Disclaimer: Hmmm... I own my kids (Because I made them) I own my husband, (Because the Marriage License says so) and I own a REALLY big mortgage. (Because I'm stupid and signed on the dotted line) However I don't own Trigun. (Because if I did, I wouldn't have said mortgage)
When Darkness Prevails:
Chapter three: Truths
A series of muffled thumps invaded the unnerving silence of the street as three bound men were thrown to the ground before black-booted feet. Ignoring the burst of sand that erupted into the air and how it coated his otherwise pristine attire, the man wearing the footwear regarded the trio. And for a few moments he simply observed them – judged them – while waiting for any sort of reaction. They had been unceremoniously dumped in front of the most ruthless man on Gunsmoke, after all.
But when not a single retort or even plea of mercy came, he let a discontented sigh escape his lips before finally setting his gaze upon the man who brought the captives to him. Then as he pushed a pair of circular ruby-tinted shades up his nose with a finger encased in black leather, he coolly asked, "Are these the ones?"
"Yes master," the other man simply replied, letting his arms fall to his sides. The brown poncho that was bunched over his broad shoulders fell back into place covering a fitted white tee-shirt and matching shoulder holsters, one resting on each side of his tapered waist.
"How many did they take out before their capture?"
"Twenty-two, including the boss in this city."
"And how many of the workers escaped?"
"Thirty-seven, all of them women and children."
"Interesting," he mumbled, fixing his burning eyes back on the men. Quite a feat for three men who were supposed to be "workers" from the site, he thought, contemplating the situation.
There was absolutely no way ordinary men who had spent the last two and a half years slaving away on transforming the land could defeat the henchmen they had overseeing the operation in this sector. It was simply impossible. The slaves were too malnourished and weak – the three before him were healthy and strong. Besides, his men were too good to be overcome so easily, especially by common slaves. After all, he handpicked them himself.
But if they weren't from the encampment then that obviously meant they had infiltrated the site. Perhaps the Calvary had finally decided to get their heads out of their asses and wanted to try to take a few cities back, instead of hiding in the few that were still free. That was quite doubtful, however. Even enlisted men couldn't have bested his subordinates. They severely lacked the training, which was why it was so easy to overcome over two-thirds of Gunsmoke within a year. These men were from another faction. But, the sixty-billion double-dollar question was where?
Something was a foot and the prospect of adding another player to the game brought a touch of a thrill to him. The past three years had been decidedly empty and maybe a little excitement could fill that void, though he highly doubted it. He would never feel whole again – there was no need to.
Immediately stifling that train of thought, he looked back to the man before him and demanded, "Anything else for me, Livio?"
"Nothing yet," Livio responded, patiently waiting for the next command. He knew what was coming next.
"Hmmm… well it sounds like you'll get to interrogate the captives, then," he declared, a malevolent grin forming on his face.
"You won't get anything from us!" One of the kneeling men finally spat, glaring at the man dressed entirely in black.
"Oh, but we will," the man in charge confidently replied, looking at the one who spoke out of turn.
"You're reign of terror is all but coming to an end, Vash the Stampede!"
"Really," Vash bit out narrowing his eyes, intently staring at the insignificant creature.
Then before the hostage could bark out another scathing retort, Vash mentally entered his underdeveloped mind.
The man screamed out in agony as he was thoroughly and painfully pillaged of pertinent information. His face contorting as an unbearable pain assaulted him. Blood began dripping from both nostrils and ears as the attack wreaked havoc on capillaries causing them to hemorrhage, while spasms shook his body as the central nervous system shorted out. Then, after a long and seemingly never-ending moment, it all stopped. As his eyes rolled to the back of his head, the man fell, face first, to the sandy roadway.
"Interesting indeed," he muttered, non-pulsed over the act of brutality, while brushing a fallen sterling-colored spike of hair from his view. He was too busy digesting what he had just learned from stealing Lieutenant Bradford's thoughts and memories. There was a new player involved – one that was apparently from Earth. Knives would definitely want to know about this little tidbit as soon as possible. Then it would be time for a drink or two.
"Livio," the Plant then began, looking at his underling. "It is no longer necessary to interrogate them. I have all the information I need."
"Of course, master," Livio obediently responded. "What would you like for me to do with them?"
"I don't care, really." Dismissing the scene with a nonchalant waive of a hand, he muttered, "Do with them what you will." And with that, he turned on his heel and proceeded to head toward the saloon that was couple of doors down and across the street.
And before he stepped onto the boardwalk, three gunshots echoed through the air.
"I don't believe it, Doc!" Meryl cried out. (At least she had remembered him correctly.) Her stormy eyes were wide with disbelief as she slammed a fist down on the sofa's armrest. There was absolutely no way that the pacifist goof could become such an evil, despicable man. No way at all! There had to be a mistake. "Vash, literally cries over spilt milk and loves everybody – even the bad guys! And now you want me to believe that he has joined his brother, they've taken over most of Gunsmoke, and he's become a cold-blooded killer? Preposterous!"
"I'm sorry, Miss Meryl, but it's true," the Doc regrettably replied, moving his gaze from the clasped hands in his lap to the woman sitting cattycorner from him. "Something happened to him – something triggered the change, but the how's and why's are unclear. It occurred after he defeated Knives and returned to the village, that much is certain. We're surmising that it had something to do with what he found there –"
"But, I don't understand," she interrupted, exasperation apparent. "What did he find that would make him change so drastically? I mean he had death and destruction on his heels for years, why now?"
"He found charred skeletons –" he muttered to himself before pausing a moment, trying to make the revelation as painless as possible. He knew that Meryl's memories still hadn't returned, at least not completely, so he thought it better to see what she remembered first. "What do you remember from that day?"
"It's still pretty fuzzy," she supplied, brow furrowed, as she brought her right hand up to her temple and rubbed. "But… I clearly remember talking to Milly's foreman and Mr. Crawley."
"That's right, Sempai," Milly interjected, placing a comforting hand on the smaller woman's shoulder. "Foreman Steve was helping me bring home some dallons of water and you were paying Mr. Crawley rent. Remember we were talking about Mr. Vash and hoping that he would be home soon."
"Right…," she slowly agreed, the picture becoming clearer.
Then everything snapped into place.
Her eyes widened again and her hand slipped from her temple to her mouth as the events replayed in her mind – a menacing voice calling to them, demanding that she and Milly step out of the house. And when they did, she remembered the two who were standing in the middle of the street. One was definitely a man, large and intimidating, with matching guns that ran up his forearms, while the other was lithe and impeccably dressed, a beautiful woman. No, not a woman, the voice was too deep. It was a man dressed as a woman – a transvestite holding a suitcase.
"And that's when they starting shooting…," Meryl whispered, tears forming in her eyes.
She and Milly fought valiantly, while trying return to the safety of the sandstone home. They didn't quite make it, however, and were repeatedly shot. Fortunately some of the townsfolk came to offer assistance and that's when Mr. Crawley and Steve were able to get them inside. But something happened. Blood red projectiles started flying through the walls like they were butter and both men were hit.
"No," she breathed tears now falling unchecked down her cheeks. "They were killed because they helped us."
"I know…," Milly muttered, tears in her eyes, too, as she wrapped her arm around Meryl's shoulders.
"And then we came and pulled you clear just as they blew the building sky high," Chronica supplied, filling in the gaps. "They, along with any sign of their involvement, were gone by the time the team was able to return to the scene."
Meryl just sat there and took it all in. So much had happened that day. And it didn't make any sense to her, especially now that everything was revealed to her. Or was it? No, they were leaving pertinent information out and she knew it. There were just too many holes in the story. Like, if Chronica was there, then why didn't they wait for Vash? How were they able to get them out? Not to mention how did they even know they were in trouble? And why didn't they step in sooner? So many lives could have been saved.
"When did Vash show up?" Meryl asked a few minutes later, gently removing herself out of Milly's embrace and wiping her eyes. They obviously knew that he had. Doc's admission that something happened to him right after he arrived told her as much. She wasn't going to let it go, she couldn't. This was all about Vash, and besides, she wasn't the best disaster investigator in Bernardelli's history for nothing. Being shrewd and inquisitive was in the blood.
"At fifteen-hundred hours, Miss Stryfe," the Plant answered, her cool-blue eyes locking with molten-silver ones from across the coffee table. She was ready for the sparring. It was apparent that the smaller woman was far from satisfied with the story so far. "About two hours after the attack."
The then interrogation started….
"And that was before or after the team was able to return to the scene?"
"I'm assuming that there was a transport of some sort nearby?"
"How far away?"
"An ile south of the town."
"For how long?"
"Three days after you arrived."
"And it was still there when Vash showed up, correct?"
"Then why in the hell, didn't you meet him when he showed up? It could have prevented all of this!" Meryl yelled in a rage, while exploding from her seat with her fists tightly clenched at her sides. "And why didn't you help us, damn it! You obviously knew what was happening! You could have saved lives!"
"Because we were ordered not to interfere until it was discovered that you were in immediate danger. And even then, we were only permitted interact with you and Miss Thompson – not anyone else. Besides, the rest of the townsfolk had already evacuated, and the men who came to help you were dead by the time we returned."
"But why didn't you approach Vash and tell him that we were okay?"
Chronica briefly glanced at the man leaning against the wall behind the Doc. When she saw his curt nod to continue, she returned her complete attention to Meryl and explained, "We were expecting the second born to react differently. Unfortunately, something else happened –" she paused there as a frown marred handsome her features, while trying to find the words that would best describe situation. "You see, Miss Stryfe," she then began, trying another route. "Plants have what you would call an electro-atomic energy that flows through them – us. It's basically makes us different from humans and it gives us our… advantages. We also have the ability to sense any changes that occur in another's field and, if needed, we can transfer energy to our brethren."
"Wait… didn't you say earlier that you had to transfer energy into Milly and I?" Meryl asked, changing the subject. She just couldn't help asking, however. It was something that was really nagging her. "What did that do to us? We obviously aren't Plants."
"That isn't so obvious any longer," Chronica muttered, but before Meryl could complain about the cryptic words, she elaborated. "I had to channel energy into you. I didn't have a choice. It was pertinent that the both of you lived – for Vash's sake. You see, normally with a sudden influx of Plant energy, the cellular composition of a human's body would break down and the recipient would essentially be eaten alive from the inside out, causing a very long and painful death.
"So, that is why you were placed in the containment spheres. We didn't want that to happen," she added, continuing her explanation before pausing to gage Meryl's reaction. So far so good, the Plant thought noticing the open curiosity on the smaller woman's face. "And in the three years that you were held, your bodies have been altered – mutated into hybrid of both species."
"Are you telling me that Milly and I are now Plants?" Meryl gasped, sitting down after hearing her own words. How in the hell was it even possible, anyway? It sounded more like a storyline from one of the science fiction novel-discs she used to check out from the December library than it did reality. It, quite literally, was unbelievable!
"In a sense… yes," the blonde woman confirmed. "Though, some of your abilities won't be as extensive as a natural born independent, but your lifespan should be comparable."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that you will live significantly longer than a mortal, exactly how long is uncertain, however," Chronica supplied. "And you and Milly have some physical and cerebral enhancements. You will learn all about them in your training, which will begin tomorrow."
"Gosh, how much more potent are you than us, anyway, Miss Chronica?" Milly asked, while Meryl digested the information.
"Well…," she began, rubbing her chin contemplating the answer. "My telepathic abilities are quite a bit stronger, and I am able to transfer energy, where the two of you wouldn't be able to. But, the rest of the differences are only minute, really."
"So, we'll have the 'sixth sense' that always told Vash whenever danger's around, right?" Meryl asked, though she was still doubtful. Not to mention a bit fearful. She had seen Vash do some pretty scary things. "And we'll be more agile and probably stronger, I'll assume, too. But… the power he has – he blew a hole in the fifth moon and destroyed Augusta and July, for crying out loud! I don't want to have that kind of power!"
"I don't blame you. I wouldn't want that kind of power, either," the Plant admitted, before putting the petite woman at ease. "You are what we consider a third generation Plant, while I'm a second. You see, those of the second generation were created with a block, if you will, that doesn't enable us to tap into that energy. And you wouldn't have the ability, because you weren't born a Plant."
"So what are Vash and Knives, then?"
"They are first generation Plants – the only two left. That's another reason why we were ordered not to interfere."
"So, let me guess," Meryl summed up, returning to the "Vash becoming evil incarnate" explanation as the pieces started to fall into place. Besides, she would rather not think about the mutations. It was too unsettling. "You were hoping that Vash would permanently take care of Knives, so it would only leave one first generation Plant left. But something inside of him made his energy change, and it really turned him into the devil's helper, instead of just being dubbed that."
"Yes," Chronica solemnly admitted, before answering the question that the Doc cleverly evaded a few minutes earlier. "When Vash entered the remains of your residence, he discovered two skeletons. We are assuming that he thought they were you and Miss Thompson, because his energy level became completely erratic before there was a significant spike to it."
"Two skeletons…," Meryl murmured.
"They were Mr. Crawly and foreman Steve," Milly supplied, although she figured that her partner had already figured that out. She was a pretty smart cookie, after all.
"But how did he figure they were us," she said, mostly to herself, while trying to understand the complexity of the situation. Then she realized something and it vexed her, to no end! With irritation apparent, she bit out, "What? Did he think Milly and I were built like men or something?"
"I don't think he really took the time to examine them," Doc interjected. "He just assumed, I'd imagine."
"But again, why would losing us make Vash change?" Meryl asked, looking at the Doc, momentarily mollified by his answer, albeit skeptically. "He thought we were nothing but an annoyance, and I know he lost people who were more important to him."
"You don't really think that do you, Sempai?"
"Why wouldn't I, Milly?" Meryl replied, turning to look at the big-girl. "He and I would always fight, he never called us by our names, and he was always trying to ditch us!"
"Gosh, Mr. Vash called me 'Milly' all the time. Though, I kinda liked it when he called me 'big-girl.' It always made me laugh!"
"Okay then, he never used my name," she huffed, correcting her declaration, while trying not to show that that little fact bothered her. Though, in all honesty, it was quite excruciating, especially since she already knew it was only her name that Vash had never uttered. It was like he was purposely trying to alienate her and she hated it.
"I think you have it all wrong, Meryl," Milly stated with a knowing smile. Her partner wasn't the only observant one. "Mr. Vash was quite smitten with you, really."
"Well… he sure had a funny way of showing it," the petite woman sarcastically mumbled, while rolling her eyes. Maybe her partner was stuck in the "blue goo" for too long and it made her delusional.
"I agree with Miss Milly," said the Doc. Then with a chuckle, he added, "When I last saw Vash, he admitted that he had feelings for you. Of course, that was while Jessica had him backed against a wall demanding that he had to come back to New Oregon so they could set a date for their marriage!"
"Marriage," Meryl squeaked, eyes wide and looking quite stricken.
"Oh don't worry, my dear. He isn't marrying her. She just seemed to think it!" Doc couldn't help laughing ever harder over her expression. He could definitely see why Vash fell for the young woman. Her facial expressions alone were simply enchanting!
"Well, that's neither here nor there," she groused before adding, "It's not like I care who that good-for-nothing loser plans on marrying, anyway." Then to change the subject to something a little less uncomfortable, she declared, "Besides, it seems like he's been a little too busy to do too much of anything other than cause trouble. So, what are we going to do about it?"
"That would depend on the two of you, Miss Stryfe."
"What that supposed to mean?" she asked, her head snapping toward the sound of the deep male voice that came from behind the Doc. Since when did he decide to talk? And who in the heck was he, anyway? She thought for sure that he was there for observation purposes only – not to participate. "And who are you, anyway? You know it's impolite not to introduce yourself!"
"My apologies. For the time being, I thought it would be best to keep my identity a secret, but with your… inquisitive nature, I can seen that it is no longer prudent," he replied with a smile before standing straight and introducing himself. "I am Captain Warren Sinclair with the UEA."
Oh – Wow! Did you hear that, Sempai! The UEA! That must be a club, maybe I could join, too!"
"I don't think it's the kind of club you can just join, Milly," Meryl scolded, looking incredulously at her partner. Just where did she get some of her hair-brained notions, anyway?
"Quite the contrary, actually," the Captain pronounced, stepping around the Doc's seat so he could stand next to Chronica and directly in front of the former insurance girls. "We would like for you to join our ranks and assist us in the capturing of the two first generation Plants."
"Well, of course we'll help you. That's a foregone conclusion. But what can we do? Vash, alone, can be a force to be reckoned with. Then add Knives – well, that's an equation that I definitely don't like the answer to!"
"Nor do the numbers get any better after you add their henchmen into that equation, Miss Stryfe," he replied, running a hand through his close cropped sandy-brown hair. "However, we are hoping to draw Vash out by using… bait."
"And we're the bait, right?' Meryl surmised, eyes narrowing.
"More or less," he admitted before elaborating, "We would like for you and Miss Thompson to help us free the people they have enslaved. While, at the same time, we are hoping to lure him out. We have discovered that whenever a problem arises, Vash and his assistant are the ones who rectify the situation and if we start freeing entire towns, he is sure to show. Especially, if he receives word that two females, matching your exact descriptions, are the ones leading the uprising. It's highly probable that it will – well, for that lack of a better term – throw him for a loop once he realizes that it is you."
"At least you hope," Meryl muttered, while Milly heartily agreed with the assumption, before exclaiming that she couldn't wait to see Vash again. The short-girl immediately shot her "the Meryl look" before stating the obvious (well… to everyone, but the big-girl). "Milly… I don't think Vash is going to be exactly thrilled to see us, especially if we are ruining his carefully laid plans!"
"Oh phish-posh Sempai! He's going to be positively ecstatic once he sees you again. And I'm absolutely certain that he's going to see the errors of his ways and, not only that, but I bet two dozen pudding cups that he even ends up helping us, too!"
"Well, that would be quite the optimistic outcome!" Doc interjected with a chuckle.
"Anyway," Meryl started, talking over the big-girl and Doc's buoyant ramblings. "Like I said before, you can count us in," stopping for a moment, she lightly jabbed her elbow into her partner's side to her gain attention, while saying, "Right Milly?"
"Oh… ahhh… right, Meryl! Whatever you wanna do is just fine with me!"
"That is excellent news!" Captain Sinclair exclaimed. Then turning his attention to Chronica, he asked, "How long before their training will be complete?"
"I should have the ladies adequately trained in two weeks, sir."
"Okay, do keep me posted on their progress," he ordered before bidding everyone farewell, stating that he had another briefing to attend. However, before he could exchange salutes with the lower ranked officer, Meryl garnered his attention.
"Excuse me, Captain."
"Yes, Miss Stryfe?"
"Why did you wait three years, before starting this endeavor? I mean you couldn't have possibly been waiting for Milly and I – that just doesn't make sense."
"Again, you are most correct. You see, unfortunately, we didn't have the means until the rest of the fleet arrived, which was only three months ago."
"What? Arrive from where?"
"Earth, of course," he replied. "The ship you're on, the Namdrif, was the first to arrive three years ago on behalf of the UEA or United Earth Alliance. When I sent notification to my superiors of the potential situation here, the rest of the space force was dispatched. You see, it's imperative that the transport ships are protected or else retrieval of the failed Project SEEDS would be all in vain."
"You mean you're taking us back to Earth?" Meryl asked, completely shocked.
"That's the plan," Captain Sinclair replied with a smile before turning his attention to the Doc and suggesting, "Doc, why don't you show Miss Stryfe the view. I'm sure she will find it quite captivating."
"Ahhh… yes," he agreed before hitting the transparent touchpad imbedded in the coffee table, making the once unnoticeable key glow a soft blue before it disappeared again. "Please… have a look," he then said to Meryl, while inclining his head to the wall behind them.
"Oh my…," Meryl breathed in awe.
The barren white wall had disappeared, its starkness being replaced with the inky-blackness of space which was littered with millions of glittering stars. And at the forefront of the astonishingly beautiful display was a sphere with the colors of gold and bronze swirling upon its surface – Planet Gunsmoke.
I am such a slacker! And there really isn't any excuse… well unless I use "the dog ate my laptop" one. What do you think? Can I get by using that excuse for my slackerness? Oh probably not… sigh.
Well, at least I hope you like this chapter and it does have a taste of nasty old "Dark Vash" in it. And the next couple will have more of him in it, especially once the girls head out after "basic training." Believe it or not, but I do have this entire thing planned out. Now I just have to write it (Unfortunately I'm not ahead 10 chapters like I was Forever Mine.) Oh, I did tweak the first chapter a smidge – I added to Vash's "change" a little. I thought it needed a little more… hmmm… confusion (yeah that works) on his part.
Thank you everyone very, very, much for every single review!! They were FAN-tastic!!! The praise humbles me!!
And to Dwellin, the best beta n the world, you are AWESOME! And YAAAY, she and Millythompson updated Dark Convergence!! Whoo-hoo!
Well, until next update, have a great one!!