Chapter Five: Fender
Charley peered into the other bedroom the next morning. Each of the beds contained a giant snoring mouse. Vinnie was about to fall out of his. Modo was curled up in a blanket-draped ball. Throttle lay on his stomach, face buried in his pillow, and the blankets draped over his ass and legs. She smiled and quietly shut the door.
Room service sent breakfast up through a dumbwaiter installed near the table.
She had ordered enough for all four of them, but they were still unconscious
after she finished eating. She found some notepaper and quickly jotted down her
Good morning, you lazy biker bums!
I went down to check on the bikes and to explore a bit. It's not a
big city inside this ship, so I'm sure you guys can find me when and if you
wake up. Maybe we'll meet up for lunch. See you guys later.
She left their suite humming to herself. The song died in her throat when she saw a mouse painting over the laser burns on the hall wall. I forgot. Have I gotten that used to getting shot at, bombs exploding nearby, goons manhandling me? She could barely remember when the only fear she had was getting her customers to pay up and making her mortgage payments on time.
She got into the elevator and hit the button for the ground floor. Okay, I won't go exploring alone. I'll check the bikes out, then go back and see if I can wake up those furballs.
The bikes were still waiting in the parking garage next door to the building they were staying in. Apparently, it was the only parking garage in Olympian City. The taxi-like transports were leaving as she arrived.
A quick check of the essential systems showed that the trip through the transport booth hadn't hurt the bikes any. Charley wiped her hands on an old bandanna as she stood up. That's good. Cause if I know my guys, they're gonna want to transport in the middle of Limburger's Tower with guns blazing.
She was still grinning when a male voice spoke up behind her. "Removing contraband, human?"
Charley whirled around. The mouse that Tala had been so angry with last night stood behind her. He was as tall as she was, short for a Martian mouse. The fur on his right ear and surrounding his right eye was black. The hands extending from the sleeves of his red and black military-like uniform were black too. The rest of his visible fur was white. "Contraband?" she echoed.
"Items detrimental to ship's safety. Those motorcycles were never checked by Internal Security for contraband. Which, of course, was probably your plan." Colonel Exhaust stepped closer to Modo's bike. The bike beeped angrily at him and backed up.
"I don't know what you're trying to imply. We didn't plan on ending up here."
"A happy coincidence, then? I don't believe that. Perhaps the Captain feels that she is above Internal Security regulations."
Charley stepped back and felt Throttle's bike behind her legs. "We weren't told about any Internal Security regulations."
"Of course not." The intense, middle-aged mouse stepped closer. "You aliens are going to stick together to undermine what's left of our society. But I'm not going to let you. I'm going to stop you, all of you. The Fury is all that's left of Mars as it was and I will protect it from the likes of you!"
She stared into his narrowed red-pupil eyes, and her muscles clenched. He stepped closer and she stepped back.
Throttle's bike beeped and whirled behind her. It sidled up to her, cannons popped out and trained on Colonel Exhaust. Modo and Vinnie's bikes flanked him, cannons out also.
"Looks like you're outgunned, Colonel." Tala's sharp ironic voice echoed inside the parking garage. "Maybe you should find someone else to harass."
The black and white mouse backed away slowly from Charley. "Those motorcycles are very armed for civilian transportation."
The blonde human woman dressed in faded black jeans and a maroon blouse stepped up behind him. "They're Freedom Fighters, not civilians. I'm surprised, Colonel. You usually do your homework better than that."
Exhaust's eyes had lost their anger. They coolly swept over the mechanic, analyzing her from the top of her red-brown hair to the toes of her scuffed-up cowboy boots. "I wasn't aware that humans were enlisting."
"The Plutarkians are trying to buy up Earth now. You really don't expect Terrans to sit back and let them?"
"I expect Internal Security regulations to be followed on board the Fury. Dr. Fender will examine those motorcycles within the next two hours, or the lot of you will be thrown into the brig. No matter who your relations are!" He whirled around and marched stiffly from the parking garage.
Charley let out the air she hadn't realized she was holding as she supported herself against the handlebars of Throttle's bike. "I never thought I'd be this glad to see you. What is that guy's damage?"
"He doesn't like aliens. Vinnie didn't tell you?"
Tala rolled her blue eyes with a sigh. "Where are the mouse scouts?"
"I left them upstairs, still asleep. They had a rough night. First Throttle getting shot and Modo having some kind of breakdown."
"That's not an excuse. Vinnie could have dropped a hint that you shouldn't go out in public without armed escort. Come on, let's go give the ego maniac a piece of my mind."
Charley led her up to their fifth floor rooms, noting that Tala's gun was strapped around her waist. They could hear Vinnie's panicked voice barreling down the hall.
"But we didn't tell her about Exhaust, Throttle! I told you after she went to take a bath. And then we had to deal with Modo. Man, they could be hurtin Charley right now and we wouldn't know it!" The white mouse threw open the door just as Charley and Tala reached it. His panicked, worried expression dissolved into relief. "Charley-girl! Are you okay?"
"She's fine, no thanks to you." Tala pushed her way inside by poking her finger into the center of Vinnie's bare chest and he stepped back with each poke. "Didn't it occur to you when I told you about a xenophobic bigot in charge of Security that you should tell the alien of your group about him?" She crossed her arms over chest and glared.
Vinnie grinned lopsidedly and shrugged. "Oops?"
Throttle moved his head slightly as he looked Charley over and visibly relaxed. "You okay, babe?"
"Yeah, but Colonel Exhaust didn't make friends with your bikes."
"What happened, Charley-ma'am?" Modo asked from the doorway to their bedroom.
"He was convinced we had smuggled contraband onboard and he was really upset that we hadn't followed regulations. He wants your bikes checked over sometime in the next two hours or he's going to throw us into the brig."
"You're leaving out the part where it looked like he was going to physically attack you and the bikes jumped to your defense." Tala pointed out.
"And you just happened to be there?" Throttle asked. "Or were you coming by to discuss your fee to get us back home?"
"I was following Exhaust. And I'll transport you guys for free, just to ruin Limburger's day."
"Great." Throttle turned to Charley. "You shouldn't have left alone. Not with somebody using us for target practice."
"That did occur to me. I was just going to check out the bikes and come back here, but Exhaust showed up first." That came out angrier than Charley intended.
"I ain't followin no orders from him," Vinnie scowled. "Roddie didn't say anything about our bikes needin' inspectin'."
Tala's sharp blue eyes darted from Throttle to Charley before turning to Vinnie. "It is a regulation and she probably forgot about it. Besides, Fender's a nice guy and he'll appreciate a look at your bikes."
"If he's so nice, why is he working for Exhaust?" Charley asked.
"He doesn't." Tala explained, turning her attention from the white mouse to the other human woman. "There's Ship's Engineering and then there's Everything Else. Your bikes fall under Everything Else and Fender's in charge of it. I trust him with my ride." She frowned at their suspicious faces. "Do you guys wanna give Exhaust an excuse to throw you into the brig?"
Throttle sighed and rubbed his eyes under his field specs. "Come on, bros. We always obey the laws."
Modo muttered under his breath as he turned back to the bedroom to find his boots.
Vinnie slipped his bandoleers over his head and across his chest and slumped down in a chair at the small table, unenthusiastically shoving food into his mouth. "This ain't what I had planned for today."
Tala draped herself in the chair next to him. "Cheer up, it won't take too long." She snatched some food off his plate.
"Hey! That's mine; get your own!"
"You snooze, you lose, Mouse Scout. Now what's this about Throttle getting shot?"
The tan mouse gave Charley a why-did-you-let-that-slip look. She shrugged helplessly. "Someone took a couple of pot shots at me and Charley last night. One of 'em hit me. No big deal. Except that the shooter got away."
"I didn't lose him on purpose." Throttle's voice was edged.
"Are there any more hoops Exhaust wants us to jump after our bikes are okayed?" Vinnie asked quickly.
"That's the only thing he mentioned," Charley answered.
"Good, then me and you are gonna go dancin', Tala."
"We are?" The blonde woman looked at him quizzically.
"You didn't dance with me last night. So I found a club that's a bit more on the wild side." The white mouse shoved his empty plate away and grinned at her cockily. "You're not afraid to go dancin' with me, are ya?"
"If you can move your ass as fast as you move your bike, it could be interesting."
"Can we get this over with?" Modo growled as he stomped into the living room.
Tala turned and looked like she was about to utter a snide comment. Charley jumped in quickly. "Exhaust didn't say where to find Dr. Fender. Tala, do you know where we have to go?"
"Yeah, I'll be your guide to the mad mechanic's playground."
Throttle offered Charley a ride on his bike and she slid on behind him. "Good defuse," he told her in a low voice as they left the parking garage.
"Thanks. Do you think Vinnie will remember to tell her to step lightly around Modo?"
"After the scare he got last night, probably. But you might want to drop her a warning. At least, suggest removing the flirting from Big Fella's presence." Her touch--just hanging on--sent an electric current through his body. He swallowed hard and tried to ignore it. "Just a little too painful right now."
"If I can get her alone again, I will."
Throttle took a deep breath. "I wasn't trying to say you couldn't take care of yourself. I . . . we were just worried."
"I'm sorry I snapped at you. Delayed reaction, I guess. But giving me a warning last night about Exhaust would've been better."
"Yeah, it would have."
She didn't respond to that and Throttle concentrated on ignoring his pounding heart and following Tala's bike. The human woman on the bright blue Martian racer with the white lightening bolt painted down its crankcase led them around the park to a five-story building. Tala stopped her bike and waved her arm at the partially opened garage door. "Fender's fun house."
"Miss Tala! Miss Tala!" A young mouse girl ran toward them from a group of kids inside the park.
"Excuse me." She hopped off her bike and headed toward the girl. She looked back over her shoulder. "Go on in, Fender never leaves."
Throttle turned to his bros. "What is that about?"
"Maybe she baby-sits, too." Modo got off his bike and pushed the garage door up high enough for them to pass underneath. "Can we get this over with?"
"Sure, Big Fella." Throttle eased his bike inside, and he and Charley dismounted. Modo and Vinnie followed them in.
The cavernous two-story room took up the length and width of the entire building; steel girders holding the building together lacked the interior stone-finished walls that would divide the space into smaller rooms. The room would have been enormous except for the large, odd-looking mechanical devices strewn haphazardly across the floor and dangling from the girders. Some pieces looked Plutarkian, some Martian, and still others reminded Throttle of some of the various planets that he and his bros had traveled to trying to get back to Mars. The only clear spot was about six feet in front of the garage door where they now stood with their bikes. "Hello?" he called. "Is anyone here?"
A resounding crash echoed from somewhere in the back, behind piles of machinery. "Sand blasted! Go away!"
"Colonel Exhaust said we had to get our bikes checked by a Dr. Fender."
The new crash sent large mechanical devices sliding and falling into the clear space. Charley jumped back, "Whoa!"
"I don't care if Ares himself sent you! I'm busy! I have fifteen priority projects ahead of everything else that must be done. Go away!"
Vinnie smirked. "If Tala calls this guy nice, I'd hate to meet anyone she calls mean."
"Look, Exhaust threatened throwing us in the brig if the bikes weren't checked out. We only have two hours." Throttle used his best find-a-compromise tone. "The sooner its done, the sooner we'll get out of here."
An explosion replied to his suggestion, jarring more equipment out of place. Modo yanked Charley out of the path of something swinging down like a pendulum from a girder. Throttle hit the floor and rolled out of its way. The bikes beeped and rolled back, as close to the garage door as they could get without abandoning their riders.
"Son of a rat!" The disembodied voice boomed out of the back with the smoke. More metal hit the floor; the ringing sound dulled slightly by falling on stone. An intercom buzz drifted to them. "Maintenance!"
"Maintenance here. What's the matter, Fender? Blew yourself up again?"
"Spare me your philistine humor and send someone here immediately!"
"We're shorthanded. How bad is it?"
"Not ship threatening. But it must be repaired today!"
"All right, all right. Keep your lab coat on. I'll get someone there as soon as I can. Maintenance out."
"It sounds like you've got time to deal with us." Charley said in the direction of the smoke and the voice. The smoke was already dissipating; a good indication that what had caused it was put out.
"Time to deal with you?" The voice's owner jumped out from behind a large piece of machinery next to Throttle. He was an older tan-grey mouse with a pair of sooty and smudged glasses perched on his snout. His dark blue jumpsuit with large bulging pockets sewn into every spot within reach of his hands was also sooty. "If it hadn't been for you, it wouldn't have exploded!"
"You're gonna give yourself another stroke if you keep yellin like that." Tala left her bike parked outside the building and walked inside. "Besides you're scaring the kiddies. Some of them aren't used to displays of mock anger yet."
The mouse shook with suppressed rage as he gestured at the Biker Mice and Charley. "Do they belong to you?"
"Bad choice of words, Fender. Try again."
"Colonel Exhaust wants our bikes checked out," Throttle repeated again with as much patience as he could muster. "He said you had to do it or we would get arrested."
"And I should care, why?"
"Cause they have the bad luck of being related to Captain Roddie." Tala pushed a smaller bit of equipment off of a larger, wider, box-shaped piece of machinery and perched on top of it. "You just have to glance over their bikes to pacify the control-freak. No repair work. A nice change of pace."
Fender snorted as he pulled off his glasses, cleaning them with a bandanna pulled from a pocket. "I wish for once that someone on this ship would consider that I have my own projects to work on." His anger was gone by the time he replaced his glasses. "Now, what do we have here?" He stepped up to Modo's bike.
"That's my ride." The larger grey mouse rumbled.
Fender blinked up at him. "Yes, of course. Funny, you look familiar. Oh well, shall we get started?"
Roddie dressed in her favorite gold shirt and black pants with the fiery red and gold design down the seams had added a red tank top to the ensemble--there was only so much leering she could take. She entered Dr. Fender's building, stopping just inside the garage door. The mouse scientist was running his hands along Vinnie's red racer under everyone's watchful eyes. "Remarkable work. You really have a gift."
"Charley's the best wrenchjockey in the solar system." Throttle leaned against his bike.
Charley sat on a piece of machinery next to Vinnie. Tala sat on the white mouse's other side. The chestnut-haired human looked embarrassed. "Best in Chi-town definitely. But I'm not that good."
"Don't sell yourself short, sweetheart. We've been around the block a couple of times. You're definitely the best."
Modo saw Roddie standing in the garage door. He walked up to her, pushing his bike and wearing the most painfully determined expression. Lance's voice replayed in her mind like an unbreakable audio loop. She pushed his counsel away with a firm I can't. I promised. She wanted him safe, to herself.
"Where?" was all the grey mouse could get out.
It was all he needed to. She felt tears gather behind her eyelids. "The Hall of Memories." She quickly gave him directions. Li'l Hoss's headlight flashed as it gathered the information.
"Big Fella?" Throttle had eased off his bike.
"It's something I gotta do alone, bro." Modo mounted his bike and took off.
His field specs couldn't hide her big bro-cuz's concern. "Is he going to be okay?" she asked him.
The tan mouse shrugged. "He got over it once. He just needs some time and space. We got catchin' up to do."
"That's why I'm here. Come on, a walk in the park. If you don't mind being a pedestrian for a while."
"I don't mind but my bike hasn't been looked at yet."
"I'll watch it," Charley offered. "Vinnie and Tala got plans."
Roddie smiled at the human as she grabbed Throttle's arm and pulled him out of Fender's combination garage and lab.