Disclaimer: Do, re, mi, fa, I don't own DBZ, ti, la, so, fa, please don't sue.

Notes: No, I haven't abandoned this story or writing in general, just took a long break and stopped answering my messages. Standard warnings apply for swearing, violence and all that evil bad stuff your parents always warned you about. Also brief references to sex and assault so avert your eyes at the naughty bits. Flashback sequences will be written using the standard font style employed in previous chapters and stories. Any Saiya-go words used in this or any other chapter of this story can be found at http://www.ceantar.org/Dicts/search.html. If you have any questions or comments, you can reply at toshiba@vegetafreak.zzn.com. There was some confusing with my email account but now that it has been taken care of, Iím using my old one.

A final note must be given to say that this story was inspired by the novel, 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' by Madame Orczy and like the disclaimer at the top, I claim no ownership of this story, just inspiration.

 

Chapter 3

 

Vegetasei's sun was already high in the sky when Bulma tossed off the veil of sleep, awaking with a loud gasp and a rapidly beating heart. Raising an unsteady hand, she wiped the sweat from her brow as she forced herself to calm down. It was a dream, she kept reminding herself, just a dream.

Sneaking a peek at herself in the large vanity mirror, she hardly recognised the pale haunted creature that stared back at her. For a moment she was caught in an old memory from years ago when she first had that nightmare, on her first night as a Cold technical slave. Kami, she could still smell the stench of fear, death, burnt flesh, and faeces in the air, the screams echoing in her ears as they had every night for those first months she spent on that ship. Trapped in the past, only the feeling of the finely woven sheets beneath her brought her back to the here and now. Why, she bemoaned, would she start having this dream again after all these years? A glance down at her dresser gave her a sharp reminder. Lying on top of engineering reports and requisition forms, her eyes caught sight of the crumpled note marked with the bold, familiar script.

"Yamcha," she whispered softly, remembering Zarbon's warning last night. At least that explained why she was dreaming about the pit again, and why Yamcha was being whipped and flayed to death in place of her ... . It had been years since she had given thought to the events of that day, but in less than a day the memories had assaulted her twice.

The gods of fate must be truly laughing at her, or maybe the powers of poetic justice. She was now reaping the consequences of the poor choices she had sown. Her loyalties, both current and former, were horribly divided, leaving her with nowhere to turn and no one to trust. Since she was a little girl, she had always enjoyed complex problems and thrived on finding their solutions. Now, with the countless pitfalls and dangers that confronted her, her head ached with the possibilities.

Slipping out from under the covers, she gave a long stretch and walked toward her vanity and the note. This truly was some sick joke, or maybe her last chance at salvation, to rescue the man that gave her so much.

Reading over the words again, her fist tightened around the accursed piece of paper. It was times like these that she wished she had powers like the Saiyajins and could incinerate the paper with nothing more than the power of her own will. That was not her destiny though; her power was brain, not brawn. All problems had solutions, she said, repeating her father's old idiom. One needed only logic and determination to find it. With the safety of one of her oldest friend and her home planet on the line, she had the spirit. As for logic, she would have to rely on Descartes and her own abilities to see her plan through.

A glance at the clock by her bedside table jarred her from one crisis to another, her servitude to the Saiyajins. Normally she was up and working away in her lab by seven. She could only imagine the punishment for such tardiness. Rushing to her closet, she started organising her various duties and obligations into her schedule.

Searching through the multi coloured racks of clothes, she tossed various outfits onto her bed in anticipation of the coming day. Marska had mentioned something about a tour of the engineering department and then there was the salon with the various delegates. It was bad enough she had the fate of her home planet now on her shoulders, added to the deadlines closing in on her and budget cuts to worry about, but those annoying apes expected her to baby-sit their guests for them as well. Just the thought of spending more time in the same room as that blue-haired twit made Bulma grit her teeth in rage.

About to launch into a rage against the Saiyajins, the sudden beeping of her PDA brought her back to the problem at hand. It was already late in the day. She had a full schedule to get through and a stomach that was just starting to growl. She had missed the banquet the night before because of her meeting with Zarbon and the anxiety she felt afterward ruined her appetite for the rest of the night. For a moment she considered just going to the dinning room as she was, not caring if she embarrassed her 'mate' with appearing before the various guests in nothing but a night gown but reason brought her back. She could still remember Vegeta's anger from last night, the insults and innuendoes that he hurled at her.

" Ö rendezvous with a thing so vile and repugnant Ö you smell of him, and of alcohol Ö give yourself like a common whore." It was bad enough that Vegeta smelt Zarbon, but if any of the guests caught the Changlingís scent on her Ö she didnít want to contemplate the repercussions.

It was only after she had washed her hair three times and scrubbed off a layer of skin that Bulma could finally leave the shower. Quickly drying herself off, she tossed on a simple, yet elegant suit and went in search of food.

The stone hallway was cooler than her now sweltering bedroom and she was glad for the relief. If there was one thing that amazed her when she first arrived on Vegetasei, it was the architecture. Both functional and beautiful to the eye, the grandeur of the ancestral palace could rival the great Renaissance estates on Chikyuu. Cool in the sweltering summers and warm and dry during their winter rainy season, she had at first been amazed that the Saiyajins could build such structures. It wasn't until she was put through the royal curriculum that she learned the truth.

The royal historian, an older Saiyajin long past his fighting prime, spoke with great passion about the reclaiming of the planet from the Tsufuru-jin. The palace was claimed by the leader of the army, the first king Vegeta, as a prise for uniting the divided clans and defeating the Saiyajins' ancient enemy. Bulma almost paled when he told her the great tales, imaging the poor Chikyuu-jin like Tsufuru-jin having to fight against giant were-monkeys. The whole thing sounded more like a slaughter than a glorious victory, further proof that the winners wrote history.

At last she entered the spacious dining room in the heart of Vegeta's wing. Like the rest of the palace, it was beautiful and breathtaking, though the latter sentiment was reserved for the horrible mess of dirty dishes and decimated food trays. So the various Saiyajin dignitaries came, saw, and conquered the breakfast buffet, leaving only one young maid to deal with the aftermath.

"Hime-sama, please excuse the mess, but with the guests ... ."

"Please, please." Bulma replied, interrupting the servant girl before the Lantian could go any further. "You don't have to explain. I've seen the wave of destruction that is the Saiyajin appetite before. I trust all our illustrious guests have left for the day?" The blue-haired woman asked as she helped the young maid collect the dozens of unclean plates.

"Oh yes, Hime-sama. Cawliefe-sama took most of Ouji-sama's guests on a tour of the training facilities. He also mentioned that General Potat wished to see the engineering department afterwards and requests that you guide them." Ah, the call to duty, Bulma mused. Time to demonstrate her value to the Empire with those training toys she built for Vegeta and justify the expensive of the engineering department. Even after all she had built and the improvements she and her team had made, the stigma of machines, and the personal stigma attached to her, had not been erased. Be lucky for the gift, Hime, the Minister of Finance told her when her request for funds to start the department and a set of experiments was approved, but with strict regulations. The warning was always there, step out of line and not even her ill-gotten rank could save her.

"And did the Secretary give you any indication of when he required my services?" She inquired, though she could hardly keep the malice out of her voice. Required, she almost snorted at the word, more like demanded. If she dared disobeyed . . . she knew she wouldn't and so did the council, not with so much at stake. As hollow as her pledge was to her 'husband', it meant something to her. As meaningless as the bond of a former member of the Cold court was to the Saiyajins, her pride and honour meant a great deal to her, enough that she would never break a solemn vow. More precious was her loyal staff, many of whom had become her friends, the one silver lining in the dark cloud that was her existence on Vegetasei. The engineering department was ultimately a luxury and one that could be taken away.

"By ten thirty I believe he said, but it would depend. A challenge was issued last night between one of the elites and a ranking off-world soldier in the main arena ... ."

"And heaven forbid anything come between a Saiyajin and a good fight, like common courtesy or a busy work schedule." Bulma growled out, and her stomach replied in kind. "Versham, I don't suppose there is anything left after the feeding frenzy?" The young girl smiled at the question, as if anticipating it and the inevitable answer.

"I do believe the cook set aside a few scaglie pastries and a pot of that kohi you like so much, Hime-sama." The Lantian replied cheekily and Bulma smiled despite her earlier sour mood. The girl was truly sweet, reminding her so much of her former maid on Tsiru-sei. Once Versham had learned of her partiality towards the hot bitter drink and delicious pastries, there was always a steady supply of the two delicacies.

"Sounds wonderful," Bulma said, her smile mirroring the Lantian's. With the knowledge of a lifetime of service behind her, Versham slipped into the kitchen to fetch the food, along with the sweet hani and crema that the Hime loved with her breakfast.

Her mind drifting between her earlier problems and her breakfast, she became lost in her thoughts as she continued to stack and clear away the dishes until a set of faint footsteps behind her caught her attention. The maid was prompt as always, she mused, as she cleared away enough of the table to put a tray down.

"Just give me another moment, Versham, and I'll have this finished." Bulma said, not turning to address her visitor.

"First drinking hard liquor and now cleaning up dishes like a maid," a deep, masculine and very familiar voice replied back. "What happened to you, Love?" By some Herculean effort Bulma kept calm and composed as she turned and faced her former lover. Dressed in light armour and his usual finery, he was a sight to behold: a blue skinned Adonis. He always looked good in the mornings, giving her that devilish smirk she had seen a hundred times during their time together. She was always a sucker for that smile, giving into it and the amorous emotions behind it so many times.

"What do you want, lieutenant?" Bulma spat, her voice curt and her expression implacable even as she was filled with dread and uncertainty. Damn it, she wasn't ready, but then again, that was why he was doing this. He knew what threw her off, the sudden appearances and his seductive act were all tools to confuse and manipulate her and damn it, they were working.

"A beautiful morning, as beautiful as can be expected on this rock, I suppose." Zarbon continued on, oblivious to Bulma's scornful tone. "Just having breakfast, Love? Kohi and scaglie no doubt. I believe I'll join you, since your husband and his guests seem to be ignoring you this morning. We can chat, you and I, about your darling Ďmateí." With that, the Changling sat down in the spot she had just cleared, looking completely at ease. Stunned by this forwardness, Bulma took the seat next to him and waited. She knew what this overconfident attitude meant; he had something to tell her.

"I've already seen your husband today, though thankfully it was at a distance. Training at dawn in some kind of gravity chamber I have no doubt you helped build. It had all your earmarks. I must say, he is a very passionate fighter, is he passionate in any other areas? He would have to be to satisfy you, Love, if memory serves." The smirk seemed to grow as he spoke the words, making a subtle allusion to the strained relationship between her and Vegeta and their own past closeness as he caressed the palm of her hand. A part of her wanted to go along with his suggestion, the memory of their previous passion giving into him, even as her honour and common sense was screaming at her to resist.

The decision was taken out of her hands as Versham burst through the kitchen doors with a tray, the maid going stock-still as she beheld the handsome Changling. Pulling her hand away from Zarbon, Bulma quickly composed herself. The servants gossiped terribly and the last thing she needed was more stories of her and Zarbon circulating through the palace.

"Oh Versham, don't worry. The lieutenant was just ..."

"Staying, and I'll be sharing in your mistress' breakfast." Zarbon interrupted, daring Bulma and the servant girl to defy him. While the mask of supreme confidence had not wavered from his face, Bulma could see anger and violence in those golden eyes. Versham evidently caught that look too, and a lifetime as a servant under the rule of the unpredictable Saiyajins taught her to obey and she quickly disappeared.

"What do you want, Zarbon?"

"Can't an old friend inquire about how you are? We used to be so close, Bulma and we can be again." The Changling purred as he caressed her cheek in a loving gesture, a salacious glint glowing in his golden eyes. Forcing herself to break his enigmatic stare, her eyes landed on his neck and the set of red scratch marks that marred his smooth blue flesh.

"You don't need me, 'Love'," she replied, mocking him with her former pet name as she pointed out the marks. "It didn't take you long to find company last night, though you might want to train her to mark on places that can be covered by armour." Hoping that would at least deflate the lieutenant, she ignored him completely and began her breakfast. As she reached for her mug of kohi though, her hand brushed against Zarbon as he grabbed a second mug and joined her. Her curt dismissal was obviously not enough.

"What's the matter, Love? Jealous?" Zarbon finally replied after his first swig of the steaming, pungent liquid. "She's merely a distraction, a man needs to find them where he can since you weren't willing last night. Not regretting your decision, are you? From what I've heard around the palace, the monkey Prince spends too much time in the harem and his training rooms to give you the attention you deserve."

"What do you care at all? You didn't have any problem with me living in the Capital, the hostess and head of society in the Tsiru-jin court. Why are you so obsessed now with my relationship with Vegeta?" Bulma bit back, the memory of Vegeta's words last night and Zarbon's rehashing of her husband's infidelities stinging at her pride.

"Do not confuse the issue. We separated back then because of duty, neither you nor I wanted it to end, isn't that right, Bulma? I was just curious to know what that little snot holds over you? How he could command such loyalty, even after everything he's done to you. It's a curious thing really. You certainty couldn't be in love with him for his looks, or his brains, surely he wasn't better than me in bed, or that work bench of yours." Zarbon replied seductively, turning on the charm again full blast as his lips caressed her neck up to her ear lobe. She dearly wanted to push him away, but her arms remained at her side, unable to stop him. Damn it, he knew her too well and was intimately familiar with all her weaknesses.

She didn't want to admit it to herself or anyone else but much of what Zarbon said was true, she missed the intimate touch of a male. Facing the very real possibility of a life long, loveless, and celibate marriage, she tried to repress her more physical desires. That passionate, sexual part of herself was giving into him even as her hard-lined rational side was fighting against it.

"Tell me, Bulma," Zarbon continued with that soft, husky voice that never failed to make her knees go weak. "Which is more valuable, Vegeta, or Yamcha and Chikyuu? You don't owe the Saiyajins any loyalty. They don't even hide their hatred of you or their plots to bring you down. Even that so-called husband of yours, the little ape, neglects you, treating you like a slave at best and a parasite at worst. Join with me, Bulma, help me destroy the Saiyajins and I will give you everything you want, Chikyuu's freedom and the passion you crave." She knew what he said was right, her cursed and dishonoured status had been confirmed when Vegeta spit out her blood on the day of their joining. Ever since that day she was treated with mild civility by the servants of Vegetasei and open disgust by most of the Saiyajins. For the first two months she lived in fear of an assassination attempt, already three purists had tried and by the grace of Kami and Vegeta's strange sense of honour, they had all been stopped. With the advent of the engineering department she had slowly lessened the stigma attached to her but it would never be erased. As long as she lived, as long as Vegeta's mark was imprinted on her neck, she was the demon temptress, her dignity and honour spat upon, and her life forever in danger.

"Give in, Love," her former lover said as he kept kissing her neck. She could feel his growing smile against her skin. He knew he was wearing her down as he used every seductive charm he possessed. Zarbon's ego aside, Bulma couldn't help but consider his words, the promise he was giving to her to take on this task. It was a toss up as to which she wished for more, Chikyuu and Yamcha's freedom or her own from the Saiyajins and the constant threat to her life. With one little promise, she could secure her future, save herself, and her planet.

"You know you could be living in the lap of luxury, or better yet, in my lap." The Changling continued, but the sensual spell he held over her had faded as her whole form grew tense. She remembered those words, and who first spoke them, over seven months ago in the shadows of her dining room. She could still see that red fist rushed past her face and the look of glee and lust in Jeice's eyes. Instinctually, Bulma grabbed the closet weapon at hand, and tossed the contents of her lukewarm mug of kohi into Zarbon's startled face. The realisation of who she was aligning herself with and what such a partnership would mean caused a pit to form in her stomach. Needing to put some distance between herself and the Changling, Bulma dashed out of her chair and tried to flee. She needed air, needed to clear her thoughts, but all thoughts of retreat were halted as something grabbed at her hand and pain shot through her left arm. With another tug, Bulma collided with Zarbon's armoured chest while the hand on the small of her back kept her there.

The atmosphere of the room shifted from sexual tension to outright aggression, the Changling's expression so full of anger even Bulma trembled at the sight. The charming diplomat and playboy was replaced by the killer, the merciless warrior that rose through the ranks of Freeza's mercenary army. In her time with Zarbon, she had only seen this side of him a few times, always towards underlings and often with fatal results.

Just as quickly as she glimpsed his rage, it seemed to disappear from his face, erased by that seductive smile again. This time she didn't melt against him or fall into his trap. The damage was done, her walls were up and she was prepared to fight. Zarbon, it seemed, was also ready.

"Here I was trying to be nice, and that was the thanks I get." He growled low in his throat as he grabbed one of her free hands and bent over her. His suave charm did nothing to erase the scowl from Bulma's face, even as her stomach did flip-flops at the smell of him.

"That wasn't a very smart move, Bulma, especially when I was coming to sweeten the pot for you. I'm here to help you, Love, just like I always have. Don't tell me you're not a little curious about what tricks I have up my sleeve?" He crooned, his voice smooth and deadly as his eyes glowed with rage. His grip on her hand tightened as the hand on her back began to wander, almost caressing her. Oh, but he knew her too well, Bulma realised. Though her body refused to give into his touch, her brain was not so resolute as it burned with curiosity. Unwilling to give into him again, Bulma bit back with the great weapon she possessed, her wit.

"And what makes you think that I would be interested in anything you could offer me? How do I even know that the Colds will spare Chikyuu or Yamcha if I take on this little mission? You must think me a fool if you thought I would believe any promise from Freeza."

"And the Saiyajins are any better?" Zarbon snapped back as the urbane aura that had surrounded him earlier slipped, caused no doubt by his irritation at her obstinacy. At that Bulma had no quick reply. Her hatred of the Saiyajins was equal to her distrust of the Colds. Taking her silence as victory, Zarbon kept up his assault.

"Don't tell me you don't dream about it, dream about destroying them. Especially with what I am willing to offer you for your services."

"What? You?" Bulma sneered back, trying to gain some distance from him while maintaining her anger. Her efforts got her only a soft chuckle and a brush of his lips against her temple. His touch caused a shiver to pass through her, and he chuckled again, this one in victory.

"Has it really been that long, Love? Is sex the only thing you have on your mind? And here I was appealing to the rational, intelligent part of you, make you an offer I know you cannot refuse. You say that you cannot trust the Colds, what about me?" What, Bulma's mind snapped at his words, her suspicions peaking again. What could he be up to this time?

"Join me, Bulma, and I can give you Chikyuu. With the Saiyajins to worry about, Freeza will not bother with your Yamcha, or the Chikyuu-jin rebellion. He has often spoken about giving me gubernatorial power over the borderlands. When it comes, I will have full control over the region, make all decisions, including who would receive the reins of power on the planets. Help me, Bulma, and I could have Dodoria removed and have you set in his place. Think of it. Your precious planet, its people, all safe and under your care. You can have everything you want, and all you have to do is say yes." She didn't think it was possible, but in less than twenty-four hours she had been completely shocked not once, but twice.

Could it be true? Kami, it was everything she could have dreamed of, escape from the Saiyajins and a chance to redeem her past sins all in one sweeping proclamation. It was almost too good to be true; she realised, as her old doubts flooded her brain. Zarbon was ready to face these problems as well.

"Say yes, and I can have an Imperial proclamation swearing you in as the new sovereign of Chikyuu signed and sealed as soon as you hand over the leaders of the alliance to us. You know me, Bulma, you know my word is my bond. I only need your pledge and I can have that and an intelligence report on everything the Tanto has on the alliance in your hands by tonight." It was all too much and far too fast for her brain to work it all out. Her instincts though, were not so easily clouded and she began to draw away. She needed time and space to consider everything with a clear head, which she could not accomplish with Zarbon's arms around her.

"I ... I can't just decide the fate of the Galaxy in the space of a few seconds; I need time. I cannot and will not give you an answer now, and I insist that you let me go." She decreed, though her voice shook, sounding uncertain even in her ears. Zarbon's face took on a neutral air, betraying nothing of his thoughts at her refusal to answer him right away.

"Ahh, but this is a one time only deal, Bulma, very complicated." The Changling mused, dangling her highly coveted prise before snatching it away. "You know our old Master, he hates to be kept waiting for everything. His charity and his patience are limited, his wrath without bounds." He lightened his grip on her now as his hands started lightly stroking her back. Against her will, the tension melted from her body, no matter how she tried to hold on to her righteous anger.

"I am arguing on your behalf, pet, for the sake of your planet and Ďfriendí but he could just as easily damn them all. Help my cause, Love. Say yes and it can all be done but I need to know, and know now." His voice was like silk against her skin but this time she didnít give in. Beneath his dulcet tones she could hear a note of frustration and anger. The spell broke and Bulma tried to break free with it, pulling against the steel bands that were her former loverís arms.

"Please, let me go. I canít, I canít do it." Gripped by a sense of claustrophobia, Bulma began to struggle in vain for her freedom, smacking Zarbon in the face with her palm before ramming her knee into his inner thigh. She felt rather than her his growl of pain before she found herself pinned against the Changling, her arms pulled behind her back in a painful grip. His face, once a canvas of seductive charms was hard, cold, and cruel and she knew without question that she had pushed him too far.

"Maybe I'm just a sentimentalist, but I'm giving you one last chance, Bulma. Tell me what I want to hear, you know you want it as well." The Changling growled, unconsciously tensing his fists. Bulma winced as pain lanced through her wrists at his hard touch, his grip tight enough to leave bruises on her pale skin. He seemed to start at her expression but returned to his icy calm once again. This time his touch was more precise, and sadistic, as her nerves felt as if they were on fire.

"Just think, Bulma, this isn't even a fraction of what your precious Yamcha is going to face. You can make it all stop for him. Help me destroy them, Love. What will it be, the Saiyajins or Chikyuu?" Somehow though the haze of pain, Zarbon's ultimatum cut through her like a knife. Could she let him suffer? Her ... it almost killed her, could she survive Yamchaís torture and death, knowing that she caused it? Kami help her, she could hardly think and with the pain she felt her throat closing over as she gasped for breath.

Out of nowhere she felt a faint breeze as the air buzzed with the familiar feeling of ki. The room was then thrown into chaos, as behind her there was a crack of a fist against flesh, followed by a howl of pain and rage. Suddenly she found herself pitched forward, her legs almost buckling as she cradled her injured arm against her chest. All around her she heard curses and crashes but it was a concerned voice and a comforting hand that broke through her shell.

"Hime-sama, are you all right?" An apprehensive and completely unfamiliar male voice asked her. Turning to confirm her suspicions, Bulma could hardly believe that a Saiyajin, especially the young, handsome officer before her, had spoken those thoughtful words. Though his armour denoted him of a high rank, she couldn't place the insignia, or the face of her young, wide-eyed rescuer. She knew most of the officers and Elites to the rank of Sergeant in the royal guard and she didn't recognise this man. The whos and whats were inconsequential when it dawned on her what this young Saiyajin did to rescue her.

"Yes, thanks to you...."

"Kakarott," a gruff, older voice called out. Looking over her rescuer's shoulder, she looked over in amazement at the older, battle-scared double of the young man next to her. Like father, like son, she thought, flipping her gaze from one generation to the other. And she thought Vegeta and the King looked similar.

"Was that really necessary? It's bad enough your older brother got himself into a challenge with an elite, now you go and attack the Tsiru-sei ambassador. If he challenges you, boy, you're on your own." The older Saiyajin replied, though there was no sting in his gruff voice. When he mentioned the challenge, the younger man, this Kakarott, almost seemed to smirk in anticipation of a fight. Knowing first hand Zarbon's strength and abilities, she thought the soldier daft, but he did knock Zarbon off her. Remembering the light breeze that marked his approach, he came on them so fast that not even the Changling could tell or counter.

"I'm not worried, Tousan." The young man replied. "If he does challenge me, then he would have to say why, and have to reveal what he was doing to our Hime. Attacking a member of the royal house, that is tantamount to a death sentence, is it not, Ambassador?" Looking in the direction of the smashed dishes, Bulma found Zarbon glaring at her and the young Kakarott, his muscles tensed and ready to attack the both of them, a death sentence be damned. A quick glance at the two armoured and ready Saiyajins broke through his rage and he calmed. Straightening his hair and wiping food stains from his armour, Zarbon adopted his usual mask of superiority and prepared to retreat with as much dignity as he could muster in his dishevelled state.

"There is no need to give any undo attention to our Saiyajin no Hime. If we tell your Prince about what I was doing to the Hime, we would have to also speak of how she got into this mess in the first place." Zarbon remarked as he gave Bulma a salacious look, trying to convince the two Saiyajins that the incident had been nothing more than a lover's quarrel.

Damn it, even with his back against the wall he could destroy her. Adultery was a crime of high treason in the royal house, even the hint of it would mean her death, or worse, she shuddered, thinking of Nappa's threats the night before. If she confessed the truth, conspiring against the Empire was an even greater crime. He had her over a barrel and they both knew it.

Unable to look at the smirking, triumphant face of her former lover, Bulma shifted her gaze to her throbbing hand and prayed for this nightmare to be over. Her surrender must have been enough for Zarbon, as he began his leisurely retreat to the door.

"The Hime and I were merely reminiscing, talking about old times. You remember Tima, don't you, Bulma? What a sight it was? What a time we had, isn't that right, Love? I know you so enjoy fireworks, yours were the best. Lord Freeza was just saying the other day that he plans to show some on Chikyuu. Tell me what you think tonight at that dignitary salon. Iíll be waiting for you." With that he gave her a mocking bow to the two Saiyajins and quickly disappeared. Had he threatened her openly he could not have caused her more grief, she realised. She wanted to cry out in pain, both physically and emotionally but she didn't have the luxury as the two Saiyajin warriors stared at her, one with apprehension, the other with sympathy.

"Secretary Cawliefe and General Potat sent us to retrieve you, Hime-sama," the older soldier finally remarked, breaking the uneasy silence Zarbon left in his wake.

"The off-world council are ready for their tour of the engineering department but we can stop at the sick bay to have the medics to look at your hand." Kakarott continued, gesturing to the bruised appendage that was now cradled against her chest. How ironic, Bulma thought to herself, holding back a wave of nervous laughter, the errand she had railed at had inadvertently saved her.

Staring up at the young, kind-hearted officer that had come to her rescue, she couldn't help but smile at his sympathetic grin. They were a strange pair, father and son by their nearly identical appearance, but their personalities were very different. Although they were obviously warriors, the elder looked far harsher, the gap between them not just in age but in their belief system. Separated by the consequences of the treaty, she realised, the son lived in relative peace and Empire building compared with the father's battles for racial survival.

"I have to grab some files from my room." Bulma finally replied, noticing the impatient look on the elder warrior's face. Ducking back into the hall, Bulma bit her lip and shuddered as the weight of everything that had transpired washed over her. In front of Zarbon and the two Saiyajins she had stayed composed and business like, her pride demanding no less. In the relative privacy of the hall, she could feel her eyes fill with tears.

'I know how you so enjoy fireworks ... perhaps on Chikyuuí, they would do it too, it was a miracle Freeza and his forces hadnít destroyed Chikyuu yet. Her memory burned at the mention of Tima, shame welling up at what she did, worse, she celebrated her triumph. And now Chikyuu was faced with the same fate, her once beautiful planet, her home and everything she once loved, their fate was in her hands, in more ways than one.

She was almost to the safety of her private quarters when she let out a bellow for all that she was feeling, for the pain and frustration and sadness of it all.

"Does it hurt that much, Hime-sama?" An unexpected tenor voice behind her asked and Bulma nearly screamed in shock. Whipping around, she found her young rescuer had silently followed her. His cheerful look had faded, replaced by one concern and anger, the latter giving the man a harsh, forbidding air. It's from guilt, Bulma realised, but why? It couldn't be for her, could it? Every Saiyajin on the planet knew of her cursed status. Where was this soldier from that he did not know such a thing? He treated her with the respect and kindness afforded her title, even though there was nothing Saiyajin about her.

"My wrists hurt when I try to move it but nothing life threatening. Thank you again, Kakarott." With her words of gratitude, his anger and apprehension melted away, leaving only a nervous flushness in its place. Bulma nearly giggled at the sight of a deadly Saiyajin warrior blushing.

"I'm sorry for my Tousan, he's just a little rough around the edges, as my Kaasan likes to say. He doesn't mean anything by his sharp words. He had an old warrior's prejudice against alien species and against any member of the Cold military in particular. But don't worry, Hime-sama, he would do anything to protect the crown and the Empire. Potat-sama demands nothing less." A light bulb suddenly clicked in her brain at the name of Kakarott's superior. Potat was the leader of the off-world containment squads, a fancy new title for purging squads, and military operations along the Tsiru-jin border. A great hero during the war between the two Empires, a huge scandal broke out when he took a non-Saiyajin as his mate. When he refused to put her aside, he was given the off-world post and was considered an outcast in Saiyajin elite society. No wonder the young Saiyajin acted so warmly towards her, treating her with the respect due her position.

When they reached her door, Bulma ducked into her sanctuary before her bodyguard could follow. She couldn't and wouldn't break down in front of a Saiyajin, even one as seemingly kind as Kakarott. To do so would expose a weakness they could lord over her, or worse, one that she would be pitied for. Yes, pity would be the worse of the two evils, it was one sentiment she did not want and definitely did not deserve.

"Zarbon! Zarbon, come see. It worked like a dream." Behind her she felt two steely arms wrap around her middle as the warm hands separated, taking a part of her to play with. As excited as she was, she couldn't help but moan as he cupped her breast and began smoothing his hand up and down her thigh. He was in an amorous mood and so was she, how could she not be when her first major prototype had been such a success.

"Let's go back to my quarters, Love, and I'll give you fireworks to rival what you just saw." Her lover purred into her ear before he nipped the delicate piece of skin between his teeth. Her knees nearly buckled beneath her as she nodded her head. Kami, what this man could do to her? She could sell her soul just to stay in his arms and his bed.

"No," she whispered, her guilty conscience and treacherous body remembering that day so long ago. It was all still there too, buried inside of her: her shame, the evils she suffered and worse, committed. Kami, she would never be free of her sins.

Looking into her mirror, she was horrified to find nearly an identical image to the one she had woken too. Her whole body shook with the weight of her remembered sins and the added trials she had faced today. Refusing to show weakness in front of anyone, she calmed her nerves, quickly retouched her make-up and grabbed her PDA files.

The pain of Zarbon's attack was slowly fading, changing to a dull ache. That was the intent behind it, the sting quickly fading but the warning would remain. Slowly, she curled her fingers and turned her wrist, testing the extent of her injuries. The movement produced a few winces but nothing that would require a visit to the medic. Good thing too, she realised, the fewer people knew about her confrontation, the better, and Garu, the royal physician was too clever by half. Pulling down the sleeves of her blazer, she quickly covered up the physical evident of her encounter with Zarbon. If only emotional scars could be removed so easily.

She didn't have the time to exercise her demons now, duty called and her current overlords were not a patient lot. With many years of practice to help her, Bulma pushed the memories into the back of her mind, focussing herself on staying together. They would come back to her; they always did though it was just a matter of pushing them back again. Kami help her, she realised, if the damn were ever to break.



"Dr. Halic tells me that you refuse to work, and he has asked permission to whip you into compliance. The good doctor is a loyal, if pompous associate of mine, but I wanted to get your side of the story before I decide your fate. So tell me, slave, what is your name?" The stern but cultured voice asked from behind the turned chair. She knew when the guard took her away that Halic had finally got his way. His threats had reached the right ears and she would be punished for her insolence. She tried to be strong but she trembled all the same. She knew what the soldiers in Freeza's employ were capable of, as her last days on Chikyuu and her first months as a technical slave had aptly demonstrated.

She tried to resist them and live by the code of the rebellion, but it was so difficult. They kept her on her feet all day, hardly gave her any food and screamed at her to go faster until her fingers were raw and blistered from working with wires and with the soldering laser. Even in sleep there was no refuge. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw her father, or the shell that was left of him. Maybe they should whip her, beat her until she couldn't work, not that she would ever be let off that easily. The commander of this vessel was supposed to be a great warrior, feared by his underlings and enemies alike. Oh Kami, what if he sided with Halic, or worse, decided that a beating would be too merciful?

"I'm only going to ask you this once more, what is your name, slave?" The voice was louder now, and more insistent as the figure turned in his chair and faced her for the first time. Kami, she replied to herself, he was gorgeous.

Her red rimmed, tired eyes went wide with amazement as she openly stared at the beautiful male before her, taking in his perfect face and strong sculpted body, all covered in smooth, light blue skin. Even his eyes and hair were exotic. With his glowing golden stare and flowing green locks, he looked like he belonged on the cover of one of those romance novels her mother used to read.

The commander was obviously well aware of his appearance and her reaction to him as he gave her a heart-stopping smile. She knew she could have held her ground and plead her case but when he flashed her that smile every thought fled from her head.

Pleased with her response, he got up from his chair and started to walk towards her. Stopping right in front of her, he gently grasped her grease streaked chin and inspected her face as she had inspected his. Bulma blushed red under his dispassionate scrutiny, embarrassed by her unwashed face and dirty hair. Compared to him, she looked like a rat compared to a panther. What she wouldn't give for a shower at this very moment, and a spa visit and the contents of her old walk-in closet.

His grip on her chin loosened as he finished with her face and moved downward. Expecting his next stop to be her neck or chest, she was surprised when he took her hands in his and studied them as thoroughly as he had her face. With one long finger he traced out her palms and each of her fingers. His movements were simple but seductive and she couldn't help but gulp nervously at his touch.

"Such mutilation," he remarked, the words said more to himself than her. "A creature as delicate as you should not be worked so hard. From the looks of you it's been at least a month since you were given a good meal, or had a good night's sleep." Of all the scenarios she had prepared herself to face, kindness and consideration from this god of a male was not one of them. Shocked as much by his benevolence as his appearance, Bulma could only nod in reply. She had lost count of the number of weeks that had gone by since her last meal that did not consist of stale bread and water. As for sleep, she hadn't slept a whole night through since ... since Chikyuu.

Giving her another devastating smile for her response, he released her hand and walked back to his desk, abandoning her as he began scanning through various files on his computer. Surprised by his actions, Bulma was motionless as he took on this new task. She knew somehow that she had impressed him and that he would not order her to be whipped but she still did not trust that she was safe. Her curiosity was burning up inside of her, wondering what he was doing but she kept still and silent. Better to remain quiet and be ignored than ask questions and punished, she thought wistfully.

There was a full minute of silence before the commander finally turned back to her. Looking her over once more, he gave her another grin and flashed her a knowing look, as if he had just decided the course of her future.

"Since you came here as a condition of slavery, I doubt you have any possessions of your own."

"No, commander." She replied, her voice barely over a whisper but it earned her another smile.

"So you can speak. I thought Halic's reports of a screeching harridan were an exaggeration. You must have exhausted more than your body in that lab. From the progress reports I've been given, you have not finished a single project in the five months you have been here." His smiling, confident expression quickly dissolved with the last statement, his attitude suddenly turning grave. Kami, she knew such kindness was too good to be true in a place like this. She wondered if her fate was sealed before she was led away and the commander only showed her an iota of compassion since he knew what horrors were to befall her. She knew she should be proud of her defiance and that her punishment and her death would be for a just cause but such nobility was of little consequence to her now. Please, she prayed to every deity she had ever recalled, make this nightmare stop. She didn't want to die, not now and not like this.

"But looking at the state you are in, I'm surprised that you can stand at all, let alone work on anything. It is my decision that you take a week off. You need a lot of rest and a good deal of food as well. You look like a walking corpse." Just like that, she was delivered a last minute reprieve and a blessing that she had thought lost to her. Was he really granting her a week off her enslavement?

"What, no thank you? And here I thought we had made some progress." He remarked at her complete silence. "I was hoping you would consent to temporarily moving your quarters. There is no way anyone can relax enough to rest in the slave quarters, and you practically have to fight for every scrap of food. There is a free room in the diplomatic wing of the ship, small but with the basic necessities, and it is private. I hope that is to your satisfaction?" Fighting the overwhelming urge to pinch herself, she truly began to wonder if this was some wonderful dream. Whatever was happening, Bulma Briefs was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Small mercies were rare now, and one such as this was as precious to her as pearls. Bowing low as her parents had always taught her, she couldn't help but wonder why had she received such a reprieve.

"Thank you very much, Commander. Your generosity overwhelms me. I don't know how I could ever pay you back." His eyes took on a strange, almost elated look as she spoke. She stiffened at that look, and the old fears started to bubble up again in her stomach. She recognised that look, she had been getting it since she first began to develop into a woman, a combination of interest and barely concealed lust. In the past she had always addressed such looks with a teasing glance or a haughty snort, but this was not a contest of egos. It was a life and death situation, specifically hers. What would happen to her if he demanded sex and she said no? A part of her couldn't deny that she was attracted to him in the most basic, primal way but her guilt kept her back. It was bad enough she was working with the enemy, but to become their whore, and willingly no less. How could she live with herself?

"You are welcome, but don't think I am doing this out of the kindness of my heart. I don't agree with Halic's methods of getting the people under him to work. You can hardly stand and barely speak. You're worthless as a worker and beating you will only compound the problem. Do not believe that I, or the Cold Empire, is what is happening on Chikyuu. Dodoria and even Halic are examples of evil within the Empire, terrors that unfortunately are part of the system. I am giving you this break to help you rest and recuperate for a reason, to prove Halic wrong." Prove the chief engineer wrong? Why would he want to waste the resources on a simple slave, or even care about the concerns of gear heads? Reading the obvious confusion on her face, the commander laughed, the sound as pleasing to her senses as the rest of him.

Holding back a soft sigh, she couldn't hide the blush that bloomed in her sallow cheeks as he gripped her hand once more.

"Do not be so surprised, Chikyuu-jin rebel. There is no love loss between the good doctor and I. He was a great scientist and has served my Lord well for many years, but when he is given power, it goes to his head. You are not the first rival he wanted taken care of." Feeling as if she had just walked in on come kind of great conspiracy or mystery, Bulma's latent curiosity burned to know what sort of secrets this enigmatic man knew. Luckily, it seemed her benefactor was more than willing to talk.

"I've read much about the Chikyuu-jin rebels and their technology and from what I've gathered, you were one of the driving forces in the construction of their weapon systems. You and your father were two of the top scientists on your planet. Your genius was renowned throughout Chikyuu and the surrounding systems. I'm sure Halic has read the file on you as well; no wonder he is so nervous." The commander commented, pausing as he stared at her bruised hands. Fighting the urge to ask him more, Bulma let the commander look at her hands, carefully examining them. He abruptly shifted his attention from her hands to her eyes and she found herself locked in his hypnotic, golden stare.

"The chief engineer is past his prime, long past in fact. For the past five years at least, he has been using the talent beneath him to further his own ambitions and keep himself in Freeza's good graces. He is arrogant but still has the cunning of his younger days, and abuses his staff to keep them loyal and subservient. But you, Chikyuu-jin rebel, are not so easily intimidated, are you? I knew when I looked you in the eyes that you were made of tougher stuff than most. Even after all his crimes against you, there is still a spirit in there. It just needs the proper assistance to make it grow." He stopped once more to allow her to ponder his words, as her analytical mind kicked into gear. She hadn't dared mention it to anyone, she hardly thought of it at all, but she could see the truth in the commander's words.

Though she only had her father's lab as an example, there were hints of Halic's fear of competition, and worse, his abuse of the lower ranked engineers. Halic was a monster, an abusive, egocentric tyrant, but there were still two questions burning through her brain. Why did the commander give her this information and what could she do with it?

A part of her was wickedly amused by every put down sent Halic's way. After all the torment she had suffered, what she wouldn't give to show up the paunchy bastard, prove to everyone that she was the superior mind, and crush her enemy. The sweet taste of revenge filled her mouth as she pictured her triumph, followed quickly by the bitter taste of remorse. She was supposed to be resisting her enslavement and become a martyr to the cause but Kami help her, she was so tired. More than anything, she longed for the nice bed, good food and privacy that the commander had spoken off. It couldn't hurt to give into her needs once and take the simple kindness offered to her: could it? Against the pleas of her fatigued, hungry body, her guilt and scepticism reared its head.

"Dr. Halic is truly a monster of the worst kind, a scientist who has traded his principles for power. But, if his abuses are well documented and known, then why isn't something done about him, Commander? Such a measure is not within my power to accomplish, no matter how much I might wish it so. I can only imagine how a mere slave could ever achieve such a feat.

"I thank you again, Commander, but it is not my place to help my captors defeat their personal rivals." Bulma finally replied, her eyes boring into his and her posture straight and proud, while inwardly she cringed as the words passed her lips. What was she thinking, saying such a thing to the supreme leader of the entire ship, and her only ally no less? The principles of the rebellion were well ingrained within her, aiding her in her personal rebellion against the oppression on the ship. Against the kindness exhibited by the gorgeous warrior before her though, her position of moral superiority was slipping away. It would be much easier to hate her enemy when they didn't look and act like a guardian angel.

Waiting for the inevitable blow, either verbal or physical, resulting from her words, she was surprised when none was forthcoming. His whole manner was unaffected and completely neutral, his eyes calculating as he returned her stare.

"Are you a person of honour?" The commander asked, breaking the strained silence between them. Not sure of the origin of this question, she nodded in reply, her eyes breaking contact with his. Many of the older, hard-line Chikyuu-jin warriors questioned her honour, or lack thereof. To some of the higher ranks in the rebellion, she was nothing but a spoiled brat, using her name and connection to Yamcha to get lighter treatment. Their words had always stung her deeply. Damn it, she had suffered agonies they could not even imagine.

How much of your torment is due to them, a little blasphemous voice asked. You took this route to save them, only your bond to your parents was stronger. Yet, they did not life a finger to save her, merely leaving her to her fate as a sacrificial lamb. Better to face her death, they thought, than dishonour herself by working for the enemy. It was what guided her father to his inevitable fate, would have damned both him and her mother if she hadn't stepped in.

"Then you should not question mine, little rebel, or my motives. I thought you were intelligent, but I'm willing to blame your current lapse on exhaustion.

"Your slavery is an indentured one. Your life signed over by your own hand to work as a technical slave. If you do not work, or prove yourself useful to the Empire then your life is forfeit; it's as simple as that. I am giving you a second chance now, rebel, to choose your fate: uphold your bond or face death. I also felt it prudent to inform you of those forces working against you, namely the good doctor. He obviously sees you as a threat. That is why he sent you to me, in order to deal with you.

"This must be your lucky day, Chikyuu-jin, I'm feeling benevolent. No matter what I think of Halic, he is the chief engineer on this ship and is a high-ranking scientist in the Empire. He is beyond my powers as a mere Commander of a vessel to influence or dismiss. The abuse of a possibly valuable slave of the Empire, though, is something that I cannot allow to continue. I can give you the small mercy of a week to rest and recuperate, can also tell you whos, whats, and whys against you, but it is your decision how to use it all."

Her decision, her choice, her fate; she hadn't controlled her own fate since she signed her life away. Listening to the Commander's words, she inwardly smiled at his pathos. When he gave her that enigmatic stare and spoke with such conviction it was hard not to believe every word from his lips. Whatever his motives, he had shown her more kindness and treated her with more honour than she had encountered in a long time.

Falling silent after he finished his speech, the Commander waited for her to make her own decision on the matter. Embarrassed by her accusations, Bulma's cheeks flushed pink with her guilt.

"Forgive me, Commander, but it has been a long time since I was in the company of anyone that didn't wish me grave harm. I think I've forgotten how to function in polite society. Your offer of a week's repose was a kind gesture and I will understand if you wish to revoke it." She finally replied.

As much as the idea of apologising to any soldier for the Colds sickened her, she felt genuine regret over her earlier words. The man at the centre of this remorse gave no outward indication of his own thoughts, simply fixing her with an impassive look after she had finished her contrition. He abruptly broke the contact and turned back to his desk, his gaze now firmly fixed on the large porthole and the dark nothingness of space beyond. What followed were several minutes of silence, only the tense posture of the Commander's body giving her any indication that he remembered she was there with him.

"Guard!" The Commander yelled out, shattering the stillness so suddenly that Bulma nearly jumped a foot. Before the word was hardly out of his mouth, the green skinned saurian soldier that had dragged her to the Commander's office burst into the room, his weapon at the ready and aimed right at her.

Kami, she knew it was too good to be true. The first iota of kindness offered to her and she had to bite the hand that gave it to her. Assessing the soldier and the laser weapon he was carrying, she wondered if they would just kill her now or after they finished torturing her. Against her will, her knees began to wobble and she trembled with fear. As much as she feared death, she feared the torture more. Kami, they could make you wish for death. She didn't have long to learn her fate.

"Escort this young woman to the servants' quarters in the diplomatic wing. There are several rooms there I'm sure that will be to her liking and she may have any that she wishes." The Commander had not yet turned around, allowing him to miss the incredulous looks from both Bulma and the saurian. It seemed to take forever before the synapses in her brain finally connected and she realised at last what had happened. Relief flooded through her body and her wobbly legs collapsed beneath her as she sunk to the ground.

It was this tableaux, Bulma kneeling on the ground with both her and the guard giving their best guppy impersonation, that the Commander found when he finally turned around. With a quick command, he ordered the guard to wait outside before turning his attention back to Bulma.

"Thank you, Commander." She said as he offered her his hand and quickly pulled her to her feet.

"My name is not Commander. You may call me Zarbon." He replied, flashing her that breathtaking smile. Caught up in that smile, it was a moment before she realised he had even spoken and that he was expecting a reply.

"Thank you, Zarbon." Bulma replied again, earning herself another smile.

"You are welcome ... . Yes, that's right, you haven't given me a name." Her name, the one thing she had not given over. Known only by her planet and given slave number, she had never once given her name to any of her captors. They didn't deserve to know it, it was one thing she could keep, something of hers that they couldn't desecrate. She didn't know when the man in front of her stopped being included in her personal definition of 'them', but he did. He was different, special, and kind. Instead of commands and punishments, he charmed her with his handsome face and generous nature. Before she knew it, the smile on her face mirrored that of Zarbon's and with a loud clear voice she said ... .

"Bulma-sama, is something wrong?" Another voice suddenly asked, surprising her from her memory.

"What?" Bulma gasped, her eyes darting about the room in confusion at being torn from her dream.

"I asked you how cloaking devices for the individual pods were coming along but you didn't answer. It looked as if you had gone into a trance, or nodded off." The light voice asked once more. Her still sluggish brain put the name and face to the insistent voice, that of her no-nonsense assistant, Marska.

Stretching her cramped limbs, Bulma could only hope that there would be no more questions about this latest lapse. At least, thank Kami, the flashback didn't happen during the off-world council's tour. With her luck, they would think she was going crazy and kill her to rid the crown of the stain of mental illness.

"From the expression on your face, I thought you must have been in some kind of meditative state but Carnot swore to me he saw a bit of drool." Marska continued when she didn't immediately answer and Bulma gave a knowing smirk back at the tease. From his seat on the other side of Bulma's lab, the aforementioned Saiyajin shook his head, knowing Marska's teasing nature as well.

It was still hard to believe that the soft-spoken, intelligent young man was of the same race as Nappa or her husband. Looking over his characteristic dark, spiky mane, black eyes, and tail, it was nearly impossible for her to see the physical differences between him and the rest of the muscles bound Neanderthals that make up the Saiyajin race. It must have been there though, some difference in smell or his ki. Every Saiyajin could always tell the difference, could sense his non-Saiyajin origins, the alien component of his blood.

"You didn't answer my question, Bulma-sama. It's not like you to just start staring into space like that." Her Occhion assistant inquired again, not leaving the matter alone.

"I must confess, Carnot was right. Darn it if you two didn't interrupt my dream about Commander Nappa, and it was just getting to the good part." Bulma replied with a longing sigh, earning her a few chuckles for her effort.

"What, when you finally get to squeeze the life out of him?" Carnot said, his soft baritone voice sharp with sarcasm and both Bulma and Marska laughed at his uncharacteristic remarks. Normally so serious, it was a rare surprise when he would open up and reveal his lighter side.

"I could only hope," Bulma replied between snickers, reveling in the laughter that was too infrequent an occurrence in her life. It helped to exercise some of the linger images from that terrible flashback, but looking into her two top aides' faces, it wasn't enough to wipe away their curiosity or concern.

"Don't worry about me. I just had a hard night. The celebrations and diplomatic duties are taking a toll on me. It's all just a case of burning the candle at both ends, doing the meeting, greeting, and charming while worrying about finishing our projects are on time. All I need is for our guests to leave and give me a few days to recover." The blue haired genius finally said, including all of her typical troubles and complaints that it hardly sounded like a lie at all. The words still felt like ash in her mouth as she spoke them, knowing that her problems were far greater and more dangerous, and she feared they could see her guilt through her composed façade.

"I bet I know what guest you want gone?" Marska remarked, and Bulma tensed, fearing what her assistant would say.

Holding back a groan, the Chikyuu-jin berated herself over her stupidity last night. It was bad enough that the whole planet knew about her previous relationship with Zarbon, now the scene in the hall would add fuel to that fire. Her frank, assertive aide had never shrunk from asking her about any of the rumours that circulated about her through the palace. Could it be that Zarbon's plot and her part in it had already been discovered?

"To think that a powerful, articulate leader like Chichi Mau would ever suffer that annoying blue haired nitwit. I heard you had a run in with her during the fete last night and your encounter was as bad as mine." Sighing in relief that Marska either missed the gossip or dismissed it off hand, she smiled at the look of utter disgust on the young Occhion's pewter coloured face.

"You don't mean that you crashed the fete, Marska?" The previous silent Carnot asked, his face adopting its familiar, serious countenance again.

"You can put your fears to rest, Carnot-chan, not even I would be stupid enough to crash a party with top Elites present. They would probably use me for target practice, if the guards didn't try first. I went to see Chichi Mau-sama yesterday afternoon, to see if she is everything that they say she is. Instead I had to talk to that walking dim bulb. I swear her breasts weigh more than her brain does." Marska scowled at the memory. Bulma caught the hint of hero worship in her assistant's light voice when she spoke of the rebel ambassador.

"I didn't know you kept up with the news of the border land disputes? If it wasn't strictly Occhion in nature, it's not worth your time." Carnot remarked again, a hint of teasing in his voice. Both she and the half-breed Saiyajin were well aware of Marska's leanings.

"Please, I follow the plight of any oppressed people everywhere. How could I not admire someone like her? A single woman who is fighting for the rights of millions of people against one of the worst evils in the Galaxy? Not only that, she's winning too. I bet you nothing can keep her down. Alpega, I wish I could be like her." Marska sighed and Bulma swore she saw stars in the young Occhion's green eyes. Experience and tact taught her to stay quiet and let the girl have her own thoughts, just as long as they didn't keep her from her duties. Carnot as well remained quiet. Less zealous than Marska, her messages still struck a cord with him.

It was an emotion she appreciated and yet, she never truly understood like her two assistants. Living most of her life under an oppressive regime, she at least knew freedom in her youth. Even though slavery was abolished many years ago in the Saiyajin Empire, the people who suffered generations of slavery were still not free of the past.

"It's like Uncle Lenam says, the Occhion might be 'free', but we are still in chains. Worst of all, they are chains of our own making, constructed from an acceptance of our own oppression. We'll stay that way too, he always says, until someone comes and shakes up the status quo, frees us from our Ďservice as bondí mind-set, and breaks the chains of history and tradition." The young woman continued, as she quoted her favourite uncle with the same reverence she used for Chichi Mau.

"Speaking of the chains of tradition, how is the miai arrangements coming along?" Bulma asked, hoping to get Marska off the topic of her fellow Chikyuu-jin.

At the mention of her impending betrothal, Marska's look of pride and love for her people transformed into a sneer of anger at their contemporary culture and practices. In the months since the lovely, young alien had come into her service, Bulma learned a great deal about the Occhion people, history, culture, heroes, even their mating and courtship traditions. Centuries of living in slavery under the Saiyajins on Vegetasei, the great traditions of the Occhion died, as the culture conformed to its new home. The family tribes shifted from a dedication to ancestral gods and devotion to the land to one where the master was the patriarch. Generations of slaves served a single family to the point where the Saiyajin family's rank decided the rank of the Occhion family that served them.

"Don't ask," Marska groaned. "Poba keeps telling me that the match is good, that Miriat is a good man. It's not often that Elites would even consider a bride from a second class clan. Molo is trying to guilt me into it, saying that I owe it to them all, to wipe away my former shame." The girl then paused and Bulma blinked in surprise at the sudden blush that stained Marska's cheeks.

"As antiquated as arranged marriages are, I'm inclined to agree with your father. Whenever we needed extra funding, your bookkeeper has come through for us. And with the curse on my head, he must be going the extra mile to impress you." Bulma countered, putting in her two cents about the quiet, young man that was courting her assistant. The caste climbing, arranged marriage, courtship system used by the Occhion had originally horrified the Chikyuu-jin. No stranger to binding, joining rituals, the Hime feared for any woman that might share in her fate as a discarded and cursed wife. At least Marska knew what to expect, and had some power over the selection of her mate and her life after the wedding.

"He's certainly a determined accountant; strange, but determined. The fact that you treat him like dirt makes me think he's a glutton for punishment. What do you have against the guy anyway?" Carnot asked, a hint of amusement in his voice as he commented on the pair's unusual relationship. Trying hard not to laugh at her top engineer's perceptive, brutally honest comment, Bulma kept her attention on Marska. Normally brutally honest with her own opinions, the young woman was silent. The only indication that she heard Carnot's words at all was the puzzled look in her eyes and the hint of pink in her cheeks. Bulma's own cerulean eyes went wide in surprise. It couldn't be that her no non-sense personal secretary, a woman who railed against the Saiyajins and could tear a strip off of anyone that pissed her off, was blushing! The unguarded look was short-lived as Marska's eyes narrowed and she let out a sharp 'hmph'.

"You mean apart from the fact that he is a part of the very system that enslaves my people? I always hoped I would marry someone like my uncle Leman, a great fighter in the cause of freedom, a warrior, a scholar. Instead, I'm stuck with a ... an accountant, a pencil wielding bookkeeper. In the few times I've met him, either during official miai business or in the palace, he hardly speaks. The farthest he got last time was talking about the weather and my parents' health. Honestly, how can I really get excited about that? Miriat might be a 'nice guy', but he's not for me. He needs to find himself a nice librarian and a dotch hound to fetch his slippers." Only the need for breath and the sudden beeping of Marska's comm link stopped her tirade from growing into a full out rant against her soft-spoken fiancee.

Grabbing the small device, the Occhion read it and growled out in frustration. Whatever the news was, it did nothing to calm her rapid rising ire. For her part, Bulma felt pity for the unfortunate individual who was paging her assistant at this moment.

"Damn it, that Cucchia is the most annoying, brainless creature on this planet." The Occhion ground out.

"Even over the big breasted, pea-brained rebel ambassador? I find that very hard to believe." Carnot called out again, cracking another rare joke. It got the expected response as both women snickered at Carnot's hidden wit.

"I guess I can't argue with that one. I think Chikyuu is lucky it has Bulma-sama and Ambassador Mau to counteract that nitwit. But Cucchia is still annoying, or maybe a conniving bitch is a better word. I must have given her the menu for your salon three times and she still keeps asking me to confirm everything. That woman has never forgotten anything in her life, unless it was to make someone else look bad. Maybe she still mad that her daughter didn't get my position?" At that thought, Marska trailed off, as if another, less palatable notion came to her, one that she didn't want to repeat. Whatever the thought was, it seemed to calm her assistant, although the intense look in her eyes belied her relaxed countenance.

"Please excuse me, Bulma-sama," The Occhion remarked, bowing to her superior with a courtesy she showed few others. "But I have to rip a strip off a meddling cook."

"She's learning." Carnot remarked after Marska had left the room, still not looking up from his place at the drafting table.

"Learning what?" Bulma replied, her own eyes closed as she sipped her kohi in peace, the first iota of that fleeting sensation she had experienced all morning. Only with her two assistants did she feel such freedom, to the point where she could just close her eyes and enjoy her kohi without the fear of a verbal or physical attack.

"To hold her tongue and keep her thoughts to herself. I suppose it's inevitable when dealing with palace politics. Everyone, from the heads of the royal house to the lowliest servant, learns to be discrete. With the power and secrets running through this place, I'm surprised that Marska has lasted as long as she has." Smiling at Carnot's cloak and dagger mentality, Bulma couldn't help but agree with his assessment. She'd spent too many years in royal courts, living in the centre of a world of scandals, secrets, and conspiracies. It weakened the will and ate away at the soul, or at least it had in her case.

"Marska's too brash to learn the subtle art of guile; I don't think it's in her. Personally, I thought she did it to spare my feelings, at least she thought she was." Bulma eventually answered, though her comment was based more on hope for her assistant than anything else.

"Spare them from what?" The half-blooded Saiyajin engineer replied, his soft voice the very epitome of innocent. The ruse didn't fool Bulma one bit.

"From mentioning that her arch-nemesis at the moment, Cucchia, is a member of the servant caste that is loyal to the head of Conium clan who happens to be petition the royal council to select the chief's daughter as the next queen. How did they put it? 'The Ouji has found the current female occupy the role of royal consort so wholly unappealing to the point of revulsion. This, coupled with the undesirable, unnatural results of any breeding between the present Ouji and Hime, makes it imperative that a new consort must be chosen who embodies the image of Saiyajin perfection'." Bulma quoted the minutes of one of the last councils. Nearly every servant in the whole palace had learned of the request, knew who had made it, and what it would mean for the current Hime if the proposal was accepted.

Grumbling under her breath at the whole affair, she wondered how deep this latest attempt to oust her went. Would it reach the point where the servants of rival groups fought over the wine choice at diplomatic events? Against her earlier annoyance, she couldn't help but smile at the absurdity of it, even while her gut noted that her assessment was probably more fact than fiction.

"Hmph, as if Vegeta would be interested in a Saiyajin female. He hasn't shown any interest in any female unless she's a highly trained concubine, drugged up on aphrodisiacs and behaviour modifiers, and no possibility of producing an heir." Bulma whispered under her breath, her anger and pain washing through her, even as her pride kept her voice soft and her manner composed. The airs were unnecessary though, Carnot's Saiyajin blood bequeathing him with more than just a Saiyajin visage.

"It will fail. As long as you are alive and carrying that mark, you are the Hime. Vegeta no Ouji made you so when he bit your neck. The very honour of the Saiyajin race proclaims that the two of you are mates. He chose you, Bulma-sama."

"And cursed me as an estranged wife when he spit out my blood. He ignores me at the best of times and insults and harasses me at the worst. My Hime title is just that: a title, a word with no meaning or worth. I'm sorry, Carnot, but I honestly wish I had never come here, that I never met Vegeta. There were sometimes during that tour, I wanted to just hide in the cracks in the floor, anything to escape General Chayote's glare." Expecting the usual silence that she always received from Carnot when more personal topics of conversation came up, Bulma was surprised by the sudden sensation of warmth behind her. Looking over her shoulder, she saw the half-breed Saiyajin, all six foot four inches of him standing over her.

"I can't speak for the Ouji, or any other member of my race, but I don't think I could imagine life here without your now, Hime-chan. You are good for the Saiyajin Empire, even if it doesn't know it yet. There is nothing you can do to hide yourself either. There is something about you that shines out, even from under a covering of machine grease." Stunned by Carnot's frank speech earlier, she was caught off guard by his last statement. For a moment her mind was in another place, another time, watching another version of herself.

"Why do you keep trying to rescue me?" She asked softly, fighting against the desire to sleep and the pain of her swollen lip.

"Because you always seem to be in need of rescuing." The blue skinned Adonis purred back, his armour-covered chest vibrating and Bulma fought the sudden urge to press herself against him. Like some knight, he had swept down and saved her again.

"How could I not rescue you, especially when you were finally following my advice." He continued, one large hand cupping her now bruised cheek. Wincing at the contact, he lightened his touch and his fingers traced out her jaw and nose. His movements entranced her, taking her mind away from the danger she had just faced. If he hadn't stepped in when he did, she might have been sporting far worse than just a broken nose and black-and-blue face.

"How can I ever repay you?" She murmured fighting against her own body as it shut down to escape the pain.

"Don't worry, Bulma-chan. I'll find something."

"Bulma-sama, is everything all right?" With an audible snap, Bulma's thoughts were pulled from her former enslavement to her current one. Raising her hands unconsciously, she felt out for the bruises that were not there; only the memory remained.

"Bulma-sama?" The voice asked again, drawing Bulma's gaze towards the young man in front of her. She tensed in shame at the look of anxiety printed on Carnot's dark face. She had done it again.

"I'm sorry. I guess I was more tired than I first realised, I can hardly keep my eyes open." Bulma replied lightly, with a finesse that would put the finest stage actresses to shame, hiding the truth behind a veneer she had perfected in the Cold court. She could only hope it was enough to convince her top engineer. The nightmares and memories she had long suppressed would not be so easily silenced this time and more than anything she needed to be alone.

Her words did little to sway Carnot's concern, as his sharp, astute eyes narrowed in disbelief. She could always pull rank on him and order him to leave. As Hime and his boss, he was honour bound to obey any command she gave, but she had never done that before and to do so now would only further arouse his suspicions.

As his friend, she could appeal to his kindness and ask, or beg, him to leave her in peace, which he would refuse. Perhaps the only Saiyajin alive that cared an iota for her, he would ask her why, and try to help her in any way he could. A part of her wanted to unburden herself and tell Carnot of the danger she was in, the choice that was before her. Maybe, with her intelligent assistant, she could find a solution to the intrigue she was now embroiled in. The cold stab of reality cured her of that notion, realising what would happen if she were caught, and the punishment that would fall on anyone who helped her.

"You don't mind looking into the progress of the cloaking devices, I haven't had a chance to check myself since this whole mess started. The Imperial Council said it wanted a status report on the engineering department and from General Potat's interest, that might be one of the make or break projects. You wouldn't mind putting something together, unless you want to play hostess tonight? Tell me now and I can get my seamstress to make a gown for you, though you'd have to provide your own shoes." Hiding her own smile as she imagined her shy, giant assistant in women's clothes, she couldn't contain her mirth as Carnot blushed and quickly went back to his desk. Thankfully he was silent, his earlier suspicions gone, banished by his embarrassment.

Like all members of his race, he had great pride, though his was tempered by the harsh upbringing he had to endure as a half-breed. Silent and uneasy in crowds, her jokes stung at his dignity and played on his fears, just as she knew they would. To point fun at their weaknesses was the worst thing one could do to a Saiyajin and while she revelled in such tactics against Vegeta, she felt guilty using them on a dear friend.

He was at the threshold of the office before he finally turned around and faced her, his expression neutral but his eyes still burned with curiosity, or maybe hidden knowledge.

"I hope you know what you are doing, Hime. Exercise whatever demons are tormenting you, and I hope for your sake, you do it before tonight. I would hate to see you blank out and your eyes glaze over again in front of others." She didn't reply. She couldn't, his comment robbing her of speech. If only she could do what he recommended and let out everything, face her past and the horrible things she did but she couldn't.

Holding her in that accusing stare for a moment, Carnot finally left. Bulma felt her heart pounded in sync with his steps, her ears trained on the sound as it grew fainter and fainter. Sighing deeply, she wiped away the sheen of nervous sweat that had collected on her brow. Thank Kami, she was finally alone, alone....

She had been left alone in the sparse servant's quarters for a whole week to do as she pleased. Though she had been raised on the best things in life, her time in Hell had made her humble and thankful for every kindness passed her way and the room and the vacation were a great kindness. She had forgotten how wonderful a warm bed, a nightmare free night of rest, a full stomach, and a long bath could feel. Coupled with the belief that she was free, if only for a week, she started to feel like herself again. With little much to do during her freedom, Bulma dreamed of inventions she could build, the good she could do in the engineering department, the problem of Dr. Halic, and the man who put all of these thoughts into her head.

Some how during her alyssum, she came up with a solution that would suit both her rebel sentiments and her debt to the Commander, even if it came at the price of her own pride. Taking the only position that would satisfy both leanings, Bulma went before her nemesis and asked for basic repair detail.

His normally blue face had turned a deep purple at her request, no doubt caused by the week off the Commander had given her. With a feeling of supreme satisfaction coursing through her veins, she won her first victory over the tyrant. One, unfortunately, that was very short-lived.

Already two weeks in, she had gone to every corner of the ship, worked in every filthy crevice, working every hour of the day and night. At first her resolve had been toughened by her recovery, bolstered by her new ally, but it too was slowly whittled away.

Exhausted, sore, hungry, and short-tempered, she was just finishing up the last assignment on her shift, repairing a refrigeration unit in the officer's dining hall. The smell of cooked food teased her empty stomach, making her mood fouler. She had just tightened the last bolt, wiped the sweat and grease from her face when she glanced to her left and saw a sight that turned her blood cold. Two men were approaching her, one a lowly gopher slave, but she only had eyes for the second one, a big, beige skinned bruiser. Grabbing up her tools, she dove behind the fridge before either male could see her. The presence of Sani, Halic's second in command, could only mean one thing, the good doctor had decided to take her punishment into his own hands.

During the day, the Diphibimal supervisor, more like sadist, enjoyed beating and brutalising those deemed too slow and weak by Halic, as both punishment and an example. At night, or so the rumours in the slave quarters said, he would do much the same to the sex slaves, beating and torturing them to the point of death. There were even a few whispers about slaves that simply vanished in the middle of the night, disappeared without a trace. Whether it was true or not, the man took pleasure in causing pain. The various scars and burn marks across her back and arms were a testament to his cruelty.

Taking a glance at the malicious glint in his red eyes as he walked past her hiding place, Bulma felt her blood go cold. Kami help her when he caught her and he would, if she didn't find a place to hide. She waited until the coast was clear and began her escape. Hiding in the shadows, she slipped through the darkened store room, listening intently for a telltale footstep. Her whole body was tense with fear as every faint noise she made only increased her anxiety. Stopping right before the main hall between the kitchen and dining area, she tried to calm her pounding heart before she made her final move to escape. It would mean slipping out through the officer's dining hall, but to avoid Sani, she would risk it.

"Leaving so soon, slave 10642." Though she didn't have a mirror to confirm it, Bulma knew she must have gone stark white as she heard that raspy voice behind her. It took only a second for the shock to wear off before she abandoned all stealth and ran for the hall, hoping against logic that salvation was on the other side of those doors. Escape was only a few feet away when her hopes were dashed as a large hand grabbed hold of her hair and gave it a hard tug.

Thrown off balance by the pull from behind, her legs flew up from under her as her neck felt like it was being wrenched away from her shoulders. Before she knew what was happening, she was slammed up against the wall, the air forced out of her lungs from the violence of Sani's blow. Coughing and wheezing madly, she could only tense as one hand pawed at her breast while the other grabbed her bottom.

"Stupid slave, you didn't really think you could escape me? Halic-sama sent me to teach you a lesson, one that is long overdue. If you think you have won just because you're fucking the Commander, you have another thing coming. So he decided to give you to me for the night, if you can survive that long. Don't worry, bitch, if you please me, I might let you use a rejuvenation tank tomorrow." He smirked as he squeezed her flesh mercilessly with his webbed fingers, his nails drawing blood. Bulma gasped in agony, only to bite her lip to keep herself quiet, denying him her pain.

"That won't do at all. I want to hear you, bitch. I want to hear you scream." Lowering his head to her neck, a wave of panic flowed through Bulma and with it a surge of adrenaline and an intense hatred of the man in front of her. Thinking only of causing her attacker as much pain as possible, Bulma struck back with everything she had, as she lower her head and bit into his neck as hard as she could. Thick, salty blood trickled into her mouth, and still she held on, her teeth ripping through the flesh of his neck. Her ears pounded with the sound of his screams, the hoarse cries only spurring her on, fuelling her hatred and anger.

So intent was her grip, she barely felt the shifting of Sani's hands from her body to her head until, with one hard yank, her pulled her off of him and tossed her like a rag doll. Her head slammed into the thick metal wall and the world faded into black.

The peace of unconsciousness only lasted a moment before Bulma was smacked back to the here and now by Sani. She hadn't collected her wits before he smacked her across the face again and again until she felt her nose break under the stress. Sani didn't seem to revel in her pain though, his eyes burned with rage, his only concern was to pound the life out of her.

Unable to scream, or even draw a breath, Bulma floated on the edge of oblivion, hoping for an end to the pain. Preparing herself for the next blow, she heard a soft buzz rush past her ear and the world seemed to go still. After a moment, Bulma dared to open her eyes and the bile burned the back of her throat at the sight that greeted her. Standing as still as a statue, his hand poised to deliver another blow was Sani, a now headless Sani. Paralysed by the Diphibimal sudden and brutal end, she was began to kick and flail wildly as she felt two arms slide under her legs and back.

"Calm down, Bulma. You are all right, you're safe." A new, husky voice whispered into her ear and she stopped, relaxing into her rescuer's strong embrace and he walked into the kitchen with her and set her down on the cold steel counter. Never had another person's voice sounded so wonderful as she trembled with joy at realisation that she was alive and safe. As overwhelming as the sense of security was, her natural curiosity could not be silenced.

"How ...?" She started to ask before he silenced her with a slight brush of his finger against her split lip.

"Your attacker made enough noise to wake the dead, and from the look of that gash in his neck, you put up quite the fight. I knew from the moment I first laid eyes on you that you had spirit and great potential." Bulma was sure she blushed at his comments, not that it could be seen under the swelling and bruising. She couldn't hold back a smile at Zarbon's kind words, or the wince of pain that it caused.

"I'll take you to the med-lab and put a guard on duty to make sure you're all right. There is no way I can send you back to work in such a condition, and I have no doubt Halic will try something again while you're in the tank." Zarbon replied as he secured her against his chest and walked through the quiet dining hall. The stunned looks on the faces of the officers in the mess made her blush again, as she realised how open her fight with Sani had been. Kami, all of those men had heard and knew what was happening, she nearly shuddered in remembrance. What would have happened to her if Zarbon hadn't heard and intervened to save her?

"Why do you keep trying to rescue me?" She asked softly, fighting against the desire to sleep and the pain of her swollen lip.

"Because you always seem to be in need of rescuing." The blue skinned Adonis purred back, his armour-covered chest vibrating and Bulma fought the sudden urge to press herself against him. Like some knight, he had swept down and saved her again.

"How could I not rescue you, especially when you were finally following my advice." He continued, one large hand cupping her now bruised cheek. Wincing at the contact, he lightened his touch and his fingers traced out her broken jaw and nose. His movements entranced her, taking her mind away from the danger she had just faced. If he hadn't stepped in when he did, she might have been sporting far worse than just a broken nose and black-and-blue face.

"How can I ever repay you?" She murmured, fighting against her own body as it shut down to escape the pain.

"Don't worry, Bulma-chan. I'll find something." If he said anything after that, Bulma couldn't say, as she faded once more into unconsciousness.

Bulma gasped as her attention faded back into reality, and fought down the bile that was burning her throat. It was hard to forget those scars and how close she came to being raped and killed. Zarbon had saved her in that hell, kept her alive and showed her a world beyond her imagination, gave her everything her materialistic heart could desire. Now he was offering her greatest desire, several of them in fact. He had never truly lied to her, and saved her life on more than one occasion. She had trusted him once, could she do it again?

Fate conspired again to keep her from this question, this time in the form of her PDA. The soft hum drew her attention to the next item on her agenda for the day, a brunch and chat with the wife of the Taizian Ambassador. The image of a lovely mature woman with honey gold skin flashed in her head.

As a member of the royal house, it was her duty to greet many of the arriving dignitaries, primarily the non-Saiyajin and non-military leaders, which was how she met the Ambassador and his wife. A small system, Taiza laid beyond the current reach of either the Saiyajin or Tsirujin Empires, at least for now. From the brief chat she'd had previously with the Ambassador, she realised that the Taizians saw the march of inevitability as well. While this celebration was in honour of the peace treaty between the Tsiru-jins and Saiyajins, it was also an attempt to sway, recruit or bully other systems into joining one Empire or the other. She was part of the recruitment squad, remembering the curt discussion between the Secretary of State and herself when Cawliefe came to her and explained her role in this diplomatic game. As well, she was given the precursory threats to ensure her co-operation, though with Cawliefe, the warning was more habit than true intimidation.

Her PDA beeped again, flashing up another reminder of where and when the appointed meeting was to take place. Reluctantly, she rose to her feet and stretched, but wasn't ready to leave her engineering sanctuary just yet. She had spent enough time in the diplomatic service of the Colds to know what was about to happen. In a way, Bulma pitied both their plight and their tactics, fishing about between the two great Empires as to who they would align themselves with. They hoped to gain a friendship with her, in the expectation that they would have a powerful ally on their side if they agreed to join with the Saiyajins and swear over their sovereignty.

"If only they knew," Bulma muttered under her breath. They, like the young off-world lieutenant, assumed that she had any power at all, a lie that was circulated throughout most of the Empire and the Galaxy. The Ouji and Hime's bond was already a travesty on Vegetasei, there was no reason to make it a galactic laughing stock. The Council had fostered this assumption, realising her value in the diplomatic service, but always keeping a close watch on her. So Bulma prepared herself, plastering the most sincere, fake smile across her face and calming her emotions. Her eyes turned cool and calculating as she stepped into the role of spokeswoman and diplomat, into the Crown Jewel.

She had laughed when they gave her that title, flattered by the complement. Now she felt the bitter irony of it. She was like a jewel: hard, smooth, and cold. It was that cold façade that helped her to survive, the shell of her pride and dignity protecting her while everything around her crumbled. Hardening herself, she cleared her mind of her fears and uncertainties, saying a short prayer that she would keep her wits during this meeting. She had shown weakness twice already today, and by Kami, she wasn't going to let it happen again.



"Blasted Saiyajin, is that all you think about?" Amante growled softly as she felt her husband's tail circle around her hips. A throaty chuckle was his only reply as she was pulled back against his armoured chest. About to snap again at her husband, Potat quickly turned her around and silenced her with a kiss until her ire melted. Following knowledge learned over fifty years as mates, she wrapped her arms around his waist and brushed the delicate fur at the base of his tail, enjoying the way he purred like a big cat.

"And you complain that I'm the licentious one." Potat growled at her as he broke the kiss, but not his hold on her waist.

"You are, I'm just trying to keep up with you." Amante smirked back, before brushing her lips over the small bite mark at the crook of his shoulder. He purred again at her touch, the vibration rumbling low in his chest and Amante couldn't help but smile. Fifty years, she sighed, and she still melted whenever she caught his scent or looked into his eyes. It was a blessing and a curse, this undying affection and desire, costing them so much while giving back so much in return.

"You should probably stop that, unless you want to spent the rest of the day locked in this room." Her husband replied, his voice deep and rough. Part of her wanted to take him up on his offer but she knew she couldn't. Reluctantly she pulled away from her mate, though not too far. His long, brown tail was still wrapped around her.

"So, how did you like your tour of the palace's facilities?" Amante finally asked her husband, breaking the silence between them.

"The tour was as I expected, with a few notable exceptions, namely our new Hime and her inventions. My muscles still ache from testing Vegeta-ouji's gravity simulator, and the improvements she's made to our space pods and communication network on Vegetasei is amazing. She is smart, this Briefs girl, very smart and pretty as well. In some ways she reminds me of you." Potat replied, and began to chuckle at the look of annoyance that flashed across her face at his assessment of the young Hime. Her ire quickly shifted from the mysterious new Princess to her infuriating mate.

"Oh, and how is that?" Amante growled back at her still chuckling husband.

"Tsk, tsk, woman, don't you have any faith in my commitment to our bond? If I didn't know you were a mad woman, I'd be offended by your lack of trust in our relationship." Potat feinted before his expression hardened to the mask of determination he used in front of his troops.

"You must remember those reports about the Crown Jewel, you've read them just as I have. It was strange seeing the living embodiment of our enemy face to face. She plays the part of a humble consort and gracious hostess well enough to fool most, but she can't hide everything. She is a lot like you, little warrior: fierce, deceptive and cunning, very cunning. Her machines are remarkable, and what I saw was probably the tip of the iceberg. Cawliefe even spoke with pride about her achievements, her loyalty, and commitment to the Empire."

"Yet," Amante interrupted her mate, adopting both his stance and the no-nonsense glower now on his face. "You don't believe she is loyal to the Saiyajins, or at least as loyal as she makes out to be. You don't think she has allied herself with the Colds? Could it be that she is..."

~ Hush, Amante .~ Potat replied into his wife's mind, earning an incredulous look from the Battagli. ~ Do not speak of such things here, we don't know who may be listening. Not even Cawliefe or the Ouji know of it, we don't even know ourselves. ~ Amante scowled up at her mate, ignoring the anxiety she felt wash over her through their emphatic connection. Though she could project her own thoughts into his mind, the sensation was never as strong as when he initiated contact. The first time he had shouted into her head nearly knocked her out and she always made him pay for it afterwards.

~ Not know! ~ Amante mentally shouted back, hoping that she inspired the same pounding sensation in his head that he had in hers. The sudden growl from her now tense Saiyajin mate told her she had hit a nerve at least. Her assumption was confirmed when he quickly removed his tail from her waist and began to pace in front of her like a wild animal waiting to pounce. ~ Of course we know, the disablement of the communication networks, the increased fortification at raid points, the increased raids on the rebel worlds, Chikkyu in particular. You've read the reports just as I have and all the clues ... ~

~ We have read through a series of coincidences and your brother's wild assumptions as to their meaning. As far as I could tell, every ounce of evidence he has is nothing but the Colds reacting to our increased threat. The alliance scored a serious blow to Freeza the last few months. From all intelligence reports we received from Tsume, Freeza's stature with his father is waning with every rebel victory. The pasty bastard is out for blood. He wants to destroy the rebels to save face and every piece of evidence that your brother has brought up can all be explained by revenge. ~ He replied back, his mental voice curt, particularly when her mate made mention of her brother. Though the two of them had once fought side by side, and continued to battle the tyrant, their hatred of one another was as potent today as it was when Potat proclaimed her his bride.

At the thought of her brother and mate, Amante suppressed a groan of annoyance. She had rarely met two men who were more similar, both in their sense of duty, honour and core beliefs. Unfortunately, their personal hatred of one another, coupled with disagreements over family and racial prejudices brought out the worst in both men. The two were bitter rivals in all things but their love for her and her two sons and their hatred of the Colds.

~ Spada brings up some valid points though. He said that the activity around and on Chikyuu has been heightened, even our own scans have confirmed that. We haven't had a report from the planet in over a week, and that started a day before the Empire wide communication black out. The military force guarding the last three raid targets in and around Chikyuu's system were three times what the scout's reports had found. Freeza, or someone in his service, knew to fortify those targets, knew we would be there. If it weren't for the skill of the rebel squad, the mission would have been lost. ~

"Their stupidity and stubbornness, you mean. If it wasn't for that paranoid bastard's influence, the boy would never take such unnecessary risks." Her mate replied, his anger so great he didn't care who heard his rage. As strong as his anger was, Potat was unable to hide or conceal his emotions, allowing Amante to feel his fear and sadness beneath his words.

~ Hush, husband. ~ Amante cooed into his mind, repeating his earlier words. Before he could react, she wound her arms around his waist and lightly brushed the puffed up fur on his tail until she felt his breathing slow and posture relax. ~ Azzuffar is his own man now, just like his father, uncle, and brother. He made his choice and we both agreed that our sons would choose their own path when they reached the age of maturity. ~

~ Yes, but I never thought one of them would give up the prestige and honour of the Saiyajin Empire. The boy has some of the finest bloodlines in the Empire. He could have commanded armies. Instead he joins your brother's rag tag band of misfits and throws himself into the very jaws of danger. I swear, the madness must come from your blood. ~ It was on the forefront of Amante's thoughts to rebuke his claim and describe in detail the stupidity and madness she had witnessed after five decades of living with the Saiyajins. While she enjoyed pointing out his species numerous faults, she knew that this was not the time or place.

~ Foolish Saiyajin, everything can be condensed down to fighting ability and bloodlines for you. For us mere mortals and non-Saiyajins, life is far more complicated. You took a non-Saiyajin mate and it almost cost you everything. It was only by the King's good graces that you were able to maintain any influence in the Empire. Our sons have it even harder, living with the 'taint of a lesser species' in their blood, as your esteemed colleague once called me. We were fortunate that Kabo was given a commission as a major in the off-world forces. He has your looks and the privilege of being the first born to grease his way. He is a Saiyajin through and through, but Azzuffar is not. There is too much of the Battagli side in him. ~ At her entreaty, her mate calmed though she could feel his annoyance at the truth of her words.

Since her youngest son cast off the life as the half breed son of the Commander and joined her brother as a member of the Battagli militia, Potat seemed to anger easily at the mention of Spada. He always defended his hostility by claiming he was disgusted that any son of his would join 'that pompous, close-minded ass'. Part of her believed that it had more to do with his concern for their son's safety and that he missed Azzuffar, a charge her mate vehemently denied.

~ Yes, far too much madness in the boy, I only wish he had inherited my sense to counteract it. ~ Potat finally replied, a teasing note in his voice dousing her own annoyance at his earlier behaviour. ~ Still, you believe his claims about a possible mole? As I said, the case they made was more circumstantial than concrete. We both agreed before we came here that we would wait until we gathered more evidence before revealing any of these suspicions to the Prince or the others. You were there last night, the fate of the entire operation hangs by a thread. To reveal the possibility that there could be a spy in our ranks would destroy the whole thing, to the ruin of all those planets. We are so close to success. The alliance can't stop now, not when the goal is in our grasp. ~ Amante couldn't keep back a small smirk at her mate's words. Just when she had given him up as a complete ass, he redeemed himself and revealed a part of the intelligent, munificent man she bound herself to all those years ago.

~ What do you propose we do then? Even if the case is circumstantial, it is there and if it proves true it could prove to be the death of us all. We can't afford to take such a risk, not when there is a good chance that Spada and Azzuffar are right. ~

~ It was always a risk, but I'm not suggesting that we give up, or ignore your brother's warning. In fact, little warrior, you are going to find the proof we need. Care to take on a reconnaissance mission tonight? ~ Her interest piqued, Amante waited to hear what plan her mate had devised. Even though it had been years since she last took part in any major fighting or espionage work, she reveled in the idea that she could take on a new mission.

~ If there is a mole, they are very selective, only to one area of the border region and centred in one particular section. Whoever it is, they have a connection to Chikyuu, but are not confined to the planet itself. They know about the surrounding areas, know about raid schedules and supply drops. They would have to be intelligent and cunning to gather the information and report it to the enemy, one specific enemy to be exact. ~ Amante smirked as he worked through the issue piece by piece, realising that he was taking her brother and son's warning more strongly than she had originally imagined. When he stopped though, her eyes went wide as her mind completely the puzzle he had begun fitting together.

~ Zarbon, but the only person who fits that description is ... the Hime. You don't think she would risk death for the Colds? ~

~ Who knows what someone would risk, though the hatred between the Ouji and most of the royal court and the Hime is well known on planet. She was an ally of the Colds before, a mistress to Zarbon, and as I said before, she is cunning, very cunning. That is why I want you to watch her at the salon tonight, both her and Zarbon. If there is a connection or a possible link between the two of them I want to know. Whether the Hime is the mole or not, Zarbon is the contact, he is the key. ~ As loath as she was to go anywhere near the Changling mercenary, she couldn't hold back her excitement about the assignment.

"I'm also sending Kakarott and Zucin with you, to keep an eye on everything. I don't trust Zarbon as far as you could throw him, Amante, and he could be a danger to some of the delegates." Or one in particular, Amante realised, a certain Chichi Mau.

~ So, did you decide that by yourself or did Kakarott ask for the detail personally? I would have thought he would have taken advantage of the advanced training facilities here, Zucin as well. He has been growing wild and head strong working the border patrol and taking on so many missions. Maybe Cawliefe's advice might not be a bad idea. Zucin needs discipline and a firmer hand than Kakarott's to guide him. Last time he nearly got them captured, only Kakarott's power allowed them to escape. ~

~ I can't talk about the motivation of young men, but Kakarott was not upset to learn that he had been given the detail. As for Zucin, whatever Cawliefe's thoughts, he is not their Commander nor does he know the boy. Zucin is loyal to Kakarott and Bardock. He would never do anything to hurt them, or the mission. Besides, if you have anyone to worry about, it should be me. While you get to banter with the diplomats and engage in espionage, I have to sit in a room with Nappa, the King, and the rest of the Imperial Council for the evening. ~

"Poor baby," Amante crooned as she began to stroke his tail again, earning a grin and low purr from her Saiyajin. "How will you ever survive the night? I suppose we should head down to the private dinning area and get you some food. Wouldn't want you facing all that egotism and testosterone on an empty stomach." Her breath caught in her throat as she felt Potat nuzzle the bite mark on her shoulder. Her mate didn't stop there, tracing a path from her neck to her cheek before brushing his lips against hers. Leaning into his embrace, she groaned when he pulled his head away from hers, the Battagli's breath already growing heavy.

"Maybe we should get room service instead." She whispered before she returned her mate's kiss.



She awoke two day later, naked and suspended in a vat of warm, blue goo with an oxygen mask over her face. Though she had heard much about the healing powers of the rejuvenation tanks, she was amazed to find herself in one. Such luxuries were never shown to slaves.

She only had a few moments to study the experience before the fluid in her metal womb drained out and the lid opened, leaving her as cold and exposed as a new born babe. And there was an audience at her 'rebirth', she noted, blushing at the young guard that stared at her chest.

"Do you mind!" Bulma yelled at the young humanoid guard, shocking him away from his peep show. The yellow skinned creature turned bright orange, and thrust a towel at her, his eyes now diverted. Grabbing the offered towel, Bulma quickly covered herself and stepped out of the tank. At first her limbs protested against the sudden weight and movement but it wasn't long before she could feel the blood flowing back in. Stretching the stiff appendages, she sighed in pleasure and smiled despite herself. She felt wonderful, better than wonderful, or at least better than she had in a long time. The tank had done wonders, melting away her pain, healing her damaged tissue, rejuvenating her whole body.

"Come this way. The Commander has given you a room in the diplomatic wing where you may shower and rest. He expects you to dine with him at 19:00 hours, so be ready by 18:45." The guard growled at her, leaving her no room for hesitation. It was a silent journey from the med-lab to the diplomatic wing of the ship, and the room that had been her refuge the first time the Commander had helped her.

This time though, the room was different. A pair of ornate chairs, a large wooden desk, and a four poster bed had replaced the utilitarian metal furnishings. The floor was adorned with a thick white, gold and purple rug, the stylised crest in the centre of the carpet identical to that on the various tapestries that decorated the walls.

Her mouth dropped open at the sight, the smell of the wood, even the soft brush of the rug against her feet. Unconcerned by the presence of the guard, Bulma giggled in delight and looked over each piece of furniture, tapestry, and chest before she entered the small ensuite bathroom. To her delight, even that was redesigned, the floor of the bathroom covered with smooth ceramic tiles and the old shower stall replaced by a full sized bath.

Quickly rushing back into the room, she shut the outer door and enjoyed the solitude, the peace, and the luxury. Shrieking in delight, she ran back into the bathroom and jumped into the shower, where she scrubbed the remnants of the blue goo from her skin and hair. Though she wanted to stay in the shower and enjoy the sensation of warmth, her curiosity won out. Along with the rug, bed, and new decor, the room also contained two large chests, all decorated with the same emblem as the tapestries.

Quickly drying off, Bulma walked back into the room, smiling once more at the lovely sight that greeted her eyes. Unable to resist the urge, she pinched her arm and winced at the sting of pain that resulted. She wasn't caught in some dream, it was real.

Walking over to the large wooden chests, she traced out the crested latch before finally flipping back the lid and diving into the chest like a kid at Christmas. She gasped as her fingers skimmed over multicoloured silks, satins, cottons, and fabrics she had never seen before. The chest was filled with clothes worthy of royalty she realised, as she pulled out a white shift and sheer over gown of purple silk. The room, the clothes, the very luxury reminded her of home before the Cold invasion, before her time in the rebellion. It was like re-living the princess fairy tale from her childhood as the Capsule Corp. heiress and Bulma reveled in her fantasy.

"Don't you think so as well, Hime-sama?" An eager, young voice piped up, cutting through her previous thoughts. Turning to the beaming, wide-eyed adolescent and her embarrassed mother, Bulma couldn't help but smile wistfully at the innocent question. In a strange way, she envied the girl for such an idealised view of the world.

"I'm sorry, Mirea, but the fantasy of life as a princess in one thing, the reality is another. It's not all balls, pretty dresses and servants waiting on you hand and foot...

She had examined every article of clothing in the first chest before she turned her attention to the second chest. Not waiting to admire the fine craftsmanship, Bulma tore in and giggled with glee at the sight that greeted her. The trunk was filled with accessories: shoes to match ever outfit, jewellery, cosmetics, perfume, even jewelled clips for her hair. Not caring about the hows or whys, Bulma wore each tiara, necklace, and bracelet, tried on each pair of shoes, smelt each vial of perfume. Her curiosity appeased, she now began to plan what beautiful gown she would wear tonight when she finally got to thank her Prince Charming.

"There is a certain amount of privilege, but with it comes a huge responsibility." Bulma remarked, as her mind flashed to another time, when her own thoughts mirrored Mirea's.

"But that would be the best part." The young Taizian blurted out, this latest outburst causing her prim mother and stoic nanny to turn deep turquoise in embarrassment. The ambassador's daughter, either ignorant or apathetic about the great distress she was causing her mother and nurse continued on, her black eyes shining as only an awe struck teenager could manage.

"Making rules and laws about what every you want, touring around to visit your subjects; who wouldn't love that. Besides, I've seen the Ouji and he sure looks like a handsome prince. Is he a good kisser?"

"Mirea!" Lady Lokus cried out, the horror over her daughter's unabashed remark stronger than her rigid sang-froid. Even the elderly nursemaid looked as if she would faint at the brazen attitude, though it was probably fear for her own neck, since the punishment for this day would most likely not be given to the young Mirea.

For her part, Bulma could almost thank Mirea. If not for the girl's sudden visit, she would have fallen asleep in her chair, lured there by herbal tea and the slow drone of Lady Lokus' voice as she discussed the manufacturing capacity of Taiza. It was not as if the girl said anything malicious, audacious and ignorant perhaps. Imagine believing that the pompous ass apparent was anything resembling Prince Charming? She couldn't fault the young girl one thing though; Vegeta was one hell of a kisser.

"Forgive me, your highness, for my daughter's high spirits. She has just recently been introduced into polite society and she still hasn't perfected all the proper mores. I certainly hope her childish behaviour won't reflect poorly on our relationship, or the ties between our regions."

"Don't worry yourself, Lady Lokus. I'm sure your daughter meant nothing by her remarks, and I certainly took no offence. I would like to think that duty hasn't turned me to stone, that I can still have a sense of humour. After all, we were all young once."

"The Commander is expecting you." The sentry growled out, drawing Bulma's attention away from the imposing set of doors in front of her. Nodding blankly at the guard who had guided her through the labyrinth, she couldn't stop her stomach from churning.

After several hours of trying on the beautiful garments, she decided on her first discovery, that breathtaking silk gown of light violet, so sheer it was almost transparent. A wicked part of her contemplated wearing the gown and nothing underneath, remembering Yamcha's reaction whenever she wore more revealing fare and wanting to get the same reaction from Zarbon. Every time the Commander had seen her before, she was a mess: dirty, malnourished, bruised, and bloody. It was the first time he would ever seen her as she should have been, a beautiful, refined woman, an heiress to great wealth.

Smoothing out the wrinkles from the white shift underneath the violet over-gown, she now had an overwhelming urge to run and hide. Though she had spent over an hour preparing for this meeting, selecting the perfect necklace, shoes, and scent for the evening, she was still nervous. What if, after everything she did, the clothes and make-up, he found her unattractive? He was the man who had saved her life, rescued her from despair, even gave her part of her old life back. The rebel part of her warred with the young heiress, trying to remind her that he was part of the same evil which had taken away her old life. Yet, how could someone so good be evil?

So caught up in her thoughts, she almost jumped a foot as she lifted her head and saw the man at the centre of all her thoughts leaning against the open door frame. Daring to look up into his face, she couldn't hold back a blush at the appreciative glint in his golden eyes.

"Can I assume that you found your new room to your liking, Bulma?"

"Oh yes, it is more than I could have ever imagined, but how..." Bulma began, her excitement causing her to babble with far less restraint than she would normally display. Zarbon just smiled at her and placed his finger on her bottom lip, silencing her instantly.

"I can't reveal all of my secrets, where is the magic in that?" Blushing again, she nodded at his words and smiled, pleased that he found her attractive. As her mother said, if you've got it flaunt it while you can.

Without another word of how and why, Bulma took the large blue arm offered to her and let Zarbon escort her into the grand dinning hall of officer's hall. Part of her was disappointed that he wanted to meet her here and not in a more private area, but to eat in the officer's mess was a privilege few received.

As they walked through the large doors, Bulma tensed in surprised at the sight that greeted her eyes. The simple mess hall had been completely redone. Every inch of it seemed to sparkle it was so clean. The once bare tables were covered with white table clothes, each baring the same insignia as the tapestries around her room. At the back of the room, a giant table was covered in food with a legion of cooks to serve it. Throughout the room, waiters carried trays of appetisers and glasses of what appeared to be white wine. After two days without food, and two weeks of little better, Bulma could feel her stomach gurgle and her mouth water at the tantalising sights and smells.

Royal decorum be damned, Bulma growled, her stomach replying in earnest as she walked towards the busy main kitchen. She would get something to eat, even if she had to cook it herself.

Stepping through a small back way reserved for page boys and kitchen hands, the Hime watched the chaos that was preparation for the evening meal. The kitchen, like every other part of the palace, was a political war zone, though the most deadly warfare came in the kitchen. When dealing with a race like the Saiyajin, a good cook is worth their weight in gold, as most of them knew. Right now, her stomach gurgling with all the beautiful smells wafting through the kitchen, Bulma would have paid her weight in gold for a plate of anything.

Seeing her chance at a treat, she grabbed a food-laden platter from a steward and popped several hors d'oeuvres in her mouth.

"What," a sharp voice snapped, causing the hairs on Bulma's neck to stand on end. "Do you think you're doing, that food is ... I'm sorry, Hime." The cook replied, bowing as if the slight respect was a great burden. "I did not think someone with such an esteemed title would lurk about in the royal kitchens and steal food like a beggar. The preparations for your little salon are almost ready, as long as nothing else is eaten." Cucchia continued loudly, hitting Bulma with the full brunt of her annoyance while ensuring that the whole kitchen was privy to the put-downs.

It was on the tip of Bulma's tongue to strike back and give just as good as Cucchia could dish out, but the pragmatic aspect of her personality weighed in. If the Occhion cook wished, she could and probably would destroy all the food, making the whole meal inedible. With the level of servant loyalty within the clans, Bulma didn't doubt that Cucchia would take such a risk if it would help her employers. Bulma, on the other hand, could not afford such a slip, a fact both women knew.

"With a gathering as important as tonight's salon, I wanted to personally take a look at the preparations. I was actually looking for my assistant and when I saw these excellent quiches and I had to see if they tasted as good as they looked. Once again, you have outdone yourself, Cucchia." Bulma replied, a horrible fake smile plastered to her face. Those words brought her close to nausea but a battle was not worth the cost. The abrasive servant returned the gesture, though the smile that graced Cucchia's face radiated triumph and superiority.

"Thank you, Bulma-sama, you are far too kind. The daughter of Macula-sama, Sarra-sama, has often said the same thing of my cooking. Yes, what a delight it is to receive such a compliment from the true Saiyajin no Hime." The tang of cheese mixed with the metallic flavour of blood as Bulma bit her tongue to keep her temper in check. It took every ounce of willpower she possessed not to scream at the other women. If she did so, within an hour the whole palace would know of her shameless behaviour, and retribution would quickly follow. Part of her was willing to take it, if only to relieve the mounting stress that was threatening to overwhelm her. Royal decorum won out in the end as she simply smiled, her teeth still clamped to her tongue to keep back the tirade that was straining to get out.

"Oh yes," Cucchia continued, beaming with triumph. "Your little fly has been buzzing around most of the afternoon. Annoying little pest, nothing but a trouble maker and worse, if the stories are to be believed. I think you will find her in the main parlour pestering the maids. Now, if you will excuse me, Hime-sama, we still have much work to do." With that, the servant dismissed Bulma, turning her back on the princess as if she were a scullery maid.

'Pick your battles', Bulma's common sense cautioned. It was advice she was loathed to take but she did just the same, repeating that three word mantra to cool her blood. Walking out of the kitchen with as much dignity as she could muster, she grabbed another handful of hors d'oeuvres to spite the malevolent witch. As it was, she could hardly get the meat tarts down, the whole encounter had ruined her appetite.

It was hard to draw her attention away from the food to look at the other people in the hall. When she and Zarbon had walked in, the whole company turned and greeted them, holding up their glasses in toast.

"What is all this?" Bulma finally asked, overwhelmed by everything that had happened since she got out of the rejuvenation tank. Zarbon simply smiled down at her, then snagged a pair of goblets and handed her one before he pushed her into the lavish hall.

"I wanted to have an intimate dinner with you but circumstance kept me from it. A new coalition of planets, the Plagal federation, has agreed to join forces with the Colds and in honour of the occasion, a banquet has been prepared. Personally I hate the affairs, I'm too much of a warrior to enjoy such diplomatic service. It requires a more delicate hand, the touch of a real woman." Zarbon replied low in his throat, as he touched her empty hand, holding it gently in his own. Caught up in the mischievous glint in his beautiful eyes, it took several moments before Bulma could turn back and look at the small hall.

As Capsule Corp heiress, she had attended many functions and knew many of the ins and outs of social gatherings. Watching the waiters, the refreshments and décor of the room, she could find no flaw.

"No, the table goes that way and clothes should be blue, not red. Where are the candle stands? The Hime put in a request for those last week. What do you mean there are being used elsewhere?" Marska's voice echoed down the halls, the once light and confident tone now harsh and full of annoyance and frustration. Bulma sighed in distress, fearing the sight that would greet her when she finally got to the end of the hall. Flinging open the parlour doors, she was not disappointed.

"But how could I possibly be of help? Everything seems be working perfectly, unless you have a light fixture or a refrigerator unit that needs to be repaired?" She earned herself a hardy laugh and another heart-stopping smile for that comment.

"Oh little rebel, as if you didn't take over the whole room when you walked in you just proved your worth right there. I'm a man of action, not of words, and I need someone by my side who is charming, witty, and can entertain and delight anyone. I knew after I first saw you that you could definitely win over anyone with that face of yours, with those eyes. To find sophistication and intelligence mixed with such beauty, it is a truly rare gift. You could charm any man, and if that spirit you showed me the first day we met is any indication, you could hold a room captivated. So, will you be my hostess?" A hostess, her heart almost fluttered at the word.

Her mother had often talked about the lavish celebration they would have for her coming out. While her father trained her in mathematics and physics, nurturing the scientific genius in her, her mother taught her about society, and cultivated in her a love of refinement and sophistication. Had circumstances been different, she might have worn this gown to her own coming-out, with a handsome man on her arm and the room at her beck and call. Looking about the room, into the green and white eyes of the attending diplomats that almost every part of her fantasy was right in front of her. It was all she had ever wanted, the life of the heiress that fate had taken from her now returned. The war between the rebel and the heiress shifted, as Bulma took Zarbon's arm and greeted her public.

Slipping through the doors as quietly as possible, Bulma felt her legs nearly fall out from under her at the sight that greeted her eyes. The large parlour room was filled with servants scrambling about like ants, moving chaise lounges and chairs, setting up tables, and carrying in dozens of wine flutes, napkins and utensils. Unfortunately, every servant seemed lost, both unaware of their purpose or in the movement of their fellow Occhions. The tension headache that had been building all day came to the forefront as a mighty crash rang through the parlour as a cart of glasses and a page boy with a serving table collided.

"Bulma-sama." Through the chaos of crashing glass and yelping servants, Marska's determined voice sounded hollow and tired. Glancing up, she took sadistic comfort in the fact that she wasn't the only one at the end of her rope.

"I'm sorry for paging you during your diplomatic talks but everything was a disaster. It took nearly a half an hour to get Cucchia off her lazy butt and cooking and when I came to the parlour, I found that nothing had been done. I've been madly trying to put the salon together but ... well... ." Marska replied, gesturing to the disorganised room. "It hasn't been going very well. All the planning and preparation you made had not been carried out. Every order and request, one of the pencil pushing accountants informed me, had been rejected."

"Rejected? By who? I had the blessing of the council to hold this salon. Hell, they ordered it, demanding that I baby-sit the visiting dignitaries. The King and the Secretary of State both want the Saiyajin Empire to have a greater presence on the intergalactic stage. Cawliefe even backed this ridiculous salon in the Council, so who could ... ." Bulma stopped in mid-tirade as she looked at her acquisition forms, every one of which was slashed with red ink. At the bottom, in thick black ink, was her husband's bold, thick hand.

It took every ounce of willpower she possessed to not curse Vegeta to the lowest pits of Hell. It wasn't the servants, the table clothes or the salon, but the realisation of how much joy her 'mate' took in taking shots at her dignity. Every insulting gesturing, every futile labour she performed to win her new masters' respect, it was all for not. The fact that she was hampered at every turn by the malevolent ass whose mark she bore on her neck rubbed salt in the festering wound that was her life on Vegetasei.

"Hime-sama, Versham was able to acquire all the plates and cutlery, though I can't imagine what it must have cost her with Cucchia and the Conium servants around. A few of the more reasonable staff have helped with getting chairs, it'll just take a lot of time to get them organised." Marska remarked, her whispered tone cutting through Bulma's stunned anger. Crushing the heavily marked form in her hand, Bulma nodded to her assistant and began to form order from the chaos.



His hands skimming over the keys in a mad rush, his mind and fingers one as he calculated reams of figures, inputted totals and controlled the flow of funds for the whole planet.

It was always like this. Since he was a child, his mind was always filled with figures, analysing and calculating numbers, working out math problems. There was something nice, neat, and orderly about numbers. They were what they were, never more or less, and there was always an answer at the end. If only real life were so ideal.

A rare grin spread across his face at the thought of his past, the sort of grin that only comes at the end of a hard battle, of contentment found after great toil.

When they learned of his unusual skill with numbers, most of them, his mother included, pushed him into medicine. Imagine, he was told time and time again, you could become a great doctor and earn a position of honour in the house of Allium, maybe even physician to the royal family itself. His family's machinations went so far as to send him to the infirmary when he turned fifteen, the age of vocation, to learn the art of healing. Always the dutiful son, he went along with the grand machinations of his family, even against his own hopes and wishes. His vocation and his parents' hopes ended when he saw his first battle wound and fainted at the sight. He still remembered it as the wound that changed his life and the lives of everyone around him.

"Are you finished with those budget reports, Miriat?" Caught up in his own remembrances, the young Occhion was startled by the sudden sound of his former master and current boss. The urgency in his superior's voice cut through Miriat. As the primary accountant in the department, he lived by constant deadlines, but there was something in Minister Noion tone that made him curious.

"Almost, sir. I still have a few updates to make to the off-world military spending. Parnis-sama had a new set of specks and combat records complied for all the 'special' squads. I'm just adding them into the off-world budget. The Under-secretary has ensured that all of the squads have been given assignments, it is just up to General Potat-sama to verify them and the next wave of supply drops can begin. All it will need is your approval, sir." The elder Saiyajin tensed at his words, looking down at the budget with caution and aversion. A shadow passed over the hard, angular face, as though he had been asked to sign his own death warrant. The look of foreboding past as quickly as the flicker of a candle's flame, replaced by an implacable mask of suspicion and annoyance. Miriat knew that look, knew its origin and the reaction it would produce in Minister Noion.

"The Imperial Council is meeting in two hours and the King has been sending me messages all day about problems with the budget, mentioning about strange spending anomalies." The Saiyajin replied, his speech slow and exact. Like his superior before him, Miriat tensed and eyed the budget as if it were a poisonous snake circling its victim. If it was discovered that they were funding such an enterprise, whether it was beneficial to the Empire or not, both he and the Minister would be disgraced, proclaimed to be traitors, or worse.

"But how, sir? It's not possible. I checked through everything, every expense, every piece of inventory was accounted for. He couldn't know, it was fool-proof." Miriat blurted out in shock, unschooled as he was in the finer arts of guile and completely obvious to the fact that he had nearly confessed to treason.

"Silence!" Minister Noion spat, pinning Miriat to his seat with a glare of pure rage. At his order the whole office fell quiet until only the muted breathing of the two occupants remained. Pacing softly through the spacious office, the Saiyajin stopped in front of the large window that overlooked the royal gardens.

"I knew we shouldn't have funneled funds through that traitorous wench's engineering facility. It's the most heavily monitored department in the whole Empire." The once noble clan leader growled, speculating on the cause of the King's annoyance. "Damn Cawliefe and the Prince, demanding that we give any money over to that woman, giving her free-reign to build anything she wishes. I wouldn't be surprised if she was plotting the downfall of the Empire, for all her pledges of honour. Once a traitor, always a traitor, and you know what I think of those that betray me."

"Yes, sir." Miriat replied, realising better than anyone the Saiyajin's fear of betrayal. It was why he had his freedom and chance to pursue his dream. His attack against the Hime and her engineer department caused him to tense, wary as to what the Minister would say next. If only he knew, Miriat replied to himself, as his thoughts drifted to a pewter-skinned goddess with eyes as green as the garden grass covered in morning dew.

"Can I trust you, Miriat?" The Saiyajin asked suddenly, shocking the young Occhion into silence. In his many years of service, Miriat had often been asked to pledge his loyalty and never had he hesitated to give his bond. Now though, his voice seemed to catch in his throat, his heart torn between old loyalties and new.

"I would give my life for yours." The young accountant finally replied, his voice hardly above a whisper as he spoke the oath he gave when he first earned his freedom. The pledge seemed to be enough for the Saiyajin, who turned and nodded at his approval.

"I am not as optimistic or blind-sighted as the rest of our merry band about the outcome of his 'great enterprise'. They are living in a dream, a fantasy that could cost us all our lives and I do not intend to be the one to bring us all to our ruin." A long hidden part of the Occhion flared to life at the words of despair, denying the fatalistic attitude of his former master. It will work, it has to work, Miriat proclaimed, if only to make her happy.

Too late though, did the young accountant realise that his thoughts were plain on his face, earned him another harsh glare and growl from the Minister. Staring down at the floor in shame, he waited for the reprimand. It never came.

"The plan was too dangerous from its inception, the risk of discovery was always upon us. Parnis was right, something is wrong. The tide is starting to turn against us and Zarbon's presence is like a shifting of the wind before the storm hits. He is here for a specific reason, and I fear the worst. That is why I have a job for you tonight, an assignment if you will. Freeza's Changling pet is here for a purpose and I want you to find out what it is."

"What?" Miriat cried out, his former shame forgotten at this unusual request. His sharp, orderly mind failed to grasp even the concept that he could be doing undercover work. It wasn't possible, he wasn't an operative or a man of great stealth or cunning; he was an accountant.

"You heard me, boy, and you gave me your oath to give your life in any service I may need. Did you think those words nothing but a hollow promise?"

"No, sir. It's just that I thrown for a loop by the request. I would take on any challenge you gave me, though I was not expecting one so beyond my scope of expertise. I am a bookkeeper, espionage is beyond me."

"Oh, I don't know?" Minister Noion replied, his voice lightening as a knowing grin spread across his thin, angular face. "You are an Occhion of many talents, and as long as no one gets a paper cut, or no bloody fist fights break out, I'm sure you'll do fine. Besides, I think you would have thanked me for getting you into that dinner. That arrogant, human witch Mau will be there along with the Hime's loudmouthed assistant. Actually, come to think of it, with Mau and her pitiful assistant, the Hime and hers, and the ambassador from Tsiru-sei, we may see some fireworks tonight. I half envy you, Miriat. I'll be stuck in a Council meeting trying to bail out the tide and keep my head above water." Minister Noion continued, his humorous mood fading with the mention of the battle he would be facing.

"But, sir..."

"No excuses, Miriat. You will attend this salon tonight and report back to me about everything that pompous pretty boy Changling does. I want to know everything he says and does, everyone he talks to; everything. Do I make myself clear?"

"Completely, but sir..."

"What?"

"I don't have anything to wear."



The hour was growing late and the sun already dipping towards the Western horizon when Bulma finally made it back to her quarters in Vegeta's wing. On her desk were dozens of requisition forms that she had to go over and submit to Minister Noion, along with Carnot's status report on each of the current projects in the department.

At the end of the month she would have to present all of it to the Elite Council and let them pick her apart and fight over every penny. To say that her leash was short was an understatement. Every expense, from equipment to wages was a battle, a very humbling one at that. Both she and the Council knew that the engineering department was a charity, a way to show her worth to the Saiyajins, the Empire and the Intergalactic community as a whole. It would be nothing to any of the members of the Council to disband it, so every Council meeting she attended, Bulma had to prove her worth.

With less than an hour before the event tonight, she knew she should look it over to prepare herself for the coming battle, or at least check Carnot's report that was going to the Imperial Council tonight, but ... .

"When I have ever done what I should have?" She remarked to herself, as she slipped out of her shoes and walked over to the glass doors that led out to the royal gardens. Glancing through the sheer curtain, she smirked when she realised that the garden was deserted. She was finally alone.

Throwing all caution and responsibility to the wind, Bulma stepped out onto the warm, lush grass and sighed at the simple pleasure of feeling the grass between her toes. Her pleasure was short-lived as she heard raised voices coming closer. Ducking into the thick ferns and underbrush of the woods, she watched as two guards walked by her, no doubt on patrol. The pair stopped in front of her room in Vegetaís wing and began to talk loudly in their native tongue. Though she couldnít understand the soft, rolling growls of the Saiyajin language, she could easily read their tone and gestures. Through the growls and snarls, Bulma could make out a few words, Tsiru-jin, Zarbon, Hime, and a variety of words that she could only assume were curses against all three.

A small pit of anger formed in her stomach at the guardsí words, or insinuations. Kami, she did everything she could, even allowed herself to be controlled by the dictates of the Elite Council, and still she was an object of ridicule and disgust.

There was one strike against the Saiyajins right there on the grand scale of her conscience. There was no love loss between her and the flying monkeys. Her hatred of their violent, physical strength dominated culture and belief in racial superiority was equal their revulsion towards her. Everything she represented was an insult to them and they made their opinion felt constantly. Be it her lack of fighting power, her mechanical know-how and use of machines, or her former life in the Cold court she was reviled, especially by the Elites. The fact that she was the Hime, if only in title, made them hate her all the more, reminding her that they would never accept her as anything but an alien whore. Would this be her fate, her lot in life? Was she doomed to serve these overbearing, mindless apes for the rest of her life?

ĎNot if you take up Zarbonís offer,í a little wicked voice whispered gleefully. Thinking back to her encounters with Zarbon last night and this morning, she couldnít deny that she desired everything he was offering her. The thought of Nappa, the elites, the King and all her enemies brought low, their much lauded strength overcome and mammoth egos crushed was very tempting. With all the slurs, glares, insults and assassination attempts she had endured in her time on Vegetasei, she wanted an escape and she wanted revenge.

ĎYouíve done it before,í that voice replied, louder than before. ĎRemember how sweet it tasted, the power it gave you? You could have it again.í Like a siren song, the memory called to her, the memory of when she first experienced power, real power.

After rounding corner after corner, Bulma came to the horrible conclusion: she was spectacularly lost. Damn it, she groaned to herself, even after ten months on board, there were still parts of the ship that were like a maze. She was supposed to finish up the last repair duty on her roster then meet Zarbon.

Her cheeks flushed at the thought of the Commander. Who knew that her life would be completely turned around by one man? He had saved her life. On top of her work with the shipís repair crew, she finally started working on her own inventions and was slowly usurping Halic himself.

The fallout from Saniís attack was huge, even greater than she could realise. Without his goon, Halic was losing his iron grip on the engineering department. Some of the bolder technical slaves had even started to defy the old tyrant, confident that if anything happened to them, it would be a further strike against Halic. Bulma suddenly found herself as a minor celebrity among the engineers; the woman who stood up to Halic; the woman who would one day usurp him.

The belief that she would supplant Halic was further confirmed by her position on the ship, which had been steadily rising since her attack. The room in the diplomatic wing was now hers, as was the responsibility of being Zarbonís hostess. Two or three times a week she would help him host a small banquet or diplomatic affair. On those nights she would dress up in one of the beautiful gowns, eat the most delicious food, and discuss the great issues of the day, all the while on the arm of the most handsome man she had ever seen. Yes, she smiled softly, a gesture she had been indulging in frequently as of late. Life was good.

"Are you ... secure part ... ship?" The words were so soft and muffled, Bulma wasnít even sure she heard them. In truth, her mind was on other matters, on an innocuous event from the previous evening.

It was the final set of meetings between Zarbon and the representatives from Plagal federation, an important event too, as it marked the signing of the treaty between the Cold Empire and the federation. Unlike the previous meetings there was a delegate from every planet, and half a dozen soldiers in attendance. The security was completely unnecessary, the entire evening went off without a hitch, but Bulma was still uneasy about the affair, and one delegate in particular.

A small, stocky gentlemen seemed to stare at her all night, or rather the gown she had chosen to wear. For such an important occasion, Bulma had worn the most beautiful gown in her new wardrobe, a dress made from the finest silk and embroidered with the same heraldry as the tapestries in her room.

It was late in the evening, when she finally confronted the man, at first making light conversation until she noticed that he was transfixed by her attire. Confused and uneasy at the way he was staring at her, she was about to demand an explanation when he began to shake, his eyes welling with tears.

"Deub help us, what have we done?" The pink faced creature said, as he finally looked her up at her, as if seeing her for the first time. The sorrow in his eyes suddenly turned to despair and he turned from her, tears streaming down his cheeks. Stunned by his erratic behaviour, she touched his shoulder to calm him, only to receive ire in return.

"Donít touch me, you wear our joy and display our shame. Elsibe, please forgive me." He turned to her once more with a look of rage on his face before he ran out the door, leaving an awkward silence in his wake. Feeling compelled to follow him, she was stopped by Zarbonís warm hand on her bare shoulder.

"Donít worry yourself over him, Bulma. He is an unfortunate politician long past his prime. He lost his daughter, a woman who I can only assume looked like you, and he is slowly losing his mind. Do not listen to a thing he says, Bulma, he is harmless."

After Zarbonís warning, she dismissed the incident from her mind, but she couldnít erase it completely. It was almost as if there was more going on behind the scenes, something she didnít know.

"Of course the area is secure." Bulma almost jumped as a new voice began to speak. Though the sound was faint, she knew it was more than her mind playing a trick. She knew that voice, had nightmares about it for months, the very sound of it could turn her blood cold.

"This is the solid waste processing and containment facility, no one comes down here unless they have to. Do you take me for a fool?" Halic snapped again, his exasperation evident in his voice. Looking around frantically, Bulma spotted the source of the sound, a small air vent at the top of the wall. Judging by the volume and clarity of the voices, as well as the smell that was wafting down the hall, they were close and evidently did not want to be found.

"Well, I wasnít going to say anything, but Ö" A new voice remarked, only to be interrupted by a voice she had just been thinking about.

"Please, we have to stick to the issue at hand, not fight about such things. Spada-sama, can you ever forgive me for what I have done?" She immediately recognised the voice of the gentleman from the night before. The refined accent and almost musical lilt in his voice was unmistakable. But why would he be speaking with Halic? Why were they in such a remote part of the ship?

Her curiosity now peaked, Bulma followed the path of the vent as it snaked its way down the hall. All the while, the voices were getting louder and more distinct and the purpose of the unusual meeting became all too clear.

"Past mistakes and former alliances are of no consequence here, Quar-san." The first voice replied, presumably the mysterious Spada. "We are here to discuss a greater issue. This ship is the only one in this region within five parsecs and it will be for the next month but even then we donít have much time if we are to stop Zarbon. If we strike we will have to do so quickly. My forces and the Plagalian rebel forces will take out the troops on the ground but we have to take over the ship as well. Halic-san, Fierea-san, it is all up to you, can you organise enough of your men to start a mutiny on board?" Bulma almost gasped in shock. She had stumbled on a conspiracy to take over the ship. How, she asked herself. Why? And most importantly, when?

"Most of the troops would sell out their own motherís for a wad of cash. If you stick to the agreement you will have no trouble getting them to revolt. So we are agreed, when we capture Zarbon and kill his allies, we get the ship." One of the voices said. She had heard it before, and saw the man behind it at several of the diplomatic meetings. It was Fierea, one of Zarbonís corporals. Even though she had only met the man twice, she shuddered at the thought of him. A true mercenary, he would gut anyone, be it a superior officer or his own mother, for the right price.

"You wonít get far with the ship, but as long as you leave this system, itís yours." The man Spada replied. Whoever he was, he had great authority and was obviously the ringleader of this insurrection.

Following the length of the air vent, Bulma finally spotted a solitary door at the end of the hall. She stopped a few feet away, unsure of what she should do, of what path she should take. The Chikyuujin rebel was intrigued by this plan, taking down a whole ship and the Coldís control over an entire sector. If someone had proposed such a plan when she was on Chikyuu, she would have been overjoyed, would have done everything she could to help.

Yet, as they talked of mutiny, all she could think about was Zarbon. What would they do to him? He was the man who had brought her out of the pits of despair. He had given her a measure of her life back, and she couldnít deny that she was very attracted to him.

Uncertain as to whether she should stay or go, the decision was taken out of her hands and her path was then chosen.

"Halic-san, that leaves only you. We need to disable the communications grid of the ship. If Cold, his sons, or any of their troops catch word of the mutiny, it will be all our lives." Spada remarked, and Bulma held her breath, waiting for Halicís reply. Like Fierea, Halic would never put his neck on the line if the price wasnít right. Unable to hold back her curiosity, Bulma inched towards the voices and peaked through a crack in the door. Among the brooms, mops, and old computer equipment, the four men stood, plotting out the fate of a whole system. Bulmaís eyes immediately flashed over to the unfamiliar figure, no doubt the mysterious Spada. A powerful built man, with olive skin and a sharp face, he had the looks of an aristocrat, not a revolutionary.

"I am well aware of the costs, and my worth. You know my price, Spada, you leave me on Messaline with a million credits when this is over, but Iím adding a rider. When you take Zarbon, I want his whore, the little Chikyuu-jin bitch." At the request, Bulma almost gasped, giving herself away. She watched horrified, as Halic smiled like a cat that caught the canary, his gesture repeated by Fierea. Halicís hatred of her was well known.

Over the last few months, she received numerous tips and warnings from the other technicians about threats Halic had been making towards her. It was only luck and the threat of Zarbon that kept the doctor from trying.

"What do I care about Zarbonís play-thing, we are working for the freedom of an entire system." Spada replied, dismissing her as if she were nothing, like a pebble in his way, hardly worth a momentís notice. Bulma watched numbly as Halic agreed, the sickening smirk growing larger and more sadistic by the minute. What was he thinking, Bulma wondered, what tortures was he already planning out in his twisted mind?

She could hear Fierea chuckling softly and congratulating Halic on his new bitch, even asking him if he and his men could give her a go after the mutiny. At those words a wave of nausea threatened to overwhelm her. How could those bastards talk about her as if she were a possession, a fuck toy? Everything she had worked for, everything she had accomplished and achieved, it was being thrown to the waysides by four men and their egos.

Slowly the fear that racked her body turned to anger until she was shaking with repressed fury. Never again would her life be so ripped apart, be destroyed for the amusement of others. For the first time in her life, she felt blood lust, pure and adulterated hate, the desire to kill and eviscerate everyone in her path.

"So, we are all agreed. Tomorrow after Zarbon gives his monthly briefing to Tsiru-sei, Halic-san will disable the communications grid. Fierea-san, your men must be in place to take control of the bridge and the armoury, after that we will worry about Zarbon. Once the forces on Brieva take back the capital and Quar-san establishes control once more, the good Commander will be tried for his crimes against the people in the Plagal system. Everything depends on the mutiny. Remember, tomorrow we strike."

"Not if I strike first." Bulma hissed softly.

Sneering in disgust at the guards, Bulma turned her back and walked deeper into the garden. Her mind was whirling with the old memories and the promise she made to herself long ago. In the six years since she made that vow to never let anything destroy her, she had been close to the brink twice, and was now facing a third.

If everything that Zarbon said was true, then she would not only be saving Yamcha, but rescuing her own planet from Dodoriaís tyranny. That was a big if though, especially when it all hinged on a secret Saiyajin alliance with the rebel forces.

To think that the Saiyajins would willingly help anyone, particularly Ďlowerí forms of life? It went against nearly every truth she had formulated about them. That any of them were smart or cunning enough to come up with such a scheme would be a miracle in itself.

If it was true and the recent rash of rebel attacks were the result of a Saiyajin-rebel alliance, it was a masterstroke. She had followed the progress of the rebels along the Tsiru-jin-Saiyajin border for almost a year now, observing the effects from the centre of power and from afar. The actions of these well-armed and highly co-ordinated guerrillas from a dozen planets had struck a major blow to the Cold, all under the nose of the Tanto, the royal familyís personal spy network. Well, the rebels were not so careful after all. They left enough of a trail for the Tanto to follow.

Part of her was curious to know what the Tanto had found. It couldnít have been anything conclusive but enough for them to make the accusation, at least privately. The more she thought about it though, the more her interest was piqued. Intrigue aside, the idea that she could pit herself against such worthy advisories, people that had defeated the Coldís intelligence network, was thrilling. Even with her lab to keep her occupied, she missed her life in the Capitol, her house in the Bordello quarter, and the wonderful debates and discussions she had there. She hadnít experienced such a challenge since Ö

A sudden shiver passed up her back as she felt, rather than saw, his eyes on her, watching her like prey. She felt like calling out to him, robbing him of the element of surprise that he always seem to hold in these conflicts. Instead, she chose to ignore her husband, hoping he would take her words last night to heart and cut any private ties between them. She was not so lucky.

"If you were hoping for another rendezvous with your precious Changling, Iím afraid he is plastered to the floor of the gravity chamber. But then, what do you expect, a pitiful warrior against a pitiful machine." Vegeta purred out from behind her, the sound rich with humour and that superior tone he always used when he tried to bait her. How she used to love that voice, before it became laced with malice and contempt.

"Oh? I hate to think what that says about you, since you couldnít stand up in it for the first week." Bulma replied casually, smirking at the low growl that came from behind her. Winning the point, she continued to walk away, trying to keep her rage at the arrogant bastard at bay.

As it had been all day, fate decided to be cruel as she walked straight into Vegetaís chest. Damn that Saiyajin and his speed, she replied as she looked into Vegetaís face. Kami help her, she was tired of his pathetic mind games. The rigours of this day had taken everything out of her and she was ready to give every bit of it back to her cocky Ďmateí.

"If you were hoping to see the fall out from your stint as an accountant, youíre too late. Itís good to know though that the heir to the great Saiyajin Empire has nothing better to do than inconvenience everyone else in order to stroke his ego. Itís too bad they drug the harem girls so much or they could take care of that job too and spare the rest of us. Though if you find Nappa, Iím sure he wouldnít mind doing it, he already kisses your ass. Maybe you can get him to do that little chore as well." She didnít know how, but she must have hit a nerve as she could feel his chest vibrate with a low growl and his whole body tensed. His arms, which had been resting across his chest suddenly reached up and grabbed her forearms and squeezed her tight. Unable to hold back, Bulma gasped in pain as Vegetaís fingers dug into the sore spots on her arm from that morning.

At the sound, Vegetaís scowl softened, as did his grip. Bulma found herself caught in his stare, held there by a surprising light but firm embrace that was far too close for comfort. She couldnít remember the last time Vegeta really held her, not as an opponent or a piece of trash but a real person. The whole encounter was unnerving as her body began to react. Her senses were filling up with the smell of him, the warmth of his skin, the sound of his low growl, the aristocratic beauty of his face. Even after all this time, she couldnít deny that he had some sort of physical and emotional power over her, more than he realised. Even Zarbon, with all his seductive touches and tricks could not affect her as much as the mere presence of her mate, though she fought against showing him any evidence of her feelings. Kami, her previous attraction to him cost her almost everything, and damn it, she would not let him make a mockery of her again. The bastard lied to her, dishonoured her, used her as a play-thing for his own amusements. Never again Ö

Bulmaís anger swelled and before she could control it, she struck out with her knee, aiming once again for a manís vulnerable spot. Like Zarbon before, Vegetaís reflexes were too fast, as he caught her movement and shoved her back. Unprepared for the sudden movement, Bulma slid across the grass, landing on her back with such a force that the air was forced from her lungs. Coughing and gasping heavily, Bulma let go of all her restraints and let her emotions spill out.

"You simian bastard. I am not a toy for you to play with or a windup doll for you to mock and torture at your leisure. Touch me again, Vegeta, and I swear Ö"

"Youíll swear what, bitch?" He roared back, as he grabbed her by the shoulders and lifted her off the ground. Before she could stop him, one gloved hand surrounded her throat and pressed against her larynx. Though his touch was not painful, the threat was there. A smirk spread across his face when she went limp in his grip.

"What will you do to me, Bulma," he whispered at her, his whole demeanour taking on his deadly calm, like the eye of a hurricane.

"What could you do to hurt me? You couldnít even stop me if I chose to kill you, but what kind of game would it be then?" Vegeta continued, his words so soft, they could have been a caress. "What kind of a hunt would you give me?" At first she didnít know whether he had spoken at all but for the look in his eyes. It was like a predator to prey, or two combatants on a battlefield. He stared at her for what felt like an eternity. His black eyes bore into hers as if he were trying to read her mind or steal her soul. Once more she felt a mad rush of passion flow through her, a sentiment she caught in Vegetaís eyes as well. As quickly as she saw it the emotion disappeared, back into the cold, black pit that was her husbandís soul.

"What could you do to me, Bulma? Build a little machine to nip at my heels? Shave yourself bald? You are nothing but a coward. A weak bitch born to a dead race who sold her soul and became the Devilís whore. You will hurt me, will you, wench? Youíll defeat me? Iíd like to see you try."

 

 

"Whatís the matter, Hime-chan," Vegeta continued, sneering at her like refuse. "I expected more than stunned silence and meekness from you, ĎCrown Jewelí. Whereís that righteous anger of yours? I know you can come up with better insults than that." It was on the tip of her tongue to scream back at him with all the anger that was raging inside of her, but she maintained her icy stance. Crown Jewel he had called her, a cold, hard, perfect stone with no warmth or emotions. As she had before, Bulma felt her blood start to chill, her emotions freeze, and the cold, confident veneer she perfected on Tsume came to the forefront.

"So that is what you want from me, huh, Vegeta-kun?" Bulma purred, the sound low and husky, almost seductive. Her sudden change in mood caught her Ďmateí off guard as well as he loosened the grip on her neck. Sensing a shift in power, Bulma continued to play the game, determined to bring the little bastard low.

"You like it when I scream, when I cower, donít you? I bet it even turns you on, knowing you have the power to do that. Iíve been around Saiyajins long enough to learn how your minds, such as they are, operate. You want it, donít you? The anger, the rage, to see your power over me; you want it, donít you, Vegeta-chan?" She hardly recognised the sound of her voice. The tone was so low and husky, so full of power and yet completely devoid of true emotion.

Just like her mateís eyes.

The two black pits that had been boring into her the whole time seemed to shine with arrogance and power, revealing nothing of his inner most thoughts and feelings.

His body was another story. Through his practice armour, Bulma could feel the rumbling of his chest, like a lion ready to pounce, or a cat full of cream. She hadnít noticed it earlier, but through their verbal match, he had been pulling her forward, until now they were almost nose to nose. His tail, which had been around his waist, had loosened and was now lashing back and forth, the fur on it bristling with anticipation. An accidental brush of her leg confirmed it, as she felt an unexpected hardness where her thigh met his. As strong as her determination was, Bulma could hardly hold back the shudder at the slight contact. Not even Vegeta could deny the spark, as his eyes flashed with intensity.

For the briefest of seconds, Bulma contemplated taking that route. In her mindís eye, she could see herself sliding into his embrace, kissing him and the inevitable aftermath. The almost palatable sexual energy between them was strong enough to overcome their mutual hatred, they might go two or three times before their attraction was spent. And then, it would go back to the way it was before.

 

 

"Youíre not worth it." Bulma croaked out, the veneer falling away as she saw the lot of her life mapped out before her. Disgust, cruelty, and hatred were now part of her life, all because of the selfishness of this man. He would never have any of it; her body, mind, anger, happiness, joys, sorrows, her heart. The price was too high.

"Youíre not worthy of it." She replied with cool complacency, the veneer of the Crown Jewel back in place once more. A veneer, it seemed, her husband had also adopted.

His body was still and tense, his glare cold and empty of all emotion. Only the rise of his chest and the movement of tail revealed he was more than a perfectly sculpted statue. And the heat, Bulma noted, which radiated from his body in waves, a sensation that was becoming hotter by the second.

"Not worthy, am I? Not worthy of what: a chatty shrew, a malevolent whore, and a weak bitch who has the power level of an infant?" He replied, his voice and stance tense while his eyes remained as cold and hard as granite. As icy as his countenance appeared, his body was now burning hot. The air around them seem to crackle with energy and Bulma could feel herself starting to flush. Even with her now stained business suit between her flesh and his hands, she could feel her skin react to his touch.

"If anything, you are not worthy of me. A bitch like you isnít worthy of cleaning the latrines in the third class barracks. You are nothing but a maggot, an insignificant piece of filth, just waiting for someone to rub you out." This time, Vegeta couldnít keep the disgust out of his voice, nor the measure of his hatred of her from his eyes. The air that had before crackled now sparked and sizzled with energy, until the hairs on the back of her neck were standing on end. Execration and passion merged and fought within her over her feelings for this man and this life until it sunk in. ĎMaggot ... spot of dirt, just waiting ... to rub you outí. This was it, her lot in life, her fate and ultimate end on Vegetasei. It would never change, he would never change. He would carry around his hatred of her and what she was until the end of his life, and it would never change.

Not willing to give her husband the satisfaction of seeing her buckle under the weight of his slings and arrows, Bulma stared down her nose at him. She would not break, she declared, no matter how much his acid tongue stung at her. She couldnít show him pain and sorrow; her pride wouldnít allow it. If it was the last thing she did, she would bring him to his knees and rip out his soul as he had hers.

"What does that say about you then, Ďoh Mighty Princeí?" Bulma replied, her voice uncertain at first but slowly it grew stronger as her malicious thoughts came to the forefront. "Whatever name you throw doesnít change that you chose me and every charge you place at my feet is of your own design." She smirked in triumph as a scowl broke his bland countenance and he started to growl. The electricity between them was so potent, Bulma could see small bolts of light flash around her. Vegeta didnít seem to notice any of it, his full attention directed at her.

The fire in his eyes grew wilder, her words banking the flames of his rage. A small part of her cautioned her to stop, both for Vegetaís sake and her own but she couldnít. Whether it was Zarbonís offer , the strain of life on Vegetasei, or the memory of a better life, she wasnít going to stop until she struck blood.

"Youíre nothing but a brat and a cretin, spoiled and stupid. What can one expect when your only skills appear to be fighting and fucking and from my own observations, youíre not every competent at either. What must your father think of you, those precious royal genes wasted on a man so pathetic, even the palace page boys laugh at him." Bulma bit back at him, lashing out with everything she had. It hit the target, as she felt him vibrate under her, near to the edge of his control.

So caught up in her own vindictive rage, Bulma had no time to prepare or reaction when the air around them became charged with ki energy and his white hot aura burst to life around him, the edges licking at her. The power was so intense, it burned the air from her lungs and seemed to set her skin ablaze, only her lack of breath kept her from screaming in agony. Staring up at Vegeta, she found herself caught once more in his black gaze, his emotions now written plainly across his face and the chief of these was rage.

Kami, this was it, she realised. The threats, warnings, and fears of seven months were now coming to a head. Somehow it was fitting that it would be Vegeta, the architect of this hell would be the one to end it all. Steeling herself for the coming strike, she glared at her mate, unwilling to show him any fear or weakness, even at the end.

One hand suddenly grabbed at her neck and she could feel the burn of his ki against her skin as she waited, waited for his fingers to tighten and snap her fragile neck. It happened then that a force beyond either of them made its presence known as the gravity harness on her waist suddenly came to life, sparking and beeping wildly before it exploded in a puff of grey noxious smoke.

For a moment, Bulma swore time stood still as she stared at her mateís own stunned face. It must have been the struggle, she realised, her analytical mind taking over to shield her from the horror of what was to come. Between the force of her fall and the power overload from Vegetaís ki, she reasoned, it was just too much. Like a film running in slow motion, she watched as Vegetaís gaze shifted from the pile of burnt circuits at her waist to her face. In her sudden state of calm, she watched with mild fascination the change on her mateís face as his expression shifted, first to shock, then to realisation. Maybe the gravity was already pulverising her brain, but before she felt the crushing pull of the planet on her, she could have swore she saw a flash of compunction on Vegetaís face before she blacked out.

"Ouji-s ... heard ... noise ... something wrong?" A soft, distorted voice growled, breaking the strange sense of calm that had enveloped her. All around her, the air seemed to crackle and buzz yet she was safe and protected. A part of her wondered if she had finally entered the afterlife and existed beyond the realm of mortal pain or cares.

"Yes, you pathetic worms." A loud, furious voice growled and Bulmaís eyes popped open in amazement. Suddenly she realised that she was in someoneís arms, pulled against a chest that was vibrating beneath her cheek. Blinking her eyes opened, she was amazed to find herself pressed against the soft blue of a training uniform. All around her, like a cocoon of white light, the walls of a ki shield flickered and buzzed as it kept even the force of gravity at bay.

"You were supposed to be guarding the palace grounds, ensuring that no one, friend of foe enters a restricted area without confirmation." Vegeta continued, as his eyes bore into the two guards who had ridiculed her earlier. "While you were gossiping, one of those damn Cold ambassadors could have planted a bug within the residential wing, or something far worse. Iím sure your commanding officer will be thrilled to learn you were not only derelict in your duty, while making contumelious comments about the current Hime no less. You should know that such behaviour is tantamount to an act of treason."

Her attention still frazzled by her brush with death, she barely caught what Vegeta was raving on about until she heard the term Ďcurse the current Himeí. Shocked that he may actually be defending her honour, she glanced up at him, only to find him staring at the guards with a look of calculated annoyance to intimidate the lower ranked Saiyajins. The ploy seemed to work too, the guards practically withering in shame under the imposing stare of their Prince.

"Now escort our sirsach back to her quarters, since it seems her pathetic little machine couldnít handle Vegeta-seiís gravity. Get her there in one piece and I may forget to make that report to your Captain." Vegeta finally commanded, though the harshness had fled his voice, replaced by a bitting, insulting edge. The two men seemed to almost brighten at his words, smirking at the private joke of which she was the punch line. Finally nodding their consent, Bulma found herself unceremoniously dropped to the ground as she landed on her butt.

"Get her out of my sight; she disgusts me." He growled as he turned and walked back towards palace, towards one area in particular. Amongst the servants, it was known as Vegetaís unofficial wing, at least since she had become Hime. Though she had only been to that section of the palace once, the memory was etched in her mind forever.

A small, lost part of her felt as if she had punched in the stomach, before her anger and hatred flared. She saw red, both literally and figuratively as a red ki shield flared around her, overlapping Vegetaís white aura. As she turned to her two Ďprotectorsí, she saw her hatred reflected back in their eyes, mixed with annoyance and impatience. Slowly she stood up, dusting the dirt and grass from her clothes and walked back to her rooms with as much dignity as she could muster. Behind her she could hear the light growls and snarls of the two Saiyajins, no doubt cursing her name in their primitive tongue. Their words were of no concern to her, her attention now on bigger matters, bigger problems, bigger prey.

She didnít turn back, there was no turning back as she silently made her way through the endless halls, trying to retrace her steps. Her mind was abuzz with all that she had heard yet her resoluteness seemed to dissolve the farther she walked. What if it was too late to warn the Commander, or worse, what if he didnít believe her? No matter how he might favour her, it was still the word of a technical slave against the chief engineer and a high ranking officer.

A new series of what-ifs skirted through her mind, everything from joining the rebels to attempting an escape but her heart sank as bitter reality sunk in. By Halicís association alone, the rebels would be poisoned against her. ĎZarbonís playthingí, Ď the Chikyuu-jin bitchí, the names still stung at her and dashed her hopes to pieces.

The escape plan equally fell to the wayside. If she had enough time to plan it out, she might have been able to do it but there were too many risks and obstacles to overcome. Even if she could sneak past security and commandeer a ship, there was no guarantee she could disengage the locks on the ship, or open the bay doors, or escape the shipís tractor beam.

She paused as she emerged from the labyrinth, looking over her last options. Left was the shipís quarters, back to her slice of heaven and the man who had given it to her. To her right was the lab, filled with her inventions and weapons. When the mutiny came, she could barricade herself in the lab and take out as many of them as she could. To the right was death, inevitable and bloody. The left, the left was hope, fleeting and precious that she could survive and all the life she had carved out of her enslavement might be saved.

There was no turning back. If her life was going to end, she was going to make the most of her last night.

Stepping through the thick glass doors into her bed chamber, Bulmaís body worked on autopilot as she wove her way through her room to prepare for the night ahead. There was no turning back after this, her fate would be decided tonight.

"Tonight." She whispered to herself, breaking out of her self-imposed daze as she looked down at the garment clutched in her hand. It was an elegant white and dark blue gown, long, fitted and modest. It was just another of her reparations for the evils of her past and a sign of her thraldom to the Saiyajins, to her mate, to her lot. Tonight she was to serve her captors, charm their allies and all the while dressed in the possessive colours of the house of Vegeta.

Growling at the garment and all it represented, she tossed it to the floor and ran into her closet. At last her fingers brushed against the soft, diaphanous material, old but still but still as perfect as the first moment she laid eyes on it. Sometimes it amazed her that the dress had survived all this time and all her changes of address but she was loath to get rid of it. It represented her strength and her first taste of power, when she started taking her life into her own hands. As she slipped the white shift over her head, she made her choice.



"Macula must be crazy if he thinks he can get his daughter crowned the next queen ..."

"Have you seen that new off world lieutenant? Third class, and he broke every scouter within a hectare..."

"... flattened that blue-skinned pretty boy ... the King send Garuís assistants to attend them. None of the Saiyajin physicians would touch that freak ..."

"You donít think the King will actually join that loud-mouthed shrew. One Chikyuu-jin bitch is enough, a second would be more than I could stomach..."

Cawliefe could help but smirk softly at the scattered conversations throughout the large conference room. The best of Saiyajin culture, most powerful, intelligent and influential men and there they were gossiping like the palace staff. While part of him wanted to laugh at their ridiculous behaviour, he couldnít help but listen in, trying to catch any new tidbit of news or critical piece of information. Unfortunately, there was nothing new in discussion, though he couldnít hold back a chuckle at the thought of Zarbon pined to the floor of the Oujiís gravity room. Whatever the ambassadorís purpose in coming to Vegetasei, he certainly wasnít striking fear or awe into the Saiyajins.

Dismissing the thought, Cawliefeís focus turned to more pressing matters, namely item four on the agenda for that eveningís meeting: ĎMatters concerning Chichi Mau and the border rebelsí. Contrary to Upoís beliefs, Cawliefe knew that the King would never openly join or help Chichi and her crusade. It was a topic he and the monarch had often discussed and debated. As beneficial as formal backing would be to the rebels, such an open and brazen move would violate the treaty and give the Colds an invitation to attack. No, his hope was more subtle, and more important to Chichi personally; protection.

Since she first started talking out against the Tsuri-jin, her life had been in danger. As the rebel coalition grew and began fighting back, she became their spokesperson and rallying point, and focal point of the Coldís wrath and various threats. In the beginning those threats were empty words meant to save face, but his instincts were flaring out of control as they neared the first hurdle, the intergalactic conference on Messaline. Her life was at risk, and as a colleague and a friend, he was going to do everything he could to ensure her safety. With her went the future of the rebels and now, that of the Saiyajin Empire.

Glancing up at the clock on the wall, Cawliefe indulged in another smirk as the door flew open and the room went silent. Impeccable timing as always, he mused as he watched the King, Prince, and Commander of the Armed Forces march into the room. Like his son, the King was not one for pointless gossip and chitchat, as he took his place and the rest followed suit. Cawliefe watched calmly as the other men assembled around the table, his eyes lighting on his allies and fellow conspirators on the Council. When his eyes met the Princeís, he was mildly taken back by the tension and look of barely controlled rancour on the boyís countenance. Vegeta seemed to be vibrating with rage and only his pride and strong will kept the emotions in check and hidden from the rest of the room.

The moment of lucidity was short lived as the roomís attention shifted to the King. In perfect synchronicity, each man in the room raised their right fist over their heart and recited the ancient pledge that was taken three thousand years ago when the first Vegeta united the tribes against the Tsufuru-jin.

"Le fuill chree mi bha dooie ab air fearann agus con-gur fuill chree mi ailleas coadey eadh." Cawliefe and the rest of the room then genuflected to the Ou as they finished the oath.

"Do aíArd-ree mi airleas mo rong agus seirbhis. Faod esan ai con-ny neesht amhuil esan ailleas." With a nod from the elder Vegeta, each man rose from the floor and took their seats, waiting for their King to begin.

"Malanga, I trust you have swept the room for bugs? It is bad enough the Tsiru-jinís flunkeys are breathing Vegeta-seiís air but I will not have them, or Tsume, in our council."

"Donít worry, sire. The room and surrounding area has been thoroughly searched and scanned over the last two days. Each of Zarbonís own stooges have been monitored since the Tsiru-jin ambassador arrived. If they so much as sneeze, weíll know it." The Minister of Intelligence replied, his whole demeanour brimming with supreme confidence. Of course he had never seen Malanga with any other expression, like a cat with a mouse firmly between his claws. Whether it was that superior smirk or his mysterious nature, Cawliefe was unsure about the man, and wary of what was behind that confidence.

It was on the tip of his tongue to object or question Malanga, and from the uneasy murmur throughout the room, he could tell that his feeling of uncertainty was shared by many, but a glare from the King silenced all dissent. The apprehension about Malanga could not be so easily dismissed, several of the Council members, Potat in particular, seemed to watch the snide Saiyajin with great interest.

"It is unfortunate that we must meet during such circumstances, but it cannot be helped, nor will it deter us. There are many matters in front of us tonight and personally, I do not intend to waste any more than a few hours on the lot of them. First and foremost, we must speak on the matter of intergalactic diplomacy and our position in the galactic community." The King began, earning a few growls from some of the older Elites around the table, men who remembered the early days of the Empire. The planet was still sharply divided along lines of racial and cultural purity, those that saw the future as being tied to allies and those that believed integration was watering down and destroying everything that was Saiyajin.

"Ou-sama, certainly such kowtowing to lesser creatures and powers is beneath the great Saiyajin Empire. What will this talking and polite posturing bring us in the end that a show of force wonít accomplish faster? It is unseemingly for warriors to act in such a manner."

"Surely you are not questioning Secretary Cawliefeís abilities, General Chayote, or the policies of the crown?" Malanga replied, earning a growl from the aged Saiyajin, as well as a few snickers from the old guard. Cawliefe was rankled by the young Saiyajins presumption but tact kept his expression indifferent.

"Whether diplomacy is unseemly or not, it is the road we must take if we wish to remain a strong Empire. As glorious as the great victory over Tsuri-sei was, it will be meaningless if we do not grow stronger." The King replied, showing more tact than the Minister of Intelligence. As headstrong and stubborn as all the members of his line, it was comforting to see that the current Vegeta had finally mastered pragmatism. Cawliefe held back a small smirk, remembering this argument almost fifty years ago with the Ou himself. There was something strange about fighting against instinct and social mores that had existed for millennium but as he learned throughout his life, words had power, especially when wielded by a master.



"Did you see the Changling, took her hand and kissed it like an old lover, or a current one ..."

"Can you imagine having those two fighting over you? I wonder if they will come to blows..."

"Iíd rather see the blow out between Zarbon and Chichi Mau ..."

Please Father, help me succeed against our enemy. Kami, give me strength to fight, give me strength to keep going.

Even after all the conferences, meetings, gatherings and verbals brawls she had been through, Chichi couldnít keep down the limen of nervousness and anxiety. Taking refuge in the shadows, she calmed her nerves and focussed herself on the task ahead.

She was never meant for this life, her hopes and dreams as a little girl had always been simpler. Originally she wanted to follow in her fatherís footsteps and become a warrior, to the point where she was trained as a martial artist until it that future was blown away with the arrival of Freezaís mercenaries. Even at ten years of age, she still wanted to fight against the enemy, like her father, drive the bad men from their planet, and become a hero. With a childís total confidence in good and right, she believed that between herself and her father, anything was possible.

Her father was far more pragmatic. She would never know how much money was spent to secure that ship or her safe passage to Fugia, but it cost her father his life. His life for hers, she repeated to herself, and would do everything she could to prove herself worthy of that terrible sacrifice as she took up her fatherís mantle and fought where he could not.

Glancing around the room, she saw the keys to her goal in the form of great men and women of state, figures of moral and political sway within the galaxy. With their support, she had a slim chance to succeed where no other rebel or freedom fighter had and win autonomy for Chikyuu and the rest. She already had under the table approval from a majority of delegates at the upcoming Galactic Conference but approval was not out and out support. Everything stood on what impression she could make tonight, if she could sure up her position enough to secure a real commitment from the other powers that be in the galaxy. Politics, like life, was a house of cards, a shift in the wrong direction or the breath of an ill wind could tear it asunder and the weight of her responsibilities would crush her.

Yet, a part of her revelled in it, beyond the nervousness and fear. In that respect, she was her fatherís daughter, always craving the challenge and living for the taste of victory. With that she pushed her fear aside and stepped out of the shadows, ready for any battle that would come her way. Luck was already on her side, as she noticed several allies were present, and her major adversary had not yet made an appearance. Grabbing a wine goblet from a passing servant, Chichi downed a small sip for courage and began to walk towards her targets with all the confidence in the world.

Within moments of entering the salon, she was swarmed by half a dozen friends, admirers, and hanger-ons, an annoyance she had grown accustomed to. Power, or the appearance of it, was like a magnet drawing in everything, both the good and the bad. While her position brought her allies and contacts, it cost her her privacy, her sense of security, and sense of normalcy. Her head started to swirl as a dozen voices began speaking all at once with gossip, introductions, questions, and warnings. Silencing the brash, impatient warrior inside her, Chichi fell back on the breeding drilled into her by her Fugian tutors as she greeted each person with a word or look that was both polite and autocratic. Most were in awe of her dignity and poise, while some followed anyone or any trend that was popular, and then ...

"Chichi-san," There were the media. " Do you think the Colds are trying to intimidate you by sending the ĎProtector of the Borderlandsí as their representative?" An insistent voice bluntly called out from the crowd, one she recognised instantly as Verite Rompre, the intergalactic correspondent from the Kane Media Group. The nosy, bossy Fus an had become an incessant shadow for the last four months. As much as she wished to send the woman packing, she knew it was impossible. Veriteís work had given her more exposure and support for her cause, no matter how annoying and rude the writer might be.

"I donít know what kind of strategy the Colds might be employing against me, though no doubt this is a sign that they will not release the Border lands without a fight. If it is a fight they want, Verite, that is what they will get. I wonít back down, no matter what manner of scare tactics they pull." Chichi replied, her words almost instinctual as she reiterated her standard talking points with absolute conviction. For her part, she wouldnít be surprise if the Changling presence was meant as a scare tactic but for whom was another question. For all the posturing last night, Minister Noionís words rang true, the Tsiru-jin were sadistic and calculating in every move they made.

"Can you comment on Lord Freezaís pronouncement that he believes the rebels are not acting alone and that any power found assisting them are guilty under Intergalactic law and should be punished as criminals?" Verite continued, hardly missing a beat. Chichi almost laughed out , she was well versed in the Fus an questioning style. This was Veriteís big gun, meant to throw Chichi off her game by asking about the one major mystery regarding the rebel forces. Against another figure, it might have caused a flinch, or an moment of weakness, but not Chichi.

"My only comments if that I would like to see this law that prohibits a people to fight for freedom and not ask for help from others. With their tyrannical rule and disregard for laws of common decency, they have destroyed countless people and planets. Now that a rebel group is finally succeeding both militarily and politically against them, they are calling foul and saying that it is an conspiracy. I will agree that our forces have had help from others, Iíve received endorsements from dozens of federations and coalitions, but a shadowy alliance is ridiculous. Frankly, Freezaís tactic seems bred of desperation and I hope any power that has or will support us will see this for what it is." Chichi reply, her poise not breaking as she lied through her teeth. It had been a difficult lesson for the spirited, unabashed girl who wore her heart on her sleeve, harsher than the etiquette training on Fugia. Such a mask was a necessity in her line of work, one that had started to form after her departure from Chikyuu and news of her fatherís death.

Whether Verite believed her or not, the reporterís attention quickly shifted to another part of the room, no doubt having found juicier prey. With Veriteís departure, the mob of admirers began to trickle away in search of a newer, more fascinating prise. Soon all that was left was a young, pewter skinned woman, one of Miriatís people.

"Ambassador Mau," the girl finally said, though she could hardly get the words out for the giant grin on her face. She seemed incapable of speech after that, her eyes filled with awe and even Chichi couldnít hold back a bit of a blush. Hero-worshipping was not something she encountered every day.

 

"Please forgive me for intruding on you," the girl eventually remarked, coming out of her daze and bowing profusely. "But I had to meet the woman who was taking on the Cold Empire. You truly are an inspiration."

"Thank you, Miss ... ?"

"Oh, Iím so sorry. Iím Marska, a fellow freedom fighter, though no where near as successful." The girl said, her face turning grim but she couldnít extinguish the happiness shining in her eyes. For her part, Chichi had never met someone so open and blunt, especially the dog eat dog world of a palace servant. From the girlís impeccable attire, she had to be a high level servant, maybe even a courtesan, but she acted with no thought of appearance or propriety.

What would it be like to live in the moment without a care of concern for the opinions of others, she momentarily wondered. Could she cast off her duties and obligations and just laugh and enjoy life? Even though she was alone with not but this girl, duty was never far away. As always, the eyes of Verite and the other reporters were on her, and with them the gossips and swing delegates.

"Bulma-sama instructed me to be her Ďmeet and greeterí until she comes so I am at your disposal, Mau-san." Marska remarked, her manner more businesslike but she couldnít hide the glint of mischief in her eyes. She was giving her an automatic invitation to meet with any of the delegates and one in particular caught Chichiís eye. The girl obviously followed her completely, as she linked arms and led her towards the small group next to the bar where the Pamphylian representative was standing.

She was so pleased with the turn of events that it was several minutes before Marskaís statement completely kicked in. ĎBulma-samaí, the girl couldnít work for that spoiled, traitorous brat? As the Occhion proceeded to give introductions, Chichi nodded and smiled, now thoroughly pleased with her Ďgroupieí. The girlís innocence now seemed even more incredible considering her employer, it was enough to make Chichi want to offer her a job. Heaven knew the girl had to be better than her own assistant.

"Oh, arenít you a strong one and so handsome too, Lieutenant Karkar." Speak of the devil, Chichi groaned, trying desperately to hide her mortification. Even after five months, that voice was like nails across the black board for her. Kami, how could Yamcha saddle her with that walking twit? While the blue haired woman could provide a face to Chikyuu-jin suffering, she was a trial to deal with, especially when men were around. Like a hound on a scent, she would bat her eyes and try to seduce any good looking man in sight. Hoping to ignore her assistant and make the most of the night, she plastered the smile on her face again, determined to hold her head high.

"It is a pleasure to finally met you face to face, Senator Throic. A mutual friend of ours, Senator Morphus, has spoken very highly of you as an advocate with great integrity and moral conviction." Chichi said loudly, trying to pull attention away from her oblivious assistant before Marron cost her the biggest coup of the night.

"Actually, Miss, my name is Kakarott." The second voice said, far more subdued than the first but this time, she couldnít keep back a flicker of shock, embarrassment, and white, hot rage. Whether the Pamphylian replied or not, Chichi didnít care as she looked at Marron and her latest conquest. Her assistant didnít disappoint. There was Marron, decked out in a short, low cut black dress with her arms wrapped tightly around the Saiyajinís muscular arm. Uncaring about the scene she was making, the blue-haired girl pressed her barely concealed breast against the Lieutenantís arm.

All around her, from both her current group and throughout the room, she could hear the murmured voices condemning Marronís behaviour. Normally Chichi was ready for damage control, with a defence, excuse, or out and out lie if the occasion called for it. This time, she was just stunned. Like some horrible accident, she couldnít look away, though her gaze was focussed completely on the man, not the woman. Kakarott ...

Chichi was sure her cheeks started to burn red at the memory of the previous night. Whether by luck or providence, she had never met most of the conspirators on the other side of the alliance. Her contact had been restricted to Cawliefe and some of the off-world troops that escorted him during meetings. Maybe it was her own naivete that she had forgotten what Saiyajins really were, but she was reminded very pointedly last night. She could still remember her shock at seeing Minister Letunce disappear, and the sudden realisation of what he meant to do to her.

"Even if she is a loud-mouthed wench ... You were saying, Ambassador?" The words were burned into her brain, not for what he said, but for how he said them. His voice, always so calm and soft when they had met in the past, had been rough and low, rumbling from his chest. In all the times they had met, he had never spoken like that to her, or looked at her with that dominant, almost possessive look. Since their first meeting, she had often thought about him in ways she had never thought about any man before. He was part of that little girl she had left behind, a dream of a normal life she couldnít have. She was her duty, she reiterated, not a woman but a cause and she couldnít let any emotion or weakness show. To that end, she tried to block him from her thoughts, all the while hoping that she could avoid him for the rest of the week, but fate, it seemed, was against her.

Before she could turn he had spotted her, his black eyes boring into her own as if he could read her thoughts. Her brain was screaming at her to turn away and ignore him. It was bad enough he had any kind of hold over her but to let him know that fact was more than she could take. Oh Kami, she murmured to herself, he was walking right to her.

"You must forgive me, Ambassador Mau, but Iím rather surprised by your choice of assistant. She seems to lack your deportment and sang-froid, not to mention your sense of discretion. Could you imagine, acting like that with a Saiyajin? Those creatures are more savage than civilised. Why Iíve even heard they scar each other as a sign of marriage." One of her companions commented and Chichi finally pulled her attention away from the train wreck coming towards her only to be met with six intense stares, all of which were full of disapproval.

"Ambassador Mau," The Saiyajin said from behind her and Chichi held back her emotions as his soft, yet authoritative tone washed over her, reminding her of last night. "General Potat send word that he thought you might need an escort tonight, I guess it didnít get to you in time." He continued, his voice now acerbic, sharp with annoyance that she had disregarded Potatís direct order that she take him as her escort.

She had been so angry with him the night before, his rescue adding salt to her wounded pride and making her realise for the first time that she couldnít do everything herself. Yet, a small voice piped up, he saved her life and looked at her as no man ever had, the thought nearly causing her to blush and apologise for avoiding him and leaving him in the clutches of her man-crazy assistant. All thoughts of kindness were stayed when Chichi realised that her group was the centre of attention as she felt the eyes of the room boring into her back.

The room had gone deadly quiet with Marron and the off-world Lieutenantís entrance but until that moment she hadnít realised, so caught up in her own thoughts. Everyone was watching and waiting to see what she would do, and ready to judge her actions and spread all manner of rumour regarding it. More than anything she could feel Veriteís gaze on her, the woman like a shark waiting for the scent of blood in the water, ready to report any apparent weakness or fault.

"No, I did receive the message and I must thank the General for his consideration," she finally replied with a blase, almost dismissive tone as she looked at the pair over her shoulder. "But if you will forgive me, Lieutenant, I donít need a nursemaid, nor your presence over me like a rabid animal. If you wish to spend the evening with my assistant, I would prefer if you didnít make a spectacle in front of the whole room. If you will excuse me, Lieutenant Karkar, your services are not needed." With that, she dismissed both Saiyajin and strumpet and turned her attention back to her intimate group, their eyes filled with amazement and satisfaction. The waiting crowd soon descended back into the loud chit-chat that had dominated the room when she had first arrived. This time though, she was the centre of attention, most of it favourable and at the expense of her rescuer, a man she had admired since the first time they had met. Through the din, she hardly heard the low growl or Marronís yelp but she could feel them, like pin pricks along her spine. Guilt and shame washed over her, even as her face remained poised and confident.

"You certainly put that Saiyajin in his place." Chichi hardly recognised the rough, gleeful tone of the young Occhion girl as she absently nodded and took a large gulp of wine to try and quell her churching stomach. She could still feel his eyes burning into her, as if he was right behind her but she couldnít look at him, not yet. At her side, Throic continued to talk as if nothing had happened, commenting on this issue and that person like an actor in a play, saying all the right things. Words, she thought longingly, when did life get so clouded and confused by them? Why couldnít people just speak their minds and be honest and truthful?

Getting ready to start her part in the play of diplomacy, Chichi stopped as the air was split with the sound of thick, harsh growl, the sound full of more rancour than last night. Unable to avoid the Saiyajinís gaze, she turned, only to find that Kakarott had left his vigil of her and started a new one at the main doors. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the beautiful Battagli was also tense, her once enchanting smile turning into a grimace. The whole room seemed to go grim and quiet, as if Hell itself was descending upon them. It was, Chichi realised, in the form of an angel and a demon.

"Presenting her royal highness, the Saiyajin no Hime, and Lieutenant Zarbon, Protector of the Outer Borderlands."



"The rebellions within the Pantages system has been quelled, though at the cost of many Saiyajin lives. The provisional governments are crumbling without sufficient Saiyajin strength to sustain them, another rebellion may break out. We need ... ."

Damn it, would this meeting ever end? Normally a stoic man, Potat fought back the urge to squirm in his chair and sigh in annoyance. He did let his eyes dart through the room, glancing at the power behind the Saiyajin Empire as they listened to General Chayoteís triennial petition for more troops. Every three years, the whole of the Imperial Council was called to discuss, or rather argue, on the state of the Empire, and every time Chayote made this same request, more troops to quell the rebellions. If Chayote cared an iota about the governments or the inhabitants of those planets, he would help them towards colonial Saiyajin rule, not enforce martial law and add fuel to the flames of hostility. The fact that the General always got his requested troops made Potat even more frustrated; three years was not long enough, he growled.

Being cooped up in this meeting room with the best and worst of the Saiyajin elites did nothing to help his short fuse either. It was cruel, forcing Saiyajins to suffer like this, death by committee. By all that was sacred, he was a warrior, not a politician, his place was with his troops, not mingling and mincing. Discussing trade surpluses and diplomatic alliances had always been Amanteís domain. She had been bred for politics like he had been bred for battle and her skills in diplomacy was equal to his own in warfare. Looking down at the number of casualties from the Pantages rebellions, he was glad she was, or he might be making a similar plea for new troops every three years.

Amante, he thought, the name bringing a sense of peace and a flash of disconcertment. As much as he hated to admit it, most of his agitation was due to her. Even though he had showered twice before coming to the meeting, he could still smell her scent on him, musky and exotic. It had taken all of his will power to even come tonight, that and Amanteís refusal to allow him to shower with her. His annoyance was beyond his unremitting passion for his mate to something far more primal, fear for her safety.

They both decided to dampen the empathetic bond between them but that didnít mean Potat couldnít sense her whereabouts, or hints of her thoughts and emotions. While she had been relaxed and mellow a few moments ago, he felt a shock of anger and unease shot through her. The Changling had arrived. Only tact and a sense of duty to the Ou kept him from flying out of the room and to her side but it was only just. He was even tempted to open up their empathetic bond and tell her to abort her mission, uncertain what might happen to her if he wasnít there to help and protect her. In his mind eye though, he could see the snarl of outrage on her face at his thought, even at the consideration that she was helpless and unable to defend herself. He still remembered the look of joy on her beautiful face when he suggested she take on this task, he wouldnít snatch it away from her now. The blasted woman would never let him forget it.

"General Potat, you seem rather quiet. No doubt ruminating a solution to General Chayoteís dilemma." A gruff, barbed tongued voice asked, knocking Potat out of his thoughts. He looked up to see Nappa and Letunce glaring at him, the former pomposity, the latter with contempt. Being away from the viperís nest that was Council, he had lost the perpetual unaffected and unscrupulous manner, and had let too many thoughts through, yet another by-product of life with Amante. Luckily, so was quick wits.

"Itís not my duty to fight General Chayoteís wars, though he would do better to stop destroying Saiyajin troops and arm small militias from the native population of each of the rebel planets, as a supplemental to the guards. Let the subjects police themselves with a garrison of Saiyajins to maintain the Empireís presence."

"Arm the rebels! No Saiyajin in his right mind would give their enemies the means to destroy them. Has that filthy bitch you took for a mate finally poisoned your mind like she poisoned your line?" Had the insult been given in the arena, Potat might have rebutted with a few good hits but with the grunts of approval at Chayoteís words, he stayed his anger. Better to fight a winning battle with your wits than a losing one with your fists.

"Each of the colony planets had a military before the occupation, find a group within the old regime or recommended by the leaders of your provisional government that would be loyal and train them. Iím sure the Engineering department could create weaponry that would be suitable, strong enough to disarm or injure a weak opponent but useless against a Saiyajin. After seeing what the Hime and her team has created, stun guns and similar devices would not be a stretch." At the mention of the Hime, the whole room grew quiet and tense, the grunts and growls quieting but the hatred at their core was even more potent. As demonised as Amante was, she was a saint compared with the current Hime, though it was forbidden by anyone to speak so of the human woman, especially in front of the Prince.

Every manís eyes shifted to the Ouji, waiting for his reaction at the mention of Chikyuu-jin. For all the ease that Potat spoke with, he watched the younger Vegeta with more interest than anyone else, knowing that he had possibly damned himself within the Council for making such a statement. He had noticed the boy was agitated at the start of the meeting, now though, Potat could swear he could feel the backlash of Vegetaís ki. The low growl and accompanying snarl from the Ouji only confirmed his worst fears, even though they were allies in one arena it did not spare him the Princeís wrath.

"Minister Noion!" The Prince yelled out, causing the ever prudent Noion to tense and blanch at the timbre of Vegetaís voice. "Ensure that the Engineering department has enough funding to take on General Potatís suggestion, cut any superfluous projects if you need to. Why should Saiyajin lives be lost fighting weak, treacherous creatures when they can fight enough other? Besides, that blue-haired bitch should be doing something productive for the Empire." The mood in the room lightened as the Princeís grand decree and Potat allowed himself to relax infinitesimally. He had dodged a ki blast there, but looking into Vegetaís malevolent gaze, he knew he would not escape unsinged.

"Since you are so impressed with the work of the Engineering department, General Potat, you will not mind joining me tomorrow morning at dawn in the gravity simulator for training." His ancestors help him. Though it was a compliment beyond measure to train with a member of the royal house, Potat cringed at the thought. He didnít know what he dreaded more, being crushed by the machine or beaten to a pulp by the Prince.

"You flatter me, Ouji-sama, it would be my honour to train with you." Potat replied with as much sincerity as he could muster, his mind imagining the pain he would be experiencing the next day. Like sharks in the water, his enemies pounced on him, Chayote at the charge, demanding a report on the state of the Saiyajin-Tsiruijin border. He only hoped Amante was faring better.



Thank all that was sacred that Potat was not here, Amante cursed to herself as she watched her mission walk down into the lovely hall. She was in her element amongst the illustrious guests, the intellectual and social elites of the universe, revelling in the discussion about every topic under the stars. Like everyone else, she had been caught up in the little drama between Ambassador Mau and Kakarott, her attention so engaged she had missed her enemyís approach. Kakarottís growl finally brought her back to the matter at hand, reminding her of the pledge she made to her husband. She blushed softly as she remembered the soft kiss he gave her before he left for his meeting, his voice ringing in his voice as he gave her one last piece of advice.

Ď~ If you think that your brotherís suspicions are correct, this is your chance to prove it. Never let Zarbon out of your sight. If he is the key and the Hime is contact, he will betray it sooner or later. Be careful, little warrior, and waring of your quarry. Zarbon is a powerful warrior and an intelligent opponent, watch out or the hunter will become the hunted. ~í Taking his words to heart, Amante cautiously stalked her prey through the room, taking in every detail of the mercenary and the woman on his arm.

If she needed more proof that there was a continued connection between Zarbon and the Hime, their entrance had swept away all doubt. With their arms linked and Zarbonís hand on the small of the Chikyuu-jinís back, it looked for all the world as if they were mates. Both bore calm, impassive expressions, but she could sense something else, her long unused under-cover skills allowing her a glimpse of something else.

Always a smug man by nature, the Changlingís golden eyes seemed to glow in triumph, gloating at the room over some imagined victory. The humanís eyes were a contradiction. Her eyes shone for the world with pleasure but there was something more, a deeper hidden pain, or hatred. Though she had read much about the enigmatic woman, Amante was stunned at the sight of her. Bulma Briefs was as beautiful as they claimed, and if Potat was correct, she was more than she appeared.

ĎShe is smart, this Briefs girl, very smart and pretty as well ... She is a lot like you, little warrior: fierce, deceptive and cunning, very cunning.í Taking in the other womanís appearance more closely, it was hard to believe she could cause so much fear and hatred. Her frame draped in a white shift, whisper fine purple silk dress, and a grey silk wrap, the Hime looked more like a delicate sprite than a traitor. With her luminous blue eyes and perfect face, she was a vision of all that was good and pure. It was hard to believe that this was the woman who sold out her own planet, that the blood of millions staining her slight hands.

Like Chichi before her, a mob of people surrounded the newly arrived pair, basking in the Himeís position and their proximity to it. At the forefront was that reporter, Verite she believed the woman was called. Amanteís eyes narrowed as she watched the Fus an, taking in her graceful movement and unusual features. It wasnít unheard of, she noted, glancing over at Ambassador Mau and the sulking Kakarott. The resemblance between the Saiyajins and Chikyuu-jins was uncanny, but not uncommon. With her smooth, honey brown skin and large green eyes, the woman could easily pass for a pure breed Fus an, but there was something more, something almost Felian?

"Lieutenant Zarbon, how have you found your visit ... any truth to rumours about the friendship between you and the Hime ... do you know what the cause of the current commications black-out is ... what are the Cold Empireís thoughts going into the Messaline conference?" The questions were fired off fast and furious, the restraint and courtesy shown to Chichi evaporated as the mob descended into a feeding frenzy. At the head was the strange reporter, a digital recorder in hand as she badgered and pried, apathetic to woman at the centre of the scrum. While the Hime maintained her unconcerned mask, Amante could see the anger behind her eyes, directed at the reporters and to the man on her arm. Zarbon, on the other hand, revelled in the attention, his arrogance coming to the forefront as he used his legendary charm to win over the crowd.

"Iím here on duty, not pleasure, and while I will admit that the planet has its charms, I canít wait until my duty is done." His manner was easy and unaffected, even as he took a shot at the Saiyajins. He also didnít hide his admiration as he squeezed the Himeís hand. For her part, the Chikyuu-jin said nothing, merely smiled though she couldnít stop her body from tensing at Zarbonís soft squeeze. Could it be a code, or a subtle slip? Spada often used such open arenas in order to pass information. With the mere brush of a hand, a whole planetís secrets could be exchanged, with no one the wiser.

"The Hime and I have always been close, but friendly acquaintances is all we are now. I must congratulate the Ouji for his excellent taste. If this Lady was still on Tsume, these communications problems would have been fixed immediately. The Tanto are investigating the cause of the shut down and we believe it may have been facilitated by the rebels. No matter what Ambassador Mau might spout off about these so-called freedom fighters, the majority are terrorists, menaces that must be stopped." Like a practiced politician, the Lieutenant moved from one topic to another with ease, his delivery perfectly timed and full of the correct emotions, all of which were lies. Already he was listing off the fatalities from the last rebel raids.

"Maybe this answers the big mystery?" A soft voice next to her whispered. "Look at them," Chichi continued, "they are eating out of his hand and lapping up Coldís lies like motherís milk."

"No, he is handsome and new, a novelty to the mass and no doubt a temporary one. Zarbonís presence is unusual but I doubt the Coldís purpose was to malign the rebels. This venue is too small and the messenger too blood stained for this to be an attempt to reverse the Tsiru-jin public image. Besides, it seems the sheep are more interested in Zarbonís relationship with the Hime than any of the Coldís talking points." Amante nodded back to the crowd, many of whom had gone in search of more wine or better gossip.

"And what do you think of their relationship? You donít think that he is thinking of using his past relationship with her to further his own ends, or those of the Colds?" Chichi asked again, her words hardly above a whisper but they stunned Amante completely. A part of her wanted to reveal her suspicions but fear and discretion stayed her hand. What kind of danger would the mission be in if the possibility of a mole was unveiled, especially if no concrete proof. Worse yet was the chance that they could be overheard, to speak of the alliance in the open would put them all in jeopardy.

"He is," the answer came, the sudden presence of the low masculine voice causing both women to gasp in shock as they were caught in the act. Gone was their sense of decorum and formality as both women spun around to confront their eavesdropper. Though she had known the boy for almost a decade, Kakarott stealth still amazed her, how long had he been listening to them?

"How ... ."

"Tousan and I found them together this morning. The Changling tried to pass it off as a loversí quarrel, but I know it was something more." Kakarott continued, anticipating Amanteís question before she could complete her thought. A thousand questions now burned in her brain, the implications of this connection were bigger than she had imagined.

Glancing over at the Chikyuu-jin, she was surprised by the soft blush that coloured the young womanís lovely face, though whether it was caused by Kakarottís presence or the topic of conversation, she couldnít say. Before this week was over, she should have a talk with the girl, and feeling the heat of Kakarottís gaze, one with the Saiyajin as well. Trying hard to hide her grin, Amante felt her blithely spirits evaporate as a soft chuckle filled the air behind her. Kakarottís sudden growl confirmed her worst suspicions, the enemy was upon her.

"So this is the woman who ensnared one of the most powerful Saiyajins; your beauty was not exaggerated. I have often met your Ďmateí during border talks, and seeing you now, and I can see why he would be so protective, Lady Amante." He was as charming and debonair as Spadaís reports had claimed, a playboy with devastating features and cruel eyes. Only her pledge to Potat kept her from shuttering in disgust when he grabbed her hand and brought the limp appendage to his lips. Her resistance pleased him all the more as the grin on his face grew wider. Kakarottís words and Potatís warning rang in her head as she faced her opponent, holding firm as he caressed her palm.

"I prefer to think of it as prudence, a trait that is essential to a leader." She drooled in reply, her tone and expression unwavering.

"Very true, and a quality that most Saiyajins lack, your husband excluded. Iíve had the opportunity to meet a Major Kabo, your son I believe. A fine warrior, very ... prudent. Makes me wonder what happened to your other son, Azzup ... ?" Swallowing her own growl of ire, Amante lowered her eyes, unable to look at the mercenary. She recognised his game, the tone of his questions were like the back and forth of a Shueisha board and he had just stolen a sentry and threatened her Chieftain.

"My youngest died three years ago, killed when the sensors in his pod failed on route through an asteroid field." Her words cracked with heartache, most of it true, as she repeated the story, one Azzufar himself had come up with when he decided to join her brother. It was an elaborate ploy, one that had to be played out to the fullest, to the point where a traditional burial pyre had been lit for him. It was the only way, they all agreed, that he could disappear without suspicion. In a way, she had lost her son, just as she had lost her brother to their cause.

"What a tragedy," Zarbon replied, false sympathy dripping from his cultured voice. "Cut down in the prime of life, just like his uncle." With a single swipe he had taken her Chieftain and laughed at her weakness. Of all the commanders in Coldís army, Zarbon came the closest to killing her brother, a fact he relished now. Even though she knew her brother was alive, it still didnít erase her disgust at seeing his supposed murderer before her.

"Thank you, Lieutenant. My only consolation is that my sonís and brotherís hopes live on in the border rebels and in Ambassador Mauís work. How it must burn your master to be beaten down by one woman and a group of sentinel races, and under your watch as well. Iím amazed you still have such an elevated position, you must be more skilled than I thought." She didnít care if it was a low and open blow, she would take any opportunity to knock the Changling bastard down a few pegs. His hard growl brought a small smile to the faces in her group and Amante wondered if he might slip. Pride had been the downfall of many greater men before, and she already knew her adversary had arrogance to spare.

"Whore of a ... ." Zarbon growled back under his breath and she could feel the prickling of his formidable ki as it formed in his hands. If the look in his eyes was any indication, he was ready to ripe her head off, treaty, duty, and discretion be damned.

"Try it and youíll lose the arm." She could hardly recognise the voice of the man she had known from boyhood, the low growl similar to her husband at the cusp of attack and even Zarbon shivered with the threat. Daring to turn back to her protector, she hardly held back her own shudder of fear. She had seen that look countless times on Potatís face but it was unnerving on the young man in front of her. By the sacred warriors of her people, Potat was going to kill her, putting the entire visiting delegation in bodily harm definitely didnít qualify as being discrete. Experience taught her to avoid a Saiyajin when they are ready for battle but she had to stop them.

"Just try it, Saiyajin and Iíll ... ."

"Lieutenant Kakarott, is that you? First engineering and now Opera; I didnít know Saiyajins were so cultured." Had Freeza himself come out doing the cancan, Amante could not have been more shocked, and glancing at Ambassador Mau, it seemed she wasnít the only one. With supreme confident and oblivious to the destruction that she had just adverted, the Hime walked up to the now blushing Saiyajin and smiled brightly as he bowed low and repeated the oath of loyalty. The smile still on her face, the woman thanked him and proceeded to chat with Kakarott as if they were old friends.

It took Amante several moments to pull her attention away from the unusual pair and she wasnít the only one. More than one group were now watching the Hime and Kakarott, some with interest, some with scorn. Glancing over at her two other companions, both Zarbon and Chichi Mau fell into the latter category and Amante held back a soft chuckle at the ridiculous scene.

"Your father not with you tonight?" The Chikyuu-jin asked, renewing Amanteís curiosity about Kakarottís new found friendship. The boy truly was full of surprises.

"No, Tousan is not much of a classical music lover," Kakarott replied, earning a chuckle from the Hime and a growl from the Changling and Chikyuu-jin. "He is with our commander, General Potat, at the Imperial Council. The General enjoys annoying the Elites by bring a third class soldier as his equal. In the Commanderís absence, he sent me as an escort for his mate, Lady Amante, and Ambassador Mau." At Kakarottís words the other woman stiffened, her face becoming a mask of mild civility. Dismissing Kakarott with nothing more than a curt nod, the Hime turned back to the room, her eyes alighting on Amante and Chichi. The tension between the two Chikyuu-jin was almost palatable in the air as their glared at one another, the difference in their connection to the Cold overwhelming any sense of fellowship.

"I hope you are enjoying yourself, Ambassador Mau. The music was selected specially for your visit, Chikyuu-jin opera is a rare treat to listen to in this day and age." The blue-haired woman finally remarked, breaking the stifling silence and Chichi smiled back, the expression as fictitious as the Himeís. Like players in the ancient game of chicken, both women judged their counterpart, waiting for a moment of weakness or flicker of emotion to show. Both stood firm and unwavering, until the Hime flinched, a sparkle of something forming in her eyes and she quickly turned away, her blue eyes now focussing on Amante.

After watching the friendly chatting between Kakarott and the woman in front of her, it was hard to believe the warnings. Lulled in by her lovely smile and beautiful face, Amante tensed when as she stared into the Himeís eyes. As blue as sapphire, they were as hard and unyielding as titanium and cold as ice. They were the eyes of warrior she realised, someone who had fought a vicious battle, whose hands were stained with blood. She was a delicate prise any man would desire, a brutal battler, and if Potat and Spadaís words were true, a genius unparalleled in both the Saiyajin and Cold Empires.

"It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Lady Amante. I have heard much about your exploits during the great war and it is a privilege to see the legend face to face." The woman said, a flicker of warmth bring her eyes to life, though quickly dulled by a flash of something before the coldness slid back into place. Playing the game of diplomacy, Amante smiled in return, curtsying to her Hime as etiquette dictated.

"You flattery me, Hime-sama," Amante replied, at a loss for how to respond. She knew much about the woman in front of her as well, though none of it would inspire wonder or respect. Looking at the delicate face of the Chikyuu-jin, it was hard to believe that she had slain whole planets. What other secrets was that beautiful face hiding? Could she truly be the mole?

ĎShe is smart, this Briefs girl, very smart and pretty as well ... She is a lot like you, little warrior: fierce, deceptive and cunning, very cunning. ... Who knows what someone would risk ... the hatred between the Ouji ... and the Hime is well known.í

What would a person do for revenge?

A loud striking of the strings ripped her from that last unsettling realisation, its mournful song calling to the crowd that the performance was about to begin. Both pleased and disheartened that she had come up empty handed, Amante followed the exodus into the large parlour room to take her place. Chichi was already seated on one of the ornate chairs and Kakarott had taken his place at the back, watching her like a brooding guardian angel. She was really going to have to talk with that boy.

"Lady Amante," a soft behind her said, the tone as plaintive as the violin which beckoned the crowd. Unsure what she would see, Amante turned and came face to face with a lost girl, the hidden innocence of the warrior. The room was now empty, the brooding presence of the dozens of curious eyes and ears had left for the promise of music. Over the smell of rich perfume and the hors d'oeuvres, she could smell the salty tang of sweat and the noxious odour of nervousness. And those eyes, they were even more vibrant, the cold aloofness gone, replaced with regret.

"Yes, Hime-sama." She replied, fearful and yet curious about what had upset the woman so much. Her mind was wild with speculation. Walking towards the Hime, she stopped suddenly as she felt a pair of eyes glaring at her back. Their very presence caused the hairs on the back of her neck to stand at attention with the single realisation, they had been caught.

"I ... I hope you enjoy the performance." Like the covering of an overlay, all the vulnerability was erased and the perfect mask in place once more. With that, the Hime brushed past her, towards the parlour and the blue skinned demon at the threshold. Amante, on the other hand, was rooted to her spot, trying to work out the confession that had just been snatched away from her. Only the opening notes of the piece pulled her from her daze as she walked into the parlour and hastily took her seat next to Chichi. All conversation in the parlour ceased as the mournful tones of the quartet played before the young Occhian soprano began. The light, melancholy voice filled the room with a tale of love, betrayal, and greed.



There was an old saying amongst the Viscum clan, an old wisdom of the Western plains; might was the only right. The measure of a Saiyajin was determined by strength, either in body or mind, for wit and cunning in battle was more valuable than brute force. Blood lines and the cult of nobility had never developed in his homelands, to the point where clan supremacy was still decided in contests of strength over direct lineage, sometimes resulting in third class warriors becoming clan leaders. Though he was not one to relish in egalitarian ideals as his youngest, sitting through the meeting had taught him one universal truth. All Saiyajins, be they Southern nobles or Eastern peasants, hated to lose and would pull every dirty trick imaginable to win, or better yet, make their opponent suffer. He thought tournament fighting on Messaline was brutal, it was nothing compared to the combat he had witnessed here, even if the weapons were only words. While no blood had been spilled, the lifeblood of all Saiyajins, their honour and pride, had been wrenched apart by the pack of position seeking hyenas.

Next to him, General Potat was silent and tense, recovering from the wounds to his own pride. As a friend of the Ďfilth bitchí, even Bardock couldnít hold back a growl at the insults thrown at Lady Amante, he couldnít imagine how the General managed to keep his cool. Bardock had to admit, his respect for Potat had increased greatly after watching the Generalís prowess in mental combat. After his suggestion to arm the rebels, attacks had come from all sides about his own command on the border, questioning every decision he had made over the past year. There was even a hint of a possible connection to the border rebels, an accusation quickly doused by the General and confirmed by the Minister of Intelligence.

In the background, the next round of arguments had begun, this time the attacks landing on the ever wary Minister of Finance for the budget, or rather one specific expense.

"I still renew my objection, Ou-sama. It is bad enough that ... that woman is on this planet but to give her free rein to invent and create her monstrosities, it is an abomination to everything Saiyajin." Tuning out the latest round of squabbling and hen pecking for political gain, Bardock scanned over each occupant with disinterest, all the while, inching his gaze towards his new prey, or rather, another predator in the grass.

Standing only an inch or two above the Prince with a slim build and lacking any ceremonial crests, Bardock had initially skimmed over the mysterious Saiyajin. Though he had heard much about the crackdowns and powers of the new Minister of Intelligence, they were secondary thoughts in his mind. Now though, the overconfident Saiyajin was very much at the forefront, boring a hole in his brain as his curiosity and natural suspicion came through. For his size and apparent lack of nobility, the man commanded great respect, his word strong enough to end even the petty debates of the Council. Even the Ou deferred to the unusual warrior, Bardock thought with a shudder, what kind of hold did the Minister have to wield that level of influence?

Out of the corner of his eye, the squad captain watched the Minister, his mind whirling around the last words to come from the Saiyajinís mouth.

ĎThe General is correct. None of the rebel force, except the Ambassador, has passed over our border. Whatever these traitorous creatures may be, they are nothing to the Empire. Iím sure the General would never risk the future of the Saiyajin Empire to help a bunch of self-deluded crusaders.í While the Ministerís word silenced the dissenters on the Council, Bardock held back a knowing smirk. Regardless of the insult, the man was completely mistaken, buying the lies and falsified documents just as the Alliance hoped. Or, Bardock thought, maybe the rumours of Malangaís all seeing network of informants was just that, a rumour created by a power hungry sycophant.

ĎEach of Zarbonís own stooges have been monitored since the Tsiru-jinís ambassador arrived.í Rather convenient that the Minister fails to mention the Tsiru-jinís ambassador himself, remembering the scene he walked into this morning. Only a idiot or a traitor would let Zarbon go around the palace unchecked, though which of the two Malanga was, Bardock couldnít say. After listening to the Ministerís self-assured proclamation about a rebel connection to Potat, he was inclined to agree with the former. Yet, he felt an itch of uncertainty, his instincts and common sense warning him against undue pride and rash conclusions.

The topic of debate seemed to shift once more but his mind seemed focussed on the Minister. Watching the Saiyajin out of the corner of his eye, Malanga appeared supremely confident, a quality that vexed Bardock even more. Then, with a subtle move only the purge captain could see, the Minister turned in his direction and smirked. The move took a second but it shocked Bardock to the core. It was the look of an all knowing, all seeing being catching an amateur in the act, chiding him for his own short-sighted mistake. Bardockís own blood went cold as he recalled Malangaís words, or rather the words that were not said.

"The question isnít just how we could benefit by supporting the Chikyuu-jin, but if we decided, how could it be done? To assist the rebels is to attack the Colds; we might as well invite their armies to invade." One of the on-world Ministers remarked, the outside conversation finally cracking the shell of his concentration. Glancing over at Malanga once more, he found nothing to betray that mocking smirk from before. It didnít matter at the moment though, there was nothing he could do. Making a mental note to investigate this potential threat, he listened with growing interest to the new debate.

"The how should be obvious, even to you, Minister Upo. That woman is the biggest thorn in Freezaís side in decades. Every time she talks about the pitiful rebelsí cause, it weakens the Coldís death grip on the Galaxy and their allies. Anything that weakens the Colds strengthens the Empire." With a cold, self-assured tone that put even Malanga to shame, the Ouji replied, causing the whole room to pause and nod in agreement. He had to give the Prince credit, he was smart and cunning, two traits that made him a strong leader and a deadly opponent.

"Beyond that, support of Chichi Mau will reflect well on the Empire, win us allies among her supporters and increase our standing within the higher circles of power." Cawliefe continued, cementing his argument in the wake of the Princeís words. The spell which held the room in awe dissolved with Cawliefeís statement. For all his power and position, he did not have the Princeís charisma, or a point that was purely beneficial to the Saiyajin race.

"And what kind of support should we give to that weak creature?" Nappa growled out, his beady glare directed squarely at the now hoarse Secretary of State.

"Yes, throwing our support behind her could bring the Colds against us."

"If supporting the Chikyuu-jin could cost even one Saiyajin life, why shouldnít we just wash our hands of it and enjoy Freezaís misery?"

"If you are so interested in backing the woman, why not mention it at one of those idiotic conferences, Cawliefe-san. Give her a little applause, or whatever you do and be done with it." The chorus came from several voices, all impatient and displeased at the thought of helping any non-Saiyajin, no matter the benefit to themselves.

"I donít think you grasp the full weight of the situation." General Potat finally replied, his voice a study in control and every objector fell silent. "Most of us fought in the great war and we know what the Colds are capable of, the depths they will go to crush any obstacle in their path. Ambassador Mau is the current thorn in Freezaís side and it wonít be long before he tries to have her removed."

"Better still," Minister Letunce chuckled. "He would create a martyr for the pathetic rebels. If anything, the woman would become a bigger pain in his side than she already is." The previous stillness was shattered as a cacophony of chuckles, growls, and shouts of approval filled the room. While Cawliefe and his General were models of stoicism, he could see the tension in their frames and the look of failure in their eyes. For a brief moment, Bardock felt an iota of the guilt which must have consumed the pair. We have just condemned her to death, he suddenly realised.

Unlike the two nobles, Bardock couldnít claim any kind of bond or friendship with the girl. His only connection was through brief encounters; watching her at conferences while on duty, or during the odd meeting with General Potat. A small part of him was truly ambivalent to the girlís fate. It was might that made right, so what was the life of one weak, loud-mouthed, non-Saiyajin woman to him? The answer came with a twist of his gut and a quick flash of a person he felt nearer and dearer to than was right for a Saiyajin warrior.

Maybe he was too set in his old ways, or in the teachings of the past. For the life of him he couldnít see the appeal, though with that brash, wild nature, he could see the challenge she would present to any man, even his easy-going second child. Whatever it was, Kakarott saw it in her, entranced the first time he ever saw her. He still scoffed at the boyís reaction to the Chikyuu-jin, but he could recognise it all the same, when he saw his mate the first time at the festival of the full moon. As hard as it was for him to admit, his son had made his choice. The father in him could not see the girl without his son by her side: claiming her, marking her, protecting her.

"Enough," the Ou curtly said and the whole room fell silent once more, the tension between the council thick enough to drown an Occhian. "I agree with Vegeta. The girl provides a unique opportunity to weaken Cold and his sons, one that we should not lightly pass up. I am not so blind to the consequences though; the woman and her rebels are not worth the Empire and unless a solution can be reached, we will leave her to her fate."

"What about a body guard?" He didnít know what madness had possessed him as the words slipped past his lips and the whole council turned towards him. Facing off against the curious stares and hate filled glares, he noticed the look of mild amusement on the Ou and Ouji and continued. By the First, he hoped that boy appreciated this.

"The case could be made, Ou-sama, that since the woman is, at the moment, a guest of the Empire, she is under our protection. As a gesture of good-faith towards the Ambassador, the Empire would provide for her safety and well-being until she arrived at Messaline, with an escort or body guard. Once she is there, it would not be difficult to Cawliefe-san and the Saiyajin delegation to protect her from any attack by Freeza." Out of the corner of his eye he watched the reaction to his words, but he received mostly stunned silence, whether it was caused by relief or annoyance he couldnít say. His focus was directed at the two Saiyajins staring at him with impassive expressions. The room held its collective breath as the royal pair decided the fate of one woman, giving it the consideration of the fate of the Galaxy. It wouldnít be far from the truth, Bardock realised ruly; whether the Council knew it or not, their fates and that of the Galaxy and beyond now rested on those slim shoulders.

"And Iím sure you have a candidate for this illustrious position." The Prince replied with a sarcastic bite in his voice. Bardock could feel the tension melting out of his shoulders and he put the last piece in motion. He hoped the boy would forgive him.



"Achoo."

Kakarott covered his mouth to dampen the sound but it still rang through the music filled salon, causing a few irritated look from the assembled crowd. Hold back a flush of embarrassment, he melted against the far wall still brushing his nose. Rather odd, he hadnít smelt anything unusual when he arrived and he had no known allergies or problems. Curiouser and Curiouser.

"Whatís the matter, Karkar? Donít tell me you are coming down with anything? All this time with weaker beings is rubbing off on you." Normally one for a good laugh, Kakarottís once dormant anger flared. No one called him ĎKarkarí.

"Youíre late," he replied curtly and levelled an enraged glare on his fellow Saiyajin worthy of the arena floor. "The General gave us both an order to guard the Ambassador and Lady Amante tonight and you disappear for three hours and stroll in halfway through. Give me one good reason I shouldnít report you to the General and have you assigned to Station 16-D." Kakarott watched dispassionately as Zucin expression shifted from jovial to choleric.

"What the fuck is your problem, Lieutenant?" The older Western growled back, earning more irritated and curious looks from the seated dignitaries. If the circumstances had been different, Kakarott would have responded with a growl of his own and a few swings with his fists. In the grips of intense and unusual feelings of frustration and with no available outlet to release it, Zucin became a marked Saiyajin.

"I could ask you the same thing, Zucin, if you were ever around." Kakarott finally whispered in reply, his voice a deadly calm more terrifying than his fatherís tirades. "Since weíve arrived on planet, youíve been late three times and away without leave twice. Where the hell were you? Better yet, why were you out? If the General catches you, a waste processing station will be the least of your troubles." While his anger was still fresh in his mind, he couldnít completely erase his concern for his comrade, his brother in arms.

"I didnít know you were so concerned, Lieutenant, about where the General sticks me. I thought you might appreciate since you wouldnít have to keep saving my ass." Zucin ripped back, oblivious to the threat in Kakarottís voice and the anger stares of the various patrons. One in particular caught Kakarottís eye though, an stern pair of deep brown eyes set in a lovely, determined face.

"Ahh, so thatís what all this bullshit is about." Zucin remarked, the tardy Saiyajinís ire melting away as he chuckled at his comrade long standing issue with the Chikyuu-jin Ambassador. "Personally I donít see the attraction. She far too small, and weak, and pale for my liking but whatever turns you on. If itís annoying you so much, why you donít just grab her up out of that chair and claim her. Thatís what your brother would do, and if you had a pair you would do it too."

"I donít care what Radditz would do. If he thought with his brain instead of his dick, he wouldnít be spending the day in the tanks." Kakarott sneered back, unable to hold back his anger. It was bad enough that he had made a fool of himself in front of Lady Amante and Chichi-san, but to have Zucin pinpoint his difficulties so quickly was even worse. It didnít help matters that he wanted to do just what Zucin suggested, uncaring about the reaction it would cause. Something stayed his hand though, a sensation he hadnít experienced until his first diplomatic conference.

He could still remember seeing her that first time, taking on the most powerful Empire in the Galaxy with nothing but her mind and the courage of her convictions. Since meeting Lady Amante, he had come to appreciate strengths beyond the purely physical but until that moment he hadnít understood what these others powers were. She was smaller and weaker than any Saiyajin woman, as fragile as the cinalis flowers that grew on the Western moors, but she was amazing to him. For all her weakness, she was a fighter, a warrior of the mind and, as he would later find out, a skilled martial artist as well. She was more determined than anyone he had ever met, more passionate towards her cause than he had ever seen. He knew then what his brother had always talked about, but it was something deeper, something that caused his cast-iron stomach to tighten into knots.

Sheís not a Saiyajin, maybe her kind did not have the same reactions or beliefs about mating. He knew she felt something for him, her smell and eyes telling him even when her words spoke otherwise. Yet, she still denied that there was anything between them, dismissed him for the sake of her pride and position. That was the rub, he realised, no matter what she might think of him, her cause was always number one. It was what attracted him to her in the first place but now it was a barrier between them.

He watched passively as the music ended and the room stood on their feet, clapping enthusiastically for the musicians. Soon the once silent parlour descended into chaos as people began to move, laughter and talking filling the air as the diplomats quickly returned to their hors d'oeuvres and wine. He watched intently as Amante and Chichi began to weave through the crowd, the two in deep conversation. Intrigued by what the pair could be talking about, he tried to eavesdrop over the noisy din of the room but to no avail. About to follow after them, he was rooted to the spot as another voice cut through the cacophony, one that boiled his blood.

"There you are, Karkar. Arenít you going to escort me back to the parlour?" A breathy, vacant and unfortunately familiar voice called out to him and Kakarott felt his shoulders tighten in annoyance. What had he done to deserve this kind of punishment, he growled to himself as he felt the flighty woman approach.

He had been pleased when the General had given him this duty, until he showed up at the rooms for the Chikyuu-jin delegation and found this blue-haired twit. To add insult to injury, he had found that the Ambassador had left just a few moments earlier, leaving him to the machinations of this woman. She reminded him of the females his brother would sometimes bring home, camp followers his father used to call them.

"Lieutenant," the girl called out again, this time with a touch of pitifulness in her tone which caused him to look back at her. He was almost caught up in her wide, sad eyes, drawn in by the soft pout of her red lips until he remembered the way she shamelessly pushed herself up against him earlier. Maybe she was a better actress than he gave her credit for, he growled before grabbing her arm.

"Iím sorry Miss, but duty calls. Iím sure that Corporal Zucin would be more than pleased to escort you." Before either party could object, Kakarott pushed Marron into Zucinís arms and walked away. The femaleís whimper of dismay soon morphed into a gasp of delight and Kakarott could just picture her grabbing hold of his close friend like a snake and he almost felt sorry for Zucin, almost.

"You bastard. Whatís the idea, leaving me with this twit." Zucin snarled in Saiya-go.

"Think of it as your punishment. Hey, Iíd rather a beautiful, if flighty, girl to guarding a solid waste station any day." Kakarott growled back and left Zucin to his fate, chuckling softly at his poor friendís predicament. While not at Radditzís level, Zucin had a way with women as well, so he was sure his friend would make the best out of his bad situation. In the mean time, it got the girl out of his hair and allowed him to concentrate on more important matters.

Weaving his way out of the parlour, he quickly spotted his two charges, as well as the Changling. The General had left strict orders about how he was to act, and who he was to watch out for. It was a warning that Kakarott understood all to clearly. The threat from last night had hung over everyone in the room, Zarbon was here for a reason and it spelt trouble for them all. More than that, his blood boiled when he looked on the man that had nearly attacked Lady Amante, and the Hime.

The Hime ... . Glancing around the room, he found her surrounded by reporters and hangers on, all the them gravitating towards the beautiful, sophisticated woman. It was hard not to, she commanded great respect and regard, no wonder she got that nickname. He could see how any man could become enchanted with her, even one as seemingly stern and assiduous as Vegeta no Ouji. He had heard the rumours of the joining, the disgrace of the Princeís rejection, and the strained relationship between the pair. Since he had arrived on-planet, he had also heard the tales of her service and ties to the Colds, and rumours of an affair with Zarbon. If only they knew the truth.

Chichi didnít know how close she was to the truth about the Changling, though neither would he if he hadnít seen it with his own eyes. The image of the mercenary trying to crush the Hime was burned into his brain, as was the last thread of what he assumed was a long conversation.

ĎThis isn't even a fraction of what your precious Yamcha is going to face. You can make it all stop for him and you. Help me destroy them, Love. What will it be, the Saiyajins or Chikyuu?í

At first he was unsure as to the meaning of the entreaty, and what it had to do with Chichiís home planet but whatever it was, it had been important enough for Zarbon to risk his life to attack the Hime. It was also dangerous, if the Himeís fear of exposure was any indication, but what could it be?

"Something more?" A soft voice asked behind him, pulling him from his thoughts. Turning, he found himself staring into a pair of concerned brown eyes, all haughty pretense gone. A part of him wondered if she was talking about them, asking the question that had gone unanswered for several months but his better judgement knew.

"Zarbon mentioned someone named ĎYamchaí, thatís one of the rebel leaders on Chikyuu, isnít it?" A soft gasp was his reply as a look of fear overcame her features.

"How could he know? The real name of each leader is a closely guarded secret, they are only known by nicknames. No one would ... ."

"They would if it meant their lives, especially his own." Kakarott interrupted, loathing building inside of him for adding another concern on her shoulders. "From what I can tell, the man has been captured, and likely tortured. For some reason, he was offering the manís life to the Hime in exchange for something." Her eyes widen in shock and Kakarott wondered if she even realised how candid she was being. For all her false faces to the media and outside world, she always wore her emotions with him, a fact he relished.

"What?"

"Us."

"And what was her reply?"

"I donít know." He replied truthfully, hoping she said no but he couldnít dismiss the stories about her service to the Colds, her hatred of the Saiyajins, even her own fear and anxiety over being caught. It was hard to think of the teasing, kind woman who had greeted him earlier as an enemy. What could cause her to risk high treason and a death sentence to help the Colds? What could push a woman over the edge?



"I still think we should have argued for more. The Colds are weakened, their position is not what it once was and we are far stronger than we were after the war." One of the younger Saiyajin nobles exclaimed, the cub lacking the restrain of his superiors. Minister Upo gave a horrified look at the young underling, his nephew, as the eyes of the whole Council narrowed in on the naive warrior.

"Would you want to chance breaking the damn thing, or giving the Tsiru-jin any cause to attack? To break the treaty wonít just bring the wrath of the Colds upon the Empire but all their allies and be abandoned by the intergalactic community. As great as the Empire is, it is not able to face the consequences if the treaty was broken." Upo snapped at his assistant in an veiled attempt to save face in front of Council. The boy simply nodded, although everyone could see the dismissive look in his eyes.

For his part, Vegeta almost chuckled at the young Brassicanís comment, amused by the boyís ingenuous attitude. He had become far too cynical after seventeen years of sitting on the Council, cutting his teeth on the rhetoric and power plays, training his mind to be sharp, quick, and emotionless. He had long ago mastered the art of oration and argument, at least in this setting. He hadnít felt alive in this form of combat in months, not since her.

The bitch.

The discussion slowly shifted from the practical to the absurd, the actual ratification ceremony, or rather, how long before Zarbon would leave. Three more days, Vegeta growled under his breath, and the mockery of diplomacy would be over. In three days, he would stand in the great Hall of the ancient Saiyajin Kings and sign away the Empireís future for another fifty years, with one traitorous alien across from him and another by his side.

"Youíre not worthy of it."

Did she think he couldnít smell the bastard on her skin? That she would make a fool of him with the Tsiru-jin Lordís current whipping boy? In a small, rational part of his brain, he wondered why it should even matter to him. She was nothing to him, less than the dirt beneath his boot. She was nothing to him, nothing, nothing, nothing.

"Youíre not worthy of it."

So why couldnít he get her out of his head? Even in the very bastion of Saiyajin paramountcy he could not escape mention of that weakling from the mouths of his own advisors and allies, not that he needed it to be reminded. As hard as he tried to keep it down, the encounter in the garden burning through his brain. He could still see them, those eyes, like two huge, blue windows into her soul as they flashed with hatred, dulled with pain, sparked with passion. His every sense had been filled with the vile creature, the effect still as strong now as when he held her fragile neck in his hand. Even now he could still smell her, that soft, bewitching scent tinged with her own desire still clung to his skin. He could see the fear and sadness in her face when her machine suddenly died. Worst of all, he could still remember how his stomach clenched at the sight, his whole being racked with ... .

"It would be a good gesture to the Coldís and the Intergalactic community if the Ouji signed the treaty, to show our commitment to peace in the future." A low, cultured voice remarked, causing Vegeta to tense at the realisation that he had been caught daydreaming about her, again. Schooling his features into an impassive mask, he glared down the Minister of Intelligence as he faced this latest enemy in his fatherís Council.

"A good gesture? Maybe we should simply hand over the Empire to the Tsiru-jin right now and skip the whole mockery of a ceremony. Iím sure that will secure the peace, Malanga. The treaty is nothing but a paper thin shield and as much as the Empire Ďneedsí it, I wonít hide behind it like a frightened cub or prostrate myself for the Colds, no matter how good it will look to some faceless diplomat. It will be hard enough to watch the signing, let alone be photographed by the intergalactic press shaking hands with Freezaís Changling pet but I wonít take the final step and put my name on that travesty. The future of the Saiyajin isnít to hide, retreat, or become anyoneís dotch hound." Every word was perfectly said, each weighted to play on the emotions of the room and they didnít disappoint. Whatever sway the mysterious Malanga had over the Council and his father, it was nothing to his own. He fought back a self-satisfied smirk as his enemy shrank back, though his black eyes were still watching for any weakness. Vegeta recognised the signs of a fellow predatory and he saw them in the Minister of Intelligence.

He wondered again at Malanga, a warrior barely twelve years his senior. His father had met the Saiyajin less than five years ago, until then he was a relative unknown within the Empire. Vegeta still didnít know what it was that had impressed his father so, but it was enough to give Malanga a position on the Council and control over the Empireís growing intelligence network, a fact which ground at his nerves. What was his father thinking, putting such a ruthless, cunning individual in such a position?

Maybe his father was less trusting of the Colds as he always appeared, a thought which shocked and oddly pleased the Prince as well. For all the Ouís spouting off about honour and trust in Ďour alliesí, his fatherís hate and distrust of the Colds ran as pure through his veins as it did for every other true Saiyajin. He still didnít like Malanga though, something about the man made him tense and uneasy. He knows too much, Vegetaís instincts replied, far too much.

"I see your sense of duty is unwavering in the matter, Vegeta. Just make sure you show up on time with that Ďthingí of yours. I will not allow her to make a mockery of our race."

Too late, the thought came unbidden from his mind as soon as his father had spoken. Every time he looked into those blue eyes, he could see his shame. Unwilling to let the bitch distract him a third time, Vegeta merely nodded, unsure how he would address the very topic of her.

"Excellent, then we are finished. Now get out all of you and may I not see your sorry faces again for another three years." The King barked, earning a few chuckles amongst the various nobles and warriors, none of whom enjoyed the work of statesmenship. There was a rattling of chairs as the members of the Council started to move, all eager to stretch and move after too many hours in close quarters. Vegeta himself was eager to leave as well, maybe get a night of training in to work off the irritation gained over the last few hours. And to see that woman is up to, an exasperating voice replied, see what she and the Changling are plotting. While the conspirator in him revelled at the challenge, another deeper part growled with rage at the thought of the blue bastard anywhere near that woman.

"Vegeta, we need to discuss something." His fatherís voice rang through the noisy room, and at its tone every conversation ceased, and every set of eyes bore into him. The Kingís voice was harsh and authoritative, leaving no question of doubt or defiance. It was enough to cause the room to quickly empty, until only Malanga, the King, and Prince remained.

"If this is some attempt to intimidate me, Otousama, for insulting your annoying crow, save it. I only did what was right for the crown and the Council. You embarrass us both with these demeaning displays of suppose to Malanga. What does he have on you, Ousama? It must be good if itís made you into such a puppet." Vegeta snarled, hardly waiting until the last of the Council was out of ear shot. It was one thing to relish a challenge, it was another to encourage outright rebellion and defiance, and the way Malanga acted was in defiance to the very house of Vegeta.

"Leave, Malanga, your services are better used elsewhere." His Father replied back, his gaze focussed completely on the impudent Minister. Bowing with respect he rarely showed to anyone else, Malanga did as his Father commanded, all the while ignoring the enraged Prince. Both Vegetas watched in tense silence as the last spectator left the room, the click of his boot heels echoing through the hall until it too disappeared.

"You dare ... ."

"Silence!" The Kingís voice ripped out, cutting off the snide comment that was poised on his lips. Stunned by such a show of his Fatherís rage, Vegeta was indeed silent, waiting for the retribution for his earlier show of contempt. He was amazed when the sudden flash of anger quickly drained from his sireís features, leaving only resignation and admiration.

"It was very clever, you know. I should have suspected from the beginning but I didnít put the pieces together. Truth be told, I didnít expect anything this clever, or dangerous from you, Vegeta, though maybe I should have." If he had been in his right frame of mind, Vegeta knew he would have a sarcastic comment or derisive word for his Fatherís strange behaviour but he was beyond speech as cold hard reality smacked him in the face. Though he kept a stoic expression on his face, his Father saw through the veneer and smirked, no doubt pleased that he had finally bested his son.

"I should beat you into the ground for putting the Empire in such danger."

"I would like to see you try, Ottousama, though Iíd rather take my fists to your crow." Vegeta snapped back with more venom than he felt. Realisation struck him hard and only his iron will kept him from showing his thoughts. His father knew, and no doubt so did the snitch. By the First, how many more did?

"It really is an amazing scheme, a perfect tactical manouevre." His father continued, ignoring Vegetaís taunt. "Join with the rebels through diplomatic channels, using our Chikyuu-jin Ambassadorís connections, then send information, supplies, and equipment through drone and manned pods to your various allies. And all of this without the rebel forces knowing exactly who their benefactors are. Did you figure it out yourself, or should I be giving the credit to Cawliefe?" Had his father been sitting in on his initial meeting with Cawliefe, he could not have described his plan better. Again he felt tongue-tied by the depth of his fatherís knowledge of the plan he had orchestrated for the last eleven months. Unable to give a proper answer, he merely snorted at the elder Vegetaís words, levelling a sneer of contempt at the very suggestion. Of all the reactions he expected out of his sire, the laughter that boomed through the Council room was not one of them.

"Youíll make a fine Emperor, boy, when the time comes. If you donít destroy us first." The King finally remarked, earning another growl from Vegeta at the use of the term Ďboyí. His growl earned him another of his Fatherís chuckles before the King turned grave, his face not hiding his apprehension.

"Donít blame Malanga, he gave me the last few pieces to the puzzle, and weekly reports on your activities. My Ďcrowí, as you like to call him, is very well connected in the Tsiru-jinís realm, even within the Coldís mercenary ranks. For now I wouldnít worry, Vegeta, your little plot hasnít been discovered, yet."

"Yet? Some new revelation you want to toss at me, Father? Have you been hiding the secret of the Legendary from me as well?" Vegeta snarled back, his own anxiety evaporating with his Fatherís amusement.

"You want to know, donít you? You want to know how I know? As I said before, your plot is brilliant, your moves and spies still undetected by the Colds or their Tanto. There is no fault in your plan, Vegeta, only your vanity." With that his father reached into his armour and pulled out a scrap of metal no bigger than the palm of his hand. Blacked and jagged, it was off little significant to anyone but it caused Vegeta blood to run cold. He watched silently as his father traced his finger along the edge of the metal. No one else would have ever known, no one but ... .

"Malanga found it, or one of his associates. Like your operation, sometimes itís better not to ask too many questions. It was retrieved on Arlia, three months ago after one of the rebel assaults on Freezaís stronghold on the planet. Since then, Iíve instructed Malanga to monitor every move the rebels and the Tanto make and hide any evidence of a tie between the rebels and the Saiyajins. You should be pleased though, you offered my Ďcrowí the greatest challenge heís ever faced... ."

"Yet?"

"Your enemy is smart too. They suspect."

"Is that all?" Vegeta snorted back. "The names of every single other Empire, coalition, and trade house has been used in connection with the rebels too. They suspect, that the very nature of the Colds; paranoid megalomaniacs each of them. Did Malanga whisper that in your ear?"

"No, the Colds screamed it by sending Zarbon. They are sending a message, and attempting to lay a trap." At this comment, Vegeta quirked a brow in surprise. His opinion of Malangaís abilities and his fatherís intellect greatly increasing over the last few minutes.

"You know better than I what happened between the Changling freak and that Chikyuu-jin whore, what she did for the Colds. She has a deadly reputation, your Ďmateí, cunning, devious, and would sell her own people to secure her own freedom. What would she do now if they asked? What would that bitch do for revenge?" His father continued, hardly able to speak of his Chikyuu-jin Ďmateí without struggling over the word. Even after seven months, the mere mention of the woman could make his father snarl in rage, the insult of her very presence on Vegetasei still burned the King like a ki blast. He would do anything to remove the stain of Bulmaís existence from the Empire but to him and every other Saiyajin, she was untouchable, the Princess until death or dishonour. Dishonour ... .

He didnít know now right he was, how close he was to the truth. By just talking to Zarbon she could be accused of high treason against the crown. A flash of anger lanced through Vegeta at the thought of her, those blue eyes filled with smug satisfaction. The Crown Jewel of the Cold Empire, she was nothing but a whore to the Tsirusei Empire. With a simple accusation of treason or adultery he could be rid of her forever, rid of his mistake, rid of the shame that came between himself and his father.

Yet ...

He could see her in the garden, both times, fear and emotion churning in her eyes. That last moment before the shield died.

"Donít worry, Ottousama, I can control my own mate."

"See that you do, Vegeta." His father said, his commanding voice now a harsh whisper. A heavy silence descending on the room, the King deep in thought, the Prince deep in plans. After a tense minute, Vegeta finally turned to leave, the need to escape the room and clear his thoughts paramount in his mind. His father was not finished.

"Know this though, boy, if the worst should happen, I cannot protect you. If I have to chose between my people and my son, I will mourn you as a hero and find a new heir." Vegetaís reply was on the tip of his tongue, a flippant statement of absolute victory, but something stayed his voice. At one time, he would have no problem stating his assumed success with great conviction, but now ... . He would not shame his father again or make the man chose between his heir and his people. Nodding in understanding, Vegeta finally left his father, needing to let go of his thoughts in the only sure fire way we knew. He was going to train.



"Where did you find such a beautiful singer, Hime-sama. Oh, her voice was like an angelís and the music ... ." Another voice began to drone on as Bulma tuned all sounds out, nodding periodically to keep her audience from becoming too suspicious. By all accounts she should have been in a triumphant mood. After treading through the minefield that was court politics that afternoon, she managed to host a perfect salon. Each guest that came up to her fawned and complimented her on her taste, poise, and intellect. Wine and food flowed freely throughout the room, ensuring that everyone had enough. She had literally pulled victory from the jaws of crushing defeat, so why was she so pensive, so tense?

"Oh Hime-sama, this has been the best party Iíve ever been to. How did they make these puff pastries? These Saiyajins sure know how to eat, do they know anything else?" Oh Kami help her, Bulma silently moaned as the voice came closer and a pain burst to life between her eyes. Soon she was met with a similar pair of ice blue eyes, framed by a pale, delicate face and long azure locks. Her doppelganger.

"Hime-sama ... wait a minute, is that shrimp? Come back here..." Her loud, annoying doppelganger, who was at that moment rushing after a waiter with a tray of hors d'oeuvres. At the display Bulmaís headache grew stronger, even as the crowd around her dropped off, leaving her to gossip with the rest of the room.

"If youíd like, I can order the waiters to stay at the far side of the room. It would keep our annoyance away, not to mention the simian element." Marska whispered as her assistant joined her with two glasses of red wine clutched in her hand. Taking the goblet with thanks, she took a large gulp of the wine, caring more about the results than the taste. The spirit didnít make her feel more relaxed either, just burned on the way down her throat, landing with a plop in her empty stomach.

"No, then all the other guest would have to fight through them, and you know what Saiyajins are like around food." Bulma quipped, hiding her unease in her own tried and true method: dry, bitting wit. Though her timing was off, it earned her a smile on Marskaís lovely face and the tension eased momentarily. Taking a slower sip of her wine, she watched the room carefully, her eyes finally lighting on one figure in particular.

"You have to give him credit, he is very determined. I almost feel sorry for him."

"Donít," Marska snapped quickly, her green eyes narrowing at the shy shadow who had followed her all evening before quickly turning her head. "Donít even say it, Bulma-sama. He is not determined, heís annoying. I mean, itís bad enough he follows me around, but every time I try to start a conversation, he just stares at me with this blank expression on his face. And donít take up his case too much, heís been following you around too. Kind of pathetic really, he has all the grace and stealth of a pack animal. And to think, my parents expect me to be overjoyed at the prospect of marrying him. Honestly, who would want to marry an accountant?"

"Maybe one of the kitchen maids," Bulma replied, smiling devilishly as several Occhion females surrounded the slight Miriat, all of whom were staring at him with great interest.

What happened next was nothing short of hysterical, as Marska turned back to Miriat and proceeded to give the most amazed double take Bulma had ever witnessed. The Occhionís pewter face flashed with surprise, denial, sadness, and then white hot rage before Marska regained her composure.

"If youíll excuse me, Bulma-sama, the wait staff is falling behind in their duties." Marska said as she quickly got to her feet and made a bee line for the little group around Miriat. Bulma watched with great amusement as Miriatís face brightened as Marska came closer, ignoring the other women crowded around him.

The poor man, she mused, he did nothing to hide or mask his obvious affection. Well, obvious to everyone but her hard headed assistant. She truly felt for the timid man who was trying to woo Marska. The pair were such mirror opposites, seemingly different in every way and yet, Miriat was unabashed. That thought alone brought another smile to her face as she observed Miriat stutter out a few words, completely oblivious to the mass exodus around him. Whatever he said caused Marska to calm a little and a hint of a blush stained her cheeks before she grunted in reply and stormed after the now fleeing wait staff.

It wasnít until her assistant was out of sight that Bulmaís melancholy returned as she scan the object of her uncertainty. He was standing on the far side of the room, his attention totally engaged in a conversation with one of the reporters. And yet, Bulma could swear she could feel his eyes on her, his question still pounding through her head.

"What will it be, Love? I need the answer tonight." He had caught her off guard, slinky out of the shadows as she walked towards the hall. He surrounded her, giving her no chance to recover her bearings or mount a defence against him, his whole presence overpowering to her senses. With a firm grip on both her arm and her reason, he led her down the hall, his demand evident in every step. Whether he ran out of time or wished to drag out the drama, he stopped right before the door to the salon and whispered softly in her ear.

"You look beautiful in that dress, but then, you always did." The words came over her again, his low, husky voice causing her to shiver as she smoothed her hand down the skirt of her dress. The feel of the purple silk brought it all back, all the memories, everything she had done. It called her to seize the power she once had, become the master of her own destiny with taunting glimpses of her old life. Each of the taunts dying as she found herself staring into the face of her past.

The features were more feminine, the expression softer, but the eyes were the same. She could still remember the impassive expression as he condemned her to a life of slavery, and the lifeless glare on his brown eyes when she saw him the last time, lying in a pool of his own blood. She had never felt guilt over it, until she looked into those same eyes set in a beautiful, smiling face of his niece, cousin, sister?

How many people had she supposedly killed? Millions? Billions? It was incomprehensible to her all the destruction, she was removed for it all. Every death in her name was wrought by another personís hand using her weapon: quick and clean, all but one. It was one thing to know you had caused death, even see it, but to see who was left behind, those who had to suffer the loss. She should know, she thought morosely, she had been one of those left behind. There was no one left now, no one who knew her before, no one except ...

"Yamcha." A soft, strangely familiar voice rasped out and Bulma tensed as she realised there was someone sitting next to her. Turning her head, she was amazed to find a nearly identical pair of eyes watching her, her own dispirited expression reflected in the other Chikyuu-jinís lovely face.

"Iím sorry ... ." Bulma began but she didnít get far as Marron gave her a wistful smile and continued, stunning the Hime into silence.

"You knew him, didnít you? I didnít realise who you were until Chichi-san told me today. After that, I knew I just had to meet you and talk with you." Marron remarked, her voice so low and subdued, yet there was still a measure of childlike curiosity in her manner. The change was striking though. Bulma hardly recognised the uncouth twit who had gone running after a waiter for shrimp. It looked like Chichiís assistant, yet it seemed she had aged ten years in ten minutes, gaining the wisdom of a sage in the process.

"How ... ?"

"He rescued me from a munitions factory a year and a half ago, until then I had been a slave in the factories and ... ." Marron stopped and her blue eyes clouded with memory and hatred. Even in the warm room, Bulma shuddered as well. She knew the stories about the soldiersí treatment of the slaves, especially young, beautiful, and helpless females. In her mindís eye, she saw Marron suffering through indignities beyond comprehension, and Bulma looked on the other woman with clearer eyes.

"He was so wonderful, strong and handsome, like he could carry the world on his shoulders. I think I fell in love the first moment I saw him." Marron gushed, a little of the boy crazy twit creeping back into her but she quickly pulled back on the reins and the soft voice continued, weaving a spell around Bulma of the past, a past the two women shared.

"It was during a raid by the resistance, he grabbed me before a wall was about to fall on me. He just flew in and snatched me up and whisked me off, like Prince Charming without the horse. After that, he took me under his wing, protected me, helped me rebuild my life, discover who and what I truly was. He, he made me feel whole." As if speaking in a trance, the blue haired Chikyuu-jin told her story, pausing only at the end as her throat seemed to constrict with regret.

Caught up in the tale that seemed to mirror her own experience, Bulma listened with bated breath for any information about the man who had been the centre of her life and was at the very centre of her ethical dilemma. No matter how far away she was, her thoughts had often lingered on Chikyuu and especially Yamcha. What happened to him after she left? Did he remember her? Still care for her?

"How did you meet? Yamcha would talk about you a lot, good things, but there were always questions I could never ask him" Marron explained, looking hopefully at the older woman. Bulma couldnít hide the soft smile that spread across her face at Marronís words. He remembered her, even after all that time, he still thought of her. Suddenly she was young again, that seventeen year old who first met that former desert bandit and freedom fighter.

"My parents were powerful enough to hide from the invasion forces, living in secret bunkers and bribing officials to ignore our existence. My father knew he couldnít fight against a force as powerful as the Colds but I, young and naive as I was, thought differently. Through my contacts I learned about the rebellion and volunteered my services, determined to help them fight for Chikyuuís freedom. I didnít realise it until months later but most of them balked at the idea of a Ďspoiled, little heiressí joining their ranks, but Yamcha, he knew the passion to rid our world of repression. He left me in when no one else wanted it, let me help, gave me purpose." The two women suddenly looked at each other and a flicker of understand past between them.

"It was almost a year before we finally came together, before the passion for the cause grew into something more. It was strange and wonderful, right but wrong. At the time it was too much, the stress of it all ripped us apart. We never got a chance to talk about it before, before I was captured." She didnít know what compelled her but the words flowed from her lips, as she confessed things she had not spoken of in seven years. As if they were of one mind, Marron nodded in understanding as her own eyes clouded with memory.

"We resisted coming together for so long, I was so shy and he ... . I think he still felt guilt over what happened to you. He used to talk about you all the time, how wonderful you were, how special to him It was so long before he let anyone in, and even then he always carried the scars. He was always scared after that, scared that someone might suffer as you did. He started taking on more dangerous missions, not letting anyone else take such a risk again. Only Puar refused to leave him fight alone, sure that her shape shifting ability could get her out of any spot. It wasnít enough though. A ki blast, it was quick and painless." Marron remarked, his throat constricting again. Bulma could only nod in sympathy as she remembered the friendly shape shifting cat. She felt a pit in her stomach for Yamcha and the others. It was always harder for those left behind.

"After that, Yamcha was terrified of losing something he loved again. He secured passage for me on one of the rebellions pods and a position for me on Chichi-sanís staff and sent me away, all to make sure I was safe. It was then that I realised how much he had come to care for me, how much he loved me." She paused to collect herself before continuing, that wistful smile still on her face.

"For the longest time I envied you, you always had his heart, I got what was left. But he gave me a greater gift: my freedom and a chance, maybe to succeed where you couldnít. And I will." Marron said with great conviction, displaying the zeal for life Bulma once held when she was the optimistic seventeen year old. ĎSucceed where I couldnítí, saving Chikyuu, freeing its people from Dodoriaís tyranny. At one time it was all she ever wanted.

ĎJoin me, Bulma, and I can give you Chikyuu ... . Think of it. Your precious planet, its people, all safe and under your care. You can have everything you want, and all you have to do is say yes.í

But could she stand the cost of saying yes? There was the rub. For all her righteous anger against the Saiyajins, was it enough to sell her soul to the one power in the universe who was worse? Her sense of caution and reason railed at the idea of such an alliance, but she couldnít deny the lure.

All day long the scales of judgement had been tipping back and forth for one choice over the other. Only her encounter with Vegeta had pushed her towards the Colds, only to rein her back in when she remembered the look on his face when her shield failed. She quivered with memory of the heat that rose up between them, the way he held her to him. Kami, what was she doing? Giving into hope when it had died long ago, but there was something. Whatever it was it could not be destroyed by hate or anger, just as her desire to join Zarbon was not born of pure rage. Maybe it was that same hope, the desire to do what was right, even after all these years.

"Hime-sama?" An anxious voice whispered next to her and Bulma flinched, so caught up in her thoughts she had forgotten that Marron was sitting next to her. The sudden movement was enough to startle the young woman, upsetting the goblet of red wine still perched in Bulmaís hands. Both women watched in horror as the wine spilled over the Himeís arm and across the grey wrap, red spots now dotting her perfect gown.

"Oh, Hime-sama, Iím so sorry." Marron wailed, the sage gone and the twit taking over as she fussed over the stained shawl. Bulma watched on silently, oblivious to the mess. It dawned on her then, she couldnít even remember where she had received it. The super fine wrap was nothing to her, but to her poorer counterpart, it was huge. She probably never owned anything as fine, even her gown looked old and ill fitted for the girlís figure.

"I, I donít know what to say. How can I ever make it up to you? ĎYou could do so much good, why will you not help your people when they have their hand out to you?í

"Donít worry, itís nothing." Bulma dismissed but Marron was adamant.

"No. Let me take it and Iíll take care of it, clean it up and have it back to you by the morning."

"Here," Bulma replied, handing the garment over to the other woman. "Give it to the maid service, tell them when they are finished to deliver it to your room." Marronís panicked eyes took on their normal vacant gleam and she looked ready to wail.

"It would look nicer with your dress than mine anyway." Bulma finished quickly, hoping to keep her sense of charity before Marron ruined all the sympathy she had unwittingly garnered. Whatever sense she displayed early seemed to subdue her and the young woman merely nodded, a true smile spreading across her full lips.

"How touching." A husky voice remarked and both women flinched as if they had been caught raiding their motherís cookie jars. The twin set of blue eyes turned to face the owner of the voice, finding themselves caught in Zarbonís golden gaze. Bulma tensed under his stare, knowing that the time had come for her answer. She turned to Marron, intended to say good bye, only to realise that the girl was staring intently at the Changling. Transfixed by his features, the young woman finally snapped out of her trance when Zarbon smirked and nodded at her.

"Excuse me, Hime-sama, Zarbon-sama." Marron replied, blushing profusely as she slipped away, the silk wrap still clutched in her arms. Both parties watched her go, one in sympathy, the other with amusement.

"I see you still have the same effect on women."

"True, but Iíd rather have that effect on you." Zarbon drooled as he walked up to her, curling his arm around hers. Unwilling to make a scene, Bulma followed along as he led her through the room, smiling and nodding at the various delegates as they went. Caught up in their own conversations, most of the diplomats merely nodded before quickly turning back to their hors díoeuvres and wine. The pair had been seen together most of the night, Bulma realised, why would anyone be suspicious now?

Trying hard not to fight the growing sense of panic rising in her throat, she couldnít hold back a gasp as Zarbon pushed her into a shadowed alcove in the corner of the room. The corner was empty but for a few plants, the crowd several feet away yet they might as well have been on another planet. They could offer her no help now. Nothing could.

"Iíve been patient, Love, maybe more than I should have been. I decided to show you that my offer is sincere, to make up for my anger this morning." Always that husky, warm voice that melted her insides. It would be so easy, she realised, just give in to him. Could she do it? Did she even dare?

Taking her cool hand in his warm one, he placed two tiny discs in her palm: computer discs.

"Itís what I promised you," Zarbon continued, as he pointed to one. "The entire Tanto file on the rebels and an Imperial proclamation, signed by Freeza himself, giving you sovereign power over Chikyuu, over Yamchaís life." There it was, what it all boiled down to. In front of her was the greatest challenge for the ultimate reward. Everything she had dreamed about was now clutched in her hands.

"Ah, ah, ah. You get what you want, when I get what I want. What is your answer, Bulma-chan?"

"I ... I donít know." Bulma stuttered as Zarbon quickly snatched the discs from her grasp.

"No? I think you do." He purred and Bulmaís eyes slid shut as she felt his warmth, his very presence envelop her. "You told me when you wore that dress." His breath feathered across his face and Bulma leaned into his warmth, unable to fight off her need for it, for the touch of another on her skin. Even on this desert planet, Bulma felt cold, demised, unclean. She was a thing to be mocked and hated, never understood, never appreciated, never touched. Kami help her, Zarbon knew, and was using her every weakness against her.

Her mouth opened and closed, unwilling to give him the satisfaction of her surrender yet unable to fight against his tactics. He appealed to her every sense and yet, something held her back.

"Pardon the interruption, but Marska-san is looking for you, Hime-sama. She must speak with you on a matter of grave importance." A soft, light male voice, hardly above a whisper shattered Zarbonís spell and Bulmaís eyes snapped open and she found herself staring into a pair of embarrassed brown eyes framed by a blushing silver face of an Occhion: Marskaís book keeper, Miriat.

"There is also a messenger for the Lieutenant, it seems that Lord Freeza is asking for his presence immediately." At the mention of Freeza, both of them tensed and separated quickly. Even on the other side of the galaxy, the Tsiru-jin Lord still had the power to freeze the blood of his subordinates.

"Thank you." Zarbon snapped, glaring daggers at the timid Occhion. To his credit, Miriat held his ground, not flinching under the gaze that would have toppled a lesser man. Maybe she judged him too harshly. There was a backbone in this accountant.

Seeing that he could not intimidate Miriat, Zarbon moved back to Bulma, his glower disappearing behind an easy smile.

"Perhaps another time, another place, Hime-sama." He murmured as he grabbed her hand, raising it to his mouth as he brushed his lips against her knuckles. As he released her hand his gaze burned into Bulma, his eyes saying what his mouth could not. He would see her again, and soon.

It wasnít until Zarbon had left the room that Bulma could relax and turned her attention back to Miriat. Under her scrutiny, he seemed to shrink, retreating from her even as he stood up to Zarbon. He was a slight man. Nothing about his physique spoke of fighting prowess but then again, a warrior didnít always fight with their fists. It was in his eyes that she paused, the sad, wistful look of a man who knew too much and regretted that knowledge. Kami help her, how long had he been standing there? What had he heard?

"Hime-sama? Marska is waiting." He repeated, his voice hesitant and soft. Nodding her understanding, she stepped out of the shadows and into the light of the room.



She wore the purple dress that night, the night before mutiny. Since the first moment he saw her in that gown, he knew he had made the right choice, in both an ally and lover. It was only a matter of time before she came to the same way of thinking and though not a patient man by nature, he was willing to wait and savour his inevitable victory.

That night was just another in a long line of subtle manipulation and manoeuvring until they began to dance. Holding the beautiful woman in his arms, he heard the words he longed to hear since he first saw her in his office: complete surrender. She told him in hushed tones of a plot she had overheard, taking in every detail. He had many suspicions about Halic but Fiereaís involvement was a shock. So was the addition of that bastard Spada, the perpetual thorn in the Empireís side. They all thought they were so clever, only to be given up by a slip of a girl, it was almost too much.

After that the mutiny was a rout. All by the two ring leaders on his ship were killed outright before any of them could fire a shot, while Halic and Fierea were captured quickly after. Zarbon couldnít hold back a malicious grin at the memory of the pairís screams as they were put through the shipís torture chamber, most of the devices courtesy of Halic himself. Under the pain of his own machines, Halic sobbed like a child, easily confirming everything that Bulma had told him and giving up the means to capture the main conspirator, Spada.

He often wondered what the group had said to inspire such hatred in his little Chikyuu-jin but it didnít matter. Whatever it was, it had brought her over to his side in a way six months of kind words and favours had not. It also made her blood thirsty, a quality he loved in his women. She actually agreed to contact Spada directly, under the guise of a message from Halic to say that the Captain of the ship was ready to be transferred and tried. The idiot bought it, unable to believe that the young woman on his screen could be duping him. She even went against his strict commands, meeting Spada directly to Ďlead him to the Commanderí and a whole battalion of soldiers that were ready to capture the rebel. Unlike his fellow conspirators, the Battagli didnít go quietly, killing half of his squad and taking Bulma as a hostage. He didnít see it and neither did Spada, only heard the buzz of energy and the loud splat as Bulma shot the bastard through the stomach with an advanced ki weapon of her own design. Her first kill in the name of the Empire, but certainly not the last. Yes, it was a very good day.

For stopping the mutiny, the rebellion in the Plagal system, and ridding the Empire of the nuisance of Spada, he rose quickly in the ranks of the military, and high in the esteem of his Lord. Freeza himself called to congratulate him, if only that was the reason for contacting him tonight.

"I didnít send you to Vegeta-sei for you to make a mockery of yourself in front of the monkeys, you pathetic worm. Cooler came to tell me how youíve made a fool of yourself, issuing challenges you canít win and getting crushed by the monkey Princeís toys. It is bad enough those bastard rebels made another raid on one of my bases, but you seem to enjoy compounding the problem.

I also know about your other activities, stealing intelligence files and forging Imperial documents with my official seal. I ignored your insolence in the past before but you have crossed the line now, Zarbon. I was not jesting in my threat last night: if the Hime doesnít agree, then you are sharing in that Chikyuu-jin rebelís fate. Have you even completed your mission? I suppose you canít even do that right. You should never have let that woman go, Zarbon, Iím surprised you were smart enough to win her in the first place."

He had tried to reason with his Master after that, outlining his plan and progress but Freeza would hear none of it. All he wanted was results, he wanted Bulma. How dare his Lord say that she was the only reason for finding success. The only reason the Ďgeniusí Chikyuu-jin joined the Empire was because of him. Once he wooed her to his side, he played her like a puppet, pulling the strings as she sank deeper and deeper, forsaking every pathetic Ďmoralí and Ďbeliefí as she served the Empire.

She was so easy to toy with, truly a puppet, and he would soon have her following him again, using her to crush that bastard Vegeta and the whole monkey Empire. It would all be so easy.

She came to him again, the night after the mutiny. Gone was the confident woman who greeted diplomats by his side, gone was the brilliant scientist who had taken over the engineering department, gone was the cold, emotionless killer who had shot Spada in the stomach. Before him was the frightened waif who had walked into his office that first day almost seven months ago. Her thin shoulders were shaking and even in the low light he could see the tear streaks drying on her cheeks. She had woken from a nightmare he realised, a problem he would encounter many times through their relationship.

"I knew youíd come." This time she wasnít crying or shaking, her face an emotionless mask that spoke to the steel of her nerves. He knew she would find him as she walked over to his side and grabbed the decanter of spirits, pouring herself a small glass. She was a smart girl, though no smarter around him now than she was then.

"Iím so sorry to wake you but I just had to talk with someone and youíve always been here for me." The waif finally said, hardly able to look him in the air.

"You knew I would. How could I not, with Chikyuu over my head?" Bulma replied, glaring daggers at him as she took a small sip of the amber liquid in her glass.

"Oh, so you donít want your precious planet back?" While her expression didnít waver there was a flicker of something in her eyes: fear. "You know the deal, Bulma. This is the last chance, Love, give me what I want and Iíll give you want you want." He replied, cloaking himself in that cool, seductive charm that always made her melt like wax.

"Youíve always been so good to me and after today I ... ." She paused then, uncertainty making her shake even more. This was it, the last piece of the puzzle.

"You what? What do you have to tell me, Bulma?"

"Whatís your answer, Love?"

She stood silently now, fighting with herself to say the words, to give the answer they both knew was coming.

She paused then, standing at an impasse. She could leave now, retreat back to her room alone but safe, or walk into his and take the last step towards total compliance.

He watched her carefully, waiting for the moment when she gave in and surrendered to her fate.

He watched her like a predator, his eyes narrowing in on those soft full lips he had been waiting to taste.

"Is there something you want, Bulma?"

"What is your answer, Love?" He held them out once more, the two discs she coveted so much. By his Lord, she was so easy.

"Yes," she whispered before she leaned into him and kissed him softly before she deepened the kiss. Pulling her into the room, he didnít give her a chance to change her mind as he wrapped his arms around her slim waist and carried her to the bed. It was necessary as her own arms twined themselves around his shoulders, her legs wrapping around his hips. She was so easy.

"Yes," she whispered. "Give me the discs. Iíll find your rebel leader." Zarbon held back a smile of pure satisfaction as he handed the two discs over to his Chikyuu-jin pawn. She had surrender to him again, his little puppet on a string.

It was hours later before they stopped, the woman quickly drifting to sleep. Glowing with triumph and sexual release, he toyed with the fine hairs at Bulmaís temple, plotting and planning for the future with his new pet. The wait had been more than worth it, now she was wrapped around his little finger and would do whatever he wanted.

"I knew you would, Love."

"I knew you would, Love."

* * * * *


Table of Contents
Chapter 2
Chapter 4