Set a year after the two previous stories. Charley has settled back into relative normality until someone unexpected pays her a visit.
Quitting smoking was proving harder than Charley thought. She'd been wearing a patch on her arm for nearly a week and it still wasn't enough to curb the craving she felt for a cigarette. The only way to truly take her mind off it was to keep working, but unfortunately there was nothing to be. She'd done everything that was on her job list, so she had looked around to see if there was anything else to do. The garage was a bit of a mess of she decided to give it a good clean. She'd mopped the floors, cleaned the windows, and wiped the desktops. She'd even organised and arranged her tools in a neat and orderly fashion. It was all in order to ignore the little voice in her mind that was telling her to fish her cigarettes out of the trashcan and light up.
She'd finished cleaning the garage just before seven o'clock in the evening. Doubting that any customers would show up at that time of the day, Charley pulled down the shutters and locked up before retreating upstairs.
She headed into her small kitchen, opened a cupboard and took out a bottle of red wine and a wine glass. She removed the cork and poured herself a glass. She then picked up both glass and bottle and headed into the sitting room. She sat down on her battered old couch, and curled up with her feet beneath her. She put the bottle on the coffee table and took a sip of wine from the glass. It was silent and peaceful. Charley took a deep sigh and rested back against the couch, relaxing and enjoying the peace. She felt exhausted from her work, but at least it was keeping her mind off the cigarettes.
'Damn!' She scolded herself. 'I've started thinking about smoking again. Damn!'
She rolled up her sleeve to check on her nicotine patch. It was still there, but it might as well not have been. It was really helping Charley all that much with beating the craving. She'd been doing it mainly on sheer willpower. Charley felt that the only way the tiny piece of medicated plastic was going to help her was if she rolled it and smoked it.
Charley had decided to quit smoking the previous week. One of the reasons was that she had noticed that she was becoming increasingly short of breath whenever she performed tasks she would normally do, like carrying groceries up the stairs. The other reason was Jack McCyber, her old friend. He had visited her the previous and had commented on the smell of her apartment. It was then that she realised that she had to quit. Her apartment smelled like an ashtray, she was tired of smelled like an ashtray, and her health was suffering all because of the cigarettes. She knew it wasn't going to be an easy road to quitting, but she was determined not to give up.
She looked around the sitting room to see if there was anything she could do to distract her mind from the pursuit of nicotine and tobacco. It was then that she spotted the picture on top of the TV. Charley put down her glass of wine, stood and walked over to the TV. She picked up the framed picture and looked at it, smiling. It was a picture of her and the guys at a theme park.
She sat back down with the picture, still smiling. She missed them all so much. She wondered how they were doing. She hadn't heard from them since they had left, not that she was expecting to, but it would have been nice if they had contacted her. She had a radio set up on the desk in her bedroom in case they tried to contact her. In a way it hurt that they hadn't been in touch. It was as if they'd forgotten about her.
She gently ran her fingers across one of the smiling faces. Throttle. She was still in the process of getting over her love for Throttle. It had started to wane when she had fully realised that he was in love with Carbine and was happy. She still cared for him deeply, and that would never change. She was happy that he was with the woman he loved.
Charley put the picture down and picked up her wine, taking a drink. It was a good red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, with a wonderful blend of tastes - cherry, black currant and a little bit of pepper. It had an incredibly relaxing effect on her, and made her feel warm. She took another drink, savouring the taste some more.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Charley was brought out of her reverie the sudden noise.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Someone - or something - was hammering very loudly on the shutters. Charley felt somewhat apprehensive to go to see who it was. Reaching under the couch, she pulled out what looked like a gun. It was, in fact, a Martian blaster. The guys had given it to her 'just in case'. Setting her wine down, Charley made her way downstairs and slowly towards the door.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Charley stopped as the shutter shook. She held still as she could hear someone mumbling outside. The voice was too low to distinguish whether it was familiar or not. She trembled with fear and apprehension. She didn't get many visitors these days, and when they did come to call they had the sense to press the doorbell. She continued forward, reaching into her pocket with her free hand to pull out her keys. She kept the gun cocked as she slid the key into the lock and turned it slowly as not to make too much sound. If this visitor was unfriendly she didn't want to arouse too much attention to herself. She unbolted the top bolt - another safety precaution insisted by the guys - and put her hand on the doorknob. She turned it and slowly opened the door. Her gun was still cocked in her hand, her finger on the trigger. She peeped out ... and nearly fainted when she saw him.
He was a Martian mouse, a very familiar mouse, and it looked like he was about to set up camp outside her shutters. Charley relaxed the gun by her side, feeling extremely relieved. She opened the door fully and stepped out into the street. The Martian mouse turned around and looked at Charley, who had a big smile on her face.
"What are you doing here?" She asked, her smile as wide as a Cheshire cat's.
"Hey there beautiful!" said the mouse. He had a huge smile on his face too. Charley tucked the gun in her belt (after making sure the safety was on) and ran as fast as she could to him, throwing her arms around his neck and hugging him tightly. The mouse responded by hugging her.
"It's so good to see you, Stoker!" Charley said, still hugging him.
"It's good to see you too, Charley." Stoker said as they parted. They stood holding each other loosely as he continued, "I was beginning to think that you weren't home. I thought I was gonna to have to sleep on the street."
"I don't get many visitors these days, and when someone starts banging on my shutters I like to take ... precautions before answering the door."
"Hence the blaster?" said Stoker, pointing to the gun on her belt.
"Exactly." Charley looked over to Stoker's bike. "Want to bring your bike and yourself inside?"
"Yeah, that'd be cool. Saves us both standing out here freezing all night," he said with a grin.
"I'll go and open the shutters." Charley smiled and back towards the door. Before she disappeared inside, she pointed on a small object attached to the wall on the left side of the doorway. "I do have a doorbell, you know."
Stoker smiled sheepishly. "Oops."
A short time later, Stoker and Charley were sitting on her couch in her apartment, sharing the red wine that Charley had thought she would be drinking alone. She'd offered Stoker some root beer, but he'd declined saying that he was in the mood for something a little bit stronger.
Charley couldn't believe the elation she had felt upon setting her eyes on Stoker. She'd felt so alone since the guys had left and she missed them all very much. With Stoker sitting opposite to her on her couch and drinking wine with her brought back the familiarity of life she thought she had lost a year ago.
They were silent for a while before Charley began to speak. "It's really good to see you, Stoker. I didn't think I'd see any of you guys again."
"Never say never, beautiful." He took a sip of wine. "It just so happens that I was passing Earth earlier today and I thought to myself 'I haven't seen Charley-girl for the longest time. I think I'll go and see how she's doing.' So I did, and here I am." He said, smiling cheekily.
Charley cocked an eyebrow. "Oh really? Is that how it happened?" She teased.
"Well ... sort of." He confessed, his cheeky smile fading into an embarrassed one.
"What happened?" asked Charley leaning back against the couch and tucking her feet underneath herself.
"Crashed the ship." He said.
"Why am I not surprised?" Charley gave an amused laugh. "I think they should make that place into an alien airport or something." She took a drink from her wine glass. "So what happened to cause you to crash in the first place?"
Stoker looked even more embarrassed. "Isplitsomerootbeeronthecontrlpanel." He mumbled the sentence so quickly that Charley couldn't catch a word he was saying.
"Huh? Stoker, I didn't catch a word of that. Could you please repeat it?" Charley asked.
Stoker sighed and repeated his confession, "I split some root beer on the control panel, frying the circuits, and causing me to loose control and to crash."
Charley's face broke into a smile and then she burst into laughter.
"It's not funny, Charley." Stoker said. The poor mouse looked terribly embarrassed. He put his wine glass down and buried his face in his hands. His pride was hurt enough over the fact that he'd made such a stupid mistake of putting a can of root beer on the control panel and knocking it over and therefore causing himself to crash. Charley laughing at him only made him feel worse.
Charley eventually stopped laughing and put a comforting hand on Stoker's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Stoker, but you have to admit it is kinda funny." Stoker didn't look up. Charley whispered into his ear, "Don't feel too bad. I've done similar things plenty of times myself. I promise I won't tell anyone."
Stoker looked up at her. She was really close to him with her arm on his shoulder. She was smiling at him. He had to smile back. She was right. It was kind of a silly thing to get upset about.
"I'm OK, just a case of hurt pride that's all." He said.
"Like I said, I won't say a word." Charley replied.
"That's reassuring to know. I'd hate for Vinnie to have it as artillery against me."
They resumed the drinking their wine. The mention of Vinnie brought thoughts into her head. She wanted to ask Stoker how everyone was, but she was arguing with herself if she really wanted to know, especially regarding Throttle. She wanted to know if he was happy because that was all she'd ever hoped for him. She was afraid that talking about him would open old wounds and set her back in getting over him. She really wanted a cigarette. She needed something other than alcohol to calm her down.
Charley ignored her craving, finally bit the bullet and asked. "So, how is everyone? The guys I mean."
"Vinnie's OK. He's still a crazy punk, but doing well. He's been working as a trainer, teaching the next generation of freedom fighters how to whip tail. He's doing well for himself. The kids really look up to him. He's currently chasing a very nice medic named Jasoline, but this may have changed since I've been gone. Vinnie's always been a bit of a ladies man. I'm sure he'll settle down when he eventually meets the right girl."
Stoker took a final drink from his glass and poured some more from the bottle, first into Charley's glass which stood empty on the table, then his own.
"Modo's gone back to his family. He's living with his mama, sister and, of course, Rimfire and Primer. He hasn't really done much since they got back. I think he's just been enjoying being back with those he loves. Rimfire got married soon after they got back, and he and his wife just had a kid so Modo's enjoying being a doting great uncle again."
Charley smiled. "I can imagine Modo being extremely suited to that role," she said, "I'd glad to hear that they're both happy." She took a sip of wine. "What about Throttle?"
"Throttle's doing well for himself. Him and Carbine finally got married, and Carbine expecting their first child. They're both working at rebuilding the government and getting Mars back on its feet. Many reckon Throttle will make on hell of a senator, if he decides to go for it. I always thought he'd be a good leader. He's always been the calm and collected one. Who knows what the future holds for him. At the moment he's preparing himself for impending fatherhood. He's happy."
"I'm ... I'm glad to hear it. That's all I ever hoped for him, to be happy." Charley said softly and sadly. She then corrected herself, realising what she had said. "What I mean is, all I ever wanted was for all of them to be happy."
Stoker took a deep breath of uncertainty before speaking. "I know about what happened between you and Throttle before he left. He talked to me about it." Stoker confessed. His tone of voice was sincere and sympathetic.
Charley stared at Stoker, her eyes wide. Throttle had told Stoker about it? 'Oh God ...' she thought, and suddenly she had another urge to fish her cigarettes out of the trashcan.
Stoker continued, "Throttle felt extremely bad about the fact that he knew how you felt about him, yet he couldn't return those feelings. He said you'd given him something to keep, something to remember you by. He told me he didn't feel worthy enough to keep the only memento of you on the planet Mars because he had caused you so much hurt, and probably still was. He gave me it for safe keeping." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small leather pouch. Charley moved closer to look at it. Stoker tipped her pouch upside down and into the palm of his hand fell the ring that Charley had given to Throttle, her father's ring.
Charley's eyes had filled up with so many tears that she felt like they were drowning. She didn't want to cry but upon hearing those words from Stoker and seeing the ring again, she couldn't help but choke up. She bit her lip to stop any sobs from escaping, but failed. The first of the tears fell and Stoker pulled Charley into his arms, holding her tightly. He put down his wine glass and concentrated on being a rock for Charley.
It was a long time before the sobs ceased and had been reduced to a gentle hiccupping. Stoker continued to hold Charley and to stroke her hair. There was a patch of wetness on the shoulder of his jacket his fur, but he didn't care. Charley needed this. It was obvious to him that she hadn't really allowed herself any sort of emotional release over the guys leaving or over Throttle. It seemed to him that the poor woman had bottled it all up and not dealt with any of it.
Eventually Charley lifted her head up and wiped her eyes. She sat back from Stoker, who reached forward and took the box of tissues from the coffee table and offered her one. Charley took one and continued to wipe her eyes and blow her nose.
Sniffling a little, Charley said, "Sorry about that." She gestured his shoulder. "I know how back wet fur smells."
Stoker smiled. "Don't worry about it." He offered her another tissue after noticing that the one she'd initially taken had practically disintegrated. "How do you feel? Any better? I take it you've been needing to get that out of your system for a while."
"I guess ..."
"I'm sticking around for a while. My ship is totalled and I think you could use a little company. Anytime you feel like it, you can make the fur on my shoulder all wet, OK? That is, assuming that you don't mind me sticking around for a while?" He said, putting his arm around her.
"Of course not. You're welcome to stay here for as long as you need. I've got a spare room you can use," she said, her voice sounding a little brighter, "but won't they be worrying about you back on Mars?"
"Nah. I think they can live without me for a while. I'll radio them tomorrow to let them know what's going on."
Charley smiled again, a full happy smile. She was glad that Stoker was going to stay, even if it was only for a little while. For a little while, she wouldn't have to be alone anymore.