Disclaimer: the idea and characters of Dragon Ball are owned by Akira Toriyama. This is a simple non-profit fan parody.
Chapter 46 - The base change necessary for violence
September 19, 750
Under the microscope's lens, the cells seemed perfectly normal. Bulma had no knowledge of histology, so she could hardly tell much about them except that they looked like, well, about any cell diagram she'd ever seen in a book. Except perhaps with a greenish tint she'd usually have associated with plants rather than animals.
"I can't see anything special about them," she concluded. "Save for the colour."
"No, that's just it! They're absolutely normal," said Lapis, enthusiastic. He'd called her to his biological lab - a corner of a larger one used by Capsule Corporation's researchers in all sort of biomedical and pharmaceutical in vitro research - excited to share his latest finding on the cells that Gero's small insect robots had managed to collect from near the ruins of the Capital. It had taken a while, but they'd managed to find a few still alive, and Lapis claimed he'd managed to dig out some useful information about how they worked.
"The colour is because of the chloroplasts, by the way," he added. "But that's not very important."
"Piccolo photosynthesises?," asked Bulma, incredulous.
"Apparently. The precise purpose isn't clear to me, but you can easily run the numbers and see that he couldn't possibly draw even the tiniest fraction of the energy he uses from that, so it's hardly important to us," replied the man. "No hopes of simply winning by attacking at night."
"Yeah, that would have been a pretty ridiculous weakness. So, what else?"
"Well, as I said, they seem really normal. As in, extremely similar to human cells, for the most part. Same metabolic pathways down to all I could check, same lifecycle. Except for the photosynthesis stuff, of course."
"So the same things that work on us should work on him too?," asked Bulma. "Poisons and diseases?"
"I don't know. Obviously there still are big differences between us, and you know that in vitro research doesn't always translate to real life-"
"Sure, sure. So, any insights in what makes him special?"
"Getting there. See, if the cells are so similar to ours, I was wondering, how could they regenerate so fast as to grow back a whole arm?," asked Lapis. "And if they can regenerate so fast, why aren't these growing out of control to the point of engulfing this whole lab? You saw how fast they were."
Bulma shrugged. "They only do that if attached to the main body?"
"Exactly! But why? I couldn't think of any real difference except for one. And I tried - actually, you know what, I'm going to show you. Put your eye to the microscope, and meanwhile, hold this handle, here. Don't pull too hard or the wire will come off. Ready? Now use your chip to summon some ki and try to send it to your hand that's holding the handle."
Bulma did as told. A small amount of energy flowed from her chakras up her spine, then down an arm, only to be sucked into the handle, the wire, and eventually the Petri dish, which was supported on a mesh of wires. As the dish glowed faintly, something amazing started happening. The green cells became more lively, pulsating and wriggling, then engorged themselves, and when they were large enough to seem about to burst they started splitting, dividing in two and four. Then the process restarted from the newborn, small cells. Bulma let go of the handle as if it was scalding hot, and the process stopped.
"They feed on ki?," she asked.
"They turn spiritual energy into matter," explained Lapis, with a grin. "It's far more than just running on a power source. They convert most of the energy directly into the amino acids and lipids they need to build a copy of themselves, and use the rest to speed up all their metabolism significantly, somehow. I don't pretend to understand ki very well, that's your thing, but seems to me this should be possible?"
"It makes sense, though honestly, as the supposed expert, I'm still kind of stumped," replied Bulma, frowning. "I tended to think of ki as having only very simple effects; this sounds complex enough that it almost qualifies as magic instead. But it should also be really energy consuming, right?"
"Oh, sure. Ridiculously so."
"Which tells us having to regenerate probably tires Piccolo out," she said. "What about the reproduction process itself?"
"Absolutely nothing weird about it. Just regular mitosis," Lapis shrugged. "Except for the fact that the speed exceeds vastly even the fastest cancers, let alone regular cells. In fact I don't know how the cells can form ordered structures rather than just misshapen lumps this way; adult cells shouldn't be able to do that. I'm going to assume that's still ki doing its thing."
"Hmm. But the metabolism works the same. I wonder if-"
"CALL! UPSTAIRS!," shouted an annoyed Dr. Gero, pacing quickly in front of the laboratory's door. When Bulma went to check, he had disappeared already in a nearby room, clearly unwilling to give any more explanations.
"Always something these days," sighed the girl. "We'll continue the discussion later."
This time, the atmosphere surrounding the new guests wasn't as relaxed as the day before. The two women were waiting standing, and surrounded by multiple armed soldiers, as well as Bandages, all ready to attack. They were being treated as prisoners.
Which seeing who they were made a lot of sense.
"You know, I was content with just not seeing your stupid face any more," said Bulma, acid. She was standing in front of them, arms crossed, and a pretty displeased look on her face. "But apparently even that was asking too much. There's a part of me who would really just like to tell these guards to shoot you already. Wouldn't be any worse than what you did to me, don't you agree?"
Mai scowled. "Just try it, you stupid-"
"She won't," interrupted her Baba, raising a hand. "And I'm sure they wouldn't do it even if she told them."
Bulma raised her eyes, meeting those of the guards. Some of them smiled and shrugged, as if to confirm that sure, they weren't that crazy. Others kept their frowns and looked deadly serious.
"It would not be a very productive way of ending this conversation anyway," she sighed. "And right now I'm all about productivity. But don't think you're getting away from being locked in a cell."
"Pah! We will too. I was locked in a cell in the Instruments' camp," replied Baba. "See how that ended."
"So your line now is that you were a poor, blameless victim of those brutes, who kidnapped you and forced you to provide them with divined intel? Do you realise what you unleashed on the world?"
Baba scoffed. She was still perched on her crystal ball, and made it levitate a bit higher to gain some height. "I had my reasons to join them in the beginning. But after a while, I was forced to play along. You don't get to tell me I should have died rather than help them."
"You poor thing. I'll say it anyway. You should have died rather than cause this, yes," hissed Bulma back.
"Now listen here, you fucking-" started Mai, stepping forward, cybernetic arm stretched out towards her throat. Immediately guns raised and pointed at her, and she froze in place, still fuming.
Bulma sighed and pinched her nose. "But seeing that you're still among us, you may as well give us a hand," she continued. "So let's put an end to the posturing. I would be lying if I said I didn't envy your divination skills. We need the intel you can give us on the enemy, more than anything, perhaps."
"Too kind," snarled Baba. "Very well. I think I would rather help fixing some of what I caused, at this point, even if it means working with such a disrespectful brat."
"Oh! You wound me," said Bulma, with a smile that didn't make her look very wounded at all.
"But as I said, I'm not staying in a cell. And neither is she," added the old witch, pointing at Mai. "We're getting comfortable rooms and first class treatment."
"Ah, whatever." Bulma dismissed the demands with a wave of her hand. "If that's what it takes, knock yourself out. But we'll find a place here on the Capsule Corporation campus, and we're keeping a security detail near you at all times. Non-negotiable. If you don't like it, we'll see whether your escape skills can beat the best sealed vaults I can build."
Baba hesitated for a moment. "Very well," she finally said, and put forward her small hand for Bulma to shake.
They shook hands, then Bulma turned to her right, and offered her own hand to Mai. The woman looked at her in disbelief, then crossed her arms, staring in defiance.
"Well, can't say I didn't try," concluded Bulma, with a wry smile.
"You're a fucking coward," spat back Mai. "If you didn't have all these people watching your back, I'd make you spit a tooth for every stupid joke."
"Is that so? Ok, guys, let me have this then."
To Mai's disbelief, Bulma gestured at everyone else in the room to lower their guns. Then she walked up to Mai until they stood facing each other, uncomfortably close, their faces only a few centimetres apart.
"Come on," she said, with the same derisive smirk as before. "I thought you were a badass? You're going to take this silently?"
Mai screamed, grabbed Bulma with her left arm, circling her waist with it, then pulled back her mechanical right arm, ready to hammer a single steel punch into her head. Enough to crack her skull open and spill her stupid brain on the floor.
Bulma didn't flinch; instead, suddenly, she moved with what Mai could only describe as superhuman speed. She wrenched free of her arm without difficulty, and instantly, she used her own left hand to grab the wrist of the cyborg arm, and then struck the inside of its elbow with the right. The strike pushed against the mobile joint parts that were already the weak link of the arm's whole structure. With only a small amount of pressure - but still more than a human hand had any business exerting - the entire thing cracked, and when Bulma let it go, one second later, Mai saw dumbfounded a completely limp forearm, still only barely attached to the top part by pistons and wires, leaking oil from the servos.
"Ah, that was fun!," exclaimed Bulma, with an infectious smile. "Seriously, that is the therapy session I've been needing for a year now."
"You...," muttered Mai, still looking at her own destroyed arm in bafflement, more stunned than angry.
"Oh, don't worry about it. Just go to Dr. Gero and have him give you one of his spares, I'm sure he brought many from headquarters. And Lady Baba, when would you be ready to have our first divination session?"
"I am tired and my powers would be unfocused," she replied. "Give me a bath, a meal, and a good night's sleep, and tomorrow we can talk."
"Very well. See you tomorrow, then."
The dream started differently from how it usually did. It wasn't a triumph from the get go - it was much closer to what you'd have expected from a confrontation with Piccolo. Mayhem, destruction, blood and death. The demon tore through the city and its defenders like paper, leaving a wake of rubble and bodies ripped to shreds.
In front of him, Bulma was running.
She didn't want to run, she knew whatever she'd planned was supposed to win the day, but there had been one piece missing, one she'd held back.
And this was the consequence.
It made no sense, not one jot of goddamn sense. No matter how much anger she felt, no matter how much hate, did she really need to be there, on the front line, to dish it out personally? Yet Piccolo now was hot on her tails, and had destroyed more lives - even Yamcha, Bandages, Spike, who obviously never stood a chance in their desperate last ditch attempt - and many more were in the balance, hanging in hope, looking at her, waiting.
She stopped, pivoted on one foot, stood in front of the opponent. She faced him, stared him down as he roared towards her like a tornado. She did not budge.
Their fists clashed. A shockwave rippled through the city and a thousand glass windows burst into shards. But above it all, even stronger, was the shout from everyone in the city, in unison, cheering for their champion.
September 20, 750
"Looks like the training is going as planned," said Bulma, leaning back on her chair.
The crystal ball held in front of her, which Baba still waved her hands above in intricate patterns, showed a picture of Goku sparring with Master Roshi. Or to be more accurate, it showed Goku trying to dodge his punches and kicks while in a severely handicapped condition, with his tail and both arms tied behind his back. He would occasionally use his legs to kick back, but of course he needed to jump or at least give up some of his footing to do that, without even having the chance to properly balance himself using his arms, so more often than not it resulted in him being caught and sent flying by a blow while in mid-air, unable to react. He was getting more wounded and bruised, as Master Roshi struck him without any pity.
"Pah," commented Baba, with a last wave of her hand, which made the image fade away. "My brother and his maniacal martial arts training methods. Always finding some stupid kid willing to get beaten into the ground to become stronger."
"It's actually Goku's idea," replied the girl. "You don't know the whole story."
"Maniac found maniac, then," insisted the witch. "I've peered into his mind before. He can be focused on fighting to a degree I'd call insane."
Bulma threw her an annoyed look. "Well, good thing then we have maniacs like him and me trying to fix the mess you made."
Baba didn't answer that. "Do you want to talk to him?"
"It would be useful. Can you do it?"
"Not this way," she admitted, shaking her head. "We can only listen to what they're saying, not talk back. But the top of Korin Tower has the divination water that was given to me to forge this sphere. If we could somehow synchronise, they could be looking at and listening to us while we are looking back at them."
"And bidirectional communication would be possible," Bulma whistled. "Not a bad plan."
"If they never look at us, though, it won't happen," replied the other.
"I doubt they never do. You keep an eye on them, then. And I'll just have to wear... at all times... this."
Without much worrying about anyone's gaze, Bulma took off her T-shirt, spread it out on the table before her, then grabbed an indelible marker from a pouch full of small tools and other useful things that she carried attached to her belt and wrote a message in all caps.
IF YOU READ THIS, LOOK AT ME WHEN IT'S EXACTLY MIDDAY AT YOUR PLACE. WE WILL BE LISTENING!
"Done," she said, satisfied, while putting the T-shirt back on. "I'll make a few more of these too."
"Hm," Baba nodded, then hopped back onto her crystal ball, taking her usual pose perched on top of it. "There is something I want to talk about with you."
"Oh?," Bulma raised her eyebrows. "What is it?"
"Tonight I had an unusual dream," she replied, with an inquisitive stare. She floated closer and lowered her voice, making the conversation personal, even though no one was around to listen in anyway. "I know my way around dreams, and I knew the feeling from that one way too well. And I didn't like it. But the thing I liked even less is, when I talked with Mai, she had the same dream."
"I can imagine her mood," said Bulma, with a smile.
"I do not think this is such an amusing topic," snapped back Baba. "What is happening here? How long has this been going on?"
The girl shrugged. "Since Piccolo destroyed the Capital. But besides that, you probably know more than I do. Believe it or not, I'm mostly winging it - there's way too many things to worry about for me to have stopped to analyse this too. And don't think I'm not curious about it. In fact, it sounds like I should be the one questioning you. You're the divination expert."
"Dreams aren't divination," replied Baba, taking in a dark expression. "They're not prophecies, don't delude yourself. There's no one I've ever heard of who can actually see the future that way. Even I can at best predict only a few minutes ahead, when things are simple enough. Dreams like those are messages. Guesses at best, or outright lies at worst."
"All right," Bulma nodded. "Whose guesses or lies?"
Baba erupted in a bitter, cranky laugh. "I thought I knew, but obviously not so much. Gods, supposedly."
"You don't believe it? Who told you?"
"A god. But then dreams led me to this situation, and a god laughed at me for being such an idiot. So, damned if I know."
The girl frowned. "Piccolo, then?"
After a moment of thought, the witch shook her head. "Doesn't really make sense to me. That crazy bastard should not have the power to do it. And if he did, then he should not have the brains. Even though now he seems to have calmed down, most of the time he was just an angry beast. He's not smart or patient enough to trick people that way."
"You wouldn't think," Bulma agreed. "There's another thing too. You said Piano was inspired by those dreams, right? Yours were before Piccolo's liberation too?"
"Yes. They started after your Tournament," replied Baba. "Why?"
"You told me earlier about when Piccolo was brought back. That the Instruments told the dragon to speed up time within his container - well, if they did so, then he was experiencing time at a speed incredibly higher than any of us outside. Even supposing he was... telepathic, or something, could he synch up his speed of thought to that of those outside in order to project coherent dreams into their minds?"
The witch raised her eyebrows. "I hadn't thought of that. Huh. I can't know how it works for him, but I can tell you I could not do anything quite like that myself. It sounds even stranger that he could."
Bulma nodded along, then stayed silent, immersed in thought.
"I really hope you're not betting all of our lives on these dreams," said Baba. "Because if that's the case, I'm getting the hell out of here."
"No need. I wouldn't need some dream to tell me that I want to kick Piccolo's ass, or how I can do it," the girl sighed as she stood up. "I just have a decision to take, and was wondering if there was any inspiration to take from them. Seems like I should probably not lend them too much credit."
"Are they telling you to do something you would not want to do?," asked the witch.
"No, they're telling me to do something I perhaps should not want to," replied Bulma. "That's the question."
The next time she sat in front of the transparent mannequin and its intricate motif of wires swirling around each other, there was something else next to it. A structure of three glass panels, through which one could see a vivid three dimensional rendering of a body silhouette, full of internal details including organs and blood vessels. Within it, symmetrically to what could be seen in the mannequin, was embedded the wire system, each component delicately twisted and accommodated in ways that best followed the structure of the body. Bulma put her hand on a knob at the base of the holographic display and turned it; as she did so, the display changed, revealing more or less of the inside of the body depending on whether she set a high or low value of the depth. At one extreme, one could see only a skeleton surrounded by the silvery wiring; at the other, the full shape and image of Bulma's own body, perfectly rendered from the optical scans that, combined with X-ray tomography and MRI, had contributed to building this model of her anatomy.
Bulma sat in front of it and toyed with the knob a little more, as the way it allowed her to dig deep into her own body, peel under the layers of the skin to see what made it tick, had a mesmerising effect. It did not per se help her make a decision - except for the fact that it had been so damn expensive to acquire and render, there was already a significant sunk cost if she didn't go through. The medical information was near meaningless to her, and she knew well enough that the system could be fit to work within her body without it. Had the knob allowed her to scan and peel off the layers of her own thoughts, examine their workings, the way it did with her blood and nerves, that might have been easier. But all it revealed of her brain was just convoluted blobs of neurons not dissimilar from those she would have observed in any other skull. If she wanted to dissect her thinking, she had to do it on her own.
The truth was, however, that no matter how deep she dug, the decision was already made, and any amount of holding off just a pretence. She thought of what would have the Bulma of just one month ago said at the idea, and she was sure she would be perplexed at best, horrified at worst. But many things had happened in that one month, and most of them had not been merely heaven-sent dreams. There was a lot to that decision; the rational argument was that the dreams kept showing not just to her, but to everyone in the city, images of her fighting Piccolo. Not just coordinating the actions of others, not just giving orders or organising the defences, but personally going in the field and beating the shit out of the Demon King with her bare hands. It would be hard to sell it as some kind of visual metaphor at this point, and the ability of the city to hold together as it slid more and more into this weird derangement, this light dream-addled insanity that was the only thing that kept it united and hopeful, all hung onto those dreams being as close to truth as possible. Which meant that Bulma had to give them something, a sign, a demonstration of actual power that could be believably overwhelming enough to stand up to Piccolo. Her current HEP II chip abilities were too limited and short lived to work for that, let alone actually allow her to survive more than a millisecond in a fight with the real deal. She needed an upgrade, and the dreams had cornered her into that.
The not-so-rational argument, though, was that she really wanted to personally feel that asshole being destroyed under her own fists, and the dreams had given her a taste for that. Well, she still wasn't so deluded to think she could actually do that, no matter how much she upgraded her body. It just wasn't realistic. But perhaps she could at least take a more active role in the process. In all her plans, someone had to do that. And in many ways, she was the best fit for it. But also, she really fucking wanted it.
"Still wasting your time?," shouted a hoarse voice behind her.
Bulma turned to see Dr. Gero, who was passing by while dragging behind him a heavy cart full of gas tanks of some sort. "When you're done with all your brooding, let me know."
The girl drew a deep breath. She then turned to the mannequin and pushed a button at its base - the entire thing disappeared into a puff of smoke, and in its place was left a capsule, that she grabbed and put in her pocket.
"I am, in fact, done with my brooding," she said, getting up from her chair. "I am ready."
The doctor raised an eyebrow, then stared at her suspiciously.
His lips widened in a grin. "When?"
"Today. Now, for all that I care," said Bulma. "Better not to second guess myself, and the sooner I begin, the sooner my recovery will be done, even if the healing is fast. You have everything you need, right?"
Gero nodded hurriedly. "The surgery theatre is always ready, as you should know, since it's yours. The plan was the one you were playing with earlier, like it was some mirror to coquet in front of."
"What can I say, I believe real beauty is on the inside," said wryly Bulma. That elicited a moment of genuine laughter from the doctor. "And you don't get to talk, seeing how excited you seem to put your hands on my body."
The scientist didn't even budge or give any sign of catching the double entendre. "Years of research! Ah, you'll see, you won't regret this," he replied. "If you beat Piccolo with it, I get to show everyone just how right my ideas were. The next step of humanity. Our bodies' limitations, transcended. After that-"
He kept rambling on and on, and Bulma followed him to a different wing of the underground labs, where the biomedical section was. They walked through a corridor on whose sides were glass windows revealing various laboratories where researchers in white lab coats and goggles were running tests on Petri dishes and mice.
At the end, they entered the vestibule of the operating theatre. There were multiple doors, and Bulma entered one, splitting from Dr. Gero. Inside she found a small room with a stool, clothes hooks and a locker, where she quickly stripped naked, leaving her smaller possessions in the locker, more for ease of retrieval than because any thief could possibly reach this deep inside the Capsule Corporation compound, and the rest of her clothes tossed on the ground. She walked through a first shower, where she carefully scrubbed herself clean with soap and used a razor to shave herself, including her pretty blue hair, which she did with a shiver as she felt the metal of the blade on her scalp. After finishing washing and drying herself properly she found some goggles to wear before stepping into a second shower - this one that sprayed all over her a fine mist of disinfectant, which she took care to rub in every corner of her body she could reach. At the end of it, she put on some clean overalls, slippers, and walked into the next room.
The surgical theatre was surprisingly small; it was brightly lit, and in the centre of the room was only a raised bed. From the ceiling above it was hanging a contraption with multiple robotic arms, ready to hand tools and help the surgeon the way a whole team of assistants could have. There wasn't much room for anything else. Dr. Gero had come out of his own shower already, and the transparent mannequin that Bulma had handed him before splitting up was already deployed next to the bed and open, some of the mechanical arms plucking at the thin wires like guitar strings, delicately pinching and removing them. Bulma sat on the bed and shivered slightly when two more metallic arms descended from the ceiling to gently pick the overalls off her shoulders, the cold metal touching her skin. She laid down, naked. She didn't much worry about embarrassment - not only she didn't believe Dr. Gero to be even able to entertain a certain sort of thought, but also, she was in general past such petty concerns anyway. What she was doing to her body was a far deeper violation than letting it be seen naked by some stranger.
"The anaesthesia plan is to start with a bolus dose of 55 mg of limutranil, then-" started explaining the doctor while pushing buttons on a display. "What?"
"No reason to give me the details," said Bulma, who had gestured to interrupt him. "You calculated that together with Lapis from the tests you made the other day, right?"
"Of course," replied Gero, scoffing. "I thought you would trust me better if you heard it."
"Trust, huh?," Bulma smiled. "This reminds me. How does your new HEP II chip work?"
"Hmph. Took me a couple of days to get used to it. It was high time I could have my own," he replied. "I can get it to do some stuff for me now. Should help me with the surgery too. I found out I can make my eyesight better and my movements more precise with it."
"Right. Remember when I was at Red Ribbon HQ? How you tried your damnedest to cheat me out of the information stored in that chip? And I still managed to keep it from you every single time?"
"Oh, cheat! I was just-"
"Yeah, yeah. Well, anyway, could you have imagined that now you would have one of those chips in your body, and I'm letting you operate on me in a way that would allow you to do anything to me? Kill me, experiment in some crazy way, tamper with my brain?"
Gero frowned, almost disgusted. "Are you about to say something sappy about how far we've come and how much you trust me now?"
"Of course not! I don't trust you for shit. You're completely off your rocker," laughed Bulma. "That's why the HEP II chip that got installed in you the other day has a little safety mechanism that I just turned on before I asked you to operate on me. If it will not receive a certain encrypted signal within twenty-four hours, or if one attempts to remove it, it will instantly release so much ki within your body that it will straight up burn up your whole energy circulation system. We haven't seen yet what that means in a human, luckily, but from how much painful it was to just come close to that limit, I suspect nothing good. Of course, I need to insert a password for the signal to be sent, and that password is very long and complex and I can only recall it thanks to mnemonics I'm using that draw from all sorts of random memories from my life and knowledge. So, it's way better for you if I'm alive and in full possession of my mental faculties before tomorrow."
Dr. Gero remained perplexed for a moment, just staring in stunned silence at his patient. Then he laughed, and Bulma joined him with a thin smirk.
"Well, if you ain't the damn best student I've ever had," he said. "You learned more in a few months than anyone else in years."
"You weren't my only teacher," replied the girl.
She winced for a moment when one of the robotic arms came down and stabbed her arm with a needle. The anaesthetic started being pumped slowly into her veins, and Bulma simply closed her eyes and started breathing slowly, trying her best to relax her body and not fight the torpor. One moment later, it all went black. For the first time in days, she slept so deeply that no dreams could reach her.
September 21, 750
When Bulma came to her senses, the first thing she noticed was the pain, of course. It was spread all over her body, not especially bad but inescapable. It was worse on her underside, as even if the bed she was laying on was fairly soft, it still couldn't avoid pressing against the wounds and the stitches keeping them closed.
"Bulma! Oh, she's awake! Someone, can you please-"
The familiar voice shook her a bit more out of her torpor. Bulma managed to reopen her eyes, though her vision was still fairly blurry, and she felt a bad metallic taste in her mouth. She turned to meet the worried gaze of the woman from whom that voice had come - recognising her only vaguely as a face under a fluffy head of blonde perm hair.
"Hey, mom," she said weakly, trying to smile with her still stiff mouth. "I'm fine."
"Oh, you... you!," Panchy suddenly raised her voice, in a weak attempt at outrage. Then her voice fell again into concern and alarm. "Why did you do this? You didn't have- you didn't tell me-"
"If I told you, you wouldn't have let me," replied Bulma.
"That horrible doctor was the one to call me in the end. I didn't know until just a few hours ago," explained her mother. "He told me to remind you of something immediately when you woke up - about a password?"
The girl chuckled. "Just a stupid bluff of mine," she said. It was tiring to talk, so she didn't add anything else.
Now, as her senses came back, she could already begin feeling something different in her body. When she probed a bit that chip that she had installed in her back, she found that whenever she asked it to provide a bit of energy, the resulting influx of ki didn't tire her in the least. Instead, it flowed naturally within her whole body, from head to toe, and wherever it went, it had an invigorating effect, making her feel fresher, her pain duller. She smiled.
"You're not telling me anything," mumbled her mother. She held her hand now, and while it hurt a bit, Bulma let her without saying anything. "You're always doing your thing, and-"
"I'm sorry, mom. I know. I have been busy. Some things I could talk about, but I just-"
"No! I'm saying, I am sorry, Bulma. When dad, you know-"
They both knew. Bulma nodded.
"-I just let it get to me so much, and never looked out for you. You seemed fine, you were doing so much stuff, so I thought, she's strong, she can go on on her own. I kept to myself. I didn't want to be an obstacle for you. But if you went as far as to do this..."
"No!," Bulma shouted, perhaps a bit too vivaciously for her condition. Her chest and throat punished her for it accordingly. "No, mom, this isn't - look, it's not about dad, ok?"
She thought about it for a moment.
"Ok, no, wrong way of putting it. This totally is about dad, of course. Or, also about dad. I'm angry. I'm angry and... and in pain like you wouldn't believe, this whole year I've been obsessed with this feeling of frustration about not being in control, not because I want to rule people, just because I don't want anyone to mess with my own damn life, and then this happened, and it's not just me, it's the whole world that's being messed with."
"But this is not just about him, it's about everyone. I can put an end to this, I can save everyone, I can save him, we still have the Dragon Balls, damn it, he can come back. If only I put an end to it. And I've decided, I've just decided that if the price to do that is that I need to let this anger push me, then who cares, I'll let it. I've decided it, mom. I'm aware. I know it's not - it's not healthy, it's not closure or anything. I don't want closure, not until my job is done."
"It's not your job, Bulma, you're just-"
"I made it my job." replied the girl, decisive. "I took it. I want it. It's mine and I will do it. And at the end of it I promise that I will just come to you and sit in your lap and have the biggest fucking cry of my life about it all and you can spoil and pamper me and have your own cry. We can just be two slobbering messes for days until we feel like a bit of this weight is off our chests, yeah?"
Panchy sniffed a bit and nodded.
"But for now I have to do this, even if it hurts me. This weight, it's all fuel, it's a big tank of gasoline that I keep inside ready to burst. So please don't try to make me give it up. I need it. I have someone to burn."
The woman shook her head, sniffed again, and wiped a tear with her hand. But in the end she said nothing, and just squeezed Bulma's hand harder.
The girl smiled back, then lifted her free arm and admired it a bit under the hospital light. Where the wires had been implanted, long red coils, still burning with a slight infection and kept together by stitches, slithered all around her skin. They would heal soon, and very well, if their observations on how ki would help the process along even in regular humans were correct. But they would probably never completely go away, and regardless of how precise and sharp the cuts had been, they would leave the thinnest of scars.
"And you know," said Bulma, finally. "I think once the stitches are off, these may actually look quite cool."
September 22, 750
Erasa came back from work utterly exhausted. She'd sent Yamcha on his way earlier, because all she needed now was a good shower and then a deep, long sleep, and she knew all too well that the evening wouldn't be limited to that if she allowed him (and herself) to spend it together. It was amazing and honestly unfair how, for all that she only carried around water bottles and supplies and he literally lifted and carried around loads that no human should be able to even budge, at the end of the day he was barely winded while she was sweaty and in pain and about to pass out. She didn't consider herself the most athletic person, but this was ridiculous. Capsules generally made hauling heavy stuff around unnecessary, but there were exceptions - only so many capsule containers available, for once, but there were also other limitations. Today Yamcha at one point had passed her while lifting some massive generator that was buzzing threateningly, and apparently could not be encapsulated without breaking it.
As soon as she pushed the door open, she felt something slide against the floor. She bent down, fairly annoyed, to pick it up. It was a yellow envelope, of the type padded with bubblewrap. She opened it, and out of it slid a letter and a strange device, shaped somewhat like a small, flat rectangular gun with a needle in place of a muzzle. Everything was branded with the double concentric C letters of the Capsule Corporation logo.
She opened up the letter and started reading.
Dear citizen of West City,
we thank you from the bottom of our heart for the invaluable contribution that we are sure you are already giving to the effort of defending this city from the tyranny of Demon King Piccolo. This package contains something to aid you in those efforts. It is entirely voluntary whether you want to use it - but if you do, there are conditions attached, and risks to be undertaken. If you decide to use it, however, it might help you be the one who makes the difference between defeat and victory. If that interests you, please keep reading [...]
September 23, 750
West City had undergone momentous changes in the course of the last ten days. By comparison, the high security wing of West City penitentiary had stayed positively stable. Part of that was of course that most of its residents didn't really get to go anywhere else. News had trickled in - alarming news, to be sure. In some other areas there had been protests nearing on riots early on, as prisoners demanded to know what the hell was going on outside. Guards had apparently switched to being funded locally, as the central government was just... not there any more. And it sounded like, both to get more help for the city's defence and to cut on now unsustainable spending for the infrastructure, a lot of prisoners held for minor crimes had been released. Those who wanted to leave the city had left, and the rest were now out working together with the rest of the citizens. None of that applied to the high security wing though; none of those prisoners were deemed safe enough for such a release, and their monitoring was so tight that riots were just not an option.
So, life had mostly gone on as usual at day. At night there were the dreams.
Attitudes towards the dreams were varied. Some found them inspiring, some annoying. Some hated them because they actively rooted for Piccolo to win - never mind that if he did blow up West City they'd likely be incinerated along the rest of it. As for Oolong, his main takeaway from them was that they were entertaining enough, and given who was at their centre, the closest he'd gotten to a pretty girl in months, now. He mostly wished he could exert more control on them. Then again, seeing how Bulma featured in them always kicking major amounts of ass, maybe it was safer not to. Though there was a certain fascination about the idea of being beaten up, too-
Oolong's rather lascivious train of thoughts was interrupted by the sound of doors clanging open. That only happened for visits and meals, and it wasn't meal time. As for visits, there was only one person who had ever visited him, and if he had to guess-
"Hello, Bulma," he greeted, turning to the person who had appeared in the inaccessible half of his cell, separated from his own just by a wall of plexiglass. "I'd say I like what you've done with your hair, but I have no idea what that is."
"I shaved it, can't you tell?," replied Bulma, unfazed. "No need for pleasantries. Let's cut to the chase - do you want to get out of here?"
The pig raised his eyebrows. He didn't really expect such an offer to come from her. But considering the current circumstances, perhaps it was not so strange. "I don't know," he replied, "do I? I'm not sure life outside would be all that much better than in here."
"You are correct," she replied, coldly. She was sitting on a chair with a slightly stiff posture, and had red, stitched wounds across visible parts of her arms and neck, up to the ears. Oolong felt a slight shiver and suddenly realised she was straight up intimidating, now. "You would more or less be as confined as you are now. I'm not trusting you as far as I can throw you-" she made a pause. "Actually, scratch that."
"You trust me even less?," asked Oolong.
"I can throw you a lot further," replied Bulma.
"Well, isn't that cute?," said the pig, chuckling. "You seem to have turned into a bit of a brute. And that really takes away the only incentive I could have had to leave this cell, to enjoy your once charming company. I don't see a lot of other reasons to do it."
"The other reasons are that if you accept and help me fight Piccolo, you have a sliver of a higher chance that you will not simply get turned into fried bacon when he wins and turns the city into his personal barbecue."
Oolong bit his lip. "Yes, that is to be... considered," he replied, slowly. "But I am not much of a fighter."
"I'm not asking you to fight personally," she said. "But if you need other incentives, well, let's put it this way. You know all of this?"
She gestured towards the interior of Oolong's cell. The TV, the speakers, the sofa, the newly acquired hand-woven rug that really tied the prison cell together. All acquired through almost a year of hard work. Or, well, hard convincing the prison guards he was a magical demon that would curse them if they didn't cater to his whims.
"The prison's funds are shrinking, since the Capital has fallen," explained Bulma. "And they really won't be able to afford much luxury any more. Besides, a real Demon King is at large, and most of these people now are ready to fight and defeat him. How long do you think your little charade and your lifestyle will last if I say a few words?"
Oolong tried to reply, but he ended up with an half open mouth and a lifted finger, unable to make any point.
September 25, 750
The stitches had finally come off. It had been an amazingly short time by any other surgery's standards, but of course, it was expected. Bulma had spent three days, first in bed, then slowly getting used to movement without doing anything too crazy, walking back and forth in the house, holding her usual meetings, talking to people. She also had a chance to chat with Goku just the day before, finally - the shirt trick had worked, and they had managed to find each other, talking awkwardly and indirectly through their respective means of clairvoyance. Bulma had found that as she explained them to Goku, her own ideas got clearer in her mind. She had a plan, and a vision, and she was growing more confident in it. It helped that, from when she woke up to when she started her quick rehabilitation process, she could immediately feel the difference that what she'd done made to her body. Dr. Gero had been eager to test her, and he was besides himself with joy even just at the early results. She was used to have ki course through her body already, so it was not very hard to get used to the new system. Now the natural channels her body used to distribute that ki had been enhanced and supported by an artificial infrastructure that was a lot more resilient. She could control the flow much more easily, and withstand a much higher one than before. Her body would still get tired eventually, but the threshold for a true risk to her integrity had been significantly raised. She wasn't limited to single, short bursts of power as before - now, she could fight.
Though of course, she was shit at martial arts, and knew that all too well.
There was not enough time to learn any sort of technique, and so, Bulma didn't expect to do that. There was though something else that she'd been itching to try, and the more she got used to this - to being a cyborg, essentially, she'd like to think, even though all she had more than a regular person was a prosthetic ki channelling system - the more she felt like it should be in her reach. Finally, stitches off, it was time to give it a go.
She walked out of the back of the house, within a fenced inner courtyard shielded from unwanted stares. There always was something of a crowd all around Capsule Corporation and her house, and being under so many inquisitive (and often adoring) eyes wouldn't help her concentration. She reached the middle of the garden, then tossed down a small metal crate that she'd carried with her, and stepped on it, so that she was a dozen centimetres above the ground.
"Now for the tricky part," she mumbled to herself.
She stepped forward, as if she was supposed to walk on a continuation of the crate that simply wasn't there. She focused on that forward foot, sending ki to flow through and eventually out of it. She let most of her weight fall on it, and-
-she stumbled down the crate, forced to frantically wave her arms around to avoid falling to the ground.
She stepped back up. The working principle, she reasoned, was simple. Ki was energy, and ki could exert force. The kind of blasts that Goku and Piccolo were able to fire was proof enough of that. It was also patently obvious that those blasts didn't just burn and destroy, they also had real momentum, and recoil for the user. She'd observed Goku close enough and talked with him about it, and knew he had to actively rebalance his body so that he didn't get floored by that push whenever he fired a strong enough ki blast. So, it was possible to exert force simply by emitting ki. Force that was in fact several times greater than the weight of a single human being.
In other words, pushing out just enough ki to support one's own weight should be possible. The energy consumption required should in fact be trivial, and it would just be a matter of finesse. They'd all seen Piccolo do it, and he seemed slow and clunky at it, but that couldn't be because he lacked power - rather, it must be because he was terrible at control.
She stepped forward again, this time pushing more ki out of her foot. The amount was too much, and the recoil flipped her leg up, sending her to spin. She barely made it in time to use ki to reinforce her head and neck before she slammed them in quite the ugly manner against the edge of the metal box. She got up, massaging the back of her head, and saw she'd left a slight dent in the crate's edge, like something even harder than metal had hit it. Without her new body, that alone could have killed her or left her paralysed from the neck down. Now, she didn't even feel much pain from it.
This time, it was time to leverage one of the best feature of her new body. She closed her eyes. Not all ki flow enabled by the circuitry was under her control - some could be directed by the circuitry itself, switches turning on and off and branching it towards different directions. In a small core embedded within her back, close to the source, there was a node that did even more, and had the ki flow through transistors - amounting to a small programmable computer. It wouldn't run last generation video games any soon, but that wasn't its purpose. Against Bulma's closed eyelids, a simple HUD lit up, powered by the ki directed to her eyes which she made a conscious effort to turn into light. It took some effort to learn how to control it exactly, because it wasn't like Gero's tech was able to straight up read her brain. Instead, she had a few very simple controls based on directing the ki in specific patterns which acted as a combination of four directional arrows, an accept button, and a cancel button. That was enough, though, to write a simple program in the basic assembly language used by the chip that powered her whole ki circuitry. A minimal macro that would simply make her able to repeat the same exact ki manipulation in a way that was precise and reliable however many times she wanted. She saved the newly created program under the name , launched it, and reopened her eyes.
Her foot stepped out of the box. She used a single mental command to activate the program's help, and the exact calculated, constant amount of ki she required started flowing downward out of her talon. She wobbled and felt unsteady, as if standing on rollerblades for the first time, but managed to keep her balance, and took the second foot off the box, moving it ahead of the first. The flow rebalanced itself to split evenly between the two legs. She started getting a feel for it, and lowered carefully the arms she'd been using to keep straight. She gained confidence. One step, then the next. She walked a couple metres this way. Then she tried putting a foot up a few centimetres, as if she was climbing stairs, and pulling herself up. She did it again, and again, smiling wide, wanting to try dancing and singing next, because, no matter how otherwise grim the situation, how fucking cool was this?
Someone noticed her and pointed his finger, calling the crowd's attention. There was a moment of stunned silence, followed by applause erupting, screams, cheers. When she noticed, she greeted back, and dared trying a little bow, like a magician who has just succeeded in a particularly difficult trick.
That was how on that day Bulma appeared in front of the people of West City, looking as if she was climbing to the sky on an invisible staircase.
And then time for preparations ran out, and the day of reckoning came.
September 30, 750
"Come down your throne, King Piccolo!," shouted Bulma, loud enough for the whole world to hear. "Come down, face me, and show us all how does a demon die!"
The words rang high in the silence that had fallen on the stadium, echoed with a slight feedback by the speakers. Bulma drew a deep breath after getting them out and waited for the reaction, readying herself. Her heart felt about to burst, her fists were clenched, and the wig on her head itched slightly, but on the outside, she showed none of that - only stone faced determination. As was her part to play.
The stadium had been filled to the brim. She didn't need to check to trust that everyone had done their work well - this had been drilled endlessly during the last week. Everyone in charge of ushering in the viewers had been from either the remnants of the RDF or the remnants of Red Ribbon - soldiers in civilian clothes, actually following a precise plan and coordinating with each other. The key sections of the stadium, those around the main podium, and basically all the best seats, were full of Instruments big shots, the officers, and once those had been placed, their soldiers. As it befit such a welcome, of course, they had been given preference to witness the spectacle.
Demon King Piccolo stood up from his throne. One could see he was bristling with rage. Bulma's integrated ki scanner, which sent readings directly inside her eye, showed his power spiking. The blond officer standing next to him came closer, exchanged a quick look with the demon, and whispered something in his ear. With somehow renewed calm, Piccolo smiled and then levitated up from the bleachers, forward, and finally, landed in the arena. Slowly, he walked forward towards Bulma.
"That was a foolish mistake, woman," he said, with a thin smile. "But if you beg me, I might just still decide to only kill you for it."
The scene was set. Cameras were taking in the events and airing them live to the whole world. On both sides of the stadium the maxi LCD screens that would usually show scores and goofy animations to underline the events of a game were only displaying a single motto, in large block letters.
THE WORLD TO THE STRONG.
Bulma clenched her fist. "Awfully nice of you," she said, grinning. "But I'm afraid I won't extend the courtesy."
She couldn't see or be informed of what was going on in the city. While the upper echelons and a lot of the troops of the Instruments were at the stadium, the rest had spread throughout the city. They were looting, rampaging, and most importantly, gathering the "participants" for their bloody Tournament.
She couldn't see, but she could imagine.
The man knew there was no point offering resistance. As much as he hated it, he had raised his hands in surrender, had them bound with a plastic zip tie, and was now being led down a flight of stairs...
The girl was standing on the window sill, making it clear that she'd rather throw herself to her death than be led to fight in the Tournament. The soldiers didn't care; they laughed at her, and even encouraged her to jump. They had enough participants already. One came closer to give her a push...
The woman was crying desperately, clinging as hard as she could, kicking and screaming and trying to claw at the soldier's eyes as he grabbed her baby, her baby, and with an irresistible strength was about to wrestle him out of her arms...
Bulma focused on the feeling of her spiritual energy, that could now flow more freely than ever throughout her body. She looked quickly to confirm visually the positions of all her allies. There were Bandages, Spike, Fangs, Yamcha, Colonel Silver, all in position. Not See Through, for obvious reasons, but he ought to be in position too. Lapis, Lazuli, Dr. Gero and her mother safe under Capsule Corporation, in a bunker that should withstand quite a lot of punishment. Everything was in place.
Now it was up to her to make it begin.
"You chose this," she said. "You all chose to be here, to be part of this monstrosity. You chose to think of yourselves as strong and unbeatable, and treat us like dirt. So you can beg us, and nothing will change."
The next line was meant to be the signal. When she uttered it, someone would push a button, and a lot of things would happen at once. Still, far from a mere code, it also would be really personal.
She stared at Piccolo, and allowed herself to spit out all of her anger with the next words that came out of her mouth.
"We will try our hardest to kill the whole fucking lot of you."
...when he felt, suddenly, a jolt in his back, a slight tingle, the sign that, as the instructions had said, the chip he'd received and installed in himself just days ago, together with millions of others in West City, had activated. With a growl, he strained his wrists, and found that the zip ties came apart like wet paper. Next, before they could react, his hands were at the soldiers' necks.
...but she knew now she had the strength and could drop the charade. And when the soldier extended her arm, all she had to do was grab and pull, and suddenly, he was the one flung into the air, with five floors worth of emptiness under him, his expression turning from smug to surprised and then horrified.
...but her strength suddenly became far more irresistible - but still, she had to take care when wrestling the baby back, she couldn't risk harming him, so she didn't touch him directly. She couldn't simply tear him out of the soldier's grip, so she took his whole arm instead.
...a wave of noise, heat and light washed over the entire stadium. Jets of flame erupted, shattering and spreading fragments of wood, metal and bodies towards the sky, as carefully placed bombs exploded under the structural points that held up all the sections of the stands that had been reserved to the Instruments.
The din was infernal, and even as the roar of the explosions subsided, it was replaced by screams, gunfire, and the creak and then rumble of big chunks of the structure simply collapsing upon themselves, dragging down into their gap whoever had survived the first explosion. Not everyone was involved - a quick glance told Bulma as much. A few more notable members of the Instruments had the prompt reflexes and raw power to survive the explosions or jump out of the way. The blonde general always to Piccolo's side, the bald muscular guy and his small friend. That much was expected. Bulma only dedicated a fraction of her attention to confirming that her own forces had spread out to meet and isolate those opponents. Then she turned all of it back on Piccolo.
The stadium was fire and chaos. Wherever Instruments had not been sitting, seemingly meek West City citizens had revealed their true colours, and sometimes armed, sometimes bare handed, they were pushing and encircling the destroyed areas, mopping up all survivors, still too stunned and disorganised to mount anything looking like a proper defence. Many were overwhelmed, restrained, or tossed back into the abyss they'd just avoided. The LCD screens had changed their tune - they were still displaying a motto, but now, it was flipped around.
STRENGTH TO THE WORLD.
"Seems like I wiped out most of your flunkies," said Bulma, with a cheeky smile. "What you're gonna do about it, huh?"
Piccolo didn't answer except with a low growl. He was fuming, his eyes injected with blood. His hands were shaking, his teeth gritted.
"You...!," he finally said. "Do you think this... means... anything?"
"Oh, for you, not a thing. I'm sure it mostly just pissed you off," she replied, casually.
"You think yourself... clever?" The Demon King stepped forward. "I will do my best... to hold back. Because your death... should be... slow... and painful!"
"I ask for nothing better," replied Bulma, with a shrug. "But I think you're making a few mistakes here."
Piccolo roared and darted forward, swiping widely with his stretched out claw. A strike that was not meant to destroy in one hit, but to tear and shred, to rend into the flesh of a normal human, ripping it from the bones.
Bulma stepped back. The swipe hit only air.
Piccolo's eyes widened. He stepped forward again, this time faster, striking with more power behind it, straight towards Bulma's belly. Again, at a speed that no normal human should have possessed, she moved. Her arm parried the strike, and bounced off it. With the push from the blow, Bulma flew back a couple metres, landing on her feet and one hand to stabilise herself. The only damage she suffered was her wig, that got knocked off and blown away by the clash. Now she stared at her opponent with a shaved head, only a blue stubble growing, and the red scars of her surgery well visible, running down the sides of her neck like war tattoos.
"Mistake number one," she said, "I'm not as fragile as you think."
The surprise lasted only a fraction of a second, and Bulma did not need nor plan for more. She knew very well that regardless of her new abilities, surviving a real, full powered onslaught at close range would be impossible. She needed to put some distance between them.
Piccolo ran towards her, with no guard put up, ready to strike again. A small movement of her wrist allowed something to slide down Bulma's sleeve, and she gripped it in her right hand, a short, brownish cylinder that she pointed towards her opponent. She remembered an old feeling, from back at the beginning of her travels, and from all the training she'd done in the last weeks. She didn't need to visualize it growing, moving, limited by laws of physics that didn't really apply to it. She only needed to think of it being longer, with no process, no force, no logic.
The Nyoibo extended instantly, turning into a pole long over five metres. It did so without regard for how it displaced anything in its way - neither air nor flesh. Four metres away from Bulma, Piccolo stood still, mouth agape, and looked down at the pole that had pierced his chest side to side, purple blood already leaking around the edges.
The pole retracted, and the trickle turned into a gush. The attack came again and again, every time making Piccolo twitch in pain, as more blood was leaving his body and more holes were being carved into it.
"Mistake number two," said Bulma, "I'm not as inoffensive as you think."
Piccolo roared, and again, she jumped backwards. He seemed angrier and in pain, but not mortally wounded, which called for retreat - insisting too much with a single tactic meant only risking that she'd overplay her hand and expose herself to a single deadly counterattack. Instead, it was time to let things play out naturally. If she understood him well enough, this was approximately when he would completely lose his marbles and go for a scorched earth approach.
The Demon King started screaming and focusing, as energy fizzled around his body, visible even without a ki detector. Bulma's own integrated detector went crazy, numbers turning into a blur as they rose exponentially in a matter of seconds. This was like the Capital - like when Piccolo prepared to blow up a whole city.
This, of course, was mistake number three. What Piccolo did not know was what, exactly, had hit him back then, making him lose both his arm and his patience. The last invention of Dr. Brief, the only weapon he'd ever intentionally designed, meant to have a shot at taking down someone who for all intent and purposes was like a physical god. Railgun cannons equipped with ki sensors for automatic tracking and targeting, making use of long distances and parallax to follow even incredibly fast targets, like Mai had done when sniping Goku. Absorbing the whole output of electric generators large enough to each power a small town. And using as ammo not regular bullets, but a special kind of capsule.
The railguns, of course, had not been destroyed when the defence towers had been blown up as an inevitable sacrifice for the sake of the ruse, they had been just removed and moved to some of the tallest skyscrapers in the city. Back in Capital City, Piccolo had been merely in range of one of them. Here he was at the focal point of every single one, lured perfectly in position according to the plan. All ready to fire and triggered by any anomalous increase in his power.
Mistake number three had been standing in that place, at that time, and lighting up like a lamp while in the crosshairs of several automated weapons ready to unleash absolute destruction on him. And Bulma would have liked to really point it out to him with a sufficiently smug choice of words, but really, there would not be the time, nor she could be heard over the absolutely infernal noise that exploded instantly.
So she simply contented herself with smiling, while six capsules fired at several times the speed of sound reverted mid-air, turned into their contents, namely, 200 mm diameter shells of pure tungsten, weighing 200 kg each, and slammed into the Demon King with all the violence of their combined energy, because inertia is a bitch.
Moved to London, started a new job, got a lot less free time to write, yadda yadda. It also didn't help that I got stuck on a decision about a relatively minor part of the next chapter but today I managed to finally finish it so here is the new one! If you don't get the reference in the title, the only suggestion I can give you is to go watch Arcane. It was frankly a stunning show, visually for sure, but the writing was also excellent. Thanks again for all the reads and comments!