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:
- It is interesting that we can communicate without benefit of my touching that thing, isn't it? I don't believe we would have been able to do that yesterday. And you can't shut me out, can you?
...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..