Disclaimer: I don't own them, but this is my story…

It's been a while. Enjoy, and don't break a tooth…

Space Station Z

Chapter Ten

By RM aka FatherMcRoury

Four pods lined the launch on docking bay nine. They were small and round, serving the purpose of a one-passenger vessel, and for the most part, they were white. Each pod had a single, round window built into the hatch and each one had a simple colored emblem identifying the passenger's unit within Freiza's army. To the casual observer all four pods were identical, scorch marks and dings notwithstanding. But to the practiced eye, or one who knew exactly what to look for, one pod stood out from the rest.

It was slightly smaller than the others but only by about a quarter of an inch in diameter. It had more dings and dents than the others and the signifying emblem was faded and cracked, mostly due to heat damage. Of course, the biggest difference between this pod and the others was found on the inside.

The hatch stood open on the pod in question, two booted feet resting on the inside rim as the muted sounds of metallic scraping came every now and then from the inside. It wasn't long before the sounds ceased, then a heavy sigh and a hand, three fingertips wrapped in white tape, grabbed the edge of the opening to pull a rather perplexed Kakarott through.

Throwing a screwdriver onto the concrete with a loud clang, he reached to rub the back of his neck while he straightened up, cracking his back. He yawned, looking extremely tired and there was absolutely no trace of the usual ever-present smile.

Last night had not gone well. His plan of coming clean to an impartial third party had drastically changed when he finally managed to get her alone. She immediately took charge of the conversation, asking him all sorts of strange questions that hadn't made much sense. Admittedly, the first two questions had been easy enough, 'how old are you?' and 'do you have any children?' But after that, the degree of difficulty became increasingly harder. It was only after her barrage had ceased that she picked up on his distress, and it was that particular piece of the conversation that he was having problems letting go.

"There's something on your mind," Chi Chi stated more than asked as she moved in closer. "I can tell."

"Yeah," he responded, his admission sounding dull, melancholy and somewhat forced.

"Cheer up!" She commanded with a bright smile and a slight pat on the shoulder before he could continue. "It can't be that bad. I mean, it's not like you killed someone."

"…Not like you killed someone," Kakarott mumbled with a simple frown as the scene once again replayed itself in his head. At first he was shocked that she had been dead on target with what sounded like a flippant remark. Then he realized he couldn't tell her she was dead on because it WAS a flippant remark.

Settling into the pod's small pilot seat, Kakarott reached down to depress a tiny button underneath, readjusting the seat position to a sixty-degree forward incline. Three panel covers were bolted fast in the now accessible floor of the pod, but it wouldn't take long for him to open them up and make a few adjustments. He very much doubted that he was

being missed back at the apartments, and even if they were looking for him, this was probably the last place they would come looking for him. He was glad of that for a few reasons, since it afforded him enough time to get what he needed to get done. His chores

now mostly revolved around getting the nifty extras dismantled and out of the pod before someone found out his dirty little secret.

This was Freiza's pod.

He had no choice but to take it. After the fight, and after the unbelievable truth of Freiza's death, much of the planet's surface had been marred, almost beyond recognition. Much of what was had been destroyed, and that included Kakarott's own means of intergalactic transportation. Of course, there was nothing to be done about it now, other than to try to hide the obvious. The damage on the outside of the pod had seen to that; it was the work he was attempting to do on it now that would make the rest of his problem that much easier.

"Hello?" He heard a very cheerful someone hail from the platform.

Startled by the prospect of getting caught red-handed, Kakarott initially panicked, slamming his head into the unyielding steel curve of the upper hatch rim.

"Shit!" He heard himself swearing in Saiyan before he could stop himself.

"Are you OK?" He heard the newcomer ask this time.

Kakarott relaxed as he winced at the young lady standing next to the pod, watching him with a genuinely concerned wince of her own.

"Uh…sorry," he apologized a bit sheepishly as he scratched the back of his head. He was a bit embarrassed to have been caught swearing recreationally, an activity he honestly didn't participate in much, mostly because he never had cause to.

"For what?" She asked this time, not really sure what he was apologizing for.

"Can I help you with something?" He found himself asking, wiping his hands on a now dirty rag and taking in the newcomer's appearance at the same time. She had an elegant countenance, wearing a very frilly, yellow gown and each wrist encircled by several gold bracelets. In contrast, she wore her hair down, her dark bluish strands held back by a yellow headband with pink embroidered flowers that complemented the dress.

"Just out for a walk," Princess Ranchi responded, rocking up on the balls of her feet as she looked around at the parts and pieces scattered about the pod.

He simply nodded in response, still wiping his hands. She seemed pretty friendly, and despite his mood, Kakarott found that he actually liked the brief interruption.

"You look like someone just killed your best friend," she smiled, eyes squinting as she clasped her dainty hands together in front of her.

"Well, he wasn't exactly what you'd call a friend," Kakarott mumbled, glancing down at his hands and the rag they were wringing.

"What's this?" She asked, picking up a tiny, black, metal box. She didn't seem to be paying too much attention to anything in particular, and she certainly gave no indication that she had caught his grumbled comment.

"Uh…" he began, standing to his full height and scratching the back of his head uncertainly. "It's a component."

"A component? For what?"

"My ship," he replied this time without as much hesitation, but with enough uncertainty to make it sound more like a question.

"I know that," she stated again with a giggle, nudging him in the stomach with her elbow. "But what does it do?"

"It's a tracking system," he answered, this time with a smile. He was proud of the fact that he knew what it was. He was equally pleased that he knew a few things about mechanics.

She turned the box over in her hands several times before handing it back to him with yet another pleasant smile.

"Is what you're working on difficult?" She asked.

"No, it's not terribly hard," he explained a bit dejectedly, "otherwise I wouldn't be able to do it."

"Do you need any help?" She asked hopefully.

"Well, I think I could probably…" he began as he finally looked down at her face and the now ebbing smile, both of them knowing that his statement was the beginning of a reply that ended with 'do it myself.'

Princess Ranchi sighed, looking down at the floor again as she began to turn away.

"…Could probably do with some help," he finally finished with a smile of his own this time. He knew all too well what it was like to be left out and to not feel useful. He knew what it felt like to feel unwanted and looked down upon, even among people he knew he had surpassed in strength. She had no idea what he was really up to, and the tracking system had already been dismantled before he left Yardrat. All that remained now was the removal of the actual hardware. As far as Kakarott was concerned, she certainly posed no threat. And besides, he thought as he looked down at his taped fingers, she might come in handy if he electrocuted himself again.

"Where do I get started!" She practically squealed, clasping her hands together with a metallic clamor.

"Well," he started, taking in her appearance once again. "You may want to take off that hardware," he indicated her heavy bracelets, "just in case we hit a live one."

Plans were best kept simple. It was a fundamental rule for anyone who knew anything about making plans, and over the years Piccolo had made several. He had always been a concise and very thoughtful planner. Admittedly, not all of his plans had been great ones. Some were downright mediocre. The way Piccolo saw it, the problem hadn't actually been with the plans themselves, but with that little thing called timing.

Well there was that, and the fact that in previous attempts with simple plans, things began to fall apart as more people became involved. For Piccolo, the trick became being able to keep the plan simple, and that entailed keeping the plan personal.

Piccolo had his own interests to protect. He was well aware of just what the Dragon Balls from his home planet of Namek could do. Sure, Kami had asked what everyone would do with a wish. But Piccolo knew that it wasn't just a matter of being impertinent. It was quite possibly a wish that could come true, and he'd be damned if he wasn't going to be the one to collect on it.

With a look of disgust that went completely unnoticed in the gloom of the narrow air duct, he thought back to the other two he left behind in their rooms. They seemed unconcerned with what the others might be doing in their spare time, and it was the lack of diligence that really riled Piccolo.

He understood. He understood all too well. He understood the price of diligence and planning. He was well aware that the individuals involved in these negotiations were looking out for their own personal interests. By that same token, he was a little concerned that some of those individuals and their own personal interests could be more underhanded than he could be.

And that of course, reflected his present situation. Ventilation shaft number fifty-four.

Although always a staunch supporter of clean air, he had never been a fan of air ducts. For the most part they were large and unseemly, and they always seemed to stick out at strange angles. This duct had been the exception: accommodating, well thought out, and much to Piccolo's surprise, clean.

He tried not to grunt as he rounded the next corner, floating more than crawling in an attempt to cut down on noise. He couldn't rely too much on his ki abilities however, as anyone passing by employing a scouter, for example, might sight him as easy pickings, and then he would have to answer to his other green half.

It shouldn't be much further, at least that's what he kept telling himself. He had to slow down, or at least try to be a bit subtler in his movements from here on out if he did not want to get caught. He was entering hostile air space, although admittedly before turning the next corner, he had no idea just how hostile an air duct could potentially become.

Someone had beaten him to his spot. And she was wearing pink.

Piccolo could tell that he startled her by the way she lurched as she sat huddled over a small vent in the duct. His first thought was to kill her. It would be easy enough, and quick.

"Quit banging around back there!" She whispered heatedly as she cracked her gum.

His second thought was that he should kill her slowly, although it would be just his luck that she would make too much noise as he dragged her lifeless body out of the duct.

"Stifle it!" She whispered again as he moved in closer to sit next to her over the vent. It was at that point that he realized he was growling.

Piccolo managed to control his agitation with one last strangled sigh, keenly aware that the apartments underneath them were completely empty.

"Look, we can both appreciate that it's gonna be a little cozy in here for the next few hours, but do you have to breathe so loudly? The name's Launch."

He scowled at her, wondering why she would be so stupid as to give him her name.

"We met at the party?" She supplied for him this time, reminding him of the ordeal he was put through less than twenty-four hours previously. "You lost three games of gin and four games of poker," she added after he failed to say anything.

"I remember," he said coolly, hoping she wouldn't continue to remind him he had also lost two games of 'go fish'.

"You're Piccolo," she finally stated with another crack of her gum. "Sorry that we didn't really get a chance to talk."

He frowned at her but said nothing. It was only after several minutes of listening to her breathe that he decided he would rather be anywhere but there.

"What's a nice girl like you doing hanging around in a place like this?" He asked, sickened by the prospect of small talk and bothered by the aspect of strained silence.

"Some of us ain't nice girls."

Piccolo emitted another low sigh that passed more like a grunt as he resisted the urge to correct her grammar.

"I got rights," Launch announced as best she could with an indignant whisper. "Last time I checked, ventilation was a public domain."

She had him on that one. He couldn't very well tell her to go home. She was here first. It was at times like this that Piccolo was thankful that he had no scruples.

"Listen, I don't mean to be rude," Piccolo began the obvious lie, "but isn't there another vent that you could…"

He was stopped in mid-sentence as a manicured hand slapped over his mouth. His eyes widened in surprise and he heard the door open below. And voices. His eyes went from wide to narrow, aimed first at the hand, then to the room below. With one hand still over his mouth, he saw Launch leaning in closer out of the corner of his eye. She was extremely hard to miss in all that pink.

Both sat as still as statues watching the small figure of a pig walking through the apartments below them. When he finally headed out of the door he had come through, they both let out a slight sigh. It was only after another few moments of awkward silence that Launch seemed to remember she had her hand still placed firmly over his mouth.

"No," she finally answered the question he had previously begun to ask.

He considered her for a moment. This young woman seemed to be a lot of things. The most obvious being that she was in his way. But adding to that, she was conniving enough to be there on her own. She showed initiative. And from the fact that she was sitting over the vent instead of perhaps maybe using a surveillance camera, she didn't mind getting her hands dirty. To top it all off she looked mad enough to spit. He could relate to that…minus the gum.

Tugging on his cape, he released one last resigned sigh, and settled into the most comfortable position the two feet of space provided. "I don't suppose you brought any playing cards?"

A pair of standard-issue, gold-tipped boots stumbled down the hallway, veering this way and that to avoid small objects and the random wall that loomed too close. On the occasional interval they would scuff along the polished floors and carpeted areas alike, staggering with a purpose and an obvious air that they sometimes weren't so sure they were headed in the right direction. As far as the rest of the body was concerned, any direction that led to a drink of water was the right way to go.

It was the worst hangover Vegeta ever had.

It was also the only hangover Vegeta ever had.

He wasn't too sure how the whole thing had happened. It wasn't the first time he celebrated an occasion, and it certainly wasn't the first time he dabbled in a little drink. He vaguely recollected some advice given to him once concerning the latter by Nappa, and he understood the basic principle, which was to stop once everything started tasting like water. Of course, it was one thing to understand the principle and another thing entirely to say no to those damn addictive, fruity concoctions that went down way too easy and had just the right amount of sweetness. There was also something that wasn't quite right about taking advice from Nappa.

Smacking his lips together several times, Vegeta continued his unsteady amble down the hall. He wasn't too keen on getting back to the apartments so late, especially if everyone else was still loafing around. His whole body felt a bit numb and his head felt like it was stuck in one of Nappa's infamous 'airplane' spins. To make matters worse, he visibly had the shakes and his teeth felt like they had hair. It was a forgone conclusion that he would most likely take some heat for all of this when he returned, and he was quite sure he wouldn't be able to fire back a smart remark to save his life.

Vegeta rubbed his eyes as they tried to focus on the floor. He stood still for several minutes as his hand moved down to pinch the bridge of his nose. His head felt … muddled…disconnected and unfocused. He hated feeling like this. Physical discomfort aside, he found that at times like this his mind started to wander. It became increasingly difficult to maintain that certain amount of control over the less desirable aspects of thoughts, and the thoughts that came were always ones that he would normally not want to entertain.

He thought about his father.

When his mind wandered he also thought about what his life would be like if circumstances were different. Would he be as strong? Would he be as disciplined? Would he still be just as short?

"…Tempered?" He added aloud as he came to a stop in the hallway, trying to strike that last thought with a frown.

If things were different, if his planet were still there, and if he had ascended the throne in his father's footsteps, what would he have become? Would he care about the same things? Would he feel the same way about his comrades? Would he have had as much fun yesterday without killing anyone?

He brought the other gloved hand to the wall to steady himself. These were all very un-Saiyan like thoughts and they would certainly make him wince if he were thinking more clearly, and if the hangover hadn't beaten them to it. He supposed he should be angry with himself for even considering such thoughts. But the truth was that there had always been a part of him that wanted to be more typical, more able to relate to others, and more comfortable with laughing along at the joke out of enjoyment and not merely out of spite. Although it was also true that Saiyans matured to be more serious than other races and with more of a malicious nature, it wasn't unheard of those who were much more easy going. He saw glimpses of this with Raditz, perhaps from having to be associated with and dealing with a brother who was essentially brain damaged, as far as Saiyan society was concerned. Raditz seemed to be more at ease with other races than Nappa and himself, and also seemed to be able to balance the rigors of warfare with the simple pleasures that everyday living brought. He knew how to buckle down, but he also knew when to back down. Even more importantly however, Raditz seemed to know how to relax.

He also remembered seeing glimpses of this with his own father. Normally, he chose not to think on such things. He wanted to remember his father as the strong and unrelenting ruler of all Saiyans. King Vegeta was a proud warrior, and certainly strong. He dispensed his own special brand of justice, set weaker races aright, and ruled with an iron but noble fist. But he remembered his father showing him patience and understanding. He remembered him being forthcoming with his explanations and expectations. And he remembered that he had ultimately put his own needs, his son's needs, above those of his subjects when Freiza appeared, and that was not something a true leader should ever have done.

The hand on the wall formed into a fist as this thought and many others fought for dominance in the head of the Saiyan prince. He kept his eyes closed, willing them all to go away and trouble him no further. To think of all that was lost back then, and to contemplate all that could have been or should have been, was pointless. It was the cycle of thought that was beginning to make him angry now. He was getting angry with all of the things he should be, but was not. He was angry at the things his father was supposed to have been, but never was. In many ways, he wished he could be more like his father, but he also knew that it was those things that enabled someone else to take control of his planet, and ultimately the destiny of the entire Saiyan race.

It was infuriating! How was he supposed to defeat Freiza if he could not become someone who could surpass that type of power? Or better yet…someone worse. If he could only gain enough power to become a Super Saiyan, he could take Freiza down. It would not make things right, and it would not erase the years of abuse and remorse pressed upon him and the others. But it would be a step in the right direction.

"A step in the right direction," Vegeta thought bitterly as he began once again down the hall.

If only his feet could keep it all together.

She managed to make it as far as the door but she doubted she could enter into the suite without being dragged. She knew she was late, but the thought of what she did yesterday evening, most of the night, and then again in the morning gave her goose-bumps, the shivers, and seemingly, selective paralysis. It wasn't necessarily a bad feeling. It was, all in all, a rather eye opening experience, and one that was certainly not without its merits. The problem was, she wasn't sure if it was a good feeling either. She still had her reservations. At this point, the only thing she was sure of was that it took over two full hours of grooming to feel clean. She feared it would probably be all for naught once Captain Tien gave her that look and made her feel dirty again. And her tongue was tired.

With a hesitant paw Puar reached for the identification panel on the door controls. When the door opened, her whiskers twitched as she reluctantly floated in. Things seemed quiet around the common area and she was rather thankful for the bit of luck. Perhaps with a little bit more, she could make it as far as her room without alerting the locals.

"Late night?" She heard a certain someone ask before she had the chance to make a break for her safe haven.

She quickly whirled around and narrowed her eyes. He must have changed his shape in order to hide from her before she came in. She frowned at him to complete the thought, annoyed that he would say anything to her after yesterday. It was his fault she had a night at all, let alone a late one.

"And just what would you know about that?" She asked, her jitters giving way to anger. "It's not like you did anything to make my job easier!"

Oolong simply shrugged from his spot in an oversized chair.

"That's what I thought," she stated this time as she turned around and continued on her way to her room. "Some friend you turned out to be."

"That's the pot calling the kettle black," he retorted.

"And just what do you mean by that, Oolong?" She shot back as she spun around to face him again.

"Puar," Oolong imitated Captain Tien's voice as best he could, "you get dressed all pretty and go to a party. Oolong, you become one with the garbage and gather information. And I expect results!"

Her glare didn't soften as he finished his little speech. If anything, she was now even more irritated.

"You think I was out there just for fun? You think I wanted to get into that pool? You think I wanted to rub elbows with Saiyans, get drunk and then…," she stopped abruptly as she realized he was hanging on every word of her progression, along with the edge of his seat. Probably at the thought of what he thought might have happened. "…Stuff it, Oolong!"

"Stuff it, Oolong," he mimicked from his seat, watching her tail lash out as she floated towards her room. It was only after she managed to slam her door shut that he let out a heavy sigh. When he heard the sound of a door opening again, he quickly grabbed a magazine and held it up so that he wouldn't have to look her in the eye when she apologized. When no apology followed, he turned the page and peered over the top of the paper.

"I'm not going to tell you I'm sorry," she squeaked in his direction as she clutched a glass of water in both hands.

He glared at her from his place of safety, upset that she knew exactly what he was expecting. She flashed him a smirk of satisfaction as she lashed her tail behind her and turned around to go back to her room. Instead, she managed to spill her glass of water on a very shiny boot and pant leg standing directly behind her.

"It's getting late," Captain Tien pointed out, eyeing the spill. "We were beginning to wonder where you had gotten to. You weren't sleeping in all this time?"

"No," Puar managed weakly, not bothering to explain just where she had been all morning.

"Then report," Tien stated evenly as he pulled up a chair for her and then a chair for himself. "What did you find out?"

Puar blinked as her whiskers twitched. She had found out quite a few things – five margaritas were more than enough, the bald Saiyan had the worst poker face she had ever seen, and Raditz especially liked it when she yanked his tail and whinnied…

Her whiskers twitched again, this time as a shiver ran up her tail and spine. She suddenly felt the urge to lick herself clean again, but at the same time, she wanted to feel herself cuddled up to the Saiyan she ran out on earlier. She was so confused! She wasn't sure what scared her more, the fact that she would see Raditz again or the possibility that she wouldn't.

"I think with some more time he could crack," she finally stated. Of course, it was a lie. In all honesty, she was quite sure that Raditz didn't know a damn thing about what was going on. But it didn't matter what she thought. She took orders from Captain Tien.

"Then stay on him. I want you to be there when he spills."

Puar nodded and let out a high-pitched sigh. Something told her that she would definitely be there when THAT happened.

Kakarott stared down at the two, small microchips now looking quite cozy in the palm of his hand. The breakdown of the tracking system had gone quite smoothly, and with the help, a lot less damaging. Ranchi turned out to be a natural at assistantship, and with fingers that were a whole lot smaller, she was able to work in the places he had found it a little difficult to reach.

Of course, there would still be more to disassemble, but the major stuff was taken care of. While Freiza's headquarters couldn't put a finger on him, he could find just about everyone else. Freiza had hardware, and software, that tracked every working pod in his fleet. From the seat in this pod he could monitor everyone's movements. Everyone else seemed preoccupied with Freiza's whereabouts. For Kakarott, that was easy. He knew exactly where Freiza was. He was dead. And in Kakarott's experience, dead people seldom traveled.

Wiping his forehead, Kakarott gave a genuine smile of accomplishment. It was work he should be proud of, and although it didn't solve his problem, it was a step in the right direction.

Grabbing the remainder of the tools, he squeezed himself out of the small cockpit to finish his clean-up. What he didn't count on was his elbow slamming into the panel and depressing a small, red button.

Yamcha kicked out at an opponent that was no longer behind him. He breathed heavy and blinked as sweat dripped down his forehead and into his eyes. He didn't have time to catch his breath as an elbow slammed into his back and sent him flying towards the wall. In a split second he managed to push his ki in front of him to keep himself from kissing the still solid, safety padded steel. He heard a loud thud and 'oomph' behind him, which told him that Krillin hadn't been so lucky.

He knew he had gotten stronger. A lot stronger, and quicker too. It was mostly thanks to the one kicking his ass right now. His sister was never so calculating and unrelenting.

"It was the ass comment, wasn't it?" He heard Krillin grunt out as he stood up, wiping off his own.

"You're too slow," came the smooth reply. "You'll never beat me unless you get serious."

Yamcha turned around to see #17 take up a stance opposite Krillin, who was bent over and dripping with sweat. They had decided on a pre-dinner spar to work up their appetite, and to work off some of the calories consumed at the previous day's party. Yamcha briefly wondered if the android ever really needed to worry about his waistline.

"I'm exhausted, #17," Krillin managed out. He was having a hard time focusing today, although truth be told, he had no idea why.

#17 sighed and rolled his eyes. While he was impressed with the progress of the two Earthlings, he was often disappointed at their lack of ruthlessness.

"Have it your way," #17 shrugged and made his way out of the training room. "I was getting bored with the two of you anyhow."

Yamcha watched the android leisurely walk through the doorway with a flip of the hand. He shook his head and grabbed a towel, throwing one towards Krillin before picking one up for himself.

"We have got to find him a woman," Yamcha stated frankly, wiping off his face and trying to think of plausible candidates.

"Yeah, right," Krillin answered back. "You'd have to find a woman who could put up with his almost mechanical disdain and lack of emotion."

"Someone like his sister?" Yamcha cracked a crooked smile at his friend. "Or is she taken?"

"Uh…" Krillin began, his ears starting to turn red.

"No, I think we might do better pairing him off with the exact opposite," Yamcha replied, once again turning his attention to the open doorway. "Someone bright and cheerful. Someone who could put him in a good mood and at the same time, put up with his shit."

"Mrs. Briefs is taken," Krillin added after a moment's thought.

Yamcha continued to eye the doorway with a thoughtful frown as his friend's words sank in. "They would make a good couple though," he finally admitted, taking a sip from a small water bottle.

"Do you think his sister…," Krillin began, sounding small and hopeful at the same time.

"Yes," came Yamcha's reassuring reply. "It's all about attitude. Think small, and that's all you'll ever be. Look at the bigger picture. Besides," he added with a light punch to his smaller friend's arm, "I think she's sweet on you anyway."

Krillin smiled as he slapped the towel over his shoulder and winced as he moved his backside with a few painful steps towards the door. He thought he would have been used to the abuse by now.

"It had to be the ass comment."

The food was halfway to his mouth when the communications alarm went off. In a moment of sheer panic and absolutely no grace whatsoever, he dove across the table, scuttled across the floor and scrambled for the control panel to depress the button as quickly as possible. As the image on the screen came into focus, he hauled himself up with as much dignity as anyone with crumbs on his chin could manage.

"Lord Freiza!" He exclaimed, relieved that his boss finally decided to check in with his own headquarters and also nervous about the mood he would most likely be in. "Lord Freiza, it's been six weeks! The men…"

"Is it dinnertime already?" A voice from the other end of the communication asked before sticking his nose directly against the glass of the viewer screen. "I hope I'm not missing anything good! What are you having?"

Zarbon stopped his report in mid sentence, staring wide-eyed at the screen before clenching his teeth together and practically ripping the napkin out of the top of his armor. Light years away, on the other end of the screen, Kakarott attempted to sit higher up in the seat, hoping to get a glance at what was behind the other man on the table.

"Where is Lord Freiza? And why are you using this channel!" Zarbon demanded.

"Uh…who's Freiza?" The man in the pod replied.

"What do you think? That I'm some kind of fool?" Zarbon demanded this time, eyes narrowing.

"Um…no?" Came the reply with slight hesitation. Surprisingly, it wasn't the type of hesitation that suggested the speaker actually did think Zarbon was a fool. It was the type of hesitation that suggested the speaker recognized he only had two options, and he obviously wasn't very good at lying.

Zarbon quickly processed this information and waited a moment as the static settled. He also took this time to collect himself. It was obvious that this was Freiza's private channel transmitting from Freiza's pod. It was also quite obvious that the person on the other end of this call was not Freiza. In fact, judging by his appearance - spiky hair, heavy eyebrows, and the stupid look - he was Saiyan. There weren't many Saiyans left, and the ones that were left served Freiza. He knew Vegeta and Nappa well enough, and he vaguely remembered two others of a much lower class. Zarbon's eyes narrowed. This was not helping his situation.

"Where is Lord Freiza?" His voice was forced and his tone was serious. He was well aware that his previous attempt at getting this same information yielded no results, so to speak. He managed to keep his gaze locked on the Saiyan's reactions, trying to gauge just exactly what he was dealing with.

On the other end of the viewer Kakarott was somewhat beginning to crack. He wasn't used to being so closely scrutinized and he had to admit that he was never very good with open-ended questions.

"He's…not here?" Kakarott replied uncertainly with a slight wince, hinting that he might not be sure that this was indeed the correct answer.

"I can see that," Zarbon practically spat.

"I can take him a message," Kakarott offered this time, perking up a little, pleased with himself for coming up with the suggestion.

"Why would Lord Freiza trust you, a low-level Saiyan, with his communicator and ship?" Zarbon coolly questioned this time. He knew the correct answer to this question at least, and most likely, so did this Saiyan.

Freiza would not.

They stared at each other for a few moments, each one sizing up the other. Kakarott briefly toyed with the notion of saying that Freiza had perhaps broken a leg and could not sit in his pod to communicate with his officer. He couldn't possibly protest that Freiza didn't have any bones.

"What if I told you that no matter what excuse you come up with, I won't believe you?" Zarbon admitted with what he figured was his best clever smile.

Kakarott's brow furrowed as he thought on that possibility for a moment. There were lots of things he could say, but the fact of the matter was, he was tired of lying and not very good at thinking up viable excuses on the spot.

There was silence for a few more moments before Kakarott sighed and shrugged, easing out the truth he'd been waiting to tell somebody.

"He's dead," Kakarott finally came clean. No wincing. No struggling. And it was definitely not a question.

Zarbon stared at the console and the wave of static that rolled down the image of the smiling Saiyan who was currently hunkered down in their master's space pod somewhere out in the universe. He blinked twice before shaking his head with a grin, then attempted to adjust the connection with the push of a few buttons.

"I'm sorry, what was that?" Zarbon asked with the same mirth of his previous comment. He thought he just heard the image on the screen refer to Lord Freiza as dead. He was sure he obviously heard that wrong.

"He is dead."

It came across very clearly this time. There was no mistaking it.

"That's preposterous," Zarbon replied.

The Saiyan merely blinked.

Zarbon's smile practically slid off his face as he processed the statement, from incredulity to shock. Everyone knew the possibility of Freiza dying was non-existent. But then again, there was something about the way the Saiyan looked, and the tone of his voice that suggested he was not kidding.

"What do you mean, dead?!"

Kakarott could not answer. He squinted at the screen in thought. Was this some sort of trick question?

"How could this possibly happen?!" Zarbon asked incredulously.

"Well," Kakarott began with a simple shrug, "it all started as a disagreement. I guess I just got really mad. I tried to give him two chances, but in the end…," he trailed off. He left a few of the details out on purpose. It was enough of a stretch to have someone think that Freiza was capable of being defeated. But then again, wasn't that part of Freiza's mistake as well? There is always someone out there who is stronger.

"I don't believe this!" Zarbon finally stated with a shake of his head and a fold of his arms. "I can't believe this!"

"Then believe what you want," came Kakarott's reply. He was no longer smiling, and any hints of uncertainty and hesitation were gone. "I don't have to try to convince you. In fact, you're the only one who knows."

Zarbon blinked. This clown was delusional! He blinked again and began to pace. Staring hard at the floor, he clasped his hands behind his back. His mind raced. Was this possible? Freiza had been gone for an awful long time. IF this Saiyan was telling the truth, which he was sure he could not be. IF he was… Zarbon blinked again and leveled his gaze at the screen.

"There will be consequences," Zarbon stated firmly. You couldn't just kill the most powerful being in the known universe and not expect there to be consequences. If this was true and word got out, not only would Zarbon lose his job, but chaos could ensue.

"Um…sorry?" Kakarott offered this time, not really knowing what to say.

"Look," Zarbon stated more calmly than he felt while pointing a finger at the screen, "we need to keep this between you and I. Things could get bad for both of us if this were to get out."

Kakarott nodded, watching Zarbon's finger swing up and down as he spoke.

"I need time to think," Zarbon continued. "I'll need time to ensure that this works out to my…," he paused for a moment before correcting himself, "…our benefit. Can I get your word that you will not tell another living soul?"

Kakarott continued to nod, quite happy with himself that he wasn't getting yelled at. "Yeah," he added, his mood continuing to improve as he realized that he was no longer alone in the deception department. "Cross my heart!"

"That's all you'd better cross," Zarbon replied coolly. "Stay put and keep this channel open in case I need to contact you again."

"OK," came the reply before the screen went blank faster than Zarbon would have liked.

What had just happened? Zarbon had no idea what he was supposed to do next. He spun around with a blank look on his face and the feeling that he had to crap and pee at the same time. He stared down at his meal with a slightly detached feeling and the knowledge that he probably would not be able to sleep tonight.

A few moments passed before he finally collected his legs, and wits, and stepped back to stand in front of the long console against the far wall.

"Computer," he stated, ready to get down to business, "I require all files on current Saiyan enrollments."

It was time that he took a look into exactly what he was dealing with.

A/N: I know, I know. If you are still reading this, don't beat me. It's been a rough time away. But I hope to finish this, sooner rather than later. As soon as I figure out just where this story is going…please feel free to leave some feedback on this chapter. I've been a long time gone and every little bit helps me get better.