Life continued. Goku saw his sons off to school every morning with handmade lunches that, while not anything spectacular, were definitely made with love and greeted them happily every evening when he returned home from work. Chisa's parents had gotten a call about what had happened so she had been punished along with Goten. Neither child was overly angry about it, though, since they knew that it had been justified.

Gohan began to subtly change without his mother around and it was for the better. Before, he had been constantly corrected by Chi Chi whether he had deserved it or not and her treatment of him had left behind emotional scarring. He had started to believe that he was honestly worthless and would never do anything correctly as long as he lived. Goten, on the other hand, had pretty much ignored his mother. The teenager wished that he had the carefree attitude of his sibling, but was naturally more inclined towards brooding and worry. Slowly he began to take more risks, including speaking up in class more often and trying to connect with his peers socially. The end result of the chances he took often made him happy so he vowed to continue.

Chi Chi's departure actually affected Goku more than his sons. Of course the boys were sad and missed their mother, but Goku couldn't get the loss of her out of his mind. He had failed her. After the death of his adopted grandfather he'd wanted to have a family of his own more than anything else. He had gone the traditional route (marriage and children) but had never felt truly comfortable with that. He loved his sons, of that he had no doubt, but Chi Chi... Well, his relationship with Chi Chi hadn't been good beyond the first month or two. After the newness wore off, not a day had gone by without her nagging him about something. He had stoically taken it for years but everyone eventually reaches a point where they just can't take it anymore. Despite what many believed, being male didn't make him immune to emotional abuse. He had feelings and she had stomped all over them on a regular basis.

His distress had more to do with the fact that he'd failed her than the fact that she'd left, leaving only a short note behind. He hated to be a disappointment to anyone. If he was realistic, Chi Chi's disappointment was no one's fault but her own, but it still hurt to know that he'd inadvertently driven her away.

But he was now free. Free to live his life the way he wanted without incurring his wife's wrath. A big smile stretched across his face, one the likes of which hadn't been seen by anyone in a long, long time. It was a smile of pure joy. Goku threw the covers back on the king-sized bed and hopped to his feet. He felt like singing and so he did.



Across the hall, Gohan stirred and his face twisted with displeasure. Normally he liked his father's singing voice, but his sleep was being rudely interrupted. In the next moment he thought about how long it had been since he'd heard his father sing and realized that he couldn't remember. That, in itself, was enough for him to begin to appreciate the old Japanese popular song.

"...Shiawase wa kumo no ue ni
Shiawase wa sora no ue ni...
"[1]

Gohan got up and slid his feet into the slippers beside his bed. Across the room, Goten was still asleep, one arm flung over the edge of the bed. Gohan gently moved it back beside him before leaving the room.

He followed the sound of his father's voice to the kitchen. It was still pretty early in the morning and the lights of the colony hadn't brightened from the dim setting they were on during its inactive hours to simulate night. Goku was setting up the small electronic coffee pot. He would have set the timer the night before but he had never gotten it to work correctly.

"Ohayo[2], Tousan," Gohan said quietly so he didn't startle him. He used, for the first time in years, the informal word for father.

"Ohayo, Gohan!" His father retrieved two boxes of cereal from the cupboard -- the plain oat circles that Gohan favored and the sugary "jewels" that he and Goten preferred -- and grabbed three bowls. "Did you sleep okay?"

"Yes, until I was awakened by the sound of Ue o Muite Arukou[3]..."

Goku blushed. "Sorry 'bout that."

Gohan waved away his apology. "I enjoyed it. It's been a long time since you were in the mood to sing."

"I feel free," he admitted. "And even though that song is kinda sad, I still like it. You have to admit it fits my life right now."

"Yes, it does. But Tousan? I don't think happiness will stay away for long. Things will get better."

It was strange being comforted by his son instead of the other way around, but also kind of nice. "I hope so."

After the usual task of bodily hauling his younger brother out of bed, Gohan finished his breakfast and finished preparing for school. He and Goten hugged his father farewell and picked up Chisa before heading off to their respective schools. Goku had the day off so he decided to actually look through the box he'd shoved into a corner of the living room that fateful day one week ago. He was fairly sure that it was exactly what he'd ordered, but had no idea why it would come in such a large box.

In his spare time, Goku re-built old cars to resell. It wasn't a very lucrative business as not many people on the colony could afford to buy one once finished, but he enjoyed it and it brought in extra income. Usually he bought fixer-uppers from the salvagers that routinely stopped by the colony and exported them to customers throughout Intergal. Raquelle owned the shop he frequented for special orders and she was forever pestering him to come work for her. He didn't like the thought of it, however. He was worried that working together would eventually destroy their friendship. So he continually turned her down even though his salary would be higher and he would have better benefits. In his current job he wasn't hurting for money but neither was he really making enough to save any of it. At Raquelle's place, he would be.

Now that he was a single parent he seriously contemplated taking her up on her offer. Even though there was one less person in the household, Gohan would be graduating from high school soon and he knew that he wanted to attend college. Although his eldest was intelligent and usually earned very good grades, it wasn't wise to count on an academic scholarship to cover all of his expenses.

But these thoughts were too heavy on a "free day" so he did his best to push them from his mind.

Dragging the box out, he opened the flaps and began pulling out parts and placing them on the coffee table amongst the remote control, several magazines, some loose change, and his house keys. The current car he was working on had needed a new carburetor, a new steering column, and its fuel system had to be updated to meet modern safety regulations. This was in addition to four new tires, some body work, and leather reupholstering. He would be lucky if he made even a little profit, but bringing old autos back from the dead was one of his passions.

Everything he'd ordered was in the box, much to his satisfaction, along with a few things he hadn't. Elle had assured him that she'd checked everything out (and, indeed, the box had been opened), but it seemed that she hadn't done it well enough. Goku sighed at the thought of making the trip to return the extra items, but he needed to talk to her about the job opening anyway.

But first he just had to see what they were.

There was a small leather-bound book in the box along with a flat, rectangular metal thing he had never seen the likes of before. The book didn't have any sort of writing on its cover to tell him what it was (which, of course, made him even more curious to know). The metal rectangle, however, was more interesting even at first glance. It was about eight inches long, three inches wide, and 1/16th of an inch thick. It was surprisingly heavy, though, and was covered in embossing on one side that may or may not be trying to communicate something. He ran thick fingers across the uneven surface, tracing each and every line of the pattern. He easily lost himself for ten minutes during his tactile investigation before he realized what he was doing and set it down onto the table. Immediately his hand went back and picked it up again.

"What the hell is going on?" he asked aloud.

There was something attractive about this strange piece of steel, something that drew him irresistibly. It looked like something ancient and brand new all at once, which was an impossible thing to consider. Maybe it was the way the patterns were laid out. They reminded him a little of pictographs of ancient Egypt, but more of the spiral patterns of the Celts. However, ancient Earth history was not a subject he was particularly fluent in. He liked the way that it looked and that was that.

He wished that he could keep his hand out of contact with it but that was apparently a big no-no. It would make for some pretty awkward moments going to the bathroom, that was for sure.

Groaning softly at his own bad attempt at humor, Goku grabbed his wrist with the opposite hand and forcefully pulled it away. It was hard resisting the lure but it helped when he turned his head away from it. Determinedly, he turned his attention to the book. Who knew what would happen if he picked it up, but he wanted to know what was inside. Maybe it would have information on the metal thingie.

When his hand made contact with it he was almost disappointed when nothing happened. It was, for all intents and purposes, completely harmless. The worn leather was cool and soft to the touch, a spiderweb of tiny cracks marring its surface. He gently opened the book and immediately noted words penned in faded black ink on the first page in the language of his youth. The strokes of the kanji were broad and self-assure. "Ikiru wa shinuru... shinuru wa ikiru," he breathed. To live is to die... and to die is to live.

Feeling decidedly creeped out, Goku shut the book again and shoved it (and the metal rectangle) back into the box far beneath his auto parts. He wanted to forget they ever existed.

***
Trunks didn't want to go to school, he wanted to be tutored at home. Yet he knew that even if his father could afford it that he would disapprove so he had no choice but to attend an actual school like other kids his age. He'd learned the day he had gone with Vegeta to be registered that there were usually only two elementary schools in each sector, more if the population warranted it. Likewise there was only one middle/high school combination per sector, but two of the more populated ones had them as separate buildings. Each sector was like a small city, actually, with Solaris itself as the nation. They each had their own autonomy and variations in their laws but had to report to the Solaran Central Government that most citizens simply called the "gov".

The lavender-haired boy showered and dressed for his first day of school morosely. He grabbed his brand new backpack that was filled with his brand new school supplies and listlessly headed to the kitchen to pick at his breakfast. Vegeta rolled his eyes at his son's theatrics but declined to comment on them.

"You want me to walk you to school?" he asked.

"How old do I look like to you? Next year I'll be in middle school!" Trunks looked up from his single slice of toast and caught the quickly-hidden look of hurt on his father's face. "Hey, I'm sorry. It's just that-"

"It's okay. You're eleven, right? You're old enough to walk to school by yourself." Vegeta couldn't believe that he was hurt by Trunks' rejection. Who knew that having a kid around would turn you into a big pile of mush?

They ate in uncomfortable silence. Trunks choked down his toast, drank his juice, and headed toward the front door. Before he pulled on his shoes, he ran back to where his father was still sitting in the small kitchen and threw his arms around his neck. "I love ya, okay? Don't forget!"

His father smiled to himself. "I won't."

"Good. I'll be home 'bout three-thirty. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"I assume that means that I can do anything I want." Trunks playfully punched him in the arm for the comment and headed off to school.

S.S. No. 18 (Solaran School Number 18) was only a few blocks away from his house. It wasn't at all creatively named and neither was the other school. The secondary schools had original names while all of the elementary schools (because there were so many) were only numbered. In the elevator there were two other kids around his age that couldn't stop staring at him. He pretended not to notice during the ride but as soon as they stepped outside, one of the two brought up the reason why she'd found him so fascinating.

"You're new, huh?" the little girl asked. She was human with ordinary brown hair and brown eyes.

"Gee, you're really smart if you can figure that out," Trunks answered with a roll of his eyes. The sarcasm was completely lost on her. It wasn't lost on the boy, though.

"You don't have to be mean," he said. "She was just asking you a question."

"I don't like it when people ask stupid questions. If you haven't ever seen me before, don't you think it's obvious that I'm new?" He opened the door to the outside and stepped out into the relative brightness of the colony. The simulated sky above his head wasn't as blue as he was used to, but it wasn't half bad.

He could hear the boy behind him call him an unflattering, childish name and he rolled his eyes again.

As it turned out, those stares in the elevator were only the first of many. It seemed like everyone couldn't keep their eyes off him. There were so many amusing things he could say about that, but there was no one to say them to so he kept quiet. On the playground while everyone was waiting to be allowed into the school, he sat down on a low stone wall and quietly observed. As usual, the kids around him acted like... kids. Shouting and screaming and chasing each other all across the playground.

A teacher came over to him and tried to engage him in conversation. "You're Trunks Briefs, right? Your father enrolled you on Friday."

"Yeah." He didn't look up at her.

"Why don't you go play with the others?"

"I don't feel like running around like an idiot." He finally looked up at her. "I don't belong here."

The young woman sighed as she stared into his intelligent eyes. "Haven't you ever just wanted to be a kid? You know, be carefree."

"No one is carefree. That's only an illusion. And if they are, that only means they're too stupid to have cares." Before she could respond, the bell rang to signal the start of the school day. "May I be excused?" he asked with barely suppressed contempt.

The teacher pitied the colleague who would have him in their class. He would do nothing but analyze their every word. "Of course. Do you know which class you're in?" He gave her a look of resentment so strong that she actually took an involuntary step backward. "Um, of course you do. My mistake."

Trunks got up stiffly and entered the school with the other children. As soon as he was through the doors, he allowed a small, satisfied smirk to cross his face. He still had it.

***
He tried to think of things that were worse than reading hour and couldn't come up with anything. Even a slow and painful brain death was better in his mind.

Simply put, his fellow sixth-graders couldn't read to save their lives. They stumbled over the pronunciation of simple, two-syllable words, they ignored punctuation like it didn't exist, and God forbid if they used anything other than a monotone. He'd stopped paying attention to where they wore ten minutes ago and was currently trying not to take his freshly-sharpened pencil and shove it up the current reader's nose.

"Trunks, would you like to read next?" the teacher, a felid named Mr. Rhuka asked.

"Not particularly," he drawled, "but I don't want anyone else to read so doing it myself would be the lesser of two evils." The other kids stared at him, wondering why he was speaking like an adult, while Mr. Rhuka frowned. "Would you be so kind as to tell me what page we're on?"

"Sixty-five," the man responded from between gritted teeth. He was already mentally forming the request to have Trunks transferred out of his class.

So Trunks began to read, continuing the short story of a girl and her pony when he would rather be doing anything but. His strong voice never faltered; it was clear, loud, and every single word was enunciated perfectly. It was child's play for him, really, when he could read at college level. Never did he allow his air of superiority to fade. He thought of his classmates as stupid children not worthy of his time and wanted each and every one of them to know that.

He kept reading to the end of the story then pulled a notebook out of his backpack. At his old school, the teacher had always made them do all of the questions after reading the selection. Writing would give him something to do for ten more minutes, something to keep his mind off of his misery. Much to his horror, however, the teacher decided to have a class disscussion about the story instead. His patience at an end, Trunks quickly packed up his things and got up from his chair.

Rhuka stopped talking immediately. "Trunks, where are you going? You haven't been given permission."

"I'm going home," he informed him matter-of-factly. "I want to read a book that's more on my level. Maybe The Iliad."

The man stared at him, his almond-shaped eyes wide and shocked. "You're joking."

"Nope." He grinned at him. "I actually read it a few years ago, but it'll be nice to read it again. See ya, Mr. Rhuka." He gave a jaunty wave and then left the room.

Once out in the hallway, Trunks let out a deep sigh and ran his hand agitatedly through his hair. "What the hell am I going to do now? I don't know if he's home or not." It was also pretty bad that he was going to be suspended from school on his very first day. Well, he didn't really know for sure if he would be, but he thought that was a fairly appropriate punishment for walking out of a class.

In the end he decided to talk a walk around his new home and hope he didn't get lost. Stepping onto the sidewalk in front of the school, he paused a moment to orient himself before heading off in a direction he decided to call south. It took him towards the air lock to Aros but he wasn't going to actually go there. He didn't trust the air locks enough to use them by himself. It had nothing at all to do with the fact that he didn't know how to work them.

He received more than a few stares as he strode down the street. Kids his age were definitely supposed to be in school at ten o'clock in the morning. Trunks met every speculative look with a look of warning and the adults found themselves turning away first.

His ego had been successfully boosted that day. His new classmates and new teacher had done nothing to redeem themselves in his eyes. Every interaction he had with people was heavily flavored with condescension and disgust. He didn't trust anyone as far as he could throw them and, thanks to his Saiya-jin genetics, that was actually pretty far. Long ago his mother had destroyed his ability to trust. It wasn't that he didn't want to but he actually grew panicked whenever he started to feel himself becoming close to a person. His father was systematically tearing down his walls, however, because Trunks realized how much they were alike. He honestly believed that he could trust his father but still found it very difficult to do so.

He spent the remainder of the time before school ended for the day sitting in a small park that consisted of only a wooden bench with flaking paint and a sickly-looking tree. Plants didn't have much of a chance for survival in the artificial sunlight and weather of a colony unless they were carefully tended. So far, Solaris was nothing like Amida. Everything was so worn looking and unfriendly from the overuse of steel in construction. Not that Amida had been friendly. While the cities were in a far better state of repair, they'd had this air of sterility and unearthly perfection that didn't really garner feelings of ease and comfort. To an extent it had been like living in a museum.

Trunks loved Solaris already. He had never fit into his mother's world of dinner parties and perfection. It was his Saiya-jin blood, he figured (as had his mother and grandparents), that made him into such an "uncivilized" person. But the wildness was a part of who he was and he wouldn't change it for anything in the world.

He pulled out his brand new key and unlocked the downstairs security door before using his house key to check the mailbox. There were only a few letters in there, most of them bills. Even with the advent of high level computer technology, some people still preferred an ancient method of information delivery. He decided to take the stairs as he had a lot of excess energy to burn off and made it up to the third floor in record time. Opening the door, he toed his shoes off and dropped his backpack on top of them.

"Hi!" he called. "Are you home?"

"In the kitchen," was Vegeta's reply. "I have something to talk to you about."

Trunks frowned at his father's tone of voice, but didn't hesitate to make his way to him. "Yeah? What's up?"

His father was leaning against the counter, one eyebrow raised. "Your teacher called me. What's this about you walking out of class?"

"It sucked," he whined, tossing the mail onto the table. "I shouldn't be forced to deal with that." When Vegeta's expression didn't become sympathetic (if anything it became harder), Trunks groaned and threw himself into the nearest chair.

"Aw, I'm screwed, aren't I?"

"You sure as hell are," was his father's reply.




[1] = "Happiness lies beyond the clouds/Happiness lies up above the sky"
[2] = good morning
[3] = the title means "I Look Up As I Walk" but this song is better known to English-speakers as "Sukiyaki" (even though that's the name of a Japanese dish and has nothing at all to do with the song). For more info click here.


Author's Note: Bet you can't guess where ikiru wa shinuru, shinuru wa ikiru originally came from. I'll give you two hints... it's from one of my favorite anime series and it was spoken (repeatedly) during a period of the series that was centered around seven men.
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