Chapter One: Risk Vs. Gain
Bulma Briefs was not in a good mood.
It was bad enough that they were facing a ticking clock to armageddon, again, but now Yamcha was nowhere to be seen. The blue-haired women stormed through the halls of Capsule Corp, and, by chance, ran into Vegeta.
The spiky-haired Saiyan was at present wearing no shirt and looked to have just gotten out of the shower. This kind of shamelessness was to be expected of him; Frieza's warriors had been weird.
"Vegeta, have you seen Yamcha?" asked Bulma.
"Why are you asking me that, woman?" asked Vegeta, putting on his armor. "Am I your simpering friend's keeper?"
"You're living in my house rent-free, and if you want me to repair the gravity training room, you'll tell me?" snapped Bulma.
Vegeta realized at this point, once again, that he had no idea how to repair it. And that only two people knew how to do it on the planet. "...I believe he was in your living room, writing a chart of some kind.
"He was asking me about my range of abilities some time ago. Though I doubt he has the courage to ever try to confront me directly."
"Writing charts?" asked Bulma. "What is he doing?"
Yamcha, her longtime boyfriend, had been acting weird all month. But then, it had started a year ago when Trunks had arrived and proclaimed the coming doom. At first, he'd seemed like he was trying to train, but then he had disappeared out of nowhere. Only to show up again and start requesting various books.
Eventually, Bulma found Yamcha in the one place he shouldn't have been.
In the living room, writing on a sheet of paper while looking over old martial arts textbooks. Why was he looking at those? He was literally stronger than anyone except the other Z Fighters.
"Yamcha, what are you doing here?" asked Bulma.
Yamcha glanced up in irritation, rubbing the x scar on his face as had become a habit. "What does it look like I'm doing? I'm preparing for the Androids."
Bulma could hardly believe it. Was that really his excuse? "...Really?
"Because the last time I looked Vegeta was using the artificial gravity chamber. He's overloaded it five times. And you haven't done anything in a week.
"Everyone else is training hard to fight the Androids, so you're not slacking off!"
"I'm trying to work smarter, okay," said Yamcha. "Now leave me alone; writing calculations gives me a headache as it is."
"Work smarter? What do you mean?" asked Bulma.
Generally, Bulma had been the brains of the group. Or at least she had been the brains of the group back when she and Yamcha were in the group. They'd faded out quite a bit since King Piccolo.
"I'm trying to figure out how to focus my training in a way that gives me a niche in the group," said Yamcha. He looked beaten.
Yamcha hadn't looked like that before. That cynical, beaten look had never appeared on him before.
When Tien had broken his leg, Yamcha had literally forgiven him days later. Getting humiliated by Kami in public hadn't made him feel that way. That after spending years training to get where he was. And when they were training for the Saiyans, he'd been at peak confidence. Even after he'd gotten back from the dead, he'd seemed his usual self, if a bit weathered.
Now he just looked tired, and somehow, old. And Bulma decided she really should do something about it. "Okay, well, if you're looking for smarts, I'm the girl genius, remember?" she asked. "Is this why you asked to burrow my scouter for testing last week and went on that trip all over the world?"
"Yeah," said Yamcha. "See, I figured that if I was going to train, I wanted to get an idea of how strong everyone else was. Sort of setting myself some goalposts or whatever."
"You don't seem very enthusiastic?" said Bulma.
This wasn't like him at all. Had it been Vegeta joining the group that started this.
"Well, Gohan is way above my level," said Yamcha.
"So?" asked Bulma. "Gohan is stronger than everyone. I was on the phone with Goku earlier, and he seemed to think Gohan would end up stronger. That kid is a powerhouse."
"So, Gohan isn't even fully trained," said Yamcha. "It takes years of training to become fully proficient in martial arts. Piccolo gave him a crash course to get him ready quick, so once he's fully trained..."
Bulma saw his point. "You've got a problem."
"And Goku and Piccolo are far stronger than Gohan is. To say nothing of Vegeta," said Yamcha.
Bulma was sort of at a loss here. Fighting was not her specialty. She needed more information before she could suggest a solution. "So...
"Come up with anything?"
"Well, it's obvious that the aliens are just better than me," said Yamcha, which was totally out of character for him. "And there are only supposed to be two androids. So the only way I'm going to see combat is if I arrive at the scene first. And if I do beat them, the others could have creamed them."
"Well, that's a bit cynical," said Bulma, not finding herself able to disagree.
"Do you think I could beat Vegeta, Goku, or Piccolo, Bulma?" asked Yamcha flatly.
"Well, I mean, isn't that why you're training?" asked Bulma. "To beat Goku?"
"Do you think that ten years of nonstop training will let me beat them?" asked Yamcha.
Bulma thought about how things had gone. She realized Yamcha and the others had been falling further behind. "...You might be able to bridge the gap."
"That's a lie, and you know it," said Yamcha. "The bottom line is that the gap between Goku and me has been widening for years. At this point, he is so far beyond me, I'll never match him in direct combat.
"So I figured I'd draw up some lists of abilities and techniques. Maybe find specific roles in which each fighter could be useful. We all have special abilities that suit certain situations, I guess."
Right, so that was rational. "So um, what did you find out?"
"Well, Tien's tri-beam has enough firepower that it could make a difference," said Yamcha. "I hear he's working on creating a more cost-effective way of doing it. So spam that a lot, and you might be able to stall for time.
"And Krillin's Destructo Disk is pretty good at cutting things. So if he gets a lucky hit, it could be a game-ender."
"What about you?" asked Bulma. He hadn't put himself on that list.
Yamcha shrugged. "...Teach Krillen the methods of controlling my Spirit Ball after I launch it, I guess. If he could fine-tune the control of the thing, it could be pretty lethal."
"Wait, but what are you planning to do?" asked Bulma. This was crazy. Teaching another martial artist your signature move just wasn't done. You were only supposed to pass it on to a pupil or something. Yamcha doing that was admitting that his style would never amount to anything.
And he was suggesting it so quickly. Like all this had been a long time coming.
Yamcha was silent long enough that she knew his answer before he said it. "...Nothing, okay.
"I've got nothing. The most I could come up with was carrying away someone who was seriously wounded. My Spirit Ball doesn't have anywhere near the hitting power of the Tri-beam or Destructo Disk.
"And my Wolf Fang Fist hasn't been useful in years.
"I can't remember the last time it actually worked."
"Well, why not make a new technique then?" asked Bulma.
"It doesn't work that way, Bulma!" snapped Yamcha. "I had to work nonstop to perfect it, and back then, my head was in the game! I really felt like I was on the verge of beating Goku and...
"I could alter the Spirit Ball to be more lethal, maybe make it vibrate or something.
"But it doesn't matter even if I do come up with some new death move. If these Androids live up to the hype, they'll kill me before I can even move. And if they don't, Goku will thrash them.
"What's the point?"
Bulma stared at him. "So you're giving up then?"
"No!" said Yamcha quickly. "I don't know!
"You're the super genius, Bulma. You tell me how to beat the Androids. How do I do it without Vegeta scoffing and saying, 'well if a weakling like that could do it, we've wasted our time.'"
Bulma realized she couldn't sit this one out. Her relationship with Yamcha had been a long one, and she'd usually cheered him on. But these days, it had been getting a lot colder, as keeping Vegeta occupied was taking up a lot of her time. "...Alright, so that's a pretty bad problem, I guess.
"Give me a sec." She paced back and forth, the gears in her mind turning. "Okay, well, Dad taught me a long time ago that when you're approaching a problem that seems unsolvable. He says that it's only unsolvable because you lack the right perspective. So let's step back.
"You want to beat the Androids. And you want to do it without Vegeta being able to dismiss your victory as meaningless? That's your objective, right?"
"Pretty much," said Yamcha. "I'd settle for feeling like I had a reason to show up at all, though."
Bulma sighed. "...Fine, let's take a step back and think about this.
"The problem is power levels. Goku, Vegeta, and Piccolo are all way stronger than you. So if they are available to fight a threat, you feel like you may as well not be there."
"Yeah, that's a summary," said Yamcha.
"So, the solution is to fight and beat the androids when Goku, Vegeta, and Piccolo aren't available to stop them?" said Bulma.
"What do you want me to do?" asked Yamcha. "Ask Goku to take a vacation when the Androids arrive on Amenbo Island? I can't risk the world just to prove I'm better than a rival. I'd be no better than Vegeta.
"God! Why do we even have to do this!
"If Goku would just let us kill Dr. Gero right now, I wouldn't have to waste my time! I could go back to baseball!"
Bulma blinked at the suggestion. "Kill Dr. Gero.
"Huh, I suggested that before, didn't I?"
"Yeah," said Yamcha. "Goku shot you down because, um... I'll get to it."
"'Dr. Gero hasn't done anything wrong yet.'" said Bulma. "Except, he might have."
"What do you mean?" asked Yamcha.
"The Red Ribbon Army weren't exactly nice people were they?" asked Bulma. "Their soldiers were psychos for hire, and they hurt a lot of people. And Gero built weapons and machinery to help them.
"Plus, depending on what kind of mad scientist he is, he might be doing bad stuff right now.
"So, let's track him down and stop him ahead of time!"
Yamcha put his face in his hands. "Okay, but Bulma, what if he really hasn't done anything?
"Hell, for all we know, these Androids are just some crazy experiment that got out of hand. Trunks weren't specific on his information, and we don't know his sources. Gero could have been innocent and just designed a psychotic AI like in the movies."
"Then we can talk him out of it," said Bulma. "Maybe he'll stop and turn over a new leaf."
"Okay, why can't we bring Goku in on it, then?" asked Yamcha. "Other than wanting the glory for ourselves."
"Think about it, Yamcha," said Bulma raising an index finger. "Goku has already refused to do it. Vegeta is busy wrecking my training equipment so he can have some big showdown. They've already refused to do anything about it. And Piccolo is training with Gohan.
"The heroes have refused to do anything about the problem. Not until it hits worst-case scenario! So this is our chance to be the heroes.
"We'll get together a crew, find Dr. Gero's lab! And then we'll save the world and get one over on the Saiyans at the same time!"
Yamcha looked more his old self all of a sudden, and the slump that had set into his shoulders rose. "It's a pretty good idea.
"Where do we start?"
"Um... well I..." Bulma paused. "Let's make a plan then."
Yamcha thought about it. "Alright, I'm going to go get Puar. We'll head to the Red Ribbon Army HQ and look for anything we can find there."
"Why not just run some numbers?" asked Bulma. "I mean, with a proper analysis, I could figure out where Gero is most likely to hide a lab. He'd need supply lines and workers and maintenance and stuff.
"It should be easy to track him down with the right paperwork."
"Right, but I'm no good at paperwork," said Yamcha. "And it'll be a lot faster if we find a list of Red Ribbon Army bases. Goku completely wrecked the place, and nobody lives there anyway. There might be a secret door or some info that has lasted this long."
"It's been a while since we were there," said Bulma. "You sure there's going to be anything left?"
"Bulma, we have two possible futures ahead of us, both capable of giving us what we want," said Yamcha. "One involves going on an adventure to track down an evil scientist's lab within the ruins of his fortress. The other involves spending hours looking through records. While periodically getting called out to fix Vegeta's gravity machine.
"Which would you prefer?"
Bulma did a cost-gain analysis. First of doing more menial labor and hitting books while getting a look at Vegeta shirtless. It was admittedly quite a sight. Then Bulma thought about going out under blue skies with an old friend. She remembered the first adventure she and Goku had had. In those days, it had been her, Goku, Yamcha, Oolong, and Puar. And she thought about stopping Gero outright. Which would let her rub the fact that she'd saved the world in a shirtless Vegeta's face.
There was really only one answer.
"Pack your things, Yamcha," said Bulma. "The Dragonball Gang is back in business!"
The sound of the gravity chamber exploding was audible. Vegeta was going to be very disappointed.