Dear Mama, Papa, Big Big Brother, Middle Big Brother, Little Big Brother, Big Big Sister, Middle Big Sister, Little Big Sister, Dougie, Anri, Mikey, little Sandra, and newest little baby Marky:
I’m sorry that this letter I’m writing isn’t going to be as long as one of my Monthly Milly Newsletters, or that you’ll even actually get this letter, for that matter. It makes me mad because this place I am at right now is really something. I wanted to share it all with you, it’s so pretty here because this city has so many trees and bushes, the people are so kind, and there’s not a speck of sand anywhere! You wouldn’t believe it; it’s like one huge Geo-Plant, only better and windier--there‘s lots of wind here. I always liked wind, so I don’t mind. Oh, and did I mention that this city floats in the air on an old SEEDS ship? It does! I guess I should have brought that up earlier.
But I think I’ll stop there because I know you won’t get this letter. I intended to send you all something from up here, truly I did, but Mr. Priest, Mr. Vash, and even Senpai all shouted at me that it was stupid and dangerous. I got kind of huffy at that and asked if someone out there would be so rude as to open our family mail. Mr. Vash and Mr. Priest got very dark looks at that at; they both said ‘Yes!’ at the same time. I almost giggled, it was funny! Yet they looked so serious it was easy to not laugh.
Nevertheless, I’m going ahead and writing this. There’s not much else for me to do at the moment--I wish I did have more to do because then I wouldn’t start thinking more deeply about the situation here. You know that I try to keep from thinking negative thoughts since they don’t change anything; still, with the lack of action I can’t help feeling very uneasy at times, sometimes so uneasy I start to cough, to gag, for no reason. And many strange things have happened, right from the very start. Why, when Senpai and I first arrived on this ship we crashed down on a little dwarf trying to kill Mr. Priest! The trip down was pretty fun but after I saw that huge hunk of blasted meat Mr. Priest had fought I nearly lost my lunch. I dreamt about it the first night here, a bad dream.
But that’s not the half of it. Yesterday Mr. Vash did and said some things that have made me think unhappy thoughts. So much of it confused me, sounded so wrong to me that I can’t fathom it at all. It’s like a hundred little needles stuck in me, I don’t know which to start pulling out first. I’ll try to make some sense of it.
I’ll come right out with this: Mr. Vash isn’t human. It’s actually not as scary as it sounds and I wasn’t as shocked as you might think when I found out. I was embarrassed for not figuring it out sooner because now that I look back on things it becomes pretty obvious to me. I mean, I’ve told all of you before about some of the extremely neat things Mr. Vash has done before, like take down Brilliant Dynamites Neon himself and save a whole town from bandits (we heard it on the satellite news, we hadn‘t heard he‘d resurfaced at that time). And he has all those scars on his body but I think that anyone else who’s gone through what he’s been through should be dead. I’ve sometimes seen him hang around Plant bulbs alone, doing absolutely nothing--but he has to have a reason to be there! Next there’s the whole Fifth Moon thingy. And finally, from what I understand, Mr. Vash might be over a hundred years old, at least as old as the Great Fall. That’s really strange; he looks so young! Even that makes sense to me, though. Mr. Vash has such sad eyes, too sad to be young.
I know all this from observing and from talking to Mr. Vash himself. Here’s what happened. When we caught up with Mr. Vash again in the Floating City it took him about two days to be released from the hospital, so we concentrated on helping the people in any way we could. Once he was mobile again we had to do our job of keeping an eye out on Mr. Vash to prevent damages (we’re lucky that the ship didn’t have Bernardelli insurance!). At least one of us has to observe him and take notes on his behavior for the files. I hate that part of the job, it gets too picky for me. I mean, once or twice Senpai and I have had to rifle through Mr. Vash’s bathroom bag to see what kind of cologne (Eau du fugitif! I‘ll try to get you some for your birthday, Papa) and shampoo he uses. I never thought it’d come to that; we’ve never been nosier than on this case. The folks at Bernardelli really want to peg Mr. Vash down like no other. We haven’t been able to get many reports through, however, and none since we caught up with him. And I know that I, at least, got no mentionable information until after Mr. Vash got out of the infirmary.
The report came around that he’d gone free with a clean bill of health from Miss Luida. It was my turn to take a surveillance report. It’s actually remarkable I found him at all, he can be so sneaky, though finding Mr. Vash is pretty easy for me. I can’t say why; I just am able to find him without thinking of directions or dissecting his brain with all sorts of psycho-babble. I figured that after all the hubbub and being stuck in bed that he’d want to go off to a nice, quiet place, probably one of the greens. To tell the truth, this place is so green and lush that they’ve got lots of parks here so that didn’t narrow my search too much but it was just so enjoyable to walk through the fields that I certainly wasn’t the squeaky wheel.
At last I found him. He was sitting next to a little row of trimmed hedges (I wish they’d been trimmed into funny animal shapes and stuff but we can’t win them all). I couldn’t see his face very well even though he wasn’t wearing his glasses, the ones you can’t see through because they’re reflective. But his shoulders were slumped and I suddenly felt bad for having to do my job. All he looked like he wanted to be was alone. Maybe that’s his real secret wish--to be left alone forever and ever.
I was beginning to lose my nerve so I decided to do some ‘remote surveillance,’ as we call it at the office. Senpai’s better at it than I am, since she’s so small, and those dinky shrubs were not big enough for me to hide behind, which would’ve looked ridiculous anyway. Hygiene is too important to me to go crawling commando-style over the grass!
A few yarz away lay a big oak tree, the kind with the thick twisting trunk and branches. I moved behind it and poked my head out a ways to make my observations-- it was enough for me to get a general idea of what he was doing though I couldn‘t see many details.
Mr. Vash held very still for quite a while, not turning up his face at all, only his hair and coat fluttering in the breeze. He had a crook to his posture like someone hunching over slightly in pain. Then he finally did something.
Middle Big Brother, you’ve worked with doctors before so I think you should know, but I think Mr. Vash didn’t do a very wise thing. He reached into that red coat of his to draw out a funny bottle of pills. Then he brought out another bottle, it looked like hooch to me; before I could write down the notes on my steno pad he’d gulped down some pills along with a healthy swig of the booze. Then another, followed by another. I have to say, Mr. Vash has become more withdrawn since we last met, not quite so cheerful though still very nice to Senpai and me, and he’s done something wonky with his haircolor, but he still can drink like a champion.
My hearing’s pretty good, it came with all my Bernardelli training, so when Mr. Vash began muttering I heard him. “Damn ya, Doc,” he said. He didn’t say it in an angry way. I’m pretty sure I know who he talked about, that sweet funny-looking little man whose picture I’ve seen in some of the offices here. Miss Luida said little to us about it but she made it clear that he'd died in the attacks on the ship by Mr. Vash's enemies. I have no idea about what he did here but I felt kind of bad to hear he’d died. He looked like such a sweet old man.; Mr. Vash obviously misses him very much. Many people died that day. I think he misses them all. All that combined with how much pain his body must have been in, I can't blame him for trying to find some way out.
About fifteen or so minutes passed without him acting again, which got me stir-crazy enough that I started to doodle on my steno pad. Stars, pudding cups, little black cats, you know me. I’d even gotten started on a pretty nice sketch of Mr. Priest going. Then he called out to me. I don’t know how long he knew I was there; maybe he sensed me the second I came into his field. Mr. Vash can be so perceptive it’s kind of scary. But it wouldn’t make much sense that he waited so long, waited until he--well, I’ll tell you guys that soon.
“No use in hiding and staring at me like a fool, whoever you are,” he called out, voice much sleepier than usual. “Might as well come out. Maybe you’d like a drink.”
Well, I’ll tell you all right out that I was sure embarrassed! I didn’t move, I was so mortified. Not because I was caught, you can’t hide from Mr. Vash for long, but because that guilty feeling restarted. I was only doing my job but I still wonder if what I did then and afterwards was right. I wish you guys could tell me.
“I said, come on out. I’m not in the mood for pussyfooting around. Don’t make me go after you myself.”
These words may not seem very threatening to you--I guess they aren’t. Yet his voice sent my heart thumping faster. It’s always a shock to hear Mr. Vash’s normally placid, light voice drop and become so steely-edged. He doesn’t sound like a living creature at all when his voice does that; it’s so dead. If he uses that voice you better do what he says because he means business.
I walked out slowly behind the tree, walking towards him. I went slow partly on account of I was scared, partly so I wouldn’t send him any bad signals. I think I even raised my hands up a ways in the air, which I guess, with hindsight, was overdoing it some. The wind cooled the sweat on my palms. I stood what seemed the most comfortable distance from him and waited. For a few seconds Mr. Vash kept his face turned towards the ground, frowning hard, his lips twitching.
Now this is the funny part. Mr. Vash looked up at me at last, just twirling his bottle in his hands. His face was blank for a few seconds, like he didn’t recognize me. It’s funny because he has what you guys would call ‘photographic memory’--he knows each and every name and face on the whole ship, everyone says. Surely he’d know me! We once had a dessert-eating contest (I won), I stayed months on his tail during the assignment, so why wouldn’t he? He looked so lost that I shook him, trying to be gentle, and I asked him if he was all right.
“It’s not you,” he said after a spell. “It can’t be. I saw you in that tube. You’re not her. Are you some kind of angel, Plant Angel? But you do remind me of her. Maybe--” His face began to smile with this funny smile; his eyes grew distant, weird. He kept saying something; I think it was ‘You’ve come back.’
Mr. Vash trembled so. “Sis! I never thought I’d see you all grown up,” he gushed. “You look so healthy! I always thought you had the potential to come out so tall and strong, just like us both. I’m glad you’re not a stick like the other sisters. Where have you been all this time?”
You all know that I can recite our family tree perfectly all the way back to the Big Fall, so Mr. Vash isn’t, for sure, one of our distant kin, much less my blood relative. It may have been that medicine he took with the booze. What came after just is so confusing and muddled to me that I won’t try to pick Mr. Vash’s brain. I only know what few direct facts he told me outright.
I get confused so easily by the stupidest things at times, yet if I didn’t understand all of this can anyone blame me? I just blinked at him. I tried to speak to see if hearing my voice would help snap him back. “Mr. Vash, what are you--”
He only waved his hand at me, suddenly all abashed. “Aw, you don’t have to be so formal. I can’t believe it. It’s so great to meet a member of the family who isn’t trying to kill me, Tessla!”
I must have gaped at him like toma at a passing sand steamer. He was acting so strange it did not occur to me to play along until later. I’m sure that I said something like ‘Huh?’ or ‘What?’.
Mr. Vash looked equally confused at first but he quickly nodded. “Of course. You died long before everything happened. I saw you dissected. Maybe you don’t remember things after you’ve gone. Maybe that’s for the best. If you saw what’s been going on these past hundred years, it‘d break your heart. But--I‘ve still kept my promise. As long as that happens, I‘ll be okay.”
Do any of you understand this? I’m guessing this Tessla was Mr. Vash’s sister and that she met a bad end--dissected? I don’t want to think about it. It sounds too horrible.
I always thought that Mr. Vash has been through a lot, but I never imagined anything like this, not what he told me afterwards. How could he bear it? In some kind of way it’s fantastic; Mr. Vash has always been a hero to me, his vow of non-killing so kind, and this only proves the stern stuff he’s made of. When I realized this I had to do something. Perhaps I shouldn’t have, it might have been easier to just leave without a word; he would have snapped back into reality and forgotten the whole thing. But I didn’t. I was just so happy that despite whatever troubles he’d gone through Mr. Vash still had principles, principles like you all told me as a kid and which Bernardelli and almost everybody else said were wrong and childish, that there was someone who had the same idea as I did that I wanted to show how relieved I was.
So I hugged him.
Mr. Vash is usually so reserved with people but when I hugged him he squeezed me right back. Threw both arms around my waist and snuggled up to me like I was a teddy bear. It felt nice at first. I was happy to give Mr. Vash some comfort. Is this what you felt, my Sisses, to hug me as a child when I was sad? It is a satisfying feeling. I wonder how much I miss out, being the youngest.
Next Mr. Vash started to do something that made me so uncomfortable I don’t like talking about it. No, Mama, it’s not like he did anything bad, but it just felt so off. He looked at me with those dopey eyes of his, smiled wide, and started patting my hair, twitching his fingers through my ruffles once in a while. It’s one thing when you or Uncle Randy did it to me as a kid, Papa; it’s another that someone who’s never touched me at all before this starts doing it. He kept on calling me ‘Sister,’ and talking about things I only knew from school, the Great Fall, a woman named Rem who I think is Mr. Vash’s mother but I can’t be sure--so many things I can’t remember a direct word he said about them. I stood very still for a while but something snapped inside me I guess because I started to pull away after a while. But he wouldn’t let me. He squeezed me even harder around my middle--it hurt! That prosthetic arm of his sure packs a wallop. I began to lose my breath.
“Don’t go,” he kept on saying, “don’t leave me behind, Tessla! I don’t want you to!”
My heart beat very fast; I could hear my pulse in my ears, heard it right over his voice as he talked some more. At the time I was ready to beg him, to say anything to make him let me go so I could take a good breath. But for once I didn’t babble! I suddenly felt very calm. I knew that this Tessla was the key. I had to be this big sister for him. I looked at Mr. Vash and I asked him, “Would you let me go please?” I almost called him by his usual name but I caught myself in time and changed ‘Mr. Vash’ into ‘Brother.’ That did the trick. He said sorry about a million times and looked really distressed, begging me not to get angry, that he’d never intentionally hurt his sister. Now that made me feel even worse. I managed to pat him on the back; I told him it was okay. I had to or else I’d have gotten apologized to death.
He started up again--what a chatterbox Mr. Vash is around people he’s comfortable with! I really couldn’t get most of what he talked of since he’d nearly squeezed the life out me but he did make something clear--Mr. Vash has a brother, sounds like a twin. I didn’t know that. The Bernardelli files never mentioned a brother. But when he started talking about him--his name’s Knives, what a funny name, can you believe that?--Mr. Vash got this look in his eyes. I’ve only seen it one time before, in the jail cell in Jeneora. That look’s purest hatred. It’s kind of strange to me why I decided to ask more about him; it must have been how vehemently Mr. Vash started railing against him, but I thought that if Mr. Vash thought me his sister then I should ask about the family.
“What, you don’t know about Knives?” he asked me, shocked as can be. I shook my head. “That’s strange.” He ran his hands up and down my arms, peered at my face. For a second I felt very afraid that I’d get caught, but also hoping he’d find out and end it all.
He thrashed his head, looking distraught and heartbroken. I can‘t tell you how bad I felt. “No, you have to be her. You have to be a Plant, blond hair and blue eyes and tall and all. You don’t smell exactly like one, you just have hints, but that’s because you’re dead--I should know one of my own! You know about me but not Knives?” His face found its purpose again. “Ah. I see. You’re my personal Angel, then. Recently assigned.”
Well, I suppose that’s right, in a way. I told him so. I still don’t get what made him say I have ‘hints’ of a Plant smell. Do any of you? I do remember loving to play by the farm’s personal Plant as a kid. The Angel in the bulb loved it when I came to see her. But that doesn’t explain much, does it? Oh, well.
“Has this--Knives hurt you very badly?” I asked him.
“Yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”
“Why? What reason would your brother have to harm you?”
“Because I won’t do what he says. Because I won’t do the things he does, think like he does. He wants to swallow me whole, Sister! He hates me.”
I think Mr. Vash has suffered a lot, more than he lets on, at the hands of this brother of his. This part is what I just won’t understand. How can this Knives, Mr. Vash’s very own, only brother, do all these horrible things to someone so sweet and undeserving? It’s just not what brothers do. It just isn’t. Big Big Brother, Middle Big Brother, Little Big Brother, I know sometimes as a kid I yelled at you and kicked you in the shins, but I hope with all my heart that I never bring you any true suffering, not like this.
That wicked, wicked man. Or whatever he is. He’s wicked. I told Mr. Vash so. I was very angry.
“You tell that brother of yours that he deserves a--a--a good slap! He doesn’t deserve to be related to you, to us!”
The look of hatred passed and he almost grinned. “He’s so powerful,” he muttered to me, dropping his still scary eyes. “And sometimes I hate him so much, but then I think of Rem, and what she said for me to do. And you know, there are none others like us, Sister. Others come and go, they won’t stay with me forever, I always outlive them, we even outlived you! He’s the only one like me and the only brother that God has decreed for me. He’s my only Brother. If I kill him, I kill myself. Rem told me to take care of him.”
How does one respond to something like that? There was so much I didn’t get. But I had to say something.
“Vash,” I said to him, “I cannot tell you what to do or say to your brother. If I must be honest, you’ve gotten yourself into a very fine pickle. You’ve followed someone’s advice to the letter and you must live with the consequences of that, for good or ill. All I know is that if you choose to live completely under someone else’s wishes, all the time, then you’ll never be happy.”
I blew it. I tried to be really nice about what I said but Mr. Vash looked like he was about to start bawling. So I rubbed his back, my hand going in circles across his big red coat. I needed to end with the most important thing.
“But from what I’ve seen you’ve done as good a job as any. I’m very proud of you!” I meant that; Mr. Vash has done such grand things that I am very proud of him. I know he’s hiding things--maybe he’s not quite so much a victim, an innocent, as I once thought--but in spite of it all he is a good man, even if he isn’t human. I trust my and Senpai’s lives with him; what he said was true, he’d never intentionally hurt us.
Feeling a tap on my shoulder I craned my head to peer at Mr. Vash who had such s hopeful expression on his face, yet so lost at the same time, he kind of reminded me of kids who tug at policemen’s sleeves when they need directions to get home. He made a baby face at me.
“Say, Sis,” he asked, “You do like me best, don’t you? Out of the two of us, I mean.”
That got me to smile, a real one, since I could say it without pretending to have somebody else’s feelings. “That’s silly. You, of course!”
He giggled, I mean actually giggled, he was so pleased. “Now I’ve finally got Knives beat at something! Wait’ll I tell him. He’ll get so mad he’ll puke.”
We both giggled together. This is the part I liked. When he’s not sad or spooky Mr. Vash can be one of the funnest people to be around. I like to think we are friends.
Those pills and booze must not have been very light on Mr. Vash’s system because he started to get even droopier-eyed than usual. His grip on me slackened quite a bit.
“The light’s fadin’,” he said to me, “and I know when I wake up you’ll be gone. That’s what angels do. But Sis--I love you. I wanted to say that.”
In that moment, everyone, I felt so strange. Normally hearing that from a person who is not one of the family would make me so uncomfortable. Yet in that instant I suddenly felt that Mr. Vash was like a brother to me. Aren’t we all supposed to be brothers and sisters in this world anyway? Maybe I had gotten too much into the role, but I don’t think the feeling I had was false. There are so many kinds of love.
“I know,” I said, “and I love you too, Brother.”
He began to rest next to the bushes and I left. I don’t expect him to remember anything that was said; he really wasn’t in his right mind if he could think I was anyone else than Milly Thompson. To be perfectly honest I hope that he doesn’t remember. It’d be just too awkward, you know? If he asks I’ll tell him the truth but not before then. I went to my room and looked at my steno notes. I swore to rip them up, even though they don’t have anything important on them, just as I’ll destroy this letter. I can keep secrets. I just don’t want these things to haunt me more than they have to.
The thing is, everyone, that I sense that something huge is going down and Mr. Vash is a big part of it. It’s so huge I don’t even think I could ever put everything into place, not in a million years and not if Mr. Vash himself tried to explain. I really don’t think he understands everything either and if he can’t get all the answers I sure couldn’t, not for a million pudding cups. Mr. Vash is so smart and I’m so silly at times. Also, I don’t want to take any more shocks. It was bad enough to realize that Mr. Vash has such problems, that he’s not exactly what I thought he was.
I have to admit that I’m a little scared. I have a feeling I’m not supposed to have seen what I did. Mr. Vash might get angry at me later. He’s different than he was before, that much I know. It’s not him I’m most afraid of, though; this brother sounds very cruel and mean and a pudding-hater to make Mr. Vash so afraid and angry. I also wish I knew who exactly this Tessla is--was, I guess. Truth can be the most precious of commodities. I really wish I was back home with all of you, where things aren’t nearly so hard.
I overheard Senpai say yesterday that Mr. Vash has shown signs of preparing to go on one of his neat disappearing tricks again. We have to prepare, too. Mr. Vash is unpredictable enough that he can slip by and ditch us for a spell. Nothing we can do about that. We can, however, have everything ready so that when he does give us the slip we can get right on his trail quick as a greased toma. I’m sorry that this letter isn’t handwritten like usual but I can get this done quicker on Senpai’s typewriter in between packing spells. If it’s not packing then we keep a close eye on Mr. Vash and Mr. Priest. They’re up to something. I just feel it. One day they’ll leave without saying anything, Senpai’ll blow a gasket, and the whole thing starts again.
A long time may pass before we get to another town so I don’t know exactly when I can get another chance to write everyone again. It’ll probably take longer for me to see any of you again--you all have an idea about how dangerous this job can be. I still think it’s so weird for Mr. Bernardelli to send two girls like Senpai and me after the Vash the Stampede with all the tougher, smarter workers out in the office. Maybe we’re tougher than we suppose, though. Remember Mr. Bardeaux? He was supposed to be so good but one stun-gun bolt to the back of the head and BOOM! He’s down. Anyway, I guess I’ll just see how well I hold up. I only hope it’ll be enough to help everyone, Mr. Vash most of all, in even the littlest way.
My back is tired and my eyes ache from squinting at the paper as I’m writing. I’m making so many misstrokes, how can Senpai do this all day? I’d better wrap this up before anyone sees me. I’d get in trouble and we’ll have enough troubles, I’m sure. But writing to everyone makes me feel much better. I only wish you’d all get to read this. I wish I could see everyone. Just know I love you all and, with any luck, I hope to see you soon. Mr. Vash won’t fail us. He’ll keep Senpai and me safe, I just know it.
Your daughter, sister, niece, aunt, and cousin
Milly sighed and looked at the tidy stack of papers piled up next to the typewriter. She did not want to destroy them. Her fingers ached and it would be such a shame to have typed all of this for nothing. But the danger was too great; plus, she didn’t want Senpai, Mr. Priest, Miss Luida and especially Mr. Vash to get angry.
Shuffling the papers, she stood to go over to the garbage chute placed in every bedroom on the old SEEDS ship; she’d heard that they all lead down to a great fiery garbage incinerator. Her fingers grabbed an edge of a sheet of paper. For some reason they would not tug it from the stack.
‘This is ridiculous,’ she thought. That gave her the will to rip up each sheet and fling the shreds down the chute just like a millionaire throwing bills upon the streets below. The day’s steno notes soon followed.
At first it was hard to do; then it got easier. For once Milly was glad for her ability to push troubling things into the very back of her mind, not forgetting but not letting it cause any undue bother. That method had served her well so far.
When the last shred dropped from her hand Milly brushed it against her coat, whistled a few notes, and went in search of something sweet to snack on.