A/N ~ I only recently watched the end of the Kid Buu Saga, and it came to my attention that when Gohan, Piccolo, Goten and Trunks died they didn't turn up at Judgment. And this got me wondering - where exactly *did* they go? It was never explained, was it? So, here's my slightly off-the-wall version of the off-camera events that came after Buu blew up the Earth.

Let me also just say that, having not watched a certain crucial special (my DVD is still on order from Amazon.com), and having written this on a laptop in the middle of nowhere, I've played loose and fast with a few minor bits and pieces of continuity. Basically, I worked off the image files and descriptions on dbzgtlegacy.com, so please forgive me if I get anything wrong. To say anymore would spoil the fic.

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'Deus Ex Machina' By Scribbler

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Blackness. Pure, impenetrable blackness. It wrapped around everything, coddling all five senses until they were as nothing. Sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing... useless here. Everything was just black; and he was one with it. Part of it. It was more than just resting in it. He *was* the darkness...

"Gohan!"

A voice summoned him through the gloom, reminding him that he had a name. It was thin, reedy - as if talking through many layers of wet fabric. It pushed, though, insistent despite its insignificance in the infinite black. A single sound, absorbed and doused like everything else. Like a mouse shouting to a star...

It was so very far away.

So much easier just to ignore it, to recline back into the nothingness that was slowly consuming him. The darkness was soft - inviting. It comforted, not letting pain or hurt through; protecting him from... what? What did he need protecting from?

He couldn't remember.

"Gohan!"

That voice again, persistent. For a moment he recognised it, and then the blackness swallowed the noise, caressing him, telling him not to worry as it pulled him back down into its very heart. The voice was part of another world, another place that didn't matter here. Nothing mattered here. Not from there; not from anywhere. They were all just part of some broken dream...

"Come on, Gohan! Wake up!"

_Dad?_

The thought came as if from far away, but some part of him knew it was his own. The darkness had splintered his mind, pushing the different parts away until only a thin thread bound the pieces together. The mental whisper was tenuous, almost nonexistent. But it was there; instinctive, and it stirred the rest of him into movement.

The blackness tugged at him, but he pushed it away with mental fingers, trying to recall what was going on. He remembered... a physical body. His body. Yes... yes, he was more than just this conglomerate of scattered thoughts. And as he remembered that body, he felt himself drawing together, streamlining his spirit and gathering something he would put a name to when the relevant memory skittered back into his fuggy brain.

Ki.

And with it he felt power; a power he'd been using not so long ago, before this numbing blackness took hold. He remembered fighting, battling an enemy so powerful it boggled the bits of his mind he could still feel. Images of a smirk, a malicious sneer that curved blubbery lips, chased each other across his psyche, followed by the recollection of fists, feet, knees and an assortment of other body parts striking at him. He remembered a swell of pink energy surging across the landscape, cutting a swathe through rocks, trees and dirt, turning them all to dust as easily as he might feed paper into a shredder. He remembered trying to force that energy away, to divert it, and then being caught in the clutches of a being that had been terrifying the cosmos since before his ancestors were born.

And then he remembered a name to go with those memories.

Buu.

Sensation, not quite distinguishable as belonging to any specific form, spun chaotically through Gohan's consciousness; bringing him back to the awareness that oblivion had deprived him of. He was sentient enough to recognise that, somewhere not too distant, his body was forcing itself awake, and he homed in on it, feeling the altogether odd sense of sliding back into his own skin.

The next thing he felt was a roil of nausea as he reclaimed his nerve endings. The back of his skull throbbed like he'd been roughly dropped on a none-too-soft surface, and something tickled his already tingly bare arms. He was instantly reminded of past Summer evenings spent lying out on the grass outside his home, tracing and teaching the constellations alongside his father and younger brother, respectively.

Fresh recollections of the previous battle crowded into his skull. Buu had... had taken Gotenks and Piccolo; absorbed them right into his pudgy pink body to become an even greater, more formidable fighter. Things dissolved, then, into a mêlée of fighting. He could remember participating, yet he couldn't actually recall anything specific to do with it other than the fact that Buu had been... amazing.

There was really no other word for it. The Saiyan part of Gohan, the part he usually ignored or repressed, had been impressed with Buu's skill, even if it had been mostly stolen from other fighters he'd absorbed. Gohan rarely listened to that half of himself, save when he was in battle. He'd long ago come to realise that his more-than-partial dislike of anything Saiyan within him stemmed from the way he'd been introduced to his heritage, when he was four years old. Raditz was hardly a good example of what the Saiyan race had to offer, and neither Nappa nor Vegeta had done anything to enamour their people on the tiny little half-breed boy.

In battle, however; and especially during the tussles with Freeza and Cell, Gohan knew that the only reason he'd even so much as survived had been because of the blood of that dead race in his veins.

It had been an altogether unnerving experience, though, fighting techniques he'd seen people he cared about learn and perfect, only to have them used by another's hands. The part of Gohan that staunchly remained human had been disgusted, even a little horrified, wondering what had become of those he loved as he struggled just to stay alive. He would never truly enjoy fighting, not like his father, but Gohan's Saiyan half had got him through that fight while his id worried over Goten, Trunks and Piccolo.

And then...

And then his father had been there. Goku. Coming to save the day once again, just like when Gohan had been a little boy captured by Raditz, or battling Freeza on Planet Namek. Goku, the irrepressible, undefeatable Saiyan... armed with a pair of earrings?

"Hey, he's coming to! Vegeta, he's gonna be all right!"

That voice, strong and clear this time. Gohan heard it close by, and struggled to open his eyes and throw off the fogginess still clinging to his mind.

Wait a minute - Vegeta? But... Vegeta was dead, right?

What did *that* mean?

He remembered, now. He remembered his father throwing him that strange earring, and then Buu changing when Gotenks' fusion wore off. He remembered searching for the tiny, inexplicable piece of jewellery amongst the rocks and wreckage, and then...

And then he'd found out firsthand what it felt like to be absorbed.

The rest was blurry, a haze of half-formed images and sensations he could pick at until the end of time and still never recall fully. One thing was clear, though. He'd actually been *inside* Majin Buu, a part of the very fabric that made him up.

The notion added to his nausea, and Gohan resisted the urge to toss his cookies then and there for aiding that monstrosity, however much against his will it had been. He was under no false impression as to what Buu had used his newly acquired Mystic strength for. No doubt Gohan had inadvertently been the crutch on which Buu had leaned to lick the tar out of Goku. The fact that he could now hear his father's jovial, familiar voice was a blessing in and of itself that he'd survived.

Maybe, it also meant Goku had prevailed?

But wait, Goku had said Vegeta's name, and since Vegeta had already died, then that meant...

Oh, Kami! Or was it Dende now? Two gods to swear by, but it made little difference if Buu had killed them all. Judgment was one of the few places Earth's Guardian had little to no power.

Gohan felt out his muscles, reacquainting himself with every inch of his body. He certainly *felt* real enough, although he'd never been dead before, and so what it was supposed to feel like escaped him totally. Piccolo had always neglected to talk about the intricacies of dying and the Afterlife. Gohan had the vague idea that he was meant to be some kind of floating, disembodied spirit; but the various aches and pains his body insisted on reminding him of negated that idea. Spirits didn't feel pain, did they? Didn't that kind of contradict the whole aspect of leaving your corporeal body behind?

Slowly, painstakingly, he forced his eyes open... and was rewarded by a near-concussive blast of ki that pitched into his psyche and turned his mind over like a small boat on a choppy sea. His skin felt nothing more than a light breeze, but his brain felt like it was exploding under the wave of vicarious pain and raw power that coursed into and through it, burning a path along his veins until he fell back into the blackness he'd spent so long clambering out of.

The next few minutes Gohan spent swimming into and out of consciousness, his still-frail mind finding it difficult to maintain any semblance of a good hold in either one realm or the other. It was as if something powerful was throwing out waves of ki without even realising it, battering his poor senses like a normal person would a fly or mosquito.

When he finally did manage to anchor himself properly to his physical body, and coerce his eyelids into opening, it was only to be confronted by a mass of visible ki so vast and potent that it blotted out everything around him an instant later. His vision filled, his senses screamed, his body felt a moment of intense pain as the blast ripped through both him and the ground he was lying on, and then there was nothing but numbness.

He awoke again later - how much later he didn't know - to find himself floating in the deep, cavernous void of space. Stars speckled his peripheral vision, and around him hung chunks of rock and dust, still moving slowly outwards as the gravitational pull that had held them in for so long let go. This was a different kind of blackness than before - this time, he knew his body and knew who he was. There was no nausea, no roiling sickness deep in his gut. In fact, he was surprisingly clear-headed, and came to with a start.

Spirits didn't feel pain, did they? They didn't hurt when strange ki blasts hit them, right? And... surely spirits didn't get knocked out?

Instinctively, and without much real thought as to what he was doing, Gohan reached tentatively out with the vestiges of own ki, trying to see what was going on.

What he felt astonished him.

He felt... absolutely nothing.

Icy void. Emptiness beyond anything he'd ever felt before.

He couldn't discern even one ki, and even when he stretched out further he sensed nobody and nothing. All life force was absent, and he tried to gather his own beneath him to turn around in the air so as to look as well as feel what the hell was going on. He almost panicked when he found he couldn't collar his own energy enough to use it. He could sense it, sure; very faint and weak, just enough to scan his immediate area; but there was no way he could reach down deep enough inside himself to actually *use* it for anything.

An icy hand closed around Gohan's heart as he twisted his head, surveying the space dust and debris swirling around him. One piece floated straight through his stomach, coming out the other side without so much as blurring his outline. He didn't feel a thing.

All at once, he realised at least part of what was happening. If he hadn't been dead before, then he most certainly was now. Although aware of his surroundings, he couldn't actually *feel* anything, and somehow that managed to scare him where giant pink monsters, evils wizards and biomechanically altered grasshoppers never could. He found by holding his breath that he didn't even need to breathe. Which was probably a good thing, considering he was hanging around in open space and should, had he been alive, be having his head pop like a ripe tomato around about now.

But why was he hanging around here in the first place? The ki blast he'd seen before had to be the thing that had killed him, and he'd been lying down then, with his father right next to him...

That memory abruptly begged the question; where was Goku?

For that matter, where was Vegeta? His father had been talking to his rival, hadn't he? Did that mean that Vegeta had actually been alive and on Earth, not dead as Gohan had at first assumed? But if that were true, then did that mean that both Saiyan warriors were now dead, too? Nobody could have survived a blast like the one he'd felt, not even tough-as-old-boots Saiyans... could they?

So many questions, and not one person around get answers out of. Goku, Piccolo, Dende, Goten, Trunks... hell, Gohan would even make nice to Mr. Satan if he could tell him what was going on. Which, even if that martial artist had been still alive and well, seemed unlikely. Mr. Satan was one of those people who just coasted through life, riding the crest and never looking too far below to see the rest of the wave.

Still, none of that mattered now. What mattered was finding out what... was going...

Gohan's eye was drawn to the large, looming bulk of the nearest planet. It was wreathed in dusky orange clouds, and its surface seemed a curious shade of orange. Almost red, really. He recognised it instantly from pictures in old textbooks. Mars. The Red Planet.

But if that was Mars, then that meant...

Gohan craned his neck as far as it would go to see what lay behind him, but the knot of anxiety in the pit of his belly already told him that what they'd all feared most had finally come to pass. Gohan had learned long ago to trust those nagging feelings most folk just ignored or attributed as simply 'something they ate'. And right now, the nagging was telling him that Buu had done what the Supreme Kai had warned them he could - and would - do.

He'd blown up the Earth. Along with everything and everyone left on it.

The Z-Senshi had failed.

*He* had failed.

And in that instant, Gohan felt so defeated, so crushingly adrift from every positive emotion he'd ever felt, that it was as if the very soul he'd been left with was being eroded away.

The Earth was gone. His home - blown to smithereens by a flabby creature more intent on gobbling candy than preserving the sanctity of life. All his friends, his family, killed by something that looked like the evil grandchild of the bubblegum he'd peeled off his shoe just last Thursday.

It was mind-numbing. Everything he'd ever known was gone.

And swiftly, Gohan felt his sudden despair replaced by equally sudden anger, white hot and burning. Had he been able to shed them, he might have cried furious tears, and shouted to the sky at whatever deity had allowed this to happen. Dende, King Kai, Grand Kai and all above him - for a single, blinding second all Gohan wanted to do was find one of them and bury his Mystic fist in a gut.

They weren't responsible, and he knew that. Elder Kai, Supreme Kai and Kibito had actually gone out of their way to help prevent this from happening. But somehow, that just compounded the uselessness churning in his stomach; the feeling that *he* should've been the one to do something; that *he* should've been the one to save his own planet.

Was this how Guru felt when Planet Namek blew up?

The anger was easier to channel than despair. Gohan had spent so much of his life on the edge of complete hopelessness; he'd never really let himself feel anger. That was why it had been his greatest weapon against Cell. It always seemed that, no matter how well the Z-Senshi did against one threat, the next was extra powerful, and all-too-willing to step up to the plate. And with each new menace came a whole host of insecurities for one boy pushed ever closer to the rim of that boundary.

Growing up a defender of Earth. Who in blue blazes needed that from the age of four? It had thrust Gohan into an adult world far too young, forcing him to mature and deal with mortality far too soon. His childhood had been an endless string of schoolwork, training and battling to save the very soil he lived on. Despair always seemed just a stone's throw away, but he'd beaten it back every time, just as the Z-Senshi had beaten back every threat to their beloved home world.

And now the Earth was gone; the Z-Senshi and those they protected, all dead.

"Why?" Gohan found himself shouting, and was mildly surprised to find that he still had a voice; then again that he could hear it in the abyss of space. "Why?" He didn't know whom he was asking, or whether he expected a reply. All the gods he knew had tried and failed to stop this. There was nobody left to ask.

Why did it have to be the Earth?

Why now, when life was just starting to go right again?

Why had Babadi felt the need to continue his father's work?

Why was Majin Buu so ruthless? So wanton?

Why had Bibidi even created him in the first place?

Why hadn't all the Z-Senshi together been enough to stop him?

Why had Gohan not been enough to stop him?

Just... why?

Gohan could feel it, that pit of misery edging in around him. He could sense it, undulating beneath his tortured psyche. It was everything he'd ever truly feared in himself - hatred, anger, frustration, disgust... loneliness. He'd lost everything - failed everyone. His mother, his friends, his father, his brother, Videl...

Videl.

He didn't know quite what had grown between them, but he did know that whatever it was had possessed the potential to become something more. Yet now that could never be. He was dead. He touched his own lips, but he couldn't even tell if he was cold or not. His fingers felt oddly numb, like all the blood had flowed out of them and even the pins and needles were no more.

But wait - Videl had died before his final battle with Buu, which meant that she was already in the Afterlife, didn't it? The idea that she could have been sent to Hell was so ridiculous as not to even merit consideration, and for a fleeting second Gohan dared to hope that he, she - all of them might be reunited on the other side of the life-death divide.

The thought then crossed his mind that he hadn't passed on to Judgment yet. It was this logical consideration, and it alone that drew him back from the black pit threatening to consume him. Gohan ceased his descent into that untimely spiral of self-loathing long enough to wonder why he was still here, drifting in the powder that had once been Earth, instead of moving on to the Afterlife.

Could it be that he was still tethered to his physical body somehow? A ghost, rather than a simple spirit? But his body had been completely obliterated along with the planet. Was there a microscopic piece of him somewhere for his ghost to hang onto?

He wished Piccolo had been a bit more forthcoming about what it was like to be dead. Goku hadn't really talked about it all that much; but then, Gohan *had* been very young when his father first died, and the second time Goku came back to life it had only been for the one day. Not really enough time to prep oneself for the rigmarole of also dying - or even coming to terms with the fact that death was an option on a day they'd all thought would just be given over to reminiscing and friendly competition in the Tenkaichi Budokai.

Now here he was, dead and floating, without a clue what to do next. Gohan had always assumed death was automatic, and that things just happened because they were supposed to. Now he found himself wondering whether he was supposed to help the procedure along a bit.

Another surge of hot anger clutched at his chest, tightening. Why did everything have to be so *difficult*? Was it so much to ask that *something* go smoothly for him for a change? He didn't ask much of the universe - a quiet life without some super-villain threatening the Earth's safety for five minutes, with perhaps a few good school grades on the side to keep his mother happy. He didn't want excessive riches; he didn't want fame. He just wanted to be normal. But, it seemed, even death was intent on treating him differently. And why? Because he was half Saiyan? Because he was a failed protector of the planet? Because he had some stupid ingrained notion that he was supposed to save lives?

What difference did any of that make now?

He was being selfish, and some part of him knew it. But right now, for the very first time in his entire life, Gohan just didn't care anymore. It was as if, by being released from his physical body, he had also let go of his restraint, and he let himself slide into a mixture of self-pity and pure ire the likes of which he'd felt few times before.

The anger swirled inside him, and for a second it was as if he was fighting Cell again. This had been what it was like, channelling all his fury, all his rage into wiping that smug creation out of existence. This had been what gathered inside of him when he was forced to watch everyone he cared for fight and die against the Saiyans and Freeza. This... force. His father had seen it, had recognised the potential strength it possessed; but Goku didn't know what lay beneath, the part that Gohan alone could feel every time he accessed that hidden part of himself. This uncontrollable power, filling him, empowering him... devouring him.

He didn't know quite how he could still feel it here, when even his own ki was little more than a shadow. A ghost of a ghost.

"Why?" he asked again, and this time it was as if the question echoed back at him through the endless expanse of time and space. Gohan shouted, not caring whether anyone could hear him or not. It just felt good to release his anger *somehow*. Cathartic, almost. "Why *me*?!" And then again. "WHY *ME*!?"

And through the endless expanse of time and space... someone answered.

At first, Gohan didn't know quite what he was looking at. The blackness around him morphed quite suddenly, fluctuating a moment and then reforming, like the ripple on a pond when a stone has been thrown in. He blinked, aware that the nothingness around him had changed, become crowded with motley, half-destroyed buildings. And then he blinked again, because he was sure that he recognised this place. Or what was left of it, at any rate.

It was a familiar street in a familiar city, but the view was anything *but* familiar. Whole buildings had been torn down, whilst others lay open like rotting wounds. Rubble was everywhere, charred and strewn about, as if left in the wake of some drunken destruction crew who had set their wrecking ball on fire for a laugh.

Poking out of doorways and decaying beneath twisted streetlamps he could see bodies. Human bodies; ragged and mangled, but just about recognisable. Rain spattered down on them, washing away weeks' worth of crusted blood, dirt and mould as a sky full of swollen grey clouds wept on the broken, wounded landscape.

And somehow, Gohan knew that this was Earth. Just not any incarnation he'd ever seen.

He was back.

But... how?

In the middle of the street, half-submerged in a rather deep puddle, was a corpse. It was slightly fresher than the others, as shown by the rivulets of still-liquid blood seeping into the fast-becoming-a-mire around it. Bloody and battered, it had clearly been badly beaten before it died. Maybe even it had died *because* of the beating. The concrete of the street was smashed and cracked around it, and sat beside the sad little bundle of torn orange clothing was another figure, dressed much the same.

Gohan focussed on that figure, since it was the only living one thereabouts. It seemed so dejected that, inexplicably, he found himself wanting to comfort it, despite his residual anger and confusion at what was going on. Consciously, he shoved the feeling of compassion away again; immersing himself in the anger he'd staved off for so long.

He was still very much dead, of that he was certain. Though his surroundings had changed, he had not, and he knew he could no more use his ki to fly towards that person than he could breathe the damp air around them. What was there to stop being angry about?

So he was doubly surprised when the figure looked up and cast about, as if looking for the source of a half-heard sound. Even more so when dark eyes settled on him, and a look of surprise crossed the features attached to them. There was no way to mistake a look like that - he'd been spotted.

But... how? He was dead, wasn't he? As in, not visible to those still in possession of a heartbeat?

At least, he was *pretty* sure ghosts weren't usually perceptible to the living.

The figure got to its feet and started to walk towards him, but stopped after a few steps, as if yanked back by some invisible leash. Gohan blinked at the unmistakable gesture to come forwards, and then realised something he hadn't before. His feet were resting on the ground, not floating anymore, though they still felt like they didn't quite belong to him. But if he concentrated hard enough, then... yes! He could move them. It was a strain, like walking through molasses, and his toes were still to numb to feel individually, but he could just about do it without falling flat on his face.

Slowly, painstakingly, he picked his way over to the strange figure. The man - for it was indeed a man, and one of considerable height and stature - waited patiently, not tapping his foot or sighing or looking at his watch at Gohan's slowness. Instead, he simply watched the boy advance, eyes searching and somehow curious. The lines around them were tight, the skin hardened by years of frowning. The stranger had a chiselled jaw and a strong mouth set in a grim line, but it twitched slightly at his approach.

"Well now," he said as soon as Gohan was close enough to hear, "this *is* a surprise. I was sorta wondering why I hadn't passed on yet." His voice sounded like it might once have been mellow, but had been made scratchy by neglect and misuse.

The thatch of black quills seemed familiar somehow, though Gohan couldn't quite put his finger on it. The voice, too, struck a chord. He cocked his head to one side and snapped, rather more waspishly than he meant to, "Surprise? What's that supposed to mean?"

The man raised his hands, palms outward in the universal gesture for calm. "Eesh, not so touchy. Was I really so snappy at that age?"

"At what age? Who are you, and what're you..." The question trailed away into a gulp as Gohan's ki-sense snuck out of its own accord, and he suddenly realised who he was looking at, and what he was seeing. The dark eyes, the roughly sawn black hair, and the shape of the face - all of it reminded him of his father in some way.

Yet... this stranger wasn't his father. His face was too closed, too shut-off for that. Goku was master of facial expressions, having spent much of his early life without proper speech or human contact other than his own adoptive Grandpa. Though he could be serious, and form an expression of pure anger when he needed to, Goku could never maintain such haggardness, such world-weariness as this man wore.

It was almost like looking... in a mirror...

"You... you're... me," Gohan said thickly, knowing it was true, and yet another wash of confusion engulfed him, pushing back his tide of anger a notch further. One emotion replaced the other, and he simply stood there, gawping at this slightly older, slightly harsher version of himself like he might blink out of existence at any moment.

As if being dead and confronted with the remains of the Earth wasn't enough, now he had to deal with... with... well, he wasn't entirely sure what he was dealing with, but past experience with phenomenon considered 'not the norm' had taught him that stuff like this generally wasn't a good thing.

Even so, Gohan's disbelief was now suspended so far above his head that he couldn't even *see* it anymore. Which was probably why he was so quick in noticing what he did next.

The older him stood with arms folded, one eyebrow raised in a slightly condescending manner. He was buff - much more well-built than Gohan had ever wanted or dreamed he could be. This guy looked not only like he could scale a mountain before breakfast, but also bench-press it until lunch. His hair, not quite so stiff as a full-blooded Saiyan's, seemed to be resisting the raindrops' assault on it anyway. In fact... Gohan took pause, and realised that the rain was actually falling right *through* the older him's body, just as it was doing to himself.

"You're dead." It wasn't a question, just a statement, but the older Gohan nodded anyway. There was a hint of bitterness to that tiny motion, but it quickly evaporated as he raised his head again.

"So are you."

What was he supposed to say to that? Yup, killed just today, want to swap notes?

Fortunately - or maybe it was unfortunately - conversation between the two ghosts ceased momentarily as the backdrop of rain-washed sky abruptly lit up a bright yellow. Somewhere in the desecrated remains of the city an explosion went off, creating a fireball that swallowed up a few more buildings and toppled others with the concussive shockwave that followed. Neither of the two Gohans moved a muscle, as around them the wreckage rumbled and shook, ominous creakings emanating from the structures set to topple next.

"They're at it again," the older version said in a weary voice laced with disgust.

Gohan looked at him, and couldn't help himself from asking, "Who?"

"The androids."

Two simple words, but they explained so very much.

Gohan blinked, rainwater dropping right through his eyeballs and exiting out the back of his skull. Androids? But... but they'd been taken care of years ago. Much too long ago for himself to be that age and still dealing with them. The older Gohan was mid-twenties at least, though his mien bespoke a soul that felt much, much older. It was impossible. Unless...

Unless...

The idea was utterly ridiculous - stupid, even. He was an idiot for even taking it into consideration. And yet... and yet, he really truly couldn't think of anything better to explain all of this. It was crazy, but then again, so was the concept of time travel, of alternate universes and divergent timelines. Bulma had once tried to explain things like that to him, not long after they defeated Cell, but some of her theories had been so fantastic that even Gohan, with his higher than average IQ, had found it difficult to accept them.

_Guess she got the last laugh, huh?_

Somehow, in some way, he'd been brought to this place in a different time, a different universe; one where the androids had never been defeated, and had instead run amok, killing and wreaking havoc wherever they went. The Z-Senshi were again all dead, whether by biomechanical hand or disease or whatever. The fact remained that they were long gone, and Gohan was now looking at the ghostly form of one of the last remaining warriors on the entire planet.

Himself, as he would have been.

Dead.

The corpse in the puddle took on new meaning, and he tried not to look at it again.

His doppelganger had no such compunction, however, and turned away to look squarely at his old body. The face was almost completely covered with muddy water, and it was lying on its side, gi in tatters and burned right through in places. The left arm was missing, but the wound was long-healed and had obviously not happened in this fight. He sighed, shaking his head, and Gohan absently noted that the ghost was in possession of both arms now. Apparently death regenerated things like that, and he found himself wondering whether Yamcha's scars had healed when he crossed over.

"Y'know, now that I've had time to think about it a little more, I can pinpoint at least a dozen mistakes I made fighting them today. Stupid mistakes, really. Not that I'm saying I deserved to die or anything, but if I could do it all over again... well, things might have turned out a little different. I may have even taken one of them with me."

Gohan blinked. So the androids had killed him - this other him. That rang true with what he knew from conversations with Future Trunks when he'd been around. "Look," he said with as much authority as he could muster, "I'm... sorry about what's happened. But quite honestly, I'm not even meant to be here. To tell you the truth, I don't even know how I *got* here in the first place, but I - "

"I'm assuming you died. Right?"

"Uh, right. But - "

"And since I know I never died at your age - what are you, eighteen? Nineteen?"

Gohan couldn't think what to say, so he just answered, "Eighteen."

His double nodded again. "Since I lived well past eighteen, I'm also assuming you must be from some divergent universe."

Wow. This version of himself sure was perceptive. Gohan stuttered, taken aback by how quickly and easily this... this him had picked up on what was going on, and how effortlessly he seemed to accept it. Like meeting alternative versions of himself was yesterday's news.

He might have asked what had happened to make this Gohan so callous and accommodating of the nasty little quirks Fate like to send their way, but another blossom of flame on the horizon stopped the question in his throat. Oh yeah, the androids. He guessed it must make a guy a lot more open-minded to be faced with something like that, alongside his own mortality every second of every day. After all, as Bulma has insisted on explaining to him numerous times, barring #16, the androids had actually not really been machines at all, but rather corpses Dr. Gero and his cronies had preserved and augmented with biomechanical implants. If the walking dead could not only be believed, but also seen and run away from, then anything else must seem rather blasé.

"Yeah," Gohan replied, bowing his head, "divergent universe. That's right."

"Bulma explained them to me, once. How little decisions, tiny things, can alter the course of history," the older him said. "She was just bouncing ideas off me for a new project of hers, but it got me thinking. I mean, what if, somewhere out there, there's another universe now where I didn't make so many mistakes today?" He shrugged. "Hey, gotta take comfort where you can get it, right?" He cut his eyes at his younger self. "How did they get you?"

For a moment, Gohan was puzzled at the question, and he made no attempt to hide it. "What?"

"The Wonder Twins. How did they kill you?"

It dawned on Gohan that his doppelganger thought that, though they came from divergent universes, their timelines a propos the androids were still the same. _Of course, Future Trunks said that I - he... this guy died before he could come back to the past and warn us about #17 and #18. The time machine was built for him - me, wasn't it? He doesn't know that Trunks is going to go in his place, and that things are going to change so drastically for us because of that visit._ Still; he was a little disconcerted that this him was more concerned with how he'd met his end than how he came to be here now. "They didn't," he said simply, too mentally and emotionally exhausted to explain everything that had happened from Future Trunks's first visit to the moment when Majin Buu blew up the Earth.

For whatever reason, the elder Gohan didn't press for further information in lieu of the cryptic reply. Instead, he turned back to the corpse in the road, sighing deeply. "I suppose it doesn't matter. Mind if I ask why you're here?"

"To tell you the truth, I don't really know," Gohan admitted. "I don't know why or how I came to be here. I was just waiting around," _screaming at the universe,_ "waiting to go to Judgment, when all of a sudden, *poof* - here I am, and here you are, and... and..." He trailed off, not sure what to say next.

"I wonder if there was a filing problem," the elder Gohan mused quietly, and then shrugged. "Or maybe somewhere there's a universe where I actually got to use Bulma's time machine, and this is that dimensional backlash she warned me about. It could be any number of things, but I'm sure they'll get it sorted out."

And that was all he said on the matter. The younger Gohan blinked several times, expecting a few more words, but nothing came.

He didn't have to speculate what had made this version of himself so unsympathetic, so callous, but something inside smarted a little at seeing it firsthand. There was something about this elder Gohan. Even in death, he had a fatalistic determination that hung about him like a shroud, and the harsh contours of his face didn't abate, even though his part in the fight to free his Earth was now over. It was somewhat depressing, seeing how things could so easily have been different for him - how much of a changed person he could have been.

Time passed, and neither ghost said anything as the rain continued to thrum all around them. It showed no signs of stopping. The sounds of explosions and blossoms of flame eventually moved off, fading into the distance and then ceasing completely. Evidently, the two androids had tired of their sport and moved on to pastures new - or perhaps a shopping mall somewhere, Gohan thought, remembering how #18 had been before Cell coughed her up and Kuririn used his wish to remove the self-detonation device from her body.

Gohan tried not to think of Kuririn, or any of the other people he knew that Buu had killed, since the memories brought home the pain of loss he'd been trying to ignore and blot out with his anger. He'd been hoping that he could use his new Mystic power to defeat Buu and use the Earth's set of Dragonballs to resurrect all those who perished at Dende's Lookout; but now there was no chance of that. No more Dende, no more Earth, and no more Dragonballs. Although, considering where he was now, the whole thing was a moot point anyway.

That didn't make the frustration any less, though.

Gohan's anger flared again in the lapse of conversation, and he barely noticed when his doppelganger gave up standing and went to perch on a nearby rock. He was too busy seething at the injustice of it all. Not only was he dead, but also, it now seemed that he would never get to be reunited with his family and friends, trapped as he was in a universe that seemed as doomed as his own but already had its very own Gohan. The idea that he might not be here long seemed too optimistic to be truth, considering how luck had treated him lately, and so he fell back into the self-pity that had gnawed at him before situation and bewilderment drove it back.

It was all just so *unfair*. The childlike statement rose in his mind like a serpent, whispering in his ear and making his mood turn black. Well, blacker than it already was. What if there wasn't a place for him in Heaven here? What if he was sent to Hell instead, or consigned to float in Limbo for the rest of eternity? The prospect wasn't an appetising one, to say the very least.

Gohan was very nearly considering just walking off to go find a nice quiet rock that he could spend infinity on, when his elder self spoke again. The utterance was brief, yet heartfelt, and the unanticipated anguish in it was such that it even penetrated the buffer of resentment Gohan had inadvertently set up around himself.

"Oh no."

Gohan looked up, squinting through the rain, and after a moment he saw what his double had seen. There, cruising through the saturated air along the ruined street, was a small figure. Gohan could just make out the mop of lavender hair, and without really thinking about it, his heart sank to his shoes. He recognised Future Trunks, although Vegeta's son was a good few years younger than he had been when Gohan saw him last. This version could not have been more than about fourteen, and his pale hair and Capsule Corp. emblazoned clothes were drenched with enough rainwater to testify that he'd been out in the bad weather for quite a while.

_Searching,_ Gohan thought suddenly, remembering something Future Trunks had said when they first met him, and turning to look at his doppelganger. _Searching for him. He left Trunks behind for that final battle..._

The look on the elder Gohan's face was inscrutable, but his eyes held a spark of something troubled and poignant. Vegeta would probably have written it off as weakness straight away, but Gohan recognised remorse when he saw it.

He turned back to where Trunks hovered in the air, and saw him dive to Earth, alighting in the mud with all the grace of a dancer. The boy paused, casting about the wreckage left by the recent fight, no doubt scanning for the familiar ki he couldn't sense. And when he spotted the body in the puddle, Gohan saw the mixture of emotions ghosting across his young face. Disbelief, horror, fear, even a trace of anger - and finally, soul-crushing misery that crashed down onto his features and crumpled them like so much scrap paper. He saw how Trunks knelt by the shell that had once been his friend and mentor, looking at him like he'd hung the moon, and witnessed how he cupped what was left tenderly in his hands, as if the carcass could still feel his touch.

And as he watched the tiny, insignificant scene play out, Gohan felt something yield inside his own chest; and quite suddenly, his anger seemed so out of place and intrusive that it was almost obscene. What had been hot and vengeful only a few moments previous at once seemed a whole lot bitterer, like bile in the back of his throat, and he didn't even question how it was he was able to feel or sense it that way. It leaked out of him, flowing away with the rain, and Gohan watched Trunks fumble with his own emotions, trying to marshal his face into a mask of determination and failing utterly.

A tear slid down the boy's cheek, discernible just for a moment before the rain snatched it away.

"I wish things could have been different," the elder Gohan whispered. His voice sounded a whole lot more morose than it had before, and Gohan found himself looking at the man he could have been in a different life.

His doppelganger was still sat on his rock, near to where Trunks hugged his mangled, battered corpse. His hands dangled over his knees as he watched his pupil and friend mourn for him, and Gohan saw the twin grief in those eyes - his own eyes - for what the boy must be going through. Of course, this reality's Gohan had lost his father years ago, and now he was watching the closest thing he had to either a brother or a son do the same, knowing that, in some small way, he was responsible for it. It was a terrible thing to have to watch, and the younger Gohan instantly felt like he shouldn't be there at all - though for a much different reason than previously.

I wish things could have been different.

How often had those words been used, spoken, and thought in either of their two realities? How many people - fighters, bystanders, scientists, or even gods - had mulled over that one sentiment, wondering what could have, might have been? Different how? How could they have prevented or changed what was happening to their worlds? How could they have altered the course of events that they wouldn't have to wish the un-wishable? Desire that which they could never attain? How was anyone to know what was needed to prevent scenes such as this one, and thousands of others like it?

Gohan bowed his head in reverence to the moment, and so almost missed the crackle of electricity and rush of power that suddenly filled the wrecked street. The surge of power that flooded his death-weakened ki-sense was almost blinding, and he jerked his face back up to see a halo of energy encompass Trunks's small body. The boy trembled, hands curled into fists, and threw his head back in a wounded shout as flames seemed to ignite around him and his hair flickered once, twice, and then burst into gold.

His elder counterpart was on his feet in a second, being a ghost seeming to do nothing as far as impairing his coordination went. A look of something akin to wonder crossed his battle-worn face, and though his eyes were still sorrowful, he smiled and let loose a whoop of delight. "He did it!" he cried, punching the air with a left arm that shouldn't have even been there. "He really did it!"

Trunks, resplendent as a Super Saiyan, looked down at his dead friend, completely oblivious to the happy shade standing just behind him.

But Gohan saw him. He saw both of them. He saw the determination playing across Trunks's face, and in that instant, he knew the decision that was being made. He *knew* it, just like he knew his own mind. This was the moment when Trunks had decided to take that fateful trip back into the past, the trip that had been meant for Gohan. This second was the one that had decided not only the fate of one world, but that of two - both their universes. And contrary to what he'd ever thought before, Gohan realised for the first time that he himself owed his world and everything that had been in it for the past seven years to a split-second when a small boy had been crying the corpse of the man he himself might have been.

And in that instant he understood something he never had before. Rolls of fresh understanding permeated his mind, as gouts of power blazed through the dead street.

It wasn't a 'why me?' It had never been a 'me'. It had always been an 'us'; a concerted effort of many individuals, all working together - whether they realised it or not - to bring about a few moments that would reshape the universes as they knew them. This one instance he was now witnessing was going to change so much, and it had come about because of many people - himself included. Death hadn't impaired the moment - in fact, it had instigated it, helped it along, given birth to a split-second that would alter reality.

That was what he'd failed to see before; what his anger had blinded him to. He'd been so caught up in his own resentment at what had happened with Majin Buu that he'd missed the bigger picture. Yes, his Earth was gone, and its loss was something he was allowed to grieve over. But in some small way, it didn't matter, because he knew, deep in his soul, the way he knew what was going on right now in Trunks's head, that somebody, somewhere was going to take the sacrifice both he and the Earth had made and use it to change things.

Life was constant, as was hope. It would prevail somewhere, somehow. Tiny things could band together to make big differences, and though the Planet Earth alone was a petty loss to the universe, ripple effect stated that its passing was something that would not go unnoticed.

Change.

Life.

Hope.

So caught up was he in this minor epiphany, that when someone grabbed his shoulder and turned him around, Gohan very nearly clocked them. It was pure habit, and he stayed his fist just in time, blinking at the small figure that had appeared behind him.

"Gohan Son?" it asked, peeking out between splayed fingers.

"Uh, yeah?"

A sigh, and the protective hands dropped. In one was clutched a clipboard, to which were attached several sheets of paper, all covered in the same neat, even script. The other held a small blue pen, which was used to check a box on the uppermost sheet. "Sorry about the wait, dude. We've had a few organizational problems thanks to the influx of people those androids sent up. Seems they left a few presents behind in East Capital City, Peach *and* Pepper Town that sent our intake quotient through the roof. We didn't mean to keep you waiting so long."

Gohan blinked, peering at the speaker. It was a short man, blue of skin and black of hair, with two stumpy yellow horns jutting from just above either temple. He wore a pair of brown pants with creases so sharp you could cut your finger on them, and a neatly tucked in white shirt and tie that reminded Gohan of the uniformed children that used to attend the snobbish boarding school his mother had once tried to enrol him in. Wire-framed glasses perched bird-like on the end of the man's nose, and he pushed them back up absently, as he filled in what appeared to be an admin form of some description. The rain was passing through him like he wasn't even there.

Something stirred in the back of Gohan's mind, and he suddenly remembered his father mentioning these little guys, a long time ago, when he'd only died the once. "An office demon?" The title slipped out before he could stop it, and the man looked up sharply.

"Huh?"

"Uh, nothing. Actually, I think that's the guy you're after." Gohan gestured to where his elder counterpart was still watching Trunks, and the office demon looked between the two of them sceptically.

"You sure? You said you were Gohan Son, didn't you? I was sent down here to collect the warrior Gohan Son." He peered accusingly through his glasses.

"I'm... a Gohan," Gohan allowed, "but not the one you're looking for."

For a moment, the demon just looked befuddled. Then he threw up his hands and sniffed, "Well, if that's the way you wanna play it. I mean, I'm just a lowly office demon covering for holes in the system; what do *I* know about deceased souls or anything..." He scurried off; chuntering irritably, and began a fresh interrogation of the elder Gohan, who seemed not have noticed his arrival until he touched his arm.

Gohan watched the two of them, since there was precious little else he could do. Behind them, Trunks's gold hair guttered back to lavender, his strength spent simply from transformation to Super Saiyan. His mentor's eyes flicked between the office demon and his former student, not really concentrating on what was being said until the demon snapped his fingers and plucked a glowing yellow halo out of thin air. That certainly got his attention.

"What about him?" he asked abruptly, skewing the circle of light above his head and pointing to his alternate counterpart. The demon looked over, and Gohan saw the eyes behind the spectacles narrow as he flipped through the sheets on his clipboard.

"I... don't seem to have any record of anyone else I was to pick up," he said dubiously. "He said his name was also Gohan Son... but you're the only one listed as having died, dude. The system's all screwed up at the moment, but King Yemma's not the kinda guy to make mistakes like that." He lifted his head. "Hey, buddy!"

_Uh-oh._ Gohan flashed what he hoped was a reassuring grin, but the office demon obviously wasn't impressed. _Man, how am I supposed to explain this when I don't fully understand it myself? I hope this doesn't mean I'm in trouble - _

The demon took a step towards him... and then it was as if the world imploded.

Gohan's vision blurred for just a second - long enough for him to make out the frozen forms of Trunks, the elder Gohan and the small blue devil like they were caught in some petrified tableau. His head swam, and he was aware of his body stumbling sideways as what little balance control he still had was torn away. Feet he could barely feel tripped over each other, and then he was falling; down, down, further than the ground, into complete and utter blackness.

The scene in the broken street, in that broken future slewed to one side, slithering out of his field of sight. He scarcely had time to think, let alone wonder what was happening, as he was pitched into a swell of... something. Something that was everything and nothing all at once.

Gohan hurtled forward, not propelled but heaved, yanked, wrenched swiftly and without warning into a shadowy abyss. For a fleeting instant he felt as though his face had been pulled off and thrown ahead of the rest of his body, and his eyes skimmed a pool of murk so infinite it was as though everything that had come before it was as nothing. A tunnel of black consumed him, punctuated only by transitory images of a lesser dark, places that could have been and were and would be. Things flashed past, brief and intangible, potential and past. He caught a glimpse of red, a whirlpool of mist that twirled and spun and seeped away like the very fabric of creation was bleeding.

Gohan sensed his mind falling away, spiralling into different pieces that saw different things as he careered through the strange, unfathomable tunnel. A small child, wild black hair pulled back into a loose ponytail. A point of light, gathering in an open palm. A flash of eyes, dark and unreflective in green skin. A tiny baby, lilac hair just visible beneath a bonnet as it snuggled in its mother's arms. An aristocratic sneer, masking the pain in a father's eyes. The orange curve of a glassy sphere, then again in a clear counterpart held in wrinkled hands. A knowing smile. A despairing wail. An emphatic shout. A string of foreign words.

And then suddenly, the pieces that made him up all sensed that the void was not so infinite, that the chasm was not such an endless drop. Somewhere in the middle-distance was an obstruction, an end, and he was racing towards it with such force that collision seemed inevitable. He closed upon it, a hundred shards of himself all rushing en masse towards a barrier that would either break or break him.

And then... impact.

Gohan fell back into his own head with such force that he literally reeled backwards, the fragments of his mind rearranging and reforming so fast it left him dizzy. He was aware of his back thudding into something, though his newly dulled sense of touch left him ignorant as to whether it was hard, soft or anything in between. His brain scrambled, and then like a gambling machine pinging to a stop, he refocused on the world around him.

Stars. A sprawling collection of stars and space dust. The looming bulk of Mars shone in the vastness laid before him, and it took Gohan precisely three seconds to realise that he was back. Back in his own universe, in his own timeline. Back in the debris that used to be Earth.

The thing he had crashed into grabbed his arms from behind and spun him around, and Gohan found himself staring up into a familiar green face. "Piccolo?"

"Gohan," the austere Namek said simply, curt as ever. He blinded rapidly, in the way Gohan had come to recognise was him shaking off an interrupted deep meditation or psychic scrying.

"I'm... back..."

Piccolo raised an eye-ridge. "Back?"

Gohan shook his head, not sure how to explain what had happened to him. "... Never mind," he mumbled finally. "You're dead too?"

"So it would seem." Piccolo temporarily released one of Gohan's arms to jerk over his shoulder. "We all are."

"All?" Bewildered, Gohan peered around his old sensei to see the small forms of Goten and Trunks - the eight year old Trunks that he knew and had sparred with so many times in the gravity room when Vegeta wasn't around. The two boys were gadding about, laughing and spinning and generally acting as though they hadn't recently joined the ranks of the dearly departed. They seemed to have adapted well to being dead - much more so than Gohan had, in point of fact; though his disorientation meant it didn't irk him so much as it might have, had he chance to dwell on it.

"Gohan," Piccolo reclaimed his attention, "do you remember what happened?"

Gohan nodded. _Which part? The part where I died, the part where I moved universe, or the part where I got sucked into... whatever it was I just got sucked into?_ He chose the lesser answer. "Uh-huh, Majin Buu blew up the Earth. With us on it," he added, though he didn't really need to.

Piccolo looked grave, although to the untrained eye his expression wouldn't have wavered. However, Gohan had long-since learned the nuances of his friend and teacher's moods, and saw the slight furrowing of his brow, the tightening of the skin around his lips that indicated a deeper frown than usual. "I thought as much."

"Piccolo," Gohan said, looking around them as though for the very first time.

"What?"

How to explain what had just happened? How to tell him he'd just been transported to and from a universe so very far away without even knowing why or how he'd done it? "Was I... always here?"

"You were alive before."

Ah, Piccolo. Always the pragmatist. Gohan shook his head, and it felt as though his neck was a wet strand of noodle. "No, I mean... was I always *here* here. Since we died. Did I... go anywhere?"

Piccolo just looked confused - or as confused as he ever looked - and Gohan loosed a sigh.

"It happened to you too, didn't it?"

The question startled him, and for a second he only looked into the Namek's impenetrable dark eyes. And in them he saw a spark he'd never seen before; something that made Piccolo look less like the Demon King of old, and more... well, as much like the humans he lived among as he was ever likely to be. Gohan nodded, slowly, and the spark flared.

"What did you see?"

"Myself," Gohan replied truthfully, "as I might have been, had things been... different." Goten blew past, but Gohan was too fixated on Piccolo to even wonder how the little boy was able to fly where he was not.

Piccolo narrowed his eyes, and after a moment he released Gohan's arms. Gohan had the feeling that, could he feel things properly, he might be developing bruises from the tightness of the Namek's grip, but right then he couldn't really care less about such things. He was too caught on the strangeness in Piccolo's usually unfathomable gaze.

Piccolo turned his face away, and nodded at a question only he could hear. Deep concentration showed on his face, and he closed his eyes for several seconds. "We won't be here long," he said at length. "Dende and Vegeta are taking care of things on New Namek."

Gohan boggled. "New Namek? You mean they're alive?" It took him a fraction of a second to comprehend the rest of the sentence and put it together in his mind to reach the same conclusion Piccolo had. "Porunga!"

Piccolo nodded, and his cape wafted vaguely as he turned and shouted to Goten and Trunks. The two boys pouted at being made to stop their game, but held still, seemingly unperturbed at what was going on around them. A faint radiance started up, outlining them against the thick milieu of space, and growing brighter with every passing second. Gohan looked down at his own hands, and saw that they too were glowing.

"They're wishing us back," he said breathlessly, and out of the corner of his eye he saw a similar glow beginning to encircle the debris surrounding them, drawing it all back to a central point a hundred-thousand times faster than it had spewed outwards. "They're wishing the Earth back!"

Piccolo allowed the faintest of smiles to grace his lips, and muttered, "Goku, you dog," at a passing rock.

"Dad," whispered Gohan, and looked off into the depths of space, wondering where his father was at that moment. Fighting the Good Fight, most likely, and he mirrored Piccolo's indulgence with a grin of his own.

Small things, individual people - they really *could* make a difference.

Things were changing. Whether for the better or not remained to be seen, but this was one of those moments that so many worked towards creating, and even more didn't see even once in their lifetimes. This was when history changed.

"Piccolo," Gohan said suddenly, looking back at his old sensei. Piccolo was so bright now as to be almost blinding, yet his eyeballs didn't ache, and he stared easily into the iridescence, picking out the recognizable form within. "Piccolo, what did you see?" It suddenly seemed important for him to know that, and he gazed intently, expectantly.

"I talked to Guru," came the simple, disembodied reply. "I learned."

Gohan processed the answer even as he began to dissipate, the wish made light-years away beginning to take effect. _I learned._

And suddenly, it didn't matter how or why it had happened. The whys and wherefores and explanations didn't change the fact that it *had* happened, that he was that little bit wiser than he had been before. In the grand scheme of things, his little epiphany was just one cog in the machine.

He was just one person. Tiny. Insignificant.

But one person could make all the difference.

Small things changed history.

Gohan grinned. "See you on the other side, Piccolo."

*********

None of those souls recently lost could know what was going on in Judgment at that moment. Had they known, there was a more-than-slim chance they might not have believed it anyway.

King Yemma sat back in his giant chair, clusters of office demons crowded around his ankles, the legs of his desk, and the cavernous corners of the huge room, all eyes fixed on the same thing. A backlog of spirits that stretched far out of the door - and actually onto Snake Way by this point - demonstrated that they really should be doing their work, and usually this would be cause for reprimand from the giant clerk himself. However, King Yemma was far too preoccupied to bother himself with such pettiness right now.

The object that held them all enrapt was, in fact, an oversized TV screen, hooked up via a wire as thick as a man's arm to an equally oversized satellite dish that several lesser demons were holding in place on the roof. On the screen was playing out the greatest, probably most significant battle this universe had ever seen: Goku vs. Majin Buu.

Several of the office demons had already taken bets concerning who would win. At the moment, Goku was favourite, but considering the way the battle was turning, anything was possible. After all, from what they could see, the proud, arrogant, one-time conceited and capable-of-genocide Prince Vegeta of the Saiyans was actually fighting alongside Earth's champion - and, not to put to fine a point on proceedings, he was getting his ass kicked rather spectacularly for his rival, too. If something like *that* were possible, who knew what else was going to happen?

Such was the fascination everyone had with the battle, nobody - not even King Yemma - noticed when the tiny figure sat next to his elbow flickered back in, profile wavering ephemerally like a bad reception.

Long golden hair flashed in the light of several suns, as Goku threw back his head and bellowed. The picture was crystal clear, showing every droplet of sweat and blood, every minute detail of his face, right down to the slight twitch the intense concentration of maintaining SSJ3 had produced in his left eye. In contrast, Buu only laughed that infuriating gibber of his, smooth pink skin dry as parched bones in the desert.

King Yemma, never taking his eyes off the screen, leaned sideways onto his desk and rumbled, "Great show, eh Baba?"

Uranai Baba smiled, quick dark eyes slightly more knowing than the leviathan that passed Judgment over dead souls, as she darted a look at the crystal ball beneath her arm. "Enlightening," she said in reply.

King Yemma blinked, only half-listening. "Huh?"

"Nothing, you big oaf." She clapped her hands, and at once a small triangular flag appeared. The miniscule witch waved it aloft, hooting like a rabid fan at a football game. "Go Goku! Go Vegeta! Aw, heck. Go everyone! Kick that lardy doughboy's butt!"

*********

FINIS.

*********

ObNit ~ Just for those who care (and perhaps also for those who don't), a Deus Ex Machina is a concept from classic mythology that carried over into storytelling down the ages, and seems to have equivalents in most, if not all cultures. Basically, it is the idea that whenever characters get into impossible situations and/or conflict, a Higher Power steps in and either saves them, or else removes the reasons for the discord altogether. Gods and other deities are the most popular rescuers, but other figures have been known to do the stepping in as well, be they powerful or no. All hail my grasp of useless information.