DISCLAIMER:I DON’T OWN DBZ OR ANY CHARACTER OF THE SAME. I’M NOT RECEIVING ANY MONEY FROM THE WRITING OF THIS PIECE OF FAN FICTION.
WARNING: ALL YE UNDER 18 GO AWAY NOW! This fic contains violence, adult themes, sex, and profanity. If this is not your thing, don’t read it.
* * * * *
CHAPTER II: Gokou---Year One
The long rows of cages, dark and seemingly endless, stretched out from the icy, sterile laboratory's exit like an annex corridor to hell. The smell was overpowering, hundreds, thousands, of unwashed mammals, cramped in close quarters. The scent of filth, of fear. He strolled along listening to the solicitous, fast-clipped chattering of the Tsiru-jin scientist at his side, hands clasped idly behind his back, face molded into an expressionless mask. He reminded himself that the wages of impatience, of heroics, and of sympathy, were high among the servants of Tsiru-sei. Terminally so. And besides, most of these Saiyans were little more than brutes by now, the greater part of their higher brain functions scrambled and hacked out by the good doctors in the name of Lord Frieza's grand "research project". They were not his concern. There was nothing he could do to help them even if he wanted to.
They were all dead---their bodies just didn't know it yet. Harsh, deep-throated rumbles and growls followed his footsteps, the slap and clang of flesh and blood beating itself against the bars, trying to escape, trying to get at him and the scientist who slithered along beside him. Later, he would marvel that among this deafening, guttural din, he was even able to make out the sound, soft, but so out of place it turned his head with curiosity...and changed the course of many things.
There were many new arrivals on this block, though none as young as the boy in the cell before him, whose bodies were still untouched by the modifier's scalpels, their brains not yet lobotomized. But this last batch… Captain Ginyu's "round-up" jaunt to find new fodder for the mechanoids using the fragmented records of Vegita-sei's last spate of infant pod seedings to locate castaway Saiyans had yielded a crop of snarling, feral young beasts. Many of them had been alone on the planets they had mindlessly purged as babes so long that they were little more than animals, without any capacity for rational thought or speech. The sound broke through the noise around him again, and he peered through the bars curiously. It was a young boy's voice, soft and low and utterly heart-broken, a poet's muse of loss and sorrow.
".....and here on Imsul, we never seem to get the latest news from Tsiru-sei until-----My Lord Zarbon?" The Tsiru-jin physician blinked as he turned and saw that his companion had stopped before one cage.
"What have you here, Doctor Suhno?" The blue man was staring into the cell at the huddled, shivering form.
"Ah...the 'Chikyuu' boy." Suhno smiled indulgently. "You have noticed he is not wild like the others." He cut his eyes salaciously at the bigger man, studying his face. "Pretty thing, isn't he?" A hissing, sibilant titter. "You are most welcome, my Lord, if you wish to----"
"I dislike the feel of mammal flesh." Zarbon told him coldly. "And I prefer my diversions a bit more...mature."
"As you wish, of course, My Lord." Suhno sneered. "He told me a bit of his tale when I gave him his processing physical. Guileless as a babe. He apparently failed his infant purge. When the Ginyu took him, his mission world was still teeming with life."
"I imagine they remedied that," Zarbon said tonelessly.
"Certainly. The boy is distraught over the loss of his "home"." The doctor's red lips bowed mockingly. "Poor little thing. He weeps almost constantly."
"When is he scheduled for mechanization?"
"Immediately," the Tsiru-jin lisped. "Chief Hayull is returning from Tsiru-sei as we speak to oversee his assembly." Suhno lowered his voice confidentially, his red mouth curling eagerly. "He bears the gene."
"Does he, indeed? How unfortunate for you, doctor." Zarbon saw the other man's eyes draw together in confusion---- an instant before he gripped the pale creature and thrust him backward, up against the row of cells. He held the Tsiru-jin pinned, one hand over his shrieking mouth, as hands tore through the bars of the cages behind him, gripping and clawing and tearing. Saiyans hands. The doctor quickly began to make his way through the bars. One piece at a time. After a very few moments, there was no longer any need to hold what was left of the doctor. Zarbon turned away, vaguely disgusted. The prisoners were well fed, but apparently, they seldom saw fresh meat. He moved back to the boy's cage, kneeling down. He was still shivering, curled into a ball, his hands pressed over both ears.
"Boy," Zarbon hissed. "Look at me."
The Saiyan slowly rasied his head, damp eyes wide. "They ate him....they ate Doctor Suhno up!"
Zarbon grinned faintly. Suhno had been right, he thought, regarding the half-grown creature's handsome face, and the lean-muscled lines of the boy's body with a slightly less than abstract admiration. He was a pretty thing.
"Why do you care, boy?"
The youngster sniffled. "Everybody else here is mean. The Ginyu men killed all my friends...and---and th-they...." He sighed softly. "My home was so beautiful. They killed it too...and I couldn't stop them."
"That's a tale I've heard before," Zarbon murmured.
The boy---no, he was a young man, 15, perhaps 16 years old----bit his lip. "All the other boys here are sort of crazy and can't talk. But Doctor Suhno smiled at me and said if I was good and sat still while he did his doctor things, I could have a candy. I screamed when he tried to give me a shot, so I didn't get the candy, but I guess that's my fault."
Zarbon stared into the youth's face, looking for some sign of subterfuge or guile----and found none. None at all. And all of the faint, impersonal flickers of lust for the young thing before him fled with that sudden realization. Well, at least I know now why he didn't complete his purging mission. This strong, well-wrought, rather beautiful fighting machine on the other side of the bars had the mind of a child. But he carried the gene..."What's your name, boy?"
"Gokou, would you like to leave this place?"
"Yes!" The boy was on his feet so quickly Zarbon stepped back in surprise. He touched the code lock on the cell door and it clicked open. He edged back warily, a lifetime's schooling in the court of Tsiru-sei still whispering for him to be guarded, to be watchful for some hint of treachery.
"What about everybody else?" The boy said, frowning. "If we leave them here---"
"If we take them, we'll all get caught, boy," Zarbon said quietly. "As it is, we may not make it."
"It's not right to leave them," came the soft, implacable reply. What the hell had happened to this young creature to change him so much against the bent of his own nature? It would make an interesting tale when there was time to hear it---if the boy even had the wit to tell it. Damndamndamn...He'll probably be completely useless if it comes to a fight. I doubt there's a violent bone in his body...But he carries inside him the price of my freedom. Zarbon didn't reply aloud. He simply locked one hand around the boy's wrist and began leading him like a child through the endless corridors of cages, dragging the young man behind him down the dark stinking tunnels, and into the glaring white light of the main mechanization labs. If he'd had more time to consider, had more than a bare moment or two to observe the boy beside him and take his true measure, he reflected much later that day, he would have taken a different route, would have at least suspected what came next. He pulled his charge through dozens of rows of giant mech shells----all being busily fitted with Chief Physician Hayul's newly configured "power sources" by Suhno's techs. They passed through the thick scent of blood and terror and the wet, gurgling screams of those benighted, unanesthetised, "power sources", as the Tsiru-jin around them merrily snipped and sutured and wired them into the mechs they were strapped inside. Past red, gory heaps of arms and legs and tails and other body parts which took up unnecessary room in the "Saiyamech", as Doctor Hayull had informally dubbed his creations. And last, they came to the first stage section of this grizzly assembly line of flesh, brain and machine---the surgical sector, where the prisoners skulls were opened, some sections of the brain removed, some burned out, some stimulated and modified with electrodes and wave implants to wake and surge to life. As they passed by the last row of tables holding immobilized subjects, some pleading with eyes alone, already having had the speech centers of their brains seared away, some still untouched, waiting their turn under the laser scalpel in a hell of anticipation---Zarbon suddenly skidded to a stop. The boy had halted, standing rooted in place, his face turned away, back toward the surgery, sweeping over the entire assembly factory of the mech lab. He yanked on the boy's arm insistently.
"We can't help them, Gokou!"
"How do you know?" The boy turned around and leveled a gaze, hard and direct and so completely Saiyan in its utter, blazing wrath, that Zarbon cursed himself for a fool. The clever little bastard…The damned boy played the simpleton just long enough to get me to let him out! "You haven't tried to save anyone, have you?" Gokou asked him, soft and deadly, and so utterly unlike the child he had led from that black hell beyond the labs, Zarbon felt chilled. Was he playing me, or....what the fuck is going on?!
"Do it!" Hissed a man's voice. One of the thrashing figures strapped down to a table nearby raised his head and locked gazes with the boy. And Gokou seemed to....shiver. With fear or recognition or perhaps only with rage. The youngster's ki was rising like a rocket and the Tsiru-jin techs and guards were staring at them in consternation, their white heads whipping around as one as they all sensed the swelling force, scenting the danger that lay inside it. Until this moment, no one had paid him or the boy any mind. Frieza occasionally sent him on an errand to Imsul, to bring back a "Saiyan confection", as his master liked to call them. His stomach twisted. It wasn't very often, but often enough that the sight of him leading the youngster out of the kennels and through the labs to the lift that rose to the launch pads was nothing they would take note of. The Tsiru-jin began chitterring angrily and the guards began to make their way over from the kennel entrance, annoyance, then real anger playing across their half-masked features. The entire complex was fitted with Tsiru-sei's state of the art ki dampers, one in every cage, one around every throat of every wretch that passed through the assembly line of the mech plant, and hundreds built into the walls in this room alone. This was not…The Saiyan boy's ki shot up again, higher still. Great gods, this simply was not possible!
The boy screamed, a sound Zarbon thought he would be hearing in his dreams, so full of wounded, helpless pain and righteous fury and despair, holding in its strains the irrefutable knowledge that nothing that happened now would take away the reality of what had already come to pass. Every strap and restraining bolt and ki dampening collar and energy shackle in the entire plant burst apart as though an explosive had been embedded inside it.
"Oh shit..." Said Zarbon softly.
The Saiyans, all those still whole and in their right minds, and----oh gods help them all---all those who weren't, were up and moving in heartbeat...and the killing began. Zarbon cursed and began firing volley after volley at the on-coming guards, knowing nothing would save him, or any of them now.
The initial round of blows did for the better part of the low-powered techs on the factory floor. The Saiyans simply tore them apart. But the white-cloaked Tsiru-jin warriors set to guard the factories of Imsul, Frieza's great experiment in cybertronics, were ancient and powerful, priests of the royal honor guard. Though their ki was dwarfed by the Lord of Tsiru-sei's power, they were more than sufficient to wipe out the combined force of every Saiyan on this planet. And more than sufficient to roast Zarbon himself---or worse, take him alive. Around him, the Saiyans were streaming out of every entrance and portal that led from the kennels, some rallying together in battle formations, some shrieking incoherently, all their reason lost to madness or the surgeons' blades. The boy had somehow blown the energy locks on every damn cage in the complex and all hell was breaking lose. The White Guards were not even hurrying, taking their leisurely time as they began to kill the monkeys who poured out of the kennels. Screw his "mission", and the money, and the boy, and everyone here, he thought furiously, backing up in a half-crouch. The lift that led to the launch pad was only thirty meters away. Time to cut his losses run like…like something that ran very fast!
Just past his shoulder, the Saiyan who had spoken to Gokou a moment before, had leapt up off the table he had been strapped to and thrown the dazed-looking boy down. Another warrior, a long-boned, lanky giant of a man, was crawling over to where they lay.
"Hell of a party!" The bigger man growled at the warrior who lay with the boy pinned under him. "I owe you six cases of ale, Bardock! Remind me to never question your hoo-doo foresight again!"
"I saw him doing this, but I didn't see how we get out of here with our asses intact!" His friend shouted, clambering to his knees and yanking the boy up with him. "We'll have to do that the old-fashion way, I guess." The man, Bardock, the other Saiyan had called him, craned his neck around and fixed Zarbon with a hard look. "Where's your ship, fancy boy? We need a ride!"
Bardock…the name suddenly sank in, and Zarbon hissed.
"We have to help the people!" The boy's voice began rising. He turned in Bardock's restraining grip and saw the guards moving in on a pod of limping captives, many of whom were trying to scrambled away without the benefit of the arms and legs the Tsiru-jin techs had amputated. He shrieked again when the White Cloaks burned them down and hurled a burst of power out at the Tsiru-jin warriors that rippled through Zarbon's head like the brushing tail of a tornado. The White Cloaks flew apart like dry leaves under a flamethrower. The gene…Gods above, the gene is supposed to be dormant! This boy's power was straining at the barrier of something unimaginable…and he was still little more than a child!
Bardock grabbed the youngster and shook him. He turned his head back to look at the small pack of Saiyans, all from the surgery partition of the factory, all still physically and mentally intact. There were one or two children in the group, Zarbon noticed sickly. The lanky Saiyan had scuttled over to another section of the surgery and was dragging back the limp form of a young girl. She sat up abruptly and smacked his arm away.
"Stop pulling my fucking hair, Tousaan! I'm not a goddam baby!"
The big man chuckled, looking somewhat relieved. "You've got a fouler mouth than your mother, girl."
"Look at these people, brat!" Bardock was telling the boy from Chikyuu.
"You want to save someone, save them right now!" The Saiyan glared back at Zarbon. "The boy can burn a hole through this shit storm for us. We get you out of here, we get a lift in your ship."
"Done," gasped Zarbon. "The lift is back against that wall."
They crawled, ten or twelve of them all together, inch by torturous inch, through the burning battlezone of gore and flying debris. At the edge of the elevator shaft, two White Guards loomed up before them, ruby lips sneering daintily down at the creeping group. They had been stalking them, following along, letting them get almost to safety before showing themselves. Typical Tsiru-jin malice. One of them raised a white hand, trilling with high, cruel laughter. Gokou raised one hand as well.
"You don't deserve to live," the boy said softly. And again that surge of something so enormous it seemed to block out and over-whelm the ki of every other living thing on the planet, roiled up out of the young Saiyan and burnt the Red Cloaks to iridescent embers. The boy stood frozen with his hand still out-stretched, body shaking, and his knees gave way. Bardock caught him and shoved him into the open mouth of the lift, as the others crowded in behind them. The elevator rose with slow, shuddery lurches, as echoes and rumbles from the levels below trembled upward. The doors swished open into warm night air, and the blessed sight of the small cruiser Zarbon had arrived in. He clicked the hatch lock and was nearly trampled by his companions when he didn't move up the ramp fast enough.
He sat down in the pilot's chair, conscious of the tense, focused silence of the eleven new passengers behind him, watching his every move. The ship hummed to life under his fingers and shot up into the skies of Imsul without a hitch. No one moved or spoke for any of the long moments of the power-up sequence to hyperlight speed. As the stars blurred into white streaks and Imsul's sun became a pinpoint in the scattered star field, someone heaved a tiny sigh. The young girl looked around at the others who were smirking at her, miffed.
"What, I can't be relieved?" She frowned. "Screw you all."
"Toma," Bardock cocked an eye at the big, lanky Saiyan. "You still have the right to put your pup down, don't you?"
Toma shook his head mournfully. "She just turned fifteen---she's a legal adult now. I waited too damn long…" Bardock and the other men in the small bridge burst into loud, rowdy laughter, and the girl cursed them all roundly. Zarbon winced, listening to the delicate-looking little thing's imaginative choice of words. He sat the controls on auto-pilot and turned to face his…companions. The boy Gokou was sitting a little removed from the others, looking unhappy and exhausted, but regarding the faces of the Saiyans with avid curiosity. The look in the boy's eyes was once again that of a much younger child. So strange…
"You know me," Bardock said suddenly. Zarbon eyed him measuringly, and nodded.
"You were King Vegita's "Seer". The one who prevailed on him to break off trade and purge contracts with Tsiru-sei." Zarbon lifted one eyebrow. "Lord Frieza was later informed that you had some sort of vision that he would one day destroy Vegita-sei. You and I have never spoken, but we have been in the same royal audience halls several times."
The Saiyan's lips twitched unpleasantly. "And you are Frieza's first lieutenant, his chief henchman, and some say his favored concubine." His brows drew together, and his voice became dangerously soft. "And you stood on the Lord of Tsiru-sei's right hand when he burned Vegita-sei to a cinder."
The others were growling, low and vicious, like pack animals scenting blood. He could probably take them all on if he had to---if he didn't mind blowing the ship apart around them to do it. Bardock raised a hand, shaking his head. "Not yet."
"What do you See?" Toma asked hesitantly. The others were staring at Bardock with something like religious awe.
"That we need him." He shook his head, growling in frustration. "Don't ask me why. But he is in the middle of something we need to be part of. Maybe more will come to me in time, and maybe not. I can't turn it on and off like a switch. Just...trust me, okay?"
Toma chuckled. "Been doing that far too long to stop now, I guess. Bad habits die hard."
The others were nodding unanimously. "You foresaw the danger from Tsiru-sei," one of the men rumbled. "We will follow your lead, Bardock-san."
"Then sleep now," Bardock muttered, turning away from the sight of those trusting faces. "I foresee that you will all be needing rest." The snickers, and good-humored insults died down to a soft burr as the dozen survivors moved back into the hold to stretch out and take their first free, peaceful sleep in three years. Bardock glowered at him balefully and sat down in the co-pilot's chair, drumming his fingers on the arm. "I want to kill you very badly, blue boy," he said conversationally.
"I'm sure." Zarbon noticed that Gokou had drifted up to sit beside the older Saiyan's chair, staring out at the star field, his face a little sad and completely divorced from the sound of the two older men's voices. The boy leaned his head against the co-pilot's armrest and yawned hugely. "You knew the boy would…do what he did today, didn't you?"
Bardock snorted. "I Saw it. I saw who would escape with us and who wouldn't. And when I saw you, I knew you would be our ride out of that hell hole. I've known the boy was coming for three years. Longer." He glanced down at the youngster who was in the process of nodding off, and ran a hand lightly over the boy's dark hair, almost a caress. "I've had visions about this brat for the better part of fourteen years."
"It seems like you could have arranged it so that more of your people would get out, if you knew so far in advance."
The Saiyan gazed forward at the stars streaking by on the view screen.
"It's not that kind of vision. The curse of it has always been that I can't change what I See. When I try, I usually end up doing something to bring my predictions about. For a while, I thought I had saved Vegita-sei when I stopped the King from signing the treaty that would have made us a satellite province of Tsiru-sei and given the prince over as a collateral hostage. But I only postponed it by a few years. Almost everything I see has always come to pass in the end, no matter what I do." He turned back to Zarbon. "I have been a prisoner on Imsul since Vegita-sei fell, but I know that the prince survived and is waging a war that is giving Frieza daily fits of apoplexy with his hit and run tactics. Very un-Saiyan, but this Saiyan no Ouji is smarter than most of our kind. The King had him schooled by as many tutors from as many different worlds as possible, trying to teach him to think outside the box of our inherent Saiyan nature---which is, basically, attack your enemy head on and hit it as hard as you can until it stops moving. I know that you were taking the boy to Maiyosh Prime for reasons of your own, to sell him to Lord Burka of Maiyosh House for a king's ransom, just as I know that Maiyosh plans to betray and murder you when you arrive." Whether it was the words and the man's knowledge of things he could not possibly know, or the look of fathomless, dark Sight in the Saiyan's eyes, Zarbon felt a chill wrap itself around him and settle in the back of his spine.
"Then we…We should go somewhere else. Shouldn't we?"
"Wherever we go, we'll still end up on Maiyosh Prime," Bardock whispered. He blinked, shook his head, and the timeless caul of sight washed out of his eyes, leaving only a grim-faced, weary-looking man.
"The man who gave me this gift, if you want to call it that, gave it to me so I could see 'the end of my evil race', and be helpless to prevent it. But…As the years went on, not all of the visions were of death and destruction. The visions changed, almost from the instant we broke with Frieza, and with every passing year, with every new change in our ways, I would see an alternate future manifest itself. I've come to believe that maybe there is a kind of loop-hole in the curse. That the wording meant not necessarily the death of my evil race, but maybe the death of the evil of my race…if we want to win. If we want to survive Frieza. I never stopped seeing the end of Vegita-sei----that was "true sight". The kind of prophesy that will come about no matter what you do, no matter how you try to avert it. But in my visions of the things that would come to pass after Vegita-sei's destruction, I began to see splits in possibility, where before there had been none. After the end of our world, the possibilities multiplied like images in the pieces of a broken mirror. Our future isn't static now--not all of it. Somehow, we changed it, though death came for most of us in the end regardless. Some things---like the fact that we will be going to Maiyosh Prime---are still etched in stone. But for other things, I can now see different outcomes, depending on what we do."
"Why are you telling me this?" Zarbon asked, angry at the faint but noticeable tremble in his voice. He had heard of this man's abilities, had seen him call down prophecy in a crowded throne room, hollow-voiced, his words ringing with terrible truth like the inescapable inevitability of death. But it was quite another thing to have the creepy bastard sitting right beside him, preparing to tell him his own destiny. It was just shy of terrifying.
"Because you're part of it. Whether you want to be or not. You think you're going to sell us out to Maiyosh and set yourself up in some peaceful resort world after Maiyosh uses what you're bringing him to destroy Tsiru-sei. But it won't fall out that way, and you are tied to the Saiyan…for all that remains of your life."
"Shut up!" Zarbon stood, shaking. "Shut up!" The boy jumped at the sound of his voice. For all that remains of your life… "You son of a bitch."
He hissed softly. He slowly sank back into the pilot's chair, staring at the readouts. Fifteen hours to Maiyosh Prime. He watched the Saiyan lay his hand on the boy's head again, soothing him back into his half doze, fighting for some handle, some way to deal with the cold, eerie certainty that every word the other man had said to him was true.
"Go back to sleep, Karakott," Bardock said softly.
"Kakarott…" the boy said. He shifted around almost unconsciously and leaned his head against the man's leg. "That's what my Nissan called me. Why did he call me that?" The boy began drifting back down below the threshold of sleep.
"Because that's your name, brat," he told the boy gently.
Zarbon sat watching the big warrior Toma's daughter try to goad the boy Gokou into fighting her for the better part of an hour. The girl, Anyan, he thought someone had said her name was, had progressed from off-hand offers to spar, to insults, to open threats against specific parts of the boy's anatomy. Each mild, good-natured reply the other youngster gave her seemed to only enrage her further. The other men were watching this with poorly hidden smirks as they talked among themselves, stretch out in warm-up, long unused limbering exercises themselves, or relaxed in what must be a euphoric feeling of unlooked-for freedom.
"Do you think I'm weak or something, you bastard?" She snarled in his face finally.
"No," he said slowly, eyeing her worriedly. "But I don't want to hurt you.
You're awful little and besides, it's not nice to hit girls----"
She punched him hard in the stomach and jumped on him.
"Bad answer," commented one of the watching men.
"Depends on what he has in mind," someone else said with a snicker.
The girl was straddling Gokou now, gripping his ears in a particularly painful hold judging by the boy's wails. "You better do something quick, Kakrarott," she said nastily. "Or I'm gonna pull both your ears off."
"'Kay…" The boy gasped. And he flipped her effortlessly, pinning her to the floor of the hold beneath him, squirming and spitting like a cat. "I'm not going to hit you," he said frowning thoughtfully, gazing down at her. "I know a better game to play with girls."
"Not so thick in the head as I thought," the first man chuckled.
Anyan's eyes were widening apprehensively. Zarbon watched as the Chikyuu boy leaned down over her and----he winced at the shrill, murderous sound of the shrieks the girl began peeling out as the boy on top of her began to tickle her mercilessly. His hearing was more reptilian in nature than mammalian, and the noise went, literally, right through his head.
"Isn't young love grand?" Toma remarked with a bone-cracking yawn, glancing back at the two children with a look of mild annoyance. "Loud though."
It was interesting how none of these pathologically xenophobic Saiyans had even the slightest misgivings about just how alien the Chikyuu boy was, just how different in any number of markedly unsubtle ways, he was from all of them. To their mind, he was Saiyan, a castaway who needed to learn their ways…and he was strong. And that was the beginning and the end of it. No one even seemed to think his obvious simple-mindedness was even worthy of comment, much less concern. To them, the boy's strength was great, amazingly so, and that was all there was to say. Zarbon supposed a soldier in a warrior society didn't really need a full set of brains, when all was said and done. The approach alarm blinked to life and he flicked the buzzing comlink. Blocking out the bigger part of the forward view screen was Maiyosh Prime, glowing with an unnatural light, like a luminescent torch in the darkness of space. The entirety of the planet's surface was city, a monument to the triumph of civilized sentience over nature.
"They must get all their food from off world," Toma muttered.
"They'd almost have to," someone else said.
"I think it's ugly," Gokou whispered, frowning. "They killed the grass and trees everywhere. How can they breathe?" There was a soft rumble of agreement from the others at the boy's comment.
The view screen blipped to life and a pale-haired old man, deep-etched lines covering the red skin of his face, regarded them smiling. He raised his eyebrows in mild surprise. "My Lord Zarbon? You have brought me…quite a few guests, it seems."
"There were a few complications, Lord Burka," Zarbon said coolly. He didn't dare look to see what expression Bardock was wearing.
"Ah. Well, the more the merrier," Burka shrugged, spreading his hands graciously. "I have cleared your approach. Join me at the Hospitality Grand, in my own private offices."
"Here we go," murmured Bardock softly. Zarbon turned away from him so the Saiyan wouldn't have the satisfaction of seeing the fear in his face.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, he thought as he set the ship down on the landing pad of the Corporate Towers above Maiyosh's galaxy renowned Hospitality Grand resort. Do one little job, set up in business with someone who was, if not a kindly benefactor, at least a man with a penchant for honoring his debts. At least, a man who was sane. He led the way down the ramp of the little cruiser, deep in thought, barely noticing the gasps of surprise from the three or four youngsters in his 'entourage', as they looked down on the lights of the Capital. It was a dazzling sight, particularly to such unsophisticated, barbarians as these monkeys. He hurried on, paying the bright baubles of the bustling city around them no mind as they entered the Corporate hallways, after another interminable lift ride downward. The others shifted nervously, remembering their last harrowing trip by elevator, remembering three years of cages and horror and fear, and the constant knowledge that if their turn in the assembly plant did not come today, it would surely come tomorrow.
He schooled his face to cool arrogance as they neared the main offices of the Lord of Maiyosh. There was no reason to put up a less than confident front, even with the deal in place. Even if Bardock was right---and he couldn't, was simply unable to discount the man's words as madness, or shake off the weight of the truth he had sensed in them---even so, it would be an end to madness and death and fear. These things were so perpetual, had been such constant companions in his life since the day Osari-jin pirates had laid his half-forgotten homeworld to waste, that he wondered now, if there ever came a day of safety and peace, would he feel naked and incomplete without them. At seven years old, the Osari-jin had sold him as sole survivor of his race, as a curiosity, a pretty, and entirely original addition to the court of the Lord of Tsiru-sei, knowing how it pleased Frieza's bizarre sense of collector's aesthetics no end to have beings in his service who were the last of their kind. Knowing Frieza's fondness for beautiful children…
He had survived, he thought bleakly. And come over the course of many years of faithful service to his Lord, to a place in his life where he had some measure of power, even had some small nitch in the cold affections of his master. No. That was not true. If, he reflected with an inward shudder, there had ever been any hint or shred of real affection in his Lord's occasional whims of kindness, he would have never had the will or, worse yet, the inclination, to risk everything to break away. He would have been truly and utterly enslaved, damned forever in the only existence he could really remember. The only life he knew.
He strode into the opulent offices of the Lord of Maiyosh, and smiled grimly at the old man behind the conference desk. Burka Maiyosh was a bastard, he had reasoned to himself weeks ago, but he would not play at dice with the fate of every life in the galaxy as Frieza was doing now. And so he had purposed to betray his master to this man, thinking he would, in a round about fashion, put an end to the kind of sickness that was happening on Imsul. Thinking Maiyosh would pay Zarbon's fee and ask no more of him. Fool…he thought remembering Bardock's words and predictions of Burka's planned treachery. To have thought that one meglomaniacal despot would not sell him to his death as readily as another.
"My, what a rough-looking crew you've brought me!" Burka said with a papery grin. There were two younger Maiyosh-jin on either side of his chair, a man and a woman. Maiyosh's heirs apparent, Burka's grandchildren Garida and Young Burka.
The woman, Garida, sniffed delicately. "Not the freshest smelling cadre of warriors, are they?" She eyed the pack of big, muscular men like a canine sizing up a side of red meat, and smiled in a decidedly predatory fashion. "Anyone care for a bath, gentlemen?"
"Alone?" Toma asked, his eyes beginning to wonder over the woman's ample curves idly.
"Oh dear me, no," the red-skinned woman's smile widened. "It's very inhospitable for Maiyosh-jin to not bath communally with their house guests. It would be considered an almost unforgivable slight if I did not join you."
"Well, I'd hate to feel slighted, Mistress," Toma grinned. "Lead the way." He followed her out of the conference chamber, as did the others, all a bit eagerly. Gokou hesitated, glancing back apprehensively at Bardock and Zarbon, neither of whom had moved.
"I can't take a bath with Anyan," he said wide-eyed.
"Stay a moment, Gokou," Zarbon told him. He noticed Bardock's look of annoyance at the use of the boy's Chikyuu name. "My Lord Burka, will you be needing anything for your gene scan other than a skin sample and some blood?"
"Well," Burka was eyeing the Saiyan beside Zarbon, trying to place his face, as he spoke. "We only need to break the genetic code, and isolate the relevant factors, then build a bio-construct from cloned material. But…We would like to have the subject on hand in case further samples were needed." He glanced over at the boy and his expression shifted to one of grandfatherly kindness. "Is this our lad here?"
Zarbon was silent for a moment. As long as they were going to go through the motions of this transaction as though it would actually come to fruition, it wouldn't hurt to have one or two questions answered. "There is an unlooked-for complication, however. The gene is apparently…not quite dormant as we thought. Not in this boy at any rate. I was wondering if your researchers have found anything in the records I brought you that might explain that."
"That's not possible." Said Burka's grandson firmly. "The royal line of Vegita-sei inbred the gene into dormancy ten centuries ago. Whatever bastard scion this boy descends from, it all comes from the same family tree.
The pilfered files that you yourself provided us with from Chief Physician Hayull's research tell us there are traits in brain chemistry that follow the latent gene that provide for enormous, sudden leaps in power level. But they are all tied to adrenaline and heightened emotional states. And are nothing compared to the power of the full-blown active gene. A true, living Saiyan who possessed the active genetic traits we speak of would be able to call on such power at will."
"That's kind of a convoluted way of saying he can't do it simply because no one's done it in a long time," Bardock snorted.
"My Lord Bardock," the elder Burka cut in over his grandson's reply. "I have only now recognized you. I cannot tell you how glad it is to know that you have surv---"
"Stop." Bardock said softly. "I know you're happy to see me alive. You're wondering right now how you can force me to become your oracle. You don't have to. I'll tell you everything you want to know. I'll tell you more than you want to know, old man. Do you really want to know what I see in your future?"
The room was dead silent. Even the boy seemed unnerved. After a moment, Bardock began to speak again, and the Lord of Maiyosh stared into the black, infinite depths of Sight welling up in the Saiyan's eyes, like a bird before a feline. "You know that Frieza has only half a dozen others, in all the thousands upon thousands he took at the fall of Vegita-sei, who carry the Super Saiyan gene, the latent potential of the Legendary. What you don't know is that in the bunker beneath the main 'Saiyamech' factory, Doctor Hayull has finished the first of these Super Mechs. He's found the correct combination of augmentation and surgery to trigger the leap to Super Saiyan in his subjects, and turn them into controlled automatons that will be invincible. Frieza plans to use them to conquer the entire galaxy. And you just want to beat him to the punch. A mechanoid powered by a Super Saiyan would be the match of Frieza himself. Which is the only way you'd ever stand a chance against Tsiru-sei. You don't want blood samples and you don't want to wait for your labs to produce a bio-clone. You want to tear this boy apart, piece by piece, and make him into your own Super Mech before Frieza realizes what you're up to." Bardock smiled gently at the old man. "Frieza already knows what you're up to. This time tomorrow, Maiyosh Prime will be a melted ball of slag, and you and a great many of your people will be dead. And there's nothing you can do to stop it."
The old Maiyosh-jin and the younger stared at him in blank shock, for once, perhaps for the first time in their lives, speechless. Bardock shrugged his shoulders in what Zarbon was beginning to recognize as a shaking off of the cold, deathly specter of inevitability. He glanced at the silent boy and the blue man. "Come on, brat." He said, pushing the boy out of the room ahead of him. "Let's go have that bath while the water's still hot."
After a moment, Zarbon turned away from the dull look of horror on the two Burkas' faces and followed them out.
"It must be nice," he said, as he caught up with the two Saiyans, "that it never occurs to anyone to disbelieve you. If what you just said is true, what the hell are we going to do now?!"
They stepped into the giant steaming pool room and were greeted by the sound of splashing, and laughing female voices. Maiyosh-jin hospitality generally included bathing girls, or boys. Two bath boys were in the process of beating a hasty retreat from the icy withering glare of Anyan, in fact. Everyone else seemed to be more than pleased with the girls' ministrations. Most of them were skilled massage artists as well, Zarbon remembered, flexing tense, sore muscles. Too bad the Saiyan girl had driven the boys away. Toma and Garida Maiyosh were nowhere to be seen, he noticed.
"Well, right now," Bardock replied, beginning to peel off his grimy clothing. "I'm about to wash three years worth of shit off my body. Then I plan to see if any of these Maiyosh women are amenable to something more hospitable than a rub down. Then I'm going to eat until I fall asleep."
"The eating part sounds great!" Gokou grinned, pulling off his tattered gi.
"Is already on his way, yes." Bardock stepped naked into the breast-deep, scalding water and leaned back up against the edge of the pool. He blinked as Gokou splashed in beside him, and began swimming around the giant bath pool like a fish. A half-grin tugged at his face as he watched the blue man fastidiously fold his clothes before sinking into the water himself.
"Right now, the two Burkas Maiyosh are planning a whole sale evacuation of this world. They'll get more than half of their people away to safety before tomorrow. But old Burka's heart will give out from the strain before the sun sets on Maiyosh Prime's last day."
"Do we make it away in time?" Zarbon asked tensely. "All of us?"
"Sure." The Saiyan half-closed his eyes, watching the Chikyuu boy clamber out of the water, only to run and jump back in on his belly. The youngster hit the surface again, laughing. It was amazing how in less than twenty hours among his own kind, the boy seemed to have shaken off so much of the despair and grief that had penetrated even Zarbon's numbed sense of empathy in that black pit on Imsul.
"Is it scary, Bardock-san? To see stuff before it happens?" The boy was paddling around in circles as he spoke.
"It was at first," the older man said. "I thought I'd go crazy when it first happened. But…then I realized all I had to do was change a little. When I was your age, all I did was fight. I was a soldier of Vegita-sei, and then a Squad Captain. My whole life was nothing but one battle after another."
"That sounds fun!" Gokou grinned.
"It was. And all I ever thought about or worried about was the next fight.
Then, when this happened, this curse of Seeing, I had to learn to do something I'd never done before. I had to learn how to think."
"That must have hurt." Zarbon commented blandly.
"Yes, it did. Like hell. But then I realized it was just another kind of fighting. Only with your head. It was like learning a new technique or attack. I just had to get the hang of it."
"Sometimes I can think really good," the boy said pensively. "Not often. Just when I really need to. You're right though. It hurts." He dove back under the water, leaving both men staring after him. He was swimming purposefully toward Anyan, who was not looking in their direction. Zarbon steeled his ears for the coming assault. He glanced back at Bardock, considering his next question carefully.
"Why haven't you told him he's your son?"
Bardock didn't seem surprised or offended. "Is it that obvious?"
"You haven't had access to a mirror in a long time, have you? If he wasn't your son, I would think you'd cloned him."
The Saiyan shifted, his face unreadable. "I don't want him to get attached to me. And he would if I told him. I've seen pet canines less affectionate than that boy."
"Are you…" Zarbon frowned. He was developing a headache. "Are you going to die? Or is he?"
"We're all going to die, Zarbon." The Saiyan smirked. "One day. You think it's unnerving that I see things with surety? Huh. Enjoy it while it lasts. After tomorrow, all bets are off. All that I have seen after the destruction of this world is a fractured, multi-faceted mish mash. No more certainty. Just an endless branching tree of potentialities that I see rushing at us with little or no warning. And no instruction kit on how to overt defeat or death. And at each step, a thousand new possibilities will open up, and a thousand will die." He shook his head. "It's a good thing for me I never was big in the imagination department. I really would go mad if I was able to give it all too much thought. In some futures the boy dies. In some I do. In some we all do, and Frieza wins. But in…a few of them, he saves us all, or is at least pivotal in our victory. And in most of those futures, he dies in doing so. He is the Legendary reborn into flesh and blood. He got the potential from his mother's blood. She was from the Turrasht Mountains in the southern continent. Centuries ago, in the days before it was customary for the throne of Vegita-sei to have only one heir, the younger children of the royal house would often go to that region and carve out their own little baronies. That blood still runs strong in the mountain people…or it did." His eyes turned inward, dark and full of memories of people and places that were no more.
You don't want the boy to care for you? Zarbon thought, eyeing the other man's face shrewdly. Or you don't want to care for him, then lose him, like you lost everything in your world? Then the Saiyan pulled away from the edge of the pool and made his way over to the splashing bathing girls without another word, a rackish grin spreading over his face. The sound of a huge splash, followed by Gokou's breathless giggles as the girl Anyan began chasing him through the water, small fists flying. The boy seemed to have forgotten his earlier reticence about being naked in her presence. She howled as he whipped around and caught her, lifting her over his head and dunked her soundly again. Zarbon craned his neck around the huge pool room and saw one of the bathing boys still lingering in a corner, looking rejected and profoundly bored. He caught the young man's eye and beckoned him. If the world was going to end tomorrow, there was no real sense in facing dirty.
The one great genius that all Maiyosh-jin seemed to possess, that had made them one of the richest merchant worlds in the history of the civilized galaxy, was an eerie ability to give someone no more than a cursory glance and intuitively know what would please them. They were all in a sort of communal barracks mess, the Maiyosh-jin having piled food nearly up to the ceiling. None of their hosts had made any mention of the business transaction Zarbon had arranged with Old Burka weeks ago. There seemed to be a great amount of activity in the Capital around them, though. Ships had begun launching within an hour of Bardock's little fortune-telling session with the Lord of Maiyosh and all thoughts of taking the boy to Maiyosh Lab Tech seemed to have slipped the old man's mind. He had more important things on his mind now, Zarbon thought with a mirthless grin. The roars of engines grew progressively louder as the evening wore on, the bustle and mood of the movement of their hosts more frantic. The Saiyans were characteristically quiet as they set to work on the food, giving it their undivided attention. For the most part, it was a huge selection of under-cooked red meats. Again, even in what was rapidly becoming a state of low-level hysteria, the Maiysoh-jin had instinctively given these guests exactly what they would have preferred if asked.
Toma grinned around a mouthful of food as Burka's granddaughter hurried past the open door of the mess hall, barking orders at a cluster of aids like an artillery officer. The word of Frieza's imminent arrival had been released throughout the planet, but for the most part, the general citizenry was being left to their own devices to find a way off world. Maiyosh House was looking after Maiyosh House, and the salvage of as much profit as possible.
"What was that like?" Bardock asked the bigger man before shoving another heaping mound of food in his mouth. The red-skinned woman walked on without so much as a glance at the Saiyans.
"Just shy of painful, actually," Toma smirked. "She's got some really exotic tastes. I feel so used." He frowned at his friend and voiced the question that had been on Zarbon's lips. "You know I'd follow you to hell and back if there was a good fight in it, Bardock, but…Shouldn't we be, you know, leaving, if Frieza's on his way?"
"If we hadn't come when we did, we'd have been taken by one of Frieza's battle cruisers and brought here anyway." Bardock told him solemnly. "If we had left right after we arrived, same thing. If we leave right now, we'll run right into Frieza's flagship and be brought back here again. Whichever way we turn, we still end up right here. But we'll all walk away from this, so relax."
Zarbon shifted uncomfortably in the utilitarian armor the Maiyosh-jin had provided for them. He had, after several minutes deep thought, packed away the jeweled earrings and brow pendant he had worn his entire life, his sole possessions from his home world, Rashia-sei. The only thing he owned that had any sentimental value at all. He would wear them again, he decided, when all this fell out, for good or for ill. Either to go forward into a world and a life where Frieza was dead…or to wear as he died. He wasn't sure when he had made the conscious decision in the last few hours to throw his lot and destiny in with these Saiyans---or, he thought with a twist of angry helplessness, if he had ever even had a choice, and was simply being propelled along by the gods of fate speaking in Bardock's mortal voice.
"…and then he put his mouth over her mouth and sort of smooshed it up against hers." Gokou's voice was saying.
"That's disgusting! Did your friend Bulma kill him?" Anyan asked curiously. They were sitting, leaning back against the nearest wall with two other Saiyan cubs who looked to be a year or two younger than themselves, all piled against each other like a litter a well-fed pups.
"No, she seemed to like it. But then they wrestled around some more and she got mad when Yamcha wouldn't keep his hands above her waist and she hit him hard. My friend Krillan laughed when she did that, and Yamcha jumped up and saw us watching them and got mad and chased us away. So we didn't see any more after that."
. What would it have been like? Zarbon wondered, feeling a dull ache he couldn't quite place. To grow up so innocent? I can't even imagine it…
"Good sirs." Burka Maiyosh, the younger, had entered the room quietly, looking anxious and somewhat exhausted. He had probably been in non-stop motion for the past eight hours trying to arrange for the transport of as many of his families worldly goods as possible. "My…grandfather would like a word with you, particularly with Lord Bardock, if you do not mind."
"Everybody grit your teeth and remember what I told you about walking away from this," Bardock said softly.
They followed the Maiyosh-jin back to the top level of the Corporate tower, to the same office where Old Maiyosh had greeted them when they arrived. The wide windows looked out on what had degenerated into mass panic, as the city tore itself apart in the desperate struggle to evacuate.
"My grandfather is dead," Burka told them. "But then you knew that, didn't you?" Bardock nodded. "I haven't told any of my people because it'll only add to the confusion. Damn…" He said softly, almost sadly, gazing out at the end of his world. It was fascinating to see a Maiyosh-jin prince, a man who had cut his teeth on lies and deceit, speak and act with no pretense or dissembling. "How long until he gets here?" Burka asked. "I need to know how much time we have left."
"None," Bardock replied. "He's already here."
Zarbon felt the bottom drop out of his stomach, felt his blood slow to sluggish ice in his veins. If---oh gods, if any part of the Saiyan's predictions for their immediate fate were wrong, there were not words for what was going to happen to him when his master got his hands on him. If he---he nearly doubled over as a wall of too-familiar black ki hit his senses like of blow. Above them, in the sky, a shuttle was lazily drifting down from the giant flag ship parked just outside the rim of Maiyosh's atmosphere. There was no movement or sound in the conference room as the landing thrusters of the craft hit the pad outside, as the low hum of the hatch opening reached everyone's ears. The shuttle had landed so quietly and inconspicuously that Zarbon doubted anyone in the city had seen it arrive, much less suspected the nature of its deadly cargo. There was nothing to do, nowhere to run, nothing to say. Zarbon waited in a hell of numb terror. A hand on his arm nearly made him scream in the horrible silence. Gokou gazed up at him, dark brows drawn together, his young face somber, but unafraid.
"It'll be okay," the boy whispered. "Don't be scared."
He fought back a wave of hysterical laughter at the thought of being comforted like a child by this boy. And then the doors of the conference room slung lazily open and the Lord of Tsiru-sei swept into the room.
The half-dozen soldiers who followed on his heels were flanked by Garida, looking so terrified her red skin was nearly pink.
"Brother?" she croaked, announcing their guest mechanically. "My Lord Frieza of Tsiru-sei."
"Young Burka," Frieza said pleasantly. He did not even glance at the Saiyans. "Are you planning a trip? I see you and all your folk are in a bit of a dither. I hope I haven't put you out with my unexpected visit." The white head snapped around, eyeing Bardock with a curled mouth. "Or perhaps you knew I was coming." The Tsiru-jin's slitted red eyes narrowed. "I knew there was a good reason I ordered the extermination of the Kanassan fortune-tellers. Ironic that they should try their hand at posthumous revenge through the same hand that slew them. I had thought you burned in the first assault, 'Seer'. If I had known you lived, I would have had my scientists vivisect you to learn what it was the Kanassans did to you to turn a worthless second class soldier into such an accomplished, irritating thorn in my side for ten solid years. Well, better late than never, I say. You will have your appointment with my physicians soon enough."
"No, I won't."
The white face of the Lord of Tsiru-sei froze for a bare instant, and a hint of fear flickered across the Tsiru-jin's pale features. Then he hissed viciously and launched a pin-point bolt of ki at the Saiyan, drilling through his shoulder, piercing through the wall behind him Bardock sucked in a gasp of air, and sank slowly down to one knee. "Bardock-san!!" Gokou cried out and caught the man as he fell, his breath caught in a half-sob. "Nonono…don't be dead!"
"I'm all right, brat…" His father said painfully. "Stop pawing at me."
Behind Frieza, a man's harsh cry drew Zarbon out of the paralytic terror he had been encased in. "You miserable, traitorous little good-for-nothing whelp!" Garida's voice was rising stridently. Zarbon fought down another helpless, surreal a wave of laughter as he saw the Maiyosh woman beating the hunched figure of one of Frieza's retainers. Zarbon suddenly recognized Jeiyce, one of Ginyu's terror squad, a man who was justifiably feared throughout much of the galaxy, cringing before the woman's heavy-handed blows. Jeiyce had been some close relation of Maiysosh House, hadn't he?
"How dare you march on your own world, you spineless little coward!!"
"He is in my employ, Mistress," Frieza had begun chuckling softly. "But I can understand a mother's indignation at seeing her son raise his hand against his own people. I would not presume to challenge your right to corporal punishment." He began tittering delightedly as the woman launched into her son in earnest.
"Kakarott!" Anyan was hissing angrily at the Gokou, almost under her breath. The boy didn't seem to be able to let go of his father. "Stop embarrassing Bardock-san."
"How touching…" Frieza remarked, eyeing the boy. Then the red gaze fastened on Zarbon and the blue man felt his knees turn to water. "This would be the child you stole from Imsul, is it not, Zarbon? The one we had such high hopes for, Doctor Hayull and I." One white finger crooked. "Come." And of their own will, his legs seemed to carry him forward. He had been insane to think that once in his Lord's presence he would retain the ability to refuse him anything. Even his own life. He had been mad to think he could ever be free. "I must think long on what to do with you, my dear one." He was less than a foot from his master's face, close enough to feel his icy breath, and see his long, lingering death in those red eyes.
One bone-colored hand stroked his cheek. "It is especially humiliating to be betrayed by one's bed mate."
"Leave him alone." The boy was standing beside him suddenly, seething with fury, with a colder version of the white hot rage he had shown on Imsul.
Frieza's eyes swept over Gokou, and he laughed indulgently. Gods, could the Tsiru-jin not feel the power building in the boy? He seemed utterly unconcerned. "It's impolite to interrupt your elders, child. My dear friend Zarbon and I---"
"You're not his friend." The boy cut him off coldly and Frieza looked momentarily stunned that someone had actually interrupted him. "You don't like him. You just like to hurt him and make him scared. He's so scared of you he can barely breathe right now."
"Yesss…he is, isn't he?" The Lord of Tsiru-sei agreed softly.
"You're evil." Gokou whispered, shaking with anger now. "You sent those men that killed my friends and my whole world and everybody I loved and took me away. You made that place that they took me to, where they cut people up in pieces and put them in machines. You killed all the people on the planet I was born on, too. It's all your fault! And now you hurt Bardock-san and you want to kill all the people on this world too! And you think it's funny! You're a monster!!" He had slowly advanced on the pale creature before him, his voice rising steadily, his ki…gods, his ki was like whirling cyclone, gathering strength with each breath. And Frieza had finally noticed it. The Tsiru-jin's tail shot out like a snake and caught the boy around the throat, pulling him off his feet, nose to nose with the leering white face.
"Yes," he trilled with a sweet, evil chuckle. "I am a monster, sweet boy. And before we reach Imsul, before I let my doctors rip you to pieces and put your specialized genetic anomalies to good use, I will show you in exquisite detail just how much of a monster I am."
"I'M GONNA KILL YOU!" The words rang out like a trumpet as the boy struck with one fist and a blow connected with the side of Frieza's face----a blow that held a ki blast so large it could probably be seen from orbit. Zarbon covered his eyes and threw up a ki shield just in time to avoid being incinerated by the backdraft of heat from the power the boy released. It seared away the entire half of the Corporate Office floor behind Frieza, and vaporized all the men who stood behind him. Zarbon had one instant to see the Lord of Tsiru-sei fall like a stone, stunned, one half of his alabaster face blazing with fire, spinning downward to the ground nearly a mile below. The three Maiyosh-jin---Burka, Garida, and her prodigal son Jeiyce---were still alive and already on their feet and moving, with no thoughts of anything but putting several parsecs between themselves and Frieza. Jeiyce didn't spare his fallen liege a backward look. It seemed blood was indeed thicker than water---or, more probably, he knew the Lord of Tsiru-sei would very likely take his family's treachery out on him when he recovered.
"Time to leave." Bardock croaked. Toma had half-lifted him off the floor and was already dragging him out of the new burning exit Gokou had created. Zarbon grabbed the stunned boy beside him, and shook him hard.
"Let's go, Gokou. Now." He dragged the boy along behind the others and leapt into the air, cutting the distance to the flight deck to seconds. He pushed the boy up the open hatch of the ship and nearly dove into the pilot's seat. As he lifted off and gunned the ship into the sky, he heard the sound of the others whispering among themselves. They were staring at Gokou, their eyes huge, faces almost reverent "…Legendary," someone murmured softly. They edge of the solar system loomed up, the last outer planet spinning past them, cold and lonesome. Behind them, a blinding light, and a rolling shockwave of heat shot toward them from the direction of Maiysoh Prime.
"Flash fry," Toma muttered in the sudden silence, as they gazed back at the broiling globe that had been a living planet one minute ago. "He ignited the atmosphere with a heat blast. Takes less power than a core bomb. Kakarott must have clocked Old Pasty good if that was all he could muster."
Zarbon lay his head down on the console and fought down the urge to be sick as he punched the cruiser's drive into hyperlight speed, and away from the burning grave behind them. Gokou was rattling around in the ship's tiny med station, pulling out everything that looked vaguely medical.
"Does anybody know about doctor stuff?" He asked everyone anxiously.
"I can field dress the would," Toma told him. "Bring that blue box over here." Bardock was lying on the floor beside him. He looked pale, not at all in good condition, but far from death. But his eyes…they were unfocused, gazing at nothing in the room around him, staring through a veil of a thousand shadowed maybes. He blinked, then grinned suddenly. He looked…peaceful. But also resolute. Decided. He looked like a man who had just sifted through dozens of choices and settled on the best offer.
Gokou was propping him up and helping Toma tend the wound, his face drawn, his eyes standing full of unshed tears.
"He's had worse than this a dozen times, brat," Toma said, pushing a hypo-trank up against his friend's shoulder. "A hundred times maybe."
"He did it again," the boy whispered. "He burned up that whole world and…and it was my fault. I should have gone after him after I hit him and hit him again and again, until I killed him. I should have---"
"He would have killed you, Kakarott," Bardock told him. "You're not strong enough to fight him and kill him. Not yet. But you will be." And again that ripple almost superstitious awe wafted around the room. "I See things, brat. You couldn't have stopped him."
"Okay." The boy sighed heavily.
One of the other men, a young warrior named Kyouka, wondered back out of the back hold looking rather perplexed, and spoke to no one in particular. "The back hold is full of women." Toma frowned and then glanced at Gokou. The boy looked terribly guilty about something.
"They're the girls who came to the pool party," Gokou said. "They didn't have a way to get away from Maiyosh and they were scared because Frieza was coming, so I told them they could come with us. Is that okay?"
"Eight highly skilled Maiyosh-jin masseuse-courtesans?" Toma snickered. "That's just fine with me, boy." He glanced down at Bardock. "Where the hell are we going, Captain?"
"Yardrat-sei." He craned his head up at Zarbon. "You can find it on the old maritime star charts. When we get there, the read-outs will show that the world is not there. Ignore that. It's telepathic camouflage." He glanced around at the others. "We are going to use this invisible world as a base and we're going to hit anything and everything Tsiru-jin we can find. We're going to have the Yardratsei-jin use their mental powers to help us find and pick our targets. And when we're not raiding the enemy, we're going to train until our bones crack and get strong again. We've all been sitting on our collective asses for nearly three and a half years and we're all out of shape." Low, eager growls of agreement came from everyone on the small bridge.
Zarbon sank back into the pilot's seat. He began to slowly ferret through the archaic star charts in the cruiser's memory banks. The old maritime charts were only listed as a reference in most modern crafts. The Saiyans began drifting away, the back ground burr of their deep, baritone's and basses, a faint noise on the edges of his perception. Lord Frieza…If---no, when they met again, would he be able to fight, or would he be just as helpless and frozen in fear and useless as he had been today? He was fairly sure that it wasn't possible for a man to be truly free if the mere sight of his former master turned him into a cringing animal.
"Will you train me to fight better, Bardock-san?" Gokou asked the older man as he and Toma lifted him onto one of the bunks against the walls of the hold that lay just behind the open port of the bridge. "My Sensei is…he died."
Bardock's eyes shone bright in his scarred, olive face as the tranks began to work their way inward. "I'll train you, brat. I'm going to make you strong enough…to kill Frieza." He put one hand one the boy's head, drawing it over the dark hair before it fell to rest on the youngster's shoulder. "Wish you looked more like your mother…she was beautiful. Tall and strong. Died…when Vegita-sei fell. Poor little bastard…you look just like me."
"Why… why do I look just like you?"
A less observant eye would not have seen the look of deliberate lucidity in the man's eyes, would have put his words down to a drugged, blurted revelation. "Because I'm your father, Kakarott." And as the words sank in, the boy's face began to pale, breaking slowly into an adoring, elated smile.
Followed by a trembling, silent storm of weeping that left the man on the bunk looking confused and embarrassed as the boy threw his arms around him in crushing embrace. Bardock patted the sobbing boy's back awkwardly, staring down at him with a slightly shaken look. Then he raised his eyes to meet Zarbon's, and the blue man turned away from that black, eerie look of Sight. The Saiyan had told him that the future after Maiyosh was a mish mash of shifting possibilities. Somehow, Zarbon knew that the man had come to a decision about which of those uncertain, twisting future roads he meant to walk---for himself and the boy. But for the moment, Zarbon didn't quite have the courage to ask him what it was.
Oddly enough, Zarbon was not particularly surprised when the Yardratsei-jin greeted them with open arms. They had been expecting them.
The insects' Elders Council was very nearly as ethereal and unnerving as Bardock at his most prophetic, and had already prepared living quarters in one extended hive dwelling, each with its own private set of rooms, but interlinked in the barracks-style closeness the Saiyans preferred. Bardock returned from his first solitary meeting with the Elders looking oddly disturbed.
"They want to 'teach me things'", he muttered, not elaborating. "I told them I have to train and can't sit around listening to their mumbo-jumbo, and they said…" He shook his head. "Never mind. Where is everybody else?" He glanced past Zarbon and Toma, to see only Gokou and Anyan sitting on one of the window ledges, pointing curiously and talking in soft eager tones about exploring the red, desert wilderness around them.
"We all divvied up the women and they went to set up their quarters." Toma grinned. "I saved the smartest one for you. She owned the bathing company under contract to the Hospitality Grand. I know how you like the bright ones." Bardock glowered at him. Zarbon got the distinct feeling the man didn't particularly fancy the idea of a permanent bed partner.
So they trained. In the days and weeks ahead, the blistering heat of the Yardrat sun became a constant source of torture to Zarbon's pale blue skin, and the old familiar feeling of the wracking soreness and satisfied sense of growing stronger, faster, and more deadly, with each passing day became his friend again, as it had in his first days of training in the arts of war. They were tireless in their pursuit of strength, this ferocious pack of monkeys, and any doubts he might have had about Gokou's inherent Saiyan nature were put to rest in the first few days. The boy lived and breathed combat, fighting til he dropped, rising up after he dropped and begging for more, beating his father and even Zarbon in his reptilian form to the ground. When he sparred now, the boy had to fight six or seven of the others just to have a challenge. But even as his strength continued to grow, it never came close to that one apocalyptic burst he had displayed on Maiysoh. He could not seem to summon it or repeat what he had done. Zarbon wondered privately if the boy even remembered the event clearly. The Chikyuu boy was happy, though. Happy to be literally up to his neck in training, in fighting. Happy to have friends that were more like him, in many ways, than any of those he had loved and lost in his "home world". Happy that Bardock was his father.
Zarbon watched the unfolding of this odd relationship with a cold knot of dread in his gut, not knowing why this should disturb him so much, except that the open-handed affection the man displayed for his son now and then seemed completely improbable from a Saiyan of Bardock's generation. It had not occurred to the youngster that his father had given him over as an infant to kill or die on an unknown alien world with about as much thought as he would give to ejecting a pestering animal from his house. Though the Saiyans were not incapable of deeper feeling for one another. In fact, Bardock had said something to the boy to that effect just before they launched what was to be their first offensive mission against Frieza's legions.
"…parents and children don't usually live in the same house like you and I do." The man told him, tightening the straps of his shield armor. "But a lot of things are different now."
"Like Rubi and Kyouka having a baby?" The Maiyosh courtesans had taken to the Saiyans with a great more enthusiasm than Zarbon would have ever thought possible. But then they were all members of the Maiyosh-jin service caste and pleasing other people was their whole life, almost a point of honor with them. And it wasn't as if the women had any pressing engagements.
"Right." Bardock said "There's only a few Saiyans left and hardly any Saiyan women at all. Before we never had children with other races, but now we do." Carefully omitting that the previous Saiyan policy had been to kill said half-breeds wherever they were found. "We never had families like you did on Chikyuu, but we had our squads. All these people we're fighting beside are our squad, our little platoon, Kakarott. We live with them, eat with them, fight beside them, and put out lives in their hands every day. They're like our Ckikyuu-jin family. And that hasn't changed."
They blew the guts out of a fueling supply ship that day, and left nothing but a smoking crater on the planet where the Tsiru-jin base had been. And with that, their little war began. Two, sometimes three raids a week, all modest at first, growing bolder and more ambitious. Three months later the Yardratsei-jin had pointed them in the direction of a troop station in the rebuilt ruins of an ancient prison world. It contained hundreds of mercenary canines from Rouh-sei…and something else. When they broke through the shell of the base's outer defenses, they found the remains of hundreds upon hundreds of Saiyan prisoners, all blown to pieces. There were score marks everywhere, blast holes pock-marked the face of the planet where the men had fought for their lives against…something. And lost.
"It was a test." Bardock muttered, examining the files in the main offices of the underground labs. Above them, the sounds of the other members of their band running the last of Frieza's troops to ground filtered down. "The Super Mech…Frieza took a thousand men, Saiyan prisoners, from Imsul to test it. They were set lose here and told to fight as hard as they could if they wanted to live."
"And it killed them all," Zarbon whispered. He pulled up the last entries in the data file. "Gods above…it got lose. It says the 'Super Saiyamech' accomplished its primary function and eliminated all hostiles as ordered. It will beacon to the energy signatures similar to its original biological components."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"It…it's made from some poor son of a bitch who carries the latent Super Saiyan gene. That's the 'biological component'. Because of that, it can hone in on Saiyan ki. It can 'smell' you, track you. It says 'Tracing abilities as yet unmeasurable.' Which may mean it can scent you from the other side of a solar system…or the maybe other side of the galaxy." The dark, tanned skin of the Saiyan's face paled slightly and Zarbon suddenly felt cold all over. "You didn't See this coming, did you?" The other man scowled and shook his head. "It got away from them at the end of the test…just sort of wondered out into space on its own. I doubt anybody on the surface felt much like going after it when it refused to respond to command prompt. The last entry says that Tsiru-sei is not overly concerned with its loss, as it will most certainly carry out its primary programming. Probably to seek out and destroy all Saiyans. Also, that they can see where they should have made improvements in the labotamization process, and that this prototype provided invaluable data for a more complex model. That must be why they want Gokou so desperately. They need another…'biological component' for a perfected model." He turned on the Saiyan and glared at him. "Why in the name of the gods didn't you See this?!"
"The Yardratsei-jin…" Bardock looked distracted, his gaze wondering up, toward the sounds of the battle that was just beginning to wind down.
He levitated slowly upward, through the hole they had blown in the bunker's roof, and up into the glaring yellow sky, and Zarbon followed him, teeth gritted. "They've been teaching me to focus and control my Sight, to sort of zero in on one timeline or set of events. If they hadn't, I would have lost my mind in the last few months. It was like…after Maiyosh, it became like one of the multimedia rooms the intergalactic press has on Zapra-sei. You're at the center of an arena and there are thousand and thousands of vid feeds from all over the galaxy playing at once all around you. I have managed to focus in on just a half dozen possible futures with the Yardratsei-jin's help.
Now all I have to do is push events down the path of those futures. The downside of that is, I don’t See everything anymore." And he deliberately lowered his ki shield, without warning or explanation. A blast slammed into his side and he went spinning backwards through the air. Several harsh cries echoed from the others in the distance. Zarbon dove to catch the man as he fell, and winced, clenching his reactive ki sensitivity against the thunder clap of power Gokou released in the direction of the mercenary who had just shot his father. The distant mountain range, shadowed in the silhouette of the setting sun, glowed brightly as the wave of power struck them, leaving behind nothing but smoking rock and flattened rubble. The noise was deafening and just for an instant, the amber glow of the blast against the yellow sky reflected off the boy, ringing him in a burning halo of gold. Then he sank down to where Zarbon held his father, weeping with relief when he saw the man was still alive.
Late that night, when the others had all trooped off to their own quarters after a loud, drunken, "the Captain isn't dead" celebration, Zarbon stood over the sleeping boy, who had collapsed by the fire in an exhausted heap, tangled up in some sort of less than platonic, comfort cuddle with Anyan. "I was actually starting to think you gave a damn about him." He told Bardock, who lay swabbed in med patches and bandages behind him on one of the divans, one arm crooked around his drowsing Maiyosh-jin woman, stroking her long ivory hair. The Saiyan treated her well, Zarbon reflected. Amazingly well for someone her gave no more thought to than a household pet.
"Who says I don't?" Bardock murmured.
"You are planning on dying aren't you?" Zarbon said coldly. "You've been deliberately letting him love you. Deliberately giving him the kind of affection that should make an ex-Captain of a purging squad vomit with disgust. And today, you deliberately let yourself get wounded to push him a little farther toward to breaking point of Super Saiyan. You're planning on getting yourself killed at some dramatic point in this game we're playing, to push him over the edge with his grief…all the way to Super Saiyan. I don't know who's a more cold-blooded monster when all is said and done---you or Frieza."
"His power is the key to the survival of our race, Zarbon." Bardock said softly. "Yes, I'm doing everything you say I am. I will sacrifice my life and your life and his life and anyone else I have to to win against Frieza, because if we lose, there's no future for any of us. But that doesn't mean I'm indifferent to him. A Saiyan warrior who has any regard at all for his brat, wants to see him live and grow and become strong. And I mean to give him all those things. Because I do give a damn about him." He lowered his head back onto his pillow and yawned. "Now get the hell out of my house, Blueboy," he said sleepily.
It was six month later that the Saiyan fleet arrived, limping its way through the Yardratsei system, pausing to scan, then scan again, searching patiently until the Toma opened up a comlink channel to the flagship and the stunned-looking command crew of the Prince's ship. The last thing they had expected to find on this invisible world in the back end of nowhere was a platoon of Saiyans. The Saiyan no Ouji, looking much older than the bored, spoiled fifteen-year-old Zarbon remembered from Frieza's final treaty summits on Vegita-sei four years ago, stared through the view screen at the Bardock, his face cold.
"You knew we were coming, Seer." It was not a question. "How did you escape from Vegita-sei?"
"I didn't, Ouji-sama. We escaped from the laboratories of Imsul nearly a year ago. I…Saw that if we came to Madran, the enemy would have found you sooner than it did. So, we fought our war from here, and waited for you to arrive. There is much you should know about Imsul."
"We have a sample of their new…technology on hand." The Prince said bleakly. "You will tell me all you know as soon as possible. And give the first of my technical slaves a complete report as well. She will be dissecting our…specimen as soon as we can set up a lab."
The little platoon of warriors watched at silent attention as the ship set down on the red desert plains around the Yardrat Hive City. Golden-skinnned Madrani began filing out in a wide ring around the encircles ships, dropping pellets that exploded on impact…and produced ready-made structures from thin air. Gods, what kind a new compaction science had the Madrani developed in the last four years?
"Capsules!" Gokou gasped delightedly.
Troops, Saiyan troops began disembarking from the largest of the transports, milling about in a kind of haphazard formation. But still he Prince was nowhere to be seen. One giant figure edged over to the small group, peering down his broad nose at them, the sun glaring off his bald head. "What's he?" Gokou asked, wide-eyed.
"An asshole," Toma answered softly.
"Bardock," the huge man said in a distinctly unfriendly fashion.
"Nice of you to warn us about Ginyu's attack. Didn't you See it coming? Or were you just too scared of your own shadow to come and fight beside your Prince?" The other members of Bardock's platoon rumbled softly.
"I am Seer to the Royal House of Vegita-sei." Bardock said coldly. "I don't prophesy to footpads." A large group of warriors had wandered over and formed a half circle behind Nappa, all of them bore the hard-faced, weathered look that was the only sign of age Saiyans generally showed. The Purist Faction, Zarbon remembered, recognizing several faces as men who had spoken against Vegita-sei's independence from Frieza in summit council. Those who would never have broken with Tsiru-sei had they been given the chance. Gods, these men must hate Bardock. They probably blamed him for having set in motion the events that led to Frieza's final attack.
"Raditz is dead." Nappa said, with a faint grin. "I'd wish I could say that I killed him, but he died in the attack on Madran. Just thought you should know."
Bardock's face did not change, his features didn't shift a muscle as the news sunk in. "Did he die well?"
"He--" Nappa frowned furiously. "He saved the Prince." He said the words as though they clogged his throat. "He'll get a hero's wake tonight. What the fuck are you blubbering about, brat?" His black gaze had fastened on Gokou, whose eyes were full of tears."
"Nissan is dead?"
"Nissan?" Nappa spat. "Your commoners breed like vermin, 'Seer'. How many more brats do you have anyway? Stop you sniveling, boy! Are you soft in the head or something? You don't dishonor a warrior's brave death with tears!"
Bardock's brows had drawn together dangerously and the others were growling softly, their ki's spiking sharply with anger. Zarbon felt his own hands clench with rage.
"How…how did Nissan get away from Chikyuu?" The boy asked tremulously. "He came to get me a year ago, but the Ginyu men blew my home up and took me with them, and I thought he had died too. Did nobody else get away with him?"
Nappa regarded him silently, his anger slightly mollified by the boy's polite, almost humble question. He grinned faintly. "I wish." The other men behind him chuckled. Nappa's eyes swept over the others, fastening on the girl who stood just behind Gokou, one small hand clasped comfortingly in his.
"How old are you, girl?" He asked a little too casually. The other men behind him had edged forward, having just now noticed the girl as well.
All of Anyan's loud-mouthed bravado and bluster had suddenly deserted her under the weight of the dark, appraising stares of Nappa and the powerful group of men at him shoulder. None of whom she was strong enough to defeat if it came to a fight…or anything else.
"She's thirteen." Toma said dangerously. "Keep your paws off my brat until she's of age."
"Awful well-grown for thirteen," Nappa muttered. "You wouldn't lie to me, would you Toma?"
The giant man was almost flattened by Gokou as the boy's eyes fell on the slight form of a young woman who was overseeing the unpacking of a mass of complicated-looking instrumentation, surrounded by a throng of Madrani techs. "Bulma-Oneesan!!!" Gokou screamed, pushing Nappa out of his way almost unconsciously. He flew, literally across the great field, to sweep the girl up in a bear hug, pulling back as he noticed the baby sling across her back. Her long blue hair was bound up in a knot above her head, accenting the breath-taking face beneath it. Zarbon noted the black spiked hair of the child in her back with interest. Beside her, gazing up at Gokou with an expression somewhere between suspicion and curiosity, was another Saiyan child, four or five years old. The young woman was crying now, hugging the older boy tightly. Gokou shouted with delight at something she said and knelt beside the little boy, taking the surprised child in his arms like a long lost friend. He began dragging her by one hand across the field, back to the members of his platoon, his face glowing with happiness. Nappa's face was thunderous, but he held his peace, regarding the woman as though he'd like to snap her in half. Zarbon noticed she kept her eyes carefully overted from the bald man. A real charmer with the ladies, this Nappa.
"This is my Oneesan Bulma!" Gokou began babbling happily. "We grew up together on Chikyuu. And this is Radu, he's Nissan's little boy and the baby is Kakarott, and he's Bulma and Nissan's little boy, and his name is Kakarott, just like me! Bulma, this is my Toussan! Isn't that great?! We found each other on this really bad place the Ginyu men took us all to. And this is our friend Zarbon-san. And Anyan and her Toussan Toma-san and---" The young woman---she was even lovelier up close---listened to the boy speak breathlessly, one hand clasped in his, a tearful smile on her face.
The shadow a deep grief lay just behind the smile in those luminous blue eyes, probably stemming from the death of Gokou's brother, less than two weeks in his grave.
A hand locked around his throat, pulling him up and off his feet. "Zarbon?" Nappa snarled. "Frieza's fancy errand boy? What the hell are you playing at, Bardock?!"
"He's with us, and we need him to win this war." Bardock said stonily.
Zarbon brought his fist down on the hand around his jugular and smashed several bones. "Keep you hands off me, monkey." The giant cried out and stepped back as Zarbon flared up to full power, morphing out of the fine-boned form he usually wore, into something bigger, greener and decidedly less pretty to look at. And much more powerful. His ki signature in this form was fully twice the giant Saiyan's and Nappa sensed it, falling back.
"Second thoughts?" Zarbon chuckled, a deep reptilian rasp.
"I like it when he does that," Gokou was telling the pale Chikyuu-jin girl.
"It always makes people jump when they see it the first time." The others Saiyans in Bardock's little platoon were snickering at the look of veiled fear on the big man's face.
"Leave it be, Nappa," said a young man's voice. The knot of warriors behind Nappa parted like a wave as the Saiyan no Ouji walked through them, eyeing Zarbon coldly. "If Bardock Sees that we need this man to win, we can spare his life at least until his former master is dead."
"I…" Zarbon powered down, readjusting his armor primly. "I wish for nothing more from life than to live to see that day, Ouji-sama." Something rang startlingly true in that prettily worded statement, sending a faint chill through his body. Beside Gokou, the Chikyuu girl had suddenly lowered her eyes to the ground, all the vibrancy vanishing from that beautiful face, her hands folded before her like of serving girl.
"I imagine Nappa had informed you of Raditz' death?" The Prince turned away from him as though Zarbon had disappeared. Bardock nodded.
"A good death, he said."
"The best," Vegita replied solemnly. "He saved us all. I claimed his household as mine. His sons will be trained as Elites, and become part of my Royal Guard when they come to manhood."
Bardock bowed low, his face cold and reserved, his eyes shining with gratitude. "You honor my house, Ouji-sama."
"You house holds its own honor, I merely reward it. We will celebrate Raditz tonight as soon as we have erected a Hall." His eyes snapped over to the woman and Gokou. "But you should school this son of yours in how to regard another man's property. Do not touch what is mine again, boy. Or I will beat you bloody for your presumption. And you!" his eyes narrowed at the woman, whose head was still lowered, her eyes still on the ground. "Get the rest of the labs and workshops set up within the hour! We must show Bardock our captured mech and learn what he and the others who escaped Imsul can tell us about it. Go!" The girl bowed silently and left without a word to her friend, leaving Gokou staring after her in worried consternation.
"I'll go help her," he said to no one in particular. "They probably have a lot of heavy stuff." He seemed not to have heard the Prince's threat. He zipped after her, flying just above the ground, the younger boy Raditz beside him. Vegita stared after him, began to speak, then frowned thoughtfully. It seemed to have finally struck him that the boy much younger than he appeared. And far younger than his years. After a moment's hesitation, Anyan and the two other youngsters in Bardock's squad followed after him.
In Saiyan, the word "wake" apparently meant "large drunken brawl". The Prince set up his Royal quarters, replete with a great court hall and the party began. Zarbon began drinking steadily as the night wore on, intent on washing away the sight of the girl Bulma slowly dissecting the decomposing remains of the captured mech all afternoon. She had worked expressionlessly, grim-faced and purposeful, peeling back layer after layer of bone, brain and machine as the men around her slowly grew ill. This was a lesser model, built from an ordinary Saiyan warrior, and could be remote deactivated, the girl announced tonelessly, as she drew out a series of electrodes and control implants from the dead man's brain. She only needed to duplicate the controllers and work backwards to build an off switch. Coupled with Bardock's revelation of the files they had found on the mech testing grounds, they now had a pretty clear picture of what Frieza's plans entailed.
"The Super Saiyan gene…" Vegita said, blanched under the olive planes of his face. "And your son bears the gene as well. From your mate's Turrasht heritage, yes?"
"They need another subject to perfect the Super Mech, and that will be the end of us if they find one." Bardock told the Prince. "You told me that Ginyu did not seem to be trying to kill you as you fought him on Madran? Only stun you. They will try to take you alive, Ouji-sama. To create the Super Mech. And my son as well. And both Raditz' brats. You all bear the gene." The girl, so stone faced and unflappable as she pulled apart the mechanical atrocity, choked in terror at these words. At the thought of her child and the two other boys she so obviously loved as well, wired into a machine like the one before her.
"Will they succeed in taking one of us alive?" Vegita asked quietly.
"It depends on what paths you take in the next months. But I don't See either of the little ones in Frieza's hands. In the possible the future where all is lost, this girl…does not let them be taken alive." Which meant she would kill both children before letting them be taken. Zarbon shuddered and the girl looked so pale he thought she might collapse for a moment.
Now, he strolled through the party, feeling tipsy and pleasantly numb, watching the Madrani servants try to keep up a steady influx of food and drink without being smashed flat by anyone of the half-dozen friendly fights that had broken out in the last five minutes. Someone was apparently slugging it out just outside, as well, judging from the booming blows shaking the walls of the capsule structure. One of the ki's felt almost like Gokou's. There was one last pounding crash and the fight on the desert night outside went quiet. He caught sight of the blue-haired girl Bulma wending her way through the crowds, face a calm mask, eyes demure and downcast, as she carried food like a servant for the men who had come to wake her dead husband. He did not miss the dark, glowering looks Nappa's group and many others gave the woman as she passed, or the looks of sneering arrogance and approval at the sight of her waiting on them like a slave. The insult heaped upon what was so obviously the heart-broken loss of a man she loved was stomach-turning. He had a feeling that the dead hero would be feel less than honored with the manner in which his mate was being treated.
"She blew half of Ginyu's strike fleet out of the sky with one of her gadgets while most of these drunk bastards were blasting away at it with all their might," Bardock told him, his voice only slightly slurred. "She made every warrior in the mix look like a complete weakling. Also has a big mouth, I'm told." He frowned solemnly. "Raditz liked his girls spirited like that. The Prince is smart. If he puts her on display like this, it'll all blow over a lot quicker." The other man wondered away.
The curious thing about the Prince was that, though he followed the young woman's progress around the room, his lips curled into a disdainful sneer, his eyes never left her. And whenever she drew within twenty feet of any one of Nappa's old guard club, he seemed to tense, as though he were prepared to leap across the room at any moment. Whenever she left the main floor, he seemed to find some reason to leave as well. Interesting. Someone really needed to tell the boy, Zarbon thought wryly, that riding rough-shod over a woman's very real grief and giving her over to abject humiliation at the hands of her enemies was not the best way to win her heart. He blinked, scanning the room for her. Where was she---Gokou was pulling her by the hand out a side entrance, his face so tense and full of anger, Zarbon found his feet were already carrying him toward the door the two of them had left through. A hand clapped on his shoulder. Toma's face was pale and murderous.
"Come with me, Blueboy. We gotta a situation." We. Somewhere, somehow in the course of the last year, he had become one of them, part of their individual squad "family." He followed along as the bigger man led the way back to a back room where the others in Bardock's little platoon were gathered around Anyan. The girl was bleeding from the nose, a large livid bruise forming over one fine-boned cheek. Bulma was wiping up the blood from the girl's face with a med patch swab.
"I told him if he didn't let her go, I'd hurt him bad." Gokou was saying softly. "I think I hit him a little too hard."
"Who was it?" Bardock asked.
"One of Nappa's closest cronies," Toma growled. "Mousrom. They won't touch these alien women. When they saw her…I knew this would happen! I shouldn't have let the brat out of my sight. What the hell are we going to do, Bardock? She's of age, and they have every legal right to take her if they're strong enough. She's still seven or eight years away from her first heat! And none of us can watch her every waking moment. If the boy hadn't happened along…"
"Stop talking about me like I'm not here!" Anyan burst out. "I could have beat him! I can beat them all if I have to! I'm not--not w-weak…" Silent, miserable tears began leaking out of her eyes, her little shoulders shaking.
"What will be the repercussions from Nappa's squad for this?" Zarbon asked. "Is Mousrom hurt badly, Gokou?"
"He's dead." Vegita was behind them standing in the door of the little kitchen side chamber. He'd probably been sanding there for a while…following the Chikyuu girl to make sure no one did to her what they had tried to do to Anyan. "And the answer is none. Kakarott defeated him in fair combat. That is the end of it. Nappa will not mourn him since Mousrom tried to take for himself what Nappa will soon try to lay claim to."
"I'm not weak…" The girl whispered again, and Zarbon felt another long-dead twist of sympathy in his stomach.
"Look at me, soldier," Vegita snapped at her. The girl's back stiffened by reflex and she raised her eyes to meet her Prince's. "You are not weak. But you are young. And you cannot stand against warriors who have fifty or a hundred years of experience and acquired strength on their side. Understood?"
"I have an idea," Bulma said quietly.
"You will speak when I tell you to, woman," Vegita turned on her angrily, pulling her up by one arm.
"Get your hand off her!" Gokou was suddenly nose to nose with Vegita, his face livid.
"He's mean to you, Bulma!" Gokou snarled, his ki rising alarmingly. "Nissan just died and all he does is make it worse by yelling at you for nothing and hurting your feelings! He's just as bad as Mousrom!"
Vegita's face turned red with rage, but something that looked suspiciously like guilt flickered behind his eyes for an instant. Then the girl raised her eyes and put one hand one either young man's chest, stopping them in their tracks with some force other than physical strength. "Stop it. Vegita, please! Please believe that you can trust these men. If Son-Kun loves them, they can be trusted." She turned back to Gokou. "He's not being mean to me, Son-Kun. A lot of people, not just Nappa's friends, are mad at me. He's…he's pretending to be mean. So they won't be so mad anymore. Okay? Power down, Son-Kun. Now!" The note of steel in her voice made the boy jump, and he lowered his ki, still staring at Vegita suspiciously.
She fixed one baleful eye back on the Prince and he flushed slightly. "Can I tell everyone my idea now?" Vegita nodded uncharitably, still glaring at Gokou. "No one can touch her if she's…off the market, so to speak. Right?
So why don't we find a mate for her? It can be any one of you. Kind of a legal fiction. No one else has to know it's not a real marriage. And it can last until she comes into her full strength."
"It would have to be someone strong enough to take on all the challengers that will come his way if he has a Saiyan female as his mate," Toma said thoughtfully. "Who among us hasn't taken one of Maiyosh-jin women as mate yet?"
Bardock frowned. "That would be me---Cabaj and Ruta are only thirteen, so that leaves them out---Kakarott and Zarbon."
"What about Zarbon?" Gokou suggested brightly. "He's really strong and he doesn't like girls so he'd be perfect to marry her for fake."
Zarbon nearly choked as the bluish tinge of his pallor deepened to indigo.
He leveled a barely civil gaze at the boy, steadfastly ignoring the poorly muffled snickers of his companions. "It should be a Saiyan, Gokou. If an alien mated with one of the last Saiyan women in the galaxy, all the warriors in the fleet would be after my hide."
"Looks like you get the duty," Toma smirked at Bardock. "Son."
"But Toussan already has a girlfriend," Gokou said, shifting from foot to foot, exchanging furtive glances with Anyan.
"Anyan's just going to live with us and pretend to be my mate, Karkarott," Bardock told him. "I won't be kicking Jula out of bed for her."
"Um,:" Gokou said hesitantly. All the others were looking at him "What if Anyan already had a boyfriend?"
Bardock eyed him silently, a slow grin curling up one side of his mouth.
"Does she have a 'boyfriend', Kakarott?"
"Um," Gokou looked over at Anyan. Her face was slowly turning as red as his own. "I think so."
"What the hell do you mean, you think so?!" The Saiyan girl shouted.
"Yes," Gokou amended quickly. "We...we sort of…" He glanced apprehensively at Toma. "You know the thing Kyouka calls 'horizontal sparring'? We kind of tried it, and it was really fun, so we kept on doing it, and now we do it just about every day. Sometime, several times a da---"
He squawked as the girl landed a blow on the side of his head. "Can she pretend to be my mate instead, Toussan?" He said, holding his head. Anyan froze and an even deeper, rosy blush rose on her cheeks. Her father glanced at her, and she nodded. The low, growling laughter of the others died away after a moment.
"That's fine with me, brat." Bardock grinned.
"Have them do it now," Vegita said. "I will witness it, and no one will gainsay his claim."
"There is no one besides yourself, Ouji-sama, with the strength to challenge this brat," Bardock told him. "But witness and give your blessing so that there will be no challengers. We cannot afford to lose men by fighting among ourselves."
"What do we do?" Gokou asked.
"Put your mark on her and it is done, Kakarott." Said Vegita.
"You have to bite her," Bulma said.
"Ojjiisan used to spank me for biting, Bulma. It's not nice."
"It's not that kind of a bite, Kakarott!" Anyan hissed.
"Do it, brat," his father said. "You won't hurt her."
The boy hesitantly put his hands on Anyan's shoulders and pushed her hair back. To one side, his father and Toma looked on, faces both and amused and a little…less that hard. To the other, Bulma stood with the Saiyan no Ouji just at her shoulder. Vegita stood close behind her, not touching her in any way, his face less than an inch from her lustrous blue hair, his eyes wandering down to the young woman's porcelain face as though pulled by a magnet.
Gokou put his lips against the girl's shoulder and broke the skin gingerly. Her head snapped back with a gasp, and she clung to him tightly, as he leaned into the bite, his primal instincts washing away any hesitation or shyness. When he finally withdrew, both the youngsters' faces were flushed, their eyes burning, arms encircling each other tightly.
"Live well, grow strong, and die bravely," Vegita said formally.
The others repeated the phrase, and Zarbon found himself doing the same. He hadn't been sure about the odd, warm feeling that had crept up on him in the last months, taking shape so gradually he had almost not noticed its presence. It was something he had never had for at any point in his life since the day the Osari-jin had lain his home world to waste. The feeling came and went, but then, he supposed even the most fortunate souls in creation could not be happy all the time.
* * * * *
QUESTIONS? COMMENTS? MAIL ME AT email@example.com
Coming Soon: Chapter III (The war heats up, and so do things between Bulma and Vegita. Frieza lays plans to try and capture another specimen for his ultimate weapon. And where is the rogue prototype Super Saiyamech that wandered off into space after its initial test?)