The Burden of Hope


CHAPTER ONE:  Painful Memories--- A Warrior’s Broken Spirit


He saw them in the distance, felt their heat:  the explosions from the androids’ latest attack.  Right now, buildings would be crumbling on top of innocents; the people who were unfortunate enough to avoid that fate would be treated to a far less pleasant one at the hands of a deceptively harmless-looking dark-haired youth and his fair-haired sister.  Screams tore the sky asunder.

Gohan settled himself in his hiding place:  what used to be the basement of a small house.  The dwelling itself had been completely blown away; not even a cinder of what had once been above ground had the luxury of an existence.  Overall, the place was poor cover, but that did not matter; judging form the lingering stench of death, the androids had ravaged this area mere days ago and would not return to it for some time.

More destruction---and therefore more death---could be seen ahead.  Gohan knew that he should care---he always used to---but for the past three years, he had been numb.  Losing every person that one cared about could have that effect on someone.  Gohan’s friends had all died the same day; the only consolation the boy had was that he hadn’t witnessed all of the killings.  Tears stung his eyes at the memory; he still had some feeling left, after all.                                                                                                                                                                                                            
                                                               ********                 

Gohan tore his gaze away from the window and forced it back upon his books.  Looking outside was a painful experience; the outdoors reminded him of his father, who had died a few months before.  He wasn’t over it yet; he probably never would be.  Without the closeness Gohan felt only with him, there was nothing but a black hole in his heart, slowly sucking his soul into nothingness.

The boy’s head suddenly snapped up, his body going rigid.  Several strong ki signatures crackled through the air, an indication that the others must be battling someone.  Confused and alarmed, Gohan tried to determine which signal or signals belonged to the enemy.

“Vegeta…Piccolo…Kurilin…Yamucha…”  He whispered off each power’s owner as he recognized it.  None was unfamiliar.  He felt his blood run cold; the kis weren’t directed against each other, so what could they be fighting?  Whatever it was, it didn’t seem to have any lifeforce.  How was that possible?

One of the ki signatures abruptly vanished.  Panicked now, Gohan shot out of his chair, sending it clattering to the floor.  Ignoring the noise, he rushed over to his window, thrust it open, and leapt into the sky, a pale blue flying aura coming to life around him.

“Gohan!”  He heard his mother’s voice echo from behind and below.  He paid no attention to it; he had to get to the battle.  Something terrible had happened.

As he streaked through the air, Gohan mentally berated himself for cutting off contact with his friends after his father’s death; he might have learned of this new threat sooner and been able to prevent the killing he had just sensed.  His selfish desire had cost one of his friends his life.

Another ki winked out of existence.  Two friends now.  This couldn’t be happening.  It just couldn’t.  Screaming in fury, Gohan flashed into Super Saiyajin for the second time in his life; the first had been when his father died, arbitrarily stolen from him by a cruel heart virus.  The boy’s flying aura was now golden, the same as his once-black hair, and his dark eyes shifted to a bright, merciless aquamarine.  With newly released speed, he accelerated toward the battlefield.

Gohan saw it before he reached it.  Flames whipped about the tops of skyscrapers; thick columns of smoke rose from the blaze, nearly blotting out the sun.  Ki blasts lit the sky.  High above the city, a number of black dots moved with inhuman speed.  As the boy watched, one dot began to plummet from the heavens, its ki dropping to nothing.

Rage pulsed through his veins like blood.  Whatever was destroying his friends was going to pay; he would personally see to that.  No one harmed the people he loved and got away with it.

Fiercely, Gohan forced reason into his mind.  A blind attack would be sheer folly; it was the act of an undisciplined fool, and would get him into serious trouble much earlier than he could afford.  It was his job to protect everyone now, since his father wasn’t here to do it, and though he had failed in his duty to three of them, he would not allow himself to let down those that remained.  Or his father.

He stopped a short distance from the battle to observe how it was playing out.  For human eyes, the fight would not have been close enough to see, but Gohan was half Saiyajin and had the more acute senses of his extraterrestrial heritage; he picked it out easily.  And he was not pleased with what he witnessed.

Vegeta, his body aglow with the golden fire of the Super Saiyajin, was locked in a furious duel with a tall, sleek figure, and seemed to be losing.  The figure appeared to be female, with blonde hair cut just above her shoulders, and dressed in blue denim.  She easily, even playfully, dodged each of the flurry of the Saiyajin prince’s flurry of punches and kicks.  This, of course, incensed Vegeta, who in response began to attack more aggressively.  And more recklessly.  The figure’s arm whipped out with impossible speed, catching him full in the jaw and knocking him back several feet.

The struggle going on beyond that one was even less encouraging to watch.  Forming an unusual-looking team, Piccolo and Kurilin simultaneously battled another figure.  This one had a similar build to the first, except that it was clearly male.  It casually shot its leg outward and contacted Kurilin’s ribs, snapping the bones as though they were fragile twigs.  A fraction of a second later, it extended its palm toward Piccolo and fired a ki blast which sent the Namekseijin flying backward and smashing into the wall of a nearby skyscraper.

Unable to wait any longer, Gohan launched himself into the fray, targeting the male figure.  The young boy led with his foot and drove it down hard onto his unprepared opponent’s head.  As he made contact, he received a surprise of his own.

He had expected to feel the dull crunch of bone under his foot, but was met instead with the harsh clang of metal.  The resulting shock of his own blow rang up Gohan’s leg as he watched the figure drop several feet before catching himself.  It gracefully floated up to eye level with the boy.

Gohan, still half-paralyzed by incredulity, could do little more than stare.  The figure was dressed in blue jeans, and a black shirt whose collar was covered by a red scarf.  His skin was quite pale, almost white, harshly contrasting with the dark, shoulder-length hair that framed his face.  A cold smile was plainly visible on his thin lips.  It was the eyes, though, that captured the most attention.  The irises seemed much too large, and gleamed a metallic grey.  They briefly flickered a pale red light.

“You must be Gohan,” he stated, his voice softer than velvet.  The boy’s utter shock that he knew his name seemed to please the figure, who appeared to be in his late teens, and he continued, “I’m somewhat impressed with your attack; according to my data you should not have been strong enough to displace my position.  But don’t try to fool yourself, kid.  You’re far from a match for me.  Here, let me show you.”

The youth blurred, and before he could raise his arms in defence, Gohan was greeted with a knee in his stomach.  Gasping in pain, he doubled over, then suffered a sharp blow to the back of the neck.  His attacker lowered his leg, allowing him to fall.

The boy’s head swam like a school of confused fish.  Desperately, he struggled to maintain both consciousness and Super Saiyajin power.  He willed his senses to clear, catching himself before he fell too far, and shot back upward to engage the dark-haired youth.

Blow after blow met with empty air; for all his speed, Gohan simply could not keep pace.  He sent a vicious punch toward the youth’s head, overextending himself because his opponent dodged, then felt a cold hand on his chest.  The cold was quickly replaced by a searing heat, and the young boy screamed in agony as the ki blast propelled him backward.

Strong arms caught him, wrapped around his body.  Gohan tensed at the touch, fearing another ferocious attack, but then let himself relax; the hold was gentle.  Upon opening his eyes, which had squeezed shut in response to the pain, he saw large green hands encircling his torso.  He permitted himself a brief smile; of course it would be his mentor.

“Hey there, kid,” Piccolo said in his deep, gruff voice.  “You okay?”

“I’m fine.”  Gohan nodded, fighting off nausea caused by the scent of his burned flesh.  Piccolo released him.

“Well, well.  Look who’s back up.”  Gohan and Piccolo both lifted their gazes to see the dark-haired youth floating before them, smiling with amusement.  “You Namekseijin certainly are a resilient lot; it’s a pity that you’re not more entertaining.  And I must say, the Saiyajin aren’t doing a great deal better in that department.  Just look at Vegeta; he’s barely laid a finger on Eighteen.”

Gohan took a quick look at the other battle, and his eyes widened in shock.  The Saiyajin prince’s armour was thoroughly cracked, most of it broken off completely, and what was left of his bodysuit clung to him in barely decent tatters.  Blood flooded forth from several hideous gashes.  Hanging limply at his side, probably broken, was his left arm.  The boy heard a low female voice laugh; Vegeta’s opponent was completely unhurt.

What is she? Gohan wondered to himself. How can she be so strong?  Vegeta’s barely touched her and he looks the worst he’s been since Frieza killed him back on Nameksei.  Then there’s the weird way that the dark-haired one referred to her…

“Eighteen?” he asked aloud.

“Android Eighteen,” a strained voice behind him clarified, and Gohan turned to see Kurilin.  The small man’s eyes were clouded with pain, and in a few places the white bone of broken ribs punctured his orange gi.  “And the one in front of us is Android Seventeen.  They’re a couple of gifts for us, sent care of Dr. Gero.”

“Dr. Gero?” Gohan repeated.  The name meant nothing to him.  Although, after he thought about it, he may have heard it mentioned once before…

“That’s right,” came Android Seventeen’s smooth voice, drawing all attention back to him.  “The mastermind behind the old Red Ribbon Army:  the one your father decimated as a boy.  Eighteen and myself were created to carry out Dr. Gero’s vengeance on him.”   

“Vengeance?”  Gohan’s pupilless aquamarine eyes narrowed dangerously, and his golden aura blazed with a new ferocity.  Each word that he spoke was a bitter growl.  “My father has been dead for half a year!  You don’t have a purpose anymore!  Why are you after us?”

The android’s smile broadened, his metallic grey eyes gleaming more brightly.  “It makes no difference that Goku is already dead.  We still would have done this afterward, anyway.  We need no purpose.  This is just a game, kid; it’s too bad that your friends weren’t better players.”

A game! Gohan thought savagely.  He and that cybernetic witch are slaughtering my friends!  He calls that a game?  Well, if he wants a better player, I’ll give him one!

Feeding off his fury the way a bonfire fed off wood, the child’s aura flared into a massive, murderous corona.  The shockwave blasted through buildings as though they were constructed of toothpicks.  His scream of rage ripped through the heavens.

Gohan tensed, his predatory eyes focused on his prey; his stiff blond hair whipped wildly in the seething incandescence that enveloped his body.

A firm hand gripped his shoulder.  “Gohan, wait!” Piccolo warned.  “Don’t…”

Angrily, the boy jerked out of his mentor’s grasp.  No words would deter him, and not even Piccolo was strong enough to restrain him physically; he was a Super Saiyajin, and the Namekseijin’s power was to his own as a candleflame was to a supernova.  Heedless of all but the need to destroy he grinning finger before him, he shot forward like a comet.

Seventeen gasped in surprise as he narrowly dodged the punch that Gohan threw at his face.  Unsated and uncontrollable, the boy launched his leg forward, snarling ferociously as his opponent vanished just before his foot could make contact with his chest.  The child instantly spun about in a roundhouse, intending to catch Seventeen where he had reappeared at his rear, but was still to slow.  A knee slammed into the underside of his chin, nearly breaking his jaw; the force of the blow sent him tumbling backward across the sky.

Gohan managed to stop himself a fraction of a second before his body crashed into the side of what must once have been the tallest skyscraper in the city.  Loose chunks of concrete were jarred from their precarious perches by his aura, and plummeted to become part of the multitudinous piles of rubble on the ground.  A coppery flavour flooded the child’s mouth.  Blood.  Distastefully, he spat it off to one side.  Focusing his eyes ahead, he saw Seventeen floating in front of him.  Even at the distance that separated the two, it was clear that the android was no longer smiling; the expression on his face was one of shocked anger.

“Where did all that come from?” the young boy heard him wonder.  “He shouldn’t have been able to get that close to hitting me; it seems that Dr. Gero’s data was way off for Gohan.  Not that I can’t handle the kid anyway, though.  It’s time he learned his lesson about jumping into a battle that he can’t win.”

That was the boy’s only warning; Seventeen vanished, then instantaneously reappeared in front of him.  Somehow, he managed to raise his arm in time to block the kick, but it helped little; the sheer force of the blow drove him into the wall.  Concrete dust rained down upon his body, invaded his breathing passages.  Gohan coughed violently and tried to focus his attention on the battle.

He wasn’t able to do so.  Brutal impact after brutal impact concussed his stomach, chest and skull.  Volumes of air were forced out of his lungs, accompanied by mouthfuls of blood.  He couldn’t breathe.  He couldn’t think.  Panicked instinct taking control, he lashed out blindly.

He felt his knee connect with something.  An exclamation of pain echoed in his ears; Gohan’s  mind was too foggy to register whether the cry had come from his opponent’s lips or his own.  Regardless, the boy opened his palm and fired the most powerful ki blast he could currently muster; it managed to push his attacker away from him.

Hacking and dazed, Gohan levitated himself above the ruined building.  His head throbbed so hard that it felt as though it were still absorbing blows.  Pieces of broken ribs ground together; sticky blood covered his chin like a smear of crimson paint.  His power began to wane, and he struggled to maintain it.  Golden hair darkened to black, then brightened again.  It flickered back and forth between the two colours like a sky that had trouble deciding whether it should be day or night.

In the end, night won out.  The boy’s hair and aura dropped, his eyes once again dark; he hadn’t the strength left to retain Super Saiyajin form.  Looking up and trying to focus his bleary vision, he thought he saw a look of anger on Android Seventeen’s face; it appeared that there was a thin rivulet of red running from the corner of the machine’s mouth.  Blood, maybe?  It seemed odd that an android would bleed…

“You’re going to pay for that lucky shot, you vicious little brat!” Seventeen snarled.  He faced his palms outward, bringing the heels of his hands together.  A ki blast began to form; it started as a pinpoint of light, but grew rapidly into a luminous ball bigger than the handspan.  Lightning danced around the ball, increasing in violence as each second passed.

Gohan tensed, sensing doom; he knew that he wouldn’t be able to move quickly enough to avoid the discharge of energy, and bereft as he was of the toughness of the Super Saiyajin body, there was little doubt that it would kill him.  He thought briefly of Piccolo and Kurilin, how he hated to leave them…  But then he thought about his father, and how much he missed him; he would soon see him again.  Calmed now, the child awaited the embrace of pain that would end his life.

Otousan.  I’m coming to see you.  We’ll be together again soon…

He saw the ki blast shoot forth from the android’s palms.  A panicked voice shouted his name.  Suddenly, there was a figure in his line of vision.  A figure in the path of the blast.  Gohan’s eyes widened in horror as he realized what was happening.  From behind, large arms wrapped around him, pulling him against a well-muscled body, and twisted him away from the attack so that body could bear its brunt.  Three screams, two deep and one high, rent the heavens with their hideous harmony of agony.

Gohan and the person holding him---Piccolo, the boy had time to realize---went limp and fell spiralling to the ground; a cloud of dust and debris rose around them, the tiny pieces of concrete then trickling down upon their bodies.

The boy greyed out for a moment.  When he roused, he sucked in a sharp breath; his side felt as though it had been set afire.  Piccolo’s heavy form lay atop him, restricting his breathing.  Grunting with the effort, Gohan pushed his mentor’s dead weight over to one side.

Dead weight?  No…

The child scrambled to his knees, terrified, and placed his small hands on the Namekseijin’s broad shoulder.  Shakily, he whispered, “Piccolo?  Piccolo!”  When no response came, he began to frantically shake the shoulder, tears cutting clear paths down his dirt-covered face, brokenly pleading, “You’ve got to wake up!  Piccolo, please!  Please…”  Gohan trailed off into incoherent sobs.

His mentor’s ki had vanished; he was dead.

Gohan didn’t want to see it:  the wound that had killed Piccolo.  But he made himself look anyway.  A gaping hole dominated where the Namekseijin’s stomach had once been; thin trails of purple blood radiated out in several directions from the cavity, and leftover smoke from the ki blast continued to hiss upward, the last sound that the body would ever make.  Forcing his eyes up, the boy stared blankly at the smaller body that lay a short distance away; the ki blast, because of its width, had cut it in half.  There was no need to search for its ki; Gohan knew it wouldn’t be there.

Kurilin was dead as well.

They’re gone.  Gone.  The android was aiming at me. I should have died.  Not them.

Piccolo; first his father’s worst enemy, then his own mentor and best friend.  He had treated Gohan harshly during the battle against the Saiyajins, growling at him to get a backbone or get lost, but the boy had seen through that; the once-evil Namekseijin was simply afraid to show or admit that he cared about someone.  Such fears did not stop him from taking Nappa’s lethal blast in the child’s place, however.  Before he’d died, he had told Gohan how proud he was of him and that he was the only real friend that he’d ever had.  On Nameksei, he’d rescued the boy several times:  deflecting the burst of Gohan’s own power that Frieza had turned back, sweeping him out of the path of a stray ki bolt as Goku battled the intergalactic tyrant, catching him when the massive shockwave of an explosion would have sent him hurtling into the airless void of space…  And now he was gone again, dying the same way as he had the first time:  protecting Gohan.

Kurilin…  Had there been a more constant companion?  He’d stood by Gohan every step of the way:  speaking encouraging words to him during his first battle, joining him to seek the Dragonballs on Nameksei despite the terrible presence of Frieza, helping to fight the most powerful beings in the universe even though he knew he was the one who was the quickest and easiest to destroy…  He’d been someone who had never been at a loss for something to do, from his plan to cut Vegeta’s tail during the battle with the Saiyajins, to using the taiyoken technique on Nameksei to escape the bloated and spiky monster that had been Dodoria, to distracting Vegeta while Gohan raced to have his hidden potential released; things didn’t always work out, but at least Kurilin had always been ready to act.  This time, acting had exacted a terrible price; now he would act no more.

Rage and emptiness waged war in the boy’s heart.  There should have been no question as to which the victor would be; normally, he would have flown into a passion, seeking to destroy whatever had the temerity to strike down his friends.  Now, though, the void seemed to have gained the advantage.  His two closest friends had traded their lives for his.

Shaking his head, Gohan rose to his feet.  Those demonic androids had to be stopped; if they weren’t, they would torture the planet to death.  He summoned his power, feeling his hair whip in the updraft of his aura; both were golden once more as the strength of the Super Saiyajin flowed through his body.  Aquamarine eyes scanned the situation above.

A sharp-voiced cry rang out and a blur shot to the ground, slamming into it with such force that the resulting concussion nearly caused him to lose his footing.  Dust clouded the air a short distance away; as it cleared, he could see Vegeta propping himself up on his good arm, eyes squeezed shut and teeth gritted against pain, blood running down his face from several cuts in his forehead.  Android Eighteen laughed in her low, sultry voice and launched herself toward his prone body.

Knowing that hesitation would prove fatal, Gohan rushed to Vegeta’s aid; the boy managed to catch the android by surprise and knock her aside.  She crashed into a pile of  rubble, which promptly proceeded to bury her, if only for a moment.  The boy tensed as she extricated herself and heard Vegeta move behind him.  The latter was good; he was well aware that he would need help to win this battle.  Despite the Saiyajin prince’s condition, he would still be able to fight; his fierce pride would never allow him to stop before he was dead.

“Out of my way, brat!”  A powerful hand gripped the boy’s arm, yanking him backward, and he was met with the sight of Vegeta climbing unsteadily to his feet.  “I fight my battles alone!  I don’t need any help from an upstart halfbreed!”

“But…”

“I think you should take him up on his offer, little man,” Android Eighteen suggested mockingly.  “You’ve got so little power that you’re no fun; maybe fighting the two of you together would be more entertaining.”  She paused for a moment, fixing her expressionless gaze upon Gohan.  Her lips curled upward in a derisive smile.  “Then again…”

The Saiyajin prince bared his teeth, snarling viciously.  “I don’t need that brat’s help to defeat you, android!  I’ll do it myself!  When I’m finished with you, there won’t be enough scrap metal left to make a can opener!”

Vegeta crouched and closed his eyes, raising his ki; a golden aura of power blazed to life around him.  After a few seconds, his eyes snapped open and he shot forward, intending to drive his fist through Eighteen’s stomach.  Gohan was about to make a move to aid him---his senses had told him that he himself had more energy left than did the Saiyajin prince---but a smooth chuckle from his rear halted him, and he turned.

“And what do you think you’re doing?” Android Seventeen asked teasingly, his slender arms crossed.  “You heard Vegeta; he doesn’t want your help.  It would be rude of you to intrude on his fight.  Besides, weren’t you and I in the middle of something?  You need to learn to finish what you start, kid.”

The boy tensed, a grim look on his face.
What do I do now?  I can’t beat him alone… Brought on by fear, tremors worked their way through his small body.  He struggled to keep the evidence of his fright from showing in his eyes.  It wasn’t as though he’d never faced death before; he had several times, and it should no longer frighten him.

Seventeen rushed him.  Gohan, moving with a speed he did not know he possessed, blocked each blow, but his arms paid a price with every impact; he could hear and feel small snaps as bone began to crack bit by bit.  Dodging a punch, the boy blasted into the sky and raised both hands above his head, the back of one flat against the palm of the other.  He began to channel his ki into them.

“Masen…”  A heavy blow to his back cut him short; the channelled ki dissipated.  He twisted about as he fell, gritting his teeth in pain.  He raised his hands again… and was met with Seventeen’s fist in his stomach.  His body slammed through a pile of rubble and shocking agony racked every bone; he couldn’t remember the last time that something had hurt this much.

Dizzily, the child tried to rise.  His power was gone now; it took concentration to maintain Super Saiyajin strength, and he needed all he had just to remain conscious… but he had to keep going.  He
had to.

A foot pressed against his throat, forcing him back down.  Gohan went limp, exhausted and too weak even to struggle.  The pressure increased, cutting off his air supply.  Blackness formed in his peripheral vision and slowly started to creep into his main line of sight.  Dimly, he heard a strangled cry and felt a ki extinguish; the part of his mind that could still function registered this as Vegeta’s death.  The pain in the boy’s head subsided, replaced by an almost pleasant lightness.  Whatever small amount of pleasure he could have derived from that sensation was torn away by one thought:  an awful one that cycled over and over through his brain, the only thing in his darkening world that had any meaning.

I failed them.  I failed them…

He lost time.  How much, he didn’t and never would know.  Blearily, Gohan opened his eyes, staring at the clear blue sky above him.  He felt surprisingly little pain, considering that in all likelihood he was supposed to be dead; lying still for a few moments granted him the energy and clearheadedness that were necessary for him to rise.  Nausea swept through him when he reached his knees, and he doubled over, shuddering.  It took all of his willpower to keep from vomiting, but he did, and he slowly lifted his head.

Looking at the devastation, it was difficult to imagine that the area in which he knelt had once been a city.  Nothing but piles of concrete, glass, and other assorted debris were visible; not a single structure remained standing.  Broken limbs from a few trees littered the space among the heaps of rubble; great, dusty craters pockmarked the ground.  A soft breeze whistled through the air, the only sound that broke the silence.  A silence that was unnatural.  Cities, especially ones as large as this one had been, would normally have been filled with the bustling sounds of everyday life:  people talking on the streets, engines rumbling as cars sped past, motorists honking horns and yelling at those in front of them to get moving… but now it was just that quiet, lonely wind.  The air, once fresh, was now clouded over with a miasma of smoke and death.

Empty, the place was, the same as Gohan’s heart as he picked out the dark spots that were the bodies of his friends.  Strangely, the boy did not feel the urge to cry; perhaps the well of his tears, which had provided his eyes with the sorrowful, salty water unfailingly throughout his life, had finally gone dry.  He felt only an odd numbness, coming from the knowledge that he had failed to protect those he loved.

Rising to his feet, still unsteady, he turned and began to stagger away.  He didn’t know where he was going, and didn’t much care at that point; he just needed to leave the killing field.  He couldn’t go home, couldn’t go to his mother.  How could he face her, or anybody, when he had failed to save his friends?  Always, in the eyes of anyone he knew, would be the knowledge that he was the only one left.  The only one.  And he shouldn’t have been.

No, it was better by far to leave everyone; they wouldn’t see the deaths of all their friends in his face, that way.  He wouldn’t cause them any further pain.  Let their grief dull over time; they didn’t deserve the anguish.  He was the one who had failed; all the agony should be his.

It was all that he had left, anyway.

                                                                ********

A violent concussion rocked the earth, jolting Gohan out the past.  Daring to stand a little straighter, he scanned the area ahead of him to see what was happening.  At the sight, his eyes narrowed and his lips tightened; he might have known.

Against the fading late-afternoon light, he could see two dark forms in the sky: sleek forms that glided with a deadly, programmed grace.  Below them, frantic feet scrabbled across the dirt, and panicked arms flailed through the air as a few dozen people tried desperately to escape their ends.

It was a favourite game of the androids:  using a large ki blast to frighten a few stragglers, then casually picking them off the way a hunter picked off flushed rabbits.  The androids had no rules, and the humans had only one:  do whatever it takes to live.  That rule took precedence over all else, basic decency included.  If someone was in the way, he was shoved aside; if someone tripped, he was trampled.  Staying alive was all that mattered.

Gohan watched the scene in a way that his old self would not have been able to understand:  detachedly, without a trace of anger or pity.  Such feelings had died with his friends those three years before.  The people who constituted the prey of the androids would receive no help from him; he’d learned that it was far better to stay out of the way.  Sighing in resignation, the boy huddled in the deeply shadowed corner of his hiding place---and stopped suddenly, his brow furrowed in curiosity.

Among the dozens of faint ki signatures of the humans, one plainly stood out, rather a bit more powerful than the rest.  Quite odd, this was; its owner seemed to have the strength of a very formidable human fighter.  But there were no such humans left…

Intrigued, Gohan rose again, just far enough for his eyes to clear ground level.  He allowed his senses to guide his gaze, searching for the power’s source.  A moment later, her found it, as a small figure caught his attention.

Deftly dodging around the legs of the stream of terrified innocents was a tiny, pale-haired child, no more than a toddler.  His frame was slight; his eyes were a striking shade of blue.  The amount of ki that radiated from his body was impossible to miss.

A flash of familiarity struck Gohan as he stared at the toddler.
It couldn’t be…

Thin shafts of ki began to rain down, some intended to frighten, and some intended to kill.  One by one, the stragglers fell, small holes burned through their hearts.  Each time, the toddler smoothly evaded the collapsing bodies, but he was quickly becoming the tallest target; it wouldn’t be long before the androids took aim at him.

An old instinct suddenly surged through Gohan, urging him to rescue the child. He stopped short, chastising himself.
What can I do?  I’m no use in protecting anybody.  If I were, the others wouldn’t have been killed.  The kid will die with or without my help, so why even bother?

The last adult fell, and this time the toddler was not nimble enough to dodge it; he too went down, uttering a frightened yelp.  Slowly, the androids drifted to the ground to survey the results of their game more closely.  Their cold, too-large eyes apparently hadn’t seen the toddler yet, but it wouldn’t be long before they did; with a great effort, the small child started to crawl out from under the corpse which lay atop him.

The instinct came again, stronger this time, and still, Gohan fought it.
I can’t help him… His mind twisted into a knot of indecision.  He saw Android Eighteen turn her head and smile wickedly as she noticed the child.

Eyes narrowed to slits, hands clenched into fists, jaws set into a vice, Gohan made his choice.


                                             
Next Chapter          Mirai Continuity
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