I've had a difficult week and my emotions are all over the place, so forgive me for not having updated Scars.

I have had this following story in my head for quite a while, and never thought about publishing it because I thought of it before I discovered fan fiction. However, today I read a fantastic story in progress, called 'Bent' by the equally fantastic baby-kitsune9, and when I reached the current chapter I found not only the inspiration to write, but the courage to get this particular story out on paper. Needless to say, if you have read 'Bent' you will see the trigger.

Umm... if you like nice stories then don't read this.


Judgement.

It wasn't often they went home. Sparing one of the limited number of spaceships available for such a journey truly made clear the gravity of the situation. They really wished it hadn't come to this, but this time things had just gone too far.

They looked across at him, taking in the expressions flashing across his face as they neared their birth planet, and he neared his fate. Anger. Defiance. Fear... Plenty of fear showed in those staring eyes, wide and dilated as each spasm knotted inside his belly, amplifying the anxiety he felt. They just hoped there was something more going on behind this multitude of visible emotions. They wished he would show something else. Guilt. Regret. Remorse. Anything to show he was really sorry for what he had done. Not just the words he had uttered as they passed their judgement, no... they wanted him to mean it. To feel it.

It had all started around eight months earlier. A typical day of goon bashing and tower demolishing, followed up by jubilation and celebration, and a hefty crate of hot dogs and root beer. They had been so excited by their recent victory that they had burst into the tiny garage in their normal fashion, almost forgetting they once again had left out one of their team.

Charley took it quite well this time. Really. On the surface she was smiles and hugs, tending to the few minor injuries they had sustained in battle, graciously allowing her boys to muddy her mopped floor and lounge all over her sofa shedding their hairs into its fabric, whilst slowly but surely creating a pile of soda cans and bread crumbs that she knew she would ultimately have to clean up. Underneath, though, was a totally different story.

The last few days had been a struggle for her and the guys. Limburger and his cronies had cooked up quite a complicated and diabolical scheme to gather their latest batch of Earth resources, and had even concocted such a tangled web of red herrings it took her all her powers of lateral thinking to come up with a suitable plan. In the end though, they guys only wanted to know where and when, and were not so interested in how. The last few hours of that day she had waited in the garage workshop, biting her nails until they bled, hoping for the three mouse-shaped headlights to grace her building's window once more.

Needless to say, Charley was so relived they were ok she managed to bury all her feelings of annoyance at them leaving her out of the action, and for practically ignoring her tactical plan despite the hours she had put into coming up with it. Until, that is, he went and stuck his foot in it.

They were shocked at the sudden transformation in her demeanour. One moment she was joking and partying with them, the next she was screaming in outrage and storming out the room in floods of tears.

The three mice had decided to call it a night at that point, and once back at their scoreboard two of them had tried to have it out with their other bro.

Vinnie had merely shrugged, and stalked off to the pitch outside when they asked him what the hell he was thinking - telling Charley they did it all by themselves with no help at all, or even despite her help. They tried again in the morning but got nowhere. Their bro simply refused to acknowledge he had done anything wrong at all.

After a few days the mice were able to face Charley again, and something vaguely resembling an apology passed the white lips of their youngest bro. Throttle and Modo knew it was far from sincere, but it would have to do for now. Nevertheless, the mechanic seemed to accept it, and for a short while all went back to normal.

From this point, however, the situation only got worse. Every time they were up against Limburger's goons, or indeed anything at all that required an action plan and battle tactics, one mouse seemed to want to do it his own way. He refused to take orders from the leader of the trio, nor advice in any shape or form from either his oldest bro nor their human friend. In essence, he had removed himself from their authority in some kind of rebellion of his own personal making – although why exactly they could not fathom.

Whilst annoying, bordering on disrespectful or even hurtful sometimes, the white mouse still seemed to function vaguely as part of their team and thus no real harm was done. But after a couple of months came a day when this was not the case. Vinnie's defiance not only put them all in danger, but put a whole lot of innocent bystanders right in the line of fire.

This was it. There was no way he could stand by and let this go on any further. He had to do something before someone really got hurt. Throttle had to exercise his authority now before it was too late.

With Modo's help he managed to get his bro not only in the same room, but actually sat on the couch in front of him. After his speech on being a team player, and the importance of trust and integrity, and honour, Throttle then asked his white-furred bro what exactly it was that made him suddenly want to go against everything the three of them stood for. Why was it he no longer respected his friends, his comrades on the battle field, his closest of allies? Did he not want to be a bro anymore?

At first he had sat in a sullen silence, not looking at his two friends at all. Modo had joined in, trying to question and reason with his bro. Eventually Vinnie had opened up a little, hinting at his frustrations at being always told what to do, and with his opinion rarely being given any weight in the process of making decisions.

Throttle had felt a little hurt at this revelation. Had he not always tried to be fair to his two comrades? Had he not taken his role as their leader not so literally, and always tried to incorporate their ideas and suggestions into his own decisions?

By the time they retired to bed that night the tan mouse felt sure he had done his best to make his rebellious friend see sense, and for the next few weeks he was more confident that their discussion had made an impact. Vinnie seemed more receptive to his direction, more cooperative during both battle and their leisure time. The atmosphere between them noticeably improved.

This did not last long. The next two months were punctuated by a number of incidences, each succeeded by a night of debate and discussion, sometimes even by heated tempers and door slamming. For a few days after each event there would be silence between them, then a few days after that the tension would break and things would even out. Then it would start again. And again. And again.

In the end Throttle had reached out to his mentor for advice. Stoker had been sympathetic at first, giving him advice on how to reason with the young hotshot the old mouse had known back during the war. The fourth time the tan mouse had contacted him, however, he decided something more drastic was in order to bring the tearaway under control.

"You gotta put him in his place now or this ain't getting any better" the head of the freedom fighters had said. "You need to show him the consequences of his actions, or else he just won't get it into his thick skull that what he is doing is hurting people."

Modo had gone to great lengths to set up the outing, trying to reason with the city officials they had upset the last time their bro had flown off the handle and taken his destructive mutiny out to new levels. But even after a tour of the wreckage, and a one-to-one with one of the citizens who had been hurt in the frenzy, the white mouse had remained unrepentant.

The fifth time Stoker was contacted the old mouse had given the younger leader a stark warning. This kind of behaviour was not to be tolerated, and he had one more chance before things had to get official. He told Throttle exactly what he had to do to get his youngest bro's attention, and that no matter how distasteful he found it, it had to be done... because next time such reprimands would not be so lenient.

That night, when their bro was out venting his wanton rage in the quiet streets on the back of his red racing bike, Throttle and Modo sat down together to decide what to do.

"Stoker was pretty clear about where... but a bit vaguer on how." Throttle had looked into the eyes of his more placid friend, hoping to see support for what was to come.

"Well, I have to say bro, I don't like it – any of it – but Stoker's still right. This has gone too far, and we both know we don't want this to go any higher than him."

Modo was referring to the system of judgement against crimes committed by any Martian mouse, whether on their home planet or off-world. Of course it was a complicated system if you looked at it closely, not least because of the war. Everything had relaxed during that time – they couldn't afford to be worried about minor crimes and misdemeanours when their planet was being torn apart by aliens. The only real crime back then was being a traitor, everything else was dealt with amongst the general population, and rarely if ever made it before the council.

Now that their society was trying to pull itself back together there were many more issues to be addressed that just war crimes. But on the surface it was a simple system. Communities dealt with minor offences in their own way, following a simple code of honour and conduct. Most infringements of this were settled through physical means, especially between adult males. Everything was common sense, and reasonably fair. It only became complicated when things extended beyond communities, and more so off world. How could they really police what was going on elsewhere?

The simple answer is, they couldn't most of the time. But the three Martians residing on Earth not only were part of a specific unit with its own hierarchy and code of conduct, but even off world they were still in contact with the planet, and thus still bound to a degree by its rules. In this case, just telling Stoker of what Vinnie had been up to took it out of their hands. Stoker was duty bound to deal with the matter now that it had been brought to his attention. His reputation was at stake, as was that of the freedom fighters, and Mars as a whole. What the young mouse was doing was putting all of that in jeopardy. Throttle had told him that many people in the Earth city were less than happy that one of the bikers meant to be keeping them safe was actually now causing more harm than good.

Throttle sighed. He didn't want to drag this whole mess to Mars either, and he was somewhat regretting ever asking the old Martian for advice now that he was facing having to punish the reckless white mouse himself.

"Umm.. so... do I do this bro, do you think I really need to go down this road?"

"Uh huh... better you than them... that's for sure." The grey mouse shifted uncomfortably. Stoker's suggestion to give their bro a more... visual... reminder of his misdeeds did not sit well with his gentle sentiments at all. "Have you decided... you know... how?"

Throttle nodded. He had come up with three possibilities, and they were all as horrible as each other as far as he was concerned. At least if one fails I could try the others... gives him three more chances not one. The leader of the mice wanted to delay the next level for as long as he could possibly get away with.

By the time Vinnie stomped back into the scoreboard, both of the older mice had agreed on what they were doing. They were waiting for him in the dark, having disconnected the power so that he wouldn't see them coming for him.

Throttle hadn't even been sure it was possible, but once pinned to the floor he and the grey mouse had pushed their fingers under the yelling mouse's metal mask, and peeled it from his face. They hid the malleable plating before turning on the lights, and then forced their bro to look at his uncovered facial scarring in a mirror. They told him his war wounds should remind him of the consequences of violent action, and that they hoped he would realise his behaviour may cause the same damage to someone more innocent than he.

It worked for a while. The shock of what they had done, and the revulsion he felt when he looked in that mirror, calmed him right down. Eventually they returned his mask, hoping this difficult business was all behind them.

Unfortunately a few weeks later it began again, and so the two older mice had had another discussion and agreed to try option two. This time they had to be more cunning about the trap they would set – there was no way Vinnie would walk into the scoreboard a second time if the lights weren't working.

This time they caught him at the garage, having asked Charley if she would mind staying away for the night so they could deal with this. They didn't want her to see what they were going to do. They knew it would upset her... and that she might even try to stop them. Thankfully she wanted a break from all the tension, and took herself off to a retreat to be pampered in a spa for a few days.

When she returned it was to a strange atmosphere. She sensed something awful had gone on in her absence, and this was confirmed when she noticed that one of the bros simply refused to remove his helmet. Did they take off his mask again?

She hadn't been repulsed by the remainder of the right side of his face. If anything she had felt sorry for him, the scars a reminder of the atrocities he had faced back home. That he was now keeping his helmet on worried her. What had they done to him this time?

Part of this punishment meant Vinnie was not allowed to hide himself away, and soon he was forcible pried from his helmet so the human female could see underneath.

Oh my god...

Vinnie's face was miserable, and no wonder. His two bros had held him down and carved his forehead with a knife, spelling out for all to see exactly what he should have been feeling for his actions. Shame.

A few more weeks went by. Vinnie made a visible effort to put right what he had done, and to follow the direction of his friends. In turn they were equally trying to engage him in important matters, making it clear they valued his opinions.

Just as the wound to his face had healed enough to no longer be seen, the fur growing to cover the thin scars the blade had left, the mouse once again reverted to his sullen and seditious behaviour.

Throttle and Modo sat down together again to discuss option three.

"I really don't like this... I really don't... but what else can I do? Why can't we get through to him?" The tan mouse sat with his head in his hands, hating himself and the role he had to perform.

"I know bro, I know... but if you don't try this..." Modo grimaced at the thought. Martian punishments were wide-ranging, depending on the crime. And no doubt in light of the effort to return to a civilised society, whatever was decided for their bro was likely to make an example of him. A freedom fighter gone bad was a treacherous thing that could not simply be allowed to pass unnoticed.

Throttle fingered the small object in his grasp. It wasn't that big, not really, but it would feel it. He had spent weeks machining this to make sure it wouldn't be a hindrance, just an ever-present reminder, something that could not be ignored. At least it wasn't permanent, not with the right tool to remove it. A tool that they definitely didn't have here, but did at least exist.

The ring was only an inch or so in diameter, made of an alloy of Earth and Plutarkian steel (the latter of which was salvaged from their latest attack on Limburger tower, and gave it the necessary strength to avoid being destroyed by their own weapons), and of a reasonable weight for its size. But not too heavy. He didn't want to harm the delicate tissues through which it would be placed.

"Alright... well, tonight then. Let's get this over with. But not here, Charley ain't got time to be taking a second trip away."

"Scoreboard then. Another trap?"

Throttle nodded. This was going to be one heck of an ambush.

They waited for over an hour in the locker room to Quigley field. They knew that their bro would come here, he nearly always did after he had been out on his own. They suspected he must be going somewhere and getting into trouble, fights or goodness knows what, something he would need to wash away the evidence of in the shower room down here before facing them in the scoreboard. And they weren't wrong.

As soon as he was within reach they pounced. They had been hiding behind one of the sports equipment cages, and as the mouse had turned to strip his clothes they had jumped him, pinning him to the ground on his back.

Modo used his tail to secure the kicking legs, whilst sitting on the mouse's hips and leaning forward to hold his arms firmly down, crossing them in front of his chest. The grey mouse could feel his bro's heart beating madly behind his ribs, like a wild animal caught in the jaws of a hungry predator.

Throttle knelt down at the white-furred head, using his knees to secure the large white ears to the floor. He wasn't interested in those, he just used them as an easy way to hold down Vinnie's head.

"Bros..? Bros what are you doing...? What... no... let me go, let me go, let me go!" His voice was hysterical, and it took Modo all his concentration to keep the smaller body beneath his own still and secure. The thrashing form was getting more frantic. Vinnie had seen something in the tan mouse's hands and was panicking as it moved towards him.

In his right hand Throttle held an odd-looking set of pliers, the end of which was rounded rather than flattened. Within the pliers' mouth was the metal ring, its open end facing outwards. The mouse's left hand quickly moved to grab hold of the little white snout at his knees, holding it still and preventing his bro from shouting. Or screaming. He knew he would scream. This was going to hurt after all.

Vinnie's eyed widened in terror at the pliers moved towards his face. The sharp prongs of the ring were slipping into position, one in each nostril, pointing inwards to his septum. Throttle squeezed the pliers hard, and the two ends pushed together, piercing the flesh so that they met.

There was a crunching click as the ring closed in the middle of the little black nose, though this sound was barely audible over the muffled scream erupting deep within the mouse's throat. Tears were practically pouring from the pink eyes, and his chest was heaving as he fought back the pain and the emotion he was flooded with. He couldn't believe what his two friends had just done to him.

They then left him alone in the locker room to pull himself together. They knew he wouldn't try to take the ring out. It would be far too painful to deal with, and he would soon realise it couldn't be removed like any ordinary piece of jewellery.

And so for the next few weeks their bro was tamed. Even without looking in a mirror the nose ring's presence was something he could not forget. It was heavy enough for him to feel it, and large enough to be annoying without actually really getting in the way. He was made to face everyone and everything with that metal loop on show, the goons mostly laughing at the sight of him, though anyone else's reaction was variable. Kids were especially cruel.

Unsurprisingly Charley was gobsmacked. Angry. But not at Throttle and Modo for doing it to their bro. No, she was angry at Vinnie, and one day yelled at him so forcefully for being such a jerk and shouting him that it was his own fault and that he got what he deserved, he eventually broke down and cried.

His words asked for forgiveness, promising good behaviour, regretting his wayward actions. He cried and begged, pleading with them to remove the ring. After a while they agreed; their bro had said sorry and that was good enough for them.

They had had to contact Stoker to ask him to bring the tool to remove it. Three days later he came, but he made no mention of why he was visiting to the white mouse. He had agreed with Throttle that he would come and see for himself if the young Martian deserved a reprieve, and if he did he would take off the ring for them.

Staring across at his friend's face now, the tan mouse frowned. Had Stoker known their bro would fail to convince him he had changed? Why else would he have brought that other tool with him..? It wasn't exactly fair... he didn't give him much of a chance, maybe even provoked him.

The old leader of the freedom fighters had done more than just observe Vinnie. He had actively sought out the sincerity of the mouse's apologies, and practically pushed him to breaking point in his quest. In the end the young mouse had cracked, and uttered something downright rude in his contempt for the authority Stoker was trying to exercise over him.

Vinnie had paid dearly for that remark. Instead of bringing something to remove the ring, the old mouse had produced a strange little device, an advanced piece of technology acquired from beyond the solar system. It had the ability to increase the mass of an object, though was restricted in its use to things up to a certain size.

Stoker had knocked the foul-mouthed mouse to the floor and, to everyone's surprise, had used his device on the ring on Vinnie's nose. He had nearly doubled its weight, and increased the loop's diameter by a third of an inch.

Afterwards he returned to Mars and left Throttle with instructions to keep him informed of the white mouse's behaviour. The first report was made a week later, and it was very short.

He hasn't left the building all week.

The reply said to force him out to face the world and all the people he had wronged. After a while Vinnie was having to be carried outside, the mouse screaming and crying like a small child each time they hauled him out the door. The ring was now so obvious even his helmet couldn't hide it. He was the laughing stock of the entire criminal underworld, and his confidence was so low he became a liability, unable to fight those who actively mocked him. Things got even worse when he became the butt of jokes by just about everyone who saw him.

Except that is, his two bros and their human female friend. In the end they decided to allow him to hide inside, being as he was no help in battle anymore. Charley stayed with him during the day, but after two weeks of this, when Throttle and Modo returned at night to collect him from the garage, she had a quiet word with them. Vinnie was virtually suicidal. They had to fix this now or else they would lose him.

The two older mice resolved to find a way to get the ring off, but it wasn't that simple. Stoker had become involved, which meant it really was out of their hands. If they tried now to remove it themselves they would be breaking the law. They had no option but to try and reason with Stoker. He said he would think about it.

It was just bad luck that the old freedom fighter's next visit was unannounced. He turned up at the garage just as Vinnie had resolved to attempt to remove the ring himself. Charley tried to hide him, locking him in the bathroom where he stood crying in desperation as he tugged at the metal loop, his front and hands covered with his own blood. Stoker was not easily fooled. He left again for Mars that evening, and the white mouse was left with an even heavier, even bigger ring.

It was so heavy now that Vinnie struggled to keep his head up. Even where he sat now in the spaceship he was having difficulty keeping his chin away from his chest. He was strapped into the seat, his arms cuffed behind him, and he couldn't do anything to prop his heavily-weighted head up. His neck muscles were already fatigued from wearing the engorged ring for the last three weeks.

Throttle glanced over at Modo. The gentle grey mouse was up front with the pilot, his nephew Rimfire. They were catching up with each other, trying their hardest to avoid the obvious topic of conversation. But every now and again Modo would look back over his shoulder, first at the dejected white mouse, then at his other bro, giving him a pained look. They both wished they were back on Earth, and not heading to their home planet to witness their bro's sentencing for his crimes.

Throttle swallowed hard, leaning back into his own seat. It was the rule that someone always had to guard him, as with any prisoner. He hated that anything from now involving his bro was down to his own actions. If only I hadn't told Stoker... it wouldn't have come to this. Oh god why did this have to happen?

Vinnie had been so depressed, so angry and upset at what had happened to him, that after Stoker had left for the second time he had gone on a rampage around the city. Limburger bore the brunt of the mouse's violent reaction, which would have been great if the Martian hadn't continued on and blown up half the surrounding neighbourhood and beyond, leaving a path of devastation on a scale the other mice had not seen for a long time. Hundreds of innocent humans injured. Several dead. Their bro really had lost it this time.

It took them a week just to find him. He was hiding out in the woods, hunkered down away from just about anyone and everyone. They had found him purely by the scent of his sweat and blood, and dragged him back to the city, kicking and biting them the entire way. They took him straight to Quigley field, straight to the locker room, and deposited him inside one of the cages they had hid behind last time they went down there. They locked him in, and then went to call Stoker.

Throttle arranged for the transport to take him to Mars. Modo went to find Charley and explain. The Earth woman had been horrified, not only by what Vinnie at done, but for what it now meant. Martian law insisted he be taken back and dealt with. There was nothing they could do. His actions could not be hidden from their planet, they monitored satellite transmissions around Earth and probably already knew of Vinnie's demolition spree from the human news reports they intercepted. They couldn't just let him run either – he was a danger to himself just as much as anyone else.

Charley had been allowed to see him, given time to talk to him and tell him it didn't matter what happened, that she still cared for him. Still loved him. She tried to touch him, but the cage's mesh was too small to allow even her petite fingers through. She cried. He looked so forlorn. It was only just getting through to him what he had done... and what it meant.

"I'm sorry Charley-girl... i'm so sorry... please forgive me..." The white mouse had whispered, his voice trembling, but loud enough that the other two had heard him. Their hearts sank. He was sorry, and he really meant it this time. But it was too late. He was going to Mars and now they couldn't stop it.

Charley was distraught when they took him. She barely got time to give him a hug before they cuffed him and led him into the spaceship. His head hung low, his ears drooped, all the fight gone from him. The woman couldn't stop the tide of wetness on her face. The ship left, and she threw herself into her bed and wept until she could cry no more. Oh Vinnie... come back safe, please...

"Bro... bro you awake?"

Modo was shaking Throttle, who had closed his eyes to block out the view of his friend's despondent face. He must have dropped off for a second, exhausted from the long vigil during the journey.

"Uh... yeah, yeah sorry... must have dozed off. What's up?"

"Err... we're here... Mars." Modo pointed to the bridge's window. The copper-red sands of their desert home world were growing clearer as they descended. The view gave them both mixed feelings. A sense of elation that they were home... a sense of torment at the purpose of their visit. This was no holiday, no family reunion.

It was right now that they really wished their bro would show the earlier display of remorse for his actions. It wasn't for their eyes, it was for those waiting to make the final judgement, the ones he was about to confront now that they had landed back on the red planet.

When the hanger doors opened, Vinnie's face filled with terror. He was led from the back of the ship towards a huge crowd, a throng of Martians curious to see who it was that had dishonoured their nation so spectacularly. The white mouse's legs were shaking so much he could barely walk, but his two bros held on tightly to him, supporting him as well as restraining him as he left the ship.

Many of the mice gasped when they saw his nose ring. Lots of people pointed. Some even booed him as he descended the ramp. It was at this moment the trembling mouse realised just how serious this was.

There would be no appeal. No time spent in jail thinking about what he had done. He was to face his punishment with immediate effect.

Throttle and Modo had no option but to oversee the whole process. They winced as Vinnie was subjected to a torrent of verbal abuse and admonishment as they led him through the village streets and onwards into the capital. Even with the numerous guards to ensure everything went smoothly, the two older mice wished they were not so obviously in charge of this. Not that they were in charge. They no longer had a choice.

Vinnie was taken before a small council who were gathered in the central square in the red-stoned city. Everyone who wished could bear witness to the sentence. Stoker stood up now in front of them all to deliver the terrible judgement.

"For the crimes of disrespecting your comrades, disobeying direct orders given by your superiors, and for dishonouring your species with your destructive, careless and rebellious behaviour, you are hereby sentenced to a public humiliation order to further the unbecoming of a Martian mouse. This decision is unanimous and final."

Throttle wasn't quite sure what that actually meant, but it sounded bad. Modo's jaw had dropped in horror. The tan mouse sensed he knew exactly what the judgement was.

"What does it mean bro..?" Throttle had whispered.

"You don't want to know. You don't want to see it either. I know I don't." Modo shook his head in disgust. He hated the old laws. He felt strongly that now the war was over it was time for a change. Such brutality was not the thing of civilised people surely?

"I'm going to see it, I've got no choice... better I know what to expect. I don't want any surprises... not with so many people watching." Throttle knew that whatever was coming there would be an audience, and it would not look good if he was standing there looking like he didn't know what was going on.

Modo frowned, but nodded. He whispered into his bro's ear what he was sure the meaning of the verdict was. He clenched his fists as his spoke, and when he straightened up he could see his friend do the same. The expression on Throttle's face mirrored his own feelings perfectly. Shock, disgust and bewilderment. How could they have allowed this to happen to Vinnie? He was their friend... their bro... not just some insubordinate rookie or an evil criminal on trial for his crimes. This was a mouse who had served during the war, fought honourably by their side, brave and strong and heroic. This was a mouse who had simply lost his way, and it was their failing as his friends that had let things reach this awful climax.

Stoker was motioning to them to move their prisoner. It took the tan mouse a few seconds to register the wave, and when it got through he shook his head to clear his thoughts. What... now? Already?

He and Modo, and their entourage of guards, led the white mouse out of the city and into the desert. Throttle wasn't sure who was in more of a daze, himself or the quivering Martian in his grasp. Vinnie clearly had no idea what his sentence meant either.

Ahead of them lay the answer. About half a mile from the city limits was a small wooden structure. On Earth there were similar such things, a common feature of the earlier centuries used to punish or humiliate wrong-doers. Vinnie was led over to the frame, and his head and hands were secured through the openings, leaving him on display and at the mercy of whomever was in charge of his fate.

Throttle sincerely hoped this was the extent of the punishment – a few days left here for public viewing and their derision. But he knew better. Stoker was making another announcement, telling the crowd once again the sentence. Describing in more detail the dishonourable acts that had led this mouse to be here today to face his crimes.

The older mouse then turned to Throttle, and asked if he would carry out the punishment. Throttle declined. There was no way, not in a million years. It was bad enough it was his fault Vinnie was even on Mars. Modo also declined when offered.

Stoker turned to the wooden frame, and looked directly into the pink, frightened eyes of the young freedom fighter. "You had plenty of chances, and you did not mend your ways. This is your penalty."

He moved round to the back of the frame and pulled out a long knife with a serrated blade.

"Wait, Stoke... don't he get chance to say something, in his defence?" Modo was extremely unhappy that this whole sordid thing counted as justice. So much for fairness... he didn't exactly get a trial.

"Fine... I suppose the punk can say a few words." Stoker crossed his arms, the blade still gripped ominously in his hands.

"Vinnie... bro... now's your chance... please bro, say something."

"I... I... i'm sorry... i'm so sorry... please forgive me bros..." Vinnie was almost choking on his words as the tears streamed down his face. He looked up at the gentle grey features of his oldest bro, who bent down to stroke him on his dampened cheeks, the misery plain on his own face. Throttle came closer, also clearly in distress.

"I'm sorry Vinnie..." he whispered, and kissed him on the top of his head before stepping back, his hands covering his downturned mouth to prevent the crowd from hearing him sob.

The white mouse knew it must be bad if both of his bros were crying. "Take care of Charley for me...please..?"

Throttle and Modo nodded. They couldn't speak another word.

They watched in silence as Stoker took his cue. He cut the clothing from Vinnie's body first, allowing the audience time to take in every detail of the mouse's naked form. He also needed the time to steel himself. A part of him hated the stupid Martian law, and the cruel verdict of the council to which he had been duty bound to confer with. He had no more choice in this than the two other Earth-dwelling bikers had.

The old mouse gritted his teeth as he took the blade more firmly in his hand. He had to do this quick, there was no need to draw it out.

He pulled the long white tail before him taut, and the swiftly drew the knife through it as if it were nothing but a piece of string. The metal blade was one of the sharpest known on Mars, and cleanly severed the muscle and bone, leaving nothing left but a short, bleeding stump.

Vinnie screamed, crying in pain and begging for mercy, apologising frantically for his behaviour. It was too late for that now though.

Stoker had bent down under Vinnie's legs, and seconds later rose again having just castrated the wailing mouse above him.

Throttle and Modo instinctively covered their own nether regions, both turning a distinct shade of green. Neither were sure they could stomach watching any more.

The old mouse had moved round to Vinnie's head. The blood loss was already taking its toll, and with the weight of the ring through his nose it was getting harder and harder for him to keep his head up. Stoker screwed up his face as he took the blade out once more.

It was a few minutes before he finally stepped back. What once was a Martian mouse was now nothing more than a limp, fur-covered being. No tail, no testicles, and now no antennae... and no ears.

The old mouse walked away from the scene and did not look back. As soon as he was out of sight behind some rocks he threw up his gut contents, before staggering back to his own cave, filled with self loathing and a deep hatred of their broken judicial system.

By contrast Throttle and Modo were frozen in horror. The crowds slowly dispersed, and as the sun began to dip below the burnt-orange horizon, they were in the small number of mice left still staring at the being hanging from the wooden frame.

Two of the remaining guards pulled Vinnie free of the structure and lay him on the bloodied sand. They shot a look at the two other bros, warning them they could not take him yet. By law they had to leave him for three days. And that really did mean leave him. They were not allowed to stand watch or help him in any way.

"Are you coming back with us now or do we have to send someone to get you?" One of the guards sensed the two grief-stricken mice would do something drastic if given half the chance.

Throttle shook his head, and turned to follow the Martian guards. Modo followed a few minutes later.

After about a hundred yards, the tan mouse suddenly turned and ran back to where Vinnie lay, throwing himself over him, sobbing into his crimson-stained fur. Modo tried to pull him off, fearing what might happen if Throttle stayed there. The two guards soon joined him, and they dragged the tan mouse away from his helpless, smallest bro.

Throttle was locked in a cell that night, as was Modo. Both sat close to each other, pressing themselves into each other's warm bodies, trying to seek some comfort from the dreadful scene they had been forced to witness. The grey mouse wrapped his friend into his arms, and held him tight. He knew Throttle would never forgive himself for this. He wondered how long before he too was standing in front of the council, awaiting judgement for a so-called crime. Vinnie had gone off the rails and had paid the price. Throttle no doubt would be next. How could anyone live with themselves for allowing such an atrocity?

Modo closed his eyes and allowed the tears to flow once more. He would do his best to protect his last bro from such a shameful end. He would do everything he could to amend the callous legal system on his home world, and if that failed he would avenge the wrong-doing that had occurred in the desert beyond the city walls today. He had not spent most of his life fighting a war against evil to end up living somewhere that was equally as bad in its callous unjustness.

The two mice were locked up in the cell for the required three days. As soon as they were released they rode out as fast as they could into the desert, seeking out the spot they had last seen their bro. When they arrived there was no body, nor any tracks indicating where he might have gone. There was only a pool of blood, and the decomposing remains of what had made their young bro a male Martian mouse. They searched the area for days, weeks even, but found no clue as to his whereabouts. After that they were forced to return to Earth, wishing above all else that they didn't have to face the human woman who was still waiting for the white mouse's return.

But he didn't, and despite years of fruitless searching, and hopeful waiting, they never saw their youngest bro again.