Disclaimer: I don't own Dragonball Z, or any of the characters featured therein; they belong to Akira Toriyama and whoever he's decided to share them with.
Author's Notes: This chapter…is a silly chapter.
.Last time: Bulma and Puar got a bit serious for a change, discussing the difficulties of having relationships with saiyans. The team finally made it to Planet Tech-Tech, where they met Tarble and Gure, and Bulma began the task of trying to get Tarble's half-saiyan, half-tech-tech computer to run compatibly with Red Station's systems.
Eighteen stood still and examined her reflection in the mirror. She looked at the shape of her body, straight and narrow, and shifted her weight to the right so that her hip was jutting out. She set her right hand atop the hip bone, allowing herself to adjust to the impractical stance. She was off balance and taxing her body unevenly. Frowning, she took a step forward with her left leg, careful to watch the swing of her hip as she planted her foot and allowed her weight to shift again. Another step, and the right hip returned to prominence, but something about the move wasn't quite what she wanted it to be.
She felt curiously unnatural, and the sensation had nothing to do with her test-tube origins.
Eighteen turned and stalked back to the far side of her bedroom, where she took up position across from the full-length mirror again. She stood in her customary stance, back ramrod straight, shoulders level, and arms hanging down at rest along her sides. Then she tried emulating Bulma's stance once more – that ergonomic nightmare of shifted hips and unevenly distributed weight.
Perhaps it was her lack of curves, Eighteen thought as she placed her hand on her waist. Bulma's hand typically rested a little lower, right where her hips flared out, but on Eighteen's boyish figure, the stance looked awkward. With her hand a little higher, Eighteen created the illusion of an hourglass. But she couldn't have her hands on her waist all the time, could she? She shook her head at the thought, one sharp jolt of the chin, and relaxed into her own, more naturally rigid posture as she looked about the room.
Her eyes settled on a thin, black belt, carelessly tossed over the back of a chair, and she snatched it up and cinched it high, just below her ribcage. There, that was a bit better. It didn't quite go with her outfit but it would do for the moment, she thought, and she'd just have to dress with more care in the future.
Satisfied, Eighteen posed in front of the mirror again and walked forward with purposefully swinging hips. When she hit the mirror, she turned and walked back, then posed herself for another round.
Bulma yawned and knocked back the last of the coffee from her mug, forgetting that it had been easily fifteen minutes since her last lukewarm sip. The cold, filmy brew slithered its way down her throat and she grimaced and smacked her lips against the feel of it. "Uck," she grunted and set the mug back down with a clonk and another yawn. She wondered who she could call and bully into delivering a fresh cup of coffee. Maybe a whole new pot, she amended, looking at the mess spread across the desk before her. She'd been up fiddling with Tarble's computer for most of the night, unaccustomed as she was to Planet Tech-Tech's local time. She was used to odd hours, but landing planetside in a time zone wildly incongruent with what the ship's residents had been running on was always especially disconcerting. The fall of dark on Planet Tech-Tech had felt to Bulma and the others like midafternoon and the middle of the night had felt like bedtime. As a consequence, it was almost noon, local time, and many of Red's crew members were still snoring away. Bulma would still have been tucked up cozily in her bed, if not for the impatient saiyan she shared it with.
Oh well, she was nearly done anyway. She'd fashioned a plug with the right voltage that would connect the computer into Red Station's systems. All she had to do was set permissions to allow the unknown computer access to a video screen. Bulma crossed her fingers and hoped that her systems would be able to recognize their boxy new friend.
"Well, time to give you a shot," Bulma said, patting Tarble's computer affectionately. She picked up the connector cable she'd slaved over and plugged the newly formed end into the back of the pseudo-saiyan machine before running the other end around the back and into one of the ports on her own system. Bulma held her breath and pushed the power button, confident but still sending up a prayer to the computer gods that she'd done everything right. A few seconds went by, the little light on the front came on, and she heard disc whirring into action, like music to her ears. "Whew," she let the air from her lungs in a relieved whoosh. Her own computer sensed the foreign drive and Bulma grinned as the access permissions dialogue box sprang up on the screen. She spun her chair back into place, plopping down into it in a move less than graceful, and cracked her knuckles before setting long fingers to the keyboard. A few minutes of clacking keys later, a pleasant chime heralded her success and the screen filled with the strange, stark characters she's seen scrawled in Gohan's notebooks.
"I am a genius," she said aloud to herself as she pulled up the intercom and selected the gravity chamber's feed. She really wanted to play and poke around in the last archives of saiyan history, but the language barrier was an insurmountable issue. "Vegeta," she said once the intercom had become active, "some brilliant person has fixed your tiny-keyboard problem for you. Get your butt to my lab. And bring coffee!"
The Vegeta that showed up a few minutes later was not of the caffeine-bearing variety, and though Bulma had never actually expected it, she was disappointed nonetheless. Vegeta was impervious to the sulky glare she shot him; his mind was in turmoil enough to have ruined his mood and he had no patience for any problems but his own. Bulma saw the tense set of his shoulders and rolled her eyes. It was time to make the best of a bad situation.
"Ta da!" Bulma spread her arms and brandished jazz hands she hadn't used since being forced by her mother to join a peppy dance group at the age of twelve. It had been an effort to feminize her tomboyish daughter by introducing her to girls her own age, and it had not gone well.
Bulma narrowed her eyes as Vegeta swept past her and dropped his royal posterior right in her chair. He sat rigidly, his fists clenched on the desk before him, and Bulma felt the first stirrings of unease tingling in her fingertips. She watched his eyes scan the screen, flickering back and forth over this connection with his past, and realized for the first time that Vegeta might desire privacy. She shifted from foot to foot in a parody of a child's pee-dance, her curiosity at war with the combined forces of caffeine addiction and tact.
Vegeta did not notice her slip out, engrossed as he was in the words on the computer screen. It was nothing profound, simply a menu of the disk's contents, but merely seeing it, this record of the people that had once been his, was jarring. It was years since he'd last accessed the information that was Tarble's inheritance, and it had not gotten any easier. As a young man, he'd looked on with something akin to hope, though too tinged by bitterness to truly be called such. Some small part of his mind yearned to find something different, a secret code from the king, meant only for the younger Vegeta's eyes.
He was let down every time, and with every disappointment that bright piece of himself became smaller and smaller, burying itself deeper away from consciousness.
By saiyan standards Vegeta was still young, would be in his prime for a few more decades, at least, but every time he looked at the documents, he felt like an old man pining for years gone by. The childish hopes were gone now, and even the sense of connection was fading as Vegeta became more and more aware that these words had likely not even come from his father, but from some unknown technical worker. Sending Tarble off with the discs had been the equivalent of abandoning a baby with a set of encyclopaedias and expecting it to grow up with an understanding of its birth culture.
That was not completely true.
Vegeta's fingers twitched and the mouse hovered over the first file on the screen. Without entirely intending to, he snarled aloud. After the sound had left him, he was not sure if it had signalled despair or defiance. He clicked the file and prepared himself as it queued up.
The video quality was poor and the camera shook every few seconds, jolted with the planet itself as Vegetasei was bombarded with bombs and ki blasts, but when his parents' faces came into view, Vegeta could see them in his mind, clear as day. They were frowning into the camera, silent and stoic as though the castle was not crumbling around them.
Vegeta knew the following scene like he knew his own ki. This was the proof of Frieza's betrayal; on his first visit to planet Tech-Tech he'd watched it over and over, till his eyes were so dry that he could not blink. Then he'd met Nappa and Radditz for a spar and beat the living hell out of them before watching the video a few more times.
"Tarble," King Vegeta spoke in Saiyan, obviously trusting that the pod's education systems had done their job and imparted his son with at least a rudimentary understanding of the language. "If you are watching this recording, it means Frieza has succeeded and we are dead."
Vegeta shut the video off with a quick shake of his head, as though he could shed the images like a beast shaking away water. He did not want to watch any more. Resolutely, he dove into the web of files to find what he was looking for.
He searched for the relevant medical files first. Bulma and Sixteen would not be able to use them in their current form, but once Vegeta found them, he would pass them off to Nappa or Radditz for translation into Standard. Once that was done, Vegeta would be free to look for the information he was after. A feeling something like dread curled in his stomach; he needed the truth, but he didn't particularly want to see it, either.
Gohan's voice, small and trembling, sprang unbidden into Vegeta's mind. "He flickered," the child had said, wide eyed and cautious but sure in his belief. Vegeta remembered the surges of power, knew that his subjects and every damn warrior on this cursed ship had felt them all too, and knew that the theory had credence.
Fucking Kakarrot. Wasting away by the day, and yet somehow, some way, he seemed to have managed to tap into the power of the legendary. Irritation coursed through Vegeta's veins, causing his skin to prickle as each hair on his body stood to attention. His tail puffed out to three times its normal size and he allowed it to unfurl from its customary position around his waist to twist and flick behind his chair.
It didn't make sense. Kakarrot was a weakling, a third class runt whose saiyan instincts had been obliterated along with his early memories by a simple bonk to the head. His power level, respectable by the broad standards of a universe that held beings like Bulma and Gure, was paltry in saiyan terms. It did not even come close to approaching what Vegeta's had been the first time his body had attempted to cross the threshold into Super Saiyan.
And yet Gohan was a reliable soldier, with no reason to make up such a wild story. The kid was not lying, that much was for sure. Though Vegeta desperately wanted to doubt what he had been told, he knew Gohan to be possessed of strong senses and sharp wits. If Gohan said that his father had flickered, then Kakarrot had almost certainly done so.
Abruptly, Vegeta shot out of his chair with enough force to send it rolling backward, where it knocked into a piled tower of boxes with a muted thud. He stood, chest heaving and fingers twitching, as he fought with the sudden rage that had exploded like a million fireworks behind his eyes. A vein in his forehead bulged with the effort and his left eye twitched as he thought of the third class' stupid, grinning face. Kakarrot, despite his blood, was not even a true saiyan; he had no business approaching the transformation, no right to that which was most revered by his people.
Vegeta closed his eyes and pulled a few breaths into his nostrils, drawing the air deep down into the very bottoms of his lungs and holding it there until stars swam in his field of vision. He let loose a great, frustrated sigh and resumed normal breathing as a very tiny bit of the tension in his body drained away.
It was better than nothing.
Vegeta walked over to the wayward wheelie chair, which sat dejectedly in the shadow of the piled boxes like a rejected puppy. He grabbed it by the backrest and dragged it across the floor, one jammed wheel squeaking in protest of his rough treatment. Vegeta felt the little scrap of tension sneaking back into his muscles at the grating sound. He ground his teeth and sat resolutely down in front of the computer again. It had gone into standby and he jiggled the mouse to clear the screensaver, a ridiculous animation of shooting stars, as though Bulma could not simply look out a porthole and see the same thing most of the time.
Vegeta resumed his search through the system's files, pulling everything he could find that might be relevant to Kakarrot's peculiar presentation of the Wasting. The data was extensive in scope, and Vegeta was relieved that he would not be the one stuck working with Sixteen to weed out and translate applicable information.
"Pain in the ass," Vegeta muttered aloud as the list of tagged files grew longer and longer. Though he loathed the idea of pulling them from their training, both Nappa and Radditz would have to be drafted to this monumental task. He could pull Tarble, too, but Vegeta wasn't sure Gohan's saiyan skills would be quite up to the task of translating some of the complicated medical material. He would leave it to Nappa to make that call. It was a shame that the infant language training Kakarrot must have received in his pod had obviously been knocked out of his head with the rest of his saiyan-ness; the third-class dolt wouldn't even be able to help them.
Vegeta shook his head in disgust and tagged another file with a relevant-sounding name.
Krillin let his breath out slowly as he shifted his foot just so, and turned his upper body. His left arm swung out in an exquisitely controlled arc, his wrist rotating in time so that when his arm was finally straight out in front of him, his palm faced the sky. He splayed his fingers out and curled them back in, forming a fist that he drew back toward his body before lifting his left foot in a slow motion kick. He felt his core tighten and his hip flexor strained as he lifted the leg higher and higher, body leaning to the right to accommodate the slow change in balance.
Krillin paused as he heard footsteps crunching along the nearby gravel path. Paired up with the complete absence of ki, he knew that it must be one of the androids. Cracking open an eye, Krillin peered down the hill, through a sparse stand of trees, to see Eighteen walking down the path.
Well...if one could rightly call what she was doing walking.
Eighteen passed beneath the hill and Krillin crept down into the trees to watch her. There was something wrong with the way her body was moving, and a sudden flash of terror rode like a wave over him. Was it possible that there was some Ginyu-like creature on this planet? Was it even possible to inhabit an android's body? Ginyu had failed when it came to trying to possess Dr. Gero, but the old scientist had been entirely mechanical aside from the pulsing brain hidden beneath his hat. Eighteen and her twin straddled a blurry line between machine and man.
"Calm down, Krillin," the diminutive warrior murmured to himself as he peered around a peeling, papery tree trunk at Eighteen's back. Her upper body was rigid as usual, with shoulders held stiffly back, neck straight and proud. It was her bottom half that was concerning, Krillin realized as he crept closer to try and analyze what was so off-putting. Her hips swung violently from side to side with each step, and each time she planted a foot, it looked as though she would fall over. The whole effect was disconcerting, like watching a life-sized marionette with an iron rod for a spine.
Krillin raced parallel to the path, floating through the trees with ease and keeping his ki as suppressed as he could. The androids were still learning to sense power levels, and for the first time Krillin was pleased that they were so bad at it. Eighteen hadn't noticed him yet and he intended to keep it that way for a little longer. He knew he would be fine as long as his ki did not make any sudden jumps.
Once he'd gotten a few hundred feet ahead of Eighteen, Krillin slowed and found a new hiding place. He watched her come around the corner with her hands planted high on her waist. He frowned as he watched her feet pick out the awkward, unnatural moves, her legs reminiscent of a horse trained to dance.
Krillin squinted through the trees as she came closer and closer. He focused on her face, visible now. Her features were smooth but for a small furrow between her lowered eyebrows, which for an android signalled intense concentration.
Would a body snatcher not have learned to walk first before attempting to go about in public?
Krillin took a deep breath and stepped out onto the path. Eighteen stopped moving and her face smoothed into its typical porcelain perfection as she looked at him. "Krillin," she said, and her body resumed its normal perfect posture and gait for a few paces before she huffed a small breath, stopped and replaced her hands on her waist.
Eighteen stepped forward, swinging her rear end as far out to one side as she could manage without falling over. Krillin watched in puzzlement as she repeated the move on her other leg, back and forth in the worst parody of feminine appeal that he had ever seen.
"Um...hi Eighteen," Krillin said, scratching the back of his head as she came to a triumphant stop before him. "What are you doing?"
"I am going to the village," Eighteen said, and Krillin noticed that her hands were still planted firmly below her ribcage.
"No, I mean...um," Krillin floundered for a second before he remembered that there was almost nothing in the world he could say that would offend the taciturn woman before him. "Uh, you're walking...different than normal."
"Yes. I have been studying how to walk in a more womanly manner."
"Oh..." Krillin tried to keep a neutral face. If he laughed at her, she would want to know why, and then he'd have to tell her she looked ridiculous, waddling about like a landed albatross. "Why?"
Eighteen looked at Krillin for a long moment, plainly unsure of how to answer this question. "I am attempting to emulate the mannerisms and movements of those around me," she said, finally. She removed her hands from the tight, cinching hold they had at her waist, and ran her palms over her slim hips. "Like Bulma. But I am finding it difficult. I am not built the same way."
Krillin couldn't help the dopey smile that spread across his face. "I think you're perfect just the way you are," he said, before he could stop himself. A normal human woman would probably have blushed and fawned, but not Eighteen.
"Oh," she said, and stared at him.
"I mean, uh, oh geez." Krillin flushed and jammed his fidgeting hands into his pockets. "Women, all people actually, are built all kinds of ways."
"Like you are very short?" Eighteen asked, and Krillin could have cried.
"Yep," he said, mustering false cheer. "Exactly like that."
"Hmm," Eighteen hummed, and when she started walking again, it was with her usual stickman gait. She looked unhappy about it.
"You know…um," Krillin hurried to her side, "if you want to walk more…more like Bulma, I could show you how." His face was completely red and he couldn't believe what he was offering to do. Eighteen didn't seem to think it was weird at all.
"Okay, c'mere," Krillin said, warming to the idea. He grabbed her hand and pulled her onto a flat stretch of grass beside the gravel path. "One second." He darted toward the trees, broke off a branch, and used it to gouge a long, straight line in the earth. "You have to walk along this, putting your feet one in front of the other so they're always on the line. Go ahead and try."
Eighteen studied the line for a moment, as though assessing an enemy, before stepping up to one end. She did as she was told, but instead of adopting the natural sway of a catwalk model's hips, hers remained still and stiff as she concentrated on the placement of her feet. "It's not working," she told him, glaring as she reached the end of the line.
"That's because you're not allowing your body to flow smoothly. Think about how you move when you fight; your torso doesn't stay rigid just because you're kicking instead of punching. You have to let the movement affect your whole body. Watch me." Krillin stepped up to the line himself, took long steps, and sashayed like a supermodel down the line. A foot from the end, a piercing wolf whistle cut through the air. He jumped and turned, horrified, to see Radditz, with Puar clinging to his shoulder, both grinning like idiots.
"Hoo mama, shake that thing down my way!" Radditz called as he came closer. "Carry on, sweet cheeks, we would hate to disturb you."
"What are you doing?" Puar asked, unable to contain his giggles as Radditz moved further up the path toward the impromptu catwalk.
"Krillin is teaching me to walk like a woman," Eighteen said, matter of fact, completely unaware of what Radditz and Puar found so amusing. "He is a good teacher."
"Is he ever!" Radditz winked at Krillin and gave a little shake of his own hips.
"And where did Krillin learn to walk like a woman?" Puar laughed, swatting Radditz gently on the side of the head.
"Oh god," Krillin moaned, smacking his palm to his forehead and dragging it downward over his face and chin. How did he get himself into these dumb situations? "My girlfriend…ex girlfriend," he amended, glancing sideways at Eighteen, "was a model. Well, trying to be. She was more of a cheerleader at the time…" he trailed off as Radditz goggled disbelievingly.
"Nice!" the big saiyan held out his hand for a fist bump, which Krillin half-heartedly returned.
"Yeah, she was ok," Krillin rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment and looked at the ground. He thought of Marron, with her bubbly personality and killer curves, and smiled. She'd been a great girl. Dumb as a sack of bricks, but kind and sweet, and in love with him. Breaking up with her had been one of his greatest regrets. In the years since Earth's destruction, Krillin had often thought that if only they'd still been together, she might have been on Capsule 1 along with the rest of his friends.
Looking at Eighteen made him feel a guilty sort of relief that Marron was gone.
"Krillin!" Eighteen snapped, and he whirled away from Radditz and Puar to face her. She was standing with her arms crossed, looking as irritated as Krillin had ever seen her…which still didn't appear to be all that much. She whipped an arm out and pointed at the line. "Show me again."
"Oh no," Krillin dared a glance at his bemused audience and felt the heat flare up from his cheeks into the tops of his ears, "do I have to?"
"C'mon little dude." Radditz gave Krillin a 'friendly' shove toward the line, which sent him stumbling several feet. "You don't disappoint a piece like that, man."
Krillin clenched his teeth and his fists, fighting the urge to turn tail and run. This was just another battle, and he was no coward; it had been a long time since he had run from a fight. "Okay!" he yelled, clapping his hands together as though about to enter into a spar. "Prepare to be wowed!" His hands came apart in a wide arc and settled on his hips. One ankle flexed, his heel coming up off the ground as his knee bent and his pelvis shifted to the side. He stepped forward, heel, toe, heel toe, little gi-clad butt swishing from side to side. Radditz howled and stuck his tongue out in mock-pant. When Krillin hit the end of the line, he spun on one foot and executed a deep, showy bow.
"I have to admit, that's impressive. It took me ages to learn to walk like that," Puar said, clapping his little paws together. "It's hard to get that hip thing down."
"You never walk like that for me," Radditz muttered, at the same time as Eighteen was asking, "How did you master it?"
At this, Puar blushed beneath his fur and glanced sideways at Radditz. While Radditz could be dealt with easily in private, Eighteen was staring expectantly at him as she waited for an answer. "I had to learn," his shrill voice was higher in embarrassment, for shape-shifting. Yamcha...uh, he used to help." Puar covered his furry little face with both front paws and squeaked out the rest of his answer without looking at anyone. "He used to put his hands on my hips and guide me along."
"I'd kill him if he wasn't already dead," Radditz growled. They'd discussed Yamcha before, and the idea never sat well with Radditz, no matter how many times Puar insisted that there had never been anything more than friendship there.
"He was...well, let's just say he liked to watch women move. He knew how they were supposed to look." Puar winced as Radditz cracked his knuckles loudly, threatening the ghost that hung between them.
Krillin laughed. "Yeah, that was our Yamcha. God, if I had a zenni for every time Bulma caught him staring at some girl...used to drive her absolutely bonkers."
"I think that was half the reason he did it." Puar grinned and sighed happily as he remembered his old friend. "She was such a terrible flirt back in those days and they were always trying to one-up each other."
"Was? Still is," Krillin said without malice, knowing that Bulma would be shameless till the day she died. She might not like to admit it, but Bulma was more like her mother than she realized.
"Krillin," Eighteen commanded, disrupting the reminiscence, "come and help me." She pointed at her own hips and waited, expectantly.
"Wh...what?" The flush that covered Krillin's face spread down to his neck and chest, blooming in his panic to become a shade of red heretofore unknown in the universe. He could not do that.
"I'll do it!" Raddiz volunteered, earning himself a swipe to the side of the head from his kitty boyfriend.
"NO!" Krillin gasped in a strangled voice, and though it didn't seem possible, the skin of his face became even hotter, a burning hue that was beginning to verge on purple. Radditz grinned and Krillin realized he'd walked right into it.
"Krillin, there is something wrong with your face." Eighteen cocked her head and frowned. "Are you ill? Do you have a fever?"
"N...no. No, I'm fine." Krillin squeezed his eyes shut and waved frantically at his cheeks for a few awkward seconds, trying to cool them down. He drew in a deep breath and mustered up every relaxation technique he'd ever learned in his many years at the monastery. When he felt a little calmer and a few degrees cooler, he opened his eyes, swallowed his reservations, and made his way toward Eighteen. His legs felt stiff and heavy, as though the air around him had suddenly been replaced with water.
"Come on Radditz, get a move on," Puar said, nudging his saiyan ride into motion. He smiled as Krillin shot him a grateful look. "You were called back to the ship twenty minutes ago. Vegeta will have your head."
Eighteen waited patiently for Krillin to settle his hands on her hips. She gave no outward sign of understanding his awkwardness, and for that he was grateful. She was such an innocent, Krillin thought, as his palms burned against her jeans. He felt like a Roshi-grade pervert.
It wasn't like he'd only dated hardened, world-wise women. Marron had been as innocent as they came, with her "the sun is always shining somewhere" attitude and gullible nature, but she'd understood men and women. Eighteen was a completely different animal. She didn't have the same bubbly, childlike quality that had defined Marron, but there was something so fundamentally guileless about Eighteen, something pure that he was wary of sullying.
But oh god, did he ever want to.
Krillin felt as though his palms were going to melt right through Eighteen's jeans, but he stared resolutely at the small of her back and willed his eyes not to slide lower. "Okay, ready," he said, and Eighteen took off like a racehorse from the line, Krillin clinging to her backside for dear life. "Whoa! Hold up!" he shouted, hooking his fingers into her belt loops and tugging her to a stop. She did so, abruptly, and Krillin's whole body tingled as he smacked into her from behind. "L...Let's go a little slower, okay? And uh...you don't need to swing so far from side to side. Try again."
Bulma shoved the door of the common room open with her shoulder, yelping as she nearly lost control of the dishes stacked precariously in her hands. In a flash, two saiyans were on their feet and to the rescue – not to save her, but the snacks she carried.
"Damn, Bulma, that's enough to give a guy a heart attack," Radditz grumbled, relieving her of one large tray.
"Yes Radditz, I'm fine. Thank you for caring," Bulma grumbled as Nappa took the other. He grunted, but she wasn't quite fluent in Nappa-ese and couldn't tell if it was in thanks, acknowledgement, apology, or dismissal. Frankly, she didn't care. "So how are the translations coming?" Bulma asked, stepping inside the door and making room for Gure to follow. Tarble smiled at his wife from the other side of the room, where he shared a couch with Gohan. After a few hours spent alone in Bulma's lab, Vegeta had emerged with an enormous stack of paper printouts, all requiring translation. He'd then disappeared promptly back inside in order to continue with his own research.
"It's going okay," Gohan said as he hopped off the couch and stretched his back out, waiting for a turn at the trays of food.
"It's boring as fuck," Radditz added flippantly, around a mouthful of cheese. "Heart problems or no, I'd trade places with Kakarott right now if I could. Lucky bugger can't read any of this."
"I can hardly read any of this," Gohan said, anxious and frustrated. Bulma noticed that even as he waited for his turn to eat, he still clutched a piece of paper tightly in his fist, obviously reluctant to stop working. Bulma understood completely; Goku's fate might depend on what information she and Sixteen could unearth from the pile, and they couldn't even begin to look until a reasonable amount had been translated from Saiyan into Standard. Gohan, never having had the benefit of the saiyans' in-pod language training programs, was the least fluent in the group. That, combined with his personal proximity to the patient, meant he was probably feeling the most pressure.
"I'm sure you guys will make loads of progress once you've got some food into you." Bulma turned to Gure, who was still standing hesitantly in the doorway, and gestured her forward. Eyes wide, Gure darted up to the table with her stack of plates, set them down, and practically jumped back out of the way, as though she expected the saiyans to rush the table.
Reasonable expectation, actually.
"It's coming along," Tarble said, kindly. "Gohan has been doing some of the basic work and flagging things for further translation. The medical terminology makes this more difficult than it would otherwise be."
Gohan offered the tiny prince a smile of appreciation, and Bulma could see that despite the others' misgivings, Gohan was beginning to like Tarble very much. His soft, eager-to-please demeanor made him seem much more human than saiyan, like Goku.
"Well, Sixteen and I appreciate it all," Bulma said. "I'm certain that we'll find something helpful before long. Anyway, we'll leave you to it. Enjoy the snacks."
"They seem surprisingly docile, compared to previous visits," Gure said, once they were out the door and she could be sure that she and Bulma were out of saiyan earshot. "You seem to have a good influence."
"Ha!" Bulma laughed. "Yeah right. That in there, that's all Vegeta's doing. Last time I was in charge of them, swear words got melted into the wall of the gravity room and Goku nearly drove a nail through his own foot. They tolerate me," she said, good-naturedly, "because they're too obedient not to."
"I think you probably don't give yourself enough credit," Gure responded, but didn't say any more on the subject. "So may I still see your lab, or will we be disturbing Vegeta too much?"
"Both, probably." Bulma grinned and gestured for Gure to follow her. "I've found that his highness needs the occasional feather-ruffling. It's good for him. But," she added, "maybe let's stop by the kitchen and bring him food too. It can't hurt, and maybe it will draw him away from the computer long enough that I might actually be able to show you something."
Gure blinked incredulously and trailed along. She did not know Vegeta very well, but enough so that Bulma's attitude was a constant shock. Tarble had grown up with a romanticized view of his mysterious older brother, and upon finally meeting him, Gure had mixed feelings about Prince Vegeta of the Late Saiyan Empire. He'd been cold and rude, harder than the rocks beneath their feet. The tech-techs had not known how to deal with him, but over his sparing visits, Gure had learned how to tread around her imperious brother in law. Here he was though, changed again. He did not let his own brother hug him, yet this loud, gregarious, insolent woman had managed to breach his armour.
Secretly, Gure treasured the thought.
It was not that she did not like Vegeta. She was not overfond of him, it was true, but active dislike was something that tech-techs simply didn't do. And Vegeta was family, even if he was self-important, violent, aggressive, and distant. She understood that he cared about his brother's fate, even if that caring was tinged heavily by bitterness and resentment, and beyond that, she understood that caring about anybody was difficult for someone with Vegeta's background. She thought that he tried, in his own way, and that even though his rejection had left Tarble hurt and frustrated, that rejection had also likely saved her husband's life a thousand times over. Gure loved Tarble; she had ever since she could remember, and if Vegeta one day decided to take his little brother away from Planet Tech-Tech...well, Gure knew the chances she would ever see her husband alive again were slim.
Gure didn't quite understand her own feelings for Vegeta; he was arrogant and rude, and she'd heard stories about him that chilled the blood in her veins, but he hadn't taken Tarble away, and she was grateful to him for that.
Bulma, Gure decided as she followed the fearless human woman into the laboratory, she loved unequivocally.
"Vegeta," Bulma called out as Gure tiptoed along in her wake, "hope you're wearing pants! Gure's with me."
A half-amused, half-irritated snort came from the distance, buried somewhere behind a pile of boxes and something lumpy beneath a bright blue dust-sheet. Bulma skirted the mess easily, pointing out obstacles and potential hazards to Gure as they went deeper into the lab.
"We brought food," Bulma set down a tray of snacks that they'd put together on a quick detour to the kitchens. "Take a break."
Vegeta glared first at her, and then at the tray of food that she'd deliberately set so far away. "I am busy," he said, getting up. "I will eat," he crossed the room, picked up the tray, and pointedly returned to the computer desk with it, "but as usual, you underestimate my ability to perform two tasks simultaneously. We are not all as dimwitted as you."
Eighteen was feeling antsy. She didn't know it, purely because she didn't have the word to associate with the combination of a restless mind and the vague, directionless anxiety that she was experiencing
She didn't like it. She knew that much.
It was something to do with Krillin. Twenty four hours later, she could still feel the pressure of his hands on her hips, rocking them side to side as she moved. He'd been so warm, hot breath coming out hitched and ragged against her back. Her spine tingled in remembrance and somewhere in her abdomen she felt a tightening that she'd come to associate with him.
Eighteen put her hands on her hips, pressing down as though to capture the warmth of Krillin's hands, and exhaled loudly through her nose. Her nipples were hard. She didn't know what that meant. Her breasts ached strangely – not quite in pain – and she couldn't decide whether or not she liked the feeling of her lace bra scratching against them. She didn't know what she wanted.
Eighteen knew about sex. Unlike Sixteen, both she and her twin were capable of procreation, and unlike Seventeen, Eighteen was definitely interested in the subject. She understood the mechanics of her body and the way in which it would need to interact with a compatible male body in order to produce a child. But Eighteen didn't want a child. She just wanted the other part. Or something.
Eighteen sat on her bed and tapped one foot impatiently against the floor. She desperately wanted to talk to the mother, but Bulma had been so busy lately, there hadn't really been a chance. Even now, she was somewhere on the ship with Gure. The two sisters-in-law were remarkably similar in their interests and while Gure was eager to see and discuss Bulma's projects, Bulma was equally eager to show them off.
Eighteen stood abruptly. If she waited for Bulma to have a spare moment in her schedule, she'd be waiting forever. She didn't mind if Gure was around when she asked Bulma about sex. Gure had a husband, too. She would understand. Eighteen stood still for a moment, concentrating hard on finding the piddling energy signal of her mother. It took her several minutes, and yet she was pleased with her progress. For some reason, she and her brother were having a very difficult time mastering the technique. For the other fighters on the ship, sensing energy seemed like second nature; they had to work to ignore all the little frissons of ki going on around them. After hours and hours of training and practice, Eighteen still had to concentrate on picking up a ki signal, and only huge spikes invaded her senses without conscious effort. But progress was progress, and Krillin assured her she would get it eventually.
If Krillin said it, it had to be true.
"Mother," Eighteen burst into the lab, and Bulma looked up in surprise. It had been ages since one of the twins had called her "Mother" to her face. "I must speak with you."
"Um…okay," Bulma said, as she put down the latest model of her ki-absorbing armour plates. She'd been showing Gure her most recent modifications. "Pull up a box," she added, for the lack of chairs. She'd never had so much company on Earth. "Gure, you've met Eighteen, right?"
"Briefly. It will be good to get to know you better." The tech-tech smiled and stuck out her tiny hand. Eighteen looked at it blankly for a second, before she remembered that she was supposed to shake.
"Eighteen is one of Dr. Gero's organic androids," Bulma said, when it became clear that Eighteen was not going to help the introduction along. "She and Seventeen seem to consider me their mother, even though I didn't really have a hand in their creation."
"Remarkable," Gure said, watching as the android shoved a big crate across the floor with no apparent effort. "No one could tell the difference, looking at her."
"So, what's up?" Bulma asked once Eighteen was sitting.
"I need to know about sex," the android said, in her typical deadpan voice, and Bulma watched as Gure's little mouth dropped wide open and her eyes widened to the size of tea saucers.
"Um…Perhaps I should go," the tech-tech made to hop off her chair, but was stopped by Eighteen's hand on her shoulder.
"No, stop. You stay. There is a large size differential between you and your husband, your input may be useful. I need to know how that works."
"Yeah," Bulma looked sideways at poor Gure, whose little cheeks were rapidly darkening to the colour of storm clouds, "how does that work?"
"Oh dear, um, well, oh," Gure stuttered and squirmed, and Bulma laughed aloud at her obvious discomfort.
"It's okay, you don't have to say anything," Bulma put a hand on her sister in law's tiny shoulder and squeezed, smiling kindly. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't laugh. Eighteen," she turned to the android, "it's a bit different when the guy is so much bigger than the girl, I'm sure. You, err, you know how it all works, right?" Bulma made an awkward hand motion, forming a circle with the thumb and forefinger of her left hand, and sticking her right forefinger through it. She was the worst mom.
"Good," Bulma breathed a sigh of relief. "So…Krillin, right?" Bulma hazarded a guess, and Eighteen nodded. Bulma resisted the urge to whistle aloud. The little guy had game. "I'm sure you understand that Krillin being smaller than you is a much easier problem to deal with than if he were much bigger. I mean, it's not like he won't fit."
"Tarble fits," Gure squeaked, still purple. "It's just…a tight fit."
"Nice." Bulma snorted, and Gure clamped her lips together tightly and nodded once, curtly, as though to say yes, it is. "So have you and Krillin…" Bulma trailed off, with meaningfully raised eyebrows.
"Have we what?" Eighteen asked.
"You know…" Bulma waggled her eyebrows some more but Eighteen only stared, waiting for an explanation. "Have you come close to having sex?" she asked, giving up on the pretense of modesty.
"No. Krillin is not aware that I have been thinking about it. I do not understand the mores and etiquette surrounding this topic. It is highly confusing."
"Oh boy, you've got that right. There are no rules, Eighteen. And Krillin would follow you to the ends of the universe and back."
"There is no end of the universe," Eighteen interrupted, and it was Gure's turn to giggle at Bulma.
"It's an expression, Eighteen. It means he thinks you're great."
"So you are saying he will want to have sex with me?"
"Um…yes." Bulma wondered if her own parents had been as at a loss for words when, at sixteen, she'd dragged home a shiftless desert bandit. "You should probably talk to him about that, first."
"This has been informative." Eighteen stood quickly. "Thank you," she said, and then without waiting for a response, spun on her heel and left the laboratory.
"She's…interesting," Gure said a moment later, when they'd heard the whoosh of the lab's automatic door sliding shut.
"She sure is," Bulma agreed. "You'd think I'd know what to do with her, but I have no idea half the time."
"Well," Gure grinned as widely as her tiny mouth would let her, "it appears that she is now Krillin's problem."
"Poor Krillin, he won't know what hit him." Bulma sighed and tapped her fingers against the worktable. She wondered if she should be concerned, but Krillin was a good guy, and she'd seen him around Eighteen; he was head over heels. He wouldn't hurt her. Now Eighteen on the other hand, might just pulverize Krillin's poor little heart into mush without even realizing it.
"Should we warn him?" Gure asked, and to Bulma it sounded like she was only half-kidding.
"I don't think that will help. Eighteen is pretty stubborn," Bulma said, then paused a moment, thinking. "Can I ask you a question? Did you just wake up one day and find out you were Tarble's property? I mean, not like I'm Vegeta's because I'm not. But some days I feel like one minute we were flirting and the next we were basically married. And I thought it was just him, Vegeta's an intense guy, but I'm watching Radditz and Puar do the same thing and I'm curious. Even Goku has gotten weird and territorial over Chichi, and she basically had to trick him into marriage." She paused. "I'm totally babbling. Sorry."
"I don't understand much Saiyan, but from my experience and what Tarble has told me is contained in the disks, I have come to believe that saiyans become attached to their mates through a process very much like imprinting," Gure said, after a moment's thought.
"Imprinting?" Bulma repeated, incredulously. "You mean like how a baby duck figures out who its mom is?"
"I do not know what a duck is," Gure laughed, "but yes, I assume we are talking about the same thing. This is not proven, mind, and I have only my own experience and your anecdotes to base my theory on. For many animals, the first creature they see is ingrained in the mind as "mother", but I have no idea what process causes the imprinting in Saiyans. Tarble is tame compared to the others, but I think intensity in feeling is part of their biology. Perhaps if you think of it that way, you won't be so discomfited by the intensity of Vegeta's bond to you."
"Wait a minute," Bulma eyed Gure as though she were absolutely insane. "Did you just tell me to think of Vegeta like a baby animal?" She laughed. "You have MET him, right?"
"Maybe a vicious baby animal, in Vegeta's case. A baby trillok," Gure amended, referencing a creature like a badger on steroids, with horned armour to boot. It was widely held to be one of the orneriest, most dangerous animals in this corner of the universe.
"Oh god. That sounds about right. My boyfriend, the baby trillok. I'm almost sorry I asked." Bulma leaned back in her chair, causing the backrest to squeak loudly, and dragged a hand over her face. Gure worried, for a moment, that she had offended the human woman, but Bulma's laughter soon proved otherwise. "What's Tarble?"
"Judging by the way you phrased it, he's probably the baby duck."
Thanks for reading.