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The Kakarotte Factor
by Echelon

A Card Game in Hell

There were no cards in Hell, so they ambushed an unfortunate fellow resident, of a species that sported leathery skin dusted with speckles that resembled—if one looked very, very closely—the wanted diamonds, hearts, spades, and clovers.

He would live, of course; one of the truly hellish things about Hell was that death was no longer an option for escape. After his attackers had taken most of the skin covering his elongated skull and forearms and cut them into fifty two rectangular strips, he'd lain there, waiting until they were well and truly out of sight, and around him Hell's inhabitants picked their way carefully past the pools of bright red-purple blood without so much as a glance at their source. As soon as he was sure his tormentors had left, he scrabbled back into the shadows, a pitiable lump of mangled limbs and gleaming viscera.

And somewhere in the middle of Hell, four of its most notorious tenants began a round of something that bore a remarkable resemblance to Earth poker.

The game didn't really begin to heat up until King Cold remarked, very off-handedly, that Babidi was planning to resurrect Buu.

"Buu?" Frieza leveled him a sharp look from the rim of his cards. "You mean, Majin Buu?"

"The very same one."

"Majin Buu is a myth," spat Frieza. "A character from one of my bedtime stories from when I was a child."

"Oh, no, son. I'm afraid he's very much real." His father pressed the tip of his index finger against his cheek, the movement lazy and calculated. "He was just...well before your time. Before mine."

Frieza wasn't wholly convinced, but one of the names mentioned tickled at his subconscious. "Who is this Babidi, then?"

"Bibidi's son."

Cell whistled. He possessed King Cold's cells, which made him privy to almost every scrap of knowledge he had had prior to his own birth. "So the most powerful wizard in the universe has a son. Who would've thought."

Frieza scanned his deck—a two of spades, a four of clovers, a seven of hearts, a five of hearts, and an eight of diamonds—and slapped it down with a snort. "I fold." He glowered at his father as though he were responsible for the motley hand. "And just where did you come up with this information, Father?"

"I have my means," was the cool response, and the others did not doubt him. King Cold had not been an interstellar lord for millennia without knowing what went on around him, and his penchant for being in the know had evidently survived his transition to the afterlife. "Word has it in the Demon World is that Babidi's going to come for Dabura."

"The king of the Demon World himself," Frieza muttered.

The Demon World was a shadow reality, a level above the one they currently resided in. It was where Hell found its overseers, demons who agreed to descend from their plane to control the chaos of the one below. The ones Frieza and Cell had tangled with in their short-lived bid for their new afterworld no doubt hailed from there; they had been fat and indolent and corrupt, pathetic pushovers who were completely unworthy of their positions as the sovereigns of this damned place. The defeated demons had hurled threats at them, most of which involved their sort-of king, a demon they called Dabura, coming to kick their collective behinds. Heaven had intervened before either Cell or Frieza could have the privilege of meeting him.

"He can do that?" blurted out Paragus, completely forgetting to feign meekness before the other three. "This Babidi...he can enlist someone from the Demon World, just like that?"

"The demons seem to think so," King Cold answered evenly. "According to the old stories, his father was once accompanied by two demons he had summoned straight from the Demon World with the help of a portal he opened with his magic. If Babidi is anything like him, he should be able to do the same."

Cell pressed his cards facedown, very methodically, on the tabletop. "I fold." He folded his arms, then put forth the question that had been tapping timidly at the back door of his companions' minds. "Is there a reason you are telling us this?"

King Cold leaned back. "Wouldn't you want a chance to return? To get out of here, to go back to wrecking planets, terrorizing their inhabitants, ruling the universe..." A gleam surfaced in his eyes. "...getting revenge?"

Before any of the others could offer a rejoinder, his son released a loud, indelicate snort. "You forget, Father, that I remember the stories as well as you. Bibidi's underlings paid a hefty price for their subservience. Their power was increased, yes, but their minds were no longer their own." A corner of his black-lipped mouth lifted, but only slightly. "Sure, it might be fun to go back, surprise certain people before annihilating them where they stand, but what's the point of returning when you're under someone else's control?"

"Oh." If King Cold was disappointed, he didn't show it. "When you put it like that..." He turned his attention back to his neglected deck. "Well, it seemed like a good shot at getting out of this place. Well, gentlemen, I'd like to call, if you please."

Paragus's hand consisted of a king, a jack, a seven, four, and three of diamonds. King Cold had an ace, a ten, a five, a three, and a two of hearts. The mustachioed Saiyan watched without much candor as King Cold raked the pot toward him with a small cackle.

Cell took over as dealer, and began to shuffle. "So," he said conversationally. "Where was Majin Buu all this time, anyway?"

King Cold inspected his hand with exaggerated interest and pretended to think for a moment. "Earth."

Frieza barked out a laugh, the sound cutting and strangely hysterical. "Of all the hiding places in the universe, it had to be that mudball of a planet! What a truly delicious coincidence."

His father had to agree: Earth had been his graveyard, his and his son's. An insignificant, primitive world had played tomb to not one, but two intergalactic tyrants—not that there had been enough of their remains to bury. It might have been funny, King Cold thought wryly, had it not been so personal.

"I must say, I'm almost sorry Son Goku is no longer around to confront this Majin Buu," remarked Cell, almost casually.

To someone oblivious to the shared history of those clustered around the table, the change in ambiance might've gone undetected. Being as it was, all four were aware of it as surely as though it had been something tangible.

"You know," King Cold said, somehow managing to sound bored and confidential at the same time, "from what I've heard from around these parts, this Goku fellow has already been to Heaven, Hell, and back. What makes you think he won't be able to that again if he really wanted to return?"

Frieza regarded him piercingly, his chalk-white face set like cement. "What is he," he snapped, "an immortal?"

King Cold tilted his head and rubbed his chin. "Perhaps you should ask him," he told his son coyly, "seeing as you seem to admire him so much."

"Don't be ridiculous, Father." Frieza flicked a couple of his poker chips into the center pile, a little too forcefully. He hated it when his father got like this. "He was nothing but a dirty little monkey, and I do not admire dirty little monkeys."

Paragus matched Frieza's raise with some of his own chips. The lizard's derogatory epithet went over his head; why, indeed, should he take offense? His people had mutilated him and left him to die for the sole crime of fathering a child that surpassed the prince in power. Paragus had renounced his race many times as he'd lain in that dark, cellar-like room, his mangled body lying alongside his infant son, the both of them waiting to die.

They probably would have, too, if it hadn't been for Frieza's timely destruction of planet Vegeta, an event that had triggered Brolly's formidable powers, which in turn had spared them from going the way of their ill-fated planet.

So no, he didn't mind King Cold and Frieza. If anything, he was rather grateful to Frieza for disposing of his would-be murderers. Furthermore, they were scintillating company compared to the frustrated, mediocre, shiftless gofers that crawled the atriums of Hell.

"Oh, really." King Cold's voice was soaked with unwanted meaning. "Then what's this I hear about you hitting on the 'dirty little monkey' while you fought him on Namek?"

The table shuddered as Frieza slammed down his deck, scattering cards and poker chips, and stared at his father with protuberant eyes. "Father," he said with deceptive calmness, "the man humiliated me and nearly killed me, and you are accusing me of being attracted to him?"

His outburst did not extinguish the teasing glint in his father's eyes. "Mm...I suppose that makes sense. Still, there were those at your old headquarters who were monitoring your fight with this Super Saiyan of yours, and they absolutely swear they saw you hit on him."

"I did nothing of the sort!" shrieked Frieza, and a purple-red tinge diffused through the milky skin of his face.

" 'We could've been so good together,' " King Cold recited verbatim, enjoying the sight of his son's supreme embarrassment. "Really, Frieza, only you could decide to flirt with the enemy in a duel to the death."

Frieza spluttered incoherently, and Cell spoke without lifting his eyes from his deck. "To be honest, King Cold, I don't blame him. That Goku can be quite charming. For a low-life, inferior organic being, anyway."

"Goku..." Paragus stroked his beard thoughtfully; he had heard that name before. "Ah, yes...the bane of my own son's existence. Kakarrot."

King Cold bared his teeth at the Saiyan in a facsimile of a smile. "Well, well. That's something we have in common, don't we?" He picked idly at his incisors with the corner of one of his cards. "The bane of both our sons' existences is the infamous Goku-Kakarrot. I'm still disappointed I never got to meet the man my son was so obsessed with."

My son, and half of Hell, he added mentally. It was easy to tell the pecking order in this wretched place: the ones at the top of the Underworld hierarchy—the ones worth knowing—were all well acquainted with Son Goku, a.k.a. Kakarrot.

Cell and Paragus had been two of those people.

The android was a powerhouse, one of Hell's most prominent and most fearsome denizens, having earned that rank by being only the second person with the distinction of having once killed Son Goku. By contrast Paragus was a lightweight; in terms of power level he was far below Frieza's and King Cold's league. But he had Brolly, and Brolly, bereft of his vengeance against Kakarrot, was once again his obedient son.

"I was not obsessed, Father."

"Of course not, son." King Cold smiled condescendingly at his simmering offspring. "That's why you dragged me to the other end of the universe to annihilate him, his family and his backwater planet, and got ourselves killed in the process." His contemplated his hand, thought it satisfactory, and laid it face-up on the tabletop: a flush. "I call."

Frieza had a three of a kind, and though Paragus's hand was decidedly less impressive—one pair—he barely noticed; his mind was no longer on the game.

"You think that's obsessed," volunteered the Saiyan. "My brat loses any semblance of sanity if you so much as mention Kakarrot's name in front of him. At times his entire vocabulary consists of 'Kakarrot'."

"My, my. It seems Goku's got quite a fan club down here." Cell displayed his hand: a straight flush. King Cold clucked his tongue in disappointment, and Cell proceeded to sweep up the pot. "I don't suppose you've run into my creator yet. The man spied on Goku for twenty years, trying to figure out his weakness so that he could kill him. Twenty years. Now that's determination." The android smiled, shark-like. "Or obsession."

"Did he find one?" asked Frieza. He seemed to have calmed down a bit, and was now tapping a purple-black fingernail against the tabletop and trying very hard not to look like he cared about the answer. "A weakness, I mean."

Once again, Cell played dealer. "Other than the fool's willingness to sacrifice himself for his friends, no." He distributed the cards, his fingers moving with the dexterity of one used to intercepting blows coming at near-sonic speeds. "Gero thought of using his family as leverage once, but he changed his mind when he heard what happened to Garlic Jr. Quite a shame, really. The surest way to kill him without involving him in conflict is to annihilate his family. Unfortunately for us all, his family is just as deadly as he is. Ante up, gentlemen."

Chips were pushed to the middle, and King Cold tsk-tsked as he swept his gaze over his new deck. "This Goku really must be some kind of fellow. I take it back, son—perhaps you do have good taste."

"For the last time, Father," Frieza ground out through gritted teeth, "drop it. He's not even the right gender."

"Ah, but neither are you, but you don't see me bitching about it, hmm?"

Cell threw his head back and laughed, uproariously, before tossing a couple of chips into the center pile. Paragus added some of his own chips, his features twitching with suppressed hilarity.

Impervious to his son's death-glare, King Cold went on: "To tell you the truth, I would not have stood in your way had you decided to run away with this Goku. Imagine it: my son, intergalactic tyrant, and the most powerful being in the universe! It really is too bad he's not 'the right gender', as you so eloquently put it."

Frieza merely snarled and matched their bets.

Cell found King Cold's statement even more amusing than the earlier one. "Ah, if only the great Son Goku had been a female! Now that would've been be much, much easier on all of us."

"That it would," commented Paragus, knowing he had uttered the biggest understatement this side of the afterlife. Female Saiyans were the essential minority of Saiyan society, nothing more than walking reproductive units with half the strength and therefore half the value of a Saiyan male.

Cell had stopped laughing, and was now shaking his head. "Unfortunately, gentlemen, it's a bit too late for us to dwell upon the might-have-beens. So let's not talk about Goku any more, hmm? It appears some of us still have some unresolved issues with the man," he remarked, motioning his head toward Frieza, whose concentration on the game was belied only by the hairline fractures appearing at the edges of his cards.

"You have no idea," muttered King Cold, inspecting his surly son.

Cell turned back to his deck. "Incidentally, King Cold, what gender is Frieza, anyway?"

"Well, he is officially a male," the former tyrant answered, affectionately patting the top of his progeny's round head. Frieza made a horrible disapproving noise and ducked away. "Of course, there was some confusion with the doctors during his birth, like what happened with his big brother—you have met Cooler around here, haven't you? He's quite a lad, but not quite into that whole interplanetary rule thing. Not surprising that that Goku fellow killed him not once but twice. Now Cooler's a strong one, just not as driven as my boy Frieza here. But he was quite certainly a male, which is, I'm afraid, more than I can say for Frieza—at least Cooler never got into one of those mood swings, or put the moves on someone like that strong, strapping, dirty little Saiyan."

"Father, could you kindly just shut the hell up!"

Cell chortled, slapping at his knee, but Paragus merely wiped a suddenly sweaty hand on his lap. He was too busy thinking of Majin Buu and his son, both of whom lived for chaos, and Kakarrot.

Vegeta was enraged.

Usually, that was nothing new: anger was the Saiyan prince's state of mind ninety-nine percent of the time, and the emotion was generally instigated by the thought or presence of a certain third-class Saiyan.

The difference this time, however, was that Kakarrot had actually chosen to induce his wrath by announcing, more or less, that he was forsaking their duel for some vague menace that purple-skinned little punk and his companion had most probably dreamed up. Even now the fool was starting off toward the ring, all pumped up and ready to follow that accursed Supreme Kai or whoever the hell he claimed he was, and leaving the prince to fester here as though their fated, inevitable rematch meant nothing!

Vegeta let out a snarl and began to stalk toward the younger Saiyan. For years the only thing that had sustained him through something close to a life on this mediocre planet was the prospect that one day he would face Kakarrot and show him the true difference between a low-class and a prince. But their rematch would be postponed many times as Kakarrot found himself distracted by other things—Frieza, the androids, Cell, and then, death. And now, just as Vegeta had thought there was nothing more the universe could dish out for an obstacle, in waltzed Shin, who had the audacity to believe that he could sidetrack Kakarrot from his destiny with news of yet another adversary to preoccupy the other Saiyan.

Well, no more! Vegeta had gone through enough mental torment, enough battering of his pride, and enough years of waiting, and he was not about to have Kakarrot's attention whisked away from him by something as insignificant as a threat to Earth.

"I know what you're doing, Kakarrot! You're trying to skip out on our next match, aren't you?"

The other Saiyan glanced at him, his expression apologetic. "Vegeta," he began in that pragmatic, 'let's-humor-the-prince' tone Vegeta so hated, "can't you see that there's something more important going on here?"

A growl tore its way out of Vegeta's throat at the blasé reply, and he seized Kakarrot by his shirtfront. "You listen! After the next two matches, we are scheduled to fight! And you will fight me, so if you leave, you had better come back! I only entered this tournament so that I could beat—"

He was cut off, rather rudely, when Kakarrot fell on him.

Vegeta's reflexes kicked in, and he roughly shoved the other Saiyan off of him without releasing his hold on the latter's gi. Kakarrot's head bobbed, almost drunkenly, and his chin slumped against his chest. Vegeta scowled at the mass of unruly black spikes.

"Kakarrot, what the hell do you think you're doing?" he shrieked.

"Sorry, Vegeta."

Vegeta whipped about angrily, straining to see who dared butt into his conversation with Kakarrot. Baldy had just arrived from the back of the contestants' area, and the Namek was twenty feet away from them. The rest of the tournament's fighters were lounging around inside the tent and paying more attention to the happenings in the arena than him and Kakarrot. The blonde android was nowhere in sight.

So who the hell had just spoken?

"I—I lost my balance."

There it was again, that disembodied, annoyingly dulcet voice, but there was no one within speaking range, or even within hearing range. To add to his confusion, the voice seemed to be issuing from right in front of him, which did not make sense at all, since the only one there close to him was—

Vegeta grabbed a handful of thick pointed hair and yanked unceremoniously backwards, forcing up Kakarrot's head.

"Ow! Vegeta, that hurt—"

The person staring incredulously down at him was a stranger's. No, not a stranger's: the hair was Kakarrot's, the clothes, the expression—but the face and body were not. The pupils of the eyes were bigger, the facial structure less chiseled, the frame decidedly smaller. His dread mounting, Vegeta relaxed his grip on the stranger's hair and dropped his eyes—then wished he hadn't, because his other fist was still curled tightly around the other Saiyan's shirtfront, pulling the collar down low enough for him to glimpse the silhouettes of two plump mounds underneath.

Vegeta's stomach did a violent downward triple-flip. He jerked back, abruptly releasing his hold on the stranger, who staggered backwards. "Who—what have you done with—this is—what kind of sick joke is this?" he roared.

"Joke?" The Kakarrot imposter—it couldn't be Kakarrot, not with those narrow shoulders, those slim arms, and that chest—lost her struggle to stay upright and fell on her butt. The action seemed to jar her out of her puzzlement; she glanced down slowly at herself, the color draining from her complexion.

Shin materialized at Vegeta's shoulder, sounding only slightly impatient. "Do you two intend to come along or not?" he asked, just before he became aware of the newcomer sitting on the ground. His brows knitted into an expression of bewilderment not quite matching that of the Saiyan prince's. "Who are you?" he queried. "And where's Goku?"

The stranger raised a hesitant hand, letting it hover, half-clenched, next to her throat. "It's me," she said, and to Vegeta it sounded as though she were trying to convince herself of that even more than them. "I'm Goku."

From somewhere out in the audience came a lady's shrill, eardrum-rattling scream—no doubt incited by the Gohan-Kibito drama currently unfolding in the ring—but it seemed a more appropriate response to this newest development than anything either the dumbstruck Shin or Vegeta might have attempted.

End of Prologue

Closing Notes: All right, all right, so this was inspired by a Dragonball doujinshi. It'll be like the sole Goku gender-switch story amongst the oodles and oodles of Vegeta gender-switch stories. Why has no one thought of this before, anyway? Oh, and I was weaned on the English dub on Cartoon Network, so there's no "Toranksu" or "Buruma" stuff. Tough.

Anyways, expect a lot of familiar returning faces and irritably slow updates. Sorry—I got a job, an internship, and I am currently applying into a new college, thus the molasses pacing. Later!