|This story, Across the Universe, is written with the intent to preserve and respect the official Dragon Ball canon, and to fit perfectly into the established Dragon Ball universe, per this policy.|
Across the Universe is a collaborative story written by TeamUnitedNerds and KidVegeta, detailing the origin and adventures of the Yardrat Soba.
"Across the Universe is a wonderful little yarn spun by the late, great George Harrison, my favorite modernist writer from Ireland! I give it three bags of popcorn and two and a half extra large sodas."
"hi this is mato"
"I can't understand a word of this shit"
"What the fuck is a Soba"
"There's nothing I want to read about more than some random half-assed character who appeared briefly in one video game. What a hallmark of human achievement!"
Chapter 1: Burning, Man
"...Udon's Exotically Extravagant Menagerie is aptly
named, and truly a perfect destination
for children an adults alike. This author gives
a resounding recommendation to the
nearby reef as well! Next on our list is the coliseum
on planet Altarin VII, an ideal outing for those who..."
-From Top 10 Must-See Destinations In YOUR Solar System That You Probably
Didn't Know About from issue #567 of the Genoa Journal.
Soba looked up at the unchanging yellow Yardrat sky, with the knowledge that it would no longer be the barrier between himself and the end of the universe, that this planet would no longer be all he knew. The Yardrats were a productive people, due to their natural ability to slip into a pocket dimension, and reappear wherever they wanted. However, this remarkable ability and all the benefits that came with it lead to a sort of slow self-destruction. Yardrat society had become too perfect, as any need could be met in an instant, there was no strife, and interpersonal relationships were almost nonexistent, as the only key to a Yardrat’s survival was to keep moving to wherever they needed to go next without stopping or slowing down. With self-preservation no longer an issue, the Yardrats became consumed by hobbyism, most typically in the form of collection. Yardrats rarely ventured outside their homeworld, despite the fact that they could very easily, but when they did, it was to collect some sort of trinket from the other planets in their solar system. Sometimes it was samples of fungus, sometimes it was eggs, sometimes it was coins from one of the more civilized planets. Every Yardrat had his own dragon’s horde, that mattered to nobody but themselves.
Soba considered himself an exception to the stagnant, self-indulgent hedonism that consumed his species. Once a young Yardrat reached a certain age, they would be taught the instant transmission technique by an elder, and the world, and the universe would be opened up to them, although most limited the scope of their travels to their home planet or the worlds nearby. Not Soba, though, he intended to use his ability to reach the furthest stars, so he could return to his people and show them that there was more to life than collection, that there was value to the universe beyond simply supplying them with whatever trivial baubles they wanted to surround themselves with. Soba was also greatly looking forward to escaping the tyranny of his caregivers. Since young Yardrat are unable to teleport themselves and receive whatever they need in the blink of an eye, they needed to be watched over by caregivers, who supplied them with food until they were ready for independance. Soba loathed his caregivers, even though his only contact with them was the brief moments they would appear before him, before teleporting away, to return with food. Then, they would sit and stare at Soba and the other Yardrat children, doing and saying nothing, before vanishing again the moment their working hours came to an end.
“Well Soba, you look terrible.”
He had hardly noticed Udon appear beside him; even so, Soba wasn’t yet used to the suddenness of Instant Transmission. “Do I?”
A thin smile wriggled onto the older boy’s bulbous face. “Are you scared? I wasn’t scared.” The taller Yardrat paced around the younger, restless as a flicker of light. “Well?”
“No way. I want to get this over with. Besides, you--”
Wind trampled through the desolate, rocky spires. Udon had teleported away again. He should have expected as much. Down the road, two Yardrats materialized from a hovering, coloring gash of light. Peering around, the girls giggled and raised their discordant voices, and disappeared again in another throb of whiteness.
Far above the sun, where the xanthus haze reached towards oblivion, his homeworld’s only moon awaited patiently for nightfall. Its acute crescent was noticeable even at this hour. By the end of the day, he would be able to go there, if he so desired.
The air was bitterly cold--the sun’s light shone falsely. Soba was wondering if Udon would return when his friend appeared suddenly before his eyes.
Soba jumped up in shock. “Stop doing that!”
“Look at this, Soba,” Udon mused, revealing a tiny, timid puffball. Its feathers were the same color as Udon’s scalp spots. “It’s a male five-tailed Malevion,” he said carelessly, presenting the alien creature for Soba to admire. “Beautiful and elegant, and rare in the wild.”
“Is it yours?” There was awe in Soba’s voice.
“Just so,” he said as he crushed it between his gloves.
“Udon, what are you--”
“It bored me.” The Yardrat shook his hand dry and turned away from Soba. “This frigid old place bores me. If I’m bored, why bother? And if I bother, how can I be bored, eh?” There was nothing Soba could say to that, though he quite found the words to be charming in their luster. “There’s a lot better places than this, Soba, trust me. I’m out of here.”
Udon’s words were rather apt, as after that statement, which sent a buzz of excitement through his body, Udon was gone. Soba wondered if he hadn’t slipped into hyperspace during their conversation, as he was almost certain that he wasn’t this close to the dome where the elders resided. Soba casually waved one of his hands at a nearby building, bringing up a holographic display of a clock. The softly glowing blue hands showed that he was exactly on time for the session with the elders.
He stepped briskly into the long hallway that lead into the structure, wondering if this would be the last time his legs got any use.
The tunnel lead into the center of the dome. The elders, short, ancient-looking Yardrats with wrinkled, crimson faces like dried cranberries, and shriveled, vestigial legs, were seated along the far wall of the spherical structure. They looked down at the young Soba with curious glares, before leaning down to read the digits on their holographic wrist watches.
“So, the young one has come to learn the secret technique of our people?” one of the elders, a Yardrat with particularly bold red skin and heavy, sagging eyelids.
“Yes,” Soba said, nodding rapidly, not sure how else to reply.
“Very good,” another said. This one was a pale red, an almost pinkish color, with a thin body, so his clothes were more draped on him than being worn by him. His eyes were round, and bulged out of his skull, and darted around, from the faces of his elders, to Soba, back to his watch.
“You already have the power inside of you, as all Yardrat do,” a third elder said. He appeared to be the youngest of the bunch, and the only one with green skin like Soba’s.
“It is merely a matter of refining it, and unleashing it,” he continued.
“The entirety of the universe is simply a reflection of our own perceptions. Therefore, all of reality is contained within our own minds,” said the eldest of the group, whose skin had lost almost all of its color, and whose face was frozen into a permanent half-smile.
“The instant transmission technique requires that you focus on a particular part of that vast universe within your head. You must lock onto it, and then force yourself between dimensions. Beware of using the technique without a clear destination in mind, as if you lose your way, you may be lost between spaces forever.”
“We placed a beacon on a nearby moon hundreds of years ago, where it remains to this day. It projects a constant energy signal. You will use that signal as a market for your destination. Once you have transported yourself to the energy beacon, return here, and give the beacon to us, as proof of your success.” “You stand now in the same place that your father once stood, and where his father stood as well. You will follow in their path, and become a true member of the Yardrat race.”
The elder’s remark about Soba’s family was meaningless. Perhaps the speech they gave was from an earlier time, when young Yardrats were actually raised by their parents, but it was irrelevant now. Soba wasn’t here to continue his family’s legacy. He was here because he was tired of being tied to the ground, and because a Yardrat who didn’t learn the technique was one that couldn’t survive in their society. He had heard tales of Yardrats who refused to learn instant transmission, and were dead within weeks, because nothing in Yardrat society was designed with walking in mind, and they would starve to death from being unable to get food. In fact, many buildings didn’t even have doors, besides the ones built in the previous era, presumably an era when parenthood still had meaning.
Regardless, Soba had doubts, even with his task clearly outlined. He thought that the elders would walk him through the steps of the technique, rather than giving him a task and some vague spiritual guidance.
He tried to focus on the beacon’s signal first, as that task didn’t carry the risk of being lost in hyperspace for eternity.
He shut his eyes, and envisioned the universe as a bubble in his head, a vast sphere full of stars and galaxies. He zoomed in, focusing on the solar system, and then closer, to Yardrat and its nearby moon. He could feel the energies of both. Planet Yardrat had a sort of flowing warmth to its energy, like the feeling he got when his head was half-submerged in bathwater by one of his caretakers attempting to wash him. The nearby moon had a signal of its own, but one that was clearly artificial, a kind of cold, metallic buzz that was distinct enough from the other energy to hone in on.
“I found the beacon,” Soba said, opening his eyes, discovering that he had subconsciously placed his two fingers to his forehead.
He paused, not sure how the elders would react to his next question. “How do I get there, exactly? You’ve told me about a space between spaces, but how do I enter such a place?”
“How do you breath, or move your arms, or smile?” the eldest asked. “You must simply tell yourself that you are able, and then command yourself to do so. The power already lies within you, it is a matter of realizing that you can.”
Soba focused on the energy signal once more. Sensing energy was still new to him, and the sensation was still unusual. It was a bit like hearing a sound, but with his whole body, or touching something so thoroughly that he absorbed it into his skin, so he could feel it throughout himself, both outside and in.
He did what the elder said, and convinced himself that slipping into hyperspace was something he was naturally able to do, something he could call upon as easing as moving a finger.
His eyes remained firmly shut, but the subtle warmth of his home planet was gone, and the slight distant humming that the beacon gave off had become the rapid thudding of a hammer against stone.
When he opened his eyes, he was greeted by the lifeless surface of his planet’s moon. The horizon was empty, just an endless expanse of rock, with the occasional small crater to break up the monotony. He could see the vastness of space beyond the horizon, though, a great blackness peppered with shining stars, each one a beacon of life to someone, somewhere in the universe. He could even see his own planet in the distance, a green marble with a great yellow streak. He could see, now more than ever, how small it really was.
Alo-Alo was the premier relaxation destination for the galactic everyman. For a substantial fee, one could be pampered and waited upon and pleasured in any way imaginable. What kinds of things go on at Alo-Alo? That’s a secret only paying customers know about.
He preferred the desires of the senses, of sight and taste and smell, of sound and touch and emotional connections. He liked more than anything to be fancied. And yet, above all, boredom loomed, an amorphous, unconscious presence, deep and vast and cold, that is only perceptible the moment before sleep. He feared that more than anything.
“How long will you be staying, Mr. Udon?” The artificial ring in her voice annoyed him.
“One night,” he muttered, gazing around, soaking in the color of the reception hall. There were frilled pillars and elegant paintings and exquisite multicolored flowers climbing up the walls. The fragrance of this world was delightful. He sucked and gasped and sucked in filtered air again, and then it was gone--the pleasure was over.
Last time, the colors had been brighter. The hovering hostess handed him a warm towel and a tiny bottle of perfume, its sloshing liquid the balmiest blue color.
The movement almost astonished him--Udon perceived only dimly that he was leaping faster than light. He was so enraptured with the strong, clean smell of his new perfume that he had barely noticed the power of impulse. The hostess had been beautifully generous. Soba would be most impressed, he was sure of it.
“Oh, what is that stench?!” Soba could be a real whiner sometimes.
“I just got back from my stay at Alo-alo. Oh, it was wonderful, Soba, you should have been there. The very air was dripped with the fragrance of serenity. It was utterly restful. And the wildlife… oh, I shall return for samples, no doubt. The colors… the reds, the blues, the yellows… the blacks mixed with the aquamarines… my goodness, Soba, it was breathtaking. That is what it means to live: to be immersed in the most sublime beauty in the universe. To live is to experience; to experience is to seek beauty. The great Yardratian philosophers of our past--Muka the Elder, Ramei Fingerbones, Deacon Gorgoro, and all the rest--believed in beauty for beauty’s sake alone--for life alone, for life is beauty and a beautiful life is more precious than even the most radiant of jewels. You have not truly lived until you have lived in beauty, Soba, with beauty, amongst beauty… to be base is the natural state of us Yardratians. To be poor and miserable and petty and ugly… that is what we are best at, I fear. The universe is pure and gentle and…” The older Yardrat froze for a moment as his voice quivered to silence. He was either lost in thought or milking his speech for dramatic effect. “All the color, Soba. By the gods… can’t you see? Won’t you? We are the exceptions. We are ugliness, unless we follow the light. I don’t want to look at anything ugly ever again. I won’t, if I can help it. I won’t, Soba. I’m too refined!”
The boy was distracted; he half-raised an eyebrow at Udon, but showed little care in his sullen eyes. “You’re refined?”
“I am, as you would say, a gentleman.” Udon was very serious. “A purveyor of the most wonderful sensory experiences.”
“That’s easy for you to say. Your father was loaded. He ran the most popular space lemonade stand in the universe! I mean, come on, Udon! You couldn’t even blow through your inheritance if you tried.”
“Now now, Soba,” Udon snapped, spinning away from the younger Yardrat, “your bitterness will pollute the air. Be more reasonable. Settle down and appreciate the strong, sophisticated aroma of my Alo-Alo Verde. It’s in.”
“What does that mean?”
Udon sprayed himself again. “To live is to experience raw beauty. I hope to experience as much beauty as possible, to see as much as there is to see, to taste as much as there is to taste… to be on a hundred different worlds on the very same day, soaking in their ancient myriad heat. That is life, Soba, nothing else. Don’t let them fool you. There is no purpose to being if you cannot appreciate beauty. It is the purest of all feelings, to admire something beautiful. It requires no thought--only the senses can experience what life truly is. They are not biased, my friend. The only truth we can know comes from our senses, for they would never lie to us. True beauty cannot be faked.”
The boy looked half-dozed now, as if the words had, for but a moment, ensnared him and coated him in ice before melting away. He wasn’t very aware, Udon supposed. Soba had a tendency to look at life as a sprint down a race track, not a pleasant walk through a garden. Even so, the boy hung on his words, and Udon knew it. He played up to it, acted the part, made himself grander than normal. This was all an extension of his own beauty.
They were outside Udon’s apartment, which was on the fifty-seventh floor of a rather unassuming stone spire in the city of Yudori. Soba had waited outside politely, and asked to stay a while. He had nowhere else to go, and it wouldn’t be for long. This bemused Udon. He held out his arm for Soba to latch on, but the younger Yardrat shook his head.
“I found the beacon.”
“It has the most annoying ring to it, doesn’t it? Unpleasant old machine.”
They went up together. Soba knew which floor. Generally, one does not teleport into the house of another, although such occurrences cannot be prevented. The government did have laws against teleporting into other Yardrats’ homes, but sometimes, there was no way to report it, or know. It was an impossibility, a wretched thing, really. For that reason, many rich Yardrats had off-world homes where they spent much of their private time.
Udon had barely had time to flick on the lights when Soba asked him, “Do you have any maps of planets I can go to?”
There was hope in the boy’s voice, like a healthy spoonful of naarbug excretion. “Of course, maps. Maps are for the brain, like numbers and paradoxes. They aren’t real; they can’t be experienced.” He pulled out a dusty, rolled-up one from behind a desk and unraveled it on the table for Soba to behold.
“Wow, they’re everywhere.”
“Each one has its own signal, its own energy. I tell you, Soba, it’s as if you’re sampling a variety of exotic delicacies, popping in and out. Alo-Alo is my guilty pleasure, I must admit… the girl I can’t let go. I suppose she’s the only girl for me. You will have to experience to know.”
Soba’s eyes were fixed on the yellowing paper. “Are these all the worlds we can go to? All the habitable planets out there?”
“Oh, don’t be silly. These are the Open Worlds Soba. The government allows free travel to these places.”
“Why not anywhere else?” Soba’s finger ran down the map, from lighted planetoid to lighted planetoid. There were many dots. It was a large map and printed small. But it was not the whole universe, and indeed, of what was shown, large dark patches covered the map, as did smaller black dots. These were worlds a Yardat was never to go to, never to visit, unless they wished to suffocate or be attacked, or worse.
His apartment was so dreadfully dirty. Pots and pans dominated his sink, and the kitchen was no less a glutton's wasteland. He would need to buy a new Maid-BOT 3000 to clean this at once. The sight of his ugly kitchen brought upon Udon a quiet, but underrated terror--a descending flush of nervous excitement sprung from his fingertips and climbed up his forearms before dulling out, the energy utterly spent. “Dangers. Some planets are uninhabitable. Others are hostile.”
“Aren’t there any planets out there that we could visit that aren’t on these maps? Some place the government doesn’t want us to go?”
“No.” The word came suddenly and coldly. “There are no such places, Soba. The only planets we can’t visit are unsafe. Go to any of the Dark Worlds and see, but you won’t return, and that would make me sad, and you wouldn’t want to make me sad, now would you, Soba?”
Soba could feel his eye twitching. Something about the way Udon said that made him particularly angry. Maybe it was the fact that he was making Soba’s desire to break free of the dead orbit he was imprisoned in about him, or the fact that he was right. If anything would prevent Soba from hurling himself into the furthest reaches of space, it was Udon. Soba didn’t care much about his survival, not in the face of adventure, but clearly Udon did.
“Fine, can we at least go to the government approved planets, then?” Soba said, making no attempt to conceal his frustration. This wasn’t the independance he wanted. The bars of his cage weren’t broken, they were merely widened. It wasn’t fair, Soba thought. The laws and limitations of his society were written to protect the cowardly, spineless Yardrat who were content to search a handful of planets for commemorative stamps or something like that, not bold risk-takers like himself, for which death was just one of the many exciting endings a glorious adventure could have.
“I knew you’d come to your senses,” Udon said, although he was keenly aware that Soba was, at best, compromising.
“Where do you want to go first?” Udon said, hoping that giving him the final say on their destination would help appease his intrepid friend.
Soba huffed; none of the destinations presented to him were of any interest. He figured he should pick the one that Udon would like the most, so he pointed to the smallest planet, a watery sphere with plentiful beaches, a comfortable climate and an abundance of friendly wildlife.
“How about here?” Soba said, pointing to the bluish sphere.
“Sounds good!” Udon said, placing his two fingers to his forehead and vanishing between dimensions. Soba wished that Udon had let him go second, as Soba didn’t want to be the type of person to make his friend wait on him for something.
He focused on Udon’s energy specifically, using it to catapult himself through spacetime and next to his friend. When he arrived, Udon was already exploring the planet’s surface, lowering his hand into the cool water by the shore. With perfect timing, he snatched a fish from below, a small, wriggling thing with shining greenish scales and a black eye that was comically tiny, even for its body.
“Catch,” Udon said, tossing the squirming fish towards Soba. Soba made a token attempt to catch it, but it just bounced off of his chest, and landed in the sand, while Udon shoved his hand back into the brine, trying to catch something more interesting.
Soba let his disinterest waver a bit, as he squatted down next to Udon, dipping his hand in along with him. Occasionally, he’d feel something slimy quickly brush against his palm, but he could never seem to close his hand in time to catch anything.
“Is there some ancient Yardrat technique for catching fish that I’m not aware of?” Soba said, watching his friend snatch up fish after fish with ease, every single one belonging to the same species at the diminutive fish he had caught before.
“Nope, you’re just really bad at it,” Soba said, finally catching a larger fish, big enough that it barely fit inside his fist, but apparently it wasn’t of much interest to him either, as Udon threw it back with a sigh.
“What are you planning to do with those fish, exactly?” Soba asked.
“I collect them, of course. But I can’t seem to find any that I don’t already have today,” Udon replied. “Maybe I’ve found all the unique species on this planet already. There might be some new ones on another planet, though!” Udon teleported away as soon as the thought that he could occurred to him.
“That’s fine,” Soba said to no one, as his friend was already gone. He chose to stay behind, letting his three-toed feet sink into the sand, as he watched the fish in the water dart by. He knew he could never catch them, and frankly, he didn’t want to.
The fallen fish caked itself in flakes of gold as it squirmed and flexed its toothless mouth. Sailing through the air, spinning wildly, its eyes ever open, looking but not seeing, the useless animal passed in front of the sun for but a moment, a blackened sliver of fateless life.
When a distant and moderate splash broke the monotonous ambience, Soba’s fingers found his forehead, and he was away, rushing through light and time all at once. He glanced one way, blindly feeling for the energy scent of his friend. What he felt was only coldness, tugging at him, as if from behind his eyes, then from under his chin, and then pulling down the rungs of his spine. The sensation passed through Soba in less than a second, yet it felt like time had slowed for that second, and in it, Soba had lived an entire life in a flash of light.
Disoriented, Soba flung himself wildly from Instant Transmission and came crashing to a planet he had not expected to visit. Glancing around, he didn’t feel Udon anywhere nearby. He knew immediately that he was lost, and that if he were to use Instant Transmission again, he would be returned to that nameless presence in the void that he had felt for only the briefest of moments.
This planet was a temperate world with squat, indigo-furred creatures with four eyes and bowed legs, tail-less and with wrinkled, grey faces. The outskirts of some town was nearby, and he could see a few of them moving in lines, holding packages on their heads as they moved with sentient purpose. Soba wondered quietly to himself if these creatures had ever met an alien before. He hoped not. He wanted to be their first.
Striding into town with a grin on his face and his chest puffed out, Soba was preparing to make his grandiose introduction when a burst of light and sound rocked the sky above the town. The Yardrat boy shrieked and ran behind a tree, gaining cover. The aliens didn’t mind; they hardly even reacted. Only a child, straddling her mother’s shoulders, dared look up at the twisted, yellow-white sky.
Another explosion boomed, echoing three times before Soba poked his head out in curiosity to see what was the matter. It was only then the boy realized his folly--those were not explosions, but fireworks. He jumped into the air, rising above the treeline (no natives beheld him in all his grandeur, unfortunately--the treeline was too thick). And there, in the distance, situated on the other side of a wide lake, was a spacious, icosagonal ampitheatre--no, a coliseum! Blood rushed to his face. The fireworks were positioned over that building.
The remainder of the town was stretched along the hilly expanses surrounding the large structure; they were made of wood and dried grass, tiny, squalid things compared to the massive stone-carved, oily-black coliseum that seemed to rise out of the jungle like a monument to some ancient and forgotten species long-since reduced to dust.
He had become annoyed with flying. It was so much slower than Instant Transmission. A coward’s worry gnawed at the back of his brain. He tried to forget and was off.
He landed at the mouth of the coliseum, behind a mercifully short line of creatures. These creatures clearly belonged to the same species as the one he had seen before, but they were more, well, muscular wasn’t the right word, but their limbs all looked like elastic bands ready to snap, and with eyes that were livelier than those of their counterparts, filled with an unmistakable fighting spirit.
While looking in those eyes, Soba imagined a lifetime of brave feats worthy of admiration.
Between the comparatively athletic appearance of these creatures, and the fact that they were queued up to enter a coliseum, and the celebratory fireworks, whose roar had just begun to die down, it was obvious that there was some kind of tournament going on.
Soba had obviously put a lot of consideration into the life of an adventurer, but he hadn’t thought much about being a warrior. But, once the idea of battle entered his mind, he fell in love with it with the same sort of instantaneous spark that began the vapid marriages back on Yardrat. It was the opposite of everything that his people represented, brief and temporary instead of permanent and unchanging, brutal and dangerous instead of safe and comfortable.
It was the purpose behind battle that appealed to him the most. Fighting wasn’t done for pleasure, at least not primarily, but as a show of power, and the admittance of the fragility that plagued all living things.
While Soba was soliloquizing in his head about the nature of battle, he failed to see that the line had emptied.
Seeing, now, that there was nothing between him and the alien with the trembling hands who was taking entrants, he walked right up to him, looking fairly short, even compared to the hunched-over creature. Soba had trouble locating his eyes behind his sagging, wrinkled flesh and overgrown hair, and his species apparently had four of them.
“I’d like to enter, if you allow entrants from other worlds. My name is Soba, in case you need to write it down.”
“Mhm,” the alien said flatly, writing down Soba’s name, gesturing weakly to the entrance beside him.
“So, do I just go inside the arena? Or is there a place I need to go to prepare first, or-”
“Mhm,” the alien said, in the exact same tone of voice as he had before, which struck Soba as mildly impressive.
Soba entered, but not before giving the alien a puzzled look, wondering if he even realized that Soba was very clearly from another planet. Perhaps he wasn’t the first alien who had been here, or perhaps, the natives of this world were less adventurous than that of his own.
The hallway that led into the coliseum didn’t seem to have any doors, besides the one that led into the arena itself. Would he be thrust directly into a fight the moment he walked through that door, then?
He shrugged, figuring there was only one way to find out.
He pushed open the door, and was met with rows upon rows of packed seats, aliens spilling all over each other in an attempt to fit, their uproarious cries forming a cacophony that was more beautiful than any music Soba had ever heard.
Looking down from those stands, he saw who he would be challenging, and the flesh of the entrants in the line in front of him between its teeth.
It took a few moments for Soba to fully comprehend the monster that would apparently be his opponent. It was a quadruped, that walked low to the ground, with a narrow body, and a narrower pointed face, with a triangular mouth lined with teeth and the aforementioned carnage. It had a long tail that swept back and forth, kicking up dust. It had cold, dead eyes, which reminded Soba of the handful of corpses he had seen as a child. He viewed them through the haze of memory that came with time, but the eyes of the corpses, and the expressions on their faces, like their souls had suddenly left their bodies without warning, were still vivid in his mind’s eye.
Soba realized, in this moment, that he didn’t know how to fight. He knew how to fly, and use rudimentary ki blasts, and, before his chilling encounter, he had use of the instant transmission technique too. He figured that, upon seeing his opponent, the spirit of battle would overtake him, and turn him from an ordinary young Yardrat to an indomitable god of war.
Instead, he felt as though someone had replaced the blood in his legs with icy water, and then, with lead, as he fell to his knees, as if in reverence to this ungodly beast which he had just volunteered to fight. Looking at the crowd, and the way they cheered after seeing their kin ripped apart by this animal, Soba figured they wouldn’t let him forfeit and walk away unharmed.
Since Soba’s legs wouldn’t respond, he placed his hand on the ground, and pushed himself back to his feet, which felt like a victory by itself. The creature sniffed the air with its nostrils, a pair of vacant holes on its triangular snout.
Thick globs of reddish drool, tainted with blood, dripped from its maw. Whatever this thing was, it had now acquired a taste for Yardrat.
Soba felt simultaneously empty-headed and full of dread. As fear flooded his veins, his body reacted. It was not a thought, but an instinct. The predatory alien lunged at him; one moment he was in its path, and the next...he stood on the other side of the dusty arena, his ears ringing. The crowd let out a collective roar. Looking around in disbelief, the boy noticed the vicious animal had lunged into a wall, dazing itself. Its tail wriggled in the air with more force than he could have hoped.
Hissing, the nimble creature spun around and tried to run down Soba again. This time he remembered teleporting away. As it skidded into another wall, Soba shot a few misshapen ki blasts at its flank. More broken cheers pierced the air. The stench of burning fur filled the coliseum.
The beast came at him a third time; he used Instant Transmission to evade. It was easy...almost too easy. This shouldn’t be happening. He shouldn’t be winning. The crowd chanted. Streams of hot saliva leaked from between the animal’s oversized teeth. When this time the beast charged, Soba fired a ball of ki at it. The predator cried out in pain, but it refused to to go down. His attacks only seemed to make it angrier. He realized with sudden horror that he had misjudged how fast it was. As he desperately tried to teleport away, Soba felt the gentle paw-strokes of his starved admirer give his chest a goodbye tug.
The burning raked across his upper torso as he fell to his knees gasping. They loved it, every one of those useless aliens. When the other entrants had died, he hadn’t cared one iota. But now he did; he wanted them to love him as they loved their own. He could see the poison in their eyes, hear the venom in their jeers. They wanted blood, his blood, and only then would they be satisfied. The thought chilled him to the core. His blood dripped to the sand three times, in dark, blooming circles, and he clutched his wound tight, for all the good that did.
It was coming for him, and he was too tired to teleport away.
“Good day, Soba,” Udon said breathlessly, spinning out of the wind in front of the boy. “How in Yardrat’s gnorc-infested hills did you end up here?”
“Udon, look out!” Soba cried, throwing his hand up.
His unperturbed friend stepped aside as casual as a water dancer, dodging the approaching beast as if it were a falling leaf. The creature let out a surprised howl as it came to a screeching stop, being suspended where it stood, unable to move. “So uncivil. My goodness, Soba, look, he’s got dust on my coat,” Udon complained, brushing his black overcoat back into a clean, cool, gentlemanly-looking bit of style. “You, my friend, are a most fantastical beast,” he said in a low, professional voice, approaching the monster. It either didn’t have any eyes or it had six. Soba couldn’t tell. The thing was leaking spit again, breathing hard, snapping and growling at Udon. “You will learn how to act like a gentleman, my good furry beast. Oh, you will.” He reached over, scratching it behind one ear. The alien predator screamed wildly, though it remained paralyzed in place. “Soon. It will take time, I fear.” He turned to Soba, smiling widely. “You’ve done it again, my friend. Now this is a specimen worthy of Udon’s Exotically Extravagant Menagerie!”
He almost appeared to be purring to himself in his self-appreciation of his own gentlemanliness. Soba could hardly say a word as he crouch there and bled, the thousands of onlookers’ cheers only growing louder with every drop.
Udon placed one hand to his temple, and the second against the heaving torso of the beast.
“You’re bringing that monster with you?” Soba said, not sure why he bothered to ask as Udon had just stated his intentions to do just that mere seconds ago.
“And what’s with the, uh,” Soba paused, trying to find the right words to describe Udon’s sudden gentlemanly affectation. “Nevermind,” Soba said, placing his fingers to his forehead, locking onto the signature of his friend, and the beast that accompanied him, just to be safe, and transported himself to wherever Udon planned on ending up.
Soba found himself back on the sandy planet, just in time to witness Udon tracing his finger along the sand with a very purposeful look.
“You may want to stand back, my good fellow,” Udon said. Soba did as he was told, taking a few paces back, and then a few more, as he felt the ground rumble beneath him.
About a dozen or so glassy spheres emerged from the sand. It was hard to see what was inside at first with the glare of the sun in Soba’s eyes as the spheres rose higher towards the sky.
He could see that there was a small, contained environment within each sphere, with plants, and indeed animals, elegant but subtly fierce beasts like the one still at Udon’s side. Certain spheres had darkened glass, presumably to dim the sunlight for beasts who preferred a darker setting.
He watched his friend in silence, as he lowered a single finger, bringing one of the spheres towards him, and showing that they were fairly sizable and would probably be just roomy enough for any beast contained within. Udon seemed dissatisfied with this one, and sent it up into the sky with the others with another flick.
He brought another sphere, this one with a reddish tint, and a bottom full of coarse, dry sand.
“Ah, perfect. Never has there been a more perfect zoosphere than this.”
Udon made another distinct gesture, opening a small door in what was apparently called a zoosphere.
“Go on, go inside, you beautiful beast.”
The Nexu was slightly hesitant at first, walking a few inches away from Udon before backing up to its original position. Udon sighed, placing his thumb inside his mouth, and biting down hard, hard enough to draw blood from the tip of his finger.
“I bet you’ve built up quite a taste for Yardrat blood, haven’t, , you, you glorious creature of the Supreme Kai’s creation?
Udon sucked up the blood that pooled on the tip of his thumb, swirled it around in his mouth, mixing it with his notoriously thick Yardrat saliva, before spitting it out as a red-tinted projectile into the sand of the empty zoosphere. The creature was enthralled by the scent of fresh blood, and charged into the sphere, long enough for Udon to flick his finger upwards and close the door behind him. The creature roared, pressing its great talons against the sphere’s edge.
“Don’t despair, you’ll come to love your new abode eventually,” Udon said, making a closed-fist gesture at the sphere, causing a thick pink mist to emerge, that made the beast sway back and forth sleepily for a few seconds before falling over on its side with a .
“What’s…this?” Soba asked, visibly befuddled.
“This is how I make my money, my good chap,” Udon said. “I typically charge visitors to view my array of exotic beasts. In fact, I shouldn’t make an exception just because you’re my friend. Pay up, please.”
“You know I don’t have any money,” Soba replied.
“Well, you should get a job of your own, then.” Udon said, which Soba couldn’t disagree with. Despite all his posturing about being a free-spirited adventurer, he had never really evaluated the financial viability of being one.
“That was in, , jest,” Udon said, although he wasn’t laughing, and his face didn’t show the slightest hint of humor, just a dreary tiredness.
“This isn’t the extent of my bestiary, however. I own a reef for more aquatically-inclined creatures, would you like to see? It’s just a quick boat ride from here.”
Soba was about to remind his friend that they could both teleport, but he assumed that Udon had some kind of reason for taking a boat, however nonsensical, and he didn’t feel like debating his friend in whatever state he was in.
“Alright, let’s go,” Soba said.
Bleeding though he still was from the Nexu’s wound, Soba sat politely on Udon’s silver-and-indigo little boat that looked as if it had been purchased from a toy factory.
“We’ve got everything you need,” Udon said pleasantly to his friend, standing like a chivalrous Yardrat pioneer of yesteryear on the prow of his plastic little boat. “Satisfaction’s guaranteed. I spared no expense, Soba. Watch this, old fellow.” The taller Yardrat, with skin the color of faded jade, took a slab of bloody meat out of his pocket and held it in the air. Soba wondered why the Nexu hadn’t gone for Udon’s pocket before, but he suspected it was because Udon was a rather proper gentleman. “Hyaaa, woo!” Udon bellowed as he tossed the meat into the air over the dark, foaming waters of the ocean. Before even a drop of red from that bloody raw thing touched the water, a monstrous split-necked, grey-backed creature sprung from the deep. The hungry, clicking noises it made tickled Soba’s ears. Its snout was as thick as the boat, its eyes large and sunken and the color of curdled cream. For a moment it glanced at Soba, and he knew it had perceived him, who he was, what he was, if but for an instant.
Seawater sprayed the air. Udon was reciting poetry he had no doubt written himself from the helm of the ship. It was ten minutes before they arrived. “This is it?” Soba asked, looking around. This stretch of darkening water looked remarkably unremarkable to him.
Udon chuckled and patted his well-natured, oblivious friend on the shoulder. Soba barely hid his wince. “There’s something I’ve forgotten,” he said, smacking his lips. “I’ll be right back. Don’t go in yet.”
“G-go in?” Soba gasped as Udon disappeared. Then, to no one in particular, he let loose his voice. “There’s no way I’m jumping in this ocean, are you crazy?!” He suspected Udon was not, but intended only to get a rise out of his friend for his own pleasure. Such was often the case in this friendship of theirs. He wouldn’t take the bait. Soba stood up, feeling his burning wound close to his chest. He swayed back and forth on the tiny boat, unsure why he had stood at all.
A crisp seawind salted his lips. He looked down into the murky water, noticing something pink and green looming far beneath the waves. It didn’t move and didn’t appear to be alive, so he took it for the reef. Then doubt crept into his mind again. If there really was a reef down there, was Udon lying?
“I won’t do it!” he found himself saying. “I’m not crazy!”
A fat, reaching, oval-shaped shadow passed over the reef. His heart grew urgent in his ear, and he knew the despicable, starved beast had come again, slithering under the cold waves to split the boat beneath him and snatch him down with it. With his free hand, Soba crafted a tiny flickering yellow-white ball of ki between his fingers. Waiting a moment to see if the beast would turn away from the boat, Soba began to shiver. His mind swam rhythmically against his skull, empty as a foreign ocean; his head was spinning, and his eyes stung.
He didn’t remember letting go of the energy. It disappeared beneath the depths without a sound, swallowed whole. Still the ravenous leviathan drew near, though it had not risen towards the surface. His hand spasmed and three more balls appeared in front of it, each being flung one after the other without thought or care. The underwater predator easily swam around them. Soba let out a squeal and created another ki ball--this one larger and hotter than the others. It took all his strength to hold onto it.
The air changed. A brisk odor of Alo-Alo Verde swept across his face, from his eyes to his mouth.
“I do say, Soba, what are you doing over there?!”
“I…” Soba lurched around, his eyes bright and wet, his cheeks fevered, his ears throbbing. “It’s coming for us! We have to…!”
The explosion was felt first, rippling up from underwater in sudden spires of of foam and bubbles. The very planet itself seemed to rock suddenly, and as it did, both of them were thrown into the water. Shrieking and bleeding, Soba flung himself onto the side of the boat in terror while spires of water shot up around him. Then came the smoke, then the salt, then the trickling gasps of blue-green flame.
He fell into the boat, wet and bloody and as tired as he had ever felt. Soba looked for Udon but didn’t see him anywhere. Something was on fire down there, beneath the water. The reef was burning, glowing with lambent fire, fire that was as unnatural as it was beautiful. And there was Udon now, floating above the water, thirty feet in the air, watching too. Soba didn’t understand. What had happened? How was something underwater even on fire to begin with? He hadn’t meant for anything of that sort to happen at all.
The beast was gone; Udon remained. Finding Soba, his eyes and mouth shadow-masked, the other Yardrat shouted something indistinct, and vanished.
Fleeting sunlight cast a forlorn sliver of light over the ocean. It smoked and danced with underwater flames. He caught his breath and followed Udon wherever he had gone, yet as Soba chased after his friend, he sensed nothing but the gentle, knowing cold behind his eyes, its breath spreading a paralyzing chill through his mind. He saw for a moment, soundlessly, a light growing white and blue and black.
Chapter 2: Smuggler's Uu’goc
Chapter 4: The Violent Blue
Chapter 5: Nothing's Gonna Change My World
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