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 …"