Pre-reading babble: If you're a staunch fan you'll probably note that a bit of the background in this fiction is not canon with the BMFM series. I haven't yet decided whether the guys have been to Earth, or even if this is the Mars in our solar system. I also don't call them "mice", just as I wouldn't casually call us "humans". I also have serious trouble with the command hierarchy on Mars. How the hell did Carbine get to be a general so young? And if she's a general, how does Scabbard get to tell her off if he's only a sergeant? Sigh. Anyway, I can't think of a quick fix, so I've left her as a general, and if you think there's waaay to many generals in this story, you are correct. I may fix this some day.

This story is set a good seven years after the historical events in "Once upon a time on Mars". Throttle, Modo and Vinnie have been off-planet somewhere, and are just back. That's all you need to know so far. There's no graphic sex or violence yet, but there may be some later where appropriate.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters from BMFM, nor do I make any profit from this story yadda yadda. Any character here not mentioned in the series is my own creation, unless otherwise indicated. Feel free to use them, but do let me know, and let others know where to find them. Otherwise, just read and enjoy. Cheers, Mez.

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By Mez
July 16, 2001

Rimfire stood at the entrance to Vehicle One, watching as a sleek red streetbike flew up the ramp and squealed to a halt, tyres smoking, the rear wheel mere inches from Rimfire's boots.

"Hey Vinnie," said Rimfire calmly, as the white-furred mouse sat up and whipped off his helmet in one smooth motion.

"AWWOOOOOOOHOOOO! Did ya miss me kid?" laughed Vinnie, reaching over to punch Rimfire solidly in the chest.

Rimfire grunted at the impact. "Oh yeah, really missed you Vin," he said, grinning, as two more bikes roared up the ramp and pulled to a less spectacular halt.

"How ya doin' Rimfire?" The tan mouse on the black bike flicked off his helmet and leaned across to clap Rimfire on the shoulder.

"Not so bad, Throttle. Nice to see you guys ho...OOOF!" Rimfire rasped as Modo wrapped a pair of huge arms around his chest and lifted him off the ground, squeezing all the air out of his lungs in one movement and making him see stars. Throttle and Vinnie laughed as Modo deposited Rimfire back on his feet. Rimfire staggered, then looked up at his uncle and grinned. "Great to see you too, Uncle Modo," he laughed, reaching up to pull him into a bear hug as Modo roared with laughter.

Hearing a low whistle behind him, Rimfire disengaged himself from his uncle and turned around. Throttle had dismounted and was staring around him in amazement.

"So, I see you did some decorating while we were out," quipped Vinnie, still astride his bike.

"Oh yeah, things have probably changed a little since you were last here," Rimfire said.

Throttle moved a few paces further into the huge cavern. On one side of the ramp entrance, 4-wheeled ATV's were parked in neat ranks, each one under a number and with a status sheet pegged to the wall behind them. On the other side, Freedom Fighter Bikes in red sand tones and metal greys were lined up, also under numbers. At the far end of the cavern, he could see people moving about, and the flash of a welder. He turned back to Rimfire, confusion written on his face.

"Are we in the right base here? Freedom Fighter Main, right? I'm sure that's what the guy at the gate said."

"Looks like the army has invaded," Vinnie stated. Modo nodded, and looked around warily. Rimfire snorted. "Whatever, guys, it works, and you'll get used to it. But look, I've got no time to do the tour now, and neither do you."

"What's up? Trouble?" said Throttle. Vinnie leaned forward excitedly on his bike. "Just point us to it, kid, we'll whip it for ya!"

Rimfire shook his head. "Nothing you can fix or help with, but you'll want to know about it" he said, looking grim. "Go up the ramp to Vehicle Two, park your bikes somewhere and head to Command Centre. Carbine wants to see you pronto. I'll meet you there," Rimfire said, moving swiftly to the exit at the back of the cavern.

"What? Hey! Where's Command Centre?" yelled Throttle at Rimfire's rapidly retreating back. "You'll find it OK!" floated back to him.

"Well!" huffed Vinnie. "Some homecoming this is! No adoring fans, no homecoming feast and no tour! This bites!"

Throttle grinned and gunned his engine. "Stop whinging Vincent. We're home again. That's good enough for me."

The three rode out and up the ramp again to the next level. Here there was less order, and a lot more people. A figure in goggles and overalls, carrying a freshly painted front faring, motioned them to the right as they pulled in. Throttle spotted some empty spaces along the wall. As they stopped, a dark-furred girl in a blue uniform walked up to them.

"Names," she snapped, as soon as their engines had quieted.

Throttle opened his mouth to speak, but Vinnie quickly stepped in front of him.

"Vincent, the Velocity Atrocity, baddest Mammajamma this side of the asteroid belt!" he declared proudly, flexing his muscles and grinning at her. "You've probably heard of me. Oh, and this is Throttle and Modo, my support team." Vinnie heard a choking sound from Throttle before someone grabbed the bandana at his throat and yanked him backwards. The girl's ears flicked once in irritation as Vinnie was whisked out of sight.

"Tag Number?" she said.

"Er, sorry?" said Throttle, trying to ignore the pummelling sounds coming from behind him, "we're just here to see Carbine and Stoker...?"

The girl glanced up at him briefly, a strange look in her eyes, before scribbling something on her clipboard. "Visitors, fine." She tore some paper from a sheet in front of her and shoved it at Throttle. Throttle looked down uncomprehendingly at the form he was holding, but looked up again quickly as the girl slapped a sticker on each of their bikes.

"Hey!" he said.

"AAARGH! What are you doing to my paintwork?" shrieked Vinnie, scrambling to his feet.

The girl gave Throttle one more strange look before striding off again. Vinnie ripped the sticker off, groaning as a few flakes of paint came away.

"Visitors," he muttered, reading the sticker, before screwing it up and tossing it to the ground.

"Oh momma," said Modo. Throttle grunted noncommittally.

"Come on guys, Rimfire is waiting."

"Carbine, too," hissed Vinnie to Modo, who snickered quietly.

Five years" he thought, "and we come home to...what?" None of the people pushing past him looked familiar, and he got no cries of recognition from the faces around him. "Where the hell is everyone? Two hundred freedom fighters don't just disappear." He smiled to himself as he heard Vinnie and Modo engage in another impromptu battle. "Not quietly, anyway." His grin faded as another thought came to him. "I wonder where we fit into all this?" He looked around and saw they had come to a crossways, with a grey bar saying "Command Deck Main: Command Centre." This directive led

"Come!" snapped a strong male voice.

Opening the door, Throttle saw Carbine arguing heatedly with a thickset, red-brown man in an army uniform. On the other side of the desk a sleek, pale-furred man with a dark head stripe stood stock still, only his tail lashing agitatedly. Rimfire sat slumped in a chair in front of a Vid-screen on the table, looking unhappy.

"Carbine, I think you're going to have to face the fact that he's guilty!" snapped the red-brown man. "The evidence is overwhelming, and his actions haven't exactly been those of an innocent man!"

"Actions? What actions! He hasn't said a word since he was dragged off for trial 2 weeks ago!"

"How about burning all his personal files? Wiping half our computer banks?"

"You don't know that was him! Those files could have held evidence to save him!"

"They could also hold the evidence to convict him!"

"Oh come on Raid, you can't honestly think that..."

"Yes, I can! You know what I think? He hasn't said a word in his own defence because there's nothing he can say! The money was traced to him, he was filmed handing over the information! This isn't circumstantial evidence, Carbine; this is overwhelming proof that Stoker is a traitor! He threw us all over for a few thousand Plutarkian Gills!"

Throttle went rigid with shock. A cry from Vinnie and a roar from behind him preceded Modo flying across the room, grabbing the red-brown man by the collar and slamming him into the far wall. Modo leaned forward and growled, his teeth mere inches from the man's muzzle, the fur on his neck standing straight up in fury. Rimfire leapt out of the chair with a cry. "No, Modo! Stop!" He grabbed Modo's left arm and hung on. "Put him down!" Modo glared at the man, before reluctantly lowering him to the floor. The man was shaking, not out of fear, Throttle realised, but with rage. Throttle could feel his own hackles rising, and beside him could feel tension coming off Vinnie in palpable waves.

"That's enough, all of you! Calm down!" snapped Carbine, moving between them and the angry officer.

"We might, if you tell us what in the bloody sands is going on!" said Throttle through gritted teeth.

Raid snorted, and moved to sit at the table, walking around Modo when it became obvious he wasn't going to budge. Throttle ignored him and looked directly at Carbine. Her eyes were puffy from lack of sleep and the look she gave him said plainly, I've had enough. "Babe," he started, but was interrupted by Rimfire. "They're back," he said tersely. Carbine moved swiftly to sit at the table.

"Wha-," Vinnie began, but a savage "Shut up!" from Carbine silenced him. Vinnie and Modo moved to where they could see the screen, and Throttle took the vacant chair next to Carbine. To his surprise, he felt her hand fumble for his under the table, and she gripped it tightly. A babble of voices followed by silence brought his attention to the Vid-screen. He saw it was a live feed from a courtroom, military by the amount of brass on chests and in ears. A stern Commander presided over the courtroom. As the camera panned across the room, Throttle's gut tightened, and he realised he already knew who would be in the accused's chair. Modo and Vinnie had obviously grasped what was happening too, as they only grunted as Stoker came into sight. He sat absolutely still, not an ear or whisker twitched, and his tail hung unmoving behind him. His face was expressionless and he stared into the distance.

The Commander cleared his throat. "This court, having duly considered the evidence as presented..." Throttle half-listened to the droning voice, and glanced around the table. Everyone was watching the screen intently, looking tense, except the pale-furred stripe. To Throttle's surprise, the man was intently watching Raid. The pale-fur looked up and met Throttle's eyes. His left ear flicked once, before he returned his scrutiny to the screen. A groan from Rimfire returned Throttle's attention to the courtroom, and he caught the end of the Commander's summation. "...this court finds the defendant guilty of treason." As the sentence was read, Carbine buried her face in her hands. The pale-furred man slammed his fist into the desk and walked to the window as the transmission ended.

In the courtroom, not a muscle twitched in Stoker's face as he was led away.

Rimfire snapped off the vid-screen, and slumped back in his chair.

"Well, that's that," said Raid matter-of-factly, raising in Throttle a strong desire to punch him. "We've a base to run here. Carbine?" Raid stood and looked expectantly at her.

"I'll be there in a minute, General," she said tiredly. "I want to update Throttle, Modo and Vinnie on what's happened."

Raid looked for a moment like he was going to argue, but instead turned on his heel and strode out of the room. There was silence for a moment. Throttle squeezed Carbine's hand gently, and leaned forward.

"You want to fill us in babe?"

"Yeah, and tell us why we didn't hear about this earlier?" Modo said, frowning, as he moved to sit at the table.

"There wasn't time," said a soft voice from the window. The pale-furred man turned and moved easily and quietly to the table.

"Guys, this is Stone," said Carbine wearily. "Stone, this is Throttle, Modo and Vinnie," she said, pointing to them in turn.

"Stone is Stoker's aide. With the expansion of the Freedom fighters and the current affiliation with the army, we've had to change the command structure a little. Deakin," she smiled at Throttle, "who I'm sure you remember, runs Operations now. General Raid came over from Army to run Troop Deck and old Fletch runs maintenance." Throttle nodded, glad to hear some familiar names.

"We even have a hospital now," continued Carbine; "remind me to introduce you to Trench sometime."

"That's great babe, but what about Stoker?" said Throttle. He glanced at Stone, who smiled tightly at him, though his eyes were cold. "Why didn't you tell us what was happening?"

"You were en route when General Cage arrived to arrest Stoker on charges of passing information to the Plutarkians," said Stone. "It was only two weeks ago. There was no point informing you, as you couldn't do anything about the situation, and at the time, we didn't realise how far this would go."

"Two WEEKS?" said Vinnie, Modo and Throttle in unison.

"You're joking, how could they get him into court so fast?" said Throttle. "This reeks of a set-up."

"Of course it reeks," said Stone impatiently, slapping his fist into his palm, "but every shred of evidence they've got is top-notch. There's not a crack anywhere were we can get in and see what's really going on. And in all this time, Stoker hasn't said a word. Not to anyone. And I'm damn sure he knows who's behind it, otherwise why would he burn his papers? He had warning it was coming, but from who, I don't know."

"We don't know it was Stoker who burned those papers," said Carbine wearily.

"Actually we do," said Stone. "Stoker charged in here about two seconds ahead of Cage's men, grabbed something from the message pile, tore it up and threw it in the fire. I asked him what he was doing, and he said ‘breaking a trail'. That was the last words I've heard from him."

"And you've no idea what was in those papers?" asked Throttle.

Stone snorted. "And you don't think I've been through this already a thousand times?"

"Point taken."

Carbine frowned. "Why didn't you tell me about that?"

Stone gave her a long look. "If we'd managed to get out of Raid's sight for more than two minutes at a time, I might have," he said.

"You don't trust Raid?" Throttle asked, watching Stone intently.

"Not a bit."

"Come on Stone, we've got enough trouble without fighting among ourselves. If Stoker trusted Raid enough to give him a command, why won't you?"

Stone snapped his jaw closed, clearly signifying he had no more to say on the subject. Carbine threw her hands up.

"Fine, I give in."

"So what's your part in all this?" said Throttle, gesturing around.

Carbine rolled her eyes. "I get to be army liaison."

"Oh, yay. That must be fun."

Carbine snorted. "Fabulous. The army brass are so pro-procedure, and Stoker's commanders are so anti-procedure, that meetings are a nightmare. I spend most of my time soothing damaged egos and interpreting official documents. All this in the hope that we can actually coordinate the efforts of army and freedom fighters." She sighed, and ran a hand through her hair.

"It was actually going well, considering. We've managed to work together on several occasions, and the new command structure here has really increased our efficiency."

Vinnie snorted.

"Well it has, Vinnie. We've got too many people now and too much equipment for a bunch of disorganised old freedom fighters to control. And we're also involved in running the settlement here, organising supplies and protecting the settlers. We need...."

Stone cleared his throat. "Back to the problem at hand," he said, turning to Throttle. "We've applied to the courts to get the original tape that was used in the trial. Deakin's going to have a look at it when it comes in; hopefully we can strip it down and get some sort of information from it."

"You think it's a fake?" said Throttle.

"Don't you?"

Throttle took of his field specs and rubbed his eyes. He knew he was tired and not thinking clearly. Of course it had to be a fake.

"Sorry, stupid question. But how will that help? Surely the courts would have verified it as an original, un-tampered tape before it was allowed as evidence?"

"Oh yes, they handed over a document saying it had been tested and approved, but who knows whether it really was? We're hoping whoever doctored it left at least a few fingerprints on it."

"Fingerprints?" said Modo bemusedly.

"Bits of information, Modo, sequences that got wiped, insertions, even computer tags. Anything would help."

Throttle nodded again and was about to speak when the wail of a siren cut through his words. Vinnie and Modo jumped.

"What was that?"

"Third watch," said Carbine, standing up, "which means work for us. Rimfire, can you get them some space for the night? And get them some tags from Deakin tomorrow." She nodded at Modo and Vinnie, and squeezed Throttle's hand.

"I'll see you later," she said and walked out, Stone close on her heels.

Rimfire found himself the target of three very intense stares. He sighed heavily and rose to his feet.

"Come on, I'll get you some digs. You can ask questions on the way."

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In his cell, Stoker lay on the hard bunk, outwardly composed, inwardly seething.

"You fucking bastard. You fucking, traitorous bastard. I'm going to bring you and your whole fish-stinking operation down in a screaming heap for this, I swear."

To be continued...