"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:
- Exactly. It would spell disaster for all of us. That is why we cannot allow the Prince to learn how to manipulate the power. At all. 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.
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.