Chapter Four: Independent Thinkers

When Vejiita woke up the next morning, his first conscious move was to reach for his wife; but instead of her familiar softness, his hand encountered the sharp corner of the bed stand.

"Damnit!" he hissed, and sat up.

Gingerly rubbing his wrist, he blinked the sleep from his eyes and remembered where he was. All around him were sterile white things, unfamiliar and chocked full of unnecessary comforts; and he was alone. Vejiita sighed; although by neither Earth nor Saiyan standards was he considered old, each morning that he awoke and forgot she was dead seemed to drain more of his vitality, aging and stiffening his limbs. He rose and carefully stood and stretched, feeling each muscle come awake and demand attention.

He was really in the mood to smash something.

"Wonder what they've got for an exercise room around here," he wondered aloud to himself as he dressed and went for breakfast.

***

Apparently, everyone else had already arisen by the time Gokuu, clad in his favorite orange gi, got out of his room. The banquet room wasn't hard to find; the smell of food and the laughing, talking, and eating noises of the small Saiyan army were enough to wake the dead. They could probably hear it all the way back on earth.

Pushing his way through a set of double doors, Gokuu stopped and blinked; he had never seen so much food laid out in one place. Salivating, he looked around for familiar face or an empty seat. Poor Trunks stood out like a purple land-marker; he looked miserable. Beside him, at the head, was Vejiita. The newly crowned king was eating slowly, almost delicately, with a refinement that had only been hinted at in his stay on earth. Gokuu suspected he was using royal manners not applied in at least 20 years.

Vejiita spotted him.

"Kakarotto," he called over the din. "Stop gaping like a stuck fish and sit down." All the Saiyans fell silent.

And stared.

Smiling nervously, Gokuu walked around the table and sat at the empty chair beside Vejiita, trying to look as harmless as possible. Inexplicably, they all started talking and eating again the moment he sat down, ignoring Gokuu's advent as if he had never happened.

Apparently, he was now in the approved eating-place for Earthlings. Goten and Gohan were seated beside him, and Trunks sat directly across. Bra was nowhere to be seen. They all ate in silence.

"Um…" Gokuu began.

"Quiet," ordered Vejiita, and so he was.

***

Trunks walked down the hall after breakfast, carrying the platter of food he had been ordered to bring to his sister. Bra had been locked in her room, not for any known offense, but for her protection - or at least, such was Trunks' personal opinion. The door had been programmed to open only for her and her father, so Trunks was forced to click on the intercom.

"Who is it?" came Bra's small, playful voice.

"Its me," he answered. "Trunks. I've got your breakfast here."

Bra giggled and pressed a button. "Open," she commanded.

"Whoa," he said, walking in and looked around. "You got a better room than I did."

Bra smiled; Kami, she looked like Bulma when she did that. "I know," she said. "Otousan said that as the Princess I only deserved the best." And she giggled again.

Trunks smiled weakly. "You sure do, Bra. The littlest princess." And he handed her her breakfast.

"Ewwww..." she complained, picking at her plate. "What is it?"

Trunks scratched his head. "Eh, I don't know. I suppose it's good; we all ate it. I think it's eggs, or something."

Bra stared down at the food on her plate, poking at it with her chopsticks as though expecting it to move. Trunks looked at her carefully.

"Bra?" he asked. "Are you all right?"

Bra looked up at him, and he was surprised to see that her eyes were wet with tears.

"I don't think papa likes me any more," she said quietly.

"What? Why?" asked Trunks, a little shocked. "I mean, I know he's been a little busy lately, but..."

"He doesn't like to look at me," Bra said simply. "Not since... not since Okaachan died. It makes him upset. He didn't even want me at breakfast with him."

Trunks closed his eyes, swallowing hard. I shouldn't have to be dealing with this, he thought to himself. This is supposed to be for parents; how am I supposed to be explaining… but he didn't finish that thought. Trunks sat on the bed beside his sister and put an arm around her tiny, tiny shoulders.

"No, Bra," said Trunks gently. "That's not it. He just misses Okaachan so much... you look like her, you know. Pretty, pretty girl," and he tweaked her nose. She smiled. "When he looks at you, he thinks of her, and it hurts. It hurts him more than it hurts us, I think. Don't worry," he assured her with a little hug. "He put you in here to keep you safe, you know. I don't think he trusts these Saiyans," he said, almost to himself.

"I hope not," Bra said defiantly. "They're nothing like Papa, or even Mr. Son, and I don't think they're Saiyans at all."

"Bra!" Trunks exclaimed, shocked. "What on earth would make you think that? They seem Saiyan enough to me, and Papa seems happy. Why else would he have gone with them and brought us too?"

Bra looked at him, angry.

"Now Bra," Trunks chided. "I think I would know better than you."

Bra's eyes squinched in an unconscious copy of Bulma's angry expression. She was very young, and she knew it, but she also knew enough to realize when things were very, very wrong. "Yeah?" she challenged. "And how many Saiyans have you met before?" Trunks shook his head. He could not answer her.

***

Gokuu was happier than he'd been in a long time. In the white, shielded training area of the ship, he was taking on five of the Saiyans at once and quite easily holding his own. He and Vejiita had been in here for the last three hours, while various "shifts" of the vessel's twenty-two troops came and went as time allowed them.

Gokuu risked a quick glance behind him at Vejiita. Not to be outdone, the erstwhile prince was handling seven Saiyan warriors, all of whom were considerably larger than he. He had not gone Super Saiyan yet either, and although Gokuu knew a part of Vejiita was dying to show off, he also knew that it was important to the king that he be able to handle at least these seven in his untransformed state.

And besides, Kakarotto would have to be "forced" to transform first.

Gokuu smiled and shook his head, not even looking as he fended off another group attack. Vejiita was Vejiita, and he would never change. Deciding to try something he had not used in a long time, Gokuu suddenly shouted, "Kaiou-ken times two!" and, glowing to match his gi, began mopping the floor with his present sparring partners.

Vejiita, of course, saw what Gokuu did; but he still didn't want to give up his advantage just yet. Stepping up his attack, Vejiita gave full reign to his vicious streak and in mere moments began to completely subdue his seven challengers as well, laughing as he did so.

And then, something happened. For no reason at all that Gokuu could see, his five antagonists abruptly abandoned him and went after Vejiita.

"Hey," said Gokuu, ignored. "What are you doing?" He flew into the fray and tried to get their attention back, but to no avail; they flew around him and headed back to their main target. Vejiita was now was facing twelve adult Saiyans at once, all of whom were much fresher than he was at this stage in the game. The door far below them slid open, and Ru Sa walked in, a white towel about his shoulders.

"Hello, what's this?" he said, watching.

"What's going on?" asked Gokuu, flying down to meet him. "Why are they all doing this?"

Ru Sa shrugged. "The king can handle it. This isn't a surprise to him. It's rather traditional, you know, for the Saiyan king to have to take on more than he should be able to. It's good for the troops' morale."

"Morale?!?" protested Gokuu, incensed at the unfair odds. Pride and challenge were one thing, but enough was enough; angered, he flew up to join his friend, trying to give Vejiita a break. But these Saiyans would not be sidetracked; they were like men possessed. No matter what Gokuu did, the warriors would dodge - or try to - and then go right back after Vejiita like rabid dogs. And still Vejiita would not transform. So, doing his king the favor for which his king would never ask, Gokuu suddenly screamed and went Super Saiyan.

"Kakarotto, back off!" ordered Vejiita irritably. "You're not doing any good anyway!" Two more, the last two in the gym, leaped into the air to join the party. A moment later, Vejiita went Super Saiyan as well.

"Whoah," said Ru Sa from below. "Two Super Saiyans against my warriors? I don't think that's fair." He sounded calm, almost pensive - and now, tossing aside his towel, he flew up to join them.

The intensity of the fight suddenly increased far beyond what it reasonably should have. It was clear even to Gokuu's eye that Ru Sa could have probably held off the fourteen warriors all by himself for a very decent length of time. Long hair flying everywhere, he went swinging into the battle cluster with a smile on his face and a vigor that belied his calm, and in moments he had forced his way entirely through and was facing off with Vejiita. Disturbed at the ferocity with which Ru Sa was fighting, Gokuu doubled his efforts to distract the other fourteen.

He needn't have worried. The warriors quite gladly and with a mind turned on him; Ru Sa was just as brutal to them as he was now being to Vejiita. But now, they were forcing Gokuu away from his king. Knowing how important it was to Vejiita to be the strongest, he kept himself from going past Super Saiyan one.

Vejiita... invisible behind the cloud of Saiyan warriors, Gokuu telepathically reached out to Vejiita. I can't get to you...

Sure you can, Kakarotto, Vejiita laughed back at him; he was actually enjoying this. Anybody who can take on Buu shouldn't have any trouble dealing with a few space-crazed Saiyans.

Vejiita! Gokuu protested, but he got no response; Vejiita had no more time to answer as Ru Sa suddenly stepped up his pace.

No way, thought Gokuu, wide-eyed. He's keeping up with a Super Saiyan… Ru Sa was nearly matching Vejiita blow for blow. Although it was clear he would eventually lose, he fought with a viciousness that seemed to indicate full intent of victory. And he was no longer smiling.

Ru Sa got one lucky hit in - a boot across the jaw. Vejiita went somersaulting backwards towards the wall, then suddenly rebounded off it and rocketed back toward Ru Sa. Roaring furiously, he went Super Saiyan two. What had been close before was no longer even a contest; Vejiita slammed into him and pounded him so hard that within moments, Ru Sa was pummeled unconscious, his body held in the air by Vejiita's blows alone. Shouting victoriously, Vejiita interlocked his fists high above his head and brought them down full force on Ru Sa's solar plexus, hurtling him to the ground.

Everyone, including Gokuu, stopped fighting and stared.

"Vejiita..." said Gokuu, aghast. "You didn't..."

"Baka. He's not dead, Kakarotto," growled Vejiita, still fully powered up and panting like a bellows. "He just learned what happens when you challenge a king."

Gokuu gulped and looked around; but the reaction of his fellow Saiyans was not what it ought to be. They simply stared, expressionless, as though they had all forgotten who they were.

Ru Sa stirred and managed to prop himself up on his elbows. Looking up at Vejiita, he spoke.

"Wow," he panted hoarsely. "You are... incredible. I have never… never met my match… before this day." He looked impressed, yes - but somehow, in spite of his humbled exterior, his bloodied smile gave the impression that he had expected no less than what had just happened. Orchestrated no less, in fact.

Gokuu began to get a definite case of the willies.

Vejiita was immune to it all. He crossed his arms and smiled. "And just you remember that, Rhubarb," he announced, spitefully using the captain's vernacular name. "It means death to challenge Vejiita."

Ru Sa wiped blood from his chin. "So I've gathered," he remarked, and tried unsuccessfully to totter to his feet. "Hoy!" he called up. "Spice! Cumber! Help me; I need to get to a regen tank." The two Saiyans called obediently floated down and picked their broken captain up.

Vejiita landed slowly, powering down; he was looking around now, and appeared extremely proud of himself.

"Training is over for now," he announced. "Everyone get cleaned up and go back to your posts."

Finally sending up some of the noisy ruckus expected of healthy Saiyan warriors, the twelve remaining soldiers obediently flew down and walked out in twos and threes, loudly discussing the momentous battle they had just seen. Gokuu powered down as well, and flew to meet Vejiita, who stood with arms crossed, watching them all leave like a stern gym teacher. Neither said a word until the last was gone and the door hissed shut behind them.

And suddenly, Vejiita was no longer looked cocky; instead, he looked old and very, very tired.

"That was really, weird," said Gokuu. "In fact... well…."

"What is it, Kakarotto?" asked Vejiita quietly; he seemed introspective.

"Well... they're weird. They're all weird."

"Deep space travel will do that to you," Vejiita said in what was meant to be a dismissive tone, still looking pensive. "Is there anything else?"

"Well, it's just that..." Gokuu knew he was risking Vejiita's ire by even suggesting such a thing, but his instincts had been screaming at him all morning, and he simply couldn't ignore them any more. "They don't seem quite right, you know? I mean, you'd obviously know better about this than I would, but they don't seem… normal."

"That's because they're not," said Vejiita simply, and walked out the door before Gokuu got the chance to ask him to clarify what he meant.

"Huh," Gokuu spoke aloud to himself, alone in the empty gym. He bent to retrieve Ru Sa's dropped towel. "I guess he'll tell me what's going on when he's ready to." Gokuu scrubbed his head with the towel, catching a whiff of his underarms as he did so. "Yick. I smell. Ah, well," he added to nobody cheerfully, dismissing the mystery. "Big strength, big smell. That's what I always say!" and smiling happily, he went to his own room to shower and change.

***

"Yeah," said Kuririn, his round head slightly distorted in Gohan's palm-held communicator. "None of that made any sense to me, either. So I called Dr. Briefs over and had him check out that sample you brought.”

Gohan nodded. "Good. Any results yet?"

Kuririn sort of shrugged. His voice broke up in the transmission. "… seems… genetically com… Saiyan…."

"What?" Gohan asked. "Say that again?" Bulma had certainly done a good job on these transmitters before she'd died, but they still weren't strong enough.

"I SAID," Kuririn shouted, as though talking to a deaf man. "THAT THE SAMPLE WE'VE GOT SEEMS GENETICALLY COMPATIBLE WITH SAIYAN TISSUE!"

Gohan chuckled. "No need to shout, Kuririn. That's it? Just 'compatible?' But what does that mean?"

Kuririn sighed. "I know how you feel, Gohan; I wish it had been that simple, too. But Dr. Briefs says that as far as he can see, that sample proves beyond a doubt that they really are Saiyan, so maybe their story checks out. I guess you'll have to take your hunch in another direction."

Gohan sighed and rubbed the sore spot between his eyes. "Damn," he said. "All right. Just make sure the good doctor keeps looking for new ways to test that sample, okay?"

"Okay, Gohan," said Kuririn patiently. "But I think this angle's dead. Hey, has Vejiita talked to you yet? Have you found out yet why he wanted to leave so all of a sudden?"

"Nah," said Gohan. "He's as tight as a board. I still don't even know what we're all doing out here in space - it's not like we're looking for a new home planet, or anything. Hey, Kuririn, I'd better go. I don't want anyone to find out about these things just yet."

"Yeah," said Kuririn quietly. "Especially not Vejiita. I don't think he'd be too happy to find out we'd borrowed his dead wife's things - not even to try to help him out."

Gohan nodded. "That would be interesting, wouldn't it?" and he chuckled. "Hey - give my love to Videl, all right? Signing off," he said, and did so. He put the small device, based on scouter technology, back under his pillow, and sighed. Leaning back against the bed, he debated the wisdom of trying to take a nap; there really wasn't much else for him to do. But Gohan had been trained by his mother too well; when faced with a problem, he simply had to sit down with pen and paper and work it out.

Gohan hopped off the bed and sat at the little desk, pulling paper from his knapsack. Hunching over it, looking for all the world like the little boy who had come back as a man from fighting Freeza, he began furiously writing facts down in Latin; somehow, he doubted even Ru Sa could read that. Thus far, he had little to go on besides feelings, intuition; a few reactions on the part of the "Saiyans" which didn't seem normal, but really nothing that couldn't be explained away by long-term isolation, as Vejiita had said. They were genetically Saiyan, and they had readily enough accepted Vejiita as their king. Too readily. It still bothered him that nobody cared about his and Gokuu's superior strength. It just didn't wash.

Gohan put the paper away. For some reason, his instinct told him that he needed to get to the bottom of everything quickly, before… well, before something bad happened. Frustrated with his lack of evidence, he got up and decided to start walking the halls.

***

Kuririn turned off the communicator and sighed. This was not good; no one had felt overly thrilled anyway when Gokuu and Vejiita had decided to go with the Saiyans, taking their children with them. Then Gohan had come to him, in the middle of the night, no less, with these communicators from Bulma; Gohan had sneaked them out of her lab, and you better believe it felt weird touching those things - especially since they were the last project she was working on before she died.

Gohan's idea, though paranoid, was a good one. He thought there was something wrong with these Saiyans, and nothing said to the contrary would convince him. In fact, he thought it was a trap. So…

"Please, Kuririn," he'd said. "Help me."

Kuririn didn't understand Gohan's reasoning - or even quite why he’d come to him instead of Piccolo, no matter how technologically challenged the Namek was - but he was willing to go along with it. After all, Gohan had been his friend for years, and when the boy was right, the boy was right. Sighing, Kuririn decided it was high time he brought the others into this. Picking up the phone, he called Yamucha.

***

Interlude 4.1: Nameks Among Us, part one

Muuri was contemplating his navel when the first light he had seen in two days made its appearance. Suddenly in front of him shone a dim, tube-shaped light, tipped with long, thin, flexile threads that caught the light and diffused it as they bounced. It seemed to be waving "hello" as it came.

Muuri blinked. "Moot? Is that you?"

In answer came Moot's playful giggle. "Look what I found!" he exclaimed as he waved his toy in the air. It was a simple plastic thing, no more than a glorified flashlight capped with color-tipped plastic feelers. It looked like a toy one would pick up at a circus.

"Moot! Where did you find that?"

Moot smiled. "It was over there in the corner, under a desk. It's battery-powered, like toys were on earth. Think we can use this to get out?"

Muuri laughed, caught up in Moot's elation. "Go get the others. I don't know about getting out, but as long as the batteries last, we can…"

He jumped as a loud pounding sound came from the window above his head, as of something or someone trying to get in.

"What…." Moot envisioned monsters, mutants, demons... and the window suddenly shattered inward, splattering Muuri with broken glass and sending Moot screaming into the shadows.

***

Interlude 4.2: Nameks Among Us, part two

Outside, Dende had come to the end of the world. He had followed Reep toward the tree things, only to find that they weren't anything that he could even begin to understand. They were cracks in the sky.

The sky above did just what it appeared - it curved down until it touched the ground, a solid, blue, unyielding wall. And in the sky were long, jagged cracks, expanding upward as they went, looking from a distance very much like the dead trees he'd originally thought they were.

It was disturbing. Dende wasn't sure he wanted to know what was on the other side of the sky.

"I… I don't get it, Reep," he said. "What is this? I thought we were outside."

"We are," answered Reep, not jumping. The small creature seemed quite nervous being this near the sky. "This is all there is of the outside, and it's only here because of Bulma the Wise."

Bulma? This was a new twist; Dende knelt down, getting on eye level with his compatriot. "What do you mean? You mean Bulma, the wife of Vejiita?"

"No no," It said. "Mother of Trunks the Warrior."

Dende gaped. "You mean - this is Mirai no Trunks' world?"

Reep considered. "This is All-Worlds," It said at last in that strange tone which It used to indicate capital letters.

Dende was now completely confused. He stood and looked around. "What do you mean, all worlds? The world I came from isn't like this."

"Will be soon enough," Reep said disconsolately.

Dende started to ask something else, then stopped and squinted; against the dim blue of the sky, now he thought he could see something a few yards away from him, something which he could have sworn had not been there when he had started following Reep. A large square something.

Dende approached the big black square and was mildly surprised to see it was a building of some kind. There were dirt-encrusted windows on the side of it, although no doors that he could see; he pressed his face to one of them, trying to peer through the blackness inside the building. There was some kind of dim, wavy light in there, moving up and down as thought the holder were bouncing. He pounded on the window with his fist, but it was too solid; he could not break it.

"Reep, I can't…"

Reep hopped up and swung one of its limbs - deceptively strong - into the window and smashed it in, frame and all; and in the dim light, Dende could see Namek-like forms quivering and scuttling away from him. Someone screamed.

Reep smiled. "You have found the others," It said.

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