Chapter Twenty Three: Parallel

Space: 1

Cumber was perplexed. He wasn't often perplexed, and when it happened there was usually a doozy of a reason. At present, however, there was just Gokuu.

"I feel fine!" Gokuu told him with a smile, and Cumber felt more confused than ever.

"Fine?" he reiterated, and Gokuu smiled more broadly yet and hopped off the table.

"Yup!" he enthused, and stretched with a yawn. "Can I go now?"

Cumber was amazed; jumping through time always had certain side effects on those involved, and Cumber had learned to expect certain things - nausea, raised blood pressure, headaches...and none of them were there. None. It was as though Gokuu had never even been ill a day in his life.

Gokuu smiled and powered down, out of Super Saiyan mode. Well, perhaps that had been the problem; Cumber had never inspected a Super Saiyan before. Nothing about Super Saiyan Gokuu was "normal;" his metabolism, ki-stability, heart rate - added up as they were SHOULD have produced one very charred and crispy Saiyan. Yet, here the man stood, unharmed and completely obvlivious to the stir that he could cause in the medical community.

Gokuu grinned at him, not bothered much in the way of deep thoughts.

Then again, thought Cumber, eyeing him wryly, perhaps it's just GOKUU.

"Can I go?" Gokuu repeated, and Cumber looked up at him fully and nodded.

"Yes," he answered, putting down Gokuu's chart. He sighed. "I wonder if Vejiita has this many anomalies," he wondered aloud, and Gokuu perked up.

"Vejiita?" asked Gokuu, all enthusiastic. "I can get him for you!" he promised, and veritably skipped out of the room, leaving Cumber to his own devices. Cumber blinked.

"Um...thanks," he said quietly to nobody and picked up the chart again. He studied it for a moment without really seeing it, thinking about all sorts of things. He had never met anybody like these people, these people who were presently on his ship and theoretically holding him captive. Never met anyone as pure as Gokuu - or as GOOD.

Cumber had no idea how to react in the face of such goodness.

Pondering the issue in his careful, methodical way, Cumber went back to studying the chart and waited for Vejiita.

*

Vejiita was presently in his daughter's bedroom, soothing Bra to sleep. He knelt by her bed, gently palming her hair back from her forehead as she dozed and displaying an intensity of affection he would never have shown were she fully awake.

His children. He had nearly lost his children to these... people. Had lost his son, for a time.

Vejiita's natural inclination was to simply descend on the two remaining Kyuujinshu, tearing through the ship like a golden tornado and destroying every single trace that these people had ever existed. However, he did not; he had been advised that this was not practical. Practical, his ass. People did not trifle with the family of Vejiita and walk away unharmed.

He checked on her respiration and ki level again; finally, Bra was asleep. It was quite a relief to know that. Maybe now he could get back to the business of plotting revenge. Sighing, he leaned back and contemplated his daughter.

She really did look just like her mother. It was, in fact, painful sitting here and looking at her; it merely served to remind him in one more implacable way that Bulma was gone forever.

Wasn't fair. It just... wasn't... fair.

A sudden attack of angst flooded his mind. He sat where he was, missing that woman who had been a part of his life for the past sixteen years, recalling the feel of her, the sound of her, her scent, her touch; time slipped by, unnoticed by him, and still he knelt and hovered in her memory.

The intercom buzzed and got back his attention.

Hell. He had lost a good five minutes just... reminiscing over that woman. This was not good. Not now. There was no time for this sort of thing...

The intercom buzzed again, and, grumbling, Vejiita shook himself finally from his reverie to go see who had the nerve to bother him.

*

Gokuu went down the hall toward Bra's room, trying to find Vejiita. It was an educated guess to look there, really; since the doors were closed, he was unable to simply pick up traces of Vejiita's ki. So, he guessed, and whatever else could be said about Gokuu's notable lack of mental prowess, the fact remained that he was a very good guesser. He came up to Bra's door and hit the intercom button. A moment passed without response, so he hit it again.

"What?" came Vejiita's quiet but annoyed voice, and Gokuu smiled, pleased with his success.

"Ohayoo!" he announced, and Vejiita sighed dramatically.

"What do you want, Kakarotto?" he said, still just on the verge of whispering; Bra was asleep, after all.

"Cumber wants to see you. He's doing tests on us to see if we were affected when we accidentally time jumped," Gokuu explained, absently scratching the back of his head.

"He can take his tests and shove them," Vejiita replied caustically, turning back to the room with an air of dismissal.

"It's important, Vejiita," Gokuu insisted, speaking a little more quietly than before. "If it does something bad to us or our kids, we need to know it before we jump again."

Vejiita hesitated; he felt just fine - nothing wrong with him, thank you very much - but if there were possible harm to his children...

"Fine," he snapped, and, switching off the intercom, opened the door and marched down the hall to see what Cumber wanted to do to him.

***

Earth: 1

On earth, Kuririn was feeling under-appreciated. Oh, he knew it was silly; after everything his friends had gone through to rescue him, it was verging on ungrateful for him to even think such a thing. Nevertheless - he felt like he was being ignored.

Perhaps it was because nobody was listening to a damned word he had to say.

"No, but I'm telling you - " he tried, and was again overridden.

"And in order to track their vessel, we're going to have to find their last trajectory so I can look for traces of their passing," Dr. Briefs explained, not even hearing Kuririn's voice. Kuririn was easy to miss.

"No, but - "

"We do not know where they are going," Piccolo interrupted gruffly. "But we do have the communicators that Bulma was working on. Could use those to track them?" Dr. Briefs and Kuririn both shook their heads.

"No, you see they're - " Kuririn started again.

"No, I'm afraid not," Dr. Briefs interrupted, this time breaking in to keep from hearing more mention of his daughter. "Just an open com signal is not enough to track them, because radio waves of any kind simply expand in space and keep going for ever - they don't degrade and disappear the way they do on earth. I'm afraid I need something more solid."

"Well, we could always - "

"Perhaps if you had the specs for the material of their ship," Juuhachi-gou said quietly, and Kuririn threw his hands in the air and relegated them all to foolery. "This Junsei Aion is supposed to be unique, both on earth and in the universe at large."

"Perhaps," Dr. Briefs said thoughtfully, considering as he wisely rubbed his chin. "If I could calibrate the machinery to merely look for the predicted response of radar bouncing off that material. But I'm afraid without the direction they're headed in, it will still take a very long time."

"But what about the - " started Chaou-zu, and Kuririn had had enough.

"But they're coming back to EARTH!" he suddenly shouted at the top of his lungs, and everybody turned to look at him.

"What? You're certain?" demanded Piccolo, leaning in closer and scowling in true Piccoloian style.

Kuririn scowled back, feeling old and cranky and not in the mood for dealing with idiots. "Hell, yes," he said, and crossed his arms for emphasis.

"Well, why didnít you say so before?" Dr. Briefs said happily, and marched off with 18 to pick up the Junsei Aion's design specs so he could reprogram the radar to search for it. Kuririn sighed, brushing his whitened hair out of his eyes.

Yes, he was sure; he'd been held captive by these people, and since his escape was just about the last thing they'd expected, they had discussed their plans in front of him without reserve. They were coming back to earth, and then after they did that they were jumping back in time again; at least, that was what they'd said. This meant that if/when the Kyuujinshu did appear, the earth warriors would have a very limited chance to get to them before they jumped away.

Kuririn just wished that he knew why they had been talking about Dr. Gero.

***

Alternate Earth: 1

"Well, personally, I thought it looked better before you changed it," Bulma's chipper voice came from the recording, and several people's laughter joined in. Everybody talked at once, fussy and content, as the recording played on; the small audio tape had captured the moments before a surprise birthday party for Trunks. They had just been discussing changing the color of the curtains; at least, so Muuri had surmised.

"They seemed so happy," he said quietly, shutting off the tape recorder and slipping in yet another tape. He had found a whole box full of them, and was going through, cassette by cassette, just to see what he would find. Morbid? Perhaps. Time-consuming? You betcha.

Muuri found one at the bottom of the box that looked a little... careworn. Actually, it rather looked as though somebody had used it for ki practice.

The casing was somewhat melted, but the basic shape remained the same and the roll of tape inside looked practically unharmed. So, curious to see if it would work, Muuri stuck it in the machine and pressed play.

Gasping breaths, the type one would take in between furtive hiding or crying, sounded through the speaker. Bulma started talking then, apparently continuing a previous monologue.

"...don't know about this one, either," she said, quietly and with more than a touch of desperation. "If the captain had any idea... but he doesn't. I made the other tape, just like he said, and he thinks that's enough if anybody else should come here."

Muuri blinked and reflexively stopped the recording. What was this about? Other... tape? Frowning, he rewound the cassette and pressed play again. Bulma's voice continued.

"This is the second record I'm trying to leave," Bulma said, sounding quiet and furtive. "They haven't found the first one yet, and so far they don't know about this one, either. If the captain had any idea... but he doesn't. I made the other tape, just like he said, and he thinks that's enough if anybody else should come here. Well, I don't care. They can hardly do anything to me that they haven't done already, and they've been threatening to feed me to the Black anyway all along. So, I'm rebelling.

"Their damned ship is almost completely outfitted in my Junsei Aion," Bulma said with disgust in her voice, and Muuri's eyes went wide. "Ru Sa seems to be fairly happy with my work. He even dared... DARED... to suggest that I could go with them into space as they go look for Gero and his Black. Ha. Oh, that's good. At least I have some options available to me; I just haven't decided yet if I want to rig the ship to explode or just send them off to some alternate dimension somewhere to get trapped. God knows they deserve it. But I haven't been able to do anything yet; they're watching me so closely that I can't even go to the bathroom unguarded. Well, screw them all, I say. Nobody is going to come out on top of this except me, and it won't even matter at that point if I'm dead or not."

Muuri's mouth was hanging wide open as he listened to this. The use of Ru Sa's name had confirmed his vague suspicion that the people Bulma was talking about were the same group who had come to Namek and kidnapped Muuri and his people. Heavens, he thought. Where have these people NOT been?!?

Bulma's slightly strained voice lifted in an unstable giggle. "Can you believe Cabbage actually dared to apologize to me?" she said, still tittering. "To ME! After all the hell they've put me through! Oh, sure. I forgave him. Right. I'll just forgive him for coming into my home, tricking me, betraying me, using me - and turning me over to Ru Sa to play with. Sure. No problem."

Muuri was thinking desperately, his mind spinning. Ru Sa and his group; their ship; Junsei Aion; he felt as though his overworked mind was on the very brink of revelation, but whatever it was simply would not come yet.

"At any rate, I'm glad that they've overlooked one major thing," Bulma continued, sounding a bit more like herself now. "The idiots only had me work on the outside of the vessel and the main, inner hallway. They donít seem to think it's important to refinish the insides of the rooms and the control panels with my perfect iron. These people want to be that stupid - so much the better. So much the easier to ruin them.

"The nasty thing is, I agree with what they're doing. They want to go back in time and stop Gero from putting the Black down there. But in order to do it they don't care who they have to kill or what they have to break. Oh sure, they say they do - claim they don't want to mess up the time lines, whatever. Well, they certainly didnít seem to mind messing with me."

Muuri closed his eyes for a moment, attempting to think. Back in time... stop the Black... the Prophecy... the eighth dragonball...

His instinctive thought processes made a jump.

... the One? He shook his head, not sure where that idea came from, but not about to debate it. He turned up the volume and listened some more.

Bulma's voice changed considerably now as she continued; she sounded terrified.

"They still haven't been able to figure out what happened to Trunks," she said in small, frightened tones. "That thing that he's become - they've never seen anything like it, and I know I surely haven't. At least he stays outside of the Canopy. Although I have a feeling that he could crash right through it if he decided to, and he... just hasn't decided to yet."

This got Muuri's attention again. Thing that... Trunks had become? What in blazes...

"Fortunately," said Bulma, and paused to swallow nervously, "I think that he - that it - doesn't really think, exactly. I think this... Not-Trunks just sort of walks around and looks for things to destroy. I don't know. I just never want to see what my son has become again. Seeing him like that... no soul... I... I just..." There was a long pause, and Bulma seemed to be taking time to collect herself. No, that wasn't right - she was listening.

Muuri leaned forward and strained; he could hear faint sounds in the background, sounding very much like footsteps and fumbling outside the door.

"Shit," Bulma said quickly, and switched the recorder off. Muuri listened for a while, but there were no more sounds.

Now, he was thoroughly confused.

"Hey, Rory," he called, getting one of the Nameks' attention. "Get Dende in here. He needs to hear this." Rory nodded affirmatively and jogged outside to fetch Dende, who was still staring up at the Canopy-covered sky as though waiting for an epiphany. Well, it seemed that said epiphany was happening inside the building. Perhaps the kami could shed some light on this tape.

Feeling puzzled and extremely rushed, Muuri began scrambling through the box again for more tapes, hoping for further elucidation on this situation. He had the distinctly unpleasant feeling that he was going to run out of time.

***

Space: 2

Gokuu was downstairs in the lower level of the ship now, in the large room housing all the escape pods. They had told him that this was where Goten met his end.

Angry? Yes, he was angry. Vejiita, in fact, held nothing on Gokuu right now when it came to righteous anger. After all, Vejiita's children were still alive.

Cumber had confessed quietly to Gokuu before his examination that Ru Sa had been responsible for his sons' deaths. Gokuu, however, at this point had not needed that confirmed; he had seen it in Ru Sa's eyes. Gokuu knew his priorities; some things needed to be taken care of first, and his boys had both died for something. He was not about to let their deaths be in vain merely because he couldn't wait to do some righteous smashing. So, he held back and resisted the nearly overwhelming urge to wreak vengeance.

It still puzzled him, though, as to what this was all about. Cumber had tried to explain it: the Black, Gero, time-jumping, and even about his own people, the Kyuujinshu - the Old Ones. But Gokuu was, after all, Gokuu, and most of it had slipped unnoticed out of his head. He really only understood a few main points.

Cumber's people had existed for thousands of years, ages upon ages. Most of them were the originals or immediate descendants thereof, and had tampered with their genetic codes to let them live as long as possible; as long, of course, as they fed.

Cumber had grown uncomfortable and refused to elucidate on that point.

Cumber's people - the Old Ones, the Kyuujinshu - had made the unpleasant discovery of the Black when deep out in space. They had seen it eating things, had promptly panicked, and flown for a while until they could get their time-travel machine working. And once it did, they jumped.

They had ended up in Mirai no Trunks' timeline - as it turned out, toward the end of that world. They had actually witnessed the Black explode from under the ground and cover the planet, and they had jumped again barely in time to escape being caught by it.

Here was where Gokuu became confused; he sat on a disassembled space pod and contemplated the area where Goten had fought his last, thinking about what Cumber had told him.

Apparently, the Kyuujinshu had decided that the Black had to be stopped at any cost, and so they did the logical thing; they decided to go back in time and stop it from ever getting loose. For some reason Gokuu didn't quite understand, they could not actually stop its release; so they decided, instead, to go back and stop Gero from imprisoning it in the first place.

Cumber had skipped around a lot then; apparently, things had happened during their travels at this point that he did not want to repeat. Gokuu could sense the guilt coming from him and didn't push for more detail.

Whatever they had done in that alternate timeline had not been effective, and they had tried to jump again. Somehow, though, they had missed - and ended up in Gokuu's timeline, far out in space, all navigational systems offline, nowhere near the planet earth and very much confused. If they had not found the remains of the planet Namek and the tell-tale metal scraps that said Capsule Corporation with it, they might not have figured out where they were at all. After a short period, they had determined what year this was and adjusted their plans accordingly. Trusting deception to help them attain their goal, they had flown to earth and appropriated Vejiita and his people, hoping that the Z-warriors' connection with the late Gero would provide them with the information they needed.

Unfortunately, they had not learned a damned thing.

And now here Gokuu was, in the hangar, alone and minus two children because of this mess. He could appreciate the goal - the Black (whatever that was) was evil and evil must be stopped; this was a concept that Son Gokuu understood perfectly. But he had to wonder how things might had turned out differently if the Kyuujinshu had tried to look for help and relied on honesty rather than deception.

Sadly, the Kyuujinshu seemed not to have it much in their natures to be honest.

Gokuu stayed below and struggled with his bitterness and did not return to the upper levels for some time.

***

Alternate Earth: 2

Muuri had found a total of three tapes that seemed to be related to the time after Dende had left Mirai no Trunks' timeline. Bulma was very organized; by the light of the eighth dragonball, the Nameks were able to see the date of each recording - about a week apart each - scratched very lightly on the tops of the cassettes. Still frowning, Muuri put the first dated one back in and pressed play.

Bulma's voice, sounding somewhat dazed.

"We have been invaded by aliens," she said, perfectly serious. "I mean, I know, yes, we've had aliens before, but not like this. These people are bad."

Dende sighed, knowing what was coming because he'd listened to it already and very sorrowful that Bulma and the others should have had to go through this. He was also glad that he had thought to send Moot out of the room before pressing play.

Bulma was sounding more dazed as she went on. "They don't know that I'm keeping this record, and that's good. Because I think they'd hurt people to punish me if they found out. I know they would. They've done it before." She paused for a moment, collecting her thoughts.

"Okay," she continued. "Speaking for the record - they've been here for a while. Cabbage - Akeno Cabbage - was one of them. All along. And they've come out of hiding now because they have need of my Junsei Aion." Dende nodded once in understanding; he now understood that this material of Bulma's, which comprised the outermost layer of the Capsule Corporation, was only thing impervious to the deleterious effects of the Black. He was not at all surprised that the bad guys had wanted their ship outfitted likewise.

"They wanted me to do their whole ship in it," Bulma continued, quietly and almost completely expressionless. "I said no. So they killed Oolong." Here she paused for a moment again, as though each complete, coherent thought required some great deal of preparation; the Nameks waited patiently.

"I... kind of knew they were really bad then," she said, and managed a very bitter chuckle, "so I still said no. They threatened Mr. Satan then and - um." She swallowed. "Trunks has been missing for a week already. He wasn't here to stop them. At least I can say that Mr. Satan doesn't really miss his legs because at least they didn't work any more." She was silent again for a moment, taking deep and careful breaths. Control must be maintained, that was all that mattered; or so she had felt at the time.

"I still wouldn't say yes, so they locked me up and tried to figure it out themselves. But they couldn't do it. So then they tried another technique." She was silent again for a long while, and when she continued, her voice was more carefully expressionless than it had been thus far.

"After their captain raped me, I decided that it might be a good idea to do what they said." She finally choked - but only a little bit. "That bastard... he... did things to me... I couldn't handle it. So, I said yes. And he hasn't touched me since."

Another silence, this one punctuated by the muffled, clacking sounds of the small tape recorder being shifted from one hand to the other.

"So I don't know where this is going to lead, exactly. Cabbage is... hovering now. Like he feels bad for me, or something. I hate him. But I'm going to fix their damned ship for them so well that not even the Black will be able to harm it."

And suddenly, her tone changed. Suddenly, it became virile, furious; alive, intelligent. Suddenly, she became an angel of vengeance.

"They will pay," she hissed with such a poisonous tone that even though Dende had known she was going to do it, he still jumped. "I will get them," she said coldly, and the look on her face could almost be heard in her tone. "They will never get away with this." Then she shut off the recorder; and Muuri did the same.

"Wow," Dende said again, shaking his head slowly and taking it in. So far, he and Muuri had begun to figure out what these strange creatures had been doing; to a certain extent, they even knew why. Dende now knew almost everything he needed to know about the Black and the Kyuujinshu.

He wished sadly that he could un-know things. It would make it easier to sleep at night.

"Next tape," he hoarsely requested, and Muuri, beyond answering, nodded once and slipped in the second cassette.

***

Earth: 2

Dr. Briefs was very surprised to find that although he was unable to locate the Kyuujinshu's ship, he was able to track where they had been; this was surprising because they had not been traveling in this dimension, and so it was rather odd that he could trace them at all.

The Junsei Aion ship had gone some distance from earth, and then it had... well, it had torn straight through the dimensional wall and gone somewhere else. However, by some random stab of fortune, Dr. Briefs had created his radar device to be much more powerful than he had originally planned. Not only did it pick up the mere presence or lack thereof of Junsei Aion; it also picked up these odd... gaps.

The bad guys' ship had made holes. In the very fabric of the walls of space and time. What they were or where they came from he had no idea, but Dr. Briefs did not panic; not apocalyptically inclined, he did not immediately assume these things to be bad. On the contrary; he became so fascinated by them that for a long while he forgot about anything else.

He did not remember to be frightened until the Black came. As it happened, he chanced to be studying one of those holes when the Black slid into it. His eyes went wide as mass after mass began to disappear off the screen of his radar.

"Hey! Somebody!" He called, raising his voice for possibly the first time in his life. "Help!"

***

Alternate Earth: 3

Bulma's third tape had as little recorded on it as the others had, and just as important - but the Nameks did not get to hear it. Several confusing and sudden somethings happened first that prevented them from doing so.

Muuri had just put the third tape in when from behind him came shouts and the sound of energy blasts.

"What?!" cried Dende. The young Namek jumped to his feet, imagining aliens, monsters, the Black, demons...

And was confronted with a humanoid in a space suit.

The character pointed its gun right in Dende's face and spoke.

"Who are you?" the vaguely female voice sounded from inside the suit. "How did you get here, and what do you want?"

Dende would have tried to answer her questions - a gun in one's face is always conducive to making one cooperative - except that he thought that he recognized her voice.

"... Bulma?" he asked, tone high and uncertain.

The carrier of the gun lowered her weapon a smidgen. "What... did you call me?" she asked, and leaned forward to look at Dende more carefully. "Dende?!?" she asked in disbelief and lowered her gun completely. "You can breathe?"

"Well... I... y... of course we can! You can't?" Dende was too much in shock over this development to be able to think straight. Logical questions simply were not coming to mind.

Bulma - if that's who it was - hesitated for a moment; and then, putting her gun and backpack down, she reached up and slowly twisted off the large helmet.

It was indeed Bulma.

She looked around, slightly sweaty hair plastered to her head, her expression full of wonder. She took a deep breath and held it for a long moment. "I can breathe," she said, and looked at Dende with joy. "I can BREATHE!" she repeated, and hopped up and down for emphasis - although not very high because of the bulkiness of her suit.

"Um... yes," admitted Dende, not knowing why he wasn't supposed to be able to breathe and completely unsure as to what to do next.

"You don't understand," Bulma said, still bouncing on her toes excitedly. "There's no... you... you don't understand." Bulma slapped her hand to the side of her head, looking confused.

"Oi," she explained, still looking with wide eyes at Dende. "It's been so long since I spoke to anybody that I've almost forgotten how to do it. Well, not quite," she babbled, taking a more relaxed posture and casually swinging her helmet by her side. "I mean, you could never really forget how to talk to people, could you? Maybe if you were hit on the head, or something, but that didn't happen to me, so I really couldn't have forgotten already, I've just gotten used to not putting all my thoughts into coherent sentences. And I'm babbling at you and I know that I am, and I'm so sorry, but it's been so long since I've even seen another living being and I... and I..." And Bulma abruptly burst into tears.

Now, Dende REALLY didn't know what to do.

Reep solved the problem by hopping up and speaking.

"Bulma the Wise," he announced with joy, and Bulma stopped crying and looked at him.

"What the HELL?!?" she asked, staring at the creature.

"Yes," agreed Dende, and held his head. It seemed that things were just not going to get any simpler ever again.

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