The desert loomed ahead. Why did she come back? More questions than answers plagued her young mind, and Kay-El Coliflo didn't know where to start. Something moved, a bird of some sort. It steered well clear of the sandy dunes in its wisdom, and it made the perfect target. Kay-El began to sing, bringing her hands out facing towards the bird that landed a few feet away. Perhaps the bird held less wisdom than she thought, to not see the threat right in front of it. The tune was a haunting melody, more minor notes than major, a song to recall in your worst nightmares. Weighted down by the heavy clothing, Kay’s concentration broke as the bird took off. The last time she’d done this, it had been in the desert and she’d been wearing these weights. Why was it so hard to recreate that moment? Did she need to be in danger, like she’d been in then? She would master this new technique, the five year old chased the bird, a determined look in those midnight blue eyes.
Blue and green wings spread from her back, like a tattoo coming to life and she took off after it, giving chase and trying to channel her Ki at the same time. Naturally, it didn’t work. All that proved was that she was terrible at multitasking lately, a skill she used to be really, really good at. Alright, maybe not good, but acceptable, at least.
“Are we there yet?” the five year old asked for the fifth time that hour alone. Her big, dark blue eyes stared up at Nana hopefully. By this point, both were eager to get out of the small, cramped pod. “I’m soooo bored!” Nana already told her three ‘bedtime stories’ hoping Kay would go to sleep and when those failed she moved on to other tactics. She even brushed out that long plait of unruly curls and put it back in a tight braid, tying off both top and bottom with bows.
“Not yet,” Nana said, her kind smiled waning around the edges. Even her patience ran out eventually.
“How much longer?” Kay asked, again.
“We should be there soon, actually.” Nana checked the pod’s clock and smiled. “Really soon. Probably within the hour.”
A warmth filled her at the prospect of being on land once again. Kay-El said, “Finally,” jumped up, caught a handhold with her tail and hung there. Swinging back and forth, like she’d done for the past three hours, she hummed softly to herself. All her life, humming and singing were some of her favorite things to do. Her adopted father, Wiz Coliflo, even nicknamed her ‘Songbird.’ He always joked she sang before she talked.
From the ground, a small, black kitten eyed her carefully. He looked around as if trying to determine the best route to join his acrobatic friend. It pounced gracefully atop the chair, then the dashboard and finally landed atop Kay’s outstretched arm. The girl giggled and lost her grip, both tumbling to the ground. The cat landed on its feet but the child did not.
“For someone who didn’t want to go to Earth, you sure seem eager,” Nana teased. Knowing they were closer helped her regain some measure of patience and composure.
Kay-El just stuck her tongue out at her guardian and rubbed at her back where it had hit the floor. The kitten pounced again, landing on her chest, and the girl’s delighted giggles echoed merrily through the pod. “If we’re going to be stuck there, I guess I have to accept it. I’ll just make sure to earn as much money as I can so I can go and find my brother on Namek!” And just like that, the cat held Kay’s attention once more. “I know! I’ll call you Pounce, because you’re so good at it…” Her fingers scratched the kitten behind the ears and the small feline purred, giving lazy, scratchy kisses in return. They’d found the kitten huddled and scared, a stowaway on their escape from Shikk, and the girl bonded quickly with the feline. Both were quick to love and eager for companionship, or so Nana Ban had commented.
Nana let the two play and pass time, the kitten offered a distraction to the tedium of space travel. “Are we there yet?” Kay asked half an hour later and Nana took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, calmly.
“No. Stop asking, Kay-El.” She hesitated and reached for the binoculars they’d found stashed away earlier in the trip. “Wait...I can see it.” The blue and green planet beckoned, welcoming them. As if on cue, the pod gave a sudden lurch, tossing everyone except for Pounce off their feet as it picked up speed. “We’re entering atmosphe-”
A loud, high-pitched BEEP interrupted her followed by more and the pod shuddered violently. Kay-El shrieked in that way only little girls could and held on to something, everything, anything stable enough to keep her from hitting the walls. “What’s happening? This...this is normal, right?” Her heart beat loud enough anyone within miles probably heard.
“No, something’s wrong…” Nana yelled over the BEEP, BEEEEP. “I think the regulator is broken-”
Kay screamed again. “We’re gonna crash? No, no, no, no…we’re gonna die!”
Nana Ban ignored her and opened a panel on the wall to examine the wires within. “We are not going to crash.” Kay-El stopped screaming. “Just...find something to hold on to, strap yourself in...it’s gonna be a bumpy landing. If I can fix the regulator…”
The child did as instructed for once, huddling into a crawlspace and gripping the handholds tightly with each limb.
Nana fidgeted with a part in the console. Kay-El shrieked again as sparks flew, flinching and huddling in on herself further. At only five and a half, far too young to die, Kay-El’s terrified screams persisted. When Uncle Sam told her the journey would be ‘full of peril,’ she hadn’t expected the danger until after she at least landed. So far the trip, a complete disaster, desired little to envy. Her attempts to sneak out in the hour before dawn thwarted by a mysterious attack bore no fruit, and then Pea found her. After that, obstacle after obstacle stood in her way until she finally came face to face with archenemy and adoptive mother, Pea. Maybe it was wrong, or bad, but she hoped Pea perished that night.
After the Asteroid Field knocked them off course from Namek, Kay-El believed the worst setbacks to be over, or hoped, anyway. Now with this malfunction, the girl began to wonder how much worse it could get.
The pod began to vibrate, the metal wall heating up uncomfortably and Kay pushed away from it. Through the window she glimpsed flames, reminding her of the fires of war as she fled her home on Shikk. Nana told her later the Arcosians attacked, the same people that murdered her father in cold blood and space. With another, sudden lurch, Kay-El returned to the present. Outside, Earth loomed closer, details sharpening fast. Trees and ocean and a vast, brown area they hurtled straight towards.
A click and a sigh came from the direction of the panel and Kay-El focused her attention there, and her caretaker looked back at her. The Pod slowed back to a pace somewhere between their first speed and just now.
“I’ve fixed the regulator…” Nana said. “But the landing gears don’t work. Brace yourself, it’s going to be a bumpy landing.” The older Saiyan took her own advice, belting herself into the seat. She reached out a hand for Kay which the young girl took, her own small, webbed fingers fitting easily in Nana’s. “Come here…”
‘Bumpy’ was one word for it but Kay thought of quite a few more adequate. ‘Turbulent,’ ‘hectic’ and ‘frightening’ to name three. Kay-El sat on Nana’s lap like they were back home, Nana reading or sewing or doing her hair with Kay content to let the world exist around her for a few precious moments. If the perilous trip to Earth taught one thing to the Demon-Saiyan Hybrid, it was that nothing worth having came without a cost. A lesson she already knew well but had forgotten, this trip served as a deadly reminder to keep close all she held dear. Life, fleeting as a rainbow, appeared much too high a cost.
Her arms tightened around Nana’s neck and her guardian held her closer, one hand gently stroking and tracing the patterns of the wings tattooed on the child’s back. Stars gave way to the light of night on Earth, reflected by the moon above, and the flamed danced around the pod like something all consuming and terrible. Kay buried her face in Nana’s neck and saw no more of it.
The tap on her shoulder came entirely too quickly after she’d finally fallen asleep. “There’ll be none of that, we need to get a move on before it gets too hot. We’ll take a break around high sun for a couple of hours, you can nap then, Birdie.”
Half tempted to roll over and ignore her guardian, Kay’s stomach growled at the smell of the food Nana set out for them. One again, Kay-El thanked her lucky stars for the Shikkian woman, Mary, who packed enough food for ten for the mere picnic story Kay fabricated that fateful morning. The memory of Mary’s pale face in death haunted her dreams. Never an unkind word to say about anyone, Mary always knew how to solve any problem be it physical, mental or emotional. Shikk lost not only a fine chef, but wonderful person, too. Only a day passed, but it felt like a lifetime in that pod, going over those last moments on Shikk during the worst of it..
“Wear these,” Nana said, and Kay-El frowned at the heavy clothing. “There’s no room in the bag and think of it like a test, or a game…”
“Fiiiine,” she said and donned the gear. She’d show Nana who could wear weight with the best of them, even if they felt like they’d do nothing but slow her down. Her complaint fell on deaf ears as Nana studied the map again.
Breakfast, another meager assortment of bread and meat, passed quietly in the Pod. The two decided to eat enough to get by to preserve their rations for the trek to civilization. Who knew how far they’d have to go? Sure, they might open the door of the crashed and now disabled Pod and find civilization right outside or, more likely, they’d have to walk an hour or more to get anywhere safe.That the Pod neither shattered nor remained on fire felt like a miracle, at least they’d had shelter during the night.
The morning scared them more than night for now they faced the big, wide, world of Earth ahead. Their broken and abused Pod beyond repair, the two opened the door and the bright, morning sun beat down on them a harsh and unforgiving master. Sand surrounded them and the pod but not the soft, white sands of Shikk - this sand threatened to rub them raw with its coarse and harsh texture. Kay frowned, kneeling in it and immediately regretting it as the tiny crystals dug into her knees through her pants. The bare soles of her feet, how she preferred to tread on Shikk, felt the hot bite of them against her skin.
“I hate this place,” she said, her tone acidic enough to melt through metal or stone. She took another violent last bite of her share of that morning’s bread, bottom lip stuck out in a pout as she chewed. “I hate the way the sand feels! What’s wrong with it? Why is it so coarse? And hot, it’s so hot here and where are all the trees or birds or, well, anything she whined, and Nana let her throw her tantrum hoping the girl would tire herself out.
“I know, Birdie...give it a chance. Once we’re out of the desert maybe you’ll find something to like, after all,” Nana said cheerfully, which did nothing to assuage Kay-El’s damp mood. And so Nana busied herself getting ready for the trip and ignored the emotional child. A person could only be angry for so long while being ignored and the little girl finally gave in and started helping, testing the sand with her toes and taking its measure.
She knew better than to kick it, that way only lead to the sand getting everywhere and in the eyes if she didn’t exercise caution. Together they packed for the trek west. Eventually, if they headed west long enough and far enough, they had to hit water, or so that’s what Nana said. Nana, who apparently had traveled to Earth before, filled her dual roles as both her guide and guardian and Kay-El took the Saiyan woman at her word. More often than not, Nana had the right of it and never gave Kay bad advice. So far, the child still reserved judgement on this whole ‘liking Earth’ thing, but she gave her Nanny the benefit of the doubt. Like Mary, Nana never steered her wrong.
Kay already felt the weight of sand in her hair, the grit against her pale flesh. She had a bad feeling about this trip and the things they might encounter on it. But if some weird, dark sand turned out their direst foe, the two off-worlders stood very good chances, indeed.
Instead of treading on the sand, the two females took to the air, but the exertion of flight soon dragged at them and their speed lagged. They got about two minutes into their journey the first time before Kay realized she’d forgotten her hairbrush, another five minutes into the journey before they turned back again because Nana forgot her phone. Figuring the third time the charm, fifteen minutes into that trek, the young hybrid realized she’d left another, very important thing behind. Kay-El stopped, mortified, and by the look on her face Nana believed something terrible had happened.
“We forgot Pounce!” she said. She turned and flew back in a blurring speed toward the remnants of their sorry Pod to go and find her cat.
The mess of metal debris, shattered glass, Pod parts and wires looked daunting to the five and a half year old. “Pounce!” she called, searching high and low for the small, black ball of fur. The kitten was defenseless in this harsh environment and Kay’s mind came up with all sorts of mad scenarios to frighten herself with. What if he’d gotten buried alive? Or maybe he was stuck under some metal after the crash, confused and alone and bleeding out but unable to make noise. Each scenario more unlikely than the last, they progressed until, finally, when Kay-El heard a soft meow she didn’t know whether to believe it or not. Real or not real? Truth or mirage? Didn't people see untrue things in the desert? That’s what she’d heard, anyway.
“Kay-El!” Nana called, using her full name which, in Kay’s experience, meant serious business. “Over here! I found him, he’s here.”
Kay was over in a flash, all blue-green wings and blurring speed as she landed beside her Nanny and the small bundle of fur in Nana Ban’s hands. The hybrid’s webbed fingers gently took him from her as Kay-El searched the small kitten for any signs of damage. “I think he’s just been knocked out from the crash...but that’s an awful long time. I hope he’ll be okay…” Kay looked up at Nana her big, dark blue eyes pleading with her Nanny to make sure Pounce would be fine. Those blue eyes, so different than anyone else’s, all that midnight blue the color of the ocean’s deepest, most secret depths and no hint of white any other color. That blue consumed the whole eye enough to drown in.
“Give him some water, keep him out of the sun and we’ll go from there…” Nana said and Kay practically tripped over her own two feet to comply. “But we really must go, now.”
Walking through the desert, Kay-El realized just how very far from home she’d gone. The harsh, bright sun and dry, coarse, scratchy sand made her miss the soft white sands of home on their beautiful shores. Shikk thrived on their port cities and towns, and Kay-El grew up on the beach. Now, far from any source of water, she found her stamina wavering, each step harder than the last. At first they’d flown and when they tired of that, the two switched to walking. The kitten, safely tucked away in a small bag Kay-El carried as if, if she didn’t treasure it, it might catch fire in all this heat.
Between the two of them, Nana took the lion’s share of the burden that their rations and things provided, with Kay-El carrying one jug of water and her own pack. And, of course, Pounce in his very own bag. A soft meow sounded and he poked his head out. Relief gave her a second wind, so she stopped and cupped a bit of water in one hand. The thin webbing between her fingers kept it from spilling over as the kitten lapped at the liquid hastily. One handful, all they could spare, and Pounce looked up at her expectantly. “I’m sorry, Pounce, that’s all until we rest - Nana said so.” As bad as she felt, it seemed Pounce understood because he clambered up onto her shoulder and plopped there like he always sat there. Kay smiled, rubbing behind his ears before resuming their pace once more.
“The sun’s almost at its peak,” Nana said and gestured toward a rocky outcropping offering some shade. “Why don’t we rest there through the worst of it and get some sleep? We can travel during the night, when it’s cool.”
No stranger to hard work, Key-El felt ready for a break for the last hour or so. Her pale skin burned under the unforgiving, desert sun and she bee-lined for the rocky oasis. That first step into shade felt like stepping into her room after a ‘bout with Pea’s abuse. Putting her back to a wall, Kay set Pounce down and slid to join him. The cat, it seemed, found the sand just as confounding as Kay did.
Nana bustled in the center, putting their things down and straightening their reserves into some semblance of order. Later, Kay-El figured she’d be grateful. Now she just wanted a few moments to recover. Never in her life had she faced such harsh conditions as these. When her father, Wiz, took her into the mountains she believed snow and ice to be the worst weather in existence - but Earth proved her so, so wrong.
“So…” she said softly, but Nana heard and looked her way. “How much longer before we can get off this planet again?” Her head shook, both lids blinking over dark eyes as Kay tried to focus.
“When we reach civilization,” Nana paused and Kay made a face, nose scrunching in disbelief. “And we will reach civilization...we need to get a new ship before we can even think of going somewhere else.”
“Oh, I think that might take longer than you think, ya filthy monkeys.” Kay jumped and looked up, and up, and up at the band of pirates that descended seemingly from above. “Now hand over all yer goods and we’ll be on our way - and you on yers…” He paused, leering down at the child. “Or maybe you’d make good slaves. You don’t seem like much…tie ‘em up, you never know who they’ll pay for these days.”
That was the last thing she heard before something hard hit the back of her head and she fell into blackness.
Slowly, as if in stop-motion, the world came into focus around her. Her shoulders ached, the joints felt like something pulled at them constantly and both wrists felt raw, sore. Wheels turned in the distance, the sound of them churning over sand grating to her slightly pointed ears. And the world still belonged to the dark as she blinked over and over again. Kay’s breathing picked up and the child tried to sit before realizing her wrists were tied to her ankles and the bonds were tight.
Cool metal pressed against her face when she moved. The cloth wrapped around her head caught on something and Kay-El pulled and pushed against it until she could see, although she almost regretted it - almost.
She was in the back of a car laid out across the seat. Nana was sprawled across the floor, also bound, blindfolded and unconscious. The bland, beige of the desert through the window told her they hadn’t gone far - or at least, she hoped not too far. Their bags sat next to and on top of Kay, weighing her down almost as much as the heavy weights Nana made her wear. They made her feel sluggish, slow, less effective, but she didn’t have time to take them off. She needed to come up with a plan now and worry about everything else later.
Thinking back to things she learned back home, teachings from her crazy, abusive, adoptive mother, Pea, what got drilled into her skull first and foremost? Think about how to use your surroundings to your advantage - think about how to turn the table and win. Just when Kay believed Pea to be in a past left far behind her, she could still hear the Sergeant's voice as if they stood in the same room.
What else surrounded her? There had to be something she could use… A nail on the side of a window jutted out a bit, the snag she’d used to take off the blindfold, no doubt. Could she also use it to cut through the rope? She tried brute strength, but the weights just seemed to sap her strength - that, and she felt sluggish physically, like moving through invisible quicksand. Perhaps they drugged her? That explained a lot. Kay reached for the nail, but it remained just out of reach, unable to aid her a second time.
Maybe if she got the door open she’d roll out...and then what? Either the ropes broke or not, and if not, well, Kay-El would be stranded and picked up again with relative ease by the very captors that held them now. And besides, that pan didn’t help Nana, and she refused to leave her guardian behind. If she just got one hand free…
The vehicle came to a stop with a jolt and Kay rolled a little with the motion. “Alright, everyone out,” one of the pirates said. “Secure the loot, make sure they’re...comfortable.” The man laughed and it sent shivers down the child’s spine, raising the fine hairs on the back of her neck. A solid piece of glass, dark and almost menacing for an inanimate object, separated her and Nana from whoever sat up front.
And where did Pounce wind up? Did they leave him behind? The thought briefly caused panic, her heart beat just a little faster, before she forced herself to calm down. Pounce, wherever he was, would be just fine. Maybe if she kept telling herself that, she’d believe it. The fact that she only thought of her pet now spoke volumes for the ‘being drugged’ theory.
The door supporting her weight opened and she felt that whooshing feeling as she fell back, her shoulder hitting the ground first. As the rest of her followed, she bit her lip to keep in any sounds of pain, any signs of weakness. These pirates didn’t deserve the satisfaction of thinking they’d hurt her. Grubby hands gripped her arm hard enough to bruise a human. These men channeled their Ki into brute strength, Kay-El noticed. Nana taught her how to look for the signs of Ki use, but it seemed so much easier in theory. Now, in practice, she doubted herself. After all, Ki Sense, something she worked on, still seemed so far from being mastered.
Short, stubby nails dark with dirt and grime dug into the pals flesh of her upper arm as they roughly dragged her to a post. For a moment, she thought they might untie her. They didn’t speak, barely gave her more than a cursory glance to make sure her ropes were tight, before they secured her to a wooden post and left her there. Alone, she looked around. The pirate’s base lived in shadow, located in the belly of some unknown cave, it seemed the perfect respite from the harsh, desert conditions.
The sight of Nana, awake and being manhandled by the pirates, finally made Kay break her silence. “Let us go! You have no idea who you’re dealing with! When I get out of here I’m gonna kick your fat butts! Let me go, let me go, let me go!”
All around her the pirates looked on, astonished, and then burst into laughter. Of all the possible reactions, that one hurt the most - it told her they didn’t take her seriously and why should they? The hybrid fell into silence as they secured Nana to the post next to her. “Make the call,” one of them said. “We’re to have an auction, tonight, to go with dinner.”
The cave practically bustled with energy as pirates prepared for their guests. Preparing, for Sand Pirates, looked a lot more like putting out bottles upon bottles of booze and a table piled high with food to serve as a buffet. Maybe she and Nana could impress someone enough to buy them and then make their escape. She brought that up to Nana who shot it down with a quick ‘But what if we’re not bought by the same person?’
Back the the drawing board, Kay-El pondered this new dilemma. If they got separated, what hope did they have of escape without each other? No, they had to make their escape sooner rather than later, but the two captives never stood a chance while the pirates planned their party. Their posts graced center stage, the grand focus of the event, guests of honor and so they never had a moment unobserved.
Slowly, the drug cleared her system and the humans let them up one at a time to use the bathroom. It felt methodical, practiced, she and Nana weren’t the first these pirates abducted and wouldn’t be the last, either. Unless she did something about it. But what could a five year old do against the kind of people who found joy in beating down others? When she left Shikk, Kay believed the worst experiences with others to be behind her. Pea abused her, but she also helped raise her. Kay understood a little better that saying about devils you know versus the ones you don’t.
Everything on Earth felt different and new and scary;. With each passing moment spent on this stupid rock, Kay-El liked Earth less and less. Every plan she came up with felt worse than the last. No, they’d never slip their ropes without being noticed. No, she’d never reach her bag, which the pirates set down feet away, and too far for even her tail to reach. When the first of the affluent strangers walked through the curtain that served as the door, Kay-El sat slumped, dejected, against her post.
The Buyers came, dressed to impress each other more than the pirates they bought from. Head Pirate, or so Kay determined, raised a bottle of some dark alcohol and said, “Alright, ladies and gentlemen. You know why we’re here.” He wandered over to one of the curtains that served as a wall and pulled on a tasseled cord. It fell like a crimson wave to the floor revealing a line of at least ten more potential slaves behind it. Looking them over, the bunch didn’t seem like much. Three women getting on in years of various species, another two whose gender remained a complete and utter mystery to Kay and five men who looked like they’d been strong once upon a time but went soft around the edges in recent years. All different species, all serving potentially different purposes - these pirates really tried to please everyone. Or did they? Kay was the youngest person in the room out of all the slaves by at least forty years.
“The silent bid will begin after dinner,” the pirate said, gold glinting in his toothy smile. He raised the bottle again and said, “Eat, drink and be merry, my friends...for tomorrow I shall be rich!” The pirate lowered the bottle to his lips and drank straight from it while others drank from cups or goblets or whatever was on hand. All the while, Kay-El couldn’t stop the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
As the night wore on, men and women in fancy clothes perused the potential ‘purchases.’ They didn’t speak to the chattel, clearly above that, but they did spend ‘quality time’ with each. One man grabbed Kay by the arm as if sizing up how much muscle she had, she flexed to show she’d put up a fight. Another tried groping at her chest and she bit him on the arm. As the night wore on and on and on, the hour grew later. The girl’s eyes began to droop and she’s shift her position to one less...comfortable to keep herself awake. She wouldn’t let them see her sleep, to sleep was to be vulnerable and she refused to let them see her weak.
Nana took it all like a champion and Kay wondered how she didn’t get angry or lash out. Instead, she let them look and gawk and fumble in the dimly lit cave. Feeling torn between wanting to be like Nana and not being able to behave as well, Kay kept up with her usual antics. Her nanny cast her reassuring smiles whenever she caught Kay looking, which made Kay think that maybe what she was doing wasn’t so bad, after all.
As all evenings do, this one wound down eventually and the pirate announced the end of the affair. “Alright, out with yeh, all of yeh. My crew’ll be going over the bids tomorrow and if yeh win yeh’ll be contacted to come and collect yer winnings by sundown. Fail to do so and the next person on the list gets ‘em, instead. Understood?”
Nods and general sounds of consent resounded through the cave before one by one, like they’d come in, the Buyers filed out. Kay learned that they weren’t buying for themselves, most like, they probably had someone they worked for that wanted a slave but didn’t like getting their own hands dirty. If someone had told Kay-El last week she’d face off with Pea, flee Shikk, land in a horrible desert on Earth, get captured by pirates and never find her brother...she’d have told them exactly where they could shove the piece of crap they peddled. Oh, how the tables did turn.
Kay tried to stay away, tried to be the brave little bird her father always believed her to be before he passed away. But the hours wore on and her little body gave in to slumber eventually. Uncomfortable on the floor and in her bindings, if someone told her to sleep she’d tell them how impossible that would be. Alas, hours after the party ended, she slept like a baby from the stress of the day and sheer exhaustion.
Deep in a dreamless sleep, her young form stirred as something brushed her leg. The girl twitched, eyes shooting open, and felt it again. The sensation of something, a mouse or rat or something with fur brushing against her skin. Her heart beat so fast in her chest she felt it in her ears thinking it loud enough to wake the sleeping pirates in the dining hall. Many passed out where they stood as the party continued long after the Buyers left, others stumbled off to who knew where and Kay-El, Nana and the other slaves got separated once more.
That strange sensation happened again, soft as a feather, this time at her ankle and she looked down. Slowly, her eyes adjusted to the dark and the familiar shape of her cat, Pounce, took form. Letting out her breath in a rush she almost spoke then thought better of it, wishing she could pet the kitten’s sleek, soft, black fur. At least Pounce was okay… It took her a few extra long moments to realizes Pounce wasn’t being idle - he was pulling at the end of a rope sticking out of a complicated looking knot, little claws out and scratching at the hempen line, too. It broke her heart that the kitten tried although she doubted its efficiency.
A sharp tug and then the ropes went slack. Able to get one foot out and her tail free, she took over picking at her own ropes until they fell away. Picking up the kitten she kissed him on the forehead before setting him on her shoulder where he liked to perch. A few more steps and she put a hand over Nana’s mouth and woke her with a gentle “Shhhh.”
Kay-El made short work of her custodian’s bonds and the two stood. The child grabbed her bag from the floor and Pounce jumped into it as if he knew he’d be out of the way there. They crossed the stone floor carefully and made it about halfway across when Kay-El thought about the other slaves. She shot Nana a look and the elder Saiyan shook her head ‘no’ and mouthed ‘too risky.’
The five year old’s shoulder slumped a little, just briefly, and then straightened once more. Those other people got themselves into this mess just like Nana and Kay did, they could get themselves out, too. The best Kay and Nana could do for them in that moment would be to get out and find the authorities, to report this slavery ring and get those responsible punished.
Silently, she vowed to do just that, and the two took to the air so their feet would make no sound as they got closer to where guards stood. They faced outward, not expecting any threat from the inside, and Kay-El closed her eyes. Crossing her arms, she touched each shoulder with the opposite hands and began to sing in a soft, eerie tune, focusing on one guard. Her target began to nod off and the other turned, the look of surprise on his face a new memory to cherish for eternity. And then Nana struck him down and caught him before he made a sound landing on the cave’s floor.
The two slipped past and down a long corridor the pirates carried them through on their arrival. They took out the next set of guards the same way but the actual exit proved a larger problem. Not too guards this time, but six, and they all carried weapons. Not that either the full-blooded or half-blooded Saiyan cared about bullets, but these pirates also used Ki to enhance their brute strength.
Nana looked at her and nodded towards the one on the left, pointed to herself, then gestured to the one on the right. Kay nodded and headed left - they’d take out the two guys on the side and hope luck remained at their side for the other four.
The two struck in unison, Kay hitting the back of one pirate’s skull and hearing a reassuring crack as he fell to the floor in a slumping heap. Blood seeped from the wound but she turned to face her next opponent, seeing Nana already disabled the pirate on her side. Now, two against four, she felt the odds turn in their favor.
One raised his gun and Kay ripped it from his grasp, letting it fall and hit the first guard she’d dropped. He swung one large, clunky arm and she dodged, a foot sweeping out and around and connecting with his chest. He opened his mouth to yell and she stuck her foot in it, aiming to come out the other side, and heard his jaw snap. He passed out and joined his friend on the ground as she pulled free. Looking up, all three guards remained and she brought her hands up to her temples, two fingers on each hand touching her head there. Channeling her Ki through her voice once more she brought her arms out and focused on one of the guards, splitting her focus and they dropped. Nana took out another and the two beat down the last together. No time to rest, the two exchanged a look before escaping back into the desert but this time, nothing ever tasted so much like freedom as that open, vast expanse of sand, sky and stars.
At first, they picked a direction and fled. It didn’t matter where they went, as long as the route ended far, far away from the pirates. They’d left enough dead, maimed and injured in their wake that even if the pirates did find them, it felt more likely they’d be killed instead of sold. Without their map and half their rations lost, the two desperately searched for civilization. Back home, the stars served in place of maps when needed, but these stars loomed cold and unfamiliar, unhelpful in all their distance. It felt like they watched the mortals play; laughing, mocking, not caring what happened to those solely for amusement.
Kay-El knew it wasn’t true, her studies proved that much, but she couldn’t help feeling lost and afraid in that unfamiliar, harsh land. She hadn’t wanted to come to Earth, she wanted to go to Namek with it’s beautiful islands and trees and people. Here, everything from the environment to the natives seemed to want her dead. Maybe the child was being over dramatic, but she didn’t think so.
They flew through the night, sticking close to the rocky outcroppings as long as they could until even those abandoned the two aliens. With even less defense from both the elements and other beings, it wasn’t until almost two hours into their escape the two spoke. “I feel bad we left all those people behind,” Kay said softly.
“There was nothing we could do to help them without getting caught again or, worse, if the pirates caught us helping them they might have beaten them or us,” Nana said sensibly. “We’ll go to the authorities once we reach a town or something and shut those pirates down once and for all. With any luck,” Nana said, turning to look at Kay, the look in those dark, loving eyes deep and serious. “The Blue Banner Army will find a list of past ‘sales’ and be able to help those people. And we can help stop them from doing this to more people in the future.”
Kay nodded and stopped, letting her bare feet touch the ground. It felt cool against her hot skin and Nana landed beside her. “I was so scared...I didn’t want to separate from you. You’re all I have left…”
The woman pulled her into a tight hug and Kay broke; hot, wet tears slid down her cheeks, soaking Nana’s shirt but neither cared. They stayed like that a few moments longer than was probably wise but both needed the touch of another living creature, the reassurance that they had someone else in their lives that would be there for them no matter what. They both cried for the innocence Kay lost in that cave, she’d had precious little left after Pea finished with her back on Shikk and this just drained even more forcing the young hybrid to grow up too fast.
When they started moving again they slowed down, conserving strength, each taking a single sip from the one remaining water jug before pressing onward. It didn’t help. Kay swore that one sip made her thirst worse rather than quenching it. Even at night, this place sucked the life out of you, drying you out bit by bit until nothing remained. No one would come looking for them here and even if they did, they’d be unlikely to find them. The future looked dry and brittle and bleak, and Kay soon found it hard to keep her eyes open.
“Just a little longer, Birdie,” Nana said, resting her own tired hand on Kay’s head briefly. So brief, so fleeting, Kay knew just from that light touch Nana felt as bone-deep tired as she did. It used to make her mad Nana kept using that nickname for her, the one her adoptive father Wiz gave her, but over time she healed and to this day Nana was the only one allowed to do that. Well, her and Uncle Sam, but that was different. Sam was a demon who taught her how to use her Ki, their relationship was odd, to say the least.
If it was possible to walk and sleep at the same time, on purpose, Kay would have done it then. As time passed, the more they walked the more tired she grew until Nana’s voice jolted her out of a stupor. “Huh? What’d you say?” she asked a bit sheepishly.
“I said, I think I see something,” Nana said and pointed.
There, just ahead, loomed some kind of strange structure. At the very least, maybe it could provide a safe place to sleep. Kay took to the air once more, excited, and blissfully unaware of the potential dangers or pitfalls to this plan. In the darkness the metallic structure got closer and closer and then Kay froze when she got close enough to see.
Having forgotten to fly in those brief moments, she fell to the sand without a sound. The structure was their very own, crashed pod.
As they approached the Pod, it became clear others visited after they left. Now the door hung precariously on its hinges, swaying with the breeze, and the things inside that hadn't been thrown by the crash now lay strewn all over the floor. Some things vanished completely, integral parts to a functioning vessel missing in their entirety - scavengers found and decimated the remains of the Pod.
“That’s alright,” Nana said after Kay exclaimed about the missing things. “They’ll make someone else happier than they’d have made us, I assure you.” That, more than anything, brought the world back into focus.
Exhausted, her emotions ran amok, making the missing things into a bigger deal than she needed to be. Slowly, methodically, the two got to work salvaging what remained. The door fit back in the frame but no longer locked. Stripped of pillows, blankets and mattresses, the bed frames still stood. “If we stayed here would the scavengers have helped us?” she asked curiously.
“I doubt they’d have approached if they thought we were still here,” Nana said distractedly as she checked the bathroom’s water supply. All dry, she checked some hidden compartment Kay-El never even noticed and found a spare water jug. “I forgot about this, it’s not standard for these pods to carry them but...your father put it in because ‘you never know when you’ll need a fast getaway...or how long it’ll take to get you to safety.’ But anyway...if we’d stayed I’m sure we’d have been stranded just the same.”
Her eyes welled with tears she didn’t let fall, face tight. It sounded like something Wiz said. Having cried more than enough water from her body already that day, the shed more now helped no one. Wasteful, to rid the body of water while in a desert. Then it hit her, they had morewater and suddenly thirst clawed at her throat, choking her from the inside. Nana didn’t see, Kay turned away and fought her battle in silence, and when she turned back around Nana set the jug with their things. Their eyes met and Nana handed her the jug as if she just knew. Kay-El didn’t drink deeply, but she did drink.
“He didn’t pack any snacks, did he?” she half joked and Nana smiled, took the jug back, and set it with their things once more.
“I don’t believe so…” she said. “That would have been nice, hmmm? Anyway, have you decided where you’ll sleep tonight?”
In the end, they settled on the bunks. Kay-El took a small blanket out of her bag. The white cloth frayed around the edges had little bunnies and bears dancing all about. Her literal security blanket, she’d had it since she’d been a baby. As the first gift her father ever gave her she had to bring it with her. Setting it on the top bunk, Kay-El headed back to the floor so they could have some dinner.
All that remained of their food came down to several loafs of bread, a slim portion of meat, cheese and the water. The fruit they ate first since it would go bad first, then the vegetables and some meat. Not knowing how long they had to stretch the food, they split up the rest of the meat and had a couple mouthfuls of water each.
“Now what?” Kay asked, mouth stretching wide mid-way through a yawn. Two dainty little ‘fangs’ showed when she did but Nana didn’t mind.
“Now,” Nana said, packing their bags for the next day. “You sleep, I’ll keep watch.” Kay-El, about to protest, got cut off by Nana. “And I’ll wake you when it’s your turn to keep watch, alright, Birdie?” Dawn light filtered through the windows and Nana looked over. “I’ll wake you in about six hours. Now go get some sleep.”
“I’m not ti-ti-tired,” she stuttered through another yawn, tired eyes set on Nana in a very stubborn look the full-time Nanny knew well.
“Off with you,” she said, gesturing toward the bare bunk beds. “You’ll be no help on this trip as bone tired as you are. Go to sleep, Kay-El.”
The child looked up as if stung by the use of her full first name and got up, heading slowly towards the bed. Instead of climbing the ladder she flew up, settling atop the hard, metal bed and pulled the blanket up over her. Uncomfortable, hard, the flat metal made it hard to find a position she felt able to sleep in. And although the child thought she’d never get to sleep, within ten minutes her breathing deepened, her heart rate slowed and she drifted into a dreamless sleep the kind only true exhaustion can give you. The next thing she knew, Nana shook her gently awake and said “It’s time for your shift, Birdie…mine was uneventful. Yours should be, too.”
And it was. After perching herself in a tiny, shaded area atop the wrecked ship, Kay frowned. Silence, except when the wind blew, and then sand rained everywhere. During those winds she took cover in her hidey hole but when they died down she went out and paced the small top of the pod. And then the heat presented another problem and she cowered in the little shade she had. Random itches, easily sated, but a symptom of the more dire, underlying issue: boredom.
Keeping watch was boring.
What she expected, she had no idea, but this idle monotony wasn’t it. She itched to train, but couldn’t scratch that one. For one, it was too hot, for another, she didn’t want to be distracted if something did happen! Every use of energy got evaluated before it happened in this wasteland, and ‘training’ wasn’t worth it, especially with their shortage of water. Even with the extra jug, the odds weren’t in their favor and they still had to be careful.
The day wore on. A lone bird circled in the distance. Soon it was joined by another, and another, until it became a small gaggle. They descended, scavenger birds from the looks of them, and Kay-El vaguely wondered what they found. Not enough to go look, but enough to keep her curious for a little while. But even that couldn’t stay her from the boredom too long.
Eventually, as one might expect from a five year old, she nodded off, softly snoozing under the sun’s warm gaze.
Shikk, a beautiful planet full of ocean side towns and port cities. And her home, the manor her family resided in as they ruled under the SSE. The town felt quiet that day as Kay and her father, Wiz, found themselves at the beach. Children laughed and played, building all sorts of things in the sand including but not limited to buildings, ‘enemies,’ ‘friends,’ and shapeless blobs. Some adults and even a few children stared at Kay, but she was used to that by now. The strange looks were few and far between, her hybrid nature showing despite the very Saiyan tail permanently attached to her backside.
Her father’s face, the ever-present smile he wore whenever she was near, felt so familiar and foreign at the same time. She found out he’d died the morning of her fourth birthday, a whole year a half ago, and to someone as young as she was, that was a long time. But his features remained ingrained in her memory just as they’d been on their last day together, a day similar to now, on the beach taking a much needed break from life.
Lately, good dreams were hard to come by, and this one definitely fit that category. Ever since she fled Shikk and left it in flames, the ghosts of those who perished in the fire haunted her nightly visions. She treasured this as the gift is was. Time spent with her now deceased father was always welcome, even if it was only in a dream.
“Come on my little Songbird,” he said, and she smiled at the familiar nickname - the first one he’d given her. Always claiming she could sing before she talked, she was a daddy’s girl through and through. “Let’s go play in the water…”
But they never reached the water. No matter how far they walked, or ran, the water got further and further away and the soft, white sands of Shikk turned darker, coarser. A strong wind picked up and Kay grabbed onto her father’s hand, grip tight, never wanting to let go. She flinched, grip tightening further, as something wet and scratchy and invisible touched her cheek. Yet another thing pulling her from the memory of her father?
Deep down, Kay knew this had to be a dream. But dream or not, she wanted to stay.
Kay’s eyes opened and, not for the first time, stared into the slitted green eyes of her cat, Pounce. Soft, black fur surrounded those eyes, pink nose less than an inch from her own. Thrown from the dream, her beat beat erratically in her chest and she realized that might not be the only reason. Pounce’s fur stood on end and he hissed softly in a way Kay-El began to realize meant trouble.
Gently, she picked up Pounce and set him down atop the pod in the shade where he’d blend in. And then she got up and crept over the side. As she did, voices got closer. Male, Human or Saiyan, she’d guess from the past experience in this area. Were they scavengers? Or were they something far, more nefarious? Perhaps they just passed through and could help them find civilization! Curiosity getting the better of her, she peeked out over the edge and saw the two human men coming closer and the sight made her blood freeze in her body.
Pirates, two of them, from the same group that took her the last time. She ducked down and hoped they’d just keep walking, pass by the crashed pod, and they seemed to do just that until when they almost cleared it one turned back. “Wonder if there’s anything interesting here…if we go back empty-handed we’re on cleanup duty again.”
“Let’s check it out,” the other guy agreed. The first’s voice was almost pleasant but this second was gruff, nasty, and honestly scared the child a little bit.
The two thugs came closer and Kay-El peeked over the side of the pod once more. Garbed head to toe in light colored clothing, their skin and faces covered to keep out the sand and sun, there was little evident about their appearance underneath. Maybe they’d give up and go home, but that proved wishful thinking as they got closer to the door. “Stop!” she called out, standing to her fullest height - all thirty six inches. Her long, dark blue hair swung in its braid as she stared down at the two pirates.
At first, they looked around, confused, and then the shorter one spotted her and pointed up. She took the moment to jump down, a foot landing on each of their heads because they stood so close together, and flipped to land behind them.
From the ground she could see their eyes but now much else.
“Hey,” one of them said. “I know you...you’re one of the slaves that ran away...you two killed my friend!” Oh, great, just what she needed: smart pirates.
Or, not so smart. They charged and she took to the air, wings sprouting from the raised marking on her back. It seemed the air was out of their reach and she smiled, dainty little fangs showing.
“Wh-what are you?” the other one asked and her smile only grew.
“I’m about to teach rude boys a lesson…” she said simply and brought her hands up to her temples. As she channeled her Ki through her voice, she brought her arms out to her sides, hands in the familiar ‘gun’ position. Kay-El imagined cutting off doors in the taller one’s mind, blocking hm mentally and he fell to the ground, unconscious and quiet as a mouse. The shorter took one look at his fallen friend and ran for it, but Kay-El was faster in the air than she was on land and caught up to him quickly. “Nuh-uh., naughty, naughty boys get caughty…” And she did it again, concentrating on this other foe and he fell like his friend, face down in the sand. Slowly, she landed and checked their pulse - still alive but barely breathing. It didn’t take the half-Saiiyan long to haul them miles in a random direction and leave them there.
It took her a little longer to get back to the Pod but not by much, this time she took her time and looked from the air for miles in all directions. The sight of sand in each made her shoulders slump just a little, and then she saw it. A town or city on the horizon, beckoning and welcoming. At least now she knew which direction to go. Something else, something that [i[moved[/i[, caught her eye as she spotted a long train of people and vehicles moving through the desert at a slow pace.
“Run into any trouble?” Nana asked as Kay entered the pod. Her warm, brown eyes stayed on the child as Kay closed the door behind her.
“Nothing I couldn’t handle...but we may want to get a move on sooner rather than later.” She explained about the pirates over a meager breakfast, and about the city and weird group of people she saw on the horizon. If they flew they’d cover more ground more quickly, or that was the idea, anyway.
“The group may have been a caravan, and we might be able to buy a ride with them...it offers more protection from pirates and scavengers, but it can also be risky and slow.” Nana’s voice was calm, rational, and she started sorting through the things for them to carry. “We should go and meet them, see if they’ll take on some extra guards - pull our own weight and if they have food or water to spare barter with them…”
The only plan they had solidified, the two took off and in the direction Kay saw the Caravan heading. But the desert, like her dream, felt vast and the longer they flew the further the Caravan seemed. Distances looked funny, fuzzy, and warped. They began their fresh journey late afternoon but didn’t reach the caravan until after sundown when the people started setting up camp for the night. After the silent trip, the bustle and clatter of the caravan felt abrasive as Pounce’s tongue.
Larger than she thought from the air, as they got closer she realized there were way more people than the girl expected. Distance warped things, indeed, especially in the heat of the desert. Slow, cautious, the two landed a safe distance away and started on foot towards the gathered people who now focused on them.
About halfway, they met with two of the caravan’s people who came to greet them. “Hello,” Nana said diplomatically. Without her tail, Nana almost passed as human...almost. “We’re just looking for safe passage to the nearest city or town. We’ve got our own food,” she assure them. “And some water to our name.”
The man and woman that greeted them smiled. “My name’s Sashi Mi and this is my husband, Nigiri.” The husband gave a curt nod but it seemed he let his wife make most of the decisions, and the talking. “You’re welcome to make camp and move along with us...have you any other service to offer? We can always use more guards or entertainment.”
“I can help guard,” Nana said. Kay was about to say the same but Nana put a hand on her shoulder to still her. “Birdie here sings beautifully. We don’t want any trouble, just safety in numbers.”
Life improved drastically with the caravan on their side. While some people steered clear of the newcomers, others willfully traded food and water for other services. Nana, an expert at mending Kay-El’s clothing, offered that and other skills in return for small things they needed for survival. And Kay-El sang for them that first night, charming many, and she quickly became a favorite among the adults - especially those with children of their own.
Sure, some told their children to stay away from the stranger girl, but Kay-El already expected that. Back home on Shikk some of the purist families never came to visit unless they had to, not wanting to support the Coliflo’s choice in adopting the baby hybrid. She still had friends back home and she learned valuable lessons like ‘Those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.’ They played games like tag and catch while they took breaks, and for the first time since landing on Earth - no, the first time in almost a year - Kay had the chance to be a kid around other kids and just have fun.
Fun was hard to come by after Wiz passed away and Kay-El refused to see or meet with anyone for a good long while. When she finally did come out of her shell after meeting Sam, she started training with him until that consumed her whole life. Her friends eventually stopped checking on her or asking after her and moved on with their lives as children that age tend to do, and Kay-El fell more and more into solitude - but solitude had always been her friend. It didn’t abandon her or make her sad, and it never hurt her or abused her like Pea did. Solitude helped her escape whenever people or the world got too overwhelming. Solitude felt far, far away now and she realized what she’d been missing. Able to laugh, to play, the girl learned to socialize with other children again and began to smile more.
Nana liked to watch them play, often doing some sewing or training. Once a day, though, she made Kay-El train with her. Just because the two could relax a little more now didn’t mean they stopped training. Sometimes others joined them, and sometimes they trained alone, but they trained nonetheless. Five days into their journey Sashi announced they’d reach a town in a few days time where they could restock on supplies.
With an end in sight to their dastardly journey, Nana and Kay-El helped the caravan move a little faster at Sashi’s request. Everyone felt antsy to reach civilization and pushed hard that day.
It happened late afternoon.
The caravan moved through the sand, hasty to reach that town, when a loud crack ripped through the air. Someone screamed and then the people stopped. “What was that?” “What happened?” “Did you hear that?” Everyone spoke at once, none listening to others, as everyone tried to tell others what they thought it was. “Might be a gun…” “No, it’s probably an animal…” “Never heard an animal that sounded like that...it’s pirates, I tell you!” Finally Sashi managed to get everything under control.
“Sorry for the delay, everyone...one of the axles on the trailer broke.” She gestured toward the largest vehicle toting all their things. “Until it’s fixed, I’m afraid we’re stuck here or we have to leave it, carry what we can...abandon what we can’t.”
Naturally, this started the rounds once more. “I can’t leave my things!” “I just want to get there we can come back for things later…” “But scavengers will get it!” “We have to do what’s best...we can’t stay stranded here…” A few people came forward and said they might be able to fix it and, unable to come to any decision, the caravan stopped for the night.
Kay-El crept closer to the meeting Sashi held with the few engineers that stepped forward. “Not sure we have the materials to fix it,” one said and the other agreed.
“True, but if we can use materials from a smaller cart or tent...we might be able to get it working long enough to reach town. It can be fixed there for real.”
“How long?” Sashi asked and they took guesses. It looked like the meeting would last a while so Kay headed off, wandering through the people’s tents among the caravan, thinking about what she heard.
Kay-El never understood how adults could talk in circles about the same things and never get anything done. Deciding to make herself useful, she thought about the problem. Some wood, metal was better, but either could be used to get the trailer moving again. Naan down in the green tent had extra wood for her carpentry - perhaps she’d lend some for the fix. Kay-El went over and knocked on the metal framework a few times.
“Come in,” she heard, and Kay entered. The inside of the tent blocked out the worst of the heat and light and the five year old smiled in an attempt to appear friendly, disarming. “Ah, our little Songbird,” Naan said and smiled back. She had a small knife in hand and a piece of wood she whittled. A strong looking human, the human woman in her thirties was always nice to Kay despite being standoffish to most others.
She hoped her luck held up long enough to get the necessary materials.
“Hello, Naan,” she said and the woman smiled. She sat on a cushion on the floor and gestured for Kay-El to sit across from her. A small, electric device heated a teapot and ran on batteries, according to Naan. Kay-El smiled and accepted the cup of tea the human offered and said, “Thank you…”
“So, what can I do for you, little one?” Naan, of everyone there, seemed the most perceptive.
The young hybrid took a deep breath before saying, “Well, you know how we’re stuck here, right?” She spoke fast as if, if she didn’t, then she’d never get it out. Naan nodded and Kay barreled forward. “ Well the engineers needs some wood and I know you make these really awesome carvings and do you have any you can spare?”
Naan blinked, digesting the information Kay spit out all in one breath, and then sighed. “That wood is my livelihood. If I knew I’d be compensated for it then, yes, I’ll gladly part with some to help move us forward. However…” she gave Kay-El a shrewd look. “If you can gather the other materials necessary, nails and tools I imagine the engineers need as well, only then will I give up the wood.”
Kay-El’s eyes brightened and she took a sip of her tea. “Thank you!”
“Now, why don’t you tell me a bit about where you come from, I’ve never met anyone quite as interesting as you…and I might never again. Everyone has their own stories to tell, I’d like to hear yours, if you’re willing.”
Kay nodded and told her about Shikk, about losing her father and meeting an ‘Uncle’ who taught her how to use her Ki. She talked and talked for the better part of an hour until there was no more to tell save the parts she didn’t want told.
“Thank you, young bird, you’ve seen much during your flights, haven't you? In appreciation for your story…” Naan reached behind her and into her own bag, pulling out a small, carved, wrapped parcel. “Don’t look at it until after you get to town, alright?”
The child nodded and gave Naan a hug, having finished her tea long ago. “Thank you! Anyway, I’d best go…”
“Yes, I supposed you should…”
The next item on the list proved a little harder. Nails or adhesive, preferably both. As she meandered through the camp thoughts of the other people there filtered through her mind, glad she paid attention to them all to some degree. And then she saw the human children playing at arts and crafts and knew she had her work cut out for her.
Slowly, as if approaching a wild animal, Kay walked closer to the gathered humans. Part of the camp that decided she and Nana couldn’t be trusted, they’d all but shunned Kay-El. Polite when necessary, the most contact she’d had with them could be counted on the webbed fingers of one hand. “Um, hi,” she said softly, ignoring the stern, concerned look some of the mothers present cast her way. Walking over to them and not the children she met their eyes one at a time, only one of them didn’t flinch and she spoke to that one. “So, I’m Kay-El and I saw that the arts and crafts involve glue.”
They stared blankly at her and she took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. She could so do this. “What I mean is that the engineers need adhesive to get the trailer moving again and can they please borrow it so we can leave soon…” she rambled and knew it, eyes flicking down toward the ground briefly. No, no one would ever make her feel ashamed for what she was. A strong, beautiful, intelligent young girl whose genetics shouldn’t dictate anyone’s bigoted opinions. She raised her chin again and met their eyes unafraid and unflinching.
They called some super secret meeting and when they came back, from the grim looks on their face like they’d just lost someone near and dear, she thought they’d say no. But, instead, all they said was, “If you can get the other materials, we’ll let you have the glue - now go away, Saiyan scum.”
Kay-El went away or, more accurately, she fled.
Tools, tools, where could she find tools. As she hustled away from the crazy human moms and their sorry offspring, she ran straight into a man she recognized by face but never knew the name of. A big, burly man who tended to keep to himself and stay that way.
He sneered down at her as she looked all the way up at him. She took a step back and said, “I’m so sorry didn’t see where I was going and I should have been more careful, sir...I’m really-” she stopped when she saw what he wore at his belt. The multi-tool looked like it saw use regularly and wasn’t just a standard, run of the mill one, either.
Belatedly, she realized she stared too long and blushed a crimson that contrasted fantastically with her dark, blue hair and eyes. As she stood there she felt him judging her, as if, if he stared long enough, maybe she’d just disappear and get out of his way. Taking another step back, she released a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. “Sorry...I’ll just...go, now.”
Several very still moments passed and then the man burst into laughter. “It’s alright, really, just be more careful, alright?”
She looked up and the smile turning his lips upward transformed his face from ‘grumpy’ to ‘jovial’ just like that. Kay smiled back instinctively and, when he didn’t even flinch, she liked him even better for it. “Hi! I’m Kay,” she said, offering him her hand. Despite being only three feet tall she could make do with any situation as she took to the air, hovering at about eye level with him.
“I’m Chev,” he said, and shook her hand like he meant it. Not too hard, not too soft, he treated her like a person instead of like some doll that might break or like some weird space alien which, here, she supposed the was.
“Anyway, I saw your multi-tool and do you have other tools? Any chance I can borrow them? I mean...for the trailer, to help fix it. There are these engineers working on it but they don’t have any of the things to fix it with…”
“Got everything else? Maybe I can help you…” he said, another smile. Now that he smiled they seemed to come easy and Kay wondered if he got judged by his brash appearance like she did for her ‘strange’ one.
“Naan and the women over there,” she pointed towards the kids, “Said they’d lend it all if I got the tools.”
“Then let’s go get them,” he said and she smiled. Finally, something seemed to be going right for a change.
Half an hour later she had everything the engineers needed and she headed over to where they still sat, talking about the project, with Sashi. Naan, one of the moms and Chev all went with her. Kay knocked timidly on the door frame of the Capsule-house. “Um, excuse me...but the other people and I…we sort of want you guys to use these. Naan just needs to be paid for the wood since that’s how she earns money.” The three stared at her and her companions and she almost wished the ground could open and swallow her whole under their gaze. “Oh, and Chev wants his tools back…” And with that, she set everything down and headed off to find Nana and get some much needed sleep for the night. “Thanks guys!” she called to the others that tagged along.
In the morning, the world felt different. A little brighter, perhaps? Or maybe more cheerful or joyous or beautiful? Perhaps just her perception of it changed as people previously rude or unaccepting or wary of her greeted the young hybrid after hearing stories of how she ‘saved’ the caravan.
They moved at a slow pace due to the broken axle, but they didn’t need to move fast. Naan got her money and Chev got his tools back. All in all, everything seemed to be going swimmingly. The sun blazed high above but the promise of clouds lurked on the horizon just above the rooftops of the town the caravan headed straight toward. Steadfast and steady, the caravan moved. People smiled and laughed in better spirits, the proximity of civilization doing wonders for all.
It wasn’t until late afternoon when they were another half hour from the town that it all spun so far out of control.
A wall of dust kicked up out of nowhere and people screamed again. Worse than when the Axle broke, people genuinely began to panic, unable to see friend or foe or goods. Kay-El flew up, up above the sand, and looked down upon the caravan. Misty figures moved within but outside of it loomed other familiar beings. The pirates had found them! Had they really tracked her and Nana here after all this time? They really did seem determined to get them back one way or another. Perhaps leaving those two alive earlier was a mistake, should she have ended them then and there? Would that have spared them this wave of potential destruction and pain? And not just them, but Naan and Sashi and Nigiri and Chev...all the people she’d met in this caravan with their idiosyncrasies and whims and dreams.
One thing was certain: she wouldn’t let the pirates do to them what they’d done to her and Nana.
And then she spotted the other slaves. Chained, bound, captive - the slaves looked even more beaten down than when Kay saw them last. It occurred to her this encounter, while improbable, might have been chance. They didn’t follow her or hunt her down, they’d stumbled upon a caravan and saw potential. Somehow, that felt worse and as Nana flew up at her side, she pointed them out to her. “We need to do something…” she said.
“We will…” was all her Nanny said in return before flying straight at the pirates, wielding her cane like a staff.
The leader of the pirates, discernible from his funny hat, looked up at Nana and then past her straight at Kay. She looked back, determined not to let them have their way, but couldn’t help the shiver of fear making its way down her spine at the hateful look in those icy eyes.