Disclaimer: Alas, poor disclaimer. I knew him, Horatio. Well, actually,
I didn't know him. We just bumped into each other once or twice in Driver's
Ed. Sat in the seat in front of mine. He was an okay guy. Always made shadow-puppets
during the films.
I, Stoker1439, 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!
Here we go again with the plot recaps!
In the last part of our tale, Stoker's story of why he spends New Year's Eve with Jimmy and Chaos continued as the would-be leader of the Freedom Fighters arrived at the bar owned by Jimmy in Ash, Jimmy's Beer N' Stuff. Jimmy seems a little pre-occupied for some reason, but still introduces Stoker to the mysterious Chaos McKlash, who Stoker assumes is just the latest name in Jimmy's long, long, long, long, long, long list of lovers. After finding out that the Plutarkians, who want Jimmy's bar and the land under it, are coming to kill him and steal the land, Stoker proposes a plan to destroy the hit-fish. As Stoker, Jimmy, and Chaos prepare to remove Jimmy's most prized posessions from the bar, Stoker finds out from Jimmy that Chaos is afflicted with amnesia and remembers nothing of her past. Stoker has only a moment to feel guilty for not believing her earlier before the white-furred hacker dashes into the room, telling Jimmy and Stoker to get down (though not int he funky, dance sense of the phrase), just before a series of explosions ring out! What will become of our heroes (and heroine)? Read on!
The entire building began to shake. It was as if an earthquake had suddenly struck, without so much as a warning from the Planetary Weather Bureau, or at least, a cat who somehow knew the earthquake was coming days in advance and was seeking shelter.
Jimmy immediately dashed into the doorway and held onto its sides tightly. Stoker dropped to his knees, narrowly able to catch Chaos when she was knocked off her feet by a small hockey statue sent into motion by the quake.
"Thanks," she said, smiling, from the protective crook of his arms.
"What can I say?" Stoker replied, winking. "It's hard not to catch pretty girls."
Chaos turned her eyes away shyly, until the shaking suddenly worsened. She yelped and wrapped her arms tightly around Stoker's neck. Her face burrowed into his chest.
I could get used to this, he told himself with a wicked grin, holding her tight. I wonder--she's already holding onto me--if this quake keeps up long enough, could I get lucky?
Before Stoker could find out, the shaking abruptly stopped.
Dammit, Stoker thought to himself sadly as Chaos let go and jumped to her feet. I was so close that time.
"What was that?" Jimmy shouted.
As if to answer, a voice shouted from downstairs, "'Polychronopolus! We know you're in here! Your skimmer's parked outside! Show yourself!"
Stoker hissed, "You bought a skimmer? Jim, how could you? How could you give in to the bourgeoisie like that? I feel so betrayed!"
Shrugging, Jimmy whispered back, "It snows up here, remember? I can't ride my bike three-hundred sixty-five days a year like some mice I know!"
"Hey! I had to take a week off last year when I sprained my wrist!"
"Shhhh!" Chaos shhhh-ed, finger at her lips. "Those must be the Plutarkians!"
Jimmy sighed sadly, "I guess your idea didn't work."
Eyes narrowed, Chaos snapped, "It's not my fault if these guys didn't check their e-mail!"
Stoker said quickly, "Come on, guys. The longer we talk, the more likely they are to hear us! Hush up!"
Both mice stuck their tongue out at Stoker, who stuck his tongue out in return.
"Hey," said one of the voices downstairs, "this door must lead upstairs! I bet that's where they are!"
"Eep!" Jimmy whimpered.
"Will the lock hold?" Stoker asked quickly, picking up the laser rifle he had brought up earlier and checking the number of cartridges inside.
Chaos looked up and said with a sarcastic grin, "I've got a feeling that a locked door isn't gonna stop these guys. They'll be able to break it down in a heartbeat."
She's cute, Stoker thought to himself.
Hey! another, slighlty more sensible mental voice shouted. Your life is being threatened here! Pay attention!
But I wanna look at Chaos, Steve! the first voice whined.
No! I wanna look now!
Look, get outta this situation, and I'll buy you ice cream later!
"Hey, wait a minute," Stoker said angrily. "Voices in your head can't buy ice cream! Oh man, he tricked me! Unfair!"
"Stoke!" Chaos shouted.
Hey, she called me Stoke. Not Stoker, but Stoke. Cool.
Oh, for God's sake, would you pay attention!
"Stoke!" Jimmy shouted, face white (under his fur). "They're comin' up the stairs!"
Stoker returned to normal mode and said quickly, "Get ready. I've got an idea."
"So, Colby," one of the Plutarkian hit-fish said casually to a companion as they walked up the narrow wooden stairs, so fat he could barely fit through, "what're you gonna do this weekend?" Despite his bulk, he was actually very young.
The young fish in question, Ichabod Colby, rubbed his fat blue chin and said thoughtfully, "I got classes at ICUP Tech, Mozz. Transporter repair."
"So blow `em off. Like last month."
"Would if I could. Mom was barkin' at me the whole time, screamin'. Wasn't even worth it. Besides, I don't go, I fail automatically. I gotta do it if I ever wanna make it anywhere in this life."
"Drag," Jacobi Mozzerella sighed, shaking his head. "I got some prime Cinnamon."
"You do?" Colby asked sadly. His face fell, and he hit the wall as he snapped, "Dammit! How much?"
Shrugging, Mozz said with a devilish grin, "Not so much that I can't do it all by myself."
"Tell me about it, stud," the younger fish replied with a grin. "Maybe I'll save ya a drop or two."
Shocked, Colby snapped, "You're shooting it?! Man, you're wastin' that stuff! You get the best high when you smoke it! You know that!"
Suddenly, the lead fish wheeled around and shouted, "Would you two shut up? We'll lose the element of suprise!"
"I think we lost that the minute we threw the concussion grenades at the building, Mr. Jack, sir," Mozz said. Colby giggled into his hand.
Jack sighed, rubbing his temples, and snapped, "You two slackers are easily the worst two trainees I've ever had! I sincerely hope that you don't have any real ambition in life, because you'll never achieve it!"
"Hey, I'm gonna work in Planetary Aquisition someday!" Colby snapped angrily, his buttons pushed.
"Of course. As a Transporter repair-fish!"
Colby's chubby hand tightened into a fist. He nearly punched Jack right between the gills before Mozz casually whispered, "He's not worth it," into his comrade's ear (or whatever Plutarkians have instead of ears). Once Jack advanced to the door, out of earshot, Mozz added, "We'll frag `im later tonight. Then we'll use whatever gold-gills he's got on `em to buy a little more Cinnamon and party Friday night."
Grinning, Colby gave Mozz the thumbs up and followed his leader up to the door.
"Get ready," Jack said, pumping his laser-rifle. "When we go in, spread out and rake the place. Aim for the mice--we don't want to break anything we can pawn later."
Another fish chuckled, "Yeah, right. Like Mars ever made anything that Plutark would want--other than soil!"
Everyone laughed at Bleu's joke--he was such a merry prankster--before Jack cautioned soberly, "Just remember--they may be inferior, but Martian mice can be good fighters."
Mozz and Colby raised their eyebrows in synch.
"I'm serious. Why do you think it's taken this long for Plutark to take over Mars? Why do you think we introduced the Strep23 virus here? For our health? Just for the fun of it?"
"Yes?" Mozz asked, grinning.
"No, you idiot! Because we needed to shrink and weaken the Martian mouse population so they wouldn't stand a chance against us! Now pay attention and let's go!"
Jack kicked the door down and dashed inside, gun drawn. Bleu and Chedda followed quickly. Colby and Mozz were the last two to enter the room.
"Holy shit!" Colby shouted, piggy little eyes looking like a pair of golf balls in his huge head as he stopped just outside the door frame. "Looks like someone beat us to the punch!"
The room was a total shambles. A bed had been overturned and thrown up against one wall, covers askew. Gaily colored posters had been nearly ripped to shreds on the walls. The doors in what appeared to have once been a small kitchenette had been ripped from from their hinges. A wood bookcase--very valuable, as wood is rare on Mars--had fallen on its side, crushing the no-doubt expensive stereo system inside.
Pity, Colby thought to himself sadly. Now there's something I would've taken for sure.
He looked appreciatively at the smashed speakers.
Stuff like this is wasted on these damn mice. I'm suprised they can run a CD player. I thought it'd be too complicated for their feeble minds. Bleu's right. If this planet didn't have all this iron-rich soil and water and crap, it wouldn't even be worth our trouble.
Bright blue lasers were strafing the Plutarkians before they even saw the yellow-furred mouse pop up from behind the bed and begin firing, a maniac grin pasted to his face. Nor did they have time to see his pale white and brown companions appear before they opened fire themselves.
Colby dodged frantically and began shooting, as did the other four Plutarkians (including Chedda, who The Writer had tragically over-looked earlier when introducing the Plutarkians as they came up the stairs).
A saphire-blue spear of light tore through Colby's right thigh, releasing a stream of bright green blood with it.
He shot me, Colby thought, incredulous. He actually shot me! Jack never said anything about this!
"Damn!" he cried, clutching his thigh angrily and trying to appear macho while he looked for a place to find some cover. "You bastards!"
"No worse than what you had planned for us!" one of the mice, a gruff-sounding male, shouted back.
"Take it like a man!" the first mouse who had spoken, the yellow-furred one, added.
"Shouldn't it be, `take it like a fish'?" a third, female, voice asked.
"You have no sense of comedic dialogue, McKlash," the gold-fur sighed, laying down a hail of fire.
Colby turned around and shouted, "Now what?" to Jack, who had hidden himself behind a broken nightstand and was trying hard to return fire.
The leader gritted his teeth angrily, then shouted, "Retreat! Retreat!"
"Retreat?" Colby shouted. "What do you mean retreat?"
"Just do it!" Jack screamed
I don't believe it! Colby thought frantically as he watched his leader dash down the staircase. This guy's a mother-spawnin' coward!
Of course, this opinion didn't stop him from following his leader downstairs.
Chaos breathed a sigh of relief after she watched the last of the Plutarkians disappear down the stairs, still holding one of Jimmy's several guns in her right hand. It had been Stoker's idea to trash the room, which would confuse the Plutarkians, distracting them just long enough for the mice to pop out and get the first shots in. Stoker had made it clear to both Chaos and Jimmy that they needed the upper-hand such a distraction would give. And although Jimmy hated to destroy his precious stuff, and Chaos hated to make such a mess of the place, both of them could see the wisdom in the plan now.
She pushed her bangs out of her eyes. They were now a darker brown because of the nervous sweat which had accumulated there. Being hunched behind the smashed bookcase had sent sweat all down her back, tracing thin rivers along both arms and legs. Even her tail had a thin veil of wetness covering it. At the moment, she wished she could just throw open a window and let the freezing night air cool her off. A bit belatedly, Chaos also wished that she had thrown a t-shirt on after her bath, then decided it was a moot point anyway. If it were just her and Jimmy, she would've had no problem, but she didn't want Stoker to see her--
As soon as Chaos looked up, she found herself ensnared once again in Stoker's eyes, and was hard-pressed to free herself from his gaze. He smiled a little--a genuinely warm one this time--and helped pull her to her feet.
"I'm fine," she said, forcing herself to smile a bit. She laughed and said, "A little gunfire doesn't scare me!"
No. It terrifies me!
She shook her head and ran a hand absentmindedly through her hair, trying to brush away the sweat. The attack hadn't really terrified her--truth be told, making the fish run away was strangely exhilirating. Chaos was just a little shaken.
I wonder if I've ever done this kinda thing before, she thought to herself, checking the clip. Maybe I was Army. Hmmm. No, I doubt it. My aim sucks, and besides that, I'm not tall enough to make the height requirements.
"Good," Stoker said, patting her on the shoulder gently.
Jimmy jumped up quickly and asked, "So now what?"
"They're waiting for us," Stoker said after a moment of quiet thought. "They're not going to leave just because we chased them out once. No. And if we don't get down there, they're going to come back up, and they won't fall for the same cheap trick twice. We've gotta go down there and meet them."
"They outnumber us," Chaos reminded her two allies. "Five to three."
"Or 1.67 to one," Stoker added without a moment's hesitation. When Chaos looked suprised, he winked at her.
Wow, Chaos thought to herself with a smile. Not only is he good-looking, but he's smart, too! If he'd just let his hair down out of those ponytails.....MMMM!
Suddenly, Jimmy said from behind the opposite side of the bed, "Make that......uh......uhhhhh.....Stoke, you'd better pick this one up for me, or we'll be here all night. You know how piss-poor I am at fractions."
"1.33 to one?" Stoker asked.
"There we go," Jimmy agreed, nodding firmly.
Stoker shook his head and chuckled quietly, then said pensively, "Is he still alive?"
"Okay, then," the brown-furred mouse said, heel-sitting and motioning for Chaos and Jimmy to join him behind the bed. "Bring that fish-head over here. We need his help, too."
"And how'm I supposed t'do that?" Jimmy asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Oh, just threaten him. Tuck that gun under his chin; he'll move. Better yet, use your knife. It's more dangerous-looking."
"No, I mean, how'm I supposed to get him over here? He weighs a ton!"
"You don't have to carry him. He can walk! Right?"
"No he can't. He's out cold."
Chaos and Stoker peeked up over the edge of the bed and saw that, yes, the Plutarkian was indeed out cold.
Chin in hand, Stoker said thoughtfully, "Oh. Damn. We need him awake for this."
I wonder, Chaos thought to herself. Maybe we can wake him up.
Chaos jumped up and dug through the semi-concious Plutarkian's belt pouches without a second thought. She didn't find what she was looking for in the first pouch, or the second, or the third, and was becoming rather frustrated.
It's gotta be here. Come on, come on, come on!
"Chaos?" Jimmy asked, raising an eyebrow. "What're you doing?"
She didn't answer but continued looking.
Please be in this one, she thought to herself, opening up the last pouch. I don't wanna find out what else this guy keeps in his pockets.
She poked her fingers inside. They skimmed the surface of a small pile of Plutarkian gold-gills, a few bus tokens, and what was immistakably a condom wrapper (finding that sent a ripple of disgust through her entire body).
Suddenly, she felt a small, smooth bottle with a tiny cork in the top, hidden away in one corner of the pouch.
(Several years in the future, a young orange-furred mouse looked up and asked, "What?")
Triumphantly, Chaos pulled it out and held her prize up in the light; a tiny, cobalt blue bottle capped with a small cork. It's white label read
"I thought he'd have this stuff on him," Chaos said proudly, handing the bottle to Stoker. "It'll wake him up in a half-second or less!"
"Perfect!" Stoker said, patting her on the back. "Good thinkin', Chaos! Now, gather `round, you two. Here's the plan."
"Hold still, man," Mozz chided, tightening the white band of cloth around Colby's thigh. "Damn, that's one nasty burn. Bleedin' like crazy."
Colby turned his eyes to Jack, who was making minor repairs to his pistol, which had been damaged in the encounter. The young fish was suddenly filled with a loathing he had never known before for his leader, who had once previously pantsed him and made him walk around with his trousers around his ankles for insubordination. For him to know a deeper loathing would've been nearly impossible, and yet, he could feel the anger rising inside him.
Look at that fat asshole, the young fish thought angrily. Bad enough he treats everyone like garbage, but then, on top of all this, he leads us right into a trap! Dammit!
Chedda was, however, already expressing this concern.
"Dammit, Jack!" he shouted. "How in the Hell did they ambush us? I thought you said you were a professional!"
"I am!" Jack snarled. "I warned you four before we went up there that mice could be tricky!"
Cooly, Chedda corrected, "No, you mean us three."
"What?" Colby and Mozz asked simultaneously.
"What are you getting at?" the leader asked angrily.
"Bleu is still up there. I think those mice got him."
Bleu? Colby wondered, shocked. He turned to Mozz, who he assumed was having the exact same thought. In actuality, Mozz was thinking about his girlfriend back on Plutark, who was cheating with Bleu, so I guess, int the end, he was sort of thinking about Bleu, right?
He can't be dead, the young fish thought to himself, unable to believe it. Rancid yellow tears began to gather at the corners of his eyes. He was just here a minute ago!
"Are you sure?" Jack asked.
Chedda nodded and said, "Yup. I saw him take a laser across the chest. He might be alive, but if he is, then he's probably bleeding to death."
"What do we do?" Colby asked. "We're gonna go up after him, right?"
Jack shook his head no somberly and said, "He's as good as dead. We go up there again, and they'll kill us all. No. We wait for them to come to us. And they will come to us, mark my word."
"We're just gonna let him die?" Colby shouted.
"Chill, man," Mozz said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Bleu knew the risks."
Colby nodded sadly. He'd miss Bleu, but on the bright side, they'd get to split his part of the pay for the job now that he was gone.
"What about the upstairs window?" Chedda asked. "I saw one that leads into the alley. They could get out through that."
"Go out, then, and cover the window. You see a furry head poke out, blow it off. You too, Mozzerella."
"Careful," Colby told him, clutching his pal's forearm.
"You know me," Mozz replied.
Chedda and Mozz walked calmly out the hole they had blown in the wall to get in (almost Biker Mice-ish, you gotta admit) and disappeared into the snowy night, where they would wait for their Martian adversaries to appear while simultaneously freezing their fish-sticks off.
"Okay, now, pay attention," Jack said, rising to his feet. "Crank up the power on your gun to the max. If those mice don't come out the window, then sooner or later, then they're going to come down those steps after us. They're itching for a fight. When you hear footsteps, when you see that knob start to turn, just start blasting the door. That ought to eliminate at least one of the mice, and hopefully another, if nothing else. We'll finish them off, and--you did plant the bomb, right?"
Colby nodded and said, "It'll go off at midnight. Start the New Year with a bang."
"Good," Jack chuckled. "You did something right for a change. Now, as soon as the mice are eliminated, we'll call our bosses, let them know we're done so they can send in the evcavation crew to finally get started destroying this fish-forsaken town, and go home. Hmph. I'll be glad to get off this stinking red rock and back to Plutark. The gravity here is too low for me."
Nodding, Colby took his pre-determined position on Jack's left. He knelt carefully and, having turned the power knob up to 10 on his twin pistols, prepared for the arrival of their foes.
I still can't believe Bleu is dead, Colby thought to himself. Man. This is all just so f---ed up.
His eyes hardened.
Those mice are gonna pay. Last thing they ever see is gonna be my face when I send `em all to whatever special Hell there is for Martian mice.
I think it's called `Nebraska', come to think.
"Listen!" Jack hissed suddenly, the fins on the back of his neck rising.
Colby listened and heard the tell-tale sound of footsteps coming down the stairs, one at a time. They were unnecessarily slow and careful, as if they were trying not to attract attention. They seemed to pause for a moment, but Colby's ears told them the feet were still moving towards them.
"First landing," Jack whispered. "Get ready."
Colby could feel the adrenilen surging through his body. His pudgy fingers began to tighten on the triggers, slick with sweat.
The knob slowly began to move.
"NOW!" Jack shouted.
The two fish began firing relentlessly on the poor, defenseless door. Colby's face tightened into a wicked grin, lit by the bright pulses bursting out of his guns. He was enjoying himself. His eyes twinkled as huge chips of the wood exploded from their frame, and gigantic holes were bored in what remained of the door. Maybe it was his imagination, but Colby was certain he could see blood flying from the holes. Thick, wet, and shooting everywhere from their worthless furry hides.
Then screams errupted from behind the door, filling Colby with ecstacy.
That's it, that's it! Scream, you rats! Scream! You're gonna send Colby to Heaven on those screams!
"HOLD YOUR FIRE!" Jack shouted suddenly.
Colby stopped, then asked, raising an eyebrow, "What're you talkin' about? We just nailed that bastard. Or bitch. That scream sounded like a girl."
Jack ran over to the door and tore what was left of it open. It fell off its hinges in his hand, but he just tossed it away to the side quickly. Jack's round body blocked the doorway, obscuring whatever he saw there.
The Plutarkian was silent for a moment.
"What?" Colby asked as he dashed up and peered around his rotund leader's sides.
"Holy shit...." Colby whispered, eyes wide.
There, in a bloody pulp, was Bleu, or rather, what was left of Bleu's carcass. He was little more than a puddle. What was left of his skin was like....
....no, I can't say it....it's too corny, even for me to use....
....Sigh. Well, if I must, I must.
Like swiss cheese.
His bright green blood covered the walls thickly, with small globs of flesh here and there. Bleu's head had been hit repeatedly, and had finally exploded, leaving only a small pile of cartilage on one of the stairs behind him. There was no trace of brains (but whether there were ever any there in the first place is questionable).
While his young protoge stood there, completely stunned, Jack shouted, "Those damn mice! They tricked us again!"
"Amazing!" a voice called out suddenly from behind the Plutarkians. "They're so deductive!"
Colby and Jack spun around.
There stood the three mice, all heavily armed and ready to whip some Plutarkian fin.
Colby looked them over in the silence.
On the left, face focused and deliberate, was a thin, white-furred mouse with a shoulder-length mop of dark brown hair. She was clearly nervous--her tail was whipping around like a......um.....a whip, and tails were well known as an indicator of a mouse's feelings, but she was not scared. That much was clear.
Next to her, in the center, was a tall, brown-furred mouse. Colby got the strangest vibe from him. This one was clearly in charge, and should've been, in the young Plutarkian's estimation, the most reserved, carefully plotting strategy. But the wide grin on his face said something completely to the contrary--that he was juiced and excited and ready to cause some trouble.
And on the right stood the yellow-haired one, who Colby knew from the file he had been briefed with was named Jamespoly-something or other. His self-assured smirk said that he was ready to go, too, and that he would be enjoying whatever havoc he wreaked.
He's the cause of all this trouble, Cobly thought angrily, hand tightening into a fist. If that jerkoff would've just sold this place when we offered, Bleu would still be alive. Bastard!
"Now, boys," the one in the center said, smiling wickedly, "you'd better hustle your tails out of here, pronto."
"But Stoke, they don't have tails," Jimmy corrected, leaning over to him. "At least, that we can see. I dunno."
The girl laughed and said, "I don't think we should ask them to drop trou so we can find out. Leave a little something up to the imagination."
"Whatever. So at what point to we blow these guys, Stoke? Do we kill `em first, `cause if we do, that's necrophilia or somethin'. Hmmm. Never did a dead guy before. Could be interesting."
The white-furred mouse snickered into her cupped hand as the brown-furred one snapped, "We aren't gonna blow them, Jimmy! We're gonna kill them!"
"Yeah, but that leaves the rest of the evening open! I need something to do!"
"Don't you mean someone to do?" Chaos asked, grinning.
Shrugging, the gold-furred mouse said, "To-MAY-to, to-MAH-to."
While Jack just looked in a puzzled fashion at the trio (possibly considering Jimmy's offer), Colby whipped the pistol from his belt and fired on the three of them, screaming.
"You're dead meat, you jerks!" he howled.
The three mice quickly dashed outside, leaping through the hole in the wall to avoid the flurry of lasers coming at them. Jack slapped Colby's guns down, then shouted, "Stop it, you fool! Now come with me! We have to get those blasted mice!"
"Was this in the plan?!?!?" Jimmy snapped as he, Chaos, and Stoker ran outside as fast as their legs could carry them, lasers licking their heels. "Gettin' shot at and being chased out of the bar into the freezing cold? `Cause I don't remember you mentionin' this part earlier!"
"Not exactly," Stoker clarified, brushing the gathering snow off his head as they dashed down the alley, "but it fits."
"AGH!" Chaos shouted suddenly.
Stoker whipped his head around and saw Chaos falling face-first into the snow, just as Colby and Jack appeared in the alley.
"Chaos!" Jimmy shouted, starting to turn.
"Jim, go ahead around the corner!" Stoker shouted. "I've got her!"
Reluctantly, Jimmy dashed ahead.
Stoker quickly ran against the snow and the flying lasers. Despite the vast number of them headed straight for him, and for Chaos, he managed to dodge just enough to reach her before she was hit.
"Are you okay?" he said, pulling her to her feet.
Nodding, Chaos held onto Stoker for support as they ran, shouting against the wind to be heard between gulps of air.
"I'm okay! One of the blasts knocked a garbage can lid off. I tripped over it!"
"Good!" Stoker agreed as they rounded the corner. He smiled, then asked, "You are clumsy, aren't you?"
Chaos just shrugged a little, then noticed a conspicuous absence of flying lasers.
"They stopped firing!" she panted, starting to become out of breath.
Stoker nodded as they rounded the corner, where Jimmy was waiting. The three mice quickly entered the bar via the rear entrance, just a few feet from where Jack and Colby stood, puzzled. All three of them had to vault over Bleu's remains. Chaos slipped a little on one puddle of blood, and heard a tearing sound behind her.
"Please don't tell me," Jimmy shouted from the top of the stairs, "that those were my jeans!"
"Close!" Chaos shouted, following Stoker up. "Your shirt sleeve!"
"Oh, okay! Just so long as you didn't tear the jeans!"
The three of them ran into the bedroom once again and pulled the door shut tight behind them, panting. They all flopped down on the floor or leaned against the wall for a moment to catch their breath.
Stoker grinned and said, "Whoo! I knew comin' here for the holidays was gonna be fun, but this is great!"
"Would that we could all be that happy staring death in the face," Jimmy chuckled. "You've got more plan, right, Stoke?"
" `More plan?'" Stoker asked, raising an eyebrow. "That sounds like I've got a can of strategy or something. `Can I have a second helping of plan?, Mom' `Sure, hon!' `Hey, go over to Mrs. O'Leary's and borrow a cup of plan!' "
"Funny," Jimmy snapped. "What next?
Taking a deep breath, Stoker turned to the two of them and said, "Okay. They're going to look for us up here after they're done with their pal outside. It's a good thing we knocked that guy out. Might've saved our skins. They won't fall for another ambush like this twice. At least, not up here. We'll have to get down there, split up, and fight them. At the moment, there's two of them, and three of us--"
"Duh," Jimmy snapped.
"--but they're trained killers. Jimmy, you and Chaos take out the kid. I'll handle the old one."
Jimmy suddenly grabbed Stoker's forearm.
"You sure about this?" He pulled him tight against him and whispered, "Stoke, I don't want you t'get killed because of me. It's not too late to pull out."
Stoker smiled, then whispered back, "I couldn't do that."
"Why? Do I owe you money?"
"No. Because I don't want you to die just because I was a coward. You're my best pal, Jim; I'm not about to desert you."
Jimmy pulled back and smiled at his friend. A tear coursed down his cheek, and this time, he wasn't ashamed to let Stoker see it.
Chaos watched them from a few feet away.
I hope I have someone I'm that close to some day, she thought to herself.
The two older mice stood up and turned to her.
"Are you still in, Chaos?" Stoker asked, extending a hand to her. "We're indebted to each other, but you aren't. If you wanna leave, we'll understand. We'll even give you cover fire if--"
Her hand, the right one, wrapped around his fingers.
"Well, I may not be indebted to either of you the same way you are to each other," she said, joining the pair of them, "but I need to start somewhere. How can I ever hope to have real, loving friends if I'm not willing to put my life on the line for others? I'm in."
The three mice stood there, silent, a small, perfect circle, completely united.
Chaos and Jimmy climbed out the window carefully, this time landing on the opposite side of the bar. Stealthily, they slipped in the back and hid behind one of the booths while Stoker slipped in through the back.
"He's the shorter one, right?" Chaos hissed as Jack and Colby drug the unconcious Mozz into the bar. "They all look alike to me."
Jimmy nodded and whispered back, "Now, remember; we wait for Stoker, then we move in on chunky monkey over there. Got it?"
"What did I tell you, boy?" Jack asked as they propped Mozz's limp body up against the wall, near the hole. He dug through his pockets for his Bloodleaf extract, snapping, "These mice are more clever than anyone ever gives them credit for! They may not be very powerful among other planets, but Martians are keen fighters."
"Yeah, yeah," Colby sighed, arms crossed over his chest, frustrated.
"Somehow, those mice managed to slip out the window without Mozzerella or Chedda noticing, then knocked your friend out, and--"
Colby suddenly interrupted, "Hey, wait. Where is Chedda?"
"You didn't see him?" Jack asked.
Shaking his head no, Colby added, "Not at all. Where is he?"
Jack's face turned to a mask of anger as he growled, "Those damn mice must've killed him and drug the body away! They were probably going to do the same thing Mozzerella, and just didn't finish the job!"
But there wasn't any blood out there, Colby thought momentarily, then changed his mind. Blood didn't matter. What mattered was that those mice were going to pay for whatever they had done to Chedda. And to Bleu. And what they tried to do to Mozz.
"You said this would be a walk in the park!" the younger fish shouted suddenly. "Now two of us are dead and Mozz is unconcious!"
"I thought it would be! I wouldn't have brought you two if I thought it would be this difficult! I only brought trainees because I assumed we would be able to finish up without trouble!
"Never mind that, for now."
He handed his bottle of Bloodleaf Extract to Colby and said, "Wake up your friend. We're going to need his help."
A bolt of light struck the bottle in Jack's hand.
"AGH!" the young fish shouted. The force of the bottle being knocked out of his hand had cut a deep gash in his palm.
The bottle itself, unharmed, flew across the room and landed in a booth's plush seat.
Jack and Colby spun around to see Stoker standing behind them, rifle in hand, a tiny tongue of smoke curling up from the barrel.
"About time!" Colby shouted, whipping his pistol out.
"No, you fool!" Jack cried. "It's a trap!"
"Now!" Jimmy shouted.
A flurry of lasers errupted between the two fish. Colby jumped hard to his right, trying to avoid being hit, and before he knew it, was being fired on by Chaos. She was safely hidden behind a table, obviously pulled out of one of the booths. It was perfect cover; not only could she fire easily from behind it, but she was also safe from Colby's blasts.
Colby was able to dodge, but he could find no real cover. His only respite came when the girl turned her attention to Jack, who was heading straight for her. She began firing on him, driving him back toward Stoker.
"Jimmy!" Chaos shouted suddenly. "Get out of here!"
Suddenly, Colby saw something out the corner of his eye--Jimmy's yellow tail. He turned and watched the sun-furred mouse run up the stairs, half-panting as he did. He looked to be holding his arm, as if he had been hit.
Here we go, Colby thought to himself. This'll get me out of the line of fire and give me a chance to fry that rat!
He quickly followed Jimmy up the staircase, or rather, as quickly as he could manage. Colby was hideously overweight, and was out of breath before he reached the top of the staircase. The yellow-furred mouse was lying there on the floor, unarmed and practically moaning with pain, but Colby had to pause.
"I'll.....kill you in.....just a.....second," he said between gasps of breath. "I just.... gotta.....catch my....wind."
"Take...ya...time," Jimmy puffed, holding his arm and grimacing. He tried to push himself to his feet, but cried out suddenly in pain and sunk once more to the ground.
This is too perfect, Colby thought to himself, putting away his small pistol and getting out one of a much larger caliber. He's alone, he's unarmed, and he's wounded! Couldn't ask for a more choice situ--
Colby froze suddenly.
"What're you waitin' for?" Jimmy whispered. "Shoot me! Get it over with!"
Wait a minute. You couldn't ask for a more choice situation......because this is a setup!
Colby whipped his head around, not even taking the time to get a look at his assailant before grabbing her out-thrust arm tightly, checking his hips against hers, and throwing her over his shoulder. Chaos flew without grace through the air, arms and legs flailing as she zipped over Jimmy, until she struck the back wall. Jimmy jumped quickly to his feet and dashed behind the smashed bookcase.
Smiling, the Plutarkian picked up the gun Chaos had dropped--the one she had meant to kill him with--and advanced toward her.
"Don't you mice get it?" he asked, picking a narrowly-concious Chaos up by the collar of her shirt. "You mice are an inferior species! You don't deserve this planet! It belongs to superior races like me! You can't beat me!"
He placed the barrel of the gun under Chaos throat and pulled the trigger.
Suddenly, a foot struck the back of Colby's head. The laser went wide of her throat and struck the wall. Colby himself flew forward, dropping Chaos and his gun. When he worked his way to his feet, he found a trickle of blood dripping slowly from the base of his skull.
Before him stood Jimmy, face cold and hard. His teeth were gritted more tightly than they had ever been before in his life. There was no question about his mood; he was completely and totally furious.
Colby grabbed the small knife on his belt, but Jimmy swiftly grabbed the young fish's wrist and lifted it high in the air. The mouse began squeezing it tightly, without so much as a witty turn of phrase or even a double entendre, until Colby was forced to drop the blade, which fell to the floor with a tiny clang.
"You're....breaking.....my....wrist!" Colby cried.
"And you're breakin' my heart," Jimmy answered coldly.
He suddenly kneed the Plutarkian in the stomach, then brought an elbow down hard on the fish's back, slamming him into the floor with suprising speed.
I gotta get outta--
His thoughts abruptly ended when Jimmy cut off the Plutarkian's head with one quick swipe of his knife.
"You're the inferior one, sushi-boy," he growled.
Stoker smiled as he let another round fly from behind the jukebox. Instead of the cold glint every else's eyes seemed to take on in this story, Stoker's own were laughing. He was getting a kick out of this battle!
Despite Stoker's often rational exterior, at his core, he was still a kid at heart. A crazy, reckless kid with a natural affection for danger. He often had to hide it in social situations, and had to supress it when he was with Jimmy (one of them had to be sensible, and Lord knew it would never be Jimmy), but it always came out at times like this. Times when his life, and the lives of others, were on the line, he could truly cut loose. When lasers filled the air with the smell of ozone, when gunfire peppered the the walls mercilessly, leaving tiny pock-marks everywhere.....
It was Stoker's own little heaven.
And Jimmy said he didn't get me a Christmas present! he thought to himself, grinning, as he peeked around the edge of the Wurlitzer.
Lasers continued to strafe the jukebox, but Stoker didn't care. As much as his adrenilen made him want to leave his cover behind, get his tail out there and turn his foe into smoked salmon RIGHT NOW, his brain realized that the best course of action was to be patient. Although Jack's weapon was much more powerful than the small guns Stoker was using, the Plutarkian had to stop and reload his own every few moments. The more powerful semi-automatic laser weaponry like his gun used laser clips, whereas Stoker's pistols relied on small laser crystals, meaning they only needed to be recharged once in a great while. So whenever Jack stopped to put in a new clip, Stoker could jump out and fire on the booth where Jack was hidden away without being hit. In his excitement, Stoker had missed most of his shots, but it probably also had something to do with the fact that Jack could reload very quickly.
This guy is a pro, the brown-furred mouse admitted to himself, waiting for the next lull in fire. His trigger finger was getting itchy. Hmph. Wish he'd hurry up. Second he pokes his head up, I'm turning it into confetti.
The firing stopped again.
Stoker quickly jumped out and began firing. He squeezed off short bursts for a few seconds, then jumped back behind the jukebox to wait for the next round from Jack.
And he waited.
And he waited.
And he waited.
Stoker carefully peeked up over the edge of the box, but wasn't even so much as singed. There was no activity whatsoever coming from that nearest booth. Not Jack leaving to come take on Stoker up close and personal, not lasers being shot out from it. Nothing.
Did I get him? Stoker wondered thoughtfully. Damn. I was just startin' to enjoy myself! This isn't fair! The jerk could've at least had the class to draw this out for another fifteen minutes!
Carefully, Stoker stepped out from behind the box and began tiptoeing toward the booth. At the slightest sound, he'd jump for cover. Every single hair on the back of his neck was raised, and considering just how much hair mice have, that would take alot of energy.
He stood silently, just behind the booth, taking a deep breath. Sweat trickled down his face, despite the cold, cold air rushing into the room from the hole in the wall. A small drift of snow was building up on the floor near his feet.
Here we go!
With a howl, Stoker wheeled around the side of the booth and began firing on it. He completely destroyed one of the plush seats before he realized that Jack wasn't there.
What the? But if he's not here, then where--
The laser came within a half-inch of burning Stoker's face off. Had he not jerked his head back the second he caught sight of the laser barrel out the corner of his eye, he would've been dead for certain (or at least pretty close. Main characters never die easy in anybody's stories, especially mine). As was, he was temporarily blinded by the flash.
"Damn!" he shouted, trying desperately to back away.
"Oh no you don't!" Jack laughed, sticking one fat foot out directly into Stoker's path.
Stoker fell backward over it and landed flat on his butt. He panicked and tried to get away once more, to find some measure of safety until he sight returned (hopefully within a few moments).
A flower of pain suddenly burst into full blossom at the tip of his tail (okay, so metaphors aren't my cup of tea). As Stoker screamed, he realized what had happened. Jack had stepped on his tail, pinned it to the ground. Stoker was effectively trapped. He swung his gun in the air, but had no idea where to fire. Not that it mattered; the Plutarkian swatted it from his hand as if it were nothing.
"And now, mouse, you die," Jack concluded.
Suddenly, a piercing whistle filled the air.
As Stoker crawled away, trying to find cover, he heard the wound of wood being turned into splinters and a screaming engine racing into the room. He didn't need eyes to know that his bike had heard his call and was racing to his aid.
Stoker smiled to himself as he worked his way behind the booth, half crawling, half running, where Jack had been hiding. The bike was practically new--he hadn't had time to think about naming it or anything--but the two of them were already very tight. Whatever charms Stoker had over women, it extended to motorcycles as well. This bike would defend him to the death.
Let's just hope it doesn't come to that, Stoker thought to himself, blinking hard, trying to bring his sight back. Huge blobs of light, almost tracer-like, wiggled across his vision. He looked down at his hands and was relieved to see them coming slowly into focus.
He looked up and saw, still a little blurry, his bike, racing around Jack and firing at his feet, forcing him to hop from one to the other, like a horribly overweight Micheal Flatley in Lord of the Dance (complete with the pre-recorded taps). The bike had Stoker's sense of play, it seemed. He'd made a wise choice in this one, that was for certain.
Which was why it Jacks' next actions would hurt so much. The Plutarkian ripped open one belt pouch and wailed a grenade at the bike. A set of octopus-like tentacles wrapped around the bike's cowl and into its front tire, forcing it to the ground. It exploded seconds later in a fireball (accompanied by a tiny mushroom cloud).
"NOOOOOOOOO!" Stoker screamed.
A cloud of debris flew at the mouse. Stoker tried to shield himself, turning his back on the flying metal shards. It might've protected his internal organs, but the ruins of his bike still cut through his t-shirt and into his back. One large piece tore a wide gash in his right thigh. It wasn't deep, but it was practically spurting blood.
And it hurt like a son of a bitch. Lasers burns didn't hurt as bad as this cut. It was like every single nerve in his body had been hit with an extremely sharp sledge-hammer (if there is such a thing).
"Dammit!" the mouse cried, grabbing his thigh. "AGH!"
Suddenly, Jack kicked him in the stomach. Stoker doubled over with pain, like a fire had exploded in his belly. The Plutarkian easily picked the writhing mouse up in one hand and proceeded to throw him head-first at the bar. Stoker shouted in pain when he struck it, then blacked out (just when his eyesight finished coming back, too, wouldn't you know?).
"This time, mouse, you're finished," Jack laughed. "My bosses will be thrilled when they find out I eliminated an extra mouse on this mission!" With a sinister grin, he added, "And if that little fool Colby did his job, I can claim all three for myself!"
Stoker dazedly tried to push himself to his feet, but he couldn't do it. He was too weak from the impact, and from the wound on his leg. There were no more clever tricks left in his fuzzy little mind. And he couldn't get away. There was just no way to do it.
Good-bye, world, he thought, shutting his eyes tight. It was fun while it lasted. Except losing everyone I cared about when I was in that coma. I didn't enjoy that part at all. And when I dislocated my shoulder. That wasn't fun. And when that little jerk Gole from down the block stole my Ricky Ricardo action figure and pulled the head off! It wasn't a doll, dammit! It was an action figure! An action figure!
"Stop right there!"
There, standing behind him, half-hidden in the shadows, was Chaos. Her gun was tucked in her pocket. She looked a little worse for wear, pants and shirt torn badly, her hair flying loose around her face. Whatever she and Jimmy had been doing up there, it obviously hadn't been easy.
They better've been killing that one fish! Stoker thought angrily. If they were makin' out up there while I was gettin' shot at, I'll kill `em both!
Waitaminute! Where's Jimmy?
Oh, God, no. No. Please....
"I suppose there's no sense in telling you to leave him alone," Chaos said, crossing her arms over her chest. "You'll just start shooting at me, no matter what I say, right?"
"Very astute," Jack agreed, pointing his gun at her. "DIE!"
"Chaos!" Stoker cried, trying to get up.
Chaos suddenly dashed forward, until she was just a few feet from her foe, then stopped. In a move neither Stoker nor Jack expected, she wrapped the fingers of her left hand tightly around the barrel of Jack's gun, then stood stock still as he stared at her, like a silent stone statue (not there are any great number of truly talkative stone statues).
"What are you doing?!" Stoker shouted.
"As you like it," Jack said, shrugging.
He pulled the trigger.
The world seemed to go in slow-motion. Stoker could see Jack's finger tighten on the trigger and pull it back the entire way. He saw the gun's hammer flick back. A bright blue glow begin to exit the gun, headed straight toward Chaos.
The laser struck her hand. For a split second, Stoker saw the fur on her hand begin to smoke, then burst into flame. The smell of burning hair filled Stoker's nose. The glow of the laser bolt lit Chaos's face bright blue.
And then, the gun exploded in Jack's hand.
The world returned to normal speed. Jack jumped back in suprise, hand burned badly. A piece of the gun flew up and hit him in the eye, destroying it. Not wasting a moment, Chaos shot her hand, glowing red hot from the explosion, out with amazing speed and flipped Jack over her shoulder. Stoker watched in amazement as the young mouse, who, by all rights, should've been dead, jumped on Jack and wrestled him to the ground. They struggled for a moment, Chaos taking a sharp right to the jaw, Jack getting badly burned when Chaos raked her left hand across his face. The two of them rolled across the snow-covered floor, slamming each other's heads into the pavement and trying to get the upper hand.
Stoker desperately reach for his gun.
It ended, however, before he had a chance to intervene. Chaos, who had been temporarily on the bottom, brought one foot up suddenly into Jack's stomach, pushing him off her. Immediately, she planted one foot in his chest, pinning him to the ground, and, with a howl, she delivered a smashing palm-heel blow to his face. Something crunched inside his skull, and the Plutarkian suddenly laid still, not so much as a toe twitching.
"Wow," Stoker said finally.
Rather tuckered out, Chaos flopped over on the floor and rested for a moment. She breathed a sigh of relief, then rose to her feet. As Stoker applauded weakly, she knelt to his side and asked, "Are you okay?"
"Been better," the older mouse chuckled, pointing to his leg.
"Ouch!" Chaos cried, cringing a little in sympathy. She looked at the two fish--the more-likely-than-not-dead Jack and the unconcious Mozz--and decided aloud, "We should be allright here until Jimmy gets down here."
"He's okay?" Stoker asked hopefully.
Chaos nodded as she tore Stoker's jeans just above where the metal had torn the flesh with one hand. Despite the thickness of the jeans (they were flannel-lined), it came off easily. She rolled down the rest of the pant leg to the knee, then said, "He saved my life up there. Asked me to come down here and check on you. He wanted to take a minute to get his knife clean. Then he'll meet us down here."
Stoker breathed a sigh of relief as Chaos turned to him and said, slightly embarassed, "Sorry I had to tear your jeans, by the way." Stoker could not, at first, understand the tone of her voice. Then he realized that the cut was awfully high up on his thigh. Probably a bit closer to his crotch than Chaos would've liked to have been.
"It's okay," he said with a smile. "But we'd better not let Jimmy catch us, or he might get the wrong idea, eh?"
Chaos looked at him curiously, then disappeared inside the bar, hunting for the first-aid kit.
Bad move, Stoke, the mouse thought to himself. I think that might've been just a tad too personal to say around McKlash.
She reappeared with a small white box topped by a blue cross in her hand. Chaos sat it down beside Stoker's leg and popped it open.
"Lemme know," she said, squeezing a small amount of antibiotic ointment on the wound, "if any of this hurts, okay?" (Not that Stoker, being the typical male, would admit if it did.)
She laid down a series of large, cotton bandages on the wound, but the blood quickly seeped through each successive one. Very quickly, all of them, even the adhesive fingertip bandages, had been used up.
"Crap," Chaos muttered, scrunching up her nose. "Gotta find something to hold all this stuff on with...."
As Chaos hunted for a makeshift bandage, Stoker looked at her left hand, which hung at her side, obviously still warm. He was puzzled by how exactly she had stopped that laser, and why the gun had exploded, and, last but not least, why she hadn't been hurt.
He noticed that large patches of her fur had been burned away, blackened around the edges of where the laser had struck. Yet there was no blood, or even charred flesh.
It was then that Stoker realized that it was not fur on Chaos's palm which had been burned away, but a fuzzy white glove, and there wasn't flesh beneath it, but--metal?
"Chaos?" he asked.
She looked up from beneath the booth she had been searching for napkins under.
"What's with your hand?"
Curiously, Chaos examined her right hand, and asked, "What do you mean? It looks okay to me."
"No," Stoker said, slightly nervous. "I mean, the left one."
Chaos looked at the left one. She bit her lower lip and sighed, kneeling down beside Stoker, but saying nothing.
"Chaos?" Stoker asked again, trying to get her attention. "What's wrong with your hand? And how did you stop that laser? What's going on here? Tell me!"
Sighing again, Chaos peeled off what remained of her glove, revealing a hand beneath made completely of a very shiny, light silver metal. It was smooth along the fingers and palm, except for the joints, where there were thin metal plates and bands holding the different parts of her fingers together and allowing them to flex. Overall, it looked like something out of a science-fiction movie.
"Oh my God," Stoker whispered.
Chaos said softly, "You want an answer and you need a bandage. I guess this--"
She wrapped her right hand around her left sleeve and tore it off with one quick motion.
"--should kill two birds with one stone."
Stoker's jaw dropped (it does that alot in this story, doesn't it? Chaos blushes, Jimmy chuckles, and Stoker drops his jaw).
It wasn't that Chaos, while tearing the sleeve off, had accidentally torn the front of her shirt off or revealed any cleavage (she didn't have any of which to speak), or even the fact that the shirt had been a gift to Jimmy from Stoker (a fairly expensive one at that!).
It was the fact that her left arm, from a few inches below the shoulder to the tips of her fingers (as said before) was made completely of metal. It was banded, the same silver color as her hand. At the elbow was a sort of elbowpad, a paler gray color, made of some tough fabric. Stoker couldn't tell what the metal was--that wasn't his forte--but at the moment, he was just slack-jawed by the fact that this perfectly normal-looking, unassuming young mouse who looked like she could be the girl next door had some kind of freaky metal arm (kinda like that chick from The Bionic Woman, but without the sound effects)!
Chaos gave him a moment to look it over, then, without a word, slipped the torn-off sleeve beneath Stoker's leg (he flinched without meaning to when she touched him with her left hand) and tied it carefully on the side, so as not to worsen the injury. After a second, she adjusted the knot every so slightly, then sat back to inspect her work.
"How.....what.....when....?" Stoker fumbled. He just couldn't seem to form a proper question (or even a clause).
Fortunately, Chaos knew what he was trying to ask.
"I honestly don't know why or how," she explained, sitting back and pulling one knee to her chest. "It was like that when I woke up." She sighed, then added, "My right leg is like that, too. See?"
She pointed to one of the larger tears in her jeans. Stoker could see more of the banded metal beneath, slightly battered from all the falling and tripping she'd been doing that night.
"I'm....I'm sorry....." Stoker said gently.
"Don't be," Chaos replied quickly, not once making eye contact. "It's not much to look at, but having an arm like this makes me really, really strong and all. And since it's made of metal, the laser bounced right off my palm and back into the gun. That's why it exploded. And that's why, when I hit that guy in the face...."
She didn't want to continue, but just motioned toward Jack's still body.
"With one little punch?" Stoker whispered, amazed.
"I think so," Chaos sighed, looking at her hand carefully, then withdrawing it. "At least, I think I heard something crack, and he hasn't moved much since I hit him."
"Why didn't you--" Stoker started to ask.
"Because," she whispered, "no matter how positive I try to be time about them, they make me feel like a freak. I mean, not just because they're there. I can stand it okay. But when other mice see it my arm, or my leg, they freak out. They don't understand--which is understandable; I don't understand them myself. But they automatically assume that I'm some kind of government assasin or something who's been cybernetically enhanced to be a more efficient killer.
"And as far as I know, I'm not. Anyone as clumsy and as uncoordinated as me could never be a government assasin. Wouldn't pass the entrance exam."
Stoker waggled a finger in her face and corrected, "I don't know about clumsy. Some of that stuff you did there--looked pretty sharp. Not as good as Jimmy, but good. Especially that last punch."
Chaos shrugged and said, "Yeah, well...."
Stoker gently took her hand, the left one, in his (he regretted it later, as it burned his palm slightly), then put a finger under her chin and forced her to look at him. He smiled sincerely.
"Well, I'm still sorry. Not about the arm--I mean, well, I'm sorry about that, too; can't make trying to find your family any easier--but about the way I treated you earlier. Not believing you about the Ultranet and all. And anything else you might've perceived as hostility. I was...kind of a jerk. You're a good mouse, McKlash. Saved my life. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm very, really, truly, and sincerely sorry."
Chaos smiled coyly and asked, "And my complete and total lack of memory has nothing to do with this at all?"
Stoker blushed and said, "Well, a little."
"I'm glad Jimmy told you," she informed him. "It's a big weight off my shoulders."
"Just wish you would've told me sooner," Stoker added.
"Hey," Jimmy laughed, tromping loudly downstairs (straight through the remains of Bleu's body without a trace of gravity) and joining his pals. "Is this a private therapy session or can anyone join in?"
"About time," Stoker laughed. "What took you?"
"I had to get my little black book."
"Did you get all seven volumes?"
Jimmy nodded and patted his pockets proudly.
With Jimmy's help, Stoker rose to his feet weakly. He picked up his gun from the floor and said, "You guys still got your pieces?"
Chaos and Jimmy held theirs up.
"Good. Then let's finish these two off. We do that, and we can leave here scott free."
"Who's this `Scott Free' guy?" Jimmy asked, puzzled. "An' why do we wanna leave him here? What'd he do?"
"Turn of phrase, Jim," Chaos chuckled.
Jimmy looked around the room thoughtfully.
"Y'know, other than the fact that half my booths have been completely destroyed, there's a puddle of dead fish on my stairs, the jukebox is dead, my stereo system is in pieces, and I have no insurance, I still think I could fix this place up. Maybe we could--"
"Jimmmmm," Stoker sighed.
"Oh no you don't," a voice growled.
The three mice looked to their right, but didn't get a chance to see their new assailant before he threw the grenade at them. While the blast fell very far short of killing its targets, it did blow them halfway across the room and into the wall.
"Did anybody get the number o' that Skimmer?" Jimmy muttered, rubbing his head.
"Who is that?" Stoker asked, pushing himself up.
Chaos whispered, eyes wide, "I don't believe this."
"How in the Hell?" Jimmy shouted.
There stood Colby, head still atop his shoulders (well, atop his neck, technically, what there was of it) and very much alive. There was no sign of any of the injuries he had suffered at Jimmy's hands. Or any of the injuries he had accrued that evening. Or even ones he'd gotten that week.
He smiled coolly as he approached the three mice.
"I thought you guys killed him!" Stoker shouted.
"I did!" Jimmy cried. "I cut his goddam head off! You don't get much deader than that! Chaos, didn't I kill this hoser?"
Chaos bit her lip, then said, "Well, I was still sort of unconcious at the time...there was a noise....I thought I heard a thump....."
Colby just smiled and shrugged.
Keeping his gun trained on the mice, he quickly walked over to where Mozz was lying and waved his Plutarkian Bloodleaf Extract under his friend's nose. Mozz moaned a little, then muttered, "I'm up, I'm up." He ran a hand over his fin, sucked a gillfull of snot, then asked, "Did I miss anything?"
"Not much," Colby replied, pulling his friend to his feet. "It's time to finish off these furrballs."
"All right!" Mozz chuckled, pulling out a pistol. "I didn't miss the good part! I was afraid there wasn't going to be anything positive about this whole `job-experience' thing!"
But before the two young Plutarkians could even begin to kill the three mice, Jack suddenly sat up as well, nursing what was obviously a broken nose. At least, I think it was a broken nose. Do fish have noses in the first place?
"Dammit!" Stoker shouted. "Doesn't anybody ever stay dead around here?"
"I guess that crunching I heard was his nose breaking," Chaos decided. "Forgot that those stupid fish have bone in their noses and cartilage for the rest of their skeletal system."
Jimmy smiled and said, "An interesting biology lesson, jammed seamlessly into the story! It's edutainment!"
"Stop, you two," Jack mumbled, rising to his feet. He stumbled toward his two underlings, then paused for a moment, gingerly fingering his busted nose.
"Damn," Colby whispered under his breath. "Bastard's still alive!"
"Relax!" Mozz chuckled. "Remember my plan, man!"
Jack stepped between the two young Plutarkians and said firmly, "We're going to do this by the book. Line them up against the wall. Stop looking at me that way! Just do it!"
Colby and Mozz, grumbling, pushed the three mice from where they had been lying, near the snow pile near the hole in the wall, over to the nearest wall, beside the bar. When the two Plutarkians backed away, they were suprised to see Stoker, Jimmy, and Chaos facing them proudly and without fear. Almost, it seemed, as if they were completely undisturbed by the possibility of their own deaths.
"Turn around," Jack ordered.
"No!" Colby cried. "I wanna see their faces when I blow their heads off!"
Jimmy turned to his two pals, then asked, "Is that even possible? I mean, if my head gets blown off, I don't have a face, right?"
"Colby," Jack said angrily, "this is the way we do things. When you're in charge, if that day ever comes, you can do things your way, but I'm in charge now, and you'll do what I say. Do a good job tonight and maybe, just maybe, I'll put in a good word for you with Stilton."
Jack ordered the three mice to kneel and face the wall. They did so in silence. When he told them with a growl to wrap their tails around their ankles to eliminate, there wasn't a single hint of protest.
Something's wrong here, Jack thought to himself.
He shook the thought from his head and turned to his subordinates.
"Now," Jack concluded, "since you boys did such a horrendous job tonight, I am going to eliminate the target personally. But, as you are the only other survivors of this little expedition, and your more experienced peers didn't make it, you can pick which of the other two you want to kill."
Damn, Colby thought to himself. I wanted to kill that yellow-haired Cheshire cat myself!
"I call the longhair!" Mozz said, taking his position behind Stoker. "He was the first one that landed on me when they popped out the window!"
Stoker turned to Chaos and said with a grim smile, "If only you hadn't tripped and knocked me out."
Chaos smiled and shrugged a little as Colby took his position behind her and put the gun against her head.
Colby and Mozz both looked at their leader, puzzled, wondering simultaneously, WHAT NOW? They were both tired, hungry and desperate to go home after this long, bungled evening of attempted assasination.
"What are you smiling about?!?" Jack demanded, grabbing Jimmy by the chin. "I'm not smiling!" Jimmy snapped, though it was obviously a lie. He was clearly trying to hide a grin.
"Yes you are!" Jack snapped. "Why?"
"Jimmy!" Stoker hissed. "Stop it!"
Colby's eyes narrowed fiercely.
"What are you mice up to?" he growled.
"Nothing!" Jimmy cried with a snicker.
"Jimmy!" Chaos cried, eyes wide with fear. "You're gonna give us--"
She quickly shut he mouth.
But Jack was not so easily satisfied. He grabbed Chaos by the hair and shouted, "Going to give us what?"
"I got it," Mozz whispered, drawing himself up. He turned to Colby and Jack with an uneasy look in his eyes. "This is part of their plan. Don't you get it? They've been planning to be captured the whole time! They've let us do this. They're distracting us so that we don't notice--"
"--a suprise attack!" Jack concluded. "They've been ambushing us all night--it makes sense! They must have re-enforcements on their way here--"
"--or maybe they're already here," Colby whispererd.
The three fish turned around cautiously, staring at the dark silence of the bar. The carnage they had wrought on it, as well as the building's wooden interior, created all sorts of dark nooks and crannies, just the right size for a mouse to hide in, now that they thought about it. Or several mice. Several heavily armed mice. What is that? Is that the glint of the light off brass, or a mouse's damnable eyes? Is that the wind, or is that someone breathing? Was that a safety being turned off? Why did that floorboard creak? Was that a footstep coming towards them? Something in the shadow moved! Oh God! Oh God!
"Get ready," Jack whispered, breathing suddenly quick.
The lights suddenly went off, turning the room pitch black.
"AHHHHH!" all three fish screamed, vaguely reminiscent of a trio of cheerleaders during a late-night showing of Halloween.
Speaking of slashing.....
A knife suddenly sprouted in the center of Jack's chest. There was just enough light for Colby and Mozz to watch Jack's bright green blood collect at the base of the gleaming blade. He groaned, then fell forward, very, very, very dead this time.
Before either Plutarkian could move, two shots rang out. The first struck Colby in the chest and sent him falling to the ground, chest a riddled mass of bloody pulp; the second struck Mozz in the right temple, blowing his head apart like a melon at a Gallagher show and killing him instantly (your head being destroyed tends to do that to you).
Jimmy breathed a sigh of relief as he helped pull Stoker and Chaos to their feet.
"I can't believe they fell for that," he laughed.
"Playing off their paranoia was brilliant," Chaos commended her friend, patting him on the shoulder.
"Yeah," Stoker agreed. "Although, if I'd been ambushed five times over the last twenty-one pages, I'd probably expect more of the same. Still, wish I'd thought of it. Nice job, James."
Jimmy shrugged, then said, "Hey, since I was so brilliant, whaddaya say we fix up my bar and I start running it again and we go back to normal life?"
"Jimmy...." Stoker sighed. Were this an anime, there would be a large water drop on the side of his head.
"Just a thought."
Suddenly, a hand grabbed Jimmy's ankle. Jimmy squealed and pulled it free, but Colby, who had grabbed him, obviously didn't care. He didn't want to try and kill Jimmy again--he couldn't, he was busy dying. He just wanted attention.
"You're still dead," he laughed through a mouthful of his own blood. "Don't you think we were prepared in case this happened?"
"What's he mean?" Jimmy asked.
Stoker didn't need more than a second to make the connection.
"A bomb!" he shouted.
While Jimmy and Chaos just looked at each other, shocked, Stoker grabbed Colby by the collar of his uniform and shouted, "When is it set to go off?"
"What time is it?" the Plutarkian asked smugly.
Jimmy checked his watch.
Stoker's jaw dropped.
"Midnight!" Stoker shouted.
Outside the bar, all was quiet.
The minute hand on Jimmy's watch suddenly struck twelve.
At that point, things stopped being quiet. Obviously.
The blast tore through Jimmy's bar like a bullet through balsa wood (or perhaps, like a tornado-blown piece of straw through a tree). The walls were blown outward instantly. Light streamed from the windows in huge square rows, turning night briefly into day as debris was thrown outside by the force of the bomb. Within a half-second, nearly everything and everyone inside the main room was atomized, from the bar itself to the stools to the jukebox to the trophy case. The stair-way was turned into toothpicks. Huge pieces of wood flew through the air, knocking out windows in surrounding buildings and killing at least one pedestrian. A police officer five miles away clocked one hunk at over forty-five miles per hour, at which point he pulled it over, as it was only a twenty-five mile-per-hour zone.
Once the first-floor walls were gone, there was nothing to support the second story or the roof. It crashed down on top of the destroyed first floor, crushing the bodies inside.
But nothing from the second story would survive the greed of the Plutarkians, either. A second explosive, triggered to go off approximately twenty seconds after the first, ignited. This second bomb destroyed all that remained of Jimmy's Beer N' Stuff. Everything he had worked his entire life for was gone in less time than it takes for a pizza to be delivered.
What would've depressed Jimmy even more, if he had survived, was the fact that all his porno mags were destroyed as well.
A gas main was torn in the explosion, setting the ruins ablaze. It ignited instantly. The resulting fire spread quickly from the dark hulk of the bar to the surrounding buildings. Within a few minutes, the entire block was up in smoke. Had there still been a fire department in Ash, they would've been overwhelmed. Fortunately for them (and unfortunately for everyone else in Ash), the 1st Ash Volunteer Fire Company disbanded months ago, its members seeking employment elsewhere.
By the next morning, all of Cheers Street had burned to the ground. Little more than ashes remained. Two families lost their homes, but were fortunate enough to keep their lives.
Everyone agreed that it was a tragedy. All the mice in Ash knew Jimmy personally (that sort of thing happens in towns with tiny populations), and the entire city mourned the loss. The bar was the last major business in Ash, the only private-owned one which remained after all the others had pulled out. It was the last haven for the citizens which had been corageous (or stupid) enough to stay. Losing Jimmy's Beer N' Stuff was the final proof that Ash was doomed.
And even more tragic was the fact that Jimmy had apparently died in the calamity--whatever in the Hell had happened. All anybody knew was that Jimmy had been acting strangely that night, closing early for no apparent reason. Whatever had happened, he was gone now. They found a body, charred beyond recognition, lying approximately where the bar he had worked behind for most of his life had once stood. There was no way to identify the corpse, but it had to be his. Whose else could it be? Curiously, though, there were two other bodies there, also completely ruined. It was theorized that one of them was of that girl who lived with Jimmy. Some of the mice who had been at Jimmy's that night had also noticed the gold-furred bartender in close proximity to a longtime friend named Stoker. A few of them ventured that the third corpse was his.
As the citizens of Ash searched for bodies and answers in the destruction of the bar, it was either bad luck or fate that none of them happened to look at a snow-covered dune about ten yards from the remains of the bar, else they would've found both in the form of the dying Ichabod Colby.
The young Plutarkian couldn't remember exactly what had happened. He had been shot by one of the mice--the brown-furred mouse, Stoker, he was certain of that, but then his memory failed him. How did he make it out? Why wasn't he dead yet?
Of course, Colby thought wearily to himself, thoughts becoming fuzzy, it doesn't really matter. I'm gonna die out here, anyway.
The casual onlooker would've agreed with Colby's assumption. He had, of course, been shot deeply in the chest. That injury would be the death of him, Colby was certain of that. He couldn't survive it, even with immediate medical attention. And however he had gotten outside the bar, he had not escaped the blast. His back was burned to a crisp, third-degree burns a-go-go. You've heard of blackened catfish? Come and get it. The purple uniform he had been so proud to wear , the first step on his road to Planetary Aquisition, melted into his skin, flowing into the cracks between his scales. Flying debris had taken Colby's legs off at the knees. And he was fairly certain he'd been paralyzed from the waist-down as well. Either that, or the burns and the fire had killed so many nerves that he just couldn't feel any more pain down there.
Damn, Colby thought to himself miserably. They're gone! All of them! Mozz! Dammit! Mozz! I'll kill that bitch! She's gonna pay! They're all gonna pay! I prom--AGH!
A spear of pain shot through his body.
Somebody help me! Please! I wouldn't even mind seeing a mouse right now if they'd just help me.
But although Colby kept trying to block the memory out, there had been one missed oppurtunity for help during the wee hours of the morning.
It had occured when Colby first awoke, senses dulled by the pain. His could only open his eyes a crack, and the first thing he saw from those damaged organs was the Martian night sky, speckled with stars. Colby could find no comfort in the beauty, of course; he felt like he was on fire from the waist up.
"Colby?" a voice asked from behind.
Colby tried to turn his head, but could only move it a few degrees.
He heard footsteps, then, suddenly, Chedda appeared in his vision.
"Chedda!" Colby whispered, a smile spreading on his scarred and puckered face. "You're...you're alive!"
Chedda just stood there, face blank with shock. His gun was holstered at his side. Frankly, he didn't look like he'd been hurt at all when those three mice appeared and attacked him and Mozz. In fact, he didn't look like he'd been out in the cold very long either. His cheeks were bright green, as if he'd just come outisde a moment ago. He.......he looked like he'd been indoors, like he'd gone somewhere and gotten something to drink and was just now returning.
No, Colby told himself. That's impossi--
Then, he saw a paper cup in Chedda's hand, with the word COFFEE printed on the side.
"Chedda?" Colby whispered. "What--what--"
The cup hit the ground.
"Please, Chedda," the young Plutarkian whispered. "Help..me......I....Mozz....
The older Plutarkian began to back away slowly.
Chedda suddenly turned and broke into a run in the opposite direction.
Deserter, Colby thought to himself now. How could you? I trusted you! You were my friend! If you would've stayed with the rest of us, Mozz would still be alive! And I wouldn't be lying here--AGH!
"Please," he begged through his sore and bleeding throat. Blood gurgled in his mouth. "Somebody....anybody!"
"Did I hear you say you needed help?" a voice, somewhat cultured sounding, asked.
Colby tried to turn his head to the sound of the voice, but couldn't.
"Oh, don't bother, old chap!" the voice said, almost cheerfully. "Your neck is broken in three places. It's only luck that you're not dead yet."
"Who?" Colby whispered weakly. "Please....you gotta...."
"Well, not so much luck as my timely intervention," it continued. "Look over here."
Colby looked toward his feet, and there, where there had been no one just a second before, was a strange, wolf-like creature, black-furred with a long mane of white tresses spilling down his back in a tight ponytail. His eyes were like a mouse's, almost--yellow, but with white irises. Colby had never seen such a creature in all his life, but then again, other than this trip to Mars, he had never been outside his hometown.
The wolf was dressed in strange, richly-ornamented old-fashioned clothing. Giant, puffy eggshell sleeves ending in gold-circled black cuffs. His pants bloomed out in the same fashion around his calves. Instead of shoes, he wore sandals, revealling huge, sharply-curved claws on his toes, not unlike the ones on his hands. He looked cultured, refined almost. The dangerous gentleman--make that gentle-wolf.
He sat on the snowbank, reclining slightly, as if he didn't realize just how expensive his outfit was, and how much damage he was doing to it. His dry-cleaning bill was going to be nothing short of outstanding.
How did he get there so fast? Colby wondered. I didn't hear him walk over.
"And who said I walked?" the stranger asked jovially. He chuckled at Colby's suprised expression, then said, "I couldn't help but over-hear your thoughts earlier. You need help, did you say?"
"Yeah," Colby whispered.
This guy looks dangerous......
The wolf laughed heartily, but there was something in the glint off his fangs that Colby found unsettling.
"Of course I do!" he chuckled. "This is a dangerous world, my boy! You won't get anywhere looking like a pansy--like yourself!"
He looked thoughtfully at the sky, then added, "Yes, this is a dangerous universe we live in. Full of treachery and deceit. You shouldn't trust anyone. Except.... me, perhaps. Yes, you'd do very well to trust the being who saved your life."
"Did you--did you pull me out of there?" Colby gasped.
Nodding, the wolf said, "And just in the nick of time, too! It's actually my power that's been keeping you alive. Without me, you'd be dead by now.
"And this is actually the second time I've saved you this evening--or rather, the second time in two days. It's morning now, January first, one-thousand nine-hundred eight-seven A D, so I saved you once last evening and once today. Do you remember earlier, when that mouse cut your head off? Silly me! Of course you do! I mean, how could you forget something like that? I know you were curious as to how you survived. Well, that'd be me again. I resurrected you at just the right moment, so you could have another shot at those mice."
"But....but why?" Colby whispered, clutching at his chest.
The wolf smlied and stood up.
"Because I have an offer for you."
"Yes. You see, I'd like to strike a deal with you, my boy. I've been looking for a fish of your caliber for quite some time. My long search has led me to you. I want you in my employ.
"But first, I need to know what is it you want most in the world. Money? Women? Power, perhaps? They're definitely in your Top Forty, I'm sure of that."
"Or maybe," he whispered, leaning in close to Colby's ear (or where they would be if Plutarkians had them), "what you really want is.....revenge. Revenge against the system that put you in its lowest caste, little more than gutter trash, stuck in that sardine can in a third-rate trailer park. The system that made your only possibility for everlasting glory dying a `noble' death in the Conquistadorial Army. What kind of glory is that? You can't enjoy it!"
"Yeah," Colby whispered.
But the wolf wasn't finished yet.
"Oh, but there's so much more. How about.....revenge against your deadbeat father, for abandoning your mother after you were conceived and depriving you of a real childhood? Did you know he's a higher-up in the Army? You could've had the world if he would've had the balls to stick around. And then there's revenge against your mother, for letting her husband--who never was a father to you, was he?--do what he did to you. What's the word they use now? Violate, yes, that's the one. Violate you as he did. She let him get away with it, night after night after night. Hmmm. What else? Oh yes! Revenge against that so-called father for.....well, I think that's obvious. And I'm sure you'd like revenge against Chedda for abandoning you as he did, correct?"
"Yes!" Colby moaned. "Yes!"
"And of course, revenge against the mice who killed your dearly departed friend Mr. Mozzerella."
Colby's eyes glinted fiercely.
"You want that, don't you?" the wolf cooed. "Well, I'll give it all to you! You'll get your vengence against all of them! Every last one! Oh, but I'll give you even more! You'll become second-in-command here on Mars, and eventually, you'll be even more powerful than Camembert himself, if you desire it. You'll be rich beyond your wildest dreams. Do you want all that? Do you want it?"
"YES!" Colby screamed. "GOD, YES!"
The wolf smiled and rose to his feet.
"Oh, you're not dealing with God here, dear boy. Quite the opposite, actually."
A blue glow suddenly enveloped Colby. He could feel a sensation of being lifted by unseen hands. He realized suddenly that he was floating above the ground several feet. Part of Colby knew it was the wolf, but he didn't seem to be doing anything, merely looking on.
Colby suddenly started to rethink his decision.
The aura turned black suddenly. It began knifing in and out of Colby's body. The pain escalated suddenly. It had been bad before; now it was unbearable. Colby started to howl, but was stopped abruptly as a jagged black tendril shot out of the aura and into his mouth, travelling quickly down his throat and into his chest. It shot suddenly out of his bloddy chest, rejoining the aura. More began streaming into his limbs. Every cell of his body was afire.
It was in this haze of pain that Colby realized his legs were growing back.
"I," the wolf said with an evil grin, "am Klaus Black. Remember my name; you'll be screaming it later."
Scoot rubbed his hands together through his thick gloves and cursed to himself. When Bull had returned last evening from Jimmy's, the first thing he did, after finding a new belt and pants, was beat Scoot into a pulp. The younger mouse, although badly bruised, was absolutley thrilled that Stoker had kept his promise. Granted, he wouldn't be looking out of the one eye for awhile, but at least Bull had come back, and Scoot got to go home and get some rest. Glory, glory Hallelujah!
But Scoot's head had no more than hit the pillow when Bull suddenly appeared at their parents' home and drug him back to the checkpoint. Apparently, everyone was swarming out of Ash all at once. Bull needed his little brother to give him a hand, i.e, do all the difficult stuff, and would not accept no for an answer. While the slothful Bull swiped the travel visa of each mouse that had one, which took only a few seconds for each card, Scoot had to do the paperwork for all the mice who didn't or hadn't renewed theirs, which was nearly everyone. None of these mice had planned on leaving Ash before that morning, so Scoot found himself filling out forms like mad, trying to keep the line moving at a fair pace.
When first light came, Bull decided that the line might move faster if someone were to go out to the line of skimmers (all heavily laden with their owners' posessions) and use the hand-scanner on the visas while the other brother stayed in the booth and took care of the ones closer to him.
And guess who got picked to go out in the freezing cold?
Damn, Scoot whispered. He pulled his hat down tighter over his ears and knocked on the nearest window, blinking at the rising morning sun. Why in the Hell is everybody so damn eager to leave right this second? Couldn't they have at least waited until I got a decent night's sleep? I don't get this.
I'm so sleepy.
Scoot yawned, then stifled it quickly as the window rolled down.
"Sir?" he said with chattering teeth, leaning down to look in the window. "Do you have a valid travel visa?"
The driver, a skinny white-furred mouse, bit his lip and shook his head no.
"We can still leave, though, right?" his nervous-looking wife asked.
"Honey," the husband said, "if we gotta stay for a few days, we'll just have to--"
"No! We have to leave now!"
Scoot, slightly puzzled, said, "Look, I've got the papers right here. Just fill `em out and send them in to the Department of Transportation as soon as you get where you're going. There'll be a small fine, but...."
The wife breathed a sigh of relief as Scoot handed them the various papers, and explained them quickly. Sign here, jot this down there, this needs to be completed in triplicate, the yellow one is your copy, yadda yadda yadda.
As he told them, Scoot looked briefly through the car. It seemed like the small family, which included three young children squabbling in the back seat, had packed up all their worldly posessions and were getting the Hell out of Dodge.
Just like every other car.
"So," Scoot asked, once his little spiel was finished, "why're you folks leaving Ash? Bank forclose on your home? Get a job somewhere else?"
Like they're gonna get a job here?
"No," the driver replied. "It just isn't safe there anymore, y'know? I don't wanna risk what happened to Jimmy's happenin' to my family."
"What?" Scoot asked, raising an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"Didn't you hear?" the wife asked, puzzled. "You been under a rock or somethin'?"
The driver snapped quickly, "Honey!" He turned to Scoot, then explained, "Jimmy's was bombed last night. He's dead."
"WHAT?" Scoot shouted.
Nodding, the white-furred mouse added, "The whole place went down, and the buildings next to it, too. Actually, they found three bodies there."
"Three?" the young mouse whispered.
The papers he had been carrying suddenly fluttered to the ground. The hand-scanner joined them a second later, turning the snow bright red with its tiny LCD light.
As the mice in the car watched, Scoot began running toward Ash, a lone mouse going in against the exodus out.
Ash was now officially a ghost town.
The calamity at Jimmy's had given everyone a reason to leave. There were no more excuses. You couldn't say, "My family's been here for four generations; I'm not leaving," because the family next door, which had been there five generations, was packing up the Skimmer and heading on their merry way. You couldn't claim that, "Maybe some work will come in," because all the businesses were now gone. And you couldn't say anything else, because someone would've said, "Oh just shut up and let's go," by that point. What it all came down to in the end was that no one wanted to be left behind.
End result of this frantic migration; the streets and surrounding buildings were completely empty of mice by the time the first rays of sun struck the ruins of the ruined remains of Cheers Street.
That's why no one saw a large metal door being pushed up out of the debris.
Stoker poked his ash-covered head up out of the mess first.
"HELLO?" he shouted. "IS ANYBODY OUT THERE?"
The whistling wind was his only reply, so Stoker began to work his way out alone. He looked about for some uncluttered ground to step up on, but there was none to be found. The debris was several feet high on all sides.
Shrugging, Stoker hunted for a piece of solid handhold among the ruined wood and stone. When his fingers found a piece buried heavily enough to hold his weight, he pulled himself up, careful not to disturb any of the wood. Upon reaching the top, he rested for a moment, breathing a sigh of relief and rubbing his sore thigh. Stoker took one last moment to brush the soot out of his fur, then turned and kneeled in the direction of the hole.
"Go ahead," he said, reaching into the darkness. "I'll give you a hand!"
Slowly, one of Jimmy's yellow hands, tinted brown by the dirt and dust, grabbed onto Stoker's forearms. With a grunt, the brown-furred mouse pulled him up to where he himself was standing.
"Careful, Stoke," the bartender coughed. "You're handling delicate merchandise."
Stoker snickered and pulled Jimmy clear of the hole.
"Your comin', Chaos?" he shouted.
"I need a hand!" she cried out from the hole.
Leaning over the tiny pit, Stoker laughed, "You didn't get hurt! You should be fine!"
"I'm shorter than you two, remember?" Chaos shouted. "I can't reach the handhold!"
Stoker put his hands down as far as he could into the hole without lying on his stomach. Only Chaos's right hand, however clasped Stoker's, however. He shrugged and pulled her out easily.
"Would've been easier if you'd used both," he encouraged her with a wink.
Chaos held up her left and laughed, "I would've broken your wrist if I'd used this one."
Stoker nodded, then turned to Jimmy and said cheerfully, "It's a good thing you had that hidden, previously unmentioned wine cellar beneath the bar, Jim, or we'd all be dead by now."
"Deus ex machina," Chaos added with a grin.
"It's just a pity it was so thickly insulated," Stoker continued, patting Jimmy on the shoulder, "or else someone might've been able to dig us out earlier. It smacks of a set-up."
Jimmy was silent, surveying the remains of his bar.
"Jimmy?" Stoker asked. "Are you okay?"
"Those bastards," Jimmy whispered finally, shaking his head. His ash-caked eyes were filled to the brim with tears. "I worked my whole life for this place, and now it's gone. All of it."
Stoker knelt at his friends's side and said softly, "You knew it was going to happen. I told you as much. If there were just a few more businesses, more families in Ash, then maybe it would've worked to just kill those fish. But it wouldn't have lasted. More would've been sent regardless. And you'd have to kill them, too. And keep killing them, and killing them, and killing them, maybe for the rest of your life. The Plutarkians wanted your bar from the start, James, and they were determined to get it. There wasn't any way to save it."
"It's not that," the former bartender sighed. "They destroyed it. I didn't even get t'say g'bye. This is where I've spent the last thirty years of my life, Stoke! Thirty years! And now..."
He picked up a splinter of wood and threw it over his shoulder.
"We killed `em, but they took my place with them! My home and everything I've ever worked for!"
Stoker said gently, "You knew it was gonna happen."
"So what if I did? I didn't think it was gonna be this bad! I didn't think I was gonna miss it, okay? And I didn't think the place was gonna go down before we left! They got everything they wanted. Everything."
Chaos corrected, "They didn't get everything. We made it out with our lives."
Jimmy nodded sadly and said, "Yeah." He smiled a little, then added, "I guess I got a few more years in which to accomplsih The Ultimate Goal."
"The Ultimate Goal?" Chaos asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Sleeping with every girl on Mars," Stoker explained with a grin.
Chaos snickered and said, "Makes sense."
"And," Jimmy added, raising a hand, "any consenting male." He smiled and said, "That reminds me, Stoke--"
"Don't even!" Stoker snapped, slightly embarassed. "I don't swing that way, Jim, and you know it! You ask me every time I visit, and I always turn you down! When are you gonna stop!"
"Come on!" the yellow-furred mouse jested. "I'm all sad and depressed and everything--I need something to cheer me up! As my very best pal, the least you can do is have sex with me! Man, you gotta give it up sooner or later, or you're gonna die a virgin!"
Stoker's jaw didn't have time to drop before he had wrapped his hands around Jimmy's throat and began to strangle him.
"Did....I....let....that....slip?" Jimmy whispered as Stoker slammed his head repeatedly against the ground with a force roughly equivalent to a small freight train. Had the yellow-furred mouse not been on the verge of a concussion, he might've wondered if Stoker was going to carry out his longtime threat of killing his friend if he ever revealed that particular secret.
"Stoker!" Chaos shouted, tearing him off Jimmy. "Leave him alone!"
Stoker still tried to get to Jimmy, but Chaos's grip was strong enough to hold Stoker until he calmed down a little (just past the point where he wouldn't kill Jimmy; just rip his arms and legs off and use them for table legs).
"Sorry, Stoke," Jimmy coughed, rising slowly to his feet.
Stoker just glared at him, snarling.
Chaos leaned in between the two mice and asked, "Is that true?"
Stoker's face turned beet red as he stuttered, clearly embarassed, "No! No! No! NO! No! Heh heh! Jimmy just--uh--heh heh--thinks that every guy should sleep with another guy at least once! That's what he meant! Yeah! That I'm a virgin when it comes to men!"
He barley had time to breathe a sigh of relief before Jimmy said, "Naw, I meant he's a virgin when it comes to girls."
"This time you're really gonna die!" Stoker shouted, grabbing Jimmy around the throat once again. "Mother-f--"
Chaos pulled him off once again and said, "Oh, for God's sake, Stoker, it's nothing to be ashamed of!"
"Yes it is," Jimmy corrected.
"No, it isn't," the white-furred mouse growled. She hissed under her breath, "Unless you wanna end up six feet under, don't contradict me on this!"
Chaos turned back to Stoker and said gently, "As far as I know, I'm still a virgin, and it doesn't bother me."
"You are?" Stoker asked, eyes wide. "But I thought you and Jimmy were--"
This time, it was Chaos's face which turned red. She looked at Jimmy, who was also blushing, with a look that could kill, then wrapped her own hands around his throat and began wringing his neck.
"You bastard!" she shouted, making Jimmy's eyes bulge with every successive squeeze. "What did you tell him?!?!"
It was now Stoker's turn to pull Chaos off, kicking and punching. Still holding her up in the air, he said, trying to calm her down, he cried, "He didn't tell me anything! I just assumed that you two were doin' it! You know, you two were living together, you're cleaning up after him, you're wearing his clothes, you were taking a shower in his bathroom--I just assumed that you two were....you know.....screwin'!"
"Stoker," Jimmy said, using the older mouse for support as he climbed to his feet, "Chaos is not my type. She's smart, she's classy, always at my side whenever anything bad happens; frankly, she's too good for me. I respect Chaos way too much to sleep with her."
Stoker glared at him and quipped, "But you don't respect me enough not to ask?"
"Hell no!" the yellow-furred mouse laughed. "Not even close!"
So she's free, Stoker thought to himself, looking Chaos over carefully. Hmmm. Maybe Chaos is the one.
Chaos smiled, almost as if she were thinking the same thing, and said, "Besides, it's not like you're that old or anything! Now, if you were like, forty and you were still a virgin, that'd be a real tragedy!"
"He's fifty-nine," Jimmy said without missing a beat.
Before Stoker could even react, Jimmy sighed, "I'll take care of it," put his own hands around his throat and began choking himself.
"Can we please get back to trying to figure out what to do about the Plutarkians and off my nonexistent sex life?!?!?!" Stoker shouted, throwing his hands up in frustration.
"Oh, sure," Jimmy said. "You coulda changed the subject at any given point."
Stoker sighed heavily.
Thoughtfully, Chaos decided, "Well, we can't let them keep this up. They've already taken over Ash--if they're allowed to go about their business unchecked, pretty soon they'll have all of Mars under their fat, smelly thumbs."
"I ain't gonna let `em get away with destroyin' my bar!" Jimmy snapped.
Stoker carefully said, "Well, we know the government--on any level--won't do anything as long as the fish-faces are operating within the law, which, unless a lot more mice are resisting than I think, they probably are. My guess is, they're buying the land completely legally. Probably even paying for it."
"And who," Chaos said with a subtle air of anger to her voice, "says that the government would intervene even if they weren't?"
"You know somethin' we don't, McKlash?" Jimmy asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Let's just say that I've seen things on the Ultranet--official government stuff--that would make your fur crawl. They know the Plutarkians are buying up the land, they know what they've done to all the other planets they start buying land on, and they've been cooperating since the first Plutarkian set fin on Mars."
Stoker tried to force a smile and quipped, "A little paranoid, aren't you?"
Chaos shook her head no and said, "I can show you the documents."
"Later," Stoker agreed, a little unnerved. "Okay. So let's assume that the government isn't going to do anything, and that it's a fairly safe assumption. And that the Plutarkians will eventually become bored with paying for land they could take easily by force. It's a real possibility that the Army's hands are going to be tied when it comes to fighting them. Someone needs to be there to fight the battles they can't."
Jimmy's ears perked slightly.
"Are you sayin'," he asked slyly, "that we should fight them?"
"Not just us," Stoker continued. "Any mouse who wants to. Any mouse who's lost their home to the Plutarkians. Any mouse who doesn't want to lose everything they've worked their entire lives for. Any mouse who doesn't want to lose their family if this errupts into war. And I've got a bad feeling that it will."
Chin in hand, Chaos said thoughtfully, "A millitant fighter group operating outside the jurisdiction of the government? It'll be risky. Dangerous."
"Possibly lethal," Jimmy added.
"AOOOOOWW!" Stoker howled suddenly. "You two just said the magic words!"
Chaos leaned over to Jimmy and asked, "Is he always like this in the face of life-threatening peril?"
"Wait'll you see with his bike," Jimmy said slyly.
"So," Stoker asked, "are you two still in?"
"Of course," Chaos agreed.
Jimmy shrugged and said, "What the Hell? It's not like I got anything better to do. Woody, Sammy, Frasier, Ms. Howe and Cliff can clean up this mess later."
The three mice joined hands as the sun rose over the horizon.
"And that," Stoker concluded, "is how the Freedom Fighters were created. Out of the ashes rose three mice newly dedicated to saving their planet from an invading race and a corrupt government.
"And that's also why me, Jim, and Chaos meet for a little private time every New Year's Eve. Tonight's very special to all three of us, and not to spend it together would be like sacrilege."
He sat back in his chair, releatively pleased with his re-telling. Of course, he had left out alot of it--he'd forgotten some of the exact dialogue, he didn't know what Chaos or Jimmy was thinking at any given point (except on page 44), and he neglected to tell Throttle how he had felt about Chaos at the time. And of course, so as not to offend the young mouse's no doubt Victorian sensibilities (right), some of the more risque sexual material (or roughly seventy-five percent of Jimmy's dialogue) got cut.
Also, the story-teller didn't mention the whole, "Stoker is still a virgin" thing. As far as he was concerned, Jimmy and Chaos knowing meant two mice too many did.
"Wow," Throttle whispered from over his clasped hands. "Sounds like you guys had a good time. Pretty amazing. What happened after that?"
"Well," Stoker continued, rising and stretching, "about twenty minutes later, when we were digging through the trash for anything that we might make use of in our new careers as Freedom Fighters, Scoot made it to the bar. Apparently, he thought Jimmy was dead, and couldn't believe it, so he ran the whole way there to see for himself. He was the first mouse outside the three of us to become a Freedom Fighter. He's a good kid. Strange, but a good kid.
"We went with him back to the booth, and managed to recruit a bunch of other Freedom Fighters right then and there. We'd just let `em pull up to the gate, and we'd say, `Hey, would you be interested in fighting against an oppressive alien race determined to steal our planet out from under us?' A suprising number said yeah, and those who didn't.....well, we sent `em along with some literature. Most of the mice that joined that day were either single guys or divorced or along those lines. We didn't get many female Fighters that day, and we still don't have many."
"What happened to Scoot's brother?" Throttle asked curiously.
Stoker thought this over for a minute, then replied, "Believe it or not, Bull actually joined, even though he hated Jimmy and me. I still don't know why. I mean, if I hated every guy whose pantsed me and threw me into a snowdrift, I wouldn't have any friends at all.
"Think he got offed during a skirmish at Spire Canyon. Stepped on a land mine. Scoot wasn't too broken up over it. Can't say as I blame him."
Stoker yawned and checked his watch.
"Holy shit!" he shouted, leaping to his feet. "Kiddo, if you wanna catch your friends, then you'd better hustle. Me, I gotta hurry up or Chaos and Jim are gonna kill me as soon as I get there!"
He dashed out the door and sprinted up the rock-hewn steps, not even waving Throttle good-bye. Stoker flew up the stairs and out one of the many secret exits which peppered the Fredom Fighter's headquarters, knowing full well he wouldn't have time to go through the monestary itself, with its complicated locks and false walls, to the rooftop.
Stoker paused for a moment outside in the snow, looking up at the main building. The sky was finally clear, so he easily saw the waving hand on the roof, which he knew instantly belonged to Jimmy.
With the agility of a monkey, Stoker scaled the outside wall of the huge mud-brick building, finding foot-holds in broken bricks and window ledges (on the way up, he accidentally saw sevreal monks in positions that would severely compromise their vow of celibacy). It was nearly midnight when he arrived on the red tile rooftop (not that it wasn't before he started climbing) where his friends were waiting.
"About time!" Jimmy snapped, handing Stoker his silver flask, for once filled with alcohol. "We were startin' t'wonder if you were gonna show!"
Chaos nodded from where she sat. The long tails of her headband, once again tied on, twisted in the light breeze behind her. Her fur was even whiter in the pale moonlight.
"What took you so long?"
Stoker swallowed whatever was in Jimmy's flask--whiskey, his tastebuds told decided--and said quickly, "Nothing much. Just story-telling hour at the local library."
"Ahhh," Jimmy chuckled. He sat down just below the peak of the roof, brushing snow away as he did, and said, "Well, you're lucky you made it when you did! Chaos here said she was gonna tear your tail off if you didn't show up by midnight!"
"No I didn't!" Chaos shouted, laughing. "I said I was going to break his legs!"
Stoker smiled as he sat down between them.
"So why are we up here, of all places?" he asked curiously. "Usually, we're just wherever there's an empty space. My room, or something like that."
"We've got a reason!" Jimmy quipped with a wink.
"Look over there," Chaos said simply, pointing toward the rocky stone bluffs that lined the horizon.
Stoker peered out into the darkness for a moment. There didn't seem to be anything of any particular interest out there.
"What?" he asked. "Can you see the shower from up here?"
"A little," his white-furred confidante replied. "But that's not it. Just keep watching."
Stoker checked his watch.
FSSHT! FSSHT! FSSHT!
A bright light filled the air, along with a far-off but audible pop. Stoker looked up and saw bright tails of green light falling away from the center of a small, bright explosion. As he watched, two more lights shot up into the sky, bursting into bright flashes of light and color.
"They're launchin' fireworks in Brimstone," Jimmy explained. "You've always liked explosions, so we figured you'd wanna see this."
"You guys are the best," Stoker said, smiling, as he wrapped one arm around them both and stared out into the night sky with a content sigh. He was aware, out of the corner of his eye, of a slight smile on Chaos's face, before Jimmy pinched his butt and Stoker had to slap his hand away.
As they "oooh"-ed and "ahhh"-ed, Stoker took another drink and asked, "So, you two got any resolutions for this year?"
"Not really," Jimmy replied, staring out into the night sky. "I don't promise myself anything, so I'm rarely disappointed."
His thoughts, however, revealed something far different.
I'm gonna get you two togetha. I swear. You belong togetha, and you've always belonged togetha. I still don't know why you aren't! Seemed t'like her enough the night ya met. Hmph. Probably be togetha already if Harley hadn't joined up right after we got started.
Hmmm. I wonder. If Stoker got interested in Chaos, I wonder if I could convince Harley t'shag with me.
Yeah. No doubt about it.
"What about you, Chaos?" Jimmy asked, looking up.
"Just to end this war," she replied softly, resting her head ever so slightly against Stoker's chest. "It's been going on too long already."
"You kiddin'?" Stoker laughed. "We'd be out of a job!"
Chaos shrugged with a smile, which disappeared when no one was looking. Unnoticed, she gazed up at Stoker's face longingly.
I'm gonna tell him how I feel. Harley be damned, I'm going to. This year I mean it! I'm really gonna do it!
One of these days.
"And you?" Chaos asked finally.
"Pretty much the same thing," Stoker replied, shrugging one shoulder. "Put an end to this war, I suppose, `though I gotta admit, aside from all the bloodshed and losing mice I care about, I'm enjoying myself!"
"That's our Stoke!" Jimmy chuckled, slapping Stoker on the back.
Stoker's real resolution, however, was a little closer to a prayer than any promise to change.
Please, Stoker begged some unseen deity, no matter what else happens, let me be back here, same time next year, with these two. I don't care what happens beyond that. The war can keep going ten years after I'm dead. The world can turn itself upside-down twice. I don't care. Just keep us together. Everything else is gravy.
He paused for a moment, that added a post script.
And for God's sake, please let me finally get laid!