Chapter Nineteen: Trips and Conniptions

Moot sat deep in the heart of nowhere and happily put together the last remaining bits of the puzzle that comprised the Prophecy. Reep had been right; not all of it fit together; but that was okay. The parts that didn't really didn't matter anyway. He blithely disregarded them and hummed as he finished his work.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, in a place that was still somewhere, Ru Sa fumed and prepared his crew for take off. They would have to, by necessity, fly back to the "other" timeline and make use of all those Nameks they had stored in the defunct Capsule Corporation; the ingredients required to make their genetically-stabilizing serum were best supplied by Saiyans or Nameks, and as there were only two Saiyans alive at this point, the Nameks were the next best option.

The Kyuujinshu's mission was far from over, and Ru Sa was not pleased with this obligatory detour; since neither he nor his crew knew exactly at what point in time to return to in order to stop Gero from creating the Black (or capturing, or finding - however he had come by it was still unclear), they had to keep going back - and going back - until they could stop him. It seemed endless, and Ru Sa was extremely unhappy. So, he grumbled and frowned as he prepared his crew, hoping that nobody would be inconvenient enough to melt before they could get their hands on the proper chemicals.

And far away from them both, its fingers stretching into more universes than any one had had ever imagined, was the Black. Nothing that was not encased in Junsei Aion survived its passing; nothing, that is, except for lightless, lifeless husks of mass that used to be planets. It did not have purpose or direction - and yet, as Moot worked and Ru Sa fumed, it began to change what was unchangeable - itself.

Ru Sa and the other Kyuujinshu were very inexperienced when it came to traveling through time; truth be told, Bulma had been more adept at developing the system than they had. The problem started when the Kyuujinshu had their ship re-done in Junsei Aion. The stuff was impervious, yes, very handy for your time-traveling would-be heroes - and it also made holes. As they moved through time, it ripped - and left in the dimensional layers pockets of instability that had not been there before. The Kyuujinshu did not know about this, and no one else had the mind to look - other things, like the Black, took up all observant attention.

The Black began to change as it reached these holes; it, which had existed before time in a repository of chaos - it, which had been reserved for the end and final judgment of those who were truly damned - changed its nature as soon as these smooth rips came into its reach.

Instead of smoothly flowing, it began to pull.

Changing shape into something like a black hole, the Black swirled and continued moving, and now instead of leaving behind empty planets and energy-less mass, it pulled on the fabric of the Real as it went - and tore it even more.

Within minutes after the Black first reached one of these holes, the Reality in which it then crept began to curl in on itself. And within only hours after that, the entire universe twisted and drained into the Black and became no more.

Not even empty planets were left now.

Still the Black continued to flow, unconcerned, uncaring, pulling and tearing all Realities together in its wake. Rou Kaiou-shin had been correct about one thing; the original timeline, whatever that was, would indeed remain untouched. It was moored too soundly in the essence of Reality to be destroyed by this. However, this did not save any timeline that had branched off on its own. Soon, the Black began to turn back on itself, perhaps changing direction by the force of its own suction; it began to work over those places it had already gone, and even the dead planets which had remained behind it were no longer safe.

Not even Reep realized how little time they all had left.

***

Dende needed a miracle. He needed to talk to Cabbage, and for that he needed Trunks to go away. Both required, at the least, something very strange to occur.

Meanwhile, some miles away from Western Capital and hidden well from view, the members of Ru Sa's ship went about their duties with no small degree of tension. This was only their second trip back in time to escape from the Black - and their first when on official mission. One thing they knew: they had to hurry, or they would be caught by the Black. They were on the edge of its release already.

As of yet, none of them really knew what they were doing; they had successfully made two jumps, and that in itself was a miracle - the ship was barely holding together as it was, and that was only because the Kyuujinshu themselves were so very brilliant when it came to fixing things. Maintenance was a constant task; a trial worth the effort even of those considered marginally immortal - and Parsley, for one, was getting sick of it.

"There has to be an alternate way," he frowned, and continued his scan of the planet. He paused when his sensors rolled over the Capsule Corporation. "What is this?" he hissed to nobody, and began narrowing the parameters of his search. He leaned forward, toward the screen. "What the hell IS that?" he wondered again, and Ru Sa, walking by the outer door, paused to check.

"What?" he asked calmly. "What have you found?"

Parsley shrugged. "An odd material," he said. "Unmatched by anything in our records. I would give it no notice, but the thing seems to..." he paused. "Captain," he said, turning to Ru Sa, who still stood detachedly in the doorway. "If my scanner is correct - and it is - we have never encountered a more durable material."

Ru Sa sighed, guessing Parsley's mind; after two millennia, he certainly should have been able to. "Durable enough to warrant an entire refitting of this ship?" he asked. "It's fairly strong on its own, you know; Saiyan craftsmanship. Built to take a beating." Ru Sa stepped into the room, looked at the figures on Parsley's screen, and gave a low whistle. "Well, that is some durable stuff, now isn't it?" he commented in a low voice. "Get Chive in here. I want her to take a look at this."

An hour later, a small reconnaissance team was sent out on a mission to the Capsule Corporation. Staying in the ship, monitoring his team via the scouters, Ru Sa pursed his lips bitterly and waited. It somehow seemed only appropriate - however bizarre - that their goal should be located in the home of the sometime consort of the son of the inauspicious king of Vejiita-sei. Fate, apparently, was a comedian. Ru Sa snorted and kept his eye on the monitor. Suddenly he spoke.

"Screw this," he told his team. "I'm coming with you."

***

Some distance away, Trunks narrowed his eyes as he saw Dende pause; the Namek knew he was there, certainly, but that was of no concern. Heh; knowledge of his presence might actually make Dende beha...

Trunks suddenly jerked, ki sense startled awake by an extremely brief but powerful flare of power behind him; it was unfamiliar sensation of... someone... something... and it was approaching his home. Without hesitation, he spun around and zoomed back toward the Capsule Corporation, ki trail blazing blue behind him. Dende blinked and turned to watch.

"Now, what spooked him?" he asked of nobody.

"I certainly hope not I," came the answer, and Dende turned again to find Cabbage standing before him. Cabbage looked normal now; that is, he looked like a Saiyan. He smiled, straight teeth pleasant in his pleasant, wise face, and said, "You wanted to talk to me, Dende-san?"

***

Bulma was sitting in her kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee, when her hyper-sensitive and extremely powerful son made his entrance. An explosion came from her lab.

Bulma jumped about a foot and nearly spilled her coffee. "What? No! I just perfected it!" Panicking about her newest experiment, she all but threw her mug onto the table and ran out the door, racing toward the lab in the vague hope that she might be able to salvage anything that might be endangered. She stopped half way there, agape at what she saw.

"SHIT!" she cried; one wall was blown out completely - of course, Murphy's Law, the wall by which she had put her latest developments - and there was smoke billowing from every opening.

Trunks emerged from the smoldering doorway like an ancient god.

"Trunks! What did you do?" Bulma shrieked, raising her hands above her head as though to hit him. Trunks smiled coldly - Vejiita without the humor - and Bulma shuddered and immediately fell silent.

"Trespassers, mother," he said politely by way of explanation. "If you will excuse me..." and he flew off toward the east after something which she could not see, his face pulled back in a complete rictus of joyous fury. She stared after him.

"Damnit, that boy doesn't have enough to do," she muttered, and marched in to see what had become of her lab.

***

Dende jumped as the explosion from the Capsule Corporation trembled through the ground underneath his feet.

"What was that?" he asked, concerned. Cabbage raised one eyebrow quizzically.

"I don't know," he said. "But I rather suspect I need to be getting back as soon as possible." He looked at Dende. "Was there something in particular you were wishing to discuss?"

Dende stared. "How did you even know I wanted to talk to you?" he asked.

Cabbage shrugged. "The thought was coming from you in waves; being projected, actually. I would have had to be an idiot not to have heard it." He smiled. "Now. I certainly hope that is not the only reason for this rather dangerous meeting, or I fear we may have both wasted our time."

Dende nodded marginally at him. "You're not supposed to be here either," he surmised, and Cabbage nodded.

"That's true," he admitted, turning his head to face the Capsule Corporation. "I would be in no less trouble than you if we were to be discovered here."

Dende tilted his head, puzzled. Cabbage's cool detachment seemed to be catching. "Then why take the risk?" he asked calmly, and Cabbage looked back at him. Dende blinked; the man's eyes had gone completely black.

"Because I do not agree with our present method," he said, leaving Dende to wonder - or perhaps ask - what he was talking about. Dende did not. Aware that time was short, he tried to formulate his question very carefully.

"What can I do to help you?" came out of his mouth before he knew what he was saying. Cabbage looked at him sharply and began chuckling.

"Ai," he said. "You Nameks look so comical when you're surprised." Dende waggled his mouth for a moment; that had not been what he was going to ask. He was beginning to get annoyed at this unexpected and occasional loss of control over his speaking facilities.

Cabbage looked thoughtful. "It has been some centuries since someone has offered a favor so openly to the likes of me," he mused. "I'll tell you what you can do. I need information. The man who is my source of study is already dead in your world, which makes things harder; however, I think you still may be able to help me. What do you know of Dr. Gero?"

Dende took a deep breath and held it for a long moment. "I know much about him," he said, calmly, responding once again to Cabbage's cool nature. "Probably considerably more than you need and all superfluous. What information do you want specifically?"

Cabbage looked at him steadily; his eyes were now as normal as any Saiyan's. "Information on the Black," he said, and Dende could not repress a nervous swallow. Cabbage raised that eyebrow again. "You know of the Black?" he said. Dende nodded. Cabbage pursed his lips. "What I need is very specific, and quite simple - although not so easily obtained. I need to learn the exact date at which Gero caught or created the Black and imprisoned it in his lab the Deeper."

Dende's eyes went wide. "You mean it's down THERE? Right now?"

Cabbage nodded. "Yes. But we're not sure where, and we're not sure how it got there. We only know what we saw - the Black shooting up out of the ground like a volcanic dust cloud, settling on everything within a seven mile radius and reducing it to nothing." Cabbage remained cool; his tone did not indicate anything approaching fear or even panic - and yet, there was something in his eyes that cried out at the horrific nature of it all, at the wrongness of it, the injustice.

Dende thought he could sympathize. "I will learn what I can," he said. "There is a book..."

Cabbage snorted. "Good luck with that. We couldn't find anything usesful in it. Although," he admitted, "by the time we got our hands on it - our past, your future - some of the pages had already been torn out. There is some chance..." his voice trailed off, and he looked toward the Capsule Corporation again. "Your friend is coming back," he said, and with no further ado, shrank into some small creature and skittered away.

Dende did not watch him go. It seemed... rude.

Moments later, Trunks arrived. He looked around, almost furious. "Who else was here, Dende?" he demanded. "I felt another presence here."

"You did," Dende admitted, and sighed. "I don't know who or what he was. He looked Saiyan. That's all I know."

Trunks did not look entirely convinced. "I think you had better come with me," he said, and Dende had an insane urge to stick out his hands and say, Cuff me, copper, but you'll never take me alive. He restrained himself, and instead demurely nodded.

"I couldn't agree more, Trunks," he said. "It's a long way back to the Capsule Corporation, and I've had enough weirdness for today. In fact," he said, filled with yet another sourceless but solid idea, "I think it would be a good idea for me not to go anywhere for a while. Too many strange things about."

Trunks looked at him with a completely unreadable expression. "Yes," he said, and picked up Dende around the waist and flew him home.

Hanging like a sack of wheat from Trunks' hip, Dende took the opportunity to look around. To the west: Satan City, beginning to take on grand shape again as its few survivors struggled to rebuild it. To the: was Capsule Corporation and its bastion of hope for all still living - the generous genius Bulma, and her savior son Trunks. And to the east... Dende looked at the great, granite mountains so innocently resting over doom incarnate, and shuddered. Trunks felt this and looked down at him curiously, but Dende's eyes were by then elsewhere.

Trunks sighed and relented just a bit. He did not enjoy being harsh; it was, in fact, not at all in his nature to be so. But the earth and the human population in particular was in very bad shape, and he could not allow anything - anything at all - to get in the way of his duties toward either one. Dende here might be the cause of some trouble. He also might not; but it was not worth taking the chance.

Longing for the briefest of moments for a peace that he had only glimpsed twice in his life, Trunks set down at the Capsule Corporation and stood Dende up on the lawn. Bulma came storming out of the house to greet them.

"THERE you are!" she yelled, her former reticence dropped like an old towel. "You had BETTER have a DAMNED good explanation for what you did in there today!"

"Mother, I..."

"Don't you start with me! You could have ruined everything! Everything!!! I had only just perfected my Junsei Aion, for the first time since it's invention over a decade ago it's working right, and then you have to go in there and..."

Of course, being Bulma, she went on for a while. Trunks just stood there, his expression making it impossible to tell if he were absorbing this to heart or just listening to give her the respect due his mother. Dende stood beside him in silent shock and trembled.

The Junsei Aion.

She had completed the Junsei Aion.

Dende clenched his jaw and wondered just how much time they all had left.

***

Interlude 19.1: Bulma and Ru Sa

Bulma marched back into her lab, her fists clenched and her teeth grinding in fury. Trunks had blown half her lab out - she didn't CARE that somebody had been in there, he could have at least led them outside first.

And although she'd already checked four times, she had to go look again; her precious notes were still all right, and her sample had not been destroyed - heh. Not that anything at this point COULD destroy it.

She had done it; she had perfected her Junsei Aion. It had taken her almost ten years and endless hours of toil, but she had done it. She had created the most durable substance known to man.

The final step was easy, really; so simple she might have missed it - if not for Dr. Gero's strange glass. Flexible. She had failed to make it flexible. The problem with Gero's glass - as powerful as it was - was that it was brittle. It broke. Ah, but not Junsei Aion. She had figured out that there was a problem with it when she could not successfully make the time capsule for Trunks; now, however, her troubles were at an end. A tiny bit of adjustment in the atomic structure and voila! Instant Junsei Aion.

From the back of the lab, Ru Sa watched her with great interest. He was in the form of a rat right now; not the most dignified of creatures, but small - and fortunately below the Great White Hunter's notice. Trunks had gone chasing the others out the door, and Ru Sa had immediately and instinctively changed forms and hid; now, he was very glad indeed that he had done so.

Bulma hummed happily to herself and made backup copies of her notes; no use taking any more chances. Tomorrow she would go to the city council with her discovery and see if they could do anything with it - and, perhaps, give her a bit of the recognition she'd always craved and somehow missed.

She left the room and shut the door, locking it behind her; Ru Sa was about to do some of his own investigation when the door knob rattled, clicked, and turned. He was surprised to see the young Namek Dende walk into the room.

Dende went straight to the cabinet where Bulma had been working and began to rummage. "Where is it..." he muttered to himself, and eventually pulled out a large, leather-bound book. Ru Sa stared; he recognized it as the book belonging to Gero, the one that the Kyuujinshu had stolen before the end and studied for any indication of when the mad scientist had come upon the Black. It had been interesting reading, but fairly worthless for all of that. Yet here was Dende, going out of his way to investigate and fearlessly risking Trunks' ire to do so

Ru Sa was struck with a sudden, insane urge to rush forward (obviously changing out of rat-form as he did so), kill the Namek, and take the book. Of course, that behavior would make no sense - so, he didn't do it. Ru Sa was many things, but foolish was rarely one of them.

Dende leafed delicately through the book as though he did not want to touch it; but whatever it was he wanted, he did not find. Disappointed and muttering, he put the book back and left the room, carefully re-locking the door behind him. With perfect timing Trunks flew by outside the door, threatened Dende about something or other, picked the Namek up unceremoniously, and dumped him in the house.

Apparently, yon Guardian was not in a good mood today.

Taking his chance, Ru Sa slipped outside through an air vent and headed back the way he had come, waiting to regain his own form until he was some miles from the Capsule Corporation. Naturally, he was not in the best of moods either when he finally got back to base.

That night, Dende went to bed hoping beyond hope that somehow he could find the answer to the question Cabbage had brought to mind: when did the Black first appear? When did Gero make his horrible discovery? And what on earth possessed the man to put it in that fragile ki-proof glass to begin with?

All were questions that needed answering, and Dende did not know where to look. Determining to get a better glimpse of Gero's book in the morning, he went to bed, trying to ignore the sensation of Trunks on sentry duty outside his room for most of the night. He desperately hoped that he would not be forced to explore what was left of the Deeper on his own.

And Bulma slept without concern, trusting her son to protect her, trusting her own genius to solve whatever problems might arise, and trusting the world to be there and be sane for her to function in the days to come. She had no idea how very wrong she was.

***

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