Lyrics to "Right Place, Wrong Time" by Screaming Cheetah Willies, "Dangerous" by Roxette, and "What It Takes" by Aerosmith are used without permission.
This story contains cussing, graphic depictions of violence, drinking of alcoholic beverages, and sexual situations. If you're not mature enough to handle it, go read something else.
This story takes place in 1995, a few months after "Once Upon a Time on Mars."
"Now this just reeks!"
Charley looked up from the carburetor she was working on to see Throttle crushing the morning paper in his fist. "I didn't have a chance to read that yet. A paying customer showed up first."
Throttle either didn't hear her or ignored her, for he chunked the stick of newsprint into the garbage can.
"This is why I don't bother with current events." Vinnie pulled two cards from his hand and drew two more from the stack. "You get all hot and bothered by it but there's nothing you can do about it."
Modo glanced up from their poker game. "Care to share, bro?"
Charley sighed as she retrieved her newspaper. Throttle was off in thinking mode. She smoothed out the largest wrinkles and found the article. "In philanthropic news, one of Chicago's leading citizens, Lawrence Limburger, made a 100,000 dollar contribution to the Cook County Orphanage."
"Bet it was funny money," Vinnie interrupted.
"'We are overwhelmed by a gift of such magnitude,' says Mrs. Biddle, director of the orphanage. 'There should be more people with as much generosity as Mr. Limburger.' Well, Mrs. Biddle is an excellent judge of character," the human mechanic finished dryly.
"How come he's got everybody in this city fooled but us?" Modo grumbled, throwing his hand of cards down on the table.
"Fish-face is up to something," the Martian mouse with tan-colored fur declared. "He knows how we feel about those kids."
Vinnie threw back his head and laughed. Light bounced off the metal flex-plate shielding mask covering the right side of his face. "Ole drippy drawers has found a new low in stupidity. Let's go haul him back up by his gills!"
"Mount up, bros." Throttle ordered as he quickly straddled his black motorcycle.
"A paying customer would have to show up today," the human woman grumbled. "I'll meet you at the orphanage later!" She yelled over the roar of their bikes.
Throttle nodded and gave her a thumbs up to show that he heard. Then the Biker Mice were gone; the roar of their bikes fading down the street. Charley surveyed her garage. Nothing was out of place other than the abandoned poker game, the crumpled newspaper, and her tools. "It took three years, but I think I finally got them housebroken."
Tala splashed cold water on her face and looked up into the mirror. Color was starting to return to her cheeks and lips. Damn those dreams!
She leaned against the bathroom sink. This time it had been a race. She and her bike passed everyone else on the track, except the Martian mouse on the red racing bike. She could still see the image of him in front of her, his body hugging his bike and his long tail whipping in the wind. And she couldn't get past him. Infuriating.
But less infuriating than the dreams in which he was in her bedroom, caressing her in ways that she swore no man would do again. And she wanted him to caress her, kiss her, touch her. She wanted to slide the bandoleers he wore strapped cross his white-furred chest off his shoulders and leave a trail of kisses in their place. She wanted her fingertips to memorize every inch of his face, including the right side masked in metal. He always turned that side away from her when she moved to touch it in the dream.
Always when she woke up from those dreams, her body remembered the pain and her stomach seized with dread. She curled up in a fetal position hyperventilating, shaking, and sweating until the panic attack left. If those dreams were supposed to mean that subconsciously she was ready to try a sexual relationship, why did she still have the panic attacks? The next few minutes of the day would be spent cussing at the unknown mouse and Rexus with equal fervor.
The intercom chimed. Tala hit the reply button. "What is it?"
"Just a reminder. If you want to make the plane to Honolulu, you should leave now to run your errands." The mechanical voice spoke with a feminine tone.
"I wish Earth would catch up with the rest of the galaxy." The human woman stepped out of her bathroom and walked through her bedroom, picking up her white motorcycle leather jacket off the bed. A sealed envelope laid on the table next the door. She snatched it up and stuffed it into the pocket of her jacket, joining other papers, as she left her bedroom. She strode across the wide catwalk from her bedroom to the large freight elevator, glancing over the railing at the floor below double-checking that all the lights were off. She pulled the jacket on as she started the elevator going down. "I could just transport over there if Terrans knew about transporting."
The elevator stopped at the ground floor garage. Five motorcycles of various styles were parked there along with a dark blue 1965 Ford Mustang convertible. One of the motorcycles started beeping at her and flashing its mousehead-shaped headlight; a bright blue racing bike with a white lightening bolt painted down its crankcase.
Tala smiled. "Hello, Hot Stuff. Ready to go?"
The bike popped a wheelie and beeped enthusiastically.
She grabbed her helmet and straddled the bike. "Let's go."
Throttle leaned over the small viewscreen built into the tank of his bike. Limburger was visible on it, leaning back in his chair behind his desk and slurping worms down. The mouse looked away before he lost his breakfast. "The Big Cheese's up to something. But it looks like we missed the planning session."
"We could just bust in there and make him tell us." The grey-furred mouse suggested.
Throttle glanced over at his larger bro. He would expect a comment like that from Vinnie. But the hyperactive mouse was focusing his binoculars on the street below. They sat on their bikes on top of a neighboring skyscraper near Limburger's Tower. "We could," the tan-furred mouse agreed. "But the Big Cheese is probably expecting that. Hopefully, Charley-girl is having better luck at the orphanage. Let's get over there."
"Wait a minute." Vinnie said as he adjusted his binoculars.
Modo's mouth fell open. "Did I just hear him right?"
"Yeah. Vinnie said wait. The universe is going to end."
"One hot biker babe is walking into Lard-butt's Tower."
"Really?" Throttle rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Modo pulled out his own pair of binoculars. "Are you sure it isn't Charley?"
"It's Charley only if she's gone blonde, got a drastic haircut, and shrank her boobs."
"She ain't Charley," Modo said.
"Hmm. Why is she heading into Limburger's? He's gonna start hiring bikers to come after us?"
"No way." Vinnie's tail lashed angrily. "Somebody that cute can't be a baddie."
"There's a saying: you can't judge a book by its cover."
"I'm not talkin about a book. I'm talkin about a woman."
Throttle could feel his temples begin to pound. "Look at this way," Modo advised, "we've got a reason to keep this place under surveillance."
"All right. But we can't wait here all day."
"Nah, just long enough for her to catch a glimpse of my studly body and ask for a phone number."
Throttle sighed. The pounding in his head was harder. It was going to be one of those days.
Tala pulled up the collar of her white motorcycle jacket and strode through the lobby of Limburger's Tower like she belong there. She avoided the bald men who wore pants, vests, muscle shirts, and guns. Grungy sleazoids with guns. Yeah, that's a good idea.
She slipped into an office adjacent to the main lobby. Sitting down at a desk, she found the corresponding port on the computer for . . . she quickly patted down her jacket. She drew a small black cell phone with a phone jack cord running from the bottom of it out of another pocket. She plugged the phone into the running computer, dialed the number MC had given her, pulled the papers from her pocket, leaned back in the executive-style office chair, and propped her feet on the desk.
The papers were a printout of a thirteen-year-old police report MC had found. In 1983, six orphans from the Cook County Orphanage disappeared. No trace of them was ever found, and the case was still open. Four of the missing children were fifteen. The oldest was seventeen. The youngest was eleven. The report hadn't contained any pictures, so the next stop would be to the orphanage to try to find the identities of the orphans. MC thought the youngest could be Tala.
Tala frowned and stuffed the papers back into her pocket. First order of business was to see if the rumor that Limburger was dealing with the Zekpith Gang was true. After that, there would be plenty of time for the other Chicago errands before catching the flight to Hawaii.
The cell phone beeped and the voice that had spoken earlier over the intercom came on. "I'm sorry, Mistress Tala. I'm afraid I triggered an anti-hacking firewall inside Limburger's system."
"MC! You promised me you were going to upgrade your hacking skills."
"Evidently I did not upgrade them enough."
"Great, just great." Tala unplugged the cell phone and stuffed it into a jacket pocket. "It's shaping up to be one of those days."
Limburger resisted the urge he felt to pick up his binoculars and stare back at the Biker Mice parked on the opposite skyscraper. He could stare back at them and then wave when they noticed. The expressions on those valiant vermin's faces would be priceless. He sighed and reached into the bowl of slime worms sitting on his desk. But as long as they were up there meant that they were not blowing up his tower, wreaking his equipment, pummeling his goons.
The alarm blared through the office. "Blast! I knew it was too good to last!"
Karbunkle's face appeared on the vidcom unit on his desk. The large-headed doctor quivered, the wire running out of the side of his head keeping beat with the alarm. "Someone tried to hack into our computer system. From inside the Tower, oh odious one!"
The disguised Plutarkian swiveled his bulk around to the floor-to-ceiling window behind his desk. Three Biker Mice sat on their bikes on top of the skyscraper. "It's not them. It's not their style regardless." Limburger picked up a remote control and clicked on the wall vidcom unit, flipping through the security camera scenes. He stopped at an office. A human female with blonde hair was stuffing equipment and papers into the pockets of her white motorcycle jacket. Limburger hit the intercom with a sigh. "Greasepit, goons. Kindly escort the young lady in the white leather jacket to my office."
No one was waiting for her in the hall. Tala blew out the breath she was holding. She strolled through the lobby, trying not to draw any attention to herself. No one appeared to notice her. She hit the main door and started down the outside steps to the street. For a Plutarkian, Limburger has lousy security. Lucky Tala strikes again.
A large man, bald with a small red cap wrapped around his pointed head, wearing blue jean overalls without a shirt, and dripping black oil strode toward her. A small battalion of the bald, armed sleazoids followed behind him. "Mr. Limburger wants to see youse!" The oil-dripping man bellowed.
Vinnie sat up straight and stowed the binoculars into his bike's storage compartment. "Looks like trouble for the beautiful lady."
"Now Vincent, don't get," Throttle began. The white-furred mouse fired his rocket jets and shot down the side of the building. "Involved," Throttle finished with a sigh.
"If he would just listen, our lives would be so much easier." Modo shook his head.
"But who wants that?" The tan-furred mouse replied with a grin as he turned on the face shield on his helmet. They fired the rocket jets on their bikes and followed Vinnie's lead.
The oil-dripping head goon grabbed Tala's arm. "Mr. Limburger wants to see youse! Now!"
"Let me go, you walkin environmental disaster!" She whistled shrilly. "Your boss has to make an appointment just like everyone else!"
"Real cute. Comes on." He jerked her arm.
Tala looked over her shoulder. Her bike was roaring toward her. But another bike was roaring from the other direction. She turned back.
A red racing motorcycle almost identical to her bike and straight out of her earlier dream barreled toward her and Limburger's goon. "Let her go, you walkin oil slick!" The rider's fist carrying all the velocity of the bike hit the oil-dripping goon straight in the face. The goon released her arm and flew backwards. The bike skidded to a stop in front of her. "He didn't hurt you did he, sweetheart?"
Tala stared at the rider. He was shirtless, his muscles well-defined under his white fur, and two green bandoleers crossed over his chest. His blue jeans had studs running along the outside seam down to his metal knee pads and black biker boots. A purple bandanna was tied around his neck, the knot falling onto the hollow of his collarbone. A shinny metal mask covered the right side of his face starting at the base of his snout, covering the entire cheek, and extending back into the depths of his helmet just leaving a hole for his eye. It was him, that damned cocky mouse that invaded her dreams.
She felt the blood rush from her face. Recognizing him had only taken a second. He was waiting for an answer. The words tumbled out of her mouth. "Why the hell aren't you on Mars?"
"Huh?" was his elegant response.
Then the goons opened fire.
Her bike rolled up behind her laying down cover fire. Tala jumped on, pulling on her helmet as she settled into the seat.
The white-furred mouse moved just as fast. He gunned his bike up the steps, wheeled around tightly, and faced the squad of goons. Most of them started scattering and the missile he fired into their midst sent the remainder flying.
In his office above, Limburger watched the action on the street with his own pair of binoculars. "Not another damned biker!" He hit the intercom. "Somebody get them before they blow up my Tower!"
Those goons were gone. Vinnie turned his attention to the lady biker. She knew he was Martian. She straddled a Martian bike. She was human.
He tried to remember what Charley had explained to them. Why she found their story so hard to believe at first. But that had been almost three years ago and he hadn't really been paying attention at the time. It basically boiled down to Terrans believed they were the only beings in the solar system. Very few of them knew the truth.
And apparently this lady was one of the few.
"Move your furry ass!" She shouted, gunning her bike straight toward him.
He accelerated out of her way and turned to watch her shoot the front tires of a dune buggy that had been barreling toward him. The dune buggy's front end hit the cement steps and flipped over.
Vinnie laughed as they raced away from the explosion. "I like your style, Doll-face." More dune buggies raced out of various entrances around Limburger Plaza. He turned toward her thoughtfully. "What did you do to piss him off so much?"
She shrugged. "Get rescued by you?"
Before he could decide if she was serious or sarcastic, the dune buggies reached them.
Limburger shook his fist as he surveyed the battle below. "You calamitous motorcyclists! Why can't you go ruin some other Plutarkian's day!"
Now the other two mice had arrived. "And I just had the conference room repainted," he said mournfully.
Tala and her bike dodged laser fire and added to it. "I'm glad I didn't bring the car."
Her bike beeped reproachfully at her.
"Hey, I thought about it, okay. I don't get to drive it often. Besides, I'm glad I've got you; the car doesn't have weapons."
Pavement exploded nearby. A large piece of street hit her in the hip. The next thing she realized was that she was lying on the street a good four feet away from her bike and in a whole lot of pain on her right side.
Shit! Now I've gone and done it. Probably broke my hip and my ribs. I knew I was getting too used to the armor! She moved her left arm to feel the right side of her body. No blood. She tried moving her right leg. It flexed. Not broken. Those Gene-Splicers said they doubled my strength and healing speed. Never really had a chance to test it. Oh, but it's gonna to be one helluva bruise.
A roaring engine made her look up. One of those dune buggies was heading straight for her. The driver had a manic grin plastered on his face.
Another engine's roar answered to her right, somewhere beyond her feet. The white-furred mouse on the red bike zipped between her and the dune buggy, grabbing her up with his tail.
The dune buggy turned to follow him. But before it made any progress, it exploded in a massive fireball. Tala looked back. Her bike rolled around the flames, revved, and accelerated after her.
"AOOOOOOW! Now this is what I call fun!"
"I'd hate to see what you call boring!" Tala choked back tears. She was right about that bruise. His tail wrapped around her waist and the pain pulsed every time he twitched it.
"You still alive, Sweetheart?"
"I will be once you put me back on my own wheels."
Her bike moved up along side the red one. The mouse set her on it gently. "Two studly rescues in less than an hour! Do you love me already or what? I'm available Friday night."
"What are you, some sorta mouse scout? Always on duty to rescue and destroy?" She gazed around the street in front of Limburger's Tower. There wasn't a single moving dune buggy left. And the highway department was going to have a blast resurfacing the street.
"Well that's a hell of a way to show your gratitude." The white-furred mouse crossed his arms over his chest.
"I don't do swooning. Look, I appreciate the assistance but this is more attention than I wanted." She glanced around again. Two more bikes were riding up. "Time to fly. Flight mode."
Her bike beeped and accelerated. It jumped into the air. The wheels split apart and lined up horizontally with the ground. With a magnetic pulse, the bike shot up into the sky and down the street.
"Stupid, stupid," Tala chastised herself. "I knew Martian mice are on Earth. I have that stupid letter to deliver to one of them. I shouldn't have let him get me flustered. It's unprofessional."
Her bike beeped worriedly.
"Come on, Hot Stuff. Let's go try to find my past before I screw my immediate future up any worse."
Throttle and Modo idled their bikes next to Vinnie who stared up at the sky with a grin from ear to ear. "I think I like her style."
Throttle pushed down his shades and blinked him red eyes a couple of times in the same direction Vinnie stared in. "Did that bike just do what I thought I saw it do?"
"If it didn't, I'm going with you to get our eyes checked," Modo answered. "I'm willin' to bet money that it was a Martian bike, too. If I had any money."
"It was," Vinnie said.
"And she's human?" Throttle asked.
"Yep. Knew I was Martian, too."
"Where do you find them?" Modo asked.
"What can I say? It's a talent."
"Yeah. One that needs to be improved." Throttle chuckled. "She sure didn't stick around after she saw you."
"It was the goons," Vinnie growled. Throttle and Modo shook their heads and roared away. "Well, it was!"
Charley resisted the urge to reach over the desk and strangle Mrs. Biddle. "I understand your concerns, Ms. Davidson," she repeated. "Mr. Limburger's business practices are questionable, but quite frankly we need the money. The county's funds that we depend on were cut. We need Mr. Limburger's money to stay open."
"I understand that, Mrs. Biddle. But I'm afraid Mr. Limburger may have put some unusual conditions on the use of the money. Like exchange of property or something."
Mrs. Biddle stood up and waddled her large matronly form around her desk. The chat was over and Charley stood up. "Personally, I think you're being a bit paranoid, my dear." Mrs. Biddle escorted the female mechanic from her office and into the main hall of the ground floor of the orphanage. "I'm glad you feel so concerned about the children. I only wish more people did. Perhaps you and your friends can come and visit during the weekend." She saw Charley to the lobby, said good-bye, and headed back to her office.
Charley blew a stray lock of her chestnut hair out of her green eyes. Well, I hope the guys did better than I did. She left the main lobby and went outside. Her bike was parked in the driveway right outside the main door. Another motorcycle was parked right behind it.
She looked over the new bike with interest and gasped involuntarily. It was a Martian bike, a bright blue Martian racing bike. A white lightening bolt was painted down the crankcase. It reminded her of Vinnie's bike. Both were designed to lean the driver forward, cutting down the wind resistance. Both bikes had the same aerodynamic build including the small windshield and the mousehead-shaped side mirror and headlight. But this bike's front wheel wasn't encased in metal like Vinnie's bike. It and the back wheel were attached by telescopic forks. The wheels looked odd too, almost like two separate tires were being held together to make up one standard tire. Maybe it had a four-wheel mode?
"Take a picture. It'll last longer."
Charley whirled around. The owner of the mocking voice was standing behind her with Kara, one of the orphans. She was about the same age and height as the mechanic, but thinner. Her blonde hair was cut short. She wore a pair of faded black jeans and maroon shirt tucked into them. A white motorcycle jacket and a pair of scuffed-up black biker boots completed her ensemble.
Kara broke from the stranger's side, ran up to Charley, and hugged her around the waist. "Hi, Miss Charley! Did you bring the bikers to play with us?"
"Not today, Kara. Maybe next week."
"Okay. Mr. Vinnie still has to show us the new baseball game."
"I'll remind him."
Kara scampered back into the orphanage. The blonde woman's blue eyes watched her go in and a slight smile twitched her lips. "I was never that young. Or trusting."
"What were you doing with Kara?" Charley demanded.
The woman looked back at her. "She was showing me their new house while you were meeting with Mrs. Biddle." The new orphanage was the top seven floors of one of Limburger's Towers which had miraculously landed on the site of the former orphanage when the Biker Mice had blown the tower up in the Christmas season of 1993. Kara and the other children were proud of it. "Seemed to think I was a friend of yours because I rode up on a bike," the woman continued.
Charley glanced at the bike. "It's a nice bike. Has some unique modifications."
"You know what they say. The rarest hog on the road is the factory model. Pleasure to meet you." She walked into the orphanage.
Charley watched her limp into the building. She knew disguises were good, but if this woman wasn't human she would eat Vinnie's next gourmet cooking experiment. But what was a human doing with a Martian bike? She waited a few more minutes and reentered the orphanage.
No one was in the main lobby to stop her, so she eased down the hall toward Mrs. Biddle's office. "I hope you're not here to talk about Mr. Limburger too," the director's voice boomed down the hall.
"No, should I be?"
Does her voice sound ironic all the time? Charley wondered.
"My name is Olivia Twist."
Right. And I'm growing a tail.
"I'm working on a book about missing children and I came across a report from 1983 of six missing orphans. I wanted to know if I could look at their files to see if they correlate with any of the statistics I've gathered."
"I'm sorry, but that's impossible."
"It's a thirteen-year-old case."
"We can't let anyone see the files without a court order. That's so we can protect the children. And it is a rule I'm not willing to break for a piece of sensational literature."
Charley heard the sound of someone standing up and back pedaled out of the hall. She had enough time to get back outside and onto her bike before "Olivia Twist" walked out.
The blonde woman's eyebrows arched questioningly at Charley. "You're still here?"
"Waiting on some friends. Did your meeting go well?"
"As expected." She straddled her bright blue Martian bike and pulled on a grey helmet similar in style to the Biker Mice's. She didn't turn on her face shield though. "We'll have to do this again sometime. Maybe we'll actually exchange names." She roared off.
Charley frowned as she rode her own bike to the end of the driveway. She had never asked the Biker Mice how popular Martian bikes were off Mars. But still in order for her to get one, she would probably have been there before the Plutarkian/Martian War. It didn't make sense. Just like Limburger giving the orphanage money.
Roaring motorcycles made her look up. The Biker Mice idled their bikes in front of her. Vinnie's expression was uncharacteristically dejected.
"Did you find out anything, Charley-girl?" Throttle leaned forward, resting his forearms against his handlebars.
"Only that they need Limburger's money to stay open. Mrs. Biddle wouldn't tell me if he put any stipulations on how they use it."
Modo's one eye opened wide with shock. "They wouldn't put the kids on the street just because they don't have any money, would they?"
"No, they'd probably just divide them up among other orphanages across the state. Did you guys learn anything?"
"Only that there may be a new player in town," Throttle answered.
"Good guy or bad guy?"
"Not sure. She went into Limburger's Tower and came out with Greasepit and a whole lot of goons trying to get her back in. And she rode off without even thanking us for trashing the goons."
"She did to," Vinnie protested.
Charley smirked, "Vinnie's defending the lady?"
"She made quite the impression," Modo grinned. "But then it's not everyday you see a pretty lady with a flying bike."
"A Martian bike?" Charley asked.
The three males exchanged glances. "Sweetheart, you saw her? Human, blonde, white leather jacket? Bike is a blue racer?"
Charley would swear that Vinnie's ears had perked up underneath his helmet. "That's her. You just missed her."
"Of all the dirty, rotten, shitty luck."
"Did you get a name?" Throttle asked.
"A fake one. Olivia Twist." The three mice looked at her blankly. "Oliver Twist is a very famous fictional orphan. One of Charles Dickens' novels. Olivia is the feminine version of Oliver."
"If you say so, babe." Vinnie shrugged.
"Was she asking about Limburger's money?"
"No," Charley shook her head at Throttle. "She was asking about some orphans that disappeared thirteen years ago."
"Limburger wouldn't have anything to do with that. What's the connection?"
"Uh, Throttle, can't you do your thinkin back at the Garage?" Modo's stomach growled loudly. "I think it's lunch time."
"Let's rock . . ."
Tala found the Last Chance Garage without any problems. Well, except one. It was closed. She sighed. Having gotten paid for hand-delivery meant you hand-delivered. So she turned on the bike's radio, pulled out a tattered paperback, and waited.
She was in the middle of the third story in Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles when she heard four motorcycles down the street. It was the three mice she had seen outside Limburger's building and the woman she had met outside the orphanage.
I was in the right place
But it must've been
the wrong time
I'd of said the right thing
But I must've used the wrong line blared from her radio. She grimaced and shut it off just as their bikes reached her.
"Well, well, well. And we worried about finding you again." The speaker was a tan-furred mouse astride a black and chrome motorcycle. Green shades hid his eyes. A sleeveless, unzipped black leather jacket barely covered his muscular torso. He wore blue jeans with metal knee pads and black biker boots, too. A red bandanna was tied around his throat and a matching one was tied around the wrist of his right gloved hand.
"I'm listed in the phone book." I can be sarcastic too, Martian.
"As Olivia Twist?" The human woman asked dryly. Her green eyes narrowed suspiciously.
Tala grinned. "Glad to know I'm not the only one in the universe that has developed the nasty habit of eavesdropping. Oh and congratulations, you the first Terran to realize it's an alias. I thought about using Olivia Copperfield, but I figured everyone would assume I'm a magician."
"So what's your real name, Doll-Face?" The white-furred mouse asked while giving her the once over.
The tan one must be the leader. The jolly grey cyclopean giant is too quiet. And the white one acts first, thinks second. She looked at the tan mouse. "Wouldn't it be better to have introductions inside? Sit down, prop your feet up, take your ears out."
The tan mouse nodded at their human companion. She pulled out a garage door remote and pointed it at the two garage doors. One quickly slid up. She drove her bike inside first.
It was a modest garage. Tools, parts, and shelves lined the available space on the walls. Two closed doors were on the left wall. A large window was in the right wall. A swinging door was on the back wall. Not too bad considering the neighborhood. But then being a hangout for three large Martian biker mice probably insured a wide berth by undesirables.
The tan mouse pulled off his helmet and left it on his bike. He led the way to a table and chairs set up in the back near the swinging door. He gestured for Tala to have a seat. "So you know we're Martians."
Tala sat down. "Well, the ears, tail, and fur kinda make you stand out. Or do I need to start naming every extra-terrestrial species I know about? We could be here a while. I don't suppose I could get something to drink with this interrogation, could I?"
"Is root beer okay?" The human woman wore a baggy blue work shirt and dark blue jeans and paused at the swinging door to ask.
"Fine with me." Tala got a glimpse of a kitchen beyond when she walked through the door. She quickly returned with a tray carrying five root beer bottles. Tala took the one offered to her. "Now who's going to interrogate who?"
This question confused the males. But the woman nodded. "You have questions for us and we have questions for you."
"Got it in one."
"So we'll ask a question and then you ask a question," the tan mouse suggested.
"All right. But if a question is refused an answer, the asker gets another one. First one out of questions wins. Agreed?"
"Okay," the tan mouse said. "What's your real name?"
"Tala. My card." She passed a business card from her wallet.
"Tala, Galactic Jack-of-all-Trades," the tan mouse read aloud. "Can do the job for the right price. You gotta be kidding."
"I have expensive tastes, an unconventional résumé, and I'm an adrenaline junkie; all of which makes holding a steady job harder than usual. How long have the Plutarkians been on Earth?"
The woman answered. "Limburger's been here in Chicago since 1991. I don't know about any of the others."
"You don't have a clan name?" The grey-furred mouse asked. He was the tallest of the three mice with a boxy metal right arm. A black eye patch covered his left eye. Armor was strapped across his upper chest. Two hoop earrings dangled from his left ear.
"I have one," Tala admitted. "But I don't give it out, like you mice. How many Plutarkians are on Earth?"
The tan mouse was frowning. Probably because I know stuff about their culture that I shouldn't, Tala smiled. And it's driving him nuts.
"Brie is in Detroit," he answered. "Parmesana is in Cleveland, Gruyere is in New Orleans, Monterey is in Las Vegas. Gouda is on this planet but we don't know where. What were you doing at Limburger's Tower?"
"Spying. More specifically, I was trying to hack into his computer system. But an alarm got triggered and I had to haul ass out of there just in time to run into your mouse scout heroics."
Their female friend made a strange sound and quickly swallowed some root beer to hide her smile.
The white-furred mouse frowned. "Do we look like geeks who help little ole ladies across the street?" He asked as he flexed his arm. "Modo does, but even he doesn't look it."
The grey-furred mouse stretched out his arms and slapped the white mouse sitting to his left on the back of his head. The white mouse rocked forward, straightened himself against the table, turned, and glared. Modo now had both his hands laced behind his head and leaned back in his chair with a look of complete innocence.
"It's not your turn to ask a question," Tala replied tersely. "How many others are fighting the Plutarkians here on this planet?"
"We don't know," the tan mouse admitted. "Most humans don't know about Plutarkians or Martians. Probably wouldn't believe us even if we did tell." His husky voice sounded depressed. "Or worse."
"Why were you spying on Limburger?" The human woman asked quickly.
So we're going to skip right over Terrans' xenophobic attitudes. All right, probably depressing enough to know you're the only ones standing between the destruction of an entire planet and its clueless population that would send you to the lab. "I heard he was doing business with some people I don't like. I was trying to find out if the rumor was true. How long have you been on Earth?"
"Three years. Who are these people you don't like?" The tan mouse had regained control.
"The Zekpith Gang." The mice exchanged blank looks. "Very nasty customers. I don't recommend getting tangled up with them. You actually make enough revenue here to stay in business?"
The woman was taken back by the question. "I make enough."
"This is boring," the white mouse complained. "What do you wanna know about me?"
"Other than surface details I don't think there's much to know." Modo chuckled at her answer, earning a dirty look from the white mouse. "How did you end up on Earth?"
"Plutarkians shot us down. How come you know all about Plutarkians and Mars? You're human."
"According to my DNA." Tala sighed, the joke was lost on them. "I'm human, but I'm not Terran. I had a life altering experience at thirteen which opened my eyes to the greater galaxy. I haven't looked back since. Now I spend more time on my ship than a planet, any planet. Why were you spying on Limburger? Or is it part of your daily routine?"
The tan mouse's right ear twitched slightly. "He just gave the orphanage a lot of money. Whenever a Plutarkian starts giving away money, it usually means trouble. What happened when your were thirteen?"
"I woke up in outer space. So you guys have been living here for three years, messing with Limburger, and you haven't shut down his operations yet?"
"Gee, put it like that and it sounds like a bad thing," Modo muttered.
"Look, they've practically stopped Fishlips' operations in this town." The woman's green eyes flashed with suppressed anger. "Without any official help."
"Charley has been the only one helping us most of the time." The tan mouse flashed her a smile. "We'll get Limburger sooner or later. What are you going to do?"
Tala shrugged. "I still have to find out if Limburger and the Zekpith Gang are working together. Then whatever life throws at me next. I have no desire to turn you over to the authorities on Earth or to help with your crusade. So I'm down to my last question." She reached into her pocket and watched the entire group tense. She pulled an envelope out of her leather jacket. "Which one of you is Throttle?"
The tan mouse reached over the table and took the envelope from her grasp. "What is this?" His eyebrows arched over his shades.
"I don't know; I'm just the interplanetary mail carrier."
"You came all this way just to deliver a letter and harass the Big Cheese?" The white mouse looked puzzled and his metal mask contorted with his facial muscles.
"No, I came all the way here to check up on Earth and to take a vacation. The rest was just extra."
"Your visit to the orphanage, did that have anything to do with Limburger?" Charley asked quietly. Throttle was absorbed in his letter.
Tala drained her root beer bottle. "No, that was personal." She stood up, wincing slightly. The pain in her right hip had faded but it was still present. "Well, it's been fun, but I have reservations in Honolulu." She walked over to her bike. "And if you guys ever have a business proposition, don't hesitate to get in touch."
"Take us to Mars." Everyone turned and stared at Throttle. The letter was crumpled in his right gloved fist and he dropped the paper onto the table as he turned to face Tala. "You have a ship and we need to get to Mars."
She frowned at his expression. It was hard to read behind his shades, but it was intense. She had a mental recall of the pensive expression of the Martian general who had given her the letter. And things clicked. "It was one of those letters."
Throttle moved. Before anyone else could react, he grabbed hold of Tala's jacket with a growl. She hooked her foot behind his knee and swept his feet out from under him. As he fell back, she slipped out of the jacket. But all the others saw was a tan blur then a white blur. Then Throttle was sprawled on the concrete floor of the garage holding Tala's white leather jacket and wearing a surprised/shocked expression, completely visible due to his shades getting knocked down his snout. Tala had jumped back and stood guard in a martial arts stance.
Modo popped a laser cannon out of his right metal arm and aimed it at Tala. The white mouse pulled a gun out too. Her bike beeped worriedly.
Tala ignored them and stared down at the tan mouse. "I didn't read your stupid letter! But I can read reactions and I can add! Now, if you want to talk business, talk business. But stuff the macho bullshit!"
Throttle grimaced, aimed more at himself. "Yeah, I guess it wouldn't impress you. I'm sorry." He held out her jacket.
She relaxed and took it back. "You're right, it doesn't impress me. Apology accepted."
He climbed back to his feet and pushed his shades back up. The other mice put away their weapons. "What will it take to get us to Mars and back?"
"I'll cut you a break. Just expenses: ship's ammo, fuel, stores."
"Which is how much?" Charley asked dryly.
"Earth currency? 750,000 dollars."
What! Throttle, I don't have that much money!"
He turned to her pleadingly. "Charley-girl?"
"I can't even come up with that much. It would be cheaper to use Limburger's transporter."
"Yeah, but we wouldn't be able to get back."
"Bro, the orphans?" Modo said worriedly. "We can't let that stinkfish get away with what's he planning."
"We're not. And he's gonna pay for our vacation." Throttle turned back to Tala. "Have you ever done any bounty hunting?"
"I don't think I like where this is going," the white mouse muttered.
"Yeah, I have a bounty hunter alias. How much is Limburger offering for you?"
Throttle shrugged. "It was 50,000 dollars three years ago. We've blown up a lot more since then."
"Throttle, can we discuss this?" Modo asked urgently. Throttle turned to face the others.
"Yeah, she's a do-able hottie, but can we trust her not to sell us out?" The white mouse gestured at Tala.
"Feeling cautious, Vinnie?"
"Nah. But we have to go out in a blaze of glory. I'm too cool for anything else."
"And marching into Fishlips' Tower for an execution ain't real high on the cool ways to join the afterlife list," Modo added.
"We ain't gonna die for three reasons. One, Limburger will want to gloat. Two, he's also gonna want to kill us in the most painful way possible and that's gonna take time to think up. And three, we're gonna find out what we need and blow the tower up exiting while Limburger's still figuring out the first two."
"Provided we can trust her," Charley pointed out.
"She's got a Martian bike."
"Bad guys can't ride Martian bikes?" Charley crossed her arms over her chest.
"The AIs don't protect them. Usually a bond doesn't form at all. At best, the AI will just tolerate the rider. At worse, you have to start screwing with the programming to get the bike to obey you. But a bike won't get worried when someone starts aiming guns at the rider it doesn't like. We can trust her," Throttle concluded.
"All right, but what's the big hurry to get back home?"
Throttle's back stiffened at Modo's question. "It's something I have to do. You guys don't have to come."
"When you'll probably be facing death, destruction, chaos, and mayhem?" Vinnie laughed. "Just try to leave us behind!"
"For once, I agree with Vinnie." Charley smiled. "Besides, I never got the tour the last time we were there."
"Is it all settled?" Tala asked. She leaned against her bike.
"You bring us into Limburger and collect the bounty. We stop whatever insidious scheme he's got going and blow up his tower. Then you take us for a weekend trip to Mars."
"Well, we won't have to worry about synchronizing watches with that plan. So let's see if it's worth my while." She pulled a cell phone from her jacket pocket and draped the jacket across the seat of her bike. She dialed the number quickly. "MC?"
"Mistress Tala, you missed the flight to Hawaii."
"I know. It took longer to deliver the letter than expected. But there's a possible change in plans. Scroll down the Plutarkian bounties for this planet."
"I believe you said we were not going to bounty hunt any more."
"I'll explain later. I'm especially interested in ones from Limburger on a trio of mice."
"There is one. Biker Mice from Mars, Freedom Fighters, enemies of Plutark. Price negotiable."
"I am merely reporting the desired information."
"Cancel my reservations." Tala turned off the phone, threw back her head, and laughed.
"Is that a yes or a no?" Vinnie scratched the back of his head.
"Price negotiable." She wiped tears from her blue eyes. "No Plutarkian has ever put price negotiable on anything. He must be desperate."
"He's notorious for not paying up," Charley pointed out.
"He'll pay." Tala held out her hand, which Throttle took and shook. "You've
got a deal."