Chapter Twenty-Two: Accidents Happen

Vejiita woke up first. Perhaps it had to do with his recent visit to the regen tank, or perhaps he was merely stronger in constitution than the rest of the beings around him. Whatever the reason, he was the only person to stir amidst the wreckage and bodies. He sat up.

It appeared that the entire ship had wedged itself sideways.

He - and everything else in the main hallway that had not been bolted down - lay pressed against the far side, flattened by gravity and much of it broken. Vejiita snorted. The bodies around him were hardly Saiyan now. In death, they had resumed their natural forms - odd, white skinned, far too angular. He felt disgusted merely touching them.

Rising into the air, Vejiita began flying up the hallway, looking for survivors, looking for his family, looking for Ru Sa. He was definitely in a mood to smash something.

*

Gokuu woke up to a painful surprise.

When the ship crashed, he had somehow come to rest on his back, impaled by a thin, metal cabinet leg that sliced through his right side. Of course, it hurt. He groaned roughly.

Cumber, who was draped over a now-horizontal regen tank like a used washcloth, heard this and stirred. "Ugh," he said casually, and slid off. He caught himself and hovered some six feet before crashing to the floor.

"Oh, that's nice," he said, observing the cock-eyed state of the ship. Then he saw Gokuu, struggling, trying to rise high enough to free himself without tearing his side up more. Cumber immediately and calmly went to work to remedy the situation.

"Don't move," he ordered, and flying down, took some kind of ki blade from his belt and used it to slice the metal leg off about an inch from Gokuu's skin.

"Mm," Cumber remarked, observing the wound. "This is going to hurt," he said, and showing smooth and prodigious strength, slid two hands underneath Gokuu and lifted him cleanly off the beam, setting him down on his feet with one hand on his back and one on his stomach to balance him. His eyes steadily searched Gokuu's.

Gokuu blinked. "Ow," he commented, and checked the small hole in his side where he had been pierced. "That really hurts," he added conversationally, and straightened his gi over the wound almost modestly.

Cumber started chuckling. "You really are something else, Son Gokuu," he said, crossing his arms.

Gokuu looked around, eyes wide at the sight of regen tanks sticking straight out from the walls like old transistor radio bulbs.

"Hey! We're sideways!" he announced, and Cumber nodded.

"Yes, we are," he said. "I don't know exactly how, but it's not good. That means we've crashed."

Gokuu kept looking. "Trunks and Bra," he said. "What happened to them?"

Cumber pulled his scouter off his belt and switched it on. "Well, there's someone over th - " he started to point, and a sudden explosion came from the direction he was indicating. Gokuu and Cumber both ducked, ki shields up instinctively to protect themselves from flying shrapnel.

Trunks stood there, powering down now and blushing. They stared at him.

"Um, hi," Trunks said, embarrassed at his slight overreaction. "Didn't know if, ah, anyone was attacking. Or something." Cumber snorted.

"Saiyans," he muttered, and Gokuu looked at the debris with some concern.

"I hope Bra wasn't in that..." he started to say, and then Bra announced her own presence in a more conventional manner. In another room out in the hall, she screamed.

"Hoo boy," Gokuu said again, and powered up once more before racing out to find her.

*

Ru Sa woke up in a most ungainly and uncomfortable of positions. There had been an open door behind him when the blast went off, and somehow, he had gotten wedged half-way inside it, the thing closed on him as though to cut him in half.

"Ugh," he said and struggled to free himself. A small noise off to his left caught his attention.

Lower in the room, up against the wall, with a large, broken pieces of cabinet on top of her, lay Bra. Unconscious. Ru Sa stared at her, wondering how she had gotten in here with him wedged into the entrance as he was. Then he started to think about it how very handy it was that she had been dropped practically into his lap, and smiled. Losing no time, he shifted his shape only slightly, slipped through the smashed door, and into the room; he flew down to her, lifted off the tool cabinet, and picked her up.

Bra stirred faintly in his arms, still in mild shock from being caught in the explosion and flung out the door as the ship crash-landed in wherever it was they had jumped to. Ru Sa smiled at her again.

"Now, what do we do with you, young lady?" he asked her sleeping form, considering the various uses he still could get out of her, given the situation.

Outside in the hallway, he could hear voices now - sounded like somebody besides him had survived. Unfortunately, the direction from which those voices came meant that said survivors were in the regen room - where he had just seen none other than Kakarotto, Vejiita, Bra, and Cumber before Vejiita attacked him like a madman. And - just maybe - he had also seen Trunks. Alive. Which made no sense.

That was for contemplation later.

Ru Sa looked down at the unhappy, sleeping form of Bra. He had an edge with this in his hands. All sorts of possibilities were open to him, oh yes they were.

A sudden explosion came from the regen room.

Bra woke up, immediately responding to her brother's brief moment of groggy panic, and not even looking at who was holding her, screamed. Ru Sa jumped.

"Bah," he said dismissively and held her out from him with one hand clamped around her throat. "No more of that," he ordered, eyeing her with slight disapproval. "I am going to make good use of you right now, and if you cause me trouble I will pop your head off, just like this." To prove his point he gave her one sharp squeeze.

Bra choked slightly, eyes wide. Not being a stupid girl - and filled with enough memories from Chive to know that Ru Sa simply did not bluff - she did her best to indicate acquiescence by a short, stifled nod.

"Smart girl," he said approvingly, and tucking her under his arm like a bag of laundry, he flew up to the door. Thinking quickly, he moved to the wall and pressed a few buttons, grateful for the still-functioning computers. Having the girl was one thing, but these Saiyans were still faster. No use taking chances. He turned at the sound of his name.

"Ru Sa!" Gokuu was hovering there, Super Saiyan level three and looking extremely peeved. "You put her down right now!" he shouted, and Ru Sa smiled at him.

"Make me," he announced, and Gokuu launched right at him. To his credit, the force field that Ru Sa had put up only barely repelled his forward charge. Gokuu went bouncing back into the hallway, hardly hurt but more than a little surprised, and landed right on top of Vejiita. They both whoofed out air and went falling down the length of the ship, landing with a crash on the bottom.

Ru Sa chuckled to himself, amused at his game.

"Whoopsie," he called after them.

And then Trunks came.

The young man hovered slowly down until he was in front of the door, looking very grave, his hair blowing back from his face as he raised his ki. Ru Sa looked unconcerned.

"Toronksu," he said casually, as though greeting a neighbor in the grocery store and not a boy who should, by all rights, be dead. "Lose something?" he said and held up Bra to be sure he could see her better.

Trunks did not smile or shout or threaten. He did not even go Super Saiyan. Instead, he said a very strange thing.

"The ship is about to fall," he said calmly, and Ru Sa blinked.

"What?" he asked, and frowned in momentary confusion.

"Into the crevasse. It is going to fall. Check your sensors," said Trunks. "And I think you had better hurry, or we are all going to die."

As if on cue, a horrible, metal-against-rock screeching sound suddenly echoed through the hallway, painfully sounding in the room where Ru Sa presently was. The ship, apparently knocked off its precarious balance by the combined weight of Gokuu and Vejiita slamming into one end of it, lurched once.

Cursing obscurely in another language, Ru Sa disengaged the force field and flew for the auxiliary control room as fast as he could, knowing that the regular one had been rendered worthless by the explosion. He did not even think to disbelieve Trunks. Nothing in the boy's eyes left room for lies.

The ship shuddered again.

"SHIT!" he shouted more conventionally and dropped Bra, needing two hands to do what he did now. Flying like a mad man, he started flipping switches and punching in codes to transfer control of the vessel to him. Unfortunately, it was taking a while; there was no one in there to help him.

Trunks casually caught Bra in his arms and watched him go, apparently unconcerned. Bra looked up at him in wonder.

"You're all right," she said, and Trunks spared a moment to smile down at her.

"Of course I am, silly girl," he said, and tweaked her nose.

Bra burst into tears.

At that precise moment, Vejiita managed to disentangle himself from the still-stunned Gokuu and rocketed up the hall, heading for Ru Sa with murder in his eyes. Trunks, still carrying Bra, moved smoothly into his path.

"OUT OF THE WAY!" Vejiita roared, and made as if to move past him.

Trunks just looked at him.

With eyes that had seen Jouten. With the face of one who had spent time purifying himself beyond that which any mortal could do alone. With the look of a man who had spent time outside of Time itself. In his expression was absolute non-surrender.

And amazingly, Vejiita slowed - stopped - stared - and started shaking.

"What... what has gotten into you?" he asked, looking at what used to be his son with something approaching awe.

"God," Trunks answered simply, and turned to go see if he could help Ru Sa keep the ship from slipping into further danger. Vejiita stayed where he was, head craned upward, watching him go.

"What the hell is going on around here?" he demanded of nobody in particular, and followed Trunks at a much more sedate pace.

With more metallic screeching, the ship continued to slide.

***

Interlude 22.1: Dende Covers the Bases

Dende thought long and hard before he decided to walk home. He wanted to fly - he could fly, but the problem was that an action like that would announce to every ki-sensitive creature for miles around exactly where he was. He didn't want to do that.

On the other hand, walking home would ensure that he arrived much later, and that - considering the emotional state of everyone around here of late - was perhaps not such a good idea either.

Mostly he just wished he could go home. Period. Away from all this craziness. No more extra dragons or the balls that came with them. No more crazy time traveling. No more Black.

He knew he could not.

Dende started walking.

He really, really wanted to go home.

*

Bee was, in general, a very happy dog.

He had little to worry about - nothing in the way of physical needs, anyway, because Bulma took good care of everybody who lived in her house. In fact, until Ru Sa had kicked him the other night, he had never even known real physical pain. He knew he was loved, knew he would be taken care of, and for now, knowing that was enough.

At the moment, however, he was less than pleased to be in the kitchen with his fellow Bulma-beneficiaries.

There was a lot of shouting. And as multi-lingual as he was, Bee was still only a dog. He really only understood that everybody was unhappy - although they were NOT being unhappy at him, which was good.

He sat in his master's lap and listened.

*

"I do NOT care if you don't trust him, he is MY guest and he is MISSING! Anything could have happened to him! Anything at all!" Bulma stood, fists loosely clenched, and glared at her annoyingly unresponsive son.

"No," Trunks said for the third time, and Bulma's coloring went a bit more livid.

"We should wait to see where he has been before we decide such things, child," Roshi chided gently. "Then we can decide if it is worth locking him in his room with a water hoses under the door for sustenance or not," he suggested, and they both turned on him.

"STAY OUT OF THIS!" roared Bulma, and Trunks added, "Please." Thus, with Roshi subdued, they continued their debate.

Mr. Satan watched in silence, his mind working. Perhaps Dende wasn't coming back at all. Perhaps, in fact, he had already GONE...

The door opened, and a very dusty Dende walked in.

Four different variations on "where the HELL have you been?" hit him at once, their speakers crowding toward him. Dende pushed past them all with nary a grunt and went upstairs.

"Hey," said Oolong, but Dende did not answer. The only thing that he could coherently think of right now was his bed. And sleep. And not using his feet ever again as long as he lived.

The door slammed.

"Well, THAT was interesting," said Bulma, and then Trunks walked out of the room. "Where are you going?" she asked, and her son turned in the doorway to answer her.

"Hunting," he said inexplicably, and took off into the air. She stared after him, watching him go with an odd look on her face.

"Why do I have a bad feeling about this?" she asked, and nobody even tried to answer her.

*

Cabbage peeked out the laboratory door and watched Trunks fly away.

"Even better," he said to himself and continued simultaneously working on Bulma's assignment and going through Gero's journal. He still hadn't found what he needed. Sighing and resigning himself to a fruitless and boring morning, he continued searching.

*

Dende was asleep, flat on his stomach, for all of twelve minutes before he had an idea.

That happens to thinkers, sometimes; they can be sound asleep, dreaming their dreams, when the solution to a problem that has been bothering them all day suddenly comes clear. It was that way just now.

Rolling over, he sat straight up and stared with wide eyes at the bureau across the way. "The COVER!" he said to it, and hopped out of bed. He was dressed again and down the stairs before even he could blink.

*

In the kitchen, only Mr. Satan now remained. He eyed Dende warily as the Namek came bounding down the stairs.

"Mr. Satan, I've got to - "

"I know, I know, you've got to go," boomed Mr. Satan, meditatively stroking Bee with what limited movement he had in his left arm.

Dende blinked. "Well, no, I'm going to the - "

"Don't tell me."

Dende stared at him.

"That way, I won't have to lie when I'm asked where you've gone."

Dende blinked again, and nodded. He had to get to the lab. Excusing himself, he took his leave of Mr. Satan and ran out the door. Mr. Satan watched him go.

"Bee," he said softly. "Baby, wake up." The dog perked his head up, as alert as any dog just come awake could be. "Go. Go protect Dende. Go on, boy. Go."

Obedient as always when words were used that he understood, Bee jumped off Mr. Satan's lap and ran out the doggie-door after Dende. He would do his master's bidding.

Mr. Satan watched him go, hoping he would be all right, hoping this would be enough to repay Dende for his kindness to both dog and master. He had a feeling he would not be seeing Dende again.

*

Dende ran lightly across the lawn and toward the lab, at first not noticing Bee right on his heels. The dog got his attention with a sharp, short yap.

"Yah!" said Dende, jumping. "Bee! What are you doing out here?"

Bee in response yipped at him a little more, tail wagging, then sat in the grass and panted at him. Dende could not help chuckling.

"Bee, go away," he said. "Go away, Bee."

Bee did not.

Dende knelt down, wondering what he was to do with the dog. Suddenly, Bee leapt forward, snagged some of Dende's robe in his teeth, and started pulling for the lab with all his might.

"What..." Dende started to ask, and then heard the car engine start up in the front parking lot. Dende took off for the lab.

He was inside the door just in time to avoid being seen by Bulma, who pulled her jeep around and took off down the road, going for groceries. Dende watched her go, a bit relieved that she had not seen him. He looked down.

"Why, you were trying to warn me, weren't you, Bee?"

"Looked that way to me," said Cabbage, from behind him. Dende jumped again.

"Hello there," Dende said by way of greeting, and moved fully into the room. Cabbage sat, Gero's book in his lap, surrounded by various burning beakers filled with chemicals. He smiled.

"I'm baby-sitting her lab," he said, and closed the book. Dende could not help staring at it.

"May I see that?" he asked, unconsciously taking a step nearer.

Cabbage tilted his head. "You don't have to ask me, Dende," he said, handing the book over to him. "It's not exactly mine to be looking at in the first place."

Dende took the book gingerly, not happy with having to hold it at all. He looked up. "Have you found what you needed yet?" he asked him, hating the very feel of the soft leather in his hands.

"You mean the dates regarding Gero's Black? No. Found out a lot of other stuff, though," he said, and chuckled. "Is there something in particular you would like to find?"

"Have you told the... others... what other 'stuff' you found yet?" Dende asked evenly, wishing he could just burn the book and be done with it.

"No," answered Cabbage evenly.

"And why not?" said Dende.

"Because it is not 'stuff' that I would be comfortable with my own people knowing. How to extract information from the dead, things like that."

Dende nodded once. "And would it be a relief for you if I were to remove it?"

Cabbage reacted as though he had expected this all along. "Of course," he said, and handed him a small shearing knife.

"I think I'll need something bigger," Dende replied, judging the thickness of the covers.

Cabbage blinked. "Alright," he said, and took out a much larger paring knife, used for who-knew-what. Dende took it absently.

"Thank you," he said, and placed the book on the floor, opened, pages down. He then stood on it.

Cabbage watched with some amusement. "Is this some kind of Namekian ritual of which I am not aware?" he asked.

"No," said Dende, and strained slightly. A little work with the knife and a lot of pulling later, he had half the cover off.

Cabbage's eyes opened wider. "Would you like me to help you with that, Dende?" he asked, as Dende pulled off the other half.

"No, thank you," he said, placing both covers flat on the table beside him and picking up the book. He then went to work getting the binding off, removing all the leather completely.

"I think I'm going to have to pay for that," Cabbage remarked blithely, still trying not to show too much surprise at Dende's actions. Dende finished ripping the rest of the cover off and looked at Cabbage, knife ready.

"What else do you want me to take out?" he asked, and Cabbage laughed.

"I didn't want you to take the covers off to begin with," he said. "But the entries that are most damaging start June 5th, around 770."

Dende found what he was referring to quickly - really, the thing was marvelously organized - and began deftly cutting pages. Cabbage watched him, now perfectly serious.

"What are you going to do with those pages, Dende?" he asked. Dende finished slicing and skimmed through the book, looking for anything more that could potentially be dangerous.

"Burn them, most likely. But most of all make sure they don't end up in the wrong hands."

"Which, obviously, mine are," quipped Cabbage a bit sadly, looking down at his hands as he spoke. Dende stopped and looked up at him.

"Cabbage," he said. "You have been extremely helpful to me. Just this right now - making sure that these pages do not go into the control of people who would use them wrongly - is probably essential to what we're both doing. I appreciate you."

Cabbage looked at him wryly.

"Thank you, I think," he said. "You're not used to giving compliments, are you?"

Dende chuckled, cutting the last of the pages he considered dangerous from the book. "About as used to it as you are to receiving them, I think."

"Accurate," Cabbage admitted, and watched with a bit of consternation as Dende tucked the pages into his belt.

"Be careful with those," he said, and Dende looked at him oddly.

"And you just be careful," he warned. Cabbage accepted the warning calmly, having no idea how much he had already changed, how much he had come to disagree with Ru Sa and Ru Sa's methods, that he would die at the hands of Ru Sa some three weeks later.

"I will," he said, nodding comfortably. "Now get out of here. Before you get caught and get us both in trouble."

Dende smiled, nodded, took the book covers, and bid him farewell. He turned back at the door. "Do you want me to tell you if I find out anything?" he said, thinking of the information he might get once he ripped the covers apart.

"Only if it has to do with the date that Gero got the Black," Cabbage answered, leaving it at that. Dende nodded and left the lab, going across the lawn, into the house, and up to his room, nervous and ready to study the covers until he had figured their mystery out. Bee stayed on his heels the whole time.

Cabbage watched him go, trying not to think to hard about what he had just done. He recalled, wryly, his second conversation with Dende a few days ago, in which he had told the Namek that by the time they - the Kyuujinshu - had gotten a hold of Gero's journal there had been pages missing. He had had no idea that he was the one responsible for that.

Cabbage laughed softly to himself, simply because he was the type of person who liked to do so; pursing his lips, he checked absently on the experiments Bulma had him overseeing. It seemed that yet again, Irony was having her way.

***

Ru Sa cursed one more time and kicked the control panel in frustration.

And at long last, the repulsors finally came online.

Profusely thanking the gods he had just been cursing, Ru Sa switched them on and eased the ship, still sideways, away from the cliff's edge, not allowing it to slide down any further. He did not right it yet because he did not know where they were, and simply navigating a vessel that size without looking first could be more disastrous than allowing it to slide off the cliff. Sweating a bit from the strain of this day, he brought the information up on the mini-screen embedded in the panel before him.

For a moment, he just stared at what he saw. It made no sense, and even if it did it was simply too good to be true.

One grew used to seeing certain things on the read-outs when one jumped from place to place and time to time. TThere were always some varying factors, "parallel dimensions" or not, such as the ratio of various kinds of radiation, or the degree to which entropy had lessened the mass total within sensor range. Even the particular amount of lives lost and wear and tear on the "walls" of the dimensions themselves ( "walls" being the term that the Kyuujinshu had given to the seemingly fragile time-and-spatial separators that kept one dimension from crashing into another) were like scuff marks accumulated through time.

None of that was here.

None. Nothing. As though this particular place was completely pristine, absolutely perfect, untouched by the ravages of either time or anything else's passing. In fact... Ru Sa stared at the echo test coming back on the radar; apparently, all 16 galaxies were here and intact.

Impossible. Buu had eaten all but four - this was known fact. Ru Sa frowned and kept checking the readings.

Now, he noticed something else interesting. The last time they had jumped, Cabbage had casually remarked on the small sort of - hole - their ship had left in the "wall" of the dimension they had just entered. It seemed unimportant; nothing was immediately compromised as far as they could see. Just a footprint that they would leave in their passing wherever they went.

Well, that was not here, either.

Ru Sa's expression grew more puzzled; he turned the sensors inward and had them scan the inside of the ship, already knowing what damage was done but wanting to see if they were accurate, correct.

They were.

Ru Sa did not know about the Original Timeline; he did not know that the majority of the gods had been looking for it with no success, that they believed it to be the one place that the Black could not touch.

That last part, however, Ru Sa figured out on his own.

His face paled. A place where the Black could not come? Was such a thing POSSIBLE? He continued to run the sensors, trying to look busy to put off the inevitable confrontation that would occur once he was done here. It took him only moments to confirm it. Wherever he was, it was practically perfect - none of the catastrophic events that had shaken other dimensions had taken place here. From what he could tell, it was not even as populated as other galaxies; the earth, below him now, had barely any life on it at all. Curious, he switched on the sensors that would pick up communication waves; such things, once sent out into space, kept going forever, endless ripples, so if there HAD been any kind of radio frequency played or anything transmission of any kind, he would find it.

There were none.

It was a full minute after the impact of this hit that Ru Sa thought to check WHEN they were. This was possible by measuring the amounts of heat still in the sun, by how much silt was on the bottom of the ocean on the planet below, etc. He wasted no time in doing so.

And then stared like a full-blown idiot at what came up on the screen.

He had assumed - merely because of the undamaged state of things - that this was the dawn of time, the Very Beginning, or some such thing. He had been wrong. This was the exact same year as when they had jumped from the other timeline. It was just perfect, that was all. Absolutely... impervious.

He stared for a good long time before Vejiita made impatient noises in the doorway and got his attention again.

"Right," Ru Sa said to nobody and continued working on more buttons, pulling the ship out of the large crater it had managed to create on the small, odd planet between the earth and its moon. There was, naturally, no damage done to the outside of the ship; this was Junsei Aion, after all. Unfortunately, it seemed that the life support systems were all but off line, and they only had enough remaining power left for two jumps… and since the navigational systems were down, that would be like leaping in the dark.

Slowly but surely, the ship twisted itself around, hallways echoing as things slid from wall to floor, responding to the change in gravity. Soon enough, all was horizontal and right with the world once again. Trunks moved further into the room.

"We need to go to the timeline in which you dropped off the other Nameks," he said with quiet authority, and Ru Sa felt what was for him a very unusual sensation: something akin to regret.

He did not want to leave here.

He pursed his lips again, thinking quickly... and saved the time and spatial coordinates of the place on his computer.

"Very well," he said, "but it will take me a few minutes to configure the ship for that. All our navigational systems are offline. Thanks," he said, glaring pointedly at Vejiita, "to some extraordinarily short tempers belonging to short royal persons on board."

Vejiita hissed and nearly charged him, but Gokuu, who had by this point recovered, grabbed him by the arms and kept him from moving forward.

"Not until he's got us where we need to go, Vejiita," he chided softly, as though correcting a recalcitrant child.

Vejiita spat on the floor and subsided. "Later for you," he promised severely, and went to see after his daughter. Ru Sa snorted after him.

"Remind me to be scared," he said, knowing it was a stupid comment and not giving a damn. He was already making plans to take them where they wanted to go.... and leave them there. He was coming back here. To rule, to live, he did not know what - and it did not matter.

Trunks watched him in silence, suspecting betrayal but not knowing enough to be able, at this stage, to put a stop to it.

*

At that moment, Cumber was at the other end of the ship, looking rather rather pale and dealing with the dead.

By some freak chance, the explosion and jolt that had hit the ship had killed all but himself, Ru Sa, and the earthlings. There were none others of his kind left.

Cumber stood where he was and clenched his fists, feeling a horrible weight in his heart. Gone. All but two of the Kyuujinshu were gone. He spent a bare moment railing against whatever gods of the sky were responsible for this, for doing such things to him and his people...

But no. That was immature. After all, the Kyuujinshu had had their time in the sunlight - in full and with extras. Perhaps it was merely time for them to cease to exist.

He shed some tears anyway as he stood there, running names through his head, feeling pain for the passing of such a simple thing as a race, and wishing for a chance to replay. To make it better. Or at least, not hurt as much.

He was somewhat surprised to feel Gokuu's hand on his shoulder.

That Saiyan looked at him steadily, all man right now and no boy, compassion and understanding showing in his eyes. But of course - all of his race were gone too, weren't they - and two left, just the same as the Kyuujinshu.

But at least he could repopulate.

Cumber had no way to do that.

He stood, looking into Gokuu's eyes, not sobbing but not bothering to wipe his tears either, and something between them seemed to transfer. Some sort of... understanding.

In that moment, Cumber understood that he would give his life for Gokuu as much as Gokuu would give his life for him.

As if instinctively knowing that Cumber needed time to deal with this revelation, Gokuu patted him once on the shoulder and turned and left, going back up the hallway in silence, slowly and firmly.

Cumber watched him go.

He really had nothing at all to say.

*

Ru Sa finished fiddling with his devices, pausing now and then to wipe sweat from his face. He was not doing well at all.

He had been too long without a fix.

He paused again to breathe slowly a few times, his lungs simply not taking in as much oxygen as they should. If he did not do something soon, he was going to pass out. The thought momentarily crossed his mind of going to what was left of Chive's lab and trying to replicate some of her last formula. At this point, he would need something that powerful just to survive until he could get back to this place.

The thought also occurred to him to merely forgo the serum completely and go after Cumber.

Heh. Wouldn't THAT give that Saiyan-sympathizer a surprise? Indeedy, it would. As a general rule, Kyuujinshu did not attack their own. Hell, rule, nothing - it was taboo.

Ru Sa had already drained two.

He still felt a little bad about Shitake, truthfully, but it really had been necessary; Shitake's neck had been broken, and thanks to his lack of serum, he wasn't healing properly at all. It had been only kind to put him out of his misery.

Now, Cabbage, on the other hand, had been a different story altogether. The man had very nearly jumped ship. And all because of some technicality over the treatment of the Briefs female....

In the end, after a long and pointless argument, Cabbage had all but threatened to go to the Saiyans and tell them what was really going on. This could not be allowed. Furious and not quite knowing what else to do, Ru Sa had attacked him.

After it was over, Ru Sa had looked down at the desiccated corpse and could not quite believe what he had done. To his knowledge, no Kyuujinshu have EVER done this before.

First time for everything.

And then Gohan had interfered, and everything had just gone haywire from that point on. Part of his mind could not help but think that the total crash of all his carefully laid plans was only due vengeance from some god or other for breaking such an important rule.

This did not matter now. Shaking his head to clear it slightly, he went back to messing with controls. In a minute or so, they would be ready to jump. He would take them to that dead world from which came the Black. Certainly. And once he had killed them all - how did not matter, he was going to do it - then he would come back here and make it his new home. It did not bother him so much that he would be alone. After thousands of years of camaraderie, he rather suspected the change would be... pleasant.

He fumed and planned as he worked, and Trunks watched him, unable to know exactly what he was planning but trying to prepare for it anyway. And far away from them both, in places left completely empty, the Black - which was twisting more and more dangerously as it continued to hit the holes the Kyuujinshu's ship had left behind - stayed on its stolid course, unstoppable and uncaring. And nobody had any idea how much it would change all their plans before the end.

***

Interlude 22.2: Dende Goes Home

Dende sat in his room and peered closely at the pieces of leather on his bed, not really wanting to touch them any more at all. Bee seemed of similar opinion. The dog sat on the bed next to him and positively glared at the covers, growling at them every once in a while for the sake of appearance. Dende chuckled wryly.

"I know, boy," he said, absently scratching behind the dog's ears. Bee did not respond.

"Well," he sighed. "Might as well not put it off any more." Taking up the knife, he began to very carefully and precisely slice along the edges of the front cover.

Inside both covers was half sheet of paper.

Dende put them together and looked at them, frowning slightly as he translated. They were in ancient Japanese. It seemed to be some kind of spell.

"An... opening spell? What?" He read further, disturbed.

According to the side notes in Gero's handwriting, this parchment gave a spell meant for the banishment of demons. It opened a doorway into the lower hells.

Dende frowned and read further. Gero had used it. According to his less-than-detailed notes, he had gone IN there - and come out, having captured some of the - essence - of the place - in a jar. His special breakable glass, no doubt. And that meant...

An explosion sounded from far away, rattling the windows in their frames and scaring the dog very much; for all the world, it sounded like a volcano going off. Dende raced to the window.

Black smoke - not unlike that which accompanied lava - was slowly settling in the far distance, as though a large cloud of charcoal dust had been shot into the air. And as it landed....

Things just… weren't THERE anymore.

Dende felt the first real stab of panic.

He was seeing the coming of the Black.

The stuff drifted, settling slowly, and began to move in a westerly direction, thankfully away from Satan City. But still...

Damnit, there were PEOPLE over there. Not many, it was true, but...

Barely even thinking, he turned and ran out the door, heading as if to help, as if he thought there was something he could do, even if only to delay the inevitable.

Bee raced out the door after him.

*

Amidst the explosion, things disappearing horribly into nothingness all around him, Trunks fought hand to hand with Ru Sa, having to split half his concentration to avoid from stepping in, getting pushed into, or landing on any of this... stuff... that was eating everything.

He had gone back to the lab after Dende had arrived at the Capsule Corporation. A feeling - a nagging, powerful feeling - had developed in his gut that something horrible was about to happen there. So he went. Circled it twice. And found, on the leeward side, an opening that someone had very carefully and very determinedly dug into the hill.

Infuriated, he had gone in. And found something horrible indeed.

The lab was not entirely destroyed. Yes, he had brought down the roof - but there was a room, into which this cave led, that was whole and untouched. And inside...

Trunks barely had time to register the large, regen-sized glass cylinders with pulsating black... something... in them before he was attacked. And darned if it wasn't the same man who had broken into Bulma's lab just the other day.

"You," the stranger snarled in his face and started fighting.

Trunks dodged and hit back, not at all outclassed, but puzzled by the stranger's behavior. He acted as though he KNEW him... which was impossible.

"VEJIITA'S CHILD!" the stranger suddenly roared, and with no further warning shot an absolutely huge ball of ki at him. Trunks deflected it, but only barely, surprised as he was by this statement. He powered up almost instantly to Super Saiyan level two and bounced the thing away from himself.

The power ball went firing upward into the air and hit the ceiling, carving a huge chunk out of the rock and bringing small pieces of stone down on their heads.

And on the glass holding the black thing.

"NO!" the stranger shouted, and tore at Trunks with a ferocity that was so personal in its hatred as to put some small hesitation into Trunks' own attack. He fell back slightly, just enough to get out of arm's reach.

"I don't know you, stranger," he said as soothingly as he could, having the distinct feeling that breaking this cave - breaking that glass - would be the worst thing that could possibly happen. He had to stop that from happening. At all costs.

Perhaps responding to the growing pressure and tenseness in the room, the thing in the tank billowed like black smoke - almost as though trying to get out.

Ru Sa, for his part, was almost beyond speaking. Here - he had found it, FOUND it - the Black, BEFORE it was released, when it could still be contained - and this brat... Vejiita's brat... was about to stop him.

He leveled a finger at him. "YOU have no right to be here! We can stop it! We came all the way BACK to stop it! And you DARE to try to stop ME?"

Trunks glanced back at the undulating blackness in the tank and felt his heart clench even further. That thing was death and madness. He knew without even a doubt.

"Let's not do this here," he said, not quite daring to back toward the door and leave this obviously unhinged man unsupervised. He glanced again at the tubes.

Ru Sa saw that glance. And misinterpreted it.

"YOU CAN'T HAVE IT!" he shouted, and raced at Trunks once more. Having no choice, Trunks fought, keeping an eye on the cylinder and trying not to get anywhere near it.

The place began to shake as their combined ki rose, and, already shaken as it was by Trunks' destruction of the larger, inner cave, more pieces of rock began to fall down out of the walls and ceiling.

One of them hit the glass squarely on the top.

Both Trunks and Ru Sa froze.

The thing inside burbled. Surged. And suddenly, as though kept in there by incredible pressure, it blew up and outward, taking the top of the mountain with it and raining both men with rock and debris. They screamed.

*

Dende flew as fast as he could, carrying people out of the way, unable to reach them all and trying to block out the sounds of their choked-off screams as they ceased to exist. Already, sirens and alarms were sounding in the distance as the humans began their weak efforts to understand and stop whatever had happened. Dende flew with tears on his cheeks.

And below him, helping him, was Bee.

The dog had a genius for sniffing people out, people who were hiding, or perhaps just living in odd corners, in huts that had been camouflaged to blend into the background. Bee would bark and Dende would dive, and between the two of them, they saved some four families before the Black caught up with them and engulfed the area.

And now, Dende flew back in the direction of the Capsule Corporation, Bee in his arms, unable to do anyone more good at all. A flash of light caught his eye. Down there, on the ground, right in the center of the explosion, was Trunks.

*

"Not again..." Ru Sa said in disbelief, unsure what had happened, whose fault it was, how the Black had gotten out. He turned to look at Trunks, teeth bared. "NOT AGAIN!" he roared, and resumed fighting.

Trunks, for his part, would have been just as happy to simply leave at this point. Large debris and black stuff was falling and drifting all around them, and already everything on the floor was gone, the black cloud curling and floating along like smoke. Not daring to so much as touch it, both fighters were battling in the air.

Which air was rapidly being filled with falling, smoky tendrils of death.

"Stop this!" Trunk shouted back, and the man seemed to hesitate.

"Time to say goodbye, Trunks," he said, and Trunks braced himself for another blow. But instead of trying to hit him, this man suddenly shifted, melted, changed form entirely and became some sort of large insect, long and skinny, and promptly flew away, smoothly threading its way through the falling Black and getting out of sight before Trunks could so much as blink.

He tried to follow.

Black was falling all around him, and at this point only the farthest edges of the cave walls were left whole. The ground below him was completely hidden from view by drifting, tendrilled black mist, and for all he knew was completely gone. He zipped and dodged, seeing a clear spot, and tried to make it out of the way before it was too late. But the stuff around him seemed to be…

He actually saw one tendril change direction and reach for him before it touched him.

He did not even feel it when the Black barely graced his side, causing an odd moment of dizzied spinning - he was now slightly overbalanced - and an explosion of numbness up and down the left side of his body that made it shockingly impossible to think clearly. In that moment, he knew he was crashing. He slammed into the ground, some distance from the epicenter of the explosion but hardly out of harm's way. His side was beginning to hurt now, a dull, aching throb that seemed to eclipse his thoughts and dim his vision.

It was Bee's barking that got his attention.

"Wha... Bee?" he asked dizzily, feeling pain now, so much pain. He did not want to look down and see what had been done to his side.

Bee leapt in front of his face and started licking him, barking, trying to get him to get up, get a move on, something. Dende was just behind him.

"Oh, hell," the Namek said, noting the slices of body missing cleanly from Trunks' arm and side. He knelt and picked him up as carefully as he could.

More huge rocks, spit from the mountain top during the explosion, came raining down around them, and Dende hesitated no more before taking off. Bee ran along as well as he could beneath them.

"Damnit," said Dende, knowing that Trunks's safety MUST come first but unwilling to leave the faithful dog behind. Putting on a burst of speed, he lay Trunks down carefully, well out of the range of the Black, and went back.

Bee suddenly cried out sharply. One of the chunks of rock had hit him squarely on the back.

"NO!" shouted Dende, and dove down after him, grabbing the dog, trying to heal him before it was -

A cloud of Black, fibrous and undulating, settled directly on top of them and Trunks could see no more.

"No..." he said, barely able to move or think for the pain and dizziness that were now his. Gritting his teeth, he rose into the air, looking for them for their ki, anything.

Both were gone as though they had never existed.

Feeling horror and guilt in his chest, Trunks flew in a wobbly path back to the Capsule Corporation, determined to warn his mother, to try to help, to do whatever he could to stop this monstrosity that was engulfing everything.

And to tell Mr. Satan that his dog was gone.

***

Moot was just sitting and playing with some odd puzzle or other when Dende made his appearance.

"Hello, Moot," Dende said wearily, and Moot spun around.

"DENDE!" he cried and rushed at him. Dende smiled, tired, and sad, and let Bee slip out of his hands and to the ground so he could take Moot into his arms in a proper hug. Not one to miss out on the celebration, Bee capered happily and started licking Moot's feet.

Moot's eyes became as big as saucers. "What..." he started to ask, and then the others, alerted by Moot's small cry, came pouring in from the outside and all corners of the compound. Bee panted, thrilled with the company, and greeted them all.

"Well," said Muuri, staring. "Apparently you did not come back to us empty handed."

"Bee came along for the ride. Which I had no clue was going to happen right then," Dende explained, putting Moot back down and absently kneeling to scratch Bee's head.

Reep laughed. A very, very strange sound indeed, but at this point no one had anything left in them that could be surprised.

"A pet for Moot," Reep explained, and Dende tried to glare at him.

"Mr. Satan's dog this was," he said, his speech patterns naturally falling into rhythm with Reep's.

"Oh, hardly," Reep assured him, and grinned his big, toothy grin as Moot carefully patted Bee on the head. "The Black would have had him, then and there. This way, some joy for some - and one life to spare."

Dende felt his eyes welling with tears. What about Bulma? And Trunks? And...

"Hush, Kami," ordered Reep carefully, although Dende had not verbalized a word. "The ship is arriving. The One comes... he who is to hold the dragonball. But he does not come alone."

Dende sighed deeply and tried to mentally prepare himself. It seemed that he was not going to get any rest at all until this thing was over with - one way or another.

He watched Moot play a bit with Bee and had to wonder what would have happened if he had been near Trunks rather than Bee when the transfer occurred.

Such things, he decided, were best not dwelt on.

Walking out the door, he wiped the clammy sweat from his brow - he still felt a bit cold and numb, his body here having just woken up from what was practically a coma - and stood outside, waiting for the "One" and his entourage to come. Whoever the hell that was. He puzzled, for a moment, over the way he had seen the Black actually reach for Trunks… that seemed so odd, now.

Ah, well. Questions upon questions, and all would be answered later. It seemed now there was nothing to do but wait.

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