Van Vogt's Cat
By Dragoness Eclectic
This DBZ story is a tribute of sorts to the late, great A. E. Van Vogt, and was directly inspired by the short story "Black Destroyer" (also known as part one of "Voyage of the Space Beagle"). There--I have already dropped far too many clues and given away the show to those of you who read classic science fiction. For those of you who don't, this is a story about an certain incident that happened to Raditz in the days when he was one of the three surviving Saiyan slaves of Frieza--and not a very nice person.
"WARNING! CRITICAL MALFUNCTION! WARNING! CRITICAL MALFUNCTION!"
Of all the things that could wake Raditz out of a sound sleep, the alarm klaxon in his pod was the least welcome. Only death would have been a more annoying and abrupt interruption--and the emergency alarm was a warning that the latter was on its way.
"Shut the hell up, I heard you," growled the long-haired Saiyan as he willed his hybernation-heavy eyes to open. The alarm obediently silenced itself, but the red "Critical System Malfunction" lights continued to flash, reminding Raditz that silencing the messenger did not improve the message.
"Report! What's--" Raditz started to say in a hoarse voice, but was seized by a fit of coughing as his irritated throat seized up. The air in the pod was flat and dry and heavy with the anti-hibernation mist that had been sprayed into the air to wake the grumpy warrior.
"PRIMARY MALFUNCTION (CRITICAL): PRIMARY POWER SUPPLY FAILURE!" responded the pod obediently; the same message scrolled across the window, projected by the pod's HUD system. It continued: "SECONDARY MALFUNCTION (SERIOUS): PRIMARY DRIVE FAILURE!"
"Power supply?" Raditz stared at the buttons and displays. "That doesn't sound good. What's going on?"
"POD 39457 SWITCHED TO SECONDARY POWER SUPPLY. PROJECTED ENDURANCE, ALL SYSTEMS: 12 HOURS."
"Twelve hours!" Raditz straightened as much as he could in the claustophobic little bubble and braced his hands against the door. "How far out from base am I?"
"Stupid computer! How far from base #26 am I if you're using the primary drive and had a full fuel tank?"
"FLIGHT TIME TO BASE #26 ON PRIMARY DRIVE WITH 100% PRIMARY ENERGY STORAGE: ESTIMATED 240 HOURS."
"Crud! Why do we have only twelve hours when we're still ten days out? That makes no sense! Where did our power go?"
"SECONDARY ENERGY STORAGE AT 2%. NO READING ON PRIMARY ENERGY STORAGE. NO DIAGNOSTICS LOGGED PRIOR TO TOTAL MALFUNCTION."
"Oh, crud. How long to base #26 on the secondary drive?"
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Idiot machine! How long to base #26 on the secondary drive with a full tank?"
"FLIGHT TIME TO BASE #26 ON SECONDARY DRIVE WITH 100% SECONDARY ENERGY STORAGE: ESTIMATED 720 HOURS."
Raditz clenched one big fist and released it again. Taking out his fury on the only thing between him and hard vacuum would be less than useful. Damn it! After surviving the destruction of Vegetasei, he was not going to die of a stupid malfunction in the depths of space!
"All right," he growled between gritted teeth. "Locate the closest base, planet, or station, I don't care who it belongs to, as long as I can breathe the air!"
Lights blinked in meaningless patterns for what seemed a long time; finally, the pod computer answered:
"CLOSEST LOCATION MEETING SPECIFIED CRITERIA IS BASE #29. NAVIGATION BEACON IS NOT AVAILABLE."
"Huh? Well, can you get there anyway?"
Something cold gathered in the pit of Raditz's stomach. No. No! He wasn't going to die out here, alone in space, without an enemy to fight. NO!
"How long to base #29 on the secondary with a full fuel tank?" Raditz held his breath waiting for the pod computer to answer.
"FLIGHT TIME TO TO BASE #29 ON SECONDARY DRIVE WITH 100% SECONDARY ENERGY STORAGE: ESTIMATED 14.3 HOURS."
"Fourteen hours!" Raditz sagged back in the pod's cushioned chair and began to laugh hysterically. "Fourteen hours! Only fourteen hours!" He sat up again. "THAT'S JUST TWO HOURS DIFFERENCE, YOU MORON MACHINE! I can hold my breath almost that long!"
"Turn off everything but the drive, navigation and whatever systems you need to get there...." It took Raditz five more sets of questions, answers and alternate orders to the pod's computer before it yielded a solution that he could survive... barely.
"SOLUTION MEETING SPECIFIED CRITERIA: TURN OFF AIR REGENERATION AT T+14.08 HOURS."
"Do it. Go to base #29." The soft breeze of regenerated air blew over Raditz's face; he started and found himself floating free in the pod. He pulled his long hair around himself and strapped into his seat; it would eventually get quite cold in the tiny, dark pod.
* * * *
With nothing to do but stare at the stars from his darkened pod for fourteen hours, Raditz did the obvious: he fell asleep... and dreamed of the beginning of this misbegotten mission, back on Base #26.
...Curbit, the sinewy, brown, bulbous-eyed alien who commanded Frieza Base #26 threw a data chip at Raditz, who had to drop to one knee to catch it. Dyarmin, Curbit's aide, smirked as Raditz looked up from his submissive pose.
"You have your mission, Raditz," Curbit scowled--or so Raditz thought. It was hard to tell with the alien, whose face looked like the furrowed bark of an old tree, and rarely changed. "Scout three planets in Sector 29A, report back here for debriefing and re-supply." Curbit leaned forward slightly. "Make your reports to me personally after each survey." He leaned back and waved a gnarled brown hand dismissively.
Raditz rose to his feet and frowned slightly. "Report to you personally?" the big, long-haired Saiyan asked. Beside Curbit, his aide Dyarmin shifted uneasily. The pale blue man of Zarbon's race seemed surprised at the implied exclusion. So was Raditz.
Curbit's shoulders hunched, a sign of irritation. "That's what I said, Raditz! Even a monkey should be able to understand an order that simple! Now, get out of here!"
Raditz saluted and left quickly, gritting his teeth at the necessity of saluting a creature whose charred skull he should have been grinding underfoot. After seven years of bowing before Frieza and his deputies, Raditz only hated it and them all the more. Report personally to Curbit? What the hell was the old tree root up to?
Raditz read enough of the data chip to find the coordinates of his first destination, then headed out to the launch tower to terrify some techs into giving him a ready pod right now. He'd read the rest of the briefing on the way; he wouldn't have anything better to do, and would have to hibernate most of the trip anyway.
Dyarmin accosted him at the pod bay door. "Listen, and listen well, monkey! As soon as you return, I want you to tell me what you found on each planet--before reporting to the commander. I'll be at the landing field to meet you--and when you report to the commmander, don't bother to mention my involvement. Do you understand, monkey-boy?"
Raditz scowled at the slim green-haired man. "You want me to break the commander's orders behind his back on your say-so? Why the hell should I? You're not my prince, and I don't like you that much either."
CRUNCH! Raditz's skull rang as he bounced off the bulkhead; a follow-up punch to his gut doubled the long-haired warrior over, groaning in pain. Dyarmin was much weaker than Zarbon, but still far stronger than Raditz.
Dyarmin grabbed Raditz's long hair and yanked his head up. "Because, you stupid monkey, I'll kill you if you don't. Prince Vegeta may be Lord Frieza's favorite, but you are just another monkey who should have burned with the rest of your filthy kind." The pale blue man slapped the open button and pushed Raditz into the pod. "Remember," he hissed as the pod hatch began to close, "first report to me!"
* * * *
Raditz woke with a start; by the Rings and the Moon, he hated that blue freak! Someday, when he got his strength up more, he was going to kill the arrogant little bastard. The thought of Dyarmin's eyes widening in the fear of impending death, of his pretty face all misshapen and bloody buoyed Raditz's spirits immensely. Imagining the sound of Dyarmin's last breath rattling in his throat, and the sight of his broken body going limp as he expired made Raditz almost cheerful. He grinned to himself; maybe he'd break a few of the bastard's ribs and drive the broken ends into his lungs--watching Dyarmin's face as he drowned in his own blood would be priceless. Raditz could just imagine the pretty lips turning black, bloody foam covering those same lips, the sound of hard, whooping breaths as Dyarmin desperately struggled to get air into his blood-filled lungs--
The sight of the completely frosted-over porthole jolted Raditz out of his pleasant imaginings. He shivered and crossed his arms; it was cold, very cold in the capsule, and the air was sharp and dry in his throat. Damn it, why did he wear no leg or arm coverings, anyway? Sure, it was less constricting and handier to be bare-legged and bare-armed in a fight, but leggings like he'd worn in his cadet days would have been a lot more comfortable right now.
Screw Dyarmin anyway. Raditz had figured out what Curbit was up to after scouting the first world on his list--it was a real treasure house: high-gravity world with a heavy metal core. The natives were tough and wary; they had taken out the last two of Frieza's scouts, which was why Curbit sent a Saiyan. After discouraging the natives, Raditz had found plenty of radioactives and valuable heavy metals. He understood why Curbit wanted to keep this place under wraps: the natives would make good soldiers, and the heavy metals and radioactives made the planet undesirable for clearing and sale to colonists, but could be mined and sold without involving the rest of Frieza's organization. Curbit would exploit the place himself and make sure all the profits went into Curbit's pocket.
Dyarmin must have figured something was up, and wanted in on the action--or else he planned on squealing to Frieza on the assumption he would be promoted to the then-to-be empty commander's slot. Rings and Moon! Greedy bastards and their stupid politics! They made Raditz's head ache; he wanted nothing to do with it or them. At least on Vegetasei, he'd known where he stood and what was expected of him--loyalty, honor, duty. Among Frieza's forces, there was no honor, no loyalty except that inspired by terror of Frieza himself, and the only duty was to grab what you could for yourself. Damn the bastards! Raditz hated them all.
Raditz smirked to himself. Yeah, he'd told Dyarmin about the first planet right after getting out of the pod, and before walking into the commander's office--but he didn't bother to tell Dyarmin that he'd sent Curbit a private message via the pod's radio just before he landed. He'd obeyed both of them to the letter.
His headache was getting worse--
"ESTIMATED 0.2 HOURS TO ARRIVAL AT BASE #29. UNABLE TO ESTABLISH COMMUNICATIONS. REQUEST ORDERS?"
"What the--? What do you mean, you can't 'establish communications'? You didn't tell me your Comm system was broken!" It was definitely stuffy in the tiny pod.
"COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS ARE FULLY FUNCTIONAL. BASE #29 DOES NOT RESPOND TO COMMUNICATION INITIALIZATION."
"So they're not talking to us? Crud." Something nagged at Raditz's memory; what had the idiot computer said before? Oh, right. "And no navigation beacon. Crud."
Raditz grabbed a hank of his long hair and used it to wipe the frost off the single porthole. He was in orbit over an uninviting, grey-brown world; its face was scarred by deep canyons and pocked by craters on the high plateaus. The sharp edge of the horizon warned Raditz that there was no air surrounding this barren rock of a world; only Frieza Base #29 held any promise of warmth and life.
"Where's the base?" he growled.
A map grid suddenly overlaid Raditz's view of the world; as they orbited, a blinking indicator pointed out the location of Frieza's base.
"I can't see crap from up here. Go down there."
"NO NAVIGATION BEACON; OLD COORDINATES IN DATABASE MAY BE INACCURATE. CONFIRMATION REQUIRED: DE-ORBIT AND INITIATE BASE LANDING SEQUENCE WITH OLD COORDINATES?"
"Yes, you stupid machine! I told you to do it, so DO IT!" Raditz panted; it was getting very stuffy, and his headache felt like someone was pounding rocks into the side of his head. "I'll give you a better target when I get close enough to see it."
"AFFIRMATIVE. DE-ORBIT INITIATED."
Five minutes later, the pod hurtled groundward on a ballistic trajectory. The ride down was smooth and silent; without an atmosphere, there was no atmospheric drag to slow and buffet the pod, nor wrap its exterior in a blazing corona of ionized gases. On the other hand, without air braking... Raditz reflected that things could get messy if the pod ran out of power before the final deceleration phase.
It didn't run out until thirty seconds after landing. To call the pod's arrival at Base #29 a 'landing' was somewhat of a misnomer; the tiny pod simply slammed into the landing pad after just enough deceleration to keep the pod from smashing itself and its passenger into pieces.
"Oh, crud." Raditz groaned; his head pounded horribly and there were black spots at the edges of his vision. He waited a few seconds for his head to settle down--it had been a harder landing than usual. When the spots didn't fade away, but instead became more numerous, Raditz cursed. It wasn't the landing--the air was bad and getting worse! If he sat here much longer, he would pass out and never wake up.
He looked out over the small landing field; three more pads, all empty. No one was running out to meet his pod; no lights illuminated the field or showed in the base control tower.
"Crud! Is this place deserted?" Raditz panted like he'd been in a long fight; he had to get inside now. He raised his power slightly and used his ki to pull the pod's air supply around him, compressed it, held it against his skin, and then pulled the dead pod's emergency hatch lever.
Bang! The small explosive charges blew the hatch open and Raditz crawled out of the tiny spaceship into the hard vacuum of the dead planet. At last! He looked around quickly; normally, he'd have several minutes worth of air held close to his body for an excursion like this, but not now--already the tainted pod air was making him light-headed.
He trotted toward the nearest airlock; the outer lock was open, but there was no power to the tell-tales. Raditz scowled to himself, closed the outer lock manually, and threw open the pressure valves. As patiently as he could, he waited for the lock to pressurize.
It wasn't pressurizing. Raditz's gaze fell on the inner lock, and the coldness returned to the pit of his stomach. There was a hole in the inner lock, at knee-level. Not a large hole, but large enough; there was no air in the base.
* * * *
Raditz could feel his strength waning as he wrenched the inner lock open and closed it again. He blinked, trying to clear some of the spots from his vision; the small ready-room swam and he had trouble making out the details, but there were no lights on anywhere, no illumination, no system tell-tales--only the harsh sunlight spilling through the windows showed him the bodies on the floor.
Raditz stumbled and nearly fell over one of them as he staggered toward the corridor. He had to find a compartment that could be sealed, and restore power and air somehow all in the next few minutes-- and he had no idea how! The coldness in the pit of his stomach turned into real fear, now, and the teeth of panic started nibbling at the edges of Raditz's mind.
He fell against the wall and braced himself as darkness swam before his eyes. No! He couldn't die here, alone and forgotten! Raditz blinked; in front of him was a small map of the base bolted to the wall, showing the nearest emergency escapes and sealed compartments. Not... good. The ready room sealed on both sides, but it was already holed--no good. A long tunnel connected the landing field to the rest of the base; it should be sealed at the other end as well, and there just might be air in the main control tower.
So close! Raditz tried to open the sealed hatch leading to the access tunnel; his weakening grip slipped from the wheel as he collapsed. Darkness swam between his eyes, and the long-haired warrior could feel control of his ki slipping away---
The air rushed out of his lungs as his ki-field dropped; hard vacuum stabbed his lungs like a breath of infinitely cold winter air inhaled too deeply. It's not fair! I am a Saiyan warrior, I can't die like this!
...Raditz skidded across the practice ring on his back, painfully scraping the bare skin. He flipped himself to his feet, only to meet a kick across his already sore jaw--a kick that flung him to the ground, this time to stay. It was all he could do to roll over to where he could see his father.
"Don't you dare give up on me!" growled Bardock, staring down at his battered son. "On your feet, brat!"
"Not fair!" young Raditz protested to his father. "You're stronger than I am--I can't possibly beat you!"
Bardock's booted foot came down hard on Raditz's chest, forcing an involuntary gasp out of the boy. "Fair?" he said eyes blazing. "Fair? Do you think the enemy will be 'fair' to you, brat? Do you think they'll only send someone they know you can beat out to fight?"
"N-no," Raditz gasped; it was hard to breathe with the pressure on his chest.
"A Saiyan warrior never gives up, brat--he does whatever it takes to win! You give up, you die. You fight, even when the odds are against you, you just might live to be a man, brat!" The pressure on Raditz's chest increased. "NOW, FIGHT ME, BRAT!"
Darkness swam before Raditz's eyes, obscuring his father's fiercely scowling face. I'm going to die here if I don't get free, the boy thought, panicking. He means to kill me! Raditz frantically grabbed the booted foot and tried to push it away--no good, he wasn't strong enough. He pounded ineffectually on Bardock's leg-- and felt one of his own ribs crack under the relentless pressure. In desperation, Raditz pulled his left leg up, twisted, and straightened his leg at the same time, slamming into the side of Bardock's knee with his full strength. Bardock went flying, and the dreadful pressure was gone--Raditz could breathe again....
A Saiyan never gives up! This is a ready-room--and most of Frieza's goons wouldn't know ki if it blew a hole through their stinking heads! Raditz forced himself to crawl across the floor to the lockers lining the outside wall. His vision was going fast--the vacuum sucked all the moisture off his eyes and tiny blood vessels began to burst, and the lack of oxygen was dragging him down into black oblvion--but he slammed his fist through the thin metal door of the nearest locker and wrenched it off its hinges. With his other hand he clawed feebly at the contents as he fell, bringing it down on top of him. Blind, deaf in the soundless vacuum, touch fading as his fingers went numb, somehow Raditz found the mask and put it on his face; somehow, he managed to turn the valve on the air tank....
Air, pure sweet air flowed back into his damaged lungs as he lay there. His whole body tingled as life flowed back into it. Whatever else happened, he would not die here in the cold and the vacuum.
* * * *
Raditz cursed himself silently as coherent thought returned. Damn it! He was an idiot! There were half a dozen better ways to have done this--he could have left the capsule in orbit, while the air was still good and flown down, he could have used the emergency medical oxygen in the pod, he could have remembered the stupid spacesuit lockers before he even left the pod--
If I don't stop acting first, thinking later, it's going to get me killed, Raditz thought sourly. His vision was still blurry and occluded by tiny blood clots, but he had air. Pain like dozens of steel needles stabbed through his joints, and Raditz never knew how close to death he'd come from air bubbles forming in the blood vessels of his brain--but he had air! Raditz raised his ki again and encapsulated himself in the remaining air from the air tank, and got another one out of the locker. His thick Saiyan skin was tough enough to stand up to vacuum, but his eyes and delicate nasal tissues weren't. He moved slowly to keep from inducing a coughing fit that would clog the respirator mask with blood from his damaged lungs.
Okay, he thought, now I have to find a sealable room, restore power, restore life support and find a working regeneration tank and use it! Can I make more work for myself, or is that it?
As he got to his feet and looked around, noting the vacuum-mummified bodies on the floor, Raditz thought to himself, Yes--looks like I'll be fixing the pod myself, too. What the hell happened here?
The big, long-haired Saiyan picked up a light from one of the suit lockers and shined it around the room. Scorch marks adorned the wall in several places at knee-height, including the hole in the inner lock. The corpses wore the armor of Frieza's soldiers; two of them had blasters still in hand. Raditz picked up one of the guns and squinted at it; it had been partially discharged. All three soldiers had had their backs broken and their necks crushed.
So, thought Raditz, they were fighting something low to the ground and quite strong--or they missed a lot. No sign of the attackers here. He shrugged and cranked open the inner lock on the connecting tunnel, then manually cranked it closed and opened the outer lock. The long connecting tunnel was also airless. Raditz walked toward the main control tower, checking the readings on his scouter as he moved. It detected nothing living up ahead, but somewhere, something lived. Whatever it was, it was elusive and weak; the scouter couldn't get a consistant direction or range on it.
* * * *
The main control tower was as airless and lifeless as the landing field ready room had been, but here there were no obvious punctures in walls or locks. More bodies and parts of bodies littered every floor; many of the soldiers had been shredded into bloody gobbets of muscle and crushed bone. Where in all this mess were the power mains and the life support controls?
It took Raditz a while to find them; he wandered about, reading every label on every door and hatch, reading the little schematic maps on corridor walls that he'd never before paid attention to for what seemed like hours. The blurriness in his eyes forced him to lean close to the signs and maps, squinting painfully to read them. Twice he had to break off his search and return to the little ready-room for more air tanks--worse yet, his stomach was growling.
Raditz pushed his hunger aside for the time being. He already knew where the mess hall was, and couldn't eat until pressure was restored in any case. Once that was done, he should have no trouble finding food; even if the mess hall was cleaned out, there was plenty of vacuum-dried meat lying around. It wouldn't be the first time he'd survived on jerked soldier.
He found the life support controls first--and the corpse of the technician who had removed the safety interlocks and pulled the emergency decompression switch. That was what the large red warning label said it was, anyway, and it was most definitely pulled out. Raditz broke away the frozen fingers and shoved the switch back into its socket and closed the safety latch over it; now what?
Idiot! Raditz mentally rebuked himself. Without power, nothing's going to happen! Where are the damn power mains? He resumed his search. Two floors up he noticed the base infirmary, but did not enter; it was of no use to him without power. At the top of the control tower was the main base control room--all in darkness. Raditz shined his light around; yes, there was a console marked 'Power Systems' but it was as dark as everything else. Raditz clenched a fist; he so wanted to just blow apart half the tower! Damn this crap, he was not a stupid weakling of a technician! It wasn't his job, he was a warrior, he shouldn't have to figure it out! It wasn't... fair.
Raditz growled then, behind the respirator mask. The universe didn't care from 'fair'; he was here, he was alone, and he was stuck until he fixed things himself, because no one else was going to come along and do it for him.
So where the hell did these morons put the main power breakers? Raditz scowled, looking around. Think, idiot! Life Support was on the ground floor; maybe the power mains are down there, too? Powerplant is on the ground or underground, not up in a tower, so power cables got to come into the building from below, right? Go back downstairs and look again, idiot.
It didn't take Raditz long to find what he was looking for, once he realized he should look behind the various "HAZARDOUS -- DO NOT ENTER" and "DANGER -- HIGH VOLTAGE" placards. He stared at the main power breaker; it was open. Raditz reached over and closed it.
Nothing happened. Raditz opened it again and shined the light around. No, no other switches on this line--the main power plant must be down, he thought. Another breaker caught his eye--he bent down and squinted at the placard beside it. "Emergency Power"; it was also open. Raditz raised an eyebrow; shouldn't that be closed, or on standby? Crud! He wasn't a technician, he didn't know! Still... Raditz closed the breaker.
Lights flickered on all around him. Raditz smirked triumphantly, and started to trot down the corridor to the Life Support panel--and stopped just before he started coughing up his lungs. He fought the urge down, knowing he'd lose control of his ki and breathe vacuum again if he did. Slowly, you moron, slowly! Raditz rebuked himself. It would be really stupid to die at this point.
He kicked the dead technician out of the way and looked at the buttons and switches and now-lit tell-tales, all labelled with cryptic terms. Raditz scowled and clenched his fists again--Rings and Moon, he wanted to blow the whole thing to hell! But he couldn't--not if he wanted to live. Raditz scowled blackly and promised himself that on his way off this miserable base, he would stop long enough to vaporize the whole damned place!
Now, all he could do was try all the little buttons and switches. Raditz groaned; this could take a while--and his stomach was growling again!
It took a long time; Raditz had to go back to the landing field for another air tank before it was done. He measured time by air tanks, for that was the only thing that mattered--and by hunger. At last the moment came when Raditz heard--yes, heard!--pressure doors slide open and closed, and could feel air pressing around him again. At last he set down the air tank and mask he'd been wearing for so many hours and leaned back, letting the ki field drop.
His breath gurgled through aching lungs, reminding Raditz of his next task--turning the regeneration tanks back on. At least he knew how to operate the things--he'd been in them enough times. He climbed wearily back up the stairs to the main base control room and began the tedious process of figuring out the controls.
* * * *
Deep underground, the coeurl's head lifted up, its sensitive ear tendrils quivering. It sensed life, life in the dead base far above! Massive shoulders flexed as it rose to its feet; it was a strong life, rich in the id it hungered for. The coeurl padded through the long access tunnel that connected Base #29's still-pressurized main power generator with the rest of the base....
* * * *
The door to the base infirmary was jammed shut; Raditz wrenched it open with brute Saiyan strength. Lights glimmered inside; he'd already turned the power on from the control room, and the regeneration tanks should be ready for use--
--They should have been. Raditz stopped short, the coldness gathering in his guts again. Every tank was smashed and half-melted; the walls were scorched and burned. There had been a fight, an explosion, something... the tanks were gone. There would be no healing here.
"CRAP!" He'd worked for so many hours just to get air and power, and for yet more hours to get power and water and heat to here, so he could be healed! It wasn't fair!
"DAMN THIS! Damn you for this mission, Curbit! Damn you, Frieza, for existing, and DAMN WHOEVER WRECKED THIS PLACE!" Raditz snapped one arm forward in a fit of pique, hurling energy at the half-melted remnants of one of the tanks. The ki blast struck and exploded, filling the room and throwing Raditz back through the door.
Raditz drew in a deep breath--and promptly doubled over, coughing. He hacked up black gobs of clotted blood, and felt himself choking on the blood pooling in his lungs. He coughed harder, forcing the suffocating liquid out of his chest; fresh, bright blood streamed out of his mouth and nose.
"Oh, that was brilliant, Raditz! Are you sure Bardock didn't just find you under a rock somewhere? No one is going to mistake you for Kinoko's kid, that's for sure!" The long-haired Saiyan mocked himself in a whisper, drawing slow, careful breaths. He held very still, waiting for his wounded lungs to stop bleeding, afraid to knock the clots loose again.
And what was this fairness crap? The universe wasn't fair; Raditz had known that since the day he graduated from Guard training. He should have been commissioned in the Royal Guard--it should have been a day of celebration, of triumph, of pride; he should have knelt before the king to receive his commission, with his sponsor Turles standing behind him, and both his mother and father watching....
It should have been the way he'd always dreamed--but when the day came, Kinoko was dead, killed in an ill-fated mission just a month before, and Bardock seemed to resent that his long-haired son lived when she did not. His own father somehow persuaded Turles to send Raditz away from Vegetasei on the very day he should have been commissioned, on a long independent scouting mission worthy of any low-class common soldier. He'd been reassigned as if he had washed out, never to be a Guardsman, forever just a common soldier through no fault or act of his own.
Raditz never learned why or how he offended his father so much; in another bitter twist of fate, the humiliating mission saved his life. Raditz was very far away from Vegetasei when the world met its fate; far enough away to be one of only three survivors. The universe was far from fair--it was random and cruel and hated Saiyans.
Fine. He'd hate the universe back, and treat it like any other enemy: never give in, don't give it a chance, and keep fighting no matter what it threw at him.
Comforting thoughts--but hunger still gnawed at Raditz's stomach, and exhaustion dragged at his limbs. Before he could even think about fixing the pod, Raditz had to have food and sleep. Preferably in that order.
What little real food he could find and thaw was vacuum-dry and tasteless. Raditz was no cook, but he managed: in the galley, he heated a cauldron of water and filled it with whatever meat was handy--after picking out the shattered bits of armor and weapons. It wasn't the tastiest stew he'd ever eaten, but it sated his hunger.
There's something not quite right about this, Raditz thought as he ripped the meat from an arm bone. It should be saltier--especially the Apulian here. They're usually almost too salty to eat, and this one has no taste at all. Weird. What could take the taste out of the meat like that? Raditz shrugged, threw a double handful of salt into the stew, and continued eating.
* * * *
BEEP! The warning tone on Raditz's scouter jerked him awake--
--something crashed into Raditz, a heavy blow to his skull that made his ears ring. Instinctively he reached out to grab and crush; he felt fur and hard muscles bunch and twist against his bare arms. Sharp claws raked his chest as Raditz's attacker evaded his grasp. A fur-covered, heavily muscled tentacle wrapped itself around Raditz's neck and squeezed; claws stabbed into his left arm, slicing it to the bone. Raditz disregarded the sudden pain and slammed his right fist into the furry body that pinned him to the bunk; something cracked under the blow.
A hideous yowl split the air; the tentacle whipped itself free of his neck, and the writhing mass of fur and muscle pinning Raditz down vanished. Raditz heard the soft thud-thud of four padded feet fleeing down the corridor.
"What the hell--?" The urge to cough was strong; Raditz fought it down again and found the compartment light. The former cook's quarters were empty of any life besides Raditz; whatever had attacked the big Saiyan was gone. Raditz donned his scouter and tried to tune it.
"Crud." No matter how he adjusted the instrument, Raditz could pick up nothing definite; range, power level, bearing all seemed to change randomly. "An energy manipulator! It's distorting the readings somehow. Strong, too; anyone else would have been dead with a busted skull and broken neck." Raditz held his bleeding arm and slowly wrapped a bandage around it. "Hell of a wake-up."
* * * *
It took Raditz longer than he expected to roll his tiny pod into a maintenance hangar. It wasn't the distance, or the vacuum--he had planned for that--it was the sheer work. Every time he started breathing hard, he had to stop before he started to cough and tore loose the clots that keep him from drowning in his own blood. The same clots that kept his blood in his arteries and out of his lungs also made Raditz's breathing harder; it didn't take much labor to leave him panting, out-of-breath and ready to start coughing his lungs out again. The spasms in his left arm and the pain in his joints didn't help.
Three times his scouter beeped a warning at him; the maddeningly elusive power had skittered into close range with a high enough power to register an alarm. Each time Raditz stopped his pushing and pulling and looked around, though he could see nothing but blurs beyond a dozen meters. None of the blurs moved that Raditz could see, and nothing attacked, but the short hairs on the back of Raditz's neck prickled. His tail tip twitched uneasily from side to side; something was watching him.
"Come and get me," Raditz growled to whatever might be listening. "I'm hungry for some fresh meat!"
"Heh. Guess it's more goon stew for lunch, then," Raditz remarked. The pod was in the hangar--now all he had to do was find the manuals that would tell him how to fix it and the tools to fix it with. Simple; nothing to it.
Not all the meat was tasteless, Raditz noticed. There was still taste in the intact carcasses; only the shredded, broken-boned ones were oddly lacking in flavor. None of the meat had been eaten in any case--which made no sense to Raditz. Why tear up the corpses after killing them if nothing was needed from them? Ritual mutilation? An atrocity to demoralize the survivors? Raditz's tail tip twitched nervously; something didn't seem quite right about it either way.
Something strange had happened here--and that strangeness had already presumed to attack him. As he gnawed the meat off of a boiled thighbone, Raditz decided to keep his eyes open for more than just the right tech manuals. It might be important.
* * * *
It took Raditz less time than he'd feared to find the tech manuals and tools he needed. The maintenance hangar office was well-organized; Raditz had only to look up the right model number for his pod. The tool cabinets and parts bins were equally well-organized and well-stocked.
This shouldn't take too long, thought Raditz. In the worst case, I just replace everything and it should work. Hmmm...
Raditz blinked in disbelief after he lifted off the access panel on the tiny pod's drive. The inside was blackened and scorched; the damage centered on the primary power supply which was now no more than an burned-out shell. "What the hell?? It looks like it blew up!" That's impossible, he thought; those things just don't explode!
They do if someone shorts the terminals together, a nasty dark suspicion told Raditz. The coldness crept back into his gut. Raditz removed the destroyed power supply and plugged the shore power cable into the tiny pod. As soon as it powered up, and the flashing tell-tales showed that the tiny spaceship's computer was again operating, Raditz started running diagnotics--his way.
"Listen, computer! What was your secondary energy storage level at the moment of malfunction?"
"SECONDARY ENERGY STORAGE LEVEL WAS 2%," answered the computer.
"At what time during the mission did your secondary power drop below, uh, 10%?"
"SECONDARY ENERGY STORAGE LEVEL WAS 2%," answered the computer.
"Huh? Repeat that--no, I heard you." The coldness gathered into a hard knot in Raditz's stomach. It never dropped to 2%? But that means... "Computer, what was secondary energy at when we departed Base #26?"
"SECONDARY ENERGY STORAGE LEVEL WAS 2%," answered the computer.
"Oh, crud." So I was sent out with a drained backup power supply and with the main power supply rigged to blow in mid-flight! Someone wanted me dead--but didn't want to face me, or be caught doing it. Why? Who?
Dyarmin or Curbit--one of those two. I know about their treasure world, and I might talk about it. Raditz stood abruptly and began to pace. But if Dyarmin was going to turn Curbit in to Frieza... No, he might have decided he wanted the pie for himself; if Curbit met with an 'accident', Dyarmin would be in charge without having to reveal Curbit's shennanigins with the treasure world. Or Curbit may have realized his danger, and gotten rid of both me and Dyarmin. Ah, crud! I hate this kind of crap!
Well, I'll know who tried to kill me when I get back--he'll be the survivor, if I've got it figured right. Damn it! I'm not strong enough to kill either of those slimy bastards--and I'll be toast as soon as the bastard responsible finds out he didn't get me the first time. Raditz paced back and forth, his tail lashing angrily behind him.
Unless... he pondered, unless I don't stay long enough for them to set me up again. If Vegeta or Nappa were to send for me on Frieza's business, whoever's left at Base #26 wouldn't dare interfere.... Yes! Raditz smacked one fist into the other.
"Time to make a call," he said aloud as he tuned his scouter to Nappa's private frequency. Raditz tapped the scouter once to open the channel--
--nothing. The long-haired Saiyan tapped his scouter again and stared in disbelief at the readout on his eyepiece. "'No relay available?' What is this crap?"
Raditz stalked over to the maintenance office and searched through the neatly labelled racks until he found a scouter operation manual. It took him only a few minutes of study to find the bit of information he was looking for.
"Uh-huh. So my scouter doesn't have enough power by itself to reach another scouter at interstellar distances--I never knew that!--and it can't find a live pod or spaceship communicator or base station to relay the signal. Huh." Raditz pulled the tiny silver disk out of his scouter's reader and started to toss it back in the drawer he'd gotten it from--and reconsidered. "Might need it again," he muttered.
"Hmmm... I know why my pod's communicator isn't working, but what's wrong with the base's communicator?" Raditz wondered as he started yanking out scorched and blasted parts from his pod. Quickly yet methodically he repaired the tiny pod, referring constantly to the manuals he'd liberated from the maintenance office. Once the pod's energy storage cells were replaced and circuits tested, he set the new cells up to charge, stepped back and stretched. Raditz's joints cracked and popped, his back ached, his chest still hurt, and his head throbbed from the effort of squinting at the readouts on his scouter for hours on end, but by the Rings and Moon!--his pod was FIXED! Now all he had to do was wait until it was fully charged.
Raditz's stomach growled. Okay, that wasn't all he had to do. He had to eat, too. And while he was at it, he might as well find out why the base communicator was offline. And given the tiny trickle of power he was getting out of the base's emergency backup generator, he'd have another night's sleep before he could possibly be ready to leave. Maybe the furry thing with the tentacles would attack him again; Raditz was really hungry for fresh meat.
* * * *
Tasteless, boiled vacuum-dried meat was getting really old, Raditz decided as he chewed and chewed on a strip of meat that hadn't been boiled quite long enough. It was marginally better than starving, but the sooner he got out of here to someplace with Real Food, the better. Where was that furry thing?
Nothing leaped out from under the tables to pounce on him, so Raditz resumed studying the Base Communications Manual. The base's big communicator and sensors were all controlled from the main control room, and Raditz thought he could figure out how to use them.
* * * *
Two hours later, Raditz knew the truth: the base communicator did not work because something had cut the cable to the main antenna. The base's main powerplant might still be working, but something had cut the cable between the powerplant and the main control tower. The base crew had not evacuated because something had destroyed all their pods....
Raditz had stumbled on the watch officer's logs while trying to get the base computer to tell him just why it couldn't activate communications. The last entry was only seven days old; whatever had killed the base so thoroughly had done so only a few days before Raditz's arrival.
As he read through the logs, Raditz determined two things: the attacker was incredibly stealthy and apparently immune to blaster fire. "Or hard to hit," muttered Raditz; he had a very low opinion of the competence of the general run of Frieza's soldiers. Whatever it was, the thing that killed everyone else on base was also cunning; it had systematically cut off communications and escape, then weakened and demoralized the soldiers by destroying the infirmary and cutting power before moving in for the kill. In desperation, the base commander had ordered the emergency decompression of the base, in the hope of suffocating the thing that was killing them in the dark.
The order was the last entry in the log.
"That didn't work so well, did it?" Raditz commented sardonically; he was sure that the midnight predator in fur and tentacles was the thing that had massacred the base. He turned back to earlier log entries. The first hint of the thing had been nine days ago, when a perimeter guard vanished while patrolling the edge of Upper Chlorine Canyon. Upper Chlorine Canyon? Raditz stabbed at a console button and brought up a map on the display.
Ah. Those deep canyons he'd seen from orbit were deep enough to hold atmosphere--a nasty, poisonous mix of chlorine and nitrogen. The upper reaches of one such canyon ran only a few miles from the base. Had something come up out of the canyon to attack the base? If so, why? This base had been here for years; why attack it now?
Raditz went back and forth, trying to find a clue in the log entries. After the first guard vanished, small work parties on the east side of the base--the side nearest the canyon, Raditz noted--started turning up dead, torn to bloody shreds... and according to the doctor's report, something had stripped the potassium ions from their nerves, their muscles, their blood and their very bones.
Raditz's lips curled back in a snarl; he flexed his wounded, aching arm. "Now I know why the meat is so tasteless around here; half the salt's gone." Raditz growled, and surfed through the remaining logs.
He found it. One entry leaped out at him in all its awful significance:
Standard Date 2303.10.57: Party of four given leave to requisition sealed crawler for exploration of Lower Canyon ruins. Departed 0800 hours.
Ruins? Raditz smiled coldly; he knew the mindset of Frieza's goons. They would have been bored mindless on an empty planet like this: no combat, no combat pay, no loot. Probably the base commander had allowed them to go treasure-hunting in the ruins of whatever extinct race once lived on this rock just to keep them from shooting each other out of sheer boredom and frustration. Treasure-hunting and using the local chlorine-breathing lifeforms for target practice would keep them busy and out of trouble.
Too bad they attracted the attention of something much more dangerous than they were. Likewise, someday Dyarmin was going to regret he'd ever attracted Raditz's attention....
PIP! Raditz's scouter alerted him to a nearby power. It was the same power from before, the one that changed and couldn't be pinned down. Damn! The creature was in the main tower with him, somewhere.
"Crap!" Raditz walked quickly for the elevator, trying not to cough, forcing himself not to run; his pod was unprotected! The damn thing had destroyed all their pods; Raditz had worked too hard on his to lose it now.
* * * *
Too late; he was too late. Raditz could see that as he opened the maintenance hangar lock. The pod he'd worked so hard on was scattered in pieces across the hangar floor.
"DAMN YOU LOUSY, STINKING, TAIL-GRABBING BASTARD!" The floor shook as Raditz's power rose explosively; tools vibrated off benches and fell to the floor, only to be followed by heavier cabinets and shelves. Hundreds of long-lost nuts and washers rose from crevices and corners to hover in the air--
--and clinked to the floor as Raditz drew in his gathered power. His scouter pipped gently; his enemy had already fled. "Cowardly beast! Yeah, come and get me--I'll teach you what it means to hunt a Saiyan!"
Raditz cursed as he looked at the ruined pod, a long, drawn-out growl of malediction in the dead Saiyan language. It was not so much damaged as disassembled; the creature hadn't had time to do more than smash one or two large components. There would be spares somewhere in the maintenance hangar--but it would be hours of tedious work to re-assemble the thing. Hand work, manual labor with machines, when there was an enemy to hunt and kill!
If he left the maintenance hangar to hunt the beast, it would give the thing a chance to destroy his pod completely. The hangar had a lot of spare parts, but there were no complete hulls; if his was destroyed, that was it. Raditz growled more curses; he would have to stay with the pod until he launched in it. He couldn't hunt the beast, he couldn't even leave for food! At least there was water in the hangar.
Reluctantly, Raditz began to work on the pod. Doing the same incredibly tedious job over again, knowing all his effort the first time had been for nothing, was the hardest work he knew of. His arms and legs dragged. Raditz felt like he was burdened with two or three times his normal weight, though the only burden was in his weary heart.
Many hours later Raditz slumped in the seat of his almost-repaired pod. Only one thing more remained--hooking up the primary and secondary energy storage--but he couldn't do it. Not yet; he was too tired, too hungry, too injured. His half-blind eyes couldn't hold focus anymore; everytime Raditz tried to squint at the diagrams and parts, everything he saw would split into two images and drift apart. His chest hurt every time he breathed, and he shivered with exhaustion.
Raditz dropped the tools at his feet. He'd lie back in the comfortable seat and rest for just a few minutes--or hours--or forever. Just so long as he got some sleep...
PIIP! The scouter's alarm jerked Raditz out of his sound sleep. Something--the creature--was very close! He still couldn't get an exact fix on it; its power level fluctuated too much.
Raditz kicked out with his right foot, slamming open the half-closed pod door and rolled out as it sprang open. A black blur lept over the pod from behind him and crashed into Raditz--
Teeth and claws scraped across Raditz's armor but got no purchase; he brought his knee up abruptly, catching the coeurl in its ribs. Two black tentacles as thick as hawsers snaked around Raditz's body; he quickly grabbed them just below where the ends split into limber fingers, one in each big hand. The tentacles writhed and twisted vainly in Raditz's grasp; the big Saiyan grinned wickedly as the coeurl raked just as futilely at his ki-reinforced armor. A fell light glittered in the cat-like creature's eyes as it snarled in Raditz's face and lunged for his throat.
Even as it did so, Raditz ducked his chin and butted the coeurl full in its face. It yowled like some huge cat and slammed Raditz's neck with the broad of one powerful forepaw--powerful Saiyan muscles shrugged off the shattering blow. Raditz rolled, still holding the powerful tentacles away from his body, and brought his knees down on the coeurl as he twisted it beneath him. It yowled again, and thrashed wildly under him, trying to escape--
--Raditz twisted and yanked at the tentacle tips caught in his hands, flinging the coeurl away from him; one slipped out of his grasp as the coeurl hurtled through the air. As the coeurl's full mass hit the tentacle still gripped in Raditz's right hand, the big Saiyan twisted and snapped it viciously.
The coeurl howled as it landed halfway across the hangar; the bloody tip of one tentacle remained in Raditz's hand. The long-haired Saiyan smirked as he tossed away the maimed cluster of tentacle-fingers.
"Not what you were expecting? Just wait a moment--I've got even more surprises for you!"
Ki surged through him in the old familiar way; Raditz seized hold of the power and hurled at the black blur crouched on the hangar floor.
KZAACK--phiissh? His blast vanished! Right when it should have hit the creature, his ki blast just vanished into nothingness! He hadn't missed; if he had, the blast would have blown something else up. What the hell--?
"AAARRRRGGGH!!" Raditz's whole body convulsed painfully as a massive electrical shock coursed through the metal floor and up into his legs. He fell, only to convulse again as the charge surged through him. The coeurl bounded across the floor toward Raditz, the electrical shock fading away in the instant of its movement.
Racking coughs tore through Raditz; the painful, electrically-induced convulsions had dislodged the clotted grue in his lungs. He braced himself on his hands and knees, coughing up black clots of blood--and the coeurl jumped on Raditz again.
Raditz was knocked sprawling to skid across the floor until abruptly halted by hitting a hard metal parts bin. Bright red blood frothed from his mouth and nose as Raditz's lungs bled again. The coeurl, seething with strange energies, tore into Raditz; this time, it dug into armor that heated, grew brittle, and shattered under the beast's claws.
Raditz rolled, turning his exposed belly to the floor; the coeurl wrapped one hawser-thick tentacle around the Saiyan's neck and squeezed. Claws raked and tore the armor off Raditz's thighs--and a flailing, taloned foot slashed across Raditz's tail.
Raditz couldn't scream past the tentacle choking him; he could only pull weakly at the thing with the last of his strength. Powerful claws pulled at Raditz's hair, trying to find exposed flesh to slash and tear, but were defeated by the immense mass of stiff, spiky hair. He whipped his own tail out from under the angry coeurl and snagged one of the coeurl's legs with the supple limb.
He yanked the leg out straight and held it there. The coeurl twisted, trying to pull itself free from the grip on its rear ankle, trying to claw the base of Raditz's tail. The black spots were back in front of his eyes as Raditz forced his battered body to its knees, one hand holding the choking tentacle from tightening further, ignoring the painful slashes across his back and buttocks. The creature's own belly was pressed against the base of Raditz's tail, keeping it from doing any significant damage to that tail.
Pain stabbed Raditz in the back of the neck as the coeurl sank its sharp teeth into Raditz's neck and shoulder--only the thick, corded muscles and the thicker mass of hair there saved Raditz from having his head torn off. Sharp claws slashed the long-haired Saiyan's back--but the long, long hair padded the blows; the great paws slipped off the mass of hair, for the moment unable to reach through the hair to sink deep into Raditz's back. Raditz got one knee under him and half-rose; his head pounded ominously, and blackness swam in front of his eyes.
Raditz suddenly heaved himself up, and threw himself onto his back, coming down on the coeurl with all his weight. Several hundred pounds of Saiyan muscle and bone slammed the coeurl into the metal floor; bones cracked. The coeurl's grip loosened from the sudden shock--ki flared in Raditz's hand and the coeurl howled as Raditz ripped the cleanly-severed tentacle away from his neck.
The coeurl writhed out from under the big Saiyan and bolted; Raditz rolled aside and coughed red froth out of his lungs. The coeurl ran, fleeing blindly as Raditz held himself very still, arms wrapped around his chest, until the bleeding stopped. After a while, Raditz realized he was still breathing, if barely--one lung was drowned in blood, and the other was very close.
"A Saiyan never gives up," Raditz whispered, not daring to force more than a whisper's worth of air through his lungs.
...Bardock righted himself and landed lightly on his feet a few yards away. Raditz dragged himself to his feet, panting heavily. The long-haired boy crouched, on guard and ready for the next move, glaring angrily at his father all the while.
Suddenly Bardock grinned. "What happened to 'I can't possibly beat you?' Have you learned yet? Do you know why a Saiyan never gives up?"
"Huh?" The battered young Saiyan blinked at his father. "Because it's cowardly? Because the enemy will just kill you anyway?"
Bardock snorted in disgust. "Sometimes I think all that hair overheats your brain. Do you kill everyone you get in a fight with? I hadn't noticed that many bodies lying around. Think before you answer: if you're not a coward, and you're going to give up, when do you give up?"
Raditz opened his mouth to answer, and then thought better of it. He frowned, thinking. "If I'm not a coward, I wouldn't give up until I knew I couldn't win the fight," the young warrior said slowly.
Bardock folded his arms. "But if you wait too long to be sure, you might be dead first."
"Yeah..." Raditz pondered, "but I'd give up as soon as I knew the enemy was tougher than me, then."
Bardock smirked. "You're always tougher than you think--ALWAYS! Now do you know why a Saiyan never gives up?"
Raditz stared at his father, shocked by sudden understanding. "Be-because if you give up, you'll lose when you might have won! You'll only be as strong as you think you are, and you'll never find out how strong you really are if you always give up when you think you've had it!"
Bardock's only answer was a slow smile. "Come on, Raditz. Let's see if Kin's got something left for us to eat..."
"I didn't give up. I even..." Raditz sighed and dragged himself over to the pod, the coeurl's tentacle still gripped in one hand. "...got some fresh meat out of it."
* * * *
Raditz licked the last of the salty, tangy blood off his hands and wiped the few remaining scraps of black, leathery hide off his lap before standing. The wounded creature had not returned; perhaps it would never return. Raditz had injured it badly.
No; that was a fool's dream. Something had driven or lured the creature into attacking and massacring the entire base; something had led it to attack Raditz repeatedly. Either it was starving, or Raditz and the others somehow threatened it...
It would be back--and he would be lucky survive another ambush like the last one. No; he was a Saiyan, and a Saiyan did not wait around to be killed. Only one thing to do now.... Raditz padded across the metal floor; the trail of blood was easy to follow. Through airlocks and down corridors, into ducts and through holes ripped through armorplast walls Raditz followed the trail. When the visible bloodstains petered out, he followed the rich, tangy smell of the creature's blood and fear in the air and on the walls....
His hearing was getting better; Raditz could hear the soft "thip-thip" of his booted feet padding along the deck. He hadn't kept track of the time, but it must have been two or three days since his disasterous landing--time enough and meals enough for damaged eardrums to heal.
The creature's trail led him down the long access tunnel to the main power plant. He paused at the main access hatch, listening. Silence; only the incessant whispering of the fans reached his ears. Raditz turned on his scouter. It pipped and beeped, showing the elusive, here-and-there energies of the creature. Yes; it was down here somewhere. Raditz smiled coldly and opened the hatch.
The outer shell of the reactor dominated the hemispherical room; from the white dome, coolant pipes radiated in all directions like the legs of a gigantic pale spider. Somewhere below Raditz's feet generators murmured, a steady vibration that set Raditz's teeth on edge. His scouter continued to beep randomly; Raditz turned it off.
His nostrils flared; somewhere in this jungle of pipes and conduits lurked his attacker. Raditz could smell its fear--and something more. He raised his head and sniffed the air, a wild beast scenting the wind. Yes! That tantalizing scent wafted from somewhere above...
Raditz climbed quickly up the access ladder to the control housing at the top of the dome. He grimaced at the necessity; if it weren't for his wounded lungs--
The scent was stronger up here. What, and where? Ah! Guided by the scent, Raditz noted the torn-out access panel. Inside the mechanism, then. He crouched, ready to smash and break, grab and tear and crush whatever lurked inside, and stepped through the hole.
Nothing attacked him. The light was dimmer, much dimmer inside, but the Saiyan's eyes rapidly adjusted. He squinted, trying to make out the details of the black mass tucked in amid control rods and gears.
"Well, well--now I know why the beast is so hungry," Raditz smirked--and whirled as the coeurl attacked!
The big Saiyan dodged the coeurl's leap even as his fist slammed solidly into the cat-thing's jaw, shattering it with a sound like breaking bricks. The coeurl crashed helplessly into an electrical panel, smashing it open; sparks flew momentarily, then vanished; thin tendrils lining the cat-thing's ears fluttered and waved--
Raditz tackled the coeurl, locking one powerful arm around its head and neck as he hammered the creature's ribs with his other fist. The coeurl clawed at Raditz, but to no avail as the big Saiyan forced the coeurl's head down to the floor; his right knee and body pinned the creature's body against the wall, it could not break free of his deadly grip. The end came swiftly--Raditz clamped his free hand around the coeurl's muzzle, shifted the arm that was locked around the beast's neck, braced himself, and twisted.
KRAK! The coeurl shuddered; a wave of power seemed to pulse out of the creature, shaking the deck and causing Raditz's hair to stand up--and it fell limp. The coeurl was dead.
* * * *
It didn't take very long to re-charge his pod's energy storage once Raditz reconnected main power to the rest of the base. Diagnostics checked out; his pod was ready to launch. Only two more things to do...
Raditz tapped his scouter on and tuned it to Nappa's private frequency. This time, there was a live pod to relay the signal, and he got through.
"...so I'll meet you there and give you a full report after I get out of the tank at Base 26. I think Prince Vegeta might find it interesting, too. Over."
Nappa's voice crackled in Raditz's ear, full of the usual intimidation and dark threats about Raditz's fate if he was wasting the Prince's time. Raditz smirked; he wasn't worried. Prince Vegeta would be interested in the malfeasance and weakness displayed by some of Frieza's key commanders; he would be more than interested in learning how a cunning animal had single-handedly annihilated one of the dreaded Frieza's bases... and there was the treasure world, too.
That took care of one thing. Raditz glanced down at the extra packages for Base #26; pack those up, and he was ready to go.
* * * *
Dyarmin was waiting for Raditz as the medical techs helped him out of the pod. "Give me your report now, Raditz--I won't have time to get it from you once you're out of the tank. You have orders to report to Lord Frieza as soon as you're healed." The blue man's nose wrinkled in distaste. "Vegeta himself relayed the orders to me," he said, wiping his hands against his thigh armor as if there was something nasty stuck to them.
Raditz's eyes narrowed above the oxygen mask that one of the medical techs was holding to his face. So, Dyarmin was the survivor. "S'posed to report to Curbit," Raditz whispered, slurring his words as if barely conscious.
Dyarmin gave him a nasty smile and brushed a strand of dark green hair away from his face. "Curbit died while you were away. There was a recycling system malfunction and his nutrient bath got contaminated with some of the chemicals--you know how nasty those catalysts can be to living tissue--tch, I guess an ignorant monkey like you wouldn't know, would you? If it's not fighting, you Saiyans can't understand it anyway." He smirked and examined his aquamarine fingernails. "Well?"
"Pod broke down on the way back; lost air.... found some strange stuff on t'other planet," Raditz slurred, his eyelids drooping. "Brought back...."
"Brought back what?" Dyarmin shouted as he pushed a medical technician aside and bent down close to Raditz's face. "What did you bring back?"
"...brought back..." Raditz's whole body slumped; the other technician rushed back to help his partner lower the collapsing Saiyan onto a gurney.
"DAMN YOU!" Dyarmin grabbed Raditz by his chest armor and shook him. "Don't you dare pass out on me!"
Raditz's eyes flicked open again and stared puzzedly at Dyarmin. "...brought back sample for th' boss... in pod..." One hand flopped down and fluttered in the direction of the grounded pod. "Careful... they're special." His eyes fell shut and his body relaxed completely.
Dyarmin released his grip and wiped his hand off on his armor. He turned to glare at the technicians. "Well?"
One of them shook his head. "He's out completely. You won't be able to talk to him until he's out of the tank--if he makes it."
Dyarmin snorted. "Take him away, then. I know what I need to, for now." He turned to the maintenance technicians, never noticing the glint from underneath Raditz's long eyelashes. "You, there--clear the landing area and bring this pod in to the hangar now!"
A little while later Dyarmin contemplated the two oddly sealed boxes he'd found in the pod, wedged in on either side of the seat. What had Raditz found on the second planet? Perhaps it was a good thing the long-haired monkey had made it back--having to explain to Frieza that he, Dyarmin had lost the monkey just when Frieza had sent for it might have been... difficult. But what had he found? There wasn't supposed to be anything worth mentioning on that planet, but something had caught the Saiyan's interest.... Trembling with suppressed excitement, Dyarmin started to open the first box.
* * * *
A few hours later, Raditz shook the last of the regeneration fluid out of his long hair, stretched, and took a deep breath. Rings and Moon, it felt good to be able to do that without coughing his lungs up and choking to death!
The two medics eyed him warily. "Master Raditz, how are you feeling? The damage should be completely healed," asked the older of the two.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Raditz said, yawning lazily as he stretched some more.
The younger, or perhaps just smaller, of the two humanoids presented a set of armor. "Your new armor, sir. Ummm..."
"Yeah?" Raditz asked as he pulled the torso armor over his head. Of all Frieza's goons and flunkies, the medics were the only ones Raditz tolerated.
"They said you had a malfunction in your spaceship--and the medical computer does report decompression damage--but what could tear up your armor and cut up a Saiyan warrior like that?" The younger medic's eyes were wide with awe.
Raditz smirked as he pulled on the rest of his armor. "Oh, you'll find out all about it in a few days."
The older technician looked quizzically at Raditz. "You mean when your full report gets filed?"
"Something like that," Raditz said jauntily as he picked up his scouter and headed for the door.
* * *
"See my orders? Good. Now, why don't I see a pod?" Raditz growled at the launch control officer.
The purplish amphibian blinked at him nervously. "Uh, we didn't get any orders yet--must be an oversight. I'll take care of it right now! Take Number 3; it's ready to go." The slightly moist, slimy alien punched up numbers on the control console with the fingers of one webbed hand. "As soon as you latch down, I'll launch you."
"Good." Raditz swung open the hatch and climbed in; as he did so, the lights outside flickered briefly. "Perrfect," Raditz purred as he reached up to pull the hatch down. He stopped abruptly.
"Almost forgot," he muttered. "Hey, computer! Systems check!"
Lights blinked for a few seconds. "POD 18434 LEVEL 1 DIAGNOSTICS RESULTS: ALL SYSTEMS PASS. PRIMARY ENERGY STORAGE 100%. SECONDARY ENERGY STORAGE 100%. HULL INTEGRITY: 100%"
Raditz grinned and dogged the hatch down. "Sounds good to me! Ready for launch."
CHU-CHUNK! The launching catapult tossed Raditz's pod high into the atmosphere; its thrusters ignited well above the base, carrying him into space and on his way to Base 79 and his fellow Saiyans. Below him, lights flickered and went out across Base 26.
Raditz leaned back and relaxed; it was so much less crowded without the two coeurl kittens under his elbows. Raditz smirked; he hoped that Dyarmin enjoyed his present. He'd put a lot of work into getting the creatures home: spoon-feeding them potassium salts while keeping them from eating him; teaching them to understand his language while keeping them from eating him; and finally, while still keeping them from eating him, instructing them on how their mother had destroyed an entire base without getting caught. It had kept the long voyage back from getting tedious.
Raditz wondered what would happen when someone finally went to see why Base #29 stopped communicating. The other three kittens should make things interesting. As it was, things should be getting interesting back on Base #26 about now...
Disclaimer: Dragonball, Dragonball Z and all the associated DBZ characters (too numerous to list) are the property of Akira Toriyama and a whole lot of other people who are not me; a bunch of other characters belong to others, see . for details. Everyone else is mine, and this story is mine, too. This is a not-for-profit work.
Copyright 2000,2001 by Dragoness Eclectic
Last Updated: Dec 2, 2001; most recent version at ..