Finding Friends in the Strangest Places
Sparks couldn't recall a time he had felt more utterly humiliated. The bat lady had wrapped his tail around her arm so he couldn't use it and then wrapped that arm around his waist and held him horizontal against her hip. She strode through the corridors of Limburger Tower while Sparks crossed his arms and scowled. They entered a lab and the bat lady set him on his feet, gripping his upper arms.
A human woman turned from examining a crying human infant. She was dressed in a skirt and business jacket that would make Vinnie drool. A lab coat-wearing lackey whisked the kid out of the room when she waved her hand. She brushed her long, dark red hair off her shoulder. "Magnificent!" She sauntered purposefully to them, gripped Sparks's jaw and forced him to look up at her. The expression on her face made his insides freeze. She's way too glad to see me. Dad, where are you?
She let go of his jaw and trailed her fingers through his fur on the side of his face. Her fingers ran through his hair, combing back his grey bangs, and gently touched his antennae. "Where are the other three?"
"We have a problem." The bat lady answered coldly. "She's here."
The woman looked up distractedly. "Of course, she's here. Limburger's goons are bringing her up."
"No, Ms Val. She's with the adult mice. She wasn't with the New York fugitives."
Ms. Val straightened her back and stared up at the bat lady. "Are you positive?"
"I never forget a face."
"So you abandoned your mission to tell me this?"
"And to deliver this one." The bat lady gave Sparks a small shake. "I didn't want to give them a chance of overpowering me."
"Let me go!" A goon carried a struggling human boy into the lab. A blond, nerdy-looking man in a business suit followed them. The goon set the black-haired boy down next to Sparks. He was older than the mouse boy by a few years. He glared with dark brown, almond-shaped eyes at Ms. Val. "Kidnapping is a federal offense!"
She ignored him and turned to the blond man. "He emits the signal?"
"Yes, Ms. Val. He must be a sibling." He sighed, "The computers have made this error before."
Ms. Val turned and forced the human boy's head up. "This could work better. Arkson, bring me M-175."
The man straightened his wire-rimmed glasses as he walked over to the small table next to the examination table. He picked up a syringe filled with a glowing green fluid. The goon forced the human boy's arm out. Sparks could see his muscles straining. Ms. Val took the syringe and advanced with a grin that frightened Sparks more than her earlier expression.
"I wanna see your medical license!" The human boy yelled as she injected the substance into his arm.
Ms. Val ignored him as she gave the empty syringe back to Arkson and turned to the bat lady. "The mice are coming, BatWing?"
"Undoubtedly," she answered.
"Fine. Lock these two together and let's see about defenses."
BatWing dug her talons deeper into Sparks's arms and sharply prodded him with her knee to make him start walking. She tossed him into one of the cells lining the wall of the lab. The goon tossed the human boy in after him. The two prisoners stared at each other as the door slammed shut.
The boy rubbed his arm where they had injected him as he glanced out the barred window of the cell door. "This is just great. Well, they're gone. Didn't even leave a guard. Sloppy, but we can talk now. My name's Zack."
"I'm Sparks." He took a deep breath and decided to trust a fellow prisoner. "Do you know what's going on?"
Zack looked at him confusedly. "You're not a Mutate?"
"No, I'm a Martian."
Zack's eyebrows raised. "I guess NASA's in for a rude awakening. And the other mice they were talking about, your parents?"
"My dad and his bros. And they'll come too. You don't wanna make my dad mad."
"Sounds like my sister." The human boy grinned. "Hope she'll let me watch when she takes these creeps apart."
"She must've been the girl that freaked BatWing out."
"She freaks a lot of people out. How 'bout we get out of here and find her and your dad? I don't know if they have my other friends or not, but I think I'd rather have backup while looking for them."
Sparks glanced around the bare metal box. "Sounds good, but how?"
Zack knelt down on one knee and started rolling up the loose pants on his right leg. "Ninja trade secret. Put up an ineffectual fight with a stupid lackey, and they usually don't bother to search you." He pulled a pair of strange daggers out of the top of his boot.
"Neat." He stared down at the hand-held tridents. "I think I saw something like those in a martial arts movie."
"They're called sais." Zack stood and stared up at the air vent near the ceiling. "We're both small enough to fit through. Think you can hold me up?"
"No problem." He wrapped his grey tail around Zack's waist and lifted him up to the vent.
"Bet that comes in handy." Zack shoved the sais into the grill over the vent and pulled. The grill popped off. He freed his sais, tucked them into his belt, and scrambled inside. Once lodged in, he reached down and offered Sparks a hand. "Let's blow this joint."
"Right." Sparks grabbed hold of the hand and pulled himself up. "But aren't you too young to be a ninja?"
"I'm a ninja in training. How do you even know what a ninja is?"
"G.I. Joe. Snake-eyes was a ninja."
They crawled through the vents. "So Sparks, what are Martians doing on Earth? Zack asked quietly.
"Dad and his bros crashed and they stayed when they found Plutarkians here."
"What's a Plutarkian?"
"They're the alien race that strip-mined most of Mars. Now they're here to do the same to Earth. I'm here to be with my dad. And he's gonna tear Limburger apart."
"Limburger? Which one was Limburger?"
Zack happened on something that had been vaguely bothering Sparks. "He wasn't there; Karbunkle neither. But he loves to gloat; why wasn't he there when they brought me here?"
"Those guys have something to do with Val Tech." Zack grunted suddenly with pain.
"Are you okay?" Sparks asked hesitantly.
"We better get out of the ducts." Zack found an opening into the corridor and kicked out the grill. He dropped down to the floor. The mouse boy wiggled out and dropped down next to him. "Now let's find the stairs. Ugh!" Zack doubled over in pain.
Sparks clenched his fists. "What's wrong?"
The human boy took a deep breath and straightened. "I think whatever they gave me is starting to kick in." His face was pale, and beads of sweat broke out on his forehead. "We gotta get out of here."
"Stairs." They hurried to the door that Sparks pointed out. An alarm lock box rested on the wall next to the door handle waiting patiently for someone to enter a code. The mouse child sighed and pried the top of the box off, but the maze of circuitry and wires lost him.
"Here." Zack pulled two wires--a red one and a black one--from the rest with his sai. He dug into his pocket and pulled out a fat pocketknife jammed with collapsible tools. He cut the wires, then touched the cut ends against the circuit boards. The plastic and metal pieces sparked and melted, smoking. "A trick my sister taught me. Fries the entire security system." He opened the door and no sirens blared as he leaned against it heavily. "We gotta get out of here," he gasped.
Sparks put his shoulder under Zack's left arm and wrapped his tail and arms around the human's waist. "We're closer to the roof; we'll go up."
"Sounds good to me," Zack answered quietly.
Zack weighed a little more than he did, Sparks noticed as he dragged the human up the few flights of stairs. They passed doors to other floors, fire hoses, fire extinguishers, and hard hat depositories in the otherwise normal concrete and metal stairwell. They found the door to the roof and Sparks forced it open.
A cold wind from Lake Michigan rushed across the top of the building. Zack's teeth chattered and he shivered. Sparks wasn't much warmer; the wind cut through his fur. He helped Zack sit on the roof. Great, now what? Wait till Dad and the others crumble the Tower? We'd get down in a hurry, but it'd hurt!
Allie stared at the alarm circuits that melted and ran out of the panel box in front of her eyes. The blood pounded in her ears. I only showed Zack that trick. She wrenched open the door and ran into the hall. She found an empty office and ducked inside. She dug into one of the seldom-used pockets of her belt and pulled out her Turtle Comm. She flipped opened the green and yellow, compact-sized communicator and hit Zack's call button. Then waited in agony until it was answered.
But Zack didn't answer it. Instead a grey-furred mouse boy with a strong resemblance to Modo, including the same uneven buckteeth, appeared in the tiny viewscreen. "Sparks, right? Where are you?"
"Who are you?" He asked suspiciously.
"A friend. Is Zack all right?"
Sparks glanced away from the Turtle Comm. "He's been better. How'd ya know he's with me?"
"This is Zack's Turtle Comm. Now where are you?"
"On the roof."
She heaved a sigh that was barely visible under her ninja hood. "Your dad and the others are parked on the west side of the building. Get Zack out of here. I'll keep the opposition busy." She snapped her Turtle Comm closed and shoved it away.
I can't worry about Zack. He'll have to take care of himself. He can; he's been raised and trained by the best. She took a deep breath, closing all her worry and fear about Zack into a tight ball and burying it deep within herself.
When she opened her eyes, she focused on the task as hand. Find out what BatWing is doing working for this Limburger guy and keep them from chasing Zack and Sparks.
Sparks blew his bangs out of his red eyes as he held the still-open communicator. Zack groaned and curled up in a fetal position. He knelt next to the human. Zack's body was racked with convulsions. Safe bet that he's getting worse. I need to get Charley. She'll know what to do.
The thought that someone would know what to do made him feel more confident. He sprinted to the side of the building. The girl in the funny looking, black ski mask hadn't lied. All four of them were parked at a T-junction with the road around Limburger Tower. He jumped up and down and waved his arms but they didn't look up. "I need my own bike," he grumbled out loud while trying to come up with something to get their attention. There was no way he could shout loud enough for them to hear him and he didn't have anything to throw or wave. Or did he?
Sparks sprinted back to the stairwell and down to the first fire extinguisher. He ran back, propped his foot against the small wall surrounding the roof, and aimed the nozzle down at the group of motorcycles. "This better get their attention," he muttered as he pulled the trigger.
Charley stared up at Limburger Tower with her binoculars. Throttle glanced down at the countdown running on the viewscreen of his bike and patted down the jacket. Nothing in it but a motel key and the plastic rings that hold a six-pack of canned drinks together. Nothing to prove or disprove her story. Not that he instinctively mistrusted her, quite the opposite. But Mace had been a capable fighter too.
"What's that?" Charley cried.
Throttle jerked his head up to see white foam streaming from the rooftop. "It's Sparks!" Modo bellowed and gunned his bike.
Vinnie glanced back for Throttle's nod and followed Modo's lead up the side of the building with rocket boosters. Throttle grabbed hold of Charley's waist with his tail, plucking her off her bike and slinging her onto the back of his.
She wrapped her arms around him tightly as he revved the bike and hit the jets. "Fast work," she commented.
"If she did it." Throttle chuckled, "Sparks is a smart kid, and I betcha they underestimated him."
The bike leaped onto the roof and skidded to a stop to see Modo jump off his ride and grab Sparks in a bear hug. "Dad! I can't breathe!" The boy cried as his feet swung in the air.
Modo set him back down and took hold of his shoulders. "Are you alright? Did they hurt you?"
"Zack's the one they hurt." Sparks pointed to the huddled human boy lying near the stairwell entrance.
Charley climbed off Throttle's bike and rushed to him. "What did they do to him?"
"Injected him with something. They called it M-175."
"Did Allie get you two out?" Throttle asked. Seeing Sparks's confusion, he added, "A girl in a black mask."
"No, but she called on this." Sparks gave Throttle an open green and yellow communicator. "She said get Zack out of here and she'd keep the opposition busy."
"We have to get this kid to a hospital," Charley declared from kneeling by his side.
"No!" The boy gasped as he turned and managed to grab her arm. "My friends... Turtles... can't get to me... Val Tech... they'll find me. No hospital."
"Shush, you need a doctor." Charley petted his black hair away from his sweaty forehead. "This is way beyond me and the first aid kit."
"No hospital," he repeated.
"Tala's building," Vinnie interjected. "She's got a room set up for medical emergencies."
The kid doesn't trust doctors. Really don't blame him if Karbunkle was the one who did this to him. Throttle took a deep breath. "Modo, get the kid." The big grey mouse scooped the human boy into his arms and carried him to his bike. Sparks hopped on behind him as he cradled Zack in front.
Charley climbed back on Throttle's bike. "He needs a doctor."
"We don't know what's going on, Charley-girl. Do you know a doctor we can trust?" Throttle led the way back down to the street. "Modo, get the kid to Tala's. Charley, do the best you can. Vinnie, take escort."
She moved to her bike. "What about you?"
"Somebody's got to give our new friend a ride." He jerked his head toward Limburger Tower. "Or a rescue." Her face grew worried, and he reached out and caressed her cheek. "I'll be fine. Go help the kid."
She didn't look happy about it, but she nodded and they took off. It's been a while since anyone cared about the risks I ran. Even Carbine was pragmatic about them. Knowing she felt that way gave him a settled feeling. I just hope she worried about me getting shot and not about me cheatin' on her. I'd never do that. He sighed a little wistfully and turned back to Limburger Tower's quiet fašade.
"Alarm system's been deactivated already." Smarts pulled his long -fingers back from the control panel.
Ryan and Leo both peered over the scrawny biker's head to see what he's talking about. "But that's a Mutate trick?" Ryan scratched the back of his head.
"Maybe Di's breaking them out," Leo suggested.
"Then let's get in there and help!" Raph wrenched the door open and charged inside.
"Nice to see someone take the direct approach." Trash muttered as she followed him.
Modo felt Sparks's arms around his waist, but they did little to calm his anger and his fear. They tried to hurt my son! His miracle son, the child he never expected to have and never should have found. They tried to hurt my son! This is what Roddie had been afraid of--their enemies using Sparks to get to Modo and his bros. And it almost worked.
His grip around the sick human boy in his lap tightened. That stinkfish has gone too far this time! Nobody messes with my family! I'm gonna carve him into tiny pieces and see how Earth fish like Plutarkian as bait! The threat didn't make him feel better. Limburger would just slime his way out and Sparks would still be in danger. Modo's heart sank. Look at how many times Limburger has tried to hurt Charley, and she's an adult that can take care of herself--even if she does need Biker Mice backup every now and then.
The human boy in his lap groaned as Li'l Hoss turned down a new street. "Hang on, li'l citizen. We're almost there." Modo used his flesh hand to wipe some of the sweat off the kid's face.
"Splinter?" The boy opened his dark brown, blurry eyes and focused on Modo's face. He looked like most of the humans in martial arts films. "Where's Splinter?"
"I don't know, but we'll find him." The kid lapsed back into unconsciousness.
"Are you mad at me?" Sparks asked in a small voice that sounded even smaller inside the child's helmet.
"No, I'm mad at Limburger."
"Limburger wasn't there. Karbunkle neither."
Before Modo could comment on the surprising bit of information, they reached Tala's seven-story building. They pulled up to the closed door on the ramp leading to the street-level garage. "What now?"
"We get in." Charley dismounted her white and blue bike and walked down to the alarm keypad mounted between the garage door and a regular door. "Has she given you the alarm code?"
Vinnie snorted. "I gotta blackmail her to go on a date with me. What do you think?"
"Maybe I can hot-wire it," Charley muttered with a sigh.
A light switched on above the door and it swung open. "Or not." Tala crossed her arms over her chest. She was wrapped in a worn, green, terry-cloth bathrobe with matching fuzzy green slippers.
"You're home!" The white-furred mouse blurted.
She glared at Vinnie. "I know I agreed to go out with you when I got back to Earth but I didn't mean the second I got back."
Modo cut off Vinnie's stammering explanation. "We came for the kid." He lifted him slightly. "He needs your medbay."
"Aren't there hospitals on Earth?"
"He didn't want to go to one," Sparks answered. "He got me out of Limburger's Tower. Please, Tala."
The blonde human woman sighed. "All right, but you wait until the door is up." She disappeared inside.
"How do you do that?" Vinnie asked as the garage door rumbled up.
"Simple. She likes me."
Vinnie made faces at Sparks' back; Modo saw them as he glanced behind them. His good eye rolled at both of the "kids" as they rode into the garage. Tala stood in the freight elevator already. "On foot from here up, boys."
Sparks climbed off first and hovered anxiously as Modo carefully dismounted. "He's looking worse."
"So purple isn't his normal skin tone? What happened to him?"
"They injected him with something."
Tala felt for the pulse point on the boy's neck as Charley and Vinnie entered the elevator. "Hershel Plutarkians!"
"It wasn't Limburger!" Sparks exclaimed. "Zack called 'em Val Tech."
"Val Tech? That's the same name Allie used," Charley added. "That BatWing that grabbed you works for them. Supposed to be an Earth company."
"Top floor, Vinnie." Tala told the mouse closest to the controls as her grey-blue eyes flicked over them. "Am I going to have to wait for Throttle to get here before I get an explanation that makes sense?"
"Probably, Doll-face. He is Mr. Exposition," Vinnie answered. "Did we catch you at a bad time?"
"No, I like being awake for almost thirty galactic standard hours and not getting to take my Jacuzzi bubble bath. Most people would be upset, but I never claimed to be normal." She shrugged with a sigh. "If you didn't know I was home, why did you come here?"
"I'm getting psychic about your proximity." The white-furred mouse wiggled his eyebrows provocatively.
Modo rolled his good eye again. Can't he take anything seriously? "He said you had a place set up for doctorin' in your building."
"Yeah, I do. But I think that kid is past what you can do with it." Tala shot Vinnie a puzzled look. "How did you know?"
"You told me." When her puzzled look didn't vanish, he added, "While we were waiting for Tomahawk to chew us out for blowin' up the Sand Raiders."
"You remember that?"
"I remember everything you tell me."
Tala didn't say anything to that as the freight elevator reached the top story. The top two stories had been combined to create a hanger bay large enough for Tala's black space ship. She led a quick pace up the ramp into the ship. Modo followed close behind. She turned into the small room set up as a medbay. The robot arms above the examination bed were already moving. Tala took a seat in front of a cramped computer terminal. "Put him down, Modo."
Modo sighed as he did so and stepped back. This room gave him the willies. Vinnie had stopped dead in his tracks in the corridor, but Charley had to restrain Sparks from entering.
One of the robot arms held the boy as another arm extracted a blood sample. Tala watched the results on the computer screen and sat up straight. "What the hell? Two different blood types? That would kill him. Take another sample, MC." The robot arms complied and the human woman made a sound of bafflement. "That's not right."
"The probability of error on my part is...."
"Did I ask for the odds?" Tala growled at the computerized voice. "Do a deeper scan."
"Attempting genetic profile." Nobody said anything while the computer worked. "Unable to complete."
"Show me." The computer screen flashed information at her, much too small for Modo to read. "That's not possible."
"What's wrong with him?" Sparks demanded.
"His DNA is scrambling itself."
"You've got funny DNA," Vinnie interjected.
"I have altered DNA. And it took months to figure out how to alter it and then months for it to take full affect. And aliens did it, technology not available on Earth. His DNA is coming apart and rearranging itself, completely at random."
Charley sucked down a gasp. "But that's not possible. It should kill him!"
"If we don't stop it, it will," Tala answered.