Charley drove back to the garage. Andy would take good care of Hannah. She entered the office and knelt next to the fireproof safe. She still knew the combination. There was a little bit of cash, but not enough to make it worth robbing. Must've gone to the bank recently. She dug to the back of the safe and pulled out a pistol. Running a garage was dangerous business and her father had taught her how to use the Glock 19. She checked it over, not that she expected anything to be wrong with it. The holster tucked onto the waistband at the small of her back and was held in place by her belt. The clip came out of the safe, she checked the safety, and her jeans hid the loaded gun. The spare set of keys that was always kept in the safe went into her pocket. She found the pouch for her belt and filled it with necessary tools. Now it was time to search Limburger's building.
It was nearly dark when she made it to the tan and blue building. She got through the unmanned lobby, up the stairwell, and hot-wired her way past a locked steel door with trouble only from her shaky nerves. She took a few deep breaths to keep from hyperventilating. "I have to do this. I can do this. I have to do this." She ignored the row of elevators in the hall and concentrated on the round mental doors across from them.
The metal-lined room behind the door was huge, at least two stories high and as wide as the building. Her heart pounded when she saw the metal examination table. She moved away from it, hitting a counter. The gun pressed uncomfortably into her back. "Get a grip, Charley!" A computer terminal sat on the metal counter.
The screeching of metal on metal made her whirl away from the computer search she had started. She covered the door with her gun, but the metal doors stayed closed. She took a deep breath, turning back to the computer. The screen now read: "Charlene Davidson: 3 reports, 108 cross-filed references. Search criteria?"
"Well, how do I look at them?"
A boom rocked the entire room. Glass beakers crashed against the floor. Charley whirled back around. The doors slid open, and three motorcycles roared into the lab. They skidded to a stop, making a perfect row formation. A wild laugh was followed by "Hickory, Dickory, Doc! Hey, he's not here." The doors slid shut, ending the flow of smoke into the lab.
She blinked at the three bikes and their bikers: the same bikes she remembered working on, the same bikers from the store yesterday. The edge of the counter pressed against her back. She took deep breaths.
The biker on the black and chrome bike saw her first. "Charley!" He leaped off the bike.
She jerked the gun up, turning off the safety. "Stay right there!"
"Oh, Momma," the largest biker astride the purple Fatboy moaned. "He said her memory was gone."
"SHHH! So where'd you get a sweet slug thrower like that, sweetheart?" The rider on the red racer cocked his helmet to the side. Their face shields were gone and she could dimly make out snouts inside.
What she had thought was shirts she realized was actually fur. And the colors matched the ones from the picture back at the garage. She tried to swallow but her mouth was dry. Okay, get a grip, Charlene. The photo wasn't a trick. They really do exist. But can I trust them?
"It's okay, Charley-girl. We're not gonna hurt you." The tan-furred humanoid pulled off his helmet, revealing clearly the mouse stamp on his facial features. He raised his empty hands and took a step closer.
The muscles in Charley's arm quivered but the gun stayed aimed at the bare chest underneath the black leather vest. "Don't come any closer!"
"We're awfully glad to see you in one piece, Charley-girl." He took another step froward, hands still raised. "But this ain't the best place for a reunion. We should go."
She lowered the gun just enough to show them she was willing to talk but not feeling entirely comfortable. "How do you know me?"
"Yeah! You'd be a bro except you're a girl." The white mouse finished, like the fact should be obvious to everyone. The tan mouse turned and glared through his shades. The grey mouse just shook his head while staring at the ceiling.
"And that's why you're following me?" Charley asked.
"We were worried, Charley-ma'am. It's not like you to just disappear." The grey mouse's tail twitched from side to side. "Let's go talk 'bout it somewhere else."
"I'm not going anywhere until I know what this computer knows about me."
The three males exchanged glances. "Well, get it, and let's blow up this joint," the white mouse encouraged.
She glanced back at the screen with a grimace. The computer was still asking for search criteria, and she had no clue how to get to the three reports about her. "Here's an idea." She looked back at the mouse in the black leather vest. "How 'bout you put away the shooter, and we'll download everything it has on you into my bike's computer and look at it away from here?"
"You can even pick where," the grey mouse added.
She looked at each of them. I dreamed about them. And Andy trusts them. But then I never thought Jack could do what he did. If they try anything funny, they'll regret it. She holstered the Glock behind her back. "Deal. This place is giving me the creeps."
The lead mouse, the one with fur the color of golden honey, pushed his bike to the computer terminal. Charley stepped back and watched him pull a cord from inside the crankcase and plug it into the computer. Both machines beeped and whirred. Images on the computer screen flickered by too fast to make out clearly. "She's downloading everything in there." He patted his bike fondly. "Piece of cake." He grinned at her. Charley wanted to trust that warm and friendly expression. She shifted uneasily. "Whatsamatter; you don't trust us?" His grin faded as he stared at her face. He slowly pulled off his green and black shades. The look of serious concern in his red eyes surprised her. "Who hit you, Charley?"
Her left hand jerked up to cover the swollen spot on her cheekbone. So much for covering it up with make-up. I guess the bruise is getting darker. Answer his 'whatsamatter' question, and maybe he'll back off. "I don't know who to trust anymore." She swallowed hard to dislodge the quiver in her voice.
He blinked but his eyes never left her green ones. "Jack hit you, didn't he? Last night or today 'cause you didn't have that in the store yesterday."
"McCyber did what!" The white mouse leaped towards his leader and Charley. The big grey one grabbed the green straps where they crossed on his back and jerked him to a stop.
Charley's gaze came back to the mouse practically in front of her. "You guys know Jack?"
"You introduced us."
"Wait till I get a hold of him!" The white one continued to rant.
"And just what is an egocentric cat-bait like you going to do?" Jack slowly stepped into the lab, holding a red pistol steady at the group. He wore a dark blue, leather jacket with red shoulder and elbow pads with matching leather pants. A squad of sneering men followed him, aiming the same kind of guns. "Raise 'em."
The leader shrugged and lifted his hands even with his ears. The grey giant let go of the straps and did the same. The white one seethed and snarled as he turned to face Jack and raised his hands. "Cat-bait! Come here and let me show you what I'm gonna do!"
Jack shook his head with a coldly bemused smile. He sauntered away from the bald men. "You shouldn't be here, Charley. Let's go."
Charley glanced at the tan mouse. His red eyes bored into hers. Can I trust you? I can't fight my way out of this alone. But do I trust you?
"Damnit, Charley!" Jack glared at the mice. "Those buck-toothed aliens don't care about you."
"We do care!" The grey mouse bellowed.
"A lot more than you do, you tailless monkey," the white one muttered.
"Oh, really?" Jack sneered. "You brought your war here. Anybody trying to hurt you takes her hostage. And what about the firefights, the bombs, the riding stunts? You're going to get her killed."
Charley ignored their conversation, staring at the leader mouse's face while he watched Jack. If I were running those risks, I would've known what they were. Daddy didn't raise no idiot. And you tried to get me out of here before something like this happened. The leader winced when Jack listed all the dangers they put her in, but the firm set of his mouth betrayed his resolution. You wouldn't let me get hurt if you could help it. You said we are friends and you wouldn't flinch like that if we weren't friends. The tan mouse glanced away from Jack and locked eyes with her again. The anguished caring in those eyes made more sense than anything Jack had said in the last two days. Jack had never looked at her like that. I do trust you. "My being here has nothing to do with them, Jack. I don't remember what I've been doing for the past four years, but I sure the hell haven't been married to you!"
He used the gun to point as he gestured to include the mice. "You believe them over me?"
"I believe Chef Andy." Charley thrust her chin up.
Jack frowned through his orange-red beard. "And how much I love you doesn't matter at all? Or Hannah? We belong together. All these aliens are just here to screw the human race over, and you and me along with them! Can't you see they're using you?"
Charley clenched her fists by her sides. "You're the only one in this room who used me. And I'm not giving you a chance to do it again."
"Damnit, Charley! We're married; I'm entitled."
Every muscle in Charley's body tensed. She clamped her mouth shut until the furious desire to swear was practically dead. "You lousy son of a bitch...."
His angry face shifted to a more yearning expression. "I'm sorry, Charley. I really am. I love you so much it... I lose it. But I'll make it up to you. I'll give you anything you want, anything. Just come back to me."
"Anything?" The mice stared at her in slacked-jawed shock. She twisted off the gold and diamond band and threw it, hard. The mice and Jack's eyes followed the ring. It gleamed as it bounced off Jack's chest. "Give me back how I used to feel about you."
Jack's burning brown eyes locked with hers. And then, the tan mouse tackled her shouting, "Save the Girl, number twenty-six! Now!" The momentum shoved her underneath the metal counter the computer terminal was on. She heard a familiar whine and the leader mouse convulsed into her with a grunt of pain. His head rapped against the counter. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pulled him underneath with her. He landed heavily on top of her.
The black and chrome bike yanked the cord out of the computer and rolled in front of them. Laser cannons popped out of hidden compartments surrounding the front wheel. That familiar whine came out of them as the bike fired.
Charley heaved the mouse into another position. He was still breathing. Her left hand skidded up his back and touched something warm and slightly sticky at his shoulder. She clamped her hand down on the wound automatically. He's been shot. "Please, don't die. Please, don't die. Please." She murmured that mantra constantly in his ear as the whine of laser bolts and yells of the fight were replaced with the crashing din of falling metal.
The white mouse's laugh had a reckless tinge to it. "We gotta remember to thank Limburger for the shoddy construction standards."
The bike rolled out of the way and a pair of arms--one thickly-muscled and covered in grey fur and the other made of boxy metal segments--reached underneath the metal counter. "Are you two alright?"
"He's been shot, and he hit his head, out cold." Charley gratefully levered the tan mouse's bulk into his larger friend's arms. Once they had pulled away, she crawled out and surveyed the damage. A fifteen-by-fifteen-foot section of the wall and ceiling above the round door now laid in a crumbled heap on the floor, blocking the door and pinning down most of the group of vested men who had come in. "Is Jack in there?"
"No." The metal mask on the right side of the white mouse's face twisted with his scowl. "Let's go get the son of a rat. He needs to learn what happens when you mess with a Biker Mouse's bros!"
"Can we just get out of here?" Charley frowned at the leader's wound. She couldn't tell how bad it was through the burnt and bloody fur. She pulled her blue work shirt out of her black jeans.
"Where's the fun in that?" The white mouse asked plaintively. "Whoa! We gettin' a peepshow?"
"Grow up." Charley ripped off the bottom of her button down shirt. The frayed bottom now came to just above her belly button. She wrapped the cotton material under the mouse's arm and around his shoulder twice before knotting it. "We've got wounded in enemy territory."
"She's right." The grey mouse rumbled in his deep, drawling voice. He hoisted the leader mouse to the purple Fatboy and set him against the bitch bar. "Payback'll hafta wait."
The white mouse groaned but jumped on the red crotch rocket. He jumped the bike forward, wrapped his tail around Charley's waist and yanked her to sit on the bike behind him. She felt like a human yo-yo. "Hang on, sweetheart!"
All three bikes roared toward the wall. Nine laser bolts blew a hole through it. The dust settled, and she could see the starry night and randomly lit office buildings across the street. The breath caught in her throat, and she clutched the white mouse tighter. The ground rushed closer as they drove down the side of the skyscraper. The bikes leaped and hit the concrete.
Laser bolts rained down on them from guns mounted on the skyscraper. Strange dune buggies with weapons mounted on their kickbars emerged from huge, hidden sliding doors on the first floor of the building. Charley glanced around and pointed up a side street. "There's my car!"
They quickly skidded their bikes to a stop beside the dark green Corolla. The white mouse smirked as he unwound his tail off her waist. "You've been driving that?"
She ignored him. "You two know where the Last Chance Garage is?" She opened the passenger side door and wrapped the leader's good arm over her shoulders. "You guys take care of those bozos and meet us there."
"Now that's a plan I can get behind!" The grey mouse helped the leader into her car.
Charley buckled the front seat belt over the mouse. The grey mouse had placed his shades back over his eyes. The two bikers wheeled around and raced headfirst for the dune buggies. She maneuvered the car around to head up the street. The black and chrome bike followed her. Somehow, she knew they'd make it back to the garage just fine. I'll go get Hannah first and maybe finally get some answers.
A few blocks away, her passenger groaned his way to consciousness. He moved his right arm and hissed with pain. "Hell of a wake-up call."
"How do you feel?"
"Like I was used for Sand Raider target practice. I owe McCyber big time for that."
"Jack shot you?"
"He was aiming at you."
You took a shot meant for me. I was right to trust you. "Thank you. I've had a bad enough day without getting shot."
A faint smile curled on his snout. "You'll forgive me if I don't promise to do it again?"
"Once was enough." Charley laughed easily. The muscles in her back loosened and she leaned against the seat.
The leader mouse's left ear twitched as he surveyed the neighborhood. "You're takin' a long way back to the garage."
He interrupted with, "Where else do you have to go?"
"First we have to get Hannah. Then it's back to the garage."
The mouse rubbed his chin with his left hand. "Hannah, the little girl with you in the store?" She nodded, and he chuckled. "The baby-sitter charges more after eight o'clock? Who is she?"
"Since when?" Her hands tightened on the steering wheel. Did everyone know she didn't have a kid? "Hey, Chef Andy's diner," he continued. "Let's grab supper while we're here."
Charley stepped out after she parked the car. The thin old man wobbled down the steps before she could leave the car. "Andy?"
He grabbed hold of his patio table with his free hand. The other hand clutched a dishtowel to his bald head. "He took her, Charley. I... I tried to stop him. That way." The red-stained dishtowel fluttered in the direction of the river.
"Hannah." Charley leaped into the car. Shifting gears so hard she probably stripped the automatic in the process, she shot the small car down the road.
The mouse braced himself against the dashboard and the door. "Are you sure you know how to drive four wheels?"
She ignored him as she threw the car around the corner. Luckily, the streets were deserted at this time of night. Most drivers stayed on the firmer freeway--she swerved around a giant pile of crumbled building spilling into the road--too hard for them to see the ruined patches of street. She dodged a spot of missing asphalt that stretched for a block. This is so much easier on a bike. The gas pedal actually touched the floor of the car. The four-door sedan charged down the street. She leaned closer to the beige vinyl-covered steering wheel.
The tan tail wrapped around her ankle and slowly lifted her foot. "You can't jump the river in this bucket of bolts!" he yelled.
Charley didn't take her eyes off the road, but recognized he was right. This road didn't have a bridge across the river; you had to turn right or left. Her foot eased on the brake. She had to find a clue as to which way Jack went. And she couldn't go around the corner blind. The headlights spotlighted the black iron fence across the road as she slowed the car. The orange light from the street lamps lining the street next to the river illuminated small pockets in the night. She jerked her head looking for taillights. Nothing was coming or going in either direction, so she eased the car further into the street.
"Maybe we passed him up," the mouse offered. He pulled his tail back to his side of the car.
A horn blared up the river. Charley moved the car further into the street until she could see clearly. A bridge spanned the river a block up the road. A lone motorcycle and rider had parked in the center of the bridge. He watched them from that perch. She hadn't seen the dark racer before, but the guy was wearing Jack's riding leathers. "What the hell is he up to?" Charley dropped her hand down to the shift lever on the steering column.
"Wait." The tan-furred hand grasped her arm just like a human hand would. "McCyber might have a weapon. We'll follow on my bike." He let go of her arm and opened the car door.
Charley sighed, but she had to respect his logic. She stepped out warily. I don't trust you, Jack. I'll never trust you again. Never. She stared up at the biker on the motorcycle on the bridge. He swung off easily even though he was using one arm to hold something to his chest. A shrill cry carried easily over the water. Jack wrapped both arms around his struggling load. He walked up to the railing of the bridge and the street lamp's light revealed a bright orange-red head against his chest. Charley slammed the car door shut. "HANNAH!"
Jack reached the bridge's railing and held the little girl over his head. Hannah screamed again. The arms cocked back. Charley's boot heels pounded against the pavement. But there was no way to reach them. His arms shot forward. Charley screamed, watching the small body falling through the air, arms and legs flailing. A tan blur surged past Charley. He leaped on the black iron railing and dived into the water. The orange-red head disappeared under the black water.
"No! No, please God, no!" Charley's waist and knees banged into the black iron railing. She stared down at the water, barely hearing the fading roar of a motorcycle engine through her chant. "No, please no, please." The orange light on the blue water changed its color to a glassy black. The black and chrome bike rolled up to the railing besides Charley, shining more light onto the water from its mousehead-shaped headlight and beeping worriedly. The small waves slapped against the concrete pilings. A breeze flooded her nostrils with a dank, mildewy smell. "Please, no, please."
A head finally broke through the murky surface snout-first and gulped down air. A smaller orange-red head was above his shoulder, held even with his ear. "Hannah!" Charley's knees tried to buckle and she grabbed hold of the railing. "Toss them a line!"
The bike beeped reproachfully at her like it already knew to do that. It whirled around and backed up to the railing. A grappling hook fired from a compartment under the seat. It sailed across the water, and the mouse caught hold of the rope with his gloved, right hand.
The bike hauled them to shore. Charley grabbed hold of his arm and belt and hauled them over the railing. Both adults collapsed on the sidewalk with the four-year-old girl cradled between them. Hannah coughed, forcing the water out of her lungs. Her small, right hand clutched the lapel of the mouse's leather vest so tight her entire arm shook.
Charley pushed the bangs off Hannah's forehead and loosened her clothes to help her breathe. "Hannah, Hannah-baby. Oh, Throttle."
"She's okay, Charley." He ran his free hand over the thin arms and legs. "Nothing broken." Hannah finished coughing, inhaled deeply, and burst into wailing sobs. "And when a kid cries like that, you know they're okay," he added with a grimace. His uncovered red eyes winced as he rocked her gently. "Shush, Princess, you're safe now. It's okay."
Charley scooted in closer and wrapped her right arm around Hannah as best she could. She kissed her pale forehead and cheeks. "Shush, Hannah-baby. Mommy's here. I'm here."
"Mommy! Mommy," Hannah sobbed. Her left arm snaked around Charley's neck and squeezed tight. The right hand still clutched the leather vest.
Charley hugged her daughter tighter. "Thank you, Throttle, thank you, thank you."
He put his wet arm around her bare waist and drew her even closer. "Shush, Charley, everybody's okay. It's okay."
She hadn't realized she was crying until he said that. She dropped her face onto his shoulder and sobbed, wrapping her free left arm around the mouse for support. His arm released her waist so he could stroke her hair.
When the tears were finally back under control, Charley pulled back and smiled wanly. "Didn't intend on having a nervous breakdown on you, Throttle."
"You never plan for those anyway." The tan mouse looked at her quizzically. "You called me Throttle."
"I'm sorry. It just popped in my head."
"Modo or Vinnie didn't tell you?"
He cupped her face using his thumb to gently wipe away the remnants of her last tear. "You remembered my name, Charley." He looked embarrassed and took his hand away. "We better get this little girl out of the cold."
"Right," Charley realized just how wet they still were. She squeezed Hannah one more time and climbed to her feet. She hurried back to the car, opened the trunk, and pulled out the blanket kept there for roadside emergencies.
"Mommy! Mommy!" Hannah shrieked.
Throttle jumped to his feet. "Shush Princess, it's okay. Look, Mommy's at the car. See." He hurried after Charley and held Hannah so she could see. "See, she's right there."
Charley took the fuzzy grey wool blanket and stood on tiptoes to wrap it over Throttle's broad shoulders. He helped her take a portion of the homemade cloak and tuck it around Hannah. "We're going home, baby." She kissed her again. "You don't mind holding her?"
The mouse chuckled. "I don't think she'll let me go."
She opened the passenger side door and snatched his shades off the seat so he could sit. Once they were safely inside, she climbed behind the steering wheel. Clenching it hid her trembling hands. "Your shoulder?"
"Is fine. Don't use it as an excuse to practice your racetrack skills."
"Mommy's a good driver," Hannah said defensively. And then her bright green eyes opened wide and her face turned even paler. Her right arm shook harder against his leather vest. "Sowwy," she whimpered, her body tense.
"She's a great driver." Throttle tucked the blanket around her better and petted her hair. "I just think we don't need anymore excitement tonight."
Hannah shivered but snuggled closer to his chest as he stroked her hair. The mouse leaned back and closed his eyes. Charley stared at the street moving under the headlights as she gnawed on her bottom lip. You saved my life twice in one night. I don't know if I can ever repay you, but I'm going to try my best to. "I'll take it easy, I promise." She turned the heater on, spreading the smell of wet fur.
The ride continued in silence until Hannah grabbed hold of Throttle's ear with her free hand and tugged it experimentally. He chuckled and opened his eyes. "Uncle Throttle's kinda attached to that."
"Are you related to Mickey?" She asked in a quiet voice.
The car moved around a pile of debris. Charley glanced at them out of the corner of her eye.
"Nah, Princess. I'm from Mars. Does Mickey have antennae?" He leaned over slightly so she could see them better. "That's how you know if a mouse is from Mars or not."
"Oh. Why do ya keep callin' me princess?"
"Cause your mommy is the queen of all mechanics, and that makes you a princess." He rubbed the end of her nose with his finger.
"You're a queen, Mommy?" Hannah's eyes widened as her mouth fell open.
Charley felt her face grow hot. She stopped the car for a working traffic light. "Why did you say that? He just means I'm a really good mechanic, Hannah-baby."
He wrinkled his snout at Hannah. "Doesn't she look funny with her face all red?"
"Yeah," the little girl giggled. Her hold finally relaxed on his leather vest. "What's yer name?"
"Call me Uncle Throttle."
"What's an unca?"
"Well, we're your mommy's bros, so that makes us your uncles."
"Even though I'm a girl?" Charley asked wryly.
"Hey, Vinnie is the one who made that statement, not me."
Charley parked the Corolla inside the Last Chance Garage. Throttle's bike pulled next to the other two parked inside and shut off. Throttle set Hannah down and pulled himself out of the car. "Mommy says this is our new home. You live here, too?"
"No, but we spend a lot of time here."
Charley winced when she saw his shoulder. The red blood had seeped through the blue cotton becoming a rusty-brown spot. She walked around the back of the car to join them. I have to patch him up. But what to do with Hannah? I don't want her to see a gunshot wound.
The kitchen door exploded open but managed to remain on its hinges. The white mouse with the metal mask on his face bounded into the larger bays and immediately shrank the room. "Where have you been?" He threw his arms out, almost hitting the larger grey mouse that followed him out. "We could've trashed the Tower three times by now!" His fist slammed into his open palm. "You pick the worst times to get knocked out, Throttle. McCyber got away, and you went swimming!" The fist slammed into the palm again.
Hannah shrank back with every wild gesture he made. She finally decided that her new Uncle Throttle wasn't enough protection and latched her wet body onto Charley's leg. Charley picked her up. How in the hell do I shut him up before he scares her worse? She wondered as she tried to rock away Hannah's trembling.
He finally noticed Hannah when Charley picked her up. "You went and got the loopy kid that thinks Charley's her mom?"
Hannah stared into Charley's eyes. "Yer not my mommy?" Her lower lip trembled, and the tears streamed from her green eyes.
Charley pressed Hannah's face against her neck. "I am your mommy. Don't listen to him. He's just trying to be funny." And the woman's green eyes aimed a glare at him that could have flayed the white fur from his skin.
The white mouse gulped and looked over his shoulder. "What did I say wrong?"
The grey mouse towering over him just shook his head. His one red eye rolled up and stared at the ceiling.
Throttle leaned wearily against the dark green car. Charley riveted her attention to him. He needed to get dry, get bandaged, and get off his feet. Hannah had stopped crying--probably didn't have any tears left--but still clung to Charley's neck. The tan mouse rubbed his left hand over his face. "Vinnie, go check on Chef Andy. McCyber attacked him, and he looked hurt."
"Chef Andy? You got it." The white mouse leaped onto his motorcycle. "I didn't mean to make her cry."
"We know, Vinnie."
Vinnie peeled out of the garage, popping his helmet on before he hit the street.
So that must make the grey giant Modo, Charley realized. He walked toward her and Hannah, metal and flesh hands outstretched to take the little girl. "I'll take her upstairs and get her ready for bed, Charley-ma'am. Had practice with my niece Primer."
Hannah lifted her head and looked at him with a far more serious expression than a child should have. She sniffled and looked at Throttle. He smiled back encouragingly. Charley smoothed the wet and tangled fiery braids. "I need to help Uncle Throttle with something, and then I'll be right up. Okay, baby?"
"You won't leave?"
The fear in the tiny voice formed a lump in Charley's throat. "No, I'm going to be right down here. You'll go with your Uncle Modo?"
Hannah considered the large grey mouse again, nodded slowly, and reached out for him. Modo cradled the little girl in his flesh arm and carried her into the kitchen.
Throttle sighed as he pushed himself off the car and staggered into the downstairs bathroom. Charley trailed after him, sidetracking to lock the gun back in the safe and to grab a towel out of the bathroom's storage closet. He sat down on the toilet lid, cut the makeshift bandage free with a jackknife that disappeared back into his belt pouch, and peeled off his leather vest. "Some nights, there ain't enough pain killer in the galaxy."
"Everything, shoulder included. But mostly Vinnie."
Charley blotted his hair and fur, trying hard not to hurt his shoulder, ears, or antennae. "I owe you so much," she started to say.
"Skip it. You're worth all this and more, Charley. Besides, not even you can teach Vinnie when to shut up."
She felt herself blush for no good reason. She grabbed the first aid kit. "What's safe to use on you guys? I don't want to make it worse."
"Everything in there has been mouse-tested." He chuckled, "You have to patch us up a lot."
"Oh." She did know what to do when she stopped worrying about it. She quickly cleaned the gash, applied the antiseptic, and taped down some gauze over it. "You really should take a shower and clean off anything nasty from the river."
He chuckled again. "One of these days, I'm gonna get banged up enough to qualify for a sponge bath. I'll get clean tomorrow when I can stand up again. But I will change into some dry clothes."
"There are some clean men's clothes in the basket." Charley gave the basket in question a small kick as she put the first aid kit away.
"Oh, so that's where we left those," he said innocently.
A little too innocently. Charley was thinking of a sarcastic comment when shrill screaming began. "Oh hell, now what!"
Her boots pounded up the wooden stairs from the kitchen to the living room. Throttle ran right behind her. At the top of the stairs, she made a sharp right turn and skidded to a stop inside the bathroom. The screams were coming from her practically naked and hysterical daughter. Hannah tried to leap into Charley's arms. Charley fell to her knees and held her. Modo stood next to the partially filled bathtub. "I... I was just givin' her a bath. She just went nuts." His hands were raised, waiting for the officer with the cuffs.
"Drain the tub," Charley ordered. The mouse's tail dipped into the water and pulled the plug. Charley petted Hannah's now unbraided mass of hair. "Shush baby, Mommy's here. It's okay. He wasn't trying to hurt you. It's okay, Hannah-baby."
Modo slicked the water off his tail fur. "She's scared of baths? I was just tryin' to get her clean and warm. I don't like takin' 'em either, but...?"
"You'd be scared of baths too, if McCyber threw you in the river," Throttle answered as he sagged against the doorjamb.
"He did WHAT?" Modo roared. His eye blazed with a red light.
Hannah screamed again. Her arms and legs jerked, trying to find a way to crawl inside Charley and run away at the same time. "Gonna hit!" was all she could make out within the little girl's sobs.
"That's not helping!" Charley snapped at him. Modo's eye stopped glowing when he looked down at the shrieking little girl, and winced. "Turn on the shower." Again, he obeyed Charley's mother tone.
Throttle sighed. "You know, I hear there are some people who get to enjoy quiet nights at home."
"Quiet night? What the heck is that?" Modo tried to sound jovial, but his voice was too strained to be convincing.
Hannah clung to Charley with an impressive strength given her shaking. Her sobs had quieted to hiccups and streaming tears under Charley's gentle murmurs. There is only way to get her into the shower. What the hell, I could use one too, now. "It's okay, Hannah-baby. Mommy's gonna take a shower with you." She eased her arms free and stripped out of what was left of the blue cotton work shirt.
Modo's face turned bright red under his grey fur when he saw the white bra. "You got things handled now, Charley-ma'am." He bolted for the door.
She caught a glimpse of Throttle's equally red face before both mice slammed the bathroom door shut. "Motherhood has sure made Charley a lot...."
"Less shy?" rumbled through the door.
"Yeah, Modo, a lot less shy."
Men, she thought exasperatedly before turning full attention to her daughter.
She finally got Hannah and herself washed, once Hannah realized that the falling water wasn't going to hurt her. They got dressed for bed. It wouldn't be much longer before Hannah collapsed. The little girl pulled on her Mickey Mouse nightgown while Charley found a large T-shirt and cotton knit shorts in the dresser. I don't want to wear anything I wore for Jack. If it wasn't so late I'd go outside and burn that whole suitcase.
Hannah tugged on the T-shirt with her free hand. The other hand rubbed her eyes. Charley picked her up and held her against her front. Hannah laid her head on Charley's shoulder. Charley sighed. My poor baby. It's gonna get better, I promise. She carried her back downstairs and into the garage bays. All three of the mice were sitting around a table near the kitchen door. An untouched platter of hot dogs was the focus of their attention until the door swung shut. Throttle stood up--now wearing a pair of black, knee-length, athletic shorts and his shades--and made a move to take Hannah. He thought better of it and pulled a chair out for them. Charley sank gratefully into it, resting against its straight, wooden back.
Throttle knelt down to be face-level with Hannah. "Hey there, Princess."
She didn't raise her head or unlock her arms from around Charley's neck. "Hey."
"You've had one lousy day, huh?"
"Bad," Charley answered.
"Yeah, bery bad day."
"You mad at your Uncle Modo?"
Charley looked across the table at the large grey mouse. He watched Throttle and Hannah with cringing despair that made Charley want to hug him herself. His hands gripped the table, keeping him anchored to his chair.
Hannah took a deep breath. "Mommy said he didn't mean it."
The quiver in her voice set a quiver up Modo's arms. He jerked up out of his chair, almost stumbled over the white mouse, and fell on his knees next to Throttle. Hannah jerked her head off Charley's shoulder. "Oh li'l honey, I never meant to hurt ya. Please don't be mad. I'm sorry." A tear trickled out of his red eye.
Hannah reached out and wiped the tear out of his fur. "Don't be sad."
"You ain't mad?"
"Not mad at ya."
Modo grinned at her and his shoulders sagged. "Good, I wanna be your friend."
"But you're Mommy's bros."
Throttle chuckled and touched her nose. "But we can be your friends too. Let's eat."
Hannah looked at Charley with a shy smile as the mice went back to their seats. Charley smiled back, rubbing her nose with hers. Thank you, guys. She's going to need real father figures. I guess you're the only ones who qualify. And we're going to need all the friends we can get if Jack comes back. Charley glanced at Throttle's bike while Hannah turned around on her lap to face the table. I have to know what happened to me in there. If that info from the computer can tell me.
Throttle saw her look. He glanced over at the bike, then down at Hannah, and met her eyes again. Charley shook her head. No, not yet, after Hannah's asleep. He nodded and grabbed a hot dog off the platter.
"You hungry, baby?" Charley pressed her cheek on the top of Hannah's head.
"No, Mommy." She twisted her head to watch how each mouse inhaled the hot dogs.
The idea of food made Charley's already tight stomach churn. "How's Andy?"
Vinnie paused before shoving a hot dog in his mouth. "He's okay. Just shook up. The little cut on his head was nothin'. He was more worried about Hannah, which I guess is the kid."
Hannah crossed her arms above where Charley's arms held her on her lap. "I am not the kid. How 'bout I call you the mouse?"
Vinnie scowled as he swallowed. Throttle and Modo chuckled. "I am Vincent Van Wham, the Velocity Atrocity, the baddest mammajammer this side of the asteroid belt, and don't you forget it."
"Dat's too long. You need a shorter name." Even Charley cracked up the flabbergasted expression on Vinnie's face. "But it is too long," Hannah insisted.
"Just call him Uncle Vinnie," Throttle advised with a grin.
"Bet you don't even know your name," Vinnie said sullenly.
"I'm Hannah Charlene McCyber."
Vinnie's face darkened, but he aimed his scowl at the nearly bare platter. Modo's fist curled on the table, and he fought with his face not to frown. Charley could see the taunt jaw muscle on Throttle's face that kept his teeth clenched. The rest of his expression betrayed nothing.
"Mommy." Hannah's hands gripped her arms.
Charley swallowed hard. "I know what we need. We have a new home now, so we need new names to go with it. How does Hannah Charlene Davidson sound?"
"Hannah Charlene Davidson," she repeated slowly.
"A beautiful name for a beautiful Princess," Throttle said finally.
"Is yer name still Mommy?"
Charley kissed the anxious, upturned face. "Yes, Hannah-baby, I'm still Mommy."
Hannah turned back to the mice. "You hate Daddy?"
"Yes. He hurt Charley," Vinnie answered bluntly. "And you."
She turned in Charley's lap and pressed even closer to her. "Why he do it, Mommy? Why?"
Charley closed her eyes against the sudden up-welling of tears. She pulled her daughter closer. "I don't know, baby. I think he wanted to hurt Mommy, and that was the best way he could think of. But I won't let him hurt you again. I won't, I won't." She rocked Hannah as the little girl's hot tears fell against the T-shirt.
Throttle reached and placed his hand on the back of Hannah's head. "None of us will let him hurt you again."
Charley opened her eyes to look at them, saving Throttle's face for last. "Will you stay tonight?"
"If you want us to."
Charley nodded, unable to speak, and kissed Hannah's forehead.
They remained quiet as Charley steadily rocked and hummed to Hannah. "She's asleep," she finally announced softly. "I'll put her to bed."
"I'll help." Throttle stood up as Charley got to her feet. He cut off her weak protest. "I feel responsible, okay?" He held the swinging kitchen door open for her.
Charley sighed. Why do I get the feeling that you guys don't listen to me even when I'm making sense? "I'm putting her in my bedroom." Throttle nodded and opened the bedroom door from the upstairs living room. He turned down the covers on the large bed and stepped back out of the way.
She tucked Hannah into the bed and kissed her forehead. "Her doll is by the suitcases." He crossed over to the other side of the room and brought back the Cabbage Patch doll. Charley tucked it in next to Hannah where the little girl could find it. "Wish I had a baby monitor."
Throttle shuffled his bare feet as they left the bedroom, and Charley eased the door partly closed. "Charley, look the stuff in my bike.... You've been through a lot today. It can wait till tomorrow."
He just wanted to protect her. She knew that. "If it was you, and you were missing four years of your life, could you wait?"
He shook his head with a rueful smile, and they headed back down to the garage.
"So, what do we do now?" Modo asked.
"Now we see what's in my bike." Throttle walked straight to his motorcycle and gestured for Charley to sit on its brown leather seat.
"Um, Throttle?" Vinnie tugged on the purple bandanna knotted around his neck.
"It's my call," Charley sat sidesaddle on the bike.
Vinnie and Modo exchanged shrugs and moved to stand behind her. Throttle took a deep breath and hit a sequence of buttons next to the screen.
Static was quickly replaced with the image of a turnip-shaped head. His large forehead had a patch of sandy-colored hair perched on top like a hat. Green goggles covering his eyes with black lenses, a hooked nose, and wide mouth stretching in a sinister grin fell in between the large expanse of forehead and the pointed chin. Charley's muscles knotted just staring at him. She could feel the mice tensing all around her. She felt like pounding that face until it bled. The mouth finally opened, and his nasally whine of a voice came out. "Experiment #20,020,414. Field: genetics. Jack McCyber--see file in Useful Earth Scientists--approached me with an interesting challenge. Erase the memories of one Charlene Davidson--see file in Troublemakers--so he could create an alternate past for her, a past without the Biker Mice, and to build them a child to anchor her in this new reality. Without the human female to help them, the Biker Mice would soon fall prey to Earth's local governments. Perhaps a hint to their Area 51? I decided that the easiest way to build this child is to take genetic material used for sexual reproduction in humans."
A pair of hands settled on Charley's shoulders. The thumbs quickly massaged her tight back muscles. The scientist, or whatever he was, pulled away from the camera and it moved to view a metal examination table. Charley didn't think her tight shoulder could get any tighter. She was wrong.
"Let me go, you Neanderthals!" It was her voice coming out of the bike's speaker. "Let me go!" Two huge men wearing black vests and blue jeans hauled a chestnut-haired woman into the camera's range. Charley felt her mouth go dry seeing the same features she saw in the mirror twisted by so much fury.
The goons slammed the angry Charley on the metal table. It took both of them to hold her down while they fastened metal straps around her bare ankles and wrists, stretching her body to each corner of the narrow table. She continued to struggle as the goons backed away.
The scientist in the long white lab coat that resembled a dress came back into view carrying a large pair of shears. The green eyes of the Charley on the table opened wider. "Hold still," he ordered with a giggle.
Charley's deep breaths matched the ones that the Charley on the table was taking. The scientist started at the bottom of her black jeans' leg. Charley shivered, feeling the cold metal against her skin as the shears cut up the seam.
Modo muttered something undecipherable under his breath. Throttle's hands clenched into fists. The hands on her shoulders pressed down harder, pausing in their kneading. Charley felt her stomach flip-flop. Could it get any worse?
The hands dropped off Charley's shoulders. Pain lanced through her abdomen. When the eerily familiar screams tore out of the speaker, Charley leaped off the bike and ran into the bathroom.
"Charley!" intermingled with a guttural growl of rage and the sound of crumbling masonry. Charley gripped the rim of the toilet but all that was coming out of her was dry heaves. I won't cry. I'm too mad to cry. Oh my God, what else did they do to me? What did that bastard do to Hannah?
The water in the sink ran briefly. Someone knelt beside her and pressed the cool washcloth on her face. She took the damp material from him and held it to her face. "Charley, you okay?" Throttle asked.
"Would you be okay if that happened to you!" She yelled back.
There was a long pause. "At least I came out of Karbunkle's lab lookin' normal. Vinnie and Modo weren't that lucky."
She pulled the washcloth off her face. His shades were aimed away from her. "I'm sorry.... I didn't mean.... I don't remember." Tears threatened to spill over, and she rapidly blinked her eyes. "I can't believe...." She wrapped her arms around her legs and hugged her knees to her chest.
He turned to her. "It's alright, Charley. I guess we're going to be playing catch up for a while. Unless...."
A yell and then crumbling masonry echoed outside. Vinnie said something she didn't recognize at all. Must be in Martian. She started to ask what he had said but Throttle's face had turned bright red under his fur.
"Vinnie! You don't say that in front of a lady!" Modo protested.
"She's in the bathroom!"
Throttle avoided Charley's eyes. "What did he say?" she asked quietly.
"Um, what he wants to do to Karbunkle." He climbed to his feet and walked back into the garage. "Hold it down. Traumatized kid sleeping upstairs, remember?"
Yeah, I bet that's what he said that made you blush like that. But you aren't going to tell me, are you? Charley tossed the washcloth back in the sink and stood in the door.
Vinnie stood next to two new holes in the wall between the garage bays and the office, holes about the size of his fist. His chest heaved, and his red eyes glanced at her before locking eyes with Throttle's shades. "Let's go get that demented, deviant bastard!"
Throttle shook his head. "Not tonight. The goons'll be on high alert."
"You're just gonna let Karbunkle get away with what he did!"
"Please," Charley swallowed hard as the males' eyes turned to her. "I don't want anyone else getting hurt tonight. I just want to finish watching."
"But Charley-ma'am?" Modo winced and looked away.
"I have to know what else he did. I have to know what to make him pay for." She looked down at the floor.
A low growl slowly escaped from Vinnie. He cocked his fist back and shattered the wall again, forming another hole. Throttle grabbed his arm. "Stop it," the tan mouse ordered in a quiet tone that no one would disobey. "We're not going tonight, and that's final."
Vinnie yanked his arm free from Throttle and stalked over to the black and chrome bike. He stood beside it; arms crossed over his chest.
Throttle sighed. "Let's do it."
Modo looked down at the floor. "I don't know if I can."
Charley swallowed hard and moved toward the bike. "I have to know what else he did. This is the only way I have to find out."
"You need to get checked out by a real doctor." She turned back, and saw the blush spread across his grey cheek and down his snout of his profile. He rubbed his mechanical arm and awkwardly tried to hide it with his body.
Her hand curled around the bruise on her cheek. "Jack wanted all my parts working, believe me." She sat back on the bike to show the conversation was closed.
"Just as long as you go," Modo muttered worriedly.
"Let's skip ahead a little bit." Throttle pressed the buttons beside the screen again. The image that replaced the static this time was a cylindrical vat filled with a bubbling amber liquid. Karbunkle's high-pitched voice continued the narration. "The embryo responds quite well to the age accelerator. The trick is to give just the right amount to get the child to four-years-old but to allow it to age normal after that point." A tiny embryonic form grew larger in the vat. It was like watching one of those time-lapsed videos. It went from alien creature to a newborn baby girl in a matter of minutes.
Charley had to jump-start her breathing. That's my baby. That's my Hannah. No wonder I didn't have any stretch marks. She's beautiful. She could see the fine lines of hair on Hannah's head even though the amber liquid distorted the color. Her tiny hands clenched and relaxed.
"I can't believe Karbunkle didn't screw her up on purpose." Modo muttered awed, drawn to the screen in spite of himself.
Robot arms moved into the vat. They held Hannah's perfect little arm and an IV needle was guided into it. Charley whimpered but Karbunkle's voice returned. "At this stage, the fetus would be born and the umbilical cord severed. The IV supplies the body with the nutrients it needs to grow at the accelerated rate." More robot arms brought down an oxygen mask and fitted it over her nose and mouth. One arm held the mask, and the other arm kept her head in place. Electrodes floated down with their own robot arms and fastened all around her head. A robot arm with a pair of surgical scissors at the end cut the cinched-off umbilical cord once it was obvious Hannah was breathing on her own. "Now begins the education process. McCyber is insistent on the child being the same as any other Earth child." Karbunkle's voice sighed in irritation. "However given the mental capabilities of the parents and initial intelligence test, the child's inherent mental abilities put her out of the normal range."
"Huh?" Vinnie stared at the screen.
"Hannah's smart like Charley and McCyber," Throttle translated.
"Why didn't the thunderin' loony just say so?"
Charley couldn't stop staring at Hannah's development. Her arms, legs, and torso grew longer. Her hair floated in the tank, but it looked about shoulder-length already. Jack cheated me of this, cheated her. I can't forgive you for that. Never.
Throttle gently caressed her shoulder. "She looks like you, Charley."
Karbunkle's voice began again. "She has reached the approximate age. We'll keep her under sedation until McCyber is ready for delivery."
"Delivery? The bastard didn't even stick around?" Modo's glowing red eye reflected in the bike's side view mirrors.
Static filled the little screen again. It was replaced by Karbunkle's face. "Experiment #20,020,428. Field: Brain functions. The second phase of McCyber's project would be more efficiently completed with a total memory wipe. But since erasing everything in her pretty little head is undesirable, I've settled for suppressing Charlene Davidson's memories of the past four years. I thought I could isolate only those memories concerning the Biker Mice, but apparently, human retention does not work that way. There appears to be multiple levels of memory." The image abruptly ended, and Throttle's bike beeped softly.
"That's all she got before the fight. Sorry, Charley." Throttle hooked his thumbs elastic waistband of his shorts and looked at the floor.
"Now I know." Her throat hurt with disappointment. She had been so sure there would have been something to get her memories back.
"Now we know." Vinnie's voice was edged with bitterness. "Now we know why McCyber had to talk to you without us around. So, what are we going to do with the science experiment upstairs?" His thumb jerked up at the ceiling.
Charley clenched her fists. "Hannah's not a science experiment! She's my daughter. It doesn't matter how she got here. All she knows is that I'm her mommy."
Vinnie's Adam apple bobbed as he swallowed. "How can you want her?"
"She's my daughter and I'm not losing her for anything!"
He scowled and turned away. "Hell. Maybe if Mom had wanted me, I'd understand you."
Throttle looked up. "Come on, Vin. She's an innocent victim just like Charley. None of this is her fault."
"What are you saying, Throttle? I told her not to go!"
"You acted like a jealous jerk and made her mad," Modo rumbled.
"So, say what you're thinking! It's all my fault!" The white mouse shoved his way out of the garage. The kitchen door banged shut after him.
Charley winced. Had his painful outburst woke up Hannah? Throttle was already up the ladder, peeking into the room through the trapdoor. "She's still knocked out," he announced coming back down.
She nodded, trying to find something to say. "I can't give up Hannah to make him happy."
He doesn't expect you to, really. It's a lot for him to wrap his head around. He'll get over it," Throttle said.
"Or we'll pound some understandin' into his thick skull," Modo promised.
"Don't do that," she sighed. "He has a right to how he feels."
"You can't let what Vinnie said make ya feel bad, Charley-ma'am. He just needs to lash out. And when he can't use his fists, he uses his mouth."
"I know, I know, but with so much missing...." She looked at the floor. "What did I do to make Jack do this to me?"
"Nothing." Throttle looked at her over the rims of his shades. "This is not your fault. McCyber is responsible for his own actions."
"It's just, I can't remember!" Charley paced across the garage bay. "How many times am I going to put my foot in it because of something I should already know?"
"We ain't letting Karbunkle touch ya again." Modo crossed his arms over his chestplate.
"There might be another way," Throttle said slowly.
Modo glanced at Charley and then back at the thinking mouse. "Are you gonna keep us waitin'?"
"Sorry, I think I can show Charley my memories with touch-telepathy."
Charley stared at him. He was seriously considering it. "No offense, but I don't I want anyone else prowling around in my head."
Throttle shook his head with a smile. "It doesn't work that like that. All I can do is show you my memories. Hopefully, it'll jog yours. But I understand if you don't feel up to it."
She looked at him sitting on the bench. You wouldn't hurt me. And I'm so tired of not knowing. "No, I want to try it. What do I do?"
"Sit right here." Charley sat on the section of bench Throttle patted. He swung his leg over to straddle it, facing her. "Relax." The pair of antennae extending from his hair started glowing and he touched her head with them.
She closed her eyes and gasped at the images flooding her mind. The scene crashed through the large window to land in her garage bay just in time to keep GreasePit from squashing Vinnie.
"Mouse," Modo replied firmly to the right.
"You got a problem with that?" Throttle's voice asked with an echo.
After the short fight and realizing that Vinnie was okay, the gaze turned to the unnerved human civilian they had just rescued. She was beautiful, and her fighting spirit put a flash in her green eyes and a red tint to her cheeks. She has enough guts to stand up to the jerk threatening her; a potential ally on this planet and definitely worth getting to know better. "You okay, ma'am?"
Charley saw herself raise a wrench. "Don't you come any closer, you-you-!" the woman shouted.
The admiration for her fighting spirit was spoiled by annoyance. Come on, we're the good guys here! What if all the Earthlings movies were right? "Whoa, whoa, hey, don't break a nail!" Throttle's snapped response had that same weird echo, and Charley realized that this is how he heard his own voice. "We just came in to get my bike fixed!"
Memories flowed faster, and Charley found herself remembering details that weren't there. Another moment anchored itself. Evil Eye Weevil had used his hostility ray on the mice. When Throttle's anger had worn off, he started searching for his bros to make up.
"Throttle!" She saw herself ride up outside the garage. Hope swelled up against the dejection felt about what had happened between them. She parked next to his bike. "I've been looking all over for you! Something's happening!"
"Yeah, I know. Have you seen Vinnie and Modo? I'd like to talk to them." Remorse piled higher. Have we been through everything we've been through, just to end it now? "We kinda had words."
"That's what I'm trying to tell you!" Charley's voice gained that annoyance she got when she felt they weren't paying attention. "Limburger's imported a new villain called Evil Eye!"
"Evil Eye Weevil?" The guy is still alive!
"You've heard of him?"
"Yeah. He had a stunt show on Mars for a while. He's also got a hostility ray." Charley's heart panged at the bitterness he felt. "Oh yeah. That would explain a whole lot." Limburger must have Modo and Vinnie. Her vision suddenly gained a golden tint as the helmet's face-shield slid in place. "Hold the fort, Charley-girl!" He told her. "I gotta ride!" He swiveled his bike to accelerate away.
"I'll come with you!" In the bike's side view mirror, he could see Charley reaching out to grab hold of him.
"No!" No, it was too dangerous for someone he cared so much about. Modo and Vinnie were already on the line. But he loved how selflessly she volunteered to help, despite how they had treated her earlier. She dropped her hand, and her face fell with it. There wasn't anything he didn't love about her. He grabbed hold of her hand, holding it firmly. Charley's lips dropped open slightly, and her cheeks flushed slightly. Throttle, you idiot. You have Carbine waiting for you if you ever make it back home. And Vinnie's crazy about her. You can't steal a girl out from under your bro's whiskers. But she cares. He subdued his voice, mainly to drive that hurt look from her eyes. "Believe me, Charley, I appreciate that." He paused, searching for the right words and lingering to enjoy the warmth of her hand. "But this is between me and the guys." He gave it one final squeeze, before clutching his bike's handlebars and taking off.
More images pulled her forward in time. The last two weeks had been spent in anxious searching. And then, the overwhelming relief of finding her unharmed, a feeling that didn't end even with the chestnut-haired woman pointed a gun at his chest. She wouldn't shoot, even if she didn't know them anymore. He was so sure of that, he was willing to bet his life on it.
She saw the room shift as he took a step forward. And I think I just did. She was so scared; what had happened to her? Why didn't she know them? Figure it out later. Right now we got to get out of here before Limburger or Karbunkle grab her. If she doesn't remember us, she probably doesn't remember them either. And he didn't want to think of what could happen to her in this lab. "We're awfully glad to see you in one piece, Charley-girl." He took another step forward, hands raised, and confident she wouldn't shoot. "But this ain't the best place for a reunion. We should go."
She could feel his unshakable faith in her, one of the few who had never betrayed them. She would never shoot him.
"You were right," she muttered.
"Charley?" Throttle pulled back and the images stopped. She blinked her eyes suddenly thrust back into the present. He gripped her arm. "Charley?"
She smiled into his worried face. "It worked. I remember." She threw her arms around his neck and embraced him tightly. "I remember everything!"
He gave her one tight squeeze. "Welcome back, Charley-girl." She heard a minor tremble to his husky voice.
"Are you sure you remember? I mean... you sure it ain't just what Throttle knows? Karbunkle's done shoddy work in the past but...." Modo stammered while looking at the floor.
"Smooth. I like that in a mouse." He looked up with a relieved smile starting to form. She had to jump slightly to hug him. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her completely off the floor.
"What's goin' on?" Vinnie asked from the kitchen door.
Modo set her down while clearing his throat. Charley quickly hugged the pensive white mouse. "Throttle got my memories back!"
"Martian mind tricks huh?" Vinnie wrapped his muscular arms around her back and pressed his left cheek against hers. "I'm sorry, Charley-girl."
"It's alright. I know you didn't mean what you said about Hannah."
"Oh yeah, I guess I'm sorry about that, too. But I'm more sorry that me and my big mouth kept us from keeping you safe." He swallowed hard.
The fight came back to her. Vinnie's harping on Jack's inadequacies, on how Charley was happier with just them, on what right did Jack have to dictate to Charley, and other rantings of his insecure jealousy, until she finally snapped. "Do I get this bent out of shape when you have company from Mars? I'll go have lunch with who I want to!"
She winced as she saw his uncharacteristic, dejected face. "Vinnie, no." She cupped her hand under his jaw. "Jack wanted me to feel something for him I just don't feel anymore. And then, he thought he could force me to feel it. Don't... don't beat yourself up over it. I treated him the same as any of my other friends. He just had other plans."
Vinnie pulled her back against him. "I'm gonna get him for you, Charley-girl. He won't hurt you again."
She hugged him again and rested her head on his shoulder. "Don't do anything stupid for my sake."
"Um...." She felt his head shift so he could look behind her.
"If and when McCyber comes back, that's when we nail his ears to the wall." Throttle's voice held an edge. She shivered, remembering how his anger had felt in his memories.
"Oh. Okay, Charley-girl, if that's what you want." He released her a little reluctantly and looked in her face. "You need sleep."
"We all do," Throttle replied with a sigh. "Go on up, Charley. We'll lock up."
The weariness descended on her hard. "Alright, guys. Goodnight." They chorused "good night" as she walked into the kitchen.
By the time she reached the living room, she realized the mice didn't have anything to sleep on. The guest bedroom closet held the extra blankets. She had a thick one in her arms and was stretching for the next one when it was gently taken from her. She turned and found Modo standing beside her with an indulgent smile on his face. "Bed," he said firmly. "We can take care of this."
"That's a first. All right, I'm going." Hannah's body curled around the Cabbage Patch doll, but she was sleeping deeply. Charley crawled into bed careful not to wake her up. She listened to the mice settling down on the other side of the wall. Their voices murmured softly for them; they were making an effort to be quiet. If they had done nothing else, that would prove they care. All was safe and sound. Then why was it that all she could do was stare at the ceiling?
The voices drifted into silence, and then into reverberating snores. I'll never sleep at this rate. She climbed out of the bed, making sure not to wake Hannah, and went to the bathroom. She stared at herself in the mirror. Everything was fine; everything was back to normal. Except for having a four-year-old daughter because she had been used as a scientific experiment set up by Jack.
Charley grabbed the sink basin. Daddy always pointed out his gotta-have streak. I called it ambition. A hot tear trickled down her cheek and she angrily pushed it away. How could I be so stupid? Even Vinnie was suspicious. And now Jack's out there and wants to kill the guys and Hannah and me. She shuddered, remembering the shot Throttle took.
Her knees finally caved and she sat down on the floor. Why? Why? Why? He had been so persuasive with his logic. In his mind, they belonged together. Every relationship they had since they broke up had ended badly, except her relationship with the mice. That's why she turned Jack down; he just couldn't compete with their faults. She didn't think any human male could. The only other people on the planet she loved as much as her new daughter and she had put them in even worse danger. Why didn't I see it coming? Why didn't I stop him?
She couldn't stop the tears now. Hannah, my poor baby. How can I explain this to her? Oh god, what if Jack tries to take her through the courts? What if I can't ever have any more kids because of Karbunkle? What am I going to tell everyone who knows I didn't have a baby four years ago?
The tears just wouldn't stop. She stifled the sounds with her hands. She could feel the bastard probing her. She could still feel Jack's hands taking what he wanted. How can I protect Hannah? I can't even protect myself!
A door eased open and closed softly. The bathroom door to her bedroom behind her hadn't opened. Before she could stop crying, someone knelt in front of her. He gently stroked her hair. Without looking, she wrapped her arms around him and buried her face against his chest. His muscular arms embraced her, pulling her into his lap. "Let it out. Just let it out," his husky voice whispered.
She didn't think she could stop now. She curled her body into his furry embrace. She sobbed and he rocked. She finally gained enough air back to ask. "Why... why does it hurt so much?"
"Because you loved him."
"I did not."
"Not romantically. But he was your friend, you trusted him, and he betrayed you."
"No, but then I've had my over-abundance of integrity thrown back in my face. It hurts for a while, but you'll survive. And you got us." The furry legs under hers shifted slightly. The fur down his legs was a completely different texture against her smooth-shaven legs.
Charley took a deep breath. "I'm scared." She waited to hear laughter or boasting.
"Of what, Charley-girl?"
"Everything. Raising Hannah, keeping her safe from Jack, keeping you guys safe from him, helping you guys fight Limburger, keeping the garage solvent, figuring out how to keep Hannah, figuring out if Karbunkle...." Her throat tightened, and she couldn't say anything else.
The arms squeezed her gently. "Modo's right about that one. You need to go to a real doctor." She whimpered, and he petted her hair. "A nice female doctor. And you can tell her that you participated in a fertility study, but you're afraid the quack doctor might have damaged you."
"You already thought of a cover story?"
"Shoulder hurts just enough to keep me awake. Had to think about something. No good fantasizing about pounding McCyber; doesn't help with what we have to do now."
Charley sighed against his chest. "You're always so logical."
"Come on, babe, I'm no Spock. It's just somebody has to think of this stuff. Now everything else you're scared about, that's just overwhelmin', thinkin' about it all at once. But you're not alone. We're gonna help."
"You know you can count on us. Have we ever let you down?"
"Only when your machismo gets in the way."
Throttle chuckled. "Your battle status just got upgraded. But Mom, you might want to sit them out."
"I didn't think about that," she admitted. "I'm a single-parent now."
He combed his fingers through her hair, pulled it off her neck, and repositioned it. "Are you okay with...?"
"She's my daughter; it doesn't matter how she got here." Charley took a deep breath to dislodge the lump in her throat. His fur was soft and warm where it touched her skin. "I... I don't know how I'll ever explain all this to her. And what if Jack tries to take her in a court fight? How do I prove she's mine? And what about when she starts school?"
"Do you really expect McCyber to do that?"
"We have to be ready for anything. I should've shot the bastard."
He kept running his fingers through her hair. "No need to dirty your hands. Ours are dirty enough already."
"You guys don't want me to do anything. Even when it's my problem."
"It's not like that. Not really. We just want to spare you." He swallowed hard. "Well, he had to have some papers to make this whole family thing work. We just hafta get them changed. You can find somebody to do that, can't you, Charley-girl?"
She pulled away and looked at him. Throttle's tan eyebrows raised as he dropped his arms. "Yeah, I took everything he had filed that related to me and Hannah." There was a large wet patch of tan fur covering his chest. She made a futile attempt at blotting it dry with her hand. "This is the second time tonight I got you all wet."
Throttle chuckled. "I dry easy. Oh look, you do still remember how to smile." His tail reached up and pulled a towel off the shelf.
Charley took the other end and wiped her face. "I must look a fright." She stood up and splashed water on her face from the sink.
He passed her the towel. "Well, you've got the best lookin' state of fright I've ever seen." She stared at him in the mirror. He reddened. "I shouldn't've said that."
"No, it's okay." She hid her face in the towel. Is it okay? There is Vinnie; how do I feel about Vinnie? Oh stop it, Charlene. It's nothing you need to figure out tonight. She moved the towel down. Throttle still stared at his feet. "Thank you. I'm not exactly feelin' pretty."
His tail lashed. "Charley, I... what was that?" He opened her bedroom door.
Hannah thrashed against the covers making a strange gasping noise. The tan-furred mouse moved around the bed. Charley jumped onto it and unwound the quilt and sheet. Throttle pulled Hannah out. Her eyes were closed and the hollow of her throat indented as she tried to take a breath. Her flailing hands felt Throttle and latched onto him.
Charley shook her shoulder. "Hannah, wake up! Hannah-baby!"
Hannah's green eyes flew open and she took a deep, normal breath. "Mommy! The water, Mommy!" Her hands tightened on Throttle's fur.
He winced but hugged her tighter. It's all right, Princess. I pulled you out before, and I'll do it again."
"You just had a nightmare, Hannah. It's alright." Charley smoothed Hannah's red-orange hair and tried to take her from Throttle.
"I don't think she's letting go." Throttle's tan fur stuck out of Hannah's fists.
Charley sighed and pulled down the quilt and sheet. "Get in."
She thought his red, cybernetic eyes were going to fall out of his head. "Charley, I... um... it's not...."
"Would you rather me take Hannah and those fistfuls of fur come out by the roots?"
"Don't go! Please don't go!" Hannah pressed closer to him.
Throttle sighed and crawled into the bed. "And you thought we wouldn't help." He lay down and turned on his side so Hannah was cradled in his arm.
Charley settled next to Hannah and pulled the cover back over them. She set her arm around her daughter. "I knew it wasn't true when I said it. And Hannah already knows to trust you."
He rested his free hand on top of Charley's. "Whatever you need."
She smiled and kissed Hannah's temple. "Thank you." She closed her eyes.
Most of my Biker Mice From Mars end up with songs in them. This one does not, but I'd like to recommend listening to Nickleback's "Never Again."
Louisiana Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-888-411-1333
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
http://www.ndvh.org/ is The National Domestic Violence Hotline Website