Chapter Twelve: Shift

#18 stood apprehensively in the shadows facing her target and her goal: the main entrance to the Asukimaiya Plastics Corporation. It looked innocent enough from the outside, but Juuhachi-gou was not to be fooled. Her husband had disappeared in there about half an hour ago and, he had yet to come back.

Piccolo-san hid just across the street from her, on the other side of the Asukimaiya building.

... survive.... we survive...

Piccolo said that he had been hearing them in there all morning, and that was disturbing because no one could feel a thing. The temptation to go Nappa and burst in there screaming and blasting all over the place had its appeal, but Yajirobe with stricken features had advised against it. These things could change shape at will; one of their kind had taken out Gohan - Gohan - and besides, he had seen them feed. Seen what they'd done in a kind of epicurean orgy to some poor citizen of Satan City, and seen how little was left of the fellow when they were done.

No one liked the idea of ending their lives like that, and so his advice had been taken - to wait. However, nobody had come out from or gone in to that building since Yamucha's killer had gone inside, and Kuririn had begun to get nervous. He had finally suggested, to the general approval of all, that a reconnaissance mission be taken; that if Yajirobe had been able to get in there and out undetected - well, then it stood to reason that maybe they could, too. Maybe.

Tenshinhan had volunteered to go with him, and so they went. Juuhachi had had to physically restrain Chaou-zu.

Piccolo was beginning to be afraid that the little group, minus Gokuu, Vejiita, Gohan, Goten, and Trunks, might not be capable of taking these Saiyan-esque frauds out. He was also just beginning to get very worried about Kuririn and Tenshinhan when three things happened all at once.

First, there was a flare-burst of ki from inside that building - two ki signatures which Piccolo instantly recognized as Kuririn's and Tenshinhan's. Then there was a flare of something else - something anti-ki; Piccolo could not think of another word for it. Whatever it was, it immediately engulfed the ki of his friends and their own power began to fade. It also began to make Piccolo feeling extremely nauseated.

Panicking - which for Piccolo merely meant action in haste - the warrior edged out from his alley-way hiding place and started to move across the street, toward the building in question; he had gotten within a twenty feet of it when the third thing happened:

The building exploded.

The heat alone was enough to knock the Namek off his feet, and his pointed ears rang from the blast; structures all around him caught on fire.

In the midst of the wreckage, above the flames and the sound of people screaming and car alarms going off in shrill repercussion, Juuhachi-gou's voice clearly stood out:

"KURIRIN!"

Both men's ki was gone.

***

...survivors... we survive....

Kuririn woke up filled with a sense of the truest form of nausea; the room was moving violently about him and it seemed his insides were determined to join it. That's when he realized that the room wasn't moving at all; he was.

Kuririn was being carried face-down in the crook of somebody's arm, held at the waist like a sack of flour.

"Wha..." he managed to croak.

"He's awake," Kuririn's courier dutifully reported, and without ceasing his running motion handed Kuririn up the ranks until the runner in the lead could grasp him; he had a fleeting impression of swiftly moving Saiyan-like boots clumping along in what appeared to be - had to be - a sewer.

"Ugh...?" he said weakly, unable to think straight. He felt like a baton in a relay race.

"What's... going on... Tenshinhan...?"

"He's not here, little buddy," answered the... person... holding him. Kuririn was struck with a momentary flare of confusion - he could not identify his captor as a male or a female. He tried to look up, blinking to see through his hair -

His white hair.

"What the...." and now he was noticing his arms, so perilously weak, visibly shrunken and faded from their former glory.

As much as he was able in his condition, Kuririn began to freak out.

The warrior carrying him chuckled. "Now, now," he/she said, and shook him gently. The voice fluctuated crazily, smoothly; Kuririn felt it was the same voice that always spoke so reasonably to him in his nightmares, the one that always told with such relish just how it was going to kill him. "Don't panic; at least you're alive. Much better condition than your friend back there, anyway."

Now Kuririn had fleeting, glimpsed memories of what had happened; of finding the alien's ship, nothing at all like the saucerer ship that had appeared so innocuously Saiyan when it flew away with Gokuu and company. How they had found the remains of victims, sucked dry by whatever process Yajirobe had witnessed. How they had found and eavesdropped on a group of the aliens - aliens whose shapes were constantly in shift, but only just enough to make them dizzying to watch.

How he had tripped over some moron's left-over coffee mug and given them both away.

He vaguely seemed to remember trying... trying to fight them... but ki blasts didn't seem to do any good, and they were so damned fast... And then he remembered them getting Tenshinhan - and then getting him - and the bizarrely sordid impression of being passed around like a cigarette at a party, handed from person to person and being sucked, drained of his very essence - and hating it, and craving it, all at the same time. The violation... the sickeningly sweet violation...

Then for him, it had been over. He had passed out, and so had missed Tenshinhan's noble but inglorious end; missed how they sniffed Kuririn's clothing and detected just a bit of Saiya-jin scent on him, and so decided to spare his life; how they had all but killed Tenshinhan, but left him to die in the explosion they had rigged.

The explosion which had left their own ship in ruins.

Now, as they ran along and Kuririn's head swam with these memories, one of them was energetically arguing into his scouter.

Something about a pick-up.

***

Ru Sa growled into his communicator; the fools had blown up their own escape route. Of course, considering the condition of his own ship, Ru Sa wasn't doing much better...

"And don't you dare to remind me of it, baka," cursed Ru Sa. "We or the others will come by to get you. They have to get rid of Kakarotto first, and that won't be so easy."

The other party said something.

"Yes; Vejiita is as good as ours. He just doesn't know it yet. He has a real weakness for his children - fool's been on earth too long. I've left him alone right now, seething over the loss of his 'precious son.' Pah. Stupid half breed's not even worth the sex that made him."

The other party said something derogatory about Saiyan sex in general, and Ru Sa laughed.

"Yes, exactly. Vejiita's going into shock, and that's the way we want it; if he hardens the way I think he's going to, then it'll be a lot easier to take him out. And once I have Bra, everything will be as smooth as silk for getting him to cooperate. Chive still wants to try it her way, though, and I think I might let... what? Saiyan? On the little guy? Huh - well, see what you can find out. Maybe he knows about the other Trunks. Listen - I've got to go. Chive will need help on the time machine, and we still haven't raised Cumber yet on the communicator. Signing off."

Ru Sa turned off the communicator and stowed it away in his pocket. Where was Kakarotto, he wondered? The idiot was supposed to be watched by Cumber... absently, Ru Sa hoped Cumber was all right. The man had his talents; all of them did. After thousands of years of existence, if they didn't have marketable skills by now they really would be pathetic.

Ru Sa stopped and stared at the door, telepathic senses flaring; his face took on a rictus of fury.

Bra was not in her room.

***

Bra ran lightly down the corridor, going as fast as she dared without making enough noise to get caught. Even if she had known that even her silent jog was considerably faster than a grown man could run, it wouldn't have mattered; the only that did matter right now was her father.

Her father, her brave, strong father, who was at this very moment consciously trying to decide between suicide and a bizarre course of action which he called "ousatsu;" it was a word she did not recognize, but for some reason it struck her with fear. Her daddy seemed to associate it with serious bloodshed.

And if only that were his real problem...

Bra could feel something changing in her father, threatening to change; a hardness, a coldness that shut out all love, that shut her out, and left him - what? Powerful, certainly, and less "weak" (at least in his own mind), but was in fact a reversion to something he'd been before. Something that, at least when he had been it, he had not felt pain.

As much.

Bra hesitated outside the door. Vejiita was still kneeling in the broken control room, as if unable to walk away from the place where he thought Trunks had breathed his last.

But he hasn't! she wanted to scream, but knew that would not be the way. She carefully held on to her knowledge of his subconscious as she entered the room.

"Otousan," she addressed him respectfully.

"Bra," he said with no emotion. "I told you not to leave your room." This lack of inflection somehow scared her more than anything else she had yet observed.

"He's not dead, papa," she said, and Vejiita, who was still on one knee, spun around to face her. He looked as though he had been caught and surprised in the act of being made a knight.

"What? Are you... you're connected with him?"

Bra nodded. "Yes, papa. Trunks isn't dead. But he's not there any more, so you might as well not go back to look for him."

Vejiita's face worked strangely, as though he no longer had control of the muscles there. That thing - that strange, cold, scary thing that had closed around his heart and threatened to make him hard against her - was still there, fighting for its supremacy. Bra wanted to tell him that that's what the bad guys wanted, what they were counting on, but the words wouldn't come.

"He's... not there?" stuttered Vejiita, uncomprehending.

"No, papa. And - papa..." Unable to stand quietly while bombarded with such tumult and turmoil from her father, Bra began to cry; she was only six, after all, and when one was six and words would not do, tears were the best and only recourse.

That action saved them all. The hardness slipped from his soul like cold shackles from a prisoner's wrists, and Vejiita reached forward and gathered his daughter into his arms. He was not weeping exactly; but he was holding her, grasping onto her as he'd never done in her whole life, close to his body, close to his heart. And that was good enough for Bra.

"Come on, papa," she said to him gently, feeling much relieved. She pulled back and took his hand to lead him as though he were blind. "We have to go hide. They're coming for you."

"Who are, Bra?" said Vejiita gently, staring at his child as though he had never seen her before. Perhaps, in a way, he never really had.

"Them," she said. "The Old Ones."

Vejiita did not understand her terminology, but he knew whom she meant.

Following her lead, he quietly walked out of the room and turned his back on the open space where he thought he'd lost his son. The two disappeared into a service corridor just in time to miss Ru Sa, who was not very happy.

And so the chase began.

***

Gokuu woke up slowly, shaking his head to clear it of the pain. The ringing would not go away for a while yet, but that was all right; he didn't mind ringing.

Flexing his considerable strength, Gokuu stood and pushed off the girder which had come down from somewhere and knocked him out. He blinked; there was some serious destruction around him, and he couldn't quite figure out how it happened. He had been talking with Cumber - interesting fellow, Cumber was - and he...

Cumber! Oh, he had forgotten all about Cumber - poor guy...

Using his ki sense, Gokuu quickly located where in the wreckage Cumber was and hauled the bent and twisted metal off him. Cumber groaned. And Gokuu stared as though his eyes were about to pop out of his head.

For just one moment - for just the briefest of moments - Cumber had no longer looked like a Saiyan.

Odd thing was, he didn't look like anything Gokuu had ever seen before - except for once, in a dream, perhaps, after he'd had too many ju-ju berries for dinner. Cumber groaned again.

"Cumber?" asked Gokuu, kneeling carefully beside him. Following some gut instinct, he placed his hand gently on Cumber's head - if Cumber was really his name - and started just feeling the downed man out.

Cumber's eyes flew open and he grasped Gokuu's wrist, pulling his hand away. He looked at Gokuu, looked at the huge scraps of ship which had come down on top of him, and looked back at Gokuu with a puzzled expression.

"You... were trying to save me?" he asked slowly.

"Well... yes. You were hurt, and..." Gokuu's voice trailed off as he read what was there in Cumber's eyes. The shock - the bitterness - the hate - the weariness, especially that, oh Kami such weariness...

"How old are you?" he asked out of the blue, not knowing such a question was in his head.

Cumber smiled gently, still not releasing Gokuu's wrist. "Older than you are, I think," he said quietly. "Older than... ah, never mind. I... let me sit up." With Gokuu's help, he did. Whatever bones had broken were fast on their way to knitting themselves, and Cumber would be able to function normally soon enough. Gokuu did not know that, however, and so technically Cumber would soon have him at a disadvantage. If he cared to use it.

If.

"Are you really hurt? Can I help?" asked Gokuu genuinely. "I don't know anything about the bodies of - whatever you are, but I can still help. If you'll let me."

Cumber looked at him curiously. "So you know I'm not a Saiyan," he said calmly.

Gokuu grinned. "Yeah. Vejiita already had that figured out. But you might have broken something..."

"Do you know what I am?" asked Cumber. He felt as though he were talking to a child - but an extremely intuitive child. A gifted child. It was weird - and somehow endearing.

"Well - no," said Gokuu cautiously. "That is, I don't think I'm supposed to talk about it. But your injuries..."

"Screw my injuries," said Cumber mildly, and struggled to stand up. Gokuu reached out to help him.

"Here," he said. Cumber jerked away. Gokuu blinked.

"What's wrong?" he said.

Cumber froze, half-crouched, half-sitting, looking at Gokuu with disbelief. "You're still trying to help me?" he said. "Even though you know I lied? And I'm partially responsible for the death of your own son?"

Gokuu looked at him solemnly, a child's mind inside a man's heart. "Yes," he said. "I read you - just a little bit. You didn't kill Gohan - I promise you, if you had, you wouldn't have woken up. You have good in your heart as well as evil - just like Vejiita did, just like Piccolo. You're so lonely - so very lonely. And... I think you're in love. But I'm not really sure; I've never tried to read a mind like yours before."

Cumber nodded as though he had been expecting just this speech, although the truth was quite the opposite. Shock ran like cold shivers up and down his muscles.

"You would... trust me?" he asked cautiously, and Gokuu actually laughed.

"No, silly," he said. "Not trust you. But I like you, and I think maybe I can help change you." He leaned forward conspiratorially, and Cumber instinctively leaned back, frightened at the power of will he saw there. "It's never too late to change, until you're dead, and then it's kind of too late, but not even then. I think." And Gokuu smiled as though quite proud of the wisdom he'd babbled.

Cumber stared at him, completely unsure of what to think. It was safe to say that in all his years of life he had never met anyone remotely like Gokuu before, and nothing in his present make-up prepared him to deal with the man. All the Saiyan's talk of goodness, of evil and change, he simply dismissed; drivel. Anyone who'd lived as long as he had knew that. But this was beside the point. The real question was, would he trust Gokuu?

Looking back at that boy-man, who was leaning back on his haunches with his hands on his hips and looking utterly un-afraid, Cumber knew something very strange.

He could trust this man Gokuu with his life.

Shaking his head sharply as if to physically dismiss any confusing thoughts concerning his foe - if that's what he could be called - Cumber slid smoothly to his feet and stood facing Gokuu.

"I need to check on the equipment," he said. "That separation - if it's what I think it was - was really rough. We shouldn't be in a condition like this, so I have to... to go and..."

Gokuu said nothing; only nodded. Cumber looked at him for a moment more, sighed, then turned his back on him and walked away. Gokuu did not follow. It had just occurred to him that Goten might be on a part of the ship that was damaged.

Turning and walking another hallway, Gokuu did not bother to marvel at what had just happened. Making friends and influencing people was a natural gift of his, and he accepted it without question; it was his responsibility, his duty to help people when he could. He'd always known that, just like he'd always known how to breathe.

When he found the person who'd killed Gohan, though, now that would be different matter. Hoo boy, would it ever.

Dismissing the thought for violent contemplation later, Gokuu turned down the hallway that led to Goten's room - and stopped.

In front of him was nothing. Space. The hallway was open to space, the force field at the end shimmering oh-so-beautifully in the stars' passing light. Gokuu felt real fear grip his heart.

Before he even knew what he was doing, Gokuu hurled himself back down the corridor, calling for help, calling Cumber's name.

***

To the IndexTo Chapter Thirteen To The Previous Chapter