1. Part 1 by Manzai
2. Part 2 by Manzai
3. Part 3 by Manzai
4. Part 4 by Manzai
5. Part 5 by Manzai
6. Part 6 by Manzai
7. Part 7 by Manzai
8. Part 8 by Manzai
9. Part 9 by Manzai
10. Part 10 by Manzai
11. Part 11 by Manzai
12. Part 12 by Manzai
13. Part 13 by Manzai
14. Part 14 by Manzai
15. Part 15 by Manzai
The main character, Theo, is a Matrix Guardian, a race of beings with enormous personal psi potential and advanced time travel technology through their ‘cousins,’ the Time Lords of Gallifrey. At the time of this story, most Guardians have been enslaved for the past seven years by the Saiyans (basically, through an act of pure luck on King Vejiita’s part). Theo is a mature adult, but is still considered ‘young’ for her people – she’s a little over 300 years old.
Theo was hurrying down one of the enormous corridors in the palace, her loose pants flapping gently in her wake, the ends of the belt of her tunic whipping as well, late yet again for another interminable training session. She always moved quickly through this part of the building - it was much too close to the rooms the Saiyans used for recreation for her liking. She had to live with them, but that didn't mean that she had to choose to be around them; in fact, she avoided seeing them at any cost.
With tendrils of her her soft, curly red hair framing her face, she seemed the total antithesis of Saiyan savagery; small, regular features, on a small, unremarkable body. She kept her back straight and head held high as she glided through the hallway with haughty grace, her expression carefully neutral. No need to antagonize or pique any of those brute's arrogant conceit or pride; Saiya-jin were quarrelsome at the best of times, and she did not want to spend any more time in their unholy regeneration tanks if she could help it.
Light streamed into the hallway from several open doors. As she passed through, a bright twinkling around her neck sparkled like an exposed vein of gold. She moved her head slightly and swallowed, feeling the restrictiveness of the collar against her skin and the dull, familiar ache in her soul. The collar prevented her from communicating with any of her kind telepathically; in fact, it prevented her from using any significant amount of power for any purpose whatsoever. The psi power it did permit her to use had to be moderated by one of the Saiya-jin, usually one of the Elites, and use of excessive power was punished immediately and vehemently. Time in the regen tank crossed her mind again and she scowled, remembering.
I hate this place, she thought, raging, powerless in her anger, sweeping her eyes from side to side. Seven years ... seven years of hell ... Kami, haven't we suffered enough?
There was no answer to her silent plea, nor did she expect one. Theo felt that Kami - or whoever or whatever it was that passed for some type of Supreme Being in this universe - had long ago abandoned the Guardians to their fate. Well, damn you too, if you even exist, she thought bitterly. You can ALL go to hell for all I care.
She slowed her pace as she came to a junction in the hallway. On her left side were several large recreation rooms in which some of the Saiyan military were relaxing, lounging and eating. Long, utilitarian tables were set up in uniform rows, chairs pushed neatly under them unless they were in use. Large frosted windows let in most of the light for the room, with several glowlamps on the opposite side creating the rest of the light. When the doors were open (as they usually were) conversations from the rec room could be heard in a small alcove outside. The alcove was attached to the room by several etched glass doors; it was possible to see through the glass, but it was difficult for someone in the recreation room to see exactly who was there. The odor of cooked food wafted into the hallway; it normally drew any number of healthy Saiyans after their duty day. The right hand side of the hallway had several corridors emptying into it, plus a small stairway that stood unobtrusively across from alcove.
Theo found her feet taking her over to the etched glass in the alcove, where she stopped and watched the warriors in the room. How nice, Theo thought sarcastically, a place where I can see all the wondrously intellectual things these people do with their personal time ...
Pausing for a moment, Theo regarded the Saiya-jin in the recreation hall discreetly, contempt written plainly across her face. Ugly dim-witted beasts, she thought. All the anger, frustration and general unhappiness she had been feeling recently bubbled inside her, looking for some release. Had she been Saiyan, it would have been simple -- just choose the largest bully and beat him to a pulp. But I'm not Saiyan, and they'd kill me. She grimaced as she amended, no, they wouldn't kill me -- they'd keep me just this side of alive, heal me, then beat me some more, just like ... She intentionally stopped there, unwilling to relive that experience, a strong wave of fear and loathing passing over her.
As she watched them relax and talk with each other, an idea began to form and take shape in her mind, animating her color shifting eyes, the most obvious sign of her Guardian heritage. Life is much too dull and routine for them, she thought with a devilish gleam. Let's see what happens if I do THIS .... Looking inward, she summoned a whisper's breath of power from the wellspring - just below the sensing threshold, a quantity she had painfully learned to control her first several years on the planet. The amount she was using was so slight as to be overlooked by the coarser of the Saiyans in the room, especially those of the lower class. Those more sensitive to chi might notice the surge but, with usual Saiyan arrogance, would dismiss it immediately because it was not 'powerful.' And that's just the way I like it, she thought, venom clouding her mind. Let them think I'm the weakest, stupidest creature on the planet ...
As she pulled the power into herself, a faint vision of her mother appeared in her mind, agitated and upset.
"Theo! Theo, what’s wrong with you – are you trying to get us all killed? Don’t use the power – you have no protection! It only takes one of them to discover that you can use it alone, and then we're all in danger. These people aren't as stupid or careless as you may think. Theo, child, don't …."
"Mama, just go away and leave me alone," Theo muttered darkly, shutting her out, "I know what I'm doing." Shaking her head, she thought crossly how does she do that -- I can't send ANYTHING to anyone who isn't a Saiyan, and there she is, stuck right in my face ... She gently maneuvered herself mentally until she had the raw power exactly in hand. Manipulating it into coercion, a more refined form, she targeted a large male with ferocious, cascading hair in the middle of the hall. Eyes narrowed, she concentrated her thoughts and focused on a tight beam. A familiar tingle at the back of her mind told her she had overcome his mental defenses and made contact, and suddenly she was seeing the room from a new perspective; her vantage point was higher and several Saiyans were crowded around her, pushed against her body.
Ah, no, not MY body -- his body, she corrected herself. But now it's our body, isn't it? A small smile curved across her mouth, barely touching her unfocused eyes. Standing unnoticed in the alcove, she took a deep breath, tightened her awareness and dove into his mind again.
She was in the Saiyan's mind and he didn't even know it. He couldn't feel her fingertip brushes across his synapses, was insensitive to her subtle manipulations near his emotional centers. Also, he had no idea why his companions suddenly annoyed the hell out of him, so much so that he felt constrained to scream and hit both of them so hard that they sailed across the hall and smashed into the outside wall, sliding slowly toward the floor.
"What the ...?" Other Saiyans turned to see the commotion, a few standing and staring, but most either shouting encouragement to those who were picking themselves out of the concrete wall or jeering and making suggestive comments about the pedigree of each warrior. A circle of curious onlookers was forming around the tall Saiyan that threw them; he was snarling, his tail lashing back and forth. Abruptly screaming another challenge at his opponents, he flew at the closest one and began to beat him unmercifully.
Satisfied, Theo withdrew from him and turned her attention to another large male in the circle of onlookers. A shallow dive into his mind produced the same results; with a slight touch of coercion, this male fell to quarreling with his neighbors almost immediately. Similar dips into their minds created the desired effect; soon the room erupted into one enormous brawl, Saiyans howling and flying everywhere. A muffled 'boom!' sounded, followed by a slight slooshing sound; as Theo squinted between flying Saiyan bodies, she saw that one part of the outside wall had come down, bodies laying in the rubble, a slight dust cloud enveloping everything else.
Good, she thought perversely as she watched the mayhem, feeling enormously satisfied, kill yourselves. Do the rest of the universe a HUGE favor. Smiling slightly she turned to leave, but froze in place when unexpectedly she heard a high, piping voice say:
"You shouldn't do things like that."
Theo stopped breathing, petrified, her eyes wide and staring in front of her. Putting her face into what she hoped was a nonchalant expression, she slowly turned around. There were no adult Saiyans in the vicinity, but as she bent her head in consternation, she found herself facing a diminutive child of no more than five years, watching her from the foot of the stairway. His face was solemn, his arms crossed across his chest and his black eyes stared directly at her, challenging her. If his pronounced widow's peak didn't announce who he was, his unmistakable attitude and the power emanating unconsciously from his small frame did.
Breathe, Theo, breathe, she told herself, shivering. Huge crashing noises sounded from the room behind her as she thought dear Kami, it can't get any worse than this . . . "Prince Vejiita," she murmured, kneeling in front of him, fist to the floor, head bent. ... how much did he feel ... damn, I didn't realize there were Elites here ... oh, damn, damn ...
He walked over to her and touched her bent head lightly, his fingers ruffling through her curly red hair. She looked up into the eyes of the child, eyes that were dark and curious and intelligent, so different from the eyes of others of his race.
"I know you," he said, his eyebrows pulling together slightly, remembering. "My father showed you to me. He said you were that Queen's daughter." He shook his head at her in reproof, deepened his frown and repeated, "You shouldn't do things like that."
"No, my Prince," she murmured, shaking her head in agreement, her mind racing. A child, for Kami's sake -- but a child with the potential power that drives interstellar cruisers just circulating in his body, ready to explode; and obviously the ability to sense chi and the use of chi, no matter how minute. She stared at him in silence, wondering what she was going to do. Theo knew it wouldn't do her any good to deny what they both knew was true - that she used the power, and that she used it without Saiyan intervention. Hopefully, she thought, he won't think too hard about HOW that happened. Does he understand exactly what I did to cause that? do they even play mind games here?…Kami, I hope not …
She could feel his mind questing at hers, probing for an entrance, trying to get past her defenses. Willing herself still, she formed smooth walls around her mind, walls designed to keep out the best the universe could throw at her, designed by her own people against every conceivable threat to their safety. At the same time, she realized, despairing, that no matter how strong her defenses were the Prince could still force contact with her at any time just by using the collar. Maybe he doesn't understand ...
His next statement took her by surprise, and showed exactly how much he truly understood and how sophisticated he really was. He considered her seriously for a moment, then said, "The others of your race that I’ve seen have never done anything like that. They’ve done other things – healing Raditz so he wouldn’t have to go into the tanks, or talking mind to mind with others who were off in the Southern continent – but they only did that when asked, and only with Nappa or my father or other Elites around." The child stopped and looked at her again, frowning. "You’re different. You made all the soldiers fight each other, and they didn’t even want to do it. They didn’t even KNOW they were doing it. I could feel it."
He was silent for a moment, regarding her with his solemn eyes, his arms still folded. "You will teach me how to do that," he announced, nodding his head slightly. "Right now."
The sounds of fighting were still coming from the recreation room behind her; some growling, some shouting, the sound of breaking furniture. Theo was speechless, staring at the little Prince. She blanched, feeling fear right down to her bones. "... I ... what ...?"
"You will teach me how to do that … trick … you did. How to make people do things that they don’t want to do, so that they don’t even know they’re doing it."
Theo swallowed conspicuously, her eyes huge in her face, changing colors from deep violet to strawberry pink and back again as she met the steady gaze of the future Saiyan king. I'm in big trouble now, she panicked. He's only five, and he already reasons better than half his father's army. Aloud she said, "But ... Prince Vejiita ... I can't ...."
Sudden pain bloomed along the right side of her cheek and into her jaw as she found herself sprawled on the stone floor, stunned. The Prince stared down at her dispassionately, then turned his head quickly to the left, drawing his eyebrows together in a royal scowl. Theo pushed herself up, her left hand unconsciously massaging the lower part of her jaw, wiping away a small trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth. Drawing a shaky breath, she drew herself up on her knees, keeping her gaze on the floor. She heard rather than saw the Prince turn back to her; at the same time, she finally heard the faint footsteps that had alerted Vejiita several seconds earlier.
"Look at me," he commanded.
Theo raised her eyes to meet his, appalled that she was humbled by a child centuries younger than she and no taller than her waist. Drawing his black brows together in a credible imitation of his father, Vejiita calmly threatened, "If you won’t teach me how to do it, then I’ll make sure that everyone knows exactly what you just did. Everyone. They’ll be surprised when I say that I didn’t have to help you at all and that Nappa wasn’t even here."
Theo thought quickly. "But you're not supposed to be here, either. Won't you get in trouble?"
Vejiita smiled, a cruel sneer that was worthy of his father. "Not at all. I'm the Prince, and I'm supposed to be exploring. You're not even a Saiyan - you're a slave, and you're supposed to do what we tell you to do. And you didn't," he finished smugly. "You used power without anyone there."
Fear and anger at the insufferable child warred inside Theo's mind, throwing common sense away as she rose to the bait. "How do YOU know I did anything at all?" she hissed sharply, her bright eyes fixed on him. "Maybe you're just making it up."
He looked at her coolly. "It really doesn’t matter," he said. "Once I tell Nappa what happened, he’s going to want to know how you did it, so he’ll come and get you and bring you in front of my father." Smiling at her shocked expression, he continued, "And then you will tell my father and every other Elite in the room exactly how you were able to use the power without one of us there. That will certainly be interesting."
She closed her mouth, biting back a sharp retort, staring at him as he looked calmly back. He was right. When it came down to his word against hers, hers didn't mean a thing. What should I do? she thought frantically, staring at him, hearing footfalls grow heavier and closer.
"That's Raditz coming," Vejiita said matter-of-factly. "Are you going to teach me, or not? Because if you won't do it-" He stopped, waiting patiently for her answer.
"All right, my Prince, yes, I agree - I will teach you," she said quickly, her eyes darting back and forth, her mind screaming are you nuts? have you lost your reason? as she continued, "-but not here. We will need to be away from people so you may concentrate," and so they don't notice what I'm doing, she added to herself. Good Kami, exactly what am I doing?
"Agreed," he said, nodding. "We will start this afternoon. Someone will come for you." He backed away from her a few steps, and said, gesturing, "You may get up now."
..this afternoon?, she thought dumbly as she clambered to her feet, her legs shaking. Sketching a slight bow to the figure on the stairs, Theo turned and automatically trotted away, her breath coming in ragged pants, her mind numb.
Oh Kami, she remembered, aghast, I'm late for training, he's going to ... As she ran down the hallway toward the exercise area, awareness of what just happened caught up with her and her face took on a pinched, frightened look. Mama was right, she thought grimly, they aren't all as stupid as they look ...
Theo came down the hallway at a dead run, numb from her meeting with Vejiita, a large bruise slowly spreading down the right side of her face. She reached the doorway of the exercise area, knocked it open with the flat of her hand and flew through it with hardly a pause, her hair streaming on either side of her face. Her sensei, Takuan, was standing at the opposite side of the area, waiting for her with his arms folded across his chest; his legs planted shoulder width apart, immobile, his body standing squarely in a large shaft of sunlight. Theo scanned the room as she raced in and saw him waiting for her at the far end; his expression immediately made Theo's knees shake and her stomach flip.
Oh great, she groaned inwardly, steeling herself for the worst, just great. It's the regen tank for sure this time - I hope all my teeth grow back.
Theo trotted over to him, keeping her gaze lowered and her face set. She bowed deeply in front of him and sank to her knees on the ground in the shadow, still keeping her gaze to the wooden floor, and waited to be released.
He was annoyed, but he kept himself in check. Several years of working with these Guardians had taught him to go slowly and keep a lid on his impulses and feelings. Even though they were collared, Takuan always had the feeling that they had never been broken. He knew that Theo was psychically strong, and he suspected that had she not been tightly bound to the Saiyans, her inherent rage would surely have destroyed them all. Discipline, he reasoned was the only way to keep her in line; he did his level best to make sure that she never forgot her place on Vejiitasei, as did the few select Elites who worked closely with the Guardians.
A slight pause. "Yes, sir, I am," she responded.
He stood staring at her for a moment, feeling that something was not quite right. Even though she was not in full light, he could see that her posture was correct, her head slightly inclined, her hands lying lightly on her thighs, eyes downcast, tone steady - everything she did conveyed the utmost respect for him. She was breathing quickly, but not anything that was out of the ordinary for someone who had just been running for several minutes. But there was something ...
Takuan moved forward and tapped her shoulder, a signal that she should rise to her feet and prepare for the day's workout. As she slid from a kneeling to a standing position, he suddenly realized what was out of place. She was habitually late, for which he always disciplined her, sometimes more harshly than others - but she was usually self- possessed and restrained. There was something about her manner today that communicated agitation; he couldn't quite place it, but she was totally unsettled, extremely scattered, and not at all her usual self.
Interesting, he thought. "Look at me, woman. Why were you late?" he asked, probing.
She swallowed slightly and blinked. "I ... I was detained by Prince Vejiita," she responded quietly, dropping her eyes.
Prince Vejiita? wondered the Elite. Why would he want to have anything to do with her? Peering more closely at Theo, the Saiyan took her chin in his hand and gently turned her face in profile so that the morning sun lit it. "Oh, I see," he said, amused, as the livid bruise across her cheek and jaw stood out starkly. "You were late because you had a ... conversation ... with our Prince this morning," he said, raising his thick eyebrows at her.
"Yes, sir," she replied hoarsely, her eyes widening imperceptibly as he grasped her bruised cheek with his hand.
Turning her head back to the center and releasing her chin, Takuan smiled nastily and narrowed his eyes. "Tell me, little Princess," he asked pleasantly, "if you had NOT been detained by the Prince, would you still have been late for our session today?" The index and third fingers of his left hand traced a path from her chin down the front of her neck, hooking underneath her golden collar in a gesture that seemed intimate, pushing slightly at the hollow in her throat.
She stared at him for a moment, feeling his fingers slide against her neck and into the choker, making connection with the instrument and thereby accessing her entire internal world. The thought you'd better do something fast unless you want him privy to everything that just happened flashed across her mind and quickly disappeared.
Theo nodded, bobbing her head and moving her neck slightly so that contact was lost. "Yes, sir," she murmured, managing to look totally miserable, "I still would have been late for our session. I am sorry."
His fingers left her throat. "I see," he said, still amused - and hit the left side of her face with his open palm, hard enough to drop her to the floor over a meter away from him. He watched her push herself up off the ground and shake her head, dazed, before she looked over her shoulder and through a curtain of hair at him. Her expression appeared to be calm, but the colors of her eyes were changing at a wild rate, involuntarily showing her fury, and her left hand was clenched into a fist.
Ah, much better - her anger forces her to focus, he thought, watching her. Takuan smiled broadly, his black eyes snapping. "Good - now we will have some fun, won't we, little Princess?" he said grinning, baring his teeth, the tip of his tail flexing around his waist in anticipation. "Get up and come over here, and let's see how much you remember from the last time. And don't be late again."
"Yes, sir," she murmured, flipping her hair out of her face, scrambling to her feet and moving quickly in front of him. Someday you're going to die, you bastard, Theo thought, narrowing her eyes at her sensei, and I'm either going to kill you or laugh while someone else does. That's a promise.
The young Prince stood at the doorway to the recreation room, surveying the damage, his arms folded across his chest armor. His black eyes missed nothing -- the broken wall, the splintered furniture, the subdued second and third class warriors picking themselves up out of the rubble, the embarrassed expressions of the warriors still standing. A strange look crossed his face, almost a mixture of extreme annoyance and admiration. Several Saiyans were pulling others out of the debris, preparing to move them to regeneration tanks, as they had been badly hurt. Raditz was standing at his side, his face expressionless but his eyes showing amused astonishment.
Vejiita walked into the crowd of Saiyan warriors, his diminutive form followed closely by Raditz. Pointing at a large Saiyan with unruly, cascading hair, he demanded, "Tell me that man's name."
Raditz flicked his gaze over the warrior for a moment. "That's Gari," he said indifferently.
"That WAS Gari," Vejiita muttered ominously.
The man was flanked each side by two smaller Saiyans, both whom appeared the worse for wear. Their battle gear had been torn, each had large gashes on their arms and any extra equipment they had been wearing had been smashed to bits.
Everyone hastened to get out of Vejiita's way as he quickly strode over to the taller Saiyan. Stopping directly in front of him, the Prince stared for a moment, saying nothing, and then acidly inquired, "Gari, exactly WHY did you start the fight?"
Realizing who was in front of him, the warrior immediately went down on one knee, his fist to the floor, head bent. "Prince Vejiita," he said in a muffled voice, speaking directly to the slate floor under his fist. His companions instantly followed his lead, as did most of the soldiers in the immediate vicinity.
"Get up," the Prince said shortly, "and answer my question. Why did you start that fight? And make no mistake," he said, a dangerous glint in his eye, "you started it. I know it." Glaring around the room, he continued, "The fact that the rest of you bakas followed him is incredible." He swung back to stare at Gari, power unconsciously swathing his small body. Raditz took a step back.
Gari stared down at him, dumbfounded. "I ... don't know. I was ... they were..." he stopped confused, looking at his companions. They glanced at each other and shrugged their shoulders.
"You don't know why? You destroyed a perfectly good recreation room, and you don't know why?" Vejiita stepped right in front of him and glared, arms akimbo. Raditz smirked at Gari and stood more than a meter away, grinning.
"My Prince, I ... I had no idea that -"
A huge power surge enveloped the Saiyans in the middle of the room, exploding outward in a fiery burst, flattening most of the warriors in its wake. Dust and dirt billowed up from the floor while debris rained down from the ceiling, a large beam sagging and creaking alarmingly. Raditz leaped forward from his position and found the Prince nose to nose with Gari; he had his small hand clasped tightly around the warrior's neck, his other hand clenched in a fist, a blue aura encapsulating it. The larger man was on his knees in front of Vejiita, his armor burned away in several places, clutching his wrist, struggling to breathe.
"You - are - useless!" Vejiita spat at Gari, shaking him then striking him across the face several times with his free hand until the man's head lolled drunkenly about his shoulders. The Prince flung him against the far wall by the doorway and watched as Gari's body impacted with a sickening thud, then slowly slithered to the floor where it remained, motionless. His face impassive, power sliced out of Vejiita's palm and instantly engulfed Gari; moments later, the only thing remaining was a scattered pile of ashes.
The other Saiyans in the room had backed a respectful distance away from the Prince. His black eyes sought out Gari's companions who were trying to appear inconspicuous among the other warriors. "What about you? Or you?" Vejiita continued, stabbing the air with his hand as he pointed at them. "Do you remember why the fight started?"
"I felt something..." one of the men said hurriedly. "Almost as if I had to fight Gari."
"So did I," said the other warrior, standing in front of Vejiita, a stoic expression upon his face. "But I thought it was just because he had thrown me into the wall for no reason."
Vejiita ground his teeth in impatience, almost losing his temper. "WHAT did you feel?" he asked evenly.
The second warrior stared at him, phlegmatic, and thought for a moment. "It itched," he finally said. "My head itched, and then I wanted to fight Gari. I wanted to kill him."
Vejiita stared at him for several moments. Raditz walked noiselessly behind the Prince and took up his usual position, glaring balefully at the circle of warriors around them.
The young Prince started to nod, almost to himself. He turned to the first man attacked by Gari and said, "Well? Did you feel that, too?"
"Yes, sir, I did," the man answered, adopting the impassive demeanor of his colleague.
Vejiita took another look around at the recreation room, now in worse shape than when he arrived. A smirk appeared as his eyes narrowed, looking back at the man who told him his head 'itched.'
"Interesting," he said to himself. Aloud, he drew himself up to his full height and commanded, "Captain-"
"-make sure this mess gets cleaned up. " Speaking to Raditz over his shoulder, he continued, "Come with me and cancel my afternoon training session. I have something else for you to do."
Vejiita walked out of the room, the soldiers bowing in the dust out of respect to the Prince of Vejiitasei and to his enormous raw power. Raditz followed, trailing along in his wake, badly confused. The Prince had never canceled a training session- never in his short life.
"Sir," he said quietly as they moved into the alcove, "are you sure you want me to do that?"
"Oh, yes, Raditz, I'm quite sure," he said, staring through the frosted glass doors into the wreckage of the room. "I'm going to train this morning, but this afternoon I have something completely different in mind." A strange smile, one that was entirely too knowledgeable for any five year old child, moved across his face. He turned to Raditz and said, "I'm going to learn how that was done."
Looking through the frosted glass again, the Prince said, "I want you to bring one of the slave Guardians to me, Raditz. Bring the daughter of the Guardian Queen to me - you know which one she is - you've handled them enough. Bring her to my private training room this afternoon. Oh," he said offhandedly, "bring several other soldiers with you, too. Make sure that they're second class or below."
Expendables, Raditz thought; but, saying nothing, he nodded his head in acquiescence and left the room.
Hours later, she managed to pass through each major area of the palace without so much as a whimper, her head held high, but as soon as she stepped through her own door Theo groaned, "I feel awful." With that, she slammed the door to her quarters and slumped against it, drained; then she dragged herself through main room, each step heavier than the last, her hair straggling into her eyes.
"Have fun with your sensei today?" Stranna asked archly from a corner of the room. Stranna was a statuesque brunette whose eyes were the color of blueberries at the moment, and whose face had the ageless grace of beings capable of living thousands of years. She was wearing a soft blue tunic and free flowing pants, belted at the waist, and was standing next to a large bookshelf, holding several books in her hands.
"Oh, go away and leave me alone," Theo wearily replied, keeping her face averted. Wincing, she made her way to the kitchen, leaned over a corner of the counter for support, grabbed a container of water sitting on the counter and greedily drained it.
"Hey! That belonged to someone, y'know," Stranna said, following her from the front room. "What did he do to you today?" When Theo didn't respond, Stranna moved in front of her and took a good look at her face in the light of the kitchen. Almost immediately she cried out, "Theo! Are you all right? What happened?" The woman's face was a mass of purple bruises; large angry welts covered her forearms. Stranna's arms automatically went out to embrace Theo and examine her face. Theo drew back, flinching, holding her free hand up as if to ward her off.
"Oh, Theo, Theo," Stranna said quietly, patting the younger woman's shoulder and staring at her, "what did he do to you?
"You should ask what didn't he do to me," Theo muttered, not looking at Stranna, slumped against the counter. "And then ask what will he do to me -- because I have to go back to him in about an hour or so."
Stranna looked at her, appalled. "Go back to him? Why?"
"Because," Theo said heavily, "he's punishing me for being a 'wiseass.' Plus for being late every day this week. And," she finished, rubbing her jaw, "he doesn't like my technique." She looked ruefully at Stranna. "Actually, I don't think he likes me very much."
Stranna's eyes raked Theo's bruises professionally. "Hmm ... let's get rid of the worst of them, anyway," Stranna said, delicately placing her hands on either side of Theo's head. Theo gasped, but allowed her to continue. Stranna closed her eyes, concentrating; immediately, Theo felt warmth with almost a slight buzzing sensation coming from the older woman's hands. The warmth penetrated her skin and traveled across her head and into the soft tissues of her face. Theo felt a sharp tingling sensation where the darkest of her facial bruises were as Stranna asked, "What did you say to him to make him do this?" When Theo didn't reply immediately, Stranna asked again, "Well, what was it?"
Theo looked at her from under lidded eyes, and meekly said, "All I did was tell him how he reminded me of my sensei back on Homeland." Her nose felt like it was buzzing.
"But -- you didn't HAVE a sensei on Homeland," Stranna said, suspicious, moving her hands to the back of Theo's neck, pushing her hair to the left side of her face.
Theo sighed, feeling the heat penetrate her sore muscles, then grinned, then winced against the pain in her face. "Well, that's true," she conceded, "but HE doesn't know that. And I told him that, compared with my other sensei, his training was ... barely passable. Possibly adequate. Nothing special."
"What?" Stranna snorted, staring at her, stilling her hands on Theo's neck. Looking at Theo's smile contorted against the pain in her face, she started chuckling and continued working on her neck again. "You told an intolerant, xenophobic Saiyan - an Elite one, at that - that, compared to an outsider, an alien, he was simply adequate?" She shook her head, laughing. "Woman, you've been around me too long. You can't do that and not expect some type of reaction - no wonder you look the way you do. Your tongue gets you into more trouble than any five people I know ..." With that, she gave a last squeeze to Theo's neck and stepped back, pursing her lips as she examined Theo once more.
"It was pretty funny," admitted Theo, her eyes sparkling with mirth, remembering how Takuan looked when she dropped that bomb on him. But oh, Kami, what he did after that ... She reached up to rub her neck, pushing other kinks out of it. "Thanks, Aunt Stranna."
"I'm not finished yet," Stranna said, lightly clasping Theo's wrist with long fingers and peering at the marks on Theo's forearms. "These are nasty. You're lucky he didn't break your arms. You should probably go soak in the bath for a little while before you have to go out again - I can heal the other major stuff while you're there ..."
"Healing? Is that what you're doing in here?" a familiar voice called. Yisador, Theo's mother and the Matrix Queen, pushed her way purposefully into the kitchen, her eyes distracted and worried. She was a slight, older woman with a careworn face, wisps of gray tangled with honey red hair pulled to the back of her neck and fastened with a large golden clasp. At the moment, her eyes appeared to be uncompromising, steel gray bullets, ant trained themselves on the two women in front of her.
"Who's - good Kami, Theo, what happened to you?" she exclaimed, shocked, staring at her daughter's face. Theo opened her mouth to explain, but Yisador rushed on, holding up her hand to stop her, a peculiar expression playing around her eyes. "Never mind. You'll have to tell me later - because there's an Elite coming over here to collect you."
"What?" Theo asked, the color draining from her face.
Her mother nodded. "I just received word. He's coming from the King's wing, and he's on his way here to collect you. Not just any Guardian, but you in particular." She frowned, her eyes still searching Theo's. "He'll be here in about 2 minutes. You have that long to tell me why he's coming, so get started."
Theo opened her mouth and closed it again, suddenly very afraid to say anything at all.
Yisador and Stranna were looking at her expectantly. "Well?" prompted Stranna, nudging her gently with a long finger. "Do you know why he's coming for you?"
Theo nodded, still looking at them with huge eyes, saying nothing.
"WELL?" Yisador said, exasperated, "...are you going to tell us anytime soon?"
Theo swallowed. I have to tell them, she thought, frightened, but they're going to be so angry ... "He's coming for me because -" and Theo's face had a odd, twisted look, "-because -," and she finished in a rush, "-because the Prince felt me use the power this morning alone, without any moderator." She stared at the floor, clutching her hands together.
Stranna and Yisador stood, staring at her in shocked silence. Theo took a deep breath and continued.
"And that's not all. The Prince," she said in a frightened whisper, "he ... he made me promise to teach him how ... how to use ... coercion. And he said he'd send for me this afternoon."
Her mother was the first to recover. She leaned over and grabbed Theo's shoulders, her eyes snapping in anger. "Explain this to me, Theo," she said tightly, her teeth bared. "Explain very slowly and carefully in one minute what happened."
"I was passing the west side rec room ... and I saw Saiyans, lots of them, just relaxing with each other." Tears threatened to spill from her eyes, but she held back with an effort and continued. "I ... I hated seeing them that way ... they were so happy,, it wasn't fair! ... so I stopped ... and I..." and she gulped, but continued, " ... I ... ah ... I went into their minds ... and made them fight with each other."
Stranna shook her head and made a disgusted sound in her throat. As soon as Yisador heard that, she closed her eyes and shook her own head in resignation, her hands gripping Theo's shoulders. "How many? How many minds did you breech, Theo?"
"Enough of them," Theo replied miserably. "Enough of them so that they trashed the west side rec room. They even broke through one of the outside walls." She looked at Yisador imploringly as she stared back, incredulous. "They didn't know what happened, but... but he did. I didn't know ... he was standing right behind me the entire time, and I had no idea... he ... they ... they're not supposed to be able to sense anything that low!"
"This is what I've been trying to tell you and everyone else for months - they aren't as stupid as they appear, especially the Elites. They're much more intelligent and sensitive to chi than most of us believe." Yisador folded her arms across her chest and groaned to herself. Now what are we going to do? she wondered.
Heavy footsteps pounded outside, and the door swung open. A large Saiyan with enormous hair and black eyes stood framed in the doorway for a moment, then walked inside the room.
"Don't you knock?" Stranna angrily asked as she tramped into the main room and stared up at the Saiyan. "Where are your manners?"
He cocked an eyebrow at her. "I don't need to knock at a slave's door," he replied. "You have no property. In fact, you ARE property." He looked around the room. "Where's the brat Princess? The Prince wants to see her now."
The small figure was standing by the doors leading to the tiny garden, apparently unwilling to close and bolt them as was required when training. The room itself was shielded extremely well from the high-energy discharge of chi blasts, but shielding didn't work when the doors were open. The afternoon sun was slanting down through the sparse trees, causing a shimmer of heat to rise from the flagstones ringing the building.
He was standing there, his arms crossed characteristically and his tail lashing slowly back and forth behind him, staring at nothing, deep in thought. A pensive frown creased his forehead.
"Sire?" a voice called behind him. "Prince Vejiita?"
The figure turned its head, looking into the room. A child's face with warrior eyes looked ominously at the soldier who interrupted his reverie; the soldier inwardly flinched, but showed perfect control to his prince. The fact that the Prince was all of five years old did not appear to make any difference to the soldier in the least; no matter what age, the heir to Vejiitasei was accorded the respect and courtesy due the members of the royal house. The fact that the child was a prodigy in both mind and body helped solidify the rumors whispered about him, that he was the incarnation of the legendary Super Saiyan, and that alone insured his treatment by other Saiyans as adult.
Vejiita watched the soldier without inviting him into the room. "What is it?" he snapped.
The soldier bowed to Vejiita and said, "Sire, Raditz requested that my squad attend you this afternoon." He stopped, waiting for Vejiita to comment. When he didn't, the soldier continued, "They are outside the door, and we await your command." He bowed his head, waiting.
"Bring them in," he ordered, "and have them stay at the far side of the room." As the soldier complied, the child Prince sized up each warrior as they entered the room. Good -- no Elites there, he thought, satisfied. It should be quite a surprise for everyone. His mouth quirked as he thought about his idea again, turning it over in his mind.
He remembered his father saying "every encounter with a Guardian turns into a contest of wills. It usually comes down to what WILL you require the female to do, and what WILL she do before ending up in the regen tank."
"If they're so obstinate," Vejiita remarked to the King offhandedly, "why do you tolerate them?"
The King stared coldly at his son. "Pay attention during briefings, brat, and you might learn something. Don't waste my time asking questions any simpleton knows!"
However, the truth was far from simple when it came to that bizarre race of women. Prince Vejiita was young, but even he could see his father's discomfiture whenever anyone mentioned the Guardians. It was odd, he mused - they certainly were a curiosity, a race of weak females that by all accounts had been hidden on that rock for generations, before the Saiyan's 'liberated' equipment picked up their telltale mental signature. As soon as he saw that signature, the King ordered that all the inhabitants of that rock be 'relocated' to the palace on Vejiitasei, which the Saiyans did with some measure of difficulty. The Guardians were not anxious to leave their planet, no matter how inhospitable it appeared to be, and they put up some resistance - that is, until the Elite warriors started slapping collars on every Guardian in sight. Then they had some margin of peace.
And that curious mental signature ... if the woman from this morning was any indication, they were certainly more powerful and much more clever than anyone had previously thought. She started that brawl without any hesitation, he thought. She played trained soldiers against each other so well that an entire squad ignored years of training and fought each other inside the palace walls, never realizing who the enemy truly was.
He shook his head in disbelief. It had been pure luck that he discovered what she was doing, and nothing more. But that peculiar power he felt while he was speaking to her, the power that pulled at his own chi ... that power was potentially the largest he had ever felt, and he had to find it again. To vanquish it - to make it his own - to bend it to his will - to master it totally. He would control it utterly; he was the Prince of Vejiitasei, and his will was law.
Or it will be, he thought wryly. The woman's power would be his to control, but direct methods such as his father's seemed ineffective. He needed to be more circumspect, subtler.
Her thoughts had been as loudly broadcasted that morning as her chi. She thinks Saiyans are stupid, Vejiita thought, scowling at the garden again. We'll see if she still believes that this afternoon...
Peering discreetly out the kitchen door, Yisador watched Stranna distract Raditz. Thank Kami for you, she sent quickly to Stranna. Keep him occupied as long as you can - I must make Theo understand what we need to do.
It's not going to last long, Stranna shot back quickly. Hurry. Aloud, she demanded, "Why would you need to see the Princess, Raditz? She's not your type." Yisador watched as Stranna tossed her long, dark hair over her shoulder and glared at the burly Saiyan, her chin pushed out as her lip curled in a very unladylike snarl.
Yisador took a deep breath and turned back to Theo, a worried, stretched expression causing her eyes to stand out starkly. "All right - there's not much time, so this has to be quick. He has come for you, as I said."
Theo bit her lip and clamped her mouth shut, nodding and attentive.
"Listen." Yisador kept her voice low and spoke rapidly, her eyes repeatedly darting toward the closed door. "We cannot allow the Saiyans to comprehend what we can do. If that happens, we are lost - all of us, every single one, no exception. Do you understand?" Her eyes flashing fire, she leaned toward Theo and hissed, "If you understand nothing else, then understand this. They will have no mercy towards us - none. We will be shackled to them as surely as the sun rises each day, and we will be forced to serve them; and not just with our bodies, either. Given enough time, they'd discover our TARDIS ... and if they ever find out about you..."
Theo shuddered and clenched her hands together in her lap impotently.
Yisador pursed her lips. "Exactly. That is why we cannot allow the Prince to learn how to manipulate the power. At all." She took a deep breath, her small frame pulled together as tightly as a spring, her eyes a deep, snapping indigo as she frowned at Theo. "I don't believe he can, anyway - the Saiyans appear to be built for using 'brute force,' while our way is much more indirect -- so I don't believe he'd be successful even if he tried. However, if he gets even the slightest suspicion how it's done, we won't be able to contain him - he's much too strong."
"Yes, I know," Theo murmured, absently rubbing her neck under her curly hair, remembering the morning.
"Thank Kami you understand, then," Yisador said with undisguised relief. "I was afraid ... well, never mind. Here's what we have to do - we need to monitor your mind while you are with him." Yisador raised one tanned, lined hand against Theo's immediate objections, saying severely, "We're going in, and you're going to allow it. Period. Don't even open your mouth against it."
"Fine," Theo said, subdued. "I'll do whatever I have to do." Something horrible is going to happen, I can feel it ...
"Theo, we've all been through this before," her mother replied subvocally, looking beyond the kitchen to where Raditz stood. "This way he will never be able to tell your true mental signature - it will be mixed up with mine and whomever else was there."
"Don't you think that if he could sense me coercing other Saiyans that he could feel you, too?"
"No. Coercion has its own power signature; farsensing is light, and hardly leaves any residue. The only thing we're going to do is open a channel -- we won't be adding any power to yours."
"What do you mean -- ?" Theo looked at her mother, disturbed. "There's going to be--"
Her mother's eyes widened in warning, and Theo closed her mouth quickly and turned around. The entry to the kitchen was suddenly filled with a Saiyan, and an annoyed one at that. Raditz pushed his was into the small room, his bulk straining through the doorway and dwarfing everything else around him. The scowl that crossed his face became deeper as he squeezed through the door and saw Theo staring at him.
He folded his arms and snorted at her, his eyebrows drawing together fiercely. "I have orders. You're coming with me," he said harshly to Theo, scowling.
"Fine, fine," she shrugged halfheartedly, her heart sinking.
"Can't you even say 'hello?'" Yisador complained, moving next to Theo protectively. "You've been here enough times; you know ALL of us. Is it such a crime to knock at someone's door and say, 'Yisador, I've come to collect your daughter?' Well?"
Raditz looked at her with weary tolerance and said, "I've been through this already. I do not owe you an explanation for anything that I do or that any other Saiyan does. I think," he said, grabbing the back of Yisador's neck, pulling her away from Theo and looming over her, "that what YOU should consider is how forgiving of your insubordinate attitude I am, and how someone else might not be so lenient." He punctuated his short speech with several well-timed shakes, enough to set her teeth on edge, then pushed her to the other side of the room. She stumbled and caught herself at the edge of the counter, then turned toward him, glaring a mixture of defiance and fear.
Raditz looked Theo up and down, an appraising glint in his eyes. "What happened to you?" the Saiyan asked suspiciously, nodding his head at her face.
"Nothing," she muttered, looking down at the floor. "Just training. I'm ready to go anytime you are."
Raditz took her chin in his hand and tipped her head up, then moved it from side to side. "Takuan is your sensei, isn't he? He usually has a little more ... restraint ... than this," he observed. "What did you do to him to stir him up? Or was it something you said?"
"It was nothing," Theo said, her voice becoming more irritated by the moment. "... Really, I didn't do anything ... it was just -" She gasped as Raditz's hand found the front of her collar and pushed in firmly.
"No, Raditz, there's no need -" started Yisador quickly, glancing at Theo's white face.
"You don't have to-" said Stranna simultaneously with Yisador, pushing her head through the kitchen door, thinking oh no, no, Theo...
"Wha ... what are you..." Theo gulped, her hands flexing at her sides. A lesson she had painfully learned when she was first collared was that a Guardian didn't try to pluck a Saiyan's hands off her collar. Not only did their hands not 'pluck,' they became extremely annoyed and usually shot a small blast of chi into the collar. Very unpleasant.
"Drop the attitude -- when I ask you a question, the only thing I want you to do is answer. I said," Raditz repeated evenly, pulling her closer to him with the collar, his thumb and forefinger hooked around the front, "what did you do or say to him to stir him up?"
Immediately Theo's eyes clouded as her voice responded, "I told him that compared to my trainer on Homeland he was strictly second rate - and that was saying something since my trainer there was a flying bug."
Both Stranna and Yisador goggled at her. "Really?" Raditz drawled, an interested grin pulling at the corners of his mouth, again tugging gently at the front of the collar. "And what else did you tell him?"
An expression of pure horror was in her eyes as her voice obediently said, "That if he was training me to walk a straight line on the pavement, he was barely adequate; but if he ever expected me to do anything else, he might want to consider taking lessons in how to train other people. That is, of course, after he had his scheduled operation to remove his head from his backside."
Stranna's eyes grew gigantic; her breath hissed in, she clapped a hand over her mouth and turned her back to the Saiyan, her shoulders shaking uncontrollably. Yisador stared in utter disbelief at her daughter, her mouth gaping open. Raditz stared at her for a moment, then threw back his head and roared with laughter, laughing so hard that he relaxed his grip on her collar and released her. Theo stumbled back a few paces, one hand automatically going to her neck and rubbing the sensitive skin under the choker, the other covering her mouth in consternation. Oh dear Kami I can't believe he made me do that ....
Stranna turned back to look at Theo, her eyes streaming, her shoulders still shaking in uncontrollable hysterics. She was still trying to collect herself when Yisador, her face black with anger, hissed at her, "Are you insane? Do you have a death wish?"
Theo shook her head at her mother vehemently in denial, protesting, "No, Mama, you don't understand ... it just came out ... he was goading me ... I didn't mean-"
Raditz turned to her, still laughing, and clamped a large hand over her wrist. "Come on, little Princess, let's go. Let's not keep the Prince waiting." He was still chuckling and shaking his head as he started to drag her out the kitchen door into the main room, pushing Stranna out of his way with his other arm. "I wish I could've seen Takuan's face - it must have been priceless! ' ... after his scheduled operation...' You've got nerve, girl. You're lucky that's all he did to you." He cocked an eyebrow at her. "Although, if I were you, I don't think I'd say something like that to the Prince. King Vejiita may have told everyone else that killing you people was off limits, but exceptions for the Prince have been made in the past."
"Wait!" Yisador called, hurrying into the main room after them. "Raditz, shouldn't we come and-"
"Absolutely not," the big Saiyan said affably, pushing Theo out the door with a large hand. "You people make me nervous enough when you're together. One Guardian on the loose around here is plenty for me. I don't have any orders about either of you, so you two are going to stay put. That means," he said, turning to face both Yisador and Stranna, his arms folded across his chest and the familiar Saiyan smirk on his face, "that I directly forbid either of you to leave your quarters unless you are sent for by one of the Elite - that'd include your sensei, or me, or anyone else who might want to see your face. So don't try to follow us. Stay here." He looked out the door at Theo, who was standing quietly outside, waiting for him, then back to the other women. "Understand?"
"Yes, " Yisador said, looking straight at him, pulling Stranna next to her. "We understand. We won't move from our quarters." Stranna said nothing, just glowered at him.
He snorted. "Good. I recall that you like staying in the regen tanks even less than your daughter does, Yisador. Make sure you remember that, too."
Yisador walked to the doorway and watched Raditz hustle Theo away from the apartment and toward the royal quarters, dragging her unceremoniously by her wrist, her shorter legs trying to keep up with the strides of the Saiyan.
Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "Not for much longer, Saiyan," she said softly to herself. "Enjoy life while you can."
Raditz walked into the training center, dragging Theo by her arm. Initially she had trotted along next to him, trying to keep up; however, the closer and closer they drew to the training room door, the more she tried to cower and pull away from the inevitable.
It's wrong, it's wrong, it's all wrong, she thought, petrified, the moment she stepped into the training room and saw the Prince of Vegiitasei watching her from the far wall. He's a child, but not a child - he's evil incarnate, she thought, horrified, drawing back from Raditz's large hand. No child has eyes like that; cold, hard, flinty. No child had that quiet air of command that seemed to emanate so naturally from the Elite warriors, and no child had that huge power aura following them wherever they went. The mind and spirit of Vejiita was totally out of place in a small child's body.
Mama, I can't do this, I can't, she thought, intimidated, still staring at the Saiyan Prince.
Of course you can, Theo, her mother replied stubbornly. You can do this - but you must remember that he isn't truly a child, at least not in the way you think of a child. His kind ship their young off planet as infants, and those 'infants' are mature enough to destroy entire world populations before other species come to 'claim' their prize. They learn to take care of themselves fairly quickly.
Peering at him discretely, she thought he has no innocence as regular children do, but - oh Kami - he's one of the smartest people of his rank - and that scares me to death.
Watching her from across the room, the Prince saw and was grimly amused by Theo's feelings of anger, fear, and cold anticipation. It was clear that Raditz had to shove her into the room and then push her forward toward him. She was obviously enraged at the way Raditz treated her by the angry fashion her eyes moved over him; but once she saw Vejiita, her entire manner changed. He saw the fear that flickered in her eyes when she looked at him, immediately replaced by a blandness he knew she didn't feel; her saw her unease when she saw the soldiers at the opposite end of the hall and then realized why they were there. He felt something else in her manner, something else that defied description save that she was anticipating something happening. She thinks she has a surprise for me, Vejiita thought, smirking. Wait until she sees the surprise I have for her.
Something bothered him; something felt like it was buzzing around his head, trying to keep him from thinking clearly. He scowled, trying to pinpoint exactly where - his eyes slid over to Theo, whose attention was captured again by the soldiers at the opposite end of the room. It didn't start until she walked into the room, he thought, and now-
"Bring that woman to me now," he said dangerously, standing with his feet planted firmly apart, his tail tucked around his waist.
Instinctively Theo shrank back against Raditz; strong hands held her forearms as he hissed in her ear, "Didn't your sensei beat any manners into you? You NEVER turn your back on the Prince, and you NEVER try to leave once you have been called - now behave, or I will beat you senseless!"
She gasped as he pushed her forward, toward Vejiita. Her feet started moving on their own accord, and she quickly found herself standing in front of the little Prince.
"Kneel, baka!" Raditz thumped her on her shoulders, which had the direct response of pushing her to her knees in front of the child. He stood in front of her and stared, eye to eye, until she was thumped again on the shoulder by Raditz; at that point, spots of color appeared on her cheekbones and she dropped her gaze to the floor.
If I find there is anyone else in your mind except you and me, you'll sincerely regret it unexpectedly popped into her mind with amazing clarity. Theo gasped again and looked up, straight into Vejiita's eyes. The Prince said nothing - he simply looked at her, waiting. In that instant she understood that he would not tolerate any of the mind games her mother loved to play.
Get out of my mind, Mama, unless you'd like to see me reduced to so much mush on the floor in front of the Prince.
Theo felt a whisper light presence sigh across her mind and vanish. Apparently the Prince felt something too, as he cocked an eyebrow at her and inquired sarcastically, "Are we alone now?"
Not trusting herself to speak, Theo nodded, looking again at the floor.
"Good," he replied, satisfied with her demeanor, "because I want to start working - we've wasted enough time as it is."
She was sweating, cold rivulets trickling down the sides of her face and between her shoulder blades, more from tension and fear than anything else. It was hard trying to teach the Prince and not get blasted into oblivion; he was an apt student, but had little patience for errors, either hers or his, and she had to be extremely careful with her tone - not too pushy, not too weak. He had already shouted and knocked her to the floor several times for perceived slights, which she had to take without a murmur of dissent, and now her head was throbbing unmercifully. Looking at Raditz's lowered brow, she realized with a sigh that the moment this 'training' was over, he would more than likely pick up where Takuan left off. Her muscles felt sore just from thinking about it.
Frowning, she turned her attention to Vejiita again. He's no child, she thought ruefully as she monitored his use of power, he's the devil's spawn. But at least Mama was right about this - they certainly aren't wired to use power as we do, and that's a good thing. Images of large Saiyans wielding power the way she did made her shudder.
"Pay attention, woman." A sharp jerk was given to the front of her collar, and she found herself nose to nose with the Prince. His thumb and forefinger were wrapped around the circlet of gold and pressed into the hollow of her neck. "What were you thinking about?"
"What it would be like if Saiyans were able to use the power in the manner I'm showing you," she responded immediately, her eyes clouded.
A smirk crossed his face, drawing one side of his mouth up. "And what did you think about that?" he asked.
"I was afraid," she replied, her body barely suppressing a shiver.
He grinned, a wolfish expression on his face. "Good," he said, pleased. "That's the first intelligent thing I've heard you say all day." He released her, pushing her away from him. "Now tell me why this isn't working."
She sighed, diving into his mind again, checking the connections and synapses. You must draw the power from this area, she indicated, and it is transmuted over here. She carefully picked her way across, insuring that she left no residue of her own power for him to find, and performed a controlled power transfer using the barest minimum, and left that residual for him to manipulate.
"Try to have the soldiers walk over to the second window," she suggested.
An expression of extreme concentration crossed his face, but nothing happened at the opposite end of the room. Theo could see that he was trying several times, but apparently the Saiyan's telepathic ability to talk mind to mind could not help him with power transfer. His eyes darkened and his eyebrows drew together, while a small vein started throbbing on his forehead.
"This isn't working again," he growled at Theo, black eyes staring at her accusingly. "YOU do it this time - I'm going to watch."
Theo felt extremely uncomfortable with that, as this meant the Prince would need to be inside her mind while she manipulated the emotions of the soldiers, and she did not like that prospect one bit. However, there was absolutely nothing she could do about that, unless she wanted to end up in a regen tank sooner than later - and he had already made it abundantly clear that should she refuse to do something, they would "discuss" it until she finally acquiesced.
Nodding her head in agreement, she pushed stray curls away from her eyes, cleared a pathway and invited him into her mind. Be careful, Theo, a small voice warned her in the back of her mind. He's up to something.
Feh, I can handle him, she thought confidently. I just won't allow him access to everything ...
"Woman, can't you use more power?"
She grit her teeth and continued with the coercion lesson, trying to ignore the insistent tapping on her mental walls. This Prince is more irritating that I ever would have believed, she thought grimly. I can't wait to get him out of here.
Theo was working with the power, converting it to coercive potential and using it on the soldiers at the far side of the room. However, she refused to draw large amounts of power into herself; she knew she didn't need to use that much, and she didn't want the Saiyan in her mind to understand exactly how much she could handle. Besides, she was hoping he would get bored soon and release her; Saiyans had a notoriously short attention span, which was cut even shorter by low power displays.
She minutely increased her coercive potential, but felt his irritation with her increase. Good, she thought angrily, maybe you'll leave me alone now. Aloud she said, "There's only so much that I can do with this kind of power."
"Use more of it. I'm giving you permission to do so," he said, nodding.
"But sir, what exactly do you want them to do?" she asked in exasperation, gesturing at the soldiers at the far end. "I mean, my using more power won't make them DO anything more. If they have no natural inclination to sprout feathers, I can't make them do that. I can only strengthen something that's already in their mind, not create something that isn't there." And considering they're Saiyans, there's not much in their minds to begin with, she thought maliciously.
Her last thought penetrated her defensive wall. Vejiita looked at her, angry again. "I'm not so sure that you're telling me the truth."
The pit of her stomach turned to ice. Her eyes, once a deep purple, started to change to a slate blue and then to maroon as she looked at him and whispered, "Prince Vejiita, I swear that everything I've told you is absolutely true. There's only so much I can do with ... with coercion." She braced herself for the inevitable blow, convinced he was going to brutalize her again. "I don't know what else you want me to do ..."
"I want you to use more power," he responded evenly, "and I want you to do it now." Theo was on her knees next to the Prince. Walking behind her, Vejiita placed his hands gently around her neck -
-- Dear Kami he's going to murder me, she thought, terrified --
--and manipulated a small amount of chi into her collar so that it came off cleanly in his hands. She twisted around to look at him, her hand at her throat, astonished, as he carefully repeated, "Use more power, and do it now."
Sire, Raditz sent to him, aghast, are your sure you want to do this? He appeared quite ready to leap at Theo and break her neck, if necessary.
Quite sure, Raditz, he replied agreeably. If she gets out of hand, I can handle her.
How ... why ... my collar is gone, she thought incoherently, staring at the little Prince. He seemed to be waiting patiently for her to do something ...
"My patience isn't unending, Guardian," he said, giving her an unblinking stare. "I still haven't seen or felt you do anything that approaches what happened this morning. The removal of this," he said, swinging the collar around one finger like a rubber band, "should help you find what you're missing. So get started." He stood next to her, his arms folded, and waited.
Well, alrighty then, she thought, her mind racing through probable scenarios. If I don't have to worry about feedback ... ah, does he know what he's just done? Apparently not! A fierce joy surged along her nerves as she thought this idiot has no clue ... Her eyes appeared to be solid black, mirroring his, and she stared at him savagely. Power started to pour into her like a river as she called it, power that filled her every fiber with potential. His eyes widened as he felt the rush and saw her face ...
... now you're going to die, you ...
Suddenly the door to the training room was flung open and several Elite warriors poured through, staring wildly around the room until their eyes lit on the tableau by the windows. "The Prince! The Prince is in danger!" one of them screamed, vaulting at Theo from the door. "She will kill him! She will kill us all! You must DIE!"
She whirled her head around and saw the warriors charging toward her, instantly realizing they intended to dismember her at the very best. A long-forgotten instinct for self-preservation welled up from her unconscious mind as she reached out and rapidly shifted reality for herself-
The Elite in front of her appeared to be motionless, as if by magic. Theo focused her range to pinpoint their center, trying to lock onto each mind in the morass they called 'personality,' snarling ...
Ah, here we are, she thought, inserting herself simultaneously in each warrior's head. Their minds were easily opened; all it took was a light application of coercion, applied to the forefront of the brain and to their hormonal codes, so that they was awash in endorphins and easily confused ...
A hideous expression twisted across her face as her eyes narrowed, her lip curled and her right arm reached out in an ugly, clawlike position, palm up. Her mind stayed linked with each mind of the doomed Elites as she whispered one word to them, one word mind to mind, the only word she ever wanted to apply to Saiyans:
...and her consciousness expanded exponentially with a rush of power and speed never seen, fear and hatred and loathing against Saiyans pushing it far, far beyond its previous limits. It blossomed like dayflowers, filled the ether and kept growing, threatening to overwhelm everything in its path as it swelled, unchecked. Fierce joy at this release drew her lips back in a snarl and spun her mind to a distant dream plane draped with strings, many thousands of strings bundled together in front of her face, hanging from huge disks gathered in the sky. Several strings were stained red, pulsing lightly, dangling just out of a comfortable reach. Theo growled, leaned forward and *twisted* each out of its disk, roots ripping as they crumbled, the light, pulsing power washed out, turning black, the string crumbling and becoming dust in her hands.
"Die, you bastards," she hissed, vaguely pleased, feeling that she had just accomplished something. "Just die."
An odd sensation in the back of her head jolted her back to her own plane of reality. Images washed in front of her, dizzyingly fast, pulling nausea with it, forcing her back to the training room. As her vision cleared, she started and stared at the scene in front of her. Several large Saiyan warriors, a few she recognized as Elites, lay motionless on the floor, sprawled in such a position as to suggest that they had simply collapsed in mid-leap and died. Raditz was hurtling across the room toward them, anger and incredulity warring to gain the upper hand; the other soldiers were frozen at the back of the room, staring.
But this isn't right, she thought, puzzled, there's something missing ... She turned her head and was shocked to the core of her being when she found herself staring into the child Prince's dark, calm, fathomless eyes, a hand's span away from her cheek.
That was an interesting demonstration -- one that I won't soon forget.
Theo's world froze. All the pretense of the past years had been thrown away in an instant. You're ...we're ... linked, she thought weakly, despondently, fear moving its fingers across her body, making her grow cold. Oh dear Kami ... all this time ...you were...
He smiled gently, his eyes cold, his expression belonging to the face of an adult warrior, not a child. We are linked in more ways than one, Guardian. I know you now, down to your soul. You belong to me.
It was true, she thought, a dreadful weight crushing her spirit. Her carefully constructed facades had been stripped away in an instant, leaving her naked in front of the one individual who could not only appreciate but could control that awesome power of hers. In desperation she realized the collar's not on, Kami it's now or never ... Frantically she pulled as much raw power as she could into herself-
- only to be caught in a backwash of frightening pain. Flames of fire were licking around her neck, burning her head, boring through her eyes back into her brain; her hands and arms were ablaze as well, and she faintly heard someone screaming, a long, high keening sound that refused to stop - odd, she thought, as she plummeted into blackness.
Raditz was staring at her, stretched out on the tiles, the upper part of her body a mass of angry red burns, her face and hair singed, having been caught in the conflagration caused when her collar overloaded. Almost the entire top of her tunic had been burned away, exposing her arms and chest to the open air. The Prince was standing there as well, looking at her with a contemplative gaze.
"Take her to the regen tanks, Raditz," he said. "I want her healed, and healed quickly."
Raditz grunted and hauled her off the floor, her head flopping against his chest, her arms hanging limply down.
Vejiita walked over to Raditz to look at her face, her eyebrows almost gone. He nodded as he regarded her, his cunning, intelligent eyes lingering on the almost-molten piece of metal looped uselessly around her neck. "You are more dangerous than we thought," he said, touching the broken collar. "I don't think we'll be taking you out anytime soon."
"It was well you snapped the collar back on when you did, Sire," Raditz said to him as he turned toward the door. "Otherwise that power buildup would have killed us all."
"Not all of us, Raditz," the Prince said scornfully, turning his back on him. But most of us, he silently added.
An eerie silence hung over the apartment complex that housed many of the Guardians. While there weren't too many of them on Vejiitasei at all - only 46 of them had been captured by the Saiyans - they were usually social and busy, cleaning, chatting and bustling about, making things as bearable as they could for themselves. Saiyans usually did not take prisoners on their planet raiding forays; the normal procedure was to 'sterilize' the chosen planet of its indigenous sentient life forms. Natives on these planets that tried to fight for their homes and families were squashed as quickly as possible, and those deemed annoying enough were treated to visits from Saiyan Oozuru. Any captives taken during these times were usually for entertainment purposes; slaves were brought back to Vejiitasei only if they were deemed strong enough to withstand the lifestyle and demands of the King.
When the Guardians were brought to Vejiitasei, however, it was made abundantly clear that they were NOT to be used as personal household slaves. The King had them placed in special quarters in the palace, loosely grouped together, and insured that they were kept as busy as any other slaves. They were assigned positions in the infirmary and the research labs, places where their formidable intelligence could be put to productive work; these were also places that were staffed by mostly Elites, and because of what happened when they were initially relocated, only Elites were permitted to have any contact with them. The King had also decided several years into their captivity that they were simply wasting away and needed regular exercise, so he commanded that each was to be paired with a sensei and trained to the best of their ability. The Saiyans established what they euphemistically called a "training program" for them. It was, ostensibly, supposed to increase the Guardian's physical strength and agility - many of them, however, saw it as punitive in the extreme, and felt the Saiyans kept it just to reinforce the your-neck-is-under-my-boot-and-it's-going-to-stay-that-way idea.
That was the feeling that had permeated the compound of late, the feeling that the Saiyans were just looking for an excuse to punish a Guardian - any Guardian. The news about Theo swept through the little community like wildfire; indeed, many Guardians had actually heard her final agonizing shriek, as she broadcast involuntarily to Guardian minds everywhere before she passed out and weren't surprised. They simply wondered why it had taken so long to happen.
Most of them had the good sense to continue on with their day as if nothing had happened, because in the minds of their 'employer,' nothing had happened. Saiyans had the potential for psi sensitivity, but the talent was dormant in most of the population. Because they had no use for power other than for its destructive potential, they scorned any low power usage as childish and ignored twinges and tweaks that might have alerted them to other possible problems.
But that was exactly what the Guardians were doing that bleak afternoon - communicating with each other, using the 'twinges' and 'tweaks' of low wave emission power transfer to talk about Theo and what they were going to do now that their little secret was out. Most of them felt scared to death; the fact that Theo had manipulated power in front of an Elite - the little Prince, no less - was enough to send them over the edge, declaring that they knew what Beryan, Theo and Stranna had been doing, and that any planned escape attempt would need to be NOW. Those Guardians working in the infirmary almost fainted when Raditz stalked in, carrying Theo's limp, burned body in his arms.
"Take care of this thing," he said distastefully, thrusting Theo at the physicians. "The Prince wants her healed, and healed quickly. See to it."
Oshinko, the lead physician, glared at him. "Put it over there," he responded contemptuously, jerking his thumb at an empty stainless steel table. "And you!" he barked at a young Guardian standing next to a small console. "Get over there and start preparing it for one of the tanks." Turning back to the Saiyan, he said, "Don't go anywhere yet, Raditz. First you have to tell me - WHAT are you people gawking at? Get to WORK!" he yelled, distracted, staring over his shoulder at the rest of the staff. The Saiyans in the group turned and cuffed the younger ones, who swatted the slaves before they turned and left the room. "-you have to tell me what to do with the collar," he said in a lower voice, sneaking a look over to the slab where her body was being prepared for the tanks. "I have others," Oshinko continued, "but if what I think happened -there's only one collar that would be suitable for this one."
"Fine, old man," Raditz said sardonically, grimacing. "Use whatever you think is right. Just make sure that it's big enough. And tight enough. That thing's not coming off of her, ever."
"It's right here ...," Oshinko said, unlocking a drawer and pawing through it.
While the Saiyans were sniping at each other the young Guardian scurried over to the long table where Raditz had placed Theo, dragging a small metal cart with surgical implements, gauzes and ointments with her. She yanked her shoulder length red hair back from her face with impatient hands, knotting it behind her neck, exposing a sharp, angular face with color-shifting, violet eyes. The woman tended to Theo, cutting away the rest of Theo's clothes, her sure, nimble fingers gently massaging salve onto her burns. An expression of suppressed rage crossed her face as she clenched her teeth, silently working over Theo, smoothing salve over her blistered face, taping and fastening monitors on several parts of her body, trying to measure her vital signs.
Damn these Saiyans to every hell imaginable, she thought furiously, cutting more burnt clothing and skin away from under Theo's right arm. If I could, I'd ...
Beryan ... Beryan, how is Theo? The thought snaked into her mind, just under the sensing threshold of the Saiyans.
Covertly glancing over at the Saiyans while she worked, Beryan responded, she is alive, but barely. If we don't get her into the tank soon, her body is going to start to regenerate. She was totally unsurprised that Yisador could communicate with her without the Saiyans being any the wiser.
A short silence answered her. Then came a faint reply: Beryan, you must get her into the tank - we cannot afford any more of these .. revelations. A twinge of fear accompanied the thought. Talk to her ... tell her to hang on ... I've tried, and I can't get through ...
She knows I'm here, Yisador, I can feel it. I'm trying ... She looked at the Saiyans again, still sniping and preening for each other, and a great fist of anger squeezed her chest. Stupid moronic half-witted simpleminded idiots get over here and PUT her in the tank for Kami's sake!
Amazingly enough the Saiyans stopped jabbering and walked over to Beryan. The physician grabbed her shoulder and unceremoniously shoved her out of the way, hard enough to throw her into the equipment at the edge of the floor. She caught her balance and watched, seething, as he quickly checked all the leads to Theo's body; then, apparently satisfied, reached for Theo's neck and shot a small, controlled burst of chi into her twisted collar. It parted then, dropping from her throat with a thud, exposing the burnt flesh underneath it. Muttering angrily to himself about the quality of help available in the infirmary, Oshinko reached for the salve and made sure that her entire neck was swathed in the stuff, then nodded to Raditz. A large collar was produced from Raditz's hand.
Good Kami, that thing's big enough to collar six of us, not just one of us!Beryan shuddered.
Oshinko snapped it around Theo's neck with an audible *click,* then motioned to Raditz to pick her up. Gathering the leads of the monitors in one hand, he gestured for Raditz to take her over to one of the larger tanks. After insuring that everything was connected, he stuck the mask over her face, closed the door and started the machine. The tank filled quickly, the viscous liquid lifting Theo's body so that she was suspended, arms hanging in front of her and head hanging down.
She's in the tank, Yisador ... she'll be all right soon ...
No, daughter, Yisador sent back faintly, things will never be all right again ... there was too much damage done to us today ...
A sharp blow to the side of her head snapped her out of her reverie, throwing her onto a control console. "Get back to work, woman! Stop gaping and start moving, unless YOU want a turn in the tank!" The Saiyan leaned over her and snarled, his eyes bright black, threatening.
As she hurried away, she heard the physician say to the warrior, "It's the only thing they understand. The King says they're so intelligent, but I haven't seen it. Just trained animals, if you ask me. You have to smack them to get them to do anything at all."
Burning with hatred, Beryan rubbed her jaw and thought fiercely, nobody asked you, moron. Slinging a glance behind her, she pulled power from the wellspring into a tight, narrow beam, focused on the ceiling above the Saiyan's head and used the energy to shift the molecules in a meter diameter. As her eyes taperd to thin, violet slits, large chunks of the ceiling rained down on the Saiyans' heads, smashing themselves to pieces. Howling in pain, both Raditz and Oshinko looked about, furiously determined to find the cause as blood dripped down the sides of their faces. As they raced around, Beryan stayed in her corner of the infirmary and watched them, a small, impassive, gray clad figure. A small, satisfied smile was the only evidence of her involvement in their obvious discomfort.
Her eyes drifted over to the tank, which looked like a huge, transparent sarcophagus with Theo floating in the middle. When you're healed, my dear, she thought, we're getting off this rock and away from these imbeciles permanently. Our TARDIS is almost ready.
Some time later, the room was quiet - almost painfully quiet. Banks of machines and computers flanked the walls of the infirmary, noiselessly performing their duties, which were supporting the physicians in delicate operations and keeping the regeneration tanks operating at peak efficiency. There was no scheduled surgery during this hour, so the floor was almost deserted; the only occupants were those in regeneration tanks. On the consoles, small lights flickered on and off, indicating that some processes stopped, while others started; sometimes it was possible to see lights working in tandem, which indicated that the same operation was running on different machines. The regen tanks were the only pieces of equipment that actually made any kind of noise in the room; otherwise, the room was dark and still. Oxygen bubbles softly burst on top of the DNA fluid, a subdued hum eminated from the various parts of the tanks that actually had moving parts, and the occasional murmur from the tanks' occupants were the only sounds audible in the room.
The boy stood in front of one of the larger tanks, watching the unconscious movements of its single occupant. His arms crossed and his tail flicking slightly behind him, his face bore the unmistakable expression of someone concentrating at his maximum capacity as he looked intently into the tank. He seemed to be waiting for something to happen as he stood motionless, staring at the naked woman floating senseless in front of him.
She appeared to be suspended in midair, but in reality was buoyed by the thickness of the gel surrounding her. The entire enclosure was filled with a viscous liquid. She appeared to be swimming in Guardian DNA, the consistency of the solution slightly blurring the outline of her body. The lower half of her face was hidden behind a large dark mask that was fastened securely over her nose and jaw and held in place around her head by two straps, long tubes trailing on either side of her body to the floor of the chamber. Monitors and other types of electronic equipment were strapped or tied around various parts of her body so that accurate physiological readings could be taken - so we can study you, the Saiyan thought to himself. Her head was bent forward and her curly red hair gently bobbed in the shallow liquid current running through the tank, her eyes closed. A large golden collar was the only ornamentation she wore other than the wires and electrodes; it appeared to encase her entire neck, had no visible clasp, and looked to be considerably uncomfortable.
The only sign that something had happened was the position of his tail; normally moving gently to and fro, it suddenly stopped moving altogether. If someone had been watching him, they would have seen his eyes narrow to a squint and his body lean toward the tank. The woman changed her position, lifting her head and tilting it slightly to the right. His position rigid, he watched as she moved again, this time tilting her head over to her left side.
A small, triumphant smile appeared on his face. "You're mine now," he said softly to the woman, "aren't you?" He watched in amusement as she bobbed her head up and down several times, as if in answer to his question. Straightening to his full height, he gazed into the tank; she raised her left hand and waved at him, then dropped it; her hand floated in the liquid, limp.
"Prince Vejiita!" exclaimed a voice nearby. The child Prince turned his head to give a hard stare to the person who dared interrupt him. The guard walked out of the shadowed portion of the lab, obviously out of breath. Seeing that the person was only a guard, the boy turned his full attention back to the tank. "Prince Vejiita, you father has sent me to find you and tell you that you must attend him right now." Stopping to catch his breath, he looked at the Prince and then at the regen tank.
"Where is he?" Vejiita asked absently, turning back to watch as the woman wiggled her left foot at him and then tried to cross it over her right knee in the tank. It did not work, and pulled some of the monitors off her skin as well, leaving red, raw patches as the electrodes drifted away from her body.
"Let me take you to him," the guard replied, staring as well at the woman. "Is this-"
"Mind your own business, soldier," Vejiita snapped at him, baring his teeth. The guard took a hesitant step back, his fist to his chest, bowing his head. Satisfied that he had cowed him sufficiently, Vejiita turned to the tank once more.
"Don't worry - I'll be back for you soon," he promised Theo with a typically Saiyan grin, his eyes glittering.
The King was not in a favorable mood. To be more precise, any lower class Saiyan who had any business to transact with the crown prayed that today was NOT the day they would have to approach him. Even the Elites wanted to avoid him when he was like this; there was a large potential for vaporization almost clinging to the King, and any Saiyan intelligent enough to detect that aura was also smart enough to stay away from him.
Nappa stood to one side of the room, his brutish face drawn into a scowl as he glowered at the future King and his father. He had already had a considerably large piece of himself chewed up and spit back into his face by the present King for permitting the boy to wander the palace without any supervision. Consequently, the boy had been up to mischief, which in Nappa's mind was good; he needed diversion - he was entirely too serious. Unfortunately, the diversion that he chose had destroyed one of the larger recreation rooms, put quite a few lower class soldiers into the tanks, and actually had killed some of the Elite bodyguard. That would not have been bad in and of itself, but it was the way in which it happened. Apparently the brat had pulled one of the Guardian slaves out of their quarters and had been amusing himself with her when the deaths occurred.
Absolutely stupid, Nappa thought to himself as he watched the pair. And what exactly did the King think I could do to stop the boy, had I known? As an Elite, Nappa had an impressive physique; however, his line had not inherited the innate intelligence that characterized Elites, which left him lacking when it came to strategic planning. In a fight, Nappa had years of training, experience and cunning behind him, but when it came to outmaneuvering the Prince, he was sorely out of his league.
Turning his attention back to the fireworks in front of him, he saw the King towering over the erect form of his son, fury and barely held restraint evident in every line of his body as he shouted, "You took that woman's collar ...OFF? and now there are five Elites dead? This was YOUR idea?" Soldiers standing next to the King silently moved a discrete distance away, keeping their gazes locked on the floor. They heard a loud *thwap* followed by a short grunt and a muffled thud.
Nappa snorted softly. Serves the brat right.
"Baka! We need as many elite warriors as we can get - and YOU decide that they're expendable?" the King snorted, thoroughly enraged. "Get up, brat. I'm not finished with you yet."
A clear voice answered him immediately. "You're a fool not to use them to their full potential," the Prince said icily. "The mental strength of one alone could take the place of a battalion of Elites."
The soldier dared to look up at his sovereign, and saw the King's face flushed with rage. "We don't NEED their kind of help!" the King roared, watching the young Prince, his eyes flashing dangerously. "We need nothing and no one but Saiyans! They are aliens - those creatures are abominations - unnatural beings-"
"-whom you brought here," ouji huffed out at his father, glaring at him from across the room. "Their power is tremendous - and manageable. Linked mind to mind, we can order them to do virtually anything - heal, communicate, destroy ..." He gave Vejiita ou a calculating look. "Didn't Nappa just spare a small planet not too long ago so we could use their technology? I don't see the difference between using machines and using these creatures - both are easily bent to our will."
Impassively Nappa watched the King digest this new piece of information. The elder Vejiita glared in Nappa's direction, his look full of dark promise. You'll pay for that one, boy, Nappa thought angrily, I swear.
"What Nappa did or did not do has nothing whatsoever to do with this conversation," the King said menacingly, turning and striding purposefully toward his son. "Machinery has no will of its own, brat, but those creatures certainly do. So - you believe that you, out of every other Saiyan on the planet, have been able to puzzle out in that puny little brain of yours the mystery that's kept our researchers stumped for years? Well," he snarled, "think on THIS for a while. Very soon we're going to need every single warrior we can muster. That ... Freeza," he grimaced, a distasteful look on his face, "has been pushing me - us - too far for much too long. We are NOT slaves. When we fight," and the light of battle was in his eyes, "we will win. But we will NOT use those - those females - to help us. Not now, and not ever."
"Why?" Vejiita asked coldly, standing and facing his father. "We control them. They're dispensable."
His father looked away, an odd expression on his face. "Nothing is free," he said cryptically. "You pay the price for whatever you use eventually. At one time I thought I wanted their kind of power ... but now," he said musing, "now I want nothing at all to do with it. The cost is too great."
The King turned back and stared at the Prince for a moment. "Nor should you, boy. She almost killed you, didn't she?" he asked suddenly. When Vejiita didn't answer, his father snorted. "It serves you right. Those people wear collars for a reason, brat. Don't be so stupid again." Shaking his head, the King planted his feet and stood directly in front of the Prince, scowling. Vejiita met his father's scowl with one of his own, a black and icy stare. They both had their arms folded across their chests and appeared to be mirror images of each other.
"I can master her and her power," the child insisted, snarling up at his sire.
"You have no idea what you are talking about, baka," his father replied in the same tone. "Don't make me regret not killing you at birth. Nappa!" the King called without raising his voice.
"Sire," Nappa said, snapping to attention.
"See if you can keep the Prince in sight this time," the King said sarcastically, giving him a level stare. "I'm going to allow him to play with his Guardian toy -" and the look he gave Vejiita was pure acid, "- but I want to be notified BEFORE anything happens. And keep that moron Raditz with you. Understood?"
"Perfectly, Your Majesty," Nappy replied, relief breaking over his face and as quickly being replaced by an air of studied cynicism.
The King turned his back on Vejiita, dismissing him. "Feh. Get out of here and send in Naradzuke and Pikurusu. They, at least, can be useful in planning our campaign."
The Prince glared at his father's back, then transferred that glare to Nappa, who simply shrugged his shoulders. Turning on his heel, the Prince stalked out of the room. Shaking his head, Nappa followed him, bowing first to his sovereign.
Ah, it's dark, warm ... safe ...
Time to get up, woman
The warmth beckoned her back into its welcoming arms. She snuggled, feeling secure, that nothing could hurt her here. Indeed, nothing hurt at all, which was curious. A faded memory of horrible pain ran across her mind, but was pushed away. Ah, warmth...
Wake up, woman, we don't have all day ...
Who are you, she thought irritably, go away and leave me alone. Immediately she erected walls around her mind, walls that were smooth and hard and designed to keep the rest of the universe away from her, and went back to snuggling.
No, I won't go away, the voice said, amused. In fact, I think I'll stay right here. Get up.
What in the hell is going on? she thought, rising out of her comfortable spot. Her breathing and heartbeat were increasing with her annoyance and anger at the mysterious voice inside her head. Who are you? How'd you do that?
Open your eyes and see, it taunted her.
Sluggishly she ordered her body to start moving, then realized she couldn't move; at least, she couldn't move very well. Something was preventing her from rolling over. I always sleep on my stomach .. what's the deal with ...
...breathing? She couldn't hear anything, but she could almost feel the wet condensation from her breath trickling around her mouth. And what's this ... in my mouth ... Stark realization hit her. I'm in a regen tank, she thought numbly. They hurt me badly enough to put me in a regen tank. Kami, I hate those things.
Don't blame other people for your own mistakes, the voice chided her. You were the one who decided to pull all that power, not someone else.
That's enough of that, she thought, incensed. She slit her eyes open and felt the familiar sting of what she thought of as the amino fluid; she fought to open them further and focus. There was a large, black, fuzzy object directly in front of her. Blinking, she tried to clear her vision and open her eyes wider. The room started to come into focus; there were lines and tubes snaking around and around the tank, and that thing in front of her ... was a person. A small person ... one who was at eye level with her, peering at her face ... curious, intelligent obsidian eyes...
Now you're awake, the voice said, a hint of cruel laughter in it. Do I look the same through the glass? You seem a bit blurry.
Her eyes popped open all the way and her arms snapped out as if electrified, fingers spread on the ends of rigid hands. With wild eyes, her head slowly swiveled in the thick goo from side to side, desperately searching for something, finally settling on the person in front of her. She started shaking her head in denial, slowly -
...dear Kami it's ... you? oh my god....
As the implication of what she heard hit home she became more agitated, moving her head back and forth, silently wailing nooooooOOOOOO-get me out of here right now! Get me out of here and get out of my mind get out get out OUT OUT-
That's no way to ask your master to do something for you. The thought slipped through her defenses as easily and naturally as a knife through muscle. Try again, but this time try to be polite.
She stopped struggling then and floated, staring, in the tank. Master? Even though the breathing harness was connected to the lower half of her face and the rest of her body was wired with electrodes and other equipment, her expression could have been interpreted by anyone. Sheer, utter, horror shone out of her eyes and shivered through her body. One hand floated up to touch her neck and fingered a wide golden collar, about four fingers in width, invisibly fastened around her throat.
Why, yes, he replied, I'm your master now. As he leaned closer to the tank, she could see that one side of his mouth was quirked up in a sadistic smile. Like the jewelry? It's the largest one we could find, he explained silently, watching her reaction. We couldn't have you running around creating mayhem now, could we?
She stared back at him from the tank, unblinking, floating in front of him. This isn't real, it isn't real, no....
It is interesting that we can communicate without benefit of my touching that thing, isn't it? he continued pleasantly. I don't believe we would have been able to do that yesterday. And you can't shut me out, can you? He smiled at her, a knowing, devilish smile.
Her eyes blinked once. Fuck you, she thought, gesturing rudely at him through the tank. Think all you want at me - I don't care.
Really? he calmly rejoined. Then I'm sure you won't mind if I do THIS ...
...and suddenly her neck felt like it was on fire again. Her eyes rolled up in her head and her body started spasming as if she was going into a seizure. The monitors on the tank started clanging alarms...
...which just as suddenly stopped. Whatever had caused her body to react that way was gone; her heartbeat was dropping back to normal, her respiration rate was decreasing. The only thing that started to increase was her brain wave pattern; the memory of the pain was fresh and raw.
Just something that I figured out how to do after watching you work for a while. I can also do THIS ...
...and suddenly a languid, heavy, pleasant feeling suffused every nerve and pore of her body, forcing each muscle to relax. Pain wasn't even a memory; it seemed that nothing had ever existed before, and nothing would exist after...
...oh dear Kami where did you learn this? she thought despairingly, fighting for control of her own body.
Why, from you, Guardian - I learned it all from you. You were an excellent teacher, especially when you thought you were deceiving me. Fiendishly he taunted her, I can't seem to coerce anyone else ... it only works on you ...
A terrible certainty anchored itself in her soul as she stared at him, powerless to move. ...only ... me? The monitors on the outside of the tank started to blink rapidly, showing a swift increase in all her vital signs as her eyes changed colors, darkening from green to brown, her head pushing against the viscosity of the liquid imprisoning it. Then ... there's no way out ...
Not for you, he agreed silently, watching her struggle. And I'm sure after we've ... explored ... your different talents, we will be able to apply that knowledge to others of your race. Vejiita ouji bared his teeth at her and gave a short, humorless laugh. I'm sure there's a Guardian for every Elite, don't you agree?
Full-blown horror blossomed in her chest at his words and pushed its icy tendrils deep into her spirit. ...a Guardian for every Saiyan ... no, oh no ... Cold, she felt so cold inside; and trapped, she was trapped inside her own head - there was no retreat, no respite. Reality was pressing in on her from all sides, and she felt she was smothering in Saiyan power. As he relentlessly drove her into the granite wall of his total mental dominance, she glimpsed a small, narrow crevice that showed a final, frightening alternative to being his slave. Theo snatched at it, not allowing the truth of what she was doing to penetrate her consciousness.
The analytical part of her brain calculated the volume of liquid in the tank, accounted for the viscosity of the fluid, determined the probable amount of time it would take to drain the tank using normal methods, compensated for what she thought would be faster methods, and was satisfied. Time enough for what I need, and I know what I need, she thought grimly, staring at the Prince through the walls of the tank. And with this, regeneration won't work at all. Thank Kami this thing was built for Saiyans...
And what is it, exactly, that you need? he inquired, obviously overhearing her mental musing.
Why, just to tell you something, master, she thought, deliberately masking her mental tone, flexing her fingers and arms in the liquid, testing.
...and that would be ...
That I'll see you in hell, bakayaro, she sent viciously; then she took her hands, threw them up to her face, ripped the breathing mask away and opened her mouth, swallowing as much fluid as she could, inhaling it as if it were the sweetest of aromas, choking herself.
Loud klaxons immediately sounded throughout the infirmary, bringing medical personnel on the run. "No! No! She'll drown!" cried the doctors, running over to the tank.
"Open the tank!" shouted Raditz, pounding over from the far end of the room, beating on the tank cover. He pulled his arm back, ready to thrust his fist through the tempered glass.
"Stand back! I'll blast her out!" yelled Nappa, powering up.
"STOP, both of you! You can't shoot that in here - there's too much instrumentation, you'll end up killing us all!" Oshinko screamed, running over to the console for the tank. "I'll just-"
Put that mask back on your face NOW or I'll-
She was sliding out of consciousness, but he could still hear her derisive tone, laughing at him. Or you'll what? Order me to live? Get lost, little boy ....
Oshinko started the procedure to drain the tank, frantically punching out the sequence, but it was painfully obvious that it was much too slow - she'd be gone by the time they were done.
No! You're not going anywhere! I forbid you! Extremely angry at her audacity and at himself for not anticipating her move, he called a small ball of chi into his hand and shot a thin laser ray at the top of the tank. It went through the material cleanly, came out the opposite site and zapped into the equipment directly behind the tank and continued through the wall. Sparks flew from the console as both Raditz and Oshinko ran over, beating at the fire with their bare hands.
Theo saw what Vejiita held in his hand, and with her last conscious thought, taunted him again -
...what a loser. You couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. You missed me completely...
His temper flaring, a large blue aura surrounded his body. Snarling, he held his hand up to aim for her head, allowing the chi to collect there and become enormous - when suddenly he realized that was exactly what she wanted him to do. There'd be no question if I blasted you through the head, would there? he realized. He threw his hand down and to the left, and instead cleanly sliced off the bottom third of the tank.
Fluid gushed out like a river, drowning the entire floor. Having no internal support, Theo collapsed in a heap on the floor of the tank, liquid pouring from her mouth and nose. Nappa reached over and yanked the rest of the tank off of its pedestal as the doctor reached her and started her beating between her shoulder blades, forcing more fluid out of her lungs. Huge rasping gasps came from her as her body automatically went into survival mode again - she was still unconscious, but definitely alive.
Vejiita stood over her, his face tight with fury. "Wrap her up in something and take her over to my quarters, Nappa," he said. "Find someplace around there for her to stay, and no, I don't care who you have to throw out. Make sure it's large enough for several people to live there. She's moving."
"But Prince Vejiita!" protested Nappa, gesturing to the woman on the floor. "She's just-"
"Is there a problem with what I just said, baka?" Vejiita inquired softly. "Take her over there, and do it NOW. And get that worthless sensei of hers. He's going to start earning his keep as well."
You don't escape that easily, woman, he thought, looking at her prone form.
Not that easily.
Pandemonium raged in the infirmary, and Oshinko presided over the uproar. Aides attempted to mop and clean the floor, sloshing through several centimeters of water and fluid that had cascaded out of the broken regeneration tank. Oshinko himself stood by the tank's base, barking out orders to all the assistants while holding a naked Theo about her waist, her head and arms hanging down toward the floor, bent double. Water was still dribbling out of her mouth and nose, dripping from her hair and body as though she had been caught unawares in a rainstorm.
"Here!" the doctor said with a snarl, thrusting Theo's body at the first technician to come within arm's reach. "Stick her over there on one of the tables, make sure her vital signs are strong, then wrap her up in something. Damn alien," he muttered in repugnance, shaking his hands fastidiously, "you're lucky the Prince wants you alive. I would have let you die."
The technician wrestled Theo's body away from the doctor, draping one arm around her small shoulders, and pulled Theo away from the center of the commotion. Sloshing over to the table, the small tech hoisted Theo onto the table with a minimum of fuss, her compact, muscular body more than adequate to the task. Once Theo was on the table the tech began to methodically check her vital signs with the nearby equipment. As the tech hammered between Theo's shoulderblades to get rid of the rest of the fluid in her lungs, the hood of the tech's jumpsuit slipped back to reveal Beryan's sharp, feminine profile. Her incisive, violet eyes were narrowed in concentration as she rolled Theo onto her back and probed her psyche again, her small hands hovering just above Theo's ears.
Theo...Theo, can you hear me? You must come back, Theo ... we need you ... The ferventness of her plea shone through her eyes and faintly pusled through her hands, engulfing Theo's head in a faded, multicolored whorl. Beryan moved slightly to block Oshinko's view of Theo's head, so that he would not see the small display of power. Come on, Theo, come back - how am I supposed to run the TARDIS without you?
A low moan and a slight movement of her head was her only response, but it was enough for Beryan to know that Theo had heard and understood her. Beryan dipped her head slightly toward Theo, her own shoulder length hair mingling briefly with Theo's frizzy curls; when seen together under happier circumstances, their affection for each other was completely obvious. She smiled slightly as she removed her hands and patted Theo dry with a towel grabbed from a nearby cabinet, and grunted as she lifted and slid Theo's legs into a gray jumpsuit, pulled from the same cabinet.
"What a total pain in the butt you are, Theodorah. You could have made this a little --*oof!*-- easier, you know," she muttered at Theo, irritated. She wrestled the fabric around Theo's hips, then pulled her torso forward and forced the stubborn girl's arms into long sleeves. "Like - minding your own business, and not showing off? But nooo ... you have to be obstinate, and go your own way, and be damned with what the rest of us want...just make my life that much harder ..."
Grunting again, she gently laid Theo down on the table and began fastening the front of the jumpsuit, her angular face hard and set. "And look at that huge collar they put on you," she said, shaking her head. "How can you possibly use any power now, without any of these odious cretins sensing it? Kami ... just unbelievable." Finished with dressing her, Beryan's hands moved from the back of Theo's neck to her head, resting gently on either side, fingers quietly tangled in her red curls. Looking surreptitiously toward the Saiyans at the other side of the room, she murmured, "Well, let's see what else is here ..."
A strange look passed across Beryan's face as she gently examined Theo's mind. No, this can't be right, she thought in puzzlement, I would've seen this before; where did it come from? Gently, gently, she lowered herself, wrapping her consciousness into Theo with practiced ease, sharing synapses and nerves, bone and fiber, merging with Theo. Beryan's body stood next to the table, motionless, appearing to examine Theo's head as she dove into her mind.
Every being had channels cut into his or her brain, pathways used again and again for tasks and actions performed literally millions of times. Beryan was familiar with each and every one of Theo's, knowing the topography of her mind better than Theo herself, and now she was faced with a puzzle. A new channel had been carved from Theo's forebrain into the deepest recesses of her mind. By itself, a new channel certainly wasn't alarming; it was the way new skills were learned, new ideas understood, new pathways taken. However, this one had a different type of character - apparently, it was one that wasn't made by Theo or created by any experience she had. This, too, happened fairly frequently between Guardians, when friendships grew to the point of shared mental intimacy; walls were taken down, and the Guardians had full and easy access to each other's minds. Beryan and Theo had that kind of relationship.
But that took years to develop; the trust alone needed to permit someone access to one's unguarded mind at any time was enormous. I don't understand, Beryan thought, mystified, where this came from ... unless ...
A hunch made her dive into the channel and follow it, wandering through Theo, until it bumped up against several fresh memories it had made. The sound of a familiar voice resonated along her own channels and pathways, a voice that had been speaking mind to mind with Theo:
...and she recoiled, jerked back through the channel and retreated into her own body as a scream started in her throat. Involuntarily she clapped a hand over her mouth, her eyes snapped open and sought the person who made those memories, who forged that channel ...
He was standing at the opposite end of the room, the child warrior, obviously impatient, snapping orders at Nappa. Turning his head quickly, almost on instinct, he caught her eyes staring at him. He held them for a moment, blackness boring into her, before turning back to Nappa and snapping something else at him. Nappa bowed to him and moved toward the table as the Prince left the room.
The moment Beryan could look away she did, feeling as though she had been released from an iron grip, shaking inside. "Oh, Theo," she murmured, aghast, "how did that happen?"
Nappa walked over, a scowl on his face. "The Prince said she's ready to go," he said to her, grabbing Theo's arm with one large hand and slinging her over his shoulder, "so I'm taking her."
Beryan said nothing; she simply scowled at him with narrowed eyes.
Nappa snorted at her as he turned and walked away, Theo's head lolling drunkenly along his back. Stupid woman he thought, shaking his head. He had no idea why the Prince wanted this particular Guardian. They were all the same, after all - all female, all weak. Although the female part wasn't bad - they were attractive, in a scrawny sort of way -- but the Prince wouldn't know about that for several more years. Ah, the things those collars could make them do; whoever created them certainly had the Guardians in mind when they designed the circuits. He chuckled to himself, walking out the main door of the infirmary.
Beryan watched him go as she began to probe again at Theo's mind. She was shocked to find that something - no, someONE - was already there, quietly poking around. That person did not realize she was there, which was extremely fortunate for her; she slowly retreated through some unused pathways until she was able to unwind her consciousness from Theo's, pulling herself all the way out of Theo's mind. She was breathing heavily and sweating as tiny droplets collected around her hairline, while her fingers tapped involuntarily against the stainless steel table.
It's a one way street, she thought, appalled. He can access her any time, but she can't shut him out. Dear Kami, we're in BIG trouble.
Pain seemed to be a constant companion of hers lately - pain in all its guises and aspects, from needle sharp to achingly dull, from the top of her head down through the soles of her feet. As she crawled up yet again from the depths of unconsciousness, she felt different variations on the same theme, all slapping distinct parts of her body with intensities ranging from whisper light to ferocious. Awareness made her focus on the burning sensation in her lungs, how every drawn breath was now agony; the pain in her head seemed minuscule by comparison.
I'm lying on something ... soft, she thought, trying to feel her surroundings without moving a muscle. Forcing her eyes to partially open, she kept them slitted against the light and tried to see where she was. Some type of ... common room, she thought. She moaned involuntarily, the sound loud in her ears, and she felt her body shiver, muscle spasms running the length of her legs.
Damn ... I should be dead... I WANTED to be dead ... damn ...
She opened her eyes wider and looked around. No one was in front of her; all she could see was a large expanse of tiled floor with an antique wooden cabinet stuck against the far wall. I must be lying on a couch or something, she thought. Hopelessly she stared at the cabinet, trying to manage the pain cascading through her senses as small pieces of memory pierced the deluge every now and then.
It's quiet in here, she realized abruptly. Absolutely quiet. I've never been in a place in the palace where it's this .... quiet .... oh ... no ..... Her senses on full alert, she reached out and scanned the room; there were several life forms congregated at one side, with one life form in the middle of the room. That's me, she realized, dismayed. This wasn't a common room, it belonged to someone; and the psychic residue in the room identified it as belonging to ... Prince Vejiita.
"NoooooOOOO!" she screamed, sitting straight up, wildly looking around for an exit. Ignoring the lightning flash of intense pain behind her eyes and the general protest from her body, she stood and in one fluid motion leaped to the door closest to the bed. She crashing into it with her shoulder and drove it open, throwing herself into the hallway.
Staggering, she scrabbled her feet under her and prepared to dash down the corridor, only to be grabbed fiercely by her throat and shaken so hard that hot tears ran down her cheeks, the pain in her head intense.
"Get - back - inside!" The words were articulated next to her ear, hissed directly at her in a tone that brooked no disobedience. Whimpering, she nodded her agreement and was thrown back into the room, sliding on bruised shoulders until she crashed into a large, immovable object.
It was Raditz, towering over her, smirking. He reached down and grabbed her, twining his fingers in her hair, hauled her upright and held her there, her feet dangling off the floor, her hands frantically clutching at his wrist.
"Please-" she croaked out, grabbing at his wrist, her scalp pulled back and her face stretched, her eyes pleading, the color changing from green to blue to violet. She felt as though her head was going to burst.
Looming over her, Raditz grinned and gave her a slight shake that caused her to whimper a second time. "Nice to see you again, Guardian. You're looking a bit pale - have you been watching what you eat lately?" He opened his hand and released her, dropping her to the floor. She gasped and stumbled to her knees, her hands automatically going to her head and massaging her abused scalp.
Almost immediately a white boot caught her painfully in the small of her back, throwing her over to one side. "Get up, woman," a familiar voice said as she rolled over, clutching her back and groaning. Slowly she rose up on her knees, only to be cuffed on the side of her head again, hard enough to throw her back to the floor.
"I said, get up, woman," the voice repeated. The white boot caught her again in her midsection, doubling her over and driving all the air out of her lungs in a long, excruciating huff. "And be quick about it."
Rolling over on her knees, Theo panted painfully as she rose, tears trickling down her face, one arm tucked protectively around her waist and the other pushing her body off the floor. Lifting her gaze from the floor, she found she was face to face with the Prince of Vejiitasei.
His eyes locked on hers as she was rising, piercing through her, his anger almost palatable. Do not EVER think to escape me, he sent to her, his tone cold. You are MINE; I will release you when I'M damn good and ready, not when YOU think you should be. IF I ever release you.
She stared at him for a moment, frozen in place. Mine. This is mine. He was in her mind; she could feel him pushing into areas that previously only she could access, touching memories that were hers, drifting into her emotional centers - and she couldn't push him out.
No, you can't - I won't let you - get OUT! She tried, frantically, to push him out; when that would not work, she tried to maneuver around him, but was stymied at every turn.
I own you; you are mine. His presence was strong; while he didn't really know how to manipulate her mind in the classic sense, he was certainly strong enough to push away her feeble attempts at coercion, and was also strong enough to use coercion effectively against her, overwhelming her. This is mine, too. Vejiita showed her every aspect of herself and then claimed it as his own, pushing himself into an area that previously only accomodated her thoughts and forcing her to acknowledge him as the master of her mind. The physical pain her body was enduring was nothing to the psychic pain she was now feeling. Accepting the collar, an artificial device that monitored her use of power and forced her to tell the truth was bad enough, but accepting this - no, this was totally unbearable.
He took one step forward, standing almost nose to nose with her, staring her down. You have nowhere to go ... nowhere to run ....I am with you every step of the way. You are MINE, woman. You belong to me. Accept it.
Anguish was undisguised in her eyes as she stared back at him, unwilling to admit defeat. His strength in her mind continued to grow as he quietly pushed himself into corners that even Theo had forgotten. But as she saw the direction he was taking, she realized what was hidden in that part of her mind, and she felt the icy grip of fear around her heart. It was pride that pushed her to defy him, her pride in her abilities as the best of her race - and now she saw that pride blocking the way to her people's survival, as Vejiita moved nearer and nearer to their closest kept secret ...
....and she did the only thing she could to save them and herself. She surrendered.
She bent her head submissively and remained on her knees in front of him, her hand in a fist across her chest in a sign of fealty, her other hand resting on the floor, opened her mind to him and stopped fighting. "My Prince," she whispered hoarsely. "Please ... stop ... forgive me for causing all this trouble to you." Tears were dribbling down her cheeks, but she ignored them. "I ... I ..."
He stopped pushing then, but made sure she still felt him in her mind, and considered the genuineness of her appeal, feeling the fear and hopelessness behind it. "Who owns you, Guardian?" Vejiita asked, a sharp edge to his voice. "And look at me when you answer." Tell the truth, whatever you do ...
"You do, sir," Theo whispered, wretched, looking at the floor then raising her head to look at him. "You do."
Softly, staring directly at her with penetrating black eyes that seemed to look into her soul, he asked, "And do you believe that, Guardian? Do you truly believe that I'm your master?"
A beat passed as the enormity of what he was asking penetrated her defenses. "Y-yes," she managed, but not before a fresh onslaught of tears spilled down her cheeks. She closed her eyes, thoroughly humiliated in front of him, feeling waves of shame at her inability to control herself or her own mind roll across her psyche, leaving an almost physical ache. "Yes, I do."
His mouth quirked up in a malicious smile as he watched emotions chase across her face. "Good - I believe you. Now that we understand each other, things should be just fine. Get up," her ordered, gesturing for her to move.
She clambered unsteadily to her feet, her knees protesting. Raditz appeared on one side of her and yanked her up the rest of the way, nearly pulling her arm out of its socket. Theo yelped a protest and glared at him, but he just grinned and shrugged.
"Get used to it, Guardian," he said. "We’re going to be seeing a lot more of each other."
"What … what do you mean?" she rasped, trying to pull her arm back from his grip. "Let go – I can stand on my own—"
"You see, otousan? There is no danger – she was easily mastered."
With a quick intake of breath, Theo thought what..?, spun her head in the direction of that voice and saw the Prince standing at the side of the room, speaking to a holographic image of his father. Both Saiyans were staring directly at her; it was unnerving to see two sets of eyes so coldly alike appraising her, and she shrank back toward Raditz, confounded.
The King’s image crossed his arms and continued to stare under hooded eyes. "You’re lucky this time, brat," he said grudgingly. "It usually takes more persuasion than what I saw to master one of those bad tempered creatures."
He … saw … he was here… the whole time…? she wondered, mortification tight in her chest.
But of course. A thought brushed, whisper fine, across her mind. He needed to see you surrender, and surrender to me – which you did, quite well. A feeling of self-satisfaction remained behind as Vejiita withdrew from her mind.
Aloud, he said, "There was more than enough persuasion here for her to understand that any attempt at escape was futile, as was any attempt on my life. They are not stupid creatures, otousan; they are simply stubborn, and need to be taught how to behave." His dark gaze rested on Theo as he raised an eyebrow in her direction. "Isn’t that true, Guardian?"
Her eyes, expressive and enormous in her face, blinked at him as she slowly nodded agreement, encouraged by Raditz’s obvious prompting.
His father snorted. "Looks as if you have more training to do, brat," he said, narrowing his eyes and frowning. "Let me know when you teach your pet some new tricks." He broke the connection then, the holograph shimmering and finally disappearing.
Theo stood staring at the spot where the King’s holograph had been for a moment – pet? she thought blankly. Without warning a hand reached up and yanked the front of her collar down, pulling her head so that she stood eye to eye with the Prince.
A small whimper escaped her as Vejiita dragged her neck down to his level, his eyebrows drawn together in a scowl.
"You will answer me when I ask you a question," he said evenly. Without warning, her neck and face felt like it was on fire; a pain as excruciating as any she had ever experienced coursed across the nerves of her skin, and she screamed. As suddenly as it started it was gone, leaving its memory in its wake. Panting, Theo stared at the Prince, her vision doubled, her mind still shrieking in agony.
He released his grip on her collar and pushed her back so that she fell against Raditz. "What are you going to do from now on, Guardian?" he asked, folding his arms across his chest.
"Answer you when you ask a question, sir," Theo replied immediately, her voice a hoarse croak, the image of flames still dancing across her eyelids. Oh, Kami, why didn’t I die…
Raditz grinned and clapped her on her back, nearly driving her to her knees again. "Very good!" he boomed, looking as proud as if he had done it himself. "You see, my lord, she can learn."
"After a fashion, it seems," Vejiita dryly responded. Turning toward the back of the room, he said, "Bring her over here, Raditz. We’re going to finish this right now."
Placing his hand in the middle of her back, Raditz pushed Theo to the back of the room where two other Saiyans waited and followed her. The bulldog face of Nappa looked at her with a permanent scowl; the presence of the other Saiyan was a complete surprise to her, and she almost stopped walking. Almost. When she hesitated, she felt Vejiita’s eyes immediately on her; not wanting to be disciplined again, she forced her feet to continue forward, thinking why me? despondently.
"You know Takuan, of course," Vejiita said in a conversational tone to Theo as she found herself in the back of the room. Takuan nodded curtly to her, his face carefully blank. She just stared, waiting.
The little Prince stood in front of him, a shrewdness in his eyes. "Do you know why I’ve called you here, sensei?" he asked. When Takuan shook his head, Vejiita gave a purely evil smile and said, "Why, I need your help. I understand that you are in charge of this woman’s instruction," and he gestured in Theo’s general direction. "She will be moving to this side of the palace today," he continued pleasantly, "and she will need specialized training. I thought it would be best if you moved over here as well so that we could maximize her training time."
Theo’s eyes widened in shock. Moving here? …but…but what about Mama … Stranna … Beryan …
Woman, you are pathetic, an intrusive thought laughed. You are staying here … your friends aren’t.
"I would be honored to serve you, my lord," Takuan said, bowing toward the Prince. "I will need to pick up some personal items before coming over here …"
"Of course," the Prince said smoothly. "We will allow everyone to settle in before we start a full schedule – say, until tomorrow?" Takuan nodded gratefully to Vejiita, who dismissed him by turning his back. Bowing, the sensei sent one meaningful look at Theo before he left.
He enjoys his work too much, she thought, frowning.
"No more than most of the soldiers around here," Vejiita said, answering her unspoken thought. She looked at him in shock; he smirked at her obvious discomfiture and nodded to Nappa, who looked blackly at Theo and followed the sensei out of the room.
"You’re staying here as well," Vejiita said, "and Nappa’s gone to see about your room. You’re going to be across the hall with Raditz and Takuan." He smiled coldly, feeling her mind digest the information. "You’re going to teach me everything you know about using that ‘power’ of yours – how you call it, how you use it, how you control it. Everything."
He watched her, feeling the sense of panic quickly squelched behind her eyes, and laughed shortly. "My father is uneasy around you people when that power is being used, so he doesn’t trust you. I don’t trust you either – but I know you, Guardian. I know every thought, every feeling you have – and if I wish, I can dig as deeply into your mind as I want." He leaned in close to her and callously said, "I can drag this information out of you if you wish – but I warn you, it would be a long and painfully unpleasant experience for you. You know how inexperienced I am. It would be much better if you cooperated with me."
Theo dropped her head and stared at the floor, defeated. "I will do whatever you wish, Prince Vejiita," she murmured, naked fear barely shielded by a surprising desire to survive. Where did that come from? I don’t want to live…
We need you, Theo. Don’t despair … we need you … live …
Had she not been scared almost witless she would have been able to respond in kind to the mysterious voice in her mind. As it was, she could only listen, faintly amazed, and hope against hope that Vejiita could not hear it.
…be strong …
"Raditz," Vejiita said, "make sure she gets some food and rest soon. She looks dead on her feet." He laughed at her expression, then said, "and we certainly can’t have that, can we? If you’re going to die," and then he moved faster than her eye could follow, snaked one hand out, grabbed her throat in a rough grip and said, thinly disguised anger tightening his voice, "I’m the one who will kill you."
"Yes, sir," she whispered to the floor, wide-eyed and staring. ... be strong ….
He gestured for Raditz to remove her, which he did, clutching the top of her arm as he marched her out of the Prince’s quarters. As she was ushered into her new apartment, larger by far than that she shared with her mother and aunts, she thought incoherently … I’m saved … saved … for now..
Space breeds odd, dangerous creatures. The seductive inky blackness called to many species across the cosmos, but very few of them could actually survive its cold embrace. Those that could were usually predators, beings that could exist for eons without feeding. Once a food source was found, however, they gorged themselves until the entire supply was spent, then continued in the darkness to the next challenge, eyes glittering with amoral savageness, ready and eager to sate their desires, the debris marking their passage lost and forgotten.
Even those beings not concerned with physical hunger still had the need to conquer and master others, to feed their insatiable appetites with power, lust, and greed. The ability to live in cold space was a benefit, but it was also a fact that most of the universe’s life forms could not survive in a vacuum; they needed air of some type, air that was life-giving to their species. Therefore, those all-powerful beings, the would-be conquerors of the universe traveled between the stars in saucer-like ships using dominated crews from distant planets to serve them. Their lifespans were such that even the youngest of them could not recall what it was like to feel anything except contempt for beings weaker than themselves. Centuries of living had inured them to genuine feelings and left them with an obscene, jaded viewpoint of the galaxy; now only the most exotic perversions, along with the more standard power struggles, held their interest.
Only the strongest were permitted to travel with one of the predators. The individual seated in a large chair on an observation deck of the ship had a magnificent view of the angry red planet it was orbiting. A thin, deceptively delicate-looking hand reached out from the chair, an empty crystal goblet loosely encased by long white fingers. Immediately a ruby red liquid slowly filled the glass, carefully poured by an odd-looking, extremely large pink creature standing immediately to the right of the chair.
"Ah, Dodoria-san," purred the occupant of the chair, "you always know what I need."
"I am here to serve only you, Master Freeza," replied the monster, bowing.
The tip of his armored tail waved gently in the air as the master continued his musings. "How very kind of you, Dodoria-san. Now, if only the Saiyans could emulate your attitude …"
Theo was lying on her bed, fully clothed, her arms wrapped protectively around her midsection with her knees drawn up, staring at the wall. Soon after Raditz had hustled her away from the Prince over to her new quarters he forced her to take care of her body; in other words, to bathe, eat, and rest. In a rare show of solicitousness he had decided to take her to the bathroom before he forced her to eat. He stripped her down, shoved her into the shower and told her to wash herself.
“If you don’t, I will,” he threatened. “And you definitely won’t like that.”
Dully, she had accepted the washcloth and soap and began to automatically lather herself. Raditz had grunted and walked out of the room, giving her some privacy. When she still hadn’t appeared fifteen minutes later, he walked back in and was disconcerted to see her folded up on the floor of the shower, water flowing over her, weeping, the washcloth clutched between her hands, her face turned to the wall. Sighing, he reached in, grabbed her arms and hauled her out, setting her on her feet in front of him and shaking water out of his eyes. Theo stood in front of him, water streaming from her body, head down and shoulders shaking.
“Get yourself dry and dressed, woman,” he said gruffly, shoving several towels at her. “Hurry up. We don’t have all day.” When she didn’t respond, he pulled one of the towels out of her unresisting arms and roughly draped it across her shoulders, toweling her hair dry in the process. That seemed to bring some life to her, as she pulled and sputtered under his ministrations, finally jerking away hard enough to break his grip in the process, glaring at him.
“Much better,” he said, giving her a watchful stare, then pointed to a bundle of clothes he had carried into the room. “Now get dressed – unless you’d like me to do that for you, too?”
“I can do it myself,” she muttered, wrapping a towel around her body modestly. “You can leave now.”
And exactly what is it she thinks I HAVEN'T seen before? he wondered to himself in amusement as he gave her a mock bow and backed out the door. “Hurry up,” he said brusquely, “I’m waiting for you.”
Several minutes later she appeared, dressed simply in a gray tunic and pants, belted loosely at her waist, small slippers on her feet, her hair hanging in damp ringlets around her face, framing it. Theo looked at him, wretchedness and anger staring out of her eyes, and said nothing.
He was standing in front of a small table. “Get over here and sit down, woman,” he growled at her, gesturing at the chair in front of him. “You’re going to eat something.”
She shuddered, slightly shifting her weight on the bed, gripping her stomach tighter. After that miserable incident – she could hardly bring herself to look at food, let alone eat any of it – he had dragged her back to this room, proclaimed it was hers, thrown her on the bed and ordered her to rest. She was so dispirited that she hardly responded to him, prompting him to shake her once to insure that she was still alive. Her cries of protest amused him so much that he shook her once more for good measure – then left her alone with her thoughts, keeping the door slightly open.
Theo felt deadened and used, as if someone had blasted every section of her mind and then ripped it away from her. She kept going over and over the incidents of the past few days, trying to find something – ANYthing – that would explain why this was happening to her.
And it seemed harmless enough at the time … now I’m … She tried to force her mind to stop, but it kept on its relentless path to the inevitable, logical conclusion. She was his slave now, no question at all. She could still feel him in her mind – he wasn’t active, but he was there. He could ‘lock in’ on her at any time, and command her to do anything for him at any time he wanted. And with the connection that he had burned into her brain, Vejiita certainly didn’t need to use the collar; in fact, he didn’t even have to be in the same room with her. Hopefully, he doesn’t know that yet, she thought, depressed. However, the path on which her mind was turning was much more dismal when seen from her standpoint – her thoughtless actions, she now realized, placed all the Guardians at risk. Through her, Vejiita now had access to every power, every secret, every action and every plan they had ever made.
Gods, what did I do? I’m a danger to everyone now, she thought, tears gathering in her eyes again. I can never go back … Kami, I’m as good as dead to them … I wish I were dead …
Theo, child, whispered an unbidden thought, Theo, we need you to be strong …
She snuffled quietly, staring at nothing, and thought Mama, you can’t be here. I’m … I’ve been … compromised … She wasn’t surprised; she knew that her mother could find her through anything, no matter what. It felt so good to have her familiar presence with her that she wanted to cry with relief and dump all her awful feelings into her mother's capable hands; at the same time, though, she realized that even this light touch to her mind could wake the sleeping giant and bring even more grief to her family. Please, Mama – go away – it’s not safe for you.
Her mother’s comforting presence enveloped her like a warm blanket, soothing over the raw patches in her mind, permeating every nook and cranny. He’s strong, itoshigo, but he’s a beginner in mind control. If he catches me here with you, then I deserve to be caught.
Mama, you don’t understand … he … he … and I couldn't ...Theo faltered, shame, humiliation and anguish washing over her, and she found it impossible to continue.
Shh, dear one; don’t tell me, just show me, her mother sent to her, radiating serenity.
Theo squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep, ragged breath; then she cleared her mind and let the events of the past two days flow past her, replaying them from her perspective for her mother. Yisador moved gently in Theo’s mind, sorting through her memories and replaying a few; she also examined the large new fissure in Theo’s psyche, seeing how fresh branches were moving into the more remote parts of Theo’s mind. Yisador appeared to be mildly shocked at Vejiita’s ability to mimic Theo’s way of building coercive power and more than a little concerned about the depth of the link between Theo and Vejiita.
Daughter, we’re going to get you out of there, Yisador sent, quietly withdrawing from Theo, unwinding from some of her memories. A faint hint of a great store of white hot rage shimmered for half a moment between them and then vanished.
I can’t see how, Mama, Theo thought, despairing. There are two very large Saiyans staying here with me – and he’s right across the hall …
We will find a way, Theo – you will not be alone much longer. Be strong, dear one, and take care of your body. We need you whole. With that, Yisador moved gently into the forefront of her mind and released an enormous amount of endorphins into her system, flooding Theo so that she was overwhelmed. Her eyes drifted shut in sleepy response, a wave of well being coursing through her bloodstream as her mind slipped away into a dreamless sleep, exhausted and numb.
Yisador stayed connected with her for a few more moments to insure that she had in fact fallen into a deep sleep, then she carefully withdrew from Theo’s mind, taking care not to disturb the other strong power she felt there. That other power was not aware of her; not yet anyway, she thought grimly, because with him, it’s only a matter of time. She caressed Theo’s mind once more before returning to her own body – be strong, Theo, we will come for you.
Yisador slowly opened her eyes. She was seated on her couch in her apartment, surrounded by several other Guardians, all with haggard, drawn faces. Two were supporting her on either side; Meryth was an older, stout woman, one who gave the appearance of having seen and commented on everything there was to see in the universe, while Olean was delicately consumptive, her long face accentuated by her large, staring eyes and long, lank hair. Stranna was seated in front of her, her long, dark brown hair tucked behind her ears, her blue eyes appearing even larger against her smooth, porcelin skin.
"How is she, Yisa?" asked Stranna. Her hands held Yisador’s in a firm, tight grip; as she spoke, she gently squeezed each hand. "How’s Theo?"
Yisador looked directly at Stranna. The expression in her eyes was plain; Stranna sat back, releasing Yisador’s hands, and swallowed.
"What happened?" she asked, her voice sounding rough and unused.
Meryth and Olean were on each side of Yisador; they waited for her to begin, hands tightly clasped together, heads drawn in.
Yisador slowly shook her head. "It’s worse than we thought, Stranna," she said heavily, slumping back against the cushions. "Much worse." She was silent for a moment, marshaling her thoughts. Finally, she said, her voice taut, "There are several problems, but the largest one by far is the Prince. That – that child – that demon – is in her mind. And I mean in her mind, the way that you or I could be in her mind."
"So Beryan was right," muttered Olean. "Poor Theo."
"No – not just ‘poor Theo.’ You don’t understand," Yisador said, drawing a deep breath. "This is not a minor inconvenience. Here," she said, grabbing the hands of the women next to her, "link so you’ll see."
Silently each woman took the hand of the person next to her, concentrated on the power within themselves, and opened to each other. Yisador invited them into her mind, where each had a first person view of the brief interaction between Theo and her mother, paying careful attention to Theo’s memories.
The first to react was Stranna. She gasped when she realized what she was seeing, and almost broke the connection. "Yisador, that can’t be right – Saiyans can't do that."
"Apparently no one’s told this particular Saiyan he can’t do that," said Yisador dryly. "And should you miss them, may I draw your attention to these fresh tracks through Theo's mind over here…"
Olean groaned. "Do you see how close they are to —"
"Yes, I do, and it took everything I had NOT to communicate that thought to Theo – she would have gone right over the edge. She has no idea what he’s really seen. Fortunately, he doesn’t know the significance of what he’s seen, either."
Meryth frowned, thinking. She could feel Yisador’s worry and rage simmering below the surface of her mind, pushed down hard enough for Yisador to control with her iron grip. She shifted her bulk on the couch and shook her head, at a loss for words. "What do you want to happen, Yisa?"
Yisador’s eyes immediately flamed with inhuman brightness and her mouth drew back in a feral snarl. "I want that boy DEAD," she hissed between her teeth, staring at Meryth fiercely.
The other woman drew back, alarmed by her vehemence and fury. Yisador was many things, but was always temperate and the voice of reason when dealing with the Saiyans; her anger was usually never seen, even by her closest confidants.
Yisador continued, her voice rasping in her throat, "He hurt my baby. My Theo. He forced his way into her and —"
"Yisa, be reasonable," Meryth said, her plump chin waggling in distress at her friend’s rage. "We cannot do anything to him. Nothing can happen to him; he’s the Saiyan Prince – we wouldn’t even be a memory if something happened to him. He’s stronger than most of the Saiyans put together – Kami, Yisa, he’s supposed to be stronger than his father – we wouldn’t stand a chance. Besides, it’s true that he’s arrogant and cruel, but look at the rest of the race – they’re ALL like that." She grasped Yisador by her upper arms and gently repeated, "He’s just a boy, Yisador. Just a boy. We don’t kill children."
Yisador held her friend’s eyes for a long moment, then dropped her own. "I know, Meryth, I know. But it would be so much easier if …," and she took a deep breath, shaking her head. "Well, never mind." She dropped her head into her hands and remained that way for long minutes; the other women seated around her waited for her to continue. After several minutes of contemplation, Yisador raised her head and looked at each of her companions in turn.
"There is a way," she said slowly, reaching out to take Stranna’s hands in her own. "We need to find a weakness in this Prince, and we need to find it quickly – else our entire world is going to come crashing down in a matter of days." She was silent, looking at Stranna with an odd expression on her careworn face. Stranna looked back at her, puzzled.
"How can we find this weakness, Yisador?" Olean asked, mystified. "We certainly can’t move into his mind; he’d know we were there. And as far as I recall, he’s not familiar with any of the Elite that we regularly monitor. So how –"
Stranna’s face suddenly lost its color. She pulled her hands away from Yisador as if they burned and stared at her, her breath quickening, saying nothing, her eyes stricken.
"There is someone who knows his weaknesses, someone who is closer to him than any of the Elites, even Nappa," Yisador said. Her words were meant for all of them, but she stared steadily at Stranna.
"Well, who would …," began Meryth, but trailed off after seeing the expression on Stranna’s face. She looked from Yisador to Stranna and back again, frowning. Sudden comprehension dawned in her eyes as she gasped, "You don’t mean—"
"Of course," Yisador said, sorrow in every nuance of her tone as she and Stranna locked gazes. "The King knows. He knows every fiber of the Prince; every flaw, every strength; he knows any weakness or perceived weakness and will fight to the death to protect him. To the King, the Prince is the legendary Super Saiyan, the savior of their race. There is nothing he would not do for his son." She stopped speaking then and put her hand over Stranna’s clasped hands. "I am so sorry, my friend. But there is no other way."
Stranna briefly closed her eyes, then opened them again. Steely resolve mingled with pain as she responded, her voice heavy and low, "I know, Yisa, I know. He ... prefers me. I will do this for Theo, Yisa – but this is the last time." Her voice almost broke as she continued, "I will not do this again. I do not care what the consequences are - for me, for you, or for anyone else, I will not do it. I have been doing this for as long as we have been here, and ... I cannot stand it anymore. Do you understand?"
Yisador nodded wordlessly. "Stranna," she whispered, reaching out to her friend, "this is the last time." As the women embraced, Yisador looked at Olean and said silently, Contact our Elite friends and find out what the King is doing this evening … we have a surprise for him …
Worry and problems seemed to go hand-in-hand for rulers of any kingdom, but especially for the ruler of the Saiyajin this night. As he strode through the almost deserted hallways of the palace with his customary bodyguards, the small kernel of doubt and misgivings that had been gnawing at the King for the last several hours started to bloom.
For the most part, his people were happy under his rule; his rule and Freeza’s rule, that is. The King had been forced to accept an ‘alliance’ with Freeza several years ago, and in fact had entered into the agreement readily. His advisors had believed that the Saiyans would benefit more from an association with Freeza than Freeza would benefit from an association with them, and so far they had been correct. Just the mention of the name of the fearsome tyrant brought awesome changes to the attitudes of many inhabitants initially reluctant to receive the Saiyans on their planet. However, the King was noticing changes, changes that while not significant in and of themselves, boded ill for the overall health of the Saiyan people – and he was angry and afraid.
Freeza had taken to ‘dropping in’ from time to time on Vejiitasei with no advance warning. The tyrant knew that the Sayian's scouters would pick up his chi, but even so, he continued. He also knew that the Sayians would only realize he was there if they were paying attention to their precious technology, which did not happen all the time. His sudden appearances could and did occur anywhere – in the royal palace, outside in the gardens, in the barracks – and those not using their scouters were always taken completely by surprise. He was unfailingly polite to the Saiyans, but refused to work through any of the regular diplomatic channels in use on Vejiitasei. He had also become bolder as of late, even to the point of publicly ignoring the King during a discussion the King had been having with his Elite guards. That caused the King great embarrassment and served to push home the message that Freeza condsidered the wrath of the Saiyan king a trivial matter. Seething, the King controlled himself and thought about the time when the odd, smooth alien would make a satisfying little *squish* beneath his boot.
The King’s desire to be rid of the little despot solidified there and then, and he began plotting Freeza’s imminent demise. It wasn’t easy, though; a difficult, if not impossible task. Personnel assignments, according to his spies on board, changed daily, and no one ever knew exactly what they would be doing; no one, that was, save those precious few working directly with Freeza, such as that pink monstrosity named Dodoria or that green creature called Zarbon. Each was a warrior of some repute, but it still escaped the King why anyone would choose to work for someone like Freeza instead of trying to carve their own niche out of the universe for themselves. The irony of his own situation, however, was not lost on him.Striding into the hallway and down the corridor, the King sourly reflected on how he would be able to coordinate the movements of the Elite warriors to conicide with the time he had chosen to invade Freeza’s ship and end that ‘partnership.' Scowling at the darkness of his thoughts, he unconsciously looked up as he and his party approached the section of the palace where the Guardians were housed.
And there’s another alien situation, he thought angrily, walking swiftly through the area without appearing to look to the right or the left. WHAT am I supposed to do with these women?
Originally, the King had them brought to Vejiitasei after recognizing their odd power signature as one the Tsufuru had described in the mountains of paperwork they found after their final defeat. Apparently, this race of women had been a peculiar obsession with one of the Tsufuru scientists, as volumes of speculative material was written about them. However, one piece of hard data existed; a member of the race had been ‘captured’ by the Tsufuru and had been successfully quelled by the use of a mechanical device they called a ‘collar.’ This collar allowed the Tsufuru, a relatively weak but intelligent civilization, to control this creature. They would command something, and the creature would have to obey – there were no questions asked. The Saiyans attempted to duplicate the technology from those pieces that survived the war, and made a credible job of it. They were even able to modify the existing design to handle a larger power input from the collared individual, but still keep the same output as the unmodified pieces.
The upshot of the entire discovery was when that power signature that had been so lovingly described by the Tsufuru suddenly appeared as a blip during a regular sweep of the Rogas sector, immediately after the detection program had been installed. A quick trip to the planet in question had turned up not just one, or two, but dozens of those women. Some had died in the ensuing scuffle, as (surprisingly) had some of the Saiyans; but for the most part, they were able to seize and subdue them with the assistance of the Tsufuru- and Saiyan-manufactured collars.
Dragging them back to Vejiitasei had been the King’s idea, and initially he had thought a very good one. His Elites were under a great deal of pressure; they were charged with suppression of off-planet rebellions for Freeza, clearing other planets of local inhabitants for sale, and generally preparing for conflicts around the galaxy. They needed some type of diversion, entertainment of some sort to relax and refresh them for their upcoming battles – and according to the material left by the Tsufuru, these Guardians could provide just that. Physically they were weak – very fragile, hardly able to withstand the normal atmosphere of Vejiitasei – but their mental powers were quite extraordinary. Harnessed with the Tsufuru collars, the women could do practically anything the Saiyans could imagine, and once it became clear what type of things the Saiyans wanted the women to do, their place in Saiyan society was sealed.
Pleasure slaves were not uncommon on Vejiitasei, but the kind of pleasure these women could give was so remarkable that the King only permitted the Elite access to them. The Guardian’s minds, moderated by their collars, could slip into a Sayian’s mind and trigger enormous amounts of ‘pleasure circuits,’ pathways previously unopened and unexplored. The Saiyans, meanwhile, were able to sate both their physical lust and psychological craving for dominance by using the Guardians as an outlet for their passions, while enjoying pleasure never before imagined. All in all, an excellent bargain for the Saiyans.
As the King strode along the corridor, faint sounds of fighting drifted toward him from the far end. Curious as to who would be using the facilities at this hour, he continued toward the end and finally stopped once he was in front of a large plexiglass enclosure. Standing outside of the gym, he watched the sparring activity with his arms folded across his chest and a forbidding look thundering between his eyes. However, it became obvious to his bodyguards that the longer he watched, the more involved he became in the action; at one point he seemed ready to lean forward and give encouragement to the combatants in the ring. His eyes glittering, he nodded curtly to his men, saying, "We’re going inside." Yanking the door open, he strode into the training facility.
A small crowd of Elites had gathered watching the late night training session; what made it particularly enjoyable for them was the fact that one of the combatants was a Guardian. All of the Guardians had been learning to spar for a number of years; in fact, it was the King’s decree that they be trained, as several years ago he had noticed the frail beings literally wasting away in front of his eyes. The King did not trust the Guardians, and suspected that they were trying to escape from him through starvation and wasting; he therefore started a training program that forced them to eat a supervised meal at least once per day and train at least several times per week, and was rewarded with an almost immediate recovery of the species. The program, it seemed, had other benefits as well; some of the women had a natural affinity for the sport, and if left to their own devices, had an inborn bloodlust that rivaled any Saiyan. In his more reflective moments, the King shuddered to think what those women would do if uncollared.
The King recognized the woman fighting as one of those Guardians. He had seen her fight on other occasions, and had always been struck by her ferocity, her tenacity when confronted with what seemed to be overwhelming odds, and her innate cunning. She was a rare opponent, one that thought on her feet, offering both a physical and a mental challenge. Her sensei was encouraging her from the sidelines, now, shouting at her to use her brain before it was pounded the hell out of her.
It seemed that her sensei had a point, the King thought, amused. This time, the woman did not seem to be on the winning side of the skirmish. She already had a rather large bruise covering one side of her face – easily fixed by a few minutes in a tank, the King found himself reckoning – and she seemed to be slightly winded, panting as she stood in front of her attackers, a vicious smirk on her face. She was tall for a Guardian – statuesque, in fact, with legs that looked as long as some Guardians were tall – and she had a thin sheen of perspiration covering her exposed face and chest. Sparring was the only time that the Guardians wore anything other than their customary loose tunics and pants, and this Guardian was wearing a dark blue regulation Saiyan jumpsuit, complete with boots and gloves. It left little to the imagination, and was yet another reason for Saiyans to attend a sparring match that featured Guardians. Female Saiyans were of course attractive to the males, but the Guardians offered something exotic, something untamed – and were always in demand after their matches, no matter the outcome.
She narrowed her eyes, her hands dangling loosely at her sides, her body in a slight crouch, her parted lips showing small, perfect white teeth. "Now shounen, is that truly the best you can do?" she taunted, a sarcastic smile playing around her mouth. Her mane of wild, dark brown hair was caught at her neck and cascaded down her back, completing her look of almost-Saiyan savagery. "I can’t believe that you’re able to stomp entire planets into oblivion, yet you can’t seem to take care of poor little me. But maybe," she continued, favoring her attackers with a sly smile, "that’s because you were able to transform. Is that it? Transformation somehow improves your fighting ability?" An irritated snort from one large Saiyan brought a grin to her face. "I’m right, aren’t I?" she asked archly, watching the large Saiyan attempt to circle behind her. "It’s that bigger brain size, isn’t it? Ah, but kodomotachi, you have to remember …"
While she had been speaking to the Saiyans her muscles had been quietly bunching and tightening, as spring coils compress; then without warning, she launched herself at the Saiyan behind her, snarling and whirling in the air, faking numerous times at his body only to viciously kick him in the face at least five times, the last being a particularly nasty reverse crescent kick that nicely sliced across his head at a hard angle, dropping him to the floor where he remained.
She sprang backwards from her last attack to meet the other Saiyan behind her, driving him away from her with a flurry of kicks and punches only matched in ferocity by the expression on her face. He recovered from her surprise attack and started to fight back, easily blocking her kicks and then, grinning, grabbing her right arm; unfortunately for him, this was exactly the move she had been waiting for him to make. She snaked inside his guard and drove her left elbow into his face at an angle just below the bridge of his nose, shattering his cheekbone and smashing his nose simultaneously. The pain was so intense that the Saiyan forgot everything else and released her right arm, which she immediately whipped across her body. She smashed her right elbow into his temple, collapsing that part of his skull. He dropped like a stone to the floor and stayed there, unmoving, blood leaking from his nose and ears.
Panting, she jumped back into a guarding crouch, staring defiantly at the rest of the stunned Elites surrounding her, and gasping, finished the sentence she had started – " remember …size … isn’t … everything."
A muted roar started from the crowd of Saiyans, and she braced herself for the onslaught. Feeling rather than seeing someone approach from behind, she whirled around and struck with her hands and feet, and felt herself tossed carelessly into the air. She tried to orient herself, but whomever threw her also slung her into a spin that whipped her head around mercilessly, and she could only wait until her body stopped rotating. As quickly as it had started it stopped; she found herself dangling off the floor, held by her neck, looking into the black eyes of the Saiyan king. He held her at arms’ length, a dark, knowing gaze in his eyes, watching her struggle to breathe, a slightly cruel smile on his face. She stopped fighting then and looked at him, her eyes almost begging him to release her but saying nothing.
He laughed, a short bark, and dropped her to the floor. Immediately she started taking long, gasping breaths, her hands clasped around her neck, shielding it from another assault. No one touched her, though; and in the space of a few moments she had recovered enough so that she could stand upright, still gasping slightly, and look at the Saiyan king.
"You! Sensei!" the King bellowed, pointing at the older man he had seen giving the woman directions in the beginning of the fight.
"Sire?" he immediately said, walking up to him, looking at the woman with barely concealed rage.
The King grinned sadonically, noting the sensei’s expression. "Don’t be angry with her, sensei," he said. "These women do us a service when they can cull our ranks and clear out the deadwood. How would YOU feel," he asked, shoving the body of the second Elite with his foot distastefully, "if the only kind of backup you had on a mission was from one of these sorry excuses for a Saiyan? Ones who could be defeated by a woman – a weak woman, at that – but someone who fought using their head instead of just using brute strength?" The King was feeling expansive and continued, "and so you are to be commended, sensei, for training her that way. I expect to see Saiyans sent to you react with such intelligence."
"Yes, sire," the man said, confused at the good humor of his sovereign, standing with members of his own Elite guard dead at his feet. I will never understand royalty, he thought to himself, bewildered.
"Oh, and sensei," the King continued, now staring directly at the woman, "get her cleaned up. I want her in perfect condition at my training room in … oh, let’s say … twenty minutes." He walked over to her and ran a familiar hand across her jaw, his thumb trailing down her throat and across her collarbone to her shoulder, smiling as his eyes darkened at her. She dropped her eyes modestly, and he laughed. "Twenty minutes, sensei. No longer." With that, he turned on his heel and strode out of the training room, closely followed by his bodyguard.
"You are one lucky woman, Stranna," her sensei said to her angrily, tugging her arm, pulling her toward the small regen tanks kept at the back of that training area. "They would have killed you otherwise. I was ready to do it myself. What were you thinking?"
"I … I am sorry, sensei … I wasn’t thinking at all … I was just enraged at their lack of … courteousness in the beginning of the match," Stranna said, subdued, as she allowed him to lead her to the tanks and disrobe her. "And I permitted my feelings to take over. I am sorry," she said, bowing her head to him. "I meant no disrespect."
He frowned at her, but did not strike her. "You are lucky," he repeated as he helped her into the tank, "and now you’ve been noticed again by the King." He shook his head, helping her adjust the straps to the mask. "I don’t understand these things, but … it’s as it is. What the King wants, the King will have."
As the fluid filled up around her, she took a deep breath from the mask and relaxed.
Is it done? came Yisador’s thought into her mind. Are we ready?
Yes, it’s done, Stranna thought wearily, closing her eyes, and now it's on to phase two. Try me again in a couple of hours, please …
The window was open, allowing the sounds of the night to make their way into the palace. Small chirpings and buzzings could be heard, just above the decibel level for audible noise, but far enough below the level where tones were identifiable that it was noted not so much as a sound than as a feeling.
The woman was lying in bed, a shaft of emerging daylight moving toward her face, surrounded by comfortable, fine things; soft pillows and sheets, a comfortable bed, a slightly snoring Saiyan companion. Her body appeared relaxed, but her eyes told a different story. If color could be discerned in that eerie half dawn, they would have been a mixture of green, gold and tan, all on a dark blueberry blue background; and if expression could have been read in that half light, hers would have shown fear and perplexity colliding with each other.
It had all gone according to plan, as smoothly as if they had designed it weeks instead of moments in advance. Olean had contacted her sensei through farsensing, then had coerced him ("convinced," she like to say) into sending for her. Once at the training facility, it had been easy to choose several large, dimwitted Saiyans to challenge her, and in the process make it seem as if they had insulted her sensei, so that she was honor bound to fight them. The difficult part had been holding them off as long as she could, until she felt the King coming towards the center; then she was able to let them go, let them attack her as they wanted, as forcefully as they could. It had been a bit dicey in spots, but she had survived as she knew she would. It was regrettable that the Saiyans were killed – she hadn’t been sure about the first one, but overheard other Saiyans whispering that there was no point in putting him into a tank, as bone shards from a crushed skull had penetrated his brain. The second one, certainly, had been dead before he hit the floor, and in much the same way; Stranna had caved in the side of his temple without a second thought.
The Saiyan king, naturally, had watched the entire exhibition, coming in when she had been beaten back by her assailants and staying through her ultimate triumph over them. He had praised her sensei for such intelligent training and had ordered her brought to him after she had been cleaned up a bit. Again, exactly according to plan. Stranna had remembered his penchant for fierce looking sweaty women, and had played her part to the hilt. He had, predictably, taken the bait.
What had been a surprise to her was that once she had been delivered to him at his personal training room, he actually wanted to spar with her before he chose to do anything else to her – or required her to do anything else to him. That was something for which Stranna had no contingency plan, so she had no choice but to humor him – and he wasn’t kidding when he said he expected her to spar as fiercely as she had before.
Before she knew it, she was flat on her back on the training room floor, the side of her face stinging, looking up into a smirking face that inquired, "Do I have the right Guardian? You seem a bit slower than the other woman."
"Thank you, sir, I’m the right one," she said, trying to keep her voice neutral, her eyes flashing fire. The king smirked again, knowing without benefit of telepathy that her pride had been piqued, and watched as she scrambled to her feet, her face flushed with color and her eyes bright and dangerous.
"Then start fighting as if your life depended upon it," he said, moving into position, "because from now on -- it does."
The next quarter hour felt as though it was an eternity to Stranna. She attacked, parried, defended, ran, rolled, and generally fought for her life as strongly as she ever had done outside of Vejiitasei. She had kept him moving, too; but at the end, it was the Saiyan who had the upper hand. She knew when they started that she was hopelessly outclassed, and that there was no way imaginable that she would ever prevail, but her spirit refused to allow her to stop – she had to rise to the challenge, no matter what.
King Vejiita knew that, too. He watched her fierce display; watched the play of her muscles under her jumpsuit, the way her chest rose and fell with her labored breathing, her intense stare and how her eyes changed color the instant she decided to attack, and he knew that he had to have her. He was just perverse enough to want to exhaust her so that when he did take her there would be no question as to who was in charge.
In the end, she had succumbed to his greater strength, endurance and speed. He pinned her against the wall; her arms and legs were aching from the blows she had blocked, her head was spinning from lack of oxygen, but still she managed to croak out at him defiantly, "Should I be impressed by this, sire?"
"No," he said, amusement rumbling in his voice, "but you should be impressed by this." He had kissed her, fully and deeply, pressing her sweat soaked body next to his, pulling her away from the wall and bending her backwards, caressing her breasts with one hand as he supported her weight with the other. She closed her eyes to the naked lust in his as he pushed her down on the floor, feeling his weight and his hands across her body. This will pass it will pass it will pass pass pass ….
I command you, Guardian of mine, came the thought, pure and clear as he clasped the front of her collar with his thumb and third finger and pushed in toward the hollow of her throat. You will insure that I enjoy this encounter … AND that you enjoy it as much as I.
Stranna was dumb with astonishment as the command sank into her awareness and her body responded to the king’s caresses. Much better, Guardian, he thought, staring deeply into her eyes. This need not be uncomfortable for either one of us. I command you to take pleasure from this.
She had whimpered then, feeling that he had somehow robbed her of her righteous indignation; that if she enjoyed the sensations bombarding her body, she was being traitorous to her own race. He had felt her discomfiture through the collar’s psychic link, and had laughed and redoubled his efforts toward her.
Now she was in bed next to him, hours later, physically exhausted but unable to sleep because of the discovery she had just made. He was snoring softly, his mind turning in deep dreams, and she had probed him; again, all according to plan.
Tell me, my king, my liege, the secret of your son … what does he fear? What do you fear for him? Show me your secrets, my king …
No sooner had she whispered the suggestion to him than a vivid picture of Freeza, the monstrous tyrant, floated in front of her mind with the king’s horrified realization:
He wants Vejiita for his own … he wants to take him away, take him off-world and raise him in that menagerie he calls home … he would take the crown prince of Vejiitasei and shape him into some hideous image of his own … he wants my son …
That … thing … wants the boy? Her initial reaction was shocked, appalled astonishment; revulsion quickly followed when she formed a mental picture of Freeza with his charges from across the universe.
Then, from a hidden, practical side of her mind she had faithfully kept shut for some time, came an unbidden thought:
Have you lost your reason? This is the PERFECT opportunity! The strange lizard wants the Saiyan? -- well, let him have him, then! Your problem is neatly solved – no more Prince Vejiita means no more threat to Theo OR to the rest of us – jump on it, woman, jump on it!
She lay there, trembling, afraid of her own mind. It made sense – give the prince to Freeza, and their troubles were over. However, she didn’t feel good about the choice; from what she had seen of Freeza, he was an absolute dictator with a deformed soul who delighted in causing pain. Was she willing to subject a child to that type of person?
Eyes wide open, she lay on her pillow and stared out the window, listening to the sounds of the early morning. Yisador will know what to do, she thought, closing her eyes. She will know – and if not, then we ALL must decide, not just one of us.
The dawn started to spill across the courtyard, sneaking behind doorways and into corners. Saiyan soldiers marched with it, moving along the corridors next to the courtyard in full battle gear. At their head was a diminutive figure, most Saiyans dwarfing him but staying a respectful distance away. His clear, smooth voice carried across the quad, obviously irritated with something the larger Saiyan next to him had said.
"Do not talk to me about what you cannot do, Raditz!" the small warrior snarled up at the taller Saiyan standing by his side. “I expect that woman to be in perfect health – meaning body and mind – when I get back. Is that clear?”
The Prince eyed him balefully. “She had better be, Raditz,” he said, a dangerous edge to his voice. “You are responsible for her; if she’s not, have no doubt that your condition will be at least seventy-five times worse than hers. I want her mind sharp and focused, not fuzzy and clouded the was it was when I left my quarters. She's absolutely no use to me when she's like that."
"But sire," Raditz started reasonably, "the woman wasn't even awake when you left. Surely you can't possibly know what state her mind was in –"
Raditz stopped at the expression on Vejiita's face and hastily added, "But, of course, Sire, you are the person who's been in contact with her the longest, and I'm sure that whatever you sensed in her was there, unequivocally there -"
"Shut up while you can, Raditz," the Prince scowled at him. "You're beginning to sound like Nappa, and believe me, that's NOT good."
Raditz bowed his head again, murmuring "Yes, sir," and fell into step behind him, cursing his luck, his mother, and anyone else that had conspired to place him at that exact point in time with the crown prince. The duty was supposed to have fallen to Docaoav, but no – I had to open my big mouth and say that I wanted this, it was my turn. I am such a moron.
The squadron of soldiers turned as one as they reached the end of the corridor and marched smartly into the pod hangers, where the individual battle space pods were kept. Nappa was waiting there for the Prince, his battle armor polished to a dull shine, an expectant, bloodthirsty expression dancing around his eyes. He snapped to attention the moment he saw Vejiita and did not relax until the Prince glared at him and groaned, "Fine, Nappa –you’re coming with me, if you must."
"Yes, sir!" Nappa said enthusiastically. He turned on his heel and strode over to one of the closed pods, a small, modest one with the royal insignia on the outside, and activated the door sensor. He opened the next pod as well; this one appeared to have all the same features, but lacked the royal seal. The other soldiers started filing past Vejiita and Raditz, smoothly moving to their own battle pods and starting their own checkout procedures. Vejiita walked over to his opened pod and sat down, carefully checking the controls and instruments before giving Raditz another withering look.
"Three days, baka – you have three days to get that woman into shape," he said, his hands flying over the keyboards. "I’m going to want to start using her the moment I get back from this sortie, so make sure she’s ready." He smiled, but his smile did not touch his eyes; they stayed brilliant and cold as they held Raditz in an extremely intimidating manner. "Do you understand?"
Raditz shuddered. "She’ll be ready for you, sir," he said deferentially, bowing once again to Vejiita. The Prince huffed a reply and closed the pod door with a bang. As he walked out of the room, he heard the soft *shoop* of the pods moving through a vacuum field to begin their journeys to other planets.
Feh – royalty, Raditz thought sourly to himself. So spoiled, especially that one … Sighing, he started to walk back to his quarters, knowing he needed to have Theo responsive upon Vejiita’s return, but not quite knowing how to do that.
Her first awareness was that the world was moving, and none too gently, either. She felt like she was rolling from side to side, and had no control over her body. Earthquakes on Vejiitasei?
“Get up, woman,” a brusque baritone voice said in her ear. “I’m leaving, and so are you.”
Inwardly groaning, she rolled onto her back and opened her eyes to find the Saiyan King staring at her from less then a quarter meter away. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, dressed in his battle gear, a strange expression on his face. His face and mind unguarded, Stranna caught the whiff of an unfamiliar emotion coming from him -- was that -- fondness?
Fondness for what? she wondered, puzzled. Just as quickly as she thought she sensed it, the feeling was gone. I must be imagining things. She squinted her eyes at him, trying to remember when it was that she drifted off to sleep. Judging from the light slanting across his body, she estimated that she had only been asleep for about 30 minutes. Ugh, she thought, stifling a yawn, I’d better not yawn in his face … he didn’t like it the last time...
“Get up, woman,” he repeated, but made no attempt to move from his position. He seemed to want to reach out to her and touch her, but instead scowled and kept his hands to himself. She moved to sit up, and felt a momentary twinge of pain in her groin. Her face must have communicated as much, because the King’s customary scowl lightened somewhat as his eyes narrowed, considering her.
“Hmmm. You need to get more exercise,” he commented, fixing her with his black gaze, his eyes wandering frankly to her chest.
She colored and moved to pull the sheet up to her chin, but his hands were much too fast for her. Within seconds, the bedclothes were whisked away and dumped on the floor, and she was sitting on her hands on the bed, naked and shivering, an angry glare in her eyes. Wisely, however, she said nothing, and left her hands where they were.
He regarded her with fresh interest, watching how her eyes changed color from midnight blue to royal blue shot with pink to a roiling sea green, amazed as always at the chemistry that induced the change. “Don’t try to hide anything from me,” he warned her. “When I want to look at you, I will.”
Not enough time now, he told himself, but later … "Get up and get dressed now, woman," he said, smirking. "We’re leaving. We’ll continue this conversation another time."
Not if I can help it, we won’t. Complying with his order, Stranna slipped off the opposite side of the bed to find her clothes in a crumpled, sweat-stained heap on the floor. Dipping down rapidly, she scooped everything up in her arms, dropped the jumpsuit on the bed and slid into her undergarments. After she shook out her jumpsuit Stranna deftly wiggled into it, slipped on her boots and then finally her gloves. She looked up as she was pulling her last glove over her fingers and was shocked to see the king standing several inches away from her, his head level with hers, his body heat overwhelming. I didn’t even hear him come over …He captured her eyes and stared at her, unblinking, until she dropped her gaze to the floor, uncertain color flooding her cheeks a second time, her hearts pounding. Stranna heard the king snort softly in amusement as she drew a long shaky breath, trying to calm herself, still examining the wooden floorboards. Ruefully she acknowledged to herself oh, damn, he knows, he can feel what he's doing to me …
Grinning to himself, the king appeared satisfied with her reaction to him and his power over her. Catching her by surprise, he took her upper arm and momentarily pulled her into him; she gasped, her eyes opened wide as her treacherous body swayed toward him. Still grinning sardonically, the king neatly spun her about and corrected his grip on her upper arm as he headed for the doorway. Stranna found that her feet weren’t working very well, and stumbled along next to him for several paces until she regained her balance. By that time they were at the main door to King Vejiita’s quarters.
The king pushed her unceremoniously out of the room and spoke to the guard surrounding the doors. "See that she gets back to her quarters as soon as possible," he directed, staring at the nearest Saiyan. "I don’t want these Guardians wandering around the palace." With that, he turned on his heel, slammed the door and strode toward the center of the palace, quickly followed by the Elite bodyguard. His mind had left the question of the Guardians behind, and with renewed vigor was fully focused on his plans to unseat Freeza.
As she trotted down the hallway with her escort, seeing the early morning light creep into the palace, she thought you’re going to have more problems than just one lonely little Guardian running around your precious palace, her feelings of anger and impotence at being used surfacing for an instant as her eyes flashed fire.
Theo … Theo, child, wake up …
Theo dragged herself up from the pleasant depths of dreamless sleep, muddled and disoriented. Pushing her daughter’s mind to respond to her, Yisador inserted herself shallowly into Theo and tweaked several familiar pathways. Mumbles of protest drowned in Theo’s throat as she tried to escape consciousness by turning and diving towards sleep.
No, no … you must get up now, child … we may never have this chance again …
Tweaking again, Yisador blocked Theo’s way to sleep and instead redirected it to a newer, different path. Groaning, Theo rolled over in bed, drawing her knees to her chest and attempted to hide under her covers.
Theo, this is important … Theo, he’s gone, and we need you … you must have Raditz bring you to us … Theo, remember this …
She tried to duck and maneuver around her mother, but Yisador knew all her tricks. Gradually she was driven from that comfortable, safe spot in her mind toward full consciousness; and with that came stinging memory. She opened her eyes, painfully swollen from crying, and saw the soft morning light shining through one high window. A physical ache spread through her chest as she recalled why she was there.
I’m not going anywhere, Mama, she thought desolately, I can’t. I … he …
Daughter, feel your mind, Yisador sent soothingly. Feel where he is, and tell me if there’s any difference from yesterday.
Tentatively Theo sent out exploratory feelers – and realized that the presence that had claimed parts of her mind as its own was … not entirely there. Confused, she became bolder – and almost bumped into his presence in the back of her mind. Hastily retreating from a direct confrontation, Theo pulled back until she felt she could watch, unobserved, and realized something else.
Vejiita’s presence – the pressure on her psyche – was lessening with each passing moment. In fact, if it continued to diminish at its present rate, Theo estimated that he would be out of her mind entirely by the end of the day.
Mama! she sent back, astonished. Did you know about this?
I thought something like this would happen, her mother replied. But don’t become overconfident, Theo – you must still be careful, especially now. If he feels something is wrong, he will try to grab you through the connection, and that would be painful in the extreme…
Theo immediately pulled into herself, almost as if she was a turtle diving into her shell. Her mother was right; Theo could feel him searching for her, his subconscious uneasy and disturbed. Frightened, she dove for the relative safety of her own mind, staying in that netherland between awareness and unconsciousness, and prayed to Kami that he would simply go away. She knew better, though; when he found her, she expected him to probe and prod her, which is exactly what happened. When he found her he pushed and prodded relentlessly until she was ready to scream, her carefully constructed guard around herself ripped to shreds, her composure gone.
A feeling of smugness, of self-satisfaction permeated the connection between them. Take care of yourself, Guardian; your true work will start when I come home. She shuddered, feeling his thought caress her mind, and tried to pull even farther inside herself.
Go away, she thought, frantic, flinging hatred, hopelessness and fear at him, leave me alone.
Never, Guardian, came the immediate rejoinder. You are mine. I take care of my property, whether it likes it or not. Raditz will look after you in my absence. You *will* be whole in body and mind when I return. He pushed at certain emotional synapses, driving a pattern in her brain, forcing her to acknowledge and accept her place as he saw it.
She resisted for several moments, but was then was overwhelmed, feeling he was attacking her psyche from all directions at once. Yes, sir, she responded dully, overpowered, I *will* be whole in body and mind. As you say.
There was no response from him, only a vague feeling of arrogant satisfaction with her reply, followed by a gradual withdrawl of his presence from the forefront of her mind. She lay motionless on the bed, staring at nothing, hoping against hope that he was well and truly gone. Her hands had been reflexively clutching the coverlet, creating huge bunches of material by her head; her eyes were wide and staring and frightened.
Theo … Theo, tell Raditz you must see me to be well … tell him that, Theo…
Two tears shimmered at the sides of her eyes and slid across her face onto the coverlet, closely followed by more. I will, Mama. I will tell him right now.
Her face as pale as paper, Theo stood looking up into Raditz's dark, scowling face and made her request.
"I… I feel awful," she started in a small voice. When he looked unimpressed, her entire body started to shake, she lost what little self-control she had and shouted at him, desperate, "I – feel – AWFUL! I can't stand feeling this way. It's YOUR job to take care of me - that's what Ouji said, and that's what you're supposed to do!" Tears were driving down her cheeks as she continued shouting at him, her face contorted, "I don't want to be here with you, I don't want to be with my sensei - I want to be with my mother, and I want to be with her NOW - right NOW!" The last was delivered to him at decibel levels Raditz thought were possible only for hovercars, accompanied by an enormous amount of wild eyed screaming, punching, and kicking -- and all of it delivered with aplomb, straight at him. Had she been any other woman on the planet, Raditz probably would have put her in her place rather quickly; but seeing that she was Vejiita’s toy, he decided it would be much better to yield to her peculiar demands. They might even prove to be exactly what she needed – and he was responsible for her well being.
Yisador was sitting on the couch the in the front room alone, looking at a small patch of sunlight on the floor. As the dawn broke, light slanted through the window, slowly moving across the floorboards, illuminating small, random bits of dust that appeared to sparkle and dance in the air. She sighed, bowed her head and slumped back into the couch, appalled at the enormous burden that had just shifted itself from Stranna’s shoulders to her own, and wondered again what the Guardians could have possibly done to anger the Kaious so much so that they had been sentenced to spend time in this living hell.
Once we were travelers, explorers – we ruled our part of the galaxy, and commanded space and time itself. We watched the rise and fall of civilizations, discovered the secrets of the Matrix with Rasillon and harnessed its power – all to have come to this. Bitterly she pulled at the collar around her neck, running her fingers around its smooth edges. Homeless orphaned slaves, the playthings of fools – unthinking, uncaring beasts who use us for their own pleasure.
She opened her eyes and shifted them back to the kitchen where Stranna, Meryth, and Olean were quietly talking. Stranna’s feelings of ambivalence toward the Saiyans had been broadcast the moment she set foot in the apartment. She paid lip service to the Guardian’s usual assessment of Saiyan sensibilities, but today her heart wasn’t in it as much as it had been in the past. She’s been snared, Yisador thought, concern for her friend in her mind, and she knows it – but there’s nothing she can do. Stranna was now seeing the Saiyans as individuals, as people – and from a general’s standpoint, it wasn’t good when your troops started to personalize the enemy.
Beryan was there, too, speaking softly to Stranna; she had discovered the fissure in Theo and alerted Yisador as soon as she could about the problem. She believed some of the Saiyans were worth saving as well; her work in the medical labs allowed her to see them in situations where their guard was down and they were dependent on the aid and assistance of others, including aliens like Beryan. Some of them, she said, had actually been kind to her every now and then. Yisador knew that she didn’t include the lead physician, Oshinko, in that group; her feelings about that particular Saiyan were so plain that it was amazing to most that he still had not met with an untimely death. When asked about it, Beryan simply smiled coldly and said nothing.
Yisador stretched on the couch, pushing her arms out in front of her, squeezing her legs together. Of course, the upside to the Saiyans being so incredibly dense was that they had no inkling the Guardians were anything more then what they seemed to be on the surface – attractive women with a penchant for science, medicine and technology. And they wouldn’t know anything, either, Yisador thought, weariness creeping through her bones, if not for that little Prince. He will be the undoing of us all.
Heavy footsteps could be heard approaching the apartment. Yisador snapped up, tension written in every line of her body, and stared at the door as if it was going to jump out and bite her. Stranna and Olean appeared in the doorway of the kitchen and moved farther into the front room, allowing Beryan to poke her head through the door. They were all staring at the door when it swung open and Theo was pushed inside, closely followed by Raditz.
Stranna immediately went over to Theo and folded her in her arms, hugging her and glaring at Raditz. "Knocking, Raditz, knocking," she hissed over Theo’s head. "It shows good manners and breeding. Feel free to give it a try."
He frowned at her and folded his arms, pointedly ignoring her and turning to Yisador. "The prince wants this woman well, in body and mind," he said, nodding his head at Theo, who was now standing next to Stranna and scowling at him. "She said she wanted to come here and see you, and if she did that, she’d feel better." He scowled back at Theo as he sighed in irritation, then turned back to Yisador. "I have no idea whether or not that is true," he shrugged, "but she seemed more responsive walking over here."
"Well, of course, Raditz," Yisador said smoothly, smiling slightly at the bewildered Saiyan. "She’s among her own now, not isolated. The King found that it was much better pairing Guardians together when choosing living arrangements; otherwise, we just tend to wither away." She moved marginally closer to the Saiyan and asked innocently, "I understand the prince wants Theo to live on his side of the palace. Does he want one of us to accompany her there? We’d be happy to lend any assistance required to make her transition a smooth one." Damn, he's thick, Yisador thought to herself, inwardly grinding her teeth. As she presented her agreeable exterior to Raditz she was trying to push her way into the back of his mind to plant several suggestions. Just a little more ...
Still frowning, he shook his head as if to clear it, then rubbed the back of it near his neck. Realizing what he was doing, he shot a suspicious glare at Yisador. "You’d better not be doing what I think you’re doing," he said in a threatening tone, "because if you are, then there’s yet another Guardian the prince will want to have."
Yisador said nothing, but the itchy sensation he had been feeling subsided.
He snorted. "Good. At least you’ll listen to reason. That idiot daughter of yours, on the other hand …" Raising his voice, he addressed Theo. "Woman, I’m leaving you here for a few hours. Do NOT – I repeat, do NOT – leave this apartment under any circumstances. You won’t be happy at all if I find out that’s what you’ve done." He turned toward the door, speaking over his shoulder to Yisador, "I’ll be back to collect her, Guardian – and I’ll be taking her, alone, back to her quarters. Any other arrangements need to be cleared through the Prince, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to disobey an order of his right now." With that, he strode out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him.
As the door closed everyone's attention turned to Theo at once. Stranna glared at the younger woman, then cuffed her on the side of her head while Beryan and Meryth watched, grinning. Theo staggered a bit, looking at Stranna in dismay.
"What…what was that for?" she asked, rubbing her temple.
"WHAT were you thinking?" Stranna reproached, shaking her head at Theo with an appalled expression, looming over her. "You let that little brat into your brain, you fool! You let him sit there while you showed him what to do and how to do it – and had you chosen one of the other jerks, there’d be no problem, but you --" and Stranna gestured directly at Theo, her exasperation obvious, "--you chose the smartest one of the bunch!"
"She’s right, Theo," Beryan chimed in, her auburn hair swinging as she shook her head. "Your choice of Saiyan and timing couldn’t have been worse."
"But … but …" Theo sputtered, imploring, "I didn’t choose him! And I couldn’t help letting him in, either – I figured it was better to do that then to have him force his way in, because at least I’d know where he was …"
"And now what does he know?" Meryth pressed, her arms akimbo. Theo looked at her, confused, as the older woman continued bitterly, "He knows everything, Theo. He knows how you comb your hair, what toothpaste you use, where you ate breakfast yesterday, what scares you the most … what the rest of us are like … what we can do …"
"No!" Theo shook her head vehemently and stood in front of Meryth, her chin pushed out. "No, he doesn’t know everything about us." Her gaze never wavering from Meryth’s face, she took a deep breath and continued, "He never reached that part of my mind. He was – close – but he never got there. I swear it."
"Sit down, Theo," her mother said, gently taking her arm and leading her to the couch. "Let’s take a look and find out exactly how much he did see."
Dutifully Theo followed her to the couch and sat down. The other women arranged themselves around Theo and Yisador, sitting on the arms of the couch, the chair, and the floor, close enough to lend Yisador support if required.
Yisador turned to her and patted her arm reassuringly as she took a deep breath. "Theo. We all make mistakes – it’s just that this one is a bit more serious than others that have happened."
"Yisador, you have a talent for understatement," grumbled Meryth, her large, kindly face drawn into a frown.
"Well, let’s see what did happen. Just relax, Theo," Yisador murmured, placing her hands on either side of her daughter’s head. Theo looked as though she had wanted to speak, but subsided and sank back into the cushions of the couch, her eyes curiously blank. Yisador, too, had gone quite still, appearing to stare intently at the floor, her lips tightening. Stranna, Olean, Beryan and Meryth simply watched and waited. Silence settled over the little gathering and spread out like a mantle.
Yisador’s head suddenly snapped up. Her hands stayed on either side of Theo’s head, but they weren’t as steady as they had been. Small droplets of perspiration tricked down the side of her face as her breathing became more ragged. Recognizing the signs of a potential power struggle, Stranna immediately called a small amount of power into herself, extended her hand and grabbed Yisador’s shoulder. Almost instantly Yisador’s breathing calmed and her eyes lost the wildness that had been there. Several moments later she slowly removed her hands from the side of Theo’s head, leaving a faint trace of hued power in the air between Theo’s head and her hands.
"…thank you, Stranna…," Yisador said when she had composed herself, looking at Theo with an odd expression. Stranna only nodded, wordless – when she boosted Yisador’s power, she had been taken into the vortex with her, and knew what she had seen.
"Well?" Meryth asked impatiently, frowning. "What did he see?"
Yisador replied, a hard edge to her voice, "He’s seen the TARDIS. However," she continued, looking at Stranna, who nodded, "he doesn’t know what it was. He thought it was just another spacecraft … it just looked like a jumbled mess of technology to him. And in case you’re wondering," she hissed directly at Meryth, "he’s still there. So if you’re thinking about diving into Theo – don’t."
Meryth, shocked, said nothing.
"He used me, Mama," Theo said unexpectedly in a small voice. She was looking at her hands, fingers twined tightly together in her lap. "He … pushed, and I couldn’t stop him …" She trailed off, clenching her teeth together, then continued, " … it hurt, it hurt so much … I wanted to die …"
Yisador’s hands were balled into fists, clenched in her lap, her face a mask of pain. "I know, dear, I know," she murmured to Theo, her throat tight with anger. Stranna’s eyes had gone from soft blueberry blue to hard, steely gray in a matter of moments, and Olean’s eyes narrowed dangerously, a snarl started around her mouth.
Theo continued speaking in a half whisper, so low that the other women had to strain to hear what she was saying. "I don’t know if you saw this, Mama," she whispered miserably. "but … I know there’s something else he’s seen, too. I’m pretty sure he didn’t know what it was, but … he… did get to see Beryan and I making the dimensional stabilizer … and priming the TARDIS."
Stunned silence greeted this latest revelation. "Dear Kami," moaned Meryth to the group at large, "we’re doomed."
"Oh, and … Aunt Stranna." Theo appeared to be pushing herself to speak, not wanting to but not being able to keep silent. "He knows that you were the one who showed me how to use the power under the sensing threshold of the Saiyans. I know that for sure. He’s already decided to talk to his father about you. When he gets back from wherever he’s gone."
Stranna’s face lost all color and expression. "Really?" she said, her voice tight. "I’m sure that will be an interesting conversation. He’ll have a lot to discuss."
"No," Theo started, color flushing into her face. "I’m not going to let him do that. I am not going to let him hurt you like he hurt me – I won’t let him hurt ANY of you that way!" She was distraught, her eyes changing color rapidly as her voice shook with emotion.
"How are you going to stop it, Theo?" Meryth broke in, her face flushed, her small body taut with anger. "How can you stop it? You couldn’t stop him from getting into YOUR mind – if he has this ability, why wouldn’t other Saiyans? We’re never going to survive this, never –"
"Meryth," Yisador said firmly, staring at her. "That isn’t helping one bit." She turned to Theo, a strange, closed expression masking her features. "Listen to me, Theo," she said, placing her hand on her daughter’s arm. "You would like to make sure that ouji doesn’t hurt any of us again, wouldn’t you?"
"Of course, Mama," Theo immediately replied, her own face passionate. She was trying to control her emotions, but outrage and shame at the memories of the abuse and humiliations she had suffered at his hands were quickly overwhelming her. Her hands were trembling in rage as she glared at each woman in turn and said, "If I knew how, I’d want to stick him somewhere where he couldn’t harm anyone else the way he’s hurt me – after, of course, I twisted his cerebral cortex so that it permanently faced his spleen."
Yisador nodded silently and locked gazes with Stranna; after several moments, Stranna inclined her head at Yisador in agreement. Everyone else in the room watched them in silent understanding; everyone with the exception of Theo, who was frowning at them, perplexed.
"What’s going on?" she demanded.
Stranna looked at Yisador once more, her eyes veiled, then turned to Theo and asked, "What do you know about Lord Freeza, Theo?"
Theo blinked. "Lord Freeza? That ugly, white, lizard thing? Nothing – why?"
Stranna and Yisador looked at each other meaningfully again, then Stranna turned to Theo and said, "Theo, you must listen carefully. We’ve had – contact – with the king, and our intelligence says that he’s afraid this Freeza person wants to take the prince away from here. Permanently."
"Really? Are you sure?" Theo asked, leaning forward, a doubtful but excited gleam in her eyes. "But that’s great! That solves all our problems – ouji leaves, we’re fine!"
"Well – yes, in a way that’s correct, Theo – but it isn’t quite that simple," Yisador said with a sigh. "We don’t know when Freeza will want to take Prince Vejiita – tomorrow, in a week, in a month – we have no idea. But we do know that the prince is coming back here, to Vejiitasei, with some incredibly sensitive information about us. And we also know that he’s ready to act on his information, and that he’ll have unlimited access to the source." Theo’s face had fallen during her mother’s explanation and now was a stony wall of control, fear and anger hiding behind it. "We simply don’t have time to wait for Freeza to decide to do something."
A short silence ensued while Theo digested this information, running one of her hands through her curly red hair. "Fine. Then we must make him decide he wants ouji right now," Theo said coldly to the group. "Today. Immediately, if not sooner."
"Theo, think what it means for that to happen," Stranna urged. "We will be disrupting the natural events for ouji –"
"And exactly how do we know that?" Theo asked sharply, indignation in the set of her shoulders and jaw. "We aren’t time meddlers – we aren’t taking him from one stream to another – we are simply insuring that this psychopathic Saiyan doesn’t get the opportunity to annihilate us in this stream." She stopped for a moment, remembering, then continued with a shudder, "He’s one of the smartest Saiyans on this planet. He may not know what time travel technology looks like now, but he surely will after spending some time with me." Her face grew pale and she spoke in a whisper. "Imagine an army of Saiyan Oozaru marching through the time streams, conquering and enslaving planet after planet after planet, not constrained by the fabric of space or time, because – because he found out about our TARDIS." The vision hung in front of them, clearly frightening.
Unexpectedly, Meryth spoke up for Theo. "I think she’s right," she said slowly. "If we don’t do this, we will die – and so will billions and billions of innocents. Besides," she urged, "this Freeza truly wants the prince, doesn’t he? That’s what –" and she stopped, looking askance at Stranna, who frowned at her, "that’s what our source reported. I doubt very much that he wants him simply to kill him. He wants him for something else –"
"I’ve heard that Freeza collects the strongest of each race from around this part of the galaxy and keeps them in his army," volunteered Olean.
"Yes, I’ve heard that, too," Beryan said dryly, her angular face inclined in agreement. "Lord Freeza has the largest and strongest army of mercenaries in this sector of the galaxy. I’ve seen the results of some of his soldiers’ … ‘enthusiasm’ … in the regen tanks. I don’t doubt that the Saiyan would learn something about humility while he was with Freeza." She smiled a cold, hard smile, remembering those eyes that had held hers in the infirmary. "That would certainly be educational for the little arrogant bastard."
Stranna stood, hands on her ample hips, shaking her head at the group. "You realize you’re talking about the crown prince of Vejiitasei here? You understand that you’re talking about sending a child to Lord Freeza?"
Theo narrowed her eyes and retorted, "He’s no child – he’s the devil’s spawn." Stranna snorted at that, but Theo pushed on, her eyes snapping with the force of her words. "He’s more intelligent than most adult Saiyans, he is THE strongest Saiyan on the planet, and he will use anything – anything at all – as a weapon. Including us." She laughed bitterly, remembering her own futile efforts against him. "You have no idea, Aunt Stranna … you truly don’t." Theo swung around and nodded to Beryan, a wicked grin on her face. "I agree with you, Beryan; spending time with people who are stronger than he is would certainly do wonders for his personality."
"And I," said Yisador, looking at Stranna sadly. "I’m sorry, Stranna, but if it’s a choice between him or us … " They were all silent for a moment, lost in their own thoughts.
"Where can we find Freeza?" Stranna finally sighed, looking at Yisador, giving in. "I won't stand against you - I can't."
"He’s orbiting the planet as we speak," Olean offered before Yisador could make a sound. Olean smiled, a feral grin, making her long face look even narrower. "I’m all for getting rid of Saiyans. I think we should ask Freeza to take care of ALL of them for us. Permanently."
"What is he doing now, Olean?" Yisador asked the younger woman.
Olean frowned, an abstracted look on her face. "He’s … he has a peculiar energy signature," she finally said, her eyebrows puckered together. "In some ways, he’s very much like the Saiyans … the power that he wields is all brute force, no finesse at all. He has … oh Kami, I’ve never seen an energy store like this before …"
"Olean, are you in his mind now?" Beryan gasped. "Isn’t that dangerous? How did you get across the barrier –"
"Just never you mind the technical details," Stranna growled at her, "and let the woman do her job. That’s why she’s the farsensor and you’re not." Beryan huffed at that, but Stranna ignored her and concentrated instead on Olean. "Excellent job finding the connection, Ollie. Skirt around the source before he picks up your presence – if he’s like the Saiyans, they become territorial if you so much as breathe on their source."
"Did it …" Olean muttered with that peculiar inward stare, leaning back on the cushions of the couch. "He’s sleeping … no guards around his mind … never ran into a race like ours before, no memory of it …" She came out of her trancelike state for a moment, looking at Yisador, baffled. "Did you ever hear of a race that could stop localized time by holding their breath?"
"No," Yisador responded, bewildered.
"Well, there’s someone on that ship who can do that … it’d probably be worth investigating after we’re done with this … odd, that … doesn’t even have to use a TimeKey, just – just holds his breath…"
"TimeKeys don’t only affect localized time, they affect time on a sector scale," Yisador said with a frown. "Do the investigation later, Olean. Let’s finish with this problem first."
Sinking lower into the cushions, Olean sighed and dove into herself. She reached out to Stranna, who took Olean’s hands in her own; as the other Guardians watched, a soft, multicolored hue shimmered around their hands and quietly traveled to Olean’s wrists and arms.
Suddenly Olean nodded vigorously. "Here … it’s here," she whispered to herself. "Now, my lord Freeza … you want the Prince of Vejiitasei. He is more than just another strong fighter … he is different, unique – strong and proud, arrogant and dangerous … look at this fabulous speciein, a perfect body … and you must have him. His strength and power make him irresistable to you … he will be yours, and yours alone to rule … yours … come and claim him, Lord Freeza … claim him from his father … he shall be yours …"
As she was muttering, Stranna held her hands tightly, lending her strength and support as she inserted herself into Freeza’s mind, planting the suggestion, strengthening the desire that was already there. As Olean was finishing setting the lure, both she and Stranna started breathing heavier. Beads of perspiration broke out on their foreheads almost simultaneously and their eyes became wider and wilder. Stranna started shaking her head from side to side, and appeared to be trying to back away from Olean, but was prevented by Olean’s death grip on her hands.
Yisador leaped in between them, inserted herself into their circuit and shouted "Disconnect!" as loudly as she could. Immediately both women snapped back to themselves – Olean panting on the couch, Stranna standing, drained, in front of her. Yisador was holding a hand from each woman, and for a moment appeared to be caught in the backwash of psychic energy, her mouth in a grimace of horror and distaste. She quickly came back to herself, dropped the women’s hands and looked at each other in turn.
Stranna’s eyes were world weary and exhausted, but had the sense of something else in them; something that she almost wanted to deny existed, but was too tired to discuss. Olean, too, did not seem inclined to talk about the experience the others had just witnessed. Instead, she sat on the couch, staring at her hands and dabbing perspiration from her forehead.
"It’s done," Stranna said heavily, speaking directly to Theo and Yisador. "That … um … thing will be coming to Vejiitasei today to demand the Prince be given to him."
"You know this?" Yisador questioned.
"Oh, yes," Stranna tiredly said, moving her head to one side as if she was listening. "He took the suggestion. We dangled the Prince, and … the big fish came after him. He’s already making preparations to come here."
"Excellent," said Theo with a cruel smile. "The Prince will have another trip to take when he gets home …"
" …and so will we," said Yisador, looking at her friends. "I want us settled and ready to go the instant the prince leaves the planet."
"Why?" asked Beryan, puzzled. "Once he’s gone, there’s no threat … why do we need to leave so quickly?"
Yisador looked at Stranna and Olean and swallowed, clearly uncomfortable. "Just call it a hunch. We must be ready to go by the time the Prince has left, or else we will not be leaving this planet, ever …"
The proclamation that Yisador had just made fell over the Guardians like a heavy weight. Most of them simply looked at her, surprised; however, a few of them took the news a bit more to heart. “Mama, what are you talking about?” Theo exclaimed, alarmed. “Do you think they’ll destroy the TARDIS?”
Yisador looked at her daughter and hid her thoughts in the recesses of her mind, smoothing her face into a semblance of calm. Her stomach was roiling, a reaction to the feedback she had inadvertently received when she disconnected both Olean and Stranna from that creature orbiting the planet. True enough, he had been asleep, but his surface thoughts were dark enough for even the uninitiated to discern – and they were positively frightening. What have we done? she wondered, dismayed. Whatever it is, it cannot be undone, but …
“I don’t know, Theo,” she said, glancing back at Stranna and Olean again. “Not if I can help it, but it's entirely possible that they will find out what the cabinet is and destroy it before we even get a chance to use it.”
“But Mama, the only way the Saiyans would know anything about that cabinet would be through me,” protested Theo, “and they can’t find out if ouji has to leave immediately once he returns to Vejiitasei.”
“Theo, how do you know he’ll have to leave immediately?” Beryan asked, frowning. “Just because we want him to go doesn’t mean that he’s going to stick to our timetable. And if he doesn’t leave right away –“
“—then we’re screwed,” finished Meryth, furious, “well and truly screwed.” Glaring angrily at the women around her, she huffed, “Well, we are! And it’s all YOUR fault!” she snapped at Theo, jabbing a finger in her direction. “If you had only kept your mind where it belonged, instead of—“
“That does NOT help anything,” Yisador said firmly, standing between Meryth and Theo, glowering. “It would have happened sooner or later, and you know that, Meryth – you were saying something like that to me just before this DID happen. It just happened to be Theo this time, that’s all – it could have easily been Beryan in the infirmary, or Stranna in the labs, or me in the palace, or you in research – or one of any of the 46 here. Don’t blame Theo, Meryth. It could have been ANY of us.”
Meryth subsided, but still had an angry cast about her. “Fine – I won’t blame Theo, but I will blame her if he comes back and finds out we had this conversation. How are you going to make sure he never sees this, Theo?”
“I – I can suppress it,” Theo muttered, still in shock after Meryth’s outburst.
“Unreliable,” Stranna proclaimed, shaking her dark head firmly, surprising everyone. They turned to her as she explained, “I’m sorry, dear, but you have no control over what he does to you. You may think the memory’s well-hidden, but how could it be? You hid it – and anything you do, he has access to – do you see? It’s a vicious circle. On the other hand,” she said thoughtfully, “if someone else suppressed it for you, you would have no idea where it was, and as a bonus, you’d have no idea that anything ever happened. That,” she said, nodding, “would work.”
“Right, then,” Yisador said briskly, catching Theo’s hand in hers and pulling her into a large chair. “You sit here. Stranna, Meryth – I’ll need your help.” And she moved directly behind Theo, placing her hands on either side of her head, fingers laced in her curly red hair.
“But – wait –“ Theo sputtered, trying to rise.
“Shh,” her mother said, pushing down on her shoulders, “sit still.” Stranna stood next to Yisador, holding Meryth’s hand. Soft light wrapped around their twined fingers, shooting up Stranna’s arm. Her other hand lay gently on Yisador’s shoulder, slightly glowing.
Theo tried to twist around in her chair, saying, “Wait – let me –“
“Turn around, Theo,” her mother said sharply, twisting her head back sharply to the front. “Just sit there – you know the drill.” Without another word, Yisador closed her eyes, accessed Theo’s mind and dove, trailing the extra power given to her by Stranna and Meryth like a lifeline to the outside.
As she felt her mother descend, Theo’s eyes took an a strange, abstracted appearance. The air shimmered with a surreal haze around her, almost as if heat were rising from the floor. To the untrained eye, it simply appeared as if Yisador was comforting Theo, standing behind her and holding her head tenderly in her hands; however, anyone sensitive to power emissions would have felt a whirlpool centered on Theo, subtlety folding separate strands together and pushing them into place. Theo’s eyes widened imperceptibly then drifted shut, her head softly dropping to one side.
With a deep breath, Yisador slowly removed her hands from her daughter’s head. At the same time Stranna dropped Meryth’s hand, removed her hand from Yisador’s shoulder and moved around to the front of the chair. She tugged Theo to her feet, finally maneuvering her hands under Theo’s armpits. Grunting, Stranna shifted Theo so that she could be carried, picked her up and disappeared in the back of the apartment. When Stranna returned to the room a few moments later, Yisador was seated in the chair Theo had just vacated, Olean was seated on the couch, and Beryan and Meryth were turning toward the door, with Beryan clothed in the standard gray jumpsuit used in the infirmary.
"We’re going to work," Beryan said in answer to Stranna’s unspoken question. "Some of us need to show the Guardian presence. Otherwise, they’ll think something’s wrong."
"I should go, too," Stranna started, but was interrupted by Yisador.
"Just a moment, dear; Olean and I need to talk a little while longer, and I’d like you to stay. It will only take a few minutes.”
Nodding to them, Beryan and Meryth left, the older woman hustling Beryan out of the room, her short, solid frame silhouetted for a moment in the rising sun, then gone as she gently closed the door.
Yisador looked at Olean and Stranna. None of the women spoke, but all could feel the tension in the room climb suddenly higher. Beaded perspiration broke out on Olean’s smooth brow, her flaming red hair making her face appear paler than it truly was.
“There’s a connection between us now,” she said to no one in particular, her voice strained, her thin frame trying to pull in on itself. “I’m – I’m receiving all types of images – they just come in bursts. They’re all … all … horrible. This creature is not what we thought it was,” she said, clutching her hands in her lap. “He's ... evil. Insane. You must help me block him."
"No question - we will help you," Stranna said. She had started sweating as profusely as Olean, her long hair hanging in damp ringlets around her face. She was as affected by the connection as Olean, and needed relief as well.
Yisador stared severely at Olean, her eyes shadowed. "Theo must never know this. She thinks she's hard, but ... she's young. She would never forgive herself ... you know what’s going to happen to that boy …”
Both Olean and Stranna understood her perfectly.
The saucer ship circled the planet in a lazy elliptical orbit. The observation deck was not the only place where one could view the vastness of space, however; there was another place in the ship, another small area attached to a large suite of rooms that afforded a spectacular view of the planet below.
The master of the ship was standing on this deck, twining a silver goblet abstractedly between his white, slender fingers, his armored tail flicking behind him. He had just awoken from one of his rest periods – it was impossible to tell ‘night’ from ‘day’ in space, but the crew of the ship attempted to keep their personal biorhythmns in synch with the local conditions of the capital city, and right now most of the inhabitants were starting to awaken from their slumber, ready to move on to another busy day.
He was a small creature, tiny and well muscled, much of him encased in body armor that looked like a miniature copy of Saiyan armor. He was wearing a helmet and a scouter over his left eye, and appeared to be studying the planet below.
A door hissed softly behind him. Without turning around, he said, “Zarbon-san.”
“Yes, Freeza-sama?” came the respectful reply, pitched low.
"I had the strangest dream, my dear Zarbon-san," Freeza continued, still staring at the planet. He turned his head, his narrow, catlike eyes resting on Zarbon. "Shall I tell you what it was?"
"If you wish, Freeza-sama," Zarbon responded, inclining his head, moving away from the door and toward Freeza. He stood a short distance away from his master, close enough so that he could serve him, yet not too close. There was an attractiveness about the alien, an almost seductive presence that clung to him; the grace of his hand, the symmetry of his face, the subtle cast of blue on his skin. Freeza’s eyes moved over his body, appreciating its contours and proportions, enjoying his attitude of appropriate servility, and he smiled.
"My dear Zarbon, you must help me discern the true meaning of my dream," Freeza murmured, turning back to the view and beckoning Zarbon forward. "Dreams are calls from the unconscious. It is said that they can show you your innermost wants and desires, hopes and fears, and sometimes can even show your true path through the universe. Do you believe that, Zarbon-chan?"
"I do not know, Freeza-sama," Zarbon said, respectfully inclining his head again, a single teardrop jewel glistening in the middle of his forehead. "I have read, of course, about the meaning of many types of dreams; but it is also said that dreams are individual, and that no one can truly know another’s dreams."
"Well," Freeza said to the window again, "I will tell you what I believe." A look of pure greed and lasciviousness sparkled across his face as he gazed intently at the planet, his long, milk white tail snapping back and forth behind him. "I believe," he said, drawing each word out slowly, "that I’m going Saiyan-hunting today. And not just for any Saiyan, Zarbon-chan," he said, holding his hand up and smiling in a purely evil manner at his henchman. "We’re going to take the crown prince of Vejiitasei and add him to our fine little group. What do you think of that?"
"Whatever you wish, my lord," Zarbon said, a slight frown crossing his face.
Freeza chuckled, an icy sound. "My dear Zarbon, you really worry too much. These people are quite pathetic – no match for you, or Dodoria-san, or even Kiwi-san. But this one," he said, tapping his scouter and licking his lips at the same time, "this one is different. Smart. Strong. Arrogant. Look at the power readings, Zarbon. Very respectable for any being in our galaxy – almost unheard of for members of his own race. And," he stopped, dramatically, then continued with a smirk, looking askance at Zarbon, "he has such … potential … for pleasing us with his power. Don’t you agree, Zarbon-chan?"
A slight flush suffused Zarbon’s face; other than that, it was hardly noticeable that anything had passed between them at all.
"Yes," murmured Freeza to the window again, his face glowing in the eerie light of Vejiitasei’s sun. "I think he’ll do quite well. Quite well, indeed."
The throne room was the one place in the palace where exact protocol was followed on pain of death. In fact, simply being summoned to have an audience with the King was an indication that the recipient should insure that his or her affairs were in order. Even during the best of times, the King had a very short temper and could be counted on to ‘remove’ one of his staff to the regen tanks at least once per week. Consequently, individuals summoned to the King’s presence were usually escorted by members of the royal guard, especially those who were expected to give bad news to the sovereign.
Habotan had been chosen to represent his squad when the order had come through that King Vejiita wanted to see them on the double. As he walked toward the throne, flanked on each side by very large Saiyan elites, Habotan wondered again at the alacrity with which he was chosen – or volunteered, which was the way his colleagues saw it. The squad commander had announced it at their lineup, and suddenly Habotan found himself standing alone in front of the commander, almost as if the rest of the squad had simply taken two steps backwards.
Which they probably did, he thought sourly as he walked toward the King. He could see the expression on the King’s face, and his heart dropped. Habotan desperately wanted to live, but not at the expense of being branded a coward. He could have refused the ‘honor,’ in which case the squad leader would have been duty bound to report to the king; however, he knew that if he chose that path, from that moment on his life would have been worthless.
He concentrated on keeping one foot in front of the other as the small trio walked on the red carpet toward the throne. When they felt they were close enough to the King, the Elites pushed down on Habotan’s shoulders at the same time, forcing him to kneel. He needed no encouragement, though; he felt as though his legs were ready to give way from underneath him. Fear and uncertainty flew around his stomach as he held his right fist to his chest in an expression of fealty toward the crown and kept his other fist tightly closed, leaning on the floor.
The King was seated on the dais, flanked on either side by a large Elite. His manner was imposing, and to Habotan he seemed enormous. His upswept hair, the traditional trademark of Saiyan royalty, tilted toward the slight person speaking with him; his entire presence appeared to dwarf every other being around him. He had been quietly speaking with one of the research technicians, who upon seeing Habotan, had gracefully bowed to the king and hastily withdrawn from the room. You know what’s going to happen, Habotan thought in resignation, and you don’t want to be here. Very smart.
"Lift your head and speak, soldier," ordered the king. "Give me your report."
Gritting his teeth against his fear, Habotan raised his head and looked at the king. He opened his mouth once, but no words came out – only air. After long, mortifying seconds, Habotan finally found his voice and spoke.
"Your Majesty – your Majesty, my squad had been sent to Tabb to occupy the planet. The natives proved to be more stubborn and intransigent than we believed at first. We have been unable to successfully subdue them. However, we believe that we will be able to do this in three day’s time, if you will grant us leave to do that."
The king leaned forward and said harshly, "What did you say? You haven’t occupied the planet Tabb yet?" His frown was like a thunderhead on his brow as he stared threateningly at Habotan.
"Ye—yes, sire. The inhabitants of Tabb are resisting much more than we expected. It should take another three days. Please forgive us!" He answered in a strong voice but was shaking inside. He kept his gaze locked on the floor, clenching his teeth. From the corner of his eye he could see the guards inching backward from their positions at the side of the carpet.
"Have you forgotten that our promise to Lord Freeza was for tomorrow?" the king roared, incensed at the insubordination from one of his trusted squads.
"Not at all, sire!" Habotan responded, desperate. "But the full moon on Tabb will be in three days."
The king was silent for a moment, staring at the soldier. "Disappear," he said, dangerously quiet.
Habotan looked up at his ruler, confused. "What?" he asked, all the color draining from his face.
The king rose, pulling himself to his full height and girth. He appeared to expand to fill the space around his throne; he crackled with invisible energy, rage and fire pulsing from him. In a voice harsh with passion and fury, he exploded, "Disappear from my sight!" As he was speaking, he pulled his gloved right hand up from his side, simultaneously forming a large ball of chi energy, and without warning flicked it at his unsuspecting subordinate’s chest. The impact of the energy ball threw him to the rear of the chamber; the capes of the honor guard whipped tremendously in its wake, and a brilliant flash and explosion signaled the end of Habotan.
The king stood motionless before his throne, looking over the assembled Saiyans. For several moments there was no sound; then, without warning, someone was heard laughing outside the throne room, a throaty, rich laugh. His face composed in a severe expression, the king’s eyes slid to the right; then he turned his head toward the curtains masking the exits to the throne room, and the diminutive form of Freeza walked out.
He was wearing battle armor, a helmet and a scouter over his left eye. A malevolent smile graced his thin lips as he walked, chuckling, from the periphery of the room. His eyes were watchful and calculating, measuring the king for his own purposes.
"You’re as barbaric as usual," he said smoothly as he moved toward the Saiyan king. "I don’t really mind if it’s going to take three more days." Looking at the back of the throne room, Freeza shook his head and murmured insincerely, "Poor man."
The alien continued walking, passing his gaze over the assembled Saiyan elites in the throne room, and walked right up to the king with his hands clasped behind his back. King Vejiita was forced to give way to the tyrant, and moved to the left hand side of the throne. Freeza strolled over to the seat as if he had been on Vejiitasei his entire life and sat down, found a comfortable position and relaxed. The king stood next to him, his hands by his sides, his face a mask of near perfect control.
Freeza appeared to be enjoying the elder Vejiita’s discomfiture as he sat on his throne. A smile curved his thin, dark lips, a mirthless smile, one that did not bode well for the king. "And about your son?" Freeza started in a conversational tone, as if he had been asking about the weather, not looking at the king. "When are you going to bring him to me?"
A shocked silence followed Freeza’s question. King Vejiita stared down at the floor, his temper in check by a herculean effort of will, the muscles in his jaw bunched and apparently ready to explode. Twice he tried to say something, and twice the sound that came out approximated small, twisted grunts.
Freeza turned his head slightly to look at him; sadistic amusement was written in his eyes as he watched the king struggle to master himself, a furious expression on his face. Deliberatly Freeza stared at him and said, smiling, "I know. Bring him with you when you come to tell me that Tabb has been successfully occupied in three days."
The king’s eyes narrowed as his brows drew together in a dark scowl. Freeza smiled inwardly – these creatures were all the same, all hostage to their emotions and foolish pride. So predictable. Freeza held his eyes for a few more moments, then turned his head toward the central area, skidded forward on the chair and hopped to the ground.
With a cruel smile, he looked at Vejiita ou and said, "Don’t worry – I’ll take good care of him." His mocking laughter followed him as he walked in front of King Vejiita and off to the left, moving toward the training facilities, his back straight as a ramrod and his tail swinging gently behind him.
The King’s iron control over his emotions and emotional responses started to slip the moment he realized Freeza was out of earshot. His breathing became heavier and his eyes a bit wider as an elite soldier approached him on his right side and gasped out frantically, "King Vejiita - are you really going to send the prince to Lord Freeza? …but the prince’s life will be—"
Furiously, the elder Vejiita broke in and said, "I don’t care about my son – what I cannot forgive is his attitude!" The king’s eyes followed Freeza’s path through the throne room as he spat out, "He seems to think we Saiyans are his slaves!"
"King Vejiita!" exclaimed the soldier. He had never seen the king like this, and was concerned for the safety of the king and those around him. People with what Lord Freeza considered to be a ‘traitorous attitude’ were usually eliminated fairly quickly, usually by one of Freeza’s henchman. The great despot deigned to keep his spotless hands that way.
"I’ll get back at you one day, Freeza!" Vejiita promised viciously, spinning around and whirling away from his men, following Freeza’s trail in the dark.
Individual battle space pods were one of the more inventive applications of Saiyan space technology. Many species used transport ships that carried their forces along with other, smaller duplicates of themselves, but these ships usually lost quite a bit of drive due to the vast payloads they carried. The Saiyan model, meanwhile, was able to travel for millions of parsecs without losing its fuel supply, was extremely maneuverable, and because of its size attracted no attention whatsoever when it approached a new world to be dominated. After all, most species expected invasion in the form of huge interstellar fleets – certainly not by beings traveling alone and, apparently, unarmed.
The Saiyans used battle pods exclusively when on 'planet clearing' missions for Freeza for exactly that reason - a military force seldom paid attention to small, individual objects that acted like asteroids in a decaying orbit, about to crash on the surface of the planet. Most races just did not anticipate that another species might be willing to smash their vehicles into the planet, nor that they would have a technology that would enable the crafts to survive that kind of impact.
The last attack force to leave Vejiitasei had been led by the crown prince, and had been sent to several distant planets targeted by willing buyers. The campaign was expected to last no more than three days; however, communication with the battle group had been sporadic, and no one really knew when to expect them.
A number of insistent beeps on his console forced one of the many telemetry technicians to take more than a cursory glance at his screen. Frantically he jumped out of his chair and tried to get the attention of his superior. Sliding to a stop in front of the watch commander, he saluted and excitedly said, "Sir! Sir, please – the Prince’s squadron is coming in now – we need to prepare the honor guard for him…"
The commander of the watch looked up in irritation at the soldier who was trying to stand at attention in front of him and simultaneously crane his neck to alert his companions to the Prince’s arrival.
"Stand down, soldier, and look at the itinerary," the commander growled at him. "The Prince’s squadron isn’t due back for another three hours."
"Yes, sir, that’s true according to the original plan, but … but sir, see for yourself – please sir, just take a look here—"
With an exaggerated sigh of exasperation, the watch commander left his position to see what this private was babbling about – and almost had a heart attack when he read the numbers.
"Call up the rest of the guard!" he bellowed, staring at the screen with eyes that appeared to pop out of his head. "Get the target tarps ready – and make sure there’s a guard with a physician at each target. Dammit, man, can’t you pull this data up any faster?" he roared at the unfortunate technician, hitting him on the side of the head. Recovering, the technician tried to comply as rapidly as he could, his fingers flying across the keys which caused the screen display to scroll as if in flight.
The sound of pounding feet and shouted orders reverberated off of the walls of the tech center as the honor guards and physicians ran through the office to the outside, each finally stopping at their designated target tarp. As the final squad took its place, the returning space pods were heard screaming toward their destination and then seen as huge fireballs, streaking toward the ground. A standing shock wave generated by the intensity of the pods’ collision with the ground ran across the landing site as the ground shook and trembled.
Slightly smoking and looking used, the spacepods bounced gently on the tarps, the force of their initial impact absorbed by yet another Saiyan invention. The pod doors quietly opened, allowing their occupants to move from those cramped quarters to the relative freedom of the outside.
The pod with the royal insignia had landed closest to the center door. As its hatch opened, the Prince could be seen scowling, sitting in the pod with his arms crossed. He thrust one arm up at the door impatiently, willing it to move out of his way. When there finally was enough room for him to leave, he practically leaped out of the pod, brushing invisible debris off of his battle armor.
"Welcome back, Sire!" the honor guard said smartly, then snapped to attention. A withering look in their direction was all the thanks they received for their efforts. The physician assigned to the group thought about requesting the Prince to stop for a moment so that he could examine him; however, one glower from the Prince convinced him that it would be more prudent to wait – unless he fancied examining him with no arms.
Scowling, Vejiita stalked from the pods to the building, followed closely by the other soldiers in his squad. Nappa pushed his way to the front of the crowd and strode at the side of the royal child.
"Sir, that was an excellent raid!" Nappa enthused, looking down at Vejiita. "Your strategies were perfect for subduing that planet." A nostalgic, ruthless look twinkled in his eye as he said, "The way those things ran right into us, exactly as you had predicted …"
"Yes, I know, Nappa," Vejiita said with some annoyance, "I planned it that way. A minimum of mess, no fuss, no casualties – not even a scratch on any Saiyan. And the planet is just fine for occupation." Nappa had moved ahead of the Prince and held the door to the telemetry office open for him. "Lord Freeza should be satisfied," Vejiita continued, snorting his disgust as he strode through the door, "but I would have preferred something more challenging. Some place where the inhabitants would actually fight back, rather than running away. Pathetic." He glared at the occupants of the office as he walked down the corridor; all the technicians and staff suddenly became intensely interested in whatever was directly in front of them, not looking to the left or the right.
"I’m going to my quarters, Nappa," the prince said shortly, giving the burly Saiyan a sharp look. "I’m going to get the stink and the dirt of that planet off me, and then I’m going to eat. And then," he said, his eyes narrowing, "we’ll see what kind of progress Raditz has made with that Guardian woman. That should be interesting." He shifted his gaze to Nappa, frowning. "Make sure you’re at my training room in an hour, baka. Don’t be late."
Nappa nodded, opening the door from the telemetry building that led to the common hallway. "Yes, sir – I’ll be there," he agreed, watching the Prince stride swiftly down the corridor toward the palace rotunda. When he felt the Prince was far enough away from him, he scowled at his back, muttering, "Damn woman."
Artifacts on Vejiitasei were few and far between – there were several museums and historical sites, but for the most part the Saiyans lived in the present, content to recall their glory days from their collective memory.
However, there were some historical items that did find their way into the palace complex; large stained glass windows from their artisans, depicting scenes from famous battles; furniture that was both functional and decorative that had been used in some of their larger campaigns; paintings and statues that commemorated victories over weaker races.
The rotunda of the palace complex contained many of these types of pieces, tucked into the nooks and crannies of the odd-shaped structure. Typically a busy, bustling place, the rotunda was located almost in the middle of the palace complex, and had the added attraction of backing up to a large, untamed garden that led directly to one of the only forests left in the capitol city.
As Saiyans and their subordinates swirled through the rotunda, several women dressed in plain, comfortable tunics and pants stood quietly next to an old weapons cabinet, tucked into one of those unobtrusive corners. Had one of the Saiyans been observing them, they would have noticed that, one by one, the women appeared to magically disappear. The observant Saiyan would also have noticed that this phenomenon happened not once, not twice, but many times during the day – so much so that the average Saiyan would probably have wondered how all those women could possibly hide behind that cabinet.
A slight woman with medium length red hair, wearing a loose gray tunic and pants, slowly wandered across the rotunda, keeping her eyes averted from most of the Saiyans and her hands clasped in front of her. She walked over to the weapons cabinet and stood there, out of the way of most of the foot traffic, as if admiring the craftsmanship of the piece. She then slipped toward the back of the cabinet, took a quick look around, pushed slightly against the side of the piece and disappeared.
"Skillfully done, Beryan," a dry voice called to her.
"Thanks," Beryan replied, an edge to her voice. She tossed her head irritably, throwing her excess hair away from her face, exposing snapping, multicolored eyes. A frown drew furrows between her eyebrows as she said, "Someone should stand next to the door here, so that people don’t accidently fall in. It wasn’t even locked, for Kami’s sake …"
"No kidding," Stranna said, her disembodied voice coming from behind what appeared to be a large, intersteller ship control console. As Beryan looked around, it was quite apparent that this was not the typical weapons cabinet interior. In fact, Beryan had pushed into the Guardian’s most treasured secret – their Time and Relative Dimensions in Space machine, or TARDIS.
Thanks to the temporal engineering skills of many of the women, but most especially Beryan and Theo, the TARDIS had been built practically under the noses of the Saiyans in plain view. It was ‘transcendentially dimensional’ – essentially, larger on the inside than on the outside. The materials required to build the machine had been stolen from the Saiyans themselves, including the Zyton-7 crystals needed to power it. To their enormous surprise and relief, these crystals were common enough on Vejiitasei, so their largest obstacle to escape had dwindled to a manageable size.
"Here - make sure these are what you wanted," Beryan said, dumping the contents of her hands on top of the control console. An enormous pile of Zyton-7 crystals spilled from her fingers, smoothly lusterous, their facades changing color with the play of the interior light.
The top of Stranna’s head appeared from the opposite side of the console, her dark hair wild around the crown. Her eyes grew huge as she said, nonplused, "Where did you get all of those?"
Beryan shrugged expressively with an ingenious smile. "I stole them, of course. Fortunately, Saiyans are blind as well as dimwitted."
Stranna grabbed them and sighed, distracted. She stared at the console again and said, "Beryan, I don’t understand it … I can’t tell why this dematerialization circuit isn’t working. Everything’s connected, everything else works independently, but … ah, I’ll just have to rip the console apart again … damn, damn …" Still muttering, Stranna slowly slid under the console again.
"Just get it working, please? We’d like to leave sometime this century," Beryan said caustically, shaking her head. She leaned on the console and punched the control for the main viewscreen, still sighing. One side of the inside wall turned opaque, and an image of the rotunda appeared. As she watched the activity, Beryan continued to talk to Stranna.
"Hopefully, we’ll be able to get everyone from research over here within the next hour … and that just leaves the rest of the infirmary staff to go, plus a couple of people still wandering around in the palace, plus Theo. I don’t think that …" and her voice trailed off to silence. After a moment, she said roughly, "Stranna … Stranna, isn’t that the Prince over there?"
A large *thwap* with a resounding groan and fluent cursing in ancient Galactic Standard came from the other side of the console. Stranna’s head again popped over the edge, her right hand massaging her temple, her eyes scrunched in pain, holding an enormous sonic screwdriver in her other hand.
"Where? Where? I don’t …," and she gasped, staring at the screen and drawing her breath in, "…oh, Kami, I think you’re right …."
"Get Yisador, Stranna," Beryan said woodenly, her face drained of color. "Hurry. We don’t have much time."
"Your best effort, woman – I don’t think I’ve seen it yet, have I?" taunted Takuan, stepping lightly to his left. He was in a crouch, his dark eyes fixed on the woman just rising from the floor.
I hate you, you stupid son of a bitch,Theo thought, shaking her head to clear it but only succeeding in getting her hair to fall into her eyes. She drew her eyebrows together in an unconscious, though accurate, imitation of Vegeta’s scowl as she skimmed her mind for his presence. He’s not here, she realized, ready and all too willing to throw caution to the wind. Then the hell with this--you’re going to feel it today, bakayaro.
The last several days had been absolute agony for her. She had improved in body and mind since she had visited her mother – even Raditz had remarked on that – but Takuan had insisted on having at least two and usually three training sessions with her per day. As her exhaustion grew, the grip she forced around her temper loosened, so much so that at this morning session she no longer cared if anyone realized her psychic potential.
"Oh, no, sensei," she said tightly, drawing herself up to her full height, her eyes blazing. "You haven’t seen my best effort. As a matter of fact," she snarled into his face, "you’ve never seen my best effort." With that, she spun and attacked him full force.
As she was spinning, she reached out with her mind and accessed Takuan. Laughingly simple, she thought derisively as she executed a perfect flying sidekick with a backfist to the face. As she spun to attack him again, she accessed the gross motor control center in his brain and essentially caused a short circuit. As Takuan, shocked, lost control of his legs and arms, Theo came down with a flurry of punches and kicks, landing them with deadly accuracy on his face and his midsection.
Start bleeding, smart boy, she grinned to herself, drawing her arm back to smash him in the face again, tweaking neurons in his brain, causing him to momentarily lose sight of her. He stumbled and she flew at him, viciously slashing with everything she had, pummeling him to the ground. He rolled and blindly kicked out, knocking her off her feet, sending her sprawling. As he gained his feet again, she growled dangerously at him and sprang like a wild animal. Theo mentally reached out, not bothering to disguise her intentions, and pulled at his motor center, causing his arms and legs to spasm uncontrollably as he toppled again to the ground.
You’re dead, you bastard, she thought incoherently, feeling a savage bloodlust well up from her soul, clamoring for his life. As she leaped forward to snap his neck, she felt a persistent itching in the back of her mind, one that refused to subside. Mama, she thought angrily, go pester someone else and leave me alone – I’m busy right now.
Yes, but I’d prefer that you NOT kill your sensei. That thought, coupled with the sensation that her breathing passages had been choked off, stopped her in her tracks. She stood over Takuan, clutching at her neck, her eyes wild, then slowly sank to her knees in the middle of the training room floor, wheezing.
And am I to understand that your mother speaks to you this way as well? I was told that it was impossible for you people to speak to each other when you’re wearing the collars. Her face was turning a most unhealthy shade of blue and she had collapsed on her side, shaking. The small figure of the Prince sauntered onto the training room floor, coolly watching her struggle. We must have been misinformed, ne?
As quickly as it had started, the grip on her throat was loosened. Great, gasping breaths rasped through her lungs, and she was aware of nothing other than how sweet and painful it was to breathe again. Her legs drawn up to her chest, she rolled to her knees with her head down, bracing herself on the floor with one hand and clutching at her throat with the other.
"My lord!" Takuan gasped out hoarsely, struggling to regain control of his own arms and legs so that he could rise. "My lord, I had no idea you had returned –"
"So I see," Vejiita replied sardonically, watching the strange tableau on the floor. Takuan finally pushed himself up, standing on shaky legs in front of the prince, while Theo remained where she was, kneeling on the floor with her head bowed, her face hidden by a slight screen of curly red hair that fell across her brow. Keeping his tone casual, Vejiita walked over to where Takuan stood, looked down at Theo and asked, "How is she coming along, sensei? Is she ready for a bout with me?"
Takuan frowned, looking down at her on the floor. "Normally, I’d say yes, my lord – she improved quite a bit while you were away, and had me on the ropes when you came in – but I’m not quite sure what’s wrong with her now. Woman!" he exclaimed, raising his voice. "Get up off the floor and stand in front of your Prince, and hurry it up!"
Trying desperately to keep her mind blank Theo obeyed, scrambling to her feet and trotting over to Takuan and Vejiita. Nothing here, nothing to work with …
"Kneel before your sovereign, woman!" Takuan snapped, cuffing her on the side of the head, driving her down.
Before she could stop it, hot anger bubbled up and over, and she found herself in his mind, neural net in hand, ready to stop his heart with one well-placed squeeze -- until she realized who else was in her mind, watching. Knowing that there was no graceful way to exit, she simply released her grip on Takuan’s nervous system, moved out of his mind and back into her own, quietly praying all the while that just watching her do that would be enough for the Prince.
His eyebrows drew together in a knowing smirk, and his black eyes glittered. Coercing this buffoon to trip over his own feet was one thing, but almost killing him by stopping his heart? That was quite different – that was a skill that took finesse, timing, and mental agility – and something that had almost happened right in front of him, with her collared, of all things. There was no way in hell he was going to let her get away with THAT.
Turning to her sensei he said unexpectedly, "Did you just feel anything unusual, Takuan? Anything at all?" Theo’s eyes shot up to look at the Prince, who smirked down at her.
Takuan looked puzzled. "Why, no sir. Just a little tickle at the back of my head, but I get that all the time."
"Do you indeed?" Vejiita asked, looking meaningfully at Theo. She blanched, swallowing, and returned her gaze to the floor in front of her. Chuckling, Vejiita stepped toward her, grabbed her hair and yanked her head back, exposing her throat. She made a small muffled sound, but otherwise tried to keep what little dignity she had by staying still, her hands clutching the soft material covering the tops of her thighs.
"Come over here, sensei. Use the collar and ask the woman what happened to you during the past ten minutes," Vejiita ordered pleasantly, pulling tightly on her hair. "She’ll tell you." And tell him silently, Vejiita added.
Frowning slightly at Vejiita, Takuan obeyed. He grabbed Theo’s collar, squeezed it between his thumb and finger and gave her the command. Ah, no… Theo’s mind obeyed quickly; as a result, Takuan almost immediately dropped her collar from numbed fingers and backed away, a shocked expression in his eyes. "She … she …," was all he could stutter, curling his lip in fear and anger. "She’s been … playing with me … the entire time I’ve been training her? And …"
"So it seems, sensei," the Prince replied, pushing her head forward roughly and releasing her hair. "She’s been playing that way with all of us – not just you. Get up, woman." His eyes narrowed as they looked at her, assessing , evaluating. "It’s time you play with someone who knows your game."
Theo drew herself erect, glaring at the Prince, but inwardly cowering at the power she felt coming from him. I have no chance in hell of surviving this. She crouched in a fighting stance, trying to send waves of coercion out to intimidate the child, but he simply laughed at her.
"Don’t waste your time, Guardian," Vejiita said, warning her. "I won’t tolerate your mind games now." To emphasize his point, he quickly accessed her mind and expanded his presence there. Theo struggled to push him out, but he was in too many places at once. He had no need for subtlety; brute strength, applied with enough force to any number of nerve centers in her brain, would create a blaze of pain that would have her limp and screaming on the floor in moments, and she knew it. Vejiita gave her a piercing, challenging stare. "If I feel you using one iota of your psychic potential, I will have no mercy. Do you understand?"
"Yes," she said tightly, "I understand," and pulled all psychic emissions into herself, mustering her strength around her center.
"Good," he said, smiling slightly, his eyes cold and calculating. "Then let’s begin. Sensei, feel free to give this woman any advice you think she needs, whenever you think she needs it." And with that, the Prince attacked Theo with a vengeance.
The next half hour was a blur of fear, anger and pain for Theo, especially the latter. The Prince, though quite small and young, was an experienced fighter; again and again he taunted her, setting traps, leaning deceptively close so that she would attack only to find her quarry missing. However, the fact that her sensei fought in much the same way worked in her favor. Once she recognized the pattern and saw the play of moves, she defended herself well. Theo was even able to move under his guard several times and land a few well-placed kicks.
Takuan shouted encouragement to her from the sidelines in the form of insults, starting with things against Guardians in general to very specific, narrow observations about Theo and her fighting style. The more she heard, the angrier she became. She was not even aware of the rage building inside of her, except that she started to see more opportunities to smack that permanent smirk off of Vejiita’s face, something that became her sole focus, the factor that drove her to fight with even more passion, no matter how much pain she had to endure.
Vejiita knew that, too; he knew it because he was still linked with Theo, still had light tendrils sitting in neural ganglia throughout her brain, and was able to experience all the rage, fury, fear and pain she was feeling vicariously. Never had he had any experience quite like this one; while she was a canny opponent, thinking on her feet, she truly was no match for him and he normally would have made short work of her. However, this new window into sensation, where he could feel both her and his experience, was intoxicating; never had he experienced so much power. Vejiita taunted and teased her, scorned her abilities, ridiculed her species, and was rewarded with an outpouring of fury that actually pressed him to work a little bit, to defend himself. He varied the tempo of their clashes, knowing her body was on the brink of exhaustion but sensing there was one more rally left in her.
She had pulled back, panting and wheezing from their last clash, legs shaking, her hands pushing against the tops of her thighs, sweat pouring from her temples, her damp hair in tight, curly ringlets around her face which was suffused with color, looking almost as bright as her hair. Several large bruises stood out on her forearms, showing where she had blocked many of his blows, and one bruise was livid against the white skin of her face, high on one cheekbone. She felt ready to collapse on the inside – everything in her world hurt now, it even hurt to think – but she would never give in, never tell him that. Her eyes glared defiantly as she stared at the prince, barely winded, standing with his tail tucked tightly around his waist and his arms crossed, smirking.
"Here – let me help you, Guardian," he said softly, watching her. "I know you want to fight at least once more – I can feel it. See if this gives you some energy." Without warning, she found the sensations of pain and weariness pushed to the back of her mind – not forgotten, but simply moved aside, to make way for a new tingling, energizing sensation, moving lightly across every part of her body.
She blanched, recognizing the initialization of pleasure centers in her brain and powerless to stop it. "Dear Kami, what ... what are you doing?" she gasped at him, truly shocked, losing her balance and stumbling forward. "You can’t do that – you don’t understand – Kami, stop –"
"You aren’t enjoying it?" he murmured, watching her carefully.
Theo turned an agonized face toward him, horrified. He’s just a child, just a child, her mind screamed at her, he has absolutely no idea what he’s doing now other than it just feels good … he must thing he’s healing me, but he’s wrong … wrong …
"I … please … don’t do this to me," she moaned hoarsely, her body shaking.
Any reply the prince would have made was cut off by the arrival of Nappa in the training room, trailed by a number of other Saiyan elites. Nappa looked typically Saiyan, his brow lowered in a permanent scowl, dressed in new battle armor as were all the other Elites. The little party marched right up to the Prince, not looking left or right, stopped in the middle of the floor and saluted him.
An exasperated Vejiita turned from Theo to look at Nappa, snapping, "You’re late. I told you to meet me here in an hour, not whenever you felt like showing up. And why are these bakas with you?"
Bowing low, Nappa said, "Forgive me, Sire, but your father has requested that you and I accompany him to Lord Freeza’s ship, currently in orbit around Vejiitasei." There was an uncharacteristic edge to Nappa, one that was reflected again and again and again by the other Elite guards, something angry, something dangerous.
Vejiita stood for a moment, looking at his commander, then made a decision. "Fine. We will go in a moment." He turned to Takuan still standing on the edge of the training floor, and said, "I’m placing you in charge, sensei. It’s now your responsibility to insure that she’s well, in both body and mind." Gesturing to him to collect Theo, Vejiita said, "Take her back to her quarters and lock her in there if you must."
Turning to Theo, he said with a sardonic smile, "And you are going to obey him, at least until I get back. Do you understand?"
She nodded, not saying anything, looking at the floor.
He continued, a ferocious grin playing around his lips, "We’ll pick up right here where we left off, Guardian. Be ready." She then felt him gently disengage from her mind, until all that was left was a weak presence, barely stronger than a memory.
Turning on his heel, he marched across the training room floor, his head barely passing Nappa’s waist, but obviously in control of the entire unit. "Make sure that baka Raditz is put on the transport with me," floated back to Theo’s ears, imperious.
She watched him leave the training room suddenly filled with foreboding, a prescient glimpse of the future quickly passing over her, leaving her feeling dry and empty.
"Let’s go, woman," urged Takuan, yanking at her arm, breaking her reverie . "You heard what the Prince said – I’m in charge, and I say we’re leaving." He glared at her, shaking her arm hard. "No funny stuff, either."
Sighing, Theo allowed her sensei to pull her out of the room.
"Come on, woman, I’ll be ancient before we get there. Move faster, now." Takuan slung a look over his shoulder at Theo and asked acerbically, "Do I need to put a leash on you, too?"
Gritting her teeth against the pain she felt in every part of her body, Theo glared at the Saiyan and quickened her pace, trotting next to him down the long hallway. "No, sir," she muttered, "I can keep up with you."
Even my hair hurts, she thought, aggrieved, as she hurried next to the squat Saiyan. Damn him for knowing what was doing … And she shivered, not able to bring herself to finish her last thought, and cast about for something else to occupy her mind.
The Prince had done this to her, had effectively put her in her place, reminded her who was in charge and had given her tangible evidence lest she forget again. He had done a masterful job; she was mobile and functional, but every square centimeter of her body ached, some parts much more than others. Her forearms were still throbbing with the force of the blows she had blocked as large, angry bruises spread into her upper arms and down toward her wrists. She had been kicked in the gut more times than she cared to remember, and she didn’t think her stomach would ever be the same; plus, she was amazed that she was able to walk at all, given the number of times he caught her lower back and upper thighs.
It was his psychological dominance, though, that was the hardest for her to accept. As Theo blindly followed Takuan through the dark hallways, she kept going back to the way in which Vejiita had easily increased his awareness in her mind.
I have no defense against him - he never really left, she realized belatedly, not since … since I killed those Elites. Part of him is with me whether I feel him or not; and when he decided to expand, I never even felt him move.
She closed her eyes briefly against the tide of anger and humiliation at her own stupidity that washed over her. Theo looked the picture of utter vexation as she hurried with her sensei, her curly red head tucked down and her shoulders set. And what else is he learning to do to me now? she thought in dismay, remembering the last few moments of contact with him. Gods, no one deserves this … Apparently the child had taught himself how to manipulate her physiologically, too; he had done it before, when she was in the tank, but she thought it had been a fluke. Unexpectedly her mother’s voice echoed in her mind:
It was that, more than anything else, that caused her the most shame – the fact that she had shown him the way, had actually taught him how to build coercion. To add insult to injury, he then had forged a one-way link with her and was now effectively using her own weapon against her. She bit her lip and shuddered, remembering. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Takuan looked over at Theo, who appeared to be slowing her pace minutely, her eyes downcast. Annoyed, the Saiyan reached back and clamped a large hand on her upper arm and practically dragged her down the next corridor, ignoring her startled protests. He was moving so quickly that she almost needed to run to keep up with him; and then, without warning, he ground to a halt in front of a doorway to a noisy, crowded commons room. Theo, however, didn’t stop moving until he jerked back on her arm, almost tearing it out of its socket.
"You don’t need to break it," Theo hissed at him, blinking back tears of pain.
"Shut up and be quiet," he growled back at her, staring in the recreation room. "I don’t want to hear a sound coming from you, not a sound – do you understand?" He looked at her and shook her arm to emphasize his point, making her shoulder ache and her teeth chatter together. Rude laughter and comments floated into the corridor, loud enough to be heard but not totally understandable.
"Yes, fine, whatever you want," Theo muttered, reclaiming her arm and leaning against the wall next to the door, rubbing it. "I’ll just stand here and shut up."
"Best idea you’ve had all day," retorted Takuan, glaring at her. "And don’t get any bright ideas about wandering off, unless you want to be out on the training room floor with me and the Prince all day, every day."
Theo glowered back at him and said nothing, still massaging her arm.
Takuan turned from her to the scene inside the commons room where the members of the guard relaxed and ate with each other, socializing during their duty day. It was smaller than the room that had been destroyed several days ago, where the Prince first became aware of Theo’s peculiar skills, but it was set up in essentially the same manner; long, rectangular tables and chairs, built more for efficiency and economy than for spaciousness and comfort, a bar across the back of the room, usually chock full of people.
The business in the room currently held Takuan’s rapt attention. There were a fair number of Sayians off duty, and they all seemed to be focused on one individual. Many appeared incredulous, and quite a few were guffawing outright at the solitary Saiyan, chortling about how he just "couldn’t take it anymore." A circle was forming where the warrior was sprawled on a broken table, obviously shattered when he flopped on it.
"What’s wrong?" Takuan leaned into the room and asked the Saiyan closest to the door, a large, burly brute with no neck, who appeared to have his head attached directly on top of his shoulders.
The Saiyan snorted. "He got his butt kicked – that’s what’s wrong," he said derisively. Contemptuous laughter followed from the group of onlookers, moving through the room like a bad odor.
"It’s about time!" called another from the crowd, stirring up another round of muffled guffaws and taunting, sarcastic comments.
The Saiyan in question had just picked himself up and looked as though he had been handed the wrong side of a chain saw. Gaping cuts and gashes were peppered over his body, his armor was almost torn away at the shoulder, and he appeared to be wearing a blood soaked bandanna around his unkempt black hair. A large scar slashed across one side of his face, and the normally stoic demeanor that characterized Saiyans in general had been replaced with what appeared to be enormous anger and genuine desperation. Panting, he gained his feet and surveyed the crowd peering curiously at him.
"Listen everybody," he rasped out, his vocal chords scraping together, obviously pushing himself to get the words past his bruised mouth, " - it’s….it’s Freeza…" He stood in front of the crowd, looking from familiar face to face, his own fixed with a memory echoing in his eyes, " ….he’s coming for us…."
Exclamations of blatant disbelief reverberated off the walls of the room. A large, battle scarred warrior stood in front of the other man, leaned on a grinning green-haired Saiyan woman and shook his head slowly, a cynical smile lighting his eyes. "Us?" he drawled, regarding the other man. "You mean … you. Right?" Raucous laughter and snickering floated around the room again, stinging the wounded warrior with its doubt and skepticism.
"No!" the injured man shouted forcefully, scowling at the assembled soldiers. He seemed on the brink of losing control, but pulled himself back and bit out word by word, " Us … you … me … everyone here. It’s true." He straightened up, his entire bearing focused on his message and repeated, "It’s true. He’s scared of us. He wants us all dead. My whole crew is dead thanks to that freak!"
One word had drifted out of the room and whispered in Theo’s ear, tickling the back of her mind, and a suppressed memory started to surface. Freeza? she wondered, swiveling her head toward Takuan’s back. There’s something about that name … Freeza … what is it? Silently she shifted herself so that she was standing behind Takuan and squinted into the commons room, trying to remember.
The room erupted into howls of derisive laughter – warriors were holding each other’s shoulders, they were laughing so hard. Not one of the Saiyans believed a word of the warrior’s story – after all, Lord Freeza provided them with enough good hunting and planet purging to keep even the most bloodthirsty and ruthless among them happy. Why would he destroy them? They worked for him, for Kami’s sake – and they were damned good at their job, too. Between gasps, one of the soldiers sneered, "Bardock gets his tail whipped and it’s the end of the world, right?"
More laughter greeted that comment, as other warriors joined in, pressing closer to Bardock. It was also obvious that many of them resented Bardock’s position and rank within the division, and relished the opportunity to anonymously tell him so.
"Maybe you goons should stop pretending to be Elites!"
"No kidding, Bardock - welcome to the real world, buddy boy."
"It hurts, don’t it?"
As the derision and abuse washed over him, Bardock leaned against a pillar in the room, mustering his strength, the blood starting to dry on his face. It was so hard … so hard for him to believe as well, but … His ravaged eyes looked the room, watching the proud, self-satisfied faces of his comrades in arms, and he knew he had to try to reach them – they deserved that much, if nothing else.
Whispering almost to himself as his black eyes scanned the assemblage, Bardock muttered, "Fools. You’re dead."
A fresh burst of laughter greeted him. How obtuse can these people be? he raged silently, remembering Toma’s head in his lap, his dead, staring eyes, blood everywhere. Grinding his teeth, he gathered his strength for one last conscious assault, trying to overcome their resistance, shouting as if he was on the battlefield, crying:
"FOOLS – YOU’RE ALL DEAD!"
His voice cut through all conversation and laughter cleanly, like a razor through flesh, drawing gasps and shocked silence from all the warriors. They gaped at his intensity and power, his desperation and anger finally crystallized into one clear cry from his soul. The silence in the room was thick and expectant, the warriors focused exclusively on Bardock, waiting for him to continue. Passion and fury were etched in every line of his body as premonitions of the future carried across the room in his hoarse whisper, finally moving into the hallway.
"He’s on his way …."
Theo’s eyes grew as large as saucers as perspiration beaded on her forehead and a sudden flash of comprehension and fear crossed her face. Oh dear Kami … ouji ... something about ouji and Freeza ... what? Freeza … he sent for ouji ... because ... we sent him? ... and now Freeza’s on his way … As memory started to flood into her mind, she silently backed up behind Takuan until she was across the hall, trying to keep herself as small as possible and control her breathing. Furtively looking up and down the corridor, she sidled away from the door of the commons room until she felt she was far enough away.
Run, Theo, run, her mind whispered to her, run to the TARDIS, get out of here …
Without a backwards glance, she pushed herself off the wall and raced down the corridor as if all the demons from hell were pursuing her, her small feet slapping a rhythm against the hard tiles of the floor.
The Prince was delivered to Lord Freeza with very little fuss on anyone’s part. A large shuttle from the capital city rendezvoused with the saucer ship, docking with one of its lower ports. As the Saiyans disembarked, several large warriors, wearing the insignia of Freeza’s personal guard, tried to beckon the royal child away from the main group, but met with no success. Vejiita no ouji walked next to his father at the head of their group, looking and acting every inch the heir to the Saiyan throne. His eyes deliberately slid over the guards’ frantic gesticulations as he turned and looked up at his father with a sardonic air. The King looked down at his son and nodded imperceptibly, giving a slight shrug. Vejiita smirked at that, disdainfully stared over at the guards again and snapped, "Don’t you have anything better to do than make fools of yourselves?"
"My lord," one of the guards said with a deep bow to both the King and his son, "Lord Freeza has requested that the Prince be sent out immediately on a mission to one of the outer rim planets in another system – he said that it would take the particular talents of one such as he to subdue the inhabitants." Permitting himself to look directly at the King, the warrior continued, "Lord Freeza has also requested that the Prince bring two companions with him on this soirte, as they may be needed to subdue the neighboring planets at the same time."
Scowling, the King retorted, "I should spare two of my Elites from my own personal guard for a whim of Lord Freeza’s – that they may need to go to the next planet, or they may NOT? I don’t think so, baka."
"But, sire, shouldn’t the Prince have an escort?" one of the Elites asked, looking askance at Freeza’s men. "It would be protocol for us to provide that for him – and they need not both be Elites –"
The King scowled at the effrontery of the soldier, who quickly moved back into his place in line. "I don’t recall asking for any opinions on the matter," he bit out between his teeth, as he simultaneously thought have that happen again and your squad won’t need to worry about Freeza at the captain of the squad. Surprised at being addressed directly, the captain gulped and waded into the sea of Saiyans, searching for the one who dared to offer an unsolicited suggestion to the King.
Ignoring the ruckus that started in the ranks, the King swept his dark gaze back to the soldiers waiting patiently next to the young Prince. His eyes narrowed in calculation as he ordered, "Raditz! Nappa! Get over here, now!" Instantly both warriors complied, the Elite Nappa pushing the lower class Raditz behind him. It was fairly obvious what Raditz thought of that treatment by the set of his jaw and his snapping black eyes, but to his credit he kept silent.
The King’s gaze rested squarely on each of them in turn, boring into their minds. The intensity of his stare at them never wavered as he said, "You will accompany the Prince – you will be his personal guard. His welfare is in your hands." Raditz shifted uncomfortably under the King’s gaze. There were volumes unspoken in the look he gave his soldiers, the magnitude of which both men could only barely understand.
The Prince snorted and muttered, bringing everyone’s attention back to him. "I can subdue any planet Lord Freeza chooses to give me with no help whatsoever," he stated flatly. Nor was he boasting, although he would not have been above that – he was simply stating the facts as he saw them. He glowered at the King. "Keep them with you – I don’t need them."
"You’ll take them," the King retorted, "and you’ll use them." He scowled down at his son with his arms folded as the Prince took the same position with the same exasperated expression on his face, glaring at his father. They stayed in those positions for long moments, staring at each other. Finally the Prince blinked, shook his head at his father and made a disgusted noise. He turned to Nappa and Raditz, saying, "Come on then, bakas. Don’t make me wait for you," and strode away, leaving them in his wake.
The King’s lips tightened as he watched the Prince walk away, followed by the older warriors. He said nothing but his body seemed to go rigid for a moment, as if he was marshaling his strength. He slowly turned about; no one else was in the docking port, only the Saiyans. King Vejiita watched ouji and the other soldiers disappear through one of the far hanger doors with steely control – he then turned to his Elites with a snarl on his face and a hard gleam in his eye.
"Listen!" he hissed, loud enough to carry to Saiyan ears but softly enough that no other beings in the area would understand his words. "Freeza fears all of us fighting together. If all of you Elite fighters join forces, you should be able to defeat even him. Show him how powerful we Saiyans can be!" His strong, implacable voice carried over and through the warriors, pulling them out of their self-induced complacancy to their trembling, raw power potential. Chi flashes flared intermittantly as the King took his left hand and held it over his chest in a sign of fealty to those under his command, his face streamlined by battle lust and rage. Countless other hands sought their chests in the same gesture and pledged alleigence to their monarch, promising to take back in blood what had been taken away from them.
"Then let’s go," the king harshly grated, pushing his way to the fore. It had begun.
Vejiitasei was spread in front of the viewing window again in all its choleric red splendor. Watching the angry red planet, observers could almost feel the inhabitants’ quick-tempered, mercurial personalities warring with each other, vying for dominance on a planet that bred powerful forces. Strength and energy seemed to emanate from the planet in waves, conquering those unwary bodies who ventured too close by either pulling them into orbit – if they were strong enough to withstand its unyielding gravitational force – or by crushing them in its atmosphere.
Freeza watched the planet again with a fierce, concentrated air about him, utterly silent. Seated in front of the largest viewing window in the lounge, his eyes were narrowed in thought and his long, elegant figures clutched the thin stem of his tapered wineglass with such force that his subordinate, Dodoria, thought it would break.
Dodoria reached out to refill his master’s glass and then quietly withdrew to the side of the chair. He had been with Freeza long enough to understand some of his moods, and this was one he recognized. Extreme care and caution needed to be taken by all those surrounding Freeza when his face took on that abstracted, dangerous expression, and Dodoria was not one to ignore the obvious. He stood to one side and tried to make himself invisible against the wall of the ship. Dodoria was one of Freeza’s chosen warriors, certainly not one of the Ginyu squad but a respectable mercenary in his own right – and he was plainly terrified of the small lizard-like creature.
A movement at the back of the room caught his eye as the doors to the lounge opened. The blue skinned Zarbon entered the room, quietly assessing the situation from Dodoria’s posture near the chair, and moved to the opposite side of his master, silently closing the doors behind him. Freeza, he knew, heard him enter the room – preternatural hearing was yet another one of the creature’s amazing abilities, along with his incredible strength and his unusually sharp mind. He sketched a slight bow to the back of the chair and spoke respectfully to his master as Dodoria turned to look at him, an unreadable expression on his large, florid face.
"Freeza-sama? The Saiyan king has brought their prince, and asks to see you. Also, the prince has been sent on a clearing mission as you ordered." Zarbon watched the back of the chair carefully, as if it would be able to alert him to any slight change in the mood or physical state of its occupant. Zarbon was well versed in a variety of Freeza’s moods, and recognized this one from the tingling atmosphere as soon as he entered the room. His own survival instincts kept him several paces back from the chair.
There was nothing to indicate that the tyrant had heard him. Freeza continued to stare fixedly at Vejiitasei as he lazily swirled the contents of his wineglass. Zarbon shifted his eyes to his right, searching Dodoria’s face, a questioning look on his face. A barely discernible shake of his large pink head was Zarbon’s only response.
Sighing to himself, the handsome alien braced himself for the inevitable abusive response, and ventured again, "Lord Freeza?"
Freeza’s voice, low and melodious, came to Zarbon from the depths of the chair. "The Saiyans have been acting suspiciously lately. It’s quite irritating." Inclining his head, he sipped delicately from his goblet and then returned to contemplating the planet below. "They are fools," he pronounced softly.
They signed their own death warrant, Zarbon thought as he bowed politely to his master. It was in Lord Freeza’s mind before, but now … there is no question.
As he stood respectfully behind the tyrant’s chair, his mind turned over several conversations he and Dodoria had with their master, most recently when it became obvious that Dodoria had not completely eliminated one of the Saiyans’ purging teams. Watching the small pod escape Meatsei and streak toward Vejiitasei, the large pink monster had been beside himself with anger and fear, loudly insisting that he would leave and finish the job. Freeza, however, had ordered sharply that he stay exactly where he was, remarking cryptically, "Why kill one bee when you can eliminate the entire hive?"
Why, indeed, thought Zarbon.
Without warning, the entire ship seemed to groan and shudder of its own accord, knocking Zarbon slightly off-balance and swirling the liquid around in Freeza’s goblet. Concussive blasts were heard echoing throughout the ship, causing Dodoria to brace himself and glare around the room, searching for the cause of the disturbance. Louder blasts came quickly on the heels of the first , indicating that the violence causing the explosions was getting closer to the observation deck. Muffled shouting was faint but discernible through the doors to the observation room. A bellowing, rough voice pierced the cacophany of noise, encouraging the mayhem as it cried, "Don’t falter! Freeza is back here!"
Coldly emotionless, the light skinned tyrant stood and turned to his subordinates, a tight, vibrating fury wrapped around his small frame, his eyes colorless and savage. The air in the room suddenly became closed, tightly drawn with anticipated rage. Both Dodoria and Zarbon inwardly recoiled from him, recognizing the enraged, almost insane light in his eyes.
"Zarbon-san? Open that door. Show all the Saiyans in."
Bowing, Zarbon acknowledged his master’s order. "Hai," he said quietly, and nearly ran to the doors to comply.
Sweat was beading in generous droplets on Stranna’s brow as she crouched under the console, twisting her long neck into a seemingly impossible position to examine the apparently dead dematerialization circuit. Large, dark circles were etched under her eyes as she stared at the obstinate piece of circuitry, poking at its connections to the rest of the board first in a desultory manner, then more savagely. What the hell is the matter with this thing? she thought fiercely, now banging on the console in total frustration. All the connections are right, I’ve pulled this board apart five times in the last two hours and there’s nothing wrong with it …
She felt as if she had been working on this problem for the last three days when in reality it had been only the last three hours. In the meantime, most of their people had been able to sneak on board the ship without attracting any undue attention; Beryan had come and gone, bringing more of the crystals they needed to propel the ship, but left soon after they discovered the little Prince had come back from his latest mission; and Yisador, Meryth and Olean had been able to steal on board, bringing armloads of extra equipment with them.
"They’ll never notice," Meryth retorted, her squat body shaking in indignation when Stranna pointed out that the Saiyans in research might object to the Guardians taking every piece of energy equipment that wasn’t nailed down. "Those creatures are lucky they can count all their fingers and toes without an abacus." Stranna just shrugged her shoulders expressively as Meryth stomped through the control room to the central rooms of the TARDIS, her nose in the air, muttering to herself about Saiyans and their inherent obtuseness to anything not dealing with war.
"And besides, we found these when several of them were … ah … ‘called away’ unexpectedly," Yisador said with a tired grin, both she and Olean flourishing fistfuls of Tsufuru collars and several data discs. "I’m sure you’ll be able to put them to good use."
"Kami, it’s about time – we’ve been looking for those things for years!" Stranna exclaimed, grabbing for the discs.
However, Yisador warded off her hand and shook her head, saying, "This won’t do us any good unless we can get off Vejiitasei, so – first things first. How’s that demat circuit coming along?"
Stranna had stopped dead then and stared at Yisador, her dark hair dripping into her eyes. "It’s not," she said flatly. "I’ve already ripped the console apart once to see if anything’s wrong, and I can’t spot it. I need Theo or Beryan to help me with this."
"Well then, I suppose you’ll be ripping the console apart again, dear – you’ll just have to make do until they get here," Yisador rejoined, fine lines of worry crinkling around her eyes. "I can’t imagine it’s going to take either one of them too much longer …"
That had been about an hour ago, by Stranna’s reckoning, and she felt she was no closer to the answer now than she was then. An angry growl started low in her throat as she glared at the circuits in frustration.
"What’s happening with that circuit now, Stranna?" Yisador’s voice penetrated her angry fog, pulling her back to the control room.
"I’ll be damned if I know!" Stranna yelled crossly from her position under the console, banging again at the circuit with her sonic screwdriver. Stupid inane thing, I can’t fix you … where the hell is Beryan?
After a few moments, Yisador’s lined, exhausted face appeared next to hers, concern and irritation written across it. "No need to shout, dear, you’re upsetting everyone. Is there any—"
Stranna turned her head, bringing her face centimeters from Yisador’s, and hissed dangerously, "Oh, really – are they upset now? You think they’re upset now? Just wait ‘till they realize we can’t move from this rock because of this – stupid – circuit – and you’ll see how upset they can really get!" She punctuated several of her words by smacking her screwdriver around the demat circuit again, creating dents in the metal housing. "And where the hell are Beryan or Theo? They’re the ones who built this machine, not me – I can’t fix this Kami-cursed piece of atrophying junk –"
"Look," Yisador snapped back into Stranna’s face, "we don’t know where they are. I can’t reach either one of them, so we’re stuck with you. And you’d better do the best you can on this 'Kami-cursed piece of atrophying junk,'" she continued relentlessly, "because that – thing – that Freeza – is up to something... This is our last chance, Stranna, and we don’t have much time."
Stranna stopped breathing; her eyes grew large and round as her generous mouth thinned to a tight line as she whispered, "…what?"
"Olean felt him. There’s something happening between Freeza and the king." Yisador looked meaningfully at her confidant and watched the blood drain from Stranna’s face. "We don’t have much time," she repeated as she twisted her body around, preparing to back out from underneath the console. Stranna noticed that Yisador’s hair, once a proud, fiery red, was shot through with gray, and the droop of her shoulders belied her strong words. This woman was almost at the end of her rope, Stranna realized, and her throwing a temper fit was certainly not helping their situation at all.
"All right, Yisa," Stranna sighed, closing her eyes. "I’ll do my best. Why don’t you send one of those little techie girls down here – you know, the clever ones from research? Maybe they’ll have some bright ideas. Make sure they bring their bag of tricks with them."
Yisador nodded, holding her friend’s weary eyes for a moment, then twisted away from the console, leaving Stranna to ponder their predicament.
Stupid, stupid machine … she thought tiredly as she leaned her forehead against the cool metal of the central column supporting the console and closed her eyes, willing herself to think of nothing for the next few moments. Her defenses down, suddenly the King’s face flashed, unbidden, into her mind. His emotions were centered – he was in the middle of a battle – and his entire being was focused on attaining one goal, striking down one enemy, saving himself and his people from the rule of …
Horrified, her eyes flashed open as she thought, … oh dear Kami … don’t tell me he’s attacking Freeza … he is! ... oh, you mortal fool …Simultaneously she threw herself away from the central column and crawled out from under the console, yelling frantically, "Yisador! … Yisador, where’s that tech? Yisa, get her over here, NOW … we must get this thing going NOW …"
As the sound of shouting and fighting became louder and more frenzied, Freeza turned his back on the outer door of the observation room to face Vejiitasei again, his glass in his hand. "It may be good to get some exercise occasionally," he murmured to himself, a deadly smile touching his velvet lips, his eyes small and knowing.
Without warning, a huge ball of chi exploded near the observation room doors, creating an enormous cloud of dust and debris. Several large armored figures were silhouetted against the bright light in the hallway, poised for action, battle auras sparkling. One figure disengaged from the rest and charged forward toward the observation room, his cape billowing behind him like a banner, the royal medallion bouncing on his broad chest. The strong features of King Vejiita were visible through the cloud of debris as he loudly demanded, "Where is Freeza?"
A door opened with a quiet, hissing sound, and a small, delicate figure was outlined in the light streaming from the room. The tyrant stood silently, waiting for his challenger to make the first move.
Vejiita ou bounded through the door to Freeza’s chamber, his face flushed and battle lust in his eyes. His entire manner had changed from the last time he met Freeza – gone was the subservient Saiyan king, acceding to each and every wish of the little dictator. In his place was the powerful, virile Saiyan leader who, by accident of birth and interminable hours of training, was the second strongest Saiyan on the planet. In terms of raw power, his own son eclipsed him; however, the boy lacked the canny skill and fighting grace that years on the battlefield built in the average Saiyan warrior. Those years were apparent in the way the king faced Freeza. With his cape swirling around him, he planted himself in front of the tyrant and declared through clenched teeth, "I’m going to defeat you and control the universe myself!"
Zarbon and Dodoria had moved to either side, flanking Freeza and watching the Saiyans carefully for any sign of attack. Freeza, meanwhile, appeared to be mildly surprised at the proclamation of the king. "Will you plan succeed?" he inquired of Vejiita calmly, peering over his shoulder. "Your men are very terrified."
The Saiyan king looked back at his men, his hand-picked Elites, and frowned. They didn’t seem terrified to him, but they didn’t seem very eager, either. Only a few of them seemed ready for battle …
As he turned back to Freeza, Vejiita’s unrestrainable strength and fury seemed to glow from his fingertips. In one smooth motion, the Saiyan drew his fist back and struck out at the tyrant, wanting to connect with the bones in his face. He struck at him again and again, his fists blurring with the speed of his strikes, his mouth open in a merciless grimace as he strove to physically conquer the little despot.
But Freeza was not to be vanquished by anyone that day, and certainly not by creatures he considered his physical and intellectual inferiors. As the king struck at him, the diminutive figure simply moved his head to the right and left, avoiding all the Saiyan king’s blows, a sardonic smile on his dark lips. As the king stopped throwing punches, realizing he was unable to hit him, Freeza drew himself together in a fighting crouch, pulled back his left arm and hit the Saiyan king in the middle of his chest. Freeza’s blow had such force that the tyrant spun totally around in the air, landing lightly on his clawed, armored feet.
The Saiyan king, however, was not so lucky. Freeza’s punch literally crushed everything behind it, driving the king’s ribs into his heart and internal organs. His body flew through the air and landed with a solid, sickening thud on the ground in front of his men, his sightless eyes staring at the ceiling. Ou was dead.
A horrible, crushing pain lanced through Stranna’s chest, buckling her legs and cutting off her breathing. She cried out, grasped for the edge of the control console, missed, and abruptly collapsed on the floor at Yisador’s feet.
"Stranna!" Yisador cried in alarm, falling on her knees next to her friend, pushing Stranna onto her back, frantically clutching at her head. "What’s wrong? What happened?"
The pain was lessening in her chest, but it still felt as though a immense, pressing weight was sitting on her lungs. Drawing breath through suddenly cold lips, Stranna realized what had happened as she stared into Yisador’s frightened eyes. Agonizing physical pain and the dull ache of a new psychic pain caused her eyes to burn with unshed tears – the King was dying.
"Dying," she managed to scrape past lips that unexpectedly refused to work. The pressure was diminishing slowly -- as is his life force, she thought. His face floated in front of her eyes for a moment – proud, fierce, untamed – goodbye warrior king --
"Who’s dying, Stranna?" Yisador asked urgently, staring into her friend’s eyes, placing both her hands on either side of her head. "Who – ah …," she sighed as she linked with Stranna, sharing her thoughts. Yisador’s eyes, slightly almond shaped, narrowed in sudden recognition. Her breathing became more labored as she dove farther into Stranna’s mind, trying to join their physical bodies together and give Stranna a connection to the living. Let him go … let him go, Stranna … it’s his journey, not yours …
Slowly color started to come back to Stranna’s wan face as her breathing rate matched Yisador’s tempo. A small aura had flared around Yisador’s fingers when she initially made contact, and had spread across Stranna’s head as she worked to bring her friend back. Carefully, Yisador removed her hands from the sides of Stranna’s head, tendrils of power trailing from her fingertips, brushing Stranna’s face before winking out. Exhausted, Yisador slumped on the floor next to Stranna, pushing stray pieces of ruby red hair out of her eyes.
"He’s dead, Yisa." Her voice was oddly inflectionless, almost metallic; simply giving information, nothing more.
"I know," Yisador responded, looking down at Stranna. Taking the measure of her friend, she gently continued, "We’re in danger, Stranna. We must get that circuit working and get out of here." There is no time to mourn.
Briefly, Stranna appeared stricken, heartsick; then she tucked an iron mask of self-control firmly in place. Rolling from her back to her stomach, she glared up at Yisador and growled, "I thought you were going to get one of those ‘bright girls’ for me - we’re not going anywhere unless someone helps me now." Tossing her dark hair back from her face, she glowered at Yisador and snapped, "Well? What're you waiting for? We don't have all day!"
Yisador looked at her, a weary grin playing around her careworn eyes as she called, "Charline! Charline, Stranna needs you now - bring your tools and make yourself useful here ..."
Stranna sniffed and dove under the console again, gesturing to Charline to follow her.
An insistent, metal clanging rang through the air, splitting the horrified silence into thousands of tiny shards, each piercing the spirits of the Saiyan Elite guard standing just outside the observation room door. Their king – the Saiyan King of Vejiitasei – was lying on the floor in front of them, spread-eagled, unmoving – while the small tyrant, Freeza, was calmly standing in front of them, flanked on either side by his chosen henchmen, his hands held lightly behind his back. A small, wicked smile graced his thin lips as he watched the medallion of the king roll over and over in a tight spiral, finally coming to rest near the King's feet. The symbol of the sovereignty of Vejiitasei was laid out before him – the medallion, the symbol of rank and power among the Saiyans, was inches from Freeza’s clawed feet, and the king, the personification of the best of Saiyan warriors, lie just beyond.
How deliciously fitting that these idiotic monkeys see the ease with which they can be destroyed, the tyrant thought, laughing inwardly as the Saiyans reacted to the defeat of their monarch.
"King Vejiita!" the shocked Saiyans gasped, leaning forward toward their fallen sovereign.
Freeza smiled tenderly at the gaping Saiyans, glanced down at the floor and took one small step forward, purposely grinding the king’s medallion into the parterre with tremendous force. Keeping his hands lightly clasped behind his back and his armored tail waving smoothly behind him, Freeza shook the remaining debris off his clawed foot and calmly baited the Saiyan Elite by asking, "Your king has been killed - don’t you want to avenge him?"
A collective growl spread through the ranks as all dark Saiyan eyes fixed on Freeza. Here was the reason they left Vejiitasei with the king – the sadistic despot that wanted the crown prince, the animal that killed their king without honor, the being that craved dominion over the Saiyans – here, he was here -- and now they understood what they needed to do. As one mind, they would work together as their King had decreed and they would destroy him. Muscles tensed and bunched as the Saiyans braced themselves to leap as one at the neck of the overlord.
Impudent monkeys! Freeza’s face underwent a drastic change as the intent of the Saiyans became clear. It twisted into an ugly, monster-like visage, exposing Freeza’s true personality to the Saiyans, the being that had used them and their warrior skills for years. How dare they think to challenge me – me, the strongest being in the universe! Freeza tore the green scouter from the side of his head, exposing both of his colorless eyes that immediately started to glow with suppressed chi power.
Die, monkeys, die! Streams of power shot from the tyrant’s eyes into the assemblage of Saiyans at his door, enveloping and vaporizing them on the spot. Their screams were cut short by the beam’s intensity, which left little more than small pieces of sooted ash on the floor in front of the dead Saiyan king.
Silence rang again in the observation room, this time more profound than the other. Both Dodoria and Zarbon were staring, speechless and motionless, at the place formerly occupied by the Saiyan Elite. Neither looked as though they wished to say anything at all to their master, who was standing nonchalantly in the middle of the room with a thoughtful expression.
Speaking as though to himself, the despot wondered, "Is this all a single Saiyan is capable of?" A hint of scorn thread through his voice as he shook his head in disgust.
Finally finding his tongue and his mobility, Zarbon moved toward Freeza and asked with a touch of concern, "Are you injured at all, Freeza-sama?" Dodoria, however, continued to stare at the black soot on the floor in appalled fascination, not moving a muscle in any direction, his pink jaw slack in shock.
Snorting slightly, Freeza haughtily replied, "Hmmph. I didn’t even need to transform. I think we should be leaving now…. "
He turned around to face the observation window again, forcing Zarbon to turn with him. Freeza walked over to the window, the thin material barely containing the power of the despot, and looked at Vejiitasei exposed in all its red splendor. An excited, smoldering look was in his eyes as he continued his original thought --
"…to see the fireworks of the planet Vejiita."
The Prince was imprisoned in a transport pod with Raditz and Nappa – at least, that was what he thought. The pod was one of Freeza’s "specials," designed to hold six large warriors and their individual space pods. This one, however, only held three Saiyans, two of them rather large, and two of Freeza’s handpicked guard. Freeza’s men were actually piloting the ship, allowing the Saiyans the time to roam freely around.
Not that there was much to see, Vejiita muttered to himself, scowling in the semi-darkness. He much preferred traveling in the individual pods that were preprogrammed for their destination; all he had to do was get in, punch the automatic pilot button, lean back and sleep. The system would wake him when he was twenty minutes from the final destination, giving him plenty of time to have the computer brief him on the important features of the planet to be conquered, such as the largest population centers, the technology level of the indigenous species, and the like. Plus, he didn’t have to bother with anyone else.
But now – feh! he thought irritably – now he was stuck traveling with that idiot Raditz and the perpetually dimwitted, fawning Nappa. And for what? he growled to himself. I don’t need their help. Part of him was satisfied, though, that ceremony was followed for his sake and that he had a guard not unlike that of his father; another part was pleased that his strength and cleverness was recognized by Freeza, while yet another voice told him to be wary, to be careful of the lizard king. The times when he had been in the presence of the despot were few, but he remembered each vividly and with relative unease.
His mind spiraled back to a chance meeting with the despot several months ago, at one of his father’s interminable public councils. They had literally bumped into each other crossing the large rotunda in the palace, and now that he thought about it, the young prince did not understand why that had happened. He also recalled that he could not rid himself of a pricky, crawling sensation that ran the length of his spine when he looked into the eyes of the lizard creature. There was cruelty and malice in that gaze, certainly; but there was also something unrecognizable to a five-year-old boy that raised the hackles of older Saiyans, causing them to scowl and hover around him in a protective circle. The small tyrant had noticed that as well; chuckling, he had given Vejiita one last long glance, ran his tongue unconsciously across his lower lip, and walked to the opposite side of the rotunda, his tail swaying gently behind him. The Saiyan Elite had watched him go, baring their teeth at his back. Vejiita remembered feeling puzzled at their actions, but hid his confusion under a mask of indifference as he left the area, forcing them to follow him.
Shaking himself out of this uncharacteristic reverie, the Saiyan prince started to roam the ship again, prowling through the storage area where the smaller pods were kept. He glanced at the floor, marking his passage by the number and position of dead rodents along the walkway. When I’m in charge there won’t be any rats anywhere on Vejiitasei, he promised himself. He passed the body of one that he shot while it was trying to crawl up the wall, and shuddered. He felt something odd when he shot the rat, and he had that same feeling again, stirring in the back of his brain … I’m getting soft, he thought angrily to himself, shaking his head. It’s that Guardian woman and her mind games, damn her. She only showed me part of what I needed to know.
The Prince had started to use some of the techniques "that Guardian woman" had unwittingly shown him on other beings. Most of the time they weren’t successful; however, when they worked, they worked immediately and in full measure. He was able, with very little physical assistance, to subdue a whole planet that had been classified a level 5. Normally, this meant that an entire Saiyan squad was to have been sent in to exterminate the local inhabitants. The prince, however, simply breached the minds of the military leaders of the planet, causing great confusion and consternation among their armed forces; and once their full moon was visible their planet was lost, as there was nothing that was beyond the ability of the Saiyan Oozaru. He had led a small Saiyan party into battle, directing his troops with little more than a thought in their direction. They had obeyed instantly – none of them even realized that he had been in their minds.
But his greatest conquest, he felt, was the woman herself. It was obvious that he was her master; the ease with which he inserted himself into her mind and controlled her actions spoke for itself. I can’t read all her thoughts yet, he thought to himself smugly, but that will come in time – and we will have plenty of time together. He smirked, remembering her horror when she discovered how fully he controlled her and her body the last time he saw her. She had been so engrossed in her sparring match with her sensei that she hadn’t realized he was there, watching her try to kill the bungling Saiyan. It had been a pure sadistic pleasure to watch and feel her realize the full extent of his power over her. She thought we were all stupid brutes, like Nappa and her sensei, the little Prince thought , a vicious grin on his face as he shot yet another rat. She’s learning now.
An idea struck him as he threaded his way in the dark through the space pods, moving toward the stairs at the end of the hall. I wonder if I could control Freeza’s people that way? It’s worth a try … His eyes snapping maliciously, Vejiita ouji made his way to the opposite end of the bay and to the stairs that led directly to the bridge of the ship.
Running as fast as she dared, Theo sped down the hallways of the royal palace, a nameless dread hard on her heels. Her breath whistled through her mouth in harsh gasps as she rounded yet another corner in the Byzantine labyrinth, a fierce ache spreading through her left side, her violet hued gaze searching frantically for something, anything familiar. Thankfully, there were no Saiyans anywhere near her, and apparently her stupid sensei didn't even realize she wasn't with him.
Panic started to bubble in her mind as she realized she was in an area of the palace she didn’t recognize. No, I can’t be lost, not now! she thought incoherently, I’ve got to get out of here … where’s my TARDIS? … where’s … A movement at the far end of the corridor flickered in her peripheral vision, and she immediately dove for cover in the nearest doorway, flattening herself against the rough material of the postern, willing her body still.
No, don’t look down here, there’s nothing here, nothing, it’s clear … Theo saturated a narrow radius around her body with those thoughts and words, essentially creating a blind barrier between herself and anyone who came near her. She had never dared use power in this way before, as it would be patently obvious to any chi sensing being within 50 meters that something was being used somewhere in the area, but her fear of discovery was less than her fear of that unknown dread stalking her in the palace’s hallways. Go away, there’s nothing here, nothing at all …
The horribly tight, suffocating feeling in her chest was dissipating, as was the pain in her side. Be brave, Theo, she chided herself, and find out what you’re facing down there. Reluctantly, Theo inched her head around the corner of the doorway to slide her gaze down the corridor, her body tense and ready to run at the slightest provocation.
And there was … nothing there. What? That’s not right, Theo thought, baffled. I know I felt something down there … Craning her head around the doorjamb and peering down the hall, she nearly missed the body huddled on the floor near the opposite wall. Squinting from her hiding place, it seemed to be just a bundle of dark, stained clothes … lying there oddly … with red hair … A thought prickled her mind, whisper soft and familiar, as a torn face turned in her direction…
Theo’s arms and legs turned to ice as she leaped out of the doorway and pounded down the corridor, her mind screaming, Oh dear Kami, no, no … She slid to a stop and dropped to her knees in one fluid motion, gasping, "Beryan! Beryan, what happened?" groping behind her friend’s ravaged neck to help support her head. Flesh seemed to peel off in her fingers as she dragged Beryan into her lap, her scalded head lolling.
Bright, pain-filled eyes stared back at her, as Beryan pushed a single whispered word through cracked, burnt lips with the ghost of a smile: “… free …”
”What?” Theo felt as though her world was collapsing inward, crushing her soul to bits. Her mind refused to accept what she saw in front of her – Beryan, her friend, her companion, her confidant – scalded almost beyond recognition, looking as though she had walked through an inferno, her perfect skin appearing to melt off her bones while her clothes were burnt rags around her. Theo had no idea how Beryan’s neck still supported her head, as any skin left intact barely covered the muscle and sinew beneath.
“ … free …,” Beryan mouthed again, her eyes flickering down toward her hands. Theo followed her gaze and stared, slack-jawed, at the furry, bloody appendage tightly gripped in Beryan’s ruined left hand. One end was wrapped around her wrist and entwined so firmly that her fingers appeared blue; the rest of the piece dragged across her body onto the floor, and had left a bloody trail across the pristine tiles.
It was a tail; specifically, a Saiyan tail, cleanly sliced from the body of its owner.
Theo felt her gorge rise in response to all the unsaid implications the ownerless tail presented to her. ”How … whose …,” she started, forcing herself to speak – but suddenly, she knew, and she knew what she had to do. Beryan was too weak to forge a link with her, so Theo simply shifted a bloody hand around the back of Beryan’s head and dove into her mind.
Moving smoothly, its drives purring, the saucer ship arranged itself above the planet Vejiita, synchronizing its orbit with the largest population center, the capital city in the northern hemisphere. As he stood at the observation window, Freeza licked his lips in silent anticipation, his eyes smoldering and his tail slightly twitching behind him. The monkeys will certainly be surprised, he thought, cruel satisfaction threading through his mind. Unexpectedly, something at the edge of his vision drew his attention to one area of the planet; he peered out the window more closely and frowned His face twisted into an unpleasant expression as his tail snapped back and forth more briskly.
Zarbon noticed the change and dared to look where his master’s eye was held. Seemingly unending streams of mercenaries were pouring out from the bowels of the saucer ship; it also looked as though each stream converged at the same point. Large groups of the warriors appeared to clump together, only to be blown apart by a gigantic chi blast that scattered them in every direction. This happened several times, with the convergence point getting closer and closer to the body of his master’s ship. Squinting, Zarbon thought he saw one person – is that a Saiyan? he wondered incredulously – that was the focus of all their attacks.
"Zarbon-san," Freeza said through tight lips, giving a hard stare at the melee outside the ship.
"Sir?" Zarbon responded immediately, whipping his gaze back to the tyrant, trying to read Freeza’s mood through the subtle movements of his arms, folded negligently across his chest.
"Open the upper hatch," the despot ordered quietly, never taking his eyes off the scene outside.
The significance of Freeza’s words caused both henchmen to react strongly; Dodoria simply looked shocked, but Zarbon’s color paled slightly as he stammered, "But … Freeza-sama … our men are out there …"
The little despot stood with his back to his subordinates, still watching the fracas outside the ship. At Zarbon’s words, however, his armored tail flicked behind him once and he unfolded his arms, holding them loosely at his sides. The atmosphere in the observation room subtley changed, becoming charged and electric. Both Dodoria’s and Zarbon’s eyes widened in dismay.
Zarbon’s intake of breath was audible as he felt the energy change from Freeza. "As you command!" he gasped and ran out of the room, chased by his fear of Freeza.
Dodoria remained with his master, obviously nervous, his face beaded with sweat.
The expression in Beryan’s eyes was one of relief as she felt Theo link with her. Keeping the pain at bay, pushing it into another part of her mind, Beryan opened to Theo like a flower, unfolding parts of her memory piece by piece. How Beryan had shepherded all the other Guardians out of the infirmary under the noses of the Saiyans; and then how she had tried to slip away unnoticed, carrying more of the crystals that powered the TARDIS with her. How Oshinko, the hated lead physician, had watched her leave with a bundle under her arm, and become angrily suspicious. How he had made a scene, hauled her back into the room by her hair and flung her to the ground, causing the crystals to break and scatter about the infirmary floor like so many fine shards of glass. How he became even more abusive when he realized she was trying to take something without permission and started beating her mercilessly in front of the infirmary staff. And how, after years of his molestation and abuse, Beryan finally snapped.
Beryan gasped, her breathing becoming more labored, her head lying on Theo’s now soiled tunic; her movements brought Theo back to the surface of her mind. The women were bent together, motionless, on the floor of the corridor; had anyone merely glanced their way, they would not have noticed them. Theo, still connected, looked with despairing eyes at Beryan’s devastated face; she gently stroked her one whole cheek, reassuring her, and this time dove farther into Beryan’s mind.
Pulling the last remnants of her strength together, Beryan unfurled her memory again for Theo, trying carefully not to overwhelm her. Even though Theo was expecting the memory of enormous physical pain, the amount and manner in which Beryan endured it would have been enough to engulf even the most powerful Guardian.
Oshinko had grabbed Beryan’s shoulder with his left hand and methodically smacked her in the face with the back of his fist; up, down, left, right, diagonal left, diagonal right, and then started the pattern over again. Her nose was broken and her head flopped uselessly after every blow. The doctor made sure that Beryan noticed the rest of the Saiyan staff crowding around them, smirking and watching him beat her; his aim was not only to master her physically, but also to humiliate and dominate her mentally. When one of them called out to Oshinko that he should really start working on her body now and then go back to her head, Beryan went a little insane.
She no longer cared what happened to her - all she wanted to do was kill the bastard Saiyan in front of her. Beryan walled herself off from all the pain and disorientation of her body and pulled power from the wellspring – just barely under the Saiyan sensing threshold, quite enough to do what she wanted.
She wrapped the power into coercion, then breached his mind. Oshinko never knew what happened to him; he was so focused on punishing her that he never felt the slight energy pulse at his arm, never realized that his tail had curled away from his waist to wrap itself in her fingers. While he was viciously slamming his fist into her body, he didn’t realize the ideas for him to demonstrate the amount of chi needed to remove a Guardian collar and the exact location where the chi was applied were anything but his own thoughts. Snap! went the doctor’s chi at Beryan’s collar; it opened as if it were on a spring, flew apart and dropped, forgotten, to the floor.
Clever girl, Theo thought, continuing to sift through Beryan's memories.
That was the opportunity Beryan needed – not only was she collarless, she now knew how he removed it.
”Bastard,” she had hissed between swollen lips – and instantly drew in enough chi to power the entire city for weeks on end, and threw it, roaring, at Oshinko’s face.
The blast caught Oshinko by surprise and essentially vaporized his upper torso, flowed behind him and into the crowd of watching Saiyans, killing them, and destroyed the back of the room. Unfortunately Beryan had forgotten that raw power had a huge residual potential; she didn’t duck and was caught in the backlash. It was a testament to her spirit and determination that she had made it as far as she did, stumbling through the corridors and finally crawling on her hands and knees to collapse here, so close to the TARDIS. Beryan severed the tail from Oshinko's remains before leaving the wrecked infirmary, as well; a perverse part of herself demanded that she take a trophy from her kill, and she clutched it tightly in her hand.
Theo came up from the depths of her mind, wondering how close ARE we to the TARDIS? and would have disengaged completely except that Beryan pulled her back for a moment.
…take this with you … brushed against Theo’s mind, the first thought from Beryan that wasn’t an image. Puzzled, Theo expanded around the node of energy Beryan offered, then realized what it was – the knowledge of how to remove the collars, and the location of the TARDIS relative to where they were.
We're really close, Theo thought with relief, so it won't take that long to - A buzzing warmth penetrated her neck for a moment, then a loud crack! followed by a dull thud startled her. Nani …? Glancing down at the floor, Theo saw a huge, golden collar, something that looked big enough to fit around the necks of several Guardians, lying open on the floor. Sliding her astonished gaze back to the woman in her arms, she caught the hint of a smile on Beryan’s ruined face.
Now … you’re free … It was a colossal effort for Beryan even to think the words. Theo could also feel something odd happening between them … as if the essence that was Beryan was moving away, out of her grasp, going somewhere else.
Beryan, what are you doing? Stay with me - don't go anywhere -
That ghostly smile stayed on Beryan's lips as she looked fondly at Theo. ... no choice ... drifted back to Theo's mind. Theo felt her deliberately disengage, almost like a yeoman casting off from the dock. ... my journey, not yours ... ... always loved you Theo ... Her eyes slid away and became fixed, the light in them gradually dulling, then dying.
The challenge rang over the battle noises raging outside the saucer ship. Over one thousand of Freeza’s hired mercenaries were outside the interstellar vessel, flying in an extended artificial atmosphere that was kilometers in diameter, spreading in all directions from the ship, all trying to kill one Saiyan. And it was that Saiyan that screamed a challenge to the lizard king, the veins in his neck throbbing, his shock of black Saiyan hair flashing against the light from the angry red surface of Vejiitasei.
Slowly the doors on a bubble hatch at the top of the spacecraft slid apart. A white, horned helmet appeared from the top of the craft, gently but inexorably pushing through the portal. It moved upward to reveal an unsmiling Freeza sitting in a hoverchair, his tail draped regally over one side, its tip twitching lightly.
The Saiyan approached him, his eyes appearing a bit crazed, his body tense with anticipation, muscles coiled for action.
"Now, everything changes!" he shouted to Freeza in a clear tenor voice, his eyes dark and challenging. "The fate of the planet Vejiita –"
Ah, this is the one they call Bardock – they said he had been infected by aliens, and now he can see the future, Freeza mused to himself, glaring at the Saiyan as he raised his right arm, his index finger glowing with a small ball of chi. Those warriors stationed behind the ruler goggled at the waves of power they could feel coming from him and tried to move out of harm's way.
Bardock continued, his eyes bright and savage as he spoke: "—my own fate … Kakarotto’s fate … as well as your fate … all changes here!" The warrior held up a small, glowing ball of chi, positioned exactly dead center in Bardock’s fist. Freeza’s seasoned warriors who were stationed around Bardock took one look at their monarch’s face and moved back a discreet distance.
I wonder how far into the future you can see, monkey boy? Freeza thought to himself, grimly amused. His manipulated chi was the size of a marble, sitting on the end of his index finger that was extended straight up in the air.
" This is where it ends!" Bardock shouted, his face contorting into a grimace of fury, flinging his huge ball of chi straight at Freeza.
Had Freeza been any other being, Bardock’s weapon would have effectively eliminated him. But Freeza was not like any other being – he was, in his own opinion, the smartest and the strongest being in the universe. The lizard king watched Bardock’s ball of energy approach him; without warning his face changed expression and he started chuckling, then laughing maniacally. His eyes gleamed and his teeth flashed a brilliant white as he expanded the marble-sized chi at the end of his elegant index finger to a sphere of monstrous proportions, hundreds of meters in diameter. It was controlled entirely by the little tyrant, suspended at the end of his index finger, and dwarfed Freeza and his hoverchair, his spacecraft, and the mercenaries outside the ship. It was an awe-inspiring sight, and struck fear into the hearts of those close enough to see it.
Bardock’s effort now looked like a boy throwing snowballs into the sun as Freeza’s sphere absorbed Bardock’s energy blast effortlessly.
"What?" the Saiyan cried, gaping in obvious disbelief at the enlarging sphere above him. Freeza’s henchmen, hovering around the warrior, could do no more than stare, frozen in place, at the pulsing mass of energy.
Still laughing, Freeza’s face changed again, the insanity and cruelty that was the bedrock of his soul now quite plainly etched on his features. Wiggling his finger as if giving a slight reprimand to errant boys, he loosed the chi sphere and sent it on its way toward Vejiitasei – however, the trajectory he used forced the energy globe to take a path through the men he had hired to serve and protect him, those who had tried to stop Bardock on his fool’s errand.
Screaming in terror, the mercenaries tried to get out of the way of the sphere, but to no avail; the huge energy globe absorbed everything in its path, including all living beings. Freeza had intentionally sent the sphere straight at Bardock, making sure at least in his mind that each and every Saiyan was eliminated from the face of the universe; no thought was given to the survival of the other beings behind the Saiyan. As far as Freeza was concerned, they were simply incidental.
His eyes glittering in anticipation, Freeza watched his destructive ball of chi weave its murderous way through the cloud of warriors in front of his ship and continue on its inexorable path toward the surface of Vejiitasei, his dark lips pulled back in a demented grin.
Theo sat on her haunches staring into Beryan’s face, her body absolutely still and her mind totally numb. Beryan? she sent softly, pushing at her friend’s mind – but felt nothing in response. Beryan, what are you doing … Beryan …? Gradually Theo became aware of Beryan’s eyes, fixed on a point somewhere in the distance, and her shallow breathing that had stopped. The beginnings of panic settled into Theo’s mind as she frantically pushed again and again, Beryan? Beryan? Beryan, please …, simultaneously shaking Beryan’s shoulder, trying to shock her into breathing. There was no response – Beryan’s head moved, but after Theo stopped shaking her shoulder, her head stopped moving and hung at an odd angle, motionless.
A cold, hard fist clenched around Theo’s heart as she stared into Beryan's face, leaving a weight as heavy as granite pressing her down. "Beryan," she whispered, barely able to speak, closing her friend’s eyes by passing her palm across her face. "Oh, Beryan."
Theo sat next to her body for several minutes, her head bent and pushed into her hands. She then seemed to gather herself in hand, pulling herself to her feet, her eyes dry and souless, and looped Beryan’s leaden arm across her shoulders. She turned and pushed off down the corridor, moving in the direction of the rotunda and what she thought was her only salvation, the Guardian’s TARDIS.
It only took a few minutes for her to move through the corridors but Theo felt as though she had been traveling for years. The corridor seemed to get narrower the closer she moved towards its end, but eventually she did come to its mouth as it emptied into the vast pavilion. Saiyans were moving across the open space, bustling on their way to their various appointments, the higher ranked arrogantly pushing the lower classes out of their way.
Glancing across the area with eyes that were sticky and dry, Theo spotted the TARDIS at the far edge. Taking a deep breath, she strode into the busy thoroughfare, carefully keeping her face averted and pulling Beryan’s body close to hers.
Oh, damn, I forgot,Theo thought, looking at Beryan’s left hand through bleary eyes. Belatedly Theo realized that Oshinko’s tail was still in Beryan’s grip. Nasty looking thing ... eech. Just act natural, and no one will notice …
She was about three quarters of the way across the rotunda when she saw Meryth and several other Guardians move from the shadows around the TARDIS to the front, as if they had been searching for something and finally spotted it. They were looking for us, Theo realized; automatically she turned to shift Beryan’s weight against her side. As her head turned toward the other woman’s body, she saw several large Saiyans charge out of one of the other corridors that spilled into the rotunda near the forest garden and come to a sliding stop. They had the typical Saiyan scowl on their faces, but were out of breath and seemed more excited and angry than usual – and when one of them saw Theo and Beryan in the crowd, he let out a bellow loud enough to be heard at the opposite end of the city. Most Saiyans stopped to stare at him, incredulous that someone would start screaming in the middle of the royal palace.
Theo pulled up and stared at them, dumbfounded, clutching Beryan to her side as a large Saiyan male shouted and pointed directly at them, "Get them – don’t let them escape! Those are the Guardians that killed Oshinko and his entire staff! Look – the little one still had his tail in her hand!"
Before the Saiyans within earshot could react, a high pitched voiced started screaming, "Theo! Theo, drop Beryan and get to the TARDIS! We can't afford to have both of you dead. Theo, get over here before they murder you!" Swiveling her head around, Theo saw Meryth’s plump form dancing up and down, waving her arms over her head like a crazy woman, gesturing for Theo to run to her. "We’ll cover for you, Theo! Just get over here!"
I’m not leaving Beryan to these animals – I will DIE first! was her savage reply, and by the shocked look on Meryth’s face, Theo had made her point – until Theo realized that she had not spoken a single word aloud. What --
An audible mental gasp sounded, and then: Theo, your collar – it’s--
And with a quick indrawn breath, Theo realized what had happened. The collar, that hated symbol of Saiyan dominance, was gone; and with it, all restrictions that had been imposed on her for the last seven years were gone as well. I’m free, she thought, overwhelmed, staring at Meryth and the other Guardians. And –
A whistling sound and a whoosh! of superheated air rushed past her ears as a large chi blast slammed into the knot of Guardians standing near Meryth, vaporizing them and tossing Meryth to the side as if she were made of paper. Whirling around, Theo saw the Saiyan and his comrades that had denounced her to the population at large charging toward her, auras glowing and ready to fire.
A vast store of hatred and rage had been simmering in Theo, steadily building as her years of captivity passed, finally filled to bursting by the humiliation and defeat she had been forced to endure by the Prince. Incandescent and barely rational in her anger, she bared her teeth, reached out and shifted reality for herself –
– stopping time in the area of the rotunda, dragging through the minds of her attackers to isolate that which made them sentient –
--finding the pieces of personality they had stuck in several places in their brains and twisting them together, winding the strands, linking their minds into one large, cohesive chain –
--which she savagely pulled from the wellsprings of their beings, implanting one single command into their consciousness, a command they were unable to ignore –
"Die, Saiyan – just die!"
Her mind balanced between several planes of reality concurrently, keeping her a portion of her self and her corporeal body on Vejiitasei while the rest of her explored a small part of the realm of the Kaious. She had visited this plane before, when Vejiita’s Elites had attacked her, but had only reacted using an instinct for self-preservation. This time, even though she was defending her life, she had deliberately jumped there, knowing that by yanking their soulstrings from the anchoring disks she would kill them all – and that was exactly what she did, pitiless glee shining from her eyes. This time, they were all going to be dead.
The Saiyans landed on the tiles of the floor in a sodden clump, arms and legs tangled together, bodies sprawled on top of each other. The other Saiyans in the area looked at them, then at Theo, with openmouthed astonishment. When they finally overcame their shock, rage at the effrontery of an alien who killed Saiyans without a visible show of power clouded their brains and they all attacked Theo from every side, leaping and screaming at her with uncontrollable bursts of power.
"I hate you people," she hissed, her eyes flashing and her hair standing around her like a corona as she whirled to face the warriors on either side. "The universe – "
" – will be a better place – "
" – without the likes of you!"
"Die, Saiyans! Die!"
Group after group of Saiyans crashed down to the ground, landing together in snarled heaps, unmoving; male, female, adolescent, young or old – it made no difference to Theo, they were one and the same – they were Saiyan, and as such, they were going to die. Theo was standing in the middle of the holocaust, rooted in one spot, still clutching Beryan with one arm, her face ablaze with an inhuman fire, the color of her eyes changing continuously. She spoke not one word as she continued to slaughter them, again and again and again.
Meryth dragged herself to her feet and watched in horror as wave after wave of Saiyans smashed to the ground. There appeared to be hundreds of bodies lying on the floor; there weren’t very many left to attack Theo, but those that were still living were still trying to get to her. Some of them, however, watched from the relative safety of the forest garden and apparently decided to run and get help. One of the smaller males, an Elite that Meryth remembered, shouted as he was leaving, "We will remember your name, Guardian! YOUR name! We will hunt you, find you, and you will belong to us! You WILL be ours!"
"Really," Theo drawled, dead eyes staring at him from her livid, drawn face. "I don’t think so." She narrowed her eyes as she stared at him, and the Elite crumpled like yesterday’s newspaper and collapsed on the grass. "I’ll see you in hell, Saiyan, if there is one. We’ll talk then."
Theo, that’s enough … we have to leave … Theo, please come with me …
Theo spun in the direction of the thought and pinned her bright, fever ridden gaze on Meryth. The older woman was taken aback when she saw Theo's red rimmed, slightly crazed eyes, but sternly told herself get a grip, Meryth – this is Theo, your best friend’s daughter. Who would cheerfully commit genocide if left to her own devices, a small voice squeaked inside her. Meryth squashed that thought and concentrated her energy on Theo.
"Please, Theo … it’s time to go. Bring Beryan and let’s get into the TARDIS."
Slowly, slowly, Theo’s eyes lost some of the wildness and her breathing started to slow down. Taking a firm grip on Beryan, she waded across the sea of dead Saiyans at her feet, keeping her eyes fastened on Meryth as if she knew that looking at her own handiwork would send her over the edge. As she reached her, the older woman looked deep into Theo’s eyes and saw raw pain radiating from her soul, pain it was obvious that not even Theo understood.
Meryth took Theo’s elbow gently in her hand and said, "Come on, dear. Your mother’s waiting for you, and we’re ready to leave."
Theo swallowed and nodded, allowing herself to be led into the TARDIS.
The inky blackness of space was the perfect foil for Freeza's giant ball of chi. Its flawless surface gleamed in the weak light of Vejiitasei’s sun as it lazily dropped through the exosphere, rolling end over end toward the planet's surface. As it passed through the various levels of atmosphere surrounding the planet it acted as a catalyst, causing concentric rings of ionized gases to expand and flare furiously in its wake. Great ribbons of red, blue and green fire erupted around the sphere, sending fingers of flame streaking across the night sky of Vejiitasei, causing the inhabitants a moment's pause before they turned back to their usual activities.
Glowing like a gibbous moon, the sphere continued its descent to the heart of the planet, passing through the stratosphere and the troposphere, clouds and atmosphere bubbling out of its way like thick pudding. When seen from above, the sphere was minute, almost lost against the vastness of the planet; however, its power was tremendous, pushing ahead of the physical sphere to Vejiitasei's crust, buckling it, causing huge fault lines to erupt and spread across the face of the planet.
Vejiita no ouji was scowling, his eyebrows drawn together so tightly that they appeared to be one joined at the bridge of his nose. His eyes were snapping dangerously and his hands were folded across his chest, drawn into tight fists. Had either Raditz or Nappa been in the room with him, they would have recognized the telltale signs of frustrated royal rage, and would have acted appropriately - meaning, they would have backed away from him as quickly as possible.
”We apologize, Saiyan prince, but we cannot alter our course simply because you feel it would be ‘better’ to do so,” an amused voice rumbled from the comm. A naked, battle-scarred blue head with large, mottled blowholes at the top turned towards him, intelligent green eyes raking over his boy’s body and lingering around his tail. A small smile played around the pilot's lips. “We have our orders.”
The royal child glared, his face darkening with suppressed fury. Not only did these creatures refuse to acknowledge his sovereignty over them – though they did, however, recognize his title, which mollified him a bit – they ignored his obviously superior knowledge of this region, and refused to change their flight plan to account for a large asteroid field directly in their path. While not life threatening, it would obviously make traveling that much more difficult for them.
”Acting like imbeciles and refusing to acknowledge reality is not something I would have expected from Freeza-sama’s men,” the royal child said acerbically, drawing himself up to his full height.
Harsh laughter followed his comment, causing Vejiita to scowl even more fiercely. “You are the one who needs to acknowledge reality, little princeling,” the pilot rumbled again, chuckling in his throat. “You are now one of Freeza-sama’s men, and you are under orders, too. Freeza-sama himself gave me the coordinates of our destination and the path we should take, and I will not deviate from that. So,” he continued evenly, glancing askance at the prince, “get out of my mind and let me get back to work.”
A light color washed into the cheeks of the child as he stared at the back of the comm chair, his eyes hard and flinty with his jaw set in a straight line.
”You can stop trying to get into my mind, too.” The navigator, a creature from the same species as the pilot, turned from his position at the data board to stare at Vejiita. He fixed him with a single, unmoving eye, his other eye socket puckered and empty. “Better beings than you have tried and failed, and the only thing you’re doing right now is pissing me off. Get lost, kid. Go play with your other hairy friends.” He turned back to his board, muttering.
A blue glow enveloped his body as the Prince’s temper hit its limit. Chi started to surge quietly through his arms and gather at his fingertips as his mouth narrowed to a tight line.
”Don’t,” the navigator said softly, not turning around. “Use your head instead and look at your scouter, kid. I’d hate to have to kill you before Freeza-sama had the chance to … ah … use your talents. But I would … make no mistake about that.”
”You’re welcome to try,” Vejiita snarled at him, his hands held loosely at his sides.
The navigator sighed, punched several buttons on the console and turned toward the prince, appearing suddenly old and weary. "Have it your way," he muttered, shaking his head. Faster than the eye could see, the navigator spun from his chair, drove one fist into Vejiita's stomach and punched the prince's jaw with the other, snapping his head back with a sickening crunch. Recovering quickly, Vejiita tried to thrust a blast of chi at him while mentally attacking his psyche, but he was not fast enough. The navigator slapped the prince’s hand out of the way so that the chi blast slid harmlessly away, then smacked him in the face with his elbow several times. Vejiita staggered back, incredulous and angry, ready to power up to kill the man; but one look through his scouter confirmed what had been said earlier. The navigator’s power level was several notches higher than the prince’s level, meaning that if he attacked him he would lose. And he would lose badly.
The boy braced himself and leaned into a guarding crouch, glaring at the alien; however, he made no move to attack him either physically or pyschically. Instead, he waited for his opponent to make the next move.
The navigator stood back, watching him. "Good. You’re not as stupid as you look," he remarked. "Now get out of here and go find your monkey friends, kid. Stay with your own – don’t go looking for the big boys yet."
Vejiita’s eyes narrowed, but he said nothing as he turned and left the comm room, his tail tucked tightly around his waist.
"Freeza-sama hates telepaths and monkeys," the navigator muttered, eyeing Vejiita’s retreating back and reclaiming his seat. "I don’t like them much, either."
The pilot looked at him, a sardonic smile on his face. "But you like me, don’t you, Gahei?"
His companion glared at him. "You’re barely tolerable as a telepath, Gabei. You let him get away with far too much."
"No sense in discouraging him right away," Gabei purred, turning his attention back to the comm. "It’s much more fun when they think they have a chance to win. Besides, this one actually has a bit of talent. He almost got you. " Squinting into the simulator, he continued, "You’d better be careful, Gahei, or else that one’ll come looking for you."
"Not after Freeza-sama’s done with him, he won’t," rejoined the veteran, grinning.
”Watch your step, dear – there are an awful lot of people in here.”
The door of the TARDIS had been pushed open from the outside and several figures slipped through the entrance at once. Meryth walked into the control room first, her stout body leading the way for her charge and a palpable attitude of ‘don’t touch us’ permeating her aura. She held her left arm slightly behind her, as she was guiding someone else through the door. A mask of calm was drawn across her broad features, but her eyes belied her placid exterior – her eyes were exhausted and terrified.
The person behind Meryth paused briefly at the entrance to the control room, but continued in at her gentle insistence. As she walked into the light, all the bustle and commotion in the room came to a shocked standstill as the Guardians saw, firsthand, the wreckage that was their Princess.
Theo blinked, looking across a sea of familiar faces. She was clutching Beryan’s body to her own; the other woman’s arm dangled loosely in front of her, her head was bent down at an odd angle, and her long red hair swayed gently. The front of Theo’s tunic was stained with blood and gore, as were her hands up to her wrists; her hair, once merely curly, now appeared that she had been hit by lightning, it was so frazzled and standing on end; but the expression on her face took everyone aback. Stark devastation shone back at her family and friends, a soul searing pain that she could not hide, not even from herself. Her eyes were bleak and dry, and their color was dark – almost Saiyan black.
”This way, Theo – this way,” Meryth murmured to her, pulling gently at her elbow.
Theo blinked again and obediently started to shuffle after Meryth, Beryan’s body dragging next to her. A pathway through the room appeared for them as women hurried to push back from the odd pair, not wanting to be in their way. As Theo pulled Beryan's body through the crowd, however, she heard someone gasp, "Oh, no!" Seconds later Theo looked up and found there was someone blocking her way behind Meryth, a younger woman who was reaching out to touch Beryan's corpse. Dimly, Theo recognized her as one of the technicians that had worked with Beryan in the infirmary.
”I’ll take her now, Theo,” she said, moving her arms to put them around Beryan, a sorrowful expression in her eyes. “We’ll take care of her.”
Theo’s grip on Beryan tightened; had she been a lioness, her ears would have been flat against her head and her teeth bared. “Leave us alone,” she grated through clenched teeth, emphasizing her point by pulling Beryan’s body away from the girl. Not satisfied, her eyes snapped momentarily, turning into angry green whirlpools as she loomed over the poor woman and threw herself into her mind, mentally shouting get away from us NOW before I kill you.
Whimpering in fear, the technician flinched away from Theo, whispering, “No – no, I didn’t mean – please don’t –“
”Theo! Theo, leave her alone – she’s trying to help you, dammit – leave her alone.” Without warning Stranna’s face pushed centimeters in front of Theo’s so they were nose to nose, her dark hair frizzed and standing almost on end around her head, her eyes mimicking Theo’s violent green, flashing angrily. “Leave – her – alone,” she enunciated clearly, never taking her eyes off Theo, her body blocking the path to the other rooms of the TARDIS.
I could kill you now, Theo sent furiously, transferring her rage to Stranna.
That’s true, but so what? If we don’t get moving soon, we’re as good as dead anyway, Stranna shot back, staring Theo down. And then Beryan’s death would have been for nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Theo had not moved an inch from the time Stranna jumped in front of her, but it was almost as if something had cracked and broken inside of her. A terrible wrenching expression pulled at her mouth, and she looked as though Stranna had struck her on the side of her face.
”Give her up, Theo,” Stranna said softly, reaching for Beryan. “It’s time.”
Woodenly, Theo nodded. Stranna gently moved Beryan’s body from Theo’s side to hers, then quickly shifted her to the waiting technician, giving her a quick nod. Theo watched the transfer, a muscle in her jaw quivering, and watched as the tech took Beryan to the back of the console room through the doorway that lead to the other parts of the TARDIS.
The Guardians in the control room gave a collective mental sigh of relief; they had narrowly escaped the edge of an explosion, and they knew it. Cautiously they went back to their business, most following the tech and escaping into the depths of the TARDIS to make the place “habitable.” Only a few people remained in the forward control room, including Theo.
Standing with Olean at one of the instrument banks, Yisador had watched the entire exchange between Theo and Stranna. Theo might be her daughter, but when it came down to it, Stranna was the one who made a difference to her, not Yisador. A pang hit her heart, but she ignored it.
”Yisador,” a quiet voice said at her elbow.
She started, then looked down into Meryth’s face. “Hmmm?”
Meryth swallowed. “You’d better have a look outside. Don’t use the viewscreen, though; just … open the door.” Her face was pale and her eyes were haunted by dark circles. "See what Theo did."
”Why?” she asked, mystified.
”You’ll see,” was her cryptic response.
Shrugging, she walked over to the main doors while Stranna was prodding, ”Look, Theo, we need your help. We can’t get the demat circuit to work, and …”
Casually Yisador leaned against the door and pulled it towards her, stepped outside and stared in complete shock. It appeared as though a flash flood had washed through the rotunda and had left its flotsam - dead Saiyans - in every nook and cranny. There were piles and piles of corpses everywhere, in every direction.
An eerie thick silence, punctuated only by the whine of insects near the forest garden, blanketed the plaza. Saiyans were lying in heaps ... tall cairns, thick with matted black hair and limbs as large as small trees ... bodies were scattered on top of each other, arms and legs stuck out in every direction. I ... I don't believe this, Yisador thought, appalled. How … ? As her horrified mind began to actually take in the carnage, a low, earthy rumble erupted from the ground in front of her, and the entire rotunda began to rock back and forth, pillars swaying precariously.
"Yisador!" called an insistent, alarmed voice from the depths of the TARDIS. "You’d better get back in here, and shut the door!"
Taking one last quick look around with wide, apprehensive eyes, Yisador vanished into the TARDIS and slammed the door.
As the golden chi sphere burrowed into the planet’s surface, the major continents began to split apart at their fault lines. Portions of the great land masses were thrown against each other by the tremendous forces coming to bear on Vejiitasei, forcing molten magma upward in superheated streams, pouring over exposed lands and bubbling from the depths of its seas. Earthquakes rippled across the surface of the planet in waves, closely followed by intense magma eruptions and the collapse of the planet’s superstructure. Vejiitasei was in its final death throes as the sphere burrowed toward the planet’s core.
A pair of evil, icy eyes set into a elegantly boned face watched the planet’s imminent destruction with undisguised glee. Chortling madly, Freeza leaned forward in his hoverchair eagerly, hungry for devastation and death as he unwittingly broadcast his insanity to the entire solar region. It was loud enough for any chi-sensing being to hear unaided – but for those who were linked to him, either willingly or unwillingly, it was an invasion of their minds and souls.
That blue monstrosity will pay and pay dearly for making me out a fool. No one treats Vejiita no ouji like that and lives – no one.
The Saiyan prince was so incensed at the way the navigator, Gahei, had embarrassed him that he briefly considered two courses of action: blowing the entire ship up, or ordering Nappa and Raditz to attack the alien with him. He rejected both ideas – the former because he felt a strong desire to live within himself, and the second because they might possibly need the navigator during the trip. Ah, but after his trip … now there was a different story.
Vejiita no ouji was not only vicious, but also cruel and calculating. He could wait. He was a patient Saiyan, usually an oxymoron, but in this case entirely true. A large measure of intelligence had been bred into his line; his skill at manipulation, deception and intrigue had been learned in the royal house of Vejiita. His incredible power potential, coupled with his innate cunning, made him a formidable foe.
A large part of his frustration came from his inability to control the creature’s mind. He had found the entrance, and even the key, but had been unable to get into his mind. There must be something else I need to do, he thought. An odd feeling brushed his mind; he could not identify it, but knew it wasn’t his – the mental signature attached to it was different. Understanding dawned and he smirked -- of course – why should I be such a fool? The woman will tell me, and she’ll tell me NOW …
The ground outside the TARDIS was rippling and buckling, pushing the mounds of Saiyan bodies into grotesque positions. Wave after wave of tremors ran underneath the capital city along with a bone jarring grinding noise, almost as if the earth had decided to pulverize everything into fine dust by smashing it to pieces. A powdery spray of volcanic ash was falling from the sky; magma was pouring out of the sides of the mountains surrounding the city, and huge explosions fountained molten rock for hundreds of kilometers in every direction.
Yisador almost fell against the console as she staggered into the main room, reeling from the force of the earthquakes. “Is everyone ready?” she asked breathlessly, steadying herself against the wall to keep her balance, scanning the room. Not waiting for an answer, she nodded and said crisply, “All right, then – let’s go.” She looked pointedly at Stranna and raised her voice, calling, “We should be leaving now, Stranna. We’re ready.”
”No kidding – do you want to get out and push?” Stranna immediately snapped back in fury, her dark hair flying around her face as she whirled from the opposite side of the console to face Yisador. “I’ve had it with this jury-rigged piece of – “
”Well do something to make it work and stop complaining - we've got to get out of here!” yelled Meryth, her voice rising in agitation and fear.
”What the hell d’you think we’ve been doing?” bellowed Stranna, a look of incredulous rage and desperation on her face as she shouted at Meryth. “Did your IQ just drop sharply or something? Charline and I have been trying to get this thing to work for the past two hours!” Her face flushed and her eyes a brilliant pinpoint blue, she abruptly turned to Theo, caught her chin and said right into her face, ”Theo, you must listen. I can’t get the circuit working – you’re going to have to do it.” When Theo didn’t respond, she gave her a little shake and said very clearly and slowly, ”Theo – tell me. How do we repair the dematerialization circuit?”
Stranna groaned in frustration as Theo turned to her, totally absorbed in her own thoughts, frowning. ”Something’s not working. Something’s … not right.”
”Yes, we know something’s not working – that circuit’s not working,” Meryth broke in, her squat body falling into Theo as another huge tremor shook the TARDIS, her florid face agitated. “Yisador, help us …”
But Yisador was paying scant attention to them, as she had just run over to Olean and was pulling her up from the floor. During the time that Stranna was yelling at Meryth and Theo, Olean had collapsed against a small console thrust flush against the wall, her hands shaking, perspiration beading her forehead. Now she was muttering incoherently with her eyes unfocused and cloudy as Yisador wiped her lank red hair away from her eyes.
”Theo – concentrate -- please --“ Stranna implored, grabbing her arms and trying to bring her back to the present.
”It tickles … back here,” Theo continued, pulling one arm away from Stranna’s hand and holding the back of her head. “I don’t –“ She broke off in mid sentence, a strange expression crossing her face, a mixture of horror and anticipation. “Ouji?” she breathed, her eyes rapidly glazing over.
”What?” Stranna gasped, dropping Theo’s arm as if she had been burned.
Woman … woman, answer me.
Olean's muttering took a decided turn for the worse. It became a little louder, then a little harsher, until she was finally shrieking in terror. "Stranna ... Stranna, you promised you'd get … him ... away ... from me. He's sending more ... more ... and I can't shut him out ... no … no … NO!" Olean struggled against Yisador's firm grip, writhing and screaming piteously, "No more! No more, please ... Yisa – Stranna – help me ... help me ...."
Yisador transferred her grip on Olean from her shoulders to her temples as she gathered herself and dove into her mind. Olean’s hands came up and, vise-like, clamped on either side of Yisador’s head almost immediately, threading her fingers through her fine, red-gray hair . As their connection became stronger, Yisador’s breathing became ragged and edgy and an abstracted, horror-struck look crossed her face. Slowly, both women leaned against the computer console for support and then slipped to the floor, oblivious to everything except their own strange visions. Yisador’s mouth was drawn back in a grimace of abhorrence and detestation.
Meryth was beside herself, shaking in fear as yet another giant tremor swept across the city. The Guardians would be safe when they were finally in flight – which appeared to be a possibility growing smaller and smaller with each passing second. "What’s wrong with you?" Meryth yelled at Yisador and Olean, gesturing frantically with her hands. "We’ve got to get out of here – what’re you doing?" Whipping her head around to scan the other side of the room, she saw Theo’s rigid, twitching body standing next to her with Stranna looking as though she wanted to leap as far away from Theo as she could. Her jaw dropping in incredulity, Meryth snapped to Stranna, "And what in Kami’s name are you doing? What is going on here? What’s wrong with Theo?"
Stranna was staring at Theo in shock, understanding and revulsion written across her face, her hands held up in front of her in a warding gesture. "It’s … really … ugly. The prince … it’s the prince – he’s in her mind," Stranna whispered urgently, loud enough for Meryth to hear yet not so loud that Theo knew she was speaking.
"What? Well, let’s get him out of there." Dismayed, Meryth reached forward to hold Theo’s head, and was astonished when Stranna slapped her hands away, hard, glaring at her in disbelief.
"Have you lost your mind? Don’t be a fool," she hissed furiously, pushing her away. "You can’t touch her now, not while he’s active. He'll have you, too, or have you forgotten what Yisador said? He’s much too strong."
"But we can’t just stand here and do nothing--" Meryth hissed back in anger and consternation.
"I know that!" Stranna ground her teeth in total frustration, watching Theo’s pale face appear even more drawn. "But there is nothing you can do unless …" She swung her glance to the opposite side of the console where Charline was working furiously with some small circuitry, nodded, and continued, " … you can go help Charline. We’re not going anywhere unless that thing gets fixed." Turning back to monitor Theo, she said, loud enough for Meryth to hear, "If we ever get this hunk of junk into the time stream we won't have these problems! No one can touch us there, mentally or physically!"
As Meryth made her way over to Charline, trying not to fall as the TARDIS shook and banged around her, she saw Theo lean against the instrument panel for support, biting her lower lip. She had her hands pressed to the console, but Meryth could see that they were shaking badly. She’s about at the end of her rope, Meryth thought, her stomach twisting in fear, and we're not in any better shape. We’re not going to make it out of here alive.
The Prince called her again, this time more insistent. Woman, can you hear me? Answer me before I do something else to get your attention …
I … I hear you, ouji-sama. She didn’t want to answer him and had fought against it, but the compulsion was solidly fixed in her mind; his call was faint but audible, and to her, irresistible. As she felt the connection between them solidify, suddenly a vision of dead Saiyans dropping out of the air in front of her burned in her brain for several seconds before she could squelch it. Where did that come from? she thought, panicked. Oh, please, Kami, please don't let him notice ... but with a sinking heart, she knew he had already seen it.
He pounced on her immediately, demanding explain what I just saw, Guardian. What was that?
What? … ah … what did you say? She couldn’t lie to him directly, but she could certainly try and mislead him as much as possible. Feigning inattention, Theo allowed another casual image to pop across her consciousness. This time, though, it was Raditz and another Saiyan sparring; they had fallen on top of each other and they looked patently ridiculous, their arms and legs tangled.
Feh, he sent, disgusted. Pay attention to me when I speak to you, woman, and stop these absurd images. An irritable cast clung to his thoughts as he pushed into one of her neural paths and started tweaking. Instant pain cascaded down her arms and across her back, causing Theo’s knuckles to whiten as she endured it, biting her lip, a small grunt escaping her lips.
Don’t think that simply because I’m not near you that I don’t own you. You are mine, no matter where I am – and you will damn well pay attention when I’m speaking to you. He pushed himself farther into her mind to prove his point, tweaking other ports on his way. She groaned in response, unable to stop herself.
A muscle twitched in Stranna’s jaw as she watched Theo flinch in pain and try to curl her body away from invisible blows. Kami, I’m sorry, Theo – but there’s nothing I can do to help you, and I can’t stand to see you brutalized by that devil. Resolutely, Stranna turned her back on Theo and, clenching her jaw, watched her assistant Charline twist her fingers around the small component parts of the circuit in record time, with Meryth holding a tiny, directed light on her work.
"I have it – it’s fixed," Charline said rapidly, flashing the repaired circuit between her thumb and forefinger with a large, tired grin plastered across her face. "I’ll put it in now …" Her voice trailed off as she dove under the control panel, drawing her knees under her.
Thank Kami for small miracles, Stranna thought in relief. Leaning down toward the floor, she called, "Charline, do you need any –"
She stopped speaking in mid-sentence and made a guttural, choking sound deep in her throat, pitching forward to the floor as her mind was flooded with the most ghastly thoughts and ideas she had ever imagined.
It was evil, but not the abstract, arm’s length type – this was evil personified, in every guise and every shape it had ever claimed. Hideously graphic scenes of sadistic pleasure flashed in her brain, every one involving people of many races being dominated by the evil thing sharing its thoughts with her. She dimly realized that Yisador and Olean were sharing this vision with her, too, and that Olean had moved closer to complete madness than any being normally could and hope to remain sane. Yisador was acting as an anchor for the fragile Guardian, but her own grip on sanity was precarious at best, and her strength seemed to be fading.
The visions kept coming … death and destruction and savagery, entire solar systems laid waste, planets left as smoking husks suspended in space … perversions of all types, physical and psychological, committed on every creature imaginable …. bizarre, sadistic rituals performed on those close to it … and the violent, shivery pleasure the creature felt when making a conquest, especially when the conquered were considered some type of challenge.
Kami, why? Why? Why? screamed Stranna’s mind, unable to withstand the barrage of images pouring into it from Freeza’s consciousness.
Boredom, of course, came the unexpected response. One must do something with one’s time, mustn’t one? And I’m very excited about the newest addition to my collection …
Absolute mental silence greeted this declaration. He knows something’s here, but he doesn’t know what, Stranna thought wildly, and he’s too arrogant to believe that anything could be a threat to him … so he’s just going to brag … Stranna felt silent agreement with her assessment from Yisador.
A very clear image of Vejiita no ouji materialized in front of her eyes as he appeared the last time she saw him, scowl and armor intact, looking very much like his father. Lovely, isn’t he? the presence purred, mentally stroking the fuzzy tail tucked around his waist. And so young, too … such delightful things that can be done with one so young … Freeza’s mind smiled, a lascivious, sadistic aura coloring its thoughts.
Stranna couldn’t remember when she started screaming, but she was dimly aware that she wasn’t the only one.
"Good Kami, Charline, do something, do something, and DO SOMETHING NOW!"
Meryth was the only one of the older Guardians left standing, and she was hopping around from foot to foot, horrified beyond belief at the scene in front of her. Stranna, Olean and Yisador were lying flat out on the floor – Stranna was screaming at the top of her lungs like a banshee, Yisador was shrieking along with her, and Olean – well, she was the worst of them. Olean was lying on the floor of the TARDIS like one already dead, not moving a muscle, her eyes wide and staring. The only reason Meryth knew Olean was alive was because she had coughed several moments ago; up until that time, Meryth would have sworn she was dead.
Looking up from the tableau on the floor, Meryth saw Theo sprawled across the top of the control console, her face averted, unmoving. She was alive, though, Meryth knew it; her hands kept clenching and unclenching, and her legs twitched every few moments.
Meryth didn’t dare touch any one of them. She knew that Theo was, in essence, possessed by the little Prince – and she could guess what type of monstrous power had Stranna, Olean and Yisador in its grip. She had felt some of that power the day they had contacted the tyrant to entice him to take the crown prince away from Vejiitasei – it had been muted, but had felt, at least to her, as if there was some essential wrongness to it. Had she tried to intervene, the powers involved with her friends would have controlled her in an instant and she would have been become yet another victim.
Not me, the feisty Guardian promised herself, I’m not giving that white fiend or that arrogant Saiyan wretch anything of value, especially not me. Falling to her knees and peering under the console, she yelled, "Well?" to Charline at the opposite side.
Charline’s face popped out from the central column, her tightly braided hair swinging on either side of her heart shaped face, her eyes reflecting pools of calm blue shining at Meryth. "All done," she panted. "Ready to fire. Need you up top now."
An enormous explosion sounded directly outside the TARDIS, rocking the vessel to its foundations, tipping it dangerously in one direction before it settled back onto the ground.
Both women flopped on the control panel at the same time, Meryth narrowly missing Theo stretched out on the navigator's position. Charline reached for several switches at once, flipped them, and waited – and suddenly, the lights on the central column blazed to life.
"Oh thank Kami," breathed Meryth, her knees buckling.
But Charline was not pleased; in fact, she started working faster and punching buttons on the panel in front of her. "No, no, you don’t understand – the lights are on, but it’s not working! No – don’t do this to me – NO!"
Meryth could only pray for a miracle as she watched Charline desperately shunt power from one side of the board to the other, fighting to outrace certain death that was centimeters from their door.
Now, woman, you will tell me why I can’t access this creature’s mind … The prince had finished punishing Theo for her supposed inattentiveness toward him, and was satisfied that she had been cowed into submission this time. Normally he would not have bothered, but she had successfully ignored him for a period of time before she was forced to acknowledge him and she had a strong spirit. That combination, along with that incredibly strong, undefinable power he felt coming from her guaranteed that she would have his complete attention for some time to come. I will have her and her power unconditionally, he promised himself, and then we will see who’s the strongest in the universe …
Theo lay on the console, exhausted and aching in body and soul, her arms hanging over the side. I … I do not know what I can tell you, Sire, but I will try …
Of course you will, Guardian. You will do whatever I command of you, whenever I tell you to do it, came his dark rejoinder, the hint of a cruel smile embedded in it. And right now, I command you to tell me how to successfully control this creature's mind.
Theo obediently dove into his mind, trying to hide her hatred and fear of him.
A huge, roaring sound was directly outside the TARDIS door; something jarred the spacecraft, and it felt as though they were tumbling around, with something hot and molten trying to push its way into the ship through the door designed to withstand temperatures generated by small suns, but not to withstand explosions of the same –
"Damn – machine – I – HATE – machines!"
And with that, Charline, the youngest and least experienced Guardian in the main control room, did something that every engineer, mechanical, electrical, temporal, or otherwise could appreciate.
She beat on the control console with Stranna’s enormous sonic screwdriver right next to the central column, as hard as she possibly could, screaming, "I – HATE – machines – that – refuse – to – work!" The last word was punctuated with a hard *thwack!* right on the central column.
All the lights died in the column, plunging the room into blackness and bringing up the emergency lights.
A strangled gasp sounded from Meryth; the only thing that Charline could do was gape in panic at her handiwork. We’re dead for sure, now she thought numbly.
Then without warning, a soft purr came from the central column itself; all the lights came back on, and the column started moving smoothly; up and down, up and down, up and down, a continuous rhythm that had no beginning or end, a circular path, around and around and around …
Tears of relief splashed out of Charline’s eyes as she stared at the column as if it was the most wonderful, the most beautiful thing in the universe. Meryth, too, seemed too overcome with emotion to speak – but she managed to whisper, "You did it, Charline, you did it. We’re traveling again. We’re going home." Then her body gave way completely, and she crumpled to the floor in a dead faint.
The ball of chi, so lovingly made and so carefully thrust toward the planet, finally found what it had been seeking – the molten core of Vejiitasei. As it tunneled, the chi sphere had been pulsing power towards the core, creating huge magnetic storms within the planet, as if it was lighting the fuse of a huge bomb. Once the core and the sphere touched, however, it was as if the glowing end of the fuse had reached the detonator.
The energy of the chi sphere and the core was finally released, creating a massive explosion the likes of which had not been seen in that solar system for centuries on end. A blinding burst of light spread across it as shock waves from the blast rocked the outer planets, hurling bits and pieces of debris thousands of parsecs into space.
Freeza’s insane laughter cut through the deafening noise of the explosion, reaching his henchmen inside the ship with its intensity. "How wonderful! Look at it, Zarbon-san! Dodoria-san! Behold, such beautiful fireworks!"
The blue-skinned alien stared out the observation window, his arms crossed over his chest armor, his face impassive, watching the sparkling motes that were Vejiitasei dissipate into the cosmos. Dodoria watched the spectacle next to Zarbon, his left hand splayed on the observation window supporting his weight, his jaw limp with disbelief and horror. Vejiitasei, in all its angry splendor, was gone.
The central column of the control console was moving smoothly. In fact, it had not stopped moving for several days – the Guardians were taking no chances, and were being extremely circumspect in their approach to their new Homeland. No one was going to follow them to their home, and if the truth were to be known, none of the survivors were anxious to ever travel the galaxy again. At least for the time being.
Charline had been acclaimed a hero of the Guardian people for rescuing them when all seemed lost. When she tried to explain that she had just banged on the console with the screwdriver because she couldn’t think of anything else to do, Stranna put her arm around her and said with a cheerful grin, "How do you think the rest of us do things around here? Most of the time we don’t know what else to do, either. Welcome to the club, dear. You’re definitely one of us now."
"Thanks – I think," Charline said, dubious, eyeing Stranna suspiciously.
Stranna grinned again. "My pleasure. We need new blood, anyway. Theo’s getting too old to be the youngest anymore. We need someone else we can pester."
Stranna turned and saw Yisador beckon her from the doorway to the rest of the TARDIS. Smiling at Charline, Stranna left her and strode over to Yisador, her dark hair bouncing behind her in a thick braid that reached halfway down her back.
"Come with me, dear," Yisador said quickly, and disappeared into the corridor.
Mystefied, Stranna walked through the doorway and followed her down the hallway until they came to a rather plain-looking door on the left side.
"Here," Yisador said, pushing her way into the room. Shrugging, Stranna followed her, not knowing what to expect.
As they walked into the room, Stranna saw that it was one of the observation lounges that Beryan had insisted they put into the vessel. It had been designed for observing the stars in comfort. A large window graced one side of the room, and comfortable couches and chairs had been placed in front of it for optimal stargazing. Olean and Meryth were there, looking out the window at the galaxies beyond, large glasses of blue ghee in hand. Stranna was surprised; she knew that Olean would drink every now and then, but she didn’t remember Meryth drinking at all.
I’m surprised we’re sober as much as we are right now, she thought to herself ruefully.
Wordlessly, Yisador motioned to the couches for her to sit down; after pouring herself a generous glass of ghee from the bar and offering one to Yisador, Stranna moved over to the couches and sank down gratefully. Even after sleeping as long as she did, she still felt weary moving about for any length of time. She looked at Meryth and Olean quickly; they both seemed to be fine now. Olean, she knew, was in intensive therapy, working with their best redactors on board ship; once they reached Homeland, she’d be in the care of the best healers the universe had to offer.
Except I doubt that we’re going to offer our services to anyone for many hundreds of years to come, if ever, she thought to herself.
"We won’t, believe me," Yisador murmured quietly to her, settling in the chair next to her. She looked carefully at Stranna and sighed, "I doubt very much if you could get any of us to go anywhere for the next 500 or 600 years, at the very least."
"Don’t look at me," Stranna said, taking a large gulp of ghee. "I don’t plan on going anywhere with anyone in the near or distant future."
Yisador nodded and smiled slightly. Stretching back in the chair, she closed her eyes and began talking. "It’s good that we’re all here together – I need to ask each of you to do something for me." She stopped and opened her eyes.
Stranna felt something odd – almost nervous – coming from Yisador. "Of course we’ll do what you want, Yisa," she said, frowning. "What is it?"
Meryth nodded agreement. "Of course. What’s the problem?"
Yisador looked down into her glass, then at her friends. "I want to do two things. I want –" and she stopped, but then continued, "I want to make sure Theo never finds out about those – things – we saw before Vejiitasei was destroyed. She must never know what fate was in store for the Prince. We know, but -- she must never know. We could even have her believe that we’re responsible for saving him from the same fate as his people – in a manner of speaking, of course."
Stranna nodded, understanding completely. Theo was young in the scheme of things; it had been her suggestion to send the prince to the lizard creature, Freeza, only thinking of the Guardians' safety on Vejiitasei. However, the things that the elder Guardians had seen from Freeza’s mind only served to solidify what type of future the arrogant Saiyan prince would have with Freeza and his minions. If, in fact, he had a future at all, which was highly doubtful.
"She’d blame herself," Meryth replied quietly, "and then she’d never be able to live with the guilt."
"It would have been better for the Prince had he been killed outright," Olean muttered. "He would have been spared much, as would the rest of the universe."
Yisador looked at her oddly. "What do you mean – ‘as would the rest of the universe?’ Have you been having those dreams again?"
Olean looked into her glass of ghee, refusing to say anything more.
Stranna spoke up in the awkward silence that followed. "You said there were two things, Yisa. What’s the other thing?"
Yisador looked out at the starfield, her face blank. "There are some – memories – that I think Theo would be better off not remembering. Even some ways in using the power that I think would be better left unused – at least for her in the near future. I can’t do it alone, though – I need help." She turned to the three on the couches and asked, "Would you help me?"
Meryth and Olean nodded wordlessly; each knew they would do whatever Yisador wanted, simply because she was Yisador.
Frowning, Stranna said, "Of course I’ll help. But shouldn’t Theo know about these things you’re going to suppress?"
A tired, shrewd look crossed Yisador’s face. "I don’t think so, dear. Believe me, the things I want to suppress are things that no one would want to remember. And they won’t stay suppressed forever, you know … Theo's mind is difficult like that ..."
The women looked at each other, then went back to contemplating the vastness of space, each in their own thoughts.
"My, my, my, he is the feisty one, isn’t he …"
The tip of his armored tail waved gently as it draped across the arm of his hoverchair. Freeza was sitting with his minions, watching a private tournament match between the offspring of royalty he kept with him. A small smile touched the dark, thin lips of the despot as he considered the relative strengths of the opponents, taking readings as he squinted through his scouter.
"The Saiyan is favored to win, sire," Zarbon murmured to his master, leaning close to Freeza’s ear. "Many of the other royal families have asked that their children not be permitted to compete with him. They seem to feel he has some type of unfair advantage over them."
"And what advantage would that be, Zarbon-san? The fact that the Saiyan is smarter than most of these fools will ever be in their lifetime?" Freeza smirked, watching the opponents glare at each other, attempting intimidation before the regular bout. "They are fools, my dear Zarbon. Their offspring will never become stronger if they don’t fight worthy opponents. And he is worthy, Zarbon-chan; make no mistake about that – he is worthy of all the attention we can give him." An odd light was sparkling in the tyrant’s eyes as he carefully watched the little prince stretch and posture, flicking his furry tail behind him.
"They say, my lord, that there are times when he seems able to read his opponent’s minds." Seeing no reaction from Freeza, Zarbon continued, "And it has also been said that with some species he can actually cause them to feel pain or pleasure without touching them at all. I don’t hold much stock in those rumors, but …"
"Really?" Although he did not raise his voice, Zarbon could tell that the last tidbit of information had tweaked Freeza’s curiosity. "Is that so, Zarbon-san? We will have to find out about that talent, if it exists. Oh, yes, we will." Freeza continued to examine the Saiyan prince, watching his defining muscles and his proud, arrogant stance. A calculating look swept across his pale, delicate features; the atmosphere around him becoming slightly electric as he purred to no one in particular, "Well, well, little prince, are you meddling with other's minds? You shouldn’t do things like that; I suppose I will have to teach you that myself." His smile hardly reached his hard, bright eyes as he said, "Zarbon-chan, make sure that the Saiyan is brought to me after he wins his match. In my private quarters, if you please."
Zarbon bowed low. "Yes, Freeza-sama," he acknowledged, simultaneously thinking it’s your turn now, Saiyan.