Disclaimer: I do not own Dragonball Z. It and its characters are property of Akira Toriyama and Bird Studios, and were used without prior permission.

Undiscovered Territory

PROLOGUE: An Exercise in Apathy

Antennae drooped in front of his eyes, almost forlornly, he stared at the cards in his hands. Or so it would appear to any of his table mates or anyone else who happened to be walking by. He didn't actually see the cards. His body was present, but his mind was floating about, disinterested with its task.

Was such a thing wrong? He could not stop himself from wondering that. It certainly felt wrong. After all, everyone had endured so much hardship, had overcome such a great deal, that happiness should be abound, anymore. And for a while it had been. He had been happy, with not a worry in the world. At least not a serious one. Not since . . .

"Dende?"

He jumped at the sound of his name, and jerked his head up. On his left at the circular table, his younger brother Scargo was looking at him strangely, a wrinkle formed between his eyes. A quick glance showed Dende that his other two table mates were giving him similar stares, and he felt an embarrassed flush creep onto his cheeks. "I'm sorry. What?"

"How many cards do you want?" Scargo's voice held the air of having been repeated several times, its owner mildly annoyed by the lack of an answer.

"Oh . . ." Dende quickly studied his hand, then plucked a pair of cards from it and slid them face down toward his brother. "Two, please."

He swept up the cards as soon as they were dealt to him, free to once again let his mind wander, if only while his table mates took their turns. Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, he suppressed a sigh of boredom.

The game in itself was not boring. Dende had quite enjoyed it, in fact, when he'd first learned how to play. It was an Earth game, something so foreign that it had fascinated him, as well as many of the other children. They'd all been taught it during their stay on that planet. Poker, the game was called, though nobody seemed to know why. He had asked both Kuririn and Gohan, and neither of his Earthling friends had been able to tell him.

A frown tugged at the corners of his lips. That was part of his unhappiness right there; he missed them, especially Gohan. While Kuririn was certainly one of the nicest people that Dende had ever met, he was also a grownup, and Dende usually gravitated toward those around his own age. The equivalent of his own age, anyway; the Earthlings' year was almost three times as long as that of his people, so the numbers could get a little skewed.

"Hello? Dende? Do you call?"

He blinked. "Hmm? Oh. No, I fold," he said, laying his hand facedown on the table.

Dende bowed his head in what he was quite sure was an obvious attempt to hide his boredom while his brother and other table mates completed the hand. He idly let his eyes wander to one side, watching the adults scrubbing the outside walls of houses or cultivating the fields of Ajisa plants. And then his gaze shifted to the other side, watching groups of older children involved in their own card games. Not that all of them were still considered children. Some had recently attained adulthood, but remained fascinated with this bit of Earth culture.

Sighing, he looked up again as Scargo crowed in triumph and gathered up the cards (apparently, gambling was strongly associated with such games, but the elders disapproved of such a practice, so nothing was ever wagered).

"Three in a row!" Scargo chirped. "I'm having a really good day!"

"You guys can just deal me out for the rest of the day," Dende said, turning in his seat.

"What's wrong, Dende? You're not sore about losing are you?" one of his other table mates asked.

Dende shook his head. "No, I just feel like going for a walk."

With that, he hopped to his feet and began his trek through the village. He passed by a table of near-adults, but stopped suddenly as he felt a pair of eyes watching him from behind. Hesitantly, he looked over his shoulder. The eyes slid back to focus once more on the game, slowly, as though their owner did not care that he'd been caught observing. Dende suppressed a shudder, and continued walking.

He was quite sure that he was being silly. The one who had been looking at him, Chiton, was a little creepy, but had never caused any trouble. Somewhat short and rather underdeveloped-looking for a warrior class, Chiton certainly did not cut a very imposing figure. Not until one looked at his eyes, at least. They always seemed flat and calculating, and that feature, combined with his quiet manner, unnerved many people. Thus most tended to avoid him, and Dende sensed that he preferred things that way.

It wasn't until Dende left the village that he realized his destination. Unconsciously, he'd been heading toward his favourite thinking spot: a high bluff where he could see for many miles. He'd found that he was going there quite frequently anymore, just to escape the monotony of his village.

He stopped at the edge of the bluff, mild gusts of wind flapping his clothing and toying with his antennae, and took in the landscape around him. The view really was quite beautiful, showing off great grass-topped pillars and deep, narrow canyons. Even the wide plains of grass were lovely, interrupted by the occasional stream or lake. Everything looked exactly as it had on Old Nameksei before it had been destroyed.

Dende flopped into a sitting position and rested with his chin in one palm, wondering once more why he just couldn't be happy.

* * *

"Preliminary orbit completed. Atmospheric scans indicate that atmosphere consists of seventy-six percent nitrogen, twenty-two percent oxygen, and trace amounts of other gases. Breathable to most life forms. Surface scans show the presence of numerous large bodies of water . . ."

The voice was hollow and mechanical, quite fitting for having originated from a computer. It continued to list off various statistics of what could be determined from space and would do so until it completed the results of the survey.

Arms crossed, the ship's commander stared out the large front window at the planet before him. It was smaller than average, and mostly green under its swirling white clouds, and it failed entirely to impress him. Of course he would get stuck with the worst scouting assignments.

It had been a piece of particularly rotten luck. His ship had made a stop on planet Nenpi for refuelling on its way back to the base when the new orders had been relayed by his superiors via holographic recording. A disturbance had been located on the fringes of sector 5487EF, and since his had been the nearest scout ship, it was to investigate the problem.

Despite his annoyance at this command, he had been rather surprised to find out that the source of the disturbance was actually a planet. A planet which, by all records, did not exist a year and a half ago. The amusement factor had worn off quickly, however. Now it was just like any other job.

"Looks like this one might be promising, yes?" one of his underlings asked.

The commander did not deign to acknowledge the man with a glance. "It rather seems so." Which was the truth, however unfortunate he considered that to be. He flicked his gaze toward the pilot. "Scan the surface for a flat area and make landing preparations. We might as well get this over with."

"Yes, Commander." The pilot nodded, and put himself to task.

Forcefully, the commander suppressed an irritated sigh. Yet another degrading assignment for a scout in the Kold Empire.

He kept his eyes fixed ahead as his ship made its final approach to the planet.