Family, Friends, and Foes

Chapter Five
Who Invited Her, Anyway?

"Remember the Heroes" by Sammy Hagar. Theme song for this series
Download the Wars Are Won By Those Who Dare: Family, Friends, and Foes Soundtrack here

"This sucks." Sparks' voice rose petulantly. "Betcha they're havin all sorts of fun without me."

Charley Davidson grinned while the raised hood of the Ford Taurus hid her head. I know emotions are universal, but I didn't think school complaints would be too. She bent further over and started tightening a belt. "Well, if you hadn't procrastinated all day, you could be joyriding now."

"Yeah, I know, I know. But it's hard to concentrate at the scoreboard."

"A Biker Mouse's Never-never Land," Charley muttered as she surveyed her work. The few times she had caught the guys doing something serious, she had brought it their bachelor pad.

"Something like that," Modo's eight-year-old son admitted. "Why didn't you go with them? The garage is closed."

"Someone has to be your example of a work ethic." She stood up and stretched her back. "Crank it for me."

The grey-furred mouse child hopped off the workstation's stool and eagerly climbed behind the wheel. Charley pushed her red-brown bangs off her sweaty forehead with the back of her hand. The engine turned over and sounded perfect. She gave Sparks the signal to shut off the car. He did and joined her side. "Sounds a lot better now."

"Worth at least three hundred bucks." She slammed the hood closed. "Maybe three-fifty."

He looked up at the woman thoughtfully. "They leave you behind; they leave me behind. Maybe we should do something and leave them behind."

She grinned. Here on Earth for about a week and he was already figuring out how things worked. "It's not getting you out of your homework tonight, but keep it in mind for later."

"Slave driver," he muttered as he headed back to the books.

"Show some gratitude! I arranged for your education." She headed into the garage's bathroom to wash off her greasy hands. She heard two motorcycles roll inside the garage bay and shut off.

As Charley walked back out, Vinnie was snickering. "Your kid's a nerd, Modo." The two adult mice climbed off their bikes. Modo clenched his metal fist as Vinnie bounced around the garage.

Sparks scowled, and his grey tail lashed angrily as he leaned further over the books laid open on the workstation's table.

"Big talk for someone who never finished school." The taller, grey-furred mouse rumbled at Vinnie before laying his flesh hand on Sparks' shoulder. "How's it goin'?"

"Hello! The Plutarkians blew up the school," the white-furred mouse interjected.

Sparks shrugged, ignoring Vinnie. "It's okay, just boring."

"Where's Throttle?" Charley asked.

"Doin' recon." Vinnie spied an unopened bottle of root beer alone on the table, decided it was cold enough upon grabbing it, and chugged some down. "We crossed paths with a mean-lookin biker gang. They're probably just passin' through, but Throttle decided to keep 'em under surveillance. Just in case they get the bright idea to go work for the Big Cheese."

Her heart began to pound, and she honestly couldn't understand why. "Alone?"

"Well, one mouse stands out a lot less than three, sweetheart. And you can't hide my studly glory." The white-furred mouse proudly flexed the pec muscles under his green bandoleers.

"Not to mention your swelled head," Sparks added.

"Behave." Modo swatted Sparks' ear. "You're supposed to respect your elders--even the ones less mature than you."

"Hey!" Vinnie's face darkened with indignation. "I am way more mature than that punk!"

"Prove it," Modo retorted.

Charley ignored them and took a deep breath, which did nothing to quell her fear. Why am I so panicked? Throttle can take care of himself. Modo and Vinnie aren't worried. "Are you sure he's okay?"

Vinnie turned away from his argument with Modo. "He ain't called for help yet. They ended up at a bar a few blocks away."

They didn't see those Internal Security guards pound on him. Her hands started to shake slightly. And what if this biker gang has another Jimmy Mac. Throttle's still not healed up from last week! She tried to ignore the desire to chase after him. Throttle can take care of himself. I'd just get in his way. But if he's hurt and can't call for help? She couldn't hear anything but the blood pounding in her ears. She jumped on her blue and white bike and started the engine.

"Charley-girl, where you goin'?" Vinnie yelled.

Modo tried to flag her down. "He really is okay!"

Charley ignored them as she peeled her bike out into the street. There was only one bar in the neighborhood, Pete's Chi-Town Tavern. She headed straight to it.

It didn't do any good to remember how he looked crumpled on the cell floor. The wind against her body wasn't the source of Charley's chill. Throttle still hadn't told her what they'd done to him because of her. She clenched her teeth. Nobody was going to hurt her man again, not as long as she could stop them.

She was rewarded by spotting Throttle's bike. It was at the end of a bike row in the neighboring lot serving as Pete's parking lot. She parked her bike next to his, left her helmet on her bike, and gave the black bike's chrome handlebars a pat as she moved past it. She rushed to the main door of the bar. Please let him be okay! Please!

Her door-banging arrival caused all the heads in the bar to turn toward her. Most of the faces belonged to a group of ten bikers--ugly, dirty, and mean. A few regular customers she recognized at the bar quickly turned away in disinterest. Throttle sat in a booth where he could watch the bikers clustered around the pool tables and the front door. Charley felt her face go scarlet as she hurried to the tan-furred Martian mouse.

He wore his helmet but she could see his expression go from curious to concerned as she got closer. She sat down next to him in the booth. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"What's wrong is that I'm a complete idiot. The second I heard you were off alone, I... I had to see if you were all right." She stared down at the table, too embarrassed to continue.

Throttle touched the buttoned-up collar of her blue work shirt where it hid the fading bruise around her throat. His fingers gently reached for her chin and turned her face to his. She could still see the last bit of swelling on his cheek under his left eye. "I worry about you too," he said softly.

She sighed in relief. "I thought I was going to get the whole macho-mouse-can-take-care-of-himself speech."

"Not after last week." He gently brushed his lips against hers then pressed down harder. Charley pressed one hand against his chest, held the chin guard out of the way with the other, and opened her mouth to deepen the kiss. Throttle's fingers began to tangle themselves in the hair at the base of her skull as his tongue gently moved inside her mouth. She was just about to surrender completely to his reassuring kiss when a commotion at the door caught his eye and he pulled back. "Oh no."

She turned and saw Vinnie and Modo heading inside. "Because of what Exhaust did to 'em last week, Einstein," Modo said derisively as they walked up to the bar counter. "Sometimes you don't have the brains the makers gave our bikes."

"First it's your kid, now it's the bikes. You're askin' for it, Modo!"

Charley turned back to Throttle. "Want me to get them out of here?" She asked in a low voice. "It's my fault they're here."

"That would look more suspicious. Nah, we'll go with the we-planned-to-meet-here look. Besides," he tucked his left arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. "Now that you're here, I don't want you to go."

"That's my smooth talker." She grabbed the chin-guard of his helmet and pulled him down for another kiss.

"Well, now we know why you kept the strays." A cheerful male voice said down at them.

"Excuse me?" Throttle scowled up at the sixty-year-old black-haired man with a curly black and grey beard.

He laughed at Throttle's expression as Modo joined them at the booth. "Your usual, Charley?"

"Yes, Pete, thanks." She was blushing again as Throttle and Modo now stared at her. Pete laughed and went to fix her order.

"You know him, Charley-ma'am?" The large grey mouse ventured from across the table.

"I've been coming here since I was old enough to drink. Best ladies night in town, free."

Vinnie bounded over to the table from the jukebox and slid in next to Modo. "He made those ladies pay?" He jerked a white thumb at the women leaving the bar.

"They ain't ladies, punk." Pete set a frothy beer mug in front of Charley. "Don't blame her for the 'strays' comment. That's just my interpretation of it. And it was a couple of years ago, and you fellows weren't making a great second-hand impression."

Charley felt her face grow hotter. This is what I get for trying to find some sympathy. "You're not helping, Pete."

The older man chuckled. "She was annoyed over how you guys had treated her and came here to bitch about it."

"Annoyed with us?" Vinnie looked hurt. "But you love us, Sweetheart?"

"Yeah, I love when you guys toss me off your bikes, don't let me fight, eat all my groceries, complain if I ask you to do something." Charley muttered and took a large gulp of her beer.

"She hasn't come by lately," Pete added.

"I've learned to live with it," she muttered.

"Actually, I had a favor to ask you, Lene." The older man dropped his teasing tone and lowered his voice. "Are you planning to stay a while?"

Throttle glanced at the group of bikers he had followed to the bar. "Expecting trouble from them?"

Pete shrugged. "They just seem to be looking for a good time of drunken rowdiness. All the same, I don't have the funds for recuperating from a bar brawl this week."

"We can stick around for a bit, can't we?" Charley glanced up at Throttle.

"We're keeping an eye on them anyway. We'll stick around."

"Great, I'll get you another round."

Modo gazed at Charley curiously with his good eye as Pete left. "Lene?"

She took another hearty swig from the mug. "Pete is an old friend of my father's. They used to ride together, way back when. What took you guys so long? I figured you'd be right behind me." Hopefully, that explanation would forestall any discussion about her father.

Vinnie's thumb pointed to Modo. "Dad here had to get reassured at least five times that Sparks could handle phone calls, homework, and supper without blowing up the garage."

"Well maybe if you had some concerned parents when you were Sparks' age, you'd be normal," Modo countered.

"Instead of a living legend? Who wants that?"

Sparks slammed the notebook closed with a victorious cheer. "Finished!" He looked out of the open garage bay door. It had been getting dark when Charley had torn out of the building, and now it was really dark. He hopped off the stool and pulled the lever to close the door. The large sheet of metal rumbled into place as he considered what to do. Dad and Vinnie hadn't known how long they were going to be, so it was supper and entertainment for one tonight. Rummaging through Charley's pantry and video collection was his pick.

Humming to himself, he headed through the swinging door and into the kitchen. Dad--it still felt weird to think of his larger look-alike that way--hadn't wanted to leave him alone. Like he was afraid it was the wrong thing to do.

Sparks paused his rooting through Charley's canned goods to think about that. I guess being a dad is overwhelming. I should try to make it easier on him. He scratched under his grey-furred jaw as he thought. I'll try not to fight with Vinnie so much. No matter how easy it is.

With that resolution, he had bent inside the pantry to resume hunting for supper when he heard a loud thump on the floor above. The boy froze, straining his ears to hear something identifiable. They did but it didn't make him feel better--footsteps.

Sparks eased back out of the pantry and into the garage. He could leave and let Charley's place get robbed. Or he could sneak up the trapdoor and try to identify the intruder. What would a Biker Mouse do? Get this wrenchhead! He was light enough not to cause the ladder to creak and the trapdoor was open. Once he climbed through the door in the floor, his red eyes darted around Charley's empty and neat bedroom. She kept a gun somewhere up here but he couldn't remember where.

"Well, so much for taking the human by surprise." A vaguely female shape stepped through the open door to the living room. "Hello, what have we here?"

She was as tall as Throttle and her leathery black wings extended about a foot over her head. Thick muscles were clearly visible under her coarse brown fur. She wore a black one-piece bathing suit. Large, triangular ears covered the sides of her head. Her misshapen, human nose was turned up to more of a flat snout, and her large, luminous, brown eyes focused on him.

She looks like she's part bat. Sparks gulped and took a step back as he wished he hadn't talked Vinnie into renting that vampire movie a couple of nights ago. She could be an extra for it. He took a half-step back. "You're trespassin'!"

Her mouth opened in a grin that revealed her fangs. "Am I? And you're going to throw me out?" Her chuckles sent shivers down Sparks' back and through his tail. "Home alone, hmm? I thought the human would make good bait, but I guess you'd do just as well."

He inched back. "You have to catch me first!" He jumped back and down through the trapdoor as she lunged forward.

He fell about halfway when a sudden jerk followed by a sharp pain at the base of his tail brought him to an abrupt stop. He craned his head and looked up. The bat-lady had grabbed his tail. "That wasn't so hard, little boy." She grinned down at him, kneeling on the floor above, and started to swing him.

"Build a better mousetrap!" Sparks wrapped his tail around her arm and pulled himself right-side-up. Then he sank his teeth into her forearm.

She screamed as his teeth tore through her fur and skin and into her muscle. Her hand jerked open.

Sparks let go and somersaulted in the air to land on his feet. Boy, am I glad Roddie insisted on gymnastics! He spat blood out of his mouth as he ran into the garage's office. Her shrieks were starting to make his head throb. I have to find Dad and the others! He ran out of the office through the street door and headed in the direction Charley had turned her bike. A bar a couple of blocks away was what Vinnie had said. Sparks ran faster.

He heard crashing glass behind him and risked a glance. The bat-lady had crashed through Charley's bedroom window and hovered in the air on her rapidly beating wings. "Cheese, she can fly!" Sparks pumped his arms harder and ran closer to the crumbled buildings.

She laughed down at him. "Run! It makes catching you all the sweeter!"

"What exactly did you tell him about us?" Throttle gestured his head in Pete's direction.

Vinnie watched Charley and Throttle without trying to watch them carefully. Throttle is way too obsessed with us keeping a low profile. After everything we've done to stop Limburger, the city should designate us as national treasures or something.

"Only that you were here to stop Limburger and needed my help to get around Chicago." Charley gave him a small smile. "I left out the furry Martian bit, not that I think it would bother Pete any."

Vinnie banged his head lightly to the beat of the Metallica song he had picked on the jukebox. "If that's true, how come you never brought us here, Sweetheart?"

"I didn't want Pete suddenly taking your side." She was drinking her second mug full of beer a lot slower. "You guys are overwhelming enough without any help."

Throttle frowned. "Charley, if we were bugging you that much, all you had to do was say something."

"No, I didn't mean it like that." She grabbed hold of his tan-furred hand with the leather and metal band wrapped around his wrist and squeezed it. "It wasn't just you guys. Believe it or not, even your faults get endearing after a while. I'd come here to get away from all the stress: Limburger, trying to keep the garage going, villains trying to kill us every other week. Sometimes I just had to hide away from it all, here."

Throttle took his hand back and eased his left arm around her shoulders, taking hold of her left hand. "I think you just explained how we feel about your garage, babe."

"Yeah," Modo agreed, "don't worry about it. We understand."

"After all, everybody needs some time out to appreciate us even more." Vinnie grinned at her. The song ended and the next selection began to play. He scowled at the jukebox. "That's not what I picked."

"Sorry," Pete stopped by their booth. "The jukebox hasn't worked right since the last brawl in here."

"It's okay. Song's got a beat," Vinnie shrugged.

"You're a Europe fan, Vinnie?" Charley teased.

"I like 'Final Countdown', all right?"

"Ninja" by Europe
Download the Wars Are Won By Those Who Dare: Family, Friends, and Foes Soundtrack here

Tell me the story
Tell me the legend
Tell me the tales of war
Tell me just one time
What it was like before
Bring me the feeling
Right in that moment
When a heart for battle cries
Find me the treasure
Where the legend lies

Charley didn't try to bait him, so he let his gaze wander around the bar, finally coming to rest on the girl coming in the door. And he let his red eyes open wide in appreciation.

She was dressed all in black: black calf-high combat boots and black tights that ran up her shapely legs to a pair of equally tight black denim cut-off shorts. He could see a glimpse of the loose black shirt and the skin-tight black something underneath the black leather motorcycle jacket she had buttoned around her waist. Her blonde hair--a hue so much lighter than Tala's it almost matched Vinnie's white fur by comparison--brushed against her shoulders. She stepped inside, hesitating as if unsure of her welcome.

If I were noble, ancient knight
I'd stand by your side to rule and fight
It will always feel the same
When I call out your name
Ninja survive
In dreams I walk by your side
Ninja survive
With you there's no need to hide

"I don't believe it." Pete muttered upon seeing her. "Paint me red and call me a commie." He dropped his serving tray on their table and strode up to the newcomer.

"Who is she?" Vinnie asked Charley.

"I've never seen her before."

A handful of sayings
Are more than a reason
For me to feel this way
I'd like to be near you
Maybe for just one day

So tell me the legend
Tell me the story
Tell me the tales of war
Tell me just one time
What it was like before

He heard her but he kept his appraising eye on the stranger. The boots added to her height, but she was still shorter than Charley, about five-feet-five-inches. She had moved closer and he could make out her sky-blue eyes. And only three diagonal scars across her left cheek marred her beautiful face. Wouldn't want to piss her off.

Charley's voice broke into his thoughts. "What does Tala think of you checking out every girl that walks by?"

He turned and gave the mechanic a dirty look. "Am I doing something wrong?"

"You're drooling in your beer," Throttle pointed out.

Vinnie flicked his eyes back over to the strange girl and Pete's conversation. They were chatting like old friends, but there was aloofness about her. Taken. Wonder who the lucky bastard is. She looks worth it.

If I were noble, ancient knight
I'd stand by your side to rule and fight
It will always feel the same
When I call out your name
Ninja survive
In dreams I walk by your side
Ninja survive
With you there's no need to hide

He turned his attention back to Charley and Throttle. "First off, there's no harm in lookin'. And if there was, Tala couldn't say anything because there's nothing permanent between us, by her choice." He took a swallow of beer. "Besides, she's off-planet right now."

"The truth finally comes out," Throttle smirked as he leaned back in his seat.

"Whose side are you on?" Vinnie muttered. Pete started leading the girl up to the bar counter. Vinnie's eyebrows rose as he saw the knives in her boots and caught a glimpse of a sharp steel weapon peeking out from the bottom of her jacket.

Throttle's eyebrows rose over his field-specs. "Lots of weapons for a civilian."

Charley frowned. "Two knives?"

"Plus the stuff she's hiding under her jacket," Modo added quietly.

Charley's expression was rather incredulous until she saw the white human skull and black crossbones embroidered on the back of the jacket. "She's a Bone!" She sounded surprised, but kept her voice low.

"A Bone?" Modo's red eyes looked puzzled.

"The Black Bones were the baddest of the bad biker gangs a generation ago. Apparently someone's continuing the tradition."

"A biker babe, huh?" Vinnie drained his beer bottle. "That's one girl that wouldn't have any problem tellin' a guy 'I'm unavailable'."

Modo looked down at Vinnie curiously and a little shocked. "You never noticed stuff like that before."

"Yeah, I did. It's just no woman can resist the charms of the Casanova of Mars." Five eyes rolled simultaneously. "Except maybe that one," he added honestly.

She took a drink from Pete as she leaned up against the bar. Pete moved down to the other end to wash some dishes. One of the bikers lurched to his feet and made his way to her side. Vinnie tensed. "Could be trouble."

"Yeah," Throttle agreed, sitting more upright. He moved his arm off Charley's shoulders to down around her waist. He gripped her hips and pulled her into his lap. She started to make a protesting noise and he hushed her as he shifted across the padded bench and set her down on his other side, looking across the table at Modo.

"I could've just stood up," she whispered at him angrily.

"Not as much fun." He lowered his field specs and winked at her reddening face.

The drunken biker reached the girl in black's side and grabbed her arm. "How's bout a dance baby?"

She set her drink down on the bar. "How about you getting lost, creep?"

The guy tightened his grip on her arm and jerked her around to face him and the rest of the bar. "I asked you for a dance, bitch!"

"And I turned you down." Her voice was cold but she made no move to remove his hand.

"That's my cue." Vinnie slid out of the booth and sauntered toward the bar. The other members of the biker gang stood up and moved closer, getting in between Vinnie and the booth. "Hey there, citizen. The lady said no."

"Butt out!" The drunk let go of her arm, stepped closer, and took a swing at the white-furred mouse. Vinnie ducked it easily, but couldn't dodge the kick from one of the bikers on the sidelines. He flew back, landing painfully on his ass and losing his helmet.

Charley, Throttle, and Modo winced in sympathy. "He does a lot better when there's no girl to impress, doesn't he?" Charley commented.

"Yep," Modo and Throttle chorused.

The girl in black glared at the drunk who had accosted her. "Fine, I'll dance with you."

The drunk turned around in time to take a combat boot to the side of his head. Her roundhouse kick also hit the guy that kicked Vinnie in the jaw. Both of them fell back.

She stood on both feet and gazed down at them in pity. "I'm sorry. You're not familiar with the kung-fu high step?"

"Get the bitch!" Two more bikers rushed toward her.

"Coming to this town does wonders for your self-esteem," she quipped as she dodged the badly swung blow. Her open palm hit the center of his chest and threw him back.

Vinnie climbed to his feet with a growl. He tapped one of the bikers on a leather-clad shoulder and punched his lights out when he turned around. "You wrenchheads need to learn how to fight."

The girl grabbed hold of the bar and kicked out with both her legs as she rolled on her hips. Her feet knocked three heads together and she sat on the bar surveying her work. "You know I wanted to take ballet. Mom insisted on karate."

The six men she had hit were shakily reaching their feet. Vinnie's punching bag stayed down. One of the three that hadn't been hit growled as he pulled out a switchblade. "I'm gonna make your face match!"

Light flashed off the metal she pulled from her belt as he rushed forward. The weapon in her right hand grabbed the knife blade and slammed it down against the countertop. The matching weapon, which looked like a hand-held trident, came up under the biker's chin. He tried to step back but found that she had locked her legs around him. So he tilted his head back to get it away from the point of the long middle prong.

Her cold voice dropped ten more degrees. "A very bad man did this to my face and I ended up killing him. You are no where near his league, so why don't you just take your pals and go? Or do I have to leave you with some kind of scar to teach you what a lady means by saying no?"

He craned his head further back to gulp. "We'll go!"

She released her legs and withdrew the weapon under his chin. "I'll keep this," she gestured at the switchblade.

"Yeah, sure, fine!" He kept moving backwards, stumbling into the other members of his gang. Three of them grabbed their unconscious member off the floor and followed him to the door. A few seconds later, they were all gone.

She sighed, reached over, picked up her glass, and gulped the contents. "Hate fighting stupid drunks. They never know when to back down."

Pete whistled in admiration at the other end of the bar. "Someone's been teaching you new tricks."

"It's old dogs that can't learn new tricks," she fired back with warmth returning to her voice. She turned to Vinnie. "Buy you a drink to say thanks?"

"Why?" The white-furred mouse scratched the back of his head. "You took care of those guys all by yourself."

"I don't have a trash can lid handy. Ah forget it. You tried to help; that's more than most people do where I'm from." She grabbed the beer bottle that Pete slid down the counter to her and held it out to him. Her face was hardened and still shook up about something. Not the fight, not with the way she whipped tail. But the small smile she gave showed that the problem wasn't with him. "Allie Baker."

Anyone offerin' beer can't be bad. He bounded over to her side and took the offered drink. "Vinnie the Velocity Atrocity, the baddest mammajammer this side of the asteroid belt, and the studliest hero on this planet. An honor, of course."

"Naturally." Allie grinned up at him, friendly, relieved, and not a bit flirtatious. Not that Vinnie was the slightest bit interested. Having romantic ties to one girl that could kick his ass was enough. She brought up her empty glass and clinked it against the beer bottle. "Here's to a successful round of ass-kicking."

"Cheers," Vinnie chugged some of the beer. "Did your mom really insist on karate lessons?"

"No, but it sounded good. Is it always this exciting around here? This was my second fight in less than four hours."

"If you can't stand the heat, stay out of Chi-town. Where do you hail from?"

"New York City. And the scum is just as nasty. Hey Pete, when are you gonna have a better class of scum patronize your place?"

Pete continued cleaning glasses at the other end of the bar. "The best class of scum in Chicago is Limburger's goons, and they've been compelled not to come back." He laughed, "They made the mistake of coming here to force me to sell out on teep night."

"Limburger? I don't remember that name from the last time I passed through." Her sky-blue eyes turned thoughtfully to Pete, but the bartender didn't add anything to his statement.

"So are you just passing through now?" Vinnie asked conversationally. No sense ruining a good time talking about Limburger.

"Depends. I'm actually looking for someone."

"Skulls moved to Forsaken," Pete threw out.

"Forsaken? What in the world is he doing there?"

"He retired."

"Retired? Skulls?" Allie demanded.

The black-haired, bearded man shrugged. "San Diego took a lot out of him."

"San Diego was a bad scene," she said quietly. Her hand brushed against the raised scars on her left cheek. "But I wasn't really looking for him. Has the Priest passed through lately?"

Pete looked up sharply. "The Shaolin? How do you... forget it, you know everybody. Nope, he hasn't been in this town since you were here last."

Allie shrugged. "Oh well. Didn't think he had but you have to ask." She picked up her strange weapons and started to put them back under her jacket.

Vinnie's curiosity burst. "What are those things?"

"This?" She twirled it in her fingers. "A sai, basically a dagger you can wrap around a sword blade." It disappeared under her jacket. "I'm still learning them. Now my boyfriend's brother, he's an expert." She leaned over the counter and grabbed a soft drink out of the bucket of ice. "Now are we ignoring your friends at the booth or are you trying to win a bet?"

"Oh yeah. Come meet my bros." He led the way back to the booth, snatching up his helmet with his tail without breaking stride. Allie snagged a chair from a nearby table and pulled it up to the end of the booth's table while Vinnie began introductions. "This is Modo," he pointed to the larger grey-furred mouse. "Throttle." The tan-furred mouse saluted her discreetly with his beer bottle. "And Charley." The human woman smiled and nodded in greeting. "Bros, this is Allie Baker from New York."

Throttle swallowed his beer. "Efficient work with those wrenchheads."

"Thanks." Allie turned the chair's back to the table and straddled it while Vinnie plopped down on the bench next to Modo. "Those guys weren't anybody important, were they?" she asked.

"Nah, as far as we know," Modo answered. "Where'd you learn to fight like that, ma'am?"

Allie's eyebrows went up at being called ma'am. "It runs in my family. And my boyfriend gave me a few pointers." Her eyes went wistful for a second but she regained control of herself. "Enough about me. Why does Chi-town look like a war zone?"

Sparks crouched and panted in the rubble of a building and watched a group of bikers tear out of the bar like they had whiffed a Plutarkian fart. He pushed his grey bangs out of his red eyes as he scanned the dark sky for the bat lady. He didn't see her and the bikers rode off--leaving Throttle, Charley, Vinnie, and Dad's bikes alone in the parking lot. He had found the right bar. And now was a good time to run for it.

He took a deep breath and sprinted for the front door of the building under the neon sign "Pete's Chi-town Tavern". Halfway across the street, a figure descended into his path. She grabbed his upper arms in a vice-like grip. The bat lady's large brown eyes narrowed. "You hurt me," she hissed. "No one has ever managed to do that before. I hope you can still take pride in that accomplishment when I tear your ears off!"

"Not gonna happen, lady!" Her bony fingers dug painful into his arms, but he stubbornly refused to let her see the pain.

"Oh really? Ever the optimist?" She glanced over her shoulder at the bar. "Or maybe you think some kind-hearted bikers are going to come to your rescue? I'd like to see that happen."

Sparks grinned. "Okay. DAD!"

Now this is an interesting turn of events. Allie sipped her soft drink as she considered the group in front of her. I think I have officially seen everything now. Giant, two-legged, talking mice with antennae--and bikers too, judging from their clothes and helmets. But where in the world did they come from?

Allie studied them carefully. Despite finding them in Pete's, she didn't think they were Mutates. There were cases of Mutates getting the same physical features, but they were rare and usually had major differences between them. And the mechanical wing the one called Modo was sporting was more high-tech than the Mutates' medicine allowed.

As Sammie would say, the drool factor is very high. All three of them had finely muscular physiques. And despite Vinnie's earlier lack-luster fighting display, she was willing to bet that they were accomplished fighters. And they had the physical scars to prove this conclusion.

Not only did the largest grey mouse have an entire right arm made of metal divided into boxy segments; an eye patch covered his left eye. A shiny metal mask that contorted with his facial expressions protected the right side of Vinnie's face. The tan-furred mouse had green shades over his partially swollen face, looking like he had been in a fight last week.

The mice and their norm companion were still trying to decide how to answer Allie's question or if they should when a child's shrill cry reverberated in the bar. "DAD!"

Modo's head jerked up like he had been shot. "Sparks!" His face took on a determined, focused, and angry expression. He started to rise up.

Allie grabbed hold of the green bandoleer crossing Vinnie's right shoulder and yanked. The white-furred mouse slid out of the booth and Allie spun them both out of Modo's charging path. The practically seven-foot-tall mouse crossed the bar in a few strides and thrust open the main door. "Let go of my son!"

Allie released Vinnie before he dragged her to the door. He bounded after Modo with Throttle and Charley following. "Never a dull moment," the blonde girl muttered as she joined them. "I feel like I'm back in New York."

Charley glanced down at her. "Welcome to our insanity."

From outside, a familiar female voice said mockingly. "You didn't say pretty please."

Modo raised his mechanical right arm as he stepped out into the street. "Pretty." A rectangular canon popped up out of the forearm. "Please," he growled as his bros flanked him.

"My, my, aren't we impressive."

Allie frowned. She knew that voice, had impressed it into her memory to always know it. Why couldn't she remember a name?

"So you're the Biker Mice from Mars," the voice continued. "Can't see what the big deal is about."

Allie eased around Vinnie. A four-foot-tall grey-furred mouse stared with wide-opened eyes at the larger mouse he resembled. Two muscular arms wrapped around him, one around his chest and arms and the other around his throat. The arms belonged to a Vex and the name finally clicked. "BatWing!"

The brown, furry face turned and focused on the human girl. "You! But if you're here, who have we been chasing from New York?"

Allie felt the blood drain from her face. Val Tech had made mistakes before identifying tagged people--usually between siblings. Luckily, Throttle broke in. "Let the kid go." He gestured with the funny-looking, purple pistol in his left hand.

BatWing glanced at him, then looked back at Allie. "Hell, one's better than none." The grip of her arms tightened and her large, leathery wings flexed.

"No!" The kid struggled and kicked.

"Sparks!" Modo bellowed in anguish as his son was pulled into the sky. He kept his arm canon trained on them but didn't dare take a shot. "Li'l Hoss!" and his bros whistled. Charley ran for the bikes in the parking lot.

At the shout and whistles, three of the four bikes parked nearby roared to life. Allie stared as the purple Fatboy, red racing bike, and a classic Softail--only missing the Harley Davidson logo--screeched up to the helmeted mice. Modo jumped on the purple Fatboy and raced after BatWing and her prisoner, followed closely by Vinnie on the red racer. Throttle swung onto the black and chrome bike while it continued to move and she made her decision. She sprinted and jumped on the back of Throttle's bike, wrapping her arms around his waist.

Throttle twisted his head to look at her briefly. "Who invited you?"

"I know the ugly that's got the kid and that's a hundred percent more than you know. You still want to send me home?" She yelled back.

"We don't take civilians into battle."

"Do you really think I'm a civilian or are you using that line instead of girls can't fight?"

"I just don't want to make my girl jealous," he muttered, easing up on the bike's throttle.

Allie grinned and leaned back, loosening her hold around his waist. "Why didn't you say so, Martian?" He stiffened more. 'Biker Mice from Mars' is what BatWing called them. Well, her information was dead-on. And people say I already know just about everybody; now I can add aliens to the list. What's he so nervous about? She had to choke back a laugh. He probably thinks I'll turn them in to the government or something! "Trust me, I'm not going to turn you guys over to the government. Damn, my boyfriend fits the green man profile better than you guys, and Area 51 hasn't found out about him yet."

Charley roared up beside them on a mostly white bike with light-blue storage compartments built on both sides of the back wheel and light-blue trim around the headlight. "You've had a run-in with one of Limburger's mercenaries before?" She yelled as she moved the bike to keep pace with Throttle's.

"There's that name again. I don't know who this Limburger guy is, but BatWing is a Vex and she only works for Tabitha Val." Allie felt her face harden. And if they've hurt Zack or Mike.... No, BatWing said 'chasing,' which means they haven't caught whoever it is yet. I just have to make sure Val Tech doesn't. The bikes roared down the street. The business section Modo and Vinnie led them into was less damaged than the other parts of the city she had seen.

"A what?" Throttle demanded.

"And who?" Charley added.

Allie grimaced. "Course, you're not in the club. In a shell, there's this company named Val Tech that mutates people. Tabitha Val runs it. Most of the people they mutate don't stick with Val Tech but the ones that do are called Vexes. Any questions?"

"The authorities don't try to stop them?" Throttle's husky voice was taunt and edged. His hands clenched the handlebars.

"I don't know how long you've been on Earth but it's real easy to get the authorities to overlook what they don't want to see." Her voice went bitter over the injustice of it. And it wasn't just the Mutates; the Turtles were treated just as badly in New York.

As the bikes arrived in an open plaza surrounding a tan and blue skyscraper, they saw BatWing landing on its roof. Allie frowned at the familiar name and logo. Limburger again? What in hell is going on?

"I'm gonna scale that fish!" Modo roared.

Throttle gunned his bike and screeched to a stop in front of the larger grey-furred mouse, forcing him to stop. "No, Big Fella. There's something else going on here."

Modo's distressed face twisted even more and his one eye glowed red. "He's got my son, Throttle." He labored hard to keep his voice under control.

Allie climbed off the back of Throttle's bike. "Give me twenty minutes. I'll get him out."

"Too long." Throttle shook his head.

"Fifteen then. If I take longer than that, I need you to come in guns blazing. We're wasting time out here."

"Alright, fifteen minutes, starting now."

Modo made a strangling growl in the back of his throat.

Allie gave him a reassuring smile before getting the Ronin's hood out of her pocket and pulling it on. "He'll get out, safe and sound." She shrugged off her Bones jacket and tossed it to Throttle. "Hold onto that." Then she turned and ran for the shadows created by the skyscraper's floodlights.

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