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Sand and Light

Episode 22: Rescue




Six years after the end of the anime, Milly Thompson has been abducted by a grown-up Kaite, who is now the leader of the Bad Lads gang. After a man called Tony kills the rest of the Bad Lads in front of her, Milly joins Kaite on a journey through the desert in search of him.


When Knives had first met Sand, he had not known who she was. To be honest, he still wasn't sure, but he was getting an idea.

Tony had taken Knives and Ellie to an abandoned Jeep, where he ordered Knives to take out the white case in the back and carry it. The case was immensely heavy. Knives recognized immediately that it was the twin to the white case of the Genesis Machine that they had discovered on the ship, but for once he managed to keep his mouth shut, and hoped that his shock had not been registered too plainly on his face.

They had walked all night, climbing into the hills. Ellie began to cry in small, hopeless sobs. The poor child was so tired she kept falling down. Finally Knives picked her up and carried her in his other arm.

Once in a while he glanced back at Tony, who walked in silence, as if in a world of his own. His yellow eyes stared at nothing. Sometimes he stumbled and caught himself.

If he passes out... we have to be ready to run...

But he didn't pass out, just kept climbing. They emerged on top of the plateau. Knives stared in wonder at the twisted stone shapes, gleaming in the moonlight like broken bones.

"I found this place years ago," Tony said. His hoarse voice grated in his throat.

"Who carved this?" Knives asked, gazing up at a stone bridge as they walked under it.

Tony laughed shortly. He seemed a bit more expansive and talkative now that they were away from the ship. "No one. The wind did this. Over more years than you could hope to imagine. This is a dead world, my friend; a world with no oceans, no water, no ice, at least not until humans showed up and mucked up its sterile perfection."

"Ah. I see." After a moment, Knives said, "Aren't you human?"

"Yes, but I understand my place in the world. As most do not."

"It's human nature to strive for something better than one has," Knives said.

Tony laughed again. "And how would you know that? I may be human, but you aren't."

"How do you know what I am?"

"I know more than you could imagine," Tony said.

He fell silent again, and they walked through the forest of stone, eventually finding a path that wound down the side of a cliff, and ended on a flat lip of stone overlooking a valley. The cliff beneath them looked as if it had been sheared off with a giant meat cleaver, and huge pieces of stone could be seen jumbled at the foot of the cliff. Some cataclysm had happened here, at some unknown point in the past -- no way to judge, without vegetation or running water to erode the rock. The suns were beginning to rise, filling the valley with golden light.

"Sit," Tony said.

He took his own advice, sitting on a rock and looking down into the valley.

"What are we--" Knives began.

Tony gave him a look of hate from his hooded yellow eyes. "Be quiet. Dawn is a sacred thing, not to be profaned by one such as you."

Knives set the white case down carefully and gathered Ellie into his lap, where she whimpered once and fell asleep. They sat with Tony and watched the rays of gold sweep across the valley.When both suns were above the horizon, Tony turned to look at Knives. "Lovely, don't you agree, false master?"

"It was beautiful," Knives agreed. But in a harsh, lonesome kind of way, he thought. Nothing softened the rugged sweep of the rock.

Tony got up and walked to the edge of the cliff.

"You'd never guess that there used to be a lab here."

"Here?" Knives said.

Tony nodded, and waved his arm into the empty space. "Six years ago, if you'd climbed over that hill, you would have seen exactly what you see here, only the shelf upon which we stand extended a few hundred feet farther out. But under it, hidden from prying eyes, the place bustled with activity. Two hundred people lived here, give or take a few. All of them willing to die for our Master if he should ever give the command."

"You were one of them?" Knives said.

Tony smiled, and laced his hands behind his back. "Yes. And one of the most loyal, though I came but late to this place. Do you want to hear how it happened? Or do you remember?"

"I remember nothing," Knives said.

"Indeed, you must not." Tony paced on the lip of the cliff. "I'd been exploring the area around the ship, again. As I so often did, in those days, after my revenge upon Nadia's kin was complete, and my Angie had left me. I had nowhere to go and little to do. And so I became aware of comings and goings from this part of the plateau. Sometimes I would see vehicle tracks in the sand, well hidden, but there nonetheless. Or I'd glimpse someone from a distance, but by the time I got there, they would be gone."

He gazed pensively off at the mountains. "Eventually -- it was only a matter of time, I suppose -- I found one of their entrances. And imagine my shock at what I found! A hidden laboratory, here in this most desolate place, filled with lost technology and workers! It was almost like being back on Earth. Of course, they caught me and they were going to kill me."

Tony tilted his head back, his face filled with rapture. "But then -- He appeared. Radiant, gold and white... He stood above me, and I fell to the ground with fear. And then He spoke to me... He asked me if I knew how to open the door to the ship on the other side of the plateau.

"I said that I did!

"He agreed to let me live, if I would let them into the ship so that they could search it for equipment they could use. I was afraid they wouldn't understand when they found the bodies of Nadia and her family, but He only smiled when he saw that. They took what they needed from the ship... just a few things, components they hadn't been able to manufacture..."

Tony's voice trailed off. He squinted up at the bright sky, and then, to Knives' shock, dropped to his knees in the sand.

"He comes," he whispered. "Kneel, you fool!"

Knives got down into the sand, gently dislodging Ellie, who folded onto the ground bonelessly without waking up.

Looking the way Tony had been looking, he saw a dark speck against the sky, growing rapidly larger. Some kind of vehicle? Squinting, he could make out two people on it.

The vehicle settled to the cliff edge in a cloud of sand. One of the riders leaped off immediately: a slim girl wrapped in a ragged brown cloak. She was carrying a silver gun in one hand, which she tucked away beneath her cloak.

The other rider, a haggard-looking woman, climbed down more slowly.

Ellie had woken at the sound of the vehicle and began to whimper. Knives hushed her. The haggard woman approached them, then froze, staring at Ellie with wide, astonished eyes.

Ellie clung to Knives' leg.

Recovering from her shock, the woman knelt down and reached a hand out to the little girl. Ellie hesitated, then responded: her mother might not be here, but she definitely knew a mom when she saw one. She crossed the space between them and let the woman hug her.

Meanwhile, the girl in the cloak crossed the sand and placed her hand lightly on Tony's forehead. "You have done well," she said. "You may be the only one that I have left... but a drop of rain grows around a single speck of dust, doesn't it, and creates a thunderstorm?"

"Yes, Master," Tony said, his eyes closed, basking in the girl's presence. "Thank you, Master."

The girl turned, and saw Knives. Her reaction was unexpected, to say the least. All the blood drained from her pale face, leaving her white as chalk.

"Legato... what is this doing here?" she whispered.

A glimmer of humor flickered across Tony's face. "It followed me home, Master."





"Stop the truck," Kaite said.

Milly, in the driver's seat, turned to him with a look of surprise. "Huh?"

"Stop the truck. No. Not here, in the open, f'r cryin' out loud. Pull behind that rock."

Milly heaved a sigh of total exasperation, but did as he had instructed. "Why?"

"We're getting close to the ship. We'd better walk from here. The truck raises too much of a dust cloud."

Milly nodded, subdued. They both climbed down from the truck and stood for a moment, stretching out the kinks of the road.

Here we are, Milly thought. Soon... soon we'll meet Legato again. We'll probably die.

She couldn't get her mind to accept the idea.

So... MAYBE we'll die. But if we are very smart and resourceful, we may live, and we may save all of humanity.

I don't care about humanity. I just want to see my little girl.

"Coming?" Kaite said.

"Coming."

"Here."

Kaite brought a shotgun from under the truck's seat and handed it to her.

"I prefer my stungun, thanks."

Kaite shook his head. "Carry it if you like, but also take a weapon with killing power. We're not going into a battle where you take prisoners, Milly."

Reluctantly, Milly accepted the shotgun and slung it over her shoulder. She still preferred to carry her stungun, which Kaite had given back to her. Kaite himself had a rifle with an oddly flared muzzle.

"What's that?" Milly asked.

"One of my inventions. It packs a whallop, I'll just say that much. Dunno from how far away Tony can do that weird mind thing, but if we can get a clear shot anywhere near him, it'll all be over."

They started walking, picking their way over rough rocks. Soon, they came upon an abandoned Jeep, rolled against the rocks with no effort made to hide it. Kaite's Jeep.

Milly ducked and flattened against a boulder, gripping her stungun in both hands. Kaite, however, made no attempt to hide. He walked over to the vehicle and laid his palm flat against its hood. "It's cool, so it's been here for... hours, at least, maybe days. He went directly here, then... much faster than we could have traveled. Damn."

"What now?"

Kaite shook his head. "I guess we go on. We'll have to forget about ambushing him from inside the ship, though."

Then he gasped and gripped Milly's arm. "Back! Now! Get down! Don't move!"

Milly didn't point out that those directions were mutually exclusive. She just ducked as he indicated, dropping beside him in the shadow of a boulder.

"What? What is it?"

"Look."

Kaite pointed skyward. Milly squinted, and finally saw a rapidly moving black dot, sweeping over the mountain peaks.

"What is that? Some kind of bird?"

"It's not a bird. It's Tony's flying machine. Got to be. Nothing else could be that big or flying that high."

"Flying machine?" Milly repeated.

"Shhh. Keep your voice down."

The two of them watched in silence as the black object passed over them, low enough that Milly could make out its flattened elliptical shape, and even dimly discern two small figures upon it. Then it disappeared over the cliff behind them.

"Funny," Kaite murmured, staring after it. "Neither of those people looked the right size to be Tony. I wonder if he's got other crash survivors that he meets out here? Weird..."

He walked toward the cliff. Milly followed.

"Hey! What are you doing?"

"I'm going to climb."

"You saw how fast that ... thing was moving. They're probably long gone."

Kaite shook his head. "No. Wherever they were going, I bet it's somewhere around here. I don't believe in coincidence. Tony's flyer originally came from the ship. What we just saw was his flyer, or another from the same place, and they didn't just happen to be flying over this particular area. Their headquarters must be around here somewhere."

The two of them picked their way along the base of the cliff until they found a rockslide that provided a rough, but navigable, path to the top. The desert wind whipped at their bodies as they climbed, and Milly pictured the two of them, like tiny ants crawling along the side of the huge cliff... Once she turned and looked down, and then looked away, gulping at the great expanse of desert spreading beneath them.

When they made it to the top, though, Milly had to turn around and walk to the edge, gasping in delight at the yellow sand spreading to the horizon. She had never, ever, in her entire life, been this high up. Sighing in wonder, she turned from the lovely view to see where they had ended up. They were standing on a sort of mesa, scoured by the wind into a fantasy garden of strange and wondrous shapes. Beyond the twisting rock towers, more mountains towered until their peaks seemed to scrape the sky.

"Wowww..." Milly whispered.

"Only you," said Kaite with a sigh, "could look forward to abrupt violent death with 'wow'."

"Just because we're going to confront a killer," Milly snapped, "is no reason that we can't appreciate the natural beauty around us."

"Oh. Right. You're a mom. I forgot."

They started walking across the mesa, entering the garden of wind-sculpted rocks. Milly couldn't help thinking that it wasn't too surprising Legato came to this place. All these stones, warped into shapes that were surely never intended for them...

Yet it was beautiful, in a cold and austere way that made it clear humanity was never meant to come here, was no more than a footnote in the harsh history of this world.

Milly shivered and hurried to catch up to Kaite.

"So if Leg-- Tony has a machine that can fly," she said, settling the shotgun over her shoulder and the familiar weight of the stungun in her arms, "why did he have to take your Jeep?"

"I've been wondering that myself," Kaite admitted. "Obviously he no longer had it the last time we saw him. It's possible, I suppose, that whoever we just saw fly over isn't Tony. Some scavenger could have come upon the ship and found a way in. Tony said once that there might be more flyers in an undamaged cargo bay that we hadn't found or couldn't get to."

Kaite drummed his fingers on the butt of his gun. "I keep wondering what happened to Tony, between the last time I saw him in March City, and the way he looked in the canyon. He'd clearly been in a fight with somebody. I'm sure Tony had technology that would blow up a mountain -- but dammit! I can't imagine him doing it without a reason! Especially on top of himself."

"He killed your gang without a reason," Milly said quietly. If he's Legato, he wouldn't need a reason.

Kaite sighed. "Maybe I just want to believe that he'd met somebody who could rough him up that bad. I simply cannot believe that there's no way to kill the guy. Get a bullet in him, and he'll die as fast as anyone else."

"Of course," Milly said quietly, but she was thinking of Legato. She'd seen him die with a bullet in his brain. There was no question that he had been dead. And now this Tony guy showed up with Legato's powers... it was terrifying. What if he really couldn't be killed?

"So what does --" she began, but Kaite held up a hand to stop her. Milly closed her mouth, and after a moment, an errant breeze brought her a snatch of voices, not too far away.

Kaite motioned for silence, and the two of them crept forward through the frozen forest of stone. Soon they came to a gap in the rocks, and, side by side, peered down.

They were near the edge of the mesa, which turned out to be not much of a mesa, but more of a small butte. Below them, the butte dropped in a series of ragged steps to a narrow, barren valley, and then the real mountains rose into the sky, ten thousand feet or more, unbroken by the softness of vegetation, unmarked by leaping waterfalls. Only rock, solid rock, so much rock that its great weight seemed to press down upon the two humans, as if the mountain wall was leaning inexorably towards them. An ile or more across the valley, every rock on the far mountainside stood out sharp and clear in the crystalline desert air, and Milly had to remind herself of the immense scale, that the stones which looked small and close enough to pick up in her hand were actually the size of city buildings.

A sharp intake of breath from Kaite drew her attention to something much closer than the mountains. Just beneath them, the butte dropped about thirty feet in a slope of scree and talus, and then there was a ledge overlooking the valley.

Milly's grip tightened on the stungun.

Tony.

He stood at the edge, so near to the drop that it seemed the buffeting wind would catch his slight frame and send him tumbling over the edge. The sheer scale of the mountains reduced him to a narrow sliver of black, outlined against the red and yellow rocks.

A target.

Near him, another figure stood, its long blond hair whipping in the wind off the mountains. Milly knew who this must be, knew even before he turned his head and she caught a glimpse of that impossibly Vash-like face. She had been right all along, and wished she hadn't. Tony, or Legato, or whoever he was, had indeed led them to Knives.

But there were other people on the ledge.

Near Tony and Knives, another person was standing beside a strange, gleaming contraption that Milly supposed must be the flying machine. Milly thought the stranger was a girl, but it was hard to tell, since his or her body was wrapped in a ragged brown cloak, and long blond hair hid the face. This person was the one whose voice they'd heard back among the rocks. He or she was talking to Knives and Tony; the wind brought incomprehensible snatches of a voice that was light and even, neither male nor female.

Beyond that person, a woman was sitting on the ground, crosslegged, with the air of one waiting for something to happen. There was a child with her.

Milly squinted at that child, and felt her heart flip over, even before the reality slowly percolated through a brain frozen into immobility with the sheer impossibility of the thing.

No. No. Not possible.

Knives turned back from the edge and walked over towards the woman and child. With each step, Milly's sense of unreality and horror grew.

This couldn't be happening. This must be a nightmare. She was asleep somewhere, and the last few days had been just a dream, and soon she'd wake up, yes, wake up please, wake up now...

Knives bent over, and touched the little dark-haired girl, tilted the child's head back, and Milly caught a glimpse of the child's face, and she wanted to scream or throw up or kill somebody. But she couldn't move. She was frozen as surely as by Tony's uncanny powers, but this time, it was a paralysis of the heart.

Ellie. That child... was her daughter.

And Knives was touching her.

Next to her, Kaite was aiming his flare-muzzled gun, resting it in a crack in the rocks. Milly's trembling hands dropped the stungun. It wasn't a stungun that she wanted. Kaite had been right all along. They were playing for keeps out in this lonely country.

Softly, not making a sound, Milly swung the shotgun from her back, and took aim.





"I want Mommie," the little girl whispered.

"I know," Angie said softly to her. "But you have to be a big girl now, all right? Big girl for Mommie?"

She put an arm around the girl, her natural mothering talents coming to the fore. The child snuggled against her, and Angie wondered what had happened to her parents. Probably killed by Tony. The little girl's weird resemblance to Lucas had given her a shock at first, but she'd come to the conclusion that it was just her imagination. Of course she was going to see her murdered son in every child she met.

The tall blond guy left Tony and that other girl, and came over to Angie and the little girl. He looked so much like Vash, it was creepy. Could they be related somehow? Angie wondered.

As if in response to her thoughts, the child whimpered, "Vash!"

Angie jumped.

The blond guy squatted down and cupped the little girl's chin in his palm. "Are you all right? Hungry? Thirsty?"

The girl shook her head. "I want Mommie, Mister Vash. I want to go home."

It's not possible, Angie thought. His name couldn't possibly be Vash too. Then she had a horrifying thought: What if this guy is the real Vash? The outlaw? The Humanoid Typhoon?

"You just be a brave girl for Mommie, little one," Angie said again, stroking the girl's hair.

The man who looked so much like Vash smiled at her, and she saw Vash very strongly in his gentle smile. "Her name is Ellie."

"Are you her father?"

He shook his head. "Just a ... friend of the family."

Angie jerked her head towards Tony and the strange girl. "Are you with them?"

"No," he said, so fervently that she couldn't help but believe him.

Angie hesitated, then held a hand out. "I'm Angie."

He took her hand, a bit awkwardly, as if he had never shaken hands before. "I'm Va -- I mean, I'm Kni-- I -- Well, I don't really have a name."

He looked so wretched that Angie couldn't bring herself to ask how that was possible. "Well ... it's nice to meet you anyhow. What should I call you?"

The blond man looked away from her, looking, if possible, even more miserable. "I don't know."

This guy definitely could match Vash in the "weird" department. "Hmmm. I guess I could call you... I guess I could call you ... Damn, I've got to call you something. How about Eric"

He raised his eyebrows, looking very much like Vash in his innocent, startled guise. "Eric? Any particular reason?"

"No. I've never met an Eric in my life. I wouldn't want to call you by the name of anyone I've actually known." She smiled slightly. "Most of them weren't very nice people."

The guy she'd dubbed Eric smiled faintly back, and Angie decided that she liked him, and not just because he reminded her of Vash. Maybe she was wrong about him ... she'd been wrong before... but he seemed like a nice person.

Then everything happened all at once.

There was a crack like distant thunder, and Angie just had time to turn her head and think But there are no thunderstorms on this world -- before fire, smoke and noise blossomed on the lip of the cliff, washing out Angie's world in light and sound. Gravel pelted her, burning like tiny meteors on her skin, leaving bleeding streaks -- she shielded Ellie with her own body, and then the man who looked like Vash stumbled against her, and something splattered on her face that wasn't gravel -- it was warm and wet, and she looked up in shock to see that he was holding his arm with blood running off his fingers.

"Get down!" he yelled at her, and Angie scrambled, with Ellie, for the shelter of the rocks. Eric dropped down beside her, breathing heavily.

"Are you all right?" Angie asked him, staring at his bloody arm.

"Someone's shooting at us. Poor bastards. I hope it's not... it couldn't be... No, Meryl and Lamia wouldn't have shot at me." He seemed to be thinking aloud. "Bandits, perhaps."

Angie stared at the spot where Tony had been, as the smoke cleared. The lip of the cliff where he'd been standing had been sheared away, and there was no sign of him. The flyer was just a twisted hunk of metal. Was it possible -- could he actually be --

"I need to borrow something for a moment," said a quiet, familiar voice behind her.

Angie jumped and almost screamed. Tony was crouched among the rocks, looking even more battered than before -- now his hair was sticking off at odd angles, and soot smudged his face along with the dirt and lingering bruises -- but entirely alive. There was no sign of Sand, however.

"I need this," Tony said, snatching Ellie out of Angie's grasp.

"Hey! No! Tony, you bastard, no! Not another kid!"

Eric let go of his injured arm and seized Tony's wrist with his bloody hand. Tony turned on him, and Angie's breath stopped. He's going to kill him ... But Tony just stared at the other man, his golden eyes burning with hatred -- and a small flicker of fear. Nothing happened.

"I order you to let that girl go," Eric said softly.

What the hell is going on here? Angie wanted to ask.

"I don't take orders from you," Tony said, very quietly, his face a cold mask, and tugged his wrist free of Eric's grip.

Ellie, who had been whimpering softly, chose that moment to twist around and kick Tony hard in the shins. Tony dropped her and she ran like a little rabbit, up into the rocks.

"Oh, for crying out --" Tony stretched his hand after her, and Angie could see his fingers trembling. He doesn't just look tired, he IS tired, and hurt...

Ellie screamed. She was wrenched free of her hiding place and lifted into the air.

"No!" Eric bellowed, throwing himself onto Tony from behind. Ellie gave a little squeak and dropped onto the rocks, started to tumble down the hill, but caught herself.

"Honey! Run!" Angie yelled at her, and started running herself. Halfway up the hill, she looked over her shoulder. Eric was grappling with Tony. Angie was torn -- she had to help Ellie get away, but she couldn't just leave him there --

Suddenly the rocks by her foot exploded, showering her with gravel. Angie looked up in shock to see an unfamiliar woman standing at the top of the hill, hastily pumping another round into the beat-up shotgun in her hands. Ellie was about halfway between them, frozen and staring at Angie. She hadn't seen the strange woman yet.

"Ellie, hon," Angie said, "stay very still."

The woman finished reloading -- damn, Angie thought, seeing another opportunity for escape slip away -- and lowered the shotgun to point at Angie's head.

"You stay right there," the woman said, her voice rising out of control and cracking. Ellie's head swiveled around at the sound of the voice. "Take another step and I'll blow you to pieces. I'm not joking."

"I can see that," Angie said softly. The woman's eyes were enormous, the pupils expanded until only the thinnest ring of iris was visible. She was clearly furious.

"I saw you talking to Knives. I know you're one of them--"

"Mommie!" Ellie cried, scrambling to her feet.

The shotgun woman's voice faltered, and tears pooled in her eyes. "Oh, Ellie..." The shotgun started to waver; then she jerked it up, firming her chin, keeping the muzzle trained on Angie's forehead. "I said stay there!" she snapped. "No, honey, not you," to Ellie.

Angie felt sweat dampen her neck. She heard another explosion behind her, but didn't dare look around to see what was happening. Had Eric been killed? Had Tony? Was she going to die from behind, or at the hands of the shotgun woman?

"Ellie, come here," the shotgun woman said, her voice shaking, but her hands steady.

But Ellie didn't move. "Mommie?" she faltered.

The woman's voice rose to a scream. "Ellen Philomela Wolfwood Thompson, get your little butt up here now!"

Some voices must be obeyed. Ellie was already climbing before the last word rang out into the desert morning.

"I don't know who you are, but I'm not your enemy," Angie said. "I tried to help your little girl."

"Don't say a word. I -- I -- Get up here! But stay away from my daughter."

Angie climbed, right behind Ellie. The shotgun woman put a protective arm around Ellie, hugging the little girl close to her body. Angie drew herself warily over the edge of the hill.

"I'm not your enemy," she said.

"Be quite." The woman glared at her, gripping Ellie tightly and protectively.

"Ask her," Angie said, nodding towards the little girl.

"She's nice, Mommie," the child mumbled into her mother's skirt.

"I -- I don't know." The woman stared at Angie. Angie stared back. The world had fallen quiet. There were no more explosions. Angie knew that the battle had resolved itself somehow, with no input from the two of them. She half expected Tony's iron control to settle over her body at any moment... but it didn't.

"This way," the woman said, motioning with the shotgun. Angie obeyed. The two of them rounded a spur of rock, and Angie froze, seeing out of the corner of her eye that the shotgun woman had done the same.

Sand straightened up slowly from the body of the large dark-haired man sprawled at her feet. An odd, flare-muzzled gun lay near his hand. His body was twisted and bloody; she must have come upon him from behind.

"Kaite," the shotgun woman gasped in a strangled voice, at the same time as Angie recognized him, and her hand flew to her mouth.

Sand smiled at them. "How painfully easy," she said softly. "So trusting..."

Her face was like a skull with the skin stretched over the bones. It was hard to believe that she was alive at all. But the eyes were alive -- blue eyes, glowing just faintly in the sunshine.

"And now it's your turn," she said in that same quiet voice, reaching her hand out towards them.

"No!" Angie screamed, horrible memories flashing behind her eyes -- blue light, Alex Saverem's body bursting into flames.... "Don't let her! Damn it, stop her!"

The shotgun woman already had the weapon raised to her shoulder. All she had to do was fire. And she did.

She blew Sand's right hand off.

Sand stared at the stump of her own arm, as if pain was something she'd never experienced before. There was a fine spray of blood across her face.

Angie glanced over at the shotgun woman to see that her face was chalk-white. "I-- I didn't --" the shotgun woman stammered. "I -- I forgot that I -- My stungun never did that --"

"That's not a stungun you've got there, honey," Angie said.

Sand staggered backwards and fell onto her rump, still staring at her wrist. Then she looked up at them. "Milly Thompson," she said coolly. "Yes, I remember you, little human. You've acquired a new weapon, I see. And you've damaged my nice body with it. This will require some work... dammit."

With that, her body... turned sideways, blurred and faded, the colors ran together like a watercolor in the rain and she was gone. Angie stared.

"What the--" the shotgun woman -- Milly -- gasped.

Hesitantly, they crept to the edge of the butte and looked down. The ledge below was deserted. There was no sign of either Tony, or the man Angie had dubbed "Eric."

Angie shivered. Tony. He wasn't dead. She knew it. Could he even die?

She looked over at the woman called Milly, to find that she had laid down her shotgun and lifted Kaite's body in her arms.

Kaite...

He was alive. He stirred, took a gasping breath. His face and lips were bloody.

"Don't try to talk," Milly said.

Kaite whispered something. Angie approached softly.

"... underestimated them, underestimated them badly," Kaite whispered. "I didn't realize that she was with Tony until too late."

"It's not your fault," Milly said.

"I should have realized..." He gasped in pain.

"But I found my daughter," Milly said. "I got my little girl back. Thanks to you."

Kaite smiled faintly. "I'm glad. Listen... you should try to get to the ship... I'll tell you how to --"

"I know where the ship is," Angie said, leaning over Milly's shoulder. "I can lead them."

"Well, well," Kaite whispered. "You're alive."

"I am." She reached down and smoothed his hair back from his forehead. "If we can get you to the ship--"

Kaite tried to shake his head, and winced at the movement. "No chance. Sorry. I think I've about had it. I'm sorry I can't help you girls... fight them..."

His eyes drifted shut. Milly bowed her head, stifling a sob.

"I'll take care of him," Angie said quietly to Milly. "You take care of her." She gestured with her head to Ellie, who was sitting by herself, a little ways away.

Milly didn't even argue -- she must be in shock. She just got up and went to her daughter. Angie lowered Kaite's head gently to the sand. Poor boy. Poor, poor boy. She looked up at the blank blue sky overhead, and wondered how many more people had to die before Tony was stopped.

I will kill Tony. It is my right and my responsibility. I don't care if I die in the attempt. I'll find a way.



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