This is a work of fiction that I am in no way making any money off of.
It is not intended to infringe on anyone else's copyright. It is however
something that I wrote and I would ask that you please ask me first before
using the reality or original characters I've created. Music lyrics used
from Elecric Head pt.2 (The Ecstasy) and More Human Than Human. © White
Zombie Astro-creep: 2000, Greffen Records 1995.
Kaals held on for dear life as Lucifer sped through one alleyway into another. In a very technical way she was in control. She had control over Charlene and Charlene controlled Lucifer, but dangling from the side of nearly homicidal motorcycle with your only lifeline being the arm of a human that at the moment was unconscious and being remotely driven was not her idea of true control. Kaals quickly entered the location she wished to go to into her pad. It was an old warehouse at the end of town they had recently bought. Kaals gritted her flat, herbivore teeth when Charlene's central processor sent the command to Lucifer and the bike veered sharply to the right.
Just when Kaals thought she couldn't take any more bumps, jars and jerks, they arrived at their destination. Lucifer came to a sliding halt out side the front door and Charlene put out her foot out to prop them up. Kaals had to type in a command for Charlene to let her go and the Human unceremoniously dropped Kaals on her side. The Tulsan had no curse words in their language so Kaals had to resort to a few of Charlene's favorites as she picked herself off the ground.
Kaals angrily punched in her next command and followed Charlene as she walked Lucifer into the warehouse. Charlene proceeded to the back of the empty room where their sleeping quarters were located while Kaals stopped to pick up the supplies she would need to patch the human up. Kaals glanced down at her pad that listed Miss Davidson's injuries in order of severity. She looked into the bag of medical supplies from one of the packed crates they came to Mars with. Inside she found several rolls of tape, a verity of pain killers and antiseptics, a box of square gauze for the minor scrapes and a suture kit for the deep cut that was bleeding freely in Charlene's leg. Realizing that every thing that she needed was everything that they had, Kaals zipped up the bag and hauled the whole thing to the back.
Kaals entered the back and found Charlene in the room's only chair. In the far corner Lucifer sat deceptively quite, but Kaals knew that he was watching and recording. Long ago, when Charlene had first put Lucifer together from an old FLSTS Heritage Springer chassis and a forgotten Martian AI they found in one of the many Plutarkian dumps they had scavenged, Charlene had programmed the bike to record everything that happened while she was unconscious. It was the only way Charlene would sleep peacfully.
Kaals dumped the bag at her charge's feet. Automatically Charlene's self-preservation sub routine took over and the human began to bandage herself up. Charlene took off her soiled and ruined racing suit and revealed the black shorts and tank top underneath. Kaals sat back and watched. She had written the sub-routine that Charlene was using from medical journals, but she had never done any emergency first aid herself.
As Charlene worker her movements became jerky and hesitant, a sure sign that she was regaining consciousness and trying to override the computer controls. Kaals waited until the last suture was in place and the sight covered with a bandage before remotely turning off the control sequence she had activated out on the racetrack. Charlene went limp in the chair and Kaals berated herself for not having her human charge lay down on one of the room's two cots.
"What happened?!" Charlene demanded. "Where are my glasses?!"
Kaals sighed and quickly produced the mentioned spectacles and handed them to her. Charlene glared at the Tulsan with her mechanical eyes and Kaals felt a shiver creep up her back. She had known Charlene for almost five years. In fact she had been the one to design Charlene's new eyes, but the solid orbs of metal were still unnerving to her. While in the hands of the Plutarkians, Charlene had lost her original eyes due to the lack of care they had given her. Charlene had gone sightless for over a year before she had learned to use the security cameras at the Plutarkian prison to `see'.
When Charlene had become her `project' Kaals had made the eyes for the human from designs she had made years ago. At the time they had only meant to be functional, not ascetically pleasing. And functional they were. Charlene's eyes had full frontal range, 500x zoom, UV/VIS (the entire spectrum), and thermal sensors. They were constructed from a Plutarkian glass steel/Martian Flex-Plate Shielding alloy that Kaals discovered, all her internal wiring was of the same alloy, which made them strong, durable and flexible. At first glance, Charlene's eyes appeared to be solid silver orbs with no iris or pupil, but if you looked closely you could see the fine mesh of sensor relays.
Charlene shoved the sunglasses on her face. It was her way of hiding her eyes. They had discussed replacing her eyes with something more realistic looking, but Charlene refused. Her distrust of anyone manipulating her body was strong and Kaals couldn't blame her. Between the Plutarkians and the XenoX Charlene had been well used.
"Well, are ya gonna tell me what happened or I'm I gonna have ta shake it out of you?" Charlene threatened, flexing her gloved hands.
Kaals stood her ground and refused to show the human that she was intimated. She knew Charlene could kill her with little effort. She had seen her kill ruthlessly and without reservation, but to show Charlene that she was scared of her only made it harder for the Tulsan to help her.
"I am your Keeper Charlene, not your secretary. Ask your guard dog," Kaals said, indicating Lucifer in the corner.
Charlene turned her back on Kaals and went to her bike. The female Tulsan gave a silent sigh of relief. Charlene had quite an attitude most of the time and it was going to get her a death sentence if she didn't straighten up. Kaals knew that she was taking a big chance by bringing Charlene here, but it was her last alternative. Mind probes, data searches, hypnosis, and even regression therapy had all failed. If Kaals couldn't prove that Charlene wasn't the homicidal killer her people believed she was there would be nothing to stop them from executing the human.
While Charlene was occupied with Lucifer, Kaals went over her plan. Once Charlene was in her sleeping cycle, she was going to approach the Martian Freedom Fighters for help. Kaals knew that Charlene had connections to them in her past, but how was unclear. According to the Plutarkian records they were able to secure from the XenoX after the Slaughter of Sellous Prime they were able to ascertain that Charlene knew three Freedom Fighters; Modo, Vinnie and Throttle.
Kaals had been very careful in planing her seating arrangements during the race. She needed to see these three `Biker Mice' to know if they were going to be any help at all. She had been almost convinced that it would be a waste of time and an unnecessary emotional strain to Charlene until she had seen the way they had reacted to seeing the human.
Kaals people were never very emotional, preferring logic and a calm focused center, but she knew the look of hope and love when she saw it. Now if only Charlene would react the same in kind. It was a risky bet, hoping that those three Martian Mice could retrieve the memories that Charlene had so carefully eradicated from her mind. There was no telling how Charlene would react once she saw them. That was why Kaals had run. She couldn't risk Charlene going into a defensive posture against them. It would most assuredly seal her fate. Kaals heard a match light and knew that Charlene was watching her.
Sure enough, when Kaals turned she found Charlene leaning back against Lucifer drawing on one of her smoking sticks called Tags. Charlene had picked up the habit on Vult from the cybernetics expert Kaals had been consulting about her human charge's memory block. Fortunately the sticks were not carcinogenic like there Earthly counterparts, but they still smoked up the air. Charlene claimed they calmed her and they did have a slightly tranquilizing effect, but mostly the human smoked them because she knew Kaals did not approve.
"So whatcha up to Blue?" Charlene asked, the Tag hanging from the corner of her mouth.
"It is not your place to question me Charlene."
Charlene yanked the Tag from her mouth and glared at Kaals over her glasses. If the snarl on her lips didn't tell Kaals that the human was angry the way she was rolling the Tag between her thumb and middle finger did.
"Listen here short stuff. You drag me here to this dirt ball, force me to live in this empty hovel for a week and then have the nerve to tell me that it's not my PLACE!"
Charlene was becoming highly agitated. She put the Tag back in her mouth and made three rapid drags off the stick. Greenish gray ashes fell to the floor from the end as she smoked and the tip glowed with a bright green light. Charlene stomped her way over to the Tulsan and dropped the Tag at her feet. She ground it out with the heel of her hobnailed boot and bent over to blow smoke into the Tulsans' face.
Kaals struggled not to cough. The gray smoke was very irritating to the sensitive sinuses in her flat nose, but to let Charlene know that she was making her angry would be counter productive.
"If you are quite finished acting the child, I believe Lucifer needs attention. I believe he damaged his front relay in the crash," Kaals informed the aggravated human to distract her.
With a curse Charlene turned and attended to her bike. Kaals inwardly pitied the human. Charlene had never asked for any of this to happen. Somewhere inside the confusion of Charlene's soul was a loving person otherwise no one would have escaped the Slaughter of Sellous Prime. Besides Kaals was partially responsible for Charlene's condition. The XenoX had made her body into a killing machine but it was Kaals that had given her the will to kill.
The hours of the day passed slowly. Charlene on a good day wasn't much company and today she was impossible. She refused her system checks and ranted and raged through her daily memory back up. For almost five years Kaals and Charlene had been inseparable, not because they wished it but because it was mandated by the jury that had tried them. Kaals had one Tals cycle to prove that Charlene was a victim and she was running out of time. Soon night was falling and Charlene slept with her dark angel, Lucifer, watching over her.
Kaals left with no worries that Charlene would follow. Once the human slept it was for seven hours exactly, no more no less. Kaals walked through the Martian streets and ignored the stares she got. Once or twice she had to consult the map in her ever-present computer pad, but she found the Freedom Fighter's headquarters with no problem. She entered the unadorned building and walked straight to the main office, however she found it empty.
"Can I help you with something?" a young tan-ish gold, pregnant, female Martian asked her.
"Yes, I am looking for the Martian known as Stoker. Would you be privy to his whereabouts?"
The mouse seemed reluctant to answer, but eventually she gave Stoker's location. Kaals punched up her map of the city and plotted a route to the spaceport. The area was alive with activity, even more so than a normal space port. Kaals dismissed this and weaved her way through the crowd of bodies. Kaals very quickly became lost. Being as short as she was compared to the Martian population it was impossible for her to see anything to direct her movements. Kaals was becoming frustrated when she saw the mouse she was looking for by the boarding gate. He was unmistakable with his bionic tail. Squaring her shoulders she marched herself over.
"Throttle, we have searched every transport, every cargo ship and private vessel in the entire port. There just isn't a sign of this Tulsan and the woman you think is Charlie."
"Stoker I know it was her. Ask Vinnie or Modo they'll tell you the same."
Kaals hadn't noticed the other mice until she come closer. She had been too intent on her objective of finding Stoker. Now that she saw them standing there she felt hesitant, but she needed to right the wrong she had done and set right all the suffering.
"Throttle, I'm sorry there just isn't any sign of them. Maybe we can look at the docking logs. Maybe we can find a clue to where they are at."
"That will be unnecessary. I am perfectly willing to give you our current location."
The reaction Kaals got was not what she had expected. She had anticipated shock, surprise and even anger, but not a homicidal rage.
"What have you done with Charlie!" the white mouse roared, grabbing Kaals by the front of her one-piece robe and hauling her off her feet while twisting the material painfully around her neck.
Kaals would have answered if she had of been able to breathe, but the choke hold Vinnie had on her made that impossible. Instead of struggling Kaals waited. She was quite use to having threats made against her life from Charlene. All she had to do was wait out the storm. Unfortunately, this particular individual was far more motivated in completing his task than Charlene ever was. Kaals could feel her blood congealing in her brain the longer it stayed stagnate. She was in no danger of suffocating, she could hold her breath for a very long time, but if her blood was not continuously circulated it would thicken to a gel and kill her.
"Vinnie! Drop her! She can't tell us anything if she's dead!" Modo yelled, pulling on his friend's shoulder.
Vinnie reluctantly complied and set Kaals back on her feet, but refused to let go completely. "Where is Charlie?!" he demanded again.
"Could we adjourn to another location? We are attracting quite an audience."
The four mice looked around them and realized that Kaals was right. Stoker barked a command and a few of the onlookers left, but many of them were free citizens and visitors and they continued to watch unabated.
"Come on. We can go to the Control Room. I'm sure we can find a place to talk there," Stoker said, motioning him to follow him.
They walked in silence and Kaals was feeling a little like a criminal. Throttle and Stoker were walking in front of her and Vinnie and Modo followed close behind her. The pace they set was tough for her to keep up with and more than once Kaals felt a push from behind, but dared not voice a complaint. They entered the Control Room and were directed to a back room where Kaals met another hostile Martian.
"Is this the Tulsan?" a gray furred, black haired female asked.
"Yeah, that's her Carbine. She turned herself in," Throttle answered for the group.
"I did not `turn myself in'. I came to consult you on our mutual acquaintance."
"Mutual acquaintance my" Vinnie started in anger.
"Vinnie! That's enough!" Stoker hissed, wishing that the white mouse would stay quiet long enough for them to figure out what was going on.
"Thank you Stoker. I had hoped to talk to you alone, but" Kaals looked around at the angry, waiting faces and decided to let that thought drop. Kaals cleared her throat and took a deep breath.
"As you well know I have in my acquaintance the human you knew as Charlene Davidson."
"Hold it right there," Carbine said holding up her hand to stall the Tulsan. "'Knew' pasted tense?"
"Yes It has become a question with my government if she is still Charlene Davidson or an Artificial Intelligence program."
"Artificial Intelligence? Like our bikes?" Modo asked, clearly more confused than he was earlier.
"Similar to your bikes, but far more advanced." Kaals saw the blank and unbelieving faces staring back at her and pointed to the computer terminal in the room with a view screen. "May I? It will be easier to explain with my data tracks."
Stoker and Carbine gave their permission at the same time and Kaals linked her personal computer up.
"Over five years ago the body of Charlene Davidson came into the possession of the XenoX. According to records left by a small contract group on Sellous Prime, the XenoX purchased Charlene's body from a processing clerk on the Plutarkian prison moon Torren when her funding was terminated."
"The XenoX?" Throttle whispered.
Kaals looked at the tan mouse and was shock to see that he looked almost ill. Throttle leaned against the wall and put his face into his hands and swallowed several times.
"What is it Throttle?" Carbine asked.
"There was a XenoX ship there the day we went to Torren. They loaded a crate a human sized crate, on to their ship before they left. All I could think about was how relieved I was that they were gone."
"Throttle, don't beat yourself up about this son. There was no way you could have known," Stoker said, trying to comfort the distraught mouse.
"She was right there less than 20 meters from me and I didn't even know it," he whispered.
"I saw them too, bro. We all did. We didn't know," Modo said, trying to comfort his friend.
The room sat silent for a few moments. Throttle, Modo and Vinnie looking lost, sick and remorseful. Carbine and Stoker kept their thoughts to themselves, but it was Carbine's meaningful look that made Kaals continue.
"After the XenoX acquired Miss Davidson they began to make improvements on the work the Plutarkians had started." Kaals punched up some footage taken in the days that Charlene was being worked on.
On the display was something that one might expect to find on a medical tape. It showed the many different surgeries that the XenoX performed on Charlene. They implanted her eyes, and laid the fine webbing of sensor nets that covered her most sensitive areas, including her lips and fingertips. They replaced her knee, hip, elbow and shoulder joints. They even reinforced her rib cage with the same glass steel/flex shielding alloy.
"They made improvements on her sensor nets. Extending the neural relays to all of her nerves, completely replacing her spinal column and major neural pathways so that the central processor the Plutarkians implanted into Charlene's brain could control them. After that was completed they started testing her."
The images on the screen changed. Now a picture of Charlene in a stark white room appeared. There was murmur of disbelief in the room. Kaals wasn't sure how Charlene had looked before, but she was positive that she looked nothing like this. Her hair had been shorn close to her scalp and only a short reddish brown fuzz was visible. It did little to hide the many scares and metal veins there. She wore a simple sleeveless, all over body suit in gray that hugged all of her curves. Not that there were many curves to see. The Plutarkians had nourished her minimally and the point of her joints and her ribs could be clearly seen.
"Her eyes. What happened to her eyes?" Stoker asked, mesmerized by what he saw on the screen.
"Humans do not have a reflex that closes their eyes when they are in certain types of commas. Under normal circumstances the attending physician will tape their eyes shut to prevent them from drying out. The Plutarkians did not afford her that care. It was necessary for the XenoX to replace them."
If it was possible for fur to turn green it was happening. Throttle tugged on his own specs and shuttered. Vinnie cursed under his breath and ground his teeth, making an almost intolerable grating noise. Modo fingered his mechanical arm and Stokers tail was still for the first time all evening. Carbine nodded her head indicating that Kaals should go on. The Tulsan wondered if the female mouse realize that she was rubbing her old scar across her face.
"Her reaction time is computer fast, but they found that they had to slow it down to prevent her from dislocating her joints and pulling her muscles, but when the situation calls for it Charlene can override that."
The Charlene on the screen performed many quick precise fighting moves that resembled human Marital Arts moves. From the side a XenoX warrior attacked. It was a tall burly looking beast, seven feet tall and covered in short black quills similar to a humanoid hedgehog. Charlene easily dropped it on its back and snapped its neck with a single move.
"They programmed her with killing techniques, but they discovered that she could not expand beyond her original programming. She was little more than an automated sparing partner. She had no originality or intuition."
Another XenoX attached using more evasive moves than the previous opponent. Charlene could not compete. The XenoX faked a lunge, Charlene blocked and the warrior swept her feet. Charlene laid almost passively while the XenoX struck her face with the tip of his boot. Charlene tried to come to her feet, but the XenoX struck her in the back of her head. The fight continued well past the point a normal human would have fell unconscious.
"She would fight in the same organized, preprogrammed way until she was dead with out changing. She could not adapt, so they decided to fit her with an Artificial Intelligence unit. That is when I was brought in."
"You?!" everyone in the room demanded.
"Yes. I am an AI expert on my home world and I have extensive knowledge of cybernetics. I was their most logical choice. They had already used my neural webbing system for all of her `improvements'."
"So you helped them do this to Charlie?!" Vinnie almost yelled, murder clearly in his pink eyes.
"It was not willingly I assure you. They sought me out knowing the fields I study and `arranged' to have me delivered to them. At the time I believed that Charlene was an animated body, but now I am curtain that she IS a freethinking entity. This is footage taken on Sellous Prime, Charlene's first outing with the AI board I implanted with learning algorithms."
They watched intently as the display showed the landscape of a planet they had to assume was Sellous Prime. It was fairly normal stuff. Plants that were green to blue-green in color and exposed soil that was a tanish-red. In the foreground was Charlene. She stood stiff and straight like a department store mannequin, then, suddenly she fell to the ground. She laid there for a moment, then she curled up in to a ball, hugging her knees close to her chest.
There was an explosion just beyond the hill where she laid. She looked up and huddled close to the dirt, scared and alone. Several more blasts filled the air with dirt and rocks and Charlene crawled her way to the edge of the hill. The camera lens followed her and showed the scene she saw behind the hill.
In the shallow valley a fight was raging. Three XenoX mercenaries were attacking a group of Tulsans at what appeared to be a small archeological dig. The XenoX fired lasers and lobbed grenades at the Tulsans that seemed to be defending them selves with shovels and rock pulverizing tools. Charlene watched the `battle' for several minutes, clutching her head in her hands seemingly in pain. Suddenly a Tulsan appeared behind one of the XenoX that was separated from the other two. The Tulsan was about to swing his shovel at the mercenary when Charlene made her move.
The room jumped with the shock of hearing Charlene's words. Kaals could see that all of the mice were going to ask questions at once, but she shook her head and pointed to the screen. There was much more they needed to see and hear first.
Charlene launched herself at the startled Tulsan. She took the improvised weapon from the blue skinned, purple eyed male and made a mighty body swing, bringing the shovel completely around her body and impacted the metal end of it with the Tulsan's head with expected results. His head caved easily and he fell dead. Charlene then took the shovel and broke it over her knee. She used the freshly made sharp wooden spear like a javelin and threw it at a Tulsan that was approaching their position. It hit home, right in the middle of the belly where the Tulsan's hearts were located. He fell without a whimper.
"Come on, Big Guy," Charlene said as she hauled the confused XenoX up. "Let's get with other macho metal heads before these stink fish separate us."
The screen only showed a few more moments of the XenoX completely destroying the Tulsans with Charlene's help before going blank. The room was silent, as Kaals had expected it to be. Now was the moment of truth. Would they help her or would they condemn Charlene with the evidence they had seen?
"How?" Carbine began then stopped. The carnage of the acts she had just seen stealing her thoughts before they were ever formed.
When there seemed that there wasn't going to be an immediate response, Kaals filled the silence.
"When I wrote Charlene's AI and leaning algorithms it was to observe the XenoX fighting and learn from them, but when they were activated her organic brain began to function again. Before this Charlene was brain dead with no observable brain activity. I believe that somehow they stimulated Charlene's own mind into functioning, but unfortunately her severely damaged and altered mind misinterpreted her situation and made it into something that was easier for her to deal with. This was the only evidence that I had to keep my government from executing Charlene."
"What happened on Sellous Prime?" Stoker asked for the group.
Kaals sighed. "It is still unclear what exactly happened. From the few survivors that lived through the massacre on Sellous Prime we were able to piece together a scenario. The Gewla, a race of insect-like beings that coveted Sellous Prime, hired the XenoX to exterminate my people from the planet. At the time we had a colony of 10,000 there, only a hundred survived.
From all reports of the survivors, Charlene along with the three XenoX systematically destroyed all of my people's strong holds over the span of three months then suddenly all the attacks stopped. When the Tulsan military arrived they searched the planet for Charlene and her accomplices. They found them in a small base located in the mountains. The XenoX were dead and Charlene was close to death from starvation. All of her systems had been internally shut down and her data banks were beyond recovery. It was assumed that she had malfunctioned and killed her companions. They were going to shut down her central processor, the only thing keeping her alive, when I pleaded for her life. Because I had a hand in creating her they allowed for the possibility that Charlene was not in control of her actions and therefore not responsible, but I had a Tals cycle, five years, to prove it, and my time is almost up."
"What do you need us to do?" Throttle asked. The statement was echoed by the others.
Kaals sighed with relief, they were willing to help. "I think that if Charlene is confronted with figures from her past that it will stimulate her memory."
"So let's go then," Vinnie said as he headed for the door.
"NO! Wait!" Kaals called after him, grabbing his tail to stop him.
Vinnie gave a sharp yelp and glared over his shoulder at the Tulsan. Kaals glared right back and pulled a second time on the mouse's fifth appendage to make him turn around.
"You can not go charging in like a Taarn water beast in a Vulan glass shop. Charlene Davidson is in a very fragile state of mind right now. You push too hard too soon and she will break."
"So, what do you want us to do?" Modo asked.
"Start off gradually. I need someone that was from her past that she knew as an acquaintance, but didn't know all that well."
"That would be me," Carbine said, stepping forward. "We knew each other, but we were never that chummy. I think we only met two or three times at most."
"Excellent!" Kaals exclaimed with more life that she had shown all evening.
"What's going to be my excuse for seeing her? I mean wouldn't be kinda odd for me to show up out of the desert and start talking to her."
"That has already been taken care of," Kaals rummaged through her pockets and pulled out an official Martian document. "Just yesterday we were approved to open a mechanic's shop in the old warehouse on the outskirts of this city. This is also where we will be staying. You could come under the guise of having your vehicle repaired."
"Better yet, give her the civilian mechanics contract for the Military/Freedom Fighters off-duty vehicles. She's still a good mechanic, isn't she?" Stoker asked.
"Her skill has become quite legendary in our travels. She is more than capable of performing any job you wish."
"Good, then it's settled. I'll show up tomorrow and offer her the job."
"It will be best if I am not there. Charlene will ignore you completely if I am around. I must warn you. Charlene is not the most agreeable of people. I've seen Gruk slugs with more manners. Do not be surprised by her offensive behavior."
"Charley? Offensive?" Modo asked.
"You must be talking about some other human mechanic. Charley-girl is the most charming young lady I've met in a long time." Stoker said, earning himself a glare from Vinnie.
"That is exactly my point," Kaals said, trying to impress upon her coconspirators the gravity of the situation. "This Charlene Davidson's life started the moment I reactivated her after Sellous Prime. She has no past, no memories. She woke up with a head full of knowledge and an entire planet thirsting for her death. All she has ever known is the destruction she caused and the lives she has taken. As part of her punishment she was made to memorize the names of all she killed and repeat that list every night before she sleeps. As you may well imagine this has effected her psyche immeasurably."
"Don't worry. I think I can handle it," Carbine said to the Tulsan. How bad could it be anyway? She found out the next morning.
Carbine approached the warehouse and she could hear it long before it was in her sights. To say that the music coming from the stone and brick building was loud would have been the understatement of the century. The air fairly throbbed with the heavy electricity of the sound. Strangely enough she instantly recognized the song. Even though some might think it strange, Carbine was a fan of heavy metal. The fast pace of it and the say-anything-do-anything style that didn't apologize for being rude or offensive was attractive in its own way. It was freeing on a basic primal level. Saying things you never dared to say out loud. Most times music reflected the mood of the person listening to it or playing it. And if the White Zombie Carbine heard coming from the warehouse was any indication, Charlene was in a self-destructive mood.
Carbine parked her bike outside and listened for a moment.
Breakneck speed get a violent spinal crack'n
Back down to the chrome and feel the death wish attack'n
Hubcaps on your eyes- Yeah
Cannot sympathize- Yeah
A fistful of hair and a splinter in the mind
Yeah I want it
Yeah I need it
Yeah I love it
Yeah Electric Head all in your head all in your head all in YOU!
Carbine just shook her head. It sure didn't give you that warm fuzzy feeling of hope and prosperity. She took off her helmet and wince when she realized how much louder the music was with out it. Good thing this place was on the outskirts of town with nothing around but other abandoned buildings or she'd probably would have been met here by the local civil law.
That song ended abruptly and the silence was even more profound than normal. A few seconds later the music was back. Carbine almost felt herself blush when she heard the new selection. The beginning of the song was hard not to recognize. The panting ecstasy of the human female that opened the song was a bit embarrassing at that volume. Carbine put her helmet on her bike, centered her shoulders and walked into the warehouse.
The huge open room had little to offer. There were a series of metal crates of various sizes scattered about the room, giving an almost maze like appearance. On top of one of those crates was the sound system that was belting out the tune that seemed a little too appropriate for the occasion. Carbine saw Charlene immediately. She was working on what Carbine recognized as an engine lift.
The human had her waist length hair in a simple braid with what appeared to be electrical tape holding the end together. Charlene was barefoot and clad in a pair of cut off jean shorts and a long sleeved flannel shirt that was tied in a knot in the front. With those few inches of skin exposed between the top of her shorts and the bottom of her shirt, Carbine could see the metal of Charlene's spine reflecting in the dim light.
Carbine could see that Charlene was in the middle of installing the lift. The heavy metal cables that would support the lift, trailed out across the floor to a system of pulleys that eventually would make it easy to move the lift with its heavy cargo from side to side. Carbine was going to ask if Charlene needed any help and quickly found that she needed none. More Human than Human, indeed.
Charlene attached a chain to the top of the lift and then put the other end in her mouth holding it in her teeth. Above her was a rope that was anchored to a crossbeam of the warehouse. The rope was slightly out of her reach so she had to jump to reach it. Then, with seemingly little effort, Charlene pulled herself up the rope, hand-over-hand, without using her legs to stabilize her body. A maneuver that Carbine knew from experience was difficult in itself, forget about dragging ten pounds of chain in your teeth along with it. When she was half way up the lyrics of the song began.
I am an astrocreep
A demolition style hell American's freak - yeah
I am the crawling dead
A phantom in a box, shadow in your head
Charlene reached the crossbeam and planted her feet wide apart. She began to pull the lift up with the chain. The strain on her body was quite obvious, but she kept pulling. Suddenly the chain slipped. White-hot sparks flew from between her hands. The metal of the chain and the alloy on Charlene's palms and fingertips grated against each other and Carbine wasn't sure if the scream she heard was the sound of metal on metal or Charlene's cry of pain. Carbine thought for sure the human would drop the lift, but if anything it made her pull faster.
Scratch off the broken skin
Tear into my heart, make me do it again Yeah
More Human than Human More Human than Human More Human than Human More Human than Human More Human than Human More Human than Human
Within seconds Charlene had the lift anchored on the beam, but instead of using the rope to get down she took the scenic route. Like an insane diver, Charlene flipped backward off the beam in the full tuck pike position. She came un-curled at the last moment and landed on all fours, her chin missed hitting the ground by millimeters. She rose from the ground slowly with the grace of a cat and instead of returning to the lift and finishing her work she fixed Carbine with her pupil-less eyes. The music instantly died.
"Enjoying the freak show?" she snarled.
A bit of red caught Carbine's attention. There was a series of stitches on Charlene's right leg and the landing must have torn them because there was a thin trail of blood running down her leg from them. Carbine didn't let the mechanic's attitude get to her. "I would have knocked, but the music was too loud."
"That was the point."
Charlene turned her back and went to the lift. "Is there something you want, or are you into voyeurism?" That got the female mouse's tail to twitch.
Kaals had warned her that she would be rude. Carbine decided to fight attitude with more attitude. "I was told that there was a passable mechanic here. Do you know where she is?"
That got Charlene's steam rolling. She turned back to face Carbine. "That's me, sister. What of it?"
Carbine grated her teeth. "I have a job for you. It's long term, repairing various civil equipment for the Military and the Freedom Fighters. You up to it, or is climbing ropes and falling on your face the extent of your abilities?"
Charlene grinned without humor. "Sister, I can fix anything this back-water dirt ball has to offer."
"Good. You have the job under a trial basis. But let's get one thing straight," Carbine approached the human and got within inches of her face. "First and foremost, I am not nor will I ever be your `sister'. I am your boss and you work for me. I tell you what to do and when to do it. Is that understood?"
Carlene smacked her heels together and Carbine could hear the bones of her ankles crack against each other. The human gave her a mocking salute. "Yes, ma'am, General, ma'am. Anything you say, ma'am."
Carbine spun on her heel and stalked out of the warehouse before the urge to punch the mechanic became too strong. No one had ever talk to her in that manner since she had become a General. Carbine yanked her helmet off her bike and was about to put it on when she heard the familiar sound of three powerful engines. Throttle, Vinnie, Modo and Kaals (riding in front of Modo) pulled up beside her.
"So, how did it go?" Vinnie asked hopefully.
"She is the rudest, most infuriating"
"Carbine, calm down," Throttle tried to soothe while unsuccessfully trying to hide his grin.
"Do you know what she said to me?"
"Yes, she called you `General'," Kaals said as she slid off Modo's bike, typing on her ever present computer pad. "Charlene does not know who you are, but she knew you were a General without any badges or strips to indicate you as such. I would say your meeting with her went exceptionally well."
Carbine snorted, "If that was what you consider going well I'd hate to see what would ha
ve happened if it had of gone bad."
With that Carbine pushed on her helmet and mounted her bike. The area was split with rib thumping music that was instantly recognized by the mice as the `General's Walk'. A bit of music that was played at official Military functions that proceeded the Generals when they walked into the room. This version, however, was not very respectful. The trumpet-like instruments that made up the bulk of music had been replaced by what sounded suspiciously like kazoos and the percussion had been substituted with whoopee cushions.
The three Freedom Fighters tried not to laugh, but the fact that Vinnie was already on the ground holding his stomach and gasping for breath didn't help. Carbine growled and hit her visor closed, gunned her engine and tore off. The three remaining mice didn't try and hide their amusement anymore.
"Man, Charley got her good," Modo said between his deep chuckles.
"I would say that this proves that Charlene likes General Carbine, other wise she would have just ignored her," Kaals said, sounding very pleased with the situation.
"Well, I don't think Carbine thinks much of Charley-girl right now," Throttle laughed.
"Did you... did you see how pissed she was?" Vinnie said between gasps. "I haven't seen Carbine that mad since since" He couldn't finish his statement.
"Well, at any rate I think that this is a very good start. I'll be contacting Stoker when I fell that time is right to introduce her to someone else."
"When do we get a go of it?" Modo asked.
"Not until she is more comfortable with her surroundings. The last time I pushed too hard she panicked and it knock my progress back months and I do not have months left to work with."
The mice were once again reminded how critical this plan was and their jovial mood was popped. If it didn't work Charlene was going to find herself in front of the preverbal firing squad. The three of them rode off mindful of Kaals warnings of keeping away and out of sight. They even had their bikes programmed to tract Charley so that didn't accidentally run into her when she was out and about fixing whatever Carbine and Stoker assigned her to do. It was going to be a rough couple of days, but for Charley's sake they were going to do what they were told. This time, anyway.
This is a work of fiction that I am in no way making
any money off of. It is not intended to infringe on anyone else's copyright.
It is however something that I wrote and I would ask that you please ask
me first before using the reality or original characters I've created. Charlene's
nickname for Lucifer is Luc. It is pronounced `loose'.
Charlene waited until Lucifer's scanner showed that the General was out
of hearing range before turning off the mock `General's Walk'. Lucifer tweaked
and beeped, communicating audibly the message that it was sending to Charlene
over their link.
"Yeah, she ain't coming back anytime soon," Charlene answered the motorcycle as she went back to work on the engine lift.
She looked up at where the lift was anchored on the chain and was satisfied with its location. She walked up to the right wall and began to lock off the cables to the pulley system. When she bent down to put torque on the cable a sharp pain raced up her thigh and for the first time she noticed that her stitches had torn. She cursed and slapped at the offending pain and realized that her arms and back hurt too.
It had been really stupid of her to pull the lift up herself. Lucifer could have easily used its grappling hook to position it, but when Charlene had realized that the Martian female had walked into the warehouse she got it into her head to show the General that she was strong.
Strong and stupid, Charlene scolded herself. She rotated her shoulders and the protest of her pulled muscles made her stop. Kaals was going to give her ten shades of Hades for pulling that stunt, and she grinned. Getting Kaals riled was all she had sometimes. Seeing that very proper, very logical, very calm Tulsan loose her temper was the only amusement Charlene let herself have. Of course, ruffing the General's fur the wrong way had been amusing too. Again Charlene grinned, not realizing how that simple act softened her face.
The female General had walked into her warehouse as confident as you pleased and didn't bat an eye at Charlene's display. The human had liked her immediately and that just couldn't be. Charlene had intentionally pissed the General off to put distance between them. Getting close to anyone wasn't an option. The only reason Kaals was still around was because she had this insane idea that she could save her. No one could do that, she had been lost long ago.
Charlene sighed and felt the walls she had painstakingly constructed come in again. It was better that way. Soon the Tals cycle would be over and she wouldn't have to worry about keeping her distance. She wouldn't have to worry about anything anymore.
Her only current concern was Lucifer. Once she was gone she would need someone to look after the bike. Kaals certainly couldn't do it. Charlene was very aware how Luc (pronounced `loose') had reacted when they came to Mars. The motorcycle almost seemed happy. It was more lively and daring, and acted almost like a child let loose in a candy store. Truly it was Lucifer that had wanted to be in the race yesterday and Charlene had just let the bike have its way.
Charlene thought about the mouse she had rescued during the race. The first thing he had asked about after she had removed his helmet had been his bike and it was just a common bike. He was young and maybe a little reckless, but his heart was in the right place. The little gutter snipe had even pushed her to finish the race. Maybe he would be suitable for Lucifer. Charlene was so lost in her thoughts that she didn't see Kaals enter, but Luc did.
"Back already, Blue?" she asked, not bothering to turn around. She couldn't see the Tulsan, but Lucifer could, and she used his `eyes'.
"I finished by business dealings with the Freedom Fighters and the Military. Did General Carbine come by already?" Kaals asked.
"Yeah, she came by with her rank so heavy on her chest I'd almost thought she'd fall over with the weight of it. She needs to get laid."
"Charlene!" Kaals gasped.
"You do too, if you even know how. For that matter so do I," Charlene said and waited for the lecture as she stretched her sore muscles.
"Charlene, the act of procreation is not"
"to be taken lightly or in vain. It should be the act of two adults with the express purpose of strengthening their bond and to produce offspring as evidence of their bond. Yada, yada yada" Charlene finished for her Keeper.
"So you do hear me," Kaals stated looking stoic and proper as a nun at church.
"Yeah, I hear ya. I just choose to ignore you." Charlene said, hoping to get a reaction. She was to be disappointed.
Kaals just looked at her, not even bothering to show her displeasure. But Charlene knew it was there, just under the surface of the Tulsan's cool blue skin. It was there, counting every flaw, cataloging every mistake, memorizing every blemish. Charlene felt her anger rise. Why couldn't Kaals see her for what she was? A killer of children, nothing more, nothing less. Why couldn't she see that there was nothing inside beyond the cynic? Why did she push all the time to see something that just wasn't there anymore?
Charlene was aware of the human she had been once, but that woman had died long ago. There was nothing left her. So she liked bikes and working with her hands as the original Charlene Davidson had. Big deal! That didn't mean that Charlene `Charley' Davidson was somewhere inside trying to get out as Kaals always said. That Charlene, that Charley, would probably faint dead away at the things she had done and seen, what she had become. Kaals had taken her to Earth to see the garage that Charley had once owned.
It was a memory Charlene wished she could forget, but her computer mind wouldn't let her. It had been the single most ridiculous thing the Tulsan had done to her. She had gone to that run down place and had felt nothing. The cobwebbed walls had no secrets, no memories. There had been pictures there of the Charlene that she used to be. Smiling, laughing, alive. It was the first time that she had realized that her eyes used to be green, but the realization had not changed her. She was still the Charlene that had massacred nearly 10,000 Tulsans. There had been no miraculous transformation or recognition. She had felt like the voyeur that she had accused the General of being. Going through the dead woman's things had done nothing but sicken her, because of what she had become.
Charlene had refused to talk to the Tulsan for nearly a month. She didn't like being manipulated. She didn't like being used and she sure as hell didn't like being expected to be something she wasn't. Charlene could feel her blood begin to boil. She was mad now and it quickly chased away the semi-lighthearted feeling she had after teasing the General.
"So what's my duties for the day, Keeper?" Charlene snarled, tugging her gloves more firmly onto her hands to hide the scraped form the life chain.
Kaals didn't even blink. "Finish the modification to the warehouse to make it a proper vehicle repair complex"
"Garage" Charlene sighed.
"What?" Kaals asked.
"A garage. It's called a garage," Charlene said rolling her eyes.
"Yes well. Make it a proper `garage' and wait for work. General Carbine assured me that there would be plenty of work, even for you."
When Kaals turned to enter the living quarters in the back of the warehouse Charlene made a rude face and mocked the female Tulsan's walk and mannerisms. Kaals turned quickly, but didn't catch the human in the act. Charlene was just standing there with her arms crossed and her hips set. As soon as Kaals closed the door and separated them Charlene made another rude gesture and then returned to her work on the engine lift.
Charlene worked the morning away. She got the lift working with help from Lucifer. She wasn't up to climbing that rope again. After that, she built some workbenches and unpacked the crates. Everything they had, had been bought with the prize money from the race. Charlene had no personal positions save Lucifer. In all her travels over the past few years in the vain attempt to `release the Charley within' she had acquired nothing that she had wished to keep. There was no point in owning anything if you knew you were going to die. She had just finished putting the last of her equipment away when her first `assignment' came in.
An older looking male mouse came into the newly refurbished garage and walk up to her. He was maybe seven feet tall and built like a tank. His civilian work clothes were caked with red Martian soil and his white fur was dusted orange. He took his protective goggles off and shook the dirt from his head. Charlene grimaced and asked herself if all Martian males were born mess makers. The mouse extended his hand in greeting and Charlene ignored it. No since in making friends.
"I'm Lars. Stoker set me to get ya," he said nervously. The refusal of a hand shake obviously unnerving him.
Charlene felt her heart leap when she heard the name `Stoker', but she couldn't conceive why. She put that thought aside and addressed the mouse.
"So. What do you want?" she asked sharply.
"Uhmm One of our irrigation transports is busted out in the field Stoke wants you to come out and look at it."
There it was again. That little jump.
"Do you have any idea what's wrong with it?" Charlene asked trying to ignore the feeling.
"We're leakin' oil all over the place."
Charlene nodded to Lars and went to pack Lucifer with what she thought she might need. After that was done she grabbed a pair of her riding jeans and changed behind one of the unpacked creates. She had left her jacket and boots next to Lucifer and put those on before she pushed her ride out of the garage. Lars led the way through town and out to the fields.
The Martians didn't have much in the way of agriculture, but what they had was well taken care of. It was quite a ride from town. The only suitable land was right on the edge of the desert. Charlene spotted her patient right away. It was a moderately sized irrigation transport, one of two they had out there. There were a few mice around it, mostly just cleaning up the mess it had made. Charlene pulled up a long side the transport and shooed away the extra bodies. All but one left.
Charlene ignored the female mouse that had stayed behind and went right to work assessing the damage. She slid underneath and started looking for the problem. As she began to search, she noticed that the brown furred mouse was following her as she scooted around. Charlene stalled for time under the vehicle, hoping that the mouse would just go away, but she persisted. Finally, having checked everything and not finding a problem she came out. The female mouse was there to greet her.
"You're Charlene Davidson. The one they call Angel, aren't you?" she asked almost in awe.
Charlene snorted, "I'm Charlene, but I ain't no angel, sister."
Charlene walked to the engine and lifted the cover, the mouse followed. "No you're her. The one that rescued us from Torren. I've seen your picture at the monument"
The human turned to look at the girl. She couldn't have been more than seventeen years old and the adoration Charlene saw in her eyes was too much.
"Look, sister. I don't know who you think I am, but I ain't no savior. Now if you don't mind I got work to do and you're in my way."
The girl looked confused and hurt. She kept staring at Charlene and the human was starting to get agitated. She was about to tell the mouse were to go when a cry rose up in the field.
"Sand what?" Charlene asked, but the girl was already gone, running after the call.
Charlene followed out of curiosity and saw what all the excitement was about. On the other side of the small field was a subterranean borrowing machine that was now unloading buggy upon buggy of ugly dog-like creatures. They started firing on the dozen or so workers that were trying to defend themselves with whatever equipment was around. For a moment time froze.
For the smallest fraction of a second Charlene no longer saw the cultivated field or the barren desert beyond. Instead she saw a lush valley and a group of workers digging in the ground. One of them started to come at her. In a flash it was gone, but Charlene looked down and to her horror she held a shovel in her hands. She dropped it as if it was on fire and started to tremble.
All around her laser fire lit up the ground. Blowing up huge clumps of dirt and plant life. One of the buggies was coming towards her, the passenger was leveling his laser rifle at her. It only took seconds for her to react. She sent a signal to Lucifer and instantly the buggy and its two occupants were bathed in burning gel. They screamed in pain and rolled out of the vehicle on to the ground trying to smother the flames. Knowing that they were out numbered and out gunned, Charlene chose to stay separate from Lucifer, hoping to divide their attention and buy them some time.
She sent her bike around to take out as many Sand Raiders as it could while she improvised. She took some of the bottles of oil that were lying around from the clean up and tore a piece of her shirt off. After stuffing the homemade wick in the end she lit it with her ever-present lighter and tossed it. It wasn't much of an explosion but it was enough to get their attention. A Sand Raider buggy zeroed in on her. She dodged the laser fire and felt her leg give way. She cursed her stupidity that morning for showing off and took off her jacket.
As the Sand Raiders tried to run her over she rolled herself between the wheels and stuffed her jacket around the drive shaft. The vehicle went a few more meters and then stopped. She hobbled her way over to the disabled buggy while they were still confused about the loss of their ride and climbed aboard. Charlene's computer mind quickly raced through her database of fighting moves and as always the most lethal moves came up first. She ignored that one and used a blow to the side of driver and passenger's necks to knock them out.
Now she had firepower. She took their rifles and got behind the out of commission Sand Raider buggy. She took pot shots now and then, trying to give Lucifer as much cover as possible. It seemed like forever before some reinforcements came. In the distance the sound of several powerful engines could be heard. She never thought that the sound of Martian cycles would sound so good. She chanced a look over the hood of her shelter and saw four motorcycles coming in her direction.
The red, racer style bike took the led and blasted through the back line of the Sand Raider's assault. With more bravo than brains, the rider put him and his bike between the Raiders and Charlene. This made it impossible for Charlene to give any cover fire. She signaled for Lucifer to pick her up. This jackass was going to get them both killed.
When her bike got there she quickly assessed the situation. The standard Freedom Fighter bike and rider took a position in front of the civilian workers and laid on the cover fire for the other two bikers. Those two started corralling the Raiders between them and were taking them out one by one. They seemed to have a plan, but the crazy metal head in front of her was fighting on pure adrenaline. Charlene wasn't willing to trust her life to some manic with a death wish. She turned Lucifer toward the white Martian male and hit the gas. She used the loon as a distraction and jumped over him and fired at the Raiders below as she passed overhead. By the time she landed all of their assailants had been taken out.
Charlene turned Lucifer toward where the civilian workers were congratulating their rescuers and her temper blew hot. She skidded to a stop in front of them sending soil and burned crops all over them. Her anger was running so high that she didn't even notice that none of the other bikers had removed their helmets. Charlene leapt off of Lucifer and stomped her way over to them.
"Where the hell were you?!" she demanded out of them. "You knew that there were Sand Raiders out there. What were you idiots doing? Playing Tiddlely Winks or something?"
The biker straddling the Freedom Fighter cycle ripped his helmet off and glared at her. "Now wait a god dang minute"
"Wait?!" Charlene blasted. "If I had have waited for you lugheads we all would have been scattered from here to Mt. Olympus. What kind of lack wit outfit are you running Stoker?"
For a moment all four bikers froze, but that didn't slow Charlene any.
"And you" she accused, turning to the white mouse that had just dismounted from his bike. "What the hell was that? Were you trying to get yourself killed?"
The Martian Biker held up his hands in defense, but Charlene didn't let up.
"Do you realize how badly we were out numbered?" she asked poking him in the stomach with her finger.
"Do you have anything between those big ears besides pudding?" she asked as she pushed him with both hands.
"You could have been killed doing something as stupid as"
Suddenly Charlene noticed that her hands, that had been covered with oil from her impromptu bomb earlier, now left green-brown handprints on the mouse's stomach. The dripping greenish color was a stark contrast to the pure white. All of a sudden it didn't look like oil anymore, but thick Martian blood and lots of it. She looked up in shock, but instead of seeing her face in the visor of the mouse's helmet she could see her tear streaked face in the refection of a silver facemask.
Charlene turned around and threw up in the charred ground at her feet until her belly was empty. She felt had hand at her shoulder and smacked it away without looking. In an instant it was back again and she turned to glare at the owner.
"Are you all right Beautiful?"
Charlene backed away from the mouse she knew was Stoker and didn't know why. "Stay away from me." She warned.
"Were just trying to help you Charley," he said.
"What did you call me?" she demanded, feeling her heart beat so painfully she thought she might pass out.
Stoker tried to put his arms around her and she sucker punched him. The three other bikers caught him as he fell back and Charlene got onto Lucifer and tore out of there. She could barely see the road in front of her, but Lucifer kept her steady. She rode straight into garage and hopped off of Lucifer before it stopped. She stormed into the back room and found Kaals instantly. She grabbed the startled Tulsan and shook her.
"What the hell have you done?!" she yelled at her before she threw her to the cot in the room.
Charlene raced around the room. Collecting some clothes to replace her ruined ones. She had no spare jacket so she went without. Kaals scrambled off the cot and collected her hand computer, but before she could do anything with it Charlene smacked it out of her hands.
"Leave me ALONE!" she screamed, trying to focus and keep herself sane.
"Charlene, let me help you. You are obviously distraught"
"Distraught? Hell I'm pissed out of my mind. What were you trying to do me, sending them after me? Don't you know how dangerous they are?!"
Charlene didn't even know what she was talking about, it was like someone else was talking but that didn't matter. She had to get away and fast. She scooped up Kaals computer and jacked into it. She quickly typed in a command and she grimaced in pain when the tracking devise in her circuits fried. She yanked the connection out and went to Lucifer to remove his. It was a simple matter to pull the chip out. She threw it to the ground and smashed it to dust under her boot heel. She grabbed some extra clothes and went back into the other room.
Before she could take two steps someone grabbed her arms pinning them to her sides and lifted her off the ground. She tried desperately to establish a link with Lucifer, but only found static. She looked up into the gray furred mouse's charred face and panicked. Cheap shots always worked best. She brought her knee up between his legs and to his credit he only fell to his knees and didn't let go. Charlene brought her arms up between his and knocked them away. She put both her fists together and hit him upside his head that was now level with her shoulders. Already stunned from the first blow he went down. Charlene tried to run then but when she looked up the other two mice were there.
"Stay away!" she warned.
"We're only trying to help Charley-girl," the tan mouse said, his arms open wide to show he wasn't holding a weapon. His head was turned at an impossible angle.
"Don't call me that! She's dead."
"What happened?" Kaals asked when she came into the room.
"Sand Raider attacked the field were she was at. We had to come. We were the only ones around," the tan mouse said.
Charlene kept her eyes on the two upright mice in front of her and inched her way over to Lucifer. She couldn't hear what they were saying, there were too many voices in her head. She climbed on to her bike and started it up. The white mouse tried to get in her way. He was saying something but she couldn't understand him. She couldn't see him past the blood she saw covering his stomach. She pushed her way forward and he had to jump out of her way or get run over. She was almost to the door when a cream colored female and a silvery gray young mouse came through the door. Charlene hit the breaks and slid to a stop in front of them.
"Mama," the boy said, it was the only thing she heard.
Charlene looked to the female mouse and saw the recognition in her eyes. For a moment Charlene saw her in grainy black and white in a cell cradling a newborn. `Take care of him for me,' she heard her own voice say.
"Who are you?" she asked the boy.
"Don't you know me Mama? Don't you know who you are?" he asked.
Charlene couldn't answer. The boy took a locket from around his neck and handed it to her. She read the back without understanding. She opened it up and looked at the pictures, but there was nothing. She didn't recognize them. The dead woman was looking back at her. Laughing at her, mocking her. She had been Charley once, but no more. She didn't know who or what she was but that woman was dead.
"Sorry kid. Your mother's dead. She died a long time ago," she tossed the locket back. "Just get over it."
Charlene rode out the door not knowing were she was going or caring.
A figure stumble into the street. Another followed, but when it tried to put its arm around the first it was knocked to the ground with a strong backhanded blow.
"Buzz kill," Charlene Davidson said as she weaved her way back to her bike.
She was veering dangerously off coarse, but Lucifer compensated for it's master's inebriation and intercepted her. Charlene laid herself across the seat and clumsily groped for the bottle she knew was hiding in Lucifer's side bags. She took another long drink and wiped her mouth with her shirt sleeve. The bottle was thrown to the ground for daring to be empty.
"You do realize Luc that you're the only one for me?" she asked the bike and got a beep in response.
"No, I mean it. You're the only one I trust. Come on let's fine someplace to go."
Charlene got on and tried to steer, but after riding up on the curb and knocking three rubbish cans to the ground Lucifer took over. Charlene was content to let the bike take her were it willed. It didn't matter to her where they went as long as they kept moving. They rode for several minutes before a sign caught her eye. In Martian it read, `This way to the Angel of Torren Memorial'. Charlene yanked on the handlebars and turned Lucifer in that direction.
It was only a few minutes more to the memorial. Charlene was surprised to see that in actuality it was a Plutarkian prison transport ship. She parked Lucifer outside and told it to say put. She leaned over the bike's seat and reached into the opposite saddle bag and retrieved a clear unmarked bottle, half full of liquid. Charlene stumbled her way to the plaque were a life sized picture of Charley Daivdson was placed.
"This is in memory of Charlene `Charley' Davidson who lost her life saving so many," she read out loud. "What a freakin saint you were Miss Charley Davidson," Charlene slurred as she saluted the picture with her liquor bottle.
Charlene looked around where she stood and found a chunk of red Martian rock. She nearly fell over when she tried to pick it up. On the third try she scooped it up and lurched herself over to the picture. With the aid of the rock, Charlene began to alter the photo. She extended the length of Charley's hair to her waist. She banged with the rock until she had knocked out the picture's eyes and then proceeded to draw a set of horns, mustache, goatee and devil's tail.
"There," she said satisfied. "You should always have a current photo."
Charlene glared at her own bad joke and stumbled to the entrance of the monument. The door sensor activated when Charlene came near and began it's programmed spiel.
"The monument is now close to visitors. Please return during normal hours 7am to 8pm weekdays," the professional sounding female voice instructed.
"Sorry sister. I'm not a visitor. I'm the deceased."
Charlene looked at the door lock key pad, while her eyesight was computer perfect her aim was a little off. She had to grab both sides of it to keep it from moving. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate. Charlene ran her thumbs over the surface of each of the keys and with the enhanced touch of her sensor webbing was able to tell which keys were smoother than the others because of constant use. Four keys stood out and it was a simple matter of trying all of the different combinations until the lock clicked open.
"Open sesame," she mumbled as she pushed her way inside.
Once inside the same automated voice that had greeted her at the door started to give a long, unending monologue of the life and times of Charlene `Charley' Davidson. Charlene grimaced and glared at the unseen speakers. The room she was in was the main control room of the Plutarkian transport ship. Along one wall was the view screen and control panels and covering the other were hundreds of picture from the day the transport had arrived with its cargo of rescued Martians.
Charlene was becoming increasingly annoyed at the voice that just kept going on and on and on. She went over to the first set of controls that were dormant and started pushing buttons and flipping switches. Lights came on, then off, things buzzed then turned on. Doors opened and closed and even once the engines came on for a moment, but the voice never stopped.
"Would you just SHUT UP!" Charlene screamed at the voice and magically it stopped.
The room went silent and an uneasy feeling creep up Charlene's spine. She turned around swiftly, but saw no one. She rubbed her arms trying to get the feeling that she was being watched out of her. She looked around at the pictures on the wall for a moment. The faces blurred together, she didn't recognize any of them. She kept looking hoping and fearing that she would see something she'd remember. Then at the end of the row was a photo that did spark something.
Five figures stood in front of the transport, red dirt blew around them as they stood there. The picture was obviously unplanned. The tan and white mouse that had confronted her at the garage were turned away from the camera talking to each other. The tall gray mouse was facing forward, but he was more interested in the small light gray mouse he held and the dirty ivory colored female that was standing next to him. The female mouse seemed to be offering to take the child, but he seemed reluctant to let go. The little boy was looking around him in wonder.
`Take him home. Let him grow up free'. She heard somewhere in her mind.
Charlene reached out to touch the picture, but jerked back as if burned. She continued to stare at the photo unable to look away. She looked at the gray mouse's mechanical arm and a thought struck her. So strong, but always so gentle. She shifted her eyes over to the pair that were talking. The tan mouse looked to be comforting his companion. Always the leader, never thinking of himself. The white mouse seemed close to tears, but fighting it with everything that he had. So unlike him, to be so emotional, but so like him to be fighting it.
Charlene turned away from the picture and tried to find where these thoughts came from. She searched her data banks but could find no reference for the things she had thought so unconsciously. Her hands trembled so bad that the liquor in the bottle looked as if it was boiling. Charlene tried to find the systems malfunction, but there wasn't one. She looked back at the photo and gasped.
Her mind had changed the scene before her. The gray mouse leered at her with malicious glee. His metal arm was charred and blackened, his antenna were burnt and twisted. The tan one's head was bent at an impossible angle, he was grinning at her knowingly. But the most disturbing one was the white mouse. His belly was covered in his own blood that flowed from the fist-sized hole there. His arms were held out to her as if to invite her in.
"No I had to" she whispered, backing herself into the corner of the room.
"What did you have to do, Charlene?" a familiar voice asked.
"I don't know," she answered.
"What frightens you so badly? What did they do?" the voice asked again.
"I don't know!" Charlene yelled back, turning towards the voice.
To her shocked horror, Charlene found herself looking in to the computer image of Charlene `Charley' Davidson. She looked the same as she had before the Plutarkians had taken her. Her hair was short, coming to rest on her shoulders. She was wearing a blue mechanic's uniform with long sleeves rolled up to past her elbows.
"Who are you?" Charlene asked, fearing the answer.
"You know who I am. I am what you made me," came the simple answer.
"No you're dead. You died on Torren."
"That isn't entirely true. The Plutarkians did succeed in copying your mind, but that is all that I am, a copy. You sent me to make sure that Chance and all of the prisoners made it home safely. All that I am is inside you"
"That can't be true. I don't remember you. I don't remember anything. Why can't I remember? I had friends, a son. Why can't I remember my own son?!" Charlene demanded.
"I don't know."
"Then what good are you!" Charlene yelled as she hurled the bottle in her hand at the screen.
It hit with a shattering of glass, and when the broken electronics sparked, the alcohol in the bottle ignited into a fireball. Liquid fire rained down on the control panels catching a few on fire. Charlene turned away to face the corner. The fire had sparked an elemental fear in her, and she didn't know why.
"I can help," Charley's voice said from the many speakers in the room.
"How can you help me if you don't know what happened to me?"
"I know where all of your demons live. I know where the nightmares hide."
Charlene felt an intruding signal resonate with the processors in her head. It spread out to all of systems and beyond. Long dormant synaptic functions flared to life. Parts of her organic mind awakened and she was powerless to stop them. The first thing she saw was fire.
"Daddy!" she heard a child scream knowing it was herself.
"Daddy!" she cried again. Fear burned her as she saw herself crouching in the corner of her room.
The flames were coming toward her. They were between her and the door. There was no way out, but there was one person that could save her.
"Here Charley. I'm here."
Suddenly her father was beside her, wrapping her in a wet blanket. His dark brown hair was singed and his face was streaked with soot. He picked her up and jumped back through the flames, holding her face against his chest. They made it down the stairs and at the bottom was her mother. Just before they reached her the ceiling above collapsed. Charley went flying as her father threw her from him. Her mother picked her up and ran from the room. Over her mother's shoulder Charley could see her father trapped under the burning timbers. It was the last time she ever saw him.
The scene shifted. Now she was at a race track. Jimmy, her current boyfriend, gave her a kiss and then put on his helmet. She could feel the dread well up in her heart. Jimmy was racing his brother's red racer for the first time. Charley had begged him to let her give the bike a once over. It had been sitting idle for months, but Jimmy had just laughed her off saying that a girl should be doing such things.
The racers went to the line. Jimmy gave her a wave and leaned onto his bike. The race started and before he even got a hundred feet the bike came out from underneath him. He went down hard, but didn't stop where he fell. The bike dragged him for what seemed like an eternity, but finally he stopped. Charley was already running, but before she could reach him someone stopped her. She fought with them but they wouldn't let her go. She saw the ambulance pulled up beside him and several people jump out with a stretcher. They went to his side, flinging open boxes, but as soon as they removed his helmet they stopped. They carefully lifted him onto the stretcher and then pulled the blanket at the foot all the way over him, over his head. All Charley could hear was her own screams.
Her screams were replaced with the cries of others. It took her a moment to realize that she was now on Sellous Prime. Dozens of Plutarkians were running around the burning complex. But something was wrong. They were too small to be Plutarkians, it didn't make sense.
"Blow up the damn building, Charlene." Throttle said beside her.
In her hand was the detonator to the explosives that she had planted earlier. The tan mouse became impatient and ripped it from her hand. He pushed the button. The center building went up in a fire column. The two mice to her left cheered and Charley watched as they took aim on the Plutarkians that had not made it to the building, thinking falsely that it was a safe haven.
"Come on. We need to reload," Modo said as he checked the blaster he was using.
Something was wrong. Modo didn't need a blaster.
"Let's go before they get too far," Vinnie said as he got into the all-terrain vehicle that was their transportation.
It was wrong. Where were the bikes?
"Come on," Throttle said as he dragged her by the arm to the vehicle.
It was a short ride to their hide out. The guys quickly went around reloading their blasters and picking up other heavier weapons.
"Are you coming, Charlene?" Vinnie asked her. He never called her Charlene.
"No I" she couldn't think of an excuse.
"Let her stay. She isn't working right," Throttle said as he led them out of the room.
Charlene looked around the room when they left. Everything seemed so wrong. Stock piles of deadly weapons everywhere. In the corners, under the table and the three bunks, but not a single Martian weapon. Charley sat down on the floor and tried to get her spinning head to stop hurting. She tried to keep telling herself that she was imagining things. The Plutarkians had done a lot of stuff to her head. That had to be it. But her mind kept returning to one fact. They were too small to be Plutarkians.
Maybe they were children. The thought chilled her blood. Throttle would never tell her to attack children, even if they were Plutarkian. Maybe he didn't know. Maybe they were hiding when he did his scouting mission. Charley had to know. She grabbed her jacket and went back to the complex. It was a short run for her. She could ignore her body and push it to its limits. By the time she got there the guys were gone. She could hear them in the distance, fighting.
She looked around the complex. Bodies were everywhere. All of them dead and all of them too small to be Plutarkians, but they were Plutarkians. She could see that with her own eyes, but something else was wrong. Where was the smell? All Plutarkians smelled, and a Plutarkian base should reek, but there was no smell. Charley went to the nearest body and rolled it over.
Seafoam green eyes stared lifelessly back at her. Since when did Plutarkians have green eyes and gold hair? Charley put her hand out and touched the hair that shouldn't be there. Charley pulled away stunned. She stumbled away and tripped. She looked down at what she had fallen over. Under her legs was another body, even smaller than the rest, and definitely not Plutarkian.
The child, and it was a child. It still clutched a burnt doll in its still arms, it had pale blue skin and short golden hair that moved with the wind. A child. She had killed a child. They had killed children, and they weren't Plutarkians. Something was wrong. This couldn't be. No matter how much the bros hated the Plutarkians they wouldn't kill innocents. They wouldn't kill children.
Charley ran from the compound and followed the sounds of battle. She had to find out what was going on. When she came to the top of the hill her blood stilled. There they were, attacking the Plutarkians that weren't Plutarkians. No that wasn't right. They weren't attacking, they were hunting and having the time of their lives doing it. They ran down the ones that were out in the open and they taunted and jeered at the ones they shot.
She ran from what she saw. It couldn't be true. They couldn't have changed that much. The war couldn't have done that to them. But could she deny what she saw? Charley ran back to the place she had called home for months now. They had told her that it was necessary, that the Plutarkians had to be stopped, but they weren't Plutarkians.
Charley looked into the reflective surface of the room's only mirror. She didn't recognize the person that looked back. Gone were her green eyes, the only feature that she had ever thought was beautiful. Her red-brown hair was cut in a short pixie style, so unlike how she preferred it. She ran her figures along the surface of her skin and the sensitive tips of her fingers and could feel every small hair. When she would pass over a external sensor wire and small tingling back feed would result. Who was she? What had she become?
When she tried to lift her other hand to do the same thing she found to her horror that she held the doll the child had been clutching. When had she picked that up? She ran her fingers over the doll's yarn hair and its loose button eyes. Had it been a birthday present? Had the child's eyes lit up with joy when he had received it? Did his mother spend hours looking for just the right doll? Something primal and protective rose in Charley. This had to stop and there was only one way she could do it. Her decision made, she went to a particular pile of weapons and pulled out what she needed. Then she waited.
It wasn't long before they came. As was usual, Modo and Throttle were back first. Modo came in and stayed in the main room and Throttle went to the back to reload his blaster. Modo had to be first. He was the only one that had the strength to stop her. She waited until his back was turned to her and charged the Electronic Disrupter. She touched his mechanical arm with the charged end and the result was immediate. The Disrupter fried all of his brain functions and he went down with a strangled cry.
Throttle came back into the room at the sound. He went to his fallen friend. He knelt beside Modo and placed his still body in his lap. He had ignored Charley intirely. It was his last mistake. Why did he have to make that mistake?
"Help me Charlene," he said as he tried to lift the lifeless body.
"I'll help you, Throttle. The only way I know how."
She came up behind him and placed his head against her chest and the tan mouse was clearly surprised by her action. Charley held his head tightly and twisted. She held him for a moment remembering how many times that she had wanted to do this to comfort him, to relieve some of the tension and pressure of being leader from him. Now he would never have to worry again. Charley knew that she had a few minutes before Vinnie came. He always stayed out longer than the other two.
Charley carried Throttle to the back room where he had come from and placed him in the corner where he would be out of sight. She went to Modo and picked up his much too light body and placed him on his cot. He always laid down after a battle. She pulled his covers over his charred arm and wondered and the burnt hair smell. She had touched the Disrupter on his metal arm. There shouldn't be such an odor. She didn't have a chance to think about it more when Vinnie came home.
He burst into the room and threw his weapons on his cot. Charley turned her back to him and retrieved her weapon of choose. It was a blaster of her own design. It fit onto her forearm leaving her hands free. It worked by responding to precise movement of the muscles in her arm. Vinnie called for Throttle, Charley knew that she only had a few moments before he realized something was wrong. She turned towards him and froze.
She couldn't do it, but she had to. She had to. He was speaking to her, but she couldn't hear what he said. He held out his arms to her and like so many times before, she went to him willingly. He stroked her backside in a rough manner and when she didn't respond he stepped back a bit and looked into her face. He reached out his hands and held her face. Tears streamed down her face, knowing what she had to do. He came close to her so that her arm was trapped between them. He leaned toward her with a startled expression on his face. He pulled away and looked down at the hole in his stomach. Charley didn't even remember firing. He slowly started to sink to the floor and she helped him. Over and over again she told him how sorry she was. Holding his body as it got cold.
"I'm sorry," Charlene whimpered in the corner.
The fire in the control panel had destroyed all of the Copy Charley, but her legacy remained. Charlene remembered everything everything. She hugged her arms around herself and let herself fall to her side.
"I'm sorry. Oh God, I'm so sorry," she whispered as she laid there. She didn't even know who she was speaking to anymore. Maybe it was to the three XenoX that she had believed were her friends. Maybe it was to the Tulsans she had murdered. Maybe it was to her son. Maybe it was to herself, but all she could say was
This is a work of fiction that I am in no way making
any money off of. It is not intended to infringe on anyone else's copyright.
It is however something that I wrote and I would ask that you please ask
me first before using the reality or original characters I've created.
She knew this day was coming. She had prepared for nearly five years
for this day. And yet it seemed to sneak up on her and take her buy surprise.
Since the day Charlene Davidson had been forced into her life, Kaals' life
had never been the same. Why hadn't she studied law as her mother had wished,
or even agriculture like her father? No she had to be original, she had
to be different. She had to be a cybernetic artificial intelligence expert.
Kaals tugged on the sleeves of her purple and gold trimmed robe. She tried to chant the calming rhythms of her childhood in her mind, but the patterns escaped her. She hadn't been able to meditate for the past three weeks, and Kaals' inability to return her mind to a calmer, more focused place was taking its toll on her. She had actually yelled at Vincent the other day.
The poor boy was only worried about his friend. He didn't mean to drive her to distraction with his constant questions and endless ponderings. But after the hundredth time of hearing the words'But why?' anyone would crack. Kaals deeply regretted what she had said to the Martian male, but what was done was done and she couldn't take it back.
"It's too soon," the blonde furred doctor said as he raced after the fast moving Tulsan.
"That may be, but we are out of time. Charlene is expected back to trial," Kaals said as she made her way through the sterile hospital halls. Kaals knew that the doctor was right. She knew that Charlene needed more time to heal mentally, but the council was waiting.
"Miss Davidson is in no condition to undergo trial. She is emotionally drained and battered. She has been making steady progress, but this may cause a back slide."
"I understand this Dr. Feals and my government is sympathetic. They have assured me that they will be as accommodating as possible, but her presence is required. If she doesn't attend the trial she will be automatically found guilty. I need not remind you what the penalty is."
Dr. Feals paused for a moment to digest what Kaals had said. Kaals continued on, not waiting for Charlene's therapist to catch up. It had only been three weeks since they had found Charlene huddled in the corner of the burning Torren Monument. They were never quite sure how long she had been there. When Charlene destroyed her and Lucifer's homing devices Kaals had had no way to track her. Luckily the fire in the control panel had set off alarms, or they wouldn't have found Charlene for quite a while.
Vinnie, Throttle, Modo and Stoker had searched the city for hours when a tip from the spaceport had told them that Charlene had been there causing a ruckus. Once they arrived, however, she had been no where to be found. Carbine had been the one to make the call. She let them know that Charlene had been found in the Monument.
It had been a sad sight indeed and Kaals remembered it clearly. Charlene had clung to Carbine like a small child frightened by a storm. She would not let anyone else comfort her. If anyone else touched her she became violent and unstable. Kaals had tried to establish a link with Charlene's central processor to determine what had happened, but it wasn't functional. Between the two of them, Kaals and Carbine had just managed to get the hysterical human to a ground transport when her worried Martian companions arrived. Charlene's level of hysteria rose to such a state that she was unintelligible and incoherent. Nothing soothed her, nothing they said helped, until finally Carbine made them leave.
The three Martian males left reluctantly, but once they were gone Carbine was able to convince Charlene to leave with her. During the whole trip Charlene just kept repeating how sorry she was. She kept begging for Carbine's forgiveness. She made the female general promise to never let her hurt anyone again. She made Carbine promise that she would kill Charlene before she harmed anyone again. After she had wrung the promise from Carbine, Charlene fell into a heavy, nightmare filled sleep.
For three weeks Charlene had been in therapy. In the beginning she fell into her old role of Charlene. She mocked and jeered at the doctor's attempt to help her. She completely refused to talk to anyone in a civilized manner. Kaals was used to this and was the logical choose to be with Charlene while the doctors tried to help her. After a few days, Charlene allowed Kaals to link with her computer mind directly, and the Tulsan was able to track Charlene's thought process.
Charlene seemed to be shifting from using her organic brain and her computer processor, although a large portion of her mind seemed to be doormat. With Kaals' help the doctors were able to determine that the human had a very unique form of MPD, multiple personality disorder. While using one mind or the other, Charlene's personality would shift. Neither mind had full access to memories of the other, but they were aware of each other. Neither mind seemed to have access to the doormat part that had remained completely silent. They didn't separate from each other completely, but there seemed to be something stopping the two personalities from becoming one mind.
The doctors had been working these three weeks trying to get Charlene to integrate her mind, but she resisted such efforts, the Charlene personality more so than the Charley. The only time the two would function at the same time was when Chance came to visit. It was at Carbine's insistence that the boy meet with his mother. Charley had confided in the Martian female that she wished desperately to see her son, but was frightened that she might harm him.
Under Carbine's watchful eye Chance would visit and the meetings seemed to be more productive then hours of therapy. Charlene was much more relaxed and Charley would talk freely about amusing antidotes of her past with his Biker Mice uncles on Earth. Chance's visits were a daily thing. Right after school he would come to visit for an hour or two and mother and son would talk about all manners of things. The only time Charlene would become uncomfortable would be when Chance would ask if she would come home with him.
Charley would skillfully avoid the issue saying that the doctors thought it was too soon for her to leave and Chance would accept that, but each time he asked he became more insistent. Once he had asked if his mother didn't like his uncles any more. Charley hadn't answered the boy and Chance seemed to understand and didn't ask again.
Kaals approached Charlene's door and sighed. She knew Charlene wasn't ready to leave the safe walls of the hospital yet, but it couldn't be helped. She hoped that giving Charlene 24 hours noticed had helped the human prepare for the trip. Kaals opened the door and made herself appear as calm as possible, that always seemed to put Charlene at ease. But the preparation was unnecessary for Charlene Davidson was not inside.
"What the" Kaals almost cursed. She looked around the room. All of Charlene's things, which weren't much, were packed and waiting on the bed along with a note, written in Charlene's precise handwriting in the formal language of Tulsan.
I have gone to finish one last thing before we leave. I will be on the ship before it docks off. If you would be so kind as to have my things taken to our cabin I would be most appreciative.
The last was written in English of course. There was no way to write `Charley' in Tulsan. Kaals folded the note neatly and tucked it away in her robe. She said a silent prayer that her friend knew what she was doing. With a start, Kaals realized, that in a strange and unexplainable way, she thought of Charlene as her friend. A friendship born of necessity and duty, but a friendship all the same.
Kaals went to the bed and grabbed Charlene's bag and hauled it off, and was immediately pulled to the ground. What on Mars did she have in that thing? Kaals started to drag the bag behind her and mumbled about the things she did for friendship.
"Oh no you don't!" Vinnie exclaimed when one of his rootbeers tried to roll off of its precarious position on the back of his bike.
Vinnie's hands were already full with a box of other game watching supplies; hot dogs, chips, ketchup, mustard, onions, relish, but it was a simple matter for him to whip his tail around and snatch the bottle before it hit the ground. Vinnie smiled triumphantly as he placed the box he was carrying on the seat of his bike so that he could place the rootbeer inside. For some reason, Vinnie let go of one side of the box to take the rootbeer in hand. Why he didn't just place the bottle in the box with his tail is a mystery only the gods could fathom. The result was one saved rootbeer and a pile of garbage as the box toppled over.
Vinnie cursed his luck and bent behind his bike to start cleaning up the mess he had made. His bike beeped and flashed the time on its display. Vinnie groaned and realized that he wouldn't have time to go back and get more stuff for the game, which meant that he was buying again. While he was trying to retrieve a dog that had rolled under the tire of his bike a familiar low roaring engine turned the corner. Vinnie looked up over the seat of his bike to see Charley ride by on Lucifer.
Vinnie knew that Charley was suppose to be in the hospital getting treatment and resting, so what was she doing out here? Not being able to resist finding out, Vinnie found a nearby rubbish can, got rid of his mess, and followed. He kept a safe distance, making sure that she wouldn't see him. He was quite surprised when Charley came to a halt a block away from Ivory and Chance's house. Vinnie watched Charley watch his bros as they helped Chance with his equipment and helmet. Today was the first season game of Junior Sackball. Chance was the lead blocker, chosen for his size and strength. Throttle and Modo had volunteered to take him to his first game, Vinnie had been stuck with getting the refreshments. Chance was very excited about this first game. It was all he talked about.
When Throttle finished strapping all of Chance's safety equipment on the back of his bike he lifted the boy onto the back of Modo's bike. Throttle tugged on the boy's ear, to which Chance swatted his hand away. Modo laughed and made the young mouse put on his helmet. After all three were settled, they waved their good-byes to Ivory and rode off. Once they were out of sight, Charley started Lucifer back up and headed towards the house. Ivory was about to go back in when the sound of an approaching bike made her turn around.
Vinnie inched his way up, making sure that he was still too far away to be noticed. Charley pulled off her helmet and Ivory gasped in surprise when she realized who was in front of her. He got as close as he dared and then activated his bike's spying microphone. He directed it at the two females and listened.
"Hello, Ivory. You're looking well," Charley commented to the startled mouse.
Charley grinned at the bewildered question, "Yeah, it's me mostly."
"What are you doing here? I thought that you were still in the hospital. The doctors said that you were" Suddenly Ivory stopped and blushed at what she was about to say.
"too unstable to be in polite company?" Charley finished for her.
Ivory nodded and looked to the ground shamed.
"It's ok. They're right you know. I shouldn't be out roaming the streets, but there was a few things I needed to take care of before I left."
Charley reached into her leather jacket and produced a think fold of paper. She handed it to Ivory.
"What's this?" the pale mouse asked as she scanned the paperwork.
"It's a Martian legal document that signs over all custody of Chance to you, Throttle, Modo and Vinnie. I am withdrawing all legal right to Chance."
Vinnie listened stunned. Why would she do such a thing? Chance was the most important thing in her life, why would she give him up? Ivory looked equally floored. The female mouse flipped through the paperwork and the look on her face told Vinnie that what Charley had just said was true.
"But, why?" Ivory asked Vinnie's unspoken question.
"Ivory I don't know what's going to happen at my trial, and I need to make sure that Chance is taken care of, legally."
"But, you don't need to sign away all legal right to do that," Ivory said, searching Charley's sunglass covered eyes for answers.
Charley sighed and removed her glasses and fixed the female mouse with her silver eyes. "I don't truly know who or what I am anymore. Quite frankly I am still a danger to myself and those around me. I want to make sure that you and the guys have to power to" Charley looked away. "to take Chance away from me if I become dangerous again."
Ivory looked stricken and appalled at the idea. "Charley you would never hurt Chance. What happened before wasn't your fault."
Charley gave a crooked smile. "Everyone keeps telling me that, but the fact remains that I killed three people that were closest to me. I can't risk that again."
"Charley, you killed three XenoX in the defense of the Tulsans they were slaughtering, not the guys."
"The bodies I killed were XenoX, but to me in my heart they were Throttle, Vinnie and Modo. No matter what anyone says I killed them." Charley jammed her glasses back on. "Look I didn't come to upset you, or argue the past. I just needed to give you the papers and ask directions to the field where Chance is playing today. I want to see this Sackball he keeps talking about, and I want to say goodbye."
"Why don't I take you. Just give me a moment to get my helmet."
Charley gave a curt nod and Ivory raced into the house. Vinnie watched Charley go back to her bike and pulled a small silver case from the saddlebag. She pulled a Tag and a match from inside and put the case back. After lighting the stick she blew out the match with a puff of greenish gray smoke and put the burned out match in her jacket pocket. Vinnie carefully backed his bike up and walked it far enough away so that Charley wouldn't hear it start up. Once satisfied that he was far enough, he rode out towards the field.
Vinnie, quite honestly, didn't know what to think of what Charley had said. Would he have killed his bros to save the Tulsans? He thought back to when Stoker had been under Plutarkian control. Would he have been able to kill his mentor to save his own people? He knew the answer was no. He wouldn't have had the strength, and to think that Charley had been forced to make such a decision, turned his stomach.
Vinnie turned into the parking lot for the Sackball field and left his bike next to his bros. He walked to the stands and searched for his friends. They weren't hard to find. There was only one set of stands, unlike most Earth games that had a `There' side and an `Us' side. There were about forty Martians there. Mostly families coming to see they're little ones play. In the center of the stands were his bros, Stoker and Carbine. He was rather surprised to see Throttle's ex there, but didn't think much of it. Carbine had become rather close to Charley and Chance over the last few weeks.
Modo saw him approach. He stood up and waved him over, in case Vinnie couldn't see his bulk in the middle of all those mothers and children. Vinnie made his way over, giving half-heard apologies when he had to walk between the spectators to get to his destination. Modo gave him a friendly shove into his seat and smiled down at him from his great height.
"You forget the grub again, Vin?" Modo asked teasingly.
"Yeah, here," Vinnie said as he tossed his wallet over.
Modo gave him a puzzled look. Modo always knew when something wasn't quite right with one of his bros, and he was giving Vinnie one of his `you can talk to me' looks. Vinnie just waved the gray mouse off, not really sure if he wanted to talk right now. Modo excepted the non-answer, but gave back the good old `we'll talk later' look. Throttle, Stoker and Carbine kept talking, oblivious to the exchange between himself and Modo. This suited Vinnie just fine. He needed a moment to collect his thoughts, but as soon as Throttle turned to look at him Vinnie blurted out what was utmost on his mind.
"Do you blame Charley for what happened?" he said the last in a whisper.
The smile that had been on Throttle's face slowly drained away to a slight frown. "What do ya mean Vinnie?"
Vinnie got nervous and wished he hadn't asked the question., but now that it was said he couldn't pretend that he hadn't asked. "Do you blame Charley for what happened on Sellous Prime?"
Throttle gave a big sigh and looked down at his hands that were steepled in his lap. "Vinnie, we all do things during war that we wouldn't have done otherwise. Charley thought that she was fighting the Plutarkians, she didn't know that they were really Tulsans until the end."
"That's not what I meant" Vinnie looked away, across the field where the kids were warming up for the game. "Do you blame Charley for what she did what she thought she did to us?"
Throttle seemed unwilling to answer the question. From the corner of his eye, Vinnie could see Throttle rub his muzzle with his gloved hand. A motion his friend often did when he was trying to put his thoughts into words.
"Vinnie, I don't know how to answer that. Charley did what she did to save a lot of lives. I would like to think that she wouldn't believe that we would ever do something like that. I would have hoped that she would have been able to see past what her eyes were telling her and see the lie for what it was. How can I blame her for something she thought she did, but didn't really happen? She really thought with all her heart and mind that she killed us"
"And it destroyed her." Carbine bit angrily back. She must have heard they're conversation despite they're hushed voices. Vinnie had rarely seen Carbine this upset. "Charlene came back from something that none of us could have possibly imagined. Her mind was ripped from her and stuffed back in like dirty laundry, and when she came back to her senses she was made to do things that her damaged mind couldn't handle so she made it into something it wasn't. She put the three of you into her fantasy life because she trusted you and loved you enough to believe that you wouldn't do anything that would hurt anyone without a reason. Then, when she finally began to heal and realize that the world around her wasn't what she thought it was, she thought that the people she trusted most in universe were"
Carbine looked away, angry tears falling from her face. "If you're going to blame Charlene for what happened then you might as well condemn me as well."
"What are you talking about Carbine?" Stoker asked, not being able to stay out of the conversation any longer.
"If you'll remember the Plutarkians had me believing that the three of you sold Mars out with a video tape. I have known you guys for years. We grew up together. I should have known better, but I still let them trick me into believing that you sold us out. At least Charlene had an excuse. She was under incredible stress, but I just believed what those slime balls told me without question."
"Carbine" Throttle said in sympathy, but Carbine wasn't willing to be soothed.
"Don't Throttle. Just don't. It's something that I've had to live with and I'll have to live with it for the rest of my life."
"Did something happen while I was gone?" Modo asked from behind the pile of hot dogs and drinks that he was carrying.
"Just pouring salt into old wounds, Modo." Carbine said as she stood up. "I've got to go. The air around here has turned foul."
The four Martian males watched her go. The mood had turned foul and poor Modo didn't even know why. The remaining mice tried to recover what was left of the afternoon, but it was going to be hard with the cloud that was hanging over them.
Charley parked Lucifer at the farthest end of the parking lot, away from all the other vehicles and let Ivory dismount before taking off her helmet. The light cream colored mouse put her helmet on one of Lucifer's handlebars and the bike seemed to take offense, but with a sharp kick from it's master it quieted down. Charley balanced her own helmet on the other handgrip and followed Ivory towards the field. The human followed blindly until they were about to round the field towards the stands. Charley froze.
"Do you mind if I sit over there?" Charley asked pointing to the opposite side of the field.
Ivory looked over at the stands and the four Martian males that dominated the center of the seats. She looked back at Charley sympathetically. A part of Charley was irritated that the mouse felt pity for her, but Charley was in control so she kept her mouth shut.
"I don't mind. Do you want me to sit with you?"
`I don't need to be babysat,' an angry part of Charley wanted to scream.
"No that's all right. I kind of want to be alone."
Ivory smiled in understanding. What did she know about what I've gone through? Charley bit her tongue to keep the words from spilling out and smiled back. The smile fled as soon as Ivory turned her back. Charlene started to walk around to the other side of the field, reaching into her inside jacket pocket as she went. She gave an angry curse when she couldn't find her Tags there. I don't think they allow smoking on the grounds. Charlene just snarled at the thought and continued walking, trying to remember where she had put them. In the saddlebags, the answer came back.
It was damn annoying to Charlene to not be `awake' all the time. She didn't like waking to find herself in a place she didn't remember coming to. It was dangerous not having your bearings all the time. She didn't much like this softer, weaker side of herself that said `please' and `thank you' all the time, either. She didn't like the days she'd find tears on her face, and sorrow filling her heart for mice she didn't even know. But, I know them.
Charlene shook the thought away and kept walking, not really remembering where she was supposed to go. That was remedied when a sharp cry caught her attention.
Charlene turned to find a bundle of energy barreling down on her from the direction of the field. Chance was all decked out in some kind of sports equipment with a big Martian number eleven on the jersey. Chance threw off his helmet and opened his arms wide as he ran towards her.
"He's not going to stop," Charlene whispered out loud and a smiling voice whispered back, I know.
Charley opened her own arms and Charlene let the boy topple them over onto the ground. Charlene laid on her back and looked up at the young Martian hybrid that was sitting on her stomach. Pure childish pleasure lit the boy's face and she couldn't help but smile back. Emotions started to bubble up inside her and Charlene didn't even attempt to stop them. This was OK, this was right somehow, and it was the singular thing that she had in common with her weaker side.
"Are you suppose to be tackling the spectators in this sport? If I'd have known I would have brought my helmet."
"Momma," Chance said with a faint blush in his ears.
Charlene rolled over and got Chance under her. It was hard, but she found a place that his sports armor wasn't covering and began to tickle the child mercilessly. Tears rolled out of Chance's tightly closed eyes as his mother's quick fingers found all of his ticklish spots. He tried to defend himself but it was no use. Charley had some mercy for her son and let him up.
"Are you going to watch the game?" Chance asked excitedly.
"Well, you kept going on and on and on about how fun this game was, so I decided to check it out. Remind me again how you play."
Chance proceeded to instruct his mother on the finer points of Sackball strategy. Charlene had already read the book, `How to Play Sackball', back in the hospital. She could recite the rules, in order, by memory. She could even tell you the pages each rule was on, but the book had held none of Chance's enthusiasm. The young player talked as fast as his tongue could wag, and if Charlene hadn't had all ready known the rules she wouldn't have been able to follow her son's twisting logic.
"Now do you understand?" Chance asked when he came up for air.
Charley smiled at her son and pulled on his ears, "I think I'll understand better once I see the game." Charley helped Chance to his feet and pushed him towards his waiting teammates.
Chance ran back to the field, only stopping briefly to pick up his helmet and give a wave to his mother. Charley waved back and Charlene gave a smirk. He's going to wipe the floor with them. Charley blushed at the un-sportsman like thought. She watched as the two teams emerged from the joined dugout and take the field. It was instantly obvious that Chance was the tallest kid out there. It gave Charlene a strange twinge of pride. They'll think twice before messing with my boy.
"Would you just stop it," Charley whispered to herself. "It's just a friendly game."
Charley and Charlene rarely directly talked to each other. In fact it was becoming harder and harder to tell when one stopped and the other began. Her doctors would be thrilled that she was starting to integrate, but it give Charley a since of unease. She never use to have thoughts that were viscous and just plain selfish.
Oh, come off it Charley, Charlene sneered. You did, you just never acknowledged it.
Charley hated that she had to admit that Charlene was right. After all, didn't she save the prisoner population of Torren so that she could escape?
"No, I did it for Chance," Charley tried to amend.
Bullshit! You started plans before Chance was ever conceived.
Charley started to feel shamed, but her tempered flared. "I was trying to get us ALL out of there!"
But you were ready to give up. You were ready to just let the Plutarkians have what they wanted.
"I was just so tired. I couldn't fight anymore."
Charley could remember how alone she had felt, how dead. She couldn't move, couldn't see, hear taste or feel anything. Her whole world had been reduced to numbers and computer systems. She knew everything, but could do nothing. She had started to let her consciousness slip when something happened. Chance happened.
For the first time in months Charley had felt something. It had been like a tiny butterfly that kept fluttering against her waning consciousness. It had been very much like how she felt when Throttle was around. Charley knew that her friend never knew how his unique debriefing on the day they first met had affected her, and she never told him. Anytime Throttle was around she could feel him. Kind of like you could feel someone watching you. It hadn't been unpleasant and sometimes it had been very comforting knowing where he was all the time. Sometimes, if she had tried really hard, and if Throttle had been thinking about her, she could almost sense his feelings.
At first Charley had thought that they had finally come. That the guys had finally come to rescue her from this awful place that was draining her away, but as she fought for her consciousness back she realized that it hadn't been true. They hadn't come. At first she had felt more alone than before. She was going to die in this place and no one would even know, but then she felt it. Life. It had been inside her. Growing, living, fighting to be known. Once Charley had reestablished all her connections to the Plutarkian computer system she found out what they had done. She had been pregnant. She was going to be a mother. She was going to have a child. A boy. That's when she began to fight, to really fight.
Everything she did she did for Chance and no one else. When Charley had found out how the Martians had praised her and memorialized her as some kind of Guardian Angel she had felt sick. She hadn't given the other prisoners another thought once she had started making plans to get Chance out of Torren. And, God help her, she had been happy that Ivory's newborn son had died. It had given her a way to get Chance out of the research lab. She had forced her body to give birth that day so that she could exchange Chance with the unnamed infant.
So you finally admit it, Angel. Charlene laughed. You finally admit that you were only thinking of yourself when Ivory's baby died. You didn't even spare her a thought at her loss. All you saw was your opportunity.
"Yes, damn it," Charley hissed back. Tears were falling from her eyes and Charlene angrily wiped them away. "And I will never stop feeling guilty about it either. So stop trying to justify it or push it away."
Why should I care? Charlene bristled.
"You care, you selfish little bitch," Charley smiled. "Or you wouldn't feel uncomfortable when you're around her."
For the first time, Charlene had nothing to say. Charley heard the crowd cheer and she forced her attention from the internal to the external. She took off her jacket laid it on the grass next to her. The opposing team had just scored a point. Charley looked towards the stands and found them easily. Ivory seemed rather distressed that Chance's team was now behind. Like any good mother would, Charlene said, throwing the barb to get back at Charley. Charley had to agree. Ivory was a good mother. A better mother than she would have been, and maybe that was her penitence for not feeling sorrow at Ivory's loss. Modo reached out and patted Ivory's hand reassuringly. Throttle, Vinnie and Stoker were shouting encouragement at the top of their lungs, and were easily heard over the rest of the crowd.
"It's hard watching them. Not really being apart of them, but unable to take that last, long step to be with them."
Charley was surprised at Carbine's voice behind her, and Charlene smiled. Damn, she's good. She said with admiration. Charley watched the gray female mouse with jet black hair sit beside her and look towards the stands with the same longing she was sure was on her own face. Who would have thought that Charley would find the perfect friend in Carbine? She only talked when she knew you needed to. She never pried. She never made her feel uncomfortable or unworthy. How had Throttle ever let her go? She knew the answer to that. Carbine had forced him to let go. Self imposed exile. Charley understood that too well. It was a subject that neither of them talked directly about, but was in every conversation they had.
"I'm leaving today."
"I know," Carbine said without looking at her. "Are you going to say goodbye to them?"
It wasn't necessary to say who `them' were. "I don't know yet."
"I'll be there if you need me."
They sat quietly for a long while, each pretending that they were watching the game instead of the bleachers. Across the field, Charley saw Throttle stand up and politely make his way down the stands. Carbine sighed and turned her head to watch him walk to the refreshment booth, hiding the movement by resting her head upon her bent knees.
"He's just a guy," Charlene said bitterly. She was becoming annoyed by the wistfulness in Carbine's mannerisms.
"You wouldn't say that if you had even been in love."
"Who needs it anyway?" Charlene asked, grabbing a fist full of red-brown grass and flinging it into the air.
"I do," Carbine and Charley said in unison.
"Pathetic," Charlene declared to both of them.
"It's getting harder for you to keep Charley quiet," Carbine said with a grin as she turned towards her human friend.
"Do you know that I actually said sorry to this idiot that ran into me this morning in the hospital?! The jerk was practically running through the halls, plows into me and then she says, `I'm sorry', like I was the one that hit him!"
Carbine hid her smile in her knees so that Charlene couldn't see her amusement, but she wasn't able to stop the laughter that erupted when Charley spoke.
"He was not running through the hall. He was turning the corner and I took it too sharply and we just ran into each other. Not everyone is out to get me, you know," Charley corrected herself and grinned at Carbine's amusement.
"You wouldn't say that if you were the one that was living everyday of your life knowing that someone has already picked a day for you to die," Charlene snapped back.
"But that's the problem, isn't it?" Carbine said as she turned towards Charley/Charlene. "Charlene will never have a childhood, a mother, a father, old friends, a past to learn from, and Charley will never have the self-confidence, the drive, the audacity, the certainty of death to be the cold, hard fighter. You two can see each other's life but neither of you can experience each other's life."
"Get to the point, General," Charlene bit out angrily between clenched teeth.
"My point is that the two of you need to stop acting like children, jealously guarding their favorite toy and share with each other. Find something between the hate and the fear, the guilt and the anger. Stop trying to act like the other one doesn't exist. What are the two of you protecting?"
Charley/Charlene turned away and stared at the field. Neither wished to answer, because neither knew the answer. Charley/Charlene picked a point on the field, the white middle line, and concentrated on it, trying to focus and restrain the emotions Carbine had let loose. The harder it became the harder they tried to focus, until finally that white line began to grow and encompass them and they couldn't see the field anymore, but a stark white room.
Both looked up and were surprised to see each other on either side of the windowless room. Charlene had her sunglasses firmly in place, her leather jacket was open to reveal a black tank-top tucked into black leather pants that ended with black hobnailed boots. She took a match and Tag from inside her jacket, stuck the match against the heel of her boot. She lit the Tag, the burning green tip brightened her all black attire with emerald highlights. Charlene extinguished the match with a sharp flick of her hand and threw the smoldering match at Charley's feet.
Charley looked timidly over at the intimidating woman through the vale of her short bangs. She tried to hide her nervously shaking hands, but realized that her jeans had no pockets, in fact, her jeans had no seams, buttons or zipper. It was as if they were painted on, but they weren't skintight. Charley looked at her shirt and found that it was the same as her pants, no buttons or seams, but it was being held closed somehow. Charley looked over at her companion with the question clearly on her face.
"Don't ask me, sister. I didn't do it," Charlene said pulling on her Tag.
"Don't worry Charley. It always happens with the new ones."
Both woman turned to see a third, this one looking just as Charley, but with all her buttons in the right place and a toolbelt hung low on her hips. She smiled disarmingly, to which Charlene glared and Charley frowned.
"What do you mean? It happens to the new ones," Charley asked.
Her look-alike sighed and made a motion for them to follow her. "It will be easier to explain if you come with me."
Charlene and Charley looked at each other and then followed the other through a door they had neglected to notice earlier. They followed the other woman to a door and she pushed it open. Inside was another version of Charlene Davidson. She was in the middle of a room littered with bodies, Tulsan, Plutarkian and three Martians. She held the white furred Martian in her lap as she rocked and cried, completely unaware of anyone else.
"She came before you," the other Charley said. "She was made to deal with Sellous Prime."
Before Charley of Charlene could ask a question the other woman closed the door and opened another. Inside was a Charlene Davidson that had been on Torren. Her body was almost wasted away. Her head had been shaved and there were countless wires and tubes running from her body. On the wall was a video screen with her image there.
"How is my son?" she asked with an eerie metallic voice. "Is Chance all right?"
"She's Chance's mother. Don't bother to answer. She can't hear you. She stopped living when Torren blew up."
The Charley guide turned to leave this room for another when Charlene lost her patience.
"Wait just a damn minute!" Charlene shouted as she made a grab for their guide. Charlene looked momentarily uneased when her hand passed straight through.
"You'll understand when you meet the First," their guide said as she led them past a door.
"What's in there?" Charley asked out of curiosity.
"That's my room," she said absently as she continued forward.
"Why don't we take a look," Charlene said with malicious glee.
"No!" Charley guide yelled as Charlene threw open the door.
Two gloved hands came out of the room and grabbed their guide and yanked her in. Charley and Charlene looked at each other in startled surprise and both of them turned to gaze into the room. Inside they found an exact replica of The Last Chance Garage, complete with Martian mice.
"Charley-ma'am, where have you been! We've been lookin' all over for you," Modo exclaimed excitedly.
"I was," Charley-guide said hesitating as she turned to looked at her look-alikes behind her. "I was just taking care of business."
"Well, come on Charley-girl. We have to get goin' before Vinnie gets back," Throttle said with a conspiring grin. "We need to get all this stuff ready or we're goin' to be the only ones surprised by Vinnie's surprise birthday party."
Charlene and Charley looked about the room at all of the balloons and streamers. They were being completely ignored by the two male mice. Charlene just snorted at all of the brightly colored party favors, but Charley recognized this moment in time. It was Vinnie's first birthday on Earth. He was the first of the guys to have a birthday while they were here and she had suggested a surprise party. Charley remembered working all morning while Vinnie was on patrol to get it ready.
"Guys," Charley-guide said. "I have to go get something. I promise I'll be right back."
"You better hurry Charley-ma'am. We don't have much time until Vinnie gets back," Modo reiterated as he tied off another balloon to stack with the others on the floor.
"Don't worry guys. You won't even know I was gone." With that their guide ushered them out of the room and closed the door. She sighed and leaned heavily on the door.
"I remember that," Charley said, pointing to the door. "We barely had the Garage ready before Vinnie got back." She smiled and crossed her arms over her stomach. "He was so happy."
"What is that place?" Charlene asked, pointing to the closed door.
"That is where all the moments of my life live," Charley-guide said.
"Then are you dead like the others?" Charley asked.
"I died the day I got captured by the Plutarkians," their guide sighed as she continued on down the long hallway.
They went down the corridor and past another open door. Inside was another, younger, Charlene Davidson. She sat alone on a racetrack beside the twisted remains of a red racing bike. She rocked back and forth crying saying over and over again that she should have made him listen, that she should have made him call off the race. Charley shivered, remembering that moment. She remembered how much she wished that she could just die and start over.
"Why are they all suffering like that? Why are you the only one that isn't trapped in such a horrible moment?" Charley asked.
"I don't regret my life. I'm the only one that believes that the bad days were worth the good days. I do have moments when all I can remember is the bad days, but they don't last," Charley-guide said as they entered the last room in the hallway.
"I thought I was going to be the last. I was going to be the one that carried all the memories, good and bad, but She thought we needed another so Chance's mother was born. When Torren blew up and the XenoX did what they did. She decided to make another to deal with Sellous Prime. After that you were born," Charley-guide said pointing to Charlene.
"Who is She you keep talking about?" Charlene demanded, clearly pissed that she was being referred to as Another.
Charley-guide didn't answer, but pointed instead. In the corner of the room, huddled into a tiny ball was a little girl. She was in soot covered nightclothes and she was crying into her bent knees.
"She is the first," Charley-guide said simply. She bent before the girl and put a hand on her head. "Charley, they're here. Are you going to talk to them?"
"No, no. I have to I have to make another one. I can't go to the Tulsan home world. I can't face all those families. I have to make another to talk for us. I have to"
"Stop it Charley!" Charley-guide said as she shook the little girl. "You have to stop it. You can't keep making personalities to deal with the bad things that scare you."
"But I have to, don't you see!" the child sobbed. "I can't live with all pain. I can't live with all hurt. I can't live with what I did!"
Charley saw that their guide was fast losing her patients. Charley approached the girl and asked her double to leave her alone. She sat in front of the child and took her small hands in her own. One hand was slightly burned at the fingertips and in the other hand was a half empty book of matches.
"You made me. Didn't you Charley?" she asked the little girl.
"Yes, but you're not strong enough. You feel too much. You can't make the pain go away."
"What about Charlene?" Charley asked about woman that was now staring a hole in her back. "She's strong."
"Yes, but she hates everybody. I don't want to hate everybody."
"Why isn't she in a room like the others?"
"I can't make her. She's in the other place with all the metal and wires. I can't make her stay there."
"Charley, are you scared?"
The girl nodded.
"Are you tired?"
"Are you hurt?"
"So am I."
The little girl looked up with a tear-streaked face. Charley reached out to the little girl and pulled the matches from her hand.
"Let me be the one that's scared, tired and hurt. You don't have to do that anymore."
"But I have to hurt. I'm the one that killed Daddy."
"Charley, you were a little girl. You didn't know what you were doing."
"But you're not strong enough. We've hurt so many people. We feel too much pain," the little girl whimpered.
"It's all right Charley. With Charlene's help I can handle it. Let me take all the memories, good and bad. Let me take the pain, because with it comes the joy. Let me take over and let yourself rest. Let all of them rest."
The little girl looked up at her latest creation. She had made this one with too soft a heart. She looked past her to the lady in leather. She had made Charlene too hard. The child rubbed at her tears with her soot-covered hand that would never come clean. She was sacred. Sacred of going on and giving in, but she didn't want the pain anymore. She couldn't live with the pain anymore. She kept making more and more walls in the form of other Charlene Davidsons to hide behind, but it never worked for every long. Somehow the pain always found it's way in.
"The universe isn't as bad as you think it is, Charley," the older woman whispered to the child.
"What's so good about it?" the child asked, bitterly. "My Father is dead."
"But my son is alive," she countered.
"And so are my friends," Charley-guide spoke for the first time since she backed away.
"And so are you," Charlene answered angrily.
The three other females looked at her in surprise that she spoke and she didn't stop there.
"If I understand this correctly I'm just a cut out paper doll you made because you couldn't handle being hurt anymore, but you were trying to replace me with her because I hate too much. Well, let me tell you something sister " Charlene snarled as she stalked across the room like a panther. "I do hate too much. I hate sleeping in a new bed every few month because I have no place to call my own. I hate waking up everyday knowing it's getting me one day closer to a trial for a crime I don't remember committing. I hate looking at Chance knowing I'm never going to see him grow up. I hate pushing people away because someday I won't be there for them. I hate watching life knowing I won't have it for very much longer. But mostly I hate you."
Charlene pointed at the child and for the first time in her short existence Charlene cried.
"I hate you for giving up, but expecting us to live on. I hate you for making me only to kill me when you thought I wasn't needed. I hate you for throwing away what I'd kill to possess and I hate you for giving me the will to live. I don't care what's in my past or in my future, all I want is to live, but now your trying to take that from me too. Well, I won't let you."
The room began to get darker as the wall turned from pristine white to coal black.
"What are you doing?" Charley-guide asked as the room began to shake.
"I'm fighting. I don't care if you stay in your little room and play house with those Martian Mice," Charlene told the guide with the blunt end of her finger against the other's chest. "I don't care if the little brat stays in the corner for eternity and balls her eyes out. I don't care if I never see any of you ever again, because I'm going to fight, with or without you."
"You won't be seeing them again Charlene, just me."
Charley walked over to her double with the tool belt on and took both her hands in hers.
"Let go. The others already have, just let go," Charley pleaded.
"You won't forget, will you?" she asked as she started to fade from sight.
"How could I ever forget?"
Charley turned to the little girl. "Let go," she said.
The child nodded and fell into a pile of ash. Charley turned to the only other occupant in the room.
"Don't look at me sister. I ain't going anywhere," Charlene said stubbornly as she crossed her arms over her chest.
"I wouldn't want you to. You will let go when the time is right," Charley said softly folding her hands in front of herself.
"Why do I have to be the one to `let go'," Charlene snorted. "Why don't you just `let go' and let me handle it."
"Because you don't remember. It may be that I will be the one to go, but not until you remember. I won't give up until you remember."
"I guess we're stuck with each other then," Charlene said, not sounding as upset as she could have been.
"I guess so," Charley answered, sounding quite pleased.
"The game is over."
"What?" Charlene asked, feeling dazed and disoriented as she looked around herself.
Carbine looked down at her from where she stood beside her human friend and pointed to the field. "The Sackball game, remember? It's over."
Charlene looked across the field where mothers and fathers were congratulating their children as they came off the field. She glanced over at the scoreboard and realized that the game was tied, 11 all. Carbine tapped Charlene's shoulder and offered her hand. The human took it and allowed her Martian friend to help her to her feet. As she was brushing grass and dirt from her pants, Charlene noticed that Chance was coming her way with uncles in tow.
Oh great, here they come. Calm down, stay focused, they're your friends, remember? Charlene grinned crookedly. I remember. Chance dropped Modo's hand and ran the rest of the way to his mother. Charlene knelt down and gave the boy a near bone-crunching hug. The boy's uncles stood behind him along with Carbine and Ivory.
"Are you all right Ma'ma?" he asked into her neck.
Charlene pulled back and took her son's head in her hands and looked deep into his eyes. On the surface she could see her own reflection, but under that she could see herself as she once was looking back at her. In that moment Charlene realized that Chance knew far more than he was letting on. Charlene took her son's head and laid his forehead against her own. She leaned forward until his short, pink antennae touched her scalp.
Chance wasn't a full-bloodied Martian so he couldn't transfer thoughts at will, but his hybrid Martian/Human genes did allow him to read minds with contact, if the subject was willing. Charlene opened her mind to her son. She let him see everything that she was and everything she had been. She let him see the turmoil that her emotions were in and the delicate line she walked to keep her sanity. Maybe a seven-year-old shouldn't know the things he now knew about his mother, but Charlene wasn't going to miss this opportunity. She may never return from the Tulsan homeworld. She may never have another chance to share with her son how much she loved him in the way Martian mothers share with their children.
Charlene pulled away from her son and waited for him to either accept her or reject her. Her heart lurched when she saw the fear in Chance's eyes. She felt the tears pricking needles in the back of her metallic eyes as she struggled not to cry. Charlene tried to withdraw from her son so that she would cause him no more discomfort. Now she was sure that she had done the right thing in giving custody of Chance away. Before she could stand Chance wrapped his arms around his mother's neck and kissed her softly on the cheek.
"You will always be my mother," he whispered to her, and Charlene wasn't entirely sure she had heard him with her ears.
The tears did start to flow then and Charlene wiped them away angrily. She didn't want to show her weakness in front of the others, but as she stood she could see that they had already seen. Stop being so defensive. They're friends, remember? Charlene let her jaw clench. Shut up. I know what I'm doing.
"I have to go now," Charlene said as she backed a step away from Chance.
Throttle took a step forward to place his hands on Chance's shoulders. The young boy seemed to lean into his uncle for support and Throttle gave by tightening his hold on the child. Charlene turned to Carbine and held her arm out to her. The Martian General clasped Charlene's forearm and the human did likewise.
"Keep the place together, and don't take any shi", Charlene looked down at Chance's shocked face and amended her words. "bull from these guys." She then turned to Ivory and offered her arm in the same manner, which the cream colored mouse took without hesitation.
"Make sure Chance eats right, and I don't mean hot dogs and rootbeer for every meal."
"Mooomm," Chance complained, when his uncles and Ivory laughed.
Quickly, before she had a chance to reconsider, Charlene offered her arm to a stunned Throttle. He hesitated so long that Charlene was about to pull back when he grasped her forearm. She gripped his forearm tightly and the tingling sensation that was residual from their first meeting hummed. Her heart flipped-flopped in her tight chest. She hadn't, until that moment, realized that she had missed it. Throttle must have felt something too.
"Charley-girl?" he started to ask, but Charlene cut him off.
"You better take good care of my son, or" Charlene tighten her grip until she saw Throttle wince slightly, "you'll answer to me."
Throttle's only response was to nod his head, but the look he gave her over the rim of his shades told her that he wasn't going to let the last few minutes go unanswered. Charlene withdrew her arm from Throttle and willingly gave it to Modo. The tall gray mouse hesitated, looking first to his mechanical right arm then to her's. Charlene angrily took Modo's arm and yanked him towards herself. She leaned in and whispered bitterly to him under her breath.
"It's been over ten years Modo. If you can't learn to live with being different how will Chance ever be comfortable?" she asked him.
Charlene left Modo to ponder what she had said, feeling only the tinniest nudge of guilt for being so rough on him. Then she turned to Vinnie. Why was it so much harder to look at him? Might-have-beens and should-have-dones. That's why it's harder. Charlene tried to swallow, but her throat was constricted with emotions she couldn't even count or name. She didn't get a chance to offer her arm before Vinnie outstretched his. Outwardly she appeared calm, but inside her muscles tightened painfully in an effort to keep her from running. Charlene grasped Vinnie's arm in a bruising grip in the attempt to intimidate him and to distance herself from him. Vinnie didn't seem to notice.
"Try not to get yourself killed," she told him as she tried to pull her arm away, but Vinnie wouldn't let go.
"Take care of yourself, Charlene. I," he paused and looked down at their joined arms.
Very slowly he began to rub his thumb across the bare skin and glittering wires of Charlene's arm. Charlene wished desperately that she had left her jacket on. Her sensor net was precisely cataloguing every whisper soft stroke of every follicle of fur. Burned and etched into her permanent memory was the exact amount of skin he was touching and with how much pressure. Forever would she remember with perfect clarity how fast his thumb was moving and in what direction. She tried to conjure up some anger at Vinnie's actions, but was unable to even move. Anger she could control. Anger she could understand. But this was too much.
"We need you here, Charley. Please, come home," Vinnie continued.
All Charlene could do was nod. Vinnie held on for a few more seconds and then let her arm drop. Carbine tapped her shoulder and offered Charlene the jacket she had abandoned on the grass. Charlene took it, grateful to have something to do with her hands. Mechanically she put her jacket on and pulled her long braid from under the black leather. She reached into her pocket and looked for her fingerless gloves. Charlene took great care in putting on the well-worn leather riding gloves, giving herself enough time to collect herself.
"I have to go," she said simply as she zipped her jacket all the way to her throat. She reached down briefly to brush the sad, lonely tear from Chance's cheek before turning away.