a rewrite of The Intermediate Years: Nataku by Dot
Part Four: Negotiations
The next morning, the adults gathered together again for a brainstorming session. Vegeta, suspecting that the exercise would be pointless, offered no opinions and tuned out most of the proceedings.
It was, as expected, a total disaster. The discussion kept going in circles, with each party unaware that the other was using the same words to describe a different mindset. The farce continued for a while before Bulma closed the meeting with some platitudes about vigilance and teamwork.
After the others filed out, she pulled him aside before he could disappear into the wild blue yonder. “We need to talk.”
Already half-guessing what she wished to discuss, he grunted in mild annoyance but remained where he was. “I’m not going to ‘make friends’ with her.”
She held onto his hands. “But you’re the only one who has any chance of getting through.”
He shook his head. “It wouldn’t work.”
“You haven’t even tried yet! What makes you so sure?” She stepped in until their noses were on the verge of touching. “You’re not scared that she’ll blow you off, are you?”
He didn’t budge. “You’re being childish.”
“I am not!”
Exhausted from having to deal with so many idiots in the space of so little time, He decided to let her have this one small victory. “Fine. I’ll talk to her.” Of course, he still couldn’t resist firing back. “But I’m not responsible for what happens next.”
As he predicted, her eyebrows rose so high they almost disappeared into her bangs. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
He refrained from commenting on the gray hair he spotted. He wasn’t ready to step on that particular landmine, not at this time of day. “It means whatever you want it to mean.”
He was already impressed when she didn’t take the bait, but what she said next floored him. “It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
He knew by her body language and tone of voice that she wasn’t playing one of their games this time. “Kakarot and I can take care of this.” Without trying to seduce a Saiyan who looks young enough to be my daughter, he almost said, but he was still trying to wrap his mind around the idea that his wife was the one to suggest such an absurd course of action first.
She held his gaze. “And by ‘take care of’ you mean kill anything that moves and blow everything else up for good measure?”
Now he scowled. They’ve had this conversation before. “You still haven’t come up with a Plan B yet.” Bulma was about to protest when he clarified: “One that isn’t completely ridiculous.”
This time, her irritation went up a notch. “I don’t see you coming up with any better ideas.”
He shrugged and headed for the kitchen. All the talk about thinking made him hungry. “I don’t see why I need to.”
Piccolo meditated, floating cross-legged at the center of Korin’s Tower. Soon, he had tuned out the hubbub of the living and became one with the energies of the Earth, its towering mountains, burgeoning streams and howling winds.
Even so, the presence of the invaders brushed against his mind, prickling like a thousand pins. They hid themselves well; they were undetectable with any of the normal methods, but they could not erase their gravitational shadow nor silence all of the particles that hammered against their monstrous ship. With each day, he grew more certain of their flight path, and by the end of their deadline he’d be able to pinpoint their exact location. While most of them agreed that a preemptive attack may provoke an attempt at mutual destruction, he wanted to be prepared to take the fight to them should the situation call for it.
He found it difficult to believe that these Suponjians would cross such a vast expanse of space just to wipe out their enemies. They had to be either planning some sort of suicide operation or were looking to take over the planet once its strongest defenders were eliminated. In either case, he could expect massive collateral damage.
And then there was that Saiyan. Was she serving the Suponjians or was she true to her old loyalties? Or maybe she was neither, playing both sides against each other to ensure her own survival.
That seemed the most possible option. She must have realized by now that she would have be welcome with open arms despite anyone’s objections if she had rejected the Suponjians and been sincere about switching loyalties. As it was, her attitude and behavior was just ambiguous enough that it could be interpreted as beneficial to either side no matter how one looked at it.
Then Piccolo’s ears reacted before he did, swiveling in the direction of the approaching Saiyan though he couldn’t make heads or tails of what she was saying and he felt his hackles rise at the same time. He had been so lost in thought that he hadn’t noticed her until now. Speak of the devil, he thought, chuckling to himself. Even now, although he knew she was floating just outside the boundaries of the barrier he and Dende set up when they first noticed the Suponjian approaching, she had such a tight rein on her energy that if she had not spoken up he might not have realized she was there at all.
Just as he thought she was holding a one-sided conversation, he heard another voice came from the same direction as the Saiyan—through some sort of earpiece, perhaps, as he could not detect anyone else with her and there was a distant, tinny quality to the sound. He didn’t know how keen her senses were, so he did not attempt to probe further.
She made a frustrated noise, then sighed. Drawing in another breath, she sent out a wave of energy. Piccolo let it wash over him, his years of living in sync with the planet making it easy to mimic the same rhythms as the air around him. As the continued to scan the area, she kept talking with her unseen partners in a tongue Piccolo could not understand.
She must have posed some sort of question that warranted contemplation, as for a moment, the other voice did not answer her, but Piccolo could hear murmured discussions. Then Piccolo felt the prickling sensation in his antenna stop, and then he realized that the irritant he had sensed was a high-frequency transmission. The Saiyan herself descended in an area near the Tower and hid her energy from all but the keenest of senses.
Piccolo toyed with the idea of confronting the Saiyan face-to-face when he picked up Vegeta’s energy approaching the area.
“I know you’re around here,” Vegeta declared, although this wasn’t quite true. He had nothing to go by except a hunch and the slightest bit of irritation in the back of his mind. “Now, for some reason, my wife has the crazy notion that you can be talked to like a normal person and not an enemy combatant, so get your ass out here before I decide that you’re not worth wasting my time.”
“Your wife, huh? I suppose I should thank her, then.” She still wasn’t visible, but she used the surroundings to project her voice in a way that he couldn’t quite pinpoint her exact location. “Or at least not keep her around long enough for her to see that her kindness would lead to unspeakable tragedy.”
“Keep this up and the only tragedy that’ll be happening is the summary eradication of you and your so-called cohorts.”
“It’ll eventually boil down to one side or the other—or maybe even both—getting slaughtered anyway, so I don’t see how that threat is the least bit effective.” But she emerged nonetheless, sitting on the remains of a pillar with her legs crossed in a laughable imitation of a dainty young noblewoman. “Either way, I’m fucked, so I might as well stay loyal.”
Vegeta sneered. “A foolish sentiment.”
She shrugged. “Family motto.”
He couldn’t tell if she was serious or not, but then again he didn’t give a damn. “Maybe you should get a different one.”
“And give up the only thing left of that life?” She leaned forward, hands resting on her chin. “Call me sentimental, but I liked living on Planet Vegeta.”
Maybe his wife was right. Maybe he should play her stupid game. But to do that he would have to figure out her rules. “Can’t say I was a fan.”
She didn’t answer right away, and just as Vegeta was bracing himself for another round of waterworks, she shrugged again. “You never were, were you?”
Though he didn’t show it, Vegeta breathed a mental sigh of relief. “And what about you? How’d you end up with these delightful friends?”
“Politics. Of course, the gesture ended up pointless, but my dad sent me as an envoy to request Suponjian aid in overthrowing ‘the regime’—” and here she smirked up at him. “No offense, but your dad was a shitty king.”
It was Vegeta’s turn to shrug. “This planet’s made a full circuit around its sun somewhere around forty times since my father has died. Little late to take offense, don’t you think?”
“Forty Earth years, and Planet Vegeta’s been a pile of space rocks for that long, too,” she murmured, looking distant. “Where does the time go?”
There had been a time where that thought brought melancholy to Vegeta’s heart, but no longer. Like Kakarot, he’d gone native, but unlike the other Saiyan he didn’t need a traumatic blow to the head for that to happen. “You tell me.”
She seemed ready to give him some smart-mouthed answer, if nothing more than to prevent him from having the last word, when she raised one hand to her ear instead. “As much as I enjoy these little talks, it looks like I’m needed elsewhere.”
“It can’t be that dire, if you haven’t run off already,” Vegeta pointed out, wondering if she was toying with him or perhaps in some strange roundabout way hoping that he detain her; either way, short of breaking every bone in her body he wasn’t about to let her disappear on him this time.
“I do get a leash, but it’s becoming shorter as we speak.” And yet she made no move to leave. “Not everybody’s got the magnanimity to put up with some upstart nobody who’s always pushing boundaries.”
Vegeta was careful to keep his face a scowling mask. Just a moment ago she’d disavowed any possibility of betraying the Suponjians, but now she seemed to be making insinuations to the contrary. The temptation of reconsidering his position on bone-breaking grew. “I’d toe the line more closely if I were you. Unless you become actually untouchable, it never ends well for those who play with fire.”
“Oh?” She raised an eyebrow. “Is that how you got burned?”
Don’t fall for her tricks, he reminded himself. Two can play at this game. “Why make everything about me? Even if I ever get around to remembering anything about you—”
She scoffed. “Planet Vegeta will be restored before that happens.”
You have no idea how likely that could be. “—nevertheless, you can’t expect me to know how you’ve fared since we parted ways. Last I checked, ‘mind reading’ isn’t in the list of skills a Saiyan is supposed to know, Prince or not.”
For the briefest of moments, she seemed to be taken surprise by the question, but she soon recovered. “Sorry, but I’m afraid you’ll have to do the work of figuring it out for yourself.” Now she rose to her feet.
This time, Vegeta was ready. He grabbed onto her arm with one hand before she could disappear again, leaving the other free in case she tried anything funny. “What can I say? I guess I’ve always been a lazy student.”
She put a hand on his. “Can’t help you there; so was I.” Using the slightest movements of her fingers she wrote, using that same pidgin Saiyan as before: Not here. They watch.
Vegeta weighed the scenarios in his head and decided to gamble; his free hand joined hers. “And no-one left to copy answers from. What a pity.” Where, then?
“A damn shame.” I know not. Always they watch.
He wanted to laugh at the irony of it. As one of Frieza’s lapdogs, he’d combed several galaxies for someone who could face his former employer and emerge victorious, but when he’d encountered Kakarot, he’d let his pride get in the way of asking for help, and he wasted decades chasing after the other Saiyan’s shadow rather than fight alongside him. Now, with the shoe on the other foot, he was certain that if he somehow found the enemy encampment and charged into it, this Saiyan would be the first to stand against him, perhaps even to the point of throwing her own life away.
“Forget this depressing shit.” He let go of both arms and showed her his back for the first time as a deliberate action. “Come to my house for lunch. We can handle one extra Saiyan’s worth of appetite.”
She didn’t move. “Is that an order from the Prince of all Saiyans?”
He made as if he was going to leave at any moment, but he also remained where he was. “It is if you want it to be.”
The silence hung in the air for what felt like forever—at least as long as I’d been stuck on Namek, Vegeta couldn’t help thinking with a wry grin—and it wasn’t broken with any words, but rather a long sigh from the Saiyan. “You no go until I say yes, yes?”
Vegeta hoped to hell that he wasn’t making some horrible mistake. “Of course not.”
< - >
There’d been a time in the past when Bulma hated the fact that she was born a girl and not a boy, and strove to prove herself better than the guys in every way. Even after she’d witnessed a reality that no woman or man could survive if not for tremendous amounts of luck (and one stupid powerful alien), old habits proved hard to break and she often resented that she was always being left behind for her own “safety”.
Now she was getting her wish to stand on the front lines alongside her husband, son, and even daughter against an enemy much more elusive and shadowy than Dr. Gero had been—and he at least had the “courtesy” to start blowing things up as soon as he was ready to make his move. Without accurate intelligence on this new foe, Bulma was forced to assume the worst case scenario, and in exchange kept herself up at night imagining all sorts of atrocities that could befall her family, friends, and everyone else on Earth, for that matter.
The young lady—for a supposed former acquaintance of Vegeta’s, she seemed not much older than Trunks, but Bulma wasn’t sure if that was the Saiyan lying through her teeth or a result of the noticeably slower aging that Vegeta also displayed—of indeterminate species who looked and played the part of a Saiyan was, for now, the sole point of contact with yet another group of aliens no-one had ever met or much less even heard of before. But try as she might, Bulma just couldn’t see this person as an enemy. Was this person that confident in her side emerging victorious? Or was it that Bulma couldn’t detect a single ounce of hostility in the brief time they spent together? While she’d moved beyond suggesting that her protectors murder a man in cold blood (that very same Dr. Gero against whom she was comparing this latest threat) with no concrete proof of any wrongdoing besides a messenger from a grim future caused by his hands, would she want a preemptive strike if it were possible, in order to keep her family and friends safe from a blood feud that one side didn’t even know existed until they were informed of it?