Disclaimer: Akira Toriyama's epic manga series Dragon Ball Z does not belong to me.

Chapter 6

Vegeta refused to turn off the television. This was the first unmonitored access he'd had in months and damned if he'd squelch it on a premonition. He lowered himself further into the sofa (Mr. Briefs' armchair, which he'd claimed the first three years of his extended stay for after training hours, had been "relocated" since his return from space training, so Bulma could sit next to him when he didn't want her on his lap) stubbornly. The special effects of the action films were clumsy enough to induce nausea, draining the fun out of even the simplest gorefests (an 11th adaptation of Troy, for example) and leaving him no choice but to go the tamer route. It was just as well; this Negaduck was quite the tactician. Vegeta was beginning to admire the animated creations over the stupidity of whoever the enemy in the current human war was. But if Bulma caught him watching this tripe he'd never hear the end of it, so he kept the volume low.

It was as he was silently cheering on the Powerpuff Girls' nemesis (and…brother?) with the fearsome name that he first felt it, that tingling sensation at the back of his mind which took the form of a sentient consciousness but wasn't a Saiyan or telepathic alien. That obliviously nagging touch could only belong to his mate, and try as he might to ignore it she was too persistent. The large-brained primate on screen laughed maniacally, and the Saiyan ran a hand down his face tiredly. He had thought to dismiss her for this weekend, and she had agreed they both wanted privacy, but her mind pressed in on his. It was working feverishly, anxious at something immediately before her and also livid at how it was out of her control. She was afraid and cut off from resources, and without trying to she was summoning him for protection—or, he judged, confounded by her nerve, for her ease of mind. He could almost hear, but didn't need to—didn't want to, he insisted—her fervent cry: If Vegeta were here, if only he were here I wouldn't be scared.

But they had an understanding! Vegeta, not particularly occupied, intended to keep his promise not to come to her aid in the event of unprecedented travesty. If he made it a matter of princely honor, there really was no question. And besides, hadn't that harpy mate of Kakarott's sworn her own negligible competence would be sufficient? Let her be proven wrong, then. She could learn her place! And so, though Bulma's presence in his mind only grew, he turned up the volume.

"Oh man oh man oh man oh man!" Bulma had checked to see if she could hotwire the scooter if the key wouldn't work, reset her watch, even switched the navigation system to Mandarin Chinese and repeated a few phrases, but she was still nervous. Chichi had moved to stand before the doorway of her house, as if to say, "None of your jet soldiers made it across this threshold; how do you believe you'll fare?" A small disc-shaped device was deployed from the warship. It floated to each crumpled jet, even the one Chichi had landed, and verified the deceased status of the soldiers. To Bulma's horror and Chichi's disgust, any time it scanned a live specimen it shot a ray, and a sizzle followed.

The process had taken fifteen minutes because of the distances between wreckages. Chichi hadn't moved, but Bulma had resumed working on her mobile radio. It was coming together nicely with the spare parts she'd stowed inside the scooter, and she hoped to have it ready before more bloodshed. Her face had rivulets of cold sweat running off her chin, but her hands were sure in their placements.

The ship's speaker came on with the intolerable scraping. Chichi didn't flinch. Bulma stared at the gaudy hull in dread. "Well done," said the tinny voice. As it continued it sounded impressed but cheery and undaunted, and evidently it wasn't bluffing. "You have dispatched thirty-six of our finest troops and, in the manner of your late husband, you did it mostly through sheer dumb luck at our underestimation. We all know your son Gohan is the only fighter with the capability to end this in your favor if all our powers are pitted against his, so why don't you retrieve him and what might happen next could be avoided."

"My husband," said Chichi stiffly, "defeated the Red Ribbon Army as a child not through luck, but because even then he was better than you. I know because I remember him at that time and he could have shot the whole lot of you down in one blow." She's exaggerating, thought Bulma, tinkering away, but it sounds great. "He was never afraid of you; why should I be? I will defeat you, and when this is over I will rid my land of you vermin." She crossed her arms, willing to let them make the first move.

The ship began shutting off auxiliary hovering motors in preparation for landing. A series of clangs signified the closing of the windows, which meant they planned to empty the ship completely of troops. Bulma wasn't planning to wait that long. With a final rewiring adjustment and push of a jigsaw metal piece into place, she activated her radio.

But the reading yielded no results when she typed the number. She punched it in again, and the screen winked at her: no findings. She cursed it for not working properly when her contribution was flawless. There was no troubleshooting to be done, the problem lay with the receiving end. "Come on, Krillin, pick up! Pick up!"

"I had my doubts about this, guys, but it's turned out great!" Krillin stretched his arms out luxuriously.

"You just about had a heart attack when we took off," said Gohan.

"But you were shouting and waving your arms!" said Goten from behind him, giggling. Trunks gave a squawk and flapped his arms, imitating a stork. Gohan flushed as they laughed at his expense, but he took it with a laugh as well, putting a hand behind his head good-naturedly.

Trunks' flapping was halted by a clawed three-fingered hand clamping over his wrist—a green hand. "You think this is funny?" Piccolo stood regally. He seemed offended by their joy, glaring at the two little boys with disdain. "Let's spar a little while, and then you'll see how funny this situation is. It's bad enough you tricked Gohan into coming with you, but he dragged me along!"

"Sorry Mr. Piccolo!" said Goten cheerfully.

Trunks looked eagerly up at him. "We're gonna play the hitting game! Me an' Goten are really good at it!"

Piccolo snorted at the six-year-old and five-year-old counterpart, who beamed obliviously to all the tall people. The green alien had been jolted from his early morning meditation by a tackle from the terrible two. After their release from their mothers' custody Gohan had gotten Krillin to agree to a pit-stop at the Lookout. Then Trunks dropped the barrel, revealing he'd left something important back at his house. Goten compounded on his cries and please so that Krillin indulgently acquiesced, and somehow Gohan convinced Piccolo to come along "for some air at a healthy altitude". The flight down to Capsule Corp went calmly enough, Trunks appeased and boisterous Goten bouncing like a flea from his brother's back to Krillin's, not having learned to fly yet (Trunks held Gohan's hand). But the moment the group set foot on the ground, the two boys, who'd been giggling excitedly, which wasn't suspicious being so ingrained in their behavior, took off like squirrels at a walnut harvest. They didn't bother splitting up, making a beeline for what Gohan assumed was the outer shell of a new, larger Gravity Room.

No sooner were they all aboard than Trunks pressed the muffin button and the rockets ignited. In retrospect any one of the adults could have blown an escape hole through the ceiling, but it would have taken time to charge, and they were all still shocked at suddenly being thrust into the air by a rocket-ship. Then there was the matter of deciphering the coordinates. Terror subsided only when they learned their destination was the nearest hospitable planet…the next solar system, only three hours away, thanks to alien technology. They passed the time arguing and blaming at first, but Krillin wisely noted that though the route was fixed the fuel tanks seemed to have no shortage of gas, so they might as well think of it as a twist on their vacation. They would still go camping—but in space! Their supplies would even last the same, since Piccolo only needed water, and there were extra rations on board.

So they landed on the nearest planet with tolerable atmosphere, unaware it was the first Vegeta had depopulated years ago in his search for Goku. The dry air and diverse terrain made it a veritable fighter's paradise, as Trunks and Goten needed no prompting to explore during tag. Gohan and Krillin kicked off an amiable match with enough rules to preserve their surroundings while allowing for creativity. Piccolo sat morosely, but was unable to meditate because of a thought. "Gohan. Why do you think Vegeta didn't try to stop us?"

Not missing a side swipe, his protégé answered guilelessly. "Oh, probably so he wouldn't have to deal with us. He couldn't even sense us at this range unless I did a mondo Kamehameha, and then I'm sure he'd rush on over for the rumble!"

Krillin wheezed, recovering from a tap to the gut. "I thought you…hadn't been training!"

"Or maybe he knew we'd be sent here and we would meet something."

Trunks popped up over his shoulder. "You really think so?"

"…I doubt it," said Piccolo, opening one eye to regard him. "But even more than that, I'm wondering about the women." Krillin veered tragically off course from his (nose) dive, plummeting headfirst fifteen meters from Gohan, who stared at the alien open mouthed. "Don't tell me you forgot about them! I won't be the one to explain this to them, especially that cow!" She'll run me over.

She'd flatten him, thought Gohan, blanching. "W-we could say we were kidnapped! We'll go back on the ship after painting it, apologize to Bulma, tell her we'll pay for the fuel, whatever! Anything to get her to back us up when we say an enslaved alien civilization warped us to their home planet so we'd free them, and after we, uh, cleared up misunderstandings peacefully, they lent us this ship they modeled after Capsule Corp designs to get us home!"

"Or we could get home before they do, refill the tank ourselves, and pretend we camped in the national park!" Krillin submitted.

This was accepted by all as a fine idea, and they all went back to dinking around.

Chichi stood firmly before her home. The warship had landed, sending shockwaves through the earth, heedless of the likely disturbance to the daikon field. Chichi growled. The soldiers ran out from several doors, in single file, each holding a gun that seemed of only slightly less power than those of the elite air force. They quickly and effectively affixed themselves in four contingents (a straggler would be shot for disgrace), the rows straight but angled so it would feel to Chichi that the house was surrounded, this time by men and not mere machinery. They did this in eerie silence, focused on the task, yet Chichi scrutinized every man sharply, anticipating a cheap shot she knew the villains were not above. When the last soldier was in place, the commander exited the ship.

Bulma had progressed beyond fear into fury. "Krillin, you worthless baldy! Pick up the damn phone! 'Emergency phone number', I said, 'I would only call you if it were an emergency, so on the one in one thousand chance that it rings pick it up!' I'm going to stretch your pudgy midget body between Okinawa and Hong Kong. Then I'll split it into seven pieces and send them to the seven continents, and dance all over the world, your grave!" The dial tone grated on her ear like kindergarteners singing BINGO; she would smash it on the next try. She looked toward her friend, instantly seized with despair. "Chichi, hang in there," she said, fingers poised for another round. "You can't let them blow it up!"

The commander was a man of average build. His brown hair was uncovered and parted neatly to the back and his right, his forehead showing creases which might convince some he shouldered the same portion of problems allotted to all humans, but Chichi saw a thug and a trickster. He probably held a decent occupation in an innocuous town as a cover, but he struck Chichi as false, and as he smiled at her in greeting she frowned. "Now we meet the way I would have preferred in the first place." If he were close enough to extend a polite hand she would have spat in it. "I am very impressed, Son Chichi. You managed to dispatch one of our most talented squadrons. The recruiting process never ends!" He laughed heartily, his soldiers looming behind him, begging with their shielded eyes to fill the slots. They were all trigger-happy lapdogs, tongues lolling—each looking for an opportunity to advance in rank, and this priority mission made her everyone's coin in the well.

"What makes you think you can get away with this?" She remembered Bulma's incredulous words. "You seek out my son because he is the most powerful being on Earth, and you threaten his family? Do you really believe he would go with you, serve under you?"

"Absolutely." His smile was not a grimace or a sneer, but easy, and it unsettled Chichi the most—if she were intimidated by these goons, that is. Most psychopaths have a talent for posing among normalcy. He smoothly dipped his hand into his pocket, slowly and calmly. He held a pistol that looked more like a watergun, partly translucent and ruby-red, laughable, but the small container on its back held a liquid.

Chichi narrowed her eyes. "Biological warfare?" Bulma's magazines served a purpose after all!

"The term is persuasion, actually," said the Commander. "Biological persuasion. Once I had gained satisfactory resources I had to amend the previous Army's procedures for extinguishing opposition. But you'll excuse me, I am getting ahead of myself," he said, the smiling gentleman." You see, years after the destruction of the first Red Ribbon Army I, an ignorant member of the next generation, gained appreciation for the organization's goals. Fortunately the only facility out of commission turned out to be the headquarters; the research and training centers had simply been abandoned; the Army had abandoned its vision. I took the liberty of learning from the few files compiled after the deaths of Red and Black that the entity which had accomplished this feat was none other than your husband, Goku, at that time a former participant of the Strongest in the World Tournament. I made him a priority. I knew if this revived Army were to have a chance against such monstrous power, we must resort to an equally unprecedented monstrosity.

"Just prior to those magnificent Cell Games, during which we were suddenly deprived of our main foe, the outbreak of the Staining heart virus had all the best experts of the world on the run for a cure. Accordingly our own doctors took to manipulation of the virus in order to put it to use. It took years, and though we experienced some setbacks, last year we finally gained the ability to inject a modified virus of our own creation into anyone we choose." He patted his own gun proudly. "So as you can see, I took charge, revived the dream, and here we are."

Bulma, crouched at the edge of the forest, could do nothing but stare at the meeting between the two formidable adversaries and make a face at the Commander's arrogance. "Feh," she scoffed. "We'll see how great of a virus this is once I get it in my lab!"

Now Commander Burgundy strode four paces before the soldiers, gesturing with his arms loosely. His voice carried over the mountain, smooth and artful. "But you've inflicted a loss on us, an unprovoked attack. My men had orders to hold fire and you murdered them!" he shook his head, grinning. Oh, you! "How might we rectify this? I, Commander Burgundy, have a solution!" He raised his right hand, the soldiers raised their clicking arms, and he raised his voice. "A bargain! One life for thirty-six! Son Gohan, answer me this! Will you permit or prevent this charitable justice?!"

Chichi remained intrepid with all weapons trained on her. "Well aren't you the assuming fool," she said. "Gohan is away at the moment, and even if he were here I wouldn't allow him to dirty his hands on trash like you."

"Gohan is not present?" Burgundy's forehead contracted and formed striations. "For his truancy he shall be—" He shrugged. "Then it can't be helped. Stun!"

Every gun went upright for the setting and leveled out again to aim at her. She exhaled through her nose. She felt Bulma's ki freeze in fright, but her friend was eclipsed on her sensitivity radar by the Commander and his malevolence. She reasoned he couldn't have planned anything for her capture, and the dragon balls could fix what he did. But she said sincerely, "Even a hundred of those at once won't stop me."

"In succession, they will," the Commander said with confidence. "Ready—"

He stopped. There was a rumbling behind him. Against his own protocol he glanced. The back of the fifth contingent had encountered a difficulty; men flew this way and that, some at ninety degree angles, and as they fell their weapons, with a built in explosion feature set to detonate in the event their carriers failed to grip them properly, were laying waste to the hapless poor dodgers below.

"RRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!" said the one responsible. "Chichi! Get the kids outta here!"

"Dad!" exclaimed Chichi without thinking, and instantly clamped her mouth shut. But Commander Burgundy had heard her. His head swiveled back. His vile cold green eyes met her wide-open brown ones, and her throat closed; she was speechless, having sentenced own father to a violent death. Her feet wouldn't move, her arms were numb, her breath was arrested. She saw him fling his arm languidly into the air and signal to the ship. The helmets on the soldiers each had a protruding headpiece, and they all blinked as the order was relayed.

"Chichi! Kinto'un can fly you! Let Gohan take Goten!" The Ox King was wading through from the east. The light of dawn gleamed from beyond the hills, and she saw his silhouette dwarf the soldiers, and his arm sweeping them into the air, and a makeshift club in the other, a young oak tree, smash columns of them, helmets and boots from the dropping from the branches with each lift. His older self, she realized, had reawakened, and she bore witness to it with a fear-stricken heart.

Suddenly she shouted to Commander Burgundy. "Call off your men at once!" He faced her, openly enjoying himself. The soldiers who had fled the onslaught of her father only drew away a distance and shot with their weapons still on stun. She threw aside her bluster, her puffed-up self-righteous power tone, and gazed at him, warning him with all her bearing. "If he dies, I will destroy you." Her body was white, pale with rage only just kept at bay.

His arm extended upward, and the soldiers made the change.

Laser shots sang. The Ox King's yell cut short, then returned all the more impassioned, higher and more dogged. Another barrage of shots was applied, and with each of his cries became louder and more ardent, until twenty meters away from the house the sun glinted on his horns, and she saw him, oozing and sputtering and hysterically weeping at his failure, and as he let the trunk fall they circled about him and they shot him once more.

Chichi moved to him.

A/N: Well now, that was a monster to type up! Sorry it took so long. I still feel like I've missed something, but I've got everything planned out for the end. Next is the Super Chapter, where stuff gets real, so it'll be twice as long as usual.

Thanks for the reviews, guys, I'm flattered! Keep 'em coming! For the most part I try to answer reviews through private messaging, but guest reviews might be tricky.

One guest reviewer "Alex" felt that my jab at Bulma's bad parenting skills with carelessly bringing her infant son into a battlefield was misogynistic. S/he felt I was dumping on Bulma for the masculine adventurous qualities of her personality, as if I were implying because she was reckless and not nurturing as the traditional mother would be she was a bad mother. This is not a motherhood narrative. I put that bit in so Bulma might respect Chichi's decision and empathize on a level they'd both had experience in. You could argue that Chichi's being reckless in heading into certain death is just as bad and even hypocritical for the times she berated Goku! But Bulma flew into the battlefield with Trunks when the smarter and more loving thing to do would have been to leave him behind. At that point she was acting as a bad mother. Chichi is putting her home and family before her life. Maybe, Alex, that's another typical gagworthy characterization in your dislikable motherhood narratives, but it's consistent with her character and I admire it. If I were being misogynistic Chichi wouldn't have lasted this long and Yamcha or Tien or hey, Vegeta, would have come to the rescue by now. So thanks very much for your input, and that's why I'm not a misogynist sympathizer.

Also, to the confessed twelve-year-old bored with his/her life: I'm glad you're taking time out of your precious days to read my fic. However, there are better things you could do. Try googling "online literature" and you'll get a decent amount of text with cultural significance and merit.