Disclaimer: I do not own Biker Mice From Mars and I make no money off this work. The characters Tala, MC, Kara, Mrs. Biddle, Zekpith, Bola, and Stella belong to me, so please don't use them in your stories. But feel free to draw them and send me a copy.
Lyrics to "Right Place, Wrong Time" by Screaming Cheetah Willies used without permission.
This story contains cussing, graphic depictions of violence, drinking of alcoholic beverages, and sexual situations. If you're not mature enough to handle it, go read something else.
This story takes place in 1995, a few months after "Once Upon a Time on Mars."
"Now this just reeks!"
Charley looked up from the carburetor she was working on to see Throttle crushing the morning paper in his fist. "I didn't have a chance to read that yet. A paying customer showed up first."
Throttle either didn't hear her or ignored her, for he chunked the stick of newsprint into the garbage can.
"This is why I don't bother with current events." Vinnie pulled two cards from his hand and drew two more from the stack. "You get all hot and bothered by it but there's nothing you can do about it."
Modo glanced up from their poker game. "Care to share, bro?"
Charley sighed as she retrieved her newspaper. Throttle was off in thinking mode. She smoothed out the largest wrinkles and found the article. "In philanthropic news, one of Chicago's leading citizens, Lawrence Limburger, made a 100,000 dollar contribution to the Cook County Orphanage."
"Bet it was funny money," Vinnie interrupted.
"'We are overwhelmed by a gift of such magnitude,' says Mrs. Biddle, director of the orphanage. 'There should be more people with as much generosity as Mr. Limburger.' Well, Mrs. Biddle is an excellent judge of character," the human mechanic finished drily.
"How come he's got everybody in this city fooled but us?" Modo grumbled, throwing his hand of cards down on the table.
"Fish-face is up to something," the Martian mouse with tan-colored fur declared. "He knows how we feel about those kids."
Vinnie threw back his head and laughed. Light bounced off the metal flex-plate shielding mask covering the right side of his face. "Ole drippy drawers has found a new low in stupidity. Let's go haul him back up by his gills!"
"Mount up, bros." Throttle ordered as he quickly straddled his black motorcycle.
"A paying customer would have to show up today," the human woman grumbled. "I'll meet you at the orphanage later!" She yelled over the roar of their bikes.
Throttle nodded and gave her a thumbs up to show that he heard. Then the Biker Mice were gone; the roar of their bikes fading down the street. Charley surveyed her garage. Nothing was out of place other than the abandoned poker game, the crumpled newspaper, and her tools. "It took three years, but I think I finally got them housebroken."
Tala splashed cold water on her face and looked up into the mirror. Color was starting to return to her cheeks and lips. Damn those dreams!
She leaned against the bathroom sink. This time it had been a race. She and her bike passed everyone else on the track, except the Martian mouse on the red racing bike. She could still see the image of him in front of her, his body hugging his bike and his long tail whipping in the wind. And she couldn't get past him. Infuriating.
But less infuriating than the dreams in which he was in her bedroom, caressing her in ways that she swore no man would do again. And she wanted him to caress her, kiss her, touch her. She wanted to slide the bandoleers he wore strapped cross his white-furred chest off his shoulders and leave a trail of kisses in their place. She wanted her fingertips to memorize every inch of his face, including the right side masked in metal. He always turned that side away from her when she moved to touch it in the dream.
Always when she woke up from those dreams, her body remembered the pain and her stomach seized with dread. She curled up in a fetal position hyperventilating, shaking, and sweating until the panic attack left. If those dreams were supposed to mean that subconsciously she was ready to try a sexual relationship, why did she still have the panic attacks? The next few minutes of the day would be spent cussing at the unknown mouse and Rexus with equal fervor.
The intercom chimed. Tala hit the reply button. "What is it?"
"Just a reminder. If you want to make the plane to Honolulu, you should leave now to run your errands." The mechanical voice spoke with a feminine tone.
"I wish Earth would catch up with the rest of the galaxy." The human woman stepped out of her bathroom and walked through her bedroom, picking up her white motorcycle leather jacket off the bed. A sealed envelope laid on the table next the door. She snatched it up and stuffed it into the pocket of her jacket, joining other papers, as she left her bedroom. She strode across the wide catwalk from her bedroom to the large freight elevator, glancing over the railing at the floor below double-checking that all the lights were off. She pulled the jacket on as she started the elevator going down. "I could just transport over there if Terrans knew about transporting."
The elevator stopped at the ground floor garage. Five motorcycles of various styles were parked there along with a dark blue 1965 Ford Mustang convertible. One of the motorcycles started beeping at her and flashing its mousehead-shaped headlight; a bright blue racing bike with a white lightening bolt painted down its crankcase.
Tala smiled. "Hello, Hot Stuff. Ready to go?"
The bike popped a wheelie and beeped enthusiastically.
She grabbed her helmet and straddled the bike. "Let's go."
Throttle leaned over the small viewscreen built into the tank of his bike. Limburger was visible on it, leaning back in his chair behind his desk and slurping worms down. The mouse looked away before he lost his breakfast. "The Big Cheese's up to something. But it looks like we missed the planning session."
"We could just bust in there and make him tell us." The grey-furred mouse suggested.
Throttle glanced over at his larger bro. He would expect a comment like that from Vinnie. But the hyperactive mouse was focusing his binoculars on the street below. They sat on their bikes on top of a neighboring skyscraper near Limburger's Tower. "We could," the tan-furred mouse agreed. "But the Big Cheese is probably expecting that. Hopefully, Charley-girl is having better luck at the orphanage. Let's get over there."
"Wait a minute." Vinnie said as he adjusted his binoculars.
Modo's mouth fell open. "Did I just hear him right?"
"Yeah. Vinnie said wait. The universe is going to end."
"One hot biker babe is walking into Lard-butt's Tower."
"Really?" Throttle rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Modo pulled out his own pair of binoculars. "Are you sure it isn't Charley?"
"It's Charley only if she's gone blonde, got a drastic haircut, and shrank her boobs."
"She ain't Charley," Modo said.
"Hhmm. Why is she heading into Limburger's? He's gonna start hiring bikers to come after us?"
"No way." Vinnie's tail lashed angrily. "Somebody that cute can't be a baddie."
"There's a saying: you can't judge a book by its cover."
"I'm not talkin about a book. I'm talkin about a woman."
Throttle could feel his temples begin to pound. "Look at this way," Modo advised, "we've got a reason to keep this place under surveillance."
"All right. But we can't wait here all day."
"Nah, just long enough for her to catch a glimpse of my studly body and ask for a phone number."
Throttle sighed. The pounding in his head was harder. It was going to be one of those days.
Tala pulled up the collar of her white motorcycle jacket and strode through the lobby of Limburger's Tower like she belong there. She avoided the bald men who wore pants, vests, muscle shirts and guns. Grungy sleazoids with guns. Yeah, that's a good idea.
She slipped into an office adjacent to the main lobby. Sitting down at a desk, she found the corresponding port on the computer for . . . she quickly patted down her jacket. She drew a small black cell phone with a phone jack cord running from the bottom of it out of another pocket. She plugged the phone into the running computer, dialed the number MC had given her, pulled the papers from her pocket, leaned back in the executive-style office chair, and propped her feet on the desk.
The papers were a printout of a thirteen-year-old police report MC had found. In 1983, six orphans from the Cook County Orphanage disappeared. No trace of them was ever found, and the case was still open. Four of the missing children were fifteen. The oldest was seventeen. The youngest was eleven. The report hadn't contained any pictures, so the next stop would be to the orphanage to try to find the identities of the orphans. MC thought the youngest could be Tala.
Tala frowned and stuffed the papers back into her pocket. First order of business was to see if the rumor that Limburger was dealing with the Zekpith Gang was true. After that, there would be plenty of time for the other Chicago errands before catching the flight to Hawaii.
The cell phone beeped and the voice that had spoken earlier over the intercom came on. "I'm sorry, Mistress Tala. I'm afraid I triggered an anti-hacking firewall inside Limburger's system."
"MC! You promised me you were going to upgrade your hacking skills."
"Evidently I did not upgrade them enough."
"Great, just great." Tala unplugged the cell phone and stuffed it into a jacket pocket. "It's shaping up to be one of those days."
Limburger resisted the urge he felt to pick up his binoculars and stare back at the Biker Mice parked on the opposite skyscraper. He could stare back at them and then wave when they noticed. The expressions on those valiant vermin's faces would be priceless. He sighed and reached into the bowl of slime worms sitting on his desk. But as long as they were up there meant that they were not blowing up his tower, wreaking his equipment, pummeling his goons.
The alarm blared through the office. "Blast! I knew it was too good to last!"
Karbunkle's face appeared on the vidcom unit on his desk. The large-headed doctor quivered, the wire running out of the side of his head keeping beat with the alarm. "Someone tried to hack into our computer system. From inside the Tower, oh odious one!"
The disguised Plutarkian swiveled his bulk around to the floor-to-ceiling window behind his desk. Three Biker Mice sat on their bikes on top of the skyscraper. "It's not them. It's not their style regardless." Limburger picked up a remote control and clicked on the wall vidcom unit, flipping through the security camera scenes. He stopped at an office. A human female with blonde hair was stuffing equipment and papers into the pockets of her white motorcycle jacket. Limburger hit the intercom with a sigh. "Greasepit, goons. Kindly escort the young lady in the white leather jacket to my office."
No one was waiting for her in the hall. Tala blew out the breath she was holding. She strolled through the lobby, trying not to draw any attention to herself. No one appeared to notice her. She hit the main door and started down the outside steps to the street. For a Plutarkian, Limburger has lousy security. Lucky Tala strikes again.
A large man, bald with a small red cap wrapped around his pointed head, wearing blue jean overalls without a shirt, and dripping black oil strode toward her. A small battalion of the bald, armed sleazoids followed behind him. "Mr. Limburger wants to see youse!" The oil-dripping man bellowed.
Vinnie sat up straight and stowed the binoculars into his bike's storage compartment. "Looks like trouble for the beautiful lady."
"Now Vincent, don't get," Throttle began. The white-furred mouse fired his rocket jets and shot down the side of the building. "Involved," Throttle finished with a sigh.
"If he would just listen, our lives would be so much easier." Modo shook his head.
"But who wants that?" The tan-furred mouse replied with a grin as he turned on the face shield on his helmet. They fired the rocket jets on their bikes and followed Vinnie's lead.
The oil-dripping head goon grabbed Tala's arm. "Mr. Limburger wants to see youse! Now!"
"Let me go, you walkin environmental disaster!" She whistled shrilly. "Your boss has to make an appointment just like everyone else!"
"Real cute. Comes on." He jerked her arm.
Tala looked over her shoulder. Her bike was roaring toward her. But another bike was roaring from the other direction. She turned back.
A red racing motorcycle almost identical to her bike and straight out of her earlier dream barreled toward her and Limburger's goon. "Let her go, you walkin oil slick!" The rider's fist carrying all the velocity of the bike hit the oil-dripping goon straight in the face. The goon released her arm and flew backwards. The bike skidded to a stop in front of her. "He didn't hurt you did he, sweetheart?"
Tala stared at the rider. He was shirtless, his muscles well-defined under his white fur, and two green bandoleers crossed over his chest. His blue jeans had studs running along the outside seam down to his metal knee pads and black biker boots. A purple bandanna was tied around his neck, the knot falling onto the hollow of his collarbone. A shinny metal mask covered the right side of his face starting at the base of his snout, covering the entire cheek, and extending back into the depths of his helmet just leaving a hole for his eye. It was him, that damned cocky mouse that invaded her dreams.
She felt the blood rush from her face. Recognizing him had only taken a second. He was waiting for an answer. The words tumbled out of her mouth. "Why the hell aren't you on Mars?"
"Huh?" was his elegant response.
Then the goons opened fire.
Her bike rolled up behind her laying down cover fire. Tala jumped on, pulling on her helmet as she settled into the seat.
The white-furred mouse moved just as fast. He gunned his bike up the steps, wheeled around tightly, and faced the squad of goons. Most of them started scattering and the missile he fired into their midst sent the remainder flying.
In his office above, Limburger watched the action on the street with his own pair of binoculars. "Not another damned biker!" He hit the intercom. "Somebody get them before they blow up my Tower!"
Those goons were gone. Vinnie turned his attention to the lady biker. She knew he was Martian. She straddled a Martian bike. She was human.
He tried to remember what Charley had explained to them. Why she found their story so hard to believe at first. But that had been almost three years ago and he hadn't really been paying attention at the time. It basically boiled down to Terrans believed they were the only beings in the solar system. Very few of them knew the truth.
And apparently this lady was one of the few.
"Move your furry ass!" She shouted, gunning her bike straight toward him.
He accelerated out of her way and turned to watch her shoot the front tires of a dune buggy that had been barreling toward him. The dune buggy's front end hit the cement steps and flipped over.
Vinnie laughed as they raced away from the explosion. "I like your style, Doll-face." More dune buggies raced out of various entrances around Limburger Plaza. He turned toward her thoughtfully. "What did you do to piss him off so much?"
She shrugged. "Get rescued by you?"
Before he could decide if she was serious or sarcastic, the dune buggies reached them.
Limburger shook his fist as he surveyed the battle below. "You calamitous motorcyclists! Why can't you go ruin some other Plutarkian's day!"
Now the other two mice had arrived. "And I just had the conference room repainted," he said mournfully.
Tala and her bike dodged laser fire and added to it. "I'm glad I didn't bring the car."
Her bike beeped reproachfully at her.
"Hey, I thought about it, okay. I don't get to drive it often. Besides, I'm glad I've got you; the car doesn't have weapons."
Pavement exploded nearby. A large piece of street hit her in the hip. The next thing she realized was that she was lying on the street a good four feet away from her bike and in a whole lot of pain on her right side.
Shit! Now I've gone and done it. Probably broke my hip and my ribs. I knew I was getting too used to the armor! She moved her left arm to feel the right side of her body. No blood. She tried moving her right leg. It flexed. Not broken. Those Gene-Splicers said they doubled my strength and healing speed. Never really had a chance to test it. Oh, but it's gonna to be one helluva bruise.
A roaring engine made her look up. One of those dune buggies was heading straight for her. The driver had a manic grin plastered on his face.
Another engine's roar answered to her right, somewhere beyond her feet. The white-furred mouse on the red bike zipped between her and the dune buggy, grabbing her up with his tail.
The dune buggy turned to follow him. But before it made any progress, it exploded in a massive fireball. Tala looked back. Her bike rolled around the flames, revved, and accelerated after her.
"AOOOOOOW! Now this is what I call fun!"
"I'd hate to see what you call boring!" Tala choked back tears. She was right about that bruise. His tail wrapped around her waist and the pain pulsed every time he twitched it.
"You still alive, Sweetheart?"
"I will be once you put me back on my own wheels."
Her bike moved up along side the red one. The mouse set her on it gently. "Two studly rescues in less than an hour! Do you love me already or what? I'm available Friday night."
"What are you, some sorta mouse scout? Always on duty to rescue and destroy?" She gazed around the street in front of Limburger's Tower. There wasn't a single moving dune buggy left. And the highway department was going to have a blast resurfacing the street.
"Well that's a hell of a way to show your gratitude." The white-furred mouse crossed his arms over his chest.
"I don't do swooning. Look, I appreciate the assistance but this is more attention than I wanted." She glanced around again. Two more bikes were riding up. "Time to fly. Flight mode."
Her bike beeped and accelerated. It jumped into the air. The wheels split apart and lined up horizontally with the ground. With a magnetic pulse, the bike shot up into the sky and down the street.
"Stupid, stupid," Tala chastised herself. "I knew Martian mice are on Earth. I have that stupid letter to deliver to one of them. I shouldn't have let him get me flustered. It's unprofessional."
Her bike beeped worriedly.
"Come on, Hot Stuff. Let's go try to find my past before I screw my immediate future up any worse."
Throttle and Modo idled their bikes next to Vinnie who stared up at the sky with a grin from ear to ear. "I think I like her style."
Throttle pushed down his shades and blinked him red eyes a couple of times in the same direction Vinnie stared in. "Did that bike just do what I thought I saw it do?"
"If it didn't, I'm going with you to get our eyes checked," Modo answered. "I'm willin to bet money that it was a Martian bike, too. If I had any money."
"It was," Vinnie said.
"And she's human?" Throttle asked.
"Yep. Knew I was Martian, too."
"Where do you find them?" Modo asked.
"What can I say? It's a talent."
"Yeah. One that needs to be improved." Throttle chuckled. "She sure didn't stick around after she saw you."
"It was the goons," Vinnie growled. Throttle and Modo shook their heads and roared away. "Well, it was!"
Charley resisted the urge to reach over the desk and strangle Mrs. Biddle. "I understand your concerns, Ms. Davidson," she repeated. "Mr. Limburger's business practices are questionable, but quite frankly we need the money. The county's funds that we depend on were cut. We need Mr. Limburger's money to stay open."
"I understand that, Mrs. Biddle. But I'm afraid Mr. Limburger may have put some unusual conditions on the use of the money. Like exchange of property or something."
Mrs. Biddle stood up and waddled her large matronly form around her desk. The chat was over and Charley stood up. "Personally, I think you're being a bit paranoid, my dear." Mrs. Biddle escorted the female mechanic from her office and into the main hall of the ground floor of the orphanage. "I'm glad you feel so concerned about the children. I only wish more people did. Perhaps you and your friends can come and visit during the weekend." She saw Charley to the lobby, said good-bye, and headed back to her office.
Charley blew a stray lock of her chestnut hair out of her green eyes. Well, I hope the guys did better than I did. She left the main lobby and went outside. Her bike was parked in the driveway right outside the main door. Another motorcycle was parked right behind it.
She looked over the new bike with interest and gasped involuntarily. It was a Martian bike, a bright blue Martian racing bike. A white lightening bolt was painted down the crankcase. It reminded her of Vinnie's bike. Both were designed to lean the driver forward, cutting down the wind resistance. Both bikes had the same aerodynamic build including the small windshield and the mousehead-shaped side mirror and headlight. But this bike's front wheel wasn't encased in metal like Vinnie's bike. It and the back wheel were attached by telescopic forks. The wheels looked odd too, almost like two separate tires were being held together to make up one standard tire. Maybe it had a four-wheel mode?
"Take a picture. It'll last longer."
Charley whirled around. The owner of the mocking voice was standing behind her with Kara, one of the orphans. She was about the same age and height as the mechanic, but thinner. Her blonde hair was cut short. She wore a pair of faded black jeans and maroon shirt tucked into them. A white motorcycle jacket and a pair of scuffed-up black biker boots completed her ensemble.
Kara broke from the stranger's side, ran up to Charley, and hugged her around the waist. "Hi, Miss Charley! Did you bring the bikers to play with us?"
"Not today, Kara. Maybe next week."
"Okay. Mr. Vinnie still has to show us the new baseball game."
"I'll remind him."
Kara scampered back into the orphanage. The blonde woman's blue eyes watched her go in and a slight smile twitched her lips. "I was never that young. Or trusting."
"What were you doing with Kara?" Charley demanded.
The woman looked back at her. "She was showing me their new house while you were meeting with Mrs. Biddle." The new orphanage was the top seven floors of one of Limburger's Towers which had miraculously landed on the site of the former orphanage when the Biker Mice had blown the tower up in the Christmas season of 1993. Kara and the other children were proud of it. "Seemed to think I was a friend of yours because I rode up on a bike," the woman continued.
Charley glanced at the bike. "It's a nice bike. Has some unique modifications."
"You know what they say. The rarest hog on the road is the factory model. Pleasure to meet you." She walked into the orphanage.
Charley watched her limp into the building. She knew disguises were good, but if this woman wasn't human she would eat Vinnie's next gourmet cooking experiment. But what was a human doing with a Martian bike? She waited a few more minutes and reentered the orphanage.
No one was in the main lobby to stop her, so she eased down the hall toward Mrs. Biddle's office. "I hope you're not here to talk about Mr. Limburger too," the director's voice boomed down the hall.
"No, should I be?"
Does her voice sound ironic all the time? Charley wondered.
"My name is Olivia Twist."
Right. And I'm growing a tail.
"I'm working on a book about missing children and I came across a report from 1983 of six missing orphans. I wanted to know if I could look at their files to see if they correlate with any of the statistics I've gathered."
"I'm sorry, but that's impossible."
"It's a thirteen-year-old case."
"We can't let anyone see the files without a court order. That's so we can protect the children. And it is a rule I'm not willing to break for a piece of sensational literature."
Charley heard the sound of someone standing up and back pedaled out of the hall. She had enough time to get back outside and onto her bike before "Olivia Twist" walked out.
The blonde woman's eyebrows arched questioningly at Charley. "You're still here?"
"Waiting on some friends. Did your meeting go well?"
"As expected." She straddled her bright blue Martian bike and pulled on a grey helmet similar in style to the Biker Mice's. She didn't turn on her face shield though. "We'll have to do this again sometime. Maybe we'll actually exchange names." She roared off.
Charley frowned as she rode her own bike to the end of the driveway. She had never asked the Biker Mice how popular Martian bikes were off Mars. But still in order for her to get one, she would probably have been there before the Plutarkian/Martian War. It didn't make sense. Just like Limburger giving the orphanage money.
Roaring motorcycles made her look up. The Biker Mice idled their bikes in front of her. Vinnie's expression was uncharacteristically dejected.
"Did you find out anything, Charley-girl?" Throttle leaned forward, resting his forearms against his handlebars.
"Only that they need Limburger's money to stay open. Mrs. Biddle wouldn't tell me if he put any stipulations on how they use it."
Modo's one eye opened wide with shock. "They wouldn't put the kids on the street just because they don't have any money, would they?"
"No, they'd probably just divide them up among other orphanages across the state. Did you guys learn anything?"
"Only that there may be a new player in town," Throttle answered.
"Good guy or bad guy?"
"Not sure. She went into Limburger's Tower and came out with Greasepit and a whole lot of goons trying to get her back in. And she rode off without even thanking us for trashing the goons."
"She did to," Vinnie protested.
Charley smirked, "Vinnie's defending the lady?"
"She made quite the impression," Modo grinned. "But then it's not everyday you see a pretty lady with a flying bike."
"A Martian bike?" Charley asked.
The three males exchanged glances. "Sweetheart, you saw her? Human, blonde, white leather jacket? Bike is a blue racer?"
Charley would swear that Vinnie's ears had perked up underneath his helmet. "That's her. You just missed her."
"Of all the dirty, rotten, shitty luck."
"Did you get a name?" Throttle asked.
"A fake one. Olivia Twist." The three mice looked at her blankly. "Oliver Twist is a very famous fictional orphan. One of Charles Dickens' novels. Olivia is the feminine version of Oliver."
"If you say so, babe." Vinnie shrugged.
"Was she asking about Limburger's money?"
"No," Charley shook her head at Throttle. "She was asking about some orphans that disappeared thirteen years ago."
"Limburger wouldn't have anything to do with that. What's the connection?"
"Uh, Throttle, can't you do your thinkin back at the Garage?" Modo's stomach growled loudly. "I think it's lunch time."
"Let's rock . . ."
Tala found the Last Chance Garage without any problems. Well, except one. It was closed. She sighed. Having gotten paid for hand-delivery meant you hand-delivered. So she turned on the bike's radio, pulled out a tattered paperback, and waited.
She was in the middle of the third story in Ray Bradbury's Martian
Chronicles when she heard four motorcycles down the street. It was the
three mice she had seen outside Limburger's building and the woman she had
met outside the orphanage.
I was in the right place
But it must've been
the wrong time
I was in the right vein
But it must've been
the wrong life blared from her radio. She grimaced and shut it off just as their bikes reached her.
"Well, well, well. And we worried about finding you again." The speaker was a tan-furred mouse astride a black and chrome motorcycle. Green shades hid his eyes. A sleeveless, unzipped black leather jacket barely covered his muscular torso. He wore blue jeans with metal knee pads and black biker boots, too. A red bandanna was tied around his throat and a matching one was tied around the wrist of his right gloved hand.
"I'm listed in the phone book." I can be sarcastic too, Martian.
"As Olivia Twist?" The human woman asked drily. Her green eyes narrowed suspiciously.
Tala grinned. "Glad to know I'm not the only one in the universe that has developed the nasty habit of eavesdropping. Oh and congratulations, you the first Terran to realize it's an alias. I thought about using Olivia Copperfield, but I figured everyone would assume I'm a magician."
"So what's your real name, Doll-Face?" The white-furred mouse asked while giving her the once over.
The tan one must be the leader. The jolly grey cyclopean giant is too quiet. And the white one acts first, thinks second. She looked at the tan mouse. "Wouldn't it be better to have introductions inside? Sit down, prop your feet up, take your ears out."
The tan mouse nodded at their human companion. She pulled out a garage door remote and pointed it at the two garage doors. One quickly slid up. She drove her bike inside first.
It was a modest garage. Tools, parts, and shelves lined the available space on the walls. Two closed doors were on the left wall. A large window was in the right wall. A swinging door was on the back wall. Not too bad considering the neighborhood. But then being a hangout for three large Martian biker mice probably insured a wide berth by undesirables.
The tan mouse pulled off his helmet and left it on his bike. He led the way to a table and chairs set up in the back near the swinging door. He gestured for Tala to have a seat. "So you know we're Martians."
Tala sat down. "Well, the ears, tail, and fur kinda make you stand out. Or do I need to start naming every extra-terrestrial species I know about? We could be here a while. I don't suppose I could get something to drink with this interrogation, could I?"
"Is root beer okay?" The human woman wore a baggy blue work shirt and dark blue jeans and paused at the swinging door to ask.
"Fine with me." Tala got a glimpse of a kitchen beyond when she walked through the door. She quickly returned with a tray carrying five root beer bottles. Tala took the one offered to her. "Now who's going to interrogate who?"
This question confused the males. But the woman nodded. "You have questions for us and we have questions for you."
"Got it in one."
"So we'll ask a question and then you ask a question," the tan mouse suggested.
"All right. But if a question is refused an answer, the asker gets another one. First one out of questions wins. Agreed?"
"Okay," the tan mouse said. "What's your real name?"
"Tala. My card." She passed a business card from her wallet.
"Tala, Galactic Jack-of-all-Trades," the tan mouse read aloud. "Can do the job for the right price. You gotta be kidding."
"I have expensive tastes, an unconventional résumé, and I'm an adrenalin junkie; all of which makes holding a steady job harder than usual. How long have the Plutarkians been on Earth?"
The woman answered. "Limburger's been here in Chicago since 1991. I don't know about any of the others."
"You don't have a clan name?" The grey-furred mouse asked. He was the tallest of the three mice with a boxy metal right arm. A black eye patch covered his left eye. Armor was strapped across his upper chest. Two hoop earrings dangled from his left ear.
"I have one," Tala admitted. "But I don't give it out, like you mice. How many Plutarkians are on Earth?"
The tan mouse was frowning. Probably because I know stuff about their culture that I shouldn't, Tala smiled. And it's driving him nuts.
"Brie is in Detroit," he answered. "Parmesana is in Cleveland, Gruyere is in New Orleans, Monterry is in Las Vegas. Gouda is on this planet but we don't know where. What were you doing at Limburger's Tower?"
"Spying. More specifically, I was trying to hack into his computer system. But an alarm got triggered and I had to haul ass out of there just in time to run into your mouse scout heroics."
Their female friend made a strange sound and quickly swallowed some root beer to hide her smile.
The white-furred mouse frowned. "Do we look like geeks who help little ole ladies across the street?" He asked as he flexed his arm. "Modo does, but even he doesn't look it."
The grey-furred mouse stretched out his arms and slapped the white mouse sitting to his left on the back of his head. The white mouse rocked forward, straightened himself against the table, turned, and glared. Modo now had both his hands laced behind his head and leaned back in his chair with a look of complete innocence.
"It's not your turn to ask a question," Tala replied tersely. "How many others are fighting the Plutarkians here on this planet?"
"We don't know," the tan mouse admitted. "Most humans don't know about Plutarkians or Martians. Probably wouldn't believe us even if we did tell." His husky voice sounded depressed. "Or worse."
"Why were you spying on Limburger?" The human woman asked quickly.
So we're going to skip right over Terrans' xenophobic attitudes. All right, probably depressing enough to know you're the only ones standing between the destruction of an entire planet and its clueless population that would send you to the lab. "I heard he was doing business with some people I don't like. I was trying to find out if the rumor was true. How long have you been on Earth?"
"Three years. Who are these people you don't like?" The tan mouse had regained control.
"The Zekpith Gang." The mice exchanged blank looks. "Very nasty customers. I don't recommend getting tangled up with them. You actually make enough revenue here to stay in business?"
The woman was taken back by the question. "I make enough."
"This is boring," the white mouse complained. "What do you wanna know about me?"
"Other than surface details I don't think there's much to know." Modo chuckled at her answer, earning a dirty look from the white mouse. "How did you end up on Earth?"
"Plutarkians shot us down. How come you know all about Plutarkians and Mars? You're human."
"According to my DNA." Tala sighed, the joke was lost on them. "I'm human, but I'm not Terran. I had a life altering experience at thirteen which opened my eyes to the greater galaxy. I haven't looked back since. Now I spend more time on my ship than a planet, any planet. Why were you spying on Limburger? Or is it part of your daily routine?"
The tan mouse's right ear twitched slightly. "He just gave the orphanage a lot of money. Whenever a Plutarkian starts giving away money, it usually means trouble. What happened when your were thirteen?"
"I woke up in outer space. So you guys have been living here for three years, messing with Limburger, and you haven't shut down his operations yet?"
"Gee, put it like that and it sounds like a bad thing," Modo muttered.
"Look, they've practically stopped Fishlips' operations in this town." The woman's green eyes flashed with suppressed anger. "Without any official help."
"Charley has been the only one helping us most of the time." The tan mouse flashed her a smile. "We'll get Limburger sooner or later. What are you going to do?"
Tala shrugged. "I still have to find out if Limburger and the Zekpith Gang are working together. Then whatever life throws at me next. I have no desire to turn you over to the authorities on Earth or to help with your crusade. So I'm down to my last question." She reached into her pocket and watched the entire group tense. She pulled an envelope out of her leather jacket. "Which one of you is Throttle?"
The tan mouse reached over the table and took the envelope from her grasp. "What is this?" His eyebrows arched over his shades.
"I don't know; I'm just the interplanetary mail carrier."
"You came all this way just to deliver a letter and harass the Big Cheese?" The white mouse looked puzzled and his metal mask contorted with his facial muscles.
"No, I came all the way here to check up on Earth and to take a vacation. The rest was just extra."
"Your visit to the orphanage, did that have anything to do with Limburger?" Charley asked quietly. Throttle was absorbed in his letter.
Tala drained her root beer bottle. "No, that was personal." She stood up, wincing slightly. The pain in her right hip had faded but it was still present. "Well, it's been fun, but I have reservations in Honolulu." She walked over to her bike. "And if you guys ever have a business proposition, don't hesitate to get in touch."
"Take us to Mars." Everyone turned and stared at Throttle. The letter was crumpled in his right gloved fist and he dropped the paper onto the table as he turned to face Tala. "You have a ship and we need to get to Mars."
She frowned at his expression. It was hard to read behind his shades, but it was intense. She had a mental recall of the pensive expression of the Martian general who had given her the letter. And things clicked. "It was one of those letters."
Throttle moved. Before anyone else could react, he grabbed hold of Tala's jacket with a growl. She hooked her foot behind his knee and swept his feet out from under him. As he fell back, she slipped out of the jacket. But all the others saw was a tan blur then a white blur. Then Throttle was sprawled on the concrete floor of the garage holding Tala's white leather jacket and wearing a surprised/shocked expression, completely visible due to his shades getting knocked down his snout. Tala had jumped back and stood guard in a martial arts stance.
Modo popped a laser cannon out of his right metal arm and aimed it at Tala. The white mouse pulled a gun out too. Her bike beeped worriedly.
Tala ignored them and stared down at the tan mouse. "I didn't read your stupid letter! But I can read reactions and I can add! Now, if you want to talk business, talk business. But stuff the macho bullshit!"
Throttle grimaced, aimed more at himself. "Yeah, I guess it wouldn't impress you. I'm sorry." He held out her jacket.
She relaxed and took it back. "You're right, it doesn't impress me. Apology accepted."
He climbed back to his feet and pushed his shades back up. The other mice put away their weapons. "What will it take to get us to Mars and back?"
"I'll cut you a break. Just expenses: ship's ammo, fuel, stores."
"Which is how much?" Charley asked drily.
"Earth currency? 750,000 dollars."
What! Throttle, I don't have that much money!"
He turned to her pleadingly. "Charley-girl?"
"I can't even come up with that much. It would be cheaper to use Limburger's transporter."
"Yeah, but we wouldn't be able to get back."
"Bro, the orphans?" Modo said worriedly. "We can't let that stinkfish get away with what's he planning."
"We're not. And he's gonna pay for our vacation." Throttle turned back to Tala. "Have you ever done any bounty hunting?"
"I don't think I like where this is going," the white mouse muttered.
"Yeah, I have a bounty hunter alias. How much is Limburger offering for you?"
Throttle shrugged. "It was 50,000 dollars three years ago. We've blown up a lot more since then."
"Throttle, can we discuss this?" Modo asked urgently. Throttle turned to face the others.
"Yeah, she's a do-able hottie, but can we trust her not to sell us out?" The white mouse gestured at Tala.
"Feeling cautious, Vinnie?"
"Nah. But we have to go out in a blaze of glory. I'm too cool for anything else."
"And marching into Fishlips' Tower for an execution ain't real high on the cool ways to join the afterlife list," Modo added.
"We ain't gonna die for three reasons. One, Limburger will want to gloat. Two, he's also gonna want to kill us in the most painful way possible and that's gonna take time to think up. And three, we're gonna find out what we need and blow the tower up exiting while Limburger's still figuring out the first two."
"Provided we can trust her," Charley pointed out.
"She's got a Martian bike."
"Bad guys can't ride Martian bikes?" Charley crossed her arms over her chest.
"The AIs don't protect them. Usually a bond doesn't form at all. At best, the AI will just tolerate the rider. At worse, you have to start screwing with the programming to get the bike to obey you. But a bike won't get worried when someone starts aiming guns at the rider it doesn't like. We can trust her," Throttle concluded.
"All right, but what's the big hurry to get back home?"
Throttle's back stiffened at Modo's question. "It's something I have to do. You guys don't have to come."
"When you'll probably be facing death, destruction, chaos, and mayhem?" Vinnie laughed. "Just try to leave us behind!"
"For once, I agree with Vinnie." Charley smiled. "Besides, I never got the tour the last time we were there."
"Is it all settled?" Tala asked. She leaned against her bike.
"You bring us into Limburger and collect the bounty. We stop whatever insidious scheme he's got going and blow up his tower. Then you take us for a weekend trip to Mars."
"Well, we won't have to worry about synchronizing watches with that plan. So let's see if it's worth my while." She pulled a cell phone from her jacket pocket and draped the jacket across the seat of her bike. She dialed the number quickly. "MC?"
"Mistress Tala, you missed the flight to Hawaii."
"I know. It took longer to deliver the letter than expected. But there's a possible change in plans. Scroll down the Plutarkian bounties for this planet."
"I believe you said we were not going to bounty hunt any more."
"I'll explain later. I'm especially interested in ones from Limburger on a trio of mice."
"There is one. Biker Mice from Mars, Freedom Fighters, enemies of Plutark. Price negotiable."
"I am merely reporting the desired information."
"Cancel my reservations." Tala turned off the phone, threw back her head, and laughed.
"Is that a yes or a no?" Vinnie scratched the back of his head.
"Price negotiable." She wiped tears from her blue eyes. "No Plutarkian has ever put price negotiable on anything. He must be desperate."
"He's notorious for not paying up," Charley pointed out.
"He'll pay." Tala held out her hand, which Throttle took and
shook. "You've got a deal."
Disclaimer: I do not own Biker Mice From Mars and I make no money off this work. The characters Tala, MC, Kara, Mrs. Biddle, Zekpith, Bola, and Stella belong to me, so please don't use them in your stories. But feel free to draw them and send me a copy.
Lyrics to "Dangerous" by Roxette used without permission.
This story contains cussing, graphic depictions of violence, drinking of alcoholic beverages, and sexual situations. If you're not mature enough to handle it, go read something else.
This story takes place in 1995, a few months after "Once Upon a Time on Mars."
Limburger threw himself behind his desk and watched the smoke roll away from what was left of his office doors. A slim female humanoid wearing black flexible armor with large red stripes running down her torso, legs, and arms strode into the room through the hole. Her red helmet with an opaque face shield turned and gazed around the room as she holstered her laser gun. "Limburger, come out. I don't deal with cowards."
Limburger stood up and straightened his red tie. He pulled down the jacket of his purple suit. "My dear lady, when you are as a prominent person as I, you will find that taking precautions for your life is not cowardly--merely prudently intelligent." He sat down behind his desk. "I take it you are the unauthorized transporter user that Dr. Karbunkle reported."
"I also don't deal with lackeys." She dropped her body into a chair facing his desk and crossed her legs nonchalantly. "I'm here to discuss your bounty on the Biker Mice."
"Couldn't you have just called?"
"Then other Plutarkians would know I'm here. I want the Biker Mice. Their capture would be the biggest coup in the galaxy. They've defeated the Stalkers. I'll bring them to you alive for four-and-a-half million dollars in Earth currency."
"Four million, five hundred thousand dollars!" The Plutarkian roared, waves of smell blasting from his mouth. "I can hire the galaxy's worst villainy for less than that!"
She leaned forward and planted both feet on the floor. "You have hired the worst villainy. And they've failed. I've done the calculations. They've been costing you triple that in repairs." Her voice was digitally distorted and made identifying her species impossible. "But if you're not interested, I'll go to Detroit and find out how much your life is worth to Brie."
Limburger stopped himself from shouting. "Brie?"
"I'd rather have the Biker Mice, but I need the money. Brie would probably pay me for both."
"Now, let's not get hasty," Limburger soothed. "With a little reflection, four-point-five million is a small price to pay for the removal of the Biker Mice. And you won't go work for Brie."
"I won't suggest the idea to him. Now if he comes up with the right amount all on his own, I won't say no." The bounty hunter stood up. "Payment in full on delivery. In loose gems. No synthetics. I've done business before with Plutarkians. You counterfeit any currency you can get your fins on."
"All right, have it your way," he growled. "If you bring me the Biker Mice, I will pay you anything your heart desires. Do you have a name?"
"Benzine." She reached over the desk to shake his hand.
Charley lowered the binoculars from her eyes, then lowered herself behind the false top of the skyscraper across from Limburger's Tower. She picked up her portable CB. "The Big Cheese bought it, Throttle."
"Then I guess we'll see you next inside the Tower, babe."
"Be careful, guys."
"What's the fun in that?" Throttle's voice broke away.
Charley sighed and bit her lip as she left the rooftop.
They rode in silence through the warehouse district. Since they were supposed to treat Tala the same as any other of Limburger's hired thugs, Throttle didn't wanna take a chance of any civilians getting hurt.
Tala, Vinnie rolled the name around his mouth. What would it take to impress her? She wasn't very impressed with my earlier flawless rescues. And she dropped Throttle on his ass. The ole Vinnie charm should work. It always works.
The explosion in front of them broke him out of his revery. A hole crumbled in the street in front of them. "Scatter bros!" Throttle ordered and he headed down a street to the left. Modo headed to the right.
Vinnie jumped the hole and continued straight ahead. "Come on, Sweetheart. Let's make this look good."
A black and red blur caught his attention from the corner of his eye. He turned his head to get a better look and found himself face to face with a solid red and black torso. A pair of vice-like legs wrapped around his chest under his arms. He was yanked up off his bike and into the air.
He looked up and grinned. "I knew you wanted me." They dangled above the street from a wire extending from the woman's left wrist.
"I could just drop you." She wore a red helmet with an opaque face shield that distorted the sound of her voice.
Vinnie wrapped his arms around her waist. "You can't get rid of me that easily." He looked down her torso following the curves of her form-fitting armor. "Too bad I'm wearing a helmet. This position has some . . . possibilities."
He could feel her muscles tense under the armor. "If you make another suggestion like that, I'm going to break your neck."
"Don't tell me you got something against mice?" He brought his tail up and ran its tip along the back of her thigh.
She blew out her breath through clenched teeth. He could make that out through the distorter. The knuckles of her right fist pressed against the left side of his throat. He could feel the end of the barrel of the gun mounted on her glove. "Are you suicidal?"
"Death by you is definitely the way to go. Though I would prefer it if you slew me with a kiss."
She drew her hand back. "Not my style." The stun bolt from the gun built-into the glove knocked him into unconsciousness.
Throttle and Modo reunited at a waterfront park. "No Vinnie. Everything's going according to the plan."
"I wonder how she took him down. Give us some idea of what to expect." Modo glanced around warily.
"He probably stopped to flirt."
"Yeah," Modo laughed. "He's fallen hard for her." A whistling filled the air and the grey mouse grabbed his upper left arm with a grunt. He pulled a dart out of it. "Oh mama." He swayed briefly then toppled from his bike, crashing heavily on his side.
"Big Fella!" Throttle started to leap off his bike when he saw the black and red figure step out of the shadows of a nearby building. She brought her gun up again. A metal net shot from it and wrapped around Modo's bike, immobilizing it.
She turned the gun toward him, but he was ready. The laser bolt from his gun knocked it out of her hands. He fired again at her, but she dodged it and rolled behind the scant cover of a stone bench. "What did you do to him?"
"Fast-acting tranq. Also pretty effective against Regalian dragon mounts. Now it's down to just you and me."
"Yeah, lucky me." He revved his bike and drove straight for the park bench.
She rolled away and fired something from her left wrist. A thin cord lasso wrapped around his torso, pinning his arms to his sides. "Keep going," he ordered his bike.
She ran to a nearby tree, playing the cord out as they moved in opposite directions. She ran around the large oak twice, braced her feet against it, and stopped letting out cord.
His bike kept going. He jerked to a painful stop and fell to the ground. His bike turned, laser cannons beginning to emerge to blast him free. Throttle shook his head. "Go to Charley."
The bike beeped angrily at him but roared off the down the street.
Throttle turned. The black and red armored figure sauntered toward him. "Just give me a minute to get up."
She raised her right arm. He could see a small gun barrel mounted on the top of her hand. "Do you really think I'm going to let you?"
"Not really." He braced himself for the stun blast.
The female bounty hunter the Boss had hired was bending over the unconscious tan mouse. The goon sent to bring them back to the Tower frowned. "What are you doing?"
She straightened and turned her red helmet with a black face shield toward him. "Just making sure he's still alive. I don't get paid if he isn't."
The goon shivered as she sauntered over to check the grey mouse. Darth Vader isn't half as creepy. He watched her check the mouse's pulse, then she walked around his netted bike. "You caught one of their bikes. The Boss will probably pay extra for that."
She touched something on the net and it began to shrink into a cylinder she held in her hand. As soon as it was uncovered, the bike popped a wheelie and roared off down the street. "Well, we'll never know now," her distorted voice said philosophically.
Limburger grinned down at the unconcious Biker Mice. The day had finally come. They were at his mercy. And they were going to wish he possessed some before he was through with their worthless carcasses. He slid the solid Plutarkian steel door of their cell shut.
Benzine waited patiently in the hall. "If you are through gloating, I'd like to be paid."
"Of course you do. This way." He escorted her to Karbunkle's lab. The large-headed scientist carried a large aluminum briefcase forward. Upon Limburger's gesture, he opened it for her inspection. "Four-point-five million dollars in loose gems. And you have earned every penny, my dear . . . lady."
She ran a hand-held scanner over the contents of the case. "Amazing, you didn't try to scam me."
"I don't mind paying for a job well done. Well, I do mind, but good help is so hard to find these days. Would you be interested in a permanent position within my organization?"
"No." She closed the briefcase and took it from the lab-coated man. "I make it a practice to only work once for someone. I never know when I'll be paid more to hunt an employer."
Limburger gulped but recovered quickly as Benzine strode toward the transporter booth. "I trust your next stop is not Detroit?"
"Actually, I thought I would visit an Earth beach while they still exist. I have my money and I brought down the Biker Mice. I have no need to go to Brie unless he calls me." She stepped into the transporter booth and vanished in a bright blue flash of light.
Limburger pulled out a handkerchief, mopped his face with it, and sighed with relief. "A dangerous female, indeed."
Once all three bikes had arrived in the garage of Tala's building, Charley brought them and Tala's bike up the freight elevator to the top floor hanger bay for the ship. The ship was about the same size as the Stalker's ship. It was painted black with More Hot Stuff painted in white across its side.
The computer ran the lift into the cargo hold, and Charley had the bikes ready for the trip. Then she started working on the timers of the two dozen bombs, setting them for remote detonation. She sat on a bench set up near the workstation corner of the cargo hold and worked, trying not to worry about the Biker Mice.
The transporter booth in the corner of the cargo hold activated. Charley looked up from a bomb. A female figure in red and black armor stepped out of the blue light. She set down an aluminum briefcase, turned off the face shield, and pulled off her red helmet.
"I trust it went well." Charley folded her arms across her chest.
"Perfectly," Tala pushed her sweaty hair off her forehead. "Are you ready?"
"Just about. I still don't like this plan."
"It's not my plan. It's your friend Throttle's plan. I've gotten paid; you can trust me to keep up my end of the deal."
"You don't know how inspiring a comment like that is."
The blonde woman tugged apart the top of her armor. The seam split down her chest and she shrugged it off like a jacket. "I am one of the good guys. It's just been my experience that it's harder to be a good guy without a steady supply of cash. I'm going to change. Finish getting those bombs ready." She picked the briefcase back up and carried it out with her.
Charley resisted the urge to throw one of the bombs at her head. She had a point. This was Throttle's plan and when had one of Throttle's plans failed? She finished setting the timer on the last bomb as Tala returned dressed in the shirt and jeans she had worn earlier in the day. "All right, these things are wired for remote detonation. Now how are you supposed to transport me in and me and the guys out without Limburger finding out?"
Tala walked over the storage compartments set up in the workstation corner. She opened one cabinet, swung out a false back wall of tools, reached inside and pulled out two boxes. She handed them to Charley. Each black metal box had one button and a clip to hold it on a belt. "Portable transporter beacons. I only have two, so make sure you stay in pairs. Just hit the button when you're ready to come back. Do you have a gun?"
"Of course not. Those guys sleep with their weapons. You actually expect them to let me have one for keeps?"
She dived back into the cabinet with a sigh and pulled out a purple laser pistol like the ones the Mice use. "I hope you don't need it, but it's better to be prepared."
"Right." Charley set it down on the bench next to the bombs. She clipped the beacons to her utility belt and started packing the bombs into a bag. "Are you sure they won't sense a transporter going off?"
"Cautious, aren't you? I put a dampener on their own system. They shouldn't know anything unless they're in the same room with you. And that's what the gun is for."
Charley picked up the gun as she carefully slung the bag of bombs over her shoulder. "I guess that's it then. Time to go bust them out."
"Try not to get too excited." Tala grinned at her as Charley stepped into the transporter booth.
Throttle came to with a start. His hands were shackled together in front of him. Modo was snoring to his right. They were locked in a steel box of a cell. The door in front of them had a small window cut high in it and through it he could see an energy barrier in front of the door.
"You awake, Throttle?" Vinnie's voice came from the other side of Modo's bulk.
"Yeah." Throttle worked his mouth some more to get rid of the tangy metallic taste. "How long have we been out?"
"About an hour, more or less. So what comes next?" The white mouse scooted around Modo's legs to face Throttle. His hands were also shackled in front of him. "They took my flares."
Throttle curled his right hand and felt something sharp stick him in his palm under his nuke-knucks glove. "I think we got left a gift." Vinnie watched in confusion as he worked the tip of his tail into the glove and pulled out a lockpick tool and a small vial.
Vinnie grinned and cupped his hands under Throttle's. He caught the lockpick tool. "I knew she'd come through. Have I got great taste in babes or what?"
"Get these cuffs off me while I see what this does to sleeping beauty over there." Throttle pulled the stopper out of the vial. Wrapping his tail around it securely, he swung it under Modo's nose.
Modo's eye flew open as he sat up straight with a snort. "Get that stuff away, bro. It reeks." Throttle's shackles fell off his wrists. He recapped the vial and stowed it into the pouch on his utility belt before taking the lockpick tool and working on Vinnie's cuffs. "What'd she hit me with?" Modo continued.
"A tranq that is also very effective against Regalian dragon mounts."
Modo shuddered. "And I woke up?"
"Yeah, let's be glad the lady packed an antidote." A final twist and Vinnie was free. "See if there's a guard," Throttle ordered as he moved to work on Modo's restraints.
Vinnie bounded to the door. "Nah, no guard. Ole drippy drawers is gettin sloppy." A blue light flashed in the hallway and consolidated into a female form. "Hey, Charley-girl! Right on time."
"Are you guys okay?" Her worried face peered in through the window.
"Just dandy," Modo answered.
"Is our stuff out there?" Vinnie asked.
"Yeah. Let me get the door."
Modo's restraints fell away and Throttle stood up with a stretch. They joined Vinnie by the door. The blue energy field faded away and the door slid open.
Vinnie beelined straight for their weapons. Charley handed a small black box to Throttle. A matching one was clipped to her belt. "Tala called them portable transporter beacons. She also said we should stay in pairs and hit the button on them when we're ready to get out of here."
He clipped the beacon to his utility belt and caught his laser gun that Vinnie threw to him. "The bombs?"
She handed him the bag from her shoulder. "All rigged for remote detonation. The remote's back at Tala's ship."
"Okay, here's the plan. Me and Vinnie will set up the bombs. You and Modo find out what Limburger's up to with the orphanage. We'll rendezvous at Tala's transporter."
Everyone nodded and split up.
Charley and Modo eased quietly down the hall, pausing at an open door. She peered in. It was Karbunkle's lab. Limburger and the deranged doctor were inside talking to two aliens.
"Your shipment is on its way, Zekpith. Now where's my payment?" The Plutarkian disguised as a human bellowed.
The pink-skinned, willowy, tri-legged creature looked amused as it crossed both sets of its arms over its chest. "I've done business with Plutarkians before, Limburger. First shipment is confirmed and then we'll settle payment."
The beacon on Charley's belt beeped. She looked down as a bright blue glow began to surround her. Modo grabbed hold of her. The hall of Limburger's Tower vanished and was replaced by the cargo hold of Tala's ship. "What happened?"
Tala was strapping a gun belt around her waist. "That shipment Limburger was talking about is the orphans. He's sold them to Zekpith."
"How do you know that?" Modo growled.
"Did I forget to mention the beacons are bugged? Sorry, it must have slipped my mind. Now get out there before Zekpith's gang picks up the kids!" She grabbed hold of Modo's metal bionic arm and yanked him and Charley out of the transport booth. "Unless you want them to be slaves for the rest of their lives!"
Modo moved at that. He straddled his bike. "How do you get out of here?"
"Charley knows," Tala answered from inside the transporter booth. "I'll keep the scum busy. Karbunkle's lab, MC." She disappeared in a blue flash.
Charley grabbed her helmet and jumped on the back of Modo's bike. "That's the cargo hatch," she pointed to a section of the floor to the left of where the bikes were parked. Modo revved his bike and quickly moved over it. "MC, open the hatch."
"Cargo hatch opening," an electronically-synthesized voice answered.
The floor lowered them into a two-story-tall hanger bay. "The elevator?" He gestured to the large freight elevator behind the ship.
"Yeah." She tightened her hold around his waist as the bike accelerated into the elevator car. Modo yanked the gate down with his tail and pressed the button marked "G".
They watched the floors go by. The next one was a catwalk leading to a closed door. A long wait and then the next floor was a hall with four closed doors staggered down its length. The elevator stopped inside a parking garage. Modo revved his bike and shot out the open street exit.
"Why didn't she tell us she was after slavers?" he grumbled.
"Maybe she trusts us as much as we trust her."
"I think Throttle trusts her. Vinnie wants to get into her pants. What do you think, Charley-ma'am?"
"I don't think she's used to working as a team. She's not used to trusting other people with anything but business deals. She says she's one of the good guys."
"I hope she is. I hope she is." They continued to the orphanage in silence.
Transporter sniper attacks were hard. The glow always warned your target that you were coming. But usually the first shot was a freebie and it had to count.
Tala waited until the blue glow faded. She was back in Karbunkle's lab. Limburger, his evil scientist lackey, Zekpith, and one of his gang stood in front of her gaping at the blue glow. Her gun snapped up and fired. The chest of the lizardish humanoid exploded, spraying blue blood. He fell back as the others scattered.
Tala dodged too; threw herself into a hole built-in the floor near the door.
"Guns, Karbunkle!" Limburger bellowed. "Where in hell are the guns?"
Time to take advantage of the chaos. Tala peered over the floor. The humanoid with dark goggles and a shaggy bit of sandy hair on top of his large head was inching toward a storage cabinet. A laser bolt exploding in front of him sent him scurrying back under a table with a yelp.
"If this is a double-cross, I will have your head, Plutarkian," Zekpith growled.
Tala eased up out of the hole. She shot the controls to the main door and it slid shut. "Limburger didn't have anything to do with this, Zekpith."
The triped alien crouched behind a computer console. "You psychopathic bitch! Killing me won't bring that slave back to life!"
She shot the computer console. Zekpith said something--probably not praising her aim--in his native tongue and scrambled away from the sparking equipment. "No, it won't bring him back. But it will keep others from suffering his fate." She stepped forward.
Zekpith stared up at the human female with a laser pistol slowly walking toward him. He then turned and looked at the transporter booth almost directly in front of him, only fifteen feet away. He glanced back at Tala and made up his mind. He scrambled forward on four hands and two knees, keeping his long thin body close to the ground and sticking his third leg into the air like a periscope.
The shot was too easy to miss. The laser bolt connected with Zekpith's elongated head. It split apart, scattering the brain tissue within across the floor of the lab. The body continued moving forward a couple of feet before jerking to a halt.
"Kalan te n'qu, Ntah, vapin sh'plor." (Translation) Tala murmured and kissed the braided scar on her inner right wrist. She scanned the lab. Limburger cowered under an examination table; his ass facing her. That's at least his third or fourth consecutive mistake today. She stepped silently toward him.
Limburger peered out at the lab through his white-gloved fingers. It appeared to be empty. He heaved a sigh. Then the hand grabbed his tie and the collar of his shirt. It yanked him from beneath the table and to his feet. A barrel of a laser gun jammed into the fleshy part of his third chin. He stared into the wrathful face of the human female.
"You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, Limburger." She pushed the gun further in. The Plutarkian gagged. "So I'm just going to warn you. Any more business deals with slavers, and you'll have to call the entire Martian army to save your scaly ass from me."
She released him and shoved him back. He flailed his arms but still lost his balance and fell back on his ass. Tala smirked and hit the transporter remote beacon button built into the buckle of her gun belt. The lab vanished in a blue flash and was replaced by the cargo hold of More Hot Stuff that could be seen from the transporter booth.
Tala stepped out of the booth with a sigh. "Hopefully, Charley and Modo managed to get to the kids in time."
Modo brought his bike to a stop next to the school bus parked in front of the orphanage. Charley slid off, glancing up at the bus. The orphans rushed to the windows to get a better look. "I'll get the kids; you find Mrs. Biddle."
"Right." Modo drove his bike up to the front door but not inside the building. He jumped off and ran through the main doors.
Charley jerked open the doors of the running bus and climbed up the steps until she could look down the length of the bus. "Hi, Miss Charley," Kara chirped from the front seat to the left. "Are you and Mr. Modo coming on the field trip too?"
"I think the field trip is going to be cancelled." Charley pushed up the face shield on her helmet.
"I don't think so," a silky feminine voice replied. "It would disappoint the children."
Modo ran down the hall of the orphanage to the director's office. He threw open the door with such force the frosted glass panel in it shattered. "Mrs. Biddle!"
Thumps came from another door behind the desk. He gingerly crossed the furniture-filled room and opened it. The matronly director of the orphanage was bound and gagged on the center of the closet floor. The grey-furred mouse reached in and pulled her out. He set her down in her chair behind the desk, untying her hands and undoing the gag. "Are you all right, ma'am?"
"That horrible woman," she spluttered, "dressed up like a cat. She's going to kidnap the children!"
Modo's eye blazed red. "Over my dead body!" He vaulted over the desk and ran out the door.
Charley turned slightly. A humanoid feline stood in the door of the bus, one foot on the first step and one foot on the ground. Her coloration matched that of a Siamese cat. She aimed a laser pistol at the human's back. "Well now, what do we have here? The driver?"
"I'm not letting you take these kids."
"There doesn't appear to be any way for you to stop me. Drop your gun, please. We don't want any of the children to get shot accidentally, do we?" Charley dropped the gun on the floor of the bus. The feline smirked and stepped completely onto the first step. "Very good." She pulled a remote control from a pouch on her belt and aimed it through the bus's windshield. A large blue energy field expanded in front of the bus. The blue rectangle grew large enough to allow the bus to pass through. "Now, you will drive."
Charley moved like she was going to get into the driver's seat but squatted instead, turned to face the door completely, and launched herself at the alien. She tackled the humanoid feline's midsection and the laser gun went off as they flew out of the bus.
Modo ran through the main doors of the orphanage. Charley and a humanoid feline were rolling together on the lawn. And the school bus was rolling toward a blue transporter field. "Oh mama!" He threw himself between the bus and the energy field. He dug his feet into the ground and pushed.
The bus's progress slowed, but it still forced Modo closer to the transporter field. His grey tail lashed from side to side and his eye blazed red. "Li'l Hoss! Yank the bus!"
Modo's bike beeped and roared to behind the bus. A grappling hook and line shot out from under the seat. The hook grabbed hold of the bus's frame. The bike popped a wheelie, bringing up the slack in the line, and pulled.
The bus stopped moving, but Modo could feel it straining to go forward.
The feline alien rolled on top of Charley with a snarl. Her right hand moved back and claws extended from the fingertips.
The human moved her feet onto the feline's stomach and shoved just as the claws came down. The sound of ripping cloth accompanied the alien flying over the human's head and landing roughly on her back.
Charley jumped to her feet. Modo and his bike were struggling to keep the bus from rolling forward into the transporter field. She jumped on board the bus.
The children bombarded her with questions as she looked down at the driver's seat. The laser bolt had shifted the stick into drive. She pulled it back into park and turned off the ignition. She grabbed her laser gun off the floor of the bus and jumped out.
The humanoid feline had reached her feet and hissed at Charley. Then she ran toward the transporter field. Charley fired but the shot missed. "Modo!"
The mouse yanked his tail to grab her, but she dodged it as she dived into the blue energy. "Missed!"
"It's all right." She sprinted around the transporter energy field and shut off the remote. "The kids are safe, that's what's important."
Modo straightened and turned to face her. He made a short squawking noise, blushed, and turned away. "Feelin drafty, Charley-ma'am?"
She looked down at her shirt. The feline's claws had left four vertical rips from her left shoulder to her waist. She wasn't scratched, but her bra was exposed. "Oh hell. I really liked this shirt, too."
Throttle and Vinnie arrived in the transporter booth with a blue flash of light. "Good, it worked."
"With the prices she charges, do you really expect her to have shoddy equipment?" Vinnie glanced over at his tan-furred bro and snorted. He stepped out of the booth. His bike, Throttle's bike, and Tala's bike were parked in the center of the room. "Hey, Modo's ride isn't here."
"Not good," Throttle responded as he knelt down to look out the open cargo lift in the floor of the ship. Skid marks covered the floor of the lift and the cement floor beside it. "Taking off at high speed was not part of the plan."
"Maybe Tala knows what's going on." Vinnie quickly headed through the door to the rest of the ship.
Throttle stood up and walked over to his bike. He hit the CB radio. "Modo? Where are you, bro?"
One of the older orphans had found a T-shirt that fit her. Charley had changed quickly. She tied the transporter remote down to Modo's bike and glanced over at the bus. The seven-foot-tall mouse had two kids hanging off each arm and the rest of them milled at his feet. She giggled; he was in his element.
The CB crackled to life. "Modo? Where are you, bro?" Throttle sounded worried, well as worried as he let himself sound.
She reached over and answered it. "He's getting mobbed by some impressed kids. We got to the orphanage in time to stop some slavers from kidnapping them."
"Son of a rat! That's what he was up to?"
"Yeah, we'll head back as soon as I can pull Modo away."
"All right. Just make sure you avoid the Tower."
"Will do." Charley signed off and turned back to the pile of kids and mouse. "Modo, we have to go!"
Vinnie peered down the hall. It was a straight shot from the cargo hold to the cockpit and all the doors leading off were open. He trotted through it, glancing into each room.
The first one on his left was a bathroom, empty. The next doorway on his right had to be Tala's private quarters. He paused to take a good look. The walls were painted in a muted blue-green color, matched by blue-green carpet on the floor, and a blue-green bedspread draped over the bed. The only things spoiling the underwater feeling was Tala's black and red armor thrown carelessly onto the bed and a framed painting on the wall of a young human girl walking away from the fiery destruction behind her. Vinnie got the impression that she had caused the mayhem. Oddly disconcerting.
The door next to Tala's quarters led to a medical bay. Vinnie passed it quickly. The inanimate robot arms hanging from the ceiling over a examination table; a shiver went down his back and through his tail. She isn't Karbunkle, she isn't Karbunkle.
The door on the left side of the hall opened into a large combination room--a galley, a table to eat at, and a lounge section arranged in front of a vidcom unit on the wall that looked like it was wired to a VCR.
The next three doors all led to sleeping quarters. The room next to the medical bay had three single bunks. This would be where he and his bros would probably sleep. The two rooms between the cockpit and the rest of the ship each had a double bunk in them. Charley had already claimed one by leaving her overnight bag on a bunk.
He peered into the cockpit last. Empty as the rest of the ship. He jogged back to the cargo hold. Throttle clicked off the CB and looked up from his bike. "Tala ain't here, bro. But her ship's a beaut."
The transporter booth activated. The blonde woman stepped out of the receding blue glow dressed in her faded black jeans and a maroon long-sleeved shirt. "Where did you go?" Vinnie demanded.
She looked at him crossly as she holstered her gun. "I just remembered that I left a coffeepot on at my other place of residence. So I bipped over there and turned it off before I burned down the house. Or I bipped over to Limburger's to execute what members of Zekpith's gang I could find. Give me a few more minutes and I can come up with a few more scenarios for you to pick from if you like." She turned to Throttle. "Did Modo and Charley make it in time?"
"Yeah, the kids are safe."
Tala's stance shifted, relaxing slightly. "Good. Then all we have to do is blow Limburger's Tower."
Vinnie laughed. "Just show me the button, Sweetheart!" She walked over to the work station in the corner of the cargo hold and picked up a remote control. She tossed it to the white-furred mouse who caught it easily. "All right! Light my fires for the Big Cheese tonight!"
"We can watch in the lounge," she offered. Vinnie quickly jogged down the hall. Throttle trailed after Tala. "Is he always this eager?"
"Over explosions?" Throttle replied. "Usually."
Charley finally pulled Modo from the kids and got him back on his bike. In the distance inside the city, they saw the tan skyscraper of Limburger's Tower crumble to bits in a deafening explosion. "Next stop Mars."
"Yeah," Modo answered. "But I'd feel better if Throttle would tell us why we're going."
"It can't be something too serious. Otherwise, they could have radioed or sent somebody in the Stalkers' ship. Maybe it's something with his family?"
"Throttle ain't got any family left on Mars. Except Carbine."
Charley frowned. The exchange between Tala and Throttle in the garage earlier; his reluctance to share what was in the letter. No one else could read a letter unless the receiver let them. More private than a radio message. More distant than a face-to-face. "It's a 'dear John' letter!"
"A dear who?" Modo eased his bike around a corner.
"A break-up letter. Carbine's breaking up with him. It's the only thing that makes sense."
"Oh mama." The large grey mouse sucked in a deep lungful of air. "I should've seen this comin. Carbine ain't exactly the type to sit around and wait."
"And Throttle ain't the type to go back home when there's a job to do. Do you think he's got a chance of getting her back?"
"I hope not. Those two fight more than they ever get along. There was a pool running among the Freedom Fighters over who would kill them first--the Plutarkians or each other."
"But Throttle's not going to give up."
"And Carbine ain't gonna let him win a fight. Man, they might be something left of Mars when they get done."
"Is it really going to be that bad?"
"Carbine's pretty vindictive. She tried to kills us last time we went home."
"But that was over that stuff that Brie sent, trying to say you guys were traitors."
They turned onto the street that led to Tala's building. "Not all of it, Charley-ma'am. Not all of it."
Vinnie sighed. He had forgotten how boring space travel was. Here they were, halfway to Mars, and he had nothing to do. Throttle had commandeered the cargo hold and snarled at anyone who came in. Something in that letter sure bit him in the ass, but Vinnie didn't really want to push him to find out what. When Throttle got upset about something, he was scary. You didn't know how long he was going to stay upset. If Vinnie had a choice, he preferred Modo's temper tantrums. At least you knew when they were over.
Modo was worrying over Throttle. Charley was sleeping. So that left Tala. He grinned. Hopefully, she ain't in her quarters or the cockpit. Cause I think she was serious about tossing anybody out of the airlock if they broke the off-limits rule.
He stuck his head in the lounge. Luck was with him. She was curled up
on one end of the couch writing in a notebook propped against her knees.
The radio set on the end table behind her back played softly.
You gotta a vibe
You take control
You're moving into my heart
Into my soul
Get out of my way
Get out of my sight
I won't be looking at them eyes
To get through the night
Hey what's the word?
What's your game?
I know your business
Don't know your name
Vinnie leaned over the back of the couch. "You keep a diary, Sweetheart? Whatcha say about me?"
"Don't call me Sweetheart. And it's a letter home to Mom actually."
"Really?" He peered down at the page. "What kind of language is that?"
"One most people can't read." Her blue eyes didn't look up.
"So what did you tell your Mom about me?"
She sighed. "Dear Mom, I finally killed the bastard who killed Father. He decided to come out of hiding to do business with a Plutarkian on Earth. With clan honor restored, I took a nice safe job of ferrying some mice to Mars and back to Earth. One of them seems to have a crush on me, but he's the type you've always warned me about: a hot-headed egotist just looking for a good lay. Your daughter isn't looking for a roll in the hay, but he doesn't seem to take no for an answer. Please advise." She straightened her knees and set the notebook on her lap, turning to look at him in the face.
"Harsh, babe. I like to go out a few times before third base. Or at least once." He smirked at her.
"I'm not interested in one night stands. Or steady relationships."
Hold on tight
You know she's a little bit
"Have you ever had either?"
"That's none of your business. Why?"
"Maybe you don't know what your missing." Vinnie suggested as he rested his chin on his crossed arms on the top of the couch.
"I'm doing just fine without it." She snapped at him. "And even if I was going to chance it, it wouldn't be with someone like you."
"Why? What's wrong with me?"
She's got what it takes
To make ends meet
The eyes of a lover
That hit like heat
You know she's a little bit
"The ones who talk the most have the least to talk about. It's a type of compensation. I think you've got a mega case of it."
Vinnie raised his eyebrows. "I don't need to compensate for anything, Doll-face."
"Well, I guess we'll never know cause I don't need to find out." She turned back to her notebook.
"The ones that say they don't need it usually want it the most."
You turn around
So hot and dry
You're hiding under a halo
Your mouth is alive
Get out of my way
Get out of my sight
I'm not attracted to go
Go deeper tonight
Hey what's your word?
What's your game?
I know your business
But I don't know your name
Her head snapped back up. Her eyes were icy with anger. "How dare you say something like that!"
"Must've hit a nerve."
"You don't know anything about me!"
He cocked his head to one side. "I know you got burned once. Used
and abused. And you're still bitter over it." The anger was fading
from her eyes, leaving her face vulnerable, accessible. "Maybe you
oughtta take a chance on doing the burning once." He leaned further
over the couch and reached out with his right hand. He gently ran his fingertips
down her jaw, drawing her face closer to his.
Hold on tight
You know she's a little bit
She's got what it takes
To make ends meet
The eyes of a lover
That hit like heat
She was breathing quicker. He could feel her rapid pulse under her jaw.
His own blood pounded in his ears. He tilted his head to kiss her and closed
Hold on tight
You know she's a little bit
Tala yanked back before their lips met. Vinnie felt her face slip away from his fingers and opened his red eyes. The blood had drained away from her face leaving it a very pasty color. She snatched up her notebook and scrambled off the couch. She fled the room narrowly missing Charley in the hall. All he could do was turn his head to watch.
"Whoa," Charley said as she walked into the lounge. "What did you do?"
"Nothing," he said emphatically. "She ran out first." Charley was frowning at him. He straightened his back and walked around the couch to the vidcom unit and VCR. "Think we can watch movies on this set-up?"
Tala slid the cockpit door shut and sat down in the pilot's seat. Damn that mouse! No one should be able to see me that well. Especially not some hot-headed idealist that thinks with his trigger finger. Damn him!
She took a deep breath and stared out of the cockpit windows at the endless night. Mars was visible as a planet now, rather than just a reddish star.
She needed to finish her letter to Maytre. She looked down at her notebook. (Translation)
Honored Maytre, mother-by-choice,
The one responsible for Ntah's death walks in the shadows. As a warrior, as a daughter, as the savior of Ntah's soul, I sent him to the Dark Valley.
He who was called Zekpith came to Earth to ply his trade. I followed your advice and trusted other warriors with loved ones at risk. I was able to complete my task and Zekpith's warriors were prevented from completing his plan.
One of the warriors I have trusted is the lover from my dreams. I know you have told me to trust the dreams, that they will lead to the healing of my soul. But this mouse isn't interested in healing my soul, only possessing my body.
Tala sighed and picked up her pen.
Yet, he is able to see my soul and read the pain it holds. Almost without trying. Or is he just able to say what makes others trust him? I would not normally credit him with that much guile, which probably shows how badly he has wreaked my balance. But then he seems very good at wreaking things.
I feel that your advice would be to give the mouse a chance, to treat him as a prospective suitor. And I will try as well as I am able.
She sighed her given name with flourish and pulled the paper from the notebook. The envelopes were inside the folder built into the cover of the notebook. She was pulling one out when she heard someone at the door of the cockpit.
She sighed, putting down the notebook, letter, and envelope on the console's empty space. She opened the door and found herself looking at the red, blue, and black chestplate. She craned her neck so the seven-foot-tall mouse could see her scowl. "Off limits, remember?"
Modo looked pensively over his shoulder. But the door to the cargo hold was closed. "I want to call Mars. Without anybody else knowin."
"And warn them that he's coming?" Tala gestured toward the cargo hold. "Don't you think it would be more fun to sit back and watch?"
"My grey-furred mama always said 'never make fun of someone else's pain.' And Throttle's in a lot of pain. Let me call somebody who can help him."
"All right. Make it quick." She grabbed her notebook, letter, and envelope; pointed out the radio; and kept watch outside the cockpit door.
He made it quick, stepping back out in about six minutes. "Thanks."
She shrugged it off. "Thank me if it works." He ducked into the lounge. She put her letter into the envelope and sealed it.
Throttle looked up from his bike's engine with a scowl but looked back down quickly when he saw who was at the door. Heavy metal boomed out of the radio built into the workstation.
"I'm not here to interrupt your angst session." She walked over to the transporter booth, entered the coordinates, set the envelope inside, and sent it away.
"Is that how you deliver all your mail?" he asked.
"Only my letters home to mother. And before you ask, I offered to transport your letter but the sender didn't like the idea."
Throttle grimaced. "When you care enough to send the very best," he quipped bitterly.
Maybe Modo had the right idea. The mouse had turned back to his bike and she left the cargo hold. Sounds of movie explosions echoed down the hall from the lounge. She ducked into her quarters.
She sat down on her bed and shifted through the contents of the briefcase. The fiery beauty of the cold stones caught her breath in her throat. Had Limburger even seen their power? She thought not.
She slid the smooth, multicolored stones through her fingers one last time, then stood up and gathered a portable scanner for MC and a calculator.
Four and a half million dollars minus her fee still left three million seven hundred fifty thousand dollars. She plugged the numbers into her calculator and divided by five. She took her share of seven hundred fifty thousand dollars out of the briefcase and closed the remaining three million in gems inside it.
She eased off the bed and lifted the blue-green bedspread. A drawer built into the metal base of the bed had a fingerprint scan-lock on it. She opened it quickly and scooped her gems inside. Closing it locked the drawer and after pulling the bedspread back in place, Tala picked up the briefcase and left her quarters.
Two mice sat on the couch with the human woman between them completely engrossed in the car chase on the vidcom screen. "This movie gets better every time I watch it!" Vinnie gushed.
"And this is only what? Your eighth or ninth time?" Charley grinned at him.
"More than that, babe. But it's a classic. You never get tired of watching a classic."
Tala stayed by the door. The metal mask on the white mouse wrapped around the back of his head. He's lucky that whatever caused needing it in the first place hadn't taken his ear off as well. She shook her head. Hell, what's wrong with me? "Charley, could I talk to you?"
Everyone on the couch turned at the sound of her voice. "Sure," Charley answered easily, standing up.
Tala didn't linger at the door. Instead she moved down the hall to the sleeping quarters Charley had claimed.
"Is something wrong?" She asked as she joined Tala in the room.
"No, I need to talk business and Throttle doesn't seem to be in the mood. Here." She handed the chestnut-haired woman the briefcase.
Charley sat down on the bed placing the aluminum monstrosity of luggage on her lap. She opened it and gasped. "Holy shit! Are they real?"
"Completely. It's amazing how scaring the shit out of a Plutarkian first helps business negotiations. Anyway, I already took my fee for taking you to Mars and back to Earth and my share out. So that's for you and the mice."
Charley jerked her head up. "How much?"
"For the four of you? Three million. Here's the name of the guy in Chicago I've used for turning gems into currency." Tala gave the stunned woman one of her business cards with a name and address wrote out on the back. "He won't stiff you."
"I've never seen three million dollars worth of anything before. They're beautiful."
"And they're valuable on just about every planet in the galaxy. Much safer than doing business in currency."
Charley looked up with puzzled green eyes. "You could have kept all this?"
Tala shook her head. "That wouldn't be fair. It's a personal goal of mine to bleed Plutarkians--either literally or financially. You guys actually ran the risks, you deserve a share of the profits. Besides, it's easier to be a good guy when you've got the funds. And I've seen how those guys eat. If you ain't broke yet, you will be in a few more months."
"The guys being able to pay for their keep. Without having to get jobs. They'll like that."
"Can you wait till you're back on Earth to tell them?"
Charley looked up with a slight smirk. "Don't wanna ruin your reputation?"
"Reputation? Nah, what you see is what you got. I don't try to hide who I am essentially. I just don't want Vinnie to try to woo me with a display of wealth."
"All right." She closed the briefcase. "I'll wait. There's nothing between him and me," she added nonchalantly.
"Is that the reason he came up with for my sudden departure?" Tala could feel the heat rise from her chest to her cheeks. Now, I'm blushing! Goddamn that mouse!
"No, he hasn't said anything about it. It was my reason."
"I just had the sudden desire not to be kissed, that's all. I better go check on our progress." Tala fled from Charley's quarters and into the safety of the cockpit.
Kalan te n'qu, Ntah, vapin sh'plor. = Rest
your soul, Ntah, Father by choice.
Return to Story
Letter translated in text on account of its
Return to Story
Disclaimer: I do not own Biker Mice From Mars and I make no money off this work. The characters Tala, MC, Kara, Mrs. Biddle, Zekpith, Bola, and Stella belong to me, so please don't use them in your stories. But feel free to draw them and send me a copy.
Lyrics to "What It Takes" by Aerosmith used without permission.
This story contains cussing, graphic depictions of violence, drinking of alcoholic beverages, and sexual situations. If you're not mature enough to handle it, go read something else.
This story takes place in 1995, a few months after "Once Upon a Time on Mars."
Vinnie was the first down the ramp as soon as it was lowered to the surface. He took a deep breath. "Ain't changed a bit," he declared.
"Except people shootin at us, I hope." Modo said, warily glancing around.
"An armed response follows you wherever you go?" Tala asked lightly. "Why am I not surprised?"
Throttle and Charley descended the ramp silently. Charley looked past the underbelly of the ship and saw the two mice walking toward them. "Rimfire! Stoker!"
"Stoker!" Vinnie howled and pounced onto the older mouse. Modo joined into the wrestling fray and pulled Rimfire in with his tail.
Tala watched with amusement. "I'm always surprised by the many ways of greeting people you find across the galaxy."
"You should see them say good-bye." Charley turned to Throttle. He made no move to join in, instead gazed out at the city they parked the ship just outside of.
Stoker reached the top of the pile and pulled himself out of it. "Earth is makin you boys soft." He turned to Charley. "Hello gorgeous. You made this trip too?" The dark tan mouse with a mechanical tail embraced her in a hug and kissed both her cheeks.
"It's good to see you too, Stoke."
He released her and turned to Throttle. "Starin out there ain't gonna bring her runnin."
"I have to talk to her," Throttle said in a constricted voice.
"You can't. She ain't here. She's still gone on her honeymoon."
"Honeymoon?" Vinnie demanded. Modo started mouthing "oh mama" over and over again silently.
Tala darted to Vinnie's side and quickly stepped on his foot. "Keep your big mouth shut for once." She hissed at him, then turned to watch Throttle and Stoker.
Throttle's tail slashed through the air. His hands clenched into fists. "She went through with it."
"She sent that letter telling you she was. Since when does she not do what she says she's gonna do?"
"Does everyone know about that damned letter!" exploded from him.
"They do now. Whatcha expect, Throttle, to get here and talk her out of it?"
The tan mouse's shoulders slumped and his antennae and tail drooped. "I don't know."
Stoker swung his arm around Throttle's shoulders. "Come on, let's go hoist a few. Deal with it tomorrow." Throttle let him lead him away from the ship and down the street.
Vinnie waited until they were out of earshot. "Who got married?"
"Carbine." The mouse with fawn colored fur, dark brown hair with an orange streak down the center of it and dressed in a Freedom Fighter's uniform answered.
Vinnie chortled. He tried to stop the laughter from coming out but it managed to anyway.
Charley crossed her arms and glared at him. "It's not funny, Vincent."
"Somebody besides Throttle wanted her?" He managed to gasp as he doubled over.
"Better let him get it out of his system now," Tala advised. "So Throttle won't feel the urge to strangle him later."
"And she sent a letter to tell Throttle?" Modo demanded. "That's just dirty."
The white mouse stopped laughing with that and straightened. "The least she could have done was come and tell him. Throttle deserved that much. And they got a ship."
"He finally catches up," Tala said sarcastically.
"No woman can treat our bro like that. We gotta do something."
Modo's grey fur started spiking up with dread as he gazed down at Vinnie flabbergasted. "You wanna get in the middle of one Throttle and Carbine's fights? I know yer crazy, but suicidal?!"
"It's not a good idea," Rimfire said quickly. "Trust me."
"All right," the white mouse said grudgingly. "But if Throttle needs backup?"
"I think that's a given, Vinnie," Charley said softly.
"Gods, I need a drink myself," Tala said. "I hate being part of a soap opera."
Vinnie wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "Can I buy it for you, Doll-face?"
She grinned wickedly. "I never pass up a free drink." They started down the street.
Modo rolled his eye. "Rimfire, is there more than one bar around here?"
"Nope, only one, Uncle Modo. Not enough business for two."
"That's what I was afraid of." The grey mouse trotted after Tala and Vinnie.
Charley sighed. "Well, I'm not watching them all get drunk. Rimfire, where are we staying?"
"Stoker got a house set up for you. Come on." She repositioned her overnight bar on her shoulder and followed the younger mouse into the Martian night.
The two large moons hung together in the purple sky, looking like they were set on top of the giant volcano. Charley shook her head. It wasn't dark enough to be the middle of the night. "How long has Carbine been married?"
"Not very long. I think the ceremony must have been right after Tala left. It was over when Stoker found out and went and had things out with her. The General retired him from his training position and left on her honeymoon. That was about three days ago. She's due back tomorrow." He looked up at her with a guilty expression. "I probably shouldn't have told you. Stoker was pretty adamant about not telling Uncle and the others."
"I won't tell."
Rimfire smiled gratefully and opened the door of a two-story stone house. "Living room, kitchen, bathroom, five bedrooms upstairs. And I hate to run off and leave you, Charley-ma'am, but I got guard duty in five minutes."
"I don't want to get you in trouble, go."
Rimfire took off, promising to be back tomorrow. Charley sighed. "Some vacation this is turning out to be. Poor Throttle."
She explored the modest house and claimed a bedroom. The kitchen was stocked in Martian food, none of which was recognizable. She did find a stash of cookies in a cabinet and munched on them.
The easy chair in the living room was just the right size to curl up in. She pulled a book from the shelf on the stone wall, saw luckily that it was in English, and settled down to see who would arrive home first and in what condition.
Throttle and Stoker arrived first a few hours later. The younger mouse had his right arm around Stoker's slightly thinner shoulders, letting the older mouse support him. They both staggered coming in the door.
Charley jumped up and put her shoulders under Throttle's left arm. "Modo couldn't help you?"
"Modo has his hands full with Vinnie. I think the big lug's afraid he's gonna hurt Tala." Stoker chuckled. "She could wipe the floor with that punk." They stumbled through the living room and up the stairs, finally depositing Throttle on the bed in the first bedroom. "Put him to bed, Charley-girl." The mouse shook his lighter tan hair out of his eyes. "I'm getting too old for this."
"Can you get home okay?" She called after him as he started down the stairs.
"Yeah. I didn't have as many as he did."
She turned back to the bed. "How many did you have?" She pulled his boots off and dropped them next to the bed. She sat down on the edge next to his waist. She reached down to his face and gently pulled his field specs off, setting them on the nightstand. His face looked different without the shades, less of an enigma. She brushed the hair falling into his eyes away.
They opened. "Charley."
"Yeah, it's me."
His arms wrapped around her, pulling her down on top of him. She started to protest and he kissed her.
It was a kiss of hunger and desire. She could taste the alcohol still in his mouth, but the power behind his lips closed her eyes and curled her toes. His arms tightened around her when she kissed him back.
She kept her eyes closed, swimming in the sensations she felt. The pressure of his lips. The fur on his chest under her fingers. His breath hot on her cheek. His fingers pressing into her back. His rapid heartbeat under her hands. Her blood pounding in her ears. His tongue gently pushing against hers. Her tongue giving way to slip into his mouth. One of his hands moving up her back to gently run through her hair. Her skin tingling with his touch.
His hand moved down to her back again and he pulled his lips back, closing his mouth slightly. The top of her tongue scrapped lightly against his buck teeth as she pulled away. And that sent a tremor down her body ending at her vulva. He hugged her close and she laid her cheek against his chest. "I've wanted to kiss you for the longest time."
He had the strangest smell. Maybe she had never been close enough to notice before. "Why didn't you before now?"
"You and Vinnie. Nothing there now. Me and Carbine. Nothing there now either. Had dreams about you. Wanted to hold you so badly. Couldn't though; it wouldn't be right. Now everything's changed."
"I didn't realize I was so popular at the scoreboard." Her joke felt wrong. Her voice was too husky to hold sarcasm. She could hear his heart beating under her right ear.
"Modo's the only one who doesn't want to get into your pants. But Vinnie wants to get in Tala's pants now. So I guess it's just me. Stay with me, Charley." His fingers caressed her left cheek. "Stay with me."
Charley swallowed hard. "Not like this, Throttle. You're drunk."
"Very drunk," he corrected. "Stay with me. Make me forget Carbine."
"I can't stay." She fought against a surge of panic. Throttle wouldn't hurt me. None of them would.
"You don't want me either." He released her and she sat up. "It's okay. I understand. It's not like I have anything to offer you. Just me, my bike, and a war without end. Don't blame you. Still have my dreams. My dreams."
Charley stood up and looked down at the bed. He had passed out. She sighed and closed the door softly as she left the room. Voices drifted up from the living room. She hurried down the stairs.
Modo was carrying/dragging Vinnie through the room. Vinnie was singing the chorus of Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun" but substituting Tala for Janie. The large grey mouse looked at her guiltily. "We didn't wake you up?"
"No, but you might wake up Throttle."
"Can't have that," Vinnie slurred and started singing. "Rock-a-bye biker, on his motorcycle."
Charley darted forward and laid her hand across his mouth. "Shush, Vinnie. You can sing for us tomorrow." She pulled her hand back.
"Really, Charley-girl? Tomorrow?"
"Yes, but you have to be quiet now."
The white mouse heaved a heavy sigh. "Okay, I'll be quiet. I'll even be good boy and go to bed. Modo, where's the beds?"
"This way, bro." Modo lifted him mostly off his feet and carried him up the stairs.
Charley shook her head and went into the kitchen. Someone had stocked the refrigerator with root beer. She pulled one bottle out when Modo walked in and sat heavily at the table. She pulled out another one and passed it to him. "Thanks, Charley-ma'am. Throttle's out?"
"Yeah. He said some things that didn't make sense."
"That's what happens when Throttle has too much to drink. He starts talkin about stuff on his mind that he would never say if he was sober. What did he say?"
"That you were the only mouse in Chicago that didn't want to get into my pants."
She quickly ducked under the table to avoid the spray of root beer from his mouth. "He said that!"
"Yes, he did. And you're cleaning that up."
"He must have had more to drink than I thought he did."
"Is it true?"
"Yeah, you're just not my type, Charley-ma'am." He chuckled as he found a dishtowel and started wiping off the table. "He's gonna have a heart attack when he realizes what he said."
"Don't pick on him about it, Modo. Please. He's going through enough already."
Modo stopped chuckling when he looked down at her worried face. "I won't say a word. Biker's honor."
"Thank you. Should we wait up for Tala?"
"Nah, she told me not to when I was draggin Vinnie out. And I don't think she wants a babysitter."
Charley drained her root beer. "Good night, then."
Sunlight and the smell of cooking food woke Charley up earlier than her body felt was normal. I wonder if you call it "ship lag" when you travel to other planets. She quickly got dressed and headed down the stairs.
"I'm not dealing with that bitch, Stoker," Tala declared.
"I'm sure that's exactly how Carbine feels. Now keep your big mouth shut. Somebody's coming down."
Tala, wrapped in a robe, turned from the stove as Charley walked into the kitchen. "Charley can keep a secret. Carbine fired Stoker for sticking up for Throttle."
Stoker sat at the kitchen table and cringed. "Throttle has enough to fight with her about without draggin me into it."
"I won't tell." Charley sat down at the table. "What are you going to do now?"
"Dunno. I was just gettin into the whole training thing. Retirement could be fun though. Maybe I'll move to Earth with you guys, gorgeous." He winked at her.
"Do you really think Chicago could withstand all four of you?"
"Probably not. But being a worn-out, used-up soldier doesn't exactly prepare you for a non-war career."
Tala banged dishes on the stove. "You keep talking like that and pretty soon you will be worn-out and used-up." She started putting breakfast on the table. "I could use some experienced help."
Stoker shuddered. "Thanks for the offer, Tala. But I think I want to live to get bored with retirement."
Tala opened her mouth to respond, but shut it as they all heard heavy footsteps on the stairs. Modo entered the kitchen, yawning. "Food?" He blinked at Tala standing beside the stove. "You can cook?"
"Sit down and eat before I kick your ass."
Charley picked up a piece of meat that looked and smelled like bacon and tasted it gingerly. It tasted like bacon, too. Stoker laughed at her timidity. "I figured if Tala could eat it, you could too. Are those other two among the living yet?"
Modo filled a mug with coffee and inhaled its aroma deeply. "Real coffee. Earth coffee is crap." He sat down at the table and turned to Stoker. "Vinnie was begging for somebody to put him out of his misery. Throttle was still unconscious." He grabbed a plate and began serving himself.
Charley poured herself some coffee. It was spicy with a nutty flavor underneath it. Modo's right. Earth coffee is pretty bland compared to this. No wonder they stick to root beer.
Vinnie stumbled into the kitchen looking green under his white fur. Tala smiled sweetly, setting more dishes on the table. "Food?"
He glared. "Not funny."
"That depends on your point of view, punk." Stoker fixed two mugs of coffee and carried them to the table with a bottle of pills. He set the pills and one of the mugs in front of the younger mouse. "That should clear the fog out of your brain."
Tala helped her plate. "Is that possible?"
"Be nice," Stoker ordered. "He did buy most of your drinks last night."
Vinnie swallowed down some pills with the coffee and focused his eyes on Tala. "I don't get it. You had as much to drink as me."
"More actually. I shared a few more rounds with some guards that came in after their shift."
"How come you're not miserable?"
"When you get the brilliant idea to get a girl drunk to have sex with you, it would be wise to find out what makes her drunk first."
Modo burst out in hearty guffaws and Stoker joined him. Vinnie put his head down on the table with a moan. "Shot down in flames!" Modo roared.
"Crash and burn," Stoker added.
The rims of Vinnie's ears turned red.
Charley was still looking for a way to end his embarrassment when Tala beat her to it. She set her plate in the sink and leaned over Vinnie before she left the kitchen. In a voice loud enough for Modo and Stoker to hear, "It's not a nice way to play the game, which was your first mistake. Your second one is an easy one to make. Most humans haven't had their DNA altered to be unaffected by alcohol. But cheer up, I'll give you another chance." She sauntered out the door.
Stoker shook his head. "She's gettin soft."
Vinnie picked his head up with a smile. "I ain't complaining."
"Hello, anybody awake?"
"In the kitchen, Rimfire." Modo called out.
The mouse entered quickly, giving his uncle a light punch on his left arm. "Grandma says if you're not in her house by lunchtime, she's putting your tail in orbit."
"I was comin anyway."
Tala returned to the kitchen dressed in her black and red flexible armor and carrying her grey helmet in her hands. "Do the Sand Raiders still have their base in the Coprates region?"
"Yes, we haven't hit yet," Rimfire answered.
"What's up?" Vinnie raised his eyebrows as he stared at her.
"I woke up in avenging angel mood this morning."
"Want company?" His white tail slashed eagerly.
She smirked. "Are you sober yet?"
"Pretty close and nothing like a few dozen explosions to get me back to normal."
"The bikes are still at the ship. Come on."
"But," Rimfire started to say.
Stoker's mechanical tail quickly popped him on the foot. "Based on that information you gave us, they have to have a working transport booth. Try real hard to bring it back in one piece."
"Will do, coach." Vinnie replied and followed Tala out the door.
Stoker turned thoughtfully to Charley. "I thought he had a thing for you?"
"He did. We went out on a date and decided it was safer for the universe if we just stayed friends. Now, he's smitten with Tala."
"Gods help us all," the older mouse muttered.
"Better go wake up Throttle." Modo grabbed the bottle of pills and a glass of water and headed back up the stairs.
"They're gonna ruin all the surveillance we've put in." Rimfire protested. "And its suicidal for just two people."
"What they're going to do is hit that place like I told Carbine we should hit it about a month ago. Those Sand Raiders ain't gonna know what hit 'em, we get a working transporter, Carbine looks stupid, Tala works out her anger, and Vinnie gets to try to impress her. What's the problem?" Rimfire didn't answer and Stoker drained his coffee mug. "I better take off before Throttle gets down here. The boyo ain't gonna like me much this morning."
Charley turned to Rimfire after Stoker left. "So what is there for me to do?"
Modo poked his head into Throttle's bedroom. The tan-furred mouse was sitting on the edge of the bed holding his head in his hands. "How ya feelin, bro?"
"I'm gonna kill Stoker."
"Well, as long as you don't kill anybody else. We were gettin worried."
"I still have to talk to her." Throttle took the painkillers and water Modo offered.
"I understand, bro. But you ain't gonna change nothin."
Throttle grimaced as he swallowed the pills. "I know. But I gotta know what happened."
"Yeah, well pull yourself together first. So you don't look like you spent all night gettin drunk."
"Last night." He jerked his head up with a panicked expression behind his shades. "I remember talking to Charley last night. I don't remember what I said!"
Modo stopped himself from telling him. I promised Charley I wouldn't pick on him. Besides, it's really between the two of them. "It must not have been too bad. She didn't go back to Earth and you slept alone. That's one thing Carbine can't throw in your face," he said brightly. "You never cheated on her."
"Somehow, I doubt she's gonna be real impressed. But thanks, bro."
Modo retreated so Throttle could pull himself together. He met Charley downstairs in the living room. "Modo, I don't have anything to do. Rimfire said your mother probably wouldn't mind me coming, but I'm not going to butt in on your private time."
"Nah, it's cool, Charley-ma'am. Mama's used to me draggin everybody over at least once. She's probably dying to meet ya." He scratched under his jaw. "Better go make myself presentable."
Charley stared in the window of the clothes shop across the street from their house. The motorcycle jacket displayed there was in her size and made of a red leather the same shade as the sands at her feet. But the price. Even with three million in loose gems back in the ship, she was not paying that much for a jacket. No matter how beautiful.
Throttle's reflection joined hers in the glass. "Window shopping?"
She turned around to face him. "The jacket caught my eye. But I'm not paying that much for it. I promised I wouldn't do the tourist thing and buy over-priced souvenirs no matter how badly I want them. How are you doing?"
"Like I'm sufferin from the worst toothache in history. Look, about last night. I don't remember what I said but I wanna apologize just in case I was out of line."
Can he handle knowing he made a drunken pass at me? No, he'd probably die realizing he lost that much self-control. And nothing happened but that kiss. "Throttle, it's okay. I know better than to take anything said while drunk absolutely seriously. Besides, all you said was some self-pity stuff."
"Really. And you assured me Modo wasn't interested in dating me."
"Well, I don't think that was a deep dark secret. Where's Vinnie?"
"He and Tala went to beat up on some Sand Raiders." Modo answered, rolling forward on his purple bike. Throttle's bike followed. "Me and Charley are gonna see Mama. You wanna come?"
Throttle shook his head. "No sense putting of what has to be done. Tell your mom hi." He climbed onto his bike and pulled on his helmet.
"Don't do anything you'll regret."
"Good advice, Charley-girl. Thanks."
Charley climbed onto the bike behind Modo as Throttle roared off down the street. "Think he'll be okay?"
"I'd feel better if we were back in Chi-town where he could whip tail on some of Limburger's goons."
Vinnie tried hard not to fidget. They were hidden above the large ravine that hid the Sand Raider fortress. The stone-walled fortress perched on the between the cliff face and the edge of the massive ledge that extended for two hundred yards from the beginning of the ravine. The ledge bordered a deeper crevice of the ravine that broadened to meet both cliff faces behind the fortress. The resulting narrow and deep canyon stretched to the horizon. Tala scanned the fortress with different settings on her helmet. "You're taking more time than Throttle."
"Some things get better with anticipation. Besides, we want to make sure they don't have any prisoners they can use as hostages."
"Okay, and how can you see that?"
"Energy signatures of weapons. Look for a big group of people that don't have any. Everybody seems to be armed. Large energy output in the northwest corner. That must be the transporter booth."
"Right. Don't blow that up." He used his helmet to zoom in on the actions inside the open courtyard. "Looks like they're gearin up for a raid."
"Famak!" She changed the settings on her helmet. "You're right. Well, we can't let them get away with that, can we? How do you like to play it?"
"I'm a fan of the direct approach." He grinned. "Two laser turrets watching the gate. Easy to avoid. And if the gate don't blow, the walls will."
"So you go knock on the front door while I hit them from above." Tala turned to face him. The face shield of her helmet tinted her face red. "That plan give you enough room to maneuver?"
"Rock and ride, Doll-face!"
Tala watched him ride down the point where you could safely jump down from the cliff to the ledge. He's gonna get himself killed, but he's gonna have a blast doing it. She moved her bike into position.
Vinnie jumped his bike off the cliff. The rocket jets brought them to the ground safely and they shot toward the stone-walled fortress. The gunners in the turrets set on each side of the gate opened fire. Vinnie easily evade their shots. "AOOOOW! Try some of this, sweethearts!"
One blast from Vinnie destroyed the left laser turret. The red stone wall beneath it cracked. Another blast hit the stone wall to the right of the large metal gate. The gate shifted, leaning more inside.
Tala shook her head. "Can't let him have all the fun. Flight mode!" Her bike beeped and launched off the top of the cliff. The wheels split apart in the air. First thing is to cut off their exits, mainly that transporter. She shifted setting on her helmet and followed the energy signatures. Her missiles hit the inner building's roof, angled to leave the northwest corner undisturbed.
Two more blasts to the wall and the gate fell inside the compound. Vinnie drove over the slab of metal with a howl. Sand Raiders scrambled for their weapons and stilt-walkers. The remaining laser turret turned and started firing inside the courtyard. "Guys, guys, I know you love the Volatile Vinnie Van Wham but you got to wait to get your autographs like everyone else!"
Tala dived toward the ground in a tight spiral. Her laser bolts hit the remaining laser turret. It exploded in a fireball, casting shrapnel in all directions.
Vinnie dodged a large piece of twisted metal and fired at the stilt-walkers. The first three of the parked vehicles exploded in a massive fireball.
Tala landed behind a group of Sand Raiders. The dog-like humanoids had finally grabbed their laser rifles and were beginning to shoot at Vinnie. "Now is that anyway to greet guests?" She opened fire. Most of the group scattered but a few were impaled by laser bolts.
Vinnie howled again and drove into the building. Tala had already put a pretty gaping hole in it, but there was no sense leaving the job half-done. His missiles and lasers cut apart sleeping quarters and slave pens. We should've brought Throttle. Nothin like blowing something up to cheer up major emotional crises.
The remaining Sand Raiders managed to get the remaining stilt-walkers running. Five of them hopped through the ruins of the gate. Tala gunned her bike. "You're not getting away that easily, you shitty slavers!"
The last stilt-walker in line exploded under her laser fire. She zipped around its stilled metal legs.
Vinnie shot out of the ruined building and saw the fleeing stilt-walkers. "The party's just gettin started! Not time to make a beer run yet!" He accelerated after them.
Tala shot the cord from her left wrist. It lassoed around the last stilt-walker, the one that was veering to the right.
The stilt-walker jumped further to the right. The edge of the ledge it landed on crumbled. The two-legged platform tumbled into the deeper ravine. The cord yanked Tala off her bike and into the air.
"Shit! Tala!" Vinnie gunned his bike after the figure sailing through the air.
"Shit!" She cut the cord, but she was already falling into the ravine. She spread her limbs trying to slow her descent. The bottom was so far down, it was cloaked in darkness. "The explosion from the crashing stilt-walker should light everything up before I hit. Yeah, that's a cheerful thought." She twisted in the air. The left cliff face was so close, just grab hold, stop falling.
The rocks were just beyond the reach of her fingers. She shot her cord. It found nothing to wrap around and snapped back. "No!"
A white tail wrapped around her wrist. Her fall jerked to a stop and her left shoulder protested with a sharp pain. The ground began to crumble under the tires of his red bike. "Come on, sweetheart," he coaxed the machine. It fired its rocket jets and accelerated from the edge.
Once safely on solid ground, he wrapped his arms around her. "Are you all right?"
Tala opened her face shield and took a deep breath. The explosion echoed up from the ravine behind them and she wrapped her arms around the white mouse's neck involuntarily. She shuddered. "Too close. Great rush but damnit, that was too close."
Vinnie turned off his face shield. "Third time's the charm, beautiful."
She turned her head to look at his face and he brought his lips down on hers. The pressure between them sent a pleasant tremor through her body. A kiss. He's kissing me. And I like it! She tightened her hold around his neck.
His hold around her tightened as her lips parted slightly. His tongue rushed inside her mouth. His hands moved, one down her back to squeeze her ass, the other to her front. He brushed against her breast, immobile under the armor. He moved his fingers up to the seam at her neck. Her tongue was inside his mouth now and her lips pressed harder against his.
His fingers found the seam to the top of her armor and slowly unfastened it. His bare fingers caressed her skin, working their way down her chest. And her body reacted.
Tala exploded from his arms with a cry. Vinnie gaped as she dropped to the ground. She doubled over, holding her stomach, shaking, and couldn't seem to breath. He knelt down beside her. Shit, we're too far away to get help from the city. And I'm no medic; Charley's the medic. "Tala? Tala, what's wrong? Tala, talk to me, Doll-face!"
The pain was subsiding already. She could hear Vinnie's panicked voice pleading with her to be okay. Relax, relax. He's not going to hurt me. I can kill him before he can hurt me. Her breathing was returning to normal. She straightened. "I'm okay."
"What the hell just happened?" His red pupils looked small in his wide-opened eyes.
"A panic attack. I get them sometimes." She closed her armor.
"Just like that?"
She wiped the sweat away from her eyes. "Pretty close. Can't breath, get the shakes and sweats, think I'm gonna die. Boom then it's over."
"That's not what I meant. What causes them? Or is it you just can't handle my incredible kissing?"
"I don't know. And I'll have to take your word on the incredible kissing." Tala stood up and started walking toward her bike.
"Wait!" He came running behind her and turned her around. "You've never been kissed before?"
"I know this is going to blow your mind, but no I haven't."
"A great babe like you still cherry?"
"I said I hadn't been kissed before. I didn't say I was still a virgin."
Comprehension dawned on his face. "No wonder you've been giving me the brush off."
"I give everybody the brush off. Don't feel special."
"Damnit, I want to be!" He grabbed hold of her hand. "There isn't anybody else, is there? Just me and the bastard who . . . ."
Go ahead, say it. "The bastard who raped me."
"Who hurt you?" he finished.
"How could there be? Nobody wants traumatized goods."
"Trauma can be healed. Or at least covered up." He shifted his face to the right making it harder to see his mask. "This is the part where we should be riding off into the sunset together."
"I don't think that's gonna happen with us."
"Why not? I'm game. Aren't you?"
"I can't even get kissed without my body freaking out!"
"So we have to go slow. Don't like it but you're worth it. Give me a chance to prove I'm worth it."
"Will you never breath a word of this to anyone?"
"AOOOOW!" He picked her up and spun her around once and put her down quickly. "You won't regret it, Doll-face!"
"Back to business. Those Sand Raiders have been getting away."
"Nah." He pointed to the group of bikes throwing up dust. "The Freedom Fighters got 'em. Gee, hope they're not mad at us."
Tala snorted as she stepped back from the white mouse. "We got 'em a working transport booth. They better be grateful."
"That hussy doesn't deserve the heartbreak Throttle's feeling."
Charley grinned and decided she liked Bola.
"Now, Mama," Modo protested.
"Ain't no shame in callin something what it is. And Throttle should've had a clue when she could believe you boys would turn traitor." The grey-furred female mouse passed Charley a glass of root beer. Her long grey hair with long streaks of white was pulled back into a bun on the back of her neck. "What do you think, my dear?"
"I think it's dirty not to tell the guy in person. Especially when you're getting married to someone else."
Modo's mother nodded. "Exactly. It's one thing when you think your man is dead, quite another when you know he isn't." She sat down in a chair next to the couch Charley and Modo sat on. "I bet Throttle's been true to her."
Charley didn't think Modo could look any more embarrassed. "It ain't like we've had an opportunity since we've been gone."
"Humph. Three years with this good-lookin girl and you haven't had an opportunity?"
Her son looked scandalized. "She's our friend! We wouldn't make a pass at a friend."
"You still have feelings for Stella. Throttle wouldn't. But Vinnie?"
Charley laughed. "Vinnie tried. But it didn't work out."
"No, it wouldn't," Bola replied shrewdly. "You're looking for something more than a hyperactive pretty boy."
The vidcom in the hall beeped. Rimfire stopped laughed and jumped up to answer it.
"You're right," the human smiled. "But he's chasing Tala now, so I guess I don't have anything to worry about."
"I doubt that comes to anything. The man who gets her is going to have a lot more patience than Vinnie. That boy always had an unhealthy Morrison streak."
Rimfire returned to the living room. "It's Vinnie and Tala."
"They didn't get hurt, did they?" Modo stood up.
"No, but the command center just figured out what they've been blowing up and they're pissed. Stoker said he wants some backup available when he convinces them everything is cool."
"Which means Stoker wants my son to glower at everyone till they do what he wants."
"I'm pretty good at it, Mama." Modo pointed out as he stooped to hug her. "But no sense in letting them spend the night in jail."
"Not if we want to have a jail in the morning. Bring them to dinner tomorrow. Throttle and Stoker, too. No excuses. You can go back to Earth after eating a good meal."
Charley said good-bye and they straddled Modo's bike, following Rimfire to the Command Center. "So who's Stella?"
Modo squirmed. "I wish Mama hadn't brought that up."
"If you don't want to tell me, it's okay."
"Nah, it's no big secret. She's just the girl I probably would've married. But we had a big fight, then things got really bad with the Plutarkians. Throttle, Vinnie, and me decided to join the Freedom Fighters. Stella got on board a refugee ship that was gonna get civilians out of the way." He swallowed hard. "The Plutarkians destroyed the ship."
She hugged him tight from behind. "I'm sorry, Modo."
"It's been a long time, Charley-ma'am. But I ain't over her yet."
Throttle parked his bike beside a house nearby a set of barracks and the Command Center. He pulled off his helmet with a sigh. I've come thirty-five million miles for this showdown. Can't get cold feet now. He walked up to the door and knocked.
The raven-haired mouse answered it. She was dressed in her Freedom Fighter uniform with alterations around her larger stomach. "Throttle," Carbine said flatly.
It hit him all at once, like Modo hitting him in the gut without checking his strength. Getting hit by Modo would probably be better, at least his larger bro would be apologizing for it. He tried to smile at her. "I hear congratulations are in order. Apparently for more than one event."
"I told you not to come."
"Well, that's always been one of my problems--never doing what I'm told."
"Shouldn't that be my line?"
She let him into her house. The living room was sparsely lit and furnished. "I thought you'd be pleased. You could fight all the damn Plutarkians in the universe without any obligations here."
"Yeah, just what I wanted to hear. My girl's getting married to someone else. So where's the lucky bastard? You're not gonna introduce us?"
"He's not here and no, I'm not. This is between you and me since you had to come."
"Damnit, Carbine! What else did you expect me to do? Throw a party?" Throttle started pacing back and forth in the room.
"What did you expect from me?" Carbine's brown eyes flashed with anger. "You're never coming back to Mars. Even if you beat Limburger, you'll just start fighting with the next Plutarkian that comes along. I need someone here to help heal Mars. And that will never be you."
"You never gave me a choice."
"You could have stayed when you came back! You could have come back with me when I got the pink seed plant! But stopping Limburger means more to you than I ever will. Probably more than any woman."
"Why didn't you tell me?" He turned and stared down at her sitting in a chair. "If you were so unhappy, why didn't you say anything?"
"Would it have changed anything? You have your job and I have mine. Accept it, Throttle. It's over."
"You haven't left me much choice, have you?"
Carbine sighed and turned her scarred face away. "This would have been easier if you had just stayed on Earth."
"But I don't take the cowardly way out." Throttle shoved his field specs down his snout and glared. "And don't give me any bullshit about not wanting me to show up. You could have sent that letter to me by transporter. But instead you chose the way to have it delivered to give me a way to get my ass back here. For what? Some sorta power trip? To see how well I was wrapped around your finger? Got so used to being in charge, you couldn't stand that I wouldn't pack my bags and come back. And this is your way of getting back."
"That's not true!" She surged up out of the chair, bunching her hands into fists. "I love him! I'm having his baby!"
"All part of your plans, huh? Healin Mars is gonna take centuries. Someone has to lead the fight after you're gone."
"You bastard!" Carbine raised her hand to strike him. Throttle caught it easily and pushed her back down into her well-cushioned chair.
"You never did want a partner, Carbine. Everybody told me not to get involved with you. Even Modo's mama. I figured it was because you were Army. Guess they all saw what I couldn't." He shoved his specs back into place. "Congratulations for the baby. Congratulations for the wedding. I hope you two are real happy together." He grabbed hold of the doorknob. "I also hope labor's a real bitch and you accidentally yank your husband's tail out." She started saying something, seething anger making her words incoherent. He pulled the door open. "Thanks for a swell ride, Carbine. It was fun while it lasted."
He slammed the door shut behind him. He was on the bike before it hit him like Modo's fist again. Home is where your family is. And I don't have any family anywhere.
His bike beeped at him. He shoved on his helmet and kicked it into gear. There was still his bros and Charley. But that won't last forever. We'll kick the Plutarkians off Earth and they're gonna wanna come back here. And I hate this goddamned, friggen planet and its wars. Blood flows quicker than the water, even before the Plutarkians took what little water we had. The humans were right on the money naming it after one of their gods of war. And I don't want any more to do with it. He turned his bike toward the bar Stoker had brought him last night. He wanted a drink to relax the gut-twisting pain he felt.
The mouse in charge was close to developing an aneurism. Tomahawk bellowed at Tala and Vinnie threatening them with insubordination, a military court martial, a trip to the Pit of Everlasting Doom.
Tala brushed non-existent sand off her armor-clad arm. "Piss off. I'm not in your military. I'm not even a citizen of this planet."
"Then you can be thrown in the brig for interference with military operations!"
Her lips twisted in a smirk and she chuckled under her breath. Carbine's second-in-command took a step back and decided to move onto Vinnie.
Stoker grinned at Modo, Charley, and Rimfire as they entered the room. "Sorry to cut your visit short, but I figured you wouldn't want to miss the show."
Modo grinned. "That's okay. Mama invited you to dinner tomorrow."
Stoker groaned slightly. "Can't disappoint your mama, can I?"
"General Carbine left specific instructions on how that installation was to be hit!"
"You and Carbine can both piss off," Vinnie snarled. "I don't take orders from either of you." He turned and looked behind him. "Bros, do I take orders from him?"
Modo straightened to his full height of six-feet-nine-inches and took a stance behind Vinnie and Tala. "Not if you don't wanna, Vin-man."
Charley turned away and hid her smile. Modo's glowering was in fine form.
"Ya see, I don't know what they're complainin about. Sand Raiders ain't takin anybody else as slaves. They got a working transporter booth in one piece. And Tala almost took a nose dive into the canyon. For what? Them to bitch at us because we didn't do it the right way? Seesh, and I thought Throttle was a perfectionist."
"They're just upset because we two just managed to do what twenty regulars couldn't." Tala planted her hands on her hips. "Sometimes there's just no pleasin some people. Now will you let us go already? You're cutting into our celebration time."
"Listen, merc," the military mouse growled.
Tala's hands dropped from her hips. "This merc just brought your kid sister home three months ago. Not to mention medic supplies last week. So unless you've got the guts to start flying through the blockade without a ship, you better show some respect."
His antennae drooped. "The General's gonna have my tail over this."
"Blame it on me," Stoker offered with a grin. "I already lost one. Now let the kiddies go so we can get out of your fur."
Tomahawk glanced from Stoker to Tala and Vinnie. He then looked up at Modo. "Hell, it ain't worth it. Get 'em out of here, Stoker."
"Time for drinks," Tala announced as they surged to the exit.
"No gettin smashed," Modo ordered. "Mama's expectin everybody for dinner tomorrow."
"Ah Modo," Vinnie begged. "Anything but that."
"You wanna tell my mama you didn't wanna come?" Vinnie wilted under his cyclopean stare. "You're invited too, Tala-ma'am."
"This'll be a novel experience. I've never been invited to a family dinner before."
Stoker sidled up to Charley. "So how has Mars been treatin ya this time, beautiful?"
"A learning experience. They've been on Earth three years but it takes a trip to another planet before they'll tell me about old girlfriends or having no family."
The dark tan mouse looked at her quizzically. "Modo told you about Stella? I may have reevaluate your position with 'em, Charley. Plutarkians almost killed us all in the trenches before I found out about her."
Dark twilight settled over the scenery. Charley looked up the deep purple sky. The stars shone brighter. Neither moon had risen yet. Stoker held the door of the bar open for her.
The bar was filled with Freedom Fighters and civilian mice. A group mobbed Vinnie and Tala demanding the story about the Sand Raider fortress, which Vinnie supplied with gusto. Surprisingly, every other sentence featured Tala's deeds. And he wasn't making fun of her. Charley shook her head with a smile.
Stoker sat down beside Throttle at the bar proper and ordered a beer. "Well, yer not throwin yerself into Olympus Mons. That's a good sign."
Throttle grimaced. "She ain't worth it. You could warned me though, chief."
"About the bun in the oven? Would ya've believed me?"
"Nah." He took a healthy swig from his bottle of beer.
"Go easy on that. Modo's mama ordered everyone to come to dinner tomorrow."
Throttle groaned and laid his head on the bar. "So much for leavin tonight."
Stoker made room at the bar and pulled a stool out for Charley. "Can't leave so soon. You boys ain't even showed Charley all the sites. A beer for the lady."
The barkeeper filled the order as Charley sat down. She listened as Stoker told her about some places to see. Vinnie and Tala's escapade was getting retold as new customers wandered into the bar. Modo finally remembered and told Throttle about dinner. Throttle glumly replied that he would go but not to expect him to be happy about it. Modo looked upset but backed off. Throttle winced, turning back to his beer in disgust.
Someone turned on the jukebox, possible to shut Vinnie up. He had managed
to find listeners for the fifth straight time.
There goes my old girlfriend
There's another diamond ring
And, uh, all those late night promises
I guess they don't mean a thing
So baby, what's the story?
Did you find another man?
Is it easy to sleep in the bed that we made?
When you don't look back I guess the feelings start to fade away
Steve Tyler and Aerosmith crooned on while Throttle stared down at his beer, looking like he wished his bionic eyes were equipped with lasers.
Charley got down off the bar stool. A little wobbly but she made it. Martian beer was stronger than the stuff back home. She touched Throttle's arm. "See me home?"
"I don't think I should. I even upset Modo."
"Modo knows you didn't mean that."
"I'm not very good company right now."
"And I won't be very good company if I got to listen to Vinnie one more time."
A ghost of a smile touched his tan face. "All right, let's make tracks."
Modo's worried expression followed them to the door. She smiled reassuringly at him before and stepping out into the cold.
And it was cold. She hugged herself and wished she had packed her parka. It didn't seem to be bothering Throttle any as he looked up. "Gonna be a double moonrise."
"Is that special?"
"Bout the only thing on Mars I wanna look at right now. Present company excluded from that."
"Are you up for it? You have to get out of the city to get the full effect."
Charley blew on her hands. "I was just getting you out of there before you decided a bar brawl was a good way to relieve stress. So I'm up for it as long as I don't freeze."
He looked down at her and put his hands on her upper arms. "You didn't bring a coat or something?"
His hands were warm. "It isn't this cold in Chicago. I didn't think about it."
"Yeah, and we live in ours. Hold on a second."
He left her next to his bike and disappeared into the darkness. She stomped her feet, but that didn't help warm her up. She got her helmet off Modo's bike.
Throttle returned quickly. He unfurled what he carried, the red leather jacket. "Here. This should do the trick." He helped her into it.
It was her size and it was warm. The leather had been worked until it was as soft as suede. The zippers and buckles were made of a shinny chrome. "The price, Throttle. I can't accept this."
"It looks good on ya, babe. Besides, it's my last chance to spend Martian money and you wanted a souvenir. Come on."
They rode to a hill outside of the city limits in silence. Throttle parked his bike at the top just in time. The two orbs pushed their way above the horizon like a pair of dancers easing across the sky. The larger one with a striped pattern pulled away from its smaller partner. Charley's breath caught in her throat. "They look close enough to touch. Like we could ride right on top of them."
"Hard to do on a bike."
"What did you mean this was your last chance to spend your Martian money? Won't you need it when you guys come back?"
"I don't want to come back." He took a deep breath and continued in a artificially lighter tone. "Think I can become a citizen of Earth?"
"The immigration authorities would probably freak once they figured out you're really a mouse."
"Not to mention the whole from another planet thing. I'll figure something out."
"Isn't it a little harsh to give up your whole planet because of an old girlfriend?"
"Not after the way I told her off. I don't really wanna talk about it."
"Okay." She slid her hands around his chest and hugged him briefly. "But I'm available when you do."
They watched Phobos and Deimos rise higher into the purple sky, reflecting
light onto the red sands.