Chapter Seven: Mutiny
The club Vinnie had found was popular with the teenage and young adults of the Fury judging by the size of the crowd. Tala recognized the music as techno with an emphasis on producing a good beat. Vinnie shrugged and yelled into her ear, "Ain't heavy metal but it'll do," and dragged her through the swarm of bodies to the approximate center of the dance floor.
Tala was just glad that no specialized dance moves were required--other than keeping her feet out of harm's way that came in the form of the energetic white-furred mouse dancing in front of, beside, behind, in front of her. This isn't so bad. And I was worried he was up to something.
Vinnie's tail wrapped around her waist and lifted her into the air. His wild laughter floated over the music and he spun her like a top above his head. She landed in his arms. Nearby dancers applauded the move. "Oh yeah, turn you every which way but loose and make you look as good as me too!"
"Oh really?" She stiffly pushed herself out of his grip. "I might be less inclined to shoot you if you would warn me first!"
"Come on, babe. They loved it!"
"I'm not here to inflate your ego. If I wanted to get tossed into the air by some muscle-bound thrill-seeker, I'd go back to the gladiating rings."
He grabbed her hands and twirled her around with the music. "You have gotta loosen up if you wanna have fun. Stop fightin and enjoy what you feel."
She pressed closer to him so he could hear. "If I stop fighting, you win."
His white hands wrapped in fingerless black gloves grabbed hold of her head and combed into her short blonde hair. "This is a date, Doll-face, not a race. We're both supposed to have a good time."
"This is never going to work. You're a hot-headed idealist!" The beat of the music slowed and softened. Tala wrapped her arms around his neck.
"You're a hard-bitten mercenary!" Vinnie's fingers trailed out of her hair and down her back until his arms wrapped around her.
"You think with your trigger finger." She tilted her face up.
He leaned down slightly. "So do you."
Their lips brushed together and met. His grip tightened but his hands didn't roam. She relaxed into him, pressing all parts of her body against his. She pulled her hands from around his neck, brushing against the soft, velvet-like fur on his shoulders and pecs.
He pulled back from the kiss with a sharp intake of breath. "AOOOOW," he said under his breath. "Light my fire, Tala. Burn me up."
Her heart pounded. She could feel his beating under her tingling palms. "Vinnie."
"Shush." His lips brushed against hers quickly and his hands moved down her back, traced the waistband of her jeans, and grabbed hold of her hips. He pulled her into a sway with his hips and in time with the seductive beat of the music.
She let her hands trace down the sides of his torso. Her fingernails raked lightly through his white fur and stopped at his waist. She could feel his chest expand and contract quickly. Her own breathing was just as quick.
Two hands gripped her arms above her elbows and yanked her away from the white mouse. Two Internal Security officers pointed rifles into Vinnie's back. "Get your own date," he growled at them.
"You're under arrest, alien." The Internal Security officer holding her arms announced. "You too." He gestured his head in Vinnie's direction.
"Are all our dates going to end with us in custody?" Tala cocked an eyebrow at the white-furred mouse.
"Maybe we should try Chicago next."
"Dinner, kick some goon ass, and dancing afterwards?"
"Or a movie."
The Internal Security officer shook her. "I'd be more worried about your immediate future."
"Oh right. I forgot about you." Tala turned her head. Another rifle-toting officer was joining the group. The dancers had moved back, leaving a healthy space to work with. She flexed her knees and shifted one foot between the two belonging to the officer holding her.
Vinnie grinned and slipped a flare from his bandoleers.
The officer holding her saw Vinnie's movement. "Drop . . .."
Tala jumped back. Her shoulders struck his chest and her foot kicked his knees. The officer yelped in pain--without completing his command--and fell back. Tala threw herself back with him. Her free foot kicked the rifle out of the just-reached-their-position officer's hands.
Vinnie expanded the flare and ignited it against his leg. He dropped into a crouch and spun around. The flare cut through the rifles that had been pointed at his back as he swept the two officers off their feet with his tail.
Tala landed on top of the officer's chest. His hands released her arms and she leaped to her feet. Her right fist shut the gaping jaw of the still-standing officer. The officer she landed on began to sit up. She pivoted, kicking him unconscious. She grabbed the handcuffs off their belts and cuffed them together back to back. She turned to Vinnie.
The white mouse grabbed the two officers by their throats and smashed their heads together. He glanced back and handcuffed them like Tala had her pair. He stood up and dusted off his hands.
"Righteous," a nearby teenager muttered in awe.
Vinnie nodded his head to the quicker beat of the music the DJ had switched to during their scuffle. "It's easy to whip tail to this music. But then, it ain't real hard to whip their tails."
"It's that mindless drone mentality. Interferes with fighting abilities."
"Who are these guys?"
"Internal Security officers. The ones under Colonel Exhaust's command."
Vinnie frowned and pointed to the main doors. More uniformed mice poured into the club. "Looks like more wanna play with us."
"We gotta get out of here now!"
"Normally, I would disagree with that. But Modo and Throttle are probably having all the fun!"
"Back way out's thataway." A teenage mouse pointed into the darkness of the club.
Tala grabbed Vinnie's right wrist and pulled him through the parting crowd. They hit the metal fire escape door and ran into the access alley between buildings.
The white mouse slammed on his foot brakes, grabbed hold of Tala's left wrist, and dragged her to the mouth of the alley. As they got closer, she could hear the sounds of struggling engines.
An open-bed transport was parked on the street in front of the club. Vinnie's red racer was strapped down in its bed. The bike's wheels were locked with tangle springs. A group of Internal Security officers struggled with Tala's blue racer, trying to put the tangle-spring-trapped motorcycle on the transport too.
Vinnie howled. "Sweetheart!"
The officers turned and started shooting. "Famak!" Tala yanked him back as she slammed herself against the building for cover. She pulled her gun out and returned fire. "Shit, Vinnie! Haven't you ever heard of the element of surprise? Fire, Hot Stuff!"
The bright blue bike beeped enthusiastically and popped its laser cannons out. It shot the transport twice before the driver started accelerating down the street.
"My bike! Those sons of rats are stealin' my bike!" Bolts from Vinnie's laser pistol hit no where near the rapidly-fleeing transport.
"We'll get it back!" Her shots finally freed her bike of the tangle springs. It popped a wheelie and headed directly for the alley. Missiles fired from the rear scattered the Internal Security squad and Tala shot the survivors.
Laser bolts hit the sides of the buildings from behind them. The mouse and human both turned. The officers had made it through the club. Vinnie growled and started firing. "Steal my bike, will ya!"
Tala wrapped her left forearm with his tail and yanked it. He yelped as she started dragging him to her bike. "We're leaving! Now!"
"All right, all right." He freed his tail and climbed on the bike behind her. He grabbed hold of her waist as she accelerated down the street. "Let's go get my bike."
"Whatcha mean later!"
"People are more important than equipment! If Exhaust sent his goons after us, he's probably sent them after every non-mouse on the ship."
Vinnie took a couple of deep breaths. "Charley and Roddie. If that bastard's hurt 'em . . .."
"He'll probably arrest them first, then hold mass executions or something." The bike reached the wall of the hold and turned left following it. "Which gives us time to plan."
"Plan? I gotta plan. Grab Exhaust, whip his tail, and toss him out the nearest airlock."
"All right, smart guy. What if Exhaust has Charley as a hostage?"
Vinnie hesitated, struggling audibly to come up with something. His stammering and spluttering made her bite her bottom lip to hide a smile. He finally came out with a coherent thought. "Go with the wait 'n see plan, I guess."
"Fine." Tala pushed her bike through the doors of an enormous stairwell and activated its flight mode. "But my wait 'n see plan has a little more offensive strategy than the usual."
Sparks's shift ended once he got finished with Dr. Fender's lab. He shucked out of the coveralls and stuffed them into his toolbox with his cap as he rode the transport to the Hall of Memories. I owe Mr. Modo for not givin me away to Roddie. And he didn't give me any crap about being too young to do anything. Not that I expect that to last. Adults always worry 'bout being a good example at the worst possible times.
The transport dropped him off at the somber building and promised to deliver his toolbox to his apartment building. Sparks knew this place well; it was the only place he could see his mother out from under Roddie's watchful eyes. She never came here unless she had to. But this was the first time he had heard anyone playing music inside.
And I know that I've been
But I don't know to where
And nobody's gonna tell me now
And I don't really care
No no no
I got a taste of paradise
That's all I really need to make me stay
If I had it any sooner you know
You know I never would have run away from my home
Heaven can wait
And all I got is time until the end of time
I won't look back
I won't look back
Let the altars shine
Heaven can wait
Heaven can wait
I won't look back
I won't look back
Let the altars shine
Let the altars shine
The song playing over the purple bike's speakers ended. The large mouse slumped against the wall staring at a plaque didn't notice.
Sparks just stared. He had never seen anyone bring a motorcycle into the Hall of Memories before. He had also never seen a grown-up so broken up before either. He wanted to know who could have meant so much, but part of him was afraid to know. It reminded him too much of the pain and confusion from five years ago.
A heavy hand fell on his T-shirted shoulder and whirled him around. He stared up into the grinning face of an Internal Security officer. "Come on, kid. The Colonel has some questions for you."
"He can see my lawyer!" Sparks aimed a kick at the officer's knee.
The larger mouse pushed him down before it connected. Sparks landed painfully on his butt. The officer whipped his tail around and wrapped it around the boy's arms and torso. "You're coming now. The Colonel wants to make sure your guardian cooperates."
"Let me go, you wrenchhead!"
The officer's laugh ended when a metal hand grabbed the front of his uniform and lifted him into the air. "My grey-furred mama always said 'never pick on somebody littler than you. Especially if they have friends bigger than you.'" Modo shook him as his eye blazed red. "Let him go."
The officer's tail unwrapped from around Sparks. The boy scrambled to his feet. "I'm okay," he said as he moved back.
"All right." Modo turned his full attention to the officer. "Say nighty-night."
"Nighty-night?" The officer tried to pull himself out of Modo's grasp. His left fist connected to the officer's face. "Oh! Nighty-night!"
Modo dropped the unconscious mouse on the floor. "That's an Internal Security officer. Exhaust must be movin' against Roddie!" Sparks started running for the door.
The large grey hand on his shoulder stopped him. "She'll be okay. We gotta find Throttle and Vinnie so she'll have plenty of help." He set the kid on the purple bike and climbed on in front of him. "Hang on."
Sparks wrapped his arms around the older mouse's waist as they accelerated out of the Hall of Memories, onto the street, and into laser fire. "Whoa! How popular are we today?"
Modo wrapped his tail around Sparks's waist as he swerved to avoid a laser blast. "Every time we take a trip, it always ends up with someone shootin' at us."
"Maybe it's the universe's way of tellin ya to stay home." Sparks suggested as the laser cannons on the bike cleared the path. "Don't get me wrong; I'm glad you're here." Really, really glad. He added silently, feeling suddenly overwhelmed and frightened by the number of Internal Security officers shooting at the bike. He couldn't even fight one.
"We're gonna have to add the asteroids to our list of heroic exploit locations."
Modo chuckled. "Guess Roddie don't know those stories yet. We've been to Mars, Towess, Earth, Plutark, and a bunch of planets I never bothered learnin' names of. And we never could make friends with the local bad guys."
Sparks smiled. "Yeah, well, they're so collectively-known for their camaraderie."
"Speakin of camaraderie." The adult mouse hit the radio in his helmet. "Throttle. Vinnie. Come on, bros. Where are you guys? Nothin but static." He avoided the shots from a transport full of Internal Security officers behind his bike.
They rounded the corner and faced the park. Another gunfight was taking place near the elevator up to the bridge. A ring of officers surrounded the pavilion with more inside it, all shooting at an overturned stone picnic table. "That's Axle!" Sparks pointed briefly at the table. The cream-furred mouse crouched behind it, returning fire when she could.
Modo revved his bike and scattered the officers with its laser cannons. "Axle-ma'am!"
She jumped up from behind the table. Modo scooped her into his lap with his metal arm. She wrapped her arms around his neck and her tail around his waist. "Good. Sparks is with you."
"Is Roddie okay?" Sparks tried to keep the worry out of his voice. Roddie's tough. She's been the toughest person I've known my entire life. Exhaust'll wish he never messed with her. She'll be okay. She better be okay.
Axle's mouth twisted with distress. "They took My Captain away. I could not stop them. We must contact Captain Lance."
Modo carefully swerved to avoid the laser bolt. "First, we gotta get away from these wrenchheads and find my bros. Any ideas?"
"Tala's ship! It's got weapons and supplies and we can call Lance." Sparks clung tighter to Modo as the laser bolts whizzed closer.
"Hang on!" Axle ducked her head under Modo's chin as he accelerated the bike. A missile launched from the rear of the bike hit the transport. Burning hunks of metal and Internal Security officers rained through the air.
Modo turned, riding straight for the hanger bay elevator without slowing. "The door!" Sparks squeaked.
"Don't bother with 'em in an emergency. It's a rule." The laser canons blew away the doors and part of the surrounding walls. "It's gonna be tight, darlin." The bike beeped in response and fired its rocket jets. They jumped into the air. Modo ducked his head underneath the jagged metal edge and pulled the front wheel up. They landed on the wall of the elevator shaft and kept going up.
"Cool! And everything's an emergency, huh?"
"Now yer learnin', Kid."
A missile freed the doors of the hanger bay the More Hot Stuff was parked in. Modo brought the bike to a skidding stop underneath the belly of the black ship. "MC! Open up!" he bellowed.
"I am not authorized to do so, Biker Modo," the feminine computerized voice answered.
"Colonel Exhaust is after us!" Sparks yelled.
There was a quiet moment. Then with a hiss of escaping gas, the cargo hatch lowered. Modo drove the bike up onto it and they were carried up into safety.
Charley eagerly took Throttle's offered drink and gulped it down, trying to wipe her teary eyes at the same time. He chuckled. "I warned ya. You said you could handle it."
"So I should've said I didn't want my mouth on fire for the rest of my life?"
"Let me cure that for ya." He kissed her, softly slipping his tongue into her mouth. She closed her eyes and traced his chest muscles with her fingers. He pulled his mouth back, ending the kiss, and wiped the tear remnants from her cheeks. "Feel better?"
"Yeah, but now I'm hot in a completely different part of my body." Her stomach growled. "And I'm still hungry."
"Well, since we're here, let's take care of lunch." Throttle twisted around in the booth to signal the waiter, grimaced, and grabbed hold of the table.
"It's Roddie. She's in trouble."
"How do you know?"
He slid out of the booth, stood up, and slipped his field specs back on. "Part of what Vinnie calls Martian mind tricks. It must be bad; she's screamin' for help."
Charley glanced back at the entrance to the Astro Café. Four armed mice wearing the same red and black uniform as Colonel Exhaust stood there. "I bet they're the ones behind it."
Throttle glanced back, grabbed her hand, and pulled her out of the booth. "You're holdin' onto our money already, Charley-girl. No fair takin' it." He whistled for his bike.
No bike came crashing through the walls. The Internal Security officers started toward them, wading through the crowded restaurant. "Shit. Let's go!"
They ran into the kitchen and through it. Throttle thrust cooks, waiters, waitresses, and other restaurant employees out of their way with quick apologies. The kitchen exit led into an access alley between buildings. Two officers guarded the rear. He shot them both before they could bring up their rifles. He adjusted his hold on her hand and led them further into the network of alleys.
"I don't suppose you have that gun Tala gave you on ya?" He asked.
"No, it's still in my dresser back at the garage. Next time Greasepit kidnaps me, I'll be sure to ask him to wait so I can go get it."
"I'm getting you a holster for it on your next birthday. Take mine." He pressed his gun into her free right hand. His voice dropped as they paused at an intersection of alleys. "Those guys are still behind us. I'm gonna draw them off. You go that way and find Vinnie, Modo, or Tala. Don't trust anyone else." He brushed a quick kiss across her lips and shoved her gently in the direction he wanted her to go. Then he took off noisily in the opposite direction.
Charley moved quietly through the alley. Footsteps were coming toward her. She pressed herself into a shallow doorway into another building and tried its doorknob. Please! Please, oh please be open! Fervent hoping paid off and it opened.
She slipped inside and someone knocked the gun from her hand. She looked up into the face of an Internal Security officer. "Number Twelve, I found one of the humans," he said to the microphone of his headset.
She shoved him back and ran past. He staggered but didn't fall. His tail looped around both her ankles and yanked. Her feet flew out from under her and she crashed to the floor. Another mouse grabbed her hands and put handcuffs around her wrists while she lay there stunned. He didn't care how tight the cuffs were either.
"The traitor is putting up quite a fight."
The mouse handcuffing her laughed and pulled her up to her feet. "This should take the fight out of him." The end of a tail wrapped around her throat and squeezed experimentally. "No funny business, alien," he warned as she gagged. The pressure eased as they led her back into the alley.
Throttle was cornered in a dead-end alley but was still putting up a good fight with just his nuke-knucks. He chuckled as he tossed one officer into a group of three, knocking them over. "I've known Sand Raiders who put a better fight than this." Charley was shoved forward until the tail wrapped around her throat stopped her. Throttle's expression shifted into a silent snarl.
"Surrender now." The tail began to tighten. She gasped for air and her vision swam.
"You sons of rats!" She could barely see the tan-furred mouse power down his nuke-knucks and pull the glove off. "There. I surrender. Now let her go!"
The tail didn't release her until someone's hands tore it away. Charley coughed, sucked down air, and realized she had fallen to her knees as the blackness faded from her eyes. Throttle knelt in front of her, holding her up. "It's gonna be okay. It's gonna be okay," he whispered until the officers jerked them apart.
One of the Internal Security officers laughed. "A taste in alien sluts must be a genetic flaw."
Throttle snarled and tried to leap for that mouse, but the other officers punched and kicked him back down.
The laser canons on Tala's bike made short work of the Internal Security officers trying to cut their way into a section of the ship. Her bike skidded to a stop next to the intercom mounted beside the door. "Ivero? It's Tala."
The door slid open and she drove through it. Vinnie glanced around quickly. It seemed to be a large factory. The quick glance reminded him of the ironworks he and his bros had rescued from Limburger three years ago.
The quick glance was all he had time for before a giant humanoid, eight and a half feet tall with two legs and four arms marched up to them. "Looks like Exhaust has finally made a move. Glad he decided to do it while you're onboard." He rumbled at them.
"The nut probably thinks I'm a key figure in his imaginary conspiracies. What are you guys doing?"
Ivero grinned, revealing two rows of very pointed teeth. "Keeping as many of them busy as we can until the Captain sorts this out. I already sent some boys to watch out for the baby and its mom."
Vinnie nudged Tala. "So ya didn't go straight back to your ship last night."
"Earning a detection badge, Mouse Scout?" She turned her attention back to Ivero. "Fine, if you have the non-mice protected, we can go help the Captain." She shook one of Ivero's hands quickly. "Don't destroy the ship." She looked over her shoulder at Vinnie. "Hang on." She hit a button on the buckle of her gun belt.
The blue energy deposited them in Tala's transport booth in the cargo hold of More Hot Stuff. "Damn. And I was lookin forward to beatin' up some more of those guys."
"Don't worry, we'll have to go out again." She drove the bike out of the booth. Modo and his passenger-loaded bike had just parked next to the cargo hatch. Axle slid off his lap and a grey-furred, eight-year-old boy mouse hopped off from behind him. "That's two mouse scouts accounted for," Tala continued. "Where's Throttle?"
"Can't raise him," Modo answered worriedly. "Axle-ma'am says Roddie was taken prisoner."
"She and Throttle went off together," Vinnie said quickly remembering. "Charley was watchin' his bike at Fender's."
"She would answer a hail and she hasn't!"
"My Captain was brought down off the bridge alone," Axle said in her oddly hesitant speech.
"But I doubt she would bring Throttle up there while she was working." Tala got off her bike. "Sparks, show Axle the radio. You two contact Fender and Lance. Find out if Fender knows where Charley and Throttle have disappeared to and tell Lance what's going on."
"Right." The grey-furred kid led the older cream-furred mouse to the cockpit.
Vinnie sighed as he climbed off Tala's bike. "I knew it; I knew it! Throttle's havin all the fun!"
Modo glanced over him curiously. "Where's your ride?"
"Those . . . those . . . those . . .."
"Stole my bike! What's next? Rock n' roll?"
Tala's blue eyes rolled ceiling-ward. "Even they know better. MC, do you think you can hack into Internal Security's computer without getting caught?"
"I have done so before, Mistress Tala."
Sparks stuck his head back inside the cargo hold. "Lance says access to the Squad's hanger bay has been cut off. They've been out on maneuvers for a while."
"Famak! What about Fender?"
"He ain't answerin."
MC's feminine digital voice interrupted. "I have located Biker Throttle and Miss Davidson. They have been captured by Internal Security."
"Oh mama," Modo said.
"First my bike and now my bro! What are we waiting for!"
"A plan, Hot-head." Tala grabbed his white furred arm before he charged out the door. "If we go blazing in there, Exhaust has three hostages to use against us."
"We could transport in and get 'em out," Modo suggested.
"The cell area is shielded to prevent that. So the Plutarkians can't get any prisoners out," Sparks explained.
"I know this is gonna kill you, Vinnie. But we gotta wait and be sneaky."
"Biker Mice do not sneak."
"Then it's time you learned," Tala snapped back.
Roddie sighed and brought her knees up to her chest as she leaned against the wall of the cell. Throttle is closer. I can feel that. But I can also feel his worry and pain. I don't think he's here on a rescue mission. All you gods that I don't believe in, please keep Lance and Sparks safe. Please keep them safe.
Marching footsteps heading toward her cell echoed down the metal hall. The black-furred mouse stood up; clenching her fists at her sides as the heavy door slid open. The chestnut-haired human was shoved inside. The door slammed shut behind her but she turned around and kicked it. Then she pounded on it as she let out a scream of frustration.
"Charley." Roddie grabbed hold of the human woman's shoulders. "That won't do any good. Don't, you'll just hurt yourself."
The taller woman turned away from the door. Roddie gasped involuntarily at the wide bruise developing around her throat. Tears brimmed in her green eyes--not the first she had shed today either. "Throttle. They took Throttle away."
She drew Charley's head down to her shoulder. "Throttle's okay. I'd know if he wasn't."
"They kept calling him traitor and kept hitting him. And he wouldn't fight back, not unless one of them hit me. They took him away and there's no telling what they're doing to him now!"
She rocked the crying woman gently. "Shush. It's gonna be okay. Throttle's tough. He's been tough ever since he was four-years-old. He'll come back to you. To both of us."
"Those mice never let me do anything. I stay home, patch up the bikes, patch up them. But this is the first time I've felt completely helpless!" Charley pulled away with an angry growl. "There has to be something we can do!"
"Suggest away. I'm willing to do anything once."
Charley stared around at the bare metal room and sank down to the floor. "There's nothing we can do, is there?"
"Cheer up. I'm pretty sure Tala's still loose. She'll get us out. I've got great faith in anyone who takes on slave ships single-handed."
The human woman glanced over at the female mouse kneeling beside her. "Why are you here? I thought Exhaust hated aliens."
"Throttle didn't tell you? Typical, those macho mice automatically assume everyone knows what they do. I'm only half mouse. My mother was a shapeshifter who decided she liked Mars and settled there. She never could get the eyes right, and I inherited them."
"No, Throttle didn't tell me. Sometimes, I think they forget I'm not a mouse. Throttle kept looking for my non-existent tail when we . . .." She realized who she was talking to and broke off with a blush.
"Had sex?" Roddie supplied with a grin.
"He told you!"
"Not really." She ruefully touched one of her red antennae. "Martian mind tricks. Throttle's out of practice if he wants to keep things from me. He doesn't know I know."
"I think we better keep it between us."
"I'll add it to my list of sordid secrets I know about him." Roddie's ears perked up. "Someone's coming."
They both scrambled to their feet. The door of the cell slid open and the male tan-furred mouse was shoved inside. He couldn't remain on his feet and fell face-first to the floor.
"Oh god, Throttle!" Charley rolled him over and knelt by his side.
Roddie stayed back. Throttle was bleeding slightly at the corner of his mouth. Other small bleeding cuts were scattered around his face. His left cheek was swelling underneath his field specs.
"I'm fine, Charley-girl." He reached up and stroked her cheek. "It looks worse than it is."
"Then I'd hate to see you when you need a trip to the hospital." She untied the red bandanna around his neck and started cleaning his cuts. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." The human woman's hands paused as she tried to control their shaking.
"This isn't your fault."
"Every time we're alone together you get shot at or beat up!"
"That's not true," Throttle insisted.
"It even happened when we infiltrated the Road Ravens!" Tears started spilling down Charley's cheeks. "And it's been happening ever since!"
"There's been lots of times we've been together and nothing bad happened and you know it."
Charley didn't seem to be listening to Throttle. "And your own people turn against you because of me."
Throttle pushed himself up to a sitting position, breathing through clenched teeth. "Exhaust is hardly the voice of enlightenment on Mars. And even if he was, I still wouldn't care 'cause I love you. Don't give up on us before we even really start." His voice pleaded as he stroked her wet cheek.
Charley sniffled and started to smile. "This is an argument that I'm not gonna win, isn't it?"
He kissed her and swept her into a hug. "Nah, you're not gonna win. But you can be right next time."
Roddie gave into the half-giggle lurking in her throat. "For a minute there, I was worried about you two."
"Not exactly the stellar rescue I was hopin' for." He leaned heavily on Charley as she helped him up. "You're hurt."
Roddie looked down at the stiff red-brown stains on her red tank top and torn gold shirt. "Not my blood." She helped Charley ease Throttle over to and against the wall. "Exhaust ordered Ruger to shoot my entire bridge crew to get to me. I should have suspected he would plant an agent there." She felt her face harden. "If he's hurt Sparks or Lance . . .."
Throttle squeezed the arm he had around her black-furred shoulders. "Sparks went looking for Modo," Charley said. "They made friends or something."
"The Big Fella won't let anybody hurt a kid. Him and Vinnie still loose?"
"Yeah." Charley kept her arms wrapped around his torso as they sat on the floor. "A bunch of those Internal Security guys were reporting in failures after they took you away. I think it's a safe bet they're still riding."
"Wait a minute. Our rescue is depending on Modo and Vinnie?"
"They've gotten better, little sis-cuz. They've gotten better."