Kickstart was surprised at the reception his news got. Stoker, Rimfire, and Carbine were standing there mouths open, looking at him like he had said Plutarkians were coming to dinner. It wasnt quiet the pat on the back he had expected, and since, it seemed, no one was going to say anything else, he left.
It took the three of them several minutes to sort out their thoughts. Stoker was the first to recover. "Looks like Centerline is in for some trouble."
"What?" Carbine was still in shock.
"I doubt that Throttle, Modo, and Vinnie, are going to be very friendly." Stoker walked to the balcony and looked out at the last rays of the setting sun.
"So what do we do now?" Rimfire had finally come back to his senses.
"WE dont do anything. Ill take the Stalker ship and head for Earth, maybe if I get there before Centerline runs into the guys I can get them to listen to reason." Carbine knew it was a lousy plan, but she was having trouble thinking straight, a result of not enough sleep.
"Hold on a minute, Centerline is MY father, I have a right to go, and anyway if hes hurt, or worse, do you think YOU can control his bike?" Carbine hated the fact the Rimfire was right. "All right you can come along, but stay out of trouble, and keep you mouth shut."
"Fine." Rimfire was angry that Carbine was treating him like a kid again.
"Well all go" Stoker turned around and faced Rimfire and Carbine. "and there isnt going to be any argument about it. Carbine, your going to need all the help you can get to convince the guys that Centerline isnt a traitor. And Rimfire is right, If anything has happened to Centerline were going to need him to control Centerlines bike. Neither of us could get with in shooting distance of that machine if Centerlines out of the picture. So how soon can we leave?"
"A couple of hours, the ship needs to be fueled. You know this isnt going to be a joy ride, the Plutarkians have Mars blockaded." Carbine wished she could put this off until tomorrow, a good nights sleep was the only thing she wanted to think about right now.
"The Stalker ship should make things a lot easier." Stoker had noticed that Carbine was dead on her feet. "Carbine, Rimfire and I will take care of getting the ship ready, why dont you head over there now and find a place in the back of the ship to sleep. Ill wake you when we get to Earth."
"Thanks Stoker. I doubt I could have stayed awake much longer." Carbine headed off for the ship. Stoker turned to Rimfire. "Kid, Ill take care of getting the ship ready, you go find your mom and tell her whats going on. I want her to know were going after your dad."
"Sure thing Stoke, Ill meet you at the ship in an hour."
"See you then kid." Stoker watched Rimfire leave, then he turned and looked up toward Earth. "See you soon Centerline, old friend."
Charley was glad it took awhile to get to her moms house. It gave her time to get her thoughts in order.
By the time she got to her moms house the sun had already set. Charley didnt see any cars parked in the driveway or in front of the house. Usually she would park the wrecker in the driveway, but since mom had company, she figured it might be a good idea to park on the street. The front porch light was on and the front door was open, mom was expecting her. Charley opened the screen door and let herself in. She hung up her jacket as she walked down the hallway. She heard voices coming from the direction of the kitchen and headed toward them. As she walked down the hall toward the kitchen the voices got louder and clearer. She heard laughter, but couldnt quite make out the words yet. She walked into the kitchen and froze. What she saw floored her. Her mother was sitting at the kitchen table with a pair of Martian mice.
Centerline was the first to notice Charley, For a minute he didnt recognize her, but when he saw her bright green eyes he knew it had to be his sister. He sat staring at her. She had grown so much since he last saw her, she was a beautiful woman now. His mother had shown him pictures of her, but they didnt do her justice.
Harley and his mother followed Centerlines gaze to find Charley standing frozen in the doorway.
"Charlene, come in and sit down." Charley was so stunned that she didnt respond to her mothers voice. "Its all right dear, theyre friends. Please, sit down." Charley nearly missed the seat of the chair as she sat down. Her gaze was fixed on Centerline.
"Have you had dinner yet dear?" Her mother was trying to make the unusual situation seem normal. "There is still some Meat loaf and a baked potato you can have."
"I, I didnt get any dinner." Was all Charley could stammer out. Her mother set about putting food on a plate for her daughter. "Who are you?" Charley was beginning to recover from the shock of finding them in her mothers house.
"My name is Centerline, this is my sister, Harley."
It took Charley a moment to understand the significance of what Centerline had said. "Harley?, Vinnies Harley?" Charley felt like she was in a dream that didnt make sense.
"Im not sure Id go that far, but yes, Im that Harley."
"But I thought Mace, I mean Vinnie told me that Mace, I mean I thought you were kidnapped by Mace." Charley was having a difficult time thinking straight, too much was happening too fast.
"I was kidnapped by Mace, my brother came to my rescue."
Charley was trying to put the words together for her next sentence when her mother put the plate of food in front of her. "Eat something dear, then well talk some more." Charley didnt argue.
By the time Charley had finished the food in front of her she was able to think again. "So how did you two end up here, I mean on Earth, and in my mothers house?"
"We had been running from the Sand Raiders for months. We hid out at an old abandoned Plutarkian lab. I was able to get a Plutarkian Transporter working and we used it to escape from the Sand Raiders. It dumped us here, in Chicago." Centerline knew he would have to fill in the details later, but for now he wanted to keep things simple.
"But how did you end up here, at my mothers house?" Charley wasnt going to let it go.
"It started raining, we needed some shelter, this house was dark, and looked abandoned, so we hid out here." Centerline was trying to get Charley to move on, he didnt want to tell her all of the truth yet, he doubted that she could handle it.
Charley was thinking about the past few hours, her conversation on the phone with her mother, and what she had just learned. "There is something I dont understand, you said you were talking with old friends, and that they knew Jayce." She was looking at her mother now.
"And I told you the truth, Charlene."
Charley looked at Centerline, "You knew my brother?".
Centerline had been thinking about how to handle this, he knew that he would have to explain things to Charley. He decided to take the long way to the truth. "Yes, I know Jayce."
"How?" Charley wasnt sure that she could believe Centerline.
"Charley, Ive known your brother for a long time, he talks about you a lot. I feel like youre my sister from all your brother has told me." Centerline wasnt lying. "Do you know about the fight your brother had with your father?"
"Yes." Charley wasnt about to fall into this, she wanted Centerline to prove what he said.
"Well your brother went to the park to give your dad some time to cool off, and to cool off himself. He fell asleep sitting against his bike. When he woke up he was on Mars." Centerline waited to see how Charley handled that much of the story.
"What?" Charleys disbelief got the better of her.
"I know this is going to be hard to understand, and even harder to believe." There were times Centerline thought it was all a bad dream. "Your brother, Jayce, was drawn into a Plutarkian plot to destroy the Martian Resistance forces." Centerline had never told anyone the entire story before, he found he couldnt look at Charley and continue, so he stared at the table top instead. "A mad scientist employed by the Plutarkians came up with an idea for destroying the Martian Resistance forces from the inside. You have to understand that Plutark hadnt start a full scale invasion of Mars yet, and the Plutarkians were still trying to keep a low profile. The Martian Resistance was a threat to that. The plan was to insert a traitor to destroy the Resistance from the inside, a traitor that the Martians couldnt discover. So they were going to create a Martian mouse, one with no ties to Mars, no loyalties, nothing that would get in the way of what it was to do. The Plutarkians needed a subject that wasnt from Mars or any planet that had heard of the Plutarkians. They chose Earth, and Jayce fit the bill. Young, strong, independent, and most of all an excellent motorcycle rider." Centerline paused, this was the part of the story he didnt like thinking about. "They kidnapped Jayce from the park and took him to Mars, to a Plutarkian lab where they transformed him into a Martian mouse. Jayce went through a lot. While they were transforming his body, they worked on his mind too. Re-programming him to be loyal to Plutark. The Plutarkians had planned for everything, they had even captured a Martian motorcycle, and had worked on it to the point where the poor machine would have accepted anything as a rider. It accepted Jayce with out question." Centerlines voice was quiet as he continued. "One night, after all the physical changes had been made, and Jayce was almost totally under Plutarkian control, his mind snapped. All the rage and anger at what had been done to him, all the pain and torture, finally broke the Plutarkian mind washing. He and his bike destroyed the Plutarkian lab and everything in it. In the process he release a group of Martian Freedom fighters that the Plutarkians had recently captured. When he finally got control of himself there wasnt much left of the lab."
"There wasnt much left of your brother either. He wasnt Human and he wasnt Martian. He had no where to go, no family, no friends, only the bike. The two of them spent the next year living in the burnt out ruins of the lab. One night Jayce was watching the stars as he had been doing every night for the past year, he saw lights over the horizon, and heard the sounds of muffled explosions. He and his bike went to investigate, from the top of a dune he sat on his bike and watched the battle below. A group of Martian Freedom fighters were attacking a Plutarkian stronghold, and the battle wasnt going well for the Martians. After watching for a few minutes your brother joined in. Fighting the Plutarkians felt good, he and his bike were able to turn the tide of the battle. When it was over Jayce and his bike sat watching the Plutarkian stronghold burn, then they rode off, back to the ruined lab that had become home. At the time Jayce didnt know that a single Freedom fighter had followed him. When he got back to the lab he settled into his favorite spot and went back to watching the stars. The Freedom fighter parked his bike near by and walked toward your brother. Jayces bike rolled between the Freedom fighter and Jayce. It spot lighted the mouse in its head light and aimed all its weapons at him. The Freedom fighter was cautious, and kept his voice steady as he spoke. My name is Stoker. I wanted to thank you for your help in fighting the fish heads. When Stoker didnt get a response, he tried again. Whats your name?, Jayce didnt answer him. Look, I just wanted to say thanks, you save a lot of lives. If you want to be alone Ill leave. All Jayce said in response was Bike, hes not an enemy. The bike slowly backed up and retracted its weapons. Stoker approached your brother slowly, aware that the bike was still focused on him. So that was some pretty mean riding you did back there, whered you learn to move like that? Stoker sat down next to Jayce. Jayce didnt answer him. Stoker sat there for awhile looking at the stars with your brother. So you never did tell me your name. Jayce wasnt sure what to tell Stoker, he knew he wasnt Jayce any more but he didnt know who he was now. I dont know. Stoker was beginning to put the pieces together. I heard a rumor from some friends of mine about a what happened at this lab a year ago. They told me that a crazy mouse with an equally crazy bike destroyed the place. They also told me that this mouse helped them escape from the Plutarkians. Jayce was quiet. He wasnt proud of what had happened, it just had. You wouldnt know anything about it, would you? Jayce looked at Stoker for a moment then went back to looking at the stars. Stoker knew he was right. He also realized that Jayce need help. Stokers eyes had adjusted to the faint light, and he was beginning to see what a mess Jayce was, Jayce needed a bath, his fur was matted and dirty, and he smelled like a Plutarkian. Kid, I dont know what youve been through, but you cant stay here any more. If you come with me, Ill make sure you get the help you need. Jayce knew that Stoker was right, it was time to move on. Stoker headed for his bike and Jayce followed. Stoker kept his word, he took your brother to a Martian family that took good care of him. Your brother turned out all right. He became a part of the family, and a part of Mars." Centerline didnt look up to see how Charley was taking the news. After a long silence, Centerline decided it was time to fill in the blanks.
"Charley, your brother has a family on Mars, A sister he loves as much as he loves you, a wife, and a son. From what Ive learned today you know his son, Rimfire, and his brother-in-law, Modo. And you just met his sister, Harley." Centerline waited for it to soak in. It took awhile before Charley said anything.
"Jayce?" was all she got out.
Centerline took the locket from around his neck, reached across the table and put it into Charleys hand. "I know its a little late, but, happy birthday little sister."
Stoker was waiting outside the Stalker ship for Rimfire, leaning against the ship, and standing just outside the pool of light coming from the open hatch. He saw Rimfire coming, long before Rimfire saw him. "Its about time kid, I was just about to take off with out you."
"Sorry Stoker, it took me longer than I thought it would." Rimfire headed into the ship past Stoker. "Is Carbine already here?"
"Fast asleep in the back. Thats one tired lady." Stoker closed the hatch and headed for the control room with Rimfire behind him. "Youve logged more time in this ship than I have, how about you fly us to Earth."
"Sure." Rimfire settled into the pilots seat and start up the ship. It only took him a couple of minutes and they were under way.
It was a quiet trip, they didnt run into any Plutarkian patrols as they left Mars. The silence aboard the ship gave Rimfire time to think about some of the things his mother had said to him before he left. There were questions he had wanted to ask his her, but didnt have the time. They had only been able to talk for a few minutes. There were also questions he want to ask Stoker, and now seemed to be a good time. "Stoker?"
"Ya kid." Stokers voice sounded like he had been sleeping.
"I didnt mean to wake you." Rimfire was changing his mind about asking Stoker.
"No problem. Ive been meaning to ask you how your mother took the news about Centerline." Stoker was sounding more clear headed.
"She was happy that he had gotten away from Mace, but she was also worried about him running into uncle Modo." Rimfire was worried too.
"Im not surprised. Hows your little sister, Chrome?"
"She getting big." Since Stoker had brought it up Rimfire decided to ask. "Does dad know about Chrome?"
"I dont know for sure. Your mother didnt find out she was going to have your little sister until a few days after Centerline took off after Harley. He may have heard about it, but I doubt it." Stoker was never sure if knowing he was going to be a father again would have made Centerline come back.
"Mom gave me a letter and some photos to give to dad, if we find him."
"Dont worry Rimfire, well find him." Stoker was sure of that.
They were just approaching Earth when Carbine walked into the control room. "Did I miss much?" She was looking a lot better than she had been on Mars.
"Nothing. Its been a boring trip. Not a Plutarkian in sight." Stoker sounded disappointed.
"Rimfire, Ill be glad to take the controls if you want a break." Carbine actually wanted to land the ship, Rimfire had a way of getting ships stuck in the score board at Quigley field, and Carbine wanted to make a quieter entrance than he usual did.
Rimfire suspected that Carbine didnt trust him to get the ship down in one piece, but he was tired, and willing to let her take over. "Thanks."
Carbine set the ship down behind the Last Chance Garage, her favorite parking space. It was dark, and there was no one around, but there was a light on inside the garage. The three of them got out of the ship and headed for the back door of the garage. Carbine wasnt sure whether to knock or just go in. Stoker made the decision by pushing past and opening the door for her. "After you."
Carbine walked through the door followed by Rimfire and Stoker to find Throttle, Modo, and Vinnie, asleep. She looked at stoker who had a mischievous grin as he spoke. "Do you want to wake them or do I get the honors?"
Carbine didnt want to spend the next hour watching the boys fight. "Ill wake them." Carbine sat down on the edge of the cot that Throttle was sleeping on and gently shook him. "Throttle, wake up." It took her a couple of tries, but Throttle final did come around.
"I must be dreaming, Carbine?" Throttle was still groggy
"Its me Throttle. We need to talk." Carbine stayed seated on the cot. Throttle rolled on to his back looking at her. "Any time pretty lady, what do you want to talk about." Throttle still wasnt sure this wasnt a dream.
Stoker could tell that Throttle wasnt completely awake yet. "Up
and atm rookie, this is serious."
Throttle sat up, he hadnt seen Stoker standing there. "Stoker? Rimfire? What are you doing here?" Now Throttle was awake, and sure this was no dream.
"Well explain, but first we need to wake up Modo and Vinnie." Carbine gave Throttle a hug. "Ive missed you."
"And Ive missed you too, Carbine." Throttle was glad to be holding Carbine again.
Rimfire walked over to where Modo was sleeping. "Uncle Modo, wake up, it me Rimfire."
"Rimfire?" Modo sat up. "Rimfire!" Modo was on his feet and hugging Rimfire before Rimfire had time to react. "Rimfire, its great to see you nephew."
"Its good to see you too uncle Modo." Rimfire was having a hard time getting the words out, Modos hug was making it hard to breath.
Stoker shook Vinnie to wake him up. "Wake up punk."
"Just another half hour, Throttle." Vinnie was still asleep.
"Rise and shine, loverboy." Stoker gave Vinnie a hard shake that kocked him onto the floor.
"Hey!" It took Vinnie a minute to get his eyes to focus. "Well, old timer, not exactly who Id pick for a wake up call." Vinnie was ready to spring, a little good natured fight was a great way to wake up. "but youll do."
Carbine knew that if she didnt stop things now theyd be at it for hours. "We dont have time for this." He patience was wearing thin.
"Whoa, Sweetheart, dont blow a gasket. We werent going to hurt each other, at least not much." Vinnie was getting ready to tackle Stoker.
"Vinnie stop it." Carbine was getting mad, they had more important things to deal with. "We have to talk, ALL of us. Something has happened, and you three are in the middle of it."
"Hey, Carbine, Vinnie didnt mean anything." Throttle was trying to calm her down. "What is so important you came all the way to Earth?"
"Centerline." Carbine knew the name alone would get their attention.
"Whats that scum sucker done now." Vinnies voice showed his anger.
"Hey, dont talk that way about my dad!" Now that Rimfire knew the truth about his father, he wasnt willing to put up with Vinnies attitude.
"Rimfire, go sit down, this is going to take time to explain." Carbine knew what Rimfire must be feeling, but now was not the time to fight. Rimfire walked over to the refrigerator on the far side of the garage, helped himself to a soda and dropped into a nearby chair.
"Carbine, why would you come all the way to Earth because of Centerline?" Throttle wanted to see where this was going.
"Because we suspect that Centerline is here on Earth, in Chicago." She was trying to take things slowly, but the conversation had gotten away from her.
"WHAT!" was all that the three could get out. She had their attention now.
"And were pretty sure he has Harley with him." She waited for it to sink in.
"Harley?! Harleys here? Weve got to find her." Vinnie didnt make it to his feet, Stoker push him back down on the floor. "Later hero, theres more."
"Carbine, I dont understand how did Centerline get here, and whats Harley doing with him?" Carbine knew she could count on Throttle to ask questions first, and ride later, at least some of the time.
"Its a long story, but theres something you have to know first. Centerline isnt a traitor." She knew Vinnie wasnt going to take the truth easily, he was convinced of what he had seen. "What!, Sweetheart I saw him giving info to the Sand Raiders."
"You dont know what you saw." Carbine wished none of this had every happened.
"What you saw, punk, was Centerline GETTING information from the Sand Raiders, that was his job." Carbine was relieved that Stoker had taken over. "You werent supposed to be there. You caused a lot of problems with that big mouth of yours." Stoker was finally getting to say what he had wanted to say for years. "Centerline was the Resistances contact to a group of Sand Raiders that were opposed to what the Plutarkians were up to. If you had followed orders none of this would have happened."
"Wait a minute, Sand Raiders working with the Resistance? That I dont believe." Throttle was having a hard time swallowing this.
"There are a few good apples, even in a barrel full of rotten ones. The information theyd been giving us saved a lot of freedom fighters lives." Stoker was trying his best to keep his temper under control.
"So if all this is true why didnt you just tell us when Vinnie accused Centerline?" Modo was glaring at Stoker.
"I couldnt risk exposing our contacts in the Sand Raiders." Stoker hated saying it. Centerline was a good friend, he had hated not defending him.
"So you let Centerline take the blame." Modo couldnt believe this.
"He knew the risks, and he accepted them. All he cared about was saving lives." Stoker was glad to finally be giving Centerline the credit he deserved.
The pieces where coming together for Throttle, but some of them didnt fit right. "Ok, so I might believe that there were Sand Raiders opposed to the Plutarkians. I might even believe that Centerline was our contact to them. But I dont believe that you would leave him hanging."
Stoker almost hadnt, but the information they had been getting was important. "I didnt have a choice, if ego mouse here had waited until we were alone to open his big mouth I might have been able to explain, but he didnt, the setting was too public, I couldnt risk the operation by saying anything, and Centerline knew it. Why do you think he didnt try to defend himself."
"You call that not defending himself?" Vinnie what rubbing his head, remembering the lumps he had gotten fighting with Centerline.
"So why wait till now to tell us?" Throttle was all ears.
"Throttle, I didnt even know until a year ago. Were still getting information from the Sand Raiders. Were telling you now because" Carbine couldnt finish her sentence. She didnt know what to say.
Stoker picked up the pieces. "Were telling you know because its time you knew, and because Centerline is here, with Harley, and because there are bigger problems."
"Bigger problems?" Throttle didnt like the sound of this. "What do you mean Bigger problems?"
"For the past three years Centerline has been chasing after Mace to get Harley back. Three months ago he did. Ive been getting reports through our contacts in the Sand Raiders about them. Centerline and Harley are OK, but, Centerlines bike is a different matter. It seems they have gotten cornered a couple of times and had to fight their way out. Centerlines style hasnt changed much from what I hear, but his bike has been getting more forceful lately." Stoker wasnt sure how to explain.
"Define forceful Stoker." Stoker could see that Throttle was catching on.
"Does the term terminal force answer your question?" Stoker didnt want to get into details.
"Not for me it doesnt, just what are you trying to say old timer? Vinnie was still trying to pick a fight with Stoker.
"His bike has a little more fire power than you know about." Stoker didnt want to get into the where and how of Centerlines and his bikes creation.
"Just how much more fire power are we talking here?" Throttle was getting the picture.
"Enough to be a major problem if Centerline isnt there to control his bike. Thats why Rimfire is here. Hes the only one wholl stand a chance of keeping Centerlines biker under control, if Centerline is out of the picture." Stoker didnt want to consider what would happen if Rimfire couldnt control Centerlines bike.
"Its just a bike, we can take it." Vinnies ego was showing again.
"Thats like saying Its just an atom bomb with a brain. That bike could level this city on its own." Stoker hoped that would end the discussion.
"Stoker, its a Martian bike, it wouldnt hurt innocent bystanders, would it?" Stoker was glad to see that at least Throttle was getting the idea.
When Stoker didnt reply, Throttle asked again. "It is a Martian bike isnt it?"
"Rimfire, its up to you." Centerline was Rimfires father, Stoker figured it was Rimfires decision what to tell the guys.
Before Rimfire could say anything, Modo spoke up. "It was, before
the Plutarkians got a hold of it." The tone in Modos voice was
a mixture of relief and despair, it left everyone staring at Modo.