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.