His arm instinctively jerked out to catch her fall, and she was steady on her feet again.
"Any more of this and Iíll have to get a cane!" she laughed, releasing his arm. Quickly she bent over to pick up the groceries she had dropped. His hand on her shoulder stopped her, pulling her back up.
"No, Kaasan," he said with a tone of seriousness. "Let me."
"Trunks, you think I canít take care of a few cans and boxes? Iím fine, I just slipped!" she said, but let her son take the foods from the floor.
They walked in the door, and Trunks set the plastic bags on the counter with a sigh. "Iím really worried about you, Kaasan."
"What for? I know, I know, Iím getting old, but I can still walk, canít I?" She put her hands on her hips defiantly.
He cocked an eyebrow at her. "Weíll see. Iíd hate to see you fall down somewhere when Iím not around."
"Donít worry. Iíll be careful," Bulma smiled, walking over to kiss him on the cheek. Then she left the room, doubtlessly off to her lab. Trunks sighed again and began to put away the groceries.
He loved her so much, and to see her suffering the symptoms of old age was so painful. He was in his mid-thirties now, but it seemed his appearance hadnít changed the slightest bit since his trip in time.
Trunks had gotten used to the sadness, the remorse he felt whenever he thought back on that time in his life. When he had been among friends, and seen his father. At times in tortured dreams, he awoke with a determination to go see them again, just for a few moments, but always stopped himself before he could activate the time machine. He repeatedly told himself that this would be selfish, and endanger their lives as well as his and his motherís.
How he wished he could go see them, see how his younger counterpart was growing up, with both parents and a group of caring friends. He wondered what it was like living a lifetime in a world of peace, so unlike his shattered reality now. Earth had recovered from the Jinzoningen and Cell, but never again would it be the world his mother and Goku grew up in.
Earth was in his care now. Capsule Corporation still dominated what little industry had been left, and he was President of the monopoly. The government was rebuilding itself, tottering unsteadily under threats of revolt and depletion of resources. Trunks was doing all he could to keep everything intact, but it was not easy for him. He had grown up losing almost everything he had come to treasure, and now everything else depended on him.
"Courage is grace under pressure."
Bulmaís Electronic Diary
Damn I havenít written in this for a while. Never had the time. Well at least now I can make time, since Iím so old I can barely walk! Now I can get back to lab studies, Iím so sick of doing all that negotiation and governmental work. I hope Trunks does the job well.
How long ago was it? Thirty-three years. Kami, time goes by fast. It was those seventeen years of chaos that kept me awake. Now that I sleep in peace, it still feels weird. Those nightmares will stay with me forever, theyíve become a part of me. And still I wonder how long the rest of me will last before IÖwell, before I kick the bucket, I guess.
Enough about deathly prospects. I should keep a log of my experiments here, having not touched a good invention in such a long time.
I owe something to Trunks, so Iím building a little gadget for him to train with. The gravity room bores him, but in truth I think it drives him insane. He said something to me before about being in some Room of Spirit in his trip to the past, and I didnít ask further. Anyway, my invention is a two-component base thatís supposed to satisfy both of the raging desires in people (men, at least) of conflict and peace. He just pops on a little machine over his ear, kind of like a scouter, and trains to his heartís content, depending on what heís feeling at the time.
Of course I still have a lot of circuitry and examination to do for this, I wouldnít want to damage his poor brain if I did something wrong. Iím going to get to work on it now.
She walked in his office cautiously, not wanting to disturb the President from his intense work. "Trunks-san?"
He did not turn from his monitor screen. "What?"
"IÖI was just wondering how you were doing. Do you need any help?" Riona asked, approaching his cluttered desk.
"Uh, no, Iím fine right now," he answered absently, fingers flying across the keyboard. Then he froze, a look of consternation twisting on his face. "Chikusho!"
He slammed a fist on the desk, sending papers flying and his friend cringing. "Dammit! Riona, in fact yes, there is something you can do for me. Those idiots in Manufacturing have a backlog ofÖoh, who knows how long? I canít believe no one caught this! Get to that sectionís head andÖ"
"Trunks-san," she put a hand on his shoulder. "Calm down."
Tentatively she massaged the back of his neck, and spoke. "Iíll get to it right away, but please, just make sure you get a good rest. Your mother was never like this when she worked in your position."
He put his head in his hands. "Gomen nasaiÖI didnít mean to sound so angry. Itís just been that wayÖlately, I guess."
Riona smiled, and went off to do his bidding.
Trunks took a deep swig of sake and set back to his computer. Forcing himself to relax, he went back to work. What would I ever do without that girlÖ
"Truóunks," Bulma called in a singsong voice.
"Whaóat?" was the muffled reply.
She poked her head in his room, where he lay on his bed reading a magazine. Without a word she took it from him, glancing at the cover. A business magazine.
"Baka. Stop acting so geeky," she said, and tossed it over her shoulder. She smiled at the look on his face.
"Itís late, Kaasan. Go to sleep."
"Hold on Trunks, Iíve got something to show you," she said mysteriously, and pulled out her device. He turned it over in his hands, examining it.
"Hasnít it been such a long time since I invented something? Well, this oneís for you. You can train with it," she said eagerly, prying it from him. Immediately she began instructing her son on how to use it.
He stopped her. "Wait. Explain to me please, why youíre giving this to me? I have no time to train anymore."
"Oh yes you will, you stupid boy, Iím going to make sure you get that indolent ass of yours away from that computer and into a workout! This little contraption will help you, trust me!"
"Kaasan, exactly what am I supposed to do with this?" he said wearily.
"Well, I was just explaining until you so rudely interrupted me," she huffed. Kami, when did Kaasan get so bitchy?
"See, you press this here when you put it on over your ear. When you train, it helps channel emotions into your brain so itís easier for you. The components are based on the need for battle and the need for calm. So it can adjust to whatever youíre feeling, so you can train better! To put it on the violent setting, which I think youíll be using a lot more, pull this switch at the same time as twisting this. And the other switch is for the other setting. Got it? Simple, even a baka like you can figure it out!"
Trunks was speechless, still looking over his motherís newest gizmo. Well, at least it gave her something to do.
"Arigatou, Okaasan. Iíll try it out as soon as I can."
"No problem, son. I just canít stand you working all your life away at that desk."
"Ahem, excuse me, and what exactly were you doing for the last twenty years of my life?"
"That was unavoidable. The world was in a time of crisis, and I was needed," she said with a bit of unconcealed pride.
"Oh. I guess that makes a difference."
"Well, get yourself to bed now, and Iíd like to see you give that thing a whirl tomorrow morning. Iíll make sure Riona takes care of everything. Isnít she such a nice girl?"
"Yeah, she is," he said a little too quickly.
"Whatís that, Trunks?" she eyed him with a grin. "Do we have a little crush on Riona-chan now?"
He kept a stern gaze leveled at her, and she chilled for a second. His face was so painfully like his fatherís.
"Okay, okay. I was just teasing. Although I do think you do have something for herÖ"
"Kaasan, go to bed."
"Goodnight, Trunks," she smiled warmly, and left the room.
Bulma awoke with a heavy feeling in her head. She looked at her clock. Only six hours? It seemed like she had been sleeping for half a day. Her throat felt parched, and she got up to get a drink from the kitchen.
Pouring herself a glass of cold water, she leaned against the wall and looked out the window opposite her. It was a clear night, and the Capsule Corporation lawn was washed in moonlight. Just like that night Vejita came to meÖso long ago.
A rumble passed through the floor, and Bulma almost lost her balance before she got a hold on a chair. Water sloshed onto the floor tiles out of her glass. Heart pounding from the suddenness of the tremor, she peered out the open space that used to be a window. The gravity room was in use. Of all times, Trunks had decided to train this lateÖor perhaps this early?
Suddenly, a painful jolt wracked her body. She froze, bent slightly over the chair and gasping.
The glass shattered on the floor upon impact. Bulma slowly slid to the ground, her breath coming in heaves.
Her knees met the shards on the floor.
Oh no, oh no! Realization dawned on her. She was having a heart attack!
She couldnít choke out a scream. Her bodily systems were shutting down at a fatally rapid rate. No, Trunks, I need you!!
Her body slumped, motionless, upon the shattered glass.
The gravity room lit up once again as its occupant unleashed a magnified power-up with his new training equipment. A whirlwind of heat trailed behind the speeding form, rattling the panels of the wall. Another ki blast singed the ceiling, and the room shook. Trunks landed on the ground on all fours, panting heavily with every vein close to his skin standing out. Sweat was in condensed patches all over the floor; the extreme gravity strained every drop of moisture off his body.
The device over his ears beeped. Keep going.
Nearly driven to madness, Trunks slammed a fist as hard as he could into the floor. When will anything leave me in peace?!
Slowly he withdrew his hand from the shattered panel and stood up. With horror he noticed that he had obliterated the entire flooring of the gravity room. That one punch had ripped through all of that metalÖand most probably caused some damage outside too. Trunks angrily tore the machine off his head and threw it on the ground. He had set the level to its violent setting, trying to work off his frustration. He reminded himself never to use the damn thing again.
Wearily he walked outside the door of the capsule. Then he froze. Nearly all the grass on the lawn was upturned, and the nearest capsule house had several cracks running down the sides. He turned his eyes to the living quarters, and cursed. The windows had shattered.
Quickly he ran inside and switched on the lights. Kaasanís not going to let me off easily on this oneÖ
The house was quiet. Strange, she isnít screaming. Trunks walked into the kitchen.
His heart stopped.
"Ah, Bulma Briefs," a stentorian voice boomed throughout the hall.
She blinked. Suddenly she could see again, and took a lungful of air. She was alive.
Bulma looked up, startled, to behold an enormous man hunched over a wide wooden desk. She promptly fell backwards on her rear. Where was she? The ceiling towered hundreds of feet above her head, and the presence of the giant made her feel even tinier.
"Who are you?" she questioned shakily, craning her head upwards to look into the manís face.
"Good for you to ask," the immense voice rumbled. "I am the judge of the dead. Welcome to my realm."
Judge of the dead?
"Oh come on, Ms. Briefs, you have brilliance enough to fathom that. I must say your friends were quicker to realize."
Bulma looked at her hand. She moved her fingers. She was still alive.
"Well, letís get down to business. HmmmÖ" Ignoring her bafflement, Enma Daiou flipped through his gigantic book until he reached a certain page. Nodding, he breezed through the paragraphs of her life. "Slightly indecent teenage years, yes. Ingenious scientist, but mostly at leisureÖah, hereís the change in your life. Enter Saiyajin no Ouji."
In wonder Bulma thought over all of this in her mind. She really was in the land of the dead. And she was receiving her judgment.
A grave expression crossed Enma Daiouís broad face. "Youíve withstood many tragic eventsÖlearning to be a mother, finally putting your abilities to use in saving what was left of the worldÖhmm, overall a good existence. Very well, you may enter Heaven, Bulma Briefs."
And then, in a blink of an eye, the vast hall and the adjudicator of the dead disappeared, leaving her in a field of green.
"You canít tell me sheís dead, Doctor," Trunks said firmly, standing up at his full height over the short wiry man.
"IÖIím extremely sorry, sir. Weíve tried everything, but itís just too late. IÖ"
"Kuso," he said softly, his fists uncurling limply at his sides.
He closed his eyes. The doctor looked at him curiously.
Why did this have to happen?
"Are you all right, sir? Mrs. Soriku would gladly have a talk with you if you need anything."
His lavender hair flickered golden for a second. The doctor backed away warily. Whirling on his heel, Trunks stormed out of the hospital, a single tear falling from its suspension in the air to the floor.
You knew she had to die someday. It was inevitable.
But why now? And why did I have to kill her?
It wasnít your fault.
But it was.
Trunks turned again in his sleep, haunted by all the accusations he had put upon himself. His soul was torn in half, grieving for his mother and guilt for her death.
She killed herself by giving you that damned contrivance.
He sat bolt upright in his bed, sweat damp and hot on his skin. Breathing raggedly, he clenched his head in his hands. It wasnít her fault she died. It was his.
It was his fault.
He tore his throat hoarse screaming.
"Bulma!!!" a playful, painfully familiar voice shouted with glee. Bulma found herself enveloped in bulky muscular arms.
"SóSon-kun?" she choked out. He moved his face in front of her, and they both looked into each otherís eyes for a brief second.
"Goku," she sobbed, and fell into his strong embrace.
"Itís okay," he said, patting her back. "You donít have to be scared of being dead. Iíve been here for so many years I lost count!"
"You donít know what itís been like all those years," she murmured.
"Yeah, I do, in fact. I can still see whatís going on. I talk to Kaio-sama all the time! That son of yours, Bulma. You should be so proud of him."
"Trunks. Oh Kami, Trunks! I left him!" she gasped, and let go of her friend.
A puzzled look appeared on his face. "So?"
"Heís alone down there, he was so worried about me beforeÖoh, dammit, I canít die now! Trunks needs me!" she said agitatedly.
"Itís too late, Bulma," a new voice called. "Youíre going to stay here forever."
"Kuririn?" she looked at the newcomer. He hadnít changed one bit.
"Hey, long time no see. Howís everything?"
"YouíreÖallÖhere," she said in slow realization.
Her eyes scanned the wide grassy meadow and found her old friends and relatives all coming towards her. Otousan, Okaasan, Yamucha, Tenshinhan, GohanÖall of her friends killed by the Jinzoningen and Cell. Looking farther, she saw endless multitudes of people, frolicking and laughing. This was an Elysian field.
"Welcome to Heaven. Although I couldnít really call it that since youíve arrived, Bulma Briefs," a voice snickered in her head.
"Thatís Kaio-sama," Goku told her. "Donít mind him, he makes stupid jokes all the time."
Everythingís happening so fastÖwhat am I supposed to do?
Then, all of her jumbled thoughts riveted on one thing. Something she had overlooked through all her confusion.
"Son-kun. Whereís Vejita?"
She looked concernedly at the back of her friend as he labored tirelessly and wordlessly at his cluttered desk. It had been four hours since he had gotten up from that chair. Putting down the papers she had been organizing, she walked to him and offered to take over for a while.
"No. I have to finish this," was the terse reply.
Riona put a hand on her hip. "Please, take a break for a bit. Go get some fresh air. I can manage it."
"No, thank you."
She got a hold of his shoulder and turned him to face her. "Listen, Trunks, I am staying this six months for you, because I wanted to help you and because I care. Now donít push me away, cuz Iíve sacrificed half a year of taking care of my own family to come help you."
There was a tinge of guilt in his eyes, but he looked away. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"Please, let me," she said in a gentler tone.
Yieldingly he rose from the high-backed chair and left the room.
Riona immediately got down to business. First she straightened out the backlog situation with a few brief phone calls and emails, then went on to overlook the bridge-building project Capsule Corp. had undertaken. The Jinzoningen had completely devastated this area, leveling it each time it had been rebuilt. It was where she had lived her childhood.
She took a deep drought of coffee, clearing her mind. She sent off another terse email. Lounging back in the chair, she stretched her arms and shoulders.
Yes, she had lost both parents in the first five years of the android attacks. Soon after, her brother and sister had disappeared, leaving her alone in the ravaged world. She had become just another innocent face, a deprived child, in the orphanage.
A foreign thought echoed with hers. Parallel with her mind. Riona blinked. It was Trunks. He lost his mother tooÖ
He was a grown man, a model leader and a strong fighter. He was fully capable of taking care of himself and Capsule Corporation, but strangely he could not handle his motherís death and move on. Riona had only been ten when she had lost her parents, and had cried enough to dry her tears for the rest of her life. Trunks was above thirty now.
Riona had never known of Trunksí father. She assumed that Bulma-san had just had a casual affair with some man and lost him perhaps by the hands of the androids. Sometimes, though, she had caught snippets of conversation between her and Trunks, learning just a little background information about Bulma-sanís deceased lover.
Trunksí tortured thoughts rang again in her head. How can I hear his thoughts?
Up, down. Up, down. One hundred more. Kuso, when will this machine stop?! A roar of frustration. Anger building up, up, up, never down, never resting, never leaving me to rest. Why did Kaasan build this damned contraption anyway? Itís not helping me, itís only hurtingÖ
Up, down. Last push-up. Leap into the heavy air, feeling tons of airless weight on shoulders. Squeezed dry of water. Sides of my throat clenching together in parchedness. Have to keep going.
Annoyance now. Canít satisfy myself. Looking inward on my wretched soul, amounting to nothing. Fighting myself in a battle that I always lose. For each time I believe I have triumphed, I tear a part of myself away.
Stop thinking! Itís distracting.
A fist in the floor. Everything broken.
Go outside. Then inside the house.
Riona let out a sob at the fluid mass of images cascading through her. All of them jumbling together, yet in a horribly precise sequence. And the final one. Bulma-san, lying dead on the glass. So much glass. Blood too.
She ran from the room to find Trunks.
* * * * *