One Day After Trunks's Arrival
"Mr. Piccolo?" Gohan said. "Why are you still here?" Mom's not going to be happy about this…
"I'm here to observe Reese's training. Even if your mother would rather have me leave you alone, you are still my pupil. I would rather not see all my hard work go to waste by having bad habits taught to you."
Reese smiled. "I think you'll be pleasantly surprised, Mr. Piccolo."
"Let's just say you'll probably recognize some of the training techniques I use."
"Are we just doing normal training?" Gohan asked. "I thought I'd be learning how to fight cyborgs. I mean, they aren't warriors like any I've ever fought before—aren't they basically just human brains in robot bodies?"
Reese leaped at Gohan foot-first; Gohan barely managed to dodge. Reese continued the assault, with a flurry of punches that Gohan furiously tried to block.
"Are we—" One of the punches slipped through Gohan's guard, knocking him backwards.
Reese helped Gohan up. "All things considered, not bad. You're a little rusty, but we can fix that."
Piccolo sighed and crossed his arms. "You've made two mistakes already. One, you're too easy on him. You're deliberately holding back, aren't you?"
"I'm significantly stronger than Gohan," Reese said defensively. "If I went all-out, I could easily beat him with my hands tied behind my back. But I'm not here to beat up Gohan, I'm here to teach him."
"Pain is the best teacher."
"My master said the same thing," Reese replied. "But it seemed to me that I learned more from him teaching me than him beating me up. I can't blame him. Just about everyone he knew was killed by unstoppable cyborgs; pain was his only teacher for a while. What's your excuse?"
Piccolo waited for Reese to finish, then went on as if he hadn't said anything. "Two, you didn't answer his question. And I'm curious, too. I can't help but wonder if the reason we all…will have been killed in your time is because we didn't know what we were getting into."
Reese shrugged. "It's not that they're different than the people you fought before. They're just a lot stronger."
"Why?" Gohan asked. "I—I mean, they all fought the way they did because they could control their ki, but robots don't have ki. And from what Mr. Piccolo taught me, I don't think a disembodied brain could produce much."
Piccolo smiled. "You remember that much, at least."
"The cyborgs aren't just brains in robot bodies," Reese said. "My mother came across some notes about them when we searched Dr. Gero's lab. She was looking for lab equipment and such. We don't know much, but…apparently Gero's colleague Dr. Flappe invented nanobots that act like organic cells, and apparently found a way to use them to convert surplus energy in organisms into electricity. Sometime after the Red Ribbon Army fell, Dr. Gero used that same technology to create robots which could produce and use artificial, ki-like energy."
"That's good to know," Piccolo said. "What's the catch?"
"The cyborgs have really powerful generators," Reese said. "I've never seen anything that suggests they get tired—they can blow up an entire city block by block and still fight at full strength. And while they use energy similar to ki, we haven't figured out any way to detect it the way we do ki."
Gohan frowned. "Then…how do we find them?"
"…At home, we mostly listened to the radio. The cyborgs always made the news."
Piccolo sighed. "So we'll be fighting things which never tire, whose energy we can't detect—either to track them or to predict their strikes—and I'm guessing they're also stronger than anyone we've fought before."
"I'm pretty sure they are."
"Because of course they are." Piccolo sighed. "We've got our work cut out for us, then. Especially if—" Piccolo lunged at Gohan, kicking him into a nearby tree. "—some of us don't learn how to dodge."
One Month After
Chi-Chi looked around her house. Nothing stuck out to her as being unclean or out of place, aside from the fact that Gohan was training with Reese, rather than studying. Still, he's learning about technology from Reese. And he's so polite, I can't complain about him. Piccolo, on the other hand…
There was nothing Chi-Chi could do about that. Demon or alien or whatever he was, he wasn't likely to leave any time soon. And Gohan seemed to get along with him, though she couldn't imagine why. (For a while, she had suspected Stockholm syndrome, but she didn't think that would persist so long after Piccolo died.)
Chi-Chi decided to call the Briefses. Goku hadn't come home since Bulma made the gravity chamber, and Chi-Chi tried to keep up to date on what he was doing. She dialed the Briefs's number; after a moment, Bulma's face appeared on the video phone's screen. "Hello? Oh, hi, Chi-Chi!"
"Hi, Bulma! It's good to see you again."
"It's been too long. How are Reese and Gohan?"
"They're getting along fine. Reese is a polite young man; I think he's a good role model for Gohan. Oh, that reminds me, I heard that Reese was trained by his time's Gohan!"
Chi-Chi nodded. "Gohan recognized Reese's fighting style. So he asked Reese, and Reese told us. He asked us not to ask too much about the future. He's worried that the future might change for the worse if he tells us too much."
"Well, it's not like he can tell us what start-up companies are worth investing in or anything like that. Aside from the warning about those two cyborgs, I can't think of anything in the future I'd like to know about."
"And that medicine for Goku. Speaking of which, how is he?"
Bulma shrugged. "As good as he's been since getting back from space. Maybe better. He and Vegeta are enjoying their training, especially when the gravity room's working."
"What's wrong with it?"
"At the moment? Nothing. But sooner or later, one of them's going to break something important with a stray punch or blast or something again, and then Dad and I are going to need to drop whatever we're doing while they train in the backup gravity room."
Chi-Chi sighed. "Shows you how much they care."
"If they hold back, they can't get better. They need to be at their limits to surpass them. At least, that's what Vegeta says."
Chi-Chi shook her head. "He's such a bad influence on Goku."
"Vegeta isn't that bad."
"Gohan told me he tried to kill him, Goku, and Krillin. After his friend killed all of theirs."
"Okay, but if Goku shunned everyone who tried to kill him once, he wouldn't have any friends. Except his teachers and Krillin, I suppose."
"I haven't tried to kill Goku."
Bulma waved her hand vaguely. "You're part of his family, so you don't count as a friend."
"Well...what about you? You haven't tried to kill Goku…have you?"
Bulma glanced at the ground shamefully. "When we first met, I…well, he wrecked my car, and I thought he was going to kill me, so…I overreacted."
Chi-Chi glared at Bulma.
"I was just a scared kid! We all did stupid stuff when we were kids. Especially Goku."
Chi-Chi sighed. "It didn't stop when he grew up…Still, I can't bring myself to trust Vegeta. After Garlic Junior and Dr. Kochin, Goku started to trust Piccolo…and then I heard that the green bastard killed Goku and kidnapped Gohan."
From outside, Chi-Chi thought she heard Piccolo shout something like "I can hear you," but she dismissed that as paranoia. There's no way he can hear me from that far away. Right?
Bulma shrugged. "I've spent time with Vegeta, when he's not training, and he's not that bad. I mean, sure, he's a bit...cold and abrasive, but when you get down to it he's not that different from Goku. Ever since he came back from being dead, at least."
"Goku hasn't changed that much," Chi-Chi insisted.
Two Months After
Goku jumped over an energy blast. He was fighting with both arms behind his back, to try and keep things interesting. It infuriated Vegeta, but Goku couldn't understand why. Vegeta was weaker than Goku, and making a fuss about it didn't change anything. It was just annoying.
Goku landed behind his sparring partner and spun about. Vegeta turned almost as quickly, firing a barrage of weak blasts as he turned. Goku deflected the handful of blasts that came close to him with one foot, before hopping back as he sent an energy-clone thing forward. Vegeta was so focused on offense that he didn't move until the last instant possible, still taking a glancing blow. Vegeta clutched his left arm, breathing heavily.
Goku saw an opening. He rushed forward and, summoning all of his energy, kicked Vegeta in his right arm. Vegeta fell backwards, screaming; he didn't move. Goku stared at Vegeta for a moment, before going through a few solo combat exercises. It was possible that Vegeta just wanted Goku to let his guard down, but Goku didn't worry. Even if Vegeta caught him by surprise, Goku could still win.
Goku paused to look at Vegeta. He had barely moved and his right arm was bent oddly to one side. Goku figured he probably wasn't going to counterattack and went back to training. Vegeta would come back from it stronger.
"Get Bulma...or something...you bastard…"
Goku shrugged. It probably wouldn't take too much time.
Two and a Third Months After
Bulma entered Vegeta's recovery room. She set a steaming styrofoam cup at his bedside and sat down, holding another.
Vegeta turned over onto his side and stared at it. "This is lunch?"
"Sorry, we're out of real food. Things have been busy, no one's been to the store since last week, and...well, you and Goku kind of eat a lot."
"Of course we do. A Saiyan warrior needs—"
"I know. Loot, instant noodles are all we've got right now."
Vegeta sighed and reached for the cup with his good arm.
"It's not ready yet. It still needs—" Bulma glanced at her watch. "—about two minutes."
"What?" Vegeta dropped onto his back. "These noodles need to sit for two minutes before you can eat them?"
"How is that instant?"
"It's a lot faster than regular noodles."
"Then shouldn't they be called 'much faster noodles,' not 'instant'?"
"Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed today."
"I've been lying on this stupid bed for a week and a half, waiting for my arm to heal so I can start training again. What do you expect?"
Bulma patted Vegeta's shoulder. "I know it's rough, but there's nothing we can do. But look on the bright side. You saiyans heal fast—you should be all better in a week or two."
Vegeta shifted away from Bulma. "Where are those damn magic beans? I wouldn't need to wait a couple weeks if I had those."
"We need to save the senzu for when the androids attack. It's not like you can just throw one in the ground and have a giant stalk shoot up overnight."
"Of course not. I'm almost certain that would violate conservation of mass...unless it turned the soil into plant matter, but the waste heat from that would—"
"It's just a joke, Vegeta. It's a reference to an Earth fairy tale."
"Earth tells legends about agriculture." Vegeta chuckled wearily. "That...that just makes sense, somehow."
"And what stories do Saiyans tell their children? Stories about wiping out other species and destroying planets?"
Bulma couldn't decide if she wanted to laugh or sigh. "I honestly don't know what I expected." She glanced at her watch. "Oh, the noodles are plenty done." She handed a pair of chopsticks to Vegeta and began eating her own noodles.
Vegeta sighed. He sat up, balanced the cup of noodles between his cast and his torso, and began eating. He paused after the first bite, then paused.
"What's wrong?" Bulma asked. "Do you not like—"
Vegeta inhaled the rest of the noodles before slurping the broth.
"I guess you like it after all."
"Why haven't you brought me this before?"
Bulma glanced at her own cup. "It's just cheap food Dad keeps around in case we're trapped in the house for a while. These instant noodles last almost—"
"But it's so delicious! It might be the best food I've had since I came to this backwater planet!"
"Just don't say that around the chef."
Vegeta ignored her. "This would be terrible training food, but I don't need much protein right now. I intend to eat this every night until I'm ready to start training again."
Bulma smiled. "If that's what you want."
Five Months After
Gohan jumped up and at Trunks, trying to kick him in the chest, but the elder half-Saiyan grabbed his foot. Gohan let his momentum carry his upper body forward, but Trunks grabbed his opposite arm in his other hand. Gohan struggled briefly, but then lay still.
Trunks let go of his pupil. "I think we're done for today."
Gohan drifted to the ground, staring directly at it. "Yeah. Thanks, Reese. I'm sorry I'm still no good."
Trunks laughed. "You're better than I was at your age. You're doing great. We've got two and a half years until the cyborgs come. That's plenty of time to get you Super Saiyan."
"I'm glad you think so."
"It's not going to be easy, but we'll get there."
Gohan looked back up to Trunks. "Did the me in your time go Super Saiyan?"
"Yeah. I think the grief from losing most of his family and friends to the cyborgs pushed him. We should probably think of something else, though."
Gohan mumbled something that sounded like an agreement.
Trunks clapped his hand on Gohan's shoulder. "I went Super Saiyan from my mentor dying, but I'd rather we not do that." He forced a laugh. What am I even saying?
Gohan looked back down at the ground. "So someone I care about has to die before I'm any good?"
"Not necessarily! My—Vegeta first went Super Saiyan because he was really mad he couldn't. At least, that's what I've been told. I wasn't born then. So if you just...think about all of those people dying, and focus on how much you want to go Super Saiyan…"
Gohan shook his head.
"...Well, maybe we just need to try something else for a while. I know. Tomorrow, I'll start teaching you to use a sword. It's a lot harder than it looks, especially if you want it to do any good against a ki-user. Does that sound good?"
"I guess. I...should probably go and study or something."
"Alright. I'll be in soon." Trunks floated above the treeline and stared at the horizon without seeing it, hearing birds sing without listening. He was entirely focused on his thoughts...and his failures.
What am I doing? Sure, Gohan's getting stronger, but I'm barely helping him. He'd be doing as well training with Piccolo or Goku or someone, and probably almost as well on his own. Not that it matters if he can't go Super Saiyan, and I don't have any idea how to do that. All I can do is try to do what my Gohan did when he wanted me to go Super Saiyan.
Trunks could hear his mother's voice in his head. "They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and expecting different results." But what am I supposed to do? Pick a fight with someone stronger than me and die? Get Piccolo to do that? I know, Trunks thought sarcastically, I'll fight Piccolo to the death. That way, Gohan's sure to go Super Saiyan. If only it was that simple.
Trunks felt something at the edge of his perception, but ignored it. What went wrong? Goku's insane, Dad's worse, and I'm not helping anything. I might as well curl up in a little ball and wait for the cyborgs to get me for all the good I've done. I don't even have a clue what I've done wrong, or what I need to do. If something changes, maybe I can use that change to do something, but I can't bet on that. I...
Suddenly, something hot went through his stomach. Trunks looked down. His shirt had a hole in it, but he wasn't bleeding. Is that good or bad? The trees were getting closer...that was probably bad...