Ki-Blind: Chapter Five
Not surprisingly, Piccolo had been engaged in his favorite activity -- meditation -- when everything started to go wrong. To the extent that he enjoyed anything, he enjoyed meditating. In meditation was peace, and in peace, freedom from the demands of the world. When he meditated, he liked to balance himself between the natural forces of the world: between sky and earth, wind and water.
This meant he was meditating above a waterfall when he suddenly lost his ability to fly. In total silence, without changing position or uncrossing his legs, he plummeted. Kami, he thought wearily, this isn't setting a good tone for the day.
There was a tremendous splash, sending nearby birds flying from the trees. Piccolo went over the waterfall with a resigned look on his face and splashed down in the pool beneath. After a moment, he surfaced and looked around to make sure no one had witnessed that. Fortunately, no one had.
At least he hadn't been meditating above an active volcano this time.
Piccolo splashed ashore and discovered something unexpected as he hauled himself out of the water: he could barely stand up. The weights in his turban and shoulder pads felt as if they'd increased tenfold. What the ... he thought, falling to his knees in amazement. He hadn't been this weak in countless years. He tried to summon a bit of ki to augment his strength, and then made the next unnerving discovery of the day.
This is bad. Very, very bad.
Piccolo shrugged out of his soaking-wet gear. At least now he could move unencumbered, but he still had no idea what was happening. Better find Gohan and Son, he thought grimly.
"Oh, Gohan ..."
Gohan loved the way her voice curled around his name -- but more than that, the way her arms curled around his body, her lips around his. One part of his brain, the well-behaved little scholar still buried deep inside him, was yelling something about how his mother was going to kill him for this, but the vast majority of his mind drowned it out: for once, his animalistic Saiyajin half and his gentler human half were in perfect agreement. Both of them wanted this beautiful, willing woman entwined in his arms.
He shrugged out of his shirt, somehow managing to get it off without taking his arms from around her, and let it flutter away in the breeze, flapping towards the ground some eighty or ninety feet below them. Then he started working on getting her shirt off as well. He was engaged in this activity when, all of a sudden, they were no longer flying.
Videl's gasp of pleasure turned into a shriek of terror and that was the last thing Gohan heard before his world went black with a bone-crushing thud.
He floundered slowly back to consciousness and to the sound of Videl's tearful voice.
"Gohan ... Gohan, please open your eyes. Please, please don't be dead. Oh, Gohan, please ..."
Gohan blinked. At first all he saw was a flood of bright light on his retinas, but slowly it resolved into a late afternoon sky and Videl's face coming into focus, staring down at him with her dark hair falling wildly across her forehead and her big eyes filled with tears.
"Gohan?" the vision of loveliness said, blinking away the tears. "Are you all right?"
"Uh ... I guess so ..."
"How many fingers am I holding up?"
He looked. "One ...? Videl, where did you learn to make THAT gesture ...?"
"None of your business! What were you thinking about, letting us fall! You idiot! Why didn't you catch us?"
"Huh ... what?" He was still having a bit of trouble thinking. "You can fly too, Videl."
"You're the powerful one! You're the Golden Fighter, the Super Saiyajin. What happened?"
Gohan wondered that as well. "It's like all of a sudden I just couldn't gather up my ki anymore. Is that what you felt too?"
Gohan sat up stiffly. Everything hurt, but nothing seemed to be seriously injured. "Wow ... I can't believe we're all right after that fall."
"You may be all right," Videl snapped. "Because you fell on me, you jerk."
"I ... did?"
He realized belatedly that she was very pale, her cheeks tearstained, and holding one arm protectively against her chest.
"Videl, are you hurt?"
"Yes! Thank you for asking! I think my arm is broken. The arm you fell on."
"I'm really sorry, Videl." He reached for her arm but she jerked away, and made a soft sound of pain.
"No, don't touch it! I'll be fine until we can get some medical attention. We're only a short walk from the road; come on."
She stood up shakily. Gohan steadied her. Suddenly his head snapped up. Videl looked at him in confusion, then followed his gaze up to the sky.
"Is it a meteor shower?"
"I hope so. I really hope so." But one part of him knew that it couldn't possibly be a normal meteor shower. It never was.
"Wow, that's really cool!" Kuririn enthused.
"Pay attention to your own fight, idiot!" #18 snapped, severing another spider's body from its legs with one swift kick.
Kame-sennin's island was crawling with the creatures because all the ones who had fallen into the surrounding ocean had crawled onto the land to get out of the water. Unfortunately they didn't seem particularly affected by the water in any way -- none of them fell over and shorted out. Instead, they oriented on the various humans and not-quite-humans on the island -- none of whom had realized anything was wrong until they started to power up to fight and discovered that they couldn't.
Of them all, #18 was by far the least affected. She'd never relied that much on ki anyway. Her body was inhumanly tough and fast, virtually impossible to damage with conventional weapons, let alone destroy. She cradled Marron against her chest in one arm, not daring to put down the little girl with so many of the metal monsters around, and decimated one after another.
The others were not faring so well. Kuririn and Yamcha had once been among the most powerful humans on the planet, but now both were out of shape from years of inadequate training. Oolong and Pu'ar had never been able to fight anyway; the pig was hiding under a table, squealing in terror as spider legs speared viciously through the wood, splintering it in a tattoo of death -- and all Pu'ar could do was float above Yamcha's head, yelling warnings to him as he tried to avoid the spiders' attacks.
Master Roshi had vanished utterly.
"Where's the old guy?" Yamcha yelled at Kuririn, ducking another spider. The two of them had managed to survive so far only by dodging rather than attacking.
Kuririn didn't have the breath to reply. They both got their answer, however, when a speedboat appeared from the far side of the island, executing a wide turn over the foam-capped waves.
"Get in!" Master Roshi shouted at them, waving frantically. The sea turtle bobbed along beside the boat.
#18 grabbed Kuririn's arm and made a powerful leap for the boat, dragging her husband and daughter along with her. Pu'ar transformed, briefly, into a floating Yamcha analog, confusing the spiders for a moment while Yamcha made his own escape to the boat.
"Oolong!" Kuririn yelled. "Run for it!"
"Run for WHAT?" the pig squealed, practically blurring as he dodged the spiders, which luckily for him were not trying very hard. They seemed uncertain what to make of him.
"One of us is going to have to go get him," Yamcha said reluctantly.
They all looked at each other. Several spiders were trying to climb into the boat, providing a brief distraction as they had to kick the creatures off into the water.
"Oh, come on, he's our friend and he needs our help," Kuririn said, and stood up in the boat, preparing to jump to shore.
A hand on his chest stopped him. Wordlessly, #18 thrust Marron into her husband's arms and sprang ashore. A minute later, she reappeared, leaping on the backs of the spiders as if they were stepping stones, with Oolong clutched by the ears in one hand. "Ow ow ow ow --" he was shrieking. #18 threw him into the boat and then sprang in herself, and Master Roshi gunned it, full throttle, sending them shooting out into the empty sea.
"My ears!" Oolong wailed, rubbing at the injured appendages. "What do these look like to you, handles?"
"You're alive, aren't you?" #18 retorted, taking back a whimpering Marron from Kuririn.
Yamcha nudged his short friend. "Man, Kuririn ... I've said this before, but I'll say it again: I'm glad she's on our side."
"... now," Master Roshi added, looking over his shoulder from the boat's helm.
"I heard that," #18 gritted, cradling the little girl.
"How's Goten, mom?" Bulma asked without looking up from her worktable.
Mrs. Briefs sat down beside her daughter. "The poor child is still asleep. I gave him another painkiller."
"I want to go see Goten, mom," Trunks protested.
"No. Not now. Grandma is taking care of Goten and you have a job to do."
Since both Bulma and her father couldn't be spared from their work, Bulma had appointed Trunks in charge of communications. He was scanning the TV channels, finding the ones that worked and keeping them up-to-date on events outside the lab. It had gotten dark outside, and the glimpses that Bulma got of the TV screen looked like a war zone: lurid flashes of red and blue lighting up scenes of rubble and devastation.
"Yeah! Hit 'em!" Trunks yelled, punching the air. Bulma heard a series of explosions from the TV. "Hey, Mom, it looks like this time the army's actually good for somethin'. They just took out a bunch of those creepy things in one shot."
Bulma tuned in with half an ear to the TV announcer, who was saying that the army had been able to protect most of the cities and larger towns so far. That was good news, and Trunks was right; it appeared that compared to most of the things they'd fought, the metal spiders were not much danger. The problem was, there were just so many of them. The army couldn't be everywhere. She wondered desperately where everyone was. Vegeta, Goku, Gohan, Kuririn ... Kami, she hoped nobody was dead.
"Try the emergency communicator again," she said to Trunks.
Years ago, after the Cell Games, Bulma had left emergency communication devices at both the Turtle House and at the Sons' place, making them promise to use them if something happened that tied up or interrupted radio frequencies. The communicators used a private satellite uplink and unless something was jamming it, should be able to be used even if all communications on Earth were down. So far they hadn't been able to get a response from either place.
"Still not answering, Mom."
"Keep trying," Bulma said. She was more worried about Chi-Chi than anyone else. Turtle House had no shortage of defenders, but Chi-Chi would have been all alone unless Gohan was with her, and as tough as Chi-Chi was, how could she defend herself against creatures that moved so fast no normal human could see them?
"How's it going over there, Dad?" she called to her father.
"Hmmm," was the only reply.
Bulma sighed and went back to her work. She and her father had divided their tasks. Bulma's job was to come up with personal defenses against the spiders. So far, she had created a modified version of the Saiyajin armor that she'd made for her friends during the Cell Games; rather than being specialized to repel ki blasts, it was tough and flexible to withstand punctures. It wouldn't protect the arms and legs, but at least the vital areas of the body would be covered, including the head if she could get anybody to wear a helmet. (Saiyajin, she had discovered, hated covering their heads; it was an aversion almost akin to a cat's hatred of water. She suspected that it had to do with needing to have their sharp senses unencumbered.)
Once she had finished the armor design, she automated the process of making it and expected to have enough for her friends in an hour or so. Now she turned to personal weapons. This was a little harder, because they had not managed to injur a spider and weren't sure what could hurt them. From watching the news, she could see that concussive weapons, such as bazookas and grenades, were very effective, so she focused on that sort of thing. No use spending her time building lasers if they were shielded against lasers, which they seemed to be to at least a limited degree.
Every once in a while she cast a look over her shoulder at her father. His job was much harder than hers; all he could do was analyze the appearance of the spiders and try to work out what their weaknesses might be. It appeared from the news video that they weren't encumbered by rain, mud, or various forms of radiation. The military had tried hitting them with electromagnetic pulses and it hadn't even slowed them down. Too bad; that was the first thing Bulma would have tried.
"Woah Mom," Trunks said suddenly. "Holy moly. Lookit this."
Bulma set down her tools and craned over her shoulder. Her mother and son were both clustered around the TV in rapt fascination; even her father had taken a pause to look. She could hear that the announcer's voice had changed, from agitated and excited to soft with ... fear?
"Hey, I can't see," Bulma protested. She got up and came over to shoulder her way between her parents.
The TV screen showed a night sky, speckled with the by-now-familiar red glow of the spiders' sensors. And against the stars was a great, dark shape. She couldn't get any idea of the scale on the TV, but it had to be huge.
"It's a spaceship," she whispered.
"I guess they had to get here somehow," her father said.
As Bulma watched, a detachment of military planes appeared in one corner of the screen. They looked tiny against the ship's bulk, and she watched them shrink and shrink until they were invisible -- damn it, how big was that thing? Suddenly red light flared near one end of the ship. A moment later, they could all see the flaming trails of wreckage falling from the sky.
"They can't get anywhere near it," Dr. Briefs said. "The spiders don't seem to have energy weapons, but the ship must."
"The spiders are just some sort of advance guard, then," Bulma said. "Whatever's on that ship is what we really ..." She trailed off, remembering that her son was listening. Her son was, however, half Saiyajin (half Vegeta, for that matter) and rather than fear in his blue eyes, she saw excitement.
Bulma was afraid -- afraid for herself, for her family, for her friends, for her world. But the fear did not rise and become panic. An icy calm had gripped her when she first realized that she couldn't depend on the Saiyajins to win this fight, and it still held her in its grasp. She wasn't much of a fighter, but it wasn't might that would win this battle; it was brains. And at that, Bulma excelled.
Right now they had two primary problems, she mused. One problem was finding their friends and getting them all together in one place. The other was defeating the spiders -- which, she now suspected, would need to involve getting onto that ship. She had no idea how to do the second part. But as for the first ... she was getting the glimmerings of a plan.
Meanwhile, the small group on Master Roshi's speedboat had made an unpleasant discovery of their own: the spiders could fly. Not that fast, compared to how phenomenally fast they were on the ground, but they were definitely capable of flight.
"This isn't good!" Kuririn yelled, jump-kicking a spider out of the sky into the water. It was starting to get dark; luckily the red lights on the spiders made them easy targets. At the moment the humans had the advantage, because the spiders couldn't keep up with the boat and also were not very good at attacking on the run. But they were all getting tired, except for #18, and she was encumbered with Marron. Kuririn had suggested handing the child over to him, or to a noncombatant such as Oolong (he almost got a broken nose for that suggestion, from both parties), but #18 wanted to keep Marron with her, since she was most capable of protecting their daughter.
"All right, let's try a change of tactics," Master Roshi muttered. "Hands inside the vehicle, everybody!"
They all promptly retreated to the middle of the speedboat, unsure what was about to happen, but not very confident that it would be safe in any way. Roshi hit a button and a jointed enclosure spread over the top of the boat, sealing them inside in a matter of seconds.
"Why didn't you do that before?" Yamcha snapped.
"It's airtight," the old man replied, unperturbed. "With all of us in here, we only have enough air for a couple of hours unless we open it occasionally. But in the meantime, we can do this ..."
He pushed the boat's joystick control forward and down, and it dived like a submarine. The startled spiders banked in the air and then vanished from view above the water.
Marron giggled with joy as they sank through the dark water, scattering confused schools of fish and an occasional eel.
"What if the spiders can swim?" Kuririn said after a moment.
"They probably can, at least a little bit," Master Roshi said. "But with those legs shaped the way they are, they'll have even more trouble maneuvering in the water than in the air. We should be able to avoid them easily."
They all looked at each other in the darkening cabin of the boat, an unspoken question hanging in the air. Sure, they could avoid the spiders, but only for so long. Somehow they had to deal with the menace. But how?
Half a world away, the sky was still bright, the sun standing near noon -- which was fortunate for two humans who were able to take advantage of the light to avoid their pursuers.
"Tien, there are too many of them!"
"I know, I know," Tienshinhan growled, leaping to avoid a piercing claw. He picked up Chaotzu in one powerful arm and bounded up the mountainside, but the spiders didn't hesitate: they rose into the air, and flew.
Tienshinhan was glad now that he'd always preferred to rely on his own body instead of the seductive promise of ki. He had trained himself in ki techniques for the power they provided, but in general, his life with Chaotzu in the wastelands had left him with strength and agility that was possibly, at the moment, unsurpassed by anyone on Earth.
He had killed the first spider to land near him in a sneak attack, and two more in traps. This had led them to deem him a threat and start a full-scale hunt.
Luckily, he was also very, very familiar with this area, a fact that had enabled him to trap or elude his pursuers so far. This particular mountain had once been a mining claim, and it was riddled with old mineshafts. Tienshinhan located the nearest opening and leaped inside, then tugged at the rotten wood holding up the entrance until it collapsed in a shower of rocks and dust, burying the fastest of the spiders in the process.
"Are we trapped?" Chaotzu asked, coughing on the dust.
Tienshinhan started to shake his head in the darkness, then remembered that his small friend couldn't see him. "No," he said. "There are a dozen ways out of here. It's possible that some of those things might find them and use them for entrances, but by that time, we'll be long gone. We need to find Son and find out what's going on. If anyone knows, he will."
And back on the night side of the world, a small fire glowed against the darkness, trying and failing to drive back the chill from the air ...
Goku's shivering had finally stopped, but not in a particularly good way. He had drifted into a sort of stupor and didn't respond to Vegeta's attempts to rouse him. The wound in his shoulder was seeping blood again, and there was a rattling in his breathing that Vegeta didn't like at all.
Vegeta crouched over the small fire, feeding it little pieces of dry wood. But it wasn't enough, it wasn't enough. The heat barely reached back a few paces from the flames as the chill mountain night crept upon them. He felt himself begin shivering again. Both of them were in trouble, Goku for his insane heroics and Vegeta for letting himself fall into the same trap.
"Next time you get some stupid ideas about saving my life, just save us all the hassle and don't do it, would you?" he snapped at his unconscious companion.
He sat down next to Goku and felt for the weak flutter of the other Saiyajin's pulse. It was much feebler than he would have liked, and he could barely feel Goku's ki at all.
"Come on, Kakarrot. Remember how that brat of yours carried on when you died fighting Cell? Imagine how much noise two of them will make if you die out here."
There was no response. Vegeta sighed and sat back against the wall. Trying to remind Goku of his family, to snap him out of his near-coma, had instead reminded Vegeta of his own. He'd been halfway successful, so far, at keeping his mind from Bulma and Trunks, but now thoughts of them rushed in with a vengeance.
They were all right. They had to be. Bulma was smart and she had the entire resources of Capsule Corp. at her disposal. Hell, that crazy onna might wind up saving the world, who could know?
"Be safe, woman," he whispered, trying to send his thoughts to them across the miles. "You too, brat."
His eyes started to drift shut and then snapped open. He'd thought he heard a stick snap outside the cave.
Vegeta stood up slowly, his eyes fixed on the sliver of starlit darkness at the cave mouth. He started to take a step towards it, when suddenly a red light appeared in the opening.
Vegeta froze, knowing that he was outlined against the fire. Another light appeared by the first. Then another. Another.
They had been found.
Vegeta backed up towards Goku as the spiders stalked into the cave. They seemed wary of him; they must know that two of their companions had been destroyed by the two Saiyajin. But there were a lot of them. A lot. The glowing red lights outside the cave seemed innumerable. At least ten or twenty, he guessed, and possibly more that he couldn't see.
I'm going to die, he thought.
He glanced down at Goku. The thought of trying to escape slipped through his mind, but didn't linger. No, the prince of the Saiyajin would not run away. He would not flee an enemy and he would not leave a helpless fri--a helpless companion to be murdered.
"I do not want you to be the last person I see when I die, Kakarrot," Vegeta murmured, a smirk twitching at his lips. "I had hoped that the onna would be."
The onna ... He thought of Bulma one last time, sending her and Trunks a silent goodbye. And goodbye to you too, Kakarrot; I hope we meet again in the other world, though I have no real hope of that.
He crouched as the first spider sprang. He couldn't win -- but he would take a few of them with him.
Miles away, Bulma snapped her head up from her worktable, almost dropping the delicate tools in her hands.
"You okay, Mom?" Trunks asked, turning away from the TV screen and stifling a yawn.
"Yes. I'm fine." Bulma glanced over her shoulder. She thought she'd heard Vegeta whisper her name; and more than that, she had even felt his presence as if he was standing right behind her, his breath stirring the small hairs on the back of her neck.
Bulma shook her head. Wherever you are, please be all right, my love, she thought, and bent back to her work.