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."