Percussion
Prologue


per·cus·sion (pə'kaʃən) n.: The sound, vibration, or shock caused by the striking together of two objects.


December 9, 783 A.D.

She wanted to be wrong.

The woman stared at the three monitors powered up in front of her, running simulation after simulation. And she desperately wanted to be wrong.

It had been nearly a year since her son had last returned from his journey seventeen years into the past. Nearly a year since her boy, still a teenager, had freed the world from the parade of horrors that had been visited upon them for nearly two decades.

Her scarred, battered world was finally beginning to heal. The damage wrought by the androids during their too-long reign of terror was being repaired. Towns were being rebuilt. Schools, once closed for fear of what could happen to so many children in such an enclosed space, were being reopened. An era of peace had finally descended upon the planet.

And now all that was at risk.

Bulma rubbed her temples, reaching for the mug of tea on her desk. It had long since gone cold, but she didn't care; she desperately needed the caffeine, and wasn't about to head upstairs to brew another pot. Trunks could hardly be trusted to take care of such a task either. The boy may have been both brilliant and preposterously strong, but he was simply a disaster in the kitchen.

The problems had begun a couple of weeks before. The signs were subtle, at first—clocks skipping forward, television and radio signals becoming mixed up, satellite technology inexplicably shorting out. All phenomena that could easily be explained away.

But it wasn't long before the situation began to deteriorate. Truly bizarre occurrences were being reported across the planet. People were receiving phone calls that the person dialing could swear they had not made—but were planning on making later. Children would act far older than their ages for several minutes at a time, only to revert to their typical behavior without any memory of their uncharacteristic words and actions. Adults would regress, only to find themselves similarly unaware of their bizarre conduct when they returned to normal.

Bulma had noted the strange events taking place around her with some interest, suspicions beginning to build. The gears in her mind were turning, but it certainly didn't appear to be a crisis. At least, not yet.

Soon enough, these issues were manifesting themselves far more dramatically. Witnesses to armed standoffs claimed to have seen men dying from gunshots seconds before the bullet had been fired. The major local newspaper had printed a story about a car crash that would not take place for several hours, in excruciating detail and with complete accuracy.

The problem could no longer be ignored. Which was why Bulma had, despite Trunks' protests and offers of assistance, been locked in her lab for the past three days. Every simulation she completed, and every compilation she ran, led her to the same horrifying conclusion.

The time stream itself had become destabilized.

Bulma had spent nearly ten years developing and perfecting her time machine. Even Trunks' final return from the past had not ended her tinkering. She had made the time machine's controls more sophisticated and precise, all while making it more energy efficient. If her calculations were correct—and they always were—the machine should be able to make two, perhaps even three, round trips prior to being refueled.

This all, of course, took an enormous amount of research. She had contacted the most brilliant physicists on the planet, learning all she could about the potential to manipulate space-time. In doing so, she had gleaned a great deal of information about the time stream.

She found out, for instance, that magical energy—something about which she, as a scientist, understood very little—could interfere with the timeline, possibly having some destabilizing effects. The major source of magical energy on planet Earth, as far as she knew, had been the Dragonballs. Those had long since turned to stone; Piccolo's death all those years ago had sealed their fate.

Bulma sighed to herself sadly. She wished for what must have been the thousandth time that she had managed to save her space pods from the androids' many rampages. Perhaps, if she were able to retrieve the coordinates for New Namek, those ships could have taken her to the last remaining set of Dragonballs. If she could somehow access Porunga, she would be able to revive Shenlong and, with the Earth's dragon, bring back all their fallen comrades.

Vegeta, her Vegeta, could see the incredible warrior his "half-breed" son had become.

But such thoughts were useless. Her most sophisticated spacecrafts could not make the journey to the Namekians' home world; neither she nor her father had ever been able to match the Saiyan technology that had first brought both Vegeta and Goku to this planet.

Her wishes were an exercise in futility.

Bulma shook her head, forcing herself to take another sip of the chilly tea and turning her attention back to her computer screens.

The point was, the primary source of magical energy that she could think of was long-gone. When she had shared her thoughts with her son, Trunks responded that there could be some other source hidden on the planet somewhere. Bulma thought that was unlikely. In any event, she had no idea how she could trace such a thing.

There was another possibility. She knew that, by sending Trunks back in time, she had effectively fractured the time stream. Given what Trunks had told her about Cell and Dr. Gero's other creations, it seemed that yet more timelines had splintered off. That, rather than some outside influence, could have been an aggravating factor, if not the cause.

Of course, this was all guesswork.

Bulma let out a weary sigh, plugging in another set of data and allowing the simulations to run. She couldn't help but wonder if she hadn't put her whole world at risk, all in the vague hope of finally eliminating those damn androids.

No, Bulma thought to herself, refusing to become distracted by those traitorous, guilt-ridden musings. She had done what she thought was right, and it was only in the past year that anything resembling freedom had graced the planet.

A life of fear is worse than no life at all. The thought came unbidden, but she couldn't deny its truth. She understood now what had driven warrior after warrior to sacrifice himself in an unwinnable battle so long ago.

But her world was being rebuilt, now, and it was worth saving.

Bulma was at her wit's end. Scientific research was never easy, but for the first time in her life, she truly didn't know where to begin.

She glanced back toward the long counter at the other side of her basement laboratory. There sat the small capsule that contained her ever-improving time machine. Despite the fact that she had come up with numerous upgrades over the past year, she had fervently hoped she wouldn't have to use it.

This was a huge risk. She knew that she could actually be contributing to the problem by orchestrating yet another journey into the past.

Though she felt increasingly like a hamster in a wheel, she would continue her research in the present. Meanwhile, her son would have to look for clues in the past. Perhaps he could get her father's—and her own younger counterpart's—help.

A cold feeling sank to the pit of her stomach. She would have to put her own eighteen-year-old son in harm's way yet again. It wasn't that he wouldn't go willingly, enthusiastically even. No, the teenager's unflinching bravery just made this all the more painful.

Trunks had given more than enough. Yet she would have to ask her boy to once more return to the reality that he had helped preserve, that was everything their own world could never again be.

She finally rose from her desk chair, striding across the room and grabbing the small capsule. She swiftly climbed the stairs to the house's main floor, opening the door. She slipped outside into the warm, sunlit afternoon. Beyond her backyard, she could hear the whirr of tractors working on yet another construction, or perhaps reconstruction, project.

Bulma unclenched her long, slender fingers, once again taking in the sight of the tiny capsule. After a moment's hesitation, she pressed down on the small button at the top, tossing it to the ground as it expanded into her revolutionary device. Scrawled on the side in black spraypaint sat her paltry attempt at inspiration.

"HOPE"

She turned back inside. Her son had been in his room, more than likely preparing for his next foray into the past. As her own timeline continued to flicker, she couldn't help but wonder if he would make it back this time around.

The grinding and cracking of new earth being broken echoed down the block. She could make out the sound of laughter around the front of her house; children were playing outside, no longer haunted by the ever-present possibility of an android assault.

Some risks were worth taking.