Biker Mice From Mars
Wars Are Won
Turbo Part Two

Limburger looked up as the blue light flashed in his office. The brown-furred mouse had returned his tail whipping around behind him. He also held Charley with a gun pressed against her head. The Plutarkian sighed and closed the laptop on his desk. "So when should I expect the valiant vermin?"

The mouse tossed a pair of shades onto the desk with his tail. Limburger gasped. They were the same shades the tan mouse always wore.

Charley jerked out of Turbo's grip. Her tear-stained face glared at Limburger while her tied hands snatched the shades. "Don't you dare touch them, you fat fish!"

"He's dead." Limburger hardly dared to say it out loud, but the human woman's lips trembled as tears filled her eyes. "He's really dead. You really did it."

Turbo jerked her from the desk. "Not the way I wanted to."

"Do you realize how many times I've tried to kill him? Artistic touches hardly matter. At this point, I'm happy with a corpse."

Charley pressed her lips together to keep in her sob. She held the shades to her breasts as she looked down.

"I don't expect you to understand," Turbo snapped. "Take your pleasure how you want."

"Yes, good advice, thank you. I'll call a couple of goons to escort the female to a cell."

The mouse shook his head. "She's coming with me. Compensation, as it were." He lifted Charley's chin. She swung her fisted hands at his jaw, but he leaned away and wrapped his tail around her arms and torso. He jerked her into the air. "Do you want to leave her where the other two can rescue her? She's the only one who could lead them like Throttle did."

"Well, when you put it like that. And given how little you asked for the removal of one of the thorns in my side." A nasty smile filtered through his mask. "Au revior, Miss Davidson. I will be sure to tell the two remaining vile voles how much you will miss them."

The look of terror on her face before she and the mouse vanished in a blue flash warmed his soul. Not enough people on this planet gave him that look. He needed to improve that. He reopened his laptop humming the Plutarkian greeting under his breath.

Sparks wrapped his tail around his leg. No radio chatter. There was always radio chatter when they went after Limburger's goons. Dad said it was worse. His gut clenched. Cheese, they should be talking. He turned away from the silent radio equipment. It went back to Eroite, the only thing he had ever seen Roddie frightened of. But nobody would tell him what it was.

The only book they had brought from Mars was a compilation of racing stats for the last hundred years. The rest of the books and videos were from Earth. Yeah, that would tell him what he needed to know.

Maybe Throttle's personal stuff had the answer. Sparks chewed on his lip. He didn't like snooping. Why didn't they just tell him what was going on so he didn't have to snoop?

Throttle had two drawers in the dresser, but they were filled with clothes. If he did have something he didn't want anybody to see, the best place to store it would be his bike. Sparks snorted to himself.

A bike engine roared in Quigley Field. He turned to the outside door and his heart sank. A bright blue bike shot inside the scoreboard. Her split wheels parallel to the ground drew together to make proper wheels before she parked on the floor. Tala pulled off her space helmet. "Where is Vinnie, so I can give him a reason to get another mask!"

"He and Dad went after Throttle. Something bad is going on."

The blonde haired human sighed as she dismounted. "Throttle came to my building, said Charley's life is on the line, and was," she huffed, "acting crazy. He didn't have Modo or Vinnie with him, and he didn't want any backup."

"Dad said he turned off his tracking device. And Vinnie only heard the message that some Turbo guy had Charley by accident." Sparks stuffed his hands into his jean pockets. "Do you know what Eroite is?"

Tala shook her head before slapping her forehead. She turned on the CB unit on her bike. "Hey MC, got a definition for Eroite? Martian term."

"A ceremonial transfer of a hereditary title alenish. Alenish loosely translates to clan leader," the feminine computerized voice answered through the speaker.

"Does it say how the transfer is done? 'Cause Throttle was talking death."

"The secondary definition is title death, Mistress Tala."

"Roddie always said to tell people I wasn't related to her," Sparks added. "Do you think they have to kill everyone who could inherit the title before it transfers?"

"Sounds like a good assumption to make. Now I have to find them. I got a gut feeling that the mouse scouts are in over their ears." She mounted her bike again.

"Wait! Take me with you!"

Tala grimaced. "Sparks, if your father didn't want you in the middle of this…."

"He just said to stay safe. I think I'm a lot safer with you than here. What if that Turbo guy decides he needs a new hostage? Plus I know where they went to see him."

Her shoulders slumped. "Get on." Sparks grabbed his space helmet and climbed on behind her. "Where are we going?"

"The John Hancock Center rooftop."

Tala pushed on her helmet. "Flight mode!" The bright blue bike with the white lightening bolt racing stripe beeped as it jumped. The wheels split apart again and spread out.

Sparks wrapped his arms around her waist as they moved into the night air with a pulse of magnetic energy. "This gives me a perfect opportunity to discuss transportation options with you."

Vinnie fell to his knees with a heart wrenching scream. He bent face first down beating his fists against the rooftop. Modo pulled off his helmet, not bothering to blot the tears streaming from his eye. Throttle's body didn't move. What were they going to do now? How could they rescue Charley without Throttle to tell them what to do? How could they even stop Limburger from destroying Chicago?

He pulled Vinnie upright to stop him from beating a hole through the building. The white mouse's muscles felt clenched. The bloodshot eyes almost matched his bike, and his face fur and his flex-steel mask were dripping wet. "He has to pay. He has to pay!"

"I know." Modo swallowed hard as he knelt next to Vinnie. So how do we find him swirled inside his head. He couldn't make the questions come out of his mouth. Even Charley would have a plan to put into action. He never was good at planning; he was the muscle. And Vinnie couldn't plan right now. "At least, Throttle's not skinned." Vinnie bowed his head with a sob.

A bike engine filled the air. Modo looked up to see Tala's bike land next to their bikes. "Dad!" Sparks scrambled off first and wrapped his arms around his neck in a hug. Modo held him there with his flesh arm.

Tala dismounted and stuffed her hands into the pockets of her white leather motorcycle jacket. She moved around the perimeter until she reached Throttle's body. She snorted with a grimace. "What happened?"

"The bastard shot Throttle and took Charley." Vinnie didn't look up.

"The bastard is Turbo?" Modo nodded, not trusting himself to speak. He wasn't surprised she knew Turbo. Who knew what he had been doing since he left Mars. Tala turned back to Throttle's body and kicked his hip.

"Hey!" Modo snapped. He knew Tala and Throttle irritated each other, but still. "Show some respect."

She leaned over Throttle. "Since your plan so obviously failed, get up, and tell us what's going on!"

Modo opened his mouth to ask her if she knew what damage a laser blast to the chest does, but Throttle groaned before he could say anything. Vinnie pivoted on his knees to face Throttle. Their bro sat up and pulled the burnt remains of his leather vest away from his body. An aqua-blue chest plate covered his torso. "Aaawoo," came from Vinnie, but at a subdued volume. Modo grinned and couldn't stop.

Tala shook her head. "Boys, check for a pulse before planning the funeral."

Throttle felt the back of his head. "Should've kept my helmet." He looked up with a blink. "Why don't you guys have Charley?"

"Turbo had a transport remote," Modo explained. "We never had a chance to grab her."

His eyelids narrowed over his cybernetic red eyes. "How long?"

"Just a few minutes."

He stood. "Tala, we need your transport unit to lock onto Turbo's base unit."

"Time out." Tala planted her hands on her hips. "I'm not asking for a lot here. I just want to know what the hell is going on!" Her lips pressed together tighter while Throttle remained silent.

"He took Charley to kill her. Do you need more detail than that?"

"How much of your fighting style does he know? How often has he tried to kill you? What kind of equipment does he have access to, can he break a transport unit lock? Why does he want to kill you and Charley?"

Throttle shook his head. "We don't have time for this. Are you helping or not?"

"Fine, I'm in for Charley. But as soon as the crisis is over, I am getting answers even if I have to skin them out of you."

Vinnie moved before anyone else, grabbing Tala's arm and whirling her around to see his face. "Do not joke about that. Never again. And never to Throttle."

She wiped away some of the captured tears on his furry cheek. "I'm sorry." She turned back to Throttle. "I don't handle frustration well. I wouldn't actually do that." Vinnie let go of her arm with a nod and wiped his face.

"Charley's counting on us," Throttle said. "Let's rock…."

"And ride!" Everyone remounted and roared off the John Hancock Center.

For the third time, Throttle had upset his carefully laid plans that should have worked. Turbo and Charley rematerialized inside the transport unit in the cargo bay of his Thunderpipe. She kicked him repeatedly in the close quarters. His ears rang from the scream she aimed right into his ear. The toes of her boots connected with his knees and he stumbled out of the cylindrical transport unit. He landed on his side, but she kept her feet. She wrapped a hand around his tail and held on while throwing her weight back. The pain caused him to loosen his grip around her.

Charley rolled from his reach and ran for the door that led outside the ship. Turbo cursed as he lurched to his feet. He should have tied her hands behind her back, but given how sadly she fought before, he hadn't thought it necessary.

The door rolled up as the ramp descended to the rooftop of Limburger's building. The human female glanced over her shoulder at him before ducking to wiggle out through the space available.

Turbo cursed as he crawled after her. His tail wrapped around both her ankles and pulled into the air. He climbed to his feet and reversed the opening door, and then locked it. She was a mechanic familiar with Martian technology, after all.

Her chestnut hair brushed against the floor and her green eyes glared up at him. "You sick bastard. Let me go and fight fair!"

He winced. "Does that mean you get a mute button?" She opened her mouth to scream again, and he jumped in. "Surprised you even feel that you have anything to live for with your precious Throttle gone."

She closed her eyes against the despair that filled her face. But when she opened them, he almost took a step back from the rage that radiated from them. "I don't know what kind of women you are used to dealing with, you motherfucker, but you don't know the first thing about me."

"Leave my mother out of this. You have even less right than Throttle did to speak about her."

"Oh, I'm sure she's real proud of her son Cain right now."

He ignored her taunts. She was trying to goad him into making a mistake. He would salvage this fiasco as best he could. He moved past his bike to the ship's radio controls and programmed the music.

You'll beat me?
Bring it on! Bring it on!
You're gonna save the day?
Bring it on! Bring it on!
You ready? Bring it on!
I'll show you another thing or two!

Letting the music sooth his wounded pride, he carried her upside down into the rest of the ship. He stopped at the first cabin. Only his tail crossed the threshold as he dropped Charley on her ass inside the small room. "You have to change."

She looked at the loincloths lying on the metal shelf intended to be the sleeping bunk of the cabin. "In your dreams, asshole. Slobber the Mutt didn't get me into a Slave Leia costume and you won't either!"

You may think you're clever but you're not
You better get the coffins out!
Trust me kid that's where you're sleeping tonight!
There's no guarantee we'll get out alive
Stop you're whining! Let's get busy!
Baby, it's time to lock and load!
Stop you're whining! Let's get busy!

"I'm trying to spare your dignity. Dress yourself in the ceremonial loincloths or I will have to dress you. Which do you prefer?"

"Ritualized rape that you want me to cooperate with? You're psychotic and you've been sniffing exhaust fumes!" Charley stood and tensed her body to fight him again.

Welcome to the show,
it's a story that you've heard a thousand times
So take a seat and get lost with me,
this tale will never stop being told
Welcome to the show,
it's a chance to save the world or lose the girl
Let's save the world! Heroes will save the day!

He laughed. "Is that why you're fighting so hard? I'm not going to rape you. What kind of man do you think I am?"

You may think you've won
but I promise you
it's not over!
You may think you've won
but I promise you
it's not over!

"Do you really want me to answer that?" She glanced at the loincloths and then at him.

"Rape has no part in Eroite. Those are the ceremonial loincloths to allow easy access to the pelt before total nudity is necessary for the proper knife work. If you would prefer to start with total nudity, I can accommodate you."

The pale color of her skin had taken a greenish hue. "You said I was compensation."

"For not being able to perform Eroite on Throttle. Did you think his death saved your hide?"

This could be our one last chance
to finally rise up
So here we stand and here we will fight
None of us shall run
from anyone
Storms are gathering
There's no guarantee we'll get out alive
Stop you're whining! Let's get busy!
We have to rise above and fight
We'll be heroes!

Charley scanned the walls of the six-foot-wide room for an escape path. "I don't understand. Throttle's dead." She squeezed the shades in her hand. It impressed him that she had fought while holding them. "Throttle's the one you wanted to kill."

"How many times do we have to go over this?" Turbo shook his head. He expected whoever Throttle hooked up with to be smarter than this. "Skin the entire bloodline to make the mantle of alenish before you can wear it. Skin the women who carry the potential bloodline." He looked away, remembering the first time he heard the laws. "You think you are beyond the laws because you are an alien? Because Throttle did not claim you as a mate? You could still carry his bloodline."

Welcome to the show,
it's a story that you've heard a thousand times
So take a seat and get lost with me,
this tale will never stop being told
Welcome to the show,
it's a chance to save the world or lose the girl
Let's save the world! Heroes will save the day!

"Without having sex? I'm pretty sure that's not possible without sex!"


"Sorry? You're going to kill me because I could be pregnant and you're sorry! I don't even get a pregnancy test first?"

"Laws were created before pregnancy tests, and nobody wanted to keep a prisoner until it was undeniable. Stop acting like this is my fault."

This is the part where you are supposed to scream!
When you scream we'll be heroes!

Her jaw fell open before she recovered to protest again. "You are going to kill me." She pointed at him with her tied hands. "Who else's fault can it possible be!"

Turbo stepped into the cabin and undid the restraint around her wrists. Hope blossomed in her eyes, until he grabbed her upper arms and leaned into her face. "You made love to the alenish and sealed your fate. Throttle killed my mother and sealed mine. But I make the most of my situation." The tip of his tail trailed along her jaw. "I will have to take my pleasure in watching your red blood flow into the catch basin and then dump it onto the sands of Mars." He shoved her and she caught herself against the back wall. "Chose how you are going to meet death." He stepped back, not taking his eyes off her, until he was back in the hall. He had locked the door and headed to the cockpit before she started pounding on the metal.

He admired her persistence and hoped she would continue to fight. His pants tightened as he thought about her unblemished body before it was covered in blood. Too bad he was honest with how the ceremony was performed. Otherwise, he could have stripped her before skinning her. He sat in the pilot seat and started the preflight sequence.

Once the ship had left the city, he could turn on the automatic pilot to establish an orbit around the Earth. The engines throbbed with power, vibrating the entire ship, as it lifted off Limburger's Tower. He reached the proper altitude and set the auto pilot. He got up with a stretch.

Welcome to the show,
it's a story that you've heard a thousand times
So take a seat and get lost with me,
this tale will never stop being told
Welcome to the show,
it's a chance to save the world or lose the girl
Let's save the world!
Heroes will always save the day!
Let's save the world!
Heroes will save the day!
Let's save the world!
Heroes will always save the day!

Turbo headed down the hallway toward his prisoner. He didn't open Charley's cell, but went into the larger cabin next to hers. All furniture was gone, except for a small table beside the pair of metal poles. He pulled an ornate box from the closet and set it on the table. The chest was painted red and gold, accenting the scenes of the Eroite ceremony on the panels. He always liked the scene on the lid, a male mouse wearing a cape stitched together of other mouse skins. He never heard of anyone actually wearing it, but it fit the poetics of the laws right enough. He opened the chest, pulling the large knife out before the bottle of anticoagulant. He paused in his preparation. What if it didn't work on the human female?

The way his luck had gone his entire life, it probably wouldn't. But it was too late to stop. He coated the blade with the anticoagulant. After closing the box, he turned to the metal poles. The chains were strong enough to restrain him, but he tested them again-even though the woman was weaker.

He had replaced the floor under the poles with grating over the catch basin. The blood had to be poured on the sands of Mars, but he wouldn't keep a prisoner all the way to Mars, even with the original plan. He snorted to himself. He knew better than to trust Throttle that long, and his woman was just as bad. Turbo sighed. It was time to end this. He left the killing room and opened Charley's cell.

She sat on the bunk, turning Throttle's shades in her hands. She had changed into the loincloths. Two sections of material tied together above her hip bones made the bottom half of the outfit. They were cut to cover her groin and ass, but created a split between them and revealed her long, creamy legs. A long, skinny piece of the same material wrapped around the back of her neck and descended over her pert breasts before being tied behind her back. The creamy skin over the rest of her body was unblemished and looked as soft as a pelt would be. "No wonder Throttle had been smitten into even something as pathetic as a fling."

Charley flushed and the red tint spread over her face and down her neck. "Do I get a last request under Eroite?"

"Depends on what your last request is." He remembered it was an Earth custom to ask for something when the humans were about to die.

"Don't talk about me and Throttle ever again." She gripped Throttle's shades as she stood.

"That can be granted. Anything else?"

"I doubt turning the ship around and letting me go is allowed, so let's just get this over with." She didn't flinch or wince.

"You're braver than I thought you'd be."

Her green eyes bored into him. "Maybe because I have someone waiting for me."

He pulled her into the hall. She didn't resist. "Or maybe you don't know what you face." She looked at the poles inside the killing room. "Remind you of something?" As far as he knew, the humans didn't have skinning frames.

"A memory I wasn't supposed to see." Tears glistened in her eyes. "No wonder he didn't want to go back."

Turbo yanked her forward. No compassion for what he had lost; no, it was all given to Throttle. He locked her left wrist in first. Her right hand fisted around the shades. He knelt to lock in her ankles before pressing the cinch control button at the base of the right pole. The slack in the chains disappeared as she was stretched spread-eagle between the poles. He pressed the next button to control the pole extension. "On Mars, this would be used last. To raise the skinned body high in the sky so the carrion eaters have to work extra hard." Her navel was eyelevel with him and he stopped raising them. "I'm afraid I cheat a little to make it easier to do."

"Typical. You give a shit about breaking the rules over murdering someone, but you do break the rules to spare your knees." Charley glared at him before looking straight ahead again. "Though I don't know why you made it so hard to cut my throat."

"Cut your throat? Throat, head, hands, and feet are the only parts not skinned." What she meant dawned on him. "You think you die first. No, those undergoing Eroite are skinned alive." He turned to the table. "I have to apologize for my technique. I've never skinned anything hairless before. I'm not sure what a difference that makes."

"What the hell is wrong with you? They killed your mother by skinning her alive and you're continuing the cycle!"

Turbo picked up the knife, weighing the heft of it. "Because the laws are written in the blood of countless generations, soaked into the sand and stone of an entire world. No one escapes the laws of war, bloodshed, and Eroite. Not my mother, not you, not me." He held of her right leg and made the first cut across the skin above the shackle. Her body thrashed and he lost his grip, unable to complete the cut around her entire calf. He watched her breathe through her clenched jaw. "The only escape is the peace of the grave."

"And it's time you had that peace, Turbo." Throttle said behind him.

Charley forgot to breathe. When the ship took off, she had given up because there was no way Vinnie and Modo could rescue her in space. Throttle was dead, and what was left? Let the crazy bastard kill her and desecrate her body. It's not like she had a lot of people who would come to her funeral. But Throttle walked into the room with Vinnie and Modo flanking, and they looked ready to kill. She didn't care that she had never seen them so furious or that they had never seen her with less than a bathing suit on or that Throttle had called her a fling or that tears trailed down her cheeks. The one she loved was alive.

Turbo whirled with a snarl. Throttle's leather vest hung open-the zipper had been burnt away-and showed the aqua-blue chest plate that looked a lot like Tala's armor. Turbo screamed inarticulately and threw the knife.

"No!" Vinnie shoved Throttle. The tan mouse stumbled out of the knife's path. The blade buried into Vinnie's chest under his shoulder. Modo caught Vinnie before he landed on the floor. Turbo ran out of the room.

"Sandblasted, Vinnie! I know how to duck." Throttle tore off his neck bandanna and pressed it down around the knife. "Don't pull it out. Not until we get medical help."

Modo nodded, his expression pinched. Vinnie grinned. "It's only a flesh wound, bro. 'Sides, you got distracted by Charley." He pressed one of his expandable flares into Throttle's hand.

Throttle looked alarmed at the blood running down her foot. His tail wrapped around her waist, and lit the flare. The shackle around her injured leg fell away. The flare extinguished after he freed her legs. He squeezed her with his tail as he pulled out his laser pistol. "Hold still." The precision shots broke the chains, leaving the shackles on her wrists like bracelets. He drew her into his arms and held her against his chest. "Charley."

She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him hard. He kept one arm around her waist, while his other hand went under her hair and pressed her closer. They broke apart to breathe. "I thought you were dead." She chuckled as the tears flowed again. "God, I should've known better."

"He fooled us too, Charley-ma'am," Modo said.

"Sorry, that wasn't part of the plan." Throttle held her off the ground. "Are you cut anywhere else?" She shook her head and he set her next to Vinnie and Modo. He wrapped his wrist bandanna tightly around her leg. The cut wasn't deep enough to need stitches, but it was bleeding freely. "Get 'em back to Tala's, Modo."

The grey mouse's eye opened wide. "What about you?"

Throttle helped Charley up, making sure she could stand on her leg. "This ends tonight."

Charley gripped his arm. "Throttle."

He winced. "Don't. I have to finish this or he'll keep coming after us."

"I know. Fighting for the past." She slid his shades back on his face. "I love you. Now, go whip his tail!"

Throttle kissed her again without saying anything before he bolted into the hallway.

"I can't believe you did that." Modo shifted Vinnie in his arms so the white mouse could lean against him but kept his flesh hand pressed around the knife.

"There's no way to rehabilitate Turbo." And hopefully Modo would drop it, because he wouldn't agree with her plan. Neither would Vinnie or Throttle but neither one of them could stop her. She borrowed Vinnie's laser pistol from his holster.

"Don't blame the Big Fella, Charley-girl." Vinnie's voice thickened with pain. "He's never had to hear one of Turbo's Throttle-must-die rants."

"That's a good way to describe them." Charley copied Modo's rapid scan of their surroundings as they eased down the hallway. They didn't need Turbo to surprise them with Vinnie injured. They made it to the ship's hold without incident. Charley noticed the second hallway branching off but she ignored it, heading straight to the transport unit controls. She had a handful of times of working on Karbunkle's, but she understood how they worked. "It's locked onto Tala's unit."

"Set the timer." Modo carried Vinnie into the cylinder machine.

"Sorry, Modo." The doors slid shut on his surprised face and she activated the transport sequence. The machine flashed a blue light and Charley programmed in a lock to prevent them from transporting back. She turned, gun held ready, and ears straining to hear footsteps or fists pummeling. She heard nothing.

First, she wanted her clothes and boots back on. Then she could find the cockpit or a computer to track Throttle and Turbo. She felt good about this plan as she headed down the hall back to the room Turbo had kept her prisoner in.

She moved down the hall on her bare feet, keeping close to the wall. She looked into the branching hallway, but no one was lurking there. She breathed easier upon reaching the cell door, and lowered the gun to unlock it. She gaped into Turbo's smirking face as the metal door slid away.

"You should have run." He lunged at her.

Charley fired the laser pistol. Too bad it wasn't aimed at him. His tackle slammed her on her back. She kicked with her knee and Turbo pushed off her to avoid it. She twisted onto her stomach underneath him. She reached for the laser pistol, knocked centimeters out of reach.

Turbo chuckled as he grabbed her wrist. She drove her free elbow into him, but he shifted and it glanced off his ribs. His tail wrapped around her free arm and pulled it straight so she couldn't use it. "Scream for me," he purred into her ear.

"Go to hell!"

He pulled her onto her knees with him and traced a design on her exposed stomach with his free fingers. "Scream for Throttle to save you."

"You honestly have no clue." She drove her right foot into him. It never would have worked if he hadn't been holding her upright. His hold on her arms weakened and she lunged for the laser pistol. She felt something whoosh above when she got her fingers around the purple metal. The sound of colliding bodies and punches filled the hall behind her. She held the gun, ready to shoot, as she pivoted to sit on the floor.

Turbo punched Throttle in the jaw and dislodged the tan mouse. The brown mouse ran into the branching hallway. Throttle sat up, rubbing his jaw. "Damnit, Charley, I wanted you safe!"

"Deal with it! You wouldn't leave me alone to fight my demons and I'm not leaving you alone to fight yours." She made sure the material covered what it was supposed to. "But I won't argue against a break so I can change clothes."

He climbed to his feet. "No time. I want to keep Turbo from getting away."

"I locked the transport unit." She looked into the open cell. Five seconds to pull on her jeans.

"You can guard the cockpit." Throttle grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the cell and the cargo hold.

"I don't know how to fly a spaceship!"

"It's a Cyclodrone Thunderpipe. Controls are based off a bike's. But you shouldn't need to drive. Just keep Turbo from taking us away from Earth." The hallway merged with the second hallway and a door waited at the end. It slid open before them, revealing a room with a window stretching across the front wall. A long bike seat with a set of chopper handle bars sat in the center of the window. Another bank of computer screens was on the right side of the room. Earth's moon loomed large in the window, but they hadn't reached it yet.

Throttle released her hand as he moved to the controls next to the handle bars. "We haven't reached orbit yet. I think we can reverse the automatic pilot."

Charley counted crashed spaceships silently. "What's wrong with orbit? It's not like he plotted a course to Mars."

"Plutarkians are out here too and we're in a distinctive Martian spaceship." He pressed buttons. "I'd rather skip getting shot back down on Earth again."

"That's a good point." She saw movement out of the corner of her eye and whirled. Turbo stood in the door with a laser pistol. "Look out!" She shot first, hitting the brown mouse in the shoulder.

The hit jerked Turbo's shot off target and it hit the console stretched under the window. Throttle dropped and rolled away while saying something in Martian. His shots hit the doorframe as Turbo backed away. "Lock the door!" Throttle chased after him.

Charley tried to work the door controls, but a blast had hit it. Without tools, she couldn't even find the wires that powered the door within the melted slag. There was a high pitched whine behind her. The console around the bike seat sparked. She ducked against the wall covering her head with her arms just in time for the boom. It didn't throw any debris into the room, so she looked back at the controls. Smoke billowed from them. "Great." The entire spaceship shuddered and the moon moved across the window. "Oh no!"

She rushed to the window, waving the smoke away from her face. The Cyclodrone Thunderpipe had turned back toward Earth, and kept spinning. Earth got closer and the moon when it swung into view was further away. "This can't be good!" She coughed and moved through the smoke to reach the handle bars. Her arms strained to straighten the spin like she would on a bike. Her knees squeezed the seat between them as she threw her weight against the handlebars. The shake of the ship transferred through the handle bars. Charley clenched her jaw to keep her teeth from vibrating. The stressed metal whined and the handlebars snapped off where they attached to the console. She ducked out of the smoke and blinked her watery eyes at the broken bits of metal with sliced wires dangling from them. "This is a serious design flaw!" She shook the handlebars before tossing them aside.

She found a less-smoke-filled section of the window. Good news, the moon had stopped spinning into view. Bad news, the North American land mass grew larger. Charley's eyes widened. "What are the odds there is a safety manual in here?" She tore into the storage bins hoping against gut-sinking realization.

Tala clenched her fist to keep her fingers from wrapping around the closest furry throat, which at the moment was Vinnie's. Her code of ethics wouldn't let her injure the wounded; no matter how badly they were driving her crazy. She held him upright with his tail wrapped around her torso to add support. His good arm kept the knife in his wound and pressed the bandanna to staunch the flow of blood. Modo and Sparks both worked the transport unit controls with input from MC.

Sparks looked up at his father. "It's no good; I can't break her lock."

Modo's shoulders slumped. "Can't we teleport right next to the unit?"

MC answered first. "The technology does not work that way, Biker Modo."

"Throttle's gonna kill me."

"You need to go to my medbay." Most times you had to point out the sane conclusion to them, but especially Vinnie. Tala thought she sounded saintly patient.

"Gotta help Throttle and Charley."

"How? By bleeding on Turbo?"

Vinnie slumped heavier against her. "Don't expect a loner like you to understand."

Oh, Mouse Scout asked for it. "Just because you haven't met them and I don't advertise their existence doesn't mean I don't have anyone I would lay down my life for. And don't dare say I haven't been helping. I helped Throttle when the smarter thing to do would have been to knock his erratic ass out and call you two. I let you use my equipment and stayed out of it, despite my extreme reservations. You three are too personally invested into the situation, otherwise, you would trust Throttle to handle it and get yourself patched up before you bleed to death!"

Sparks turned from the controls. "She's right."

"Fine," Vinnie's head dropped. "Get the medkit."

"It's easier to bring you to the medkit," Tala said as she turned him.

Sparks followed them down the hallway without darting around their progress. She didn't want to jostle Vinnie more than necessary, given that he had a blade stuck in him. "Do you think they're ever gonna tell us what's going on?" the boy asked.

"I'm holding out for an explanation from Charley. If she doesn't know, it'll be three versus three."

"Good point."

Vinnie picked up his head as they crossed the medbay's threshold. "NO!" He shoved them both back into the hall. Sparks jumped out of the way. "No way in hell!"

"Vinnie, stop it! You're gonna hurt yourself worse!" Tala clutched him tighter but his wounded left arm made a fist and nailed her on the chin. Her hold loosened and his tail snapped, sending her sailing down the hallway.

Sparks pressed against the opposite wall. "Dad!"

Tala climbed to her feet. Vinnie's tail slashed through the air. The knife was still in, but the trail of blood stained his white fur down to the waistband of his jeans. Both his hands curled into fists as he stared into her medbay. How could she get him calmed down so she could treat him? "Vinnie, you're bleeding."

"Been there, done that, never doing it again!"

"What, Vinnie?" His wide red eyes never moved from the doorway. "Vinnie, you're going to bleed to death if we don't help you."

"Better than being a walkin' experiment!"

"No one's experimenting, Vinnie." Tala eased closer.

His tail wrapped around her trapping her arms. "'Cause Karbunkle's never fucking with me ever again!"

Now she was getting worried. "Sparks, get back." The mouse boy pressed against the wall next to the medbay doorway. "Where do you think you are, Vinnie? Who do you think has you?"

"Vincent!" Modo bellowed before striding forward. Vinnie's attention jerked to him, and Sparks slipped into the medbay. "Put her down. She's trying to help you."

"Into Karbunkle's lab!"

"We're not anywhere near Karbunkle's lab." Modo said as he reached them.

Vinnie gestured at the medbay with his wounded left arm. "Look at it!" He flinched with pain and his right hand came up to the knife hilt.

"No!" Tala and Modo shouted in unison. Modo grabbed Vinnie's arm. Vinnie pulled, but couldn't free his arm.

Sparks darted out of the medbay and jabbed a syringe into Vinnie's right arm before anyone could stop him. He jumped out of reach once he had emptied the contents into the white mouse. Modo caught Vinnie as he sagged toward the floor. "A sedative," Sparks explained. "It didn't sound like Vinnie was here with the rest of us."

"Good call." Tala pushed her way free of the now slack tail. "Can we get him inside before anything else happens?"

"Yeah." Modo carried Vinnie bridal style into the medbay. Sparks giggled. "If ya tell him, I don't think I can stop him from killin' ya in good conscious."

"Sorry, it's stress." Sparks cleared his throat a couple of times as he moved to the far corner.

Tala pulled out her gauze. "Any idea what anticoagulant would have been put on the blade?"

"None. They don't share the details about Eroite with those not in the know. Maybe that cuts down on murders." Modo grabbed a fistful of the cotton as he stood above Vinnie on the examination table. "Ready."

"Ready." Tala eased the knife out of the wound. It didn't catch on anything and cause any more tearing. As soon as the blade was free, Modo pressed the cotton down. She put the knife into the medical scanner to figure out the drug used. She turned back to Modo. "This could take a minute."

He winced and gestured at his chin with his metal hand. "I'm sure Vinnie didn't mean to hit ya."

She glanced in the closest reflective surface. Her chin was already dark with a bruise. "This will heal in a few minutes. And he owed me a punch. Not that he would take it," she explained to his glower, "and I didn't mean to punch him either. Can you tell me what just happened or are you going to clam up like Throttle?"

"He thought he was in Karbunkle's laboratory."

"Yeah, we got that, Dad." Sparks said from his seat on the floor.

"Don't you have homework?"

"I finished it."

"Stop ignoring my question." Tala snapped her fingers in Modo's direction. "Why would Vinnie think-even messed up with blood loss-he was in Karbunkle's lab?" She dug out the blood pressure cuff and gently slid it onto Vinnie's left arm before hooking it into the sensor for MC to control it.

Modo pointed up. "Karbunkle uses the robot arms from the ceiling too. Only his attachments aren't benign." The grey mouse pulled at the collar of his chest plate. "That's what he used to mess up Vinnie's face while Vinnie was awake. That's why he wears the mask, though I don't think the flex-plate shielding will come off now."

Tala blinked as she stayed still to hide her emotions. She wasn't surprised that Karbunkle had done it, but how he was still breathing was a shocker. How Vinnie had kept it quiet surprised her too. "I assumed it was a war injury."

"Technically, it is. Karbunkle and Limburger worked under Stilton on Mars." Modo looked down at Vinnie. "My bro don't talk about his issues. He prefers his ego."

"I can understand that."

"Charley didn't. She was sympathetic, but his ego drove her up the wall."

"Trauma can be healed. Or at least covered up." Vinnie's easy acceptance of what she had gone through made more sense. "She doesn't have a mask. I know where he's coming from." She doubled checked the blood pressure reading. "One ten, he's going to need a small transfusion." That didn't ease Modo's worried expression. "MC, five hundred cc's of synth-plasma."

"Acknowledged, Mistress Tala." The proper I.V. bag slid into place on the robot arm, which then guided an I.V. drip into Vinnie's right arm. "The anticoagulant has been identified, and it has no side effects with duraskin. However, surgery may be required, dependent on the angle of the wound." The robot arms rotated again, bringing the smallest scanner probe in front of Vinnie.


"Don't borrow trouble, Dad."

He nodded as he shifted the bloody gauze aside. The scanner probe slid into the wound. "The subclavian vein is nicked," MC announced, "but the bone prevented any damage to the lungs."

"That's good news," Tala felt the tension ebb from her shoulders.

"The nick requires suture. Duraskin will facilitate healing for the rest of the wound." The robot arms whirled. The suture needle slid into the wound next, followed by a sterilizing spray to the whole area. The last robot arm squeezed in the duraskin. The clear gel substance turned red as it hardened. "Finished."

Modo sagged against the examination table. "Thank goodness."

"Considering the shape I've been in and MC has patched me up fine, you guys have got no faith in the medical program." Tala cleaned the rest of the blood off Vinnie's fur.

"In our defense, I don't think we've ever seen you messed up that badly," Sparks answered as she shooed both father and son out of the medbay and into the lounge.

"Details, details. Speaking of, it's time we had some." She plopped on the couch and Modo looked at her suspiciously. "What is Eroite?"

Sparks sat and folded his arms. "I wanna know too."

Modo rolled his eye, but no escape route presented itself on the ceiling. "How much Martian history do you know?"

"Home of mice, rats, and Sand Raiders. Plutarkians invaded and wrecked the planet."

"History was the one curriculum they never got straightened out on the Fury." Sparks kicked his legs. "Before the war, the mice and rats had a democratic republican form of government centered around cities. The Sand Raiders are nomadic then and now."

Modo tugged at his chest plate like it was too tight. "Eroite is from before all that, back when mice lived in the caves, before the cities."

"I've heard references to Martian cave mice," Tala said.

"Yeah, the Plutarkians like to sneer it. Makes us sound too primitive to be a threat. But centuries ago, whole mountains were carved up into underground cities that an entire clan lived in. Throttle could explain this much better."

"You're doing fine," Sparks said.

"Right. The entire mountain would be ruled by the alenish. And it would pass to his son when he died."

"Hereditary title in Throttle's family?" Tala asked.

"How did you know?"

"Lucky guess."

"You only have one alenish, but sometimes you'd get family members who didn't get the title and thought they should. Eroite was invented to kill everybody who would inherit the title until it went back to the branch with the grudge." His eye looked every where but at them. "But it wasn't enough to kill them, they had to be humiliated and dishonored. The victims are skinned alive in Eroite."

Tala's jaw dropped as nausea rose from her stomach. She snapped her mouth shut before she threw up. Sparks looked green under his grey fur. "That's a really sick tradition," she finally said.

"Yes, it is."

"Mice still do this?"

"It stopped during the war. I hope the rest of them realize you can't risk the species' survival for a stupid title." Modo turned away. Sparks hugged him around the waist. Modo rested his flesh hand on the back of his son's head. Tala didn't say anything to not ruin their moment.

MC didn't have the same consideration. "Mistress Tala, a Cyclodrone Thunderpipe is on a collision course with the city."

"Visual." Tala stood in front of the view screen built into the wall. The device turned on to an outline 3D rendering of Chicago and represented the descending ship with a blinking dot.

Modo joined her. "Turbo's ship is a Thunderpipe."

She glanced up at him. "How come nothing is ever easy with you guys?"

"It's more fun this way?" He shrugged before turning to Sparks. "Watch Vinnie."

"Watch Vinnie do what? Whip my tail when the sedative wears off?"

"He's right," Tala said. "Move Vinnie to a bedroom." Modo nodded and left. "MC, download this tracking input to Hot Stuff and Modo's bike."

"Acknowledged, Mistress Tala. However, what do you believe you can accomplish against a crashing spaceship?"

"Keep it off the general population, I hope." She left the lounge for her ship bedroom, grabbing the spare suit of red and black flex armor out of the closet. She slid it on over the jeans and long sleeved shirt she wore and met Modo in the hall. "Ready?"

"Hero time!" They headed out of More Hot Stuff and into the elevator through her building. Their bikes waited in the basement garage.

Throttle shot down the hallway, but Turbo dodged the laser beam by jumping down a stairwell. The tan mouse stifled his oath as he eased to the steps. Make emotional, stupid decisions, and Turbo gets away to hurt Charley, Roddie, and Vinnie again, he chided himself.

At the bottom of the stairs, he pressed his back against the wall. The engines throbbed and clanked, covering running footsteps. Would Turbo sabotage his ship to kill him? If Turbo didn't think he could win any other way, he would.

Throttle moved down the pathway between the turbines. Solitary lights hung above created pools of light in the engine room. If all the fixtures had working bulbs in them, light would flood the engine room. He grimaced, maintenance of proper lighting wasn't on Turbo's agenda.

A laser bolt whined and Throttle dropped to the metal floor. The bolt scorched the wall at the end of the engine room. "Baby brother has fast reflexes," Turbo mocked.

Throttle rolled behind a pipe off the left turbine before shooting at where the voice and laser bolt came from. A muffled curse rewarded him. "I don't think I was ever your baby brother, Turbo. Maybe things would have been different if you had let me be."

"Don't you dare!" The rapid shots that followed the bellow hit around Throttle. "I was never good enough for Blade! He ruined everything! Oh, but you, his precious newborn son, nothing was good enough for you on the whole planet."

Throttle took his time aiming at the screaming. His laser bolt scored, earning the sound of someone falling. The falling didn't last, but changed to scrambling to feet and running. Throttle sprinted after Turbo.

The pathway changed to a railed catwalk as the floor dropped away and the turbines expanded beneath him. The brown mouse was ahead of him, without a gun. Turbo stopped moving, keeping his back to Throttle. "Take it."

His tan left arm quivered. He couldn't find Turbo's gun. He hurt Charley, shoot him! But his hand wouldn't listen to his head.

"Can't shoot a man in the back?" Turbo chuckled as he turned, raising his hands even with his head. "Is this better?" His head cocked to the side. "You know I won't stop coming after you, Throttle. You know I will kill that beautiful bitch of yours."

"Don't call her any names." His trigger finger wouldn't move.

Turbo smirked. "Is that the best defense you can muster, Throttle? Do you want to watch me rape her? Will her voice screaming and pleading make you despair or just make you hard?"

The laser pistol spasmed in Throttle's hand. The bolt hit Turbo in the shoulder and knocked him over the rail. Throttle dropped his left arm, breathing heavily. He moved to look over the rail and see how far down the body was. He didn't see a body in the deep shadows.

He moved to the other side for a different vantage point, and saw the pair of boots that swung up and nailed him in the chest. Throttle lost his laser pistol, but grabbed the railing before he followed it.

Turbo climbed back onto the catwalk. "Looks like fighting Plutarkians didn't teach you all the tricks." He kicked Throttle in the arm pit.

Throttle's hand slipped, but he grabbed the railing's support with his right hand. The nuke-knucks glove added traction to his grip. Turbo's foot moved to kick again, but the tan tail wrapped around his ankle and yanked the brown mouse onto his back. Throttle pulled himself onto the catwalk.

Turbo laughed as he sat up. "How fast would you have come after Hot Rod if she had been full mouse? It's always been an alien bitch to set you off. No spare thoughts about Mother at all."

"My thoughts have never changed." Throttle tackled Turbo. "You killed my parents!" He straddled the older mouse and punched his snout. "You tried to kill my little sis-cuz!" Turbo's head shifted when he took the punch from the left fist. "You hurt my tokara!" Blood splattered from Turbo's mouth when Throttle's right fist hit his face again.

Turbo's tail wrapped around Throttle's waist and pulled him off. The brown mouse scrambled to his feet, leaping over Throttle to run back to the solid portion of the engine room. Throttle rolled over to his fours with a growl and charged after him.

Turbo darted to the right onto a walkway through the turbine. "You shouldn't have let that slip, baby brother. There's no way I can spare her now."

"Like you would regardless." Throttle stalked into the shadowed machinery. Turbo's darker fur allowed him to blend, and the working machinery masked the sounds he made.

"You know me so well." Brown hands appeared out of the shadows and grabbed the remains of Throttle's leather vest.

"Yeah, I know you." Throttle grabbed Turbo's arms. Turbo freed his right arm and the fist hit the left side of Throttle's snout. The side of Throttle's mouth cut against his buck teeth. Throttle made sure to hit a swollen bruise on Turbo's bloody, brown snout. Turbo hissed and pulled back, but Throttle held fast. "Which is why this must end."

Turbo swung but Throttle dodged the blow. "I've been trying to end it for twenty-two years!"

Throttle's fist pounded Turbo's side. Turbo twisted and threw his punches. The two mice twisted around the small space. They slammed into a small pipe between the turbine halves, breaking the metal. The power running through the pipe arced with a green glow before dying.

"You're never destroying my family again!" Throttle spun them around and shoved.

Turbo's hands spasmed on Throttle's arms before falling. Blood dribbled from his mouth. "Why won't you just die?" His head lolled to the side. Throttle stepped back, breathing heavier than he ever remembered breathing before. The end of the broken pipe stuck out of Turbo's T-shirt covered chest.

He checked the pulse under the brown fur. He pulled the eyelids shut over the too familiar blue eyes, relieved that thanks to Karbunkle, he wouldn't see them in the mirror. Twenty-two-year-long nightmare finally over, why don't I feel anything? Happy, grateful, sadness? Throttle shook his head. First thing to do was get back to the cockpit and land the ship. Once Turbo's body was dealt with, he could worry 'bout his mental state.

The ship lurched. The impact sent the momentum through the Thunderpipe's metal armor, buckling the plates. Throttle found himself sailing through the air like a thrown toy.

The Cyclodrone Thunderpipe screamed over the street ahead. Modo dropped his head to follow the spaceship's path straight to Quigley Field's scoreboard. "We should run tests. That thing is a spaceship magnet."

Tala's red tinted facescreen glanced at him. "What do you mean?"

"That's number four crashed into the scoreboard." Tala's eyes opened wide. "Hey Rimfire and Stoker crashed one! Because we were shooting at them, but it's not all us."

"And I thought Carbine was just being petty when she said you three were a menace to space flight."

Modo grimaced, "I hate it when she's right." They activated the rocket jets on their bikes and drove up the wall of Quigley Field as the Thunderpipe smashed into the scoreboard, sending metal bits and electronic sparks shooting out like fireworks. "At least there's no ball game on."

"Do I even want to ask?" Tala started down the stadium stairs.

"We crashed our Thunderpipe in the middle of a Nubs game." Modo jumped Li'l Hoss over the bottom balcony over the dugouts and crossed the field.

"How has the government not hauled you guys in for studying yet?"

"We're lucky?" Modo stopped outside the debris field now covering the outfield grass. "You best stay out of the wreck."

She pulled off her Martian bike helmet. "I'm a lot tougher than I look."

"I have no doubt, Tala-ma'am, but I'd rather have you outside to pull me out if I get into trouble."

"Okay, stay in radio contact." She pulled a medkit out of her bike's storage compartment.

"Right." He left on his helmet and climbed up to the scoreboard, avoiding the large metal chunks littering the seats and wall. The walk-in entrance portion of the scoreboard was less damaged than the rest. He peered around the Thunderpipe best he could. It looked like they would have to rebuild the bike exit, the kitchen, the bathroom, and replace the beds and couch again. The only furniture that survived was Vinnie's hammock.

He clambered over the smashed remains of the Thunderpipe's front section styled to resemble a motorcycle's front wheel. "Throttle? Charley?" He reached the cockpit window opening; the glass had been knocked out. He grabbed the ledge with his metal hand and hauled himself up one-armed. "Throttle? Charley?" He brushed away some of the glass to climb in without getting any embedded in himself.

A non-metallic groan reached his ears. He crouched on the console. The groan repeated, a bit stronger this time. He saw an open storage compartment on the back wall of the cockpit with a bare human leg extending from it. "Charley!"

She groaned again, which relieved him. Groaning meant breathing. He shifted the broken storage compartment door off of her. She pushed aside a metal box that had landed on her head.

"Talk to me, Charley." Modo checked the stretched leg. Not broken. Her other leg was bent under her but by normal movement of the joints. "What hurts?"

"My head." She moved her arms, trying to push herself out of the closet-like compartment.

He pulled her into the larger room. Realizing how disheveled the loincloths were, he felt his face heat up as he rearranged the material to preserve Charley's modesty. She sat on the floor, holding her head, and didn't appear to care how close to streaking Quigley Field she had been. Modo pushed her hand away and lifted her face up. A large bloody cut spread from the end of her eyebrow up into her hairline. He cleaned the blood away from her eye with the edge of the material hanging from her waist. "Anywhere else hurt?"

She blinked at him with recognition dawning. "Modo? How did you get back here?"

"You crashed in the scoreboard. Where's Throttle? Do you remember?"

Charley frowned. He could see the axles and wheels of her mind start turning again. "He chased after Turbo." She glanced around and pointed to the scorched console panel. "Turbo shot the controls trying to shoot Throttle." She pointed to the missing windshield. "Moon and Earth made circles." She traced a circle in the air.

"Yeah, Charley, that would be crashing." Modo sighed. Throttle and Turbo could be anywhere in the wreckage of the Thunderpipe. He picked up the human woman. "Let's get you out of here."

"Sure." She wrapped her arms around his neck and laid her head against his chest.

Modo tiptoed onto the console. The mangled metal had supported his weight earlier, but he held his breath until he was off the Thunderpipe. He let it out once he reached the scoreboard floor, but that floor groaned under his feet. "Oh momma."

"That didn't sound good," Charley whispered. "Where's Throttle?"

His tail snagged the blanket out of Vinnie's hammock and shook it as they left the scoreboard. The concrete stayed solid under his feet. "I'm getting you help first then I'll find Throttle, okay?"

Her head jerked up and she groaned. "Where's Sparks?"

"He's fine at Tala's." Modo hurried down the steps to the field.

Tala had her helmet on again, scanning the scoreboard. "Too much heat from the engines to see living beings." She opened the red-tinted face shield. "How bad is she hurt?"

"Her head is bleeding and her leg was cut earlier with the same knife that got Vinnie." He wrapped the blanket around Charley before setting her on the grass.

Another bike engine roared across the stadium and both Tala and Modo jerked around the see Vinnie's red racer pull up to their bikes. A sling held the white mouse's injured left arm close to his chest. "What did we miss?" He opened his face visor shield. Sparks peeked around Vinnie's side.

"The medical orders to curtail your activities." Tala planted her hands on her hips.

"I curtailed." Vinnie pouted. "See the sling? Fashion statement it is not."

Modo rolled his eye and looked at his son. "You were supposed to stop him from doing something stupid."

"You told me to watch him. Do you know how hard it was to get on this bike?" Sparks hopped off.

"You're smarter than him," Tala snapped.

"Hey!" Vinnie said.

"You should have backed up MC," she continued.

"He wouldn't listen to either one of us and he threatened to melt a hole through your ship with one of his flares. Since you said watch him and not sedate him again, I talked my way onto the bike. And it drove most of the way."

"And you said you weren't gonna tell her about the ship flare thing!"

"And maybe you should figure out what consequences are." Sparks turned to the only adult who didn't seem upset with him. "Ouch, Charley, your head."

"I'll deal with you later." Tala pointed to Vinnie before turning to Modo. "You better haul tail. The exterior supports don't show any stress, but who knows how much more the scoreboard can take." Tala opened the medkit as she knelt next to Charley.

"I told them to reinforce the inside when they parked the Stench Cruiser in it." Charley said emphatically as the blond human shone a pen light into her green eyes.

"It crashed," Modo heard Vinnie say as he headed for the stadium steps again.

"I took the controls apart and nothing was wrong with them. They wanted an excuse to redecorate."

"Boy, Sparks, you did make the right call to leave." Tala said over the helmet mikes before falling silent. Modo shot a dirty look down before entering the scoreboard again.

At least nothing was burning. He climbed back in through the cockpit. He didn't dare blow a hole in the side of the ship without knowing where his bro was. "Throttle!" The angle of the cockpit door and the hallway shifted forty-five degrees up instead of being on the same level. Modo pulled himself up the hallway until the floor leveled out. Unfortunately, there the ceiling had caved in and he had to crawl. "Good thing I ain't claustrophobic. Throttle!"

The plate underneath him gave way. His metal hand wrapped around a support beam, crushing it. But it held and he didn't fall into the darkness. He turned on his helmet's floodlight. The engine room filled the bottom half of the spaceship before expanding up to the back rockets. The Thunderpipes had great acceleration and liftoff thanks to those huge engines. But the majority of these turbines were thrashed beyond Charley's miracle mechanic skills, just like their Thunderpipe's had been four years earlier.

He saw a wide, flat surface on top of the closest turbine that looked stable enough to hold his weight, and worked his way to it by using the support beams like a jungle gym. He dropped and balanced as the turbine rocked under him. "Throttle! Answer me, bro!"

"Modo?" It was faint, from injury or distance, Modo couldn't tell

"Are you hurt?"

"Trapped." Now scraping metal joined Throttle's voice and Modo clambered over the shoved-together turbine parts. "Yeah, this thing ain't budging."

"I'm comin'. Just hold on."

"Take your time." Modo slid between the turbines into what should have been the main walkway through the engine room. But pipes and support beams were lodged between the turbine pieces that hadn't moved out of place. Throttle was caught on his side between the buckled metal plate floor and a large fallen pipe. He twisted his neck to watch Modo. "I'll never take ejection for granted again."

"Guess not. Any damage?"

"I can move my toes and tail. Nothing feels broken." Throttle sighed as he propped his head with his right arm. His elbow found a sturdy bit of metal to rest against. "I can't see behind me, but I think you're going to have to blow this end free."

Modo nodded. "Shield your face." He popped the cannon out of his metal forearm. Throttle covered his face with both his hands. Modo shot the lowest level of laser blast he had. The end of the pipe vaporized and the larger grey mouse pulled it up.

Throttle scooted to next to Modo. "Charley?"

"Got her out already. She took a knock to the head and Tala's checking her out on the field."

"Field? We hit the scoreboard again?"

Modo tossed the pipe aside and let it finish rattling before answering. "Yeah. Maybe we should move."

"That sounds like a great idea. Let's put more population in danger." Throttle shook his head. "Help me."

"With what?"

"Gotta get Turbo."

"That guy has more lives than a cockroach." Modo followed Throttle, watching his footing after the tan mouse skidded over the debris.

"Not any more." Throttle reached an opening going into the turbine. He pulled a slack arm covered in black leather sleeve.

Modo activated his helmet's mike. "Tala-ma'am?"

"Yo," she answered.

"Get something for a body bag." He heard her sharp intake. "For Turbo. Throttle's fine."

"Copy that."

He turned his attention back to Throttle and the body. "We don't have to mess with this right now."

Throttle snarled silently before swallowing it to a frown. "I'm not throwing him out with the trash." He gripped the body and pulled again.

Modo sighed as he leaned against the turbine and reached into the opening. He caught the base of Turbo's tail. The body came free with their tugging.

Throttle laid Turbo face down on top of the debris. "Which way is out?"

"I fell down the rabbit hole." Modo pointed to his entrance point. He looked at the still body with the jagged hole through the back of the leather jacket. "We ain't gonna be able to carry him out that way, bro."

"We are not leaving him here." Throttle's voice was hard.

"Any ideas on how to make that happen?" Throttle stared down at Turbo's body with his shoulders slumped and his antennae almost drooped to his head. Modo's chest ached. He turned on his helmet mike. "Tala-ma'am?"

"I owe that hunk of metal my life! I don't expect you to understand it, Vinnie, just respect it!"

"Am I interrupting?"

"Yes, Modo?" The anger leeched from Tala's voice, leaving behind smooth professionalism.

"We're stuck in the engine room. Can you get us an exit without killing us?"

"So demanding. Any ideas which side you're on?"

"Third base side."

"Hold onto your tails. I'll be up in a few."

Modo looked back at Throttle who hadn't moved. "Tala's coming to make us a door." Throttle didn't acknowledge him. Modo winced. He didn't know what else to say. He leaned up against part of the turbine that didn't shift under his weight and waited.

Tala didn't waste time. A laser torch started outlining a hole in the darkness. Modo moved his floodlight to the sparks and saw that the burnt metal formed an exit in the wall. "Throttle." He gripped the tan mouse's shoulder. "Throttle, we need to head that way. Tala's making a hole." The tan mouse nodded and bent to grab Turbo again. "Take his feet. I'll get his head. So I'll be in the lead with the light."

Throttle nodded and switched positions. Modo tried to concentrate on his footing and not his fear. He only saw a grown Throttle take orders from four people, and that group did not include him. They clambered over the turbines and the metal parts knocked all over the engine room.

By the time they reached the wall, the cutting was finished. The hooks of a grapple line embedded in the center of the section and it popped free. Tala soon bobbed into view, astride her bright blue flying motorcycle. "Okay fuzzy boys, how do you wanna work this?"

Throttle didn't answer. Modo stepped up again. "Take Throttle first." That got the tan mouse's attention. "I'm not gonna do anything to Turbo's body, but yer probably gonna have to stop Vinnie. Ya know how he holds a grudge." Throttle nodded and swung on behind Tala. She lowered the bike in a spiral.

Modo sighed as he watched Throttle dismount. Charley held the blanket wrapped around her body when she walked to him. Throttle didn't hug her. Modo winced, "Bro, don't screw this up for yerself. He ain't worth it."

Tala reached the exit. "Why is Throttle insisting the guy who tried to kill him and Charley gets a proper funeral?"

"Public health." Modo hid his face while bending over Turbo's body.

"Try again, please. You don't glower at Vinnie because of public health."

"They had the same mother. Beyond that ain't my story to tell."

Tala twisted to face the end of the bike that bobbed adjacent to the hole in the ship. "Alright, Modo, I'll drop it. I didn't realize it was that personal."

They draped the body over the end of her racer and Tala held it while the bike drove itself down. She helped Throttle move the body to a blue tarp spread on the ground and tried to help him wrap it. That ended with the human woman raising her hands, backing away, and coming back up for Modo. The slow descent gave him time to watch Throttle wrap Turbo's body, Vinnie hug Charley around her shoulders as they stood by, and Sparks hug himself with his arms and tail. Throttle's black bike waited with her sidecar popped out.

Modo dismounted, strode over, and grabbed Turbo's tarp-covered feet. Startled, Throttle looked up, but didn't protest as they carried him to the sidecar. The black bike beeped softly. "Where are we taking him, bro?"

The question drew Throttle from the thoughts that haunted his expression. "I don't know. I can't just dump him. That's not right or safe."

Charley had moved closer. "The cemetery my father's buried in. If we go all the way to the back of their property, he should be undisturbed for decades."

Throttle nodded, the only indication he heard her, before mounting up and driving off without her.

Her face crumpled, but she smoothed it out. Pulling the blanket tighter around herself, she said. "We can't let him do this alone." She marched back to Vinnie and Sparks.

Modo shook his head at the taillights and followed her.

Vinnie tried not to fidget. Throttle dug Turbo's grave next to the back fence of Good Hope Cemetery. The cemetery had yards of empty land to put bodies and the stone monuments before reaching this point. The bikes made a semi-circle around the area, shining their headlights so they could see. Only Throttle wouldn't let go of the shovel.

The shovelfuls of dirt flew out of the hole onto the mound much slower now. Throttle stood about chest deep in it. But his shoulders and head sagged and Vinnie wanted to pull his bro out and make him rest. He walked to where Modo stood. "Throttle can't take much more, Big Fella."

"So I see," Modo said. "Do you think he'll listen to reason?"

"When he's pretending none of us exist?"

"What did Stoker tell him at Cutlass's funeral?"

"I thought they told you." Vinnie frowned as Modo shook his head. "Is there a battle plan?" Again, Modo shook his head. "I guess we'll have to improvise." Vinnie strode to the edge of the hole with Modo beside him. "Time to take a break, bro."

A shovelful of dirt hit the mound. Modo cocked his eyebrow when he looked at Vinnie.

Vinnie answered in a low voice. "Hoist twenty-five."

The grey and white tails wrapped around Throttle's chest just under his armpits. Without squeezing too hard, they lifted him from the grave. Throttle squirmed, but he was too exhausted to put up much of a fight. Vinnie pried the shovel from his gloved hand and Modo carried him to where Charley, Sparks, and Tala waited. "Charley, sit on him. And if that doesn't work, Tala will stun your tail."

"When is the Apocalypse due on this planet?" Tala asked Sparks, who shrugged.

Charley knelt next to Throttle after Modo deposited him on the grass. The grey mouse grabbed the shovel Vinnie held out before jumping into the hole and resuming the digging. The mechanic rested her hands on Throttle's shoulders. "Let them help, Throttle."

The tan mouse ignored her to stare at Modo's progress. It took Modo about twenty minutes to get the hole deep enough for him to hide in. Vinnie anchored Tala and she pulled him out.

Throttle went to his bike. Before Modo or Tala could help him, he moved the body in a fireman's carry to the grave. They lifted Turbo off Throttle's shoulders and heaved him into the ground.

"Should we say somethin'?" Sparks sidled up to Modo.

"It's customary for Earth funerals." Charley answered before biting her bottom lip.

Tala grabbed a fistful of dirt and tossed it on Turbo's body while she cleared her throat. "'Lo, there do I see my father. 'Lo, there do I see my mother, and my sisters, and my brothers. 'Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning. 'Lo, they do call to me. They bid me take my place among them. In the halls of Valhalla where the brave may live forever." She stepped back. "I got it from a book," she muttered.

Sparks copied Tala's move with the dirt. "Here our road splits. Speed be with you."

Modo followed his son. "Ride free."

Charley went next. "I hope you have finally found peace."

The silence roared against his ears. Vinnie scooped up a handful of dirt. His inner twelve-year-old screamed to spin a fastball into Turbo's face. However satisfying that might be, he couldn't disrespect Throttle like that. What had Momma Bola said? Funerals are for the living. He let the dirt pour into the hole. "Throttle can smack me for this later, but good riddance."

"Vinnie," Charley chastised.

"He tried to kill me and Roddie and ended up breaking my arm. I am being nice."

Throttle's chuckle had no humor. "I've never smacked you for telling the truth, Vinnie." He stared into the grave. "Start covering him. Please."

Tala nodded and picked up the shovel without any smart-aleck comments. Vinnie blinked. She had even had snarky comments over Christmas presents.

Throttle didn't notice Tala's compliance as he watched the dirt fall in. "Turbo was my brother, my blood." The tan mouse's chest heaved. "He should have been the one to keep family safe from the bloodshed." For once, Modo didn't need to prompt. Vinnie moved to Throttle's side with the larger grey mouse. "Instead he turned against us and brought the bloodshed home." Throttle's whole body shook as he clenched his fists. "Good riddance."

Silence fell over the group. Charley crept closer, putting herself in Throttle's line of sight. He glanced at her, then back at the grave. Her face scrunched up with pain as she hugged herself.

"Turbo taught me one thing." Modo and Vinnie watched Throttle as he looked at them instead of the filling grave. "He taught me what a brother really is 'cause he never was one." He wrapped his arms around both Modo and Vinnie's necks and pulled them to him.

Modo slapped Throttle's back. "It's okay; we're bros."

"We're family," Throttle said with choked finality. "My true family alive and well. And I'm gonna keep you that way."

Vinnie patted Throttle's back with his good arm. "We know, bro, we know. Let's get out of here."

Throttle nodded as he released Modo and Vinnie. Tala smoothed the last of the dirt over the grave. "I'll come back in daylight and make sure it doesn't draw anyone's attention," she told Charley.

"You don't have to," Charley began.

Tala waved the objection away. "I'm no help with the emotional stuff, but logistics I can handle. Don't worry about it. Worry 'bout Throttle."

"No stopping that." Charley's green eyes followed the tan mouse's progress to his black bike, leaving her behind again.

Vinnie dropped back to the ladies. "Tala, Throttle and Charley are gonna need space. Can we crash at your place until we get the scoreboard fixed?"

"It's extenuating circumstances, but you still have to stay out of my bedroom."

"I will if you show off your Christmas present now that you hung the picture." Vinnie smirked until he saw Charley's face. "Not a good plan, Charley-girl?"

"I don't care where you guys sleep, but Throttle doesn't look like he wants any privacy with me."

"Should I get Modo?" Tala asked in a low voice.

Vinnie shook his head. "Come on, Charley- girl. Ride with me." He waited until she had pulled her helmet on over her bandaged head and settled on the red racer. "Dr. Vinnie's counseling service is now open."

She pressed her helmeted head against his back. "Don't joke about this, please. I'm tired, my head aches, my heart…. I know where you keep the bazooka on your bike, okay?"

"It's not a joke. Well, it is but I mean it. You need to talk 'cause you can't help Throttle if you're upset."

"Yeah, he's real eager for my help."

"You've seen Throttle like this before. He's holding it together by shoving everything under the leader persona. When it cracks, he's gonna need you to take charge."

"Better make it someone other than me." She picked her head up, and Vinnie kept his bike at the end of the pack.

"You're the only one who can talk any sense into us. Why would he go anywhere else when he needs to drop being the leader?"

Charley stayed silent for so long, he thought she wasn't going to answer. "He said it's a fling."

"Well, he had to say something to keep Turbo from killing you. Not that it was very effective."

"But the way he's acting?"

"Throttle doesn't do flings. He does shut people out."

"He's not shutting you or Modo out."

"Because we were there, at his side for everything nasty, except for what happened to his parents. You don't have the history, Charley. But he loves you. He went after you with no backup, a half-baked plan according to Tala, and trusting either we'd get there or Turbo would leave you alone if he pretended to be dead. You do realize that's the equivalent of Throttle acting like me, right?"


Vinnie shot her a smile over his shoulder. "Just work your patient mojo on him, sweetheart. If he tells you everything, especially dealing with his parents, he's yours forever."

"You sound awfully confident of that."

"Hey, I know my bro. You've got nothing to worry about, unless you throw him away like Carbine did."

"Any more advice?"

Vinnie hummed. "Don't try to force anything out of him. This is the heaviest load that Throttle's got. He don't spill it willingly. I had to get knocked out cold and a broken arm before he told me and Modo."

"That actually is good advice. Thanks."

"Any time, Charley-girl, any time."

Being stabbed had not blunted Vinnie's whirlwind tendencies. Charley sat on a workbench recovering from the activity that had left her and Throttle alone. He had melted the shackles off her wrists before leaving with Modo and Sparks, but for Tala's sake, she hoped they all fell asleep quickly. She turned her attention to Throttle.

He sat at the table with his face hidden in his arms, like a napping child. Or one trying to tune her out. She squashed that thought. Vinnie was right; Throttle pushed the people he cared about away. Small wonder if he grew up afraid of his murderous brother.

The doors were locked and the alarm system activated. They could relax finally. She readjusted the muddy blanket around the skimpy outfit. She couldn't push, but she could take care of him. She touched his shoulder and ran her hand down his arm as he looked up. "Let's get cleaned up."

He curled his hand around hers. She led the way through the kitchen and up the stairs to the bathroom. Throttle didn't fight her as she shut the door, but he didn't make any moves to help himself. Charley tossed the blanket into the dirty clothes hamper. She could decide in the morning if it was worth salvaging. The state of Throttle's vest earned a wince as she pulled it off of him. The zipper and other metal decorations had melted into slag. The front had a circular charred section in the center of the chest. She draped it over the side of the hamper, but didn't hold much hope that it could be repaired.

She pulled off his glove and the leather band around his wrist and wondered if Tala had saved his red bandannas. She set them on the vanity's countertop before taking his shades off. His red eyes refused to meet hers. Something squeezed her chest at that, but she ignored it to find the seam to undo the armor chest plate. Once that was gone, she could see the dirt rubbed into the fur covering his arms.

"Sit down, Throttle." He plopped down on the toilet's lid, and she knelt to pull off his boots and socks.

"How's your leg?" If she had already had the water running, she would have missed his question.

"Tala fixed me up with some duraskin. It works on humans too." She tossed his balled-up socks into the hamper.

"Two points." There wasn't even a ghost of a smile on his face. "Did he…." Throttle swallowed hard and grimaced. "Did Turbo hurt you any other way?"

She unbuckled his knee pads. "I think I offended him when I accused him of taking me to rape me. But what else was I supposed to think with this outfit?" She gestured at the material covering less of her body than she liked. "I'm okay. Not even bruised."

He pulled at the material around her neck, but the knots held. She stood and his panicked hands tugged at the knots around her waist. "He put you in this because I'm the alenish!" He lurched to his feet, but that didn't help his fingers untie the knots. She smoothed the fur on his arms. He curled his fingers into fists. "Take it off!"

Anguish drove that command, and Charley didn't dare disobey. She undid the top first, exposing her breasts as the material fell to the floor. "I only put it on 'cause the ship started. I didn't think I'd escape."

"I know." His red eyes focused on her face, but the pain that had crinkled around them eased.

The loincloths around her waist fell to the floor. "And I thought you were dead."

He winced, "I'm sorry, I should've planned better."

Charley pressed her hands against his chest. "It's over. Shower now." He blinked at her. "You're too filthy to go to bed on my clean sheets."

"Gods, you sound just like Aunt Vev." He braced himself against the wall with one hand.

Charley ignored that while she turned on the shower. Dealing with adult Biker Mice was hard enough, she didn't want to think what they must have been like as children. She turned to Throttle and opened his fly.

"What are you doing?"

"You can't take a shower in your jeans." He didn't stop her from pulling his jeans and boxer shorts off. She dropped those articles into the hamper. "Shower." She pushed him to the tub. His tail opened the shower curtain. He gripped her arms, so she climbed in with him.

The water flowed over them. Throttle turned his face into the stream. "I almost lost you like I lost everyone else."

She rubbed the soap onto his arms. "We watch each other's back. I couldn't let you face him alone. And you saved me like you always do." He dropped his chin to his chest. "It's over, Throttle."

"It's never over. I'm the alenish. It never ends." He took the soap bar and used it like shampoo on his head.

"I don't know what that is." She lathered up her own skin. "Don't worry about it."

He rinsed his head and pushed the tendrils of fur out of his eyes. "You never drop not knowing."

"I figured out the gist of it. You can share the details later, if you want. I hope you want to." She turned around to rinse off, and concentrated on scrubbing her feet.

"I never had to explain it to someone who didn't know." Throttle barked out a laugh laced with sarcasm. "I just say I'm an alenish and my parents were killed with Eroite and watch people scramble over themselves to get away."

She faced him. "Not everyone scrambled away."

"No, and I lost them anyway." His body shuddered with suppressed sobs. Charley's arms ached to hold him, but she wasn't sure if Throttle was ready for that. She turned him and scrubbed his back, working her fingers through his fur. His tense muscles didn't loosen. "All dead because of something that doesn't mean a damn thing." His shoulders and antennae slumped.

"Isn't that true for everyone we lose? My father didn't deserve his fate."

"But you won't pass that fate onto your children. Onto anyone else you love."

She rinsed the suds from his fur. "Okay, Throttle. I guess I just hallucinated Buddy taking pot shots at you. But I will give you that he's gone and it's over. So what are you trying to say; Turbo isn't the only one who wants to kill you with Eroite?"

"It's centuries old, older than the cities. People don't give up blood feuds that easily."

Charley made sure the soap was gone before turning off the water. She pulled the towels from the shelves, handing two to Throttle before wrapping one around her body. She stepped out of the tub to blot her hair dry with another towel.

Throttle stared at her without a look of lust she never thought she'd miss. "Don't you have anything to say about it? How stupid it is when we don't even live in caves any more? That they want to murder for a title that doesn't hold any power?"

"It's equally stupid as killing people based on the color of their skin, their religion, or their sexual preference. I didn't think I needed to say anything."

"But you're safe from those things. I'm the one putting you in danger of Eroite!"

"Dry off, Throttle. You can't go to bed dripping wet either." He didn't move to follow her instructions. She pulled him out and started blotting his fur dry. "I don't know what you expect, me to go running into the night to get away from you? You have a habit of chasing after me."

"I should give you up." The towel muffled his voice as she dried his head fur. "I'm cursed to lose everyone I love. All dead because of something that doesn't mean a damn thing. So what if I can trace my family roots all the way to back then? Is it my fault that other families had lousy records? We don't even live in caves any more!"

Charley didn't know how to break Throttle's circular thoughts because she didn't know the details. She threw the towels into the hamper and held his hand as she led him into the bedroom. He didn't resist, plopping down on the edge of the bed. She knelt on the bed next to him.

Throttle's exhausted voice picked up the trail of his thoughts. "I never asked to lead a clan. I don't even have a clan to lead."

"You lead us."

"Don't ever say that. The only thing that keeps Vinnie and Modo safe is they don't share my blood."

"Do you think that matters to them?" She cupped his face and turned it to hers. "Vinnie and Modo fight for you because they love you. Same as me. Throttle, you said we're your family. We are never going quietly into the night. Nothing in the universe is going to take us from your side. Your family are survivors."

His face crumpled, but he still held back his tears. "Not all of you." He stroked her cheek. "You don't understand what you're accepting. I can't let you make this decision without knowing." His red antennae glowed and he drew close enough to lay them against her forehead.

Charley closed her eyes and the images explode in her mind.

Uncle Cutlass leaned closer. "It's time I told you what the alenish is." He grasped the tan furred hands in his dun ones before touching Throttle's forehead with his glowing red antennae.

He flew over a large mountain dotted with cave and tunnel entrances. He descended through one of them and through the tunnel that opened into a larger cavern filled with building fronts built out of the rock in the shape of a city. Cutlass's voice narrated over the scene. "Ages past, we lived inside the mountains thanks to these caves."

"That's why you find references to cave mice?"

"Yes, Throttle." Mice in dresses and tunics from the history books gathered in a large hall. At the end of the hall, sat a man on a throne, who looked suspiciously like his father. A family stood around the throne on the dais looking out at the crowd. "Now everyone who lived in one mountain belonged to one clan and allied themselves to one leader no matter if they were related to him. That leader, the alenish, ruled the entire mountain. His oldest son would become alenish after his death; his oldest daughter if he had no sons. If no children, the entire clan would seek a worthy leader in his brother's family no matter how far back they had to descend to find one."

"But we don't live like that any more."

"No, with the Industrial Revolution, the common people gained money and power and they demanded a say in government. We left the caves, built the cities, and formed the representative democracy that we have now. It took a few centuries, and some people never let go of their blood feuds."

"Blood feuds?"

The scene focused on a grey-furred man who sneered at the family gathered on the dais from the shadows. "There is always discontent in people, Throttle. Most people can ignore it. But others feel the whole universe is plotting against them, and use that to water the seed of discontent so it flowers into violence. The alenish is held by one person, and he would want it to go to his children. So you get the situation where a brother or a sister who was passed over felt they should be the alenish and it should go to their children. But the only way to accomplish that is to make sure the alenish is dead without heirs."

They floated over the sandy plains outside the mountain. The grey-furred man had the alenish who looked like Blade tied between two very familiar metal poles. Cutlass broke the connection, blinking tears away in his red eyes. "Killing them was, is too easy. The discontent demands humiliation. So the ceremony of Eroite was created, killing the family by skinning them alive. Only when everyone between you and the title were dead could the mantle of alenish pass to you." His hands squeezed Throttle's shoulders. "You must understand how deep this goes, Throttle. They don't care that no one in the public cares about the title; they are obsessed with their right to it. You can't tell them 'okay take it.' The only way they can have it is if you are dead, and I and Roddie are dead after you."

Throttle felt his eyes widen. "That's what happened to Mom and Dad."

A smaller honey-tan furred hand held onto a metal banister as he struggled up the stairs to the up top level. He carried the picture he had just finished in his other hand. He reached the top of the stairs and ran down the window-lined hall to his father's study.

"Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" He shoved the metal door into the room filled with metal cabinets and shelves stacked with boxes and baskets.

Blade sat at the workstation built onto the wall. "Just a second, Cutlass. I have to see what your nephew is so excited about." He turned from the viewscreen of the matching man with shorter head fur and faced Throttle with a grin. "Saber squids attacking again?"

"I drew this for you." He thrust the picture into the larger hands.

Blade's ponytail slid over his shoulder as he studied the picture. "It's Mommy and her motorcycle." Throttle nodded. "They're gonna hang your pictures in museums some day, son."

"After I'm through racing," Throttle said. He wanted to win plaques like his mother had.

The fur crinkled around Blade's red eyes as he smiled wider. "You've got nothing but time. You go show your mommy this picture, and I'll finish talking to Uncle Cutlass, and then we'll find a place to hang your picture in here so I can always see Mommy, okay?"

"'Kay." Throttle took the picture and ran out the door.

"Walk, Throttle!" Blade hollered after him.

Why should he walk when he could run? He tore through the mudroom at the end of the hall and finally came to a stop in the garage. He panted for air while he surveyed his mother's domain. All the tools he couldn't touch hung on the walls. The black bike parked in front of the larger car beeped at him. A rack full of tires for the motorcycle and the car was bolted above the worktables, cabinets, and tool chests lined against the outside wall.

His mother turned from her drafting table set against the house-side wall. "There's my little speed demon." She held out her brown furred arms and Throttle ran to them. She settled him on her lap. "What do you have?"

"It's for Daddy but he told me to show you." He smoothed the picture on her slanted table.

Tamara peered over his shoulder. Her ear brushed against his. Aunt Vev had head fur, but his mother didn't. "That's my bike." She pointed to the black mass with wheels on the right side of the paper. "I'd recognize her anywhere. So that must mean this gorgeous woman is me?" She pointed to the stick-figure mouse on the left.

"Yeah, Mommy. Who else would ride your bike?"

"You may ride her one day. Life is boring out here for her." The song on the bike's radio changed to "Children of the Grave" by Black Sabbath.

Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of death construction

In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds

Throttle looked at the plaques hung over the drafting table. The last race she won was eleven years ago. He smiled at being able to do the math, but he knew it would be longer than that before he won plaques like hers. "Why don't you race again, Mommy?"

"I'm too old."

"No, you're not."

She squeezed him. "I've been off the circuit too long. Best I can do now is design the bikes for the races and the new racers."

"You're workin'?" He lifted his picture to look at the motorcycle drawing underneath.

"Yeah, a new kid, Stoker, doesn't want a corporate bike. They say he's going to be a record breaker."

"Your bikes are the best, Mommy. He's gonna love it."

"I'll add your testimony to my endorsements." Tamara tickled him. Throttle thrashed and giggled, until the black bike turned off the song, beeped, and flashed its headlight. Tamara slid Throttle off her lap before hurrying to the control panel next to the garage door. "People are coming," she said as she checked the alarm for the fence. Then she hit the intercom. "Blade, are you expecting company?"

"No, Tamara. And they used Turbo's access codes."

"Turbo's coming home?" Throttle's tail slashed through the air. Turbo had been gone for months and he hadn't missed the ten-year-old. He didn't have to hide the bruises his brother gave him when they played. He didn't miss getting shoved around either.

"Too many people for it to be just Turbo." She spun the bar and locked the garage door. "Throttle, I need you to hide. Only come out for me or your daddy, okay?" Her blue eyes looked worried.

"Where, Mommy?"

"Don't tell me. I'll find you." She turned to her bike. "Watch over him." The bike flashed its headlight. She paused at the door into the house to look back. "Let's rock…."

"And ride!" Throttle pumped his fist into the air. Tamara smiled before leaving and locking that door too. He frowned. This was the weirdest start to hide 'n seek he had ever played. The car was too easy, so were the cabinets. The tire rack! He used a stool to climb onto the worktable. His tail wrapped around the tire rack's support and pulled his body up so his arms reached into the center of the tires. He tucked his tail around his waist, and waited.

The outside garage door rattled. Throttle stared out the end of the tires. There was a boom and he covered his ears. The door rolled up. A man in a red and brown camouflage uniform walked in carrying a large shoulder cannon.

The black bike revved. The man aimed the shoulder cannon and shot it at the bike. But no explosion followed. Throttle found a crack between the tires. The wheels of the bikes were caught in giant springs. She tried to move, but the springs wouldn't let her.

"Is he in here?" That voice sounded familiar. Throttle stayed still.

"The son must be hiding. Start searching." The soldier man slung the shoulder cannon behind his back and opened the car doors. The other speaker dug into the cabinets, pulling the tools and parts out.

Throttle's stomach clenched, but he didn't move. The way these guys were tearing apart the garage; they would tear him apart too.

"He's not here." The soldier man growled as he threw the last box out of the car.

"Throttle has to be here!" The panicked older boy stepped into view. Turbo grabbed his picture off Mommy's drafting table. "See this? He has to be here!"

The soldier man didn't even glance at the paper as he looked at other soldier man standing in the garage door. "Prepare the woman."

"NO!" Turbo dropped the picture as he chased after the man giving the orders. "We had a deal!"

The older man sneered as he fisted Turbo's shirt in his hand and jerked the young boy's body closer. "You promised us the alenish and his son. No son, so the deal is off."

"Throttle's here some where!" Turbo blinked away the tears. "You can't. You can't!" He punched the mercenary but the older man pushed him away before his fist could connect. Turbo landed in the dirt of the driveway into the garage.

"Eroite is very clear, boy. Skin the entire bloodline to make the mantle of alenish before you can wear it. Skin the women who carry the potential bloodline." He leaned closer to the boy outside the garage. "You think you are beyond the laws, boy! Laws written in the blood of countless generations, soaked into the sand and stone of the whole world!" His booming laughter spiked Throttle's fur. "Common as you are, boy, no one escapes these laws. The only escape is the peace of the grave. The son will be alenish, but we can insure there will be no brothers to follow him."

The fight ended when the soldier man moved to another part of the yard. Turbo sat in the dirt driveway. Throttle squeezed his tail tighter around his waist to keep from shaking. Where was Mommy or Daddy?

Screaming started outside. It sounded like Mommy. What was going on? Why wasn't Turbo stopping them from hurting Mommy? Mommy was the only one he liked. Why wasn't Daddy stopping it?

"Tamara! Stop!" Blade's voice broke through as her screams weakened. "TAMARA! No!" His screams stopped making words. Throttle jammed his fists against his ears as he clenched his jaw not to cry. His heart pounded.

The light and shadows outside changed. Throttle uncovered his ears when a different soldier man approached Turbo. "Come on," he told the boy with the same color fur as their mother. "Unless you want to watch the carrion eaters." Turbo climbed to his feet.

After they disappeared from view, he heard the sound of bikes and a larger truck driving away. He stayed inside the tires. Mommy had said to stay hidden until she or Daddy came to find him, and for once, he didn't feel like authority testing.

His mother's bike beeped. He ignored her. Her grapple hook shot out from beneath her seat and embedded next to the tire rack in front of Throttle's face. "It's safe to come out?"

The bike beeped once. Throttle grabbed the rope attached to the grapple hook and slid down to the floor. She was still stuck in the big springs. He opened the tool chest drawers until he found a pair of wire cutters. It took squeezing with both hands, but he managed to cut through the springs.

She rolled forward, popping out laser cannons from the hiding places in her front wheel assembly. Throttle's blue eyes widened. He didn't know his mother had armed her bike. He followed the bike into the yard. The soldier men and Turbo were gone, but they had driven four poles into the ground, like flagpoles. Why would they need flagpoles? He walked around the bike as he looked up.

Two bodies were tied at the top of the poles, a hand and foot on each pole so they stretched out between them. Their heads stared at the ground and their tails didn't move. The ground under the poles was muddy but there was something wrong about the mud. It smelled funny and he didn't want to touch it. The poles were smeared with red paint, maybe the paint had spilled? But it didn't smell like paint.

Throttle needed his parents to fix them. They weren't in the yard and the door into the house stood open. If they had gone inside, they would have shut the door. He looked back at the bodies. The sunlight had changed and he could see their faces. Mommy and Daddy's faces registered the same time he lost control and peed all over himself.

The black bike wailed. He heard metal shifting and before he said anything, he found himself scooped into a black sidecar. The bike roared down the driveway faster than he ever remembered going before. He sank down into the sidecar and cried.

The next time Throttle looked up, the sky had turned purple and they were in town. The bike slowed and honked the loudest horn he had ever heard as they turned into a driveway. A door slammed open and someone ran to the idling bike that stopped honking. Uncle Cutlass peered into the sidecar. "Throttle? What happened?" Where are your parents?"

Throttle's throat hurt too much to get any words out when he opened his mouth.

Uncle Cutlass looked more scared, especially when he saw the bike was still in battle mode. He lifted Throttle from the sidecar and carried him to his house.

Aunt Vev met them at the door. "What's going on?" The black-furred woman with blue eyes like a rat's followed them into the living room. "Throttle soiled himself? I can smell it."

"Find something for him to change into while I question him." She waddled out, her fat stomach leading the way. Cutlass focused on Throttle. "You don't need to speak, Throttle. Just think about what you want to tell me." His red antennae glowed and he rested them on top of Throttle's head. It tingled where they touched.

Cutlass pulled away with a sob and hugged Throttle. "My poor, brave boy. You're safe now. You're safe."

"Tamara's bike is driving around the house. I think she's protecting it." Vev returned with a towel and a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.

"Blade and Tamara are dead." He set Throttle down. "Go with your aunt and get cleaned up." Throttle walked to the black-furred woman and held her hand. It was a relief to have someone to tell him what to do. Cutlass wiped his face. "I have to call the police."

Charley blinked as the bedroom returned to her vision. Throttle released her, staring at the dresser without seeing it. "All that is left is me and Roddie, and everyone thinks she is dead. They all come gunning for the last alenish. That's what I have to live with. My parents sacrificed themselves and I had to kill Turbo. I'm the last of my family now." He stretched and turned on her clock radio.

The music jarred after the horror she had seen through his eyes, which was Throttle's intention, she realized. "You are being thick headed about this." He twisted to look at her, but she pressed against his back and dropped her chin onto the crook of his neck and shoulder while her arms anchored around him. "You are only the last until we have children and then you'll be the first. And you still have me and Roddie and Modo and Vinnie and Sparks. We're your family too."

Is a love so fragile?
And the heart so hollow
Shatter with words...impossible to follow

He twisted out of her embrace to face her, seizing her shoulders. "You want kids? With me?"

"I don't want to turn up pregnant tomorrow, but yes, I want kids and I want you to be their father."

You're sayin' I'm fragile...
I try not to be, I search only...
for somethin' I can't see

"After everything I just showed you?" He shook his head. "Others will want to bring back Eroite. Our kids could die by it."

Charley snorted, "Not if they're our kids. With your brains and my mechanic skills and who knows what they'll learn from Vinnie and Modo. I'm a little frightened by what we are hypothetically unleashing upon the universe." Throttle's worried expression didn't change. She cupped his face and kissed him. "We only live once, Throttle. Do we give up on us because of what could happen?"

I have my own life...and I am stronger than you know
But I carry this feelin'...when you walked into my house
That you won't be walkin' out the door

"It's not giving up." His hands moved from her shoulders to cradle her head. "I've lost so much, I can't…."

"So we can't have a future because you have survivor's guilt?" He hung his head. "Weren't you the one to tell me there's no peace down that road?"

He looked up. "Charley."

"That the only way to honor your parents' sacrifice was to live life to the fullest; didn't you say that too?"

Still I carry this feelin'...when you walked into my house
That you won't be walkin' out the door

"I have a hard time with that one." The admission changed his expression to rueful rather than remorseful.

"I understand, Throttle. But I don't think you understand that I have no future without you in it. That's why I fight beside you, why I trust you to come back to me, and why I will bring hell to anyone or anything that separates us. That's how much I love you. Let 'em come, let 'em do their worse, they won't know what hit them." She planted her lips on his but there was nothing gentle about this second kiss. He gasped when she released him. "And if that doesn't convince you, I'm calling Roddie in the morning so she can."

Lovers forever...face to face
My city or mountains...stay with me stay
I need you to love me...I need you today
Give to me your leather...take from lace

Throttle groaned as Charley moved to the other side of the bed. "That's fighting dirty, Charley-babe."

She pulled down the covers. "If you won't listen to reason, what choice do I have?"

You in the moonlight
with your sleepy eyes
Could you ever love a man like me?
And you were right
when I walked into your house
I knew I'd never want to leave

He didn't give her a chance to crawl under the covers before spooning behind her and wrapping his arms around her. "All my life, everyone ran away when they found out what happened to my parents. But not you, and not Modo and not Vinnie." He rubbed his snout against the back of her neck. She arched against his furry chest. "I can't figure it out."

Sometimes I'm a strong man, sometimes cold and scared
and sometimes I cry...

"What are you over-thinking now?" She rubbed his thigh.

"How did I manage to find the only three people in the galaxy crazy enough not to fear Eroite." He nipped her shoulder.

"Because you deserve to have someone on your side." Her hand curled around the back of his head keeping him pressed against her. "And you got lucky."

"In more ways than one." He tilted her back, so he could look at her face. "I love you so much, Charlene Davidson." He kissed her, their tongues dancing together. Her arms wrapped around his neck and her fingers twined into his fur.

But that time I saw you...
I knew with you to light my nights...
somehow I'd get by

His hand ran down her side to grip her hip. She gasped as their lips parted. "Throttle, I love you, but if you stop and leave…."

He licked her neck. "I'm never leaving you again."

"I hope some of your stuff survived the crash for you to move in." Her fingernails raked through his fur. Throttle inhaled through his teeth. "Not that I'm going to stop you if you have nothing left."

"I think I can earn my keep." He chuckled as he shifted her head onto the pillow and he leaned over her. She trembled with the way his eyes raked over her body. He spread her legs and laid his body between them, lining up his head to her breasts. "Do you want to see what I have in mind?"

"See, hear, touch, taste, and smell."

Lovers forever...face to face
My city or mountains...stay with me stay
I need you to love me...I need you today
Give to me your leather...take from lace

"I can smell your arousal. It's intoxicating." Throttle suckled her left breast as his fingers brushed over her sides at her waist. Her hips bucked against his chest as his tongue rubbed over her hardened nipple. His buck teeth grazed it and she shivered. He kissed his way down between her breasts and up to her right one.

She moaned and wrapped her legs around his torso, clasping her ankles together so he couldn't leave. Her hands rubbed his arms and shoulders. He moved his mouth to her stomach, scraping her skin with his teeth.

His tail wrapped around her locked ankles and lifted them off his back so he could slide up her body. She stared into his red eyes as one of his hands brushed against her labia. "You're so wet for me, Charley-love."

She spasmed when his fingers found her clit. She bit the rim of his ear. Throttle thrust against her. She slid her hands down his back to squeeze his ass. She tightened her legs around his hips. "I need my Biker Mouse inside me."

He slipped inside when he slammed his mouth on top of hers. He matched the thrust of his hips with the strokes of his tongue. They had to break apart to gasp for breath. Charley dug her fingernails into his back as her moaning built into a scream.

Throttle thrust harder. "Come with me, tokara. I love you so much. Show me how much you love me."

Starbursts filled her vision as the waves of pleasure ripped through her. "Throttle!"

"Tokara!" He spasmed into her. "Charley!" He pressed his head down on her shoulder.

Lovers forever...face to face
My city or mountains...stay with me stay
I need you to love me...I need you today
Give to me your leather...take from lace

She stroked his head and back as they recovered. He lifted his head to look at her face. "Satisfied, Charley-love?" He brushed her hair off her face.

"Yes," she purred. "I'll have an order of that every night." She kissed him.

Throttle laughed as he rolled off of her. "I think we both need sleep before a repeat performance."

"I'm just glad you finally realized we were both naked." She smirked as he pulled her up against his side.

"I love you." He kissed her temple.

"I love you too." Charley rested her hand on his chest and closed her eyes.

Take from lace
Take from lace

Sparks lay on the cot. Dad and Vinnie snored in the other bedroom of the guest suite Tala had finished renovating in her building. After nearly a year, he was used to their snoring, which Vinnie still swore he didn't do, so that wasn't keeping him awake. How fast they fell asleep impressed him. They dropped off like nothing more than a sports game had happened tonight. Sparks wished he had that skill. His brain would not shut up so he could fall asleep.

He could ignore it while everyone was in danger and he didn't know what was going on. He knew to keep his mouth shut when the adults were having emotional crisis. He even managed the temptation during Tala's showing off how well Vinnie's present looked in her icy blue bedroom. Who exactly needed the witnesses that she hung the Michael Whelan picture up, Tala or Vinnie?

Even those tantalizing questions did not deter his inner voice. Now with the frantic hubbub finished, his brain could scream at him the question it wanted answered. How did Turbo get a hold of Charley? It was not a question he could blurt out to Charley, not when she had Throttle's meltdown to handle. And it didn't bother anybody else because Charley was a familiar victim of hostage negotiations.

He knew he turned on the alarm system at the Last Chance when he left for the night. That alarm system was better than anything else on planet Earth, and possibly the Fury, though he was never babysat by anyone who worked on locks to be absolutely sure of that one. The computer attached to it was built from the Thunderpipe's computer the Biker Mice had crashed arriving on Earth. Most functions didn't survive the crash, but it identified the Martian A.I.s. So once the alarm system was turned on, the only thing that could get through was a Martian A.I. bike.

And why he was awake after more awake hours than he wanted to think about arguing with himself.

He had to admit the easiest solution was Turbo knocked on the door and played sane long enough for Charley to let him in. She would have assumed he was a Freedom Fighter in need of help. He would have done the same. Even if Dad and his bros didn't want to have tragic past storytelling time-and who could blame them-they needed to make a list of people we don't open the door for ever. Who knows how many tails the Biker Mice had stepped on so far? Sparks felt sure he'd have Charley's support for just such a list.

But that didn't diminish the second possibility: Turbo had a Martian A.I. bike that the alarm system let into the garage without realizing it was a new A.I. If that was true, it meant there was an ownerless motorcycle in the trash heap that had been a spaceship and the Quigley Field scoreboard.

Sparks wanted that hypothetical bike more than anything else he could consider wanting right this second. He needed a bike and none of the adults acknowledging that irked him.

Mars needed all the bikes they had for their military considerations. Charley wouldn't build him one, and Tala laughed at the idea of him inserting a Martian A.I. into one of her extra Earth bikes. He didn't know extra bikes were collector quality, and he also didn't know that Charley's friend MacCyber who had visited around Christmas had already tried it. They had discussed his inventions in between Vinnie's acting like a jealous jerk and Charley snarling at everybody.

But a real Martian A.I., the type that bonded with their owner, was within reach. Not the watered-down military version that had to be uniform so anyone could drive it. Not the less than stellar copycat version that had been built from scratch with serious design flaws because Earth tech wasn't proficient enough. If he was right about Turbo's personality, the hypothetical bike might not even be bonded.

If he was right. Sparks rolled over on his side. He wasn't going to sleep until he knew he was right. And that meant a trip to the scoreboard.

Had he reasoned it out fully while they were at the garage after rescuing Charley and Throttle, he would have checked the alarm system. Alarm off, Charley opened door. Alarm on, Martian A.I. opened door. Vinnie shooing everyone back to Tala's was not conductive to thinking on any planet in the galaxy. Throttle and Charley would have reset the alarm making checking now useless. So he would have to poke in the wreckage and find the bike. He gritted his teeth. Everything that made sense told him to go to sleep and look for it during daylight.

But one did not become a Biker Mouse by following what made sense.

He pulled himself out of the sleeping bag and shoved his feet into his boots. It was a hike to the scoreboard from Tala's building, so the sooner he got started, the sooner he could drive back (or hike if he was wrong) and get some sleep. The wind blowing down the street from Lake Michigan woke his body to the same state his brain was in.

No one was out on the streets of Chicago this late at night. Or should that be this early in the a.m.? He still got confused with planet-side vernacular when it came to time. At least he didn't have to worry about getting captured by Limburger's goons. He liked concentrating on that bright side. And even if Dad grounded him until he was fifty-five, he would have a bike to ride once it was over.

Quigley Field was still deserted. Chicago was impressively blas about crashing spaceships, disintegrating buildings, and any other level of explosive destruction. Sparks wondered how long it was going to take the Feds to notice. Four years seemed to stretch it. He climbed up the cement stairs until he reached the scoreboard's walk-in entrance. While leaning against the wall for a breather, he scanned the hallway for structural damage. He hurried further in, convinced that his added weight shouldn't bring the whole stadium down on his head.

Understanding that a whole spaceship had ended up in their living space didn't help him comprehend the sight that greeted him when Sparks entered the scoreboard. And Dad had climbed through this tangled heap without getting a scratch? He frowned and focused on the metal girders and plates that had been walls of the scoreboard and the ship's surface. The upper side of the Thunderpipe was mostly intact, couldn't say the same for the undercarriage or the side with the ramp into the cargo hold.

He was glad Fender had given him a few lessons in the history of ship design. Thunderpipes built by the Cyclodrone Corporation had an escape hatch built on top of the ship, years before the space-faring community decided that was an important safety feature. Course, Sparks knew now the lessons were Fender bouncing his ideas when Fender had been designing what became the space fighters for the Fury, and he had to keep Sparks distracted. And Roddie wondered why he had considered opening the school to be such a waste of time.

He scrambled up what was left of the catwalk that had run behind the scoreboard's numbers to reach the top of the Thunderpipe. He stretched out his arms and tail as he walked across the smooth dark blue metal. Last thing he needed was to slip and impale himself on the debris. He dropped to his knees beside the seam in the metal and wrenched the wheel to open it. It popped free with a hiss of escaping gas, and he hung his head inside.

The hatch opened into an interior hallway. The floor and the walls were all where they should be. Sparks hung from his hands for a second before dropping to the deck. It rocked under his weight, but stopped. He let out the breath he didn't realize he was holding. "Move slower. Mass changes thanks to velocity not your friend in here." He turned on a flashlight and headed to the rear of the ship.

The hallway ended in the mess that was formerly a cargo hold. By the narrow beam of the flashlight, it looked like part of the engines had broken through the floor plates at the rear of the room. He couldn't tell what was parts from it and what had been stored in the hold. He panned the light and saw the transport booth, which looked like it was in one piece. He panned back to the left and whistled.

She matched the style of Throttle's black bike only her crankcase was painted a dull metallic gold. The seat was padded in black leather with tiny gold studs. She had shot ropes from under the seat and each side of the front wheel assembly into the walls of the cargo hold to anchor herself. A really smart A.I.; he had heard Charley berating the other bikes for taking too much abuse in order for the Biker Mice to walk away from a disaster. He didn't want to ask that of his bike. Debris had pelted her. The mousehead-shaped headlight was cracked, the handlebars dented, and the crankcase covering the computer circuitry was knocked off. She didn't even register his presence in the hold.

Sparks reached into the computer cavity and found the diagnostic reader. The handheld device had a small screen with a touchpad for typing commands. He plugged the cords into the right ports and started the check. "All systems in hibernation mode, but no issues found." He frowned, "Shutting down was a good plan, since you didn't know how bad the crash would be."

He sent the diagnostic reader down another root path. "Imprinting program off." He reran that test. "Still off. What did Turbo have you do?" Bikes the Martian Army used had the imprinting program removed to keep the bikes free from following only one owner. Martian A.I.s had their own set of ethics and were notorious for fighting with anyone who did not match it. That's why it was surprising Tala had a Martian bike and it was so fiercely protective of her. Especially when you tried to have deep mechanics conversations with her, and she would shoo you to Fender and now Charley. She didn't know about any of this stuff.

It looked like Turbo had let the imprinting program run, but the bike had refused to recognize him, so he shut it off. "What did he want you to do that you didn't like?" Sparks asked the non-responsive bike. He stifled a yawn and went searching for the ownership input. "Well, you're gonna like me a whole lot better." He changed it to his name, and wrinkled his snout over Turbo's choice in bike names. "Cavalry, much better. 'Cause knowing my Dad and his bros, that's what we're going to end up being."

He turned on the imprinting program before rebooting the A.I. He unplugged the diagnostic reader, stowed it again, and looked for the missing section of crankcase while the computer and bike emerged from hibernation mode. He found the bent piece of metal underneath the remains of a crate when the bike's engine roared and the anchor ropes pulled back in. Her headlight flashed on and swept over him. "Hi Cavalry, I'm Sparks." He waited for the bike to make the next move.

She moved forward pushing the debris ahead of her and then rolling on top of the heavier pieces to reach him. He patted her next to the headlight. "It's gonna be fine. I'm gonna take good care of you. Charley's gonna give you the works, well, when she feels like working. She had a rough night, and I'm not gonna wake her up right this minute." Cavalry beeped and Sparks grinned. "But right this minute, we need to get out of here. Know where the ramp is?"

The golden bike rolled to the left side of the room. Her headlight illuminated the seam of the cargo hold ramp door. "Great, and I forgot to pack a can opener."

The bike beeped and a laser cannon emerged between her handlebars. She cut through the door with a laser beam. Sparks shielded his eyes with his hand. Once she was through cutting across, she bumped the piece out with her front wheel. The sheet of metal slid down the mountain of debris, stopping up against the remains of their TV set. Cheese, he hoped Dad's Christmas present of Law and Order videos survived. He considered the hole in the ship. It was tall enough for him to ride out on the bike. She beeped, looking for approval. "Great job, but I don't know about the getting past the mess part. It doesn't look stable."

Cavalry beeped again and rolled right next to him. He put the crankcase section in her storage compartment and climbed on. "You're gonna have to handle this. All I know how to do is accelerate and brake on a flat surface, and that's mostly theory." He gulped gripping the handlebars. "Don't tell Vinnie."

Her engine revved and the rocket jets at the rear wheel ignited. They soared past the mountain of debris. Before Sparks could scream at how close the back wall was, she twisted in midair so her wheels hit it. Then she did a tight S-down the wall before landing on the clear portion of the floor in front of the walk-in door. Sparks realized how hard his heart pounded as he pried his fingers from the handlebars. He leaned against Cavalry as he waited for his trembling to stop. "We need more practice before doing that again." He nodded. "Yeah, more practice. And you need the pit stop before practice." He blinked. "I should put the kickstand down now, huh?"

Her beeps sounded like laughter. He propped the bike on the kickstand and sat with his back against the wall. "Give me a break, you're my first bike. And it has been a long day." His yawn nearly split his head open. "I'll get better. But I need to get back to Tala's." The crashed Thunderpipe went blurry on him. "After a nap." He yawned again before closing his eyes.

Throttle buried his face in Charley's hair and refused to let his brain-worried about the banging downstairs-pull him from her. Somebody else could have hero duty today. His plans included more sleeping, thoroughly testing the bed's limits as many times as Charley wanted to, and only leaving the bedroom if they needed to eat. Nope, hero time was not on the list.

"What is that racket?" Charley muttered as she wrapped her leg around his.

"Don't know, don't care."

"Maybe we should care. It sounds like it's coming up the stairs."

Throttle propped up on his elbows as Modo burst in through the bedroom door. Charley yelped as she grabbed the tangled sheet to cover with. Throttle winced when she grabbed his tail too.

Modo didn't even notice in his wide-eyed panic. "Where's Sparks?"

"Not in here!" Charley kicked to sit up while pressing the sheet against her torso.

"You better be glad I don't remember where my gun is," Throttle said as he watched Modo's skin change to brick red under his grey fur.

His embarrassment only heightened his panicked state. "He left Tala's while we were sleepin' and he never came back!"

"And that means he came here to bug me and Throttle!"

The trapdoor thrust open and slammed down on the floor. Vinnie looked sheepish before dropping most of his body back down the ladder. "Oops, pardon the interruption."

Throttle fell back with a groan. "We need new locks. OUT! Both of you, out!"

Vinnie ignored the command. "Big Fella, Tala knows where Sparks is and she's pissed you didn't let her talk. And then she got repissed at me because I didn't let her talk last night with the CB."

"Where is he!"

"She says he added two and two and went after a motorcycle. I don't know what that means, but she left her tracking signal on for us to follow. Now come on, and let Throttle and Charley practice baby-making in peace." Vinnie shut the trapdoor as he descended back into the garage. Modo shut the door quietly before his heavy footsteps galloped across the living room floorboards and down the stairs.

Throttle threw his arm over his eyes with a sigh. Charley matched his sigh as she snuggled against his side. "You know what?" she asked.


"We can take our time on the whole kids issue. After all, we need to raise the four we got already first."

He laughed, a deep belly laugh that had been pent up for too long. He rolled over and kissed her. "I'm not adopting Tala, Tokara. She can stay an in-law."

Her puzzled, green eyes looked up at him. "Tokara? Is that my name in Martian?"

He hadn't planned on springing that on her so soon. Cheese, did Terrans even have the same concept? "Term of endearment."

"That makes you look guilty for calling me it?"

"Guys always look guilty when they get caught at being mushy." She didn't look convinced. Damn, why did he always love the ones who could see right though him? "We should've discussed it before I blurted it out."

She ran her finger along the rim of his ear to his jaw and down to his chin. "You sound like you think I'm going to object and take it to Modo and Vinnie so they can tease you about it. I keep my mouth shut better than that."

"No kidding. I made a drunken pass at you on Mars and just now find out about it?"

"You apologized for it." She poked his nose. "Now stop changing the subject or your second night here will be spent on the couch."

"We've had fun on that couch, well, before we were interrupted."

"But I'll be in here with brand new locks. What exactly did you call me?"

"You are my mate, for life in this existence and for whatever comes beyond it. For all time." Her face grew graver with the words tumbling out of his mouth. So more words came out to stop her serious expression. "Husband, wife, that's a lifetime commitment. Souls don't bond into one with just a marriage." He sat up, running his hand through his head fur. "Crap, I just can't stop screwing us up."

Charley leaned against the leather-covered headboard, keeping the sheet pinned over her breasts. He appreciated the hiding of her distractions. This was serious and he didn't want to screw it up worse. "Wow," she said. "You jumped from let's take things slow to let's get married in less than forty-eight hours. I'm impressed with your reaction to life threatening situations."

"That's why I shouldn't have called you that without discussing it first." He grimaced. "I keep throwing out things I don't know if Earth even has a concept for and expecting you to be on the same track."

"Can you download the Martian language into my brain with your Martian mind tricks, since that seems to be a sticking point?"

"I don't think that's possible. At least, I wasn't taught how."

Charley nodded. "Just an idea. This is more serious, but it's not a rejection." He steeled himself. "Did you ever propose to Carbine?"

"Bonding, no. Hell, not even a regular marriage. I did promise her to survive the war and come back to her, and we all know how much that meant to her." He sighed. "I'm sorry for making you think you were second best, Charley, 'cause you're not. You said last night that you can't see the future without me in it and it's the same for me." He took a deep breath. "All that aside, I'll be happy with how much of your heart you can give me. I know love isn't forced." His heart hadn't pounded this hard since he had told Uncle Cutlass he was joining the Freedom Fighters.

She combed her fingers into his cheek fur. He leaned into her hand. "I feel the same way, tokara." Relief bubbled out of him in chuckles, made stronger since she had just said linguistics was an issue. "What? It's not okay for me to feel we're soul mates too!"

Throttle caught her hand to keep her from yanking it back. "Tokara is the feminine form. You would call me tokaro." His kissed the palm of her hand.

"Fine. How do we make this official, tokaro?"

"What do you mean official?"

"Um, vows? I know you said it's different from marriage. But at the same time, it sounds like a big deal."

"No one has ever bothered writing vows. I don't think I have ever heard of a couple who declared themselves bonded not getting married." His tail twitched on the bed. "But it's gonna be a while before we can get married. It wouldn't be a bother on Mars or the Fury, but who knows when we'll get back to either one."

Charley smirked, "I think you're more worried about the fuss Roddie or Stoker will make over our wedding."

"You left off Momma Bola. She didn't get to marry off Modo or his sister; it's built up. But we won't find an Earth official who will perform marriage rites for an alien."

"That's true. So what do we do?"

Throttle frowned as he considered the problem. He took off his morning star replica earring. "Would livin' in sin bother you much if it comes with jewelry, Tokara?"

Her green eyes glimmered. "Tokaro."

"Martian weddings usually exchange earrings, but if you'd rather have finger rings…." Her hard kiss drove the rest of his offer straight out of his head. He gasped when they broke apart. "You do?"

"Forever and beyond I do." She slipped the gold stud out of her right ear and leaned forward so he could insert his earring through the piercing.

"I do too." The grin on his face felt wider than Fred the Mutant's when you promised to drop the building on him.

Charley touched the morning star with an expression of disbelief. "If I wake up and this was a dream, I am so not responsible for my actions."

"Speaking of responsible. We need to see what our 'kids' are up to."

Her groan turned into a laugh and she kissed him. "Glad to see none of this has given you a personality transplant. But," she pressed her hands against his chest, "can we make it a short trip and promise pain to anyone who interrupts?" The sheet pooled in her lap.

Throttle's mouth went dry. "Yes?"

"Good answer." She sauntered into the bathroom.

Throttle laughed as he went scavenging for clean clothes. Since they got banged up and filthy often, Charley had started keeping an extra set of clothes for each of them at the garage. The only thing that was a problem was his ruined vest. He found a white T-shirt that would do for as long as he needed clothes to stay on, and turned the radio on his bike on while he waited for Charley to come downstairs. His ear felt odd with the much lighter gold stud hanging in it, but he would get used to it.

Tell your friends not to think aloud
Until they swallow
Whisper things into my brain
Your voice sounds so hollow

It was still way too early in the morning considering what time they finally went unconscious to roar down Chicago's streets. Charley's arms wrapped around his waist and she pressed against his back. "You're making it hard to concentrate on the road."

"That's the idea," she said with a giggle and a wiggle.

I am not a leader of men
Since I prefer to follow
Do you think I could have a drink
Since it's so hard to swallow
So hard to swallow

The scoreboard looked even worse in bright sunlight. He hadn't paid much attention last night, but now he saw the damage. They had to replace everything in there again.

"We have to get that fixed by season opener at least." Charley leaned her chin on his shoulder.

"It's not so bad. We knocked the whole thing over with the Stench Cruiser. This is just a fix the wall with the numbers. Again." She pulled back and he glanced over his shoulder at her. "Just think about the nifty scrap you get out of the deal, and the free pass to all home games." He gunned the bike and they headed up to the walk-in entrance. Modo, Vinnie, and Tala's bikes were all parked outside the human-sized door, so that's where Throttle left his.

So turn the television off
and I will sing a song
And if you suddenly have the urge
You can sing along

Tala leaned against the wall next to the door, watching father, son and angry bike. "Vinnie went in to see if the Thunderpipe had anything good. He didn't define what good he was looking for."

"With Vinnie that can be anything from tech to a CD collection." Charley pointed to the golden bike between Modo and his yawning son. "That's Turbo's."

"Not any more," Tala chuckled. "Sparks got adopted."

I touch your hand, I touch your face
I think the fruit is rotten
Give me lessons on how to breath
Cause I think I've forgotten
I think I've forgotten

"You know better than to run off in the middle of the night!" Modo's hands gestured in the air. The bike honked and popped out its laser cannon. Modo raised his hands level with his head and the bike rolled closer to Sparks.

Sparks rubbed his eyes. "I couldn't sleep."

"So exploring a crash site sounded like a good way to wear yerself out?"

Sparks yawned as wide as he could. "I couldn't leave the bike here alone. What if somebody decided to mess with it?"

"It wasn't yours to take and reprogram. If it belonged to Turbo, it belongs to Throttle now. And besides, you're too young to drive!"

"Oh come on! None of you guys thought he had one! I'm not going to do any stunts. Not until I know how."

Modo's arms crossed over his chest. Tala tried to disguise her laughter as a coughing fit.

One day, up to a cliff
That overlooked the water
I jumped in to save a girl
It was somebody's daughter
And now the ring is on my hand
It was given to me by her
To this day we all sit around
And dream of ways to get higher
To get much higher

Throttle ducked his head behind Charley's to hide his grin. Modo continued fighting the losing battle. "You have to be fourteen to drive."

Sparks gestured to the bike. "Look how protective she is of me already!"

"Yes, that's a good quality to have."

"Turbo must have abused her; he had to turn off the imprinting program."

"Okay, that made her easier to reprogram, but that doesn't mean you can take it. It wasn't left to you, so technically it belongs to Turbo's next of kin and that's Throttle."

"And she protected herself during the crash. Had ropes all across the cargo hold to keep from flying around. The damage is from stuff landing on her." Sparks gestured at the dents and the missing section of crankcase.

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"Wouldn't you rather have me on a bike that doesn't wanna get blown up?"

Modo's flesh hand hit his forehead. "Oh momma."

Charley shook her head. "How did you even know Turbo had a bike? I never told anyone."

"Oh, two scenarios. Either you let him in or the alarm deactivated itself for a Martian A.I. But by the time I thought of it, the only way to see if I was right was to check the Thunderpipe." Sparks grinned at the bike, "And there she was."

Modo glared at his son. "And you could have broken your neck getting it out of a crashed spaceship!"

"But I didn't."

The yawn managed to break out the chuckles Throttle held back. "Let him have it, Modo."

The grey mouse spun around. "Say what!"

"Nothing about our situation here is normal, Big Fella. Sparks is young, but he's smart and he's a target, so he needs a set of wheels he can depend on."

Sparks' red eyes opened wide. "Yeah, what he said."

"But you're still just a kid, so Modo and Charley are going to go over the bike and set up age appropriate modifications." Throttle swung himself into Vinnie's hammock. This thing always managed to survive no matter what crashed into the scoreboard. It had a soothing rock and he yawned again.

Tell your friends not to think aloud
Until they swallow
Whisper things into my brain
Your voice sounds so hollow

Sparks' eyes narrowed again. "What does that mean?"

"No guns until you're fifteen," Modo answered.

"But Limburger's goons don't care if I'm legal to shoot back!" Sparks threw his hands up into the air.

"You wanna make it thirty? Keep talkin'."

Vinnie's head appeared in the hole cut into the side of the Thunderpipe. "Hey, not to interrupt the father son quality time, but I think the transporter booth in here is in one operational piece!" He ducked back inside.

Tala shook her head before heading toward the ship. "And I just swore I wasn't going to climb in that crap."

Charley followed her, until Throttle lifted her into the hammock with his tail. "We're on break today. We'll take tomorrow's clean-up shift and there will still be plenty to do."

She snuggled on top of him with a yawn. "I still want to go back to the garage."

"We haven't promised pain yet."

Sparks scratched his head. "Did you guys exchange earrings? Or did you forget which is whose?"

Tala and Modo both dropped the debris they held and Vinnie's head popped out again. "What?" chorused in unison shook what rafters were still standing.

I am not a leader of men
Since I prefer to follow
Do you think I could have a drink
Since it's so hard to swallow
So hard to swallow

Charley picked up her head. "I don't think this was how we wanted to break it to them."

"I know this wasn't how I wanted to break it to them."

Vinnie slid down the debris mountain on a flat piece of metal and joined the crowd at the hammock. "You jumped from moving in with her to branded for life?"

Modo swatted Vinnie's uninjured shoulder. "Just because you think commitment is a dirty word."

"I do not. But domestic does not equal fun."

Throttle shook his head. "I can't rebut that argument on the grounds that Modo will kill me for corrupting his son. So I think we should go." He used his tail to set Charley on the floor first before swinging off the hammock.

Tala covered her mouth to stifle her giggles at Modo and Vinnie's flummoxed faces.

"When Roddie and Lance got hitched, I had to walk down the aisle in a suit. I'm thrilled to skip that," Sparks declared. "Congratulations. Me and Tala will keep 'em busy here."

"Thanks, Sparks." Charley said. Throttle ruffled his grey hair as they passed. He wrapped his arm around her waist. "I think Sparks will probably be the first one to leave the nest."

"Heh, we say caves on Mars, but yeah, I think you're right."

The End

Author's Note: I really hope everyone who enjoyed (or didn't) this story can click on the link and leave a review. If you have an account, I'll even respond back. If you wanted to leave a review at the Library (i.e. my website), that link has now been fixed so you can.

Hopefully, it won't be such a long wait for the next one in this series. Read Free!