To give credit where credit is due: Thank you Akira Toriyama for creating a world with sexy aliens and balls that grant wishes. Also, to Suzanne Collins, author of "The Hunger Games", for initially inspiring the plot for this story.
Yeah, I took some liberties with the opening of DBZ, but just bear with me. This is an AU fic, rating will be raised as the story goes on. You have been forewarned. Let me know what you think.
Her eyes were empty as she watched the graffiti elapse between bridges. The fog had surrendered to the dawn and the early glimmers of sun reflected off the cracked concrete, flashing crude, colorful art and the occasional vulgar word.
It seemed silly now to think of Chikyuu as a corrupted place after all that had been exposed the short forty-eight hours that had passed. To say they'd been hellish would be an understatement.
Bulma released a sigh, feeling her chest expand as she rid her body of the stale air of the train car and stepped out into the early morning breeze. She could see the smog drifting into the already grey sky and smell the stench of fish. This was a fishing port, after all. Though the young woman was well aware of this fact, it didn't stop her nose from crinkling in disgust.
Glancing down at the radar in her hands, she began her journey in the direction of the dot flashing at the edge of the green, gridded screen. Five of the remaining orbs were packed securely in her satchel, and she subconsciously fingered them as she quickened her pace. The seventh ball had been fastened to young Gohan's hat. After she'd secured this one there'd at least be a glimmer of hope. She didn't have much to offer her planet or her loved ones, but she could do this in her sleep.
No one spared her a second glance, and she knew they had no idea what things like a Dragon Radar or Dragon Balls were and would thus have no interest in taking them from her. Though it didn't stop her from tucking a gun inside her coat, just in case.
No, the people bustling around her, smiling ignorantly and chatting excitedly, were blissfully unaware of the impending doom their planet faced. They had no idea that two days ago her closest friends had felt a ki so powerful it terrified even the strongest man on the planet. They had no idea that this man had come to see if his brother had succeeded in destroying Chikyuu. They had no idea that aliens existed, that they were a threat to their very existence at that moment. They had no idea that the threat was such that their once oldest enemy, Piccolo, was now an ally or that the man responsible for keeping them alive so many times before was a descent of this race set out to annihilate them.
Bulma already been exposed to so much. As a young girl she had learned truth to the mysteries of the universe many believed to be mere fantasy. She had been aware that there was more out there long ago, and yet even she felt a tightening in her throat and fear lurching in the pit of her stomach at the threat of alien murders. Though she'd rather be terrified in the midst of the action than playing dumb on the sidelines any day.
"Aha," she smiled, glancing down a ravine. "There you are, little bugger."
Fishing through her bag, she tossed down Capsule #36, and the smoke diminished to reveal a shiny, black hover bike. Brushing an errant tress of aquamarine from her eyes, she swung her leg over the bike and dove nose first into the canyon.
The stench of fish grew stronger as she descended, and she cursed her friends. "The things I do for you boys! And they're not even the least bit grateful. A simple 'thank you' now and then wouldn't kill you!"
Stopping abruptly at the bottom of the gorge, she hoped off her bike and once again studied the radar.
"Twenty paces forward and," she glanced down at a pile of rocks, "And once again, the dirty work's left to Bulma." Tossing aside a few rocks, she blew another stray hair away from her face. She wiped her hands on her pants, frowning as her sweaty palms left a trail of grime on the material. A few more rocks were tossed carelessly behind her when a glimmer of orange caught the sun's rays, the gleam nearly blinding her.
"Aha!" She retrieved the Dragon Ball from the pile of rocks and held it an arm's length in front of her. "Wow Bulma. Beauty and brains? I just hope those idiots can keep us alive long enough for the universe to appreciate your talents."
She smiled at her skewed reflection in the orb before stuffing it into her satchel and hoping back on her bike.
Deciding to forgo another train ride, her bike levitated out of the canyon and she zipped full speed in the direction of her friends. Though she was unable to sense ki, she knew exactly where they were gathering at this very moment.
"Hey," a short, bald man said, cupping his hands above his thick brows. "It's Bulma!"
"Huh?" A young boy said, running to stand by the older man's side. He squinted and his face suddenly brightened. "Hey, Krillin's right! Alright, it's Bulma!"
The bike landed soundlessly on the stable platform, and the blue haired woman hoped off, smiling at the two short males in front of her. "Hey guys!"
"Hi-ya Bulma," Krillin said, a smile betraying his serious expression. "Boy is it good to see you."
"Yeah," she said, opening her satchel. "I brought the Dragon Balls, just in case. Hey, Gohan, where's your dad?"
"Uh," Gohan watched as the woman placed the balls on the floor of the Lookout. "He should be here soon."
As if on cue, two powerful men landed behind the trio. Bulma turned and studied the pair of aliens, one an old enemy of theirs and the other her oldest friend. Together they were quite possibly the only chance they had for survival. Her jaw shifted nervously, it was a slim chance, she could feel it.
"Dad! Piccalo!" Gohan laughed. "Tien and Chiaotzu are with Kami right now."
"Where's Yamcha?" Bulma asked, glancing down at the young warrior. Though her on-and-off relationship with the man was currently sour, she couldn't help but worry about him.
"He'll be here," Krillin said. "Yajirobe, too."
Bulma frowned. "Don't tell me that good-for-nothing jerk is planning on fighting," she crossed her arms, "for once."
"I'm not sure Bulma," Goku shrugged. "But I'm betting we can use all the help we can get."
"Are you sure he said to meet at noon?" Piccolo asked, arms crossed and expression stoic.
"Yes," Goku nodded, eyes narrowing slightly. "Raditz was very clear that if we wanted to live, we should meet him at his ship at noon. Is everyone sure they're in? I only fought him briefly and I don't know what my chances are against him…"
"We're in, Goku," Krillin said, fists pressed tightly at his side. "If we're going down, we're at least going down with a fight."
A silence settled between the group, the bright sun and blue sky eerily cheery for what was quite possibly their planet's final day. The sound of echoing footsteps pulled the silent warriors out of their daze, and Kami, Tien, and Chiaotzu joined them outside on the platform. As they approached, Yamcha and Yajirobe descended onto the Lookout with echoing thuds.
"Sorry I'm late," Yamcha grinned. "Hope I didn't miss anything."
Bulma frowned at him but remained silent as Yajirobe raised a burlap sack in the air, gaining the group's attention. "Senzu Beans from Korin. There's only four."
Kami stared off into the distance, hand gripping his staff. "It should be plenty."
Goku nodded. "I guess this is it. We should probably get going."
"Good luck to you, young friends," Kami said, eyes still drawn to some point in the seemingly endless blue sky.
The group began to take to the air as Bulma mounted her bike.
"Woa, Bulma, where do you think you're going?"
Her brows knitted above narrowed, blue eyes. "I'm coming with you guys, Yamcha. Don't think you can just abandon me because I'm a girl."
"Bulma, it's not because you're a girl," Goku said, scratching the back of his neck nervously. He knew the wrath of subduing 'girl-power' well enough from the past four years of living with his wife, ChiChi. However, it just wasn't safe. "It's got nothing to do with that. You're just not strong enough."
Yajirobe tucked the bag into his belt and shrugged, "Face it babe, you're a liability."
First compressed before her, Bulma fumed. "Ug! I've done ten times more than most of you saving the planet in the past! And this is the thanks I get? I want to be there to see the proposition that alien puts on the table. If it's going to, I at least want to know how the world ends."
"Bulma," Yamcha took a step towards her, placing his hand on her shoulder. "Please, just stay. For me?"
Letting out a defeated sigh, Bulma twisted away from his grip and crossed her arms over her chest. She felt every bit the spoilt child she looked. Damn these men if they thought they could be rid of her that easily. She watched her friends go, take into the air one by one and fly until they became small pinpoints in the distance. She couldn't distinguish one from the other, but she felt anger equally towards them all. How could they? After all she'd done for them, for their home!
Kami sent her a side gaze and frowned, "They are just trying to keep you safe."
Bulma's angry expression faltered. "Yes. It's just frustrating, that's all."
"One day, when the time is right, you'll have your chance to protect Chikyuu and they will honor you with the respect you deserve."
She wasn't quite sure what the proper response to such a comment coming from Kami was, so she bent at the waist and thanked him. She watched the dots shrink in the distance until she could make them out no longer.
"Maybe that day is today, Kami-sama."
He watched her swing her leg back over her bike and shoot one last apologetic glance in his direction. With a nod, enough of a confirmation for her actions, Bulma whipped her head around and flew in the direction her friends had disappeared.
Who knew, if Kami was right, this may be her last chance.
This small, rocky island settled on the edge of some forgotten coast was the setting for where the planet's best defenses could very likely have met their end. It was the same place that, just two short days ago, the warriors had felt a strange ki approaching. The newcomer had seemed ready to do battle, power level at its height. However, it had more to do with his inability to suppress his ki than with his want to initiate a fight. Not that he, or any true Saiyan, really, would back down at the chance. However, the longhaired stranger studied the group of seemingly rag-tag forces before him, many literally shaking in their boots, and his gaze caught the strong, serious expression of his long lost brother.
He smirked. He may have lost most of what made him when he hit his head as a child, but his strength, even suppressed, was obvious. It was the look of confidence and his firm stance, however, which made his brother proud. Like a true Saiyan warrior, he thought.
"I had originally come to see if you had succeeded your mission," Raditz spoke, disgust in his eyes as he studied the sorry excuses for warriors. "But now it seems there's been a change of plans. We're going to need some allies, if you're up for it."
"Allies?" Krillin asked, mostly to himself. "And here I thought we'd be battling to the death…"
"Lord Frieza's Planet Trade Organization has been making enemies across the universe and his less loyal soldiers are growing weary and restless. There are many itching for a fight, and he's taken notice of this." Raditz sighed, it seemed the group before him were unaware of who Frieza was and hadn't a clue about his empire. Chikyuu ignorance was really starting to grate his nerves… "He's created a tournament on the recently conquered planet Ceirus, it's been wiped of all intelligent life and is now the setting for the Intergalactic Battle Royale."
Behind a boulder, Bulma tried her hardest to stifle a giggle. Intergalactic Battle Royale? It sounded like a cheap Chikyuu-jin action flick. She could see herself lounging on the couch watching it air alongside old Sci-Fi channel reruns. Trying to reassure herself of the seriousness of the situation, she still had to muffle her laughter with her palm.
"Hm," Goku grinned. "Sounds fun."
Raditz chuckled. "Spoken like a true Saiyan. The prospect of a tournament to the death is quite exciting, no?"
"To…" Yamcha blinked. "The death?"
"Of course. It's not child's play, weakling. The tournament will last until there is only one standing, or unless the final two players are from the same planet.
"Each planet is allowed two representatives. There is an initial lottery, but they may also take volunteers."
"Alright!" Goku said, "I'll let you guys go, and I'll volunteer!"
Raditz frowned, "There are more rules, Kakarot."
Goku shrugged. "We'll be fine. Besides, if we don't make it, Bulma's already gathered the Dragon Balls. It'll be fun."
Scratching his head, Krillin wasn't sure if 'fun' was the word to describe it. He was far from a coward, but the prospect of dying a painful death didn't exactly appeal to him.
"What does the winner get?" Yajirobe asked.
A grin crossed the Saiyans features, causing several of the warriors to shudder. "The winner gets a one-on-one battle with Freiza."
Tien and Chiaotzu exchanged a glance, not really sure that was something they wanted. Though Goku nodded eagerly. "Alright. He's the one you told us about, the one who's going around destroying innocent planets, right?"
Radtiz felt a tightening in his chest, the anger boiling in the pit of his stomach. "Yes. He's the monster who destroyed our home, annihilated our people."
The warriors studied their leader, the strongest on the planet by far, but was he really that confident that he could defeat the strongest in the universe? Though his motives were good, as they always were, Bulma frowned from her place behind the boulder. Her fists compressed, knuckles white from the strain.
Wouldn't it be easier to just make a wish on the already neatly gathered Dragon Balls? For immortality or a reduction of Frieza's power? She frowned, they wouldn't support her, she knew, not when Goku was spurting words like 'fun', but it seemed like such an easy solution. Not everyone could be a levelheaded genius like her… No, she had been gifted reckless, often idiotic friends. From her hiding pace, she rolled her eyes but remained silent. Her presence would not have been appreciated, and, frankly, Raditz scared the piss out of her.
"Well then," Raditz said, clicking a button on his forest green scouter. "Should I alert the capitol that Chikyuu will be entering two contestants in the tournament?"
When the warriors mumbled varying degrees of affirmation, Raditz opened a small computer-like device and his large fingers flittered across the screen. Bulma shifted her position so she could peer around the large rock, blood pounding so hard she could feel the thickness of reverberating in her ears. "Be brave Bulma," she muttered to herself, her own personal mantra.
The beefy Saiyan's attention returned to the men before him and smirked, "You're all in, and the winner is," pausing for dramatic effect he chuckled darkly. "Well I'll be damned, the little half-breed."
Gohan swallowed audibly and his terrified eyes jumped from his uncle to his father. "But … dad … I don't want to fight."
"Don't worry son," Goku said, placing a comforting hand on his son's small shoulder. "I'll be there with you. We're quite a pair, I know we'll do just fine."
"Goku," Tien snapped. "You're being irrational. He's just a kid."
"And ten time stronger than most of us," Piccolo butted in, eyes focused on the small Saiyan. "He's father's right, he'll be fine."
The blood rose to Gohan's cheeks as he stared at the somber Namekian. "You really think so, Piccolo?"
"You're strong Gohan, this will be good practice on learning to control your power."
"Idiots," Raditz mumbled. "Gohan has been entered into the tournament."
"And I volunteer for the second spot," Goku said.
The deep, throaty chuckle caused the human warriors to blink.
"You Chikyuu-jins are too hasty. I told you to listen to the rules, but you were overly confident. Consider this a lesson on the workings of the universe. Each planet is only allowed to enter two contestants in the Intergalactic Battle Royale. One male and one female. Equal opportunity and all that," he finished with a sly smile.
Goku shot a terrified glance towards his brother, and then his composure completely melted as he studied his son. The young boy stood terrified, the words of his biological uncle sinking in.
"No!" A voice shouted, shocking the men who had been unaware of her tiny power level just meters from where they stood. The blue haired woman ran towards them, abandoning her hiding place with a desperate look. "I'll do it. I volunteer."
"Bulma…" Yamcha's eyes widened. "You can't. Please, you'll only get yourself killed."
"I'm the only chance Gohan has," she stood her ground, expression pleading as she looked at Goku. "You said it yourself, I'm the most resourceful person you know. I can keep us safe. You can't expect Gohan to go in alone."
"I," Goku looked at his oldest friend and then to his trembling son, who was staring wide-eyed at Bulma. "ChiChi's going to kill me…."
Bulma broke a grin, "Tell her the smartest woman in the world is tutoring him. It's a small compensation for having her four-year-old son in a to-the-death tournament, but you know Chi, her logic is flawed."
Goku stared at the woman and let out a defeated sigh. She had proved to be quite an ally to him, and the adventures of their younger years wouldn't have been possible without her. If there was one woman who could keep Gohan out of harms way, it was Bulma.
"Alright," he nodded, turning towards Raditz who grinned.
"A half-breed brat and a powerless woman," shaking his head, he swept his hand over the screen once more. "It is done."
Goku stepped forward and embraced Bulma, who whispered in his ear so low only he and Piccolo could have heard. "Goku, if anything should happen to the both of us, bring Gohan back first, okay? A year in the afterlife won't kill me, right?" She forced smile at her own feeble attempt to crack a joke.
Releasing her, Goku nodded meekly. "Be safe."
She grinned at the small boy and squeezed his tiny hand in her own delicate one.
"Miss Bulma," Gohan asked, blinking up at the genius with a nervous frown. "You're not really going to make me do homework, are you?"
The gang broke out into laughter and Bulma's eyes betrayed a genuine smile, one of the last they might have until this hellish tournament they had willingly tossed themselves into was over and the odd duo returned safely home.