Ki-Blind: Chapter Seventeen
In the realm of the Kais, Kaio-sama was watching an active match between one of his fighters and one of West Kai's. Well, "watching" wasn't exactly the right word; both of the little blue gods were jumping in the air and shouting encouragement and suggestions to their own champions, while insulting the other's fighter (along with the other's parentage and personal habits while they were at it). Suddenly, in mid-jump and mid-insult, Kaio-sama went quiet. His antennae went straight up in the air and stayed there. Slowly he dropped back to the ground.
West Kai noticed after a moment that he was the only one shouting and he, too, dropped back to the ground. "What's wrong with you?"
"A great loss of life in my part of the galaxy," the North Kai replied, scanning with his antennae. It had seemed to come from the Earth, but he was getting a lot of interference and he couldn't tell what was going on.
"Probably a meteor or supernova," West Kai suggested. With the memory of Buu so fresh in their minds, none of them wanted to think about a repeat of the incident.
"No, it's ..." Suddenly he got a clear image of the ship in orbit around the planet, and the massive laser blast that had created a dark scar across the world's surface, visible from space. Kaio-sama gasped in horror. With all the interference, he couldn't even tell who had been killed -- but if something like this had been allowed to happen, could Goku and his friends still be alive?
"What's the matter?" East Kai inquired, coming over to join them.
"North here says there's some sort of disturbance in his quadrant. Probably imagining things," West Kai said, but he extended his senses. East Kai, knitting placidly, did the same.
"Oh, it's just them," she said, deftly picking up a dropped stitch. "Those robots. They were in my quadrant a few centuries ago. There was a bit of damage, but they left eventually on their own."
"What?" Kaio-sama demanded.
"Oh, them. I remember you talking about them," West Kai said. "Survivors of a destroyed world, aren't they? Planet purgers. I think we had a couple incidents in my quadrant too, a long time back. Hardly worth mentioning."
"And you did nothing about this?" Kaio-sama demanded, his antennae quivering in anger.
"What are we supposed to do?" East Kai inquired, flipping her work and starting on a row of purl stitches. "We observe, we don't interfere, or have you forgotten? Did you do anything about the planet pirates in your quadrant, the gang led by that Frosty or Icecube or whatever his name was? Of course you didn't. It's just the usual carrying-on of mortal existence."
"Oh, them," Kaio-sama mumbled, reluctant to admit that he actually had had a role (a small one) in defeating Freeza. He hadn't been aware of the threat until Goku brought his attention to it, however.
"We keep the balance," East Kai continued. "That is what we do. You, on the other hand ..."
"You've changed," West Kai said suspiciously.
"He's always been a bit different."
"But lately he's been a lot different."
"Spending too much time with mortals."
"Warps the mind."
"Quit talking about me like I'm not here!" Kaio-sama yelled, arms stiff at his sides. Turning his back on the peanut gallery, he extended his antennae and continued to search. Goku! Surely you're alive down there. Surely there is something you can do.
On Kaio-shin-kai, Rou Dai Kaioshin stared at the scene in his crystal ball. His fists, in his lap, clenched slowly. He too had felt the mass loss of life, and he also recognized one of the ki's as the young mystic he had powered up. Son Gohan. Dead now, gone.
"I can't seeeee," he wailed in despair, pounding his fist on top of the crystal ball in frustration, as if that could make it penetrate the shields around the ship. "What are you doing in there, you young fool? This really is a galactic-class threat, so stop playing around and take care of it while you still have a galaxy left to save! Moron."
As the deadly white light swept towards the stunned observers in #18's plane, it suddenly winked out, leaving a fiery after-image burned into their retinas.
In those few seconds, millions had died.
"Marron," #18 whispered.
She gunned the plane to full throttle, pressing the others back in their seats as they rocketed forward. As they passed the leading edge of the fire, the trees beneath them gave way to a flat expanse of charred black earth. It extended as far as they could see, like a giant road leading to the horizon.
"Where's Capsule Corporation?" Lunch asked curiously, looking down. "Where's the city?"
Here, Tenshinhan thought he said, but he was speechless with shock. It was right here.
#18 brought the plane down for a steady, controlled landing. As soon as the plane's landing gear touched down, she was already springing out. Up close, it was obvious that the scorched earth was not as smooth and flat as it appeared from the air -- the ground was torn up as if by a giant's hands. #18's feet crunched on unidentifiable pieces of burned debris. Wisps of smoke curled up, here and there.
"Marron," she said again.
She collapsed to her knees in the scorched earth where Capsule Corp. had stood, for once oblivious to who might be watching her. Tenshinhan stood awkwardly outside the ship, his big hands hanging at his sides. He didn't know what to say, what to do. Something moved beside him and he turned to see Lunch, holding Chaotzu in her arms like a sleeping child. Her face was so sad it wrenched Tenshinhan's heart even more than #18's grief. Having just become pregnant with her first child, Lunch was in a position to sympathize deeply with the other mother.
"Marron!" The word emerged as a strangled hiss. #18 bent over, sinking her hands into the charred ash, the bits of unidentifiable melted plastic and burned wood, as if she could dig deep enough to dig up her daughter, safe and sound. Then she slumped, all the fight going out of her, the blinding rage washed away in a flood of an emotion she had never experienced before. It took her a little while to realize that this was grief.
She had been too slow, too late, too far away.
Her dirty hands, in her lap, curled unconsciously into a child-holding position. But there was no child to fill them, would never be again.
She had failed to protect her child. She had left her child to die. How would she explain to Kuririn? But what if Kuririn wasn't still alive, either? How could her newfound humanity survive the loss of the only two people in the world who meant anything to her?
Now she was hearing things, her grief conjuring her daughter's voice.
#18 tried to shut her ears to it, but from the corner of her eyes, she saw Tenshinhan and Lunch looking up, so she looked up, too.
What she saw was a miracle.
#17 descended slowly from the dark sky, with the little blond girl held awkwardly in arms that had clearly never held a baby before; he was clutching her like a sack of potatoes.
#18 did not remember being human, except for random snatches of deja vu that occurred at odd times -- she might walk by an ice cream store and suddenly remember the taste of pistachio ice cream, or a song would come on the radio and she would remember the lyrics to the chorus as they played. She didn't know if she had cried as a human, though she assumed so. In the life she remembered, however, she had never shed so much as a tear -- until now.
#17 landed lightly and Marron immediately squirmed down to the ground and ran over to her mother. #18 opened her arms to the child, who jumped up and clung to her, whimpering. The cyborg woman lowered her head until her hair hid her face, her tears soaking into the child's soft blond head.
After Marron had calmed down (and she'd regained control of herself) she looked up at her brother. He stood unmoving on the charred ground, but she thought he looked a bit uncomfortable, out of place. As well he might. What was he doing here? How was it that he could still fly, when she could not?
Tenshinhan and Lunch both appeared to be stunned into silence. Finally #18 realized that it was up to her to speak. "You flew," she said. It was a stupid thing to say, but she couldn't think of anything else to say. "How did you do that? None of the rest of us can fly."
"So you mentioned," #17 said. "However, I never lost the ability, since it doesn't rely on ki. You could probably fly too, if you tried."
"I can't," she said. "And I did try."
"Then it must be because of that old man and that short excuse of a husband of yours, training you to fight as they do. That's what they've been doing, haven't they? I saw you use that flying-disk attack at the Tenkaichi Budokai. You may not even have realized it, but you've probably picked up their method of flying, using ki. We have never needed ki to fly. You can probably still throw energy attacks, too, if you put your mind to it."
#18 just stared at him, her mouth open. He was right. She had come to rely on the ki that came from the human-girl part of herself, because that was the kind of attack that Kuririn had been able to teach her. But she had her own internal power supply, too.
Tenshinhan was staring at #17 with three narrowed, speculative eyes. "Hey, you said you left the tournament after the first round," he said.
#17 gave him a withering look. "I may have misremembered somewhat."
Actually, though he would not of course have mentioned it to Tenshinhan, he'd stayed all the way through #18's final "fight" (if it could be called that) with Mister Satan. Tenshinhan hadn't had to tell him that she'd thrown the fight; he had been able to tell. He hadn't expected to see her there; he had intended to do just what he had told Tenshinhan and Lunch that he had done, and watch a couple of fights for old time's sake before heading back to the wilderness. But then, pushing through the crowd in a hooded disguise, he'd caught a glimpse of his sister walking through the crowd, with a small blond child's hand in hers -- and he had been stopped in his tracks. He didn't even know why seeing her again should have so much of an impact on him, or why he felt a strange compulsion to go over and ... talk to her?
He resisted the temptation. But still, he'd stayed much longer than he'd intended, all the way through the tournament, and when he flew back to the mountains, he was haunted by a peculiar sense of things left undone.
It had been the first time he'd seen her in years, though after the Cell Games he had kept track of her for the first couple of years. As far as he knew, she wasn't aware of it, but he would look for her occasionally, and watch from a distance, undetected. So he knew that she'd married the bald midget and gone to live on the old geezer's island, and there had been times when he'd hovered above the house, high enough that they wouldn't notice him, and warred with the part of himself that wanted to go down and knock on the door. It wasn't that he was lonely. He liked living in the wilderness, with no one to rely on but himself, and no company but the dog. And it wasn't as if he and #18 had ever had what you'd call a friendly sibling relationship anyhow. He didn't even really like her that much. But still ... sometimes he was aware that the two of them were unique in the world, the only ones of their kind. At those times, he thought that maybe he came close to understanding what kept drawing those two Saiyajins together, Vegeta and Goku, even across the gulf of rivalry and hatred that seemed to separate them. It was an odd thing, to think that in all the universe, there was only one other person who could come close to feeling what you felt, understanding what you understood.
After that, he had put her out of his mind again, but seeing her again this night had been another shock, and this time he'd actually spoken to her. After the group left in the hoverplane, he had gone back inside and sat back down on the couch, in the dark with the dog, not even noticing that the lights were off. He wasn't really thinking about anything in particular, but the thought did cross his mind that it really had been ... appealing ... in an odd kind of way ... to have that little conversation with the cyclops and his woman. Was it possible that he missed the intellectual stimulation of talking to people? He didn't even like people.
He had risen suddenly from the couch and opened the door, propping it slightly ajar for the dog. There actually was a way up and down the cliff -- you just had to jump into the water and swim downstream to the next bend, and there was a narrow path that went up to the top. The dog knew about the path and it knew how to navigate the ladder down to the dock; it was used to coming and going that way. #17 was confident in its ability to hunt for itself if he didn't come back.
... but why wouldn't he come back? Where WAS he going, anyway?
He didn't know, and that thought irked him even as it intrigued him. His life for the last seven years had been very routine, very much the same. Maybe it was time to do something different.
So he'd launched himself into the air. #18's plane was already out of sight, but he knew where Capsule Corp. was, and from #18's talk about Gohan and the Briefs, he suspected that she was headed for that place. If not, they'd know where she could be found.
And he flew there, faster than a plane could fly, noticing absently the extent of the destruction on the ground. The Briefs had been surprised to see him, but not completely shocked. No doubt they were getting used to former enemies dropping by. Mrs. Briefs, in fact, had greeted him as if they were old friends, even though he had never spoken to her and recognized her only from Dr. Gero's records. His eyes were drawn immediately to the blond child in her arms.
"Oh, have you ever met Marron? Marron, this is your Uncle Seventeen."
Mrs. Briefs held out the toddler. #17, caught off guard, didn't know what to do but accept. The little girl nestled into his arms. He held her stiffly, feeling very awkward and wanting to be somewhere else. Why had he come here again, anyhow? #18 wasn't even here. Not that he wanted to see her anyway. He should just leave ...
A sudden cry from Dr. Briefs got his attention. #17 looked up and then stared at what he saw on the screen. A weird tower of white light ... It took a moment for him to get his bearings and realize that what he was looking at was coming straight towards Capsule Corp. -- straight towards HIM.
Self-preservation kicked in and he blasted a hole in the ceiling. His energy attacks were a lot weaker than usual, but he could still use them. Completely forgetting that he was holding the child, #17 rocketed straight up, through the hole he had made, and poured on every ounce of speed that he possessed, straining himself to his utmost limits. The roar of the white light filled his ears, and he could feel its awful heat, but he'd been quick enough. He turned around in the air just as it blinked out, as easily as a light switching off.
#17 just floated in the air for a moment, recovering from his shock. Then he felt something squirm against his chest. Oh ... the brat. He looked down at the toddler clinging to him like a little monkey.
"Great," he muttered aloud. Now what? The Briefs were dead. His sister was probably also dead, if she'd been caught in that blast. What was he supposed to do with this baby?
Then something caught his eye -- a movement. A plane.
Was it possible that #18 wasn't dead after all?
He'd flown back in time to see them land.
"You're not going to tell us why you're here, are you?" Tenshinhan asked, drawing him back to reality.
#17 gave him a flat, cold glare. He had no cause to explain himself to these humans ... especially since he wasn't really sure why he was there, either.
"Excuse me," Lunch broke in softly. "Did you ... did you happen to see what became of the other people that were with this little girl? The Briefs, and ... who else was there, Juuhachi?"
"Ox King. Gohan, Videl. The pervert too," #18 supplied, holding her daughter cradled against her chest and never taking her eyes off her brother.
"Hmph," #17 said, sweeping his cold blue eyes across the scorched earth. "All the humans in that building were killed."
"So the Briefs are dead," Tenshinhan said softly, grieving. "And ... and Gohan and Videl, and Roshi." His heart ached for Goku, Bulma, Kuririn. This was going to be hard news.
Assuming that any of those bunch were still alive.
Assuming that any of the rest of them survived this long, terrible night.
Yamcha and Ygarddro, the only members of the group in the control room with any mechanical know-how, examined the burnt and melted computer consoles. Yamcha choked on the bitter smoke, waving it away from his face with one hand. Maybe a Briefs could have gotten this working again, but he could tell at a glance that it was beyond him.
"Looks like they did a thorough job," Piccolo said. His face was dark and grim.
"All I know is this: there's no way we're deactivating anything from here," Yamcha said. He looked over at Ygarddro. "Unless our buddy here knows how to fix this."
The alien spread its four hands. "The damage is too complete. The time it would take to make anything in this room work again would be longer than it would take to travel to the other control room."
"That's right!" Kuririn exclaimed, perking up. "There's another one!"
"At the other end of the ship," Kaiobito reminded him. "How long did you say it would take to get there?" he asked Ygarddro. "Hours?"
"If we don't have a choice, then we don't have a choice," Kuririn pointed out. "We'll have to go there."
"It won't take long for the other primary units, 001 and 003, to notice that something's wrong," Ygarddro said. "As well as sending reinforcements this way, they may well commence purging your planet from the other end of the ship."
Piccolo cursed softly.
Suddenly a movement in the corner drew their attention. Impossibly, the robot that Piccolo had attacked, 004, was still somewhat functional. Trailing sparking wires and losing bits of material as it moved, it had nonetheless managed to drag itself upright enough to pull a handle out of the wall and insert one of its appendages into the resulting opening.
"No, stop it!" Ygarddro screamed, showing panic for the first time since the Z-senshi had encountered him.
The others stared at him.
"This ship has a self-destruct mechanism. Part of the original programming of the meh'teka is to destroy the ship if it's hijacked --"
"Damn!" Yamcha yelled, drawing his sword.
"Too late for you, mortal beings," 004 said grimly, and wrenching its appendage out of the wall, it aimed a laser blast at the opening, destroying it. The lights in the room flickered and dimmed.
"You son of a bitch!" Yamcha screamed. He reached 004 a step ahead of Piccolo and brought his sword down across its back. The crippled machine collapsed in a shower of sparks. Piccolo followed up with a series of crushing blows. 004's operating days were over.
The Z-senshi were left standing uncertainly in the room, waiting nervously for something to happen.
"This is where the lights all turn red and the warning sirens start blaring and a female voice says Self-destruct in thirty seconds, right guys?" Kuririn asked, half serious and half striving for levity. Unfortunately, the only one of the others who had seen late-night science fiction movies was Yamcha, who gave him a weak grin.
"Maybe it didn't have time to finish its work," Kaiobito suggested.
"Yeah, maybe pushing the big red button isn't enough. Maybe it needs some kind of authorization," Yamcha put it, grasping at shreds of hope.
A low sound from Piccolo -- part gasp, part growl -- drew their attention. He was staring up at the main screen. The others followed his gaze. Overlaid on the image of the Earth was a series of numbers in a blocky alien script. The numbers were flashing rapidly. While none of the Earth group could read that language, they could tell a countdown when they saw it.
"Ygarddro, you can read that, correct?" Piccolo said quietly. "How much time do we have?"
"Sixteen dzugra," the alien replied, looking pale.
"That," said Yamcha, "does not help."
"Considerably less than an hour, which is the only one of your time units that I know about," Ygarddro said. "Dende explained it to me so that he could specify when he would come back. But I'm not familiar with any of your other time units."
"How MUCH less than an hour is 'considerably'?" Piccolo demanded, his patience fraying to the snapping point.
"Here!" Kuririn held up his wrist. He was wearing a wristwatch. "Ygarddro, show me how much time we have on this."
The watch was analog and Ygarddro watched the second hand sweep through a few seconds. "About ten or eleven revolutions of that arm."
"Ten minutes," Kuririn breathed. "Crap."
"There's no way we could get anywhere near the other control room in that time, is there?" Kaiobito asked.
"Well ... the explosion may kill us, but it'll probably also take care of whatever's blocking our ki, right?" Yamcha offered. "That means that the ones we left behind will be able to deal with the spiders and then use the dragonballs to bring us back."
"Dende's up here," Kuririn reminded him. "No dragonballs if Dende dies. Besides, almost everybody up here has been resurrected with the dragonballs at least once. And on top of that, who's left behind to fight? Gohan is --" He broke off sharply with a glance at Piccolo, unsure if the alien had felt what Kuririn had felt. One look at Piccolo's closed-down face indicated that the Namek had indeed felt it, and probably more strongly than Kuririn, as well.
"Gohan is ...?" Yamcha repeated.
"Dead," Kuririn said heavily, trying not to see the shocked sorrow on his friend's face at the news. "If we're killed, that leaves hardly anybody who can fight."
Yamcha bit his lips. "If we can get back to the ZX-72, I might be able to repair it. We can pick up Dende and Oolong --"
"It won't matter," Ygarddro spoke up.
The Earth fighters looked at the alien.
"Don't you realize this ship is the size of a city?" Ygarddro asked them, its voice dull. "When it explodes, there won't be anything left of your planet."
The others looked at each other: two humans, one god, one Namek, one blue cat. No one had any ideas. No one could think of something to say.
On the main screen, the countdown to destruction continued.
In the other control room, Goku flinched so violently that he nearly dislocated both his arms. His breathing ragged, he whispered, "Gohan ... Chi-Chi ..."
Vegeta turned shocked eyes on his rival. He'd felt the mass loss of life, but had not been able to identify any ki's that were familiar enough for him to pick out of the psychic background noise. If Gohan was dead, then all hope for resistance on Earth had probably died with him. And the purging of the planet had clearly begun.
001 rolled smoothly back towards the prisoners. "And now," it said, "we shall continue where we left off."
Goku said nothing. He merely glared at the robot -- the look in his eyes was the same look he had given Freeza on Planet Namek. Goku's anger was rare and slow to burn, but once it took off, Vegeta suspected that no force on Earth or in space could stand in its way.
As difficult as it was to admit it, when it came to fighting, there was nothing he'd rather have on his side more than an angry Kakarrot, and nothing he wanted less to have to fight against. Maybe they could still get out of this one in time to do something about the destruction.
"What's the matter?" Bulma asked Vegeta out of the corner of her mouth. "I saw you both jump -- what happened?"
"It's begun," Vegeta told her softly.
"What has? Oh ..." Her blue eyes grew wide with shock.
"We're running out of t --"
Pain exploded in the side of his face and then in the back of his skull as a sharp blow snapped his head back and rebounded it from the wall. Vegeta blinked and licked blood from the corner of his mouth.
"Vegeta!" Bulma shouted.
"I did not instruct you to speak," 001 told Vegeta, and to Bulma: "Perhaps you think this is a 'game' to me, but we don't play games as you mortals do. Gifted One, you will help us. It can be easy or hard, slow or fast. You can keep your family around you, if you desire, or you can watch them die. I have no particular love for inflicting pain, nor am I reluctant to do so. It's your choice."
At that moment, the lights flickered and dimmed. 001 turned away from the prisoners, who looked on curiously. "What ...? The self-destruct sequence?" the machine demanded. "What is going on? What do 002 and 004 think they're doing?"
"I cannot make contact with 002 and 004," 003 said.
"The others ..." the big machine hissed. "The others that we learned of from the mind-probe. They must be responsible for this. 003, deactivate the self-destruct."
The machine turned and started wheeling itself towards the wall. And in its moment of distraction, the boys struck.
They had spent the past few minutes quietly working themselves free. Because the machines did not consider the boys a threat, they had not taken as much care in securing them as they had with the adults. On top of that, the restraints were made to hold a much larger body, not two small, wriggling boys. Trunks and Goten had managed to squirm until their little limbs were nearly free.
They hadn't understood much of what was going on, but they did see that this was their chance. The robots were distracted. Trunks looked at Goten, blue eyes met black ones, and the boys made their move.
Screaming, they wrenched themselves free and flung themselves at the back of the smaller robot. The element of surprise was on their side, and on top of that, the small robots were not very well armored. Delicate circuitry crushed, cracked, broke. 003 plowed into the floor with the kids' feet embedded in the back of what passed for its head.
"No!" Goku yelled, leaning forward against his restraints. He could see, as the boys could not, that they were badly outnumbered and outclassed in this fight. Even if they could manage to take out the two robots, the spiders would overwhelm them in moments without the adults' help.
But it didn't look like they were going to get even that far. "Little pests," 001 remarked and swatted Trunks like a fly, pulling its punch at the last minute so that the boy wasn't killed -- they did need this one to keep the new Gifted One cooperative. Trunks rebounded off the wall with a faint cry and collapsed into a pile at the bottom.
"Trunks!" Bulma shouted and Vegeta snarled in rage, wrenching at his bonds.
"How dare you hurt Trunks!" Goten launched himself at the monster in a fury of kicking legs and pounding fists. This one was much bigger than the other, however, and it was expecting him. 001 caught hold of Goten in one massive metal fist and lifted him into the air, dangling him.
The purple-haired child needed to stay alive, but this one was worthless, and a pain in the diodes besides. The two children seemed to instigate each other's misbehavior. With only one of them, the survivor should be much more cooperative. And as soon as it had taken care of this little problem, 001 could deactivate the self-destruct and find out what those lesser units had thought they were doing. The small units were prone to making rash decisions. It might be necessary to reprogram them somewhat.
Occupied with these thoughts, ignoring the screams and threats of the mortal beings chained to the wall, 001 casually twisted Goten's neck.
The dry-stick sound of cracking bone was louder than a gunshot in the suddenly still room.
001 held Goten's body at arm's length. The boy's neck was broken, but not being entirely sure how easily this particular species died, 001 squeezed a bit more to make sure, and checked the life readings. None at all.
Ah, no challenge after all. They were so easy to kill, these mortal beings.
If it had been able to smile, the machine would have done so as it dropped the child's body to the floor. Goten crumpled into a small huddled heap, and lay where he had fallen. It was obvious, even to an untrained observer (and those in the room were hardly untrained) that the boy was dead.