Sunsets and new horizons

BY : Missretro
Category: +1 through F > Biker Mice from Mars
Dragon prints: 176
Disclaimer: I do not own the Biker Mice! I make no money from this story.

Based on the original series but with modern tech. Sir Richard Brand-something is the only thing borrowed from the later series. In this story, Harley doesn’t exist and Jack has done very well for himself.

 

Reviews would be greatly appreciated! Dedicated to all the other Vinnie/Charley fans and general old school fans like me!

 

Rated M for later chapters.

 

I do not own the Biker Mice!

 

 

Sunsets and new horizons

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Charley closed the battered garage door behind the last customer of the day. She sighed, tired but relieved. Not just that the busy day was over, but the fact it had been busy at all.

“Well, that’ll keep things running for a while,” she told herself, putting the card reader back in its drawer. She washed her hands in the small sink, before sitting at her table-come-desk, to do the day’s accounts on her slightly beat up laptop. She could hear the muffled TV in the room next door and the three voices now and then, but whatever they were watching was thankfully holding their interest.

She soon finished the figures, content. The Last Chance garage didn’t bring in much, but it kept her afloat. Some weeks were better than others. But she managed. Sometimes she wondered how, especially with those three smashing the place up, all be it accidentally. But she would rather have them around, of course. Closing her laptop, she heard the raised voices of Throttle, Vinnie and Modo. Whatever they were watching was obviously over. She walked over and opened the door to the living room. Vinnie and Modo were slouched on the old leather sofa that had seen better days.

“Hey Charley ma’am,” Modo greeted, polite as ever.

“Hey, guys.” Charley’s enthusiasm was muted as she shut the door.

“Tough day at the office, Sweetheart?” Vinnie asked, noticing her tone.

“Busy. Not that I’m complaining. I’m just whacked,” Charley yawned, slumping in an armchair.

Throttle appeared from the small adjoining kitchen. He tossed her a can. “Here’s a relaxing Root beer, babe.” He threw Vinnie and Modo cans before opening his own. Charley caught it and set about opening it.

“Thanks.”

The mice had been hanging around more than usual, as things had been very quiet on the Limburger front. It was good to have some help with bike jobs, but not so much when she wanted peace and quiet. It was nice to have the company though, all in all. Without them life would seem so dull now. The kidnaps weren’t so great admittedly, but without the mice, she wouldn’t have the garage by now, that was for sure. Limburger had been in pursuit of it, or rather its land, since he got to Chicago. Since he learned of her acquaintance with the Biker Mice, she felt it had turned more into a game of revenge. But the mice had stopped him, and every one of his plans ever since. She had a lot to thank them for. As time had gone on, she had played increasingly important parts in these situations. She felt she had learned a lot from the experiences and also the mice themselves. They would often teach her moves and how to use weapons. She needed the knowledge to protect herself, and them sometimes. She made sure she kept fit and practiced what she had been taught. In turn she could pass on her expert knowledge with computers and technology and incorporate it into their bikes, making them even faster, smarter, and all round more advanced, motorized weapons. They were a good team.

The local news flashed up on the TV which caught everyone’s attention.

“You think ol’ fish face will be mentioned?” Modo asked with disdain.

Charley looked from Modo to the TV. “He has been suspiciously quiet lately.”

“Yeah, which means no fun for us,” Vinnie moaned, crossing his arms.

Throttle watched the TV from the kitchen door frame. “No doubt it means trouble though.”

Before long, the news moved onto the lighter entertainment segment. Then followed the chirpy words from the bubbly female newsreader.

“Chicago businessman Lawrence Limburger has reportedly bought his very own slice of paradise. Tecker island, formerly owned by British businessman Sir Richard Brand-something, was recently sold for an undisclosed sum. The island, off the Florida coast, is described as an idyllic island paradise, as luxurious and exclusive as it gets. It’s unknown whether the island will continue to be used as a private home and exclusive retreat…”

Everyone looked from one person to the other, confused. Throttle raised his eyebrows. “Well that I was not expecting.”

“That explains why he’s been so quiet,” Charley groaned, taking another swig from her can.

“What does Limburger want with a place like that anyway?” Vinnie frowned with contempt.

“Yeah, you bet it’s not for rest and relaxation,” Modo added.

Throttle agreed. “He’s up to something alright.”

Charley was already on her way next door, and appeared shortly with her laptop. “I’ll do some research on the area.”

The mice were quickly trying to find what they could on their phones. Vinnie was looking at the island’s website, which was still active. “Have you seen this place?” He was clearly impressed, turning his phone to show the others the images of the luxury on offer.

Modo nodded, taking note of each frame. “That’s gotta cost big bucks. D’ya think Limburger is just gonna use it as a money making machine?”

Throttle shook his head. “Doubtful. There are easier, less legitimate ways for him to make money. No, there’s more to this.”

The mice continued to look at the images on Vinnie’s phone, making positive noises and comments.

Vinnie raised his voice in excitement when he saw a long open water slide. “Hey, imagine riding your bike down that!”

The others enthusiastically agreed, a little too loudly for Charley’s liking. She turned sharply.

“Hey! Are you three actually researching anything helpful?”

The mice looked sheepish.

“Well at least one of us has been. Check this out!” She sat back so the mice could see her screen. They walked over to look at the map she was pointing at. “The coast off Florida has potential oil fields. Bets, anyone?”

Throttle made a noise in agreement. “Bingo. Good find Charley. That’s gotta be it.”

“Who’s up for a trip to Florida?” Vinnie asked excitedly. He paused and thought, “Where exactly is Florida?”

“It’s south,” Charley replied. “We should get the bikes ready. We’re gonna rack up some air miles.” She headed to the garage, followed by the mice. “Guess my day’s not done after all,” she sighed, grabbing her tool kit and setting it down.

“Don’t worry Charley, we’ll be ready before you know it. If it’s one thing we’re good at, it’s teamwork,” Modo reassured her, grabbing some tools.

Vinnie had been researching Florida on his phone. “Ohh the sticky outy bit, where Disney world is? Gonna be hotter there right? And even hotter once I get there,” he smiled smugly to himself and set about work on his bike.

Charley rolled her eyes as she checked each bike’s computer system. “Well the air certainly will be… in more ways than one.”

“Well sun burn’s one thing we don’t have to worry about,” Throttle chuckled, grabbing a spanner.

Charley sat on Vinnie’s bike. She pressed some buttons, checking the screen with each one.

Vinnie looked up from where he was kneeling at his front wheel. “Don’t forget your bikini, Sweetheart,” he smiled coyly.

Charley looked down, eyeing him. “You do realise we’re going to try and find Limburger and some kind of oil rig, right? There’s not gonna be time for beaches or swimming!”

Vinnie shrugged, undeterred. “You never know, Doll face.”

Charley shook her head and playfully nudged him with the end of her boot as she continued checking the bikes.

After an hour or so of adjustments, each bike was tuned. Charley had checked the flying systems were working perfectly. “I’m done guys. We’re ready to fly!”

Modo patted his bike affectionately. “Looking and feeling their best.”

Throttle agreed. “Thanks, Charley girl. We can give them a well needed run-” he corrected himself, “-fly-tomorrow.”

Charley smiled. “Yep. They do look good, if I do say so.”

Vinnie grinned. “Can a bike and its rider get any more perfect?” He ran his hand over his bike’s shiny metal gas tank.

Throttle, Modo and Charley groaned in unison.

“The bike, probably not,” Charley replied, ushering Vinnie towards the main garage door which she’d set to open. She said her goodbyes to the mice and waved them off.

Closing the garage door, she coughed a little as the mice left in a roaring haze of smoke. Fanning away the fumes, she heaved herself up the stairs. Once ready for bed, she opened the top drawer of an old chest, where a trio of small gray string bags laid. She pulled out the one that read ‘sun’ in marker pen. Ever organised, Charley had an emergency over night bag for all weathers. It was necessary with the chaotic life she now led. It contained all the essentials. She checked through it to make sure nothing was missing. She paused, looked at the drawer below and scrunched up her mouth a little. In a rushed decision she opened it, grabbed her bikini, and shoved the garments into the bag. “You never know,” she shrugged to herself.

 

The sun had not long emerged over the Chicago skyline when the mice arrived at the Last Chance. On Charley’s recommendation, they had come in breathable sneakers instead of their usual boots. Charley herself had a pair, and had swapped her usual jeans for black denim shorts and a cropped white T shirt, covered with her leather biker jacket for the journey. She sent a route map to their bikes from her phone, with added gas stops she’d planned. “It’ll take a few hours, as long as you push it, but the weather’s good.” She put her phone into her string bag, shrugged it on and grabbed the spare helmet off of Vinnie’s bike.

“This is gonna be a long day,” Throttle sighed.

“Well, it’s over a thousand miles away!” Charley pointed out. “Be glad we don’t have to road it!”

“Yeah, and no traffic up there,” Modo laughed, glancing skywards, as he packed the much needed food onto his bike.

“OK, let’s get this show on the road!” Vinnie enthused, starting his engine as Charley climbed on the back. They rode out onto the deserted side street, where they paused.

“Let’s rock!” Throttle stated through the helmet speakers. In union they sped up, opened the bike wings and lifted off the ground, quickly gaining height. They would need to go at near enough maximum speed to keep the time down. They accelerated through the sky. Charley clung tight to Vinnie. It wasn’t her favourite method of travel. It didn’t help that Vinnie had a habit of swooping around. Charley groaned.

“Vinnie! It’s bad enough this trip is gonna take forever, can you leave out the roller coaster effect!”

Vinnie laughed. “Sorry sweetheart. Look on the bright side, you’ll have your arms wrapped around me for hours!”

Charley smirked sarcastically. “I can’t wait.”

Throttle chuckled. “Could be worse babe, your helmet could have no mute option.”

Charley laughed, “true.”

Vinnie pulled a face as they sped over tall buildings, busy roads and streets, until the buildings became low, the streets became suburbs, and the houses gradually became fields.

 

They stopped for gas every hour or so, a quick in and out in a quiet area, making sure no one saw them land or take off. Around early afternoon they set down in a field somewhere in southern Georgia, where Modo warmed up the stash of hot dogs with his laser. They rested for a short time in the long grass with at least three more hours ahead of them.

It was late afternoon when they left the land behind and saw blue sea beneath them. They were close. They homed in on the island as the map led them straight to it. A typical picture of lush green stood in the middle of the island, whilst white sand surrounded it, leading into clear water. The three mice opened their bikes’ side water floats as the wings folded in. They landed a few hundred metres away with a hard splash. Nothing looked untoward from there. They used their visors to magnify the island’s shore.

“Nothing.” Throttle was suspicious.

“You think no one’s home?” Charley asked, hopeful.

Throttle shook his head. “Even if Limburger’s missing, he’ll have people there.”

“So let’s go say hello!” Vinnie eagerly insisted.

Throttle held up a hand. “Hang tight Vinnie, we don’t want to make ourselves easy targets.”

Vinnie crossed his arms, looking around irritably. “For who?”

Just then a laser shot ricocheted off of his side mirror. Vinnie jumped back with a yelp, shocked for a second. His eyes quickly found a shape to the right.

Charley pointed. “Them!”

“Heads up Bro’s, goons at two o’ clock!” Throttle cried, turning his revving bike.

“About time!” Modo exclaimed, following Throttle.

Vinnie yowled in exhilaration. “Let’s give these boneheads a well needed bath!”

The goons came in fast. Five on jet skis and one on a small mini sub that skimmed the clear water just as fast. The goons were all armed with laser guns. The sub had a gun of its own to its front. The shots came heavy, but the mice were skilled enough to avoid them, splitting in three directions. The mice circled around, shooting back.

“Time to swim with the fishes!” Modo shouted over the blasts.

“And although we’re having a WHALE of a time…” Throttle added.

“You gotta WAVE goodbye!” Vinnie finished, blasting the last of the Jet ski riding goons into the water. Charley groaned.

“That was too easy,” Modo moaned.

Throttle laughed, “We’re just too good.”

“So are your bikes,” Charley reminded them.

“Well they were finely tuna’d,” Vinnie smiled.

Charley rolled her eyes. “Would you stop with the sea jokes?” She looked around with sudden alarm. “Hey, where’s the mini sub?”

As she finished her question, the mini sub rose speedily to the surface, right next to Vinnie’s bike, causing it to rock. Charley gasped a little with surprise. Vinnie didn’t miss a beat. He pulled out a flare, and within seconds it was lit and exploding inside the sub’s gun barrel. His tail quickly wrapped around what was left of it, and sent it spinning sideways. Throttle rode in and bashed the sub with his back wheel, sending it towards Modo, who in turn did the same, until it came back to Vinnie. He stopped the sub with his front wheel, leaning over and opening the hatch. “Who needs Disney World, right?”

A very dizzy goon rose up, and jumped into the water, inelegantly swimming for shore. Charley looked down at the sub. “This is what we need.” She clearly had an idea. “Guys, keep them busy, I’m gonna go find out what’s going on. Vinnie give me a hand here.”

“Be careful, Sweetheart,” Vinnie warned her, helping her balance on the sub as she got in.

“I’ll signal your bikes if I get into trouble,” she nodded, knowing her phone was in her bag. Sitting in the chair, she soon figured out the controls. She closed the hatch and lowered into the waves. She guessed what they were looking for wasn’t going to be found on the surface. The clear waters made it easy to navigate as she headed for the island.

On the surface the mice were ready for round two, although it was slow in coming. No jet skis this time. They waited, ready. Then Throttle spotted something moving in the water. “Something’s coming, twelve o’ clock. Get ready!”

The object wasn’t human, but it was definitely fast. Modo studied it. “Bro’s, I think that’s a shark!”

They all watched as it came closer. It was at least a meter long, definitely shark shaped, yet something wasn’t right in the way it moved.

“Make that one of Karbunkle’s creations Bros, that ain’t real!” Vinnie replied, as the mechanical shark closed in.

“Good, then we can use these!” Throttle shouted, aiming his bike’s gun. He fired, but the shot just bounced.

Modo fired with his arm laser, but the same happened. He gritted his teeth. “I’ve got a nasty feeling that’s a Plutarkian glass steel shark!”

“Then we’ll just catch it,” Vinnie offered, firing his net from the back of his bike. It surrounded the shark, which snapped ferociously at the netting with its metal jaws. The netting was laced with wiring which was holding the shark-for now.

Just then something caught Modo’s eye ahead. “Um.. Bros…. I think the family’s arriving.”

A dozen more sharks came gliding swiftly through the water, getting closer.

Vinnie raised his eyebrows. “We’re gonna need a bigger net.”

 

Chapter 2

 

In the depths, Charley was nearing the island. She went slow and steady, alert every second. There was no sign of danger, yet. She slowed as she approached the mass of rock. Narrowing her eyes, she searched for a submerged entrance. She glided along slowly, parallel with the island, inspecting the jagged nooks. Eventually, she saw a small square opening. Cut into the rock above, was a red sign that she couldn’t make out. There was a dim light in the entrance. She approached with caution. There didn’t seem to be anyone on guard at least. Slowly she entered the metal reinforced square tunnel. The space was empty beyond, the shimmering light coming from above. She studied the hole above her, several meters long. The light above did not seem like sunlight, but that was obviously her destination. She ascended, slow, waiting for danger. It did not come.

She soon emerged into the light, surfacing with a splash, quickly surveying her surroundings. Through the trickling water on the glass of her window, she could see she was in some kind of docking area. A bland, small, gray space, windowless with a spotlight above. She carefully got herself out of the mini sub, holding onto a metal bar that surrounded the pool of water, and stepped onto the concrete floor. The room echoed eerily. There were single metal doors to her left and right, with light coming from under the door to the left. She tried the right first, putting her ear to it. Nothing. Ever so slowly and trying to be quiet as possible, she twisted the knob and opened the door a little. It was dark, except for a dim light above. She walked into the room, which was quite tall but not very spacious. The room only contained one object. In a corner stood a tall cylinder shape, covered by a thick black sheet. She walked over to it, lifting the sheet with both hands to confirm her suspicions. Karbunkle’s transport chamber. She left the room, closing the door, and headed to the other. Again she opened the door very slowly and carefully. No one in sight. She opened the door some more. Cautiously, she stepped inside.

The large curved room was as high as it was long, resembling, ironically, some kind of gold fish bowl, with a large glass window that bulged out into the ocean. It had probably once housed the island’s offices, Charley guessed, seeing the many sockets and wires still intact. Desks had now been replaced with Kurbunkle’s many technical instruments, creating a long dashboard of abstract industrial tapestry. Silver and black metal, coloured buttons and levers. They blinked and hummed amongst other things, and the once bright lights were dim, spreading blue reflections of the ocean onto the gray tiled floor. She could faintly hear voices in the far corner of the room. She ducked behind the end of the line of equipment, making sure she stayed near the door. There was no mistaking those voices. Limburger and Karbunkle. She listened hard. Limburger sounded agitated.

“…. today. We simply have to keep drilling, my deranged doctor. Plutark demands at least one full tank by next Saturday. We are already behind schedule, and now this! Now do your worst and get rid of those menacing mice!”

Charley narrowed her eyes. Drilling, tank, it was adding up. Karbunkle’s voice grated.

“Do not despair your High Cheeseiness, my sharks are more than capable of dealing with the mice, and if we require, we always have plan B!”

“Well let’s make it quick then!” Limburger demanded.

“But of course. The sharks are coated in Plutarkian glass steel and therefore cannot be destroyed by their weapons, as we speak the mice are tiring, their time will soon be up,” Karbunkle rasped confidently.

Charley was a little concerned, but just a little. She would stay put and listen for information. If things got worse, she would have to cause a distraction and try to shut things down. But that would not be easy considering she had no weapon. The odds weren’t on her side.

 

The mice were busy fending off the sharks as best they could. Throttle punched one with his nuke knucks as it made a leap for him. “We can’t hold off these things forever Bros. Weapons aren’t useful here.”

Modo punched one with his metal fist. “We need another plan, anyone got any ideas?”

Vinnie thought for a moment. “OK, OK, so what did that dude do to kill the shark?”

Throttle and Modo shrugged at each other, clueless as to what he was on about.

Vinnie continued, remembering the movie he had seen, “he...blew it up.”

Modo frowned at him. “News flash Vinnie, they can’t be blown up.”

Vinnie shook his head. “Not on the outside, it needs to go in their mouths...something explosive.”

Throttle thought. “Vinnie’s right, their insides won’t be indestructible…”

Vinnie’s mind was racing now. “We need air canisters… they need to bite them, so we can blow them up…”

Throttle and Modo looked at each other, a bit confused at Vinnie’s increasingly excitable rant. Throttle held up his hands to stop him. “OR... we could just use grenades?” He suggested, holding one up.

Vinnie stopped. He shrugged. “Yeah, or that.”

They took out their grenades, waiting for the right moment before tossing one into each of the sharks open mouths. One by one, the sharks exploded in a smokey cloud of metal and wires.

 

In the control room, there was fear and anger from Limburger, whilst Karbunkle frantically pressed his many buttons.

“You said they could not be destroyed, Karbunkle!” Limburger seethed through gritted teeth, getting ever more impatient.

Karbunkle tried to downplay the situation as best he could. “It seems I did not account for the internal workings your great-” Seeing Limburger’s rage, Karbunkle quickly diverted tactic. “-However, we still have plan B! Observe… my latest aquatic annihilator… Octobot.” His voice lowered to a sinister and threatening tone.

Charley mouthed the name to herself, guessing what that meant. There was a heavy clanking sound. From the depths she could see a pink shape rising. Her view wasn’t great but she could tell it was of some size.

 

On the surface, still littered with pieces of metal, the once calm sea now bubbled intensely. The giant machine rose slowly, sending waves across the stillness, and causing the trio’s bikes to gently sway. They watched, waiting. They knew the game, they’d been here plenty of times before. The machine continued to rise, water gushing off of its round pink frame. The metal glinted in the sunlight, the head out of the water now. A crude face made up of round black metal eye sockets and a mouth, stared ahead, its many legs showing only slightly under the water. It creaked as its assent came to a stop. The three stared.

Throttle looked at the creation with bewilderment. “Looks like… a giant pink robot… octopus?”

Modo shrugged, “Now there’s something you don’t see every day.”

Throttle gritted his teeth. “A typical Karbunkle creation. Looks like it means business, Bros.”

Modo raised his voice, “Let’s sink this sappy squid!”

Vinnie shook his head in confusion. “Who bothered painting it pink?”

A long metal tentacle rose out of the water, bearing down on the mice, followed by another, then another.

Throttle revved his engine and shouted over the creaking appendages. “Let’s tie up this meeting Bros. Maneuver number seventy seven!” He circled round the machine, releasing his back rope, with the other mice following his lead.

“I love maneuver number seventy seven!” Vinnie cried, as his rope attached to the machine. Their ropes looped round the machine’s many flailing tentacles, which were quickly bound as the mice circled.

 

Back in the control room, Charley had an inkling that as always, things weren’t going to go Limburger’s way. She had an idea. Quietly she sneaked back out the door and through the docking area to the other room. She slipped in, closing the door behind her. She lifted the black sheet until she found the manual control panel on the transport chamber. She knew the basics. Holding the sheet up with one hand, she squinted and started pressing buttons with the other. She was wary to keep one eye and ear out for trouble. The light wasn’t good, but Charley was happy that the destination she had managed to set was off planet, when she heard the voices getting louder. She quickly slipped round the back of the transporter, fully under the sheet.

 

On the surface, Modo detached his rope and turned his bike to face the impaired enemy. “Sorry but I don’t like your heavy metal!” He fired his bike’s gun straight at the mouth. In a fizz of sparks and smoke, the machine swayed, then fell backwards, causing an almighty splash as it slowly disappeared beneath the waves.

Throttle chuckled, “Well that was a non starter. Wonder if fish face has anything else for us.”

 

“The mice, they’re closing in!” Karbunkle squawked in panic.

Limburger started pushing Karbunkle towards the metal door hurriedly. “Leave everything on auto. We can continue once the mice retreat. To the transporter! Make haste and hurry, you demented dimwit!”

The two villains burst out the door, past the unnoticed sub and into the transporter room. They bolted under the sheet into the transporter, panic ridden. Charley stooped down and out from under the sheet and watched as it whirred loudly and disappeared in a flash of light, leaving the large black sheet crumpled on the floor. Good. They were gone. Where was a mystery, but it was far away, that was enough.

She quickly entered the large room once again, walking fully in and taking in her surroundings. The bluish ocean light shimmered over all areas of the room, casting moving patterns. There was an eerie stillness, all but a few beeps from the equipment and the continuous grinding noise of what Charley assumed were drills. She looked out of the large curved window. There was not much to see apart from the expected rocks, fish and sunlight glinting down from the surface. She stood on her toes, pushing her hands down onto the dashboard to try and see what was below, to no success. She turned her attention to the equipment, and studied the various switches and screens. She could see the surface on one, split at various locations. Then there was the usual CCTV of the island. She could see a number of Limburger’s henchmen still milling about, oblivious to the absence of their boss. Then she saw the screen she wanted. A vertical pipe under water, and next to it, a digital layout of what was happening inside the pipe and underneath the seabed, to which the pipe was connected. She could see a moving image of two drills near the bottom of the pipe, next to a chart showing a time and distance scale. According to this, the drills reached the sea bed in forty three minutes. Charley had been right. Now she had to work out how to stop it. She searched the various computer screens, dials and buttons. There was a manual joystick and dashboard, but it had been automated, so that was her first challenge. She was smart, she knew technology and equipment. If she could figure martian technology, she could do this. After a few seconds of study, and a couple of failed attempts, she found the button to turn off the auto. It didn’t take her long to manually stop the drills. “Add off shore drilling to my list of capabilities,” she proudly told herself. The grinding stopped and everything came to a halt. She looked at the CCTV. “OK. Next job.” She walked over to the handle labeled ‘Evacuation alarm’. She pulled it down, setting off a loud rhythmic horn, followed by a female voice stating,

“Please evacuate the area immediately.”

Charley smiled to herself. She could see Limburger’s goons running for the boats and jet skis, or whatever they could use. They knew if there was trouble, it was everyone for themselves.

 

The mice had been holding out, waiting for more trouble. They could see from their monitors that Charley had got inside somehow. When they heard the alarm and saw the goons fleeing, they knew she’d succeeded.

 

Charley pushed the lever back up, turning off the alarm. She looked up at large automatic double metal doors that stood at the top of an industrial looking metal staircase. She climbed them, pressing a button to the right of the doors. The doors opened with a swish, into a bare concrete corridor. She followed it round to an elevator. It was a relatively short ride, with no other floors she noted. As the doors pinged open, she was met with another concrete corridor, but this time she could see natural light pouring into the entrance. As she reached it, she found herself walking into a large open space. It reminded her of a hotel foyer. There was a cream marbled floor, big plants in pots scattered around, one or two knocked over onto their sides, and a very high wooden arched ceiling. A few chairs and a sofa stood among the plants, not as clean as they should have been, cushions left sprawled. A large fridge stood against a wall next to a food stained side table, which was obviously once neatly set with condiments, napkins and a collection of cutlery, now scattered, and a coffee machine, among other things. A large TV hung slightly lop sided on the wall. The goons had left their mark. Charley walked through the large room, out of the large glass doors, and into the daylight.

She squinted as the heat hit her. Reaching into her bag and putting on her sun shades, she walked out onto solid wooden decking. A large, long space, shaded in part by an orange corner awning, with two cream sofas either side of her. Large plants in round, white stone pots were dotted around the space, and a wooden rail separated the decking from the lush flora that grew neatly around the sides. She slowly took off her jacket, looking directly in front of her. A wide gap gave an uninterrupted view to the almost white sandy beach to which wooden steps lead down, and to the clear, aqua sea beyond. Two thin but tall palm trees stood either side of the steps, swaying ever so slightly in the warm, gentle breeze, framing the vista. Charley stood, just looking. Her mouth hanging open slightly at the view. It shouldn’t have come as a shock, seeing as she was on what had been described as a luxurious island, but actually being there was quite surreal. Charley had never been to a place like this. Nor did she ever expect to go. This was a place for millionaires, not people like her. Clutching her jacket in one hand, she descended down the wooden steps. The sound of birds and the slight breeze rustling the trees were the only things to be heard over the background lull of the small waves that lapped the shoreline. She stepped onto the white sand, her sneakers pushing into it, making it harder to walk. She could see the building stretched much further around the other side, and figured she must have come out the ‘back’ way. She walked along the beach, in the direction of the buildings. As she turned a corner, she saw the mice on the shoreline, dismounting their bikes. She smiled, waving her arms.

“Hey!” She tried to run, but the sand caused her to stumble along in a not so dainty manner.

The mice waved back, pleased to see her. “Hey Sweetheart, what did you do with Limburger?” Vinnie called to her.

Charley approached them unsteadily. “I found the transport chamber, I reset it before they escaped!” she panted, out of breath now.

Throttle chuckled. “Where’d you send them? Anywhere nice?”

Charley shook her head. “Your guess is as good as mine! It was off planet, that’s all I could see, it was dark.”

Modo laughed. “Well that’s far enough for now, good work Charley Ma’am.”

She nodded. “Thanks. We were right about the oil rig. I managed to stop it, but it was pretty close.”

“You’re on fire today, babe!” Vinnie exclaimed, “you even got rid of Limburger’s goons to top it off!”

Charley grinned. “Yeah, not too shabby, huh!”

Throttle nodded in agreement. “Island seems deserted, they all hauled ass once you set off the alarm.”

Charley was pleased her plan had worked. “Good.” She looked around and out to sea. In the distance were some faint shapes floating on the surface. “Looks like you made short work of Karbunkle’s creations.”

“Nothing a few grenades and guns can’t take care of,” Modo dismissed. They all laughed, relieved that was over.

Throttle looked passed Charley, at the complex behind. “Doesn’t look bad,” he remarked dryly.

Charley’s eyes lit up. “I’ve not seen much, but what I have seen is amazing! We need to check this place out!” She was excited.

Vinnie grinned at her enthusiasm. “Damn right we do! No one here to stop us!”

Throttle and Modo exchanged looks in agreement.

Throttle clutched his chin, thinking.“Well, Limburger’s out of the picture for a while, it would be a shame to waste the opportunity…”

Modo cut in. “Yeah! We deserve it! Especially Charley! It’s about time you had a well earned rest!” He turned to her, enthusiastically.

She smiled. “Thanks Modo. You’re not wrong about that. No way could I ever afford to come somewhere like this!”

Vinnie was ecstatic with the possibilities. “Vacation time! And it’s all on Limburger!” No one could argue with that.

The mice pulled their bikes up onto the beach, leaving them in a shady spot under a tree. The main heat of the day had passed, but it was still hot. They were all tired, and hungry, by now.

“What d’ya say we find some food?” Vinnie suggested.

The others agreed eagerly. They headed for the main building. A large wooden structure with big windows and a thatched roof, surrounded by wooden decking which featured various lounging chairs and beds, arranged with parasols. Palm trees sprang up here and there, adding natural shade. A huge pool spread out in front, with a wooden bridge leading over it.

Charley led the way. She got to the bridge. “There’s gotta be kitchens here.” Her eyes darted around once again, taking in their surroundings. She turned back to the others, clearly in awe. “Look at this place!”

The mice were equally as impressed. They’d never seen anything like it. Such luxury was, well, alien to them.

Throttle chuckled in disbelief. “Check it out, bros. The pictures weren’t lying!”

“Oh mamma. I could get used to this,” Modo smiled.

Vinnie laughed loudly. “This is gonna be awesome! It’s the ultimate party pad! And we don’t even have to be tidy!”

They crossed the bridge, into the main building. A circular bar was central to the room, with tables scattered around, disheveled. Empty glasses and bottles lay on them, and on the floor, along with dirty plates. The bar looked pretty ransacked, but a few bottles remained on the shelves.

“I see Limburger’s scum made the most of it,” Charley scoffed.

They made their way to the back of the room, where there were double doors, no doubt to the kitchen. They entered the vast space, full of ovens, refrigerators and freezers. It was no surprise the goons had helped themselves to food. They’d taken the easy options of microwaving and heating up, obviously. The oven tops and prep surfaces hadn’t been used, but they had left dirty plates and old food laying around.

Charley wrinkled her nose. “Gross.”

Modo thought for a second, then held up his arm. “Well, I can solve one problem right now.” He carefully fired his laser at all the old food, which incinerated immediately.

The mice and Charley looked at each other, shrugging and nodding approvingly.

“Let’s find something decent for tonight,” Throttle sighed, his tiredness catching up with him. Vinnie was already on it, going through the refrigerators. “We don’t need to worry about food,” he chuckled, “there’s tons, and that’s not even checking the freezers out.” He rooted through the options, then pulled out some boxes. “Here!”

He tossed them to the other mice, who caught them. Burger meat, and everything to accompany them. Except the buns.

“Hey Charley, any burger buns on there?” Modo called over to her, indicating the mass of shelves behind her, also stocked fairly well. After a bit of searching, she found some. They cooked up a well deserved, hearty burger meal, with only the cheese left to one side-except Charley’s. They even found Root beer on the shelves as an added bonus. They enjoyed the good quality food as they talked and laughed, sat around a large table in the main room. By the time they’d finished, the sun was setting. It had definitely been a long day.

They walked out of the restaurant and back across the bridge. The sun had melted across the horizon, casting a line of fire above the golden clouds. An orange glow spread over the sea, as long shadows fell over the island. It was a sight to stop and admire.

Charley sighed, “as much as I love Chicago, this is something else.” The others had to agree. The light was gradually fading.

“Well…” Throttle broke the silence. “We need to find somewhere to catch some Z’s, Bros.”

“Anywhere Limburger hasn’t laid his fish butt is good with me,” Vinnie pulled a face of disgust.

“Yeah,” Modo agreed, “there’s gotta be some untouched bedrooms here somewhere.”

“Oh, I hope so!” Charlie winced. Having to sleep somewhere Limburger’s goons had been wasn’t a pleasant thought.

They followed a stone path around the pool, leading round the side of the building. They could see raised wooden huts lined along the shore.

Vinnie pointed to them. “Try these first?” They walked up steps to the decked walkway, where each thatched hut was spaced out generously. They were obviously entered at the back, the front giving the sea views. The huts stood on legs in the shallow waters. Throttle opened the door, which lead to a large space with a high hexagonal ceiling. The room had a beautiful wooden floor with a large modern bed and high quality fixtures and fittings. There was a sofa against one wall, with TV on the opposite wall. It was luxurious, that was for sure. Or at least it would have been, had the room not been trashed by Limburger’s men. They went from door to door. Every room was the same.

Vinnie was getting inpatient. “Oh come on!” He threw his arms up in irritation. “What’s a mouse gotta do to get some sleep round here!”

“Guess we’ll be camping on the beach!” Charley sighed.

Throttle looked at the others. “Well we’re running out of options, it’ll be dark soon,” he shrugged.

“There’s gotta be more here Bros?” Modo suggested.

Charley walked ahead. She narrowed her eyes in the fading light. She could make out more huts in the distance. “Hey!” She called to the others, feeling more optimistic. “I can see more up ahead!” She pointed, walking quickly, the others following at pace. They got to the huts which were the same style as the others.

Throttle walked up to the first door. “Last chance saloon.” He pushed it open. To their delight and relief, the room was untouched. “Bingo,” he smiled.

Modo tried the next hut. “Neat as pin,” he beamed.

“All good here,” Vinnie called, coming out of the next hut.

Charley went into the next. She turned on the light and smiled at the tidy room, with its made bed and clean floors and surfaces. “Yes!” She cried, relieved to have a nice bed for the night. It was dark now. Only the ornate lamps that lit the path and decking were glowing. A few lights twinkled in the trees and bushes, and in the distance, the pool was clearly lit.

Throttle called from the first hut. “I don’t know about you Bros, but I’m gettin’ some well earned sleep!” Everyone made noises in agreement to that statement. Their doors shut.

This was going to be the start of something good.

 

Chapter 3

 

Charley opened her eyes, the light hitting them. For a second she wondered if it was a dream, but soon realised she was certainly not in her bed. This bed was huge and much more comfortable. She sat up, blinking awake, and looked around the room. The sun spilled in through the blinds, casting lines of shadow over the wooden floor and the white bed sheets. The hexagonal wooden slatted ceiling arched high above her, the walls a plain off white. The room itself was furnished minimally, but modern. Bedside tables, a dressing table and chair, an armchair and sofa, a TV, a mini fridge and closet. Nothing else was needed. She got up, stretching a little and walked over to the blinds. She looked through one. Just blue sea. She opened them fully, the room flooding with sunlight. She held a hand in front of her face at the sudden invasion.

In front of the windows was a decked area with loungers and a parasol. Next to that, a dining table and chairs that was shaded by extended roof, leading to a lower deck that she could not see. Beyond that, was the vast expanse of ocean. She stood there gawping in her underwear that she had slept in. No need to worry about privacy here. She laughed to herself, overwhelmed by what she was surrounded by. She slid open the door, the heat hitting her like an oven. It was only then she realised how well the air con had worked. She stepped out, holding her hands to her forehead to block out the sun. She inspected the decking furniture before stepping down onto the lower deck. A round hot tub was built into the deck, and opposite, a large round sofa which was shaded by an independent thatched pergola. She laughed more, astounded. Steps led down directly into the sea from there. The neighbouring huts were angled, so privacy was guaranteed.

After a minute or so, Charley headed back in. She knew what was next. Tying up her hair, she opened her gray bag and set about putting on her bikini, ready for a swim.

She entered the warm, crystal clear water via the steps. She ventured out until she could no longer feel the sand at her feet, and started her swim. The sea was calm. Its gentle lapping was the only noise she heard over the birds. She could definitely get used to doing this every morning.

As she turned to head back, she glanced at the other huts. The mice were not yet up. Or so she thought. Vinnie had infact showered, and headed out onto his deck.

He stood admiring the view, like she had done, thinking it was definitely something he could get used to, and wondered if Mars was once like this.

Then something caught his eye to the left. He could see Charley swimming back to shore. He raised his eyebrows, putting his hands on his hips. He watched her come closer. He laughed to himself as he frowned, before calling her name. Charley looked up in surprise. She smiled and changed course in his direction, stopping when she could stand.

She wiped a hand over her face. “Hey. I didn’t think you were up.”

Vinnie was on his upper deck, his naked top half visible, which was nothing unusual. She did wonder about the bottom half, it was Vinnie after all.

He crossed his arms. “So much for no time for swimming!” He taunted.

Charlie shook her head dismissively. “I didn’t know we’d be staying!”

Vinnie smiled, narrowing his eyes, seeing she was wearing her bikini. He pointed. “Where’d you get that?” He obviously knew, having recognised it.

Charley suddenly felt a little self conscious, not just at what she was wearing, but the fact she had obviously followed his suggestion. She paused, trying to find a good answer, before rolling her eyes and giving in. “I just packed it in case, like you said…”

Vinnie laughed out loud. “Nice to know you do listen to me sometimes, Sweetheart.”

Charley gave Vinnie a sarcastic look. A moment passed without words. Charley felt the self consciousness creep back as Vinnie looked at her. She turned away, breaking the eye contact, and Vinnie looked down.

Charley headed for her hut. “Anyway, I’m going for a shower,” she called back cheerfully. She didn’t turn around to see Vinnie watch her go. She got back to her deck, feeling slightly embarrassed. She hated it when he was proved right.

She found the large en suite round a corner of the room. It housed both a large modern shower and bath, and like the room, did not disappoint. It contained everything needed, down to robes and slippers. She hadn’t enjoyed a shower so much in a long time. Tying her already drying hair up in a high ponytail, she put on her top, shorts and sneakers. There was a knock on her door. She opened it, grabbing her bag on the way. Stepping out, she saw the other three, waiting. They greeted her, but before she had the chance to reply, her eyes were drawn to their lower halves. She furrowed her brow in confusion, pointing at the beach shorts and T-shirts they now wore.

“Where’d you get those from?” she asked in surprise. The mice looked at each other, also a tad confused.

Vinnie realised she was wearing her clothes from the previous day, and laughed. “You didn’t look in the closet?”

Charley looked shocked. “NO! There are clothes in there?”

The mice nodded. Charley felt a little stupid. She hadn’t thought to look, she somehow imagined them to be empty, but then this was no ordinary place. It would have to wait now, however. “Right now I’ve got things to do, anyway.” She announced, putting on her sun shades.

“What’re you doing, babe?” Vinnie asked.

“I’m going back to Limburger’s control room. The computers were left on, there might be something we can get from them.”

Throttle nodded, “Good idea. You think that’s doable?”

Charley shrugged, “Maybe. Looks like it was an office before so there might be an old laptop laying around I could use, it’s worth a shot.”

“We were just gonna go check on the bikes, see if they got any damage from those sharks.” Modo was clearly unhappy about the idea, especially after they had spent so much time on them.

Vinnie looked from Modo and Throttle to Charley. As much as he wanted to check his bike, he should make sure she had someone with her. “I’ll go with Charley. You never know if there’s any traps, you know, if you’re messing with the systems.”

Vinnie was right, there was no telling, especially when it came to Karbunkle and his weird creations. Charley considered that.

“Thanks. You sure you don’t wanna check on your bike first?” She asked genuinely.

Vinnie shook his head. “I’m pretty sure it’s OK. I mean, it is my bike,” he added.

Charley wasn’t going to argue. They parted ways after a while, Charley leading Vinnie down the concrete corridor and elevator she had used the previous day.

They entered the room via the double doors and walked down the metal steps, the clanking echoing in the vast space.

Vinnie looked around. “Well it’s definitely got Karbunkle written all over it.”

Charley scoffed, “Yeah. Now we need to find a laptop. Can you look whilst I try to figure out their system?”

“No problem.” Vinnie started checking cupboards.

Charley was studying the dashboards. She’d found a screen embedded in one, with a keyboard below, but as she’d suspected it required a password. She was confident she could get round it and into the system, but that meant finding a laptop, which as of yet they hadn’t.

“Anything?” Charley asked hopefully.

Vinnie made a negative sound, “All I can see are old cables, stationary and empty folders.”

Charley sighed. “There’s gotta be some around. Actually, get all the cables, could ya, we’ll need one.”

Vinnie threw the bunch of cables onto the floor and checked the last of the cupboards.

Charley sorted through the cables, finding the sort she needed, “Ah!”

Vinnie closed the last cupboard door. “Sorry Sweetheart, you’re out of luck.”

Charley dropped her head. Her eyes fell to the metal frontage of the dashboard. She narrowed her eyes at the narrow indented lines that ran horizontally across, broken up by intermittent vertical ones.

She took a step back to study it and indicated the lines. “Is that the design, or drawers do you think?”

Vinnie looked at it. He grasped the underneath of a section and tugged. It didn’t budge, but the hollow rattle suggested it may well open.

“There must be a way to unlock them.” Charley had new found hope, and searched for a keyhole.

Vinnie had no time for that. “Let’s just use the abridged version shall we?” He pulled a flare from his back pocket and lit it, holding it to the metal front and starting to burn a hole.

“Always prepared,” Charley remarked, watching the hole get bigger. In no time the hole was big enough to see into the space beyond. Nothing but a few plastic folders. “Damn it!” She sighed.

“I’ll try the others.” Vinnie started work on the next one along.

After the forth attempt, Vinnie made a more positive sound and reached into the hole. After some shifting around, he managed to pull out a shape, or rather, three.

Charley’s face lit up. “I knew there had to be some!”

Vinnie held up the laptops. “You want one, then three come along at once!”

Charley grinned, taking one off of him and opening it, hoping they weren’t broken. It looked intact. She found a socket and plugged it in. It started up.

“Yes!” she cried. The laptop’s home screen came on, much to Charley’s relief. “Good, good, good,” she muttered to herself, placing it next to the embedded screen. She messed around at the laptop’s keyboard before motioning to the embedded screen with her hand. “Hey Vinnie, have a look under the dashboard where this screen is, could ya? I need a socket that fits this?” She passed him the cable.

Vinnie scrabbled around under the dashboard. “Got it!” He called out, plugging it in.

Charley smiled, plugging the other end into the laptop. “We are GO!”

Vinnie dusted himself off, and looked over to see what Charley was doing, as she tapped away at the laptop, bringing up screens and boxes. She glanced at the embedded screen with its password box. After a few seconds, she hit a button and watched the embedded screen anxiously. The box turned green and access was granted.

“Yes!” Charley cried, delighted. She frantically switched to the keyboard for the embedded screen and started on that.

Vinnie was impressed. “How’d you know how to do that?”

Charley smiled, “Jack was an expert in computer hacking, you know,” she remarked sarcastically.

Vinnie did know. But he didn’t want to hear about it. “Oh yeah right, Mr big shot!”

Charley rolled her eyes. “Jack’s worked hard to achieve what he’s got,” she muttered, concentrating.

“What, bad designer stubble,” Vinnie snorted.

Charley gave him a quick sarcastic smirk before watching the various screens came up, they studied them. Maps, the drilling information, the video calling system to Plutark, it was all there.

“This could be useful, I’ll screen shot and send it to our phones.” Charley spoke slowly, her mind sifting through the information as it appeared.

“Anything really juicy?” Vinnie asked, “Plans, stuff like that?”

Charley continued to search through the system. “Ah..hold on.” She found a link that looked like it could be it, and looked at Vinnie hopefully.

“Can you open it?” he asked.

Charley raised her eyebrows. “I can try.” She hit the link. “Damn it,” she gritted her teeth. She sighed, looking apologetically at Vinnie. “It’s encrypted.” It wasn’t a total surprise to either of them, it was never going to be that easy, but they had hoped.

“You can’t get round it?” Vinnie asked, knowing what the answer was bound to be.

Charley shook her head. “It’s a whole other level to password hacking. Way above my know how. I’m sorry. I don’t think Jack could even get round this in any kind of good time.”

Vinnie put his hand on her shoulder. “It’s OK babe, you got this far and that’s gotta help, any info’s good, right?”

Charley sighed, “Yeah, but it’s not where the juicy stuff is. If we got into this, it could be a game changer.”

Vinnie thought for a few seconds. “Maybe computer systems here can’t get round it, but the Martian ones might. They’re way advanced?”

Charley looked at him thoughtfully. “You’re right. It might work.”

“Can we send it? Can you do that?” Vinnie was a little hopeful again.

Charley thought, her mind racing. “If I can access the Freedom fighters system, I can open the channel, and they can copy the files.”

“OK.” Vinnie was trying to think calmly, “You got the satellite data and co ordinates for Mars?”

Charley didn’t, but she knew exactly how she could get them. She tapped her phone and accessed her home files, where all the information was stored. “I do now,” she smiled. Vinnie watched as Charley concentrated on her keyboard and screen. After a few minutes her posture relaxed a little.

“OK, I’ve opened the channel. Just sending a message to Carbine.” Once that was done, she stopped. “OK, to send the data across, I need to take down this system’s defences,” she started tapping the embedded screen’s keyboard.

“You mean like a firewall, security stuff?” Vinnie asked.

“Exactly,” Charley replied, still concentrating. “But… it’s probably gonna trigger this system, send it all a bit crazy whilst I do it.”

Vinnie frowned. “OK. Anything I need to know?”

Charley tapped her keyboard. “No, it’ll just fire things up temporarily, until I reinstall the security. Hopefully no booby traps!”

“I’ll keep an eye out for trouble,” Vinnie assured her, surveying the room.

Charley kept tapping. “OK. I’m taking it down.” She clicked the button. Instantly the lights, dials and screens came to life, flashing and bleeping. Vinnie stayed alert.

“Copying over files. Should take a few minutes.” Charley pressed another button and watched the screen, where the bar indicated it was uploading. She turned to survey the room with Vinnie.

There was a sudden, violent shudder that sent Charley off balance and tumbling into Vinnie, who caught her, but ended up falling backwards and sitting on the floor. Charley had ended up inelegantly kneeling in front of him. They were both stunned for a second. Charley heard a familiar low grinding noise. “The drills. They’ve started up. They had forty three minutes, it’ll be OK.” She noticed Vinnie wince as he held up a flare.

“Back pocket not a good idea,” he moaned.

Charley tried not laugh. “Yeah, sorry about that.”

“You know you’re gonna have to rub cream into that?” He smirked.

Charley raised her eyebrows and smiled sarcastically. “I don’t think so!”

“It’s the least you can do,” he mocked.

Charley gave him a dismissive look. “You shouldn’t be keeping flares in your back pocket!”

Vinnie smiled. “I came here to protect you and that’s the thanks I get.”

Charley shrugged, resisting the urge to smile, “I didn’t ask you to!”

“Lucky I wanted to,” he stated, looking at her.

She looked at him and gave in, smiling. She looked down. “Thanks,” she looked back to him, “I’m still not rubbing cream on your butt.”

Both were unaware of the huge object emerging from the murky haze of the churned up seabed outside. It came steadily closer, rotating and flailing.

Vinnie was about to speak, when he caught sight of the large object from the corner of his eye. He turned his head sharply, “Wha…” he pushed Charley down to the floor as a huge pink sphere thudded hard against the huge glass window. The room shook. Charley gasped. Vinnie looked up from his protective position, relaxing a little as Charley peered up from under Vinnie. The Octobot floated past aimlessly.

“It’s just that stupid pink robot.” Vinnie breathed a sigh of relief.

Charley laughed a little. “Drills must’ve caused it to move.” They laid there for a moment, until Vinnie realised they really should get up. A tad awkwardly, he helped a slightly embarrassed Charley to her feet.

Straightening herself up, Charley watched the screen. The bar was nearing completion. “Just under a minute left.”

A new sound echoed around the room. Charley and Vinnie glanced at each other. It was a tapping, clicking, cracking kind of sound. They both looked up in the vicinity of the echo. The huge window. Vinnie narrowed his eyes. It was subtle, but he could see small white jagged lines appearing. His eyes widened. “They cover a robot with Plutarkian glass steel but not their huge, underwater glass window?!”

Charley was nervous. “Guess that was on the to do list!”

The lines grew longer, branching out like a crackling tree. Vinnie knew they had to get out, and soon. “How long?”

Charley looked at the bar. It was almost there. “Thirty seconds, nearly done!”

The lines continued to grow. Vinnie watched them, and turned to Charley. “I don’t think we have thirty seconds, babe.”

 

Chapter 4

 

Charley looked to the glass, and to her screen with worry. “I need to finish it, Vinnie. I need to turn the security back on or the drills won’t stop!”

Vinnie was agitated. “Charley, that window’s gonna blow anytime, we need to go!”

The bar had twenty seconds. If they could just hold out, she could do this. “Just a bit longer, we’re almost there,” she pleaded, glancing at the glass in growing panic.

Vinnie watched the glass, becoming more worried for their safety as each second passed, excruciatingly slowly, it seemed. He looked to the screen. Ten seconds. That was ten seconds too long. The cracking got louder. “Charley, we need to move, now!” he shouted.

Six seconds. Charley looked up at the window fearfully, as the cracking got louder and faster. “Come on!” she yelled at the screen, as it counted down the last three seconds.

The room echoed with shattering glass as a huge volume of water came gushing through the ever widening gap, pouring over the dashboard onto the floor, causing sparks and smoke. Out of time. Vinnie grabbed Charley’s arm as the bar reached its maximum. She hit the button to reinstall the security as Vinnie pulled her away towards the stairs. The room was quickly filling with sea water as the glass continued to shatter, allowing more and more water in. They raced up the metal steps. Vinnie pressed the doors button. Nothing.

“It won’t open!” he yelled over the roar of water, trying to open it with his hands.

“It’s not come back online yet,” she yelled back. She thought fast. “The other door! Down there!” She pointed to the metal door she had been through the day before, assuming and hoping the sub was still there. They ran back down the steps, the water up to their knees. Wading through the swell, they reached the door. The pressure made it hard to pull open, but between them they managed. Vinnie kept hold of Charley with his tail, as the tide of water swept through the doorway. He managed to pull it shut. Charley ran to the sub, relieved to see it. She opened the hatch. There was only one seat.

“Can we both fit?” She asked with worry.

Vinnie looked at the seat, jumped down into the sub and lent down, ripping the seat from its structure and throwing it out onto the platform.

“We can now,” he stated, helping her in. They could hear the glass smashing in the room, the door creaked and tried to buckle. Vinnie quickly sat against the back of the sub, Charley squeezing in between his legs and closing the hatch.

“OK,” she said, trying to think clearly. She took the controls and they submerged, both relieved. As they entered the open ocean, Charley headed round to see the damage.

“You OK?” Vinnie asked, aware she was shaken up.

“Yeah. That was close,” she replied, gradually feeling less tense.

“You did a good job back there Sweetheart, you think Mars got it?” Vinnie asked hopefully.

Charley nodded. “They should’ve, it uploaded. I really hope so after that!” They came to the outside of the window, now shattered completely, the room submerged in water. They stared at it.

“Gives a new meaning to computer fishing,” Vinnie quipped.

Charley half smiled. “We’ll have to do a clean up job of the debris.”

“We’ll have to get back and find the others,” Vinnie agreed. They ascended to the surface and found the shoreline. They drew near and got out into the water, pulling the sub up onto the sand. Their sneakers were soggy, but the sand was way too hot to be taking them off. They squelched up the beach and made their way to the main area. They found Throttle and Modo by the main pool, looking comfortable on some loungers.

Throttle saw them coming. “Hey, what took you?” he chuckled.

Charley did not look amused. She took off her sneakers, emptying them of water onto the deck. “Sorry we’re late, we were busy trying not to drown,” she replied sarcastically.

Modo sat up. “What happened?”

They sat down and explained the events, stopping briefly whilst Modo brought out some fried chicken he’d been cooking for lunch. They sat and ate round a table by the pool, shaded by a large parasol.

Throttle listened to what they had managed to do, impressed. “The main thing is you got out OK, but that’s great work you did there Charley, that could help Mars, Earth, and maybe other planets,” he pointed his drumstick at her, emphasizing the point.

Vinnie tucked into a chicken wing. “There’s loads of debris floatin’ around though.”

“We can use our nets to clean that up?” Modo suggested.

Throttle agreed. “Yeah, we’ll get on it. You two stay here and relax, you’ve had enough excitement for one morning.”

Charley wasn’t going to argue, and Vinnie was more than happy to stay with her.

“Oh hey, was my bike OK?” Vinnie suddenly remembered he hadn’t asked.

“Oh yeah, just a little paint job on all of ‘em,” Throttle assured him. Vinnie nodded, relieved.

Modo and Throttle headed off for the clean up, as Vinnie helped Charley throw the lunch left overs in a sack. Vinnie eyed her. “Go relax Sweetheart, you’ve done more work than any of us since you’ve been here!”

Charley smiled. “Yeah, so far it’s not been as relaxing as I’d hoped! I’m gonna go shower and find some better clothes.” She pulled at her damp top, indicating the marks it had acquired.

“And shoes.” Vinnie reminded her, holding up his soggy ones.

They walked barefoot along the decking to the huts. Vinnie put his sneakers out to dry and raided the closet for some new ones. It was huge, filled with rows of different sized men and women’s clothes and shoes, all clearly new and never worn. There was also jewellery, watches, underwear, everything that could have been needed.

After her shower, Charley wasted no time in raiding hers too. She put her bikini back on and found a long, patterned, silky blue and green wrap dress to wear over it. She found some simple yet stylish flat, tan sandals in her size, some new sun shades, and helped herself to some new small, hooped gold earrings. Why not? She found bottles of expensive perfume, might as well put some to use. The island had obviously been sold as seen, and these sort of contents meant nothing to Limburger. The goons had cleared out the other huts, it clearly wasn’t of concern. Technically yes it was stealing, but this was Limburger after all. Besides, she told herself, he might not be back for a long time!

Charley was finishing putting on more sun block when there was a loud thudding at her door. She opened it and was met with a pile of bagged up objects, being held by Vinnie, somewhere behind the mound. He stumbled in, letting the pile fall onto the bed. “Thought you might like these from my closet, they might be different?”

Charley looked over the pile, she didn’t recognise some bits. “Yeah, thanks Vinnie.”

He put his hands on his hips and studied her, he didn’t often see her in a dress. She made the pile neater and planned to have a good look through later. She turned to him, slightly embarrassed by his obvious gaze.

Vinnie, realising, quickly spoke. “You should ask Throttle and Modo to find stuff for you too.”

She nodded, putting a strand of hair behind her ear, “Yeah I will. Come on, let’s go.”

They left, heading back to the pool. Vinnie had found a new pair of beach shorts, Charley noted they were a pale green with small white triangles on, then looked a tad closer, and started laughing. Vinnie turned around, smiling, at whatever the joke was.

Charley pointed at the shorts. “What’ve you done?”

Vinnie grinned, looking down at the mouse head shaped triangles. “I customised them. With pen.”

Charley rolled her eyes and shook her head, “OK!”

“Why were you looking at my butt anyway?” Vinnie teased.

“You’re obsessed with your butt,” Charley laughed and pushed him forwards.

They got to the large pool. Charley spotted the bar in the corner. She headed over, going through the shelves and cupboards. A lot of the drink had been taken, or empty bottles left. She found a few half bottles.

“I’m gonna see what’s inside,” she called over.

Vinnie followed her into the main building and headed for the kitchen. “I’m gonna grab some Root beers… and some snacks.”

Charley set about inspecting the alcohol at the main bar, and got a glass. She poured herself a drink as Vinnie emerged with some cans and packets. He put them down on the bar as his eyes fell on a door at the back of the room. “Wonder what’s in here,” he remarked as he opened the door. His eyes lit up. “Ah! Cool! Look!” he called, rummaging in the cupboard and throwing out some inflated pool items, including a ball, do-nut ring and lilo. Charley lent on the bar holding her drink, watching in amusement. Vinnie came out with a pink flamingo ring and a pineapple shaped lilo.

Charley raised her eyebrows. “Oh boy.”

She followed him back out to the pool, where he threw the group of inflatables into the water before heading back in for his cans and packets. Charley untied her dress and draped it over the back of the lounger where she made herself comfortable with her drink, hoping to get some sort of tan. Vinnie came back with his bits, putting them down on the table. He saw Charley on the lounger. He was careful not to look for too long, but man, it was difficult. He threw her a packet, which landed with a cool thud on her stomach.

“Here you go babe,” he called casually.

She jumped at the unexpected contact, picking it up. “Thanks.”

Vinnie managed, somewhat clumsily, to climb onto and lay on the pineapple lilo, whilst just about saving his can. He opened it and took a large swig. Charley lay with her eyes closed, finally relaxing.

It wasn’t until she heard voices that she came around, realising she’d fallen asleep at some point. She sat up a little, seeing Throttle and Modo walking towards her.

She yawned. “Hey guys. I must’ve dozed off.”

Throttle laughed, “Yeah, you’re not the only one.” He pointed at Vinnie asleep on his pineapple, floating gently around the pool. Charley sat up, laughing at Vinnie, sound asleep.

“Did ya clear things up OK?” she asked the mice.

Modo smiled. “Yep. All netted up and waiting for disposal,” he confirmed with pride.

“Well done guys,” Charley replied with gratitude.

Modo grabbed a can of Root beer from the table and sat on a chair. “Shall we wake up sleeping beauty over there?” He nodded towards Vinnie.

Charley giggled. Throttle grabbed an ice bucket and filled it with pool water. He chuckled to himself as he launched the contents at Vinnie, the full force drenching him.

Vinnie shot up in alarm, coughing. “What the…” he started, seeing the other three laughing. He frowned, “Funny!” he scoffed, shaking the water from his head.

“I’ll put some ice in it next time,” Throttle laughed, also sitting with a can. Vinnie heaved himself off the lilo and out of the pool. They sat around talking, eating and drinking for a while.

It wasn’t like Charley and the others to sit around for long, however, and they grew anxious to do something.

“You know we should really check the rest of this place out, just so we know what’s what,” Throttle mused.

Modo agreed. “Yeah it wouldn’t hurt to get the lay of the land.”

“We could cover a lot of ground on our bikes?” Vinnie suggested. They were all in agreement.

They got the bikes up onto the rocky ground, there was plenty of forest to explore. They all chose a direction and headed off. Charley tied up her dress and climbed on the back of Vinnie’s bike, as always. The island was obviously developed and maintained for use, and many paths were open and easily accessible. As they ventured further inland, the greenery got a little denser and the paths a little rockier. Vinnie drove up a hilly path, cloaked in shadows from the over hanging trees. As they got to the top, the trees opened out and rocky ground, some covered with grass, sloped down from either side, forming a V shaped valley. To one side, fast flowing water gushed down large, mossy rocks, forming a narrow river. Clear water ran down the middle of the jagged ground, to the rocks’ edge, where it cascaded down in a single thin waterfall, roughly fifty foot, into a clear, aqua pool below. Bare rock ran around the rim, surrounded by more grass, bushes and trees, some casting shadows over the water.

“Look at this!” Charley exclaimed, dismounting and taking pictures on her phone. Vinnie also dismounted, looking over the edge. She grabbed his arm, “Come on,” she urged.

Near the edge of the rocks where the water flowed endlessly over, the ground sloped away sideways, leading downwards, forming a rough jagged path around to a flat rock that protruded outwards next to the waterfall, a third of the way down. They ventured down and sat on the rock, their legs dangling over the edge, being dampened by the spray of the water that fell next to them. The patchy sun shone on them, being partially blocked by the greenery.

“Wow. This is so beautiful!” Charley gushed, taking more pictures.

“You know Mars has a waterfall like this, it’s the only one left now,” Vinnie remarked.

Charley looked at him. “Really? I thought everything like that had gone?”

Vinnie shook his head a little. “Nah, it’s just a preserved patch, a little garden. Carbine’s crew have been trying to keep it going.”

Charley was surprised. “That’s quite a challenge, on Mars.”

Vinnie laughed a little. “Yeah. But it gives us hope that things can be reestablished again. Maybe one day.”

“I hope so,” Charley said with sincerity.

They sat in silence for a short time, looking out into the pool below. Charley smiled to herself.

Vinnie noticed. “What?” he asked, intrigued.

Charley continued to look forward. “I don’t think you’ve ever been this quiet,” her voice was lazily relaxed.

Vinnie smiled. “Just lettin’ you enjoy my company and think about me in quiet awe,” he replied dryly.

Charley grinned and looked at him. “Yeah, right.” She turned back to the scenery. “I’m just thinking.”

Vinnie brought one leg up and rested his foot on the rock, propping his arm on his knee. “About what, Sweetheart?”

She glanced at him, inadvertently picking a small purple flower next to her, and playing with it in her hands. “Just… reflecting on stuff I guess. I don’t get much chance to do that normally. A place like this kinda makes you forget about real life, huh?”

Vinnie considered her words. “It’s a world away from Chi-town, and Limburger, and the craziness,” he admitted.

Charley nodded. “Yeah, makes you realize just how crazy it is, huh?”

Vinnie shrugged. “Well, I’m kinda used to crazy. Chaos is my normal.”

Charley smiled understandingly. “I guess it’s my normal too now. Not that I’d change it,” she was quick to add.

Vinnie couldn’t help but feel a tad guilty. “You sure about that?”

Charley looked at him with genuine fondness. “Of course not!” She looked down at the flower in her hand. Dropping it into the waterfall, she again looked out across the pool, quietly contemplating. “Do you believe in fate, Vinnie?”

He studied her. “As in meant to be, and all that? Maybe, do you?”

Charley sighed. “Maybe. I used to. But then when my dad…” she trailed off, her eyes darting round the pool, trying to find the words. “I couldn’t accept there’d be a reason… but then I met you guys…”

Vinnie watched her, listening.

She continued, “You just turned up one night, crashed on my planet, in my country, in my city, and found my garage, at that moment… you came at just the right time, for Chicago, for me, it just makes me wonder if it was all meant to be.”

Vinnie raised his eyebrows, not quite prepared for the deep conversation. “Well whatever it is, I’m sure glad we found you out of what, seven, eight, billion people?”

Charley laughed at the odds. “Me too. All I know is, it’s a hell of a good job you came when you did.” She looked to him for a moment.

Vinnie smiled with pride. “Yeah we do a pretty decent job of saving the world time after time don’t we?”

Charley smiled, bringing up her legs and crossing them in front of her. “And not just the world… you really did save me.” She picked another purple flower and idly played with it in her lap.

Vinnie shrugged. “Well yeah. Real bad luck Limburger moved into your city…”

Charley interrupted him. “I don’t mean from Limburger. I mean you saved me. I wasn’t in a good place back then, you know.” She glanced at him. “I’d not long broken up with Jack, money was really tight, on top of having Limburger on my ass constantly trying to buy the garage, which was the only thing I had back then. Plus a whole lot of debt. Everything else was gone. My dad, Jack, my education, hopes for the future. Then you guys came along…” She sounded sincere and grateful. Vinnie wasn’t used to her being so open about stuff.

“Well you can’t say life’s boring now, if you don’t mind being kidnapped and shot at on pretty much a daily basis, that is,” he chirped, not quite knowing what to say.

Charley laughed. “Give me that any time. You guys are the best thing that ever happened to me,” she stated affectionately.

Vinnie smiled, feeling slightly embarrassed. “That’s cause we’re awesome.”

Charley smiled at him, unexpectedly looping her arm around his. Her green eyes pierced his pink ones, and for a moment everything stopped. Charley studied his face for a second before seemingly snapping out of her daze. Leaning against him, she once again looked out to the scenery. Vinnie continued to look at her for a little longer before he joined her as they watched the rhythmic ripples of the pool, skating away from the foam and bubbles at the end of the torrent of water that flowed past them.

As the sun moved round and the shadows stretched over the water, they made their way back to base. Throttle and Modo, already back, swapped findings with them. There had been nothing of vast interest to note, other than fantastic scenery, but it gave them a good idea of what was there and how big the land was. It was that time again, and the foursome raided the freezers to decide their next meal. They cooked a variety of food, ranging from meatballs and pasta to chilli and rice. Why not mix it up, they had plenty of choice! They broke out the ice cream and waffles next, and there was plenty more where that came from.

As they tucked into their spread, Vinnie spoke between mouthfuls. “You know, we should have a proper party tomorrow, find some music, get the food and drink together, play some water sports…”

Throttle smiled. “Yeah, I like the sound of that.”

Modo laughed. “Just like the old days, right Bros? Well, except the water sports… and water.”

Charley smiled warily, “Yeah, I might sit out on some of the sports, I’ve seen how carried away you guys get!”

They laughed and talked about their plans as the evening went on. This couldn’t last forever, so they needed to make the most of it.

Charley left the mice to their conversations and headed back to her room, aware she still had a pile of clothes on her bed. She showered and got ready for bed before sorting through her stash and trying some things on. Her hair was still wet, hanging at her shoulders. She was pleased to see she had a slight tan as she turned from side to side, looking in the mirror. There were some good things in the pile. Some admittedly, she wouldn’t generally wear, but what the hell. The labels were all high end, even if she didn’t wear them, they’d fetch a fair price, she figured. She pulled on and admired a figure hugging maroon summer dress with tiny orange and white flowers, that was way shorter than she would usually like, but it wasn’t something that she would wear back home. It was sleeveless, a little frilly around the top and low cut, the short skirt was a little looser and frilly at the hem. Usually something like this would make her feel slightly self conscious, even though she had the figure for it, but if she was walking around in a bikini here, it hardly mattered.

She was in the process of opening another bagged dress when there was a knock on her door. She opened it to see Vinnie standing there. She almost always expected it to be. His eyes fell on her dress and he looked her up and down.

Charley opened her mouth to speak but Vinnie beat her to it. “Ooh nice dress, Charley girl!” He grinned.

She felt slightly embarrassed, not quite knowing where to look. “I’m just trying some stuff on from your horde,” she mumbled.

“I like it!” Vinnie continued with enthusiasm, “that’s my favourite one for sure.”

Charley frowned, “You haven’t seen any others,”she laughed, confused.

Vinnie shrugged. “Don’t have to. That is definitely number one!”

Charley felt her face getting warm and she flustered a little. “Thanks,” she mumbled once again, and realised, thankfully, she could change the subject. “Did you want something?”

Vinnie raised an eyebrow. “I do now,” he smiled.

Charley had walked in to that one, to be fair. She sighed with amused exasperation.

Vinnie held out her phone. “You left it on the table.”

Charley looked surprised. “Oh, thanks, I didn’t even realise it was missing,” she admitted, taking it from him. “I think I’ll use one of those waterfall photos for my home screen.”

Vinnie smiled. “You really liked that place huh?”

“It was so nice to be surrounded by nature and away from… everything,” she gushed, smiling at him. She pressed her lips together, shifting slightly, “Thanks for sitting with me, it was nice.”

Vinnie nodded. “It wasn’t too shabby,” he agreed.

Charley grinned. “It was gorgeous,” she gushed.

Vinnie raised his eyebrows. “Talking of which, can I take your picture for my home screen?” he teased.

Charley laughed, shaking her head and feeling embarrassed again. “NO!”

Vinnie shrugged. He stood admiring her unapologetically, her green eyes looking at him as she brushed a strand of darker, wet hair from her face. She felt warm again, and smiled awkwardly at him. Vinnie broke his gaze from her, but Charley spoke before he got the chance.

“Seriously though, thanks.” She seemed genuine and humble. She hesitated before lightly grabbing his shoulders and reaching up, kissing him on the cheek. Vinnie felt the heat in his cheeks at the unexpected action, thankful he had fur.

He smiled, feeling awkward. “No problem.”

Charley’s hands remained on his shoulders. They looked at each other for a couple of seconds, neither of them moving, until Charley snapped herself out of the moment and cleared her throat.

“Well, I’d better clear this stuff up, it’s kinda late.”

Vinnie noticed she was a tad jittery. “Yeah sure Sweetheart,” he replied, seemingly relaxed.

Charley smiled. “And thanks for the phone,” she added.

Vinnie gave a nod. “Sleep tight, Charley girl,” he called as he walked off.

Charley closed the door and sighed, running over the last few minutes in her head. She felt odd. Maybe it was the heat getting to her, or just the change of scenery, but things seemed somehow… different. HE seemed different. SHE felt… different. She shook it off and set about putting her clothes away, it actually was late.

Vinnie had also been running through things in his mind. This place was doing Charley the world of good. She seemed relaxed and happy, and… different. Different with him. He wondered if it was just wishful thinking, but now… he was more sure, things were changing.

 

Chapter 5

 

Charley was finishing her morning swim when a dull thumping sound drifted across the waves, from the direction of the main central area. The mice were up early. She showered and put on her bikini under another wrap dress, this time brown and turquoise, patterned with leaves. She clipped up her hair, put on yesterday’s sandals and grabbed a small brown shoulder bag to house her phone and sun block. She followed the thudding sound that soon became loud music, and a smell of bacon that made her mouth water. She came across the mice who had filled a table with plates of bacon, eggs, sausages, and hash browns.

Throttle looked up from where he was placing bottles of sauce. “Hey, just in time Charley.”

Modo greeted her, placing some plates and bowls down. “Come and help yourself Charley, we’ve got everything here!”

Charley laughed, “You sure have!”

“Including pancakes!” Vinnie announced, putting a pile down.

Charley stared in awe at the vast spread in front of her. “You guys have been busy! I take it you’re hungry…”

“Always,” Vinnie grinned, grabbing some food.

Modo turned down the music whilst they talked at the table. “Now this is what I call breakfast.”

Throttle piled his plate up. “Most important meal of the day!”

Charley poured herself some coffee. “This is great guys! Although I think I’ll stick to the one portion!”

They tucked into the appetizing feast as the sun rose, and the temperature with it. One thing was for sure, the mice could really put it away! Once they were stuffed to the brim, and things cleared away, they relaxed on the loungers whilst breakfast got down. Vinnie preferred his inflatable pineapple. Today however, was not just a day for relaxing and laying around. They had plans.

Before long, the four headed down to the beach. Vinnie carried inflatables, Charley a ball and some phone speakers, Modo and Throttle bags of food and drink.

The long beach was immaculate. Clean white sand stretched round, with the odd palm tree standing tall along the back, separating the central area. The almost still water was clear at the shoreline, turning a turquoise as it went further out. Below the palms were sofas arranged in a U shape, looking out to sea, with a large metal fire pit in the middle. A barbecue and dining tables stood nearby, ready with a mini fridge to one side. A hammock hung between two palms, and some giant sized games were also stacked to one side. Vinnie threw down the inflatables whilst Charley hooked the speakers up to Throttle’s phone. Throttle and Modo put the bags in the shade and the meat in the mini fridge.

“Now this a beach party,” Throttle chuckled, laying on a sofa and choosing music from his phone, which blared out through the speakers.

Modo tossed him a can of Root beer. “You said it, this is the life!” He agreed, opening his can and laying back on his own sofa.

Vinnie was already wedged in his inflatable donut, moving slowly on the warm water. Charley brought him over a can and passed it to him before carefully getting onto the lilo. The sun beat down on the party. Throttle and Modo broke out the giant games. They embarked on a tense battle of Connect four. This enticed Vinnie and Charley over, and soon they were taking turns. After Throttle and Vinnie’s defeat, they retreated to the water, leaving Charley and Modo to Jenga.

They were soon all floating on an inflatable of some sort, laughing and talking with no cares in the world. When it got too hot, they floated around in the water, occasionally swimming. The striped fish were a novelty, even though fish were not their favourite thing. Charley enjoyed watching them dart around below the surface.

She stayed in the water when the others went back to land-based relaxing. Modo decided to get creative and set about constructing a sand bike, whilst Vinnie changed the music on Throttle’s phone, who got out more drinks.

It was approaching midday when Charley’s relaxing dip was disturbed by the mice hauling their bikes into the water.

“And that’s my cue to get out!” Charley announced. She walked onto the sand.

“Hey Charley, throw us the ball, would ya?” Throttle called.

Charley tossed the ball in their direction. “I was gonna start lunch guys,” she called back, “are you hungry yet?” The mice all made positive sounds. “Ask a silly question,” she muttered to herself.

Putting on an apron, she lit the barbecue and got out the food. Plenty of burgers, sausages and chicken.

The mice rode round on their adapted aquatic bikes, hitting the ball to each other. Modo over- enthusiastically hit the ball, causing it to land near the barbecue.

Charley looked from the ball to the mice. “Hey, be careful!” she shouted, “your ball nearly got barbecued!”

“Sorry, Charley ma’am!” Modo called, as she threw it back. The smell of cooking meat wafted over the beach.

Vinnie sniffed at the tempting aroma, “My stomach’s telling me it’s lunchtime!”

“Yeah, I’m ready for that!” Throttle agreed.

Modo sniffed the air and smiled. “Oh Mama, there’s nothing like a good barbecue!”

They stopped their game and drove their bikes back onto the beach. Charley saw them approaching.

“Hey, meat won’t be long,” she called.

Vinnie held his stomach in anticipation. “This is gonna be sweet.”

“Talking of sweet, pass the sweetcorn would ya?” Charley asked. Vinnie tossed them to her. Throttle and Modo got the bread and other food out of the bags ready and Vinnie got out more drinks. The table was soon set with everything needed for the ultimate barbecue lunch. They were soon tucking in to hot dogs, burgers, barbecued chicken and the rest. They couldn’t deny they were having the best time.

Thottle took a chunk out of his burger, “You’ve really surpassed yourself Charley!”

“Yeah, this is what I call lunch!” Vinnie laughed, with a mouthful of chicken.

“Is this great or what?” Modo smiled, gulping down some Root beer in between mouthfuls.

Charley smiled, “And it’s all on Limburger, makes it even better!”

The mice agreed with loud laughs and cheering. They continued tucking in enthusiastically. Moments of silence fell as they savored the flavours.

Charley broke the peace. “You know, I went on a date once with a guy who ate seven burgers?” She pulled a face of distaste.

Throttle gave a short laugh. “Have to admit that’s pretty impressive.”

“Yeah, even by our standards!” Modo smiled.

Charley shook her head dismissively, “Trust me, it wasn’t impressive. Like most of my dates!” She said with resignation.

Vinnie eyed her, considering her words. “Maybe you’re looking in the wrong places,” he suggested earnestly.

Charley looked at him, their eyes fixed for a second. “Maybe.” She looked away. “I think dates and I are just jinxed.”

Throttle and Modo offered words of encouragement and reassurance, which made Charley smile. Vinnie watched and listened, and her eyes met his briefly again, before the subject moved on.

After most of the food had been devoured, they slouched on the sofas, Vinnie in the hammock.

“Man, I am full with a capital F,” he groaned.

“Ditto,” Throttle agreed.

“We did eat A LOT,” Charley puffed, feeling a tad over-full.

“Aww it was worth it though,” Modo added lazily.

They stayed in their post-lunch positions for a good while, talking and snoozing. When they finally felt they could move once again, Vinnie made a suggestion.

“Hey, who’s up for the water chutes?” he remembered the picture he had seen.

Throttle turned to him, “I saw that, there’s a few over that way,” he motioned in the direction.

“We do need to get up at some point,” Modo concluded.

Charley followed them to their bikes. “I’m not convinced it’s a good idea, but what the hell,” she submitted. They followed Throttle, who remembered the way from his previous exploring. They came to a large pool with a few chutes of various lengths, some covered, some open.

Vinnie pointed to the highest open one. “There it is,” he announced in awe. He wasted no time in bumping up the steps at speed. He stopped his bike at the top.

Charley looked uncertain. “I still don’t think this is a good idea.”

Modo chuckled. “Feel free to talk him down, Charley.”

“Good luck with that,” Throttle added.

Charley shrugged, defeated. Vinnie grinned at the chute below him, he revved his bike and started the fast decent. Water filed out viciously either side as he approached the bottom, zipping over the pool. He braked hard, turning heavily to one side, and falling off into the water as his bike crashed into the pool side. Charley looked on in amusement. Vinnie stood up, shaking himself off.

“They need to lengthen the pool,” he moaned.

“Yeah, I don’t think they intended bikes to go down it,” Throttle replied dryly.

“Oh well, no one to stop us now!” Modo smiled, as they headed off for more chutes. Charley shook her head. She was keeping well out of the way of that. She’d noticed the lazy river that circled the pool, and placed herself on a ring to start her more gentle activity. She could hear the commotion as she floated along, happy to be taking things a lot easier. When the noise died down, she got out and went to meet them.

“Are you done now?” she asked with muted interest.

“Yeah, you sure you don’t wanna try?” Throttle asked, knowing the answer.

Charley scoffed, “You’re OK! I think I’m gonna go grab some wine and get in the hot tub.”

“We’re gonna go find the ball court, burn off some lunch!” Modo interjected.

As appealing as Charley’s idea did sound, Vinnie figured he really should get some exercise. He dropped Charley off on the way to the court.

“Don’t stay in there too long Sweetheart, you might shrivel up like a prune,” Vinnie snickered.

Charley gave him a look. “Don’t hurry back, I’ll be enjoying the peace!”

As they roared off towards the courts, Charley went to the main bar and found herself a glass and a bottle of wine. The large round hot tub sat next to the main pool, bubbling enticingly. She sat herself in a submerged seat, took a sip of her wine and relaxed. “Now this is good,” she muttered to herself, looking out to sea through the palm trees and closing her eyes. There wasn’t any comparison between this and basket ball. Charley had almost fallen asleep at times, especially with the added wine, but was awake when she heard the mice returning.

She turned and rested her elbows over the side. “Hey guys.”

“Sweetheart, are you still in there!” Vinnie laughed.

“Yep. Simmering nicely,” Charley smiled contently.

Vinnie smirked but his words were cut short when Throttle thrust a can of Root beer into his hand. The mice settled onto the loungers with their beverages.

“Hey Modo was thinking of taking that nice looking boat out for a sunset fishing trip,” Throttle gestured in the direction of a small, smart and obviously expensive yacht, tied to a mooring. “Anyone fancy it? We can take lunch leftovers.”

“It’s got all the mod cons, all the fishing gear, I checked it over yesterday,” Modo added enthusiastically.

Vinnie wrinkled his nose. “I already told ya, fishing is not my idea of sport! Just sitting there waitin’…”

“Your loss,” Modo shrugged.

Charley had to agree with Vinnie. “Yeah, sorry guys but it’s not my thing either.”

“Just me and you then, big fella,” Throttle slapped Modo on the shoulder.

“You don’t know what you’re missin’,” Modo sighed happily, thinking of the many hours he’d spent fishing in his life, both on Mars and Earth. “It’s not often you get to fish in such luxury.”

“Well whatever floats your boat,” Vinnie stated.

“Talking of which, we should start loading up,” Throttle suggested, getting up.

“There’s plenty of food left over,” Charley told them.

“You wanna take some too?” Modo asked her and Vinnie. Charley was about to speak when Vinnie interrupted.

“Nah you take it, I’M gonna make us dinner!” He gestured proudly to himself. Charley feigned enthusiasm and turned to Throttle and Modo, who saw the horror behind her expression. They chuckled quietly.

“You sure you don’t wanna come?” Throttle smiled down at her.

“Hey, I can cook!” Vinnie demanded. The others didn’t look so sure.

“Well, as sad as we are to be missing that…” Modo started insincerely, “we’d better get goin!”

“Have fun guys,” Charley told them, wondering if maybe she should’ve gone. They watched them walk off towards the beach.

Vinnie folded his arms. “Most of the stuff is prepped, how hard can it be?” he muttered.

Charley smiled and looked up at him, “I’m sure it’ll be fine, just… stick to that!”

Vinnie couldn’t really argue, he wasn’t the best cook and he didn’t need the hassle.

Charley looked at him suspiciously. “What’s brought this on anyway?”

Vinnie looked at her, then averted her eyes. He shrugged, looking a tad awkward. “Well… you know, you did the barbecue and…” he shuffled on his lounger. “I just thought I’d do somethin’ nice for you, seeing as you don’t get… nice stuff done for you much…and don’t get to go on, you know, nice dates, and stuff.”

He didn’t have a way with words, but Charley smiled at the gesture. He could be very considerate when he wanted to be. “That’s very sweet of you Vinnie,” she was slightly amused as well as flattered.

“Don’t go telling people about that,” he smiled.

She grinned at that. “So do I get a choice of food or is it a surprise?”

Vinnie shrugged. “It depends what there is, so it’ll have to be a surprise, for both of us!”

Charley laughed. “OK.” She looked at him again, then looked down, smiling to herself. She hesitated before she spoke. “So it’ll kinda be like a… date-but a fake one?” She added quickly, embarrassed by herself.

Vinnie had deliberately avoided saying that to save awkwardness, which was now unavoidable. “Well… if you wanna call it that,” he offered, seemingly unfazed.

Charley shrugged it off. “I’m just saying… it sounds like that kinda thing.”

Vinnie grinned. “If you’re desperate to call it that, it’s all good with me.”

Charley laughed, slightly flustered. “No! You just said… cause I don’t get to go on nice dates!”

Vinnie raised his eyebrows. “Well, you did say that! So I’m just… doing a nice… whatever you wanna call it.”

Charley smiled, nodding. “OK, thanks. It’s very nice of you,” she replied, amused.

Vinnie nodded, hiding his embarrassment. “Well… I’m gonna go get a shower then see what food I can find!” He got up.

Charley nodded, “OK, me too. You want some help?”

Vinnie smirked to himself, “With what bit?”

Charley rolled her eyes and tried not to laugh, “The food!”

Vinnie laughed, “You’re no fun. Don’t worry, I’ve got this! Don’t rush yourself, babe.”

Charley conceded, “OooK, thanks!” She watched him go as she finished the last of the wine in her glass. Most of the bottle had gone, but then she had been in there a while! She got out of the hot tub, put on her dress and headed for her own room. She couldn’t help smiling to herself at Vinnie’s actions. It really was cute of him to do this… fake date, or whatever it was. She showered and looked at the selection of clothes she’d acquired in her closet, screwing up her mouth. The question was, was she meant to dress up? Then again, did it actually matter, considering it wasn’t a date… he probably wouldn’t… but then he was going to the trouble, so she should make an effort… but then, would she embarrass herself? She suddenly realised she was getting anxious, which was ridiculous. It was only having food with Vinnie, it wasn’t a date! She shook off the feeling and looked at her clothes. She held a top up to herself in the mirror, and noticed she’d tanned pretty damn quick. She had to admit she felt pretty pleased, she never got much of a chance to. Her skin was close to being bronzed, she definitely looked better for it, she decided. The momentary extra confidence gave her an idea, and she hunted through the collection until she found the maroon dress that Vinnie liked so much. She held it up and smiled.

Vinnie had showered and thrown on some blue jeans and a black vest top. He figured he’d better go looking half decent, especially now Charley had called it a fake date. Great, he’d only set out to cook them some food and do a nice deed for her, and now it’d become… this. He shouldn’t be bothered, it was essentially the same thing, nothing had changed, yet he felt under more pressure somehow. He made his way to the kitchens, and started going through the options. They had really spoiled themselves over the last few days, so nothing was going to seem majorly impressive. He figured there must be things they’d not tried yet. He looked in a yet to be discovered refrigerator. Half way down he found some stacked trays and small boxes. He looked inside some of them and smiled. “Chinese,” he muttered. He knew Charley liked it, they sometimes had take out back home, and they hadn’t had any Chinese over the last few days. He set about getting the bits out. “Chinese it is!” he said to himself with satisfaction.

Charley looked at the dress in the mirror. She had to admit she did look nice. She pulled her hair out of its clip, it fell down in waves having been up all day. She kinda liked it, so gave it a quick spray and left it. She searched the vast tray of earrings, ranging from subtle to very unsubtle. She wasn’t one for big jewellery statements, but chose some gold hoops which although weren’t large in general terms, were bigger than she’d normally wear. She looked at the make up, but figured that was one step too far, considering she really didn’t wear it, and luckily for her, didn’t really need to. She was what people would call naturally beautiful. She did put on some lip balm, and perfume, but stopped there. She had planned to put her sandals back on, but seeing all the shoes lined up, she had a re-think. This was essentially a sweet shop for women, why not try something different. She rarely wore heels, and rarely had a need to. She spent most of her life in boots, but there was the odd occasion when she did, and now, she decided, was one of those. She didn’t want anything too high, but a medium heel was fine, and found some brown coloured sandals which did the job. She looked in the mirror, pleased. Besides, it was just making the most of what was there to be taken advantage of. She grabbed the bag she’d had earlier and headed out the door.

Vinnie had everything heating up nicely, and had even found some prawn crackers and sauces. He was pretty pleased with himself, which was nothing unusual. The sun was lowering and the shadows growing, but the temperature was still relatively hot. Vinnie heard the tapping of heels on wood and looked up. Suddenly the temperature seemed to rise drastically. Charley felt self conscious when his eyes were on her, and smiled slightly awkwardly.

Vinnie grinned, “Heeey,” he drew the word out teasingly, “my favourite dress!” He managed to keep his outer cool, inside he felt like he’d been punched.

Charley smiled wider, feeling embarrassed. She avoided his stare. “Yeah well, seemed the least I could do,” she muttered, almost squirming where she stood.

Vinnie loved danger, gun fights, fist fights, anything that came his way really, but this was difficult. He wondered what he was doing, and for the first time in a very long time, he felt slightly nervous.

 

Chapter 6

 

Charley spoke, the delicious smell distracting her. “That smells really good! What is it?”

Vinnie grinned even more, he chuckled. “Babe you are gonna like this!” he promised, shaking off the feeling.

Charley raised her eyebrows and smiled in anticipation. “Considering how much I ate for lunch I’m actually pretty hungry!”

“Good!” Vinnie exclaimed. “Sit down, I’ll go get it!”

Charley giggled uncharacteristically, amused and a tad excited. She sat at the table, which was laid ready. She felt a little silly, and that anxious feeling returned as she waited. Before long, Vinnie appeared with a large tray of food which he put it down on the table. The food was in bowls and smelt wonderful.

Charley grinned and looked at him. “Chinese… hey there’s something we’ve not had in a while!”

Vinnie nodded in agreement, “Yeah and there’s loads of good stuff!”

Charley inspected the contents. “I gotta admit, you did good!”

Vinnie was definitely pleased with himself now. He went back to get the rest, a few more bowls of food and bits. “Hey what d’ya want to drink?” he called from inside, “I found loads of bottles, bet it’s dead expensive too!”

Charley laughed, “I’ve already had more than I’m used to today, just grab me a fruit juice will ya?… but keep those bottles!” She added.

Vinnie bought her out a juice and a can for himself and sat down at the table. “You know I would’ve tried to make something, but the last time I did that you threw up in a bucket, so…” he trailed off.

Charley clenched her teeth, “Yeah I think you did the right thing here…” she agreed, remembering the incident. They set about starting their meal.

“No chopsticks?” Charley teased, laughing.

Vinnie shook his head. “No, but I was getting better at that…”

Charley laughed, unsure. The food tasted as good as it smelled. “This is so good,” she said between mouthfuls. Vinnie agreed, tucking in.

“I wonder if the others have caught any fish yet,” Charley laughed.

Vinnie shook his head dismissively, “I know where I’d rather be!” He looked her over as she helped herself to food. Charley glanced at him and they both looked elsewhere. They continued to eat, talk and laugh, devouring the food. Both felt more relaxed by the time they were nicely full, as they finished the last of the Chinese feast.

“That was lovely, thanks,” Charley gushed. “I can’t believe how much I’ve eaten today!”

Vinnie laughed. “Yeah we might have to visit the gym tomorrow.” Charley made a noise in agreement. Vinnie looked at her, smiled and chuckled to himself.

Charley noticed. “What?” she was suspicious.

“How full are you?” he asked with a glint in his eye.

Charley looked at him, noticing the glint. “Pretty full...why?” She knew this was going somewhere.

Vinnie grinned. “OK. Think of the most sweetest, delicious thing you can,” he teased. Charley narrowed her eyes at him, amused.

“Not including me.” He added.

She giggled, rolling her eyes. “You mean, as in, food?”

“Yep,” he confirmed.

Charley thought, as Vinnie sat looking pleased with himself. He knew what her favourite cake was, and he was stoked to have found one to defrost.

Charley gave him a look “… strawberry shortcake?” she asked with hesitation.

Vinnie gave an excited look. “You got it!” he cried.

Charley grinned. “You found one here?” she laughed in astonishment.

Vinnie nodded, running to fetch it. He quickly returned with the averaged sized cake. “With chocolate sauce!” he announced, setting it down.

Charley gasped at the cake. It was white, with shortbread round the bottom, and the top was covered in thin chocolate with strawberries on top. It looked of a very high quality.

“My favourite!” she gushed, clasping her hands together in glee.

“Suddenly found more room?” Vinnie laughed.

“Hell yeah!” Charley laughed. Vinnie gave her a knife and she cut herself a slice. They tucked in.

“This is good,” Vinnie said approvingly.

Charley gave a pleasing noise as she savored every mouthful. “Vinnie, this is stunning!”

Vinnie smiled, again pleased with himself. “Stunning cake for a stunning lady,” he replied pragmatically.

Charley glanced at him, embarrassed. “Stop,” she smiled dismissively.

“It’s true,” Vinnie shrugged.

Charley could feel her face burning a tad. “I bet you used to use that line on all the girls.” She smiled, trying to shake it off.

Vinnie raised his eyebrows. “No! It’s not a line!” He defended, “and there weren’t that many girls, you know!”

Charley laughed. “Hmm,” she mocked, unconvinced.

Vinnie held up his hands in defense, “I didn’t go out with that many girls!” he sounded genuine and a tad flustered. “But I’m only lettin’ you know that,” he added with a smile.

Charley smiled widely at him, amused. “How many?” she asked with amused suspicion.

Vinnie looked at her, swallowing his mouthful. He blinked. “What?” he asked, taken by surprise.

Charley raised her eyebrows, expecting an answer.

Vinnie shifted a little. “A few!” he shrugged.

Charley laughed at his evasiveness. “Well I hope your dates were better than mine!” she pointed her spoon at him.

Vinnie smiled at her. “Some,” he admitted.

“Any you fell in love with?” Charley asked, knowing it was probing but wanting to know at the same time. Her stomach spasmed, but she ignored it.

Vinnie looked at her, then thought for a second. “I guess maybe I thought I was at times, back then. We were all just kids, to be honest I’m not sure I even knew what love was,” he shrugged with a small, short laugh.

Charley looked at him sympathetically. “Well you’re older and wiser now,” she smiled.

Vinnie’s eyes pierced hers. “Yeah,” he replied with certainty. Charley looked at him for a second, feeling awkward, her stomach doing its thing again.

Vinnie lightened the mood, “And less of the older, I still have my youthful looks,” he told her.

Charley smiled, “Easy to say when your skin’s covered in fur!”

Vinnie snorted. “That has nothing to do with it.”

Charley laughed. It faded and she went quiet for a second. “When Jack and I broke up, I couldn’t think about guys after that,” she admitted. “I just threw myself into work. There was so much to do, to sort out, it kept me busy. I’ve not really stopped since, and now you guys keep me even busier!” she laughed quietly. “Like I said, any dates I do have always go badly,” she shrugged.

Vinnie frowned a little. “Were they all really that bad?” he asked skeptically.

Charley looked at him and sighed. “To be fair, some were perfectly OK. Maybe I’m too picky. There just wasn’t that…” she looked for the word, “spark,” she looked at him again, and again she felt odd. He nodded. He got it.

“So what did you do on your dates? I mean… in general, what do you humans do?” Vinnie asked, intrigued.

Charley smiled at him, amused again. “Probably the same thing Martian mice do!” she laughed. “Generally… ask questions about each other and get to know each other,” she shrugged.

Vinnie nodded. “What happens if you already know them?” he pushed.

Charley thought, “Then…you just talk?” she offered.

Vinnie nodded more. “What do you do after you eat?” he motioned to the empty plates.

Charley thought again for a second. “Maybe… go to a bar? Have some cocktails?” she suggested.

Vinnie smiled. “Like James Bond?” He’d seen Modo’s movies that he loved so much.

Charley laughed, “Yeah, like that. Have you ever had a cocktail?”

Vinnie snorted sarcastically. “Sure. We used to make them on Mars all the time. It was part sand, part recycled water, little blood…”

Charley nodded along sarcastically “OK, right…” she mumbled.

“We called it a Marstini, shaken and shot at…” he continued mockingly.

Charley pulled a face. “Very funny,” she remarked dryly, “Here I’ll show you.”

She got up and beckoned him over to the pool bar, where she grabbed two glasses and a few bottles. Vinnie watched her walk over, admiring her tanned legs but being mindful not to stare.

“Here,” she pushed a glass towards him and opened a bottle of tequila. She grabbed a shaker and poured some into it. “This is like, the world’s most famous one,” she told him. He watched as she poured in some orange liqueur and some bottled lime juice. “It’s called a Margarita,” she continued.

“OK…” Vinnie replied, unconvinced.

She poured some ice into the shaker then shut it tight. She held it out. “Now shake this for about ten seconds,” she told him.

He took the shaker with his tail and started shaking it. “Seems a lot of hard work for a drink,” he muttered.

Charley laughed. “You have to mix it up!” She rummaged under the bar and pulled out a small pot. “Now, you have to put salt on the glass,” she quickly ran an ice cube round the top of the glasses and sprinkled salt on from the pot.

Vinnie pulled a face of bewilderment. “That’s weird,” he stated, confused. He passed her the shaker.

Charley poured the contents into the two glasses. “Generally you put a bit of lime on the side but I can’t see any limes.”

Vinnie looked dubiously at the drink. “It looks a bit…. girly.”

Charley laughed. “It won’t be a taste you’re used to,” she warned him.

Vinnie picked the glass up warily, looking at the contents. “I dunno what’s wrong with a good old bottle or can.”

Charley took a sip of her Margarita. She seemed pleased with it. She nodded for him to do the same. Vinnie looked at her unenthusiastically. He looked at the drink and quickly took a gulp. Immediately he screwed up his face and spat back out what he could. “That is NASTY!” he cried in repulsion.

Charley laughed hard. “Guess they’re not your thing!” She wasn’t going to give up. She grabbed some more glasses and bottles. “Let’s try something else.”

Vinnie held out his hands in protest, “If they all taste similar, I’ll pass!”

Charley laughed and shook her head, “No they all taste real different, I promise!”

Vinnie wasn’t convinced at all. She found different bottles of alcohol, juices and liqueurs and set about making some different types. He watched her, but enjoyed that a lot more than the cocktails. After six more tastes of so called classics, his mind remained unchanged. A couple were just about tolerable, but they were definitely not his thing.

He gulped down a glass of water to get rid of the taste. “I think I’ll stick to Root beer,” he smiled, “besides I can’t have too much, being the ultimate lightweight and all.” They no longer had the means to produce alcohol on Mars, so the mice were quite literally alien to it, and any consumption wasn’t handled well.

Charley seemed to rate her concoctions, but didn’t drink them fully. “Yeah, well I can’t drink too much either considering my bottle of wine earlier.” She laughed.

The sun was starting to set, casting a warm glow over the island.

Vinnie looked out to the horizon, and back to Charley. “So…what happens next, on your Earth dates?” He quizzed.

She looked at him, smiling suspiciously. “Depends on the people,” she narrowed her eyes.

Vinnie nodded, smirking. A silence fell, but Vinnie was quick to break it. “Well, we can clear all this up tomorrow,” he gestured to the bar and table, “Sun’s settin’ and all…”

Charley had barely noticed. She looked to the fiery clouds. “Oh, yeah, time to go I guess.”

They started to head back to the huts, Charley’s shoes clicking on the wooden walkway. The only other noise were the birds, settling into the trees. The little lights started to automatically come on along the sides of the walkway, and in the bushes and trees.

“Thanks for doing that, Vinnie” Charley smiled, glancing at him.

Vinnie turned to her and smiled. “No problem.” There were a few seconds of silence before he continued. “So go on, rate me, do I score a ten?” he probed.

Charley laughed, a little embarrassed, pushing some hair from her face. “Yeah, for sure,” she replied genuinely. She generally didn’t like to feed his ego, but this time he deserved it.

Vinnie smiled to himself, tucking his hands into his front jeans pockets. “Get that, I scored better than your real dates, and I’m an alien!” he chuckled.

Charley smiled. “Well most of my real human dates don’t make it this far! To be honest I’m not convinced some of them were from this planet…” she pondered.

“Guess most just can’t make the grade,” Vinnie stated with confidence.

Charley scoffed, “Some just get a slap in the face!”

Vinnie laughed loudly, “You don’t mess around!”

Charley eyed him. “What about your dates?” she asked with interest.

Vinnie grinned, not giving anything away, “Could they ever be anything less than impressed?”

Charley laughed, “Well I’d be surprised, if this is anything to go by,” she replied with genuine affection.

Vinnie felt his face heat up. It wasn’t often Charley handed out such big compliments. He laughed awkwardly. “Well they never stayed around so I can’t’ve been doing something right.”

They came to Charley’s door, having walked past Vinnie’s. Charley looked up at him and smiled sympathetically, placing a hand on his forearm. “Well, I haven’t got any complaints,” she told him with certainty. She hesitated before continuing. “In fact, I’d say this is the best date I’ve ever been on, and it’s not even real!” she laughed, covering her awkwardness.

Vinnie smiled, raising his eyebrows. “Seriously? But then again, you don’t get views like this in Chicago!” the words tumbled out as he struggled to find something to say.

Charley subtly shook her head and looked away. “It’s not just about that. It’s the company too. I like this Vinnie,” she admitted with embarrassment.

Vinnie wanted to grin, but his nerves wouldn’t let him. Instead he smiled awkwardly, and again the words seemed hard to find. His mouth opened to speak but there was nothing there. He wanted to look away but he was drawn into the green eyes that looked back at him. His eyes roamed over her face as they stood there in silence. The moments passed and grew increasingly awkward. Both started to subconsciously fidget. Vinnie gave out first, opening his mouth to at last say something, his body language suggesting he was back to his old self. “Well, I’m glad you had a good time, babe,” he mustered cheerfully. Charley looked at him but didn’t speak, her smile muted, her mind obviously distracted. Vinnie noticed, and was hesitant to ask but felt he should. “You OK?”

Charley’s eyes snapped up at his, “Yeah, fine,” she answered a little too quickly, “It was really nice.”

Vinnie studied her, and nodded. “OK. Well…” he stepped back.

Charley decided, in that moment, that she didn’t want to let it pass. “Vinnie wait,” she blurted out, obviously flustered. He stopped, confusion on his face. Charley stepped up to him, holding his upper arms, and kissed him very quickly and lightly on the lips, before he had much time realise what was happening. Vinnie stayed silent, looking at her, taken aback, his stomach feeling like something was rolling around in there.

Charley let go, looked at him slightly apologetically and smiled. “Well, that’s what you do, right, if you’ve had a good date-even a fake one?” she laughed nervously.

Vinnie smiled, looking down and back at her. “Guess I really am a ten then!” he laughed, trying to shake off his embarrassment.

Charley laughed and shook her head “Don’t start calling yourself that!” she warned him.

Vinnie felt his confidence returning as he processed what had just happened. “Does that mean I’d get a second date?” he asked boldly.

Charley thought for a second. “Yeah, you would,” she agreed matter of factly.

Vinnie smiled wider. “I’ve definitely scored a home run in the human dating scene-fake or not!”

Charley chuckled. “So you’ve never kissed a human?” she prodded.

Vinnie shrugged, “Only just then!”

Charley nodded, her mind wandering. “Well, that’s a new species for both of us then. History made right there. Feels like a big deal when you put it like that.” She mulled that thought over.

Vinnie nodded in agreement. “And no one’s ever gonna know,” he smiled. There was a moment’s pause once again as they exchanged glances. Vinnie raised his eyebrows, “Well, sweet dreams Sweetheart,” he announced cheerfully, turning to head back to his door, “Try not to dream about m-” Suddenly his left forearm was pulled back forcefully, causing him to turn and shift his weight, almost loosing balance. His face conveyed confusion and shock as Charley roughly pulled him towards her, grabbing his shoulder with the other hand and kissing him more intently. Her mouth pressed firmly against his, slightly open. Vinnie stood there, stunned for a second. His hands reached out at nothing in particular, but then they found her forearms and he held them as he cautiously kissed her back. Her hand remained on his shoulder whilst the other reached up and cupped his face. It only lasted a few seconds, but the action had been years in the making. Charley suddenly broke away, looking flustered and embarrassed. “Oh my god… sorry-I don’t know why I did that….” She stuttered, putting a hand to her head, her eyes darting around.

Vinnie could see how embarrassed she was, and although he was too, along with a feeling of shocked jubilation, he tried to lighten the mood. “Well, that beats a slap in the face,” he stated.

Charley didn’t look any less mortified. “Can we just, er, blame that on the alcohol?” She muttered nervously.

Vinnie gave her a little smile, “Sure.”

“Probably had more than I thought,” She added, clasping her red face with both hands.

Vinnie knew she wasn’t drunk, but nodded anyway, agreeing. “Yeah, me too… maybe.” Charley looked down, trying to gather her thoughts, but Vinnie raised her chin with his hand and held her face affectionately. “But you don’t have to be sorry… I’m not,” he told her honestly.

She smiled awkwardly at him and nodded, conceding. “I’d better go get some sleep,” she uttered, motioning to her door.

Vinnie nodded, “Yeah,” he said softly. Charley smiled at him again and went inside. Vinnie let out a breath, trying to figure out what had just happened. He walked to his door, his mind racing. He held a hand to his forehead as he opened it. He shut it behind him, leaning on it, before sitting on the edge of his bed. He slid both hands down his face and groaned, then tilted his head back, thinking. This changed things.

Charley shut her door and covered her mouth and nose with both hands in disbelief at what had just happened. What was she thinking?! Why had she done it? What did he think? She was obviously not that drunk, he could see that. Her mind was a jumbled mess of thoughts and questions, her emotions running wild. Her heart pounded as she sat on the edge of her bed. Yet in all the confusion, one thing was abundantly clear to her. She’d found the spark that she’d been missing.

 

Chapter 7

 

Neither Vinnie nor Charley had slept well that night. The moments playing over and over, and the uncertainty of what was to come because of it. Charley had woken earlier than usual, going for her morning swim to take her mind off things and release some of those much needed endorphins. Vinnie had also woken early. After a shower, he walked to the kitchens and grabbed some croissants, cereal and fruit, taking them back to his room, assuming Modo and Throttle were sleeping in after their late fishing trip. He sat at his table on his decking in the early morning sun. Looking out to the turquoise sea, he noticed movement to his left, and saw Charley swimming in the distance. Surprised to see her up at that time, he watched as she got nearer until he could make out her face. He stood up and walked over to the edge of his balcony. Might as well get it over with. He shouted her name. Her head snapped up in shock, not expecting him to be up and certainly not standing there. She groaned to herself. She had to face him at some point, but she hadn’t planned for it to be then. She swam closer until she could stand. Vinnie smiled cautiously, Charley did the same. “Hey,” she softly greeted.

“Hey,” Vinnie mirrored. Breaking the tension, he motioned behind him. “You want some breakfast? I grabbed some bits…”

Charley felt awkward, but figured she would make it worse if she declined. “Er… sure, thanks,” she replied, trying to sound normal and chirpy. She hesitated. “I’ll just… go get ready and be over in a bit?” She partially turned her body towards her hut.

“No problem,” Vinnie replied, trying to appear laid back. Charley made her way back up to her hut, her chest beating. At least that had broken the ice, she supposed. But she’d much rather talk to him showered and fully clothed. She got ready quickly, tying up her wet hair and throwing on a red playsuit with a small floral pattern. She picked up her sandals, but decided to go back to his deck via the water. It seemed somehow less formal. She waded through the clear, knee deep water. She stopped beside the decking, taking a breath, before walking up the steps. Vinnie was immersed on his phone and didn’t see her ascending to his decked area until she was fully in view. His head snapped up in surprise as he jumped. He let out a heavy breath. “Sweetheart, don’t creep up on me like that!” He sighed, composing himself again.

Charley tried not to laugh. “Sorry,” she said, biting her lip, “I just thought I’d come the back way.”

She looked at him momentarily, her smile fading, before sitting at the table.

Vinnie watched her. “Knock yourself out, babe,” he gestured to the food.

Charley smiled. “Thanks.” She took a croissant, but in all honestly didn’t feel that hungry. She glanced at him again, feeling edgy. Vinnie could sense it. She picked small chunks off of her croissant and reluctantly chewed them. She wanted to say something but she didn’t know how to start.

Vinnie didn’t like the tension one bit. He looked at her and raised his eyebrows. “You want some coffee?” he asked cautiously.

Charley looked from him to the coffee pot. “Oh… no, thanks,” she shook her head slightly and gave a small smile.

Vinnie shrugged and smiled to himself. “Figured maybe you’d need some after your hangover.” His tone slightly teasing.

Charley looked at him, not knowing whether to laugh or not. She diverted her eyes. She sighed, closing them before facing the moment. “Look, that was really stupid of me, I don’t know what I was thinking…” she started, flustered and embarrassed.

Vinnie had gotten over it, and was clearly less so. “I guess it’s just one of those things, right? We can just, pretend it never happened?” he offered. Charley wasn’t convinced he believed that, and neither did she. But it seemed the best choice.

“I guess so,” she conceded, looking down and sighing. She rubbed a hand over her forehead.

Vinnie looked at her, it was obvious she was weighed down with her thoughts. “Sweetheart, you don’t seem OK,” he stated with slight concern.

Charley looked at him, her elbow propped up on the table, still holding her forehead. “I’m just overthinking I guess. I dunno, things seem hazy at the moment.”

Vinnie nodded. “You gonna tell me what’s up?”

“It’s just, this place has given me time to think… about the future, what’s gonna happen, what I’m gonna do, how I’m gonna manage,” she reeled off.

Vinnie frowned at her sudden worries. “Babe you’re still young, you’ve got your whole life to figure it out. You’re free to do what you want,” he chuckled quietly, somewhat confused. He thought. “Once we go,” he added more seriously.

Charley looked at him, taking a deeper breath at his last words. “I know, I guess I try not to think about that. I like things the way they are.” She smiled sadly.

Vinnie smiled sympathetically, “You know things are gonna change one day, Sweetheart, we’ll have to make that journey home in the end, back to our roots, where we were meant to be.” He tried to sound matter of fact, but there was a tinge of sadness to his voice. He looked at her, giving a small shrug. “May be best to have a plan waitin’. You have to figure out what’s gonna make you happy.”

Charley smiled, it wasn’t often he spoke seriously, and even less as a source of reason and clarity. But he was right. She sighed, thinking. “I guess I live in denial.” She exhaled sharply.

Vinnie looked down before meeting her eyes. “Denial only holds up for so long.” His eyes gradually drifted away, but returned when she didn’t reply. “You OK?” he asked with concern.

Charley nodded, looking upwards and around. “Yeah just thinking about stuff...… my roots I guess. They’ve always been Chicago…the garage…but its almost like they’ve held me captive, you know? I’ve never tried to break free of them,” she contemplated.

Vinnie nodded, he had to agree. “Never too late. There’s more to life than running a garage,” he told her honestly.

Charley looked at him, her emotions torn. “The garage is my dad’s, it links us, I can’t turn my back on it. I owe him that,” she replied. Clearly it upset her.

Vinnie didn’t like these situations, nor was he good at them, but this was Charley, and she needed his support right now. He reached out and held her forearm. “No one’s saying you have to turn your back on it. But would he want you to waste your life there, when you’re obviously way too smart to fix bikes your whole life?” he asked her bluntly.

Charley looked at him, nodding. “I know you’re right. Doing it just isn’t so easy.” She smiled, running her hand over her forehead again. She paused, and glanced at him. “You know, Jack offered me a job a while back, at the company he set up? He wanted me to go to LA and help him run his projects.” She hadn’t intended on telling the mice, but it seemed right at that moment.

Vinnie was a tad taken aback. “What? You kept that quiet.”

Charley felt a little guilty. She shrugged dismissively. “I said no, obviously. But he said it was there if I ever wanted it. And an apartment he rents out… it was a good job, and good money.”

Vinnie knew the fact she never went said a lot. “But you didn’t go… was that the garage or the fact you’d miss me too much?” he smiled, more like his old self.

Charley smiled. “Both. Plus, you guys wouldn’t last without me,” she taunted.

Vinnie laughed sarcastically. “Think you got that twisted.” He picked up an apple and bit into it.

Charley laughed. “You’re probably right. I’m not going anywhere while you guys are here,” she said with certainty.

Vinnie smiled, still chewing his apple. “Good. The egghead can wait, right.?”

“Yeah. I dunno if I’d ever do it, or want to,” she shrugged, then paused, hesitating. “I feel kinda confused about a lot of things right now,” she admitted.

Vinnie eyed her, not sure if he should probe that train of thought. “Yeah?”

Charley gave a slight nod. “Yeah. My head’s not straight about… stuff.” She glanced at him, then added in a lighter tone, “I think I need to de-clutter my mind. Do some meditation or something.”

Vinnie watched her, contemplating whether to say what he was thinking. He swallowed his apple, paused, then opened his mouth, slightly hesitating before he spoke. “Are you confused... about last night?” he asked cautiously and a tad embarrassed.

Charley looked at him, clearly not expecting the question. She felt flustered again, but regained her composure. “Yeah,” she admitted, exhaling heavily. “I dunno what’s going on in my head right now.” She sounded confused and her embarrassment was evident. She searched for words. “I mean… we’re… close, right?” she asked, looking at him almost fearfully.

Vinnie studied her. “Sure,” he replied, being very careful with his replies.

Charley waved a hand dismissively. “I mean… I know we all are, but, Throttle and Modo, they’re like… my brothers,” she explained. She paused and met his eyes. “You… you’re not.” Her voice was serious and slightly shaky. “I don’t… look at you like that.” She swallowed.

Vinnie’s mind was reeling. He didn’t expect that from her. He stared at her, then gave a small smile.

“I’m glad you said that, cause I sure as hell don’t look at you like a sister,” he admitted. She smiled, embarrassed, even though she knew that. There was a moment’s silence. Vinnie looked at her, choosing his words. “So… how do you look at me?” he asked nervously.

Charley met his eyes and looked away almost bashfully, before finally making eye contact again.

“I…I’ve been trying to figure that out,” she said softly. She looked away in thought, then looked down, swallowing before she spoke. “All I know is, that spark I said was missing with all those guys…” she looked to his eyes once again. “I feel it with you.” She was serious, nervous, and as shocked as Vinnie that she was saying this to him.

Vinnie’s mind hadn’t stopped reeling the whole time. He looked at her, taking in her words. He was slightly dumb struck. His mouth formed the words but it took moment to come. “You do?” he managed.

Charley nodded, still majorly embarrassed by her admission, but also relieved it was out there. “Uh huh.” She shifted in her seat. “Do you?” In all honesty she knew the answer, but she wanted to hear it.

Vinnie looked at her with raised eyebrows. “Do you really think I’m gonna say no to that?” he asked sarcastically.

Charley smiled knowingly, and looked down once again with embarrassment. “I just… don’t know what to do,” she admitted, feeling silly.

Vinnie eyed her, pondering. He shifted a tad uncomfortably, biting his lip anxiously at what he was about to suggest. “Well, er…” He started, fidgeting a little, “Would it help make things clearer if we repeated… last night… properly?” he asked, trailing off nervously.

Charley looked at him, this time just as taken aback. She could feel her heart rate accelerating. “Oh, er…” She stuttered, contemplating his suggestion. She looked at him, and the spark burned. “Maybe?”

There was a sudden loud knocking from the door, making them both jump. “Hey Vinnie, you in there?” Throttle called. Vinnie and Charley exchanged glances. Vinnie smiled at her, defeated.

“Yeah,” he called, going to the door. Charley let out a breath as she let her mind settle and tried to relax in her chair.

She turned and smiled at the two mice. “Hey guys,” she called. Throttle and Modo walked out onto the decking.

“So this is where you’ve been hiding out,” Modo chuckled.

“We figured you’d be laying in after your late night,” Charley shrugged. “How was it?”

Modo grinned, taking a croissant from the table. “Oo Charley, you missed some great fishing, caught a couple of big ones, right Throttle?”

Throttle nodded, also grabbing a croissant. “Yep, can’t complain.” He settled onto the lounger, taking a bite. “You two are up early. Vinnie’s dinner that bad, you were desperate for breakfast?” he chuckled. Modo laughed, taking a seat on the other lounger.

Vinnie frowned and folded his arms. “Hey, I did Chinese and it was really good, right Sweetheart?” He looked to Charley, who nodded in agreement.

“It was actually really nice,” she told them with a smirk. “I take it all back!”

Throttle and Modo looked slightly surprised. “Well, miracles do happen,” Throttle laughed, making Modo grin widely. Vinnie shrugged it off with a sarcastic laugh.

“So what’ll it be today Bros? I’m thinking target shootin’ practise,” Modo smiled wickedly.

Throttle laughed, “I like that, but let’s grab some more breakfast on the way.” He got up enthusiastically with Modo right behind.

Vinnie grinned, turning to Charley, who smirked and rolled her eyes in defeat. Vinnie bounced up, holding out his hand, which Charley took, pulling herself to her feet. “Oh this is gonna be fun!” he exclaimed excitedly. Charley looked less enthusiastic. Vinnie smiled at her, “Just a little practise,” he promised.

They made their way to the kitchens, where they heated up some waffles. They found some crates of Rum, and as Charley didn’t like it, chose them as their targets. They carried them down to the beach, eating the waffles en route. Some scattered rocks stood in the sand, quite a way along the beach. The mice set the bottles on them, spreading them out. Vinnie and Throttle grabbed their guns from where they’d stored them on their bikes.

“I should’ve known you’d end up blowing things up,” Charley muttered, laying on one of the nearby sofas. The mice laughed, checking their guns whilst Modo aimed his mechanical arm.

“First dibs,” Modo called, aiming and shooting his gun at one of the far off bottles. It immediately exploded in a small fireball, impressing them. Throttle and Vinnie took shots, causing two more explosions.

Charley winced at the noises. “Talk about disturb the peace,” she groaned, trying to relax in the sun.

Throttle chuckled. “It’s what we do best.”

They made it harder by closing their eyes, which resulted in a few misses. The novelty wore off after a while, however.

After clearing up their mess, they headed over to the court for another game of basket ball. Charley at last had some peace and laid in a hammock by the beach, catching up on some sleep.

Once midday approached, Modo and Throttle volunteered to cook lunch, finding some Lasagnes in the freezer. They opened some Root beers and chatted in the kitchen whilst Charley and Vinnie grabbed some plates and other things needed for the table. Things had been left open and odd between them, but they didn’t make it known and carried on as normal. When Modo and Throttle were around, things did seem normal, and it was easy to carry on and ignore the situation. They all sat down to eat, chatting and laughing as usual. Afterwards, they lounged by the pool, the Root beer still flowing. Throttle and Modo laid on the loungers with a crate between them. Vinnie laid on his pineapple lilo in the pool, and Charley sat at the edge.

“OK, who’s gonna help me clear up the kitchen?” Throttle sighed eventually.

Charley pulled herself up. “I will, I’m gonna come get a drink anyway.”

Throttle stood up, blinking a little, giving his head a quick shake. “Uh, think the sun’s gettin’ to me.” They headed to the kitchens.

Modo stood up to head for the pool. He also felt a tad odd, and focused his eyes. “Oh Mamma, think the sun’s gotten to me too, must be strong today!” he mused.

Vinnie managed to sit up on his lilo. “Well I feel OK,” he stated. “You two are probably just gettin’ old,” he chuckled, “can’t hack the pace.”

Modo gave him a look. “Oh yeah?” He aimed his metal arm and fired it at Vinnie’s lilo, which burst loudly, causing a sharp bang. Vinnie made a noise as he sunk and floundered in the pool, his lilo sinking fast.

Vinnie looked at Modo in disbelief. “My pineapple!” he cried, swimming to the edge.

Modo laughed loudly. “Sorry Bro, I must be gettin’ grumpy in my old age.” Vinnie got out, shaking himself off, muttering. He grabbed his Root beer and sat on a lounger.

Before long, Charley and Throttle appeared. Charley saw the limp pineapple drifting around under the surface of the pool. “What happened?” she laughed.

“Modo burst it.” Vinnie huffed. The others laughed.

“Guess I don’t like being called old!” Modo shrugged. He turned to Throttle. “Apparently that’s why the sun’s got to us.”

Throttle raised his eyebrows. “Is that right?”

Charley looked at them both. “Maybe you should both stay in the shade, just in case!” she suggested, mildly concerned.

Throttle held his forehead. “I think that’s probably a good idea,” he agreed. They mounted lilos in the shaded part of the pool.

“And keep drinking!” Charley instructed, leaving their crate at the edge. Vinnie and Charley laid on the loungers.

Charley took a sip of her Vodka and Coke. “It’s weird they’ve got a touch of sun stroke and we haven’t,” she mused.

“Guess they aren’t made of strong stuff like us.” Vinnie smiled. Their heads jerked round at the sound of Modo and Throttle laughing loudly. Charley and Vinnie exchanged amused looks.

“Did we miss a joke?” Vinnie asked, trying to see what was so funny.

Charley giggled. “I dunno, I think the sun’s definitely got to them!” They shrugged it off, relaxing in the sun, the other’s voices muffled in the background. Vinnie looked at her, holding his stare as he pondered saying something about that morning’s conversation. Charley felt his eyes on her and looked at him. She gave a little smile, waiting for him to say whatever it was. He figured he had to say something by that point, the silence had got awkward. He smiled at her, clenching his jaw. He opened his mouth. Before there was time for him to make a sound, there was a large splash in the others direction. They turned quickly to see Modo laying on his back with his do-nut lilo on top of him. Throttle found it hysterical, but Charley and Vinnie had missed the cause.

“What is up with those two!” Vinnie exclaimed with slight confusion.

Charley smirked at their laughter. “They’re just having fun.” They watched as Modo grabbed a bottle from the side and passed it to Throttle. Charley looked back to Vinnie. “What were you gonna say?” she probed.

Vinnie felt self conscious, he didn’t really know, if he was honest. So he asked an obvious question. “Just, making sure you’re OK?” He looked her over.

Charley smiled. “Yeah I’m OK. There was an awkward pause. “Are you?” She asked softly.

He nodded confidently. He wanted to talk about things, but it didn’t seem right in that setting. He changed the subject. “Hey, you wanna go find some ice cream?” he asked with an excited smile. Charley grinned. “Always!” They headed to the kitchen where they knew there were tubs containing an array of flavours. They created their favourite combinations, scooped them into bowls and topped them off with sauce and sprinkles.

“You think the others might want some?” Charley asked, as they walked back out to the pool area.

As they arrived back at the poolside, Vinnie shouted to the figures on the lilos. “Hey Bros, you want some ice cream?” No answer. Charley and Vinnie looked at each other in confusion. They walked closer. “Hey, you gettin’ deaf in your old age too!” Vinnie called, before stopping, when a loud snore came from Modo. As they approached they could see that both were sound asleep, limply sprawled on their gently drifting inflatables. Charley and Vinnie looked at each other in surprised amusement. Setting their bowls down, they stood in front of the mice.

“I guess their late night caught up with them?” Vinnie reasoned, getting out his phone to make sure they would see the evidence.

Charley laughed, studying them, still confused. “I guess.” She frowned a little, before the idea came to her to check their bottles. She leant down, looking at the label. A look of realisation came over her. “Oh boy.”

“What?” Vinnie asked.

Charley stood up and held the bottle out for him to read. “This is alcoholic Root beer!” she groaned.

Vinnie read the label and looked back at the mice. He burst out laughing and held his head. “What a pair of bone heads! Oh man, they’re never gonna live this down!” he cackled, making sure he took some video.

Charley tossed the bottle back into the crate. “Now it all makes sense,” she sighed, “and I told them to keep drinking!” She slapped a hand on her forehead.

Vinnie didn’t stop laughing. “Should we wake them up?” he asked when he finally stopped.

Charley shook her head. “Let them sleep it off. Take the crate away, I’ll leave them some water!” She walked to the kitchen as Vinnie carried the crate back to the loungers. Charley returned with a large jug of water. “Grab a couple of glasses, could ya? We’ll just leave this here, they’re bound to be thirsty when they wake up!” She placed the jug at the pool’s edge, along with the glasses that Vinnie handed her. The two sleeping mice snored and made incoherent noises.

Vinnie pulled a face, and Charley giggled.

“You wanna sit up the far end?” Vinnie laughed. Charley nodded, still laughing. They grabbed their drinks, and bowls of now melting ice cream, and headed to the far end of the pool, where they sat on a sofa. They watched the floating mice at the other end. Vinnie shook his head, still in disbelief at their mistake.

“Lesson of the day, always read the label,” Charley smirked.

Vinnie chuckled. “I’m gonna message them that,” he smiled, tapping his phone. They finished their ice cream whilst still laughing and making jokes about Throttle and Modo’s unfortunate situation.

“You wanna walk off this ice cream?” Charley asked, after a time.

“Beats sittin’ round here listenin’ to those two,” Vinnie smiled, nodding his head to the two sleeping mice. Charley laughed, looking over to them once more before heading off. They walked down the steps onto the beach and headed down to the shore line where the sand was more solid. Charley took off her sandals and walked along the water’s edge. They chatted normally as they walked. When the conversation trailed off, Charley swept a piece of hair out of her face and looked to Vinnie, suddenly more nervous, now that they were on their own once again. He looked at her and smiled, which she reciprocated. She looked down to her feet, splashing in and out of the water as she walked.

They came to a rocky piece of land that protruded out onto the sand, signalling the end of that part of the beach. They walked around to the other side, which lead to a much smaller cove. Rugged rock formed the backdrop, partially covered in green foliage, with a small area of white sand that stretched round in front of the sea. There was so much beauty in this place, and they were still discovering it. Some large rocks stood in the sand to one side, providing a patch of shade.

“Awww,” Charley gushed, smiling. “Can we go sit in the shade? I’m pretty hot.”

“Whatever you want.” Vinnie gave a relaxed smile, happy to go along with whatever kept her happy and meant they could spend time together. They sat under the rock, Charley with her legs out in front of her, leaning on her outstretched arms behind, Vinnie with one leg out and one bent up to his chest, his arms leaning on it. They looked out to sea. The sound of small waves was the only noise to be heard, except for the odd bird.

She turned to him. “Sorry about earlier… I didn’t mean to barrage you with all that,” she winced at the memory.

Vinnie shrugged it off. “Don’t worry about it Sweetheart, everyone needs to offload sometimes. She nodded, agreeing. He glanced downwards. “As long as you meant what you said about me,” he added with slight apprehension. He felt that rolling in his stomach again. He knew now that they were completely alone, the morning’s conversation would need to be dealt with.

Charley was thinking exactly the same. She was anxious. She knew things had been left… unfinished. She eyed him. “I did,” she confirmed softly.

Vinnie looked at her and smiled slightly, his eyes dropping momentarily before returning to hers. He swallowed. He opened his mouth to broach the conversation, his eyes moving from hers in embarrassment. “Hey, er…” His eyes found hers again as he spoke. “About what we said this morning…”

Charley could feel her face getting hot. She nodded and smiled shyly, “Uh huh?”

He shifted a little on the sand. “You still wanna?” A small smile formed.

Charley smiled more confidently. “Yeah, sure,” she replied, sounding certain. Her eyes wandered over him and she sat up straighter, turning to face him more and bending a leg, tucking the other under it. He turned to face her, also tucking a leg under his bent one. They looked at each other hesitantly. Charley gathered her courage and shifted nearer to him. She studied his face, then a thought occurred to her. They’d never actually talked about the physical aspects of kissing like that. She paused, looking slightly concerned. “Oh, er, is it possible to…can we?… I mean, do you…?” she babbled, flustered, looking at his mouth, dipping her head to one side.

Vinnie smiled, amused. “Yeah. To all those,” he confirmed, knowing what she was thinking.

Charley nodded nervously. “Oh… right. Good.” She wanted to be bold, but that slight apprehension was holding her back.

Vinnie could see it. “You want me to, er… show you?” He asked with a small smirk that hid his nerves. Charley gave small nod, biting her lip in anticipation.

“Stand up,” Vinnie told her, getting up and pulling her hands to help her to her feet. He didn’t like the logistics of sitting like that. Charley stood, feeling herself slightly shaking. Vinnie stepped up to her. He held her face with one hand. He swallowed. It wasn’t often he looked apprehensive. He placed his hand on her lower back with the other, pulling her to him. She made a small whimper as her body bumped his, and his mouth pushed gently on hers. Her hands draped around his neck as she kissed him back softly. They kissed deeper, opening their mouths, their breathing becoming heavier. Vinnie turned his head slightly, opening his mouth wider and touching his tongue with hers. Charley gave a tiny moan as her tongue brushed his. Slowly and gently their tongues twisted. Charley pushed against him. Vinnie moved his other hand so both were holding her lower back. He made a noise as he felt her body pushing into his. His blood was pumping, and congregating in his lower half, it seemed. They continued to kiss with gradual confidence and passion, until Charley broke away, gasping and taking in much needed air. She was a little dizzy, but that had little to do with the lack of oxygen. Vinnie breathed heavily, a small smile on his face as he looked at Charley’s dazed expression. “See, no problem,” he smiled wider, still trying to control his breathing.

Charley felt like her heart rate had soared out of control. “Oh,” she smiled sensually, “definitely no problem.”

 

Chapter 8

 

Charley put a hand to her head. “I need to sit down,” she panted, her head still swimming.

“So do I,” Vinnie mumbled, but he had a very different reason. They dropped back onto the sand into the rock’s shade, getting their breathing stable and their minds together.

Vinnie turned to Charley. “So are things clearer now?” He raised an eyebrow.

Charley looked at him and smiled. “Yeah. Clearer, yet, more complicated,” she sighed.

Vinnie nodded, understanding this was no ordinary situation. “So, what are we gonna do?”

Charley held her head in her hands. “I just don’t know, Vinnie. This is all happening so fast, and I wasn’t expecting it.”

“You got that right,” Vinnie agreed.

“And you won’t say anything to Modo or Throttle will you?” she asked, her tone making it obvious it wasn’t a good idea.

Vinnie raised his eyebrows. “Are you kidding? I don’t wanna get lectured by those two!”

She nodded. “We probably both would.”

Vinnie looked out to sea. “Look Sweetheart, don’t sweat it,” he turned to her. “We can just… see what happens?”

Charley gave a small smile. “Yeah, I guess. I just…” she began, trying to think how to word her thoughts. “I don’t know if we’re making a bad choice here. I mean… we know you won’t be around forever, you said it yourself.” She looked worried.

Vinnie smiled sadly. “I know. I guess we need to decide whether to leave it alone, or hope that something comes along and works it out?”

“It’s not a great choice,” Charley sighed in frustration.

Vinnie shrugged in agreement. “I know. Guess it all depends… if it’s worth the risk.” He looked at her intensely.

Charley’s eyes burned into his. She inhaled and exhaled deeply. Her mind felt hazy with confusion. She shook her head. “I don’t know. I mean… it’s not like either of us want to go down a road we know can only lead to…” she struggled to find the words, but Vinnie knew what she was saying.

“A dead end?” he cut in. “Man, there’s never an easy answer,” he muttered bitterly. They both sighed.

Charley rubbed her forehead. “I just think we need to think about stuff, y’know? Take things slow. I… I just don’t want things messed up with… you and me.” She looked at him with concern.

Vinnie gave a small smile and nodded. “Sure, we’ll just… go easy, right? But don’t worry about things gettin’ messed up, we’ll always be good, OK?” he assured her softly.

She smiled affectionately. “Thanks.” They sat quietly, looking out across the water.

It was late afternoon when they arrived back at the pool area. They quietly walked to the poolside, laughing to themselves. They found Throttle and Modo, still sprawled out on their inflatables.

“They’re still asleep!” Charley whispered, giggling.

Vinnie rolled his eyes and shook his head. “I vote we burst their lilos-or throw water over them!” he whispered back.

Charley elbowed his arm. “Don’t be mean!”

Vinnie rubbed his arm. “They did it to me!”

Charley waved her hand dismissively. “Just leave them! They’ll feel bad enough when they wake up!”

They crept away from the poolside. Vinnie turned to her. “So where d’you wanna go?”

Charley wrinkled her nose. “I’m kinda hot, shall we just… go hang out in a hut?”

Vinnie wasn’t going to argue with that. “Sure, you wanna grab some snacks?”

“On it!” Charley exclaimed enthusiastically, darting into the building.

Vinnie followed at speed, “Hey grab some peanuts would ya?” he called after her, as quietly as he could.

Charley returned with an armful. Vinnie took some from her. They headed back along the walkway.

“I’m gonna go have a cool shower,” Charley told him, as he opened his door.

“Me too,” Vinnie smiled at her knowingly.

Charley gave him a sarcastic look. “Because it’s so humid!” She smiled, loading his arms with the rest of the snacks.

“Yeah, course,” Vinnie replied mockingly, continuing to smile.

“I’ll be back soon,” she told him dismissively, going to her door. Vinnie laughed to himself, throwing the snacks on the bed and heading for the shower.

After her shower, Charley put her bikini on under her play suit and put her damp hair up again. She looked through her mini fridge and grabbed two small bottles of wine, before knocking on Vinnie’s door. Vinnie opened it, back in his shorts, his fur damp.

“Hey,” she stated, shutting the door. “No word from the others yet?” She put her bottles down and sat on the bed, looking over the snacks.

Vinnie disappeared back into the bathroom. “Nope,” he called back.

Charley laughed, picking out a bag of raisins and opening them. “Ooh it’s nice to be somewhere with air con,” she sighed happily. She spotted the TV remote and jolted the TV to life. “You know I haven’t watched TV since we left,” she called to Vinnie. She flicked through the channels, stopping on one. “Oh I like this,” she mumbled to herself. She began to watch, but was distracted by Vinnie’s absence. “What’re you doing?” she called to him.

“Experimenting.” He replied bluntly.

Charley raised her eyebrows. “Do I wanna know?” she called back dubiously.

He came out messing with the fur on his head. Charley frowned, wondering what he was doing.

“I found some hair gel,” he muttered, looking in the mirror. “Does it look cool?”

Charley looked at the crispy fur that passed as his hair. She smiled, getting up and walking over to him. “Yeah, it’s OK,” she mused. She raised her arms and pressed her fingers into the sticky fur. “You might’ve used a bit too much though!” she laughed.

“Oh. I guess I might’ve got a bit carried away,” Vinnie admitted. Charley pinched at the fur, trying to help take some of the gel off. She felt him looking at her, and looked down from the fur, to his eyes, still amused. Vinnie smiled a little. After a beat, she looked back to the top of his head, suppressing that now familiar feeling in her stomach. Her fingers slowed and her smile faded as she felt his eyes still on her. Slowly her eyes came down to his again. She swallowed hesitantly as they stood in silence for those few moments, neither knowing what they should do for the best.

Charley mentally shook herself and took a step back, clearing her throat. “I’ll er, go wash this off,” she mumbled, holding up her hands.

Vinnie stepped back, smiling awkwardly as she went into the bathroom. “Thanks,” he mumbled back, looking up and cringing. This wasn’t going to be easy. He rummaged through the snacks on the bed and found his peanuts.

Charley emerged from the bathroom, now void of any embarrassment. “You wanna watch TV?” she asked, sitting on the bed and picking up her raisins once again.

Vinnie looked to the TV, then had an idea. “Sure, but it seems a shame to sit around in here, how about we watch the TV in the hot tub?” he grinned.

Charley raised her eyebrows in surprise. “The hot tub has a TV?”

Vinnie nodded and cackled. “Oh yeah! I was messing with it and it has all kinds of stuff!”

Charley grinned. “I’ve not even looked at mine! Yes to that!” She picked up some snacks and managed to carry her two bottles out to the decking, where she put them on the table. Vinnie followed with more snacks and a Root beer. The round pool was sunken into the decking on the level below. A beige awning sat folded into the side of the balcony on a mechanism. Charley approached it, finding a remote tucked into a holder. She pressed a button and the awning unfolded, creating a shaded roof over the hot tub. They sat the snacks, drinks and their phones on one side. Charley folded her play suit on the wooden step of the decking and they stepped in, sitting in the molded seats. Vinnie twisted round, fiddling with the buttons located on the hot tub’s side next to him.

“Only problem is I can’t find the remote,” he muttered, “but… ah, pop ups, yeah here it is,” he pressed a button and the TV started rising up from one side.

Charley grinned. “Oooh, fancy!” She admired the very modern TV as it came to a stop opposite them. She stood up, going over and turning it on, finding a channel.

Vinnie mused over the other buttons. “You want a cool setting?” he asked Charley.

“Hell yeah,” she nodded. She poured one of her bottles of wine into a glass. Vinnie pressed a couple of buttons and the tub bubbled gently, the water slightly warm.

“Yeah this is good,” she smiled, relaxing in her seat, watching the TV. Vinnie munched his peanuts. This was good, he noted. They were hanging out, eating, drinking, watching TV. Just chilling out, no awkwardness or big talks.

The time passed as they relaxed, talking, laughing, eating, drinking and flicking through various shows on the TV.

“So what else does this thing do?” Charley asked.

Vinnie looked at the buttons. “Let’s see. Pop up Stereo speakers?” He pressed a button and small speakers rose from the sides. “Um, LED lights,” he pressed another button causing blue lights to shine under the water. He pressed another button that changed the colours from one to another in turn. Charley watched, amused. He ran his finger over another row of buttons. “There’s like, a hundred jet settings,” he enthused, pressing one that caused the jets to intensify.

Charley jumped a little. “Oh!” she laughed.

“Just how bubbly does this thing get?” Vinnie asked himself, hitting the button on the end of the row. The tub erupted in a buzzing swirl of vibrating bubbles, causing the whole pool to shake slightly.

“Woah!” Vinnie laughed. “It’s like being in a cooking pot!”

Charley squeaked at the sudden ferocity. “Oh my god!” she cried, taken by surprise. “Vinnie, turn it down!”

Vinnie fiddled with the buttons, amused. He pressed what he assumed turned it down, but nothing happened. He tried a couple more. Nothing. “Um…” he pondered, confused.

“Vinnie! How hard can it be!” Charley groaned in exasperation.

“Hey there’s lot’s of buttons!” he shot back in defence. He tried another. A sudden blast of music came from the speakers, causing them to both jump. Vinnie hit the button again, turning it off. He raised his hands in defeat. “OK I give up!”

Charley rolled her eyes and waded over to the panel of buttons. “Move over,” she smirked, giving him a small push. She studied the buttons for a few seconds before pressing one, then another, returning the tub to its original setting. She turned to him proudly. “There. Panic over, everything’s under control.”

“Sweetheart, you always know how to press my buttons,” Vinnie grinned.

Charley looked at him and smiled. “I haven’t found your mute one yet,” she replied dryly.

Vinnie laughed. “I don’t come with that option.”

“I figured,” Charley remarked sarcastically. “You’re not exactly inconspicuous!” She pushed a finger against his nose.

Vinnie raised an eyebrow and eyed her. “Speak for yourself, babe!”

Charley widened her eyes and laughed a little in surprise. “Vinnie!” she cried, putting a hand to her chest, conscious now of how much of herself was on show.

Vinnie raised his hands, “Hey, I ain’t complaining!” he laughed.

Charley felt her face heating up, but couldn’t help smiling at his words. She liked his desire for her, there was no escaping that.

Vinnie smiled to himself, looking elsewhere. He probably shouldn’t have said that, but his mouth sometimes started without him. It’s not like he could exactly ignore what was so blatantly in front of him. But it didn’t help their current situation one bit.

Charley watched him during the silence, smiling slightly. “What’re you thinking?” she asked softly, her green eyes on him.

Vinnie slowly turned to her, giving her a hungry look that sent a shiver down her spine. His eyes burned into hers. He shut his eyes for a second and sighed. “All sorts,” he replied with an obvious inner struggle. He swallowed, looking her over again before their eyes met. Vinnie sighed heavily and rested the back of his head on the side of the pool. This whole go easy thing was going to be real hard.

He wasn’t the only one thinking it. Charley’s eyes wandered over his torso as he stared upwards. The knot in her stomach tightened and her lips parted. Her eyes became heavy lidded and searched his face as she slowly reached out and played with the crispy fur on his head. A faint wicked smile formed on her lips.

Vinnie’s eyes looked up to the top of his head and then across to Charley. “What’re you thinking?” he asked with a small smirk, the sensation causing the fur on the back of his neck to stand up. He knew this was not what they’d agreed, they shouldn’t be doing it.

Charley shifted a little nearer. Her smooth skin touching his side. He breathed a little deeper. Her voice lowered. “Just wondering what other pop ups you’ve not shown me yet,” she purred, her finger stroking down the side of his neck, making him tingle.

Vinnie gave a small, dirty chuckle at her words. “Feel free to play around with my settings,” he turned his head to look at her. He studied her face, which could only be described as beautiful. She met his gaze and her smile faded as she studied him. He sat up, his lips parted, she was looking at him intensely, her mouth slightly open. Her gaze wandered back over his torso, causing her heart to speed up. He looked down, glancing at her chest, and back up, stopping for a moment at her lips. When his eyes met hers again they were darkened, his breathing deeper. Charley let out a shaky breath. In an instant she straddled his lap, roughly pulling his face to her, as she kissed him hard, once again grabbing the crispy fur that counted as his hair. He didn’t need any encouragement. His hands gripped her waist as their mouths parted, feeling her silky skin against him. As their breathing and kissing intensified, her hands ran down his muscular arms as his hands slid around her ass and squeezed lightly, causing her to make a small sound. She could feel his arousal beneath her, which caused her to involuntary roll her hips. She sighed heavily, Vinnie groaned. Their kissing became desperate as his hands gripped her ass tighter, then ran up her sides as she moaned quietly, dragging her fingernails down his chest. His hands cupped the sides of her breasts, causing her to gasp. The sound suddenly jolted Vinnie back to reality and he broke away from her, panting, his eyes wide with shock at the sudden situation. Charley looked at him, feeling light headed, but her eyes told him she knew he was right. She panted, trying to gain control of herself. Vinnie breathed heavily, trying to calm himself, shaking his head. “Babe, I don’t know if we-” he started.

She nodded, interrupting, “-I know.” she got off of him looking sheepish. “That was really… wrong of us.”

Vinnie ran his hands down his face. He gave a short laugh. “When you said take it slow, I didn’t expect you to be sitting on me in my hot tub an hour later.”

Charley shook her head. “I know. I was the one who said it, and now-”

“-hey it was both our faults,” Vinnie assured her.

Charley sighed heavily. “Taking it slow is easier said than done.”

Vinnie agreed. “Yeah, that’s not working out so well, is it?”

 

At the pool, Throttle and Modo had come around and dragged themselves to the poolside. Throttle held his head. “I’m not feelin’ much better, Bro,” he warned Modo, sitting on the edge.

Modo blinked, then held his head with both hands. “Oh mama, I feel like I’ve been run over by a whole fleet of bikes.” He sat next to Throttle, then saw the bottles of water. “Hey, the others leave these?” he asked, confused.

Throttle looked at the bottles. “Must have. Man, do I need it, too.” He passed Modo one and gulped down his own.

Modo rubbed his head. “I don’t get it, how’d the sun get us this bad?”

Throttle shook his head. “Beats me.” He got up and sat on a lounger, noticing his phone on the table. Modo followed, picking up his and sitting on the next lounger. They idly tapped at their screens.

“Hey, there’s a message from Vinnie,” Modo muttered, opening it. He frowned. “Hey, now what’s this all about, check the label?”

Throttle read his message. He got a sinking feeling. He looked at Modo before getting up and going over to the empty crate of bottles. He bent down and picked one up, reading the label. He looked up. “Oh man.”

“What is it?” Modo asked, still confused.

Throttle walked back over, slumping on the lounger and thrusting the bottle into Modo’s hand with a heavy sigh.

Modo read the label. He looked up at Throttle with a startled expression. “Oh Mama, that explains it,” he sheepishly replied.

Throttle shook his head. “We’re never gonna live this down, you realise that?”

 

Vinnie and Charley had settled back into the previous relaxed mode in the hot tub, eating, drinking and watching TV. Both knew things had changed to the point of no return. Both knew they were playing a dangerous game, and both knew there was little they could do about it. So for now, all they could do was carry on as normal. As they chatted, Vinnie’s phone vibrated loudly on the side. He picked it up, read the message and grinned widely. “Well well well, looks like they’ve finally woken up,” he laughed.

Charley snickered. “What did they say?”

“Just this,” Vinnie smiled, showing her his screen, with an emoji of a sick face.

Charley laughed harder, putting a hand over her mouth. “We’d better go see them.”

Vinnie nodded, getting out and messaging them on his phone. They threw their clothes on and headed down to the pool.

Vinnie smiled when he saw them. “You finally decided to wake up after your binge?” he beamed.

Throttle groaned, expecting the comments. “Not one of our better moments,” he remarked dryly.

Modo groaned in agreement. “And people do this for fun?” he asked, perplexed.

Charley laughed, looking sympathetic. “No wonder you felt weird, and I encouraged you to drink more! Just keep drinking water and it’ll pass,” she reassured them.

Vinnie laughed, shaking his head. “Oh man, this has gotta go down as one of the dumbest things you’ve ever done!”

Throttle and Modo looked unimpressed.

Charley hit Vinnie lightly on the arm. “Oh leave them alone! Like you’ve never done anything dumb!” Vinnie refused to empathize, finding it all far too amusing.

“You guys want anything to eat?” Charley asked. “Just some plain chicken or something?”

“That’d be good Charley, thanks,” Throttle replied.

Modo held his stomach, feeling sorry for himself. “Just hope we can keep it down.”

Vinnie sat smirking as Charley went off to cook. “Don’t worry, you can see the effects for yourself later,” he held up his phone. “Got it all on here!”

Throttle sighed. “Great.” he turned to Modo. “What did I say?”

After they’d eaten, their talk was considerably more subdued than usual. Modo and Throttle were in no mood for boisterous chat and laughter, instead uncharacteristically looking forward to an early night and the quiet comfort of their beds. The group soon headed back to the huts. As they all approached their doors, Throttle and Modo groaned their goodnights and headed in.

Vinnie and Charley were tired, they’d both had disrupted nights, but their minds still reeled and there was no way sleeping was on the agenda any time soon. They stood at their doors and exchanged a look. Both knew things had changed, but were unsure what to do.

Charley hesitated before speaking. “I’m gonna have a shower,” she mumbled with a small smile.

“OK. Yeah me too,” Vinnie replied, subconsciously rubbing his head.

There was a beat. Charley eyed him quickly before biting the bullet. “You wanna hang out after? Go get some drinks?”

“Sure.” Vinnie replied without hesitation. “See you later?” He smiled a little timidly, opening his door.

Charley nodded, opening her door, as they parted ways into their own rooms. She headed into the shower, sitting on the wooden seat whilst she thought, taking her time as she mulled things over. It was a rocky road they were heading down, but they were heading down it none the less. It was obvious that staying ‘just friends’ wasn’t going to happen, but exactly what was going to happen was still unclear as far as the future was concerned. As for the present, well, that seemed inevitable. She shampooed her hair with an anxious sigh. Things had moved much faster than she’d anticipated. Now they were meeting tonight, alone, again. She washed her hair, feeling that knot in her stomach. She knew it wasn’t a good idea, that she was digging a hole. But she couldn’t deny the other feelings either. The excitement and adrenaline and, if she was honest, lust. She smiled dryly to herself as she started washing, thinking of all the times Vinnie would’ve loved to hear that. There was no denying things had changed between them. Or maybe rather, how she saw him.

Vinnie was showered in no time. It was the drying that took longer. He walked into the room, opening the closet door and looking over his clothes. He sighed, what should he wear? He sat on the edge of the bed whilst he contemplated his options. He fidgeted a little, anxious about what the night was going to bring. Things had happened fast, neither of them had expected it, and what was next? He ran a hand through the fur on his head, thinking. It was pretty obvious where all this was going in the short term, and that filled him with all sorts of emotions. But long term? That was an unmarked road. There was no secret about how he felt as far as he was concerned, but it wasn’t as clear where Charley stood. Obviously things had shifted from her point of view, pretty rapidly! It was a shock to them both. Now, where was tonight going to leave them? He inhaled and exhaled deeply. Being honest, were they gonna talk all night? Going by previous events, hell no. The more he thought about it, the more anxious he got. He sighed in frustration at himself, this wasn’t like him. But then, this wasn’t usual. This was Charley. He got up, going through the clothes. He should make an effort, no doubt she would. Not that this was a date, it was past that, not that there ever was one, officially. He pulled out some gray jeans and a black T shirt. Both were pretty tight, he noted with approval.

Charley sifted through the row of clothes. She was even more nervous now than the fake date night. This was like the real thing, only a few dates in! She knew things were bound to happen, if the last day was anything to go by. How did she play this, she didn’t want to look desperate or like she was trying too hard, yet she didn’t want to feel like she’d not made enough effort. She found a plain deep blue summer dress with thin straps on a straight but low top. The skirt was on the looser, shorter side. She held it up to herself in the mirror. At least it matched her navy blue underwear. Not that it would necessarily be seen, but if it was… she shook the thought from her mind, embarrassed by herself. She dried her hair straight, then put a silver necklace on with a silver teardrop and some smallish matching earrings. As usual she used minimal make up, put on some perfume, and some silver strapped wedge sandals. She looked over herself in the mirror, pleased.

Now all she had to do was go and meet him. Neither had messaged, both feeling anxious. As she was contemplating texting him, her phone buzzed, and his name showed up. Her stomach flipped. She opened it.

Are you still getting ready??

She smiled to herself. Men would never understand. Just finished. She texted back. She swallowed hesitantly before texting again. I’ll come to your door?

OK. The new message read.

She quietly shut her door, stepping carefully so that her sandals didn’t sound too much on the wooden decking. Her stomach was filled with knots. The sun was setting, casting a blanket of darkness over the sky. She reached Vinnie’s door which he had left open. She peered into the dark room. She couldn’t see him, so she waited anxiously in the doorway, looking to her right along the walkway, making sure there was no sign of the others.

Vinnie suddenly appeared out of the darkness. “OK let’s go!” he enthused quietly.

Charley jumped at the suddenness. “Oh my god Vinnie!” she berated in a whispered tone, putting a hand to her chest, “are you trying to make my heart stop?!”

“I could ask you the same thing!” Vinnie whispered back approvingly, looking her over. Charley gave an embarrassed smile and shook the comment away. Vinnie quietly shut his door and signaled for her to hurry up, walking in front.

Charley grabbed his arm. “Wait, I can’t,” she motioned to her feet, taking her sandals off. In bare feet she hurriedly walked with him, still holding his arm, past the huts and along the walkway to the main area. She put her sandals back on once they were at a safe distance.

Vinnie found an unopened Root beer still sitting on a table by the pool. He checked the label, a smile coming to his face at that day’s events. He held it up to Charley. “See, I don’t make that mistake,” he grinned. She smiled back, her eyes glinting in the dimmer light. He looked at her in her dress once again. Ironically, it was the one time he wished he could drink. His tight T shirt and jeans hadn’t gone unnoticed by Charley, who quickly snapped out of her stare.

“I’m gonna go grab a bottle,” she announced with certainty, turning and heading into the building, the brighter lights coming on. As she chose one from behind the bar, she looked up, faintly making out Vinnie’s figure outside. She sighed to herself. “Oh boy, am I gonna need this.”

 

Chapter 9

 

Charley came out with a bottle in one hand and glass in the other. The light had almost faded, but the sun had not yet disappeared. It had left a watery trail of fire in the sky, which had turned a beautiful coral colour. The sun glowed orange, slowly dipping amongst a purple haze of lower cloud. It cast a dark tinge of blue over the shoreline and caused the sand that it lapped to reflect the orange glow. The island was enveloped in shadow as the darkness crept in. The sun was visible from where they stood. Charley stood captivated by it, then started to walk in its direction.

“Come on.” She beckoned Vinnie to follow. He was more than happy to follow her pretty much anywhere. He walked next to her holding his bottle of Root beer as they made their way down to the beach. They sat on the large sofa, admiring the view. Charley took a picture on her phone.

“Wow look at that,” she smiled, leaning back on the sofa with a leg tucked under.

“It’s definitely an alien landscape to me, that’s for sure,” Vinnie mused, sitting back with his legs slightly spread, holding his Root beer between them. “Don’t get sunsets like that on Mars.”

Charley looked at him, smiling with interest. “What do they look like?”

Vinnie wrinkled his nose. “Sun’s dimmer, paler, looks more like the moon,” he looked at her.

Charley raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Yeah, I guess it would. I’ve never really thought about that.”

Vinnie nodded. “Sky’s not all orange n’ pink either. It’s just kinda bluey n’ hazy, cause of the dust,” he explained.

Charley nodded, taking in what he was saying. “Well, I guess it’s still beautiful in its own way,” she suggested.

Vinnie shrugged, “I guess. This is better though.”

Charley smiled, looking back to the rapidly lowering golden ball, shimmering in the clouds. “It is kinda jaw dropping huh?”

Vinnie smiled to himself as he watched the coral sky gradually fading away. “Yeah, but the view this way is even better,” his look indicated he was talking about her.

Charley laughed, slightly embarrassed. “Stop,” she smiled, looking back to the sun, now touching the horizon. Vinnie smiled, taking a swig from his bottle. Charley was reminded of her wine, which she reached for, along with the glass. She filled the glass half full, setting the bottle on the sand.

As they sat there in silence and growing shadows, her eyes subtly wandered over him. The tightness of his clothes showed off his undeniably great body. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him, just toned muscle. She took a large gulp of wine, looking back to the sun, which had started its decent below the horizon, casting a golden glow on the water.

Vinnie noticed how fast her drink was vanishing. “Hey be careful, or you’ll end up like Throttle and Modo,” he chuckled.

Charley laughed. “That was bad. But a little bit is good for the nerves,” she told him, tipping her glass towards him to make the point.

Vinnie raised his eyebrows at her comment. “You nervous?” he pressed, a smile formed at the corner of his mouth.

Charley felt that knot again, she shouldn’t have said that. She smiled, a little flustered, looking around. “A bit,” she admitted, trying not to squirm.

Vinnie wouldn’t admit it, but he knew exactly how she felt. “Come on, it’s only me,” he joked, trying to lighten the situation.

Charley gave him a small smile before her eyes looked elsewhere. “I know,” she replied softly, before shaking some hair out of her face and taking another sip of her wine. She looked back at him. “You wanna try some?” She held out the glass.

Vinnie laughed warily. “Hey, I think we’ve established alcohol and Martian mice don’t mix!”

Charley laughed, shrugging and taking another sip. The light faded some more as the shimmering sun continued to disappear behind the sea. Vinnie watched her drink, his eyes roaming over her toned body in the clingy blue summer dress. Her skin was sun kissed now, and there was a lot of it. He suddenly felt very hot. “On second thoughts, I might just try some,” he blurted, taking the glass from Charley’s hand, causing her to jolt a little in surprise. He downed the remaining wine, pulling a face that said his mind remained unchanged. “Urgh!” he spluttered, wiping his mouth with his arm.

Charley giggled. “Hey, you drank it all!” She picked up the bottle and refilled the glass half way again. She turned back to him. “You’re not nervous, are you, Vinnie?” she teased, eyeing him.

Vinnie laughed. “Me? No way,” he lied. Charley nodded, a tad suspicious.

The last of the sun’s glow sunk below the water, the colours in the sky fading into night. The stars became brighter and the moon glowed a pale yellow. The air however, remained warm. Charley noticed the small lights in the bushes become brighter as they sat in the growing darkness. There was silence as Charley sipped more wine. She looked at him, but it wasn’t obvious in the fading light. Vinnie drank from his bottle, washing down the bitter taste of the wine. He paused before turning and looking at her. They held their gaze for a few seconds.

“That’s a nice dress,” Vinnie smiled, obviously approving.

Charley glanced down at it. “Thanks.”

“I think that’s my favourite now,” Vinnie stated, studying it.

Charley raised her eyebrows, “Oh?” She could feel herself blushing, but it didn’t notice.

Vinnie nodded with certainty, “It looks really hot on you.”

Charley smiled, not quite knowing what to say, but half expecting a comment like that. He never was very subtle with his words. “Well, em… thanks?” she muttered, feeling her blush spread. She bit her lip, smiling, looking at her glass before her eyes went to him again. “You look pretty hot yourself.” She found it hard to believe those words came from her mouth, there was no way she would’ve ever said that to him a few days ago. But then, a lot had changed.

Vinnie smiled at her. “Yeah?” he asked a little bashfully before looking to his bottle. For all his bravado, Charley knew he blushed a lot easier than he’d like to admit. There was silence again.

Charley cleared her throat. “Er, shall I light a fire?” She pointed to the fire pit in front of the sofa.

Vinnie chuckled softly. “I think you already have, Sweetheart.”

Charley grinned, embarrassed. “I don’t know where the lighter is though,” she muttered, looking around behind the sofa.

“Don’t worry about it,” Vinnie smirked.

Charley smiled, eyeing him. “So, we’re just gonna sit here, in the dark?” Her tone was soft and slightly suggestive.

Vinnie bit his lip. “Guess that’s not very sensible, knowing us, huh?”

“No, it’s not,” Charley replied dismissively. “But I’m kinda sick of being sensible.”

Vinnie felt his pulse start to race as Charley continued. “I mean, where’s it ever gotten me?” she shrugged. “The one time I wasn’t, was when I got mixed up with you guys! And that turned out to be the best decision I ever made,” she smiled.

Vinnie smiled back. “Can’t argue with that.”

Charley’s heart beat faster. “So I’m thinking, not sensible is the maybe the way to go.” She looked at him, he knew that look. He swallowed as she put her glass on the sand next to the half empty bottle. She looked back at him, a little hesitantly. His eyes burned into her. She knew that look. As soon as she moved, he dropped his bottle to the ground and turned his body to her. She pressed up next to him as he grabbed the back of her head, pulling her to him as she kissed him with passion, holding his face with her hands, his other hand snaking around her waist. They groaned as the kissing continued, before finally stopping for air, both of them breathing heavily. Vinnie burrowed his face into her neck, the action sending a shiver down Charley’s spine as his breath caused goosebumps. She tilted her head back and sighed, which soon turned into a soft moan as he kissed her neck. She gripped his muscular arms as he continued. Her body was on fire for him, she pulled his head back and continued to kiss him. Vinnie could barely think straight, it felt like every drop of blood had drained to his lower half. He was almost shaking with need. His hands roamed up her sides and over her chest, causing her to groan as they made their way back down again, sliding over her thighs, up under the skirt of her dress. Her hands felt his chest over his T shirt and moved down over his abs, before finding their way under the material onto his fur, where they explored his muscular torso, causing him to groan slightly. Her hands moved down, over his toned legs, her nails digging into the denim. They moved back up his thighs. Vinnie broke apart again, leaning back, roughly pulling her onto him, her body crushing his. She could feel his arousal against her, causing her to push against him. His hands grabbed the hem of her dress and pulled it upwards, peeling it off of her body. She lifted her top half so that he could take it completely off, dropping it to the floor. She laid on him in her navy underwear, his hands sweeping up her legs to her thong, stroking over her ass and up her tight, toned body. Her smooth skin was now beautifully sun kissed, not that he could see it in the almost total darkness. His eyes roamed over what he could see of her cleavage, pushing out of her bra, as they started to kiss again, Charley grabbed his ‘hair’ roughly and pressed her slender body against his. She pulled at his T shirt, which he quickly helped to discard. Her hands glided downwards, over his shoulders and down his hard chest. She breathed heavily, her hands slowly stroking over his abs, moving downwards. She looked at him hungrily, her mouth slightly open. He swallowed, tense, as he felt her hands touch him, trying to control his animal instincts, his breathing ragged as he watched her in the darkness. Her lower half was aching for his body, she could feel his arousal pressing into her stomach and her mind raced as she reached the top of his jeans. One hand stopped, but the other kept travelling down, over the denim, until she felt his hardness.

He gasped sharply, “fuck”. She smiled wickedly, looking him in the eye, she’d never heard him swear like that before. He looked back, his eyes glazed slightly. “Charley...” he started, his breathing ragged and his voice dangerous. She ran her hand over him, and squeezed lightly through the material. He hissed and bucked, his mouth wanting to make a noise that didn’t come. Her hand slowly undid the button on his jeans, then pulled down the zipper. Vinnie couldn’t wait any longer. He grabbed her, flipping her and pushing her down forcefully onto the sofa, kissing her again with desperate need, his knees either side of her legs. She whimpered as he pushed her down with his weight, kissing her neck, his hands sliding up her slides, over her curves to her breasts, where he knelt up and gently squeezed them through the thin material. Charley let out a moan as he panted through gritted teeth, feeling her soft mounds as his fingers teased her nipples through her bra.

She writhed, desperate for contact with him, making small noises. “Vinnie” she pleaded. Hearing his name, he roughly pulled her bra down in one movement. She gasped and moaned as his hands fondled her naked breasts. They were full, round and beautiful. Vinnie took a moment to compose himself, his breath shaky, as Charley looked up at him, her eyes filled with lust and her cheeks rosy. Her other hand slowly trailed up his abs to his chest as her busy hand lowered into his jeans, down to his aching hardness, where she wrapped her fingers around him. He gritted his teeth harder, trying to stifle the moan that came. She bit her lip and placed her other hand lightly on his chest as she stroked him with the other, his breathing shaky and urgent. She kissed him feverishly as he shifted his body slightly to one side, one of his hands sliding down over her toned stomach to her panties, and over the material between her legs, making her buck and whimper.

“Oh god,” she moaned, desperate to feel his fingers there. He brought his hand back up and slid it under the material, feeling her warm, wet centre. She arched a little, moaning louder. His fingers teased her as she made encouraging noises. He gritted his teeth, watching her, unsure how much longer he could take, as Charley writhed and moaned. Vinnie was nearing the end of his own self control now. He looked at her with evil lust, he could’ve so easily sunk himself into her right then, but they were already going way beyond what they had expected. With one hand, he reached for her breasts again, squeezing them as she teased him, feeling his length, using her fingers to explore him. He hung his head, he knew he couldn’t hold out much longer. “Fuck, Charley,” he breathed. He yanked her panties down and pushed his middle finger into her, forcing her to cry out as he rhythmically moved it, before adding a second one.

Charley was gasping in short loud cries as he sped up, using his thumb to carry on teasing her. “Oh god, Vinnie!” she gasped, biting her lip. Vinnie was panting hard, barely controlling himself, watching her getting pleasure from him and moaning his name as she stroked him. Her cries got more staggered, with no sound escaping her mouth at times. She tensed a little, grabbing the cushioned surface either side of her with both hands as her whole body rocked up and down with the motion. She looked at him, her eyes wide, her breathing became erratic and her cries higher as she tilted her head back, her orgasm washing over her. Vinnie smiled to himself as he cursed quietly. She lay still, panting for a few seconds, the odd moan still escaping her before her hand wrapped around him, her grasp firmer, as she set a rhythm. His mouth opened, his eyes glazed over as a sound staggered from him. Charley watched him intently, her tongue touching her top teeth, she couldn’t help but feel a little smug.

He’d reached his limit, his breathing hitched and his body tensed and jolted. “Fuuuck,” he growled through gritted teeth, his body jerking above her. He wiped a hand over his face, catching his breath. Neither of them spoke as they lay there, panting. Both were a tad shocked at what had just happened. Shocked, and also very, very deliciously satisfied. This turned everything upside down. If they thought there was no going back before, there certainly wasn’t now.

Charley looked up at the stars above them, way up in the night sky, her breathing returning to normal. “Wow, Vinnie,” she stated, “that sure changed the game.”

Vinnie nodded, composing himself once again. “Yep,” he replied, not knowing what else to say. They continued to lay there in quiet contemplation, before Charley remembered her dignity, pulling her underwear back on, slightly embarrassed. Vinnie didn’t notice much, he was still looking towards the stars.

Charley grabbed her dress from the floor, throwing it over herself. She picked up Vinnie’s T shirt, handing it to him. “Here,” she said softly, feeling a little uncomfortable.

He sat up, taking it. “Thanks,” he pulled it on, then looked at her. “You OK?” he asked, doing up his jeans.

She looked at him and smiled, biting her lip. “After that? Hell yeah,” she laughed, then looked away, her face turning a tad more serious. “I just didn’t expect… that,” she admitted, “it’s blown the whole go slow thing right out of the water.”

Vinnie chuckled, “Yeah, that was a no starter huh?” He noticed Charley shiver a little. “You wanna get back? You look cold.”

Charley smiled. “I am a little.”

Vinnie got up, holding out his hand, which she grabbed, pulling herself up too. She held his arm as they walked back to the main area, the dim building lights and quantity of fairy lights making it brighter.

“Man, I am ready for bed,” Vinnie yawned.

Charley giggled. “Me too, hardly surprising really!”

They got to the walkway and Charley removed her shoes once again. They walked quietly past the huts until they got to Vinnie’s. He carefully opened the door and turned to her, giving her a small smile. “See you tomorrow babe,” he whispered.

She nodded, “night.” They both hesitated a tad awkwardly before stepping closer and kissing each other for a few moments. With a small wave, Charley watched him close the door and entered her own room.

When Charley opened her eyes the following morning, in the first moments that followed, she questioned if the previous night had happened, or if it was just a dream. Then the memories flooded her mind. Definitely not a dream. She took her usual swim and shower, before dressing. She let her hair dry naturally, the heat making it wavy. She put on a strapless knee length pale green dress which had a lacey over skirt, over her bikini, and some silver dangley earrings. She picked up her flat sandals and made her way down her decking, holding up her dress as she waded through the clear water to Vinnie’s decking. She had messaged him that she was coming, and thought it best to avoid running into Throttle or Modo, even though she was doing nothing wrong or suspicious. She just wanted to see him alone. Walking up to his top deck, she slipped on her sandals. He came out in his usual shorts with a pale blue vest top.

“Hey,” he greeted, “another nice dress!” He admired it as he stepped up to her, putting an arm around her waist.

She smiled, hugging him. “Thanks, I like it.” She sat down at the table, and he did the same.

“No sign of the others?” she asked, smirking.

Vinnie shook his head, “Nah not yet.”

Charley nodded, then took a breath, glancing at him before she spoke. “I just wanted to make sure everything’s OK, you know, after last night.” She looked slightly on edge.

Vinnie smiled. “Sure it is. Why wouldn’t it be, Sweetheart?”

Charley didn’t know, in honesty. She shrugged her last sentence away. “I know things are different now, with us.” She smiled, leaning in a little. “But, I’m good if you are.”

Vinnie grinned. “Course I’m good.” He leaned forward and kissed her gently. Charley smiled. Vinnie looked at her for a moment. “You know I don’t just see it as a… physical thing, right?” he asked, concerned that’s what she might think.

She nodded. “I know,” then repeated with more certainty, “I know.”

Vinnie shuffled in his seat, looking at her intensely. “You know I care about you, babe.”

Charley smiled affectionately. “I know Vinnie, and so do I.”

She looked and sounded genuine, but Vinnie felt there was something else she wanted to say.

“Is there a but coming?” he probed.

Charley looked at him with a smile that hid a sadness. “No, I… I’m just scared, I guess,” she admitted. “There was a time when I was engaged and in love, and I thought I knew where my life was heading. Then it all crashed and burned.” She sighed. “I just can’t do that again, and this whole situation has got me pulled in so many directions,” she explained, her voice pained.

Vinnie understood, placing a hand over hers. “I know it’s messed up. If it’s too much, we don’t have to-” he started.

Charley interjected “-That’s the thing though Vinnie, I don’t know about you, but I can’t go back to pretending everything is normal. And I don’t want to.”

Vinnie pulled a face of agreement. “I know, Sweetheart, I know.”

“I just can’t go through that again. Especially with you.” She looked at him, her eyes watery.

Vinnie sighed sadly. “I wish I could promise you everything was gonna be OK.”

Charley nodded compassionately. “You know I’m startin’ to worry that I really am jinxed.”

Vinnie gave her a sceptical look. “Don’t say that, Sweetheart,” he thought for a moment. “Maybe things will work out… if it’s meant to be?” he smiled hopefully.

Charley returned the smile. “Yeah, maybe.”

Vinnie got up. “Come on, let’s go get the others up and get some food.”

Charley nodded in agreement and followed him to the door. “Should we take them some?”

Vinnie laughed dismissively, “I think they can handle gettin’ their own breakfast!” He opened the door, stepping out with Charley close behind. He stopped still, causing Charley to bump into him.

Modo and Throttle were stood at Throttle’s doorway, talking. They looked up when Vinnie and Charley appeared, the two looking slightly taken aback for a moment.

“Hey, we were just coming t’ get ya,” Modo smiled cheerfully.

Vinnie chuckled, his recovery was fast. “Have we gotten over the day before?”

Throttle sighed. “Yeah.”

“Ready t’ face the day again!” Modo assured.

Charley smiled. “That’s good to hear guys. Yesterday wasn’t your best day!”

Throttle snorted. “You can say that again, Charley girl.”

“Come on Bros, let’s go get us some breakfast,” Vinnie enthused, walking past them.

“I’m ready for that!” Modo replied eagerly, following behind.

Charley smiled to Throttle, following the others. Smiling back, he noted her eyes looked slightly misty. He watched them go, glancing back at Vinnie’s door and looking back to the group thoughtfully, before catching them up.

 

Chapter 10

 

The four ate breakfast by the pool on another sun drenched morning.

Modo put a hand to his stomach. “I gotta say, it’s nice to be feelin’ back to normal!” he announced.

Charley laughed and picked up the plates, “I’ll go throw this stuff in the washer.”

“I’ll bring the rest,” Modo called after her, grabbing the other bits and following.

Throttle looked at Vinnie across the table. He knew he needed to say something now whilst he had the chance, but was unsure of quite how. He slouched back in his chair. “So, what did you and Charley girl get up to yesterday?” he asked matter of factly.

Vinnie looked at him, a little surprised and suspicious, but kept his cool. He shrugged. “Aw you know, just hanging out.”

Throttle nodded. He paused before continuing. “You two’ve been hanging out a lot lately,” he remarked with innocent observation.

Vinnie looked at him again, trying to figure out if Throttle was implying something or not. He laughed. “Well you and Modo were busy doing your own thing, if you remember!”

Throttle smiled. “Yeah, yeah,” he dismissed acceptingly, “I just meant… in general.”

Vinnie narrowed his eyes a little, studying Throttle’s face for a sign of accusation. He slouched back in his own seat. “Yeah so what? We’re just having fun,” he replied a tad defensively.

“Uh huh,” Throttle’s voice was impassive. He shifted in his seat and sighed. “Look, I know it’s none of my business,” he started.

Vinnie raised his eyebrows, “Yeah?” A hint of irritation in his voice.

Throttle considered his words. “Just, be careful,” he sighed, “it might not-”

“-Hey, thanks but I don’t need your opinion,” Vinnie cut in, now clearly irritated.

Throttle held up his hands. “Hey, I’m not trying to tell you-”

“-Yeah? Well it sure sounds that way,” Vinnie interrupted.

Throttle sighed again. “Look, Vinnie, I don’t wanna start something here. Just hear me out, OK?”

Vinnie tilted his head, disinterested, but listened. “I don’t wanna get involved and I don’t wanna know what’s been going on, OK? I just don’t wanna see either of you get torn up over this.”

Vinnie folded his arms, his expression softening a little. Throttle sat forward, folding his arms on the table. “Trust me, I know what it’s like to be away from someone you care about, it doesn’t work when you’re on different planets.”

Vinnie looked at him, his body slumped in recognition of his words and he looked away. “Yeah,” he simply agreed.

Throttle eyed him with concern as Charley and Modo appeared again. They relaxed as breakfast got down. Vinnie and Charley floated on the pool rings, chatting and laughing. Throttle watched them thoughtfully.

Modo noticed and knocked his can against Throttle’s arm, diverting his attention. “Hey, you OK?”

Throttle glanced at him, “Yeah. I’m just worried about those two,” he nodded his head to them.

Modo frowned, not following. “Worried about those two? Why?”

Throttle rubbed his head with one hand and sighed. “I think… something’s goin’ on between them.”

Modo stared at him, looking at the duo in the pool before returning his stare to Throttle. “With Vinnie and Charley?” His voice was shocked and confused.

“Yeah. I just spoke to Vinnie and he didn’t deny it, just got defensive, and they’ve been spending loads of time together here, don’t ya think?” Throttle looked at him questioningly.

Modo thought. “Well, yeah there’s no denyin’ that,” he contemplated, before shaking his head and sighing heavily. “Why’s he goin’ messin’ things up, he knows the deal, it’s not fair on Charley-” he started, getting angrier at the reality of the situation.

“-Hey easy, easy,” Throttle stopped him, keeping his voice low. “You know how much he cares about her. I just don’t think they know what to do now it’s… happened. But I think we should keep out of it.”

Modo looked over at them, and back to Throttle with a pained expression. “Yeah, you’re right, I just hope they know what they’re doin’,” he sighed apprehensively.

Throttle nodded in agreement, “Me too Modo, me too.”

Modo hung his head, shaking it again. “Vinnie, you sure don’t do things by halves,” he said to himself.

Throttle snorted in irony at the comment. “That’s Vinnie.”

Vinnie and Charley dried off on the loungers as Modo and Throttle went to grab more drinks from the kitchen.

Vinnie turned to her. “You wanna hang out today, just me and you?” he suggested in a purely friendly tone.

Charley smiled, her expression suggesting it would be anything but purely friendly. “I’m not sure we could think of a good enough excuse?”

Vinnie looked to make sure they were alone. “Yeah, well, I’m not sure we need one, babe. I think they kinda suspect something.”

Charley looked at him with concern. “What? How?” She kept her voice low.

Vinnie shook his head and opened his hands, “I dunno. Throttle was making comments about us spending time together and then started tryin’ to give me sensible advice!”

Charley put her head in her hand. “Oh no.”

“Bet he’s said somethin’ to Modo too. I didn’t tell him anything though.” Vinnie assured her.

“Great, we’re gonna get that lecture at some point then,” Charley groaned.

Vinnie shrugged, looking thoughtful. “Maybe not. Throttle did say he didn’t wanna know, or get involved.”

Charley looked more optimistic. “Good. Well, we can’t keep it from them forever,” she considered.

Vinnie nodded in agreement. “Yeah. Guess we should say somethin’ soon.”

“Yeah, soon.” Charley repeated, a tad apprehensively. “Maybe we should hang out with them for a while first, before we disappear? We could take the boat out or something?”

Vinnie agreed. They hadn’t hung out as a group since the whole Root beer incident. Throttle and Modo reappeared with more of the non alcoholic kind.

Vinnie called over. “Hey we were thinking, we could take the boat out? But no fishing.”

Modo and Throttle nodded to each other. “We could take some lunch, put the music on…” Modo suggested.

“Sounds good.” Throttle agreed.

“I’ll go put some lunch together?” Charley offered. She walked off to the kitchen.

“Guess we’ll need even more Root beer then!” Throttle chuckled, walking off to get some.

“Remember to-” Vinnie started.

“-Check the label, yeah, I know.” Throttle called back dryly. Vinnie laughed to himself.

Modo got up. “I’ll go get the boat ready.” He walked off before Vinnie could make any more comments.

Vinnie followed the others to the kitchen. Throttle was returning with a crate. “Grab the other crate

Vinnie, would ya?” He nodded to it on the floor, walking off to the boat.

Charley was busy making sandwiches and cooking up some sausages and chicken thighs. Vinnie smiled to himself, stepping nearer and snaking his tail up to the worktop, where it wrapped round a piece of cut up chicken.

Charley noticed. “Hey! Get off, that’s for lunch!” She tried to grab his tail, but missed.

Vinnie held the chicken up in his hand. “I’m hungry,” he stated, biting into it.

“You’ve just had breakfast!” Charley cried. “And be careful, those thighs are hot.”

Vinnie swallowed his bite and smiled knowingly at her. He laughed suggestively, “They sure are.”

She smiled, rolling her eyes as he approached her, his eyes roaming over her. His hands clamped her sides. “Just like the rest.”

She draped her arms around his neck and pressed against him, kissing him softly. Vinnie squeezed her sides. She pulled back. “Vinnie?” she asked, looking him in the eyes.

“Yeah?” He raised his eyebrows.

“Your meat’s burning,” she smiled, raising an eyebrow.

Vinnie let out a dirty laugh. “You said it.”

“Well if you don’t want a singed lunch, I need to sort this,” she smiled, stepping back and turning the oven off.

Vinnie turned and picked up the crate of Root beer. “I’d better take this,” he sighed. He headed out the door, reaching over with his tail and taking another chicken piece.

“Hey!” Charley cried, watching in exasperation.

The mice loaded up the sleek, white boat, which in truth was actually a yacht, as it bobbed slightly on the water. Charley soon followed with the lunch. They headed off mid morning, Modo steering. The deck was a light wood, there was plenty of room for fishing, with comfy chairs at the stern. Inside, the light wood continued, paired with ivory sofas and carpets. The lounge area formed a square, where a large TV hung on a wall. Behind was a modern kitchen and dining area. The lower deck housed the bedroom and bathrooms, whilst the upper deck had a large exposed space with loungers, and a covered outside space with sofas and tables. It was hardly a fishing boat. The space was vastly bigger than Charley’s apartment and garage. They each took turns in steering, as they circled the island. They ate lunch on the upper deck’s table, playing music and chatting and laughing as usual. When Throttle was steering and Modo stood chatting to him, Vinnie and Charley left the loungers and went to have a look below deck. The bedrooms and bathrooms were compact but still luxurious, the main one bigger than the rest with its own en suite and walk in closet.

“Not bad for a boat!” Vinnie remarked, looking around.

Charley opened doors and peaked inside. “Still better than mine,” she groaned.

Vinnie shrugged her comment off. “Doesn’t matter what it looks like, it’s what you do in it that counts,” he smiled, giving her a look.

She smiled at him and sighed. “Just sleep,” she muttered bitterly.

Vinnie raised his eyebrows and smirked. “Maybe not for long, Sweetheart.”

Charley laughed, embarrassed. “Is that right?” she teased, resting her hands on his waist.

He slid his hands round hers. “I’m kinda hopin’ so,” he smiled. She looked at him, running her hands up his abs to his chest, stepping up to him, sliding them around his neck. She kissed him hard, pushing him into the bedroom wall. His hands slid lower to the base of her back. She broke away from him, both of them breathing heavily.

Considering a thought, she looked down, a smile at the corner of her mouth. “Just so you know,” she started, then looking him in the eye. “I’m… fixed up, you know?” She tried to explain, a little embarrassed.

Vinnie frowned, not understanding for a second. When he suddenly realised what she was trying to say, his eyes widened. “Oh! Right!” He nodded, swallowing. He looked out the doorway down the hallway and back to Charley, who was smiling at him. “You mean like, now?” he asked nervously.

Charley looked at him, shocked. She laughed, flustered. “No, not now!” she blurted.

Vinnie relaxed. “Oh, I thought maybe you wanted to-” Vinnie started, before Charley interrupted.

“-Not here!” Charley cried, keeping her voice low. “The others are up there! They’ll be wondering where we are as it is!” She gestured above them.

Vinnie chuckled, “Well wherever it is, I ain’t gonna complain!”

Charley smirked, “Let’s think about that later, hot stuff, come on.” She ushered him back to the upper deck, where they took their seats on the loungers once again. Throttle and Modo appeared oblivious to their absence, unless they were just keeping out the way, Vinnie mused.

They moored up early afternoon. Modo sorted the boat whilst Throttle, Vinnie and Charley bought the stuff they’d taken back to the main area. They put the leftovers back in the kitchen. Once Throttle had left, Charley reached out to Vinnie’s arm, he turned to face her. She bit her lip and looked at him. “So, you wanna go somewhere? Just us?”

“Yeah sure. Where you wanna go?” Vinnie smiled.

“Maybe we could go back to the waterfall?” she suggested.

Vinnie grinned. “Whatever you want, Sweetheart.”

She stepped closer to him. “Maybe we can have another think about, what we were talking about?” she suggested in a lower tone.

He raised an eyebrow, eyeing her. “OK,” he smiled, feeling a little nervous.

“I’m gonna go get a shower,” she smiled.

“Yeah me too,” Vinnie nodded, following her out of the kitchen, his mind starting to race.

Throttle and Modo were walking past the pool with a ball. “We’re gonna go shoot some hoops,” Throttle told them, knowing they wouldn’t want an invite.

“Yeah, we’re gonna go get showers and, maybe go for a ride.” Vinnie told them, with no further explanation.

“See ya later,” Modo called. They were clearly asking no questions. He and Throttle exchanged a look, as did Vinnie and Charley.

“See ya guys,” Charley called after them. “Oh, they so know,” she groaned.

 

Charley pulled her dress back on after her shower. Underneath, she put on underwear, instead of her bikini. She looked at herself nervously in the mirror. There was no going back now.

Vinnie took a deep breath as he pulled his vest top back on. He’d decided to put his jeans on, beach shorts just weren’t right. He couldn’t help but feel apprehensive as he knocked on Charley’s door.

“Jeans, is that your official dress code for putting out?” she teased, smirking at him.

Vinnie smiled, feeling his cheeks heat up. “I just never imagined the first time we… well, that I’d be in beach shorts!” he explained, a tad awkwardly.

Charley looked at him with mock suspicion. “Just how far back have you been imagining that, then?”

Vinnie gave her an unconvincing look of virtue. Charley shook her head and raised her hands. “Forget I asked that.”

They made their way down to the beach, where they mounted Vinnie’s bike. They drove up the familiar pathway to the spot where they had stopped before.

“Hold on,” Vinnie told her, as he revved his engine and made the jump across the pool to the grassy area on the other side.

“Well that saved some time,” Charley remarked, dismounting and taking off her helmet. The scenery was just as beautiful as she remembered. She walked over the grass, where rocks of various sizes stood, to the rocky edge of the turquoise pool, taking a photo and looking around. She could now see the waterfall in its entirety, falling into the water in a white haze, the spray dampening the rocks either side. The cascade roared continuously in the background as the sun lit up areas of the pool though the tall trees. She sensed Vinnie behind her and turned her head, smiling to him. He put his hands on her waist from behind and nuzzled her neck, causing her to giggle slightly. She leant her head back into him. “It’s good to be back here,” she sighed happily.

“Sure is,” Vinnie agreed, his breath against her neck. “Just you and me, well, apart from the wildlife.”

Charley smiled, her neck tingling, sending a shiver down her body. “I can live with that,” she murmured, pressing back against him, causing his jeans to tighten.

They stood for a few seconds, feeling each others breathing quicken. Charley could feel Vinnie’s hardness against her. She turned, draping her arms around his neck. She swallowed, her heart thumping, knowing what was about to happen. He tightened his grip on her waist as his heart also pounded, his chest rising and falling. He looked her over before pulling her towards him and kissing her hard. She held the back of his head as she hungrily kissed him, their tongues now well in sync, until they finally broke apart.

“It’s been a long time since I…was in this situation,” Charley breathed, biting her lip.

Vinnie raised his eyebrows. “Not as long as me, I bet.”

She smiled, her hands dancing in the fur at the back of his neck. “That’s a big downside of being stranded on another planet, huh?”

He looked at her, his eyes now darker. “Not any more,” he smirked.

Charley smiled wickedly, reaching up and kissing him once again, grabbing his top in her fists. Vinnie held her tightly, his hands sliding down, holding her ass over the thin material. They kissed wildly, his hardness pressing into her, causing their breathing to become ragged. Her hands gripped his sides as they both panted between kisses, before he pushed her forcefully backwards into a large smooth rock, causing his body to crush hers. They groaned at the contact, her hands desperately running over his chest, roughly pulling at his top, which was soon discarded. One of her hands ran up his back whilst the other held his ass over the tight denim. His hands ran up her sides roughly, slowing as they outlined the sides of her breasts. One hand cupped her over her dress, whilst the other slid under the skirt, up her leg to her thong, and round to her ass. He squeezed it firmly, causing her to arch into him and moan into his mouth, as his hand caressed her smooth, warm skin. His other hand then ran down and under her dress, grabbing her other cheek. She gasped as he kneaded it, her hands roaming his sides and down his abs, finding his belt and starting to unbuckle it.

Vinnie took a deep breath as he continued to kiss her feverishly. His hands came back to her dress and snaked back up her body, until he came to her large breasts that were bound by the elasticated top. She could feel his warm hands on her through the fabric and bucked against him, wanting to feel his hands on her body. Her hands had undone his belt and jeans and were now threatening to venture inside. With one rough tug, the fabric was pulled down to her waist, exposing her firm breasts, which bobbed slightly at the action. Vinnie looked at her with hungry eyes. Before she had time to think, his hands lifted her body, shifting her up the rock. His hands held the underside of her legs and his mouth was suddenly on her breasts. She panted heavily, making little noises as his tongue snaked over her. She moaned quietly, grabbing the fur on his head. He sucked in a breath, looking at her like a tiger would its prey. “You are so fucking hot,” he whispered, bringing her down and to his mouth again.

Her hands were on his abs once again, sliding downwards, feeling every muscle. He pushed her dress downwards, using his tail to take it off completely, leaving her in just her thong. She was aching for him, her hands tugging at his jeans. Her mouth went to his ear. “I want you,” she breathed, causing him to shudder. He grabbed her waist, pulling her down, as they clumsily made it to the grass, his body crushing hers as he kicked off his sneakers and jeans. His hand pulled her thong off roughly, as he knelt up and lustfully looked over her tight, tanned, naked body, her full breasts swaying slightly. He forcefully grabbed her waist, causing her to gasp and groan at his rough contact, desperate to feel him inside her.

She wanted him to have her, in any way he wanted, at this point. “Please,” she moaned. “Vinnie… please.” He never thought he’d hear her pleading for him to do her so desperately, and it made him wild. He wanted to say something, but it came out in a low growl, his eyes hungrily roaming over her body.

He gritted his teeth, pulling her aching centre towards him. She could barely form words as his hands ran roughly up and down her sides. His breathing was shallow and ragged as he finally pushed into her, pulling her down onto him. He groaned, unable to speak, his eyes trying to focus as he sunk into her warm wetness. She cried out as she felt him enter her, bucking upwards, feeling him sliding his length into her. She was so desperate for it, almost shaking with need. She panted and gasped, moaning as he filled her.

“Fuck,” He swore quietly, stopping to compose himself, closing his eyes for a second before starting to move again, feeling her around him. She moaned loudly, grasping at him, feeling him push into her over and over. He kept hold of her waist, controlling the rhythm. He moaned, trying to keep himself in check, swearing to himself.

“Oh god!” She moaned, “don’t stop, oh, Vinnie!” Charley moaned louder, with high gasps intertwined. Vinnie could only swear and remember to breath.

She gasped, ‘Vinnie! Vinnie! Oh, oh! Right… there, oh god… Vinnie!”

His pace got more frantic, pounding into her, his groans getting more desperate. “Fuck, fuck!” He growled.

“Oh my god, oh, Vinnie, Vinnie! I’m gonna…” She gasped, her head rising up as she cried out and she bucked, her head crashing back, then frantically rising back up and crashing back again. her body writhing in pleasure.

Vinnie was done. “Fuck Charley,” he clenched his teeth, a groan ripping from him as his whole body shuddered. “Fuck,” he gasped again.

Charley panted, her body hot as she lay naked in the grass. She put a hand to her forehead. “Wow,” she managed.

Vinnie ran his hands down his face, panting equally as hard. “You said it, Sweetheart,” he smirked.

After a minute or so, Charley got up, walking over to the pool. “You coming in?” she asked, walking into the water until it covered her body. Vinnie followed, getting in. The water was warm, the sunlight shining on it in sparkling patches. They sat against one side, the roar of the waterfall distant enough not to be overbearing. Vinnie draped an arm round her, and she lent her head on his shoulder.

“I guess we should tell the other two about us, when we get back?” Charley contemplated.

Vinnie nodded and made a noise in agreement. “Yeah, it’s gonna be pretty obvious when I’m not there most nights!”

Charley raised her eyebrows and looked at him, “Most nights?” Vinnie smirked at her. She thought, a concerned expression appearing on her face. “I’m gonna have to invest in a new bed.”

 

Throttle and Modo had decided to play some sport on the bikes, out on the water. Throttle mounted his bike and started his engine, bringing it to life with a roar. A small yellow light on the dashboard caught his eye. It wasn’t usually there, but Charley had made various changes and upgrades over the years, sometimes it was hard to keep track. He studied it for a moment, he didn’t recognise the symbol, consisting of two wavy lines.

“Hey Modo, any idea what this means?” he called.

Modo came over, squinting at the light. “Never seen that before,” he muttered, holding his chin with thought.

“Have to ask Charley when she’s around,” Throttle shrugged, as they headed for the water.

 

Vinnie and Charley finally appeared, later that afternoon. They’d planned to talk to Throttle and Modo about the situation. They dismounted Vinnie’s bike, exchanging glances when they saw the other two on the beach. However, Throttle gestured them over to his bike when he saw them.

“Hey.” he greeted. “Charley, I got this light come on, must be one of your extras, can you fill me in?”

“Sure,” Charley replied, walking over and looking at the symbol. She stood up straighter, “Oh,” her voice a little startled.

“What is it?” Throttle asked, concerned.

“Someone’s trying to, um, contact you, through radio waves,” her voice was a little flustered. “Turn your radio on.”

“Radio waves?” Throttle asked, turning his radio on.

Charley pressed the buttons on his dashboard, going through the stations, listening.

Vinnie and Modo looked at each other, confused. “Who’s gonna go to that trouble when we’ve got phones?” Vinnie asked.

“Because whoever this is, can’t reach him that way,” Charley explained, concentrating on the sounds.

“Thought pretty much every person on the planet owned a phone these days,” Modo noted.

Charley looked up at them. “Well that’s just it, they’re not on the planet.”

The mice looked at each other with shocked bewilderment as Charley continued to listen, the radio flicking through the stations.

Throttle raised his hands. “Hold up. You’re saying whoever’s trying to contact me is on another planet?”

“Could it be Mars?” Modo asked with concern.

Charley looked up again and gave a quick shake of her head. “No, it couldn’t be that far away. This has to be coming from space-nearby space.”

The mice looked at each other once again. “You mean a ship?” Vinnie asked.

Charley squinted, concentrating on the sounds coming from the radio, trying to recognise any messages. “Yeah,” she replied, distracted.

Throttle thought. “Well they know I’m here, they know my bike’s system, they wanna talk to me, gotta be someone we know really well.”

Charley continued to go through the air waves. She looked at Throttle with realisation dawning on her face. “Do you think it could be-”

Just then a faint, serious voice echoed through the speakers, distorted by crackling. Charley gasped, pressing the buttons again. “Turn it up,” she instructed Throttle. He turned the volume up as Charley managed to get a better signal. They all recognised the voice instantly as a looped message played.

This is Carbine calling Throttle, do you read me?

The four looked at each other in total surprise. “Carbine?” Throttle cried, his mind reeling.

Charley ran a hand down her face trying to think straight. “She won’t hear you until I make it two way, I’ll need a minute.” She gestured for Throttle to get off the bike. He did so hastily. She messed with some buttons. “Luckily I made this easy to activate when I put the system in,” she muttered as she worked. The mice gathered round. “Got it!” she cried.

“Good work Charley,” Throttle said appreciatively, putting a hand on her shoulder and getting back on the bike.

She pointed, “Just press that button when you wanna talk.”

Throttle took a breath and pressed it. “Carbine, this is Throttle, do you read?” his voice anxious. There was no reply. He tried again a little louder. “Carbine! This is Throttle, do you read?”

There was a static noise before Carbine’s voice came through. “Throttle! I’ve been trying to reach you for hours. Is everything OK?”

Throttle let out a breath in relief. “Yeah. Are you? What’s going on?” he asked with concern.

“Everything’s OK. I’m heading for Earth, I should be there within the hour, I’ll explain everything then. Your coordinates read a small island off of the main land, is that right?” she asked, a tad bewildered.

“Yeah, I’ll explain about that,” he replied, feeling a little guilty that she had been trying to reach him whilst he relaxed in the sun.

“OK. I’ll head there now. Carbine out,” she replied matter of factly, turning off the channel.

The four exchanged looks. “Just when you think this week couldn’t get any more surreal,” Throttle muttered.

“Hey cheer up, you’re gonna see Carbine after all this time!” Vinnie cried cheerfully, slapping him on the back.

Throttle jolted, smiling weakly. “Yeah but the problem is, whenever we see Carbine, it’s never good news.”

 

Chapter 11

 

The minutes passed slowly. They watched the blue sky, not knowing what kind of ship she was flying.

Finally, a shape descended. The ship looked battered, it had clearly seen its fair share of war.

Vinnie gritted his teeth with uncertainty. “Woah! That’s seen better days!” he cried.

Modo put his hands on his hips, “Oh Mama, last time I saw one of those in the air was when, well, when I had both arms!”

Throttle watched dubiously. “Surprising it made the journey.”

Charley watched with raised eyebrows as the ship landed on the beach with a creak. The sand whipped up and blew around as the engines calmed. The scene was reminiscent of the sandy landscape of Mars. The door opened and Carbine stood in the doorway in her usual green and yellow uniform, her long black hair down, as always.

She smiled. “Hey,” she greeted softly, “it’s been a while.”

Throttle stepped forward, smiling. “It’s good to see you, Carbine.”

She walked down the ship’s ramp and stood, acknowledging him momentarily, before hugging him affectionately. “You too, Throttle.” She stepped back, studying his clothes with amusement. “I see you’ve not been doing much fighting recently.”

Throttle looked down at himself. It was easy to forget they’d been in beach wear most of the time. “Er, yeah, it’s kinda turned into an unplanned vacation,” he admitted.

Carbine nodded, intrigued. But she had bigger things to discuss. She addressed the other mice, then turned to Charley, her face serious. “Charley, I wanna thank you for all the information you sent to us, it was…invaluable.”

Charley smiled excitedly. “You decrypted it?”

Carbine nodded, her expression impassive. “We need to talk,” she stated anxiously.

“OK, let’s go sit down,” Throttle nodded, turning to walk.

Carbine hesitated. “Oh, first, you might wanna see my cargo,” she smiled, turning back to the ship. She walked back into the doorway for a second, before returning with another mouse in tow.

Modo’s real eye lit up. “Rimfire!” he exclaimed with delight. The other mice greeted him loudly.

“Uncle Modo!” he waved enthusiastically, running down the ramp. Modo hugged his nephew, who was now almost as tall as him, but still had his ginger streak of hair. He greeted the other mice and Charley. “How’d you get a ticket on this trip?” Modo asked happily.

Rimfire smiled. “I’ve come to help, besides, this old thing needed two pilots at times,” he gestured to the ship.

“Help?” Throttle asked, puzzled. Rimfire looked at him, then to carbine, his face hesitant.

Carbine spoke. “There’s a lot to talk about, let’s go and sit down.” They all walked to the main area and took a seat around the table. Carbine looked around, “Nice place.”

Rimfire gawped at the surroundings, he’d never seen anything like it before. “This place is amazing!” he cried in awe.

“Sure is,” Modo agreed, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Later on, I’ll give you the whole tour.”

Rimfire smiled, sitting down, his face becoming more serious as they looked to Carbine. Vinnie and Charley exchanged nervous looks.

Carbine sighed, she’d been thinking about this talk on the journey there. She looked at the mice and Charley. “OK. I guess the first thing you should know is, a few days ago, word got to me that a Freedom fighter happened to see a transporter device appear in the middle of the desert. Guess who the two grotesque beings that got out were.” She raised her eyebrows.

Charley was shocked. “Limburger and Karbunkle were sent to Mars?! I had no idea!”

Carbine smirked. “What are the odds? Anyway, with some backup, they were captured and taken to moon base one for trial.”

The mice shook their heads, disbelieving what they were hearing.

“They’ve got what was comin’ to them,” Modo stated.

“Finally,” Vinnie added.

Throttle thought. “What about the transporter? Would’ve been a lot quicker than that old tin can, babe,” he chucked quietly.

Carbine shot him a sarcastic look. “You think I came in that out of choice? The transporter was damaged during the capture, it’s being sent to scrap for parts.”

Throttle shook his head, still confused. “That’s great you managed to capture them Carbine, that’s two down, and Chi-town safe, at least. But why are you really here?” His voice was wary.

Carbine looked at them all. She licked her lips nervously. “Like I said, Charley’s information was invaluable to us, more so than we ever expected.”

Charley looked at her with anticipation. Carbine met her eyes, taking a breath, and smiled softly. “After decrypting the files, we realised they contained vital sensitive information-of the highest kind.”

The mice looked at each other, listening to every word. “It told us everything we needed to know about the Plutarkian empire. Plans, past, present and future. Coordinates, maps, strategies, spies, weapons, contacts, I could go on,” she explained with cautious optimism. The mice and Charley were astonished at her news. They sat in silence, as she continued. “It changed everything. Once we shared the information with our ally planets, the Plutarkians had nowhere to hide. That one action, Charley, saved so many lives, and changed the course for all of us. Once the Plutarkians realised their information had been revealed, they fled. Every planet they occupied.” Carbine spoke slowly, letting her words sink in. They all exchanged looks once again.

Throttle spoke. “You mean, they’re all gone? From Earth?”

Carbine nodded. “All of them, from our entire solar system.”

Vinnie was trying to process the information. Disappointment fell over his face. “The fight’s over and we weren’t even part of it?”

Charley turned to him, “Vinnie, you helped me get that information to Mars, you were part of it.”

Vinnie frowned. “Not in the way I wanted. In the end, you saved the day, Sweetheart.”

Modo agreed. “In the end we were just livin’ the high life here whilst this was all goin’ on.”

Carbine cut in. “It doesn’t matter now. What matters is that they’re defeated. You all played your part in that, long term, and you should all be proud.” Rimfire nodded in agreement. She sighed, getting to her point, and realising the others had not yet grasped the upshot of her words. “So now it’s time to go home, finally, and indefinitely.”

Carbine’s face was filled with nervous hope. She knew what this meant for them. Vinnie’s face dropped, the realisation sinking in. He felt like he’d been punched. He looked to Charley, her face much the same. She turned to him with tears in her eyes. For a second, no one spoke.

“Home? For good?” Throttle’s soft voice broke the silence.

Carbine nodded, her voice calm. “That’s why we’re here, a one off mission to bring you back.” She reached her fingers out, touching his hand.

Modo looked at Rimfire, he couldn’t hide the joy in his face at the thought of being reunited with the rest of his family again. Rimfire smiled knowingly.

Vinnie had heard enough. He stood up quickly, the chair scraping backwards as he angrily walked away. They all jumped a little in surprise. Charley watched him go, turning back to the others, her eyes threatening to spill the tears. She wanted to speak, but had no words. She stood, looking at them all, her face fraught. She turned and walked quickly in Vinnie’s direction.

Carbine and Rimfire were clearly taken aback by their strong reactions. Throttle and Modo exchanged pained reactions.

Throttle sighed heavily, dropping his head into his hand, before lifting it, dragging the hand down his face. “Oh, man.”

Modo tilted his head back with a sigh, looking back to the table in angst.

Carbine and Rimfire exchanged a look. “I take it there’s something I should know?” Carbine asked, guessing exactly what it was.

Throttle placed his intertwined hands on the table, dropping his head before looking up. “This is all new to us too, but, Vinnie and Charley have got… real close.”

Rimfire raised his eyebrows and looked from one to the other.

Carbine nodded sympathetically. “I thought you’d say that. They’ll need their space.”

Modo nodded. “This ain’t gonna be easy for them.”

“No,” Carbine agreed. “It won’t. Let’s all just take a break, get our heads together. Plus Rimfire and I could really do with a shower.”

Rimfire sighed in agreement. “Yeah, that’d be good.”

Modo chuckled. “C’mon Rimfire, I’ll show you where you can get one, and some clean clothes. Then I’ll give you that tour.”

Rimfire’s eyes lit up, “That’d be awesome Uncle Modo, this place looks unreal.”

Modo started walking with him. “Yeah, and wait until you see the fishing boat!”

Throttle turned to Carbine. “Wanna use my shower?” he smirked, “there’s a ton of clothes too.”

Carbine smiled at him knowingly. “How can I refuse?” She let him lead the way.

 

Vinnie stormed along the walkway, kicking a pot plant into the water. He threw his door open, pacing the floor before running his hands down his face and sitting on the edge of the bed. His arms were stiff, pressing into the mattress behind him. He tilted his head back before bringing it forward as Charley followed him into the room. He looked at her, his eyes misty this time. Charley shut the door and walked over to him, some tears now escaping down her face. He stood, putting his arms around her as she folded hers around his waist.

“I don’t believe it,” he stated simply.

Charley stepped back to look at him. “I don’t regret it.” She told him with certainty, tears still seeping out of the corner of her eyes.

He pulled her to him again. “Me neither,” he said quietly.

After a minute they stepped back. “Why did it have to be now?” Vinnie asked bitterly.

Charley wiped her face with her hand. “I guess, better now than further down the line, right?”

Vinnie shrugged. “I guess so,” he replied, dejected. He looked her in the eye. “You know I’d stay if I could.”

She nodded. “I know,” her voice was quiet. She looked down, letting out a small breath in sorrow before looking back to him. “If things were simpler, maybe I could’ve… worked out a way to…” she trailed off, seeing the look on Vinnie’s face.

He smiled sadly and shook his head. “You’re way too good for a war torn planet like that. You’ve got a chance to really do something with your life now.”

Charley didn’t say anything, she looked away, the odd tear still streaking down her face. Vinnie watched her, before lifting up her chin. “Promise you will, Sweetheart. You need to start thinkin’ what’s best for you.”

She smiled a little. “Maybe it’s all fate, who knows, right?” Her face fell again.

Vinnie gave a small shrug. “Maybe.”

Charley thought for a moment and tried to be more positive through her tears. “Well this is a new start for you and your whole planet! You can all start rebuilding your lives without the constant threat to the solar system, and all the scum on Mars would’ve fled the first chance they got.”

Vinnie nodded, his smile weak. “Funny, now it’s finally happened, I don’t really care any more.”

Charley sighed, looking pained. “All I ever wanted was Limburger to get the hell out of Chicago and leave me alone. But after I met you guys, I knew that would always come at a price. And now it’s happened, I wish it hadn’t.” With an ironic dry laugh she added, “And it was my doing.”

“Guess we have to look at the bigger picture here, right?” Vinnie sighed.

“You’re right. It’s a great thing for Earth and the solar system.” Charley tried to muster some enthusiasm.

“I wish… we’d had more time, maybe we could’ve figured somethin’ out,” Vinnie mused with exasperation.

“I know,” Charley agreed soothingly. “They were always risky odds. Guess we shouldn’t be surprised.”

Vinnie looked at her. “So what’re you gonna do Sweetheart?”

Charley shook her head and sighed heavily. “I guess, I’ll talk to Jack, see what we can do.”

Vinnie nodded. “Good. You deserve a life better than Chicago. What about the Last Chance?”

Charley sadly contemplated. “I’ll never sell it. But I can rent it out, earn a little and still keep it going.”

Vinnie smiled, glad she was thinking about the future. “Good idea. Sure McCyber will look after ya.”

Charley looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. “You know me and Jack would never get-” she started.

“-I know,” Vinnie acknowledged. “But it’s good to know someone’s lookin’ out for ya.”

She smiled sadly.

 

Carbine pulled on jeans and a vest top. Dresses simply weren’t an option where she came from, even if she liked the look of them. Throttle showed her round briefly before they got a drink and sat by the pool, talking over what needed to be done. Carbine certainly wasn’t going to let the free supplies get left behind. They wrote up a list of all the useful things they could take back to Mars. When Modo and Rimfire returned, they started packing and loading up. Vinnie and Charley walked back to the main area, quiet and subdued.

Carbine looked up, giving Throttle a quick glance before standing and stepping forwards. “Charley, can I talk to you?” she called.

Charley looked at Vinnie, then back to Carbine. “Sure,” she replied softly. Carbine led her down the steps to the beach.

Vinnie watched her go, looking down bitterly. Throttle approached him, not knowing what to say for the best. He started to say something, but Vinnie cut him off. “Don’t,” he stated, sitting on a chair. Throttle simply laid a hand on his shoulder, before getting back to work, Modo looking on sadly before getting back to helping Rimfire carry supplies.

Carbine and Charley sat on the soft, warm sand, the glistening sea in front of them. A small breeze caused their hair to dance around their faces.

Charley looked down to her knees, then out towards the horizon. “Guess you’ve heard the gossip?” she asked flatly, still looking ahead.

Carbine looked at her and nodded, joining her gaze out towards the blue expanse. “I heard you and Vinnie have gotten pretty close lately. Can’t say I’m that surprised,” she replied softly.

Charley looked at her. “Oh?”

Carbine shrugged, turning to her, smiling sadly. “A girl senses these things.”

Charley was a little surprised. She didn’t think it was ever that obvious, especially as Carbine was never around them much. “Well, it’s come to an abrupt end now,” she muttered tearfully, staring at the sand.

Carbine watched her sympathetically. “I’m so sorry things happened this way. But I want you to know your actions won’t ever be forgotten.” She placed a hand on Charley’s shoulder.

Charley nodded, happy for what she managed to do, despite the sacrifice.

They continued to talk as Vinnie sat with his thoughts. Modo passed by, setting his box down when he saw him. He walked over. “How you doin’ Vinnie?” he asked gently, taking a seat nearby.

“Not so good,” Vinnie replied without looking up.

“Sometimes things just ain’t fair Bro, believe me I know,” Modo sighed.

“Yeah,” Vinnie muttered.

“It’s like my dear old gray furred Mamma used to say, the road’s filled with twists and turns,” Modo told him. “But you never know what’s waitin’ around the next corner.”

Vinnie nodded as Modo got up, patting him on the shoulder. Vinnie looked up to him in acknowledgement as Modo walked back to his box.

Charley and Carbine soon came back up to the poolside. Carbine set off to help with the loading, leaving Charley and Vinnie to gather their thoughts.

“I should go get my stuff together, and talk to Jack,” Charley told him solemnly.

Vinnie nodded, getting up. “Yeah, guess I should too.”

They walked back along the walkway towards the huts, the mood considerably darker than the last few days of carefree indulgence. He held her hand, the sombre silence wrapping itself around them as they approached the buildings.

She smiled at him weakly as they stopped at his door. She placed a hand on his upper arm. “I’ll be out in a bit,” her voice was quiet and shaky.

Vinnie nodded, opening his door as she walked to hers. He didn’t watch her, closing the door behind him. He sighed, sitting on the bed, his elbows resting on his knees. He was angry, confused and utterly devastated. Why now, of all times? If only they’d left the computers alone. That was selfish, he knew. Greater things would come out of this, there was no denying that, and Charley had earned the recognition of Mars that would always be remembered. To him though, that would be a constant reminder of what he’d lost. But she had opportunity now, to move on and become what she should’ve always been. Maybe this had to happen, maybe it was all part of a bigger plan in the long term, and maybe things wouldn’t have worked out between them, he reasoned. He numbly started emptying the closet, tossing clothes into an empty suitcase that had stood in there.

Charley closed the door, her eyes welling up with tears as she struggled to think straight. She sat on her bed, wiping her cheeks. This was so typical of her life. She was jinxed when it came to men, that much was clear. She was stupid to let things get so out of control, so fast, with him. How could she have ever believed it could work, long term? This would’ve happened at some point. She had initiated things, and now look what it’d caused. She had been so insistent on sending those damn files, but she couldn’t feel angry about the good it had done. She was proud, and happy for all those it affected, but it had been at the cost of her and Vinnie. She pondered if things would have worked if they had been able to stay together. But there was no point dwelling on that, it wasn’t going to happen, she needed to look forward and try to build a future for herself, and so did Vinnie. She held her phone in her hand, swiping down her contacts list, until she got to Jack. She took a deep breath and dialled.

Vinnie threw the last of the toiletries into a bag. He had pretty much cleared the room. He took the contents to the main area and dumped it with the other boxes. Every room was in the process of being cleared, by the look of it. Mars was in need of basics like clothes, food and medical supplies. Anything else was a bonus. The mice had enlisted the help of the bikes, which carried and pulled heavy and large crates. Vinnie took back an empty box to help Charley with the rest of her things. He knocked on her door. She opened it, her eyes red.

“Hey,” she greeted quietly.

“Hey. You talk to McCyber?” Vinnie asked.

Charley nodded. “Yeah. He’s on business in Indianapolis, luckily, he’ll get a helicopter to Chicago once he’s done, in a day or so.”

Vinnie looked down and sighed. “At least you can talk things through and make some decisions, I’m glad you won’t be alone, Sweetheart.”

Charley nodded, hugging him. Vinnie hugged her back, neither of them spoke. When they stepped back, Charley took a breath. “Well, we need to get this stuff moved.” She turned to the case she’d packed, and a pile sitting on the bed.

Vinnie picked up his box. “I’ll get that.” He walked to the bed, throwing it in. “You keeping all this?”

Charley shook her head. “Not most of it. The memories will make me sad.” She tried to smile, her eyes becoming watery once again. She grabbed the case and turned, walking out. Vinnie followed.

Over the next few hours, the mice and Charley helped to load the ship, stopping only to eat. Vinnie had picked at his food, and Charley had barely eaten. The mood was strange. Of course Modo and Throttle were happy to be getting home and being with those they missed so dearly, and Rimfire and Carbine were no doubt overjoyed. But everyone knew they were leaving Charley behind, their friend, their sister, even. That was a hard pill to swallow, and for Vinnie of course, it was heartbreaking. Everyone felt for them, this wasn’t how they wanted it to end.

They carried the last of the supplies onto the ship. Modo set down a crate of alcohol. For medical purposes. That was the official use anyway. He wondered how much of it would actually be used for that. One thing was for sure, they’d have enough food for the three day journey home, all be it simpler than they’d been used to. The mice drove their bikes into the cargo bay, amongst the various boxes, cases, bags and crates.

Charley stood at the base of the ship’s ramp, looking out at the ocean. The sun was starting to set, colouring the sky like it had done all the previous evenings. This evening was different. This was the last time she’d watch the sun lower over the water. The vacation was over. This whole chapter of her life was over. Vinnie stood in the ship’s doorway, the orange glow blanketing the ship and himself. He walked down the ramp, stopping behind her.

He placed a hand on her shoulder. “Carbine says Chicago will only take a few minutes,” he told her solemnly. “You OK?”

Charley looked at him, her face pained. “No. Are you?”

“No,” he told her honestly. They embraced, looking out to the sun, melting into the horizon one last time.

Carbine appeared at the doorway. She bit her lip and took a breath. “It’s er, time to go,” she called softly. They looked up at her walking inside, then at each other.

“Ready?” Vinnie asked her, knowing she wasn’t. She sighed, giving a quick nod. They turned and walked up the ramp, the last warm rays of the sun hitting their backs, leaving it to its solitary decent.

 

Chapter 12

 

The group buckled themselves into their seats, Carbine and Rimfire sat at the controls, the others a row behind. Carbine started the engines, making checks. The ship lifted off of the sand and into the air with a jolt and a creak. Throttle and Modo looked at each other nervously.

“Hey Carbine, you sure this thing is gonna make it back to Mars?” Throttle called anxiously.

Carbine remained cool headed. “This tin can as you put it, is on its last legs, but it’ll make it back, just,” she called back.

“Well that’s reassuring,” Throttle remarked dryly.

“Oh Mamma,” Modo sighed, looking around at the ship’s fittings.

“I’ve managed to get worse flying before,” Carbine told them, somewhat proudly. “Besides, the mission was non-negotiable.” She looked at Throttle for a second.

Vinnie studied the bolts on the walls, hoping the whole thing would hold together long enough. “Is there like, an emergency pod or anything?” he asked doubtfully.

Rimfire turned to him. “There was once,” he shrugged.

“I guess we’ve been in worse situations,” Vinnie yielded.

“Yeah, like being shot down on Earth,” Throttle muttered, reliving the memory.

Charley looked concerned. “Are you guys gonna be OK in this?” she asked with slight alarm.

“Sure, don’t worry Charley,” Rimfire called to her. “We got it here OK, we’ll get it back.”

Charley nodded, unconvinced. She held Vinnie’s hand as they sped across the outer atmosphere. She took little notice of the blackened space outside, scattered with tiny stars. Or of the spectacle of Earth from that angle.

Within minutes, Carbine started their decent, tapping in the Last Chance garage’s coordinates. Charley felt sick, but the journey wasn’t the reason. She breathed deeply as they lowered through the clouds into the Chicago night sky. The ship’s cloaking abilities worked well enough, that was a bonus. As they dropped down into Charley’s neighbourhood, there was little need for cloaking anyhow. No one walked the streets at night, not many people actually lived there since Limburger’s demolition began. Carbine landed behind the garage with a thud.

She turned to them. “Rimfire and I will wait here, make sure the ship’s ready for the journey.”

“We’ll get the bikes,” Throttle gestured to Modo. “Go pick up our stuff from the scoreboard.” He couldn’t quite comprehend what he was saying.

Modo nodded to him and sighed. “Jus’ can’t believe this’ll be our last ride through Chi-town.”

They headed for the cargo bay as Carbine and Rimfire stood to acknowledge Charley. Vinnie waited by the door with one of Charley’s bags as she said her goodbyes. Carbine hugged her, standing to look at her for a second, giving her a nod. Charley sadly walked with her case to the door, which Vinnie opened. He followed her down the ramp. As Charley opened the garage door, they heard Throttle and Modo roaring down the deserted road. Charley set her case to one side as they walked in, Vinnie put the other bag down next to it. She sighed.

Vinnie looked around, knowing it would be the last time he stood in the Last Chance. He noted the dented and scraped walls that had taken a battering from the trio over the years, not to mention unwanted visitors, the floor on which they’d fixed their bikes so many times and the windows that had been smashed on numerous occasions. There had been lots of good times too of course, lots of laughter and games. The scenes and sounds of the past echoed in his mind. “Can’t believe I won’t see this place again,” Vinnie remarked, finding it hard to accept. “So many memories, huh Sweetheart.” He spoke softly, treading carefully.

Charley smiled through her sorrow, giving a small nod. “Too many. This isn’t the right place for me now. I don’t wanna live in the past, not any more.”

Throttle and Modo had gathered their few belongings at the scoreboard and loaded them onto the back of their bikes.

Modo looked around the space. “Man, I sure am gonna miss this place.”

Throttle sighed heavily. “Me too, we had some good times here. Gonna miss watchin’ the baseball that’s for sure.”

Modo looked down onto the field. “You can say that again. Sittin’ there with a Root beer and chilli dog…”

Throttle chuckled, “Man, gonna miss those things too.” His voice became more serious. “Anyway, we’d better get back, we’ve got a long trip ahead.”

Modo nodded in agreement. “Last ride through Chi-town,” he stated nostalgically.

“Let’s do it,” Throttle shut his helmet and led the way as they burst from the scoreboard onto the road. They passed familiar scenes as they sped along.

Modo spoke via his helmet. “Gonna miss seeing the lake, an’ the trees, an’ green grass...”

Throttle knew they’d have to get used to a barren landscape once again. “Blue sky,” he added. They stopped at some red lights. “Not gonna miss these so much,” he smiled. They passed Limburger tower, which stood empty. He scoffed, “Sure ain’t gonna miss that.”

“Yeah, this city sure is gonna smell better,” Modo sneered as the tower disappeared in their rear view mirrors. They left down town Chicago behind and headed towards the Last Chance.

Vinnie and Charley heard the bikes come back. Modo and Throttle appeared shortly after. This was it. A solemn silence fell.

Throttle stepped forward. “This is it, Charley girl, time to say goodbye,” he announced with regret.

Charley swallowed as she fought back the inevitable tears. “I don’t know what to say, things won’t ever be the same, you guys were my life.” She hugged Throttle. “You all saved me and this city so many times, I can’t ever thank you enough for that.”

“All part of a hero’s job,” Throttle smiled. “It’s been a blast Charley, you did your fair share too, don’t forget that.”

“Go be with Carbine,” Charley smiled, her tears slipping down her face. “You two’ve waited long enough.”

Throttle gave a small smile. “You take care babe,” he told her, before walking out.

Modo stepped forward, hugging her. “Things won’t be the same without you, Charley ma’am,” he said softly.

Charley smiled weakly. “I’m gonna miss you guys more than you can imagine. I’m so glad I met you, and I’m so lucky.”

“Aw, well we feel the same,” Modo told her. “We won’t ever forget our time here with you Charley.”

“Enjoy being back with your family.” Charley’s face was filled with genuine happiness for him.

Modo nodded in thanks, muttered a goodbye and disappeared through the door.

Charley wiped her eyes, turning to Vinnie. She smiled sadly. “I never imagined things would end up this way, back in the day.”

Vinnie nodded, giving her a small smile. “Me neither. Can’t deny the whole thing’s been one wild ride.”

Charley gave a small laugh through her tears. “You can say that again.”

Vinnie looked at her, then down at his feet as his smile faded. When his pink eyes met hers again, they were noticeably misty. “I’m gonna miss you sittin’ behind me, holdin’ on to me,” he told her seriously.

Charley looked at him intently. “I’ll always be holding onto you,” she replied quietly.

Vinnie looked down again, he sighed, his mouth opening as he thought. He looked at her. “Sweetheart, I know I never said it, but-”

“-You don’t have to,” Charley cut in, smiling as much as she could muster. “Some things are better off that way.”

Vinnie nodded in agreement. “Guess some things are meant to be, and some things just aren’t?”

Charley gave a nod and shrugged, wiping her face. “Even if we can’t understand it.”

He pulled her into a hug. She clung to him, her body shaking slightly. After a short time, he stepped back, holding her arms. “Do what makes you happy, Sweetheart. Time to look forward, there’s a whole world out there,” he told her confidently, trying to smile.

She nodded, shakily sniffing back tears. “Hey you too, you got a safe planet now. No regrets, no pining, OK?” She pointed a finger at him.

Vinnie gave a short laugh. “OK.” He held her face, kissing her, before pressing his forehead against hers. She held the back of his head in her hands and shut her eyes in the silence. He stepped back, their eyes met, knowing it was the last time they would probably see each other. They briefly held hands as Vinnie took another step back, giving a small nod of acknowledgement, his smile strained, as he turned and walked, not wanting to prolong the moment any further. Charley gave a nod back, and dropped her head, wrapping her arms around herself. Not looking up, she sat on a nearby tyre, holding her head in her hands, crying quietly, as Vinnie buckled himself into his seat numbly.

Charley’s head hurt. She could hear the ship warming up in the yard. She started to shake her head. “No,” she mumbled to herself, repeating it with more certainty as the seconds ticked by. This wasn’t right. Her gut told her, it was never wrong, and she knew things couldn’t end this way. She stood up quickly, her heart pumping and her breath ragged. Her eyes darted as her mind raced at a million miles per hour. She heard the ship’s engines start up, jolting her into action. Her body propelled itself before her mind had time to process her movements, she ran to the door, yanking it open, the roar of the ship was deafening. She raced around the corner of the Last Chance, where the engines were blowing up litter and dust. Shielding her eyes, she started to run again, but she was too late. The ship loomed above her, ascending. She stopped abruptly and shouted up, waving her arms, but her voice was lost in the noise, the ship and her hopes getting smaller at every moment. Within seconds, it was gone. The cloaking device having been turned on. Charley’s heart sank. It was her own fault. She’d missed her chance. Numbly she walked back into the lonely silence of the garage. She locked the door, taking herself off to bed. Her eyes were sore and she felt queasy, sleep was the best thing now. She got into bed, flicking through the photos on her phone. It all seemed like a distant dream, suddenly. Maybe the whole thing was. Maybe she’d wake up tomorrow and realise none of it was real.

Vinnie was in no mood to talk. He took himself off to the makeshift sleeping area, made up of some basic bunk beds. The others gave him his space. They busied themselves with talk of plans for Mars, and Carbine bought them up to speed with plans already in action, including the freeing of prisoners. There was plenty to do when they arrived. He would at least have plenty to take his mind off of things. It was going to be a long three day journey in the meantime.

 

When Charley woke the next morning, there was no luxurious bed, room or view. No swimming in the sea and no fancy breakfast. No mice. No Vinnie. The reality was hard hitting. She got ready and went downstairs to her battered garage. Forget a fancy breakfast, she had no fresh food at all, not that she was actually hungry. She opened her laptop to check her emails, more out of habit than necessity. She still felt numb, it was hard to think clearly. As the screen came to life, she frowned, baffled by what she saw waiting for her. It wasn't an email, that was for sure. Her mind was still trying to process so much. Maybe she needed to rest, maybe her mind was too exhausted and she should come back to this later. She left clicked warily, it confirmed she definitely wasn’t imagining things. As she stared, her face turned a little pale. She looked up, not quite believing what she was seeing. She sat at her screen for some time before moving.

She knew there was so much to do that day, but at that moment, she needed to go to Limburger tower, needed to see the empty building for herself. Needed to see if anything had been left behind. If there was any information about Mars or the mice, she would of course destroy it, but there was something in particular she wanted to find.

She grabbed some cash and got into her truck. She drove through the streets and into the heart of the city, parking near the tower. She looked up at the imposing building. It certainly looked abandoned. There were no goons, no security. She walked up the steps to the front entrance. The doors were of course locked, secured with a huge chain and padlock. She looked through the glass, it was empty and very messy. She walked around the building, trying the side doors, but they too were locked, and probably alarmed. Getting back in her truck, she sighed.

“I knew it’d come to this,” she muttered, driving towards the lake. She pulled up in a quiet spot at the shore, below ground level. A large pipe protruded slightly from the rocky wall, a thin river of water running along its base and into the lake. She’d known where the sewer outlet was, having been there with Carbine once before. She also knew it ran under the tower and that there was a direct entrance. Heaving herself up into the large circular pipe, which was easily fourteen foot in diameter, she switched on her torch. She got out her phone and found the map she’d saved from the previous navigation. She was relieved to still have it, there was no way she’d ever find her way in the maze of pipes without it. She set out, following the route, shining her torch ahead in the darkness.

After a while she finally came to a metal ladder leading to a manhole cover above. She climbed up, lifting the cover and pushing it to one side. She pulled herself up into the darkness. She remembered coming up into the basement before, but there had been lights. She found the door and walked out into a basic gray corridor, which had dim lighting set along the ceiling. She was confident she knew the layout of the building, having studied plans of it so many times with the mice. She turned a couple of corners before coming to large metal doors. She pressed a button, they parted with a hiss. She entered Karbunkle’s lab, a vast room with no windows. The lights were again dim, humming quietly. The room looked like it had been ransacked, no computers or any technology of any kind had been left. Charley guessed that Limburger’s goons had taken it to make some quick cash, on some kind of alien black market, no doubt. Just because the Plutarkians had left Earth, plenty of other unsavoury characters still visited, or resided, after all. What little furniture there was lay broken, bottles smashed, boxes empty. There was nothing left. She looked around, her heart sinking. She was doubtful the lift was working, but to her surprise it seemed to be. She went up to the ground floor of the main building. As she stepped out, she was thankful to see sunlight through the windows. Just like the lab, the rooms were trashed, emptied of anything of use of value. She went floor to floor, checking what was left. Every floor was the same. As she came to the living quarters, it occurred to her that Greasepit must still be out there somewhere, probably working for some other low life. Once she had looked around every floor, she was positive nothing of importance had been left there, and certainly not what she’d hoped to find. She felt sick. Swallowing back tears, she made her way back to the basement, and began the task of navigating the pipes once more.

She returned to the garage with some basics, having stopped off at the store. Pouring herself some cereal and sitting on the sofa, she once again checked her phone. No messages from Jack. The silence was something she would usually cherish, until the mice turned up. Now it was different. She turned on the TV, watching the news, giving her something to turn her attention to. Soon there was no putting off what needed to be done. There was so much to get sorted. She wrote out a list of jobs.

“Right, let’s get started,” she sighed to herself. She made the necessary phone calls related to her finances, storage and the garage. She grabbed some old boxes and started the task of packing up. She wasn’t going to hang around any longer than she had to. By mid afternoon she’d had enough. Time for the next job. She walked round the corner to Chef Andy’s diner to say her goodbyes, and dropped into a couple of other people. She had no close ties in Chicago, at least. No family, and her closest friends were now gone. When she returned to the garage, she did some paperwork and sent a few emails. The day had soon filled up and kept her busy, which was good. As she finished dinner that evening, her phone sounded. She picked it up, Jack had sent a text.

“Tomorrow lunchtime,” Charley repeated to herself, reading it. She had an early night, the next day would be just as busy.

 

Charley got woken the next morning by the bright sun, shining through the bedroom window. A beam of sunlight was streaking through the gap in the curtains and onto the bed. She wasted no time in getting up and getting ready, and continued packing up. It was surprising how much stuff she actually had. The big stuff she would leave of course, her tools could go to LA.

It was approaching midday when she heard rotor blades getting steadily nearer. She ran out onto the street, waving her arms, as a black helicopter descended, whipping up dirt and litter around her. She shielded her face as her hair blew wildly. The helicopter landed, the blades gradually stopping. Jack took off his head gear and jumped out. He still had his shoulder length honey blonde hair and a fair amount of stubble.

“How you doing, kid,” he greeted her gently, hugging her. She hugged him, pleased to see a good friend.

“Not so good,” she replied, clearly upset.

He looked at her. “Hey, hey, it’s OK,” he told her soothingly.

Charley wiped a tear from her cheek. “It’s all gone wrong Jack, I was so stupid to think me and Vinnie…”

He rubbed her arms. “You’re not at all Charley, it’s just life, shit happens.”

She sniffed, taking a shaky breath. “Come inside, I wanna show you something.” Jack followed her inside, where she opened her laptop. “I found this after they’d left,” she told him with tense apprehension.

Charley nervously watched Jack study the screen. She could tell he was shocked, but he kept his cool. “Well that changes things,” he remarked calmly, looking at her. “Have you been to look?”

Charley bit her lip and nodded. The tears in her eyes telling him she didn’t find it. “I was even more stupid to think it was gonna be at the tower, it’s not gonna be, it never was,” she sobbed, tears falling down her face.

Jack hugged her once again, rubbing her back. He thought for a moment, a realisation washing over him. He smiled to himself. “Well, you know, I think you might be wrong.”

Charley stepped back, wiping her eyes. She shook her head, “I’m not. It would’ve been there by now-” she started with certainty.

“-Charley,” Jack interrupted, “trust me, you’re wrong,” he replied with equal certainty.

Charley frowned. “Why are you so sure?” she asked, confused.

Jack raised his eyebrows. “Come with me, kid.” He gestured for her to get in the helicopter.

Charley looked at him doubtfully, but she trusted him. She ran inside, grabbed her keys and locked the door. She climbed in, putting on the head gear, her mind and heart racing. Jack jumped in and started it up. The blades rotated loudly as they lifted off. Charley had never been in a helicopter before, but she had to admit it was more comfortable than a flying bike. The neighbourhood got smaller as they got higher and higher, until the whole of the city was underneath them. Tall buildings glinted in the sun, and the rivers and lake twinkled and sparkled with droplets of sunlight.

They reached down town, Charley studied the city. Jack turned to the left, making for Limburger tower.

As they approached the building, Jack spoke into her headphones. “You were just looking in the wrong place,” he smiled, bringing the helicopter around to circle the tower.

Charley looked at him, then down at the tower’s rooftop. Her eyes widened when she saw it. “The rooftop!” she cried, her hands pressing against the glass, as she stared in shock.

“Saw it on the way in,” Jack told her. “Didn’t realise what it was.”

Charley craned her neck, still staring at it as the helicopter circled. She was gob smacked. “I can’t believe it ended up there!” she cried, a genuine smile forming on her mouth, for the first time in quite a while.

Jack tuned the helicopter back towards the garage. “So, lots to think about.”

Charley nodded, her mind and heart racing even more than it was before. “… Yeah,” she swallowed, “there is.”

 

The afternoon was spent packing up the rest of Charley’s belongings. The garage looked much bigger being so bare. It also felt cold and clinical. Jack helped shift boxes and load them onto her truck. They took it in turns to drive them to the storage depot. Jack would sort out their transport to LA at a later date. Charley had been ruthless in what she threw away. That required a trip to the dump.

She sighed as she looked around. The garage had been a part of her whole life. It had memories from every stage of her life, good and bad. It was only a few years ago Jack had left for LA, then the mice had come along. Now this.

“You OK?” Jack asked, seeing her contemplating.

She looked at him and smiled. “Yeah. Just thinking about all the times here. The Last Chance has been the base for so many chapters.”

Jack nodded. “Well you won’t be letting it go, it’ll always be here.”

Charley smiled and gave a small laugh. “And Limburger never did get his hands on it, after everything.”

“And he never will,” Jack added with satisfaction.

“But time to close the book now.” Charley stated with certainty. “I wanna look forwards.”

They cleaned the garage, ready for potential rental clients. Jack helped with some small DIY jobs. At the end of the afternoon, they took Charley’s truck and bike to the storage facility, ready for shipment. That evening, she packed a case of essentials, ready for the journey. Jack slept on the sofa whilst Charley spent her last ever night in her bed, in her garage, in Chicago. She brushed her hair in the mirror before bed. Setting the brush down, she studied her reflection, and smiled.

 

The pair were up early the next morning. They gathered the last bits together and took some last minute paperwork to the bank. Charley looked around the garage, which now echoed more than before. It was hard to believe she was leaving this place for good. At one time she could never have imagined such a thing. But staying wasn’t an option now. She had to look forward.

Jack walked up to her, knowing how hard this was for her. “Ready kid?” he asked gently.

She nodded, her eyes tearing up. Jack walked out, carrying her case. He waited outside. Charley knew that standing there was only prolonging things, she turned and walked to the door, giving the place one more look before heading outside and shutting the door behind her. Tears fell from her eyes as she locked the door and looked up at the building, and the Last Chance sign above the garage.

Jack hugged her, then looked her in the eye. “Ready to go?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she replied, wiping her eyes. “I am.”

They went round the back of the garage to where the helicopter sat. Jack put the case in and Charley climbed into the passenger seat whilst Jack did the necessary checks. Charley took some deep breaths. This was it. The new beginning.

Satisfied with the checks, Jack turned to her. “We’re good. So I assume I’m stopping off at Limburger tower before heading to the airport?”

Charley looked at him, her eyes were still misty but determined. She nodded with certainty. “Yes please Jack.”

He nodded, putting on his headgear as he started the helicopter. Charley secured hers as the blades thundered loudly. Her stomach flipped and her heart pounded. They lifted into the air as the Last Chance was left below, empty yet full with memories. It became smaller as they rose. Charley watched it shrink until she could no longer see it. She watched the neighbourhood pass by. She wouldn’t miss that so much. The taller, smarter buildings of the city soon surrounded them. Jack turned, heading for the tower. They could see it approaching rapidly. Once he was above, Jack descended. He landed on the rooftop, the blades coming to a halt. Charley took off her headgear and got out, slowly, fixing her eyes on the object. Her hair blew wildly around her face, the wind ruffling her clothes and whistling every now and then. Jack followed, looking over it with curiosity. Charley walked cautiously towards it, looking it over. She stood in front of it, reaching out a hand to touch it, afraid it might not be real. It was there, it was real. She felt sick with anticipation.

Jack watched her, standing back a little. He gave her some time. Charley was silent, deep in thought as the wind blew around them. After a time, she turned to him. He could see the pained expression on her face, but also one of determination and certainty. He stepped up to her and hugged her. She hugged him back, a sob emerging from her. He held her, knowing what this meant to her. Any other sobs were lost on the wind as she wiped her face and looked up at him.

He held her arms and called to her. “Are you ready to go, kid?”

She nodded. “Yeah,” the word quiet against the noise.

“Sure you wanna do this?” Jack asked her one last time. Charley shut her eyes and gave a hard nod, looking at him. He nodded back.

 

They walked as the wind whipped up, howling like a wolf.

 

Charley opened the door and got in, as did Jack, shutting out the chaos.

 

Jack put his headgear on as he looked at Charley.

 

She took a deep breath and smiled.

 

He smiled back.

 

Charley closed her eyes, there was no going back now.

 

Jack started up the helicopter, the blades equalling the noise of the wind.

 

Charley felt herself moving as the helicopter lifted off of the rooftop.

 

Jack turned, heading for the airport, the scene of so much trouble being forever left behind, and the city of Chicago.

 

Charley and Jack both smiled.

 

“Here’s to a new start, kid.” Jack spoke quietly as the airport came into view and he made his descent.

Charley opened the door after landing. She looked around. “Here’s to a new life,” she sighed, as she gazed out over the red barren landscape of Mars.

 

Chapter 13

 

Stepping out of the transporter, which was smoking a little and giving off a buzzing sound, Charley lifted out her case, placed it on the hard, dusty ground and sighed with relief. The peachy coloured sky contained no clouds, of course, and the sun was dim. The scenery was bare, just rusty looking rocks and dusty sand covering a cracked, parched surface. Filled with anticipation and nerves, she sat on her case. All she could do now was wait. As she sat there in the quiet desert, she thought back to the island, where she had sat on the beach, on a very different kind of sand. Her mind then jumped to the life changing message that had popped up on her laptop that morning.

It had been an odd looking, private message, a type that she hadn’t seen before. Obviously not the usual day to day sort, they never appeared on her home screen, and certainly not the way this had. When she opened it, it had been a shock to say the least. She remembered it almost word for word, having re-read it so many times.

 

Charley.

 

I felt I should wait to tell you this until after we had left.

The damage to the transporter during Limburger’s capture was heavy. But before having it scrapped, I spoke to my top engineer.

He seemed to think it may be repairable, temporarily at least. It’s not to say it is. He was working on it when I left for Earth.

It would ultimately be your choice if you decided to come to Mars. If you decided not to, no one needs to know. No pressure. But I wanted to give you that choice, just in case.

I instructed him to send it back to its origin if he succeeds, Karbunkle’s lab I assume.

It’s the least I can do, after all you have done for us.

I know my engineer will do his best. Good luck my friend.

 

Carbine.

 

It had been a bizarre message to read, and one of so much uncertainty. Carbine had obviously sent it not long after they had left. As much hope as it had given her, she dared not hope too much, and so tried to just assume the worst. The last thing she wanted was to be devastated if it didn’t work. Now, the best result had happened, and Vinnie was still unaware.

Still she sat waiting in the peaceful wilderness. She looked to the horizon, waiting for a sign of life. She knew Carbine would have no doubt warned the Martian mice that the transporter may appear, and that it would be tracked. Eventually, she saw a dust cloud drawing closer, and a Dune buggy type vehicle raced towards her, coming to a dry, scraping halt when it arrived. A gray mouse stood, took off his helmet and greeted her with a nod. Charley didn’t recognise him, but why would she?

“You must be Charley. I was sent by Headquarters to come and retrieve you,” the mouse stated in a semi friendly manner. He got out of the buggy and put her case in the space behind the two front seats.

“Yeah, thanks,” Charley replied nervously, and somewhat relieved that someone had come. She got in the buggy, taking a breath.

The mouse looked towards the horizon, where another dust cloud formed. He started up the buggy and drove towards it. A bigger truck passed them, the gray mouse and the driver exchanged a quick acknowledgment as they passed. “Just picking up the transporter,” he informed Charley.

She nodded. “I’m just glad I got here in one piece,” she sighed. “I need to thank your engineer A LOT.”

The mouse gave a small laugh. “He’s pretty good. But it sounds like you’re the real genius when it comes to computers, we all heard what you did.”

Charley raised her eyebrows. “I wouldn’t say a genius, but I’m not bad. It was just a fluke we managed to get to that info, really.”

The mouse shook the statement away. “Fluke or not, it’s turned everything around for us. You’re a real hero in the cosmos now.”

Charley felt a little embarrassed, she couldn’t think of herself as a hero in that sense. Not like the mice were. “I’m just relieved the Plutarkians have been defeated, at last.”

The mouse agreed with a grunt. “One less scum to worry about. Gotta concentrate on rebuilding what we’ve started now.”

Charley felt increasingly nervous as they neared the ruins of Brimstone city. They were getting nearer to headquarters.

The gray mouse noticed. “So er, you decided to come to Mars for good?”

Charley looked at him and nodded, smiling through her nerves. “Yeah. It’s where I belong now.”

The mouse raised his eyebrows, clearly impressed. “Takes a lot to make that move. Especially as you’re the only human. Can’t have been an easy decision.”

Charley smiled to herself. “Not at first, but easy once I’d made my mind up,” she stated. “Throttle, Vinnie and Modo are like my family, they mean more to me than anyone on Earth.”

The mouse smiled to himself. “Almost forgotten what they look like. Sure they’ve got a few stories to tell.”

Charley laughed dryly. “You can say that again.”

They bumped along the path that led through the broken ruins, leaving the crumpled city behind as they headed for the Freedom fighters headquarters. The underground complex could be entered a number of ways, all very inconspicuous, of course. They entered via a sunken tunnel, hidden by a series of rocks. Charley’s heart beat rapidly as they drove along the dim, narrow tunnel. They soon emerged into a lighter, rounded stone cavern, which had several tunnels leading off from all sides. The mouse stopped, getting out and handing Charley her case. She thanked him, looking around. The cavern was empty, but there was obviously life beyond the tunnels.

“I’ll let the main mouse know you’re here,” the gray mouse smiled, walking into one of the tunnels.

“Main mouse?” Charley repeated to herself, wondering if he could mean…

“Well look who’s come to join the party,” Stoker smiled, walking out towards her.

Charley grinned, “Stoker!” she cried with joy, stepping up and hugging him. “It’s so good to see you!”

Stoker hugged her back. “You too, Charley.” He stepped back, looking more serious. “Are you OK? I spoke to Carbine not long ago. She told me things have been….difficult.”

Charley nodded and smiled, appreciating his concern. “I am now, thanks. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster the last few days.”

“Sounds like it,” Stoker agreed. “Great job, by the way. Plutarkians are hauling their huge, stinking asses outta this galaxy, cause of you.”

Charley smiled. “I had no idea what I’d done until Carbine told us. I’m so pleased for you all, Stoker, it’s the best news.”

Stoker smiled. “The best news is, you made it here, and the others don’t even know it yet.”

Charley felt her stomach flip. “When will they arrive?”

“Soon. Maybe one to two hours, tops,” Stoker looked at her. He knew she was nervous. “It’ll be OK, Charley.”

She smiled at him anxiously and nodded. “It’s gonna be a shock, that’s for sure. Especially for Vinnie.”

Stoker gave her a knowing look and raised his eyebrows. “Well I have to say, I don’t know how the punk managed it, but you both deserve a happy ending.”

Charley smiled at him, a tad embarrassed. “Yeah. It kinda came out of left field for us, too.”

“Well he’s sure gonna be pleased to see ya,” Stoker laughed.

Charley gave a small, nervous laugh. She couldn’t help but worry at his reaction. She wondered if he would be mad that she’d put him through misery these last three days, that she’d chosen to give up on her career and aspirations for him. It wouldn’t be long before she found out.

 

The ship had at least survived the journey through space. It only had to limp on another hour or so.

The mice had managed to entertain themselves and Vinnie had tried to keep his mind busy with talk about jobs and business to take care of back on Mars. He knew what needed to be done and planned to get straight on with it. Once they were in range and the mice were resting, Carbine had taken the opportunity to talk to Stoker, to fill him in on what had happened, and to warn him of Charley’s possible arrival. She hoped that the transporter had made it back, and that Charley had decided to use it, but neither was certain.

Before long, the data showed they would reach the surface of Mars within the hour. The video message finally came through that Carbine had been waiting for. She felt nervous as she opened the channel. Stoker was on the other end. He remained cool on the exterior, greeting them warmly and asking about the trip.

He looked to Carbine, who noticed a small glint in his eye. “You’ll be pleased to know everything is going to plan and we’re awaiting your arrival, General.”

Carbine felt relief wash over her. She grinned, knowing the others couldn’t see her face from where she sat. “That’s good to know Stoker, thanks,” she replied with calm discretion. She now felt nervous, especially for Vinnie, but of course she didn’t show it.

The mice were too distracted talking about past times on Mars to notice the exchange, in any case. They reminisced about races, fire fights and near misses during the war. Funny stories, lost comrades and fallen cities. They had been through so much together. Rimfire enjoyed hearing the tales of things that he would have been too young to remember. He also liked to hear the stories about Earth. He had visited once, and so could relate to a point. These tales though, obviously featured Charley, which made him and the others feel awkward to bring up in front of Vinnie now. Vinnie was still reeling from the whole thing, but brushed these stories off in typical fashion, at least on the outside. Charley didn’t want him fixating on the past, she was moving on and it was best he did too. He needed to keep busy and distracted, and that wouldn’t be hard when they got home.

As they neared the red planet’s atmosphere, they strapped themselves in. It wasn’t as hard hitting or lengthy as Earth’s, but still relatively bumpy, especially in the ship they were travelling in. They all kept their eyes on the ship’s walls, half expecting them to burst open at any second as they descended through the thick gases.

Charley sat in a smallish room, which, like the rest of the place, had carved out stone walls, a gray stone floor, and metal girders holding the higher stone ceiling in place. The wooden bed, like the rest of the furniture, was basic, as was the bathroom, but they at least had access to recycled underground water. This was something she’d have to get used to, but the garage had hardly been luxurious. Not like the island’s bedroom. Talk about chalk and cheese, she smiled at the irony. Stoker knocked on the wooden door. Charley opened it anxiously.

“They’re almost here,” he smiled. “You wanna come see?”

Charley took a deep, controlled breath. “OK,” she bit her lip and glanced at Stoker, following him out the door.

“Don’t worry, they’re all gonna be made up to see you,” Stoker reassured her over his shoulder.

Charley knew he was right, but it didn’t help her nerves. They arrived at the main control room. Charley sat in a corner, watching, whilst Stoker monitored the ship’s arrival on a large screen, as other mice sat at the panel beneath it. The ship was represented as a moving blip on a grid on one part of the screen, the other part showed real time footage of the Martian sky.

The blip got lower as a mouse turned to Stoker, lifting his head set. “Ship approaching, Stoker. General Carbine landing in one minute, thirty.”

Stoker nodded. “We have incoming, comrades!” he cried, smiling.

Charley watched the footage as a small object appeared in the top right corner, and grew in size with every passing second. Her heart beat hard in her chest. The object became clearer, the ship getting larger as it descended towards the surface. She noted how odd it was to be waiting for the same ship that had left her behind three days prior. Not to mention, now on Mars.

 

The ship landed a little harshly, with smoke seeping out of various outlets. Charley was relieved it had made the long journey back.

Stoker approached her. “You want some privacy? I can send him back to your room on an errand?”

Charley thought for a second. “Yeah, I think that’d be best,” she agreed quietly.

He put a comforting hand on her shoulder, before heading out to meet them. Charley watched the screen for a minute, before walking back to her room. Her stomach was tight, she felt quite sick. She could really do with some of that wine right now.

The ship landed with a thud, followed by creaking. The mice looked around.

“See, we made it!” Rimfire enthused.

“Just,” Throttle remarked.

Carbine stood up. “Welcome home, boys,” she smiled.

Modo stood next. “We made it back to Mars, Bros,” he smiled, clearly happy and relieved.

Vinnie said nothing as they walked to the door. As it opened, the red tinged light flooded in.

A happy crowd had gathered around the ship, consisting of family, friends and freedom fighters.

Rimfire ushered Modo after him. “Come on uncle Modo, Mum, Primer and Grandma are waiting!”

Modo gave a short laugh, following his nephew down the ramp. The crowd became noisier, talking and greeting the mice. Stoker stood at the front of the crowd, welcoming the mice home. Modo joyfully greeted him, talking for a short time before finding his family in the crowd.

Vinnie walked down the ramp, more subdued than usual. He still greeted Stoker enthusiastically. He started to talk to other mice in the crowd, who he had not seen for some years. Stoker put a hand on his shoulder and raised his voice over the crowd, “I need to talk to you, punk.” Vinnie nodded to him, guessing what it was bound to be about. Word must’ve got to him about what had happened. He continued his meetings with fellow fighters, eager to greet the mice they had not seen for so long.

Carbine smiled at Throttle, taking his hand. “We made it,” she stated, her eyes misting up.

Throttle pulled her into a hug. “Didn’t I promise you we’d come home one day?”

Carbine smiled against him. “I can’t believe that day’s finally here.”

“Come on,” Throttle smiled at her, gesturing to the door. Carbine walked out, with Throttle following. He greeted Stoker, before the other mice came to talk.

Stoker looked around, finding Vinnie again. He walked over, catching his eye. Vinnie knew that look, it was time to talk. He made his way through the crowd, following Stoker to a quieter spot.

“I heard things haven’t been easy for you, Vin,” Stoker sympathised.

Vinnie shrugged a little. “No. But no point in dwelling right? Gotta keep busy.”

Stoker nodded. “That’s right, punk. On that note, I got some real precious cargo in a room back here. Think you’ll be interested in it.”

Vinnie looked at him, intrigued. “Oh yeah? What is it?”

Stoker smiled. “You’ll never guess.”

Vinnie narrowed his eyes, thinking what it could be. “What’ve you got Stoke?” he asked suspiciously, his eyes lighting up more. “Confiscated weapons? A ‘suped up bike?”

Stoker laughed, shaking his head, “No. Better than any of that.”

Vinnie’s eyes flashed, he looked impressed and bewildered in equal measure. “Well c’mon on, let me go see!” he pushed excitedly.

Stoker smiled, “Room thirty nine, down tunnel three.”

Vinnie smiled at him, still confused as to what it could be, but excited to find out. Stoker was obviously trying to cheer him up. It had to be something good, but better than weapons or a bike? Was that even possible? He walked hastily away, as Stoker watched him with affection in his eyes.

Modo, Throttle and Carbine emerged from the crowd, gathering in front of Stoker, having seen Vinnie walk off abruptly.

“Hey Stoke, where’s Vinnie off to in such a hurry?” Throttle asked, a tad concerned.

“Carbine?” Stoker raised his eyebrows to her.

Modo and Throttle looked to her, both baffled. Carbine sighed, time to come clean.

She raised her hands in front of her. “OK. I didn’t wanna say anything until it actually happened, if it happened, but Charley’s here.”

Throttle and Modo looked at her in utter shock and confusion.

“Say what now?” Modo blurted out, his eye wide.

“What? How?” Throttle demanded, his mind muddled.

“The engineer got the transporter working when we were on our way home, sent it back to Chicago. I got a message to Charley, had a feeling she’d change her mind. I wasn’t sure if it’d work but, it has, and she’s here.” She smiled.

Throttle shook his head as a way to make sense of her words. “And Vinnie doesn’t know?”

“He will in a minute,” she shrugged. “That’s where Stoker’s just sent him.”

Throttle and Modo exchanged looks. Modo took a deep breath. “That’s gonna be one heck of shock,” he pondered.

“Yeah. But how stoked is he gonna be?” Throttle chuckled. They couldn’t argue with that, they all were.

Charley sat on the edge of the bed, nervously rubbing her hands, her whole body constantly shifting as she waited. She breathed deeply, her stomach churning. Then she heard them. Hurried footsteps getting closer. She stood quickly, swallowing as the footsteps approached.

He hurried along the tunnel, eager to see what Stoker had. It was something special, that was for sure. He couldn’t guess. He went along the room numbers, etched into the rock above the doors. Thirty nine was near the end of the row to the left. He arrived at the door, excited to see what lay behind it.

Charley’s eyes widened as the footsteps stopped at the door. Her mouth opened as she took a large breath. Vinnie pushed the wooden door with a grin, his eyes alive with anticipation.

The door flew open, Charley saw him in the doorway, her face filled with relief, but also a little fear.

Vinnie’s eyes immediately fell on her. Stopping cold in his tracks, his face instantly turned from excited curiosity to one of utter disbelief. His smile collapsed, his eyes widened. He inhaled a sharp intake of breath. His mouth opened, but there was no sound.

Charley smiled nervously, her eyes misting over. “Surprise?” It was almost a whisper.

Vinnie had not moved an inch. His eyes darted over her, his heart was racing and his breathing became rapid. For a moment he had wondered if she was some kind of hallucination, brought on by tiredness, or the emotional turmoil, only now catching up with him. But then she had spoken. And he knew. He knew she was real, in front of him.

His eyes narrowed slightly. “Ch-Charley?” he stammered, his mind was a haze of confusion.

She nodded and smiled wider. “It’s me,” she confirmed with a lighter tone.

Vinnie’s mouth opened wider, wanting to ask a barrage of questions all at once. “How? What… how?” he blurted, unable to form a sentence. He looked her over, still trying to comprehend she was in front of him.

“The short answer, Limburger’s transporter. Carbine had it sent back to Earth, she thought I’d change my mind. She was right,” Charley shrugged, her voice shaking as a tear fell down her face.

Vinnie was still totally confused. But the details didn’t matter at that moment. He stepped towards her, she did the same, until they were hugging tightly.

Vinnie swallowed, his eyes becoming watery. “I can’t believe you’re here.”

“Me neither,” Charley replied against him.

He held her face to look at her, she reached up and held his. Neither could have imagined the day would end like this. “Sweetheart?” Vinnie started, “You came to Mars… for me?” He needed her to confirm the fact, not quite believing it.

Charley smiled, giving a small nod. “Well you told me to do what makes me happy, and I realised, this was the only thing that would.”

Vinnie smiled, then a look of concern crossed his face. “Charley, I didn’t expect you-”

She cut him off, “-I know you didn’t. It was my choice, Vinnie. This is where I wanna be, and where I belong. On Mars, with you guys. With you.”

He kissed her, and hugged her again. “I never imagined you’d do this, Sweetheart!” He let out a small laugh, still finding the whole thing overwhelming. “Can you, get back? I mean, with the transporter?” He realised maybe she could have the best of both worlds, quite literally.

She shook her head. “I think I was lucky to get here, it’s pretty much totalled. You never know, maybe in time we could fix it… but I’m not thinking about that now.”

Vinnie nodded. He realised she wasn’t intending on going back. “I still can’t believe you did this.”

Charley sighed. “I know, it’s a lot. Sorry to shock you like that, but hopefully it’s a good shock,” she smiled a little sheepishly.

“Are you kidding me,” Vinnie gave her a look, “this is the most awesome day of my life! I never thought I’d ever see you again, babe,” he added with heartfelt sincerity.

Charley smiled at him lovingly. “I know, neither did I. Even once I’d changed my mind, I didn’t know if it was too late.”

Vinnie smiled at her, hugging her once more. “We gotta thank Carbine for this.”

“And her female intuition,” Charley added.

Vinnie heard voices, which reminded him that Modo and Throttle had not yet seen her. “Guess the others will be wantin’ to see ya.”

Charley smiled broadly, “Let’s go.”

They walked back along the tunnel, out into the open, where the Freedom fighters were still gathered. Charley saw Throttle and Modo standing with Stoker and Carbine.

“Guys!” she shouted, breaking into a run. They turned, grinning, calling her name as she hugged them tightly.

“Charley Ma’am! Of all the things I expected to see today, you weren’t one of them!” Modo exclaimed. “I’m glad you decided to join us.”

“Sure is good is see you here, babe,” Throttle agreed. “Welcome to Mars.”

Charley smiled, “Thanks guys! It’s so good to be here with all of you.”

Vinnie used the time to thank Carbine. After exchanging some words, she affectionately placed a hand on his arm, as he walked over to Stoker.

“That was some stunt you pulled there, old timer,” Vinnie told him with a smile.

Stoker looked pleased with himself. “Well I couldn’t spoil the surprise of a lifetime now could I?”

Vinnie let out a breath, “You can say that again.”

“I’m glad it all worked out, punk,” Stoker slung his arm round Vinnie’s neck, patted his shoulder, then stepped forward to speak with a solider.

Charley walked up to Carbine with a broad smile, which Carbine reciprocated. Carbine pulled her into a hug. “You made it! I’m glad you’re here Charley.”

“Me too,” Charley replied, before taking a step back and looking at her. “Carbine, I can’t thank you enough for what you did.”

“Everyone deserves a chance of happiness, and no one more than you. I’m just glad it worked,” Carbine held her arms with warm affection.

Throttle, Modo and Vinnie observed the scene around them. Now everything was complete.

“Sure is good to be back with everyone,” Modo sighed.

“Finally, everything’s fallen into place,” Throttle agreed thoughtfully.

“Mars, Charley, and no Plutarkians! Life don’t get much better than this!” Vinnie cried gleefully.

Charley and Carbine approached the trio.

Vinnie had been mulling over the last three days. “Hey Sweetheart, what happened about McCyber?”

The others looked to Charley, interested to hear what had transpired.

She sighed, “Jack was great. Once we found the transporter, he knew I’d made up my mind. I signed the garage over to him for rental, I know he’ll take care of it. Gave him my truck, my stuff… everything.”

Vinnie raised his eyebrows, “Giving up your whole life in a couple of days, takes a lot of doing, babe.” He couldn’t help but feel guilty, as happy as he was.

Charley shook her head. “It was the right thing to do, and I trust Jack. Sometimes you just have to do what you know’s right.” She looked at Vinnie knowingly. He nodded to her, smiling.

The crowds gradually dispersed, some going back to work, some back to their quarters, or to spend time with family and friends. It had been a very long day.

Charley and Vinnie were at last left in peace, to gather their thoughts. Vinnie walked over to his bike, which had been taken-or rather taken itself, off of the ship, along with all the other cargo.

“You wanna go somewhere quiet?” Vinnie suggested, getting on.

Charley smiled, getting on behind. “Sure. Lead the way, this is your terrain now.”

Vinnie laughed, starting up and roaring into the distance. Before long, he drove up a large red rock, which flattened at the top, where he stopped. Charley surveyed the landscape below. Mostly just a cracked, red ground, scattered with rocks of various sizes. Vinnie gestured her over to the other side of the rock.

He pointed. “There it is, Sweetheart. Not quite as awe inspiring, I know.”

Charley looked out and smiled. In the middle of the barren plane, she saw the little garden which Vinnie had mentioned previously. Some greenery, including plants and flowers, grew around a small waterfall and pond. It was a tiny piece of paradise that still existed for the planet, and symbolised hope that it would one day be restored in full.

“It’s amazing,” Charley gushed, “I can’t believe they’ve managed to sustain it.”

Vinnie agreed with a laugh. “Yeah, it’s pretty cool.”

They sat on the edge of the rock, their legs hanging over. It was quiet, except for the distant sound of the waterfall.

Vinnie put his arm round her. “You can’t say other guys have ever shown you stuff like this!” he smiled.

Charley gave a short laugh. “No, a waterfall on Mars is definitely something new to me,” she remarked dryly.

Vinnie grinned, “You know I like to be different.”

Charley leaned against him, “That’s you in a nutshell, Vinnie. You were always different.”

Vinnie raised an eyebrow, “But in a good way, right?”

“Yeah. I soon realised you weren’t like other guys, underneath anyway,” Charley smiled up at him knowingly. “Guess that’s why I ended up falling in love with you, huh?” she added thoughtfully.

Vinnie looked down at her with adoration. “No girl’s ever said that to me before, you know.”

“Well I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t mean it,” Charley told him sincerely.

“Well you know how I felt, it was pretty obvious right?” Vinnie smiled.

Charley frowned a little, contemplating his words. “I knew you cared, and that you fancied me,” she teased, “but I didn’t assume you loved me.”

“Sweetheart, I’ve loved you pretty much from the first time we met.” Vinnie replied as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Charley raised her eyebrows. “I made that much of an impression, huh?”

Vinnie gave a nod, “You sure did.” He paused, looking at her. “You not gonna tease me about loving myself more or something?” He half expected it.

Charley laughed and shook her head. “Nah, not today.”

Vinnie smiled, then looked towards the growing shadows, creeping out from the rocks and spilling over the cracked ground. “Today’s nearly over, that blue sunset’ll be comin’ soon.”

“I’m glad I get to see that.” Charley sighed against him.

“Its not as amazing as the one at the beach,” Vinnie warned her.

Charley smiled. “I don’t care, we’re watching it together, that’s all that matters now,” she looked up at him.

“You said it, Sweetheart.” Vinnie pulled her tighter against him. “And these ones never have to end.”

 

 

END



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