Chapter Sixteen: Goten's Sacrifice

Goten crawled out of the maintenance shaft and looked around to see where he was. It hadn't taken him long, really, to get here - but now that he was here, he was not at all sure what to do. So far, neither of the guiding voices which had led him down here in the first place had returned.

He stared at his surroundings with some confusion. There were space pods of every size and shape around him, as if everybody on board had to have at least one escape available to them at all times. He had to wonder why they would bother; there were enough pods here to launch an army. A moment's inspection, however, revealed that not all the pods were in working order; haphazard piles of machine parts lay scattered all over the room, and in the dim stars' light the place seemed misshapen and filled with shadows. It was, in a word, creepy.

Was Goten going to stay there a moment longer? Damn straight he was not. Spotting a door on the other side of the room, Goten began lightly trotting across the littered floor, trying not to trip or get snagged by anything. Then with no warning, the door slid open.

Goten had just enough time to hide behind a small space pod before whoever it was switched on the lights and came into the room.

Whoever it was turned out to be Ru Sa.

Apparently unaware of Goten's presence, the captain stormed over to one of the larger vessels and began getting it ready for takeoff, pulling a tool of some kind from his belt and fiddling with the hull. He was cursing fluidly under his breath as he did so.

And here apparently came the source of his vexation; walking with something less than her usual confidence, Chive came cautiously into the room after him. The minute she was visible, Ru Sa stopped working and glared at her.

"LEFT THE DAMNED DOOR OPEN!!" he suddenly roared, and Goten jumped about a foot. "What kind of an ASS are you?!?"

Chive cringed slightly. "I didn't know..."

"Oh, you knew," Ru Sa, growled, and took a step closer. "You knew, bitch, and you cost us a good year's travel by doing this. A WHOLE FUCKING YEAR!" Ru Sa threw his metal spanner to the floor, bending it against the Junsei Aion by the force of his throw. Goten gulped and hunched down further. Somehow, he thought it would be a very bad thing to be discovered just now.

"Goten," growled Ru Sa, and Goten stiffened and stifled a gasp - but the captain was not looking at him. "Where is he, Chive? Answer me that, and I may not kill you."

Chive attempted to look callused; if her hands hadn't been shaking so much, she might have pulled it off.

"I wouldn't know, captain," she spit the word out, crossing her arms defiantly. "Nice of you to assume that every time some guy goes missing it's my fault." Ru Sa rolled his eyes dramatically and started walking toward her.

"Well, if somebody's more banal appetites were more under control, then I wouldn't have to assume that all the time, now would I?"

Chive opened her mouth to protest, and Ru Sa was suddenly right in front of her. She uttered a short, high cry through tightly closed lips and fell back.

That was when Goten realized that they had not been speaking Basic or Japanese all this time.

...what? He wondered to himself, but the answer was not forthcoming. He didn't even know how he knew they weren't speaking his language - not to mention how he was understanding what they were saying. He wondered, briefly, if those past voices of warning had anything to do with it.

Ru Sa had grabbed Chive's wrist to keep her from escaping him. She leaned back, away from him, wide-eyed terror beginning to mix with the fury on her perfect face. It really didn't look like it belonged there.

"I... I..."

"Oh, come now, Chive-chan," Ru Sa rumbled more pleasantly, but Goten saw the way Chive flinched in response and knew this tone was more dangerous than his first. "You don't think I'd be jealous - do you?"

Chive looked up at him, shaking her head frantically. Ru Sa pulled her closer and growled.

"Because of you," he said, and yanked her right up to his face. "Because of you, we have to take advantage of those damned Nameks we had stored for later and go all the way back to that dead world. Do you understand me, Chive-chan? Do you? I hope so, because I grow tired of repeating myself. Now, for the last time - what… did you do… with Goten?"

Any indication of rebellion was gone from Chive's expression now; tears were streaming down her cheeks, and for some strange reason Goten began to think that she was not crying for fear of Ru Sa. She was crying because she had not pleased him.

He began to feel true disgust.

"I... I lost him," she admitted, hanging her head and not bothering to check if Ru Sa were affected by her tears. He wasn't. "I thought I could... you... I developed a new formula - a variation on the old, and it might have made integration possible... even with his genetic faults."

Ru Sa continued to glare at her, unimpressed. "So you went after the little buck like a rat in heat and left the door to the lab wide open."

It was not a question, and Chive did not bother to answer. She merely nodded.

Ru Sa leaned closer. "Fool," he whispered dangerously, and then right before Goten's eyes proceeded to beat her very badly.

Goten had never seen anything so horrible; and yet, it seemed that he could not look away. He had known of such things as spousal abuse before - hell, it was common enough on Earth - but this was done with such a ferocity and cruelty that it turned his stomach. Still, he could not look away.

Not even when Ru Sa finished the beating part.

Not even when he raped her afterwards.

When the captain stood to go, apparently much calmed, Goten was finally able to look away and hunker back down behind his cover, feeling sick to his stomach. Ru Sa went to his space pod without a word and left, going Goten did not know where and causing a strong draft of air when the pod's auto-lock launch tunnel opened to the suction of space. Chive lay on the floor, crying softly.

Goten felt a strong urge to go to her. Well, naturally; he was a good guy - he was supposed to go to help the oppressed, appease the suffering. But he felt a tinge of guilt for not having done anything earlier - not that he could have done any good, since Ru Sa could have smashed him without a thought - and now, he also felt a tiny bit of fear. He wasn't sure what they had been talking about, why they had been using his name, but Goten felt sure that he was better off to stay right where he was.

Chive got up and brushed herself off. Her wounds were already healing, and she looked extremely pissed.

Goten knew if he revealed himself right now, she would kill him. Saying nothing and keeping his ki very low, he watched her pick herself up and leave, turning out the lights as she went.

Swallowing hard and trembling, trying without much success to purge what he had seen from his mind, Goten stayed where he was, and waited.

***

Interlude 16.1: Cumber

Cumber looked dumbly at the intercom and blinked as if unable to comprehend what he had just heard. "What did you say?" he asked again.

On the other end, Ru Sa sighed; he was having a very long day, and was tired of having idiots to deal with.

"I said, I'm going to Earth to pick up the reconnaissance team, and then we're leaving. Going back. All the way to you-know-where. Believe me Cumber, we don't have a choice about this; Chive left the lab door open and Vejiita-sama got in there and destroyed all the stuff. It will take us a year to build that much up again." Actually, Vejiita hadn't exactly destroyed it; he'd somehow used his ki to melt the cabinet shelves over and around all the chemicals, in such a way that it was impossible to get to said chemicals without ruining them. It was a very cruel thing to do. Ru Sa wondered that he hadn't thought of doing something like it himself.

"But... can't we just keep going? Make it on route? There are plenty of Nameks here..." Cumber was trying to see a way out of this solution; Ru Sa couldn't blame him. Going back to that dead world held no appeal for him, either.

"No, and no," said Ru Sa as gently as he could. "We can't. As we keep going back in time on our mission, stopping at earlier and earlier points, some prying god or Saiyan or who knows what would discover that we were keeping Nameks for the purpose of extraction, and wouldn't go over very well at all, would it? They're awfully noisy when it happens, you know. We couldn't keep it secret."

Cumber's brain was whirring with ideas; Ru Sa could almost hear it. "But what if we didn't leave earth this time?" he said. "Maybe we could have someone in the ship working on the Nameks, and then on earth..."

"And then we'd have to worry about telepathic help-signals from the Nameks and interfering kaious and everything else," Ru Sa interrupted. "There is no other way to do this, and you know it. Now, even if the reconnaissance mission was successful, before we could go back to stop Gero we would still have to go back and replenish our supplies of the substance. It's not fair, but that's how life is. Get over it, Cumber."

Cumber sighed and rubbed his temples. "What do you want me to do with G... Kakarotto?" he wondered.

"What do you think?" Ru Sa asked sharply; he had had his fill of stupid questions today. "Just leave a good amount for me, okay? He's strong enough - I want to share the wealth."

"All right," Cumber said, still rubbing his temples and closing his eyes. "Oh, one more thing..." he asked.

"What?" Ru Sa growled at him.

"Do you have Cabbage over there? Because we can't find him, although he IS supposed to be on this part of the ship."

There was silence for one moment on the other end of the transmission. "Hello?" Cumber prompted.

"No, we don't," Ru Sa said, sounding much more dismissive than he should have. "I guess one of the Saiyans must have gotten him. Over and out." And he clicked off the comm link.

Cumber stared at the device; he had been lied to - he knew that instinctively. But why? What did Ru Sa have to lie about? What did it matter whether Cabbage was there or not? What was important enough to make him want to lie?

Cumber did not know that it had been Cabbage's body which Gohan had found; Cabbage's husked corpse which had been left to float in space along with Kakarotto's heavily injured son. He did not know these things; but he was a very intelligent man, and persistent enough to mull over what few facts he had. As he mulled, he guessed, and a fearful certainty began to steal over him. .

"Oh, hell," he muttered to himself, not wanting to think what he was thinking. If you couldn't trust someone you had known for two millennia, then who could you trust?

Deep in thought and frowning with the weight of it, Cumber went his way and continued repairs on his half of the vessel. At least he would be ready when the time came for rejoining the broken parts of ship; they would not fail their trip through the Black because of him. No, sir.

Besides, he had other things to put off.

He didn't really want to hurt Gokuu; and that was something that he was not, at this point, able to admit to himself at all.

***

Vejiita ran along the passage, carrying Bra in his arms and not bothering to worry about stealth. Odd thing was, now that he was not trying to avoid anybody, it seemed absolutely everyone had gone away.

They were approaching the main maintenance corridor, near which he thought he could recall an access hallway that led to the lower portions of the ship. There, hopefully, he would find some of their space pods.

He suddenly gasped and slipped to a stop, ki sense flaring. Heh; So that's where they all were. It appeared that all the Enemy on this ship had gathered by the remains of Chive's lab and were having a discussion. Well, no need to join in; grinning like the devil, Vejiita turned and crept back the way he had come. If they all wanted to cluster together and talk about his handiwork, then fine - they could do that. He had better things to do elsewhere.

Besides, he didn't want to get too close; just the thought of the ease with which Chive had slipped into his mind was frightening.

"Bra," he whispered to her very quietly. "Which way?"

Wordlessly, she pointed to the left, and he followed. They sneaked through a door and into a hallway, heading toward the loading bay. If Vejiita was right - and he usually was - that was where they'd find a ship; some way to get off this damned death-boat and back down to earth. He just hoped it wasn't too far away.

***

Interlude 16.1: Metamorphosis Sound asleep, Dende felt no surprise as Trunks came walking over the horizon toward him.

"Trunks!" he said. "How nice to meet you here!"

Trunks nodded once, all business and very, very serious. His hair had grown a lot longer since Dende had last seen him, and his clothes...

"Goodness," he said with a chuckle. "Your outfit's a mess. Why, you're even missing your shoulder patch!" Dende could afford to be blithe; this was a dream, after all.

Trunks nodded once again. "Yes," he said. "It was torn off last time I struggled. Dende, you're not awake."

"Yes," agreed Dende pleasantly, enjoying the way this was turning out.

"But you're not really dreaming," Trunks continued, and Dende felt his heart drop into his stomach.

"Oh?" he said.

"I am going to learn from you," said Trunks mysteriously. "But don't worry - you're not to teach me now, and you won't teach me directly later. You must go back and learn all you can. It is essential that you do so. The plan of the Kyuujinshu must be completed - but they themselves must fail. When the time comes, you will know what to do." Then Trunks turned, casual as anything, and began walking away. The horizon remained dead as he did so.

"Vejiita," Dende found himself calling out after the retreating boy. "Vejiita, wait!" But no - Trunks, not Vejiita - was gone, and Dende was once again all alone. All alone...

Suddenly he knew where this was; this was the Black, right in the heart of it, and here was nothing. He was nothing. And as he began to panic, light from nowhere flooded his eyes and Dende sat up screaming.

"Dende! DENDE!!" And Bulma, true to form, slapped him in the face.

"What? Vejiita? Trunks?" Dende blurted, blinking into the bright overhead light and realizing slowly that they were not there. At least, not the Trunks or Vejiita to whom he was referring.

Bulma blinked at him. "Dende," she hissed. "What happened? You know, you're very lucky not to have woken Trunks."

"Trunks..." Dende repeated, grabbing either side of his head. "Bulma?" he asked. "Do you know anything about Kyuujinshu?" Bulma blinked at him again.

"Old Ones? What?"

Dende shook his head. "Never mind. I... I need to sleep. And then tomorrow..." Dende suddenly looked determined. Damnit - even an even-tempered Namek could have enough. "I'm getting to the bottom of this," he announced, and Bulma stared at him.

"Hokay," she intoned far too lightly and stepped back. "Just remember: time is not real."

"What?" Dende looked at her.

"Well, it's not," Bulma insisted, hands on her hips, and she then faded away. Dende pounded his fists on the bed.

"Oh, for crying out loud!" he said, and then he woke up.

...really woke up - and found himself ensconced comfortably in the bedroom Bulma had given him when he'd first arrived. He was also sitting straight up.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," he muttered to himself, tired of dreams within dreams, and fell back exhaustedly on the bed. If this had been part of the "trials," then it had been a fairly useless...

A short, sharp noise came from outside in the bushes.

Dende sat back up. What was that? he wondered, and clambered off his bed to go take a look. Quieter than quiet, he crept to the window.

And looked straight into the eyes of one of the strangest beings he had ever seen.

The creature floated outside his window, basically humanoid in shape, but the angles were… wrong. Too sharp, somehow; almost two dimensional in appearance. Other than that, it almost seemed to have Saiyan hair...

"Who are you?" asked Dende softly, wondering if he were dreaming but knowing that he was not.

"I am Kyuujinshu. Recently I am called Cabbage," said the white skinned monster in a very reasonable voice.

"Cabbage?" repeated Dende. "But that's a Saiyan name."

"And so I was for a long time," said Cabbage evenly. "And before that, I was Tsufuru - and before that, many other things. I am myself, and Cabbage is as good a name as any. Don't you think?" Cabbage smiled, looking steadily into Dende's eyes..

"Why are you telling me this?" Dende wondered, and Cabbage cocked his head to the side as though this a fairly amusing question.

"Because you are not from here," he said calmly. "You are from outside; and so, you may be able to help us. We need to find the source of the Black."

Suddenly, for Dende, several very large things seemed to click into place at once.

"You're on a mission to stop it," he said quietly, and the Kyuujinshu nodded.

"We are," he said. "Although I fear we may never reach it in time."

"Reach what in time?" asked Dende, but then Cabbage looked to his left and inhaled sharply. "Trunks," he said. "I must go," he told Dende, and then before Dende's eyes he changed shape - changed ki - and became something else entirely. The odd-looking bird looked meaningfully at him once, and then flapped off and into the night.

Dende was still standing there looking puzzled when Trunks came around to his side of the house.

"Who were you talking to, Dende?" he asked, and Dende thought he knew this odd incarnation of Trunks well enough to guess that lies would not be tolerated.

"I don't know," answered Dende truthfully enough, and said no more. Trunks stared at him.

Heavens, thought Dende. Does nobody around here think it odd to hover outside people's second floor windows at three o' clock in the morning?

"Good enough," pronounced Trunks solemnly, and continued on his circuitous flight around the house.

"Glad it's enough for you," muttered Dende, and went back to bed. Damn it all, he was going to get a good night's sleep no matter what was going on.

***

Vejiita turned around and sent a powerful blast down the hallway; there were screams as his beam hit home. Grabbing up his daughter again, he leaped into the air and flew down the corridor, heading toward the landing bay. Somebody jumped in front of him, but Vejiita did not slow; he simply slammed into that somebody with both fists. Bra clung to his underside like a little monkey.

Vejiita could kick himself; how he could have possibly been stupid enough to walk right into a trap like that... And Bra had warned him, hadn't she? Oh, yes - she had looked him right in the eye and shook her little head "no," blue-green locks bouncing everywhere. But did he listen? Oh, no - not the almighty frigging Prince of the Saiya-jin.

"Stop him!" rang out from behind, and Vejiita imprinted his boot into somebody's gut. Damned if they were getting him. Damned if they were.

Bra scrambled up higher on his body and whispered in his ear.

"Just in there, papa," she said, and he followed her lead without a word. They slammed inside a room and powered down immediately; well, he did anyway. Bra stood on the floor and concentrated very, very hard.

Outside, two rather singed squadrons of bad guys met in the hallway and started yelling.

"Where did he go?"

"Which way?"

"What the hell happened to him?"

Then, horribly, they began speaking in a language that Vejiita had never heard before. His face grew shocked, then puzzled, and he decided to power up lest one of them should unexpectedly come in this room.

Bra stopped him.

"No, papa," she said quietly. "Let me handle this." She concentrated; and all of a sudden, the warriors outside started talking about Chive.

What? Vejiita wondered to himself, but whatever he was going to think next was cut off.

...HELP ME... thundered through his mind in Chive's voice, so strongly that he clutched the sides of his head and only barely stifled a moan. The warriors outside all gasped and took off for the control room; Bra looked up at him apologetically.

"Sorry, papa," she said. "That came out a little stronger than I expected."

Vejiita stared blankly at his child, whom he was beginning to think he did not know at all.

"Now come on," she ordered. "Ru Sa's not back yet, and he's the only one left alive on this ship who could contend with you. Come," she ordered, and grabbing his larger hand in her own, she pulled him toward the doorway.

"Contend?" Vejiita repeated, his head still throbbing with... Chive's?... voice. "When did you start using words like 'contend?'"

"Since... oh, never mind," Bra said, and she sounded like Chive for a moment. Vejiita pulled up sharply.

"You..." he began, and Bra turned to him with fierce eyes.

"We have no time for this!" she cried, and he stared at her in suspicious shock. "Please, papa," she amended, looking and sounding like herself once more and Vejiita decided not to argue. Just so long as she did not look at him again with those eyes that were not her own.

***

Goten had just about gotten over his nerves and talked himself into leaving when shouts and pounding came from outside the door.

"Oh, no..." he moaned to himself and hid again as the door slid open. Vejiita came flying into the room, blasting behind him and causing apparent chaos to follow in his wake. Punching in some sort of command code, he shut and locked the door.

"Ha!" he announced triumphantly. "Fools never should have let me watch them punch in those codes..."

From outside, the pounding grew more insistent - but Goten was not worried. Nothing was going to get through that Junsei Aion any time soon.

Vejiita looked around him, trying to choose a ship. He chose.

"Ah," he said, one hand going protectively around Bra's shoulders. "That one looks about right." With that, he headed toward the pod of his choice.

"Hey!" said Goten, and jumped out from behind his cover. Vejiita spun toward him and Goten came with .08 seconds of being blasted into eternity.

"Goten! Damnit!" Vejiita said and lowered his shaking hands. "I almost... stupid boy, what on earth possessed you to do that?"

Goten shrugged. "I dunno," he said mildly, the earlier evening's horror wearing off him at last. "You leaving?"

"Damn straight I am, now let me think..." Hm. Three - that made things a bit more difficult. Two - if one was small - could fit into a normal space pod, but three...

Vejiita cursed the dilemma that once again Kakarotto (or one of his kin, anyway) had gotten him into.

The problem was never resolved; at that very moment, the auto-lock launch tunnel opened, making air swirl around them as it was sucked into space, and Ru Sa's large vessel started to dock. Vejiita tensed.

"Shit!" he said, and without waiting for anything else to happen, picked Bra up bodily and shoved her into a nearby space pod. He started pressing buttons.

"Papa, what are you doing?" asked Bra, panicky.

"What does it look like, brat?" He pressed a final button, then frowned when whatever was supposed to light up didn't.

"It didn't work," he said with a kind of breathless horror, and pulled Bra out like a sack of wheat and raced toward another pod nearby. He wasn't fast enough; Ru Sa's ship came in, and the auto-lock tunnel closed behind him with a clang that seemed somehow too final.

"Goten!" warned Vejiita, and tossing his daughter behind him to what he hoped was a safe position - had to be a safe position - powered up, and waited for Ru Sa to come out.

Ru Sa did just that - and paused in the doorway of his ship. He looked warily from Goten to Vejiita and back again, then toward the locked door keeping him from his comrades. "Interesting," he rumbled, and stepped out.

"Get out of our way, Rhubarb," Vejiita ordered, his ki aura flashing gold. "Or I will kill you where you stand."

Ru Sa did not laugh; he did not mock. He simply looked deeply into Vejiita's eyes and mused. "Will you, now," he said curiously, as though talking to himself. Then he smiled; a truly horrible thing that did not touch his eyes. "I think not," he offered as an alternative, and then before Vejiita got the chance to even move the captain was right in his face.

Feeling extremely useless, Goten dropped back and tried to protect Bra; there was no way he could keep up with that speed. No way.

Ru Sa and Vejiita clashed violently, making the air crackle with energy and the room echo with their shouts. In raw ki, Vejiita was more powerful; but in brute strength, Ru Sa held the mastery. He also had three thousand years of fighting experience on his side.

Almost more quickly than Vejiita's eye could follow, Ru Sa feinted twice to the left and suddenly spun around and slammed his fist into the prince's face. Vejiita was helpless against such strength; he blacked out momentarily and plummeted to the ground.

Bra screamed, and Ru Sa was at her side in less than a moment.

"And now it's your turn, little girl," he smiled, and reached for her.

"YAAH!!" Goten came out of nowhere and did the only thing he could think of - he grabbed Ru Sa by the tail and swung the larger man around and into the wall.

*

Kaiou-sama nodded, pleased, but there were tears streaming down his cheeks. "Yes, Goten," he said. "Yes... change the balance."

*

Ru Sa picked himself up, locked in a fury beyond fury, and roared; he powered up, and as he did he ceased to look anything at all like a Saiya-jin. He raced forward and slammed into Goten quite hard, his shoulder knocking more than one of the boy's ribs loose. However, Goten was not a weak boy; thinking faster in this situation than his brother had, he pulled his arms back and shouted, "KAMEKAMEHA!" - even after all this time, he still got the title of his father's signature shot wrong. Fortunately the name did not change the effectiveness; the beam of power which shot from his hands pushed Ru Sa back once more.

Vejiita tried to stand, shakily; it felt as though every bone in his head had been jarred loose. He saw, as if through a haze of blood, Ru Sa rise on the other side of the room - and furiously point his hands at Bra.

"No!"

*

Kaiou-sama sobbed only once. "Now," he said.

*

"No!" Goten echoed, and, closer than Vejiita, faster than the same, he flung himself in front of Bra just as the blast came from Ru Sa.

He had time to scream only once.

*

"Goten!" Vejiita had time to cry only once, and then Ru Sa had changed tactics and was on him. The big lug wouldn't get away; he was too close for Vejiita to get his hands free enough to do any of his ki attacks, and at close range even a Super Saiyan was no match for the recently enhanced Ru Sa - the man had drained what was left of his comrade Shitake back on earth.

Just before he passed out, Vejiita managed to spit in Ru Sa's face: "Damned Tsufuru..."

Ru Sa smiled, a terrifying thing with his white face and black eyes, and said, "Tsufuru? Whatever gave you that idea?"

Then Vejiita knew no more.

*

Kaiou-sama wept. "Thank you, Goten," he said. "And Gokuu... please... forgive me."

***

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