Author's Note: Song Lyrics are from "Never Too Late" by Three Days Grace and no, I don't own them, the lyrics or the band.

Chapter 16: Evening

Maybe we'll turn it around because it's not too late, it's never too late…

Android Seventeen watched with muted glee as his new half-Saiya-jin housemate dove into the truck and began gathering up his breakfast. As the truck rocked and shook, the android padded softly away into the trees. With his captor otherwise occupied, he would have plenty of time to explore the land. He had no intention of escaping; he knew Trunks would find him eventually, and he simply didn't feel like it.

The cabin where Trunks and he had landed was hidden in a deep and shadowed valley surrounded by pines. Seventeen knew the area all too well; the homing beacon of Gero's lab pulsed steadily in the back of his bionic senses. Yet something else was there as well, something that made it all worthwhile: Eighteen's signal. It was faint, but it was there and pulsed out a steady message of I'm here, I'm safe, and that was all that really mattered in the end.

Seventeen set his feet toward the top of the heavily wooded eastern ridgeline, rising high above his head. A worn footpath wound through the pines to the top, and a brisk chill breeze blew through the trees, shaking the branches in his face. Yet the wind, always powerful here in the mountains, could neither slow nor halt his advance. He walked up the slope as easily as a man walks his child through the park.

When he crested the ridge, the wind whipped through his clothes and hair freely, and his eyes watered before homeostatic controls brought his bodily functions back under control. His vision cleared, he stopped and looked out over the wide vista. Ahead of him and to either side were tree-lined mountains stretching up from the earth, both small and great. In between them were deep valleys, some wide and sunlit, others so narrow that sunlight rarely penetrated their depths. Here and there the rocks and grass were crisscrossed with trickling streams and rivulets.

Setting his eyes on the next nearest peak, his body began to rise from the earth, but after a moment he set himself back down again and started walking down the far side of the ridge. Beneath him was a steep slope leading to a narrow, shaded canyon where a small stream ran. Looking to his right, he noticed that the stream began further up the canyon somewhere, so he set his steps that way, picking his way down the rock-strewn slope.

Once his feet touched the shaded, gravelly bottom, he began following the stream upward until he came to its source; a small spring gushing from the rock. Running water trickled down the rock face a few feet into the creekbed and then began its journey down the canyon. Seventeen followed the flowing water along its route as it picked up speed. Smaller rivulets flowed down the canyon sides and fed into the creek, causing it to swell and grow, becoming a stronger stream. The stream continued, now almost a river, until it came to another hole in the rock face and disappeared into darkness.

Seventeen looked downward at the water rushing into oblivion and sighed. Leaning against the wall next to it, he looked back and realized that he could see the spring only a couple hundred feet from where he was standing. The sounds of water rushing against the stone echoed in his ears. Looking up, he sighed again.

Can't see the end until you're there, I guess.

He looked at the canyon again, and saw how the river was fed by the streams coming down the canyon, and noticed how though there was water, nothing grew down here without the sunlight. All was bare rock and gravel. Crouching down, he picked up some of the dry sediment and let it run through his fingers. As the last of the dust fell, he leapt from the bottom of the canyon and set his feet on the opposite ridge. A vista of mountains and canyons spread out before him. It would appear to be a maze to those unfamiliar with the area, and a minor annoyance even to those who were, but he knew where he was going.

Leaping from cliffside to cliffside, and mountaintop to mountaintop, Seventeen covered the miles quickly, the forests and shadowed hollows sweeping by beneath his feet with only a few scenes attracting his notice. He was far too focused to take his usual muted pleasure from such scenes, however. One sheer cliff rose up sharply from the jumbled mass of rocks and vegetation. Toward this monolith, reaching into the sky like a madman's fist to heaven, he surged on. His feet leaving the last peak, he alighted nimbly on a ledge leading into a small cave set in the side of the mountain. Before he had gone even a few feet, darkness surrounded him.

His technologically aided vision adjusted to the gloom with ease, and in less than a nanosecond he could see as if it were high noon. He knew, however, that even if his eyes were burned from his skull, he would still know every inch of where he was going. He knew that he could walk into this place without missing a step. This place was more a part of him than even his hometown, now a smoking, bloody ruin his sister and he had created.

...Home...He shook his head. A grave yawned open in his mind, and he resolved with grim determination not to fall into it again. Gritting his teeth and clenching his fists in muted fury, he walked on.

A hollow thump echoed through the cavern as Seventeen's boot fell on a metallic plate, the pitted, rusted remains of a large door that had once protected the entrance to the chamber beyond. Seventeen remembered his handiwork well and proceeded into the chamber, the light growing dimmer as he moved farther from the sunlight. He passed through the doorway, and surveyed the scene that had once been the lab of Dr. Gero.

In spite of spending almost a year imprisoned in this room, he barely knew what anything was. His eyes immediately fell on the bank of man-sized tubes on the right wall, two labeled '17' and '18.' This was where he had held them after that day...It was a struggle to remember; the knowledge of his most hellish decision weighed on him like so many piles of corpses.

A dead computer screen exploded under Seventeen's fist. The hollow pop echoed through the chamber and eventually faded back into silence. He walked on. He barely knew what he was doing here, and it had always fascinated him how you wanted to come back to your past, no matter how many coffins you found there. He never understood why a prisoner couldn't escape through an open door, or why dogs always returned to their vomit.

Finally he came to the tubes that had held him and his sister for almost a year, and a dull, close feeling weighed down on him. He couldn't remember much of what went on in there, except for constantly telling himself it was all for Eighteen. What had his sister's name been? What had his own name been? He couldn't remember. Who cared anyway, when their names were just whatever their drunk ass father could come up with in a brief moment of sobriety?

A voice screamed in his ears. In fact, the room seemed full of voices now. One screamed the loudest, especially this close to the holding tubes.

I AM YOUR CREATOR! YOU WILL OBEY ME!

That was Gero, just before he lost his head. Seventeen wanted to chuckle at the thought, but it had been too long, and too much water had passed into darkness for him to care. Now he just squatted on his heels and listened. The room was noisier than he expected.

This was Gero's lab, so his voice dominated, first discoursing on human advancement and development, then raging on world domination. The first was merely a veneer, and they had been two stupid kids too naive to realize it. Besides, they probably wouldn't have cared anyway. When you come to two runaways far from home, freezing and starving, and talk about unlimited power, what do you expect? They jump on it like a hot ham and cheese sandwich. And Gero knew it. Crazy as a shithouse mouse, but no fool.

You stupid punk.

Another voice, one he could either hate or fear. Not that the original owner of either voice was around anymore, all thanks to him, but memories had a way of resurrecting the dead and dropping them right into the mind. He was there, nonetheless. A well-placed ki-blast had eliminated the man long ago, but the spirit was immortal.

Why do I even feed a crawling rat like you?

Nerves, what was left of his human system, jumped in his face at the memories. The old man had been free with his hands and nothing else. Except almost...no, he didn't want to think about that. Not yet. Not ever, if he had his way, but skeletons had to be brought out of closets and demons exorcised. Just not now. There were enough to fight in this personal Hell he'd brought himself to.

Sure, where do I sign up? Another voice.

Snow and wind blew hard down the icy street, ruffling the hair of a man and a boy standing on the sidewalk. 'So,' the man with long grey hair said, 'do we have a deal?' The boy, long black hair blowing in the wind, turned and looked at a girl with blonde hair, eyes screwed shut against the wind and shivering. He replied: 'Sure, where do I sign up?'

The voice of the man he hated the most. The voice of the man he wanted to kill the most. Not even a man, just a stupid kid with dreams of power and no goddamned circumspection. If he had even thought for five minutes instead of blindly groping for his next meal...His fist clenched, and he was about to let another ki-blast fly, but he relaxed. Wrecking this place any further than it was wouldn't do anyone any good. Besides, he had a full day of sparring with Trunks ahead, and he wanted to save his strength for the fun he would have. The kid Robbie may be the top dog now, but Trunks was still fishbait.

He wanted to leave, but instead he slumped down on the battered remains of another nameless machine. Some hulk with green armor and orange hair. It may have been another android, but with all the blast holes in it, it was just another failed experiment. He exhaled heavily, stirring the echoes around him. As the dead taunted him with a thousand voices, all screaming his failures at him, he answered back with the only answer, the only justification he ever had. He breathed her name like a deity. Eighteen...The only one who ever made him feel important, she was the only sister and mother he'd ever had. She gave him the courage to go against their father that dark night. She gave him the will to trek across the entire world looking for a new home. She gave him the strength to continue fighting anyone who wanted a piece of her, even on the losing end. Her light blinded him enough to make the worst decision in the history of the world, literally.

Gero had done a good job erasing the memories of their previous lives. So much so that they didn't realize until a few days before his death that they had even been human. The memories hadn't totally returned, but it seemed the most important ones, the ones he wanted burned from his head the most, had come back. One in particular blazed brightly with hellish fire.

...I'm scared...Came the young girl's trembling voice.

I know, but we've been over this. This guy's gonna make our problems go away forever. A boy's voice said as he laid her in the iron tomb from which she would infernally resurrect. He saw his younger, dumber, self bend his head into the sepulcher and kiss her on the forehead; his own hand hit the button that closed the door over her. Then he followed her to become the destroyers of the world.

She had been everything to him then; his whole identity. He protected life, and she made it worth living; no, that couldn't be true, not anymore. No; he destroyed the cities, and she danced gracefully on the ashes. When they came out of those tubes, their eyes were opened and they saw the promise for what it was. But then the programming kicked in, and their regrets were drowned out in the relentless pounding of Gero's maniacal voice screaming 'Kill Everyone!' So they started with him.

That voice still screamed in his mind, every pulse like raw sewage seeping into his brain. He hated it, but still it remained. Yet he was tired of it. He was tired of running around the world, fleeing the dark and killing the light. He was tired of running with the only person he cared about here and there on missions of death. He had only wanted to kill one man, and now he'd killed millions, good fathers with bad. And the woman he wanted to protect shared his crimes.

A bright light that was tickling at the edge of his vision now rushed in, and he held a hand up instinctively, already realizing what it was. Sunset. He figured his reverie would keep him here that long, and now a whole day was gone. He wouldn't even have time to stretch before daylight vanished. He tensed instinctively, ready to flee for the horizon until the sun backed up its downward trek, but he quickly remembered that was now impossible. He was stuck here, forced to pass what might again be another sleepless night. Not that he needed sleep, but being able to watch the stars without being afraid of dead people was a fond wish. He would have to make the most of it again.

As fading light continued to flood in, a shadow stepped in to block it. His voice cut through the silence.

"I thought I'd find you here." Trunks said calmly. "You know, I was actually trying to keep you away from this place. Mind telling me why you couldn't help yourself?"

"I guess I don't know what's good for me," Seventeen sneered, "like your father."

More tubes shattered and metal crumpled as the android was instantly pinned against the wall. "Don't push me," Trunks growled darkly.

"Are you disagreeing?"

"He died because of you."

"He had too much pride to surrender." Trunks slammed him into the wall again. Harder. His eyes bored through Seventeen. "Everyone who fought us that day died. The ones who didn't lived. A little longer." A roar was the only thing Seventeen heard before he was soaring across the mountaintops. With a loud crash he tore a rent in one cliffside and fell into a shaded valley. He looked up to see Trunks standing with his sword drawn.

"So I guess we're getting some training after all," Seventeen sneered as he pushed himself up. He tottered once before he gained his feet. He was standing for a second before he found himself with Trunks' hand gripping his throat.

"Why did you have to do all that?! Why?!" He lowered his voice and released his grip on Seventeen with a growl. "We're only here because you and your murdering sister had to go..." It was Trunks turn to be surprised as Seventeen pinned him to the rock wall behind him. For the first time, Trunks saw that sneering mask crack. His words were equally dark.

"Don't blame anything on her. She's innocent."

"She's as guilty as you are." Trunks growled back. Seventeen swung, but his fist struck hard rock as Trunks flashed out of his grasp and stood behind him. Seventeen turned in a fit of rage in time to receive a boot to the face. Trunks tried to follow up with a punch, but only met air as Seventeen leapt overhead and came to rest in the middle of the clearing. Trunks turned to meet him. The two stared each other down in the fading light. A white-hot aura began to build around Trunks, while tightening eyes and jaw were the only warning that Seventeen was powering up.

Trunks was the first to rush forward, with Seventeen a second behind. The dull pounding of hammerfalls on flesh soon filled the narrow valley with sound as the last of the light drained away. Their faces were masks of indignant horror as their movements sought the weak point and the killing blow. Vision faded and only sight and sense were left. Trunks suddenly struck air and a fist under the chin sent him wheeling for the sky. He caught himself just in time to face Seventeen again. Now they floated face to face above the shattered rocks, each one only seeing the dimmest outline of the other under the starlight.

"Watch what you say if you want to live." Seventeen's words barely carried across the windblown distance between them, but Trunks heard. He raked his sword from its sheath and the screech made the beginning of his answer.

"Never speak of my father again and so will you!" he yelled back. In the fading light he could tell that Seventeen was coming toward him, but gradually, not fearing his drawn sword. Trunks wasn't about to back down, but he tensed as Seventeen drew closer. Then Seventeen spoke, now standing as far away as any conversation would allow.

"Why are you defending him? You never knew the bastard. I did." Trunks hands clenched but he held his ground.

"You knew him only long enough to kill him."

"Vegeta was an arrogant prick who only cared about being the best. He left you and your mother to go off and play hero. We finished him and almost got you too."

Seventeen was the first to sight them fleeing the battlefield. Looking out over a field of lifeless bodies, the green-haired woman and her small child were easy to pick out. The two androids caught up to her in a flash, alighting among a pile of rubble that was once a skyscraper. He could sense her fear as he approached, ready to destroy Vegeta's family and finish the defeat of the Saiya-jin prince, and the look on her face was unmistakable: cornered. But that look shifted at the last second before smoke covered the ruined building . He was blown off his feet moments later by the enormous pressure of a jet engine ignition, and the vehicle was gone before either android knew it, carrying Bulma Briefs and her small son, Trunks.

Once the smoke had cleared, the Androids were left speechless. It wasn't five minutes before Eighteen started whining about the heat drying her hair, but Seventeen just stood watching the sky. Trunks must be a lucky kid; his father died protecting his planet and his mother almost died protecting him.. Part of his mind screamed he'd get her someday, but the human voice was always there as well: Nice job. Then they lifted off from the island and flew northeast to South City. Within an hour, everyone was dead, but Eighteen had a gorgeous new perm.

"But you failed." Trunks spoke back. "And that was your biggest mistake." Seventeen could see the determination in his eyes, that he would fight this out until one of them was dead, tonight if need be. But Seventeen hadn't shaken the bone weariness that dropped him into the silent metal tomb he'd just visited, and it still pulled at him. A hundred smart retorts popped into his head, but he let them all fall. He was just so damn tired of this shit. Trunks was still eyeing him warily, so it was time to say something good.

"Whatever. It's night. Let's get out of here."

"What?" Trunks blurted out. "You insult my family and try to kill me, then think it's all settled?" Once again Seventeen's passive mask shook, but not with anger.

"Whatever! I'm sorry alright!" And with that he took off across the mountains and canyons, back toward the cabin and hopefully some rest. Trunks only hovered there, wondering what to do next. If he'd had a fight with his mom, which happened frequently, especially where the androids were concerned, he'd give her time to cool off and find her later. He was Bulma's son, so he usually needed the time himself. He'd do the same for any friend. But Seventeen killed his father. He'd also killed all of his mother's best friends. He would never know all the people that had protected the earth before him. Duty still pulsed, strong as ever, heavier than a mountain, but the exact course of action was still unclear to him. Destroying Seventeen was no longer a simple option or even the best one, since a new enemy loomed just down the road. He would just have to trust Robbie and hope somehow he was having a better time of it then he was.

Eyes set, Trunks followed Seventeen back to the cabin as night fell. The evening of the first day.

….

Robbie stared at the bank of colored lights with perplexity, wondering how the hell this was supposed to work. He finally just starting pushing green ones and waited for something to happen. Two seconds later, he found himself plastered to the far wall, his tail twice its normal size and a few new spikes added to his hair. A string of curses past, he was on his feet scratching the back of his neck and fixing his shirt. After settling his now smoothed tail in its place around his waist, he moved toward the stairs.

He found himself in a small basement, little larger than his bedroom at home. The ceiling was barely high enough to clear his head and the walls barely beyond the reach of his fingertips. Combined with the foot of dust that choked everything, it was a normal basement. The only thing abnormal was the equipment: a bank of colored lights the size of a mailbox and a steel cylinder the size of a large punching bag. Two thick cables connected the two, and another set of cables ran from the cylinder up into the house. He assumed, rightly, that this must have something to do with the power, and now the lights burned brightly all through the house.

A few other things must be working, he thought, when a startled Eighteen greeted him at the top of the stairs, looking like her tail would be twice its normal size if she had one.

"You could have waited 'til I was out of the bathroom," she said flatly, "By the way, the outlet exploded." Crap, Robbie thought. He went to a nearby closet while Eighteen began turning off lights and appliances that had been left on. Fishing around through the dust covered pile of junk, he found what he had been seeking, and threw it to Eighteen. "An extension cord?" She asked quizzically.

"Yeah," Robbie said with a smirk, "I'm a fighter not an electrician."

"Oh gee thanks, now I can run a hairdryer." She shot him a dirty look and stalked off. Robbie knew he was unprepared for life with women, remembering now why he stayed away from dating for so long. One look at his mother's section of the bathroom counter sent him into a mental tailspin. And forget the makeup aisle. By now, he knew, she had colonized the entire upstairs bathroom, leaving no room for any self-respecting Saiya-jin male. Robbie, meanwhile, took the downstairs bathroom. Small, simple, perfect.

With Eighteen gone, Robbie could now turn his attention to the afternoon's activity. Stepping back through the spacious kitchen, probably the biggest room in the house, he stepped out the back screen door and into a hot blast of sunlight. There in the tiny backyard stood a large truck plastered with the Nutri-Tech logo. Running up the back ramp, his stomach rumbled lightly. Breakfast had passed a few hours ago, and Robbie was used to a snack before lunch. Ten pounds of sausage and half a bushel of apples later, both washed down with a light gallon of milk, he was satisfied and invigorated.

The main problem was keeping everything cold. He had found a fairly large freezer in the house, but that still left half a truckload. Scratching his head, munching on an apple and looking out over the wide, sunlit ocean, he suddenly had an idea. Jumping from the truck and crawling under, he gently pushed his hands between the body of the truck and the frame, and with a gentle tug, ripped the entire cargo area free. Now balancing a large crate almost the size of Kame House on one hand, he began to walk into the water. In a minute he had hit the dropoff and fell several feet to the sandy bottom, the sun above only an orange disk. The water down here would be cold to a human, but not to him. His work done, he surged upward through the water and landed in a graceful backflip back on shore. Soaking wet, he pulled off his shirt and wrung it onto the sand. With the truck in the water, the cold would keep all the food while the box remained sealed. His mother had originally been from New York, and had told him how her mother always put food out in the snow during the winter. Good idea, Mom he thought.

Robbie stopped for a moment, processing the rest of the day and all that had to happen to make Kame House habitable. A shit-ton, he thought grimly. The place had to be cleaned and de-bugged, literally, from top to bottom, the appliances had to be all turned back on, bedding washed…the list was endless. Robbie had cleaned his room no more than fifty times since turning ten. His mother looked like a smarter lady by the second.

Which brought up his second problem: Eighteen. Whatever was bothering her was no little thing, and their trip to the supermarket earlier hadn't helped. He scratched his head again and scowled at the water. Once they had returned to the island, Eighteen immediately fled upstairs and disappeared. Her appearance an hour ago was the first he'd seen of her since. More than that, she was completely silent. Disturbingly unusual, especially for a blonde. Robbie briefly wondered if she just spontaneously went into standby mode like his PC back home.

Robbie's head clouded as he thought back to the supermarket. He had found Eighteen in the shampoo aisle, no surprise of course, but her eyes were spaced and she was muttering to herself. Robbie could think of few things worse than an insane killer robot he just happened to be alone with. He remembered standing for a full minute, completely unnoticed, watching her eyes stare unblinking at the floor. Each hand opened slowly, then clenched so tight he was expecting drops of blood. Muscles in her face jumped, and her body flexed and relaxed. Watching the pulsating rhythm, transfixed, did nothing to reveal the inner storm. For the fiftieth time since coming to this strange new world, Robbie felt completely out of his depth.

His thoughts strayed at this point to his father, still fighting the war against the unknown enemy back home. With the time dilation, Robbie didn't know how anything was going. Earth could be destroyed, or the threat may not have even arrived yet. The not knowing was maddening. Not knowing what was happening at home, not knowing what was happening here…it all weighed on him. Walking out of the canyon after making his fateful wish on the Dragon Balls, he felt strong, in control, confident. The mission seemed nearly won. But now he was seventeen again. A stupid kid with no knowledge of the world and a monstrous job to do. Sometimes he ached for high school again; screwing around in class with Mike and Dan, football in the fall and baseball in the spring, exams, Sydney.

He was surprised that his obsidian friend could come back so strong now. He remembered when he would barely talk to her, and then one science project changed everything.

Robbie sat at a plain wooden office desk in a corner of the sepulchral room. The desk would be brown, but was draped in a black curtain, with a black mat covering the surface on which his MacBook sat. On the screen in front of him was a rough schematic of their project, and rustling sounds behind him were the only indicator that anyone else was in the room. On the bed behind him, Sydney was unpacking their recently purchased supplies for their chemical fabrication project: a crucible, several different size test tubes, test tube racks, and some things he couldn't identify. It had all been Sydney's idea, with Robbie's contribution being cash, a car, and a better computer for the graphics-rich report they planned on writing. While Robbie was handling the documentation side, he had little clue what they were actually doing.

"Hey" A wordless sound came back in reply. "Do you need any help with that?"

"No, thanks."

"Why don't I start setting up the racks on the table?"

"No, that's fine." Turning around, Robbie saw her eyes down, her face hidden behind her long black hair and her hood. Her small hands worked at laying out all the parts at the foot of her bed; racks on the bottom row, tubes and crucible on the top row, chemical material to the right, tools to the left. She made up for bad design sense with raw organization.

Even so, Robbie couldn't stand sitting. The athlete in him had to take an active role. He stood up and walked over to the table on the other side of the room, then moved to begin setting up the racks. A small hand clamped on his wrist immediately.

"I said, it's fine." Eyes still hidden behind locks of obsidian, voice flat. "I'll finish the project and send you the data. You can go home now." Her hands went back to arranging the materials without looking up. Robbie sniffed.

"I thought this was a group project? We're supposed to work together."

"We are," she said, "I do my part, you do yours, and we pass."

"But how am I supposed to write up a project I didn't even do? You're going to have to send me the data, the lab procedure, materials list, results, everything. The only part I'll get to create will be the recommendations."

"Don't worry, I'll do that part."Robbie brushed his fingers through his medium length blonde hair.

"Syd, that's not the…"

"Sydney," she said, voice no longer flat, "If you can't even pronounce my name, how can you do a lab report? That's fine. Let me borrow your MacBook. I'll do the experiment and write the report. Your name will be on everything and we'll get an A. You can leave now, and I'll talk to you Tuesday in class." The most Robbie had heard out of her yet. The run to get the materials had been agony beyond words. This was not going how he expected.

"I'm sorry, Sydney," he said, voice low, "I just don't want you to have to do everything. It makes me feel like a bad partner, and it's not fair to you. Can I stay and watch you do the experiment? Then I'll take everything down and we can finish everything today." He added another apology for good measure.

She looked up, her hood back, swept her hair from her face, and looked at him for a brief moment. "Fine" was all she said. As satisfied as one being sold the Golden Gate Bridge, he sat back down in his chair as Sydney went over to the table. Within minutes, the racks were up, the tubes placed with the proper chemicals inside, and the Bunsen burner was lit. Without having a gas source, they had to use an electric version. Once he smelled the burning, he started.

"Syd…ney," he said, "We need to open a window, or we'll trip the smoke alarm!" Robbie moved to open the window behind the table, but was once again stopped by her quick hands. One hand pressed against his wrist while another hand flicked a switch on the wall. A whirring sound began over their heads, and the smoke began to move upward to the vent set into the ceiling. Robbie knew why he hadn't noticed before; no one put ceiling vents in their bedroom.

"It's fine. Sit," Sydney said. Robbie sat and watched, as annoyed as he had ever been in his teenage life. The bed creaked under him as he fidgeted nervously, then settled into the slump of dejection. To his left sounded the clink and clank of an experiment at work. The stone faced girl lit the burner under the first beaker, then began to add other materials where needed. Robbie watched, vaguely as smoke began to rise, and liquids and solids began their slow transformations.

Sydney's small white hands moved deftly, arranging everything to perfection, in spite of the heavy black clothing that should have held her down. She quickly prepared each solution and added it to the next to complete the chain of chemical reactions that would drive the experiment forward. Robbie could only look on, grudgingly admitting that she was truly the one who should be standing at the helm. Reaching for his notes, he began to absently scrawl out some observations. But as Sydney's hands moved for the third in a line of test tubes, a frayed sleeve caught a screw and turned it loose, releasing the test tube into the air. The renegade tube fell gracefully, top end tipping down to spill its contents onto one small white hand.

Robbie's head turned, he heard the screaming suddenly, almost echoing in the sepulchral chamber. Notes went everywhere as he jumped up. Sydney gripped her right wrist as the hand turned the mottled white and red of an angry burn. Her hood and hair back, Sydney's face was pale and her eyes wide with shock. Robbie paled himself as he saw the extent of the burn, starting from her fingers and working back to the wrist, it covered her entire hand. Part of her sleeve had been bleached.

Sydney began to slump to her knees, and Robbie leapt up to hold her on her feet. Looking out into the hall, he saw the upstairs bathroom and moved her down the hall, knowing he had to douse the burn in water first. Even being ingloriously dragged along, shock kept the girl from resisting. Under her breath she began to mumble 'I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine…" Robbie, not listening, brought her to the sink and, peeling back her sleeve, pulled her hand under the running water, delayed a moment by her weak protest.

The water beginning to wash the excess chemicals, Robbie began to ease, but had no idea if they were yet out of the woods. Having only the vaguest idea of what they had been working with, he didn't know what else to do. He had to find out what was in those tubes. "Sydney, what was in the tube that fell?" Sydney looked at him.

"It was…I think…I don't know, just leave me alone I'm fine…go home and let me clean all this up…" Sydney continued to mumble the same words over and over, leaving Robbie to find another way. "Wait here," he said.

Leaving Sydney's hand to soak, he returned to the room. The burner was still lit, so he quickly switched it off and cleaned up the chemicals as best he could, at least satisfied that there was only a small spot on the desk surface. Next, he turned to the bed and took note of the various chemicals used and their place in the experiment. Realizing what would have been in the third tube based on Sydney's organization, he determined the chemical name and went to his computer. From school and his job at the grocery store, he knew that most chemicals had a Materials Safety Data Sheet, and he quickly found the right doc online. The good news was that the chemical was not super harmful, and should be handled as a normal burn. That being said, washing with water was the first step.

Setting his laptop back on the table, he walked out of the room and back to the bathroom. Set along the long upper hall was a series of windows. In front of these sat several exotic plants and flowers, part of Sydney's mom's vast collection, most of which adorned the front and back yards. Sitting between two red flowers was a green plant with stiff, smooth leaves. From what his mom had told him, this was aloe vera, and a vague memory surfaced of a small boy with blonde hair sitting in the kitchen crying, while his mom rubbed sap from the aloe onto a small burned hand. Reaching out, and hoping Mrs. Mayes wouldn't kill him, he snapped off the end of one of the leaves and continued to the bathroom.

Sydney was sitting on the toilet, her hand still under the running water. Her head was down and her hair covered her face. She was so quiet that Robbie began to worry and touched her shoulder, only to hear the expected "I'm fine." She appeared to be out of shock, and the burn no longer had the mottled color, although the area was still an angry red. Without a word, Robbie shut off the water and took her hand. Expecting a sudden jerk, her hand lay still in his. He began to rub on the aloe.

"You know," she began, her voice flat, "my mom will be mad." Robbie nearly started at the unexpected voice.

"This will grow back, and the sap will help the burn. Your mom will be relieved you're okay, trust me."

"No she won't," came the flat voice, "she doesn't care. As long as I stay out of her way, she's fine. I'm optional." Robbie knew very little about the Mayes family, but they were friendly enough when he came over, and were now working out in the yard as they completed the project upstairs. Anything could be true.

"I'll take the heat if she asks." A muffled noise was her only response. Robbie continued to rub in the rest of the aloe. His hands were greasy but the burn looked to be fading. After wrapping her hand in bandages from the medicine cabinet, they returned to the room and sat for a few minutes in silence. Half an hour later, Robbie was on his way home, but with a time set for tomorrow to finish the experiment and complete the report, though what occupied him most was the greasiness of aloe and the touch of one small white hand.

Coming back to a sandy beach in another world, miles and universes away from Sydney's bedroom, he looked up at a woman in another bedroom, with deeper wounds and more uncertain remedies. For a brief second, Eighteen's face appeared in the window, and just as quickly withdrew into the dimness. Going up there was the last thing he wanted to do. Yet he knew he had a job to do; one thing he learned was that mature adults always handled problems head on, without delays or excuses. But smart adults also had a plan, a commodity on which he frequently ran short. He needed time to think.

Dust flew and floors creaked as Robbie launched an all-out attack on the dirt and disorder of Kame House. Starting with the kitchen, the highest priority as far as a Saiya-jin was concerned, he hooked up all the appliances, and then proceeded to clean every stovetop burner and microwave in the room. Pulling the huge mass of pots, pans, and cooking utensils out of the dusty cabinets, he cleansed the cabinets, dumped the incongruous pile into the sink, and lightning washed each, delivering it back to its place with a 20 foot throw across the room. As Robbie's Saiya-jin reflexes took over, his body blurred; dust and mold flew, dark surfaces became sparkling white, the crooked became straight, and light streamed through now clear windows. The kitchen of Kame House was once again fit for feeding humanity.

Still a blur, Robbie descended on the living room with equal alacrity. In the absence of a vacuum, the Saiya-jin's body began to spin violently, a whirlpool of wind drawing dust from air and upholstery and siphoning the cloud out through the front door. Sheets covering the couches lifted and flew like terrified ghosts into the sunshine. Furniture that had been hastily moved was put back in place. Once again, windows cleared to light a room now ready for living.

The downstairs finished for now, but with much more to go, Robbie charged upstairs, stopping only to clean one window on the landing. Clearing the next flight in a flash, Robbie entered the hall, only to be stopped by Eighteen. The time for thought was over.

While Robbie had been furiously working to set things right for their several-months stay at Kame House, what had occupied Eighteen? Her face was the same cold mask as always, but something was missing, even more so than usual. The lack of something gave her face and eyes a look of flatness, or transparency, and dimmed her once formidable figure. So striking was the sense of insubstantiality that her gaze seemed to be on him and nowhere all at once. She said nothing, and the lack of even a sarcastic remark completed the sense of emptiness.

With a final hollow look, Eighteen turned right and walked into the bathroom next to Robbie. As the door clicked shut, he exhaled. With his own thoughts in chaos, as usual, he was unable to decipher hers. Neither of the androids displayed much emotion at the best of times, besides cynicism and sarcastic humor, but this was something different. Eighteen's emotions before her capture were at least something, but now bordered on nothing. A block of ice had been replaced by a void. Which, of course, led Robbie to wonder what needed to be done? Without motivation, Eighteen wouldn't train, and if she wouldn't train, they wouldn't have the strength they needed to defend Earth when the time came. Visions came again, visions that began to haunt beyond Robbie's nightmares, his friends' lifeless bodies in the street, his mother dead in a pile of rubble, his father crushed by giant metal hands. The nightmares would be real if he failed.

Before the next thought came, Robbie was at the door knocking. At first silence greeted him, then a vacuous voice called 'what?'

"Can you open the door?" Robbie asked.

"I can hear you fine." Eighteen called back. For the fiftieth time, Robbie's tail bristled. He suppressed the urge to annihilate the door with his fist. Yet again, he engaged his will to prevent his primal Saiya-jin urges from taking over. With the increasing stress of his situation, these tried to become a more dominant force in his thoughts, like an alter ego trying to gain control.

Yet again, though, he pushed them down and thought of his home, his family, his mission. He thought of his father fighting to prepare earth for invasion and his mother trying to support her family as always. And now his hero fought beside him to forge an unstoppable team to meet the coming threat. With all that power backing him, he would do what needed to be done. And he knew that beyond fighting, one thing a Saiya-jin never backed down on was duty. Whether a battle of fists and ki or mind and heart, a warrior would accept no defeat, surrender or retreat.

"Are you okay?" Robbie asked, trying to force his tone to something indicating concern, which wasn't entirely difficult; he wanted Eighteen to be okay for more reasons than one. The DBZ fan in him was still alive and well.

"I'm fine. Are you done?"

"Yeah; I was just checking. You seem quiet." Once again, Robbie tried to keep a normal tone.

"I'm an android, remember? No human feelings," Eighteen replied, with a strange conversational edge. Robbie scoffed.

"You've chewed me out a couple of times since we've met. Seems pretty human to me."

"I'm a machine, I can fake things. Like caring." Same tone as before, but different than the emotionless void he heard earlier. An improvement, perhaps? But not. Her mind was as closed as the door in front of him, and a well-placed ki-blast would clear one, but not the other. What could break down a door in the mind?

Robbie's thoughts wandered back to the sepulchral room and what he learned from that small, white, burned hand. Looking back, it seemed then that so little had happened, but after that day, everything changed; for all of them. What could bring down the walls of Eighteen's mind? Robbie finally thought he knew. You broke down walls by shaking what was inside.

"Can you fake not flying straight?" Silence. Moments passed without a response, and Robbie was tempted to smile. But the smile faded as he realized that he wasn't breaking down walls; he was adding mortar to the bricks. The silence stretched longer as he realized the android wasn't going to continue the conversation. And then the connection was made. Breaking down one door might just…The door exploded into the room in a hail of splinters.

Robbie expected screaming, a cry of surprise, an angry blonde femme-fatale stalking forward to tear his heart out through his spleen…anything but the cold silence that practically blew through the open doorway like mountain winds. This was not what he expected; the battles behind him might not be harder than the struggle about to take place in the room ahead.

….

If there's one thing that the last four years have taught me, it's that determination is everything in life. In the spirit of this revelation, I bring you Chapter 16. Due to going to grad school and trying to start my career as a Technical Writer, fiction writing (and reading for that matter) had fallen by the wayside. As of the last month, however, I officially have a job as a technical writer/trainer for a major railway manufacturer. It's the job of a lifetime, but it also leaves me free time for other things. LIKE WRITING. Here's hoping that this will be the change I've been waiting for these last several years.

Now for Shout-Outs!

Thomas Drovin: You remain my biggest fan, and hopefully you're reading this now. One thing you will learn about me is that I NEVER give up, even if it takes five years to get back. And I'll have to have a look at your fanfic, if you ever got around to it!

LordFrieza: God hasn't been so sweet lately, but that chapter was a long awaited update, as I hope this one will be as well. Hope you enjoy.

Hopeful Wings: *maniacal laugh* And Frankenstein is now back on the table with Chapter 16. You are right though, Hotmail is garbage. Thanks, MicroSuck.

Riley the Demon: Thank you Riley! Quality is what I aim for. Maybe not quantity and punctuality, but definitely quality.

Jago Li Son Shiranui: Thanks for your patience. Although the problem was never urge to write, but time! That has definitely changed with my new job; even though it's full-time salary, with the possibility for some long hours, I'm going to have a much more stable life. It's the end of a long journey for me, and I intend to make the most of it. Here's to more chapters in the 2013, and the conclusion of this story.