Disclaimer: the idea and characters of Dragon Ball are owned by Akira Toriyama. This is a simple non-profit fan parody.

Chapter 45 - What happens in West City stays in West City

September 13, 750

Bulma looked, and as she did, the horror finally managed to become real, and to hit the core of her being. And when it did, something broke, deep inside her, and she started screaming.

It was like she had suddenly awakened from a dream state. All the previous months she'd spent preparing for this war, she'd just walked around in a daze, she had been playing, nothing of it had been real. This was real. This was what had always been at stake, a horror so vast she could not truly contemplate it until it had materialised in front of her eyes, staring at her with the eyes of a million flaming corpses being turned into ashes while they silently judged her, and her father among them. That the Dragon Balls could eventually reverse it was little consolation; right now, nothing could possibly feel more final, more ending.

The something shattered further, under the weight of the feelings that were swirling like an hurricane inside her.

She did not pay attention to everyone else - not even her mother, whom she saw with the corner of her eye, still sitting on the sofa, paralysed. Bulma ran furiously up the stairs, slammed her bedroom's door open like she wanted to rip it off its hinges, and tossed herself on the bed, muffling her screams against a pillow, biting it, tearing it open with her teeth. She smashed her fists against the wall, without bothering about controlling her strength. Her anger flowed straight into the microchip nestled next to her spine, flooding her muscles with ki. Her punches slammed into the wall smashing plaster and concrete to bits, sinking into it, leaving a raw hole and cracks spreading around it. As she burned through her small reserves of energy her strength faded away and her fists did less and less damage, shooting instead with pain every time they smashed into the raw concrete. She kept at it for hours, shouting away anyone who tried to come out of her bedroom to check on her, crying her eyes dry and tearing her vocal chords with impotent screaming. When she finally stopped, short on breath, her throat raw, hands bruised and bloodied, evening had come already. She took deep breaths.

The something had gone away. Ground into dust, she had swept it out as something she did not need any more. Faced with the sheer magnitude, the overwhelming despair of this one defeat, she would not hold to anything like it.

It was not her anger, nor her will to fight and win. If anything, those things were swelling, growing, engorging themselves so much she felt like they might just burst out of her breast and make her explode into a flaming bomb aimed straight at the heart of her enemy.

"I will kill you," she hissed, teeth gritted.

It was her restraint. She regretted every single thing she'd ever worried about other than giving her absolute best to produce as much overwhelming violence was necessary to pulverise the bastard who had done what she'd just witnessed. But from now on, she would refuse to repeat that mistake. She'd seen Hell, and now she was going to show it to Piccolo too, before sending his filthy soul down there forever as it deserved.

"I will kill you," she repeated, her breaths steadying in a regular pattern, even as her voice still bristled with anger. "Oh, you are so, so fucking dead. You will rue the day you pissed me off. There will be not enough left to even bury. I will kick your fucking green face into the ground, I will rip those antennas of yours and stick them up your ass. You think you're such a big shot? I will find ways to make you suffer that you never even imagined."

She ran up to the window, opening it. She knew it could not be heard (which was good: she had enough sense to know that much), but nevertheless, it felt good to launch her challenge one final time.


Her anger screamed into nothing, the nothing seemed nevertheless to listen.

She stumbled back, tiredness, pain and mental exhaustion all taking their toll at once. She felt every ounce of strength drain out of her, and let herself fall on the bed, as she was. She almost instantly fell asleep, finally at peace.

The path was clear. She would need to rest well. From tomorrow it would be time to make good on her promise.

That night, the dream of power came back. This time it was not vague any more - her fury had an object. She fought Piccolo one on one, and against all reason, beat him to a pulp, only to let him heal, only so that she could beat him again. She did so in front of an immense crowd. Around her, in a stadium so large that it defied logic, sat every citizen of West City, staring at that spectacle and cheering for it.

Or rather, not all of them. Just those who were asleep at the same time as her.

September 14, 750

After a whole day of crying, screaming and raging, and a night of deep sleep punctuated by that one galvanising dream, Bulma woke up, turned up her computer to check a few things she needed to know and look at the news, then finally left her room and descended the stairs. She felt weird - a mix of anxiety and giddiness, nervousness and elation. She did not mean to renege the promise she'd made to herself the night before, yet with a cooler mind, she saw the enormity of the task as well, and the dangers it implied. The still fresh memory of the dream, up to and including the satisfying feeling and noise of Piccolo's crunching bones under her fists, both fed her sense of righteousness and made her slightly uncomfortable. There had been something wrong to it, even more than previous versions of that dream. Its clarity and realism were unprecedented, and the fact that she actually wanted to live that dream so badly made it all the more disturbing.

She had ideas for how to go on. Oh, she had so many. But there had been reasons why those ideas had not been followed through to begin with. They weren't all good enough reasons, evidently, in light of what had happened, but that didn't mean their dangers had evaporated. They just needed reweighing, in a world in which the beating heart of law and governance had just been incinerated, and Demon King Piccolo had become the biggest existential threat for humanity overnight.

Maybe she could ask her father for advice.

Oh, right.

The first person she crossed once downstairs was her mother, and meeting her eyes made Bulma feel a pang of guilt. She had been too busy processing her own anger and guilt to even give Panchy a moment of attention at a time that must have been just as painful for both of them. She didn't have time to do anything before the woman had rushed to her and wrapped her in a tight hug. She didn't say anything, either, but her reddened eyes and cheeks streaked by melted makeup told a clear enough story. Bulma hugged her back. She had to be careful doing that now - her emotions being still a bit out of whack, she didn't trust herself not letting her own artificial strength going out of control again. Yet somehow in this situation a hug that didn't have all of her strength behind it didn't even feel like a real one. But that well reflected what was going on in her head too, after all. There was a Bulma that just wanted to break down again, to relax, to let herself be soothed and become a small thing that softly slips in her mother's arms to be cradled like a baby. And there was a Bulma of steel and lightning that kept the first one in check and said, not now, not yet. Now there's a killing to plan.

"Mom, sorry, let me go now," she whispered, after a while, pulling away. "I need to go talk to the others. It's important."

She was surprised when Panchy actually did that right away, and silently pushed her with one hand in the direction where Gero and his assistants were. Bulma glanced back at her and saw something odd - fear and expectation in equal parts in the eyes of her mother. As if she could see the Bulma of steel and lightning as well, and tell what she was about to do. The girl didn't give it much thought.

"You're awake," said Lazuli, flatly. She was not as disheveled as Panchy or, for that matter, Bulma herself, who hadn't even yet properly washed out the blood and plaster fragments that caked her hands, but she didn't look her best self either. She was sitting next to Gero, her brother and her father, who all seemed deeply immersed into some animated discussion, but immediately stopped upon seeing her, and glanced up at her strangely.

"If you're talking about ways to make that bastard pay, please don't let me stop you," said Bulma, with a hand wave. "We're going to need those." "Actually, we were talking about you," said Lapis. "Well, more of a dream of you. It seems like we've all had it, tonight. An image of you fighting and beating up Piccolo with your bare hands. Ridiculous, isn't it?"

Bulma froze. "Lazuli, you too, by any chance?," she asked.

"I pulled an all nighter, so I wouldn't know," replied the girl, shrugging. "I mean, it's a weird coincidence. But it could happen."

"I had the same dream, though," said Bulma. "I mean, I was in it. Beating Piccolo up."

Panchy gasped audibly, across the room. All eyes turned to her. "Mom...?"

"Sorry, I just overheard, I mean-" she stuttered, clearly overcome by emotion. "I thought it felt like - like it ought to be true, but-"

She stopped talking and broke in tears. Bulma rushed to help her sit next to her and offered her shoulder, but meanwhile, her mind was aflame with the revelation, screaming in an excited panic. Two identical dreams might have been a coincidence. Three were a really unlikely coincidence. Five, though? That started feeling like evidence of something much weirder.

"I need you to recall the precise details of your dreams," she started. "Tell me - no! Write down on paper the answers to my questions. Start by thinking of the stadium you saw and tell me how it looked. Mom, do you think you can do it?"

Panchy nodded and took the white paper scrap and pen handed by her daughter. Bulma asked questions for a while, going from the overall sequence of events down to the finer details that she could recall of her own appearance or the environment. As she did so, she was already amazed by the amount of vivid detail she could indeed remember as soon as she focused on it long enough, something she usually wouldn't have expected from a dream. But what really freaked her out was reading the four lists of answers. Making some allowances for small lapses in memory, they were functionally identical, and matched her own recollections to an eerie degree. Yes, this went way past coincidence. She laid them out on the table for all the others to read.

"Well, that's odd," commented Lapis, bemused. "A prophetic dream?"

"Nonsense!," burst out Gero. "The sheer violation of the laws of causality - the laws of the universe couldn't possibly allow something like that! I would sooner believe that she somehow put it into our heads!"

"And how would I do that?," mumbled Bulma, pensive. "But I agree, while this is really weird, I think it's unlikely it's a case of foresight. We already know about some forms of telepathy and divination, thanks to our dear friend, Baba the Sybil. But closed time loops, even if they only involved information travelling backwards, would be a whole another ballpark. Besides, I don't see things turning literally like that, regardless of how much I plan to make it happen."

Everyone glanced up at her.

"Don't give me those looks. You've seen what happened to the Capital as much as I did. What else do you want me to do?"

She pinched her lips, frowning.

"We're taking the bastard down. I've decided I will not hold back anything, and I will stand by that."

Gero snarled. "Hah. Better late than never, I guess."

"Bulma, you can't-" Panchy threw her arms around her. "I know what we've seen, but- your father has already-"

"This is about us all, mom," She shook her head. "We can have him back with us in one year, thanks to the Dragon Balls. We can fix everything. But only if we beat Piccolo first. This isn't just for me and you, it's for everyone."

Because I think I can. So I must.

"When you say not holding back, though, what does that mean?," asked Lapis. "I thought we already did a lot of work. It just wasn't enough."

"Well, for an example..." Bulma turned to Gero. "Doctor, if I don't remember wrong, you had plans for a small model of flying insect-like robot meant to gather biological samples from the battlefield. A plan that was scrapped due to being considered less tactically relevant, and a potential huge security danger if they ever fell into other hands after the war."

Gero scoffed. "I still have those plans with me. You have some use for them?"

"We'll give you access to our Fabrication Line A - mom, is that all right? I'm guessing without dad, the company-"

She nodded. "He wanted you to get it, of course," she said. "I don't know much about it. You were his little apprentice, he said it all the time."

Bulma swallowed. "Right. So, you're getting the Production Line. Make a few dozens by this evening at best, absolute priority. We need to go gather samples of Piccolo's tissues from the battlefield near the Capital, where his arm was torn up. If we're lucky, we can still find a few live cells. We need to figure out more about his regeneration, that thing's just unfair."

"You don't get to order me around just because you have the equipment, you greenhorn!," snapped back Dr. Gero. Then, having gotten that out of his system, "not a bad idea, though," he added.

Lapis sent a worried glance at Bulma. "No offence, Bulma, but... what's your plan? Do you want to just give Goku as much support as possible once he comes back?"

"The way he's now, Goku has as much chance of beating Piccolo in a straight up fight as me. So, none at all," she replied, shaking her head. "And for now we don't even know where he is, or if he's alive. I can't even detect his ki signature with the best instruments we have, I tried earlier from my computer. So, no. We count only on the resources we have for sure. That's us, anything that the doctor brought from his lab at headquarters, Bandages and the rest of his group of fighters, and the full industrial power of Capsule Corporation, at the moment."

Lazuli looked unimpressed. "That's not a lot. Bulma, don't you think it would be better if- oh for goodness' sake, what's all this ruckus?"

The noise had kept increasing for the last few minutes, and it had become harder and harder to not pay attention to it. It started as a simple murmuring coming from the outside and it became clamour, shouting, singing and whistling. It had progressively grown in intensity to the point of interfering with normal discussion. Before Bulma could even go check at the window, she saw her mother looking out of it with a slightly worried look, and then, someone knocked at the door.

"It's Bandages, miss. Huh, you really want to see this," said the voice. "There's quite a few people who want to see ya."

"Quite a few? How many people, Bandages?," asked Bulma, as she pushed the door open. Then, seeing what was outside, she realised why answering that wouldn't have been easy.

Outside of her house, in the street, was just what she could describe as "as much of the population of West City as could fit in it". The crowd didn't stop there either, she could see it going until wherever her eye could reach, branching out in side streets, and some crowding balconies and roofs of surrounding buildings. All the eyes were pointing at her. Some of them did so with curiosity, or bafflement, or even a certain degree of suspicion. But most of those eyes seemed mostly filled with something else entirely.


Lapis peered over Bulma's shoulder, glancing at the massive crowd. "Do you think they all-?"

"I don't know." murmured Bulma. "I don't know what the fuck is going on any more."

The crowd waited in an almost surreal, religious silence at her sight. It looked like most of them were waiting for a sign - like at that very moment, she could say anything, ask them to do anything, and they would follow her to the ends of the Earth.

Bulma's hand tightened on the doorknob. She moved a fraction of a step backwards, she stopped. She thought of the night before.

She opened her mouth.

When they all dreamed about the speech that night, even those who weren't there, it was very different.

The original may not have been as perfect. The girl may have hesitated at first. There might have been some fumbling, some awkwardly half-heard words, until someone managed to bring her a megaphone. She might have not always sounded as crystal clear, as certain, as strong as she did in the dream, or picked the same exact words.

But the dream was perfect, and soon replaced the flawed memory of real life, even in the mind of the girl herself, who lived it again as her better self, hearing the words come out of her mouth like they had been always sealed in there, eager to rush into the world.

"I know why you have gathered here."

"I know you have questions; I have them too. Yesterday we all have lost something, and what happened tonight defies explanation. I am sure it looks like a sign to many of you, and that sign may be a reason for hope when we most need it."

"But what I will say is, I will not kill Piccolo because some dream said I would. That is impossible."

"I will kill Piccolo because it's what I decided to do. Because I will put my mind to it, and my best resources, and stake on it my own life, and so will my friends and allies. And, I hope, I will kill Piccolo because I will have all your help. Because if you are here, I am sure it means you don't want to go out quietly either."

"I can't make promises that it will not be dangerous, or that you may not lose your life. My company will help anyone who wants to leave the city, if they don't want to risk being involved. But to everyone else who thinks that Piccolo must pay-"

She drew in a deep breath, making for a poignant pause that built up tension. Her eyes got harder.

"To you I promise I will give you a chance to fight back. I promise I will show him we're not just sheep to be led to the slaughter. I promise whatever indignity and injustice he will try to inflict on us, we will pay back tenfold!"

"And I promise! That if you were to die because of this monster or his goons before they meet their own end, just like everyone else who was already killed by them, I will, without a shred of a doubt, bring you back to life!"

There were murmurs and a few laughs after that. But Bulma didn't waver.

"I know that sounds crazy. But is it any crazier than the Demon King Piccolo himself coming back from the past? Or any crazier than what you will see when us, all of us, weak regular humans, will send him back to oblivion for good? Any crazier than the giant ape that ravaged the city months ago, than the sky turning dark in the middle of the day without there being an eclipse, than all of us dreaming the same dream together? Miracles exist. And I can tell you-"

She extended her hand, grabbing the trunk of a nearby tree. There was a slight twinge in her face, like she was suppressing a hint of pain, and then her arm and hand tensed up, and as she increased the pressure, her fingers jammed themselves into the wood, crushing it. Then she pulled a chunk out of it; broken, the rest of the tree fell sideways on the lawn. The crowd gasped.

"-this one, I'm going to make it happen."

September 17, 750

After what at this point counted as little more than a sustained jog (all that climbing up and down Korin Tower had really done wonders!), Yamcha arrived at the edge of West City to find it abuzz in a lot of unusual activity. There were roadblocks and patrols as soon as he came close, some of them manned by former Red Ribbon soldiers, others simply occupied by regular citizens. There also seemed to be a lot of digging and tearing open manholes, with more people in hard hats doing work all over. He assumed this had to do with what they'd seen from Korin's divination water - the city closing down to all outsiders for reasons unknown, so now it would be time to find out more.

"Hey, you!," shouted one of the civilians, who was nevertheless armed with a double barrelled shotgun. "What are you looking for?"

Yamcha stared the man up and down, unsure what was going on. He didn't like the sight of the shotgun - he hadn't had a chance to experience it yet, but buckshot sounded like it ought to be painful, or at least shred his clothes thoroughly. "I'm Yamcha, I'm with Capsule Corporation. Is Bulma Briefs, huh, at home?"

The other burst out in laughter. "Is she? Yeah, sure is. But you'll have to go through a few more people and prove your identity before you get to see her. She's pretty busy, and she won't have time for a random admirer."

"I'm not - don't you recognise me? I was on TV, like, all the time!," replied the young man, piqued. "Like, at least a dozen of them!"

"Hm, now that you mention it," the guard nodded. "Well, it's beyond me anyway. I'm just supposed to tell people to not loiter around, you can go in. Just know, today's the last day anyone can go out. We're cutting communications and everything. If you stay, you're in for the long haul."

"Ah, I see. Which is-?"

"Killing Piccolo, of course," said the man, waving his shotgun. "We're going to tear him a new one."

Yamcha walked forward, and was equal parts amazed and confused by what was going on. The whole city was incredibly lively. Things were happening everywhere; most of them seemed to involve working with phone lines and such, which he guessed had to do with the cutting communications thing, while others he couldn't make heads or tails of. What most struck him and that had not been obvious from the glimpses he'd gotten from Korin Tower was just how many of the citizens seemed involved, and with what level of zeal. The rest of the world, from a few glimpses they've gotten, seemed rather glum, for good reason. The images that had now started airing from Red Ribbon HQ could not be doing much for their morale either. But here in West City, things were different - the whole place was brimming with enthusiasm, energy, drive. In fact, it was almost a little unnerving just how much everyone seemed immersed into their work.

Capsule Corporation, when he reached it, seemed to be the epicentre of all the activity. People streamed in and out of the building as well as the surrounding parks and meadows of the large complex, which had been completely overtaken by tents and temporary capsule buildings, many wearing the insignia of the Red Ribbon. Crates full of capsules were being hauled in and out of storage. In front of the pathway leading to the front door of the main house was another improvised checkpoint - but here Yamcha found some familiar faces.

"Spike!," he greeted. The man, dressed in his usual demonic costume, smiled and greeted back. "You old devil! I've come to meet Bulma, I bring news of Goku!"

"Oh! Most auspicious!," said the other, grinning. "Of course, there is no problem - I am sure she will be happy to hear it, this is truly the last piece of the puzzle we were all waiting for. I'll let you in."

"So what is going on here?," asked Yamcha, as they walked towards the door, and Spike reassured all other guards that he vouched for the new arrival. "I'm hardly recognising the city. And what's about no one being able to leave and all?"

"Ah, a plan Miss Bulma concocted together with the Mayor," replied the man. "And a few of the surviving officers of the RDF and the Red Ribbon who have found refuge here. All sorts of people are gathering to help, see. What has everyone so excited is that we're preparing to resist. Battle against darkness beckons, my friend."

"Well, I get wanting to fight, but I suppose I'm surprised everyone seems so… optimistic. Even at Korin Tower - ah, I mean, with Goku and master Roshi and the others, no one was all that positive about things."

"Knowledge has been bestowed upon us, and portents have shown the way. We have been vested with purpose," said Spike, with a mysterious smile. Unsurprisingly, this didn't exactly make Yamcha feel any less confused. "Do not fret. If you'll stay here in the city, you'll see what I mean this very night."

"If you say so," replied the young man, unconvinced.

Inside, at least, the Briefs' house was not too different from how he remembered it. He waited around in the living room, fiddling a bit and unable to sit down, until Bulma emerged from a nearby door, having been called up. She looked worn out and somewhat tired, and had grease on her hands and clothes - clearly she'd been immersed in some kind of work until just before.

"Oh, hey, Bulma!," greeted Yamcha. "I bring good news!"

"Those are always welcome," she said, letting herself fall onto an armchair. "Nice to see you. So, Goku's alive, right?"

"Sure is. You don't seem very relieved."

"I was pretty sure he was," she replied. "The only question was where he'd gone to hide, and what was he doing. Which I'm going to guess you're now going to answer?"

Yamcha explained all that had happened - from his role in the battle near Pilaf's castle, his fight with Flute and the summoning of the dragon, to how they'd ran to the Land of Korin, how the place worked, for his limited understanding of it, and how everyone was doing. Finally, he explained about Goku's training, and how he was gearing up to fight Piccolo one-on-one.

"I wish I had time to go study this place," said Bulma, massaging her forehead. "Ah, no matter. There will be enough after we kill Piccolo."

"You're... serious about that?," Yamcha raised his eyebrows. "I mean, hey, we can call Goku here and I'm sure he'll do it! But what were you going to-"

"I don't think we should call Goku," she snapped back. "We have our own plans, and they don't need him. How long did you say it would take for him to get strong enough to outright win?"

"We don't know for sure, maybe two weeks, or twenty days. Master Korin doesn't think it's safer to go much faster than that."

"Then it might not be soon enough," replied Bulma. "Well, I'll try to find ways to get in touch with him and we can talk strategy. Anything else you need to tell me?"

"Have you... seen... what they're doing in Red Ribbon HQ?"

"Have I?," Bulma's eyes suddenly lit up with anger, her expression stiffened. "Yes, I have seen it. As long as I could stomach it, anyway. But right now I've got better things to do."

"Ah, yes, it's-" Yamcha trailed off. The discussion felt awkward in a way that he'd never experienced when talking with Bulma, not even when he had his first interview with her. The difference with the last time they'd seen each other in person, back at the summer picnic, was as night and day. "Uh, are you, I don't know, all right?"

"All right?" Bulma sighed. "I'm tired, I'm stressed, my dad died, a whole city expects me to defend it from a monstrous tyrant, and I've slept, like, six hours in the last two days. And most of that time sleeping I've spent-"

She trailed off.

"-nevermind, you'll find out tonight. Are you going to stay in the city?"

"I'm, huh, I thought so. You're going to need some muscle, won't you?," he smiled.

"Eh, can't say it won't help," she replied, waving a hand. "But don't expect to be asked to fight Piccolo."

"Oh, I got a lot stronger but - yeah, you know what, maybe that's a good idea."

"Still, if you stay here, you'll be sharing the same fate as all of us. We are going to challenge Piccolo. And you've seen what he could do if we fail."

"I'd, huh, like to know more about your plan, I guess," said Yamcha. "But hey, I am not abandoning this city in its time of need! I've played local hero long enough, I can't really pull back now that it really matters."

"All right, good. I'll incorporate you in our plans." Bulma smiled faintly. "That's all for now then, I have to go back to work. But hey. Glad to see you're still in one piece and all. We can talk more later, I'll need a lot more details from you. You can go back to your room here in the complex, we kept those free for you."

"Uh, thanks for that!," he said. "So, any places I should be? You know, to help?"

"Go out, I'm sure you'll find plenty of crews who can use someone who can deadlift a building," she replied. "Other than that, if you have anyone you'd like to find-"

Yamcha had thought of that. And having done away with all the necessary, world-saving stuff for now, it was definitely next on his list.

"There is someone, I guess," he replied. "See you later, then!"

September 18, 750

Yamcha woke up with a gasp. He took a moment to look at the room around him, his own hands, feel his face. He had this weirdest of all sensations, as if the dream he'd just been into was more real than real life, and it took him a moment to make sure which was which. After that, he only remained a bit stunned, unable to go back to bed. Outside, dawn was breaking already.

"You had the dream too, huh?"

He turned to see Erasa awake as well, next to him. She poked him playfully in the arm with a finger and leaned closer on him, which momentarily brought Yamcha back to reality as he enjoyed both the sight of her body and the feel of her skin pressed against his.

Yes, he had come to check on her the day before, no, he had not planned for this, but there was a lot of positive energy going around and "living in the moment" vibes and well, things had happened - things that he absolutely was not unhappy about.

"I don't know what that was," he said, putting an arm around her shoulder and squeezing her closer. "So you dream that too?"

"Me and the rest of the city."

"That's crazy! What does it even mean?"

Erasa shrugged. "Collective telepathy? Foresight? A sign from the Gods? How the Hell should I know? Some people think it's your boss, who built some kind of evil dream machine to put all that in our heads."

"But you don't believe that, right?," asked Yamcha. "I've never heard about anything like that! I'm sure she couldn't do anything like it."

He thought about it a moment.

"I mean, maybe she could, but I'm sure she wouldn't."

He paused again.

"Ok, I'm not sure she wouldn't, but-"

"I don't think that's it," cut him off Erasa. She poked him again, then untangled herself from his arm to step out of bed and go wash her face up at the sink. Hers was a cheap single room apartment with everything stuffed close to each other, as many in West City for anyone who didn't own a fortune comparable to the Briefs. "It's some weirdos who are usually always fixated on conspiracies that say that stuff. That said, it doesn't mean I'm happy with it."

"You're not?," asked Yamcha. Honestly, he was too weirded out by the experience to have formed an opinion on it yet.

"Of course I'm not," Erasa put on a bra, then went to rummage in a big bunch of trousers and shirts to fish for some relatively fresher ones to wear. The room wasn't the cleanest, or the tidiest. "It's getting kind of cult-y, if you ask me. Some people look at her like a goddess that will save us. And to be fair, she's sort of playing along with that. Tonight's dream was the usual - you should have heard the speech one."

"She doesn't seem the type to me though," he replied. "To enjoy it, I mean."

"Eh, does it matter? We're still here literally worshipping the richest person in the city like she's our only salvation," said the girl. "But you know, I kind of get it. She lost her dad and all. I had a few friends from back when I was in school who lived in the Capital. Not the same thing, but yeah. It's been hard."

She trailed off, pondering a bit over a bundled t-shirt she was holding, before unfolding it and quickly putting it on. "Still, life goes on, at least until Piccolo kills us. So. I have to appreciate that at least the dreams, whatever the reasons, are giving us something to unite around. I say it's cult-y, but really, people are also genuinely looking out for each other. For most of us, the dreams are... keeping us focused, I guess. Stopping us from going crazy with despair. It's slightly mad, but from what I've seen of things outside, we're the lucky ones. At least no one's even thinking of watching that shitty Tournament thing, for example. Yesterday there were a few guys who put it up in a pub and started rooting for the fights, like it was some sports event. They got told to shut it, one of them started yelling crappy Instruments propaganda. At which point he was beaten up and physically tossed out of the city. So that was fun."

"Ah, I see." Yamcha wasn't displeased that Erasa, or anyone else in the city, felt so driven and optimistic about the situation, of course. He still felt slightly odd about the whole dream thing, but he could cope with that eventually. Perhaps the thing that really made him feel that strange tinge of annoyance was how quickly the girl had simply bailed out and immediately started dressing up upon waking up. "So, you're going to work at...?"

"There's tons of work to do, of course. We don't all know the details of the plan - just to stay safe, we can't risk too much leaking, even with everyone who's stayed here being really committed to the enterprise. We're doing compartmentalisation. Today in fact we should get some of the juicier bits, since we finally closed the doors. But I'm with the crews at the stadium. Mostly I help with supporting everyone, distributing water, stuff like that. Sounds silly but it's important as anything else with all the work they're doing. Why don't you join?"

"Uhm, sure," Yamcha jumped up. "I mean, Bulma told me she needed to ask me more stuff, but I guess she'll look for me when it's the time for that."

"Great. I'm sure you'll be of help!"

She walked close, leaned in, and got in a small peck on his shoulder - then swished away before he could grab her (well, not really. He could have grabbed her anyway, but around more normal human beings, he tried to play fair).

"It's a construction job. You'll do the work of ten people."

Yamcha sighed, resigned. He came back to be a hero, but everyone wanted him slogging as some kind of human crane.

Bulma sat in silence, lost in thought. She wasn't at a desk. Her chair was firmly planted in front of a device that had once been kept inside Dr. Gero's laboratory back at Red Ribbon HQ, and had then been hurriedly transported in capsule form from there to here.

A transparent mannequin, innervated all throughout with shiny metallic wires, coursing through it like veins or a nervous system.

Bulma looked up and down at it, reflecting. The heart replacement reactor that had been contained within the framework had now been removed, and the wires rearranged so that they all converged to a hub clustered around a spot approximately around the lumbar vertebrae, where the HEP II chip was usually inserted, and where most of the ki in humans spread out of. From there, if this implant was ever installed in anyone, barely at a subcutaneous depth, it would efficiently distribute that energy, tolerating much higher loads than the natural circulation of an untrained human being. The ki could then go on to bolster muscles, strengthen bones, toughen up skin, and even revitalise and accelerate metabolism - helping to heal the same tissue that had been cut up to insert the implant. It could project someone into a nearly transhuman realm, one of strength comparable to that of someone like Goku, not by discipline and self-cultivation, but with the power of technology.

If it was ever installed in anyone.

Bulma squeezed her own arm, feeling a sudden shiver. Whenever considering a decision, these days, she needed to double check herself even more than she usually tried to do. She wasn't ungrateful to the dreams that, for one, had basically turned around a whole city and united it under a single goal, and was shamelessly using them in the pursuit of her own personal desires. But she maybe wished they were a bit less vivid and exhausting. They'd made their point already - couldn't they leave her a single night of full, good, old fashioned deep sleep? As it was, she felt utterly tired out by them - not physically or mentally as much as emotionally. As if the flames of her rage and desire kept being stoked, and while she had not finished burning, there was a limit to how bright it could get. So, could she trust that the plans she was concocting weren't affected by that? That she wasn't deluding herself into a deadly trap, heck, that she could trust the dreams at all?

She coursed along the skin on her arm with a hand, up and down, again, multiple times. Should she-?

"Quit your musings, you indecisive brat," snarled a voice behind her. "You know I'd do it myself if I could trust someone else with the surgery."

"I wouldn't want you to do it," sighed Bulma, getting back up. "And guess what, instead apparently I'd have to endure you as a surgeon. That doesn't exactly reassure me. What is it, meeting time?"

"Not yet," replied Dr. Gero. "Though if you ask me even those stupid meetings would be less of a waste of your time than sitting here daydreaming."

"We do enough dreaming at night," admitted the girl. "So what else?"

"I'm not some goddamn valet. They gave me a call, told me to send you upstairs, don't know why. Go check for yourself."

The reason for the call turned out to be a person. In Bulma's living room, being served tea and biscuits by Panchy as if he was an ordinary guest rather than a soldier in ragged clothing completely soiled by dust and blood, sat a tall, broad shouldered man with red hair and a serious expression. His uniform, while in bad shape, was recognisably one of those Bulma had helped commission for the northern war theatres, and bore Red Ribbon insignia.

"Bulma Briefs," he greeted, curtly. "I've only heard about you. Nice to meet you in person."

"Colonel Silver," she acknowledged, with a nod and a polite smile. She sat down as she shook his hand. "We thought you might have been dead. Didn't get any news from you since after we lost contact with Goku."

"Nah. We survived, thanks in no small part to that little demon," he said. "You don't know-"

"He's fine," reassured him Bulma. "I just had news of him yesterday. He beat his opponent and is now back in perfect shape, training to fight Piccolo."

The man looked surprised, then sighed in relief and smiled. "That's good news. It's bad enough to feel like a powerless failure without also having the death of such a brave man on your conscience."

"First time I hear Goku called a man. You've really warmed up to him."

"He deserves that title more than people who are twice his age. For all the time we've fought together, he's been strong, smart, courageous, and altruistic. I could not hope for a better soldier next to me."

"He was not a soldier, though. Perhaps that is the part that matters most," replied Bulma.

Silver shrugged and shook his head. "You sound like you dislike the word. Seems to me, you're turning this whole city into an army, though."

"Something like that. And if you decided to enter it, you must have accepted to enlist in it," replied the girl. "Or at least, not get in our way."

"Me and my men were tired, dirty, and frankly hungry. We'd had a hard enough time leaving the north without good transportation, then when we found out about Piccolo taking over we had to move even more carefully, avoiding any place where we would be spotted and reported. What were we supposed to do, turn back? We needed haven. Sure, we'll fight, if it comes to that. It's our job anyway, and we still haven't made that monster pay. Though I don't know how much help we can be."

"Oh, you can help in plenty of ways. I can't tell you all the details but - well, you can have a place to stay and food, of course. We're providing for everyone as much as possible. And there's plenty of houses left empty by those who left in the first three days."

She lifted herself up, signalling an end to the meeting. "Now, if you don't mind, someone else can take care of your needs. Sorry I can't chat more, but there's lots of work to do."

"Understandable," Colonel Silver nodded. "Very well. Best of luck in your enterprise, miss Bulma - if only because it sounds to me like all our lives depend on it. But there's one last thing. An item I managed to bring back from the battlefield. I don't know how to use it, but when you meet Goku again, you'll have the chance to return it to him."

Silver plunged a hand in his backpack, that he'd left on the floor in front of him, and drew out something. A pole a little less than one metre long, crafted out of a reddish-brown, elastic wood.

Bulma's hand clutched the pole, and she recognised instantly its surface. A thought flickered in her mind, and instantly, the pole's extremities retracted a bit, imperceptibly for anyone who wasn't paying attention. But it was enough to confirm its identity beyond any reasonable doubt.

"Thanks, Colonel," she said, with a smile. "This will be very useful."

And we're finally back! Another long wait, this time as a consequence of many real life changes - mainly, I'm changing jobs and moving, so that's a lot of stuff. Plus, it's been a worrying time in general, and sometimes it's hard to focus long enough to write (especially since the subject matter is in itself a bit dark). Thanks for sticking with the story anyway! Please leave a comment!