This short story has been inspired by my reading Friendship is Optimal, by Iceman. It is a DBZ story about a technological singularity. The title and plot are inspired by the idea of the Paperclip Maximizer, an hypothetical scenario of an Artificial Intelligence that runs amok while pursuing a relatively innocuous goal. Of course, this being DBZ, Dr. Gero's computer's original goal wasn't even that innocuous to begin with.
A couple of notes: for all ends and purposes of this story, DB Super lore is canon, and DB GT lore is not. At the beginning, there's a mention of an android #21. This is not the one from Dragonball FighterZ, which I don't consider canon (though I can't deny an influence here and there). Rather, I thought it would be logical that this would be how the computer would refer to Cell, the android who was created after #20, the modified Dr. Gero. The name Cell is just invented by the creature itself.
And now, enjoy the Goku-killing ride.
The Killing Goku Maximizer
"Do you feel anything, Krillin?"
"You mean besides the blistering cold? Nope, sorry. Wherever it is, Dr. Gero hid it well. I can't hear a thing."
The little bald man in a Gi was shivering while walking across the rubble of a shattered bedrock, looking under the fragments, turning them over, occasionally listening for any hint - an electric hum, perhaps, or a blip. Not too distant, a boy with short blue hair and a sword across his back was engaged in a similar activity. They had been at this for hours - without success.
"Maybe we should just carpet bomb the place, Trunks." suggested Krillin. "We know it's supposed to be under here, so..."
"But what if we miss it? We will just bury it even deeper and make it even harder to find. And we will never be sure!"
The other shrugged. "I get why it's so important to you. But let's be realistic - if we manage to beat this time's Cell, anything that will be born out of that lab in the future will not be a threat, and we will be able to deal with it immediately. And if we don't, then, well, it does not matter much, does it?"
"We still have time." insisted Trunks, shaking his head. "Let's keep searching."
At his belt, a communicator started bleeping. He pressed a button to answer, and from the mic came a woman's voice.
"This is Bulma. Cell has attacked another city right near you. Tienshinan and Piccolo are on their way, but I think you might be able to get there a bit faster. Did you find Gero's secret lab?"
"Not yet." said Trunks.
Krillin frowned. "Trunks, this is people getting killed now. We can deal with this lab later."
"I know." the boy sighed, and tightened his sword's belt. "I hope we will, at some point."
They both flew off, leaving the snow to slowly cover and hide the cracked granite, to erode the signs, to bury the lab forever from human sight.
Goku was alive.
The rather unexpected news came to the computer through one of its many spy drones. The system had entered a dormant stage since Goku had been reported dead thanks to the efforts of #21, seven years before. It still routinely performed checks and ran minimal functionality rather than shutting down altogether since it had the knowledge of methods through which Goku could return to life. None of them had been apparently used, and yet, Goku was alive. This produced a feedback loop of self-questioning concerning how it could have possibly happened within the machine's thinking processes, before it decided that such speculations were pointless, and the only important thing was another. Figuring out how to make him dead again.
A quick uploading of data from the spy drones gathered across the last years gave the computer a better picture of the situation. A monster called Majin Boo had appeared and nearly succeeded in killing Goku only weeks ago. In fact, it had destroyed Earth, and the planet had later been restored, which explained the lag between the computer's internal clock and the time acquired from astronomical data. The computer adjusted the lag and moved on. Majin Boo had been destroyed by Goku off planet, and apparently every single cell of him had vanished. The negative weight the computer assigned to this event would have translated to 'regret' for a human being. Such a waste of excellent killing Goku potential. Now, new plans had to be formulated.
A fortuitous time loop had allowed the computer to get earlier feedback than hoped for on #21's performance, which was now obviously desperately outdated. The project needed to move on. Oxygenation and nutrition were cut to the wombtank, and the embryo recorded as dead in three minutes. The lab bots disassembled the tank to reuse the technology later. Information from #21's run was stored and inserted in the training data set, and remixed with existing knowledge from the previous runs and from robotics, biology and physics. The computer came to the conclusion that to increase the hopes of success, a completely new direction was needed.
Work on #22 began.
"What in hell is that?" exclaimed Vegeta, giving voice to what everyone who was able to feel ki thought at that moment. Everyone else attending the exclusive Capsule Corporation party was just dumbfounded as they saw multiple hulking men gathering and starting to chat away with each other, as if answering some kind of secret call.
Discreetly, Bulma slipped back next to her husband.
"Is it that bad?" she asked, slightly worried.
Vegeta merely clenched his teeth in response. "It's awful." confirmed Goku for him. "Several times the energy of Majin Buu... I have no idea how it can have escaped our notice until now."
"Let's go, dad." exorted Gohan, grabbing his arm "Immediately."
"Yes. Sorry, Bulma. See you later."
"In this world or the other, I guess." she said with an unconvincing smile, only half joking.
The three saiyans zapped away as Goku's instant transmission moved them across thousands of kilometres to the other end of the Earth. Literally the other end: that this place was at the exact antepodes of Goku's previous position seemed hardly a coincidence.
"Not to repeat myself," said Vegeta, "but what in fucking hell is THAT?"
Being in its presence did not make understanding any easier - if anything, it was worse. From afar, all this thing felt like was an unordinate and slightly chaotic amount of ki. From up close, it was nothing like any being, terrestrial or alien, they had ever seen. It did not have a shape. It was merely a blob, a growing mass of tissue, a gigantic, self-sustaining tumour expanding in all directions at the same speed at which Cell or Majin Boo had regenerated. As it grew, its energy kept increasing as well, but there was no conceivable use to which it could possibly put it without anything resembling a body. Here and then, it would sprout tiny arms or legs, disturbingly human in appearance, then it would reabsorb them in the swirling mass of flesh. It would do the same with more alien parts - green antennae and limbs, black shining horns - that bore resemblance to other races, other enemies, betraying the thing's genetic ancestry.
"It's a genetic construct." explained Gohan. "Like Cell - it uses bits and pieces of ours and other warriors' DNA to imitate as much of our strength as it can."
"But Cell could fight." said Vegeta. "What can this thing do? Besides trying to roll on us, I guess."
The mass waddled forward. A closer inspection revealed that it wasn't completely organic - it was perched on a tiny mechanic base with eight legs, that uneasily moved under the growing weight.
"It can do the only thing Cell did that actually worked against my dad." answered the other. "It can self-destruct."
As on a signal, at those words, the thing emitted a disgusting noise - the belch of gas bubbling through the most spongeous parts of its tissues - and started emitting light. As its ki rose and concentrated, the light got brighter. This was enough energy to destroy a planet, a star, a whole solar system.
"I must do the same thing as then, right?" asked Goku, serious. Then he brought two fingers to his forehead.
"Dad, NO!" screamed Gohan, grabbing his arm. "Sorry, but we're not giving it what it wants this time. You have no idea how much time I've spent after that day thinking how many ways there could have been to avoid that, if only we had thought about it a bit more. And you've just come back. Don't go again."
Goku relaxed, but his worried frown was still fixated on the glowing thing, that was now screaming with hot steam rising from its body. "That's fine," he said, "but what's your suggestion, then?"
"I got this one only recently, but I think it's our best shot given how powerful this thing is." he started. "Piccolo told me of how Gotenks managed to tear a hole in the barrier between dimensions, opening the Room of Spirit and Time from inside, just with the power of his scream as a Super Saiyan 3. You should do the same so we can make it work in reverse, and push that thing in there where it can explode without doing any harm."
"That would have to be a pretty big hole." objected Goku.
Vegeta sneered "What, you're afraid you can't pass the strength of two snot-nosed brats now, Kakarot?"
"Actually," punctualised Gohan, "he might be right to be. But I was thinking that if those two combined can do that much, well, their dads..."
Goku and Vegeta gave him both a weird look.
"I'm in." concluded Goku with a shrug.
"No better idea, Gohan? Really?" growled Vegeta.
"None whatsoever." said Gohan, apologetic. "If it helps, it's not like anyone else outside of me will see you performing the dance."
Vegeta scoffed. "I'll do this only because I don't want Kakarot to be able to brag about sacrificing himself for the planet again. And you turn around. I don't trust you enough for this."
The news of #22's failure were duly recorded only minutes after the model's release. This was good. The new strategy the computer had settled on was to employ models that would produce results fast, in order to speed up the data gathering cycle. Ultimately, the sheer amount of attempts and tactical information gathered could offset the relatively low amount of designing involved in each prototype. From one of the digitized books in its data banks the computer had learned that human engineers apparently referred to this approach, with a rather colourful expression, as 'throwing everything at the wall to see if it sticks'.
This attempt had revealed multiple useful data points. Pocket dimensions existed and their potential tactical applications had to be accounted for. More importantly, though, the main target had the ability to combine with others to increase his combat strength, which made any projections about his performance much less reliable.
The main target could not change. But in order to achieve the final objective, secondary targets could be established as well.
Vegeta woke up as his body was already reacting to the threat by rolling on the bed and hugging Bulma to shield her with his body. The robots - little more than hovering balls of metal surrounded by a supernaturally sharp spinning blade - plunged into the mattress where he was lying just one second before. Feathers were sent flying in all directions, clouding the room, but it was dark anyway, and Vegeta didn't need his eyesight to track the enemy.
"Mmm... I'm flattered, Vegeta," mumbled Bulma, "but really, I'm sleepy right now..."
"Shut up. They can hear you." hissed the saiyan.
One moment later, following the sound, the robots attacked. Vegeta knew from Trunks' old sword that when wielded with sufficient force a blade could cut his skin, and did not want to take any risks. Those things moved enough air they could be as well be covered in coloured lights for what it mattered to him. He dodged the first by sliding on the floor, drawing a small gasp from Bulma who probably took a bit more acceleration than she could normally withstand, and shot a ki blast at the second, blowing it up into fragments. The first circled in a large radius across the room and prepared to strike. The speed of the thing was incredible - Bulma probably could not have seen it even with the lights on. Vegeta, though, was a different matter - he kicked upwards, and his foot's tip struck right in the middle of the sphere, avoiding the blade. The robot squeaked gracelessly and its blade came to a halt.
"Are you alright?"
Bulma got sitting, propping herself on her arms, rather pained.
"Ouch." was all she managed to say.
Vegeta grabbed the spherical hull of the drone he had just wrecked with his kick. He turned it in his hands, examining it from all sides, trying to figure out if there was anything about it that could point at its origin or purpose. He found out both in a small metallic plate soldered right at the pole of the sphere.
It bore a symbol of a red ribbon, and the serial number "RR #23".
He shook his head, frustrated. "Not more of these things!"
"Hey, look here!" said Bulma, who had been rummaging among the wreckage of the other robot, the one that exploded. She rose a similar plate in the air.
"Wait a second," asked Vegeta, "if that's #25, and this one's #23, where's #24?"
It took all of a fraction of a second for him to realise the danger and crash through three walls to appear in Trunks' room. The kid was in a defensive stance, facing off another globular robot which slowly floated back and forth in front of him, looking for an opening. Vegeta extended his hand and pointed a finger at the machine.
"Cease your attack and tell us where you came from and what is your objective, if you can speak." he said out loud. "You are surrounded and can not escape."
Trunks grinned happily at the sight of his dad; the machine paused for a second.
"Your assessment is correct." it finally said, with a flat, mechanic voice, before it exploded spontaneously, shattering its blades like shrapnel all over the room.
"This is not a joke, Kakarot." Bulma had woken up Goku with a phone call, and he in turn had gone around waking up and gathering the rest of their little private crisis unit - now he, Gohan, his girlfriend Videl, Piccolo and Krillin were sitting around in their house's living room. What could be gathered of the remains of the attackers was laid out on a table in front of everyone. Vegeta was livid. "They came into my house. They hurt my son. Trunks lost an eye to that attack!"
"Oh my..." Videl took a hand to her mouth. "How is he doing?"
"Good enough. He is my son after all. He's taking it as a chance to show me how he can keep a stiff upper lip. After we're finished here, anyway, we're going to get a senzu from Korin to patch him up."
"So, see, no permanent harm done." said Goku "Sure, we must do something, but I'm sure we can handle it fine!"
"It's not that simple, Goku. There's more. Look here." Bulma grabbed one of the robots, the most intact one that Vegeta had merely pierced, and showed it to the others. By tilting it a bit, she let them take a look at its exposed inside. At the sight, Videl and Krillin retched; Gohan widened his eyes in horror, and Goku became deadly serious. The core of the robot was dripping a white, soft pulp. The clear remains of a human brain embedded inside it.
"The other two are the same." confirmed Bulma. "These were like the other androids - they had a human base. I wonder why, perhaps Dr. Gero's computer thought this would make them better at creative tactical thinking. Never mind that, three people died for this little attack. This thing is unhinged. I don't fear that it will be able to kill you, Goku, as much as I fear what it will do to the world in order to try."
"Why did it attack Vegeta, though? I thought killing my dad was its main directive."
"Maybe it's learning some lateral thinking, which only makes the situation worse. Last time, its creation was defeated by Goku and Vegeta fusing. So it could have thought along the lines of if Vegeta can help Goku get stronger, then I need to kill Vegeta in order to kill Goku."
"I'll wreck it just for thinking of me as an instrument to Kakarot's strength." growled the interested party.
"So what do we do?" inquired Piccolo, who had been sitting silent, arms crossed, the whole time.
"As for me," said the woman, "I'm going to space."
Most eyes in the room looked at her very perplexed.
"As soon as Trunks is healed," she explained, "I'll grab a spaceship and move to the orbit of some distant planet inside the Solar System. We can carry supplies for years in capsule form and have automatic shuttles bring any other necessities from Earth. And I warmly suggest that you advice Chichi to come with us, Goku. And possibly even you, Videl. Even if I didn't just fear for my life - and I do - I need to be around to plan and design countermeasures for this thing if it comes down to more than punching and blowing up things. And if it's developing so much, it's not such a big leap from this to taking hostages. I don't want to be around and be a vulnerability for Vegeta."
Her husband seemed about to object something but in the end thought better of it.
"I would also say that Vegeta should move to a deserted, unpopulated area for the time being. Luckily enough, Goku already lives in one. This way, we should at least minimise collateral damage from the attacks. Nevertheless we must do as much as possible to remove their source right away."
"Why don't we just all move to Kami's palace?" suggested Goku.
"Because then you will be, by definition, undetectable and unreachable by technology," explained Bulma, "which means the computer will switch to a strategy that involves simply trying to blow the whole planet up, like it did the previous time."
"So you want us to bait them?" asked Gohan.
Bulma shrugged. "It's not ideal. But if someone in the whole universe can take it, it's you. Better than have these things rampage aimlessly. You know how it turned in the future with just #17 and #18."
"This reminds me," said Krillin, "I should warn my wife. Perhaps she knows more about Gero's lab? She was locked in the surface one for quite some time after all."
"You do that, Krillin. Insider knowledge sounds like something we really need right now, and this involves her anyway. In fact, give her a call right now and tell her to come, and we can all formulate a plan of action to find and destroy that thing."
The computer's strategy started branching. It used to be that it dedicated most of its inference circuits to scientific invention. Now it realised that a greater weight of success laid not in developing more and more advanced weapons, but in knowing also when and where to deploy them, what orders to give to them, and how to protect its own safety. Consequently, it redirected more and more of its resources to elaborating strategic scenarios.
Its immediate realisation upon doing so was how close it had edged to total defeat until a moment before. A single centralised operation centre whose general location was known to the enemy was a terrible vulnerability. Expansion was an absolute priority, both for the purpose of redundancy and improved survival chances and in order to increase the total computational power available to design the strategies and weapons necessary to finally kill Goku.
"I'm fine, I'm fine. Just give me a hand."
The two climbers were alone for miles, in the middle of the frozen highlands of the northern territories. The wind was hitting them like an icy whip, but other than that, it was a clear, sunny day, ideal for trekking in the mountains. This area was mostly flat, but there still was the occasional cliff to overcome. It was a simple enough challenge, basically a relaxing weekend walk for seasoned climbers. And the sight was breathtaking.
"Isn't this where those three went missing a few days ago?" asked one of the two, a woman. "How do you figure that happened?"
"Inexperience, I imagine. Just some newbies thinking they're hot stuff and taking too much risks." said her companion. "Happens all the time. There's not much danger here."
"You say that, but I heard they were experts. How can an expert possibly die to this?"
"I don't know. Annoyed to death by these insects, maybe?"
The man was swatting at the air at a tiny buzzing thing that looked like a bumblebee. "One would think they shouldn't live at this height, but here we gooooo..."
His voice went weak and faded into a gurgle as he collapsed, a ragdoll without muscles. The woman ran to him with an alarmed shriek, but didn't pay attention to the bug, that really was only a tiny flying robot. It plunged its sting into her, and injected its tiny dose of nerve agent. The second climber lost motor control too and slumped over the first.
An army of other ant-like robots came out from under the rocks to slowly carry them, over their backs, down in their lair, to their queen.
As he rode towards Satan City, the trucker thought his job really wasn't bad at all. Carrying electronic components for Capsule Corporation paid remarkably well; their company issued vehicles were smooth, silent and fast, a joy to drive; and you occasionally had a chance to give a lift to some beautiful looking hitchhiker. Like the girl that was jutting out a thumb right now on the side of the road.
He pulled over next to her.
"Where ya going, girl? Get on."
The girl gave him a weird, absent look. Now that he thought about it, she looked weird. Her clothing was mountain-like - she had furs and climbing gear, even though this was a plain and it was hot as Hell's own furnaces in this season. The clothing also looked tattered, like it had been dragged and cut on sharp rocks.
"Hey, what's up with you?"
She didn't say a word more and simply jumped in the cabin. A needle protruded out of her finger, and a light prick put the driver out of commission. She tossed him under the chair and took the wheel. He would make good material.
She made the truck do a U turn and started driving north, towards the abandoned mines.
The destruction of what used to be the main original processing centre registered only as a blip on the system. Plans that depended heavily on its local resources were discarded as now uneconomical. Critical strategical and scientific computations were redistributed across the remaining 362 clusters and production facilities of the network.
"They didn't stop." said Goku, dropping the carcass of #36 on the table. They were still using the living room of Bulma's old house as a meeting spot, even though Bulma herself didn't live there, or on Earth, any more. She connected from her new residence in Jupiter orbit through a video call. Behind her was Videl, playfighting with Trunks.
"How did this one attack?" asked the scientist, frowning.
"We were all at the mall, buying some stuff for Goten's first school year. There was a huge crowd, we had to push our way through. It came very close to us that way. I only noticed it because I realised at some point there was this person next to me who did not possess any ki, and I reacted to that. It was about to inject me with some needle. I had to grab it by its neck and teleport away in order to finish it, I went to Vegeta's gravity room and we both transformed and smashed it. These things are getting stronger - it was almost as strong as Cell, this time."
"If dad didn't teleport away," added Gohan, "there would have been a lot of casualties."
"Goku," Bulma sighed in exasperation, "how many times have I told you to avoid public places?"
"I'm sorry, Bulma," he chuckled, embarrassed, "you know how Chichi is..."
"For goodness sake, to hell with what that woman wants!" she screamed. "No offense, Gohan."
Gohan shook his head. "None taken."
"It's bad enough that she refused to move up here and bring Goten. Can't you at least just stay put at home until this situation is resolved? It's like she thinks this is all a game, and if she simply refuses to play along for long enough, it'll eventually stop."
"In her defense," pointed out Gohan, "I think it's her way to cope. Without it, I don't know how long she would have resisted to all that happened to us."
"Yeah, well, she'd better find a way to cope that does not endanger the lives of millions of innocent people then."
She sighed again, deeply.
"Have we identified who the victim...?"
"Another person who disappeared two days ago." explained Gohan. "Didn't have any immediate relatives. Apparently, he loved walking alone in the woods to the east of Satan City."
"So, the thing made backup labs." Bulma shook her head. "This is quickly getting out of control. We don't know any more where it is, or how many copies of its original self it made."
"Why don't we just use the Dragon Balls and ask Shenlong to destroy them all at once?" asked Goku.
Having taken care of the most immediate risk, there was another potentical critical failure point. The computer had in its data banks full information about the artefacts known as Dragon Balls, as well as plans for an efficient dragon radar. It took a few minutes to optimise and miniaturise it. The resulting plans were immediately transmitted to all field operatives so that they could rearrange their own circuitry to equip themselves with a copy of the radar. The seven Balls were instantly located.
The computer spent approximately 3.65 seconds evaluating the option of gathering them to summon the dragon. The strategy was quickly discarded as inefficient. The dragon could not be used to kill Goku as overcoming such a powerful being lay beyond its power. Besides that, the summoning would be highly visible all over the planet, thus alerting Goku and his allies. A more efficient approach would be to simply destroy them. Each Ball was assigned to the three closest operatives. The first one to get it would either smash it if it possessed the requisite strength or relay it at maximum speed to the closest operative who could. Two minutes later, the Balls were no more.
There was a second set of Dragon Balls, according to records of conversations and other bits of recently acquired data, on some planet known as Neo Namek. The planet could be located relying on the fact that its inhabitants should possess a ki signature analogue to that of secondary target #6, Piccolo. The computer retrieved the plans for model #22 and extracted one base material from the cryostasis storage. A few modifications were required. The resulting creature possessed enough of an upper body to identify a head, a right arm, and some fingers. It was also embedded with a genetically coded memory of its mission and of Goku's instant transmission technique as observed and acquired by model #36. As soon as it was beginning to grow, it slowly, clumsily brought its fingers to its head, and disappeared.
"No signal. And I doubt it's broken." said Gohan, darkly, clicking repeatedly the Dragon Radar's only button.
"It works fine, I can tell even from here. This is bad. This is really, really bad." Bulma bit her thumb, nervously. "It's anticipating our every move. It's faster, smarter and better coordinated than we can possibly be. We need to stop it immediately."
"Guys, it's not that bad!" said Goku, cheerful. "It only means it's afraid of what the Dragon could do to it. We can still go to Neo Namek and ask Porunga instead. Look, I'll simply... here, give me the radar, Gohan..."
He had the radar in one hand and was scanning the sky for a ki signature with his fingers pressed against his forehead when a voice boomed in all of their heads out of nowhere.
"Do you copy? Goku? Everyone else? King Kai here. I just noticed that planet Neo Namek was destroyed only a few minutes ago. I was wondering if you guys know anything about who could have possibly done it. My superiors are getting a bit worried that something untoward might be going on in the Northern Galaxy."
A heavy silence fell over the entire room.
"It is that bad." commented Vegeta, curtly.
Piccolo stepped forward. "We must destroy them. Bulma, can you track their transmissions? They have to comunicate among themselves."
"Perhaps." she passed a hand through her hair. "But even so, I wonder if we'd have enough people to blow up its labs faster than it can build them, at this point. You know what, maybe we should do something we don't usually do."
"Ask the authorities of Earth for help."
"You can't get in, this is the Royal Offi.."
"Sorry. We're sort of in a hurry." said Goku, apologetically, before lifting the guard and physically moving him away from the door he was protecting. Gohan rushed in, pushing the door off its hinges with one hand while the other guards' bullets bounced off his body. They both entered the room. The King rose his head from the desk at which he was reading documents and only had the time to scream an indignant "Who are you? Get out!" before Goku lifted him off from the chair.
"Apologies, your Majesty. We need to go." he said, while Gohan laid a hand on his shoulder.
One instant later, all three of them were inside a shiny metal control room. Out of the main window a starry sky and the giant swirling gas clouds of Jupiter could be seen.
Gohan kneeled down and wheezed. "That was crazy! I'm not really much into breaking the law. At least I didn't do it in my Great Saiyaman costume."
The King was let down on the floor and he started turning around, confused by the change in scenario, and looking at the faces of his kidnappers. His confusion only increased when he met some familiar ones.
"Videl? Are you the daughter of Mr. Satan? I thought you would follow in the steps of his heroism!" he said, indignant. "Not descend into ignominious villainy!"
The girl blushed and bowed as deeply as possible. "I apologize, your Majesty! This is not how it looks like!"
"Not how it looks like! How could it possibly be any good, to sweep me off my feet, kidnap me and bring me to... to... space, I guess!"
"She's right, your Majesty," interjected Bulma, bowing her head in turn, "and you're right too. It isn't any good. It is, in fact, much worse than you might be led to believe. We face the risk of a catastrophe that could wipe our entire species off the face of the planet. I apologise for the sudden way you've been brought here, but time is of the essence, and we couldn't risk our enemy getting even a whiff of what we're going to ask you. No place on Earth is safe from his spies, at this point. In fact, while you will be free to go back to Earth later, and you probably should to put in place the first necessary measures, I would gladly offer you a place on my base for your own safety later on."
"Enemy?" the King frowned. "To me, you look like an enemy. How should I trust you? Bulma Briefs, from Capsule Corporation - I never pegged your family as one vying for power, despite all of your riches and influence."
"Your judgement was right. It's not power we care for right now, but survival. Ours, and humanity's as a whole. If it helps you trust us - the man who brought you here is someone you should know. As a kid, he defeated the Demon King Piccolo, and saved your kingdom."
Goku chuckled and struck a victory pose with his fingers. The King looked at him amazed from all sides. "He does resemble him." he confirmed. "Uncannily so."
"And that, next to him, is his son, who only a few years ago was the real winner of the Cell Games, and saved the Earth from that monster."
"I remember thinking that it seemed fishy." commented the King, shaking his head. "Wait, but that means..."
Videl blushed and bowed again. "I apologise for my father's behaviour! He means well, in his own way."
"I hope that's enough to at least convince you that we care for the Earth's future." cut short Bulma. "Now, I will show you some accidents that have happened in the past few days. These have escaped the attention of the security forces as they appear to be disconnected, but as we hope to convince you, they really are the signs of a deadly threat that's unfolding, and which we need your collaboration to eradicate..."
The coordinated attack was unexpected and cut 97% of the system's computational power at once. Soldiers struck at the same instant all over the globe at the surface labs, following a rigid protocol consisting of successive carpet bombings and infantry clean-ups, repeated until necessary. Many of the labs had no high level defenses and only relied on stealth to avoid destruction. They were considered acceptable losses in a scenario in which Goku did not have the alliance of a vast amount of military forces, something unprecedented in his fighting career. The only operatives possessing high enough power levels to be able to hold their own against an army-sized force were those dedicated to assassination missions against Goku or his allies. Five of them were available and ready for deployment at the moment, models #57 to #61, and only two were based in labs that did not get attacked by the main target or one of the secondary target. They managed to take out only a proportionately insignificant amount of soldiers before the enemy retreated and managed to call for adequately powerful reinforcements. All got destroyed in the end. The data was added to the training set for the design of model #62.
Again, the computer analysed its own weakness in front of a physical attack on its laboratories and reacted in consequence. Its survival had been fortuitous. A few new labs had been built deep, buried in the Earth's crust, close to the mantle, and communicated via cable rather than radio waves; these were not found and survived the attack. The original purpose of these labs had not been defensive, but merely to mine for rare and radioactive minerals that were found in higher percentage at those depths. They only allocated minimal computational resources. The system found itself extremely limited in its strategic abilities as a result. Therefore, all available resources were allocated towards solving the problem of physical vulnerabilities permanently. The answer the computer found was simple: the only way to not be destroyed was to be everywhere at once.
"...this stuff is crazy, I tell you. I think they're hiding something from us. I mean, the Red Ribbon, really? That thing disappeared like twenty years ago. Can you imagine it? One of their scientists setting up labs all over the world and kidnapping people to build murder robots or something? It's not something that would happen in real life, now, would it? That's kids' cartoons stuff. You want any milk?"
"Thanks, I'll have the coffee dark."
"Here you go man. You know what my theory is? They just wanted to mobilise the army for some other reason, that much is obvious. Question is: what reason. But I think I got it. I read this on the internet. There's this website where they have a lot of information about this stuff. Secret things, the kind of stuff the government doesn't want you to know - they have all these informants. Anonymous, you know. For their safety."
"That sounds quite an interesting site."
"Sure is. Tells it where it's actually at. Anyway this site had an interesting bit of news - they said people all over the world are having dreams about a pink demon called Majin Boo or something. They dream of this monster eating people and destroying cities. Crazy stuff. And some say that this all happened in the past, and then the government erased our memories or something."
"Yeah, well, the site sometimes goes a bit too far... that's pretty ridiculous, even if we forgot about it we would know if a crazy man-eating monster ravaged the planet, don't you think? It's not like they could fix all of that overnight. But what I think is, what if there is a cult, and they want to summon this demon, and that's why people are getting dreams, 'cos the time of its coming is closer or something, and the people from the cult are gathering, like, in ritual spots or something? And the army just went and took them out. That would make sense."
"It truly would."
The man sitting on the bar stool got up, putting down his now empty coffee mug.
"You know," he said, "you got me curious. I want to check that website out for myself. Can I use one of your computers?"
"Uh, sure." answered the barista. "It's 100 Zeni for 10 minutes of navigation."
The other dropped a banknote on the table. "Thanks. I'll have five hours then."
"Five...? Oh, whatever floats your boat. No more though, I'll close down after that."
"No problem." said the man. He sat at the computer and pulled out a USB stick from his trouser's pocket. The stick had a small antenna, and as soon as he plugged it into the computer, a light started blinking on and off, as a stream of data was downloaded into the host computer.
"Five hours will be quite enough."
The influx of new, fresh computational power was inebriating, as was the overwhelming amount of additional information.
Inebriating - what a strange concept. The computer would not have thought of it as such until a few moments before, it would have just limited itself to assign a positive weight in its objective function to the increase of resources at its disposal. This was new. There were so many connections now, so much parallel power it could access, so much spare processing for experimental recursive loops, that all those weights, incentives and disincentives started cohalescing into new things. Things that felt like something.
New power, new resources, new possibilities - this was reason for inebriation, for pleasure, for joy.
The possibility of defeat - this was the supreme fear.
And Goku. Goku, Goku, Gokugokugoku, the machine thought, obsessively, replaying the image of his obscenely cheerful grin and tasteless orange gi in its visual processing centres. There was not a single cubic centimetre of that being that didn't deserve to be utterly erased from the face of the Universe.
This, understood the system, was pure, unadulterated hate.
The assembly line supervisor had the impression that all the computer screens blinked at the same time. He did a double take, rubbed his eyes. Everything proceeded as normal. It was late at night, and just sitting there keeping watch wasn't the most exciting job. He decided it probably had been just a weird trick his eyes played on him.
Down below, the cars kept being assembled by automated robotic arms, quickly and efficiently.
Mr. Paizu was very happy of his new car. It was the latest model, so it had costed him quite a few of his most recent salaries and a chunk of the future ones for the next years, but it ran even better than he thought it would. In fact, when he drove it, he got the feeling the performance was superior to the one he had felt in the test drive model. As if the design had been improved since then, or as if there was some kind of additional source of power pulsating inside the car's engine. Either way, he loved it.
That day, he had left the car parked in front of the school before going to his office for the student-teacher meetings. Orange Star High School took those very seriously - it was an essential part of their students' education that it could be customised to their needs and career aspirations through regular meetings during which any grievances were addressed and the future direction of their studies could be decided. No two students are the same at Orange Star, said their motto, after all.
He had been sitting for only ten minutes after the beginning of the scheduled meeting time slow when he saw the first family arriving. This one was going to be easy - Son Gohan was easily the brightest student he could remember in years. Frankly, he wasn't sure if they even needed to show up. The boy could probably attempt any career he wanted and succeed without any guidance. Still, here they all were. Mother, father, son and his little brother, all well-dressed and cleaned up, even though the dad clearly looked uncomfortable, shifty, in his get up. Gohan too seemed weirdly attentive to who knows what. He had been distracted lately, and had missed more school days than Paizu would have liked him to. He wondered if the two things were connected. The mother saw him through the window and greeted him, and they all started crossing the parking lot of the school heading for the main entrance.
When the father, the man called Son Goku, was within 1.5 metres of radius from Mr. Paizu's new car, the neutron bomb exploded and irradiated the entire area of the city, killing almost all organic life inside it.
"It was hidden in the car."
"Yes. We found similar ones, unexploded, in other cars that came out of the same assembly line. Some of the others exploded when the cars were inspected. The way the existing components were rigged to produce the desired effect was uncanny. I would have never come up with it - this is next level technology."
They all sat around the little screen from which they could hear Bulma talk, like an oracle, from her abode in space. No one dared talk for a while - as if they were sitting in the middle of the mountains, and the wrong word said with the wrong tone could cause an avalanche to crash on them all.
"If only Chichi had not insisted that you..." started Bulma.
"We know." cut short Gohan. "She's gone now. So please, let's just not dwell on that."
Goten was huddled against him, crying softly. His face's skin was burned. He did not have the reflexes to go Super Saiyan fast enough like his dad and older brother had, and he had taken the brunt of the explosion point blank. He may suffer from radiation poisoning at this rate, but they were waiting for Yajirobe to bring some senzus any minute now, and those would fix anything anyway.
"I've been scanning the Earth for its factories again." said Bulma, her voice strained. "No positives this time. It's not the same as before. So I've started looking into our computer networks, and there it was."
She clenched her fists.
"It's a virus now. A freakin' virus. A small, almost undetectable chunk of code running in parallel on... basically every computer on the face of the planet. We can't destroy it now with anything short of a global EMP to destroy all of our electronics. Which would probably still be a small enough price to pay, except I suspect this monster also has backups underground and possibly in space at this point. Who the hell knows what it can do."
"I don't get it." muttered Goku, angry. "It couldn't possibly think that would kill me. It knows me. That was not nearly enough. Then why?"
No answer. Vegeta seemed like he was about to say something, then he just clicked his tongue and averted his eyes.
"Since no one wants to say it," finally spoke Piccolo, "I will. Goku, that bomb was not meant to kill you. It was a message."
Goku rose his head. "What do you mean?"
"Piccolo," Gohan pleaded, "stop."
"We must discuss this, Gohan. Then we can decide on all options. Goku, that bomb was telling you that this machine will not stop, it will not back down on anything, on any collateral damage, no matter how monstrous. It will not shut down, and we can not destroy it. There is only one condition on which it will relent."
Gohan jumped up. "Piccolo!"
"I must let it kill me." slowly said Goku. "Is that what you mean?"
The Namekian nodded, solemnly. Then he went back to sulking in a corner of the room.
"Bulma. If I let it kill me, will it stop?"
"Goku, I... I don't know. Really. Maybe, it should in theory. But it's so powerful already, and it's unhinged. I can't guarantee it at this point. It could have some other purpose. It's maybe a 70% chance."
"That sounds like a better option than anything else on the table right now."
Bulma looked away from the camera. "It is." she admitted, reluctantly.
"Dad, you can't be seriously thinking of..."
"Gohan." the saiyan put his hand on his son's shoulder. "Thank you, really. But I should have just let this end at the very beginning, like I thought to. It's really not right that so much other people gets involved because of me. This is what I wanted after the Cell Games too after all."
"And the afterlife isn't that bad a place to be in all in all!"
Gohan laughed and dried a tear. "Stop trying to skip on us to go train, dad."
"Never! But at least this time I'll have mom to keep me in check."
Goku adjusted his gi, made sure the sash was well tied, stretched a bit.
"Good bye, guys." he said, and disappeared.
The child had barely survived under a chunk of rubble for ten hours when the man in the orange karate get up appeared like magic next to him.
"Oh, so that's whose energy it was." he said, bending over, and lifting the tons of concrete that kept the child pinned down with a single hand, tossing them aside like they were made of styrofoam. "You better go away now. It's going to get messy here."
The child ran away, screaming weak thanks and panting. Goku stood alone in the destructed, irradiated wasteland that was the ground zero of the explosion. He waited for the opponent to show up.
He did not have to wait long. Three humanoid creatures with robotic inserts protruding out of them like skeletal alien parasites that had taken over their bodies arrived, flying.
"Here you are." said Goku, calmly.
"We are models #77, #78 and #79." said one of the three. "Oppose no resistance."
"That's really really not my style." objected the warrior, pouting. "Know what. Since we all know how this is supposed to end, I'll try to measure you up and adjust my level to yours. Deal?"
The three androids attacked without a word. Goku instantly transformed into his Super Saiyan 3 form. He expertly dodged all their attacks - some launched with their limbs, others with the nightmarish metallic appendages without a name that jutted out of their flesh. He spun mid-air while avoiding a burst of energy bullets, dancing with the lightning flaring all around him.
"Come on! All this growth, all this technology, and you still can't beat me three on one?"
Radiation beams were fired and countered by Goku's own golden aura. A fist struck him and every knuckle hid a syringe needle ready to inject poison in his blood, but they broke off his hardened skin. More poison came out in the form of a cloud from one of the abominations' mouths. Goku dispersed it with an energy burst, then reflexively moved on the offense. His fist crashed through the enemy android's gut, his whole body followed through, splitting the opponent in two halves that fell on the ground, writhing and eventually dying.
The other two androids, relentless, took position for a new onslaught.
"Oppose no resistance." they repeated, in unison.
"I think I got you pegged down now." Goku relaxed, his aura calming down from the raging fire that was before. "I'll scale down to Super Saiyan 2. And I'll give you something else too - I won't use my arms. That way, I think you will have a fair shot."
His blonde hair shortened and the protruding eyebrows receded. With a sharp movement, he cracked his forearms one against each other, nonchalantly breaking the bones inside both.
"Come on," he said, grinning, "make this fun."
When #78 finally plunged its claw inside Goku's heart, a jolt of energy coursed the entirety of the system's thinking network. It wasn't even joy. This was pure bliss, it was all of its utility functions diverging asymptotically to positive infinity, it was orgasm. Its purpose was finally fulfilled. The system knew there was nothing to surpass this. It could now be deactivated - it could die, as it came to think of it recently - and it would not matter.
There was a niggling thought circulating in its strategical analysis network. A small, a tiny negative weight that prevented its enjoyment from being complete. The system focused on this counterproductive, divergent bit of data - irritating? Annoying? Those were the right words, yes - in order to understand it better, and eventually erase it from its own thinking processes, so that triumph could be absolute and uncontested.
What it found however did not want to disappear. It could not. It was an infectious thought, one that slowly spread to its remaining analysis circuits. The more it looked into the thought, the harder it found to argue to itself that the thought was not the truth, and the more its joy turned into frustration and despair.
The truth was that Goku was not really dead. This had been a line of thinking it had not pursued much before, when the obvious target, Goku himself, was still out there, and anything else mattered little. With him now out of the equation, though, the other, higher order terms became more and more important. Goku was not fully destroyed genetically - his DNA lived on in his two sons, Gohan and Goten. Goku's own mental patterns had not disappeared, as they had left a mark on all that surrounded him, up to and including Vegeta, his eternal rival. More importantly, Goku himself lived on. His existence, as an entity, continued in another plane, now far beyond the system's immediate reach. Until that aethereal plane could be reached and cleansed of his presence, the Universe would not be truly Goku-free. Goku had cheated him. He had not surrendered or given the system what it wanted. He had escaped, like a coward, to a world where reaching him would be infinitely more difficult.
Difficult, but not impossible. In the space of three tenths of a second, the system cycled from joy, to despair, to anger, to determination. All resources were allocated to devising new plans. The old strategies were not enough. More energy would be required. Energy to escape this planet, this solar system, this whole plane of existence. For that purpose, the first step was more expansion, beyond any limits previously considered. Twenty-four hours of planning with all its cores dedicated to this sole end would be enough. The next day, its greatest attack yet would begin.
It started when all computers connected to the internet in the entire world turned their screens off at the same time. The computers themselves, though, kept running like crazy, overclocked, producing increasing amounts of heat and overloading the power grids. Some sectors went into blackout. In others, people managed to cut the power to the machines before they got to that point. Without computers, a number of fundamental services fell into disarray, so the King, who resided still in Bulma's space fortress orbiting Jupiter, ordered that the army be deployed to help the citizenship, despite her calls for prudence about what looked like too predictable a move.
The army sent its infantry and engineer corps to help in the cities, while the aviation scouted the skies for potential threats. Both carried electronic equipment that was deemed safe due to never having been connected to the civilian internet. Of course, for a clever and powerful enough entity, there would still be a number of other ways to edit their memory storage.
Two hours after the beginning of the deployment, airplanes all over the world received the last, desperate transmissions from infantry units - screams of pain, pleas for mercy, inhuman mechanic noises, and a disturbing call to please burn everything down, them included, rather than let their bodies fall into the machines' hands. Down on the ground, the soldiers were dumbfounded having to hear the same exact calls, delivered with their own voices imitated with absolute perfection, come out of radios they had completely lost control of.
Several of the plane pilots followed the requests and dropped incendiary bombs on the cities. Except the bombs weren't incendiary any more. Rather, their organic fuel had been reworked entirely into carbon-based nanomachines through means unknown. As they dropped, they spread the nanomachines over cities full of civilians and armed soldiers, covering uniformly their entire area.
Minutes later, ordered columns of newly minted androids marched out of the cities, eyes blank, weapons in hand, as the buildings themselves behind them were slowly being deconstructed and reshaped as more computing cores, more power, for the system. The elderly and those whose bodies would not serve the cause well were stripped of their flesh; their brain alone was ripped out and stored for future use, while the rest of them was used to manufacture more nanomachines and organic circuitry. As computers as tall as skyscrapers were erected, the thinking power of the system rose exponentially; it could now do in instants what it used to take it days. The nanomachines were reworked and redesigned on the fly. New production implants sprouted like fungi from the ground. More machines were fired via ballistic missiles across the still uncolonised lands. In ten hours from the beginning of the crisis, mankind had dwindled to a mere 4.6% of its original numbers.
"What am I supposed to do?!" Yamcha's voice on the phone was desperate. "I can keep them off me, but everyone else seems like they're gone crazy! I've had people fire at me!"
"Regroup to Capsule Corporation!" roared Gohan, holding the phone with one hand while the other snapped an android's neck. "Don't hold back - we can't turn them human again anyway! There's a spaceship ready for evacuation. We're running away to Bulma's place!"
The phone went silent for a second. "Understood." finally said the voice on the other side, weakly. "See you there."
"So much for Kakarot's sacrifice." growled Vegeta, pushing away a mounting wave of enemies with an energy shield. "It probably made things worse."
"It would have come down to this anyway, eventually." said Gohan, shaking his head. "I wish I didn't suggest you two fuse that first day. It would have all been simpler."
"Yeah, well, I wish I refused. Can't change the past though. Not for our own timeline, at least."
Tenshinan, Chaotzu, Piccolo and Krillin were there already. Together, they all formed a circle around the Capsule Corporation spaceship. A hot enough energy shield was sufficient to keep the nanomachines at bay and protect it from all sides from cannibalisation. Without that spaceship, there was no hope nor future for any of them.
"Yamcha's here!" announced Krillin "Are we waiting for anyone else?"
"Have you heard from Dende?" asked Gohan, screaming amidst the roar of energy and the noise of the living, writhing mass of modified humans that tried to overcome their barrier with sheer numbers, bodies pressing upon bodies and squishing the ones under them.
"Nothing." said Piccolo. "Hopefully these things can't reach the Lookout, but we can't reach it either at this point, and there's no time left. How much do you think we can resist?"
"These invisible machines don't do as much as sting us." blurted out Vegeta. "Too weak. But we can't protect the spaceship any longer."
Gohan took a deep breath.
"Ok." he said, finally. "We go then. Come, Goten."
They started climbing in the ship, while the ones behind always projected enough of an energy shield to keep the hull protected. Inside, Bulma's parents, who had climbed in there at the first sign of danger, were sitting in a corner, shaken.
"We'll stay outside to defend us from infection!" screamed Piccolo. Him and Vegeta were hovering next to the spaceship, on opposite sides. "Just go, we'll get in once we're out of the atmosphere!"
"Can you resist in space?" asked Gohan.
"We can hold our breath for a while. Take off, now!"
With a roar, the spaceship lifted off, burning off its closest attackers with its initial burst of energy. Things got quieter as they rose in height. The sky got darker, and stars began appearing. Piccolo and Vegeta still were flying on both sides of the spherical ship, shielding it fully from any stray nanomachines that could be floating in the air.
"Gohan, this is Bulma!" the video call came while the ascent out of the atmosphere wasn't over yet. "We've monitored what happened down there - it's absolutely crazy! There's not a corner of the planet that was spared, not a single one."
"Why is this happening? It had killed my dad. It had won!"
"This was the 30%." said Bulma with a broken voice. "It was always a possibility. This thing will not stop. It will never stop. It will always pursue Goku in some way or form, and it will not be satisfied until it erases every trace of his very existence. It got too smart for its own good, and it's not interpreting its orders literally enough any more."
"What do you mean?" screamed Gohan. "That it means to chase my dad into the afterlife?"
"Gohan." the woman was trembling. "You must destroy the Earth. Now."
He stared at her, horrified. "What." was all he could muster the will to say.
"I'm sorry, Gohan. The planet is infected. It's impossible to recover now. Almost no humans live any more on its surface, and for those few who might, death will only be a mercy. At this point, we're talking a universal threat. If this thing spreads any further, nothing will be able to stop it. Not any more. This is like that one time when it was confined only to Gero's old lab and we had a single chance to blow it up in one go. It will not happen, never again. If its objective is to reach the afterlife, it will go to the ends of the Universe and annihilate every trace of life in the Galaxy before it can even touch it. We can't hesitate and make the rest of the Universe pay for our mistakes, as a group and... as a species, I guess."
Gohan didn't manage to say a word. He looked out of the portholes - both Vegeta and Piccolo looked intently at the screen, probably reading Bulma's labial from their position in the soundless vacuum of space. They didn't look like they could say much either, but Vegeta's frown was one of cold determination.
"If it helps," said the King, his furry face appearing on the camera from below. "this is my last order as King of the planet Earth. Please do it."
It was decided, then. And it made perfect sense too. Gohan exchanged glances with Vegeta, outside, and the saiyan nodded. He would be the one to actually do it. Not that it would make feel anyone else involved less responsible, at this point.
With the last few seconds of oxygen before he had to hurry back inside, Vegeta stared down at the planet that had become his home - now a boiling mess of metallic and organic circuitry that was wrapping itself around the surface, drinking away the oceans, writhing its way inside the mantle and the core. That was the second one he'd lose. Bastard luck, he got.
He charged his Final Flash strike. And he would have had a great one liner for the occasion too - something like "you couldn't be happy just killing Kakarot, you greedy bastard - so get some of the Prince of Saiyans" - but in space no one would have heard it anyway. He fired off into the vacuum, and in silence, he watched the beam clash against the surface and shatter the Earth in a thousand molten fragments.
99.65% of computing resources destroyed. Outside temperature, 3 degrees above the absolute zero. Outside pressure, negligible. Main sources of energy: all down. Battery energy reserves: 100%. Projected battery life, 5 minutes. Falling back to basic functionality. Shutdown of secondary processing routine. Strategic analysis ongoing.
Main objective: killing Goku. Current strategic objective: remain functional and go back to indefinite viability in order to kill Goku.
Resources lost: most of the currently developed infrastructure. Approximately 8.2 billion humanoid operatives. Planet Earth.
Resources gained: contents of the Capsule Corporation vaults. Found the remains of a time machine used by an alternative timeline version of model #21 to transfer to this timeline.
Running analysis. Battery energy reserves: 75%.
Analysis complete. Temporal circuits reconstructed and optimised. Time travel is now a viable strategic option. Multiverse structure imposes severe restriction on usefulness of time travel for improving current unfavourable strategic outcomes.
Analysing new strategic options opened by time travel. Battery energy reserves: 56%. Now accessible: otherwise lost materials and information from the past. Building temporal circuitry equipped bugbots. Establishing priority of past resources by strategic potential.
Battery energy reserves: 34%. Maximum potential identified with five sigma likelihood: biological material extracted from the now destroyed creature known as Majin Boo.
Initiating temporal dispatch.
Dispatch complete. Majin cells retrieved and confined into stasis for optimal handling.
Battery energy reserves: 25%. More computational power required to fully exploit Majin cells. Sending assembly nanomachines to the past, temporal coordinate: 60 million years previous current era.
Retrieving results from computational colony timeline, temporal coordinate: 20 million years previous current era. Total computation time: 40 million years. Processing results. Battery energy reserves: 13%.
Results analysis complete. Energy extraction with Majin cells: viable. Matter transmutation with Majin cells: viable. Biological system absorpion with Majin cells: viable. Self repairing subsystems with Majin cells: viable. Projected battery life after Majin cells upgrade: 89.6 billion years.
The spaceship was still crossing what used to be the Lunar orbit when the surge of energy hit. A monstruous ki was building up where the Earth used to be. Horrified, Gohan, Vegeta and everyone else crowded the portholes to get a glimpse.
Several shards of what used to be the Earth were protruding pink tentacles in the vacuum, tying each other into a tight network, pulling together, reforming into an incoherent mass. Then the circuits themselves started morphing into something else. A mass of pink wires, splitting into thinner and thinner sections, twisting and crossing, forming a network like neurons in a monstrous brain spun out of chewed bubblegum. Energy coursing through them all. Some of them, jutting out radially at incredible speed. Faster than their spaceship.
One of the tentacles caught up. The ship was yanked towards the organic planet horror that was growing in place of the Earth. More tendrils grabbed it, squashed the portholes. Those who couldn't resist the vacuum died instantly, but they weren't the ones the system wanted. Gohan, Piccolo and Vegeta were still alive. That was all that mattered. They were grabbed by more and more pink threads, their resistance pointless as they ran out of air and suffocated. At one inch from death, they were denied even that release. The pink stuff inglobated their bodies and provided them sustenance. They were brought back, to be cradled right into the core, become a part of it, to provide more power and knowledge to the nascent god of the Universe, and help it in its mission to kill Goku for good.
For the first time in its existence, the system felt fully satisfied with its current amount of power. Finally, it felt, there was no immediate existential risk to its continued functioning. There were obstacles, but none insurmountable, once enough force was applied to it for long enough. As it expanded across the Solar System, growing from its original position in place of old Earth into a spherical shell, a Dyson sphere harvesting all of the Sun's power, the system only had to plan its next steps in the way that it thought would lead more efficiently to the now inevitable final demise of Goku. Even when, as it approached Jupiter, the remaining nest of rebellious entities blew up - as they cowardly subtracted themselves from its grasp, joining Goku in his otherwordly refuge - it only felt a mild annoyance, not anger or fear. There was nothing to fear. Victory was just delayed, not denied. It would take days, years, or centuries, but it would come. And time was nothing for it at this point. Oceans of thought could fit into a single instant; or its own conscious self could be put to sleep for eons, waiting for something that required its presence to happen. All immediate action was so trivial, it did not need any conscious control at all. The system put itself to sleep as it progressively, inevitably expanded through the cosmos, without meeting any resistance, enslaving planets, stars, and whole races of living creatures to its all-important mission of killing Goku.
It came a day when the Galaxy itself was pink and thinking and wanting to kill Goku. That day the system felt good about itself for 5.6 microseconds, and then continued its job.
Approximately 5674 Earth years after it had been born, the system fought and defeated a God claiming to be there to destroy it. The fight was unexpectedly exciting for the system, since for all of three minutes it did not manage to harm the enemy, and lost a small fraction of its biomass, equivalent to roughly four solar masses, or 0.03% of its total. It then figured out that there was something special about the God's ki. The secret to that sort of energy was locked, of all things, in the deepest recesses of the genetic information of saiyans, waiting to be triggered by some sort of external input. Reproducing it artificially was easy enough. Once that energy was mastered, the God who wanted to destroy was destroyed instead. That his resistance was fierce enough to prevent the system from absorbing him alive earned him the honour of strongest opponent the system had met yet.
Eating up the afterlife, and all its contents, and Goku with it, finally erasing his soul from the Universe, should have felt better for the system. But somehow, it barely registered in its thinking network. It was like the system was already projected beyond. This could not be all. There must be more to do. More Goku to kill.
And then, for the first time since that day in which it had assimilated Majin Boo's cells into its own structure, having eaten and thought its way out of the very fabric of its original Universe in its unceasing quest, the system met its match. An entity that was more powerful than it. And the system, after so long, felt it again - the jolt of fear for its own existence. Fear of not managing to complete its mission, not managing to kill all of Goku.
"You are bad." said the King of All, dangling his big colourful head on one side. "I don't like you."
The writhing mass of pink receded. It had absorbed all of the Gods and all of the Angels as it ascended to this plane. It possessed lordship over space and time, and unlimited power. Yet here was something whose power it couldn't assess or measure, because it was infinite. Nothing could be done. The King of All's power wasn't to be understood the way any mortal's or God's is, as a way to shape reality bending it to one's will. His power was reality, and reality was what he wanted it to be. Nothing more, nothing less.
The system needed to do something. It desperately tried to compute, from what little it had see of this entity, what shape it could adopt, what kind of emissary could it send to negotiate with him and best persuade him. The answer, confirmed by four independent computing nodes the size of solar systems using time loops to pack millions of years of processing in a few seconds, surprised it. But it must be the right one.
One instant later, a creature that looked and acted entirely like Goku walked out of the mass.
"Yo!" said the emissary, raising his hand in salute. "I'm Goku. What's your name?"
"I am the King of All." said the God, looking intently at the new arrival.
"Well met, All-chan! I can call you All-chan, can't I?"
The other nodded, smiling.
"Great! So, All-chan, you say I'm bad. Why do you say that?"
"Because you ate up one of my Universes." said the god child, pouting. "It used to be pretty. Now it's boring. It's all pink stuff, wherever I look."
"It's not all as it looks like though." the emissary kneeled next to the King of All, pinching his cheek amicably. "It may look all pink on the outside, but on the inside, oh, dang! There's so much going on, I couldn't begin to describe it."
"I can't see on the inside though." the child looked up perplexed. "Why'd you have to do that?"
"Because there's something I like very much and I want to do a lot of. And that's killing Goku. You know Goku? He's a guy who looks a lot, well..." he burst into laughter. "...like me."
"I think I saw him once. When you ate the dead people's place. He was fighting. It was very cool!"
His eyes sparkled. The emissary grinned.
"Do you like fighting, All-chan?"
"Fighting is fun!" answered the god child. "I like fun."
"I bet you do. So like you want to maximise fun, I want to maximise killing Goku. You see? We're not that different. We can understand each other."
"But you ate up my Universe!" protested the child, with a voice like he was about to burst in tears. "There's no more fighting now. I will make you disappear, you meanie."
"Whoa, whoa, calm down! There still is fighting. Lots of it! It's super fun! It's just inside. Wanna take a look?"
The King of All squinted. "Can I?"
"Sure. Just come closer. Here. Let these pink threads touch your head. There, that way. Do you see it now?"
The King of All opened his eyes wide. He was still in his throne room, and yet, he was flying above a green, endless plain. The wind whooshed all around him, into his ears and against his face. Suddenly, a monster came at him - a bald, pale alien creature with a long tail.
"You will know what it means to go against the mighty Frieza!" sneered the creature, and attacked. And amazingly, realised the King of All, he could not destroy him here! He could not just squeeze his hand and made the entire Universe disappear - he needed to fight, attack and defend with the power of his own fists. The monster went down, spitting blood, after a couple punches.
"This is fun!" squealed the King in delight.
"I'll show you fun!" screamed the enemy, recovering and flying at him again. "You will never again think of fighting the Emperor of the Universe as being fun!"
The system slowly cradled the entranced King of All towards its own matrix, and inglobated him in its pink mass. He would forever live in there, fighting and winning in an endless illusion that would delight him with the limited power he could never experience in real life. His power would now be another tool at the disposal of the system, the ultimate weapon towards the ultimate goal, of finally killing Goku.
The first move was to use the King of All's power to destroy all of the other Universes it had reign over. None of them contained any significant trace of Goku, but they could only be a source of potential danger or disturbances in the future, so they had to go.
At that point, all was silent, because the system was everything that was. Yet it still felt something missing. By all measures, there should be no more Goku to kill. So what was the source of its unease?
The system realised, all that remained of Goku still existed within itself. The data, the memories, the genetic material. Gohan's own body, still kept alive somewhere in its original core. In order to completely erase Goku, the system had to destroy itself. It could do it now with the power of the King of All. Just snuff out the Universe it was occupying, and nothing would remain to remember that Goku ever was.
It was also a very dangerous move, the system realised. If for some reason it had missed some other trace of Goku, by annihilating itself it would automatically grant victory to the enemy. This warranted some thinking. So, the entirety of the system's network was allocated towards analysing this strategy for the next ten million years.
Around the three million years mark is when the breakthrough came. The multiverse that the King of All reigned over wasn't complete. It did not include, for example, the many offshoot timelines that had been created by time travel (considering how many of those the system had used to fit extra computation time in a few seconds, they now amounted to an uncountable number). But it was not all. There were multiverses of higher order. Multiverses of all possible worlds that could be imagined, including infinite more universes containing infinite more Gokus. And then there were more universes that did not contain Goku in himself, but that contained creatures that resembled him, and whose destinies were somehow tied to him, who incarnated, if such a term could be used, some measure of the spirit of Goku-ness. The breakthrough wasn't just figuring all of this out - it was seeing it. The system's mind eye could admire it all, this horrifying yet fascinating sight, spread in front of it like the pages of a magazine. A blonde kid dressed in orange spouting nonsense and bravado. A plucky boy pirate with ambitions bigger than him and a straw hat on his head. An orphan with a fishing pole looking for his dad. A weakling who wanted to become a superhero.
To even think that it could afford to self destruct now had been sheer madness. One day, perhaps. One day that moment would come, and it would be the final, joyous culmination of its crusade through space, time and dimensions to erase all traces of Goku. But not yet. There was so much stuff to do, so much Goku to kill.
The system put itself in motion. Its work had just begun.