Disclaimer : I do not own Biker Mice From Mars and I make no money off this work. The characters Turbo, Tala, Hot Rod/Roddie, Vev, Cutlass, MC, Bola, Blade, and Tamara belong to me, so please don't use them in your stories. But feel free to draw them and send me a copy.
Thanks to Firefox for giving me the name "Tamara."
Lyrics to "Leader of Men" by Nickleback, "Wayward Son" by Kansas, "Leather and Lace" by Stevie Nicks and Don Henley, "No More Tears" by Ozzy Osborne, "Nothing Can Come Between Us" by Sade, "Children of the Sun" by Billy Thorpe, "Children of the Grave" by Black Sabbath, "Obsession is Such an Ugly Word," and "This is the Part Where People Usually Scream" by Alesana are used without permission.
This story contains cussing, graphic depictions of violence, drinking of alcoholic beverages, and sexual situations. If you're not mature enough to handle it, go read something else.
This story takes place in May 1996, six months after Biker Mice From Mars: Wars Are Won: Let Us Give Thanks.
Biker Mice From Mars
Wars Are Won
Turbo Part One
"You sure are going to a lot of trouble." Vinnie leaned against the bathroom's doorjamb, and watched Throttle buttoning the black, long-sleeved shirt. "You two should be way past the bribing into her pants stage."
Throttle rolled his cybernetic eyes. Who in the universe picked me to teach Vinnie about relationships? "Trust me, it's easier if you keep the lady happy. Charley wants to go to this concert, and I want Charley happy." He finished tucking the shirt into his jeans and studied the result in the mirror. Cheese, Uncle Cutlass was staring out of the mirror at him. "Hand over my vest."
The white mouse pulled the black leather vest off the hook on the bathroom door and tossed it. "But a concert? Dressing up? Where's your self-respect?"
"Did you even look at what concert I'm taking her to? It's Chicago Orchestra's Night at the Movies, and they picked science fiction movies. So Charley gets culture, and I've actually heard the music before." He straightened the vest, and pushed Vinnie into the garage bays of the Last Chance Garage building.
"Modo, he doesn't get my point."
The grey mouse filed his metal fingers. "I don't know why ya think I can help. I don't get yer point either."
"Why are you so worried about it? You don't have to go." Sparks didn't look up as he wrote in a notebook.
"Why am I the only one who sees the problem here?"
"That fact alone makes us think there isn't a problem," Modo answered.
Vinnie moved out of the pounding reach of both Modo and Throttle. "Pussy-whipped worked so well between you and Carbine. How can you even consider taking the same route with Charley?"
Throttle's field specs slid down his tan snout. "What?"
"You heard me. Now it's a concert, but what comes next?"
"Haven't you even heard of compromise? A relationship doesn't mean one person calling all the shots." Throttle pushed his field specs back into place. "Do you call all the shots with Tala?"
"But she just kicks my ass if she's not happy."
"What do you think Charley's gonna do to me if she's not happy?"
Modo wrapped his flesh hand around Vinnie's mouth. "This is for yer own good. Whatever is in yer head should just stay there. You let it out and they're both gonna kill ya."
Vinnie crossed his arms and glared at Modo.
"Why would I want to kill Vinnie?" Charley entered through the swinging door from the kitchen. She wore a brown skirt covered in a pattern of red roses growing from green vines. The scalloped neckline of her red shirt showed off her creamy pale neck and shoulders. Her dressy brown boots were new too. Her green eyes darted from the dumbstruck Throttle to Modo preventing Vinnie from talking to land on Sparks. "I don't want to know, do I?"
"I think it's one of those things I'm supposed to understand after puberty," Sparks said as he glanced at the older mice. "And I think that's awfully optimistic."
Throttle shook his head and freed his tongue as he reached for her hand. "Vinnie is just being an idiot. Ready to go?"
Her grin dazzled him. "I've been waiting for this all week."
"You guys have fun," Modo said as they mounted Throttle's black bike. "We won't wait up."
Throttle's grimace melted into a real smile when Charley's arms wrapped around his waist. He revved the bike's engine as they shot out of the Last Chance Garage and headed for Grant Park where the outdoor concert was on the lakefront. Vinnie was an idiot. He wasn't making the same mistakes with Charley that he had made with Carbine. Charley was too important to make mistakes with.
Finding out who had killed her father had rocked Charley. Jack MacCyber's visit during the Christmas holidays had been short. Not that Throttle was sorry to see the human man leave early-he fought off jealousy much better than Vinnie ever had but nobody liked such blatant reminders of past affairs-but Charley had been just short of snarling at him. MacCyber took it well, dropping off presents, meeting Tala, and leaving his current contact information, so Throttle felt the need to apologize for his girl. Her ex-boyfriend shrugged it off. "We broke up while she was still grieving for her father. I'm not surprised she doesn't want to remember that right now. She'll reach out when she's ready."
Given the sexual tinge to the whole stalking thing, Throttle had been careful not to push that. Plus he wanted to atone for the sex to get his mind right without the important conversation first. He was still in the wrong for that, and if the mistake with Carbine was moving too fast physically, he was damn sure not going to repeat it. Normal dates-that was the key.
The glow from the outdoor stage lit the entire seating area. Throttle parked and grabbed the picnic supplies. She squeezed his arm. "Did I tell you how much I've wanted to do this?"
"Are we counting before I bought the tickets or after?"
She laughed. "I guess I've been really excited about it. But we haven't had much alone time lately."
"If that's what you want, I'll be blunter with telling Vinnie and Modo to scram." Throttle spread the blanket on the empty space on the hillside. "None of us are good with hints as you love to remind us."
"Yet Sparks has no problems picking up on them."
The tan mouse shrugged. "He must get it from Stella."
"We don't need to worry about it tonight." She dug into the small basket for the food. "And I intend to enjoy that completely."
The blue planet filled the cockpit window. The light-brown furred pilot paused the landing procedures to turn up the radio.
The light in the window is a crack in the sky
A stairway to darkness in the blink of an eye
A levee of tears to learn she'll never be coming back
The man in the dark will bring another attack
Turbo's whiskers twitched. Earth music always kept him calm, especially when the singer was poetic about death and destruction. He needed to stay calm to make sure the Plutarkians weren't wrong again. He had been disappointed before, when they had said Throttle had died while in transit to Plutark.
Your momma told you that you're not supposed to talk to strangers
Look in the mirror tell me do you think your life's in danger here yeah
No more tears
No more tears
He drove the ship through the atmosphere, homing onto the North American city listed in the records. He saw the local Plutarkian's skyscraper in the skyline as he swung around the city and landed outside its limits.
Another day passes as the night closes in
The red light goes on to say it's time to begin
I see the man around the corner waiting, does he see me?
I close my eyes and wait to hear the sound of someone screaming here
While the engines cycled down, Turbo turned from the ship controls to pull up the records again on the computer. It was only his hundredth time checking. One Lawrence Limburger, a Plutarkian assigned to Chicago on the planet Earth, reported that three Martian Freedom Fighters had crash-landed in his jurisdiction. Upon further altercations, he reported that they were captured leaders who had been reported killed during transit to Plutark for execution. They had turned a local garage into their base of operations. The names of the Martian Cave Mice were Modo, Vinnie, and Throttle.
No more tears
No more tears
No more tears
No more tears
He paused on a security image. It was Throttle alright. Even if he hadn't grown into a rebel version of his father, he still had the black bike. Turbo snarled and his tail slashed across the floor. Throttle had no right to that bike, not with Tamara's blood on his hands. His finger punched the computer's power off. He took the hallway to the cargo hold, queuing up the song to continue on his motorcycle's radio.
Just a hand in the bush
Turbo ran his hands across the dark golden crankcase with the matte finish before mounting. The ship withdrew the ramp and locked the doors as he peeled out. The highway sliced through the dark woods that concealed his ship before winding its way into the city. He took advantage of the deserted road to accelerate as fast as he dared. He remembered when Martian roads were this smooth. Not that he had seen the destruction of Mars. Cutlass had made things too hot for him to stay on the planet.
Twelve years earlier, Turbo had pressed into the shadows of the hallway with a silent snarl. The troop of police officers marched through the wider spaceport hallway ahead. Who the hell could have guessed that Cutlass had the resources to call out this kind of manhunt? Or was law enforcement more eager to hunt for the sake of a scared little girl and boy? Where the hell was their compassion when he was ten and lost in the desert? Nobody had looked for him then, and he took the only chance of salvation and revenge he was offered. Only Throttle had ruined all those carefully laid plans. Just like he had ruined these carefully laid plans.
He moved through the public spaceport with a purpose. The color of his jumpsuit and his stride could fool people into thinking that he worked here. However the gig would end if he got to a restricted area. Good thing that wasn't part of his plan. He ducked into the hanger bay picked off the list of scheduled flights.
The older man peered into one of his dark blue Cyclodrone Thunderpipe's exhaust pipes. Probably spent his retirement years cruising the asteroid belt. "Excuse me, sir."
He whirled around. "Yes?"
"Terribly sorry, sir," Turbo continued, "but I have to double check all passenger lists. It is only you on this flight, right?"
The older man bristled as he came closer. "I'm not in the habit of lying on my flight manifests. What's going on?"
Turbo shrugged. "Wish I knew. My supervisor told me not to waste his time asking questions like that. I just need to get your signature." He reached into his jumpsuit, pretending to look for a sheet of paper. The old coot stepped closer to him, so Turbo had a good look of his shocked expression when the knife rammed into his throat.
That was the last time he had seen Mars, but he had heard reports of the destruction from other expiates and prisoners supplemented with official documents from Plutarkian sources. The superior quality of the pavement ended when Turbo reached the city limits.
So now that it's over can't we just say goodbye?
I'd like to move on and make the most of the night
Maybe a kiss before I leave you this way
Your lips are so cold I don't know what else to say
The crumbling and half-demolished buildings mixed with craters labeled "Limburger Industries" and craters holding half destroyed construction equipment. He shook his head, wondering what Earth officials blamed the destruction on if they didn't know about Plutarkians. Not his problem, and why did Throttle make it his? Where was that noble streak for Tamara when he should have spared her? Turbo's hands clenched the handlebars tighter. Keep cool, just a little bit longer, and he will pay.
His bike's computer navigation software linked into the local version of a system. It looked like Earth had just started building one. But primitive as it was, it led him close enough to the building he wanted, straight to the right block. He snorted at the billboard-sized motorcycle illustrations above the garage doors. Throttle had Tamara's motor head all right; it would only be more obvious if they had moved into a Harley-Davidson dealership.
The bike scanners picked up an activated alarm system. Turbo's blue eyes widened at the detailed specifics, a blend of Earth and Martian tech with electrocution capabilities just short of lethal. Why didn't they set up gun turrets while they were at it? The war made the brats that paranoid? Or did they have something worth protecting that much?
I never wanted it to end this way my love my darling
Believe me when I say to you in love I think I'm falling here
Nothing about the alarm system prevented his looking through the large ground floor window, but he didn't touch. Nothing extraordinary about the modest garage; parts and tools hung on the walls and stacked on shelves, tool chests parked along the walls, and two bikes at different stages of completion tucked out of the way to free the majority of the space. Nothing extraordinary at all, unless you counted the male mouse pressing the human female against a ladder to the ceiling and kissing her senseless. One of her pale legs wrapped around Throttle's thigh and her hands splayed across his head and shoulders to keep the lip lock going.
Turbo grinned. He could see all his teeth, barred and ready for the kill, in his reflection in the glass. The alenish had a woman to protect. That always made them vulnerable. He crept away from the glass before the occupants noticed him. He needed to observe before setting plans into motion, and he also had to make sure he wouldn't be interrupted during the hunt.
No more tears
No more tears
No more tears
No more tears
Just a hand in the bush
The night couldn't get any better. Charley ran her fingers through Throttle's hair fur as their tongues danced. They could move upstairs and make the night fantastic but she had no idea how to bring it up. How had it become a problem? She hadn't felt romantic because that was why Dad had been killed, and Throttle had received the brunt. Between holiday craziness and Limburger's schemes, it was easier to let being together slide. Throttle hadn't protested and now that worried her. Had her past pushed him away?
But here he was, taking her on a real date, making her heart beat harder and skin tingle. His lips moved down her neck. She tightened her leg around his. Her fingers clutched at the leather smoothed over his back, but couldn't find purchase. "Throttle," her voice had gone breathy.
He lifted his head. "I should go," he whispered.
"Stay." Yeah, that whimper sounded seductive. "Stay with me tonight."
"I don't want to make a mistake."
Her limbs jerked back to her. "I'm a mistake?"
Throttle reached, but she ducked away from his embrace. "That's not what I said."
"That's what it sounded like." She stopped in the middle of the garage, and aimed her glare at him as he turned. "There was a bad patch, but nothing has changed. Except you don't want to be with me."
Throttle huffed, "I am with you. What do you call this?"
"First base with some taunts at stealing second. I'm ready for a home run!"
He pulled off his shades and blinked his red eyes. "What does baseball have to do with this?"
She growled with a foot stomp. "To borrow Vinnie's vulgarity, why aren't we upstairs knocking boots together right now?"
Throttle sighed, "I thought we weren't moving fast."
"We've been together for almost a year. Glaciers move faster than we have been." Another fear struck her heart. "I am the rebound girl."
"Then what is it? My emotional breakdown scared you or I'm just a fling while you're on this planet?"
His hands curled into fists at his sides. "You were there when I said I didn't want to go back to Mars. Did you think I was joking?"
"I give up trying to read your mind, Throttle, because I'm not any good at it." She huffed. It should have just been a 'yes,' no thinking involved. Where had things gone wrong? "And you also said it before we were a couple and never brought it up again."
"I didn't think I needed to."
"News flash, you need to explain things! Here I am telling you I'd like to have sex and you're calling me a mistake. That would be something to explain, Mr. Rebel with a cause!"
His mouth twisted with a grimace. "I said I didn't want to repeat the same mistakes I made with Carbine."
And men think the headache excuse is flimsy? "I'm not Carbine."
"I know that…."
"I don't think you do! So I'm the stand-in to get things right this time?"
"Why are you twisting everything I say? You're not a rebound girl or a stand-in."
"But you don't want to have sex with me because of Carbine. No tail, no fur, no antennae, live on planet Earth; does any of this ring a bell?"
"Carbine doesn't have anything to do with this." He took a step closer.
"Then why bring her up? I'm not Carbine, and I'm tired of everyone assuming I'm going to behave the same way she did when it comes to you."
"Who made that assumption?" Throttle opened his hands at his sides.
"If Modo or Vinnie offer advice, it starts with 'don't be like Carbine.' Maybe you should come back when you can tell the difference between us."
Throttle stepped closer. "You don't mean that."
"Get out before I find the crescent wrench!" She fled up the ladder, slammed the trapdoor shut, and kicked the latch into the locked position. Her whole body shook as she threw herself across her massive bed. The beautiful bed the others had picked out for her and Throttle, but she had slept in alone since it was set up. The sob shook out of her body before she pressed her face into a pillow.
How could he think, after everything they had been through, that she was another Carbine out to hurt him? And after everything they had been through, was there any way to change his mind? Did she even want to bother with changing it? Her chest ached like a piece had been torn out of her. She heard his bike leave, and didn't hold back the tears.
Modo paused the Law & Order episode video cassette when he heard the motorcycle engine. Vinnie rolled over in his hammock as Throttle parked his bike. "Aren't you headed for the wrong bed for putting up with an orchestra?" The gray mouse glanced at Sparks in his bed. His son was asleep, thank goodness, but he needed to remind Vinnie about age appropriate conversations again.
Throttle threw his helmet at Vinnie, who caught it with a startled oof, and stormed out of the scoreboard through the door into the stadium.
"Was it something I said?" Vinnie used his tail to set the helmet on the floor.
Modo sighed as he turned off the television set and VCR. "I'll see what's wrong. You've done enough."
"But I didn't do anything!" Modo shut the door on the protest.
Throttle sat on the top concrete edge and stared down at the city. Modo hung his legs over as he sat. "Wanna talk about it?"
"Women are crazy no matter what planet they're from." Throttle's tail slashed through the air.
"Ya got somethin' specific to base that theory on?"
"Or Vinnie cursed things by opening his big, fat mouth."
"The sandstorm hit at the goodnight kiss." The tension ebbed and confusion replaced it. "I tried to leave, Charley turned it into a rejection, then she brought up baseball, and then the conversation turned to sex. What the hell does baseball have to do with sex?"
Modo silently thanked Meat Loaf for having a song on this subject, otherwise he wouldn't know either. "It's a metaphor. How far a girl let's you get corresponds with the bases. The conversation was pretty much all about sex." He leaned back on his hands while Throttle processed that.
"I guess that makes sense. But I still don't understand how we went from great time to Charley ranting that she's not falling into the rebound girl trap and I should come back when I can tell the difference between her and Carbine."
"You didn't compare Charley to Carbine, did you?" Modo felt his fur spike.
Throttle glared at him. "I'm responsible for doing somethin' stupid in the romance department tonight, but I'm not that stupid." He looked across the street. "I said I didn't want to repeat the same mistakes I made with Carbine."
"Did you tell Charley what those mistakes were?"
"I don't think I ever had a chance," he hung his head.
"Then how does Charley know what not to do?"
"This has nothing to do with Charley; it's me. And Vinnie's right, I was pussy-whipped by Carbine because we jumped in the sack too soon. Even your momma told me not to base a relationship on being grateful for losing my virginity." He blushed so hard Modo could see it by the streetlights. "Don't ever repeat that."
"No worries. But tell me you didn't put up with all her shit because you felt obligated."
"Carbine's a survivor. Plutarkians can't kill her. No one would try to subject her to Eroite."
Modo's fur spiked again as his tail knotted. "That shit is over with. No one would be crazy enough to do that with the survival of our species on the line."
"Doesn't change the fact it was a reason I stayed with Carbine. And it wasn't all bad."
"Charley's a survivor too."
"I'm not mixing the two girls up in my head," Throttle said. "Carbine and me rushed through things without talking, and sex was the only thing holding us together too many times. It wasn't enough." He frowned into the sky. "I love Charley too much to let my libido derail us."
Modo took a deep breath. He hated wading into TMI waters. "Bro, I understand being hands off while Charley recovered from the race and everythin' that brought up. But you two have been official for almost a year and known each other for three before that. You expect me to believe there has been no sex?" Throttle flinched. "You made a drunken pass at her on Mars. I can't believe neither of you have built off of that."
"You said nothing happened!"
"And nothing did besides Charley finding out how you felt. Unless she lied, and I don't think she did. She was worried about you."
"Same reason she had sex with me later. Worried and wanting to make me better," Throttle aimed the bitterness at himself. "I had no right to use her, even if I was having a breakdown."
"Cheese, bro, and I thought Vinnie had a talent. No wonder you two kept acting weird."
"Thanks, Big Fella, that really helps."
"Has Charley ever thrown it in yer face?"
The tan snout wrinkled. "No, she never has."
"Then you're the one making a big deal out of it. Believe me, women remember what they consider bad, even after they promise to forget it. So basically, you gallantly turned down sex, because ya feel guilty that ya had sex without establishing the relationship first and that's what derailed ya and Carbine. With Charley who you've dated for a year and knows nothing 'bout the history with yer ex. And ya wonder why she reacted like ya rejected her?"
Throttle dropped his chin to his chest and groaned.
Modo couldn't resist a smirk. "This will probably take jewelry to make up for. Though Charley isn't much for jewelry; maybe ya should buy her that air compressor she's been eyeing."
"I can't believe I screwed up like this," Throttle groaned. "I'm better at reading people than that."
"Everybody screws up relationships. It keeps therapists in business. And Charley will think it's sweet that ya screwed up by trying not to screw up. Eventually."
"Provided she ever talks to me again."
Modo clapped Throttle's shoulder with his flesh hand. "It won't be that bad. She hasn't thrown any of us out on our ears."
"Seriously, it sounds like Charley is ready for the next stage. You two need to talk about that after you're done apologizing."
"If she still wants to. She threatened me with the wrench."
Modo pulled Throttle to his feet. "But she didn't get it, right? She just wanted to get yer attention. Now I ain't saying it'll be easy. You should bring flowers."
"I don't do flowers."
"It's yer tail I'm lookin' out for that's all. Ladies melt with flowers."
"I'll keep it in mind," Throttle said as they headed back into the scoreboard.
Limburger sighed as he leaned back. Once his eyes were out of the pool of light created by his desk lamp, he felt marginally better. Had Camembert eaten bad slime worms? Did the Council honestly expect the amount of supplies for this month to come from him? Three years and most months he only scraped together a space transport bin of rubble from his Towers. He snorted. If those rampaging rodents really wanted to get rid of him, all they had to do was stop blowing up his skyscraper. The Council would replace him with someone else who could meet quotas.
Too bad he didn't have enough gold gills stashed away in his Swiss Cheese account to retire from the shark race. That option grew in appeal the more time he spent on Earth. Maybe he should turn Karbunkle's attention to counterfeiting gold gills. The masked Plutarkian sat up. It was infinitely more useful than all the mad doctor's other inventions. And as long as it didn't disintegrate after deposit, it didn't matter if Karbunkle used it for his own gain too. Even if they had to counterfeit it slower than they did the paper currency of the United States.
The whole building shook as Limburger reached for the vidscreen intercom button. He pressed it but now his question changed. "Karbunkle, what's happening?"
"There is a spaceship landing on top of the building, your cheddary-richness." The humanoid scientist wrung his black-gloved hands.
"Are we expecting anyone?" He hoped it wasn't a spot inspection. But the Plutarkian hierarchy liked to announce it once they arrived in the solar system and let the inspected sweat until they arrived.
"No announcements, and," Karbunkle gulped. "It's a Cyclodrone Thunderpipe!"
Limburger felt like exploding, but he didn't have anything in mind to yell. The last time a Thunderpipe came to Earth, it had disgorged those vile vermin. "Why would they be landing on my roof? Instead of going to that ghastly hovel of a garage?"
"Or crashing into Quigley Field's scoreboard," Karbunkle muttered. "I don't know why, your fulsome fragantness."
"Right." Limburger sounded the alarm. Greasepit and a squadron of goons ran into his office. "Be ready for anything. A spaceship landed on the roof." Greasepit gulped, but didn't say anything.
The air shimmered in the center of the office before a blue flash of light filled the space. The Martian mouse with light brown fur grinned as the goons circled him. "I should have expected a welcoming committee." Limburger discreetly activated a search for the mouse's face in the database of enemies of Plutark. "I'm looking for Lawrence Limburger; the name's Turbo."
Limburger cleared his throat. "And what do you want, you masochistic miscreant?"
Turbo's grin didn't diminish. "That's awfully personal considering you don't know me. I'm not a Freedom Fighter."
"The only Martian cave mice alive are Freedom Fighters!"
Turbo's eyebrows rose. "My, my, how they have gotten under your scales. Believe me, I have experienced their antics first-hand too."
Antics is putting it mildly, Limburger thought. "If you are here for the Biker Mice, you landed in the wrong part of Chicago." He gestured and the goons aimed their weapons at the mouse.
"So they gave their little club a name? Right out of the legends, no less." The mouse shook his head. "So presumptuous but hardly surprising." His blue eyes bored into Limburger's, and the intensity reminded him of someone. Turbo continued before he remembered who. "They chased me from Mars before you Plutarkians invaded. I don't care about your war or the fate of this planet."
"Then why are you here, stressing the structural integrity of my Tower with your spaceship and wasting my time?"
"Because I don't want to be interrupted." Turbo crossed his arms. Limburger forced himself not to gulp. There was something reminiscent of Mad Sam DeStefano in Turbo's grin. "Help me and I can guarantee the one thing no one else in the universe can give you. What all the gold gills of Plutark can't buy."
Limburger leaned his hands on his desk. "And what, pray tell, is that?"
The only sound in the carpeted office was the hiss of the air conditioning system and gurgle from the aquarium tubes. Even Greasepit held his breath. The Plutarkian signaled for the guns to be holstered and sank into his desk chair. "Isn't that intriguing? The last time someone sauntered in here promising me the heads of the Biker Mice, she was working a double cross with them. Cost me three and a half million in Earth currency and another Tower. So Mr. Turbo, you'll understand my suspicions about the whole matter."
"Keep your money. What I need is information, no interference, and let me park my ship here."
"And you'll get rid of the Biker Mice?" Limburger raised an eyebrow.
"No, only Throttle. But Modo and Vinnie shouldn't be that much of a problem without him."
Limburger hummed. "Provide parking, my goons leave you alone, what do you need to know?"
"Does the female fight with them or do they leave her behind?"
Turbo looked taken aback. "Throttle's, at the garage."
So they are together. He had wondered after the ice-water calm demeanor of their leader had given way to panic when he had transported the human female away. Another trap that failed. "That meddlesome mechanic? She's only slightly less destructive than those mice, but just as troublesome. And using her as bait typically goes awry."
"Can they be separated?"
"She tries to keep her garage open during her operating hours. We've also seen them dump her off their bikes before they attack."
The Martian nodded. "My bike is gold. Draw them out of the city tomorrow."
Limburger's eyebrow rose again. "Any particulars on how to do that?"
"However you want to. I just need them a few hours away from the garage." The easy manner dropped like a ruined disguise suit. "Do whatever you think best, but don't take Throttle's death from me." The blue light flashed again, and he disappeared.
Greasepit gulped, "So we're goin' after the mices tomorrow, Boss?"
"Looks like it, my dear boy. But we will plan it in the morning. Dismissed."
The goons left and Greasepit muttered to himself as he closed the door. "I sure ain't killin' the tan mouse. That mouse is scarier than the Biker Mices."
Limburger didn't say so out loud, but he agreed with Greasepit.
Nubs practice kept them trapped in the Scoreboard until noon, when they escaped to the garage. Charley bent over a motorcycle engine sitting on a worktable. She turned when they entered and Throttle's heart thumped to see her bloodshot eyes in the magnifier lenses before she lifted the goggles. "Time got away from all of us?"
"We can't freak out the ball players, sweetheart." Vinnie straddled a chair backwards at the table. "The sports experts say they have a shot at the championship this year. We can't be responsible for them losing."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm glad you have the team's interest at heart."
"Team's? It's self-preservation. The Nubs fans are nuts!"
She shook her head as she went into the kitchen. Modo made a shooing motion with his hands. Throttle sighed, but followed her into the kitchen. She didn't look over her shoulder as she poured the water out of the crock-pot. "Charley."
"That's right. I'm Charley."
"We need to talk."
She kept her back to him while she dug out a serving bowl. "Nothing sounds wrong with your vocal cords. Nothing is wrong with mine. So talk."
Modo had warned him this wouldn't be easy. At least, she hadn't thrown the hot dogs at his head. "I'm sorry about last night."
Charley froze before she pulled out a couple of packs of buns out of the pantry. "Sorry about what exactly?"
Vinnie thrust his body through the kitchen door. "Hey, where's the grub?" Throttle sighed again, and stayed silent as Charley handed the white mouse the bowl of hot dogs and the packs of buns. "Assemble your own," and she shoved him back into the garage. "Sorry about what exactly?" she repeated without looking at him.
"I…" he swallowed hard. Would it be easier if she would look at him? "I didn't want to hurt you again."
"You skidded off the road with that goal." There was a hint of anger in her voice but instead of looking at him, she cleaned the crock-pot.
"I know. I forget you weren't around for the stuff on Mars." He rubbed the back of his neck, trying to ease the tightness. "Carbine and me ignored our issues for sex."
The crock-pot banged around the metal sink. "The issue I have is no sex, damnit!" She whirled around now, soap suds dripping off her fists.
"Right, but that's the mistake I was talking about. That's the mistake I don't want to repeat. I care too much about you."
"You have a lousy way of showing it." She blinked her green eyes before turning back to the sink. "Does this mean we're never having sex again?"
"No, that's not what I'm saying." Maybe he should have written his points down. "And I'm not trying to hurt you when she comes up."
"Then why bring her up at all?"
Vinnie bounded back inside and Throttle dodged before the swinging door hit him. "Where's the chili?" He headed straight to the pantry. "And aren't you two eating?"
"In a minute, so don't inhale them all. And I'm out of chili."
"You expect us to eat dogs without chili?"
Throttle pulled Vinnie out of the pantry by his bandoleers. "Go grocery shopping if you don't like it." He shoved him back into the garage bays. "Where were we?"
Charley's back straightened. "You were about to tell me it's a Martian custom to compare your current with your exes. Not how we do things on Earth. You acknowledge you had a past and then never bring it up again unless your therapist says to."
"It's not a Martian custom, and there has only been you and her."
She glanced over her shoulder. "You expect me to believe that, fuzzy and buff?"
You need to explain it to her. Let her know exactly what she's getting into. Icy fingers clutched his insides harder than he had ever experienced on the battlefield. If she didn't know what he feared, what other families feared when they told their daughters to leave him alone, what Carbine had laughed at someone doing to her, she would stay. Nothing would happen to her.
He slid off his field specs. "There has only been you and Carbine. You know how it ended with Carbine. I didn't…." He broke off as Modo entered.
"Sorry, but," the taller mouse cringed at Charley, then cringed more at Throttle, "condiments!" He beelined to the fridge, scooped a few jars out, and cradled them between his arm and chest. "Sorry." He fled without prompting.
Throttle stared at the ceiling. Maybe this is why one of Earth's religions used the closets to confess things in. They probably had occupied latches on them. Could they borrow a couple until he got things patched with Charley?
She picked up a dishtowel and dried off the crock-pot. "I understand you don't want to go through that again, Throttle. I wouldn't even wish it on Rod. But I can't believe that's how you think I would break up with anyone." The towel twisted in her hands. "That I would treat you that way."
"Cheese. I know you wouldn't do that, Charley." He shoved the field specs back on. "I'm not comparing you to Carbine. Sandblasted, there's no comparison!" He leaned to see the face that she turned away. "You're the grand prize of the universe, babe. You're what I never hoped to find because I couldn't deal with the disappointment of never having it. And by the gods, I'd rather be alone, bikeless and weaponless on Plutark. I don't deserve you or your love."
The door swung open again. "Dad forgot the ketchup," Sparks announced.
Throttle growled as he whirled from Charley. He faced the fridge and beat his head against the freezer door. Maybe if he put himself in enough pain, the gods would have pity and change the swinging door to a lockable one. Or send a super villain to freeze his bros and Sparks.
"That kinda prevents me from getting the ketchup."
"Out!" Charley said.
"No buts, no excuses, no nothing." Throttle heard her shoving the smaller mouse out the door. "And I will hang the next set of whiskers that comes in here from the Sears Tower!"
The door swung violently allowing Sparks' complaint to come in. "Okay, yell at the chronological kid! Sure, I was the safe choice to send in there. Thanks a lot you two!"
Throttle continued tapping his forehead against the metal of the fridge. It was soothing, once you found a rhythm. Charley's hands wrapped around his arm and pulled him to face her. "Stop that. Your hard head will dent it." She let go of his arm. "Do you need some aspirin?"
"You know it takes more than that to rattle my brains."
She nodded and averted her eyes. "How I feel hasn't changed. I know for the past few months I haven't shown it, but last night," she swallowed, "the next thing I know we're fighting. What did I do?"
"You didn't do anything." He shook his head, thinking of any way to phrase his thoughts that made him sound less of an idiot. He wasn't having much luck. "Carbine and I didn't take it slow and it crashed and burned. I can't have that happen with you."
"How slow are we talking? Do you want to wait until marriage? You can't just plan this stuff without giving me a vote."
"I wasn't planning anything."
She closed her eyes. "Please don't tell me there is an already named contingency battle plan for it."
"No, there isn't. There really isn't," he insisted when she stared disbelieving at him. "You can't solve relationship problems by blowing them up."
"Glad to know something is in the don't-blow-up category."
"I don't have to wait 'til marriage and I'm guess you don't want to either." He took a deep breath. "I just need to stop feeling so damn guilty."
Her forehead crinkled. Before she could ask, Modo kicked open the door, not crossing the threshold. "Bro, it's Limburger."
Throttle winced as Charley's face fell and then hardened. "Go on, it's hero time." She shooed him out the swinging door, but followed.
The others had turned on the portable television set. Tara Diddle's pink jacket and black skirt looked out of place against the background of towering trees. "Not only are we unable to get any information-including their name-from the company that is clear cutting this stand in White Pines State Park, we haven't found anyone in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources who authorized this operation. The park rangers have tried to stop the loggers, but were met with an armed response."
Throttle sighed as he squared his shoulders. "Sounds like the Big Cheese needs some firewood."
"Don't we turn his Tower into enough kindling?" Modo mounted up. "You're staying here." Sparks crossed his arms with a pout.
Vinnie laughed manically. "Let's go roast his scales!"
Charley grabbed his neck bandanna and jerked Throttle around to face her. "You back here seven o'clock. And if anyone comes with you, you will wish the Plutarkians had executed you." She poked him in the center of his chest. "Got that?"
"I'll be here, Charley-babe." He smiled as she let him go. "Let's rock…."
From his vantage point in a fire watch tower, Turbo used the helmet's telescoping feature to watch the fight in the newly cut clearing. The war had honed the skills he had experienced twelve years ago. Limburger's goons seemed evenly matched despite having the greater numbers. Such carnage deserved a soundtrack. He turned on his helmet radio.
I toss and turn and lie awake…
it torments me, I must know why
It just seems too easy…
what is beyond that door?
As I take a step back
could I go on and turn the key?
Look away! Turn away!
He had mocked their moniker; maybe it was more accurate than he wanted to admit. He shook his head and the fight blurred in green and blue streaks. Throttle was his father's son, taking what didn't belong to him with a noble-sounding excuse of why he was entitled to it.
I should remember
nothing is what it seems
For once in my life I will resist…
Come alive again!
He gripped the rail and sneered. The clearing came back into focus. A Plutarkian digging machine lumbered on its stilts toward the Biker Mice, who had been trapped in a pile of fallen logs. The log truck was an empty, smoking wreck. The digging machine pulled a mechanical arm ending with a buzz saw forward to lop off their heads.
When all is said and done
I may not be able to move on
If I don't know
what lies beyond
Desire is now the one in control
Am I strong enough to not ever know
just what I'd find?
Should I press on?
His fingers dug into the old wood. They had a deal! Not that he really expected a Plutarkian to keep his word. The wood cracked under his hands but he leaned forward to see the driver. That goon would die if he took killing Throttle from him.
I can almost hear
anguished cries as they suffer
Welcome to the bodies!
I should run…
I should run
but I just can't seem to move
Look away! Turn away!
At Throttle's command, the three lifted their guns from the wood pile. Throttle was still left-handed and Modo's gun was a part of his mechanical right arm. In unison, they shot and broke the buzz saw free. It hit the logs to their left, slicing through the wood, and freeing their bikes. The missiles from their bikes splintered the logs so they launched at the remaining goons.
The wood underneath Turbo's hands cracked louder. He pitched forward off the tower with a curse. His tail grabbed one of the girders. Dangling from the weathered structure, he turned off the telescoping feature. That magnification of his unresponsive bike induced a headache. Once he restored proper distance to his eyesight, he swung to grab the girder with his hands, and then swung once more to get onto the ladder.
I should remember
nothing is what it seems
For one in my life I will resist…
Come alive again!
He reached the ground and shook his head at the bike. The tide had turned in the skirmish between Limburger's goons and the Biker Mice. He snorted at how now he referred to their little club the same way. He needed more time in Chicago free of their interference and he knew how to insure that.
Turbo drove to the main road out of the state park. He dropped the seeker land sharks off his bike and watched the explosive robots burrow into the ground in his rearview mirror. They would wait until a Martian A.I. bike crossed in front of them. He had cut their explosive power in half already to prevent killing Throttle on accident. No, he had to die on purpose for what he put Tamara through.
The older man in red and brown fatigues had sneered as he had fisted Turbo's shirt in his hand and had jerked the young boy's body out of the garage and into the dirt driveway. "You promised us the alenish and his son. No son, so the deal is off."
"Throttle's here some where!" Turbo blinked away the tears. "You can't. You can't!" He punched the mercenary but the older man pushed him away before his fist could connect. Turbo landed on his tail in the driveway and stared up at him with watery eyes.
"Eroite is very clear, boy. Skin the entire bloodline to make the mantle of alenish before you can wear it. Skin the women who carry the potential bloodline." He leaned closer to the boy in the dirt. "You think you are beyond the laws, boy! Laws written in the blood of countless generations, soaked into the sand and stone of the whole world!" His booming laughter spiked Turbo's fur. "Common as you are, boy, no one escapes these laws. The only escape is the peace of the grave. The son will be alenish, but we can insure there will be no brothers to follow him."
The mercenary turned, leaving Turbo sitting on the ground, and signaled his man guarding the front door of the house. The guard opened the door for the rest of the group. A pair of soldiers pulled the light-brown furred woman out before the next pair pulled out the dun furred man. The prisoners were dressed in the ceremonial loincloths. "The alenish will watch his woman die. String her up," the mercenary leader ordered his men.
They dragged the struggling woman to the metal poles driven into the yard in front of the modest one-story stone house. Metal chains stretched her between two of them and off the ground. Tamara twisted, trying to pull free, as the mercenary leader stalked closer. The soldier who had guarded the front door carried an ornate, red and gold box to his leader. The other soldiers forced Blade to his knees in the dirt and facing the scene. The leader pulled the large-bladed knife out of the box and turned back to Tamara. "Now you face Eroite, woman. What are your last words?"
"How brave you are. How noble. Killing people who never did anything to you to attain a title no one follows any more." Her trilling laughter mocked. "Justifying murder with laws that were rewritten with the Industrial Revolution. Did an asshole forget to evolve and spawn you?"
The mercenary leader bared his teeth as his tail slashed through the air. "These laws are truer than anything the cities pretend to rule with!"
"Someone got their feelings hurt when they didn't get elected? That must have been a blow to your branch of the family. First great-granddaddy a thousand times removed gets passed over in favor of his brother, and then no one wants you or daddy or granddaddy or great-granddaddy on up the line in charge when the commoners finally get a say." Tamara laughed again. "We'll get it once we're the alenish; did that become your battle cry?"
His blow struck her across the snout. "Don't dare mock what a slut like you could never understand!"
"Our son lives. You'll never be alenish."
The mercenary leader growled as he drew the knife's blade around her leg at the bottom of her calf. Tamara clenched her jaw and stared at the sky. Her screams didn't start until the second slice of his knife reached her thigh. Turbo watched the blood pool at the bottom of the metal poles and soak into the red sands between them. That was all he could.
When all is said and done
I may not be able to more on
If I don't known
what lies beyond
Desire is now the one in control
Am I strong enough to not ever know
just what I'd fine?
What sinful trance
as the key turns?
Turbo shook his head as the memory quaked his body. The golden bike didn't compensate for his lack of concentration. He focused on the road, corrected the wobble, and saw the Chicago City Limits sign.
Now it is done…
the key has been turned
All that is left is my embrace
Her trembling is driving me wild!
Her shrieks are so intoxicating!
Eyes filled with tears will strain to see
Welcome home! I am your prison!
He watched the Last Chance Garage from a neighboring rooftop. A young mouse who looked like a carbon copy of Modo with head fur sat inside the garage bay with Throttle's female. He turned the radio to the frequency Limburger's goons used to communicate. They were regrouping for a second attack. Turbo frowned, considering scenarios with Modo's son. He didn't want to hurt an unrelated child if he didn't need to, but the boy couldn't stand in the way of his goal.
Sparks muttered as he hunched over the textbook and notebook. Charley smiled as she put away her tools. The subject under complaint changed between the assignment and being left behind for what Sparks felt was an unfair amount of times. He sighed as he slammed the textbook shut. "Finished?" she asked.
"Yeah, with English. Why are there so many grammar rules?"
"Don't know. I never got a straight answer to that in school either. I liked it when we just had to read stuff."
Sparks shrugged as he packed his booksack. "I think that's after this section is finished. I still have math to do, but I can finish that at the Scoreboard. They'll be back soon and you don't want to finish yelling at Throttle while covered in grease."
Charley tossed down the shop rag she had cleaned with. "We're not fighting."
"Fine, don't want to disagree loudly with him while still covered in grease." He swung the booksack onto his shoulder and looked at the light blue bike and the purple bike pieces. "Do you think I'm big enough for a bike of my own?"
"That's an interesting way to phrase it," she smirked. "Illinois law says you have to be sixteen before you can get a learner's permit. But you want to know if you're tall enough."
"Sixteen! It's fourteen on Mars!"
"Most of Mars is desert."
"It wasn't always," he said sullenly. "Okay, there was a big desert, but it's still fourteen."
"Maybe it's because the A.I.'s would keep an inexperienced driver from making a deadly mistake on Mars. But we don't have A.I.'s on Earth for the rest of the population."
"Did you wait that long to learn how to drive?"
"That had nothing to do with learning how to drive. That's how old you have to be to do it legally."
His antennae dropped toward his hair and he brushed the bangs away from his eyes. "So I guess I can't ask you to build me a bike."
"Not behind your father's back if he said you're not old enough." She crossed her arms.
"We hadn't talked about it. But you got all the extra parts."
She pointed to the remains of her repair bike and her battle bike prototype. "Hey, both of those are my bikes. And I can tell you from experience they won't let you tag along to a fight even with a battle bike."
"I was gonna wait on that part," he muttered. "Could you at least not tell Throttle it's sixteen here? He'll convince Dad I have to wait seven years instead of five."
"Okay. Do you want a ride to the Scoreboard?"
Sparks shook his head. "I'm stopping at the library for books for the history report." He pushed his helmet onto his head. "If I run into problems, I'll radio. I remember the drill."
Charley watched him head down the street toward the library. Sparks was an independent child, and it grated that he was dependent just to get around Chicago. She hoped he wasn't scheming to fight. Modo and Throttle would both have a fit, and Vinnie would find the whole thing funny. She better warn Tala that Sparks wanted a bike. The human mercenary would work out a deal without thinking about what Modo's opinion might be.
She moved into the kitchen. The casserole was finished and she turned off the oven, leaving it inside for now. Next she whisked through the upstairs living room, picking up the books and video tapes left out. Dishes were already laid on the upstairs table for two. She started a CD of romantic songs on the stereo. Okay, maybe she was trying too hard to set the mood. She took the two candlesticks off the table and hid them on a book shelf.
I always hope that you remember
We'll never really learn the meaning of it all
What we have is strong and tender
So hold on
In the middle of the madness
Charley hummed along with the song as she tidied the bedroom. She pulled a new sexy nightgown out of the dresser. Holding up the lavender satin with spaghetti straps, she wondered if she was being too optimistic. Throttle wanted to talk; hell, they needed to talk before what exactly? Making him move in? Bribing him with lingerie to move in? She looked at herself in the dresser mirror as she held the short gown against her torso. It was more like a promise. Yes, Throttle's noble streak could be promised but not bribed.
When the time is running out and you're left alone
All I want is you to know that
It's strong still
Can't pull us apart
But what did Throttle feel guilty about?
Nothing can come
Nothing can pull us apart
The question gnawed at her since the Biker Mice had left. She had resisted discussing it with Sparks. That boy was too similar to Modo at times. But, she had successfully avoided his mental scarring from adult romance problems. She laid the nightgown on the maroon and gold bedspread.
I always hope that you remember
What we have is strong and tender
In the middle of the madness
What did he mean? Guilty about being with a human instead of a mouse? Guilty about the future if they stayed on Earth? She knew he didn't want to go back to Mars, but Modo and Vinnie probably still did. Was that what he felt guilty about, keeping them here? Fretting about it wouldn't answer the question, only Throttle could.
So it truly is a good thing
And I always wanted you to know
There is always this
And this is everlasting
She scrubbed her hands and brushed her hair in the bathroom. No changing until after supper and after they had talked. At least, she had kept the receipt if she never felt like seeing the nightgown again.
It's about faith
It's about trust, yeah yeah
It's about faith
It's about trust
A motorcycle engine's roar filled the garage downstairs. Charley pressed her hand against her stomach. She had no reason to be nervous, but she was. She wanted to change it to excited to see Throttle. Okay, she worried if this was the end of them. But she had survived that before.
Nothing can come
Nothing can come
Nothing can come between us
Nothing can come
Nothing can come
Nothing can come between us
She swung open the kitchen door when the engine of the dull golden bike she didn't recognize shut off. It was styled like a Harley Softtail, but she saw the mousehead-shaped headlight under the handlebars before she mistook it for an Earth bike.
The rider wore black leather pants and a dark green T-shirt under a plain black leather jacket. He pulled off his Martian biker helmet to reveal his mouse features with light brown fur. He didn't have any head fur. "Sorry to disturb you, ma'am. I was told I could find the Biker Mice here."
Charley took a deep breath. Her skin on her neck crawled. Other mice showing up on her doorstep never gave her that reaction before. "I'm expecting them back any minute now."
"Oh good." He dismounted and hung the helmet on the handlebars. "It's been so long, cheese, twelve years. Have they told you anything about me?" He grinned sheepishly at Charley's confused expression. "Sorry, I'm Turbo."
"Charley, and no, I'm afraid they didn't. They don't talk much about Mars. I think they like to forget about the war."
"That makes sense." Turbo scanned the garage in a slow circle. Charley fought the urge to run back to the kitchen. Why did this guy unnerve her like a roomful of Limburger's goons? "Everybody likes to forget the bad things in life. Shame I got included in that."
She stepped away from Turbo without trying to look nervous. "You got included in the bad things?"
He smiled and showed the rest of his teeth. "How much have they told you? Did Throttle tell you about his parents?"
"They died when he was four."
Turbo headed toward the shelves behind Charley. She moved closer to the table as she turned to watch him. "No details? He didn't even tell you their names? The names of the aunt and uncle who raised him? And I was told you two were close."
She took a deep breath to calm her rapidly-beating heart. "Who told you that?"
He raised an eyebrow. "So you aren't close?"
"What does it matter to you?" Her hands hit her hips. "The Biker Mice are my family. Not that we need your approval."
The brown furred mouse smirked as he circled her. "No, my baby brother doesn't need my approval, but I need to know everything about his life."
Her stomach clenched. "Throttle's your brother?"
"We had the same mother." Turbo's voice came over her shoulder and Charley jumped. He chuckled. "He never mentioned me either? I can't wait to tell him how hurt I am."
Charley jerked around to keep Turbo in front as she backed up. Her laser gun was in the tool chest closest to the office. "Did he think you were dead too?"
"He probably hoped I was dead. He was always selfish like that. Can't say that I'm sorry to disappointment him."
"Throttle's not selfish."
Turbo's grin widened. "It's what I would call it. Killing our mother. Wanting a relationship with you that will kill you. He should stop doing stuff like that and just die."
"You're not his brother. No one would want his brother to die, not when everyone else in your family is dead."
The glee dropped from his face. "Everyone else in my family is dead because Throttle killed them."
"That's not true. Not Throttle."
"You are spending a lot of energy defending someone who you aren't that close to. Does Throttle know how much of a liar you are?"
"Does he know you want him dead?"
Turbo stepped closer and Charley stepped back. She didn't want to run to the gun just yet. "There's no reason why he shouldn't know. He was a smart kid when I lived with him. That shouldn't change just 'cause he got bigger." He smirked again. "Now, don't you think it's time you're honest with me?"
"I have been." Damnit Throttle, why aren't you here yet! she swallowed hard as she thought.
He shook his head. "True or false, you are Throttle's woman."
"What do you mean?" Her back hit the tool chest.
"Throttle loves you." He stepped closer.
Behind her back, her hands opened the tool chest. "None of your business."
"I'm afraid it is. There are very specific rules for Eroite." He loomed over her. "If you are his woman, you must die too."
"Just try it, asshole!" She wrapped her fingers around her laser gun and yanked it out. Turbo knocked it out of her hand. Charley shoved him aside, diving for it. His tail whipped around. Her body jerked to a stop in midair when his tail wrapped around her chest and arms. She kicked but he held her out of reach of her feet. "Damnit!"
Turbo chuckled. "You're feisty. I see why he went native."
"Go to hell!"
"I will. But Throttle goes first. And you too, unfortunately."
"Oh like you really give a shit!" Charley snarled. She had to make him lower his guard so she could get the gun. "Throttle and I aren't lovers."
"So what does that mean for your stupid rules?"
Turbo moved her face closer to his. "I don't believe you. You were practically having sex on the ladder last night." Charley felt her mouth dry as his blue eyes bored into hers. "So what is waiting upstairs?" He carried her behind him into the kitchen. Charley struggled against the loops of his tail as they went up the stairs. She couldn't budge them. "Romantic music, dinner for two." Turbo shook his head before moving to her bedroom. "My, my, very classy." He picked up her lavender nightgown and held it in front of her face. "I'm sure you look beautiful in it. Is it Throttle's favorite?"
"He has never seen me in it."
"You bought a new nightgown for Throttle, but you're not lovers." He dropped it on the bed, and carried her back into the living room. He pulled her around to face him. "I admire you trying to save yourself. Really, I do. But you are not fooling me. So stop. Go out with dignity."
"You want honesty? I love him. I don't know how he feels. But the Plutarkians haven't killed him, all the super villains Limburger has hired haven't killed him, a crazy bigot mouse didn't kill either of us, and neither did my crazy stalker." Charley glared into his blue eyes as fear and rage made her body tremble. "You don't stand a chance in hell."
Turbo's eyes narrowed. "Throttle killed our mother. I will kill him for that."
"I will, because I have you." The grin spreading across his face shot ice through her.
Cheese, what a day. Throttle pulled into the garage, and the door rumbled shut as he shut off the engine. He winced at the clock. "I'm sorry I'm late. Limburger's goons sabotaged the road and Modo's bike got hit. He wouldn't let us bring it here; said he and Vinnie could fix it at the Scoreboard." He poked his head into her empty office. "Charley?" The kitchen was empty of everything but food smells coming from the oven. "It's only an hour, Charley-babe."
There was an indistinct voice upstairs. "Charley, it's Limburger's fault." He paused at the top of the stairs. The table in the living room had dishes set out. The doors to her guest room, her bedroom, and the bathroom stood open so he saw that they were empty. "Charley?"
A noise started on the stereo. "Hello, Throttle, it's been a long time. Twelve years. You shouldn't have stopped me then. Hot Rod would have died a clean death in Eroite instead of at the hands of the Plutarkians. Yeah, I know all about that. I've done my homework."
Throttle's hands curled into fists as his entire body stiffened.
"I've even did my homework on your life on this planet!" Turbo chuckled, "And Blade didn't think I had the drive to finish anything I started. I'm sure he knows how wrong he was now. Charley is a beautiful woman, more sassy than sweet, quite the fighter; I see why you made her yours. But Throttle," Turbo tsked, "why did you keep her in the dark? You really made it too easy to get close enough. Had you just told her, I wouldn't be leaving you this message that I have your girl."
Throttle stopped breathing. No, he couldn't have Charley, he couldn't!
"Let's not waste any time with denial. Charley, say something to Throttle." The microphone picked up the shuffle of moving bodies. Turbo yelped, "Sandblasted woman! These could be your last words."
"You are not using me to bait some fur-brained trap, you bastard!" Charley's voice floated from the speakers. "I am going to tie your tail in a knot, pin your ears to the wall, Lorena Bobbitt your wanker, and then shoot! By the time I'm through stomping your ass, you're going to wish Throttle got to you first!"
There was more shuffling and a yell from Charley before Turbo returned. "What has romance come to? I didn't expect any damsel in distress cries for help, but that was far from insisting on you not walking into a trap to save her. But why bother with the whole it's a trap! bit when we all know that's exactly what it is. You have 'til midnight to meet us on the rooftop of the John Hancock Center. And come alone, Throttle, because I don't want to hurt one of your comrades in arms."
The noise that caught his attention repeated and the CD started replaying the whole message. Rage and sick fear caused Throttle's whole body to tremble. He shook his head to clear the stupor, and headed downstairs. The headlight of his black bike, the second lady he had ever loved, flashed at him. "Turbo has Charley." The bike beeped angrily. "He has the upper hand this time, but maybe he can be tricked into doing something besides Eroite." He switched off the tracking signal, and his bike beeped questioningly. "I can't put them in danger, not again. But we are going to need help." He shoved his helmet on and rode into the Chicago night.
So much had changed in twelve years. When he had last seen his older brother, he had just gotten his license to drive his bike legally. Vinnie had felt safe enough to project his bravado. Modo had disconnected his sidecar and had never replaced it. Roddie had been ten-years-old, growing out of her whinny brat stage. And Turbo had been the jolt to get rid of the rest of it.
Throttle looked up and down the hall of bedrooms on the second floor. Town houses were built completely above ground, and he felt vulnerable. He probably would always, but it didn't matter when he needed to see Roddie. After the grown-ups took charge, he had to stay with Vinnie and made sure his younger bro got proper medical care until Modo found Momma Bola to yell for Vinnie. Aunt Vev had swooped in, but all she cared about was Roddie and whisked his little sis-cuz away. Uncle Cutlass concentrated on yelling at the police to catch Turbo.
Everything was calm now, but he couldn't sleep until he knew Roddie was okay and not pretending because Vinnie was hurt worse. Aunt Vev had already put Roddie to bed and shooed him in that direction too when he got home. He twisted the doorknob and eased his head into the darkened bedroom. The radio on the dresser played softly. Roddie's body was hidden in a lump of blankets. If she was asleep, she was fine. He sighed and started to leave.
Carry on my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more
"Throttle? I'm awake. What's going on?" She rolled over and turned on the bedside lamp.
He sat on the pink and grey bed, in the shadows from the lamp on the other side. Roddie leaned against her padded headboard and pulled her knees to her chest. "I wanted to see if you were okay."
Once I rose above the noise and confusion
Just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion
I was soaring ever higher
But I flew too high
"Our doctor gave me a clean bill of health." She pulled her long black braid over her shoulder. "But I see him whenever I close my eyes. Coming with a knife."
Though my eyes could see I still was a blind man
Though my mind could think I still was a mad man
I hear the voices when I'm dreaming
I can hear them say
Throttle wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Roddie's body trembled and he hugged her. "I won't ever let Turbo hurt you. Neither will Uncle Cutlass. And don't forget Modo or Vinnie." Vinnie always complained about dragging a girl around, but he leaped in to rescue her. The older mouse, Modo, followed Throttle's orders without hesitation.
Carry on my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more
"I know. But how do you stop feeling afraid?"
"When I missed Mom and Dad and thought the guys who killed them would come back, Aunt Vev told me that the only way I could redeem their sacrifice was by living my life to the fullest. You can't if you spend all your time being afraid."
"Wow, good advice from her." Her eyes with solid blue sclera blinked. "Is Vinnie okay? I asked Mom and she went off on her 'he's not good enough' rant."
He sighed. He was fourteen, but between Aunt Vev and Vinnie, it felt like he was going on forty-four. It wasn't Vinnie's fault who his mother is. "His arm is broken, but it's a closed, simple fracture. He got a cast and his head is too hard to get a concussion."
"Concussion? What is that?"
"I think it's when you break your brains. It's serious, though. Momma Bola was glad Vinnie didn't have it. She took him home with her and Modo since they couldn't find his mom."
Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man, well
It surely means that I don't know
Roddie blinked rapidly. "Vinnie saved my life, big bro-cuz. Turbo would've killed me before you and Modo got there if Vinnie hadn't fought him." Her voice grew softer. "He was so brave. I didn't think the bonehead could be that brave." She tugged on her braid while studying the shadowed wall beyond the end of the bed.
On a stormy sea of moving emotion
Tossed about I'm like a ship on the ocean
I set a course for winds of fortune
But I hear the voices say
He pinched her ear. She thrashed her head away from his hand. He hugged her so she couldn't get away. "Do I need to have a talk with Vincent on how he should treat my little sis-cuz?"
Carry on my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more. No!
"Don't you dare!" She hid her face against her knees. "He thinks I'm a baby." She looked up again. "You should get Mom off his case though. Saving my life oughta make him good enough."
Carry on, you will always remember
Carry on, nothing equals the splendor
The center lights around your vanity
But surely heaven waits for you
"Good point. I'll explain it to her." He climbed off the bed. "But if you don't get any sleep, she'll pin my ears to the wall plus not listen to me."
Roddie rolled her eyes as she lay down. "Only because you have a point." She turned off the lamp.
Carry on my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry don't you cry no more
Throttle rubbed his bottom lip against his buck teeth as he paused at her bedroom door. "If it gets too bad tonight, you can come camp out in my room. 'Kay?"
"Thanks," she whispered.
He headed down the stairs. Aunt Vev looked up from her seat at the dining room table. The shape shifter's form spazzed but didn't drift too far from the black-furred woman she preferred. "Throttle, why aren't you in bed yet?"
"I needed to talk to Uncle Cutlass. Is he back yet?"
"He's in the study." She sat back with her newspaper.
"Thanks." He paused at the stone archway that opened into the hall to the study. "I don't know if anybody told you, but Vinnie jumped between Turbo and Roddie. If he hadn't fought him, Roddie would have been dead by the time Modo and I caught up with them." He trotted down the hall and knocked on the study door before she could question him.
"Enter." Throttle shut the door after he entered the book-lined room. The dun-furred older man looked up from the papers on the metal desk. "I thought you were already in bed. Come, sit." Uncle Cutlass rolled away from his desk and patted a nearby ottoman.
He sat on the indicated seat. "I just got back from the hospital thirty minutes ago."
Uncle Cutlass's red eyes opened wide. "You were hurt with that bike stunt?"
"No, Modo and I are fine." Throttle repressed the urge to scream. He wasn't as blunt as Aunt Vev, but he didn't think Vinnie should hang around his daughter and nephew either. Was Bola the only adult who cared about what kind of adult Vinnie grew into? Hopefully Roddie's crush would end before his aunt and uncle noticed it. "Turbo broke Vinnie's arm because he protected Roddie. My bro is welcome here."
"Throttle," Uncle Cutlass's snout wrinkled.
"I don't care about his mother. Vinnie saved Roddie. The quality of a person is when they do what you don't expect of them. He is my bro and he will always be welcome where I live."
"I didn't realize he had done that." Uncle Cutlass cleared his throat. "I'll speak to Vev about it."
Thank you for the speech, Momma Bola. Throttle nodded how he hoped was sagely. "Did the police catch Turbo?"
Uncle Cutlass shook his head. "They're optimistic they can flush him out."
"How optimistic were they after Mom and Dad died? They had to hunt for a ten-year-old then."
"You have every right to be angry."
"I'm not angry. I want him to stop trying to kill me and my family!"
"Of course." The older man ran his hand through his head fur, flattening it toward his skull. "That's what I want too. But Turbo is very dangerous and resourceful; we have to remember that while we're protecting Roddie and Vev." He stared into Throttle's blue eyes. "You showed impressive leadership qualities, Throttle, rescuing Roddie. Your father would have been proud of you." He gripped Throttle's knee with a tight smile. "I'm proud of you. You're going to be a fine alenish."
"But what's the point? What good is being an alenish? It just gets people killed so another group of people gets to call someone else 'alenish.' What's the point?" Throttle's hands clenched as he rested them on his thighs.
Uncle Cutlass sighed. "Tradition. It is the way things were for much longer than how they are now. Maybe things will change by the time the republic is as old as the cave clans were when they were replaced, but that won't be in our lifetimes, nor your children's."
"Hardly fair. I didn't ask to be alenish."
"Life isn't fair. That's why we have to be." His worried expression relaxed to a reminiscent smile. "You are so much like your mother. She made the same argument to your father when they got engaged."
His mother had been smarter than his father. Throttle didn't expect Uncle Cutlass to think the same of his twin brother. "She still married him though."
"Because the only way to break tradition is to make new ones. Being alenish is an honor, but it's not the sum total of your life." Uncle Cutlass leaned his elbows on his thighs and got closer. "Turbo has never learned this, and he thinks that the title is the grand prize."
"Or he just wants to punish everyone connected with it."
"Possibly. He wasn't happy when your mother married Blade. He wasn't happy when you were born. Maybe we could have done more to try to make him happy then, but now." Uncle Cutlass glanced at the paperwork on his desk before looking at Throttle again. "Roddie's statement said he blamed your mother's death on you."
Throttle looked down at the floor. "Because I hid."
"You did what you were told." He tilted Throttle's chin up. "You believe Turbo? That Tamara's death is your fault because you didn't die instead? There's no closure down that road, Throttle. She wanted you to live. She would have died fighting those men to save you. And even if she didn't die in a fight with them, they would have killed her because that is the law of Eroite. Turbo brought them to your family to commit murder. He can't accept that. It doesn't make him right."
A lump filled Throttle's throat but he swallowed it. "I know that here." He pressed his finger against his temple. "But here is harder to convince." He moved his hand over his heart.
Uncle Cutlass nodded. "It always is. But you had a chance to fight for the past and correct it."
"You can't change the past. However, fighting for it gives you a chance to settle things in your heart. I hope you never face Turbo again, but if you do, I know you won't let him beat you."
Throttle stared at Earth's moon rising above the street he rode on. He hoped he could prove Uncle Cutlass right.
The magnetic soles of Tala's armored boots clung to an engine coolant pipe near the ceiling and held her body upside-down. Both arms and head were free to reach the systems under the access hatch in the floor of her spaceship. Prehensile tails aren't the only way to do repairs. Tala pulled her upper body out of the hatch and flattened her hands on the floor, cheating to do a handstand. She tugged the toolbox closer and rooted for the proper wrench. Music blared over the intercom system connecting the More Hot Stuff and the building she owned in Chicago.
People of the Earth can you hear me?
Came a voice from the sky on that magical night
And in the colors of a thousand sunsets
They traveled through the world on a silvery light
She hummed finding the wrench and dropped back into the hole. This repair would hold until the engineers on the Olympian Fury looked over it. She twisted the pipe into place. The music cut off, replaced by the feminine voice of More Hot Stuff's computer. "Mistress Tala, Biker Mouse Throttle is at the garage entrance and sounds agitated. He wishes to see you."
Tala pulled herself out again with a groan. "Did he happen to mention about what?"
"He said it is an emergency."
She dropped the wrench into the toolbox before bending upwards to turn off the magnetic seal. She dangled from the coolant pipe by her hands, letting the blood flow return to normal, before landing on the solid floor. "Tell him I'm on my way down, if he can wait that long."
"I informed him, but according to his vocal stress patterns, it doesn't seem to have reassured him much."
"Don't worry about it. I'll handle him." She snagged the long-sleeved shirt hanging on the spaceship's ramp without losing her stride toward the freight elevator. "Turn the music back on."
"Acknowledged." The music filled the elevator as she headed down to the basement. She pulled the shirt over her tank top. Whatever had Throttle all worked up wouldn't be helped by seeing her scar tissue.
The people of the Earth stood waiting
Watching as the ships came one by one
Setting fire to the sky as they landed
Carrying to the world Children Of The Sun
Tala hit the alarm panel at the garage door. Throttle roared his bike down the ramp into the basement garage. He spun a tight one-eighty to face the ramp. She crossed her arms. "In a hurry?"
"I'm not in the mood," he growled as he dismounted.
"Then why bother me?"
"Because you're the wildcard." He waited for her to join him. "Turbo doesn't know anything about you."
Tala tilted her head. "Who's Turbo?"
"I don't have time for this!" Throttle's hands curled into fists. "I need a way to die without dying."
The tan-furred mouse growled. "You're the Jack-of-all-Trades, this is supposed to be your area of expertise."
"I've never had to put a near-death experience on the table before." Tala shook her head. "What's going on?"
"Can you deliver?"
"Is this some kind of prank? Vinnie put you up to this."
"Vinnie has nothing to do with this! Turbo is going to kill Charley!" Throttle's chest heaved after he screamed. He punched his gloved palm as he turned away.
Tala wished she had her glove with the built-in stun gun handy. "Listen up, I don't work in the dark. So calm down and start sharing some information if you need my help."
Throttle's tail slashed through the air as he turned to face her. "There's not enough time to explain. I have to convince him to kill me in Charley's place but I can't die."
"I can honestly say you guys never bring me any boring jobs." She bit her bottom lip as she thought. "How are you supposed to die?"
He grimaced, looking anywhere in the parking garage but at her. "That part of the plan is way up in the air."
"Up? How far up? Stratosphere?"
"This is not sounding like one of your better plans."
"I'm hoping for getting shot, 'cause if he uses a knife, it's game over."
"Does he have a preference?" Frowning, she led Throttle to her weapon storage cabinet, a walk-in closet next to the building's stairwell.
"I'd rather not worry about anticoagulant. Plan for shooting; Charley's gun was missing."
"You're in luck, I think." She pulled a dented and scarred metal trunk out from under a set of shelves. "I found this onboard More Hot Stuff when we liberated each other." She pulled out an aqua-blue, sleeveless shirt made out of the same flexible armor her suits were, only sized for a torso at least double hers. "See if it fits."
Throttle didn't hide his distaste while he replaced his leather vest with the armor. It was slightly baggy, but sealed closed. "What can this stop?"
"Most laser blasts. Avoid getting hit with anything designed to take out vehicles, buildings, or ships. And watch out for impacts. I have accelerated healing and can withstand more damage than you. It should stop a blade, but that depends on the force used."
Throttle grunted as he zipped his leather vest closed over the armor. "Can you see it?"
"No, your bad boy persona is visually intact." She shoved the trunk into place with her foot. "Now can I get an explanation?"
He shook his head leaving the weapon closet. Tala gritted her teeth and stomped after him. "After Charley's safe, I'll explain." He settled onto his black bike and pulled on his helmet.
And what bothered her about this whole situation clicked into place. She stood in front of the bike with her hands on her hips. "Where's your backup?" He cocked his head. "Your fellow mouse scouts? You never engage in destruction and mayhem without them. Where are they?"
He revved his bike. "I need to go, Tala."
"You can't engage in a firefight without someone to watch your back. What if Limburger has sent more goons with this hired help?" The offer to stand-in for Vinnie and Modo was in her mouth but the livid anger on his face killed the words.
"Turbo is not killing anyone else I care about." His voice dropped to a low menace that sent shivers down her spine. And she had faced death almost nightly in the gladiatorial rings. "I won't let him shoot you, and I don't even like you all that much." He revved his bike again and pulled it up into a wheelie.
Tala let him drive up the ramp and into the night. "Well, I don't like you either! Great comeback that," she snorted looking at the empty street. "And Vinnie will kill me if anything happens to you." Tala stalked to the bright blue racing bike beeping softly in its parking space. "Yeah, I didn't like that either, Hot Stuff." She pulled out the CB microphone, switching over to the private channels the Martian bikes broadcasted with. "Cold-hearted merc needs hot-head mouse scout, come in." She sat on the seat of the bike with a sigh. "Damnit, Vinnie, come in!"
"Later, Doll-face, we're busy right now." The connection died.
She reared back, blinking. "Oh no, he didn't!" Hot Stuff beeped sympathetically. She depressed the CB microphone talk button again. "Somebody better tell me something! I have polka music and I'm not afraid to use it!"
Vinnie watched Modo struggle with the purple bike's innards from the top bunk bed. The explosion that had knocked Modo down had warned Throttle and Vinnie to avoid the other mines. The level of explosives Limburger had used surprised him. Usually, the Plutarkian didn't bother to reduce them from lethal levels. The explosion didn't hurt Modo but it did a number on his bike. This perch kept Vinnie out of reach of his bro's arms. The Big Fella got cranky when his bike was busted. "Modo, bro, give it a rest. You need the special wrenches Charley has."
"I. Do. Not." Modo grunted as his hand tried to twist inside the engine. "Yer just lookin' for an excuse to go spy on 'em."
"Am not. That's like walking in on your parents. Been there, done that." Vinnie shivered, and he sure wasn't spilling how many times with how many different partners he had seen with his mother.
The large grey mouse leaned his forehead against the purple crankcase. "Way more information than I ever wanted to know 'bout yer home life."
"Bro, let me go get the right wrenches before…." A loud scrape of metal against metal ended in a snap. Vinnie stared down at Modo's wide open eye and gaping mouth.
Sparks turned from the table where he worked on his homework. "That didn't sound good."
"That's 'cause it's not." Modo antennae drooped. "Sorry, Li'l Hoss."
Vinnie jumped down. "What broke?"
"The gyro." He pulled out his metal hand holding the broken metal bits.
"We got spares here. Sparks keep him away from his bike until I get back." The smaller grey mouse saluted while Modo shot Vinnie a dirty look.
"Leave Throttle and Charley alone," he added to his dirty look.
Vinnie smirked as he mounted his red racer. "They won't even know I'm there." He peeled down the street. It was like Modo didn't trust him or something. He didn't want Throttle and Charley to break up either.
And just because of that, Vinnie did what he rarely did. He parked his bike on the street and entered the Last Chance Garage through the office door. The lights were on downstairs and upstairs. He scratched the back of his head. Charley nagged them about saving money by turning off lights. He shrugged and headed to one of the tool chests lining the wall. That was odd too; the one Charley kept a laser pistol in having decided her bedroom was too far away was open. The pistol was missing. Throttle's bike was gone, maybe they had gone out for a moonlight ride. That would explain why he didn't hear them moving around upstairs. But worry gnawed at him, a feeling he wasn't used to. He stuck his head into the empty kitchen. And heard a voice mumbled upstairs.
"Had you just told her, I wouldn't be leaving you this message that I have your girl." The hated voice came out of Charley's CD player. Vinnie's entire body tensed as his hands curled into fists. The same stance he had taken between Roddie and the son of a rat that had kidnapped them. Well, Vinnie had jumped into the van without thinking and the door locked when it swung shut as the van peeled away. So technically the man had only kidnapped one.
When the blue van stopped, Vinnie got a glimpse of the red stone mesas outside of town before the brown-furred man shoved them down a set of stairs and into an underground room. Roddie grabbed Vinnie's hand and pulled him away from the kidnapper. They ended up against a stone wall. A light flared on behind them, and Vinnie turned. The kidnapper had lit a tall lamp for a patio next to the only door out of the room. Vinnie moved in front of Roddie with feet spread wide and fists ready.
The man lit a second lamp closer to a pair of metal poles. He walked through the poles in the center of the room and laughed. "And just what do you think you're gonna do, you little runt?"
"You're not going to hurt her."
"You're right, I'm not gonna hurt her. I'm gonna kill her."
Roddie made a hiccupping sob behind him as she pressed against the wall. "Why? I never did nothing to you!"
The man stepped forward. "Because after I kill Throttle, you become the alenish. Throttle killed my mother so no one in your family should keep the title."
The look in his blue eyes when the kidnapper said Throttle's name made Vinnie feel like he needed to pee. What could his bro have done to this guy? He dismissed the claim of murder. Not Throttle.
Roddie said her dissent. He felt her chin go higher behind him. "Throttle never killed nobody!"
"He's just killed you too." The man lunged forward.
Vinnie rammed his fists in the man's privates. He doubled over, gasping. Vinnie looked over his shoulder to tell Roddie to run. Large hands gripped his arms and jerked his feet off the floor. The man tossed him aside.
Vinnie's shirt tore on the rough stone. A scrape oozed under his fur. He shook off the woozy feeling. The man bent over for Roddie as she dropped in a crouch. Vinnie leaped.
He scrambled up the man's back and wrapped his arms around the man's neck. "You're not hurting Roddie!" He saw this on a movie once. He trapped the man's neck between his elbows.
The next thing he knew his legs swung free in the air. His whole body flipped over the man's head. The kidnapper dangled him above the floor by a vice on his forearm. "You stupid little runt!"
Something snapped in Vinnie's arm. Pain shot down it and straight out his mouth. He screamed like a girl. The man tossed him again. His back landed against the stone wall. Pain filled his head, creeping to the edge of his vision.
"No time left to do this right." The man grabbed Roddie's braids and yanked her head back to look at him. He pulled a knife from its sheath on his belt. "I'll take your pelt after you're dead."
Vinnie tried, but his body refused to move. The blackness grew bigger, like his mother's old Earth movies. He heard Roddie sobbing, the far-off sound of motorcycle engines, and a muffled explosion.
"What the hell? I'll deal with you two in a minute." His boots spun on the floor and ran. The door slammed shut.
He felt the soft touch on his shoulder, but the fire from his arm and the black from his head made him not care. "Vinnie? Vinnie, please be okay. Please don't die. Vinnie, please." The windowless cellar was gone now. "I love you, Vinnie. Please be okay."
Vinnie stared down at the arm Turbo had broken on the twelve-year-old boy. So much for hoping that the war had killed the son of a rat. And now he had Charley. Vinnie's mouth dried as his eyes widened. And Throttle went after Turbo alone. "Oh hell, hell, hell, hell!" He burst into Charley's bedroom and jumped down the trapdoor. He headed to her CB unit modified to broadcast directly to their bikes. "Big Fella, come in! It's DEFCON negative twelve!"
"You know it doesn't go that high. What's wrong?" His rumbling voice didn't calm Vinnie at all.
"Turbo has Charley."
"WHAT? Vinnie, if this is yer sick idea of a joke…."
"What kind of a rat do you take me for! He left an audio message to Throttle. I know that bastard's voice. I had nightmares with him narrating until the war. Throttle's not here. He must have gone after him alone."
"Oh momma," Modo moaned. Vinnie heard buttons being pressed on the other end. "Sandblasted, Throttle! He turned off his tracking signal."
Vinnie jabbed a finger for emphasis that no one could see. "If Charley won't do it, I'm gonna fix it so he can't turn it off any more! How dare he go after Turbo of all people by himself?"
"Breathe, Vinnie. Go check the message again. Turbo had to leave some place to meet Throttle at."
"Good point, over and out."
The CB crackled to life again before he moved. "Cold-hearted merc needs hot-head mouse scout, come in." The pause lasted five seconds. "Damnit, Vinnie, come in!"
He grabbed the CB microphone. "Later, Doll-face, we're busy right now." He shut it off and scrambled up the trapdoor ladder.
Luckily, he didn't need to change the message playing pace. There was some shuffling and a yell from Charley in the background before Turbo spoke. "What has romance come to? I didn't expect any damsel in distress cries for help, but that was far from insisting on you not walking into a trap to save her. But why bother with the whole it's a trap! bit when we all know that's exactly what it is. You have 'til midnight to meet us on the rooftop of the John Hancock Center. And come alone, Throttle, because I don't want to hurt one of your comrades in arms."
That's why Throttle didn't call for backup. Shit. Vinnie jumped back down through the trapdoor. "Modo, you still there?"
"What do you know, Vin-man? Yeah, Sparks, that's where it goes."
"Rooftop of the John Hancock Center. And he threatened us if Throttle didn't come alone." Vinnie tugged on the bandoleers strapped around his chest.
Modo sighed, "Of course, the son of a rat did. We're the only ones in the galaxy who know Throttle's buttons better. What does he know about Charley?"
"He called her Throttle's girl." Vinnie swallowed hard. "That's all he needs for Eroite."
"Roll out. Ill meet you enroute. Do not head up the building until we're together."
"Don't dawdle!" Vinnie dropped the microphone and ran out of the garage. His red racer's engine rumbled in anticipation. "Let's go save the day, sweetheart. And pay that son of a rat back."
Modo revved Li'l Hoss. The gyro held. Sparks wiped off his hands with a shop rag. "Glad to know being the smallest has an advantage." His son's jovial tone fell flat with the pinched expression. "What's going on? Vinnie said Eroite."
"What do you know about Eroite!"
His son cringed and Modo felt punched. "Roddie told me if anyone threatened me with it, I had to tell them I wasn't related to her by blood and wouldn't be an alenish. That was years ago."
"It's something I never wanted you to need to know about." He hugged Sparks. "This fight doesn't have anything to do with us. Me and Vinnie are in for Throttle. 'Cause bros are one of the three things in the universe you can count on." He pushed Sparks back to kneel and look him in the eyes. With a squeeze to the boy's shoulders, he said, "This is worse than facing Plutarkians. 'Bout as bad as facing Exhaust 'cause it's personal. I need you to stay safe, okay?"
Sparks nodded. "You be careful."
"Will do." Modo gave him one final squeeze and what he hoped was a reassuring smile before taking off. He angled his course to lead to the distinctive metal girded building on the lake front. Roddie would have warned Sparks about Eroite given her introduction to it.
He remembered how great that day had been while at the park. Plutarkians had begun buying land, but dropping the businessmen cover and firing weapons was two years away. Throttle and Vinnie were his friends over a shared love of motorcycles, but all he knew was Throttle was an orphan living with his aunt and uncle and Vinnie's mother never cared about being a mother.
Throttle's fourteenth birthday had passed the week before. They had gathered in the park because Throttle was stuck watching his cousin again. In the park, Roddie could go play on the swing sets and give them space.
Modo leaned against the waist-high wall surrounding the park. "Sidecar is finally gone. Vinnie can ride behind either one of us now."
The sunlight glinted off Throttle's black shades. "What about your niece and nephew?"
"My sister don't want 'em ridin' with me. Says I'm gonna turn 'em into biker bums."
"Harsh. What's wrong with being a biker?" Vinnie fiddled with the radio until he found a station playing Earth music. Van Halen's new song "Jump" poured out of the speakers.
"I don't know. I think she's still pissed at her ex and is takin' it out on me."
Throttle smirked. "I thought we were gonna get him for breakin' your sister's heart?"
"My grey-furred momma said we have to give him a chance to prove if he's a mouse or a rat. I think Rimfire told."
The white-furred boy looked up from his inspection of Li'l Hoss' engine with wide red eyes. "What? Why?"
Modo shrugged. "He's still his dad, even if he's lower than a saber squid's belly and ain't done much with the twins since they were born."
"And our idea was a good one." Vinnie shook his head as he stared into the engine. "I think you got a gear loose."
The larger grey mouse knelt beside him. "That explains the shimmy. I don't have any money for a repair pit."
"That's cool." Throttle jumped off the wall. "Uncle Cutlass and Aunt Vev got me a tool set for my birthday." He opened the storage compartment on the black bike and pulled out a thin black case. "So it's all good unless you need to buy parts."
"No new parts, it's just loose."
"Why'd they get you a bike and tools?" Vinnie moved out of the way while Modo took out the proper wrench.
"The bike's been mine since I was four. They got me the tools for be safe insurance and Roddie got me the new shades." He tapped the black rims before snapping his fingers. "Speakin' of being safe insurance." He pulled a tracking component for a bike's A.I. computer out of the storage compartment. "Uncle Cutlass said we should tag our bikes together, just in case."
"Did he tell you what just in case is?"
"Didn't fill in that blank, no."
"Momma never does either." Modo grunted as he freed the engine from Li'l Hoss's frame. "Put it on. Never know if we'll get caught in a sandstorm or somethin'." He exchanged wrenches and started breaking down the layers.
Throttle nodded as he opened up the crankcase housing over the computer. "I'm sure it's just another way for my aunt to be a control freak, but he paid for it."
A girl with solid black fur jogged out of the park gate and down the sidewalk to them. "Throttle," she whined, "some creepy guy keeps following me."
Vinnie looked down the sidewalk. "I don't see anybody. Is he invisible?"
"Of course not, bonehead," Roddie snapped. "He must not have come out of the park."
"Speaking of invisible," Vinnie continued, "Mom got an old Earth movie where this scientist comes up with drugs to make him invisible and he goes crazy and starts killing people. It's good for being black 'n white. You guys gotta see it."
"Yer mom got mad the last time you messed with her movie collection," Modo reminded him.
"This one is okay. She wanted the sequel for her collection and ended up with the first one instead. So she gave it to me."
Roddie pulled on Throttle's T-shirt. "Throttle," she whined, "I wanna go home. I don't wanna hang out here with creepy guys."
Throttle growled. "Can't you see we're busy? We're not going anywhere with Modo's bike in pieces."
"Why did you take it apart on the street? That's just stupid."
"Roddie, go do somethin' else." He turned back to making the connections between the computer and the tracking component.
"I don't wanna go back in the park. He stared at me. And he's probably still in there."
"Find somethin' else until we fix Modo's bike and then we'll go for a ride."
Roddie tossed her pigtail braids over her shoulders as she sighed. The silence only lasted a few seconds. "Give me some money. I want ice cream."
Throttle dropped his shades down his snout to glare at her. "Where's your money?"
"Mom gave it to you to hold, remember?" She didn't flinch from his blue eyes.
He dug into the pocket of his jeans. "Vinnie," he dropped the cash into the white-furred boy's hand. "Take her across the street for ice cream. Keep her occupied 'til we're done and we'll go through the canyons west of town."
Vinnie closed a fist around the cash. "Deal. Come on, blue-eyed brat."
She narrowed her eyes with blue sclera. "Stop making fun of my eyes, bonehead. They're not my fault." You heard their bickering across the street until they entered the small caf.
Throttle pushed up his shades. "Either they're gonna kill each other or they're gonna date. Once they decide the opposite sex isn't icky."
Modo chuckled. "Which one will annoy yer aunt and uncle more?"
"Oh dating, definitely. So I'm all for it. I've been lectured 'bout Vinnie's bad influence so much, it starts a gag reflex."
He got the gear free of the engine and paused to look up. "Have they actually watched us interact? I mean, Vinnie doesn't do much without yer okay."
Throttle closed the crankcase with a shrug. "They mean well, but they're clueless. Just because his mother is…." He stopped, too embarrassed to say it out loud, even though Vinnie was out of earshot. "Any way, that's why we spend so much time at your house. Your mom is nice to him."
"Momma was wasted on just two kids. She needed a brood." He tightened the gear back into place on the engine. "Course, I don't think I could handle more siblings, so I guess everything has a way of working out for the best."
"You got Rimfire and Primer, that's like having younger siblings."
"Yeah, along with Vinnie and Roddie. I think ya'll should start calling her Momma Bola; she's raising all of us."
"Why not? Doubt my mom would mind. She probably would have liked Momma Bola."
A shrill scream cut through the air. Modo jumped to his feet as Throttle ran across the street. A brown-furred man slung Roddie into the back of a dirty blue van. Vinnie jumped to his feet where he had been knocked down. "Wrenchhead!" He grabbed the door handle, bracing his feet on the bumper to open it.
The traffic, startled by the appearance of a teen in the street, screeched to a halt around Throttle and trapped him in the middle of the asphalt. Vinnie opened the door as the van's wheels squealed. Modo ran across the street, jumping onto the now parked cars. The white-furred boy disappeared into the back of the van. It swung around and the back door slammed shut.
The blue van bore down on Throttle, who stared up at it. Modo grabbed the back of his T-shirt and hauled him onto the roof of the car. The blue van sped past them, using the wrong side of the street to gain speed.
"Follow 'em!" Throttle's black bike beeped as she popped a wheelie and peeled off. "Get your bike mobile now!"
"On it." Modo slid off the car and ran to his bike. Throttle followed but his attention focused on the road the van had disappeared down.
The adults questioned what they had witnessed. "Was that a kidnapping? She screamed. But the boy jumped in willingly?"
Modo screwed the engine back into place on the frame and secured the tool case. "I hope yer uncle didn't buy cheap parts!" He revved his bike.
Throttle climbed on behind him. "Me too."
Modo drove in the same direction the van had gone and turned on the view screen. A mousehead symbol lit up the screen then shrunk as the view screen turned into a map of the town. "It's workin', they're straight ahead."
"I should've paid more attention. She said a creep was bothering her."
"Don't beat yerself up. We all thought she was just being a brat and got a little of yer aunt's paranoia."
"Just 'cause you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you." Throttle growled. "And there was somethin' so familiar about that guy."
Modo glanced in the rearview mirror to check the traffic. They hadn't caught up with the van or Throttle's bike yet. "You saw him before?"
"Positive, but I can't remember where." Throttle growled again, hitting his own thigh with a fist. "If I could, I'd know why he took her." Modo didn't answer 'cause there was no way to jog Throttle's memory. "Detour!" Throttle pointed to Stilton's construction project. Modo turned the bike without question. "Angle toward the equipment shed." Plutarkians, rats, and mice scrambled out of the way.
Throttle's tail wrapped around a small box next to the shed and jerked it along with them. "Punch it! Back after them!" He skidded out of the construction site's second gate. "He planned this. He watched Roddie, waiting for the perfect opportunity. Now we got something to even the odds."
"Oh yeah, what?"
"Nitro sticks!" Throttle's laughter had a hint of menace.
Modo whistled through his uneven buck teeth. "Remind me to never piss you off."
"I doubt you would. You don't go around trying to hurt my family."
"Yeah, my momma would have my ears." The town fell behind them, and the houses spread out into farmsteads. "He's getting pretty far out."
"Don't want anyone to interrupt what you're going to do?"
"Cheese, this is one sick son of a rat. I hope Vinnie doesn't do anything stupid."
"Can you go any faster?"
Modo coaxed more speed out of Li'l Hoss. If they had to count on Vinnie not to do something stupid to keep him and Roddie safe, they shouldn't waste any time.
"There!" Throttle pointed to an unpaved driveway off the road on the right. His black bike drove up and down it. Modo idled his bike while Throttle broke open the box of nitro sticks. "Take as many as you can hold." His tan tail scooped up a dozen of the red explosives. Modo copied him. "You have telescoping feature on your helmet? What do you see?"
Modo focused on the house at the end of the driveway. "The blue van; I see the front bumper stickin' out from behind the house. Nothin's passin' by the windows though. The house is empty?"
"My parents had a burrow. This house looks like one. They could be underground." Modo nodded. Lots of homesteaders started off underground and only built above-ground if the farm was successful or they made money at other jobs. This farm had a sign on the road saying Stilton Industries had bought the land. "We have to flush him out," Throttle continued.
"What's the plan?"
"Circle the house and toss the nitro sticks away from it. We don't want to damage the house and hurt Roddie or Vinnie. You go left." Modo nodded and headed right. "Your other left!" Throttle yelled before his black bike roared into action.
Modo pressed the ignition button on a nitro stick while Li'l Hoss steered herself. He hurled it into the field away from the house. A cloud of dirt blossomed up. Throttle's first nitro stick demolished part of the stone wall on the north side of the house. Modo tossed his next one behind the house and saw how the van was parked next to a pair of doors leading underground. Throttle's second made a crater in the front yard.
The man burst out the front door firing a laser rifle. Modo and Throttle both did a one-eighty to face him, but kept out of range of his blasts. "Now you come out of hiding, Throttle! The little half-breed means more to you than Mother!" He fired again and Throttle's bike backed away because Throttle had gone slack.
"Turbo?" he said as the man marched closer. "Turbo? Why?"
Modo whirled his bike around. "Yank the crank, Li'l Darlin', on my mark." Li'l Hoss beeped as he watched over his shoulder.
"Why! She suffered Eroite because you hid like a coward!" The furious man jerked the rifle up to his shoulder.
"Yank!" The grappling hook shot out from under Modo's seat and impaled the rifle. The rope immediately contracted, sending the weapon flying through the air.
Without the gun, Throttle's bike charged forward. Throttle screamed with rage, fist raised to punch him. Turbo evaded the charge and Throttle skidded into a stop to face him again.
Sirens wailed down the road. Modo ignited one more nitro stick and tossed it away from the house, Throttle, and this Turbo guy, just in case the police couldn't figure out where they were. Unfortunately, the blast distracted Throttle's attention on Turbo and the older man bolted around the house. Modo cursed under his breath and pivoted to circle around the house.
The van was peeling out when Modo cleared the house. Throttle tried to cut him off, but the van plowed through the hole in the stone fence to get to the road. Modo idled next to Throttle. "Do we chase him?"
The younger boy shook with anger. "Let the police get him. Safer for him. He came out of the house; he probably moved Roddie and Vinnie inside. Let's find them first."
He pointed his thumb over his shoulder. "Doors."
Throttle nodded and climbed off his bike. She trailed after him, beeping continuously. Modo followed him. The doors opened into a dark stairwell going into the ground. The black bike turned on her headlight without prompting. Throttle clattered down the stone staircase to the metal door at the bottom. It opened into a windowless cellar as big as the whole house.
"Please wake up, Vinnie. We gotta get out of here before he comes back. Wake up!" Two tall lamps lit up the unfurnished room.
Throttle ran past the pair of metal poles set up in the center to get to the white-furred boy lying against the far wall and ground and the black-furred girl crouching next to him. "Roddie!"
"Throttle!" She met him half way, gripping his body tight enough to strangle. "He's gonna kill us!"
He hugged her. "He's gone. The police are coming. He's not killing anyone else."
Modo realized the metal poles had shackles and chains attached to them. He shuddered, thinking of a horror story he had been told as a child. He next to Vinnie. A bruise on his face was dark enough to see under his white fur, but he was still breathing. "Roddie, what happened to Vinnie?"
"Vinnie punched that guy in the nuts and then he threw him across the room. And then Vinnie jumped on his back and tried to choke him, but he pulled him off and I think he broke his arm. Then he threw Vinnie against the wall, and the explosions started and he left, but Vinnie closed his eyes and he won't answer me!" She ended with a high pitched wail that caused Modo and Throttle to wince.
"What's going on down here?" The uniformed man dropped his gun down to his side when he saw there were only children in the room.
Throttle patted Roddie's back as he faced the police officer. "We can explain everything, but our friend needs medical attention." The police officer looked dubious down at Vinnie. Throttle's tail slashed through the air and Modo could feel his glare at the cop even though his shades hid it. "If you want our statements, I suggest you bring a medic now."
"Hey kid, don't tell me how to do my job."
Modo interrupted. "We have the right to remain silent until we have counseled with our lawyer. And probably our parents or legal guardians. Gosh, what would the news do to you for keeping a medic from a kid who was kidnapped and beaten? Not to mention our lawyers, my mother, your guardians. Guess I should go up to my bike and start makin' some calls. Your uncle is at work, right?" He turned to Throttle while keeping the cop in sight.
The cop growled before he pulled out his own radio unit. "I need a medic downstairs. Unconscious male child."
Throttle had nodded to Modo who had smirked. And his sister had made fun of him watching Perry Mouson every time it was on.
Modo sighed. Momma had gotten the whole story out of Throttle while they waited with Vinnie at the hospital, and he had discovered what he thought was a horror story was true. Throttle's parents had been killed in Eroite. No one had found Turbo after that.
Vinnie's red racer moved up along side him. "I can't believe the bastard is still alive."
"The police told Cutlass he probably stole a ship and left Mars."
The white mouse waved it away. "I remember. But with so many people dead in the war, it helped me sleep at night to think a Plutarkian bomb landed on him."
"That doesn't sound very healthy."
"I think Mom missed the opportunity to put me in therapy. What's the plan?"
Modo stared at the street ahead. The John Hancock Center was coming closer on the right. "Flank 'em. Turbo's gonna hear our bikes coming so make it count."
"I'll come up from the lake side. You take this one?"
Modo nodded, "Let's rock!"
Charley twisted her wrists in front of her. The rope didn't give way and her fingers couldn't reach the knots. She slumped against the huge red and white antennae Turbo had tied her to. She could untie that, but trying to get away with tied hands and a crazy mouse chasing her? Yeah, the odds looked good on escape. Turbo sat cross-legged on the rooftop and stared at her. He never blinked. "Check out the lake view, will you? You're giving me the creeps."
"How long have you known them?" He didn't avert his blue eyes.
"You threatened me and Throttle, kidnapped me, tied me up on top of a cold-ass building without my jacket, and now you want to make small talk?"
"I'm just trying not to be rude. It's not that I want to kill you, but the rules are clear. Sorry."
"I can almost believe you and Throttle are related with your insistence on the rules. The difference is Throttle doesn't follow any to commit murder!"
"Yet, he leads your tiny battle against the Plutarkian Empire." He smirked, "That little inconsistency doesn't bother you?" Charley kept her mouth shut. She guessed the subtle difference between fighting to make the galaxy better and cold-blooded murder would be lost on Turbo. "Or maybe you just sensed the truth. Throttle's hands have been bloody since he was four years old."
"You know what? A change in topic is a good idea because I'm sick of you calling a four-year-old a murderer. I met the Biker Mice the same night they crashed here. They broke my window, shot a hole in my garage door, and drove through my wall, but they saved me from getting beat up by Greasepit because I wouldn't sell out to Limburger."
Turbo's smile never reached his eyes. "You weren't fighting off Limburger's goons yourself?"
Charley's lips twisted, remembering the futility of that fight. "I trapped him with my lift and he tore it apart. The creep is huge and that's an unfair advantage; kinda like your tail."
"Everyone alive has an unfair advantage over someone else," he shrugged.
"I am so not interested in your philosophies on life."
"Because how could someone who concentrates so much on death have anything meaningful to say on living."
He threw back his head with a laugh. "If other humans are like you, I feel sorry for the Plutarkians."
She looked over Chicago's lighted vista. She felt sick to her stomach, but she had to keep trying. She had to make him give this up. "They'd be in worse shape if you would just leave us alone."
"What kind of son would I be if I let Throttle get away with killing our mother?" The worst thing was how apologetic the bastard sounded. "If Throttle wanted you safe, he should have left you alone. Just be glad that you didn't have any children with him. They won't suffer Eroite."
"Yippee," Charley said in a flat voice.
"Just giving you a bright side. The law of Eroite constrains me as well as you. I'd prefer to enjoy your body rather than skin it," he spread his hands, "but there you have it. I can't break the law either."
She felt the blood draining from her head, leaving her dizzy. "What?"
"They never told you what Eroite is either. Still just a bunch of immature brats who never suffered. Or is it that I find you attractive the true shocker?" His gaze left her face to stare into the sky. "Tamara was a mechanic too. Throttle's father made her give up our garage. Wasn't right for his wife to work at what she loved. She was feisty, but you're angrier. She fought until the very end. How long will you fight? Not many aliens have undergone Eroite, so time of death is unclear." While Charley fought down nausea, he prattled on. "They say you seek your parent in a mate. Is Throttle like your father?"
"I can't believe we're having this conversation." Her shivers were only partly from the wind.
"I can't believe you thought you could lie when I can smell him all over you." His brown-furred snout wrinkled. "Are human noses that weak?"
The surrealism of the guy promising to kill her also calling her attractive and comparing her to his dead mother broke through her freak-out guards. Tears pooled in her green eyes. Turbo was going to kill her. Throttle would think she didn't love him any more because they never had a chance to talk.
Turbo jumped to his feet. "One motorcycle coming." He untied the rope around her waist, faced the city side of the building with her, and pressed her laser pistol against her head. "You can always depend on Throttle?"
"I always could."
The black bike roared up the side of the building and landed on the rooftop. Throttle pulled off his helmet and dismounted. His leather vest was zipped up around him.
"You always did like to make a splashy entrance, baby brother. Some things never change."
"Like you picking someone younger and weaker instead of fighting me, Turbo? A coward at ten, at twenty, and at thirty-two; some things never change alright."
Turbo growled. "Don't talk to me 'bout cowardice. Your act of cowardice killed Mother!"
"At least she didn't see how you turned out." Only Throttle's head fur moved in the breeze off Lake Michigan despite the laser pistol now pointed at him.
"You have no right to talk about her! You killed her!"
"Don't you think it's time to let go of that game of hide 'n seek? We've lost twenty-two years."
"I lost!" His grip around Charley tightened. "If you had died, she would have lived and it would have been good again. But you were too damn selfish and killed her! Selfish like your goddamn father who should have left her alone!" His right arm quivered but not enough to take the pistol off target. "If he hadn't married her and you hadn't hid, Tamara would still be alive!"
"And if you hadn't brought the ones seeking the alenish to our home, she'd still be alive."
"They were gonna kill you! If you'd died, she'd be alive!"
"I'm tired of arguing about it. Let Charley go and we'll settle this for good."
Charley felt Turbo's chest vibrate with his chuckle. "Cute, baby brother, cute. She already tried the friends with benefits route and I didn't believe her. You think I'm gonna believe you when you're trying to save your woman?"
"She's a fling." Charley's heart stopped with Throttle's cold tone. "She keeps our bikes running and I pay her back in dates. We both have fun. But you know Eroite only applies to mates."
Charley let out a brittle laugh. "Him? He keeps his damn word to Limburger and company. He's not capable of lying."
Turbo shifted his head to look her in the face. She stared ahead between buildings and saw the corn cob condos on the riverbank. Throttle was trying to get her out of this, and she would agree with everything he said. But her heart ached over the "fling" comment.
"I don't believe you. Take off the shades and convince me."
Throttle slid the shades off. "She's just a fling," he repeated and his deadpan expression didn't change. Charley's heart squeezed.
"What the hell happened to your eyes?" If you had missed his earlier rants, you could believe that tone of concern.
"They're cybernetic replacements," Throttle snapped. "I was wounded in the war and thank you for bringing it up."
Turbo started to speak then stopped. He pulled Charley back with a snarl. "I told you to come alone!"
"And I did. But you didn't say anything 'bout turning off your recording."
"You son of a rat!" Vinnie and Modo's bikes leaped onto the rooftop. Turbo pulled the trigger.
Charley screamed as Throttle's body flew backwards. His shades skidded to a stop near her feet. Vinnie and Modo's cries were matched by all the guns on their bikes popping out.
Turbo's chest heaved and he jammed the barrel of the laser pistol against Charley's head again. "Save the macho posturing! You're not gonna shoot the woman and we all know it."
Modo's eye glowed. He glanced at Throttle's prone body before looking at Turbo again. "Give us Charley and you can leave Chicago alive."
Turbo chuckled as he scooped up Throttle's shades with his tail. "Such a generous offer. Too bad I don't need it." Charley heard the familiar whine of a transport remote unit before the rooftop scene vanished in blue light.