The sun was low on the horizon, and the Martian air was getting colder, night was falling, but even that hadnt stopped the Sand Raiders from searching for them. Centerline was watching the dunes for signs of the Sand Raiders that had been pursuing them since they escaped from the Sand Raider camp three months ago.
The cold wind ruffled Centerlines thick fur. He was almost seven feet tall now, and his solidly muscled body was completely covered in soft pure white fur, even to the tip of his almost too long tail. Unblemished except for the solid black stripe on the top of his head that gave him his name, and the thin scar that ran across his broad back from his right shoulder to just above his waist on his left side, a permanent reminder of this misadventure. His face showed a determination forged in battle, his eyes, one as pink as any Martians, the other as green as the long lost grasses of Mars, were as cold as the dusk wind. His only clothing, a pair of black leather motorcycle pants and boots, had seen better days. Hed given the matching jacket to his companion on this trip, to keep her warm, something he himself has never had to worry about. He never really needed the jacket for warmth: temperature, hunger, and fatigue, dont affect him the way they did other mice. A gift of sorts from his re-creator, a demented so-called doctor employed by the Plutarkians, Karbunkle.
A gust of wind disturbed his only ear ring, a stainless steel hoop with a small silver crescent moon hanging from it, a remembrance of a previous life. That and a small rectangular locket on a chain that was almost too small to go around is neck, are all he had to remind him of what he was before Karbunkle got a hold of him.
A small cloud of dust rising off a distant dune marked the approach of the Sand Raiders scouts. Centerline raised the binoculars to his mismatched eyes for a better look. Sand Raiders all right. Centerline turned to his companion to wake her, but stops, she had only been asleep for half an hour, and it was the first sleep she had had in two days. He stood for a moment looking at Harley, she looked like a child bundled up in his leather jacket, their only blanket partially wrapped around her. Her tawny fur matted and dirty. But to Centerline she was still beautiful. He didnt want to wake her. He looked back at the approaching dust cloud, the Sand Raiders would be here in a few minutes, he had no choice. He turned to wake her.
"Harley, wake up, we have to get on the move again." He whispered, trying to wake her gently. Harley didnt respond. "Harley, the Sand Raiders have picked up our trail, we have to go, NOW." Centerline shook her gently, and she slowly woke up.
"Already, we were an hour ahead of them, howd they find us so fast?" Harley was fighting to wake up, rubbing her eyes and trying to stretch the stiffness out of her body, the cold dusk air biting at her.
"I dont know, but they have." Centerline had already packed what little gear they had and stowed it on the motorcycle. "Come on, you can dose on the bike. Ill wrap my tail around you so you wont fall off again." Harley cringed at the reminder of the last time she fell a sleep while they were riding, some of the bruises still hadnt healed. "Dont remind me."
Harley slid onto the motorcycle behind Centerline, wrapping her arms around his warm body, as he wrapped his tail around her waist. They were on the move before Harley had had a chance to completely settle into the seat. "Where are we going now?" she asked as they head into the darkening night. Centerlines voice was cold and quiet, "I know someplace we might be safe, its not far, only an hour or so. Think you can hold out that long?" Harley opened her mouth to say something, but she thought better of it.
The air grew colder as the night grew darker. The moons provided little in the way of light, and even less in the way of comfort. The cold air had brought Harley wide awake. "Centerline, where are we going?" There was a long pause before Centerline finally responded, the sound of his voice and the single word make Harley wish she hadnt asked.
It had been a slow day in Chicago. Limburger was too busy rebuilding his tower after the last failed scheme to bother the with the Biker Mice, and to make matters worse, it had been raining for the past three days. The lack of anything to do was driving Throttle, Modo, and Vinnie stir crazy. Throttle and Modo were staring at a checker board, trying to pretend that they were really playing. Vinnie was looking at the pictures on the wall of the garage, trying to find something new in the photos he had seen a hundred times before. Charley was reclining in a chair, lost in the pages a book she has been wanting to read for months.
"Hey Charley girl, whos this guy standing in front of the Last Chance, holding the baby?" Vinnie was looking at a photo of a young man with dark hair, in an oversized leather jacket and leather motorcycle pants, holding a very young girl in his arms. There was a motorcycle parked next to him, and the front of a very new looking Last Chance Garage was in the background. "Is this your Dad?". Charley, wondering what Vinnie was looking at, puts down the book and walked over to where he was standing. She looked at the photo for a minute, then dropped her eyes. "No."
The pain in her voice caught the attention of both Throttle and Modo, they both came over to see what had upset Charley. Throttle looked at the photo for a while then turned to Charley. "Thats you hes holding, isnt it?" Charley turned her back to the picture, a tear was running down her cheek. "Charley mam, whats wrong?" Charley looked up at Modo with tears in her eyes, she slid her arms around him, burying her face in his fur and started to cry. Vinnie and Throttle were as lost for words as Modo.
Harley was shivering from the cold night air, they had been riding for what seemed like hours. The coldness in Centerlines voice the last time he spoke, convinced her that she really didnt want to know any more about where they were going than she already did. To keep her mind off of the cold, she had been thinking about what Centerline said. It still didnt make any sense. What could he have meant by Home. They were hundreds of miles from any Martian Resistance base, even farther from any city. She kept coming back to the same thought, just when she thought she understood her brother, hed through her a curve like this one.
It took Harley a moment before she realized that Centerline had said something, but by then she had missed it. "Im sorry I missed that, what did you say?" Centerlines words were slow and deliberate. "Were here."
Harley looked around, in the darkness all she could see was vague outlines of what might once have been a building. Centerline had stopped the motorcycle and gotten off. "Well have to walk from here." Harley barely had time to get off the bike before Centerline started pushing it over the rough ground. She wondered why Centerline was being so cold. Even with all they had been through, Centerline had managed to keep his sense of humor, but in the past few hours his mood had changed radically. Harley had never seen her brother like this, and it worried her. She followed along behind, the outlines in the dark becoming larger and more foreboding.
"What was this place?" Even with the effort of pushing the motorcycle, Centerline wasnt breathing hard. "Like I said, Home." His words had a finality that frightened her, "we should be safe here for a while, and there should be some fresh water around."
Even though she didnt want to, Harley followed Centerline into the ruins of the building. Centerline worked his way through the rubble to the far side of the building, never missing a step, or having to stop and backup, it was as if her brother had a map of this horrible place engraved in his mind. He parked the bike in a small protected spot. The rubble walled in the small area like a fortress. Centerline spread out the one bed roll they had, and got the pack with what was left of their food. "Harley, you better eat something, and then get some sleep. Youll be safe here, there is only one way in, and Ill be able to keep watch while I scrounge around and see if I can find some supplies." He handed her what little food and water they had and started to leave. Harley stepped in front of him. "Centerline, you need the food more than I do, I havent said anything before now because we didnt have the time, but you havent eaten in days, and to be honest I cant remember the last time I saw you sleep."
Centerline didnt meet her eyes, "Harley, you know I can go without longer than other mice. Please, take it, you need it." He slipped past her into the dark and disappeared. Harley knew there was no use in arguing the point. She ate part of what little was left, then wrapped herself in the blanket and tried to fall asleep.
It took Charley a couple of hours to pull herself together enough to be able to talk. Vinnie, Throttle, and Modo, didnt ask any questions about what was going on, they just acted like everything was normal around the Last Chance.
Charley finally lifted her head and pulled herself up off of the chair she had be sitting on. She walked over to the photo Vinnie had been looking at earlier, took it off of the wall, and walked over and sat down at the table opposite Vinnie. Throttle and Modo were back to pretending to be playing a game of checkers, and Vinnie was trying to look interested in the outcome of the game. She just sat there looking at the photo until it was too much for Vinnie. "OK Charley girl, what gives. Who is the guy in the photo?" Modo looked up at the ceiling "Oh Mama, here we go again." Throttle shot a dirty look at Vinnie "Smooth, real smooth."
"Na, its ok guys." They were relived that Charley was sounding more like her old self. "Its just been a long time since I thought about this picture."
"So who is this guy Sweetheart?, a cousin," Vinnie leered "an old boy friend?"
Charley ignores Vinnies remark, "Hes my brother, Jayce."
Throttle was the first to recover enough to say something. "Your brother, why havent you every mentioned him?"
"And more to the point why havent WE ever met him" Charley knew that the anger in Vinnies voice was just for show.
"He disappeared over 20 years ago. Mom always said he just wanted to get out on his own, but I think it had something to do with a fight he had with Dad." Charleys eyes never left the photo. "I was too young to remember it, but a couple of Jayces friends were there and one of them told me about it years later."
"Mustve been some fight." Charley looked up at Modo, realizing she had been thinking out loud, she tried to change the subject. "You guys dont want to hear about ancient history. Whatd ya say we cook up some Hot Dogs, Im starved." Charley started to get up, Throttle put his hand on her shoulder, and eased her back into her seat. "Charley, if you dont want to talk about it, thats OK, but the way youve been acting it kinda seems that maybe youd like to get this off your chest."
Charley thought about it for a minute, "Maybe youre right. I do think of you guys as family, and, well, Ive never been able to talk to mom about it. She just changes the subject, I think she is still pretty upset about what happened." Charley looked back at the photo and sighed, "I guess I just dont know where to start."
As Throttle leaned back in his chair he prompted Charley. "Well, why dont you start by telling us about this brother of yours, what hes like, and why hes so much older than you."
It took Charley a couple of minutes to collect her thoughts before she could start. "Well, my folks had Jayce while they were still traveling with the Carnival." Charley barely finished the sentence before Throttle, Vinnie, and Modo all blurted out "Carnival?!" at the same time.
"I told you guys that my dad was a motorcycle stunt rider in the Carnival." Charley was surprised by the guys reaction.
Throttle eased his shades down to take another look at Charley. "No Charley, Im pretty sure wed remember something like that." As Throttle put his shades back, Charley becomes aware that they were staring at her. "What?, whats wrong with the Carnival?" Vinnie looked from Throttle to Modo then back to Charley. "Nothing Sweetheart, Its just, well, its not the picture we had of your folks."
"Just what kind of picture did you have of my folks?" Throttle could hear the beginning of Charleys anger, and decided to change the subject. "Why dont we just get back to your brother, Charley."
Charley was ready to rip Vinnies ears off, but she knew it would help matters if she did. "Errrrrrr, all right." Charley sulked for a minute before she continued. "Anyway, between raising Jayce and work, my folks had their hands full, and decided to hold off on any more kids. I wasnt born until they retired and opened up the Last Chance. By then Jayce was 15. This picture is the only memory I have of him, It was taken on my second birthday, three days before he disappeared."
"Im sorry Charley, it must have been tough." Throttle gave Charleys hand a gentle squeeze. "Thanks Throttle, but I was to young to really understand what was happening at the time, and by the time I was old enough to understand, my folks didnt talk about Jayce. It wasnt until three years after my dad died that mom even told me I had a brother. It took a lot more years to get her to tell me what little I know about him."
"So was he a stunt rider like your dad?" Charley could tell that Vinnie was really more interested in whether Jayce was a better rider that he was. "Ya, he and dad did an act together the last year they were in the Carnival. From what mom told me, they were the best stunt riders in the country, till Jayce had an accident that nearly killed him. Mom said that was why they retired, they knew if they stayed with the Carnival that eventually Jayce would get killed. He was the best and he knew it. Nothing was going to stop him from performing as long as they were with the Carnival, so they retired and settled down here in Chicago. They wanted to give Jayce a chance to grow up like a normal kid. Thats where the name of the garage came from The Last Chance. Turns out my folks were right, Jayce didnt want to stop performing, Jayces friend told me that was what the fight was all about."
"So what happened?" Throttle already knew the answer, but he wanted to let Charley say it.
"From what I was told the fight got pretty loud, and Jayce took off. He just never came back. My folks asked his friends were he was, they said that he hadnt run away, that he just took off to cool down, and that hed be back in a few days. A week later the Police found Jayces motorcycle abandoned in the city park, but they never found any trace of Jayce."
"Your Bro just booked, and you never heard from him again?" the disbelief in Vinnies voice was obvious.
"He didnt just book," Charley tried not to be defensive "something happened to him, mom said he would never leave his bike behind, it was like family to him."
Modo reached over and patted Charley on the shoulder, "Dont worry Charley mam, as my gray furred mama always says all roads eventually lead home, your bro will come back some day."
"I hope so Modo, I hope so."
As Harley woke up, the first weak rays of the morning sun were just starting to shine on the far wall of the ruined building, she could see Centerline sitting with his arms folded across his massive chest, watching her. Seeing him sitting there reminded Harley of when she was much younger. She would wake up to find her brother, Centerline, sitting and watching over her, he always had been the over protective older brother. She continued to lay on the bed roll wrapped up in Centerlines jacket and the blanket, warm and relaxed for the first time in longer than she could remember, watching Centerline. He slowly closed his eyes, and for a moment Harley could again see how much he resembled Vinnie. She thought back to when Centerline and Vinnie were younger, how they were almost twins, when they had their helmets on it was impossible to tell them apart. It used to drive everyone crazy never knowing which one was which. She also remembered the friendship the two had, a bond stronger than family, a bond she thought nothing could break. Now that was gone it seemed. If what Centerline had told her was even only half true, and she had no doubt it was all true, Vinnie was Centerlines worst enemy.
There were times she wished that Centerline did lie. There were a lot of things she would have been happier not knowing. Especially what had happened between Centerline and his bros. But while Centerline had his secrets, what he did say was always the truth for good or bad.
As Centerline opened his eyes, Harleys memory of happier times faded, and it was just Centerline sitting there with his back against his motorcycle. The two had become inseparable, something Harley wasnt unhappy about. She had worked on a lot of motorcycles but Centerlines was the only one Harley really feared. Some Martian motorcycles had intelligence, and those that did became so much like their riders that they wouldnt allow anyone else to ride them. One bike, one rider. Centerlines bike was no different, it would obey only him, most of the time. But while other bikes were just strong willed, Centerlines bike truly had a mind of its own. She was never convinced that Centerline could completely control his bike. She had seen it in battle, protecting its one and only rider with a viciousness unlike any Martian motorcycle, and lately it seemed it was even more vicious than she had ever seen, without Centerline to keep it in check, she didnt want to think about it.
Centerline slowly stretched, Harley realized hed been sitting there for hours. "You didnt get any sleep did you." Centerline smiled a little bit as he replied sarcastically "No Mom." But the smile faded. "I found a Martian survival pack and some gas in a storage locker. At least we have some more food and water, and a full tank."
"Centerline we cant just keep running. We have to head for one of the Resistance bases" Centerline cut her off "No, we would just lead the Sand Raiders, and the Plutarkians, to them. Until we get Mace off our tails we are on our own, you know that."
"I cant believe that Mace hasnt given up yet. Its been months since we escaped. Why cant he just give up." The frustration with the situation showed in Harleys voice. Ever since Mace had kidnapped Harley he had always kept her close to him. Harley knew Mace intended to user her as both bait and protection. While she was glad to be free, having Mace chasing them made her feel even more captive than before.
Centerline dropped his eyes to the floor, "The reasons may be different Harley, but we are both too important to the Plutarkians, for them to ever give up." Centerline slowly looked back up, Harley could see the glow in his mismatched eyes "But I may have a way out, for now. I spent the night working on that old Plutarkian Transporter behind you, Ive got it running, at least enough for one use. Ive set the controls for a spot on Mars far enough away that we should be out of Maces reach."
"Whats to stop them from following us?"
"These" Centerline pulled three Martian Mouse Grenades from the Martian survival pack hed found. "Ill drop them around the Transporter just as we enter. There wont be enough left to figure out where we went."
"How do you know those Grenades still work?" Harley doubted that their luck was any better than it had been lately.
"I dont, we just better hope they do." A sudden sound on the far side of the room caused them both to look up. A faint shadow on the wall revealed that the Sand Raiders had found them. "Looks like we will get to test one of these Grenades. Harley, keep a watch on our friend over there while I pack our gear. When I give the word head for the bike, and keep your head down."
"Dont worry about me." Harley took out her Blaster and turned to watch the Sand Raiders.
A voice echoed across the shattered room. "There be no place for ya to go, toss out yer weapons, an gives yer selfs up like good little mices.." Harley could see the shadowy outlines of the Sand Raiders moving closer to them. She was about to turn to warn Centerline, but he beat her to it.
"Harley" Centerline whispered "the Transporter is set to activate in 5 seconds, Im going to toss one of the Grenades to our friends over there, when it goes off we get on the bike and head for the Transporter. Ill drop the other two Grenades just before we enter the chamber. Lets hope it takes those mutts a few seconds to catch on to whats happening, here goes." Centerline pulled the pin on the first Grenade and tossed it across the room toward the Sand Raiders. The Grenade exploded just as it hit the ground.
As Centerline and Harley made for the motorcycle, they could hear the sounds of the Sand Raiders picking themselves up off the floor. Centerline gunned the motor and they took off, he pulled the pins on the remaining Grenades and tossed them on either side of the Transporter just before they entered the Transport chamber. A second later the Transporter actived, and the Grenades went off, destroying the Transporter and collapsing the already crumbling walls, burying the remains of the Transporter under tons of rock.
Throttle, Vinnie, and Modo, were talking quietly, huddled together near the back door of the garage. After a few moments Throttle walked over to the table where Charley was still sitting looking at the photo of her brother, and sat down in the chair next to Charley. "Charley, weve talked it over and we think it would be a good idea if we stay here tonight."
"Thanks Throttle, you guys have been great about all this, but Ill be OK." Throttle expected Charleys answer, "No go Charley girl, its been a rough day for you and right now you shouldnt be alone. Were staying, so live with it babe."
"Gee, thanks" The tone in Charleys voice showed her lack of enthusiasm.
"Ah, come on Charley, You know you love having us around." Vinnies ego was showing, "Especially me." Charley couldnt stop herself from smiling. "I guess youre right, I dont really want to be alone, especially tonight." The tone in Charleys voice bothered Throttle. "Is there something else you havent told us Charley girl?"
There was a long pause before Charley responded. "I wasnt going to mention it, its foolish I know. Its just that today is Jayces birthday. I usually go out to my moms place and spend the day with her, she gets pretty low and all, but she called last night and said it was time for her to move on with her life, and that she had to let go of Jayce. Its really tough for her, being alone all the time in that big empty house. I asked her if she wanted me to come over, but she said she wanted to be alone today, that she was going to visit some old friends she hadnt seen for years. Im just worried about her, thats all."
Throttle rubbed Charleys shoulder, "Dont worry about her babe, your mom can take care of herself thats for sure."
"Ya, Charley mam, anyone who can ride a motorcycle the way your mom does, isnt going to let life get her down. She going to be fine, dont worry."
"Thanks Modo. Youre right, heck my mom was on the road for twenty years of her life, and raised two kids, shell do fine." Charley tried to reassure herself "I hope."
There was a long silent pause before Charley yawned "Its late guys, how about we get some sleep. Im bushed." She got up and headed up to her bed. Throttle, Vinnie, and Modo settled in to get some sleep themselves.