Grey Mouse Named London Part 2

By London

Disclaimer: I don't own the BMFM.  London is mine, feel free to use her if you'd like.

            I've been on Earth for almost a month now.  Half the time I stay at Charley's, the other half I stay with Modo at the scoreboard.  Modo is still being over bearing in his role as my big brother, but what can I say?  He's my big brother.

            Throttle and I have been trying to keep our relations to a minimum.  Modo has found us together more then once and has become instantaneously enraged.  Just wait until he finds out completely.  I don't know if I want to deal with that day when it comes around.

            What have I been doing lately?  Spending lots of time online figuring out the computer coding of Earth.  I've mastered C++, Perl, Html, and I'm working through the Linux system.  I'm hoping to use a unix system soon.  The programming systems are very similar to Martian computer programming, though there are the minor differences.

            I've also picked up a few bad habits that I used to have on Mars.  My sleep schedule is almost non-existent.  I started smoking again.  But, at least I'm starting to learn Earth computer programming, though my bad habit has become obsession.  Charley is constantly telling me to eat or to sleep or to get some fresh air.

            I told Charley last week that I plan on creating a website design company called Mousewerks.  She agreed that I could use her name, which means that the profits will go to her bank account.  I'm not that great with motorcycles.  I can ride with some of the best, I can even do minor repairs, but I'm not a mechanic.  Not like Charley and Vinnie.

            I sat at the computer in Charley's office working on the Mousewerks website.  I told her I'd have it up by tomorrow.  I was just working on a few kinks, making sure that my layout was working the way I wanted it to.

            Charley came in after one of her customers had paid and left with their bike.

            "How's the site coming along?" Charley asked.

            "It looks pretty good so far" I said.  I finished typing a line of code and turned towards her. "How's work today?"

            "Same as usual" Charley said.  She wrote something in her ledger book.  "You know this coming weekend is a holiday weekend.  Maybe we should all take a small vacation."

            "Where?" I asked. "What about Limburger?"

            "My uncle has a cabin outside of Pentwater in Michigan" Charley said. "He never uses it.  I bet I could get the key from him and we could stay there.  It's right on Lake Michigan too."

            "Is there an internet connection?" I asked.  I was going back through the coding.

            "No" Charley said with a laugh. "You don't take work on vacation with you."

            I smiled.  I smiled even more when the guys came into the garage.  Charley went out to greet them.  It took a minute, but Modo came in to see what I was up to.  I could tell just by his footsteps that it was him.

            "Hi, bro" I said.  He bent down and kissed my cheek.

            "What're you working on?" He asked.

            "Just putting the finishing touches onto Mousewerks" I said. "Think I'll get any business?"

            "Probably more then you can handle" Modo said.  I saved my work and put it aside.

            "C'mon, Charley has a plan for this weekend" I said pulling him out to where the others were.

            We went into the house and stood next to the couch.  I stood behind Throttle and leaned against the couch with my hand lying on his shoulder.  He looked up at me and smiled.

            Charley came in from the bathroom.  "Guys, are you doing anything this weekend?"

            "Ball game" Vinnie said.  Whether he was talking about the game on tv or a game this weekend, I'll never know.  Charley came over and stood in front of the tv. "Babe!"

            "This weekend is a holiday" She said ignoring Vinnie. "Want to go somewhere?"

            "Where?" Throttle asked.

            "My uncle's cabin" Charley said. "It's right on the lake in Michigan."

            "Near Detroit?" Vinnie asked.

            "Other part of Michigan" Charley said. "It's a pretty secluded area.  All I have to do is call my uncle, see if it's okay to go out there."

            "Sounds good to me, Charley-girl" Throttle said.

            "What about Limburger?" Modo asked.

            "Limburger hasn't done anything since you guys tore up the place" Charley said. "Besides, we haven't even seen him start any new projects."

            "Yeah, alright" Modo said considering the idea.

            "I'll go, but babe, you gotta move.  You're blocking the tv" Vinnie said.  Charley rolled her eyes and stepped aside.  Somehow I felt comfortable like this.  Working on the computer, planning a vacation, it all seemed so normal compared to being on that damned Plutarkian ship.

            "Guys, be here tomorrow so we can leave early in the morning" Charley said. "Make sure you bring swim trunks too."

            "Yes!  Triple play!" Vinnie yelled. "The Nubs are going to win!  I know it!"

            "Its only the first inning bro" Throttle said.  Vinnie ignored him and became more excited when a score was made.  I tapped Throttle's shoulder.

            "Come see my website" I said.  He smiled and got up.

            Once we got into the office, we immediately fell into each other's arms.  It had been nearly a full day since I had last seen Throttle.  I kissed him and pushed him down in the computer chair.

            "Hey" He said. "I thought you were going to show me your website."  He gave a low husky laugh.

            "You'll just have to wait" I said.  We kissed again, only this time it was a long steamy kiss.  It reminded me of those movie kisses, how you think it would be.  Well, it is that way.  Throttle's hands moved to squeeze my butt.  I giggled until I heard the footsteps. "Damn."

            I quickly stood up and faced the computer before Modo passed by the door window.  I loaded up the website and pulled Charley's desk chair over.

            "Sorry" I said.  Throttle looked about ready to explode.  This is how it had been for a while now.  I was driving me mad and it was obviously doing the same thing to Throttle.

            "We should just tell him" Throttle said.  I looked over at Modo through the office windows.  I don't know if he'd accept it.  Unfortunately, if he didn't approve that could mean hell to me and Throttle.

            "Maybe" I said. "Stay with me tonight.  We'll start a game or something.  The others will leave and we will have some time alone."

            Throttle nodded and held my hand.  He finally looked at the computer screen and went over the website.

            That night, after dinner, Modo and Vinnie were getting anxious.  They spent their time watching the news hoping to find some devious plan that Limburger was involved in.  There was nothing, but they kept watching.

            Throttle and I had pulled out monopoly and had started to play.

            Modo came in and stretched. "I'm heading back to the scoreboard.  You coming bro?"

            "We're in the middle of a game" Throttle said. "I'll be there a little later."

            "Okay" Modo said.  "Vin, you coming?"

            "Yeah" Vinnie said.  Vinnie bounded out the door.  That mouse has too much energy.  He looked like he needed to run laps or something.  He had been bouncing off the walls lately.  Modo came over and kissed me on the cheek.

            "You staying here?" He asked.

            "I don't know" I said. "If I go to the scoreboard, I'll just get a ride with Throttle.  Okay?"

            "Okay" He said.  He said good-bye to Charley and left with Vinnie.  When the door had closed, Throttle and I looked at each other.  After the past few weeks, had it really been this simple?

            "I think I need a shower" I said.  Throttle smiled. "Should we put the game up or what?"

            "I'll wait" Throttle said.  He got up and went over to the couch.  I got up and went to take a quick shower.  Charley gave us a small smile.  Did she know?  Would she tell Modo?  I just smiled back and went to the bathroom.

            After a quick shower to revitalize my system, I dried off and dressed in my sweats.  I went to the bedroom to put my clothes in the hamper.  Throttle was lying on the bed reading a motorcycle magazine.

            "Want some company?" I asked.  He looked up at me and put his magazine aside.  I turned the light off and went over to crawl into bed next to him.

            "Don't think we'll get caught do you?" Throttle asked with a smile.

            "You worried?" I asked.  He replied by kissing me.  I put my hands on his chest, feeling his muscles.  I traced his muscles until I had his vest off of him.  He took my shirt off in one swift motion.  We stared at each other for a second or two.  I had the urge to run my tongue along his collarbone, just to see how it felt against my tongue.  I didn't fight the urge.  Throttle let out a low sound that wasn't a purr, but it wasn't quite a moan either.

            Throttle took off his glasses and put them on the floor.  I trailed a hand down his chest and started to undo his pants.  He leaned in and trailed kisses down my neck.

            His smell was intoxicating.  I wasn't sure if it was him or his cologne, but his smell was enough to make me want him all the more.  I tugged on his pants and he took them off.  I smiled when I saw his boxers.  For some reason, I imagined him in different underwear, but he still looked good.  He bent over me and trailed kisses from my breasts to my navel.  He sat back, taking my sweatpants off.

            "Wait" He said.  He got up and locked the door.  Why hadn't I thought of that?  He came back over and pulled me under the covers with him.

            I felt giddy as a schoolgirl.  Throttle was feeling that giddiness too.  Just touching each other was exciting to us.  I touched Throttle's face.  I ran my fingers over his closed eyes, over the bridge of his nose, around his cheeks, and finally across his lips.

            "I want you" I growled.  He pulled me into a fierce kiss and turned me around so I was pinned beneath him.  I could feel him hard against me.  One of his hands was beside my head, holding him up; the other had disappeared between my legs.

            There was a knock at the door.  We both groaned.

            "Yeah?" Throttle said.

            "Throttle, Stoker's on the radio" Charley said. "Sounds important."

            "Damn it" Throttle said.  He kissed me and got up. "I'll be there in a second Charley."  We both pulled on pants and I pulled on a shirt.  He held my hand. "We're just not having any luck are we?"

            "We have all night" I said.  He smiled.  He opened the door and we went to go see what Stoker had to say.

            "Hey, Stoker, what's up?" Throttle said into the microphone.

            "Hey punk" Stoker said.  There was a brief crackle of static. "Any good landing sites?"

            "Landing?  You're coming here?" Throttle asked.

            "Yeah.  We're just about to enter the atmosphere" Stoker said.

            "The lot behind Charley's is empty.  Can you land there?" Throttle asked.

            "Yeah.  We'll try" Stroker said. "We'll see you in a few minutes."

            "Okay" Throttle said.  Charley was standing behind us in her robe.

            "Stoker's coming here?" Charley said. "Should I call the others?"

            "We'll see what Stoker wants" Throttle said. "He might be staying here for a few days."

            "We're talking about THE Stoker?" I said. "Like, Freedom Fighter leader?"

            "Yeah" Throttle said. "You've met him haven't you?"

            "Once or twice" I said. "Never really paid much attention.  He was always talking with Modo."

            "I'll go get the spare room ready for Stoker" Charley said.  Throttle spun around in the chair and leaned against my hip.

            "Guess this ruins our camping trip" Throttle said.  I nodded.

            Twenty minutes later a Martian ship landed in the vacant lot behind Charley's garage.  The cloaking device was activated after they touched ground.  Stoker emerged from the ship with a mouse behind him.  The other mouse looked up from the scanner he had in his hand.  The stripe in the hair, the light grey fur, I knew him.

            "Rimfire?" I said.  He stopped and looked at me.  Stoker looked at us totally confused.

            "Aunt Don?" Rimfire said.  I ran up and hugged him. "Oh my god.  I haven't seen you in a long time."

            "I know.  I was on a prison ship" I said.  I kissed him on the cheek.  Rimfire is the son of my oldest sister.  He's a year younger then me.

            "Have you met Stoker?" Rimfire asked.  He pulled me over to Stoker. "Stoker, this is my Aunt London."

            "London" Stoker said. "Modo's little sister?"

            "Yeah" I said.  We shook hands. "We met –"

            "Three times" Stoker said.  He smiled. "I never forget a pretty face.  Right, Beautiful?"

            "Right" Charley said from behind us. "Let's go inside guys.  It's windy out here."

            Inside, Stoker sat in one of the dining room chairs and looked exhausted.  Rimfire was bouncing off the walls.

            "—And then I totally took this Rat out!" Rimfire said. "You and Modo would be so proud!  Where is Modo?  Is he here?  What was it like on the prison ship?  Is that a scar?  That's big.  Where did you get it?"

            "Rimmy" I said. "Shut up."  He smiled and sat down. "Modo's at the scoreboard and you really won't want to know what a prison ship is like."

            "How'd you get off the prison ship?" Stoker asked.  Charley brought out mugs of coffee. "Thanks, Charley."

            Throttle looked at me, then Stoker.  "Coach, I don't think –"

            "I killed them" I said.  I sipped the coffee.

            "You killed them?  How many?" Stoker asked.

            "All of them.  One hundred fifty-five" I said. "I counted."

            Stoker sprayed coffee and immediately grabbed a few napkins to clean it up. "You killed a ship of Plutarkians?"

            "Yeah" I said. "Why?"

            "You want to come back to Mars with us?  We could really use your help there" Stoker said.  I looked over at Throttle.  His face was blank. "I'll have them give you a review.  You could probably be promoted to sergeant or something."

            "God damn it" Throttle said.  He got up and stormed out of the room.

            "Throttle!" I said.  I looked at Stoker, not sure what to think, then I got up to go after Throttle.

            "Was it something I said?" Stoker asked.

            I couldn't find Throttle.  I came back to the table and sulked.  I wanted to go back to Mars.  Throttle already had his own mission to stay on Earth until the Plutarkians were gone.

            "I'm sorry" Stoker said. "I don't know what I said to make him upset."

            "It's not you" I said. "It's…nothing."

            "Are you and Throttle…together?" Rimfire asked.

            "What are you guys doing here?" I asked. "I mean, I've been here a month and I haven't seen any Martians.  So, your trip isn't a pleasure cruise."

            "We were testing new power boosters.  We figured that we'd go from Mars to Earth and back again" Stoker said.

            "Well, we're going to go camping tomorrow" Charley said. "You two want to go with us?"

            "Yeah!" Rimfire said.

            "Kid, when do I let you make decisions?" Stoker asked with a smile. "We'd be up for it, but we have to get back to Mars."

            "Oh.  How long can you guys stay?" Charley asked.

"Until tomorrow" Stoker said.

Charley smile and took a sip of her coffee. "You guys should get some sleep then."

            "Sounds good, I'm about ready to keel over" Stoker said.  I finished my coffee and got up.

            "I'm going to go look for Throttle" I said.  I grabbed a cigarette from the pack I kept in the kitchen and headed outside.

            Throttle's bike was still in the garage, so he hadn't left.  I walked around the garage.  I lit my cigarette and sat against the front of the garage.

            "Those things aren't that great for you" Throttle said.  He came out from the shadows of the alley.  How did I miss him?  I just checked there.

            "I know" I said.  He sat down next to me and took the cigarette.  He took a few drags and handed it back. "Are you okay?"

            "You're going to go back to Mars aren't you?" Throttle said.  I took a deep breath.

            "I don't know" I said.  Throttle rested his arms on his knees.

            "I know you're going to go back" Throttle said. "It's where you want to be."

            "Are you mad at me?" I asked.

            "No" Throttle said. "I just…I guess I'm upset over…well, something, but I'm not mad at you."

            "Sleep with me tonight, okay?" I said.  He nodded.  I tossed the half smoked cigarette away.  Throttle turned and kissed me.  I stood up and held his hand. "C'mon, lets go to bed."

            The next morning, Throttle and I were woken up by laughter.  We groaned.  I buried my face into Throttle's shoulder.  Stoker and Rimfire were watching us.

            "What do you want?" Throttle asked.  He stretched and got his glasses from the nightstand.

            "You two ARE together" Rimfire said. "Does Modo know?"

            "Not really" I said.  There was a knock at the door.  We all froze for a second.

            "Kids, you two better get dressed" Stoker said.  The door opened and the room was filled with a loud sound – half gasp, half growl.

            "Shit" I said.  I had a t-shirt next to me and put it on. "Modo."

            "I knew it!" Modo roared.

            "Whoa, whoa" Stoker said standing between Modo and us.  Throttle retrieved his pants from the floor and pulled them on.  He tossed a pair of black cargo pants my way and I did the same thing. "Calm down Modo."

            "I told you NOT to touch my sister!" Modo yelled.  Rimfire was wide-eyed and looked about ready to run out of the room.

            "Modo!  You can't just make that decision!" I yelled.  Vinnie and Charley were standing in the doorframe now.  Modo started to take a step forward, but Rimfire stepped in and put a hand on his arm.

            "C'mon Uncle Modo" Rimfire said. "Why don't we let them get some clothes on?"

            That just made it worse.  Modo's eye flared up.  I picked up my bra and put it on under my t-shirt.  I caught a brief hungry glance from Throttle.  Modo caught it too and growled.

            "Yeow" Vinnie said. "Hey Modo, calm down pal.  We gotta get ready to go."

            The doorbell rang and caused everyone to freeze.  Charley took a deep breath. "That'd be my uncle.  You guys keep quiet."

            Charley left and we all kept quiet.  Stoker stayed between Modo and us.  Rimfire and Vinnie held him back.  Throttle and I dressed as quickly as we could.  We were getting our boots on when Charley came back.

            "Okay" Charley said. "I got the key."

            "Lon—" Modo started to growl.

            "Shut up" I said.  I crossed my arms and glared at him.  His lip twitched and he moved past everyone. "What the hell is wrong with you Modo?!"

            "I told him NOT TO TOUCH YOU!" Modo yelled.  Rimfire left the room pulling Charley and Vinnie with him.

            "YOU HAVE NO SAY!" I yelled back.  I poked him in the stomach.

            "I ALWAYS HAVE SAY" He yelled back.  He gave me a small push to the shoulder.  I pushed him back.  Push, push, push, push, push, erk…headlock.

            "Let go of me!" I yelled as Modo dragged me out to the garage.  I hit him in the back until his let go of me. "You jerk!"

            "You jerk" He said in a high pitch mock.

            "Stop it!" I yelled.  I hated it when he did this.

            "Stop it" He mocked back.  I jumped at him and planted a punch to his stomach.

            "Whoa" Stoker said from the doorway.

            "Holy shit" Vinnie said right after him. "They're fighting."

            Modo charged and grabbed me around the waist.  We fell to the floor.  Modo held me down with his metal arm.  Having a brother who is over a foot taller then you will have that extra arm length advantage.  I tried swinging for him.

            "Dammit Modo!" I yelled. "I'm going to knee you!"

            "You wouldn't do that" Modo growled.  I did it.  He rolled off of me and onto the floor.  I stood up and waited for him to stand.  He took a few breaths and rolled onto his hands and knees.  He lashed out with his tail and got me across the arm.

            The sudden whip-like sound, the way a tail feels like a whip, and the sudden sting made my mind flash back to the Plutarkian prison ship.  I looked around the garage.  Three Plutarkians were standing in the corner laughing.

            "No" I said. "NO!"

            "Donnie?" Vinnie called.  I ignored them and tried to push the Plutarkians from my mind.  It helped when Modo pulled me down with his tail.

            "Modo, I'm going to hurt you if you don't stop" I said.

            "I'm going to get you back for kneeing me" Modo said.  We wrestled around some more, throwing in a few punches and kicks until Modo backhanded me with his metal arm.

            "Oh god" I said on my hands and knees.  I stretched my jaw and tried to blink the black spots away.

            "Modo, that's enough" Charley said.  I heard her cross the garage to stand between us.  She was brave.

            "London, you alright?" Modo asked.  His nose and bottom lip were bleeding.  I flipped him my middle finger and tried to get my vision to correct itself. "Darlin', I didn't mean to use my metal arm."

            "I'm going back to Mars" I said.

            "What?" Modo said.  I forced myself to stand up.

            "Yeah" I said. "That's right.  I'm going back to Mars."

            "But your website and stuff" Charley said.

            "I'm sorry Charley" I said. "I…Mars needs me and this just proves it."

            "This--?" Charley asked.

            "You aren't going back to Mars" Modo said.

            "Yes I am" I said.

            "No you aren't" Modo said.  Really, Modo's a sweet guy, but when you're family, he can be a real jerk.

            "Yes" I said. "I am.  End of conversation."

            "Modo" Charley said.  She pulled him up. "Modo, why don't you just calm down.  You're both upset right now."

            He nodded.  My cheek felt like it was the size of a Buick.  I went inside and tried to avoid Throttle's gaze.  I got to the bedroom and started packing things into a bag Charley had let me use.

            I felt a hand on my back.  I knew who it was before he touched me.  I turned around and put my arms around Throttle.  I cried on his shoulder until I felt stupid.

            Most people don't understand how our mama raised us.  If you're older or male, then you have this 'ultimate' say.  Being the youngest, I was bossed around more then I'll admit to.  Modo always seemed to idolize Ma and her ways, thinking that she could do no wrong.  I mean, she never beat us unless we got way out of hand.  Usually she could just say stop and we'd stop.

            I took a deep breath and wiped my tears away.  Throttle pushed me to arms length.

            "You're leaving" He said.  It wasn't a question.  He touched my cheek and held out a rag that had a few ice cubes.  I pressed it to my cheek and bent my head. "I know what you're thinking.  I don't hate you."

            "Throttle, I'd stay if I could" I said.  He nodded. "I can't wake up to that every morning."

            "I know" Throttle said.  He looked as if was going to cry. "You should finish packing.  I'm…going to go talk to Stoker."

            He left and I felt like someone had beaten me to death, more then physically.  I turned around and finished packing.  I didn't have much.  I pulled on a black shirt and put my double shoulder holster on.  I strapped my guns in place and closed my bag.  I felt ready to go.

            In the kitchen, Modo had his head in his hands.  Vinnie and Rimfire were trying to make him feel better, but it didn't look like it was working.  I put the rag and ice into the sink and went over to Modo.

            The others left without my having to tell them.

            "Modo" I said.  His shoulders moved a little and I touched his back.  He stood up and turned around.

            "You can't leave" He said.

            "I have to leave" I said. "Mom will understand.  I need you to understand though."

            "You're leaving cause of the fight" Modo said.

            "No" I said. "I'm leaving because I need to.  Earth is nice, but it isn't where I need to be."

            "You could go camping with us" Modo said.  I shook my head 'no'.

            "Modo, I'll be alright" I said. "Besides, someone has to look over Rimfire."

            He smiled and hung his head. "Yeah.  Guess so.  But why do you have to go now?"

            "When would I leave if I didn't go now?" I asked.  I gave him a hug.  He squeezed me a little too hard, though he didn't mean to. "Modo, I can make a difference.  Just like you guys.  I'll be there when you make it back to Mars."

            "Promise?" Modo asked.

            "Yeah I promise" I said. "I'll make sure Rimfire is there too."

            "It's just sudden" Modo said. "I'm sorry about getting into that fight with you."

            "I'm sorry too" I said.  He kissed my forehead and stepped around me.

            "I have something for you" Modo said.  He left the kitchen only to return with a handful of pictures. "Here.  You'll remember us with these."

            "Modo, I couldn't forget any of you" I said taking them.

            "I know, but I want you to have them" He said. "Just give one to Ma, okay?"

            "I will" I said.  I jabbed him in the arm. "Hey bro, this isn't good bye, it's just an 'I'll see you later'.  Okay?"

            "Yeah" He said with a small smile.  Stoker came into the room.

            "Hey, we have to get going" Stoker said.  I gave Modo a kiss on the cheek and walked towards Stoker. "Babe, go say goodbye to the others.  I want to talk to Modo."

            The others were outside with Rimfire.  Throttle was hanging behind Charley and Vinnie.  I said my good byes and boarded the ship.  I hate good byes and I hate feeling overly emotional.  I threw my bag onto a cot and laid down.

            I let the darkness of the room comfort me.  I crossed my arms and turned to face the wall.  I heard Stoker and Rimfire board the ship.

            "Is she on board?" Stoker asked.

            "Yeah.  I saw her board the ship" Rimfire said.  I heard footsteps until they stopped behind me. "Donnie?"  Rimfire touched me. "Are you okay?"

            "Just go away" I said.  I heard him leave the room after a second of hesitation.

            A few minutes later the ship's engines were turned on and we started our take off.  I closed my eyes and tried not to think of Modo or Throttle.  Instead, I was met with Plutarkian dreams.

            I was back on the prison ship.  I had a small gun in my hand.  I ran from room to room finding no one.  Every once in a while, I would hear the sounds of talking or footsteps or the sounds of a door opening, but no one would be there.  I felt like I was being watched though.

            I opened the last door in the hall I was in and a whole platoon of Plutarkians came out.  The room was a small closet, but I pushed the confusion aside.  I fired and tried to find a place to hide.  I felt myself being shot, but it didn't hurt.  I fired back and felt the splatter of Plutarkian blood on my face.

            "Hey!" Rimfire yelled.  He was shaking me and had a cool rag on my head. "Aunt Don, it's Rimfire.  You're having a nightmare!"

            I sat up and looked around.  There was a light on in the room now.  Rimfire had a hand on my shoulder.

            "What's going on?" I asked.

            "You were having a nightmare" Rimfire said. "I came back here to check on you and you were burning up."

            "I'm fine" I said.

            "You've been asleep for twenty hours" Rimfire said. "I don't think you're alright."

            "Where the bathroom on this thing?" I asked in a whisper.  I felt like my tongue was swollen and for some reason didn't want to help me speak.  Rimfire showed me to the small bathroom.  I shut the door and braced myself over the metal sink.  I felt hot and extremely depressed.  I turned on the tap and put some cool water on the back of my neck.  I swallowed a handful of water and felt slightly better.

            I looked in the mirror to find a black mark under my grey fur where Modo had hit me.  It wasn't that bad.  It was feeling better anyhow.  There was a knock on the door.

            "London, you alright?" Stoker asked.  I sighed.  They weren't going to leave me alone.

            "Yeah" I said.  I opened the door. "Yeah, I'm alright."

            "I need to talk with you" Stoker said. "It's about going back to Mars."  I followed him to a small area that could be used for storage or as a holding cell. "When we get back to Mars, I want to recommend you for a new project the General has planned."

            "What about upgrading my rank?" I asked.  By Martian standards, I was still an officer.

            "I'll see what I can do" Stoker said. "I had your information sent to me while you were asleep.  You were in the sniper ranks, right?"

            "Yeah" I said. "Why?"

            "You'll be back in them" Stoker said. "As long as you can prove that you haven't lost your skill."

            "I haven't" I said.

            "Good" Stoker said. "I sent back a report telling them that you've been found.  They want to give you a rank review.  I didn't even have to say a thing."

            "Isn't that nice of them" I said.  I crossed my arms. "So what is this 'new project'?"

            "I can't tell you until you make it in.  But, I can tell you that it's only for snipers" Stoker replied.  He took a long pause.  "I also have something I need you to do.  I need you to relax just a little."

            "You can't order me to relax" I said.  He put a finger on my neck.  I could feel a muscle strain against his finger.

            "You're starting to have muscle spasms" Stoker said. "Just relax some.  You probably just need a little food."

            "I think I need a stiff drink" I said.  Stoker put his arm around my waist and ushered me to the cockpit.

            Stoker and Rimfire had a small cooler of food in the cockpit.  Rimfire held out a sandwich and I took it.  I didn't see anything but water and root beer in the cooler.

            "I'll buy you a drink when we get back" Stoker said.  I took a bottle of water and started to chug it. "We'll be back to Mars in about ten hours."

            We all ate in silence.  As Rimfire finished up his last bite, he opened a can of root beer. "What had you so scared?"

            "When?" I asked.

            "When you were asleep" Rimfire said.

            "Plutarkians" I said.  I stuffed the last part of my sandwich into my mouth so I would have a reason not to talk.  Rimfire looked like he was trying to sympathize, but couldn't quite grasp the horror.  Stoker had the right look.

            "He's never been caught by the Plutarkians" Stoker said.  His metal tail twitched to make its presence known.  What he was really saying was that Rimfire hadn't been a guinea pig for the Plutarkians.

            "Guess I'm too good" Rimfire said.

            "You know why I got caught?" I asked.

            "Nope" Rimfire said.  A green light blinked and he turned to fiddle with the controls.

            "A stray shot knocked a rock loose.  I was unconscious" I said. "It was bad luck for me, but pure dumb luck for those bastards."

            "How'd you get that scar then?" Rimfire asked. "You didn't have that before."

            "They did something.  I don't know what" I said.  I leaned back in the chair and crossed my arms. "I don't even know if they did anything at all.  They might have done it just to give me a scar."

            "Maybe we should have the doctors take a look at you when we get back" Stoker said.

            "I'm fine.  I've had it for a few years now" I said.

            "Well, at least that's all you have.  At least they didn't take anything" Rimfire said.

            "It's not all I have and, yes, they did take something from me" I said. "I thought I had it back too."

            "What did they take?" Rimfire asked turning around to face me.

            "Peace of mind" I said.  I got up and went back to the cot I had been on.  I laid down and stared up at the ceiling until sleep claimed my mind, again.

            I woke up to the sounds of someone holding my hand.  I could tell by the bed that I was not on the ship.  I reached for my gun and it wasn't there.  Then I was crushed against someone.

            "OH my baby-girl is awake!" It was my mother.  I groaned and opened my eyes. "London?  Oh how are you feeling?"

            "Mom?" I said.  My head felt muggy inside.  Mother had aged.  She looked about ten years older then she should have.  Her black hair was down to her waist now and had silver streaks running through it.

            "You're on Mars.  You were getting sick" My mother said. "Stoker and Rimfire brought you back from Earth.  Is that where you've been all of this time?  Did you see your brother?  Why isn't he with you?  Where did that scar come from?"

            I looked down at myself to find that I was in hospital scrubs.  My shoulder scar was visible.

            "I was taken by Plutarkians" I said.   My mother's face dropped. "They gave me the scar years ago."  I touched her hand. "Modo's doing pretty good on Earth, Ma."

            "Oh, my babies" Mother said.  She had tears in her eyes now.  Mom had ten kids.  Modo and I were the youngest. "I knew you two shouldn't have gone into this war. I knew it."

            "Why am I here?" I asked.  I reached over and pulled out the IV that was in my hand.

            "What are you doing?" Ma yelled at me.  She pressed the button that called in a doctor. "London, why did you take that out?"

            "Mom, I missed you a whole lot" I said. "But right now, you're giving me one hell of a headache." She looked at me as if I'd slapped her. "Now what am I doing here?"

            "Rimfire said you weren't doing too well on the ship" Mother said. "They brought you in to have you checked out."

            "I'm fine" I said.  I swung my legs over the side of the bed just as the doctor came in.

            "What are you doing?" The doctor asked. "You should be in bed."

            "I'm leaving" I said. "I don't like hospitals." My mother gasped.  I turned to her and remembered my back.  I closed the back of the hospital gown. "Damn."

            "How did you get those scars?" Mother asked.

            "Metal whip" I said.  I turned to the doctor. "Where are my clothes?  I'm leaving.  I want my guns and everything I came in with."

            "You need rest and medication" The doctor said.  I grabbed him by his shirt collar.

            "I said I'm leaving.  I'm not in a very good mood, so just give me my clothes and show me the door" I said.  The doctor pointed to a box in the corner.  He left and shut the door behind him.  I pulled on my underwear and pants; then turned to look at my mother.  She was 5'-10" and thin.  Not waif thin, but muscular thin.  She had been a drill sergeant when I had been captured.  Her rank hadn't changed, as her vest claimed. "Have you seen my bag?"

            "No" Mother said.  Her name was Vivian.  Everyone called her Viv.

            "Modo wanted me to give you a few pictures" I said. "Have you met his friend Charley?"

            "No.  I was out in the field the last time they were on Mars" Ma said.  I pulled the rest of my clothes on, including my empty shoulder holster.

            "Do you know where Stoker is?" I asked.

            "London, don't you think you should just lie down and rest?" Ma asked.  She was in deep thought.  Her gaze had focused on the bed.

            "Ma, I need my guns and I need to find Stoker" I said.

            "Stoker has your stuff" Ma said.  I figured as much.  "He's probably at the main HQ."

            "Thanks Mom" I said.  I took a step towards her. "Why don't you come with me?  I have that picture for you.  It's a group picture of Modo and the others."

            She looked like she would cry any second.  She nodded and walked around the bed.  We didn't touch each other, just walked side by side.

            We found Stoker after looking around the main head quarters building for a half hour.  I had been able to get my two guns from the hospital.  Stoker was an office.  He was using the computer for something.  When we entered, he looked surprised.

            "You're out?" Stoker asked.

            "Obviously" I said.

            "Viv, you didn't sneak her out did you?" Stoker asked.

            "No" My mother said.

            "Where are my things?" I asked.  Stoker stood up and opened a closet.  He pulled out the bag and put it on his desk.  I opened it and pulled out the pictures.  I handed them to Ma.  She sat down and started to cry as she went through them.  "So when do I go through this rank review?"

            "I can get you started if you're up to it" Stoker said. "There's a group that is being prepped for rank review in…twenty minutes."

            "Sounds good" I said.  I looked over at Ma.  She had a stack of photos on the desk.  I flipped through them and picked out a few photos.  I stuffed them into my bag. "Where am I staying?  Ma?"  I don't think she even heard me.  She seemed lost in her own world. "Ma?  Can I stay with you?"

            "I'll talk to her" Stoker said. "You can stay at my place for now."  Stoker walked around his desk and took my bag. "Right now, I need to get you a vest and we need to get over to the review building."

            There were five other people in the review building.  They were stretching and getting ready.  They weren't in standard sniper clothes, which was a total black version of the Freedom Fighter uniform.  They were just in standard uniform.  They were all sergeants.

            "Better do a good job" Stoker said.  He left my side to go talk with the reviewers.  One of the girls, a short grey mouse with white hair, came over to me.  She was ranked lieutenant sergeant.

            "Did you just come in with Stoker?" She asked.

            "Yeah" I said.  I took off the vest and my holster.  I wanted the holster on the outside.  The girl took the holster while I put the vest back on.

            "These aren't Martian weapons" She said touching the handle of one of the guns.  "What is this?"

            "They're mine" I said taking the holster away.

            "How'd you get them?" She asked.  I shrugged into the shoulder holster and straightened it out.

            "I claimed them from an arsenal" I said.

            The girl held out her hand. "I'm Primer."

            I shook her hand. "London."

            "I haven't seen you around here" Primer said. "You just come out of training?"

            "No" I said. "You could say that I've been in the field for a while.  Finally got back for rank review."

            "Oh" Primer said. "Well, good luck.  I –"

            "Attention" The reviewers said.  The three reviewers each had clipboards.  Theoretically, I knew how this worked.  They had exercises for everyone to go through and they wrote down their scores.  Then you had an oral examination, which was in three parts, one for each reviewer.  And, finally, you had to state your achievements before the reviewers.  Sounds easy. "We will be starting with the obstacle course.  You will each be timed and reviewed.  When we tell you to start, you will have one minute to get through the obstacle course."

            We all followed the reviewers out the back of the room.  A large obstacle course that consisted of ropes, ladders, pits, bars, and everything else sat before us.  It was too huge to be finished in a minute.

            "Lieutenant Sergeant Primer, ready" A reviewer said.  He started a stopwatch. "GO!"  We watched as Primer hustled her way through a quarter of the course.  It had taken her a minute just to go that far. "STOP!"  She dropped from monkey bars to the ground and started heading back.  "Officer London, ready."  I stepped up to the white line that started the monstrous obstacle course. "GO!"

            I took off.  I jumped over hurdles, swung across a pit on a rope, made it through ten feet of vertical ropes, practically ran across the 4"-wide plank of wood, and got to the monkey bars.  I jumped, hoisted myself up, and crawled across the top of them.  I jumped down from them just as the reviewers called for me to stop.

            I jogged back over to the group and started to catch my breath.  Stoker waved at me from the door.  I just turned around and started to stretch some more.  We watched as the others ran the course and the reviewers wrote their secret scores down.

            The next thing they had us do was target practice.  We had three bullets and three targets.  The objective?  Simple, kill the target; well, maim the dummy anyway.  There were two mice that missed one dummy, but the rest of us got the dummies in the proper places.

            Our next portion was a walk through of a 'town'.  It was a fake town with wood people who would pop up.  There were even people in armor who would come out with paintball guns.  We had fifty feet to cover.  Every ten feet you were given a different weapon.  You could only use that weapon in those ten feet of space.  If you got hit, you were out.

I watched the first three people go before my turn came up.  The first weapon was a paintball gun.  I put on my goggles and picked up the gun.

Falling into 'war mode' isn't like changing a pair of pants.  It's something more gradual.  You become more attuned or something.  It happened.  Seeing the first group of mice in armor come out.  It was like watching Plutarkians coming at me.  At least, that's what I saw.

I used more paintballs then was necessary, but all of my targets were hit.  I moved to the next table.  There were throwing spikes.  Wooden people popped up from the 'town front'.  I wasted no time in sending spikes their way.  I trudged up ahead.  The next ten feet were spent with a torqued piece of metal.  After that it was a rubber knife and then, finally, we ended with a staff fight.

I walked back to the group.  We weren't supposed to talk to each other.  But, that didn't mean we couldn't give supportive hand gestures.  Primer gave me a thumbs-up before she went.  I just smiled.

Once she was done, the review board sent us to a fully padded room for hand-to-hand combat.  We were put in a few pads.  There were five mice that made up our opposition.  Since anything went, it was pretty easy to beat them.  A punch to the groin, an upper cut to the jaw, a kick to the chest…very simple.

The reviewers left us alone for all of a minute.  We went on with the other exams, which didn't take up a lot of time.  The oral exam was more or less ethics, strategy, logic, and survival questions.  When the achievement segment came around, the reviewers had us sit in a circle.  Since the group was small, they had decided to let everyone hear.

I was third to go.

"Officer London.  In your opinion, what are your three greatest achievements?" One of the reviewers asked.

"Finding my brother after five years" I said. "Withstanding a Plutarkian prison.  And…well, I guess that's it."

"Why did it take you five years to find your brother?" The female reviewer asked.

"I was in a Plutarkian prison" I said.

"For the whole time?" The reviewer asked.

"I think so" I said. "I didn't exactly have a calendar."

"How did you get out of the prison?" The older male reviewer asked.

"I killed them" I said.  They all looked at me like I was crazy.  The other soldiers were all pretty much wide-eyed. "One hundred fifty-five Plutarkians.  I counted."

"Who's help did you have?" The female reviewer asked.

"I didn't have any help" I said.

"If I may interrupt" Stoker said.  He walked towards us from the back of the room. "I have the reports from a few other mice who were onboard with her.  She did kill all the Plutarkians on the ship, but there were one hundred fifty-seven of them."

"Are these your only two achievements?  Do you have another?" The reviewers asked.  I shook my head 'no'.

The review session was put onto a brief pause while the three reviewers discussed our ranks, possibly new ranks.  Primer came over and sat down in the chair next to me.

"You really killed that many Plutarkians?" Primer asked.

"Yeah" I said.

"You're a sniper?" Primer asked.

"Yeah, isn't everyone in here?" I asked.

"No" Primer said. "That guy is in the land forces and that girl over there is in the air force."

"Oh" I said.  I really could care less.  They meant nothing to me.  Stoker came up and sat down on my other side. "Stoker, this is Lieutenant Sergeant Primer."

"Nice to meet you" Stoker said.  He bent closer to me and said in a hushed tone "I just got a call from the main office.  I have some business to attend to.  Meet me at Moonie's Bar in an hour, okay?"

"I don't know where that is" I said.

"Have Primer show you" Stoker said while getting up. "Sergeant, show her where Moonie's is in an hour, okay?"

"Yes sir" Primer said.  Stoker left in a hurry. "I can't believe you're so close to Stoker.  He's so cool."

"Yeah.  It's great" I said non-chalantly.  The reviewers finally came into the room and the chatter ceased.

"Fall in soldiers" The reviewers said.  We stood at attention in a line. "We have some good news.  Lieutenant Sergeant Primer, you've upgraded to Lieutenant, second class."  Primer had a huge grin on her face. "Sergeants Riley and Kalvin, you are both ranked to Lieutenant Sergeants.  Officer Wheelie, you are upgraded to Sergeant, second class.  Officer London, you have shown that you are indeed worthy of being ranked high.  We would like to talk with you before assigning you a rank.  Come with us.  The rest of you will wait here until your new ranks are brought in.  Then, you're free to leave."

The reviewers talked about the Plutarkian prison and the deaths.  I told them my story and why I had stopped by Earth.  They wrote their decisions on paper, then flipped them over so I could see.  I passed.

"We have decided to rank you as Lieutenant, first class" The reviewers said.  My mouth dropped. "Five years is a long time to go without review, but we feel that, though, you could use some counseling, you're prepared to take the role as Lieutenant."

"Thank you" I said.  They stood up and so did I.  They excused me and I left the room.  Primer was waiting in the main room for me.

"What are you ranked at?" She asked.

"First Lieutenant" I said.

"I thought you were an officer" She said.  I walked over to the guy with the insignias.  He punched up my name on his hand held computer, then gave me my insignia.

"I was" I said.

"You mean you just skipped over two ranks completely?" Primer said.  I nodded and switched out the insignia on the vest. "Wow."  She looked at her watch. "I have fifteen minutes before I'm supposed to be at the boxing ring.  I'll show you where Moonie's is now, if that's okay."

"Yeah, sounds good" I said. "How much time do I have to kill?"

"About fifteen minutes" Primer said.  We walked out of the review building and walked down the ruined streets.

Moonie's Bar was a popular place.  It was crammed with mice.  Half of the guys glanced at the door as it opened.  Someone even called out 'new girl'.

"Well, you've been deemed 'new girl'" Primer said. "Have fun."

"Any suggestions?" I asked.

"Don't get worried if you have to punch a guy" Primer said. "It happens all the time."

"Great" I said.  She gave me a pat on the shoulder, then left.  I went to the bar and sat down on an empty stool.

"What can I get for you?" The bartender asked.  I handed him my ID card.  I had found it when I pulled out my pictures.  I don't know where it came from.  Maybe Stoker slipped it in.

"Is there any money on that?" I asked.

"You don't know?" The bartended asked.  On Mars, you have one card.  It's a security card, an ID card, your bankcard, etc.  I shook my head 'no'.  He scanned it. "Looks like you have enough cash for a few drinks."

"Good" I said. "I'll have a gin and tonic."

The bartender nodded and turned to make the drink.  I managed to ignore the two guys who were hitting on me from the table that was behind me.  The bartender set the drink in front of me and I started to sip it.  I felt a hand on my lower back and elbowed the owner in the stomach.

"Does this mean you didn't make rank?" Stoker asked.  He rubbed his chest.

"Oh, sorry Stoker" I said. "I thought you were one of those guys behind you.  They've been hitting on me."

"This bar is filled with mice who need to get laid" Stoker said. "Let's go find a table or something."

By our third round of drinks, Stoker was starting to gesture wildly as he told me stories about him and my brother.  The bar had become louder as more people showed up.

"Stoker" I said when he finished. "Can we go?  I think I need to lay down."

"Sure, babe" Stoker said.  He finished the last of his beer.  I felt better with a few drinks in my system.  I felt more relaxed.  Stoker put his arm around me and we walked out of the bar.

"How does it feel to be Lieutenant?" Stoker asked as we made it to his small housing unit.  All the others looked exactly the same.  They were little shacks with worn paint and numbers.  He unlocked the door and ushered me in.

"Feels about the same" I said.  His place barely had any furniture.  It had one room that doubled as a kitchen and living room.  There was a closet beside the door and a set of stairs to the left.

"The bed is upstairs" Stoker said. "Go ahead and use it.  I'll be down here."

"Where are you going to sleep?" I asked.  He had two chairs and a small table.  There wasn't a couch.

"Don't worry about it" Stoker said.  Gee…make me feel guilty.

"Where are my things?" I asked.  Stoker started to go up the stairs.  I followed him.

"I put your bag in the room" Stoker said.  The stairs led to a loft that had a bathroom attached to it.  A large bed with disarray sheets was planted in the middle of the room.  There were clothes scattered on the floor, but nothing that would constitute as a major mess.  Stoker went over to a drawer and pulled out a pair of pants. "Just let me change and I'll be downstairs."

He disappeared in the bathroom.  I opened my bag and pulled out my pjs.  I managed to change before he got out of the bathroom.  He came out just as I sat on the bed.

"You're going to sleep in a chair aren't you?" I said.

"Might" Stoker said. "Why?"

"You're making me feel bad" I said.  I moved to get under the covers of the bed. "Just get in the bed."

"Babe, you're awesome" Stoker said.  He bounced over and got under the covers.  He kept his hands to himself.  I think he saw the knife I put under my pillow.

"Thanks" I said before falling asleep.

"For what?" Stoker asked.

"For bringing me back" I said.

I woke up with Stoker's arm around my waist.  I sighed and tried to get out of the bed without him noticing.  He woke up anyway.

"What time is it?" Stoker asked.

"I don't know" I said.  Stoker turned to a small crate that served as a nightstand.

"It's three o'clock" He said.  He turned so he was lying on his back. "Where are you going?"

"I don't know" I said.

"Go back to sleep" He grumbled.  I rubbed my face and laid back down.  I didn't just go back to sleep.  I stayed awake until my eyes refused to stay open.

I woke up when I felt Stoker's weight leave the bed.  Turned onto my back in time to see him pull a pair of pants over his hips.  He turned around as he started to zip himself in.

"Good morning" Stoker said.

"Time to wake up, huh?" I said with a stretch.

"Yeah" Stoker said. "Bad news is a sand storm has started up."

"Great" I said.  I crawled out from the covers and started to pull on my clothes. "So when will I know about this 'new project' you were talking about?"

"I'll ask Carbine about it.  It's her project, really" Stoker said. "If you get accepted, then you'll have to go to the bunk house."

"What are you doing today?" I asked.  I took off my tank top and pulled on a black thermal shirt.  I put on my shoulder holster and checked my guns before putting them in their place.

"I have some field work to do" Stoker said. "You could hang out with me if you want.  It won't be fun though."

"I think I'll just try to find my way around here" I said.  'Field work' meant that Stoker had to go around to the various troops and hand feed them their orders.

Stoker started to pull his boots on.  "Okay.  Well, I think Rimfire's going to be around here today.  I think he's doing some sort of computer thing."

"Okay" I said.  Stoker pulled out a long sleeved shirt from a drawer and pulled it on.  I started pulling my boots on.

"Make sure you stay indoors today" Stoker said. "It's bad out there."

"Where would I be able to find a pair of goggles around here?" I asked.

"I'll show you.  We'll stop by there after we go eat" Stoker said.  He had a pair with red lenses on his dresser.  It was the last thing he grabbed.

We ate at Copola's Canteen.  It was a large cafeteria with standard food and bland coffee.  I managed to get eggs, sausage, and a mug of coffee.  We found a place to sit where we could easily ignore the stares from the new people.  You could always tell who they were from the way they stared.

"You're pretty popular around here" I said.

"Yeah, well, there were a few news articles and stuff on me" Stoker said.

"Really?  Why?" I asked.

"Cause I'm hot" Stoker said with a smile.  I smiled and sipped at my coffee. "Actually, I had a mishap with the Plutarkians, as you may have noticed."

"I noticed" I said.

"They got up here too" Stoker said tapping his head. "There were lots of tabloids and stuff."

"Oh" I said.  I could sense that it was still a touchy subject for him.  We finished our meal rather quickly.

"I'll see if I can meet up with you later" Stoker said. "Go that way." Right. "And, then take the first left you see.  The shop will be on your right."

"Thanks" I said.  He waved good-bye and hustled to where he needed to be.

I picked up a pair of goggles with green lenses.  They doubled as night vision goggles.  I walked around the windy streets until I felt like I was carrying an entire desert in my hair and fur.

I found the main headquarters building and was able to find Rimfire.  He was in the middle of re-wiring and programming the computer on three Plutarkian ships.  There were several people working on the outside.  The ships were being painted and any holes were being patched up.

I managed to board without a lot of questions.  Thank you, rank reviewers.

"Hey" I said.  Rimfire had most of his body in a floor compartment.  He had special goggles on while he did some sodering.  He stopped and looked up at me.

"Hey Donnie" He said. "You're feeling better, I take it."

"Yeah" I said. "Notice anything else?"

"You have sand in your hair" He said.  I rolled my eyes.

"My rank" I said. "I was an officer before."

"You're a first Lieutenant now?" Rimfire asked. "How'd you manage that?"

"They must have liked the sand in my fur" I said. "So do you need any help?"

"You have computer skills?" Rimfire asked.

"Earth computer skills" I said.

"You need to know AMPHA" Rimfire said. "It's the only things these ships know."

"You're kidding me" I said.  I took a deep breath. "Okay.  Well, find me if you need any Earth programming done."

"Alright" Rimfire said. "You going to be in the building?"

"Might be" I said. "Later, bro."

"Later" Rimfire said.

I wandered around the building and managed to look like I knew where I was and where I was going.  I heard the definite voice of the General from an open room.  No one was in the hall; otherwise I could have been stopped for loitering.  The tag next to the door claimed the room as her office.

I took a deep breath.  Not only was she the General, she was Throttle's ex.  Well, what she didn't know wouldn't kill her.  I stepped in the doorway and knocked on the open door.  She looked at me with an angry glare.

"I'm busy" She said. "What do you want Lieutenant?"

"I was told of a 'new project' and I thought I'd stop by to inquire about it" I said.  She stopped her paperwork and looked back up at me.

"How'd you find out about that?" She asked.  Carbine and I used to hang around each other, though we never really talked.  It was more of her and the guys.  Rimfire and I were the extra wheels.

"I got word" I said crossing my arms. "Don't you recognize me, Carbine?"

"That's General" She said standing up.  She crossed her arms. "I don't remember you.  So, who are you?"

"London" I said. "Modo's sister."

"London was taken five years ago by Plutarkians" Carbine said.  I took out one of my guns, which was clearly made for Plutarkians and Rats, and put it on her desk. "What's this?"

"That is one of the guns I took from the prison ship" I said. "After I killed all the stink fish on board."

She picked it up and ran a finger over the insignia. "Impossible."

"My mama always said the impossible will happen when you least expect it" I said.  She held the gun to me and I holstered it.

            "ID card" She said.  She ran the card through her computer. "Last I remember, London was an officer, not a Lieutenant."

            "Stoker had me reviewed last night" I said.  She still looked like I was wasting her time and lying to her. "Look.  I sent a ship of mice back here a little over a month ago."

            "And?" She said.

            "And, they dropped me off on Earth" I said.  She gave me a look that said she didn't believe me. "I had to find Modo."

            The computer beeped at her.  She looked at the screen to me then back at the screen.  Then she sat back in her chair.

            "You came back with Stoker and Rimfire?" She asked.  I nodded. "And Stoker told you of this 'new project'?" She snapped to an upright position. "Damn that mouse.  I'm going to have his tail."

            "Car—General" I said. "He just told me that there was a new project that you were working on.  He said that it was only for snipers.  That's all I know."

            "Well, great" She said. "How many people have you told?"

            "No one" I said.

            "I'll consider you for the project" Carbine said in an unconvincing way. "Now get the hell out of my office.  I'm busy."

            I left without saying good-bye.  Carbine had always been bitchy to me.  I felt the uncontrollable urge to hit something.  Then the sand that was clinging to me started to creep into my mind.  I wanted it all off.  Not later, but right then.

            A hand touched my shoulder.  I turned around and pushed the owner of the hand.  Two security guards stared at me.

            "Sorry" I said. "What do you want?"

            "The General has ordered us take you to the training bloc" The guards said.

            I spent the rest of the day in the Training Bloc.  I ran, I sparred, I stretched, I climbed, and I did everything else they wanted me to do there.  At the Training Bloc, three people are assigned to a trainer.  That trainer tells you what to do, how to do it, and times you the whole way.  It's complete hell when you spend your whole day there.

            Most of the time the trainers got the ruffians who wouldn't listen during basic or the people who stepped out of line any other way.

            The Training Bloc supplies people with loose pants and a fresh t-shirt.  I appreciated it since I had been covered in sand.

            Most of the people had come and gone.  I was still climbing and lifting and running and sparring.  I was in the middle of scaling a wall when Rimfire came into the Bloc.  He was dressed in his uniform.

            I let go of the wall and let my safety bring me down.  He had a big smile on his face.

            "How'd you get here?" He asked.

            "Carbine sent me her love" I said.  He just laughed.

            "I came to get you" Rimfire said. "Stoke said you're going to work on 'that project'."  He used his fingers to signify the quotations. "Whatever that means."

            "It means I'll have something to do" I said.  The trainer was standing near us.  I turned to him. "Do you need something?"

            "I can't let you go" The trainer said. "You need someone of higher rank to let you go.  The General told us to keep you here until someone of higher rank came to get you."

            "I'll meet you out front in fifteen minutes" I told Rimfire.  He looked between us before leaving.  I moved closer to the trainer. "I'm leaving.  If you don't like it, then feel free to call the General."

            I started to head towards the locker room.  The trainer ran in front of me and tried to stop me.  I knocked him onto his ass without a problem.  Sometimes I really don't understand trainers.  They train you to fight, lift weights, and various other things; then they think they're superior just because they're a trainer.

            I stepped over him and headed to the showers.  I took a quick shower, rinse is a better term, and changed into my clothes.  When I emerged from the locker room, the trainer was giving me a sour look.

            I walked outside the Bloc and met up with Rimfire.  We left to go find Stoker.

            We found Stoker at the sniper bunkhouse.  He had my bag with him.  He looked at me funny before handing the bag to me.

            "Where were you?" Stoker asked. "It took half an hour to find you."

            "Carbine sent me to the Training Bloc" I said. "Think I lost some weight?  I was there for eight fucking hours."

            "Push it aside, rookie" Stoker said.  He led me through the bunks until we reached a bunk that was pushed up against a wall.  Stoker had a folder under his arm that he opened. "Yours is the bottom bunk."

            I dumped my stuff onto the bed. "What are you looking through?"

            "Your file" Stoker said. "Doesn't say what team you're with."

            "Can't you be nosey with someone else's file?" I asked.  He handed me the folder, which I tucked into my bag.  "So where is everyone?"

            "Orientation" Stoker said. "It started a half hour ago."

            "Damn" I said. "They having it again?"

            "Nope" Stoker said. "I have to fill you in."

            "Should I go?" Rimfire asked.  Stoker shook his head 'no'.

            "Okay, sit" Stoker said.  He sat on a bunk that faced mine. "This 'New Project' is actually called 'Project Sangria du Pomme'."

            Martians had found the French language from Earth and had incorporated it into a lot of stuff.  They had done the same with English, Italian, and Japanese.  So now we were Project Apple Blood.  Woo-hoo.

            "The project has code eight status.  Everyone will be split into various teams" Stoker said. "They're going to leave notes for everyone in their foot lockers, so make sure you check yours."

            "I'll have code eight clearance?" I said.  There were only ten codes.  Ten was the highest.  Most people had code one or two, depending on their jobs.  If you were lucky you might get all the way up to code four.

            "I'm going to be a runner for a few teams" Stoker said. "I'll bring supplies, ammo, letters, etc from here."

            "Will you keep me informed on Modo's status?" I asked.  He nodded.  There was a noise and then people started flooding into the bunkhouse.  Stoker stood up.

            "You're going to be confined to the bunkhouse" Stoker said. "Everyone here is as of the orientation meeting."

            "Okay" I said.  Stoker and Rimfire had droopy smiles. "Is there something I missed?"

            "Just keep yourself alive, okay?" Stoker said.  I stood up and hugged the two of them.

            "You guys" I said. "Don't worry about me.  I'll keep myself safe."

            They left as an announcement came over the PA system saying that the doors will be locked.  I looked through the folder and found the basic information.  I read it over until there was a creaking sound above me.

            "Hi" Primer said looking down from the bunk above me.

            "Hi" I said.

            "I didn't know you'd be here" Primer said. "You just get here?"

            "Yeah" I said.  I put the folder under my pillow.

            "What group are you in?" Primer asked.

            "I don't know" I said.

            "The notices came in while we were out" She said.  She flashed a white piece of paper to show me she had hers.  I leaned over the end of the bunk and opened up my half of the footlocker.  A white piece of paper was in there along with various weapons.

            "These weapons ours?" I asked.

            "Yeah" She said. "Standards for everyone."

            I read the paper and shoved it into my vest pocket.  "Gamma."

            "Really?" She said. "I'm in Gamma too."

            A brown mouse looked at us from his bunk, where Stoker had been sitting. "You know I hear that Gamma is where they put the loose cannons."

            "Shut up Hugh" Primer said.

            "I'm in Alpha" Hugh said. "Can't get any better then the top of the list."

            "Fuck you" Primer yelled at him.

            "Fuck you" Hugh chimed back.

            "Sergeant" I said to Hugh. "Why don't you just shut the hell up before I close your mouth for you?"

            "Who in the hell are you?" Hugh asked.  He was lying on his stomach reading a porn magazine.  He looked at my clothes and at my rank. "You're that new girl aren't you?"

            "I've been with the Fighters for about six years" I said. "I don't think I'm new."

            "You haven't been around though" He said. "I know everyone, but not you."

            "I hear that if you need magazines like that you can't get any in real life" Primer said from above me.

            Hugh ignored her. "I've seen you.  You hobnob with Stoker and that dopey kid, Rimfire."

            "Dopey kid" I repeated.  Unlike my brother, I didn't have bionic eyes.  But, that doesn't mean my eyes couldn't glow like they were.  I stood up and looked down at him. "He's smart and could kick your ass."

            "Yeah, I'd like to see the punk try" He said.  Messing with my nephew is pretty much like messing with my brother.  You just don't do it unless you want to get into a fight. "You sweet on him or something?"

            "You're asking for a fight" I said.  I was trying to be nice, but diplomacy just wasn't my strong suit.  Hugh sat up with his magazine.  He flashed a picture at me.

            "You could probably sleep with him if you looked like that" He said.  That was it.  I picked him up by his collar.

            "Do you have anything else to say about Rimfire?" I asked.

            "Yeah" He said pushing my hand away from him. "Does he always need a chick to defend him?"

            I punched him hard enough to send him to the floor.  A crowd was beginning to form around us.  Hugh stood up and straightened his vest.  He turned around and I pointed my gun into his chest.

            "Rimfire is my nephew, dick head" I said. "As Lieutenant, I'm ordering you to keep to yourself until you're deployed.  You understand?"

            He nodded.  I holstered my gun.  Primer started clapping and a few others joined her.  Hugh, feeling like an idiot, stormed off.

            "Awesome" Primer said.  The crowd dispersed.

            Over the PA a voice said "The team meetings will be posted in two hours at the front bulletin board."

            The two hours passed by fairly quickly.  Primer and I talked about random things.  Then, as a rush of people raced past our bunk, we decided to check the bulletin.

            Gamma Team met in two hours.

            "Wow.  Looks like we have a long night ahead of us" Primer said.

            "Long night" I said. "Try a long life."

End

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Authors Note:  I know this ended abruptly, but the rest will be continued in  'Gamma Team: Unum Missio'.  This is a pre-Gamma story.  'Gamma Team: Unum Missio' is where is all starts.