The voices came and went, sometimes hushed, sometimes raised in anger. He had a sense of time passing, of days and weeks going by like water passing him at a river's edge. He knew he had been injured badly, perhaps mortally. Had the Chikyuu-jin denied him treatment as payment in kind for all their slain millions? He sank in and out of consciousness, drifting some days in a sea of blessed forgetfulness, and sometimes in a hell of delirious nightmares…
"…should have recovered by now," Coran's quiet, deep voice came to him distantly.
"We've given him the best treatment we have," Briefs replied, sounding grim and frustrated. "Unfortunately, what we have isn't much. And…I think the staff and secondary infections he contracted after the surgery I performed are a direct result of the virus the three of you survived. It may have permanently damaged your immune system as well as the centers of your brain that channel your ki. Though…even that wouldn't account for the way his body has just refused to bounce back. Or the fact that he's not really regained consciousness once in all this time." A sigh. "But I think he's finally out of the woods. I'd hate to find my Bulma-chan only to have to tell her that her husband had died in my care."
"Have you made your decision then, Briefs-san?" Coran asked carefully, as though this was a subject he had discussed with the old man many times.
"They won't be here for another few weeks," the old man replied evasively. "It's not as cut and dried a decision as you might think, son. There are a lot of people who simply won't leave. We've worked so damn hard to bring this world back from the edge of oblivion-"
"And you have only the word of three men who are of the same race which burned this world," Coran finished curtly. "I understand. But I say to you again, on my honor as a warrior of Vegita-sei, that these communications from the "New Alliance of Worlds" are not what they seem. They fought my people for their freedom, but the belief that races who have no fighting power to speak of should be slaves of those who do is nearly a galaxy wide conceit. They will see this world-its vast seas and rich, ore-laden mountains, it's potential to house game and grow enough grain to feed a dozen worlds-and they will find a reason to take it from you. In truth, they have an excuse already. They know this is Bulma-san's homeworld. They search for the escape ship, for your daughter and the children who are in her care. They mean to kill them all."
"I'd say they came to the same conclusion your Prince did," Briefs said. "That she would take them home. Or at least it was enough of a possibility to check it out. And…you believe they'll use the fact that Bulma-chan was their enemy as an excuse to either purge Chikyuu all over again or take this world and enslave us all." A little silence. "I'm not the King of my people, Coran. I believe you, but we've discussed this time and time again among ourselves, and nearly everyone else wants to wait for this delegation to arrive and see what they have to say. They've suffered so much loss at Saiyan hands, a lot of them wouldn't believe you if you said the sky is blue. They think if these New Alliance people were the Saiyans' enemies they must be our friends." Vegita shifted anxiously, fighting his way upward toward consciousness. This would not happen! He would not see his woman's one chance to regain her self killed by Jeiyce's minions-very probably out of nothing more than malice that these trusting fools were Bulma's kin.
"Did he speak?" Rikkuum's deep voice, a rumble of childlike hope. "Ouji-sama! Wake up!" Something jostled him none too gently.
"Settle down, Rikkuum," the old man said with a note of command in the soft words. "Don't shake him like that, it's not good for him."
The world slipped away again. After what seemed like a moment or two, though it was certainly longer, he heard Rikkuum's voice speak again. "She told me I was free, that I could do as I please now," the big man said, as close to pensive as Vegita ever remembered hearing him. "But I have always been owned by someone. There are many men who would die a dozen terrible deaths rather than call another master. I am not one of them. I told her I did not wish to be free. Bulma-sama said she had been a slave and could never own another person, even if that person wanted to be owned."
"A slave…" The smaller, bald Chikyuu-jin warrior Krillan. "Man, that must have been hard on her."
"Taking orders from other people," Briefs murmured. "Building and designing someone else's work maybe. She could barely stand to work on a project with me, let alone be told what to do."
"What do you know about her time on Vegita-sei, Rikkuum?" Yamcha's voice, tense and full of quiet anger. "She was kidnapped by the men who burned Chikyuu, we know that."
"Yamcha-" Krillan began. The smaller man seemed to sense the anger and the true meaning of his squad brother's question.
"What happened to her after they took her to Vegita-sei?" Yamcha asked harshly.
"Captain Bardock-san brought her to Vegita-sei rather than see her slain with all the others on this world," Rikkuum replied. "He-Toma-san told me once while we drank together that she touched his heart when he saw her weeping over his son, Kakarott. He let her live because she had been as a sister to his son. And because she was beautiful."
The old man made a soft, wordless noise of grief in the sudden silence that followed his words.
No one spoke for a moment, then Krillan said a word, softly, angrily. "You insensitive bastard." He was not speaking to Rikkuum.
"Tell me it's not something we've all wondered since we found out they didn't kill her, Krillan!" Yamcha rapped out.
"Has it occurred to you that it wasn't something Briefs-san had wondered?" Krillan said angrily.
"I-" Yamcha finally found the wisdom to shut his fool mouth.
"He did not harm her," Rikkuum said slowly. "Bardock-san could have sold her to a great courtesan house for a fortune, but he was not so cruel. He gave her to his son."
"As a…a technical slave?" Briefs asked, seeming to swallow hard as he spoke.
"No," Rikkuum went on uncertainly. "She was his…she was Raditz-san's pleasure slave."
Again silence. "Bulma-chan…" The old man said after a moment. He seemed to gather himself. "I'm all right, boys. Rikkuum…When did the Prince meet her?"
"I was not yet in my Prince's service," the giant warrior replied. "But…I have heard he was a guest in the house of Raditz when he first met her. It is said that he laid eyes on her and fell under her spell in the same instant. He took her from Raditz, who had been her master for more than five years. They fought, and Vegita-ouji slew Raditz with one blow."
"Good for him," Krillan said, a grim smile in his voice.
"It was a scandal that the Prince should have slain a man under his command for the sake of a bed slave. His father, the King, commanded that he set her aside more than once. Prince Vegita would not. He defied his father and custom and all the Elite on Vegita-sei to keep her and see her safe. He gave her a son, the youngest son of Bardock, to raise as her own. He set her free, and set her to build machines, shields to keep the enemy from attaching Vegita-sei. Many of the noble Elites feared her influence, believing that he would set an alien woman on the throne beside him as queen when he took the throne."
"Did she love him?" The old man asked, just above a whisper.
"I heard her say the words," Rikkuum replied in his slow way. "And I heard my Prince reply in kind, though it is against Saiyan custom to say such things aloud. When I saw them together, her eyes seemed to shine. I am not a quick man, but even I could see it between them."
Vegita wanted to scream aloud that the great idiot had it wrong, that the tale was twisted through the pretty lens of big man's hero worship. That he had been the villain, the monster, the ravaging beast. Not Raditz. But he could not speak a word to protest.
He tossed and moaned all that last day, tearing his way through to consciousness as the last warm shafts of the setting sun cut through the open window of the room, the scent of summer blooms drifting in, filling his eyes with helpless, weakling's tears as he recognized the scent.
"Roses…" He croaked. His voice was raw with disuse.
Briefs leaned over his bed, smiling sadly. "Yes. How do you know that, son?"
"She…she kept a garden. Of flowers cloned from dead petals sewn into the clothes she wore the day she came to Vegita-sei. The Chikyuu-jin roses were precious to her." Vegita turned his face away from the older man, in shame that he had wept again like a babe Romayn's age, in shame over so many things…
The old man nodded, his eyes distant with old losses, old pain, that would never fade with the passage of time. "Her mother kept a gorgeous garden, full of every flower you can imagine."
"There are things I must tell you…Briefs-san," Vegita began.
"I know some of what you are going to say, young man," Briefs said. "Save your strength for later. You're going to need it, I think. We all are.
You've been unconscious a long time, and there's a great dealing happening."
"You cannot trust the New Alliance," Vegita said, trying and failing to sit in his bed. "You must leave, with as many of your people as you may bring, before they reach this world! Force them if they will not go! They will be angry, but they will be alive. You do not understand-"
"It's too late," Briefs said, pushing him back down. "They're already here."
"Fool!" Vegita spat furiously, but the words sounded despairing as they reached his ears. "They will butcher you all! They will-"
"They may try," Briefs said. "But we're not entirely helpless. We shot your ship out of the sky and we can do the same to them if they force us to. I'd prefer that no one get hurt, but as a poet of my younger days once said, 'You can't always get what you want.'" He shook his head, frowning in his mild way. It made him look very like his daughter. "We couldn't just pack up and leave. We didn't have anything to leave in."
Vegita swore softly. Of course, they could not leave. They were at bare bones subsistancy after the purge ten years ago, and, in any case, had not been a space-faring race to begin with. A thought occurred to him. "My ship-it is in pieces, but there might be enough left of it to patch back together."
"That's been the plan," Briefs agreed. "And the gods smiled on us in a big way when they brought the three of you to us-your friend Okuda is a engineer. He specializes in ship design. The big problem wasn't knowing what to do, it was getting the raw materials. To make the 'ardantium' alloy he said we needed for the frame and bones of a new ship, we had to find the metals, then mine them, transport them and smelt them-all without the infrastructure of an industrialized society. To build the engines, we had to find eight diamonds the size of a T-rex's head, then we had to cut them to specifications within a hundred-thousandth of a centimeter-you get the point. Added to that, most of my people haven't lifted a hand to help us. Our nightly 'town meetings' have turned into shouting matches. There are a lot of folks who think we should welcome the New Alliance with open arms, and maybe even give you and your friends over to them as a sign of our good faith." The blue eyes narrowed in an expression he knew well-he had bequeathed to his daughter. It was a look of utter implacability. "We're a democracy in most things, but I told them that's not going to happen. They think the New Alliance sounds like the best idea since the wheel. So, that's a long way of saying that we've had precious little help building our ark, and we still won't be finished for another few months." Vegita tensed reflexively when the older man laid a kindly hand on his shoulder, pushing him back down onto his bed. No one, no man at any rate, had ever touched him so casually, without a trace of fear. No one except his own father.
"Don't worry yourself about it, Vegita. I'll take care of things if these people get out of hand. I've got Coran, Okuda and Rikkuum cooling their heels in the next room, and I've got a master dining room full of New Alliance types downstairs eating up half our stores for this winter. So, you and I will talk later. Okuda will fix you all up if you want to come downstairs and help out if Prince Jeiyce's boys decide to become unpleasant."
He left Vegita's bedside and tapped lightly on the door of the adjacent suite. Coran burst into the room with Rikkuum and Okuda at his back.
"How long?" Vegita asked Coran curtly when Bulma's father had left them.
Coran looked uneasy. "I know it has been more than a few weeks," Vegita prodded. "I was aware at times, though I could not move or wake."
"Five months," Okuda answered without expression. "They do not know why, but their medicine is relatively primitive."
Five months unconscious. Vegita had an idea as to the why of it. He somehow knew without any evidence to have led him to this conclusion that his long coma had been somehow a product of the too-deep bond with Bulma. He had been well enough while he was hale and strong in body, but when he had been weakened by his injury during the crash, that tie must have…have pulled him down into the silent stillness of her madness.
He wrenched his mind away from that grief, forcing it to the emergency at hand. "How many of them are there?"
"Perhaps six thousand," Coran said grimly. "They arrived in a large Maiyosh-jin troop carrier. They must have had a real hope of finding the children here to have sent so large a fighting force. Jeiyce's pet Aquir-jin, Dodoria, leads them."
Vegita's blood thinned to ice.
Crawl for me, you little Saiyan shit! Great booming laughter and the white-hot agony of a razor-barbed whip falling again and again and again. Beg me to stop, boy. Beg me, and maybe, just maybe, we'll let you sleep a bit…And the unrecognizable sound of his own voice, pleading, wailing like the broken, mad child he had become-
He was growling low in his throat like froth-mad animal. "Dodoria." He heaved himself out of the bed and stood on unsteady legs. Another half year spent lying on his fucking back! Another long road back to strength, back to health. Okuda reached out a steadying hand as the room began to tilt sharply to one side. "I will kill him!" Vegita hissed. "I will-"
"My Prince!" Okuda gripped him hard around the shoulders, braving the actual act of physically restraining his sovereign that the other two had not dared. "Hear me! We may fight if it comes to it, but if we are lucky it will not come to a fight. The force Dodoria has brought is a full compliment of fighting men. These Chikyuu-jin have no more ki than a pack of Madrani.
We are outnumbered, and we are no match for even one of them as we are now!" Vegita froze, and even Rikkuum seemed to sense the red haze of blood rage building inside his Prince, for the big man drew back a few steps.
"Nissan-" Coran began. But Okuda was not finished.
The younger man's face was hard, cold, without so much as a flicker of emotion, as he spoke the next words. "We cannot win with strength, so we must be cold and clever. And your Lady would not thank you if her father were killed while he is under your protection, Ouji-sama."
He could sense the others holding their collective breath, while he closed his eyes, trying to steady his own breath, trying to force down the insane rage at having been spoken to thusly by his own servant long enough to think. To think. What had his woman told him once? Something about counting from one to ten. He tried that, still trembling with anger that Articha's son had dared to lay hands on him, had spoken to him as though he were an addled-mind child. Your Lady would not thank you if her father were killed while he is under your protection, Ouji-sama.
He took one more deep breath. Nothing Okuda had just said was anything other than a hard truth. They were outnumbered. They had no fighting power. They had no ship. He must see the old man back to his woman safely. So…so, they must be clever. He opened his eyes and fixed Articha's youngest son with a black angry stare
"Take your hands off me, soldier," he said harshly.
He and the other man were still nose to nose as Okuda slowly released him. The younger man's face was mild, without anger or apology, as though they had just been discussing the weather. "My father once told me," Vegita
said coldly, "that your mother was the kind of woman who always would tell him the truth as she saw it. Even if speaking that truth meant her own life. He said, 'Such a vassal is to be valued, boy. So, try not to kill her when she tells you what you do not wish to hear.'"
One corner of Okuda's mouth quirked minutely. "My life is yours to take or to command, Ouji-sama. But you should wait to kill me until after we have dealt with Jeiyce's lackeys."
Vegita stepped back and stood straight. "I will think on it. Perhaps I will only beat you bloody."
"Do they still mean to fight, Coran-san?" Rikkuum asked a moment later, his heavy features twisted in confusion. His frown deepened when the three Saiyans burst into a bark of short, growling laughter.
"This is Briefs-san's bit of cleverness," Coran stepped forward. He held what looked to be a small holo-projector in his hand. "Dodoria and his warriors are all equipped with scouters, but we-we will not register on them." He seemed to swallow before going on. "That is an advantage, in a sense, as we will be all but invisible to them. These holo-projectors will project an image that will rearrange our features and mask our tails and hair. Jeiyce's men will think we are Chikyuu-jin senshi. We are still strong in close quarters, strong enough to put a fist through the heart of most of the men Dodoria has brought with him."
Vegita strapped the holograph around one wrist, and nodded grimly. "We will watch and look for a way to take them at unawares, but if they attack, I command you to guard the old man with your lives." He did not add that he would have cheerfully given the rest of his woman's suicidally gullible race to Dodoria's tender mercies.
No. They were not gullible, only ignorant. They had been purged by Saiyan hands. Why should they trust a Saiyan's word that Jeiyce's men would betray them to death or slavery?
The corridor outside of Vegita's bedchamber led them to a mezzanine that looked down on a great hall. It was improbably huge, almost as large as the King's Hall on Vegita-sei though had been, and at the moment, seemed to be accommodating the entirety of the surviving populace of this world, and the bulk of Dodoria's men. Which put the tally of heads below them at something approaching 16,000 warm bodies.
"He took this hall from one capsule," Okuda said softly. Vegita could hear the quiet awe in the other man's voice. "He told me he built it years ago for some great party, and nearly forgot about it until a week ago. He set in off in the center of their main dwelling complex and the rest of the building simply expanded to accommodate the change. I cannot follow the mathematics behind how it was done."
They walked slowly down the great staircase that curled upward into the upper levels of the household like a giant serpent. The landing found them dead center of the crowd of happily mingling Chikyuu-jin and their 'visitors'.
"…and your coming is like an answer to a prayer," a smiling yellow-haired woman was telling a Maiyosh-jin soldier as they brushed past. She drew one finger tentatively down her companion's exposed forearm. "So, tell me…are you that color all over?"
Coran snickered audibly beside him, then paused, his body tensing. Vegita followed his gaze and bit down on his own tongue in effort to keep from leaping across the throng like a howling madman.
Dodoria was less than twenty meters away, seated at a circle-shaped high table that stood upon a raised dais half again the height of a man, and thus removed from the general crowd. The Aquir-jin was feasting like a starving Saiyan, his bloated pinkish face pulled into an obscene parody of a smile.
And on his left hand, sat Bulma's father. Vegita could hear Briefs speaking animatedly, as he and the others drew near, pushing their way through the press of bodies a little too fast to seem like men casually crossing the hall. The old man gave the appearance of a man on the drunken side of tipsy as he ambled from one subject to the next in a charming, friendly, almost dotty-seeming fashion, that Dodoria had apparently taken at face value. But as Briefs caught Vegita's eye as the Saiyans approached and slowly climbed the little stair to the top of the dais, Vegita did not mistake the look of cold, sober warning.
"Oh, look here!" Briefs exclaimed happily. "Dodoria-san, you haven't met my son yet." The old man motioned vaguely for Vegita and the others to sit down in one of the empty chairs to his left. A few seats over, the Chikyuu-jin warriors, Krillan and Yamcha, had tensed visibly. Vegita did not sit. He could barely breath with the effort it took to keep any semblance of calm. "This is Trunks," Briefs beamed proudly. "He's got a bit of a temper, but he's a good boy all the same. Are you and your friends keeping out of trouble tonight, son?"
"As best we can, Ottousan," Vegita said with deadly softness, not taking his eyes from the Aquir-jin's face. Dodoria was regarding him with amused condescension. He could see his own false reflection in the small twin mirrors of the 'Vice Chancellor's' eyes. Blue eyes beneath a soft fall of lavender that was the same shade as Briefs own faded hair. "I wished to meet our guests."
"Well, let me make introductions all the way around," Briefs began. "You know Yamcha and Krillan, and all the others from here in West Capital. This is Satan-san from New World City in the south -did I get your city's name right, Satan-san? I'm terrible at names. We've not had any real contact with them since we discovered that other people had survived in the old king's deep fallout shelters built during the cold war with the Red Ribbon Army. They just contacted us three or four months ago."
Satan was a barrel-chested, burly man, with heavy, frowning brows under a matted swath of tightly curling black hair. Apparently, life had been harder in the south since the purge. He and his small entourage looked like half-starved pack carnivores. Without the benefit of Briefs' sheltering bunker, his encapsulated stores of food and clothing, they had most likely spent the last decade surviving on rodents, insects, and the carcasses of their own dead. And the animal skins they wore, the lean look of their hard, dirty faces, said that they had yet to accept the charity of their neighbors.
"I have no interest in pleasantries, Briefs," Satan's deep voice was not quiet rude, but it held no note of friendliness. "I am here to see that you don't speak for all of Chikyuu and turn down what may be our only hope of survival."
"He was a lot friendlier two months ago when came begging for penicillin to treat his daughter's fever, wasn't he, Jissan?" Yamcha said darkly.
Satan rounded on him, but Briefs held up a quelling hand. "Gentlemen. We're getting off topic here. And Yamcha-kun-if you can't be polite to our guests, I'm going to have to send you away from the table like I did when you were a boy."
Yamcha said something under his breath in Chikyuu-jin that sounded like 'gomen', and crossed his arms.
"Now, what was I saying?" Briefs frowned. "Oh yes, introductions. Trunks-kun, this is Dodoria-san, Vice-Chancellor of the New Alliance of Worlds. He's just been telling us that Chikyuu falls directly inside the galactic quadrant of his new governorship. How does this new government work, Dodoria-san? Were we supposed to vote on our terms of membership, or is it just automatic?"
Dodoria gave him an oily grin. "Annexation is automatic for all worlds who have yet to develop space travel. The new senate has decreed that all worlds and peoples who have neither the technology nor fighting power to defend themselves against aggressors be taken under the protective wing of the regional governors for their own safety...if they prove themselves loyal to the Alliance."
"You've talked all night between helpings of our food about how it would be in our best interest to agree to the annexation of Chikyuu," a Chikyuu-jin woman of middle years with skin the color of polished blackwood said. "But the gist of what you've saying, Dodoria-san, is that we are yours to do with as you see fit. What do we gain if we agree to be your obedient satellite world?"
"More importantly, what will you do if we refuse? Krillan asked quietly.
Dodoria put down the plate he had been eating out of as though it were a trough, and motioned to motioned to the small group of Maiyosh-jin warriors who stood on the edge of the dais. They drifted over with a sense of casual danger implicit in their every move, taking up standing positions all around the table. A scar-faced warrior with the fiery claw insignia of the Red Demons burned into the breast of his armor took a place at Dodoria's right shoulder, half a meter from where Briefs sat. Far too close. Vegita had a sudden mental image, as clear as a waking dream, of the Maiyosh-jin reaching out and casually breaking the old man's neck, of Dodoria's rumbling, malicious laughter. "Something very like that," the dream Dodoria chuckled.
Vegita stepped forward and took up a place behind Briefs, giving the Maiyosh-jin a warning stare that had turned lesser men's bowels to water in the past. The Maiyosh-jin only sneered, unafraid. Why should he fear, Vegita thought bitterly. The red bastard could sense no fighting power in him. None at all.
But Dodoria made no move to command the warrior at his shoulder. His squinting, piggish gaze was fixed on Vegita. "Your son seems to mistrust us, Briefs-san," he snickered. "Well, now…first, let me say that I've not had a meal like this in many a year. I've a mind to offer your chef employment on my private staff before I leave. On the matter of what-ifs-well, I prefer to keep unpleasant possibilities in the realm of maybe unless someone forces my hand. I wish Chikyuu well. I truly do. But this world is in a very touchy situation, politically speaking. Tell me, Briefs-san," Dodoria leaned forward, leering pleasantly at the older man beside him. "What became of the three Saiyans you shot out of the sky five months ago?"
"Well," Briefs said without missing a beat, "one of the young men died of his injuries shortly after they crashed. The other three…" He looked pained.
"There was a mob," Yamcha said bluntly. "We recognized them by their tails as the same race that purged our world, and our people went nuts. They drug them out of their holding cell and burned them alive. That's how most of our families died, you know, during the purge. They were burned alive. I'd say that was pretty just in the long run. They died the way they killed."
"We have heard that two survived," the Red Demon at Dodoria's shoulder said.
"I don't know who would have said something like that," Briefs looked innocently perplexed.
"I did!" Satan snapped. "I heard it from your own people. They said you've been real sneaky about it, kept the bastards out of sight for the most part, but that you kept at least one of them alive for sure. They described the one they saw to a tee! Said he had black, spiked hair and a tail, and that he could fly like a goddamn bird." Satan nodded to Dodoria. "Your man Tresha here told me you wanted a sign of loyalty, that we'd have a cache of your medicines and foods the moment you took us on as a protectorate." He jerked his head at Briefs. "To hell with this old fool! I speak for my people and we are ready to live like civilized men again. We'll give you whatever fealty you want, Dodoria-sama. A little freedom is a small price to pay to keep our children from starving this winter."
"The 'Saiyan' your spy saw was me, you stupid son of a bitch," Yamcha said, his voice dripping with disgust. "I have black spiky hair and I'm as Chikyuu-jin as you are! The 'tail' your friend saw was the end of my gi sash!" He stood, pushing his chair back with a clatter and rose two meters into the air, hovering, before he levitated back down into his seat. "Most Chikyuu-jin can't fly, can't harness their own ki to so much as light a match. But I can."
"So you can," Dodoria remarked.
Behind him, Tresha tapped the advanced setting on his scouter. "He's got a very high reading, first string warrior status. But the pattern of his ki signature is consistent with the other natives. He's Chikyuu-jin." The Maiyosh-jin shrugged. "You see this a lot of times in species that are on the evolutionary brink of ki sensitivity. He's just precocious for his kind." Tresha eyed Satan and shook his head in disgust. "I think this Chikyuu-jin Satan is a fool who wouldn't know a Saiyan from his own anus."
The smaller Chikyuu-jin warrior, Krillan, made a noise that sounded like muffled laughter. Satan only sputtered indignantly, though he said nothing in his own defense. He had just enough intelligence to sense that these smiling invaders would think nothing of killing him. Less than nothing.
"He is a fool to offer any man his unconditional service," Vegita said. He had not taken his eyes from the Maiyosh-jin, Tresha. "Only a coward would sell himself and his kin into slavery for a the luxury of a full stomach."
Satan's chest puffed up belligerently. "I won't be lectured about a full stomach by some spoiled rich man's son! You have no idea-"
"Close your mouth, you ki-less animal," Tresha said coldly. Satan's mouth gaped. Then he did as he was told. If nothing else, the man had good survival instincts. But then, the threat in the Maiyosh-jin's flat, almost off-hand command was hard to mistake.
"Is that what we are to you?" The bald warrior, Krillan, asked quietly. "Animals? My fighting power is as high as Yamcha's. Am I still an animal, or is it just Satan-san and all the other members of my race who can't manipulate their own ki?" He sounded earnest, not angry. But there was an odd note of pity in his voice.
The Maiyosh-jin shrugged, and incredibly, seemed a little uncomfortable under the bald Chikyuu-jin's steady gaze. "It's just an expression."
"You just fought a war to free your people from the Saiyans," the smaller man went on. "I bet the Saiyans thought of your people as animals, didn't they? How can you turn right around and do the same to someone else?"
The Maiyosh-jin's expression flickered with a ghost of shame for a brief instant, then he set his jaw. "I meant that man in particular, not all your race. We are not enslaving you, however you chose to see it. If you are not in league with the enemy, we will offer you our protection and guidance."
"Can I ask another question?" Krillan said politely, glancing between Dodoria and the Red Demon. "You came here looking for Saiyan survivors of your manufactured plague. Have you found any up until now? And what did you do with them when you caught them?"
"We have found quite a few who survived the contagion," Tresha said with an unpleasant smile. "Several hundred, initially. The plague burned out the ki centers of their brains, so they aren't much of a threat to anyone. But you Chikyuu-jin, who have suffered a Saiyan purge like so many other peoples throughout the galaxy, will be happy to know that we did not kill them. We have gathered the bulk of the survivors in a great circus on a world called Shikaji. People come from all over the galaxy to…participate. To have a bit of sport with them. They have to be restrained at all times from taking their own lives, and most of the adults have simply pined and died after a few months of this sort of attention. So, we are always looking for more."
"What do you do to them?" Okuda's voice was so soft it was barely audible."
"Everything we can think of," Dodoria chuckled, shoving another ladelful of food into his pink maw. "We have served them all as they served us for many a decade. The males and the little ones stay in the main arena, and we've built a brothel for the surviving females. Tresha and his men discovered a while back, when we had one of their high ranking female soldiers as our guest for a short while, that their women make fine whores."
A soft sound of breath forced out through clenched teeth behind him. Okuda had driven an elbow hard into his elder brother's gut to keep him from flying across the table in a shrieking blood rage. Yamcha had bent down beside Coran, was speaking softly and intently to him.
"Well, friends?" Briefs said quietly, turning a suddenly stone cold sober gaze on each member of the assembled Chikyuu-jin elders seated around the table. "Has everybody heard enough?"
"So," Dodoria murmured. He drew a cloth across his mouth, wiping it clean, and pushed back his plate. "There'll be no live Saiyan prizes to take home to Jeiyce and his lads. It was probably foolishness on our part to think that a people purged by the monkeys would have harbored them for any reason. Ah, well. We'll move on to the next order of business. Briefs, my good man, tell me…Have you heard from your lovely daughter recently?"
The old man's face showed only a vague mix of surprise and confusion. He could have set a son of the old Trade Houses to school in the way he schooled his expressions to mislead, Vegita thought as he stepped forward, now nearly breast to breast with the Maiyosh-jin. He turned his cold glare from Tresha to the Aquir-jin.
"Briefs-san's daughter and wife died in the purge." Yamcha nearly spat across the table at Dodoria. "Is this some strange alien idea of a joke!?"
"They tell me her name was 'Bulma'," Dodoria leered. "An unusual name. And the surname 'Briefs', is it also uncommon on this world?" His smiled widened, baring the needle-sharp teeth that gave him the look of a grinning sea shrike. "Play time is over, children. I think some of you know very well that Bulma of Briefs House, Bulma of Chikyuu, Bulma the Mastertech and whore to the Saiyan no Ouji, and Bulma traitor to the Red Network is alive and well and on the run from the New Alliance. I think you, old man, may even know where she is. Now, I have several choices to offer you fine people. If one of you knows the location of Briefs' errant daughter, and tells me, and this information proves to be true-I will consider it an act of good faith and take this world under the benevolent wing of my governorship. Trust me in this-I will find out what you know and how much. Now, it may be that no one here knows a damned thing about what your world's most infamous daughter has been up to these last ten years. If, when I have questioned all of you and a suitable number of your folk, I am convinced that this world has had no contact with the 'Saiyan no Ojo', and knows nothing-well then, I will still extend the hand of charity to your foundering people. On the condition that Master Briefs here accompanies us back to Shikaji." He smiled into the stricken faces of the Chikyuu-jin around the table, his piggy gaze halting on Briefs. "I am betting your pretty daughter, wherever she may be hiding, is monitoring hyperlight transmissions constantly for information on what is going on in the rest of the galaxy. If we advertise that you are our guest, I think she may just come to Shikaji to save her dear father from execution."
"You're probably right," Briefs said, not a trace of good humor left in his face. He turned his gaze on the other Chikyuu-jin seated around the table. "Are we agreed, then?" One by one, they all nodded silently. "Satan-san?"
The burly man bowed his head, inclining the upper half of his body forward in a formal bow. "I have been a fool, Briefs-sama," the man said with a chagrined humility that Vegita would never have believed possible from such a worthless blowhard.
"A fool couldn't have kept his people alive for the last ten years, Satan-san," Briefs said kindly. A small alarm, the shrill beep of a pager, sounded. Briefs raised his forearm, checking the message readout on the tiny comm link around his wrist. "My goodness. That kind of perfect timing almost never happens in real life." He turned back to Dodoria and smiled. "I think we're all agreed to reject your offer, Dodoria-san."
A cool blue light lanced through the width and breadth of the great hall, and the sound of hundreds of clattering thuds ricocheted off the walls as every armored soldier in sight collapsed unceremoniously. Dodoria's head had fallen forward into the pudding a whirring servo-bot had placed in front of him a moment before. Tresha was lying on his back, out cold. Gods…they were all out cold! Every man Dodoria had brought with him.
Every man except Tresha.
The Maiyosh-jin met his eyes, shock already bleeding away into anger, and sprang to his feet. He began to raise his hand in reaction, a needlepoint blast aimed at Briefs' heart. Vegita closed the distance between them in half a second, both arms gripping the man in a bear hug, clamping the Maiyosh-jin's arms down to his sides. In the next half-instant, he staggered them sideways, off the edge of the dais and onto the floor. Away from Briefs. A burning knife of pain shot through his stomach, but he did not let go. Another second later a cry of rage from Rikkuum and Articha's sons, and Tresha was hauled up by his neck and shaken like a rodent in a predator's mouth. Rikkuum dealt the Maiyosh-jin a ringing blast that made Vegita's ears ring, collapsing the Red Demon's ki shield. And the same instant, Coran slashed Tresha's throat with the edge of one of the table knives.
"Dammit, boys!" Briefs was saying angrily, somewhere close by. "I said no killing!"
"It is cho-gugol, Briefs-san," Coran said thickly. "It is cho-gugol!"
"Ouji-sama!" Rikkuum was leaning over him now, blocking out the sight of everything except his own great frame. The pain in his stomach was white hot and deep.
"Move back and let me look at him, Rikkuum," Briefs gently pushed the giant man back and peered down at Vegita's would. "Well…he didn't get a good shot at you or there'd be nothing left. But you're going back on the operating table. That was very brave and very foolish, son."
"I am not so weak, even now," Vegita rasped. "That I cannot protect my own kinsman."
"Weak is not a word I'd ever associate with you, Vegita," the old man said grinning. The sound of a trank hypo and Vegita felt his body relaxing, falling downward into sleep, the sounds of screaming mixed with cheers and running feet all around him.
He woke to the sound of great engines revving in the still of early dawn.
"If you keep this up, I'm worried I may not get you back to my daughter in one piece, son."
He was in a ship's med bay on a standard full sized troop carrier. The triage port was wide open, letting in the sound and damp heat of the night outside. Chikyuu-jin were running in and out, loading supplies in a rush of hurried activity.
"Those holo-bands I gave you and your friends shielded you against my knockout ray," Briefs said. "It was keyed to any brainwaves it didn't recognize as human. I think you must have been standing so close to Tresha when the blast hit that your wristband shielded him as well. We had to wait until several of our young ladies managed to get Dodoria's soldiers to invite them on board the ship during the party. I was waiting for their call, letting me know they'd blasted the soldiers manning the ship with the knockout ray. And long enough for Dodoria to show his true colors in front of everyone. All the pro-New Alliance sentiment among our people sort of vanished after that last little speech of his."
"You are…" Vegita coughed, wincing at the tightness of newly healed skin across his abdomen. "You are a devious old man."
"That's not really a nice thing to say," Briefs grinned slyly, the corners of his eyes crinkling in suppressed mirth. "My father always told me that it's better to show people they're being foolish rather than shout it at them. I wish your friends hadn't killed Tresha, but they explained why. Their poor mother."
"Never call her that to her face if you wish to live," Vegita croaked. "You are refitting this troop carrier as your transport?"
"It's taken a couple of days, but we'll be ready to leave this evening," Briefs said. "We've got Dodoria and his friends sedated so heavily they may not wake up for a week." He eyed Vegita's bared teeth and frowned at the low growl issuing from his son-in-law. "He gave you those scars, didn't he? I don't know how I knew that, I just did."
Vegita glanced down at his bared chest, at the network of lash stripes the Aquir-jin had gouged into his body. He was shaking with fury. "You will not take my revenge from me," he said.
"I'm not being as kind to them as you think. We're leaving him and his people here," Briefs said flatly. "Marooned, without supplies or a getaway ship. And I'm encapsulating Capsule Corp's main structural complex and taking it with us, so they won't even have proper shelter when they wake."
They would starve before a rescue ship arrived. Vegita sank back down
onto his bed, willing the tension and rage to subside. Let it be then. Let Dodoria die a death as honorless as the life he had lived.
Briefs shook his head. "Bulma-chan must have had her hands full with you and that temper." He stared at Vegita in silence for a moment, then seemed to force himself to ask his question. "Is she all right? Was she all right the last time you saw her?"
"No," Vegita whispered. He didn't turn from that steady, clear blue gaze.
"How did you know?"
"You talked a lot while you were unconscious this time. You were telling her you were sorry over and over. Begging for her forgiveness." A little silence. "What did you do, son?"
He owed this man blood debt that he could only pay with his own life. If he told the truth, the entire truth, Briefs would more than likely kill him or abandon him here on Chikyuu with Dodoria. Either way, the man would never take help from Vegita's hands, and that would not do. Vegita must see his woman's father and people safely to wherever it was the last of the Saiyans had made their new home. He would tell the whole truth in time, and accept whatever punishment her kin deemed just. But for the moment…
"I will give you the shorter of two answers," Vegita said softly. "She had lost her family, her world, everything she ever knew. I did not truly understand what a hard thing that was for her to bear until these last few months. I think the wound never healed. But she grew strong again, mostly because of the child she bore to Raditz. Because she had something to care for again." He took a deep breath. "The night I took her from Radtiz, while I fought him, my squad lieutenant…he killed the babe in the struggle. Before her eyes. I punished him, but the deed was done, and she nearly lost her mind."
"She blamed herself…" Briefs said softly. "Probably thought if she'd just stayed put, minded that bastard she was slave to and never fallen for you, that the baby would have lived." Vegita clenched his teeth in a grinding wave of shame. But he could not rid the man of his misconceptions. Not now. Perhaps not ever. It came to him suddenly that to tell the entire tale would be like driving a knife into the old man's heart. Gaining Briefs hatred, letting himself suffer the brunt of the punishment he so richly deserved would only serve to assuage his own sense of shame and regret. But the truth of how it had been, of what she had suffered, might kill this old man.
"She forgave me the blame of it," Vegita whispered. "And yet, she did not. It was always there between us. Raditz' mother was killed in the war and she willed her infant son to Bulma. And it seemed to ease her grief. Her entire world revolved around the boy, and I thought all was well. She was happy. We were…it was good. Better than I thought life could ever be. On the night we wed, I put her with child. It was the end of the war, the beginning of a season of madness, when we cloister all our children and those unable to fight against the coming of Vegita-sei's moon. I told her…I told her it could not be. That a half blood heir to the throne would divide the Empire. My people would have killed such a child and her with him. I was a fool. It broke her mind, Briefs-san. And when she found me in the aftermath of the plague, I saw that she was mad. That I had destroyed her trying to save her life. She left me to die, telling me she could not love me any longer and live. So…so, I will bring you to her. It will heal her mind and heart to see that you and the others live. I will see her whole, even if she hates me to her dying day."
Briefs did not speak, though tears were rolling down his cheeks. He slowly took a small papery cylinder from his pocket and lit one end, drawing the herb's smoke into his lungs at the other. "She doesn't hate you, Vegita. She was just very angry and hurt…and probably very sick. You screwed up, I won't lie to you. You should have found a way to rescue her from this Raditz that didn't put my grandson in the crossfire. You should have known what having an abortion would do to her after losing her first child that way. But I know you meant to keep her safe. I know you love her. Gods…It's…it's a big, messy tragedy, son. I can't tell you what she'll do when you see her again, but the child I raised had a good, strong heart. And a strong mind. I believe you when you say she had some kind of breakdown, but…she'll get better. Has she got people around her who love her?"
"Bardock would die for her," Vegita said. "He calls her 'daughter'."
"The same Bardock who led the purging squad that burned Chikyuu?" Briefs' expression turned a bit cold.
"The same. He took her as a kind of replacement for his son, the one she called 'Son-kun'. He had always cared for her as thought she were his own kin."
"I'd think better of him if he hadn't given her to his son as a…a…"
"I will be frank with you, if only to ease your mind," Vegita said. "Raditz never took her by force. She was very young and alone and he was a man women find pleasing to look on. He seduced her, he did not hurt her. She was his slave, unfree to leave, unfree to refuse him or order her own life…but he was not unkind to her."
The older man seemed to wilt with relief, shaking with the false belief that she had never been…been used like an animal. "This Bardock fellow will take care of her, and she's surrounded by doctors," Briefs said after a moment. "And she has the little boy she adopted, Bardock's son. She'll get better, Vegita. She's a very strong girl. We'll have to believe that. And in the mean time, you and I will do everything we can to find her. All right?" He sighed and took another long draft of his burning herb. "I've done everything to get the ship ready and Okuda's priming the engines. I'm going to go outside and walk for a while on my world. I'm going to miss it something awful."
"The boy lives," Vegita said hoarsely. "She did not abort him. He will have been born by now. And when she left me, I saw his name in her mind.
Trunks…for her father."
Briefs smiled, the blue of his old eyes overly bright, and left him without another word.
Vegita woke again, hours later, to find Rikkuum beside him, waiting patient and loyal as Baka or Yaro. "Are we away?"
"We are in space, Ouji-sama." Rikkuum lay something in his hand. Vegita felt his heart skip a beat when he saw what it was. The data disc of Bulma's journal.
"I found it as we looked for new spaceship parts in the wreckage of our ship, Ouji-sama." Rikkuum said. "I listened to the first minute and heard your Lady's voice. I knew it was yours and that you would wish to have it when you woke."
"You did well," Vegita said fervently and the giant beamed with happiness. "Go rest, Rikkuum. I need no guard now that I am awake."
He waited until the big man left to palm the disc into the bed's mini-comp.
I woke when Vegita moved out of my arms at dawn. He kissed me once, soft on the lips, and left to go and surprise his father and the High Council.
"It will be all right," I whispered, sitting beside the bathing pool as he bathed, his face distant and worried. All his emotions are still evident in every flicked of expression on his face, just as they were yesterday and the day before. I suddenly realized that he knew this. His father and the
Council would see it too, and that was the problem. He was so changed, he was almost unrecognizable now, and they would distrust any difference they saw in him at this point, and fear it was a new shading of his madness. He's the sorriest liar I've ever known, and I think he knew he wouldn't be able to pretend he was the same as before. How would his father react to this-this fusion of the "gentle boy" and the violent son he had raised to manhood?
"I am strong," he said, meeting my eyes as he levitated out of bath, drying his body with his ki. He hadn't asked me to join him, and I hadn't offered. He understood without being told that bathing together was somewhere just past the invisible threshold I didn't want to cross right now. Not until I figured out just what the hell I felt for him now. Not until I had time to get a grip on everything that had happened yesterday. "They will not throw me down easily. Whatever happens today or tomorrow, I will see that you and the boy are safe." He finished pulling on his battlesuit and armor, and bent to kiss me. He pressed a data disc into the palm of my hand. "This is a royal requisition seal," he said softly. "Take any one of the space worthy ships docked in Med Center's hanger for yourself. If I am thrown down, today or in the future, take the boy and go." I stared into his black solemn eyes, wordless. "Take Scopa and as many others as you wish," he added shortly. We regarded each other silently for a moment, neither of us knowing what to say or how to be today, now that everything was so different. Then he kissed me once more, gently, in the Chikyuu-jin way before leaving to reclaim his seat at his father's right hand.
I sat and stared into the steaming water for a while, thinking that there were far too many conflicting emotions doing somersaults inside me to have any interest in breakfast. A low duet of canine growls and the sound of Rom-kun's voice begging the dogs to be good got me moving again. What I found in our new bedroom sent my stomach lurching up into my throat.
Batha was backed up against the wall, while Baka and Yaro snarled at her, low and threatening, their backs arched, their teeth bared. Rom-kun was sitting up on his pallet bed looking afraid and unhappy.
"Don't hurt her, doggies!" He said, biting his lip, on the verge of tears.
She didn't appear terribly afraid of the dogs, but she had let them back her up to the wall with a healthy respect for what they might do if they pounced. She cut her eyes to me venomously. "Call these filthy beasts off, Bulma!"
"They aren't trained to obey that way," I said coldly. "I want you and your sister out of this house today." The words hung there while I went to Rom-kun and lifted him up, checking him for any sort of mark or injury. Oh gods, that woman had come into the room where my baby was sleeping! This cold, heart-dead bitch who would kill a Saiyan child with as little hesitation or remorse as she would feel when stepping on a bug...
"So..." She sneered, looking me up and down like an elderly matron repulsed by a streetwalker. "You have become his 'doll' after all."
"We do not know that she has betrayed us, sister," Caddi said quietly from behind me. She was standing in the doorway, her ivory skin gray with pinched tension.
"I haven't betrayed anyone," I said evenly. "But I know you. Both of you. And I don't want you in the same room or even the same house as my baby."
"That Saiyan is not your baby, you poor, broken little fool!" Batha hissed.
"I won't argue with you about it," I snapped. "Think what you want."
I stood coldly and watched as they packed up their few belongings, Caddi directing pitying glances in my direction, Batha glaring black murder at me.
"I'll see you both are officially rotated to Med Center," I told them when they were done. "You'll be safe there from the inquisition until Zarbon can assign you new Network posts."
"I heard you last night, whore," Batha said venomously. "Lying in your master's arms, telling him you would help him save his people."
"Sister!" Caddi hissed. "We should go. Now! Bulma-chan has told the Prince sweet lies a thousand times before. Why should last night be any different? You saw him! He is like a shadow of himself. Great goddess, sister, if he is a weak wreck now, totally in her power...isn't that what we wanted all along? And..." Her shoulders were shaking, but her stooped posture was drawing up straight. I had never once heard her contradict her sister until this moment. "And she is right to fear for the boy, Batha. You...you should not dwell in the same house with him. He would not be safe alone with you..." She bowed her head, her glance falling away from her sister's stunned face. "Or with me. The Network sustains us. It is all we need or hope for. This child is what sustains her. Bulma-chan has done great things for the cause, sister. I think she will do greater things still...but this Saiyan baby is the thing she needs to keep living."
This seemed to mollify Batha as much as she was capable of being mollified. I watched them leave, holding Rom-kun in a tight embrace. I hadn't put him down once while they were packing. I stood thinking hard of what to do next, until Rom-kun's voice jarred me out of the dark thoughts rolling through my head.
"Mommaaaa!" He piped, when I still didn't move. "I'm hungry!" I was thinking, worrying about what they might do now. And about what they would say to Zarbon. I needed to talk to him soon, today. I wanted the twins away from Med Center as soon as possible, before Batha began to snoop, before she began to suspect what I was going to be doing for the next few weeks. At some point, I thought with a chill of unease as I fed Rom-kun his meat pie, very soon, there would be no hiding my new 'project' from them...or Zarbon. Zarbon, I truly believed I could talk around to my way of thinking, at least in part. But Batha...she would lose her mind when it became known, and Caddi would see it as proof that her sister had been right about me all along.
They would try to kill me.
And in making an attempt on my life, they might hurt Rom-kun. They would think nothing of killing him.
I stopped, motionless and horrified, as I was throwing my med satchel in the flyer. My gods, I had been beyond considering it. I had begun sifting through possible methods as I strapped baby and dogs into their seats, ways to kill the twins that could not be traced back to me. There had to be a way to keep them from coming after me. I wouldn't let there be no other way. Because if they did-God of gods, I will kill them without hesitating to keep my baby safe.
I trailed into Med Center, Rom-kun on my hip, so deep in thought I nearly ran into Scopa.
"There's a lot you need to hear," he said grimly. "Most of it's bad."
Mousrom has commandeered half the surgery's trauma specialists. He has them working for his inquisition center in Kharda City.
Nachti was taken. My friend is in the Inquisitor's half acre of Hell, being forced to use her skills as a physician to keep Mousrom's victims alive as long as possible, so they can last longer under torture. Hiru had a breakdown after they took her. He's better now that he and Scopa are receiving regular communications from her, but he can't seem to concentrate on anything for long periods of time and breaks down into tears over the smallest things. Scopa had him taken off flight transpo duty indefinitely and assigned as an orderly directly under Nail so he can have constant care.
How much emotional trauma can someone take and still get back up again? The med texts say it depends on the person. I spent the first half of the morning just sitting and talking with him, holding his hand, listening to him cry. He asks me what he had done to deserve this. I didn't have an answer for him. All I know is that we have to get her back soon, not just for her sake. If she's gone much longer, we'll lose Hiru.
"I would have thought that the uncontrolled tears were a bad sign," Scopa told me as he closed the door to his offices after leaving Hiru sleeping in his quarters. "But I'm not a psychologist. Nail says they are healthy."
I closed my eyes, listening to the sound of Rom-kun tearing around and over the gurneys in the next room and the dogs' deep happy 'woofs'. "It's when the tears stop that you have to worry," I said softly.
"I was sure I wouldn't need to come to the villa this morning and see to you," he said hesitantly. "Please tell me I was right."
"You were right," I said. "He didn't hurt me. I don't think he'll ever hurt me again."
Scopa sighed heavily with relief and seemed to search for the right words. "His body posture, his gestures, the way his emotions show on his face...that soft voice he speaks in-those are all 'our' Vegita, not the one from before. It's as though the Vegita before and the Vegita we knew at Bardock's house-"
"Have merged together," I finished, nodding. "Externally, he seems harder, more Saiyan, now. He remembers it all, Scopa. All of our time at Bardock's, all that the Maiyosh-jin did to him...all that he did to me." I made a soft wordless noise that did no justice to the confusion and conflict raging inside me.
"You loved him as he was in Bardock's house," Scopa said, studying me closely. "Goddess...you still love him, don't you?" He swallowed hard. "Bulma. That could be very bad for you."
"Yeah," I said with a mirthless little laugh. "That's occurred to me." I looked him in the eyes, the only person in all the galaxy I could tell the whole truth to, the only person I knew who wouldn't judge me or despise me. "I can't stop loving him. I think it will probably tear me apart before this is all over, but I don't know what to do about it. We lay awake all last night talking about what he wants to do now. About what I want now. He freed me, Scopa. We...we didn't have sex. We..." I shook myself and spoke again before he could think of anything to say. I couldn't think about that right now. I couldn't waste time crying today. There was too much to do.
A light tap on the door and Nail's smiling face appeared, nudging a barking dogs back through the half-open door with one foot. He surprised me with a hug. He had told me months ago that he avoided physical contact with unshielded non-telepaths because touch always gave him unwilling broadcasts of their thoughts. I was so intent on the Namek-jin that I didn't notice at first that he hadn't come alone. I could hear Rom-kun talking to someone behind him, telling the unseen person all about flying with his Poppa, how he wanted to make big booms like Poppa and Edeeta, and how he had a brand new house that was all his own, and Momma and Edeeta and the dogs lived there too. I peeked around Nail's broad frame to see Zarbon leaning down, listening with mild wonder to my son's cheerful chatter. I could see him counting the months since Rom-kun's birth, see his hidden unease that so young a child was carrying on a conversation that would have been precocious for someone four years his senior.
Rom-kun had worked his way around to the story of how his doggies had almost bitten two ladies this morning. "Momma was mad," Rom-kun's voice dropped confidentially. "She told 'em to go away, cause they didn't like me. When Poppa and Edeeta come home tonight, the bots will make lots of meat pies. That's my favorite. Do you like meat pie? Momma said Scopa has to take care of hurt people tonight and can't come, but you can come. After supper, Scopa and Edeeta play toss with me. You can play, too."
"What do you toss?" Zarbon asked solemnly.
"Me," Rom-kun chirped. "Sometimes Scopa drops me and Momma yells at him, but Edeeta threw me too high one time and she yelled at him too. He's a Piss." Zarbon grinned widely.
"He means Prince," I said blandly.
"I like Piss better," Zarbon said, trying to smother a wide smirk.
"Do you know Edeeta and Poppa?" Rom-kun asked brightly
"I know your father," Zarbon said, hesitating an instant before responding to the boy's up-stretched arms and picking him up. "I've never met the Prince in person."
"He was hurt, but he's better now," Rom-kun said.
"So I hear."
I moved forward a little too quickly and took Rom-kun from him. The mild hurt in his eyes made me sorry I had done it an instant later. Zarbon would never hurt my baby.
"We've been getting reacquainted," Zarbon told me, offering me a chaste kiss on the cheek. "I told Rom-kun the last time I saw him he couldn't talk. He speaks very, very well for a child his age."
"Yes, he does," I said quietly.
I knew Scopa and Nail could feel the tension between us in the little silence that followed, but they said nothing. "I'm glad that the three of you are here," I finally said. "There's a lot we need to discuss."
Zarbon folded his arms, his beautiful face giving away nothing. The gods knew what Batha had told him. "We're listening."
"We all know there are two forces working against each other in this war. Out in space, on Vegita-sei, and in Med Center itself," I said. "I have a proposition: that we become a third force, dedicated to saving everyone on both sides in spite of themselves. Well...everyone except Mousrom. I am sick of death everywhere, all around me, and of being powerless to stop the killing."
"Bulma-" Zarbon began.
"Here me out," I said. "Do that much for me. Then each of you can make your own decision." I waited until Zarbon nodded tensely. "I think I can stop this war. I have a technical solution and a fairly straightforward three-step plan. Step one is a no brainer: Get rid of Mousrom."
"I'll help you do that with all my heart, love," Zarbon murmured.
"We have quite a few allies in this portion of the plan," I said. "Bardock and his whole crew are in on it, but you probably know he's been working at cross purposes to Mousrom for quite sometime."
"I know," Zarbon gave me a veiled half grin. "I've actually helped him out on one or two anti-Mousrom ventures."
"My sole concern is yourself and Rom-kun, Bulma-san," Nail said. "But I have seen things done to the people who have survived Kharda that I cannot turn away from. I will help."
"If you give me your permission," I said. "I'll bring your names to Vegita's attention and he'll give you both freedman's insignia and royal courier seals so you can be more effective and move around with greater ease."
"He is granting freedom to anyone who aids him against Mousrom," Scopa told Zarbon, his eyes shining. "You'll be free."
"Okay," I said and set my jaw. This next bit wasn't going to go down as smoothly. "Step two is the implementation of my 'stalemate shield' on every inhabited planet in the galactic community."
"What does this new machine of yours do?" Zarbon already seemed wary.
"It is an impenetrable planet-encasing shield," I said flatly. "I will stop the war by the oldest precept of schoolyard politics. If you can't stop two kids from fighting, separate them. The Red Demons won't be able to bomb any more worlds. The Saiyans won't be able to purge anymore worlds. I'm going to mass produce the shield throughout the Saiyan Empire first, then I'm going to find a way to leak the technology to the Rebel worlds as well. And that will be it. For a time, they'll keep trying to attack each other, but I'm not exaggerating when I say the shield is impenetrable-and having the technology yourself won't help you breach someone else's shield. After a while, even the most stubborn warhawks will give up. Stalemate."
"Goddess," Scopa whispered after a moment. "It might really work."
Zarbon was silent, staring at me closely the way people do when they think you might have gone around the proverbial bend for the last time.
"You haven't yet said what will become of us and all the millions of other non-Saiyans who will be trapped inside these shields on Imperial worlds, never to be freed. Or any uncharted worlds the Saiyans will fall upon and enslave or purge in the future. What is your plan for them?"
"That's step three," I said.
"What is step three?" He asked softly.
I took a deep breath. "Put a new king on the throne."
He sucked in a slow, steady lungfull of air. Trying to calm himself. "A new king? I hope to the gods you mean Bardock. I might actually be able to swallow that. The prince killed your family, love. And Hiru's. And countless, countless others. Have you...is she mad, Scopa?"
"You haven't seen him yet," Scopa told him. "The prince is different."
"You mean he's...what?" A small vicious smile played around his mouth. "I hear tell he may have become feeble-minded after his stay on Avaris. Is it true, Bulma?"
"He...He's just not the same." Scopa had taken several steps toward his lover. It took me a moment or two to realize he had placed himself directly between Zarbon and myself. "Imagine if you broke something ill-made, and a good person put it back together again. Perhaps the way it always should have been."
"Who put him back together, love?" Zarbon was so still he could have been made of stone. "Yourself and Bulma?"
"I can stop the war, Zarbon," I said, wishing I could pour all I believed to be true into the words to make him see how it could be.
"What if no more Saiyans or Red Network or Rebels or innocents caught in the crossfire had to die?" Scopa asked him. He had taken his lover's hands, was holding them so tightly I could see the blue of Zarbon's fingers pinched to white. "What if no more planets had to be purged, no more children of any race had to die screaming in the flames of their burning worlds? I know they destroyed your world, just as they destroyed Madran. I know you are...are sympathetic to the rebels. But wouldn't that be worth letting the Saiyans live on?" I saw the horror and sadness in Scopa's face that Zarbon even had to think about it, had to weigh the cold joy of revenge against billions of lives. "No one else has to die. Isn't that what you want, Zarbon?" Scopa's voice was pleading. Pleading that the honest answer was yes. "What do you want, Zarbon-kun? The Red Prince's warriors...The things I hear that they have done...I think some of them have killed so many people there's no difference between them and the Saiyans who purged their worlds and enslaved them. I would...I would never want to see that happen to anyone I loved." Zarbon made a soft sound and bent his head forward, his forehead touching Scopa's. "You told me once that what you wanted most in the galaxy was for us to live on some peaceful green world where you could open a chef's school, where the only injuries I treated would be the skinned knees of children who fell out of trees. Do you still want that?"
"Trust me, Zarbon," I begged softly. "You know better than anyone that I can build what I say I can."
"Okay..." He breathed. "Okay. If the two of you have some galactic peace engine in one hand and the Saiyan no Ouji in the other, I will believe anything you say. But the Red Demons, and Jeiyce, will never give up their fight, Bulma. They will never stop."
"If you bang your head up against a brick wall long enough," I said. "Eventually you get a headache and give up. And I've designed the mother of all brick walls."
I went on rounds, taking a great deal of pleasure in the surprised and pleased hugs and words of greeting from almost everyone I knew. I felt better and happier and more full of hope than I could remember since I was a young girl.
At noon, we went out to watch the show. Vegita had decided to show the entire Capital in a very sensational way just how weak he isn't. He was fighting more than a dozen warriors at a time, pounding them to a pulp and throwing their unconscious bodies down onto the city like cannonballs.
Scopa leaned over and grinned down at me. "He's tossing them into the main offices of Central Intelligence."
I grinned back.
Zarbon found me alone just before I left Med Center for the day. He looked like a man whose entire world is on the verge of over-turning, who had just made a decision that he sorely hoped he wouldn't live to regret.
"I took care of the twins," he said shortly.
I tensed. "Took care of?"
"I reassigned them to a port city in the south to count troops being shipped offworld," he said. "You realize I am betraying my prince, Bulma."
"He won't see it that way when I send you to him with the plans for the stalemate shield," I said. "He'll never know you did anything other than steal the plans when the moment was right. Even without the twins around to snoop on me, the Netwrok will find out I'm the one who designed the shield as soon as it goes into production, I know that. I don't give a damn. Let them write me down in their histories as a traitorous bitch from Hell, as long of they and their families and all the Rebels worlds are alive and well to hate me for the rest of their long, happy lives!"
"I told the twins they were not mistaken when they told me the Prince
might still be mad," he said grimly. "I have told the other Network operatives in Med Center and the Capital the same thing. That the Saiyan no Ouji is no longer himself. That he is still mad and is completely under your thumb, and thus Jeiyce's, and the machines you will be building for the Prince in the next few weeks will see an early end to this war. That will keep them from coming after you when it becomes known what you are doing for the Prince."
"Thank you," I said softly.
"Don't fail, Bulma," he replied a thread of terror and anger under the quiet baritone of his voice. "All out lives are in your hands."
"I won't," I whispered.
It was almost night when I got back to the villa. I had decapsulated the servo bots before I left and remote activated them to start dinner an hour ago. The smell of roasting meat and grilled vegetables was mouth watering and the sound of the bots' busy whirring in the kitchen sounded like...like home. Like Momma's kitchen. I went to my little workshop and decapsulated my small stalemate shield prototype, tinkering with the last little kinks until I heard the sound of mens' growling laughter in the hearthroom. I joined them by way of the kitchen, making sure the bots were working properly. I could hear Vegita giving Rom-kun serious instruction on how to keep the dogs from drowning him in canine saliva, but there was an undercurrent in the hard tones his voice that was the same soft gentleness he had used to read my baby a story every night for the last... I stopped and sighed heavily, fighting back the sting of tears, grieving for the man he had been yesterday. Would he ever read Rom-kun a story again? There were so many things that I couldn't even let myself hope for. I had to treat all my personal hopes as though they had been dashed irreparably. There was too much about this new man I didn't know, too many things that might have reverted back to...to before.
I grabbed up a tankard of goldberry wine from the cooler and three glasses, and stepped through the swinging kitchen doors. Rom-kun was wrestling Baka to the floor, cheering his own victory.
"Gotcha!" Romayn bawled.
"Should he be speaking at this age?" Vegita was sitting back in his favorite blackwood hearthside chair. I had a sudden, cold image of myself sitting beside that chair at his feet like an obedient dog, sipping the susaji-laced goldberry wine he gave me. I wondered faintly as I forced the memory down into the cold pit of night that was the hate dragon's prison, if he would mind if I destroyed that chair. Maybe with an axe.
"The child development texts in the incu-ward say no." I told them in a remarkably cheerful voice. Both men were happily bloody and bruised. They drank down the glasses of wine I poured them in one gulp. "Not in whole sentences anyway," I went on, pouring both of them another glass. "I think it's just inherent Saiyan preciousness and an uncommon amount of early mental stimulation that-what?" Both men had frozen, gazing at the bots setting the dining table behind me as though they were some kind of tentacled monsters. I fought not to roll my eyes.
"Have neither of you seen a servo-bot before?"
"Momma made 'em," Rom-kun said.
"They can do everything a humanoid slave can do, they don't need to sleep or eat, and they tend to make fewer mistakes. Try them this one time. If they still give you the creeps, we can have Batha and Caddi, or someone else replace them." I scooped Rom-kun up under one arm. It would be a cold day in Hell before I let Batha or Caddi back in this house. "Are you hungry, Rom-kun? Or did you fill up on dog hair?"
"I'm hungry!" He cried, wiggling out of my arms. I set him on his feet, feeling a little sad that he was getting so big. He was going to be too big to carry soon. I let them all eat their fill, then dropped both bombs on them. The capsule technology I had 'cracked', and the stalemate shield. Rom-kun made a soft sound of wonder when I ordered Bardock to try and blast my little shield. He always stared in envious wonder every time he saw someone level a ki blast these days. His Saiyan nature was nowhere near as banked and 'gentled' as Bardock seemed to think.
"You-you-" It was more gratifying than I would have ever imagined to see Vegita sputtering and all but speechless in the aftermath of the first little demo of my shield. Whatever he had expected, it sure as hell hadn't been anything of this magnitude. "Woman, you-"
"We had a technology very, very similar to the Red Demons' miniaturization science on Chikyuu," I told him. "I started out with pieces of the puzzle no one else knew. But the safety shield is all my own. I'm pretty proud of how well it turned out."
He still looked dazed, but he was recovering fast, the wheels in his mind beginning to turn, beginning to see the full impact of what I had just given him. "Woman...this will give us the breathing room we need from their cloaked sneak attacks!"
An hour later, the King, Turna and Articha all crowded around the dining table for a second demonstration of the capsules and my shield. When Bardock performed the test for the royal audience a second time, Rom-kun was ready this time, leaping up with a tiny crow of delight and catching the silvery globe as it flew off the blackwood dining table. Articha chuckled and plucked him out of the air, passing him back to me like a small football. I caught Vegita's eyes, saw the poorly hidden smirk, and smiled back.
The King was silent for a long time, glaring daggers at me under those heavy brows. Partly because he had just seen the look his son and I had exchanged and marked it as another sign of the changes in Vegita. Partly because I think he was inches from making the connection, from realizing I was the Mastertech. I could also see him turning over each and every implication of such a defensive technology in his mind. Slowly his mouth curled into a grin. Then he burst unexpectedly into a loud, hearty chuckle.
"I have seldom been so glad as I am at this moment to have spared someone's life, girl!" He said at last.
I had just handed his sorry ass the key to the salvation of his race and this was all he could think of to say to me? I lowered my eyes to keep from glaring at him.
"Though," he went on darkly, drilling into me with that x-ray stare of his, "I think you are too dangerous to run loose in my Empire."
You're welcome, you old bastard, I nearly said aloud.
Vegita-ou and Turna went into an organizational frenzy, Vegita went off into the back of the house for something, and Articha and I were left staring at each other in silence. She gave me with an unflinching Saiyan gaze that gave nothing away. I stared back, not knowing what I should say. Asking how she had been would be a bad idea. I knew how she had been. Not good. I wondered if she had let herself cry. I wanted to tell her that if you don't cry for what they took from you that you run the risk of dying inside. But...there was no way to broach the subject that would not give mortal insult to her warrior's pride. The pride they had not managed to crush or bow in six months of...of...
There were so many ways we could help each other if we could only talk about it.
And that would never happen.
She finally broke the silence. "He is strong," she murmured. "Bardock's son. He will be flying before the summer is out."
"His brother, Raditz, flew at three years," I said quietly. "I think it's a family trait."
She nodded soberly, frowning at the mention of Raditz name. "The sons of the Turrasht tribes are good soldiers to have at your back. My father forbade me to wed Turna at first because his mother was Turrashti and of common birth." She snorted. "He was a fool. Anyone who is semi-literate and has read the histories of our people knows that Turrasht is a well spring of royal blood from days when Vegita the Super Saiyan, our first true king, still lived. The first Vegita-ou had seven sons, six of whom went south to the mountains of Turrasht and carved out their own baronies. You can see the marks of it to this day. Raditz' hair grew in the widow's peak pattern that is only found in the royal house. Turna's hair is the same. That offends many Northerners."
"Seeing poor, back country warriors," I said, " whose bloodline is a direct line of descent from the Legendary and who can claim blood kinship with the throne, must eat some of the Northern Elites alive with jealously."
She chuckled softly at this, but the smile slipped away after only a second or two. "The Prince must take care to seem harder, girl, or the nobles will think him weak, however strong he is in body."
"I know," I said. "He knows."
"How is it with him truly?"
I held her eyes, and decided on the truth. "For...for a long time, he couldn't remember who he was or anything of his past. In the space of maybe a few weeks, it was as though he...grew up all over again, from little boy to man."
She studied me closely and as she did, a kind of harsh tension seemed to ebb out of her. "And you reared him from the second childhood in the same gentle fashion you are raising Bardock's son. I understand now."
"I was kind to him," I said, wondering what fear, or maybe what regret, my answer had put to rest for her. I didn't have to wait long to find out.
"I was his mother's friend," she told me. "And for that, Nappa always hated me as he hated anyone who took even the least of her affections. So, he kept me distant from the babe as he grew. I could have prevailed on the King, as my house is older, my line stronger, than Nappa's. I might have fostered the Prince with my own sons on my own estates in the north. I did not. I was a fool, but I blamed the babe and his sire for the death of my friend and wanted no part of him."
I closed my eyes, because I could see in my mind the sort of man this woman would have raised Vegita to become. So many, many things might have been different if she had.
"I can see in him now the man he might have been had someone other than that great imbecile reared him," she said, speaking my thoughts aloud. "I was not sure of him when he came to Council this morning. I needed to be sure of what manner of man he is now. And to see how you are fairing with him." She bared her teeth in suppressed emotion, and you could have frozen a sun with her voice alone. "I am different now, as well. And I could not now serve the man he once was."
I didn't reply. There was nothing that needed to be said. She picked up Rom-kun, who had been sitting silently on the floor between us, and held him up for inspection. "How long can you keep your feet off the ground before you must touch down again, boy?"
She listened to his explanation of how his hovering skills were being seriously hampered by the dogs' habit of grabbing his feet and pulling him back to the ground.
"They'd be sad if I flew away and left them," he told her. "Can doggies fly, Momma?"
"I don't think so, sweetie."
"Do not soften your Prince's heart too greatly, girl," she said over Rom-kun's head. "They will kill him for it."
"How?" I asked. She stared at me in confusion. "He was the strongest warrior born to your race in centuries," I went on. "What do you think his ki reading is now, after being tortured like that for months on end?"
"Gods...my gods, girl." But her shock was quickly being replaced with a small, relieved half-grin.
"I don't think a thousand warriors, or ten thousand, could kill him now," I said, wondering why no one other than myself, Bardock and Scopa had realized that.
Vegita came back into the hearthroom, the dogs padding behind him. He dropped a bound text in my lap and pointed. "Can you build this, with a few modifications? As an added feature of your shield?"
It was a Zapria-jin rad plasma stabilizer for converting heavier elements into a lower energy solidity. Added to my shield, it would provide an added layer of safety. It would turn a plasma nuke into a huge hunk of metal and coal in seconds.
I smiled up at him. "Yes. I can build it."
He left to find his father and Turna. I began working on adding the stabilizer to the full sized shield specs. Articha stayed and we talked late into the night while I worked. I like her.
She and Turna are coming to dinner tomorrow night.
He came back to the villa a little after dawn with Turna in tow. Vegita came back into my workroom after they were gone and stood watching me for a moment. I knew Bardock and Rom-kun were bedded down in the library with the dogs.
"Almost done," I said as he walked up behind me, looking down over my shoulder at what I'd spent all night bringing to life on my drafting table.
"You had this workroom in here all along," he murmured with a frown. I craned my neck around, all the relaxed pleasure of having spent hours working over the addition to the shield gone in an instant. But there was no suspicion in his eyes, no hint of what I knew his father suspected.
"It's what I do," I said, slowly relaxing again. "What I was raised to be and what I love. It kept me sane until Rom-kun came."
He nodded soberly. "Your eyes are heavy," he said. He took my hand and I let him lead me back to bed. He lay down beside me on his side, not touching, just gazing at me with the dark, gentle eyes of the man I had loved until yesterday. It was the first time he had ever noticed I was underslept or tired. No...he had noticed that lots of times in Bardock's house, hadn't he? They were both the same man...I shoved it all aside before it began to give me a headache.
I thought about it, about what I wanted right now. The dragon only grumbled and shifted once in her dark cell before lapsing into silence. Maybe she was sleepy, too. I took his arm and drew it around me, curling into his embrace, and his eyes said it was much more than he had expected. I kissed him once chastely and was asleep in seconds.
The dogs have developed bad habits in Turrasht. I took them to work and they made a b-line for the garden conservatory in the center of the main medical complex. They promptly relieved themselves everywhere they could think of, marking this new territory-I guess they didn't remember having been puppies here-as their own. Then, they began to dig up my flowers. I have to think of a solution to this while my secondary garden is still salvageable. Zarbon told me he had a couple of ideas and that the dogs still look delicious. They hate him, which is strange because Saiyans are more carnivores by nature than Rashia-jin, and I think he decided to dislike them out of hurt feelings more than anything else.
It's been a couple of weeks since I wrote last. Gods, where do I start catching up?
I've been dividing my time between helping prep Med Center to cloister roughly thirty thousand onworld children for the month preceding Moontime. The moon won't rise until this fall, still weeks and weeks away, but there's a lot to do. The other half of my time is spent working on the shield factories, and making copies of servo-bots designed for security mode, a mode that will detect movement and air temperature change even if it's ocular sensors detect nothing in the visual spectrum. This will keep Jeiyce's men from taking out the factories, or shield generators later on, while cloaked in invisibility shields. I could design a spectrum particle beam that would break down the cloaking shields' light refraction all together, but...I learned the hard way not to give anyone any sort of technology that can be used to kill. A particle beam that destroyed the Rebels invisibility shields would end up being used to massacre whole Rebel worlds. So, no. I have to think through everything I build from now on, and dole it out with a spoon even then.
Zarbon and Bardock have developed this wary sort of friendship as they began working side by side on 'step one', doing countless sneaky things all over the Capital in the name of ruining Mousrom. It took me a while to figure out where all the tension between them was coming from. I knew Bardock knew about Zarbon's wandering feet and tendency to leave his assigned posts whenever the mood struck him. He had no suspicions as to Zarbon's true activity and had written it off to the fact that some people where too clever and independent to take well to having their lives ordered by another. It's strange, so strange, that Bardock sees this, understands it, and yet sees nothing really wrong with slavery in general.
They haven't let me in on any of the covert things they do for Vegita, and that bugs the hell out of me. I've taken to sort of eavesdropping on them out of nothing more than a childish feeling of being left out, but up til today they've been very good at finding secret places to talk. Vegita won't tell me shit either. He only grunted when I asked him and told me the less I know the better. Which means what Zarbon and Bardock are doing is very dangerous.
Early this morning, I went down into the bottom level of storage to hunt for a hundred or so outmoded incu-pods someone sort of mislaid ten years ago, pods we'll need desperately in a few weeks. I had been rooting around among the giant crates and dust bunnies in one dark corner of the tech supply section for about ten minutes when Zarbon's disembodied voice brought me up short.
"He won't be working as a lure for Mousrom ever again," Zarbon said grimly. "I made sure of that."
"You realize if you're caught with Saiyan blood on your hands, there's nothing I or even the Prince himself can do to stop your death," Bardock said shortly.
"I knew that going in," Zarbon told him. "Besides...you're just miffed I killed him and you didn't."
"He lured Bardock-san's squad brother into Mousrom's hands." I jumped when I recognized Hiru's voice. They must all be on the other side of the wall in the o.b. supply warehouse. "Of course Bardock-san begrudges you the kill."
"I begrudge him nothing," Bardock snapped. "But if he'd had the presence of mind to keep the bastard alive, we could have taken him before the King himself as proof that Mousrom is torturing Saiyans. And that, Rashia-jin, could have been the Inquisitor's downfall."
"There were too many people around," Zarbon muttered. "I couldn't have overpowered him and brought him out of Kharda alive. As it stands now, Mousrom will think he left Kharda and met with misfortune in the Capital. Nachti shoved all that was left of him in the incinerator, and that is the best we could do."
"If he'd disappeared from there," Hiru's voice trembled, "Nachti and all the other Med Center conscripts would have been dead before the night was through. Zarbon did what was right, Bardock-san."
"And Mousrom was well pleased with the meal I cooked," Zarbon added blandly. "I will be requisitioned to Kharda again. So, there will be another chance soon to pilfer the records we want. If you don't trust my instincts as amateur spy, trust them as a chef who knows the quickest way to a fat man's heart." There was a little silence. "Are we done here? I've got a long letter disc from Nachti, Hiru."
Hiru made some wordless noise of joy. He sounded more alive and alert than he had been since we returned from Bardock's house. Since Nachti had been taken to Kharda. "Thank you, Zarbon!" he said softly.
"We are done here," Bardock replied. "Go and find your mate, Zarbon. He will not sleep until he knows you still live."
Zarbon made a noise that sounded like uncomfortable agreement, and I suddenly realized that Bardock had taken an almost paternal stance toward a certain young Madrani doctor where Zarbon was concerned-and he wasn't completely sure Zarbon was good enough for Scopa.
I raised one fist and pounded on the wall. "Psst!" I said.
Cold, frightened silence.
"It's me-Bulma, dammit!" I said louder, not wanting to be shot through the wall. "I just thought you covert ops guys ought to know I can hear every word you're saying from the tech supply rooms next door."
No one answered me. But I think the silence that greeted me this time seemed distinctly embarrassed. Huh. So much for their boys only spy club.
It's late evening of the same day. They all gave me sheepish looks when we met up in the surgery.
"The Prince didn't want you involved in what we are doing," Bardock told me. "You are at risk as it is to be taken by Mousrom because you are his enemy's concubine. We will not give him a valid reason."
I frowned, feeling childish and rebellious about that, at having been so summarily excluded from this by a conspiracy of all the men in my life, when I had set our whole little 'end the war party' in motion to begin with. Even Scopa had been in on it.
"Don't get in a snit, girl," Bardock had been watching the play of thoughts across my face with a faint grin. "It's not as though you do not have enough to do."
I am a free royal concubine. That's what Bardock called me today. I've known that intellectually for two weeks now, but haven't really tried it on for size yet.
Today, as we ate lunch in the staff commissary, one of Mousrom's top aids, Oriff, payed Med Center a visit. He came with a requisition order from Mousrom to round up five new medics for the 'Kharda facility'. He marched in on us, his personal guard of a dozen men behind him. Bardock told me Mousrom and all of his aids have to take bodyguards with them wherever they go these days to be safe from their own people. Big surprise there, though I have a private suspicion that Bardock and Zarbon know a lot more about Mousrom's top people dropping out of sight lately than they let on.
"I'll take this one," he said, grabbing the arm of a woman I knew was Red Network and pulling her to her feet like a rag doll. "And...let's see. You!" He pointed straight at Scopa, who sat beside me, open-mouthed, feeding Rom-kun his share of paya pudding.
"You can't take the head of surgery!" I was on my feet before I realized what I had done. "Who the hell is going to lead the surgical unit the next time we get a rush of wounded?"
"Not him, pretty!" He said, looking me up and down. "I think I'll take you too," he leered unpleasantly and grabbed me by the wrist so hard I cried out.
"We should not fight our own kind in time of war," Bardock said dangerously from just behind me, "So, I will not kill you if you let the woman go now."
Zarbon was standing beside him, poised like a cocked gun, and I could see that all of Bardock's squad was moving in, teeth bared like a wolf pack in anticipation of a fight. Everyone not Saiyan was taking cover beneath the dining tables.
"I am a servant of the Lord Inquisitor Mousrom, soldier," Oriff said, his hold on my wrist tightening painfully. "I will take your woman and there is nothing you can do to stop me."
"I'm not Bardock's woman," I hissed into Oriff's face. "I am Bulma of Chikyuu, royal concubine to the Saiyan no Ouji." His sneering face froze. He had seen the show over the Capital two weeks ago. He knew, despite the nasty rumors and whispers Mousrom's people have been cranking out, that Vegita was back and well and stronger than ever. "You're not taking anyone from Med Center, Oriff." I said coldly. "The wounded, the true soldiers of Vegita-sei, need them more than your torture factory. If you turn around and leave right now, I might find it in my heart to beg my Prince to spare your life for having laid hands on me. If not, I'll step back and let Bardock and his brothers kill you now." I let that sink in. But the shock had worn off. Or maybe Oriff just knew Mousrom would kill him for coming back empty-handed.
"Do you think, you jumped up little whore," he spat softly at me. "That Mousrom fears a mad raving weakling?" He twisted my wrist again, and this time I felt the bone give way with an audible pop.
A hand closed over his forearm and crushed it like brittle kindling. Then he was flying backwards through the wall behind him, bright sunlight filtering in through the hole his body had just made, a the new, ragged door onto the tranpo landing pad. I was falling backwards into Vegita's arms. Rom-kun was screaming in the background, and Scopa's voice was hushing him in soothing tones. He ran forward and put Rom-kun in the good arm I was holding up, beckoning him to bring me my baby.
"Momma's okay, sweetie!" I said over and over as Vegita eased me down to the floor.
"Bardock," Vegita ground out. "Take the fight out onto the landing pad. Send their bodies back to Mousrom."
"Yes, my Prince!" Bardock said with black joy.
I could hear the men's angry voices cursing and the sound of ki blasts being fired behind us. Scopa was telling Nail this was something he should take care of, and Rom-kun was still screaming in fear for me. Then, Vegita snatched him out of my arms just before a white glare blinded me.
And I lost it.
The sensation of having a terrified screaming baby torn from my arms, the sight of Vegita's face twisted in a towering rage, even if it was for my sake, was too many memory triggers back to the night of Karot-kun's death.
"Give him back!" I was shrieking like a mad woman, deaf to Scopa's soft voice, struggling in Vegita's gentle grip as he held me in one arm and Rom-kun in the other. "Give me my baby! Give him to me!"
"Not until he calms," Vegita said in an even voice. "His power is too close to the surface. Romayn." That soft voice of command made Rom-kun stop squirming to get to me. If I hadn't flown into hysterics, I'd have noticed before that moment that Rom-kun's wails had stopped the instant Vegita took him from my arms. Now, my son was looking up at Vegita with wide attentive eyes, wiping tears from his face with one chubby fist. Vegita touched Rom-kun's forehead lightly, concentrating.
"Do you feel that, boy?"
"Uh-huh," Rom-kun sniffled.
"Push it down, back down to where it was before, and I will let Bulma hold you. If you touch her while it is still out of control, you will hurt her."
"...'kay." Rom-kun's little face screwed up in concentration, and I watched, fascinated, as Nail gently probed the bones in my wrist. I heard him murmur, "Simple fracture..." softly, and felt a warm streaming pulse as he healed the break. I wasn't even looking down at the miracle of Nail's healing power. I was too focused on the small miracle in front of me. Vegita's face wasn't soft or loving, it wasn't the open expression of the man who had lived in Bardock's house, but... You could see the love there, evident as the sun on a cloudless day. Love for Rom-kun.
He sat Rom-kun in my lap, his face a portrait of Saiyan stoicism, and I smiled up at him with my whole heart. And he smiled back.
All of Med Center saw it.
They were hanging back, most still in their lunch chairs, or under them, though some had crowded through the hole in the wall Vegita had made with Oriff's body, watching Bardock and his brothers beat the stuffing out of Oriff's men, cheering like kids at a baseball game. But people saw. Saw it and marked it and tucked it away to tell later to whatever side of the conflict they served. Though the interpretation was pretty much the same universally.
They think Vegita's out of his fucking mind. That he's completely in my power. Which adds merit to the lies Zarbon has told all the Red Network operatives in his planetwide cell, but is very, very bad for Vegita's reputation among his own people. It lends credence to everything Mousrom had been whispering in the ears of the Elites since Vegita returned.
Dammit. It's a sign of the madness of Saiyan society in general that he is being smeared as someone who's become soft-headed for the sin of not behaving like an insane bastard from Hell. For acting like a sane man.
He carried me back to my too-often used cot in my little workroom beside Scopa's offices, and I was too drowsy to even sit up by the time he lay me down. Nail's power always induces a healing sleep, but I was fighting it, because something awful had just occurred to me. I gripped his collar as he lay me on the cot, frowning up at him. "Don't you dare kill Bardock."
He smirked down at me. "Bardock has made himself indispensable to me, woman. Though as thanks for having stood by and let you be injured, I think he will spar with me at length after he is through with Oriff."
I sank back down and sighed, falling asleep almost instantly.
Hiru was sitting by the bed when I woke. He and I hadn't really broached the matter, and I still hadn't given everyone a piece of my mind about letting him take part in the dangerous extra curricular activities of the what Scopa has dubbed the "Blue Network"-blue for the signature color of Med Center and all healers on Vegita-sei, not for my hair.
"You look good," I said softly. Rom-kun was not beside me, but I could hear his laughter in Scopa's office, and the sound of Scopa reading in a low voice. Some story about a flying cho-deer. It was bothering Rom-kun more and more that the dogs were never going to learn to fly, I thought drowsily. At least I wouldn't ever have the broach the painful subject of short canine life expectancy with him. I reworked the dogs' genes to give them a natural lifespan of about 70 years. Heh. Baka and Yaro might actually learn to fly in that time.
Hiru smiled down at me, looking so much like his old self I wanted to cry. "I feel good. Better. I wanted to talk to you before you lay into Scopa for letting 'poor sick Hiru' in on your project."
I looked up at him, worried and embarrassed at the same time. "You don't need to do this, Hiru."
"I do," he said. "Scopa knew it would bring me back from the edge of that deep pit. I know you know the one I mean. You have been there. He told me about your plan. The whole plan where everyone lives to see tomorrow." The look on my face must have been something to see. "Don't be mad at Scopa," he went on. "It was what I needed. It's given me purpose, something to do other than sit and sink down into myself. And more direct contact with Nachti than I would have had otherwise. The Network..." His ivory face turned cold, his huge circle-shaped Ansousei-jin eyes black with anger. "They didn't lift a hand to help her when Mousrom took her. So, to hell with them. The Network has high minded words when they take you in, but it is really all about revenge, and nothing beyond that. No one can say what will happen when we finally pull down the Saiyans and slay them to the last man. It's madness to think that they could all be slain in any case. The war will drag out and drag out, until trillions upon trillions are slain, and in the end the galaxy will tear itself apart. It already has. Surviving the sort of things you and I have suffered is all about hope and having someone who loves you, Bulma-chan. It keeps your mind strong and keeps you alive when what you've suffered should have killed you a dozen times over. I want a life with Nachti, not a grave on the alter of vengeance. And I think your plan will work. After today, I am sure of it." He frowned, eyes turning inward. "My people had a saying that revenge is a path that winds in a circle. It's a cycle that has no end. I would like to see the Prince die a terrible death, Bulma-chan. For Noira and Dusca, for Raditz and Karot-chan. But if it means that the war ends, that Nachti and I have a long life together, and unnumbered legions of innocents are not slain, then...let him live and rule his people behind the other half of your dividing peace shield. To have survived him is victory enough."
I had begun crying somewhere in the middle of this and he touched my face, his dark eyes full of terrible worry. "Scopa says he believes the Prince will free all slaves in the Empire when he takes his father's throne. Is this true? Do you have him so completely under your thumb as that? Or would I be leaving you to...to a lifetime of horror if I left Vegita-sei with Nachti to seek a new life? I will not do that, Bulma-chan."
"It's not horror," I said slowly, choosing my words with care. I didn't want to lie, but I knew he would never believe Vegita was stone cold sane in a million years. And in ten times that span of time, I could never explain what was between Vegita and myself. Not to him. "It's like you saw today. He's like that all the time since he came back. You won't be leaving me to a nightmare, but I can't come with you and Nachti when this is all over either. I have to stay with him and...and help him do the right thing. For all our sakes."
"You do not deserve to be sacrificed like this," he said softly.
"I'm not a sacrifice," I said firmly. "I have family and friends...and I have Rom-kun."
He nodded soberly and left me after a smattering of small talk about how big Rom-kun was getting, asking if my baby had really been on the point of a spontaneous ki-blast. I lay back and thought about that. Rom-kun wasn't like other Saiyan children. Everyone who knew him knew that. He was going to have to begin learning to control his power soon. I sighed and drifted back to sleep, wishing irrationally that he could stay little forever.
Work, work, work.
I'm so fucking sleeeepy.
We built a full sized proto-type shield to test on one of Vegita-sei's sister worlds and tested it. It worked like a dream. We sent six carriers full of plasma nukes to strike Six-that's the Saiyan's imaginative name for the sixth world in their solar system. The shield held. In the secondary test we threw a pile of bombs through the initial net around the planet, to simulate some enterprising Network terrorists smuggling a bomb onto Vegita-sei itself. The rad stabilizer built into the shield turned the bombs to coal dust.
We celebrated in fine old Saiyan style. Everyone, Bardock's crew, Scopa, Hiru, even Zarbon who never drinks to excess, got snockered. Only Vegita remained sober, watching everyone with a cold hard face that still showed the immense satisfaction lurking just below the surface. We had this little shindig in the surgery after hours, and woke up a few people from the nearest suites of the residential quarter. Several of them joined us. I have this muzzy memory of dancing with Scopa, and of Rom-kun giggling on the floor beside Vegita's chair, looking up at Vegita with wide sleepy eyes, saying, "Momma's being silly, Edeeta."
Hiru left early. I didn't blame him. It was hard for him to be in the same room with Vegita, though he kept his distance and tried to enjoy himself. Everyone else tapered away, until it was just myself and Vegita. I could hear Scopa laughing softly as Zarbon led him in a happy weaving gait to their apartments. I watched them go, and only then thought to look to see where Rom-kun had gotten himself to. I had taken an alcohol absorption hypo half an hour before, after I began to feel queasy, and now I was completely sober, but I had not thought to find out who, if anyone, had taken Rom-kun for the night. I found him soon enough. Vegita was still sitting in the chair he had not moved from most of the night. Rom-kun lying curled up in one of Vegita arms, little head on his chest. They were both fast asleep. I stood there transfixed, thinking how Vegita was the only person I'd ever know who could actually fall asleep in a chair as easily as a bed. He spent so much of himself, every ounce of strength he had, in anything he set his hand to. When he slept, it was always deep and profound...and wherever was most convenient. I moved silently to his chair and leaned forward to kiss his mouth, but I stopped, simply looking at his face, this face I had hated more than anything in creation, now so different from nothing more than internal change that I might not have recognized-
"I will not let you destroy him."
I turned and saw the burly form standing in the doorway of the surgery, sans Royal Guard, fists clenched at his sides like a man preparing for battle. He had probably come to covertly congratulate his son on today's success. I stood and moved across the few meters that separated us, not waking Vegita. I stopped when I was just out of arms' reach of this man who wanted so desperately to kill me and could not, not yet. Because he had never once in his life put his own feelings before the good of his people and his world.
"I won't destroy him," I said softly.
"You may have convinced yourself of that, girl," said the King of Vegita-sei in a low rumble. "You may tell yourself that you have all that you lost- a son and a kind lover and your freedom. Perhaps it is even true. But cho-gugol is not so easily laid to rest. It will burn a hole in your heart and mind to have its way."
I felt a chill waft through me. "I'm not Saiyan," I whispered.
"You are...more than you know," the King chuckled mirthlessly. "If you have been born Saiyan, girl, I would force him into the marriage bed with you with all my might. But you are not, and I will not see him pollute the blood of the Legendary's line with alien weakness, or tear my Empire asunder by setting you on the throne beside him."
Some reckless impulse made me answer him back, made me look him in the eye without pretense or humility. "Do you really think I am a weak woman, Ou-sama?"
He took my chin in his hard hand, forcing me to meet his eyes. "No, I do not," he growled. He stepped forward, so close I could feel his breath on my cheeks. "Have you forgotten the sight of Nappa crushing the life out of your first born, Bulma of Chikyuu?" I made a soft moaning sound, closing my eyes, and he nodded. "I did not think so. Look at me." The last was almost kindly, as close to gentle as I'd ever heard his voice. I opened my eyes. "There is too much blood debt between the two of you," he said. "All that might have been good is poisoned, girl. It will be the death of you both if you stay at his side."
I was shaking all over from the cold, horrible truth I felt in his words. I couldn't speak for a moment. "You want me to leave him?"
"When the war is won," he murmured, "I will give you wealth and a ship. Take as many retainers with you as seems good to you. Take Bardock and his son. But go and do not return. If you value my son at all, you will do this." He dropped his hand and turned to leave. "If you do not, I will see you dead before my ashes are scattered from atop Cho-tal."
It was a long time before I went back and woke Vegita to fly us home.
Oh gods...when did I start thinking of his villa as home?
Vegita took me to the Royal College of Engineers today, then to the long, neat line of factories in the eastern wastelands to tweek the guard bots and check the assembly lines one more time before they go online tomorrow.
The Royal College is set up in circular stadium seating, each rising tier being another magnitude of height in the pecking order of that august body. I knew they had initially rejected my designs as undevlopable fantasies, then recanted after Vegita-ou overruled them. Now, I needed them to help with offworld assembly as soon as the plants began pumping out finished shields. Vegita took me to their guildhall just off the main sprawl of the royal palace and left me there with Bardock standing at my shoulder as guard. They waited until they were sure he was gone, then they looked down their noses at me, one and all, as I stood in the center of the floor level petitioner's dock. They were all male, all Saiyan except for a few Madrani aids, and all arrogant assholes who couldn't follow the 3-D instruction graphics I'd taken special care to see were over-simplified just for them. So, of course, they concluded the shield wouldn't work as assembled, and the Mastertech of the Imperial College of Engineers himself suggested that I might have perpetrated the most audacious hoax of the century.
"Do you mean to say, Master Uretiss," said a young warrior from the first level, least senior bench row of the College tiers. "That the King has been fool enough to let himself be defrauded by a concubine?" The young man looked oddly familiar, though I knew I'd never seen him before. He was wearing the insignia of the Engineering Corp on his armor. He wasn't part of the Royal College of Engineers then. Which meant he built machines instead of just theorized about what might be possible to build.
Uretiss opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, then closed it quickly. The other, lesser Mastertechs on the high bench beside him were watching avidly, knowing that if he did indeed suggest that the King had let himself be conned by little me, one of them would be sitting in his seat this time tomorrow.
Finally, he spoke, red-faced with anger. "Explain it again, woman."
They gave me their fucking stamp of approval. After the young engineer's one briefs question, they didn't dare vote against me. I suggested sweetly that I not trouble such important men as themselves with the leg work of shield assembly, and they gratefully assigned the Engineering Corp to me. Bardock told me after I went over the assembly plans with the senior E-Corp engineers that the young man's name was Okuda. He's Articha and Turna's youngest son.
Not much time to talk. Too much to do. Gods, I'm tired.
I found Vegita in the garden last night. He goes out there every night to sit by himself, a kind of personal 'alone time', though he'll let Rom-kun play out there with him. Rom-kun's taken up this nasty habit of stomping the garden slugs and feeding them to the dogs. I told Vegita not to let him track the slugs in the house and he sort of grunted a yes at me. I don't know why this bothers me, except that I hate the thought of Rom-kun killing anything, even something as disgusting as the slugs that have been trying to chew up my roses all summer.
I went out to the garden last night to look for Rom-kun, not having heard Bardock arrive and take his son back to the library to sleep. Vegita didn't see me. He was sitting ramrod straight on one of my blackwood benches, his face drawn with tension. Then he released a dot of ki, searing a slug to green goo-and he doubled over gasping, clutching his head, every muscle drawn taught with pain.
I watched until I saw that he was coming out of it, that the pain was not going to suffocate him as it had at Bardock's house, then I backed away.
He's found another subliminal mine, and this one could end up being indirectly fatal. He can't kill. He can't even kill a garden slug without debilitating pain.
I've told one person. Scopa. He says he has some ideas that will help, things the psychiatric ward has used to help people overcome Mousrom's mental trip wires.
Vegita came back in after he recovered last night and I didn't mention it. If he wanted me to know, he'd have told me. In a perfect galaxy, it wouldn't be a bad thing if Vegita never killed another living thing again as long as he lived. But before this is all over, he and Jeiyce will fight head to head. I don't know when or how, but somehow, I know it will happen. And if Vegita is as he is now, Jeiyce will kill him. If Vegita's 'disability' becomes known here on Vegita-sei...it would be bad. Very bad.
The first of the shield production plants went online today. I wish I could say everything's just peachy, but there was a major setback last night.
I was putting the last touches on a new security system for the shield generators, an improvement on the one I had shown the King a week or two ago. Vegita-ou took one glance at my security ID authentication of software, that opens a shield 'door' for a ship based with user verification based on personal ki signature, and grinned at me. Honestly grinned.
"Good girl!" he said, and sanctioned it immediately. I think that's about the best praise I'm ever going to get out of Vegita's father.
I had finally gotten Rom-kun to sleep before midnight, a major achievement these days. Neither Vegita nor I nor Bardock nor Scopa are getting much sleep. So, Rom-kun has taken that as license to fight sleep every night. I think he's afraid he'll miss something. I was so sleepy, I think I had actually fallen asleep for a minute or two, face down on my blue prints.
"Woman!" Vegita's voice snapped me awake, and I had this weird out of sync with time moment where I thought for a second or two he had come home expecting to be met at the door with a smile and sex on request and now he was going to hurt me very badly for having slacked off. I shook myself and got up, feeling angry at having been jarred awake and angry that he might have woken Rom-kun and even angrier that he'd yelled for me through the house. He never raised his voice now. I stamped into the hearthroom, and strode up to him, hands on hips. He raised up from whatever production logistics snarl he and Turna were trying to sort out over the dining table, and one corner of his mouth curled up at the sight of me. I felt my eyes narrowing.
"How may I serve you, Ouji-sama?" I asked in a less than accommodating tone. His grin widened and that only made me angrier. Then he reached up and wiped the side of my nose gently, his fingers coming away black with ink. I'd gotten ink all over my face when I fell asleep over my plans. So much for looking anything but silly. He drew a few sweaty tendrils out of my eyes, his face softening...and I felt all my anger slip away. Behind us, Turna was looking pointedly down at the plans on the table.
He seemed to suppress a sigh, and dropped his hand. "The plants use a full compliment of your servo mechanoids for production," he said. "The facilities are guarded by Saiyan warriors with above average technical expertise. The planet-based hubs of the shields will need heavy guard as well. What we need is better security and faster production."
I thought for a second or two. "Two things," I said. "I can go around to each of the plants and tweak the bots one at a time, for higher speed. It'll burn their processors out quickly, but we'll only need them for a few months anyway. Also...
Yaro snarled hatefully from beneath the table. I looked down and saw both dogs were cringing under the dining table, growling low in their throats, focused on the open door that was letting cool night air into the sweltering house. Then, Vegita and Turna begin to growl as well, making almost the same canine sound of threat, and I saw that something was blocking the breeze in the doorway. Mousrom.
"If you ever breed these animals, Ouji-sama," Turna muttered. "I would gladly have one for my own household. An animal that can scent an enemy's presence quicker than we can is a valuable creature."
"My humblest apologies for disturbing you at such a late hour, my Prince," the Inquisitor said. "But there is an urgent matter that needs addressing." His gaze crawled over me, looking me up and down, making me feel like I'd just been felt up from across the room.
"Mousrom," Vegita snarled softly. "If you so much as glance in my woman's direction again, I will gut you where you stand."
Mousrom started to say something smart, but judged the look in Vegita's eyes and thought better of it. Too bad. He bowed in apology and looked away from me.
"What is your errand!" Vegita snapped.
The Inquisitor's thick jowls pursed in an oily smile and he shifted a stack of documents in one hand. "I have a list of names of suspected enemies of the Empire, all of whom have been put to question, Ouji-sama. Vipers in my own bosom, in fact. They are all former medics from Med Center whom I took to aid in extending the life expectancy of the more valuable suspects under my attentions."
My chest had seized up while he spoke and I had to fight to keep my legs steady. Oh gods, Nachti and Twili, Nikeet, Sauwa, Torq...The names and faces of everyone Mousrom had taken, of everyone we had blithely ushered onto his torture table by asking for their help. Vegita snatched the list from his hands. I looked down at the list and we read it together. Nachti's name wasn't on it. But...but Torq, Nikeet and Sauwa... I was fighting not to collapse.
. "I have the name of the man to whom they report, their cell leader," Mousrom went on. "But he is a free employee of Med Center, and thus, under your personal protection. In fact, I believe he was at one time a slave in your own household. In anycase, I need your permission to take him."
And of course, he meant Scopa. My mouth was dry.
"They were not Red Network," Vegita said with deadly gentleness. "Scopa's folk were monitoring your actions at my command. I must be sure of all my servants, Minister."
Mousrom stared at him as though Vegita had just broken into a tap dance number. "Surely you do not doubt my loyalty to Vegita-sei," he spluttered.
This was it, I thought. This was going to do for Vegita what slugslaying in the garden every night had not-it was going to break Jeicye's mental land mine against killing. Mousrom was about to die. "You always swear your loyalty to Vegita-sei," Vegita said, moving slowly toward the fat man like a big cat about to tear open an antelope. "But never to the throne. A prince has the luxury of trusting no one, Mousrom."
Mousrom's fat face was blood red with rage.
"You will return my servants to me..." Vegita said softly. "Are they are still alive?"
"They live," Mousrom's sneered, eyeing his Prince with a calculating look that sent a shaft of fear shooting through me. He had to know Vegita was going to kill him for this. It was as though he was baiting him to do it. "After a fashion. Though I fear they may never be quite right again. The broken never are. But...you know that, do you not, Ouji-sama?"
Vegita slammed him down on the stone tiles of the floor, kneeling over him, snarling. "You must take as much pleasure in receiving pain as in inflicting it to constantly tax me so, Mousrom!"
"I spoke the plainest truth!" Mousrom spat into his face. "I shall do it again. You were a thoughtless, spoiled young fool before the Red Prince took you into his care. A danger and a liability to the throne and the Empire. Now, you are a weak, mentally unstable, soft-"
Vegita cursed and raised his fist, an instant from hurling a ki blast through Mousrom's heart. And then...then he collapsed screaming, wailing his throat raw. His breath began seizing up in his chest, his body balled up in a posture I remembered from his first days at Bardock's. The geas had held...just as Mousrom had known it would.
"Turna-san!" I cried, ignoring Mousrom. Vegita wasn't getting any air.
"Turn him over for me. I'm not strong enough."
"My Prince!" Turna gripped him and rolled him onto his back.
"We need a trank," I said urgently. Oh gods, where had I put my med satchel? Had I even brought it home today?! "He's not breathing!"
"I thought as much," Mousrom was chuckling. "Subliminal mines! He cannot kill. Gods, what a devilishly cruel and clever thing to do to a Saiyan warrior! You will have to knock him out, my girl. I imagine he'll asphyxiate if you don't."
I glanced up and Turna and nodded. Turna hit him once, a quick, painless blow to the side of his head, and Vegita sagged, unconscious. Unconscious, but breathing.
I glanced up at the fat bastard standing over Vegita's prone body, a nasty, triumphant smile smeared across his face. "Turna," I said coldly. "He'll tell everyone if he leaves this house alive."
Turna stood, his ki swirling upward like a solid wall of power. He raised his hand open palm to Mousrom, his hard, plain face full of cold satisfaction at what he was about to do.
"Where is your Lady, Lord Turna?" Mousrom smirked.
Turna paused, his brows drawing down. "What do you mean?"
"Your villa on the Capital's northern edge is surrounded by many warriors," Mousrom said coldly. "She is strong, but not strong enough to best a hundred men."
"You back-stabbing coward," Turna said softly. But he dropped his hand. We stood together numbly and watched Mousrom leave. There was nothing else to do. We could have called his bluff, but if Articha didn't managed to fight her way out of the ambush, Turna would die with her. And then it would be my word against Mousrom's that their deaths were not the work of Network terrorists. I was sure the King would believe me, perhaps even have Mousrom's head for it, but Articha and Turna would be just as dead.
The King arrived less than an hour later. His face was like a block of anguished stone as he entered our bedroom unannounced. Turna had carried Vegita to the bed and left like a bullet to see with his own eyes that his mate was unharmed. I had sat down on the bed beside Vegita, stroking his face and forehead after I rocked Rom-kun back to sleep. Vegita's screams didn't terrify him, but they sent him into a crying jag that was hard to stop. He wasn't scared of Vegita, he was scared for him. He kept saying, "Poor Edeeta!" as he sobbed.
"That was quick," I said. I didn't intend my voice to be so full of quiet rage.
"Why did you let him leave alive?" He asked me angrily. I told him about how Mousrom had set Turna and Articha up and he spat in disgust. "He is a clever beast, is he not?" His mouth curled at one end. "And you would have slain him if you could have."
"In a heartbeat, Sire," I said adamantly. Vegita moaned and stirred. I gazed up and the King, meeting his eyes. "I know what you're about to do. Tell me, please, Ou-sama...if Scopa and I can break the conditioning, will you take him back?"
The King of Vegita-sei nodded grimly. "In a heartbeat, girl."
Vegita woke then, and the King ordered me out while he disowned his son.
I waited until Vegita-ou left, rummaging through a few capsules in my workroom for one of the psych rehab tools Scopa given me. He was working on something much more elaborate, but this one little vid-pic would be a good start. Then I went back into the bedroom and sat beside him again on the bed, staring down into those dark, gentle eyes, feeling all the sorrow in the world close in on me at the sight, wordless but so eloquent, of how deeply and completely he loved me. To see that look on a man's face, to feel my own heart respond in kind at the sight of his face, should have filled me with nothing but joy. All that might have been good is poisoned, girl, the King had said. I wanted to lay down and cry for a year for the truth in that one statement.
"You cannot be grieving for me," he whispered.
"I'm not," I said. "You aren't dead."
"No," he replied dully. "I am worse than dead."
"No," I said coolly. "You are feeling sorry for yourself."
If I'd slapped his face he wouldn't have been more stunned. But now he was thinking of something other than the fact that he'd just been disinherited by the father he loved. I had to get him moving again, make him start working the problem. He was strong. He'd get right back up again if I prodded him.
"You don't realize it," I went on. "But you love your world and your people more than you'll ever love me or your father. You started to realize that on the day Arbatsu fell, and since you came back, you've used every means at your disposal-not just your fighting strength- to save them. Even if your people are fickle, bone-headed fools who can't see that there's more to being a ruler than brute strength and killing, do you want to see Vegita-sei fall? Do you want to see your people wiped out and this beautiful world burned?"
"No!" He said harshly. "I do not want that! I will not allow it!"
"Then do your duty by them as their Prince," I said. "Get up tomorrow as though nothing were wrong. Keep working on the rad shield project, keep training with Rikkuum and Bardock's people, keep looking for Jeiyce's base, and keep trying to break the conditioning triggers he left in your head. Scopa and I have treated hundreds of Mousrom's victims, people he released after he broke them and found they knew nothing. I can tell you where to start." I shoved the vidpic into his hand. "It's Jeiyce of Maiyosh's image, taken at his wedding on Corsaris eight years ago." He looked down at the pic as though I just put a snake in his hand. Gods, they had done a really thorough job on him if he was having trouble just holding a vidpic of Jeiyce. I had known how bad it was, I think. I had known it from the way he always stuttered over Jeiyce's name. That's deep, deep fear/submission conditioning, and it's nearly impossible to overcome. "It's the only picture I could find of him," I went on. "The prime factor in breaking through any wall of conditioning is to shatter the personal control of the one who did this to you. We can start slow. By looking at his picture. Ready?"
He nodded grimly. I clicked the vidpic to on and he stared at it for about half a second before he just crumbled, wrenching away and balling up into a knot with a moan of horror that sounded so like the child he had been when he first woke at Bard's that my heart contracted. "Try again," I said softly. He set his jaw, furious at himself and what he must surely see as his own weakness, and turned back, forcing himself to look again.. His hands flexed on the device, smashing it to bits, as he gasped for air as though he had just fought a battle to the limit of his strength.
"Ten seconds," I said gently. It was good; much better than I had expected. I lay his head in my lap, feeling him still shaking like a leaf in my arms. "That's a very good start. And squashing his picture is an even better sign. Say his name."
He looked up at me in a kind of helpless horror. "Bulma..." The very thought that Jeiyce had broken him so badly he couldn't even say the man's name must be spirit-breaking in and of itself.
"Say his name," I said again firmly. "Don't let him keep that power over you. Take it back, Vegita. Who is your enemy?"
I had brought the anger out, the rage at what had been done to him, at how he had been humbled, just as I'd meant to. "Jeiyce!" He spat. "Jeiyce of Maiyosh! The Red Prince! The-" He stopped, staring at me in wonder, giving me the credit for what he had just done himself. Gods, I hadn't hoped that he could have made any progress at all so quickly. He was giving me that look again, unveiled, bare of the inexpressive Saiyan mask he had learned to wear in company. It was his whole heart laid out naked and open at my feet, just as it had been on that green moor near Bardock's house. It was the face of the man I loved. I kissed him, taking a slow, deep taste, and slipped my hand under his backside, stroking his tail. He growled softly, pulling me down on top of him, his mouth trailing heat down my throat. "What was that for?" He asked hoarsely.
"Positive reinforcement," I said with a mischievous smile. "You have to do this as often as you can. Look at him, say his name again and again. And keep trying to kill the leaf slugs in my garden."
"You knew," he whispered, his entire body vibrating under my touch.
"I knew," I said softly. "One step at a time, Vegita." He smiled up at me, sweet and kind, and I smiled back, squeezing his tail a little tighter until he purred like a cat.
"Bulma..." He said softly, his voice deepening with a thread of real desire. "Gods, I want you..."
"I'm right here," I said faintly. He made a harsh noise of joy at my words of permission, his mouth moving over my breasts, his hands pushing up through my blouse and under my skirt, tracing a sear of heat over each familiar curve of my body, and I pulled him to me, straddling his lap, my mouth everywhere. Thought and fear were gone, there was nothing left but the too-long denied heat tearing through us. One hand cupped my breast, and the other was hitching up the hem of my skirt. When his hand found its way between my legs I arched my back, gasping for breath, on the teetering edge of orgasm already. But his other hand, the hand that was caressing my breast through the sheer cloth of my blouse with maddening slowness, clenched at the scent of how close I was to release, clenched with unintentional bruising force and he growled deep and soft in the back of his throat. My eyes shot open, meeting his, and saw the raw need there, the thick heat of animal desire. The burning weight of his stare made something inside me cower like a whipped animal, without banking my desire. It was him. The man who had touched me in my garden Turrasht, and made me want him even while I was cursing him.
He saw it. He froze, shuddering, his eyes once more those of the new Vegita, my Vegita. There is too much blood debt between the two of you, the King had said. All that might have been good is poisoned. "Don't...please don't stop," I sobbed, knowing he couldn't go on, knowing I couldn't.
"I cannot," he said unsteadily. I saw all my despair reflected back at me in his eyes. "In Bardock's house, I told you that I had looked in your eyes and seen that you wanted me, but that wanting gave you grief. I cannot hold you with that look in your eyes...even if it means never having you again."
"It wasn't supposed to be this way." I whispered, letting him pull me back into his arms, laying my head on his chest. His hand stroked my face, brushing away tears I hadn't even been aware of shedding. "We were supposed to meet another way, begin another way. Now, everything is twisted...and...and it's all ruined!"
He turned on his side, peering into my face, shaking his head in denial. "Why do you stay, Bulma? Why do you help me? Why are you not working with the Red Network to destroy the Empire?"
I told him the truth, lying awake all night in his arms, of why I had cheered for the rebels at first, of why I now believed they had become what they beheld...become worse monsters than the Saiyans who had enslaved them.
"Jeiyce's hands are filthy with innocent blood," I said coldly. "And the worst thing about him is that he knows better. He wasn't raised to think people of other races aren't really people. He wasn't taught that fighting and killing are the best entertainment this side of heaven. Corsaris was a parliamentary monarchy, and his foster father raised him to respect life and freedom and-and now, he's worse than what he believes your father to be, because nothing, no rule of honor or morality, no horror of atrocity, is beyond him." I paused, burning with rage at them, at all of them, Saiyan and Maiyosh-jin alike, for all the butchered innocents caught in the crossfire of their monstrous war. "As bad as I think the Empire is, the galaxy-wide chaos and in-fighting that would follow Vegita-sei's fall would kill more people than this war has. The men who began the rebellion have lost their way. They've become the thing they hated, without the stay of Saiyan honor to stop them from becoming monsters as lawless and ruthless as Bardock's histories depicted the Tsiru-jin Empire. And you...You've changed as much as Jeiyce since this war began. If Jeiyce and his men have become evil, you're becoming..."
"Good?" He tried to pawn it off as a half-joking question, but he studied me closely, waiting for my answer.
"No," I said. "Not yet...but you're heading there." I kissed him. "Vegita-sei's been my home for eight years now. It's like you. Beautiful and horrible in its great goods and great evils. I love it as much as I hate it...so, I'll fight to save it."
It's been almost a month since I spoke. Mousrom sent all of the "Blue Network" spies who survived him back to Med Center. Scopa and I began treating them ourselves, with a silent, shaking Hiru at our side. We're taking care of them as best we can. I think Twili and Nekeet may make a complete recovery. The others are sunk in…in this deep motionless fear of movement, of noise, of everything outside the confines of their recovery suites. Scopa broke down when he learned what had happened. He blamed himself, of course, for getting them involved. But the day after Mousrom's people arrived with the broken shells of the doctors and medics who had been our friends, Hiru received word from Nachti. She said she wasn't going to stop, and Zarbon had damn well better get his ass back to Kharda sometime next week because word around the campfire in Kharda City's slave quarter was that Mousrom was building a special, strong, ki-suppressing compound based on captured Red Demon ki-killers for the express purpose of holding and interrogating Saiyan 'subversives'. Which is another word for anyone of his own race who pisses him off.
So, we can't stop. Scopa is a little better, now, recognizing the reality of what we are all involved in and that it has to be done. And mostly, that Mousrom is to blame, not us. Hiru is still existing in a terrible limbo of perpetual fear for Nachti's life, but Zarbon is the one who nearly lost it over this. I overheard him and Bardock talking the morning after Mousrom returned our people to Med Center, saying that he could dance with death a dozen time before breakfast every day of his life, but Scopa being involved in all of this may just give him a nervous breakdown. Scopa loves Zarbon, a deep, steady, sweet love that most people dream about when they think of being loved. But…Scopa is the axis of Zarbon's entire existence. He would find a way to die very quickly is something happened to Scopa, and the thought of how very close his lover came to being taken by Mousrom sent Zarbon into a rage at me for 'dragging Scopa into this shitstorm'. Zarbon's apologized for it since, and he and I are okay now, but I know he is living in the same kind of hell Hiru's in, in constant fear for the ones they love.
Vegita's been killing himself to get Vegita-sei's shield in place before Moontime.
The word is that the Red Demons are going to do something nasty during the Season of the Moon. Mousrom's spies and informants are all whispering that something big is on the wind, but no one seems to know what it is. Zarbon says something is about to go down, but that the bigger it is, the less likely is it that Jeiyce will tell any of the onworld operatives before he sends them the command to act. Bardock, Nail, Scopa, and Hiru are all starting to look a little worn around the edges as well. Come to think of it, I'm not feeling so well rested myself. Just a few more hurdles and I can rest. We all can rest. Everyone in the whole damn galaxy can take a breather, because the war will be on permanent hold.
I could give you a comprehensive list of everything we've all been up to, but it would take a very long time. The plants and the shield generator for Vegita-sei's own shield are the first priority. We go to the plants and the generator sight near the Capital's space port every day, and when we're not there, we're at the plants, keeping them cranking out shield for every damn planet in the Empire. After hours, Bardock and Vegita are digging through Tsiru-jin and Maiyosh-jin financial ledgers, trying to find a clue to where Jeiyce might be hiding his main base.
Vegita's people are proving true to form, shunning him for the sin of not having killed himself in shame after his father disowned him, but more for the sin of being mortal flesh and blood. For having been captured, tortured and broken to the point that he could have had mental block against killing erected in his mind. He's doing a good job of blowing it off, but it eats at him, and he will sometimes drive his body to the point of collapse when he trains at the end of the day, pouring all his rage and frustration into those sessions before he comes to bed and collapses beside me. There's no real time to train, but he says it's a necessity. He's trying to put a leash of control around his power. It's grown so great since his body fully recovered from Avaris that he almost can't control it. He said it's like…like holding the tail of a tornado. He's afraid it will spin out of control and kill him and everyone around him if he doesn't get a better handle on it.
Last night, I knew something suspicious was going on in the garden. When I came out to take Rom-kun to bed, I found a fried rose bush, and two very guilty looking Saiyans. I asked Rom-kun what was up as I put him to bed, but he bit his lip and said to ask Edeeta.
"I was showing him how to control his ki," Vegita told me as we both lay exhausted in our bed.
I tensed and turned in his arms, "Is it time for that?" I asked. I felt a horrible sadness, grief for the loss of my son's babyhood.
Vegita frowned uncomfortably. "It should be too early, but it is not. But he is not…not like other children." I didn't know what to make of that. "Bardock has told me what you believe to be true of the boy. He thought it was madness at first. He believes you now."
"What changed his mind?" I asked softly.
"Things the boy has said," Vegita said. He seemed to not want to talk about or think about this subject, but he was forcing himself to, as though he felt he had no choice. "The boy said something in my hearing, repeating to Bardock something his father said to Kakarott just before he killed the boy on Chikyuu."
A thrill of nervous fear went through me. "Romayn said something tonight," Vegita went on. "I asked him if he did not remember how to call his fighting power from…before. He told me the 'Ojjiisan' took his knowledge of how to harness his own ki away because it is 'bad for babies'."
My mouth was dry. "My…gods, Vegita."
"I do not think the memory of who he was is constant, if that is truly what it is," Vegita went on. "Sometimes he seems to be nothing more than a child, but other times…"
"I know," I said. "Sometimes he can barely put a whole sentence together, and then he'll be carrying on a complex conversation the next minute." I studied him closely. "Do you believe it?"
"I do not know," he said after a long moment of silence. "But whatever his nature or destiny, his ki is straining to burst free. When Mousrom's man Oriff broke your wrist, Romayn might have hurt you with the amount of power he was releasing in his fear for you. He must learn to control it or he will be a danger to you."
"Okay." I sighed so heavily he wrapped his arm a little more securely around me. "Bardock will take you to the generator site at dawn tomorrow. Take Romayn with you."
I shifted to look him in the eye, suddenly suspicious. "What's going on?"
"Mousrom has gained my father's leave to take Med Center," he said tonelessly. There was no inflection whatsoever in his voice, yet it carried so much anger for his father. "Scopa came tonight and told me. Bardock's folk and Scopa's informants in Kharda learned today that the Inquisition will be moving into Med Center tomorrow morning." Vegita smiled grimly. "I will welcome Mousrom when he arrives…but I wish you to be elsewhere until I remove them."
Vegita met Mousrom's people at the break of day and pounded them. All one hundred twenty-three of them. Then, according to Scopa, he gave Mousrom the beating of his life. I wonder how the son of a bitch took to being the recipient of pain for a change? Scopa said that when it was over Vegita looked...disgusted. And a little sad. He didn't see all the medical staff peeking out on him, or hear the cheer that rose inside Med Center when he tossed Mousrom away. Hiru is still convinced that Vegita is mad, that the Maiyosh-jin broke his mind and now I control the Prince. Which, in Hiru's mind, is just what Vegita deserves. And...I think most of Med Center is of the same opinion.
But sane or mad, they prefer this Vegita.
A week ago, Turna and Articha petitioned the throne formally for leave to distribute the shields among the colonies personally. We switched on the generator for Vegita-sei's shield yesterday morning. The shield's up, it's running, it's working like a fucking dream. I felt like dancing in circles when it went online. The soldiers we trained are the only fallible component, running space traffic control, checking that the ki-signature authentication is verified, okaying each shield window for ships coming and going.
I threw a party last night.
Articha and Turna were off with the first shipment of shields to core Imperial worlds, but everyone else was present. It was good. Everyone was so tired, myself included, and needed to blow off a little steam. Bardock was very drunk. I know, because he only starts singing when he's completely shit-faced. That's kind of sad since he had such a beautiful tenor. Zarbon and Hiru were conspicuously absent. Hiru because it was Vegita's household. I don't think Zarbon would have come either-he keeps in the background whenever Vegita's around, to the point that I doubt Vegita would recognize his face if I introduced them. But Zarbon wasn't around. He took off unexpectedly in the morning. Batha and Caddi are gone from their posts. Just gone. It put a damper on the feeling of euphoric relief, because the most likely explanation is that they've been taken or killed. And gods…I hope it's the latter. For their sakes. He's gone to the port city he placed them in to see what he can find out.
Everyone tapered away several hours past midnight, Scopa and Bardock hanging on each other's shoulders, still singing happily. The last thing I heard Scopa say as they left was a laughing warning about flying drunk. I don't know if he meant Bardock or himself. I was worrying vaguely that Scopa would try to take his flyer back to Med Center in his condition. Then I started to sort of tip backwards. Heh. My balance centers were a little off. Vegita was there, catching me. Rom-kun was slung over his shoulder like a little sack of flour, sleeping sound as a rock.
"You are very drunk, woman," he said, turning me gently, smiling slightly.
I sort of fell into him and I felt him draw his face through my hair, taking a deep savoring breath.
I smiled against his chest, sliding both arms around him in a warm comfortable hug. "I'm…very happy," I said.
"That is good," he said softly.
He carried me to bed, laying Rom-kun between us. We talked about what we need to do next, about all the work that is still to be done. I kept repeating my mantra, the thing that had set off such a full, happy glow inside me. No one else has to die.
"It is not over until Jeiyce is slain," he murmured against my hair, one hand unconsciously threaded through Rom-kun's spiky little mane. I don't think he was even aware of doing it. "We have a little less than nine weeks until Moontime. I would rest easier if he were run to ground before then."
"This will be my first Moon," I said. I hadn't been to Med Center in three of four days, but Scopa said the mad rush had begun. Saiyans were lined up a hundred deep for their neuro-suppressant, so they could get it on under the moon without moonbonding. That reminded me of the story Articha had told me before she left with Turna to deliver the shields. "Have you ever heard how Articha and Turna got together?"
"Only that they are bonded by the moon," he said.
I cocked an eye at him curiously. "Have you ever been with a woman under the moon?"
He smirked. "I always preferred to fight." Heh-ask a silly question. "This will be my first moon as a man grown. I was only seventeen last time. Tell me Turna and Articha's tale."
"He's back country nobility," I said. "And only moderately high powered. She was super Elite and heir to an ancient, powerful barony. But she told me they wanted each other from the first moment they met. The problem was, if he initiated a courtship spar, her honor would have demanded that she couldn't throw the fight. And she's about twice as strong as him, and would have just pounded him flat. So, they refused their neuro-suppressants at Moontime and they went to the bad lands in the north where no one lives-and bonded under the full moon." I sighed, thinking how she had described it, as something like melting into each other's skins, of seeing the whole of your mate's soul. And leaving a part of your own soul in his, while he did the same.
"It is not the sweet encounter you imagine," he chuckled. "Moonbonding is very, very violent. The two 'lovers' nearly tear each other to pieces as they couple."
"But Articha said it's as though he were inside her mind and soul," I said. "The other half of her heart."
Vegita snorted. "And if one of them is slain, the other will pine and die within a day-if the shock of the loss itself does not stop their heart. It is not 'romantic' to draw your partner down into death with you. If I should die, I want you to live long and happily, woman! Not die with me as Turna would have died had Articha been killed by the Maiyosh-jin."
I smiled and held him a little closer.
This morning I came out of the bathing room to hear Vegita laughing. He had gone out into the garden to find Scopa passed out in the petunias.
"Ouji-sama," Scopa began, sitting up unsteadily. "I…I…"
"You, Doctor," Vegita said sternly. "Are as poor at holding your drink as you are at catching an overhand pass of Rom-ball." Scopa's mouth hung open. 'Rom-ball' had been their name for the game they played at Bardock's house, a silly game of toss, with Rom-kun as the ball. Then Vegita's mouth twitched just the tiniest bit…and he held out his hand, pulling Scopa to his feet. "Come, Scopa. There is still much for all of us to do before the moon arrives."
That's the first time I've heard him speak to Scopa as he did at Bardock's house. Like a friend. A good, trusted friend. I wish every day could be as good as yesterday.
It was a perfect day.
They came for us at half past noon.
Mousrom's men dropping into Med Center through the skylights while Rom-kun and I were having lunch with Scopa in the garden conservatory. It only just now occurred to me that someone inside Med Center must have told them about our new habit of eating lunch there. It was so fast we didn't have time to scream or even really know what was happening before one of them struck me, leaving me woozy and half conscious. Then, we were up through the skylights and away, streaking across the Capital, touching down somewhere very close to the Palace. They carried us inside, wherever we were, and I saw the man striding beside the man carrying me was holding Rom-kun. My baby was completely limp, tucked under his arm almost negligently. I didn't scream. I don't know how I kept from screaming, but I knew they would have just left Rom-kun lying in the gardens if he were dead. I couldn't see Scopa, but I could hear him, struggling in the grip of the soldier behind us.
They wound through a maze of white, sterile corridors, then through a pale, unadorned door, and into a white room that looked like an operating room. But it wasn't. Oh gods, I wasn't scared, not even when I saw Mousrom waiting for us in that room, smiling like an evil, round-faced child on his birthday. I was truly, mortally terrified for Rom-kun and Scopa, but I didn't think even Mousrom was so suicidally stupid as to hurt me.
"Welcome!" Mousrom said brightly.
"You have been set up, my Lord Inquisitor," Scopa said hoarsely. He sounded like his mouth was dry with fear, but none of it showed on his face.
"I have?" Mousrom's eyes widened in mock surprise. "Enlighten me, Doctor."
"I spoke to the King two days ago," Scopa said. "I told him his son is making good progress in overcoming the geas the Red Prince set in his mind that prevents him from killing any living thing. Vegita-ou asked me what set of circumstances might possibly help the Prince overcome the mental conditioning now-this minute. I told him that some kind of shock, where fear and rage overrode the geas might break the block in his mind. I gave him the example of the Prince finding his father slain by Red Demon assassins, and the assassin still standing by, red-handed. The shock, the rage, the grief, would break the geas, and Vegita-ouji would kill the assassin. The King is solving two vexing problems in a very utilitarian fashion, my Lord Mousrom. He is using you to put Bulma and the child in danger. In an hour, perhaps two, he will turn his son loose upon you. Vegita-ouji will break the block against killing. He will kill you, my Lord. And in fell swoop, the King will have a fully recovered son, and rid himself of you."
Mousrom looked completely nonplused for a second or two, and I must have gaped. That mother-fucking, cold-blooded old bastard! That was exactly what Vegita-ou was doing! Then, Mousrom threw back his head and laughed.
"I like you, my boy!" He said, still chuckling. "It would be a good theory, but there's more to the tale than you know. This morning, I gave the King a full report of my interrogation of two Red Network spies taken in the southern port site of Biyan. Imagine my delight when I learned they were both former domestic slaves in the household of the Saiyan no Ouji. The woman Caddi died under questioning without speaking a word. Her sister, Batha, broke at the end and gave us a name. Zarbon of Rashia-sei."
Scopa made a low noise of horror. "Do you have him in custody?" Scopa whispered.
"Sadly no," Mousrom replied, and Scopa's knees would have buckled with relief is the soldier restraining him hadn't been there to prop him up. "He is not to be found where he should be. But his movements, his past assignments, and the naturally high fighting power of his race all lead me to believe he may be the Network cell leader for all of Vegita-sei. I also believe, based on information I have pieced together in the last weeks, that he is Jeiyce's one direct link to the Mastertech himself…" His eyes gleamed, pleased and greedy, as they fell on me. "Or herself. Such lovely machines you've built for your Prince, Bulma of Chikyuu. And the way you deciphered the miniaturization science when no one else could make heads or tails of it. Almost as though you already knew the technology intimately." He watched us both process that, his eyes drinking in our growing fear.
He'd have never understood that our fears, mine and Scopa's, were mostly for each other, for Rom-kun, for Zarbon. Oh gods, did he even know they were looking for him, that his cover was blown to hell? Would he just waltz into Med Center sometime this afternoon, unaware of his danger, and be taken by Mousrom's men?
"So!" Said Mousrom with that hateful cheerfulness. "Who was and still is closest to Zarbon? Who dwelt in the same household with him and the Ansousei-jin women? That would be the two of you. Vegita-ou looked at my report this morning, listened to my theories, and signed the orders for your arrests himself. The Prince will not find you until I have both of your confessions. Then, the King will give his wayward, soft-minded son the recordings of your eloquetions and I have a feeling-" His smile widened. "-That the double blow of your betrayal and death will be the end of him." He raised him beefy hands and cracked his knuckles. "Shall we begin? Let us start by finding out all that juicy Network gossip your lover must have whispered to you, Doctor."
I began to scream and kick, not noticing that Scopa was just standing there, strangely calm, as the guards dragged me out of that room with its medical pallet and restraining straps and instruments that had nothing to do with medicine. They carried me down the hall and tossed me in a holding cell, and I shrieked even louder when I realized they were taking Rom-kun away with them. I sat and rocked and cried, trying not to know what must be happening to Scopa, trying not to see it in my mind. I don't know how long the guards left me alone, but they came back after a short while, grinning at me as they opened the cell door and stepped in.
"Where is my baby?" I asked in a choking voice that sounded like an old woman's.
"If you behave and do as we say," one of them told me, "We won't cut off his little fingers and toes."
I did everything they asked me to. It wasn't as bad as my first year in Vegita's household-they didn't make me come the way the Evil Prince did when I finally gave in to him. And they knew it would mean their lives if they hurt me. But it was bad. It was bad.
I sort of faded out at some point. I came back to lucidity as I was being dragged back down the hall to the white room. Mousrom asked me if I enjoyed spending time with his guards. Scopa was beside him, strapped down on the medical pallet. There was no blood. They had used acupuncture needles wired to neural pain inducers. One of them held me beside the bed, and they made me watch as Mousrom went back to work on Scopa, as Mousrom made him scream. My poor, good, sweet friend, who never hurt anyone in his life…
I started to fall apart after less than two minutes. "Stop it!" I was crying. "Stop! I'll say whatever you want me to say! Please, please, please stop hurting him!"
Mousrom turned to me, his eyes gleaming with triumph, and Scopa…Scopa said one word, his voice raw and broken with screaming. "Rom-kun…"
I closed my mouth, and I saw in Mousrom's hateful, cheated glare that he knew I wouldn't give him anything now. If I talked, what would happen to Rom-kun? The only hope we had at all, the only hope for my baby, was for Scopa and I to hold out until Vegita figured out where we were. By now, he would surely know we were missing. And who must have taken us.
Mousrom's gaze shifted from Scopa to me, then back again. "Damn," he said mildly. He stared down at Scopa in grudging admiration. "You're more of a man that I gave you credit for being, boy. Let the woman loose a moment, soldier." The guard restraining me let go and I leaned over Scopa and began pulling the pins out of the pressure points on his body, sobbing hysterically, saying his name over and over, not wondering why they had released me or why they were just standing there letting me unhook Scopa from their torture gadgets. I leaned down and kissed his face.
"Scopa…" I said. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry! I love you…"
His face was dead pale, his mop of tangled dark curls soaked through with his own sweat, but somehow, he managed to smile at me. "I Silenced you because I was afraid and weak," he whispered. "I wasn't weak this time, Bulma…I wasn't weak."
Mousrom had been standing at the head of the bed. He reached down and took Scopa's head in both hands, and broke his neck.
I stared down at Scopa's face, not moving. It took a moment or to before I realized what I had just seen. Then I started shrieking, "No!" again and again. Mousrom rolled Scopa's…Scopa's body off the pallet and he hit the floor with all the force of dead weight. I knelt down, tried to pick him back up, tried to make him wake up. But Mousrom hauled me up by the armpits and sat me down hard on the med pallet bed. He slapped me hard enough to make my ears ring, then put his hands on either side of my face, forcing me to look at him.
"Think of Bardock's little son and calm yourself, girl," he told me coldly.
I went still, my head swimming with horror and denial and too much grief to process, caught in the bright, evil glitter on his eyes. He stroked my face and I moaned and tried to cringe away.
"Now," he said in an even steady voice as though he were speaking to a small child. "There is only one rule in this room. I pride myself on being a shrewd judge of how any given person will react to stress and trauma. You, my girl, will be tempted to opt out of the session before it is complete. My rule for you is this: Do not withdraw into yourself and leave me with nothing but a breathing doll. If you do, I will bring your little 'Rom-kun' to this room and I will cut him into pieces from the toes up. Do you understand me?"
They tried the acupuncture pain inducers first. It hurt like hell and I screamed like a banshee, but something about the way I responded seemed to bother Mousrom. I kept me eyes fixed on his, kept constant eye contact, so he wouldn't think I'd faded out on me. So he wouldn't hurt Rom-kun. He seemed to like this. Every now and then he would reach out and touch my face or my hand. And I began to realize that this was sex for him. I think that's when the rage hit me, finally, for all that he had done. For Scopa, for me, for too many people to count. The hate dragon stirred, shifting in her coils, waking and howling inside her prison to be free. And I began to howl with her. I began cursing through the screams, struggling in the restraint straps. When Mousrom touched my hair, I bit his finger to the bone.
"We will try something a tad less refined now," Mousrom told me as they began to pull the electrode pins out.
He tore out my fingernails, one at a time, one little piece at a time. It hurt. I screamed. I also kicked and spat in his face and cursed him with every foul piece of profanity I'd learned from Bardock and his squad over the last nine years.
He stopped after both fingers were a bloody, nailess mess, studying me in an assessing way that suddenly made me afraid again.
He grunted and frowned. "I could break you. But it would take more time than we have. I am fighting the hour hand in this matter. Your threshold of pain of far too high for such a pretty girl, my dear. I should have remembered that were a pleasure slave. You would not have survived a year in the Prince's household if you were not far tougher than you appear. So then...we will try a different approach." He backed away from me and said something to one of the guards. The soldier left and returned a few tense moments later, carrying a very awake Rom-kun.
"Momma," he began. "These men are mean. They-"
I don't know which Rom-kun saw first, my hands or Scopa lying cold and dead on the floor, his eyes wide and staring. The room began to shake. It was like standing on a railroad track as the sound and vibration of the oncoming train bears down on you.
"MommaMommaMomma!" Rom-kun shrieked.
And the room exploded around us.
I remember being pinned under something, a section of roof. It came down on us in one piece, boxing us in a little hole, and probably saved our lives as the entire complex crashed down on us. I remember feeling Rom-kun's solid weight in my arms, not questioning how he had come to be there, and the sound of his voice sobbing, "Momma...poor Momma..."
Something tore away the slab of stone than was balanced over our heads, and a snowfall of mortar dust poured over us. Hands, warm and callused and gentle, lifted us up, and then I was in Vegita's arms. I went limp against the strong warmth of his chest, hearing Rom-kun's terrified sobs of "Edeeta! Edeeta!" begin to recede slowly. Vegita's pale, tear-streaked face and the horror and growing rage as he saw what they had done to my hands seemed far away. I know I spoke to him. I know Bardock flew at Mousrom's men with a roar like a springing lion and began to kill them. I saw Vegita rise and walk calmly to Mousrom and kill him without hesitation. He came back to me, taking me back in his arms, rocking me against him, gentle fingers tracing the lines of my face, and I floated away under that soothing caress, far away from everything bad, everything hurtful, suspended in a womb-like cocoon of peace.
I woke once to find Nail hovering over me, his hands glowing with the green radiance of his healing power. Bardock was beside me, and Rom-kun was still in my arms. "…I have done a deep healing and a uteral purge to guard against conception," I heard Nail telling Bardock softly. "But I cannot heal the worst of her wounds…"
"Sleep now, girl," Bardock murmured quietly. I sank back beneath the surface of consciousness again.
I dreamed of Scopa sitting with my Momma in her garden. She was telling him what a nice young man he was and offering him lemonade. I woke up crying in our bed at the villa, the warmth of Vegita's body wrapped around me. Rom-kun was gone, and my arms were empty. Vegita turned on his side beside me, staring down at me solemnly, as my sobs grew louder and I lost control of myself completely. It occurred to me, somewhere in that clinical, analytical part of my brain that processes fact without emotion, that I hadn't let myself, my emotions, go in longer than I could remember. Maybe not since that day on the mountaintop in the northern crags. Repressing pain, shaking off pain and grief and horror and getting right back up again had become second nature to me. I wasn't shaking this off. I cried until the sobs rose to wails, then shrieks, lost to any semblance of rational thought. I wailed until my voice began to fail, until my strength began to seep away into a kind of mournful languor. And all the time, he held me, not speaking, just being there, just loving me. He loved me. He loves me…
Little by little, I began to speak. "It's my fault," I whispered. I had drawn him into our little conspiracy of peace. I had not spoken, not confessed, though I knew to do so might have meant Rom-kun's death. "I-I could have said something while they were-were hurting him, but I was afraid of what would happen to Rom-kun. I should have spoken up! I should have confessed to anything they wanted to save him!"
His arms tightened around me, his deep, soft voice held a distant rumble of murderous rage. "It is not your fault," he said. "It is Mousrom's fault. And he has paid with his life."
"Scopa..." I almost moaned his name. I could see his face in my mind, hear his voice telling me he wasn't afraid anymore, see the light and life leave his eyes as Mousrom snapped his neck- "He never hurt anyone in his life!" My voice had begun to rise stridently, a discant to the sound of distant roars in my mind, the dragon howling her song of hate and rage, her own grief for Scopa. "He saved more lives than I can count. And he-he-" I sat up, pulling roughly out of his embrace, my still tender hands balling up into fists. "Everything that's good and decent always gets torn to pieces! All my life...everyone and everything I've ever loved or cared about. And I just get back up every time my life is destroyed and start building another one, when I know...when I know it'll all be blow to hell in the end! Romayn and Scopa and-and you and everyone in my life. I'm going to wake up one day and find Rom-kun's been killed in a training exercise after they take him to the children's barracks in two years. Or that you or Bardock or Kyouka or Articha has been killed in battle somewhere. Or that your father has finally ordered you to put me aside, and you pack me off world as a free woman, but-but I'll have to leave Rom-kun behind, and-"
"That will not happen," He said, soft and harsh. "Not if I live to see a thousand years. Bulma...hear me!" He sat and faced me, studying me almost uncertainly before he reached out and took me in his arms again. "I will not tell you no one you value will die. That will happen. But my father will not command me in any way ever again."
He would have known, or figured out by now, that his father had set us up to prod him into to breaking the geas. "You didn't-"
"No..." He growled. "But it was a near thing."
Of course, he hadn't killed his father, not even for this. He loved me, loved Rom-kun, had felt more affection and friendship for Scopa than he would have ever admitted. But he loved his father, too. And the most marked of all the changes in Vegita since his recovery was that he was probably completely unable to kill his father now. Or anyone he cared about. "Your father told you that he would 'help you set yourself to rights.' He knew seeing us in Mousrom's hands, would break the geas in your mind. And all it cost him was your love and Scopa's life..." The old bastard…the evil, evil old bastard!
I could see he knew this was true, see him fighting with the rage of what his father had done, twisting away from the hurt and betrayal. "Jeiyce is my prisoner, Bulma."
I blinked in absolute amazement. "How…?"
"Bardock found his hideout from a clue we received in an intercepted hyper light transmission. Tsiru-sei-a world we would never have thought the look for him. I went there while you were recovering, I fought him and took him alive." The fierce light in his eyes, full of so much hate for the man who had stripped him of his pride, his will, and ultimately his own identity was…it made his look like the other Vegita. The Evil Prince. I shivered against him. Of course, they looked the same. The Evil Prince wasn't dead. Telling myself he had merged with the man I loved was a pretty, poetic way of lying to myself, of trying to make the man who had killed my son and used me so brutally someone else. Or was I wrong? Had Jeiyce killed the Prince of that nightmare summer house in the Western Sea as surely as if he'd driven I stake through his black heart? I didn't know…gods, I didn't know!
"The war will be over soon, Bulma," Vegita was saying. "I will execute him on the first night of Moontime, the day of my father's Centennial, in eight weeks time. In spite of what Jeiyce believes, the war will die with him, though not immediately. We will hunt the rebels still. Seeking them out and battling them where we can find them will keep us vigilant and in fighting trim for many years to come, but, as you have said, they will be difficult to find. And with your rad shields, they cannot strike at us." He had begun trembling with some kind of internal conflict, just a faint shudder rippling though his body. "When Jeiyce is dead, and the Empire is once more stable and strong, I will take the throne. My father-" He stopped. He had come to the sticking point of all his plans for the future. His father. Who he must kill with his own hands to ascend to the throne of the Vegita-sei. He knew his father wanted this, knew what the King had done to me, to Scopa. He knew there was no other road for him. But it would tear him apart when the time came. He met my gaze, his eyes speaking more eloquently of anguish than any words.
"He knows," I said softly. "He knew signing that arrest order would make it easier for you. He knows you're ready."
He nodded. "When I am king, I will serve my people and protect them and lead them. I will give my life for them, if need be. But I will order all things in my own household as I wish, custom and propriety be damned. I will take no queen. I will find a strong warrior to bear my son...but he will be yours to raise. You-" He touched my face. "You have proven yourself a gifted instructor of kings to be. Romayn will be his foster brother, his first lieutenant, and his bodyguard. As such, he will be trained in the Palace alongside my heir, and he will not go the barracks. You are free, woman. Go if you will, you and the boy. Or stay and help me rebuild my empire. It is your right, since you have helped to save it."
I kissed him, awash in another storm of tears. I couldn't seem to stop. There was too much happiness and grief swirling around inside me to separate the two, and each positive emotion was threaded through with sorrow or pain. I wanted to feel good! I wanted to feel young and alive, free of regret and all the horrors of my past. I wanted him to take it all away before the grasping hands of all the dead I'd laid to rest pulled me down forever. I deepened the kiss, my body molded to his, feeling his heart begin to race.
"Make love to me," I whispered.
"Bulma..." He began, searching my eyes, trying to fathom what it was I really wanted, really needed.
"I need you," I sobbed. "I want...I want to stop hurting. I want to feel like I did that last day at Bardock's house. Happy and loved and at peace. I want you, Vegita...please..."
He did as I asked. Whatever it was he saw in my eyes convinced him that this was the best remedy. He threaded his hands through my hair and lay me down gently. He began tracing my body with unsteady fingers, his dark eyes full of love, but also full of fear. That he would hurt me, that he would ruin this. Every touch was light as a feather, and his face…he looked like a man worshipping in a temple, worshipping his goddess made flesh. He began to kiss his way down my body, and every new inch of skin his mouth burned over caught fire, my heart and lungs straining harder with every breath. When he came to the cleft of my thighs, he paused, grinning up at me mischievously when I made some kind of low, soft growl of need.
"Patience woman," he whispered. And he began a slow, maddening trek along my inner thigh, playing all my senses, every synapse, every nerve ending, and then his mouth found my center, teasing climax after climax out of me until I lashed my head back like a wild thing and screamed. When…Kami, when had he learned to do that?! I thought in a shuddering daze as he rose up and crawled up my body in a sweet backtrack of kisses over every inch of skin he'd missed on his way down. He was grinning faintly with satisfaction at a job well done, arching his back like a big cat as he sank down against me, and kissed my trembling mouth. His smirk slipped away, as I wrapped arms and legs around him, feeling him hard above me, almost insane now with the need to have him inside me. He moved in, just barely past my inner threshold…then he stopped, his heart hammering against mine like a drum.
"Vegita..." I nearly pleaded.
"Shhh..." He said, shaking in my arms like a leaf, his face drenched in sweat. He began to sink in and out of me, never going deeper than he had been, in an sweet, agonizing series of shallow strokes that kept bringing me just to the brink of release, always just shy of it, his eyes locked on mine, his lips against mine, every muscle in his body drawn taught with holding back from burying himself in me completely. Oh gods, what was he waiting for…
"Please..." I tried to gasp. "Vegita-"
"Do you want me?" He whispered against my lips.
He was still rising and falling above me, still denying me, as he took a long, deep shuddering breath, and began to speak, his voice raw with the strain of how much he wanted me. "You are free, Bulma...Romayn is yours to keep. This world is yours, your home." He withdrew, poised against me, rivulets of sweat running down his face. "I swore to return to you all that I took. Home and child and freedom are yours, as much as a mortal man can replace such things-everything except your mate. I will give you that if you will have me, Bulma." He kissed me slowly, deeply, his eyes burning into mine, trying to read my mind, to feel what I was feeling. "Will you have me?"
And my heart seemed to have gone still, like a coronary stutter from a sudden shock. He was asking me…He wanted me to be his. His lover, his mate, his wife, his everything. And I wanted…oh gods, I didn't know! I knew I had loved him with all my heart at Bardock's house. I knew he had broken his back and his heart and his pride at every turn since returning to the Capital, to become the man I loved again.
But…there was a way to know for sure, beyond doubt, who was holding me in his arms. A test so simple… "Do you love me?"
And something inside me began to wail with sorrow as his mouth clamped shut in a knee-jerk reaction against the words. "Bulma-"
He couldn't do it. There was still enough of the beast left to reach up from whatever pit Vegita had buried him in and close his mouth against the utterance that had come as easily as breathing to him before he remembered his past.
"Do you love me?" I asked again, soft and adamant. "The man I loved at Bardock's house, the man you should have been, told me he loved me. I see him inside you. More than I ever imagined possible. He's not gone...he's a part of you. I see him in everything you've done since we returned, but you have to bring him out a little more. You have to say it!"
"I-I-" He growled in frustration, tried again. "Bulma..." He met my eyes, his gaze full of self loathing, full of lost helpless need to say what he felt. He growled again, softer this time, and sat up with me astride his lap, his whole heart in his eyes…and sank his teeth deep into the base of my neck, pushing his thoughts toward mine like a gentle melody interweaving with the song of my own thoughts. It wasn't invasive. I could see what he was offering to show me, to bare himself to the core of his own soul to show me what he couldn't seem to say. But I had to reach out and take it. I brushed through the outer edges of his mind, tasting his heart, his soul. They felt like the wind and the sky, the warm sun on my face. His heart felt wild and strong, like a wolf or a lion's heart. You couldn't tame it, couldn't conquer it, but if you won its love, it loved you with all its being. It would change all its violent, murderous ways to be at your side, to have the smallest scrap of your affections. It would die for you. I opened my mind to his, and I let him in. And I showed him everything that was me, all my self. I felt him pouring into me as his body began to move against mine, as he continued to move against me, without actually entering me. He took the full measure of all I was, of all I felt for him, all my hate, all my love, my fears, my hopes, and his chest began to wrack with tearing sobs as he saw all the evil he had done through my eyes, all he had become, all I needed him to be. He brushed past the dragon's prison with a shudder of horror, seeing it for what it was, the burial ground of all my blackest, most mindless hatred and sin. Somehow, he couldn't hear her voice, railing her rage at what I was doing. The thunder of her roar was deafening. He didn't linger there to see all the horrors that were hidden in that obsidian cell or the secret of Jeiyce's weapons builder.
Shame and wonder were swirling through him, that I could feel anything but revulsion, hate and loathing for him, that these were things he had bought and paid for a dozen time over, that I saw him as someone new, a man born the day the Evil Prince died somewhere in the deepest dungeons of Avaris. He was mine, I saw. Mine to command, mine to love if I would. He would move the stars around in their orbit in heaven if I asked him, or spend the last ounce of his strength trying. I was…I was his axis.
But the other…the other was still inside him. I could feel the ghost of the Evil Prince sleeping in the darkest places of his heart, the place where he had killed too many people to number and shouted with joy as he did it. The place of violent, blood-stained murder, of rage, of butchery and rape and malice and above all, the touchstone of all his sins, overweening pride and arrogance. It was all alive inside him, and he had, and always would, call on that part of his nature when he must. But I…I couldn't live with the Dark Prince in my heart and head. It would drive me stark-raving mad. I had to know it was just a ghost, that my Vegita was the real one, the man who should have always been.
"Say it, Vegita," I said again, my voice breaking as he poured his whole soul into my hands, to embrace or smash into pieces. A wisp of thought, his, that the latter was my due if I wished, fluttered past, that I was the measure of all he knew or understood of love.
"I love you!" He choked the words out, almost shouting them, forcing them past the maw of his own hate dragon, the shade of the monster he had been. And as he did…as he did, the other did not stir, did not move. He was dead! Dead!
I love you, Vegita...you are the Vegita I loved! You are! I didn't say it aloud and I didn't need to. I would never have to put anything I felt for him into crude words again unless I wanted to.
I sank down over him, letting him in, deep and slow, my mouth over his, my eyes full of tears. We moved together, slow and sweet, and I gasped with soft laughter as I realized we were in the air, hovering over the bed, my body wrapped around his, his around me, my mind in his, his in mine. I pressed him on, urging him to move faster, harder, as we spun in a slow circle in the air. The tingling tickle of his energy was rippling over my skin, encasing me in his aura, holding me up as though I was weightless. I felt like my lungs would burst, like my heart would blow apart as we melted together toward a final meshing of our souls, locked together in a blaze of love and hate and need, and-and he thrust into me one last time, and I came, weeping and laughing. It burned inside me like the fire of a newborn sun. I can't even describe the end in anything as pitifully insufficient as words. He cried out, falling over the edge with me, his voice ragged in my ear as he came inside me, his whole body shaking with the weight and truth of the words he uttered. "I love you, Bulma," he whispered. "Oh gods, I love you..."
He was wondering if it were possible to die of heart-failure from joy alone. The room seemed to be wheeling around him in a pleasant, dizzy blur, every nerve ending tingling with pleasure. And I…I could feel it. I could hear his thoughts.
"I can feel you," I said tremulously. "...still inside me...everywhere."
"We went so deep because of the moon," he said softly, his breathing slowing, his heart still hammering against mine. "It will be dangerous soon, for us to share the same bed..." A thread of worry, of concern, shot through him.
I kissed him. "But not yet."
"Not yet," he agreed. "Sleep now...tomorrow will be a better day."
I went to Med Center his morning. Vegita wanted me to stay at home, but I knew I had to keep moving. If I sat in the villa all day, alone with nothing but my own thoughts…that would be bad. And final cloister lockdown for the duration of Moontime was only a month away. The babies would need me. Hiru sat in the surgery, his scarred face a blank mask, not moving, not seeming to notice I was in the room when I came to take Rom-kun from Bardock. Kharda was destroyed, I knew from the hyper light news feed. Nachti…
"Is she all right?" I asked, taking his hand. He squeezed my fingers, a light, gentle pressure.
"I've had word. She's fine, Bulma-chan. She's all right now. There's a lot to do before Moontime, but I'll see her soon." He smiled at me and he looked...relieved. At peace. There was no more torment or grinding worry in his face. But he was heart-broken over Scopa's death. He couldn't talk about it, and neither could I. Everything in Med Center was still and silent, no chatter, no idle conversation. A pall of mourning sat over the entire complex, so thick it was tangible.
Zarbon found me late this afternoon. His face was…He was in that black, deep place that is beyond tears. I knew that place, knew it too well, and my heart broke all over again to see him there.
"I'm leaving, love," he said tonelessly. "Listen to me. Take Rom-kun and go away with Nail-san. You can get through the shield. Go now and don't look back."
"No," I said steadily. "I'm saving everyone, Zarbon. Everyone." Everyone except Scopa…
"It's too late for that," he said. "Vegita-sei is going to die. Don't get between the Saiyans and justice, Bulma."
I had the sudden sense of Nail just behind me, standing like a tall emerald-skinned watchdog at my shoulder. "I'll stop you," I said.
"It's too late to stop anything." Then he leaned down and kissed me on the forehead. "I won't see you again, love."
He turned to leave, and Bardock stood behind him. I even hadn't seen him enter the room. Both men froze, poised on the edge of violence. Bardock stepped into his path. "I read the arrest report, Rashia-jin," Bardock said coldly. "You brought this down on him and on Bulma and my son."
Zarbon swallowed as the blow struck home. He didn't argue or try to defend himself. But Bardock didn't attack, only stared him down. "Go," Bardock grated finally. "Go back to your Maiyosh-jin master. Scopa would beg me for your life if he still lived. But if we meet again, I will send you to him, Zarbon."
Zarbon smiled grimly. "I'll see him soon enough. Take Bulma and the boy and leave this world, Bardock. Before it's too late."
And Bardock just stood and watched him go.
"There is something terrible in his mind," Nail said softly.
"Of that, I have no doubt," Bardock rumbled. "He is going to his death. We will not see him again."
I tried to eat today and began to cry over my meal. Scopa is everywhere here, his things, his face tied to a dozen memories in every single room. I knew Rom-kun was beside me, knew I shouldn't cry in front of him. He was so little, so little, and he had seen what they had-had done to Scopa and myself. I needed me to be strong and comfort him. But as I sat there trying to clog up the tears, his small hand touched my face. He had crawled into my lap, his black eyes huge and full of unshed tears.
"Momma? I dreamed about Scopa last night. He was sitting with a pretty lady in a garden. He was telling her about us."
Too much had happened in the last 24 hours to be shocked. I kissed his little face. "I had the same dream, baby."
"It was real, Momma. Don't be sad. It's really nice there...I remember. Scopa's happy, Momma, but-but-" His face began to crumble. "I still miss him bad, Momma!" And he began to cry. We sat there and cried for a long time. Until we were all cried out, as Poppa used to say. But, oh gods, I believe him. It was real. How else could we have had the same dream? And the memory of that dream, of Scopa and Momma sitting in her garden together, got me through the rest of that first day.
I woke this morning tangled in Vegita's arms, and stared into his sleeping face. I caught a sense of flight, of air rushing past my face, and the horror that he would be too late to save me. He was dreaming of yesterday, of his and Bardock's mad flight to save us.
"Are we moonbonded?" I asked him later, before I left for Med Center. "I can still feel you..."
"No..." He said, frowning with the worry I felt leaking out of him. "We went deeper than we should have, as I said, because of the moon. It is more than a simple marriage bond, but the intensity of the empathic link will fade as the day goes on. You understand how important it is that no one knows what is between us?"
"Yes," I said softy.
I understand. What we did last night is permanent, and far deeper than either of us imagined because the Season of the Moon is so close. It will be dangerous for anyone to know, even when he is King, and death for me if anyone finds out right now. The King…Vegita's father will try his damnedest to kill me when it becomes evident I'm not packing up and leaving the second the war is over.
This evening, at sunset, we burned Scopa's body in Saiyan fashion, as though he had been a warrior of Vegita-sei. He had been, Vegita told me solemnly. In his own way. I raised the first piece of wood to his bier. Everyone added more. Everyone, because everyone who had known him called him a friend. There were so many warriors, men I didn't know, hovering around the top of Med Center, in silent respect. Articha and Turna had returned sometime during the night, and both lay their own branch of blackwood to the bier. Then Vegita did the same. He turned his face up and around, glaring murder at those assembled warriors in the sky around us, all of whom Scopa had treated at some point, who had gasped in astonishment.
"It is just," he said in a voice that carried to the farthest of them, "that a Prince honor his good and faithful servants. Whosoever they be!"
Then we came home. I lay beside Vegita and cried all night. At some point Rom-kun crawled onto the bed, crying too, and Vegita sat up, pulling him between us. The funeral is over. Tomorrow…tomorrow we have to deal with him being gone forever.
It's getting so familiar, the feeling of deep grief. I am so tired. Tired to death. I found out what Hiru meant when he said Nachti was fine. She's dead. She was killed in the confusion and fire when Kharda City was destroyed, Nail said. When it became known that Mousrom was dead, everyone in Kharda, Saiyan and alien alike, began to riot. The slaves of Kharda burned their own city to the ground, leveled it, in disgust and horror of what had gone on there, and the Saiyan residents had finished the job. They had seen Mousrom's torture factory as a blight on the honor of all true warriors. And sometime, somehow, during all of this, Nachti died. Nail said he didn't know the details of Nachti's death, maybe no one does. It doesn't matter. She's just as dead. Hiru won't talk to me or anyone about it. He still goes about his work each day, almost cheerfully. He told me again today that he'll see her soon, after Moontime is over. I don't think he's in denial. I think he means he'll be joining her soon.
It's two weeks since my last entry. Articha came to me three days ago and gave me a project that couldn't wait, even in the heat of cloister preparations at Med Center, even while I'm still wracking my brains for security leaks in the design of the shield and the authentication of space traffic control. She told me in this hard, inflectionless voice what generally happens to the young girls, those too old for cloister and too young to have physically matured to the madness of desire that the moon will awaken in everyone left on the surface.
"The strong survive," She said bleakly. "It has always been the way of things. I have prevailed upon the King to alter custom this moon. We have lost too many warriors in this war to throw away the lives of our young in such a cavalier fashion. The King agrees with me."
Huh. He was probably afraid to cross her in this. Smart man. I encapsulated and stripped down six large troop carriers, using micro-capsule welders to redesign the ships in a fraction of the time it would have taken had they been full-sized. Articha called up all female warriors stationed onworld between the ages of six and fourteen, and in about two days, she and Turna will take them off world for the duration. Yesterday morning, she told me if anything 'unfortunate' happened, to leave send out a wide broadcast hyperlight message buoy on a specific frequency. She would do the same.
Last night I dreamed I heard the black dragon, my hate dragon, screaming in her prison. And though she couldn't escape, she spat up a dream, a healthy helping of poison for myself and the man in my arms.
I dreamed...I dreamed of the summer house in the Western Sea. And through the bond, the too-deep bond that ties our hearts and minds together, Vegita dreamed it too, feeling all I felt, reliving the memory with me.
We both woke in the same instant, jarred out of sleep by the phantom pain of breaking bones and tearing flesh, and we lay side my side in haunted, terrible silence, not touching. He was shaking apart with reaction to what he had seen and felt, but I had no comfort of offer him.
I got up and went into the bath, even though it was three hours until dawn.
I left him and didn't come back to bed.
Vegita's not showing any symptoms of moon madness yet. That's strange. He says he thinks it's the bond somehow. I found him this morning, working on shipping requisitions that will send more medical aid to the farming and game colonies that were hit so consistently by the Rebels. He looked up from the files, his body tensing, unsure of how to react, afraid to touch me. After my dream last night, I spent the early hours walking through the hills, thinking, soothing demons and ghosts that refuse to lie still.
I reached out and took his hand, bending down to kiss his lips. "This will happen. You know that."
"I know," he said hoarsely. "I would give my life to take it back, Beloved."
"That won't take it back," I said. "So, live. Live and love me."
He stood and put his arms around me, still hesitantly and gentle. "All my days, Bulma."
The kids are piling up at the entrance of Med Center like lemming on the edge of a cliff. Next Moontime, we need to organize this better, not have them all show up on the same damn day. The babies, my babies, the ones whose infant conditioning programming Hiru and I tampered with, are part of the one-year-old Infant Barracks now.
They...they sing. All of Scopa's Madrani toddler's songs. They can just barely walk, but the drill sergeants marched them up to the main entrance without incident. All the other, older crops of kids fought and bit and had to be pummeled into obedience by their sergeants, but my babies...they obeyed, they marched...and they sang. Some of them smiled at me, waving back at Rom-kun as they passed. Their sergeant seemed unnerved by all this, but he said he's never had a better, more easily managed group of cubs, and the lack of conditioning doesn't seem to have impaired their will to fight at all.
I'm up to my neck in hyper active children. Hyper active Saiyan children. Vegita sent Bardock and his squad to help out with the cloistering of the kids-by this, I mean every child on Vegita-sei five and under. Did I mention that the drill instructors of the pee wee barracks just dropped their charges-all of whom Bardock and Toma affectionately refer to as "the little fuckers"-on the doorstep of Med Center and ran for the hills. They spar, they play, they fight, and occasionally blast each other, taking out sections of the walls, ceilings and floors during all three of these activities. I have yet to be able to discern the difference between sparring, play and actual fighting-they all look pretty much the same to me.
I thought I'd have to take the dogs back to the villa until after Moontime after I found a group of boys from the three year old barracks encircling Baka, discussing whether to cook him or just eat him raw. Bardock made a nice little speech that morning to all of our small guests, describing in lurid detail what the Saiyan no Ouji would do to anyone who harmed his dogs. Now, the kids are all afraid to come near either dog for fear of accidentally hurting them. Baka and Yaro somehow sensed the change in their place on the food chain, and have had a great deal of fun chasing children all over Med Center since then.
Sequestering over thirty thousand Saiyan children between the ages of infancy and five is an experience that only comes once a decade. Thank the gods for that. Next week, we'll be ready to take another thousand below and put them into cryo. The King had put ban on all pregnancies last year. The incu-pods in the incuward are all empty. So, that means roughly twenty thousand of the kids can be placed in the incu-pods on a bio-stasis setting and won't have to be tranked into unconsciousness soon.
Rom-kun spends his time during the day with the kids from the one-year-old barracks. My one year olds, the ones whose programming I altered. He says he's made some friends, but is a little impatient that none of them can really carry on a conversation yet. He's teaching them new songs. I nearly began crying in front of everyone in the surgery yesterday when I recognized the songs-they are all songs Scopa taught Rom-kun.
Gods...Scopa is everywhere here, everywhere. I miss him so much, I miss hearing his voice and having him to talk to. He would be watching me with a little concern this week, telling me I look too tired, asking if I'm sleeping.
I'm not sleeping. I don't know why. Sometimes I dream, horrible things, but I can't remember them in the morning. Sometimes my dreams interlace with Vegita's and that…that can be very good or very bad, depending on what each of us is dreaming.
Some nights I don't sleep at all.
Scopa would have noticed how I seem to slip away during the rare moments I'm alone and still. I am so busy, fighting the clock, that it's not a problem right now, but after Moontime...I'll have to deal with it. Is it post traumatic stress disorder? That sounds right. Which trauma? Take your fucking pick.
I wonder if, when Moontime is over, I'll even know what to do with myself?
There won't be any great horror or evil to fight. I will be able to relax. That is, if Vegita-ou doesn't try to have me killed out of fear his 'wayward' son will try to put an alien on the throne beside him and tear the Empire he spent his life forging to pieces in doing so.
I think Vegita is thinking the same thing. He said something last night at supper, something about his father having given him the security codes to the Royal treasury and the off world accounts on Serulia. He hasn't said anything about it, but I think the King is slowly passing on the throne's last and most sensitive secrets to his son. I think they've discussed it, and that a day or so after Moontime is passed, Vegita will take the throne.
Which is another way of saying he is going to kill his father. God of gods...I know it's old custom, and I know Vegita-ou is more than okay with it, is ready to die in fact. Saiyans do not grow old. Old age is dishonor and a sign of cowardice, fear of death. To choose the time of your death and set your house in order somewhere in the hale part of middle age is the best they hope for. They see it as an act of love
to-to kill your parent rather let them grow old and infirm. But gods...it will rip Vegita to pieces as he is now.
Even if this had come three or four years ago, it would have torn him up inside, I think. He loves the evil old bastard so much. And now...now, Vegita is different, a different man, and...it will be-Gods, what was that?!
I thought...I...I thought I heard a roar, like a huge...a huge predator, out past the hills behind the villa.
I hear roaring. It's sounds distant, but it's getting closer.
Where is Vegita? He's late tonight...
I wish he were here.
Half the ward is empty now. We ran out of incu-pods by the time we got to the three year olds, so we're taking the older kids down a few at a time and sedating them. Then we'll button Med Center up like a quarantine ward, so the kids won't get even the faintest flicker of Moonlight or the scent of, um, rutting adults. That might wake them from the tranks as easily as moonlight, even though they are all years and years away from sexual maturity themselves.
Nail wants to do a deep healing treatment on me. His kind of healing.
He says in that quiet, deep voice of his that I am not well. I know he doesn't mean physically.
I feel...I feel well. Well, I fell better than I have in a long, long time, but that's not saying a whole hell of a lot, is it? I sort of...collapsed today. Not really collapsed, just kind of went out to lunch for a moment or two. I am looking in the bedroom mirror right now. I look tired, but otherwise, just fine. My color is good, vibrant even. I am almost glowing, I think. To have climbed out of such an abyss to where I am now, loved and surrounded by people I love-my son, my lover, my friends, my career, my...my...
I think Nail would be right in diagnosing nervous exhaustion. He is watching me very closely. He told me to talk to him whenever I want. I could have talked to Scopa. I could have talked to Nachti. Scopa would have drawn things out of me I hadn't even acknowledged were eating at me, and Nachti would have given me her acerbic, one syllable assessment that would put it all in perspective. But they're both dead. Nail is a good man, but I don't want another best friend. I know a big part of this is the bill come due for having pushed Scopa and Nachti's deaths to the side because there was too much to do to stop and grieve.
I went and sat with Hiru today during lunch, held his hand, though neither of us spoke through the whole meal. I want to hope for the best, but how many times can a man lose everything he loves and pick himself up again? He's like a ghost already, though his body's still alive, wandering through his day to day duties. He won't recover this time.
Gods, I am so tired. Is that why I keep nodding off? I dreamt last night that the hate dragon was screaming in her prison, claws slashing at the walls of her cell. I woke feeling like I hadn't slept at all, like I'd been wrestling the scaly bitch all night long. When this is all over, I'll go to Bardock's house and spend a few weeks with Rom-kun and Vegita, walking through the moors, sleeping late, eating too much, making love every night. Resting. The three of us will go away for a while, me and my...my...my family…
What was I saying?
Oh, yeah. The solution for the moment is to work. Work on a last bit of security for Vegita-sei's own stalemate shield, work to get the last of the kids under wraps before they begin to go Oozaru early with the moon's approach.
Vegita told me last night that during his first moon he whined and bitched to stay awake for Moontime. He went Oozaru five weeks before the moonrise. He tore the top off of the palace and trashed half the city, before a dozen Elites changed and wrestled him down. He was four years old. It's time for Rom-kun to go into his own incu-pod. I had his pod separated from the endless warehouse rows below in incu-ward and placed it in the shield server room next to my own offices. In my little workroom. So I can see him sleeping inside and know he's okay, even if I can't hold him for more than a month. Bardock helped me move the pod, watching me very closely. He knows, maybe better than anybody, how much Rom-kun means to me, how much...how much I need my baby...
I don't mind Bardock's constant shadow now. He's family, too, isn't he? My father-in-law, my son's grandfath-no. No. My son's father. Rom-kun's father.
At night, I lie in Vegita's arms, both of us exhausted. He makes love to me so gently. Sometimes he just holds me. I don't let him see how tired I really am, how frayed at the edges. He loves me. He loves me so much!
But sometimes, I wake in the night and feel my dragon trying to tear loose from her prison. My dragon is a she. The pain is low and deep like the pangs of childbirth or when a man tears you up inside as he uses you.
It's four weeks til Moontime.
Today I moved to Med Center for the duration. I kissed Vegita goodbye and packed up baby and dogs, leaving him to await the coming of the moon alone. Today I lay Baka in a tank after Rom-kun accidentally hurt him, crushing his pelvis and sternum from nothing more than an over-enthusiastic hug. I watched his little face, sleeping so sweetly, kissing the glass that separated us. He cried until we put him under, so full of horror at what he had done. He didn't want to hug me goodbye. He was so afraid to touch me after what he'd done to Baka Vegita had to carry him to the flyer and strap him in. When we got the Med Center, he wailed in his carseat, refusing to let me pick him up, until I called Bardock from the surgery to carry him inside to his incu-pod.
Vegita made it a little better. I found them this morning in the garden, Vegita holding Rom-kun in an odd, awkward embrace, speaking to him softly, telling him about the moon and how it made Saiyans violent and takes all their self control as it approaches. Then he looked up at me from over the boy's head, his eyes meeting mine, hard with the effort to hold his own emotions in check. And afraid. Afraid for me, of what he might do to me if I stayed even another day. Last night, he and Rom-kun seemed fine, but somewhere between nightfall and dawn, the moon began to work on both of them. This morning, I could see the reddish glint in their eyes, the first flickers of the madness to come.
It's later. I doubled over after dinner, sick and vomiting, shaking all over, feeling the black razor claws of my dragon trailing along the lining of my womb as I heaved. Nail came and found me, helped me clean myself up.
Then he asked me if I needed an incu-pod, telling me there were four or five we'd held in reserve for emergencies. He told me if I wait until after the first trimester I'll have to carry the baby until viability before removing him. He just assumed I knew I was pregnant.
A baby...a new baby.
Vegita's baby. Was this what he meant on our wedding night when he said he had given me back all that he to took from me? Of all the reparations, the most precious and important. He's given me another son.
I'm going to tell him tonight. He'll be happy.
I told him. He said, "No." He said, "I cannot let it be." His people would split in half over it, his Empire would fall into civil war. His people would kill me and the baby.
It's common sense. I understand it.
I collapsed at first. I came to with him shaking me, his face terrified, his voice breaking, almost in tears. I couldn't hear him at first. The dragon's roaring was so loud I couldn't hear anything.
He wants me safe. He loves me. He loves me so much. He...
I left him. I don't remember what I said as I left. I left him kneeling behind me, tears standing unshed in his eyes. I went to back Med Center. I think I crashed the flyer somewhere within sight of the complex. I walked the rest of the way, and with each step my black dragon tore free of the weakened, brittle walls of her cell. Before I reached the main compound she was free. And...and just as I had known she would, she turned on me and began to rip at me, shrieking and slashing, rounding and blasting all her boundless, obsidian hatred inward. Inward on me. She was screaming names, and her voice...her voice was mine, that voice that had stood on the mountaintop in the North and raged like a demon at Heaven and Hell and everything in between. Son-kun, Poppa, Momma, Scopa, Yamcha, Raditz, Romayna, Noira, Duska, Nachti, Hiru, Karot-chan! Karot-chan! Karot-chan! Where is your baby, you stupid, faithless forgetful bitch?! She shrieked. Where is Karot-chan?!
She tore me apart, left nothing standing in the house of my mind, and by the time I reached the landing of the garden conservatory in the center of Med Center, she lay quiet. Quiet because there was nothing left of me bigger than a bleeding scrap for her to sink her claws into.
Bardock found me wondering in the gardens, tending the flowers there. I hadn't come to the conservatory since Mousrom's men had taken us through the sky light, and we had rerouted all our resources, including water, to the incu-ward, until after Moontime. All the flowers were dead. I watered them anyway. Bardock seemed to sense there was something wrong immediately. He tried speaking to me, but I was singing and told him to hush. That he'd wake my baby. He stopped trying to talk to me then and just picked me up and carried me to Nail. There were other people there, other voices around me. I thought I heard Hiru sobbing softy. He and Bardock are the only ones who would have recognized the song I was singing. I heard someone say something about symnothol. That cleared away the nice, blurry fog of nothing for a moment. I stopped my soft warbling song, stopped singing Karot-chan's lullaby song and managed to focus on Nail. Bardock was right beside him.
"Lie still, girl," Bardock said, his face tense and pale. "The drugs will help you."
"Romayn is safe in his incu-pod."
"No!" I said stridently, grabbing Bardock's hand, one flying protectively to my abdomen. "Symnothol causes birth defects. It'll hurt my baby."
No one made a sound. "Gods of mercy," someone said softly after a moment. Toma maybe.
I gripped Bardock's arm and found it trembling with suppressed rage. "He told me to get rid of the baby, Bardock. He said I'll be killed for carrying a half-breed heir to the throne. He says my baby has to die." I buried my face against the broad steel of his chest, clinging to him. "Don't let him make me, Bardock. Don't let him kill my baby again."
Bardock's chest rumbled against my body, his voice growling softly, full of a kind of quiet anger that was frightening. "That fool...that idiot fool boy!"
"We can take him out and hide him, Bulma-chan," Hiru said from somewhere in the gray blur around us. "Can't we?"
"We can take him and put him in an incu-pod, right beside Rom-kun," Nail said softly. "We'll sort this out when the moon has passed."
I smiled at him sweetly, feeling my entire body relax. "Okay," I said. Nail was my protector, he'd said. He'd take care of everything. The gods had sent him to take care of me.
They put me under and took the baby out, while Bardock and the others went through the motions of final quarantine lockdown.
I floated on a bed of clouds, sometimes with Karot-chan sleeping in my arms, sometimes lying in my bed at home, back at Capsule Corp, with Momma and Poppa speaking to me softly, telling me it would all be okay, telling me it was getting late, that it was time to wake up.
Sometime in the dead of night, I heard Hiru's voice, thick with sorrow and such absolute despair I pushed up through the layers of tranks and peaceful, vague madness to open my eyes.
"She is lost," Hiru was saying softly. "Noira and Duska and Nachti are dead. But gods...Bulma-chan was the unlucky one."
Zarbon bent over my bed in the dead silence of the surgery. He kissed me on the forehead. "I am so sorry, love. I will avenge you, Bulma. I will avenge you and Scopa and billions of others. When this is over, I'll take care of you, just as Scopa would have."
"She has finally escaped the Prince," Hiru said. "He cannot hurt her now."
"Vegita won't hurt me," I whispered. "He loves me. He said it out loud. He-" But the dragon screamed and flayed that thought with one dark, bloody talon, and I moaned and began to sob like a wounded animal. It hurt so much...
"Sleep, love," Zarbon said, soothing me back to calm, holding me as the pain slowly subsided into a dull ache. "I'll come back for you soon. I'll take you and your baby away-"
"Both babies," I said faintly.
"Both," he agreed hesitantly. I smiled and hugged him. It would be good to go on a vacation with Zarbon. I'd been so tired lately. Maybe Scopa and Vegita could come too.
"...and the less you know for the moment, the better," Zarbon was telling Hiru somewhere in the darkness around me. "I will call you when it is time, my friend."
"I will be here," Hiru hissed, his hand sliding into mine, gripping it warmly. "Whatever it is, I will be ready."
I drifted here and there, floating inside a dream, the roars of the dragon so distant I could barely hear her. She was lying quiet, but her barbed talons were embedded deep in my heart and mind. She flexed them now and then to remind me of her presence, to let me know she wasn't finished with me, and when she did this I would began to scream and flail in the bed restraints that kept me from clawing out my own eyes.
I woke to voices, Bardock and Nail speaking, quiet and tense and grim as death.
"This is no fantasy, Captain," Nail was saying. "I swear to you. He tried to enter, but I stopped him. He bore an invisibility shield, but I saw him because my kind do not see with eyes alone. I met him at the eastern shield port and faced him from this side of the shield. I saw what was in his mind. It is unlawful to scan another without leave, but...there was a pall of such grief, such hate, around his life force...it was as if he were a different man from the Zarbon we know. He carried a virus from Tsiru-sei that will fell your folk as it did the Tsiru-jin. This is Jeiyce's secret plan."
"When will they release it?" Bardock asked grimly.
"They released it five days ago."
I lay listening to the horror struck silence grow deafening, feeling my head clearing, my mind focusing, forced into cohesion under the weight of things to do, of need.
"My...my gods..." Toma was saying, his voice a choked whisper.
I sat up and removed the arm restraints. The good thing about them is that you can generally figure out how to take them off if you're in your right mind. I stood shakily and made my way over to the open door of Scopa's old offices, just off primary infirmary. Bardock turned and studied me as I stepped into the office.
"I'm all right," I said shortly, giving him a steady, lucid gaze. He nodded, curt and bleak, too stunned to argue with me.
"There's an antidote and a vaccine for every virus," I said, glaring around at the blanched, hopeless faces. "We just have to find it. Let's get to work."
I pulled all of Bardock's files from his expedition to Tsiru-sei and set to work. I'm going to sleep a little now. I am in my private offices, on my bed, and both my sons are with me, sleeping side my side in their incu-pods, one in cryo-sleep, one in full incubator mode.
I will save them. I will.
It's been three weeks. There's been no time to eat, sleep or make a diary entry until now. I've found two things. One is good, the other is bad. Very bad.
I have a vaccine. It's not an antigen, it's heat. I've injected every Saiyan inside Med Center with a fever inducing agent, then exposed them to the virus. If your body temperature is sufficiently high when you contract the disease, it dies in a few hours. You burn it out of your system. And once you've had it, you acquire an immunity.
Bardock and Toma came to blows over who the guinea pig was going to be. They've had three weeks, almost four, for the whole thing to really sink in and they are both fighting their own internal war against despair. Being Saiyan, their first impulse was to hit something. Kami, kharma is a merciless bitch. They've killed so many worlds, my own included. Now they're going to have to stand and watch the death of Vegita-sei. Toma won the right to be our test subject, pulling the ace of Bardock's oath to guard me.
We boosted his body temp and exposed him to the virus...and prayed. It worked. When I tested his blood twelve hours later, I found no sign of the virus. We vaccinated all of the children and the Saiyan guards inside Med Center the same way. My little son is easier. I just gave him a tiny gene therapy so he'll be naturally immune when he's born.
It's the eleventh hour and I haven't found and antidote for those who've been exposed. A fever won't kill the virus once it begins to incubate inside you. Within a few hours, it adapts to the body heat of its host.
I changed the security lockout codes so no one but myself and Bardock can go in or out of the shield. I put a separate stalemate shield around the incu-ward and another around my offices where my sons are sleeping. With the Saiyans' help, I lay two twin carrier engines on the foundation points of Med Centers' shield, each with an external port I can open at liftoff, both linked to Med Center's central computers. The shield will hold together as I launch the entire complex into space. We're leaving tomorrow. We have to, because when the plague begins, Jeiyce's men will be on hand to see the show and gloat. Jeiyce is a prisoner for the moment but his men are coming. Nail says he senses they are already here, moving around the city, invisible and silent. Waiting.
Nail has scanned everyone in the complex. There were fourteen Red Network operatives and five more with what he calls 'poisoned hearts'. I called them up to Scopa's offices, one at a time, and told them we would no longer be needing their services. Those who refused to leave were forcibly ejected by Bardock and his squad.
Hiru...Nail says he is suicidal, but that he would never harm me or my sons. But he also says Hiru is a blank page to him. He can't see inside him, not completely.
Nail says that this is a sign of someone who is so badly wounded in mind and spirit he is unlikely to ever recover. What he means, is that...that Hiru is dead inside.
That's it for secrecy. Bardock and his people wanted very badly to kill the people we kicked out, knowing they were Red Network, knowing their world is still breathing, but it's dead and doesn't know it yet. He said they'll run straight to Jeiyce and tell him we have a vaccine. I told him if even one of them had a comm Jeiyce knows already. I told him to let them go.
We...we can't tell anyone outside of Med Center that they'll be dead in two days. Nail saw in Zarbon's mind how they timed the release of the plague on every world in the Empire, so that everyone would fall ill on the same day. On Vegita-sei, it'll be the first day of Moontime. The Season of the Moon. No one will think the symptoms are anything other than encroaching moonmadness. It won't help anyone to tell them. Let them live out the last days of their lives in happy anticipation of the festival, in relief that the war is all but won with Jeiyce's capture.
I've kept my mind away from the smallest thought of him to keep the dragon still. He's fought so hard to save his people. He would have fought the rest of his life to save his people from themselves if he had ever worn the crown. He loves this world and his people more than his own life.
He would have killed our baby to keep them from fighting a civil war...to...to keep them from killing me...
There's always another answer. He should have thought harder. He should have known that...that it would shatter the already fractured glass house of my sanity to tell me I must see another baby son die for the good of the Empire. To tell me that I must kill this child myself.
I am broken and shattered, and I am not sane. I am holding myself together with nothing more than my will to save the children, mine and all the others in Med Center.
Vegita...how could you not know that it would destroy me?
How can I love him? How can I still love him so much it's like a spear through my heart every time I close my eyes and see his face, smell his skin, feel his body against mine...holding me, caressing me...pinning me under him while he smirks down at me, while I scream and scream without a voice as he batters into me, tearing and breaking and shoving, and Karot-chan's little body isn't even cold yet, the ashes from his pyre are still smoldering...and...
I never forgot you, Karot-chan. Never never never! The roaring of the dragon is so loud now that she's free. I have to bite my tongue til it bleeds to be able to hear what people are saying to me over her howls.
It's better this way, isn't it?
Vegita will die. I can remember the good in him and not the evil, if there's enough of me left when this is over to remember anything at all.
I love him. I love Vegita more than my life and my health and my sanity. The hate dragon tore my mind to bleeding shreds because I love him.
Tomorrow night is moonrise.
I'm going out to see him tonight. To say goodbye. To be with him one more time. And to kill him while he sleeps. I love him, and he's going to die in horrible pain, knowing his whole world is dying with him. He's so strong, he'll live to see them all die before him. I'll make love to him. I'll hold him until he's asleep. Then I'll kill him. Because I love him so much.
I couldn't do it.
He was growling and red-eyed like a rabid wolf when I came to him. He was crying silently, tears rolling unnoticed down his cheeks, as he sat in his chair that looks out on the hill country. He told me to go. I stayed.
He carried me to our bed, his breath short and labored. He lay me down, covering my face with kisses, sobbing deep in his chest with relief, with the strain of holding the madness in check. He didn't hurt me, except when he bit down on my shoulder, reopening the scar that marked me as his mate.
"Beloved..." He kept saying, over and over. "Beloved."
We made love all night and I fell asleep in his arms, wrapped in a warm cloak of forgetfulness.
When he woke in the morning...his mind was gone at first. He had me roughly, snarling and biting, tearing and hurting, his eyes red and burning like hell's fire. He could still speak, but his thoughts and perceptions were all violent and twisted by the glare of the reddish morning light.
He came back to himself in time to keep from killing me. He cried again when he saw what he'd done to me. He put his arms around me before I left, and I held his shaking, feverish body in my arms. He was already sick, already dying. The ki-gun was in my hand, rewired especially for him, poised to kill him instantly, painlessly.
The dragon wouldn't let me do it. She froze my hand, paralyzed my finger on the trigger. I...I told him I would see him again when it was all over. Maybe...maybe we will meet again in our next life. Maybe we will be happy.
When I came back through the shield Bardock yelled at me. He had gone berserk this morning when he realized I was gone. They had been turning Med Center upside down looking for me. The engines' computer had crashed during preflight power-up and they'd had to begin the launch prep all over again. Which meant it would be another fourteen hours before we could leave. That was cutting it close...too close if Jeiyce's men decided to just blast Vegita-sei to dust before we could launch.
Bardock stopped yelling at me when he realized I was hurt. He could see the bites and bruises that showed outside of my clothing, he could probably smell Vegita's scent on me.
"You went to him," he said softly. He lifted me up onto a treatment table gently, easing me back into Nail's arms.
"I was going to kill him," I said, while Nail peeled off my clothing so he could heal me. The warm, pure stream of his power began flowing through me like a river of healing water. I sighed with relief and it was almost a sob. "It'll be a painful death. I didn't want him to hurt. I couldn't kill him. I'm sorry..." I trailed off and just sat staring while Nail healed me, though I think I began singing softly under my breath at some point. I think that's why Bardock slapped me.
It was amazingly gentle for a Saiyan slap, but it still set my head and ears to ringing. I blinked and focused on him, lucid and coherent again.
"Thanks," I said softly, sounding much more like myself. "Feel free to smack me again if I start going loopy."
He leaned down and pressed his lips to my forehead. "Don't leave us, girl. Stay strong."
"Okay." I couldn't tell him I'm already gone.
I tried to speed up the engine prep time, and reinforced the quantum stabilizers around the stalemate shield's engine ports. I called Rikkuum to me and took my med satchel, showing him the encapsulized troop carrier pellet. I slung the satchel strap around his huge shoulders.
"Keep it with you all the time," I told him. "If Jeiyce's men show up too early, if anything goes wrong with the shield, if they somehow get inside, I want you to take my sons and Nail-san and run. Nail-san knows where to go. If the worst happens, your fist priority is to your Prince-your little Prince. Trunks-ouji."
I can feel the faint rumble of the engines revving beneath my feet. Just a few more hours. Inside Med Center, we wait in a hell of knowing what is to come.
Outside, Vegita-sei has begun to die.
It's all over.
We are safe and away.
The plague had killed nearly everyone by late afternoon. Then the Red Demons came for us. For the children. They decloaked and surrounded Med Center in siege, waiting for the Rebel Fleet to arrive and blow the planet's core. They found an ingenious way to destroy the shield around Vegita-sei, gouging the earth from beneath the shield generator, scooping it up like someone repotting a plant, and tossing the generator upward into the shield bubble. They destroyed my shield with itself.
But it was a one shot ploy, one they couldn't use against Med Center. Our generator is inside our own complex. They tried to break through the shield all afternoon. Then they tried to reason with me.
It was strange to finally see his face over my vid-comm. Jeiyce of Maiyosh, the Red Prince himself. I had thought he would be taller.
"Knock-knock, lovey," Jeiyce purred. "Let us in or we'll blow this planet out from under you."
"He's blustering," Toma sneered softly from behind me. Bardock growled a wordless agreement. "He can't touch us and he knows it."
Zarbon's face appeared on the screen beside Jeiyce's and I think I growled myself. It was a very Saiyan noise. "We don't want to hurt you or your staff, Bulma," Zarbon said anxiously. "We just-"
"Want to come in and kill all the children," I hissed at him coldly. "Fuck you both! Bang away at the shield until you all drop dead of old age. You don't have any weapons that can stand up to mine. The two of you should know that better than anyone."
"Bulma-" Zarbon's voice was so full of pain it was hard to keep the anger going. I closed my eyes and pictured the faces of all the children I'd tucked into their pods, the faces of my one-year-olds singing Scopa's nursery songs.
"Don't Bulma me, you goddam baby killer!" I spat. "Scopa's in Heaven right now cursing you for what you've done!" The darkest part of me understood all to well how he could have released the plague on Vegita-sei. But this...coming for the children...there was no excuse. None.
"Scopa's in Heaven because of those vicious, murdering monsters whose brats your protecting!" Zarbon choked out the words. "He was the best man, the kindest, most good soul either of us have even known and they repaid him for all his good deeds by tearing him to pieces! They-they-" He stopped talking, unable to go on. If he had, I would have ended up crying with him.
"Fine," Jeiyce said casually, pushing Zarbon aside gently. "But we will have them, Lady. By hook or by crook." The screen went dead.
And less than a minute later, the floor under us shuddered as a blast rocked through the complex. They had been pounding away at us with everything they had all day long and the shield had buffered us against even the smallest tremor. Bardock's face was pale and I knew he had realized the same thing.
"Bulma..." The voice in my head was so clear, I started. It was as though he was in the same room. A blast of pain and grief and horrible fear gusted into my mind and heart with the sound of his voice. "Bulma!"
"Ve-Vegita?" I said aloud. It was Vegita. He was alive and in horrible pain, all because I had been too weak to kill him this morning and spare him this. Bardock and Anyan were holding me up as I sagged.
"The shield around Med Center!" His voice cried desperately inside my mind. "The server! Jeiyce had a man inside Med Center, Bulma! He is seconds away from sabotaging the shield!"
And I just knew. I was a fool to not have known he would do it. "Oh Kami!" I nearly moaned. "It's Hiru! Bardock! Toma! Rikkuum! Vegita says Hiru's at the shield server! He-he's going to-!
Another shockwave rolled through Med Center, so strong the floors seemed to buckle under our feet. And oh Kami, the shield around Med Center flickered.
I don't remember running to my workshop, it's all a terrified blur. I only remember bursting in to the sight of Hiru with his hands around the shield server. He...he was two meters from my sons' incu-pods, and I screamed, tackling him.
Bardock pulled him out from under me, his hand around Hiru's throat, his face black with rage. "What did you do, Hiru?! What have you done?!"
"Virus..." Hiru weazed. "Into the server. They won't hurt Bulma-chan or her sons...Zarbon promised." His scarred ivory face was cold, his huge black eyes flat and full of cold hate. "To hell with the rest of you!"
I scrambled off the floor, pulling myself up to the terminal, my fingers flying on the keyboard. "Don't hurt him, Bardock!" I cried. Behind me, Hiru was spitting and cursing while Bardock held him firm. "I need to know what he did!"
Bardock turned to Nail. "Go into his head and get it, Nail! I know you can!"
Nail stared at him in horror, his face blanching to pale green. "I-I cannot do such a thing!"
"You told me your sole purpose in living is to protect Romayn!" Bardock ground out. "If you do not help us, Romayn will die!"
Nail swallowed, but he didn't hesitate-Bardock had known exactly what to say to force his hand. His face was twisted up in agony as he slowly took Hiru's face between both hands, while Hiru howled defiance...and then, Hiru simply howled. He screamed like a damned soul as Nail forced himself into his mind. It only took a few seconds. A few seconds that lasted an eternity, while Hiru wailed and wailed and...And then Nail let him go, sinking down to his knees, tears trailing down his face "I have it," he said in a broken whisper.
"Tell me," I said relentlessly. He began to feed me step by step details of what Hiru had done. I tore into the problem. I could fix it, I just needed time.
"How bad is it, girl?" Bardock's voice in my ear.
"I can stabilize it!" I said. "But I need a few minutes...oh gods, just a couple more-" Another thunderous crash as they hit Med Center again with everything they had, rocking me off my feet. The lights blinked and fluttered, the server monitor flicked off, then on, and my heart skipped that beat with it. The shield stats said that the shield was down to 50% and falling. "Oh gods, Vegita, I need more time! The babies..." I could hear Vegita somewhere in the background of my head, arguing with Zarbon, telling him Jeiyce had lied to him, that the Red Prince meant to kill us all.
"For Noira," Hiru was hissing, his face still so close to Bardock's I knew the Saiyan could feel his breath.
"Bulma..." Vegita's voice ringing through my mind like a dying song.
"For Duska." Hiru rasped.
Another deafening boom.
"We're not gonna make it," Toma cried from the sensor terminal beside mine.
I fed the repair code into the server, the fix to bring the shield back online fully, but it was too late. It needed time to propagate and we had no time left.
"Oh gods, Vegita!" I sobbed out loud. "We're not going to make it! I need more time to fix what he's done! Oh God, oh Kami...they're going to kill all the children!" My babies...they were going to come in and kill all my children!
I could suddenly feel the Vegita's heartbeat, strong and steady where before it had been thready, slowing as his body grew weaker with bloodloss, as the virus slowly wore down the last of his great strength. Something was building inside him like the pressure against a volcano's mantle before it blows.
"For my world destroyed by Saiyan soldiers," Hiru sobbed weakly. "Soldiers just like you, Bardock. For my people enslaved by yours...and for Nachti! Which one of you killed her, Bardock? Was it you or the Prince?"
"What?" Bardock asked harshly.
"When you and the Prince went to Kharda City to rescue Bulma-chan and the others you blasted half the city to rubble. You blew up the slave quarters where Nachti was sleeping. You murdered her!"
"I-" Bardock had gone pale, his hard face frozen.
"You killed her and half the other slaves in Kharda City and didn't even realize it," Hiru spat weakly, sagging in Bardock's grip. "Or care...or care! You are all evil! Evil to your rotten core!"
Vegita flared inside my mind, burning like an exploding sun, in power and grief and love. Oh gods, so much love.
"Vegita!" I whispered. "He-he's-"
"Super Saiyan," Bardock said breathlessly, his eyes unfocused, no longer trapped in the hate-filled gazed of the man he had called a friend. "He will save us in the hour of our greatest need." The faces of the other Saiyans in the room were full of wondering, half religious awe.
I could see the battle in my mind's eye, feel him smashing through their weapons, their soldiers, sweeping them all away like dust before an on-coming storm. The shield flickered once more, then returned to a healthy impenetrable blue. And Vegita...
"That's it!" I cried. "I did it! It's back online, it-" I felt him fall, his consciousness slipping away, spinning downward to crash in through leaves and petals and thorns, fading out of my mind like the last gasp of a dying flame. "0h gods, Vegita...Vegita!"
"...Bul...Beloved..." And he was gone.
"Vegita..." I sank down, sobbing his name over and over. I crawled to where Hiru lay gasping, where Bardock had simply let him fall. I reached down and touched his scarred face.
"How..." He choked out the words. "How can you grieve for him, Bulma-chan?"
"I don't know," I said softly. "Oh Hiru..." I couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Took poison," he murmured. "I...am I an evil man, Bulma-chan?" He was crying. "Will I go to Hell and not see...see Noira and Duska and Nachti? I tried to be good...like Scopa, like you...like Nachti. I tried so hard...not to hate."
He died in my arms. With me sobbing over him. With Bardock kneeling beside us, his face blank with shock as it struck home that he had killed Nachti and never known it, that he had given Hiru the last push he needed to bring him to a place where a good man could do the unthinkable. With Nail doubled over nearby, weeping silently, because he had just violated every cannon of decency among his people when he tore his way into another man's mind by force. With the deafening, thunderous silence of the dead world around us, pressing in on us like the weight on an avalanche.
Nail pulled himself up first, shuddering as he spoke. "Bulma-sama...he sabotaged the engine pods as well. We cannot launch."
It took all night to fix them, all of us laboring together in a dead horrible silence, all of us praying the fleet would not arrive to blow the planet's core before we could launch. Bardock asked me if the shield could survive having a planet breaking up under us. I told him I honestly didn't know. We fixed it. Then we all drifted away from each other, each in his or her private hell, to get whatever rest there was to be found while we waited for the engines to prep.
I sat alone in my workshop, listening to the distant low roar of the engines below gearing up, priming for launch. Again. I had improved on the prep time and we had a little more than three hours until they were ready. I could feel wisping impressions of fitful dreams from Vegita. He was still alive. He was dreaming of walking through the moors near Bardock's house. I was beside him, smiling and beautiful, Rom-kun and the dogs were running on ahead, laughing and barking...and...and I was carrying Karot-chan in my arms. My baby was laughing and kicking his little feet happily. Vegita was dreaming a wish, that he could take it all back, that he could make it all right...a beautiful, happy, hopeless dream that could never, never be...
Would I feel it when he died?
"Bulma-sama?" The deep voice, slow and hesitant, startled me.
Rikkuum was standing before me like a respectful mountain, his huge head lowered, his hands clasped before him a child asking a question in school.
"What is it, Rikkuum?" I asked gently. He had been sleeping earlier when Hiru had sabotaged the server. I had told him to go lie down and rest, but he still blamed himself I was sure. When he was awake, he never left my workshop, standing guard over my sons like a giant watchdog.
"Bulma-sama," he said. "I saw this plague once before, when I was in the service of my Lord Frieza of Tsiru-sei. All his folk died too."
"I know," I said.
"Bulma-sama," he went on. "I am a fool to have forgotten this, but I will tell you now. My Lord Frieza did not die of the plague. Nor did many of his folk, as many as a hundred, I think. The Tsiru-jin science men said it was because their bodies were so strong-strong enough to survive the plague."
"What happened to your Lord, then?" I asked, feeling suddenly cold all over.
"He-he woke and found he had no more fighting power. The disease had killed it. He and all those who survived the plague slew themselves rather than live on as weaklings. Bulma-sama, Vegita-ouji is strong! As strong as Lord Frieza was now. He will not die of the plague, and-and we must not let them take him alive, my Lady!"
I rose, shaking, and met his eyes. "I'll go out and find him," I said. "You stay here. You must guard the little Saiyan on Ouji, Rikkuum. I will find the...the King. I will see to him."
I went out into the stillness of early dawn. The air smelled fresh and cool, the first hints of autumn hanging in the chill morning breeze. The sun was rising on Vegita-sei's last day. Jeiyce's reinforcements would arrive any moment now. And when the fleet arrived, all this, everything, would be so much dust floating in black void of space. My home in Turrasht, the stone bier where Karot-chan and Raditz had burned, the endless, flowering fields that surrounded Bardock's house, our mountain cave in the northern crags, and the villa where I built a living beautiful garden in the cold stony soil as I slowly turned my prison into my home...as I slowly enchanted the monster who guarded my cell into a handsome prince.
I went straight to the villa, almost too blind with pain to see well enough to guide the flyer. There's no remedy for this sort of pain, no drug of healing touch. The dragon woke as I landed behind the house and sank her speared talons a little deeper into my mind, tearing with slow malicious sadism at what little was still whole, still sane.
I found him dying in my rose garden, his bright blood mingled with the crushed red petals beneath his body. He was half conscious, breathing shallowly, his strong, strong body still fighting the virus that was trying to tear him apart from the inside.
But, it wasn't. It hadn't. And oh gods, as I knelt beside him, I saw that he was bathed in a river of blood-beaded sweat, shivering uncontrollably as his fever broke. Rikkuum had been right. Vegita was too strong to die from the plague, though he would surely die from blood loss if he didn't receive several units of plasma soon.
He opened his eyes.
Beloved... The word was like a song of love echoing through the crumbling chambers of my mind, a note of sharp discord against Karot-chan's lullaby and the dragon's howls. She was free now, she would never be chained again, and though she had been slept most of the last few weeks, only waking when I thought or dreamed of Vegita, her claws were always there, always embedded deep in the smashed wreck of my mind. She was content to take her time ripping up the last bits of my sanity. I had held her down with the force of my will to do what must be done, to save the children. But the time was fast approaching when we would be away, when need would no longer give me the strength to reign her. I took his head and lay it in my lap. I leaned down and kissed his bloody lips, wondering if I would go into the quiet, dark waters of nothing when she was finished with me, or if I would spend all that remained of my life gibbering in horror, locked in a revolving mirrored maze where all the nightmares of my life were reflected back at me.
He tried to move his mouth, trying to frame words.
"The shield is in place," I smiled down at him sadly. "You did it, Vegita...you saved us. Your people will live on. Because of you. Listen, Vegita. I don't have much time. I have a vaccine. For all the children, for Bardock and his people, for Articha and Turna and all the girls on their ships if we can find them before they become exposed. But it will only work if you haven't already contracted it. It can't help you..." I couldn't help any of them, and just as I had stood by and watched Chikyuu die, unable to lift a hand to stop it, I had watched this world die and been equally helpless to prevent it. I held him a little closer, caressing his face, forcing the dragon down one last time.
"Bulma, go..." I don't know if he spoke the words, or if I heard them in my mind. "Do not watch me die..."
There was one thing I could give him, one thing that would ease his passing into whatever lay in store for him beyond Enma's judgment.
"I had to tell you," I said gently. "I had to let you know..."
I meant to open up my mind just enough to let him see my secret, to let him see Trunks sleeping in his incubator, growing stronger and more beautiful every day, but he pushed into the link and he saw...he saw everything. The dragon had bashed my wavering barrier to pieces and all my secrets, all of them, lay open and bare for Vegita to see. To see that I had been the Mastertech, the author of the enemy's most deadly weapons, which had tipped the balance in Jeiyce's favor at every turn. To see that he had pushed me into their arms, given me no other place to run, no other recourse...to see through my eyes all he had done, all I had held back from him even while I gave him my heart and my self on our wedding night. I felt the blow hit him like the downward plunge of a blade into his heart, destroying him, taking away all his comfort as he lay dying.
I tried to block it, oh gods believe me, I tried. But the dragon reared up and screamed her triumph, lashing through his grief, pouring all her hate, her loathing, her endless, undying rage, into his mind. And I felt him crumble beneath the onslaught, not raising a word, a thought, a wisp of denial in his own defense. He lay there and took it all, all the blame that was his...and more. I could see him working his way back, tracing the guilt for setting the destruction of his whole world, of his entire race, in motion, and laying it squarely on his own shoulders.
I could hear his thoughts, too far gone in agony and absolute despair, as though he spoke them in my ear. If not for me, she would never have wrought, unknowingly, the engines of my world's destruction. An entire empire felled in the space of a day. Dead by the hand of Jeiyce of Maiyosh, dead by the hand of Zarbon of Rashia-sei, dead by the hand of Bulma of Chikyuu...and dead by the hand of Vegita, Saiyan no Ouji.
"Oh Kami..." I moaned. "I didn't mean for you to see that!" I leaned down, brushing away his tears. His whole body wracking with silent sobs. "It's not your fault! It's not! I did it! I was stupid and gullible. I didn't know what they would do with the things I made...and I trusted Zarbon. I only wanted the Rebels to be able to defend themselves...to be able to hide their families with the camo-shields." I whimpered and clenched my teeth with effort, trying to keep the lullaby echoing through my head down to a low roar, grabbing the dragon with one last burst of strength and shoving her down. "I'll save the children, Vegita. The shield bubble around Med Center can withstand even the quantum stresses of hyper light speed. I have two carrier engines built into the foundations, on the focal point of the shield. In one hour, I'm going to blast Med Center off and drive it like a ship to a new world. Somewhere no one will find us. I didn't mean for my work to be used the way Jeiyce used it, Vegita. But I have cho-gugol to all of your people because of it. And I won't let them down. But none of this is what I came to tell you."
He saw what I had come to tell him, Trunks sleeping, alive and dreaming whatever sweet dreams come to us before birth, when we have no memory, no guilt, no pain.
And somehow...somehow he managed to smile.
The midnight dragon rose, razor-edged wings unfurling, and I saw her, finally, completely, for the first time. I had never looked at her, always turned away in horror and disgust at everything she was. I saw her. She was a monster made of hate, born of my pain and loss. She wasn't some hideous demon risen up out of Hell to plague me. She was...she was...
She was me.
And I suddenly knew how to be free of her. How I could keep on living and perhaps achieve a measure of sanity in time. All I had to do was...was let her out into the light of day. Let her have her way. Just once.
I leaned down and stroked his face, twisted in an agony that had nothing to do with his wounds, nothing to do with the plague. I heard my voice speaking gently, but it was her, the dragon, speaking through me. "Do you really think I would let you kill another child of mine, Vegita?"
He shuddered in my arms, sobbing weakly, as the blast of icy hate, of betrayal, of screaming rage, struck him full force. And I could see that he knew, had seen in my mind, that I was mad, lost, broken and shattered beyond repair-and that the last blow, the one that had broken me, had been his command to destroy the life growing inside me, to kill another son.
I chose you, Bulma! His anguished voice rippled through me. You above the boy...you above...above everything!
"There's always another option," We said softly, the dragon and I, implacable as admantium steel. "I put him in an incu-pod and let you think I'd aborted him. I'll tell him when he's older how his father was brave and strong...how he died to save his people. He's going to be beautiful, Vegita. All the good in you and me and none of the bad. I wanted you to know about him. I wanted you to know that something of you will go on. That it won't be as though you never lived." We both smiled down at him, Bulma who loved him more than her own life and Bulma the midnight dragon of hate and merciless vengeance. "Your fever's broken. The virus...if you're strong enough, you can survive it. At a price. The cerebral swelling and hemorrhaging ruptures and destroys the centers of your brain where your power resides. Your Ki. If I gave you enough blood, you would survive...but you'd live the rest of your life powerless."
"Bulma..." He whispered, raw and broken. "I will live...take me…I will live. I do not care about-about-" He tripped over the words, over the very thought of living without Ki, a cripple and a weakling. Then he set his jaw. I learned late, his voice said in my mind, that the greatest measure of a King's strength does not lie in his fighting power. Bear me to Med Center. I will live to lead my people. I will live to be yours, woman, if it can ever be made right again! Take me back...
"No." I sighed. I let her speak, let her take her vengeance. I understood, too late to save myself, too late to keep her from turning inward and destroying me, that his command to abort our child had only finished what the sin of loving the man who killed my baby and enslaved me had set in motion. It was loving him that had driven me mad in the end. And the only way to be free...the only way out was to be rid of him and my love for him. I eased his head down onto the bed of thorns and blood red petals, and stood above him, gazing down at his upturned, agonized face. "I can't love you anymore, Vegita. I can't have you in my heart and my head. It's killing me. I finally realized that when you told me to kill our baby. It's killing me...And I have to live for Rom-kun and our son and all the other children. I love you...I'll always love you." I gave one tiny little despairing sob, but for some reason the tears wouldn't come. "So, I have to let you die." I was silent for moment, turning my eyes away from his face, tearing my mind away from the clear, pure, selfless love I felt pouring out of his soul even now. I had to leave him. I had to.
My flowers were all blown to hell, I saw, the garden blasted apart by the force of his fall. And finally, I began to cry softly. "All my pretty flowers...I'll make them grow again. I always do." His hand was clutching at the hem of my dress, grasping it like a drowning man holding a raft. I reached down and pulled it gently from his hand.
"...love you...forever..." He whispered. Even now, as I was leaving him to die, there was no anger, no pleas for mercy, no word defending himself. He was going to die in agony, in despair, in grief for me and all that might have been, and he would die believing he had gotten exactly what was coming to him.
I bent down and kissed him one last time, a sweet kiss to take into whatever fate had in store for him beyond this life. "I love you, Vegita," I said. "I love you..." I pulled away from him, and stumbled away, blind with tears, the sound of his weak, broken sobs growing fainter with each step I took.
I made it around to the front of the house before I fell to my knees, the sound of Karot-chan's lullaby like thunder in my ears. I raise my head, and looked down on the still, silent, dead Capital. Nothing moved there. Nothing lived. Nothing.
And the dragon died inside me like...like a gust of spring wind tugging at my hair. There was no roar, no clawing crescendo of pain, no lighting. She died, taking all the black poison of her hate with her, her work finished, her vengeance achieved. And now...now there was nothing left but the mad woman who had once been Bulma of Chikyuu.
I stood, and straightened my shoulders, and looked down from our hilltop on the still graveyard that had been the Capital of an Empire. I stood there for along time, breathing in the cool morning air, the scent of late summer hellda blossoms and moonflowers, of blackwood resin and the coppery smell of the soil beneath my feet. How many more hours would this world stand? I didn't know. How much longer could I hold onto the last tattered thread of my sanity? Not long.
One more thing to do. One last task and I could rest.
I took the flyer and went down into the city. There were bodies everywhere, to many to do justice to in a month. So, I chose one. He was seven, maybe eight years old. Too old to go into cloister, but still very much a little boy, though he ha very likely been a seasoned warrior. He was…he was about the age Karot-chan would be now. If he'd lived. He was heavier than he looked, dense of bone and muscle like all his race. But somehow, I lifted him my flyer and launched up through the reddish shafts of morning sunlight, thick and brilliant with the ash and earth yesterday's battle had hurled into the sky. I set down on the highest peek on Vegita-sei, a sheer column of granite, jutting into the sky like a blade, chiseled to a pylon by some long dead ocean eons ago. It had always been a symbol of strength to Vegita-sei, to the northern tribes in particular, because it had withstood the impact of the meteoric cataclysm five millennia ago.
It took all the strength I had to heave the boy onto the stone bier. I should have piled blackwood branches around him. I should have lit the pyre with my own ki. I didn't have either of those things, so I used flyer fuel and a flare. The idea was that a hero of Vegita-sei should have his ashes scattered over the entire face of the planet from this summit, to become part of every acre of the world he had given his life for. It was the best I could do for him. It was the best I could do for all of them.
I stood and watched the flames lick upward, dry-eyed, all my grief turned inward, with no more expression on my face than this boy's father or squad brothers would have shown had they been alive to lay him to rest. I couldn't let myself cry. Not over the pyre of Vegita's entire world. I couldn't dishonor the ashes of a warrior race with tears.
There was no sound, no sense of anyone else within a thousand miles. I don't know how long he stood behind me before he spoke. He must have seen the smoke from wherever Vegita's last, greatest volley of power had thrown him. I only have negligible ki, but at some point, I felt him standing just a few feet behind me. And somehow, I knew who stood alone with me before the child's funeral pyre, even before he stepped forward the stand beside me, watching the blaze impassively. His white and crimson armor was charred and melted in places. His long pale warrior's braid had been burned and what remained of his hair stood on end around his battered, soot-blackened face, framing his handsome elfin features in a wild, almost Saiyan flare of tangled ivory.
"All this," I said, not turning to look at him. "It didn't bring them back, did it?"
"No," he said softly. "But they have their justice now." Jeiyce of Maiyosh turned to face me, surveying me with tired wonder. "Lady…how can you grieve or them?"
"I love some of them," I told him in a faint whisper. "Some of them I hated, but…but…" I trailed off. I knew I could never make him understand and it was really too late to try.
"Where is Vegita?" He asked after a moment's silence.
"Dead," I lied softly. It was only half a lie.
"You killed him." It wasn't a question.
"I couldn't let you take him alive again," I sighed. "No one deserves what you would have done to him. And I…" I turned to look him in the face. It felt so strange. There was so much between us and we'd never even met. "You're angry because you didn't get to defeat him. Because he died on his own terms, at the hands of someone he loved, the way a Saiyan warrior should. He died knowing he'd saved his people. I'll tell you how you can still defeat him if you want to know."
"Tell me, Lady," he said. His face was so strange, caught somewhere between fury and pity.
"Find a beautiful world and a kind beautiful girl. Marry her and have another son. Live on that world with your new family and love them and be happy. If you do this, you will have beaten Vegita. Because he'll never get to see Rom-kun learn to fly, or our new baby take his first steps, or see what kind of men they'll grow into. And if you do this, you'll save your soul, Prince of Maiyosh. You're still alive…but you're already in Hell. Real damnation is loving your hate for those who've hurt you more than you love any other person."
He didn't even consider the road I'd suggested. He was too far gone. He searched my face with those black, haunted, hate-ravaged eyes. "I cannot stop what I have set in motion. I must see it through to the bitter, bloody end." But he slowly raised one black-gloved hand and touched my cheek gently. "I came here to kill you for your treachery against the Rebellion, Bulma of Chikyuu. But you are not a traitor, are you? Stolen from your dead world and given into slavery to that butcher Raditz, taken from him to be used by an even crueler beast, the one thing in your life you truly loved murdered before our eyes. I have had unending nightmares since the day Corsaris fell, of how…of how terrible the last hour of their lives must have been-Jula's and Jehan's. But they were far more fortunate than you. I will let Zarbon have his way. I will take you to him and he will care for you. You are no traitor, Lady. They have made you mad."
"I know," I said in a breathless little whisper. "But it could have been worse." I fixed him with a cold stare that was much more lucid than I felt. "I could have ended up like you." He didn't reply. I don't think he disagreed with me. "I can't go with you," I said. "And I can't die. I have to take care of the children. I'm taking them somewhere beautiful. I'll raise them, like I did Rom-kun. I'll raise them to be good people. I have to be there for them, and for my sons."
"Vegita's sons…" Jeiyce said softly. He closed his eyes, his entire body beginning to tremble all over. The gentle hand on my cheek seized me behind the neck, and he opened his eyes again. They were full of flat hate and cold purpose. He was as mad as I was. I wondered if he realized it. "Vegita's sons will not live when my Jehan is dead," he ground out. "The children of Vegita-sei will not live when the thousands upon thousands of worlds their fathers destroyed are dust." His hand tightened painfully on my neck. "Tell me, Lady. How do we get through your shield? Tell me!"
"No," I said calmly.
"By hook or by crook, lovey," he hissed harshly. "You will tell me freely, or I'll give you to Dodoria. If he can't pursuade you to show us the way through your shield before Med Center launches, I will let him wring their destination from you at his leisure."
"Jeiyce," I said almost mockingly. "There's not enough of me left to torture."
"We'll see," he said.
A burning blue streak caught the fist Jeiyce was raising to strike me down and punched him full in the face. The Red Prince flew backwards, nearly skidding off the sheer edge of the mountaintop before he caught himself. He cartwheeled and landed unsteadily before Zarbon, who was now standing between Jeiyce and myself.
"You lying bastard!" Zarbon wheezed. "You said she'd be left alone!"
"She knows the way through the shield, boyo," Jeiyce said coldly. "She knows where they'll go if they make it off Vegita-sei." He wiped the blood from his face and spat red. "One more sacrifice, Zarbon. One more draught of innocent blood on our hands, and we'll have put paid to the last of the monkeys. They'll never come back to haunt us again."
"My Prince," Zarbon said too softly. "Look at her. Look at her! She will sink into herself and never return if you put her to the question. Gods of mercy, Jeiyce, leave her be!"
Jeiyce blurred forward and hurled a blast as he came. I felt it strike home, felt Zarbon stagger back against me. And Zarbon…he leveled the ki-killer pistol in his hand at Jeiyce and shot him at pointblank range. Zarbon buckled and fell into me, taking us both to the ground. I don't know what happened to Jeiyce. He must have been knocked over the edge. After taking a solid hit from a ki-killer in the chest, he probably hit the ground very hard. Without his ki-shield to break his fall.
I sat up, shifting Zarbon around in my arms. I sighed, a heart-broken, pitiful sound, even to my own ears, when I saw the mess Jeiyce had made of his chest.
"Zarbon…poor Zarbon…" I didn't know what else to say.
"Shh, love," he said. "I'm…it's my fault. All mine." He smiled up at me, bluish blood pooled on his lips. "I've betrayed everybody…Scopa…my Scopa most of all."
"You'll see him soon," I whispered.
"No." His mouth twisted. "Too many heaths on my head…Listen! There's a trap just past the orbit of the fifth planet…force field. Don't go to hyper light speed until you're past it."
"Okay," I said, stroking his face. Even covered with dust, tears, and his own blood, he was still beautiful. I bent down and kissed him softly. "Are you sorry, Zarbon? For all those deaths on your head?"
"Yes…yes." His voice was fading, just dropping away with his failing breath.
"Then give Scopa my love," I said softly. And he died like a child heaved a last tired sigh before sleep.
I came back to Med Center. Back to my sons. Bardock, Nail and Rikkuum all greeted me at the shield door, their faces haggard and angry. I'd 'locked' them in as I left, set the shield config to only recognize my ki signature from the outside. I walked past them, feeling distant and calm…peaceful. My dragon was dead, and though she tore me asunder from the inside, it was good, so good, to have her gone.
"Zarbon's dead," I told them softly. "He died to save me from Jeiyce. I think he killed him."
"Poor fellow," Nail murmured.
Bardock turned on his with a growl like a rabid tiger. "Poor fellow?! He slit the throat of my entire race while they slept, you fool! He-"
"He told me there's a trap at the fifth moon," I broke in over his anguished rage. "We can't go to hyper light until we break through the force field bubble there."
"You believe him?" Bardock hissed.
"He warned me because it's what Scopa would have wanted." I stepped forward, falling into his broad chest, this father who had killed my Poppa…and somehow taken his place. His arms looped around me, catching me as I began to sink down.
"Vegita's gone…" I sighed.
"Rikkuum, wait!" I heard Nail cry.
"Let the man go!" Bardock's tired voice rumbled against my body. "He served his Prince as faithfully as any Saiyan warrior. Let him die standing guard over his master's body."
I don't remember launching. I guess they did it without me. Or maybe I was just on autopilot. I remember being held in the solid gentle shelter of Bardock's arms, and feeling Nail's power touching me here, then there, probing the outer edges of my consciousness to see how bad the damage was.
"Vegita…" I sobbed faintly. "I left him…"
And the image of my beloved lying there in my rose garden, his eyes streaming with blood and tears as I destroyed him, then left him to die drifted through the healing link into Nail's mind. He turned me slowly in Bardock's arms. He gazed down into my blanched face, his eyes widening in horror and pity as he saw the truth in my memory. "He survived the plague? He would have lived without a scrap of fighting power, but he would have lived! And…and you left him to die! After he saved-"
"If that is so, she did the boy a kindness!" Bardock said harshly. "He will die like a hero out of legends. Do you really think he could have lived crippled and maimed?!"
Bardock carried me to my office workshop, to my babies. He lay me down on my little bed beside the incu-pods. "Do you wish to die, daughter?" He asked me softly.
He was offering to do for me what he wasn't sure I could do for myself.
"Yes," I said. I could tell him the truth and he'd understand. "But I can't. I have to take care of my sons, I have to take care of Rom-kun and Trunks. The god told me…" It was so hard to talk now. "We have to get to Namek-sei."
He ran one hard, callused hand through my hair, smoothing it back, out of my face. "Were you and he moonbound?"
"He said we went too deep in the marriage bond because the moon was so near," I said sleepily. "Not moonbound, but the closest thing to it."
"When he dies, the bond may take you with him," he said, a soft rumble.
"Okay," I said. I needed to live, but…it would be nice to rest, the sleep in death. I went to sleep with him sitting beside me, but I woke about an hour later. He had lain down beside me and wrapped me in his arms. He was snoring, deep in the sleep of the utterly exhausted. I pushed his arm off of me and rose, kissing the glass that separated me from my sons. Rom-kun and…and Trunks…little King Trunks, Saiyan no Ou. Gods, I wish I could hold him, just once. But I can't wait.
This is it. This is all I've got left. I'm finished, used up. I've got no more strength left. I'm going to lie back down in Bardock's arms, like when I was little and crawled into my parents' bed after a nightmare…a hundred million years ago. I'm going to sink into that deep quiet, peaceful water of nothing and rest.
And there was a deafening silence. He pressed the data disc's forward search, scanning ahead for something, anything, his hands shaking, his teeth clenched. He wanted to-the disc stopped after ten hours of silence. She…she must have left the recorder on. He hit play.
"Bulma-san," Nail's voice, soft but growing more worried, more anxious, as he continued to repeat her name. As she did not respond. The light fall of his footsteps leaving, and silence.
Booted heels clanging on the deck floor. "I left her to sleep herself out," Bardock's voice said hollowly.
"It's been a full day," Nail murmured. "She is awake, Captain. But…she is not with us."
"The hell she isn't!" Bardock snapped. "She's sitting right in front of you, Namek! Go into her head and…find her!"
"I cannot," was the soft reply. "She has withdrawn so far into the labyrinth of her own mind I cannot find her. I…" A tired grieving sigh. "I have failed her. Failed my mission and my god. I knew this was coming. I offered her a remedy, one that would have spared her this and washed away much of her pain. She would not allow it."
"What did you offer to do?" Bardock grunted. "Wipe away her memories of the last ten years?"
"No…not exactly," Nail said. "But I could have dimmed some of them. I could have blurred or taken away completely the horrors of her first days as the Prince's slave. I could have wiped away the memory of her son dying before her eyes. Those two things would have been enough to save her mind, I think. She would still have known these things had happened, but she would have had little or no memory of them. She told me…she said it would change her. That our experiences make us into who we are, and loosing those memories would have made her into a different person. She told me she believed that trying to bury those memories herself, to cage and lock them away after the Prince returned from Avaris so changed, had distilled her hatred into a living thing with a will of its own."
"Would it help her now?"
"I believe now that she was right to refuse my 'quick fix', as she called it. Memory can never be erased, only locked away or blurred. And things such as she had seen and suffered, memories such as that…they will find a way into the light of day, one way or another. But…"
"But?" Bardock prodded.
"I have another idea," Nail said. "Let us wake your son."
"Yes," Bardock said after a moment's silence. "Yes!"
Vegita skimmed the disc ahead again, forward to the next piece of audio data.
And listened to the sound of Romayn's voice, pleading, weeping, for her to wake. It was the most piteous sound he had ever imagined possible, and it went on and on, until Bardock broke in with a hoarse growl and lifted the boy up.
"Come, boy," he said bleakly.
"No!" Romayn said, his voice beginning to rise. "No! Momma! Wake up, Momma! Wake up! Wake up!"
Bardock grunted in sudden, surprised pain and there was a noise of something small hitting the floor, and a scuffle. Romayn had bitten him. "Stop it, boy! I'm taking you away to-"
"Don't you hurt her, Poppa!" The boy said clearly.
Silence…then. "I mean to help her, Romayn."
"No," Romayn said flatly. "Killing her won't help her. Momma's sick and hurt bad, but she'll come back if you let her. I know it!"
Bardock didn't reply for a long moment. "Who is it that knows, boy? Romayn or Kakarott?"
"Me," the boy said.
The soft sound of rustling fabric, and the boy cried out in joy. "Momma! Momma!"
"If she can move to hold him, she is not lost to us," Nail said. "In any case, I will trust the boy's word that she can recover."
"I will trust him," Bardock agreed shakily.
"We should move her. To somewhere other than this workshop. We can move the little one's incubator as well." The faint sweep of Bardock hefting her into
And more silence.
Vegita: Deep Space
Ki lent strength to bone and sinew and muscle. But even without it, he was still more than a match for the Chikyuu-jin warriors. Vegita grinned viciously as he drove a fist into the dark-haired warrior's gut, sneering at the way the man let the pain show so readily. Yamcha was a passable warrior, physically stronger than most third class Saiyan soldiers. But there was an...an absence of will to fight in the man. In both the Chikyuu senshi. Yamcha and his squad brother Krillan had trained for almost a decade against the threat of another purge, had pushed themselves past the limits of their kind and beyond. They fought with all the might the gods had seen fit to give them, but there was no inherent love of battle for it own sake in them. Only purpose. Only need. And in this, Bulma's kith and kin bore an unnerving resemblance to the Maiyosh-jin, who have never been a warrior race until a Saiyan purge had...changed them. The Chikyuu senshi lived in that mental place Vegita had only found as he fought Jeiyce and his men for the lives of Bulma and all the children in Med Center-a place of need to do the impossible. They lived in that place constantly. Or Yamcha did. Krillan had some love of the fight for its own sake, but there was a quiet stillness in the little man that was no less unfathomable.
The dark Chikyuu-jin hit the plated metal of the ship's training room floor with a thud, and Vegita nodded to Coran, who stood watching avidly. Yamcha had let himself be defeated, without cheating. Without using his ki, in other words. The man had been, from the first, uncompromisingly hostile to Vegita, though he seemed to have warmed up to Articha's sons and Rikkuum a great deal during the months Vegita had lain in a coma. But despite his unswerving dislike of Vegita, he did not break his honor.
All the Chikyuu-jin had been relieved to learn of the plague's 'side-effect', a fact Rikkuum had blurted out at some point. But the knowledge had made all the folk who had watched the Saiyan's with unbridled distrust and fear at first able to bear their presence easier.
Yamcha stood gingerly and grinned at him, a brief flash of white teeth. It was not a friendly smile. It had taken Vegita longer than it should have to realize why this man had befriended Rikkuum and Articha's son, and yet remained overtly hostile to Vegita. Yamcha...I wish had been better to him, his woman's voice echoed softly, regretfully, in his mind.
"I am done here," Vegita said shortly, nodding for Coran and Krillan to take the center if they wished. "I must speak with Briefs-san."
"Really?" Yamcha said, eyeing him. "You wouldn't be trying to convince the elders' council to let you go down on the barter party when we reach Soussa, would you?"
It had been six months since they had left Dodoria and his men to rot on Chikyuu. The Chikyuu-jin had loaded all they had in the way of food stores, all the encapsulated wealth of rations from Briefs' bunker. The stores of Briefs' larder had been deep, enough to feed nearly eleven thousand mouths for a decade-but they had not been bottomless. Water was no problem. Chikyuu was a water-logged world, and Briefs' capsules had allowed his people to take enough water for a hundred years if need be. But they were fast running out of food.
So, there was no choice. They must stop and resupply. Soussa was a good choice. It was sparsely populated, an edge of the Empire garrison world. The natives had no fighting power to speak of and no ties to the Rebels. They were an agricultural, hunter-gatherer culture who lived almost exclusively on the planet's southern continent. The garrison had been located on the northern continent. The Imperial garrison logs on the ship's computer said that the natives had dutifully bowed head to their Saiyan masters on those rare occasions when they crossed paths, and nothing else. It was not possible that there was no one from the New Alliance dwelling on Soussa at this moment, Vegita thought blackly. Someone must have arrived to release Soussa's portion of the plague. The long range sensors said the Saiyan garrison was not deserted. Which meant that some enterprising veteran of the Rebellion had taken up residence there. But regardless, Soussa was the best choice in a galaxy of poor choices.
"I am going," Vegita said bluntly, swallowing the reflexive rush of rage, that this fool should think that he must answer to him. "Your people do not know their way around any society other than their own."
"You said all this at round table last week," Yamcha said impatiently. "Satan's faction didn't listen."
"Then I will say it again tonight," Vegita said flatly. He nodded curtly for Coran and Krillan to take the next bout if they wished and left quickly before he lost his already tenuous hold on his temper. These people, his woman's entire race, would tax the patience of an Inlu-jin Sage. He hit the lift control on the training room shield door and nearly stepped on the tiny figure who was sitting just outside the door patiently. He glared down at the small, stubborn face under a mop of unbrushed black hair, and fought down a grin. Satan's cub.
"Beat it, kid," Yamcha said casually as he edged past Vegita through the arched of the door. "Your Poppa's going to give us hell again if he catches you here."
"Not til you show me how," she said flatly, staring up at the darker Chikyuu-jin warrior with angry resolve.
"Listen," Yamcha stopped, sighing, regarding the girl with a weary, patronizing half grin. "I can't teach you while we're on the ship. And even if we weren't in deep space, the chances are one in a million that you'd be able to-"
"Teach me to fly, you big dumbass!" She said stridently.
Behind him, Krillan and Coran were choking with suppressed laughter. The girl came every day to their training sessions, dogged Yamcha's heels as he left, and always ended up hurling curses at man when he refused to comply with her demand.
She perhaps two years older than Romayn, and very…very Saiyan in her moods and interests. Vegita found it difficult to associate this child with her fool of a father, would in fact have been unsurprised if someone told him the brats's late mother had been less than faithful to the hairy blowhard in the months before her cub's conception.
"You know," Krillan said, ginning openly now. "If you just gave her a few lessons, Yamcha-"
"If I just give her a few lessons," Yamcha said impatiently. "I'll have to listen to her father bitch at me for the next year about how he's the only one who'll be training his little girl and not some 'flying, showy charlatan' like me. And she's not going to be able to learn to fly if I give her a hundred lessons."
"Rikkuum-san said I could," the brat said softly.
Vegita frowned and knelt down, eye-level with her. "What did Rikkuum say, girl?"
She met his eyes with a clear, open gaze that held no fear. All of the other Chikyuu-jin cubs ran in terror at the sight of his tail. "Rikkuum-san was over in our quarter of the ship two days ago," she said. "I asked him and he told me I'm more than strong enough to fly. He said I can learn to make ki blasts and everything if someone just teaches me how. He did a ki poten…potetil…um…" She frowned, trying to remember the word.
"A ki potential test?" Vegita murmured.
She nodded happily. "That was it. And he said I'm more than strong enough and can learn how to fly fine, and he's way stronger than you, Yamcha-san, so nyah!" She stuck her tongue out at the Chikyuu senshi.
Yamcha took a deep breath, glowering down at the girl, angry, but helpless to show it without risking the embarrassing dishonor of being drawn into a name-calling fight with a child. "I'm going to take a shower," he grunted and left quickly.
Vegita stood and strode away in the opposite direction, toward his own quarters to clean up before the round table convened. He had gone less than fifty yards when he heard the light tread of the girl's small boots behind him. He turned, noticing with an internal smile how she did not flinch at the cold, hard glare he offered her.
"I am not a teacher, girl. If Rikkuum took the time to test you, let him train you as well. He has a great deal of experience teaching brats the art of war."
"I can't!" She said angrily, almost plaintively. "Poppa found out and kicked him out of our commons areas. Poppa told him he can't come back ever and not to talk to me ever again. I wanna learn, Vegita-san! Poppa taught me all he knows, but he won't let me learn from anybody else. It's not fair!" She stamped her little foot. It was a poor expression for all the will to fight, the desperate need to grow stronger, raging inside her small body. Vegita felt a sickened disgust for her idiot sire bloom inside him at the thought of any creature with so much love of battle being needlessly hamstrung from her full potential.
She must have seen the softening of his mood in his face, because she stepped forward eagerly. "I can pay you," she said.
"What can you pay, girl?" He said with a smirk.
"My dog Gekko has a litter of five new puppies," she said proudly. "If you show me how to fly, you can have one. But they have to grow some more first before they're weaned. They still have their eyes closed right now. Do you like dogs?"
"Yes," Vegita said quietly. He did not fear Satan's blustering wrath. If the man annoyed him overmuch, he would toss him through a bulkhead. And…he did not have any pressing engagements, did he? "Yamcha is right in that it is better to have open sky when learning to fly. I will teach you how to fly. But only after we have made planetfall on what will be the Chikyuu-jin's new home. That is my offer."
She studied him, swallowing grateful tears. But just as quickly, she forced them away, and regarded him with a stoic, expressionless face. He realized with a start that she was consciously mimicking his blank visage. Then she bowed, low, in the formal fashion of her people. Her little hear popped up, her dark eyes on his with a kind of grateful adulation that made him intensely uncomfortable.
"Arigato…sensei." She turned and ran.
They came in so many types, dispositions, and colors, these Chikyuu-jin, he mused thoughtfully. It was amazing to find so much variety within one species. And more amazing to find one such as Satan's cub, who might have passed for a Saiyan brat in every way, save for want of a tail. He shoved these thoughts aside. He must think, he told himself as he showered in the barracks quarters he shared with Articha's sons and Rikkuum. He did not have the strength to compel these idealistic, suicidally trusting Chikyuu-jin to obey, so he must be clever and persuasive. He must make them listen and understand that they would be seen as a wondrous bounty of free slave labor by most of the space-faring races that dominated the sectors of space that had once been the Saiyan Empire. He stepped out of the shower, willing calm, willing his mind to focus on his purpose tonight. If he lost his temper…they would only see their own fear of him and not hear his words. He dressed mechanically in the Chikyuu-jin garb he, Coran and Okuda had taken to wearing in lieu of armor. It was soft and afforded no protection whatsoever, and it made him feel naked for want of the familiar black rubber of a battlesuit and the comforting weight of steel and ardantium armor. But it made Bulma's people less edgy in his presence within the often claustrophobic confines of the rusting, out-of-date, Maiyosh-jin troop carrier that was home to all of them at present. He stared into the mirror at the somber-faced stranger who had once been Prince of the greatest Empire the galaxy had known, who had once been proud and strong and full of hope for all the unnumbered tomorrows he would share with his woman at his side, with Romayn, who would grow stronger every day, who he would set beside his heir to be the strong right arm of the Empire when he came to manhood…
He closed his eyes, pushing their faces away. If he thought too deeply or too long on the story, her story, if he allowed himself to dream of all that might have been he would…he would fall to pieces.
So, he would move forward, and fight his way through each day with a tiny spar of hope clasped to his breast like a life rope. Hope that he would find her. That he would bring her this unlooked-for gift of family and friends long dead to her. Hope that it was not too late to save her, to draw her out of that silent prison of madness.
Sometimes, he thought, as he made his way to the ship's central mess hall which Briefs and the other Chikyuu-jin elders commandeered one night a week to hold open council, sometimes he dreamed that he had touched the faint distant wisps of her thoughts. He would see images through the filter of her eyes, the faces of Bardock, of Romayn, and…he would see her smiling, sane and whole, as she rocked their son in her arms, as she sang that silly song about the mockingbird Romayn favored so much. But these were fantasies, he knew. Dreams were more cruel than a torturer's whip sometimes. And sweet, impossible dreams were the cruelest.
He strode into the mess hall, back straight, head high, every gesture calculated to convey royalty, authority. The Chikyuu-jin elders eyed him warily, and the common folk, pressed in around the circular council table and through the doors to overflowing, murmured among themselves.
"Vegita," Briefs said in his friendly way, his mild scholar's face giving away nothing, which meant a great deal was about to be decided. "We were just about to begin deciding who will go planetside with the barter party tomorrow."
"I will go," Vegita said, raising his voice a bit so that it carried throughout the hall. Yamcha was staring at him, expressionless as a son of Vegita-sei, from where he stood behind Briefs' chair, sandwiched between Krillan and Coran. Rikkuum loomed on Krillan's other side, looking uncomfortable and confused. Okuda was back a ways, watching from where he stood surrounded by several young women.
Heh. He did nothing to encourage this, but according to Coran, they hounded his silent younger brother night and day and fought among themselves like dire cats for a place in his bed.
"It's the 'bad boy mystique'," Krillan had told Vegita, somewhat glumly. "The fact that you three are dangerous looking and of the same race that purged Chikyuu turns some girls on."
But now, Satan was glowering at him from under his bushy black brows. "We know what you want, Prince of Vegita-sei," Satan's deep bass rolled through the room like the voice of a trained performer. "And I am against it. I won't budge a whisker on this, Briefs!"
"Satan," Vegita said, keeping his voice neutral, but dropping the honorific suffix from the man's name. He watched the heavy-browed Chikyuu-jin's hands clench in anger. "We have hoped, based on the long range sensor reports, that there would be no one to greet us on Soussa other than the indigenous population. As of yesterday, the newest scans reveal that the system has moderate space traffic. If you lead the landing party to barter with whoever we find has taken possession of Soussa, how will you deal with them, Satan? How will you treat with Trade House swindlers, Red Demons, Avarisei-jin, or any one of a thousand races who might have taken this world as payment for their labors in the Rebellion? Serulia lies closest to this world on the star charts. Tell me, Satan, or Briefs-san, or Goma-san, or anyone here-What should you do if a Serulian offers you the hospitality of his house?
"Um…say no?" Krillan asked, his snub nose crinkling with interest.
"If you except his hospitality, he will offer you his wives for the evening. It is common courtesy among Serulians. But your kind are far weaker physically than the most frail Serulian, and their mating habits are notoriously violent. You would not survive the encounter, but to refuse is a mortal insult."
"Or we could throw Rikkuum here at her," Krillan suggested brightly. "He's pretty damn strong." He reached up and clapped the big man on the shoulder. "What do you say, big fella? Wanna take on for the team?"
"I…" Rikkuum turned scarlet. "I am not skilled with women."
Vegita felt his lips threaten to twitch, saw Yamcha and even Satan fighting down grins as well. The small Chikyuu warrior had some innate gift for diffusing tension.
"Okay," Yamcha said. "You have made your point, Prince Vegita. I know Briefs-san agrees with you and I can see the logic in what you're saying. But let me ask you a question," he swept his gaze back, including Coran and his brother. Okuda had moved forward silently to stand in Coran's right. "What will the three of you do when you sit across a barter table from this Serulian, or whoever it happens to be, and he begins to gloat about the fall of Vegita-sei. Or to talk about how much fun he had at the 'Great Circus of Shikaji' last time he was there?" Vegita was silent, but all his internal muscles had tensed in knotted rage as he imagined such an encounter. He held his breath in and released it very slowly before speaking.
"I can hold down my hatred for a man I must sit at table with as well as you," he grated, feeling a great deal of satisfaction that the barb in that statement had not gone unnoticed by Yamcha, or by the other Elders around the table. Vegita met the Chikyuu warrior's angry eyes and clamped down once again on the fury, that this man, this jumped up weakling excuse for a warrior should question his control of-
He took one more deep breath, teeth ground together. None of this inner turmoil had showed in his face or posture. Outtoussama would have been proud. "Dodoria is not the only Rebel leader who will be taking former Empire worlds 'under his wing'. The rush is on for every opportunist with a dozen warriors at his command to grab as many worlds as he can, and set himself up as petty dictator. The Empire is...it is no more, but nature abhors a vacuum. This new alliance will not last. Soon, the enemies of Vegita-sei will begin to war among themselves to see who will be the new master of the galaxy."
"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss," Krillan said softly.
"Well, let's cut through the fat and settle this now, so we can get some sleep. Tomorrow's going to be a big day." Briefs smiled around at all of the others, his kind paternal smile softening the faces of even the most tense members of the council. "Satan-san, unless you can memorize several hundred customs, treaties, and cultural mores between now and tomorrow morning, I think you'll have to agree that we need Vegita to be in the landing party." Satan grunted, looking severely displeased, but nodded uncharitably. "Yamcha and Krillan will go as well, and I think Rikkuum will have to be physically restrained to keep from following Vegita, so we'll take him along too."
"We?!" Vegita frowned in annoyance as he realized he and Yamcha had spoken the same word in the same breath.
"There are some parts for the hyperlight stabilizers on the ship's engines that I need to replace," Briefs said. "Okuda told me several weeks ago that the quantum regulators are dangerously out of wack. We've not fallen out of hyperlight speed once in six months, my friends, to keep from running into anyone who might ask awkward questions about how we came by this Maiyosh-jin made ship. Several things involving the engines' integrity are sort of on the blink, and we have to get parts for them now."
"Okuda can go on the barter party as easily as you," Vegita said.
"I can," Okuda said solemnly, "But…in a few months, Briefs-san has gained a better understanding of quantum mechanics than I will ever have. If he must make do with a part that is similar, or construct what we need from scratch, he must be there to look over whatever they have in stock and see what may be cobbled together from pieces."
The Elders voted, while Vegita stood by, meeting Yamcha's eyes across the table. Briefs had it his way. Satan grumbled and muttered among his own folk, but did not cross him as Briefs motion was carried by the majority. A more stupid, wasteful, dangerous way to govern a people Vegita had never seen. But the old man could not be swayed to admit that he should simply lead them with one law and one voice-his own. Briefs would not take the voice to determine their own fate away from his people and lead them himself. Madness.
He waited until the last observers had filed out, before he turned on the old man with a snarl. "You will not put yourself in danger!" He snapped.
"What he said!" Krillan agreed emphatically. "Jisan…we can't lose you. We have no way of knowing what we'll find down there."
But Vegita begin to feel all his anger draining away as he watched the old man's mild, bookish features melt out of the easy good-natured mask he had been wearing throughout the round table. His face was drawn and tired and there was an adamant set to his jaw Vegita knew well. In his woman, that look meant arguing was pointless. "How bad are the engines?" He asked slowly.
"Bad," Briefs said. "They've been bleeding plasma coolant for about a month and…" He gazed around and the intent faces of the younger men. "There's something else Okuda and I just discovered today. We knew something was fishy in the way Soussa seemed to be almost deserted two months ago, then was all of a sudden jumping when we took our last couple of sensor readings. The quantum stabilizers are kaput, boys. We've been slipstreaming in hyperlight speed almost since we left Chikyuu. We left Chikyuu six months ago, subjectively. But we've been gaining time at a ratio of about six to one in real space. To us, it's been six months. To everyone else in the galaxy, it's been a little over three years and a half years." He gazed around at the stunned faces of the men around him and nodded grimly. "If we don't fix the problem now, boys, we'll be dead in the water within a month."
Of course, Vegita thought furiously, as he stalked back to his barracks bunk. He should have known this ship would be falling apart. It was an old Maiyosh House freighter, converted into a troop carrier after the fall of Maiyosh Prime, used in Jeiyce's hit and run war against the Saiyans throughout the long years of the Resistance, then through the course of the war. It was a wonder the fool thing held together as long as it had. He lay down on his bunk, his hand straying to the data disc of his woman's diary, lying beside his bed in a code locked mini-comp. Three years? Gods…
He sat up, steadying his breath, staring at the mini-comp as though it were a poisonous viper. Three years. And in that time, he had not listened to the diary once. The end had nearly broken his will to live, had left him in a state of-
Unless it was not the end. Romayn had said that given time, she would recover.
He leaned forward and hit the play switch.
Of course. He lay his head down on the pillow behind his head, closing his eyes. "Lady…" He whispered. He could not weep. There was a kind of pain and regret beyond any physical expression that simply was. He would live. He would come to her with his great gift. He would make it right, if mortal hands were capable of making amends for all his sins. And then…then…
Then he would go, and leave her in peace.
"Lady, I will find you," he whispered. And slept.
The nervous tension between his shoulder blades sank into his bones the instant they set foot on Soussa. The new master of Soussa, a younger grandnephew of the old Hadshi of Serulia House Banking, was a smiling, garrulous man named Zandu.
He had sent back a cordial, even eager, response back to the freighter in reply to the Chikyuu-jin's request to land with a small barter party.
Now, seated cross-legged upon an intricately ornate and terribly uncomfortable beaded Serulian rug, his head filling with the perfumed smoke of incense and cooking fires, Vegita could see the man was fairly salivating at the prospect of rooking a group of trusting rubes out of every scrap of technology and potential wealth he could. The few small gadgets Briefs had casually presented as an opening bid made the Serulian's dark, heavy-browed eyes glitter with excitement. Vegita sat silent and watchful behind the mask of his holographic Chikyuu-jin guise as Bulma's father feigned doddering semi-senility, waving his own tinkerings under the merchant's gleaming eyes. A sensor net that could detect and isolate a thumb-sized particles on the edge of Soussa's solar system bundled with a decapsulation catalyst that would forcibly decapsulate anything-such as an encapsulized plasma nuke-that struck the sensor net. In these days of political uncertainty, Briefs was quite literally dangling a prize beyond price in front of the Serulian.
"We've been a space-faring people for less than five years," Briefs told Zandu, drinking down the hot mug of kaval one of the Serulian's wives offered him without choking. Vegita could not have done the same. The Serulian drink made most other races nauseous to the point of voiding their spleens. Ottoussama had firmly believed that this was the very reason Serulians served the drink as customary hospitality to aliens during trade and banking negotiations. A man trying desperately not to vomit is never at the top of his game. Briefs actually smiled as he polished off his cup.
"My goodness! That tastes almost exactly like fresh ground coffee. May I have another cup, my dear?" Zandu's wife blinked in surprise, but poured him a second draught obediently, her deep green skin flushing a shade darker as the old man winked at her. "But as I was saying, Zandu-sama, we would have been lost when the center of the meteor storm struck our world if this derelict freighter hadn't drifted so serendipitously into our system a year before. We patched her up as best we could and set out looking for a new home. But as you can see, she still needs as bit of work. Our main concern is that we're running out of provisions."
"And the soldiers on board?" The armored, red-skinned soldier on Zardu's asked, his hard face intent. "Was anyone left alive?"
"No one," Briefs lied sadly. "There was a huge hull breach that must have destroyed the central life support. It looked like the people on board had been fighting."
"There were soldiers of your race, Horda-san," Vegita added in a soft, differential voice, watching the way the Maiyosh-jin liaison's eyes glinted with suspicion. It was a likely tale though. So many ships had been lost during the most heated battles of the war, it was impossible to account for all of them. "And there were bodies of your great enemies, the Saiyans, as well. They must have torn the ship apart while fighting inside it. We do not know for sure. The logs were blown to bits, along with the life support."
"Or you erased them," the Maiyosh-jin said bluntly. Zandu would have spoken, but the Red Demon cut him off with a curt wave of his hand. Which settled the question in Vegita's mind as to who was really in charge of this world. Apparently, the New Alliance was posting a unit of Maioyosh-jin warriors on every 'protectorate' world, regardless of which race had claimed the system as their portion of war spoils. Jeiyce was trying to consolidate Maiyosh-jin rulership, then, with all other races as subordinate members in the new order. Horda still eyed him with that same hard, piercing stare, but his gaze was free of contempt. Unlike the stares of the other Maiyosh-jin warriors who stood at their captain's shoulder. Their poorly hidden sneers said more eloquently than any words that Vegita was less than a man because he had no fighting power. Vegita felt his hands clench into fists.
"You needn't have bothered," Horda said without reproach. "If you thought someone would read the logs and take this ship from your folk. We scrapped all of the older rust-buckets of this make and model as soon as we got the ship factories of Arbatzu back up and working again. You know about the war, then? How long have you been monitoring the hyperlight news broadcasts?"
"Since we found the frequency on the ship's communications scanner," Vegita said. "We gave this part of space a wide berth until we were sure the war had ended. We did not wish to be caught in a battle."
"Smart move," the Red Demon chuckled, his hard features easing into a friendlier set. "The monkeys would have made short work of your ship." He glanced back at Briefs and the sensor net demo in the old man's hands. "Or perhaps not. You patched up a blown out freighter, limped halfway across an uncharted black sector of space, and rewired, dissected or rebuilt features of capsule technology that you found floating on board your ship."
Zandu nodded with an eager smile. "If your people are as craftwise as you seem, you'll have no trouble finding contract on Arbatzu or even Shikaji. In fact, I could send a letter of introduction with you if you decide on Shikaji. My second cousin is a junior marketing chief for a small arms concern there."
Shikaji. The new center of the New Alliance's government. And home of the Great Circus.
"We'll take the matter up in our next elders' meeting," Briefs sad, looking artfully intrigued. "We can't keep traveling forever, that's for sure."
"Shikaji is where you have imprisoned the last of your great enemies, is it
not?" The question would not be still. The grinding shame that he had known for half a year what his people were suffering and been powerless to help them would not let him stay silent. "We only saw their dead bodies when we salvaged the ship. How many are left alive?"
"Not as many as there were," Horda said, his voice devoid of inflection. "A lot of them willed themselves dead after a while. Just turned up their toes and died. No one has run across any new survivors of the plague in a couple of years. I'd say there's less than fifty or so left in the Circus now." His lips twisted with repressed distaste. "If you want to see a live Saiyan, you'd better go to Shikaji soon. They'll probably be extinct in another year."
Zandu looked angry and unsettled. "That is not quite true, Captain. Somewhere, hiding in the depths of space, my friends, on some uncharted world, there are roughly thirty thousand Saiyan cubs still alive. Finding them has been and will continue to be Jeiyce-sama's single most important concern since the war ended. No one in the galaxy can truly rest easy until the last of that monstrous race is slain. If we don't find them-" he shuddered dramatically.
Horda nodded solemnly. "If they aren't found, they will come back to avenge their fathers one day. And the war will begin all over again."
"One warrior, one little cub even," Zandu said. "Could lay waste to an entire world in three days. Thank the gods you never met them. They were terrible. Terrible!"
"I'm sorry we raised unpleasant memories," Briefs said kindly. "My son is just curious about the war and all the things we've heard about on the news feeds, but never seen." He scratched his head thoughtfully. "So, about these little knickknacks of mine. I have time this morning to look over the inventory you sent us of all your tech supplies and I'm thinking we might make an ever swap of the sensor net and one or two other gizmos I've built for say…hmm…a full load of food concentrates and about…a dozen small pieces from your tech warehouse. I've got a list here."
Zandu studied the list for a moment, his eyes dancing with greedy joy. Then he raised both hands magnanimously and smiled. "I will make an ever trade, Trunks-san," he said graciously. "I do not often forgo the joy of haggling any price, but your plight and the courage and ingenuity of your people have touched my heart. It is a deal!"
"Now comes the hard part," Briefs told them as Vegita strode beside him out of the smoky stink of the Serulian's small palace. "We can't repair the quantum stabilizers in zero gravity."
"So, we have to risk landing," Yamcha said tensely, gazing around them at the bored soldiers, Serulian and Maiyosh-jin, going about chores, playing tri-dice. There were too many to take in a fight. "If even one person opens his mouth and-"
"No one is leaving the ship," Vegita said curtly.
"Satan-san's people are guarding the exits in case anyone should feel tempted to go exploring," Briefs said.
An hour later, Vegita found himself standing shoulder to shoulder with the Maiyosh-jin Captain, Horda, as they watched the freighter land, laying down the blue-green fronds of the swampy landscape around them. Briefs waved airily at him as he politely ushered two bored-looking Maiyosh-jin soldiers who had offered to port the larger of his pieces from the tech supply warehouse to the mouth of the freighter's main cargo hanger. Satan's men met them at the entrance and took the burden off food and tech parts from there. Briefs had been right in thinking Zandu would not have the exact replacements they needed, but he had compiled a list of instruments and mechanisms that he could fit together in place of what they must have. The upside of this was that the Serulians had no idea what repairs were needed or how bad the Chikyuu-jins' need was.
"I've never seen anyone con a Serulian in my life," Horda said conversationally. He caught Vegita's eye, marked his carefully blank face and grinned. It was an honest expression, wryly amused and…friendly. The expression looked strange on his hard face, as though Horda had had precious little to smile about in a very long time. "Don't worry, lad. I'm not here to help Zandu get any richer than he already is. Can your father fix whatever manner of mechanical trouble it is the ship has come down with?"
"There is nothing he cannot fix," Vegita said honestly.
"I was worried for your people at first," the Maiyosh-jin said. "Until I saw that sensor gadget and watched Trunks-san work old Zandu like a pro." He chuckled. "Now, I'm wondering if your race won't be setting up its own new Trade House in a few years. I noticed half your party seemed to have fairly high ki readings. But your father doesn't. And you don't register on the scouters at all." Vegita tensed visibly and the Red Demon eyed him shrewdly. "You move like a warrior, laddie. I can tell just by watching you walk that you've trained in the arts of war your whole life. What happened? Was it some injury?"
"You are not mistaken," Vegita said softly, harshly. He had to get away from this red bastard now, before he lost the last scrap of his self control and flung himself at the man, fighting power or no fighting power. "I was…injured when the first meteor struck our homeworld. I no longer have ki." The taste of those words was bitter as funeral ashes.
"Every living thing has ki, lad," Horda said, his plain, care-worn face intent. "It's made up of your own life force. The only way you could have no ki is if you were dead." Vegita stared in silent shock, as the older man smiled at him like a kindly uncle. "When I was a young man, the Saiyans purged my homeworld, Maiyosh Prime. I survived, but I took a head injury that seemed to have snuffed out my fighting power for good. But what the doctors called the 'ki centers' of a warrior's brain are just channels for your power, young Trunks. All the fighting power the gods gave you is still there. You just have to retrain your brain to route it differently."
"How…?" Vegita found his mouth was dry. He had given up hope and weighed all he had been as lost forever. "How did you retrain you brain, Captain?"
"You've been reaching for it from the same place you always drew it from," Horda said. "But that part of your brain is damaged now. Do your people have meditation techniques?"
"Search your mind, every part of it, for a new outlet. You'll find it, I promise you." And again, he smiled at Vegita. A strange, surreal vision from a Maiyosh-jin warrior. "I knew you'd been injured in the same way I was when I first saw you. I can feel your fighting power twisting inside you to free itself. Just find a new door to let it out, lad." His smile slipped away. "And find it fast. When you succeed your father as leader of your people, it will save all of you a world of grief if you are sporting a high fighting power."
"We will be seen as an inferior breed of sentient without it," Vegita grunted. The galaxy he had known since infancy was spun on its head, but none of his enemies seemed to have taken their own propaganda to heart. Perhaps it took having a man look down his nose at you, see you as less than a man, for want of power that made you no less or better in its absence. If Vegita had never seen that look from the receiving end, he would never have truly understood. Briefs had no fighting power, but he was a better man, a stronger man, than Yamcha, or Krillan. Or Vegita. His woman could not lift so much as a feather with her ki, but he would set her against any warrior in the galaxy.
Horda nodded grimly. "You're very quick. Take my council in this to your father, young Trunks. Do not take Zandu up on his offer to make port on Shikaji and sue his kinsman for employment. Jeiyce-sama has outlawed slavery, but the custom of bond servitude in repayment of debt is still going strong. Shikaji is a…tumultuous place to be now, and your people could easily find themselves indentured for the price of their own lodgings. Don't let curiosity to see the Saiyan captives or the new seat of galactic government draw you there. The Great Circus…" Horda's lined, grizzled features twisted in disgust. "It's drawn folk who have suffered so much at Saiyan hands that they are dead to all feeling but hate. And it has drawn others. Those who delight in torment for its own sake." He made a soft noise of anger. "I have no taste for such things. The war was dirty, and in the end, we won by the dirtiest means imaginable. But having won, we should have killed the last of our enemies honorably. Cleanly."
Vegita studied him silently. Another inversion of all that should be. To find honor in a Red Demon. "That is why you are stationed here on the frontier?"
"Jeiyce-ouji…" Horda said in a low voice. "I have served him since he began to lead small guerrilla strikes fifteen years ago. I've known him since he was a boy on Corsaris. I was made guard captain over the monkeys in the Circus as a kind of…gift for all my years of service to the cause. I lasted about a week before I passed one of them a shiv from by boot so he could take his own life. They passed it from man to man inside their cages. Twenty of them managed to kill themselves before someone caught on. I was reassigned the next day."
Vegita spoke softly, choosing his next words with great care. "Thank you for your advice, Horda-san. And for your kindness to my people."
Two days of cold sweat and tension dragged by slowly, while Briefs and Okuda labored side by side on the engines. The Chikyuu-jin inside the freighter, none of whom had seen sky or smelled fresh air in half a year, were angry and rebellious at having been barred from exiting the ship. Vegita avoided the sounds of their cabin fever and their ungrateful whining, spending almost all of his time outside. He slept both nights on top of the ship's starboard hull, gazing up at the stars as he drifted of the sleep after spending the last hours of each day in deep meditation.
It was there. His power…
He could feel it now, banked and drowsing in the well of his soul like a sleeping Oozaru. More that that…sweet gods of mercy, he could touch it! Only a little. Just barely. Just enough to draw out a pearl sized drop from the river of his ki. Horda had been right, and Vegita had been a mindless fool not to have known the truth himself. His power flowed out of the blazing hearthpit of his own lifeforce. It was his lifeforce. And the instant he had stopped reaching for it through the dead, burned out channel his ki had always poured through, the instant he had begun to seek it from the center of his self and let it find whatever road it could to physical manifestation-in that instant he had been suddenly, miraculously, joyously able to touch it again.
He lay on his back, staring up at the wide dark sky, feeling a sense of his own power thrumming through his body, feeling a kind of deep, quiet happiness he had only ever felt lying in his woman's arms. And for the first time since he had fallen to Chikyuu, in a shower of burning metal and shrapnel, his body broken, his heart torn to bleeding ribbons, he had some measure of peace. For the first time since he had heard his woman's soft, trembling voice bid thought, memory and sanity goodnight, all his hopes for any good future dying with the fading strains of her sighing farewell-for the first time, he had real hope. He had lived in a state of stubborn denial of reality, staving off broken despair and gray, blank-eyed hopelessness with one thread of hope. Her father lived. Her people lived. If she could only see them again, touch them, know they were real and not lost to her forever, she might…she might…
He had spent the first days of their journey in silent grief, fighting a desperate battle to keep from taking his own life after hearing the second half, the last half, of her journal. Gods…he had never really known her, had he? Not truly, though he knew every inch of her pale satin skin, every flavor of her sweet smile, every flicker of anger, every mood and quicksilver flash of her brilliant mind. Now…now he knew her. All she was, the full measure of her pain, her genius, her strength, her hatred, her love. Had he been fool enough, even after taking her to wife, even after seeing her madness, knowing he had been its author, had he been so obtuse, so selfish, that he had believed she owed him any debt of blood? He had driven her screaming into the arms of the Red Network. He had built the weapons she made for them by proxy as he labored each night of that first summer on her pain, her horror, her madness. Even after the fall of Vegita-sei, he had not truly understood. Not until he heard her tell her tale.
It had shattered him to pieces. The third and deepest, most profound, breaking of his life. And just as he had woken in Bardock's house a different man, just as he had found that the truest, deepest part of his power and self lay in his love for those he defended on the day Vegita-sei died, he had emerged slowly from this last blow…different. He could not say how. He had no talent for standing back and observing his own actions and manner. Whatever he was, to his own mind, he was simply himself. But Coran and Okuda had seen the differences and marked them, and though they had said nothing, he knew the changes must be profound. Let them gape at him if they wished. He did not care.
Bulma lived. He would find her. He would see her reunited with her father. At long last, he had again the strength to see that her father would come to her unharmed. He would trust in Romayn's words, spoken to Bardock at the end of her journal, that given time, she would be well again. He would trust that the boy saw things that were hidden beyond the mortal pale. She would be healed. She would be whole and happy. He had taken the data disc of her journal and bound it in a leather sheath, stringing it around his neck like a talisman of all his hopes.
The thud of soft cloth boots on the hull beside him shook him out of his reverie. He frowned up irritably at the man standing over him. Yamcha. But tonight, even the Chikyuu-jin warrior's brooding company was not unwelcome. An instant later Krillan landed lightly beside him.
Yamcha crossed his arms, his face hard and unfriendly. "Jissan said to tell you we're leaving at first light. We're closing the ship up as soon as Briefs-san gets back from saying goodbye to Zandu. The Serulians are giving him a few kaval bean plants to take with us as a going away present. You sleeping out here again tonight?"
"It is good to breathe fresh air," Vegita said. "I will enjoy it while I can."
Krillan grinned. "I may stay out tonight, too, if the hull on the port side isn't taken. Don't tell anyone inside, though. They'll throw rotten tomatoes at us if they find out any of us spent the night outdoors while they were cooped up in the ship." He sat down and leaned back on his elbows, taking in the blue-black dome of the night. "So…did I imagine it, or did you fly up here about an hour ago, Vegita?"
"Trunks," Vegita corrected quietly, glancing back toward the Serulian city. Or the beginnings of what would be a Serulian city. It was little more than a makeshift bayou villa with surrounding barracks at the moment. "I flew," he said, turning his gaze from Krillan's mild expression of curiosity to Yamcha's suspicious glare.
"Were you planning on telling anyone your powers have come back?" Yamcha asked shortly.
"They have not 'come back'," Vegita told him, eyes narrowing. "I have been trying to…reroute my ki around the damaged centers of my brain. That is the best way to describe it. But it is working."
"Like someone recovering from a stroke?" Krillan mused.
"Very like," Vegita said. "And I imagine the task of recovering my full power will be as long and arduous. But tonight, I was able to fly. It was good to fly. I can do little else at the moment, but…it was good to touch my power again, if only a little."
"Yeah. I'll bet," Krillan grinned. "You gonna tell Coran and Okuda?"
"Tomorrow." Yamcha knelt down beside him, eyeing him closely. Vegita sat up, matching his stare. "You have something to say?"
"How strong were you, Vegita?" Yamcha asked quietly. "Before the plague?"
"I was the strongest my race had seen," Vegita said softly. "And just before I fell, my power leapt to something beyond imagining. For one briefs hour, Chikyuu-jin, I had the strength of a god."
"Coran told us how you saved Bulma and all the Saiyan kids." Krillan, ever the peacemaker, was gazing over at his squad brother in consternation.
"I don't like the thought of you getting your fighting power back, Vegita," Yamcha said tensely. "I've talked to the soldiers here in the last couple of days. Asked them questions about the war. They were full of stories about your people and about the Saiyan no Ouji. You purged more than fifty systems personally in the first few months of the war, you son of a bitch. You-"
"Yamcha! We need to have this discussion some other time," Krillan said nervously. "Like after we launch!"
Yamcha took a deep breath, swallowing his anger for the moment. "Okay. But I want you to know, Vegita. I won't let you hurt my people."
"I will protect you people," Vegita said softly, fiercely. "From Briefs-san, to the brats in the orphan's ward, to the least deserving fool in the ship beneath us. I will guard them with my life, because they are Bulma's people. I will guard each of you with my life because you were her friends. I will see her reunited with all of you, because it will heal wounds in her heart she has carried since the day Chikyuu burned." He bared sharp teeth in a hard, feral smile. "But I do not mistake you, Yamcha of Chikyuu. You do not hate me for the billions I have slain in war, or for the threat you think I represent to your people. You hate me because the woman you have loved since boyhood is my mate and not yours."
The silence ticked out between them like the eternity between the killing blast aimed at you heart and the instant it pierces you breast.
"You're right," Yamcha said hoarsely. "She should never have been yours. If that bastard who murdered Son-kun hadn't stolen her away, we would have been happy, we would have…" His hands were clenched at his sides in impotent agony. "I don't like you, Vegita. I don't think I ever will. But it's not your fault she was taken away from me. If we find her and the rest of your people…gods, when I see that monster who kidnapped her-"
"The man who took her from Chikyuu has become a second father to her. He calls her daughter and would gladly die for her. If you raise your hand against him when we all meet again, you will have to face her anger, Yamcha. Her wrath is a terrible thing to see. I imagine it was so, even when she was a girl."
Krillan smiled wanly. "She used to scare the hell out of me when she got mad."
Yamcha gave his brother something that was close kin to an answering smile. "I've hated you as though you cheated me out of the good life I might have had with her," he said somberly. "That's not right." He met Vegita's gaze levelly. The Chikyuu-jin's brown eyes were clear and direct, free of malice or fool's pride. Free of innocent blood and all the monstrous sins that lay on Vegita's head and heart. She would have…Vegita swallowed hard. She would have been happy with this simple, honest warrior. And…and…and she might be again, once she was reunited with him. Once Vegita was no longer there to plague her with the love that had nearly destroyed her. That had destroyed her. Vegita nodded silently in response to the man's apology, not trusting his own voice.
Neither of them spoke until Krillan cleared his throat. "Hey, guys?" He said in a conspiratorial whisper. "I found out something today. Can you both keep a secret?"
Vegita regarded him curiously, and Yamcha nodded mutely. The little man leaned forward intently. "Rikkuum's got a girl."
"You lie," Vegita said softly.
"Who?" Yamcha's mouth was twitching at the corners.
"You know that knockout girl with the long, curly blue hair and the really generous…um…endowments? The one who's little Videl-chan's nanny?"
"Marron?!" Yamcha choked.
"I saw her kissing him down in the upper storage hold," Krillan said. "He was being sly, pretending he didn't know how to kiss so she could 'teach him' the old Chikyuu-jin lip lock."
Vegita felt his shoulders beginning to shake. "I do not think he was pretending." But…good, he thought. Good for Rikkuum.
"Good for him," Yamcha echoed the thought, grinning slightly. "He's not the brightest guy around, but he a good man."
"Yeah, well she's no brain surgeon either," Krillan said. "Their kids will be-"
The Maiyosh-jin were around them, encircling them. Yamcha tensed and Vegita was on his feet in a heartbeat, poised to spring. The red bastards were leveling ki-killers at them from point blank range. Horda's face was bleak and resolute.
"What treachery is this, Captain?" Vegita spat.
"I'm sorry, lads," the Red Demon said. "I truly am."
He and the other Maiyosh-jin fired as one.
Vegita woke, growling weakly, nightmare memories of Jeiyce's torturer's cell turning his blood to ice, his gut to a twisting mass of vipers.
"Easy, son," Briefs' hand on his head, gentle. As gentle as Bulma soothing Romayn.
He tried to sit and could not. His muscles were still jelly from reaction to the ki-killer. They were in some kind of spartan brig cell. Beside him on the floor lay Yamcha and Krillan, still unconscious. He sank back down and slept again.
"…no excuse, Captain," Briefs was saying. Vegita say weakly and cried out faintly at the leaching, pulling sensation, so horribly familiar from his torment on Avaris. A ki damper. They had shackled him with a ki damper! He twisted and thrashed, uttering a choked, sobbing snarl at the feel of the evil thing collared around his throat. No…not again. Not this…not this again!
"Trunks! Stop it!" Hands, pulling at his clenched fists, drawing them away from the white Tsiru-jin collar. "It's primed to blow your head off it you tear it off," Briefs voice said urgently. "Calm down, son!"
Vegita breathed deeply, in and out, slow and even. He pushed out of Yamcha and Krillan's restraining grips, and sat, glaring cold black murder at the man on the other side of the bars.
"Treacherous bastard," he hissed at the Maiyosh-jin.
"I had no choice, lad," Horda said solemnly. "There's a galaxy-wide arrest warrant for all of you. For all Chikyuu-jin."
Vegita glanced down at the innocuous-looking band around his wrist. Somehow Briefs' shielding on the holo-gadget had allowed it to elude the Maiyosh-jin tech scan. To the naked eye, the device looked like a bare, ornamental band. Which explained why Horda had not given him the quick merciful death he granted those poor Saiyan wretched on Shikaji."
"We aren't criminals," Yamcha said harshly.
"I know that," Horda said, not meeting his eyes. "But you are Chikyuu-jin. You, Briefs-san, and your son, are immediate family of the most wanted woman in the galaxy."
"Jeiyce means to use us to draw her out of hiding," Vegita said, cold horror sinking into his chest like a spear made of ice. And she would come. Gods…if she had any wit or sanity left at all, she would come to save her father and her people!"
"Yes," Horda agreed. "We realized who you were that last evening, when one of my men got a look at your ship's serial number. You'd scored the number off the hull, but he caught a glimpse of it just inside your ship's docking hold when he was delivering the last of your food supplies.. We'd been trying to puzzle out which ship it might be since you arrived, hoping it would account for friends or family who are still MIA since the war ended. When we ran the serial through the database computer, the arrest warrant popped up. After Dodoria and his crew failed to return from Chikyuu three years ago, Jeiyce led a rescue fleet himself, thinking Dodoria must have found what he sought and died shortly thereafter. We found them all dead, most by violence, the last few from starvation. What the hell did you do to them?"
"We stranded them on Chikyuu with only each other for company," Briefs said somberly. "They could have survived if they'd worked together. I imagine they turned on each other when the food began to run low. Even if you blame the four of us for their deaths, that doesn't explain why you're towing the freighter carrying fifteen thousand innocent people in a tractor beam behind this big warship of yours. What do you think Jeiyce will do with my people if...if he does manage to catch my daughter? What will he do with us if he fails to catch her?"
Horda looked uneasy. "When we've caught the Saiyan no Ouji and her wards, there'll be no reason to hold you any longer. Jeiyce-sama will let your people go. As you said, none of you are criminals."
"You do not believe your own words, Captain," Vegita said softly.
The Maiyosh-jin left quickly, back straight, shoulders taught. He did not want to hear what he already knew. That Jeiyce's revenge knew no bounds of fairness, law or decency.
The Maiyosh-jin warship was a new model, equipped with an ultra hyper light drive. One of Bulma's improvements on the standard Saiyan carrier engine that Jeiyce must have pilfered before blowing Vegita-sei to dust. The journey to Shikaji took fourteen hours, and in that time, Vegita had the luxury of imagining every possible horror Jeiyce would inflict in Bulma if she fell into his hands. And all that he would surely do to Briefs when they arrived. He pushed and prodded at the new found circuits of his ki, writhing against the crawling horror of the ki-damper around his neck, delving deeper into the well spring sink of his power, the center of his life force. He sat like a man made of stone, so deep in a meditative search for a way, a new road, that would allow him to release all the god-like power that slept inside him, enough power to save them all, that he did not respond at first when Briefs shook him. Somehow, he had gone so deep into himself, he had not noticed that they were on solid ground, in natural gravity now. They Red Demons had moved them, cell and all, to a new location. They were on Shikaji, they must be.
"Someone's coming," Krillan whispered.
Their cell from the brig of Horda's ship, a six-sided cage cube of magnetically shielded bars, was now sitting in the center of a pitch black stone-walled oubliette with one knobless ardantium door. The clatter of boot heels on stone grew louder, and the door swung open. Horda, grim-faced as death, entered the prison with a brace of Maiyoshi-jin warriors and one Madrani tech. The Captain nodded to the tech and the gold skinned man adjusted a remote controller on his palm. Vegita felt the hum of the collar's power setting rising, felt the strength seep from his limbs like water through a clenched fist.
"Where…" Vegita managed to ask as Horda's men pulled him unsteadily to his feet, dragging him and Bulma's father out of the cell and out the door of the dank sepulcher.
"You're on Shikaji," Horda said tonelessly. "Let's go, lad." They half-pushed, half-dragged him through a maze of stony corridors, up a blur of stairways. The collar…gods, the collar was set so high he could barely hold his head up. At some point, he must have passed out. Then he was jerked back to awareness, feeling and mobility returning to his body.
"That's better," a familiar voice chuckled easily. "No need to turn up the juice so high he can't see straight."
Vegita raised his head, vision clearing, and stared into the smiling face if the Red Prince. Vegita met his gaze, face blank, eyes neutral, as he sat beside Briefs in the too-comfortable padded chair Horda had shoved him into. I will kill you, Jeiyce of Maiyosh. I will. He turned to regard Bulma's father and blinked, unsure he was not delirious. The old man was calmly stirring sweetener of some sort into a steaming mug of Serulian kaval.
"I never did get the chance to thank Zandu-san for this drink before he bush-whacked us back on Soussa," Briefs was saying. "Trunks, this is Jeiyce-sama, Maiyosh no Ouji and new…is it Emperor or King of the New Alliance, Jeiyce-sama?"
"Prelate," Jeiyce said amiably. "I was just explaining to your father, young Briefs, that it is unfortunately necessary to keep your people in their stolen freighter under house arrest until this little drama has played itself out."
"Until you have killed Bulma and the children she rescued from the wreck of Vegita-sei," Vegita said coldly.
Jeiyce's smile didn't falter. "I'm at the end of a long, bloody undertaking, Trunks of Chikyuu. Those thousands of surviving Saiyan cubs will grow strong if they live. And all the killing will begin all over again when they do. I don't expect you to understand or be happy that I am using you and your father as bait. But I will see this done, no matter what the cost. I've broadcast your father's likeness and your own on all the galactic news feed. I will give her a week to show herself. If she doesn't come, I'll add you to the Circus, laddie. I imagine the brother of the Saiyan no Ojo will be a great hit. If the lovely and talented Bulma of Chikyuu still refuses to grace us with her presence, I will add your aged father to the spectacle and begin executing one of your people each day she makes me wait. But I think she will come. Don't you agree, Briefs-san?"
"There's an old Chikyuu-jin proverb that keeps running through my head over and over since we began this conversation," Briefs said with a frown. "Would you like to hear it?"
Jeicye leaned back in his chair that bore more resemblance to a throne than a Maiyosh House corporate Seat, and nodded. "Sure."
"Be careful what you wish for," the old man smiled. "Because you just might get it." He drained the last of his kaval, eyes straying across the ostentatious desk Jeiyce was lounging behind almost indolently. "Well…we appear to have a week's worth of time on our hands. So, tell me, Jeiyce-sama. Have you ever heard of a game called chess?"
The remainder of the interview was a bizarrely cordial, almost social, affair. Briefs launched into a succinct description of the moves and strategies behind the game, and the Red Prince seemed intrigued, saying it sounded very like the Maiyosh-jin game of Thrones.
A week inched by in the fashion of a leaf slug scaling Mount Cho-tal. Strangely, the Maiyosh-jin did not torment them, didn't hurl so much as a verbal taunt in the direction of their four star prisoners. They barely paid them any mind at all. Horda was the most common face they saw, and he stood guard, stone-faced, each day from noon to midnight. Every day at noon, the noise would begin to build, seeping down through the stone layers of the great monolithic hymn to architecture they were imprisoned beneath. It would grow to a roar, a howling mass of voices of every race, every description, raised in a din of blood mad joy. The Great Circus of Shikaji.
There was only one place it could be held. If Vegita had given the matter any thought at all he would have known where they were. Years ago, when he had led that ill-fated purge mission and met the Red Prince in battle for the first time, he had seen the forest cities of Shikaji burned to the ground. But one structure they had spared on his father's command. The Chamber. It was a domed coliseum the size of a city, and it was the only place Vegita had left any stone standing upon another on this world. Ottoussama had thought the Chamber might make a center for a new Imperial finance concern. Now….now it held the Circus. Every day, the crowds filled it to overflowing and cheered at the sight of torture. The torture of Saiyan survivors of the Tsiru-jin Plague. The cheers were so loud. So loud he had to fight the urge to press his hands over his ears to shut out the sound after the first hour or two.
"Tell me, Horda-san," Vegita said after three nights of this. "Are you happy to be back in your Prince's good graces? Will you cheer with the rest of them when they tear my father's limbs from their sockets and begin executing one of my people each day?"
"Shut up!" The older man said in a hollow voice. "I've served Jeicye-ouji since he was a boy. I won't betray my people or my Prince, so stop trying to make me feel like shit. I already do, but it doesn't change anything!"
Vegita sank back into silent tension, and resumed his hell of waiting for the guards to bring Briefs back to the cell. Whatever indistinct, eerie charm the old man exuded like a shield against evil had worked its will on the Red Prince. Each day, Briefs was taken from their cell to speak with Jeiyce, to teach him the intricacies and tactics of chess, to discuss Chikyuu-jin politics and history. And each day, Vegita waited with his heart in his mouth to see if the old man's luck would hold Jeiyce's madness at bay. Each day he sat, removed from the others, calling to Coran and Okuda, who were still locked within the freighter with Rikkuum and fifteen thousand terrified Chikyuu-jin. Articha's sons had not been idle, he learned, after two days spent straining the limits of his minimal telepathic abilities to contact them.
"They are grounded just outside the Chamber," he told Briefs on the sixth morning of their imprisonment.
"How big is the auditorium above us?" Yamcha asked tensely.
"As big as West Capital was," Briefs told him. His blue eyes were dimmed this morning, the lines of his face more prominent. "The Chamber's main arena is about two kilometers in diameter. Jeiyce let me watch the Circus last night, boys." He sighed, his gaze fastening on Vegita. "It was a very hard thing to watch…Trunks. I had never imagined that people could do things like that to each other…" He cleared his throat. "But you say that everyone inside the freighter is keeping busy? That's good. I left 'Kuda a lot of toys to play with in my workshop."
Vegita returned the smile coldly. Krillan and Yamcha nodded in silent understanding. Bulma's father had made alterations and improvements to the Rebel technology, Bulma's inventions, they had found on Dodoria's ship. And though Vegita and the others were undoubtedly being watched and bugged every second, the old man understood what Vegita could not say openly. Articha's sons and the others would not be held captive in the freighter much longer.
"Gods, I hope she's careful when she comes," Briefs murmured.
"She is not near," Vegita said quietly. "Not yet. I cannot sense her at all." Though that could very well be because she was still barricaded against him, against their link. Or perhaps, she was not coming, could not come, because…because she was still locked inside the prison of his own madness. He had cast about to the ends of his senses, trying to catch the faintest scrap of her thoughts, her presence. But there was nothing.
"If she doesn't show," Yamcha muttered. "You go to the Circus tomorrow evening."
'So I do," Vegita agreed stoically. Let them tear his flesh and break his bones. He did not fear pain. He feared for his woman. He feared she would come and give her life for her father's. He had lain awake each of the last week in cold terror, imagining her in Jeiyce's hands, imagining Jeiyce doing to her all he had done to Vegita in that black pit on Avaris. Imaging her pain if her father's frail old body were torn to pieces before her eyes.
On the seventh day, they came for them at four hours past midday. All of them. The ki-dampers hummed around their necks like angry insects as Horda and half a dozen soldiers drug the four of them up the long curling labyrinth that led out of the dungeons and up to the Maiyosh House ancestral Seat in the tiered, domed-shaped coliseum of the Chamber.
"Keep your mouth shut when we get to the Seat, laddie," Horda muttered softly. "He's proper pissed tonight as it is. Test his temper and he'll hurt you all the worse."
"What had happened?"
They were through the wide doors of the Seat, and the noise, the roar, hit them like a physical blow. It was the sound of tens of thousands of voices cheering, screaming, shouting. The Circus was in full swing.
Jeiyce stood, clad in the crimson and white armor of Maiyosh House, in the center of the circular offices of the Seat. He did not turn to face them as Horda and his men dragged them into the room. Jeiyce was facing the open curtains that separated the office suites from the Balcony Seat. The Maiyosh House balcony Seat that looked down on the Great Circus.
"She's late." Jeiyce's voice was flat, matter-of-fact. "It could be she weighed the danger to the children's safety against your lives and found you wanting. It could be that she'll be here any minute. It could be that she and all the Saiyan cubs in her care are dead somewhere in the depths of space. But there's a more pressing matter right now. Your friends in the freighter are gone. The ship was surrounded by five thousand Red Demon guards. It was held down with a stasis tractor beam that could hold a small moon immobile at full power. And yet, about half an hour ago, the freighter up and disappeared on us. It just wasn't there any more." He turned to face them, moving toward them in an uneven, limping gait. It was the first time Vegita had seen him standing. He smirked nastily. Zarbon of Rashia-sei must have done some damage after all when he shot his Prince off the top of Cho-tal. The next instant, his head exploded in a blinding flash of white as Jeiyce struck him across the cheek with one black-gloved fist. Vegita spat blood, shaking off Horda's supporting grip.
"You are very brave with old men and warriors shackled in ki-dampers," he rasped.
"Are you offering to fight me, boyo?" Jeiyce asked softly. "One on one?"
"Take this collar off my neck, Maiyosh-jin," Vegita snarled. "And I will give you a fight you will not live to remember!"
Jeiyce grinned suddenly, all his good humor suddenly returning. "Maybe I will. But first, we need to coax your freighter back out into the light of day. I'll bet all I own that they are not far away. That they're watching us, trying to see a chance to set the four of you free. Let's see if seeing the four of you out in the arena will motivate them to rematerialize."
"They won't put everyone else in danger just to save us," Briefs told him.
"Probably not," Jeiyce grinned, his eyes full of mad good spirits. "But there's still your lovely daughter to think about. But whether anyone shows or not, I made a public promise to add her family to the Circus if she did not come. And I am a man of my word."
Horda's men shoved them forward, through the curtained arch that led to the Balcony Seat of Maiyosh House. They were thrown into chairs with a guard on either side, ranged along the edge of the Balcony's intricately hand carved railing. They had the best seats in the house. A gasp on his right, the sight of Yamcha's jaw clenched in rage, Krillan taking deep breaths, his eyes averted from what he was seeing below. Vegita only had eyes for Briefs. The old man was clutching at his left arm, just above the elbow joint, and Vegita felt his veins freeze as he remembered a med text he'd read at Bardock's house, something about the symptomology of cardiac arrest.
"Ottousan!" He said urgently.
Briefs met his eyes, shadows of fear and horror dimming the vivid sky blue gaze he had bequeathed to his only child. And he smiled faintly. "You've never called me that before, son. I like the sound of it."
"Horda!" Jeiyce had awkwardly eased his crippled frame into the most prominent, centered chair, another plush, throne-like assault upon carpentry and good taste. "If any one of them looks away from the show in the arena, cut off the right hand of one of the others." He grinned at them like a great, red cat menacing a cowering rodent. "I'm cleaning out the Circus tonight, my friends! I offered my father's old friend Horda a reward of his asking for bringing you to visit me here on Shikaji, and he asked that I put the last of the Saiyans out of their misery. He's a good man, but he has a weak stomach for the finer points of revenge. We've got a three-act show tonight with a grand finale. What you're all seeing is act one. A half dozen small appetizers for the crowd. And for the spear-toothed drackets."
Vegita stared down at the last of the 'appetizers' still left alive in the arena.
He was perhaps seven years old, and fleet of foot. And he would have made a brave, fearless warrior if he had ever had the chance to fight as the gods intended. He must have been in the Circus since Vegita-sei's fall, but he was still fierce-eyed, still clinging to life with all his strength. He could not fly, could not raise his ki to defend himself, but the boy was dodging nimbly from one side of the arena to the other, evading the pack of ten drackets Jeiyce had unleashed there-those drackets who were not too busy dining on the still bodies of the five other Saiyan children they had pulled down to bother stalking the one still left alive.
He lasted two hours before his strength began to wane and his small body began to tire and slow. Then they caught him. And it was over very soon after that. Spear-toothed drackets were far more merciful and kind than Circus crowds. Vegita raised his head, his eyes sweeping the throng around them, whose cheers of joy had escalated to deafening thunder as the drackets tore the boy apart. Behind him, Horda made a soft noise, but Vegita did not turn to look.
The second 'act' was longer. The Madrani techs and Maiyosh-jin soldiers wheeled ten naked, rail thin Saiyan women out into the arena one at a time, and one at a time, the warriors were drawn and quartered with deliberate, slow malice.
"Saiyans can take so much damage and still come back for more," Jeiyce said conversationally. "Most of the crowd here stays year around, but they still rarely see a death. It's not fully satisfying when no one dies. Like pulling out before you come. They're getting their fondest wish tonight."
Vegita did not look at the Red Prince, did not turn his eyes away from the sight of the woman below, the last of the female Saiyans left alive in the Circus. Her arms and legs were already gone, and she was being kicked to death by a crowd of laughing men. "What will you do when they are all dead? Draw lots among yourselves to see who will take their place?"
Jeiyce laughed softly. "Well…I had planned to replace them with fifteen thousand Chikyuu-jin. But your sneaky lot on board the ship cheated me out of that. I know they won't come. Truth to tell, I doubt your sister will show either. She was mad as a hop cat when I saw her last. I'll wager the Saiyans with her put her out of her misery shortly thereafter."
"It is a pity you have no loyal vassals left to do the same for you," Vegita breathed.
He could feel the Red Prince tense beside him, feel Jeiyce's eyes boring into
him. "Maybe so," his enemy said after a long, deadly silence. A soft sound on his right. Briefs had sat silent as stone throughout the first two 'shows', silent tears running down his face. Now, he had broken down completely. Yamcha tried to move out of his chair to go to the old man, but one of the soldiers behind him dealt him a blow that left him bleeding and half conscious. Briefs was clutching his arm again, as though the shooting pangs of his aging heart cringing against the horrors he was witnessing would stop if he clenched his hand hard enough. Vegita slid out of his chair, kneeling before the old man, testing his pulse. Horda made no move to stop him. Jeiyce didn't reprimand his Captain, only watched Vegita stare helplessly into the old man's tear-streaked face in agonized realization that there was nothing he could do to save his woman's father if his heart were indeed failing him.
"It's my arm, not my heart, son," Briefs said, smiling at him kindly through his tears. "One of the soldiers grabbed it too hard when they sat us down and I think he broke it."
Vegita felt a rush of mad, relived laughter well up inside him, and smiled back. "That is…not good. But it is better than the other."
"They killed your wife," Jeiyce said quietly. "They stole your daughter, old man, and gave her to a beast as his whore. They burned down your whole world. How can you cry for them?"
"My wife would have cried for them," Briefs said, his voice just as soft. "My daughter was enslaved by them and still found it in her heart to love them. How can I do less?"
"Jula-chan would have wept for the children today if she were here, my Prince," Horda said in a whisper.
The Red Prince's face went bloodless and immobile. He stared at Horda, his features drawn so taut with emotion he looked, for a brief moment, like a living
skull. "If you were not her father, I would kill you this instant, old fool," he hissed.
"We have won, Jeiyce-kun," Horda said, his voice shaking. "The enemy is dead and we are free. You do not have to kill these people."
Jeiyce took a deep, unsteady breath. "Take the Chikyuu-jin down to the arena, Horda. Do it now, or I will do it myself!"
Horda turned mechanically and pushed Vegita to his feet, toward the edge of the Seat. Then they were over the ledge, the captain bearing him down into the center of the great arena. The crowd seemed larger from here, ranged upward over the graduated tiers of the Chamber. And they were baying for blood. Behind him, Yamcha had begun to curse. Vegita whipped around and saw the reason why. They were surrounded by a ring of forty or fifty filthy skeletons. Their hair was matted with blood and filth, their eyes were wild and no longer the eyes of thinking men. They were the last Saiyans left alive in the Great Circus.
"Citizens!" Jeiyce's voice boomed out over the audio feed, and the crown roared in adulation. "We have a special treat tonight. The four men you see joining the Circus this evening are all kinsman of Bulma of Chikyuu, the Saiyan no Ojo herself!" The mob howled like blood man Oozaru. "Now, the game is simple. The Saiyan beasts have been informed that if they can manage to kill the old man-that's Trunks Briefs, citizens, Bulma of Chikyuu's father-then they will be allowed to die tonight. The Saiyan animals have no fighting power, and thanks to the Tsiru-jin ki-dampers they're wearing, neither do the Chikyuu-jin. Everyone in the mix has only their own physical strength and fighting skills to help him out.
Vegita and the two Chikyuu-jin senshi had formed a triangular gauntlet around Briefs without a word of discussion. "Do not hesitate to land a killing blow," Vegita told them. "You are doing them a kindness."
"Most of them look like teenagers," Yamcha said tensely, as the Saiyans began to circle them slowly.
"Killing blow?" Krillan said shakily.
"You have never killed before?" Vegita said incredulously, beginning to curse under his breath.
"We've spent our lives trying to save people, not kill them!" Yamcha snapped harshly. The ring of warriors was tightening around them.
My soldiers, Vegita thought, staring into the gaunt mad faces of their opponents. My people, my brothers, my-
He struck with a howl of rage, a thousand screaming images of Avaris, of Jeiyce's mocking laughter, of all the torments he knew these pitiful creatures who had once been warriors, proud and strong, had suffered. He knew that madness, that place beyond the breaking point of will and strength, and the fury inside him seemed to blaze up from the well of his being, burning a new thrumming channel from his soul to the physical plane like lava scoring molten rivers through solid stone. He was moving in a blur of red-hazed motion and death, smelling the sizzling crackle of the hateful white Tsiru-jin collar around his neck as his ki rose up like a living thing taking flight, pouring through every nerve and synapse. He tore through them in a whirling fiery storm, each blow falling hard and true, a swift merciful deathstroke.
My warriors, my brave soldiers…I will save you all the only way I may! Die like men, in battle, and rest!
The last one fell with a sighing rasp of peace. Vegita had one brief second to see that Krillan and Yamcha were still standing in a protective flank on either side of Briefs. He had moved so fast, killed them all so quickly, neither Chikyuu-jin had
had time to join him. And Briefs was still miraculously untouched. Then the hammer of the ki-dampers struck them all again and they slumped to their knees.
Vegita scanned the edge of the arena for the pinched-face Madrani tech who held the controller to their collars. There he was, standing beside Horda. Vegita pushed again with a cry of rage and tore power undrained as yet by the collar's cold suction up from that deep, deep place of need in the well of his soul. He drew up another blast of power and hurled it into the heart of the sneering Madrani tech, who had been bleeding them dry with his remote controller as he began moving toward them across the arena, walking out brazenly ahead of Horda and his guards. The tech fell like a lightening blasted tree, and Vegita shot forward, his hand outstretched for the controller, feeling the burning sting of frying circuitry as his ki shot higher still. Too high for the infernal device to dampen or leash.
A boot connected with his head and he flew backward, spinning back toward the center of the ring where Yamcha and Krillan were lying paralyzed by their own collars beside Briefs. Jeicye was on him in a second, grinning hatefully as he caught Vegita's fists in each hand, forcing him down, forcing Vegita to his knees. He snarled in defiant rage, eye to eye with his greatest enemy…and it was all he could do. All that he had regained in this new burst of power, of need, was only a fraction of what he had lost. Jeiyce pushed him down to land on the dusty stone arena floor beside Briefs. Not enough, Vegita thought, as he glanced up at Bulma's father in raging despair. He had done the impossible, and it was still not enough.
"Your race is more dangerous than I thought if your ki can exceed its previous limits under duress the way you did just now," Jeiyce was smiling, limping toward them with sure deadly purpose. "Let's see if you can do that again, laddie. Maybe you'll even get your wish to fight me full out." He raised his open palm to Vegita, death and power gathering on the edges of his fingertips. "I'll bet you could even burst that ki-damper off your neck if I shot your father."
There was no decision to make, no other road open to him. Vegita threw himself forward, into the on-rushing ball of energy. He felt the bolt slam into his chest, felt the burning, the deep mortal blow of his heart's blood boiling in his breast, the greater part of his lungs searing together under his shattered breastbone. Someone was holding him, propping him up.
"Stupid boy," Jeicye said from somewhere far away.
"Oh no…" Briefs voice, so full of wrenching grief. Grief for him?
"Hang on, buddy," Krillan was saying urgently. "Stay with us!"
Cheering everywhere, the crowd celebrating the Red Prince's victory over a man wearing a ki shackling collar. And he had achieved nothing, Vegita thought bitterly, wheezing in a burning gasp of air. Jeiyce would kill Bulma's father now, just the same.
There came a screaming, tearing thunder of twisting metal, of breaking mortar and stone. Something, a huge and monstrous shadow, loomed over them, blocking out the light. The Chamber's domed ceiling…Vegita squinted upward, unsure of what he was seeing. The half-shell roof was rising up off the main structural frame of the coliseum, as though it had been torn off by giant powerful hands.
Vegita blinked again, hearing the gasps of the legions of Circus-goers turn to screams of terror. And he began to laugh weakly. The roof of the Chamber had been torn off by giant hands!
Two, then ten, then fifty giant, monstrous, glorious hulking forms set down on the arena floor around them. The thundering crash of their great feet striking the ground was like the shouting laughter of the gods of war.
"I told him," Briefs murmured in his ear. "Be careful what you wish for…"
Ki-killers were flashing everywhere, blasting the Oozaru in desperate, repetitive
hysteria. All the blasts bounced harmlessly off the immobile giants who stood in a shielding circle around them, almost as though at attention. Of course, she would have developed a shield against the ki-killers. She would have-
Jeiyce burst through the ring of Oozaru, shouting, howling in fear and rage. "Bitch! You bloody bitch from hell!"
The blue light of a ki-killer shot out from the palm of the foremost Oozaru, felling the Red Prince, dropping him like a stone. Horda flashed upwards out of nowhere, catching his prince, lowering him gently to the ground less than ten meters from where Briefs and the others knelt around Vegita.
The first Oozaru leaned down slowly, cupping something small and delicate in his huge hand, setting his precious burden down with incongruous gentleness.
"No killing, Bardock," his woman said sternly to the huge snarling figure hovering behind her like a mountainous guard dog.
Bulma stepped forward, moving slowly, inexorably, toward the Red Prince's prone, trembling body. Horda leveled a volley of power at her. A blue, shimmering shield flared to life around her, diffusing the killing blast harmlessly. Bardock roared, hefting the Maiyosh-jin captain up by one foot and shaking him like a rag doll. Every Oozaru in the arena screamed in rage, but Bulma raised one slim hand and silenced them all.
"I said no killing." She turned her gaze back to Jeiyce. Bardock obediently dropped Horda in an ungracious heap and the Maiyosh-jin immediately scrambled back to throw himself over the body of his prince.
"Ojo-sama," he said hoarsely. "Have mercy! He-I have know him all his life. He was a good man once."
"I know," she said softly, regarding Jeiyce with neither hate nor anger, though he would have slain her father and the last of her people out of nothing more than malicious spite. But her gaze held only pity. She knelt down beside her enemy and smoothed the sweat-soaked, pale locks from his eyes. "His hate dragon grew and grew until it ate his whole soul." She sighed sadly. "I'm sorry, Jeiyce. I'm sorry I can't make you understand that it's not too late to turn back, even now. I'm sorry I can't help you." She raised her eyes to meet Horda's. "You're Horda-san, second chancellor of Corsaris. Your daughter was Jula of Maiyosh House, wasn't she?"
"Yes," the man croaked.
"Take care of your son-in-law," she said. "There's still hope for him. As long as he's alive, there's hope he can recover."
"I will care for him as long as I live, Lady," Horda said softly.
"…kill me, Lady," Jeiyce rasped., trying to wrench away from his father-in-law's gentle embrace, trying to shake off the crippling tremors of the ki-killer and attack.
"No," she said implacably. "I'm taking my father and my friends and my people, and I'm leaving."
"I will find you!" He hissed. "…kill you all!"
"No," she said again. "I've erected a stalemate shield around this world. It's generator is self shielded, and it is sunk into the heart of Shikaji's sun. When we leave, you'll all be trapped on this world forever. You and all the Circus fans." She raised her luminous blue eyes and swept the panicking crowd in the tiered Seats with a sad, mournful gaze. "I wish you all joy in each other."
Then she turned her back on them and she saw her father for the first time, leaving her weeping, cursing enemy behind her without a backward look. She fell into the old man's arms, weeping and laughing at once.
"Poppa!" She sobbed. Her voice was like a joyous cry of all her life's hurts healed. "Poppa!"
The old man was weeping as well, though not with happiness. "Oh, honey…Bulma-chan! He's been shot. He took the blast meant for me!"
"Who…" Her soft hand on his cheek, like a sweet memory of bliss.
"Take…holo…" He tried to say. He could feel his life pouring out through the wound in his breast. There was not enough time left.
Briefs gently removed the holo-band from his wrist, and the disguise of light, color and shadow winked out and was gone. She stared down at him, not moving, like a woman frozen in time. Then she seemed to see him all at once, and she fell forward with a low cry, covering his face with kisses, her tears washing the grime from his cheeks.
"Vegita!" She whispered. "How…?"
"Rikkuum…saved." He pushed forward tentatively into the bond, as she received him with a cry of joy and mingled grief. The wound…she had finally taken it in and seen it for what it was. Mortal. There was no time left to say all that he wished. There was no time left at all.
I do! She sobbed. I did a long time ago. Oh gods, Vegita, no! It's not fair!
It is just, he said gently. The world had shrunk to the sight of her beautiful, weeping face. Her lips were against his, soft as a feather's caress. It was a thousand times more than he had hoped for or dreamed possible. It was more than worth dying for.
"I love you," he said. The best words that had ever passed his unworthy lips. And the last.
"I love you, Vegita!" She said softly. "And…and I will see you again."
It is good, he thought, smiling up at her. The warm blanket of death wrapped him in its embrace.
Sunlight, warm and gold, filtered with the tiniest tint of emerald, streamed into his eyes. He blinked and stretched on the down-stuffed pallet bed beneath him. The small, warm weight sitting straddled across his chest shifted impatiently. He finally managed to focus his sluggish eyes and frowned up curiously at the little figure sitting astride his chest.
"Wake up!" Said the tiny boy, glowering down at him imperiously. "You've slept a whole day and night!"
Vegita studied the child in utter fascination. A broad smirk began to slide across his face. Bulma's blue eyes, old Briefs' lavender hair, and…and the rest was utterly, indisputably, Vegita. A cold spike of horror shot through him. He sat up, tucking the boy under one arm. "I died. I think I died. How is it that you are here, boy? Did-did you-?"
"No, you were dead as a doornail," the boy said. "Dende-sama wished you back."
Vegita digested that for a moment. The mystic folk of Namek-sei…Could they really undo death as legends said? He shook these questions away with a mental shrug. He would have them answered soon, he was sure. But now, he gazed upon the small, wondrous creature in his arms, watching the boy's impatience grow, watching how the child's brow furrowed in the same way his own did when he was at a loss as to what to say next.
"Aren't you going to ask me who I am?" The boy said eagerly.
"Who are you?" Vegita asked obediently, though he already knew. He would have known this cub in a crowd of a hundred thousand brats.
"I'm Trunks-sama," the boy said proudly. "Saiyan no Ou."
"Not yet, boy," Vegita said with a soft, growling chuckle.
"Oh-I mean, 'Saiyan no Ouji.'" Trunks appeared suitably chagrined. "I'm used to you being dead…Poppa."
Vegita grinned slowly, watching his son's face light up light a beacon in reaction to his smile.
"Poppa's okay, then?" Trunks asked happily. Vegita nodded slowly. "Jissan Bardock said I should call you 'Ottoussama', but Nissan get to call him Poppa, so I thought I could call you Poppa, too."
Vegita touched his chest, whole and scarless. His body was fit and strong. There was no sign or memory of the wound that had taken his life. A small hand touched his face lightly, shyly.
"I look just like you," Trunks said simply.
"Yes," Vegita replied. "Where is your mother? Where is Romayn? Where…"
"Nissan took the dogs outside to go poo," Trunks said. "He was waiting here with me for you to wake up. He just left a minute ago." The boy yawned hugely. "You took too long to wake up, Poppa…" His son was falling asleep in his arms. The small arms were looped around his neck with so much effortless trust Vegita felt his heart contract, a chill of protective dread for this son he had just met. Did the boy know that every world in the known galaxy would kill him for the sin of bearing Saiyan blood? He skimmed the edges of the boy's ki. Gods…the cub was strong.
He felt the foolish smirk return. Vegita stood perfectly still, feeling the gentle rise and fall of the boy's breath, a steady soft rhythm against his chest. What had his woman said? He's going to be beautiful…all the good in you and me and none of the bad. He lay his son's sleeping body on the floor bed, slowly, regretfully. There would be time to know his son. Trunks. A good name.
He was wearing only a pair of soft cloth breeches. He found a shirt of similar material lying tossed across the back of a chair near the door of the stone, windowless bedroom and pulled it on. He pushed his way through the canvas door drape and emerged into the warm afternoon sun.
He was standing on a precipice, a high craggy promontory that looked down on a sea of deep green grasslands, stretching out to the eastern horizon. The bones of the mountain beneath his feet felt strong, like the icy heights of the northern crags on Vegita-sei, the bleak, hard mountains that had strengthened the blood of his fathers, the ancient Northern Tribes. But this was not Vegita-sei.
The chimes of a thousand, of tens of thousands of individual ki bursts, sang inside his mind, far across the endless moorlands. They were distant, but God of gods, they were there! And they were many. The children from Med Center were alive and strong.
A duet of happy woofs, having scented his presence in the only way their kind seemed to retain thought and memory, and he turned from the cliff's edge to see the dogs tearing down a stone-carved stairway at breakneck speed. He had an instant to take in the intricately hewn hive of dwelling entrances, all polished and tooled to the smoothness of marble, all born into the side of the mountain that rose up behind him. A city chiseled out of the mountain's sheer cliffside.
Then both slobbering beasts slammed into his side in drooling, yipping hysterics of canine joy. "Foolish, worthless, mindless animals!" He growled softly with a wide grin. "Have you conquered the hop cats and rodents on this new world? Do they all bow down before you?" The beast answered him as best they could. He fingered a band around Yaro's neck, a collar of some kind that hummed with the current of a built mechanism. He frowned, thinking of ki-dampers. "Who had collared you, dog?"
"It's an anti-grav collar." He had not noticed the boy touch down beside him. Romayn would grow, Vegita decided, studying the changes of four years growth in the boy, to be a mirrored copy of his father. "Sometimes when I fly, they jump off the cliff after me. The collars activate if they do that, and they float instead of fall." The boy swallowed hard, smiled, and took a step toward him. "Hi, Vegita."
"You said my name correctly," Vegita said stupidly. And some foolish, inexplicable part of him mourned the fact that he would never hear the word 'Edeeta' again. Romayn was six years old now. A warrior grown. "It is good to see you, boy."
All Romayn's odd shyness dissipated in an instant and Vegita…he did not tense or frown, or draw back, as the boy shot forward and flung both arms around his middle in a fierce, happy embrace. "I missed you!" Romayn said. "I missed you so much!"
Vegita tilted the boy's head back from where it was buried against his stomach, drawing one hand through Romayn's star-spiked mane of tousled hair. "I am here. I live. But I do not understand how."
"We used the dragonballs," Romayn said quietly. "Dende is Namek-sei's new god, and he's really young, not much older than me. These are the first dragonballs he's ever made, so we can't use 'em again for a hundred years. But Dende said the Ojjiisan told him we're going to need you."
Vegita studied him, chilled despite the warm sun on his back. "For what?"
"Something's coming," Romayn said softly. "Something so bad it'll kill everything everywhere if we don't stop it." His eyes had gone distant and strange, the eyes of a soul that had crossed through the veil of life and death and returned with the memory of his journey. "It won't be for a long time. They'll tell us when it's time. Until then, we have to get strong." He seemed to shake off the fey strangeness, and he gestured to the horizon, across the eastern moors. "All the babies are there. They live with Nail-san and the other Nameksei-jin warrior priests. But some of the youngest kids have already moved in with some of the Chikyuu-jin who joined the Madrani settlement across the inland sea. A lot of them lost their little boys and girls when Poppa came to Chikyuu, so they're happy to have kids. Nail-san's warriors are teaching the bigger kids how to meditate and be nice and stuff." He gestured vaguely at the mountain city behind them, below them, above them. "This is where all the girls from Articha-san and Turna-san's ships live. They found us with Momma's sensor buoys about a year after we left Vegita-sei. A lot of them are kind of mean, so they don't live with the Nameks or the Madrani. Poppa and Jisan Toma and Articha-san and all the other grown-up Saiyans put them in barracks units and squads 'cause that's what they're used to. Momma said they have to go 'one step at a time'. Poppa says the older girls need a 'hard hand', cause they grew up Saiyan. That means Articha-san or somebody hit them if they try to eat a little Namek kid like one girl did last month. Vegita, why do girls always kick you in the balls when you spar with them and then laugh about it?"
"I do not know," Vegita grinned. "I suppose it is because it is our weakness and not theirs."
"Huh," Romayn said. The word was so much a perfect echo of Bulma's manner Vegita felt his chest tighten. "I have to go," the boy said. A quick, hard embrace and Romayn stepped back again. He took a leash he had hung from his belt and snapped it to the clasp of each dog's collar, speaking as he did so. "I'm going to go play with Krillan and Yamcha at the Chikyuu settlement. They were really surprised to see me. Krillan-kun fainted. I have to go there, cause they won't come here. They still don't like Poppa much. And I know you want to see Momma alone." He paused, staring up at Vegita's suddenly blank face. "She's up on top." He pointed straight up the side of the mountain behind them. Romayn punched a tiny control on the dogs' collars and both animals began to float upward like wobbly barking balloons. "Let's go, boys!" Romayn launched into the sky, pulling the hovering dogs with him by the leash, spinning back in the air the face Vegita.
"Tell Momma I'll be back for dinner. Oh, and Vegita? There's this girl at the Chikyuu settlement named Videl-chan who says you better not forget your promise. She hits really hard for a Chikyuu girl." And the boy sped away over the receding carpet of green, barking dogs in tow. Vegita watched him go silently.
He wondered vaguely if some mismanagement of Judgment had landed him in the land of the good dead, where all hurts were healed, all wrongs righted. His people, alive and growing strong. Alive and growing…different. Into a breed that would not savage a beautiful thing to possess it. Into a people who would see the worth in a man such as Briefs or Scopa. His son…his sons, growing strong and happy. His woman…
He clutched at the data disc, still bound in its leather pouch around his neck like a totem of courage. He bunkered the door of his mind, blocking the already vibrating threads of the link between them so as not to…to violate her thoughts. She was a closed door to him again, her mind and heart walled to him once more. The barrier was not cold, it was not encompassed by a swirl of madness, hate and pain as it had been when she left him on Vegita-sei. But it was there.
He steeled his mind and soul as best he could, and rose upward, drawing on his power with so little effort it only occurred to him when he was in the air that he had drawn it out of that dead place in his head, the old familiar channel of power his ki had coursed through since infancy. His fighting power, the full measure of the Legendary's strength, had been somehow restored to him with his life.
That is good, he thought absently as he rose higher, past the arched doorways of the Saiyan city. He wheeled around the side of the rocky crag and saw that this peak was first of a great range of stony, jutting, blade-like mountains that spread out toward the west. Each mount was carved out as this one, ornate cave dwellings for the wildest, hardest survivors of the fall of Vegita-sei. In the distant west, he caught thousands of flickers of incandescent ki bursts. Bardock and Articha running the young girls through their training regimens. He reached the summit of the first mountain and swept down onto the flat mesa top. His bare feet touched down on soft grass and Chikyuu-jin sweet clover.
There she was.
Seated on a wooden deck of gold-hued wood, amidst a rainbow garden of Chikyuu-jin flowers, she watched him land, watched him stop before her, a man in solemn contemplation of his fate, standing before his judge and jury. The sight of her beautiful face, smiling, happy and well, was a death knell to all his selfish hopes. He would not mar that look of sweet happiness to be near her. He must leave and soon. He knelt without a word, drowning in the blue of her eyes. Her face was perfect and serene, as he had imagined it, dreamed it. His hand strayed to the talisman around his neck and pulled it free of its tie, unwrapping the soft cho-deer skin pouch that held it safe. Slowly, he took her hand in his and lay the disc in her palm.
"It is the receptacle half of your journal," he said.
"I…I thought I'd put it in the capsules I stored with Scopa's personal things," she said softly. She raised her eyes to his and paled as she studied his face. "You listened to it all?"
"Vegita…" He was already making her frown, already causing those glorious eyes to brim with tears. Gods, he must leave her and soon.
"Jeiyce broke me first," he whispered. "And I became a different man. I broke open again the day my world died, when I thought you and Romayn and the last of my kind were about to be slain in Med Center. Your journal…it was the third breaking. And again, I changed. Too late to save you from all that you wrote and spoke. Too late to take any of it back." He lay his open palms flat on the wooden deck beneath them and bent forward, bowing his face down before her. "I will go now. I only meant to bring your father to you. Tell me what to do, Lady. Where to go. I will live and die at your command."
Soft hands raised him up, fragile, silken arms pulled him against her body in a trembling fierce embrace. She was shaking, weeping and smiling at the same time. He brushed away the tears from her face as she held him. Another ladle into the ocean of tears she had shed because of him.
"Kami, Vegita," she said in soft exasperation. "Why does it always have to be all or nothing with you Saiyans?"
"I cannot stay," he said hoarsely. "In your journal…Bulma, it was loving me that drove you mad in the end. I love you. It would not be love you if I chose to be near you at the risk of your sanity!"
She was silent, the deep blue of her gaze too bright. She was still crying, though not from grief, not from pain. She opened her free hand and pressed a second disc into his shaking fingers. "It's my new diary. I was just making an entry when you arrived. I began it when Trunks was born."
"His birth…it was what brought you back?"
"Not exactly," she smiled. "He's beautiful, isn't he?"
"Yes." He lowered his head. "I will be a father to him if you give me leave, Bulma. I know I have no right to him-"
She silenced him with gentle fingers against his lips. "Hush," she said softly. "I want you to hear the first entry of my second diary. Then…we'll talk. Okay?"
He nodded silently. He touched the audio on the little mechanism. It was recorder and data in one construct.
It's been a long time, I know. I…I finally took my vacation. Heh. Not the kind I had pictured, but I feel…I feel much better. No. I feel good.
I wasn't comatose while I was away. I was…I can't describe where I was, not really. There aren't any mortal words that would do it justice.
It seemed, at first, like I was at one of Momma's cookout parties, the ones she'd always throw for Son-kun and the rest of my friends when they all came and crashed at Capsule Corp. I walked through the door into the back compound where the orchard and gardens are and Momma ran to me and hugged me, laughing, leading me by the hand into the midst of all the people gathered there. It seemed like it was morning and it seemed like it was evening, both at the same time. And the day…the day lasted forever. I know there were people around me, talking, hugging me, telling me how good it was to see me, and all of them were people I knew. People I had loved so dearly, and missed so much.
I remember playing chess with Scopa. I remember Momma smiling as she set Karot-chan in my arms and told me he was too big for an old lady to carry around for long. I held him, covering his face in kisses, until he squalled to be let down and play with Rom-kun. He was older, both he and Rom-kun. They both seemed to be about four or five years old, and they play fought and tore back and forth across the garden like little comets. Dusca played with them when she could be pulled away from her dolls, but they categorically refused to join her at a tea party. There was only one other child there that day. He looked like he was the same age as Rom-kun and Karot-chan, but he never spoke, and seemed to be terribly shy, blushing to the roots of his lavender hair whenever I spoke to him. But he watched me everywhere I went with huge, intent blue eyes, hanging back unless Rom-kun pulled him by the hand forward to let himself be hugged. There was something so familiar about him it raised the hair on the back of my neck. He was beautiful, as beautiful as my sons.
Rom-kun sort of came and went. I'm sure he wasn't always there, and I think I realized how he had come to this place of the always summer garden party at Momma and Poppa's when he just faded away in front of me, yawning hugely, saying drowsily, "Stop shaking me, Poppa!" as he turned to insubstantial smoke. He was dreaming himself here.
Sometimes I was a little girl, as small as Rom-kun and Karot-chan, and we played together, every sort of game imaginable. At one point, deep in conversation with Scopa over some subject I can't even remember, I asked about Zarbon. Scopa only smiled and said he'd be along soon. Nachti and Noira said the same of Hiru. "He'll be here soon." I turned to Momma, who handed me another tall glass of lemonade and asked where Poppa was.
She laughed and said, "That old silly! He's late, as usual." She said much the same about Yamcha and Krillan.
Vegita wasn't there. I was afraid to ask where he was, but Scopa caught the thought I never uttered and reached out, taking my suddenly trembling hand in his.
"You'll see him soon," he said with absolute certainty. He stood and hugged me, as though he were about to leave.
"How soon?" I asked. "When?" And…what would I say if we met? What would I do? There was no hate in this summer land, no guilt for either of us, no blame, no memory of pain. We could love each other here, and be happy.
"A day or a hundred years," Scopa smiled. "It's all soon." He kissed me and then he was just…gone.
"No!" I said sharply. The sound of my voice, raised in alarm, was a sharp note o discord to everything around me suddenly. And I was…fading. Becoming more insubstantial with each passing second. Though maybe I always had been. The whole things sounds dreamlike when I listen to myself trying to tell how it was, what it was like, but it was more real, more solid, than anything I'd ever seen. "I don't want to go!" I said, beginning to cry. "I don't want to go back!"
"Sweetie, don't be upset," Momma told me, tucking me into my own bed, after everyone had said goodbye to me, one by one. "It's not as though you won't ever see us again." She kissed me and took Karot-chan from my arms.
"My baby," I said softly, drowsily. "I missed you so much." And they were gone.
Poppa was sitting on the edge of my bed now, where Momma had been.
"I'm not leaving," I said stubbornly. I was suddenly very small, very young. No older than Rom-kun.
"What about Rom-kun?" Poppa asked gently. "What about all the other children? Who's going to take care of them, Bulma-chan?"
I frowned furiously, not answering. I knew I wasn't going to leave Rom-kun and Baby Trunks motherless, but I was angry just the same. "Why did I have to come here, just to go back?!" I asked harshly. Now, I was a teenager, arguing with Poppa because he wouldn't give me what I wanted when I wanted it. "It's…it's going to make going back hurt more, knowing what I'm leaving behind!"
"It will hurt less," Poppa said. Behind him, Rom-kun was peeking in the bedroom door and edging across the room. He was tugging the lavender-haired boy by one hand behind him. "It's one thing to know intellectually that life is fleeting," Poppa went on gently. "That there is a state of bliss beyond the end of a good life where all pain is washed away, where you are reunited with all the loved ones you have lost. But it is another thing altogether to have been to that better place, to have held your lost son and mother once more and know that they are happy and awaiting your return. Is it not?"
"Yes," I said in a small voice. He was right. All the pain, all the evils I have suffered, all the horrors I had witnessed…they didn't hurt now. The wounds were closed and healed, because they were only fleeting pains of the mortal world after all. And as I looked into Poppa's eyes, and saw the faces of all those who had hurt me through the perfect Truth of his perception, I saw that they were so sad, so pitiful, so lost, because they didn't understand. They didn't know any better.
All of them except Vegita.
He had begun to understand, to learn a better way. And…and I had killed him. I had destroyed him first, crushed his heart, his hope, his everything. Then I had left him to die. I began crying and Poppa held me. "Where is he?!" I sobbed. "Is he in Hell?"
"No," said Poppa, brushing the tears from my face. "And you have my promise that you will see him again. Though what you do when you meet again is your choice."
"It's time to go, Momma," Rom-kun said. He climbed onto the bed and took my hand. The other little boy hung back, still shy. Poppa lifted him and set him in my arms. The little boy smiled up at me, eyes blue as my own, happy simply to be held by me, and I felt a rush of recognition and absolute love flow through me. "My baby," I whispered.
Poppa kissed my forehead. "Time to go. Remember what you saw and understood here, daughter. It will help you see the best path to chose and give you the strength to do what you must."
I stared up at him and smiled. "You're not really my father, are you?"
And he smiled back. "I'm everyone's father, Bulma-chan."
With Rom-kun still holding my hand. With Bardock and Nail kneeling beside me. With the warm, sweet weight of my new baby heavy in my arms.
They made me lay down. I wasn't tired, but I let them put me to bed anyway. I have Baby Trunks here with me in one arm, and Rom-kun curled up beside me.
I'm going to end this diary now. I'll start a new one. One that begins with the first day of Trunks' life. A diary full of happy memories. I don't know where we are or what will happen tomorrow, but right now, I am happy.
I am so happy!
She finally spoke into the silence that followed. "I would have been lost, broken beyond repair, Vegita. If I hadn't been taken to that better place. But I kissed my Momma again. I talked with Scopa. I held my Karot-chan in my arms again. And when I woke…I found that I'd brought a piece of that summer land back with me. Or maybe I just understand everything better now. More than people who've only seen the mortal world. That death is an illusion. That evil is illness, a misunderstanding of what is real and what matters. I came back healed, Vegita. More than that…I came back without hate, and all the pain I knew on Vegita-sei is like a dream now. So…so, I want you to stay. I want you near. And…and then we'll see." She lay her hand against his cheek and he turned his face and kissed the inside of her palm, his entire body shaking. He took her in his arms and kissed her, slowly, savoring her as though she might fade into smoke at any second. This could not be real.
But she was real and she was well and she was near. Whatever came next, whether they would be friends or lovers, he would abide by her decision and thank the gods for every breath he breathed in her presence. But now she was regarding him curiously as he held her close. He waited to see what she would say. "You are so different," she said. "As different as when you woke in Bardock's house."
He studied her. "You have changed as well. We…we are almost strangers to each other now. I think we will have to come to know each other again."
And she smiled like the sun dawning on a new day. "I'd like that."
If all of the strength
And all of the courage
Come and lift me from this place,
I know I can love you much better than this.
Full of grace,