Chapter Eleven: Ban'yamuwoezu - There Is No Hope

The rain had started down on earth. Kaiou-sama watched it impassively from his home, vaguely trying to recall the last time he had felt rain on his face. He could not.

Bulma behind him seemed to be making as much noise as possible in his kitchen; her way of dealing with stress was, apparently, to build and or re-craft things until she considered them worthy. Kaiou-sama was only too happy to comply; at least when she was working in his house she was leaving his precious car alone. And Yamucha...

True, Kaiou had not foreseen that he would be having more people come to visit him than Bulma. And true, he would not have minded much, either, especially not when the company was someone he knew well and had trained; but if he had known that his former student would also turn out to be a former lover of his present guest - well, he would have found someplace else for Yamucha to be.

Yamucha sat under the large fruit tree, trying without much success to meditate as he had seen Piccolo do in the past. Later on, perhaps, he would go back to romping in juvenile fashion with Bubbles and Gregory, but at the moment, he just didn't feel like it. Yamucha had shown up unannounced at Kaiou's door early this morning; apparently Enma Daiou, recognizing him and being amused by Kaiou-sama's new spurt of hospitality, had decided to let Yamucha go along Snake Way to see the Kaiou - and had not bothered to tell said Kaiou ahead of time.

Very funny. Ha ha. So funny that Bulma had completely forgotten to laugh.

It probably would have been better if she hadn't been the one to answer the door; at least she'd have had some warning.

Uncomfortable wasn't quite the word for it; they were used to each other, should have been after so many years, but the two didn't seem to feel much like talking. Sighing - Kaiou-sama hadn't known he was signing on for therapist duty when he got into this - Kaiou-sama made his way over to Yamucha and waited until he got the young man's attention.

"Oh, hi King Kai," said Yamucha, absently using the hated slang of the Kaiou's name. Kaiou-sama let it slide.

"Hello, Yamucha," he said. "And how are you doing?"

Yamucha shrugged. "Pretty okay, I guess. I just... I..." he paused and looked up at Kaiou-sama's expectant face, hesitated on the verge of revelation, then clammed up instead. "Want a mint?" he asked by way of conversation.

"Well... sure. I love mints," said the Kaiou, a little disturbed by this sudden change of subject but willing to go along with it. He was surprised to see Yamucha pull a small leather pouch filled with lovely, green-striped candies from his belt.

"Wherever did you get these?" asked the Kaiou, sucking contentedly on the spearmint lump. "It's wonderful!"

"From Princess Snake's," answered Yamucha, a cocky smile creeping onto his face. "She said I showed her such a good time that she had to give me a little bit of a going away present. But her magic was limited, and this was the only thing she could give me that wouldn't vanish as soon as I got here." His grin showed all his teeth.

Kaiou chuckled. "You know," he said in his I've-got-a-pun voice, "These mints remind me a little bit of Bulma. Wanna know why?"

Yamucha, elated as he was by his memories of Princess Snake, had already begun to wilt at the mere mention of Bulma's name. "No, I don't know." he said. "How?"

Kaiou beamed. "They're very pretty, they're partly green, and they bite! Bite! You get it? Spearmint? Bulma? Bite?" He guffawed resolutely, his own best critic.

Yamucha smiled weakly.

"Oh, come on now, boy," chided the Kaiou. "I know that wasn't my best, but it certainly deserved a better reception than that."

"I know, Kaiou-sama; I'm sorry," said Yamucha. "I just..." He stopped and shook his head. "Damn," he said to nobody at all. "How many years is it going to take me to get over this?"

Kaiou looked at him wisely. "Are you still enjoying your time with other women?" he asked, leaning forward keenly.

"Well... yes," admitted Yamucha, knowing just what his old teacher meant.

"Then you won't get over her yet," said the Kaiou. "Not until you've learned to leave the empty part empty." Yamucha opened his mouth, as if to protest, but at that moment Gregory came flying out of the kitchen window as though propelled from a cannon.

"AND STAY OUT!!" came Bulma's irate tones, and to make sure he got the point a mallet-shaped meat tenderizer came flying out after him; it knocked him squarely on the head and he sprawled in the grass.

Kaiou burst out laughing. "Ha! She tenderized him, didn't she? Bwahahahaha!" Yamucha shut his mouth, his protestations left unsaid. What the Kaiou had spoken was true. Until he stopped loving Bulma - that is, until he stopped trying to fill the hole Bulma had left - he would not heal, and that, unfair as it seemed, would have to do.

"Thanks, Kaiou-sama," Yamucha said quietly, and walked over to the despondent Gregory. "Betcha' can't catch me," he taunted, and took off.

"Why, you - " bump forgotten, Gregory launched off after him, shouting loudly about long-term Kaiou students and interloping half-wits. The Kaiou watched them go, a little lighter at heart. Now, if only Earth's problems could be worked on so easily.

A sudden buzzing sound came from his kitchen, as of electricity shooting unguarded through some dissembled appliance.

Kaiou-sama didn't really want to know. Retreating to his bedroom, he put his eye-patches on and stuffed his ears, and tried to catch some sleep. It was time for his afternoon nap, after all.

*

Interlude 11.2: Intrusion

Trunks jerked alert from his sleep, awakened by a sound that he could not remember and was no longer there. Alert, he waited, listening - and it came again.

It was coming from the ship itself; some sort of electricity, maybe, shooting through the walls. Suddenly there came a second repetition, and as it sounded the lights dimmed and brightened in tandem. It was some kind of power surge.

It made quite a clatter, and curious, Trunks got out of bed to see what was the matter.

Looking for the source of the power drain and thinking the whole time that he was an absolute ass for doing this alone, Trunks slipped into the hallway, proceeding with great caution; meeting Gohan's fate could hardly be considered productive.Up ahead, sporadic, blue flashes of light outlined a thin doorway to his left, which was stuck halfway open because of the power drain. Steeling himself, Trunks turned sideways and slipped through the doorway, ready to face whatever he might find.

***

Kaiou-Sama began to dream. At least, he thought it was a dream.

He seemed to see Trunks - present Trunks, not Mirai - dressed in his Capsule Corporation jacket and sneaking down a somewhat darkened hallway that was flashing spasmodically as if lit with a strobe light.

Then that image faded away, and he saw what was earth - what… should have been earth, hovering blackened and empty in space. The stars around it were likewise dark - floating, emptied husks, devoid of light and life alike, all black except for one point of light that seemed to be situated in what would have been the Western Kingdom. If, of course, this were earth, which it couldn't be, because there was nothing there. Then this scene faded away too, and he saw instead someone coming toward him.

"Hello!" greeted Kaiou-sama effusively, somehow transported by the magic of dreams to meet his superior. "Long time, no see. I thought you were busy healing Gohan."

"I was," Rou Kaioushin answered. "And it's a good thing, too - his soul was a mess. I've never seen after-life damage done like it. Just a little bit longer and - poof. He would have been gone - his individuality, his memories - but that's not why I'm here..." and the Kaioushin was shaking.

"Rou Kaioushin," said Kaiou-sama respectfully and concernedly. "Whatever is the matter?"

Rou Kaioushin looked up at him. "I've had a visit," he said, "From Jouten." Kaiou-sama gaped at him in horror.

"From Jouten Himself?" he gasped. "And you are still alive?"

Rou Kaioushin was looking very much his age at the moment and extremely shaken.

"Yes," he said. "Jouten has come at last." Then Rou Kaioushin proceeded to tell Kaiou-sama things both absurd and comprehensive, things so impossible that Kaiou-sama knew if he awakened with this complete knowledge in his mind, it would exorcise his sanity from him as thoroughly as Babidi had been exorcised from Vejiita.

He began to scream.

*

Bulma jumped about a foot when she heard the Kaiou wailing; he sounded as though the End of the world had just waltzed in and bitten him. Dropping everything she was doing, she raced back to the bedroom to find him in his rocking chair, thrashing back and forth and howling up a storm; he was not, however, awake.

Bulma could not even hear her own voice over the noise he was making, and so did not try to call him. Instead, she took up Bubbles' flower arrangement from the day before and threw the contents - water, flowers, and all - directly into the Kaiou's face.

"BLACKNESS!!" Kaiou screamed and leaped out of his rocking chair so quickly that he was into Bulma and down before she had a chance to get out of the way.

"What? WHAT?" Bulma screamed back, not overly thrilled at having who knew how many pounds of Kaiou on top of her in ten times' the earth's gravity.

"What's going on?" demanded Yamucha, arriving characteristically just too late to miss the action; to his credit, he only stared for a moment before helping the trembling Kaiou to his feet. After making sure Bulma was all right, he walked the Kaiou slowly to the bed and made him lie down. Bulma noted with dim amazement that Kaiou sama's blinders had been mysteriously replaced by his dark glasses once more, although she did not recall him actually making the switch.

"Oh, oh, oh," he kept saying over and over again, and at first it seemed they were to get no more out of him for a long while.

"Aw, to hell with this," announced Bulma, and slapped him sharply across the face.

The others stared at her.

"Bulma!" hissed Yamucha. "You just slapped a god!"

"Which god just practically sat on me," Bulma hissed back. "He deserved it." Meanwhile, Kaiou-sama was coming around.

"Oh," he said one more time, then stopped when Bulma raised her hand again.

"Kaiou-sama, what happened?" asked Gregory, who had never seen his master like this before.

"I'm... I... I've had a visit," he said. "I'd hoped it was a dream, but... there's no way it can be. It's too true. Oh!" he said, wincing when Bulma glared. And then the Kaiou started to cry.

Bubbles ambled up, distressed at his master's alarm, and meekly handed Kaiou-sama the flowers he had picked that morning. That action - sweet, naive, and totally unrelated to the overdose of reality Kaiou-sama had just received - broke through his daze. Kaiou-sama finally smiled, and took the flowers from Bubbles' outstretched hand.

"Thank you Bubbles. That makes things much better," he said, not totally ingenuinely, and then looked at the others. "We have a grave problem," he said. "I'm afraid not all of Dr. Gero's mess was cleaned up when you took out his lab so many years ago."

Bulma knit her eyebrows. "What are you talking about?" she demanded.

"I'm getting ahead of myself," Kaiou-sama peremptorily explained. "And... it's strange - but it's fading. It's all fading, as though it's too much for one mind to hold. And I guess it is. Bulma, Yamucha - a time of Apocalypse has come, and I don't know if anything we can do will be in time to stop it. I just don't know." He shook his head morosely and absent-mindedly studied the flowers. A few petals fell off.

"Is it... Vejiita?" asked Bulma, afraid.

"Not exactly, although in a way he is the key," answered Kaiou-sama. "Oh dear - it's all fading so quickly. I suppose I should write it down." He proceeded to stay where he was, still staring at the flowers, his expression that of a man who had never seen colors before in his life and was sure he would never see them again.

"It's coming here," he said sadly. "It's almost here now. Bulma?" he looked at her quizzically. "I may have to bend another rule for you. Technically, I'm not supposed to interfere TOO much in the lives of you earthlings - although heaven knows I've done that enough already. Listen. If I gave you the chance, would you talk to Vejiita?"

Bulma gaped at him as though he had asked her if she were mechanically inclined. "Would I?" she repeated almost furiously.

"You wouldn't be able to play," Kaiou-sama said. "It would be pure business, this talk, and I would be depending on you to deliver the message clearly and succinctly - partly because I don't want to get in trouble, partly because it's so far away that I won't be able to hold the contact long, and partly because he wouldn't believe it if it were coming from anyone else - even you, Yamucha."

"You don't have to tell me that," Yamucha griped, but no one was listening to him.

"But it's worse than that, even," said Kaiou-sama. "The End is already here - and soon, it will eat this universe too. Rou Kaioushin was without hope, but I can't be. I won't be. Not yet. So Bulma - will you do it?"

Bulma sobered and swallowed, nodding her assent. "What do you want me to do?" she asked.

*

Vejiita did not dream often; when he did, it usually came in the form of twisted memories, nightmares replayed with startling clarity and often as not waking him in a cold sweat - and once in a while, screaming. The first time he'd done that when Bulma was around, he'd nearly scared the poor woman half to death.

Now, however, he lay in his usual dreamless slumber, hands folded on his stomach and a slightly softened version of his perpetual scowl on his face.

Bulma thought that she had never seen anything so beautiful.

She wasn't actually there, of course, no more than Kaiou-sama had been there on Namek when the planet exploded; but the fact that physical presence was not involved in this transmission was regrettable as well as unchangeable. Bulma took a deep breath; she had something to do.

"Vejiita," she said quietly so as not to wake him. Vejiita did not immediately respond; he moaned slightly and stirred. "Vejiita, you need to listen to me very carefully. I don't have much time." Vejiita, his eyes squeezing more tightly shut, began to breathe a bit faster.

"No, don't wake up," she said soothingly, trying desperately to caress his subconsciousness into calmness and trembling as she did so. "If you do, Kaiou-sama won't be able to hold the connection and I'll lose you." Somehow, something deep in Vejiita's brain accepted this, and he calmed down. But now there were tears streaming across both temples and onto his pillow.

"There's been an awful trap set for you," Bulma said shakily, very conscious of those tears, "and you're walking right into it. These Saiyans - they're not who they're supposed to be. They're not even who you think they are. They're from some alternate timeline - not the one the other Trunks is from, although they've been there, too - and they're here because they wanted to stop something awful from happening..."

There was a sudden sense of panic, she looked away, and her contact with Vejiita momentarily slipped. He stirred.

Faint voice in the background... "It's here! It's in this galaxy! We're too late..." Bulma looked hastily back toward Vejiita.

"Vejiita, I'm out of time - listen and remember what I'm saying! There some sort of god above the Kaious, above the Kaioushins, above all of them - Jouten, or something like that. He doesn't usually get this directly involved in things, but He visited Rou Kaioushin to let us know that the end of everything is here - unless you can get Trunks - our Trunks - to that alternate time-line where future Trunks came from, and where everything is already gone, like it will be here soon - and give him the eighth dragonball. I don't know what that means, but if it's... just a moment, Kaiou-sama.... Oh Vejiita, just do it, it's the only hope left..." and she was fading, fading away.

"Bulma..." Vejiita began to come awake, unconsciously reaching his hands out to the empty room in attempt to catch Bulma's spirit and keep it from leaving him.

Bulma was not visible any more.

"Vejiita...otto...koishii..." And then she was gone.

... husband...beloved...

"Bulma!"

*

Chive was just leaving her lab when she heard the strange noise around the corner. It had been so long since she heard anything like it that it took her a moment to realize that it was the sound of somebody crying. Curious, she went to investigate.

Never in a million years would she have expected to find the King of the Saiya-jin leaning against the wall and sobbing.

"Bulma..." he said inconsolably, his eyes covered with his right hand.

Chive considered; he must have had a dream. An extremely vivid one from the looks of it, and he hadn't even noticed her presence yet. And was she cruel enough to take advantage of the half-awake King Vejiita in his unhappy state?

You bet your buttons.

"My lord!" Chive said, shocked as though she had just come around the corner and seen him.

"My son," he said, getting his sobs under control but not his expression. "Where is my son? I... need to see him."

"Right away, sir," said Chive, and purposely went to use the intercom on the wall directly beside his head.

"Trunks," she called into it, and waited for a reply. "He's still asleep, probably," she said calmly to him, trying and failing to catch his eyes; he was still looking at the floor. "My lord, please stand up straight. It is not respectable for you to be slumping so."

Vejiita began to laugh, a strained, slightly hi-pitched sound, and for one moment Chive wondered if he had gone mad.

"Respectable!" he snorted. "Indeed! As if something like a false kingship could even matter now!" He threw back his head and cackled.

Chive took one step away from him, self-preservational instinct taking over. Then she remembered who she was and stepped closer to him once more. Much closer.

"Here, my lord," she said, consciously making her newly formed hormonal structure bloom to its fullest. "Let me wipe away your tears." She reached out to him.

He caught her hand in an iron grip before she got the chance to touch his face. "Stay away from me," he warned. "You think I don't know you're not Bulma? That you can never be her?" He wrenched her closer so that his face was right up against hers. "She was worth ten of you, and more 'capable' than you could ever be." Roughly, he shoved her away. "Now get a hold of my son."

Chive rubbed her sore wrist, angered. How dare he... as if some pathetic human who hadn't even lived three score of years could EVER match her in experience...

Scowling, she turned again to the intercom. "Trunks," she said again into it. And again there was no answer. She was puzzled.

"He must be away from his room," she said, and then the entire ship suddenly bucked back and forth sharply, twice. "What th..." began Chive, and then the floor bucked again, throwing both warriors off their feet. Vejiita slammed into the wall and stayed down, dazed. The lights began flickering madly.

"What is that damned fool doing?" Chive cried, and leaping up, ran down the hallway toward the door that Trunks had so innocently entered earlier that night. Vejiita was too out of it at first to follow her.

*

Trunks grappled madly for control of the spanner. The man he was grappling with was Ru Sa, so the mere fact that he had not been bereft of it and clubbed senseless already was a great testimony to his strength.

"You won't have it!" he cried, and went Super Saiyan.

All around them, the machinery was sparking and throwing off bits of burnt metal; it seemed whatever damage had been done was done beyond retrieval; it also seemed that the passengers of the ship were going to pay for it.

"Gimme the wrench, brat!" Ru Sa roared, not daring to let go to try to strike the prince. "You don't know what you're doing!"

The ship bucked violently once again, throwing both combatants to opposite sides of the room and yanking the tool from Trunks' grasp. Immediately Ru Sa turned to the machinery behind him and inserted the wrench-like thing into a slot; it slid in as neatly as a CD.

"No!" Trunks said, and leapt after him, but it was too late - the separation had already begun.

Lightening quick, a force field slammed down between him and Ru Sa, and then a second one between Ru Sa and itself; and in the small space between the fields...

Trunks gasped in horror as he saw the ship begin to come apart as though on a seam.

Ru Sa was not finished; wiping furiously at a trickle of blood on his chin, he kept eye contact with Trunks and input another command into the computer.

"Eject quadrant six," he said, and before Trunks could think what that meant, yet another force-field came down behind him and he watched, helpless, as the floor beneath him began to separate as well.

"Die in space, boy," Ru Sa growled, and with a mighty screech of tearing metal the ship broke neatly into three parts - one with Ru Sa and the gawking Chive in the doorway, opposite them and empty, and the last, thin arch joining Trunks, free-floating in space.

He could see but not hear Ru Sa laughing as the both halves of the ship - viewable from space because of the force-field wall - revealed small propulsion jets like landing gear along their bottoms and shot away. And Trunks was alone.

*

"What have you done?" Chive hissed at him, glancing with no concern as Trunks disappeared from view.

Ru Sa turned to her. "I had no choice. The Black has come into this universe - as we knew someday it would, but this is sooner than expected." He almost seemed chagrined. "Something accelerated it. I tried to re-charge the time machine, but it wouldn't..."

"The power surges. Of course." Chive was scowling at him, and Ru Sa for his part looked guilty.

"Idiot," she said. "You know without that layer of Junsei Aion we can't take another trip through the Black. It'll pass right through this," she said, gesturing toward the invisible force-field and looking as though she were referring to empty space.

"Then I guess you'd better get our half of the time machine working again, hadn't you?" Ru Sa rumbled warningly, and just then Vejiita arrived. He looked at the two "Saiya-jin," at the gaping hole where the wall used to be, and the piece of ripped jacket that lay on the floor by the energy-wall. It was part of a small shoulder patch and said, "Capsu." Vejiita looked up, stricken, at the other members of his crew.

They looked back at him, nonplussed.

"I'm sorry," said Ru Sa without a pause. "We were hit by a meteor and the other half of this vessel was damaged beyond repair. I was initiating emergency separation procedures and... Trunks must have loved Goten very much. Even though nothing could have been alive over there, he flew across, trying to save him. He went even though I told him not to, tried to stop him - I grabbed his jacket, but he pulled away. When the ship separated, he was sucked out into space. The vacuum was too strong. I'm sorry."

Vejiita stood where he was, nothing about his bearing indicating whether or not he had absorbed a word of Ru Sa's fabrication. "Leave me," he ordered hoarsely, and they did so all too eagerly.

...the end of everything is here - unless you can get Trunks - our Trunks - to that alternate time-line...

Vejiita slid slowly to his knees, almost hearing the audible sound of something deep in his soul breaking. His wife, his son.... All was gone now. There was no hope.

Vejiita no longer possessed the ability to weep.

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