Dende was the kind of calm-natured person who accepted things as they were, even if they were bizarre. This, naturally, stood him in good stead with his present situation.
"You would like to do what to my ears?" he asked in disbelief.
"Well, it's just an experiment after all, and I've never tested it or anything, but I've been thinking about it for years and it seems to me that with only the slightest bit of orientation I should be able to..."
"I repeat... you want to do what to my ears?" Dende interrupted. "Laymen's tongue, please; I may have taken some small interest in the sciences of microbiology and sonar technology during my stay on earth, but I am afraid that your theorizing has gone beyond my limited knowledge." And sounds particularly painful, he thought of adding, but didn't bother. This was the first time Bulma had spoken civilly to him in days.
"Well, it's pretty simple, actually," she explained with some excitement. "Namek's ears are really sensitive - right? So I figured out that your ear canal is actually three times greater in capacity than that of a normal human. Put that together with some technology, and bang! Radar attached to your head!"
"Um," he said.
"Oh, but it'll be great!" she announced, throwing her arms up in the air. "You'll be like a Super Namek! Wherever a crime is being committed, you are there! That would be great... especially if you were working with Trunks, or something."
"Um," he said again, and Bulma's arms fell to her sides.
"You don't want to do it," she said.
"Not really," he admitted.
She looked vaguely disappointed.
Dende opened his mouth as if to explain, but then didn't bother. This Bulma was used to disappointment, both large and small.
"Fine," she sighed. "I guess it will have to remain a theory, then." Shrugging impassively, she left him and went back to her lab.
Dende had absolutely nothing to add to this conversation, so he turned back on it and went inside of the house. Trunks had forbidden him to leave the grounds for any reason, unless accompanied by himself. Well, that was all right. It's not like there was anything to do in the ruined mess of Satan City. Sighing, he decided to get a drink of water; Dende, for one, would never take the ability to just "get" water for granted again.
Mr. Satan was in the kitchen, watching, when Dende came in and dejectedly trotted to the sink. Mr. Satan's eyes were sharp, and he did not miss much; in general these days he opted not to get too involved - crippled as he was, Mr. Satan felt, honestly, more like a handicap than a help. This time, however....
"What are you looking for, Dende?" he asked, and Dende turned to him with surprise.
"What?" he asked.
"I said, what are you looking for? It seems to me I see you every day - sneaking around, even, sometimes - looking secretly for something that you really need to find... and you can't seem to find it."
Dende cautiously met his gaze; he was not sure what had prompted this line of questioning. "I don't know what you're referring to."
"I think you do," Mr. Satan replied, and smiled heroically.
Heh, Dende thought and briefly smiled back. Only Mr. Satan could pull off a look like that in a wheelchair.
"If I were," he said aloud, "why would that matter to you?"
Mr. Satan grinned. "Because I would like to help you find it," he said, and Dende's mouth fell open.
"What?" he managed.
"I would like to help you," Mr. Satan repeated more slowly, as though aware the comprehensive capacity of his audience had just crashed. "I want to help you find what you are looking for," and his expression was so heroic that for a moment, Dende believed him.
"But... why would you... Trunks...."
"Is a good boy, but over-zealous at times," Mr. Satan finished gently. "This would be one of those times. It's obvious even to an old cripple like me that whatever burden you carry on your shoulders, it's heavier than any fear you might rightfully have of Bulma's only son."
Okay, was this a test? Was Dende supposed to come out clean and innocently ignorant? Would Trunks descend on him in a blaze of righteous fury if he said the wrong thing?
Oddly enough, Dende found that he did not care either way. Perhaps he wasn't getting enough sleep.
"Sure," he said. "I would love your help, although I don't really see how you could help me."
"In a way most sought after and rarely obtained," Mr. Satan intoned. "I can be eyes and ears for you where you cannot be. You may not have noticed," he said with a wry look, "but I am in a wheelchair. Although I am not a quiet person, for some reason that fact makes others believe I am deaf."
"You would never believe the conversations people have had right in front of my face," he said. "Of course, I don't tell. However," he announced, and Dende sincerely hoped that his booming voice would not carry too far within the complex. "I would be willing to put those dubious skills to good use for you. What do you need to know?"
"I need to know when Dr. Gero completed his renovations on the underground laboratory that came to be know as The Deeper," Dende said, and look for a reaction.
Mr. Satan smiled.
"I have no idea if I can help," he said, and Dende's heart fell just the tiniest bit. "But I will see what I can do. Bee here, he's a good little spy, he is. Gets the greatest conversations going - don't you, baby?"
As if with complete understanding, Bee immediately yipped a response.
That dog understands more than some humans around here, Dende thought to himself, and then caught Mr. Satan's look.
"I won't do anything that will bring harm to this good woman or her son," Mr. Satan said, and there was real menace in his tone. "They may be a little strange, but this world and this man owe more to those two people than any favor you could ever call in. Is that clear?"
Dende nodded. The world needed more heroes like Mr. Satan. "Yes, Satan-san," he said with the utmost respect.
Mr. Satan nodded once; his eyes were very keen. "All right, I believe you," he said. "Go about your business. We never had this conversation." And, bizarrely, he turned and winked at Bee.
Bee barked twice.
Dende could not shake the feeling that a very important covenant had just been signed.
Trunks came in for dinner on time as usual. Which was pointless, as no dinner was there. The moment he stepped into the room, everyone stopped talking and looked at him guiltily.
"Where's mother?" he asked of the forlorn group sitting around the empty tabletop.
"She's gone shopping, Trunks," answered Roshi, hesitating just a second too long. "She said she'd be home in time to program the robots for dinner - or worse, cook it herself. But she's not here yet, so we all have to wait." He held Trunks' gaze steadily.
Trunks looked back at him. "Where did she go?" he inquired politely.
"Shopping, I said," Roshi began to reiterate, and Trunks held up one hand to stop him. Roshi stopped.
"I said, where did she go?" Trunks said in a quiet voice. "I did not ask what she was doing or with whom she went. It is late, after dark, and I would like to know what has become of my mother, who for some unknown has abandoned the schedule that she has rigorously kept for eight years - supposedly in favor of some… shopping. Now," he said, looking around. "Where did she go?"
Trunks sighed and closed his eyes in thought for one moment. She was not in her lab, he knew that; the lights were off. There was nothing to do in Satan City, no new love interest, and they had all the groceries they needed. So where...
He bared his teeth as an idea occurred to him. "She better NOT have," he said menacingly, and took off out the door.
Bulma loaded one more bag into the arms of her latest assistant - interesting fellow, and pretty brave to come with her all the way out here - and began to lead the way back to her jeep. Heavens, it was already dark; she was going to catch it, that much was sure. Trunks was not his father, and for that, Bulma was perversely grateful; however, when he had come back to this time from spending a year in the Room of Spirit and Time with said father, he had been different - and he had made and insisted on keeping several very strict regulations. One of them had been a tight schedule after dark. The lack of a police force or army after the androids had finished with them made this only common sense; there were a lot of gangs now, and a woman could get into a lot of trouble out on her own.
But this - what she had in her precious sacks right now - was more important than whatever deep-seated need Trunks had for control. It was more important, in fact, than anything else Bulma could think of.
From what she could understand, she now held the secret of creating life itself.
Bulma felt an insane urge to giggle wildly and leap like a goat down the mountain to her jeep; power like unto a god's had been given her, and she felt more than giddy with its content. To create life...
In the end, though, she sedately kept her pace and made down it to her jeep with nary a slip. Her assistant - Akeno something-or-other, his name was - did the same. Within minutes they had the thing loaded and were heading back to the Capsule Corporation. She had been lucky, really; to think that Trunks brought the whole cavern down, and yet what she needed had been buried only under a few feet of earth; it was almost like it had been laid out to wait for her, ready to be taken.
Smiling happily, she drove back to her lab, eager for the dawn and the chance to explore fully Gero's last gifts to the world.
Trunks was half way out the door when Bee started to freak. Snarling and barking furiously, the little dog raced past him and toward the lab, making enough noise to wake half of Satan City.
An intruder? After the events of a few days before, Trunks was willing to bet that was just what it was. He followed.
He was three feet from the door when he felt something wrong. A ki; strange, unfamiliar, menacing. Dangerous. Powering up, he took one more step and reached for the knob. The door swung open before he even touched it.
Standing in the doorway was a large male character, Saiyan-esque in stature but definitely not Saiyan by blood. Trunks tensed.
"Hello, Vejiita's son," the man said, and then they began to fight.
Bulma was just turning into the long drive that led to her home when her son and his attacker's fireworks lit up the night sky. Sounds of ki and cries of battle reached her even here, and Bulma's heart clenched more than just a little.
"Trunks," she said, and sped up as much as she dared; the road here still wasn't fixed yet from the destructive growth of the vines.
Ru Sa was impressed; no, he was more than impressed. In fact, it might be fair to say that he was downright flabbergasted. Vejiita's son was incredible; the perfect fighter.
And Ru Sa was losing.
Trunks snarled like a mad dog and threw another ki attack, one which Ru Sa managed to avoid only by re-organizing his already shaky genetic structure and funneling the shot back toward him. Trunks easily blocked and kept coming.
Ru Sa snarled and fell back a bit more, looking for an opening - he only needed one; one chance to shape shift, and he would be away, out of sight and out of mind. He had information to bring to his people - it was essential he escape.
However, the son of Vejiita was turning out to be a much more difficult target than any Saiyan or half-Saiyan Ru Sa had ever had the pleasure of combating. He silently cursed the damned dog that had tipped off his presence, then cursed himself for allowing his presence to be picked up at all. He was getting sloppy. That's all there was to it.
Trunks hauled off and hit him in the stomach, very hard; Ru Sa went flying backwards, noting Bee's body in passing, which was unmoving and losing its warmth in the growing night. He still wasn't even sure which one of them had kicked him; in the end, it hardly mattered..
Just then, Bulma's jeep came roaring up the driveway, headlights blazing, and Trunks looked away for half a second -
- and the intruder was gone. Vanished. Poof. Not a sign of him, neither hide nor hair nor trail of ki. Trunks slowly flew back to the ground, gritting his teeth and panting with silent fury.
Bulma got out and ran toward him - very nearly stepping on the presently insectoid Captain, did she but know it.
"Trunks!" she shouted, seeing no one around but him and feeling absurdly relieved. "What were you doing? I told you not to..."
"And I told you to not be out after dark! A rule has been broken! You did not have the right to break the pattern like that! You could have been killed!"
Bulma stopped short in the face of this, shock and a twinge of fear overcoming her frustration. Trunks did not yell. He never raised his voice except in a fight. The fact that he was doing so now - and at her - indicated a more agitated frame of mind than she had yet seen in her son, and she did not like it at all.
And as suddenly as he had exploded, Trunks was calmed.
"Mother," he said, normal tones soothing. "You know better than to be out after dark anyway. We had an intruder - somebody powerful - and he just... vanished. Do you know what he could have done to you with a power like that? This is dangerous - do not ever, ever do this again. Please."
Bulma blinked. "But I wasn't alone," she protested, her shaky voice sounding weak in her ears. "Akeno Cabbage was with me, and..."
"I don't care who was with you or not," he said, so quietly that she almost did not hear him. "A rule has been broken, and I would appreciate it if it did not happen again. Do I make myself clear?"
Bulma looked into her son's clear, cold, blue eyes and had no answer. Instead, she changed the subject. "Bee," she said, pointing at the dog's motionless form.
"The trespasser kicked him," Trunks said evenly. "There was nothing I could do."
Bulma's hands flew to her mouth. "Oh, no...." she said. "Mr. Satan..."
Dende picked that exact moment to come out of the house.
"What is going on out here?" he asked - and spotted Bee. Without a word, he ran lightly to the dog and knelt over him.
Bee twitched. He wriggled; he barked, and moments later, Bee was happily licking at Dende's fingers, wagging his tail so hard he was nearly knocking himself over.
Bulma began to cry in gratitude.
Trunks watched this impassively, not knowing how to respond and wishing he knew more. How much or how little Dende had had to do with the visitor tonight was uncertain, but all these strange people appearing and disappearing on his watch was beginning to get under his skin. The next person to arrive out of nowhere, he wryly decided, was going to get blasted, no questions asked.
Roshi, Oolong, and Mr. Satan now came out, having also heard the shouts and ki but not being as quick on their feet - relatively speaking - as Dende. Mr. Satan looked at his dog and then at the Namek. He knew. Somehow, he knew.
Mr. Satan said nothing, and nothing needed to be said. Dende had strengthened their bond and agreement beyond words, and as such, words would only be wasteful.
"Everybody inside," Trunks said quietly, "including your guest, mother," and Dende turned to see Cabbage - in human form, but Cabbage nonetheless - climb out of Bulma's jeep.
"I certainly hope this is not a bad time," he said, and Dende fainted.
Interlude 20.1: Gohan
Hana was a nurse; she had been a nurse for all of 30 years, and she could safely say that she had rarely seen a patient more loved than Son Chi Chi.
The woman had visitors of one... kind... or another in at all available hours of day or night - and some that were not available. She was personally very glad that she had not been the one forced to turn that tall green fellow with the pointed ears away from the door, so-sorry-but-visiting-hours-are-as-follows.
Hana peeked in the room briefly right now, knocking quietly on the door to remind the young woman - Mr. Satan's daughter, of all things - that it was time for her to leave. Videl (if that's what her name was) nodded solemnly and rose to go. Hana stopped her on the way out.
"You are very kind to Mrs. Son, young woman," she said by way of compliment. "Your ancestors would be proud."
Videl smiled sadly and left without a word. Ah, Hana thought - she was too young to have to bear the burden of a dying friend.
Hana peeked back in the room on her way back to the desk and gave a start - but of course when she looked back, the young man she thought had seen in there was gone. How confusing; he had looked a little like the picture Son Chi Chi kept next to her bed, that of a strapping young man graduating with honors from college.
Heh; Hana needed a break, that was all. She was hallucinating family members now - what next? And Hana marched back down the hall, not giving another thought to the man she had seen in Chi Chi's room.
Gohan stood by his mother's bed, unmoving. Tears were glistening on his cheeks. His mother lay dying, unaware even of his presence... and he could not touch her. He could not.
Newly rejuvenated tail curling sadly down by his heels, Gohan stood and contemplated his mother's features, this woman who had influenced his life so strongly, this woman who had married and cared for his father, this woman whose face showed lines of pain as well as age - and he found he could not take any more.
"Kaiou sama, please, I've had enough," he said, and vanished.
Chi Chi stirred; without opening her eyes, she moved her hands like small, weak birds to the side of the bed where Gohan had been standing.
"Gohan..." she said. And silently, she wept. "Gokuu... please, come home to me..."
Dende woke up long after dinner and found Bee on his chest, panting contentedly into his face.
"Bee," he said, and the dog slurped him right on the nose. Sounding uncannily like Moot, Dende giggled and sat up.
"There you are," said Cabbage, and Dende's heart jumped into his throat.
"What are you doing here?" he asked without thinking, and saw only the briefest of warnings in Cabbage's eyes before Trunks spoke from somewhere behind him.
"What do you mean, what is he doing here? Have you seen him before?"
"Have I seen who before?" Dende asked, allowing his genuine puzzlement to come out on his face. Trunks scowled - as good a scowl as any Vejiita had ever worn - and started to ask something else. Then Bulma was there, Bulma with a grateful face and a glass of water, and she hushed Trunks before any more suspicion could be laid.
"Drink," she ordered, and Dende did. "You used to too much energy on Bee - I'm nearly sure of that. Just rest now. You'll be all right." She glared at Trunks. "Thanks to Akeno," she said, and she turned and beamed at Cabbage, who smiled admiringly back at her.
What the HELL is going on... Dende thought, and then Bee barked to get everybody's attention.
"Is anybody going to bed in this house, or am I getting to sleep alone?" Mr. Satan boomed from the other end of the building. "Bee... come!" and the dog bounded from the room and ran after him.
Bulma smiled wearily. "He's right," she said. "It's close to midnight now; you were out for a while, Dende-san." She smiled and kissed him on the head. "Thank you for helping the dog," she added, and rose to go. Then with no preamble, "Akeno, it's very late - you should spend the night."
Trunks immediately stiffened, but if Cabbage saw, he gave no notice.
"Oh, Ms. Briefs," he said, allowing the barest hint of infatuation into his tone. "I couldn't - such an inconvenience..."
"Bullshit," she said cheerfully, and walked out of the room. "We have more than enough bedrooms," her voice floated down the hallway. "Get Trunks to lead you to one." And then she was gone.
Trunks, Dende, and Cabbage looked at one another with some discomfort, their peace-making link having abandoned them all for the arms of Morpheus.
"There are spare bedrooms in the west wing," Trunks muttered, and Cabbage - Akeno - smiled gratefully.
"Your mother is a very special woman," he said. "I am glad to see you take such care in protecting her."
"Where did you go today?" Trunks asked suddenly, turning his cool and powerful gaze fully on his guest.
Cabbage did not hesitate.
"We went searching for supplies on the outskirts of Satan City," he said. "Found an old, crushed hardware store - I'm not sure what all she took, but she labeled it "salvage" and threw it in the Jeep."
Trunks relaxed marginally. "Oh," he said, and then as if to himself, "nowhere near the lab, then."
"Pardon?" Akeno Cabbage, the epitome of puzzlement.
"Never mind," Trunks said, relaxing more. "Give me a moment to put sheets on your bed," and he left. Dende stared in disbelief at Cabbage.
"What the hell are you doing?" he demanded in a fierce whisper once Trunks had gone upstairs.
"What do you think, Namek?" asked Cabbage, showing his perfect teeth in a smile.
Dende shook his head. "I don't understand a damned..."
"Your bed is ready," said Trunks from the doorway, and Dende jumped. He did not at all like the amused, cruel smile that young man turned in his direction.
"Tense, Dende-san?" Trunks wondered aloud, and Dende sighed.
"I need sleep," he trusted himself to say, and then shut his mouth. He was too close to blurting something angry that he would regret.
"This way, Cabbage-san," Trunks said, and left Dende to get to his own room before the downstairs radar sensors switched on for the night.
Dende lost no time in getting to bed. His head hurt, his back ached, and the slight disorientation from his fall had not yet gone away. His last thought as he drifted off to sleep lay in the direction of Cabbage's lie; wherever he and Bulma had gone tonight, it had not been the city. Roshi and Oolong knew, and probably Mr. Satan; those former two had been scared bloodless by Trunks' questioning at dinner. Trunks' words then returned to his mind: ...nowhere near the lab, then, and Dende felt sudden cold threads of fear.
The lab? Gero's lab? Would she have gone? Would she have dared?
Yes, and yes. Both Bulmas he knew would have done that.
So where did that leave him? Dende knew; yet another secretive trip to her lab, hopefully undetected by either Briefs and possibly aided by Mr. Satan or Cabbage. He felt like a spy.
Dende drifted into sleep lulled by his plans for tomorrow, already accustomed enough to Trunks' presence to be able to ignore his keen flight past the window. Tomorrow, at least, would have to take care of itself.
Dende fell into the pit of his dreams as easily as a practiced cliff diver. Within moments, he was no longer on earth, but on a strange ship - and in front of him was Vejiita.
"Must find the key," came Reep's voice from nowhere, and Dende paused to listen. It sounded odd, somehow, doubled; but he did not stop to ponder it.
"See the Prince before you, battered in sleep; his must be the breaking in twain." Suddenly Vejiita morphed into Trunks - the other Trunks, not Mirai - sleeping bathed in a miraculous golden white light and looking so beautiful that Dende's heart ached.
"His son must be the joining of same. The Death of one means waking of him - the one who sleeps and wears his name." The two men, in vastly different circumstances but somehow heading toward the same goal, floated before him.
"The truth will be painful, Dende," said Reep sadly, "but we are running out of time." Both men then faded from his view to be replaced by… nothing. Nothing at all. It was the Black - he was seeing it again, from deep in the heart of it, and yet… something about it was different.
"The truth will hurt, Dende-sama," Reep repeated sadly, letting Dende take in what he saw. "But once given, it cannot be retracted. The truth," and then Bulma's face floated before him along with that of a man he had never seen before except in Trunks' dream: Ru Sa. "Truth," said Reep one more time, and the visions faded away.
"But what about Gokuu?" asked Dende of the nothingness, and - wonder of wonders - got a response.
"Love is his snare," warned Reep. "And it will be his end." And then, Reep was gone for real.
Dende woke up, gasping for breath, trying to hang on to what he had seen, trying to make sense of it. There was something that bothered him... something that did not lay in sync with what he had seen before.
The Black. The Black was different. The area where it had been no longer contained strange, ash-colored masses of matter that used to be the cores of planets. Now, it contained nothing at all.
Was it getting worse? The Black was... increasing? Eating itself? Dende did not know.
He finally fell asleep again that night sometime around 2:00 AM. He knew that because it was Trunks' sixth time past his window, and the boy passed by approximately every twenty minutes. Yay for the wonders of regularity.
This time, when Dende slept, he did not dream; and he was grateful, at least, for that.