“Oy mate, I’m the most handsome in the universe!”
“Hmmm… I think not. Please, I am far more handsome. There is no argument you could possibly make to say otherwise.”
“Wha… you?! Notta chance!”
Salza leaned back against the tree, its drooping blue-green leaves providing him a spot of shade. He took a bite from the orange-white fruit in his hand and chuckled to himself. “Your eyes must not be working. There is no comparison between me and you.”
“Oh yeah?!” Jeice jumped to his feet, kicking sand about. “How’s about I wipe that smug grin off yer ugly blue face, eh? How’d ya like that, mate?”
Salza smiled, closing his eyes to savor another bite. Swallowing, he disappeared suddenly and reappeared behind Jeice. It was nothing to trip the white-haired imbecile, and when Jeice tried to counter him, Salza simply slapped him across the face. The hit wasn’t so hard, but Jeice fell like a bag of rocks all the same.
“Oooooh, he gotcha there!” Burter hissed pleasantly. He was sitting up against another tree, nibbling on a chocolate nut bar. “Heh, you’re too slow, Jeice!”
“Hmph, he just caught me off guard is all,” the pouty man muttered, sitting up and shaking the sand from his self-proclaimed illustrious hair. To Salza, that white puff of hair was all greed and no sense. He would never be caught dead with such long hair in a fight. Any opponent could use that against him. Jeice wasn’t very smart, though. “The cap’n’ll put you in yer place,” Jeice complained. “He’ll beat you good!”
“I do not think so,” Salza said slowly, his space french accent thick with determination. “I’m more handsome than him too.”
Ginyu stood at the shore, throwing stones into the waves. Islands grew out of the ocean, and the air was choked by tropical heat. Alien birds circled above the empty amaranthine sky. Diminutive monkey-like creatures stalked the tree branches silently, watching the aliens below. Salza didn’t mind them, even the youngsters who threw fruit seeds at him. They were brazen, yes, but more ignorant than vengeful. They were to be pitied, not destroyed.
Humid was the air; like fawning girls, the wet breeze clawed at Salza’s armor. Ginyu skipped rocks into the seafoam. The others’ eyes were on Salza. He was relaxed, loose. He felt fine. This wasn’t something to worry about.
In the sky, traces of pink smoke snaked through sprawling cloud structures. Their scouters beeped. Cooler made himself a crater on the beach. They never flinched.
“So you’re the officer who wishes to lead my Armored Squadron?” His voice was haughty, but not disrespectful. He glared at Salza inquisitively. The most beautiful man in the universe did not back down.
“Ginyu is my brother’s man. Prove yourself against him, and I may be generous.”
“I will not fail you, Lord Cooler!” Salza shouted passionately. “I am your man, sir.”
“Very good, very good,” the tyrant replied in a bored tone. “Get on with it then.”
“Alright!” Ginyu suddenly turned around, grinning broadly. “Kinda puny, aren’t cha? Heheheh. You’re gonna regret challenging me!”
“I don’t think so,” Salza replied lazily, staring at the glossed-over waves. “My power level exceeds yours, Captain.”
“Heh, sure it does.”
“If you doubt me, show me.”
Salza flicked his hair back. The waves crashed against the shore; the white sandy beach sparkled and shined, and the alien birds circled overhead, singing into the wind. It was time to make a name for himself.
Sucking in a breath, the slim warrior sunk into a posture. Ginyu was again facing the sea.
“Show me why you should lead,” Cooler whispered. “Now.”
The Arcosian lord walked over to a nearby tropical tree with striped viridian-and-sapphire leaves and pulled two hairy space coconuts from it. He handed one to Ginyu and one to Salza.
“I like your creativity, sir,” Ginyu swooned, his chiseled chin slacking in a smile. He bounced the coconut in one hand. “Do you wanna see who can eat theirs the fastest, or what?”
Salza held his space coconut close like a baby space chimp, and he wouldn’t let it go for anything, unless Lord Cooler willed it.
“No, captain, you’re going to throw them.”
“Throw?” Salza was confused.
“Whoever throws their coconut farther becomes the new captain of my Armored Squadron.”
“That’s it?!” Salza was horrified. He expected a fight, not this. “Is this some kind of joke?”
“Oy, mate, sling it good, eh?” Jeice was smiling devilishly. He knew just as well as everyone else that Salza had spurned the Galactic Little League in his youth, instead pursuing a career in hardcore linguistics. Currently, Salza could speak more than 7000 languages fluently, though he would never ever speak any of them aside from the common tongue. He had no experience throwing space coconuts on a world such as this – the gravity here was three times that of his homeworld.
The island trees swayed in the warm summer breeze. The waves went out and came in again. The two men took their marks on the white sandy beach. A timid space monkey sat on Recoome’s head, picking bugs from his hair. Their auras flared; on the count of three, the coconuts were in the air. This was the most significant moment of Salza’s life. If he succeeded, he would reach a position he had only dreamed of reaching. And if he failed, this was likely the end of his ambitions.
High above the clear blue waters, alien birds were biding their time. One dove into the sea, spraying foam bubbles into the air. The space coconuts sailed by, one next to the other, like burning meteors, white-hot chem-trails following them over the azure-sparkling waters. Both Salza and Ginyu were at full strength, their auras blanketing their bodies in ki. When finally the two coconuts sank behind the horizon, no one could tell which had traveled further.
“Now, draw my face in the sand,” Cooler said seriously.
“Sir?” Salza was confused again. “I-I thought–”
“Shut up Salza, I’m making art!” Ginyu boasted, flipping around, making poses on the beach as he studied Cooler’s face. With the poke of a toe, he etched a crude drawing of the Arcosian into the sand, just beyond the lapping of the waves. Ginyu was grunting and posing and humming to himself as he drew. Salza would not have disgraced himself had not the strongest being in the universe ordered him to fulfill this most ridiculous request. Begrudgingly, he shot a sloppy purple finger beam into the sand and melted it to glass in a vague, child-like attempt at rendering Lord Cooler’s mighty face.
“Heh, nice try, kid.” Captain Ginyu was as proud as he was reckless. He flopped onto the ground, stretching himself out as he made sand angels, so happy was he. “But your drawing skills don’t match up to mine.”
“I’m a fighter, not a drawer,” Salza retorted coldly. His cheeks burned in embarrassment.
Cooler observed them without saying a word. Ginyu posed some more; his picture was rough too, though it was indisputably better than Salza’s. Still, the Brench did not mind. He did not care how his artistic skills matched up to that fool. He only wanted to fight him.
“Now, you will both dive into the ocean, and whoever holds their breath the longest wins,” Cooler said patiently, but astutely. “No cheating. If you do, I’ll kill you myself.”
“Yes sir!” they said in unison.
Cooler was a hard man to read. Salza wondered what he thought of the drawing and of the coconut throwing. But still, he rose with Ginyu into the air and approached the sea. He could almost hear Jeice sniggering at him, or was that the wind?
They stared at each other, hating and knowing. Salza would win this challenge. Ginyu was no match for him. One way or another, Ginyu would fail. Salza was the stronger warrior. He would not be denied what was his by rights. He would not lose.
They descended into the waves together, Ginyu pirouetting, Salza with his arms crossed. The last thing Salza saw before he went under was Jeice and Burter staring at him pathetically as they chewed on fruit with space monkeys on their shoulders.
Underneath the waves, schools of rainbow-shimmering fish fluttered about indecisively. Salza lowered himself into a meditative pose; Ginyu slouched against a seaweed-covered rock. Salza wondered how long members of Ginyu’s species could usually hold their breath. He wasn’t in the business of finding out, however. After two minutes, Salza opened his eyes and stood. The horned alien watched him nonchalantly. Salza drew a blade of energy, which burned indigo and boiled the water around it. Pale seaweed glowed pink in the light of his ki. Salza stepped forward, sinking his boot into the mud, where worms and hidden angels crawled amongst the muck. That was not his care now.
Bubbles escaped the Brench’s lips as he pressed the attack. Ginyu jumped up in surprise, shooting a flurry of ki blasts at Salza to stay his berserker charge. They swarmed around him like a school of fish. He cut through Ginyu’s energy cleanly.
Ginyu staggered back, even as Salza lunged and punched the purple-skinned alien across the forehead. Ginyu grunted, spitting bubbles, and again Salza was swinging his blade. This time, the shoulder pads of Ginyu’s armor were sliced off. Whimpering under the waves, the Captain of the Ginyu Force jumped away from Salza and readied a homing energy blast. Salza sliced it in half with his sword and rushed man with the veiny forehead. With a quick punch with his free hand, Salza incapacitated the taller alien, making him hunch over in pain and spit dark liquid into the currents of the clear and clean ocean.
Ginyu threw another ki blast, this time into the dirt to gain distance from Salza, but Salza wasn’t having any of that. Their scouters were gone; it was all wits now, and Salza knew he was smarter than his opponent. Ginyu was powerful, but he wasn’t especially bright. It was time to lighten up that alien’s mind.
Two yellow beams found their way towards Ginyu’s head. The first was batted away; the second hit. Ginyu lurched back, as if he was in zero-G, and more blood leaked from the slit that was his mouth. Salza jumped forward, his ki boiling the water around him, and swiped his blade across Ginyu’s chest. The man’s armor broke apart, and blood seeped out into the water.
Finding this all rather amusing, Salza stepped back and watched the airhead bleed out. That was when Ginyu suddenly disappeared. Before Salza could move, he felt a hard fist contact the back of his head. His sword dissolved. He fell to the mud. Fish danced around him, their eyes wide and white and unseeing. His sight was going blurry. Someone was kicking him mercilessly in the spine. He almost didn’t feel it.
Salza jumped upwards, causing schools of fish to disperse, and in the next moment, he came down upon Ginyu, spinning around as he kicked the man. Ginyu had not expected that. Their fists were against each other then, each punch sending shockwaves through the ocean. Spires of water rose towards the surface. The animal spectators fled or died.
He did not care. Salza would defeat Ginyu, or he would die trying. He knew he was stronger after the man punched him in the cheek and it didn’t hurt as much as he thought it would. Then and only then did Salza unleash two thick energy beams upon Ginyu, blue as death, and the taller alien fell away from him, his armor disintegrating, his eyes wide as a fish’s. Unconscious, Salza’s foe sunk to the bottom of the sea like a drowned ship. It was all he could do to restrain himself from blasting Ginyu into oblivion.
There was a speckled white-and-orange crab dangling from one of Ginyu’s horns. Lord Cooler crushed it beneath his foot. “Good work, Salza,” he said gruffly.
With trepidation, Salza dropped the unconscious captain. He knew what to expect. “My lord–”
“Much like my brother, Ginyu is a fool.” Cooler cleared his throat, turning from Salza to face the others. “I suspected as much before today, but now I have confirmation. You did well, Salza. You have passed the test. You will lead my Armored Squadron.” No one spoke. A dull wind blew through Salza’s wet hair. “Salza! It’s time you got acquainted with the others. Follow me.”
With that, the galactic tyrant streaked into the bright sky. Salza stood there, the water dripping from him, unsure of what he had just heard. He felt lightheaded. This was all so surreal. Ginyu’s men were simmering with rage. A soaring bird screeched and was answered. With one more look at Jeice, who gave him a most contemptuous gesture, Salza took a breath, closed his eyes, and jumped into the air to shoot off towards the lightening sky after his master.