Another bloody corpse in the mud. The low ranking warriors guarding the scene exchanged worried glances while an Inspector paced the tiny room in frustrated silence. The Inspector was a Saiyan. The low ranking guards were Saiyan. And the corpse - yes. Also Saiyan.
Fifty years ago, the planet had existed under a different name and had been host to a different species. But now the planet was known as Vegeta-sei, home of the Saiyan race. Which meant that virtually every man-made object on the planet was less than fifty years old. Nothing remained of the previous owners. Their sprawling cities, magnificent castles, ancient temples and lavish parks had been reduced to dust. Their alien libraries had been burnt to the ground.
Saiyans did not have a written language. Not anymore, anyway. The King was against it. So were his advisors. Soldiers should be training, the General had always insisted. Reading was a double waste of time. Because if you encouraged reading then people might start writing as well. Heaven forbid. What if the soldiers started getting ideas? What if they began to believe that their opinions mattered? Having a written language was, in the Generals mind, the same as begging for a violent revolution. And the Saiyan species couldn't afford another violent revolution. They had barely survived the last one, seventy years ago. The effects were still lingering.
The corpse in the mud was young, female and Saiyan. Her empty eyes were wide open. Her lips curved into a soft smile. Her expression was peaceful. Her posture relaxed. She hadn't put up a fight.
Whispers haunted the mind of every living Saiyan in the room. The Inspector knew. The warriors knew. They had all heard the story.
Despite the absence of a written language, many legends had remained with the Saiyan people. Passing from one generation to the next in whispers. The heroic story of the first Saiyan King. The tale of the Immortal Lunar Wizard who had blessed - or cursed, depending on the version - the entire Saiyan species with their moonlight induced giant were-monkey form. The invention of the first Saiyan spaceship. Epic battles wherein the Saiyans had claimed victory. All the landmark accomplishments were covered. And the characters, so distant and mythical. Impossible to conceive of. Everyone growing up on Vegeta-sei would eventually hear the story of the Legendary Super Saiyan, for example, but no one in recent history had seen a Super Saiyan. Indeed, as a race, the Saiyans had started to forget that they were capable of such transformations. The legendary power level was now generally regarded as pure fiction.
If only the same could be said of certain other myths.
Eighty years ago, according to the most popular version of the story, a Saiyan woman had murdered a Saiyan man. Which was completely illegal. Because women had never been viewed as equals in the Saiyan society. Saiyan women did not hold any high-ranking titles. There had never been a female General. Never a Queen nor a Princess. The words 'wife' and 'daughter' did not exist in the Saiyan language. The term 'mother' was on the verge of extinction. Cooking, cleaning and being pregnant were the main female occupations. Although it was acceptable for Saiyan women to become nurses if they couldn't have children. And female Saiyans were also permitted to become low-ranked warriors but only if they could survive the harsh training while avoiding any physical advances made by their male peers.
An elderly man barged into the hut, his face a permanent scowl. He wore long robes over dark armor. His furry tail was wrapped loosely around his waist. He glanced down once at the deceased girl, hissed a string of curses, spat on the corpse and then turned on his heels and left. The Inspector went rigid, his fingertips glowing. For a split second the room was filled with bright energy. When the light faded, the corpse was gone. The Inspector marched briskly out of the hut and the guards followed him.
Saiyans did not bury their dead. Burning the corpses of fallen warriors was considered more respectful - and sanitary - than burial. Thus a formal torch ceremony was traditional for deceased Saiyan men. But a simple ki blast was all the law required for a dead female.
"Our General won't be happy." Grumbled the Inspector. He had taken to the air, with the guards flying close behind him.
The elderly man said nothing. The seal on his robes marked him as a Collector. A rare but vital exception to the rule in Saiyan society. All the young men - even the Prince - trained to be warriors. The handful of veterans that survived long enough to retire from fighting tended to become training coaches or military supply clerks. It took a certain mindset to be a Collector.
Elsewhere on the planet, a young Saiyan woman sat alone on the floor in the darkest corner of her modest home. Her pitch black hair hanging over eyes. Arms wrapped around her knees. Shuddering with each breath. Trying to ignore the strain that her body was under.
She had survived this once before. Giving birth, that is. Tears welled up in her eyes at the memory. She'd had a healthy baby boy - for approximately five seconds. Then the Collector had arrived. And she couldn't complain. She didn't have the right to complain, no woman did. She had always been taught to just be grateful and obedient. The Saiyan population was off balance. The men greatly outnumbered the women. So mating for life wasn't practical. Not even the royals committed to long term relationships. And having females raise the children wasn't practical either. All that a Saiyan girl had to do was submit to the whims of the male hormones and then, when it was time, the Collector would come to whisk the resulting child away. It was necessary, the law makers said - all of them male - for the survival of the species.
The woman grimaced, her breathing slow and uneven. Where was her first born now? Was he still alive? What name had the Collector given to him? What rank had the boy achieved? Had anyone told the child about his mother? Had anyone introduced the boy to his father? Who WAS his father? The list of possibilities was long.
Raditz. That's right. She'd overheard. The Collector had named her first born child Raditz. Not a name that she would have chosen. The Collector probably hadn't put much thought into it. According to rumor, the Collector had to memorize a list of approved names. All the Saiyan names came from that list. Raditz had likely just been the next available name.
The woman clutched her stomach protectively, wishing that she could hold the pending child in. She wasn't prepared to go through this. Not again. This hadn't been her choice. The simple fact of the matter was that a Saiyan woman could be publicly executed as a traitor for refusing a mans advances. She was still young. She had feared the concept of death and humiliation more than anything else. But now... Experience was finally changing her mind. She understood. This was a fate worse than death. Because if she gave birth to a healthy baby then it would just be taken away from her and raised - or rather, brainwashed - by the Collector. And if she gave birth to an unhealthy child then both she and the child might be killed.
Suicide was an option that had crossed her mind several times by now. However even if she had the courage and the strength for it, she didn't have the heart. Suicide went against everything that she'd been raised to believe. Simple as that. Despite the fact that sexual diseases were known to be the number two killer of Saiyan females, the idea of an honorable and glorious death in battle was tattooed into her mind.
Proud Saiyan Kings and Generals had always declared with contempt that suicide was cowardly. This ideal had succeeded in preventing a large number of low ranked male soldiers from deserting the Saiyan army in various fatal ways. It had also succeeded in creating the number one killer of Saiyan females.
The young woman clenched her fists. Rocking back and forth on her heels. "Crimson Sister," she whispered, "have mercy on me."
Seventy years ago, a series of brutal murders had left more than half of the total population of Saiyan women dead. The resulting shortage of females to reproduce with had caused such an outrage that civil war had erupted. The Saiyan army had split into at least seven factions, all feuding for the right to preserve the purity of their bloodlines. After regaining the majority of the army and kidnapping as many females as possible, the King of that era had arranged for the original Saiyan homeworld - and all the rebels remaining on it - to be blown up. Which was why the Saiyans had conquered and settled on this planet, the new Vegeta-sei, fifty years ago. And ever since there had been an increasing number of restrictions placed on the female Saiyans, to control them. Because the law makers thought it was necessary.
"Crimson Sister." The woman pleaded.
Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on your perspective - civil war, relocating to a new planet and passing several dozen laws hadn't done much to slow the now-legendary assassin down. In the stories Crimson Sister was always described as an elderly Saiyan woman. Bitter and efficient. In some stories, it was her hair that was red. In other versions it was her fingernails, her skin, her eyes or her clothes. Armor bathed in blood stains. A mystical gem on a ring or amulet or embedded into the handle of a dagger. Something about this rebellious woman was definitely crimson but nobody seemed certain of the precise details.
Of course, no one alive on new Vegeta-sei matched any of these vague descriptions. More than fifty years of investigation had done nothing to clarify the identity of the killer. No doubt this was due in large part to Saiyan ego. Being the types who blatantly refused to admit to having internal problems, it had never occurred to the officials of the Saiyan government to ask any of their otherworldly allies about criminal investigation methods. Perhaps if the Saiyans had asked, they could have learned of forensic science and DNA evidence. As things were, the handful of Inspectors involved in the case were relying almost completely on the hope of catching the criminal at the scene of a new crime.
Which hadn't happened yet.
A shadow moved through the room. Pained screams. A gasping silence. And then... The air-shattering cries of a disgruntled newborn.
"Congratulations." The shadow chuckled, bony hands lifting the infant. "It's a boy."
The young woman stared at the child that was placed in her arms. Surprise was an understatement. Her first semi-coherent thought was that at least with this baby she knew who the father was. It was easy to tell. The spiky dark hair, those eyes. The child was the absolute spitting image of - oh, what WAS the fathers name? She could picture the man. But it had been so long ago. And. Well. She hadn't really known him. They'd barely been introduced. As usual. He was a faint memory. Just another male warrior that had needed to exercise his hormones before climbing into a spaceship and leaving the planet on some secret mission. Oh well. The fathers name didn't make any difference. All that mattered right at this moment was the shrieking bundle in her arms.
The woman bristled, holding her child close.
"Relax." The shadow instructed. Dark eyes gleaming from under the voluminous hood. "Another boy won't matter now." Dull red energy gathered on the bony fingertips. "It's the girls that I refuse to take a chance on."
Seventy years of systematically murdering female Saiyans had, of course, taken its toll on the Saiyan race. The effect could not be denied. With less females alive and no females being born, the very existence of the species was in serious jeopardy. The current Prince, for example, was almost five years old. There were no Saiyan girls his age. By the time his royal hormones became active, there might be no Saiyan females period. Which meant the end of the formerly prestigious bloodline. Which would probably cause another civil war, if there was anyone left to wage it.
The end of the Saiyan species overall would be more gradual. Already the bulk of the Saiyan warriors were being given off-world assignments. Perhaps a few of the squads would land on planets where anatomically compatible alien species existed. If the Saiyan warriors reproduced successfully then the next generation would be half Saiyan and scattered across the universe with no particular allegiance to the royal bloodline. And the generation after that would be quarter Saiyan. And the generations after that would have so little Saiyan heritage left in their blood that it would hardly bear mentioning.
At this rate, freedom was inevitable. No more Saiyans meant no more Saiyan laws.
No more Saiyans also meant no more Saiyan legends.
Enveloped in a fading red aura, the shadow slipped from the hut and permitted a sigh to escape with her. Soon she would be able to rest. Her lifetime of work was nearing completion. She would introduce a few more of her little sisters - that's how she thought of her victims - to the concept of eternal peace and that would be that. Mission complete. Crimson Sister could finally retire.
If she had been aware of Lord Freezias plan to reduce Vegeta-sei to space dust, perhaps she would have retired early.
"Miserable brat." Said the Inspector, frowning at the noise. "Can't you shut him up?"
They had arrived too late. The battered front door - the only door in the small hut - hung open.
"Nothing." One of the guards announced from a dark corner of the room. Being unable to check for an energy signature, he had instead resorted to checking the young womans body for a pulse. And he had found exactly what he'd expected to. Nothing. "She's dead."
The Collector stepped forward and grabbed the infants tail. The infant promptly fainted. The Collector sneered. "Weakling. Fourth-class, most likely. Third, if he's lucky. Which I doubt. He'll probably die at his first real battle. If he makes it that far." The Collector didn't even hesitate. He had mentally set aside a collection of names that were appropriate for especially weak creatures. "Come, Kakarotto." He shoved the limp child under an arm and turned to leave.
Both of the guards silently flinched at the cruelty. They knew from experience how much worse an unfortunate name could make the life of a low ranked soldier. In Saiyan, the rough translation of Kakarotto had to do with rotting carcasses.
"Speaking of which." The Inspector flicked a hand in the direction of the dead girl, obliterating it with ki blast. He crossed the room in three long steps and stood in front of the door, blocking the exit.
Very few strong emotions can be dealt with rationally. The Inspector was not in a rational mood. How many sites had he visited today? How many female corpses had he sent to oblivion with the flick of his hand? Too many. He would have to report the numbers to the General. And the King. And the Kings most trusted advisors. And none of them would be happy. How would they punish him for the bad news? Would he lose his job? His rank? His life? And if he survived their displeasure... No. There wasn't any point. The Inspector knew. The assassin had won. The criminal could walk right up and surrender and confess and it wouldn't change anything. The damage was done. Too many females had died. Extinction was inevitable.
The Inspector felt that he personally was going to die in the very near future. And, as far as he could tell, the Saiyan species would not be too far behind him. A generation, at the most.
Yet as horrible as this conclusion was, it did come with a certain amount of freedom. Maybe he wouldn't report to the General. Why bother? There had to be a better way to spend the last moments of his life. All the things that he'd never dared to do or say before - now was the time. Break a few laws, have some fun. Why not? This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Literally.
"Out of my way." The Collector tried to shove the Inspector aside.
The Inspector smirked. He was one of the many male Saiyans who had never liked the name he'd been issued. "You, sir, are an arrogant bastard."
A split second later, the Collector was also dead. The guards stood in absolute shock. Uncertain of what to do. They had sworn loyalty to the government which made it their duty to arrest - or at least report - the Inspector. Because the Collector was a government official. But the Inspector was also a government official.
"Try to arrest me and you'll be punished for attacking a superior. Fail to arrest me and you'll be punished for letting the Collector die." The Inspector shook his head. "My advice to you is to leave. Just walk away. Take the rest of the day off. Treat it like the last day of your life. Because it might be."
The guards exchanged nervous glances. Had the Inspector gone insane? If they walked away, would he shoot them in the backs? If he let them go then would he frame them for this crime - would they be blamed for murdering the Collector? What about other options? Together, they had enough power to rival the Inspector. But what good would that do them, in the long-run?
Paralyzed by anxiety and indecision, the guards stood their ground. "Idiots." The Inspector raised a hand then changed his mind and dropped it. There was no reason to kill them. Odds were that they'd all be dead soon enough. "Lucky idiots."
The Inspector turned his back on them and walked out of the hut.
By the time the guards found the courage to step outside, the Inspector was long gone. A muffled wail surfaced from within the hut. The infant, now half buried under the remains of the Collector, was struggling to regain consciousness. The guards flinched. They were young and Saiyan and low ranked and trained to be warriors. They were accustomed to the sight of corpses. But what to do with a screaming infant?
If the child had been any other species, they would have known what to do. Kill it. But this was a purebred Saiyan. A baby boy. A future soldier. Even if the Collector had been right, if the child grew up to be nothing more than an average low ranked soldier - that was okay. Because it meant one more comrade to fight alongside. One more reinforcement in an emergency. In war, every little bit helped.
Finally, awkwardly, one of the soldiers - the youngest of the pair - picked the infant up and wrapped his outer robe around the child. Embarrassed at having to perform such a duty, he muttered. "Should probably turn the brat in."
The other guard hesitated. "Too risky. The trainers will ask where the Collector is. They'll ask why the Collector didn't bring the brat in."
"We don't have to tell them anything." Replied the younger guard as he took to the air. "We're low ranked idiots, remember? Nobody expects us to have answers. We'll just drop the brat off and leave."
It took the distracted guards a full minute to realize that the sky was unusually bright.
She watched and for a moment, the emotions collided within her. Happiness and sadness. Anger. Resentment. Surprise.
Here was a woman who had dedicated her life to extinguishing her own species. She had worked hard and had never allowed herself to doubt that her goal was achievable. She had always known that this day would come, eventually. And now, abruptly, the time had come. The end was in plain sight.
But this wasn't quite the ending that she'd had in mind.
The sky was bright. Yet none of the stars were visible.
Spaceships. Hundreds of them. Perhaps even thousands. Giant steel gray shapes rumbling overhead. All of them clearly marked. What was that emblem? None of the noble Saiyan houses had emblems like that. Was it a friend or a foe or an alien race that the Saiyans had never heard of before? And why were the spaceships hovering? Why didn't they land? They had their landing lights on. And their search lights. What could they be looking for? Maybe they were seeking a place to land? But with so many ships... There wouldn't be room to park all of them.
Where the red glow of evening clung to the horizon, a pattern became visible. To an observer below, the ships directly overhead were nothing but a ceiling of flat rumbling gray. However the ships in the distance... Fading sunlight glinted off the unmistakable outlines. Battleships. An army of them. And they were in formation.
Somewhere inside the city, a Saiyan watchman recovered enough of his composure to set off the alarm. A drumbeat, distant but urgent, signaled that the approaching spaceships did not appear to have peaceful intentions. All across the city, the signal was picked up and repeated, traveling further away in several directions. Every Saiyan - even the females - within earshot of the signal was supposed to respond instantly.
The practice drills had paid off. Anxious warriors poured into the streets. Most assumed defensive positions but a few strays - typical - decided that they weren't going to stand around, vulnerable and waiting for orders. If the aliens were hostile then the time to battle was now, that was the attitude. The palace had to be protected, for strategic reasons as well as sentimental ones. Should the situation become dire enough, the Saiyan King had the power to trigger the were-monkey transformation. So the more Saiyan warriors that could gather around the King, the better the odds of a mass transformation. The battle would be messy but by working together the Saiyans could - in theory - defend their planet from pretty much anything.
Except each other.
Crimson Sister watched. How strange it was, to just stand and watch. She'd always expected to have a more active role. After so many years of delivering the killing blow, the final strike... How strange, to stand in the street and witness this.
The emotions collided and wrestled and canceled each other out. An elimination style-battle was going on inside of her and finally, a champion was revealed. And the champion, the last emotion standing, was Duty.
Yes. Made sense. That's what was wrong. Duty. It was her duty - her destiny - to finish this job. The demise of her species was something that she'd worked long and hard for. And the end was in sight. So why give up? Why not finish the job? Should hostile aliens get all the glory, all the peace of mind and job satisfaction? No! Dammit, this was personal. This was a protest. This was revenge. For all the laws that had ever deprived female Saiyans of freedom, for all the brainwashing and trauma and everything that the females had to endure... Her soul demanded justice. Ironic, bloody justice. What kind of sister would she be if she didn't finish what she'd started?
With a thunderous roar, a single escape pod was launched. The spherical craft was quickly reduced to a tiny white dot moving against the turbulent gray sky. The streets fell silent. Every pair of eyes watching, every breath being held.
The formation of battleships parted, giving the round escape pod room to pass. The pod shot upwards, increasing its speed and curving away from the planet.
History - featuring the last civil war and a few devastating natural disasters - had taught the entire Saiyan race the value of being able to retreat. That's why the escape pods existed at all. Still. Escape pod stations were a fairly recent development and one that the Saiyan culture tended to frown upon. The concept of escape went against the prized ideal of glorious death in battle. There was no honor in escape. No dignity. No loyalty.
Disgust and disbelief replaced the silence. What kind of Saiyan would have left the planet at a time like this? Coward! Traitor! And why had the alien warships parted? Were their guns empty? The warships, the formations - was it all a bluff? What was going on here?
Out of all the Saiyans left alive on the planet, only five of them reacted immediately to the news. The King. A warrior with mild psychic abilities. A pair of low ranked guards. And a shadowy women enveloped in dull red energy.
Crimson Sister went straight to the nearest escape pod station. In terms of power, she was not terribly strong. Thanks to a lifetime of careful training, she could perhaps pose a threat to the average low ranked Saiyan male. But there was nothing she could do against an alien warship - much less an army of them. And she wasn't out to get the aliens anyway. Who cared what the aliens did? Her enemy was much closer to home. And if she planned this right...
It didn't take a lot of power to set the building on fire. The escape pods had heat shields and fire resistant armor but all that was designed to protect the exterior. Once the flames got inside a pod, there was very little that could be done to save the craft. The computers would melt, the window in the hatch door would shatter, the armor would crack and everything else would either burn or explode.
Satisfied that the flames would be unstoppable once they hit the engines, a red shadow flew low across the sky. Dodging between buildings, gliding down narrow alleys. Then landing and smirking and starting another fire.
Despite the fact that escape was not an idea the Saiyans favored, there were quite a lot of escape pod stations. Granted - the city was large. However to a culture where escape was the true last resort, the idea of having escape pods for everyone was ridiculous. Since most of the elder Saiyans preferred death to retreating, there didn't need to be enough pods to save everyone in the city. But there were. And the reason for this was simple. Location. It was assumed that if someone absolutely positively had to escape then they couldn't afford to waste time searching for an escape pod. So there were small escape pod stations on nearly every corner - just to make them easy to find.
Crimson Sister had no intention to burn each and every individual escape pod station. She didn't have that kind of patience at the moment and she'd never had that kind of power. Instead... With a few fires here and there, a bit of wind created by flying low... The explosions began. The fires spread.
Easier to burn the whole city.
She watched the panic in the streets. If the fire didn't get to the warriors, the dense smoke would. If the fire and smoke failed then she would attempt to make up the difference. And if she failed... Well. Then the hostile aliens could have their turn.
One had already gotten away. That was all she could think of, the escape pod that had made it. The one that had gotten away. Who had been inside that escape pod? Male or female? Saiyan or alien? Didn't matter. One had gotten away and that was just plain unacceptable. No one else would be permitted to escape. She couldn't allow it.
Crimson Sister arrived at what was known as Station 4. Outside, the city was on fire and the fighting had begun. Alien troops surrounded the Saiyan palace. Noise shook the world and the sky flashed with color. There were already bodies in the street.
Not all of them were dead.
"Put it down!" Someone was shouting, the voice getting nearer. "You can't fight when you've got your hands full!"
A tattered young guard with a bundle in his arms skidded into Station 4. He wasn't in the mood to say what he was thinking. He didn't know where the thoughts were coming from. He'd never felt this responsible for anything before. While it wasn't an entirely unpleasant sensation, the strength of the emotion made him uncomfortable. So the guard hastily shoved the bundle into the nearest escape pod and mumbled: "Good riddance." Because now he could fight without having to worry about defending something that couldn't fight.
The infant in the escape pod squealed and reached out.
For just the slightest moment, the young guard paused. He didn't really understand how or why, but there was some tiny part of him that suddenly wanted to have a younger brother. Or a dog. Or something like that. And he wanted to pick the brat up again and comfort it somehow, although he had the gut feeling that they were all doomed. And... It even occurred to the young guard that maybe - just maybe - he should get into the escape pod as well. The kid was helpless and clueless, after all. Someone had to raise the brat to be a proper Saiyan.
No. The guard shook his head, as if to clear away the confusing impulses. If he escaped... Then he wouldn't be qualified to teach anyone anything about being Saiyan. Because no true Saiyan ran away from the opportunity to die a glorious death in battle while serving the King.
If the young guard had known that King Vegeta was already dead then perhaps he would have climbed into the pod and escaped with the infant. But he didn't know. So he slammed the hatch shut. The infant wailed. The tinted window in the hatch door reflected a red shadow. The guard barely had the chance to turn around before the battle was underway.
With a yelp the infant fell forward, rolling off the seat and onto the navigational console. The computer came to life in auto-pilot - the mode that all emergency vehicles were set to by default. The noise of the engines as the pod hovered in preparation for blastoff nearly drown out the triumphant shrieks of a crimson blur.
"You are cursed, little brother! I curse you and all Saiyans to extinction!" Taunted the glowing blur, the freshly dismembered body of the young guard laying at her feet. "You can escape me and you can escape this world - but you can not escape the curse!"