Chapter Six: Realizations
Fender stood up beside the red racer and popped his back. "Done with this one. I'm not sure what Exhaust is expecting me to find."
"Who cares?" Vinnie jumped down onto the floor. He wrapped his tail around Tala's waist and picked her up off her seat. Charley turned her head quickly. Tala's surprised expression was priceless, but laughing at it probably wasn't a good idea. "We got a date, Doll-face," Vinnie continued.
"Is it supposed to start at the hospital?" Tala asked in a calm voice.
"Cause that's where I'm going to send you, if you don't put me down."
He pouted as he set her on her feet. "I figured you didn't mind the tail."
"That depends on where you put it. And that wasn't an invitation!"
"Killjoy. Do you know how many ladies would die to be in your position?"
"Well, death does seem to be the only way to get left alone by you." Tala smirked as his face grew darker. "You make it way too easy, Mouse Scout." She started walking toward the garage door and her bike parked on the street outside. "Are we going? I've never done the club scene before."
Charley watched the white mouse shake himself out of contemplation of Tala's ass as the blonde human walked out the garage door. "Yeah, yeah, we're going." He jumped onto his bike. Fender scrambled back as Vinnie roared out.
Fender turned to Charley. "Do all their dates begin in that fashion?"
He sighed. "Youth is wasted on the young and stupid. I have to get something from the back. I'll return in a moment." He disappeared behind the piles of junk.
Charley sighed. "I get left behind no matter where we go."
"Hello? Somebody called for Maintenance?" The voice echoed from the garage door, just out of Charley's line of vision.
"Dr. Fender did."
The maintenance child entered the cleared space inside the room. "I figured Roddie and her friends were probably here. Wow, nice bike." He set down his toolbox and pushed his cap back to get a better look at Throttle's black and chrome bike.
She tried to place the familiar mouse child. His ears and antennae put him a little over four feet tall. His thick grey hair was held back by the faded black cloth cap he wore. The picture in Roddie's office. He was a few years older and a whole lot bigger, but it was the same child. "You just missed them."
"Sand blasted. I was hopin' to see Mr. Modo." He stuck his hands into the pockets of his coveralls, then pulled them back out. He held one out for her to shake as he walked over. "Sorry, I'm Sparks."
"Charley Davidson. Aren't you a little young to be working?"
He rolled his red eyes. "Cheese, that's only the fifth time I've heard that today. When are you adults gonna start judgin' by ability rather than appearance? On the other hand, it comes in handy. Where did Mr. Modo go?"
"Someplace called the Hall of Memories."
Sparks grew solemn. "He's lost family too? Dumb question, who hasn't. You're not a childhood buddy of Roddie's though."
"Throttle, Modo, and Vinnie crash-landed on Earth about three years ago and met me there. I'm here with them." Charley smiled at him. His grey bangs were already working their way out from under his cap and into his eyes.
Fender returned from the back carrying some kind of scanning device. "Sparks, what are you doing here?"
"Maintenance sent me, Doc. Whatcha bust this time?"
"Does the Captain know you're working for Maintenance?"
Sparks's eyes rolled again. "Who do ya think assigned me to them? Now, I don't have all day."
"Fine, fine. This way." The mouse scientist pushed his glasses back up his snout as he turned to Charley. "I will get to his bike before he returns."
"Whatever." Charley shrugged, wondering idly why the kid wanted to see Modo.
"I like Charley." Roddie admitted as she led Throttle across the street to the park.
"Charley's the best."
"The best at what?"
He looked down into her mischievous expression. "At everything she does. Now what's the deal with this Colonel Exhaust?"
"You never were very subtle about changing the subject. Exhaust is my problem and I'll handle him."
"Look, I'm not trying to pull the big bro act and fix all your problems." He ignored her disbelieving snort. "We haven't known Tala long, but she doesn't seem like the type to recommend shooting in the back. She seems to like her fights more face-to-face. Unless you specified it as part of a job. And he threatened Charley. I just wanna know what's going on, and if we can help. Come on, Roddie."
She sighed. "I really don't know if you can help, other than by leaving. He got the job of being in charge of Internal Security when his former commander died under suspicious circumstances. It could've been an accident or it could've been murder. But the guy is just nuts. He thinks that if Mars had had a closed door policy for aliens, the Plutarkians wouldn't have gotten their greedy fins on it."
Throttle snorted. "Everyone in Chi-town is convinced Limburger's human. Doesn't he realize they could have pulled the same stunt on Mars?"
"I don't think the logic of the situation matters much to him. And he lets his hatred of Plutarkians spill over to other species. So I'm Number One on his most hated list. Nice to feel wanted."
"Why not just get him out of there? Put someone in charge of Internal Security that you can trust."
"I can't. The previous Captain and the refugees wrote out laws for Olympian City and the Fury. Gives the civvies a chance to return to normal life; keeps the ship running smoothly so the Captain doesn't have to oversee everything. But until Exhaust crosses the line and breaks those laws or shows he's unfit for duty, I can't remove him from his post. And if you macho mice try to whip his tail for me, you're just going to get yourselves into trouble. You're already on his black list because you're related to me and because of Charley."
"You know how much I hate abandoning anyone."
"Would you like it better if I ordered you off the ship? You're not abandoning me; your fight is back on Earth."
Throttle sat down on a park bench and gazed at the group of young children playing about ten feet away. "I get so tired of fighting sometimes. The action is great, but it feels like it's never gonna end." His shoulders slumped. "What's the point to it all if we spend our entire lives fighting?"
Roddie sat down beside him, snaking her arm around his torso. "You have to carve a life for yourself out of this chaos called reality, big bro-cuz. If you sacrifice your happiness for the sake of winning, winning wasn't worth it."
"But Mars and Earth would be safe."
"We're not fighting for hunks of rock, Throttle. We fight to protect them." She gestured to the playing children. "Our future. Some of those kids have never known the horrors of war. I want them same for the children of our clan. Don't you?"
"Of course, but." He sighed. "You have to find the right person before you can start a family."
"She might be closer than you think."
"Not that it's any of your business, but she just wants to be friends."
The black mouse barked a short laugh. "Are all males blind when it comes to romance?" She mentally kicked herself as she felt Throttle stiffen. "I'm sorry. Bad choice of words for me and my big mouth."
"It's all right." He reached around her head and tweaked the rim of her left ear.
"Do they hurt?" Her voice was small as she leaned the back of her head against his arm.
"Do they work? Without the field specs, I mean."
Throttle sighed, "Most of the time now. I keep these handy just in case." He tapped the field specs black frame. "Besides, you know I've always liked this look."
"The shades, the leather, and the bike; the ultimate in cool." Roddie sighed, "But I can't help feeling that if I had been with you, you guys wouldn't have gotten hurt."
"Even you can't stop the inevitable."
"Doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying." She squeezed him slightly. "I have to get back to the bridge. You should take Charley to lunch."
"Would you stop with the matchmaking!"
"But I'm so good at it. Besides, Modo and Vinnie are off doing their own things. Do you really think they'll remember to feed her?"
"You don't want me interferin' in your ship's business and I don't want you interferin' in my love life."
Roddie sighed. "You're right. It really is none of my business. Maybe Vinnie and Modo haven't noticed yet, but I can tell that the situation between you and Charley is driving you crazy. You have to do something about it before you snap."
"You're not tellin me anything I hadn't already figured out."
"I just want you to be happy."
"Are you happy, little sis-cuz?"
"I've got a great man, a wonderful career, a kid raising hell in school, and I've got you guys back. Life can't get any better." She gave him another squeeze and got up from the bench. "Take her to the Astro Café. The food is the best in Olympian City." And she dashed toward the elevator to the bridge before he could comment.
Modo dismounted and entered the Hall of Memories, a long hall with an elevator at the other end to the upper floors of the building. Stone plaques covered the lengthwise walls. Names, dates of birth, dates of death were carved into the reddish-grey stones in Martian script with a small hologram projector to show a picture of the deceased. He leaned against the wall with his flesh hand, suddenly unable to do anything else.
His bike trailed inside the building, beeping softly with concern.
"You're right, darlin. I have to see her one last time." He straightened and began searching through the names.
He had almost reached the end of the hall and thought he needed to take the
elevator to the next floor when he spotted her name. A shaky finger activated
the hologram projector. The same beautiful face, just a little older. The same
gentle smile, just a little sadder.
He couldn't hold it in any longer. He slumped next to the plaque and shut his eye, allowing himself to relive memories he had kept suppressed for so long. Tears squeezed out of his eye. "Stella. Oh, Stella. It should've been me to go first. Not you. Never you."
His bike beeped louder with concern. Modo ignored it. It went back through its data banks, trying to find something associated with the name. A song was all it found. It began to play it over the radio speaker.
And a band of angels wrapped up in my heart
Will take me through the lonely night
Through the cold of the day
And I know
Heaven can wait
And all the gods come down here just to sing for me
And the melody's gonna make me fly
Throttle returned to Dr. Fender's lab. Charley was still sitting on the piece of machinery. "He just got finished looking your bike over and you just missed meeting Sparks," she informed him.
"The kid Roddie has adopted or something. He's already made friends with Modo."
"He's got a way with kids. Maybe Sparks can cheer him up. Do you wanna get some lunch?"
"Starving." She jumped down to the floor. "Let's go."
"The situation is accelerating." Colonel Exhaust tossed the reports onto his desk as he paced past it. "Soon it will be beyond all control. We can no longer allow the Fury to remain threatened by alien agendas. Give Ruger his orders and be sure to round up the rest of the aliens and sympathizers."
His aide saluted and left the office.
Throttle felt Charley's suspicious glance as they waited to be seated. The place was a little classier than the eating joints they frequented in Chicago. "What? Roddie said this place was the best in Olympian City." And if she's setting me up for something, she'll regret it. The maître'd stepped up to them. "Table for two," Throttle told him.
"Certainly, sir," the maître'd answered blandly. He led them to a one-bench booth that wasn't as long as its Earth counterparts. The side with the bench had two place settings right next to each other. "A waiter will be with you shortly."
Charley turned to Throttle with a confused expression as the maître'd stalked off. "This doesn't look like a table for two."
"It's an old Martian custom. When you take a girl out to dinner, you're expected to sit close together." He felt his face growing hot under his fur and he looked down at the floor. "I forgot about it; I really did!"
"Is this date?" She asked softly, triggering his heart to beat faster. He looked up. Her face was sincere but her green eyes looked frighteningly hopeful. "Is it?"
Yeah, sure, why not? Friends make dates and go out. But that's not the kind of date this table is for. And it's not the kind of date I want. "What do you . . .." He tried again. "Charley, I . . .." Damnit! Spit something out! "Do you want to be on a date with me?"
Charley smiled and slipped into the booth. "Sit down, people are startin to look."
He quickly sat down. "If you're trying to confuse me, Charley-girl, it's workin'."
"Okay. Yes, I want to be on a date with you. What's wrong with just asking me out?"
"All that stuff you said last week about just being friends? That what happened was just a one-night fluke. Somethin we both needed but we didn't have anyone else to turn to. I thought you didn't want anything to do with me. Why did you say all that stuff?"
"I thought it was what you wanted to hear. You kept acting like we had done something wrong when we hadn't. What else could I've told you?"
The waiter arrived. "Two of the special and two root beers." The tan mouse said quickly, waved him off, and turned back to Charley. "How 'bout tellin' me the truth? How do you feel and what do you want between us?"
"Throttle, no. You're still getting over . . . I don't want to make things harder for you."
He laid two fingers across her protesting lips and a jolt shot from them up his arm. She felt it too; he could tell by her expression. "Why don'tcha just tell me and let me decide if I can handle it? I am a big boy." She still hesitated, and he pulled off his field specs. "Please, Charley. Tell me."
She looked into his red eyes. "I want to be with you. Be a couple, go steady, whatever." She looked away. "But I know it's too soon after Carbine; you don't want to get hurt again; you don't feel the same way . . .."
He gently turned her face back to gaze into her green eyes. "Charley, I want that too." And he pulled her into a kiss before she could protest.
Not that she did protest. Her hands and arms wrapped around his neck and she kissed back with more force than he had initiated with. So he laced his fingers into her chestnut hair and returned the kiss with equal intensity.
The waiter's polite coughing finally broke them apart. He set down two steaming bowls of brick-red liquid with green chunks floating in it and two mugs of root beer in front of them and left.
Charley grabbed hold of his arm, alarmed by a new thought. "Throttle, I . . . I don't want to be another rebound girl."
"You're not." He smiled as he took hold of her hand. "What was between me and Carbine was over a long time before I realized it. And I've been fallin for you for three years now. I love you, Charlene Davidson. I should've told you that last week."
"I love you too. And it doesn't matter now." She broke off the kiss with a giggle. "How are Vinnie and Modo gonna react to us?"
"Two weeks worth of teasing in the span of twenty-four hours. And then I'll get a separate lecture from both of them on how I better not hurt you 'cause bro or no, they'll still pound me."
"Just as long as they aren't upset. So what happens now? I mean, how fast do we go? I don't think either one of us is ready for the move-in stage."
"Nah, not yet. Let's just take things slow. True romance takes time."
Charley smiled and Throttle felt his insides flip-flop. "You know just what to say, you smooth talker. One last question, what did you order?" She pointed at the bowl.
"Jundland stew." She picked up a spoonful. "Be careful . . .." She dropped the spoon and grabbed her root beer. "It's spicy."
Roddie felt Throttle's ecstasy explode in her own mind as she entered the elevator to the bridge from the floor of the crew's mess hall. "I told you so, big bro-cuz. You oughta trust my calls."
She hummed to herself as she stepped off the elevator and onto the bridge. "All right, mice. What's going on in that great big cosmos?"
Clutch grinned as he turned from the navigation station. "Maybe you should have family visits more often."
"What are you saying, Commander? I'm not usually a joy to work with?" She joined the coppery-red-furred mouse at the terminal for navigation. "Ruger, do you have the information on the Plutarkian supply route past Jupiter?"
"No, I don't, Captain." Something in the grey mouse's tone caused both commanding officers to turn around.
Clutch reacted first, throwing himself on top of Roddie as the pistol in Ruger's hand fired. The laser bolt hit the male mouse in the side and his momentum sent both of their bodies to the floor.
Roddie found herself pinned underneath her second-in-command, but her arms were free. Clutch was still breathing, but blood was leaking from him faster than air into a vacuum. She tore a hole in her shirtsleeve with her teeth and yanked it off. She stuffed the material into Clutch's wound. "Stay with me, Commander." She ignored the sounds of other shots and screams from her crew. "Stay with me. Axle will never forgive me if anything happens to you."
Ruger's face appeared between hers and the ceiling. He aimed the laser pistol down at her in malicious triumph. "Good, I missed you. The Colonel has special plans for you, you alien bitch."