Dragon Ball Super Z Episode 5: "Freshmen"

Dragon Ball Super Z
Episode Five
Juuhachi-gou and Mirai Bulma

Act One
"For the Life of Me I Cannot Remember"

When I was young, I knew everything
And she a punk who rarely ever took advice
Now I'm guilt-stricken, sobbing with my head on the floor
A stalk of baby's breath and a shoe full of rice

* * *

Gohan's watch cheeped the hour, and he glanced at it, then smiled at the group before him. "That's all for today, everyone," he said, shutting the workbook and setting it beside him on top of the desk on which he was sitting.

A chorus of "Awwww!" and "Gohan-sensei, already?" greeted his announcement. Several dozen children crowded the small reconstructed classroom; most of them had never had a proper teacher before, and having an adult sit down and explain the mysteries of formal education to them--for hours on end!--was a welcome novelty. The fact that Gohan was likable, patient, and more approachable than almost any adult any of them had ever known--even those lucky few who still had mothers or fathers--was a bonus none of them could have expected. Most of these children had lost one or both parents, and Gohan Son was like an older brother, or even a surrogate father, to those who had no family left at all.

Gohan smiled and nodded. "Study your lessons carefully, and tomorrow we'll work on the next chapter. Hurry home now, it's lunchtime!"

The children called out cheerful farewells as they dashed outside at this reminder--several of them had become so engrossed in Gohan's revelations that they'd forgotten their stomachs completely. Drinking in their teacher's revelations quenched their thirst for knowledge, but did nothing to assuage the pangs of physical hunger.

Finally only one student remained at the back of the classroom, struggling to get out of a schooldesk that was far too small for him. Finally the oldest attendee of Gohan's reading class managed to stand, stretching the kinks out of his well-muscled limbs. "Ano, that was fun!" Gokou announced. "But I'm hungry. Gohan, you wanna come home with me for lunch?"

"Not today, Tou-san. Videl's expecting me." Gohan removed the glasses he didn't really need and packed them carefully away. Wearing the spectacles made him look older, more the part of a teacher and scholar. He wore a business suit and sensible tie every day, for the same reason--to present a mature, respectable image to his students, someone they could look up to and who deserved their attention. (He didn't realize that the children in his class would have listened to his lessons just as worshipfully if he came to class in pajamas and fuzzy slippers.)

"Saa, I keep forgetting you're married now!" Gokou put a hand behind his head and laughed. "I did the same thing when ChiChi and I got together, till she beat me so many times I had to remember! Gomen!!"

Gohan smiled gently. "That's okay, Tou-san. See you tomorrow!"

"Yosh'!" Gokou gathered up his books, not wanting to forget his homework. He was the only adult in Gohan's class, but he didn't mind it; he liked children, and they liked him as well, quickly overcoming the awe that had first intimidated them at having a living legend sitting in their midst. Gokou's unabashed, unaffected charm had won even the shyest of his younger classmates over within a week, and he was now readily accepted as one of them despite his age.

Gohan waved at his father as Gokou dashed outside, whistled for the Kintoen, and flew off into the wide blue of the sky towards the west. Gohan put his backpack on and started the walk home, whistling softly to himself.

Married life agreed with him, he decided. The month they'd spent in the alternate past had shown him how happy he could be with the woman he loved, and the very same day they'd returned home he'd gone straight to Videl's little apartment over the flower shop and proposed to her. Seeing no reason to wait, they'd married quickly, and now, almost three months later, Gohan had no regrets about his decision.

ChiChi thoroughly approved of Videl, and it did his heart good to see how well the two women in his life got along. His new bride was quite a bit like his mother, he supposed--she was a strong woman with a quick mind and a sharp wit, not to mention a fiery temper that Gohan had no desire to provoke.

A small, neat little white house sat on the edge of town, newly built, the paint still bright and unmarred by the elements. Gohan walked in through the red-painted front door and dropped his backpack in the hall closet. "Tadaima!" he called.

"I'm in the kitchen, darling," Videl chimed. "I've got lunch ready."

Although Videl was a fine cook in her own right, she and ChiChi spent several hours a week in the kitchen at House Son, with the older woman giving the younger advice on cooking for a husband with a Saiyajin's taste and appetite. It was amusing to watch the young bride and the younger mother-in-law working together--it could have been an older and younger sister in the kitchen, except it was the twelve-year-old who gave the instructions while the young adult listened and followed directions.

Gohan sat down and ate quickly, without preamble, and although his table manners outshone his father's, he was no less rapid in his mass consumption of rice and soup and the small white fluffy dumplings Videl had just learned to prepare.

After lunch, Videl served some hot tea, and sat down at the table with him. Gohan looked at her and saw her dark eyes sparkling with excitement. He sensed she had something to tell him, some wonderful secret. He detected, too, a certain nervousness in her expression, and smiled to set his bride at ease. "What is it, Videl?"

"Gohan..." She set her cup down, folded her hands in her lap and looked at him earnestly. "How soon would you like to start a family?"

"Nn?" Gohan sipped reflectively, pondering the question. "Well, I know Kaa-san would be thrilled to have a grandchild..."

Videl smiled patiently. "I don't want to know how ChiChi feels...I want to know what you think about it."

Gohan laughed softly at himself. "I don't want to make you feel rushed, Videl...I mean, if you want to wait a while, that would be okay."

"Mm." Videl looked away, but not before Gohan saw some of the light fade from her eyes.

"However," he added quickly, "if you want to start trying, we can. I love children, and I'd really like to have one of our own as soon as you're ready."

She looked back at him, brightening again. "Really?"

The desperate hope in her eyes made him reach out and take her hands in his. Cradling her cold little fingers in his warm grasp, he nodded earnestly. "Whenever you want is fine with me."

"Do you want a boy or a girl?"

"To start with, you mean? I don't care, so long as he--or she--is ours."

Videl hopped up and darted around the table, landing in Gohan's lap so fast he almost fell off the chair before he managed to steady them both and put his arms around her. She covered his face with kisses. "Oh, Gohan, I'm so happy!"

"Videl, it's good that you're happy." Gohan sensed that there was something more to Videl's glee than he was currently aware of. "Do...do you want to start trying right away?" he stammered, blushing a little. Here, in the kitchen? he wondered, scandalized.

"You don't understand," she said, beaming as bright as the sunshine streaming in the kitchen window. She looked at him, her eyes shining. "Gohan...I'm going to have a baby. I just found out this morning."

"...nnh?" He blinked.

"I'm about two months along, according to the test," she chattered. "I took it twice, just to make sure. Of course, I'll need to confirm it with a doctor, but he won't be in town again until next week. Not that I need him to tell me. I can feel it," she said, touching her flat tummy. "I can feel our child growing inside me."

Gohan's brain, usually so quick to grasp any concept, was having a hard time processing this new and unexpected information. "You..." He swallowed. "You mean you...you mean I...you mean we...?"

"Yes, Gohan!" she giggled. "We're pregnant!"

Slowly a smile dawned on Gohan's long face, reaching proportions that could only be described as...goofy. "YOSH'!!" he cried in an unconscious imitation of his father, leaping from his chair with his bride cradled in his arms and spinning her around the small neat kitchen, laughing and twirling until they were both dizzy with delight.

* * *

ChiChi struggled valiantly with the huge bowl and set it on the table with a grunt. Strength wasn't really the problem; ChiChi was as physically strong as her husband, if not as accomplished a warrior. No, it was her small size--a child's size--that made her task more difficult.

"I'm so tired of being a little girl," she sighed.

Gokou did a remarkable thing: he paused in the middle of eating and looked at his wife with wide and curious eyes, his cheeks stuffed full like a chipmunk's. "Ufuhmabrfeefee?" he mumbled before gulping the food down.

"Oh, I don't like to complain," his wife sighed, "but being twelve years old, while it's wonderful to be young again, makes...so many things inconvenient." She drew her sleeve across her small brow. "Well, in a few years I'll be grown up again. Till then, I'll just have to manage, I guess--"

Gokou finished his bowl of rice in three enormous gulps. "Why didn't you say something before? I can fix that!" He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and jumped from the table. As he ran outside, he whistled shrilly. "Oi! Kintoen!!"

"Gokou-san!!" ChiChi ran after him as fast as her short legs could carry her. By the time she reached the door, her husband was standing on the magical golden cloud, speeding off into the high blue sky. "Back soon!" he shouted.

"But--Gokou-san! I..." ChiChi stood in the doorway, blinking. "I want...to go with you," she finished softly, watching Gokou dwindle in the distant blue sky to a speck, racing off to Kami-knew-where. Again.

She wondered how many years he'd be gone this time.

* * *

"Damn, there's a water shortage in the North Sector...I thought we'd installed enough pumps to compensate for that." Bulma fussed over the graphic of New Hope City, scowling at the fine web of flashing red lines and junctures that signified where the flow of fresh water was dangerously low. "Maybe if we reroute through the canyon..."

So intent was she on watching the city schematic that she didn't hear the softest of footfalls behind her. She was completely unaware of another presence in the lab until she felt something furry brush against the outside of her left thigh.

She shrieked and started, so violently she almost fell over in her chair. Glancing around, she scowled at the smirking face peering over her left shoulder. "You beast! Kindly control your appendage and leave me to work in peace!"

"My 'appendage'? Oh, you mean this old thing." Vegeta grinned as his tail teased the back of Bulma's knee.

She pressed her legs together and wrapped her feet around the wheelbase of her chair in an attempt to shield the ticklish spots on her legs--every one of which Vegeta knew, damn him. "Yes, I mean that awful furry thing! Now go away! Shoo! Let me work!"

"You've been in here all day."

"What's it to you?" Bulma hunched forward and focused furiously on the monitor screen. "Can't you see I'm busy? What's your problem, anyway."

"I'm bored."

"Go spar with somebody."

"I'd rather spar with you."

"Huh--? HEY!" Bulma cried as he reached around her and switched off the computer terminal. "You--you baka!! I hadn't saved that yet!!"

"So now you'll have the fun of doing it over." Vegeta scooped her up under one arm and carried her, kicking and shrieking, upstairs.

Her protests, as usual, did not last very long.

* * *

It had been a long, lazy afternoon, and the shadows were slanting long now as the sun dipped towards the edge of the land in the west. The wilderness outside New Hope was uninhabited, barren, but the battlescars across the landscape were slowly being eroded away by wind and rain and time.

A young man sat atop a tall butte, the early-evening breezes stirring his pale purple hair. He'd cut it short for his father, but now it was growing long again. Perhaps he'd let it grow during the winter, since there was at least one person who seemed to like its length, then cut it again in spring. One haircut a year--it's not like it makes that much difference to me how I look anyway.

Warm soft lips brushed the back of his neck. Trunks started and almost fell off his perch. "Na--nanda?!" he stammered, unconsciously reaching for his sword as he spun around.

Juuhachi-gou giggled. "Tag, you're it," she said, beaming.

"Juu! I didn't hear you."

"I didn't want you to." Juuhachi-gou moved close, twining one slender arm around his. "You're so cute when you're contemplative."

"Oh, I am not," he protested, feeling the heat rising to his cheeks.

"And you're even cuter when you blush," she teased.


A silvery laugh. "Nani mo. I won't tell a soul." She stood on tiptoe to touch another kiss to his cheek. "Have you ever watched a sunset from inside a cloud?" she whispered, her breath caressing his ear.

"N...no," he replied huskily, swallowing hard.

"It's very...inspiring," she breathed against his skin. "I think you'd be beautiful, wearing nothing but the colors of the sunset."

He felt himself blush harder. "Boys are not beautiful," he argued weakly.

"Does that mean you don't want to?" she murmured, already knowing the answer.

"You little she-devil," he growled playfully, catching her up in his arms and flying up into the gathering clouds with her. "I'll show you what I want."

She curled against him as the mists enfolded them both. "Mm...promise...?"

* * *

Almost midnight.

ChiChi sighed and stepped out of the bath. Toweling herself off, she wished mightily that she wasn't going to bed alone. She'd gotten used to having her husband beside her every night, even if her current...condition...made intimate contact not only uncomfortable but downright indecent.

Wandering into the bedroom, she paused to stretch her limbs before reaching for her nightgown.

She missed.

ChiChi blinked as her hand hit about half a meter up from where she'd been reaching; instead of picking up the garment off the pillow, her knuckles rapped sharply into the bed's headboard.

"OW!" she cried, and realized that her voice sounded different, even to her own ears.

Slowly she turned around, and saw herself in the mirror on the bathroom door. She was no longer twelve, but neither was she the matronly woman she'd been when Gokou had first returned to her. She was small as she'd always been, but her full adult height once more, and slender, with smooth ivory skin and a figure that, while it wasn't on the same level as Bulma's centerfold-caliber attributes, was hardly anything to be ashamed of. Slowly her eyes tracked up her reflection--the slim, sleek legs, the womanly hips, the still-tiny waist and a pair of proud, firm breasts. Finally she looked at her face, the face she'd worn before Gohan was born.

She had no idea how long she stood there, naked and awestruck at the sight of her transformation, before the window opened from the outside and Gokou stepped in.

"That better, ChiChi?" he asked hopefully.

"Go--GoKOU-san!!!" ChiChi flew joyfully into his arms, covering his face with kisses. He laughed, that wonderful merry laugh of his that not only invited, but almost required you to laugh with him, and held her close.

"You look as pretty as you did on our wedding night, ChiChi," he whispered in her ear. "I'm glad I found all the Dragon Balls so quick, so I wouldn't have to be gone too long. I think I been gone long enough too many times before, don't you?"

"Oh, Gokou-san..." Suddenly ChiChi realized she wasn't wearing anything except a blissful smile, and with a tiny squeal she jumped back, reaching for her towel.

"Aw, now whatcha need that for?" he asked playfully, tugging the towel out of her hands and tossing it aside. "Tell you what, ChiChi--so you don't feel lonely, I'll get naked too." He grinned broadly. "Even I can figure out what we should do from there!"

"Gokou...you...??" ChiChi was momentarily bewildered. She watched her husband strip down to his skin, and realized he'd missed their intimacy as much as she had. With a delighted giggle she pounced into his arms and they fell on the bed.

And they did.

* * *

Act Two
"What Made Us Think That We Were Wise?"

My best friend took a week's vacation to forget her
His girl took a week's worth of Valium and slept
And now he's guilt-stricken, sobbing with his head on the floor
He thinks about her now and how he never really wept

* * *

The picnic had been ChiChi's idea--both families, hers and Bulma's, gathering in the newly-seeded flower meadow behind Capsule Corporation. The weather, crisp and cool, was perfect, and the seeds Gohan's class had scattered all over the city had grown into a patchwork of wildflowers, a living rainbow of gorgeous colors that waved in the breeze, a delicate mix of fragrances that lured bees more intent on gathering honey and spreading pollen than attempting to sting anyone wandering past.

The meal was, of course, of primary interest to the males in attendance. Gokou showed his habitual complete lack of table manners, a sight which might spoil any other appetite than a Saiyajin's. Gohan and Trunks didn't waste any time themselves, although their respective mothers had instilled something resembling table manners in each of them. Vegeta, as usual, sat apart from the others, hunched over his plate like a starving mastiff, eating small bites in rapid succession while his eyes kept constant watch.

Carrying her own plate, Bulma paused behind her husband, and with a small, wicked smile, she reached a tentative hand towards the edge of his plate.

He growled at her, hunched lower and kept eating.

Giggling playfully, she went to sit with ChiChi and Videl under the shade of a force-grown oak tree.

"So, Videl, which would you rather have, a boy or a girl?" ChiChi was asking her daughter-in-law.

"Oh, it doesn't matter to me," Videl answered with assurance. "All I ask is that we have a healthy, happy baby."

ChiChi nodded. "You're right, of course. If it's a boy, it's sure to be like Gohan--and he was such a good boy. The best."

Bulma sighed. "I feel the same way about Trunks. Of course, it would have been nice to have a daughter..."

"Yes," ChiChi agreed wistfully. "A lovely little girl, to dress in ruffles and ribbons. If only there'd been time..."

"Um...?" Videl ventured.

Both women looked at her.

"Excuse me, but...if you want more children, why don't you have more? I mean, I know it's not my business, but...both your sons are grown, and you're both young again. In fact," she said, smiling a little, "going strictly by physical age, you're both younger than I am."

Bulma and ChiChi looked at each other with dawning wonder.

Well out of earshot--beyond the range of normal human hearing, anyway--Juuhachi-gou sat alone in the meadow, half-concealed by a clump of meter-high sundaisies. She knew she should be back at the party, but she didn't really need to eat for sustenance, and while he was stuffing his face Trunks had time and attention for little else, even her. It was the nature of his blood, she supposed--eat when you can, fight when you must, and spend the rest of your time doing less important things like cultivating relationships.

Stop that, Juu! She chided herself. It wasn't Trunks' shortcomings as a dinner conversationalist that was really bothering her, and she knew it. She was as overjoyed by Videl's and Gohan's news as anyone, but it did make her all the more aware of her difference from the other women. All of them.

Juuhachi-gou was a cyborg. Even before Trunks had destroyed her and her twin, there was very little of her original human body left. Since her regeneration--her rebirth, in every sense of the word--she was even less so. She was capable of emulating most human functions--she could move, she could speak, she could eat, she could sleep, she could feel, she could dance and cry and laugh and love--but there were some things that were denied her, and she had no doubt that reproduction was one of those things that was forever out of her reach.

Did Trunks even realize that, she wondered. Had he even thought about it? Had he considered that marrying her would mean giving up any hopes of having a child in the normal, accepted fashion? They could always adopt, of course--there were orphans everywhere (and who was there to thank for that, hmm?)--but blood ties were important to Trunks, partly because they were important to his father. Oh, and there was another consideration--would Vegeta allow his son, the son of the Prince of the Saiyajin, to form a lifelong bond with a biomechanical construct, something Vegeta didn't even grant the courtesy of treating like a person? Particularly when the all-important royal line was at stake?

She thought about her counterpart--the Juuhachi-gou of the Other Time, the one who had married Kuririn (of all people!). They had a child, didn't they? Marron, her name was. She certainly resembled Kuririn strongly enough--but even if she was that other Juuhachi-gou's natural child, that other Juuhachi-gou hadn't been almost totally destroyed and regenerated, as she herself had been. Juu smiled to herself, a thin bitter thing, and brushed cornsilk hair from her eyes. Her primary concern during the three years she spent reassembling herself under that pile of rubble where Trunks had left her had been excluding her self-destruct mechanism from the rebuild. The massive stresses of regeneration and reactivation had temporarily wiped her surface memory, and precious little of her original human body was left now--most of it was either reconstructed from fragments of the body Trunks had destroyed, or synthesized from trace elements while she'd been incapacitated. If she had ever been capable of having children like an ordinary woman, surely she wasn't capable of such a miracle now.

A shadow fell across her, blotting out the pastoral scenery behind her. "So what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" a gruff voice asked.

Juu looked up, unstartled. "Hello, Piccolo."

The former Demon King towered above her, his wide white cape spread out around him like half-folded wings, moving with the stirrings of the wind. His black eyes drilled unrelentingly into hers. "Shouldn't you be whooping it up with Wonder Boy and the others? Looks like they're having a hell of a time over there."

She didn't flinch from his unabashed scrutiny. She didn't answer his question, either. "Funny, I didn't think family picnics were quite your scene, even if they do include your pet human."

Piccolo's upper lip twitched, exposing one gleaming white fang. "They're not."

"So what are you doing here? If you don't mind my asking."

"If I minded, you'd know it." He raised one arm and pointed with a taloned finger in the direction of the Capsule Corporation building. "I was just wondering what the hell was up with that."

Juuhachi-gou turned around, glancing in the direction he indicated--did a double-take, and gasped. "Chikusho!"

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking too," Piccolo remarked wryly.

"Bulma!!" Juu leapt to her feet and started running towards the oak tree. After a dozen steps she took a leap into the air and flew the rest of the way.

Her shout alerted everyone in the area with its note of sudden agitation. By the time she'd reached the women, the Saiyajin were already there. Vegeta pulled Bulma to her feet and behind him. "What do you want, Jinzouningyou?" he snarled.

"Vegeta!" Bulma protested.

Juuhachi-gou shook her head, unfazed by the familiar 'artificial doll' insult. She pointed at the sky over Capsule Corporation. "Look!"

Bulma looked, and squealed.

ChiChi gasped, "What in the world??"

"Piccolo-san!" Gohan called as the Namekseijin arrived. "Did you see?"

"Sure did, kid. Pointed it out to the tin girl myself."

"Oh...my," Videl whispered, moving closer to Gohan, eyes wide and fixed on the spectacle.

"Oi," Gokou mused, scratching his head, "these storms blow up quick, don't they?"

"That's no storm, Gokou-san," Trunks muttered, reaching out for Juu's hand.

Vegeta finally risked taking his eyes off the Jinzouningen to look at the sky above the building.

The air had gone strangely still. The vault of the heavens above them was still a deep, clear, bottomless blue, except for the area directly above the golden Capsule Corporation dome. There, a tight vortex of blackness spun lazily, a spiral of dark clouds holding a commotion of lightning at its heart.

"Is it a tornado?" Videl wondered, knowing it wasn't, but searching for some explanation.

"I've never seen anything like it," Gohan said.

"Got a news flash for you, kid," Piccolo said, "neither have I. And I was here when this dirtball wasn't occupied by anyone else."

"Gokou-san! Wait!!" ChiChi cried, but Gokou paid her no heed. He took off towards the building. Vegeta followed, catching up to him. Halfway there both Saiyajin took off and flew up towards the roiling darkness.

"Be careful!" Bulma shouted. "That lightning looks dangerous--!"

As if confirming Bulma's caution, a spear of electric energy darted out and struck snakelike at the approaching warriors. They both dodged barely in time, but Gokou's tail got singed in passing, and he fell with a yelp out of the air, landing hard on the ground.

"Tou-san!" Gohan was already airborne and rushing towards his fallen father, and Piccolo took off right behind his protege. When they reached him, Gokou was already sitting up, blowing on his smouldering tail-tip. "Owowow!!!" he wailed. "My poor tail!!"

"Something's happening up there," Trunks said as the vortex suddenly spun faster. "Papa, look out!!"

Vegeta kept what he considered a safe distance as he studied the motion of the clouds, wishing fervently for his scouter so he could identify the energies he could feel emanating from its core. He heard Trunks shout and was about to fire back a tart reply when the vortex suddenly seemed to explode in a burst of white light and power, like a gigantic ball of lightning. Vegeta was thrown violently backwards; he struggled to right himself against the wave of force and landed on his feet, but the momentum drove him back at least a dozen meters, and he dug two knee-deep trenches in the front lawn.

"What happened?" Videl gasped.

"It's gone," ChiChi assured her. "Whatever it was, it's over."

Bulma frowned. "Maybe...but what was it? That didn't conform to any storm pattern I recognize."

Juuhachi-gou nodded. "Even Piccolo didn't know what it was."

"What did you make of it, Juu-chan?"

"It was...confusing," she admitted. "A lot of electrical discharge, and it's hard for me to scan through all that interference, but..."

"But?" Bulma prompted.

"It was like...it was like there was no center to it."

"You mean it had an eye, like a miniature hurricane."

"No, that's not what I'm saying. In the middle of the vortex, there was...nothing. A complete absence."

"A vaccuum? That's strange."

"No, not a vaccuum. Nothing. Not even empty space." Juuhachi-gou shook her head. "That's what I was getting, anyway. It just doesn't make sense."

Bulma watched Gohan help Gokou get to his feet; the elder Son's wounded tail was flicking pensively. Piccolo stood nearby, arms folded, a scowl deeper than the norm stamped on his alien features.. No one else had been hurt; Vegeta was already back in the air, scanning the area for any other disturbances.

A flicker of movement on top of the Corporation dome caught her eye. At about that time, ChiChi wondered aloud, "Who's up there on the roof?"

Gokou, intent on brushing himself off and assuring Gohan he wasn't badly hurt, never noticed the figure that slid off the curved top of the dome until a skull suddenly cracked against his own and he was knocked to the ground again.

"Tou-san?!" Gohan reached for the stranger that had seemed to attack his father, but the form was limp and unresisting as he pulled it away.

"What happened?" Gokou asked, more curious than anything else as he sat up and rubbed his head.

The rest of the group arrived, Trunks and Juuhachi-gou in the lead, the other women following in a tight knot. Piccolo bent over Gohan, staring at the face of the unconscious newcomer. "Who's he?" he muttered.

"I...I don't know," Gohan confessed. "It's funny, I feel like I should know him, but..."

"Ara?" Gokou knelt up and peered into the slack face of the young man lying on the ground.

The youth was about Trunks' age--twenty years old, perhaps. His hair was a wild tangle of straight black locks that grew in a dozen different directions, surrounding his squarish face in a spiky corona. He wore a simple blue gi with dark pants tucked into plain brown boots.

"Aaaa..." Gokou leaned closer, his nose almost touching the boy's. "Goten da!"

"Nn?" Gohan looked at his father. "Goten? Who--oh, you mean the little boy from..." He trailed off, looking at his mother.

"What are you talking about?" ChiChi prompted. "Gohan-chan?"

"He...Goten...ahh..." Gohan wasn't quite sure how to tell his mother about the second son she'd never have. Instead he watched his father, who was looking down in the face of


the other boy with a little smile playing about his lips. No; more than that even. With... with memories, somehow. Not as if the boy was an absolute stranger, but as if Gokou had been expecting, looking, for this moment to happen.

Before Gohan had time to puzzle over that too much, the youth's eyes suddenly opened--wide, dark eyes, the mirror of Gokou's, so much like Gohan's--and fixed immediately on the broad, inquisitive face above him.

"TOU-SAN!!!!!!" Goten howled, and flew into his father's arms.

"Wh--wh--whaaaaaaat??" Gohan and ChiChi chorused, in almost perfect cadence.

Gokou ignored them both for the moment, patting Goten's back reassuringly. "Aaa...daijoubu, Goten. I'm here, it's all right now. Yosh' yosh' yosh'. Shinpai shinai de, chiisai senshi."

"Guh-Goten?" Trunks gasped. "But--but how? He...he never..."

"Who," Bulma demanded, "is Goten?"

"He's from the...alternate time," Juuhachi-gou explained. "You remember, the one where Gokou never died. The one Trunks created when he went back to the past. In that world, Gokou and ChiChi have two sons."

"Two..." ChiChi breathed, wonderingly. She studied the face of the sobbing man-child in her husband's arms, saw the stamp of both their features on his face, and nodded slowly.

Goten looked around, saw his mother, and struggled to his feet. "Kaa-san...you're here too! It's a miracle! You're alive, you're really alive!" He enveloped her in a huge bear-hug, picking her up off the ground.

"I--ahh, Goten...chaaan..." ChiChi hugged him back, not knowing what else to do.

"And Gohan-oniisan, it's really true!" Goten tackled Gohan, pounding on his back, laughing and crying at the same time.

"Ahm...hai," he responded, looking over Goten's shoulder at Gokou with a questioning expression. Gokou shrugged; he couldn't explain it either.

Juuhachi-gou glanced upwards, and without a word launched herself into the air, flying to the top of the Capsule Corporation roof.

"Juu-chan?" Trunks called after her. He started to go after her, but she reappeared moments later, carrying two other people, one in the crook of each arm. She set down beside Trunks and laid both unconscious forms--both girls--carefully on the ground.

"Why...why, she's just a baby!" Bulma cried softly, kneeling beside the smaller girl. She took one look at the face and gasped. "Oh, my God--she...she's me?!"

Trunks bent over Juuhachi-gou, who was kneeling beside the other girl--this one older, sixteen perhaps. "What's going on?" he asked softly.

Juuhachi-gou shook her head. The girl who lay on the ground before her had long blonde hair like hers, done up in twin ponytails high on her head. She wore black jeans and a faded red T-shirt several sizes too large for her. She also wore a battered denim vest. Juuhachi-gou fingered the distressed material and said, very softly, "This is mine."


"My old Red Ribbon vest," she murmured. "That's what this is. But where did she...?"

The girl's eyes fluttered open. They were round and wide, a different shape, but their color was the same as Juuhachi-gou's. She looked up into the face of the Jinzouningen and let out a shriek that made everyone else freeze in place.


* * *

Act Three
"I Cannot Believe We'd Ever Die"

We've tried to wash our hands of all of this
We never talk of our lack in relationships
And how we're guilt-stricken, sobbing with our heads on the floor
We fell through the ice when we tried not to slip

* * *

The afternoon was getting old, the shadows slanting and lengthening around the golden Capsule Corporation dome. Inside, in the tidy kitchen, two families were gathered together with a group of strangers who were each achingly familiar.

"My name is Marron," the young blonde girl said quietly. Both her hands were wrapped around a cup of tea, her knuckles as white as her face. Juuhachi-gou's face, almost, but not quite--the eyes were dark and round, completely unlike the Jinzouningen's pale, cat-slanted eyes. "You know Goten, and that--" she nodded to indicate the tiny girl who sat on Bulma's lap, clinging to her--"is Bra."

"Bra...:" Bulma murmured, stroking the child's pale aqua hair. "I always thought that if I had a daughter, that's what I'd name her."

The girl looked up into Bulma's eyes, her face a mirror of Bulma's past. She was almost twelve, too old to be cradled like this really, but no one seemed to take any notice at the moment. "Kaa-san...?" she asked, uncertainly. "Only...you're not really, are you?"

Bulma shook her head, not in denial but in confusion. "I'm not sure--Bra-chan. I don't understand any of this."

Vegeta stood behind Bulma, studying the strange young girl with his intense eyes. Bra looked at him, meeting his gaze without flinching, and if anyone else had been watching the Saiyajin Prince at that moment, they might have detected a slight softening of his habitual stony scowl. But no one else was.

"Maybe I can explain things." Marron set down her teacup and ran her hand through her bangs--a gesture so like Juuhachi-gou's it was almost frightening in its familiarity. "I can at least tell you what I know."

Juuhachi-gou couldn't take her eyes off the girl who called herself Marron. "You...you're Kuririn's daughter," she said slowly. "I remember, from our trip to the past."

Marron looked at her and nodded. "Yes. Kuririn was my father."

"You have his eyes," Gokou said, with a soft sadness coloring his voice.

She looked at Gokou and smiled. Then she returned her gaze to the Jinzouningen. "And you're my mother."

"Yes, but..." Juuhachi-gou bit her lip. "I mean, I knew about you--from our visit to the past, but I didn't think...I mean, I thought..."

"She thought you'd been adopted," Piccolo supplied gruffly from the doorway. His tone spoke his impatience without words. "She doesn't think she can have kids." Juu shot the Namek a look of pure venom which he summarily ignored.

"Well, you--she--had me," Marron said firmly. "My parents were very happy together."

And in this world I killed the man that should have been your father... Juuhachi-gou cringed, and Trunks was at her side in an instant, his arm around her shoulders.

"How did you all come to be here?" Trunks asked, directing his question at Marron, who seemed to know the most about the situation. "It's not as if you're not welcome," he added quickly, "but...what happened?"

Trunks may not have seen the flicker of pain in Marron's eyes, but Juuhachi-gou did. She noticed that Marron wouldn't even look at Trunks, and wondered at that. Maybe because she senses we're together, and she misses her father? She dismissed the speculation as Marron began to speak again, looking fixedly at a spot somewhere near the door where Piccolo stood apart, listening.

"I remember what it was like before things went terribly wrong...I never met Gokou-san, because Cell killed him before I was born, but Tou-san talked about him all the time."

Gokou nodded. "Kuririn and I grew up together. He was my first real friend, 'sides Bulma, of course."

Bulma reached out and patted Gokou's hand. "Go on, Marron-chan."

It was obviously hard for Marron to talk about the past, but just as obviously she wanted to answer as many questions for them as she could with her story. "We were all very happy, until..." She swallowed hard. "Until Aisuzu came."

"Aisuzu?" Vegeta echoed. "I don't know that name." His pronouncement indicated that he thought he should have recognized it.

Marron looked at him directly, with no trace of shyness. "You remember Furiiza? And Kuura?"

Vegeta's face hardened. He didn't grace her question with a reply.

"So Aisuzu was one of Furiiza's people?" Gohan asked.

"She was--is--Furiiza's sister."

"I never heard of her," Vegeta muttered.

"She obviously didn't associate much with her family. But when she learned that her father and brothers had been killed here on Earth, she came to get revenge. She came with her army, and the first thing she did was destroy the Tenka."

"Dende..." Gohan whispered.

Marron shook her head. "He was the first to die. He and Mr. Popo both."

Piccolo straightened up, his hands clenching into taloned fists.

"The same blast that destroyed the Tenka also demolished the tower below it. Karin and Yajirobe-san were killed as well. Of course, with Dende gone, the Dragon Balls were gone, too; and there were no more senzou beans to be had once Karin was dead." Marron drew her feet up onto the edge of the chair and wrapped her arms around her knees. "Then the fighting started...and went on. And on. People died, and there was no way to bring any of them back. We couldn't even heal the injuries of the survivors fast enough before the fighting would start again."

"This 'Aisuzu'," Vegeta snarled. "Are you saying she killed everyone? Even me?"

Marron looked at him without answering, without hesitation.

He smirked. "She must be damned powerful."

"She is. And she has no compunctions. None."

"Neither do I."

"It didn't help you."

He growled at her.

"Go on, Marron," Bulma urged again. "Ignore Mr. Attitude over there."

Marron took a deep breath. "My father wanted to join the fighting right away, but Kaa-san wouldn't let him. She knew he wouldn't stand a chance, but he couldn't just sit by and watch his friends die. When he left to confront Aisuzu, Kaa-san went with him. I followed." She looked at Juuhachi-gou, her eyes haunted. "I watched Aisuzu kill them." She fingered the collar of the tattered Red Ribbon Army vest she wore. "Aisuzu let me live. She took pleasure from the thought of my suffering and grief." Her face hardened. "I swore then I'd make her pay for their lives. For all the lives she destroyed."

Her gaze swung to the doorway, and this time she looked at Piccolo straight on. "I sought you out in the wilderness, where you'd gone after Gohan was killed."

Piccolo didn't outwardly flinch. He returned her gaze unblinkingly.

"I demanded you teach me how to fight--my mother had never let me learn. She didn't want me to live the life she had."

"I don't blame her," Juu said quietly.

Marron ignored her, still looking at Piccolo. "You were already training Goten and Trunks, and you were hard on me, very hard, but I didn't care. It was what I wanted. You knew even then we were fated to lose, but like the rest of us, you refused to just give up."

"I don't give up," Piccolo said flatly. "Ever."

"I know. After Vegeta was killed--"

"How?" Vegeta demanded.

Marron glanced at him. "Aisuzu captured Bulma and used her as bait for you. You managed to save Bra's life, but..."

Bra choked on a sob and buried her face against Bulma's shoulder. Bulma wrapped her arms around the girl protectively. "How terrible."

"After you died, Vegeta didn't care about much of anything. He tried a suicide strike against Aisuzu. He hurt her--badly--but he didn't kill her. Still...he did buy us time. Piccolo took Bra in, too, and she began training as well."

"Of course," Vegeta answered at once. "She's Saiyajin."

Marron nodded. "For almost ten years we kept our presence hidden in the desert while Piccolo trained us and taught us how to fight, how to survive. We--I--began to think we really did stand a chance after all. Only--we didn't. Not really.

"Aisuzu rallied what was left of her forces and came looking for us again. You--Piccolo, our Piccolo, was gone that night they finally found us. Trunks held her off while the rest of us escaped." She swallowed hard. "Goten went with Piccolo and found him. They brought his body back, and we buried him. Bra kept his sword."

It was Trunks' turn to shudder, and Juu took his hand and squeezed it. Her eyes were fixed on Marron. The girl's face told her everything she needed to know. Trunks was your lover, wasn't he, Marron? That's the real reason it hurts you to see us together. Because your mother is your dead boyfriend's lover, and your father doesn't even exist because your mother killed him before you were born. She wanted to reach out to this girl, comfort her, but she held back and let Marron finish her story. She wasn't even sure if she had any comfort to give that Marron would--or could--accept.

Almost as if she sensed Juuhachi-gou's thoughts, Marron straightened in her chair and continued in a stronger voice. "That was a week ago. Piccolo finally realized that all we could do was die. He didn't mind it much, if we could take Aisuzu with us--but he knew there was only one way to be sure."

"How?" ChiChi asked, genuinely curious.

Silence for a moment, broken by a bellow of gruff laughter. All eyes went to Piccolo, who had thrown back his head, bellowing his mirth. "Nice to know I'm a bastard over there, too!" he chortled. "I used the goddamned Black Stars, didn't I?"

Marron smiled quietly.

"Black Stars?" Bulma echoed. "What are those?"

"The Black Star Dragon Balls," Marron answered.

"Where'd they come from?" Gokou asked. "The Dragon Balls got red stars, don't they? And Dende's are white..."

"When I first landed on this dust speck," Piccolo said, "I created my first set of Dragon Balls--only they were flawed. Oh, they were powerful enough, more powerful even than the Namek ones, and just as big--beachball size, every one of 'em--but they were evil as I was. Still am," he grinned. "It was their creation that convinced me to split myself--and half of me became Kami, and created the Dragon Balls you guys spent your lives chasing after."

"But you didn't destroy the first set?" Bulma asked. "Why not, if you couldn't use them?"

"Once Dragon Balls are created, they can't be destroyed until the one who created them dies. I wasn't about to commit suicide, so I hid them where only I would be able to find them."

"And so you did," Marron confirmed. "You didn't tell us what you were going to do until it was done, and it was too late to stop you."

"Yeah, sounds like me, all right."

"What happened?" Videl asked.

"Piccolo summoned the Black Shenlon. He was massive, and even though I'd seen the Dragon before, he frightened me when I thought I was past feeling any fear. He radiated power, tainted with terrible evil. Only Piccolo stood before him without showing any fear. They...they understood each other, Piccolo and Shenlon. They were two parts of the same whole, it seemed, and for a moment I was afraid of Piccolo, too, the one who'd trained us and helped us learn to survive for most of our lives.

"He spoke to the Dragon in Namek, and none of us understood what he was saying, but when he'd finished, Shenlon laughed. Laughed. It rolled like thunder, shaking the ground under our feet. Then the Dragon vanished--and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

"The next moment, a vortex appeared above our heads--all black, spiraling clouds and white spears of lightning."

Bulma nodded. "We saw it, too."

"Goten and Bra began to rise up into the air. I wanted to know where they were going--I thought that they were leaving of their own volition--but before I could ask, Piccolo grabbed my head in his hands and...well, for lack of a better word he thought at me."

"Mind speak?" Gokou said. "We can do that, sure."

"It's called telepathy," Vegeta mumbled. "Baka Kakarott."

Marron continued. "In the space of a heartbeat, Piccolo told me, without words, what he'd done, and why. I wanted to beg him to come with us, but he wouldn't, and he had his reasons why. Then he let me go, and I started rising up towards the vortex too.

"Piccolo knew--I'm still not sure how--but he knew that other worlds like ours existed. Other dimensions, other timelines, other places. He knew specifically about this existence, one where most of the senshi had died, and somehow come back to life. He sensed that we had never existed here...and that it was as good a place as any to send us, to keep us safe."

"If he used the Black Stars, I'm not surprised," Piccolo said. "Those things are powerful mothers. Even powerful enough to breach the dimensional barriers and look into other worlds--even travel to them."

"Why haven't you told us about these Black Star Dragon Balls before?" Vegeta demanded. "If they're so all-powerful, we could have used them before Dende managed to get up off his narrow green ass and make up his own!"

"Vegeta!" Bulma admonished.

But Piccolo was chuckling. "Sure, we could have used them once I came back to life--if we all wanted to die."

"What you mean?" Gokou asked. "The Dragon Balls are supposed to help people, aren't they?"

"Not these, Gokou. Remember, I made them while I was still whole--and bad to the bone. That's why the stars were black, to reflect the evil in my heart. Oh, they can grant any wish at all--no limitations whatsoever, no strings attached--but the price is just too damn high."

Vegeta confronted the Namek. "What price?"

"Oh, nothing much. Just the absolute destruction of Earth."

"That's what my Piccolo showed me," Marron confirmed. "So that we'd never try to go back to our world. Because it's not there anymore. Once the Black Star Dragon Balls are used, they scatter to the four corners of the universe--and the planet on which they're used is completely destroyed, along with every living thing on it. No chance of survival."

"So Piccolo..." Gohan trailed off, his eyes wandering to his mentor, who grunted confirmation..

"He sacrificed himself, and the Earth, to destroy Aisuzu once and for all. There's no way we can ever go home again. We're the only survivors...Goten, Bra, and me, because Piccolo wished us here." Marron wrapped her arms around herself and dropped her head, visibly spent. "And that's everything," she sighed, closing her eyes.

Juuhachi-gou stepped forward and put her arm tentatively around Marron's shoulders. "You're very brave," she said. "I know your mother would be as proud of you as I am."

Marron looked up with a trembling smile. "But...you are my mother," she whispered. "Or maybe you should have been." She hugged Juu tight, and Juu returned the embrace with no hesitation.

"Of course you're her mom! Just like you're mine," Goten said, grinning at ChiChi. "And Tou-san is Tou-san, ne? Deshou?"

Gokou grinned and gave Goten a thumbs-up. "Sou na, Goten-kun."

"Welcome to the family, Goten," Gohan smiled, patting his newfound brother's shoulder, taking it in stride as he always did.

Goten beamed. "You see, Marron-chan? This is our family. It doesn't make any difference what timeline or what dementia we're from."

"Dimension, Goten," Trunks corrected.

"Whatever. You know, this time you'd better not die on me, Trunks-kun! I'll kick your butt!!" Goten laughed and hugged Trunks, who was obviously unsure how to react.

"Mama--um, ma'am?" Bulma looked down at the shy little stutter from the girl in her lap.

"Yes, Bra-chan?"

Bra bit her lip. Her eyes were dry, but Bulma could hear in the small, trembling voice the tears she was struggling to hold back. "Would...would you mind very much...if I lived here? I won't be any trouble, I promise."

"Oh, sweetheart..." Bulma felt the sting of tears in her own eyes. "Of course you're going to stay! It's just as Goten said--different timelines and dimensions don't matter. Somewhere, once upon a time, you were my little girl..." She smiled and brushed a stray lock of pale blue hair from Bra's hopeful face. "That makes you mine in every way that counts. I just hope you won't be too embarrassed by having a bast--a jerk for a father."

Bra giggled. "I barely remember Papa," she confessed, "but Trunks-oniisan told me all about him."

Bulma grunted. "Knowing Trunks, he only told you the good things--or rather, made them up, I should say."

Vegeta snorted behind her, and Bra giggled again.

"Well," ChiChi said, beaming, "this is wonderful! You know, we were in the middle of a picnic lunch out on the lawn when you three, um, dropped in--I don't suppose any of you are hungry? There's plenty of food left--"

The backwash of air blew ChiChi's loose hair wild as Bra and Goten dashed outside. "Those are our children, all right!" Bulma grinned at ChiChi, and both women exchanged laughter.

Marron gently disengaged herself from Juuhachi-gou and smiled at her again. "I'm glad those two are adjusting so quickly," she confessed. "I was worried about how they'd fit in. They've been through a lot."

"So have you," Trunks pointed out.

Marron looked in his direction, but her eyes skittered away from his face. "I'm tougher than they are. I've had to be."

"Marron-chan," Juuhachi-gou ventured, "I'm sure Bulma would want you to stay, too. I mean, if you want. Bra would be glad to have you here...and so would we."

"Of course she's staying here!" Bulma said at once. "Where else is a slip of a girl like her to go? She can't be more than sixteen--of course, when I was sixteen--"

"The first time?" Vegeta broke in.

She ignored him. "When I was sixteen, I was just starting out to see the world, but poor little Marron's been through a terrible shock, and she certainly shouldn't be trying to make her way in a new, strange world all by herself."

"Thank you--all of you," Marron said, standing up. "If you don't mind, though...just right now, I'd like to be alone for a little while."

"Of course, dear," Bulma said, rising from the table. "I'll show you around and you can pick out your room--we've got plenty around here--"

"No," Marron said quickly, then added, "thank you, Bulma-san. I just want to go for a walk outside and sort things through in my head. I'll be back soon, I promise." She flashed a brave, brilliant, empty smile to the group of strangers wearing familiar, well-loved faces and then walked out as quickly as she could without actually seeming to be running away.

"The poor girl," Videl murmured after Marron had gone. "She's still a child. They're all just children, really, and they've been through so much."

"Well, they're safe now," ChiChi pointed out. "All we can do is make a place for them--I don't think that's going to be a problem for Goten. He's taking it all in stride--just like his father," she finished, giggling at her husband, who grinned in response.

"And little Bra-chan is so sweet. God knows how she could be your child," Bulma said with a look at Vegeta. "Then again, Trunks was such a good boy growing up...it must be my influence, it couldn't be anything else."

Vegeta snorted.

Juuhachi-gou started for the door, but Trunks held her back with a hand on her shoulder. "Leave it, Juu-chan."


"Marron needs to be by herself right now," he said, wrapping his arms around his beloved from behind. "Give her some space--let her come to terms with what's happened. I know what it's like to lose everything, and then get it all back. She needs room to adjust. Let her come to you. She will, in time."

* * *

Goten and Bra were sitting in the shade of a spreading oak tree on the back lawn, devouring the remains of the picnic lunch left by the others. They didn't glance in Marron's direction, but then she'd gotten very good over the years at not calling attention to herself.

She walked around the dome out of sight of the picnic area, then leapt into the air. She saw the cluster of buildings in the distance--a city--and veered south, towards the wilderness that had been her home for the past ten years.

Only it's not the same wilderness, she thought, letting the wind of her flight brush the cold tears from her eyes. It's not the same world, these aren't the same people--oh, gods, why can't I be like Goten and not know the difference? Or not care about it? Everyone's so different, alive and full of hope, and even Trunks--oh, Trunks, I miss you so much, and you're not the same person here. Even if you weren't with Kaa--with Juuhachi-gou, you're not the man I fell in love with, and I don't think you ever could be. If Goten senses the difference, he's obviously chosen to ignore it--but I can't, I can't...

She landed atop a tall mesa, well out of sight of the gleaming golden dome behind her. She sat on the edge of the precipice, looking down over the battle-scarred terrain. There was a lot of fighting going on here, she thought. This world has survived its own hell. I wonder what happened in this timeline? Not Aisuzu--they've never even heard of her. Something else, obviously. I guess I'll have to ask someone if I really want to know. Or maybe it's written down somewhere and I can read about it.

She wrapped her arms around her knees and put her head down, closing her eyes. More than anything else, she wanted not to think--not to miss her parents, not to miss Trunks, not to miss Piccolo-sensei, not to miss her shattered, ruined world. Piccolo is the only one here who seems the same as I remember...maybe I should talk to him. No, why would he bother with someone like me? It's not like he's my Piccolo-sensei. He's not the one who raised us, trained us, saved us and died for us. I'm nothing to him.

Kaa-san, Tou-san, Piccolo-san, Trunks...I wish I'd died with you...

She tried to make her mind a blank, to stop the constant replay of images and events in her well-ordered mind, to staunch the flow of memories that she was incapable of forgetting, to stop the past from bleeding out into the present. She cried, but silently, tears running down her face and dampening the ground between her feet. At least there was no one to see.

The sun slipped below the horizon, and the shadows around her coalesced into the soft dimness of twilight. We'd be eating breakfast right now...getting ready to come out and train with Piccolo-sensei under cover of night. Train for what?! Piccolo always knew that it was hopeless. None of us stood a chance against Aisuzu--not even Trunks and Goten, when Piccolo taught them how to--

"Oi oi!"

Marron leapt to her feet and spun around, taking a stance and ready to fight.

Gokou cocked his head, his wild hair stirring in the evening breezes. "It's almost dinnertime," he said. "You gonna come back now?"

"Go--Gokou-san." Marron forced herself to drop out of stance and relax. She pretended to relax, anyway. "I didn't even sense you coming," she confessed.

Gokou laughed. "Old habits die hard. So what you doing all by yourself out here? Aren't you lonely?"

Yes, Gokou-san. So lonely my heart is breaking. "I'm fine," she lied, trying to smile. "It's just...it's a lot to take in all at once."

Gokou came forward till he was standing right over her, and Marron forced herself not to shrink away. There was something so comforting in the man's presence, something that was balm to her tortured soul.

Gokou's large hand ruffled her pigtails. "You're Kuririn's daughter," he said softly. "Even if I hadn't seen you in the past time, I'd know because of your eyes. They're just like his. Kuririn was a good papa, ne?"

Marron nodded without hesitation. "The best. I--I never met you, but Tou-san was always talking about you, like I said. He thought the world of you, and he missed you a lot."

"I miss him, too." A flicker of sadness in the dark eyes. "He died here, too, you know--many years ago. Most of us did. Some of us came back...but he couldn't. I don't even know where his spirit is, or if he's been reborn. He was a monk, you know--I guess he gave that up when he married your mama, ne?" Gokou chuckled. "But before that, we were the monk and the monkey-boy!"

Marron giggled, she couldn't help it. Gokou's smile was contagious.

Gokou dropped an arm around her shoulders. "I know that Kuririn would have wanted me to take care of you. I know you got your mama, Juuhachi-gou, but if you need a papa, you can pretend it's me...ne?"

Her eyes stinging, Marron hugged this man she'd never known, this legend her father had writ large as life in her memory. Gokou patted her back and let her cry against his chest--not silently this time, but with great wracking sobs that shook her slight frame with the force of a hurricane.

Gokou sat down and drew the girl into his lap and let her cry herself out. When she was finally spent, Gokou raised her face and gently dried her tears. "Your papa would want you to be happy," he said softly. "Will you try?"

Marron nodded. "Yes...I--"

She froze, her still-wet eyes snapping wide.

Gokou felt her slender body tense, a coiled spring. "Nani?" he asked as she sprang from his lap to her feet. He stood up and watched her as she seemed to be listening--or sensing something just out of his perceptions.

"What is it?" he asked again.

Marron turned to look at him, her eyes wide, her face white in the gathering gloom.

"She's coming."

"She? Who's she? I--" Then he felt it, too--a blip at the very outer edge of his senses, something he wouldn't have sensed at all if he hadn't snapped alert the moment Marron had reacted to it. Far away, still, away out in space somewhere, but coming closer fast. Too fast.

"Ano...is that..." his voice trailed off.

Marron swallowed hard, and forced the name out between her lips, driven by a shaken voice that made Gokou's stomach chill with dread.

"Aisuzu da."

* * *

Act Four
"We Were Merely Freshmen"

I can't be held responsible
'Cause she was touching her face
I won't be held responsible
She fell in love in the first place

For the life of me I cannot remember
What made us think that we were wise and we'd never compromise
For the life of me I cannot believe we'd ever die for these sins
We were merely freshmen...

--Verve Pipe, "The Freshman"

* * *

The flight deck was dimly lit, full of shadows, the flashing of telltales and the glowing text of readouts the only bright points in the gloom. The figure seated in the center of the circular chamber glowed like a ghost in twilight. Voices came from the shadows around her, muted, hushed, respectful. She sat with her eyes closed, making no motion or sound.


Cold, pale eyes snapped open in a dead white face. The frozen-steel gaze tracked over to the one who had dared to speak. "Yes, Byatcha?"

The first speaker bowed respectfully from her station. She was rail-thin, even gaunt, with stringy black hair and wide, hollow eyes. Like all the others on the flight deck, except for Aisuzu herself, she wore standard armor that looked ridiculously solid on her skeletal frame. "We are approaching Earth orbit, Aisuzu-sama. You asked to be informed."

"Thank you, Byatcha." Aisuzu rose from her command chair, her long tail uncoiling behind her. She walked forward, aware of the furtive eyes watching her every movement, and smiled despite herself. "Put it on the screen," she commanded, knowing she would be instantly obeyed.

The forward viewport flashed instantly to life, showing a blue-green world wreathed by clouds against a backdrop of star-scattered space. Aisuzu smiled. Such a pretty little world. Pity it had to die.

"Readings, Hora?"

A ponderous, bulky figure rose and bowed from the nonexistent waist in her commander's direction. "Scans confirm the presence of life on the surface, Aisuzu-sama. There have also been occasional flashes of high power readings."

"Those androids that we thought would have destroyed this dirtball by now," a gravelly voice from the back interrupted.

"Hush, Surato," Aisuzu admonished gently. "Do you read the mechs down there, Hora?"

"It's hard to get a clear reading on anything," Hora confessed. "There's been some kind of recent spatial disturbance down there that's playing hell with our scans."

Aisuzu arched a black eyebrow. "Disturbance? Of what sort?"

"The readings are hard to decipher, Aisuzu-sama, but from what I can determine, there was some sort of temporary spatial displacement."

"If I may, Aisuzu-sama?" Byatcha murmured politely.

"Of course," their leader said at once.

The gaunt figure nodded acknowledgement. "We know from our last visit here that someone on the planet was experimenting with time travel--primitive, doubtless ultimately futile, but surprisingly advanced for the tech level of this civilization. It could be possible that, like the inhabitants of Rellus IV, their experimentation has created a disturbance in timespace so severe that it has destabilized their reality matrix."

Aisuzu grunted. She pondered for a moment The unspoken warning in Byatcha's explanation hadn't escaped her. If they were dirtside, even in orbit, when Earth suddenly decided to pull a temporal fade, they'd all be sucked into whatever alternative world--or formless void--the planet vanished to.

She'd visited this world ten standard cycles before, seeking rather belated vengeance for the wholesale slaughter of her family, only to find it a barren, tortured wasteland ravaged by a pair of humanoid constructs. She'd watched the fun for a while from high orbit, then the troubles on Rovillus had cropped up, demanding her immediate attention. If the planet were going to destroy itself--one way or another--there seemed no point in wasting her own time and resources helping it along.

Still, she'd come back to this world where her father and her younger brothers had died, just to make sure...and it seemed the cursed dirtball was recovering itself.

"There are life readings down there?" she asked the air, studying the image of Earth on the screen.

"Yes, Aisuzu-sama," Hora confirmed. "The place is sparsely populated, but there is evidence of recent reconstruction, and at the moment I detect no high levels of combat or conflict of any sort."

"So either the cyborgs got bored with wholesale destruction and settled down to a life of tranquil reflection, or someone down there managed to stop their rampage. Interesting."

Aisuzu turned to face her crew, her face wearing a gentle smile.


* * *

The blue-white force beam smashed down from a cloudless sky, brighter than any lightning. The Tenka bowl was pierced through, shattering with the impact. Nothing remained alive on the mystical refuge as the beam continued on, vaporizing the tall ivory tower below and leaving a crater in the ground ten miles deep.

Nothing could have survived such a strike.

* * *

"So much for Earth's guardian," Aisuzu murmured sweetly. "Not that he would have proved much of a threat, but one can't be too careful, eh, Byatcha?"

"Just as you say, Aisuzu-sama."

"Aisuzu-sama," Hora announced. "Something's approaching--higher power level than average, though still well below any threat to us."

"A ship?"

"No, a hominid. Possibly human, though it's hard to tell at this range. Flying."

"Probably that boy we detected who was playing tag with the cyborgs last time we visited." The queen of a dying race nodded reflectively. "Well, we've announced our presence," she said. "Time to go meet and greet the welcoming committee."

* * *

Hora and Surato left the ship and took off in the direction of the approaching reading. In contrast to Hora's ponderous bulk, Surato was tall, willowy but without the painful thinness of Byatcha.

"There it is," Surato said, indicating a figure hovering in midair. "Male, from the looks of it. Guess Aisuzu was right."

"Mm." Hora shook her massive head. "I'm not so sure--that doesn't look like the boy we saw."

"He grew up. It's been five years."

"I don't think humans change that much when they mature."

Surato checked her scouter. "Well, whoever it is, they're no threat. No power to speak of. I don't even know how he stays airborne with power that low."

"Well, then, let's do the polite thing and ask."

The figure didn't move as they approached. He hung in the air without moving, arms crossed, facing them without giving any sign of either greeting or warning.

"Hey, look!" Hora laughed. "I'll be damned--that looks like Vegeta!"


"Vegeta. That prince who was Furiiza's boytoy way back when. He's a Saiyajin."

"I thought they were all dead."

"Well, if it isn't him, it's his twin brother. Even the power-reading's the same--such as it is. Definitely Saiyajin, and I'll bet my last powerpoint that it's the Prince himself."

"Fine. If he messes with us he'll be the smoking heap of ash formerly known as Prince." Surato picked up speed and flew to meet the stranger. Chuckling, Hora followed.

"So it's true," Vegeta announced as the pair came within hearing range. "And I thought we'd finished with your lot back when Kuura died. Don't you ever learn?"

"So you're Prince Vegeta," Hora said, coming to a stop with Surato beside her. "We've heard a lot about you. Thought you were dead."

Vegeta smirked. "I got better."

"Talk about not learning anything. I suppose you've come to tell us this is your planet and we're supposed to go running off with our tails between our legs and leave the Earth to you?"

"Something like that. Of course, that could be crediting your leader with too much intelligence."

"How dare you insult Aisuzu!" Surato bellowed, starting forward.

Hora stopped her with a gesture. "Simmer down. He's baiting us, spoiling for a fight--more fool he."

* * *

"The poor flowers..."

"They'll grow again, Mr. Popo." Dende sat, knees drawn up, on the flying carpet. "And surely, better only the flowers than the flowers and us."

"That's very true, Kami." Mr. Popo looked over at the assembled Z Warriors, smiling. "Thank you so much for coming to warn us."

"It's nothing, really," Juuhachi-gou said, looping her hair back behind one ear. "Once Marron told us Aisuzu was approaching, we guessed this version would try the same trick as the other one--destroy the Tenka, and Kami, first off, so that the Dragon Balls would be useless."

"As it is," Gohan added, "they're so sure no one could possibly know they were coming, they didn't think to check for your ki signatures before they destroyed your palace, Kami-sama."

"Hm." Karin stroked his whiskers and snorted. "His palace and my tower, you mean."

"Hai, Karin-san. We're sorry about that..."

"Nahhh, it's okay." The white cat chucked. "When you hang out with a wild man like Gokou, you get used to his rowdy friends dropping in from time to time. Yajirobe's gonna be a little upset when he gets back, but he'll get over it once he figures out I'm still alive."

"Yajirobe's still alive?" Gokou said. "For real?"

"Yeah, sure. Hey, he actually worked up the courage to plan a strike on the Jinzouningen when you guys all got killed, but I talked him out of it. Guess he felt he owed ya something. I told him, yeah, yeah, you're a hot shot with a katana, but even if you get close enough to attack, you haven't got anything else to fall back on. Stay alive and if that kid of Vegeta's survives, we can always train him to use that sword of his. Speaking of which, where is Ol' Spikey?"

Gokou blinked and looked around. So did everyone else.

No Vegeta.

Gokou's brow knit, then he hissed a breath between his teeth. "*Che* BaaaaaAAAAka! I bet he went off take on Aisuzu himself!"

"N-nanda?" Trunks stammered. "But if she's as powerful as Marron says--"

"Then we've got a problem," finished Gohan. "Tou-san, what--" he shielded his eyes as Gokou powered up and took off, the wind of his departure whipping the treetops like a hurricane. "I guess that answers what we do next."

"Oniisan..." Goten swallowed, then his chin steadied. "We're going to go fight her now, right? Aisuzu?"

"I don't guess we have much choice, Goten," Trunks answered, rising. "We knew we'd have to face her sooner or later-- my papa just took the decision about when out of our hands."

"As long as you're here, I'm not worried." Goten flashed Trunks a "V-for-Victory" sign. "We'll show her a thing or two, ne? Deshou?"

"Ummm... hai." From the corner of his eye Trunks caught Gohan looking at him and shrugged just the tiniest bit as they all took off after Gokou. Obviously some strong bond had existed between Goten and his Trunks, one the boy was transferring to him quite unconsciously. Trunks wasn't really sure what to do about it-- it didn't seem very kind, somehow, to constantly remind Goten and Bra and Marron that this wasn't their world. It was the only world they had, now, so might as well think of it as theirs too.

But he just wasn't sure that he was ready for whatever closeness Goten was looking for in him. With no one but his mother and Gohan-san for company, and then not even Gohan... Trunks wasn't really uncomfortable around people, so much as uncomfortable when faced with someone that apparently knew him inside out, and possibly knew him better than he knew himself.

Almost like Papa, I suppose, he thought, accelerating and slipping into Super Saiyajin, then dropping back a bit to round up Bra, who was falling behind. "Come on, Bu... imouto-chan," he said. "Get on my back, I'm a lot faster than you are."

The little girl-- huge sword slung over her back-- looked down shyly. "Ne, onii, um, Trunks-san--"

"None of that. Onii-san's perfectly all right." Orphan of the storm... me too, he thought, reaching out to tousle her hair. We all are in a way. The rough edges will wear off soon, and a little encouragement won't hurt in the least. "Come on, little bit."

Bra's eyes flicked up to him, widening. "Little... bit...?"

"Ah.. hai..." Trunks found himself wondering why he'd said that, but didn't wonder a second later when Bra wrapped her tiny arms around his waist and hugged him tight.

"You always used to call me that," she sniffled against his lower chest. "Little bit of trouble, you said I was a little bit of trouble, but a little bit goes a long way..."

"Well... it does. But it's going to get left behind if it doesn't hitch a ride."

"Haiiii, oniisan!" Bra clambered onto his back and clung tight to his shoulders as Trunks took off again, catching up to the others.

* * *

"He put up a brave fight, Aisuzu-sama," Hora announced, dropping the battered body to the cold, hard flight deck at her commander's taloned feet. "But he was relatively easy to handle."

"Mm." Aisuzu knelt and took hold of Vegeta's chin, raising his face to study it as if it were some rare artifact. "Furiiza always did like the pretty ones. And you helped kill him, you traitorous little bastard."

"Go...to hell..." Vegeta rasped hoarsely, one eye only half-open, the other shut tight.

"You first," Aisuzu purred, kissing the air inches away from his battered face. "But if you tell me, little princeling, how many fighting powers there are on this planet, I might--might--let you live. You aren't up to my fighters' standards, of course, but maybe I can find a place for you somewhere below decks. Polishing our armor, maybe, or scrubbing out the defecatory."

Vegeta smirked, his body suddenly losing its limpness. "I've got a better idea, Aisuzu." He stood, all trace of weakness or submission completely gone. "Why don't I send you to Hell for a little family reunion?"

"Nani?!" Aisuzu gasped.

Vegeta grinned with terrible delight. "And that's King Vegeta to you, ahondara!!"

* * *

A new evening star flared briefly in the darkening sky. Aisuzu's battleship disintegrated in the blast, along with most of her crew.

"WHAT THE HELL?!?!?" Surato shrieked the moment she hit atmosphere.

"Little creep was faking us out," Hora grumbled, righting herself. "He wanted us to bring him back to Aisuzu, so he could take out the ship--and us."

"Are we the only ones who survived?"

Hora checked the vicinity with her scouter. "No. I'm reading Byatcha--of course that tailkisser would make it out okay--and there's Kwanda, and Tsuiiji--there's Daiku and Dammu...oh, and looks like your sister made it out, too."

"Suraga's okay? Good--but where's Aisuzu?"

Wordlessly, Hora pointed towards the dying western horizon. "Over there dancing with you-know-who."

* * *

Vegeta swung his clasped hands hard, clipping Aisuzu under the chin. Then he flew up above her and drove both feet into the small of her back, just above her long lizard-like tail. The force of the blow drove her down hard; she slammed into the surface of a tall mesa hard enough to shatter it to boulders on her way down. Vegeta followed up the strike with a rapid succession of ki-blasts, pulverizing the shattered mesa to dust.

He watched, smirking, as the cloud of debris settled. His smirk turned to a scowl as Aisuzu calmly stood up, brushed off her dusky skin, and smiled congenially up at him. "Is that the best you can do, little princeling?" she purred, mocking him.

Vegeta's indigo eyes narrowed to slits. "You want to see the best I can do, ahondara? Then look well!" Fists clenching, he roared, riding the crest of his building rage. His black-red hair flared, turning gold-white, and a crackling, spiked aura formed around him as his body bulk hardened. The muscles expanding. His eyes flared bright green as he glowered down at his long-dead enemy's sibling, and he showed her a slow, menacing smile.

Aisuzu gasped. "Su--Super Saiyajin?!"

Vegeta threw back his head and laughed. Then he flew downwards.

Snarling, Aisuzu shot up to meet him.

* * *

The tight little knot of Aisuzu's female warriors hovered, watching the battle.

"I think Aisuzu-sama's in trouble," Suragu ventured. "Shouldn't we help her?"

Daiku snorted. "If we dared interfere, she'd thank us by blowing us to bits. She's toying with him, can't you see that? Just taking his measure is all. Super Saiyajin or not, he's no match for her."

The Prince of the long-dead Saiyajin race struck at Aisuzu again and again, but never seemed to stagger her for more than a moment. In return, all he won was a series of blows that each would've broken a battleship in half. He backed up a few hundred yards, obviously hurting but still game, and sent a blinding beam straight at her. The small group of elite fighters fell silent, then cheered when Aisuzu simply slapped Vegeta's ki-blast away as one would an insect and answered with one of her own that drove the Saiyajin down out of the sky and into the hard, unwelcoming ground.

Kwanda was distracted from her enjoyment of the spectacle by a sudden, insistent cheeping from her scouter. She adjusted the instrument and looked back towards the darkening eastern horizon. "Hey, girls," she said, "we've got company."

"Oh, good," Dammu murmured. "Some fun for us. How many?"

"Hard to tell--I can read at least three big powers, and a number of smaller ones."

"I'll jan-ken-pon you for the biggest one," Tsuiiji offered. "How far off are they?"

"About three--" Kwanda broke off with a gasp as a glowing-golden figure simply appeared, shooting towards them like a meteorite.

Gokou wasted no time; he barreled through the knot of warriors, scattering them like tenpins on his way past. "VEGETAAAAAAAA!"

"Kuso!!" Hora spat as the fighters regrouped. "Another Super Saiyajin? I thought Prince Punching-Bag over there was the only one left!"

"Never mind that," Suratto snapped. "Let's head Golden Boy Number Two off before he ruins Aisuzu-sama's fun."

"You're not going anywhere," a gravelly voice announced behind them.

Aisuzu's fighters rounded on a second group of hovering figures. Two--no, four Saiyajin, the three males glowing that same accursed golden white, the little female wielding a sword almost as long as her own height; two other females, apparently human; and of all things, a Namekseijin, obviously the one who had spoken, tossing his white billowing cape and turban aside even as he smirked at them.

"Oh," Hora murmured, "you are all so dead."

Piccolo chuckled. "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt." The fanged smile dropped off his face. "Now it's your turn."

* * *

Vegeta lay on his back in a vast trench carved by his own body into the earth around him, unable to move, barely conscious, capable only of scowling his hate up at the figure of Aisuzu hovering above him like an angel of death. His death. Again.

Aisuzu shrieked in triumph, and a purple flare of energy seared towards him, a beam with his destruction written all over it--

Then a shadow intercepted. Vegeta couldn't make out details, but the shout from just above him was unmistakable. "Ka...me...ha...me...HAAAA!!!!"

"Ke...Kakarott," he rasped through bloodied lips.

The other Saiyajin didn't respond; shoulders hunched as he marshalled his energy, he was too busy driving Aisuzu's ki-blast up and away from them both. Then he flew up to engage her at close range.

Another shadow fell across Vegeta, this one a good deal less benevolent. "As usual," Byatcha sighed. "It's up to me to clean up Aisuzu-sama's messes." She raised a hand casually, a flare of ki building in her outstretched palm.

Vegeta could only glare at her. His broken body refused to move.

Then--suddenly--Byatcha was simply not there. A flash of sudden motion seized her up and carried her off. The sounds and sensations of a second battle reached Vegeta's battered perceptions, and he struggled to rise, cursing himself to find he was still unable to do so.

Eventually, the secondary conflict ended. Someone screamed, but he couldn't tell who, didn't really care if truth be told. Far, far above, he could sense Kakarott facing Aisuzu, alone--and losing. Fool, he thought, to think that you could succeed where I failed. You're not that much better than I am, Kakarott, for all the luck you've had.

Again a shadow fell across him--not Byatcha's, but to Vegeta not much more welcome. Juuhachi-gou knelt beside him. "Serves you right for charging off to face this bunch alone," she remarked mildly. "What were you trying to prove, anyway?"

"Ba...ka no Jinzou...ningyou," Vegeta growled at her.

"I'm a baka? Who's the one lying flat on his back at the end of a trench he dug with his own face, hm?" Juuhachi-gou placed something into his gloved hand, a touch he resented, but could barely feel. "One for you and one for Golden Boy up there," she said. "I have to get back to the others." And with that, she took off and was gone.

"Che..." Vegeta struggled to raise his arm, squinted at the two small dark shapes in his numb fingers. Senzou. Probably laced with poison, coming from that mechanical twitch, he mused, knowing deep in his heart that it wasn't true even as he thought it. I hope she doesn't think this means I owe her anything.

He missed his mouth twice and nearly dropped the magic beans before finally managing to shove one between his teeth and crunch into it.

Energy flowed along his nerves as he swallowed the fragments, forcing strength and power into his aching limbs. He stood and tucked the second bean into his belt, then launched himself into the air.

* * *

This is getting very old very fast
, Aisuzu mused as she battered the strange Saiyajin who'd appeared to save Vegeta. This one was obviously powerful--more powerful, possibly, than the fallen Prince--but not more powerful than me, she reassured herself. She sent the stranger's weakening form high into the air and readied a killing-strike, firing it at point-blank range.

The figure vanished, and her blast cut through empty air.

"Not again!!" Aisuzu raged, looking around. "Where did he go?" She looked down at the ground. The trench was there. Vegeta wasn't.

"Damn!!" Aisuzu had never toyed with the Saiyajin as her brother Furiiza had, so she didn't know a great deal about them--but surely even members of that warrior race couldn't heal that quickly.

Cursing under her breath, she scanned the area. Her fighters were holding their own against the native forces, but neither Vegeta nor his

(brother? Did he have a brother? I don't remember Furiiza mentioning more than one monkey brat he wanted to tame, but maybe he decided at the last minute to collect one more...?)

fellow Saiyajin were among them. She scanned, but couldn't pick up any ki readings. It was as though the two had vanished from the face of the planet.

* * *

About a mile above Aisuzu, Vegeta held Gokou by his shirt and fished out the senzou. "Idiot," he snarled. "Mask your ki, you fool, she'll spot us in a moment."

Gokou nodded heavily and his ki dwindled at once. Vegeta took the chance to look him over-- not a pretty sight. One eye swollen shut, already an ugly red-purple; thin trickles of blood from a myriad of gashes on his torso and from the edge of his mouth. "You look like something I'd kick into the trash bin without a second thought."

"Might.. be kinda nice.. to get some peace and quiet there," Gokou answered, chuckling weakly. Then his one good eye narrowed a bit, expression becoming more serious. "This is bad. She's strong."

"I remain amazed by your gift for stating the glaringly obvious." Impatiently Vegeta shoved the senzou in his free hand at Gokou. "Here, eat this so we can get back to more important things."

Gokou reached for the bean, but it slipped from his sweat-slicked fingers. He made a grab for it, a half-second too late. "Ut-oh."

"Khhhhh--" Vegeta snarled. "You utter imbecile!! I don't have any more of tho--" he stopped as he realized the trajectory the small object was taking. "Oh, brilliant, Kakarott. Stunning tactical move."

The senzou bounced off the top of Aisuzu's head, drawing her attention to the two figures high above. With a mad grin of triumph she rocketed higher, drawing abreast of them, hands out to fire. As the beam roared at the pair, Gokou twisted, slamming his own palms out-- not at Aisuzu, but at Vegeta. "MOVE!"

"WHUFF!" Buffeted backwards, Vegeta slowed his head-over-heels tumbling just in time to see Aisuzu's blast envelop Gokou. For an instant there was nothing but light; then, as it faded, Vegeta could see a form falling limp towards the ground below. He stared after it, mouth open, struggling to understand. He... was hurt worse.... and yet he pushes ME... out of the way...? What kind of Saiyajin ARE you Kakarott?!?!

The kind of Saiyajin who values his own life only when it serves to protect another, some part of his mind replied. Have you forgotten so quickly? You could've let him die back there in the Past Time and been the strongest, without question, forever. But the thought of there being no Kakarott was intolerable, and you know why. This is no fool. This is no rival, no enemy, no one to be shamed or subjugated. This is your friend.

With a scream of red rage Vegeta turned and fired, everything he had, burst after burst of energy filling the air around Aisuzu, hammering her till she had to back away to shield herself from his frenzy. Near exhaustion, he let himself plummet after Gokou, struggling to marshal enough ki to control his downward journey. One hand stabbed down, straining, then closing on Gokou's ankle and slowing their fall.

Not by much; they still made a fairly impressive crack in the earth from their impact. But it was enough. Gritting his teeth, Vegeta hauled the other man up and dragged them both back into the concealment of some rocks. "If you're dead, you waste of air," he snarled in a low tone, "I will personally drag you by your tail all the way down Snake Way to Kaiou's and back.."

"Ee... tail threats... itai..." Gokou laughed, then coughed, trying to get a full breath; his ribs hurt abominably, and he was sure at least one was broken, probably more. "Sankyuu, Vegeta."

"Don't thank me yet. I may've just saved you for her to tear apart." Vegeta risked a glance out from concealment. "What the hell is she doing. She's just drifting there."

"What else." Gokou closed his eye. "Can't you feel it? She's done playing with us. She's transforming."

"N...Nanda," Vegeta gasped, then looked skyward again, feeling the ki rising. "Iie...maasaka.. .she can't get more powerful-- she can't--"

"Quick," Gokou said, pulling at him. "Aisuzu's gonna be busy doing that, and her own ki will mask ours."

"What are you suggesting, a Fusion? Uso yo! Forget it!"

"I wasn't even think of that. I'm too weak, you'd never get your power down to match mine fast enough. Demo.. there is one other thing we can try."

"I'm open to suggestions."

Gokou moved further behind the rocks, then put his hands towards the sky. "From the mountains.. from the forests.. ocean and wind and all living things ... minna, lend me your strength..."

"Are you out of your mind?!" Vegeta demanded. "The Genki Dama will take far too long to gather! What do you expect me to do, play pattycake with Aisuzu while you stand there showing off your armpits?!"

"Just keep an eye on her," murmured Gokou, eyes shut. "This won't take that long. Honto."

"I knew eventually even your tiny intellect would snap under the pressure," muttered Vegeta, but he moved to watch as Aisuzu's body glowed and changed, growing larger and more bestial, hands taloned, jaw extending like Furiiza's third form till it was a gaping, savage maw that could tear off an arm whole, and--the final touch-- two great wings like a bat's ripping up from her back and spreading to catch the waning sunlight. With a grimace he looked away. "They just keep getting uglier. Kakarott, I hope you know--" he stopped, speechless.

Gokou was looking up into the heart of a globe of energy, blue-white but too small to do Aisuzu any real harm. "Onegai, Chikyuu-okaasama," he said, "please let me do this, just this once. You're the only one I can lean on now. It's gotta work. If he can do it, I can do it. If you love me like I love you, help me now."

Then he flared to Super Saiyajin and dove up, into the heart of the energy.

"KAKAROTT, NO!" Vegeta took a step forward. The Genki Dama could only be summoned and used by a calm heart; the state of being a Super Saiyajin was one of pure rage; Gokou'd explained that long ago to them all, and yet, now, here, he was deliberately letting the Genki Dama envelop him. It would tear him apart, turning back on him like a badly forged sword. It was suicide. Already the power was flaring out, lashing him back against the rocks, so that he had to fling up an arm to hide his eyes from the light.

Above, Aisuzu finished her power-up, and as her power settled she could hear from below a scream, going on and on till it should've torn open the throat that made it. More than that, she could feel a power source, and she smiled "Where there's one little monkey, there might be two," she growled. "Now I'll dance on your bones till I break each one of them slowly, little 'King' Vegeta." She arced that way lazily, then twisted aside as a bolt of lightning arced down from the sky to strike at the source of the disturbance she felt. "What the hell are those monkeys up to?"

Another followed, and another, and above Aisuzu could see the clouds swirling and slamming into one another, circling like the heart of a maelstrom. Then the shock waves began, racing over the land and shattering everything before them, reaching up to set her struggling to stay aloft. Abandoning the struggle, she dropped lower, wanting to see what the Saiyajin annoyances were trying to pull--as if it made any real difference to her; she would just have to spend longer in taking them down.

Below, Vegeta was crouching on his knees, every effort of will bent to staying in one place despite the earth's shaking. Squinting over his arm, he could just make out that the light was fading, and in the core of it a figure... but... changed, somehow. As the light continued to ebb, his jaw dropped in stark disbelief.



Hair a wild long gold mane near to the backs of his knees, his features more pronounced, almost animalistic, and crackles of energy lancing out from his aura in all directions. Beneath his hovering feet the ground was blasted to smooth glass for yards around. Slowly, as if in a dream, he raised a hand, made a fist, then smiled-- a smile as sharp as a razor, a look of triumph. "Yatta," he said, and even his voice was different-- lower, a touch rougher, full of a merciless Saiyajin joy.

Then his eyes turned to Vegeta, and for a moment the other warrior stood frozen by that glance. It was like looking into the heart of the sun as you fall into it. "What... what have you done, Kakarott..." he whispered, forgetting to be snide or casually insolent.

"What the other Gokou can do," Gokou answered, setting down and walking towards Vegeta. "He thinks of this as Super Saiyajin Three... but for us, I think we should call it Ultra Saiyajin." His gaze flickered over Vegeta's shoulder, and Vegeta turned to see Aisuzu watching, her expression also one of stark disbelief. "Ne, Vegeta, sumimaisen. Forgive me, but I don't got time be nice about this."

His hand clamped down on Vegeta's shoulder, and Vegeta screamed.

* * *

"Papa!!" two voices chorused in answer to the distant cry of torment. Trunks was so distracted that he almost didn't bring his sword up in time to fend off Daiku's attack.

Bra repositioned herself against her brother's back, parrying a slash from Suratto. "What's happened to him?" she gasped. "Can you feel it? His power?"

Trunks could hardly spare the attention to check for his father's ki, but in a moment he didn't need to. The sense of it washed over him--crashed over him, like a storm surge driven before a hurricane. He gasped. "Papa...!"

* * *

With a lazy stroke of her powerful wings, Aisuzu drove herself faster towards her prey. She ignored the brushing waves of power that battered her like a cross-current, gritting her elongated teeth. This trick might have scared my foolish little brothers, but it won't make me skitter off like a lizard with its tail on fire. I am Korudo Aisuzu, sole survivor of the royal family and rightful ruler of this galaxy, and I shall not be denied.

She came up suddenly short, backstroking with her wings to halt her progress, when she got a closer look at the changes in her opponents.

Through the pulsating gold-white auras surrounding them both, she saw that both Saiyajin's hair was now down to half the length of their legs. Two pairs of glowing green eyes fixed on her, glittering beneath prominent brow ridges. Their bodies were bulkier, and the power fairly sang from every pore in both their bodies.

Aisuzu smiled. "So you have a transformation too," she hissed sweetly. "Pity it won't do you any good."

Vegeta barely heard her. Any resentment he felt towards his longtime low-born rival was washed out with the sense of his own magnified power. Ultra Saiyajin, he marveled.

And Kakarott's voice answered in his mind, almost as close as in Fusion: Hai, Vegeta ouji-sama. Now, at last, we are equal.

There was no time for strategies to be talked or thought out, even at the elevated levels of their senses, their rapport. There was no need for it, either. Vegeta could feel the racing of Kakarott's thoughts, the mind that worked so well only during battle, that at other times seemed so slow and feeble. He didn't hear or sense what Kakarott wanted the two of them to do--he knew it at the instant of the other's knowing. Who would have thought of it first, neither could have said. Yet both knew it was the truest course of action to take.

Vegeta smirked. And vanished.

Aisuzu gasped. "Nani--?"

Gokou smiled almost gently at her. He shifted his body in the air and cupped his hands beside him. "Ka...me..."

Aisuzu braced herself.


Aisuzu sneered. I can take whatever you have to offer me, dirtling. My family massacred your race; you were missed in the cleansing by an accident only. An accident I will soon rectify. Take your best shot; however powerful, it will be avoided. And then you will die.

And Vegeta reappeared behind her, hands out in front of him, palms flat and extended.

She sensed his reappearance, as if from nowhere, and froze. Only for a moment. Just long enough.

"--HAAAAA!!!!!!!" Gokou shouted, and the power in his hands exploded at her just as Vegeta shouted behind her, "BIG BANG ATTACK!!!!"

Caught in the crossfire, Aisuzu shrieked, pinned and helpless as the energies tore away her armor, her skin, her flesh and muscle and bone.

Gokou and Vegeta roared with fury as the power both wielded drove Aisuzu upward, helpless and battered, up into the stratosphere, and beyond.

* * *

"Kaa-san! Abunai yo!!" Marron cried out as Hora approached Juuhachi-gou from behind.

The Jinzouningen tossed a careless bolt over her left shoulder and instantly blasted Hora to nothingness. Marron gasped; Juuhachi-gou smiled over her shoulder at the daughter of her alternate self. "I knew she was coming a mile away," she said quietly, "but thank you." A motion caught her eye, and she looked upward. She blinked. "Mm...looks like the woman with the weight problem is about to sing."

"Nn?" Marron looked up and saw the blast driving Aisuzu up out of visual range. She tensed and flew straight upwards on a burst of incredible speed.

"Marron-chan!" Juuhachi-gou started after her, but was cut off by a slim, dark figure in powered armor, now much the worse for wear. "Oh, no you don't, pretty," Byatcha snarled. "We have some unfinished business, you and I."

Juuhachi-gou's pale eyes narrowed. "Not for long."

* * *

Impossible. Unbelievable.

The cold emptiness of space cradled Aisuzu's torn and ravaged body, cooling her skin, freezing her wounds shut. She made no sound, drew no breath; but her heart beat, her brain functioned. Her blood became thick, moving slowly, but did not freeze as her internal system stabilized.

It might take her months to regenerate, or years, but she would recover. She would enter dormancy to conserve energy while her injuries knit, while the missing bits of her regrew themselves. At the proper time, she would awaken.

And then they would pay. All of them. The whole damned planet full of them.


The voice spoke in her mind; no sound carried in space. She forced her remaining eye open and focused dimly on a slim shape with wild pale-gold hair that hovered barely an arm's length away--that is, if Aisuzu had still had arms. Dare ka...? she wondered.

Aisuzu-sama. The voice in her head had a girlish lilt, the tone and taste of a child, the kind of child she would have enjoyed tormenting, given the opportunity. You killed my parents and made me watch. Then you let me live so I could remember, and hurt, until you chose to put it to an end.

Aisuzu struggled to right herself, but she didn't have limbs anymore, and she couldn't move. She could only stare as the figure came into focus--a slim, human-looking girl, yellow hair, wide blue eyes, face still and expressionless as blank metal. Such a familiar story...I can't remember who your parents were, child. I left too many orphans on too many planets, cursing my back and promising vengeance through their screams and tears. How ironic that I can't remember the murders I'm to die for.

The girl smiled, a sweet thing of sunlight and youth. You shouldn't have let me live.

She raised her hands, which glowed blue-white, and the energy blast swallowed Aisuzu whole.

* * *

Piccolo dropped Dammu's corpse to the battle-torn ground, her remains joining those of her comrades. "They named you right, anyway. Damn."

Gohan appeared at the Namekseijin's side. "Are you all right, Piccolo-san?"

"Yeah, kid, right as a legal turn at a stop light. Hmm..." His fathomless eyes tracked upwards. "Wonder where tin girl's going in such a hurry?" he wondered aloud, casually interested.

"Ah...?" Gohan looked. "Juuhachi-gou!"

Juuhachi-gou's eyes searched the heavens as she ascended. Of course she had no need to breathe, so the dwindling atmosphere was no hindrance to her. In fact, her speed increased as the air grew thinner, causing less resistance.

A small, limp figure was falling out of the upper atmosphere; Juuhachi-gou instantly altered her course to intercept its descent. She reached out, and Marron landed neatly in her arms.

Juuhachi-gou drifted downwards, cradling the girl to her chest as if she were a baby. She heard Trunks calling her faintly from below, felt the eyes of others on her, and paid no attention. "Marron-chan!" she whispered; then, even more softly: "Musume-chan..."

The rounded eyes fluttered open. Not her eyes; undoubtedly her father's, but the face they looked out of was a mirror of Juuhachi-gou's own. "Kaa-san," she rasped shakily, trying to smile. "Yat...ta...I did it...I avenged you...you and Tou-san both."

Juuhachi-gou kissed the girl's cold white forehead. "That you did, little chestnut."

A soft, weak giggle. "You...haven't called me that...since I was little..."

The Jinzouningen drifted down past Gokou and Vegeta as the pair powered down without so much as pausing to wave at them. The last two born on Vegetasei hovered in the air, facing one another, breathing hard, trembling with fatigue.

"Chiku...sho," Vegeta breathed. "Kakarott...that was..."

"Ultra...Saiyajin," Gokou murmured, with a small smile. "Gomen, Vegeta, I think I'm gonna...take a little...na..."

"Bakayarou!!" Vegeta almost fell out of the air himself in the sudden motion he made to catch Gokou. "Idiot," he grumbled as he began drifting groundward, "by all rights I should let you drop and break your fool neck--except I have to wait for you to wake up and get back into shape so I can properly kick your ass."


Ossu! Ore Gokou! Next time on Dragon Ball Super Z, it's time for a celebration, Saiyajin style! And that means the return of the Tenkaichi Budokai! But, hey, wait, who're these guys? They're so powerful! --Oi, I think that one's gotta crush on Bulma! And I get a BIG surprise (and nearly get a haircut!) --KIENZAN?!? Be here for "Dead Man's Party", the next chapter in the Future World cycle! Bai bai, minna!