[ Contents | II. Earth | III. The Search | IV. A Village ]



By Dragoness Eclectic



"Whew! Bulma, we've got a huge list of wish legends here. Even after weeding out the purely fictional ones, there's.." Gohan squinted at the screen, "7386 at last count. Now what?"

"Now we use those enhanced filters I designed. First, we dump all the ones that are too vague to be correlated with anything in the real world--no identifiers as to name, species, place, distinctive landmarks, and so on--for example, take this one from China: how on earth would we find one magic talking carp in all the rivers and lakes of China? There's nothing in the legend to pin it down to a particular river, lake, district, mountain range or whatever. So, we dump it."

"What about cross-correlation with variations?" Gohan worried they might miss something.

"Already done. Related legends are merged if they have enough parallels without mutually exclusive conditions--for example, our carp has some correlation with other talking fish stories--but they originate from Europe and Japan. Sure, maybe the same story has travelled a bit, and all the stories are variations the same true one--but how do we know where it came from, and what bits are from the 'original' story, and what bits are added local flavor? We don't, so it goes in the 'last-chance' stack."

[Bulma at the computer]

Art by Emby Quinn

Bulma entered the command to start her filter programs running, and stood up. "Gohan, let's take a break and see what kind of trouble the kids are getting into. I don't know about you, but my eyeballs are ready to fall out." She rubbed her eyes.

Two weeks ago, Gohan had generously offered to help Bulma with her search for a wish. As time allowed, after his homework was done, he and Bulma plundered the world's electronic libraries of folklore literature and anthropology reports. Chi-chi wouldn't let Gohan stay up past his normal bedtime, but deftly turned aside Goku's attempts to 'get his son outside more'; this project of Bulma's was good preparation for Gohan in learning how to do serious, college-level research. He was learning a lot from Bulma, Chi-chi could see that.

Goten was roughhousing with his grandpa on the floor, holding his fingers against his head pretending they were horns and butting Ox King in stomach, all the while yelling "Noxking! Noxking!" at the top of his lungs. Ox King would laugh and toss Goten up to where the toddler could grab his horns and swing from them, giggling. Bulma smiled; that youngster was a real handful and Chi-chi was going to need all the help she could get from Ox King, Goku and Gohan. He was so different from the quiet, shy lad that Gohan had been when she first met him, or that Trunks was--if anything, Goten was a lot like young Goku must have been, before Bulma met him.

Bulma checked on Trunks; he and Goku were just finishing up his training session. "Bath first, then snacks," she admonished him as he darted for the kitchen. She smiled at Goku. "Thanks for everything."

He blushed. "It's no big deal; I'd have done it anyway. He needs to keep up his training--we found out the hard way that not training Gohan was a mistake, and.." he trailed off, finding it hard to say the words he knew would bring the tears back to Bulma's eyes.

"..and his father isn't here to train him." She smiled wryly through the tears blurring her eyes. "He'd probably throw a fit if he knew 'Kakarott' was training HIS royal son, but I think he'd rather have you train Trunks than anyone else. I know I do."

* * *

Come the weekend, Goku finally prevailed on Chi-chi to get Gohan off the computer and out of the house--he and Gohan would take the kids fishing. Bulma assured Gohan that tweaking the archaeology search engine program was a one-woman job, and that he wouldn't miss anything. Chi-chi insisted on packing picnic lunches for everyone, because "What happens if you get hungry before you catch a fish big enough to eat?" Trunks demanded a backpack and lunch of his own, because "I'm not baby like Goten any more!". Chi-chi suspected that Trunks worried that Goku might eat his lunch and Trunks' lunch, too, if it was all in the same hamper. Goten didn't voice any opinions, he just ran around the kitchen leaping and diving to the floor, yelling "Splash!" every time he dove and rolled.

"No, Trunks, not sushi!" Chi-chi took the sushi pack from his backpack and put it back in the refrigerator. "You don't have a backpack cooler, and sushi isn't good after three hours in the sun. Trust me. Take the stuffed dumplings instead, and some fruit." Chi-chi insisted on supervising the boys' lunches ever since the day Bulma caught Trunks and Goten catching crawfish in the creek out back--and eating them.

"But Mom! Crawfish really are food! The Americans eat them; Gohan showed me in his Geography book."

"They wash them and cook them, first!" Bulma had retorted. "And don't tell me you were having crawfish sushi, either. For that, you bring them to the kitchen, and have Chi-chi supervise you cleaning and peeling them. We do not eat them shell and all with the mud still on them!"

* * *

Goten liked the rocks. The river bed was full of big, round rocks that were just perfect for a little boy to laboriously climb to the top of, and stand at the summit in triumph. "Daddy! Look a' me!" he yelled. Sometimes, for variety, he called Trunks or Gohan, but they were always busy staring at the water and playing with those poles. After twenty rocks or so, even Daddy didn't seem interested in his game. After thirty rocks, Goten himself was bored and wandered off into the woods looking for something interesting.

Raditz was almost as bored as Goten. Watching Bulma and Gohan play with the computer for the last few weeks had been as exciting as watching paint dry. No more maras had shown up, Bulma had quit wandering off into the spirit plane in her dreams, and with Kakarott and Gohan around, Bulma was quite safe from any mundane threats. He felt quite unnecessary, but he had promised Vegeta.. and he wasn't going to break a promise again. Not ever.

Oh well, that was guard duty for you. Spend eight hours straight watching Nappa snore, and then in a split second some chitinous thing jumps out of the woods and tries to eat you. At least here he wouldn't have Vegeta making sarcastic remarks about his technique if some demon did pop out of the rocks. Not that he expected one to; the local river spirit seemed to be a pretty laid back sort.

Where was that kid wandering off to?

Trunks was safe enough with Kakarott and Gohan; Raditz hadn't promised anyone to watch out for Kakarott's kids, but.. Goten was his nephew. He shadowed the child as Goten wandered under the ferns. The big frilly leaves seemed to fascinate the toddler, who spent some time wrapping a number of them around himself and wearing them in his hair.

Then he found the tree with the big slabs of shelf fungus growing up the side. "Climb!" he said, and started hauling himself up the tree, using the fungus as a ladder.

"Kid, I don't think that's such a good idea," Raditz said, frustrated at his immaterial condition and consequent inability to do much without a great deal of trouble. Where the hell was Gohan, or Kakarott or even Trunks? Not that a fall from this short distance could really hurt a kid with this much Saiyan blood, but it still made Raditz nervous. What worse trouble could this kid find unattended?

Suddenly Goten looked around, and jumped down to the ground again. He looked through Raditz, apparently unaware of the ghost, and bellowed, "GOTEN! I'M GOTEN!"

"No kidding--everything in the woods knows that now. I'm your Uncle Raditz, kid--not that you can hear a word I'm saying, but what the hell." If someone doesn't show up for this kid Real Soon, I'm going to have to get Kakarott's attention. I really don't want to do that.

Goten stopped suddenly and cocked his head, looking in Raditz's direction. "Nunk Rats?" He pointed at Raditz and grinned. "Nunk Rats! Hair!"

Oh, crud. The kid CAN hear me. And see me. He's Ox King's grandson, and too young to have learned that he's not supposed to be able to see spirits. Crud. He probably doesn't even know I'm a ghost, or what a ghost is.

Goten charged and tried to tackle one of Raditz's legs. He passed right through the insubstantial spirit and banged into a tree. "HEY!" He rubbed his head, looking angry, and then jumped up and tried to grab hold of Raditz's interesting hair. He fell through empty air again. He howled his anger. "NO FAIR! NO FAIR!"

"Yes, it's fair." Raditz squatted down by the youngster, and reached out to grab him with one large hand. Goten's eyes went wide as the hand passed through him without touching. "Fair--you can't touch me, I can't touch you."

Goten plopped down on the ground and thought about that for a bit. He looked up at Raditz and pouted. "Fair," he conceded. "No fun."

"I agree, kid. It's no fun at all." Raditz sighed and stood up.

At this, Trunks came running through the woods. "Goten! Oh, you're all right." He looked around; nothing but the empty woods and Goten sitting by himself pouting. "Why were you yelling? Come on, I'm going to be in trouble for letting you wander off when I was supposed to be watching you."

"Nunk Rats," Goten explained. "Want hair, but no fun."

"Sure, whatever." Trunks rolled his eyes at the baby's inability to speak coherently. At five, he felt immeasurably superior to the toddler still in diapers. Not only could he speak so that any adult could understand him, he was learning how to write characters already! Could Goten even count to ten yet?

Trunks seized Goten by the arm and half-dragged him back to the river, to find a frowning Goku and sheepish Gohan waiting for them. Gohan scowled at Trunks as soon as he saw him. He started to say something, but Goku interrupted him.

"Trunks, sit down. Gohan, you were told to watch the kids. Why were Trunks and Goten off in the woods by themselves?" Goku's voice was calm but dangerous.

"Umm, I told Trunks to watch Goten.." Gohan gulped, knowing he was in trouble.

"Trunks is only five, Gohan. He's still a baby, not old enough to be looking after another baby." Only Gohan could see the wink Goku gave Gohan.

Trunks jumped up, indignant. "I am NOT a baby! I can so look after Goten." He looked downcast. "I was careless, sir. It was my fault, I shouldn't have been paying so much attention to the fish. But I did go looking for him when I noticed he was gone!"

Goku looked grave. "I'm afraid it was a mistake to trust you with that kind of responsibility. By the time you noticed he was gone, Goten could have fallen down a hole, been eaten by one of the dinosaurs roaming the woods.." He shook his head.

Trunks bit his lip, struggling to hold back tears of shame. "It won't happen again, Goku-san! I promise! You can trust me!"

Goku nodded solemnly. "I believe I can. However.." He turned to his eldest son. "Gohan, you were responsible for supervising Trunks. You let him down, you let me down. You're older than he is, I expect you to be a lot more responsible." Goku never raised his voice.

Gohan cringed; it was his turn for shame. "I'm sorry, dad. I do know better, and I did let you down. I won't let it happen again, dad." His face was crimson, and his heart was in his shoes somewhere--he'd disappointed Dad!

"Let me show you something. Pick up Goten. Trunks, follow me." Goku led the boys about a half-mile downriver, around a bend. Gohan gaped as the river dropped abruptly in front of them; a waterfall. The bank they had been following also dropped off. Goku pointed down; Gohan peered over the edge at a fifty-foot drop onto rocks and jagged, broken driftwood. He turned white.

Goku didn't say a word, and Gohan and Trunks were silent as they hiked back to their picnic site. When they got there, Goku turned back to them, all smiles, and said, "We've got some nice fish here. Let's eat!". He never said another word about what had gone before, and they never forgot it.

* * *

"Hey, guys!" Bulma yelled late one evening, several days later. "I think we've got something!" She was at the computer, reviewing the latest search results. "Gohan, remember the one about the village with the well spirit that grants wishes?"

Gohan looked up from his studies. "Which one?"

Goten was sitting on the floor playing with his toys. He looked up, and smiled happily. "Nunk Rats."

Chi-chi, who had just finished cleaning up from supper, looked quizzically at Goten. "Does anyone know what Goten is saying? He's been saying that ever since Goku took him fishing. I can usually figure out what he means, but 'nunk rats' is a mystery to me."

"The Japanese one," Bulma answered Gohan. "The kami of the underground spring grants a wish every century, remember that one? I've found an archaeology report on the excavation of an ancient village that might correspond to the legend." Her voice was tense with barely restrained excitement.

"Uh," Gohan answered, distracted between his mother and Bulma. "That's nice. Mom, I think it must be something he sees in the woods. Trunks says he's always saying that when they're outside exploring."

"'That's nice'?!?" Bulma exclaimed dangerously. "We've been working on this for a month, and finally have some interesting results, and all you can say is 'That's nice'?!?"

"That's great, Bulma! What have you got?" Gohan jumped up and hurried over to Bulma, looking over her shoulder.

"Well, first," she said as she brought a map up on the screen, "the report mentions the local folklore about the kami of the spring. Second," she pointed out various features on the excavation map, "the key landmarks in the legend are all there. Third, the university never finished the excavation." She lowered her voice so that Chi-chi would not hear. "I made some inquiries; they never reapplied for their grant after the professor in charge of the expedition, and two grad students.. disappeared."

Gohan glanced at his mother, she seemed oblivious to their conversation. "This is good?" He looked skeptical.

"It means Something is going on," Bulma whispered back. "Maybe not a kami granting wishes, maybe it's someone else after the wish, maybe something else entirely. But it is Something, and Something is a lot more promising than nothing. I'm only going to investigate it, just to see if there's anything to it. If there is, and it looks dangerous, of course I'll ask Goku to come with."

"Wait until next week, when I start vacation. I'm coming with you." Gohan said, determined.

Bulma started to protest, but stopped after glancing at his face. She knew that look on Gohan's face--she'd seen it on Namek when he turned back to face Frieza--he would not be dissuaded by anything Bulma said. Well, she would feel a lot safer having the young saiyan with her, anyway--and whatever had removed three ordinary humans could hardly be a match for one of the three--two, now--most powerful fighters in the world, could it?

"Nunk Rats?" Goten said interestedly.

Quantum electronics were absurdly easy to touch, compared to large material objects and people. Raditz reached past Bulma and scrolled to the 'folklore' section of the report, and read the additional details Bulma hadn't mentioned. Evil sorceror; soul-stealing ghost warriors; a curse on the village, and a captive kami in the power of the sorceror. And--something *real* ate three people. Uh-huh. Now he knew why Vegeta thought Bulma needed watching over...

Bulma noticed out of the corner of her eye that the screen was scrolling itself to sections of the report she didn't want to worry Gohan and Chi-chi with. She smiled, and moved herself in front of the screen, trying to act casual, while simultaneously trying to hit the "Save & Close" command without being seen. Gohan looked at her oddly.

"Nunk Rats fun?" Goten asked hopefully as he toddled over to the computer. He waved his arms wildly in front of Bulma, and frowned. "No. Nunk Rats not fun," he said forlornly.

"What is with this kid?" Bulma scratched her head. "AND WILL SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT THE HELL A 'NUNK RATS' IS?!!?"

"'Puter fun?" Goten suddenly jumped up onto the console and started poking at buttons.

"AAGGGHHH!" Bulma pulled him off the computer, but it was too late. "NOOOOO! He hit CANCEL! Now I've got to retrieve that report all over again!"

"Well," Gohan grinned, "I guess that means you'll be ready by the time my vacation starts."

"Ooooohhh!" Bulma steamed.

"What's up?" Trunks came in, still toweling his hair dry. "Did I miss something?"

"Miss what?" Goku finally wandered in, hair dripping. "Bulma, why are you sitting on the computer?"


* * *


[ Contents | II. Earth | III. The Search | IV. A Village ]

Disclaimer: See Credits.

Copyright 2000 by Dragoness Eclectic