Chapter One: Convergence
There was an accident in Heaven, and Mr. Popo, who was usually a bastion of good sense and of even better advice, was at a complete loss for what to do. Mr. Popo loved his job, and even more so the people who administrated over him; but in all his hundreds of years as the earth-Kami's assistant, he had never seen the eighth dragon ball before.
Of course he had suggested to Dende that they leave the strange thing alone; that such odd items, hidden away in trunks buried deep within library vaults, were obviously there for a purpose and best handled by those qualified to deal with them – such as a Kaiou, for instance, or maybe even Enma-Daiou himself. But Dende had meddled – and now, Dende was no more.
At least, that was the way it came across.
Dende – and the extra dragonball along with him, for that matter – had disappeared completely from Kami's Tower. Exhaustive search had turned up nothing, and showed only that Dende and the ball which intrigued him were simply nowhere to be found at all.
Normally, an incident such as this would not have panicked Mr. Popo – he had, after all, been through recent events such as Buu and Cell, and seeing the earth destroyed and wished back, and before that momentous occasions like the taming of the dragon Shen-lon and the creation of the dragonballs. With the Z-Fighters down below and the dragonballs to help out - why, there was hardly an occasion that Popo didn't think could be handled calmly and efficiently.
Except, perhaps, for this one.
And peeking over the edge of Kami's Tower toward the busy, busy earth far below, Mr. Popo knew that the repercussions of the day's events would shake the course of the entire world; for of course, the warriors of earth expected the dragonballs to be there to help them in their dire need. But no Dende meant no dragonballs – no means to summon Shen-lon, and no possibility of granted wishes, no matter how urgent. Heaven was at an impasse – and so, it seemed, was earth.
Deep, deep in space, a large saucer ship, very reminiscent of the style formerly used by King Cold and his offspring, hovered stationary amidst the wreckage of what used to be Planet Namek. The inhabitants of the ship – and they could only be called that, since they had no other home – smiled triumphantly at the material obtained by their search operation.
Such a small piece of evidence, really; a square of metal which had miraculously survived the explosion of the planet and been torn whole from whatever larger structure it had originally graced. It had two simple words, printed in English, on one side:
The seekers had found the final clue they needed. Giddy with the joy of a quest at long last completed, they pointed their vessel toward the Earth.
The gods help anybody who had been responsible for the death of the man they claimed as their King.
Piccolo, Chaou-zu, Yamucha, Tenshinhan, and Kuririn were sparring when they got the news.
"Makkankosappo!!" roared Piccolo, and the bunched group of fighters - Tenshinhan, Chaou-zu, and Yamucha - all scattered. Kuririn, however, failed to do the same. Smiling humorously, Piccolo adjusted the angle of his beam to just graze the back of Kuririn's pants.
The antagonists broke up laughing as Kuririn jumped up and down, batting helplessly at his derrier. "Too slow, little man," Piccolo chided, resuming his in-air meditation pose. Kuririn ignored him; he had resorted to trying to extinguish his gi by rolling in the dirt, and was no longer paying attention.
"Cute boxers," ribbed Yajirobe from his safe spot behind Piccolo, where he was free to watch rather than fight.
"Aw, shut up," grumbled Kuririn, embarassed, clambering to his feet. "If we'd been fighting for real, I'd have been fried!" The others chuckled resumed their fighting stances.
"No, you wouldn't," Yamucha said, sounding dryly amused. "If this had been for real, Gokuu woulda been here to save you."
"True enough," sighed Kuririn, and got back into position.
"All right, little girls," Piccolo grinned evilly. "It's for real now. HA!" He raised his hands and sent another powerful beam in the others' direction - and just then, Gokuu transported directly into its path.
"Gokuu!" shouted Piccolo, but he needn't have worried. Gokuu simply raised his left hand to block, and the powerful, spiral beam splattered and diffused harmlessly on contact.
"Ohayoo!" Gokuu cheerfully greeted them.
"Gokuu," said Piccolo, relieved and annoyed. "What do you want?"
"Ah – gomen nasai," Gokuu grinned apologetically, placing one hand behind his head and blushing. "I don't mean to interrupt you, but I've got some news." He began to bounce up and down on his toes, beaming. "I'm a grandpa!"
"You mean Videl finally had her baby?" exclaimed Kuririn. Gokuu smiled enigmatically in reply, and everybody – sans Piccolo – rushed him at once.
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
"What's its name?"
"Is it healthy? What about Videl, how's she doing?"
"It's a girl, and her name's Pan," Gokuu shared cheerfully, absurdly pleased at having a new family member.
"Pan? They named her BREAD?" Chaou-zu gaped, but no one else seemed surprised.
"Yep," Gokuu agreed. "Gohan's a mess; I don't think he slept at all last night!" He grinned expansively and sighed, sticking his chest out with pride.
"Somebody call Bulma – we got to get together at the Capsule Corporation and paaaaarty!" said Yamucha.
"Did!" said Gokuu. "You know how good Chi-Chi is with arranging that kind of thing, although I really didn't want her to go to all that trouble. She hasn't been feeling well lately, and I..." For just a moment, Gokuu's face fell; a darker expression seemed to flit over it briefly, and then was gone. "Well?" he asked, buoyant once more. "What are you waiting for? Everybody's invited!" And placing two fingers against his forehead, he vanished.
"Easy for you to say," muttered Kuririn. "SOME people have to FLY."
"Hey, what's this about Chi-Chi?" asked Yamucha as they began to gather their things. "Why did Gokuu look so... worried?"
"I dunno, Yamucha," said Kuririn, brushing hair out of his eyes. "Maybe it's some sort of age problem..."
"Nah. It's probably the flu - I hear it's going around. Maybe we can find out if there's anything else wrong at the party," Yamucha said, dismissing the terrifying idea of getting old as casually as possible. "Let's go!"
"I hardly see why the all the rush is necessary," Yajirobe complained. "Kid's already been born, ya know."
"There's free food, Yajirobe," said Tenshinhan as he packed his bag, not bothering to look up. "And Chi-Chi's probably cooked it, so it's bound to be good."
Yajirobe grunted. "Well... all right," he conceded, then turned and walked off toward his capsule car.
"Just as long as the water is filtered," grumbled Piccolo, and then they left.
The party was in full swing by the time the rest of the Z-warriors got there. Bulma had called out all the resources, and there was so much food there that both the Saiyans and their children would have enough to eat. Gohan had not yet arrived, but he was scheduled to be there later with freshly developed pictures in tow.
Kuririn and his family were the last to arrive, and were pleasantly surprised to find that Bulma was greeting everybody at the door.
"Kuririn!" she said enthusiastically, hugging Kuririn and Juuhachi-gou and bending to kiss Marron on the cheek.
Kuririn could not believe his eyes; everybody was there. "Hey!" he called. "Lunch! Long time, no see!"
"Yeah," Lunch said quietly, staring blankly at the antihistamine Bulma had pressed into her hands the moment she walked through the door. "I couldn't miss Gokuu's grand-baby."
Kuririn smiled, moving aside for one moment so his wife and daughter could get in; Marron immediately ran over to play with Bra, who was standing by her father on the other side of the room. Vejiita stood by the fireplace, back to the wall, half hidden in shadow, arms crossed and scowling. As usual.
"Boy, Bulma," Kuririn said in an undertone. "I can't believe Vejiita's letting you do this – have such a big party, I mean."
"Well," she said, primly. "Ever since our marriage became legal, he's changed. Sort of. Let's just say that with a little give here and a little take there, it's a lot easier to get along." She smiled. "And as for the party, he's been promised a reward later on tonight. And that's all you need to know." She turned and grinned, and was rewarded with a brief but wicked flicker of a smile from Vejiita.
Kuririn shuddered and went in. He didn't really want to think about it.
"Well, that's everybody," said Bulma, and turned to shut the door, and that's when she started coughing.
It had a rough, painful quality to it, and went on long enough that everyone in the room stopped to look at her. Vejiita had uncrossed his arms and was frowning in her direction with something more than concern.
Kuririn patted her lightly on the back. "Hey... hey, are you all right, Bulma?" he asked when it looked like she could answer him.
"Yes, Kuririn, I'm fine," she croaked, perhaps a bit more testily than necessary.
"But... you sounded..."
"I said I'm fine! Why don't you go find Juuhachi-gou?" she cooed dangerously, and Kuririn, taking the hint, went into the living room and sat down. One did not defy a cooing Bulma.
There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment more, and then Gohan finally arrived. There were pictures to look at and the new father to congratulate, and within a few moments everyone was talking and the incident at the door had been forgotten.
In the midst of the commotion, however, there was a quiet but heated debate going on between Bulma and Vejiita in the corner. She had a pack of cigarettes in her hand, and Vejiita was in the process of forcibly taking it away from her.
Gokuu alone observed this, although he did not know quite what to make of it. Storing the information away for later, he turned back to enjoy the pictures of his new granddaughter.
Interlude 1.1: Dende
Despite the unpleasantness of his situation, Dende could not, for the life of him, think of what to do.
Dende stood, tall and strong as any Kami should, keeping a firm hold on the accursed blue and red dragonball which rested so innocently under his arm. Thus far, he had been able to make out neither where he was nor who he was with; he couldn't clearly see his companion, truthfully, and half the time, he couldn't even hear him.
At least one defining characteristic of the creature had surfaced: diligence. Oh yes - it certainly seemed to be quite dedicated to the cause of making Dende as miserable as possible.
There was yet another bizarre but familiar movement to his right - that of something proportionately misshapen bouncing fully as high as Dende was tall.
"Pluck a-plick a-sing a song," the thing sang in what it apparently thought was a winning voice. "Love is grand as night is long; moon is dim and stars are bright – oh, frick a-frack a-tuck a-tight..." and the thing continued to bounce, always just on the edge of Dende's peripheral vision.
"Ah – yes," Dende said, tightening his grip on the eighth dragonball. "I don't suppose - " he began to ask.
"No no, my friend, you DO suppose! Quite a bit, and all the time!" The thing chortled as it leaped, a high, unbalanced sound, and Dende was momentarily gripped with the fear that he would see it fully and go mad himself. "Why, you are a positively inappropriate ball of contradictory and satisfying presuppositions!" it said, apparently delighted.
"Um – yes," said Dende again. "But I was wondering – "
"You certainly were!" it shouted.
" – if perhaps it ever gets lighter here," Dende pressed on.
"Ahh..." the thing hissed quietly, and for a moment it seemed to stop bouncing. "Yes, it does, my wayward little Kami," and Dende shuddered at the veiled malevolence in its voice. "But only at the End."
"The end?" asked Dende faintly.
"Not the 'end,' but the 'END'!" the thing shouted gleefully. "Bye," it said, and then hopped away.
"Wait!" called Dende, but it was too late – the creature, whatever it was, had gone. Dende sighed; this was not a good place to be stuck alone, no matter how odd the company. He looked up and around him; he was not really expecting to see anything, and therefore was not disappointed. Above him was a dark, faintly luminescent blue, the color of the sky over a desert on earth at the tail end of dusk. That was where the similarity ended.
Around him was black. He knew there was mass of some kind, because he was certainly standing on something - but what it was, he had no way to discern. It was as if the ground sucked light into itself and returned nothing. As far as he could see, in any direction, there was only the slightly curved bowl of the sky above and the blackness which met it at the horizon. There was no sound; no scent; no texture even to the ground on which he stood. Such a place could drive a lone man out of his mind.
The odd part – if one thing could be singled out – was that there was a light of some kind around him; not enough to illuminate his way, but enough that he could see himself and quick glimpses of his departed bouncing friend. In this place, his dull clothing seemed to shimmer with life.
Why? He had no idea. Just another mystery to add to the agenda, folks.
Wait – what was that? Dende squinched his eyes and leaned forward slightly, trying to make out what he thought he could see in the distance. There seemed to be some small... shapes... against the dark blue of the sky; from here, they looked like stunted, leafless trees.
For a long time Dende stood and simply stared at the bleak things, waiting to see if they would begin to move or perhaps try to eat him. He could sense no life, but that meant nothing; he hadn't been able to sense his strange hopping companion yet, either when it was approaching or when it had gone.
Dende sighed. Summoning all his courage, he stepped out into the seeming nothing and was glad to find there was indeed solid ground beneath his feet. He was not really surprised when the bouncing thing reappeared beside him.
"Finally made up our minds, have we?" it asked happily, leaping and flinging its deformed limbs just outside Dende's field of vision.
"It seems there is not much else I can do," Dende said quietly, shifting the huge dragonball to his other arm; blasted thing was bigger than the ones on Namek.
"You got that right," it said congenially, and followed him in silence as he cautiously made his way toward the strange tree shapes in the distance.