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 VI: Tsiru-sei---All or nothing
Zarbon released the girl in his arms uncertainly, as her heart-rending wails suddenly ceased without warning. Then she began shouting, her quavering voice gaining strength with each word. "He's not dead! He's not dead, goddam you all! The---the Supermech blue prints Zarbon and Bardock found say the process takes a full day to prep the--the machinery or a specific subject. We---we can---" "We have 587 Saiyan warriors," Articha said bleakly. "Twenty thousand Maiysoh-jin who would join us in a direct assault on Tsiru-sei if we call upon them. Fifteen thousand Madrani with our forces here on Imsul. There are sixteen other worlds who might fight beside us with a few hours' notice. If they did not believe they would be throwing their lives away to the man. It is not enough, girl. A thousand times our numbers would not be enough." Zarbon watched Bulma's pale, bloodless face take that in. She looked on the point of collapsing again. He watched in fascination as she shook her head stubbornly, shaking off the shock that was threatening to pull her down.
"No! No! There's always a solution---there's always an answer...Always!" Her voice broke, again. Then that lovely, pale face went blank and immobile. She raised her head a little higher, eyes burning like the midday sky set on fire.
"There is a solution," she said. "Girl---" Articha began. "Tell us, Oneesan," Gokou said intently. "I can go get him out," she said simply. "What the hell are you raving about, girl?" Nappa had finally raised his head from where he'd buried it in his huge hands. "Your fool 'ki-caps' won't---" "I won't be wearing one," she said. She turned to Articha again. The woman was the senior Council in Vegita's absence. "What will the Saiyans do now, if they give Vegita up for lost?" "We will fight on," the older woman said hoarsely, her eyes dead to hope. "We will die as warriors." "But sooner or later," the Chikyuu girl went on, "you will all die without the Legendary to lead you. If you are lucky, you will die." A harsh, guttural moan rose from the ranks of warriors clustered about the barren plains of the battlefield.
"Or you can attack Frieza now," the girl said. "Today. Give me ten hours, then hit Tsiru-sei with everything you can muster in that amount of time."
"Give you ten hours to do what, love?" Zarbon asked slowly. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer. "I'm going to drive one of these deactivated Saiyamechs back to Tsiru-sei. My invisibility camo package will let me move around unseen. They won't even be able to sense me, because I have no readable Ki. I'm going to find Vegita, set him free, and watch him rip Frieza's palace apart from the inside. Zarbon, you told me once that Frieza's ego knows no limits. He won't sit back and watch his Saiyamechs overwhelm Vegita with numbers. He'll come out to face him one on one. And while Vegita's busy killing Frieza, I'll be finding the config data on every make and model of Saiyamech. With that, I can program my kill switches to deactivate Frieza's entire fucking fleet!"
"You'll never find your way through the White City or Frieza's palace," Zarbon told her gently, shaking his head.
"No, I won't." She turned those blazing sapphire eyes on him again, madness and hope mingled together. "But you can. You lived there your whole life." He didn't need a mirror to know the blood had just drained from his face. He clenched his hands into fists to keep them from trembling. "Bulma...I---" A rough hand on his shoulder. He gazed into the fathomless eyes of the Seer of Vegita-sei. "This is it, isn't it?" He asked numbly. "This is why you said the Saiyans needed me to win..."
"It's still your choice, my friend," Bardock murmured. My friend... Bardock was the first friend he's ever had. He stared around at the silent, solemn faces of all those who stood to die if he said no...or if he failed. If he froze in helpless terror in the presence of the Lord of Tsiru-sei as he had on Maiyosh Prime. As he had frozen in terror of that white, sneering face every day of his life. Bardock, Gokou, Anyan, Kyouka---who called him, an alien and an enemy, comrade and friend. He closed his eyes, seeing the the young man who waited above Imsul in the medbay carrier, dark thoughtful eyes in an amber-hued face. "Don't die," Scopa had said simply, as he left for the troop carrier. And everyone who waited behind on Yardrat-sei would be put to the sword as well, if Frieza won. The Lord of Tsiru-sei would leave no loose ends. He would find them eventually.
"I will guide you," he whispered finally. "It is not my decision," Turna told his mate quietly, the hard lines of his face bore a faint cast of hope. "But it is better to die fighting with hope, however slim, than to die with none."
"Should we attempt this suicide run, girl," Articha asked Bulma expressionlessly. "How will we know when to strike?"
"The troop carriers can cover the distance from the rim of Tsiru-sei's system to the fifth world in twenty-one minutes," Bulma said. "Give me five hours to reach Tsiru-sei, then move everything you have to the edge of the system, and lie there cloaked. If we are able to free Vegita, I'll send a hyper-light transmission to the fleet telling them to strike."
"But you'll still be on the surface when we attack, Oneesan." Gokou was wearing that burning, razor-edged frown he always bore when things were at their very worst. The girl shook her head emphatically.
"I'll encapsulate my Freemech and pilot it in the battle when the fleet strikes."
Zarbon's mind was slowly beginning to work again. He was slowly beginning to work through a host of possible routes and pitfalls for approaching the area of the White City where he knew Frieza would most likely set up a new factory. There was really only one place where--- "It won't work," he said suddenly "A stray Saiyamech on approach to Tsiru-sei would have to have a reason to return to home base." He scanned the dark faces of the warriors assembled around him. The shock was draining away now, their angular eyes were beginning to burn with a kind of suicidal fury that was terrifying. "There is a way though. To get it cleared for landing, and even have it taken to the---the assembly plant."
Turna seemed to shudder, but he nodded in understanding. "Yes...A Saiyamech would only return to base if it was carrying cargo for Frieza's factories."
"And if the Tsiru-jin do not detect a captured Saiyan's Ki and bio-stats when they scan the mech on its approach, they'll assume it's defective and blast it out of the sky," Zarbon told them. He watched the warriors around him wrestle with what was nearly stark terror at the thought of deliberately putting themselves in the hands of the Tsiru-jin. These Saiyans had an almost pathological fear of technology in some ways, something rare in a space-faring race. Mechanization was, in a very real sense, the worst thing Frieza could have done to them. He had no doubt that the Lord of Tsiru-sei knew that well, and that the thought gave his former master no end of delight.
"I'll go," Gokou said softly.
"No, boy," Articha shook her head. "If you fail, if the three of you are captured and taken alive, which you very well might be, Frieza will have two new Supermechs instead of one. And we will need your strength when we attack Tsiru-sei." She turned to the silent ranks of warriors encircling them, and raised her voice. "The girl is right. They will probably learn the exact space coordinates of Yardrat-sei from Vegita-ouji within a few hours. And when they have---" She stumbled over the words. "When they have served the son as they served the father, he will find us. And we will all die, if we are lucky. All of the ancient foretellings of the return of the Legendary say that he will save us in our darkest hour of need. If the girl can indeed creep into Frieza's factories and cut loose his bonds in time, I think Vegita-ouji will catch the old serpent with his guard down. He is the Legendary! And I will have faith that he will rise to outstrip the greatest of his ancestors! However things fall out, it is better to die fighting with hope in our hearts, as Turna says, and quickly, than to run one more day from what will come to us all nevertheless!"
There was a low roar building among the Saiyans, a rumbling chorus a assent, rising slowly to shouts.
"Bardock," one of the other hard-faced Councilors spoke after a moment. "You have been silent all this while, Seer. Can we win?"
"We can," Bardock said, his eyes lowered. "We can win the day, see Frieza slain, see all our futures open up like the unwritten pages of a new book. The girl's plan is the first step. But beyond that...I cannot see clearly. There are so many chance factors, so many possibilities...too many." He seemed to sway on his feet, and Gokou and Toma caught him before he fell.
"I will go," a deep, harsh voice said slowly. Bulma paled as she turned and found herself staring up into Nappa's dark face. "I will be the Saiyamech's captured cargo." He cut his eyes briefly at the Seer's half-conscious form. "I think this is my destiny come for me at last." His eyes burned with flat murder as he gazed down at the beautiful face of the girl before him. "There is only one creature in the galaxy that I would sooner see dead than you, woman. And that is Frieza. But if you can set my Prince free of the hell they have planned for him, I will spend the last drop of my blood to aid you." The girl glared coldly up at the mountain of a man looming over her, and only nodded.
"Then let's go get him out."'
The flurry of feverish, half-mad activity that began to swirl around him, as Articha began barking out orders, didn't warm the creeping cold that had settled into Zarbon's spine. A soft "crack" drew him out of his own dark thoughts. He glance up to see Bulma standing before Bardock, holding the bruised hard that she'd just used to strike the Seer across the face.
"Bulma---" Gokou said, horrified.
"'Only through the mouth of Hell itself', you said." the girl's voice was cold and furious. "Damn you, Bardock. Damn you to Hell for letting them take him." She turned and strode away toward the crashed heaps of enemy mechs, not looking back.
She sat cold and shivering in the dark with fear and adrenaline. The blinking sensors on the glowing readout before her eyes, her only light, said they had just entered Tsiru-sei's solar system.
It had taken two hours, two precious hours, to prep the Saiyamech, to reroute its control to her mini-comp, to adjust two invisibility camo shields to cloak both Zarbon's and Nappa's ambient Ki, to gut out a "passenger seat" for herself and Zarbon, to assemble every tool, weapon and medical device they might conceivably need. Nappa was riding coach, she thought grimly, bound and shackled into the thing's hollow belly, where the mech would have stowed a captured Saiyan. The big man's face had been hard and angry as always, as she wrapped him in the specially rigged metal tentacles, dulling the serrated edges so that he could burst free to fight if things went horribly wrong when they landed. She met his eyes just before she began to weld the metal plate back over the mech's abdomen cavity, saw the wordless fear barely held in check.
"You don't have to trust me," she said. "But trust that we'll need your strength when we get to Vegita."
Zarbon watched her work, as she set about the most delicate portion of the operation---changing the power source from Saiyan Ki to her own generator, shifting the controls to her own mini-comp, all without outwardly altering the signal or scan trace the Tsiri-jin would detect on their approach. The blue man had left her side briefly, having disappeared for half an hour to fly up to the medical carrier. Saying his farewells to Scopa. He had stood watching her silently as she cut open the chest plate, and began tearing at the wires and cables attached to the body of the man who had been entombed alive inside it. She had reworked all the internal circuitry to fit the stats a scan would read from an actual Saiyamech. The only thing left to do was to remove the corpse in the chest cavity, so there would be room for her and Zarbon to ride. She worked with blank-eyed, ferocious concentration, ruthlessly driving her mind to focus on the task at hand, batting away Zarbon's gentle hands when he tried to help her. Work the problem, Poppa always said. She tore the dead man's body free of its last twisted mesh of wires and bolts, staring down at the face for the first time, in a dull horror of recognition. A harsh intake of breath at her shoulder, and she raised her head and saw through the almost blind tunnel vision she had been working in that there was a circle of people gathered behind her. Her friends...her family. Bardock and Toma took the dead man's body from her paralyzed arms, lowering it gently to the ground.
"Toussan..." Son-Kun said sickly. "He looks like you...us."
"His name was Turles," Bardock told his son, emotionless and stony-eyed. "He was a shiftless wanderer and an all-around bastard. He never fought for his people, or anything other than his own wild-haired schemes...But no son of my father deserved this." Bardock raised his open hand and incinerated his brother's body to ash. He raised his eyes to meet hers without any outward change of expression. Oh gods, how do they do it? Hold it all in without shedding a tear?
"That's it," she said tonelessly, after a moment. "We can leave now. We---we can---" A soft whimper escaped her lips.
Vegita…not you! I've lost everything, so much it's almost too much to live with some days. But not you! Not you hacked to pieces and---and shoved inside a metal shell like a fucking battery! She could still smell the scent of his skin on hers, still feel him warm and strong and alive against her---
Her knees buckled, and they were suddenly all around her, holding her as she fought down the wailing cries that she sensed would tear her apart if she released them. "Vegita…"
Hard hands gripped her slim shoulders and shook her until her teeth rattled. "Look at me, girl!" Bardock's face was inches from hers. "This is the best chance of all the chances we might have had to win. If you get to him, if you set him free, if you win the day today, you will see all long years of your life with him. You will see your sons grow strong and happy in a new Saiyan Empire. An empire you will help to build. I told you before not to falter in the face of what would seem like absolute defeat. You may think that moment is now, but it is not. Stay strong, and do not give up hope, no matter what awaits you on Tsiru-sei."
"I'm s--sorry, Bardock…" She didn't want to leave with her curses still ringing in his ears. She didn't want those terrible words to be the last thing she ever said to him. He let her bury her head against his chest.
"You've every right to hate me, girl," he told her softly. "But this was the only way to give us even a fighting chance. Fight well, daughter."
She squeezed her eyes shut and whispered the words in his ear. "Die bravely."
Then Son-Kun caught her in a crushing embrace, his eyes dry of tears, bright and burning with a clear, piercing intelligence. "I can sense you better than anyone except Vegita, Oneesan. If you need me when the battle starts, call me. I love you." The last words just above a whisper.
"I love you, too," she said, wiping her burning eyes. She could not cry. She could not. If she started now, she'd never be able to stop. All the others, saying their farewells to her in their own way, Son-Kun embracing Zarbon as he had her, Bardock gripping the blue warrior's hand, leaning close to say something only the two of them could hear. Then she had climbed into the hollow shell of their mech, and welded the ardantium plate shut from the inside.
Now, they watched the white shape of Tsiru-sei draw ever closer on her mini-comp readout, a spherical, crystalline snowflake hanging suspending in the black void of space, cold and beautiful. A hand slipped inside hers and she squeezed it hard.
"I'm so afraid…" Zarbon whispered.
"Me too," she said. But in the stark terror behind his eyes, she saw that she wasn't as afraid as she should be, that she couldn't be that terrified, simply because she could not imagine how badly things could go for them if the worst happened. Zarbon could.
She gazed at the glimmering earrings and brow pendant he wore, flickering off the dim light of her console. "I've never seen you wear those before."
He smiled wanly. "They are…sort of my family coat of arms. I took them off when we escaped Imsul the first time. I swore I'd not wear them again until this day. I will wear them in victory…or as I go to join my ancestors."
A tiny beep chirped on her console, the sound of a probe alarm, and they both nearly screamed. "We're being scanned," she said after a brief inspection of the readout. "This is where we find out of Frieza's techs are up to date on my latest camo-shields." Tense minutes crawled by, then…"They've locked onto us with a simple binary command code." She was afraid to sigh, afraid to jinx their luck. "They're taking remote command of the mech and are landing us. I hope." They made a lazy, almost slow motion descent to the planet's surface, blind now, because the remote piloted mech would need no sensors to guide it. If the Tsiru-jin techs detected so much as a blip inside the Saiyamech now, they would suspect something fishy. She checked her wrist chronometer. 3.45 hours since they had taken Vegita. Nearly two hours since the Supermech carrying him would have arrived. She stamped lightly on the metal plating beneath their feet.
"Nappa, can you hear me?"
"I hear you," came the muffled reply.
"We're going to be landing in a moment or two."
A snort was the only reply she received. A moment later, the big Saiyan spoke, almost hesitantly. "Woman…you studied the plans for the construction of the Supermech. How long do we have to get to him, before---before he is beyond saving?"
She bit her lip. "I don't know. Our captured blueprints say that the Supermech must be custom built for each subject. Initially, that took them an entire day. But they may have improved on the process since then. And they'll be prepping Vegita while they're building the mech, so---so---" She stopped. She couldn't say anymore without stark visualization of all the things the specs had described being done to Vegita.
"They may have altered the process so much in the last year that it's impossible to say how long," Zarbon said. "For all we know, they may have made the construction more complex, so that the process takes even longer." The mech tilted forward, and seemed to be descending slowly.
"Bulma," Zarbon said quietly, not looking at her. "Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?" She gaped at him. "You won't ever hear it from any of these Saiyans, but it's true. You are like a work of art that someone could spend a lifetime admiring, each day finding some new lovely thing that he'd missed the day before." He turned to her, his golden eyes gleaming in the dark like a cat's.
"My former master has a great love of beautiful things. In particular, those who are the last of their kind. And he finds…spirit and defiance in his possessions a kind of aphrodisiac. If we are captured, I will do my best to kill you, love. I will not see you fall into his hands alive."
A disdainful grunt from below. "And if he hesitates out of weakness, be sure that I will not. These filthy lizards shall have nothing that belongs to my Prince. The mud on his boots is too good for them." A low, growling chuckle. "Though you are little better, woman."
"Thanks a lot, Nappa," Bulma said sourly. "Let's just make sure it doesn’t come to that."
They touched down with a harsh jolt, the mech's great feet clanging against answering metal. Then nothing. Nothing for twenty long eternities that they had once called minutes.
"Mmmm." A chilly tenor voice spoke without warning. It sounded as though it was directly on the other side of the chest plate. "An errant prodigal from Imsul…The scan says it comes bearing a gift." Soft titters from other voices, all around them.
"Hayull-sama will not thank us for an interruption, I think," a second voice mused.
"That is the first truth you have spoken this day, wicked one," the first man said in a soft, lisping sneer. "So then…" The light thump of a tail being drummed on the floor in thought. "This little mech will keep the monkey inside anesthetized indefinitely. We shall let it sit, then, until Hayull-sama had wrought his masterpiece for our beloved Holy Lord. Attend me, slothful wretches." The first voice seemed to be moving away. "We will find other work until then." The dull sound of a heavy metal door dropping shut. Then silence.
She loosened her death grip on Zarbon's hand in the pitch-black hollow of the mech's chest, then ignited her laser cutter, opening a hole in the chest plate. Another grinding, tense eon as they jumped out and cut Nappa free as well. The big Saiyan's face was as pale as curdled milk, but he nodded curtly as she silently adjusted the camo shield on both men. "This masks us from the visible spectrum and cloaks your Ki signatures as well. If we get into trouble, you'll have to take them out with your fists or my weapons. Don't use your power, or they'll be on us in seconds."
She checked the sensor scan on her mini-comp, shivering inside her thermal bodysuit. "Idiots!" She muttered, feeling a wild surge of hope as she spoke the word. "Every piece of their detection network within the range of my scan is configured to sense alien energy levels. They're so fucking arrogant they have nothing but a rudimentary security system for sniffing out technology!"
"What the hell does that mean?" Nappa grunted.
"It means we've got a damn good chance of getting to Vegita unnoticed." She glanced up at Zarbon. "Any idea where we are?"
"There's only one place we could be," Zarbon said. "Several millennia ago, Hayull got a dispensation from Frieza's father to do gene therapy experiments on Tsiru-jin children to make them stronger. It worked, but the children, the entire generation of Tsiru-jin children, were also psychotic to greater and lesser degrees."
Zarbon nodded. "This is that same specialized medical facility. It was also where Hayull did the first of his experiments with Saiyamech prototypes, before he moved his shop to Imsul for mass production. I---I know the layout fairly well." Bulma didn't ask him how he knew. She didn't want to know.
Nappa hissed suddenly, and raised a hesitant finger, pointing. "There! Vegita-ouji…I just sensed him, just for a second. I think he is just barely conscious, but he's close! Very close! Gods, woman…we may actually pull this off!" He shut his mouth grimly then, trying to fight down premature hope.
"They would have set up shop in the O.R. wing," Zarbon said quietly. "Follow me."
They encountered several groups of Tsiru-jin as Zarbon led the way through the frost-covered corridors, holding their breath as the pale creatures passed them, unobserved, knowing that their breath hanging chilled in the air before them would give them away if they exhaled. At one point, Bulma closed her eyes, praying to every god in creation, as a tech paused just beside where she was pressed against a wall, red lips pursed curiously. She suddenly realized the man could feel her body heat, which must feel like a pocket of blazing hot air to the Tsiru-jin's chill sensibilities. Then the Tsiru-jin seemed to shrug, and moved on. Zarbon stopped them at a huge set of vault doors.
"This is the O.R.," he whispered. "Where Hayull did the first of his experiments years ago. From here on, we're just going to have to look. He could be anywhere."
"Nappa, can you get any sense of him at all?" She asked.
The giant's thick brows drew together in concentration for a moment or two. He suddenly flinched, gasping. "Gods…"
"I felt that too." Zarbon had his head cocked to one side in a listening pose. "Something's not right…" The blue man trailed off sickly.
"His Ki is…wrong," Nappa almost groaned.
"He's drugged!" She snapped, feeling her breath beginning to catch in her throat. "He---we don't know anything for sure!" The hysteria gathering inside her was cut mercifully short by a low hum of the giant shield doors swinging slowly open. Another Tsiru-jin mech emerged and passed them by without a glance.
They crept into the surgery wing before the lumbering doors swung shut again. Still no tech security anywhere, the readouts on her sniffer scan said. The conceit that their monolithic fighting powers would protect them from anything was still working in their favor.
There were tables everywhere, surgical beds with straps and shackles, white linen and metal stained red with Saiyan blood. They were all mercifully empty. She moved through the room, behind Nappa's broad back, not looking to either side as they passed through the surgery that was the size of an athletic stadium.
She tried not to think of anything at all as they followed the unerring radar of Nappa's sense of Vegita's presence, through the empty, echoing room of white and red, and into---
Zarbon shot forward, nearly flattening her, to clamp a hand over the bigger man's mouth before Nappa could release the roar of rage he had been drawing breath to utter. "Don't do it, you stupid monkey!" He hissed. "Lower your Ki! Lower it, or we're all dead!"
They stood on the threshold of another sector. Inside the huge chamber, from the floor to the domed ceiling, Tsiru-jin techs darted up and down, swarming in a flurry of efficiency over the titanic shell of a dull sliver mech. Bulma nearly sagged to the floor in relief when she saw that the heart plate was empty of any occupant. For the moment. The three of them stood, watching in forzen fear as several white heads glanced in their direction, slitted eyes narrowed suspiciously. A shrill voice trilled out like a whip-crack, and the Tsiru-jin techs cringed, lisping sly apologies, half groveling, half-flirtatious, to their foreman, before resuming their work.
They passed through, silent and unseen, into another icy maze of ivory passageways, stopping at one last shield door.
"He is inside," Nappa rumbled softly.
"Zarbon…" Bulma's stared down at her hands as they charged the clips in her Ki guns. How could they be so steady? "Is Frieza close? Can you sense him?"
"He's above," Zarbon breathed. "In the White Hall, sitting on his throne of bone and ice…I can feel him…"
She gripped his hand. "He's not here." She gazed up at both men, eyes burning with fear and hope. Then she shoved a Ki-pistol in each of their hands. Two for herself. One in her hand, one tucked in the top of her boot. "If Vegita's drugged out of his mind, he won't be any help to us at first, even after we cut him loose. The Ki-guns will disrupt their energy, so none of the Tsiru-jin inside will be able to scream for their precious "Holy Lord" to come help them. But we have to be quick and put them down before any of them know what's hit them. If even one of them gets out a cry for help, we're dead."
Nappa held his gun awkwardly, his big hands swallowing up the small pistol as though it were a child's toy. Zarbon hefted his gun, priming the sights, and nodded grimly.
She touched the lock switch, and the shield doors slid open silently. She began firing at everything that moved, without hesitation, without thought. Five shots in three seconds with the vicious, perfect precision of two solid years of grinding, revenge-driven drills in marksmanship. And that was it. Zarbon had taken down two others, Nappa a third. The Tsiru-jin lay strewn about the cold, sterile floor, twitching painfully. They would know in the next few minutes if they had been quick enough or not.
The eight pale bodies lay scattered around one lone surgical pallet. The pristine white of the floor beneath the table was slick with fresh blood. Nappa was there before her, ripping off straps and batting the gory tray of laser cutters and drills across the room, snarling with sick rage. She heard herself moan softly in a voice she barely recognized as her own. Vegita's unconscious body was still intact. They hadn't---hadn't---Oh gods, where is all the blood coming from?! He was bleeding from both temples, but the wounds were only hair-fine dots of blood.
"I've got one of Scopa's full med satchels," Zarbon was saying.
"We need to…"
Vegita opened his eyes, squinting, his breath coming in short, gasping little stitches. She flicked the camo-shield off, so he could see them. He was trying to move his lips, trying to frame words.
Oh Kami, where was the blood coming from!? She turned his head gently to one side…and she saw. The blood dots were not just on his temples. They had drilled tiny, needle-fine holes in each of his temples. And behind each ear, and at the base of his skull, and---and---Oh gods, everywhere…The pallet beneath his head was a pool of blood.
She choked down the scream rising in her throat, hearing Nappa's muffled growls of anguished denial dimly. A soft trilling cackle rippled up from her feet.
"Impatient little thing…" The crimson eyes, ancient and evil, crinkled in a mocking sneer. "I so hate for anyone to view my unfinished work." The Tsiru-jin's soft snickers broke off abruptly as she shove her gun under his nose.
"What did you do to him?!" She screamed. "What did you do?!"
Zarbon had given up on his attempts to pry Nappa away from where he stood hunched protectively over his Prince, his big hands trembling, his face contorted. The blue man had rifled through the contents of Scopa's med satchel, and found what he sought. She nearly sobbed as she saw the fully operational regen tank emerge from the capsulation smoke. Oh thank the gods, thank the gods for Scopa! She would never have thought to bring a tank along. She glanced back down at the smirking white thing on the floor.
"Did you lobotomize him?" She asked hollowly, her finger trembling on the trigger.
"He is still your Prince," Hayull lisped. "Though you will find him much changed. The Supermech is a delicate creation. In our first attempts, we discovered that when we burned out the centers of the monkeys' brains that contain will and thought, we unfortunately burned out the ability to power up to Super Saiyan. But when we left those centers of the subject's brain intact, as with the inestimable Vegita-ou, they still had a will of their own. The perfection of the process lay in designing a more biddable organic component. I hit upon the answer to this quandary when we mechanized a small boy, a tiny little thing, taken in a raid on Zapria-sei. Simply cauterize the subject's memory, leaving the monkey with nothing but the memories of his first two and a half to three years of life, and the Supermech will be as obedient as a tiny child. It will---" She shot the Tsiru-jin point blank, firing over and over, shrieking at the top of her lungs, sagging to the floor after the clip was out of energy. The pale limbs drummed the floor as though the doctor had grabbed a live wire, before finally subsiding into unconsciousness. She'd spent the entire power of the gun's clip, and the Tsiru-jin was still alive.
"Nappa…Bulma!" Zarbon snapped. "Dammit, we have to get him into the tank and see if it can do any good at all!"
"Even I know that those healing tanks can't undo what they've done to him," Nappa said dully.
"We have to try," Bulma said.
"Na---nap---" Vegita's voice, barely above a whisper.
"Vegita," she said softly, taking his hand. His eyes were darting back and forth, unseeing…blind. Zarbon was punching in the last of the programming sequence for the tank. Nappa shifted him gently, ready to raise him into the tank the instant it was primed. Vegita gasped again, his eyes brimming, teeth clenched in pain. Whatever sedative they had given him was wearing off.
"Hurry up, damn you!" Nappa growled at Zarbon.
Vegita turned his head in the direction of the big man's voice. "Nappa-sensei?"
"I am here, my Prince."
"I can't see…" Oh gods, his voice sounded so young, so full of fear. "…hurts." Tears welled out of his sightless eyes, trailing down either side of his face.
"You---you've been injured, Ouji-sama." Nappa's deep voice was unsteady. The big man seemed seconds away from breaking down himself.
"It's ready," Zarbon called. She knew she was doing nothing to help, but she couldn't make herself move away or let go of his hand.
"Don't tell…Ottoussama…" Vegita whispered. "Don't tell him I cried…"
"I will not tell him, my Prince." Nappa lifted the younger man's body with a hoarse, sobbing growl.
The three of them stood in blank motionless shock, as the tank slowly filled with fluid, buoying up Vegita's limp body, filtering away the red. She tore her eyes away from Vegita's face. Think, dammit! Think! You can't do anything for him if you stand here crying like a baby. She glanced down at her chronometer. Five hours since they left Imsul. The fleet would be arriving at the rim of the solar system, waiting for her signal. Telling them to attack.
Telling them Vegita was free…
"Woman…" Nappa's voice was thick, but sounded much more controlled. "When you battled me with your "Ki-cap"…At the end, you looked as though you'd set off a bomb between your ears. One of these tanks healed the wounds in your brain. You built these contraptions, you and that Madrani doctor. Will it heal him? Will he be whole?"
"I don't know," she said softly. "It depends on a lot of things. How quick we were, how badly they burned his---his---" She couldn't talk anymore.
"If they had actually removed portions of his brain, it would be hopeless," Zarbon said. "But the Tsiru-jin said they 'cauterized' selected parts instead. The tanks can heal all manner of burns. So, there is a good chance. Again, depending on how quick we were.
I programmed the tank to timeout by bio-monitor. It won't drainout until he's healed. Or until it's done all it can for him. But---" He regarded them solemnly. "Even if they've regressed him back to two or three years old, it's not hopeless. He can relearn everything he knew. It would be as though he grew up a second time. But…"
But even if they managed to spirit him away to safety by some miracle of luck, the moment was now or never. And if they received no word from Bulma in the next five hours, it was very likely Articha would command the fleet to attack anyway. One last suicide run, down the one-way path of glory, rather than a lingering death, that would end in no honor, run to ground like animals trapped in a hole. Better to die quickly, Articha had said flatly. She stood shivering before the glass pane of the tank, not glancing up at the faces of the men who towered on either side of her. Hope…it was so much more cruelly painful than despair sometimes.
Gokou stepped behind the tiny girl who stood motionless before the forward viewscreen, watching the ivory sphere of Tsiru-sei spin along the arc of its orbit, a nimbus-ringed silhouette as it passed between the cloaked Saiyan fleet and its cold sun.
"I want to have lots of kids," he said conversationally. Anyan shifted against him, leaning back into his body. Her head came to just below his collarbone.
"I will not come into my first heat for several years," she said quietly, her tail looping around his thigh.
"I want to have all those years too," he said. "With you. With all our friends, and all our family."
"Family," she murmured. "It's a new thing to our people. I was one of the first crop of brats to be raised on Vegita-sei, after the changes. It is like…a warm blanket wrapped around you on a cold night."
"I'm so scared of losing all of you," he said matter-of-factly. "Any of you."
"What will be, will be." She turned to face him. "I am neither deaf nor a fool, Kakarott. I know you will ascend this day, as Vegita-ouji did. Even if our Prince is lost to us, the prophecy still holds true. The Legendary will save us all."
"Bulma will save him." He grinned suddenly. "Frieza'll probably be really sorry if he gets in her way." He leaned down and kissed her, and she blushed like a little girl. "You know that thing we're not supposed to say? I do. All day, every day."
"You can say it to me if you want," she said softly.
He bent down and whispered the three words in her ear.
They waited, ranged just beyond the orbit of Tsiru-sei's outermost sister world. Couched on the dark side of that lonesome planet for added security, the fleet lay hidden in camouflage shielded trios. Of Freemechs and warriors, both Saiyan, Maiyosh-jin, and the hastily assembled battalions of perhaps a dozen other races, their numbers totaled a little over sixteen thousand. Bardock closed his eyes, beating back the multitude of images swelling behind the barrier he's erected in his mind. For a little while longer. Just a few hours more. The old cliché of the mad prophet was founded in purest truth, he thought distantly. Soon or late, there probably came a point for each poor bastard who bore this type of curse, where no barrier, no shield, no wall, would suffice. Because once a mortal's consciousness slipped out of true with the realm of time, once a man caught even a faint, dim glimpse of that endlessly branching Tree of time and possibility, it was as though an irreplaceable breach in the dam of that soul's perception had been created. And then it was only a matter of waiting, until the entire flood came bursting through.
"Ten hours," said the woman at his right shoulder, shining in the burnished armor that bore the crest of her house's ancient coat of arms. It was an heirloom, he knew, and should have hung in the older woman's armory with honor. But Articha seemed to know the answer to the question he would have categorically refused to answer had she asked. It was a good choice, seen in that light. Her sons were dead, slain when Vegita-sei had fallen. It was fitting that the last daughter of an old and noble line should die in the armor born by the first founder of her house.
"And you will not say 'yay' or 'nay', will you, Seer? Here in the eleventh hour, when we need your Sight the most?"
"I say only 'wait'," Bardock told her. "Do not fly into the face of death without hope."
"What kind of hope are we talking about?" Jeiyce, the Maiyosh-jin prince, late of Frieza's Ginyu terror squad, stood flanked by half a dozen red-skinned warriors. He looked easy and relaxed, more like a man at a garden social gathering than a soldier standing in the ranks of an army that was very probably hours away from an icy, bloody death. He hides it very well, Zarbon had said. But he's out of his mind. Not for long, Bardock thought, eyeing the man narrowly, thinking of the havoc he had Seen, the havoc this man would have wrought had Vegita allowed him to so much as set foot on Yardrat-sei. Win or lose, Jeiyce of Maiyosh would not live to see Tsiru-sei's sun set on this day.
"Wait for the girl's signal," Bardock said woodenly. "It will come. I can tell you nothing more. Other than that I wish you all a brave death, if it comes." He turned away from the command council, to the little cluster of warriors hovering before the bridge's prominent view screen. Toma eyed him, hard and grim, but hopeful.
"All or nothing," he told them. "Try to stay together as a squad, and guard each other's backs. It's going to be a big mess down there. And if Kakarott and I suddenly go tearing off on our own, don't follow. Just don't stop fighting, no matter how bad it seems to be going for us. Believe me when I tell you we have a chance to win."
Toma cracked his knuckles and grinned lop-sidedly. "Hai, Captain." The others murmured their agreement.
"Kakarott…" His son's gaze was sharp and fixed, brows drawn together with effort. He wondered if Kakarott could call upon the man who slept behind the child's eyes at will, or if it simply came to him in an hour of need such as this. He gripped the young man's shoulders tightly. It occurred to him that in another month, it would be seventeen years to the day since the boy's birth. I knew him two of those years… and it is far more than I deserved. There were so many words, years worth of words, that he wanted to say to his son. And no time. No time left at all.
Jula had wept like a child this morning, smiling through tears as he told her today would see an end to it. A victory or the loss of everything. Though he had told her one thing no one else knew.
Yardrat-sei would never be found, should the fleet fall. Oh, Frieza might tear the correct space coordinates out of a prisoner, and send his Saiyamechs hunting down the last of the Saiyans and their allies. But now that they knew what to look for, the Yardratsei-jin would be able to shield the world from the eyes of even the Supermechs. And any ship to arrive in the solar system would be guided by illusion and telepathic manipulation to a berth in Yardrat's sun. Every Saiyan child had been left behind when the fleet left for Imsul, and thousands of Madrani. To 'guard the base', Vegita had told them. And to leave something of their blood still living and free should we all be lost. His grandson had bid him a formal farewell, Bardock thought with a faint smile, his small back ramrod straight at attention at Jula's side, eyes still red and swollen from his goodbyes to Kakarott and Bulma, but determined not to cry in front of his grandsire. The younger brat, Bulma's son, had simply smiled up at him from where he sat on the floor beside his brother, his mother's blue eyes open and good-natured as Kakarott's. And his smile was Romayna's.
Even if everything went to hell today, they would not be found. They would live long and well, a new planet-bound warrior race with their Madrani and Maiyosh-jin mothers' ways meshing to form a new people, a new culture. And one day, they would rise again.
"Kakarott," he said again. "I won't tell you not to give up if things seem lost. I don't think you know how."
"I'm glad you're my father," the boy said simply.
"I…" In spite of everything, his throat constricted on the words…almost. "I am glad also. And very proud."
There were shouts behind them on the command deck, cries of ferocious joy as Bulma's hyper-light signal sounded the call to attack throughout the fleet, gaining strength and volume as others heard and joined in the snarling war cry. Bardock noticed his son seemed no more surprised that he was.
Every time one of the Tsiru-jin so much as twitched, Zarbon would calmly shoot them again with his Ki-gun. After the first hour, he began simply firing an energy disrupting blast at each prone figure every ten minutes. Bulma barely noticed. The controls on the tank read "in process", with no sign of timeout. The last few hours had crawled by like a short-cut detour through Hell, as they waited. As they prayed. Her chronometer read 9.5 hours since their departure from Imsul. Half an hour until the fleet gave them up for dead and made its own call. The timeout alarm beeped, and ticked over to the drainout sequence.
"What does the machine say?" Nappa didn't wait for her answer. He turned the latch and jerked the door open sharply, catching Vegita as the young man fell forward.
"It means it's done all it can for him," Bulma said. "We---dammit, we need Scopa! He would be able to tell us if it's healed him partially, or completely, or not at all!"
Vegita started back to consciousness with a gasp. There was not a mark or a bruise on him. The tank had healed the horrible wounds they had bored into his skull…but had it healed his mind?
"…cold," he whispered, shivering. His armor and boots were gone, and the top half of his battle suit was half torn off and drenched from the tank. She dug into the belt of her thermal suit for a capsule and produced a thick blanket, throwing it around him as Nappa set him gently on unsteady feet. His eyes met hers…and the last of her hope died. There was no recognition in the curious, childlike gaze he leveled at her. None at all.
"Are you an alien?" He asked softly.
"I---I'm…" She set her jaw and beat the tears down again. Do not falter, Bardock had said. Even in the face of what will seem like utter defeat… "I'm here to help you," she said finally, in the same level, gentle voice she used with Radu. Only---only Vegita was younger than Radu now. "Some bad people, enemies of Vegita-sei, have kidnapped you, but we're going to---to take you somewhere safe."
"I'm strong," Vegita said eagerly. "I can fight them."
"There are too many, Ouji-sama," Nappa said, frowning worriedly at the sudden mulish expression on Vegita's face. Without warning, he struck the younger man at the base of the neck and caught him neatly as Vegita slumped. "I remember that look he was giving me," Nappa grunted. "He was a willful, disobedient brat. He would have raised his Ki and given us away. Better to have him unconscious until we are away."
Bulma tugged the blanket more securely around Vegita as the big Saiyan lifted him in both arms. She touched his still face, fingers trembling. Maybe---maybe there was something Scopa could do. Maybe---
Nappa stood to his full height then, pulling Vegita away, glaring down at her. "He does not know you, woman," he said flatly.
It was like a knife in the stomach. She heard herself make some sort of soft noise in reaction. One of Zarbon's hand arms went around her shaking shoulders.
"You vindictive son of a bitch," he said softly. The blue warrior's golden eyes promised death to the big Saiyan if they lived through the day.
The steel rose up in her, and she shook off Zarbon's gentle embrace. "We don't have time to fight over him, Nappa," she said harshly. "We have to get out of here. We can use my camouflage shield and try to take off undetected, then---"
Something white blurred around the edge of her sight, and struck her like a bolt of solid lightening.
Voices, dim and fuzzy, pulled her back to consciousness. She was being dragged across a solid sheet of ice, inside a bank of unnatural fog that turned every pocket of light into a snow-blind glare. Cold, sweet, mocking laughter sang out, high and clear, all around her. The freezing hands that held her, released her, and she slid to a stop on her face.
"You were not watchful, sweet Hayull," one voice finally distinguished itself from the others. It sounded as though the speaker was right above her. "I would chastise you severely had you not made yourself so invaluable to my designs."
"You are gracious and kind, Holy Lord," Hayull's voice sounded both worshipful and terrified. She clawed frantically at her belt…her capsules were all gone. "The Madrani Mastertech is more clever than I imagined," Hayull went on. "Such lovely toys…"
Something gripped her by the hair and hauled her off her feet, dangling her above the floor. "This is not a Madrani." Cold breath fluttered against her cheeks, and she found herself staring into an ivory Tsiru-jin face, half-shrouded in a cybertronic faceplate. "They are not so soft and blue." Somewhere close by, she could hear Nappa's labored breath, struggling and cursing. Zarbon and Vegita were silent.
"Fight where I can see you, you slithering bastards!" The big Saiyan roared.
The sneering white giant did not take his eyes off her face. "A good point, monkey," Frieza chuckled.
There was a rush of air, a billowing wave of almost visible Ki that crackled against her skin like electrical current. The white, shrouding mist was swept away, like fog blown out to sea by a storm. They were in a great, crystalline audience hall, beautiful and exquisitely carved of ice and ivory bones. The horned head of the monster that still held her aloft in one giant hand cocked to one side curiously. He was bigger than Nappa, his towering form at odds with the light, almost androgynous voice. "Ahh…that's better. I try to accommodate my guests when I may."
Nappa was standing over Vegita's motionless body, bleeding from dozens of wounds as the white cloaked Tsiru-jin warriors who circled him darted in and out. They were pulling him down slowly, like a pack of wolves worrying at a wounded bear. Any one of them could have killed him quickly if they wished. But they were gouging him to pieces, slowly and with gleeful, cruelty.
Hayull's experiments on the children of his own race…he created an entire generation of monstrously strong psychotics. Zarbon lay on his side nearby, out cold. Nappa let out a howl as one of the White Cloaks impaled his shoulder with a hair thin bolt of Ki. The air caught fire around the combatants, then. Vegita's voice, screaming in wordless anger rose from the center of the blaze. When the whirlwind of power flickered out, the charred bodies of Frieza's warrior priests were in pieces. Vegita knelt over Nappa's shallowly rasping form, sobbing the big man's name.
"Fight them, Ouji-sama…" The older man rattled weakly. "Fight…"
Vegita launched himself at Frieza with a hoarse scream of anger and grief, and Bulma found herself unceremoniously dumped on the floor, as the Tsiru-jin reached out one huge hand and caught him by the throat.
The Ki-gun…Oh gods… She had jammed it in the top of her boot. She could feel it pressing against her ankle. Something struck her in the small of the back before she could reach for it. Cold arms locked around her from behind, pinning her to the icy floor. "Wait your turn, dearest," Hayull hissed in her ear, giggling like a mad cobra. "Do not spoil my Lord's game."
"Power up!" She screamed. "You can kill him if you use your full power, Vegita!"
"Yessss!" Frieza chuckled delightedly. "Power up, boy! Kill me if you can." He watched the young man writhe and twist in his grip, slowly closing his hand around Vegita's neck, until the Prince hung choking and half-conscious. "What to do, what to do…" The Lord of Tsiru-sei mocked softly.
"'m not scared of you…" Vegita gasped out.
"Oh, yes you are," Frieza snickered. "I can smell it. I am fear itself, child. And it will be my great pleasure to show you all of my faces." He threw back his head and trilled with laughter as tears of fright and pain began streaming down the young man's face. "Oh Hayull, you have outdone yourself here. This is a winning alternative to mechanization! Perhaps I'll have you turn all my more annoying enemies into whimpering children from now on." The white tail whipped around and swatted Vegita's ribs with a sickening crack.
Bulma stopped struggling, trying to work one hand down to her boot. A series of booming blasts shook the White Hall to its foundations, and the monster raised his head. "Dear me, more company. We sent you encoded message to the Saiyan fleet, little Prince. Not that any of that will mean a thing to you now. Hmm…Let's make the fun last, shall we? Hayull?"
"Send…oh, twenty thousand mechanoids to meet our brave crusaders."
The doctor wrapped has tail around her, dragging her behind him negligently as he moved to take his hand held control console from the steps of the dais that supported Frieza's glittering throne.
She thrashed, and he tightened his tail a bit too much. She cried out weakly. She saw the Tsiru-jin eyes glint as he commanded his creations to launch, to attack the Saiyans fleet And she felt his attention shift from her. She raised her leg slowly, gazing over at the giant figure of the Lord of Tsiru-sei. Frieza was speaking softly to Vegita, drinking in the fear as the Saiyan tried desperately to escape, as his angry growls shifted to the terrified sobs of a tiny boy. Her hand locked around the Ki-gun. She whipped it free and shot the doctor in the small of the back. Then she jumped on him, and rammed the barrel in the Tsiru-jin's ear, firing again. Hayull's body began to spasm as the shot ricocheted inside his head.
"You won't bounce back from that, you fucker!" She rasped.
She reached for the control console, tearing her capsule belt off the Tsiru-jin's waist. Frieza's head, white and gleaming polished metal, snapped around, and she saw her death in those blood-colored eyes. But in the same instant, a blue streak launched itself at the Lord of Tsiru-sei, and tore Vegita from his grasp.
The Saiyamechs rose up to meet them like a tidal swell of silver and gray. They fought, tearing through defenders with a mad fury and joy that five years of war had never given sufficient outlet.
This was Tsiru-sei, the motherworld of all their losses and nightmares, and today would settle all accounts. Or forfeit them forever. Gokou lost all hold on time as he moved through the burning press of the battle in a red fury of power and speed, tearing down the numbers of the enemy in huge bursts of Ki that scattered dozens of the metal monsters to scrap in an instant. After the first few clashes of both armies' leading waves, there were few places left to level a Kamehameha that wouldn't also burn allies as well as the enemy. He whipped back and forth, reacting without thought, riding a wave of power that seemed to be surging ever upward, where it would have been foundering in exhaustion only months ago after spending so much energy. He caught a spark of fear and anger, a flash of Anyan's face, teeth bared in defiance, and tore back to where his father and their squad fought back to back inside a circle of humming Saiyanmechs. He struck again, without thinking, a series of short bursts that left the silver-gray things surrounding the others so many bits of burning shrapnel. And he was away again, with a brief, grim smile at their wondering faces. He was skirting the miles of length of the battlefield's airspace in an instant, blowing away---how many Saiyamech's he couldn't say. Hundreds? Thousands? It didn't matter. The exact numbers meant nothing to him. He knew the force they were battling tooth and nail to simply hold their own was only a tiny portion of the Saiyamechs Frieza could have launched. He was playing with them. And where was Vegita? Something, he sensed, had gone horribly, horribly wrong. He pushed a score of rising mechs down with a standing wall of Ki, imbedding them in the frozen, snowy earth below and sending them crashing into the White City itself. As they struck, they flickered brilliant orange, setting the city ablaze. He froze, staring down at his father's rapidly descending form. Bardock was tearing toward the center of the White City, the edges of his Ki were shot through with desperation. Toussan? He must have Seen something terrible happening below...or about to happen. Gokou sped after him.
Zarbon sank to his knees as Frieza's fist slammed into his stomach. He doubled over, gasping for air, not daring to think of Bulma or what she was doing. Not daring to even glance in her direction. He had started awake a moment ago, had been a heartbeat from fulfilling his promise to her. A breath from putting a bolt of power through her heart, a quick, painless death.
Don't do it! Bardock's mental voice rang out in his mind. In the next instant, the Chikyuu girl had killed Hayull with her little gun. Frieza turned on her with a hiss of rage. Keep his attention off her! Bardock cried. Just for a couple of minutes. Do whatever it takes! The Saiyan's voice was clearer now, drawing nearer. Zarbon fell forward, and lay his forehead on the Lord of Tsiru-sei's feet, sobbing. "My Lord...my sweet Lord," he gasped. "Let me die by your hand...only yours!"
And the monster paused, regarding him quizzically. Frieza knelt to stroke the frost-covered locks of his emerald hair, smiling affectionately down at him as Zarbon cringed under that cold caress. As he always had. All his life. "I would offer you no less, my beauty." Zarbon shuddered, pressing his lips against the Tsiru-jin's feet. "Did you truly believe you could ever be free of me, Zarbon-chan?" The monster mocked him gently. A thunderous shriek of metal and machine came howling out of the sky. Frieza raised his horned head, eyes wide. "What---?!"
Thousands upon thousands of rattling crashes shook the Palace, pulverizing the City and the icy tundra around it as the Saiyamechs fell to the ground. All of them. Zarbon raised his head, and smiled into the Tsiru-jin's stunned face. "I am free, old fool! And you've just been had!" The shocked look of utter incredulity on Frieza's face was worth dying for. Zarbon was still laughing when one white fist rose and clubbed him down.
It can't be this simple It can't! Bulma ripped open the pouch of her capsule belt and found the chip, the adaptive kill switch that only needed to be fed into the control console in her hands. I can feed it directly into the entire fucking network! It would take out the Supermechs as well, without having to physically attach a serial disrupter to the Supermech that would jam it's internal firewall, the firewall that kept Hayull's most powerful creations logically separate from the simple Saiyamechs. She closed her mind to the sound of Zarbon's voice, talking to Frieza, buying her time with his life. She shoved the disc into the control drive. And the code threaded through the readout, spreading instantaneously like a wildfire virus. From every direction, there came a screaming, grinding, monumental mother of all crashes, as the Saiyamechs fell out of the sky like rocks.
A sibilant, cawing screech and a painfilled sigh from Zarbon, and she raised her head from where she'd buried it under her hands as the glimmering ceiling cracked and began to pour down sharp chucks of ice and masonry.
"I would not kill you quickly for all my great empire, dearest," Frieza told Zarbon's still form. The blue warrior's chest was still rising and falling shallowly.
He moved so fast, it seemed as though the Tsiru-jin had simply teleported to where she knelt, his hissing face less than an inch from hers, the flat silver of the cybertronic half of his skull reflecting her terror back at her.
"What did you do, child?" Frieza asked gently.
"I broke our toys!" She spat. She knew that she had never been this close to death, but suddenly the fear was gone. She had never imagined this kind of rage---It was beyond despair, beyond fear, beyond all thought. All her family, all her friends, every living thing on Chikyuu and a thousand other worlds had died at this monster's command. "Every fucking one of them, you bastard!" She screamed. "The hundreds of thousands lying in the silos around your City are dead, too!"
"Dead?" The ruby eyes bored into hers. "No...deactivated, I think." He took her left hand gently in his...and simply crushed it, smashing bone and flesh to pulp as easily as she would have crumpled up a sheet o paper. "Restore them, my dear." The red lips pursed in an almost feminine bow, as she shrieked, blinded by pain and terror, and still, above everything else, blazing hate for this sneering, rabid lunatic.
"No..." She managed to rasp.
Icy, black-nailed hands on both sides of her face, forcing her to look at him, forcing her to stay conscious. He pulled her even closer, eyeball to eyeball. Oh god of gods, this is it! The mouth of Hell!
"Obey me, child," the monster said coaxingly. His tail lashed around, swatting her lightly, and another wave of agony shot through her left forearm. He's going to---to break every bone in my body, one at a time... "Obey me," Frieza repeated, a soft hiss in her ear. "I can do things to you that will make these love taps seem like a lover's fond caress." My gun...where...? The Tsiru-jin's maroon tongue snaked out, flicking the blood off her lips and face, tittering as she wretched and tried to twist away. My gun...Oh gods, it was still in her right hand!
"No!!!" She shrieked one last time, and shot him point blank between the eyes. Frieza dropped her, stumbling back, hissing angrily like a man stung by a bee. She kept on firing, screaming incoherently, not wondering why he suddenly began to laugh merrily, firing even after the energy clip was empty, just as she had done with Hayull. She began sobbing brokenly as he shook his head in amusement, like a father humoring a small, naughty child. He raised his finger, a bead of incandescent power forming on the tip.
Then, something smashed through the fractured ceiling of the White Hall and shoved her aside.
Bardock sped downward like a bolt of energy from a gun, in a straight line to his destination.
Toussan! Oneesan is...He's hurting her!
Kakarott was following hard n his heels. The boy's greater speed was closing the distance between them rapidly. And Bardock had to get there first. Don't worry! We'll get there in time, Kakarott!
He dove down at the domed center of the Ice Palace's dainty ring of ivory spires, and slammed through the ceiling of the White Hall, down like a falling meteor, to land beside the bleeding, trembling girl and thrust her from the path of the on-coming bolt of power Frieza had just released, and---
All the days of his life, babe to boy to man, flickered through the light of that approaching spear of energy. All the countless legions of murdered souls, dead my his hand, all the countless lives saved my his word if this day ended in victory. And the scales of all that he had taken and all that he had given back balanced to a feather's weight of difference. That future where all was won---still unsure, still hanging in the balance---poured in through the open door in his mind's eye like hope in a dark prison cell, and he Saw...
Jula and the boy, their son, pale-haired and copper-skinned, toddling beside her, growing healthy and strong. Kakarott and Anyan together, high in a mountain house of wood and stone, nestled on a green world he would never see, holding up a son of their own. A child of pure Saiyan ancestry, bearing a Chikyuu-jin name. Son Gohan... Through all the scattered, infinite tapestries of possible timelines, always this child, this soul, firstborn son a Kakarott, carrying inside him an unimaginable, bottomless well of strength...The strength to save the entire universe when the day of his destiny came. Radu, a man grown tall and long-boned like his father, like his grandmother, a soldier and statesman and merchant prince, the right arm of the new empire. And Kakarott again, holding the boy Jula carried inside her, speaking to him in a soft voice, telling the child Bardock of their father, of how he had fought bravely and died well...and in doing so, bought a chance to win all their lives. And last of all, at the end of all things, his son's voice, softer still. "He was a good father...and I loved him."
It was enough.
The bolt seared through his chest and burned his heart to ash, as he took the death that would have been Bulma's for his own.
Gokou hurled himself through the ceiling after his father. He saw the bolt fly, saw it strike, caught Bardock's body as it fell with a lifeless finality that no amount of denial could strip away. He could hear himself screaming his father's name. All an instant too late. Bulma was crying, trying to crawl to where Gokou now knelt holding his father in his arms. He knew she was hurt badly, could feel Zarbon's pain, even through the layers of unconsciousness his friend was buried under. Vegita was...Vegita was crying too, injured too, though not as bad as Bulma, huddled over Nappa's bleeding body. He knew he should move, knew he should help them, but he couldn't seem to budge. Toussan...not you! Not you too! His father couldn't hear him. Bardock's body was an empty house, without movement, without life, growing cold already...with no hope of reprieve.
"No..." Bulma was sobbing. "Bardock...not for me!"
The still face, the face he would one day wear when he grew to the full strength and years of manhood, was at peace. His father was smiling. Oh Toussan...
Several meters away, the Lord of Tsiru-sei had raised his eyes to the heavens, scanning the battle above critically. The Saiyans and their allied legions had rallied after a second or two of stunned paralysis. Now, they were attacking once more. They were striking to White City head on.
"Filthy monkeys," he hissed. "They are wrecking my beautiful City! Arise, my children!" He cried suddenly. "Arise and kill!"
A cacophony of mental cried from all around them, in the White City, from the icy, frozen plains of the endless tundra, from the razor-edged peaks of the mountains. Holy Lord! Our beautiful, beautiful Lord! We come! We come! We come! And above them, the battle began anew.
Gokou did not raise his head to look, didn't respond to Bulma's gentle, broken voice. There was only so much that could be lost, only so much grief that could be poured into your heart, flooding into all the empty places inside you where all the people you'd ever loved had once been, only so much pain to be born before the center of yourself cracked open and shattered. He could feel himself breaking.
"Stupid animal," Frieza sneered softly. "I suppose he didn't See that coming." He threw back his head and shrilled with piercing, malicious laughter at his own witticism.
Son Gokou's heart broke. It shattered into a million molten pieces, and the power and pure, blazing, righteous rage swelled in and drowned the keening grief, surging up over the threshold of monstrous power. And past the barrier of Super Saiyan. He launched himself at Frieza, burning inside a golden halo of power and fury.
Every head on the field turned, frozen in shock as the two figures rose upwards through the center of the viscous, clawing hand to hand combat. The Tsiru-jin began humming in a kind of wild ecstasy. Their Lord and god was monumentally, unnaturally powerful now, fully ten times that of the strongest of his White Cloak priests. But the weakest child of their cold race was more than a match for any three of the Madrani Freemechs, Saiyans, or Maiyosh-jin, and they had been gleefully making mince of the enemy. Now, they paused as one, staring as their god in the flesh fought the whirling, slashing yellow sun, smoking heat to his ice, lighting up the steel gray skies of midday.
"Kakarott..." Anyan breathed. She and her father hung, exhausted and bloody in the air, holding Kyouka's injured body between them. Half their squad was dead, the other half too wounded or worn down to hold on much longer. "He's done it, Toussan!" She whispered.
Throughout the wide sweep of the battle, on earth and in sky, Saiyan and Tsiru-jin alike stood paralyzed in reverent awe, watching the titanic duel in open-mouthed wonder.
"Bardock..." Bulma gently closed his eyes. Too many tears... Was it possible to use them all up, she wondered dazedly. Simply spend the full allotment of grief before your life was done, and become unable to ever weep again? The pain in her hand and arm was going numb now, the world turning fuzzy and gray. Son-Kun would kill Frieza, she thought with a distant smile. He would---
A hand shook her gently, jostling her broken bones, her smashed hand. My hand...oh Kami, there's nothing left of it... She screamed, and sagged forward into strong arms. "Vegita..."
"Please," he asked softly. "Please, can you help Nappa-sensei? I---I think he's d--d--dying."
She stared into his bruised, bleeding face, dark eyes huge and terrified, trying so hard to be brave, trying so hard no to cry.
"I'll try," she whispered. Perhaps it was true. Perhaps she'd come to that place beyond tears, where there were simply no more left to shed. He half-carried her to where the big man lay. Nappa was breathing shallowly, a pool of blood soaking the ice beneath his body. Too much blood. She cracked a med satchel pellet from her capsule belt, rummaging through it with her good hand. A giant hand closed over hers.
"Leave it, girl," Nappa weazed.
"No...no!" Vegita shook his head, laying his face down on the big man's broken chest. "Don't die...I need you!"
"You do not need me, my Prince," the other man rumbled. "Not anymore."
Through the haze of pain, through all the long list of injuries done her by this murderous, mean-spirited man, Bulma suddenly saw something she had missed. Something that she might have seen long ago, had the big Saiyan not made himself so abhorrent to her. Nappa had been Vegita's body guard since the day of his birth. He had tended his Prince in his infancy, trained him, taught him the basics of every fighting technique. The closeness with his father had come later. But first, there had been Nappa.
This dark, brutish face had been the face that Vegita had seen standing straight and watchful above his cradle. This was probably the man who had held him as Vegita took his first steps, who had taught him his first words. And this, not Bardock's warnings of Nappa's role in their future victory, was why, in spite of all the man had done, in spite of all his petty, hateful crimes, Vegita had spared his life time and time again.
"Woman..." Nappa's voice, weaker now. "Has he taken you as his mate? The truth."
"Yes," she whispered.
The big man only nodded. "Hear me...medics and scientists' mumbo-jumbo...all useless in this!" He coughed wetly. "They can cut up a man's body or brain...but the soul inside...same. If the bond is strong enough, you can pull him back."
"Pull him back?" She leaned down, trying to hear the fading words.
"All he is...the man he is...still there. I can sense it." One giant hand clutched her tunic convulsively. "Pull him back to himself!" One last deep, rattling breath. "Woman...take care...of my Prince..." And he was gone.
She wrapped her good arm around Vegita as he doubled over, as he shook apart with the tears he had been unable to shed for his father as a man. A shuddering shockwave struck the earth, bringing more of the crumbing Hall down around them. High laughter, syrupy and mocking, full of timeless, bottomless malice, rang out like a crystalline bell above them. Son-Kun... He had leapt to Super Saiyan as he held his father's lifeless body in his arms. He had done what only Vegita had managed to do, the only two in a thousand years to achieve that ascendant, towering strength that lay at the heart of Frieza's enmity for the Saiyan race. And still all that power wasn't enough. The Tsiru-jin had just hurled the young warrior to the ground with the force of a meteor slamming to earth. Frieza was going to kill him.
She turned her eyes back down, drawing back a little from Vegita, gazing into his face. Pull him back, woman... She brushed the tears from his cheeks, and kissed his mouth softly.
"I---" Something flickered in his eyes, an almost insubstantial wisp of recognition. "I know you."
"Yes!" She sobbed. "You do. Vegita, listen to me. I can show you how to get strong enough to kill the---the monster that killed Nappa. But you have to help me."
"Did---did Nappa teach you how to touch other people's minds? Do you know how to do that?"
He nodded wordlessly, and seemed to sense what she wanted without being told. She kissed him again, as she felt the gentle tendrils of his thoughts slowly begin to thread through hers.
Gokou rolled away from the spinning blade of power that would have sliced him into two neat halves, and sprang back into the sky. Frieza had shifted shape, morphing his thick-muscled, horned body into something dainty, small and whip-crack fast, radiating wave after wave of sickening, black power. So strong…
It was like a wall of mud-thick poisoned air each time the Tsiru-jin lashed out at him, each time the twisted, worm-ridden thoughts brushed his.
How sad… Nauseating, mad giggles in his head, as he was slammed again, headfirst into the frozen earth. So, this is the Saiyan messiah, their precious Legendary come to save them at last. Impressive…for a monkey. The Tsiru-jin landed another numbing blow and Gokou back-pedaled in a feint, darting back in to drive a fist into the white thing's gut. Frieza doubled over, blurring out of reach again, trilling with delighted laughter like an evil, white bird.
"You and I might have danced this dance in deadly earnest had you come to your power two years ago, sweet boy," he said aloud. "Oh, did I forget to tell you? I am three times the warrior I was, thanks, in part, to you. Hayull used his Ki enhancing surgeries and technologies to give me a bit of an upgrade after your little temper tantrum on Maiyosh Prime. All in all, losing half my face was a small price to pay for such power."
The red, slitted eyed widened with glee as Gokou darted in for another attack. And missed. And missed again. Toussan! Toussan was dead, and the blinding pain of one loss, one death too many, tore through him again. And his power leapt up again. He struck the leering, white face a blow that would have shattered the greatest mountain on the planet below them to its foundation. The Lord of Tsiru-sei spun downward, cart-wheeling wildly out of control. Then just as quickly, Frieza righted himself, and that dark, war hammer of power surged higher still, matching his. The Tsiru-jin seemed to materialize, the ivory and metal face grinning mockingly an inch before his own. Frieza struck him again, sending him careening to the ground.
Vegita put his arms around her gently, and she touched her lips to his. Her mouth was soft and sweet. Everything about her outside was soft, and all her thoughts were wrapped in a warmth of good feeling for him. She was holding him, comforting him, in her mind, as he held her carefully in his arms. It felt good to be touched like this, to have someone touch him. It helped all the incomprehensible hurt and terror of today, of seeing Nappa-sensei die…He bit his lip to keep from crying again. Nappa had been brave and strong and not even a little bit scared to die. Vegita would have to be strong, too. He couldn't cry like a stupid baby anymore. He could feel the battle above them, sense the enormous power each time the two enemies clashed against each other with a fury that shook the whole world. He had to be strong! Like Nappa-sensei, like Ottoussama! He had to fight, too, and help the soldier who was fighting the monster alone now. Fighting and slowly losing. He was the Saiyan no Ouji, and it was his duty! The soft, alien lady gasped against him as he awkwardly pushed his mind fully inside hers. And then he saw…and he felt…
His body merging with the body he now held I his arms, almost in the same way their minds were now merging, everything entertwined and blurring into a raging, sweet tidal wave of feeling that was---too much. Too grown up. Too far beyond what was less than three years of recollected life to fathom or process. He tried to recoil from it, but she was holding onto him tightly with her mind. Don't be scared, Vegita! I won't hurt you. I love you…I love you. Oh gods, your people are right! There's no way to say it enough to do justice to what it means…
A blinding flash of light, a glimpse of Ottousama's face, pale and so horrible, all stuck with wires and metal things and---It hurts! I don't want to see anymore!
Shhh…Hold onto me. It's just pictures in your mind. Like a bad dream. Bad dreams can't hurt you. But you have to look at it.
It's the only way to find the power you need to defeat Frieza. You have to look at it all.
He opened the eyes of his mind again slowly. I won't be scared, I won't be scared… And let all the pictures some back.
His father's face, hard and unsmiling, but so full of pride, as he stood in the arena of his first tournament in the center of a dozen prone bodies, all seasoned warriors who'd spent the last of their strength to try and best him. Ottoussama again, glowering down at him in contempt, as he beat Vegita for the slayings of the first hapless band of tutors. Nappa's dark, frowning visage, worried and a little forlorn looking, as he was taken from the Elite's guardianship and tutelage to begin training under his father's hand, to begin his studies, to go where the big man could not follow in any sense of the word. Growing stronger in mind, body, and spirit with each passing year, but always with the ominous shade of the Seer in the corner of his eye, always with the faint sense of dark foreboding for all the things Bardock could See on the horizon, all the things he shared only with Ottoussama. The news that had come later than the knowledge, of Vegita-sei's destruction, when Vegita and the thirty score honor guard that had followed him to Madran had fallen to their knees as they all felt the blast, as the knew in the same instant that it happened that every friend, every mate, every road and vale and home they'd ever known was gone. All gone…
Cold terror piled upon aching grief, fear that he was too young, too untried, stronger but not half the leader his father had been. That he would fail his people and lead them to their utter extinction. War and battle, hit and run skirmishes with no end in sight, no path that he could see to lead his race to any sort of victory at all. And then…
He saw her, every image, every word, every gesture in each desperate day of the last two years. He saw her smile, watched her work, brilliant and tireless, building her machines. He saw her hold her son for the first time, felt the aching, jealous sadness, wishing the boy had been his son, not Raditz', wishing he had been the first man to hold her. He saw her raging mad, screeching up at him in anger, sighing and almost weeping with passion and joy in his arms. He saw her smiling wickedly at him as she drew him to their bed on the night of his father's wake and showed him all the things a man and a woman could do together. Heard her voice, soft as they lay together in the darkness, speaking aloud because she thought he was asleep. "I love you, Vegita…"
He opened his eyes, gazing into her beautiful, tear-streaked face…the sum of all his dreams and desires.
"Bulma," he said hoarsely.
"Oh gods," she sobbed. "Oh thank the gods!"
He forced his eyes away from her, raising them to the sky. "I must go," he whispered. "Frieza is killing him."
"Go," she said. "Stop him!"
He kissed her, disengaging his thoughts from hers with an almost physical wrench at the loss of everything that was her.
"I will." He flared like a golden torch and sprang into the sky.
"Too strong…" Zarbon said weakly. Bulma's pretty face bent over him and he smiled up at her sadly. "Frieza…"
"Not for both of them," she said. Her voice was quavering, the waning strength of her frail body, so at odds with the spirit it housed, was nearly spent. He tried to sit, groping for the med satchel still miraculously slung over his back. His heart twisted as he saw what was left of the hand she was holding cradled against her breast like a crushed bird. Her eyes were shadowed, her face dead pale. And she was still tinkering at Hayull's controller console with her one hand, pulling up file after file of mechanization data, her teeth clenched against the pain of her injuries.
"He's still too strong for both of them," Zarbon sighed. "I don't know how. I didn’t think a mortal being could be that strong. He's---"
"Enhanced with the same implants Hayull used on the poor bastards he turned into Supermechs," She finished. "I just found his notes. Same principals of design, same implants, and fucking hardware." She ground her teeth. "So, why didn't his enhancement implants shut off when I fed my kill switch code into their network?!"
Zarbon chuckled brokenly. "Frieza wouldn't have his cerebral nodes on the same network as the hired help…he's far too much of an elitist."
She stared at him. Then she leaned down and kissed him on the cheek with cold, trembling lips. "Zarbon-kun, you're a genius!" Her fingers began flying over the keys of the controller.
"So…the monkey prince's head was harder than we thought," Frieza cackled.
Vegita didn't check his forward motion as the Tsiru-jin spoke. He barreled headfirst into Frieza's stomach, hearing a satisfying crunch of ribs snapping.
And unbelievably, the monster laughed. "Such a sophisticated attack! Or perhaps you've only partially recovered your wits." The white figure shot forward…then he was gone!
"He's fast!" Kakarott gasped. "Vegita, look ou---!"
The Tsiru-jin's tail lashed out of nowhere, sending Vegita hurling into Kakarott with bone-breaking force. Bardock's son caught him, or tried to, as they both slammed into the eastern spire of the Ice Palace. Kakarott snarled deep in his throat, a sound so utterly furious and Saiyan, Vegita smirked.
"He's still twice as strong as both of us put together, but…" The boy grinned ferociously. "I guess if he hurts us enough, we'll probably catch up to him before long."
Vegita laughed harshly. "Let us waste no more time, then." They struck their enemy from both sides, attacking as one.
"That's it," she said unsteadily. "Here we go."
She had just decapsulated her Freemech, scuttling back as it materialized in a puff of acrid smoke.
"What are you doing, love?" Zarbon asked faintly, trying and failing to sit up.
"Never you mind," she whispered. The only drawback to this lay in how she was going to get close enough to implement a manual kill switch without getting blown up first. She tore the Ki-cap out of the Freemech shell and strapped it on her head, belting the mini-generator around her waist. She had practiced with the caps to the point where she could fly in a straight line in a windless sky. Sort of. But this would be a little different. She raised her head to the burning sky, red and gold bursts of light flickering here and there as the two Super Saiyans fought Frieza. The Hall shook again as they dodged one of the Tsiru-jin's blasts, and the column of power struck the earth. A low humming was coming from the sky, filtering down through the smashed wreck of the Hall's ceiling. Tsiru-jin and Saiyan alike were hanging motionless in the air, watching the battle. Watching and waiting. Too strong, Zarbon had said. Not for long, mother fucker! She flipped the power up gears of her Ki-cap, just high enough to get her off the ground. She launched herself into the air in a wobbly, drunken flight toward the battle above. And as Frieza tossed the two Saiyans to the ground yet again, his head turned, red eyes locking onto hers. And he smiled.
He was there in an instant, cold and frost bled arms locked around her, holding her before him as Vegita and Son-Kun came screaming upward, bloody and pale and terrified. Both their Kis, burning in her mind through the cap like twin hurricanes forged of fire, leapt higher still in the same instant that they saw her.
"Little fool…" The Tsiru-jin hissed in her ear. "I would have kept you alive and warm in my harem for many long nights of fun." A soft chuckle. "Or perhaps you knew that, and that is why you run so willingly to your death." He had let her get close, as she had known he would. Out of arrogance. Out of contempt. Out of sheer malicious joy at the prospect of tearing her to pieces before Vegita and Son-Kun's eyes. The white face regarded her with amusement as she raised her hand to touch the silvery metal of his faceplate, feeling the circuitry humming with power beneath.
She gently touched the magnetic chip in her hand to the metal, and smiled coldly into the monster's face.
"You're dead," she spat.
The manual kill switch, that could only adapt to its target with direct contact, shattered the buffer that lay between Frieza's implants and its own code. The Lord of Tsiru-sei shrieked, clutching his head. And as he did, he dropped her.
Even as he streaked upward from the crater where Frieza had just hurled him, he knew he would be too late. Then Frieza screamed, high and shrill, and let her fall. She dropped in a graceful, deadweight somersault. And fell neatly into Zarbon's arms. The blue warrior looked on the point of falling himself, but his eyes met Vegita's, hard and lucid.
She's alive! I've got her…kill him now! Don't hesitate!
Vegita didn't need to be told twice. The numbing, unnatural power that had been radiating from the Tsiru-jin was gone. Vegita bared his teeth and snarled. For my father…for my people!
Kakarott closed on the other side, echoing the words in Vegita's mind aloud. "For my father, for my friends…for my whole world!"
They each took one arm and one leg. And the arrayed armies of the Tsiru-jin above the White City fell keening their own death knell as the two Super Saiyans tore the Lord of Tsiru-sei in half.
"…stop fussing over me, boy," Zarbon voice, irritable but soft.
"I'm thirty-four years old, you know," Scopa said mildly.
"Huh…a venerable sage."
"If you don't hold still, I may decide I need to shave half your head to tend this scalp wound," Scopa replied blandly.
Bulma opened her eyes to see Vegita gazing down at her steadily. They were in the medbay of one Saiyan troop carriers.
"Scopa saved your hand," Vegita told her as she held up the bandage-swathed cast gingerly.
"I had to replace the bones with acro-alloy," Scopa said absently, as though it were nothing. He moved to run a med scanner up and down her body, nodding after a moment. "It'll have to heal naturally, but we popped the rest of you into a tank. You should be well enough to leave medbay." He cocked an eye at Vegita. "Keep her off her feet for the next twelve hours if you can, Ouji-sama." He sounded doubtful of the Prince's chances in that undertaking. "And don't punch anyone with that hand when it's healed unless you want to break their jaw." He turned back to the blue-skinned problem patient on the pallet beside her.
She glanced around at the full medbay. Zarbon and all these other warriors were waiting their turn in one of the regen tanks, waiting for the deathly injured to be healed first. Had she been that badly hurt? Probably so.
"It is over," Vegita said softly, as though he didn't really believe the words.
"Show me," she said.
He lifted her weak, trembly body from the pallet and carried her to the open bad hatch, looking out on the wreck of Tsiru-sei. Every now and then, a plume of fire would flicker in a distant explosion.
"They are blowing up the last of the Saiyamechs," Vegita murmured. "The Tsiru-jin…they slew themselves to the man when their Lord fell."
"Who…who is dead?"
"Most of the Maiyosh-jin, including their prince," he said solemnly. "They had more heart and wish for revenge than skill as warriors. A full half of the Freemech fleet." He paused. "Kakarott, Toma, Anyan, Kyouka, Cabaj, and Shiva are all that remain of Bardock's folk. There are now…three hundred and eighty-nine adult Saiyans left alive in all the galaxy. Articha is slain. And Turna took her body north to the ice to build her pyre.
They were moonbound, and one cannot live without the other. We will not see him again."
She lay her head against his chest, silent tears streaming down her face. "Vegita…are you---are you okay?"
He kissed her cheeks, her eyelids, her mouth, with the salt of her tears on his lips. "I do not remember what they did to me. I think that is lost forever, and probably for the best. But everything else…yes. Scopa gave some convoluted medical explanation of how the tank healed me, but my brain cells were slower to regenerate fully. But I know I would have been lost forever in that second childhood had you not brought me back." He stared at her silently for the longest time, as though he were trying to memorize every detail of her face. "We will leave this world in a few hours. The Madrani had elected, for the most part, to come with the Saiyan fleet when we leave Yardrat. I remember that I pledged you an oath on the night your son was born."
"You said, 'When Frieza lies dead and Tsiru-sei is in ashes,' " she whispered.
"I give you now the choice I offered you on that day," he said softly.
"To leave or stay?" She touched his face. "Oh gods, Vegita…Do you honestly think I'd leave you? Now?"
He shook his head. "No. But it is not true freedom unless you may leave if you will."
"I choose to stay," she said. She kissed him, feeling the tiny wisp of the link, a distant song of the love he felt for her, course through her. "Now…forever."
He bore her back through the ship, to his cabin, the one chamber outside of medbay on the stripped down, utilitarian carrier with an actual bed, laying her down gently. Her eyes were already drooping shut.
She woke once, hours later, to find him lying awake beside her, arms encircling her, stroking her hair. "Sleep, woman," he murmured against her hair. She turned in his arms, feeling his body warm and naked against hers, and kissed him softly, already sinking back down into good dreams.
When she woke again, she knew they must have landed on Yardrat-sei. She could feel the subtle difference in the change from artificial and ambient gravity. She was alone in the cabin, as she rose, still unsteady and weak, and bathed, changing into clean clothes, feeling rested, feeling relaxed for the first time in…in longer than she could remember. Vegita returned to find her pinning up her hair before the little bathroom mirror, stepping behind her, kissing her shoulder lightly.
"There is still one last oath I must fulfill," he told her softly. "Come."
He led her out through the ship, and down the ramp of the carrier, pausing briefly as she gasped. They were all here. Every member of his race, the warriors born on Vegita-sei, their children born on Madran and Yardrat-sei. The Madrani were assemble, one and all, and the Maiyosh-jin women, her friends. She moved down the ramp, following him, into the midst of his people. The last survivors of a race of conquering destroyers…now, the saviors of the galaxy. Could they hold onto that deed and keep it untarnished with the blood of innocents, unsullied with the enslavement of other peoples? She saw that nearly all the faces were young. She wondered if, like Nappa, many of the older Saiyan warriors had sought their own deaths today rather than live in the new empire they had known would rise in the wake of a victory. Because they were simply too old to change. Change or die, Bardock had said.
They were all silent and grim-faced, these young survivors of their race, towering above her on every side. She stood a little straighter in the sudden unnerving silence. Son-Kun stood nearby, beside Anyan, Toma, Kyouka, and Zarbon. Scopa was with them, Rubi holding her new son, Radu holding Jula's hand, the Maiyosh-jin woman's face sad, but content as she held Karot-chan in her arms.
"I am king without throne or kingdom." Vegita's voice was low, but it seemed to carry to every ear. "And the world of our fathers is in ashes. But I will forge all three anew. All who gave their blood and strength to the victory will have a voice in my realm if they chose to dwell there. I will build my new House on a touchstone of strength, as a Saiyan warrior should. On strength of heart, and of fighting spirit, and of mind and will unrivaled. Witness and give homage, on pain of your lives!" Vegita turned her gently to face him, the edges of his thoughts brushing hers. Then he pushed back her hair on one side and drew her to him. She gasped, her good hand clutching convulsively, as he drove his teeth into her shoulder, piercing through the healed scar he had given her months ago, reaffirmation and sweet renewal of the invisible tie that bound them, sealed them, wed them, each to the other.
"I witness and pay homage," Son-Kun said solemnly. He knelt, smiling up at her, the flickers of deep sadness still evident behind his eyes. The sadder, wiser eyes that no longer belonged to the sweet boy he had been, but the good man he had become.
All around her, to the man, they were kneeling and repeating the formal phrase, Saiyan and Madrani and Maiyosh-jin. She turned and met Vegita's eyes, her eyes shining with unshed tears, for all they had loved and lost, for all the good years ahead of them, for the love she had felt when her mind and soul had been threaded through his, so deep and immeasurable it was heart-breaking.
"All my promises fulfilled, Bulma." Then he smiled, a real, full smile. It was something she had never seen him do once in the two years she had known him. Queen and wife and beloved, he added silently. And she smiled as well. She would save the tears, both of happiness and mourning, for later.
* * * * *