13. The Last Stand of Dice Quaid

The gunfire started.

As Dice hauled himself from the grimy garage floor, he heard bursts of automatic rifle fire and the buzz-saw like song of Roc's Jeep-mounted gattling gun. He heard shouts and yells and barked orders. He even heard--somehow or another above the rest of the ruckus--the baaa of a goat.

"No! Father!"

Elena ran toward the front door. Dice grabbed her.

"No, now missy, ain't nothing we can--"

The front wall of the garage--window, doorframe and all--crumbled inwards. Chunks of concrete and shards of glass exploded across what had once been the office.

Dice threw Elena to the ground and shielded her tiny frame with his own. He felt sharp splinters of debris pelt his back.

Ouch, that smarts.

Sheen and Tommy, meanwhile, found their own shelter behind one of the metal desks.

The avalanche stopped. A cloud of debris filled the room. The ping, zing and pop of bullets and carbine fire carried inside the remaining three walls of the garage as a wind gusted through where the fourth wall had once stood.

Dice looked toward the front, squinting to see through the fog. A bullet ricocheted nearby. The mist was so thick he could barely see Elena who was right next to him on the floor.

"My--cough--my father! I have to go help him!"

The haze thinned enough that Dice could see a blob of light where the front wall had once. No, a blob of light and a big shadow.
A hiss turned into a roar. That roar came from the massive Spring Worm Blue, truck-sized and ugly with a vertical mouth, tusks, dead-red eyes, and millipede-like legs all along its long body.

It also had something else. A tail. A tail with a wrecking-ball like end.

"Oh, crap. Let's go kiddies! Out the back!"

Dice hustled his comrades toward the rear of the building, choosing to take his chances with Agatha and Roc's gattling gun rather than the hell-born creature seemingly made for no other purpose than to wipe man from the Earth.

He paused in his escape for two seconds, spending the first of those seconds to grab a long-ago discarded cloth from the floor and the latter of those two seconds to open the carrying case and retrieve the two vials from inside.

The Spring Worm ignored a series of gunshots that bounced off the back half of its tough hide and swung that tail about. It came down hard atop the garage, splintering the ceiling.

Dice, as he ran, wrapped the two vials in the cloth and stuffed them into his pocket. He raced out the rear door behind the other three just as that wrecking-ball-like tail finished its destructive blow.

The four refugees ran straight into the sights of Roc's gattling gun. The bandage-wrapped man stood in the rear of a Jeep. Agatha Dwiddle sat in the front. Captain Koal's shrike hovered nearby.

Dwiddle stood up and shook her fist at the foursome.

"Now you hand over that Super 2 right now or I'll have my man Roc cut the whole lot of you to…to…AAAAAAHHHH"

A shadow flickered over head. Roc's gun fired but not at the people.

A flying Man-Eater Blue swooped down from above. Bullets slammed into its armor plating but it still landed on the hood of Dwiddle's car.

"Grand mother!"

Dice could not believe that Sheena still worried about her grandmother, particularly after the lovely old lady had just threatened to kill them all. Nonetheless, Sheena broke free of Tommy's hold and bolted toward the car, the Blue, and Agatha.

Dice un-slung his rifle and gave chase.

The Blue had completely squashed the front of the Jeep. Roc, thrown clear during the collision, wobbled to his feet several yards behind, picking his butt off the dusty ground.

The Blue roared. It extended its jaw and reached for the screaming old drug lord. Captain Koal sat in the pilot's chair of his battle machine and did nothing, apparently comfortable to wait and see what might come of the engagement.

Dice shouted: "Hey! I said hey!"

He fired a burst of bullets at the ass-end of the Blue. Sheena stopped advancing, picked up a small rock, and tossed it at the creature.

The monster's attention was diverted from Dwiddle to Dice and Sheena.

Tommy yelled: "Sheena! Get out of there!"

Yeah, don't worry about me, kid.

The flying Blue flapped its fibrous wings and swooped at Sheena. Dice was forced to hold his fire. It grasped the young chemist with one talon and made to fly off with its snack.

Roc ran, leapt onto the hood of the crushed Jeep, and jumped up at the flying-off Blue before it could gain any real altitude. He grabbed a free talon. The added weight and surprise of Roc's move tipped the Blue off-balance. It fell sideways into the ground, releasing Sheena as it rolled over.

Dice recognized the expression on the Blue's face as it righted itself.

What the freak?

The monster regained its senses and stared down at Roc. It roared at the bandaged man. Roc screamed a grunt in response. The Blue lunged.

A rapid series of heavy-caliber rounds tore into the creature, first pushing it backwards then splattering its entire skull, core included.

Agatha Dwiddle stood at the rear of her destroyed Jeep, firing the gattling gun.

Captain Koal decided to join the fray.

"And now I'll take care of you, Dice!"

The Heavy-Duty mech raised its mechanical gun.

Another flying Blue dropped from the sky and rammed into the mech, sending it tumbling end over end. Dice--with no small measure of satisfaction--heard Koal's grunts of pain as he was bounced around the cockpit.

Roc approached Dice at a fast clip.

"Hey, now wait, I just helped save your--"

But Roc would hear none of it. The man grabbed Dice by both shoulders before Quaid could steady his rifle. Roc threw Dice to the side…barely avoiding the massive, gaping maw of a gigantic Blue Land Whale as it rose out from the ground like a shark leaping from the ocean.

Agatha Dwiddle fired again. The gattling gun ricocheted off the armor plating of the titanic monster.

Roc helped Dice to his feet and the two scampered off. Tommy threw an arm around Sheena and led her around toward the front of the half-destroyed gas station, but things sounded no better out there judging by the chaotic chorus of battle and horrid Blue shrieks.

Elena met up with Dice and Roc in the few seconds between the Land Whale's lunge and its realization that it had swallowed not prey but air.

Dwiddle continued to fire. Roc grunted and waved at her, urging the old woman to join them.

"I'm not afraid of one of these things! I'll show em what for!"

Agatha's bravado dissipated as the shadow of the mammoth creature wavered above her. The snake-like fifty-foot beast then slammed down toward the Jeep, using its head as a sledgehammer.

Agatha moved faster than any old lady has a right to move. With one hand holding the hem of her flowered dress, she leapt from the back of the vehicle just as the beast's batter hit home. What remained of the car was crunched into worthless sheet metal. The impact of the strike tossed Agatha first into the air and then to the ground.

Roc left Dice's side and ran for his matriarch. Dice steadied his rifle and pointed it toward the armor-sheathed foe but he felt as if he were a gnat squaring off with an elephant.

Roc grabbed Agatha's arm. The Land Whale reared its head above again, preparing to splatter the two with one smash. Dice squeezed the trigger. A burst of fire bounced off the hinged mouth of the beast. It turned its attention to Dice.

"Awe crap."

Dice turned and ran toward the broken gas station while the others made their escape around the side. The Land Whale dove into the dusty ground, kicking off a plume of dirt that resembled a geyser.

He pumped his legs and arms while one hand still held the rifle. He raced in the open rear door and across the pile of rubble that littered the office floor. Dice figured the Spring Warm that had smashed down the wall would be long gone, considering the battle raging at the front of the garage between Blue and humans.

Dice was wrong.

The hideous creature still lingered at the front of the building as if admiring its own destructive handiwork. Its beady eyes found Dice as the meal-on-legs raced toward the Blue's sideways mouth.

It roared. Maybe laughed, even.

Dice darted to his right, bounding over a fallen crossbeam and headed for the garage bay.

The Land Whale pursued like a shark swimming through water but, in this case, that water was the ground. It created a mound like a ground hog as it tunneled. That mound collided with the lingering Spring Worm.

Blue, Dice had long ago realized, were efficient hunters of humans but failed to impress on the IQ tests. Therefore, each Blue became angered at the other over the collision. The Land Whale smashed upwards from underneath, lifting and throwing the Spring Worm. The Worm, for its part, retaliated with a swing of its massive wrecking-ball tail.

Dice knew the spat would not last long, but it did last long enough for him to cut through the garage bay and exit out to the front of the garage.

Quaid stopped so fast that he nearly tumbled over.

A battle royal raged in front of the crumbled service station.

Pa's Grapple wrestled with a Tank Beetle while the Heavy Duty Shrike fired round after round of poorly-aimed shots at dive-bombing flying Man-Eaters.

Elena's father--Jordan--and his followers hid among the boulders on one of the surrounding hillsides while fighting off a trio of Blue Choppers. The cockroach-ish things advanced with their long, scythe-like mandibles swatting toward Jordan's vagabonds, who answered with rifle fire. Unfortunately, the old man might have been much more than his daughter suspected, but he and his followers still were not very good shots.

Vladimir's troop did no better. They had ringed their trucks like settlers circling the wagons in the face of an Indian onslaught. Vlad's boys fired small and heavy arms, beating back several Choppers and land-based Man-Eaters. However, first one then a second flying Blue swept in and decapitated two henchmen.

Amick did the best. Apparently she had come on this particular mission all on her own, figuring that her fancy new double-bladed Shrike could handle the fugitive Dice Quaid. She appeared to be correct.

He watched with his jaw open in awe over her fighting abilities. The Double Edge mech rolled to one side and sliced clean-open a Tanker all while firing its main gun at a threatening chopper. Both of the monsters fell but three more rushed at the fancy war machine.

Amick skewered a Chopper and blasted dead the Spring Worm from the garage as it escaped from its tussle with the Land Whale. However, an armor-encased Tanker Beetle rammed Amick from behind.

Dice could not comprehend why, but he raced toward Amick's imperiled ride with his gun blazing. As he closed the distance, he saw warning lights flashing in her cockpit as the monster pushed the mech to the ground and stomped. Even the deadly blades of the Shrike could not stop the assault.

One of his rounds--perhaps one of the luckiest shots he had fired in all his life--found the core of the Tanker. But Dice's rescue came a second too late for the fancy Shrike. The metallic warrior's power core ruptured. Ripples of electric energy and plasma flickered around its metal legs and torso.

"Amick! Get clear!"

Dice took a step forward--and was sent flying as the ground beneath him erupted upwards. The Land Whale had returned.

He landed with a heavy thud on his back; all wind was pushed from his lungs. Dice gasped for breath as he lay temporarily paralyzed on the pebble and debris covered ground.

Out the corner of his eye, he saw Elena help Amick from the Shrike. The damaged war fighter had fallen between the daughter and her father's position. Nonetheless, Dice thought it nice that the last thing he would see in his life would be a groundling saving Amick's pompous ass. He hoped Amick lived long enough to let that one sink in.

Dice ran out of time. The Land Whale pushed all the way out from the ground and hovered overhead like a snake dancing out of a basket to a piper's flute.

"Christ. I shoulda had that smoke."

BAM!

BAM!

Two heavy shells from the Heavy Duty shrike fighting for Pa hammered into the thick skull of the Land Whale.

"You git him good, Billy! Shoot dat darn ding again!"

The shots impressed the creature, but failed to cause mortal harm. Nonetheless, the Land Whale once again demonstrated that Blue were attracted to the strongest prey first: another one of their traits that went against the usual order of things.

In this case, the strongest prey became the gun toting but half-damaged Shrike piloted by Pa's boy, Billy. The Land Whale charged.

"Get runnin' outta there, Billy!"

Dice found breath again, collected his rifle, and staggered to his feet. A Chopper Blue nearly knocked him over as it rushed past, apparently intent on joining the assault up the hill where Jordan's goat herders battled a small swarm.

A flying Blue dropped from the sky and exploded in gore and dust into the junkyard of cars to the side of the station. It had been knocked down by Vladimir's rocket launcher.

Dice stood in the middle of the battle, as if he were a statue standing in the eye of a hurricane.

Blue guts and human blood soaked the ground; a thin haze from fired shells drifted across the bowl-like canyon; screams and roars and explosion bellowed into his ears; the ground shook from blasts and Blue footfalls.

Pa's Heavy Duty armored Shrike was sent end-over-end by the Land Whale. Its gun fell out of its mechanical hand and slid across the ground coming to a stop…at Roc's feet.

The Grapple--badly damaged and leaking both steam and fluid--tried to take hold of the Land Whale, which was a Blue very similar to the kind that had killed Dice's one true love but much, much larger.

The Grapple stood no chance but it bought time for Billy to get clear of the wrecked Heavy Duty. Then the Gapple itself was thrown. It fell with a clang to the ground and lay motionless. The Land Whale moved off in search of other prey but two Blue Tank Beetles closed in on the helpless machine.

Dice opened fire on the mammoths and charged forward. Pa's group had just saved his ass; he needed to return the favor.

"Get away from that guy!"

BLAM! BLAM!

Three shots ate away the outer shell of the first beast and the fourth round hit the core. The second Tanker rammed the prone Grapple yet again. The machine exploded killing the occupant and completely destroying the Shrike.

"Damn you!"

Dice did not know why he felt so angry. Lots of people had already died. Many more would die soon, probably even himself. Yet he had been trying to save that pilot. That made Dice angry. That made Dice sad, too. Why should he care?

Because that guy was a human being, like me.

Dice continued to fire at the tanker but could not get a clean shot at the beast. It bore down on him.

Quaid heard a welcome sound: the whir of an Armored Shrike. Captain Koal had returned. His machine appeared badly dented but it remained in tact; the main gun looked ready to fire.

"Koal! Blast this thing!"

"And why should I do that? If it doesn't kill you, I will!"

Apparently the smuggler had not gotten with the spirit of the times.

The ferocious beast galloped directly for Diced, intent on rolling the puny human into a dumpling.

Dice ran…behind Koal's Shrike.

"What? Get out of there! You fool!"

The Tanker rammed the machine and sent it flying, this time damaging the mech beyond repair. With the mech tossed aside, the Blue gave Dice its full attention yet again. This time Quaid's rifle fire found its mark, killing the beast.

Koal, meanwhile, crawled out from his destroyed ride. Dice gave serious consideration to shooting the man dead but, instead, responded to a cry for help.

Elena and Amick were cornered by a Chopper. Amick pulled a handgun and fired but the creature did not stop. It thrust its mandibles at the Second Earther. She dodged by dropping and rolling away, but the move only provided a short reprieve.

Elena threw a rock at the creature as if trying to divert its attention from Amick.

That's two you owe her, Amick.

But to no avail.

Dice opened up on full automatic, littering the creature's body with bullets. The pain forced it to reconsider its prey. The Blue turned and faced Dice.

"Show me your core, you sonofabitch!"

Click.

"Awe Christ."

The Chopper charged forward.

BLAM!

An explosive shell tore away the whole face of the Blue, splattering Dice with gore but leaving him in one piece.

Quaid turned around and saw his savior. It was Roc, holding a massive Shrike gun that no human being had any right to be capable of holding.

"Hey, thanks, Pal."

Roc grunted and flashed a thumbs up.

Dice waved in thanks but quickly changed to a different kind of wave.

"Look out!"

A geyser from the Land Whale threw the remains of the Heavy Duty Shrike high into the air. Roc moved just in time to avoid the falling metal carcass. The Land Whale swam through the ground, knocking Pa's troops off their feet and then throwing Roc himself a dozen feet into the air.

Dice saw the creature's target: Sheena and Tommy had taken refuge among the ruins of the garage. The kid held a rifle but appeared unsure from which end came the bullets.

Instead of seeing weakness in Tommy's lack of combat training, Dice saw truth. The truth that teenage boys should not need to know how to fight wars or defend against monsters. They should be going to school, listening to music, and dancing at the prom. It wasn't right. None of this was right. How dare the Blue rob Tommy and Sheena of their best years? How dare the Blue turn children into soldiers.

As he watched the two young lovers cower in fear, Dice saw visions of himself and his true love; then he saw the image of Yuji and Marlene. He saw hope for the future of mankind on the verge of being slaughtered.

No.

Quaid reloaded his last ammunition clip into the rifle and ran toward the ruins, weaving between the large boulders littering the front lot as he raced the burrowing Land Whale.

It exploded out from the ground and roared its big Blue head, then spat a ball of rock at the teenagers. Sheena pulled Tommy away just as the ball of stone slammed into one of the few slabs of still-standing garage wall.

Quaid stood between the towering monstrosity and the two kids.

"No more!" He roared and narrowed his eyes at the metal-plated beast.

"Not one more goddamn inch to you things! No more! I stand right here! You have to get through me you BASTARD!"

The bullets spat from his rifle as Dice Quaid made his last stand for humanity. Muzzle flashes became a constant torrent of fire. Dice growled as he shot one bullet after another. But the slugs could not penetrate the steel skin of the Land Whale. The shots bounced off, causing little more than pinpricks to the titan.

The rifle ran out of bullets. Dice was left standing between the gigantic creature and the kids with nothing more than his anger and…and…

Dice pulled the cloth from his pocket.

The Blue opened its mouth and yelled so loud that the ground shook!

Dice yelled nearly as loud: "You want something to eat? Eat this!"

Dice lobbed the vial of Super 2 Designer heroin into the open mouth of the monster.

The gargantuan was taken by surprise by something so small and so seemingly harmless. It wavered in the air for a moment, seemingly distracted by a strange taste in its mouth.

"You fed it heroin?" Sheena shouted in shock.

Dice shrugged.

"Ain't got no bullets left, missy. But the way I see it…that's enough concentrated hallucinogenic drug for half of Second Earth and maybe--"

The Land Whale roared again…then whimpered…then swung side to side…then dove into the ground disappearing beneath.

The battlefield rumbled. Even the two remaining Choppers attacking Vladimir's men paused.

The Land Whale burst out of the ground between those two Chopper Blue, sending them flying into the air and landing on their backs. Vladimir's remaining henchmen easily dispatched the helpless bugs that were trapped on their backs like turtles.

The Land Whale collapsed in one last roar. Its body fell slumped across one of the boulders lying about. The impact of the dead weight hitting sent an earthquake across the field.

While a line of Blue Choppers still marched on Jordan's nomads on the far hillside, the rest of the human contingent found that the Blue had been vanquished. A spontaneous round of cheers rippled across Vladimir's men, Pa's group, Roc, Agatha, and Dice himself.

Dice took advantage of the good spirits: "Hey! Let's finish the job!"

Quaid led them toward the mountain where Jordan's goat herders fought off four more Choppers. Dice had to hold Elena back as Vladimir's group opened fire and Pa's family circled up the mountain to pinch the Blue in.

Roc himself--re-armed with an assault rifle--charged the slope and personally put the last round into the last Chopper.

Another round of cheers.

Blue bodies and goat carcasses littered the hillside. The Land Whale lay draped over a boulder; several once-flying but now-dead Man Eaters lay scattered about; a Tanker carcass was propped against the burned out fuel truck.

But when the cheers ended, an unsettling silence fell over the combatants. Slowly, one by one, they began to realize what had brought them there in the first place.

Vladimir began to eye Jordan; Pa cast a stern look toward Agatha; Tommy and Sheena shrank into one another's arms as if anticipating a storm of words or bullets. Elena ran to her father…and punched him in the arm.

"Elena…"

"Don't 'Elena' me, you drug runner!"

Dice slowly, quietly walked down the hillside and returned toward the ruined station. He found his gas container sitting next to a chunk of concrete.

He grabbed the can and trotted over to the pumps. As he did, he noticed the mass of humanity strolling down the hillside and crossing the open lot toward him.

The gas pumps worked. The first piece of good luck for Dice in quite some time. He began to whistle nervously as a crowd gathered around. A crowd with their eyes locked on him.

Glunk, glunck, glunk the gas container filled.

Dice tried to look anywhere but at the crowd. He saw that all the Shrikes had been smashed into metal shards and most of the vehicles were long dead, too. Furthermore, the horses had been chewed up and only two of Jordan's goats remained; apparently the Blue had been rather hungry.

Dice could ignore them no more.

"What?"

Vladimir spoke first: "You owe me power cells."

Agatha jumped: "You fed my drug to that Blue! You know how much that thing is worth?"

Pa jumped on Agatha: "Hey, now, hear this woman, you give us that corn seed. You ain't got no right to be making us starve."

Roc grunted.

Elena slapped Vladimir across the cheek: "How dare you kidnap me like that!"

The accusations became cross talk. The former enemies that had joined together to beat the Blue became enemies again. Gunplay appeared ready to break out.

Dice, his container filled, had had enough.

"STOP IT!"

The arguments ceased.

Dice lectured.

"Look at yourselves. Look!"

They exchanged cautious glances.

"Drugs, kidnapping, smuggling…is this all that's left of the human race?"

Vladimir protested, "We must do what we can to survive, Mr. Dice."

Quaid wagged a finger first at Vladimir then at Agatha.

"Selling drugs to survive? Look at you two. You, Vladimir, and you, Agatha, I mean the two of you got the brains to run organizations and you waste it on drug running? When our people are about ready to be extinct?"

"Now listen hear, sonny--"

"No, you listen! Take a look around, folks. Yeah, that's right. Look each other in the eye. You might be all that's left, hear me? The Blue came here to wipe us off this god-forsaken planet and here you are--the only survivors I've seen in a long while--and you don't need the Blue to do it! You're doing it to each other, see? How stupid is that?"

Elena's father, red cheek and all, tried to break in using his fatherly voice.

"It is not so simple. Survival is a complicated matter."

"You are wrong," Dice countered. "It's not complicated. It is simple. It's the most simple thing, like, there is, see? It's about getting food and water, about taking care of each other, about fending off the Blue when they come calling. It's not about drugs. There's no money to be made here. The only barter that's worth a damn is what you can do to keep the human race alive."

Dice walked over to Tommy and Sheena. The couple held on to each other tightly.

"Look at these two," Dice went on. "This is the next generation, see? But there won't be a next generation if you folks keep fighting with each other."

Sheena whispered, "He's right, grandmother."

"Oh now hush up, honey."

Dice burst, "You hush up! Your grand daughter knows more about what's going on here than you do. Look at Roc over here."

He walked over to the bandage-covered man.

"I don't know about you people, but I've never seen anyone who can fight like this guy."

Roc grunted. It may have been a grunt of pride or thanks.

"Point being, Agatha, you've got him acting as some kind of mob enforcer when I fellow like this could keep a whole town of people safe. You telling me Roc here ain't worth more than being hired muscle?"

Roc grunted again. This time it was a question grunt. Maybe.

Agatha, somewhat unnerved, answered, "Well, Roc here isn't exactly the smartest tool in the shed. No offense, honey."

Roc grunted once more. There may have been the slightest amount of offense in that grunt.

Dice responded, "That's what people like you and Vlad here are for. You two have got the know-how. But instead of using it for the good of all people, you're worried about selling drugs?"

Quaid looked at Vladimir and pushed what he figured would be an effective button.

"How small time. How small minded."

Vladimir: "What? You should not speak to me in such a manner."

"How should I speak to the man who would let the whole human race die off just because he wants to make some kind of profit selling contraband? Don't you want to see your son grow up and live a happy life? Don't you want grand children?"

That got Vladimir's attention. His eyes widened. He mulled: "Grandchildren? Hmmm…grandchildren…yes…"

Pa broke in; "None of this talk is good for anything unless we can eat! Man can't live on bread alone."

Dice ignored Pa's contradiction and pointed everyone's attention at Sheena. He also pulled the second vial from his pocket as he spoke.

"You see this little missy over here? This here is one ace chemist. She's made this special corn seed stuff that could turn some of this wasteland into fields of food."

Agatha jumped, "Well, Mr. Dice, maybe you should tell everyone how you burned down the laboratory at my place."

Pa, seemingly hypnotized by the sight of the corn seed, offered before anyone else could react: "Lab stuff? Oh, now my boys can find plenty more of that type of stuff. Why, the lands out there are like a gold mine if you know where to look."

Dice figured that if anyone could find the pieces to build a new chemical lab, Pa could.

"See, now, there you go. Pa can find the stuff, Sheena can work it all out. Besides, you saw what that Super 2 did to that Blue, didn't you? I think Sheena here has got herself a new Blue weapon of a kind."

Elena's voice added: "And our goats! My father can give up his filthy job as a poppy farmer and do what my people do best, raise cattle! We'll have plenty to eat!"

Vladimir, still somewhat dazed by the whole grandchildren thing, said, "There is room on my estate for such a place. There is even grazing lands not far from us and plenty of land for the corn, I would think. Yes. Yes I can see it so clearly."

"That's because you're a planner," Dice put an arm on Vlad's shoulder. "You and Agatha can see the big picture. So now you can make that big picture work out for all of you. Why, you'll all be one big happy family! I tell you, it will all work out in the end!"

Dice saw his work was done. The members of the different groups began to speak amongst themselves. They smiled and shook hands. Vladimir even threw an arm around his soon-to-be daughter-in-law.

Well ain't this just sweet.

The group moved slowly toward what remained of Vladimir's trucks and began to pile in, the two last goats and all.

Dice smiled and picked up his full gas container. He had finally done something worth while. He had finally made a difference.

Not all the crowd wandered off. Two stayed behind.

Amick Hendar stood across from Quaid with a handgun pointing directly at Dice. Captain Koal, the little weasel, hovered at her side and eyed Dice with contempt.

Dice's smile faded.

Amick spoke: "How very touching, Dice. The groundlings can go and make more little groundlings for the Blue to eat. But that still leaves one little problem. You've caused me and Second Earth a lot of trouble. Someone has to pay, Dice, and I guarantee you it won't be me."

He suddenly realized how all alone he was, for the only group of people on the planet who might come to his rescue were already driving off into the distance.

Dice had nothing left. Nothing at all.

Well, one thing.

He narrowed his eyes, titled his head, and offered half a smile.

"Amick…baby…"

At first, she appeared unfazed by the gesture.

Then Amick swung the gun around and shot Captain Koal in the temple. The smuggler fell to the ground like a sack of dirty laundry.

Amick returned her attention to Dice and smiled…a little.

"I guess you were right, Dice. Everything does work out in the end."

She swiveled about with her typical military precision and marched back to her air ship. Quaid watched the vessel power up and fly away, no doubt en route to a spaceport where Amick Hendar would return to Second Earth to get on with the business of fighting the Blue.

That woman ain't ever gunna give up.

Dice took a big, deep breath. He felt very pleased with himself. Not only had he helped build a brand new human community that had half-a-chance at surviving the whole Blue apocalypse, but he had finally filled that damn gas container.

He could not help but smile. He had finally done something right. Maybe his luck had finally changed.

Dice surveyed the area around him. He saw dead Blue, dead humans, crushed cars and destroyed Shrike parts. A lonely wind blew across the vacant scene throwing dust particles into the air. Not a soul moved. Nothing but worthless ruins as far as he could see.

He set the container full of useless gas onto the ground beside him and scratched his head.

"Hey…now where's my car?"

THE END

January 2, 2006