Chapter Three: New Frontier

"Well," said Gokuu, fitting the unfamiliar armor over his body and wiggling his shoulders up and down. "How do I look?"

"Wow, otousan," said Goten, who had never seen his father in Saiyan armor before. "You look... different."

Gohan laughed. "You look like Taurus," he said. "But don't worry, I won't hold it against you." Gohan kept chuckling as he pulled his own armor down over his head. The three Son men were changing into the only approved dress for Vejiita's coronation; none of their women were present. By choice.

"This feels so weird," muttered Goten, trying to adjust his own Saiyan uniform. "And I still don't know why they’re calling it a crowning ceremony when nobody's using a crown..."

Outside their impromptu changing room, which was actually Trunks' old nursery, a fanfare of trumpets began to play. Not too badly either, considering who was playing them.

Taking their cue, the three members of the Son family exited the house and moved to the lawn to where the crowning ceremony was taking place.

***

Vejiita made his appearance. He walked out of the building which had been his home for the last 16 years and moved regally down the center "aisle," created by a red carpet and two alert rows of Saiyans. On the right of the throne stood Trunks, also elaborately dressed, and on the left stood Ru Sa, the captain of the guard.

Ru Sa was an extremely powerful-looking Saiyan. To Gohan's eye, he looked like a combination of Taurus and Radditz, with the bearing of the one and the appearance of the other. He supposed that some women would find him handsome; but to Gohan he just looked like a beast. There was something so... brutish about him, a kind of sentient bloodlust that he had never encountered in any other being before; not even Freeza. And yet at the same time, he managed to come off as a complete gentleman. The combination frightened Gohan, on a deeper level than he cared to admit.

"My lord Vejiita," said Ru Sa in his smooth voice, "We are honored by your presence; after our years of searching, we have found you, and with your gracious permission, we have the unrivaled privilege of officially declaring you our king. Do you accept?"

Vejiita stood straight and tall, and spoke with a clarity of tone that Gokuu and the others had never heard from him before.

"I accept," he said, bestowing the favor graciously.

"Wow," whispered Goten. "He really sounds like a king."

Ru Sa stepped back and waved another soldier forward. The Saiyan grunt came respectfully, head lowered, a chain and medallion dangling from his outstretched hands.

"Why isn't Ru Sa doing it himself?" whispered Goten.

"Sh," said Gokuu.

Vejiita knelt on one knee, inclining his head slightly. Silently, the soldier placed the medallion around Vejiita's neck.

And then Vejiita stood gracefully stood and with no warning struck the soldier in the face hard enough to knock him down.

Gokuu and the others gasped, but none of the Saiyans seemed particularly surprised.

Vejiita turned, his red cape flowing beautifully behind him, and walked to the makeshift throne sitting at the end of the red carpet spread on his lawn. There was dead silence until he sat down, and all of a sudden the Saiyan soldiers shouted and leaped into the air, throwing ki blasts at nothing for just the heck of it. Goten just about jumped out of his skin.

"What was that all about?" asked Gokuu.

"That was tradition," said the strikingly beautiful Saiyan to his right. "The medallion has to be placed on him as a representation of our servitude and his superiority. Then he has to hit the soldier who did it because he dared to touch the royal person."

Gokuu shook his head. "Weird," he said.

"No wonder Ru Sa didn't want to do it," muttered Gohan.

Goten stared for just a moment before getting up enough nerve to speak.

"Hi there," he said. She ignored him. "So what's your name?" he asked, and tried not to wince when she turned her powerful stare on him.

"Chive," she said coldly, and walked away.

Trunks walked up, laughing. "I think you just got dissed, Goten," he said.

"Up yours," said Goten and smiled back.

But Gohan noted that Ru Sa went nowhere and did nothing that would indicate joy for his king. Just stood there beside the throne with that too-Taurus grin on his face, lashing his tail back and forth, and watching the festivities.

Gohan decided to keep a very close eye on the captain of the guard.

***

All too soon, it was time to leave. Having said their goodbyes to their friends and still wearing their Saiyan armor, the Son men followed Vejiita with no small amount of reserve into the large saucer ship.

"Whoah," said Goten. "Check it out..."

Around them were well-scrubbed halls of some unidentifiable, gleaming metal, pocked with unopened doors and plated with blinking control panels. Organization of the highest caliber was apparent everywhere; it all looked wonderfully maintained and very, very complicated.

"Well," said Gohan, hands on his hips. "So much for the technically challenged aspect of the Saiya-jin culture."

Trunks ran his hands along the smooth material of the walls; it seemed to buzz at his touch. "What is this?" he said. He was talking to himself, but one of the warriors - Cumber, he thought the name was - answered him.

"It's junsei-aion," he said. "The most durable substance in the whole universe. Nearly the whole ship's covered in it."

"Was that the material used originally?" asked Gohan.

"No," answered Chive, coming up and interrupting. "It was an upgrade we received on one of the planets we... visited. Enough. Cumber - to your post."

"Touchy," muttered Goten as Chive marched away.

Vejiita walked in just after, cape fluttering and his regal armor catching bits of the light as he moved. He really did look splendid; the armor - spoils of war from some planet or another - was gold-plated, perfectly sculpted, and ornamented with curly-cue designs in blood red and bearing the seal of the house of Vejiita in the exact center of the breast. He did not, however, look happy.

Behind the him came Trunks, towing six-year-old Bra in hand. The little girl, so much like Bulma, was wide-eyed and frightened, and totally unprepared for Ru Sa to touch her.

"So pretty," he said, and gently brushed a hand through her hair.

"Papa!" she cried.

Vejiita whirled around, fists clenched.

"Keep your hands off her!" he ordered, sounding every inch the angry king and not at all joking. All the grunt soldiers stopped and stared.

Ru Sa smiled calmly. "Of course, my lord. I was just commenting on what a beautiful child she is. She must resemble her mother very highly."

Vejiita calmed not the slightest bit. "She does," he said. "And she is. And you will keep away from her."

Ru Sa took a deep, gracious bow at the waist. "Yes, my lord." Vejiita glared at him for another moment more, then turned and led the procession toward the bridge.

"I think there's going to be trouble," Gokuu whispered to his eldest son.

"No kidding," Gohan whispered back, and no one said anything else until they were already in space.

***

Interlude 3.1: Dende

Strange, the things you miss when in an unfamiliar setting. Take Dende, for example. He was in a very unfamiliar place indeed, a dead place, a stale place, and yet the only thing he felt he'd wilt for the lack of was wind. A silly thing to ask, it seemed, but there it was. He was outside, in the open, but there was no movement, taste or smell to the air he was walking through. He wasn't exactly hot, per se, but the heaviness of the air - not the right word, but another would not come to mind - was beginning to make him sweat.

And the tree-things were a lot farther off than he had initially imagined.

"Oh, la la," sang the hopping thing, merrily dancing along side him. "Don't know what you're doing, still don't know, do you, Kami? Oh, no..."

"And I suppose you do?" Dende sighed.

"Yup!" It happily affirmed, and kept bouncing. Dende stopped.

"You do?" he asked. "You know what I'm doing here? How I got here? What's going on?"

Bouncing Thing stopped, too; well, stopped It's forward momentum, anyway. "That depends," It asked, hopping up and down, "on what it is you want to know."

Dende pursed his lips and knit his brow, thinking. Did the accuracy or profitability of the answer depend on his wording of the question? Or was It just teasing him?

Not, realized Dende, that It really had teased him, per se; at least, not beyond what Its personality demanded.

"I would like to know how I got here," he said, and waited for an answer.

It laughed - hopefully for joy - and frolicked, flinging Its four, strange limbs in impossible directions.

"The ball! The ball!" It said.

That was helpful.

"Yes, I know that," said Dende, bastion of patience. "But I need to know how the ball got me here."

"Do you really?" It said slyly.

Dende took a deep breath, held it for a moment. "Okay..." he said. "Well, then, why am I here?"

"AAAAAHH!!!" the thing howled, and whether Dende had hit the jackpot or triggered an apocalypse he did not know.

It calmed down as suddenly as It had exploded.

"You have to save the Real," It almost whispered. Dende blinked.

"What?"

"The Real," It continued. "All the trappings of the Real, all depends on the delegation of that most scrrrrum-diddly-otious ball you have tucked under your arm," It said. "Unfortunately, you can't use it."

"Why not?" asked Dende.

"Because you must be pure of heart," It said simply, and started hopping toward the tree things again.

"Gokuu," Dende said aloud without thinking.

"Oh, know so much, do you?" It said. Dende blinked. He wasn't sure what to say now.

"So what's wrong with the Real?" he asked. "Why is it in danger?"

"Because all of them are coming together at once. What was broken in the past must be made whole, or... crash! Boom! Gone. Nothing left," It said sadly.

Dende was confused.

"Listen..."

"Have been," It interrupted.

"Do you have a name?" Dende asked. He was not prepared for the answer.

It stopped jumping. Just landed on all fours in front of him and stopped, looking mournfully in his direction; and for the first time, Dende could see what It looked like. It was not nearly as grotesque as he had feared - although It was certainly just as strange.

Odd color; not really white, or beige, or even dun. It was a non-color, he decided. Very small boned; Its ball-round skull could have probably have rested comfortably in Dende's hand. And considering that, the Thing's eyes were huge; the two opalescent globes seemed to fill the whole head, lidless and expressive. At the moment, they were miserable.

"Do not look at It!" It cried through thin rodent's lips, and it took a moment for Dende to realize It was talking about Itself. Obediently, he looked away. "It has no name," the Thing said matter-of-factly but sadly. "It is Nothing, and Nothing needs no name." It looked up at him, visible through the corner of Dende's eyes, and he marveled at the cartoon-like proportions of the thing's body. For goodness sake, the broom-stick thin legs had what looked like small flippers at the ends of them...

An idea seemed to pop into his head out of nowhere.

Dende took a deep breath, and not knowing what he was going to say, blurted, "Reep. Reep is your name."

The Thing looked up at him. "Name? Kami gives It a name?"

"Well... sure," said Dende, still not clear on what had prompted him to do so in the first place.

"WAAAAHHH!!!" Reep the Thing cried, and flinging itself forward, wrapped its long limbs around a very surprised Dende's waist.

"That's... that's all right," said Dende, reaching a tentative hand out to the sobbing Reep. "It's going to be all right." And he touched It.

The fur was so soft; Dende was completely unprepared for the smoothness of it, the feather-like quality, even though it was so short that in this non-light Dende had been unable to see it. As he stroked the creatures tiny, bony, jawless head, Dende began to realize that the Thing - Reep - was even more alone than he was in this place. Somehow, Dende didn't think there was a tribe of these things running around.

"Reep," asked Dende quietly when the Thing's sobbing abated a bit. "Can you help me?"

Reep sniffled; shuffled back from him with its bone-thin legs and blinked.

"It... Reep has been helping the Kami," it said. "It knooooooows things," Reep said, leaning forward conspiratorially; it didn't seem to mind Dende's direct gaze anymore.

"Dende," Dende said. "My name is Dende. And..." he paused, his head filled with yet another sourceless idea. He shrugged. "... I am your friend, Reep."

Reep grinned; an impossible sight, filled with far too many teeth than could possibly fit in its head - very sharp, triangular teeth - and said, "Follow!" And Reep the Thing began leaping once again, singing more nonsense as it went.

Dende followed, hoping that somehow, he was at least making progress.

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