CHAPTER TEN: THE TITAN EMPEROR

 

They reached King Cold's palace in exactly nine and a half minutes. Zarbon turned toward Salad. "Thanks for the earrings. I'll see you in a minute. I have some business to get over with. I love you."

Salad kissed him, then whispered in his ear. "I've still got you beaten at that game, love. Just be sure to call me before Cold kills you for letting her survive, 'k?"

"I'll try."

"Could you two get it over with? We have ten seconds left!"

"Your watch is wrong," Zarbon said, and opened the door anyway.

They met Neizu, one of Cold's three Ultimate Elite soldiers. To all appearances, he looked like an annoying red frog/lizard with a lanky build. No one would guess that he had a power level of 750,000. "I'm sorry, Mr. Zarbon, but Cold-Sama is indisposed of at this time. Sit down and wait your turn." He gestured to the rows of plastic chairs, almost none of which were filled.

"Ladies first," Zarbon said, and while Zangya was taking her seat, he whispered to Neizu. "Neizu, that girl over there might only be about as powerful as I am, but she's more capable than she seems and might still get away if..."

Neizu held his hand out, silently telling Zarbon to stop. He pointed behind and to his left. Zarbon saw Doore, another of the Elite, sitting there. Doore was also at 175,000, and most of his power was concentrated in his immense bulk. Doore looked back at Neizu, and gave him a thumbs-up sign. He was almost uglier than Dodoria, being a mound of green muscle and black hair, with a face that was so angular it was almost square and virtually no nose. Zarbon calmly wondered what would happen if he took on Bido. The two of them really were about equal, although Bido hadn't been using much of his power when he put Zarbon in that stranglehold. Really, now that he thought of it, Buujin was probably at upper Ginyu levels, and Gokua somewhere in between that and Bido. As for Bojack, he estimated at least six million for him. Unbelievable. Thinking about that reminded Zarbon of something.

He sat down beside Zangya. "Zangya, give me all you know about Bojack, especially about this last job."

"What do you want to know?"

"I want to know who the hell he is, for starters."

"I'm not sure exactly. I was only with him for about ten years."

"That short a time, eh?"

"Shut up. All that I know really is that he's older than he looks, and he used to be something big before something bad happened to him. He works primarily as a mercenaqry now, working only for certain select customers. Not quite a mercenary, though. He does too many personal jobs. He handpicked most of his team from the fighting champions of his home planet, although some of his past warriors have been members of other races, like you (If you'd have been recruited, that is)."

"Where's his home planet? I don't recall seeing his race before, although there really are too many green-skinned humanoid races to choose from."

"Same place where I'm from," She said, "The Southern Galaxy. That's all you need to know."

Zarbon blinked. The Southern Galaxy. That *was* far. Figured, though. The grip of Cold's empire and the Saiya-jin's empire extended throughout most of the Northern Galaxy, and that was more than any other establishment or set of two rivaling ones. No kingdom, as far as Zarbon knew, went beyond any one galaxy, anyway. The distance was two great for travel to be practical. Very obviously Bojack only went back home to recruit more people for his illustrious team.

"Does his team only consist of six fighters?"

"Most of the time. Occasionally he will add another, or go without recruiting more members for a while. Bojack isn't set to one single pattern or set of traditions. I've only heard this, though. I was the second newest member, after Gandin. Gandin had been with us seven years, and Bojack was probably going to off him had you not done so first. He was showing less promise than I."

"And he kept you for your sex appeal." Zarbon commented.

"Morale is more like it."

Zarbon gave Zangya a strange look. She turned away. "Do you need anything more?"

"You barely told me enough to have a foothold. Tell me about this last job."

"What's there to tell?" Zangya said, her head still turned away."

"A lot. Don't play dumb."

"Bojack usually tells us who it was who hired him. He didn't this time- it was too important to do that. He was paid an extrordinarily large amount to set a trap for King Cold's elite and destroy them all. We were given the information on when and where they would be, and who would be there. That was how we knew who to kill first and how to do it. So we came, we saw, and we creamed you."

"So you think it was an inside job?"

"Maybe, maybe not. Cold's databases are secure enough that almost no one can crack them, but this mission wasn't exactly a secret."

"True, true." Zarbon thought for a moment. "Do you think it was the Saiya-jin? they wanted the planet."

"No. I don't." Zangya replied flatly. "The two empires both profit from each others losses, true, but they also both profit from each others gains, in a roundabout way. And besides that, the two empires are almost merged now, and there's talk of a treaty that will merge the two. Didn't you hear about that?"

"Yes, but I think it's bullshit," Zarbon said, "There will be too many conflicts over which king gets to wear the big sparkly hat."

"They could both do it very easily. They work together more often than not, anyway."

"How did you know so much about politics?"

"How do you think we know who we should try to sell our services to?" Zarbon had to concur with that.

Before either of them could say anything else, the two massive double doors that marked the entrance to King Cold's throne room swung open. King Vegeta and three of his Saiya-jin attendants came forth, all dressed in the royal Saiya-jin armour. Behind him came his son, the illustrious Prince Vegeta, also with three servants and in his Saiya-jin armour. The trident-shaped insignia of the House Vegeta shone upon the breastplates of their armour in a crimson red.

The servants had their heads toward the ground and their right hands on their chests as they walked.

King Vegeta made somecondescending glances around him at the other people in the room. The looks that his son gave were slightly different, and more personal. They seemed to say, /I will kill you all./ They said something different to Zangya, and she shrank back somewhat. Zarbon wondered if she got that from all the royal men she met. Hopefully Vegeta wouldn't need her for morale purposes.

The train of Saiya-jins held their grand, quick pace and left the room. The air lightened immensely. Neizu turned toward Zarbon and Zangya. "Cold-Sama will see you now."

Zarbon took a deep breath and got up. Making sure that Zangya was following him, he entered the vast throne room of the Titan Emperor.

***

No matter how many times Zarbon had had an audience with the king, private or otherwise, he would never get used to it. King Cold's throne room was the approximate size and shape of a large cathedral's sanctuary, with the throne being on a small raised dais at the far side. Sitting on that throne was King Cold.

If Zarbon had thought that Vegeta was an impressive ruler, all thoughts of that had been wiped away now. Standing at fourteen feet five inches, King Cold possessed none of the brutish features usually displayed in many others of even some smaller races. His face was as cold and hard as the living rock, the details of which carved by the master craftsman. His two great horns, bastions of his iron will, curved upward and were thicker than some men's arms. His shoulders were broader than broad, his arms like tree trunks. No rope had been made that was as impressive as his tail, which was coiled behind his throne. In his hand Cold held a glass of wine- small for him but a pitcher for others- that he sipped from while he sat. Not drank. Sipped. His size belied his elegance, and "drinking" would be more than out of character for him. King Cold's power level was not a disappointment, either. It read at 20,000,000. He was the single most powerful being Zarbon had ever seen. It was said that if King Cold had ever sired a son, he would be unstoppable if taught well and allowed to grow into his father's kingdom. Fortunately, Cold was childless.

The doors shut behind them, and a voice shouted, "Elite Zarbon and his Guest to see you, Cold-Sama." Zarbon started and glanced over his shoulder. It was Sauzaa, the third of King Cold's Ultimate Elite. Another member of Zarbon's race, Sauzaa lacked the customary jewelry and arm sheathes. His hair was cut shorter than Zarbon's, in a blonde flare on top of his head.

"Wearing women's earrings now, are you?' Zarbon heard him whisper almost silently. It took a great amount of self-control not to jump him. That and the fact that his power was 900,000. Approximately 30 times Zarbon's.

Zarbon stepped up to the end of the carpeting before the dais, and knelt down on one knee, with his right hand on his chest in one of the universal gestures of respect and loyalty. Zangya, not wishing to offend anyone and get both of them blown to pieces did the same. From that different angle she could see a few ash-coloured stains on the deep reddish carpet.

"So you have come." Cold's voice echoed throughout the room.

"I am always willing to be at your service, my Lord," Zarbon said in a smoother voice than Zangya had ever heard come from him.

"That is good. Why have you come?"

"I have come to explain the events which took place on Rigel 7 two days ago. I have come bearing dire news."

Cold took a sip of his wine, and spoke again. "Sauzaa, leave us."

Sauzaa obediently bowed and left the room. More silence descended. Cold took another sip of his wine, then looked back at Zarbon. His gaze moved to Zangya as he spoke.

"And who is your guest, Zarbon?"

"Her name is Zangya, and she is a part of the news that I bring you."

"How? And what is this news?" This was only a formality, that was clear in his voice. King Cold already knew everything, or at least guessed.

"Have the scouter reports come in yet?"

"Yes. But I want to hear it firsthand. I prefer to learn how hot fire can be from someone who has been through Hell."

Zarbon drew in a deep breath. Slowly and carefully he recounted every event that took place from when he had landed on Rigel 7 on to when he landed back on The Capital, with different points being interjected by Zangya along the way. King Cold listened silently the entire time, sipping his wine. He took it the way one would usually take a business report. Finally Zarbon was finished.

"And why exactly did you want to join Bojack's team?" Cold asked distantly.

Zarbon started. Beads of sweat started to form on his face as he realized that he had left that detail out (due to one of Zangya's interjections).

"I... I was planning to use them to learn their fighting style, and eventually I would have destroyed them and given all that I learned to you, My Lord, as would have been most befitting." Zangya gave Zarbon a momentary hurt look. He ignored it. She had probably half-guessed his intentions, anyway.

Cold smiled, and appeared to almost laugh. "You never could lie very well, Zarbon," he said rather calmly. Zarbon nwas about to protest when Cold went on. "And that is the only reason why I believe you." Zarbon relaxed. "Still," He went on, "According to your report you failed in your mission. Am I correct?"

Zarbon flinched. "Yes."

"That is of no consequence to me." Cold said, surprisingly. "Just remember this the next time you attempt that. As I said, you are a terrible liar, and apparently Bojack thought so too. But these things are trivial. Right now we have a more pressing business to discuss." King Cold put down his wine glass. One drop splashed onto the floor.

He got up and turned toward one of the many cathedral-styled windows in the room. "You may rise now," He added almost as an afterthought.

Zarbon stood up and silently motioned for Zangya to wait until he had fully risen before getting up herself. Matters of protocol still existed in this meeting, regardless of who was standing or sitting.

Zarbon felt a slight chill. He had noticed that he had stopped sweating. Cold was enormous, his immense size not exactly something that can be fully grasped while he sat at his throne. The end of his tail moved out from under his cape. It's small movement seemed to intensify the deepening silence. At last King Cold drew in a breath and spoke.

"What do you suggest we do about this little problem?"

Zarbon almost jumped. He hadn't been expecting a question like that! The mighty King Cold, emperor of all he surveyed, asking one of his soldiers a question? zarbon's mind raced frantically to choose his next few words. Nothing came out of the hectic jumble that was his mind.

"Well?"

Zarbon's mouth started firing itself off (A rare occurence for him). "I.. I think... Well, I... I mean, I..."

"That's enough, Zarbon. You don't have to go any further."

"Why did you ask me?"

"I was curious. Curious as to why you decided to bring along one of the enemy with you. Obviously you have some kind of Great Master Plan which is far ahead of anything that I could think of." There was more than a hint of sarcasm in that, but it was a serious question. Zarbon bit his lip. He had a very good reason for sparing Zangya- using her for any necessary information on Bojack, for one thing. But now Cold's statement cast doubt into that. COuld it be that Bojack was just playing him for a fool the entire time? Did he really fire Zangya from his team? Why didn't he completely kill her? Why edidn't she fight back when he got her off Rigel, or make a break for it while he was recovering? It made absolutely no sense.

Zangya was the one who spoke. "Forgive me for saying this, but your servant brought me here because I have more firsthand knowledge about Bojack than any other member of his team. He also spared me because I obviously have nothing to lose- Bojack isn't going to give me back my position, even if I were to bring him your head on a platter. He has been lax about security around me because I have shown myself to be trustworthy in that regard. The reason why I seem so kind and obliging is because I owe him for saving my life. I have not switched sides, but I do have a sense of duty and obligation that is probably beyond that of most of your men."

"What happened to your duty to Bojack?"

"I... I can't fulfill that now. I... can't." Zangya shrank a bit when she said that.

King Cold smiled and turned around, facing them. "That may be true but that does not explain why you are helping him. No matter, at least the rest of what you say has a ring of truth to it. I'm not stupid, and anyone in my position knows who Bojack is. I've even hired him out before. Believe me, he is intelligent, but he would not lay out a trap like this one." Cold walked up to Zangya, towering above the woman. "You very well know that I could kill you right now, and it would be perfectly within my bounds to do so in almost any culture's laws. However," He put one tremendous hand on Zangya's head. Zarbon saw her flinch and remembered her earlier comment about not liking to be touched. "I will not, yet. Now you owe me, yes? And this is one that you can fulfill, if you listen to me." Cold turned toward Zarbon. "I am putting the responsibility of this woman on you, Zarbon. For whatever she does I will hold you personally at fault. Is that fair?"

"Yes, My Lord," Zarbon said, a small knot forming in his stomach. He didn't like the sound of this.

"Have you noticed the new insignia on your uniform?" Cold asked Zarbon. It occurred to Zarbon that he hadn't even noticed it or thought about it since Salad mentioned it's existence.

He finally looked down at it. It was a simple black teardrop shape. Not even close to any team/group insignia that Cold used, although similar in style. "What is this for, My Lord?"

"It is for my solution to our little problem with Bojack. It is the insignia of your new team. You are now the captain of the Dark Ki Tokusentai. Do not wear it with honour unless you earn that right."

"Dark Ki what? I have a team?" Zarbon was completely astounded.

"Not yet, you don't. I will leave the individual recruitment up to you, Zarbon, with the exception of my three Elite. Seeing as how most of our useful warriors are either dead or will be indisposed of in the near future, I recommend a different approach."

"My Lord," Zarbon said, "I hope you aren't recommending that I train members. I'm not a sensei. I-"

"I know very well what you aren't!" Cold snapped. Both Zarbon and Zangya took a step back. "I do not keep in my service any whom I can not take apart at will. If there was so much as one slight gear in your little clockwork mind that I was not sure of, you would not be standing here before me! Do you understand that?"

"Yes, My Lord."

"Good." His voice calmed down. "Now, let me continue. I have just finished making a deal with the Saiya-jin king. A deal which will change the face of the universe directly. I have decided to merge our empires together. Our two kingdoms shall become one."

Neither Zarbon nor Zangya spoke. Cold continued on.

"I can almost thank Bojack for this. They would not have merged with us if we had still been at full strength."

More silence.

"It will happen in under a year, by all estimates. In the meantime, I will be replacing my elites with the Saiya-jin. I would suggest that you utilize their surplus of warriors for your team. Unfortunately, though, both of us must use all we can spare for the time being. For now I can only allow you to choose one member for your team, at least until some of this boils over."

"What?" Zarbon was too shocked to remain silent now. "You want me to recruit some of those... those barbarians? I can't! We'll kill each other before the second week!"

"Very well, then. Command your team of one. This meeting is at an end." As if to finalize that last statement, King Cold returned to his seat and resumed sipping his wine.

The very next day Zarbon found himself on the planet Vegeta, recruiting Saiya-jin for his team.

***