Charley parked the bike in Tala's garage. The baby's screaming got even louder when the engine shut off. She unzipped her jacket and tried to hold him like Manuelo had. The baby squirmed and squalled. "Oh come on, kid, give me a break!" Charley had never felt more exhausted. And Manuelo had stayed at the hotel with his family; who could blame him? Whatever she was doing made the baby scream louder. "Don't do this, please! I'll build you a motorcycle if you stop crying. How does that sound?"
His chubby face screwed into the most desolate expression yet and he screamed louder.
Charley's heart pounded. What if she had done something to hurt him without meaning to? "Hey, it's okay. Come on, it's okay." She looked at his arms and legs, but what would they look like if something were wrong? "Damn Dad, why didn't you give me any pointers on this? Oh man, now I'm cussing in front of a kid."
Roaring bike engines grew louder and all seven of them rolled in and parked. The baby screamed louder. The Bones, Allie, and Mike headed straight for the elevator. The mice stopped and stared at her and the baby.
Vinnie chortled first. Modo added his guffaws. Throttle couldn't help grinning as he asked. "Gee, babe, when were you gonna tell me? Didja think I wouldn't understand?"
"All the fights we've been in, bros, and we've never come home with one of those." Vinnie took a deep breath. "One of the prisoners rewarded ya for a good rescue?"
"Reward? Looks more like punishment from her expression." Modo laughed harder.
"Laugh it up, fuzzballs," Charley snapped. "You guys will have plenty of time to bond when you baby-sit."
"No way! This studly mouse does not baby-sit."
The baby screamed again.
"Just as well, I don't think the kid likes you, Vincent."
Charley tried to soothe the baby, but it wasn't working.
"Well, who are you gonna name the kid after, Daddy Throttle?"
"Look if you three are finished laughing at my expense, can you call Manuelo? So he can tell me what's wrong?" Charley snapped.
Modo wiped his eye and took the baby from Charley. He cradled him in his flesh arm. "Hey there li'l fella, what's a matter? Tummy growlin'?" The baby actually started sucking on his metal fingers. "Don't think you'll like how them taste. He's just hungry. We'll have to get him baby stuff."
"There are some supplies available in the ship, Biker Modo," MC announced over the speakers in the garage.
Charley glared at the room. "She said she didn't know anything about babies."
"Mistress Tala doesn't, but that doesn't stop her from transporting former slaves that have infants."
"Then let's get ya fixed up, li'l fella."
Vinnie snickered as Modo headed to the elevator shaft. "Modo, the only Biker Mouse who lists Mr. Mom as a role model."
"Don't worry, Vinnie. Maybe you'll grow up someday too."
Charley ignored them and wrapped her arms around Throttle. "You okay?" he asked in a low, husky voice.
"Just frazzled. I didn't know what was wrong. How'd things go?"
"The Tower's down and Stinkfish and party took off in two different directions. But Trash got hurt."
"Unconscious when Tala transported her here." Throttle kept his arm around her shoulders as they got into the elevator with Modo and Vinnie. "Where did you find the baby?"
"He was with the people they were holding captive. Nobody claimed him and we couldn't leave him there." Charley leaned into Throttle. "But with everything they've said about those Val Tech people...."
Modo looked up from the baby with a not quite glowing eye. "They ain't comin' back to Chi-town."
"That's affirmative, Big Fella." Throttle squeezed Charley.
"Nobody messes with our turf," Vinnie added.
The elevator reached the top of the building. Allie, Eight, Smarts, and Sparks sat obviously guarding the tied-up and unconscious BatWing. Sparks jumped up when he saw them. "See what me and Mona caught!" He pointed to BatWing as he came forward with a limp. "And Tala declared the ship off-limits unless you have a medical reason for being there."
"You're hurt." Modo's eye grew wider.
"It's nothin'. MC said so."
All heads turned to see the scuffle coming down the ramp. Mike and Mona had Raph by the arms and were dragging him out of the ship. "Donnie needs us!" The red-masked Turtle yelled.
"Let Leo handle it. There's not enough room; the computer said so," his brother answered.
"That computer wants to pump him full of alien drugs!"
"If you don't behave," Mona grunted, "we're gonna take up its offer to sedate you!"
"You don't know what they'll do to him!"
"So this is why they punch people and carry them out in the movies."
"Just try it, Michaelangelo!"
The baby started screaming again. "Outta the way," Modo rumbled. Mona and Mike managed to pull Raph out of the way and the big mouse was able to go into the ship.
"Where'd the baby come from?" Sparks asked.
"Another prisoner," Charley answered. "What's going on?"
"Not enough space in the medbay," the boy mouse answered. "We had just gotten Donnie set up when Tala came in with Trash."
"I better go help." Charley sighed; she really didn't want to leave Throttle's embrace.
"Not necessary," Tala came down the ramp looking exhausted. "Set Trash's arm, fed her a bunch of pain killers, and wrapped her ribs. Nothing internal, otherwise it would be a mess. Ryan's sitting with her."
"And Donnie?" Raph demanded.
"Got antibiotics that match his genetic profile and MC is very offended, Mr. Paranoia." Tala glared at Raph as she came down the ramp. "It's been treating me with alien drugs for years. His fever's gone down, but hasn't broken. And now that all the medical equipment is set up in the bunks, you're free to run amok. Excuse me." She brushed past Throttle and got into the elevator. Vinnie watched her progress with a frown.
Everyone bolted to go inside the spaceship. Throttle squeezed Charley's shoulders again. "Let's go find somewhere to curl up. We're just in the way up here."
She smiled up at him. "I like that plan."
Vinnie saw that Throttle and Charley wanted some alone time. Not that it was hard to miss. He left them in Tala's loft and headed down. Where had she gone? Probably to check on her bike. He pushed the "G" button in the elevator. He saw her as soon as he stepped out. Tala was curled up in a ball, sitting next to her bike. The light-blue bike flashed its mousehead-shaped headlight and popped out its laser canons.
"Whoa," he raised his hands to surrender. "Did I forget my white flag?"
His red bike revved and got between him and Tala's bike, beeping angrily. The blue bike beeped back, provoking a lashing out of beeps between the two bikes. And it looked like Modo and Throttle's rides were staying out of it.
"Stop it you two." Tala took a deep breath and gained more control over her voice. "Stop it and stand down." The blue bike beeped, but pulled in its laser canons.
The red bike pulled back so Vinnie could pass. He crouched down next to her. She was shivering. "Doll-face, you okay?"
She took another deep breath. "No, yes, it's just a bad reaction. Hot Stuff, she protects me when I can't. Sorry."
"A good bike should, that's okay." His tail twitched. He wasn't good at this stuff. He opened his mouth and the wrong thing came out--everybody knew that. She sure didn't need him to say something stupid, but the silence was getting uncomfortable between them. "Is it what happened to Trash?"
Tala shook her head quickly. "She chose to do what she did. Not my pick on ways to die, too messy."
"Yeah, messy. Give me a blaze of glory. But... um... if it's not what happened to Trash?"
"My fight and I don't want to talk 'bout it!" Her trembling had gotten worse. The short, blonde hair drooped over her forehead.
Vinnie frowned. He had seen this before, but there had always been someone else to handle it. "Okay, babe, we don't have to talk 'bout it. I'll be back in a sec, so don't shoot me."
He thought furiously while riding the elevator. She was in shock, but she probably didn't want anyone to know. She did go hide with the bikes. He got off at Tala's loft. From the catwalk, he stared down at the couch area and grinned. Throttle and Charley were making out, not caring who saw them. And his bro was too serious for public displays of affection. He must've been really worried about her. He headed down the stairs. "I hate to interrupt...."
Throttle laid his head back on the couch. "Then why are you?" He growled, not letting Charley off his lap. Her cheeks were turning red, and she buried his face against Throttle's neck.
"Cause I don't know what to do with shock for a human. You give 'em somethin to drink, right?" Vinnie moved to the kitchen area and started going through the cabinets.
"Something hot and sweet usually works. Right, Charley-girl?"
She lifted her head. "Yeah, that works. "What's wrong?"
Vinnie found some fruity-smelling tea and a container of sugar. He followed the directions for a cup and this time nothing caught on fire in the microwave. "Nothin's wrong. I've got everything under control."
"Very funny, Charley-girl." He carried the mug up the stairs and back to the elevator.
He heard her say something, but it was nearly under her breath and he couldn't make out the words. "Let him handle it," Throttle answered.
"But Throttle...." It sounded like Throttle shut her up with a kiss. Vinnie shook his head as he got back on the elevator. Good thing too, he didn't know how Tala would react to Charley acting like a medic over her. His gut told him not very well.
She was still curled up next to her bike. "Here, drink this." Vinnie pressed the mug into her hands. She sipped it automatically; her steely-blue eyes slowly focusing on him. He plopped down on the floor not exactly in front of her. "Made it myself. And you still have a microwave."
"That's good. I like my microwave." She drank more of the tea. The hands holding the mug were already calmer.
"Well, the Tower went kaboom. I've had my daily limit."
"You have a limit?"
"I think I do." But his voice echoed his uncertainty. What could've shook her up so bad? She hadn't been like this after the fight on the Fury nor after they fought the Sand Raiders. Well, she had her panic attacks, but he triggered those. She said this was from the fight.
She sipped the tea and didn't look at him. "I lost control."
Okay, maybe she wants to talk about it. Careful, Vincent, he cautioned himself, she still has her gun. "You did somethin' you regret, babe?"
"No, it didn't get that far. He never got to see anything." She laughed into the mug before taking another swallow. "Damned bastard. I couldn't fight him."
"He was better than you?" Must be a Val Tech guy. Fishlips can't hire anyone good.
"Unfair fight. I don't think picking someone up and slamming them into the wall is a legal move."
"Depends on the wrestling organization."
"And I couldn't stop him. He took control and I couldn't stop him."
"But you got out of it."
"Hot Stuff got me out." Tala patted the crankcase. "Everybody else just wants to hurt."
"I don't wanna hurt you."
"I know, but that doesn't make you safe. You make me feel things that hurt."
"But babe, I thought you like danger?"
"I don't like losing control."
Vinnie swallowed down the sigh he wanted to heave. Back to the losing control bit, had this guy knocked her out? But she would just break his jaw when she woke up. "Babe, what happened?"
"He made me take off my clothes." She gulped down more tea.
"I can't even make you do that!" There it was. He finally said something stupid. He waited for her to slap him.
"I didn't want to do it! He took control of me, the telekinetic little freak! He made me do it." She squeezed the mug tighter.
Vinnie tried to wrap his mind around this. She hadn't wanted to, but he made her do it. How could anyone make Tala do something she didn't want to? "I don't understand."
She closed her eyes. "Just forget 'bout it."
"I can't. It's hurtin' you."
That made her focus on him. "Is that why you want to know?"
"I just wanna make you feel better."
"Not gonna happen."
Vinnie lashed his tail. He wanted to wrap his arms around her. But that would probably be the worse thing to do. "Babe, I don't know what to do."
"I don't know either." She drained the mug. "I'm just so tired."
He bit his lip before asking, "You didn't react like this after the fight on the Fury?"
"I also didn't have someone holding me down with his mental powers," her voice descended into a growl, "making me rip off my clothes so he could rape me."
Vinnie could only blink at her. He didn't know how the guy did what he did, but he had and now he had to pay. He clenched his fingers into a fist. The fingernails dug into his leather gloves. She'd never want him to touch her again. Oh the bastard had to pay. "Where is he!"
She hid her face in her hands. "Why did I tell you that?" She started trembling again. "I couldn't fight him. He made my hands grab my clothes and I couldn't stop him. I couldn't stop him."
"I'll kick his ass all over Chi-town!" He could feel his fur standing up.
"Hot Stuff blew him out of the building. I don't think he survived." She sighed and uncovered her face. "He never got to see anything. But I can't... I can't stop shaking."
"It's like the panic attacks?"
"Related to them, I think. I don't really know." She shuddered. "Can we stop talking 'bout it?"
"Yeah, sure, okay. What do you wanna talk 'bout?" Vinnie shuffled the heels of his boots against the floor.
She sighed. "Nothing really. Guess it's bedtime."
"Okay." He stood up and offered his hand. She flinched, drawing back. He winced. "Babe, you know I wouldn't hurt you. I'm just gettin' you on your feet, that's all. I'll go curl up on the couch once Throttle and Charley are through with it."
"I'm not up for fighting you tonight, Vinnie." Tala reached up and grabbed his hand.
"No fighting. I'll just drop you off at your bedroom door." He tentatively wrapped his arm around her shoulders. She stiffened slightly, and then relaxed against him. He led her to the elevator. "'Sides, I don't want you to punch me again."
Di swiveled her head from Donnie lying on the bed back to the laptop computer Sparks had found for her. She read a few paragraphs on the screen, then turned back to Donnie. Raph finally growled, "Will you make up your mind of what you wanna look at!"
Her claws unsheathed and she made a conscious effort to pull them back in. "He's responding to the treatment. Zack won't unless I can find a solution in this information Allie and Mike brought back." With a firm resolution to keep her mind on her job, she turned back to the computer screen. She leaned forward to keep the chair from touching her back, scrolled down a page, skimming thorough the information on the progeny, and gasped.
"What is it?" Leo was over her shoulder peering at the screen.
"Formulas. I think they're the formulas for starting and stopping the mutation process, but I'll have to run tests to make sure."
Leo frowned at the strings of chemical shorthand on the screen. "But you still don't know how to reverse it. Stopping it will just leave him looking like he does now for the rest of his life."
Di sighed. "And if there is no other choice but to let him die? At least now we have another option."
"The other option still sucks," Raph answered.
At least this decision is out of my hands. All I have is a doctor's responsibility with Zack's life, to advocate keeping it. She sighed again, but the computer broke in before she could respond to Raph. "Assistance needed in the medbay." She rushed into the next room to find Mike and Allie trying to keep the thrashing boy on the bed. The IV drips were already ripped out of his arm. Zack's groans were closer to screams of pain. His skin was a deep purple shade and the talons he now had on the ends of his fingers slashed the mattress.
Mike looked up and saw her. "He just started goin' nuts!"
The metamorphosis would look like just going nuts to someone who had the luxury of growing up over a lifetime. Zack's back arched and he screamed. "Roll him over on his stomach!" The two obeyed quickly while Di snatched the blanket out of the way. New bones stretched the growing skin. Two between his shoulder blades on each side of his spine, probably a type of wing structure. Zack broke an arm free of Mike's grip and started clawing at his jeans. "Get his pants off!" Mike did what he was told, and there was another bony projection forming at his tailbone. Di winced as she twitched her own tail.
Zack calmed down once the pressures were off the growths to his body. One of the robot arms grabbed hold of his right arm and guided the IV needle back into it. "Should I increase the dosage of pain medication?" the computer asked.
"Yes, but only slightly." Di found the bandages and patched Zack's arm. She glanced up at Allie's almost bloodless face. "Sit down before you pass out!"
Sparks darted from the doorway and grabbed her arm. He pulled her to the pallet on the floor and pushed her onto it. "What is my brother turning into? What have they done to him?" She was still way too pale.
Di took a deep breath. "I've never seen this before. But the potential must have been a part of his DNA...."
"Don't give me the science bullshit!"
"He's still your brother, Allie! It doesn't matter what he looks like!"
Allie buried her face in her hands. "And he's in pain and I can't stop it." A sob escaped from her. "I can't do anything to stop it."
Mike left Zack's side and came around the bed. He knelt next to her, wrapping his arms around her. "Let it out, let it out."
"Can you fix him?" Sparks asked in a small voice.
"I don't know yet," Di answered honestly. All she wanted to do was to curl up next to Donnie and sleep. But between Zack and his brothers, that wasn't going to happen tonight. "But if I can't, I can end his suffering."
His red eyes stared up at her bleakly. "That's what they said when Mom died."
Di winced. At least this kid still had his father. "He won't die. The mutation maybe permanent, but he won't die."
"Not sure that's any better, ma'am." He turned and left the medbay.
I'm not sure either, she thought.
Eight poked his head out of the room when he heard the screams coming from the medbay. Others were dealing with it, so he returned his attention to Trash. He had never seen her so banged up: a black eye, the broken arm, the bruised ribs, a long gash on her leg that had been stitched up before they got back here. The drugs they had given her had put her in the most peaceful sleep he had seen her in. Boyo when they wore off and she woke up, he wanted to be out of Chicago.
But Ryan had him worried. All their leader could do was sit on the edge of the bed and stare at her.
Smarts stood up from the wall he was leaning again. "There is nothing that can be done by us. She will awaken in the morning and so will I."
"Go on to bed. I'm gonna stay with her."
Smarts shot Eight an expression that plainly said leader boy had lost it. Eight didn't think so. Maybe Ryan had finally found it. He signed to Smarts to go on. After he left, Eight gently touched Ryan's shoulder. *Are you okay?*
"I'm fine. Go on to bed too. I'm staying here."
*She's going to be okay.*
"Next, you'll be saying she's too smart to do something as stupid as she did." Ryan rubbed his eyes. "I just need some time to think."
*Don't let your brain talk you out of what your heart is telling you.* Eight lumbered off. Ryan did need time to sort it out. And he couldn't wait to get out of this cramped spaceship he couldn't fly. He had peeked in the cockpit. He could barely fit in its room. Maybe he could talk to someone about getting a spaceship his size.
Sparks crept into the ship's lounge. He thought he was being quiet enough, but his father still looked over his shoulder from the couch. "Hey son. What's wrong?"
He came around and sat on the couch. Modo held the human baby in his left arm while the kid drank greedily from a bottle. But he draped his tail around Sparks's shoulders. "Di says the only way to save Zack might be to finish mutating him." Sparks stared at the floor.
"Oh Momma. But I guess that's better than dying."
"Not by much." Sparks continued staring at the floor.
Modo's tail squeezed Sparks slightly. "Somethin' yer grandma used to tell me. 'Life is a journey, not a destination. And sometimes all you can do is concentrate on the ride.'"
"So I'm worryin' for nothin'." He aimed his small sneer at the floor.
"Maybe it's not as bad as you think."
Sparks sighed as he watched the baby. He kicked his pink, bare feet. "Are we gonna keep him?"
"Don't know yet. He might have family somewhere."
"Cause I'm not jealous or nothin' if you wanna keep him."
Modo chuckled and ruffled Sparks's hair with his metal hand. "We'll see. Our lives are a li'l hectic for a baby. And the scoreboard ain't no place for an infant. Barely a place for ya."
"I like the scoreboard, Dad." Sparks tickled the baby's foot. "They took good care of him. I've seen babies in worse shape than he is onboard the Fury."
"He's a hungry li'l tyke. When everybody is done gettin' medical treatment, it'll be his turn." Sparks tried to stop the yawn from coming out, but didn't succeed. Modo chuckled. "Bedtime for both of ya."
"No aw Dad's. You think I'm gonna stay up?"
"I'm gonna miss somethin excitin'." Sparks folded his arms.
"With this crowd? They'll wake you up."