Disclaimer: On November 13, Stoker1439 was asked to leave his
place of residence. That request came from his disclaimer. Deep down, he
knew it was right, but he also knew that one day, he would return to it.
With no other place to go, Stoker1439 went to the home of longtime friend Oscar Madison, whose own disclaimer, years ago, had also told him to leave, never to return. Can two un-disclaimered men live together without driving each other crazy?
I do not own "Biker Mice From Mars," and make no profit off this story. Zero, zip, nada. Got it? This was written for the fun of it. Enjoy!
Note: The characters and situations created in this story do belong to me (thanks to the copyright, ha ha!), so please restrain from writing any FanFics using them. All the subtle foreshadowing I throw in could go straight down the tubes with one little story. Please respect this wish and don't be mad. You're welcome to try your hand at sketching any of them, however!
If there is one good thing to be said about Mars, it's this: you'll never get heat stroke there. I mean, if you don't spontaneously develop skin cancer from the near-total lack of an atmosphere and die. The red planet is far from red hot. Its distance from the sun makes Mars a dusty iceball. To be scientific about it, Mars's average temperatures can range from a 60 degree (F) high to a -90 degree low.
In the summer.
In winter, it can go as low as -200 degrees (readers outside the continental United States should get out their temperature conversion charts--I can't remember the Celcius conversion equation, and besides that, I'm not doing any math until next month). The moral of the story: if you decide to visit Mars, bring extra socks and a space heater.
For Mars's native inhabitants, however, winter is more comfortable than it would be for humans. It would have to be, or Mars wouldn't have any inhabitants. Many species at the poles developed larger feet for walking on the snow, not unlike a snowshoe. Others hibernate. And all the native races cute enough to make into plush toys are covered in a thick coat of fur, particularly those which evolved at the poles.
So perhaps it should be no suprise that the cold didn't bother Stoker on this, the last day of 1991. He was better equipped to deal with Mars's sub-arctic winter temperatures than summer. Despite the blizzard all around him, his thick jacket and gloves kept his hands and torso relatively warm.
Besides that, he had always loved winter. Never mind getting called off school (Stoker's hometown had been used to blizzards and rarely canceled). Stoker just liked the way it looked. He liked the way winter blanketed everything, especially when the snow and ice would freeze on tree branches through an entire forrest and leave the whole thing looking like something out of a fantasy painting. For as long as he could remember, the loveliness of a snow-covered field could take his breath away, seconds before he tore through it on his bike, destroying the pristine beauty. After all, you can only admire scenic beauty so long before you have to use it for a bike path.
And, of course, there was the added bonus that snow-storms, like the one he was presently riding through, provide excellent cover for large groups of armed resistance groups such as the Freedom Fighters. If not for the cover of the snow, they would've had to have been more worried about the threat of Plutarkians following them.
Stoker had a short lead on all the Freedom Fighters, but he could hear them all as they followed behind. Chaos McKlash and Jamespolychronopolus, aka "Jimmy," were the closest to him, both physically and in terms of friendship, and were swapping jokes, many of which can't be reprinted here. Behind them, Stoker could pick out the sounds of gray goliath Smoke and his oh-so-sensual lover Haywire fighting (again). Scoot and Chance, the slacker and the former-Army soldier, were riding behind the two of them. And although, further back, voices were carried away by the wind, Stoker could still hear the sounds of the three very finely-tuned engines belonging to the four young Biker Mice from Mars--Throttle, Modo, Vinnie, and Bingo--ripping through the night air. Behind them were the couple-dozen extras who rounded out the Freedom Fighter lineup and can be named or left nameless at my convenience.
Yes, Stoker was in a good mood tonight. But was it the winter, or because of how well today's battle had gone, or was it because it was New Year's Eve? He'd decide later.
Looking ahead, Stoker spotted, through the snow, what appeared to be normal stone wall at the base of an otherwise nondescript mountain capped with a monestary. He smiled to himself as he pulled to a halt just short of the wall, slightly off to the side of the winding road. Stoker quickly hopped off his bike, letting it idle. With one numb palm, Stoker pushed up a small rock in the bulwark, revealing a numbered keypad beneath. Stoker typed in the passcode (1-8-8-7), then stepped back to allow a hidden entranceway to reveal itself. A small drift of snow which had accumulated on the top of the door fell away in a white, sparkling curtain.
"Everybody inside!" he shouted, waving an arm at the brightly-lit tunnel at his side. "Hustle!"
Stoker waited beside the doorway, watching all the other Freedom Fighters venture inside before him, along with their bikes (including Stoker's own). It wasn't so much to do a headcount--Stoker did those before the mice left the battlefield (today's had been what remained of Crater Run, a former planetary preservation park akin to Yellowstone, only with fewer hot springs and more craters), and double-checked once every hour or so, just to be safe--but as to have some time alone to unwind. When he was in battle, Stoker let his adrenilen carry him. He seemed invulnerable between his speed and strength. But when the day was done, and that adrenilen was spent, Stoker's body ached. Perhaps he just got too excited to feel any pain during battle, but after was a completely different story. He was exhausted. At least most times, it was a pleasant sort of exhaustion, akin to the feeling a swimmer has after spending a long, satisfactory day in the pool.
And yet, this private rest period went beyond the physical. Stoker needed time to pull his mental state back together. During a battle, he was expected to be one of the shining stars on the field, taking out Plutarkians left and right, but also, to be leader. The combination often left him feeling sort of frazzled, burnt out, by day's end. He never felt intelligent after a battle, like he had expended all his brain-power and was running on empty.
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Stoker was coming to terms with the fact that, no matter how many battles the Freedom Fighters seemed to win, no matter how many Plutarkians they put six feet under, more were always on the way. More of their well-trained troops. More of their advanced weaponry. More.....
Shaking his head, Stoker watched as the last few of his fellow Fighters entered, then gazed up at the sky. The blowing snow and heavy clouds obscured most of it, but he could see, through holes in the gray, the saphire blue sky peeking through, and the twinkling stars hanging there. For a moment, Stoker tried to pick out the constillations he knew. He was sure he had spotted Earth, then dismissed it as a sattelite (even though he was right the first time).
I wonder, Stoker thought to himself. When I'm gone, will this still be here? Or will the Plutarkians steal the sky, too?
Fearing that his thoughts might become even more fatalistic should he remain outside, Stoker quickly and quietly slipped inside. He shook the snow from his coat onto the flagstones that lined the hall and pulled it off quickly. The passage was too warm to wear heavy clothing in for more than a minute. Pushing his dark brown bangs out of his red eyes, and his two long, twin ponytails off his slightly-paler brown-furred shoulders (and making a mental note to find some Pantene ProV for those nasty split-ends), Stoker felt along the wall until he found a small, rounded stone there, twin to the one outside with the keypad hidden inside it. He pressed down on the little rock, and listened as the door shut firmly behind him.
I love this place, he thought to himself as he entered a slightly larger hallway, one wide enough that three or four mice could walk abreast in it and not bump each other. We couldn't have picked a better location.
He was right. The Serene Monestary was an ideal base. The monestary, the mountain it was built on, and several dozen acres of the surrounding countryside were all property of the mysterious Order of St. Dumas, making it property that the Martian government could not seize, not even with eminent domain. The Order's monks still occupied the three, rather plain, small buildings which topped the mountain the underground base was hidden in.
But those buildings had been built in the recent, measurable past. The catacomb-like underground hidden inside the mountain and presently occupied by the Freedom Fighters was beyond ancient. No one, not even the monks who lived there, knew who had built it, or why. Or if they did, they wouldn't say. It had once been a refuge for religious and political dissidents long ago, which probably explained the elaborate tunnel system and hidden entrances and exits, but little else of its history was known.
All else aside, this gigantic basement of sorts was a twisting rabbit's warren. Tunnels ran all through it, connecting the large, suprisingly airy rooms and living quarters nicely. There were enough of these to afford individual rooms to those that wanted them, and still left plenty of space for a bike garage, weapon storage, and a kitchen. All the tunnels led, in the end, to a huge "hall" the Freedom Fighters used for dining and general assembly when something needed to be said to the group, such as plans for the next day's battle.
What amazed Stoker about the place most of all was how easily the Freedom Fighters had aquired it. During a snow storm rather like tonight's, Stoker and his small band of followers had sought refuge in the monestary. When Scoot had discovered the hidden tunnels while looking for a bathroom (which he never found), the monks readily lent it to the rebels. Stranger still, despite the fact that the monestary itself relied on candles for light and wells for water, the underground rooms had been wired up for electricty and had modern plumbing. Whenever Stoker had tried to find out why such a clearly ancient place had such amenities, and not the monestary itself, the monks would just shrug and say, "Sorry, can't. Vow of silence." This annoyed the leader of the Freedom Fighters to no end, as they were regular chatterboxes any other time. Their damn chanting could drive a Freedom Fighter wonky. The monks claimed they were preparing to cut an album based on Gregorian chants, but no one believed them.
But nobody complained. The monks had been more than kind. Not only did they give the Freedom Fighters shelter, but they also swore they would never reveal the location of the secret base. Stoker couldn't say why, but he trusted them, even though most of the other Freedom Fighters didn't on the basis that they were Dumasians. Maybe knowing Affidayvit had something to do with it. Stoker couldn't be sure.
He thought of none of this, however, as he continued through the hewn-rock tunnel. At the moment, Stoker wanted nothing more than to sit down in his small, private room, relax, and maybe do a little reading before he had to start thinking about the next skirmish with the Plutarkians.
Have to talk to Chaos about that, he decided, slightly somber. She'll know from the government's spy sattelites where they're headed, and where we can stop them. I'll ask her before we meet up with Jimmy. Don't wanna think about that kinda thing too much on a night like tonight.
War strategy would only be a part of their conversation, Stoker was well aware of that. When he started talking with Chaos, he often found himself babbling about anything and everything under the sun. He couldn't explain it, but he loved to talk with her. It wasn't that Chaos was a great conversationalist or anything, but she was a wonderful listener, which, ultimately, was more important (and usually is). It always did Stoker's heart good to talk to her, or just to be with her.
"Stoker!" a chipper young voice called out suddenly from behind.
The older mouse barely had time to turn around before a pair of bare, pumpkin-furred forearms wrapped around his neck and pulled him close. He wrapped his own thin, tautly-muscled ones around the slender, softly-curving and oh-so-farmiliar body. His hips pressed in tight against hers, and he could feel a deep, rising heat in parts of his anatomy I can't mention here, lest this story be dubbed pornography, despite the fact that Anne Rice's books would never be called that save by the up-tighter members of the religious right. When the girl pulled back to arm's length, he could see the heavy blush in her round cheeks, and Stoker wondered if the two of them weren't about to take their relationship to a new level.
Which was absolutely fine with him.
Any heady sexual mood was abruptly killed when Harley threw back her head and giggled, her wavy hair bouncing around her blue eyes as the air filled with her bubbly laughter. It hit home once again with Stoker just how young she was, especially compared to himself. It had always been a joke between the two of them that, one of these days, they were going to end up on a talk show with a title like, "She's Not My Grand-daughter, She's My Girlfriend!" (perhaps they were lucky that Kheta-Burnez, one of Mars's major telelvision centers and home to several dozen such programs, had been destroyed months ago).
But it was a May/December romance, to be sure. Harley was twenty, Stoker was sixty-three (which is almost mid-life for a mouse; Martian mice can live one-hundred fifty years easily). It would've sent most mice into coniptions. Both of the two mice involved, of course, seemed to be enjoying it. Stoker could be incredibly romantic, and Harley loved being with a dashing older man. But although he tried to downplay it, the difference in their ages did bother Stoker.
He tried to dismiss these thoughts.
"Hey, kitten," he said with a smarmy grin.
"Don't `kitten' me!" Harley said with mock-anger. "I've been looking all over for you!"
"Is that a fact?" Stoker asked, raising an eyebrow.
Nodding, Harley snapped, "You shouldn't have left me behind! What if someone had been hurt? Or a bike was hit? Or--"
"It wasn't a big deal, Harley! We won, first off, we didn't lose anybody, and practically no one was even hurt! It was nothing that we couldn't handle on our own! I knew it was going to be a small fight, so we just doubled-up on first aid supplies and went from there. I had Scoot doing first aid!"
Harley's face turned white.
"Are you sure no one died?" she asked.
"Positive! Even Scoot isn't that bad. Besides, I thought you could use the break!"
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Harley asked with a crooked smile.
Shrugging, Stoker replied, "You're always saying you're exhausted, that you need some rest. I give you a chance, and you get mad! Girl, make up your mind!"
Harley hmph-ed and said, "Well, you could've at least told me, instead of letting me oversleep! I thought everyone had abandoned the base without telling me or something!"
"Sorry," Stoker answered, shrugging.
"Geez! I didn't know that there was even a battle today until one of the mice in the infirmary told me! When did you plan this?"
Smiling a little, Stoker replied, "Ooooh, say, last night, around midnight. Chaos found out the fish-heads were headed for--"
"I still can't believe you didn't tell me!"
Stoker sighed. Attractive as she was, sometimes Harley got on his nerves. He hated to admit it, but they were really worlds apart at times. Particularly at this moment. She just wouldn't let go of being left behind. He wouldn't tell her so, but part of the reason he had left her behind was because she had been too clingy lately.
Okay! he told himself. Now is not the time for talk; now is the time for action!
"Actually," Stoker said, pointing to his arm, "I think I pulled a muscle in my shoulder. Maybe you could take a look?"
Smiling, Harley carefully began to feel up Stoker's arm. Her fingers carefully pressed along its firm surface and parted the thick brown fur there, searching for any sign of damage.
Suddenly, Stoker grabbed her at the shoulder and back and dipped her, as if they were a pair of dancers in the midst of a tango. Harley giggled as Stoker kissed her full and on the lips.
There we go, he thought to himself. No more conversation for me, thanks!
Before they could get into any major tonsil-hockey, however, Stoker paused. Despite the fact that he hadn't heard anyone approach, he realized that they weren't alone.
He looked up, not yet unlocking himself from Harley's lips (it might just be a squirrel-bat or something, and he wasn't about to stop kissing Harley because of a stupid squirrel bat), and realized even before he saw her young, white-furred face, that it was Chaos. She was standing behind them, a slim, white-furred mouse with her arms hanging at her side. Almost looked a little riled. Maybe it was just the way her hair was falling in her eyes. As was her custom after a battle, she had removed the long green headband she wore (now in one slender hand). Thus released from their green ribbon prison (try saying that three times fast), shanks of dark chocolate hair were free to fall across her green eyes, giving her a more messy look than she preferred.
But was that.....jealousy in those liquid green pools, or was it just the light?
Probably just the light, Stoker decided, still locked in his kiss. Chaos isn't the jealous type.
At least, she never was before....
"Ow!" Harley shouted, pulling herself out of Stoker's arms and covering her eyes. "Dammit, Chaos! Cover your stupid hand up!"
Chaos smiled a bit, holding up her metallic left arm and inspecting it as if she was suprised.
"I'm sorry, Harley. I can't help the way light bounces off this thing. Or my leg. It's just beyond my control."
"I'll bet," the Martian mechanic snarled. "Maybe you should cover that leg up a little more. Shorts in this weather can't be good for your circuits."
"And I'd wager wearing a shirt like that with such a low collar without a bra can't be too good for you, either," Chaos replied, eyes narrowed.
Although Stoker was not well-versed in the ways of women, he could feel the mounting tension between the two of them (as if their bared teeth and clenched fists weren't enough of a clue). He stepped quickly between the two of them.
"McKlash," he said, putting a hand on her shoulder, "I'm sorry I didn't come in with you and Jim. I just needed some time alone, is all."
"Of course," Chaos agreed, pulling a long orange hair from Stoker's vest. She raised an eyebrow, then said, "Which is why you were in a lip-lock with Harley, right?"
Harley crossed her arms over his chest and snapped, "Are you here for a reason, Chaos, or do you just like to interrupt mice expressing their love for each other?"
Chaos, slightly riled by the question, replied, "Actually, Harley, I'm here to see you."
"Me?" Harley asked, slightly skeptical.
"Mmhmm. There are mice in the main hall who're waiting for you with injuries more serious than a `pulled shoulder.' They need you, and I think you should take care of them promptly. Internal injury is hard to spot unless you're trained, after all. I mean, I don't know about you, but if one of those mice were to die of internal bleeding while you and Stoke were--"
Harley sighed grandly and turned to Stoker.
"I'll be back later," she said. Sparing a glance at Chaos, she snapped, "Maybe then we can find a place away from prying eyes."
She gave Stoker a quick peck on the cheek, which made him smile. But he wasn't oblivious to the disappointment on Harley's own face when there was no discernable change in Chaos's expression. In fact, there was a look of shock on Harley's face, which just made Chaos shrug her shoulders, as if to ask, "What?"
Harley disappeared down the hall, cursing to herself.
Damn Chaos, she thought to herself, clenching her fist. She's always so.....so....so.....oooh! Always butting in like that! She likes Stoker, I know she does! Well, she's not getting him! He's mine!
"Is that true?" Stoker asked, looking her square in the eye, glaring slightly.
"Partially," Chaos replied slyly. Other mice could be intimidated by Stoker, but she never was. "There are mice in the main hall. Just not wounded ones. I wanted to get Harley out of the way so we could talk for a minute."
Stoker crossed his arms over his chest and said with a smile, "Very clever, McKlash, although you could've just asked her to step around the corner for a minute."
"Harley doesn't listen to me," Chaos corrected him. "She doesn't like me."
"Sure she does!" Stoker laughed, patting Chaos on the back. "She just doesn't show it, is all."
Chaos shook her head and pulled something from her pocket, which she handed to Stoker.
"What's this?" he asked, turning it over in his hands.
"Note from Jim," she replied.
Not bothering to unfold it, Stoker asked, face slightly fallen, "We're still on for tonight, right?"
"If you're not too busy," Chaos answered. "Do you think you can put off another round off being with Harley for about twenty minutes? We won't keep you long."
Stoker snickered, then held up the note and asked, "Then what's this?"
Shrugging again, Chaos said, "I don't know. I'm not in the habit of reading other mice's correspondence. Jimmy just asked me to give it to you. I think he said something about meeting somewhere different tonight."
"Really?" Stoker asked, raising an eyebrow.
Nodding, Chaos added, "I forgot where, though. I'll ask him if I see again."
"With that memory of yours, I'm not suprised."
Shrugging, the white-furred mouse started to walk away, adding, "Yeah, well, that might not even be what it's about. I'll see you--"
"Wait!" Stoker shouted.
Chaos turned around, a curiously hopeful look on her face.
"Something bothering you?" he asked.
"No," Chaos replied, shaking her head.
Scratching his head, Stoker said, "Hmm. You just look a little depressed. You're not usually like that on New Year's."
"No, I'm fine."
"Okay, then. I'll see you later."
Damn Harley, Chaos thought to herself, clenching her fist in her hand. Little...little......oooh! Every time I wanna talk to Stoker, she's all over him, like some kinda goddamn octopus! Geez! If she'd just leave him alone for five minutes....
No, that's not right. It's my own fault that he doesn't know how I feel as much as anything she's done. I should've just told him when he asked if anything was wrong. Ah well. Maybe one of these days...
Sometimes, I just don't get that girl, Stoker thought to himself, watching her disappear down the hall.
He then turned his attention to the note.
It was on pale yellow paper--hotel stationary, Stoker guessed--and written in Jimmy's hectic, sprawling script, most likely with his favorite pen--a small green that revealed a topless girl when turned upside-down. Over the years, this innovation had helped Jimmy to become very adept at writing while lying on his back.
ROOFTOP MAIN BUILDING (THE TALL ONE). ELEVEN.
YOUR #1 PORN STAR,
Stoker shook his head and crumpled the paper in his hand. He decided that he might very well kill Jimmy tonight. He paused for a second, then decided against it. Stoker liked New Year's Eve too much to kill anyone, even his best friend.
Looks like Chaos was right, he thought to himself. Phew. I was worried for a minute that something else came up. Heh. Jim wouldn't cancel on us.
He pushed up the brown band on his right arm and looked at his watch.
Ten thirty? Later than I thought. Hmmm. There probably isn't a drop of booze left in this place. Guess I'm gonna have to go dry tonight. Just as well.
Still, he decided to check the kitchen and see what was left. After all, not everyone on base liked to get smashed on New Year's. Maybe some considerate soul had left a shot or two for him.
Sheah, right, and monkeys might fly out of my butt, he thought to himself, walking down the narrow, twisting hallway that would lead him into the kitchen. Maybe it's all for the best. Gotta stay alert. Never know when the fish-faces are gonna attack. This morning's fight was kind of a suprise itself.
Still, I was kinda lookin' forward to--
Stoker turned, almost expecting to see Harley again, and was just a little disappointed to see a male, tan-furred mouse rushing up to meet him, several years Harley's junior. The boy was clearly out of breath, and had obviously been looking for Stoker for quite awhile, if the relieved look on his face was any indication.
"Throttle," the older mouse said, smiling. He stopped and waited for the young mouse to catch up. It was easy for him to forget how quickly his long strides could carry him compared to those of the Biker Mice's young leader. It would be easier on Throttle if he just waited a moment, as opposed to Stoker just slowing his pace. "What's up?"
Throttle jogged up to Stoker's side, his heavy flack vest and long hair bouncing as he did. When he finally managed to stop, he had to rest a moment before he could talk.
"Spit it out, kid," Stoker laughed, patting him on the back. He almost knocked Throttle over with the blow.
"We were *pant* wondering where you *pant* were!" Throttle explained between great gasps of breath.
"You're not the only one!" Stoker laughed. "I'm a popular mouse tonight. Everyone's looking for me."
Throttle grinned and added, "We *pant* thought you *pant* might've changed your *good golly Miss Molly I'm outta breath* mind about ridin' *huff* out to see *puff* the meteor shower with us!"
Stoker slapped his hand against his forehead and shouted, "Dammit! I forgot all about it!"
Throttle straightened and pulled off his black and green mirrorshades, cleaning them carefully with the corner of his shirt as he said, "Well you'd better hurry! We don't get too many really good ones! Usually we're fightin' the fish-heads when there's gonna be a decent one. Some might even hit tonight! You don't wanna miss this!"
After a moment of silence, Stoker sighed and shook his head.
"'Fraid you boys are gonna have to go without me," he said sadly.
Disappointment playing across his young face, Throttle cried out, "But you said you wanted to see it!"
Stoker sighed and pushed his bangs out of his eyes and said, "I know I did. But.....I kinda made plans for tonight before you guys told me about the shower. I just forgot about them until tonight."
"What plans?" Throttle asked, annoyed. He couldn't have been mroe upset if Stoker had just confessed that he was a Plutarkian spy working to destroy the Martian resistance from within. "Come on, Stoke! It won't be any fun without you!"
The young mouse's eyes were so heart-breakingly disappointed Stoker could hardly find it within himself to say no. Truth be told, he did want to see the shower. Throttle was right--few and far between were the oppurtunities he had to just kick back and watch something like that these days. Stoker had missed the planetary alignment a few years back. He hated to miss another astronomical event of this caliber. And with the four young Biker Mice--that would be fun.
As he shifted his weight to the other foot, he could feel the note in his pocket rubbing against his hand.
He sighed again.
Putting a hand gently on Throttle's shoulder, Stoker explained, "Throttle, everyone's got holidays that are very special to them, okay? Christmas, Easter, first day of summer, this `Kwanza' thing I keep hearing about, you know? Well, New Year's Eve is very special to me, and--"
"So why don't you wanna spend it with us?" Throttle asked angrily as he stared up at the older mouse. There was a full head of height between them, but Stoker almost felt that Throttle was going to knock him down with those eyes.
If it had been anyone but Stoker to deny him, Throttle could've dealt with it easily. There would've been rejection issues to deal with later, possibly on a therapist's couch, but he could've dealt with it. Or he'd just go postal in a government building. Both would be equally effective in relieving his anger.
But Stoker was Throttle's absolute idol. There was nothing Throttle wanted more in the world to be like the older mouse, who was not only Mars's most famous biker, and probably the most skillful, but also an incredible leader, tactician, and completely brilliant. Stoker was everything Throttle aspired to be.
He also had great, bouncy hair, which Throttle wanted to have, too.
And for Stoker to say he didn't want to spend time with him (and his bros)....it was a terrible disappointment.
And Stoker knew it, so he tried to soften the blow.
"Kid," he said gently, "you and your bros are a family, right? I mean, I know you're not related, but.......you get the drift."
"Okay. You're a family, you're best pals, you've been that way for years. But tell me this much--who did you spend last Christmas with?"
"With you guys, remember?" Throttle asked, a slight grin on his lips. "It just just six days ago."
"Oh yeah," Stoker muttered. "Okay, but before the war--who did you spend Christmas with? Your parents, right? Or your grand-parents?"
The young mouse answered simply, "My Great-Aunt Hale. My grand-parents are dead. We'd go up to her place in Detsunu every Christmas Eve and spend the night there. Then we'd go home the next day."
Nodding, Stoker said, "And why did you do that?"
"'Cause we always did that," Throttle answered simply. "It was kinda tradition. I didn't mind goin', though. I loved bein' with Aunt Hale."
"Okay, you do it because of tradition. Well, tonight's the same deal with me. Every New Year's Eve I spend with Jimmy and Chaos, just the three of us. We've done it for the last four years or so, and I wouldn't miss it for the world."
Throttle bit his lip and slid his glasses back on.
"I understand," he said, turning on his heel and starting to walk away quickly.
Stoker's hand suddenly clapped on Throttle's shoulder, stopping the young mouse in his tracks.
"No you don't. You're just upset and you wanna get away before you start to tear up."
Sighing, Throttle slumped his shoulders and said, "So? What's the difference? You're not coming and there's all there is to it."
God, Stoker thought to himself, was I like this when I was fifteen?
Stoker turned Throttle around--an easy task; like I said, he had a foot of height on the young mouse and was a good deal stronger--and said with a gentle, knowing smile, "Look, you wanna know why we spend New Year's Eve together? It's kind of a long story, but it might make it sting a little less."
"Well, it's kinda late, and I gotta get goin'......." Throttle said carefully, although Stoker could tell that he was curious. Throttle loved long stories. It was one of the qualities the two mice shared.
Which reminded Stoker that Throttle still had his unabridged copy of The Stand.
"Siddown, kid," the older mouse said, leading him into the kitchen and patting the chair sitting on the far side of the room.
Throttle turned the chair around backward and wrapped his legs around the back. He crossed his arms and rested them on the top of the chair, then plopped his chin down on top.
Stoker hopped up on the bar.
"Now, just in case I get long-winded, do you mind missin' the shower? You might not make it out to the spires if you leave too late."
Throttle smiled and pulled a small walkie-talkie from his vest-pocket. He pushed in the button on the side and said into the bottom, "Vincent, you there, bro?"
There was a hiss of static, and then the high-pitched, changing voice of Vinnie VanWham came on from the other side, asking, "Bro? Where are you? We're already at the spires!"
"I'm gonna be awhile. Tell Bing to be ready with a black hole if I need her t'be. I'll probably be in the kitchen at base, okay?"
"Is Stoke comin'?" Vinnie demanded.
Throttle looked up hopefully at the older mouse hopefully.
Stoker firmly shook his head no.
"That sucks! What's so damn important that the old fart can't--"
Stoker plucked the walkie-talkie from Throttle's hand and said, smiling, "This old fart is planning how to punish you for rank insubordination, punk."
"Stoke!" Vinnie stammered nervously. "Uh, I wasn't talking about you! I said somebody left a fart! It was Modo!"
"Did not!" a distant voice shouted from the other end of the walkie-talkie.
Throttle and Stoker both snickered a little.
"Throttle'll catch up to you boys a little later," Stoker continued. "He'll make it in time for the shower, don't worry. And try not to dig yourself in any deeper, Vincent."
Vinnie grumbled as Stoker handed the small communicator back to Throttle, who pushed down the telescoping antenna and tucked it away.
"He really likes you," the younger mouse said with an apologetic grin.
"I know," Stoker replied. "He's just like me. But that's not what we're here to talk about. Well, like I said, it's kind of a long story, Throttle. Goes back a couple years."
Throttle raised an eyebrow and asked, "You wanna share? Might be quicker."
Stoker shook his head and said, "Naw. You're young--you don't need an old mouse's messed-up memories floatin' around in your head."
"Aw, Stoke, you aren't old!" Throttle laughed.
Smiling at the inadverdent comment, Stoker added, "Besides that, I'm no good at sharing anymore. I just plain lost it when I was a kid. I was sick for awhile, and when I woke up, it was gone."
"That's too bad," Throttle said sadly. "A mouse like you's probably got tons of cool memories."
Stoker nodded and said, "Of course. I've lived an interesting life. But then again, most mice these days can't share like they could when I was young."
"Really?" Throttle asked curiously. "I didn't know that!"
"Sure. Folks don't need it anymore. It's only really useful for criminal trials and war and stuff. Most biologists figure that the only reason we have the ability in the first place was to pass on history and oral traditions (snicker), and it's been sort of dying ever since. After all, we've got a written language now, and cameras can capture images more sharply and more accurately than memory. Like I said, it'll be useful during this war, but not as much as it could've been. I guess life was too peaceful too long. When mice don't use it, they lose it. It just disappears.
"How are you at it?"
Throttle said simply, "Well, I guess I'm good. My bros always say I'm pretty clear. They even say they can hear me narrating, too."
"That's impressive," Stoker said, nodding. "Keep at it, kid; that's a skill that could help you later on." He snickered, then added, "Especially for flashback sequences.
"Now, where was I?"
"Why New Year's is important to you....?"
"Oh yeah. Well, in the first place, I've always loved New Year's. I mean, it's a beautiful time. Snow on the ground, blanketing everything, you know. And it was important to my old man, so I've always liked it for that reason, too. But beyond that, with the beginning of another year, you can be reborn yourself. I've always taken resolutions seriously for that reason. It's the perfect time to start again.
"Why I spend it with Chaos and Jimmy kinda goes along with that. We were all reborn that night--well, technically, it was the following morning--and we like to celebrate that fact. I remember that night like it was yesterday. The year was 1986, and it was, obviously, New Year's Eve. The snow was falling in bricks that night. The worst blizzard of the decade. Worse than tonight's, even, if you can believe it."
"I don't know that I can," Throttle said with a sarcastic grin.
"Smart-ass. Anyway, the snow was blowin', the roads were slick, and I was on my way to visit Jimmy....."
If it can be said that cities live and die, then Ash was like a person in a vegetative coma. Just lying there with no hope whatsoever of recovery. It was actually worse than that, even--the plug was being pulled.
Once the proud mining center of Mars, Ash had boomed for the first hundred years or so after its founding by a small group of brave frontiers-mice who had left a neighboring city to escape religious prosecution.
Well, actually, because they wanted to marry their cousins.
No, that's not quite right either. They wanted to have the right to marry their brothers and sisters, which was permissible in the city they had left. The problem was, no one could figure out the proper dowry. One side of the town said that the bride's family had to give the groom's family a pair of pigs, while the other, clearly more intelligent side of town, said it was four chickens. It was this philosphical debate that split the town and led to the founding of Ash.
So, as you can see, it was f--ked up from the beginning.
But as the mines dried up, the jobs dried up with them. Families who had worked in the mines for generations and had known no other life than growing up, getting married, starting a family, working in the mines, and dying (though not necessarily in that order), now found themselves out of work and out of money with no idea of what to do. And many of the town's mice, after decades of hard, back-breaking work in the mines, were too proud to go on the welfare rolls or social security, which was probably for the best--the Martian government's current system was running quickly out of money (sound farmiliar?). With no other major job market in Ash, mice had to leave, to seak out greener pastures (or if there were no greener pastures to be found, then jobs).
A few souls remained, however; mostly the gruff, older, single male mice who had been born and raised in Ash and were determined not to leave unless the town was hit by a thermonuclear device. Then, they conceded, they might consider moving.
There wasn't much to do in Ash for these hangers-on. For some odd reason, and I'm still not sure just why, when there were no jobs and very little cash flow among the citizens, major coporations had no interest in building malls or creating sports franchises. Presently, the main activity in Ash was drinking. And while it was easy enough to drink at home, most of Ash's citizens preferred to do so at the place Stoker was presently en route to.
Now, all Stoker's life, he had been a Biker Mouse, and he was very proud to be one. He rode his motorcycle everywhere, rain or shine, no matter what the distance. He eschewed using Transporters (which were too expensive), or buying a sand-skimmer (too ugly, too bourgeoisie), and using the hyper-fast U-Trains whose tunnels ran just beneath the surface of the planet (he would say, "too bourgeoisie" again, but the fact of the matter was, the back-and-forth motion of the train made him too sick to read).
Now, he was really starting to regret his decision not to use a form of alternative transportation.
As it was every year, the Martian winter was, on average, rougly two-hundred times worse than any blizzard ever to strike any reigon of the Earth. Howling winds drove snow down in thick, heavy blankets at incredible speeds, coating entire towns in minutes. The roads, where there were roads, were slick with slush. Colossal drifts became giant white waves across the huge, open fields between Martian towns.
Tonight, in addition to all that, Stoker had to deal with freezing rain. With no overhead protection from it, a thin coating of ice had built up on his bike's dash, obscuring the dials, and on his toggle jacket and brown leather riding chaps. He had lost the feeling in his hands and feet an hour ago, despite the thick gloves and boots he wore. The wind somehow found a way to get into his helmet and was busily trying to find a way to chap the skin under his fur. The rain had turned Stoker's long ponytails into a pair of fat, wet brown clumps sitting like a pair of tiny sumo wrestlers on one shoulder. The only good thing about the icy water raining down on him was that it had built up a thick enough crust on the snow outside Ash, where there was no road, to support his bike (thank God for smart-traction tires!). If it had broken under its weight, or there had been no crust, he would've had to use his bike's single laser cannon to melt a path through the snow. That would've cut down on his power, and he probably would've had to wait for his battery to recharge before continuing. That would've meant spending an entire night in the icy fields, something Stoker had no intention whatsoever of doing.
It better be like an oven at Jimmy's, Stoker thought grimly to himself, taking his hands off the grips to rub them together, desperately trying to revive them. God, I'm freezing. If he's out of fuel, I swear to God I'll kill him. Kill him and burn his body to warm up.
Say, that's not such a bad idea...
Stoker had hoped that, upon reaching the highway, they would be relatively clear. After spending several days riding in the blizzard and unpaved, dune-ridden fields on his way North from Cimmeria, he was fairly certain that Ash's roads would be plowed by the time he arrived at the checkpoint where he would be allowed passage into the city.
No such luck.
Upon reaching the checkpoint, where the highway into Ash began, Stoker was disheartened to see the road almost as thickly covered as the surrounding plains. If anything, it looked worse. The salt tossed down on the ice--the only effort to clear the road at all--had frozen fast to it, creating a thick, bumpy top layer.
At least I'm almost there, he told himself, pulling up to the large, drive-up bank-sized booth. Almost there. I'll get some hot soup. Tell Jim I want it before I'm even in the door. Shout it from outside. Maybe I'll stop at a payphone on my way and tell Jimmy to have it ready for me when I get there.
There didn't seem to be anyone manning (mous-ing?) the booth tonight. The lights and the television inside were both on, but Stoker could see no one at the desk waiting to take his travel visa.
Dammit, he thought to himself angrily. I can't get in if they don't lift the gate. I could try to slip under, I guess. Ash probably doesn't have the new electro-plates under the gate itself, but still.....
He looked for the intercom button on the near side of the building, to call inside to see what was going on, and saw an OUT OF SERVICE sign taped on the front. It was abruptly torn away by the breeze and disappeared in the swirling snow.
Sighing, Stoker put up his kickstand and swung his right leg up over the bike. He stepped onto the slick pavement and walked gingerly over to the door around the side of the building.
If nobody's here, he told himself, then I'm just gonna call my bike under. That's all there is to it. Don't care if I get a fine or not.
Suddenly, Stoker's right foot slipped out from under him. He watched it fly up in the air in front of him as he began to fall.
"Shit!" he shouted.
He whipped his tail up around the rain spouting just under the roof and pulled it tight as he fell toward the ice. Stoker flipped over backwards in mid-fall and found himself suspended from the spouting by his tail, the tip of his nose an inch from the pavement.
"Phew," he whispered, attempting to wipe the sweat from his brow but actually just wiping off his helmet as he swung lazily around. "That was close."
The spouting broke suddenly and sent Stoker face-first onto the pavement.
He laid there for a few minutes, the sharp pain of impact in his hands and feet suddenly bringing them back to life. He would've rather kept the numbness as opposed to the needle-sharp awareness he now enjoyed.
"Ugh," he muttered, palming the helmet screen up and rubbing his sore nose. "That's it. Next winter I spend in Twin Venus."
The door suddenly flew open.
Standing there, in the frame, was a black-haired seventeen year-old mouse brandishing a small pistol in one peach-furred hand. His golden-red eyes were wide, and fairly terrified. A single hank of hair hung down between his eyes, making him look younger and all the more frightened. If the gun did go off, it wouldn't be because he had pulled the trigger--it would be because his shaking accidentally triggered the firing mechanism.
Clearly, he wasn't expecting visitors.
"Who're you?" he asked nervously. "Just what do you think you're doing sneaking around back here?"
Stoker rose to his feet slowly and said, raising his hands, "Just passing though. I didn't think anyone was in the booth, and I came around to see if anybody was here. I'm not gonna hurt anybody."
"Oh," the young mouse sighed, dropping the pistol to his side. "I'm sorry. I thought you were trying to break in. You wanna come inside? It looks cold out there."
"Thanks," Stoker replied, whistling for his bike. It zipped in behind him as he entered the booth and closed the door.
Seconds after entering, Stoker felt as though he was starting to melt. The jacket which had barely kept him warm seconds before was now sweltering him. The kid obviously had the heat up on red giant star. Stoker quickly shucked his jacket and hung it on the wall quickly.
The boy lead him into the large, lounge-like room at the rear of the booth which was meant to provide an open space where the employee on duty had a place to relax when traffic was slow.
Which was all the time in Ash.
"Here, sit down!" the boy said, motioning toward an old, decrepid green chair with huge holes in the upholstery. "You want some coffee?"
"Sure," Stoker replied, pulling off his helmet. "I didn't think you were supposed to bring civillian mice in here, though."
Shrugging as he poured from an old pot into a sytrofoam cup, the young mouse answered, "I'm not. But it looks cold out there, and you look like you've been ridin' awhile."
"Right on both counts."
"That, and my brother says you should always be hospitable to other Biker Mice," he concluded. "You want cream or sugar or anything?"
"Good policy. No, thanks."
"Good, `cause we're out of both of them."
Stoker pulled off one boot and let the water drip out of it. As he removed the other, he asked with a grin, "You're a Biker Mouse? Pardon me for saying so, but you look a little young."
The young mouse turned with a pair of coffee cups in his hands and started to say, "Yeah, well, I--"
The cups hit the floor with a tiny splash. Both of them were completely empty, rolling in the spilt coffee staining the carpet at the boy's stunned feet.
Well, I don't know that feet themselves can be stunned...
"Kid?" Stoker asked, rising to his feet. "Are you okay? What's wrong?"
The boy's face was blank with shock. Truth be told, he looked more suprised than when he had been preparing to ventilate Stoker with the gun a moment ago.
Suddenly, the suprise became joy, pure, uncontainable joy. He looked like the Publisher's Clearing House people had just called him to the door and presented him with the gigantic cardboard check (arguably the second-best part of winning, after the money).
"You!!!!!!" he shouted gleefully. "You're--you're--you're--you're Stoker!!!!!!!"
"Gulity as charged," Stoker replied, secretly relieved. He had thought something was genuinely wrong. The kid was just excited was all. Frankly, Stoker loved this routine, even if it had caught him off-guard. It could happen ten times, twenty times, two-hundred times, but it would never get old in his book.
After all, who doesn't enjoy meeting one of their fans?
Feigning modesty, the brown-furred mouse asked, "You've heard of me?"
"Heard of you?" the boy asked, eyes wide as saucers, chin nearly dragging on the floor. "Of course I've heard of you! Man! You're the baddest biker on Mars! In the solar system! In the universe, even! Man! Man! Man!"
This kid has no idea what he's doing to my ego, Stoker thought to himself with an inward smile. Probably all for the best. Now comes the part where I pretend to be even more modest to draw out even more praise.
Feigning shyness, Stoker bowed his head and said softly, "Aw, I'm not that good."
"Not that good?" the boy asked, shocked. "You're the best! The best! You've won the Twelve-Mile Crater Leap eleven times!"
Shaking his head, Stoker pointed to a small silver medallion on the right side of his shirt and said, "Twelve. Just got it this last weekend."
The young mouse was practically howling with joy. It reminded Stoker of when Mars first began intercepting broadcasts of a young Earth rock star who drove all the women, on both planets, absolutely nuts with his wobbling hips and sensual voice.
It's good to be king, Stoker decided. Better to be the King, but he's dead, so I guess I'll just be satisfied with being Stoker. But then again, who wouldn't be?
Suddenly, the young mouse put on his most humble face and asked, "Can I have your autograph? Please? My friends--bros, I mean, bros--will never believe that I met you if I don't have proof!"
"Sure," Stoker replied, grinning warmly. "You got a pen?"
"Yeah!" the boy cried, running off to the other section of the booth to fetch one.
Crazy kid, the older mouse thought to himself. He sighed and stretched out in the chair. The feeling was starting to return to his toes and his tail. Truth be told, he wouldn't mind spending the night here, with the fanboy, if that was what it came down to. It was warm enough, and there was coffee to be had, heavily caffinated, which Stoker loved.....
Suddenly, the young mouse reappeared, brandishing a green fountain pen and a magazine, both of which he eagerly handed to Stoker.
As he pulled the cap off with his teeth, Stoker asked, "Whu's yoo ame, id?"
"Eh?" the boy asked, puzzled.
Stoker pushed the cap on the flat end and said, " `What's your name, kid?'"
Nodding, Stoker looked at the magazine. He smiled as he saw it, for he recognized it instantly: the December 1984 issue of Dust-Bowl Biker magazine.
Why shouldn't he? He was on the cover, after all.
Dust-Bowl Biker had, for the past forty years, devoted its December issue to covering the Twelve-Mile Crater Leap, the biggest annual competition each year for professional and amateur bikers, which took place in December (but not before the magazine came out, which made it sort of a preview issue). The race itself was a test of endurance, skill, luck, and who had the biggest honkin' engine. The riders, usually several dozen of them, had to navigate a course across the Southern Craterlands, consisting of several hundred miles of riding through some of the most difficult terrain on Mars. All the danger--from huge, driving rivers to treacherous mountain passes to quicksand deserts--culminated in the last leg of the race--a leap over one of the twelve-mile craters that gave the race its name. A speed strip, which greatly amplifies a rider's speed, often to the speed of sound, stood on one side of the crater, giving the riders who had survived this far on the course just enough momentum to make the leap, though there were always a few who didn't, unfortunate fatalities who couldn't quite make it. A fall meant certain death (thank God for liablity release forms! It was the mantra the contest organizers lived by). Immediately on the other side of the crater was the finish line.
For the last nine years, Stoker had taken the cup home with him, tying for the most number of consecutive wins ever, no mean feat. The record had been unchallenged for years upon years. If he could win again this year, he'd be the first Biker Mouse in the history of the race to take home ten consecutive wins.
So, to document this, Dust-Bowl Biker had devoted several pages of its Twelve-Mile coverage to Stoker himself, including a pull-out poster featuring his winning leap from the year before. The magazine made an especially big deal of some of his little "proclivities" while racing-- taking the turns like he was on rails, waiting until the end of the race to pull out a long lead (so cocky was he that he would win), and of course, that nasty little habit of his bike essentially exploding after he crossed the finish line because it had suffered such terrible abuse during the race.
And of course, there was the cover. Stoker had never been on a magazine cover before (though he had often been regailed in the pages of them for his incredible skill), and the experience had thrilled him to no end. The picture was a good one; him standing in front of his bike (which had died immediately after the race), arms crossed over his chest, with all nine of his trophies from the previous races in a circle around him, the two most recent ones on his bike. He was dressed in a sponsor's jumpsuit--he didn't like having a sponsor, but he needed the cash for the rest of the year after the race--and his hair had been fixed by a professional stylist (though still in its conventional style--pulled into a pair of ponytails, one hanging over his right shoulder, the other behind).
Stoker had loved that cover. His ego had been big before, but after that, it just went through the roof. He had actually, that year, sent copies of the cover with his Christmas cards, instead of normal pictures.
Stoker wrote broadly on the cover, "To Scoot, Keep on Rockin' In the Free World!" (careful not to obscure his face) and signed his name with a flourish. He handed it to Scoot and said, "Be careful you don't smear the ink." With a smug grin, he added, "That'll be worth something someday, kid."
Scoot nodded happily
"Can I ask you something?" Stoker said, pulling his boots on.
"Anything!" Scoot cried, elated.
Pulling on his jacket, the brown-furred mouse asked, "Could you.......put the gate up? I got a friend waiting on me in Ash, and--"
"Oh yeah!" the younger mouse shouted, smacking his forehead. "I completely forgot! Geez, Stoke, I'm sorry! I just got so excited--"
"Forget about it! Gave me time to warm up a little before I had to get on my way. I would've been a popsicle `til I got there otherwise. At least you keepin' me here let me get the feeling back in my antennae."
Scoot smiled and said, "Anytime." Then, slighly embarassed, he said, "I gotta see your travel visa."
Stoker nodded and plucked it from his wallet. He handed the small, plastic card to Scoot, who ran it through a card-swiper. Scoot barely glanced at the computer before giving Stoker back his card, who tucked it away once again.
"Thanks, kid. By the way, can I ask you something?"
"Aren't you a little young to be manning the checkpoint? I mean, I thought only Martian Army soldiers were allowed to be in charge of these things, and if you don't mind my saying so, you look a few years short of enlistment age."
Scoot sighed and said, "Actually, my brother is the one who's supposed to be here. He doesn't come home often, so I came up here to see him for awhile. He asked if I'd watch the place for him while he went to get dinner. The jerk still hasn't come back, and he left two hours ago!"
Nodding, Stoker asked, "Where did he go?"
"Where else?" Scoot asked, grinning. "Jimmy's. It's the only place to eat in Ash."
Stoker raised an eyebrow.
"What about the Fried McChicken King Hut? That was here six months ago, wasn't it?"
"The owner got bought out. Somebody showed up at their place one night, offered `em some money, and the next morning, the place was gone. I mean, gone. Bulldozed or something."
Doesn't sound good, Stoker thought to himself, eyes narrowing. Sounds kinda like what was goin' on in Arcadia when I passed through.
Stoker shook the thought from his head and said, "Well, kid, I'll tell you what. Jimmy's happens to be where I'm going. If I see your brother there--what's his name?"
"Well, if I see Bull, I'll tell him to get his tail back here pronto. Fair?"
Scoot nodded happily and said, "Thanks! I really appreciate it. I've been here for hours, and I'm so bored."
"No problem," Stoker replied, pulling his helmet back on. He motioned to his bike and followed it out into the blowing snow outside. Stoker mounted up, turned to Scoot, who stood in the doorway, and shouted, "Ride free, citizen!" as he started down the highway, spraying a cloud of snow behind him.
Watching him ride away, Scoot slumped in the doorway and sighed, "That guy is so cool."