Disclaimer: For the full disclaimer, go to the beginning of Chapter I. Otherwise, I do not own the Biker Mice, and I'm not makin' a dime off this! Well?????? Whad'ya think???? =~)

An Adventure

Copyrighted to Danya, ©1997, all rights reserved, etc., etc.

Chapter IV:

The Watchtower of the South

The fat man in the purple suit stood quietly, looking thoughtfully down at Chicago out of his huge office window. He reached back to his desk and stuck his gloved hand into a large bowl of slimy, wriggling worms, pulling out two. With a hungry smile, he popped the two living worms into his mouth and chewed them noisily, licking his lips in satisfaction. His cold, violet eyes wandered through the city aimlessly, finally resting on a particularly decrepit neighborhood, and he scowled. The scowl melted and stretched into an ugly, hateful grin as the small black box in his hand beeped and a little green light flashed on. He turned around and pressed a button on his desk, setting the small box down.

"Karbuncle." He said to the desk. "The girl has been transported. You may tell our partner the good news."

"My pleasure, your supreme, cheddary-richness!" A raspy voice wheezed back from a speaker on the desk.

The fat man turned back to the window, still smiling, and thought back to the surprising meeting yesterday...

After he and Brie had set the plan in motion, they drove immediately to a large office building in central downtown Chicago. As Limburger stepped out of the purple limo and walked into the tall, glass skyscraper, a smile of almost genuine pleasure spread across his face as he thought about the third partner who had brought this plan together. Molly Stratford was only 19, but she had a mind like a steel trap, a truly vicious businesswoman, and he enjoyed that. The smile dropped to open-mouthed shock, however, at the sight of the familiar figure sitting behind her desk in the large office he had just entered.

"My dear lady!" He said as he sat down in a comfortable chair. "What happened?!"

Molly had bandages covering the entire right side of her face, even covering her right eye.

"Miss Stwatfowd!" Brie said, still standing in the doorway. "What happened to youw face?!"

"I underestimated the speed of a street rat." She said, her icy blue eye sparkling angrily.

"Who is it?!" Brie demanded, angrily flopping into another chair. "I'w kiww him!"

"Would you like us to dispose of him?" Limburger asked.

"She is most certainly not going to die any time soon." She said firmly. "That ugly little piece of trash will live a very long time, and every waking moment will be spent regretting what she did."

"Forgive me for intruding." Karbuncle wheezed from the back of the room. "But how were you planning on dispensing your justice?"

"Why?" Molly asked, looking with curious impatience at the scrawny doctor.

"A fellow scientist of mine has been looking for...test subjects for his experiments, and he would pay a great deal to have a human girl."

"Interesting." She paused and looked out the large windows behind her desk. "What kind of experiments? I'll not have her put into the hands of some moron who'll simply kill her right away. That would completely defeat my purpose."

"I'm not sure what he does exactly, but I do know that they are long term projects, and his reputation for cruelty is known throughout fifteen galaxies."

"I see, and where is this scientist?"

"Varnon is a veryumreclusive man. He works for the Plutarkians, but he keeps his location a secret."

"But you can contact him, I assume?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Good. Tell him to call me and we'll discuss the terms of the agreement." She turned back to Limburger and Brie with a smile just as the intercom on her desk beeped.

"We've got him." A gruff, male voice said from the speaker. "What you want we should do with him?"

"Tie something very heavy around him and throw him in the lake." Limburger said. "They'll never find him there, and be sure you're not seen!"

"You got it, boss!" The voice said, and the speaker `clicked' as he turned off the radio.

"Well, that takes care of that." Molly said. "Now, to the reason of the meeting. The High Chairman called me last night and wishes to express his congratulations at your progress, and as soon as the mice are taken care of, he'll relieve both of you of this assignment and promote you to the position of your choice. Within reason, of course."

"Of course." Limburger and Brie grumbled together.

"He's also considering coming to earth for a formal visit."

"What?!" The two fish shouted.

"He didn't say when. He left that up to me, because the banquet will be held at my summer cottage."

"It will?!" They asked, amazed.

"Yes. He mentioned something about past bad experiences. Besides, he is quite eager to meet me in person, and my cottage is ideal for this sort of guest."

"You're probably right." Limburger said, recalling all the terrible incidents he had had with the High Chairman's visits.

A loud beeping noise brought him back to the present, and he turned to his desk again, angry at the interruption.

"What is it?!" He demanded impatiently into the intercom at his desk.

"Beg pardon?" Karbuncle's voice said, confused.

Limburger released the intercom and looked around, fear replacing anger. The beeping noise wasn't the intercom, it was his security system! Oh, this is going to hurt! Closing his eyes, he braced himself for the inevitably painful arrival of his enemies. The familiar sounds of motorcycle engines came to his ears just before the even more familiar sounds of breaking glass. He flinched and covered his head, but the usual bruising journey across the room never came and he opened his eyes, surprised. He regretted it immediately.

The three mice were still sitting on their bikes, just looking at him. Normally, this would have been a welcome change to the common rough greetings they always seemed to enjoy giving him, but this was not a normal situation. While the temperature in his stomach dropped to -300 degrees, freezing him to the spot, the air around him rocketed to somewhere above 2000 degrees, making breathing very hard. And all he could do was stand there, shaking and sweating, desperately trying to get his voice to work.

"A-and wh-what do I owe th-thi-this surprise t-to?" He stammered.

An uncomfortable silence answered him. He rubbed his hands together nervously. Why don't they do something?! They were just sitting there, watching him like a hunter watches his prey back itself into a corner.

"I-if it's a-about ye-y-yesterd---" He gulped back the rest of the sentence, fighting the urge to faint at Modo's now-raised arm cannon leveled at his head.

The three mice remained silent. Watching. Waiting. Their eyes were cold, as cold as...death! They're deciding whether or not to kill me!! For a brief moment, his heart actually stopped and he fell to his knees, almost praying that his heart would kill him before they could. He had no such luck. His treacherous heart started up again at an impossibly fast pace, threatening to explode as he gripped his chest in blind terror.

"P-p-please!! I-I---"

"We've had it with you, Limburger." Vinnie said coldly, cutting him off. "You almost killed our bro."

"And you kidnapped an innocent little girl, and sold her." Modo growled.

"I'm afraid you stepped across the line this time." Throttle said quietly.

"Where is she?" Vinnie asked angrily.

"I-I d-d-don't kno-know wh-what you're t-ta-talk-talking a-about!"

"Strike one." Vinnie said, shaking his head and turning to Throttle.

"Where is she?" Throttle asked.

"I did-didn't d-do it!! I-it wa-wasn-wasn't m-me!! I do-d-don't kn-know wh-wh-where she is!!"

"Strike two." Throttle said, turning to Modo.

"Where is she?" Modo asked through clenched teeth.

"B-bu-but I r-r-really d-don't..." Throttle and Vinnie looked at each other and shook their heads. My god, they're really going to do it!! "WAIT!! W-wait, p-pl-please! K-kar-karbuncle m-might know! P-please!!"

They simply watched with that eerie silence as Limburger fumbled for the right button on his desk. Seconds later, the scientist popped out of the floor on a rising platform.

"You called---AAAAGGGHHHH!!!!!" Karbuncle screamed and jumped at the sight of the three mice. "Wha---"

Limburger grabbed Karbuncle by the neck and shook him viciously, cutting off his sentence.

"They want the girl!! Where is she?!" Limburger shouted, ignoring the various shades of colors Karbuncle's face was turning.

"I d-don't kn---" Karbuncle tried to choke out, but Limburger squeezed his throat tighter, stopping the sentence.

"DON'T SAY THAT!!! You transported her, WHERE DID SHE GO!!!???!!!"

"The c-coordinates...were sc-scrambled!!" Karbuncle wheezed, still trying to breathe.

"WHAT?!" Limburger shouted, letting the scrawny scientist go. I'm going to die!!!

"I...t-tried to...to trace it,...but th-the transfer...was...in-interrupted by...something." Karbuncle rasped, gasping for air. "N-not even...Varnon knows...where sh-she...is!"

"Well, how far did you trace her?!"

"Sh-she's on M-mars somewhere."

"`Somewhere'?!" Limburger demanded, gripping Karbuncle's throat tightly again.

A strange, high pitched wailing rose above Karbuncle's strangled noises, but Limburger ignored it. If he was going to die, he was going to die killing this deranged idiot! The wailing got louder and louder, and Limburger finally looked up, realizing what the noise actually was. Police sirens? He glanced around the room. The mice were gone! He stood up, dropping Karbuncle into a crumpled, coughing heap. The door to his office opened and three police officers walked in.

"Mr. Limburger?" One asked.

"Yes." Limburger replied, confused.

"You are under arrest for forgery and grand theft." The officer said, walking over with a pair of handcuffs.


"You have the right to remain silent...

* * *

The three mice had left the office the moment they heard the sirens, leaving Limburger and Karbuncle to the tender mercies of the Chicago police department. They parked outside of the Last Chance and Throttle walked in. Charley jumped up from her seat on a chair and looked at his grim face hopefully. Kaitlyn remained kneeling next to the couch, not looking up from her son's pale, sleeping face.

"Where did they send her?" Kaitlyn asked softly, stroking Jordan's sweat-soaked hair.

"Mars." Throttle said quietly.

"Well, Carbine or Rimfire will fly her back." Charley said, relieved. "All we have to do is contact them and tell them where she is. I'm sure I can find something to rig up a strong enough signal in Karbuncle's lab."

"But it won't work." Kaitlyn said, still not looking up. "Will it."

"No." Throttle said after a little pause. "Something interrupted the transfer signal. No one knows where she is."

"But she is on Mars."


"When do we leave?"


"When do we leave for Mars?"

"You're not---" Throttle cut himself off as Kaitlyn looked up at him with cold, determined eyes that held more pain than he could stand to look at.

"When do we leave?" She asked again as Throttle turned away from her midnight eyes.

"As soon as possible. Limburger and Brie won't stay locked up for long."

"They'll stay locked up for at least two weeks." Kaitlyn said, turning back to her unconscious son. "I've got Static's word on that, and she doesn't give her word lightly. How are we going to get there?"

"Karbuncle's transporter. We can fly back." He started walking toward the door. "We have to get a few things ready, so we'll be back in a little while."

"Thank you." Kaitlyn said, just before he reached the door.

He looked back at her sadly, wanting nothing more than to tell her everything was going to be just fine. But he never was good at lying about things like that. So, he simply nodded and walked quietly out the door.

Charley and Kaitlyn watched him leave, and neither took their eyes off the closed door till they heard the motorcycles drive away. Charley knew Vinnie was still sitting outside the garage. As much racket as those bikes made, she could identify each individual engine like a familiar voice in a crowd. After all, she had practically rebuilt them herself! Only Modo and Throttle had left, and she was glad that Vinnie had stayed. Limburger and Brie may be out of the picture, but it was comforting to know that one of the mice was out there.

"I'm going to work on this junk heap." Charley said, walking toward an old, rusty truck. "Just holler if you need anything, okay?"

"I will." Kaitlyn said.

Charley popped the hood of the truck and looked at the grimy contents. It was going to take her some time, but she could do this kind of repair work blindfolded. So, she let her mind wander as her hands started to fix the engine on their own. Mars! I can't believe I'm going to see it again! Memories of the strange, blood-red landscape and the twin moons clearly visible in the orange sky in broad daylight floated back to her. I wonder how it looks now? She tried to picture the barren plains covered with plants, but the image eluded her.

Sighing, she glanced up at Kaitlyn and bit back the tears. She blinked a few times and returned her attention to the truck, wrestling with the stubborn carburetor. She finally yanked it free and examined it. It was curled up in a little ball, just like Jordan had been when they found him at the school. Laying the warped piece of metal on her tool bench, she picked up a wrench and let the day's events course through her mind again....

They had sped back to the school, the three bikes going flat out. The wind whipped past Charley's helmet, pulling and tugging viciously at her arms and legs. As reckless as Vinnie was, she knew perfectly well that he would never put her into any danger, and especially not his bike! But the feeling of how that engine was beginning to heat up brought a cold shiver to her spine. When the bike had hit its last gear, and Vinnie still pushed it, she had to fight so hard not to start screaming with the white-hot engine.

Charley had half expected them to charge through the open doors of the school, but they had screeched to a halt at the base of the steps leading to the doors instead.

"Charley," Throttle said, turning to her as he and Modo jumped off their bikes. "You stay out here with Vinnie. We don't know who's in there."

"But---" She cut herself off angrily, watching the two mice disappear into the building.

"CHARLEY, GET IN HERE!!!" Throttle's voice abruptly shouted from inside the school.

Charley was up and running instantly, with Vinnie right behind her. Throttle and Modo were kneeling over something with their backs turned, blocking her view of it. A thousand terrible images ran through her mind as she dashed over to the two mice. She almost fainted in relief as she reached them. Oh, thank god!! He's still alive! Jordan was curled up on the floor with his arms over his head, shaking like a leaf. Carefully she pried his arms off his head and stretched out his legs a little so she could get a good look at him. Satisfied that he had received no more serious damage, she started looking around for his sister.

"Where's Carter?" She asked, knowing the answer.

They didn't answer her. Vinnie reached out and tenderly stroked Jordan's cheek, wiping off the tears and brushing his hair away from his face. Charley was surprised at the un-Vinnie like gesture, and she looked up at the white mouse. There was a hidden pain in his normally sparkling eyes, and his face was stone. She looked at the other two and found similar expressions of a barely covered, deep hurt. I keep forgetting how much they've been through. Looking back at Jordan, she was suddenly overwhelmed with the memory of a loss of her own and she covered her face, trying to fight back the tears. She was kneeling in between Throttle and Vinnie, and she felt them each wrap an arm around her while Modo ran his fingers soothingly through her hair.

"Don't cry, Charley-ma'am." Modo said as she looked up at him. "It'll be all right."

"I know." She said, smiling a little as he brushed her cheek with his good hand. "I know it will."

Charley wrapped her arms around Vinnie and Throttle's necks and hugged them as Modo gently picked up Jordan. Throttle picked up Carter's jacket, and Vinnie roughly dragged the unconscious goon out onto the lawn of the school. Modo held Jordan while his bike drove itself back to the garage. Kaitlyn's car was parked out front, and the door to the Last Chance was open. How did she get in? I thought I locked it. They all looked at each other, none of them wanting to go inside and face the mother.

"She wasn't there, was she?" Kaitlyn's voice asked quietly as she walked out of the garage.

They all turned and watched her walk toward them, none of them able to say anything. Her face was a mask as she touched her son's pale forehead. A look of intense pain crossed her face and she closed her eyes, tears running down her cheeks. For a moment, they all thought she was going to collapse, and Throttle reached out to her quickly, ready to catch her if she fell. She wiped her eyes and shook her head, laying her hand on Throttle's arm and gently pushing it away.

"We have to get him inside." Kaitlyn said, turning back to the garage as Modo stood up.

Modo laid Jordan on the couch and hesitantly put his hand on Kaitlyn's shoulder as she knelt next to her son.

"We're sorry, ma'am." He said softly.

"There's nothing to be sorry about." Kaitlyn said, taking his hand and looking up at the towering Martian.

"We'll get Carter back." Throttle said quietly.

"If we have to tear Limburger apart, scale by scale!" Vinnie growled, walking toward the door.

"You only have about 20 minutes before he's arrested." Kaitlyn said, turning back to Jordan. "So, you might want to hurry."

"What?!" The four of them asked, confused.

"I'll explain it later, just trust me. When you hear the police sirens, get out of there."

The three mice looked at each other and quickly walked out the door.

Charley brought herself back to the present as she found herself wiping off her hands, finished with the truck. She put the hood down gently, giving the dusty metal an absent pat before she rolled her sleeves up and washed her hands off completely. The clock above the sink told her that she'd been working almost 4 hours. Drying her hands, she turned to look at Kaitlyn. She was sitting on the couch next to Jordan, absently running her fingers through her son's jet black hair while his head rested on her shoulder. She looked up and smiled sadly, resting her cheek against the top of Jordan's sleeping head. Charley walked over and sat in a chair, nervously picking at her nails as she tried to come up with a good way to start the explanation of what had happened that day.

"He already told me everything, Charley." Kaitlyn said softly. "Don't worry about it."

"But we---" Charley started.

"You didn't ha---" Kaitlyn stopped herself from her own interruption and tilted her head, listening.

Charley didn't hear anything at first, but soon she heard the familiar sounds of Modo and Throttle's motorcycles. She's good! They didn't get very close, stopping a few blocks away. A few minutes later, the three mice walked quietly into the garage. She had gotten accustomed to their weary, mellow entrances over the past few months, but it still felt so unnatural to her. She hated it! As much as she complained about the noise, chaos, and destruction they caused, she had begun missing it terribly since day one. And every night she cursed the Plutarkians for depriving her of it.

Her fury at Limburger and Brie had intensified quite a bit over the last few months, due to what they had done to her friends indomitable spirits. Her anger had come to an abrupt, gut-wrenching climax the previous morning, and she shuddered at the memory. When Modo and Vinnie had come back yesterday without Throttle, she could see the same blazing rage that she had felt, but beneath it she had seen a frightening, cold resolve. They had had it. And as much as her heart ached to scream at them as they drove away, knowing they weren't going to let Limburger or Brie live, the agonizing pain of losing Throttle had silenced her protest of their murderous intent. She had taken her aggressions out by viciously correcting the dent in the hood of the old truck she was working on, before breaking down and simply crying.

"Have a seat." Kaitlyn said softly to the three mice, interrupting Charley's thoughts. "I'll give you that explanation I promised."

"I think we owe you an explanation first." Throttle said, the three of them fidgeting nervously.

"No need." Kaitlyn said, giving them the same sad smile she had given Charley. "Jordan told me what happened. Please, sit down."

"Kaitlyn, we---"

"Don't start apologizing." She interrupted as they all found a seat. "I told you before, there's no need to apologize. I would've been more surprised if Carter hadn't reacted like she did!" She sighed at their confused expressions. "Let me tell you a little something about my daughter. She's a fighter, just like her father was. She always has been and she always will be. She got her first black eye when she was two and a half. One of the children at her day care was being abused at home, and Carter wouldn't let the father take the child back home. She hit the man in the face with a little wooden bat when he started yelling at her. He grabbed her and she bit him so hard he actually needed stitches!" She laughed softly at the memory. "So, he hit her, giving her the black eye. But by that time, the workers there had already called the police, and the man was arrested and his child was put into a nice foster home.

"If something isn't right, Carter will jump in with both feet. Regardless of who or what she's up against, or what might happen to her, she retaliates immediately. It's inherent in her nature to fight back, just as it's inherent in Jordan's nature to defend her. The place we lived in before coming to Chicago not only encouraged this behavior, it was how we survived. So, when I say you have nothing to apologize for, I mean it, because absolutely none of this was your fault! They didn't take into consideration the fact that you'd be concerned about them. We're far too used to being alone with only ourselves caring whether we live or die."

Jordan stirred a little and Kaitlyn kissed the top of his head, soothing him back to sleep. "Now," She continued. "How did I know Limburger would get arrested? Well, I was the one who got him arrested. Static, a friend of ours, hacked into his and Brie's computer systems and set up a fraudulent real estate buy. The authorities won't find out it's only fiction for at least two weeks, and that's if they really start digging right away. While we were in, I found out they had merged with a third company, and it's this silent partner that has been supplying half of their funds and keeping them from attacking each other. Her name is Molly Stratford, and she goes to Jordan and Carter's school. Before spiking her system with a nasty little virus, I took a peek at her files and discovered the deal for Carter. The rest you already know."

Charley, Modo, Vinnie, and Throttle were silent for a bit, each of them trying to absorb what Kaitlyn was telling them.

"What kind of place did you used to live in?" Throttle asked.

"A very bad one." Kaitlyn replied after a pause.

"But how did you get there?" Charley asked, ignoring the discomfort in Kaitlyn's voice.

"An unfortunate accumulation of bad circumstances." Kaitlyn sighed. "My husband died in a plane crash 11 years ago. I was with him, but I survived and ended up in the hospital. His life insurance company filed for bankruptcy not too long after the plane crash, and never paid us the money they owed us. Our house burned down two weeks later. It was insured by the same company as our life insurance. Neither of us had any family left alive, so me and my children were homeless with an astronomical hospital bill and a mortgage for a non-existent house to pay. The only job I could get was in a large city, about the size of Chicago. The only place I could afford to pay rent for was in a very bad part of the city. That's how we ended up there."

Jordan opened his eyes and looked around a little blearily. He blinked a few times and his eyes cleared up quickly.

"When are we leaving?" He asked. "Limburger Tower should be cleared out by now."

"Look, you two really shouldn't go with us." Throttle said. "It's too dangerous on Mars."

Jordan and Kaitlyn turned to him, their dark eyes looking right through him.

"I doubt that." Kaitlyn said, standing up. "I have to pick a few things up at our apartment, and I'm going to leave Jordan here." She smiled and glared at Throttle. "If only to make sure you don't leave without us. I'll be back soon."

Jordan watched her walk out the door, then closed his eyes painfully and rested his face in his hands with his elbows on his knees. No one said anything. They didn't know what to say. Charley went to the kitchen to get him a glass of water. Vinnie brushed off an invisible speck of dust from his arm. Modo gave his boots a thorough examination. Throttle looked at his glove and tried to clean a spot off one of the three bars. He wasn't having much luck. Getting a little frustrated, he took a closer look at the glove and realized that the spot wasn't on the glove, it was on his glasses. He took them off and cleaned them, just as he heard Charley walk in the room and hand Jordan the glass of water.

"Thanks." Jordan said, and drank the cold water thirstily.

"Jordan, I'm sor--" Charley started.

"Stop it." Jordan interrupted. "Please don't say you're sorry. You have nothing to apologize for." He ran his hands through his hair and looked at his shoes. "Tell me about Mars."

"It used to be alive and green before the Plutarkians destroyed everything." Modo said, the mention of the fish-faces leaving a bad taste in his mouth.

"Green?" Jordan asked, not looking up. "I thought Mars was red."

"It is now." Modo said sadly.

"The soil is red, but the plants used to be green." Vinnie said.

"But it's starting to grow back." Throttle said, remembering the Valley of Hope, and how they had saved the Pinkseed. "It's been over a year since we were there last, and now Mars has water, not to mention the Pinkseed plant. I wonder how it looks."

"Fear and Panic." Jordan said softly.

"What?" Charley asked.

"The moons of Mars. Fear and Panic, Phobos and Deimos. What do you call them?"

"We call them Phyrsus and Kirdjin." Throttle said. "The Healer and the Huntress."


"They're named after two goddesses." Throttle said. He seemed about to say something else, but he stopped and cocked his head, listening.

"Someone's comin'." Modo said, looking at the garage doors and standing up.

"Get in the kitchen, quick!" Charley said, starting to hear the unfamiliar, fast approaching car.

The three mice ran into the kitchen, just as they heard the car screech to a halt. Charley walked to the door to open it, hearing the footsteps outside. Just as she reached the door, it flew open and she was knocked to the floor by another person.

"Oh my gosh!" A female voice said, sounding almost hysterical. "I'm so sorry!!"

Charley looked up into a pair of wide, brown eyes staring apologetically out of a lovely, dark skinned face. The strange woman grabbed Charley's hands and quickly pulled her to her feet. She was tall, the same height as Kaitlyn. She was wearing black boots, skin-tight, black leather pants, and a small metallic blue coat over a short, tight, black tank top. Her wild, curly hair looked black at first, but the brown highlights came out in the light. The three gold hoops she had in each ear and the several rings on her fingers completed the picture.

"I am so sorry!!" The woman said. "I didn't know the door would open like that! Are you okay?"

"Yeah!" Charley said quickly, trying to calm the woman down. "I'm fine, really! But, who are you?"

"And what are you doing here?!" Jordan demanded, glaring at the woman.

"I'm coming with you!" The stranger said cheerfully to Jordan.

"No, you're not." Jordan said flatly.

"Sure I am!" The woman said, smiling. "You need me to help you find Carter."

"Static, you're not coming with us!"

"You can't leave without me."

"What did you do?" He asked angrily.

"I didn't want anyone using that transporter before the cops got a chance to swing by, so I put a lock on it."

"Static, Mom is gonna slaughter you!!" Jordan scolded.

"I know, but I'm still coming with." She said with a note of finality, and turned to Charley. "I'm really sorry, I haven't introduced myself. I'm Static. Well, that's not my real name, my real name is Trinnah McMillan, but everyone calls me Static. You must be Charley. Kat told me about you."

"STATIC!!" Kaitlyn shouted furiously, walking in the garage with a duffel bag. She had changed into a pair of dark jeans, worn black boots, and a pale gray-green shirt.

"Hey Kat, we were just talkin' about you!"

"Well, talk your way back into that scrap heap of a car of yours and go home!"

"Nope. I'm goin' with ya, Kat."

"You are not going with us, Static!"

"Oh yes, I am."

"She locked the transporter." Jordan said, standing up and taking the bag.

"Damn you, Static!!" Kaitlyn yelled, frustrated.

"I'm coming too, Kat." Static said.

"We are not going on vacation, we are going to another planet!!"

"I know."

"It's too dangerous for you!"

"I can take care of myself."

"You can't even take care of your plants, Static!"

"That isn't fair! I just got the watering instructions mixed up on them, that's all."

"You're not going!"

"Yes I am, because you don't have a choice. I won't let you leave without me!"

"Why are you doing this?!"

"Because I love you!" She said, smiling and hugging Kaitlyn. "You're my friends. If you're going to another planet, so am I!"

"I hate you, Static."

"I know. When do we leave?"

"As soon as they come out of the kitchen." Jordan said, walking out of the bathroom. He had changed into his combat boots, a pair of faded jeans, and a dark green shirt.

"Who's in the kit---" Static stopped herself, her eyes getting very wide and her mouth dropping open. "Wow." She whispered, looking in amazement as the three mice walked out of the kitchen. "They're so tall! Well, all except for the little white one."

"Little?!" Vinnie protested immediately. "I am---mfrgrfmr."

"Be polite!" Modo said, covering Vinnie's mouth with his hand.

"I'm sorry." Static said, walking up to them. "I didn't mean to offend you, um..."

"His name's Vinnie, ma'am." Modo said. "That's Throttle, and I'm Modo." His cheeks turned a light shade of pink as he introduced himself.

"Shy type." Static giggled, winking at Modo and making him blush even deeper, then turned to Vinnie. "Sorry, Vinnie. No offense meant."

"Mblrfgrmf." Vinnie mumbled through Modo's hand, shrugging nonchalantly.

"Cool." She turned on her heel and walked toward the door. "Well, we're all here, let's go! I have to pick somethin' up, so I'll meet ya there." She grinned and waved as she closed the door behind her.

"Who was that?" Charley asked, turning to Kaitlyn.

"That was Static." Kaitlyn said, exasperated. "She's a computer jockey at the company I work at. She's a little...eccentric, but her heart is in the right place. Are we ready to go?"

"Computer jockey?" Modo asked as they all started walking toward the door.

"She fixes all the miscellaneous computer problems. Fixing, updating, and improving programs, recovering crashed systems, retrieving lost files, fixing systems after a virus ran through, teaching the computer illiterate, basically anything and everything. They keep her around so they don't have to pay a `professional' to come and fix everything." She climbed on Throttle's bike.

"What about your car?" Charley asked, sitting behind Vinnie. "You can keep it in the garage while we're gone."

"No, someone's going to pick it up for me tonight."

They drove in silence, each of them thinking about the journey they were about to make. Soon, Limburger Tower loomed before them.

"Hang on!" Throttle shouted over his shoulder to Kaitlyn and Jordan.

He heard her choke back a scream as they proceeded to drive up the side of the building. They crashed through the window of Karbuncle's lab and screeched to a halt in front of his transporter. Charley walked to it and started fiddling with the controls.

"The coordinates are set, now all I need is the password to unlock it." She said.

The doors to the lab suddenly burst open and Static came running through them, a bagel in her mouth and a carrying case slung over her shoulder. She bit off a piece of the bagel and dug into her case, producing a laptop as she reached them.

"Harn ihorb srom." She said, sitting on the floor and opening the small computer while chewing on her bagel. She swallowed and looked up at everyone's confused faces. "I hate traveling on an empty stomach. I'll have this up in a sec." She took another bite of her bagel and started typing on her laptop.

"Don't you need to be hooked into the transporter?" Charley asked.

"Mrob hrarsebn." She rolled her eyes at herself and swallowed the food in her mouth, turning to Charley with a grin. "Got m'baby hooked up with a transceiver I designed, so I don't need to be." She stuffed the last bite of her bagel in her mouth, typed something, and the transporter doors opened. "Neb imb!" She mumbled loudly, holding up her hand as a signal for them to wait. "Hrmb, ni brot it. Here we go!"

Bright blue light suddenly surrounded them, saturating every inch of their bodies. Their senses of direction dissolved along with the room they were standing in. There was no `up', no `down', just a feeling of movement across a vast space of emptiness. In two heartbeats, the ground started to solidify beneath them again. The blue light faded into a red and orange haze that slowly cleared to reveal the landscape of the Red Planet.

The sun had just risen, and the double moons were still low in the orange sky. The land before them was barren, and the gusty wind kicked up the red dust in mini whirlwinds. The seven of them stood there for a moment, just staring.

"I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto." Static whispered, standing up and looking around with wide, wondering eyes.

"Umwhere on Mars exactly are we?" Kaitlyn asked. "I mean, there are cities or something, right?"

"There was a map in the transporter, so I set the coordinates to put us outside one of the cities." Charley pointed toward a sand dune. "It should be just over that rise."

"Well, let's ge---"

"YYAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHAAAAHAHAHAAAAA!!!!" The joyful shout interrupted Vinnie and they all spun around to see two motorcycles fly over a sand dune and head straight for them.

"GET DOWN!!!" Throttle shouted, pushing Jordan and Static to the ground with him and covering their heads.

Vinnie followed suit instantly and hit the ground with Charley. Modo grabbed Kaitlyn and they dove out of the way. The bikes flew so close over their heads that they actually felt the heat from the engines. The bikes immediately skidded to a halt as they hit the ground, and the owners jumped off and ran to see if they had hurt anyone.

"Oh no!!" The first one said, ripping off her helmet and kneeling next to Throttle, Jordan, and Static. "Are you all okay?" Her one dark brown eye reflected the fear written all over her grungy, dark red-furred face. Her short, tangled hair was collected in a ponytail on top of her head, fully revealing the patch over her right eye and the two scars running from above her right eyebrow all the way down to her neck. The filthy, red-brown jumpsuit she wore had several tears and patches covering it, and she had a gold crescent moon earring in her left ear and a gold hoop in her right.

"Good grief, we're sorry!" The second said, tearing off his own helmet and limping over to help Modo and Kaitlyn up. His deep blue eyes were filled with concern. "We didn't even see you guys on the scanners!" His scruffy, tan-cream fur color was barely visible under the red dirt streaked over his face, and the red-brown pants and shirt he wore looked no better than his riding partner's. He had three gold hoops and a gold stud in his right ear.

They were both about the same height, a little taller than Vinnie. As they helped the seven of them to their feet, they suddenly realized that four weren't Martian. For a moment, they stood there, gawking in shock at the humans.

"Ho-how did you get here?" The female asked softly.

"Wait a minute." The other said, taking a closer look at Modo, Throttle, and Vinnie. "Aren't you the Biker Mice?"

"Geez!" The woman said, scratching the back of her head. "I knew Carbine needed help, but I didn't think she'd ask you all to come here all the way from Earth!"

"Wait, what do you mean she needs help?" Throttle asked.

"We're attacking a major Plutarkian base tomorrow, and she's been recruiting every last extra body she can lay her hands on."

"Yeah, they're really pulling out all the stops for this one." The male said, limping back to sit on his bike. "The Army, Martian Air and Space Force, and Freedom Fighters are all involved with the attack together for a change!"

"Wow!" Modo said, amazed. "Sounds like it's gonna be quite a fight!"

"And it sounds like they could use the assistance of some studly heroes!" Vinnie said, climbing on his bike.

"From the way our commander was talking, it sounds like we're gonna need all the assistance we can get." The woman said, picking up her helmet. "Look, Rhinestyke is just ahead, and I seem to count an extra in your group. Someone can jump on with me and we'll take you all to headquarters. We have to report in anyways. Hrmmand speaking of reporting in, we haven't even introduced ourselves. I'm Jumpstart, and this is Scout."

"Where's the rest of your squad?" Throttle asked, climbing on his bike.

"We're scouts, so they're a couple hours behind us yet." Scout said, swinging his leg carefully over his bike.

"How long have you been out?" Kaitlyn asked, getting on behind Throttle.

"About three months, I think." Jumpstart said as Static climbed on behind her and they started to drive off. "It's hard to keep track after a while."

"You've been out for three months and you're going on a major attack mission tomorrow?!" Charley asked, amazed.

"Yep." Scout said, and smiled at Charley's worried face. "Hey, don't worry about us, sweetheart. You'd be surprised at what a good nights' rest and a hot meal will do for a weary soldier. We'll be good as new in the morning, I guarantee it!"

They reached the top of a sand dune and stopped. No one said a word. The walled city of Rhinestyke was nestled at the base of a large mountain. They all sat there for a moment, looking at the city bathed in half shadows as the sun rose higher in the orange sky. Many of the tall buildings were pockmarked and cracked, but there were more repairs visible than destruction. Sparse green vines climbed the red wall surrounding the city, and there were high towers and gates at intervals along the wall.

"I don't remember that wall being around Rhinestyke." Throttle said.

"They built it after recapturing the city from the Plutarkians." Scout said.

"They're doing it to all the recaptured cities." Jumpstart said. "Especially with the stink-fish trying to reestablish on Mars, they're taking extra precautions to protect the cities." She looked at the city for a moment, then turned to Scout with a triumphant smile. "I win."

"Pure luck!" Scout said, handing her a piece of paper.

"I just pay more attention than you." She said, putting the piece of paper in her breast pocket. "Shall we?" She grinned and laughed as they started toward one of the gates of the city.

"Scouts for Squad 753, reporting in." Scout said into his radio as they neared the city.

"Confirmed, and welcome back you two." A female voice replied from the radio. "Please identify the extra's in your group, though."

"They're the Biker Mice, River." Jumpstart said. "And they have four humans with them. Are Carbine or Stoker in?"

"Humans?!" River asked, her voice amazed. "Let's see. Stoke's probably out and about with all the preparations, but Carbine should be at headquarters. Bat should know where they are, and you have to stop at the repair pit and check in with her anyway. All vehicles are off limits throughout most of the city due to all the bustling around."

"Will do, River, thanks!" Scout said.

The gates opened like two giant doors and they rode slowly through. Scrawny saplings lined the streets, fighting with all their might to reach above the shadows of the buildings and touch the sky with green leaves. Throttle, Modo, and Vinnie stared at them in open wonder.

"Trees!" Modo whispered.

"Yeah." Jumpstart said. "It was Captain's idea. The government was convinced that they wouldn't grow inside the city, and that it would be a terrible waste of the few seeds we had left. While him and Stoke got the citizens of the city on their side, they convinced Carbine to lock horns with the government about the protocol and political benefits of the idea. It took a while, but they did it." She looked at the small saplings and smiled. "Now we have trees growing in the `dead' city of Rhinestyke."

They pulled up to a large garage with the huge doors wide open. Bikes were parked all along the street or in the parking ramp across the street from the garage. Jumpstart and Scout grabbed their duffel bags off their bikes and parked the filthy vehicles. Vinnie, Throttle, and Modo parked their bikes and stowed their helmets.

"If you need repairs, bring the bikes in, but other than that, just park `em outside somewhere and I'll look at `em a little later." A female voice called from inside the garage as they started to walk in.

"Got your work cut out for ya this time, eh sweetheart?" Scout asked as he limped up to the small, strawberry-blonde furred Martian kneeling in front of a bike.

Her wavy, dark gray hair was cut short, reaching just above her shoulders. At his voice, she dropped her wrench and stood up, spinning around. Her dark gray-green jumpsuit was smeared and streaked with dirt and grease, as was her happily shocked face. There was a dark gray patch of fur across the left side of her face, accenting her sightless, bluish-white eyes.

"Scout?!" She asked in joyful amazement, taking off her filthy gloves and reaching out her hands. Her right hand was dark gray, but the left was the same strawberry-blonde as the rest of her fur. "Is that you?!"

"Now, who else would it be?" Jumpstart asked, walking over as Scout hugged the petite, 5'3" female.

"Jump!!" Bat cried, turning to the new voice.

"How high, sis?" Jumpstart asked, laughing and hugging the blind mouse.

"I can't believe you guys are back so early!" Bat said, touching their faces and hugging them again. "Are you okay, Scout? I heard you limping. How bad is it?"

"It's not bad at all, sweetie." Scout said, touching her cheek. "It's just a scratch. How you holdin' up with all the mayhem?"

"As good as can be expected." She sighed. "I've already got the kitchen making me some extra strong coffee for me for tonight. Who're your friends?" She asked, `looking' past Scout and Jumpstart. "Come on in, please." She said waving them in and smiling.

"These are the Biker Mice, Bat." Scout said. "And their human friends."

"Humans?!" Bat said, her pale eyes going wide. "They really are reeling in all the favors!" She smiled and reached out her hands to the newcomers. "My name's Tina, but everyone calls me Bat." She grinned and rolled her unseeing eyes. "As in: `blind as a'" She took everyone's hands in turn as they all introduced themselves to her.

"We're looking for Carbine or Stoke." Scout said. "Any ideas where they might be?"

"I just talked to Stoker, and he said he'd be in his office most of the day. The last I heard about the general, she was at HQ in the comp room. Why do you need `em? Are you all gonna join the fight tomorrow?"

"Need you even ask?!" Vinnie said.

"We're actually looking for someone who got transported here by accident." Throttle said. "We need to find her and get her home." He turned and smiled at Vinnie and Modo. "But that doesn't mean we can't stick around to join in the fun."

"Hmmm, you might want to talk to Captain about a search." Jumpstart said.

"Who's Captain?" Throttle asked.

"Anakin MacCloud." Jumpstart said. "But everyone calls him Mac or Captain. He's pretty much in charge of the MASF, and flyers'd be a lot more effective with a search."

"Well, he's on his way to HQ from the base, so you'll probably run into him on the way there." Bat said, putting on her gloves and walking back to the bike she had been working on. "When you see him, tell him I'm done with his Jet Wings."

"Are you the only wrench jockey here?" Charley asked, watching the small Martian walk directly to where she had been kneeling when they arrived.

"Unfortunately." Bat said as she found her wrench and ran her hands over the engine of the bike, searching for what she had been working on. "Nearly everyone with any repair skills were whisked away to help with the preparations for the attack tomorrow." She found the bolt she had been tightening, and finished the job. "Okay, scoot." She said, slapping the bike. The bike drove out of the garage and parked itself across the street while another bike sputtered over to take its place. "Well, that doesn't sound good. Let's see what's wrong with you. Analysis." The bike was suddenly bathed in a yellow light. A small panel popped out of the floor next to her and she put her hand on it.

"Sounds like the carburetor." Charley said, walking over to the small mouse. "You've got a lot of bikes here. Need an extra pair of hands?"

"Girl, I'll take an extra pair of anything at this point!" Bat turned her head toward Charley and grinned. "You any good?"

"Are you kidding?! I'm the best in Chi-town!" Charley said proudly, taking a wrench out of Bat's toolbox and kneeling on the other side of the bike.

"You gonna be okay here, Charley-girl?" Throttle asked as they all headed out the doors.

"I'll just be a third wheel if I go with." Charley said, rolling up her sleeves. "At least here I can be of some use. Just let me know if you guys find something, okay?"

"Sure thing, Charley-ma'am." Modo said.

"I know it'll be hard, but don't miss me too much, babe." Vinnie said, grinning at her.

"I'll try to contain myself." She said sarcastically as she watched them leave.

"So, who is it that you're looking for?" Bat asked, starting to work on the bike with Charley.

"It's kind of a long story."

"You're acting like we don't have all day." Bat said, smiling.

"You're right." Charley laughed. "Well, it all started about three months ago."

* * *

The remaining eight of them started walking down the street toward a tall building. As they neared it, they saw more and more mice walking along the streets and sidewalks. Needless to say, the small group got a lot of astonished looks.

"Bat said Stoke would be in his office most of the day." Throttle said. "Where is that?"

"His office is in a room adjacent to the mess hall." Scout said. "He's usually out on the course giving the trainees a hard time, but I guess he's stuck behind his desk with all the preparations."

"Stoker?!" Vinnie laughed, amazed. "At a desk job?! Oh, man, this I gotta see!!"

"Well, you three could go find Stoke, and we could take the others up to HQ." Jumpstart suggested. "If your friend was transported in, they should've picked it up on the scanners in the comp room. And at this early in the day, Stoke could probably dig up some extra riders to help in the search."

"Sounds like a good idea." Throttle said, grinning. "I wouldn't mind seeing Stoke behind a desk."


Everyone on the street immediately looked up at the male voice shouting above them. What looked like a huge, silver boomerang slowly descended down to the street, the air blasters on the bottom of it noiselessly controlling the landing. The two jet engines on the back of each wing were silent as well, making the entrance of the aircraft almost surreal.

"What is that?" Kaitlyn asked.

"That's a Jet Wing." Scout said. "It's more maneuverable and more powerful than the gliders, but it's also much more difficult to fly."

"Why isn't it making any noise?" Static asked.

"They were designed to be quick, quiet, and deadly. All the engines on `em are practically noiseless."

As it got closer to the ground, four figures became visible on the top of it; two women and two men. The pilot was standing in the center of the aircraft in between two handlebars with a strap connecting them. The two women, dressed in skimpy, transparent belly dancer outfits, were holding onto the curved handlebars, one kneeling on either side of him. The last passenger was on his stomach with the pilot standing over him. They all carefully stood up as the Jet Wing quietly landed in the middle of the street.

"And thank you for flying Air Mars." The pilot said cheerfully. "Have a nice day and please fly again soon."

"Thanks for the lift, Copper!" The female with the bronze-colored fur and curly, shoulder-length bronze hair said, giving the pilot a hug before she jumped to the ground.

"You're a lifesaver, bro!" The second female said, hugging him as well before she joined her friend. Her fur was gold and her long, dark gold hair reached her waist.

"Any time ladies!" Copper said, taking off his helmet and bowing. His light brown fur was streaked with turquoise. "I assure you, the pleasure was all mine." He clutched dramatically at his heart as they both blew him a kiss.

"See ya around, Captain!" The bronze-furred woman said to the third passenger as she grabbed her friend's hand and took off running down the street.

"Bye Mac!" The gold-furred mouse said, laughing as she was dragged away by her friend.

"Don't get into too much trouble!" Mac called after the two mice.

"Look who's talkin'!!" The bronze female called as she pulled her friend down the street. Mac just laughed and shook his head.

As the two women ran joyfully past, all heads turned to watch them. Depending on who was doing the looking, everyone noticed at least one of the outstanding features of the two mice. While some simply focused on their lack of clothing, others took notice of the amazing grace of their movements, or the patchwork of barely visible long, thin scars across their backs.

"See ya back at base, Captain." Copper said as he put his helmet back on. He tapped a panel on the `floor' of the aircraft with his foot, making a pedal appear. He pushed the pedal back down and the Jet Wing rose back into the air. Taking a firm hold of the handlebars, he leaned forward into the strap between the bars so his stomach was resting on the strap and his legs were in the air behind him, parallel to the aircraft. The jets on each wing suddenly came alive with blue flames and he sailed quickly over the buildings.

"Well, you certainly know how to make an entrance, Mac." Scout said, laughing.

Anakin MacCloud turned at his name and grinned, his silver eyes sparkling with hidden mischief. The first thing that everyone noticed was that, except for the longer hair collected in a short ponytail at the base of his neck, his silver eyes, and his short beard, he looked exactly like a slightly older version of Throttle. He was wearing a dark blue jacket, matching jeans, a pale gray t-shirt, and worn black boots. The captain's flight hat he had on was cocked slightly to the side, his tan bangs sticking out from under the brim.

"I do try." Mac said, bowing his head slightly and walking over. He was amazed at seeing the humans, but he covered it smoothly.

"Everyone, this is Anakin MacCloud. Mac, this is Kaitlyn, Jordan, and Static." Scout said, pointing to each in turn, and Mac took off his hat and bowed elegantly. "And the Biker Mice; Throttle, Vinnie, and Modo."

"Aaaahhh, so these are the kids Stoker's always talking about." Mac said.

"Kids?!" Vinnie protested immediately. "This studly bod is 100% adult mouse, thank you very much!"

"Keep tellin' yourself that, kid." Mac said, grinning. "Maybe one day your dreams will come true." Vinnie crossed his arms and glared as Throttle and Modo laughed. "Not to seem rude, but I'm late for a meeting with Carbine as it is. So if you'll forgive me"

"We're going the same way, Captain." Jumpstart said and they all started walking. "As a matter of fact, we were looking for you as well as Carbine."

"I'm honored!" Mac said, smiling. "What did you need me for, though?"

"For one, to tell you that Bat's done with your Jet Wings. The other is that they need your help on a search mission." Jumpstart gestured toward the others. "That's why they're here."

"A search, huh?" He scratched his short beard. "Hrrmmmthat's a tough one. Nearly every aircraft we've got has been, or is being sent in for a check-up and overhaul for the mission tomorrow." He looked at the skyline thoughtfully. "Now let me see, there are a few wings still out on sweeps, and I could just redirect them. Where do you need to search?" He asked, turning back to them.

"We don't know." Throttle said. "She was transported here, and the transfer signal was interrupted."

"Hey, can you all wait for just a sec?" Jumpstart asked, stopping in front of a building. "These are my quarters, and I just want to drop this duffel bag off."

"Yeah," Scout said. "Mine place is just up the street, can you just hang here for a minute?"

"I can take them the rest of the way." Mac said. "Why don't you two just stay?"

"Thanks Captain, but we have to report in to HQ." Jumpstart said, opening her door.

"I'll report you in."

"That's not proper procedure, Captain, you know that."

"Ridiculous! Why don't you both just stay at your quarters and take a long bath. Gods know you both need one."

"Mmmmm, a bath." Jumpstart sighed, leaning her head wearily against the doorframe.

"All right, being the superior officer, I order you both to stay! I will report you in, period. Argue and I'll write you both up for insubordination."

"Sir, yes SIR!!" The both of them said, snapping to attention.

"At ease." Mac said, giving them both a mock scowl.

"I'll see you in the mess hall, okay baby?" Scout said, kissing Jumpstart on the forehead and stroking her cheek.

"Scout?" Jumpstart asked as he turned toward his quarters.

"Yeah?" He asked, turning back to her.

"I'm cashing in my favor."

"Okay." He said, looking a little confused. "What do y---"

"You're taking the bath with me." Jumpstart interrupted, grabbing the front of his shirt and hauling him into her quarters. "Good luck you guys!" She said, laughing and closing the door as Scout picked her up joyfully from behind.

"Well, um..." Mac said, breaking the shocked silence. He chuckled and shook his head. "Why don't we head over to HQ." Everyone turned and started walking down the street immediately. "Now, the scanners in the comp room should have picked up the transporter transmission. How long ago was it?"

"Seven hours and 25 minutes." Jordan said softly.

"Oh." Mac said, looking at the boy, his expression going from surprise to a sad pitying look. "We'll find her in no time, lad. Don't worry."

They rounded a corner and the street opened up into a large courtyard with a big, one-story building at the opposite end. The courtyard was teeming with Martians, all of them either walking in or out of the building at the other end.

"That's the mess hall." Mac said, gesturing toward the long building.

"Stoker's office is in there?" Modo asked.

"Yep. You just go in the front doors, and it's straight across the room on the opposite wall. He should be there, I just talked to him on the radio."

"Where's HQ?" Throttle asked.

"It's that one right there." Mac pointed to a tall building not very far away.

"Are you okay with this, Kaitlyn?" Throttle asked, turning to her with a concerned look.

"We'll be fine." Kaitlyn said, nodding. "We'll just meet up with you later."

"Okay. Um, Mac?" Throttle asked, turning toward Mac. "Can I talk to you for a second?"

"Sure, lad. About what?" Mac asked as they walked a little distance from the rest of the group.

Modo and Vinnie knew what Throttle wanted to talk about, and they shifted uneasily, avoiding looking at Kaitlyn or Jordan. The two humans caught on to the behavior immediately and Jordan looked at his mother, his eyes flashing with fear and anger. Kaitlyn shook her head and he remained silent. She looked over at Throttle and Mac, who had his back to them. Throttle said something, his face grim, and Mac's back went ramrod straight. The older Martian looked at Throttle for a second, then brought his hand up to his face in a gesture of shock and nodded. The two talked for a few more minutes, then Mac turned and walked back to the others. Vinnie and Modo followed Throttle across the courtyard to the mess hall.

"Okay, let's get to that comp room." Mac said, his mood a little more somber.

Jordan followed behind Mac, fear and anger tearing at his stomach. He glanced back at Modo, Vinnie, and Throttle walking into the mess hall. As they walked along, he disregarded the conversation and let his eyes wander along the skyline, trying to make the uneasy feeling eating at him go away. His eyes came back to Mac. Why are they hiding something from us?! He looked away from the tall Martian and fixed his eyes on the strange sight of the double moons. A cold, empty pain stabbed at his chest. Are you looking at them too, sis? He felt an arm fall across his shoulder and he looked over into Static's brown eyes.

"It'll be okay, hun." Static said, giving him a squeeze.

"It has to be, Static." Jordan said, ignoring the tear falling down his cheek. "It has to be."

* * *

Continued in Chapter V