel twisted in her hands. "That I would treat you that way."
"Cheese. I know you wouldn't do that, Charley." He shoved the field specs back on. "I'm not comparing you to Carbine. Sandblasted, there's no comparison!" He leaned to see the face that she turned away. "You're the grand prize of the universe, babe. You're what I never hoped to find because I couldn't deal with the disappointment of never having it. And by the gods, I'd rather be alone, bikeless and weaponless on Plutark. I don't deserve you or your love."
The door swung open again. "Dad forgot the ketchup," Sparks announced.
Throttle growled as he whirled from Charley. He faced the fridge and beat his head against the freezer door. Maybe if he put himself in enough pain, the gods would have pity and change the swinging door to a lockable one. Or send a super villain to freeze his bros and Sparks.
"That kinda prevents me from getting the ketchup."
"Out!" Charley said.
"No buts, no excuses, no nothing." Throttle heard her shoving the smaller mouse out the door. "And I will hang the next set of whiskers that comes in here from the Sears Tower!"
The door swung violently allowing Sparks' complaint to come in. "Okay, yell at the chronological kid! Sure, I was the safe choice to send in there. Thanks a lot you two!"
Throttle continued tapping his forehead against the metal of the fridge. It was soothing, once you found a rhythm. Charley's hands wrapped around his arm and pulled him to face her. "Stop that. Your hard head will dent it." She let go of his arm. "Do you need some aspirin?"
"You know it takes more than that to rattle my brains."
She nodded and averted her eyes. "How I feel hasn't changed. I know for the past few months I haven't shown it, but last night," she swallowed, "the next thing I know we're fighting. What did I do?"
"You didn't do anything." He shook his head, thinking of any way to phrase his thoughts that made him sound less of an idiot. He wasn't having much luck. "Carbine and I didn't take it slow and it crashed and burned. I can't have that happen with you."
"How slow are we talking? Do you want to wait until marriage? You can't just plan this stuff without giving me a vote."
"I wasn't planning anything."
She closed her eyes. "Please don't tell me there is an already named contingency battle plan for it."
"No, there isn't. There really isn't," he insisted when she stared disbelieving at him. "You can't solve relationship problems by blowing them up."
"Glad to know something is in the don't-blow-up category."
"I don't have to wait 'til marriage and I'm guess you don't want to either." He took a deep breath. "I just need to stop feeling so damn guilty."
Her forehead crinkled. Before she could ask, Modo kicked open the door, not crossing the threshold. "Bro, it's Limburger."
Throttle winced as Charley's face fell and then hardened. "Go on, it's hero time." She shooed him out the swinging door, but followed.
The others had turned on the portable television set. Tara Diddle's pink jacket and black skirt looked out of place against the background of towering trees. "Not only are we unable to get any information-including their name-from the company that is clear cutting this stand in White Pines State Park, we haven't found anyone in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources who authorized this operation. The park rangers have tried to stop the loggers, but were met with an armed response."
Throttle sighed as he squared his shoulders. "Sounds like the Big Cheese needs some firewood."
"Don't we turn his Tower into enough kindling?" Modo mounted up. "You're staying here." Sparks crossed his arms with a pout.
Vinnie laughed manically. "Let's go roast his scales!"
Charley grabbed his neck bandanna and jerked Throttle around to face her. "You back here seven o'clock. And if anyone comes with you, you will wish the Plutarkians had executed you." She poked him in the center of his chest. "Got that?"
"I'll be here, Charley-babe." He smiled as she let him go. "Let's rock…."
From his vantage point in a fire watch tower, Turbo used the helmet's telescoping feature to watch the fight in the newly cut clearing. The war had honed the skills he had experienced twelve years ago. Limburger's goons seemed evenly matched despite having the greater numbers. Such carnage deserved a soundtrack. He turned on his helmet radio.
I toss and turn and lie awake…
it torments me, I must know why
It just seems too easy…
what is beyond that door?
As I take a step back
could I go on and turn the key?
Look away! Turn away!
He had mocked their moniker; maybe it was more accurate than he wanted to admit. He shook his head and the fight blurred in green and blue streaks. Throttle was his father's son, taking what didn't belong to him with a noble-sounding excuse of why he was entitled to it.
I should remember
nothing is what it seems
For once in my life I will resist…
Come alive again!
He gripped the rail and sneered. The clearing came back into focus. A Plutarkian digging machine lumbered on its stilts toward the Biker Mice, who had been trapped in a pile of fallen logs. The log truck was an empty, smoking wreck. The digging machine pulled a mechanical arm ending with a buzz saw forward to lop off their heads.
When all is said and done
I may not be able to move on
If I don't know
what lies beyond
Desire is now the one in control
Am I strong enough to not ever know
just what I'd find?
Should I press on?
His fingers dug into the old wood. They had a deal! Not that he really expected a Plutarkian to keep his word. The wood cracked under his hands but he leaned forward to see the driver. That goon would die if he took killing Throttle from him.
I can almost hear
anguished cries as they suffer
Welcome to the bodies!
I should run…
I should run
but I just can't seem to move
Look away! Turn away!
At Throttle's command, the three lifted their guns from the wood pile. Throttle was still left-handed and Modo's gun was a part of his mechanical right arm. In unison, they shot and broke the buzz saw free. It hit the logs to their left, slicing through the wood, and freeing their bikes. The missiles from their bikes splintered the logs so they launched at the remaining goons.
The wood underneath Turbo's hands cracked louder. He pitched forward off
the tower with a curse. His tail grabbed one of the girders. Dangling from
the weathered structure, he turned off the telescoping feature. That magnification
of his unresponsive bike induced a headache. Once he restored proper distance
to his eyesight, he swung to grab the girder with his hands, and then swung
once more to get onto the ladder.
I should remember
nothing is what it seems
For one in my life I will resist…
Come alive again!
He reached the ground and shook his head at the bike. The tide had turned in the skirmish between Limburger's goons and the Biker Mice. He snorted at how now he referred to their little club the same way. He needed more time in Chicago free of their interference and he knew how to insure that.
Turbo drove to the main road out of the state park. He dropped the seeker land sharks off his bike and watched the explosive robots burrow into the ground in his rearview mirror. They would wait until a Martian A.I. bike crossed in front of them. He had cut their explosive power in half already to prevent killing Throttle on accident. No, he had to die on purpose for what he put Tamara through.
The older man in red and brown fatigues had sneered as he had fisted Turbo's shirt in his hand and had jerked the young boy's body out of the garage and into the dirt driveway. "You promised us the alenish and his son. No son, so the deal is off."
"Throttle's here some where!" Turbo blinked away the tears. "You can't. You can't!" He punched the mercenary but the older man pushed him away before his fist could connect. Turbo landed on his tail in the driveway and stared up at him with watery eyes.
"Eroite is very clear, boy. Skin the entire bloodline to make the mantle of alenish before you can wear it. Skin the women who carry the potential bloodline." He leaned closer to the boy in the dirt. "You think you are beyond the laws, boy! Laws written in the blood of countless generations, soaked into the sand and stone of the whole world!" His booming laughter spiked Turbo's fur. "Common as you are, boy, no one escapes these laws. The only escape is the peace of the grave. The son will be alenish, but we can insure there will be no brothers to follow him."
The mercenary turned, leaving Turbo sitting on the ground, and signaled his man guarding the front door of the house. The guard opened the door for the rest of the group. A pair of soldiers pulled the light-brown furred woman out before the next pair pulled out the dun furred man. The prisoners were dressed in the ceremonial loincloths. "The alenish will watch his woman die. String her up," the mercenary leader ordered his men.
They dragged the struggling woman to the metal poles driven into the yard in front of the modest one-story stone house. Metal chains stretched her between two of them and off the ground. Tamara twisted, trying to pull free, as the mercenary leader stalked closer. The soldier who had guarded the front door carried an ornate, red and gold box to his leader. The other soldiers forced Blade to his knees in the dirt and facing the scene. The leader pulled the large-bladed knife out of the box and turned back to Tamara. "Now you face Eroite, woman. What are your last words?"
"How brave you are. How noble. Killing people who never did anything to you to attain a title no one follows any more." Her trilling laughter mocked. "Justifying murder with laws that were rewritten with the Industrial Revolution. Did an asshole forget to evolve and spawn you?"
The mercenary leader bared his teeth as his tail slashed through the air. "These laws are truer than anything the cities pretend to rule with!"
"Someone got their feelings hurt when they didn't get elected? That must have been a blow to your branch of the family. First great-granddaddy a thousand times removed gets passed over in favor of his brother, and then no one wants you or daddy or granddaddy or great-granddaddy on up the line in charge when the commoners finally get a say." Tamara laughed again. "We'll get it once we're the alenish; did that become your battle cry?"
His blow struck her across the snout. "Don't dare mock what a slut like you could never understand!"
"Our son lives. You'll never be alenish."
The mercenary leader growled as he drew the knife's blade around her leg at the bottom of her calf. Tamara clenched her jaw and stared at the sky. Her screams didn't start until the second slice of his knife reached her thigh. Turbo watched the blood pool at the bottom of the metal poles and soak into the red sands between them. That was all he could.
When all is said and done
I may not be able to more on
If I don't known
what lies beyond
Desire is now the one in control
Am I strong enough to not ever know
just what I'd fine?
What sinful trance
as the key turns?
Turbo shook his head as the memory quaked his body. The golden bike didn't compensate for his lack of concentration. He focused on the road, corrected the wobble, and saw the Chicago City Limits sign.
Now it is done…
the key has been turned
All that is left is my embrace
Her trembling is driving me wild!
Her shrieks are so intoxicating!
Eyes filled with tears will strain to see
Welcome home! I am your prison!
He watched the Last Chance Garage from a neighboring rooftop. A young mouse who looked like a carbon copy of Modo with head fur sat inside the garage bay with Throttle's female. He turned the radio to the frequency Limburger's goons used to communicate. They were regrouping for a second attack. Turbo frowned, considering scenarios with Modo's son. He didn't want to hurt an unrelated child if he didn't need to, but the boy couldn't stand in the way of his goal.
Sparks muttered as he hunched over the textbook and notebook. Charley smiled as she put away her tools. The subject under complaint changed between the assignment and being left behind for what Sparks felt was an unfair amount of times. He sighed as he slammed the textbook shut. "Finished?" she asked.
"Yeah, with English. Why are there so many grammar rules?"
"Don't know. I never got a straight answer to that in school either. I liked it when we just had to read stuff."
Sparks shrugged as he packed his backpack."I think that's after this section is finished. I still have math to do, but I can finish that at the Scoreboard. They'll be back soon and you don't want to finish yelling at Throttle while covered in grease."
Charley tossed down the shop rag she had cleaned with. "We're not fighting."
"Fine, don't want to disagree loudly with him while still covered in grease." He swung the backpack onto his shoulder and looked at the light blue bike and the purple bike pieces. "Do you think I'm big enough for a bike of my own?"
"That's an interesting way to phrase it," she smirked. "Illinois law says you have to be sixteen before you can get a learner's permit. But you want to know if you're tall enough."
"Sixteen! It's fourteen on Mars!"
"Most of Mars is desert."
"It wasn't always," he said sullenly. "Okay, there was a big desert, but it's still fourteen."
"Maybe it's because the A.I.'s would keep an inexperienced driver from making a deadly mistake on Mars. But we don't have A.I.'s on Earth for the rest of the population."
"Did you wait that long to learn how to drive?"
"That had nothing to do with learning how to drive. That's how old you have to be to do it legally."
His antennae dropped toward his hair and he brushed the bangs away from his eyes. "So I guess I can't ask you to build me a bike."
"Not behind your father's back if he said you're not old enough." She crossed her arms.
"We hadn't talked about it. But you got all the extra parts."
She pointed to the remains of her repair bike and her battle bike prototype. "Hey, both of those are my bikes. And I can tell you from experience they won't let you tag along to a fight even with a battle bike."
"I was gonna wait on that part," he muttered. "Could you at least not tell Throttle it's sixteen here? He'll convince Dad I have to wait seven years instead of five."
"Okay. Do you want a ride to the Scoreboard?"
Sparks shook his head. "I'm stopping at the library for books for the history report." He pushed his helmet onto his head. "If I run into problems, I'll radio. I remember the drill."
Charley watched him head down the street toward the library. Sparks was an independent child, and it grated that he was dependent just to get around Chicago. She hoped he wasn't scheming to fight. Modo and Throttle would both have a fit, and Vinnie would find the whole thing funny. She better warn Tala that Sparks wanted a bike. The human mercenary would work out a deal without thinking about what Modo's opinion might be.
She moved into the kitchen. The casserole was finished and she turned off the oven, leaving it inside for now. Next she whisked through the upstairs living room, picking up the books and video tapes left out. Dishes were already laid on the upstairs table for two. She started a CD of romantic songs on the stereo. Okay, maybe she was trying too hard to set the mood. She took the two candlesticks off the table and hid them on a book shelf.
I always hope that you remember
We'll never really learn the meaning of it all
What we have is strong and tender
So hold on
In the middle of the madness
Charley hummed along with the song as she tidied the bedroom. She pulled a new sexy nightgown out of the dresser. Holding up the lavender satin with spaghetti straps, she wondered if she was being too optimistic. Throttle wanted to talk; hell, they needed to talk before what exactly? Making him move in? Bribing him with lingerie to move in? She looked at herself in the dresser mirror as she held the short gown against her torso. It was more like a promise. Yes, Throttle's noble streak could be promised but not bribed.
When the time is running out and you're left alone
All I want is you to know that
It's strong still
Can't pull us apart
But what did Throttle feel guilty about?
Nothing can come
Nothing can pull us apart
The question gnawed at her since the Biker Mice had left. She had resisted discussing it with Sparks. That boy was too similar to Modo at times. But, she had successfully avoided his mental scarring from adult romance problems. She laid the nightgown on the maroon and gold bedspread.
I always hope that you remember
What we have is strong and tender
In the middle of the madness
What did he mean? Guilty about being with a human instead of a mouse? Guilty about the future if they stayed on Earth? She knew he didn't want to go back to Mars, but Modo and Vinnie probably still did. Was that what he felt guilty about, keeping them here? Fretting about it wouldn't answer the question, only Throttle could.
So it truly is a good thing
And I always wanted you to know
There is always this
And this is everlasting
She scrubbed her hands and brushed her hair in the bathroom. No changing until after supper and after they had talked. At least, she had kept the receipt if she never felt like seeing the nightgown again.
It's about faith
It's about trust, yeah yeah
It's about faith
It's about trust
A motorcycle engine's roar filled the garage downstairs. Charley pressed her hand against her stomach. She had no reason to be nervous, but she was. She wanted to change it to excited to see Throttle. Okay, she worried if this was the end of them. But she had survived that before.
Nothing can come
Nothing can come
Nothing can come between us
Nothing can come
Nothing can come
Nothing can come between us
She swung open the kitchen door when the engine of the dull golden bike she didn't recognize shut off. It was styled like a Harley Softail, but she saw the mousehead-shaped headlight under the handlebars before she mistook it for an Earth bike.
The rider wore black leather pants and a dark green T-shirt under a plain black leather jacket. He pulled off his Martian biker helmet to reveal his mouse features with light brown fur. He didn't have any head fur. "Sorry to disturb you, ma'am. I was told I could find the Biker Mice here."
Charley took a deep breath. Her skin on her neck crawled. Other mice showing up on her doorstep never gave her that reaction before. "I'm expecting them back any minute now."
"Oh good." He dismounted and hung the helmet on the handlebars. "It's been so long, cheese, twelve years. Have they told you anything about me?" He grinned sheepishly at Charley's confused expression. "Sorry, I'm Turbo."
"Charley, and no, I'm afraid they didn't. They don't talk much about Mars. I think they like to forget about the war."
"That makes sense." Turbo scanned the garage in a slow circle. Charley fought the urge to run back to the kitchen. Why did this guy unnerve her like a roomful of Limburger's goons? "Everybody likes to forget the bad things in life. Shame I got included in that."
She stepped away from Turbo without trying to look nervous. "You got included in the bad things?"
He smiled and showed the rest of his teeth. "How much have they told you? Did Throttle tell you about his parents?"
"They died when he was four."
Turbo headed toward the shelves behind Charley. She moved closer to the table as she turned to watch him. "No details? He didn't even tell you their names? The names of the aunt and uncle who raised him? And I was told you two were close."
She took a deep breath to calm her rapidly-beating heart. "Who told you that?"
He raised an eyebrow. "So you aren't close?"
"What does it matter to you?" Her hands hit her hips. "The Biker Mice are my family. Not that we need your approval."
The brown furred mouse smirked as he circled her. "No, my baby brother doesn't need my approval, but I need to know everything about his life."
Her stomach clenched. "Throttle's your brother?"
"We had the same mother." Turbo's voice came over her shoulder and Charley jumped. He chuckled. "He never mentioned me either? I can't wait to tell him how hurt I am."
Charley jerked around to keep Turbo in front as she backed up. Her laser gun was in the tool chest closest to the office. "Did he think you were dead too?"
"He probably hoped I was dead. He was always selfish like that. Can't say that I'm sorry to disappointment him."
"Throttle's not selfish."
Turbo's grin widened. "It's what I would call it. Killing our mother. Wanting a relationship with you that will kill you. He should stop doing stuff like that and just die."
"You're not his brother. No one would want his brother to die, not when everyone else in your family is dead."
The glee dropped from his face. "Everyone else in my family is dead because Throttle killed them."
"That's not true. Not Throttle."
"You are spending a lot of energy defending someone who you aren't that close to. Does Throttle know how much of a liar you are?"
"Does he know you want him dead?"
Turbo stepped closer and Charley stepped back. She didn't want to run to the gun just yet. "There's no reason why he shouldn't know. He was a smart kid when I lived with him. That shouldn't change just 'cause he got bigger." He smirked again. "Now, don't you think it's time you're honest with me?"
"I have been." Damnit Throttle, why aren't you here yet! she swallowed hard as she thought.
He shook his head. "True or false, you are Throttle's woman."
"What do you mean?" Her back hit the tool chest.
"Throttle loves you." He stepped closer.
Behind her back, her hands opened the tool chest. "None of your business."
"I'm afraid it is. There are very specific rules for Eroite." He loomed over her. "If you are his woman, you must die too."
"Just try it, asshole!" She wrapped her fingers around her laser gun and yanked it out. Turbo knocked it out of her hand. Charley shoved him aside, diving for it. His tail whipped around. Her body jerked to a stop in midair when his tail wrapped around her chest and arms. She kicked but he held her out of reach of her feet. "Damnit!"
Turbo chuckled. "You're feisty. I see why he went native."
"Go to hell!"
"I will. But Throttle goes first. And you too, unfortunately."
"Oh like you really give a shit!" Charley snarled. She had to make him lower his guard so she could get the gun. "Throttle and I aren't lovers."
"So what does that mean for your stupid rules?"
Turbo moved her face closer to his. "I don't believe you. You were practically having sex on the ladder last night." Charley felt her mouth dry as his blue eyes bored into hers. "So what is waiting upstairs?" He carried her behind him into the kitchen. Charley struggled against the loops of his tail as they went up the stairs. She couldn't budge them. "Romantic music, dinner for two." Turbo shook his head before moving to her bedroom. "My, my, very classy." He picked up her lavender nightgown and held it in front of her face. "I'm sure you look beautiful in it. Is it Throttle's favorite?"
"He has never seen me in it."
"You bought a new nightgown for Throttle, but you're not lovers." He dropped it on the bed, and carried her back into the living room. He pulled her around to face him. "I admire you trying to save yourself. Really, I do. But you are not fooling me. So stop. Go out with dignity."
"You want honesty? I love him. I don't know how he feels. But the Plutarkians haven't killed him, all the super villains Limburger has hired haven't killed him, a crazy bigot mouse didn't kill either of us, and neither did my crazy stalker." Charley glared into his blue eyes as fear and rage made her body tremble. "You don't stand a chance in hell."
Turbo's eyes narrowed. "Throttle killed our mother. I will kill him for that."
"I will, because I have you." The grin spreading across his face shot ice through her.
Cheese, what a day. Throttle pulled into the garage, and the door rumbled shut as he shut off the engine. He winced at the clock. "I'm sorry I'm late. Limburger's goons sabotaged the road and Modo's bike got hit. He wouldn't let us bring it here; said he and Vinnie could fix it at the Scoreboard." He poked his head into her empty office. "Charley?" The kitchen was empty of everything but food smells coming from the oven. "It's only an hour, Charley-babe."
There was an indistinct voice upstairs. "Charley, it's Limburger's fault." He paused at the top of the stairs. The table in the living room had dishes set out. The doors to her guest room, her bedroom, and the bathroom stood open so he saw that they were empty. "Charley?"
A noise started on the stereo. "Hello, Throttle, it's been a long time. Twelve years. You shouldn't have stopped me then. Hot Rod would have died a clean death in Eroite instead of at the hands of the Plutarkians. Yeah, I know all about that. I've done my homework."
Throttle's hands curled into fists as his entire body stiffened.
"I've even did my homework on your life on this planet!" Turbo chuckled, "And Blade didn't think I had the drive to finish anything I started. I'm sure he knows how wrong he was now. Charley is a beautiful woman, more sassy than sweet, quite the fighter; I see why you made her yours. But Throttle," Turbo tsked, "why did you keep her in the dark? You really made it too easy to get close enough. Had you just told her, I wouldn't be leaving you this message that I have your girl."
Throttle stopped breathing. No, he couldn't have Charley, he couldn't!
"Let's not waste any time with denial. Charley, say something to Throttle." The microphone picked up the shuffle of moving bodies. Turbo yelped, "Sandblasted woman! These could be your last words."
"You are not using me to bait some fur-brained trap, you bastard!" Charley's voice floated from the speakers. "I am going to tie your tail in a knot, pin your ears to the wall, Lorena Bobbitt your wanker, and then shoot! By the time I'm through stomping your ass, you're going to wish Throttle got to you first!"
There was more shuffling and a yell from Charley before Turbo returned. "What has romance come to? I didn't expect any damsel in distress cries for help, but that was far from insisting on you not walking into a trap to save her. But why bother with the whole it's a trap! bit when we all know that's exactly what it is. You have 'til midnight to meet us on the rooftop of the John Hancock Center. And come alone, Throttle, because I don't want to hurt one of your comrades in arms."
The noise that caught his attention repeated and the CD started replaying the whole message. Rage and sick fear caused Throttle's whole body to tremble. He shook his head to clear the stupor, and headed downstairs. The headlight of his black bike, the second lady he had ever loved, flashed at him. "Turbo has Charley." The bike beeped angrily. "He has the upper hand this time, but maybe he can be tricked into doing something besides Eroite." He switched off the tracking signal, and his bike beeped questioningly. "I can't put them in danger, not again. But we are going to need help." He shoved his helmet on and rode into the Chicago night.
So much had changed in twelve years. When he had last seen his older brother, he had just gotten his license to drive his bike legally. Vinnie had felt safe enough to project his bravado. Modo had disconnected his sidecar and had never replaced it. Roddie had been ten-years-old, growing out of her whinny brat stage. And Turbo had been the jolt to get rid of the rest of it.
Throttle looked up and down the hall of bedrooms on the second floor. Town houses were built completely above ground, and he felt vulnerable. He probably would always, but it didn't matter when he needed to see Roddie. After the grown-ups took charge, he had to stay with Vinnie and made sure his younger bro got proper medical care until Modo found Momma Bola to yell for Vinnie. Aunt Vev had swooped in, but all she cared about was Roddie and whisked his little sis-cuz away. Uncle Cutlass concentrated on yelling at the police to catch Turbo.
Everything was calm now, but he couldn't sleep until he knew Roddie was okay and not pretending because Vinnie was hurt worse. Aunt Vev had already put Roddie to bed and shooed him in that direction too when he got home. He twisted the doorknob and eased his head into the darkened bedroom. The radio on the dresser played softly. Roddie's body was hidden in a lump of blankets. If she was asleep, she was fine. He sighed and started to leave.
Carry on my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more
"Throttle? I'm awake. What's going on?" She rolled over and turned on the bedside lamp.
He sat on the pink and grey bed, in the shadows from the lamp on the other side. Roddie leaned against her padded headboard and pulled her knees to her chest. "I wanted to see if you were okay."
Once I rose above the noise and confusion
Just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion
I was soaring ever higher
But I flew too high
"Our doctor gave me a clean bill of health." She pulled her long black braid over her shoulder. "But I see him whenever I close my eyes. Coming with a knife."
Though my eyes could see I still was a blind man
Though my mind could think I still was a mad man
I hear the voices when I'm dreaming
I can hear them say
Throttle wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Roddie's body trembled and he hugged her. "I won't ever let Turbo hurt you. Neither will Uncle Cutlass. And don't forget Modo or Vinnie." Vinnie always complained about dragging a girl around, but he leaped in to rescue her. The older mouse, Modo, followed Throttle's orders without hesitation.
Carry on my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more
"I know. But how do you stop feeling afraid?"
"When I missed Mom and Dad and thought the guys who killed them would come back, Aunt Vev told me that the only way I could redeem their sacrifice was by living my life to the fullest. You can't if you spend all your time being afraid."
"Wow, good advice from her." Her eyes with solid blue sclera blinked. "Is Vinnie okay? I asked Mom and she went off on her 'he's not good enough' rant."
He sighed. He was fourteen, but between Aunt Vev and Vinnie, it felt like he was going on forty-four. It wasn't Vinnie's fault who his mother is. "His arm is broken, but it's a closed, simple fracture. He got a cast and his head is too hard to get a concussion."
"Concussion? What is that?"
"I think it's when you break your brains. It's serious, though. Momma Bola was glad Vinnie didn't have it. She took him home with her and Modo since they couldn't find his mom."
Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man, well
It surely means that I don't know
Roddie blinked rapidly. "Vinnie saved my life, big bro-cuz. Turbo would've killed me before you and Modo got there if Vinnie hadn't fought him." Her voice grew softer. "He was so brave. I didn't think the bonehead could be that brave." She tugged on her braid while studying the shadowed wall beyond the end of the bed.
On a stormy sea of moving emotion
Tossed about I'm like a ship on the ocean
I set a course for winds of fortune
But I hear the voices say
He pinched her ear. She thrashed her head away from his hand. He hugged her so she couldn't get away. "Do I need to have a talk with Vincent on how he should treat my little sis-cuz?"
Carry on my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more. No!
"Don't you dare!" She hid her face against her knees. "He thinks I'm a baby." She looked up again. "You should get Mom off his case though. Saving my life oughta make him good enough."
Carry on, you will always remember
Carry on, nothing equals the splendor
The center lights around your vanity
But surely heaven waits for you
"Good point. I'll explain it to her." He climbed off the bed. "But if you don't get any sleep, she'll pin my ears to the wall plus not listen to me."
Roddie rolled her eyes as she lay down. "Only because you have a point." She turned off the lamp.
Carry on my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry don't you cry no more
Throttle rubbed his bottom lip against his buck teeth as he paused at her bedroom door. "If it gets too bad tonight, you can come camp out in my room. 'Kay?"
"Thanks," she whispered.
He headed down the stairs. Aunt Vev looked up from her seat at the dining room table. The shape shifter's form spazzed but didn't drift too far from the black-furred woman she preferred. "Throttle, why aren't you in bed yet?"
"I needed to talk to Uncle Cutlass. Is he back yet?"
"He's in the study." She sat back with her newspaper.
"Thanks." He paused at the stone archway that opened into the hall to the study. "I don't know if anybody told you, but Vinnie jumped between Turbo and Roddie. If he hadn't fought him, Roddie would have been dead by the time Modo and I caught up with them." He trotted down the hall and knocked on the study door before she could question him.
"Enter." Throttle shut the door after he entered the book-lined room. The dun-furred older man looked up from the papers on the metal desk. "I thought you were already in bed. Come, sit." Uncle Cutlass rolled away from his desk and patted a nearby ottoman.
He sat on the indicated seat. "I just got back from the hospital thirty minutes ago."
Uncle Cutlass's red eyes opened wide. "You were hurt with that bike stunt?"
"No, Modo and I are fine." Throttle repressed the urge to scream. He wasn't as blunt as Aunt Vev, but he didn't think Vinnie should hang around his daughter and nephew either. Was Bola the only adult who cared about what kind of adult Vinnie grew into? Hopefully Roddie's crush would end before his aunt and uncle noticed it. "Turbo broke Vinnie's arm because he protected Roddie. My bro is welcome here."
"Throttle," Uncle Cutlass's snout wrinkled.
"I don't care about his mother. Vinnie saved Roddie. The quality of a person is when they do what you don't expect of them. He is my bro and he will always be welcome where I live."
"I didn't realize he had done that." Uncle Cutlass cleared his throat. "I'll speak to Vev about it."
Thank you for the speech, Momma Bola. Throttle nodded how he hoped was sagely. "Did the police catch Turbo?"
Uncle Cutlass shook his head. "They're optimistic they can flush him out."
"How optimistic were they after Mom and Dad died? They had to hunt for a ten-year-old then."
"You have every right to be angry."
"I'm not angry. I want him to stop trying to kill me and my family!"
"Of course." The older man ran his hand through his head fur, flattening it toward his skull. "That's what I want too. But Turbo is very dangerous and resourceful; we have to remember that while we're protecting Roddie and Vev." He stared into Throttle's blue eyes. "You showed impressive leadership qualities, Throttle, rescuing Roddie. Your father would have been proud of you." He gripped Throttle's knee with a tight smile. "I'm proud of you. You're going to be a fine alenish."
"But what's the point? What good is being an alenish? It just gets people killed so another group of people gets to call someone else 'alenish.' What's the point?" Throttle's hands clenched as he rested them on his thighs.
Uncle Cutlass sighed. "Tradition. It is the way things were for much longer than how they are now. Maybe things will change by the time the republic is as old as the cave clans were when they were replaced, but that won't be in our lifetimes, nor your children's."
"Hardly fair. I didn't ask to be alenish."
"Life isn't fair. That's why we have to be." His worried expression relaxed to a reminiscent smile. "You are so much like your mother. She made the same argument to your father when they got engaged."
His mother had been smarter than his father. Throttle didn't expect Uncle Cutlass to think the same of his twin brother. "She still married him though."
"Because the only way to break tradition is to make new ones. Being alenish is an honor, but it's not the sum total of your life." Uncle Cutlass leaned his elbows on his thighs and got closer. "Turbo has never learned this, and he thinks that the title is the grand prize."
"Or he just wants to punish everyone connected with it."
"Possibly. He wasn't happy when your mother married Blade. He wasn't happy when you were born. Maybe we could have done more to try to make him happy then, but now." Uncle Cutlass glanced at the paperwork on his desk before looking at Throttle again. "Roddie's statement said he blamed your mother's death on you."
Throttle looked down at the floor. "Because I hid."
"You did what you were told." He tilted Throttle's chin up. "You believe Turbo? That Tamara's death is your fault because you didn't die instead? There's no closure down that road, Throttle. She wanted you to live. She would have died fighting those men to save you. And even if she didn't die in a fight with them, they would have killed her because that is the law of Eroite. Turbo brought them to your family to commit murder. He can't accept that. It doesn't make him right."
A lump filled Throttle's throat but he swallowed it. "I know that here." He pressed his finger against his temple. "But here is harder to convince." He moved his hand over his heart.
Uncle Cutlass nodded. "It always is. But you had a chance to fight for the past and correct it."
"You can't change the past. However, fighting for it gives you a chance to settle things in your heart. I hope you never face Turbo again, but if you do, I know you won't let him beat you."
Throttle stared at Earth's moon rising above the street he rode on. He hoped he could prove Uncle Cutlass right.
The magnetic soles of Tala's armored boots clung to an engine coolant pipe near the ceiling and held her body upside-down. Both arms and head were free to reach the systems under the access hatch in the floor of her spaceship. Prehensile tails aren't the only way to do repairs. Tala pulled her upper body out of the hatch and flattened her hands on the floor, cheating to do a handstand. She tugged the toolbox closer and rooted for the proper wrench. Music blared over the intercom system connecting the More Hot Stuff and the building she owned in Chicago.
People of the Earth can you hear me?
Came a voice from the sky on that magical night
And in the colors of a thousand sunsets
They traveled through the world on a silvery light
She hummed finding the wrench and dropped back into the hole. This repair would hold until the engineers on the Olympian Fury looked over it. She twisted the pipe into place. The music cut off, replaced by the feminine voice of More Hot Stuff's computer. "Mistress Tala, Biker Mouse Throttle is at the garage entrance and sounds agitated. He wishes to see you."
Tala pulled herself out again with a groan. "Did he happen to mention about what?"
"He said it is an emergency."
She dropped the wrench into the toolbox before bending upwards to turn off the magnetic seal. She dangled from the coolant pipe by her hands, letting the blood flow return to normal, before landing on the solid floor. "Tell him I'm on my way down, if he can wait that long."
"I informed him, but according to his vocal stress patterns, it doesn't seem to have reassured him much."
"Don't worry about it. I'll handle him." She snagged the long-sleeved shirt hanging on the spaceship's ramp without losing her stride toward the freight elevator. "Turn the music back on."
"Acknowledged." The music filled the elevator as she headed down to the basement. She pulled the shirt over her tank top. Whatever had Throttle all worked up wouldn't be helped by seeing her scar tissue.
The people of the Earth stood waiting
Watching as the ships came one by one
Setting fire to the sky as they landed
Carrying to the world Children Of The Sun
Tala hit the alarm panel at the garage door. Throttle roared his bike down the ramp into the basement garage. He spun a tight one-eighty to face the ramp. She crossed her arms. "In a hurry?"
"I'm not in the mood," he growled as he dismounted.
"Then why bother me?"
"Because you're the wildcard." He waited for her to join him. "Turbo doesn't know anything about you."
Tala tilted her head. "Who's Turbo?"
"I don't have time for this!" Throttle's hands curled into fists. "I need a way to die without dying."
The tan-furred mouse growled. "You're the Jack-of-all-Trades, this is supposed to be your area of expertise."
"I've never had to put a near-death experience on the table before." Tala shook her head. "What's going on?"
"Can you deliver?"
"Is this some kind of prank? Vinnie put you up to this."
"Vinnie has nothing to do with this! Turbo is going to kill Charley!" Throttle's chest heaved after he screamed. He punched his gloved palm as he turned away.
Tala wished she had her glove with the built-in stun gun handy. "Listen up, I don't work in the dark. So calm down and start sharing some information if you need my help."
Throttle's tail slashed through the air as he turned to face her. "There's not enough time to explain. I have to convince him to kill me in Charley's place but I can't die."
"I can honestly say you guys never bring me any boring jobs." She bit her bottom lip as she thought. "How are you supposed to die?"
He grimaced, looking anywhere in the parking garage but at her. "That part of the plan is way up in the air."
"Up? How far up? Stratosphere?"
"This is not sounding like one of your better plans."
"I'm hoping for getting shot, 'cause if he uses a knife, it's game over."
"Does he have a preference?" Frowning, she led Throttle to her weapon storage cabinet, a walk-in closet next to the building's stairwell.
"I'd rather not worry about anticoagulant. Plan for shooting; Charley's gun was missing."
"You're in luck, I think." She pulled a dented and scarred metal trunk out from under a set of shelves. "I found this onboard More Hot Stuff when we liberated each other." She pulled out an aqua-blue, sleeveless shirt made out of the same flexible armor her suits were, only sized for a torso at least double hers. "See if it fits."
Throttle didn't hide his distaste while he replaced his leather vest with the armor. It was slightly baggy, but sealed closed. "What can this stop?"
"Most laser blasts. Avoid getting hit with anything designed to take out vehicles, buildings, or ships. And watch out for impacts. I have accelerated healing and can withstand more damage than you. It should stop a blade, but that depends on the force used."
Throttle grunted as he zipped his leather vest closed over the armor. "Can you see it?"
"No, your bad boy persona is visually intact." She shoved the trunk into place with her foot. "Now can I get an explanation?"
He shook his head leaving the weapon closet. Tala gritted her teeth and stomped after him. "After Charley's safe, I'll explain." He settled onto his black bike and pulled on his helmet.
And what bothered her about this whole situation clicked into place. She stood in front of the bike with her hands on her hips. "Where's your backup?" He cocked his head. "Your fellow mouse scouts? You never engage in destruction and mayhem without them. Where are they?"
He revved his bike. "I need to go, Tala."
"You can't engage in a firefight without someone to watch your back. What if Limburger has sent more goons with this hired help?" The offer to stand-in for Vinnie and Modo was in her mouth but the livid anger on his face killed the words.
"Turbo is not killing anyone else I care about." His voice dropped to a low menace that sent shivers down her spine. And she had faced death almost nightly in the gladiatorial rings. "I won't let him shoot you, and I don't even like you all that much." He revved his bike again and pulled it up into a wheelie.
Tala let him drive up the ramp and into the night. "Well, I don't like you either! Great comeback that," she snorted looking at the empty street. "And Vinnie will kill me if anything happens to you." Tala stalked to the bright blue racing bike beeping softly in its parking space. "Yeah, I didn't like that either, Hot Stuff." She pulled out the CB microphone, switching over to the private channels the Martian bikes broadcasted with. "Cold-hearted merc needs hot-head mouse scout, come in." She sat on the seat of the bike with a sigh. "Damnit, Vinnie, come in!"
"Later, Doll-face, we're busy right now." The connection died.
She reared back, blinking. "Oh no, he didn't!" Hot Stuff beeped sympathetically. She depressed the CB microphone talk button again. "Somebody better tell me something! I have polka music and I'm not afraid to use it!"
Vinnie watched Modo struggle with the purple bike's innards from the top bunk bed. The explosion that had knocked Modo down had warned Throttle and Vinnie to avoid the other mines. The level of explosives Limburger had used surprised him. Usually, the Plutarkian didn't bother to reduce them from lethal levels. The explosion didn't hurt Modo but it did a number on his bike. This perch kept Vinnie out of reach of his bro's arms. The Big Fella got cranky when his bike was busted. "Modo, bro, give it a rest. You need the special wrenches Charley has."
"I. Do. Not." Modo grunted as his hand tried to twist inside the engine. "Yer just lookin' for an excuse to go spy on 'em."
"Am not. That's like walking in on your parents. Been there, done that." Vinnie shivered, and he sure wasn't spilling how many times with how many different partners he had seen with his mother.
The large grey mouse leaned his forehead against the purple crankcase. "Way more information than I ever wanted to know 'bout yer home life."
"Bro, let me go get the right wrenches before…." A loud scrape of metal against metal ended in a snap. Vinnie stared down at Modo's wide open eye and gaping mouth.
Sparks turned from the table where he worked on his homework. "That didn't sound good."
"That's 'cause it's not." Modo antennae drooped. "Sorry, Li'l Hoss."
Vinnie jumped down. "What broke?"
"The gyro." He pulled out his metal hand holding the broken metal bits.
"We got spares here. Sparks keep him away from his bike until I get back." The smaller grey mouse saluted while Modo shot Vinnie a dirty look.
"Leave Throttle and Charley alone," he added to his dirty look.
Vinnie smirked as he mounted his red racer. "They won't even know I'm there." He peeled down the street. It was like Modo didn't trust him or something. He didn't want Throttle and Charley to break up either.
And just because of that, Vinnie did what he rarely did. He parked his bike on the street and entered the Last Chance Garage through the office door. The lights were on downstairs and upstairs. He scratched the back of his head. Charley nagged them about saving money by turning off lights. He shrugged and headed to one of the tool chests lining the wall. That was odd too; the one Charley kept a laser pistol in having decided her bedroom was too far away was open. The pistol was missing. Throttle's bike was gone, maybe they had gone out for a moonlight ride. That would explain why he didn't hear them moving around upstairs. But worry gnawed at him, a feeling he wasn't used to. He stuck his head into the empty kitchen. And heard a voice mumbled upstairs.
"Had you just told her, I wouldn't be leaving you this message that I have your girl." The hated voice came out of Charley's CD player. Vinnie's entire body tensed as his hands curled into fists. The same stance he had taken between Roddie and the son of a rat that had kidnapped them. Well, Vinnie had jumped into the van without thinking and the door locked when it swung shut as the van peeled away. So technically the man had only kidnapped one.
When the blue van stopped, Vinnie got a glimpse of the red stone mesas outside of town before the brown-furred man shoved them down a set of stairs and into an underground room. Roddie grabbed Vinnie's hand and pulled him away from the kidnapper. They ended up against a stone wall. A light flared on behind them, and Vinnie turned. The kidnapper had lit a tall lamp for a patio next to the only door out of the room. Vinnie moved in front of Roddie with feet spread wide and fists ready.
The man lit a second lamp closer to a pair of metal poles. He walked through the poles in the center of the room and laughed. "And just what do you think you're gonna do, you little runt?"
"You're not going to hurt her."
"You're right, I'm not gonna hurt her. I'm gonna kill her."
Roddie made a hiccupping sob behind him as she pressed against the wall. "Why? I never did nothing to you!"
The man stepped forward. "Because after I kill Throttle, you become the alenish. Throttle killed my mother so no one in your family should keep the title."
The look in his blue eyes when the kidnapper said Throttle's name made Vinnie feel like he needed to pee. What could his bro have done to this guy? He dismissed the claim of murder. Not Throttle.
Roddie said her dissent. He felt her chin go higher behind him. "Throttle never killed nobody!"
"He's just killed you too." The man lunged forward.
Vinnie rammed his fists in the man's privates. He doubled over, gasping. Vinnie looked over his shoulder to tell Roddie to run. Large hands gripped his arms and jerked his feet off the floor. The man tossed him aside.
Vinnie's shirt tore on the rough stone. A scrape oozed under his fur. He shook off the woozy feeling. The man bent over for Roddie as she dropped in a crouch. Vinnie leaped.
He scrambled up the man's back and wrapped his arms around the man's neck. "You're not hurting Roddie!" He saw this on a movie once. He trapped the man's neck between his elbows.
The next thing he knew his legs swung free in the air. His whole body flipped over the man's head. The kidnapper dangled him above the floor by a vice on his forearm. "You stupid little runt!"
Something snapped in Vinnie's arm. Pain shot down it and straight out his mouth. He screamed like a girl. The man tossed him again. His back landed against the stone wall. Pain filled his head, creeping to the edge of his vision.
"No time left to do this right." The man grabbed Roddie's braids and yanked her head back to look at him. He pulled a knife from its sheath on his belt. "I'll take your pelt after you're dead."
Vinnie tried, but his body refused to move. The blackness grew bigger, like his mother's old Earth movies. He heard Roddie sobbing, the far-off sound of motorcycle engines, and a muffled explosion.
"What the hell? I'll deal with you two in a minute." His boots spun on the floor and ran. The door slammed shut.
He felt the soft touch on his shoulder, but the fire from his arm and the black from his head made him not care. "Vinnie? Vinnie, please be okay. Please don't die. Vinnie, please." The windowless cellar was gone now. "I love you, Vinnie. Please be okay."
Vinnie stared down at the arm Turbo had broken on the twelve-year-old boy. So much for hoping that the war had killed the son of a rat. And now he had Charley. Vinnie's mouth dried as his eyes widened. And Throttle went after Turbo alone. "Oh hell, hell, hell, hell!" He burst into Charley's bedroom and jumped down the trapdoor. He headed to her CB unit modified to broadcast directly to their bikes. "Big Fella, come in! It's DEFCON negative twelve!"
"You know it doesn't go that high. What's wrong?" His rumbling voice didn't calm Vinnie at all.
"Turbo has Charley."
"WHAT? Vinnie, if this is yer sick idea of a joke…."
"What kind of a rat do you take me for! He left an audio message to Throttle. I know that bastard's voice. I had nightmares with him narrating until the war. Throttle's not here. He must have gone after him alone."
"Oh momma," Modo moaned. Vinnie heard buttons being pressed on the other end. "Sandblasted, Throttle! He turned off his tracking signal."
Vinnie jabbed a finger for emphasis that no one could see. "If Charley won't do it, I'm gonna fix it so he can't turn it off any more! How dare he go after Turbo of all people by himself?"
"Breathe, Vinnie. Go check the message again. Turbo had to leave some place to meet Throttle at."
"Good point, over and out."
The CB crackled to life again before he moved. "Cold-hearted merc needs hot-head mouse scout, come in." The pause lasted five seconds. "Damnit, Vinnie, come in!"
He grabbed the CB microphone. "Later, Doll-face, we're busy right now." He shut it off and scrambled up the trapdoor ladder.
Luckily, he didn't need to change the message playing pace. There was some shuffling and a yell from Charley in the background before Turbo spoke. "What has romance come to? I didn't expect any damsel in distress cries for help, but that was far from insisting on you not walking into a trap to save her. But why bother with the whole it's a trap! bit when we all know that's exactly what it is. You have 'til midnight to meet us on the rooftop of the John Hancock Center. And come alone, Throttle, because I don't want to hurt one of your comrades in arms."
That's why Throttle didn't call for backup. Shit. Vinnie jumped back down through the trapdoor. "Modo, you still there?"
"What do you know, Vin-man? Yeah, Sparks, that's where it goes."
"Rooftop of the John Hancock Center. And he threatened us if Throttle didn't come alone." Vinnie tugged on the bandoleers strapped around his chest.
Modo sighed, "Of course, the son of a rat did. We're the only ones in the galaxy who know Throttle's buttons better. What does he know about Charley?"
"He called her Throttle's girl." Vinnie swallowed hard. "That's all he needs for Eroite."
"Roll out. I'll meet you enroute. Do not head up the building until we're together."
"Don't dawdle!" Vinnie dropped the microphone and ran out of the garage. His red racer's engine rumbled in anticipation. "Let's go save the day, sweetheart. And pay that son of a rat back."
Modo revved Li'l Hoss. The gyro held. Sparks wiped off his hands with a shop rag. "Glad to know being the smallest has an advantage." His son's jovial tone fell flat with the pinched expression. "What's going on? Vinnie said Eroite."
"What do you know about Eroite!"
His son cringed and Modo felt punched. "Roddie told me if anyone threatened me with it, I had to tell them I wasn't related to her by blood and wouldn't be an alenish. That was years ago."
"It's something I never wanted you to need to know about." He hugged Sparks. "This fight doesn't have anything to do with us. Me and Vinnie are in for Throttle. 'Cause bros are one of the three things in the universe you can count on." He pushed Sparks back to kneel and look him in the eyes. With a squeeze to the boy's shoulders, he said, "This is worse than facing Plutarkians. 'Bout as bad as facing Exhaust 'cause it's personal. I need you to stay safe, okay?"
Sparks nodded. "You be careful."
"Will do." Modo gave him one final squeeze and what he hoped was a reassuring smile before taking off. He angled his course to lead to the distinctive metal girded building on the lake front. Roddie would have warned Sparks about Eroite given her introduction to it.
He remembered how great that day had been while at the park. Plutarkians had begun buying land, but dropping the businessmen cover and firing weapons was two years away. Throttle and Vinnie were his friends over a shared love of motorcycles, but all he knew was Throttle was an orphan living with his aunt and uncle and Vinnie's mother never cared about being a mother.
Throttle's fourteenth birthday had passed the week before. They had gathered in the park because Throttle was stuck watching his cousin again. In the park, Roddie could go play on the swing sets and give them space.
Modo leaned against the waist-high wall surrounding the park. "Sidecar is finally gone. Vinnie can ride behind either one of us now."
The sunlight glinted off Throttle's black shades. "What about your niece and nephew?"
"My sister don't want 'em ridin' with me. Says I'm gonna turn 'em into biker bums."
"Harsh. What's wrong with being a biker?" Vinnie fiddled with the radio until he found a station playing Earth music. Van Halen's new song "Jump" poured out of the speakers.
"I don't know. I think she's still pissed at her ex and is takin' it out on me."
Throttle smirked. "I thought we were gonna get him for breakin' your sister's heart?"
"My grey-furred momma said we have to give him a chance to prove if he's a mouse or a rat. I think Rimfire told."
The white-furred boy looked up from his inspection of Li'l Hoss' engine with wide red eyes. "What? Why?"
Modo shrugged. "He's still his dad, even if he's lower than a saber squid's belly and ain't done much with the twins since they were born."
"And our idea was a good one." Vinnie shook his head as he stared into the engine. "I think you got a gear loose."
The larger grey mouse knelt beside him. "That explains the shimmy. I don't have any money for a repair pit."
"That's cool." Throttle jumped off the wall. "Uncle Cutlass and Aunt Vev got me a tool set for my birthday." He opened the storage compartment on the black bike and pulled out a thin black case. "So it's all good unless you need to buy parts."
"No new parts, it's just loose."
"Why'd they get you a bike and tools?" Vinnie moved out of the way while Modo took out the proper wrench.
"The bike's been mine since I was four. They got me the tools for be safe insurance and Roddie got me the new shades." He tapped the black rims before snapping his fingers. "Speakin' of being safe insurance." He pulled a tracking component for a bike's A.I. computer out of the storage compartment. "Uncle Cutlass said we should tag our bikes together, just in case."
"Did he tell you what just in case is?"
"Didn't fill in that blank, no."
"Momma never does either." Modo grunted as he freed the engine from Li'l Hoss's frame. "Put it on. Never know if we'll get caught in a sandstorm or somethin'." He exchanged wrenches and started breaking down the layers.
Throttle nodded as he opened up the crankcase housing over the computer. "I'm sure it's just another way for my aunt to be a control freak, but he paid for it."
A girl with solid black fur jogged out of the park gate and down the sidewalk to them. "Throttle," she whined, "some creepy guy keeps following me."
Vinnie looked down the sidewalk. "I don't see anybody. Is he invisible?"
"Of course not, bonehead," Roddie snapped. "He must not have come out of the park."
"Speaking of invisible," Vinnie continued, "Mom got an old Earth movie where this scientist comes up with drugs to make him invisible and he goes crazy and starts killing people. It's good for being black 'n white. You guys gotta see it."
"Yer mom got mad the last time you messed with her movie collection," Modo reminded him.
"This one is okay. She wanted the sequel for her collection and ended up with the first one instead. So she gave it to me."
Roddie pulled on Throttle's T-shirt. "Throttle," she whined, "I wanna go home. I don't wanna hang out here with creepy guys."
Throttle growled. "Can't you see we're busy? We're not going anywhere with Modo's bike in pieces."
"Why did you take it apart on the street? That's just stupid."
"Roddie, go do somethin' else." He turned back to making the connections between the computer and the tracking component.
"I don't wanna go back in the park. He stared at me. And he's probably still in there."
"Find somethin' else until we fix Modo's bike and then we'll go for a ride."
Roddie tossed her pigtail braids over her shoulders as she sighed. The silence only lasted a few seconds. "Give me some money. I want ice cream."
Throttle dropped his shades down his snout to glare at her. "Where's your money?"
"Mom gave it to you to hold, remember?" She didn't flinch from his blue eyes.
He dug into the pocket of his jeans. "Vinnie," he dropped the cash into the white-furred boy's hand. "Take her across the street for ice cream. Keep her occupied 'til we're done and we'll go through the canyons west of town."
Vinnie closed a fist around the cash. "Deal. Come on, blue-eyed brat."
She narrowed her eyes with blue sclera. "Stop making fun of my eyes, bonehead. They're not my fault." You heard their bickering across the street until they entered the small café.
Throttle pushed up his shades. "Either they're gonna kill each other or they're gonna date. Once they decide the opposite sex isn't icky."
Modo chuckled. "Which one will annoy yer aunt and uncle more?"
"Oh dating, definitely. So I'm all for it. I've been lectured 'bout Vinnie's bad influence so much, it starts a gag reflex."
He got the gear free of the engine and paused to look up. "Have they actually watched us interact? I mean, Vinnie doesn't do much without yer okay."
Throttle closed the crankcase with a shrug. "They mean well, but they're clueless. Just because his mother is…." He stopped, too embarrassed to say it out loud, even though Vinnie was out of earshot. "Any way, that's why we spend so much time at your house. Your mom is nice to him."
"Momma was wasted on just two kids. She needed a brood." He tightened the gear back into place on the engine. "Course, I don't think I could handle more siblings, so I guess everything has a way of working out for the best."
"You got Rimfire and Primer, that's like having younger siblings."
"Yeah, along with Vinnie and Roddie. I think y'all should start calling her Momma Bola; she's raising all of us."
"Why not? Doubt my mom would mind. She probably would have liked Momma Bola."
A shrill scream cut through the air. Modo jumped to his feet as Throttle ran across the street. A brown-furred man slung Roddie into the back of a dirty blue van. Vinnie jumped to his feet where he had been knocked down. "Wrenchhead!" He grabbed the door handle, bracing his feet on the bumper to open it.
The traffic, startled by the appearance of a teen in the street, screeched to a halt around Throttle and trapped him in the middle of the asphalt. Vinnie opened the door as the van's wheels squealed. Modo ran across the street, jumping onto the now parked cars. The white-furred boy disappeared into the back of the van. It swung around and the back door slammed shut.
The blue van bore down on Throttle, who stared up at it. Modo grabbed the back of his T-shirt and hauled him onto the roof of the car. The blue van sped past them, using the wrong side of the street to gain speed.
"Follow 'em!" Throttle's black bike beeped as she popped a wheelie and peeled off. "Get your bike mobile now!"
"On it." Modo slid off the car and ran to his bike. Throttle followed but his attention focused on the road the van had disappeared down.
The adults questioned what they had witnessed. "Was that a kidnapping? She screamed. But the boy jumped in willingly?"
Modo screwed the engine back into place on the frame and secured the tool case. "I hope yer uncle didn't buy cheap parts!" He revved his bike.
Throttle climbed on behind him. "Me too."
Modo drove in the same direction the van had gone and turned on the view screen. A mousehead symbol lit up the screen then shrunk as the view screen turned into a map of the town. "It's workin', they're straight ahead."
"I should've paid more attention. She said a creep was bothering her."
"Don't beat yerself up. We all thought she was just being a brat and got a little of yer aunt's paranoia."
"Just 'cause you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you." Throttle growled. "And there was somethin' so familiar about that guy."
Modo glanced in the rearview mirror to check the traffic. They hadn't caught up with the van or Throttle's bike yet. "You saw him before?"
"Positive, but I can't remember where." Throttle growled again, hitting his own thigh with a fist. "If I could, I'd know why he took her." Modo didn't answer 'cause there was no way to jog Throttle's memory. "Detour!" Throttle pointed to Stilton's construction project. Modo turned the bike without question. "Angle toward the equipment shed." Plutarkians, rats, and mice scrambled out of the way.
Throttle's tail wrapped around a small box next to the shed and jerked it along with them. "Punch it! Back after them!" He skidded out of the construction site's second gate. "He planned this. He watched Roddie, waiting for the perfect opportunity. Now we got something to even the odds."
"Oh yeah, what?"
"Nitro sticks!" Throttle's laughter had a hint of menace.
Modo whistled through his uneven buck teeth. "Remind me to never piss you off."
"I doubt you would. You don't go around trying to hurt my family."
"Yeah, my momma would have my ears." The town fell behind them, and the houses spread out into farmsteads. "He's getting pretty far out."
"Don't want anyone to interrupt what you're going to do?"
"Cheese, this is one sick son of a rat. I hope Vinnie doesn't do anything stupid."
"Can you go any faster?"
Modo coaxed more speed out of Li'l Hoss. If they had to count on Vinnie not to do something stupid to keep him and Roddie safe, they shouldn't waste any time.
"There!" Throttle pointed to an unpaved driveway off the road on the right. His black bike drove up and down it. Modo idled his bike while Throttle broke open the box of nitro sticks. "Take as many as you can hold." His tan tail scooped up a dozen of the red explosives. Modo copied him. "You have telescoping feature on your helmet? What do you see?"
Modo focused on the house at the end of the driveway. "The blue van; I see the front bumper stickin' out from behind the house. Nothin's passin' by the windows though. The house is empty?"
"My parents had a burrow. This house looks like one. They could be underground." Modo nodded. Lots of homesteaders started off underground and only built above-ground if the farm was successful or they made money at other jobs. This farm had a sign on the road saying Stilton Industries had bought the land. "We have to flush him out," Throttle continued.
"What's the plan?"
"Circle the house and toss the nitro sticks away from it. We don't want to damage the house and hurt Roddie or Vinnie. You go left." Modo nodded and headed right. "Your other left!" Throttle yelled before his black bike roared into action.
Modo pressed the ignition button on a nitro stick while Li'l Hoss steered herself. He hurled it into the field away from the house. A cloud of dirt blossomed up. Throttle's first nitro stick demolished part of the stone wall on the north side of the house. Modo tossed his next one behind the house and saw how the van was parked next to a pair of doors leading underground. Throttle's second made a crater in the front yard.
The man burst out the front door firing a laser rifle. Modo and Throttle both did a one-eighty to face him, but kept out of range of his blasts. "Now you come out of hiding, Throttle! The little half-breed means more to you than Mother!" He fired again and Throttle's bike backed away because Throttle had gone slack.
"Turbo?" he said as the man marched closer. "Turbo? Why?"
Modo whirled his bike around. "Yank the crank, Li'l Darlin', on my mark." Li'l Hoss beeped as he watched over his shoulder.
"Why! She suffered Eroite because you hid like a coward!" The furious man jerked the rifle up to his shoulder.
"Yank!" The grappling hook shot out from under Modo's seat and impaled the rifle. The rope immediately contracted, sending the weapon flying through the air.
Without the gun, Throttle's bike charged forward. Throttle screamed with rage, fist raised to punch him. Turbo evaded the charge and Throttle skidded into a stop to face him again.
Sirens wailed down the road. Modo ignited one more nitro stick and tossed it away from the house, Throttle, and this Turbo guy, just in case the police couldn't figure out where they were. Unfortunately, the blast distracted Throttle's attention on Turbo and the older man bolted around the house. Modo cursed under his breath and pivoted to circle around the house.
The van was peeling out when Modo cleared the house. Throttle tried to cut him off, but the van plowed through the hole in the stone fence to get to the road. Modo idled next to Throttle. "Do we chase him?"
The younger boy shook with anger. "Let the police get him. Safer for him. He came out of the house; he probably moved Roddie and Vinnie inside. Let's find them first."
He pointed his thumb over his shoulder. "Doors."
Throttle nodded and climbed off his bike. She trailed after him, beeping continuously. Modo followed him. The doors opened into a dark stairwell going into the ground. The black bike turned on her headlight without prompting. Throttle clattered down the stone staircase to the metal door at the bottom. It opened into a windowless cellar as big as the whole house.
"Please wake up, Vinnie. We gotta get out of here before he comes back. Wake up!" Two tall lamps lit up the unfurnished room.
Throttle ran past the pair of metal poles set up in the center to get to the white-furred boy lying against the far wall and ground and the black-furred girl crouching next to him. "Roddie!"
"Throttle!" She met him half way, gripping his body tight enough to strangle. "He's gonna kill us!"
He hugged her. "He's gone. The police are coming. He's not killing anyone else."
Modo realized the metal poles had shackles and chains attached to them. He shuddered, thinking of a horror story he had been told as a child. He next to Vinnie. A bruise on his face was dark enough to see under his white fur, but he was still breathing. "Roddie, what happened to Vinnie?"
"Vinnie punched that guy in the nuts and then he threw him across the room. And then Vinnie jumped on his back and tried to choke him, but he pulled him off and I think he broke his arm. Then he threw Vinnie against the wall, and the explosions started and he left, but Vinnie closed his eyes and he won't answer me!" She ended with a high pitched wail that caused Modo and Throttle to wince.
"What's going on down here?" The uniformed man dropped his gun down to his side when he saw there were only children in the room.
Throttle patted Roddie's back as he faced the police officer. "We can explain everything, but our friend needs medical attention." The police officer looked dubious down at Vinnie. Throttle's tail slashed through the air and Modo could feel his glare at the cop even though his shades hid it. "If you want our statements, I suggest you bring a medic now."
"Hey kid, don't tell me how to do my job."
Modo interrupted. "We have the right to remain silent until we have counseled with our lawyer. And probably our parents or legal guardians. Gosh, what would the news do to you for keeping a medic from a kid who was kidnapped and beaten? Not to mention our lawyers, my mother, your guardians. Guess I should go up to my bike and start makin' some calls. Your uncle is at work, right?" He turned to Throttle while keeping the cop in sight.
The cop growled before he pulled out his own radio unit. "I need a medic downstairs. Unconscious male child."
Throttle had nodded to Modo who had smirked. And his sister had made fun of him watching Perry Mouson every time it was on.
Modo sighed. Momma had gotten the whole story out of Throttle while they waited with Vinnie at the hospital, and he had discovered what he thought was a horror story was true. Throttle's parents had been killed in Eroite. No one had found Turbo after that.
Vinnie's red racer moved up along side him. "I can't believe the bastard is still alive."
"The police told Cutlass he probably stole a ship and left Mars."
The white mouse waved it away. "I remember. But with so many people dead in the war, it helped me sleep at night to think a Plutarkian bomb landed on him."
"That doesn't sound very healthy."
"I think Mom missed the opportunity to put me in therapy. What's the plan?"
Modo stared at the street ahead. The John Hancock Center was coming closer on the right. "Flank 'em. Turbo's gonna hear our bikes coming so make it count."
"I'll come up from the lake side. You take this one?"
Modo nodded, "Let's rock!"
Charley twisted her wrists in front of her. The rope didn't give way and her fingers couldn't reach the knots. She slumped against the huge red and white antennae Turbo had tied her to. She could untie that, but trying to get away with tied hands and a crazy mouse chasing her? Yeah, the odds looked good on escape. Turbo sat cross-legged on the rooftop and stared at her. He never blinked. "Check out the lake view, will you? You're giving me the creeps."
"How long have you known them?" He didn't avert his blue eyes.
"You threatened me and Throttle, kidnapped me, tied me up on top of a cold-ass building without my jacket, and now you want to make small talk?"
"I'm just trying not to be rude. It's not that I want to kill you, but the rules are clear. Sorry."
"I can almost believe you and Throttle are related with your insistence on the rules. The difference is Throttle doesn't follow any to commit murder!"
"Yet, he leads your tiny battle against the Plutarkian Empire." He smirked, "That little inconsistency doesn't bother you?" Charley kept her mouth shut. She guessed the subtle difference between fighting to make the galaxy better and cold-blooded murder would be lost on Turbo. "Or maybe you just sensed the truth. Throttle's hands have been bloody since he was four years old."
"You know what? A change in topic is a good idea because I'm sick of you calling a four-year-old a murderer. I met the Biker Mice the same night they crashed here. They broke my window, shot a hole in my garage door, and drove through my wall, but they saved me from getting beat up by Greasepit because I wouldn't sell out to Limburger."
Turbo's smile never reached his eyes. "You weren't fighting off Limburger's goons yourself?"
Charley's lips twisted, remembering the futility of that fight. "I trapped him with my lift and he tore it apart. The creep is huge and that's an unfair advantage; kinda like your tail."
"Everyone alive has an unfair advantage over someone else," he shrugged.
"I am so not interested in your philosophies on life."
"Because how could someone who concentrates so much on death have anything meaningful to say on living."
He threw back his head with a laugh. "If other humans are like you, I feel sorry for the Plutarkians."
She looked over Chicago's lighted vista. She felt sick to her stomach, but she had to keep trying. She had to make him give this up. "They'd be in worse shape if you would just leave us alone."
"What kind of son would I be if I let Throttle get away with killing our mother?" The worst thing was how apologetic the bastard sounded. "If Throttle wanted you safe, he should have left you alone. Just be glad that you didn't have any children with him. They won't suffer Eroite."
"Yippee," Charley said in a flat voice.
"Just giving you a bright side. The law of Eroite constrains me as well as you. I'd prefer to enjoy your body rather than skin it," he spread his hands, "but there you have it. I can't break the law either."
She felt the blood draining from her head, leaving her dizzy. "What?"
"They never told you what Eroite is either. Still just a bunch of immature brats who never suffered. Or is it that I find you attractive the true shocker?" His gaze left her face to stare into the sky. "Tamara was a mechanic too. Throttle's father made her give up our garage. Wasn't right for his wife to work at what she loved. She was feisty, but you're angrier. She fought until the very end. How long will you fight? Not many aliens have undergone Eroite, so time of death is unclear." While Charley fought down nausea, he prattled on. "They say you seek your parent in a mate. Is Throttle like your father?"
"I can't believe we're having this conversation." Her shivers were only partly from the wind.
"I can't believe you thought you could lie when I can smell him all over you." His brown-furred snout wrinkled. "Are human noses that weak?"
The surrealism of the guy promising to kill her also calling her attractive and comparing her to his dead mother broke through her freak-out guards. Tears pooled in her green eyes. Turbo was going to kill her. Throttle would think she didn't love him any more because they never had a chance to talk.
Turbo jumped to his feet. "One motorcycle coming." He untied the rope around her waist, faced the city side of the building with her, and pressed her laser pistol against her head. "You can always depend on Throttle?"
"I always could."
The black bike roared up the side of the building and landed on the rooftop. Throttle pulled off his helmet and dismounted. His leather vest was zipped up around him.
"You always did like to make a splashy entrance, baby brother. Some things never change."
"Like you picking someone younger and weaker instead of fighting me, Turbo? A coward at ten, at twenty, and at thirty-two; some things never change alright."
Turbo growled. "Don't talk to me 'bout cowardice. Your act of cowardice killed Mother!"
"At least she didn't see how you turned out." Only Throttle's head fur moved in the breeze off Lake Michigan despite the laser pistol now pointed at him.
"You have no right to talk about her! You killed her!"
"Don't you think it's time to let go of that game of hide 'n seek? We've lost twenty-two years."
"I lost!" His grip around Charley tightened. "If you had died, she would have lived and it would have been good again. But you were too damn selfish and killed her! Selfish like your goddamn father who should have left her alone!" His right arm quivered but not enough to take the pistol off target. "If he hadn't married her and you hadn't hid, Tamara would still be alive!"
"And if you hadn't brought the ones seeking the alenish to our home, she'd still be alive."
"They were gonna kill you! If you'd died, she'd be alive!"
"I'm tired of arguing about it. Let Charley go and we'll settle this for good."
Charley felt Turbo's chest vibrate with his chuckle. "Cute, baby brother, cute. She already tried the friends with benefits route and I didn't believe her. You think I'm gonna believe you when you're trying to save your woman?"
"She's a fling." Charley's heart stopped with Throttle's cold tone. "She keeps our bikes running and I pay her back in dates. We both have fun. But you know Eroite only applies to mates."
Charley let out a brittle laugh. "Him? He keeps his damn word to Limburger and company. He's not capable of lying."
Turbo shifted his head to look her in the face. She stared ahead between buildings and saw the corn cob condos on the riverbank. Throttle was trying to get her out of this, and she would agree with everything he said. But her heart ached over the "fling" comment.
"I don't believe you. Take off the shades and convince me."
Throttle slid the shades off. "She's just a fling," he repeated and his deadpan expression didn't change. Charley's heart squeezed.
"What the hell happened to your eyes?" If you had missed his earlier rants, you could believe that tone of concern.
"They're cybernetic replacements," Throttle snapped. "I was wounded in the war and thank you for bringing it up."
Turbo started to speak then stopped. He pulled Charley back with a snarl. "I told you to come alone!"
"And I did. But you didn't say anything 'bout turning off your recording."
"You son of a rat!" Vinnie and Modo's bikes leaped onto the rooftop. Turbo pulled the trigger.
Charley screamed as Throttle's body flew backwards. His shades skidded to a stop near her feet. Vinnie and Modo's cries were matched by all the guns on their bikes popping out.
Turbo's chest heaved and he jammed the barrel of the laser pistol against Charley's head again. "Save the macho posturing! You're not gonna shoot the woman and we all know it."
Modo's eye glowed. He glanced at Throttle's prone body before looking at Turbo again. "Give us Charley and you can leave Chicago alive."
Turbo chuckled as he scooped up Throttle's shades with his tail. "Such a generous offer. Too bad I don't need it." Charley heard the familiar whine of a transport remote unit before the rooftop scene vanished in blue light.
Limburger looked up as the blue light flashed in his office. The brown-furred mouse had returned his tail whipping around behind him. He also held Charley with a gun pressed against her head. The Plutarkian sighed and closed the laptop on his desk. "So when should I expect the valiant vermin?"
The mouse tossed a pair of shades onto the desk with his tail. Limburger gasped. They were the same shades the tan mouse always wore.
Charley jerked out of Turbo's grip. Her tear-stained face glared at Limburger while her tied hands snatched the shades. "Don't you dare touch them, you fat fish!"
"He's dead." Limburger hardly dared to say it out loud, but the human woman's lips trembled as tears filled her eyes. "He's really dead. You really did it."
Turbo jerked her from the desk. "Not the way I wanted to."
"Do you realize how many times I've tried to kill him? Artistic touches hardly matter. At this point, I'm happy with a corpse."
Charley pressed her lips together to keep in her sob. She held the shades to her breasts as she looked down.
"I don't expect you to understand," Turbo snapped. "Take your pleasure how you want."
"Yes, good advice, thank you. I'll call a couple of goons to escort the female to a cell."
The mouse shook his head. "She's coming with me. Compensation, as it were." He lifted Charley's chin. She swung her fisted hands at his jaw, but he leaned away and wrapped his tail around her arms and torso. He jerked her into the air. "Do you want to leave her where the other two can rescue her? She's the only one who could lead them like Throttle did."
"Well, when you put it like that. And given how little you asked for the removal of one of the thorns in my side." A nasty smile filtered through his mask. "Au revior, Miss Davidson. I will be sure to tell the two remaining vile voles how much you will miss them."
The look of terror on her face before she and the mouse vanished in a blue flash warmed his soul. Not enough people on this planet gave him that look. He needed to improve that. He reopened his laptop humming the Plutarkian greeting under his breath.
Sparks wrapped his tail around his leg. No radio chatter. There was always radio chatter when they went after Limburger's goons. Dad said it was worse. His gut clenched. Cheese, they should be talking. He turned away from the silent radio equipment. It went back to Eroite, the only thing he had ever seen Roddie frightened of. But nobody would tell him what it was.
The only book they had brought from Mars was a compilation of racing stats for the last hundred years. The rest of the books and videos were from Earth. Yeah, that would tell him what he needed to know.
Maybe Throttle's personal stuff had the answer. Sparks chewed on his lip. He didn't like snooping. Why didn't they just tell him what was going on so he didn't have to snoop?
Throttle had two drawers in the dresser, but they were filled with clothes. If he did have something he didn't want anybody to see, the best place to store it would be his bike. Sparks snorted to himself.
A bike engine roared in Quigley Field. He turned to the outside door and his heart sank. A bright blue bike shot inside the scoreboard. Her split wheels parallel to the ground drew together to make proper wheels before she parked on the floor. Tala pulled off her space helmet. "Where is Vinnie, so I can give him a reason to get another mask!"
"He and Dad went after Throttle. Something bad is going on."
The blonde haired human sighed as she dismounted. "Throttle came to my building, said Charley's life is on the line, and was," she huffed, "acting crazy. He didn't have Modo or Vinnie with him, and he didn't want any backup."
"Dad said he turned off his tracking device. And Vinnie only heard the message that some Turbo guy had Charley by accident." Sparks stuffed his hands into his jean pockets. "Do you know what Eroite is?"
Tala shook her head before slapping her forehead. She turned on the CB unit on her bike. "Hey MC, got a definition for Eroite? Martian term."
"A ceremonial transfer of a hereditary title alenish. Alenish loosely translates to clan leader," the feminine computerized voice answered through the speaker.
"Does it say how the transfer is done? 'Cause Throttle was talking death."
"The secondary definition is title death, Mistress Tala."
"Roddie always said to tell people I wasn't related to her," Sparks added. "Do you think they have to kill everyone who could inherit the title before it transfers?"
"Sounds like a good assumption to make. Now I have to find them. I got a gut feeling that the mouse scouts are in over their ears." She mounted her bike again.
"Wait! Take me with you!"
Tala grimaced. "Sparks, if your father didn't want you in the middle of this…."
"He just said to stay safe. I think I'm a lot safer with you than here. What if that Turbo guy decides he needs a new hostage? Plus I know where they went to see him."
Her shoulders slumped. "Get on." Sparks grabbed his space helmet and climbed on behind her. "Where are we going?"
"The John Hancock Center rooftop."
Tala pushed on her helmet. "Flight mode!" The bright blue bike with the white lightening bolt racing stripe beeped as it jumped. The wheels split apart again and spread out.
Sparks wrapped his arms around her waist as they moved into the night air with a pulse of magnetic energy. "This gives me a perfect opportunity to discuss transportation options with you."
Vinnie fell to his knees with a heart wrenching scream. He bent face first down beating his fists against the rooftop. Modo pulled off his helmet, not bothering to blot the tears streaming from his eye. Throttle's body didn't move. What were they going to do now? How could they rescue Charley without Throttle to tell them what to do? How could they even stop Limburger from destroying Chicago?
He pulled Vinnie upright to stop him from beating a hole through the building. The white mouse's muscles felt clenched. The bloodshot eyes almost matched his bike, and his face fur and his flex-steel mask were dripping wet. "He has to pay. He has to pay!"
"I know." Modo swallowed hard as he knelt next to Vinnie. So how do we find him swirled inside his head. He couldn't make the questions come out of his mouth. Even Charley would have a plan to put into action. He never was good at planning; he was the muscle. And Vinnie couldn't plan right now. "At least, Throttle's not skinned." Vinnie bowed his head with a sob.
A bike engine filled the air. Modo looked up to see Tala's bike land next to their bikes. "Dad!" Sparks scrambled off first and wrapped his arms around his neck in a hug. Modo held him there with his flesh arm.
Tala dismounted and stuffed her hands into the pockets of her white leather motorcycle jacket. She moved around the perimeter until she reached Throttle's body. She snorted with a grimace. "What happened?"
"The bastard shot Throttle and took Charley." Vinnie didn't look up.
"The bastard is Turbo?" Modo nodded, not trusting himself to speak. He wasn't surprised she knew Turbo. Who knew what he had been doing since he left Mars. Tala turned back to Throttle's body and kicked his hip.
"Hey!" Modo snapped. He knew Tala and Throttle irritated each other, but still. "Show some respect."
She leaned over Throttle. "Since your plan so obviously failed, get up, and tell us what's going on!"
Modo opened his mouth to ask her if she knew what damage a laser blast to the chest does, but Throttle groaned before he could say anything. Vinnie pivoted on his knees to face Throttle. Their bro sat up and pulled the burnt remains of his leather vest away from his body. An aqua-blue chest plate covered his torso. "Aaawoo," came from Vinnie, but at a subdued volume. Modo grinned and couldn't stop.
Tala shook her head. "Boys, check for a pulse before planning the funeral."
Throttle felt the back of his head. "Should've kept my helmet." He looked up with a blink. "Why don't you guys have Charley?"
"Turbo had a transport remote," Modo explained. "We never had a chance to grab her."
His eyelids narrowed over his cybernetic red eyes. "How long?"
"Just a few minutes."
He stood. "Tala, we need your transport unit to lock onto Turbo's base unit."
"Time out." Tala planted her hands on her hips. "I'm not asking for a lot here. I just want to know what the hell is going on!" Her lips pressed together tighter while Throttle remained silent.
"He took Charley to kill her. Do you need more detail than that?"
"How much of your fighting style does he know? How often has he tried to kill you? What kind of equipment does he have access to, can he break a transport unit lock? Why does he want to kill you and Charley?"
Throttle shook his head. "We don't have time for this. Are you helping or not?"
"Fine, I'm in for Charley. But as soon as the crisis is over, I am getting answers even if I have to skin them out of you."
Vinnie moved before anyone else, grabbing Tala's arm and whirling her around to see his face. "Do not joke about that. Never again. And never to Throttle."
She wiped away some of the captured tears on his furry cheek. "I'm sorry." She turned back to Throttle. "I don't handle frustration well. I wouldn't actually do that." Vinnie let go of her arm with a nod and wiped his face.
"Charley's counting on us," Throttle said. "Let's rock…."
"And ride!" Everyone remounted and roared off the John Hancock Center.
For the third time, Throttle had upset his carefully laid plans that should have worked. Turbo and Charley rematerialized inside the transport unit in the cargo bay of his Thunderpipe. She kicked him repeatedly in the close quarters. His ears rang from the scream she aimed right into his ear. The toes of her boots connected with his knees and he stumbled out of the cylindrical transport unit. He landed on his side, but she kept her feet. She wrapped a hand around his tail and held on while throwing her weight back. The pain caused him to loosen his grip around her.
Charley rolled from his reach and ran for the door that led outside the ship. Turbo cursed as he lurched to his feet. He should have tied her hands behind her back, but given how sadly she fought before, he hadn't thought it necessary.
The door rolled up as the ramp descended to the rooftop of Limburger's building. The human female glanced over her shoulder at him before ducking to wiggle out through the space available.
Turbo cursed as he crawled after her. His tail wrapped around both her ankles and pulled into the air. He climbed to his feet and reversed the opening door, and then locked it. She was a mechanic familiar with Martian technology, after all.
Her chestnut hair brushed against the floor and her green eyes glared up at him. "You sick bastard. Let me go and fight fair!"
He winced. "Does that mean you get a mute button?" She opened her mouth to scream again, and he jumped in. "Surprised you even feel that you have anything to live for with your precious Throttle gone."
She closed her eyes against the despair that filled her face. But when she opened them, he almost took a step back from the rage that radiated from them. "I don't know what kind of women you are used to dealing with, you motherfucker, but you don't know the first thing about me."
"Leave my mother out of this. You have even less right than Throttle did to speak about her."
"Oh, I'm sure she's real proud of her son Cain right now."
He ignored her taunts. She was trying to goad him into making a mistake. He would salvage this fiasco as best he could. He moved past his bike to the ship's radio controls and programmed the music.
You'll beat me?
Bring it on! Bring it on!
You're gonna save the day?
Bring it on! Bring it on!
You ready? Bring it on!
I'll show you another thing or two!
Letting the music sooth his wounded pride, he carried her upside down into the rest of the ship. He stopped at the first cabin. Only his tail crossed the threshold as he dropped Charley on her ass inside the small room. "You have to change."
She looked at the loincloths lying on the metal shelf intended to be the sleeping bunk of the cabin. "In your dreams, asshole. Slobber the Mutt didn't get me into a Slave Leia costume and you won't either!"
You may think you're clever but you're not
You better get the coffins out!
Trust me kid that's where you're sleeping tonight!
There's no guarantee we'll get out alive
Stop you're whining! Let's get busy!
Baby, it's time to lock and load!
Stop you're whining! Let's get busy!
"I'm trying to spare your dignity. Dress yourself in the ceremonial loincloths or I will have to dress you. Which do you prefer?"
"Ritualized rape that you want me to cooperate with? You're psychotic and you've been sniffing exhaust fumes!" Charley stood and tensed her body to fight him again.
Welcome to the show,
it's a story that you've heard a thousand times
So take a seat and get lost with me,
this tale will never stop being told
Welcome to the show,
it's a chance to save the world or lose the girl
Let's save the world! Heroes will save the day!
He laughed. "Is that why you're fighting so hard? I'm not going to rape you. What kind of man do you think I am?"
You may think you've won
but I promise you
it's not over!
You may think you've won
but I promise you
it's not over!
"Do you really want me to answer that?" She glanced at the loincloths and then at him.
"Rape has no part in Eroite. Those are the ceremonial loincloths to allow easy access to the pelt before total nudity is necessary for the proper knife work. If you would prefer to start with total nudity, I can accommodate you."
The pale color of her skin had taken a greenish hue. "You said I was compensation."
"For not being able to perform Eroite on Throttle. Did you think his death saved your hide?"
This could be our one last chance
to finally rise up
So here we stand and here we will fight
None of us shall run
Storms are gathering
There's no guarantee we'll get out alive
Stop you're whining! Let's get busy!
We have to rise above and fight
We'll be heroes!
Charley scanned the walls of the six-foot-wide room for an escape path. "I don't understand. Throttle's dead." She squeezed the shades in her hand. It impressed him that she had fought while holding them. "Throttle's the one you wanted to kill."
"How many times do we have to go over this?" Turbo shook his head. He expected whoever Throttle hooked up with to be smarter than this. "Skin the entire bloodline to make the mantle of alenish before you can wear it. Skin the women who carry the potential bloodline." He looked away, remembering the first time he heard the laws. "You think you are beyond the laws because you are an alien? Because Throttle did not claim you as a mate? You could still carry his bloodline."
Welcome to the show,
it's a story that you've heard a thousand times
So take a seat and get lost with me,
this tale will never stop being told
Welcome to the show,
it's a chance to save the world or lose the girl
Let's save the world! Heroes will save the day!
"Without having sex? I'm pretty sure that's not possible without sex!"
"Sorry? You're going to kill me because I could be pregnant and you're sorry! I don't even get a pregnancy test first?"
"Laws were created before pregnancy tests, and nobody wanted to keep a prisoner until it was undeniable. Stop acting like this is my fault."
This is the part where you are supposed to scream!
When you scream we'll be heroes!
Her jaw fell open before she recovered to protest again. "You are going to kill me." She pointed at him with her tied hands. "Who else's fault can it possible be!"
Turbo stepped into the cabin and undid the restraint around her wrists. Hope blossomed in her eyes, until he grabbed her upper arms and leaned into her face. "You made love to the alenish and sealed your fate. Throttle killed my mother and sealed mine. But I make the most of my situation." The tip of his tail trailed along her jaw. "I will have to take my pleasure in watching your red blood flow into the catch basin and then dump it onto the sands of Mars." He shoved her and she caught herself against the back wall. "Chose how you are going to meet death." He stepped back, not taking his eyes off her, until he was back in the hall. He had locked the door and headed to the cockpit before she started pounding on the metal.
He admired her persistence and hoped she would continue to fight. His pants tightened as he thought about her unblemished body before it was covered in blood. Too bad he was honest with how the ceremony was performed. Otherwise, he could have stripped her before skinning her. He sat in the pilot seat and started the preflight sequence.
Once the ship had left the city, he could turn on the automatic pilot to establish an orbit around the Earth. The engines throbbed with power, vibrating the entire ship, as it lifted off Limburger's Tower. He reached the proper altitude and set the auto pilot. He got up with a stretch.
Welcome to the show,
it's a story that you've heard a thousand times
So take a seat and get lost with me,
this tale will never stop being told
Welcome to the show,
it's a chance to save the world or lose the girl
Let's save the world!
Heroes will always save the day!
Let's save the world!
Heroes will save the day!
Let's save the world!
Heroes will always save the day!
Turbo headed down the hallway toward his prisoner. He didn't open Charley's cell, but went into the larger cabin next to hers. All furniture was gone, except for a small table beside the pair of metal poles. He pulled an ornate box from the closet and set it on the table. The chest was painted red and gold, accenting the scenes of the Eroite ceremony on the panels. He always liked the scene on the lid, a male mouse wearing a cape stitched together of other mouse skins. He never heard of anyone actually wearing it, but it fit the poetics of the laws right enough. He opened the chest, pulling the large knife out before the bottle of anticoagulant. He paused in his preparation. What if it didn't work on the human female?
The way his luck had gone his entire life, it probably wouldn't. But it was too late to stop. He coated the blade with the anticoagulant. After closing the box, he turned to the metal poles. The chains were strong enough to restrain him, but he tested them again--even though the woman was weaker.
He had replaced the floor under the poles with grating over the catch basin. The blood had to be poured on the sands of Mars, but he wouldn't keep a prisoner all the way to Mars, even with the original plan. He snorted to himself. He knew better than to trust Throttle that long, and his woman was just as bad. Turbo sighed. It was time to end this. He left the killing room and opened Charley's cell.
She sat on the bunk, turning Throttle's shades in her hands. She had changed into the loincloths. Two sections of material tied together above her hip bones made the bottom half of the outfit. They were cut to cover her groin and ass, but created a split between them and revealed her long, creamy legs. A long, skinny piece of the same material wrapped around the back of her neck and descended over her pert breasts before being tied behind her back. The creamy skin over the rest of her body was unblemished and looked as soft as a pelt would be. "No wonder Throttle had been smitten into even something as pathetic as a fling."
Charley flushed and the red tint spread over her face and down her neck. "Do I get a last request under Eroite?"
"Depends on what your last request is." He remembered it was an Earth custom to ask for something when the humans were about to die.
"Don't talk about me and Throttle ever again." She gripped Throttle's shades as she stood.
"That can be granted. Anything else?"
"I doubt turning the ship around and letting me go is allowed, so let's just get this over with." She didn't flinch or wince.
"You're braver than I thought you'd be."
Her green eyes bored into him. "Maybe because I have someone waiting for me."
He pulled her into the hall. She didn't resist. "Or maybe you don't know what you face." She looked at the poles inside the killing room. "Remind you of something?" As far as he knew, the humans didn't have skinning frames.
"A memory I wasn't supposed to see." Tears glistened in her eyes. "No wonder he didn't want to go back."
Turbo yanked her forward. No compassion for what he had lost; no, it was all given to Throttle. He locked her left wrist in first. Her right hand fisted around the shades. He knelt to lock in her ankles before pressing the cinch control button at the base of the right pole. The slack in the chains disappeared as she was stretched spread-eagle between the poles. He pressed the next button to control the pole extension. "On Mars, this would be used last. To raise the skinned body high in the sky so the carrion eaters have to work extra hard." Her navel was eye level with him and he stopped raising them. "I'm afraid I cheat a little to make it easier to do."
"Typical. You give a shit about breaking the rules over murdering someone, but you do break the rules to spare your knees." Charley glared at him before looking straight ahead again. "Though I don't know why you made it so hard to cut my throat."
"Cut your throat? Throat, head, hands, and feet are the only parts not skinned." What she meant dawned on him. "You think you die first. No, those undergoing Eroite are skinned alive." He turned to the table. "I have to apologize for my technique. I've never skinned anything hairless before. I'm not sure what a difference that makes."
"What the hell is wrong with you? They killed your mother by skinning her alive and you're continuing the cycle!"
Turbo picked up the knife, weighing the heft of it. "Because the laws are written in the blood of countless generations, soaked into the sand and stone of an entire world. No one escapes the laws of war, bloodshed, and Eroite. Not my mother, not you, not me." He held of her right leg and made the first cut across the skin above the shackle. Her body thrashed and he lost his grip, unable to complete the cut around her entire calf. He watched her breathe through her clenched jaw. "The only escape is the peace of the grave."
"And it's time you had that peace, Turbo." Throttle said behind him.
Charley forgot to breathe. When the ship took off, she had given up because there was no way Vinnie and Modo could rescue her in space. Throttle was dead, and what was left? Let the crazy bastard kill her and desecrate her body. It's not like she had a lot of people who would come to her funeral. But Throttle walked into the room with Vinnie and Modo flanking, and they looked ready to kill. She didn't care that she had never seen them so furious or that they had never seen her with less than a bathing suit on or that Throttle had called her a fling or that tears trailed down her cheeks. The one she loved was alive.
Turbo whirled with a snarl. Throttle's leather vest hung open--the zipper had been burnt away--and showed the aqua-blue chest plate that looked a lot like Tala's armor. Turbo screamed inarticulately and threw the knife.
"No!" Vinnie shoved Throttle. The tan mouse stumbled out of the knife's path. The blade buried into Vinnie's chest under his shoulder. Modo caught Vinnie before he landed on the floor. Turbo ran out of the room.
"Sandblasted, Vinnie! I know how to duck." Throttle tore off his neck bandanna and pressed it down around the knife. "Don't pull it out. Not until we get medical help."
Modo nodded, his expression pinched. Vinnie grinned. "It's only a flesh wound, bro. 'Sides, you got distracted by Charley." He pressed one of his expandable flares into Throttle's hand.
Throttle looked alarmed at the blood running down her foot. His tail wrapped around her waist, and lit the flare. The shackle around her injured leg fell away. The flare extinguished after he freed her legs. He squeezed her with his tail as he pulled out his laser pistol. "Hold still." The precision shots broke the chains, leaving the shackles on her wrists like bracelets. He drew her into his arms and held her against his chest. "Charley."
She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him hard. He kept one arm around her waist, while his other hand went under her hair and pressed her closer. They broke apart to breathe. "I thought you were dead." She chuckled as the tears flowed again. "God, I should've known better."
"He fooled us too, Charley-ma'am," Modo said.
"Sorry, that wasn't part of the plan." Throttle held her off the ground. "Are you cut anywhere else?" She shook her head and he set her next to Vinnie and Modo. He wrapped his wrist bandanna tightly around her leg. The cut wasn't deep enough to need stitches, but it was bleeding freely. "Get 'em back to Tala's, Modo."
The grey mouse's eye opened wide. "What about you?"
Throttle helped Charley up, making sure she could stand on her leg. "This ends tonight."
Charley gripped his arm. "Throttle."
He winced. "Don't. I have to finish this or he'll keep coming after us."
"I know. Fighting for the past." She slid his shades back on his face. "I love you. Now, go whip his tail!"
Throttle kissed her again without saying anything before he bolted into the hallway.
"I can't believe you did that." Modo shifted Vinnie in his arms so the white mouse could lean against him but kept his flesh hand pressed around the knife.
"There's no way to rehabilitate Turbo." And hopefully Modo would drop it, because he wouldn't agree with her plan. Neither would Vinnie or Throttle but neither one of them could stop her. She borrowed Vinnie's laser pistol from his holster.
"Don't blame the Big Fella, Charley-girl." Vinnie's voice thickened with pain. "He's never had to hear one of Turbo's Throttle-must-die rants."
"That's a good way to describe them." Charley copied Modo's rapid scan of their surroundings as they eased down the hallway. They didn't need Turbo to surprise them with Vinnie injured. They made it to the ship's hold without incident. Charley noticed the second hallway branching off but she ignored it, heading straight to the transport unit controls. She had a handful of times of working on Karbunkle's, but she understood how they worked. "It's locked onto Tala's unit."
"Set the timer." Modo carried Vinnie into the cylinder machine.
"Sorry, Modo." The doors slid shut on his surprised face and she activated the transport sequence. The machine flashed a blue light and Charley programmed in a lock to prevent them from transporting back. She turned, gun held ready, and ears straining to hear footsteps or fists pummeling. She heard nothing.
First, she wanted her clothes and boots back on. Then she could find the cockpit or a computer to track Throttle and Turbo. She felt good about this plan as she headed down the hall back to the room Turbo had kept her prisoner in.
She moved down the hall on her bare feet, keeping close to the wall. She looked into the branching hallway, but no one was lurking there. She breathed easier upon reaching the cell door, and lowered the gun to unlock it. She gaped into Turbo's smirking face as the metal door slid away.
"You should have run." He lunged at her.
Charley fired the laser pistol. Too bad it wasn't aimed at him. His tackle slammed her on her back. She kicked with her knee and Turbo pushed off her to avoid it. She twisted onto her stomach underneath him. She reached for the laser pistol, knocked centimeters out of reach.
Turbo chuckled as he grabbed her wrist. She drove her free elbow into him, but he shifted and it glanced off his ribs. His tail wrapped around her free arm and pulled it straight so she couldn't use it. "Scream for me," he purred into her ear.
"Go to hell!"
He pulled her onto her knees with him and traced a design on her exposed stomach with his free fingers. "Scream for Throttle to save you."
"You honestly have no clue." She drove her right foot into him. It never would have worked if he hadn't been holding her upright. His hold on her arms weakened and she lunged for the laser pistol. She felt something whoosh above when she got her fingers around the purple metal. The sound of colliding bodies and punches filled the hall behind her. She held the gun, ready to shoot, as she pivoted to sit on the floor.
Turbo punched Throttle in the jaw and dislodged the tan mouse. The brown mouse ran into the branching hallway. Throttle sat up, rubbing his jaw. "Damnit, Charley, I wanted you safe!"
"Deal with it! You wouldn't leave me alone to fight my demons and I'm not leaving you alone to fight yours." She made sure the material covered what it was supposed to. "But I won't argue against a break so I can change clothes."
He climbed to his feet. "No time. I want to keep Turbo from getting away."
"I locked the transport unit." She looked into the open cell. Five seconds to pull on her jeans.
"You can guard the cockpit." Throttle grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the cell and the cargo hold.
"I don't know how to fly a spaceship!"
"It's a Cyclodrone Thunderpipe. Controls are based off a bike's. But you shouldn't need to drive. Just keep Turbo from taking us away from Earth." The hallway merged with the second hallway and a door waited at the end. It slid open before them, revealing a room with a window stretching across the front wall. A long bike seat with a set of chopper handle bars sat in the center of the window. Another bank of computer screens was on the right side of the room. Earth's moon loomed large in the window, but they hadn't reached it yet.
Throttle released her hand as he moved to the controls next to the handle bars. "We haven't reached orbit yet. I think we can reverse the automatic pilot."
Charley counted crashed spaceships silently. "What's wrong with orbit? It's not like he plotted a course to Mars."
"Plutarkians are out here too and we're in a distinctive Martian spaceship." He pressed buttons. "I'd rather skip getting shot back down on Earth again."
"That's a good point." She saw movement out of the corner of her eye and whirled. Turbo stood in the door with a laser pistol. "Look out!" She shot first, hitting the brown mouse in the shoulder.
The hit jerked Turbo's shot off target and it hit the console stretched under the window. Throttle dropped and rolled away while saying something in Martian. His shots hit the doorframe as Turbo backed away. "Lock the door!" Throttle chased after him.
Charley tried to work the door controls, but a blast had hit it. Without tools, she couldn't even find the wires that powered the door within the melted slag. There was a high pitched whine behind her. The console around the bike seat sparked. She ducked against the wall covering her head with her arms just in time for the boom. It didn't throw any debris into the room, so she looked back at the controls. Smoke billowed from them. "Great." The entire spaceship shuddered and the moon moved across the window. "Oh no!"
She rushed to the window, waving the smoke away from her face. The Cyclodrone Thunderpipe had turned back toward Earth, and kept spinning. Earth got closer and the moon when it swung into view was further away. "This can't be good!" She coughed and moved through the smoke to reach the handle bars. Her arms strained to straighten the spin like she would on a bike. Her knees squeezed the seat between them as she threw her weight against the handlebars. The shake of the ship transferred through the handle bars. Charley clenched her jaw to keep her teeth from vibrating. The stressed metal whined and the handlebars snapped off where they attached to the console. She ducked out of the smoke and blinked her watery eyes at the broken bits of metal with sliced wires dangling from them. "This is a serious design flaw!" She shook the handlebars before tossing them aside.
She found a less-smoke-filled section of the window. Good news, the moon had stopped spinning into view. Bad news, the North American land mass grew larger. Charley's eyes widened. "What are the odds there is a safety manual in here?" She tore into the storage bins hoping against gut-sinking realization.
Tala clenched her fist to keep her fingers from wrapping around the closest furry throat, which at the moment was Vinnie's. Her code of ethics wouldn't let her injure the wounded; no matter how badly they were driving her crazy. She held him upright with his tail wrapped around her torso to add support. His good arm kept the knife in his wound and pressed the bandanna to staunch the flow of blood. Modo and Sparks both worked the transport unit controls with input from MC.
Sparks looked up at his father. "It's no good; I can't break her lock."
Modo's shoulders slumped. "Can't we teleport right next to the unit?"
MC answered first. "The technology does not work that way, Biker Modo."
"Throttle's gonna kill me."
"You need to go to my medbay." Most times you had to point out the sane conclusion to them, but especially Vinnie. Tala thought she sounded saintly patient.
"Gotta help Throttle and Charley."
"How? By bleeding on Turbo?"
Vinnie slumped heavier against her. "Don't expect a loner like you to understand."
Oh, Mouse Scout asked for it. "Just because you haven't met them and I don't advertise their existence doesn't mean I don't have anyone I would lay down my life for. And don't dare say I haven't been helping. I helped Throttle when the smarter thing to do would have been to knock his erratic ass out and call you two. I let you use my equipment and stayed out of it, despite my extreme reservations. You three are too personally invested into the situation, otherwise, you would trust Throttle to handle it and get yourself patched up before you bleed to death!"
Sparks turned from the controls. "She's right."
"Fine," Vinnie's head dropped. "Get the medkit."
"It's easier to bring you to the medkit," Tala said as she turned him.
Sparks followed them down the hallway without darting around their progress. She didn't want to jostle Vinnie more than necessary, given that he had a blade stuck in him. "Do you think they're ever gonna tell us what's going on?" the boy asked.
"I'm holding out for an explanation from Charley. If she doesn't know, it'll be three versus three."
Vinnie picked up his head as they crossed the medbay's threshold. "NO!" He shoved them both back into the hall. Sparks jumped out of the way. "No way in hell!"
"Vinnie, stop it! You're gonna hurt yourself worse!" Tala clutched him tighter but his wounded left arm made a fist and nailed her on the chin. Her hold loosened and his tail snapped, sending her sailing down the hallway.
Sparks pressed against the opposite wall. "Dad!"
Tala climbed to her feet. Vinnie's tail slashed through the air. The knife was still in, but the trail of blood stained his white fur down to the waistband of his jeans. Both his hands curled into fists as he stared into her medbay. How could she get him calmed down so she could treat him? "Vinnie, you're bleeding."
"Been there, done that, never doing it again!"
"What, Vinnie?" His wide red eyes never moved from the doorway. "Vinnie, you're going to bleed to death if we don't help you."
"Better than being a walkin' experiment!"
"No one's experimenting, Vinnie." Tala eased closer.
His tail wrapped around her trapping her arms. "'Cause Karbunkle's never fucking with me ever again!"
Now she was getting worried. "Sparks, get back." The mouse boy pressed against the wall next to the medbay doorway. "Where do you think you are, Vinnie? Who do you think has you?"
"Vincent!" Modo bellowed before striding forward. Vinnie's attention jerked to him, and Sparks slipped into the medbay. "Put her down. She's trying to help you."
"Into Karbunkle's lab!"
"We're not anywhere near Karbunkle's lab." Modo said as he reached them.
Vinnie gestured at the medbay with his wounded left arm. "Look at it!" He flinched with pain and his right hand came up to the knife hilt.
"No!" Tala and Modo shouted in unison. Modo grabbed Vinnie's arm. Vinnie pulled, but couldn't free his arm.
Sparks darted out of the medbay and jabbed a syringe into Vinnie's right arm before anyone could stop him. He jumped out of reach once he had emptied the contents into the white mouse. Modo caught Vinnie as he sagged toward the floor. "A sedative," Sparks explained. "It didn't sound like Vinnie was here with the rest of us."
"Good call." Tala pushed her way free of the now slack tail. "Can we get him inside before anything else happens?"
"Yeah." Modo carried Vinnie bridal style into the medbay. Sparks giggled. "If ya tell him, I don't think I can stop him from killin' ya in good conscious."
"Sorry, it's stress." Sparks cleared his throat a couple of times as he moved to the far corner.
Tala pulled out her gauze. "Any idea what anticoagulant would have been put on the blade?"
"None. They don't share the details about Eroite with those not in the know. Maybe that cuts down on murders." Modo grabbed a fistful of the cotton as he stood above Vinnie on the examination table. "Ready."
"Ready." Tala eased the knife out of the wound. It didn't catch on anything and cause any more tearing. As soon as the blade was free, Modo pressed the cotton down. She put the knife into the medical scanner to figure out the drug used. She turned back to Modo. "This could take a minute."
He winced and gestured at his chin with his metal hand. "I'm sure Vinnie didn't mean to hit ya."
She glanced in the closest reflective surface. Her chin was already dark with a bruise. "This will heal in a few minutes. And he owed me a punch. Not that he would take it," she explained to his glower, "and I didn't mean to punch him either. Can you tell me what just happened or are you going to clam up like Throttle?"
"He thought he was in Karbunkle's laboratory."
"Yeah, we got that, Dad." Sparks said from his seat on the floor.
"Don't you have homework?"
"I finished it."
"Stop ignoring my question." Tala snapped her fingers in Modo's direction. "Why would Vinnie think--even messed up with blood loss--he was in Karbunkle's lab?" She dug out the blood pressure cuff and gently slid it onto Vinnie's left arm before hooking it into the sensor for MC to control it.
Modo pointed up. "Karbunkle uses the robot arms from the ceiling too. Only his attachments aren't benign." The grey mouse pulled at the collar of his chest plate. "That's what he used to mess up Vinnie's face while Vinnie was awake. That's why he wears the mask, though I don't think the flex-plate shielding will come off now."
Tala blinked as she stayed still to hide her emotions. She wasn't surprised that Karbunkle had done it, but how he was still breathing was a shocker. How Vinnie had kept it quiet surprised her too. "I assumed it was a war injury."
"Technically, it is. Karbunkle and Limburger worked under Stilton on Mars." Modo looked down at Vinnie. "My bro don't talk about his issues. He prefers his ego."
"I can understand that."
"Charley didn't. She was sympathetic, but his ego drove her up the wall."
"Trauma can be healed. Or at least covered up." Vinnie's easy acceptance of what she had gone through made more sense. "She doesn't have a mask. I know where he's coming from." She doubled checked the blood pressure reading. "One ten, he's going to need a small transfusion." That didn't ease Modo's worried expression. "MC, five hundred cc's of synth-plasma."
"Acknowledged, Mistress Tala." The proper I.V. bag slid into place on the robot arm, which then guided an I.V. drip into Vinnie's right arm. "The anticoagulant has been identified, and it has no side effects with duraskin. However, surgery may be required, dependent on the angle of the wound." The robot arms rotated again, bringing the smallest scanner probe in front of Vinnie.
"Don't borrow trouble, Dad."
He nodded as he shifted the bloody gauze aside. The scanner probe slid into the wound. "The subclavian vein is nicked," MC announced, "but the bone prevented any damage to the lungs."
"That's good news," Tala felt the tension ebb from her shoulders.
"The nick requires suture. Duraskin will facilitate healing for the rest of the wound." The robot arms whirled. The suture needle slid into the wound next, followed by a sterilizing spray to the whole area. The last robot arm squeezed in the duraskin. The clear gel substance turned red as it hardened. "Finished."
Modo sagged against the examination table. "Thank goodness."
"Considering the shape I've been in and MC has patched me up fine, you guys have got no faith in the medical program." Tala cleaned the rest of the blood off Vinnie's fur.
"In our defense, I don't think we've ever seen you messed up that badly," Sparks answered as she shooed both father and son out of the medbay and into the lounge.
"Details, details. Speaking of, it's time we had some." She plopped on the couch and Modo looked at her suspiciously. "What is Eroite?"
Sparks sat and folded his arms. "I wanna know too."
Modo rolled his eye, but no escape route presented itself on the ceiling. "How much Martian history do you know?"
"Home of mice, rats, and Sand Raiders. Plutarkians invaded and wrecked the planet."
"History was the one curriculum they never got straightened out on the Fury." Sparks kicked his legs. "Before the war, the mice and rats had a democratic republican form of government centered around cities. The Sand Raiders are nomadic then and now."
Modo tugged at his chest plate like it was too tight. "Eroite is from before all that, back when mice lived in the caves, before the cities."
"I've heard references to Martian cave mice," Tala said.
"Yeah, the Plutarkians like to sneer it. Makes us sound too primitive to be a threat. But centuries ago, whole mountains were carved up into underground cities that an entire clan lived in. Throttle could explain this much better."
"You're doing fine," Sparks said.
"Right. The entire mountain would be ruled by the alenish. And it would pass to his son when he died."
"Hereditary title in Throttle's family?" Tala asked.
"How did you know?"
"You only have one alenish, but sometimes you'd get family members who didn't get the title and thought they should. Eroite was invented to kill everybody who would inherit the title until it went back to the branch with the grudge." His eye looked every where but at them. "But it wasn't enough to kill them, they had to be humiliated and dishonored. The victims are skinned alive in Eroite."
Tala's jaw dropped as nausea rose from her stomach. She snapped her mouth shut before she threw up. Sparks looked green under his grey fur. "That's a really sick tradition," she finally said.
"Yes, it is."
"Mice still do this?"
"It stopped during the war. I hope the rest of them realize you can't risk the species' survival for a stupid title." Modo turned away. Sparks hugged him around the waist. Modo rested his flesh hand on the back of his son's head. Tala didn't say anything to not ruin their moment.
MC didn't have the same consideration. "Mistress Tala, a Cyclodrone Thunderpipe is on a collision course with the city."
"Visual." Tala stood in front of the view screen built into the wall. The device turned on to an outline 3D rendering of Chicago and represented the descending ship with a blinking dot.
Modo joined her. "Turbo's ship is a Thunderpipe."
She glanced up at him. "How come nothing is ever easy with you guys?"
"It's more fun this way?" He shrugged before turning to Sparks. "Watch Vinnie."
"Watch Vinnie do what? Whip my tail when the sedative wears off?"
"He's right," Tala said. "Move Vinnie to a bedroom." Modo nodded and left. "MC, download this tracking input to Hot Stuff and Modo's bike."
"Acknowledged, Mistress Tala. However, what do you believe you can accomplish against a crashing spaceship?"
"Keep it off the general population, I hope." She left the lounge for her ship bedroom, grabbing the spare suit of red and black flex armor out of the closet. She slid it on over the jeans and long sleeved shirt she wore and met Modo in the hall. "Ready?"
"Hero time!" They headed out of More Hot Stuff and into the elevator through her building. Their bikes waited in the basement garage.
Throttle shot down the hallway, but Turbo dodged the laser beam by jumping down a stairwell. The tan mouse stifled his oath as he eased to the steps. Make emotional, stupid decisions, and Turbo gets away to hurt Charley, Roddie, and Vinnie again, he chided himself.
At the bottom of the stairs, he pressed his back against the wall. The engines throbbed and clanked, covering running footsteps. Would Turbo sabotage his ship to kill him? If Turbo didn't think he could win any other way, he would.
Throttle moved down the pathway between the turbines. Solitary lights hung above created pools of light in the engine room. If all the fixtures had working bulbs in them, light would flood the engine room. He grimaced, maintenance of proper lighting wasn't on Turbo's agenda.
A laser bolt whined and Throttle dropped to the metal floor. The bolt scorched the wall at the end of the engine room. "Baby brother has fast reflexes," Turbo mocked.
Throttle rolled behind a pipe off the left turbine before shooting at where the voice and laser bolt came from. A muffled curse rewarded him. "I don't think I was ever your baby brother, Turbo. Maybe things would have been different if you had let me be."
"Don't you dare!" The rapid shots that followed the bellow hit around Throttle. "I was never good enough for Blade! He ruined everything! Oh, but you, his precious newborn son, nothing was good enough for you on the whole planet."
Throttle took his time aiming at the screaming. His laser bolt scored, earning the sound of someone falling. The falling didn't last, but changed to scrambling to feet and running. Throttle sprinted after Turbo.
The pathway changed to a railed catwalk as the floor dropped away and the turbines expanded beneath him. The brown mouse was ahead of him, without a gun. Turbo stopped moving, keeping his back to Throttle. "Take it."
His tan left arm quivered. He couldn't find Turbo's gun. He hurt Charley, shoot him! But his hand wouldn't listen to his head.
"Can't shoot a man in the back?" Turbo chuckled as he turned, raising his hands even with his head. "Is this better?" His head cocked to the side. "You know I won't stop coming after you, Throttle. You know I will kill that beautiful bitch of yours."
"Don't call her any names." His trigger finger wouldn't move.
Turbo smirked. "Is that the best defense you can muster, Throttle? Do you want to watch me rape her? Will her voice screaming and pleading make you despair or just make you hard?"
The laser pistol spasmed in Throttle's hand. The bolt hit Turbo in the shoulder and knocked him over the rail. Throttle dropped his left arm, breathing heavily. He moved to look over the rail and see how far down the body was. He didn't see a body in the deep shadows.
He moved to the other side for a different vantage point, and saw the pair of boots that swung up and nailed him in the chest. Throttle lost his laser pistol, but grabbed the railing before he followed it.
Turbo climbed back onto the catwalk. "Looks like fighting Plutarkians didn't teach you all the tricks." He kicked Throttle in the arm pit.
Throttle's hand slipped, but he grabbed the railing's support with his right hand. The nuke-knucks glove added traction to his grip. Turbo's foot moved to kick again, but the tan tail wrapped around his ankle and yanked the brown mouse onto his back. Throttle pulled himself onto the catwalk.
Turbo laughed as he sat up. "How fast would you have come after Hot Rod if she had been full mouse? It's always been an alien bitch to set you off. No spare thoughts about Mother at all."
"My thoughts have never changed." Throttle tackled Turbo. "You killed my parents!" He straddled the older mouse and punched his snout. "You tried to kill my little sis-cuz!" Turbo's head shifted when he took the punch from the left fist. "You hurt my tokara!" Blood splattered from Turbo's mouth when Throttle's right fist hit his face again.
Turbo's tail wrapped around Throttle's waist and pulled him off. The brown mouse scrambled to his feet, leaping over Throttle to run back to the solid portion of the engine room. Throttle rolled over to his fours with a growl and charged after him.
Turbo darted to the right onto a walkway through the turbine. "You shouldn't have let that slip, baby brother. There's no way I can spare her now."
"Like you would regardless." Throttle stalked into the shadowed machinery. Turbo's darker fur allowed him to blend, and the working machinery masked the sounds he made.
"You know me so well." Brown hands appeared out of the shadows and grabbed the remains of Throttle's leather vest.
"Yeah, I know you." Throttle grabbed Turbo's arms. Turbo freed his right arm and the fist hit the left side of Throttle's snout. The side of Throttle's mouth cut against his buck teeth. Throttle made sure to hit a swollen bruise on Turbo's bloody, brown snout. Turbo hissed and pulled back, but Throttle held fast. "Which is why this must end."
Turbo swung but Throttle dodged the blow. "I've been trying to end it for twenty-two years!"
Throttle's fist pounded Turbo's side. Turbo twisted and threw his punches. The two mice twisted around the small space. They slammed into a small pipe between the turbine halves, breaking the metal. The power running through the pipe arced with a green glow before dying.
"You're never destroying my family again!" Throttle spun them around and shoved.
Turbo's hands spasmed on Throttle's arms before falling. Blood dribbled from his mouth. "Why won't you just die?" His head lolled to the side. Throttle stepped back, breathing heavier than he ever remembered breathing before. The end of the broken pipe stuck out of Turbo's T-shirt covered chest.
He checked the pulse under the brown fur. He pulled the eyelids shut over the too familiar blue eyes, relieved that thanks to Karbunkle, he wouldn't see them in the mirror. Twenty-two-year-long nightmare finally over, why don't I feel anything? Happy, grateful, sadness? Throttle shook his head. First thing to do was get back to the cockpit and land the ship. Once Turbo's body was dealt with, he could worry 'bout his mental state.
The ship lurched. The impact sent the momentum through the Thunderpipe's metal armor, buckling the plates. Throttle found himself sailing through the air like a thrown toy.
The Cyclodrone Thunderpipe screamed over the street ahead. Modo dropped his head to follow the spaceship's path straight to Quigley Field's scoreboard. "We should run tests. That thing is a spaceship magnet."
Tala's red tinted facescreen glanced at him. "What do you mean?"
"That's number four crashed into the scoreboard." Tala's eyes opened wide. "Hey Rimfire and Stoker crashed one! Because we were shooting at them, but it's not all us."
"And I thought Carbine was just being petty when she said you three were a menace to space flight."
Modo grimaced, "I hate it when she's right." They activated the rocket jets on their bikes and drove up the wall of Quigley Field as the Thunderpipe smashed into the scoreboard, sending metal bits and electronic sparks shooting out like fireworks. "At least there's no ball game on."
"Do I even want to ask?" Tala started down the stadium stairs.
"We crashed our Thunderpipe in the middle of a Nubs game." Modo jumped Li'l Hoss over the bottom balcony over the dugouts and crossed the field.
"How has the government not hauled you guys in for studying yet?"
"We're lucky?" Modo stopped outside the debris field now covering the outfield grass. "You best stay out of the wreck."
She pulled off her Martian bike helmet. "I'm a lot tougher than I look."
"I have no doubt, Tala-ma'am, but I'd rather have you outside to pull me out if I get into trouble."
"Okay, stay in radio contact." She pulled a medkit out of her bike's storage compartment.
"Right." He left on his helmet and climbed up to the scoreboard, avoiding the large metal chunks littering the seats and wall. The walk-in entrance portion of the scoreboard was less damaged than the rest. He peered around the Thunderpipe best he could. It looked like they would have to rebuild the bike exit, the kitchen, the bathroom, and replace the beds and couch again. The only furniture that survived was Vinnie's hammock.
He clambered over the smashed remains of the Thunderpipe's front section styled to resemble a motorcycle's front wheel. "Throttle? Charley?" He reached the cockpit window opening; the glass had been knocked out. He grabbed the ledge with his metal hand and hauled himself up one-armed. "Throttle? Charley?" He brushed away some of the glass to climb in without getting any embedded in himself.
A non-metallic groan reached his ears. He crouched on the console. The groan repeated, a bit stronger this time. He saw an open storage compartment on the back wall of the cockpit with a bare human leg extending from it. "Charley!"
She groaned again, which relieved him. Groaning meant breathing. He shifted the broken storage compartment door off of her. She pushed aside a metal box that had landed on her head.
"Talk to me, Charley." Modo checked the stretched leg. Not broken. Her other leg was bent under her but by normal movement of the joints. "What hurts?"
"My head." She moved her arms, trying to push herself out of the closet-like compartment.
He pulled her into the larger room. Realizing how disheveled the loincloths were, he felt his face heat up as he rearranged the material to preserve Charley's modesty. She sat on the floor, holding her head, and didn't appear to care how close to streaking Quigley Field she had been. Modo pushed her hand away and lifted her face up. A large bloody cut spread from the end of her eyebrow up into her hairline. He cleaned the blood away from her eye with the edge of the material hanging from her waist. "Anywhere else hurt?"
She blinked at him with recognition dawning. "Modo? How did you get back here?"
"You crashed in the scoreboard. Where's Throttle? Do you remember?"
Charley frowned. He could see the axles and wheels of her mind start turning again. "He chased after Turbo." She glanced around and pointed to the scorched console panel. "Turbo shot the controls trying to shoot Throttle." She pointed to the missing windshield. "Moon and Earth made circles." She traced a circle in the air.
"Yeah, Charley, that would be crashing." Modo sighed. Throttle and Turbo could be anywhere in the wreckage of the Thunderpipe. He picked up the human woman. "Let's get you out of here."
"Sure." She wrapped her arms around his neck and laid her head against his chest.
Modo tiptoed onto the console. The mangled metal had supported his weight earlier, but he held his breath until he was off the Thunderpipe. He let it out once he reached the scoreboard floor, but that floor groaned under his feet. "Oh momma."
"That didn't sound good," Charley whispered. "Where's Throttle?"
His tail snagged the blanket out of Vinnie's hammock and shook it as they left the scoreboard. The concrete stayed solid under his feet. "I'm getting you help first then I'll find Throttle, okay?"
Her head jerked up and she groaned. "Where's Sparks?"
"He's fine at Tala's." Modo hurried down the steps to the field.
Tala had her helmet on again, scanning the scoreboard. "Too much heat from the engines to see living beings." She opened the red-tinted face shield. "How bad is she hurt?"
"Her head is bleeding and her leg was cut earlier with the same knife that got Vinnie." He wrapped the blanket around Charley before setting her on the grass.
Another bike engine roared across the stadium and both Tala and Modo jerked around the see Vinnie's red racer pull up to their bikes. A sling held the white mouse's injured left arm close to his chest. "What did we miss?" He opened his face visor shield. Sparks peeked around Vinnie's side.
"The medical orders to curtail your activities." Tala planted her hands on her hips.
"I curtailed." Vinnie pouted. "See the sling? Fashion statement it is not."
Modo rolled his eye and looked at his son. "You were supposed to stop him from doing something stupid."
"You told me to watch him. Do you know how hard it was to get on this bike?" Sparks hopped off.
"You're smarter than him," Tala snapped.
"Hey!" Vinnie said.
"You should have backed up MC," she continued.
"He wouldn't listen to either one of us and he threatened to melt a hole through your ship with one of his flares. Since you said watch him and not sedate him again, I talked my way onto the bike. And it drove most of the way."
"And you said you weren't gonna tell her about the ship flare thing!"
"And maybe you should figure out what consequences are." Sparks turned to the only adult who didn't seem upset with him. "Ouch, Charley, your head."
"I'll deal with you later." Tala pointed to Vinnie before turning to Modo. "You better haul tail. The exterior supports don't show any stress, but who knows how much more the scoreboard can take." Tala opened the medkit as she knelt next to Charley.
"I told them to reinforce the inside when they parked the Stench Cruiser in it." Charley said emphatically as the blond human shone a pen light into her green eyes.
"It crashed," Modo heard Vinnie say as he headed for the stadium steps again.
"I took the controls apart and nothing was wrong with them. They wanted an excuse to redecorate."
"Boy, Sparks, you did make the right call to leave." Tala said over the helmet mikes before falling silent. Modo shot a dirty look down before entering the scoreboard again.
At least nothing was burning. He climbed back in through the cockpit. He didn't dare blow a hole in the side of the ship without knowing where his bro was. "Throttle!" The angle of the cockpit door and the hallway shifted forty-five degrees up instead of being on the same level. Modo pulled himself up the hallway until the floor leveled out. Unfortunately, there the ceiling had caved in and he had to crawl. "Good thing I ain't claustrophobic. Throttle!"
The plate underneath him gave way. His metal hand wrapped around a support beam, crushing it. But it held and he didn't fall into the darkness. He turned on his helmet's floodlight. The engine room filled the bottom half of the spaceship before expanding up to the back rockets. The Thunderpipes had great acceleration and liftoff thanks to those huge engines. But the majority of these turbines were thrashed beyond Charley's miracle mechanic skills, just like their Thunderpipe's had been four years earlier.
He saw a wide, flat surface on top of the closest turbine that looked stable enough to hold his weight, and worked his way to it by using the support beams like a jungle gym. He dropped and balanced as the turbine rocked under him. "Throttle! Answer me, bro!"
"Modo?" It was faint, from injury or distance, Modo couldn't tell
"Are you hurt?"
"Trapped." Now scraping metal joined Throttle's voice and Modo clambered over the shoved-together turbine parts. "Yeah, this thing ain't budging."
"I'm comin'. Just hold on."
"Take your time." Modo slid between the turbines into what should have been the main walkway through the engine room. But pipes and support beams were lodged between the turbine pieces that hadn't moved out of place. Throttle was caught on his side between the buckled metal plate floor and a large fallen pipe. He twisted his neck to watch Modo. "I'll never take ejection for granted again."
"Guess not. Any damage?"
"I can move my toes and tail. Nothing feels broken." Throttle sighed as he propped his head with his right arm. His elbow found a sturdy bit of metal to rest against. "I can't see behind me, but I think you're going to have to blow this end free."
Modo nodded. "Shield your face." He popped the cannon out of his metal forearm. Throttle covered his face with both his hands. Modo shot the lowest level of laser blast he had. The end of the pipe vaporized and the larger grey mouse pulled it up.
Throttle scooted to next to Modo. "Charley?"
"Got her out already. She took a knock to the head and Tala's checking her out on the field."
"Field? We hit the scoreboard again?"
Modo tossed the pipe aside and let it finish rattling before answering. "Yeah. Maybe we should move."
"That sounds like a great idea. Let's put more population in danger." Throttle shook his head. "Help me."
"Gotta get Turbo."
"That guy has more lives than a cockroach." Modo followed Throttle, watching his footing after the tan mouse skidded over the debris.
"Not any more." Throttle reached an opening going into the turbine. He pulled a slack arm covered in black leather sleeve.
Modo activated his helmet's mike. "Tala-ma'am?"
"Yo," she answered.
"Get something for a body bag." He heard her sharp intake. "For Turbo. Throttle's fine."
He turned his attention back to Throttle and the body. "We don't have to mess with this right now."
Throttle snarled silently before swallowing it to a frown. "I'm not throwing him out with the trash." He gripped the body and pulled again.
Modo sighed as he leaned against the turbine and reached into the opening. He caught the base of Turbo's tail. The body came free with their tugging.
Throttle laid Turbo face down on top of the debris. "Which way is out?"
"I fell down the rabbit hole." Modo pointed to his entrance point. He looked at the still body with the jagged hole through the back of the leather jacket. "We ain't gonna be able to carry him out that way, bro."
"We are not leaving him here." Throttle's voice was hard.
"Any ideas on how to make that happen?" Throttle stared down at Turbo's body with his shoulders slumped and his antennae almost drooped to his head. Modo's chest ached. He turned on his helmet mike. "Tala-ma'am?"
"I owe that hunk of metal my life! I don't expect you to understand it, Vinnie, just respect it!"
"Am I interrupting?"
"Yes, Modo?" The anger leeched from Tala's voice, leaving behind smooth professionalism.
"We're stuck in the engine room. Can you get us an exit without killing us?"
"So demanding. Any ideas which side you're on?"
"Third base side."
"Hold onto your tails. I'll be up in a few."
Modo looked back at Throttle who hadn't moved. "Tala's coming to make us a door." Throttle didn't acknowledge him. Modo winced. He didn't know what else to say. He leaned up against part of the turbine that didn't shift under his weight and waited.
Tala didn't waste time. A laser torch started outlining a hole in the darkness. Modo moved his floodlight to the sparks and saw that the burnt metal formed an exit in the wall. "Throttle." He gripped the tan mouse's shoulder. "Throttle, we need to head that way. Tala's making a hole." The tan mouse nodded and bent to grab Turbo again. "Take his feet. I'll get his head. So I'll be in the lead with the light."
Throttle nodded and switched positions. Modo tried to concentrate on his footing and not his fear. He only saw a grown Throttle take orders from four people, and that group did not include him. They clambered over the turbines and the metal parts knocked all over the engine room.
By the time they reached the wall, the cutting was finished. The hooks of a grapple line embedded in the center of the section and it popped free. Tala soon bobbed into view, astride her bright blue flying motorcycle. "Okay fuzzy boys, how do you wanna work this?"
Throttle didn't answer. Modo stepped up again. "Take Throttle first." That got the tan mouse's attention. "I'm not gonna do anything to Turbo's body, but yer probably gonna have to stop Vinnie. Ya know how he holds a grudge." Throttle nodded and swung on behind Tala. She lowered the bike in a spiral.
Modo sighed as he watched Throttle dismount. Charley held the blanket wrapped around her body when she walked to him. Throttle didn't hug her. Modo winced, "Bro, don't screw this up for yerself. He ain't worth it."
Tala reached the exit. "Why is Throttle insisting the guy who tried to kill him and Charley gets a proper funeral?"
"Public health." Modo hid his face while bending over Turbo's body.
"Try again, please. You don't glower at Vinnie because of public health."
"They had the same mother. Beyond that ain't my story to tell."
Tala twisted to face the end of the bike that bobbed adjacent to the hole in the ship. "Alright, Modo, I'll drop it. I didn't realize it was that personal."
They draped the body over the end of her racer and Tala held it while the bike drove itself down. She helped Throttle move the body to a blue tarp spread on the ground and tried to help him wrap it. That ended with the human woman raising her hands, backing away, and coming back up for Modo. The slow descent gave him time to watch Throttle wrap Turbo's body, Vinnie hug Charley around her shoulders as they stood by, and Sparks hug himself with his arms and tail. Throttle's black bike waited with her sidecar popped out.
Modo dismounted, strode over, and grabbed Turbo's tarp-covered feet. Startled, Throttle looked up, but didn't protest as they carried him to the sidecar. The black bike beeped softly. "Where are we taking him, bro?"
The question drew Throttle from the thoughts that haunted his expression. "I don't know. I can't just dump him. That's not right or safe."
Charley had moved closer. "The cemetery my father's buried in. If we go all the way to the back of their property, he should be undisturbed for decades."
Throttle nodded, the only indication he heard her, before mounting up and driving off without her.
Her face crumpled, but she smoothed it out. Pulling the blanket tighter around herself, she said. "We can't let him do this alone." She marched back to Vinnie and Sparks.
Modo shook his head at the taillights and followed her.
Vinnie tried not to fidget. Throttle dug Turbo's grave next to the back fence of Good Hope Cemetery. The cemetery had yards of empty land to put bodies and the stone monuments before reaching this point. The bikes made a semi-circle around the area, shining their headlights so they could see. Only Throttle wouldn't let go of the shovel.
The shovelfuls of dirt flew out of the hole onto the mound much slower now. Throttle stood about chest deep in it. But his shoulders and head sagged and Vinnie wanted to pull his bro out and make him rest. He walked to where Modo stood. "Throttle can't take much more, Big Fella."
"So I see," Modo said. "Do you think he'll listen to reason?"
"When he's pretending none of us exist?"
"What did Stoker tell him at Cutlass's funeral?"
"I thought they told you." Vinnie frowned as Modo shook his head. "Is there a battle plan?" Again, Modo shook his head. "I guess we'll have to improvise." Vinnie strode to the edge of the hole with Modo beside him. "Time to take a break, bro."
A shovelful of dirt hit the mound. Modo cocked his eyebrow when he looked at Vinnie.
Vinnie answered in a low voice. "Hoist twenty-five."
The grey and white tails wrapped around Throttle's chest just under his armpits. Without squeezing too hard, they lifted him from the grave. Throttle squirmed, but he was too exhausted to put up much of a fight. Vinnie pried the shovel from his gloved hand and Modo carried him to where Charley, Sparks, and Tala waited. "Charley, sit on him. And if that doesn't work, Tala will stun your tail."
"When is the Apocalypse due on this planet?" Tala asked Sparks, who shrugged.
Charley knelt next to Throttle after Modo deposited him on the grass. The grey mouse grabbed the shovel Vinnie held out before jumping into the hole and resuming the digging. The mechanic rested her hands on Throttle's shoulders. "Let them help, Throttle."
The tan mouse ignored her to stare at Modo's progress. It took Modo about twenty minutes to get the hole deep enough for him to hide in. Vinnie anchored Tala and she pulled him out.
Throttle went to his bike. Before Modo or Tala could help him, he moved the body in a fireman's carry to the grave. They lifted Turbo off Throttle's shoulders and heaved him into the ground.
"Should we say somethin'?" Sparks sidled up to Modo.
"It's customary for Earth funerals." Charley answered before biting her bottom lip.
Tala grabbed a fistful of dirt and tossed it on Turbo's body while she cleared her throat. "'Lo, there do I see my father. 'Lo, there do I see my mother, and my sisters, and my brothers. 'Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning. 'Lo, they do call to me. They bid me take my place among them. In the halls of Valhalla where the brave may live forever." She stepped back. "I got it from a book," she muttered.
Sparks copied Tala's move with the dirt. "Here our road splits. Speed be with you."
Modo followed his son. "Ride free."
Charley went next. "I hope you have finally found peace."
The silence roared against his ears. Vinnie scooped up a handful of dirt. His inner twelve-year-old screamed to spin a fastball into Turbo's face. However satisfying that might be, he couldn't disrespect Throttle like that. What had Momma Bola said? Funerals are for the living. He let the dirt pour into the hole. "Throttle can smack me for this later, but good riddance."
"Vinnie," Charley chastised.
"He tried to kill me and Roddie and ended up breaking my arm. I am being nice."
Throttle's chuckle had no humor. "I've never smacked you for telling the truth, Vinnie." He stared into the grave. "Start covering him. Please."
Tala nodded and picked up the shovel without any smart-aleck comments. Vinnie blinked. She had even had snarky comments over Christmas presents.
Throttle didn't notice Tala's compliance as he watched the dirt fall in. "Turbo was my brother, my blood." The tan mouse's chest heaved. "He should have been the one to keep family safe from the bloodshed." For once, Modo didn't need to prompt. Vinnie moved to Throttle's side with the larger grey mouse. "Instead he turned against us and brought the bloodshed home." Throttle's whole body shook as he clenched his fists. "Good riddance."
Silence fell over the group. Charley crept closer, putting herself in Throttle's line of sight. He glanced at her, then back at the grave. Her face scrunched up with pain as she hugged herself.
"Turbo taught me one thing." Modo and Vinnie watched Throttle as he looked at them instead of the filling grave. "He taught me what a brother really is 'cause he never was one." He wrapped his arms around both Modo and Vinnie's necks and pulled them to him.
Modo slapped Throttle's back. "It's okay; we're bros."
"We're family," Throttle said with choked finality. "My true family alive and well. And I'm gonna keep you that way."
Vinnie patted Throttle's back with his good arm. "We know, bro, we know. Let's get out of here."
Throttle nodded as he released Modo and Vinnie. Tala smoothed the last of the dirt over the grave. "I'll come back in daylight and make sure it doesn't draw anyone's attention," she told Charley.
"You don't have to," Charley began.
Tala waved the objection away. "I'm no help with the emotional stuff, but logistics I can handle. Don't worry about it. Worry 'bout Throttle."
"No stopping that." Charley's green eyes followed the tan mouse's progress to his black bike, leaving her behind again.
Vinnie dropped back to the ladies. "Tala, Throttle and Charley are gonna need space. Can we crash at your place until we get the scoreboard fixed?"
"It's extenuating circumstances, but you still have to stay out of my bedroom."
"I will if you show off your Christmas present now that you hung the picture." Vinnie smirked until he saw Charley's face. "Not a good plan, Charley-girl?"
"I don't care where you guys sleep, but Throttle doesn't look like he wants any privacy with me."
"Should I get Modo?" Tala asked in a low voice.
Vinnie shook his head. "Come on, Charley- girl. Ride with me." He waited until she had pulled her helmet on over her bandaged head and settled on the red racer. "Dr. Vinnie's counseling service is now open."
She pressed her helmeted head against his back. "Don't joke about this, please. I'm tired, my head aches, my heart…. I know where you keep the bazooka on your bike, okay?"
"It's not a joke. Well, it is but I mean it. You need to talk 'cause you can't help Throttle if you're upset."
"Yeah, he's real eager for my help."
"You've seen Throttle like this before. He's holding it together by shoving everything under the leader persona. When it cracks, he's gonna need you to take charge."
"Better make it someone other than me." She picked her head up, and Vinnie kept his bike at the end of the pack.
"You're the only one who can talk any sense into us. Why would he go anywhere else when he needs to drop being the leader?"
Charley stayed silent for so long, he thought she wasn't going to answer. "He said it's a fling."
"Well, he had to say something to keep Turbo from killing you. Not that it was very effective."
"But the way he's acting?"
"Throttle doesn't do flings. He does shut people out."
"He's not shutting you or Modo out."
"Because we were there, at his side for everything nasty, except for what happened to his parents. You don't have the history, Charley. But he loves you. He went after you with no backup, a half-baked plan according to Tala, and trusting either we'd get there or Turbo would leave you alone if he pretended to be dead. You do realize that's the equivalent of Throttle acting like me, right?"
Vinnie shot her a smile over his shoulder. "Just work your patient mojo on him, sweetheart. If he tells you everything, especially dealing with his parents, he's yours forever."
"You sound awfully confident of that."
"Hey, I know my bro. You've got nothing to worry about, unless you throw him away like Carbine did."
"Any more advice?"
Vinnie hummed. "Don't try to force anything out of him. This is the heaviest load that Throttle's got. He don't spill it willingly. I had to get knocked out cold and a broken arm before he told me and Modo."
"That actually is good advice. Thanks."
"Any time, Charley-girl, any time."
Being stabbed had not blunted Vinnie's whirlwind tendencies. Charley sat on a workbench recovering from the activity that had left her and Throttle alone. He had melted the shackles off her wrists before leaving with Modo and Sparks, but for Tala's sake, she hoped they all fell asleep quickly. She turned her attention to Throttle.
He sat at the table with his face hidden in his arms, like a napping child. Or one trying to tune her out. She squashed that thought. Vinnie was right; Throttle pushed the people he cared about away. Small wonder if he grew up afraid of his murderous brother.
The doors were locked and the alarm system activated. They could relax finally. She readjusted the muddy blanket around the skimpy outfit. She couldn't push, but she could take care of him. She touched his shoulder and ran her hand down his arm as he looked up. "Let's get cleaned up."
He curled his hand around hers. She led the way through the kitchen and up the stairs to the bathroom. Throttle didn't fight her as she shut the door, but he didn't make any moves to help himself. Charley tossed the blanket into the dirty clothes hamper. She could decide in the morning if it was worth salvaging. The state of Throttle's vest earned a wince as she pulled it off of him. The zipper and other metal decorations had melted into slag. The front had a circular charred section in the center of the chest. She draped it over the side of the hamper, but didn't hold much hope that it could be repaired.
She pulled off his glove and the leather band around his wrist and wondered if Tala had saved his red bandannas. She set them on the vanity's countertop before taking his shades off. His red eyes refused to meet hers. Something squeezed her chest at that, but she ignored it to find the seam to undo the armor chest plate. Once that was gone, she could see the dirt rubbed into the fur covering his arms.
"Sit down, Throttle." He plopped down on the toilet's lid, and she knelt to pull off his boots and socks.
"How's your leg?" If she had already had the water running, she would have missed his question.
"Tala fixed me up with some duraskin. It works on humans too." She tossed his balled-up socks into the hamper.
"Two points." There wasn't even a ghost of a smile on his face. "Did he…." Throttle swallowed hard and grimaced. "Did Turbo hurt you any other way?"
She unbuckled his knee pads. "I think I offended him when I accused him of taking me to rape me. But what else was I supposed to think with this outfit?" She gestured at the material covering less of her body than she liked. "I'm okay. Not even bruised."
He pulled at the material around her neck, but the knots held. She stood and his panicked hands tugged at the knots around her waist. "He put you in this because I'm the alenish!" He lurched to his feet, but that didn't help his fingers untie the knots. She smoothed the fur on his arms. He curled his fingers into fists. "Take it off!"
Anguish drove that command, and Charley didn't dare disobey. She undid the top first, exposing her breasts as the material fell to the floor. "I only put it on 'cause the ship started. I didn't think I'd escape."
"I know." His red eyes focused on her face, but the pain that had crinkled around them eased.
The loincloths around her waist fell to the floor. "And I thought you were dead."
He winced, "I'm sorry, I should've planned better."
Charley pressed her hands against his chest. "It's over. Shower now." He blinked at her. "You're too filthy to go to bed on my clean sheets."
"Gods, you sound just like Aunt Vev." He braced himself against the wall with one hand.
Charley ignored that while she turned on the shower. Dealing with adult Biker Mice was hard enough, she didn't want to think what they must have been like as children. She turned to Throttle and opened his fly.
"What are you doing?"
"You can't take a shower in your jeans." He didn't stop her from pulling his jeans and boxer shorts off. She dropped those articles into the hamper. "Shower." She pushed him to the tub. His tail opened the shower curtain. He gripped her arms, so she climbed in with him.
The water flowed over them. Throttle turned his face into the stream. "I almost lost you like I lost everyone else."
She rubbed the soap onto his arms. "We watch each other's back. I couldn't let you face him alone. And you saved me like you always do." He dropped his chin to his chest. "It's over, Throttle."
"It's never over. I'm the alenish. It never ends." He took the soap bar and used it like shampoo on his head.
"I don't know what that is." She lathered up her own skin. "Don't worry about it."
He rinsed his head and pushed the tendrils of fur out of his eyes. "You never drop not knowing."
"I figured out the gist of it. You can share the details later, if you want. I hope you want to." She turned around to rinse off, and concentrated on scrubbing her feet.
"I never had to explain it to someone who didn't know." Throttle barked out a laugh laced with sarcasm. "I just say I'm an alenish and my parents were killed with Eroite and watch people scramble over themselves to get away."
She faced him. "Not everyone scrambled away."
"No, and I lost them anyway." His body shuddered with suppressed sobs. Charley's arms ached to hold him, but she wasn't sure if Throttle was ready for that. She turned him and scrubbed his back, working her fingers through his fur. His tense muscles didn't loosen. "All dead because of something that doesn't mean a damn thing." His shoulders and antennae slumped.
"Isn't that true for everyone we lose? My father didn't deserve his fate."
"But you won't pass that fate onto your children. Onto anyone else you love."
She rinsed the suds from his fur. "Okay, Throttle. I guess I just hallucinated Buddy taking pot shots at you. But I will give you that he's gone and it's over. So what are you trying to say; Turbo isn't the only one who wants to kill you with Eroite?"
"It's centuries old, older than the cities. People don't give up blood feuds that easily."
Charley made sure the soap was gone before turning off the water. She pulled the towels from the shelves, handing two to Throttle before wrapping one around her body. She stepped out of the tub to blot her hair dry with another towel.
Throttle stared at her without a look of lust she never thought she'd miss. "Don't you have anything to say about it? How stupid it is when we don't even live in caves any more? That they want to murder for a title that doesn't hold any power?"
"It's equally stupid as killing people based on the color of their skin, their religion, or their sexual preference. I didn't think I needed to say anything."
"But you're safe from those things. I'm the one putting you in danger of Eroite!"
"Dry off, Throttle. You can't go to bed dripping wet either." He didn't move to follow her instructions. She pulled him out and started blotting his fur dry. "I don't know what you expect, me to go running into the night to get away from you? You have a habit of chasing after me."
"I should give you up." The towel muffled his voice as she dried his head fur. "I'm cursed to lose everyone I love. All dead because of something that doesn't mean a damn thing. So what if I can trace my family roots all the way to back then? Is it my fault that other families had lousy records? We don't even live in caves any more!"
Charley didn't know how to break Throttle's circular thoughts because she didn't know the details. She threw the towels into the hamper and held his hand as she led him into the bedroom. He didn't resist, plopping down on the edge of the bed. She knelt on the bed next to him.
Throttle's exhausted voice picked up the trail of his thoughts. "I never asked to lead a clan. I don't even have a clan to lead."
"You lead us."
"Don't ever say that. The only thing that keeps Vinnie and Modo safe is they don't share my blood."
"Do you think that matters to them?" She cupped his face and turned it to hers. "Vinnie and Modo fight for you because they love you. Same as me. Throttle, you said we're your family. We are never going quietly into the night. Nothing in the universe is going to take us from your side. Your family are survivors."
His face crumpled, but he still held back his tears. "Not all of you." He stroked her cheek. "You don't understand what you're accepting. I can't let you make this decision without knowing." His red antennae glowed and he drew close enough to lay them against her forehead.
Charley closed her eyes and the images explode in her mind.
Uncle Cutlass leaned closer. "It's time I told you what the alenish is." He grasped the tan furred hands in his dun ones before touching Throttle's forehead with his glowing red antennae.
He flew over a large mountain dotted with cave and tunnel entrances. He descended through one of them and through the tunnel that opened into a larger cavern filled with building fronts built out of the rock in the shape of a city. Cutlass's voice narrated over the scene. "Ages past, we lived inside the mountains thanks to these caves."
"That's why you find references to cave mice?"
"Yes, Throttle." Mice in dresses and tunics from the history books gathered in a large hall. At the end of the hall, sat a man on a throne, who looked suspiciously like his father. A family stood around the throne on the dais looking out at the crowd. "Now everyone who lived in one mountain belonged to one clan and allied themselves to one leader no matter if they were related to him. That leader, the alenish, ruled the entire mountain. His oldest son would become alenish after his death; his oldest daughter if he had no sons. If no children, the entire clan would seek a worthy leader in his brother's family no matter how far back they had to descend to find one."
"But we don't live like that any more."
"No, with the Industrial Revolution, the common people gained money and power and they demanded a say in government. We left the caves, built the cities, and formed the representative democracy that we have now. It took a few centuries, and some people never let go of their blood feuds."
The scene focused on a grey-furred man who sneered at the family gathered on the dais from the shadows. "There is always discontent in people, Throttle. Most people can ignore it. But others feel the whole universe is plotting against them, and use that to water the seed of discontent so it flowers into violence. The alenish is held by one person, and he would want it to go to his children. So you get the situation where a brother or a sister who was passed over felt they should be the alenish and it should go to their children. But the only way to accomplish that is to make sure the alenish is dead without heirs."
They floated over the sandy plains outside the mountain. The grey-furred man had the alenish who looked like Blade tied between two very familiar metal poles. Cutlass broke the connection, blinking tears away in his red eyes. "Killing them was, is too easy. The discontent demands humiliation. So the ceremony of Eroite was created, killing the family by skinning them alive. Only when everyone between you and the title were dead could the mantle of alenish pass to you." His hands squeezed Throttle's shoulders. "You must understand how deep this goes, Throttle. They don't care that no one in the public cares about the title; they are obsessed with their right to it. You can't tell them 'okay take it.' The only way they can have it is if you are dead, and I and Roddie are dead after you."
Throttle felt his eyes widen. "That's what happened to Mom and Dad."
A smaller honey-tan furred hand held onto a metal banister as he struggled up the stairs to the up top level. He carried the picture he had just finished in his other hand. He reached the top of the stairs and ran down the window-lined hall to his father's study.
"Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" He shoved the metal door into the room filled with metal cabinets and shelves stacked with boxes and baskets.
Blade sat at the workstation built onto the wall. "Just a second, Cutlass. I have to see what your nephew is so excited about." He turned from the viewscreen of the matching man with shorter head fur and faced Throttle with a grin. "Saber squids attacking again?"
"I drew this for you." He thrust the picture into the larger hands.
Blade's ponytail slid over his shoulder as he studied the picture. "It's Mommy and her motorcycle." Throttle nodded. "They're gonna hang your pictures in museums some day, son."
"After I'm through racing," Throttle said. He wanted to win plaques like his mother had.
The fur crinkled around Blade's red eyes as he smiled wider. "You've got nothing but time. You go show your mommy this picture, and I'll finish talking to Uncle Cutlass, and then we'll find a place to hang your picture in here so I can always see Mommy, okay?"
"'Kay." Throttle took the picture and ran out the door.
"Walk, Throttle!" Blade hollered after him.
Why should he walk when he could run? He tore through the mudroom at the end of the hall and finally came to a stop in the garage. He panted for air while he surveyed his mother's domain. All the tools he couldn't touch hung on the walls. The black bike parked in front of the larger car beeped at him. A rack full of tires for the motorcycle and the car was bolted above the worktables, cabinets, and tool chests lined against the outside wall.
His mother turned from her drafting table set against the house-side wall. "There's my little speed demon." She held out her brown furred arms and Throttle ran to them. She settled him on her lap. "What do you have?"
"It's for Daddy but he told me to show you." He smoothed the picture on her slanted table.
Tamara peered over his shoulder. Her ear brushed against his. Aunt Vev had head fur, but his mother didn't. "That's my bike." She pointed to the black mass with wheels on the right side of the paper. "I'd recognize her anywhere. So that must mean this gorgeous woman is me?" She pointed to the stick-figure mouse on the left.
"Yeah, Mommy. Who else would ride your bike?"
"You may ride her one day. Life is boring out here for her." The song on the bike's radio changed to "Children of the Grave" by Black Sabbath.
Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of death construction
In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds
Throttle looked at the plaques hung over the drafting table. The last race she won was eleven years ago. He smiled at being able to do the math, but he knew it would be longer than that before he won plaques like hers. "Why don't you race again, Mommy?"
"I'm too old."
"No, you're not."
She squeezed him. "I've been off the circuit too long. Best I can do now is design the bikes for the races and the new racers."
"You're workin'?" He lifted his picture to look at the motorcycle drawing underneath.
"Yeah, a new kid, Stoker, doesn't want a corporate bike. They say he's going to be a record breaker."
"Your bikes are the best, Mommy. He's gonna love it."
"I'll add your testimony to my endorsements." Tamara tickled him. Throttle thrashed and giggled, until the black bike turned off the song, beeped, and flashed its headlight. Tamara slid Throttle off her lap before hurrying to the control panel next to the garage door. "People are coming," she said as she checked the alarm for the fence. Then she hit the intercom. "Blade, are you expecting company?"
"No, Tamara. And they used Turbo's access codes."
"Turbo's coming home?" Throttle's tail slashed through the air. Turbo had been gone for months and he hadn't missed the ten-year-old. He didn't have to hide the bruises his brother gave him when they played. He didn't miss getting shoved around either.
"Too many people for it to be just Turbo." She spun the bar and locked the garage door. "Throttle, I need you to hide. Only come out for me or your daddy, okay?" Her blue eyes looked worried.
"Don't tell me. I'll find you." She turned to her bike. "Watch over him." The bike flashed its headlight. She paused at the door into the house to look back. "Let's rock…."
"And ride!" Throttle pumped his fist into the air. Tamara smiled before leaving and locking that door too. He frowned. This was the weirdest start to hide 'n seek he had ever played. The car was too easy, so were the cabinets. The tire rack! He used a stool to climb onto the worktable. His tail wrapped around the tire rack's support and pulled his body up so his arms reached into the center of the tires. He tucked his tail around his waist, and waited.
The outside garage door rattled. Throttle stared out the end of the tires. There was a boom and he covered his ears. The door rolled up. A man in a red and brown camouflage uniform walked in carrying a large shoulder cannon.
The black bike revved. The man aimed the shoulder cannon and shot it at the bike. But no explosion followed. Throttle found a crack between the tires. The wheels of the bikes were caught in giant springs. She tried to move, but the springs wouldn't let her.
"Is he in here?" That voice sounded familiar. Throttle stayed still.
"The son must be hiding. Start searching." The soldier man slung the shoulder cannon behind his back and opened the car doors. The other speaker dug into the cabinets, pulling the tools and parts out.
Throttle's stomach clenched, but he didn't move. The way these guys were tearing apart the garage; they would tear him apart too.
"He's not here." The soldier man growled as he threw the last box out of the car.
"Throttle has to be here!" The panicked older boy stepped into view. Turbo grabbed his picture off Mommy's drafting table. "See this? He has to be here!"
The soldier man didn't even glance at the paper as he looked at other soldier man standing in the garage door. "Prepare the woman."
"NO!" Turbo dropped the picture as he chased after the man giving the orders. "We had a deal!"
The older man sneered as he fisted Turbo's shirt in his hand and jerked the young boy's body closer. "You promised us the alenish and his son. No son, so the deal is off."
"Throttle's here some where!" Turbo blinked away the tears. "You can't. You can't!" He punched the mercenary but the older man pushed him away before his fist could connect. Turbo landed in the dirt of the driveway into the garage.
"Eroite is very clear, boy. Skin the entire bloodline to make the mantle of alenish before you can wear it. Skin the women who carry the potential bloodline." He leaned closer to the boy outside the garage. "You think you are beyond the laws, boy! Laws written in the blood of countless generations, soaked into the sand and stone of the whole world!" His booming laughter spiked Throttle's fur. "Common as you are, boy, no one escapes these laws. The only escape is the peace of the grave. The son will be alenish, but we can insure there will be no brothers to follow him."
The fight ended when the soldier man moved to another part of the yard. Turbo sat in the dirt driveway. Throttle squeezed his tail tighter around his waist to keep from shaking. Where was Mommy or Daddy?
Screaming started outside. It sounded like Mommy. What was going on? Why wasn't Turbo stopping them from hurting Mommy? Mommy was the only one he liked. Why wasn't Daddy stopping it?
"Tamara! Stop!" Blade's voice broke through as her screams weakened. "TAMARA! No!" His screams stopped making words. Throttle jammed his fists against his ears as he clenched his jaw not to cry. His heart pounded.
The light and shadows outside changed. Throttle uncovered his ears when a different soldier man approached Turbo. "Come on," he told the boy with the same color fur as their mother. "Unless you want to watch the carrion eaters." Turbo climbed to his feet.
After they disappeared from view, he heard the sound of bikes and a larger truck driving away. He stayed inside the tires. Mommy had said to stay hidden until she or Daddy came to find him, and for once, he didn't feel like authority testing.
His mother's bike beeped. He ignored her. Her grapple hook shot out from beneath her seat and embedded next to the tire rack in front of Throttle's face. "It's safe to come out?"
The bike beeped once. Throttle grabbed the rope attached to the grapple hook and slid down to the floor. She was still stuck in the big springs. He opened the tool chest drawers until he found a pair of wire cutters. It took squeezing with both hands, but he managed to cut through the springs.
She rolled forward, popping out laser cannons from the hiding places in her front wheel assembly. Throttle's blue eyes widened. He didn't know his mother had armed her bike. He followed the bike into the yard. The soldier men and Turbo were gone, but they had driven four poles into the ground, like flagpoles. Why would they need flagpoles? He walked around the bike as he looked up.
Two bodies were tied at the top of the poles, a hand and foot on each pole so they stretched out between them. Their heads stared at the ground and their tails didn't move. The ground under the poles was muddy but there was something wrong about the mud. It smelled funny and he didn't want to touch it. The poles were smeared with red paint, maybe the paint had spilled? But it didn't smell like paint.
Throttle needed his parents to fix them. They weren't in the yard and the door into the house stood open. If they had gone inside, they would have shut the door. He looked back at the bodies. The sunlight had changed and he could see their faces. Mommy and Daddy's faces registered the same time he lost control and peed all over himself.
The black bike wailed. He heard metal shifting and before he said anything, he found himself scooped into a black sidecar. The bike roared down the driveway faster than he ever remembered going before. He sank down into the sidecar and cried.
The next time Throttle looked up, the sky had turned purple and they were in town. The bike slowed and honked the loudest horn he had ever heard as they turned into a driveway. A door slammed open and someone ran to the idling bike that stopped honking. Uncle Cutlass peered into the sidecar. "Throttle? What happened?" Where are your parents?"
Throttle's throat hurt too much to get any words out when he opened his mouth.
Uncle Cutlass looked more scared, especially when he saw the bike was still in battle mode. He lifted Throttle from the sidecar and carried him to his house.
Aunt Vev met them at the door. "What's going on?" The black-furred woman with blue eyes like a rat's followed them into the living room. "Throttle soiled himself? I can smell it."
"Find something for him to change into while I question him." She waddled out, her fat stomach leading the way. Cutlass focused on Throttle. "You don't need to speak, Throttle. Just think about what you want to tell me." His red antennae glowed and he rested them on top of Throttle's head. It tingled where they touched.
Cutlass pulled away with a sob and hugged Throttle. "My poor, brave boy. You're safe now. You're safe."
"Tamara's bike is driving around the house. I think she's protecting it." Vev returned with a towel and a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.
"Blade and Tamara are dead." He set Throttle down. "Go with your aunt and get cleaned up." Throttle walked to the black-furred woman and held her hand. It was a relief to have someone to tell him what to do. Cutlass wiped his face. "I have to call the police."
Charley blinked as the bedroom returned to her vision. Throttle released her, staring at the dresser without seeing it. "All that is left is me and Roddie, and everyone thinks she is dead. They all come gunning for the last alenish. That's what I have to live with. My parents sacrificed themselves and I had to kill Turbo. I'm the last of my family now." He stretched and turned on her clock radio.
The music jarred after the horror she had seen through his eyes, which was Throttle's intention, she realized. "You are being thick headed about this." He twisted to look at her, but she pressed against his back and dropped her chin onto the crook of his neck and shoulder while her arms anchored around him. "You are only the last until we have children and then you'll be the first. And you still have me and Roddie and Modo and Vinnie and Sparks. We're your family too."
Is a love so fragile?
And the heart so hollow
Shatter with words... impossible to follow
He twisted out of her embrace to face her, seizing her shoulders. "You want kids? With me?"
"I don't want to turn up pregnant tomorrow, but yes, I want kids and I want you to be their father."
You're sayin' I'm fragile...
I try not to be, I search only...
for somethin' I can't see
"After everything I just showed you?" He shook his head. "Others will want to bring back Eroite. Our kids could die by it."
Charley snorted, "Not if they're our kids. With your brains and my mechanic skills and who knows what they'll learn from Vinnie and Modo. I'm a little frightened by what we are hypothetically unleashing upon the universe." Throttle's worried expression didn't change. She cupped his face and kissed him. "We only live once, Throttle. Do we give up on us because of what could happen?"
I have my own life...and I am stronger than you know
But I carry this feelin'...when you walked into my house
That you won't be walkin' out the door
"It's not giving up." His hands moved from her shoulders to cradle her head. "I've lost so much, I can't…."
"So we can't have a future because you have survivor's guilt?" He hung his head. "Weren't you the one to tell me there's no peace down that road?"
He looked up. "Charley."
"That the only way to honor your parents' sacrifice was to live life to the fullest; didn't you say that too?"
Still I carry this feelin'...when you walked into my house
That you won't be walkin' out the door
"I have a hard time with that one." The admission changed his expression to rueful rather than remorseful.
"I understand, Throttle. But I don't think you understand that I have no future without you in it. That's why I fight beside you, why I trust you to come back to me, and why I will bring hell to anyone or anything that separates us. That's how much I love you. Let 'em come, let 'em do their worse, they won't know what hit them." She planted her lips on his but there was nothing gentle about this second kiss. He gasped when she released him. "And if that doesn't convince you, I'm calling Roddie in the morning so she can."
Lovers forever....face to face
My city or mountains...stay with me stay
I need you to love me... I need you today
Give to me your leather....take from me...my lace
Throttle groaned as Charley moved to the other side of the bed. "That's fighting dirty, Charley-babe."
She pulled down the covers. "If you won't listen to reason, what choice do I have?"
You in the moonlight
with your sleepy eyes
Could you ever love a man like me?
And you were right
when I walked into your house
I knew I'd never want to leave
He didn't give her a chance to crawl under the covers before spooning behind her and wrapping his arms around her. "All my life, everyone ran away when they found out what happened to my parents. But not you, and not Modo and not Vinnie." He rubbed his snout against the back of her neck. She arched against his furry chest. "I can't figure it out."
Sometimes I'm a strong man, sometimes cold and scared
and sometimes I cry......
"What are you over-thinking now?" She rubbed his thigh.
"How did I manage to find the only three people in the galaxy crazy enough not to fear Eroite." He nipped her shoulder.
"Because you deserve to have someone on your side." Her hand curled around the back of his head keeping him pressed against her. "And you got lucky."
"In more ways than one." He tilted her back, so he could look at her face. "I love you so much, Charlene Davidson." He kissed her, their tongues dancing together. Her arms wrapped around his neck and her fingers twined into his fur.
But that time I saw you...
I knew with you to light my nights....
somehow I'd get by
His hand ran down her side to grip her hip. She gasped as their lips parted. "Throttle, I love you, but if you stop and leave…."
He licked her neck. "I'm never leaving you again."
"I hope some of your stuff survived the crash for you to move in." Her fingernails raked through his fur. Throttle inhaled through his teeth. "Not that I'm going to stop you if you have nothing left."
"I think I can earn my keep." He chuckled as he shifted her head onto the pillow and he leaned over her. She trembled with the way his eyes raked over her body. He spread her legs and laid his body between them, lining up his head to her breasts. "Do you want to see what I have in mind?"
"See, hear, touch, taste, and smell."
Lovers forever....face to face
My city or mountains...stay with me stay
I need you to love me... I need you today
Give to me your leather....take from me...my lace
"I can smell your arousal. It's intoxicating." Throttle suckled her left breast as his fingers brushed over her sides at her waist. Her hips bucked against his chest as his tongue rubbed over her hardened nipple. His buck teeth grazed it and she shivered. He kissed his way down between her breasts and up to her right one.
She moaned and wrapped her legs around his torso, clasping her ankles together so he couldn't leave. Her hands rubbed his arms and shoulders. He moved his mouth to her stomach, scraping her skin with his teeth.
His tail wrapped around her locked ankles and lifted them off his back so he could slide up her body. She stared into his red eyes as one of his hands brushed against her labia. "You're so wet for me, Charley-love."
She spasmed when his fingers found her clit. She bit the rim of his ear. Throttle thrust against her. She slid her hands down his back to squeeze his ass. She tightened her legs around his hips. "I need my Biker Mouse inside me."
He slipped inside when he slammed his mouth on top of hers. He matched the thrust of his hips with the strokes of his tongue. They had to break apart to gasp for breath. Charley dug her fingernails into his back as her moaning built into a scream.
Throttle thrust harder. "Come with me, tokara. I love you so much. Show me how much you love me."
Starbursts filled her vision as the waves of pleasure ripped through her. "Throttle!"
"Tokara!" He spasmed into her. "Charley!" He pressed his head down on her shoulder.
Lovers forever....face to face
My city or mountains...stay with me stay
I need you to love me... I need you today
Give to me your leather....take from me...my lace
She stroked his head and back as they recovered. He lifted his head to look at her face. "Satisfied, Charley-love?" He brushed her hair off her face.
"Yes," she purred. "I'll have an order of that every night." She kissed him.
Throttle laughed as he rolled off of her. "I think we both need sleep before a repeat performance."
"I'm just glad you finally realized we were both naked." She smirked as he pulled her up against his side.
"I love you." He kissed her temple.
"I love you too." Charley rested her hand on his chest and closed her eyes.
Take from me....my lace
Take from me....my lace
Sparks lay on the cot. Dad and Vinnie snored in the other bedroom of the guest suite Tala had finished renovating in her building. After nearly a year, he was used to their snoring, which Vinnie still swore he didn't do, so that wasn't keeping him awake. How fast they fell asleep impressed him. They dropped off like nothing more than a sports game had happened tonight. Sparks wished he had that skill. His brain would not shut up so he could fall asleep.
He could ignore it while everyone was in danger and he didn't know what was going on. He knew to keep his mouth shut when the adults were having emotional crisis. He even managed the temptation during Tala's showing off how well Vinnie's present looked in her icy blue bedroom. Who exactly needed the witnesses that she hung the Michael Whelan picture up, Tala or Vinnie?
Even those tantalizing questions did not deter his inner voice. Now with the frantic hubbub finished, his brain could scream at him the question it wanted answered. How did Turbo get a hold of Charley? It was not a question he could blurt out to Charley, not when she had Throttle's meltdown to handle. And it didn't bother anybody else because Charley was a familiar victim of hostage negotiations.
He knew he turned on the alarm system at the Last Chance when he left for the night. That alarm system was better than anything else on planet Earth, and possibly the Fury, though he was never babysat by anyone who worked on locks to be absolutely sure of that one. The computer attached to it was built from the Thunderpipe's computer the Biker Mice had crashed arriving on Earth. Most functions didn't survive the crash, but it identified the Martian A.I.s. So once the alarm system was turned on, the only thing that could get through was a Martian A.I. bike.
And why he was awake after more awake hours than he wanted to think about arguing with himself.
He had to admit the easiest solution was Turbo knocked on the door and played sane long enough for Charley to let him in. She would have assumed he was a Freedom Fighter in need of help. He would have done the same. Even if Dad and his bros didn't want to have tragic past storytelling time--and who could blame them--they needed to make a list of people we don't open the door for ever. Who knows how many tails the Biker Mice had stepped on so far? Sparks felt sure he'd have Charley's support for just such a list.
But that didn't diminish the second possibility: Turbo had a Martian A.I. bike that the alarm system let into the garage without realizing it was a new A.I. If that was true, it meant there was an ownerless motorcycle in the trash heap that had been a spaceship and the Quigley Field scoreboard.
Sparks wanted that hypothetical bike more than anything else he could consider wanting right this second. He needed a bike and none of the adults acknowledging that irked him.
Mars needed all the bikes they had for their military considerations. Charley wouldn't build him one, and Tala laughed at the idea of him inserting a Martian A.I. into one of her extra Earth bikes. He didn't know extra bikes were collector quality, and he also didn't know that Charley's friend MacCyber who had visited around Christmas had already tried it. They had discussed his inventions in between Vinnie's acting like a jealous jerk and Charley snarling at everybody.
But a real Martian A.I., the type that bonded with their owner, was within reach. Not the watered-down military version that had to be uniform so anyone could drive it. Not the less than stellar copycat version that had been built from scratch with serious design flaws because Earth tech wasn't proficient enough. If he was right about Turbo's personality, the hypothetical bike might not even be bonded.
If he was right. Sparks rolled over on his side. He wasn't going to sleep until he knew he was right. And that meant a trip to the scoreboard.
Had he reasoned it out fully while they were at the garage after rescuing Charley and Throttle, he would have checked the alarm system. Alarm off, Charley opened door. Alarm on, Martian A.I. opened door. Vinnie shooing everyone back to Tala's was not conductive to thinking on any planet in the galaxy. Throttle and Charley would have reset the alarm making checking now useless. So he would have to poke in the wreckage and find the bike. He gritted his teeth. Everything that made sense told him to go to sleep and look for it during daylight.
But one did not become a Biker Mouse by following what made sense.
He pulled himself out of the sleeping bag and shoved his feet into his boots. It was a hike to the scoreboard from Tala's building, so the sooner he got started, the sooner he could drive back (or hike if he was wrong) and get some sleep. The wind blowing down the street from Lake Michigan woke his body to the same state his brain was in.
No one was out on the streets of Chicago this late at night. Or should that be this early in the a.m.? He still got confused with planet-side vernacular when it came to time. At least he didn't have to worry about getting captured by Limburger's goons. He liked concentrating on that bright side. And even if Dad grounded him until he was fifty-five, he would have a bike to ride once it was over.
Quigley Field was still deserted. Chicago was impressively blasé about crashing spaceships, disintegrating buildings, and any other level of explosive destruction. Sparks wondered how long it was going to take the Feds to notice. Four years seemed to stretch it. He climbed up the cement stairs until he reached the scoreboard's walk-in entrance. While leaning against the wall for a breather, he scanned the hallway for structural damage. He hurried further in, convinced that his added weight shouldn't bring the whole stadium down on his head.
Understanding that a whole spaceship had ended up in their living space didn't help him comprehend the sight that greeted him when Sparks entered the scoreboard. And Dad had climbed through this tangled heap without getting a scratch? He frowned and focused on the metal girders and plates that had been walls of the scoreboard and the ship's surface. The upper side of the Thunderpipe was mostly intact, couldn't say the same for the undercarriage or the side with the ramp into the cargo hold.
He was glad Fender had given him a few lessons in the history of ship design. Thunderpipes built by the Cyclodrone Corporation had an escape hatch built on top of the ship, years before the space-faring community decided that was an important safety feature. Course, Sparks knew now the lessons were Fender bouncing his ideas when Fender had been designing what became the space fighters for the Fury, and he had to keep Sparks distracted. And Roddie wondered why he had considered opening the school to be such a waste of time.
He scrambled up what was left of the catwalk that had run behind the scoreboard's numbers to reach the top of the Thunderpipe. He stretched out his arms and tail as he walked across the smooth dark blue metal. Last thing he needed was to slip and impale himself on the debris. He dropped to his knees beside the seam in the metal and wrenched the wheel to open it. It popped free with a hiss of escaping gas, and he hung his head inside.
The hatch opened into an interior hallway. The floor and the walls were all where they should be. Sparks hung from his hands for a second before dropping to the deck. It rocked under his weight, but stopped. He let out the breath he didn't realize he was holding. "Move slower. Mass changes thanks to velocity not your friend in here." He turned on a flashlight and headed to the rear of the ship.
The hallway ended in the mess that was formerly a cargo hold. By the narrow beam of the flashlight, it looked like part of the engines had broken through the floor plates at the rear of the room. He couldn't tell what was parts from it and what had been stored in the hold. He panned the light and saw the transport booth, which looked like it was in one piece. He panned back to the left and whistled.
She matched the style of Throttle's black bike only her crankcase was painted a dull metallic gold. The seat was padded in black leather with tiny gold studs. She had shot ropes from under the seat and each side of the front wheel assembly into the walls of the cargo hold to anchor herself. A really smart A.I.; he had heard Charley berating the other bikes for taking too much abuse in order for the Biker Mice to walk away from a disaster. He didn't want to ask that of his bike. Debris had pelted her. The mousehead-shaped headlight was cracked, the handlebars dented, and the crankcase covering the computer circuitry was knocked off. She didn't even register his presence in the hold.
Sparks reached into the computer cavity and found the diagnostic reader. The handheld device had a small screen with a touchpad for typing commands. He plugged the cords into the right ports and started the check. "All systems in hibernation mode, but no issues found." He frowned, "Shutting down was a good plan, since you didn't know how bad the crash would be."
He sent the diagnostic reader down another root path. "Imprinting program off." He reran that test. "Still off. What did Turbo have you do?" Bikes the Martian Army used had the imprinting program removed to keep the bikes free from following only one owner. Martian A.I.s had their own set of ethics and were notorious for fighting with anyone who did not match it. That's why it was surprising Tala had a Martian bike and it was so fiercely protective of her. Especially when you tried to have deep mechanics conversations with her, and she would shoo you to Fender and now Charley. She didn't know about any of this stuff.
It looked like Turbo had let the imprinting program run, but the bike had refused to recognize him, so he shut it off. "What did he want you to do that you didn't like?" Sparks asked the non-responsive bike. He stifled a yawn and went searching for the ownership input. "Well, you're gonna like me a whole lot better." He changed it to his name, and wrinkled his snout over Turbo's choice in bike names. "Cavalry, much better. 'Cause knowing my Dad and his bros, that's what we're going to end up being."
He turned on the imprinting program before rebooting the A.I. He unplugged the diagnostic reader, stowed it again, and looked for the missing section of crankcase while the computer and bike emerged from hibernation mode. He found the bent piece of metal underneath the remains of a crate when the bike's engine roared and the anchor ropes pulled back in. Her headlight flashed on and swept over him. "Hi Cavalry, I'm Sparks." He waited for the bike to make the next move.
She moved forward pushing the debris ahead of her and then rolling on top of the heavier pieces to reach him. He patted her next to the headlight. "It's gonna be fine. I'm gonna take good care of you. Charley's gonna give you the works, well, when she feels like working. She had a rough night, and I'm not gonna wake her up right this minute." Cavalry beeped and Sparks grinned. "But right this minute, we need to get out of here. Know where the ramp is?"
The golden bike rolled to the left side of the room. Her headlight illuminated the seam of the cargo hold ramp door. "Great, and I forgot to pack a can opener."
The bike beeped and a laser cannon emerged between her handlebars. She cut through the door with a laser beam. Sparks shielded his eyes with his hand. Once she was through cutting across, she bumped the piece out with her front wheel. The sheet of metal slid down the mountain of debris, stopping up against the remains of their TV set. Cheese, he hoped Dad's Christmas present of Law and Order videos survived. He considered the hole in the ship. It was tall enough for him to ride out on the bike. She beeped, looking for approval. "Great job, but I don't know about the getting past the mess part. It doesn't look stable."
Cavalry beeped again and rolled right next to him. He put the crankcase section in her storage compartment and climbed on. "You're gonna have to handle this. All I know how to do is accelerate and brake on a flat surface, and that's mostly theory." He gulped gripping the handlebars. "Don't tell Vinnie."
Her engine revved and the rocket jets at the rear wheel ignited. They soared past the mountain of debris. Before Sparks could scream at how close the back wall was, she twisted in midair so her wheels hit it. Then she did a tight S-down the wall before landing on the clear portion of the floor in front of the walk-in door. Sparks realized how hard his heart pounded as he pried his fingers from the handlebars. He leaned against Cavalry as he waited for his trembling to stop. "We need more practice before doing that again." He nodded. "Yeah, more practice. And you need the pit stop before practice." He blinked. "I should put the kickstand down now, huh?"
Her beeps sounded like laughter. He propped the bike on the kickstand and sat with his back against the wall. "Give me a break, you're my first bike. And it has been a long day." His yawn nearly split his head open. "I'll get better. But I need to get back to Tala's." The crashed Thunderpipe went blurry on him. "After a nap." He yawned again before closing his eyes.
Throttle buried his face in Charley's hair and refused to let his brain--worried about the banging downstairs--pull him from her. Somebody else could have hero duty today. His plans included more sleeping, thoroughly testing the bed's limits as many times as Charley wanted to, and only leaving the bedroom if they needed to eat. Nope, hero time was not on the list.
"What is that racket?" Charley muttered as she wrapped her leg around his.
"Don't know, don't care."
"Maybe we should care. It sounds like it's coming up the stairs."
Throttle propped up on his elbows as Modo burst in through the bedroom door. Charley yelped as she grabbed the tangled sheet to cover with. Throttle winced when she grabbed his tail too.
Modo didn't even notice in his wide-eyed panic. "Where's Sparks?"
"Not in here!" Charley kicked to sit up while pressing the sheet against her torso.
"You better be glad I don't remember where my gun is," Throttle said as he watched Modo's skin change to brick red under his grey fur.
His embarrassment only heightened his panicked state. "He left Tala's while we were sleepin' and he never came back!"
"And that means he came here to bug me and Throttle!"
The trapdoor thrust open and slammed down on the floor. Vinnie looked sheepish before dropping most of his body back down the ladder. "Oops, pardon the interruption."
Throttle fell back with a groan. "We need new locks. OUT! Both of you, out!"
Vinnie ignored the command. "Big Fella, Tala knows where Sparks is and she's pissed you didn't let her talk. And then she got repissed at me because I didn't let her talk last night with the CB."
"Where is he!"
"She says he added two and two and went after a motorcycle. I don't know what that means, but she left her tracking signal on for us to follow. Now come on, and let Throttle and Charley practice baby-making in peace." Vinnie shut the trapdoor as he descended back into the garage. Modo shut the door quietly before his heavy footsteps galloped across the living room floorboards and down the stairs.
Throttle threw his arm over his eyes with a sigh. Charley matched his sigh as she snuggled against his side. "You know what?" she asked.
"We can take our time on the whole kids issue. After all, we need to raise the four we got already first."
He laughed, a deep belly laugh that had been pent up for too long. He rolled over and kissed her. "I'm not adopting Tala, Tokara. She can stay an in-law."
Her puzzled, green eyes looked up at him. "Tokara? Is that my name in Martian?"
He hadn't planned on springing that on her so soon. Cheese, did Terrans even have the same concept? "Term of endearment."
"That makes you look guilty for calling me it?"
"Guys always look guilty when they get caught at being mushy." She didn't look convinced. Damn, why did he always love the ones who could see right though him? "We should've discussed it before I blurted it out."
She ran her finger along the rim of his ear to his jaw and down to his chin. "You sound like you think I'm going to object and take it to Modo and Vinnie so they can tease you about it. I keep my mouth shut better than that."
"No kidding. I made a drunken pass at you on Mars and just now find out about it?"
"You apologized for it." She poked his nose. "Now stop changing the subject or your second night here will be spent on the couch."
"We've had fun on that couch, well, before we were interrupted."
"But I'll be in here with brand new locks. What exactly did you call me?"
"You are my mate, for life in this existence and for whatever comes beyond it. For all time." Her face grew graver with the words tumbling out of his mouth. So more words came out to stop her serious expression. "Husband, wife, that's a lifetime commitment. Souls don't bond into one with just a marriage." He sat up, running his hand through his head fur. "Crap, I just can't stop screwing us up."
Charley leaned against the leather-covered headboard, keeping the sheet pinned over her breasts. He appreciated the hiding of her distractions. This was serious and he didn't want to screw it up worse. "Wow," she said. "You jumped from let's take things slow to let's get married in less than forty-eight hours. I'm impressed with your reaction to life threatening situations."
"That's why I shouldn't have called you that without discussing it first." He grimaced. "I keep throwing out things I don't know if Earth even has a concept for and expecting you to be on the same track."
"Can you download the Martian language into my brain with your Martian mind tricks, since that seems to be a sticking point?"
"I don't think that's possible. At least, I wasn't taught how."
Charley nodded. "Just an idea. This is more serious, but it's not a rejection." He steeled himself. "Did you ever propose to Carbine?"
"Bonding, no. Hell, not even a regular marriage. I did promise her to survive the war and come back to her, and we all know how much that meant to her." He sighed. "I'm sorry for making you think you were second best, Charley, 'cause you're not. You said last night that you can't see the future without me in it and it's the same for me." He took a deep breath. "All that aside, I'll be happy with how much of your heart you can give me. I know love isn't forced." His heart hadn't pounded this hard since he had told Uncle Cutlass he was joining the Freedom Fighters.
She combed her fingers into his cheek fur. He leaned into her hand. "I feel the same way, tokara." Relief bubbled out of him in chuckles, made stronger since she had just said linguistics was an issue. "What? It's not okay for me to feel we're soul mates too!"
Throttle caught her hand to keep her from yanking it back. "Tokara is the feminine form. You would call me tokaro." His kissed the palm of her hand.
"Fine. How do we make this official, tokaro?"
"What do you mean official?"
"Um, vows? I know you said it's different from marriage. But at the same time, it sounds like a big deal."
"No one has ever bothered writing vows. I don't think I have ever heard of a couple who declared themselves bonded not getting married." His tail twitched on the bed. "But it's gonna be a while before we can get married. It wouldn't be a bother on Mars or the Fury, but who knows when we'll get back to either one."
Charley smirked, "I think you're more worried about the fuss Roddie or Stoker will make over our wedding."
"You left off Momma Bola. She didn't get to marry off Modo or his sister; it's built up. But we won't find an Earth official who will perform marriage rites for an alien."
"That's true. So what do we do?"
Throttle frowned as he considered the problem. He took off his morning star replica earring. "Would livin' in sin bother you much if it comes with jewelry, Tokara?"
Her green eyes glimmered. "Tokaro."
"Martian weddings usually exchange earrings, but if you'd rather have finger rings…." Her hard kiss drove the rest of his offer straight out of his head. He gasped when they broke apart. "You do?"
"Forever and beyond I do." She slipped the gold stud out of her right ear and leaned forward so he could insert his earring through the piercing.
"I do too." The grin on his face felt wider than Fred the Mutant's when you promised to drop the building on him.
Charley touched the morning star with an expression of disbelief. "If I wake up and this was a dream, I am so not responsible for my actions."
"Speaking of responsible. We need to see what our 'kids' are up to."
Her groan turned into a laugh and she kissed him. "Glad to see none of this has given you a personality transplant. But," she pressed her hands against his chest, "can we make it a short trip and promise pain to anyone who interrupts?" The sheet pooled in her lap.
Throttle's mouth went dry. "Yes?"
"Good answer." She sauntered into the bathroom.
Throttle laughed as he went scavenging for clean clothes. Since they got banged up and filthy often, Charley had started keeping an extra set of clothes for each of them at the garage. The only thing that was a problem was his ruined vest. He found a white T-shirt that would do for as long as he needed clothes to stay on, and turned the radio on his bike on while he waited for Charley to come downstairs. His ear felt odd with the much lighter gold stud hanging in it, but he would get used to it.
Tell your friends not to think aloud
Until they swallow
Whisper things into my brain
Your voice sounds so hollow
It was still way too early in the morning considering what time they finally went unconscious to roar down Chicago's streets. Charley's arms wrapped around his waist and she pressed against his back. "You're making it hard to concentrate on the road."
"That's the idea," she said with a giggle and a wiggle.
I am not a leader of men
Since I prefer to follow
Do you think I could have a drink
Since it's so hard to swallow
So hard to swallow
The scoreboard looked even worse in bright sunlight. He hadn't paid much attention last night, but now he saw the damage. They had to replace everything in there again.
"We have to get that fixed by season opener at least." Charley leaned her chin on his shoulder.
"It's not so bad. We knocked the whole thing over with the Stench Cruiser. This is just a fix the wall with the numbers. Again." She pulled back and he glanced over his shoulder at her. "Just think about the nifty scrap you get out of the deal, and the free pass to all home games." He gunned the bike and they headed up to the walk-in entrance. Modo, Vinnie, and Tala's bikes were all parked outside the human-sized door, so that's where Throttle left his.
So turn the television off
and I will sing a song
And if you suddenly have the urge
You can sing along
Tala leaned against the wall next to the door, watching father, son and angry bike. "Vinnie went in to see if the Thunderpipe had anything good. He didn't define what good he was looking for."
"With Vinnie that can be anything from tech to a CD collection." Charley pointed to the golden bike between Modo and his yawning son. "That's Turbo's."
"Not any more," Tala chuckled. "Sparks got adopted."
I touch your hand, I touch your face
I think the fruit is rotten
Give me lessons on how to breath
Cause I think I've forgotten
I think I've forgotten
"You know better than to run off in the middle of the night!" Modo's hands gestured in the air. The bike honked and popped out its laser cannon. Modo raised his hands level with his head and the bike rolled closer to Sparks.
Sparks rubbed his eyes. "I couldn't sleep."
"So exploring a crash site sounded like a good way to wear yerself out?"
Sparks yawned as wide as he could. "I couldn't leave the bike here alone. What if somebody decided to mess with it?"
"It wasn't yours to take and reprogram. If it belonged to Turbo, it belongs to Throttle now. And besides, you're too young to drive!"
"Oh come on! None of you guys thought he had one! I'm not going to do any stunts. Not until I know how."
Modo's arms crossed over his chest. Tala tried to disguise her laughter as a coughing fit.
One day, up to a cliff
That overlooked the water
I jumped in to save a girl
It was somebody's daughter
And now the ring is on my hand
It was given to me by her
To this day we all sit around
And dream of ways to get higher
To get much higher
Throttle ducked his head behind Charley's to hide his grin. Modo continued fighting the losing battle. "You have to be fourteen to drive."
Sparks gestured to the bike. "Look how protective she is of me already!"
"Yes, that's a good quality to have."
"Turbo must have abused her; he had to turn off the imprinting program."
"Okay, that made her easier to reprogram, but that doesn't mean you can take it. It wasn't left to you, so technically it belongs to Turbo's next of kin and that's Throttle."
"And she protected herself during the crash. Had ropes all across the cargo hold to keep from flying around. The damage is from stuff landing on her." Sparks gestured at the dents and the missing section of crankcase.
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Wouldn't you rather have me on a bike that doesn't wanna get blown up?"
Modo's flesh hand hit his forehead. "Oh momma."
Charley shook her head. "How did you even know Turbo had a bike? I never told anyone."
"Oh, two scenarios. Either you let him in or the alarm deactivated itself for a Martian A.I. But by the time I thought of it, the only way to see if I was right was to check the Thunderpipe." Sparks grinned at the bike, "And there she was."
Modo glared at his son. "And you could have broken your neck getting it out of a crashed spaceship!"
"But I didn't."
The yawn managed to break out the chuckles Throttle held back. "Let him have it, Modo."
The grey mouse spun around. "Say what!"
"Nothing about our situation here is normal, Big Fella. Sparks is young, but he's smart and he's a target, so he needs a set of wheels he can depend on."
Sparks' red eyes opened wide. "Yeah, what he said."
"But you're still just a kid, so Modo and Charley are going to go over the bike and set up age appropriate modifications." Throttle swung himself into Vinnie's hammock. This thing always managed to survive no matter what crashed into the scoreboard. It had a soothing rock and he yawned again.
Tell your friends not to think aloud
Until they swallow
Whisper things into my brain
Your voice sounds so hollow
Sparks' eyes narrowed again. "What does that mean?"
"No guns until you're fifteen," Modo answered.
"But Limburger's goons don't care if I'm legal to shoot back!" Sparks threw his hands up into the air.
"You wanna make it thirty? Keep talkin'."
Vinnie's head appeared in the hole cut into the side of the Thunderpipe. "Hey, not to interrupt the father son quality time, but I think the transporter booth in here is in one operational piece!" He ducked back inside.
Tala shook her head before heading toward the ship. "And I just swore I wasn't going to climb in that crap."
Charley followed her, until Throttle lifted her into the hammock with his tail. "We're on break today. We'll take tomorrow's clean-up shift and there will still be plenty to do."
She snuggled on top of him with a yawn. "I still want to go back to the garage."
"We haven't promised pain yet."
Sparks scratched his head. "Did you guys exchange earrings? Or did you forget which is whose?"
Tala and Modo both dropped the debris they held and Vinnie's head popped out again. "What?" chorused in unison shook what rafters were still standing.
I am not a leader of men
Since I prefer to follow
Do you think I could have a drink
Since it's so hard to swallow
So hard to swallow
Charley picked up her head. "I don't think this was how we wanted to break it to them."
"I know this wasn't how I wanted to break it to them."
Vinnie slid down the debris mountain on a flat piece of metal and joined the crowd at the hammock. "You jumped from moving in with her to branded for life?"
Modo swatted Vinnie's uninjured shoulder. "Just because you think commitment is a dirty word."
"I do not. But domestic does not equal fun."
Throttle shook his head. "I can't rebut that argument on the grounds that Modo will kill me for corrupting his son. So I think we should go." He used his tail to set Charley on the floor first before swinging off the hammock.
Tala covered her mouth to stifle her giggles at Modo and Vinnie's flummoxed faces.
"When Roddie and Lance got hitched, I had to walk down the aisle in a suit. I'm thrilled to skip that," Sparks declared. "Congratulations. Me and Tala will keep 'em busy here."
"Thanks, Sparks." Charley said. Throttle ruffled his grey hair as they passed. He wrapped his arm around her waist. "I think Sparks will probably be the first one to leave the nest."
"Heh, we say caves on Mars, but yeah, I think you're right."