Author's Notes: First up: I finally got the "The Kakarotte Factor's"
mailing list up and working with substantial assistance from the always-helpful
Skyle. So if you wanna be informed via a short e-mail whenever this fanfic is
updated, just sign up here:
Anyway...that was a rather long gap between chapters, wasn't it? _ Well, in between the holiday influx at work, two new video games (one an RPG—and you know how long those run), and various other uninteresting and ostentatious reasons, I got rather sidetracked. Sorry about that...
On a higher note, I got my first piece of fan art! Yeah, yeah, I can barely believe it either, but in addition to helping me design my ML web page, Skyle also sent in this picture of Male Goku/Female Goku inspired by the fic:
Personally, I think it's pretty good; she actually looks like Goku if he'd been a she. She's a bit too petite, though—I envisioned her being only a few inches shorter than her male counterpart—but otherwise, it's a great visual reference. :) I mean, geez, I still can hardly believe someone actually did some fan art for this thing.
Anyways, thanks as always to everyone who sent in reviews; I really didn't mean that crack about quitting this. I was feeling really overworked at the time. In any case, I really appreciate your encouragement, and I do take to heart what you guys have to say. Well, on with the story...
The Kakarotte Factor
"This is insane," Celipa hissed. She was plodding grudgingly after the Saiyan at the lead of the line, patently ignoring the two strangers behind her. "Bardock won't tolerate any visitors. You know that, Toma."
"Bardock?" Shin queried with modulated mildness. "Is that the name of your commander?"
Celipa huffed impatiently, as though the Supreme Kai were a very small child she were humoring. "Yes," she snapped, then turned back to her male companion. "I'm telling you, Toma. This is absolutely unacceptable. What makes you think that these two are any different from the others?"
Kibito's pointed ears pricked up at the revelation. "There were others?"
"Of course there were. Do you think you were the first?" Celipa shook her head at the hulking man's apparent naïveté. "You'd be surprised at the number of maggots here who'd sell their own children for the slightest bit of information from the commander."
"What you mean, information?" Kibito demanded, and was supremely annoyed with himself for being unable to curtail his own inquisitiveness.
Ahead of them, Toma lifted his broad shoulders. "This is Hell, my friend. And here in this place, the one thing we have so precious little of—besides everything else, that is—is the knowledge of anything that happens outside this place."
Kibito still appeared nonplussed, but the Supreme Kai understood: the dead here could never be granted the satisfaction of watching the Living World pick up the pieces in the wake of their existences. This was Hell, after all, and no one here was supposed to be allowed any sort of closure.
"If I may ask," Shin ventured diplomatically, "how did your commander come across this...skill of his?" He didn't remember Saiyans ever possessing particularly strong clairvoyant tendencies.
"He says it was a Kanassan," Celipa replied. "On the day of his youngest son's birth. We just finished mopping up the place. It would be our second-to-last mission."
Out of the corner of his eye, Shin saw Kibito tense at her narration. He really couldn't blame the taller Kai, however—the Kanassans had been gifted mystics, supposedly having been granted their telepathic powers via some unnamed element that resided within their planet. They had been a peaceful, proactive race, content on using their abilities mostly for mental healing and technological advancement. They had been extinct for decades now, but stories of their extrasensory civilization were still mentioned around the four quadrants of the universe. For Shin and Kibito to realize that they had been walking alongside the Kanassans' butchers all along was a harsh, but needed, reminder to both that the Saiyans, essential as their assistance was to their current dilemma, held little regard for other people's survival.
"There was this Kanassan," Celipa continued, oblivious to the change in the two visitors' demeanors. "The last survivor. Guess he wanted to avenge his race or something, because the fish-faced fool thought he could take us all on. He actually had the balls to ambush our commander from behind—struck him on the back of his skull. We had no choice but to fry the bastard, of course. But before he died, he babbled something about how he'd given Bardock knowledge of the future. We didn't think of it much back then, but that was probably when it all started."
Shin pushed down a sudden swell of anger brought on by a memory of the magnificent Kanassan Star Spire, and said, "What you said earlier—you say there were others who knew about your commander's ability. How?"
"Damned if we know." Toma shrugged. "The other Saiyans believe him insane, anyway. But somehow there were people who found out. One of them was none other than the father of the great Frieza himself."
Kibito stopped walking, but only for a moment: being the last in the line, the others didn't notice, and were liable to leave him behind if he remained stationary for long. "King Cold? King Cold came here?"
Toma's lips quirked upwards at the mauve-skinned man's skepticism. "First he sent a couple of his subordinates to poke around. Of course, we sent them back having reacquainted them with their insides. That was when King Cold decided to pay us a visit himself. The father of Frieza prides himself on knowing everything that's worth knowing—as much as anyone can know anything in this place, anyway. Fed us some line about being here on behalf of his son, and that he had heard about our commander's...abilities. He asked us to take us to him. Actually, more like threatened."
The Saiyan let the unfinished anecdote hang in the air until Shin felt obligated to prod him on: "And?"
"And...I think we were the ones who got to be reacquainted with our insides that time."
Toma chuckled loudly as though reliving a particularly fond memory, leaving Kibito to debate the average Saiyan's sanity levels. Celipa's nostrils flared slightly, whether in suppressed conviviality or indignation, neither Shin nor Kibito were sure.
"I take it he didn't get to meet your commander?" Shin said, his words more perfunctory than anything.
"Of course he didn't," shot back Celipa, tossing her head. Slivers of gold glinted in the weak light—she was wearing earrings, a rather incongruously feminine thing for a hard-edged Saiyan warrior, even a woman, to be sporting. "Do you really think we could be that accommodating after what his son did? Besides, we would rather watch our own planet die all over again than let that bastard turn the commander into one of his lapdogs. He roughed us up, tried to torture us into telling, but we kept our mouths shut. Didn't tell him a damn thing. Finally he gave up and left."
"He wasn't the last, of course," Toma allowed, picking his way through a minor maze of stalagmites. "There were others, hailing from all over Hell. They all wanted to see the commander."
"Because of his hallucina—" Kibito caught Celipa's warning glance and decided to rephrase. "Because of his visions?"
"Yes," Celipa replied shortly.
Shin was very careful to modulate his next question. "Do you really believe that? That your commander can see what happens outside of Hell?"
The female Saiyan seemed incensed by the insinuation; she growled and sped up her stride. Toma's features took on an introspective look, but all he offered was a vague, "Maybe," and left it at that.
From then on they journeyed in silence. Deeper into the cavern the clang and clamor of wretched souls were not as voluble; the atmosphere seemed highlighted by a sulfurous electric-blue glow, the source of which both Kibito and Shin were hard-pressed to locate.
Just as Kibito's brain was beginning to roil with thoughts of impending ambush, the cave floor sloped dramatically downwards. Sprawled out low before them was a sweeping area wreathed in a faint miasma that almost concealed the figures milling about.
Kibito tensed on behalf of himself and the Supreme Kai as two of the figures advanced toward them. They were, perhaps not surprisingly, Saiyans: they were both dressed in the now familiar uniform. The male on the left was a colossus with hair that receded spitefully from his forehead and scalp, leaving a ring of inky spikes around his ears and the back of his head, as well as a melancholy clump that hung across the skin above his naked brow like a hopeless rallying cry. The one on the right was also a male, slightly shorter, with oddly limp—for Saiyan standards, anyway—hair arranged into a bowl cut and a rotund frame that could not obscure the sinew underneath the rolls of fat. The two of them honed in on the trespassers with the usual Saiyan xenophobic accuracy, and proceeded to circle the trespassers with unsettling interest.
"What's this, Celipa?" the corpulent one piped up, his tone unexpectedly bantering. "You picking up strays again?"
The balding one nudged mockingly at the female's shoulder. "Don't you think they're rather a little too old for you to mother?"
Celipa shut them up by burying an elbow into their respective kidneys, deep enough so that the joints were no longer visible. Shin and Kibito winced in involuntary sympathy, but Toma guffawed as though this were a regular occurrence.
"Morons," Celipa hissed as her two victims clutched at their sides. "First of all, I do not have a habit of picking up anyone who looks like they need 'mothering.' And second of all, bringing them here was Toma's idea, not mine."
The two injured Saiyans stared inquiringly at Toma, whose only response was to scratch lazily at the back of his neck with his index finger.
"Aw, Toma, just what the hell were you thinking?" the podgy Saiyan demanded. "You led 'em straight to the commander."
"Yeah, and he's not exactly in the mood to be receiving visitors," seconded his companion.
Kibito was almost relieved by their inhospitality; if they weren't welcome here, then there was no reason he and the Supreme Kai should linger about here any longer. They could leave this sector graciously, and then they could go back up to the less hazardous levels where there were no ill-mannered, planet-decimating delinquents who could mouth off to the Supreme Kai, and then they could see King Yema about the unaccounted-for inmates, and once that was done, they could get out of this damned place and back into the Upperworld where they so rightly belonged...
"Very well," mumbled Kibito, making sure not to appear too enthusiastic as he prepared to go back the way they had came. "I can see that we're not wanted here, so we'll just..."
But Shin, having survived an ungodly amount of one-on-one interactions with Cimmerian celebrities the likes of Cell and Frieza and King Cold, was no longer the shrinking violet he had been during the beginning of this particular sojourn. "We don't mean to cause you any inconvenience," he interjected, and Kibito had to do a reluctant 180-degree spin on his heel, biting the inside of his cheek to keep himself from uttering a groan of disappointment.
The thickset Saiyan appraised the two strangers from head to toe, smoothing the ends of his thin, licorice-like mustache as he did so. "Well, you got that right. You guys don't even look like you'd be able to cause us any kind of real inconvenience."
"Are you here to here to bring us back?" the balding one demanded abruptly. He stalked over toward the two intruders, his hairless brows beetling in suspicion. "If you are, I'm afraid to have to inform you gentlemen that you are going to have to drag us back by force. We are not leaving our commander."
"Relax, Totepo," Toma finally spoke up in Shin's and Kibito's defense. He unfolded his arms, one corner of his lips angling subtly upward. "They're not in league with the ogres. Actually, I don't think they're even in league with anyone in this place."
Totepo drew back a little, but he continued to eye the Supreme Kai and his assistant with unrelenting suspicion. "How certain are you on that, Toma?" he challenged. "Are you forgetting the kinds of people who've been sniffing around here for the commander?"
His comrade chimed in. "Yeah. It ain't even safe for any one who looks like him. I mean, you seen Turles around lately? He looks like he wishes he were dead, the way they've been beating up on him. Just because the guy happens to look almost exactly like Bardock."
"And that green-skinned creature that was knocking here around some time ago," Celipa chimed in, no doubt gratified that she finally had someone on her side. "The one with that horrible needle on the end of his tail. Remember? He nearly broke Pamboukin's jaw with his pinky finger. His pinky finger, damn it."
The corpulent Saiyan stroked his jowls as though contemplating what it would be like to have a shattered mandible.
"He wasn't looking for Bardock," Toma reminded them. "He said he wanted to speak to the father of someone called Son Goku."
It was Shin and Kibito's turn to trade glances, but before either of them could deliberate on the merits of revealing what they knew, yet another Saiyan walked out from the penumbra.
"Well, he was on the right track."
The newcomer was a hulking male wearing a sleeveless, barelegged version of the Saiyan armor. His features were lean, his nose bladelike, and he possessed a truly impressive mane of jet-black locks that extended past his sinewy thighs. His forehead was high, narrowing into a widow's peak that was less pronounced than the Saiyan king's.
" 'Son Goku' is the Earthling name Kakarrot goes by nowadays," he told the other Saiyans, who then fell silent as they assimilated this revelation. The longhaired man turned on the two trespassers, his brows drawing steeply downwards like heavy black inverse checkmarks perched over the belligerent slivers of his eyes. "And who are you?" he growled. "Have you come looking for my father because you can't get your hands on my infamous little brother?"
Kibito edged reflexively in front of the Supreme Kai, but Shin sidled around him and leveled his composed gaze with the rankled Saiyan's.
"You said," he began, "Son Goku is your brother?"
"Ah, so you do know the little traitor." The Saiyan sneered malignantly down at him. "What do you want with Kakarrot this time? No, wait, let me guess—it's revenge. He crossed you in some way and now you want to pay him back by going after Father. That's the way it always is with the esteemed guests in this place."
"We've met your brother, that's true," Shin admitted steadfastly, "but we aren't here on a misplaced mission of revenge against your father. We are merely here to speak to him."
His earnest declaration was met by a round of stares from the Saiyans, some of them curious, all of them outright disbelieving.
"You've met Kakarrot?" Celipa wanted to know.
Toma, oddly enough, was less convinced than she. "That's not possible. Kakarrot was just a baby when..." He trailed off, and Totepo took up for him.
"Don't fall for it. He's lying," fumed the balding Saiyan.
Kibito was tremendously offended in behalf of his master. "How dare you insinuate that! The Supreme Kai never lies!" he roared.
There was a brief pause as the Saiyans regarded him frostily, but it was broken as Pamboukin offered, suddenly: "I just remembered...there was a rumor. I think...it started after that green-skinned psycho arrived here. They said that Kakarrot had been killed. That he was dead."
Celipa glanced at him in irritation. "I thought we agreed," she retorted, her words clipped and curt. "Kakarrot can't be dead. If he were, we would've seen him around here, and we haven't."
"No, you wouldn't have," Shin agreed before he could stop himself. "He went to Heaven."
This time the lull that ensued was longer as the Saiyans tried to digest the fairly implausible idea of a Saiyan actually ending up in Heaven.
But the longhaired man laughed, the noise brusque and cutting. "So Kakarrot got to go to Heaven, eh? It figures. Little brother always was a bleeding-heart do-gooder. His Earthling upbringing made him too soft."
"If that's so, Raditz, then how come the last time you tussled with your baby brother, you were the one who ended up being sent permanently here to the Otherworld?"
The Saiyans seemed only mildly surprised at the new speaker's arrival, but Shin and Kibito were rendered speechless.
Because, barring the Saiyan uniform, the sienna complexion, the angular-edged eyes, the scar imprinted on his left cheek, and the crimson band knotted around his forehead, the man was the splitting image of the Saiyan they knew as Son Goku.
"Bardock!" Pamboukin exclaimed as the one called Raditz scowled unhappily at his boots.
"You're supposed to be meditating," reprimanded Celipa, but there was no real bite in it.
Bardock swept his flinty gaze over the knot of Saiyans and let it alight, finally, on the two strangers.
"I knew you would come," he informed them, and there was a flare of something incomprehensibly close to recognition in his sloe-black eyes. "I was waiting."
With Goku securely ensconced inside one of Valencia's Secret's fitting rooms, Chi-Chi and Bulma were free to concentrate on other things, such as raiding the store for an exorbitant array of undergarments for their new victim to try on. They loitered about in front of her stall, their arms heaped with their frilly selections, merrily prattling away and loftily ignoring the abnormal amount of grunts and thumps issuing from the other side of the dressing room door.
"Panties, Goku," Bulma sang, sorting through a variety of the undergarments in question. "Don't forget—you're going to need panties."
"I'm not going to wear any panties," Goku announced. An unsuspecting young man strolling by the dressing room area came within earshot of her proclamation and promptly crashed into a tastefully set-up lingerie display.
"Oh, come on!" scoffed Bulma, adopting her customary argumentative stance as she prepared to have words with the closed stall door. "What're you going to wear? Your stinky old briefs?"
"No," Goku insisted stubbornly. "I have my boxers."
"Boxers—your boxers?" Bulma held a hand to her heart as though to stave off a coronary. "Boxers are for guys, Goku. Big, beef-eating, manly...guys."
Goku peered defiantly over the top of the stall door, her sneakers hovering some inches off of the floor. "I am a guy!"
Heads popped out of the surrounding stalls like daises after a spring shower, their expressions registering faint alarm. The young man outside did a wobbly pivot on his heels and walked straight into the arms of a bustier-clad mannequin.
"Hell-ooo." Bulma wriggled one end of a heart-patterned g-string at the younger woman. "Do you have a mirror in there? Have you even looked in it? Do you look like the kind of person who should be wearing boxers? No, of course you don't," she declared as Goku opened her mouth to say otherwise. "So here." She chucked a piece of filmy cloth over the stall with the proficiency of one accustomed to flinging unmentionables. "Try this on."
Goku shot her the most hangdog expression she could muster, which was a bit difficult, admittedly, with a striped blue-and-white pair of French-cut panties dangling from the right side of her head. From the look on Bulma's face, though, Goku knew she had no hope. Grudgingly, she divested her hair of the underwear and retreated back into the privacy of her changing room.
"Good girl," Bulma cooed approvingly, and various heads withdrew back to their stalls amidst sympathetic murmurs about current gender-related social pressures and their devastating impacts on poor innocent young women. Outside the unfortunate red-faced young man tried fruitlessly to salvage the ruined display and mannequin despite Bento's dismayed protests, and Chi-Chi and Bulma recommenced their search for underwear appropriate for the newly gender-swapped.
At least, Chi-Chi was.
"Oooh, now this is nice," Bulma commented, admiring a semi-transparent burgundy-colored teddy. She tossed it enthusiastically over the stall door. "Here, Goku, try on this one!"
Goku made a long-suffering groan from the other side, while Chi-Chi goggled at the blue-haired woman.
"Bulma, did you just give my husband a teddy?" she asked incredulously.
Her friend wiggled her eyebrows at her. "Why, yes, I think I just did."
"But it's a teddy." Chi-Chi looked absolutely scandalized. "What's she going to need it for?"
"How should I know?" Bulma sifted through an avalanche of undergarments and held up a princess-seamed chemise for further scrutiny. "Besides, as far as I'm concerned, I'm doing Goku a favor. With that body of hers, pulling that teddy off should be a breeze."
Chi-Chi uttered an inarticulate burbling sound. "Whu—what—listen to yourself! You're starting to sound like that perverted clerk who wanted to showcase my husband's chest! I mean, it was bad enough that we used Goku like a dress-up doll, but buying her fancy underwear that no one's going to ever going to see is kind of going overboard, isn't it?"
"Hey, don't hate me just because I happen to be feeling charitable about the whole situation," Bulma retorted, exchanging the chemise for a checkered red-and-white picnic-themed thong. "You know, you could look at it from a positive point of view. I mean, I can tell you right now with all honesty that of all the people I know, you're the one who's got the prettiest husband."
Bulma sniggered abundantly at her own words, but Chi-Chi was far from reassured by her attempt at consolation. "Uh, right. That's real comforting, Bulma," she muttered, agitatedly snapping the strap of a blue-black satin bra.
The other woman regarded her peculiarly. "What's with you, anyway? You're being really testy today. Testier than usual, anyway." She put down the thong, her jovial air all but fading. "This's really bothering you, isn't it? The whole change thing."
"No," Chi-Chi replied without much conviction. She studied the periwinkle camisole in her hand with superfluous concentration before admitting haltingly, "Well...I suppose I am having trouble with all this. I mean...Goku just came back to me. Everything was supposed to be going happily ever after. But then...this happens." She slapped the camisole back down into the silky pile. "Just when I think everything's going back to what we were like before, my husband turns into a woman."
"Chi-Chi, it's just temporary," Bulma reminded her, just before she recalled her earlier phone conversation with her father. "Well," she amended to herself, "at least, if my dad's wrong, it ought to be."
"Uh, nothing, nothing." Bulma pushed the thought out of her mind and plastered an appeasing expression on her face for Chi-Chi's benefit. "Hey, listen, Goku told us that we're just going to have to wait until that Shin guy came back and figured out what happened. So don't work yourself up over this. You know, you're starting to sound almost...well..."
"...insecure?" Chi-Chi finished for her. She tried to laugh, but what came out did not even sound like a reasonable facsimile. "Well...I suppose I am, at that." Her fingers began to pluck idly at the elastic fastenings of a corselette. "I mean, like you said...Goku's...well, look at her. And I know it's crazy, but I keep thinking...why would my husband want to look at me when she can look that...that perfect Playboy-bunny body of hers anytime she wants?"
Bulma patted the other woman's shoulder, her expression fluctuating between being aghast and comforting. "Er, Chi Chi...that's his...her body. Besides, that'd be...really creepy. Goku isn't that kind of person. You know that."
As though in confirmation, the changing room door shuddered and acquired a concave tilt: another casualty of Son Goku's ongoing quest to conquer the intricacies of female undergarments. The two women raised their heads, briefly distracted, then lowered them again to resume their discussion.
"See?" Bulma said over the sounds of grumbling and muffled banging. "Does that sound like someone who's actually enjoying her new body?"
Chi-Chi cringed at the other woman's terminology, but there was no contesting her logic. "I guess." She listened as something stretchy ricocheted inside the stall, followed by Goku's answering muted exclamations about female underwear being more complex than death duels over exploding planets. "Oh, Bulma—you're absolutely right. I don't know what came over me."
"Hey, now—don't beat yourself up. We all get that way now and then. Even me." Bulma was feeling ridiculously philanthropic today; she picked up a sample of Valencia's Secret's best selling new apparel—an elaborate rose-patterned push-up bra with inflatable pads—and began to toy with the little control pumps. "Once I got swayed by the allure of a C-cup."
Chi-Chi stared at her, unsure whether to be thrilled or appalled. "You mean...Bulma! You mean, you..." She indicated the blue-haired woman's chest with quick, fluttery movements. "You—"
"Got a boob job?" Bulma completed for her, her grin wry and utterly unabashed. "Well, of course I did. You think it's easy for these babies to stand at attention at my age and after one kid? Besides, I had a few thousand zeni lying around and I thought, what the hell? I was feeling bloated and depressed and Trunks was going through the terrible twos and his father was more interested in training than me, so..." She puffed out her chest. "Viola. They're actually quite impressive, if I do say so myself."
Chi-Chi eyed the body parts in question as though they were a pair of high-risk combustibles. "Uh, right. Um...didn't it hurt?"
"What? Hell, no! It was perfectly painless—well, not perfectly; I was sore for a week, but I think it was worth it. Don't you think so?"
"Here—you can get a better look if you lean forward. See? They look totally natural, don't they?"
Just then Bento stumbled into the changing room area, his arms loaded with the very latest in intimate fashions. He nearly tripped at the sight of the bun-haired brunette leaning in close to inspect a consenting Ms. Briefs's assets. He dropped his bundle, squeaked out something strangled and doubtlessly embarrassing, then staggered out in a daze.
Chi-Chi and Bulma watched him leave, then shook their heads at each other.
"He usually doesn't act this weird," Bulma remarked, somehow feeling compelled to act on Bento's defense.
"He wasn't acting weird. He was being perverted." Chi-Chi let out a sniff and went over to ransack the new heap of underwear. "Did you see the way he was ogling my Goku the entire time she was in here?"
"Maybe he was looking at her hair," her friend pointed out equably. "All that crazy hair...I mean, didn't you look twice at Goku's hairstyle the first time you met him?"
Chi-Chi tried to cobble up the memory, but the decades had significantly eroded the details. Not surprisingly, the realization did nothing to boost her spirits. "No, I—I don't..."
As it was, the sounds of indoor destruction was already a familiar symphony to both women's ears, but it still took them all of a semi-second to process that it was issuing from inside Valencia's Secret.
"What the..." Bulma reached out to steady the mound of lingerie as the store shivered, the silk-draped walls glimmering with the aftershocks. Panicked half-dressed patrons poured out of the dressing stalls, their relative modesty forgotten in the face of impending danger.
From somewhere inside the boutique came a chorus of cries from the clientele—Bento's spooked-schoolgirl scream the most strident among them—which subsided to a ripple of jumbled, anxious mutterings just before a caped, broad-shouldered form charged into the dressing room area.
"Piccolo?" Chi-Chi gasped, unconsciously holding out a corselette in front of her like a gossamer talisman to ward off evil.
"You do know this's a dressing room, right?" asked Bulma, her hands on her hips, an isle of equanimity in the sea of alarmed, scuttling females.
Piccolo ignored the ruckus he was causing and barged straight into Goku's changing stall, snapping the lock as though it were a piece of celery. "Goku! If you're done playing dress-up, you and I are going to—what in the name of Dende are you wearing?"
The stall door flew open as Piccolo went lurching backward and fell unceremoniously on his behind. Had he been human his complexion would've been markedly green, but since it already was, his face was instead a striking shade of russet.
Goku poked her head out of the dressing room to stare at him. Her shoulders were bare. "It's a bra, Piccolo," she told him pointedly. She didn't appear embarrassed at all—just defensive.
Piccolo picked himself up from the floor. The whites of his eyes stood out prominently against the verdant hue of his skin as he alternated his gaze between the half-dressed Saiyan and the two women. "What the hell have you done to Goku?" he demanded.
Bulma gave an affronted sniff. "What do you mean, what did we do to Goku? You make it sound like we corrupted her or something."
"She looks like a woman," Piccolo growled, as though this explained everything.
"Well, duh—maybe that's because she is." The blue-haired woman glanced exasperatedly toward the few remaining dumbstruck patrons who stood paralyzed along the dressing room corridor. "I mean, am I the only one who seems to be picking up on that essential little detail?"
"Don't talk to me as though I'm stupid!" retorted the Namek. "Of course I realize that! It's just that...that..."
"That what?" asked Goku, a frown nicking her brows.
"Never mind." Piccolo clamped his hand over one side of his face like a makeshift eye-patch. As far as females went, his experience with them was sorely limited; all he knew about the so-called fairer sex was that they talked, they generally didn't like fighting, and though they were frailer than the males, they possessed this mysterious ability to methodically divest them of their spines as well as any sort of rational thought. The idea that Son Goku could now belong to their phylum was immensely harrowing to the Namek. "Get dressed, Goku. We are going to turn you back to normal."
"What?" Chi-Chi snapped out of her flabbergasted daze and leaped to her feet. "How?"
"We are going to use the dragonballs." At Goku's bemused look, he informed her sternly, "No, Goku, we can no longer wait for the Supreme Kai to return to us with the information we need. We are going to have to resolve this ourselves."
Chi-Chi clapped her hands, utterly overjoyed. "The dragonballs! Of course! They should easily turn her back. Why didn't we think of that before—heck, why didn't I think of that?"
"Ex-cuse me!" exclaimed Bulma, rolling up her palm out in a dramatic "hold-it" gesture. "We are shopping here. You just don't interrupt women while they're shopping—especially when they're shopping for something as essential as underwear!"
Piccolo gawped. This was yet another of the many things the former Guardian of Earth could not grasp about females—never mind the fact that the world was in danger of ending: there were other more important priorities, like schoolwork, or buying tiny, frilly pieces of fabric no one ever got to see because they had to be worn underneath their clothes.
"It's okay, Bulma," Goku said hurriedly, withdrawing her head back into her stall. "I think I got all I need."
Bulma was disheartened. "But you haven't even tried the rest of the stuff here we picked out for you," she argued, indicating the mounds of underwear Bento had very accommodatingly carted in.
"Oh, I'm sure they all fit. You can, um, pick out anything you want. You got great fashion sense, right?" There was a high-speed rustling sound as Goku got dressed in record time. The stall door swung open and she dashed out, pulling her top down over her stomach. "Let's go, Piccolo."
"Good," Piccolo muttered, trying not to stare at the young woman's ensemble: ruffled-front teal tank top and bleached too-short jeans. He turned on his heel to exit, but Chi-Chi didn't give him the chance.
"Hold on a minute," the brunette ordered, trotting up toward him. "You're about to drag my Goku into some life-or-death battle, aren't you? Well, shame on you! She can't be involved in some battle, especially in her condition!"
Goku made a face. "My 'condition'? Aw, Chi-Chi," she complained. "You make it sound like I got a disease or something."
Piccolo stopped, his back to them. "Goku and I are merely going to go search for the last dragonball," he stated, failing miserably to suppress the cantankerous note in his voice. "And if the others have not yet located the other six balls, then Goku is going to have to go through some re-training first."
"Re-training? You're actually going to make her fight?" Chi-Chi called after the departing Namek. She followed him out into the store, conveniently ignoring the Piccolo-sized hole on the ceiling and the patrons scattered here and there who were cowering behind various underwear racks and displays. "You better not be rough with her if you know what's good for you!"
Piccolo bared his teeth at her like a carnivore showing off its bridgework. "You forget who you're talking to. I'm always rough with her."
From somewhere in the background came the sounds of more than one person reacting to this bit of torridness.
"He's right on that count. He's always rough on me." Goku grinned sheepishly at her fretting wife. "Don't worry, Chi-Chi! I'll be back soon," she promised, hurrying past her to join the Namek.
"Oh, all right," Chi-Chi relented, realizing with a surge of elation that when Goku returned, perhaps she would be a he again. Until then, however, it was still up to her to ensure her husband's modesty. "Hey, you better be wearing a bra, mister!"
For a quarter-second Chi-Chi had the disconcerting sensation that Goku was going to pull up her shirt right there in the middle of the store, but her spouse just tugged her neckline down over her left shoulder to display a delicate peach-colored bra strap.
"Yup!" she replied cheerfully, then grasped Piccolo's elbow. "All right, Piccolo, let's jet."
"Wait," Chi-Chi began. "Goku, you've got your bra on—"
It was too late; Goku had already pressed her index and middle fingers to her forehead, and an eye-blink later she and Piccolo were no longer inside Valencia's Secret.
"—inside-out," Chi-Chi finished uselessly. She contemplated the empty space where her husband and the Namek had once occupied, then shook her head and turned around.
Bulma was emerging from the dressing room section, a revealing red and black bra-and-panties combo in her hand and a devious glint in her eye.
At Chi-Chi's puzzled glance, the blue haired woman explained coyly, "Well, Goku did say that I could pick out anything I wanted for her, right?"
From his hiding place behind the Valencia's Secret counter, Bento longingly eyeballed the proffered underwear and cursed his particular brand of kismet for introducing him to a crazy-haired, gender-confused seraph with an eye for masochistic green men and temperamental bun-haired housewives.
It was funny how, even while his larynx was being methodically crushed in his murderer's death-grip, all Nappa could think about was how much his prince had grown: the Vegeta he had gazed down at the final seconds of his previous life had been in his early thirties—by Saiyan standards, just barely more than a teenager.
In contrast, the Vegeta staring at him now had grown well into his adulthood—his features were sharper, more angular, his eyes harder and far more penetrating. His frame, though muscular enough before, had filled out even more: his neck was a trunk of ropy tendons, his exposed arms about the same girth as the general's despite the former's much shorter stature—and in spite of himself, Nappa felt a trickle of the old intimidation.
"You're supposed to be dead," Vegeta remarked casually, as though the dead returning to life was nothing new. Which, really, it wasn't. "Did someone wish you back with the dragonballs?"
Nappa's voice barely made it out of his compressed throat. "Obviously...not you...eh, Vegeta...?"
"Hey, he knows your name!"
The friction in the air was partially defused as the two of them turned their stares on their forgotten audience. The purple-haired boy was vacillating his glance between them, his countenance perplexed, while the Kakarrot-child hung back and gnawed on his knuckle, regarding the two adults with thoughtful eyes.
Vegeta made a deeply displeased sound. "You brats go back home. There's nothing more to see here."
The dark-haired child pulled his tiny fist from his mouth. "But we found him!" he protested.
"And he knew your name!" the purple-haired youngster put in. He swung his pale gaze toward Nappa. "How'd you know my father's name?"
Nappa had actually been doing fine for someone who was being progressively suffocated, but the purple-haired boy's words hit him with a wave of acute vertigo. He felt faint, almost ill, as his mind backpedaled in an effort to grasp just what the child had blurted out.
No, that couldn't be possible. The prince would never degrade himself by mating with a frail Earthling woman, much less produce something as inherently abhorrent as a hybrid child. It went against everything the prince stood for—everything the mighty Saiyan race stood for. Kakarrot might have been corrupted enough by this place to have voluntarily committed such an offense, but not the prince. Never the prince.
Besides, Nappa reasoned frantically to himself, the boy had limp pastel hair and blue eyes; anyone could see that the brat was human. Perhaps Vegeta had adopted him—though Nappa couldn't imagine for the life of him why the prince would agree to do such a thing—or perhaps the brat had been rattled one time too many and had mistaken the prince for his father...
"Trunks," the prince commanded through clenched teeth, "take Goten with you and go home."
The purple-haired youngster's eyes widened—his father rarely deviated from his liberal use of the word "brat" to refer to him and Goten—but he was his mother's son, too, and he could be every bit as obstinate as she was. "But, Dad," he argued, "who is he? How'd you guys know each other? And why's he dressed so funny? And what—"
A single heated glance from his father put an end to his jabbering. The child dithered, clearly loath to back down. In his hesitation he tossed one last glare at Nappa, who was suddenly struck by the uncanny similitude between the boy's features and Vegeta's.
"Go home," the prince enunciated. It was clear enough to all that this was the last time he was going to say it.
"All right, all right. Have it your way." The boy huffed and began to stomp off, yanking the younger child's shirtsleeve as he passed him. "C'mon, Goten. They want us to buzz off."
Goten pouted as he was carted off by his friend. "But we didn't even get to finish play-fighting with him!"
"This isn't over," Trunks promised him in a stage whisper. "We'll just let them have their little secret talk or whatever and then we'll come back and find out what the heck's going on."
They took to the air, shooting parting glances over their shoulders at the standoff between the two adults.
Vegeta waited until he was sure that the children's ki were at least several miles off before he turned his attention back to his hapless former cohort. Nappa was staring at him, the blue veins visible at the edges of his bulging eyeballs, his expression frozen in a mishmash of emotions: shock, dismay, anger, disgust.
"That was your brat," he rasped. "The...fair-haired one. He's yours."
Vegeta surveyed him for a too-long moment, then abruptly released his grip on his former comrade's throat. "So what if he is, Nappa?" he asked, his tone deceptively mild. "What if the brat is mine?"
Nappa tumbled to the ground, hacking. He lifted his head upwards, blinking rapidly to clear his wobbly vision.
For the first time he became aware of the fact that, aside from the boots, the prince was no longer wearing his Saiyan fighting attire. Instead he was wearing a dark blue bodysuit that looked like it was made of some spindly Earthling fibers. There was no sign of his tail.
The prince could have passed for an Earthling, Nappa realized, his nausea mounting. He no longer wore Saiyan clothes, no longer had his tail. He had mated with Earthling scum and had sired a half-breed child. He had ended up taking the same road as that lowborn traitor Kakarrot.
What the hell had happened? the general wondered in mounting hysteria. How many years had passed since he had gone? Ten? Twenty? It had to have been a considerable amount, judging from the frightening turnaround the prince had undergone—he was masquerading on Earth as one of these soft-skinned humans!
Such a blasphemous notion refused to process through Nappa's brain. He had to be dreaming; perhaps he was still in Hell, immersed within one of his habitual nightmares...
The prince's voice cut short his reverie. "You know, Nappa, I really don't like the way you're looking at me."
There was a definite tinge of warning in the prince's inflection; common sense dictated that the prudent thing for the general to do was to avert his gaze from the shorter Saiyan and say nothing.
But then again, no one had ever accused Nappa of being prudent.
"You've become...one of them," he managed to choke out, his words dripping with revulsion. "You—the mighty prince of the Saiyan race...reduced to...to...passing yourself off as one of these feeble Earthlings."
He almost braced himself for an incoming Galic Gun, but Vegeta remained impervious, motionless, his slitted gaze fixed on something that the general could not see.
Nappa lurched to his feet, struggling to suppress the nausea spiraling up inside of him. Ever since he had woken up on this orbiting ball of dirt, he'd been eagerly anticipating the shocked look on the prince's face once he found out that the general he'd once put to death had come back to life and was itching to settle the score. Instead Vegeta seemed relatively unfazed by his resurrection, and Nappa was the one reeling from everything he'd discovered: flying children, the Kakarrot-child, the prince's hybrid son, the prince's rebuffing of his Saiyan roots and his willingness to walk amongst these pathetic humans...
"Really, Nappa." The prince unfolded his arms. "I'm disappointed. All those years you've had to yourself, and you still haven't managed to grow yourself a new set of brain cells."
The general sputtered; the prince had always had a way of reducing him into the stereotypical dim-witted musclehead. "Wh-what?"
Vegeta spared him a contemptuous look, as though the answer were painfully obvious. "Even the weakest of Kakarrot's feeble friends would never mistake me for a puny Earthling."
Nappa wasn't frightened—in fact, he was feeling bolder than he had ever been in a long time. After all, he had spent his internment in a place where every minute had the span of an eternity, ramming heads with his fellow elite Saiyans and an ever-changing roster of high-level foes. None of the other Saiyans had known how the great general Nappa had met his end; more likely than not they had chalked it up to one of Frieza's over-powered goons, and Nappa had never bothered to correct them. His increased thirst for power had been surprising even to his old comrades who'd known him back when there had been a planet Vegeta. Perhaps he had, unconsciously, been preparing himself for a reprisal he knew would never come.
The Vegeta of the past might have been younger and brasher, but his skills had been fed on a steady diet of planet raids and bloody battles with a host of intergalactic would-be defenders. This Vegeta, though older, had been relegated to Earth, a planet populated with beings with power levels that barely qualified in the double digits, and had apparently spent the last decade or so being domesticated by an Earthling mate and a crossbreed son. The hazardous, backbreaking, exhilarating days of planet purges were over; the prince had evidently left them behind for a negligent, lackluster Earthling existence.
"You've forgotten yourself, Vegeta," the general spat. "You've become soft."
Eager to test out this particular theory, he decided to start off the skirmish with a hard right.
Vegeta didn't dodge, but he didn't let the punch connect, either.
Nappa screamed as his ulna and radius bent in ways they were never meant to bend.
The prince stared coolly at the general over the twisted crook of his massive arm. He held the latter's wrist fast in one hand, trapping the connected limb in an excruciating, corkscrewed angle.
"Still think I'm soft, Nappa?"
The pain was worse than anything Nappa had ever felt in Hell—worse than the time the time that Massopian freak had fractured a disk in his spinal cord (Nappa had snapped both his legs some minutes afterward in retribution). He could barely align his thought processes over the agony stampeding through his shoulder joint and upper-limb ligaments. His attempts to wrench out of the prince's grip only resulted in additional arrows of fire shooting across his already tortured nerves.
Vegeta increased the pressure on the arm—just for good measure—and then, just as abruptly as he'd executed the move, released his hold. Nappa stumbled back, holding the burning arm away from him like a bird cradling a broken wing.
"To tell you the truth, I think you're the one who's forgotten yourself," Vegeta said. He had not bothered to drop his own arm even after he had let Nappa go, and it remained up in the air, stretched out before him like an afterthought. "It seems you've forgotten how to conduct yourself before your prince."
"Forgotten? I've forgotten?" Nappa's shoulders heaved as he gawked at the shorter Saiyan. "You killed me, Vegeta! Why? I was your guardian! I raised you from when you were ten years old! I would have died for you!"
"You were a disgrace!" Vegeta roared, his voice easily drowning out Nappa's yelling. He finally let his arm drop. "We came to this lowlife planet to show its inhabitants the futility of opposing us, but you turned out to be an embarrassment to me, to the entire Saiyan race, the moment you let a third-class Earth-raised Saiyan defeat you, and you dare stand there and accuse me of turning my back on my people?"
Nappa gestured at him with his unhurt arm. "Wh-why not? Look at you! You no longer have your tail! You've sired an abomination—a half-breed child! You've...you've—"
The rest of his litany perished in his throat: for a brief but unsettling second, he thought he saw his prince's obsidian eyes flash green.
"You have no idea what I've been through these past years," the prince said, and Nappa felt a chill snake through his spine; he had heard Vegeta utilize that voice only once, just before the latter had tossed him and his broken back into the sky and blasted him into non-existence. "No idea at all."
It was only then that it occurred to Nappa that a lifetime might have passed since his impromptu jaunt to the Underworld. The prince was bereft of a planet, a race, and a dominion. There was nothing Saiyan left in the universe to remind him of his identity, nothing but...
"Where is Kakarrot?"
Vegeta stiffened almost imperceptibly, and Nappa realized that perhaps he wasn't the only Saiyan still holding a grudge against the third-class.
"That was his son, wasn't it? The little one with your own brat. He couldn't have been the one I fought with. Which means...Kakarrot is still alive. You didn't kill him."
The prince glared into the distance. The miniscule twitch at the upper corner of his sneer was the only sign that he was still listening.
"Why didn't you kill him?" Nappa pressed on, his voice rising. "Didn't you say he was a traitor to the Saiyan race? Didn't you say we didn't need him to help us fight Frieza after all, that he would just be an obstacle to getting the dragonballs? Why is he still alive?"
Vegeta spoke at last, but it wasn't to answer the other Saiyan's frustrated queries. "Be careful, Nappa," he cautioned, his tone far too composed. "I killed you once. I can easily do it again."
Nappa flinched deeply. "You wouldn't...you can't..."
"Can't I?" The prince swept a critical eye over the general's split lip, the bruises on his arm, the crack winding across his uniform's chest plate, and the soot dusting his front—the most visible remnant of his deflected ki-attack. "If Kakarrot's little brat could do that to you, what makes you think that I wouldn't be able to do much worse?"
"I..." Nappa racked his overtaxed brain for an explanation. It had to have been a trick; the brat was half-human. A pureblooded Saiyan child would not have been able to repel that blast. Hell, even a full-grown Saiyan couldn't have blocked it without getting seriously injured.
He was still groping for a rejoinder when Vegeta was suddenly standing in front of him, his stance openly confrontational. "Why have you returned, Nappa? Surely you're here to do something other than annoy me with all these useless questions. Who brought you back? Why are you here?"
It was all too much to take in—the two brats' manhandling of him, Vegeta's seeming defection, his own sudden manifest weakness in comparison to all of them—that Nappa could do nothing but stutter. "I—I don't know. I was...all I remember was waking up in a field...I didn't...didn't even know I was on Earth, or that I was even alive, until he told me that—"
"He?" interrupted Vegeta.
"There was...another Saiyan with me," the general recalled haltingly, and watched as his prince's eyes widened.
"Another Saiyan? Who?"
"I didn't get his name."
Vegeta did not look at all thrilled, to say the least. "You didn't get his name?"
"He was just a lowly second-class," protested Nappa, as though this were an incontestable excuse. "No one important."
"No one important?" Vegeta growled in disbelief. "You return from the dead with another Saiyan, and you did not even bother to find out who he was?"
Nappa blinked; the prince was certainly getting riled up over the matter. Personally, he couldn't see what the big deal was—it had taken more than twenty years for them to ascertain Kakarrot's existence after the destruction of planet Vegeta, so it couldn't be that that far-fetched if another survivor had been located, right? "I—I had to leave him. The man was insane. He kept babbling about how we had to keep a low profile. Even tried to keep me from finding you. He said something about—I don't know—the other Saiyans and our numbers, something about how I wasn't going to be the only one coming back..."
Vegeta had gone very still. "This Saiyan," he said. "Do you remember how he looked?"
"How he looked...? Ah...stocky. Dark-skinned. Had these funny-looking sideburns on his face. Oh, and he also had this scar over his right eye, sealed it shut..."
Nappa nearly went tumbling head-over-heels as Vegeta rocketed into the air in a burst of power that left caused the nearest rock formations to quake. Once in the sky, the prince did a swift semi-circle, then glanced down at the staggered general.
"Nappa!" he barked. "Tell me where you last saw him."
Caught off-guard, the general completely forgot his own rancor against the prince as his instinctual loyalty to the royal bloodline resurfaced with a vengeance. "Y-yes—I was flying southeast...he should be northwest of here—"
Vegeta produced an unnecessarily loud but standard expletive, then whirled around and shot off in the direction indicated.
By the time Nappa realized his mistake, the prince's form had receded to a black dot barely visible against the brightness of the sky. The general was suitably irked.
"W-wait! Vegeta, where d'you think you're going? We're not done here! Vegeta!"
His shout echoed across the ravine, bouncing off the cliff walls and flushing out a variety of aerial fauna, but it was, predictably, in vain: Vegeta was well out of hearing range, his ki trail tinted an odd gold.
Nappa bellowed out something raw and wordless, and whirled around blindly for something to smash his fist into. His torso was still raw from its earlier tribulations, a patent reminder that he was, indeed, alive—and that everything he had once deemed immutable had just been turned upside-down.
"Hey, pipe down. What're you yelling about?"
The general spun toward the voice, almost giddy to have someone within striking range, and only barely managed to rein in his destructive reflexes as he beheld the two tiny forms staring up at him.
"You really need to learn to control your anger there, pal," the purple-haired boy—Vegeta's son, Nappa thought, feeling his stomach churn—told him. "We were trying to eavesdrop, you know, but if Dad caught us we'd be in a world of hurt."
The other boy—Kakarrot's second brat—flicked his eyes skyward. "Hey, where'd Vegeta go?"
Nappa followed his gaze, mystified: the ki-trail had long evaporated, but the child seemed to know exactly which route the prince had taken.
"Who cares?" drawled the fair-haired half-breed, planting his hands on his hips and tipping his head to one side as he scrutinized the general with a worrisome air of interest. "Now that you're done talking to my dad, I guess that makes you now all ours."
The dark-haired child bobbed his head enthusiastically, his bangs falling into his wide-set eyes. "Yeah! We found you, so that means we get to keep you!"
" 'Keep' me?" Nappa was slightly amused and considerably peeved—but mostly horrified. "What the hell do you brats think I am, a goddamned pet?"
The two children exchanged looks, completely unruffled by his outburst.
"Well, no," the prince's offspring said matter-of-factly, "but you're the only one who didn't need to go to a hospital after five minutes of playing with us."
"Yeah," the smaller child put in helpfully, then displayed a rather abundant set of pearly baby teeth. "And you're fun."
Nappa stared down at the youngsters' keen, shining faces, and had the sinking feeling that he might have been safer with the prince.
The Saiyan who accosted them next was a female.
She was Celipa's antithesis, at least in appearance: where Celipa was compact and well built, she was tall and sinuously lanky; where Celipa's hair was cut short and practical, hers was a generous sweep of tousled raven tresses that rivaled Raditz's in thickness and length. And instead of adhering to the standard female Saiyan's cat-like eye shape, hers were round and contoured, her pupils large and expressive and stunningly familiar.
Unfortunately, that was where the similarity between her and Son Goku ended.
"Who the hell are you?" the female snapped, maneuvering herself between Bardock and the two intruders. "What are you doing here? You are not welcome here!" To her fellow Saiyans, she snarled, "Are you all out of your goddamned minds?"
The others seemed properly castigated—even Celipa seemed subdued—all except for Bardock, who said evenly, "Actually, Kyuuri, I was the one who let them here."
The female swung toward him. "You crazy son of a bitch," she snarled. "What makes you think they're any different from all of those morons hunting you down?"
Bardock met her fiery gaze with his own cool one. "I saw them in my visions. They're from the Living World."
The two of them locked stares for several intense moments, waging a silent, familiar war of wills. Finally Kyuuri backed down and averted her eyes.
"Your visions," she groused. "Or so you call them. Sometimes, Bardock, I wonder if you really are insane, instead of merely pretending to be."
Bardock glowered at her, looking simultaneously amused and vexed by her attitude. "Woman, sometimes I wonder why the hell you left the others down there and traveled all the way up here if not to nag me for the rest of eternity."
"You know, sometimes I wonder about that, too," Kyuuri shot back, her tone dripping with sarcasm. "Anyway, it's not like I can count on this bunch of yours to watch your sorry ass, especially since they did such an exceptional job last time." Here she scowled pointedly at the rest of Bardock's crew, who deigned to put up any defense on their behalf. Even Celipa, whom Shin had taken to be the most strong-willed one of the group, seemed unwilling to dispute her.
"What I see is real to me, Kyuuri," Bardock intoned crisply. "And the flashes—they've gotten worse. They're coming faster now, more frequently. Sometimes the meditation almost doesn't seem enough."
"That's right," Raditz volunteered, addressing the longhaired female. "He's been more restless than usual. Of course, he still won't tell me what he's been seeing."
"I don't need to tell anyone what I've been seeing, boy," Bardock retorted. "I wouldn't wish this damned abilities of mine on anyone, except maybe Frieza. But even he would have been driven insane long before the future he would have seen for himself would have come to pass." He turned back toward Shin and Kibito, his countenance stony. "And lately I've been having even more visions regarding my son."
"Your son?" Kyuuri raised an elegant eyebrow and tossed a glance toward the longhaired male. "What about Raditz? Does something loom in his future? Or have you been sowing your third-class oats around the galaxy while I was tending to our sad excuse of a household?"
Bardock actually reddened at her insinuation. "Don't be ridiculous, woman. I would never—Raditz wasn't our only offspring, or did you forget?"
The Supreme Kai glanced between the two Saiyans, his mind reeling. Could it really be? he thought. Goku's parents, Gohan's grandparents—how could it be possible that the antecedents of two of the most pure-hearted souls he had ever met could belong in Hell?
Kyuuri's expression didn't vacillate, but for a semi-second the Supreme Kai saw a shadow move behind her eyes. "Sometimes I do, actually," she murmured, and her voice, stripped of its earlier asperity, sounded vastly different. "I don't think I ever really saw him. It might've been a dream, for all I know."
It was evident that the subject of her youngest son was one she rarely breached; the other Saiyans observed her with a blend of muted curiosity and bemusement.
"He wasn't even born with a power level," Kyuuri went on distantly. "Wasn't worth the months I had to carry him. I'm not sorry they decided to send him away; it wasn't as though he wasn't going to amount to anything."
Shin was almost overpoweringly tempted to tell her that she could not have been more wrong, but he kept his mouth shut. The damned in Hell could never be privy to any sort of outside knowledge, after all.
Bardock, despite seeming to be the sole exception to this rule, did not elect to correct her. Instead he remained quiet, his eyes tracing meditatively over his mate's closed-off profile.
"Forget Kakarrot," griped Raditz. He was staring pugnaciously at the two Kais. "You still haven't given me a straight answer. Who the hell are you two? Why are you really here?"
The Supreme Kai had long ceased to take offense at all the contempt being lobbed at him, and took it in stride. "I'm Shin, and this is Kibito. We are here conducting an investigation of what happened earlier in Hell."
"Oh, well, that explains everything," noted Raditz, his inflection heavy with derision. "If Father says that you're from the Living World, then how could you have been able to make your way down here—unless you just died and did a lot of less than unscrupulous things during your lifetime?"
Shin thought about explaining his status as the overall administrator of the universe, then decided that convincing them of his authenticity would take up too much time. "That is not important. What is important is that something occurred here in Hell—something that might have involved Frieza and King Cold and Cell and every last individual from Hell's top stratums..."
The Saiyans listened with half an ear, their faces still conveying distrust, but Bardock was grimacing, his fingers pressing down hard against the bridge of his nose as though he were being were beset by a sudden migrane.
Kakarrot was sleeping soundly in a stone-gray room. Without warning the door broke open, and another Saiyan barged in, bloodlust in his eyes.
He was a male, tall and wiry, with long hair that held a strange violet tint and an even stranger gold ornament adorning his forehead. Kakarrot awoke in the nick of time and was able to vacate his cot some split seconds before his would-be assassin chopped it in half.
The other occupants were waking up, but the Saiyan ignored them all in favor of Kakarrot. The room was reduced to shambles, and Kakarrot took it upon himself to move the tussle outside. A mustachioed man—a vaguely familiar one—rushed in from the other side of the abode, something gold gleaming in his hand and a horror-struck look stamped on his scarred countenance.
Over the lake, Kakarrot seemed to be making a remark to his attacker. The latter, having no more use for the usual niceties, rushed toward him, only to have Kakarrot deal him a recoil-inducing kick to his face.
The Saiyan stopped and turned. There was a trickle of blood running down one corner of his mouth, as well as a curiously melancholy expression on his even-featured face. A second later the expression turned sinister as he cleaned off the red liquid with his tongue, the movement methodical and indolent, and smiled.
Kakarrot cringed, and his foe lunged toward him.
The vision was interrupted, as usual, at its most critical juncture, but Bardock was already far too accustomed to the ambiguous nature of his prophetic abilities. He blinked, making the adjustment from internal vision to external one, and realized that the conversation had gone on without him.
"...couldn't have been a Saiyan," Toma was insisting. "There's no way a Saiyan could have caused all that. Not even the king. I mean, we're strong, but not enough to tear up Hell like that—and believe me, we've already tried."
Shin shook his head. "The ogres who were there testified that it was a Saiyan. Even Cell and Frieza confirmed it. Granted, they might not be the most reliable sources around, but I don't think they had any reason to lie, given that they basically admitted that it was a Saiyan who caused them to be injured."
"A Saiyan strong enough to actually hurt Frieza?" Pamboukin said doubtfully. "No—not possible. He's invincible. Simple as that."
Toma ran a hand over the back of his neck. "Wait—remember when Frieza first arrived here? There were whispers that he had met his death at the hands of a Saiyan."
"Those were just rumors, Toma," Celipa reminded him shortly. "You know better than to buy into that."
"That's right," seconded Totepo. "Frieza's power is unfathomable. No Saiyan could stand against him." He snuck a clandestine glance toward Bardock. "The commander should know that more than anyone."
Bardock did not hear him.
Frieza, divested of his helmet and protective coverings, looked vastly different from when Bardock had last seen him. Under his power-restricting armor, his entire body was sleek and milk-white—and currently a map of abrasions and some sticky purplish liquid that might have been Iceling blood.
The lizard was lying on the ground, wedged between chunks of rubble, barely hanging on to consciousness. Some fifty feet away from where he lay were three figures—two of them bipedal, the third one less than two feet tall. They might have been talking, but the sounds of Armageddon around them were enough to drown out whatever words they might have been exchanging. The short one had stubbly, yellow-ochre skin and bulbous eyes, and the middle one was swathed in white robes, his craggy, mustachioed face lined with odd shadows. The tallest one's features were harder to pin down, however—his entire form was ablaze with a blinding golden light.
"Not a Saiyan," Bardock muttered. "A Super Saiyan."
The others regarded him in amazement.
"Super Saiyan? The Legendary Super Saiyan?" exclaimed Totepo. "You mean, the one we were waiting for all this time, the one that was supposed to arise every three thousand years? That Super Saiyan?"
Bardock ran his thumb and index finger over the crease between his eyebrows. "Born almost on the day Frieza blew up our planet. Paragus's son."
"Paragus?" Celipa's tone was larded with dislike. "That second-class who was always trying to curry favor from the elites?"
Toma snapped his fingers. "Hey, I remember him. Yeah, he was kind of a brown-noser. Kept on hanging around the royal grounds like he was expecting to get invited in."
Pamboukin could still not get over the revelation. "You gotta be kidding us, Bardock. There's no way a second-class soldier could sire the Legendary Super Saiyan."
"Why not?" Bardock queried offhandedly. "A third-class did." He ignored the others' dumbfounded expressions and directed his next words at Shin and Kibito. "He ran into someone in the middle of the destruction. Some sickly, yellow-skinned alien wearing a cape. Looked like an oversized, overdressed flea."
Shin could almost hear the bones in Kibito's neck click together as the latter snapped his head up in shock.
"Babidi." The Supreme Kai had had an inkling of the extent of the wizard's involvement ever since his interview of Cell, but it was another thing entirely to actually hear it confirmed.
Kyuuri eyed him as if his Mohawk had suddenly sprouted snakes. "What the hell is a Babidi?"
"He's—he's a magician. He must've seen the Super Saiyan...right after he enlisted Dabura up in the Demon World." Grooves appeared on Shin's forehead as he tried to piece together a workable timeline in his head. "The Demon World is only one level above this one. He went there to fetch Dabura—and then, for some reason, he made a detour to Hell. Why?"
"Surely he must've known there was no one down in Hell who could be more evil or more powerful than Dabura," protested Kibito.
"Babidi? Dabura?" Raditz obviously did not appreciate being left out of the loop. "Are we supposed to know these people? What the hell are you blathering about?"
Bardock grunted as he recalled yet another vision.
This time they were inside what appeared to be a spacecraft of some kind, judging from the wan, sterilized interior and the rounded walls. About twenty individuals—a menagerie of warrior-like aliens—were clustered around the same three figures from the previous vision. The short one's mouth was moving, the twin dangling protrusions at the sides of his chin quivering as he spoke.
The most prominent-looking one in the ranks was a gargantuan individual with large triangular ears, maize eyes, and skin the color of innards. He did not seem particularly pleased with what the flea-like alien was saying; his brows were pulled all the way down as he gestured toward the two taller figures.
To the immediate left of the short alien was a holographic viewing device of some sort. It shuddered violently as the room was flooded with a now-familiar golden glow. Bodies flew past to imbed themselves into the domed walls like shrapnel, and the overhead lights began to shatter one by one. The entire room shook and began to bulge outwards.
The salmon-skinned demon wasn't faring much better; he had tried to strike the younger of the two individuals, and had paid for it when the latter seized his arm. After getting over his surprise, the demon tried to yank his arm back, several times, but to no avail. His efforts came to an end as his antagonist wrapped his fingers around his throat.
"...what's wrong?" Toma was asking him. "Bardock?"
The Saiyan commander closed his eyes for a second, then refocused them on his crew and family. "I'm fine. I was just reminiscing."
Concern flickered past Kyuuri's features before she replaced it with a guise of sternness. "Are you having those episodes again?"
"No, not yet. It's just...the conversation. It's triggering some memories...things I saw."
Raditz glowered at the two Kais. "Now do you see what your presence here has done? My father's had enough to deal with without you two coming in here and screwing even more with his mind—"
"They can't possibly screw up my mind any more than these visions can, Raditz," Bardock told him. He seemed to be seething with sudden fury; his son's words had evidently torn a bandage off of an old hurt. "Some of the things I see—do you know how often I have been tempted to tell you, all of you, what I've seen, what I know? There've been times, so many times, that I thought I would go insane with all this forbidden knowledge crammed into my head, knowing that I could never share it with anyone! And now you"—he whirled toward Shin and Kibito, his onyx eyes ablaze—"come all the way down here to ask me to share that knowledge with you, correct?"
Shin was slightly taken aback. "Actually...yes."
Even after what seemed like an eternity of the mental assaults, Bardock would never get used to the way his visions arrived; sometimes they were subtle, not so much striking him as interweaving themselves through his everyday thoughts. But more often than not they struck with the ruthlessness and inexorability of a meteor shower, testing his synapses for their limits.
There was Kakarrot defending himself as several opponents came at him from every which way: a lanky green-skinned alien, another green-skinned individual albeit with pointed ears and a lighter skin tone, an exceptionally short Earthling male, another man possessed of a third eye on his forehead, and a host of other attackers.
"Do you think," Bardock managed to say through his gritted teeth, "that if I tell you the future, you might somehow be able to change it?"
The Supreme Kai looked at a loss. "I..."
Bardock grimaced again; the images were inundating him now, fast and furious, each one exploding before his mind's eye like bolts of lightning: quick, blinding, intense.
Kakarrot was standing, head bent, hands clenched, eyes hooded. Someone was circling around him, stopping only to whisper something into his ear. Kakarrot's response was to throw his head back and scream, and everything turned white.
"You can't change what's going to happen," Bardock growled, his shoulders slumping with the burden of a failure that had haunted him long beyond his own death. "Do you understand what I am saying? You can't change anything." And then, almost inaudibly, he added, "I, of all people, should know that."
Prince Vegeta stood, his expression unreadable, as a number of individuals in Saiyan armor bowed deeply before him. Behind him was General Nappa, gawping openly.
"I read about you," Shin ventured. "You were the Saiyan who tried to save planet Vegeta single-handedly. You must've seen what was going to happen in your visions."
"That's right—I tried. And I failed," Bardock informed him, his tone harsh. "I have watched my own planet explode in my mind a hundred thousand times, and every time I'm reminded of how laughable it was for me to believe that I could change anything."
In the midst of what seemed to be the ops room of a Saiyan space vessel was Prince Vegeta, studying a read-out on the central console. A female in Saiyan armor insinuated herself between him and the monitor with the read-out, perching herself insolently on the edge of the comp station. The prince stared up at her, his countenance inscrutable, and she tilted her body slowly forward.
"Do you know how it feels," he went on raggedly, "to see and know every detail of your impending death? To personally witness the destruction of your whole planet while it still lies under your feet? To watch a madman take pleasure in turning your race to dust, to watch him drink wine and celebrate after he's murdered everyone you've ever given a damn about?"
The other Saiyans stared at him, dumfounded, and Shin realized that this was probably their first real glimpse into the workings of their commander's "gift".
"I saw everything that was going to happen," the scarred Saiyan went on passionately. "I knew it was going to happen. I was right there. I could have...there were a million different factors I could've affected, a million other choices I would've made, a million other ways history might have gone. But that doesn't matter, does it? Because the truth is that no matter what I could've done, no matter how hard I could've tried, I wouldn't have been able to change a thing. Not a damned thing."
The surrounding area was now nothing more than a wasteland; ki blasts had scalloped the ground here and there, the nearby hills and rock cliffs had been all but flattened. At the crux of the devastation was the Super Saiyan, his massive hand closed around the curve of Kakarrot's skull, smiling that same unsettling smile.
Bardock passed a hand over his eyes, sorting his physical vision from his metaphysical ones. "I have learned the truth long ago—all of us truly are insignificant and worthless, and nothing any of us can do will ever truly make a difference."
"You can't possibly believe that," Shin argued, trying not to show his dismay. Whatever spark of hope he had nursed ever since he had come face-to-face with the prophetic Bardock was in mortal danger of being extinguished. "The future can't ever be set in stone, not when there are still people out there who aren't going to leave everything up to fate, people who don't know how to give up fighting—people like your son."
The others had long since discarded their veneer of indifference, and were presently dividing their attention between the two Kais and their commander. Bardock merely condensed his eyes into slits, growled, and looked away.
High above the canyon floor were Kakarrot and Prince Vegeta, arms locked in combat, their dueling auras flaring brilliantly. The fight seemed immensely personal, at least to the prince: he looked like a man possessed, the strange rune on his forehead nearly obscured by the sheer amount of energy he was emitting, enough to shake the battleground at its foundation.
The Supreme Kai took a breath and tried again. "Listen to me. If Babidi has his way, he is going to release Majin Buu, the monster his father summoned millennia ago. And then he is going to try and finish the job his father started—the complete annihilation of everything in existence. We were able to stop Bibidi back then, but only at a horrific cost. And now his son has taken up the mantle, and your son, as well as his friends, have chosen to make their stand against him and Majin Buu. Even now we believe that a Saiyan in Hell—Paragus, you said his name was—perhaps alongside Frieza and King Cold and others, conspired to aid Babidi by targeting Goku. Do you really think they would go to such elaborate lengths to get to your son if they didn't think that he could somehow make a difference?"
Bardock worked a muscle in his jaw, mulling this over. Beside him Kyuuri glared intently at something on her mate's arm, her hurricane eyes brimming with some unidentifiable emotion.
"What does Kakarrot have to do with all this?" she muttered, almost to herself. "Are you saying that Frieza and King Cold conspired something in Hell just to get back at my son? He's just a third-class weakling! He's supposed to be living out his insignificant little life on some dirt-ball planet, not pissing off people who could kill him ten times over! What the hell did he ever do to them?"
Shin regarded her in surprise; for all the put-downs she had laid upon her youngest son, he couldn't help but wonder if Kyuuri had an inkling of what kind of man "Kakarrot" had grown up to be.
Bardock touched her elbow. "Kyuuri," he said gruffly.
His mate tried half-heartedly to shrug off his hand, but Bardock held on. His next words stalled in his throat; the barrage of images bombarding his brain was being capped off by one starkly final vision.
The planet Earth, Kakarrot's adopted home, a blue sphere wreathed with white, exploded into oblivion.
He scrubbed a hand over his lids, willing the violence of the fading image to dissipate before his mind's eye, and transferred his gaze toward the Supreme Kai. "This Babidi you mentioned," he began. "If I tell you what I have seen, you will see to it that he is stopped?"
"That has been my intention from the very start," Shin reassured him.
The Saiyan commander exhaled sharply. "Look, I—these visions...I just can't close my eyes and pull up whatever I need to know. They're random. Just...flashes of images, things like that. Sometimes even I can't even make sense of them." He paused. "The only thing they have had in common is that, as far as I know, they have all come to pass."
Shin nodded in understanding. "Nonetheless, I'm sure that whatever information you can provide us with would be immensely helpful."
Bardock passed his hands over his face again; as disjointed and fleeting as these last visions had been, something about them tugged insistently at his subconscious. There had been something off about them, a minute but infinitely significant bit of detail that had escaped him earlier. It was Kakarrot, he thought: something about his second son in this latest set of visions had seemed off, like it wasn't even his son he was seeing at all—
"Raditz," he said.
The longhaired male jerked up as if taken aback by the sound of his father pronouncing his name. "What?"
Bardock didn't answer him right away; instead he stared intently past him, his gaze fixed on some indeterminate point over his son's shoulder.
Just as Raditz was about to turn his head to find out just what was so damned interesting, his father finally spoke, but not before he leveled him an enigmatic look. "Don't you try to kill your sister this time."
Raditz goggled, his eyebrows shooting up and nearly scraping the top of his widow's peak. "My sister? Since when do I—and what do you mean, this ti—"
By then it was too late; scarcely had the words spilled from his mouth when his entire being burst into an inferno of silver-blue light. The brilliance of it easily permeated the surrounding mist, sending the subterranean shadows into temporary retreat.
By the time the others had finished blinking the glare spots from their eyes, the light was gone, and so was Son Goku's brother.
End of Chapter Eight
Closing Notes: And Raditz makes, er, four? Five? Ah, well... ^^ As usual,
the chapter was getting too long, so I snipped out the last section with the
dragonball hunt; it wasn't really that important, anyhow. And just in case
anyone wanted to know, the name "Kyuuri" was derived from the Japanese
translation of "cucumber". I based her physical description on a doujinshi that
was featured on "Hey Monkey", an awesome Bardock shrine.
Writing the final Shin/Bardock exchange was unexpectedly difficult; I must've gone through at least four drafts. Even now it looks like it still needs some tinkering with. I did have fun with the "visions", though—and yes, they're all upcoming scenes for this fic. I really do have a method to my madness. :) I even have the ending all planned out; it's just a matter of filling out the middle to get there. Something tells me I'm going to have to do an alternate ending, though... ~_~;;
Oh, and by the way, I stumbled on two other girl-Goku fics—"Dragonball C Change" by Callimoqua and "Onnafied" by Miyanon—just in case anyone was interested. I know I am. ^^ Unfortunately, I guess this means my fic premise's no longer one of a kind, huh? ;) Oh, well, that's one problem I'm all too glad to have. Thanks again to those who e-mailed me or stated in their reviews where to find the stories! As always, reviews are little pep pills for this writer's creative impulses...
Next: Goku really embarks on the re-training (with a little help from Heaven), the dragonball hunt really runs into a (Legendary) complication, Nappa and Vegeta (and Trunks and Goten) make some discoveries in their search for Paragus, and of course, someone's brother just complicates matters.