When Centerline woke up the first thing he noticed was the rock sticking in his back. As his mind cleared he realized that he was holding Harley. He opened his eyes, there was a faint light showing through the clouds overhead. He looked around to see where his bike was, and found it standing guard a few feet away with all its weapons out. The rock in his back was becoming a major problem, he gently ruffled Harleys fur, whispering her name as he did. "Harley, Harley, wake up. Come on little sister. Were here, where every here is." Harley slowly eased herself off Centerline, rubbing her head and slowly standing up. "What happened, and where are we?"
"I wish I knew." Centerline stretched as he stood up, glad to have the rock out of his back. He took off his helmet, and took a deep breath of the cold, moist night air. The smell of trees, grass, and flowers filled the air. "Where ever we are, this isnt Mars." Harley had slipped close to her brother. Centerline slid his arm around her. "Dont worry Harley, where ever we are, well be OK." Centerline moved to his motorcycle and slid on, Harley slid on behind him. Centerline quietly talked to his bike to reassure it, "Its OK, you can relax now." The bike hesitated for a minute, then retracted its weapons. Centerline saw a path ahead and eased the bike forward.
The night was so black that they could only see vague outlines of the plants around them. Centerline kept the motorcycle on the dirt path they were following. Soon the dirt path gave way to a paved street, and as they came to the top of a small hill, Centerline stopped the bike. Ahead of them was a city skyline, skyscrapers shining against the black sky. Neither of them spoke as they rode on.
Centerline had been keeping to the side streets and alleys, they hadnt met any other vehicles on the road, and hadnt seen any of the inhabitants of this city either. Soon the scenery began to change, crumbling buildings and craters in the streets marked the landscape. Centerline slowed and stopped in front of the first intact building theyd seen for awhile. The front of the building was bathed in light from a lamp over the front door. Centerline stared at the sigh on the building for a few moments before Harley said anything. "Last Chance Garage," she said as she read the sign, "Centerline, where are we?"
"Earth." Was the only answer she got. Centerline was staring at the sign on the building.
"How do you know?"
"Take a look behind us at the Moon." Harley turned to look behind her at the Moon hanging full and low in the sky. Even partly obscured by the clouds, there was no doubt that it was Earths Moon. "How did we end up on Earth?"
A fine rain had started. "Im not sure, maybe the Transporter malfunctioned, who knows, but we are here, and were going to have to find some shelter." Centerline put his helmet back on and slowly pulled away. Harley tightened her grip on her brother as they rode off into the darkness.
They had been riding for a long time. The landscape had changed from crumbling buildings, to houses. Almost all the houses they had past had lights on, but Harley hadnt seen any people. Centerline pulled the motorcycle into a dark driveway of an old house, there were no lights on and no cars nearby. As he reached the end of the driveway there was a ramp leading down to the basement of the house. He eased the bike down the ramp, and stopped at the bottom. "Why are we stopping here?" Centerline had gotten off the bike and was trying the door at the bottom of the ramp, before he answered Harleys question.
"We have to be someplace, and this place looks deserted. Anyway if it isnt well work something out." Centerline had opened the door and was rolling the motorcycle inside. Harley followed slowly. "Centerline, I dont know about this."
"Harley, if this place isnt deserted, well find some way to work things out with the owner, at worst we will end up in jail for trespassing. But its cold and raining, and right now we both need a good nights sleep. I know this isnt the best situation, but we have to work with what we can find." Centerline had closed the outside door, and found a light switch, the room was a small garage with a work bench along one wall. In a corner was a motorcycle in need of repairs. There was a door ahead of them. Centerline opened the door slowly and turned on the lights as he entered. The room was a large bedroom. Harley took off her helmet and set it on a nearby dresser. Centerline was checking out where the other doors of the room led.
"Harley, come here." Centerline was standing in a doorway at the far end of the room. As she stepped into the door way she saw that the room was a bathroom with a shower. "Well at least we can get a much needed shower, little sister."
"Centerline, I dont think we should."
"Harley, if and when we meet our hosts, dont you think it would be a good idea to not smell like a couple of sweaty Plutarkians? Its been quite awhile since either of us has had a bath, and believe me it is obvious."
"OK, I wont argue with you on that point. But we pay our hosts back for what ever we use."
"Never thought anything else, little sister. Why dont you go first, Ill get some of our stuff off the bike. Oh, towels are in the cabinet behind the door." Before Harley could object, Centerline headed back to the bike.
Harley closed the door, and got ready for a shower. As the hot water started to wash the dirt from her fur all her concerns about the present situation washed away too.
Centerline went through the packs on the motorcycle collecting up what they would need. "Now bike remember that we are guests here, uninvited guests. If anyone comes in, just keep an eye on them, no shooting, no getting aggressive. Remember that on Earth motorcycles dont have weapons, and that they cant think for themselves. So just play it cool, and behave yourself. Tomorrow it will be your turn for a bath." The cycle gently revd its engine in response to Centerlines words. As Centerline headed back into the bedroom he patted the bike. "Get some rest old friend, youve earned it."
In the bedroom Centerline set some survival rations and water on the dresser, and stopped to look at himself in a mirror. His fur was matted and dirty, and the rain hadnt helped. The long black fur that ran from his forehead and hung down his back was ragged and unkempt. He was glad that they hadnt run into anyone, the way he looked he would have scared them do death. He was startled when he heard Harleys voice. "I thought Vinnie was the one who couldnt pass a mirror with out stopping to see how he looked." Harley was standing in the bathroom door in an old bathrobe, looking clean and a lot happier. Centerline realized that he must have been looking into the mirror for a long time.
"Just thinking of the fright I would have put into some poor soul looking like this." Centerline took one more look in the mirror.
"Well you were right about needing a shower, I can smell you from here. By the way how did you know where the towels were?" Harley was still drying off her ears as she walked over and sat down on the bed.
"A good guess. There is some food and water on the dresser. Looks like its my turn, did you leave me any hot water?" Centerline was already in the bathroom before Harley could answer. She walked over to the dresser and opened one of the survival rations. Not the best food in the world, but better than nothing.
By the time Centerline finished his shower, Harley was in bed fast asleep, wrapped in the comforter that covered the bed. Centerline opened a dresser drawer and took out a pair of sweat pants. He carefully ripped the seam open in the back for his tail and slipped them on. He thought about how good it felt to be clean again as he stretched out on top of the bed covers next to Harley. As he settled in Harley slid her head up onto his chest. Centerline thought about how long it had been since he last held Harley while she slept. She must have been three or four years old then. Now she was a grown mouse. Holding Harley reminded Centerline of his own wife and son, now on a different world. He wondered what Modo had told them about what happened. Before long Centerline drifted off to sleep.
Centerline stretched, warm and rested, he laid there in bed with his eyes closed, Harley still curled up against him. As he opened his eyes he could see the sunlight streaming in through the windows above his head. He slowly stretched again and turned his head to nuzzle Harley. He froze, seated in an overstuffed chair near the bathroom door was an older woman, a Human woman. She was dressed in blue jeans, and a dark flannel work shirt. Her hair was a mixture of blond and gray, her eyes were the same green as Centerlines one green eye. She was holding a mug with what Centerline can smell was coffee in it. Without moving Centerline considered his options. A coffee cup couldnt really be considered a weapon, so a fight was out of the question. Both his and Harleys cloths were hanging in the bathroom, which was on the far side of the stranger, so running was out. That left the only real choice, talking.
Not wanting to wake Harley, Centerline whispered "Good morning." The woman replied equally softly, "Good morning."
"My name is Centerline, this is my sister Harley. Im sorry about inviting ourselves in but it was cold and raining, and its been a long time since we have been able to get any rest. Ill fix any damage Ive done, and Im sure we can work out something to repay you for being here." The woman didnt move or say anything so Centerline continued "It must be quite a shock to find a couple of aliens sleeping in you basement. But I promise you that were harmless."
"I doubt that anyone who has seen your people fight would consider a couple of Martian Mice harmless. But Im not worried, just curious." She took a sip of her coffee as if to show she wasnt afraid of them.
"Curious? Curious about what?" The fact that she knew they
were Martians bothered Centerline, he was being cautious.
"A couple of things, for starters, you said your sisters name was Harley is that right?"
"Yes. Why?" Centerline was becoming uncomfortable with the way the conversation was going. Maybe a coffee cup could be consider a weapon.
"I have a friend, or rather he is one of my daughters friends, who has a girl friend named Harley. Seems she was kidnapped by a Rat named Mace. You wouldnt know anything about that would you?"
"This friend have a name?" Centerline knew the answer and he didnt like what it meant.
"I was afraid of that, are Throttle and Modo here too?" Things had just gone from bad to worse.
"Yes, I guess that means you know them then." She kept sipping on her coffee between sentences.
"Ive had the pleasure. Are they here?" Centerline prayed the answer was no.
"No, as I said they are friends of my daughter."
"In that case Ill be leaving as soon as Harley is awake. I would appreciate it if you wouldnt mention my name to them." Centerline was considering where on Earth he would be able to live and stay out of his Bros way.
"I wouldnt be in a rush to leave, I have another question, if you dont mind." Her tone was one of instance not idle curiosity.
"All right." Centerline wondered what new disaster lay around the next corner.
"I was wondering where you came by this jacket." She spread his leather jacket out over her legs. Centerline could see the faded Harley Davidson emblem on the back.
"It was a present from my father, Ive had it since I was a kid." Centerline was reconsidering the run for it option. As he did Harley rolled over allowing Centerline to slowly get up. He walked over and sat down on the floor in front of the woman. She watched him as he crossed the room. "Why?" Now Centerline was the one who was curious.
"It has a name tattooed into the collar, and it isnt Centerline " Her eyes never left his.
"That doesnt change the fact that it is my jacket." A nagging thought had just entered Centerlines mind and it wouldnt be ignored, he knew things were about to become complex. "Ive got a question for you, do my earring and this locket mean anything to you?" From the look on her face Centerline knew the answer. He also noticed that she was starting to shake, so he gently took the coffee cup from her hand and set it on the table next to her chair. He had to find out if he was right about who this woman was.
"My mother gave me this earring when I was thirteen years old, it had a Gold hoop then, but the catch on the hoop kept snagging on my helmet so a roustabout friend of mine named Curtis made me a replacement. A solid hoop with no catch. I remember how mad my mother was when she found out." She was watching him, waiting for him to continue. "The jacket was a present on my fourteenth birthday from my father. We spent the day with him trying to teach me to ride a motorcycle like a normal person, it didnt take." Centerline was almost talking to himself now, remembering a life he had lost a long time ago.
"When he finally accepted that he wasnt going to change the way I rode, he started laughing so hard he had tears rolling down his face. When my mother came out to see what was going on, all he could say between gasps of laughter was you cant teach an Eagle to walk once it learns to fly." Centerline looked at the face of the person he had long ago accepted he would never see again, she was crying now, but Centerline continued slowly
"The locket was supposed to be a birthday present for my little sister when she turned two. You refused to let me give it to her, saying she was too young. Three days later father asked me how I had paid for it, when I told him I had earned the money doing motorcycle stunts at a local Carnival, he started yelling at me and I took off." He felt he had to explain what had happened, "I never meant to be gone for more than a few hours, I just wanted to give dad time to cool down. I went to the park with Danny , I remember the warmth of the sun as I sat leaning back against my cycle. The engine warm against my back. It was so quiet I fell asleep." It was more of an apology than an explanation "All I remember about waking up was the pain. Every muscle and bone in my body was on fire, and then nothing."
They sat there for a long time. When his mother finally stood up she slid her hand under Centerlines chin, "Stand up." With out a pause he did. She looked at him for a moment then slapped him, barely hard enough to hurt. "That is for disobeying your father, and for the pain youve caused us." Then she hugged him, holding on and crying again. Centerline slid his arms around his mother and said the only thing he could think of, "Im sorry mom I wont do it again."
Charley had been awake for awhile. The guys were still asleep and she didnt want to wake them. It was a quiet morning, the sun was out for the first time in days, but the air was still cool and fresh. It must have rained again during the night. Charley made herself a cup of coffee and settled in to finish the book she had been reading the day before.
It was about noon when she took a break from reading. The guys were still sleeping so soundly Charley decided that they must really need the rest, what with all the construction going on around Quigley Field she doubted the guys had gotten a good nights sleep in weeks.
After Charley had made herself some lunch she decided that it was as good a time as any to give her mother a call, just to check up on her. Charley tried a couple of times but got no answer. It was unusual but her mom might just be out in the back yard and couldnt hear the phone, so Charley went back to her book.
The day had faded into evening by the time Charley finished her book, as she set it down she noticed that Throttle was finally awake. His fur matted and ruffled from sleep, he looked like an over hugged Teddy Bear. He shook himself and stretched. "I thought you were headed up to bed Charley girl." Throttle said as he scratched behind an ear.
"I did, LAST night. You guys have been asleep all day." Charley was smiling as she walked over and sat down next to Throttle. "Looks like you heros needed some extra sleep."
"Ya, its been a long couple of weeks. Between Limburger and the construction crews we havent been getting any sleep." Throttle yawned as he sat looking at Vinnie and Modo still fast asleep. "Guess I should wake them up."
"Why, theres nothing going on. I dont see why you guys shouldnt get a day off now and then. Anyway from the way your yawning it looks like you could do with a few more hours of sleep." Throttle didnt really feel like arguing, and any way Charley was right, a few more hours of sleep sounded like a good idea. "Maybe your right." Throttle proceeded to stretch out and fall asleep, as he did Charley headed for the office, she wanted to try calling her mother again.
The phone rang several times before someone answered, and then the voice on the other end wasnt Charleys mother. For a moment Charley thought she had dialed the wrong number, but she was sure she hadnt. "Is Mrs. Davidson there?" There was a pause before the voice answered "Yes, hold on." After a minute Charley heard her mothers voice on phone. "This is Mrs. Davidson."
"Hi mom, I thought Id call and see how you are doing. Im sorry, I didnt know you had company."
The was a hesitation in her mother voice. "Thats all right darling. Weve just been sitting here talking. How are you doing?"
"Im fine. I was finally able to finish that book you loaned me, Ill return it next time I come out." Charley could hear muffled voices in the background. "So is your company any one I know?"
"Just and old friend and his sister. They dropped in last night, weve been talking about old times."
"Old times?" Something in the way her Mother had said the phrase, left her wondering. "So who is this old friend?"
"Hes someone your father and I knew back when we were with the Carnival, it was before you were born." Charley could tell that there was something her Mother wasnt saying.
"Then he knew Jayce." Charley regretted saying it before shed finished. "Im sorry mom, its just that, well, Ive been talking with the guys about Jayce. I guess he was still on my mind."
Her Mothers voice was quiet "I understand dear, Ive known for a long time that you have a lot of questions about your brother and Im sorry I havent been willing to sit down and talk to you about him. Maybe we should change that. Do you have any plans for the evening dear?" Charley was stunned by her Mothers sudden change of heart.
"No, no plans." Before Charley could say anything her mother went on.
"Good why dont you come out to the house then and well all sit down and let you find out about your brother." Her Mother always could find some way to surprise her. "See you in a while Charlene." Her mother paused for a moment "Charlene, are your friends around, the furry ones?"
It was odd that her mother would ask about the guys, "Yes, theyre here but theyre asleep, why?"
"Just wondering. I dont think my friend is ready to meet them, so could you come alone?"
"Sure. Ill leave the guys a note. Ill see you in a little while." Charley wasnt sure what to make of her mothers request, but it didnt matter. After she hung up the phone she walked out of the office with her jacket she and looked over to see if the guys were still asleep. She considered waking Throttle to tell him where she was going, but decided to leave them a note instead. She put on her coat and went out to the wrecker keys in hand. She was looking forward to finally having her Mother talk honestly about Jayce.
Centerline and his mother stood holding each other for a long time. This was something he had never expected to be doing, returning to Earth was one thing but having his Mother accept him, as he was now, he still couldnt believe it.
After what seem like hours, his Mother eased her head back from his shoulder.
"Youve changed." Centerline wanted to laugh but thought it wasnt the right moment. "Well, it has been over 20 years, youve changed a little too." His Mother laughed as she stood there considering her son.
"I imagine I have. But I think youve change more. Youve grown, and put on some fur." This time Centerline did laugh. "I am sorry mom. I know this isnt quite what you imagined Id grow up to be.
"I guess it could have been worse. You could have come back as a Plutarkian."
"Not a chance." He helped her ease back into the chair. She was still shaking a little.
"Jayce, what did happen to you? How did you end up like this?"
"Its not as bad as it seems. I like who I am now. I happier than I can ever remember being, even with all Ive been through. This is who I am now." Centerline sat back down on the floor in front of his Mother.
"So, who exactly are you now?"
"Well, like I said, my name is Centerline. It should be obvious why." Centerline ran his fingers though the thick black mane of fur on his head to underline the point. "I have a wife, and a son."
"A son? Im a Grandmother now?" The disbelief showed in her eyes.
"Yes, I guess you are."
"So how old is my Grandson?" She was smiling now. Centerline wasnt surprised by the question, his mother had always want to have grandkids.
"Rimfire will be 19 in a few weeks. Its hard to believe how fast time goes by, I remember when he was barely an arm full."
"Rimfire? Rimfire is YOUR son?" There was a surprise in her voice he hadnt expected. "Yes, his name is Rimfire actually he is Modos "
"nephew. Yes I know, Ive met him." It took a minute for Centerline to catch on to what his Mother had said. "Youve met Rimfire, hes here on Earth?"
"He was on Earth, last I knew he was back on Mars." She was smiling, and had a far off look in her eyes. "So thats my Grandson."
"Mother, would you tell me what my son was doing on Earth? Not that it isnt a nice place and all but it isnt like theres a commuter service between Mars and Earth these days, or is there?" The confusion Centerline was feeling showed up in his words.
"A lot has happened Jayce, or should I be calling you Centerline?"
"Centerline is who I am now. Im sorry to say it but Jayce is just a memory." His Mother considered him for a moment "Im not sure I completely understand son, but whether you call yourself Centerline or Jayce, you are still my son, and always will be."
Centerline couldnt meet his mothers eyes, but his concern for his son was eating at him. "Mother, tell me about Rimfire, I havent seen him in almost 3 years now, how is he, what is he like?"
"Hes growing up to be a fine young man, I mean mouse. You should be proud of him." Centerline could hear the pride in his mothers voice.
"I take that to mean you like your Grandson." Centerline smiled as he spoke. He was finally beginning to feel at home, but talking about family had awakened an old memory. "Mom, what happened to Charley?"
"Shes fine. Shes running the Last Chance now, and has grown up to be quite a mechanic, and a very pretty young woman. She looks a lot like I did when I was her age." His mother paused for a moment before continuing "Im not sure how I am going to explain this to her."
"I guess its going to be a surprise. But you seem to have handled it, and if Charley is friends with the guys, it wont be a total shock."
"Given time Im sure Charlene will understand." Centerline could see that something was bothering his mother, but she continued before he could say anything. "Jayce, I mean Centerline, I havent told Charlene much about you, I mean Jayce. Talking about you, Jayce that is, has never been easy for me. Your father took your disappearance hard. I guess I didnt handle things much better. Over the years Charlene has asked about you, but Ive never felt comfortable talking about you, and so havent told her much." His mother sat there, looking into his eyes "I have no idea how I am going to tell her youre back."
"For the moment it would be better if you didnt say anything at all. I doubt that Vinnie, Throttle, and Modo, are going to be happy to see me."
"I dont understand. Why are you so sure they wont want to see you?"
Centerline didnt know how to explain what had happened between him and his Bros. He sat considering what to say when he heard Harleys voice from behind him. "They think Centerline is a traitor."