Dragon Ball Super Z Episode 6: "Dead Man's Party"

Dragon Ball Super Z
Episode Six
Dead Man's Party
Juuhachi-gou and Mirai Bulma

Act One
"Don't Run Away"

All dressed up with nowhere to go
Walkin' with a dead man over my shoulder
Waiting for an invitation to arrive
Goin' to a party where no one's still alive

* * *

The shadows lengthened in the April sun. The landscape for miles around was stark and forbidding, with only scant vegetation and no human habitation visible from one horizon's edge to the other. Even the larger saurians were absent from the area; there wasn't enough food for either the slow, ponderous herbivores or the fast-moving, dangerous predators. Nothing larger than a sand lizard called this place home. Today in particular, the noise and commotion from high up in the sky had kept the small creatures cowering in their underground burrows. It might have been a storm, but the sky was clear and cloudless. Another kind of tempest raged, one without rain or wind, with sound and fury far more forbidding than the worst lightning or thunder.

High above the featureless plains hovered two figures, human-looking, but not of this world; both had been born on a distant, long-dead planet, many light-years away from Earth. Black hair and black eyes were the only common features between them, besides the brown-furred tails each kept wrapped securely around their waists. One was taller, broad-shouldered, with hair that spiked out in a dozen different directions. The other was much smaller, hardly larger than a half-grown child, with fire-at-midnight hair that grew up and back like a bristling helm above a face set in a perpetual scowl of fury.

The pair faced each other, unmoving for the moment, both breathing heavily, each taking stock of their own remaining energies while at the same time trying to gauge how much fight was in the other. Neither was completely fresh, but nor were they anywhere near the end of their respective resources. Nor did either seek a swift end to the confrontation. It was just beginning to get interesting.


Without any warning, Vegeta charged Gokou, who attempted to slip out of the way. He made it, but his tail didn't; he unlimbered it in order to keep his orientation in the air as he moved. In a flash Vegeta seized hold of the appendage in a savage, merciless grip. Gokou yelled in a most satisfactory manner: "ITAAAAAAII!!!!"

"When will you learn to guard your tail, Kakarott?" Vegeta grinned fiercely, squeezing enough to make Gokou grimace in pain. "Pity you're not an Elite, like I am. And even so I know when to keep my tail wrapped up out of temptation's grasp. No wonder you let them relieve you of it; it's more a liability to you than an asset."

For Gokou, the pain was comparable to being kicked in the groin. Actually, being kicked in the kintama was almost preferable--at least that was over fairly quickly unless your opponent kept stomping on you. But the tail...once someone had hold of that, the pain went on and on, sapping his strength, until they chose to release him.

Gritting his teeth, he swung upwards at Vegeta's arm, hoping to dislodge his iron grip. Vegeta simply laughed and avoided the clumsy blow, delivering another torturous squeeze that made Gokou yelp like a kicked puppy. "Come on, Kakarott," he taunted, "surely the mightiest warrior ever born a low-blood Saiyajin can do better than that!"

Another squeeze, and Gokou's arms doubled up to his chest and he howled. Vegeta chuckled. He was enjoying this just a little too much, he knew. Kakarott didn't have many exploitable weaknesses, and every once in a while it was helpful to remind him who was really at the top of the food chain. Even if this lowborn rabble had managed to achieve Super Saiyajin first, he still had a better, and Vegeta was it.

A simple miscalculation, he told himself sternly, watching Gokou writhe and wondering what attack he would try next. I should have been the first to achieve that level of power, not him. Kakarott's an upstart, just like his father was. A little humility will do him good.

Part of him knew better, of course. There were few creatures in the galaxy less proud than Son Gokou--he was about as humble as any warrior could be. Still, Vegeta reminded himself, the man did need to learn to guard that overly sensitive tail of his. If Vegeta could snag it in the midst of a spar, an enemy could just as easily catch hold of it during a real fight. True, not many adversaries would know of Kakarott's particular weakness, but still--


Vegeta blinked. "Wha--?"

"--HAAAAA!" Suddenly Gokou's hands were thrust up into Vegeta's face, and the world turned a brilliant blue-white. It was a weak blast, nowhere near full power, but it took Vegeta completely off-guard. Not only did he lose his hold on Gokou's tail, but the force of the blast drove him high into the air, then curved lazily as he still rode its crest, slamming him into the ground face-first. A tiny grass lizard who'd ventured out after a bug or two scampered clear as he struck, chittering and squawking back to its hole as the dust cloud rose and settled.

Gokou hung in midair, gasping, as he gingerly tucked his bruised and throbbing tail under his sash. Vegeta was right, of course, about him keeping it under control--De mo, does he have to enjoy making me yell so much?!

Vegeta pulled his head out of the ground with a snarl. "Very good, Kakarott," he hissed through clenched teeth, shaking clods of red dirt from his spiky hair. "Now let's see how fast you really are!" He kicked off the ground and launched himself like a bullet into the air, streaking right for Gokou, readying a foreblast in both his hands--


"Okay, TIME OUT!!"


Vegeta stopped so suddenly in his charge that he nearly whiplashed himself. Slowly he turned and looked for the source of the amplified voice, which had come from about a hundred meters away on the ground below.

Gokou muttered, "Ut-oh...I think we're in trouble, Vegeta."

Vegeta snorted. "What do you want, woman?" he sneered.

Bulma stood with her fists planted on her lush hips, scowling up at him. In one hand she was holding a bright yellow bullhorn. Beside her stood ChiChi, arms folded, looking every bit as cross.

Bulma raised the bullhorn again. *shk* "Do you two have ANY idea what TIME it is?" *shk*

Gokou and Vegeta looked at each other, then back at the smoldering pair below.

"Aaa..." Gokou finally ventured. "Did we miss breakfast?"

ChiChi took the bullhorn from Bulma and spoke through it. *shk* "AND lunch. And dinner's getting COLD. It would serve you right if I never fed you again, Son Gokou!" *shk* Finished, she handed the horn back to Bulma and folded her arms.

Gokou gave a wail of despair more heartfelt than any of his earlier cries of pain. "Gomen, ChiChi!!!!" He dropped out of the sky immediately, landing beside his wife with a look that was one part heartfelt apology and three parts desperate supplication. He wrapped an arm around her stiff shoulders. "Don't say things like that! You're the best cook in the world! In the universe, ChiChi! I couldn't live without your cooking! I'll come home right away, okay? And--" Desperately he fished for some way of appeasing his seething mate. "And I'll stay home all day tomorrow! I won't spar once! I'll weed the garden and mow the grass and I'll--I'll even read a book! I promise! Yakusoku na!!! Pleasepleaseplease??"

ChiChi softened a bit. "Well. All right. But before we eat you have to take a bath!"

"Oh, hai! Hai! We go home right now, okay?" Hurriedly he whistled for the Kintouen; with ChiChi still in his arms, he hopped aboard and the floating golden cloud quickly whisked them both off towards home.

Vegeta watched the scene play out with unabashed scorn on his face. "Amazing how any Saiyajin can be so controlled by five percent of his anatomy," he muttered, smirking as he drifted down to the ground.

Bulma watched his descent with a steel-eyed glare; the moment he touched down, she turned on her heel and started stalking back towards her aircar.

He met her there, blocking her path.

"Out of my way," she snapped.

He folded his arms and returned her steady glare. He didn't budge.

"Hmph!" Bulma turned and stalked around him to the other side of the car, clambering in from the passenger's side. She tossed the bullhorn into the back of the cab and started the engine with a violent twist of the key. With a measured hum, the car rose up off the ground. She slammed the throttle forward and felt the jerk of momentum as the gravity nullifiers kicked in. The roar of the engine filled her ears and she hunched down savagely over the wheel, eyes fixed on the road.

It took her at least half a minute to realize that the landscape around her wasn't moving, and an additional eight and a half seconds to come to the conclusion that since her surroundings were static, that meant she wasn't going anywhere either.

"Damndamndamn!!!" she growled, and pulled the throttle back. The car tilted slightly upwards, but still wouldn't move forward so much as a millimeter. Reverse had no effect, either. "You stupid car, what's wrong with you?"

She determined she was a little less than two meters off the ground; she cut the hover mode and expected a sharp jolt as the vehicle dropped--a jolt that never came. The car sat, dead still and deactivated, suspended inexplicably in the air.

Slowly Bulma took her hands off the wheel and leaned out the driver-side window. There was the ground, a short jump below her, and the shadow cast by the suspended car...and another, smaller, maddeningly familiar shadow drawn out long below.

Bulma had to lean halfway out of the aircar to peek underneath it. Upside-down to her perspective, Vegeta smirked at her, still holding the car up in place with one hand.

"Bastard!" Bulma opened the door and jumped to the ground, stomping away without bothering to look back. "Fine, if you want the car so bad, I'll walk home."

She heard a thunderous crash behind as Vegeta tossed the abandoned aircar aside and it exploded in a burst of dull orange light. She didn't slow down or even glance back. The next moment strong arms wrapped around her waist, and her feet left the ground, which dropped away at a heart-stopping rate.

"Put--me--DOWN!!!" Bulma roared, kicking and flailing and hammering at the iron bars of Vegeta's forearms with tight, tiny, useless fists.

"If you insist," he murmured against her ear.

And let go.

"NONONONONOOOO!!" she screamed, clawing uselessly at the air as she fell. She didn't know how far up she was, her mind wasn't working clearly enough to gauge distance, but the smoke-belching ruin of the aircar looked like a child's toy below and she knew with terrible certainty that, when she hit, she wasn't going to leave a good-looking corpse.

Arms around her waist again, bearing her up, and she found herself able to breathe once more. "Make up your mind," Vegeta chuckled.

"Beast!!" Bulma pounded at his forearms as hard as she could, only managing to bruise her hands in the process. "First you leave me alone all day so you can come out here in the middle of nowhere and play tag with Son-kun, then you wreck my favorite car, and now you're tormenting me shamelessly..." She couldn't decide whether she was closer to laughter or to tears.

The wind rushed past them at furious speed. Vegeta laughed again, a low throaty rumble that made Bulma's chest flutter, and he rubbed his cheek against hers with a gentle roughness. "Oh, I haven't begun tormenting you," he promised silkenly, "yet."

Bulma's diminishing squeals of protest were carried away on the evening breeze.

* * *

"Come on, Trunks-kun!" Goten was dancing from one foot to the other, looking at his best friend entreatingly.

"No." Trunks' scowl would have done his father proud. He refused even to glance at Goten, but continued to obstinately sharpen his already razor-edged sword. "En-oh, that means no, that means hell no way no how, not ever."

Goten whined, "But, Trunks-kun...! It's fun, hontou! And you won't believe how powerful--"

Trunks dropped the whetstone and stood to face Goten. The late afternoon breeze stirred pale lavender strands across his intense blue eyes. "Goten," he said, in a voice that purred good sense and reason. "I appreciate what you're saying, but I simply don't care for the idea. It's nothing against you, or against the idea, but I just don't see any point in discussing this further." He tossed his sword carelessly up in the air. The blade spun once, flashing in the dying sunlight, and Trunks leaned slightly to one side without the slightest glance upward as it fell point-downward into the sheath across his back with a shrinng! of finality. He straightened up at once and brushed his bangs out of his eyes with an absent swipe of one hand. "Now, why don't we go inside and get cleaned up for dinner? I'm sure Papa and Mom will be home soon."

"Will you at least think about it, Trunks-kun? Just a little?"

Goten's eyes were as wide and pleading as a hungry puppy's. Trunks laughed softly and clapped Goten on the shoulder. "Okay, all right, I'll think about it. I don't promise that I'll change my mind, though. I really don't think I'd be any fonder of 'Fusion' than Papa is. Come on, let's go."

* * *

The small hill behind Capsule Corporation was quiet, as always. A cluster of headstones dotted its grassy crest, each bearing a name that was all too familiar to this evening's visitor. The red light of the setting sun glinted off cornsilk-pale hair as the young woman knelt before a freshly-dug depression in the ground, set a bit apart from the other graves.

Small, slender hands laid a tattered, faded denim vest with a hole burned through the back in the shallow excavation alongside a stretched and torn T-shirt that might once have been red.

The girl sat back on her heels and drew a small, silvery knife. Two flashes, and twin swatches of soft blonde hair fell into the ersatz grave.

"It's all I have left of you to bury," Marron whispered. "Kaa-san...Tou-san...I hope your souls can rest easy now, wherever you are. Aisuzu is dead, in our world and in this one...and Goten and Bra-chan and I are all still alive." She swiped the back of her dirty hand across her face to brush away hot tears. "They're good to us here, you know...as good as they know how to be, and Bra-chan and Goten are so happy." She tried to smile bravely. "I hope someday I can be happy here as well."

She carefully covered the hole over and laid a wreath of woven spring buds on top of the pile of earth. She stood, dusting her hands off on her jeans and straightening the blue tank top she wore. She stood a moment longer before the small mound, her hands clasped before her, her eyes shut tight. When she felt herself finally under some kind of control, she lowered her hands, opened her eyes, took a deep breath and turned around.

And froze.

Juuhachi-gou stood at the edge of the treeline, just outside the small clearing. "I hope you can be happy here, too," she said quietly. "Please forgive me; I didn't mean to intrude."

"It's--it's okay," Marron said softly. "I was just..." She faltered, uncertain of how to explain.

But Juu nodded. "I know. I can only imagine how hard this is for you." She stepped forward into the small clearing. Her long pale hair, the exact color of Marron's own, stirred in the freshening breeze. "It's very hard to lose someone you love and have nothing left of them at all. And you, and Goten and Bra, have lost more than most people can imagine."

"We'll be all right," Marron said, tossing her head so that the two pigtails mounted high on her head, now cropped to the level of her chin, danced on either side of her face. "We're survivors."

"Yes, you are." Juuhachi-gou smiled. "That's why you're here. So many times you could have just given up, let go--but you didn't. Not ever."

"My tou-san taught me that," Marron said, with a slight defiant lift of her pointed chin. "He wasn't the strongest fighter, or the toughest, but he was the bravest man I ever met. Besides Gokou-san, I mean; he's just as brave."

"You're right." Juu looked off towards the horizon. The sun's fiery disk was just slipping below the horizon, and a quick flash of green lit the sky as it disappeared--there and gone in an eyeblink, leaving behind a riot of purple and rose and deep blue in its wake. "Kuririn--this world's Kuririn--knew he didn't stand a chance against Juunana-gou and me. If he'd run away, we would have let him go, wouldn't have bothered with him, but he didn't run. He faced us knowing he was going to die." She looked so sad. "I wish I could have stopped it. Changed it. Saved him, gotten to know him. I think I really would have liked him if I had."

"You loved him," Marron answered quietly. "At least my kaa-san loved him. More than anything."

Juu nodded again. "I was another person then. Not even a person; just a killing machine set loose on a helpless world. Both of us were. We had no goals or hopes or dreams or desires; we were doing what we had been programmed to do, nothing more."

"What happened to him?" Marron asked suddenly.

Juuhachi-gou looked at her, puzzled. "Kuririn? I told you, we--"

"Not tou--not Kuririn-san. Juunana-oji-san."

"Juunana-gou..." Juuhachi-gou looked down.

"Yes. You're alive, and I know he must be somewhere, too."

Juu shook her head, not raising her eyes. "He came back just as I did...but he was still evil and didn't want to change. He wanted to make me become what he was, what I'd once been, and there was no turning him aside from it."

"Did you kill him?" Not an accusation, merely a question put boldly forward.

An honest question, deserving an honest answer. "No; but I probably would have had to--if Vegeta hadn't beaten me to it." She looked at the daughter of her other self, a look of mingled grief and shame. "I wish there'd been another way, but he had the same chance I did to change, and he chose not to. If only--if only he'd listened, if only I'd been able to talk or shout or beat some sense into him."

"You miss him?"

"I do. I think I miss more who he was before we became what we did, even though I can't remember very well what our lives were like before Gero turned us into cyborgs. I think--I believe he wasn't a bad person, just bitter and misguided. And of course, Gero's programming didn't improve things much. I had the chance to fight it, and overcome it, finally. He never did."

"So you don't have any family left, either," Marron said quietly.

Juuhachi-gou managed a smile. One slim small hand reached out and brushed a few stray silken strands from Marron's high, pale brow. "I have you, and you have me. That's a good place to start."

Marron looked up at her, her heart in her eyes. The next moment she flung herself into Juuhachi-gou's arms. "Kaa-san..."

Juuhachi-gou folded her into a comforting embrace. "I'm here, musume," she murmured, kissing the top of Marron's head. "I won't ever leave you. I promise."

* * *

Videl woke from a deep sleep. With a new mother's instinct she knew that her daughter was crying. She yawned as she rose from the bed, snagging her dressing-gown in passing as she padded from the bedroom into the new, brightly-painted nursery.

As she reached the doorway, she saw that the soft pink-tinted light above the crib was already on. A tall, lean-muscled figure held a tiny squirming bundle, crooning softly.

"Gohan...?" Videl whispered. "It's my turn to feed the baby..."

Her husband turned around and gave her a sheepish grin. "Saa, you were so fast asleep I didn't want to wake you. Neither did she, ne, Pan-chan?" he asked, smiling down at the infant cradled so tenderly in arms that could crush mountains.

"I woke up anyway. Here, give her to me." She accepted Pan from her father's embrace and sat down in the rocking chair. "Shush, now, aka-chan, I know you're hungry. Kaa-san's here."

As she nursed the baby, rocking slowly back and forth in the chair, Gohan wandered over and knelt beside her, watching mother and child, his wife and daughter, with softly shining eyes.

"She looks like you," he ventured. "The same nose, the same eyes..."

"She has your eyes," Videl corrected him gently. "And she's going to have that wild careless hair you keep cropped so close."

Gohan chuckled and ran a hand through the short rumpled black bush atop his head. "We don't know for sure, maybe she'll have soft silky hair like her kaa-san."

"You didn't."

Gohan shrugged a little and touched one of the tiny hands. It immediately curled around his finger. "It doesn't matter, ne? She's ours. Part of you and part of me."

"She'll belong to no one but herself," Videl murmured, smiling. "She'll make her own way and live her own life. And she'll grow up in a world of peace and happiness."

Gohan noticed the distant sadness in her eyes. "She'll have everything we didn't," he assured her.

Videl nodded, her face still somber. "I wish Tou-san could have seen his grandchild. He'd be so proud of her."

"Saa, that reminds me--I was thinking maybe we should enter the Budokai, ne? Get back into fighting trim?"

"Go-han!" Videl scoffed, but she smiled a bit. "You couldn't get out of fighting trim if you tried. Me? No, I have to officiate the whole blasted thing, remember? After all, it's the first Tenkaichi Budokai in twenty years, and it's being held in my father's honor. I have to stand up in front of all those people and smile pretty for the camera." She shuddered a bit. "Besides, I've had my fill of fighting for one lifetime. I'm perfectly content to be a normal, ordinary, everyday housewife and mother who also happens to be a requisition specialist for New Hope City's reconstruction program."


"You can if you want to, though. I won't mind."

"Ano...I'm not sure I do want to, really. I never liked fighting much--I only learned how because Piccolo-san taught me, because he had to. There's a part of me that likes fighting--that loves it, really--but that part of me got plenty of fighting in the bad years. I'm enjoying being able to live in peace for a while."

"Hmm. Well, you'd better make your mind up fast. The tournament starts next week, remember."

"I know. Maybe I'll sleep on it, ne?"

"Good idea. Speaking of sleep, I think our little one's about ready to drift back to dreamland." Gently Videl laid Pan over one shoulder, burped her properly (Gohan chuckled at the tiny sound), and stood up to carry her back to her crib. Videl stood there a moment, watching her, and when Gohan appeared quietly beside her and slipped a solid arm around her shoulders, she leaned against him, and he rested his cheek atop her head.

"Children are the metal piece that hold the fan together," Gohan whispered. "My kaa-san always says that. Without them, a marriage isn't really complete."

"I know some people who would argue with that," Videl answered just as softly. "But not in this room, ne?"


* * *

The sky hung low, iron grey, over a mountain range far to the north of New Hope City. The jagged black peaks jutted brokenly above the horizon like the teeth of an ancient, long-dead gargantuan, tearing hungrily into the forbidding sky.

A cave was crudely scooped out of one cliffside, the entrance all but blocked up by fallen boulders and settling debris. Deep within, far from any daylight, lay the shattered remains of what had once been the laboratory of a madman.

A picture of the long-dead Dr. Gero could easily have been put beside the entry for "mad scientist" in any dictionary. The lone survivor of the infamous Red Ribbon Army, he had become obsessed with the destruction of Son Gokou--the one responsible for foiling Red Ribbon's plans for world domination. To that end, he had constructed a series of jinzouningen--humanoid robots, killing machines. Some had been born human, others Gero had built from scratch and had been completely mechanical. Of the twenty known products of his labor, only one--Juuhachi-gou--was currently active. All the others--including Juuni-gou, Dr. Gero's last monstrous creation, which was actually Dr. Gero's own brain in a superpowerful android body--had been destroyed.

Or so everyone believed.

In a subterranean level below the main floor of the ruined lab, in a chamber that no one living even knew existed, a row of stasis capsules, each fully three meters long and a meter and a half in circumference, stood along the rough rock wall. All were empty--save one.

The sole functioning stasis chamber hummed quietly to its unresponsive occupant, as it had done for countless years. Juunana-gou and Juuhachi-gou had never known about this place, though they themselves had slept here in their turn, as had all of Gero's jinzouningen. Now only one remained, the one Gero considered his greatest failure, forgotten and left to sleep its undreaming sleep forever.

Fate had other plans.

Though no active volcanoes remained this far north, the mantle below still trembled sometimes with the restless movements of magma below the surface. Occasionally, a crack would appear in the soot-black rock and allow a trickle of the planet's molten lifeblood to ooze out, hissing as it touched the snow and cooled into volcanic glass. At other times, the pressure would build up and suddenly shift the structure of the surface, causing subsidences and random rockslides.

On this particular day, in mid-spring, Gero's abandoned lab shivered with tremors. A landslide covered the gaping hole, sealing the lab completely. In the lower, secret vault, an empty stasis chamber, its cover hanging open, rocked on its foundation, teetered for a moment, then crashed over into its neighbor. Like dominoes, the chambers fell, crashing loudly to the floor one after another, sending up thick clouds of smoky dust and causing sparks to shoot from the flint-hard floor into the blind darkness.

A siren began beeping blandly from the sole active chamber, accompanied by the flashing of a dull red light on its exterior console. The door cracked open with a hiss of expelled air, and a massive, hulking figure sat up.

Hesitant at first, the jinzouningen got its bearings quickly and stepped out of the fallen capsule, righting itself. Obviously the capsule had been nearly too small to accommodate it; on its feet, it stood nearly three meters high. It glanced around in the dusty gloom, but saw no other activity in the chamber.

It took less than a heartbeat for the programming to come online. Gero was nowhere to be found, but that meant nothing. Its purpose was already clear, had been clear from the first moment of its awareness.

Guided by vision that could see clearly even in total darkness, the massive shape headed for the accessway, climbing up into the laboratory proper. The sight of the total destruction gave it some pause, but not enough to deter it from its ultimate purpose. It paused only a moment over the decapitated, robotized form of its creator. Dr. Gero was dead, and any further orders or directives from him were now null and void.

It had only one purpose, one meaning for its existence, and it would see that purpose carried out. It was the least it could do for its


for its maker.

The heavy slide of boulders showered out from the cliffside, the heaviest of them no more than a momentary hindrance to the force that drove them. When the entryway was clear, the last jinzouningen took one leap from the ledge and launched into the air, flying off towards the south to seek out its predetermined target.

* * *

Act Two
"It's Only Me"

All dressed up with nowhere to go
Walkin' with a dead man
Waitin' for an invitation to arrive
Walking with a dead man
Walking with a dead man

* * *

The morning sun shone brightly on Papaya Island, where the walls of the newly-reconstructed battle stadium gleamed with fresh paint and lacquer. At the signup board, Videl stood in a red-and-white patterned kimono with a black obi--suitable for a young married woman. On her back, Pan slept in a gaily-patterned sling.

"Everyone choose your numbers!" she directed the assembled warriors. There were only sixteen slots this year--it was the first Budoukai in twenty years, after all, and they'd had to scrounge to find even that many warriors, even with the arrival of Goten-tachi--but the empty slots had filled up quickly enough.

"I wanna fight," Bra pouted, leaning against a gate-post, her arms folded.

"You're too young," Vegeta told her. "You can fight in the next one, three years from now."

"Three years is forever!" she protested, stamping her foot. "I'm almost thirteen now!"

Vegeta looked at his daughter. Though she'd only been part of his family for a handful of months, he had bonded with her almost at once, and he found it annoyingly hard to refuse her anything... not when eyes that held his will and Bulma's fire combined looked his way. Much like his first-born, so very much. The best of both their parents. He understood better these days why Kakarott looked at his children with such pride and happiness. Still, a warrior without discipline was nothing. He showed her his fiercest scowl, which made even Bra take a step back. "Stop whining," he ordered firmly. "Or I'll kick your butt right here and now and send you home with worse than a bruised ego."

Her tiny hands clenching into tight fists, Bra turned on her heel and stormed off, her pale blue topknot bouncing furiously with every step. Vegeta chuckled dryly to himself. Oh yes. When she is old enough to fight, her competitors won't stand a chance in Hell.

"Weren't you a little too hard on her, Papa?" Trunks asked, looking after his retreating sister.

Vegeta turned his black glare on his son. "She's still conscious, isn't she?"

Juuhachi-gou selected a number and turned away to allow Goten his turn at the number selection--and came up short as a pair of burning eyes met hers from behind a cold, gloss-white, expressionless mask.

"Excuse me," she said politely. The masked stranger did not respond. He stood perfectly still, absolutely unmoving, neither blocking her way nor moving out of it. If it hadn't been for those unnervingly intense eyes, she might have thought he was a statue.

She half-smiled, mildly embarrassed, and still received no response. She couldn't tell what emotion was behind that unrelenting stare, but whatever it was had to be incredibly strong. Hate or worship, anger or fear, it caused her artificial heart to skip in its beating. Trying not to seem too hurried, she stepped around the stranger, who only then moved, to watch her pass with his steady, unblinking eyes.

Something bumped into the masked stranger from behind, and he whirled around at once. His hand went up to clutch at the weapon slung across his back, but in mid-motion he froze.

"Sorry," Marron said, flashing him a bright smile. Her wide blue eyes sparkled in the early sunshine, and as she bounced past him, the short white-gold twin ponytails bobbed saucily atop her head like two silken tassels. He stood staring after her, unable to take his gaze from her, his eyes now focused with a very different sort of attention.

* * *

"It's nuh-not fuh-huh-hair!!!" Bra sobbed into her mother's shoulder, sounding every bit the child she refused to acknowledge herself to be. "I wanted to fight so bad! I'm just as good as Goten or Marron or anybody! I can't help it I'm only twelve!!"

"There, now, sweetie, don't cry." Bulma petted her daughter's hair. "Don't be in such a hurry to grow up too soon. There'll be plenty of other tournaments, I promise."

"Buh-but I wanted to fight today! Goten gets to, and Marron. It's not fair!!" Bra sat up and wiped at her eyes, sniffling furiously. "What's age got to do with it any--huh?" She blinked her wide blue eyes as a shiny red candy apple seemed to appear in front of her.

"Will this help?" a soothing young male voice asked. "I hate to see such a pretty girl crying."

"Excuse me," Bulma began, and looked up--

And gasped.

Before the seated pair stood a young man, surely no more than sixteen, his lean, sculpted fighter's form backlit by the morning sun. The light picked out blue lights in his glossy mane of black hair, the same color blue as his deep, friendly eyes.

"Thuh-thank you," Bra stammered, taking the apple shyly, her tears forgotten as a soft pink blush colored her cheeks.

"That's better," the youth said approvingly. "Oh, I brought one for your sister, too--" and he held a second candy apple out to Bulma.

"Oh, I'm--uhm..." Bulma coyly crossed her legs and fluffed out her shining hair. "Why, thank you!" she giggled, allowing her fingers to brush the young man's hand as she accepted the gift.

"That's my moth--" Bra began.

Bulma cut her off quickly. "Don't talk with your mouth full, little sister," she giggled, dredging up every memory she had of being sixteen and cranking up the cuteness factor as high as she could manage. God, he's beautiful! What a killer smile, and look at that body! Wrap him up, I'll take him home with me! "Thank you very much, Mister...?"

"No 'mister'. Just Chamuya." He took Bulma's hand, bowed over it, and graced her knuckles with a light, courtly kiss that made her giggle even more.

"I'm Bulma, and this is my little gi--sister, Bra."

Chamuya gave Bra the same gesture of gallantry, which made the girl blush even brighter, though she was smiling big, her lips tinted candy-apple red.

A gong sounded, and Chamuya glanced up. "Excuse me, ladies, but I have to go down to get my match assignment. I hope to see you both again later, though..."

"Sure!" Bra piped.

"Good luck," Bulma said, giving him a thumbs-up and a quick wink.

Chamuya grinned, winked back, and headed down the stadium steps two at a time.

"Oooooh," Bulma crooned, "what a hottie!"

"Daddy's gonna be mad," Bra warned from behind her apple.

"Oh, pooh! What your daddy doesn't know won't hurt him," Bulma said, waving her hand dismissively. "Besides, what's the good of being young again if you can't flirt a little bit? It's harmless."

Bra didn't reply, but she saw her father peering from around one of the bleachers, watching Chamuya head towards the locker rooms with a look that promised pure murder.

* * *

The opening match of the First Memorial Mr. Satan Tenkaichi Budoukai was probably the shortest meet in the history of the tournament.

On the podium above the ring, Videl checked the cards in her hand and looked around at the crowd. The small stadium was packed, but she was able to pick out her mother-in-law, and waved. Pan, sitting in ChiChi's lap, crowed and flailed her chubby arms in response.

Videl smiled and spoke into the microphone. "Welcome, everyone, to the Tenkaichi Budoukai! All our competitors have been briefed on the rules, which I'm about to summarize here. No weapons or foreign objects are allowed; neither are eye jabs or, ah, 'low blows'. A competitor loses the match by touching the ground outside the ring, by being pinned by the shoulders to the mat, by losing consciousness, or by submission. This is only a competition; any fighter that kills his or her opponent will be disqualified and banned from any future event for life.

"Enough with the preliminaries, let's get ready to rumble!" Videl threw her arms up as the crowd cheered in wild anticipation. Then she extended an arm to the main entrance, and the crowd immediately quieted.

The first competitor had obviously trained long and hard at his fighting ability; tanned and muscular, he ascended the stairs with the air of a born champion.

Videl checked the cheat-card one last time. "Introducing--Commando!"

Cheers rose from the crowd, and Commando nodded, his stony face set in a granite-hard sneer that approximated a smile. He raised his arms and flexed them, showing off bulging muscles, and several girls shrieked appreciatively. His oiled, perfect skin glistened in the sun.

"He will be facing..." Videl shuffled the cards to the next listing. "Piccolo!"

A few gasps from the crowd, but mostly curious murmurs. Commando smirked, obviously not recognizing the name.

A cloaked and turbaned figure emerged onto the field, approaching the ring with a casual but determined stride. He mounted the steps and approached his opponent, stopping a bare arm's reach away.

Commando's grin faded as he looked up into Piccolo's fathomless eyes, set in a sharp-planed green-skinned face. As the musclebound fighter stared, the Namekseijin's lips curled into a mocking smile, parting to show the barest tip of one gleaming white fang.

A hush fell over the assembled crowd. There was a breathless pause during which time seemed to stand perfectly still, waiting for something to happen.

Videl slowly raised her arm, opened her mouth, took in breath to announce the beginning of the match. "Ready...fi--"

She was cut off by a dull, resounding thud! from the ring as Commando keeled over and fainted dead away at Piccolo's feet.

Videl paused, blinking, then lowered her arm. She watched Piccolo nudge his opponent experimentally in the ribs with one foot, turning him onto his back. Commando was out cold, his handsome face frozen in a mask of pure terror.

"Um..." Videl spoke hesitantly into the microphone. "The...first match goes to Piccolo...by...pass-out."

The audience erupted into laughter and jeers for the fallen Commando. Piccolo shook his head, eyes narrowed to slits. "Flattering," he muttered, "but pathetic." With a toss of his cape, he turned on his heel and stalked out of the ring. Commando was carried off by the medical staff to recover his senses and the last shreds of his dignity in private.

* * *

"Our second match: Marron versus--" Videl squinted at the card--"Kamen!"

A chorus of cheers and whistles accompanied Marron to the ring, mostly from young men who appreciated the beauty of the Budoukai's first female competitor. Her spirits buoyed by the attention, she waved at the assemblage as she mounted the steps. She stopped in her tracks when she saw her opponent--the tall, masked stranger she'd bumped into earlier.

"Hi," she said, nodding. "Fancy meeting you here."

No response. The stranger--Kamen--simply bowed stiffly, then straightened into a preliminary stance.

"Not much of a conversationalist, huh?" Marron responded in kind. "That suits me just fine."

"Ready..." Videl dropped her arm sharply. "Fight!"

Marron warily circled the white-clad figure, wishing he wasn't wearing that damned mask--it was almost impossible to read him behind it. When he darted at her, she made it out of the way barely in time, dancing to one side and swinging a countering kick at his legs. He jumped over them, turning a careful backflip and landing just out of reach. He's good, whoever he is, she mused, balancing on the balls of her feet.

Good, indeed, he was--but only human, for all that. If nothing else, she could outlast him, but as the match progressed, he showed no sign of tiring, countering her experimental punches and kicks, blocking her at every turn. To be fair, Marron was equally successful in avoiding being hit, but things weren't progressing fast enough to suit her.

Time to crank the volume--She launched herself into the air, leaping over Kamen. He paused to watch her, and before he could turn, she landed behind him and delivered a solid kick to the small of his back. He shot forward, knocked squarely off his feet, and fell off the edge of the ring. The crowd gasped, and several cheered--

Black-gloved hands clamped onto the edge of the mat, and Kamen swung himself back up into the ring. The cheers stopped, and surprised murmurs rose from the bleachers.

"No ground contact," Videl confirmed. "The match continues!"

The unreadable eyes focused on Marron. "You're good," their owner muttered, not without appreciation.

"So you can talk." She matched his steps, circling him as he circled her.

"When I choose. I prefer to speak with action, however." As he said this, his fist flashed out and connected sharply with Marron's chin. An ordinary girl's jaw might have been broken, but Marron was anything but ordinary. Even so, the blow snapped her head sharply around. When she looked back at him, a thin trail of blood trickled from the corner of her mouth.

She smiled sweetly at him. "Now you're talking my language."

Kamen hesitated, startled by the scarlet stain on the rosebud lips. "I--I'm so sorr--" He broke off as the girl before him...vanished.

In the next instant, he felt his feet leave the ground, and he was rushing upward, towards the sky. He felt two small hands fisted into the back of his gi, and twist though he might, he couldn't pull free.

"Happy landings," Marron told him joyfully, and hurled him earthward from about five meters up. He struck the ground with a solid thunk that made the whole ring shake and knocked the breath soundly from his lungs. For a moment he hovered in a gray daze, wondering whether he should just give up and pass out, when his opponent swooped down on him from above and, with a well-placed punch to the jaw, made the decision for him.

"Marron--the winner by knockout!"

"Marron--yattaaaaaaa~!" Bra cheered from the bleachers, her misery forgotten. Marron waved back at her friend before descending the ring steps. She cast one look over her shoulder, wondering briefly if Kamen was as cute behind that mask as he sounded.

* * *

The morning passed quickly, with each match beginning only minutes after the preceding bout. The majority of the newcomers fell quickly--Juuhachi-gou's first opponent, a Chinese-style fighter calling herself Sham-Lee, proved to be completely ineffective without her weaponry and went down in less than a minute. Trunks and Goten, to the latter's great joy, faced each other, and Goten didn't even mind losing to his best friend. Gohan's opponent, Fanny Savois, nearly overcame the girl-shy Saiyajin with her bouncy body and brief costume, but with Videl shouting encouragement from the podium, he managed to prevail. A disco-themed fighter, Buster Moves, faced another newcomer--a small-statured youth with a wild bush of hair and a cocky laugh named Rinriku. Though Buster had three heads' height and half again his weight on his opponent, the quick-footed Rinriku managed to cut the taller fighter down to size.

At last Vegeta's turn came. There was only one opponent he was truly interested in, but he felt sure that he would face his one true rival eventually. It was inevitable that he and Gokou should meet, and that he, Vegeta, would finally vanquish the upstart lowborn for all the world to see, finally proving who was truly the mightiest survivor of Vegetasei.

But first he would have to fight at least one other. Not that it would be a problem; he knew he was the match and more of any warrior except, perhaps, Kakarott himself. A warm-up could only benefit him in the one match to which he aspired.

But when he saw the face of his opponent, he chuckled wickedly to himself. So, it's the one who dared to speak to Bulma. Let's see how a little rearrangement affects his pretty face.

"Good luck, Chamuya!" Bulma called.

"Huh?" Bra blinked at her. "Mom, you're rooting for the wrong guy!"

"Oh, not really, honey..." Bulma sighed. "I'm just sympathetic. Vegeta's going to clean the place up with him."


At first, Chamuya thought he was doing pretty well. He allowed his thoughts to drift back to the pair of pretty ladies he'd met up in the stands. They're both cute, but I'm pretty sure the little one's a tad too young, even for me--fourteen'll get you twenty, like the Master says. Her older sister, now...she has definite possibilities. If I were the spiritual type like Rin is, I'd think she was my girlfriend in another life or something. As it is, I'd really like to get to know her better in this one.

Gokou watched the bout with interest. Ano, Vegeta's holding back a lot. He's letting that guy think he's gonna win. I feel kind of sorry for him...

"He's good," a voice said behind him--wavering, heavy with the burden of ponderous age. "Of course, he's going to lose, but he's young, he's got plenty of time to improve."

"Nanda?!" Gokou spun around and found himself confronted by the figure of a wizened old man with a long, snowy beard, wearing sunglasses and a loud Hawaiian shirt.

"Long time no see, Gokou m' boy," Master Roshi greeted him. "How's life treating you this time around?"

"Kamesennin!!!!!!" Joyfully Gokou scooped up his first sensei, hugging him tight. "I didn't realize you were still around! Of course, I didn't see you up in Heaven, but then again I figured you might have gone the other way."

Nonchalantly Roshi brought up the heavy staff he always carried and clonked Gokou soundly on the head. With a yelp Gokou dropped the old man, who landed squarely on his sandaled feet. "Mind how you talk to your elders, boy," Roshi scolded mildly. "It's good to see you alive again."

Gokou rubbed the bump on his head and laughed. "Good to see you too! You haven't changed much."

"After three hundred years, I figure I've done all the changing I'm going to--eh?" Roshi looked down as something furry and soft brushed his bare leg. "What's this?" He reached down and caught hold of a roughly plush tail. "Ah, so you grew this back, didja?"

"KYAAAA~~!" Gokou wailed in pain and fell face-first into the dust.

"And still as tender as ever, I see," Roshi continued, unruffled, and released it.

Gokou scrambled back to his feet, dusting himself off, gasping and wiping the tears of pain from his face. "Ha...hai."

"Mm?" Roshi adjusted his sunglasses. "I think Cham's about to learn the hard way that size doesn't necessarily matter."

"Ano?" Gokou turned around in time to see the tall, lean-muscled youth catapulted out of the ring. Chamuya soared skyward in a graceful arc before plummeting earthward. Gokou stepped aside as the young man slammed face-first into the ground at Roshi's feet.

"The winner," Videl announced from the podium, "Vegeta!"

"Ah, well, better luck next time, Chamuya," Roshi murmured. "Meantime, I'd like you to meet one of my older students. Son Gokou, this is Chamuya. He's been training at Kame House for 'bout five years now."

"Hajimemash'te," Gokou said, bowing to Chamuya's twitching, upended legs.

"Come on, boy, let's get some antiseptic for your ouchies." Roshi grasped the orange shirtback and pulled Chamuya's head out of the ground, slung the unconscious youth over one rawboned shoulder, and headed off the field with him.

"Bai bai!" Gokou called, waving merrily. "See you later, Roshi-sensei!"

"Next match," Videl announced, "Son Gokou versus Tarantula!"

"Aa! That's me!" Gokou bounded towards the ring, looking forward, as he always did, to another fight.

* * *

"Yaaaaay, Papa!!" Bra cheered as her father landed beside her. She jumped to her feet and flung her arms around his neck. "I knew you'd beat 'im! --You didn't hurt him too bad, did you?"

"He'll live. I doubt he'll be foolish enough to go sniffing around another man's woman anytime soon." He gave Bulma a significant look, and when she folded her arms and pointedly looked away, he stiffened, cocking one arched eyebrow. "What?!"

"Whoever said I was your woman--or anyone's but my own?" Bulma demanded haughtily. "It's not like I have 'Property of Vegeta' stamped on my butt."

"That can be arranged."

She sniffed. "That wouldn't change the fact that you have no claim on me. A few...um, hundred...rolls in the hay does not a relationship make!"

"But, Mama!" Bra protested. "Papa's your husband!"

"Husband?! Hah! As if I'd marry such a--an arrogant creep! Not that he's ever asked me. He's probably afraid I'd turn him down. And as long as I'm a single woman, I'll see whoever I choose and I don't have to answer to any man until--unless I get married to one!"

Vegeta's eyes narrowed to black slits.

"Ut-oh," Bra muttered, her own eyes wide.

Bulma felt herself slung over a hard muscled shoulder--hardly an unusual position for her to be in, but never before had Vegeta dared to treat her so in public. "Hey! Put me down!"

"You're loudmouthed, ugly and have a fat butt," Vegeta muttered, almost absently.

"That is not what I meant! Listen, you, you'd better let me go right now or I'll--yeep!" Bulma squealed as she found herself suddenly fifty meters up and still ascending. With a tiny gasp she grabbed hard onto Vegeta's neck.

"Hey, wait for me!" Bra called, launching herself into the air after her otherworld parents.

"Hmm," ChiChi murmured as she saw the trio fly past overhead. "I wonder where they're going--Gokou's match is about to begin."

Gokou's opponent was a hooded black figure with a band of cloth obscuring the lower part of his face.

"Oi," Gokou said as he quick-cracked his neck to one side, then the other, "how you see out of that stuff anyway? And with all that wrapping, how you gonna move?"

"I am Tarantula," the figure intoned, taking an elaborate stance. "I am descended from generations of mystic ninja warriors. From what lineage do you descend?"

"Me?" Gokou blinked and pointed at his own nose. "I'm a Saiyajin!"

"I know not that family. Prepare to meet defeat!"

"Well, you could say I'm not from around here...okay, we gonna fight now? Sukei!" Gokou leapt eagerly at Tarantula and delivered his first experimental punch.

"The winner by knockout," Videl announced, "Son Gokou!"

"....nani...?" Gokou looked at his fist, then at the unmoving figure at his feet. He gently nudged Tarantula's ribs with one foot. "Oi, get up! That was just a warm-up!"

No response.

"Che..." Gokou sighed and took a step over the fallen foe. "I need a snack."

* * *

"You realize," Piccolo told Marron as they faced each other in the ring, "I'm going to kick your butt."

Marron showed him a cool smile the mirror of his own. "You're welcome to try."

"No." Piccolo chuckled, amused both by her confidence and her defiance. "I'm going to kick your butt."

Marron winked, blew the Namekseijin a kiss--and vanished.

So did Piccolo.

Ten thousand eager eyes scanned the ring, trying to catch sight of the two fighters. At ground level, the Son family males, and Trunks and Juuhachi-gou, followed the action that was too fast for untrained eyes to witness.

A sharp cry, and a slim female form seemed to fall out of the air and land hard on the mat. She lay where she was and didn't move. Juuhachi-gou took an automatic step forward, but brought herself up short at once.

"The winner," Videl announced as the tall green form reappeared, standing still in the ring, "Piccolo!"

Juuhachi-gou dashed to ringside and retrieved her daughter from the fighting area. "Good try," she encouraged as Marron came slowly to her senses, cradled in her arms.

"He's...good," the younger woman admitted feebly.

Juuhachi-gou nodded once. "So are you. Next time you'll show him." She carried Marron over and set her down carefully beside Trunks. "Look after her," she told him. "My match is next. Since your father took off to parts unknown, he's out of the tournament. That means you get a bye into the third round." She kissed him briefly before heading back towards the ring. "See you there."

Sadly, it didn't quite work out that way. Juuhachi-gou faced Master Roshi's other student, Rinriku. As this was Juuhachi-gou's first spar against a non-Saiyajin, she deliberately held back. That was most likely a mistake, particularly when Rinriku suddenly leapt at her--and kissed her full on the mouth. Caught by surprise, the jinzouningen fell backwards--and Rinriku pinned her shoulders firmly to the mat.

"Ecch-CHI!" Juuhachi-gou shrieked, in an unconscious echo of Bulma at her finest, and kicked the grinning Rinriku solidly out of the ring--but it was too late.

"Winner by pinfall," Videl affirmed, "Rinriku!"

"Nanda?!" Trunks bellowed, outraged. "He cheated! Videl-san, that wasn't fair!"

Videl looked sternly at the youth. "There's no regulation against kissing your opponent," she told him. "Rinriku won fair and square."

Trunks grumbled and gave the retreating Rinriku a death-glare worthy of his father. "Just you wait till the next round," he rumbled. "I'll teach you to keep your hot lips to yourself."

Slowly recovering, Marron sipped one of Trunks' health drinks and giggled to herself.

* * *

"Oi, Gohan," Gokou grinned. "I don't expect you to hold anything back. Give it your best!"

"Hai, tou-san! I won't make it easy for you," his son promised.

The two fighters in the ring could have been brothers--the same wild black hair, the same broad, almost manically cheerful grins, even the same burnt-orange shogi--only those who knew that these two were father and son appreciated their true relationship. Gohan gave Gokou a good fight, never giving an inch, asking for no favors and granting none.

Videl lowered the microphone to cheer for her own personal favorite. "Gohan! Gambatte yo!!!"

"Hai, Videl-chan!" Gohan paused to strike a heroic pose for the love of his life--and left a wide opening for his father, who took full advantage of same.

Gokou gave Gohan a firm push, and the younger Son stood cartwheeling his arms on the edge of the ring, then launched himself into the air. "You don't get me that easy, Otou-san!" he warned, raising his arms.

"Saa, so it comes to this? Yosh'!" Gokou cupped his hands to one side. "Ka...me..."

"Masenkoooo..." Light fluttered around Gohan's fingers.

"...ha...me..." A globe of white brilliance formed between Gokou's palms.



Both warriors thrust their hands forward in unison, and two glowing beams shot forth, one from each, to meet between them. Spectators cried out, shielding their eyes from light that was brighter than the noonday sun.

For long tense moments, the beams spat and sparked hotly at one another, blue against white gold, now surging towards the airborne Gohan, now hissing back at Gokou, who stood on the ground, feet planted apart, teeth bared in a grimace of concentration.

"Gohan-san's going to win!" Trunks exhorted, eyes shining, his earlier fury forgotten in the excitement of the contest. "He's more powerful than ever--more powerful than anyone! Na, Piccolo-san?"

"Hrm." Piccolo squinted against the hot glare from the ring. "This isn't just about raw power. It's a battle of wills, and I don't think any creature in the universe has more willpower than Gokou."

As though to prove the Namekseijin right, a long spiraling kiai echoed as the blue-white burst of the Kame-hame-ha suddenly erupted upwards, a fountain of pure ki, and hungrily enveloped Gohan's blast and Gohan himself. The beam arced upwards, then slammed down into the arena, scattering bystanders as it drove the younger Son into the freshly-painted brick wall just below the grandstand.

"Ge..." Gohan fell to the ground, leaving a Gohan-shaped impression in the brick.

"ThewinnerisSonGokouGOHAN!!" The microphone bumped and squealed as Videl dropped it. She leapt from the podium and was at her husband's side in a moment. "Gohan!! Are you all right? Speak to me!"

"Saaaa..." Gohan sat up, rubbing at the back of his head and shaking brick dust from his spiky hair. "I'm okay, Videl. Otou-san, I almost forgot how hard he hits, even when he's playing!"

* * *

"Okay," Piccolo grinned at the diminutive fighter who faced him at the beginning of the third round of competition. "So you beat the tin girl. Not bad. But you won't find me so easy to beat, and if you try to kiss me, I'm going to reach down your throat, grab your kintama and turn you inside out."

"Heh-heh-he," Rinriku chuckled nervously, hand behind his head. "Don't worry, I gave up kissing big green guys for Lent."

Piccolo's taloned hand lashed out to catch hold of Rinriku and toss him from the ring, but the small man ducked between Piccolo's long legs and pushed him hard in the rump. Piccolo crashed face-first into the mat. Before he could get up, Rinriku jumped on Piccolo's head, slamming his face down again, and then leapt clear.

"Cute," Piccolo muttered, clambering to his feet. "Real cute." He delivered a roundhouse kick, but Rinriku leapt above the blow, landing on Piccolo's outstretched leg, then jumped to the big alien's shoulders and pulled his turban down over his eyes.

"HEY!!" Piccolo made a wild grab for Rinriku, who dropped off, landed on his hands, and gave a hard double-footed kick to the back of Piccolo's legs. The Namekseijin lost his balance and toppled. Temporarily blinded, he was unable to right himself before he hit the ground outside the ring.

"Rinriku is our winner!" Videl giggled, trying not to laugh outright as Piccolo stood and yanked off his turban.

"Wise-ass," he muttered, but he was half smiling. "Not bad. Better than I would've expected from a human. Next time I won't wear the weights and we'll see who ends up on the ground on their butt."

* * *

"Oi, I don't think we've sparred before, Trunks-kun," Gokou grinned as he and the younger man circled one another.

"We have, Gokou-san," Trunks replied, smiling gently, "but not in this time or place."

"Nani? Whups!" Gokou ducked under a quick sweep-kick. "Good going, Trunks! Don't let up!" He grabbed Trunks' swinging leg and tossed him towards the edge of the ring.

Trunks quickly righted himself in mid-air and came around to face Gokou. His arms wove a complicated pattern in front of his torso. "Burning Attack!" he shouted as a blast of ki shot towards Gokou.

"Kame-hame-HAAAA!!!" Gokou responded, meeting Trunks' power with his own. Leaping into the air, Gokou pressed forward, still firing, until he was within arm's reach of Trunks. Then his fist drove through both beams and clipped Trunks squarely on the jaw. The youth fell like a stone and landed hard outside the ring.

"The winner is," Videl announced, "Son Gokou!"

"Cheer up," Juuhachi-gou smiled as she helped Trunks to his feet. "There's always three years from now."

Trunks stood and rubbed his aching jaw. "Ano, I think I'll become a cabbage farmer."

She snorted, dusting off the back of his jacket. "As if."

* * *

"It all comes down to this, ladies and gentlemen," Videl said, restored to her podium as her husband sat with the "retired" fighters and gave her a thumbs-up. "The winner of this match will be the champion, and will face the winner of the next Budoukai in three years' time. To my left, the favorite, Son Gokou!"

Gokou waved in response to the cheers and whistles and applause. "Ossu, minna!"

"And to my right," Videl continued, "the challenger, from the Kame school, Rinriku!"

"Hiya!" the shorter man greeted as he jumped into the ring. "It's good to see you, Gokou!"

"Ano...?" Gokou blinked, peering at the young man. "Have we met before?"

"Yaah! Umm...no, nothing, forget I said anything, he-he-heh." Rinriku waved his hands violently in front of his face. "Let's just get started fighting, okay?"

Gokou grinned and nodded once. "Yosh'! Only...don't fall over the first time I hit you, okay?"

"Deal." Rinriku jumped up in the air, did a neat somersault, and landed squarely on Gokou's head, where he did a quick tap-dance before hopping back off.

"Owowowowow!" Gokou laughed, rubbing his head. "Okay, that's pretty good! Let's have some fun! Ikusho!"

He charged forward, grinning hugely, and closed with Rinriku, who met him punch for punch and block for block. It was fascinating to watch these two men; rather than snarling and cursing one another with every blow, they laughed and shouted encouragement to one another, just as if they were two old friends having an amiable spar rather than first-met strangers competing in a worldwide tournament.

A brief flash caught Gokou's eye from the area around his opponent; he paused, then tossed an experimental ki-ball at Rinriku. Reflexively the other fighter flared his aura and the ball of energy bounced harmlessly off.

"You can use ki attacks? Yosh'! Now we're really going to have fun!" Gokou crowed.

"You want to see a ki attack?" Rinriku's black eyes flashed; carried away with the excitement of the match, he forgot himself, forgot the secret he'd vowed to keep, forgot everything except the testing of his skill. He raised one muscular arm, and a yellow glow formed above his upstretched palm, roiling and flattening into a discus shape. "Check this out! KIEN ZAN!" He hurled the buzzing energy disc directly at Gokou.

The Saiyajin stood rooted where he was, eyes wide, blinking in stunned amazement. "Kien...zan...?" he echoed faintly.

"Gokou!" Juuhachi-gou shouted. "Look out!"

"Otou-san!" Gohan and Goten chorused.

"Abunai yo, Gokou-san!" Trunks yelled.

"Gokou, you idiot monkey, duck!!" Piccolo bellowed.

"Huh--?" It was only when the Kien zan was close enough for him to feel the first prickling of energy at his forehead that the momentarily jammed gears of Gokou's brain finally re-engaged and began to work again. By that time it was too late to move out of the way.

"GOKOUUUUUU!!!!!" ChiChi screamed.

Gokou had just enough time to raise two fingers to his brow. "Shuken Idou!" he yelped--and vanished just as the Kien zan tore through the air at what had been Gokou's eye level.

"Whoaaaa..." Rinriku's legs gave way, and he sat down hard in place.

"Gokou!!" ChiChi shouted.

"It's okay, ChiChi," Gokou said from where he now stood beside her, "I'm right here."

"The winner is," Videl shouted over the microphone, "Rinriku! Rinriku is the Budoukai champion!"

"Nani?" Gokou looked down at his feet, then to the ring, where Rinriku was getting to his feet. "Aaa--chikushou! I disqualified myself!"

ChiChi shook her head. "I don't care about that, Gokou, are you all right?"

"Gomen, ChiChi--I gotta talk to somebody--chotto--" And he vanished.

Rinriku, laughing with relief and the heady rush of victory, was waving his hands and grinning hugely at the crowd. Suddenly a shadow fell over him from behind; puzzled, he looked around. "Who--ahhh!!"

Gokou stood over him, his dark eyes glaring intently. Then the taller man's hand shot out and fisted in Rinriku's shirt. The next moment, both were airborne, shooting straight up far out of eyesight and earshot of the gathering below.

"Hey, lemme go! Jeez, Gokou, you didn't used to be this sore a loser! --UH! I mean, um, that's what I heard...from people...you know, like Master Roshi...and stuff...uhm...he-heh?" Rinriku trailed off, noticing for the first time the glimmer of tears in Gokou's wide dark eyes.

Softly, so softly, Gokou spoke one word. A name. "...Kuririn...?"

Slowly a smile played across the younger man's narrow lips. "Whups," he said, "I'm busted."

"KURIRINNNNN!" Gokou shouted, throwing his arms around Rinriku and hugging tight. "You're alive! I never could understand why you didn't go to Heaven like the rest of us, but Dende-sama said some stuff about the 'Wheel of Life', and I didn't get it too good--"

"Go...kou..." Rinriku started turning blue in the face. "Ease up...couldya...?"

"Ack! Gomen!" Gokou let go. "De mo...it's so good to see you!"

Rinriku grinned, looking more like his former self than ever. "Good to see you too, Gokou. I knew you were back, but I didn't know...I mean, it's kinda hard, you know? I used to be a monk, I can take all this reincarnation stuff in stride, but it's not so easy for a lot of other people to wrap their minds around."

"Sou...my brain don't stretch that far anyway." Gokou laughed. "Ano...where's your dots?" he asked, pawing at the shock of longish hair that fell over Rinriku's brow.

"They weren't genetic, dumbwipe." But Rinriku was still grinning hugely. "I didn't get tattooed this time around because I was born as just a regular guy. Enma-ou let me keep my memories from my past life so I'd retain all the skills and power I'd learned, and have a whole other lifetime to sharpen and increase them. When I was old enough--fourteen, in fact--I went to find Master Roshi. He recognized me right away, I think, but he's never said anything and I haven't told him. It's a little hard to bring up in conversation."

A flicker of memory glimmered at the back of Gokou's mind. "And...Chamuya...?"

Rinriku nodded. "Yep, that's Yamucha. He doesn't remember, but he's more powerful than ever for all that."

"Aa." Gokou reached out, ruffled the wild stripe of dark hair bisecting Rinriku's head. "I think this is better than being a bald monkey, ne?"

"Look who's talkin' about monkeys! You've got your tail back, huh?" Rinriku made as if to reach for it, and Gokou instantly drifted out of reach, chuckling.

"Um, excuse me."

"Wha?" Rinriku looked down, and his eyes went wide. "Oh...uh, hi. Heheh..." He waggled his fingers in a bashful wave at the cool blonde who hovered in mid-air a meter or so below the two men.

Gokou followed his friend's gaze. "Oi, Juuhachi-gou!"

"I don't mean to butt into a private conversation," the jinzouningen intoned, "but I drew the short straw and got drafted to come up here and ask if you two were ready for the victory celebration."

"Oh--sure!" Rinriku showed his most winning smile and drifted down to Juuhachi-gou's eye level. Still smiling, he held out his hand to her. "Listen, I didn't mean to make you mad during the match. You're really strong. I hope you won't think badly of me. I'd like to be friends, if we could."

Juuhachi-gou arched an eyebrow. "If I'd been mad, you would have known it. No hard feelings." She reached out, shook his hand, then let go and dropped swiftly back down to the ground, her long blonde hair billowing up around her face as she went.

"Wowww..." Rinriku whistled, watching her. "What a babe. I'm glad she didn't kill me a second time. I'd sure like to get to know her better."

"Ano..." Gokou scratched his head. 'I dun' think Trunks would like that too much, Kuririn."

"Trunks?! Aw, man..." Rinriku's shoulder slumped as he watched Juuhachi-gou drift down into Trunks' waiting arms. "Figures. I never get the pretty ones, do I?"

* * *

Act Three
"Don't Be Afraid"

Got my best suit and my tie
Shiny silver dollar on either eye
I hear the chauffeur comin' to the door
Says there's room for maybe just one more

* * *

When the Papaya Stadium had been rebuilt, one of the additions was a huge banquet hall, used for post-tournament celebrations as well as other lesser events in the three-year interval between Tenkaichi Budoukai, to encourage the upkeep and maintenance of the facility. The first post-Budoukai celebration was in full swing, and all were in good spirits.

Marron noticed a grey-cloaked figure hovering near the doorway, and approached. The gleam of a gloss-white mask confirmed the man's identity. "Why don't you join the party?" she asked, giving him her best smile.

The dark eyes behind the mask focused on her. "That woman," he said. "The one who carried you from the ring. That's...Android 18, isn't it?"

"Juuhachi-gou, yes," she said. "She's not an android, she's a cyborg, and she's my mother."

A slight stiffening of the shoulders. "...mother?"

"Yes." Marron jutted out a defiant chin.

"She destroyed most of the people on this planet. She's a murderer."

"No, she wasn't. She was being controlled by Dr. Gero, who hated all of humanity and especially Son Gokou. Gero programmed her and her twin to kill Gokou-san." She nodded towards a small knot of people near the table. "Does it look like she's trying to kill him now? I tell you, she's not evil, and she's sorry for the terrible things she did." And if you can't deal with it, you can take it up with me, she added silently. Hottie or not.

Kamen turned his back on her, his black gloves fisting at his sides. "I came here," he said in a low voice, "to kill her."

Marron gasped.

"She murdered my family, she and her...brother. I came to this competition so I would have the chance to avenge them."

"But..." She swallowed hard. "You're barred from the Budoukai if you kill your opponent..."

"I didn't care about the Budoukai. I only cared about getting vengeance for the people I loved. And now...you say it wasn't her will to do what she did to them."

"It wasn't," Marron said at once. "If it were, she'd still be doing it, wouldn't she?"

"I don't know." Kamen sighed. "Perhaps I was mistaken." He walked out the door into the late afternoon.

"Wait!" Marron ran after him. "Look, I can understand you being angry about your family; my father and mother were murdered before my eyes."

Kamen paused, looked back. "I thought she was your mother."

"She is! Oh--look, it's tough to explain, okay? The point is, I know what it's like to lose people you love. Just be sure you blame the right people for it."

"Where can I find this 'Dr. Gero'?"

Marron shook her head, her pigtails swinging. "He died a long time ago."

"Then there's nothing left for me here." And he kept walking.

"Hey, come on, I--" A flash of dying sunlight off polished metal in the sky drew Marron's gaze upward. As she watched, it drew closer, and she cocked her head uncertainly. When she glanced back at the road, Kamen was gone. She felt a brief twist of disappointment, but quickly brushed it aside and returned her gaze to the approaching newcomer. Slowly she backed towards the door, feeling the flesh on the back of her neck prickling--a sure sign of approaching danger.

"Uhm, guys," she called back into the room, "are we expecting anybody else this late...?"

If anyone heard her, no one had time to respond. With a resounding crash! the metal-clad figure smashed into the roof of the banquet hall, scattering celebrants right and left. As the dust settled, a massive humanoid shape, taller and broader than even Piccolo, rose to its feet. It appeared to be a male with a reasonably young face, but incredibly old-looking eyes. A shock of fire-red hair bisected an otherwise clean-shaven scalp.

"Where is Son Gokou?" the man demanded, in a voice both flat and chilling. "I must find him."

"Who the hell?!" Juuhachi-gou stared at him, feeling she should know him, without knowing why--then she saw the double-triangle emblem on his breast, emblazoned with twin white Rs. "Red--Red Ribbon?!" she gasped.

"Sugoi!" Trunks breathed. "Juuroku-gou da!"

"Gohan," Videl muttered to her husband, "we have to get these people out of here. There's going to be a fight. We can come back and help once everyone else is safe."

"Ha-hai," Gohan nodded, hurrying after his wife as she began to herd non-combatants toward the fire exits.

"Number...Sixteen?" Juuhachi-gou looked at the hulking male again. "You mean...he's like me?"

"Yes and no--he's totally mechanical. I saw him in the Past Time. He has one purpose..." Trunks swallowed hard. "Kill Son Gokou."

"Where is Son Gokou?" Juuroku-gou repeated in his frighteningly hollow baritone.

"I'm Gokou." The fighter in question stepped forward, with an easy smile. "What can I do for you?"

Juuroku-gou looked at him, nodded once and raised one hand. "Die."

"Matte yo!" Juuhachi-gou vanished from Trunks' side and reappeared in front of the massive android, her arms outstretched. She looked pitifully small in comparison. She looked up at him with wide, earnest eyes as pale as his. "Juuro--Juuroku-gou, I'm Juuhachi-gou. You don't need to do this. Gero is dead, and his vendetta died with him. Gero was the one who hated Gokou, who's done nothing to harm us. Juuroku-gou, you have to listen to me!"

Apparently Juuroku-gou believed he had to do no such thing. Wordlessly he reached out, an almost regretful expression in his gaze, and grabbed hold of one of Juuhachi-gou's arms, flinging her carelessly aside. She smashed through the wall and outside before she could stop herself, making an imprint in the bricks on the other side of the arena twice again as deep as the impression Gohan had left earlier in the day. As she fell, the wall collapsed on top of her.

"Juu-chan!!" Trunks shouted, flying after her.

"Okay, you big bruiser," Piccolo snarled, "let's see if the bigger really do fall harder." He touched two clawed fingers to his brow. "Makanko Sappou!" he shouted, and the blast corkscrewed out from between his eyes, striking the android square in his massive back.

It flashed off his golden armor and dissipated without leaving a mark. Juuroku-gou didn't even turn around.

"Gokou!" ChiChi shouted, trying to shield the wailing Pan. "Do something, quick!"

Gokou nodded once--and took off, smashing yet another hole in the roof. Without hesitation, Juuroku-gou followed.

* * *

"Juu-chan!" Trunks called, tossing brickwork left and right in a struggle to reach her. "Answer me!!"

The rubble shifted, and Juuhachi-gou stood up, dusting herself off. "Well, that wasn't fun. He's one strong hunk of circuitry, I'll give him that."

"Juuroku-gou is stronger than either you or Juunana-gou," Trunks told her. "Maybe stronger than the both of you put together."

"Now you tell me." She shook red-brick dust out of her silken hair and looked up. "Uh-oh, looks like Gokou's taking this sideshow on the road."

"Nn?" Trunks followed her gaze and saw two figures flying off towards the west. "Gokou-san's leading Juuroku-gou away from the island. We've got to help him--he doesn't stand a chance alone against that monster."

"He's not alone, if you'll notice the little party following after him; but your point is taken." Juuhachi-gou launched herself into the air with an idle kick. "And watch who you're calling a 'monster'. Fully mechanized or not, he's essentially the same as I am."

Trunks took off after her. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean--"

She glanced back over her shoulder at him with a gentle smile. "I know you didn't. Come on."

* * *

The wind rushed past Gokou hard enough to bring tears to his eyes, but he didn't dare slow his flight. He could sense the hulking form following him, matching his pace with flawless precision. He couldn't feel any ki from Juuroku-gou, but he could detect a sense of thereness just the same--the hole where a living creature wasn't, but should be.

I gotta get him far away as I can. If he's as powerful as I think he is, he could destroy the whole Earth trying to get to me! I can't let that happen. No matter what.

Farther back he could sense others following: Gohan, of course, and Goten; then Piccolo, and close behind them, Rinriku and his friend Chamuya--

Kuririn. And our friend, Yamcha. Ano...this is going to get confusing! Too much thinking makes my head hurt...no time to think about it now. Got to concentrate on stopping Juuroku-gou before he destroys the Earth...before he destroys me. I'm not ready go back to Tengoku yet.

* * *

"What in the wretched names of the screaming souls condemned to Hell is going on?!" Vegeta landed, Bulma held fast in his arms, and looked around at the rubble-strewn remains that had been the banquet hall. Beside him, Bra also looked around, eyes shocked.

"Oh, no..."Bulma surveyed the wreckage with wide, dismayed eyes. "What could have happened?"

"Bulma-san? Is that you?" A shadow across the floor.

"Marron-chan! Thank Kami. What in the world--"

Marron stepped in, face pale. "A..Another jinzouningen. He just... just showed up and burst in. He said he was here to kill Gokou-san. When Kaa-san tried to stop him, he threw her into the wall, like she was no stronger than a kitten. Gokou-san took off to lure him away. He didn't really seem interested in anyone but Gokou-san..." Marron broke off, yelping a bit as Vegeta exploded into Super Saiyajin.

"Vegeta--" Bulma began, then fell silent as Vegeta's gaze turned her way. For just the measure of a heartbeat he stood there, looking at her. Then he shifted that flat stare to Marron. "Watch her," he said simply. Lifting two fingers to his forehead, much as they'd seen Gokou do, he closed his eyes, brows knitting in concentration. The next second he simply blinked out of existence.

"Dammit," Bulma swore. "Where did he learn that? And how dare he leave me behind?!?!"

Miles away, as he reappeared, Vegeta could've answered her, if he'd wanted to. Whatever tenuous bond had grown between him and the low-born warrior in their years on Earth and in Heaven had only gotten deeper since their Fusion and that... incident... in the Past Time. There was a door, now, where no door had ever been, and at a moment's notice he could swing it wide and walk down the halls of the other Saiyajin's mind as he pleased. No secrets kept, no knowledge hidden; he'd picked the Shuken Idou out of Kakarott's memories as easily as taking a peach from its branch during their fight with Aisuzu.

Of course, the door swung both ways, and he didn't like that at all. But Kakarott showed very little interest in opening it. --Well, that wasn't quite true. At night he often felt Kakarott's thoughts turn to him before sleep, like a hand in the dark making sure he was still there. Most times he responded with the equivalent of a cuff to the head; once in a great while they would sit and talk in the spaces between. Mostly about Vegetasei and what it was to be a Saiyajin. Kakarott's memories of what he had been would never return, that much Vegeta knew. That blow to the head so many years ago had completely obliterated what knowledge of Vegetasei the other Saiyajin's mind had held. Even now, with his brain fully restored, Kakarott's Saiyajin traits came from the call of his blood, not from any teachings of his infancy.

But he had, now, thanks to Vegeta, some glimmering of the way things had been, and it was a strange satisfaction to give him his heritage back. To show Kakarott his true place in the cosmos, and simultaneously make sure he didn't go poking about where Vegeta didn't want him to go. Not that he ever had, the more fool he. Any reasonable man would've pressed home this unexpected advantage, or at least struggled to keep his own thoughts from becoming an open book. But Kakarott didn't... and he had no need to, did he.

Vegeta's lip curled in irritation. Dammit, does Kakarott have to be right about everything?! he thought, frustrated. At least where it comes to me? Who the hell told him I wanted this kind of

(Trust. Loyalty.)

weak sentimentality around?

Still, it was useful. A new technique learned with little effort, and it was convenient to always be able to lay hand to Kakarott, so to speak. To know where the other Saiyajin was and what he was doing as if it was Vegeta's own body, his own eyes, that moved and saw.

Like now, for example.

On the horizon he could see two forms rocketing his way, and he folded his arms, a smirk flitting over his features. This time no one would stop him from reducing the jinzouningen to so many pieces of scrap metal.

* * *

Gokou glanced back and snarled a bit under his breath as he saw how close the jinzouningen was. The big man certainly wasn't slow, despite his size. And if he was anything like Gero's other creations, he had one distinct advantage over his target; even something as basic as flying took energy, and Gokou would eventually grow tired, begin to slow down.

The cyborgs never wore down, never wore out. Their artificial energies didn't depend on heart and breath and muscle. They had no need of rest or food.

I better stop and fight now, Gokou decided, looking at the deserted area beneath them. I'll need everything I got for this one, could be. No use in going any further. He arced over and landed lightly, dropping into a fighting stance as his pursuer also landed. "Why you want me dead anyway?" he asked, half from curiosity and half to buy himself a few moments to rest. "What'd I ever do to you? Who are you anyway?"

"It is my program," the jinzouningen said simply. "I am Juuroku-gou, Artificial Human Number Sixteen. I am a completely cybernetic construct assembled by Gero-hakase. You are simply the one I was made to destroy. "

"And after I'm gone?"

Unwavering china-blue eyes stared back. "Then, I imagine, I will shut down, or self-destruct." The great head turned slightly, surveying the area. "This planet ... has beauty. I would not destroy that."

Gokou blinked. Several times. "You... like the way it looks out here?"

A silence as the artificial human considered. "Yes," he finally answered simply. "As I liked the cities and forests we flew over. I have no desire to see them ruined. My only concern is your destruction. No one else will need to... fear me." He also stanced. "Son Gokou, prepare to die."

"Yamero!" Dropping out of the sky, Vegeta leveled a hand at Juuroku-gou. "Enough, machine. Your game ends here."

"Vegeta!" Gokou gasped. "How-- I know you're a fast flyer, de mo... how'd you get here?!"

Vegeta smirked and tapped his forehead with two fingers. "You're not the only one that knows that trick anymore, remember, Kakarott? You yourself showed me how it was done. I have several surprises in store for our next fight. But first, I'm here to clean up the trash."

"I am not interested in fighting you, Prince Vegeta," Juuroku-gou answered. "My only target is Son Gokou. Step aside or I'll be forced to move you."

"Nani?" Vegeta laughed. "Meirei shinaide, kikai no omocha. Don't even begin to tell me what to do."

"I don't want to fight you," the jinzouningen repeated. "Move aside. I'm here to kill Son Gokou."

"Don't want to fight me?" Vegeta's mouth twisted in a fierce grin. "Too bad. You'll be even less amusing if you don't fight, but I'll manage to enjoy myself anyway." In a flare of energy he took off straight at Juuroku-gou, fists seeming to become twin streaks of light as he hammered in punch after punch at the android. Juuroku-gou took all the blows without flinching, then brought his fists down hard atop Vegeta's shoulders as the Saiyajin stepped back.. Vegeta's face contorted in pain, but he didn't slow down in the least. Flying up, he came down feet first, like a piledriver, forcing Juuroku-gou to his knees with the impact; then he began to snap punches at the face, left-right-left-right in a chain of strikes too fast to follow, and finished by clasping his hands together and cracking them against Juuroku-gou's chin hard enough to send the android flying several hundred yards to one side.

Whirling, Vegeta flattened both palms as Juuroku-gou stood up. "Renzoku Energy Dan!" Burst after burst of ki pummeled the artificial human, shrouding him in dust and smoke. With a final shout, Vegeta flung one enormous blast that rang like a thousand cannons in the afternoon air, then lowered his hands and smirked. "So much for your pathetic ideas of challenging me," he said, and turned. "Taking notes, Kakarott?"

Gokou glanced at Vegeta, then turned his gaze to the slowly dissipating cloud. "I dunno, Veg--look out!" he shouted as something lanced through the haze to slam into Vegeta's back, flinging him forward to skid along on his face straight into an outcropping of rocks. As he impacted, Juuroku-gou flew out of the dust, picking up his left hand and snapping it back into place on its arm before continuing onward to seize Vegeta by the back of his head and begin trying to push him bodily through the remainder of the rockface. Taking a running start, Gokou snagged the Nyoibo off his back and slammed one end to the ground. "Nyoibo, nobasu!" he shouted, letting his own momentum and the staff's extension combine into a flying vault kick that sent Juuroku-gou spinning away.

"*kkkk* Chigau yo!" Vegeta shouted, pulling himself free. "Get away from there, Kakarott! This piece of cybernetic junk is mine, do you hear? I don't need your help!"

"De mo, Vegeta, he's really stro--ack!" Gokou broke off as Juuroku-gou, with an unexpected burst of speed, kipped up and grabbed him by the throat, driving him into the ground, fingers tightening as he leaned his entire weight on the Saiyajin. As Vegeta charged, the android leveled his other hand, the wrist pivoting down to reveal the entire arm was a gun barrel, and fired a blast, driving Vegeta back into the boulders again and sending them down atop him, burying him. He then snapped his free hand back up and locked it on Gokou's throat also.

Choking, Gokou doubled up his legs and kicked hard, once, twice, three times into Juuroku-gou's stomach, trying to drive him back or loosen his grip. The jinzouningen never wavered, continuing to push Gokou into the ground, shattering it with the Saiyajin's body as his handhold tightened. The world began to gray out as the chokehold shut off not just Gokou's air but the flow of blood to his brain. With one last effort, he lifted a wavering hand to Juuroku-gou's face and fired a blast straight into the android's eyes. Stunned for a second, Juuroku-gou's hands loosened, and Gokou desperately tried to get his own fingers in under his opponent's to break the hold.

Behind them, the pile of boulders exploded as Vegeta shot out, flying at the giant for a shoulder slam that drove him off-balance. With a mighty gasp, Gokou tore loose the hands that'd been strangling the life out of him and flew up also, dragging Juuroku-gou along. Flipping, he flung Juuroku-gou at the ground as hard as he could, firing a Kamehameha after him for good measure. He could taste blood in the back of his mouth as he struggled to catch his breath, throat raw and aching. Can't let him get his hands on me again, that was too close.

Seizing his chance, Vegeta moved in on the other side, hands raised. "Finalllll...Flash!!" Energy exploded from his hands and struck Juuroku-gou, tearing a hole in his side through which they could see the spark and flash of wiring. Juuroku-gou simply looked down, expressionless, to study the damage, then nodded and looked up again. "Your strength has increased from the initial parameters I was given," he said. "However, my total power output still exceeds yours."

Grinding his teeth, Vegeta raised a hand. "Exceed this, you stainless steel sasori," he growled, and fired. Juuroku-gou's palm raised and a matching beam shot out, locking with Vegeta's and swelling into a globe of ki that wavered back and forth as both combatants raised the power expended in turn. For several minutes they struggled; then Juuroku-gou shook his head, almost ruefully, and raised the other hand. Energy roared from it, joining his previous effort and swallowing up Vegeta as it blew through the Saiyajin's beam. As the smoke cleared it revealed a trench nearly half a mile long, at the end of which Vegeta lay unmoving.

"Now, Son Gokou..." With a rush, Juuroku-gou was on top of Gokou, fists arcing in to batter at his ribs. The Saiyajin stood his ground, blocking the punches--but even blocking them rattled his teeth. He's too much! I gotta raise the stakes a little, see if can I even this out. Flying back a few yards, Gokou concentrated, flaring into Super Saiyajin. As he did he saw shapes drop from the skies, angling over to land near the fallen Prince. Good, they can see to Vegeta. I got other things to worry about right now.

"Oiiii, he's out cold," Goten said, prodding Vegeta's chest. "That must be some kind of strong guy, ne, Trunks? You wanna Fuse now? I bet we could beat him if we Fused!"

"Goten, now is not the time to be bringing that up with me." Trunks felt his father's pulse, letting out a half-held breath as he found it strong and steady. "He'll be all right, but he's not going to be happy when he comes around."

"Gokou's not having the best time of it either," Piccolo observed, which brought everyone's attention to the fight. Rinriku took a half-step forward, then clenched his fists, scowling. Nope, nope, I gotta stay cool, never mind how much every nerve in my body is screaming 'go DO something, that's your best friend out there, you had to watch him die once already, let's not make it twice'. He glanced up at Chamuya, who was also watching intently. He feels it too. He doesn't know why, but this fight's real important to him. Cham, I wish I could tell ya why it matters so much. But you've gotta remember on your own, if you remember at all; that's part of the whole reincarnation deal. I got off lucky...or maybe not so lucky. I've gotta pretend this is just a scrap I wanna get a piece of. Man, this really bites the cosmic hot dog.

Haven't changed a bit, have you, shorty.

Nope, I sure ha-- puh-puh-PICCOLO?!? Rinriku turned amazed eyes on the Namekseijin.

Who did you think it was, Santa Claus? One side of Piccolo's mouth lifted in what might've been a shadow of a smile. Did you really think once I got a good look at you I couldn't tell what was going on? I used to be Kami in these parts, Kuririn.

Um... * heh heh * yeah, that you were, Piccolo. So how's it hanging?

It doesn't, and you ought to remember that. A snort. So Yamucha doesn't remember who he was. What about Tienshinhan and Chao Tsu?

Dunno. I haven't heard from either of them. I know they got reincarnated, same as me and Yamcha, but where they are right now is anyone's guess. --Hey, you think Gokou's gonna be all right out there? That metal guy doesn't show any signs of getting any slower.

If he isn't going to be all right, you'll be right along with the rest of us in finding it out.

....Same old Piccolo, no help at all.

Deal with it, cueball head.

HEY! I'm not shaving my head any more! --Well, okay, maybe along the sides.

You're a lot stronger too. Piccolo turned, now, and regarded Rinriku/Kuririn. A lot stronger. You'd be almost a match for a Super Saiyajin if you cut loose.

You.. you think so?!

Hello, Chikyu to Kuririn, are you receiving. --Idiot. When have you ever known me to make an observation like that without being right? Aloud Piccolo said, "Juuhachi-gou. What can you tell us about the other jinzouningen?"

"I wasn't aware I was suddenly an expert on the machinations of Gero's twisted little mind." Juuhachi-gou swept her hair back behind her ears and thought. "I didn't know there were any of Gero's cyborgs left besides myself. I don't think he is a cyborg, in any event. I don't detect any organic components in him at all--he seems to be a completely robotic construct, a true android. But why would Gero go back to a human base if he'd been so successful with a totally mechanical--"

Rinriku's thin thread of patience snapped. "Listen, babe, couldja save the technobabble for after we beat this guy?! Gokou's gonna get trashed out there!"

"All right, all right! I'm thinking." Juuhachi-gou's high, pale forehead creased a bit as she concentrated. "He is phenomenally powerful. More so than I am. If he's got a built-in weakness, I can't detect it."

Trunks' blue eyes narrowed, his right hand clenching and unclenching as though he wanting to reach for the sword sheathed on his back. "What about an off-switch? If he's just an android, couldn't we just switch him off?"

"Switch him--yatta!" With a joyful laugh, Juuhachi-gou took Trunks' face in her hands and kissed him hard on the mouth. "Have I told you lately that I love you? You're a genius, Murasakige!--Listen, I've got to go--I'll be back as quick as I can--until then, just...just try to survive," she finished, casting a pale-eyed look of entreaty around the group. "All of you." With that, she spun on her heel, kicked off into the air and sped out of sight.

"D-aah..." Chamuya scuffed at his forelock. "What was that all about?"

Trunks was watching the dwindling speck that was Juuhachi-gou. "Juu-chan asked Kaa-san to make a controller," he said quietly. "In case she...in case she turned on us some day. In case she ever became the killer that she was before. So that we could stop her before she hurt anyone. Juuhachi-gou...she's always been terrified of that."

"Ano..." Goten breathed. He gave Trunks a curious look. "So you think it'll work on Juuroku-gou too?"

Trunks shook his head. "I don't know. But it might be our only hope."

"Trunks-kun..." Goten bit his lip hard. "Tou-san may not hold out long enough for her to get back."

Trunks growled in the back of his throat. "What other choice do we have, Goten?"


Blue eyes narrowed to slits. "No. Not that."

"De mo..." Goten cast anxious eyes at the open plain where Gokou struggled to hold his own.

Rinriku howled his frustration. "Aw, man, I can't stand it anymore! Gokou!!" With a burst of ki-energy he shot up into the air and barreled headlong towards the fight.

"Rin! Wait up!" Chamuya took off after his best friend.

"Damn idiots..." Piccolo muttered. "Like they have a hope of making a difference, even with their power jacked."

"Piccolo-san?" Gohan appeared at his sensei's side, his eyes riveted on the battle. "We can't just stand by and let Tou-san..."

The Namekseijin huffed an exasperated sigh. "The jinzouningen won't fight any of us, Gohan. All he'll do is knock us aside if we get in his way." Abruptly he took off, erupting in a rustling billow of white cape into the air to catch a battered Chamuya before he hit a jagged cliff-face. "Case in point," he added as he touched down and let the unconscious youth drop to the barren ground.

"At least Rinriku's managing to keep out of reach--for the moment," Gohan said with desperate hope. "And he's distracting Juuroku-gou. Maybe Tou-san will get a chance to catch his second wind."

Piccolo looked askance at his pupil. "Kid, do you really think it's gonna make a difference in the long run?"

* * *

"I don't want to hurt you," the big jinzouningen boomed as he batted at the diminutive fighter who blocked his path. "Please get out of my way before I'm forced to remove you."

"Ah, your mother was a vacuum cleaner." Rinriku made a rude face and dodged another swipe. "You know how I know? 'Cause you SUCK!"

Juuroku-gou paused, blinking with incomprehension. "That made no sense."

"Ha-hah! Gotcha!!" Rinriku fired a ki-blast and hit Juuroku-gou dead in the face, actually knocking him back a step. "Don't try to think, big guy, you're not equipped for it."

He risked a look back over his shoulder; Gokou was on his feet, breathing hard, obviously trying to muster his flagging resources. "Take off, pal," Rinriku hissed. "We'll hold the big goofus here while you get away."

Gokou shook his head. "Ne, how far do you think I can run? Where do you think I can hide--Kuririn, abunai!"

"Huh?" Rinriku turned around just in time to take the swing of a massive fist directly in the face. With that one blow he was knocked aside, hurtling through the air towards a very hard landing some distance away. His last conscious thought was distinctly unprintable.

* * *

Act Four
"Of What You Can't See"

I was struck by lighting
Walkin' down the street
I was hit by something last night in my sleep

It's a dead man's party
Who could ask for more
Everybody's comin', leave your body at the door
Leave your body and soul at the door

Don't run away, it's only me
Don't be afraid of what you can't see...

--Oingo Boingo

* * *

Bulma paced restlessly back and forth. Videl sat cradling a wailing Pan in her arms while Bra watched anxiously out the window.

"Why haven't we heard anything?" Bulma demanded. "It's been too long, something should have happened by now."

"No news is good news," Videl said cautiously. "Ne, ne, Pan-chan, settle down. Tou-san will be back soon."

"Someone's coming!" Bra said, jumping down from the windowsill and running to the door.

"Who is it?" Videl was on her feet at once.

The door flew open just before Bra reached it, and Juuhachi-gou darted inside. "Bulma!" she said, eyes wide and desperate. "The controller. We need it."

"Controller? Oh, hai! I know where it is--" Bulma turned on her heel and pelted down the hall towards her lab.

"What controller?" Videl shouted after her.

"I helped Bulma built a control device after Juunana-gou's attack," Juuhachi-gou explained.

"In case any more androids showed up," Bra said, nodding.

Juuhachi-gou started to say something, then obviously changed her mind and nodded. "Yes, Bra-chan. Exactly."

Still trying to soothe her restive baby, Videl watched the jinzouningen carefully. You had her build it in case you turned on us, Juu-chan. Didn't you? Are you still so afraid to trust yourself? I've finally forgiven you for what happened so long ago--you were as much a victim as any of us. Why can't you forgive yourself, after all this time?

Bulma reappeared, slightly disheveled, carrying a small black box in one hand. "Here, I found it."

Juuhachi-gou held out her hand. "Give it to me, quickly."

Bulma drew back. "Oh no! This thing has to be attuned to a specific frequency. I'm going with you."

"Impossible. I can do it once I'm there."

A little crease appeared between Bulma's eyebrows. "I'm not going to argue with you, Juu-chan! If this thing goes, I go. Period."

Juuhachi-gou rolled her eyes. "Fine!! I have no time to argue. Vegeta can kill me later. Come on!" She scooped Bulma up in her arms and flew out the still-open door with her.

"Wait for me!" Bra grabbed her sword from beside the doorway and flew off after them.

Videl went to the doorway and watched them until they disappeared into the blue of the sky. Pan, quiet now, had cried herself to sleep in her mother's arms. Videl closed her eyes and thought of her husband, of her friends. Be safe...

* * *

Once again, Gokou stood facing the big jinzouningen alone.

Goten was jumping from one foot to the other in his anxiety. "Trunks-kuuuuuuun--"

"ALL RIGHT!! ALL RIGHT, I'LL DO THE STUPID BLOODY DANCE!!!" Snarling, Trunks flared to Super Saiyajin, his lavender hair flashing gold-white as his power crackled and burned visibly around him.

"Yosh'!!" Goten's hair turned a darker gold as he followed suit, grinning fiercely.

Piccolo watched with wide, incredulous eyes. "Crap, they're really gonna--match your powers!" he called out warningly. "The Fusion won't work if your levels aren't equal."

"Piccolo-san..." Gohan was still watching his father fight. "Tou-san...he needs help--"

"I told you to stay out of it, Gohan. Once your--if your dad loses, who do you think will stop that walking tank?"

Goten was giving Trunks hasty instructions. "See, you do like this--"

"I know I know let's just get it over with!" Desperate to save Gokou, and having resigned himself to the inevitability, Trunks wanted to spare himself as much public embarrassment as possible. Goten had explained the principle of Fusion-Ha to him repeatedly over the past months, and the intricacy of the dance steps were burned indelibly into his reluctant brain. He took the stance with a grimace; as anxious as he was for Juuhachi-gou's return, he prayed in his heart that she wouldn't get back in time to see this.

* * *

Gokou dodged another blast--barely--but he knew his reserves were dangerously low. Ano, if only had a real chance to stop and catch my breath...Kuririn, you did your best, but it wasn't long enough and this guy won't ever tire out--!

"It's time to finish this," Juuroku-gou announced, grim-faced. "For what it's worth, I'm truly sorry."

"If...you're sorry...don't do it!" Gokou panted in protest.

"I can't countermand my programming, Son Gokou. To do so would deny my reason for existence." He raised a hand, fingers splayed. "Good-bye."

Gokou prepared to dodge, knowing he would do so a heartbeat too late. ChiChi, Gohan, please forgive--

A terrible blue-white light filled the air; Gokou cringed, but felt nothing more than backwash. As the brightness faded, he heard a massive whump as Juuroku-gou's bulk slammed to the ground.

"Hey hey hey!" a blended voice mocked from above. "Turn around and face the fury of--Gotenks!!"

"NaNI?!" Gokou looked up and saw a golden-haired stranger hovering in the sky. It looked like a Fusion, felt like a Fusion--in fact, it looked almost like Gogeta.

Gogeta is me and Vegeta Fused. So Gotenks must be--

"Trunks and Goten...?!" he muttered, his eyes flickering to Juuroku-gou, who was rising to his feet and turning to face the newcomer.

"Go away," the android boomed. "I am here only to kill Son Gokou."

"I'm not gonna let you do that," Gotenks sneered in his doubled voice. "Not after all the trouble I had getting into existence. Renzoku Energy Dan!!" He raised his hands and fired off rapid bursts of ki, driving Juuroku-gou back with every blast.

[Ano, Gokou-san], the same twinned voice echoed in his mind, [gather your strength. I'll keep him busy for you, ne?]

[Hai! Sankyuu, Go--Gotenks!]

* * *

His head hurt. A lot. The noise wasn't making it hurt any less either. If whatever damned fool was outside sparring didn't shut up soon, he was going to come up out of bed and make them eat their own limbs while they were still attached. How typical; one of the few times he wanted some quiet time with his mate, and all hell was breaking loose just beneath his window--

But the light, the light on his face was too bright for morning--


That thought propelled Vegeta right to his feet, the headache already subsiding as adrenaline flooded his bloodstream. Kakarott, and the machine-man, and what the hell was he doing lying around while a battle was going on?!

"Hey, take it easy! You almost took my hand off at the shoulder!"

Vegeta's eyes flicked to the side, locking on a slender form whose blue eyes glared right back at him. "What," he demanded, voice a low growl, "are you doing here."

"Trying to lend a little assistance." Bulma tossed back her hair. "Obviously you're not feeling any pain."

"How did you--" Vegeta broke off as another figure came into focus behind his mate. "Never mind. I know perfectly well who brought you here." One fist clenched as he started forward, intent on finishing off Juuhachi-gou once and for all. Bad enough his son had some attachment to the wretched thing; now it was dragging his mate into the very jaws of battle. "You, jinzouningyou, have made your last mistake."

"Papa, no!" A slight form thrust itself between him and his target; Bra, arms spread wide, the very echo of his own scowl on her features. "Juu-chan didn't make Mama come here, Mama insisted! She said she had to come or we couldn't have the controller to make the bad man shut off! It's not Juu's fault, so you leave her alone!" One small foot stamped.

Vegeta just... stared. No one, no one, spoke to him in that tone of voice. Except, of course, for Bulma, when she was in a fine rage. He could feel the corners of his mouth aching to slide into a proud smile, hearing that spark of spirit in the child. Oh, you are a Saiyajin princess, you are my child, as true as your brother. Outwardly he folded his arms, glared down at Bra (who failed to budge one step), then up at Juuhachi-gou with all the malice he could muster before snorting and turning away dismissively. "Another time then." He scowled. "Who the hell is that fighting with the machine-man?" He concentrated, feeling out the stranger's ki, then snarled. "Fusion da--?!?!"

"Calm down before you pop another vein, Vegeta, the ones I can see already are ugly enough." Piccolo nodded at the fighters. "It's Goten and Trunks. Gotenks, I think he called himself. And he's doing plenty good."

Vegeta clapped a hand to his face, struggling to master himself. "Trunks.... and.... Goten."


"Whose idea was that insanity?!?!"

"Theirs, actually, but you know what they say. Monkey see, monkey do."

"...Namekseijin, have I had a chance to remind you lately how much I hate you?"

"Nope." White fangs flashed in a snarl/smile. "But I'm sure you will after all this is over."

"Can you two pipe down?!" Bulma hissed, crouching over the controller as she frantically made adjustments. "I'm busy, genius at work, a little respect here-! Rewiring delicate electronics with a pocket multi-tool on the fly is not easy!"

"Need some help, Bulma?" Juuhachi-gou asked, also crouching.

"No no no--" a quick shake of the head. "I just need a few minutes, just a few minutes more..."

Juu didn't answer; she looked at the struggle between Gotenks and Juuroku-gou instead. He is holding his own, she thought. But how much longer will the Fusion itself hold out?

At that moment, the battered Juuroku-gou pulled himself from the rockface Gotenks had slammed him into, head shaking a bit. There were great dents and rips in his torso from which half a dozen sparks and tiny explosions were flickering at any given time, yet still he moved. "Must.. complete... prrrrogramming," he said, voice low and slurring. He raised his arms, the hands swiveling down at the wrists to open up into long barrels from which a reddish glow emanated. "H...He......HELLLLLL's FLAAAAASH-!"

From both arms an enormous blast erupted, joining into one beam fully the size of Gokou's strongest Kamehameha, and searing the air before it as it slammed into Gotenks, throwing the young Fusion back irresistibly. As the afterimage of the beam faded, Juuroku-gou turned and flew at Gokou, wrapping his arms around the older Saiyajin in a bearhug. Arms trapped at his side, Gokou struggled as they both shot skywards, then paused, looking into Juuroku-gou's face--

Into his eyes, which were now glowing all red.

On the ground, below, Juuhachi-gou gasped. "He's... he's going critical..."

"Oh swell, dammit, I was just about to-- going critical?!" Bulma jumped to her feet, face white. "No! We've got to stop him!"

"I'm guessing this 'critical' is not good." Piccolo half rose into the air, as did Vegeta, only to have one ankle apiece grabbed by Gohan, who shook his head frantically. "Iie, don't!" he begged. "Juu-san means the other jinzouningen's triggered his self-destruct. He's going to explode!"

"Chikusho!" Vegeta angrily shook his leg, trying to dislodge Gohan. "Bakayarou! Kakarott's arms are pinned, didn't you see that?! He can't teleport free!"

Gohan looked around desperately. Rinriku and Chamuya were still out; so, too, was Gotenks-- or, rather, Trunks and Goten; sometime in the last few moments, perhaps as a result of Juuroku-gou's parting shot, the Fusion had broken apart. There was no one left standing but the six of them, and Juuhachi-gou was already carrying Bulma skywards--"NANDA KUSOOOOO?!?! Bulma-san! Juu-san! DAME DA!"

Piccolo whirled, seeing the rapidly ascending pair, and hung there, jaw dropping. "What the flaming--"

"Bulmaaaaa!" Savagely Vegeta tore himself loose from Gohan's grip and rocketed up after them. Damn her, damned jinzouningyou, she was too fast, he'd never catch them in time, they were too close to Kakarott already--

"EAT APPLIED SCIENCE, YOU RED-HAIRED RUSTPILE!" Bulma shrilled as she and Juuhachi-gou came up beside the struggling Gokou, inwardly praying, Dende, please say I got this right or I'm sub-atomic particles--


The crimson light in Juuroku-gou's eyes faded. For just a moment he looked stunned, as if this was the last possibility he'd ever expected; then he stiffened, face draining of what little emotion it had held as he and Gokou abruptly stopped flying up... and began dropping down. Fast. It took the startled Gokou several seconds to think of slowing their descent, with the result that they landed a bit more roughly than he'd really wanted to.

The impact crushed the air from Gokou's lungs; his head buzzed warningly, but he fought against blackout in case the mechanical man should come to life again. He heaved against Juuroku-gou's arms, trying to dislodge them with little success.

Juuhachi-gou landed, set Bulma lightly down and went at once to help Gokou. With a mighty pull she tugged one massive arm free. "Chotto, Gokou, I'll get you loose--"

"Kuso kono ama!!!!!!" Vegeta roared, launching himself at the blonde jinzouningen. Before she could dodge, he swung his clasped fists at her, knocking her into a nearby cliffside. He hovered for a moment, torn between pursuing her and freeing Gokou; then he decided the female cyborg's destruction could wait. He yanked Juuroku-gou's other arm free, grabbed Gokou by the back of his shogi, and hauled him off, tossing him aside. "Now," Vegeta said, smirking, "to finish this once and for all." He raised a glowing hand, directing his palm at Juuroku-gou's motionless bulk.

"Vegeta don't you dare!!!" Still breathless from her unexpected flight, Bulma rushed forward and grabbed at Vegeta's outstretched arm, tugging at it without noticeable result. "He can't hurt anyone now, you leave him alone!"

"Idiot," Vegeta snarled. "What do you want to do? Repair him so he can come back and destroy us all? I let the jinzouningyou live and look what happened. She almost got you killed!"

"Juu-chan did nothing of the sort. As for Juuroku-gou, he was only following his programming. We can change that! After all we've been through, we can use all the allies we can get. Vegeta, I am warning you, don't you dare destroy him!"

The look Vegeta turned her way made Bulma want to be somewhere else, preferably several million parsecs in any direction's distance from her mate. Instead of giving in and backing down, she raised her chin, refusing to look away. I will not, I will not give in, there are a lot of things you can talk me into and out of but not this one, not this time, Vegeta--

Maybe he heard her; maybe he only sensed the intent behind the words. His expression never wavered, but all the same the Saiyajin's stare shifted in some indefinable way, yielding the argument to her. The glow faded, and his arm dropped to his side. Bulma blinked, more than a little amazed, and as Vegeta snarled something under his breath and stalked away she was overcome with a feeling... no, a certainty... that not only was he secretly proud of her, but that she had passed some crucial test. Of what, and why it'd needed to be, she had no idea.

Somehow she didn't think she'd be getting any answers out of Vegeta any time soon, either.

"Gohan," she said instead. "I need you to bring him back to the lab for me." She glanced around. "Juu-chan, are you all right?"

The blonde came up beside Bulma, still dusting herself off with a frown set on her too-perfect features. "I'm fine."

"Good. Help me revive the boys, so we can get everyone back to Capsule Corporation. I've still got a lot of work to do."

* * *

An hour later, Juuroku-gou was laid out on an examination table in Bulma's cybernetic lab. Wires led from the shattered portions of his cranium to a computer terminal standing in one corner.

Juuhachi-gou checked the last connection. "He's all hooked up, Bulma. Ready for transfer."

"Thank you, Juu-chan. Vegeta, would you please go sulk against the wall or something? You're in my way." Bulma shot a cross look at her mate--her husband, now, thanks to his impulsiveness--who insisted on staying within arm's reach of her.

Vegeta didn't move, forcing Bulma to walk around him to reach the keyboard. "This is a fine way to spend a honeymoon," she grumbled, her fingers flitting nimbly over the keys. "Initiating data dump now."

"Ano, Trunks-kun," Goten whispered, watching from the doorway. "What's she doing?"

"She's downloading Juuroku-gou's data into a slave terminal," Trunks whispered back.

"His what?"

"His programming. His brain, sort of."

"What for?"

"How should I know? Maybe she wants to find out what makes him work, or something."

"For once, I almost agree with Vegeta," Piccolo muttered behind them. "Better safe than sorry."

"Bulma-san knows what she's doing, I think," Gohan offered.

The Namekseijin snorted. "She's too damned used to taking in strays."

"But if Juuroku-gou was only following his programming, maybe Bulma-san can fix it." Gohan looked back over his shoulder. "Ne, Tou-san?"

Gokou smiled and nodded. "Hai, Gohan."

For long minutes there was no sound in the lab itself but the whir of spinning drives and the hum of the transfer mechanisms. At last the slave computer beeped. "Transfer complete," Juuhachi-gou announced.

Bulma nodded and touched another key. "Hello? Juuroku-gou, can you hear me?"

All eyes from the doorway turned to the still form on the table, but the answer came from the computer slave terminal. "I hear you."

"Good. Do you know where you are?"


"Well, you're in my lab at Capsule Corporation. My name is Bulma."

"I know who you are."

"Oh, well, good." Bulma sat on the edge of the desk, crossed her legs, and fluffed her hair. "Now, then, Juuroku-gou, why don't you tell the audience a little bit about yourself?"

"I was created by Dr. Gero to destroy Son Gokou."

"Yes, I think we got that. Did you know why?"

"It was not my purpose to determine Dr. Gero's reasons for my programming."

Juuhachi-gou stepped forward. "Why did Dr. Gero deactivate you?"

"At the time I was activated, Son Gokou was not on Earth. When I refused to fulfill Dr. Gero's subsequent orders, he chose to switch me off."

"But why would you refuse to obey your creator?" Bulma asked.

"He ordered me to take the lives of others. My purpose was to kill Son Gokou, not to take action against any other living being. Since I am not, strictly speaking, alive, I'm unwilling to destroy life. Life is precious."

"You were willing enough to destroy Kakarott," Vegeta huffed.

"Who is Kakarott?"

"That's another name for Gokou," Bulma explained.

"Noted. To kill Son Gokou is the reason I exist. Without that, I have no purpose."

"But--" Juuhachi-gou began, but Bulma stopped her with a quick shushing motion.

"Sounds like a one track mind to me." Vegeta cast a look at the still-motionless body on the table. "Now can I kill it?"

"Be quiet." Bulma sat forward, looking intently at the blank screen as though trying to make contact with the artificial consciousness within. "What if I told you that Son Gokou had already died?"

A pause. Then: "Son Gokou is alive."

"The Son Gokou you fought isn't the original. Son Gokou died twenty years ago as the result of heart disease. This person is a clone of the original."

"Ah-ha," Piccolo grinned, "the old 'don't kill me, I'm a clone' trick. Hey, it worked once already."

The terminal was silent for almost a minute. Then the deep voice spoke again. "It doesn't matter. I was created to kill Son Gokou, and I have to fulfill my programming."

"For a dead madman?!" Juuhachi-gou demanded.

"Dr. Gero was my creator. Without him, I wouldn't exist. Without his programming, I have no purpose."

"Wait a minute." Bulma sat down at the terminal. "What if you had a different purpose? One to replace what Dr. Gero gave you when he created you?"

"That would be acceptable."

Bulma grinned. "Juuroku-gou, display the source code for Gero's original programming on the terminal screen."

The terminal instantly lit up with row after row of numerals. Juuhachi-gou leaned in and gave a low whistle. "Calm down, it's only ones and zeros," she murmured, studying the display. She pointed a slim finger. "There, isn't that it?"

"I've got it." Bulma moved the cursor to the beginning of a block of code and highlighted a long sequence before hitting the DELETE key. "Now to give him a new reason for being--" She tapped the keys in quick succession, filling the empty space Juuroku-gou's preprogrammed urge to murder had once occupied. "Juuroku-gou, save changes to your core program."

The drive hummed. "Confirmed. Changes saved."

"Yippee!!" Bulma spun in her chair and high-fived Juuhachi-gou. "Never underestimate the power of a genius, especially a pretty one!"

Vegeta's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Now can I destroy it?"

"No way!" Merrily Bulma turned to the terminal. "Juuroku-gou, tell us, what is your purpose?"

The response came at once. "To be kind to all life-forms, especially small animals."

"Are you capable of taking a life?"

"Only when those I protect are threatened."

"And who are you designated to protect?"

"Whoever you tell me to, Bulma."

Bulma looked coyly over her shoulder at the group in the doorway and tipped them a wink and a thumbs-up.

* * *

"So the big guy's on our side now?" Chamuya was kicked back on Bulma's sofa, wincing a little as Bra tended to a cut on his head.

"Yeah, basically." Rinriku sat back carefully; Marron knelt at his feet, carefully taping his twisted ankle. "Man, I'm beat. It's been one heck of a day, hasn't it?"

"Sure has..." Gokou grinned from one to the other, his eyes shining quietly with a secret joy.

"Where's Bulma?" asked Videl, handing her baby over to Gohan.

"She's repairing Juuroku-gou," Gohan said, chuckling as his infant daughter laughed and waved her hands at him. "She just finished reinstalling his data and now she's working on his hardware systems. Ne, Pan-chan, you see? Your kaa-san told you everything'd be okay."

"And Vegeta's hovering over her every second," Juuhachi-gou added. "It feels strange for Vegeta to trust someone else even less than he does me."

"Are you sure he's safe now, Juu-chan?" Videl asked.

"Quite sure. Bulma's as brilliant as her reputation says--if not more so. She wiped out every trace of the programming that made Juuroku-gou want to kill. He'll be as loyal to her now as he ever was to Gero's original directives...and since she was smart enough to include a couple of crucial subroutines, she'll be able to give him direct orders that he'll follow on the spot."

"...didn't I tell you, Trunks-kun?" Goten said as he followed a stormy-faced Trunks into the living room. "We're powerful as Gotenks, ne? Deshou?"

"As who?" Juuhachi-gou asked, looking towards them. "Oh, you mean that hot-looking guy who was fighting Juuroku-gou?"

Trunks stopped dead in his tracks, spun on his heel and grabbed Goten by the shirtfront. Shaking him with each syllable, he snarled, "I am never...going...to Fuse...with you...again!!" Dropping Goten, Trunks continued on his way out the front door.

Sitting back on her heels, Marron looked from the retreating Trunks to a stupefied Goten. "Now this story," she said, folding her arms, "I can't wait to hear."

Goten put a hand to the back of his head and laughed feebly.

With a small smile, Juuhachi-gou went out the door after Trunks. Gokou stood up and followed as far as the open doorway. He saw Trunks perched on the boundary wall that bordered the front of the property, sharpening his sword with a vengeance. Juuhachi-gou sat down on the low wall just behind Trunks and leaned against his back; after a moment, he sheathed the sword, set it aside, and turned around to gather her in his arms.

Gokou shifted his gaze to the western horizon. The sun had slipped below the distant line of trees, and stars were just beginning to appear overhead. He looked eastward, towards the barren plain and the mountains beyond, and remembered another forest, another time, long ago.

His sharp ears could pick up the sound of Bulma's voice from far back in the house, back in the lab, rising to shrill heights as she berated Vegeta. He chuckled softly. Bulma was his first and oldest and dearest friend, someone he'd live and die for, someone to whom he owed his very existence, in more than one sense of the word. It went beyond her heroic efforts to revive him and the other warriors. It was Bulma who had found him, decades ago, when he was still a child, living in the forest as little more than a wild creature. It was she who'd convinced him to leave his home and go out into the world. It was she who'd shaped his life and his destiny in more ways than anyone else he had ever known. A lot had happened since their first meeting. So many years, so many places, so many adventures...and so many more still to come.

"Not a bad end to a day, eh, Gokou?" said a voice at his elbow.

He looked down, smiled and laid a hand on Rinriku's shoulder. "Not bad at all," he murmured to his best friend reborn, "but not an ending either, you know? Feels more like a new beginning to me."

* * *

==THE END===