Rimfire looked around the wasteland in front of him. To his right was a giant crater and Olympus Mons. To his left were more smaller craters. All around him were shrieks of pain and agony, but he couldn't see anyone. It was going to drive him insane, he knew it was. He walked into the smaller crater since it was closest, and found an arm. His breath caught and he dug, trying to free it, but it was still only an arm. He got it free and looked at it, noticing the mouth on the back of the hand and that's where the crying was coming from. "What are you?" he demanded, shaking it. "Why are you doing this to me!"
He tossed it aside, then went to look at the others, finding more parts. Some arms, some legs, some antennas, a few torsos, but no heads. There were no heads. He saved the crater in front of Mons for last, it was bigger and he didn't want to know. He really didn't want to know. The last arm he found was metal, had a cannon built into it, and he knew it very well. It had comforted him for years. He ran to the last crater and looked down, seeing the severed heads there on a stick. Their mouths were sewn shut. Since he had removed the other parts, the screaming had stopped, it was now silent. That's when he heard the distant roar of machines. He looked around but couldn't see anything, which was odd. He should have been able to see for miles from his position. He had used this same spot to scout enemy movement a number of times. He looked at the heads again, then at the body parts, noticing what they were now. There were still more parts than there were heads. He looked at them, and decided it was only fair to put them together. He carried the pile down there carefully, having to make four trips to get it all, piling the parts around the sticks, then going back to his position.
He wished Dawn were there. She could cuddle him, make everything better again. He could stand losing everyone else as long as he still had someone. But thinking about Dawn was making him more angry than anything. Xander had said nightmares but this was worse than he had expected! He felt the tingle of magic start, just like Dawn did when she was working around him, and looked down. The bodies were reforming! He stood up, staring in shock as the bodies rebuilt themselves. Then they grabbed their heads off the sticks and reattached them, using the mouths on the back of their hands instead of their real ones.
"Hey, thanks, nephew," Modo's hand said and his face tried to smile.
Rimfire backed off, shaking his head. "No, not happening," he said frantically. "Zombies, what do I do with zombies? Dawn told me and I don't remember!"
"Hey, easy, chill," Throttle soothed, stalking up to where he was backing away. "It's not like that. Remember, sometimes spirits are reborn. Just like the cats. Just like Dawn."
"Just like you?" he asked. Throttle nodded. "You're sure?"
"Yeah, pretty sure." He took a step closer. "It'll be all right, Rimfire." He heard the machinery then looked at the remaining parts. "I don't know who those are. None of them are Xander, all the white parts have been taken."
"There's been no black mice in centuries," Vinnie said, pointing at a nearly complete body. He looked at Throttle, then shrugged. "What's that noise?"
"Not our bikes," he said grimly. He looked at Rimfire. "No bikes?"
"I haven't seen any," he said weakly. "Not even mine."
"Odd. How did you get out here?" Throttle asked. Rimfire shrugged. "You don't know? You just woke up out here?"
"This is a nightmare," he told him, looking very serious. "Xander said so."
"Ah. And you trust him?" Vinnie asked. Rimfire nodded. "With your life?"
"I have and I will again," he agreed solemnly. "The same as I trust Dawn." He looked around again, noticing that he should be able to see one of the bases and he couldn't. "The base is gone."
"Yeah, we were there," Modo told him, putting his metal arm around his nephew's shoulders. "Mars is for the dead, Rimfire, so why are you still here?"
Rimfire got free, glaring at him. "There's still plenty of life left," he said hotly. "There are survivors. We will rebuild. She'll be her former glory again! Even if we can't make her as pretty and as healthy as she used to be!" He backed away. "You're a torment, this is nothing but a nightmare. Mars isn't dead. I can feel her power. Dawn can too!" he shouted. He slid in some of the loose grit, but it got him further away from the zombies. Now he remembered how to kill them. He'd have to cut their heads off again. "I shouldn't have let you get back together."
"Then you'd be all alone, where's the fun in that?" Vinnie asked, trying to smirk at him. The stitches around his muzzle started to unravel and he worked his jaw until he could yawn. "Ah, better," he said in pleasure, using his real mouth now. The one on his hand was silent. "All we're saying, Rimfire, is that Mars is dead. It's for the dead. That's why Xander felt it screaming to him so strongly."
Throttle took one of Vinnie's torches to cut his mouth open, then handed it to Modo. "Are you prepared to bring Dawnie up here and watch her suffer? There's never enough food. She'll be picked on constantly. She'll be reviled by the mice who're left and you won't get much better since you're with her. Do you want her to suffer?"
"What happens when you've got to have kids?" Modo demanded. "You'll be having partial mouse babies and plenty of people will pick on your kids. There'll be those who'll try to make you have kids with a true mouse."
"There's that spring," Rimfire said, grasping at straws.
"It's a myth, kid," Throttle told him. "What're you going to do when you have to break your vows to her and have true mouse cadets? The only way for Mars to go on is to have a lot of babies and suddenly start supporting herself again. That means Dawn's life, and yours and your kids', will be hard. It'll be cruel and cold and poor. Are you willing to let them suffer that way?"
"We can rebuild it," Rimfire said firmly. "We can borrow some technology from earth to help us rebuild. They've figured out how to farm in the desert, we can too." He glared at him. "Dawn's special, we've already talked about all that. She said she'll be the best stepmom ever to any kids I have to have with true mice." They nodded at that. "Dawn's heart is with Mars, the same way mine is. The same way yours were when you were alive. There's nothing she wouldn't do for us. Besides, maybe she can help."
"Why? Because she's a rebirth?" Vinnie asked dryly. "That just makes her special, buddy, not making her the living goddess you treat her as."
"Even if the M'dreth take up her protection, she's still going to be reviled by half of the Martians left," Throttle reminded him. "Do you really want her to suffer that way? Do you think she can give up everything that's been her life to this point to come up here and live with you? To have little partial mouse babies and to be a mother and only a mother? Can you ask her to give up *everything* she's ever known as her life to come up here to this?" he demanded, waving a hand around.
"I asked and she said she would," Rimfire said stubbornly. "She knows what she wants. Even if we have to wait a few years, it's still going to happen. She loves Mars just like I do. Our kids will be the next Freedom Fighters. If they can't be, then they'll support 'em, just like I did when I was younger. The same way she would if she were here. You can't say that she's lesser because she's human! Or because she's a rebirth!"
"Rebirths only mean that you can go around again, kid, not that you won't make mistakes," Throttle reminded him.
"So, she's still human," Modo reminded him. "She's got goals and things that living on Mars means she'll have to give up. One of you will have to give up something."
Rimfire glared at him. "Like I haven't already?" he said coldly.
"Do you think that prom thing would've happened if she were up here?" Vinnie asked. "Or all those clothes, anything like that?"
"No, but we would have found a way to celebrate. She would have told me what it meant to her and we would have celebrated somehow, even if it was only a midnight ride and dance under the moons." He huffed and glared at them. "Just because you're dead and your options are closed, doesn't mean mine are."
"That's what we're trying to get to you see," Modo said, swatting at him. "You have options and you've got to make some decisions. Even if she were the reborn goddess you pretend and treat her as, which she isn't, she's still not Martian. She's still going to have a hard life. Can you stand to see her starve, get sick from it, get things that no one can treat because she's human?"
"Hey, enough," Throttle said from behind Rimfire. He rode down and looked at the zombies. "You're torments and that's not cool. He's right, Mars isn't dead yet. Like any Freedom Fighter she's still got some fight in her, no matter how bad the injury. We proved that through the years. The same as Xander has."
Vinnie looked back in the hole, then at him. "You know he's one, right?"
"If he is or isn't, it doesn't matter. The same as if I am or ain't, doesn't matter." He popped up his guns. "Go away, back to your rest. You're memories stored by the planet, bad ones. The same ones that make Xander scream at night and make me comfort him. Shoo!" He fired and they dissipated.
Rimfire ran up to the edge of the crater and looked down, seeing the single body down there without a head. "It's a black mouse," he said bitterly.
"They died out long ago, Rimfire." He rode up and gathered up the kid, putting him behind him on his bike. "Yeah, they had a point. It's gonna be hard, there's gonna be problems, and you're going to have to protect her and possibly have fully Martian babies some day. Then again, I know you're smart enough to talk with Dawnie about it and point these things out."
"We did that after the succubus attack," he said quietly, clinging to his back. "She said she'd be the greatest stepmom ever, like Xander was to her."
"I can only hope so," he agreed. "What about when she has to give up her life and her plans to work for Micah."
"I've got years of training I can do," he pointed out quietly, giving him a squeeze. "Mars doesn't need me at the moment. The more training I can get, the more I can help out."
"Point," he agreed. "So far it's well planned and executed." He stopped on a ridge, overlooking the valley with all the craters. Then he helped Rimfire off the bike and made him face them. "What're you going to do if that symbol she found was correct and she's pregnant?" he asked gently.
Rimfire turned to look at him. "She is?"
"I'm pretty sure, yeah. Her scent's off, like Charley girl's is." He shrugged. "We know you've been careful but we also know that birth control is defeated by us. The same as I know that something's wrong with her." He clapped him on the shoulder. "What then, Rimfire?"
"If she miscarries, I'm going to be there. If she doesn't, then I'm still going to be there. We're young, but we're not stupid. We can handle a baby. Even if I have to start working somewhere part of the time to help support us, we can handle the baby. If Primer can handle two, I can handle one," he said dryly, earning a smirk. "Are you another torment?"
"No, kid. I'm the key to getting you out. I'm here to burst some bubbles apparently. First, the spring is a myth. Second, if the M'dreth get her, she's going to go rotten. They will treat her like what she is, the Key. She'll be a tool and a power source to them. They'll spoil her rotten and use her horribly."
"I won't let them."
"You wouldn't have a say in it."
"Oh, yeah, I will," he said, his eyes narrowing. "She's my girl and only she gets to make those decisions. I will back her up totally on those things." He ran his hands over his skunk striped hair and started to pace. "We've talked, Throttle. We've talked about all of this. Yeah, she's more than willing to come up here and help us rebuild. That's one of the reasons she took up nature magic in the first place, because she wanted to help. She's got that same style that Xander has of jumping in because it's the right thing to do. She jumped into the cause and most everyone who's important to me likes us together." He stopped to stare at him. "Dawn is mine. There's no other girl, human or mouse, for me. She's what I want, what I need, and who I want. I could care less if she has a tail, if she's got fur or not, or even if she shaves all her fur off." That got a small smirk from his mentor.
"So, no. She's mine. I'll protect her and everything in our lives. If she's pregnant and she doesn't miscarry, that baby's going to be more spoiled than Anya ever dreamed of being," he said smugly. "My gray furred grandmomma promised me that, the same as she promised me that she'd help Dawn if something happened to me. The same as she and Dawn have been working on a plan to grow some more food from the badlands." Throttle nodded at that. "She's mine, Throttle. I don't care what sort of nightmares come for me, or come for her. I don't care what sort of things happen to us. I don't care if every other mouse on Mars hates her as long as my family likes her and Stoker likes her," he said quietly, staring him down. "She's my woman. That's all that matters." He heard his bike and looked around, then found Throttle missing. "Throttle?"
"Go home, kid. The bike is the other exit sign. Take the off ramp."
Rimfire went running, finding his bike waiting on him. He hopped onto the back and sped off, heading for the base he was stationed at. He knew where he needed to go and he knew who he would find there. He found Dawn in his usual infirmary bed, in pain, and the mice giving her pitying looks. "Move!" he ordered coldly. "My woman!" They all scattered and he laid down beside her, stroking her face. "It's all right, I'm here, Dawnie. I'm here. No one's going to bother you any more." She looked up and he grinned down at her. "My special one. You're mine. Even if the baby doesn't come to be, you're still mine. No matter what." He kissed her and felt himself be moved. He woke up on the back of his bike, at an airport, and looked around. He spied a cargo handler and rolled his bike over. "Which way to the exit?"
"Through the black gate, kid," the handler told him. "That's a sweet machine. You race her?"
"Only in emergencies," he said dryly, heading for the black gate. The guard there checked him out and handed him an envelope. He found a small device in there and a note saying it should fit his ear. He stuck it in and heard Micah and Dawn talking and suddenly knew what was going on. It was a horrible nightmare for him, losing her to Micah. He always knew Micah liked his girl. He sped off, heading to follow them. The bug had come with a tracking beacon which plugged into his bike. He tracked them onto the interstate, listening as they vaguely went over the plan. He knew that she might have an assignment where she had to suck up to someone, or even sleep with them, but he hated it. He hated it with everything in him. The same as she hated the thought of him having one of them. But they would get through it. He had to stop and listen while Micah got a call, able to hear both sides of it since he had the phone to the ear with the bug in it. No wonder Dawn sounded so distant to him. He guessed it was a small blessing. His girl's voice would be a major distraction to him. He stroked his bike, hearing the directions but they didn't really mean anything to him. So he waited until he saw Micah's jeep pass by, smiling at his girl. She was so pretty and calm looking. He got back into the riding, heading after them. It's what backup did.
He knew Micah caught sight of him once, there weren't enough people on the exit to fully hide him but once they had turned onto the other road, there were more cars and he could follow casually behind. He heard Micah call for the other directions, noticing he was nearer to there. So he paused again, waiting while Micah took the last few miles of the drive. They pulled through the gates and something blocked the signal, making him scowl heavily, so he rolled past the gate himself. The signal beeped when he was in front of the gate but not when he was in front of the walls. Interesting. He found a nearby spot to hide him and his bike, settling in for a wait. From what Micah was saying, it was going to be at least a few hours before anything could happen, they were scouting at the moment. He heard Micah's gasp at her bathing suit and groaned. "The red one, Dawn?" he complained. "Did you have to go *that* far? Goddess, talk about nightmares for me." He listened while she got hit on and how she defended herself, smiling because he knew that property of sticker had his name on it, not Micah's. She never told them she was Micah's, just that her man was hers.
He heard the kiss and growled, a low, deep, threatening sound in his chest. Something his uncle and grandmother would swat him for he was sure, but she didn't moan into it like she did for him. That eased it some, but not that much. They went back and changed, and he got to hear how she did the finding spell she used, earning a small grin. He could feel it tingling on his fur, like there was something pointing the way to him. Maybe she had used him as a reference point. It'd make it easier to help get the hostages out. Dinner started and he had to laugh at some of her answers. So that's where she went to hide from him! He'd have to remember that one. He listened to the rest of it, not liking the other couple at all for many reasons. If that Bob guy tried to cop a feel one more time he'd have to find him and pop him one later. Maybe when he went to release her from this nightmare. Though he wasn't sure whose it was at this moment since she was giving the most clinical sounding blow job she'd ever given.
He had trained her how to do it right, and it didn't sound like she was having fun. Though, he'd be socking Micah one later for enjoying it. Apparently he wasn't used to having better if he got off from that. He certainly wouldn't. "Babe, if you ever give me one like that, I'm going to have to complain and then spank you," he muttered. It did make him smile that she didn't swallow, and that Micah sounded better afterward. He'd have to help him find a girl of his own so the guy wouldn't dare look at his again. "Damn, I'm jealous," he said in awe. "I'm worse than Throttle is about Xander." He shook his head, listening to the rest of it. Dawn as a dominatrix? An interesting mental image there. She could easily bring pain and pleasure, and make people enjoy both, but it just was *so* not her usual style. "She should be in movies," he said in awe when she broke bad on the hostages. He chuckled as she got the woman changed of impractical clothes, nearly quoting Vinnie before one of their clubbing dates, and moved his bike back toward the walls.
He could see the pitiful earth cameras and defeated them with a simple hit of a laser from behind. Pitiful technology from a guy who had such a super weapon? Boring! He heard Dawn tell them how to escape and got ready, hoping she'd follow, but then one of them hit her. He'd have to rip them a new one after they were safe. Right after Micah. He moved into position, catching the woman, who wasn't Max, as she came over the fence, putting her behind him. He heard the dogs and winced, hearing and seeing Lorne come back over the fence. Then he saw the woman and looked back at his rescuee. "We're heading, I can come back for him," he said, taking off with her. Lorne could get over the fence, hopefully, and hide for a few minutes. He got her back to his hiding spot and left her there, making it back in time to see Lorne be kicked back down to the dogs. "Cheese!" he complained, heading back. There wasn't anything he could do just then. He went back to his rescuee, getting her back on the bike. "That thing got him, I'll come back for him, ma'am. Which part of DC am I taking you to? Bike, remember this spot and how to get back here." It beeped at him.
"Downtown. I'm with Omega."
"Sure." He wrapped his tail around her. "Hold on. I work with Micah." She nodded, holding on as he took off with her. She gave him a squeeze as they passed by a gas station so he turned in there, letting her go inside to use the phone and the bathroom, waiting patiently. A heavily armored car pulled up a few minutes later and she came out. Rimfire glared at the person in the back. "You know him, honey?"
"Yeah, that one-eye'd guy is my boss." She looked at him. "My partner's still in there, so are two of Micah's, and he's in there as a rescue. This is one of his."
The guy with the eyepatch looked at Rimfire, then nodded. "Good work. Thank you for saving what was mine."
"It's just the first step, sir. I'd better head back, the reception's fuzzy out here." He spun off, heading back to that farm. What a waste of good land on such crap! He settled back into his hiding spot, tuning the receiver on his bike to see if he could pick up anything off their antique surveillance system. He managed to hack into the cameras, listening to the plans for the next morning once he had identified all the players being in separate rooms. That one guy, the one with the dogs, had to be the leader, he was the one making plans and calling on some help. He made some plans of his own, nodding when they meshed well with the dog-man's final plans. Yeah, he could do that. He settled in to wait, watching as the man fell asleep. Then he changed, going back to what had to be the prison cells. He doubted Max and Lorne were being kept in a nice room. He found the other guy a few doors down and nodded. Three hostages remaining. That was fine with him. He heard a footstep behind him and looked back, frowning at the ECHO agent standing there. "Yeah? Whatcha need?"
"You're here with Summers?" he asked. Rimfire shrugged. "Are you or not?"
"Micah said to get you dinner," he said, handing it over. "And this." He handed over the blaster as well. "Fully charged, Rimfire."
"Bless you. Have people waiting tomorrow morning. It'll have to happen then, he's going to execute them." The agent nodded, backing away to tell the others. He looked down and saw both Lorne and Max staring at the camera. "Am I broadcasting just to you two?" They nodded. "Cool beans. Tomorrow morning, firing squad." He turned off the mute with a few hits of the special keyboard he had installed on his crankcase. He checked his dinner, Chinese food, and smiled. Micah did look out for his people, even though he did want Dawn. He could appreciate that much about him. He settled in to wait, flipping through the system to find out how many guards there were. From the looks of things, he'd have to make it a good show.
When breakfast came, he moved his bike back toward the wall, finding a jump point had been set up by someone. Just a fallen tree, but it was helpful. He heard Dawn start the magic and sped up, heading up to jump the wall, guns out and blazing. He saw her move and hit the guards, helping them. Then he grabbed her with his tail and took off with her, following the others to the jeep. He smiled as his girl's bag hit her arms, then Micah's hit the jeep's front seat, startling Lorne. Not that it mattered. He followed them out, using an old tree on that side to jump back over and sped off faster than the jeep could go. It's not like they could follow them onto the main roads with all the cops waiting out here. He felt himself shift again and winced. "Not another one!" He woke up with a gasp and looked around, finding baby Anya staring at him. "Oh, cheese, my head hurts," he told her, sitting up and holding it. He grabbed the phone, calling Micah. "If you ever think about doing that with her while she's not on an assignment, it had better be the one and only way to save the universe, then I will kill you gently instead of the many horrible ways I can," he threatened, hanging up again. Whoever had answered his office phone would give him that message. He looked up as Stoker handed him a candy bar and a real soda, looking confused. "Huh?"
"Throttle called Wesley, who said the Harry Potter books had that much right at least," he said grimly. "What's going on? All I got were nightmares!"
"From what Dawn said in the one I just freed her from, it's like a daisy chain of nightmares, Stoker." He popped the soda and broke into the candybar, starved for some reason. "How long were we out?"
"One whole day. It's Saturday," he said, sitting beside him. His daughter crawled up to nestle between them, smiling at them both. "Yeah, you sit there," he said fondly, grinning down at her. "Maybe this mouse'll find a good mouse girlfriend some day."
"I will kill you if you don't like me and Dawn," he said quietly and coldly, glaring at him. "She's mine, she's staying mine, and I will hurt those who try to hurt her. M'dreth, you, or any of my family. Got it?"
"Fine," Stoker agreed, backing down some. The boy usually adored him as a mentor, if he was that serious, it was good with him. "I was only teasing." He held up a hand. "I know you know the problems."
"As they got shoved in my face yet again? Yeah, thanks." He stood up, going to check on the others. "Throttle?" He looked up from chatting with someone, probably Wesley. "I freed Lorne, Micah, and Dawn just now. I'm thinking Dawns' going to be freeing someone. She had a few theories about what was happening."
"The daisy-chain of nightmares?" he asked. Rimfire nodded. "What's the bad? Wes won't tell me."
"The first link can get stuck. Either him or the last link. It's not a true circle."
"Fuck," he complained. Throttle didn't use human swears very often but when he did, you did like Rimfire did and backed off a few steps. "Okay, so who was the first?"
"She thought you or Xander. She and Micah were talking about it last night in mine."
"She was with Micah? Why was she with Micah?"
"I think they got caught and she needed those two for her nightmare. Or possibly my nightmare, I'm not sure which. It was a rescue situation and she had to go in as his girl." He shuddered. "I'm going to hit him."
"It was a nightmare, Rimfire, it didn't really happy," Throttle soothed.
"Bet me." He turned and punched a wall before calming himself down. "He likes her and we all know he likes her. If we break up, I know who's going to try for her next, Throttle."
"Hey, calm down," he ordered. "It's not that bad."
"I had to listen to her give the most clinical blow ever!" he said in disgust.
"It was a nightmare," Throttle said patiently. "What else did you get?"
"You three as zombies forcing the bad points of me being with her back in my face."
"Ooh, yeah, I remember that. Nothing other than that?" Rimfire shook his head. "Then finish off your hershey bar and go take a shower. If you freed her, she'll be getting someone else pretty quickly. Then we'll figure out who's not out at the end and act. There's got to be a way." He gave him a pat on the arm. "Just relax. You're not losing her and you're more than smart enough to handle this."
"Were you serious in the nightmare?" he asked. Throttle nodded. "You're sure?"
"I am, but I'm also pretty sure she's not going to go all the way there," he said gently. "She smells really strongly of blood."
"Then I'll support her," he decided. "We need to know what and how to block these things, if only so we don't end up hip-deep in miniature Vinnies." That got a small smirk and a head shake. "When you know, let me know."
"Sure, kid. Go take a shower. Rest and relax for now. We'll have to hit the people who did this later."
"We need to know if they knew us," Rimfire pointed out. Throttle smirked at him for that. "It wasn't general enough for just *anybody* to do it."
"Mine wasn't either," Throttle agreed. "We'll see." Rimfire nodded, heading to do as he was ordered. He looked down as a small body nudged him. "Hey, Spike. How are you enjoying being a mouse, my man?" The baby gave him a disgusted look so he smirked and picked him up, sitting him in his lap to type what he now knew to Wesley, trying to get a real answer. Rimfire was right, it had to be someone who knew them, at least a little bit. The structures were still pretty generic, but they had to know how to yank their tails to target each one. Which left very, very few people. He also typed in that he was there holding the baby Spike and that made Wesley call instead. "Hey," he said as he answered, letting the baby have the phone. "Babble at him, little guy."
The baby Spike babbled angrily at the phone, slamming it a few times on the desk. He was not a happy vampire!
Dawn looked around her new spot, frowning when she saw she was still dressed the same, but everyone else looked just about as slutty and high class, but there was someone there she didn't think should be. "Okay, so I'm an exit," she muttered, walking over to the big guy. "Care to dance?" she purred, leaning on his arm with a grin. "I know studly mice like you don't usually, but just this once?"
Modo looked down at her and grinned in relief. "Sure, we'll dance," he agreed, winking his eye at her.
To Part B