It was the middle of the Martian day, and the Sand Raiders were still trying to dig out the remains of the Transporter Centerline and Harley had used to escape. On a dune not far away a single Freedom Fighter scout watched the activity with interest. Carbine had gotten word of the Sand Raiders activities in this area and she had sent Rimfire to check it out. Rimfire still wasnt sure why Stoker had insisted on coming along, but it was good to have company.
"So whats going on down there Rimfire?" Stoker was laying on his back with his arms folded behind his head looking at the sky.
"Nothing new, theyre still digging in the rubble. I wish we knew what they were after." Rimfire was still watching the scene through binoculars.
"So do I kid. This place has been abandoned for over 20 years, I cant imagine what the fish heads would want from here now, but we better find out."
"Stoker, what was this place." Rimfire had lowered the binoculars, but he was still watching the Sand Raiders work.
"A Plutarkian lab."
"There sure isnt much left. It must have been some battle." Stoker slowly rolled over and looked at the ruins for awhile before he answered. "Wasnt a battle kid, at least not the kind of battle youre thinking about."
"What happened then, the Plutarkians blew themselves up?" Rimfires gaze had shifted to Stoker.
"In a way. They created something they couldnt control, and it got away from them. He didnt leave much behind." Stoker kept watching the activity of the Sand Raiders.
"HE?" Rimfires question got Stokers attention. Stoker eased up on his side and looked at Rimfire. Rimfire could see from the look on Stokers face that he was thinking about something. Stoker went back to watching the Sand Raiders before he spoke. "I guess its about time you knew the truth." Stoker reached over and took the binoculars from Rimfire. He checked on the Sand Raiders progress before he continued. "What Im going to tell you is something you can never repeat, to anyone. Youre joining a very select group kid, only 4 people on Mars know about this. Its a secret weve kept for over 20 years so far, and one that has to be kept forever."
"So why tell me?"
"Because kid, its about your father, Centerline." Stoker looked over at Rimfire to see how he would take the answer.
"If its about my father Id rather not know. Not after what he did." There was a touch of anger in Rimfires voice.
"Its about time you knew the truth about that too. Your father is no traitor, he was the Resistances contact with a group of Sand Raiders that were loyal to Mars and opposed to what the Plutarkians were doing. What Vinnie saw that night was Centerline getting information on where Mace had taken Harley."
"Well if thats true then why didnt you say something when Vinnie accused my father of being a traitor." Stoker knew that no matter what he said Rimfire wasnt going to be happy. "I couldnt risk exposing our contacts inside the Sand Raider camp. The information they were giving us was too important. Your father knew the risks. I know that it doesnt make what happened any easier Rimfire, but the information we were getting was saving Martian lives, and that was all that mattered to your father."
"So who else knows about this?" Rimfire was upset.
"Only Carbine, and she only found out about it a year ago." Stoker could see this was rough on Rimfire. "And Im afraid that you cant tell anyone else about it, either. Sorry kid. I know this stinks, but its the way it has to be." Rimfire thought about it while he stared at the horizon.
"Thanks for telling me Stoker. At least I know my father isnt a traitor to his own kind."
"Ya, well, theres more. You see your father is the one who trashed that lab down there. Well him and that bike of his." Rimfire looked at Stoker with disbelief, then shifted his gaze to the remains of the lab below. "Oh, mama" was all he could say.
"More like Oh, papa."
Rimfire suddenly turned to Stoker "I thought you said something the Plutarkians created trashed the lab."
"Thats what I started out to explain, kid. Centerline, your father, he isnt, well, Martian." Stoker could see that Rimfire didnt believe him. "Dont get me wrong, your father is all mouse, he just wasnt born that way. He wasnt even born on Mars. He was born a Human, on Earth."
Rimfire stared at Stoker for a long time before he spoke, "Stoker I dont get this. Youre trying to tell me that my father is a Human? That doesnt make any sense. You must have your wires crossed."
"fraid not kid, and I didnt say your father IS Human, I said he was Human. Hes as Martian as any of us, now. But Karbunkle did some pretty awful things to him to make him that way. I know its tough to accept, but it is the truth. Your father is a Human that Karbunkle transformed into a Martian, and it happened in that Lab below us." Rimfire didnt want to accept it "Im sorry Stoker I just dont believe you."
"Ask your mom, she knows." Stokers voice was calm and quiet, and left Rimfire with little choice except to believe him. "So why tell me this now?"
"Because I think your old enough to know, and because I think it has something to do with our friends down there." Stoker hooked a thumb toward the Sand Raiders below. Just then the Sand Raiders started yelling. At first both Rimfire and Stoker thought they had been seen, but when the Sand Raiders didnt come storming up the dune, they took a closer look at what was going on. Stoker still had the binoculars and was scanning the area the Sand Raiders had been digging up. "Looks like the found what they were after."
"Can you see what it is?" Rimfire couldnt make out any details in the rubble below.
"Yes, its a Plutarkian Transporter, or at least whats left of one."
"What would they want with a demolished Transporter?" None of this made any sense to Rimfire.
"Wait, I see some one new down there. Well Ill be, its my old friend Mace, and as ugly as ever. What say you and I invite ourselves to the party. You up for a little tail whipping kid?" Stoker was already starting to get to his feet.
"Am I ever!"
Rimfire and Stoker headed their bikes for what was left of the lab. The Sand Raiders were so involved in salvaging the Transporter that they didnt notice the two mice until they were inside the remains of the lab. Stoker headed for Mace while Rimfire kept the others busy. Mace turned around when he heard Stokers motorcycle coming toward him. Stoker noticed that Mace was holding the control panel from the Transporter, "Ill take that." And Stoker landed a solid hit to Maces chin knocking Mace backward. Stoker grabbed the control panel before it hit the ground and took off with Rimfire right behind him.
Once Stoker was sure they hadnt been followed he stopped to take a look at the controls he had taken from Mace. Rimfire had pulled up along side him. "So why did the Sand Raiders go to all that effort for a piece of junk."
"Im not sure kid, but I think this might have something to do with Centerline and Harley." Stoker was examining the settings on the control panel.
"Harley, whats Harley got to do with this?" Stoker smiled as he looked at Rimfire. "Guess I forgot to mention that I got word your dad had rescued Harley from Mace a few months back."
"A few months?! Why didnt you say something sooner. Weve got to find them."
"Hold on kid, thats exactly why I didnt say anything before now. Centerline knows Mace is after them. When he feels its safe hell find us. Right now we need to get this piece of junk to someone who can tell us what it means. If Mace and the fish heads want this so much it must be important." Stokers voice was stern. "Anyway all that rock the Sand Raiders were moving came down pretty recently, and since the last report on your fathers location put him near here, I suspect that this may all be connected somehow."
"Well then what are we waiting for, lets get moving."
"Jayce a traitor?!" His mother was outraged. "I cant believe it."
"Centerline isnt a traitor, everyone just thinks he is. He was trying to get information about where Mace had taken me, unfortunately he didnt know that Vinnie had followed him. When Vinnie saw Centerline talking to a Sand Raider he jumped to the wrong conclusion. By the time Centerline returned to headquarters, Vinnie had already told Throttle, Carbine, Stoker, and Modo, what he had seen. Centerline didnt get a chance to explain, before Vinnie started throwing punches. Centerlines bike ended the fight with a few well placed shots and Centerline took off before anyone could stop him. He spent the next three years looking for me." Centerline was glad Harley was telling the story, it wasnt a tale he looked forward to repeating, and it made him uncomfortable not telling the whole story, but even here on Earth, Centerline did want to risk saying too much.
"I thought wed taught you never to run from a fight." Even with out looking at her Centerline could feel his mothers eyes burning holes in him.
"I didnt have the time, I had to start out after Harley as soon as possible, or risk loosing the trail." It was the truth, just not all of it, and it left Centerline with a way to change the subject. "Anyway, I knew I could explain once Id gotten Harley back, and brought Mace to justice."
It seemed like forever before his mother finally spoke. "Well, well get this matter cleared up later." Centerline was amazed by how his mother could still make him feel like a 10 year old in trouble. "But for right now I imagine that you two would like some breakfast."
"Its been a long time since either of us has had real food. Weve been living off field rations for the past three months." Harley was excited by the prospect of hot food that actually tasted like something. "And Im not sure when the last time Centerline actually ate something was."
"Well then we better get you two fed." Centerlines mother started for the door that led upstairs. "Oh, and after breakfast well see about finding you two some clean clothes, ones that arent quite so, fragrant."
Centerline looked sheepishly at Harley, "Arent you glad we took showers now?"
Harley gave her brother a dirty look and followed after his mother.
Centerline stood there for a moment still surprised by how things were going. After the past three months, it looked like theyre luck had finally changed. He just hoped it went this well with his Bros.
It had been a hard ride but Rimfire and Stoker had made good time getting back to base. Stoker took the Transporter controls to a couple of mice he knew could work out the settings, then collected Rimfire and went looking for Carbine. He found her watching the sunset from a balcony. "Carbine, we found out what the Sand Raiders were doing." Stoker paused to see what Carbine would say, when she didnt respond he continued. "They were salvaging a Transporter at Karbunkles old lab."
"Did you find out why." Carbine was still watching the sunset with her back to Stoker and Rimfire.
"Not exactly, but I can make a good guess."
"Its what you thought then. The Sand Raiders were after Centerline and Harley." Carbine closed her eyes and lowered her head. She was exhausted.
"It sure looks like it. There arent many people who even know that lab existed. And only one I can thing of who would actually go there. Theres something else, Mace was there with the Sand Raiders."
"That confirms it then. So do we know where Centerline and Harley are now?" This was the closest they had come to catching up with Centerline and Harley in months, another near miss. This was getting old.
"Not yet. It looks like they used the Transporter to escape and rigged it to self-destruct afterward. The explosion brought the walls down on top of what was left. The Sand Raiders found the control panel but Rimfire and I convinced them they should let us have it." Stoker was rubbing his knuckles, they were still a little sore from the blow hed given Mace.
"Where is the control panel now?" Carbine knew that Stoker would take care of getting the control panel to the right people, she was just trying to keep the conversation going, it was difficult when all she could thing about was sleep.
"I have a couple of people working on it, they wont say anything."
"Good." Carbine turned to face Stoker and noticed Rimfire was there too. "Rimfire what are you doing here."
"I told him." Stoker knew that Carbine wasnt going to be happy about it.
"You told him, you told him what?" Carbine was wide awake now. She hated problems like this.
"I told him the truth. Hes old enough to know and hell keep his mouth shut." Stoker knew that what hed done was right, now he just had to convince Carbine.
"How much did you tell him." Carbine was worried. She, Stoker, and Rimfires mother had talked about tell Rimfire the truth, but Carbine wasnt convinced that Rimfire could handle it yet.
"Most of it. He knows his father isnt a traitor, and he knows where his father came from. It was time Carbine. Weve talk about when to tell him too many times, hes old enough now."
"Im not sure that was such a good idea Stoker."
"He has a right to know the truth. After all Centerline is his father."
Rimfire had all he could take. "You two are talking about me like I wasnt even here. I know, so what, I understand that I cant talk about it, and I wont. It may not be the best news Ive ever heard but Im not sorry I know. Centerline is my father and nothing is going to change that. So whats the problem?"
"Im sorry Rimfire. I know youll keep this to yourself, its just "
Carbine stopped in mid-sentence when she noticed someone approaching. Stoker turned to see what Carbine was looking at.
"Oh, hi Kickstart, what can we do for you." Stoker had expected Kickstart to show up, just not this soon. "Ive got that info you wanted Stoker."
"So what did you find out?" Stoker was surprised that Kickstart had been able to decode the Transporter setting this fast.
Kickstart hesitates, looking at Carbine and Rimfire.
"Its OK. Theyre part of this." Stoker knew he could trust Kickstart to keep what he had found out a secret.
"OK, it took us a while until we noticed that the destination settings were preprogrammed, and the controls were locked out. From then on it was pretty simple to decode." Kickstart was proud of himself, there wasnt much left of the control panel that Stoker had brought him. It was a sheer luck that the Transporters memory module was still intact.
"Good work, so whats the answer." Stoker was trying not to seem in a hurry for the information.
"Earth, Chicago to be precise." Kickstart was startled by the response he got. Stoker, Carbine, and Rimfire all spoke at the same time, "Chicago?!"
Centerline had almost forgotten how good a cook his mother was, and what Earth food was like. He and Harley finished off everything his mother made. After helping her with the dishes they went upstairs to find some clean clothes.
"I doubt that we are going to find much that is going to fit you Centerline, but Harley is about Charlenes size, I sure we can find something that will fit. With some minor alterations of course." Centerlines mother was digging through a closet in what had been Charlenes room. There were pictures and miscellaneous knickknacks around the room that Centerline assumed belonged to his sister.
"Here we go these should fit you Harley. Ill have to make a place for your tail, but that should only take a few minutes. This shirt should fit you nicely." His mother had always been one of those people who believed in helping others. Centerline was glad she hadnt changed. But now Centerline knew he had to ask a question he had been avoiding all morning. "Mom, wheres dad?"
His mother stood looking at him for several minutes before she spoke. "He passed away almost 10 years ago Centerline. Im sorry, It hadnt even occurred to me to tell you." Centerline wasnt surprised. He had hoped that his father might still be alive, but when he hadnt seen him around the house he had begun to suspect. "Its OK mom. I just wasnt sure."
"Son, your father forgave you a long time a go. He knew you didnt run away, you would never have left your motorcycle behind. He loved you very much and all he ever wanted was for you to be safe." Centerline quietly walked out into the hallway to give his mom and Harley some privacy while Harley changed, and to be alone for awhile.
Harley started to get up to go after Centerline, but Centerlines mother stopped her. "Harley, this is something he has to work out on his own."
When Harley emerged from Charlenes room she was wearing a pair of brown leather boots, faded jeans, and a work shirt that was a couple of sizes too large. "You look good." Centerline smiled at his little sister.
"How are you doing?" Harley was concerned about her brother.
"Ill be all right. I just need to get my mind off things, thats all." Centerline was leaning against the wall, looking at his little sister and still smiling.
"Its good to see you smile again, its been a long time." Harley slid her arms around her brother and hugged him. Centerline hugged her back gently.
"Well if you want to get your mind off your troubles theres nothing like a little hard work." Centerline laughed, that had always been his mothers favorite saying.
"I guess your right. I should most likely start by washing my bike, I did promise it I would give it a bath today." Harley let go of her brother, and looked him over. "And just what are you going to wear?"
"I guess what Ive got on will have to do until I can clean my other clothes. Anyway I expect I can find a pair of shorts in my old clothes that will fit." Centerline headed for the stairs "Ill be in the back yard, if anyone is looking for me."
Harley was left standing in the hallway. She looked over at Centerlines mother who was standing in the doorway. "Thanks for the clothes, is there anything I can help you with around here?"
"Yes, actually, you can help me get out the family photo albums, so you can learn about the other half of your family. That is if you want to."
"Id like that."
It didnt take Centerline long to find a pair of shorts. He grabbed some old towels and headed for the garage where his bike was parked. "Hey bike time for that bath I promised you." As Centerline walked past his bike, he grabbed a bucket, brush, wax, and polish, and opened the outside door. He headed up the ramp with his bike following him. Centerline walked to the back yard and filled the bucket with water from the garden hose, then set to washing the years of dirt from his motorcycle. The clear blue sky and the warm sun make the job even more enjoyable.
It took Centerline hours to clean the dirt from his bike. Once he has he set about giving his bike a much needed wax and polish. When he was finally done his bike looks like he remembered it, paint as black as midnight, and chrome so bright you can see yourself in it. He could tell the bike was happy to be clean, it is almost purring. "Just like old time, eh bike?"
Centerline stood up, his knees were stiff from the hours of work. As he headed toward the house he saw his mother and Harley sitting on the back porch, looking through photo albums. Centerline settled in on the top step, his back against the railing. His bike had followed along and moved into a shady spot. His mother looked him over. "Looks like you need another bath." Centerline looked down at his chest and noticed that he was covered with red Martian sand, and spots of wax and polish. "I guess so." He rested his head against the railing, and enjoyed the warm sun, absentmindedly flicking his tail.
"Thats a beautiful bike you have. Im surprised youd let it get that dirty." Centerline smiled, his mother had no idea what he and his bike had been through and he intended to keep it that way. "I havent had a lot of opportunities to keep up on that kind of thing." He decided a change of subject was in order. "So what have you two been doing?"
"Ive been introducing Harley to the other half of her family. Im surprised at how little youve told her." Mom being mom again, Centerline thought.
"Considering Ive never told Harley that I was once Human, Id think it would be understandable." Centerline was astounded by how quiet his mother got. He had expected her to admonish him for not tell Harley. As he thought about it he wondered how Harley was doing, considering how she found out about his past. "Harley are you mad at me for not telling you?"
"Mad? No, Ive known about it for a long time." Harley was so matter of fact about it, Centerline didnt realize what she had said for a moment. When it did sink in he turned to look at his sister. "And just how did you find out?" Harley wasnt supposed to have known about it, and it bothered Centerline that she had been able to find out.
"I overheard you and Stoker talking one night when I was about 15. I admit it was a shock at the time, but it did explain a lot of odd things about you. It took me awhile but I realized it didnt change the fact that you were my older brother, and that I loved you." She looked up from the photo album. "And I still do."
"So why havent you ever said anything?" Harley smiled at Centerline. "Because you never brought it up, I knew it was a secret I wasnt supposed to know, so I kept quiet. Anyway I figured youd tell be when you were ready."
Centerline shook his head and settled back in against the railing. "You might have waited a long time."
Harley and Centerlines mother went back to looking through the photo albums while Centerline sat and listened, sitting in the sunshine, half dozing, it was nice to be able to relax.
When Centerline opened his eyes the sun had just started to set. He had slept for several hours. His fur had dried out and was dirty and matted. He headed around the side of the house and used the garage entrance to get to the shower in his room. He knew his mother would give him trouble if he tried to go through the house. His bike followed him, wanting to stay close to its rider, and unsure of how to handle the major change in its surroundings. Centerline closed the garage door after his bike had rolled in, he stood looking at it for a moment. "This must be tough for you. Everything has changed, no enemies, no battles, no running." Centerline knelt and ran his hand over his bike. "Its all right, were safe here, this is home now." Centerline understood what his bike was going though, he felt it too. The confusion, the uncertainty. "Were together in this, I am not going to leave you, I never have, and I never will. We were made in the same fire, by the same person. We will always be together." Centerline could see that his bike was calmer, ever since they had gotten to Earth his bike had had a certain tension about it, now that was gone. Centerline felt better too. Having said what he was feeling made it seem all right. He stood up, running his had over his bikes handlebars. "Get some rest. Ill be close by." Centerline headed for the shower.
Once he was clean again, Centerline pulled the sweat pants back on. He had gone through his old Human clothes, but everything was too small. He had cleaned up his leather pants, but it was going to take time to get all the dirt and stench out of them. So for now he was stuck being bare foot, and wearing sweat pants.
He headed up stairs to see what Harley and his mom were up too. He found them in the kitchen relaxing and talking. He helped himself to a soda from the fridge and joined them at the table.
"Well Im glad to see you up and around, and clean too." His mother was smiling, she reached over and patted his arm.
"You left me sleeping out on the porch."
"You looked so comfortable I didnt want to wake you. Anyway Harley and I only came in half an hour ago. We were just about to go out and wake you."
Centerline doubted that, his mother had once left him sleeping on the back porch all night to teach him a lesson. It rained that night too, he was soaked to the bone when he woke up. Mom had a way of making her point. He decided not to pursue the issue. "So, Harley, you all caught up on the family?"
"Pretty much. At least now I understand where you learned to ride, and where you got your sense of humor." Harleys smile make Centerline feel good. He had always loved her smile.
Centerline grinned. "That was dads doing."
"Dont blame it all on your father, you came up with a lot of it on your own." His mother was pretending to be stern, she knew Centerlines father had a great deal to do with his odd sense of humor but Centerline didnt want to get his mother started on the pranks he, and his father, had pulled when he was a kid. "So whats for dinner? Smells good."
"Youre actually hungry?" Harley sounded surprised.
"Good food makes for a good appetite, or so Modos gray furred mama always says." Mentioning Modos name reminded Centerline of what was eventually ahead but he didnt want to destroy the happy mood. "So what is that wonderful smell?"
"Meat loaf and baked potatoes." The way his mother said it she made it sound ordinary, but after three years of survival rations, it sounded like a feast. "So when will it be ready?"
"Another half an hour."
"Ive never heard you so enthusiastic about food." Harley was surprised by Centerlines sudden interest in food.
"Except for breakfast this is the first meal Ive had in years that wasnt condensed, freeze dried, or otherwise designed for long term storage and to be served at room temperature. Im in heaven." Harley was laughing. She wasnt sure why, but it felt good. Centerlines mother had gotten up and was rummaging in the refrigerator. Just then the phone rang. "Harley would you get that."
Harley answered the phone before she realized what she was doing. The womans voice on the other end of the phone sounded confused.
Harley turned to Centerline and his mother, "Shes asking for a Mrs. Davidson."