The Zero Armour Project

#1: Mail Time

X X X


"It's Marie! Marie! I told you - I'm Pricilla's sister. She went looking for you and hasn't come back. I know she's missing and I need your help!"

"Sure you've got the right person, kid?" Van asks, discarding the mayonnaise and grabbing the next bottle from the tray. It comes out bright green – I'm sure he's grabbed the extra-hot wasabi. That can't be good.

Marie bristles, jabbing a finger through the air at him. "You're Van the Hero!" she tells him, "Pricilla has a picture and you're the guy that's in it. I'm not a /kid/, I know what I'm doing!"

"Oh boy," I mutter to myself – this is sounding really familiar. Was I this stubborn as a kid? "Hey – Marie, right?" I ask, moving closer to the child.

"Yeah, that's me."
"You must be thirsty, right? How about you sit down and I'll get you a glass of milk."
Van looks up at the mention of liquids. "Hey, can I have one?"

"You can wait," I tell him, watching Marie from the corner of my eye. She drags a chair out and settles in it, glaring at Van the whole time. I have to try not to giggle at the sight, coming back to the table with the promised drink in hand.

Setting it on the table for her, I take my own seat. "I know your sister," I tell her, "From a really long time ago. Can you tell me why you're looking for her?"

"How do I know you're not lying?" Marie asks, watching me carefully. It's not the usual kid answer - I can't imagine what kind of trouble she's had to endure since deciding to follow Van. With a small smile I point across the room, to where I've hung a picture on the wall.

It's /that/ picture, the one from the Last Days.

"See? Your sister's the one with her arms around Van, isn't she? I'm on the other side."

Curiosity gets the better of the kid and she scrambles out of the chair, padding across the room to look closer at the picture. She has to stand on her tip-toes to do so, but when she looks at me next I can tell that she's convinced.

"You're Wendy, aren't you?"

"That's right."

"Wendy, huh?" Van repeats. The word comes out odd – he's got his fork in his mouth and insists on talking around it. I whip around to stare at him – does he really remember me? He /has/ to.

"That's a funny name."

I can't help it, and almost fall out of my chair at his statement. "So is Van," I snap at him, and turn back to the kid before I get too carried away. Still, I'm fuming. How can he not remember?

"She talked about you sometimes," Marie tells me, coming back to the table. "I thought you were smaller."

"I was, once," I tell her. My temper can't help but soften in the face of this girl's plight. "So – can you tell me how you know she's missing?"

"Oh – yeah." Marie digs in her pockets for a minute and finally produces a crumpled envelope. "Here. She got this, a month ago."

Taking it from her with a nod of thanks, I can tell it's been opened a hundred times. The letterhead is what catches my eye first, a black and white lightning bolt embossed with the initials ZAP. It's too familiar for my tastes.

Unfolding the rest of the letter, I read it out loud. "Dear Pricilla. Congratulations! We have noticed your skill in Armour and have decided to invite you to our free-for-all contest on Sarro Island. The contest begins on the 24th of this month, and will run for 24 consecutive hours. The prize is a free upgrade of your armour and five million dollars. Due to the limitations of this competition, if you do not respond by the 20th of this month, we will assume that you have no interest in competing. Thank-you for your time and we hope to see you soon. ZAP."

I re-read it one more time, noting the dates it gives – it doesn't make sense. Folding the letter back up, I hand it back to the girl. "She took the offer?"

"Yeah," Marie nods, scrunching it up in her hand. "She left the day after getting the letter. It would have only taken her two days to get there."

Thinking it over, I have to sigh again. Today's the 2nd – I don't think Pricilla ever got the hang of being on time, but that's too late even for her. I really need to train Van to stop bringing trouble with him... not that he'll ever notice. He's finally started eating, his stomach obviously taking a precedence over Pricilla missing.

I sit in silence for a long time, thinking over the circumstances that are surrounding Pricilla. I know Marie's suspicions are right – but she's just a kid, how can I tell her that her whole world is about to change?

Then again, I turned out okay.

"You're right," I tell Marie finally, which earns a look of surprise. I guess she isn't used to adults listening to her. Standing, I cross the room to a little stand. It's full of letters and other nonsense – I call it my 'Hassle Pile', because it's full of bills for the Inn and other unwanted mail. "It only arrived yesterday...." I murmur, shuffling through the mail. "Ah – here it is."

Sitting back at the table, I keep one eye on Marie as I open the envelope and pull out the letter. Setting it on the table for her to see, the letterhead is immediately recogniseable as belonging to the same people. I don't want her to see the rest of the letter, just the dates, so it's those that I tap with my finger. "I'm due there on the same days," I tell the little girl, "But for /this/ month. Not last."

Marie stares up at me with eyes that are the same colour as Pricilla's. "That's really weird."

"I know," I tell her, folding my letter back up. "Look. I'm going to look for her, okay? I'm going to the same place, and I'll probably be taking the same route to get there. I want you to go home, and tell the rest of your family not to worry."

"But – I can come!"

"I know," I tell her with a patient smile. "I know that you're strong and you're brave – you could do it if you had to. But your brothers and sisters need that strength and bravery, so you can't keep it all to yourself, okay?"

She looks disappointed, but she gives in. "... Okay."

I know better than to push my luck, so I change the topic. "Let's get you to bed, okay? It's late, and I know how hard it is to sleep outdoors all the time." Marie looks sceptical, but I'm patient - I know what it's like to want to be grown-up and stay up late with the people discussing the serious things… but I also know that she's going to fall asleep at the table, which means it would be a waste.

She complies in the end and we go upstairs together, leaving Kameo to watch over Van for me.

After putting the girl to bed, I return to the dining area to check on Van. His plate is wiped clean and most of my condiments are now empty bottles... but I'm satisfied. I've fed him the meal that I always knew that he'd come for.

"What about you?" I ask him, moving closer. "Are you ready for bed t – hey! That's mine!" I tell him. Van has the letter in his hands – with his back to me, I can see it easily.

He doesn't fight me when I snatch it from his fingers with a huff, just tilts his head backwards to get a look at me. "No it isn't," he tells me.

"Yes, it is Van!" I stalk around the table, grabbing the envelope from where it's lying on the table. "I didn't say you could read that, so keep out of --" Here, I have to stop.

The letter isn't addressed to me... it's addressed to Van.

"You got one too?"

X X X

to be continued.