Chapter Six: Cold

Gohan walked the halls at night, and he walked in them alone. The circular ship was built a little like some museums he had known; there were rooms and pathways branching out all over the place, but everything was connected to the main hallway in one way or another. Really, if you just kept walking, there was no possible way you could get lost.

Sighing, he walked down the hall, unconsciously shuddering as he passed the cafeteria and training room. It seemed that any hour of the day or night, somebody had to be fighting or eating - but the weird thing was, they were all doing it silently. Apparently, some representative of the Earth group had to be present in order to elicit an audible response.

Ttrue to form, both rooms were presently occupied - even at four o' clock in the morning.

"Doesn't anybody get any sleep around here?" he wondered to himself. Come to think of it, he had yet to come across any of these Saiyans sleeping; all their supposed bedrooms were always empty, at least as far as his trained senses could tell. Although his rational mind kept telling him that it was, after all, only his second night on the ship and not enough data was available to make any kind of theory yet, something about it still just didn't seem right.

It's like they're not real. Like everything they're doing is for our benefit alone, he said to himself.

Scratch that, he amended a minute later. It's for Vejiita's benefit, not ours; in fact, I think we're only getting in the way.

Join the club, Gohan commiserated to himself. This something he liked to do; he split his brain into two sides, as it were, and conversed with himself. It was a stimulating exercise. He didn't always agree.

Gohan was very surprised to come around the corner and find Ru Sa on the prowl. The man was soaking; apparently, he was fresh out of the regen tank.

"Captain," he nodded, attempting to walk by.

"Gohan," greeted Ru Sa, more effusively than the hour would normally permit. "You're up late," he smiled.

To his credit, Gohan managed to smile back. "Just making the rounds, Captain," he said as innocently as possible. "I couldn't sleep - I usually don't sleep well initially in a new environment anyway, and so I thought I'd go for a little walk."

Ru Sa nodded, still smiling, letting his eyes wander over Gohan's slim form in an approving, fatherly manner. "Good; you've been trained well, not to waste the time the gods have given you. Tell me, do you spar?"

Gohan blinked; Ru Sa was still dripping with Saiyan DNA fluid, and by all accounts had already had a busy day. He'd fought, and healed, and if he was true to form at all was probably ravenously hungry - and still, he wanted to spar.

Damn, the man was appealing.

Gohan laughed. "Why? You up to it?" Ru Sa gave him a devil-may-care smile, and Gohan's suspicions began slipping away unnoticed.

The Saiyan captain smoothly extended his hands to either side, admitting his flaw with gentility. "Well, what can I say? Fighting is, after all, in my blood; and yours, too, I should imagine, judging by your breeding and history. I've only just gotten out of the regen tank; I'm stronger than I was this morning. From what your father tells me, you are even more powerful than our honored King Vejiita, and I would be thrilled - no, honored - if you would consent to spar with me."

Gohan paused; he knew he had other things to do, other matters to be thinking about, but this was tempting. Too tempting.

He blinked.

"Aw, the hell with it," he said. "Let's go." After all, even superheroes of Earth had to be spontaneous once in a while.

As luck would have it, the training room was - for once - empty.

Ru Sa had not been kidding about his increased powers; he reveled in the air, whooping and hollering as he executed graceful but poignantly deadly acrobatics and trying out brand new ki attacks just because he could.

Gohan, of course, had no difficulty at all keeping up with him; he was "Mystic," after all, and as such only second to Gokuu in his powers. However, he had to admit that this was the closest thing to a challenge he'd had in a long time, and to top it off, Ru Sa's attitude was contagious. Within minutes, Gohan was whooping and hollering right along with him.

Sadly, it ended all too soon. Without meaning to, Gohan landed a blow on Ru Sa's rib cage that sent the older man sailing backwards into the wall, to which edifice he actually stuck for a moment because of the residue of Gohan's ki.

"Oof," he said, and slid to the floor.

"Whoops," muttered Gohan. He knew Vejiita had done something similar earlier, but Vejiita was the king and could get away with this kind of thing. Hoping there would be no major ramifications for pulping the Captain of the Guard, Gohan flew down to see what he could do.

"Sorry about that - I got a little carried away," said Gohan, offering a hand to help the other soldier to his feet.

"Not to worry," Ru Sa reassured him amiably as he stood. "Your king did a worse job, and in a considerably shorter amount of time." He rolled his shoulders, stretching out the kinks. "Well, I've had a busy day. I've fought, and healed, and fought again, and now, true to form, I'm ravenously hungry; care to join me in the thing that Saiyans do second best?"

Gohan couldn't help smiling. "Gladly," he said, and followed Ru Sa - who didn't seem particularly sore either mentally or physically - to the mess hall. Which was, predictably, crowded.

It did not occur to him until it was much too late to wonder how it was that Ru Sa chose the exact same wording that had been in Gohan's own mind not much earlier. Had he remembered, it would have spared him - and everyone else - much, much grief.

Interlude 6.1 - Tricksters and Tricks

Naturally, the would-be thieves waited just long enough for everyone's suspicions to fade before they once again penetrated the Capsule Corporation.

***

Yamucha sighed; it was two o'clock in the morning on the second day of his watch, and the Saiyans weren't coming back. He was sure of it; so sure that instead of sitting just inside the door where he was supposed to be, he was sitting right above it - on the roof, to be precise.

Leaning back on his elbows, he gazed up at the stars and breathed deeply. This used to be one of his favorite places at night; he and Bulma would come up here after she had finished working at the lab and just enjoy one another's company and the view - both of the outdoors and each other. Yamucha had been so sure she was his back then; so he had a few indiscretions on the side - was that any reason to worry? And sure, they fought a lot, too, but that was just Bulma; she fought with everybody, and he had to admit that her passion - or promise of - added definite spice to their relationship.

There was a small noise, and Yamucha looked behind him. His quick scan of the area produced nothing, though, so he relaxed back on his elbows and continued brooding.

Promise of passion; yes, that had been the whole problem, hadn't it? She had never fulfilled that promise with him. Not once. And, fool that he was, he'd simply assumed that she'd always said "no" because she was waiting for marriage - for which he hadn't waited, and in fact, was not interested in at that stage in the game. It had never occurred to him that he was simply not good enough. Since she was sixteen he had known her, loved her, practically been civilized because of her, and in all that time he, the Desert Bandit, was never really good enough.

Down below in Bulma's lab, Kuririn was snoring. Yamucha smiled; at least Kuririn had found somebody. Of all the old gang - Yajirobe, Tenshinhan, Oolong, etc. - Kuririn was the only one who'd made it out of the bachelor's brigade, not counting Gokuu. He certainly seemed happy enough, though; and since…

There was that noise again; shedding his sulk like an extra skin, he rose and walked along the roof to investigate. Odd; there was a raccoon up here, wide awake in the middle of the night and scrabbling in the roof tiles. Stupid thing probably wanted to chew on the wires, or something. Sighing, he went back to his post above the door and stood, staring off into the distance. He waved in response to Piccolo, who flew past him on his course around the property. Piccolo, at least, had not lost any of his wariness.

And like a dog to its vomit, like a drunk to his rum, Yamucha's thoughts returned intractably to that subject which still caused him so much pain.

Enter Prince Vejiita; haughty, cruel, proud - and just the perfect match for Bulma's passions, promised or otherwise. Yamucha had not even been aware of what was happening; one day, everything seemed perfectly normal and right with the world, and the next day, she was pregnant. That's how it had ended between them. They had had one of their fights, she had thrown him out (again), and the next thing he knew she was with child - his child. Not "Yamucha, I'd really like to see someone else," or even "You bastard, you cheated on me for the last time." No, just: "Yamucha, I'm pregnant." And she had smiled, like this was a terrific accomplishment on her part. He had always wondered how much of her vulnerability to Vejiita's enticement had been just because she needed to get back at him.

The noise was repeated, a little closer this time, but Yamucha ignored it.

Standing, stretching his muscles, Yamucha slowly floated down to the ground and turned toward the door; it would be Kuririn's turn to watch soon. He smiled. Funny, but he had never once questioned the genuineness of Vejiita's attraction to Bulma. Gohan had said the Saiyan prince remarked on Bulma's beauty while they were still on Namek; and of course, everyone remembered how Vejiita had been impressed with her bravery when she had decided to come see Freeza just before Trunks showed up for the first time. And even before that…

Suddenly, Yamucha's ki sense flared as if something with incredible power had materialized just behind him. But, he thought as he spun around, only Gokuu has the ability to transport from out of nowhere…

Apparently the large Saiyan warrior standing over him with the fierce grin and extremely strange-looking knife thought otherwise. The monster smiled even wider and, incredibly fast, too fast, rammed forward and into him, slamming one hardened hand into his throat and trying to rip into his side with the serrated blade at the same time.

Yamucha was shocked to feel the knife burn as it entered his flesh; no ordinary blade should have been able to so much as pierce his skin. His air and voice were similarly cut off; the Saiyan's face was right in his, and they desperately grappled for control of the deadly blade - it was hot to the touch. He had no idea how the Saiyan had managed to sneak past everybody, including him, but he knew one thing for sure: he'd be damned if he was going to die now. Yamucha placed one hand - the hand that was not presently engaged in wrestling for the Saiyan's knife - against the monster's chest and sent a power ball into him. He didn't have the chance to defend against what happened next.

The ki shot into the Saiyan - and out again, through his mouth and into Yamucha. The beast had channeled the blast through his own body.

The ki blast cooked him, frying his hair and singeing his organs; but Yamucha was still alive, and his last thought was that he needed to warn Kuririn. Releasing the knife hand - getting stabbed again wouldn't make any difference now - he balled his burned fingers into a fist and slammed the wall behind him as hard as he could.

*

Kuririn jumped awake as Yamucha's fist came crashing through the wall. A moment later, Yamucha's body came flying after it and landed, smashing delicate equipment and plenty of robots beneath it. Kuririn jumped up and had just enough time to shout once before the Saiyan was on him.

Unbelievable; the moron was actually trying to stab him with a knife. Unconcerned, Kuririn moved - and was somewhat disturbed to see the blade rip into the filing cabinet with the ease of a laser, hissing like a lizard and blackening the edges of the tear.

How strange, thought Kuririn; in all his adult life, he could never recall being afraid of a knife before.

"Shi-ne," the warrior seethed at him.

Well, two could play at this game. "Kienzan attack!" Kuririn called and threw his signature energy disk.

The Saiyan dodged, laughed like a loon and flew out the door.

"Hey..." said Kuririn, confused. "Come back here!" And he flew after him.

The warrior zigzagged all over the place, up and down and back and forth, keeping within the boundaries of the Capsule Corporation but covering what had to be a couple of miles in pure loop-de-loop action. Then suddenly, right above the place where everybody normally parked their cars, he abruptly spun around and actually began trying to engage Kuririn in hand to hand combat.

This was ridiculous; Kuririn overpowered the man by literally millions, as his scouter must have shown. Easily avoiding the clumsy attack, Kuririn slammed his closed fist into the warrior's side, sending him backwards into Yamucha's car - Yamucha's precious car, which he would never be needing again - crumpling it.

"What the hell are you doing?" shouted Kuririn, annoyed with his adversary's repeated exhibits of idiocy.

The warrior laughed again - an unusual sight to say the least, since his rear quarters were still stuck through the busted roof of Yamucha's car - and then he began to melt.

Not bothering with an artistic Cheshire-cat fade, the Saiyan simply dissolved like candle wax, still burbling laughter through increasingly glutinous lips as he did so, and vanishing into the darkness of Yamucha's car.

Kuririn was still standing there gaping when Piccolo finally arrived.

"What happened?" he said.

Kuririn did not know how to answer him.

Unnoticed by either one, a small, somewhat charred raccoon snuck out from Yamucha's car and scurried away.

***

No one was really surprised to come back to the lab and find it trashed. Aware that they had only a limited amount of time, the invaders this time had forsaken caution for the sake of speed, and many of Bulma's belongings were completely destroyed. Oddly, Yamucha had been treated with respect; his body had been laid out carefully on a table, his arms crossed on his blackened chest, as though prepared for his funeral.

The remaining Z-warriors regarded him in silence.

"Why did they do that?" Chaou-zu asked quietly.

"I don't know, Chaou-zu," answered Tenshinhan. "But I think I don't hate them as much because of it."

Piccolo snorted. "Maybe that's what they wanted," he said caustically, and waded into the room.

"Waded" was really the only term for it; all the furniture - save Yamucha's resting place - had been gutted and overturned, the filing cabinets emptied and dismantled, and even the light fixtures removed and crushed. It seemed everything in the room had been dismembered except for Yamucha, who lay serenely on his table like an island oasis.

"We... we need to bury him," Tenshinhan said quietly.

"Hey..." said Kuririn. "Where's Yajirobe?"

*

Yajirobe was having problems of his own.

Everything that night had happened so fast that even if he had been inclined to help, he would not have been able to; and by the time Kuririn flew off after the attacker, he had other things on his mind. He alone had seen where Yamucha's murderer had come from.

He had seen a raccoon turn into a warrior.

And so while everyone else was in Bulma's lab, sorting through wreckage and mourning their friend, Yajirobe was stalking the streets of Satan City, hot on the trail of a raccoon that wasn't. If it seemed like something unusual for him to do, that's because it was; Yajirobe had been struck with a sudden attack of courage, and the last time he could recall such an epiphany was when he had taken a mad swipe at Vejiita's rear end with his katana.

However, there was no question in his mind that this - slipping barefoot down deserted streets after something that might or might not be Saiyan - was by far the worst thing he had ever talked himself into doing.

The creature he was trailing suddenly turned and ducked into a building.

Making his way around to the back, Yajirobe did the same.

It was a good half hour before he emerged again, shaken and pale; what he now knew was enough to take away even his appetite.

***

That day on the Saiyan spaceship had been somewhat uneventful. While Yamucha was dreaming about the past, King Vejiita and his people were making plans for the future.

Gohan had been quite worried that the Saiyans had plans to continue in their cultural vocation - that is, clearing planets of sentient life to prepare them for sale. However, that was not their goal at all; apparently, they had been doing penetrative exploration - whatever that was - for so long that they didn't really want to do anything else.

"And what is involved in this exploration?" Vejiita asked.

"They go where no man has gone before," quipped Trunks, absolutely deadpan. Goten snickered explosively.

"Yes, that's just what we do," said Chive, looking with puzzled disapproval on Goten and Trunks. She was Ru Sa's right hand and mission commander, and so was given the floor for the moment. "We go to areas previously unexplored. It's simple, really; we find an area never mapped before and station the ship in as central a position as possible. Then we send out one-man pods, each assigned to explore a certain area. Once they have thoroughly explored their quadrant and returned with information on any populated planets, we land, check it out, and take any technology we think might be useful. If we have to fight, we do - and that happens more often than not. You'd be surprised how many people aren't thrilled with the idea of sharing their cultural wealth with us." She smiled coolly.

Vejiita smiled back. "I can imagine," he said. "When did my father send you on this mission?"

"You were four years old, my lord."

Vejiita narrowed his eyes. "Strange that Radditz never mentioned it to me. As my official care-taker and head general in my father's army, he was under strict orders to inform me of all such missions. It was the privilege and responsibility of my youth."

The other Z-warriors blinked at him. "But I thought…" began Gokuu.

"Quiet, Kakarotto," ordered Vejiita, and waited for a response from Chive.

Chive did not miss a beat. "General Radditz did not know. King Vejiita - your father - did not register us officially as on mission. The reason was that he sent us specifically to find technology to help him to defeat Freeza. Although I understand the way matters stood at the end, Freeza's power level reached some 18 million - even with our technology, we would not have had a chance." She continued to meet Vejiita's gaze, cold and calm.

Vejiita nodded and seemed to dismiss the issue.

"How old were you? Chive, you are at least a decade younger than I am."

Chive shrugged slightly. "I am second-generation; many of our original scientists died while still in space."

"Why did you return to Vejiita-sei when you did?"

Chive turned and looked at Ru Sa for the answer.

"We received gamma class message log," he said.

"You received a what?" Gohan asked.

"A gamma class message log," Chive repeated, "Used only during emergencies. A batch of signals, all part of one conversation, that have been specially encoded to as to be unintelligible to the enemy but easily intercepted and interpreted as a whole by anyone with the proper equipment. Which we have."

Gohan nodded, trying to keep suspicion off his face. Intelligent Saiyans, he thought. No, more than intelligent; they're actually intellectually inclined. Still doesn't smell right.

Ru Sa picked up the thread. "The message log was very confusing; it involved the battle directives and communications from your father when he went up against Freeza. King Vejiita - your father - took on Freeza much sooner than planned; apparently your abduction, my lord, pushed him over the edge. Of course, by the time we got this information we were years out in space; even at top speed, we did not get back until now."

Vejiita nodded. "I do not see why you cannot continue. There must be systems in this part of the galaxy that you have not yet explored - yes? Then, go ahead and explore, with my blessing. I remind you, however - I am still in official capacity on a trial basis only. If I do not like what I see, then I will hand the seal on" - he fondled the medallion around his neck -"and return to earth. Understood?"

They nodded.

"Everybody back to your posts," he ordered, and that's just what they did - including the earthlings - leaving Vejiita alone in the conference room.

"Lying bastards," he said under his breath as last soldier went through and the door hissed shut behind him.

***

That night, Gohan once again had trouble sleeping. He walked the now familiar halls of the saucer ship, crossing over and over again the same ground in both the mental and physical sense.

All right, so maybe he had only known six full-blooded Saiyans in his life; so maybe some of them were innately as intelligent as all these people seemed to be. Still, it bothered him; of the six he had previously known, only Paragus and Vejiita had shown anything like the kind of intellect these warriors showed, and Vejiita couldn't care less about technology and Paragus had merely viewed his formidable skills as the means to his revenge.

These Saiyans could not care less about revenge. Or death. Or carnage. They liked to spar, yes - but it only now occurred to Gohan that he had not actually witnessed any fighting; except for Ru Sa, this was the most peaceful group of warriors he'd ever seen. There was no inner friction at all.

Gohan shook his head; he was picking at straws, he knew. Vejiita would probably decide to stay, all the rest of them would go home to Earth, end of story, glory to God forever, amen.

Just then, a very strange sound crossed his ears. Gohan had never heard anything like it. Curious, he began to try to track it down.

The sound was coming from the corridor to his right, one that housed only living quarters. It seemed an odd combination of muffled voices and… something else. Sincerely hoping he was not going to interrupt somebody's intimate time, Gohan pressed on.

That second sound was clearer now. It had a strange sort of buzzing quality to it, an odd combination of sensuality and electricity. As he grew closer, it began to penetrate his body, sending vibrations across his skin and making him shudder with involuntary pleasure. The relaxation resulting from this was bizarre; the only thing he could compare it to was that kind of calm that comes after sexual release. And yet, there was something so invasive, so horrific about it…

His stomach turned. Unable to stop himself, Gohan fell to his knees and began to heave; he was fortunate to get none of it on himself, but his ungainly position - on his hands and knees and dripping bile - was somewhat out of kilter with his vision of dignified. His head began to pound, to swell, his skin to grow very hot and his vision to spin; he put his hands to the sides of his head and prepared to scream as his face burned away…

And then it stopped. The sounds stopped too, and in moments he felt just fine, if a little weak; even his stomach was back to normal. He rose somewhat shakily to his feet and turned. The door to his left was from where the sound had come. Taking a deep breath, he went in.

It took a moment for Gohan to realize where he was; it looked like a bedroom. However, there was nothing in it; nothing, except for a bed, a mirror, and an old wooden trunk in one corner. There was nobody the room either, at least as far as Gohan could tell. There was another door on the other side, so Gohan walked across the room - eerie in its sterile white and stillness - and went through that door.

He found himself in a shadowed maintenance corridor, one which he had not seen before. Large pipes and machinery were all around him; definitely a ideal place for an ambush. Closing his eyes, Gohan concentrated silently for a moment; he could sense nothing, but he knew better than to relax on account of that. Grateful for the "Mystic" training Rou Kaioushin had given him that negated his need to power up, Gohan went forward.

Just around the corner, he found the body.

The individual was one Gohan had never seen before; at least, he was reasonably sure that there were no Saiyans that old on the ship. The white hair had lost none of its fullness in death; it cascaded over the dried husk of a skull and onto the floor in wild spikes. The uniform, oddly, did not fit; it was far too big. Perhaps this warrior had come here to die, putting on his old battle garments one more time for memory's sake.

But that was nonsense - a Saiyan dying of old age, indeed - and on closer inspection, he decided this body had to have been here for a while. The skin was brittle and yellowed, the lips withered and pulled back from the teeth in a hideous death grimace. Gohan leaned closer. There was still glistening spittle on the teeth.

This man had been dead only minutes.

Feeling the first hint of fear, Gohan reached forward to see if the man was still warm, but the simple pressure exerted by his touch was more than the corpse could take. The husk cracked under his fingers, and yellowish fluid began to seep thickly from the cracks in the man's skin and dribble to the floor, where it puddled, steamed, and vanished. The body itself, now resembling nothing so much as the South American mummies Gohan had studied as a child, began to break apart on its own and lay in pieces like papier maché. The smell was truly awful.

"Disgusting, isn't it?" asked a voice.

Gohan jumped and looked up; in front of him, where he had sensed nothing, stood a man. The character was shadowed behind the pipes, but Gohan thought he knew who it was.

"Captain," Gohan said calmly. "Do you know what happened here?"

Ru Sa's silhouette shrugged. "What do you think, Kakarotto's son?" and he walked out of the shadows.

Gohan stared; Ru Sa had been big before, but the man who stepped into Gohan's view now seemed huge - he was bigger, stronger, and the power emanating from him was, for someone who was not a Super Saiyan, truly awesome. Where he had been hiding all that power a minute ago was mystery, but Gohan was not worried. He only wondered how it was that the Saiyan captain had managed such a dramatic increase in only a few…

He looked down at the body in front of him and thought he had an answer.

"How did you do it?" he said quietly.

"You'll find out," Ru Sa said, "in one way or another."

"Who was it?" Gohan said, standing. Fine - if Ru Sa wanted to fight, then they would fight. It wouldn't be much of a contest.

Ru Sa shrugged again and took a step closer. "Does it matter?" he asked.

Gohan sighed. "I guess not," he said. "Well, let's get it over with." Assuming left forward stance, he waited for the captain to make a move.

Ru Sa began to laugh. "Come and get me," he said, and spinning around - Gohan had to admit that the long hair did add a nice effect - took off into the darkness. Gohan could hear him laughing into the distance. He took off after him. They were heading into the center of the ship, the area where the main engine drives used to be before they got that wonderful upgrade on the planet Zivago. It was huge, dark, and empty.

Ru Sa zoomed into the air in the middle of the main room, not even glancing behind him to see if Gohan was there. Of course he was; where else would a superhero of Earth be?

The very idea made him feel like laughing some more, and so he did. Ah, youth - just blundered into anything without thinking at all. Not wanting to wait any longer, he spun around again and welcome Gohan with literally open arms.

Gohan stopped and sent a blast at Ru Sa. The captain didn't even try to dodge; he just took the hit square on and went flying back to the ground.

The moron is LETTING me injure him! thought Gohan. Apparently, having committed murder, the captain now wanted to die as cheerfully as possible.

Ru Sa wheezed at him from somewhere in the shadows below. "All right, hero, you got me. Gonna come down now and claim your prize?" And, incredibly, he laughed again.

He's nuts, Gohan summarily thought, and slowly flew down. He wasn't about to walk into a trap.

Ru Sa was standing - barely - by supporting himself against the wall; splotches of his blood darkened the shadows around him.

"What, you're not coming near me? Afraid?"

Gohan stopped about ten feet from Ru Sa; he didn't want whatever had happened to that nameless warrior out there to happen to him.

Ru Sa stopped laughing; his look, though still amused, grew predatory.

"You're the strongest, aren't you? Except for your father, you're the strongest."

Gohan nodded marginally. "They say I had 'nearly unlimited potential,' whatever that means," he said. "Rou Kaioushin trained me, and now I've reached it. For all it matters." Gohan sighed. "I'm sorry, Ru Sa - but I have to take you back. I don't think Vejiita will be very happy with you."

Ru Sa looked at him; the captain's eyes took on an expression that Gohan did not recognize, and for some weird reason, it scared him.

"You've made a mistake," the captain said smoothly, almost seductively. Gohan tensed.

"Oh? And what was that?"

Ru Sa bared his teeth.

"The assumption that you had to be in arms' reach," he said, and then before Gohan could move, before he had the chance to do anything, Ru Sa's arm shot out - much, much longer than it should have been - and changed shape. It suddenly became a two-pronged fork, and so quickly that even Gohan's eye could not follow it, shot forward into the dark toward Gokuu's eldest son.

Gohan moved, but not fast enough; the prongs sank deep into his flesh, and then Ru Sa twisted his arm - if it could still be called that - viciously. Gohan cried out as he felt his intestines twist, tangling around the thing in his side and damaging his organs. Ru Sa pulled back, and Gohan - hopelessly hooked - came flying toward him.

All this happened within the space of a second. If Gohan had been just a moment quicker, he could have blasted Ru Sa with ki on the way in, ending the battle once and for all. But he did not; the pain wrenching his insides and the shock at seeing what he had just seen rendered him numb for just a moment, and that was all Ru Sa needed. Suddenly, Gohan was being pressed right up against him, almost in a lover's embrace.

Ru Sa was wasting no time. He ripped his arm out of Gohan's side, reshaped it, and grabbed both sides of the younger man's head. Gohan could feel his own organs settling in unnatural positions inside; his own blood, from Ru Sa's hands, was dripping down his face.

Ru Sa pulled Gohan's head forward, his lips slightly parted, wearing a strange expression of pleasure, and in that split of a second Gohan knew he meant to kiss him.

He also knew, without knowing why, that that must not happen at all costs. He began struggling, trying not to be distracted by the insane sensation of his liver trying to slide out and onto the floor. He brought his own hands together just on either side of Ru Sa's head.

"BINSHOU FAIA!" he cried and blasted Ru Sa with both hands.

Tried to.

The second Gohan had opened his mouth to speak, Ru Sa's head did a quick change version of what his arm had done a moment before, slipping down and out of sight. Gohan blasted his own hands off.

Ru Sa waited until he had stopped screaming. "My turn," he said, and pressed his mouth against Gohan's.

Pain, sharp and slow moving, immediately began coursing through Gohan's body; his arms and legs grew weak, so weak he could barely even struggle. And then that awful humming sound started again, that cursed buzzing that had brought him in here to begin with, only this time it did not make him nauseated. It dulled the pain; it began to feel very good, a warm sort of numbness akin to alcohol. And like alcohol, it also numbed his brain. Gohan stopped struggling.

The whole ordeal only lasted ten seconds, no more. When Ru Sa dropped him and he began to regain the ability to think again, the only thing moving through Gohan's mind was a wonder that he was not dead.

Ru Sa stood over him, healed and stronger - but not as strong as he apparently thought he would be.

"Damn," he said, inspecting his biceps. "You stupid half-breed." He kicked Gohan in the side, producing a most satisfying thump. "Never works as well with hybrids," Ru Sa muttered to himself, taking further interest in the shape of his arms.

Gohan lay where he was, unable to move, barely able to breathe, his ears filled with the sound of his laboring heart. He could barely see, but he knew he was a far cry from the desiccated husk in the other room.

"Oh, poor Kakarotto's son." Ru Sa said and picked up Gohan almost tenderly, cradling his torn body. "Wouldn't want you to die just yet, now would we?" he quipped, and carried Gohan away. He walked for about two minutes before coming to an airlock.

"There we are," Ru Sa said, and unceremoniously dumped his broken body into the room. "I am sorry it had to end this way - I almost liked you, and that for me is a rare thing; but you just had to walk in on me at a really bad time. Which reminds me…" Ru Sa walked away and disappeared for a moment. Gohan could not cry out - he had been trying, but it seemed his vocal chords had stopped working. So closing his eyes - his vision was gray and fuzzy anyway, and opening them was basically pointless. He mentally tried to call out…Father…

He didn't see Ru Sa's booted foot coming. It caught Gohan in the head, on the right temple, and gave him a few blessed moments of painless black. When he awoke again, the remains of Ru Sa's earlier victim were beside him.

"You can call out all you want," Ru Sa growled. "It won't do you any good." Gohan really wanted to say "then why did you try to stop me," but his voice would not work and he was denied even the joy of last words.

So he did it telepathically.

You won't get away with this, Ru Sa, he sent. You don't know my father.

Ru Sa paused; the absolute faith with which this was uttered was disturbing.

"Goodbye Gohan," he said, and closed the door. In a moment, Gohan and his withered companion were shot out into space. Gohan was more than weakened; his body was destroyed. He could not last in the vacuum of space as he used.

Pan…Videl…

His last thought was that it was cold. So very, very cold.

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