This story contains cussing, graphic depictions of violence, and sexual situations. If you're not mature enough to handle it, go read something else.
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And special thanks to Marsmouse for his volunteer beta reading!
"Well, if you would just kick his cheesy ass for keeps, you could come home." Carbine's voice punched through the whispering static.
Throttle stared at the communication receiver before he closed his eyes. "Not this argument again."
"What argument? Limburger's the reason you won't come home, take out Limburger. You just don't want to do what it takes."
"It's not that simple, Carbine, and you know it." The tan mouse wished he never had brought up their latest victory over Chicago's resident Plutarkian. But they had to talk about something after she shot down his vacation idea. Like the Freedom Fighters would fall apart if she missed a weekend. His bros were glued to the Nubs game on the television set with the sound turned off, and their mouths shut. "We can't fight the Plutarkians and Earth's government."
"You sure it's not all the fun you're having that's keeping you from doing the job?" The speaker was icing over with the temperature in Carbine's voice.
"We want to bring him back to Mars for trial."
"Right, after he almost wiped us all out the last time. Grow up, Throttle."
"I'm not fighting with those techniques." Time to lighten the mood. Why did all their conversations have to be a fight about going home? "Sides, what kind of example would that set for Hannah?"
"Sandblasted! Can we have a conversation without you talking about that human for once?"
"What are you talking about?"
"If it's not how Charley the saint has put up with you three, it's how adorable, how precious, how precocious her daughter is."
"Carbine, they're our friends."
"And I'm the one whose supposed to have your kids."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"We have a future together, Throttle. A future you keep putting on hold. Maybe we should finish this conversation when you're tired of playing daddy. Mars out." The static from the receiver filled the scoreboard until Throttle switched it back to standby.
"Harsh," Vinnie said. Throttle turned and looked at the couch. The white mouse slid down so his head was protected. "Throwing the coach out like that, that was harsh. What do you think, Modo?"
"I don't think we should bring any of our Stripers gear or talk 'bout Detroit around Charley tomorrow."
Throttle sighed. At least, he could count on his bros' sense of self-preservation. He moved from the table and chair set up as their communications center and sat heavily on his bunk. Carbine had a right to be upset, he figured as he tugged off his boots. But something inside him would die the day he condoned using Plutarkian tactics. He laid back on the mattress.
And Carbine had never been gung-ho about kids, but she knew she had to have some. He set his field specs aside and covered his eyes with the crook of his arm. He had never meant to hurt Carbine with Hannah; it was only she was such a big part of his life now. Was Hannah the reason Carbine didn't want to come to Earth? He thought about the rental cabin in the middle of Earth wilderness that Charley had found for him. Just him, his girl, and nothing to bother them. What the hell would he do with all that money he had earned for it now?
"Everybody's gonna yell 'bout that game tomorrow." Modo pulled himself into the upper bunk.
"Ugly," Vinnie agreed. The lights snapped off and his hammock swung as he climbed into it.
"Final score?" Throttle moved his arm off his face.
"20 to 3. Hope we don't hafta visit Detroit in the next month."
The CB speakers crackled. "...nie! Throttle! Modo! Somebody answer me please!"
Throttle reached the CB first. "What's wrong, Charley? We're here, what's wrong?" The lights flicked back on.
"Hannah-baby, it's gonna be alright. She's sick, Throttle. I'm taking her to the emergency room."
Vinnie reached his bike. "I've got her tracking signal. Damn, Charley-girl never drives that car that fast."
Throttle caught his field specs when Modo tossed them. "We've got you on the bikes. We're on our way. Watch the road."
"10-4. Wrenchjockey out."
Throttle's tail yanked his boots to him. His stomach clenched.
"I've never heard Charley so scared." Modo grabbed a pile of clothes off the table and stuffed it into Li'l Hoss's storage compartment.
"Something's got her rattled. You don't think Karbunkle engineered the kid to fall apart?"
"Don't you dare suggest that to Charley!"
Vinnie cringed. "Okay, and forget I told you too, Throttle."
Throttle climbed onto his bike without commenting. The ride following Charley's signal was silent as well. Hospitals were the same on any planet, full of bustling efficiency and pain. The waiting room for the emergency room was right inside the doors for people whose emergencies didn't require an ambulance. And business was brisk tonight.
"I don't see Charley." Modo craned his neck.
"Maybe we got the wrong hospital." Vinnie's tail twitched. "I'll go check the scanners again."
Throttle stopped him. "They're in here somewhere. We search first." He gave the white mouse a shove toward the hall branching to the left of the nurses' station. "That way."
A high pitched scream spewed from an examination room. Throttle ran, not concentrating on the echoing footfalls behind him. A burly male human in scrubs blocked the door. "Only parents allowed, mister."
Hannah screamed again, and it was only Modo's iron grasp on both his arms that kept Throttle from going through the dark man. "They're doin' what they gotta. Let 'em do it." Modo's voice was thick behind his head.
Charley's voice broke through the medicobabble the doctors and nurses were using. "It's gonna be okay, Hannah-baby. They're not gonna hurt you. Mommy's right here. Hannah? Hannah!"
"She's lost consciousness!"
"How contagious is she?"
"The mother's not sick."
"What's wrong with my baby?"
"Air passage clear and vomiting has stopped."
"Get her to isolation in ICU," a male voice ordered. "Take the blood work to the lab. Tell Margo we have to know what that virus is."
The burly man pushed the Biker Mice out of the way. The gurney rushed past, and Throttle tried to follow Hannah's listless form through the double swinging doors. Modo stopped him. A woman in scrubs hurried out of the room next, and almost ran through the doors.
Charley grabbed the shirt on the man who had blocked the door. "What's happening to my baby?"
He pried her fingers off. "We have to isolate her until we know what she's sick with. Wait here, and I'll find out exactly where she's going." He disappeared past the doors.
Charley finally saw them. "Guys." Her lower lip trembled and her brimming eyes overflowed.
Modo moved first, ignoring the vomit on her shirt and wrapping his arms around the sobbing woman. "S'alright, Charley-ma'am. S'alright. She's a li'l firecracker like you."
Throttle cursed to himself. Charley needed them, and he and Vinnie were acting like she had sand fleas. He shoved Vinnie forward. Vinnie nearly tripped over his own tail, but he pressed against Charley's back.
"She just started throwing up," Charley said between sobs. "And she couldn't stop. And she was so hot. They took her as soon as I ran in."
"Hannah's a tough pup. She'll be fine." But Modo's expression didn't match his assured tone.
Throttle turned away. His bros could take care of Charley. Modo was better with emotional stuff, and she was Vinnie's girl if Vinnie would just get over his issues and do something about it. He stepped in front of another woman in scrubs. "Excuse me, Hannah Davidson, she's about five. Do you know anything yet?"
She glanced at the scene. "I'll check on it, sir. There are vending machines on the other side of the waiting room, coffee, water. Just wait out here." She disappeared beyond the swinging doors labeled 'Authorized Personnel Only.'
He found the vending machines on the other side of the nurses' station. He bought a cup of coffee, and after some consideration, a bottle of water too. She was the professional, but he would have prescribed something a lot stronger. He grabbed a pile of napkins.
Charley was still a hiccuping, sobbing mess sandwiched between his bros. He swallowed hard. Couldn't the docs tell them anything? Modo spotted his return. "Now sit down here, Charley-ma'am. We're here, you know we're gonna help." He pulled a few of the napkins from Throttle's hand and pressed them into Charley's.
Charley wiped her face. "Thanks, guys. I'm glad I'm not alone right now." She sniffled.
Modo relieved Throttle of the Styrofoam cup. "Here, drink this. Careful, it's hot." Once he was sure she could handle the coffee, he touched Throttle's arm. "Hafta get somethin' off Li'l Darlin'." Throttle nodded and sat in the seat next to Charley.
"Some mommy I am." She stared at the brown liquid.
"You did what you're supposed to do." Throttle placed the water bottle under the chair. "And you must've broke every speed limit between here and the Garage." He glanced up.
Vinnie's wide open eyes darted between stimuli. Anything that passed the hallway got assessed. And his hands drifted to the flares on his bandoleers.
"I guess I wasn't paying attention."
At least Charley was too wrapped up in her own pain to notice. Throttle frowned. He really didn't feel like sitting on Vinnie tonight. What was taking so long? He glanced at the doors.
"I just wish I knew what was wrong. She was fine while we watched that massacre called a game. She got in my bed, I was brushing my teeth, and then she was sick."
"Well, that rules out Vinnie's cooking."
That got the white mouse's attention. "There's nothin' wrong with my cooking!"
"As long as you've got the stomach of a saber squid." The distraction was working. Charley had a tight smile, and Vinnie looked ready to jump on him.
"Ms. Davidson?" The young woman in scrubs handed her a card. "Your insurance information."
"Thanks." Charley stuffed it into her wallet and back into her jeans pocket.
Modo returned holding some white cloth in his fist. "Charley-ma'am? Some of your clothes got mixed up with ours. Thought you'd wanna change."
She took the T-shirt. "Thanks, Modo. Bang on the girls' room if you need me."
Throttle pulled a set of car keys from his pouch after Charley went back to the waiting area. "Vinnie, why don't you go clean Charley's car for her?"
The coiled muscles under the white fur relaxed. "Sure, spic 'n span, inside and out. Hey, how come you have a set?"
"'Cause Charley doesn't want you doing stunts with her car."
Vinnie shrugged, but left.
Modo sat next to Throttle and stretched out his legs. "His phobia kickin' in?"
"Startin' to. He should have more self control."
"Building still standin', ain't it? They ain't said anything yet?"
Throttle clenched his fists. "No. How bad is it?"
"I don't know that much 'bout human kids. And I'm not a medic."
"Bet is hedged; now tell me what you think."
"Vomiting can lead to dehydration, but we ain't in the middle of a desert. And fever means the body is fightin' off something. But I ain't ever heard of anything settin' in so fast."
Charley came back wearing the white T-shirt and sat on Throttle's other side. The mousehead medallion that hid her tracking signal bounced against her chest. "Where's Vinnie?" She dropped a plastic bag under the chair with a squish.
"Cleaning your car. He was getting antsy."
"I just remembered. Hannah's not on my insurance."
"What's insurance?" Modo turned his eye to Charley.
"Where you pay them not to pay you when you need it. Remember the Rainmaker movie?" Throttle crossed his arms over his chest.
"That's not how it works. It's to help pay for really expensive treatments and doctor's visits. I can't afford this without it."
"Is there somebody you can talk to to fix it?" Modo asked.
"Maybe." Charley's eyes watered. "I should've done it already but I've been swamped."
The biker community had shown their loyalty when it learned Charley had a baby to feed. Bike repair jobs had been steady for weeks now on top of the work she did on their rides. Throttle winced; they should've been helping more--after everything Charley had done for them. But he had been taking cash jobs Chef Andy had arranged, Modo watched Hannah, and Vinnie wouldn't think of it. He nudged her. "Go call and work something out. If they want money tonight, I've got you covered."
"Throttle, no, that's for you and Carbine."
"And I'm sure Chef Andy'll have more jobs before I get her to Earth. Don't worry 'bout it."
"Alright." She left to find a phone.
Modo smirked. "Is there anything you wouldn't give Hannah?"
"A pony. Where would we keep it?"
The grey mouse shook his head. "Maybe you should've told her what you had planned."
"Who? Carbine?" Throttle blinked. He hadn't thought about their talk since Charley's distress call.
"General on Mars, grey and black, great bod; comin' back to ya now?"
"Supposed to be my girl but doesn't want to spend any time with me." Throttle glared at the floor then sighed. "I don't want to talk 'bout it, bro."
"I'm not trying to hurt ya; just focusin' on something 'sides...." Modo faltered and glanced at the doors.
"I know." Why wouldn't they tell them anything? A man on a gurney was rushed past. The doors opened again as a teenage girl with a neck brace was pushed out in a wheelchair. What the hell was wrong with Hannah?
He gripped his knees. She'd probably want her mouse bear, as she called the stuffed toy. She always slept with it and her human doll. His throat tightened. The baby he had given it to on Mars hadn't enjoyed it this long. They'd found the whole family dead a week after Hard Rock had left Mars. He rubbed his face. Hannah wasn't on Mars. She was supposed to be safe here.
Charley sat in her chair. "Do you have five hundred?"
"Over it, why?"
The stone of her face cracked. "My agent can fix things. I told him Hannah's father is supposed to pay medical, but the bastard won't pay. He's going to fix it like I added her to my policy last month, if I can get him the premium money tomorrow. Throttle, I'm going to pay you back, I promise."
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and squeezed. "Don't worry 'bout it."
"I already paid for the month. I'm only short by five hundred."
Modo scratched under his jaw. "Is he supposed to do it like that?"
Charley shook her head. "But I reminded him how many bikers I know, and he suddenly found a way." She sagged into Throttle's embrace.
Throttle swallowed hard. He had avoided physical contact with her since that night. Vinnie had kept spluttering until Throttle had pointed out that he'd been in Charley's bed for Hannah, Charley didn't need Vinnie acting like a jealous idiot, and he didn't need Carbine trying to kill him again. Harley getting snatched had given Vinnie a complex. Charley was just a friend.
A flower smell came from her hair and masked her true scents to a degree. For a species that didn't rely on their noses much, humans liked to smell good. And Charley smelt good now. The ends of her hair were damp where she must've made sure there wasn't any vomit in it. The scent of flowers didn't mask the trace of fear in her musk. Throttle's stomach clenched.
Modo chuckled. "You wouldn't do something like that."
"No, but if someone got the idea to do it for me, what can I do about it?" Charley eased out of Throttle's embrace.
Vinnie sauntered into the small hallways, but the twitching of his tail ruined the nonchalant air. "You're all where I left you. That's not good."
Throttle caught the keys. "And thanks for reminding us, Vincent."
He shuffled his feet. "I even waxed your car."
Charley smiled. "Thanks for thinking of it, Vinnie."
He glanced at Throttle. "It was nothing."
Throttle didn't bother correcting Charley's assumption. Vinnie needed all the points he could get.
"Mrs. Davidson?" The man that came through the double doors wasn't much older than Charley, but he wore a white doctor's coat and a stethoscope poked out of a pocket.
"Ms. Davidson," Charley stood up, and Throttle and Modo did too. Vinnie shied away from the doctor.
The man who had blocked the door was behind the embarrassed doctor. "Sorry, I'm Dr. Ryan James. We've got Hannah's vomiting to stop and got her temperature down, though she still has a fever. She's on IV drips and tubes to keep her from dehydrating and to help her breathing. We'll let you see her in a minute."
"What's wrong with my baby?"
"We don't know. The blood work hasn't come back from the lab yet."
"Charley's not sick," Vinnie said.
"It doesn't appear to be contagious, but we've placed Hannah in isolation just to be safe. And we're going to have to do blood work on you, Ms. Davidson. You can take a minute to contact Hannah's father if you want to."
Charley's eyes narrowed. "I don't want to."
"Look, I understand these things can be difficult, but Hannah's dying." Dr. James looked at the floor, trying to control his facial twitches.
Throttle's stomach recoiled. The skin on Charley's faced whitened, and her body swayed slightly. He grabbed her shoulders. "Breathe."
"My baby's dying?"
"Oh momma," Modo said.
"Modo, take Charley and let...." Throttle waved a hand at the dark human male without the lab coat.
"Nurse Johnson," he supplied.
"And let Johnson get started with the blood work. Doctor, is there a place we can speak privately?"
Vinnie fell in step with Throttle as Johnson led Charley with Modo supporting her.
Dr. James opened an empty examination room. "I'm sorry, but in situations like this the father has rights."
Vinnie's scowl was aimed at the shutting door then the doctor. "He kinda gave up his rights when he tried to kill them both."
"He was abusive," Throttle explained, at the doctor's stunned expression. "Is there a chance that what Hannah has isn't a human disease?"
"There are a few diseases that transfer between people and animals."
"That's not what I mean."
Vinnie grabbed his arm. "Throttle, he's a doctor!"
"And Hannah's dying!" Throttle shook Vinnie's hand off. "Is there any chance that what Hannah has is extraterrestrial?" He pulled off his helmet.
Dr. James made sure the stool was under him before sitting heavily. Vinnie pulled off his helmet and twisted it in his hands. "Well," the human said. "I heard rumors of non-human bikers, but I thought you'd be Neanderthals. Alien bikers. No probes?"
Throttle shook his head. "Not us."
"We're too cool for the X-Files," Vinnie added.
"Where did you come from?"
"Mars," Throttle said.
"And all the ships we sent?"
"Avoided. Earth isn't ready to accept how many aliens are out there."
"But he trusts the doctor," Vinnie muttered.
Dr. James ignored Vinnie. "How long have you been on Earth?"
"Nearly four of your years."
"And Ms. Davidson and Hannah have been with you the whole time with no symptoms?" He got off the stool and went to the cabinets on the wall. "Any childhood diseases like this among your people?"
"I've never heard of any."
"I doubt you're the source, but it'll take blood work to make certain." Dr. James pulled a syringe out of a drawer.
Vinnie clenched his fists. "I ain't no lab rat."
Throttle sighed but sat on the examination table. "Charley's doing the same thing."
Dr. James looked at Vinnie. "All I want to do is get that little girl well. If Area 51 wants you, they'll have to find another doctor." He prepared the arm Throttle held out, and paused. "I have a new respect for veterinarians. How do I find a vein?"
It didn't take as long as Throttle feared, and Vinnie took less time. Another nurse led them through the maze of corridors, up an elevator, and into a special section of the hospital. Each room had a window to the hall. Modo and Charley stood in front of the third one down.
Throttle's fists curled. Hannah looked so tiny on the hospital bed. The tubes in her arms ran up to bags over her head through monitoring machines. She even had a tube running down to her nose. His arms ached to hold her.
"What's the deal? We can't go in?" Vinnie pressed his nose against the glass.
"Not until they know what she's got and how it spreads," Modo said.
Charley sobbed. "My baby. Why can't they fix my baby?"
Modo hugged her shoulders. "They will. You just gotta give 'em time."
"But how much time does she have?"
No one could answer her.
Morning didn't bring any answers. Vinnie had dragged waiting-room chairs to the hall, overriding the nurses' protests with his charm. Charley leaned on Modo's flesh arm, and, judging by her breathing, she was actually unconscious. She needed the sleep. Throttle leaned back in a chair and stared at the ceiling. No change during the night. His antennae itched, but he couldn't take off his helmet out here. And he noticed a hollow in his chest, right where Hannah's head would be if she sat in his lap.
Quick footsteps came their way. The nurses didn't move that fast. Vinnie stopped pacing. The mice turned to the sound. A young woman in blue scrubs with bright pink hair hurried toward them. She skidded as she stopped. "Oh. Wow. I... wow. The first thing I thought was Ryan decided to self-medicate. But then I worked on the blood. You're clean by the way. And I just had to see for myself."
Vinnie checked that his helmet was still on. "Who the hell are you?"
Charley lifted her head off Modo's shoulder and blinked at the human and mouse standing in front of her. "What's goin' on?"
"Sorry, I'm Margo Whitney, a lab techie. Ryan--I mean Dr. James so unprofessional of me! Anyway, we've been pals since med school, and he wouldn't trust the work to no one else. You're all clean, but what the girl has...." She turned to Charley. "What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a mechanic." Charley rubbed her face.
"For the military?"
Throttle lowered his shades. Yes, this Margo had actually jumped when she asked.
"No, I'm a civilian. I own the Last Chance Garage. I've only done vehicle design for the military--not that they've bought any."
"Bummers. Well, there goes that theory."
"What theory?" Dr. James joined them.
"There you are." Margo tucked a lock of pink hair behind her ear. "They're clean and I'm betting all my test tubes that what the little girl has is engineered."
"Engineered?" Modo asked.
"Somebody made it. Except for the contagion factor, I'd say it was military grade. But since nobody here works for the military, how did it get in that little girl?"
"Worry about that later. How is antiviral drug testing going?"
"Slowly. We're working on isolating the virus, so there's enough to test."
An alarm sounded in Hannah's room. Dr. James thrust a clipboard into Margo's hands and flew into the room. Two nurses joined him.
Charley pressed against the glass first, and Throttle found himself next to her. The cleaning solution's smell made his head pound. The shrill alarm didn't help. What's wrong in there?
They had pulled the blanket and sheet off Hannah. One of the nurses sponged her body. Dr. James prepared a syringe for one of the tubes.
Margo turned away from the window. "I'll go work faster," she said softly. She passed the clipboard to Throttle before scurrying down the hall.
The alarm finally stopped. The nurses strolled back to their station. Dr. James pulled down the mask to under his chin. "Her fever spiked; we got it down again."
"How long can she," Charley stopped in started again. "High fevers are bad, right?"
"We're keeping it under 101 degrees. You don't have to worry about brain damage if that's what you're worried about."
"But this isn't good either!" She waved her hand at the window.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Davidson; we're doing everything we can. I have to make my rounds now." He peeled off the latex glove before rubbing his eyes. "I'm trying to get a colleague to take over that so I can be here."
Charley turned, but the glass reflected her bleak expression.
Dr. James winced. He took the clipboard Throttle offered and made notes on it as he walked down the hall.
Throttle turned back to the window and focused on the bed within. Hannah looked as fragile as a milk-straw stalagmite. Her bright orange hair fanned out over the pillow. She was drowning again, but this time there was no river for him to jump into.
A fist struck a palm. "We need breakfast," Vinnie said before trotting down the hall.
Charley leaned her forehead on the glass. "I don't want to eat."
"You can't run on crappy Earth coffee," Modo said.
She shuddered. "I've gotta go to the bathroom."
"Go," Throttle said. "We'll be here."
She nodded and walked up the hall, away from the nurses' station.
Modo dropped his flesh hand on Throttle's shoulder. "Bro?"
"She shouldn't…." His throat tightened and he stared at the floor.
"Sit." Modo pushed him down into a chair, and Throttle didn't resist. "Now is a good time to fall apart."
"It's never a good time to fall apart."
"Bullshit. Charley and Vinnie are occupied, and the nurses ain't gonna tattle."
"It won't help Hannah."
"Unless you've been goin' to med school at night, there's nothin' you can do to help Hannah."
"Tell me something I don't know! My… Hannah's in there dying and there's nothing I can do to fix it. I'm supposed to fix everything!" Throttle stared at his raised fist, then dropped it.
"Hit me if you need to."
"That wouldn't be right."
"It's better than you repressin' everything like you do." Modo ignored Throttle's I-do-not expression. "You're hurtin' too. It's okay to show it."
Throttle's chest tightened. "She's supposed to be safe. I'm supposed to keep her safe."
Modo took a deep breath. "Carbine's wrong. You ain't 'playing' daddy."
"She's not my daughter."
"Right, and she don't run to you and Charley first for anything."
"Yeah, she does but...."
A nurse from each end of the hall skidded in front of them. "Your friend..." they said together and glared at each other.
"... is wrecking the public restroom."
"And another is threatening the vending machines. You better do something before we have to call security."
"I'll take Charley." Modo stood.
"Yeah, claim the easy one." Throttle sighed. Modo shrugged as he headed up the hall.
Vinnie grabbed both sides of the snack machine and heaved. The machine scraped against the floor before rising free of the wax and dirt buildup.
Throttle took a deep breath. "Vincent."
"It was my candy or the pavement and it picked pavement!" The machine teetered, but Vinnie maintained his hold.
"Put the machine down, Vincent. Without breaking it."
He slid it back down with a gentle crash and pivoted away from the machine. "This reeks!" Throttle stopped the machine's rocking and retrieved the candy bar while Vinnie continued to rant. "That doctor is just pulling our tails! That kid is gonna die in here. I don't want to watch that, Throttle!"
Throttle ignored the vice around his chest. "In case you haven't noticed, Hannah and Biker Mice is all Charley has. She needs us."
"Charley doesn't need anybody to hold her hand."
She does need holding; even you should be able to see that. "Do you love her?"
The white mouse shrugged.
Throttle took a deep breath. "You need to put her needs first, not your fears."
Vinnie pivoted again; fur bristling. "I'm not afraid of this torture chamber!"
"Okay, fine, you hate hospitals. But we can't fix Hannah in the garage."
"I know Hannah has to be here, but...." Vinnie sank into a seat.
"But nothing. If you love Charley, you should be here."
The red eye surrounded by metal looked at his thoughtfully. "Is that why you're here, Throttle?"
Not this fight again. Bro, don't I deserve more trust than this? "We're her bros. And you're the only one who has said anything 'bout goin' further than that."
"Well, Modo ain't lookin' and you think you've got some kinda obligation to Carbine since she was your first f--"
"Bro, the last couple you should use as a relationship role model is me and Carbine. Charley's gonna appreciate everything you've done for her." Throttle pulled Vinnie to his feet. "Now let's get back to Hannah's room."
They reached the hall and found Modo leading Charley toward the room. "Stop worryin' 'bout it. The nurse said they're gonna remodel that bathroom anyway. Look, let Vinnie take you to the garage, take a shower, and come back. Throttle and me can handle everything here."
Vinnie's ears perked up. "It won't take no time at all, Charley-girl."
She sniffled. "Alright, I need a shower. Thanks, Vinnie."
"What did she do?" Throttle asked once they were safely out of hearing.
Modo chuckled. "They have furniture in the girls' restrooms. Charley put a chair through a wall."
"Don't know why you sound so surprised. You saw what she did to McCyber's bedroom. And she's under a lot of stress."
Throttle shook his head to get rid of the memory of that mess and the iron ball it always formed in his stomach. "She gets mad so rarely; it's always a surprise." He stared into Hannah's room. "No change."
"Best get comfortable. Are the vending machines still operational?"
"Yeah." Throttle leaned back in one of the chairs.
The sudden lull soothed him. What was audible droned far away. It reminded him of trying to snatch sleep at a Freedom Fighter base, and his body was reacting the same way, relaxing and letting a doze envelop his brain that would break at the first sound of alarm.
Things would be a lot simpler if Vinnie would just make the first move. Charley was cautious, at least where her heart was concerned, but she was attracted to Vinnie. The only thing that could screw it up was his attitude toward Hannah. He'd get over not being the kid someday.
It was a good idea to send them off together. Vinnie should be able to win some sympathy points without the hospital looming over him. Maybe he could comfort her crying this time. Throttle squirmed, trying to forget how she curled up on his lap and pressed her face against his chest. She's Vinnie's girl.
Modo settled his bulk in the chair on the right. He didn't start any conversation, but it reminded Throttle of the earlier one. Hannah wasn't his child. No matter how much he loved to see that pixie face smile. No matter how much his heart lifted when her hand wrapped around his finger. No matter how much it hurt to see her in pain.
He could see her in his mind. She towered over a mouse child, holding his tan-furred hands above his head and guiding his steps. The baby laughed and shifted his head. Throttle saw his green eyes. He jerked and his eyes flew open.
"You okay?" Modo asked.
"Must've dozed off." He rubbed his eyes under his specs. Mice didn't have that color in their eyes.
"You need the sleep. No change with Hannah." A crash sounded down the hall. "Bet that's Vinnie."
The white mouse stopped in front of them with an angry voice trailing after him. His red eyes blinked. "She's not here!"
"What do you mean? Charley was with you." Throttle leaned forward.
Vinnie shuffled his feet. "There were some goons makin' trouble, so I dropped her off. By the time I took care of 'em and got back, her bike was gone and her signal was here. I thought she got tired of waiting."
"We ain't seen her. You sure the goons didn't?" Modo asked.
"Nah, wasn't that many of them."
A young girl in scrubs walked up to them. "Hi, does this belong to your friend?" She dangled Charley's tracking necklace in front of Throttle's face. "We found it in the restroom."
"Yes, thanks." He took the necklace and tried to swallow the lump in his throat.
"Oh shit." Vinnie tugged at his purple bandanna.
Throttle stared into Hannah's room.
"I knew we should've put it in an earring," Modo said.
"I'll go find her." Throttle stood up.
"I'll help." Vinnie nearly leaped forward.
"You've helped enough!"
"She told me to go after the goons!"
"And I'm telling you to stay here now!" Modo grabbed Vinnie's arm, but Throttle was too angry with himself to care. I failed them. I wasn't paying attention, and now.... He shook his head as he stormed to the nearest exit.
His bike beeped at him when he reached it. "Charley's gone and done something stupid and now we've got to find her."
The black and chrome bike honked indignantly at that. "Okay, okay, Charley never does anything without a reason. And she wouldn't abandon Hannah without a reason." He kicked the bike into gear, and headed toward the garage.
Margo had said the virus was engineered. Throttle idled for a red light. Karbunkle could make one, and he was evil enough to test it on an innocent child. Throttle felt hot all over and swallowed hard. Charley had seen something or reasoned it out, and had gone to Karbunkle's lab alone.
His mouth felt as if he had just eaten sand as he changed directions. How could she go back there alone after what happened the last time?
The Tower looked serene enough; Limburger's fastest rebuild yet. Throttle shot up the side and through a window. The empty office was next door to Karbunkle's lab. "Stay here, I'll whistle for you." The headlight blinked.
No guards in the hall. He hurried to the open round door. A bright spotlight cut through the lab's darkness. Throttle shielded his eyes. He could hear a muffled sound, but a throaty chuckle was louder.
"Only one?" Karbunkle wheezed. "Well, this will be an amusing experiment."
Throttle squinted. Karbunkle and two armed goons stood in front of him. The muffled sounds came from a gagged Charley. She knelt on the floor, hands bound behind her back, and another goon pressed a gun against her head. Time to bluff. "If you want me to believe you'd kill Charley, you shouldn't have said you wanted to experiment on us."
Karbunkle chuckled again. "Her higher brain functions are not required. Life support would keep the body alive long enough to harvest her eggs."
Charley's eyes opened wide. She struggled to stand up. The goon thrust her back down with a blow. "Stay put!"
Throttle growled and stepped forward. "Leave her alone!"
The other two goons stepped forward to match. "Better surrender, furface."
Throttle's hand curled into fists, but he raised them. "Lot of trouble to go to just to capture one of us and Charley." One of the goons pulled Throttle's gun from its holster on his left hip. "You're usually not so subtle," Throttle continued.
"Actually, I'm improvising. The virus was intended for Charley Davidson. But since I've always been curious about a human mouse crossbreed, why waste the opportunity?" Karbunkle gestured and the goons prodded Throttle to a hallway out of the lab. Out of the corner of his eyes, Throttle saw the goon over Charley her to her feet. Karbunkle threw open one of the doors along the hall.
"You have us; tell the hospital how to cure Hannah." Throttle turned to look at Karbunkle once the goons shoved him inside the cell.
"Give her these antibodies?" The thin scientist pulled a vial out of his pocket. It was filled with a clear liquid. Charley was pushed into the cell, and she swiveled back to the door. Karbunkle pocketed the vial again. "What purpose would that serve?"
"She's dying!" Throttle couldn't get past Charley.
"And soon I'll make you a new one." Karbunkle laughed.
A strangled cry came from Charley and she surged forward. The cell door slammed shut, and she collapsed against it, shaking.
Throttle took hold of her shoulders, pulled her upright, and turned her around. She buried her tear-streaked face against his chest. "Don't, Charley. It'll be okay." He untied the gag. She took a deep breath that renewed her sobbing. He reached around her to untie her wrists. Her arms wrapped around him when they were free.
A mouse child with Charley's green eyes. His arms tightened around her. He wanted a child with Charley, a baby that would be the best of them both. But not so badly to sacrifice Hannah. Or to let Karbunkle invade Charley's body again. Besides, it would hurt Vinnie and Carbine too much.
He took a deep breath and petted her hair. "Calm down; it's gonna be alright." It wasn't working. He held her face and made her look at him. "Focus, Charley, I need your help to get out of here. I need you to focus. They haven't beaten us. Focus, Charley."
She finally took a deep breath without sobbing. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. It's all my fault they got you."
"They always count us caught too early." He slipped the tracking signal medallion over her head. "Why didn't you call?"
She shrugged. "Too mad to think straight. And now Hannah...."
"Hannah's not going to die. He shook her slightly, then untied his neck bandanna and handed it to her. "Karbunkle has the antidote and we're gonna get it."
"How?" Charley wiped her face and pocketed his bandanna.
He peered at the door. "They'll come for you first. It'll take longer to get you ready." He turned back to Charley.
Her green eyes were open wide again and she panted. "Throttle, I can't. I won't. Please." Tears welled up in her eyes. "Not again."
How could he be so heartless. He hugged her close. "He won't hurt you again. I won't let him." Her shuddering abated as he tucked her under his chin. The smell of her fear was overwhelming. "I'll kill him before he hurts you again." Her hair muffled his words.
She sighed against him. "I didn't know how much I hated him...."
Footsteps headed down the hallway. Throttle muttered a curse in Martian as he thrust Charley back. "Distract him, get him inside, I'll handle the rest."
How was on her lips, but the door swung open. Throttle pressed against the wall beside it. Charley took a step back. The goon stood just outside the door. "Come on, lady. The Doc's waitin'."
Charley shook her head so hard all you could see was a blur of chestnut hair. "No! He's not cutting off my clothes again!"
"Maybe he'll let us tear them off ya this time." The goon chuckled. "Now come on."
Throttle curled his hands into fists. The goon needed to take at least two good steps into the cell.
Her fingers fumbled with the hem of her T-shirt. Her chin went up before she yanked the shirt over her head and dropped it to the floor.
Throttle's jaw dropped, his arms went slack, and the specs slid down his snout by themselves.
The goon whistled at her peach skin.
Charley's hands brushed the waistband of her jeans before she stepped back into the shadows.
"Hey, don't hide now, sweet thing." The goon stepped inside, magnetized.
Throttle realized his reactions were off when the goon got four steps in before his fist connected with the back of his neck. The goon crumpled without a sound. Throttle pulled the red laser pistol from the goon's belt, avoiding looking in Charley's direction. He could still hear her movements, but didn't look up until she stepped closer and said, "Not bad for a distraction," in a tone close to her normal voice. The T-shirt was back in place.
He couldn't help smiling. "Charley, you never stop surprising me." He grabbed her hand and helped her over the goon's body and into the hall.
Karbunkle was bent over a cart examining his equipment. Throttle released Charley's hand and crept silently behind the humanoid. He pressed the gun barrel into his back. Karbunkle's hands shot up automatically. "Hannah's antidote! Now, you demented deviant!"
"Are you perhaps speaking of this?" His black gloved hand slid into the pocket of his lab coat and back out with the vial. "Catch, you vexatious vermin!" He heaved it back over Throttle's head.
Charley screamed. Throttle heaved himself away from Karbunkle, throwing himself onto the floor. He slid under the tumbling vial that fell into his hand.
The lab was silent except for echoes of Karbunkle's dashing feet. He waited for his heart to stop pounding. "Throttle?" Charley said.
"I should try out for the Nubs." He climbed to his feet, and slipped the vial into his pouch. "Now we better follow Karbunkle's example." He whistled for his bike.
Charley grabbed a bazooka in the corner as his bike crashed through the wall. "Can I?" She climbed on behind him.
"Be my guest." He fired a hole through the outside wall ahead of them. Charley fired a missile into the lab as they sailed into the sky. The jets controlled the landing, and they peeled off as soon as they touched asphalt. "Feel better?"
"A little." She stowed the bazooka and wrapped her arms around him.
Throttle swallowed hard and didn't dare say anything even after they reached the hospital. Margo and Dr. James were outside Hannah's room talking with Vinnie and Modo as they ran up. Throttle set the vial into his hand. "It's the cure for Hannah."
Before the doctor could say anything, Margo snatched it from his hands. "Testing!" she shouted back to them as she sprinted out of the hall.
Charley collapsed into the chair between Modo and Vinnie. "Sweetheart, what happened?"
"Karbunkle made Hannah sick."
"Who?" Dr. James asked sharply.
Throttle sagged against the wall. "We have enemies here. One of them happens to be a mad scientist. He's the one who made the virus. It was meant for Charley, but Hannah got it instead. Then when we sent Charley home, she must've found a clue....
"I found a Star Trek syringe in a pillow," Charley said.
Vinnie's jaw dropped. "Babe, you went to tackle Karbunkle all by yourself?"
"And got caught. But Throttle figured it out. Karbunkle said that stuff in the vial would cure Hannah."
Margo ran back carrying a syringe full of clear liquid. "Antibodies killed the virus!"
Dr. James took the syringe into Hannah, and Charley jumped to the window.
Margo panted in the hall. "Now, how did you find them?"
"Evil mad scientist made them when he made the virus and couldn't help gloating," Throttle said.
"You guys actually know a mad scientist?"
"Doesn't everybody?" Vinnie asked.
"How long does it take to work?" Modo said.
"Not long, but she's probably got more virus to kill. Plus watching out for any side effects." Charley jerked a haunted expression towards Margo who shrugged. "Better safe than sorry."
Dr. James adjusted one of the monitoring devices, and they saw his shoulders slump in relief. He came to the door. "Hannah's fever has broken. I can let two of you stay with her now."
Charley rushed into the room before he was finished speaking. Throttle took a step toward the door, but stopped.
Vinnie shook his head. "You might as well go, Throttle. The kid is gonna be askin' for you as soon as she wakes up."
"Are you sure?"
"Go on," Modo added. "We'll go get some hot dogs and root beer."
Dr. James stepped in behind Throttle. "Let her wake up on her own. If any of the monitors start beeping, use the call button for a nurse. I'll be back in an hour."
Charley held Hannah's hand on the opposite side of the bed. "I should've rammed that bazooka up his butt."
"Is that what you went over there to do?"
"Yeah, and blowing up the lab isn't enough. Where are the guys?"
"Going to get real food." He stepped closer to Hannah's bed. "Karbunkle sure knows how to hit where it hurts."
"He better never touch my baby again."
Throttle stroked a sweaty wisp of red-orange hair off Hannah's face. "Do you realize how devastatingly effective it would've been if it had infected you? Us three trying to take care of a sick you and a healthy Hannah? Us trying to figure out if you needed to go to the hospital?" He aimed his glare at the light above the bed's headboard.
Charley reached over Hannah and grabbed his hand. She squeezed. "You would have figured it out and saved the day like you always do."
"Mommy?" They both released hands and looked down. Hannah's green eyes blinked. "Thirsty, Mommy."
"I'll get you some water, Hannah-baby." Charley kissed her cheek. "Just give me a second." She snatched a pitcher off the nightstand and hurried into the room's bathroom.
"Unca Throttle?" Her voice was so weak.
Throttle pushed her bangs away and kissed her forehead. "I'm right here, Princess. Everything's gonna be fine." The knot in his stomach finally untied.