Chapter Twenty Four: Heading For Collision

Everything seemed to be coming together. On earth, Kuririn and the others scrambled to prepare for the expected arrival of the Kyuujinshu; in space and in the original timeline, Cumber and the Saiya-jin prepped themselves and their ship to jump into Mirai no Trunks' world to see what they could see; and Ru Sa just plotted evil things in general for everybody.

Unfortunately, all plots and plans were interrupted by the coming of the Black.

It had by this point destroyed most of the alternate timelines already - first by simply drifting through and reducing all life and light to nothing and leaving empty, blackened husks in place of worlds; and second, by going back through these same universes, affected and mutated by the holes the Kyuujinshu's ship had made, and eliminating even those empty husks of worlds remaining. It was already in Gokuu's regular timeline. Dr. Briefs had seen it, as had Kaiou sama - but until now, none of the mutated Black had reached this solar system or the planet Earth.

When it did, it changed everything.

***

Kaiou sama was beyond pacing. Pacing would do him no good at all, serving only to make his tired, sore feet even more tired and sore than they already were. Similarly, griping would do no good; in fact, none of his usual stress-relieving options were available to him. He was helpless to do anything but stand around and watch - and that was possibly the least calming thing he could have done.

He stood by, chagrined, while world after world popped out of existence and millions upon millions of souls ceased to be at all - erased as though they had never been. It almost would have been better if they had all died; at least then they would still exist. Gero had had no idea what he had been loosing on the world when he'd taken a sample of the Black out of Hell. Or who knew, maybe he had known; he might have been just crazy enough to consider and enjoy the consequences.

Kaiou sama stood all alone in the field, on the verge of tears and unable even to check up on Gokuu to see what was going on. After all, wherever Gokuu was, it was not here and now; he was either in some other timeline someplace, or dead, and Kaiou sama had no way of contacting him.

Bulma came up and stood behind him, silent and concerned for the heart-pained Kaiou. He had considered so much in this galaxy to be his responsibility, and now all these things were happening that were completely out of his control. It was almost too much for him to bear.

"It's not your fault," she said, keeping her tone even and sincere. At least she could try to help him feel better, even if any other help was out of her reach. Kaiou sama turned to look at her somberly.

"I never thought it was," he replied, using much the same tone as she. They looked at one another for a moment, sharing some nameless, deep grief for the loss of everything there was, and that's when Goten had his moment of brilliance.

Goten, as a general rule, was not the brightest bulb in the box. However, he was far from stupid, and as he sat playing simple games with Bubbles, a thought occurred to him. Leaving Bubbles to make his own entertainment (at which said ape was quite proficient), Goten made his way over to Kaioushin to ask him a question.

"Kaioushin sama?" he said, finally remembering his manners that his mother had spent mostly fruitless hours teaching him; at least he had them when it counted.

"Yes, Goten?" Kaioushin replied in his soft voice, grateful for a bit of distraction from the obliteration of the universe around him. "What do you want?"

"Is Gohan dead?" the boy asked, and Kaioushin's brow knit ever so slightly.

"Dead?" he replied, sitting forward and away from the tree against which he had been leaning. "Um," he said, not entirely sure as to the point of this line of questioning. "I hadn't really though about it. Well, he's here - although he doesnít have a halo so I suppose he's not. I guess when Rou Kaioushin healed him, he actually healed his body as well. Yes, he's alive. Why do you ask this?"

"Then why is he still here?" asked Goten, and Kaioushin had a momentary and uncharacteristic moment of shock.

"I don't know," he replied with wonder and stared blankly at Goten. The shock came because he realized that although Gohan had been here almost since the beginning of this entire mess, nobody had actually thought about the fact that he was, apparently, alive - nor had anybody thought to take advantage of the fact that he was. For heaven's sake, the boy had already been to earth via teleportation to visit his ailing mother - and nobody had thought to tell him that he didnít have to leave her.

Feeling callused and inconsiderate, he made his way toward the kitchen, determined to tell Gohan that he could go home. At least the young man could spend his time with Chi Chi rather than waste it up here, waiting for the end.

Although actually, if Gohan were really alive, then that presented an entirely new echelon of possibilities, didn't it? Indeed it did. He opened the door and walked in, looking determined.

Goten shrugged and went back to playing with Bubbles. He hadn't really received an answer to his second question, but that was all right. He was a boy who could live without answers.

Two minutes later, Gohan came storming out of the kitchen and made a beeline for the Kaiou, his expression set and serious.

"I want you to send me to Mirai no Trunks' world," he demanded out of the blue, and Kaiou sama blinked at him.

"What? Have you gone mad?" he asked, staring at Gohan as if convinced that he had. "You're DEAD. You CAN'T go there - and even if you could, you wouldn't be able to do any good. You'd just die there, like everybody else."

Gohan was still new to having his tail again, and didn't know how to control it properly; it kept giving away his true feelings. At the moment, it was very puffed up and lashing back and forth agitatedly. "I am going," he said. "And I am alive, and I am going to do some good. Even if the only thing I can do is die, I am going to go." He leaned forward, his tail momentarily forming a straight rod behind him, as though mimicking an exclamation point. "You cannot stop me," he said, and leaned back again. "Either you send me or Kaioushin sends me, or worse comes to worse you send me to the Capsule Corporation and I try to get Dr. Briefs to send me. Either way, I'm going."

Kaiou sama did not hear half of what Gohan said. "You're... alive?" he asked with slowly dawning realization and looked above Gohan's head for the tell-tale halo.

To the end of his days, the Kaiou of the Northern galaxy could not figure out how it was that he and everybody else had not observed that Gohan did not have one.

"You're ALIVE!" he said, and flung himself at the boy as if to hug him in joy.

"SEND me," Gohan insisted, all of his hero instincts flaring. Even if he did not get to see Videl and Pan again... at least he would have died so THEY could live. Nothing else really mattered.

"Well I can't send you directly there," he said, his brain whirring into action as though trying to make up for days of depressed stupor.

"Then send me to earth," said Gohan, "and I'll see what I can do there."

Kaiou sama nodded. "Right," he said, and began to concentrate.

*

Piccolo was in the lab watching Dr. Briefs' radar with stoic confusion when the shouts came. People outside were calling Gohan's name quite happily over and over again for no reason he could see, and this only served to remind the grieved Namek that the boy was gone forever. He scowled at their rudeness and continued studying the instruments.

And then, the impossible.

"Piccolo-san," came Gohan's voice in the doorway, and Piccolo turned slowly with an expression of disbelief on his face that quickly melted into one of surprised joy so intense no painter could ever capture it.

Perhaps their reunion is better imagined than described.

*

It took Dr. Briefs exactly seventeen hours to figure out Bulma's rudimentary blueprints for a time/dimensional travel machine and create one by tinkering with an old refrigerator. For all their faults, the Briefs family did not lack imagination. And so, at the end of that time, Gohan went to meet his destiny - to Mirai no Trunks' desiccated world.

***

He could be seen, and he could be heard, but he could neither see nor hear - at least, not in the normal sense. And that was okay. Kuro Trunks could move and touch, and that was all that mattered.

What Mirai no Trunks had become walked his routine path around the outside of the Canopy quite calmly, not actively looking for a way in but naturally ready to take one if he found it. He was the Black in bodily form - there was no thought involved, no malice, and certainly nothing resembling actual evil - but that did not matter, either. He walked, aware of objects and living things in a way that Trunks himself never had been, and he touched; and as he touched, things ceased to exist. Already, there was nothing left outside the Canopy within walking distance beyond the ground on which he walked.

What had happened to Trunks was not a mistake.

The Black, in its original and intended form, dwelt below in some of the darker Hells and dealt with demons; with those evil, blackened beings that no amount of cleansing could cure, that would stay and be punished for all eternity unless something (or someone) released them - which did happen, once in a long while. The Black was merely part of that punishment.

In that place, the Black was contained quite easily by the nature of the walls of the spiritual prison, and what it did was float around - the same way it did in the living universe - and touch things. When it touched them, they experienced unspeakable agony, and for a time, parts of their spirit-bodies ceased to exist. However, in an almost Greek-style chastisement, those parts of their bodies would simply reform, and ready to be tortured again the next time such an occasion arose. It was not easy to avoid the Black; not only was there no light to differentiate it from the normal spirit-world murkiness of the lower hells, but it also it had a few tricks that it had been designed to play.

One of those tricks was to take over the bodies of other individuals and use them, mindlessly, like avatars of a sort for its penalizing function. It would approach a being and indwell them, possessing them for lack of a better term, and for a time that particular demon-being, in impossible pain, walked around and just... touched others, giving them the same pain it was experiencing. There was no way to combat it, and no way to defend against it. The Black-infested being was just as strong as the demon naturally had been in life, and whenever this type of possession happened, suffering would inevitably follow. Then after a while - and for no obvious reason - the Black would simply leave its chosen spirit body. The demons involved would recover, and the cycle would begin again.

Horrible, yes - and absolutely deserved. Only beings of the most malevolent kind had ever been consigned to that place, and in it, the Black worked quite well and did no lasting harm.

The problem was, it had never been meant to be loosed on the living world.

Dr. Gero had found a spell that was meant, in evil and occultic times past, to release some of those said demons. Armageddon was supposed to result, ultimate destruction of the everything, etc. and so forth.

Dr. Gero, however, had not wanted to do that. He rather preferred to destroy mankind and keep the world for himself, and so he had come up with an alternative use. Never one to waste things, he had used the spell, opened the door to the lower hells, and simply peeked around.

When he discovered the Black, he thought that all his problems had been solved.

Through a bizarre stroke of luck, he had found that his specially made glass did not react adversely to the Black - that, in fact, it made it possible to contain. So, dreaming wreaked havoc and merciless vengeance upon all of mankind, he had stolen some of the Black and tucked it away in his lab the Deeper for later use.

Of course, after Android 17 had killed him, all such plans were abruptly and for obvious reasons abandoned.

So, the Black had sat down there, unknown, unchanging, not impatient because it was neither alive nor aware - and had been released in a simple mistakenly overpowered training exercise of Mirai no Trunks' one bright day.

The Kyuujinshu, living in an alternate universe very connected with that one, had seen the results and tried to go back in time to stop it. Unfortunately, they only succeeded in releasing it sooner - and creating yet another time-line, this one also with the Black moving inexorably through it.

And the Black, not knowing where it was nor caring that everything here was different, simply did what it had been made to do - ate things, and looked for one to possess. None were strong enough - until it found Mirai no Trunks.

There was something odd about the combination of human and Saiyan that made Trunks the perfect host for the Black; perfect enough so that it had not abandoned his body yet, although it had certainly been there considerably longer than it had ever infested the spirit-body of a demon.

Trunks had never known what was coming - and the agony that he was now constantly his world was something that would be obscene to describe. However, the fact remained that his Black-possessed body walked, and touched, and was more dangerous in this form than he had ever been in his life, although there was no conscious intent of destruction involved. He just instinctively looked for a way into the Canopy the same way water searches for its lowest level.

Things might have gone on this way indefinitely if the Z-warriors had not crashed the ship. Unfortunately, accidents happen - and to this particular group of heroes, they happened quite a lot.

***

Bra woke up with the most pervading feeling of danger she had ever had in her life. This was not to say there was any particular reason for the sensation; in fact, it was not until much later that she realized the unintentional warning had come from Ru Sa, through the very tenuous connection that she had established with him. Either way, it little mattered. Sliding out of her bed, she padded out the door and went to find her papa.

She padded into the main bridge only to find everybody gathered there - apparently, they were about to take off.

Just looking at Ru Sa gave her the shivers.

"Papa," she said quietly, walking up beside Vejiita and looking up into his face.

Vejiita, for his part, was presently watching Gokuu intently and did not feel like paying attention to his daughter. "Not now, Bra," he said, and resumed Gokuu-watching.

Gokuu was fascinating right now; a true study in Saiya-jin self control, if there ever was one. It was clear as ice that he wanted to kill Ru Sa, and yet he restrained himself from even so much as gesturing at him. The result was a slightly flushed and exceedingly tense Gokuu. Vejiita watched him with the same kind of amused observation he might give to a champagne bottle that was about to explode.

"Papa," Bra said again, this time tugging on Vejiita's arm to get his attention.

"Bra, what IS it?" he snapped, bending down slightly to hear her better but keeping his eyes on the steaming Kakarotto.

"Ru Sa's planning something bad," she said, trying to pitch her voice low enough so the captain would not hear.

The captain did, but he was hardly upset about it. He chuckled dryly and continued pressed buttons.

"Bad? What do you mean, bad?" Vejiita asked, now glaring at Ru Sa's back while he spoke to her.

"I don't know - bad," she elucidated, her small mouth compressed in a pout. "He's just going to do something bad. I know so."

Vejiita turned to look at his daughter. Well, she had been right before, but...

Aw, to hell with it.

"Captain," he said evenly, addressing Ru Sa's back. "What are you doing?"

Ru Sa snorted, not even bothering to turn around, and said, "Time-jumping. I thought that was what you wanted... my lord," he added spitefully.

Vejiita bristled but did not rise to the bait. "Then you wouldn't mind if Cumber dropped what he was doing and came over to watch you," he said casually, and signaled with his hand for Bra to go fetch Cumber. Being the smart girl that she was and well used to her father by now, she immediately trotted out of the room and down the hall to find him.

Ru Sa merely growled in response - as was expected of him - and continued working. Cumber would be an annoyance, but would hardly affect the outcome; the trap that was set had nothing to do with Ru Sa's present behavior. Ah - if only Bulma had known that her carefully devised traps would be sprung on her precious Vejiita and family, then she probably would not have put them up to begin with. Oh, well. Such were the dangers of life.

***

Bulma sat with several Nameks around a campfire, hungrily tearing into one of the sealed, sterilized packages of dried food she had hidden around the complex for later consumption. She herself had run out of food two days before when Black Trunks - that is, Kuro Trunks - had found her food store and touched it. Since then, she had been trekking back here at a wild pace, trying to get back before she fell over from hunger or Trunks caught up with her.

And now, she ate like a mad wolf.

"So what happened after Trunks left?" Dende asked, wanting to get the whole story from her and dimly amazed at the way she was putting food away.

"Mm," she said, and swallowed quickly. Dende could almost see the large food-clump moving down her throat. "Well, he didn't come back - like I said. And a couple of days after that there were rumors about him walking around, looking funny... but I didn't even have time to believe those things. The Capsule Corporation was almost completely redone in Junsei Aion, and the Canopy was nearly finished. In the end, I had to see him myself before I would believe that he was still alive." She burped politely and resumed tearing chucks out of the freeze-dried food, now looking at it mournfully. "Of course," she continued, "he WASN'T alive. Not at all. I think maybe he is in there - somewhere - but... I can't be sure." She shrugged and continued eating.

"No, no, of course not," agreed Dende, not liking to think what it meant if Trunks - the real Trunks - were still trapped inside of that somehow. That would be... awful. Truly.

Murri watched Bulma with something like amused curiosity; this expression did not quite manage to hide the keen wariness in his eyes. Bulma watched him back.

"I'm not going to bite you," she announced around a mouth of crusty bread, and continued chewing.

"How did you get away from the Kyuujinshu?" Muuri asked, not changing his expression or body language at all.

"They let me go," she said with a shrug. "They had no more use for me, and pretty much figured that if I wanted to stay here and die, then I could DO that. No skin off their backs." She took a rather large bite out of some unrecognizable, withered fruit and chewed contentedly. There was absolutely no sign of the nearly broken and/or insane woman they had heard on the tapes not two hours before.

"What about those tapes?" Dende asked, handing her another small packet of food. She took it without hesitation.

"What about them?" she replied, ripping the sealed aluminum top off the container and chowing down without delay.

"Well... those things that you said happened. Did they?" Dende had to be delicate. Some of the others were here, now.

"Yes," she said simply, and buried her chopsticks in rice. She paused for a moment. "I got over it," she added, and continued to eat.

"You didn't sound over it," added Murri, still watching her very, very carefully.

"Well, of COURSE not, moron," she snapped, pausing in her eating to scold the elder Namek. "It had JUST HAPPENED. It's been well over a month since then, and I've had better things to do than sit around and brood over it. And besides, I got my revenge. Do you have any other stupid questions for me?"

"Yes," said Dende, shifting to lean on his other hand - there were no chairs left, as anything remotely flammable had been broken up and piled for future burning. "What revenge are you talking about?"

"I destroyed their ship," she said casually, and burped again. "Or at least, it will be destroyed. Excuse me." She continued eating.

"How so?" asked Murri, idly clearing away some of the empty food packs.

"I reconfigured their quantum drive to feed the ions back into itself, reversing the entire system's flux and causing a ship wide explosion. It ought to happen on the third time-jump from when I activated the program."

"So their ship is going to explode? On the third jump from when they left here?"

"Yes. Unless Ru Sa puts a stop to it." She finally pushed the remaining trays away from herself, content.

"Ru Sa... why would he know? Did you tell him?" asked Muuri, perhaps a touch more caustically than he'd intended.

The look Bulma gave him could have withered a cactus. "NO, I did not TELL him, you green-skinned FREAK," she replied, sounding more than a little offended - although there was a flush in her cheeks. "He has a limited psychic connection with me. Believe me, I'm not thrilled about it, either. He MIGHT have found out about what I was doing - and if he did, I'm sure he'd put a stop to it. Hopefully, however, he didn't. He was pretty busy thinking about other things."

"Was he, now," said Murri, and with no warning stood and walked out the door.

"Hmph," said Bulma after he left. "He's turned out to be a bit nasty. I'm going to sleep now." And with that, she simply lay down on the floor and went to sleep. Apparently, the thought of going back to rest in those dead, lifeless bedrooms alone was less appealing to her than it had been to Dende.

Dende, for his part, was not happy. The ship might blow up? Oh, but this was bad - they had already decided that the only feasible way for "The One" (whomever THAT turned out to be) to come there was via the Kyuujinshu's ship. But if the ship was to blow up...

Dende sighed. Obviously, he had been mistaken. The One wouldn't be coming by the ship. Then how else could this person possibly -

There were shouts outside. Again. For the second time today, Dende raced out the door to see what all the commotion was about.

There was a machine parked in front of the Capsule Corporation.

Smoking slightly, it looked as though it had been put together using spare refrigerator parts and lots of sticky tac. This was not far from the truth, although, fortunately for all concerned, Dr. Briefs had used something considerably more durable than sticky tac to hold it all together. The large door swung upward, and Gohan - adult Gohan, with a tail - stepped calmly out.

"What can I do to help?" he announced, and Dende felt a wave of dizziness wash over him. Too much reality switching in one day would do that.

He was about to answer when Gohan had his own moment of unreality. Responding to the cries outside, Bulma had exited the Capsule Corporation and walked up behind Dende. The two faced each other, knowing one another's counterparts from another time but never meeting face to face.

"Oh, dear kami," said Gohan, and Dende laughed once.

"Well put," he said, and recovered from his shock. He was beginning to get good at that.

"Almost all here!" cried Reep from somewhere to his left, and Dende could only nod. They were almost all here. And then -

Well, whatever would be would be. And that was really all there was to understand.

***

Ru Sa was, in point of fact, not very happy. Draining Gohan had severely damaged his regenerative capabilities, and as a result his last shot was not lasting nearly as long as it should. For heaven's sake, it had only been a couple of days...

He wiped the sweat from his brow and continued working. At least he would have the pleasure of watching the Saiyans' faces when they realized they were trapped - when he got them to their destination and then moved aside while Bulma's trigger went into effect. He had known about it, of course, and had made only one adjustment: the explosion would be a delayed reaction, happening some ten minutes after the third and final jump.

Why had he not simply disbanded the mechanism altogether? If he had been asked that question two days ago, he would not have been able to answer. It was the same flash of instinct that had showed him Bra's grown-up form; he KNEW that he was going to need this trap for something.

Strangely enough, he was not worried about being trapped in Mirai no Trunks' world along with the Saiyans. Why? Well, he didn't know that yet - but he was fairly sure the answer would present itself upon arrival. He would take it - whatever it was - and leave those fools there, so Kuro Black or starvation could take them out, and go his merry way back to the original timeline. He had already surreptitiously recorded its location on a small, round disc, which he now had in his waist pack.

All this was, of course, assuming that he lived that long - he would have to drain SOMEbody before he took off or face possibly melting on the way there.

Cumber was hovering over his shoulder now, as per Vejiita's instructions, watching his captain warily for any sign of betrayal. Well. He could DO that. It wouldn't make any difference now.

Breathing strained, Ru Sa pressed the final few buttons, and the ship immediately jolted into the streams of time, jumping through space and dimensional boundaries, and back to Mirai no Trunks' world.

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