Disclaimer: Dragonball Z is the property of Akira Toriyama. This story was written for fun, not profit. Please don't sue.
Author's Note: As always, much thanks to my reviewers for their encouragement, and to Nadia Rose for helping me sort out plot points and letting me steal brainwaves.
All Fall Down
Launch was just starting to wish she'd brought entertainment along when the cavalry showed up. More or less.
She glanced up at the group of demons clustered around her, all of them sporting sleeveless white shirts with the word HELL stamped on them. For a moment she let them take her in – a human woman sitting in front of a tent, cleaning a rather nasty-looking machine gun – before she climbed to her feet and planted her free hand on her hip.
"About time," she snapped. "I haven't got all day."
The demons exchanged long-suffering glances, leaving Launch with the distinct impression that they'd been forced to cut a coffee break short. When she started tapping her foot, one of them turned and scowled at her. "What're you doing down here, lady?"
"Aside from being bored out of my skull?" Launch casually hefted her machine gun, just in case these geniuses got any ideas. "I'm looking for someone. About this tall, spiky hair – ringing any bells?"
"How would I know?" The demon sighed and motioned to his companions. "Grab her. And take down that damn tent."
Launch scrubbed her face. Then she peeked at the lead demon through parted fingers, snarled, and swung the butt of her machine gun at his temple.
He staggered back and glared at her. "Ow! What the fu – "
But Launch was already on a roll. She had been a tough person to catch even when she was alive, and between putting up with the Z Senshi and training with the North Kai, she had gotten a whole lot stronger. Before any of the demons could really figure out what to do with her, she spun around on the ball of her foot and sent their leader flying with a quick kick. Since bullets weren't likely to do much damage, she settled for wielding her machine gun like a club and going after the rest of the demons with a feral grin.
After training with the likes of Tenshinen and Videl, these goons didn't even make her break into a sweat. Fuckers.
Once she had shot-putted the last demon into the lake, she stopped long enough to beam at her handiwork. Then she slipped her gun under one arm, turned around, and walked into something that felt like a living wall.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," she snapped, rubbing her squashed nose and glaring up at the newcomer. "It's about damn time!"
The problem with having a lot of enemies was that, when push came to shove, it was hard to figure out who was out for your blood at that particular moment. It made life a little irritating – and, more importantly, it had the potential to also make it interesting, violent, and short.
"Ki-users," Marron muttered, pacing back and forth across her spacious office. "They have to be. How the hell did they know I'm a ki-user unless they are, too?"
It was a rhetorical question, but her assistant took a brave stab at answering it anyway. "There's some interesting footage of your parents – "
"But that doesn't explain how they knew what I could control ki! They were prepared for that! They were sending special fighters!" Marron scowled at her poor assistant until he swallowed and stepped away from her. The large, hulking man knew plenty about ki, because when one was as rich as Marron happened to be, even the strangest job requirement could be matched up with a suitable candidate.
Which was why she didn't throw him down the hall when he piped up again. "You do have a stronger presence than most people, Ms. Kuri. And it becomes more…er, pronounced…when you're angry."
"Lovely." Marron sat behind her large desk and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Who's the last person I pissed off? The last important person?" she amended, since her assistant was starting to look panicked.
This only shortened the list a little bit, since Marron had a habit of upsetting people on a fairly regular basis. Nonetheless, after a few moments thought, her secretary produced a name. "There's Qampie Corporation."
She shook her head. "Not them." Aidan Qampie, her fellow C.E.O. and would-be rival in South Africa, had a certain amount of ruthlessness to match his business instincts, but she knew that he wasn't prone to murdering rivals. She glared at her assistant. "Next?"
"The Ankuash family, Ms. Kuri?"
Marron blinked. "What, again? What did I do now?"
"You threatened to use their elders as cricket bats."
"They'd have deserved it," Marron grumbled, and then sighed and scrubbed her face. She did not need to deal with the Ankuashes. Not with her attempted murder, the end of the world, and her stupid promise to Gizoku all looming over her head.
Before she could seriously consider practicing ki techniques on her less savory rivals, there was a knock on her door. Her assistant frowned and opened it, revealing her wide-eyed secretary and a young woman Marron didn't recognize. She had black hair and very dark skin, and was dressed in a simple gray pantsuit.
Great. The last thing she needed was an intruder. She ground her teeth and gave her secretary a truly murderous look. "I told you to cancel my appointments."
The secretary spluttered. "I know, but – "
"But what?" Marron snapped, and turned her glower on the young woman. "Who the hell are you?"
The young woman seemed to take that as her cue. She walked into the office and gave Marron a polite nod. "Your secretary had nothing to do with this," she said in heavily accented Japanese. "You will have to excuse me. I invited myself in."
"You did, did you?" Marron walked around to the front of her desk and half-leaned, half sat on the edge, folding her arms across her chest and trying to pin down where she had seen this very peculiar intruder before. Her face looked a little familiar.
"Your security is impressive, but I have seen better." The young woman shrugged. "My name is Bree Qampie. I believe you knew my father, Aidan Qampie of Qampie Corporation."
Marron's eyes narrowed. "We need to talk."
"Yes, we do." Bree Qampie nodded to the secretary and assistant, both of whom wisely beat a retreat, and walked toward Marron's desk without the slightest hesitation. She looked like she was still in her late teens, but she certainly had no qualms about acting like she owned the place.
Marron's office was spacious, but it could hardly be called opulent; it had two windows, the giant desk, a few cabinets and chairs, and no decorations to speak of. Bree took it all in with a practiced eye and settled herself in one of the smaller chairs. Although her hands were folded neatly in her lap and her legs were crossed primly, Marron could tell that she was ready to run away if she had to. It was a very impressive act, but the young woman was still terrified for some reason.
"You probably have not heard this," she said as Marron sat back down behind her desk. "We are keeping it to ourselves for very obvious reasons."
She sighed. "My father was murdered last night while he was returned home from his office. As far as my sources can determine, it was the work of very skilled and very precise thieves."
"Thieves," Marron echoed. She felt rather numb. Aidan Qampie had been her rival and she hadn't particularly liked him, but she hadn't wanted him dead. She steadied herself quickly and gave his daughter a searching look. "What makes you think they were such good thieves?"
"Because my father could defend himself. He was not an easy man to kill. Also, we have evidence." Bree Qampie's self-control was amazing. If Marron hadn't been watching her very carefully, she would have missed the way her hands shook as she unfolded a piece of thick, glossy photo paper. "My father's ID card was missing from his wallet when he was found," she said as she passed the paper over. "This morning, we also discovered that this was missing from Qampie Corporation's private vaults. I think you might recognize it."
Marron took the paper and unfolded it carefully, sucking in a sharp breath when she saw the picture printed on it – an orange sphere, marked with six black stars. "This is a Dragon Ball," she said without thinking, and then immediately cursed herself for giving away any information.
But Bree didn't seem surprised. "It is," she said, taking the paper back. "My father had it in his possession when he founded Qampie Corporation. It is the only one of its kind that we have ever been able to find." She hesitated, and for an instant Marron could see her mask slip as she attempted to get control of herself. When she did speak again, her voice wavered. "Given the fact that you were my father's most visible rival, I felt that I should speak to you before I began my investigations."
"You think I had him killed." It wasn't a question.
If Bree had denied her obvious suspicions, Marron would have kicked her out of the office then and there. But she didn't. Instead she squared her shoulders and looked Marron in the eye. "Prove to me that you did not."
Marron scowled at her. Without looking away, she climbed to her feet and untucked her blouse long enough to reveal the bandaged wound one of the would-be assassin's bullets had left behind. "Someone tried to kill me, too," she said. "I'm just a better fighter."
Bree's jaw worked, as if she was trying and failing to think of something to say. Then all her strength seemed to leave her. She slumped in her chair and wilted. "I do not understand," she said, so softly that Marron wasn't sure she had been meant to hear. She looked up, her gaze almost accusatory. "Do you have one of these Dragon Balls as well? Is that why whoever killed my father also tried to kill you?"
Marron shook her head. "I know about them, but I don't have any on me. I've never seen anything like your father's, with the black stars."
Bree nodded. She looked as tired as Marron felt. "Do you know who might want to take them, then? My father did not have many enemies except…" She trailed off, staring at her hands.
"Except me," Marron finished. When the younger woman nodded, she sighed and began to shuffle through her paperwork. A second set of Dragon Balls weren't any of her business, and if they had gotten her rival killed – well, who was she to complain?
Except it could have been her. It could have been Chichi, since Goku definitely kept one of those stupid things at his house. It could have been her mother and father, even if she hadn't seen or spoken to them in years.
Hell, it could have been Trunks. He hadn't disassociated himself from that whole other world nearly as much as she had. It wouldn't be hard to trace a Dragon Ball back to him.
Maybe that was why she looked up at Bree. "What about the Ankuashes?"
Bree swore in a language Marron didn't recognize. Then she seemed to remember herself and switched back to Japanese. "It sounds like the sort of thing they would do. Father never let them get away with anything."
"I didn't either," Marron said, grimacing at the fact that she had just referred to herself in the past tense, and reached for the phone. She had calls to make. In a moment of uncharacteristic charity, she jabbed a finger at the doors. "Go back to Qampie Corp. You can't do anything in Japan."
Bree looked as if she was about to protest, but since Marron was already on the phone with the numerous security agencies that owed her a favor, she didn't have much choice. She left quietly, leaving one fuming, mystified C.E.O. to her own devices.
"Have I mentioned this is dumb?"
It was a rhetorical question, but Demitrius answered it anyway. He took everything too damn literally. "I think you did, actually. Five minutes ago."
"Oh." Athena stopped and scowled at him for a moment. Only for a moment, because she was standing in a giant drainage pipe. Worse, she was up to her ankles in suspicious-looking, smelly muck. This was doing nothing to improve her temper. "It's still dumb. I can't believe you're listening to that midget, Mitri."
"Uranai Baba is a witch," Demitrius said patiently. "And do you really want Dragon Balls in my relatives' hands?"
"I don't want anything in your relatives' hands," Athena muttered, but she tightened her grip on their sleeping baby son and slogged after him. She half-expected her darling husband to say something reproachful, but he didn't. Knowing him, he was already thinking four moves ahead.
It was her own fault, she told herself for the hundredth time. She had met Demitrius while she was working at her family's tourist trap of a shop in Greece, and since no one had mentioned his last name, she had decided he was a decent person. By the time he had got around to bringing up whom he actually was, she had been quite besotted and willing to move heaven and earth for him. The fact that he was the heir-apparent to the largest and most ruthless criminal organization on the planet had seemed like a minor detail.
That was what she got for falling in love with the idiot.
Demitrius's family, the Ankuashes, weren't really a family at all. They were a series of loosely organized clans. Their generations-old practices of extortion, smuggling, assassination, and plain old intimidation had made them obscenely wealthy, and the chaos following the Deadly Spring had allowed them to slide into countless high-ranking positions in important businesses and national governments. Entire industries – hell, entire countries – belonged to the Ankuash family now, and they might have been the world power if one particular rival hadn't proven to be so formidable.
Any and all attempts to expand into Asia had come up against the might of Capsule Corporation and its ruthless chief executive. Marron Kuri fought dirty and was a trained ki-user, which meant that the clans had a serious problem. Attempting to frighten the richest woman in the world was laughable, and killing her had proven to be just as difficult. While she had never killed an Ankuash operative, Athena knew for a fact that three of the more skilled assassins had been in intensive care for months.
Capsule Corp's maneuvering had neatly driven the Ankuashes out of Asia, and now the newer, equally ambitious Qampie Corporation was steadily taking over their business interests in sub-Saharan Africa. The clans' attempts to move out of Europe and the Americas had been neatly halted, and everyone was furious.
Everyone except Demitrius, anyway. Defying hundreds of years of inbred nastiness, the presumptive heir to the whole mess had turned out to be a well-intentioned, kind-hearted human being.
Of course, the fact that he was charismatic as hell didn't hurt. Otherwise Athena wouldn't have followed him just because some midget witch had told her to.
She glanced over at him and asked the question that had been nagging at her for hours. "What are these Dragon Balls anyway?"
Demitrius grimaced. "As far as I can tell, they grant wishes. They can bring people back from the dead, if that's what the wisher wants, or they'll grant stuff like power and immortality."
"Which would be why your family's after them."
"Pretty much." Demitrius was rapidly slipping into what Athena had taken to calling his professor mode. If she didn't watch it, she was going to have a lecture on her hands. Possibly charts would be involved.
Which was why she headed him off. "The short version, Mitri."
Her husband gave her a wounded look, clearly editing whatever he had been about to say. "There's two sets of Dragon Balls – the regular ones, and a more powerful set called the Black Stars. The regular ones haven't really worked right since the Deadly Spring, so I think my family's going to try using the Black Stars instead."
"I'm waiting for the 'but'."
"But the Black Stars are dangerous," Demitrius continued rather irritably. He didn't like being predictable. "Uranai Baba told me all about them. Anyone who uses them will basically destroy the world, and Earth's in enough danger as it is. I can't let my family make anything worse." He flexed his fingers around the hilt of his sword. It was a giant of a family heirloom, so notched and worn that any inscription was long lost.
Athena felt for her own sword, pausing long enough to rub her palm against the reassuring roughness of the wrapped hilt. "And you trust that mi – that witch?"
"More than I trust my family."
"That's not saying much," she muttered, but sighed and shifted her hold on their son. She hadn't wanted to bring him along, but there was no one she really trusted to protect him.
Demitrius shrugged. "No, I guess it's not." He ran his fingers through his messy hair and gave her a sidelong look – one of those glances that made her wonder if he was really as nice as he seemed, or if he was playing a cosmic joke on the universe. "You didn't have to come along, you know."
"And let you have all the fun? Are you crazy?" She made a face. "This is still a dumb idea."
"I know," he said, and smiled faintly before he forged on.
Gizoku's inevitable questions had started up the instant she finished off her pancakes, although for a while they were confined to normal things. These included classics like "How the hell does the TV work?" – a twenty-minute ordeal in its own right, since Marron believed in conspicuous consumption. The girl never seemed satisfied with an answer, and so Trunks found himself following her through different rooms as she scrambled on top of furniture, poked at electronics, and generally left footprints everywhere.
The housekeeper hadn't been pleased, as the large lump on Gizoku's head was attesting to. Like so many others before her, she had met the business end of a mop and been unceremoniously booted from the apartment.
"You know lotsa weird people," she grumbled as she fell into step beside Trunks. Although he hadn't been kicked out of the apartment, he had left Hito to the housekeeper's mercies and tagged along to keep Gizoku out of trouble.
He shrugged and glanced at his watch. Dende would be expecting them to turn up sooner or later. "I've met weirder."
"No kidding." She tilted her head to one side, reminding him of a much younger Goten. "What're we gonna do now?"
"Do you remember the people Marron and I were talking to last night?"
"What, the guy with hair like fwoomp?" This none-too-helpful description was accompanied by flailing hand motions, as if she was trying to pantomime Goku's bizarre hairstyle.
Trunks hid a grin and nodded. "Right. We're going to see him again."
"And talk about whatever's coming to Earth, right?"
His mirth vanished as quickly as it appeared, pushed away by dread and memories. "Yeah," he said softly. "That's it."
Gizoku fell silent, hunching her shoulders as she trudged beside him. When she did look up again, it was with that strange, bright light in her eyes that always made something inside him lurch. It was proud and feral and utterly Saiyan, very much like Gohan when he had been determined to defend his home and family.
"You do this a lot?" she asked suddenly.
He frowned. "Do what?"
"Save the world."
The question caught him completely off-guard, and he spluttered for a moment before shrugging. "What makes you think I save the world?"
"'Cause you're not panicking or some shit like that. You're just doing what you've got to."
That made no sense to him. Whether he liked Marron pointing it out or not, he knew he was the textbook definition of a failure. Fighting off some kind of threat to Earth wasn't heroic. It was just something he did. Hell, it was what all of the Saiyans on the planet seemed to do, often on a regular basis.
"I'm not a hero," he said.
Gizoku rolled her eyes. "Naw, but you're not like the rich lady, either." She flashed a little-girl grin. "I used to wanna be Saiyaman when I was a kid. I figured he had all the fun, 'cause he got to go around beating people up and looking dumb in a cape."
And look how he died, Trunks added in the privacy of his own head. But he didn't say anything. He just shrugged, watching with the now-familiar lurch as Gizoku stomped off in front of him and floated a few feet in the air with her arms crossed, heedless of the fact that one of Marron's neighbors could open their door at any moment. It was a silly, childish picture, like something out of someone's rose-tinted memory, and he imagined that he saw flames licking at its edges.
He caught her by her arm and hauled her back to the floor, ignoring a blow that could have shattered concrete. Instead he loomed over her as if he was a put-upon parent. It was a strange comparison to make, and if he had been given any time he would have wondered at why the idea had even crossed his mind.
"I'm taking you to the Lookout," he said. "Behave."
She rolled her eyes. "Spoilsport."
He ignored that, too. "You don't have to come along," he said. "Not if you don't want to. Marron will train you anyway."
Later, he would wish that there had been some kind of strained silence – any sign at all that she had hesitated. But she didn't. She just glared. "I want somebody to fight, asshole. Are we gonna go or not?"
Trunks nodded, but didn't let go of her until she twisted free. She scurried off down the corridor, out into the lobby and past the doorman. After a moment, he sighed and followed her. Dende was probably wondering where the hell they were.