Chapter 33: A Few True Stories

"18 held my hand as we sat in the small, office-styled room and listened to the doctor talk. They had used MRI and a CAT scan to create images of the inside of 18's body. They also did a blood test called a "maternal serum screening", which can indicate the presence of some birth defects (it looked normal, although they said that that test isn't always accurate). He was talking about potential problems with the pregnancy."

So the words stood on the display of Kuririn's computer. They sat there like a part of the landscape, unchanging for what seemed like ages. In fact, the words had been there for a week. He had tried twice already to add more, but met with little success.

---

"No," said 18, "this isn't right at all."

"Huh?"

"How can you write about my 'amazing bravery and resolve' when they told me that they would have to do a C-section? Kuririn, I've never been more afraid in my life. I was delirious with fear. I thought I'd pass out."

Consternated confusion clouded Kuririn's big eyes. "But I could have sworn... I mean, after how you were before, I remember being awed by how well you took it..."

"When we got home, I sat in the corner and didn't say anything for four hours. Do you remember that?"

"No... aw, geez, I'm sorry."

"Well," she said, "just don't write it like this. It isn't the truth."

---

Truth, Kuririn had discovered, was an elusive thing. Paging back through the manuscript in his mind, he realized that he had misrepresented a lot of things. He had never really shouted to the monks at the Orinji temple that he was going to become the "strongest warrior the world has ever known." He DID have a little blip of memory from the first time he had died... or had he imagined that? He had made to jump off of Karin tower before going to the 23rd Tenka'ichi Budokai, but thought better of it and climbed down. 18 had not asked Yamucha about his sword until the third or fourth time that they visited his house together. Kurirn had not purposefully lied about these things, but it wasn't that his memory was faulty. Rather, it's just the way memory is - For anyone, one's memory is their truth about the past, but this and what really happened get skewed sometimes.

---

18 lay dazed and woozy on the hospital bed. Under her gown, stitches mingled a fresh scar with an old one. Still her eyes snapped forward with amazing intensity.

"Where's the baby?" She said. "I need to see the baby." She began to get up.

"Hey, take it easy," said Kuririn. "Hey... at least let me help you up."

"I'll be dead before I need help standing up," said 18. "I need to see the baby."

It was not far, after all, to where Marron rested. An early birth, she required special care. She was lit by a soft yellow light.

Kuririn and 18 saw a view of tiny simple humanity that takes all first-time parents by surprise."It looks so small and helpless," said 18.

Kuririn smiled. "Yeah. Babies are like that."

18 leaned in. "Hello, little one," she said. "I'm your mother."

Kuririn thought he felt a heavy tremor in his heart when she said this. He couldn't think of a thing to say. He barely noticed a few tears streaming down his cheeks.

"I'm happy, Kuririn. It's not just that I'm happy to have it over with. I feel good about this. Um... you're crying."

"Sorry," he said. "I guess I can't handle this much happiness."

"Don't be so sentimental," she mumbled, but she was looking at Marron and smiling softly.

---

Having turned off his computer, Kuririn looked at himself in the mirror. God, he looked so old. It was only fifty-two years. What did this white hair and these harsh creases think they were doing on his body? The evidence of too much fighting, he guessed. Too many crises. He washed his face and hands carefully before going out to face the others. He wasn't vain, but he was beginning to worry about looking too wizened. It didn't work for him.

---

Kuririn's face sagged with grief. "Aw, no," he said, "not Gohan. Damn it, he was a good kid. He shouldn't have had to die like that."

Despite the ongoing effort to find a way to fight Buu, despair was predominant on the Lookout. Buu was so strong that trying to understand his power was impossible. He'd played with Vegeta like a toy. He'd killed Son Gohan. He'd killed everyone on Earth! It had happened so quickly. Kuririn went once more through the only live kis he could sense on Earth: Tenshinhan, Chaozu, Mr. Satan, Buu. He suddenly felt so cold that he had to wrap his arms around himself.

Kuririn's eyes caught on Goku and the cold lifted a little. As long as Goku was around, there was still hope. True, his resurrection was only temporary, but he was still Goku, right? If anyone could beat such a monster, it'd be him.

"Goku," said Kuririn, "You being alive is our silver lining in these dark times. At least you can beat Buu, right?"

But when Goku looked at him, the hollow look in his eyes inspired no hope. "He's so much stronger than me, Kuririn. If I go Super Saiyan 3 I can fight him, but I couldn't keep that up for long. I'll try, but no, I don't think I can beat him. Sorry."

Goku looked so sad that Kuririn put a hand on his shoulder. Goku smiled. "You don't have to comfort me, old buddy. I'm already dead. I just feel bad for you guys."

Kuririn despaired. Until now, he'd been kind of desensitized to tragedy, but he was losing so much this time - not just his life, but his wife and daughter. He made his way over to 18, resolving to spend his last moments with her. Marron was over bothering Piccolo. He'd have to get her soon, but not just yet. He didn't want her to see him as he was right now.

"Hey, 18."

"Hello, Kuririn."

He couldn't help himself - he just started to cry. He bit his lip to try to stop.

She looked at him. "Kuririn?"

I'm sorry, 18, it's just.... I really thought everything was going to be okay this time, you know? And now..." he spread his arm around him feebly.

18 bent down and hugged him tightly. "Be strong," she said. Oh, he would try.

---

"Hey, 18," he said again.

She looked up for a moment between throwing clothes into the wash. "Hello." Looking away again, she asked, "Making progress on your book?"

He sighed. "No. You know, 18, I expected autobiography to be easier than fiction, but it's even harder than that. I'm not getting anywhere. I can't believe how much of my life I've put into this thing. I mean, I'm old. As old as I am, what am I doing with myself?"

18 started the cycle. "You're a husband and a father. You play poker three times a week with Yamucha. We go to Miyamoto-san's house for parties. You work on your book."

"Yeah. I just wish I felt better about the book right now."

18 ran a hand through her own hair, and then placed it on her hip. "Well, why are you writing it?"

Kuririn shrugged. "I guess I just want to tell the truth... Nah. Nah, it's more than that. Telling my life is like living it again, and it helps me work out my issues. Lately, I've just had trouble remembering the details."

"Well, maybe the details aren't so important."

"Yeah." He scratched the place where most people would have a nose. "Yeah, maybe."

---

"And then I stepped in a big puddle and got my socks all wet but not my dress. It was a big puddle though! Maybe a sinkhole... daddy, listen!"

"Hai, Marron-chan. I'm listening." Marron clung to Kuririn's neck as they flew toward Kame Island.

"And Chihiro got mad 'cause I splashed her. But, she wasn't real mad. And then we both went... Mommy! You see her?"

"Hai. I sure do."

Landing on the beach, Kuririn put down his daughter, who ran with a funny little bounce toward 18.

"Hello, Marron," said 18. "How was your day at school?"

Marron fiddled aimlessly with a ribbon for a few seconds and then shrugged. "'s okay."

"Hmm. Did you get beaten up?"

"No."

"Did Kuririn-san drop you on the way home?"

She made a face. "No!"

18 smiled in a way that was intended to be ironic, but came out mostly sincere. "Well, then I think it was a pretty good day."

---

Marron landed the flying car, gathered her stuff, and entered the house. She waved hello to Muten Roshi and entered the kitchen where her parents were.

Kuririn saw his daughter enter the room. She was quite pretty, although of course she had no nose. Kuririn felt badly about that; she'd gotten a lot of grief for it. She dealt with it, though, like she dealt with the fact that she lived on an island with a cyborg and a dwarf for parents and like she dealt with the fact that most of their friends were super-powerful people who regularly saved the world. None of these things bothered her too much; the abnormal was ordinary to Marron.

She took some orange juice from the refrigerator and talked to her mother. They talked about the mundane matters of everyday life - allowances and grocery errands and scholarship applications. Marron took off her backpack and let her hair out of its fastenings. After a time she turned to Kuririn.

"Hi, dad," she said. "Did you get a lot of work done on your book today?"

"You know your silly old father," he said. "Always getting distracted by one thing or another."

"Hmm... You should finish that pretty soon and move on to something else."

"Yeah, I should. So, how was school today?"

Marron put her fingers to her temples. "Ooooh my god, you should see the assignments I've got. It's like they think that I don't have a life!"

Kuririn laughed. "If that's the case, I should see you studying today instead of chatting online, right?"

She frowned. "Go work on your book."

Kuririn smiled and thought about his daughter. She had always amazed him. Although she could appear at times a superficial teenage girl, she was much deeper than that. She was intelligent and intensely curious, brave and self-assured. She was courageous; he would never forget how she had refused to run when their lives were in danger. She wasn't a martial artist, and it was a relief to find she didn't have to be. She was fine just the way she was.

Raising Marron had been a good thing for Kuririn and 18; it had brought them out of of their shell and into the real world. Being the parents of a schoolchild, after all, required interaction with "normal" people. And while many people were ignorant and refused to accept anything outside of their narrow way of life, some were not - and it was with these people that worthwhile relationships could be formed.

It was inevitable that Kuririn and 18 would come to know the parents of Marron's best friend, Chihiro Miyamoto. For them, Chihiro was the youngest of four children (Marron would always be an only child because Kuririn had gotten a vasectomy right after her birth, but that's another story). At first their interaction with the couple had been guarded, but they finally opened up to them about their past and what they really were. When they reacted with interest instead of shock, Kuririn and 18 and Chihiro's parents began to become good friends. Now they went over regularly and Miyamoto-san joined Kuririn and Yamucha for poker.

Marron was not without problems. At times, she would become frustrated and seem near a breakdown. Overall, though, she was a strong and happy person and Kuririn was glad to be a father to her.

Kuririn sat alone that day and thought about the best and worst times of his life. With Buu they had seemed to have an almost surreally happy ending. Everyone, even Goku, was alive. The Earth had been restored. Even Buu, or at least what was good in him, had survived and become friendly. There seemed to be no losers. Everybody took stock of their lives and mellowed out. Goku's family, Bulma's family, Kuririn's family and Yamucha became like one big extended family. Kuririn remembered picnicking with Goku, shopping with Chichi, even going to the fair with Vegeta. Those next ten years were mostly like a dream.

Then, of course, the Earth was threatened again. Finally sitting out of the adventures, Kuririn didn't understand the events that followed much. They seemed to be a kind of Grand Tour of suffering. This much was clear: Goku had somehow been turned back into a child, and then he, Trunks, and Gohan's little daughter Pan had to go on a hunt across the galaxy for dragon balls that would destroy the Earth unless collected again within a year. Knowing that was weird, and made Kuririn feel more helpless than anything else. Then, an alien with a vendetta against the Saiyans came to Earth and made things terrifying for a while. The thing that tore Kuririn's life apart was when Number 17 was possessed by a force from Hell.

Dr. Gero and a Dr. Myu about whom Kuririn knew little built a second android 17 in Hell. They opened up Hell and unleashed its terrors upon Earth. The new 17 eventually joined with the first to form Super 17, the most powerful cyborg ever imagined. However, it wasn't Super 17 or the 17 from Hell that confronted Kuririn and 18. It was 18's brother, the man who had come to their wedding. He wasn't like himself. He was violent, and the humanity had vacated his eyes. He seemed under a spell.

---

"Come with me, 18. We need to serve Sir Doctor Gero," he said.

"What? You aren't my brother..."

"We were meant to be together. Come with me and we'll rule the world."

Kuririn and Marron were terrified to see that 18 actually fell under his influence. The humanity left her eyes too and she walked toward him, that in her which was machine following a directive.

Kuririn panicked. He had to say anything to bring her out of it. "18, you're my wife!" he shouted.

Mercifully, it worked. 18 turned around. "Kuririn?"

"Don't listen to that human," said 17. Kuririn then turned on him.

"17, what's wrong with you? You'd never call Doctor Gero 'sir'."

17 almost came out of it too right then. Oh, the trouble that would have been saved if only he had. But he didn't, and he killed Kuririn with a ki blast.

Kuririn would curse that moment more than any other. Not for himself - it was hardly the first time he'd been killed - but because his wife and child had to watch him die. He couldn't imagine how much that made them suffer.

As usual, Kuririn floated aimlessly in undefined space. He was both conscious and not conscious of this; his soul both existed and did not exist. Then, after a period of time he could not name, he became aware.

Kuririn awoke in blank white space. When he realized this, he panicked and scrambled until he found purchase, though upon what he wasn't sure.

"Where am I?"

"Alone," came a voice. Kuririn saw a familiar figure coming toward him.

"Frieza."

Frieza spread his hands out before him in a graceful, fluid motion. "I'm glad to be recognized."

"But... but you're..."

"Dead? That makes two of us."

Kuririn broke out into a sweat. He clenched his fists. "I'm not afraid of you, Frieza," he lied.

Frieza raised his eyebrows. "No? And why is that?"

When Goku had come back for the 25th Budokai, he'd told Kuririn that he had become stronger than Frieza. Kuririn knew that Goku would never lie about something like that.

"I'm stronger than you," Kuririn said.

Frieza drew a fist up to his mouth. "Oho... did you just say that you... ho ho... HA HA HA!"

"Stop laughing."

"You... you actually think... ha ha ha!"

"Stop laughing!"

"Ha ha ha ha..."

Kuririn's ki flare and temper erupted. "I'm going to KILL you, Frieza!"

Frieza looked at him with a deranged smile. "Come!"

The fighters came at each other instantaneously. They exchanged blows so quickly it made the air pop and crackle. Kuririn hit Frieza many times, making him bleed from the nose and mouth, but Frieza's attacks never diminished in intensity, and Kuririn began to wear down. Eventually they separated.

Frieza said, "I'll give you this much, insect: you've improved. Actually making me fight."

Kuririn made 20 Kienzan and threw them at Frieza, but he dodged them all. Frieza appeared behind him.

"But you're mistaken if you think you can beat me by getting stronger," he said.

Frieza knocked Kuririn to the ground. Then, grabbing his hair, he beat him repeatedly and viciously. "You'll never be good enough, don't you see? You're a wimp! It's a miracle and a fluke that you've made it this far. You've never been anything but a burden to others; you don't even have the courtesy to stay dead!"

"Goku..." moaned Kuririn.

"Your friend isn't coming to save you. In fact, he'll never be there for you again!"

"18..."

"Oh, calling for your wife. Tell me, do you really think that she loves you for who you are?"

Frieza dropped Kuririn and began to kick him.

"Worthless piece of shit. You disgust me."

Even as he coughed up blood, Kuririn's eyes opened in realization. "You're… you're not Frieza."

Frieza did not stop. "What?"

"You're… not…" Kuririn jumped to his feet. "Frieza!"

Kuririn flew at Frieza and knocked him down. He pummeled his head until he was unconscious, ruining his perfect, pretty face. Kuririn then jumped back, charged up an enormous Kamehameha, and blew away Frieza's body with it. There was nothing left.

Kuririn spat out blood. "I know those insults too well. That wasn't Frieza. It was… me."

All of Kuririn's self-loathing had manifested in the form of Frieza, the most hateful and dominating being from Kuririn's past. Kuririn confronted himself and realized that he was good enough, that he did matter, and that somehow, his life was going to turn out all right. Letting go of his anxiety, he drifted from that realm into another.

He appeared in an indescribably enormous room in front of the desk of the Honorable Lord Enma. "Well," said the giant Enma, "It took you long enough. Your spirit had some issues with itself to get over before it could come here."

"This is the afterlife?" Kuririn said. "Where do I go from here?"

"Well, ordinarily we'd sort you, but I don't think we'll bother."

"Um… Why not?"

He jabbed an enormous finger in Kuririn's direction. "Because YOU, sir, are the absolute WORST being ever at staying dead! You'll probably be brought back to Earth any second now."

Kuririn stared blankly off into space. "18… I need to get back to Earth and see my wife again…"

Enma grunted. "Well, I don't know how this resurrection business works exactly - personally I don't like it, it makes the paperwork a real mess – but maybe you have some amount of control over where you're brought back."

So Kuririn sat and thought about 18. He thought about Marron too. He thought about Yamucha and Goku and Muten Roshi, but above all he thought about 18. And it didn't seem long at all before a short, sharp jerk brought him back to his flesh.

The first thing he saw was Number 18 sitting in the grass at that place that used to be theirs. Her eyes were closed, but they began to open slowly.

"Wow, I guess it worked," said Kuririn.

18 saw him and stood up at a start. "Ah! Kuririn? I can't… is that really you?"

"Yeah," he said. "It's good to be back."

Her eyes narrowed as if she were in physical pain. "But how?"

"I don't know," he said honestly, for he wouldn't find out until later that Goku brought him back with the last wish that Shenlong would ever grant. Then, just as honestly, he said, "Does it matter?"

"Yes! Well… no. I don't know."

18 looked down and held her own arm. She looked uncomfortable. "I came here because… I don't know. I was thinking about you." She sat back down.

Kuririn sat down next to her. "Are you doing okay?" he asked.

"Kuririn, I..." she looked at him. "You're back. You're really back."

Kuririn smiled and put his arm around her. "Yeah, I'm here."

18 began to cry. She bent her head to her knees and cried in rough, choking sobs. Kuririn immediately felt her terrible suffering.

"Hey," he said, feeling ineffectual, "it's okay."

"I had to watch you die," she said. "I saw you on the ground… you were dead. There was no life in you at all, and I thought, 'Oh my god, I'm never going to see him again. I'm never…'" She started crying even harder.

For several minutes Kuririn sat with 18 and held her while she cried. He felt so pained to see her like this. She'd cried before, but never like this. It was frightening to see her in such a state – her despair was total. Finally, she stopped and spoke to him again.

"Goku and I had to kill 17."

"Oh, man… that's horrible."

She nodded slowly. "I can't stand to lose you, Kuririn. Please don't leave me again."

"I won't," Kuririn said, deliberately ignoring the implications of such an answer.

A chilly mountain air blew through the pause in their speech, lifting the blades of grass all around them.

"We need to get home," she said. "I'm worried about Marron. She hasn't spoken much since you… umm. Died."

They were met at the door of the Kame house by an enthusiastic greeting from Roshi and Oolong. Marron ran up to Kuririn and tackle-hugged him.

She looked up at him and smiled, but she smiled through obvious pain that made Kuririn's heart break. "Dad, I'm… I'm so happy to see you!"

"I'm happy to see you too, sweetheart," Kuririn said.

Marron fought off a sob and wiped unforgivingly at the tears streaming from her eyes with her knuckles. "I'm... I'm sorry," she mumbled.

18 put a hand to her daughter's cheek. "You don't have to be sorry, little one. Sometimes it's good to cry."

Kuririn felt conflicted. Two of the strongest people he knew were in tears. Shouldn't he be crying too? Somehow, he couldn't find any tears left in him to cry.

---

Kuririn remembered lying on the floor with 18 and Marron and not wanting to move. They were all so very tired, so weary of hardship. It was hard to pick up and start again after that. It took a heroic effort just to get a normal life going again.

Kuririn, a simple, small 52-year-old man, sat on the beach and marveled at the peace all around him. No storms brewed in the sea or sky. No aliens or androids threatened the Earth. His daughter went to school and hung out with her friends. His wife went out shopping, then came home and drew a picture. He made dinner and some tea. Life went on.

A lot had been lost the last time peace had been won. Kuririn knew that he would never see Goku again. On that same day that he had been resurrected, Goku had come to see Kuririn for one last spar, and there was an unspoken understanding that it was the end of their lifelong friendship. Piccolo and Buu were dead for good. Dende's dragon balls had been destroyed, forever ending Shenlong's unreal influence on reality. From now on, consequences were consequences. Kuririn wasn't sure whether or not he liked it better that way.

Kuririn knew that it would be easy to despair, to consider peace a fleeting thing and threat an inevitability, but only a fool could look at circumstances like these and not be content. Kuririn had few goals left; he was done getting stronger, and he knew that enlightenment was out of his reach within this lifetime. There was nothing left now but to live and be content. Kuririn was thankful to have the chance to live that way. He'd had his share of excitement; let the young deal with that now.

Kuririn said good night to his daughter – she was chatting online, no big surprise – and to Muten Roshi and went to bed. He sat up and did a crossword puzzle until 18 joined him.

"You did a lot of brooding today," she said. "Feeling all right?"

"Oh, I was just thinking about the book," he said. "I think I've got a pretty good idea of how I'll finish it now."

"I'm thinking of going into selling real estate," she said. "I think I could make pretty decent money that way."

Kuririn looked up from his crossword. "Really? You've never done much selling."

She shrugged. "How hard could it be? Anyway, it's just something I've been tossing around."

"Well, do whatever makes you happy."

"Hm. Great advice, huh? Why would I do anything else?"

Kuririn laughed. "You've got me there."

"Are you ready to go to sleep?" she asked.

"I suppose so," he said, and put his book away. "Good night, 18. I love you."

"I love you too, Kuririn," she said, and turned out the light.

Kuririn could never be totally sure whether 18 was sleeping or doing a good imitation of it, but these days she did either one fairly quickly. He admired her face in the moonlight that came through the window. She was still very pretty, although there was no longer any denying that she was aging. For a while 18's appearance hadn't changed much, which had given them cause to wonder whether she was aging at all, but now he could see the slight creases in her face and the white starting in among her blonde hair. This was simply a fact of life, and nothing alarming. It was good that they should grow old together, Kuririn thought. After all, what business did an old man have with a wife who was artificially young forever?

Kuririn felt comfortable with 18. Their love was no longer a desperate, fiery passion. Instead, they lived together, enjoyed each other's company, and supported each other during the hard times. That was the kind of love that would last until the end of their lives.

Kuririn had a good night's sleep. The next morning, he got up, had some breakfast and a cup of chai, and sat down to write a true story.

---

Here's a story about a hero.

The matches were to start soon and Goku was still nowhere to be found. Kuririn, having been appointed to track him down, found him in the locker room. When he found him, however, he didn't look eager to fight. In fact, he looked terrible.

"Goku?" said Kuririn.

Goku must have been pretty lost in thought, because he was actually surprised to hear Kuririn's voice. "Oh, hello Kuririn," he said. "I'm not crying, am I?"

Goku looked about ready to cry, but no tears actually wet his face. "No," Kuririn said evenly.

"Good," Goku said, "because I don't cry. I guess you've been sent to get me, huh?"

"What's wrong, Goku?"

Goku grabbed the back of his head. "Oh, it's nothing really. I mean... oh, Hell. I can't go back out there."

Kuririn, for his part, was trying not to freak out. He'd never seen Goku so disturbed, and it was... well... disturbing. "Why not?" he said.

"I can't face my family. I mean, the look they were giving me... my wife and my sons. Oh my God, my SONS! Why didn't anybody tell me?"

"You were dead, Goku. We can't exactly send you a newsletter."

"Yeah, I know," Goku said. "It's all my fault."

"What? Come on, Goku! You died defending the Earth from Cell! How could anyone fault you for that?"

Goku looked at the floor. Quietly, he said, "How can I make you understand?"

The PA announced the start of the junior tournament in five minutes. Neither Kuririn nor Goku moved.

"Kuririn," said Goku, "Do you remember when I gave the senzu to Cell?"

Kuririn's face darkened. Did he ever. "Yeah."

"Do you know why I did that?"

"You said you wanted it to be a fair fight."

"It was all a game to me, Kuririn. Like some big stupid martial arts tournament. You remember how I used to let my opponents beat me up before I started fighting, right? That was the same thing. My head was never in it. Every fight was just another contest of strength. That time my son was stronger than me, so I thought he'd play the same part. But I was wrong."

Goku fixated on the palm of his hand. "When I saw Cell beating up Gohan, something clicked. I realized what everyone else had known all along - just how serious it was. I mean, I'd known, but I didn't really understand until that moment. And you don't know what it was like, Kuririn. For the first time in my life, I was scared... really, really scared. And it made me feel so powerless..." He clenched his fist tight.

Kuririn was alarmed. "Goku!" he cried out.

"I wasn't planning to sacrifice my life or anything," Goku went on. "But when Cell started that bomb, it all seemed to fall into place. That way, I could undo the damage I'd done, and I wouldn't have to live with the fact that I'd almost gotten us all killed by being so cocky. And the reason that I didn't want you guys to bring me back was that I knew I could never be the same kind of leader for you guys again. I didn't have that perfect confidence anymore."

Goku finally looked Kuririn right in the eyes. "But I guess even that was a screw-up, huh? Now I've got a son who doesn't know me and a family that I abandoned. I thought it would be okay if I came back for a little while, but Gohan won't look at me like he used to and Goten won't look at me at all."

Kuririn sighed. "Goku... Man, Goku. How could you think we'd hold that against you, after all you've done for us...? So you screwed up. Hell, we all screw up. We never asked you to be perfect."

"But I--"

"Goku, I don't think you realize how much we all love you. I mean..." The words stuck in his throat, but it was important to get them out, so he did. "...I know how much I love you."

Goku blushed and looked away. "Geez, Kuririn."

"I'm serious. You're... you give us hope. And it's not because you have "perfect confidence" or because you're a mega-strong Super Saiyan, either. It's just the way you do everything to pull through, the way you stand up and face the bad guys, that great smile... We're lost without you, Son Goku. There are no ill feelings for you here."

"And yeah," Kuririn said, gesturing at the door, "There's obviously some issues between you and your kids. I'm not gonna lie... that'd probably take some time to work out. But you don't really have time... you've got 24 hours. And all we really want is our Goku back. So just be yourself, and try to have a little fun, okay?" Kuririn stopped and tried to calm down the nervous fluttering in his stomach. He wasn't sure how he'd managed to say some of the things he'd said. He prayed for them to take hold.

"...Thanks, Kuririn," Goku said, and stood up. "I think I'll be okay now."

"Huh? Oh, really? That's great. So we can go?"

"Yeah," said Goku, and they started to head for the door. "Oh, um, Kuririn?"

"What is it, Goku?"

"I love you too. I mean... I don't mean anything funny. You know."

Now it was Kuririn's turn to blush. "Yeah," he said, "I know."

Here's a story about surviving.

After Buu's defeat, Goku, Mr. Satan, Vegeta and (oddly enough) Buu returned to the lookout. Once Goku had managed to talk Piccolo out of attacking Buu, there was an enormous feeling of relief as everyone adjusted to the idea of being safe again. Someone said, "Thank God it's over." Someone else cracked a smile. It was Goku who started laughing, and then the tension broke. Kuririn hugged 18, Pu'ar hugged Yamucha, Chichi hugged Goku, and Buu, who loved a celebration, hugged everyone except for Piccolo and Vegeta. Vegeta remarked that he was happy everyone had made it. It was an amazing scene.

After explanations and wishes had been worked out and the least socially inclined of the group had gone home, the only thing left to talk about was what to do next.

"I can't wait to get home," Kuririn said, holding Marron close to his face. "I think I'm just gonna watch television and zone out."

"Home..." said Oolong. "It'll be weird to go home, won't it? Even though it hasn't been that long, everything's changed."

"Hey, Goku," started Yamucha, "What are you going to do with your new lease on life? I mean, where can you go that you haven't been yet?"

Goku laughed. "Home! Yeah, I'm going to see if I can stay put for a while."

"Hey, that doesn't sound much like Goku," Kuririn said, playing the devil's advocate. "No trips on foot around the world? No armies to take on?"

"Ahh, I've got other things to do..."

"Hmpf!" said Chichi, wrapping an arm tightly around Goku. "He'll stay put if I have to chain him down!"

Here's a story about playfulness.

Marron squealed with delight as Goku ran around the yard with her on his shoulders. "Faster, faster!" she shouted.

"Hey, Marron, is that your Dad down there?" Goku shouted, stopping in front of Kuririn.

Marron waved. "Hi, Daddy!"

Kuririn smiled and put a hand to his brow, mock squinting. "Is that you up there, Marron-chan? How'd you get up so high? I can barely see you!"

"I'm riding on Goku-san's shoulders, papa," she said as a matter of fact.

"What, me?" said Goku, giving Kuririn a private smile. "I'm just a ghost! You must be flying, Marron."

She hit him in the head. "You're being silly!"

"Me, silly? I'm not the one who's talking to a ghost!"

Here's a story about myopia.

Kuririn, Gohan, and Goku sat under a tree. Goku was watching the nearby river intently for something. Gohan was trying to read a book.

"Gohan, are you sure you don't want to help me fish?"

"Later, dad." Gohan held the book close to his face and squinted, then let it drop into his lap. "Argh! I can't read this!"

Goku turned around. "Really?" He squatted down and looked at the book. "It is kind of hard to read, isn't it?" He pointed to the page. "What's this word mean?"

"No," Gohan said, "I can't see it."

Kuririn took the book from Gohan's lap and read a few lines aloud. "Hmm, you can't read this?" he said. "Gohan, you must need glasses."

"Aw, no way! I mean... I'm not even 25 yet!"

Goku grinned. "Heh-heh. It's no big surprise. You read so much, it was bound to happen sooner or later."

Gohan sweatdropped and snatched the book back into his lap. "Well... someone has to do the reading in this family."

"I'm glad it's you," said Goku, turning back to the river. "Stand back, guys! I'm gonna show you how to catch dinner the way my Grandpa used to do it!"

Here's a story about "power levels".

Goku and Vegeta had both gotten bored, and bored Super Saiyans are a very dangerous thing. Thus it was that there came to be organized a private martial arts tournament, fought in the desert but affectionately termed the "Backyard Budokai" because of Goku's original idea to hold it in his backyard. There were only 8 participants and only about 30 spectators, who sat at a respectful distance under a shaded canopy. They had borrowed Budokai announcer Akira Maeda, Pu'ar worked the camera, and Dende was somewhat begrudgingly on hand for healing. It was an exciting and fun, if incredibly dangerous, get-together.

The fourth match of the first round put Kuririn up against Goten, and Kuririn was worried. After all, it had been several years now since Buu, and there was no telling how much stronger Goten had become in that time. Since they'd forbidden going Super Saiyan during the matches, Kuririn had thought he had a pretty good chance, but Goten's cockiness and bragging about getting an "easy match" had put him on edge. Actually, he wasn't sure whether the prospect of winning or losing made him more nervous; after all, if he did win he was to face his wife in the next round.

"Try not to hurt me, Kuririn," joked Goten.

The tease made him bitter. "I'm not making any promises."

Goten came at Kuririn first with a simple blow so obvious that Kuririn was able to dodge it and trip him. Goten went into a roll and stood back up on the other side of him.

"Come on," Kuririn said, "that's no way to fight."

Goten flashed a grin and attacked again. This time, Kuririn grabbed his arm and flipped him to the ground, but he didn't press the attack further.

"Quit clowning around and fight," he said. "You'll never get anywhere like that."

"He he he... you're right, Kuririn," said Goten as he stood back up again. "I was going to take it easy on you to keep from embarrassing you too much, but it looks like I might lose if I don't take it seriously."

"Uh huh," said Kuririn. He hoped the kid was bluffing.

Goten assumed a fighting stance. "I'm ready now," he said. "You attack first."

Kuririn went in to kick Goten. Goten grabbed his leg, but that left an opening which Kuririn quickly took advantage of with a right hook that Goten had to let go of the leg to dodge. Goten went to punch Kuririn in the gut, but Kuririn deflected his fist and tried to hit him in the head. The two fighters went through hundreds of such exchanges at rapid speed. As Kuririn had feared might be the case, Goten was a good deal faster and stronger than him - the rate at which these Saiyan kids progressed was just obscene. His relative inexperience made him predictable, which was the only reason that Kuririn wasn't already starting to wear down, but there was no doubting his advantage in strength.

The two seperated. Goten shouted "Ha!" and threw a bolt of ki at Kuririn, but Kuririn bounced it right back at him. Goten took the blast, and Kuririn tried to use the opportunity to press forward, but Goten was quickly on top of him again. Goten's strength made Kuririn parry more often than block, which made him lose some ground. Also, from a combination of luck and beginning to figure out Kuririn's fighting style, Goten managed to deliver a few hits, which didn't help. Kuririn drew back to regroup, but Goten was on him again almost immediately.

Running out of options, Kuririn concentrated his ki to its maximum, causing his ki flare to erupt around him. The boost in power and speed enabled him to gain a temporary advantage, and he delivered several unanswered hits to Goten, but the advantage didn't last long. Soon he was on the defensive again, and before long he was on the ropes. He escaped a ring-out by falling backwards into a short flight above Goten's head, but he was running out of energy and he knew that he'd be knocked down for a count soon.

The whole situation made Kuririn a little angry. Here he was, about to lose to a kid who almost never did any training. He put all he had into one more charge, and that was when his ki exploded.

Kuririn's Ki flare flashed and engulfed the ring. His hit carried so much unexpected power behind it that knocked Goten flat on his back.

"What the..." Kuririn said, but he knew the answer to his question before he finished forming it. He had hit his limit. This was it - he was never going to get any stronger. Coming when it did, though, this was a blessing. He knew that the match was in the bag now.

"Go, Kuririn!" shouted Goku from the side. "That was great!"

Goten got up angrily. "My own father! Shouldn't you be rooting for me?"

Goku looked at him blankly. "Kuririn's a better fighter. You never do any training. He deserves to win, if you ask me."

"Grr!" Goten shouted. "That was a fluke!" He attacked again, but Kuririn was in complete control now. Every time Goten came on, Kuririn avoided his assault and hit him soundly. After getting hit in the stomach, Goten flew away from Kuririn and grasped his midsection.

"This isn't fair!" he said. "If I could go Super Saiyan, I'd win."

"If you need to go Super Saiyan to beat me, Goten, then maybe you're too dependent on it," Kuririn said, walking toward him now.

"'Too dependent?' That's it." Goten went Super Saiyan.

"Hey," the shouts came from the sideline, "That's a disqualification!" But Goten clearly didn't care.

He screamed and launched himself with blinding speed at Kuririn, but he just stepped out of the way. Goten turned around and did the same thing again, but this time Kuririn hit him hard in the back of the head, knocking him to the ground.

A hush went over the crowed. Had Kuririn really KOed a Super Saiyan?

Yamucha poked the announcer. "Start the count."

"Oh, of course! Ten, nine, eight..."

Goten failed to get up in time, and Kuririn was declared the winner. He smiled and held up the victory sign to a generous round of applause. Well, he thought, it's nice to have my day in the sun.

Goten groaned. "Oh man... I can't believe I lost."

"You could have had me," Kuririn said. "Don't get so anxious next time. A frustrated opponent is an easy opponent."

"How'd you get so much stronger?" asked Goten as Kuririn helped him up.

"Don't worry about it, I'm not getting stronger than this. You'll be much stronger than me soon. You might even have a shot at being one of the strongest. I think you'll find out that it doesn't matter that much, though."

"Try telling that to my dad."

Kuririn nodded. "Yeah, I know."

Here's a story about courage.

A van cruised down the street on the way to the girls' softball game. The van was driven by a benevolent middle-aged lady. One of the girls sitting in the back was Marron; another was sucking on a delicious hard caramel candy. Unfortunately, two things then happened at the same time: the girl with the candy inhaled to begin to speak and the van hit a pothole. The candy leapt down her throat and lodged in her air passage.

The girl grasped at her neck with her hands. She tried to yell, but couldn't make any sound. Her eyes became big, dark and frightened as she felt an intense fire in her throat. She felt like she was slowly burning to death from the inside.

Another girl looked on, frightened. "Are you okay? ...Oh no, she's choking!"

The car erupted in a panic. There was a lot of screaming, mostly "stop the car, stop the car!" The driver pulled over, went around to the back, and took the choking girl out and held her from behind. But then, seeing the girl squirm in mortal fear, she froze. Suddenly, she wasn't sure that she remembered what to do. Was she supposed to place her hand just under the ribcage, or...? She was acutely aware of the possibility of hurting her if she did anything wrong.

Before the woman had made up her mind, Marron walked over and put her arms around the choking girl. Remembering how the hands were placed on the diagram on the classroom wall, she performed the Heimlich manuever. On the fourth squeeze, the piece of candy shot out like a bullet and stuck to the sidewalk.

Marron got back in her seat and resumed the drawing she had been working on.

The incident would make local headlines. "It's not that big of a deal," Marron would be quoted as saying. "I just did what you're supposed to do. Anybody would have done it, right?"

---

"So, now we've come more or less to the present, and there isn't much left to write. I've been through a lot; I never honestly realized how much until I tried to write it all down. I'm not complaining; a lot of people have fared a lot worse than me. All in all, I've done pretty well.

When I started, I thought there would be some kind of big lesson I'd gotten out of all of this that I could pass on to you, but I still haven't thought of anything, and I guess it would be futile to try to come up with something. Just take this at face value, then: The story of a bunch of crazy stuff that I happened to witness and of something like a life spaced in between.

It feels wrong to write "the end" on your own autobiography, so I'll just say "see you later." I'm not dead for good yet, and I just might have a few more stories to tell before I am. I hope they're not as exciting as the ones I've told you here, though; I think you'll understand when I say that I'd like to take it easy for a while."

- Excerpted from "Only Human", Kuririn's autobiography

See you later…

AUTHOR'S NOTES:

A couple of weeks ago, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to finish this story the way I had originally wanted to. It's been three years now. Three years – I was sixteen when I started, and I'm nineteen now. The story has moved so agonizingly slowly through the last few chapters that the prospect of writing ten or twelve more was one I couldn't face. There comes a point where a project is no longer something driving you, but something hanging over your head, and I'm sorry to say that this project had reached that point for me.

However, it felt wrong to let the project just die after all this time, so I sat down to write something that would end it in a way that I would be satisfied with and provide some closure. What you see above is the result; I hope nobody's too disappointed in me. This is how the story ends, and I hope you enjoyed it. I did.

10/20/09 UPDATE: Hey readers. Want to see more from me? I just recently uploaded a short new story related to this one. I can't believe I'm advertising it here, but for some reason this story is still getting way more hits than my new one. Go to my profile to read "Excerpted from the logs of Artificial Human Number 18".