Chapter Eighteen: Ru Sa

Vejiita's raging thoughts could be heard as far away as the auxiliary bridge port; at least, they could until Ru Sa closed the door. Enough was enough, and Saiyans in mental anguish could only be amusing for so long. Then they ruined supper.

Ru Sa lay back on Vejiita's cot and contemplated the day's events; supper, as it was, would be long in coming tonight - thanks to a certain stupid female and an embittered Saiyan prince, there wasn't enough to go around, and that meant the mechanical technicians got first dibs. Ru Sa gritted his teeth and exercised his patience; at least he'd had some nourishment before returning back home. He wouldn't be dissolving any time soon, thank you very much.

Home; heh. This ship was now his home. Ru Sa had lived on countless worlds and in countless times and had called many places "home" before, but it had been centuries since "home" had been anything resembling a ship. The last "home" he'd had had been Vejiita-sei. For a moment Ru Sa allowed himself to revel in the glory of those memories; he - they - had lived on that planet accepted and unsuspected for almost two hundred years. There really was no better place; in all the universe, no victim sufficed so well as a full-blooded Saiya-jin, and all his people seemed to grow tremendously in strength and stability during their stay.

Then less than a month after King Vejiita had been crowned, he had ordered an investigation into the activities of some under Ru Sa's command. Not Ru Sa himself, ironically enough; he supposed he was Saiyan-ly vicious enough to avoid such scrutiny. However, they had almost been caught - almost pre-guessed, which is worse - and in the end had had to flee. Up and leave, like vagabonds in the night. Ru Sa had never forgiven King Vejiita for that.

They had been working on their time machine for almost two years when the Black struck; deep out in space, they had seen it coming before anyone else, and frantically tried to keep ahead of it while they finished their work. By the time they finally learned to time jump, they had flown almost to the end of the galaxy, all the way to earth, and had been more than a little surprised to find that one of the very high ki-levels on the planet was the brat-child of Vejiita - alive and well and, wonder of wonders, with a human mate and child. But there was no time for such oddities; with no clear idea of what they were doing, they jumped, and so missed out on the final end of that particular universe, that particular timeline. At least in that place of being, dthe Black won out.

The Kyuujinshu were survivors; as a people, they had lasted centuries longer than their natures decreed by mere, stubborn force of their will. They had even mutated their own bodies in an attempt to last longer still; and though in the process they had destroyed their ability to procreate, at least they had guaranteed themselves one thing: conditional immortality.

Not bad for a no-name people who had existed before time.

They had emerged from their time-jump to find themselves by a somewhat battered earth and in a completely different timeline - one in which Vejiita was dead and his half-breed son ran the show. For all it mattered. And by some bizarre twist of fate or god's cruel whim, they had also ended up in the very place where the Black had originated to begin with; for the second time, they witnessed It creep and consume all there was of reality.

Ru Sa had been incensed by this; it had seemed almost a moral offense to be cursed with such luck, gods or no gods. An unaccustomed wave of helplessness had washed over him as he watched his people try to charge the time machine again for yet another emergency jump, having no better recourse before them than trying to run.

Before they left, however, Cabbage had made a horrific discovery: the humans knew where the Black came from. Apparently they had a book which traced its source - to a mad scientist named Dr. Gero. So Ru Sa reinvented their mission: go back, discover where this Gero found or invented the Black to begin with, and stop him. They didn't dare do more than that; the timelines were messed up enough as it was, and they had already seen one timeline meet its end.

It certainly seemed simple enough, solid enough - a good enough plan. It even seemed to be a further sign when Bulma, Vejiita's past mate, invented a substance that was resistant to the Black and could be used to make their ship safe.

Then what had happened? Trunks, the son of Vejiita, interfered and ruined everything. He had even, by unknown means, turned one of Ru Sa's most faithful followers against him - Cabbage.

A thoroughly illogical hatred had begun to seethe in Ru Sa as he watched this other Earth and its severely reduced population struggle to survive; watched as the one remaining Warrior did his best to keep it from being destroyed and insured its destruction in the process. It seemed that for the last fifty years all of Ru Sa's woes had been due to the inauspicious family of Vejiita, and he decided he wanted revenge.

Absurd? Well, yes; he was willing to admit that. Absolutely deserved? Damn straight it was that, too.

And now here he was, on a ship that was damaged (in part) because of Vejiita's son, slightly unstable because of the acumen of Vejiita's daughter, and personally in the grip of a nasty headache because of the mental raging of Vejiita himself; his hatred grew even more.

Vejiita's daughter; Ru Sa allowed himself one brief smile at that thought. That girl, who had not even been born yet in the place where they first learned to jump… that girl, Bra, was going to be a beautiful, if temporary, asset to this group - and in more ways than one.

Even if her behavior thus far had been damned inconvenient.

Chive had been meticulous in her planning; even her newest formula had been duly recorded, and now could successfully be replicated. Chive had always been the most dependable, the most resourceful, of Ru Sa's crew… and Bra had eaten Chive. She had already begun to think like her, of that much Ru Sa was certain. Sheinri-Tsu didn't take very long to adjust to new input.

Wincing slightly as his stomach reminded him of its need for food, Ru Sa gave up on his contemplations and rose instead to go to the mess hall. Kyuujinshu had considerably faster metabolisms than even Saiya-jin did, and if he could not do anything for the present to alleviate his genetic anguish, he certainly could do something about his hunger.

He considered Chive's loss briefly in his mind before going in to dinner. A beautiful woman; a terrible shame. She had been such an asset… and Ru Sa had cared for her, in his own way. He exhaled shortly in something akin to a sigh - or a snort.

Pushing her passing from his mind, he made his way into the mess hall and began to eat. It never occurred to him to wonder how Cumber was going to handle the news.

***

It was late in the afternoon, and Dende went for a walk.

One couldn't really blame him; since the destruction of Gero's lab the day before, Bulma had been anything but congenial . She seemed to see Dende as a kind of co-conspirator with her son, and held him partly at fault for the blocking of her explorative tendencies. Funny thing was, his supposed "co-conspirator" was still treating him like some sort of spy - although Dende supposed that if he had caught a strange guest talking to an unknown in the middle of the night, he might be a tad suspicious too. So between the two of them, Dende was ostracized. It would have almost been humorous if it were happening to someone else.

He could feel Trunks following him, driven by whatever dark suspicions and dreams he carried. Using his kami-laden powers, Dende had peeked in on those dreams just once, before going to sleep and being smitten with dreams himself. What he had seen there had been disturbing; some things, such as images of Gohan's death replayed ad infinitum, could of course be expected, but there were other things that made less sense and were too… accurate… for Dende to rest easily. Dreams of a strange Saiyan-like people bent half on revenge and half on salvation; of a dark cloud-thing that ate as it flowed and left nothing behind; of his mother and father and fate's strange obsession with them and their offspring.

Dende had pulled out of Trunks' mind when the dream turned sourly to an image of the not-Saiyan's leader raping Bulma. That was just... too much.

Yet when Dende had scanned Trunks' mind at breakfast that morning, none of that was there; it was as if these visions had flowed into his head and out his ear, and left no stain in their passing. At that point Trunks had eyed him suspiciously and Dende had placed his attention elsewhere. No use garnering any more mistrust than there already was.

Dende did not want to admit to himself that he was walking because he wanted to find Cabbage. There was no logical reason for him to be doing what he was doing; from all accounts, Cabbage was among the people who had kidnapped the Namek elders and was possibly wreaking havoc in several timelines at once. Not to mention that if Dende did find him (which was patently impossible), Guardian Trunks would swoop down with his own brand of havoc and Cabbage would never know what hit him. Only a miracle could turn it otherwise.

And yet, Dende kept walking. Cabbage had an aura of fate around him, somehow, and Dende could not shake the feeling that the man had an integral role to play in all this craziness. He sighed. Well, if Fate wanted them to meet today, then Fate would have to arrange it. Dende was not in the business of making miracles.

***

Gokuu stood in the darkened hallway and concentrated. He was in the room where the ship had broken off; it had not taken him long to realize that while ki could not be sensed through Junsei Aion, it certainly could be through force fields, so he was now staked out by this one.

This knowledge did no good as far as Goten was concerned; unless the boy happened to be in the corresponding room open to space without the protective iron wall, Gokuu could not sense him. But that was all right; at the moment, Gokuu was more concerned with what he could sense on earth.

The energies; they were all wrong. Chi Chi was there, but not where she should be, and she was weak - weaker than she had been since before Pan was born. Kuririn was in the wrong place as well, and he was so faint as to almost non-existant. Piccolo seemed to be fluctuating in and out just a bit, as though he'd received a great shock, and Yamucha... well, Yamucha was simply not there at all. Neither was Tenshinhan, although Chaou-zu was easy to find. Heck, they all were; except for Kuririn, Chi Chi, and Videl who was with her, everybody was at the Capsule Corporation.

Gokuu was bothered by this very much. Why was everyone - including Mr. Satan - there, while his wife was somewhere in the middle of Satan City? Why was Pan with her grandfather at all? Yes, Gokuu was indeed bothered; so bothered that he spent much of the night monitoring it; and in the process, he experienced a very weird thing.

He felt what was undoubtedly Mr. Satan lead a group - Piccolo, 18, and Chaou-zu - into the depths of Satan City and toward Kuririn - and then all sorts of things had happened at once. Gokuu had felt bizarre, somehow familiar powers; strange and painful exchanges of energy taking place; and then, silence. So to speak. For Gokuu, the strain of following along with all of this proved too much and he had to back out of it for a few minutes.

When he was able to zero back in again, he'd found that all but one of those alien powers were dead; how, he couldn't guess. Everybody else was back at the Capsule Corporation though, and if he hadn't misunderstood...

Gokuu's stretched attention was brought back to that area where whatever battle it was had taken place. There was a second living alien there now, one that seemed to be him to be awfully familiar.

It was Ru Sa.

Even at this distance he knew it, and the fact that the captain had decided to leave his ship when both halves were floating in space and unconnected was more than a little suspect. It, like everything else, bothered Gokuu greatly; but that was nothing compared to what happened next.

He felt Ru Sa go to that scene of battle; felt him meet up with his wounded comrade; and then...

Oh, and then...

Gokuu trembled violently and broke off contact for the second time as Ru Sa attacked and... consumed... his own shipmate. Right then, Gokuu knew something for a fact; Shitake's horror at what befell him was not caused by the revelation of Ru Sa's absorbent abilities - it was shock that said abilities should have been turned on him. Apparently, sucking on one another was not done in the... whatever-they-were's culture.

Gokuu stepped back and stopped looking. He had already made up his mind that he could not go to earth; to do that, no matter how needed, was to lose his son, and he felt that Chi Chi would not have him do that - even though he was more and more convinced that Goten was already lost. But there was so much going on down there, and for Gokuu, as he thought of his boy and his wife and renewed his to stay yet again, it was hard. It was so very hard.

***

Interlude 18.1: Kaiou Sama

Bubbles was quite distressed; he liked people, he really did - but there were so many of them on the planet right now that the day's order was disrupted and things simply could not go on as normal. He danced and gibbered, waving handfuls of flowers in the air and attempting to catch his master's attention. Master Kaiou's attention, howver, was presently elsewhere; at the moment, the Kaiou was involved in a heated debate with Kaioushin, Kibito, and Rou Kaioushin. The gathered deities were quite upset; in going to inspect the Black, Kaioushin and Kibito had come too close - and at long last, unfused. Painfully. And to top that weirdness off, Kaiou was shouting.

"No, and for the last time, no!" the Kaiou nearly screamed, his innate respect for his superiors dimmed by the enormity of his argument. "Gokuu does have a chance! He has more than a chance! And I don't care if all the Trunks' in all the different timelines have all disappeared at once, I'm not going to..."

Kaioushin raised one slim hand to stop the outburst; he had heard this set of arguments already three or four times, and did not need to hear it again. One glance at the seething Rou Kaioushin showed that man to be beyond speaking coherently, and so he designated himself as peacemaker.

"Kaiou," he said calmly, speaking in Rou Kaioushin's place. "Do not make this any more difficult than it already is. The original timeline must be found, and we all must remove ourselves to it at once. The fusion is necessary, Kaiou," Kaioushin insisted in his soft voice, cutting off further arguments. "If we do not join with those others of ourselves, then all is lost. All you will have fought for is lost." He looked around, his eyes sad. "Everything will be lost."

Kaiou stammered for a moment and then stopped trying to argue. It was no use; what Kaioushin spoke of seemed horrible to him, truly horrible, but if he was right and there was no hope then it was the only thing to do.

As it turned out, there was one place that the Black could not touch; one universe, apparently the center of all of them, was inviolable, and by its own nature immune to the Black's destructive force: it was the Original Timeline. The difficulty was that this original dimension had split off so many different times and in so many different ways that no one knew where it was; and even finding that timeline would not necessarily make their job any easier. Chances were, when they got there, there would be nothing left anyway. Buu might have eaten everything; or Broli survived and destroyed it all, or Hildegarn be awake and at that very moment stomping his way through the universe. Anything might have happened - and for that matter, anything might not have happened.

One thing was for sure; Kaiou was positive that that dimension's Gokuu would not have bumped his head. That was too good a coincidence to have happened more than once.

Of course, this meant abandoning this reality altogether, consigning it to doom and fleeing for their lives. Once there, they would meet up with whatever deities were left in that realm and fuse - similar, in its way, to Namekian fusion; the two really and truly become one. At the end there would still be one Rou Kaioushin, one Kaioushin, at least four Kaiousamas... etc., etc., and so forth. Of course they should be the ones to go on, to survive; they were gods. It was only how things should be.

Sounded like a great plan; but there was a problem.

Kaiou Sama looked around him at the people he had come to know, at the universe he had come to love - he thought about Gokuu, so brave and true and far away, and the Black, which was at that very moment destroying all there was of the Real in this place.

And he knew that he had no choice.

"Go on," he said suddenly, and Kaioushin looked at him with rare confusion in his eyes.

"What?" he said.

"I said go on," Kaiou Sama repeated, weighing his heart down with his own death sentence. "Leave without me. It may seem like a foolish thing to do - and I'm willing to admit it probably is - but I will not leave here. I will not give up on this place and these people, and I will not give up on the possibility of hope. I can't. I won't. And that's final." Trembling with determination, Kaiou Sama clenched his fists and waited to see what they would do; for of course, if they wanted to make him go, there was nothing he could do to stop them.

Their reaction was surprising.

Kaioushin suddenly threw back his head and laughed. His smooth purple skin caught the light as he reveled, and all the people milling around on the planet stopped to watch.

Kami, he's beautiful... thought Bulma from the kitchen, watching the goings-on of the deities gathered there with a kind of horrid fascination. Kaioushin laughed, and he was beautiful - and he frightened Bulma very, very much. Whatever it was they were talking about that was serious enough to make the Kaiou yell like that did not, in her mind, deserve such laughing.

Rou Kaioushin grunted, and Kaioushin put a cap on his mirth. "I knew you were going to say that, Kaiou," said Kaioushin, pleased. "And I was counting on you for no less. You are the only one of the Kaious - of anybody - to choose to stay here." His look changed to prideful - and sad. "Except for me." He turned back to Rou Kaioushin with a kind of exultance in his eyes. "We are staying," he said, putting an emphasis on the multiple pronoun. Rou Kaioushin scowled and shook his head.

"Then you are both fools," he said, and with no further discussion he disappeared - he and the three other Kaious and who knew what all else with him. And the only gods left in the universe were Kaiou Sama and Kaioushin.

Bubbles darted past them on the way to the flower gardens (eyeing Kibito nervously as he did so), and Yamucha was right on his tail, whooping and hollering in the sourceless light. Gregory lay further out a-field, shouting encouragements and put downs and making a general nuisance of himself. Gohan sat inside at the kitchen table and Bulma fiddled with appliances; it all seemed so normal and harmless that Kaiou Sama knew he was going to cry.

"Why..." he started to ask, and Kaioushin cut him off.

"You're not the only one who loves this place, Kaiou," he said quietly, and Kaiou Sama knew he was referring to more than just the small planet where the Kaiou made his home. He was also including Gokuu and the earth in his statement, and even more than that; he meant the whole of this "Real." And if there were nothing that could be done and the Black was to take even here - well then, so be it. They would go with it, too.

Kaiou Sama smiled and began to feel a little better. Not being alone always did wonders for the attitude.

"Hey," he quipped, changing the subject with practiced ease. "What did the Buddhist hot dog vendor suggest to his customers?" He grinned with anticipation at his own joke. "One with everything!" And Kaiou Sama went off into gales of laughter, slapping his knee and sending rough guffaws into the sky. And Kaioushin smiled along with him, refusing to give in to the sigh of defeat that lurked near his heart.

Gokuu and the others had to pull through.

Everything depended on them.

***

Interlude 18.2: Cumber

The floor and walls shook softly as the two parts of ship finally came together again. A bit was missing in the middle, but that didn't matter; it had been designed to come apart in as many pieces as necessary and still fit together as a whole. Scratch one up to the genius of the Kyuujinshuu.

On Ru Sa's part of the ship, Vejiita hung limply in his manacles; someone had grown tired of his constant mental barrage and given him a shot to knock him out, and the prince had yet to wake up.

In the other half of the ship, Cumber stood meditatively in the doorway and watched Gokuu from behind. He was supposed to debilitate him now; had been supposed to do so already before this, and when Ru Sa found out that he had not, the result would surely be Hell broken loose. Cumber did not want that, and so now stood literally with one foot in each decision: he did not want to hurt Gokuu. Not at all. But he did not want to be hurt either, and that was certainly a powerful motivation.

Gokuu surprised him by speaking first.

"You can lock me up now, if that's what you need to do," he said quietly, and Cumber blinked.

"What?" he said. Gokuu turned slowly to face him.

"I said you can lock me up," he repeated, and turned eyes on Cumber that seemed to be made of stone. "I can feel in your ki that you've been deciding whether or not to attack me, and that you don't want to. Well, that's all right. I've thought it through," he said slowly, "and I've come to the conclusion that I probably could. Kill all of you, I mean. Maybe not, and maybe I'd even lose, but I think - at my highest form of Super Saiyan - I could. Even with Ru Sa. But it's not for sure - and, well," he added, and his voice cracked, "there's a chance I... I don't want to risk losing my son."

Cumber did not want to tell Gokuu that he had probably already lost his son; oddly, he felt he did not have to. Some part of Gokuu's unusual juvenile acumen had already picked that up, and that sad knowledge shone on his face.

"Gokuu, your son is probably..."

"Oi, I know," interrupted Gokuu with stricken tone. "You don't have to say it." He turned away for one moment, and then changed the subject. "You're all going home, right? To your own time?" he asked, and Cumber felt his mouth fall open.

"Well... not exactly... it's not our home, but we are going back and... how… did you know that?"

Gokuu shook his head. "I just know," he said. "It doesn't matter how. I don't know why, but... I need to go there with you. There's something there that's... calling to me. I have to go. And," he said with a frightening smile. "If I killed all of you, then how would I ever get there?"

"But... Gokuu," began Cumber, horrified with the realization that he had full intention of talking Gokuu out of giving himself up - that it wasn't worth what they were going to do to him. Heavens, he thought to himself. Whose side are you on?

"Listen," said Gokuu, patient as though he were the one talking to a child in a man's body. "I want to be rejoined with Vejiita. If we're working together, then we'd have a chance. Although," he paused, and now he looked puzzled. "I don't think the answer is going to come from either of us, exactly. I dunno." Shrugging, he pushed his confusion away and smiled.

Cumber stood looking at this man who didn't know anything, this man who had no idea about the Black, about the Mission, about why he himself was here - but was still filled with a firm conviction as to what he must do.

The Kyuujinshu who went by the name of Cumber sighed wearily.

"All right then," he said, and led the way out and down the hall to the room where he was going to "capture" Gokuu for the time being. He locked the door and left him there.

"What the hell is going on?" he asked of the gods as he walked, and was not really surprised when he did not get an answer.

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