The proclamation that Yisador had just made fell over the Guardians like a heavy weight. Most of them simply looked at her, surprised; however, a few of them took the news a bit more to heart. “Mama, what are you talking about?” Theo exclaimed, alarmed. “Do you think they’ll destroy the TARDIS?”
Yisador looked at her daughter and hid her thoughts in the recesses of her mind, smoothing her face into a semblance of calm. Her stomach was roiling, a reaction to the feedback she had inadvertently received when she disconnected both Olean and Stranna from that creature orbiting the planet. True enough, he had been asleep, but his surface thoughts were dark enough for even the uninitiated to discern – and they were positively frightening. What have we done? she wondered, dismayed. Whatever it is, it cannot be undone, but …
“I don’t know, Theo,” she said, glancing back at Stranna and Olean again. “Not if I can help it, but it's entirely possible that they will find out what the cabinet is and destroy it before we even get a chance to use it.”
“But Mama, the only way the Saiyans would know anything about that cabinet would be through me,” protested Theo, “and they can’t find out if ouji has to leave immediately once he returns to Vejiitasei.”
“Theo, how do you know he’ll have to leave immediately?” Beryan asked, frowning. “Just because we want him to go doesn’t mean that he’s going to stick to our timetable. And if he doesn’t leave right away –“
“—then we’re screwed,” finished Meryth, furious, “well and truly screwed.” Glaring angrily at the women around her, she huffed, “Well, we are! And it’s all YOUR fault!” she snapped at Theo, jabbing a finger in her direction. “If you had only kept your mind where it belonged, instead of—“
“That does NOT help anything,” Yisador said firmly, standing between Meryth and Theo, glowering. “It would have happened sooner or later, and you know that, Meryth – you were saying something like that to me just before this DID happen. It just happened to be Theo this time, that’s all – it could have easily been Beryan in the infirmary, or Stranna in the labs, or me in the palace, or you in research – or one of any of the 46 here. Don’t blame Theo, Meryth. It could have been ANY of us.”
Meryth subsided, but still had an angry cast about her. “Fine – I won’t blame Theo, but I will blame her if he comes back and finds out we had this conversation. How are you going to make sure he never sees this, Theo?”
“I – I can suppress it,” Theo muttered, still in shock after Meryth’s outburst.
“Unreliable,” Stranna proclaimed, shaking her dark head firmly, surprising everyone. They turned to her as she explained, “I’m sorry, dear, but you have no control over what he does to you. You may think the memory’s well-hidden, but how could it be? You hid it – and anything you do, he has access to – do you see? It’s a vicious circle. On the other hand,” she said thoughtfully, “if someone else suppressed it for you, you would have no idea where it was, and as a bonus, you’d have no idea that anything ever happened. That,” she said, nodding, “would work.”
“Right, then,” Yisador said briskly, catching Theo’s hand in hers and pulling her into a large chair. “You sit here. Stranna, Meryth – I’ll need your help.” And she moved directly behind Theo, placing her hands on either side of her head, fingers laced in her curly red hair.
“But – wait –“ Theo sputtered, trying to rise.
“Shh,” her mother said, pushing down on her shoulders, “sit still.” Stranna stood next to Yisador, holding Meryth’s hand. Soft light wrapped around their twined fingers, shooting up Stranna’s arm. Her other hand lay gently on Yisador’s shoulder, slightly glowing.
Theo tried to twist around in her chair, saying, “Wait – let me –“
“Turn around, Theo,” her mother said sharply, twisting her head back sharply to the front. “Just sit there – you know the drill.” Without another word, Yisador closed her eyes, accessed Theo’s mind and dove, trailing the extra power given to her by Stranna and Meryth like a lifeline to the outside.
As she felt her mother descend, Theo’s eyes took an a strange, abstracted appearance. The air shimmered with a surreal haze around her, almost as if heat were rising from the floor. To the untrained eye, it simply appeared as if Yisador was comforting Theo, standing behind her and holding her head tenderly in her hands; however, anyone sensitive to power emissions would have felt a whirlpool centered on Theo, subtlety folding separate strands together and pushing them into place. Theo’s eyes widened imperceptibly then drifted shut, her head softly dropping to one side.
With a deep breath, Yisador slowly removed her hands from her daughter’s head. At the same time Stranna dropped Meryth’s hand, removed her hand from Yisador’s shoulder and moved around to the front of the chair. She tugged Theo to her feet, finally maneuvering her hands under Theo’s armpits. Grunting, Stranna shifted Theo so that she could be carried, picked her up and disappeared in the back of the apartment. When Stranna returned to the room a few moments later, Yisador was seated in the chair Theo had just vacated, Olean was seated on the couch, and Beryan and Meryth were turning toward the door, with Beryan clothed in the standard gray jumpsuit used in the infirmary.
"We’re going to work," Beryan said in answer to Stranna’s unspoken question. "Some of us need to show the Guardian presence. Otherwise, they’ll think something’s wrong."
"I should go, too," Stranna started, but was interrupted by Yisador.
"Just a moment, dear; Olean and I need to talk a little while longer, and I’d like you to stay. It will only take a few minutes.”
Nodding to them, Beryan and Meryth left, the older woman hustling Beryan out of the room, her short, solid frame silhouetted for a moment in the rising sun, then gone as she gently closed the door.
Yisador looked at Olean and Stranna. None of the women spoke, but all could feel the tension in the room climb suddenly higher. Beaded perspiration broke out on Olean’s smooth brow, her flaming red hair making her face appear paler than it truly was.
“There’s a connection between us now,” she said to no one in particular, her voice strained, her thin frame trying to pull in on itself. “I’m – I’m receiving all types of images – they just come in bursts. They’re all … all … horrible. This creature is not what we thought it was,” she said, clutching her hands in her lap. “He's ... evil. Insane. You must help me block him."
"No question - we will help you," Stranna said. She had started sweating as profusely as Olean, her long hair hanging in damp ringlets around her face. She was as affected by the connection as Olean, and needed relief as well.
Yisador stared severely at Olean, her eyes shadowed. "Theo must never know this. She thinks she's hard, but ... she's young. She would never forgive herself ... you know what’s going to happen to that boy …”
Both Olean and Stranna understood her perfectly.
The saucer ship circled the planet in a lazy elliptical orbit. The observation deck was not the only place where one could view the vastness of space, however; there was another place in the ship, another small area attached to a large suite of rooms that afforded a spectacular view of the planet below.
The master of the ship was standing on this deck, twining a silver goblet abstractedly between his white, slender fingers, his armored tail flicking behind him. He had just awoken from one of his rest periods – it was impossible to tell ‘night’ from ‘day’ in space, but the crew of the ship attempted to keep their personal biorhythmns in synch with the local conditions of the capital city, and right now most of the inhabitants were starting to awaken from their slumber, ready to move on to another busy day.
He was a small creature, tiny and well muscled, much of him encased in body armor that looked like a miniature copy of Saiyan armor. He was wearing a helmet and a scouter over his left eye, and appeared to be studying the planet below.
A door hissed softly behind him. Without turning around, he said, “Zarbon-san.”
“Yes, Freeza-sama?” came the respectful reply, pitched low.
"I had the strangest dream, my dear Zarbon-san," Freeza continued, still staring at the planet. He turned his head, his narrow, catlike eyes resting on Zarbon. "Shall I tell you what it was?"
"If you wish, Freeza-sama," Zarbon responded, inclining his head, moving away from the door and toward Freeza. He stood a short distance away from his master, close enough so that he could serve him, yet not too close. There was an attractiveness about the alien, an almost seductive presence that clung to him; the grace of his hand, the symmetry of his face, the subtle cast of blue on his skin. Freeza’s eyes moved over his body, appreciating its contours and proportions, enjoying his attitude of appropriate servility, and he smiled.
"My dear Zarbon, you must help me discern the true meaning of my dream," Freeza murmured, turning back to the view and beckoning Zarbon forward. "Dreams are calls from the unconscious. It is said that they can show you your innermost wants and desires, hopes and fears, and sometimes can even show your true path through the universe. Do you believe that, Zarbon-chan?"
"I do not know, Freeza-sama," Zarbon said, respectfully inclining his head again, a single teardrop jewel glistening in the middle of his forehead. "I have read, of course, about the meaning of many types of dreams; but it is also said that dreams are individual, and that no one can truly know another’s dreams."
"Well," Freeza said to the window again, "I will tell you what I believe." A look of pure greed and lasciviousness sparkled across his face as he gazed intently at the planet, his long, milk white tail snapping back and forth behind him. "I believe," he said, drawing each word out slowly, "that I’m going Saiyan-hunting today. And not just for any Saiyan, Zarbon-chan," he said, holding his hand up and smiling in a purely evil manner at his henchman. "We’re going to take the crown prince of Vejiitasei and add him to our fine little group. What do you think of that?"
"Whatever you wish, my lord," Zarbon said, a slight frown crossing his face.
Freeza chuckled, an icy sound. "My dear Zarbon, you really worry too much. These people are quite pathetic – no match for you, or Dodoria-san, or even Kiwi-san. But this one," he said, tapping his scouter and licking his lips at the same time, "this one is different. Smart. Strong. Arrogant. Look at the power readings, Zarbon. Very respectable for any being in our galaxy – almost unheard of for members of his own race. And," he stopped, dramatically, then continued with a smirk, looking askance at Zarbon, "he has such … potential … for pleasing us with his power. Don’t you agree, Zarbon-chan?"
A slight flush suffused Zarbon’s face; other than that, it was hardly noticeable that anything had passed between them at all.
"Yes," murmured Freeza to the window again, his face glowing in the eerie light of Vejiitasei’s sun. "I think he’ll do quite well. Quite well, indeed."
The throne room was the one place in the palace where exact protocol was followed on pain of death. In fact, simply being summoned to have an audience with the King was an indication that the recipient should insure that his or her affairs were in order. Even during the best of times, the King had a very short temper and could be counted on to ‘remove’ one of his staff to the regen tanks at least once per week. Consequently, individuals summoned to the King’s presence were usually escorted by members of the royal guard, especially those who were expected to give bad news to the sovereign.
Habotan had been chosen to represent his squad when the order had come through that King Vejiita wanted to see them on the double. As he walked toward the throne, flanked on each side by very large Saiyan elites, Habotan wondered again at the alacrity with which he was chosen – or volunteered, which was the way his colleagues saw it. The squad commander had announced it at their lineup, and suddenly Habotan found himself standing alone in front of the commander, almost as if the rest of the squad had simply taken two steps backwards.
Which they probably did, he thought sourly as he walked toward the King. He could see the expression on the King’s face, and his heart dropped. Habotan desperately wanted to live, but not at the expense of being branded a coward. He could have refused the ‘honor,’ in which case the squad leader would have been duty bound to report to the king; however, he knew that if he chose that path, from that moment on his life would have been worthless.
He concentrated on keeping one foot in front of the other as the small trio walked on the red carpet toward the throne. When they felt they were close enough to the King, the Elites pushed down on Habotan’s shoulders at the same time, forcing him to kneel. He needed no encouragement, though; he felt as though his legs were ready to give way from underneath him. Fear and uncertainty flew around his stomach as he held his right fist to his chest in an expression of fealty toward the crown and kept his other fist tightly closed, leaning on the floor.
The King was seated on the dais, flanked on either side by a large Elite. His manner was imposing, and to Habotan he seemed enormous. His upswept hair, the traditional trademark of Saiyan royalty, tilted toward the slight person speaking with him; his entire presence appeared to dwarf every other being around him. He had been quietly speaking with one of the research technicians, who upon seeing Habotan, had gracefully bowed to the king and hastily withdrawn from the room. You know what’s going to happen, Habotan thought in resignation, and you don’t want to be here. Very smart.
"Lift your head and speak, soldier," ordered the king. "Give me your report."
Gritting his teeth against his fear, Habotan raised his head and looked at the king. He opened his mouth once, but no words came out – only air. After long, mortifying seconds, Habotan finally found his voice and spoke.
"Your Majesty – your Majesty, my squad had been sent to Tabb to occupy the planet. The natives proved to be more stubborn and intransigent than we believed at first. We have been unable to successfully subdue them. However, we believe that we will be able to do this in three day’s time, if you will grant us leave to do that."
The king leaned forward and said harshly, "What did you say? You haven’t occupied the planet Tabb yet?" His frown was like a thunderhead on his brow as he stared threateningly at Habotan.
"Ye—yes, sire. The inhabitants of Tabb are resisting much more than we expected. It should take another three days. Please forgive us!" He answered in a strong voice but was shaking inside. He kept his gaze locked on the floor, clenching his teeth. From the corner of his eye he could see the guards inching backward from their positions at the side of the carpet.
"Have you forgotten that our promise to Lord Freeza was for tomorrow?" the king roared, incensed at the insubordination from one of his trusted squads.
"Not at all, sire!" Habotan responded, desperate. "But the full moon on Tabb will be in three days."
The king was silent for a moment, staring at the soldier. "Disappear," he said, dangerously quiet.
Habotan looked up at his ruler, confused. "What?" he asked, all the color draining from his face.
The king rose, pulling himself to his full height and girth. He appeared to expand to fill the space around his throne; he crackled with invisible energy, rage and fire pulsing from him. In a voice harsh with passion and fury, he exploded, "Disappear from my sight!" As he was speaking, he pulled his gloved right hand up from his side, simultaneously forming a large ball of chi energy, and without warning flicked it at his unsuspecting subordinate’s chest. The impact of the energy ball threw him to the rear of the chamber; the capes of the honor guard whipped tremendously in its wake, and a brilliant flash and explosion signaled the end of Habotan.
The king stood motionless before his throne, looking over the assembled Saiyans. For several moments there was no sound; then, without warning, someone was heard laughing outside the throne room, a throaty, rich laugh. His face composed in a severe expression, the king’s eyes slid to the right; then he turned his head toward the curtains masking the exits to the throne room, and the diminutive form of Freeza walked out.
He was wearing battle armor, a helmet and a scouter over his left eye. A malevolent smile graced his thin lips as he walked, chuckling, from the periphery of the room. His eyes were watchful and calculating, measuring the king for his own purposes.
"You’re as barbaric as usual," he said smoothly as he moved toward the Saiyan king. "I don’t really mind if it’s going to take three more days." Looking at the back of the throne room, Freeza shook his head and murmured insincerely, "Poor man."
The alien continued walking, passing his gaze over the assembled Saiyan elites in the throne room, and walked right up to the king with his hands clasped behind his back. King Vejiita was forced to give way to the tyrant, and moved to the left hand side of the throne. Freeza strolled over to the seat as if he had been on Vejiitasei his entire life and sat down, found a comfortable position and relaxed. The king stood next to him, his hands by his sides, his face a mask of near perfect control.
Freeza appeared to be enjoying the elder Vejiita’s discomfiture as he sat on his throne. A smile curved his thin, dark lips, a mirthless smile, one that did not bode well for the king. "And about your son?" Freeza started in a conversational tone, as if he had been asking about the weather, not looking at the king. "When are you going to bring him to me?"
A shocked silence followed Freeza’s question. King Vejiita stared down at the floor, his temper in check by a herculean effort of will, the muscles in his jaw bunched and apparently ready to explode. Twice he tried to say something, and twice the sound that came out approximated small, twisted grunts.
Freeza turned his head slightly to look at him; sadistic amusement was written in his eyes as he watched the king struggle to master himself, a furious expression on his face. Deliberatly Freeza stared at him and said, smiling, "I know. Bring him with you when you come to tell me that Tabb has been successfully occupied in three days."
The king’s eyes narrowed as his brows drew together in a dark scowl. Freeza smiled inwardly – these creatures were all the same, all hostage to their emotions and foolish pride. So predictable. Freeza held his eyes for a few more moments, then turned his head toward the central area, skidded forward on the chair and hopped to the ground.
With a cruel smile, he looked at Vejiita ou and said, "Don’t worry – I’ll take good care of him." His mocking laughter followed him as he walked in front of King Vejiita and off to the left, moving toward the training facilities, his back straight as a ramrod and his tail swinging gently behind him.
The King’s iron control over his emotions and emotional responses started to slip the moment he realized Freeza was out of earshot. His breathing became heavier and his eyes a bit wider as an elite soldier approached him on his right side and gasped out frantically, "King Vejiita - are you really going to send the prince to Lord Freeza? …but the prince’s life will be—"
Furiously, the elder Vejiita broke in and said, "I don’t care about my son – what I cannot forgive is his attitude!" The king’s eyes followed Freeza’s path through the throne room as he spat out, "He seems to think we Saiyans are his slaves!"
"King Vejiita!" exclaimed the soldier. He had never seen the king like this, and was concerned for the safety of the king and those around him. People with what Lord Freeza considered to be a ‘traitorous attitude’ were usually eliminated fairly quickly, usually by one of Freeza’s henchman. The great despot deigned to keep his spotless hands that way.
"I’ll get back at you one day, Freeza!" Vejiita promised viciously, spinning around and whirling away from his men, following Freeza’s trail in the dark.