Do Cyborgs Dream of Electric Sheep?

Android XVII

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They dream of the same things non-cybernetically augmented humanoids do -- fears, successes, hopes, failures, and occasionally random shit that doesn't make any sense.

As he slept in the quarters given to the them by King Reynard, the machine-hybrid's subconscious mind drifted back to one particular season that checked all the boxes. He'd died already in these memories. He'd died and decided it best to hide from those he knew in the realm of the living and tuck himself away with his kooky old sensei, King Kai. Better to train with that giggling madman than return to a mortal coil where he had managed to screw up just about everything over the preceding six or eight months. But he'd burned through the blue-skinned demigod's training in short order, aided and abetted by old allies and some long-forgotten foes.

“Oh you still have much to learn,” King Kai replied, beaming like a new parent as he wrapped an arm around the android’s shoulder and led him back toward his house. “Whilst you were in the Void, I contacted my superior and asked if he’d be willing to take you on a student,” the North Kai said as he moved away from his recent graduate and waddled over to his refrigerator. After shuffling around inside the archaic storage unit for a couple of moments, the alien produced a dark bottle and tossed it to Seventeen.

“You have a superior?” The deceased man inquired, lifting an eyebrow as he noted that the bottle was filled with root beer. With a smile, he twisted the cap off and discarded it into the nearby metal trash receptacle. Turning his attention back to his sensei, he took a swig of the wonderfully refreshing beverage and waited for a response from the blue-skinned demigod.

“The Grand Kai,” King Kai replied, taking a swig from another bottle of root beer before closing his fridge with his foot. “I don’t know if you thought it was just another title or not, but I’m only the kai of the northern quadrant of the galaxy. There are three other kais that look over the west, south, and east sectors of the galaxy, and the Grand Kai is in charge of making sure that we’re all doing our job.”

“So I take it he’s pretty pimp?” Seventeen inquired, letting out a relieved sigh as he wiped a couple specs of root beer off his chin. “I mean…he’d have to be if he was supposed to watch over the entire galaxy, y’know?”

“Yes…I know,” King Kai laughed, rolling his eyes as he tossed his empty bottle into the metal trashcan. “Are you ready to go?” He asked, punctuating the remark with a thunderous burp that prompted the android to clap his hands for a few moments. With a faint grin, the kai picked up a napkin from his countertop and wiped away the little bits of foam that had dribbled out of his mouth.

“What about Daniccolo?” Seventeen asked as the North Kai led the pair out onto his lawn. “Shouldn’t he have come back with me as well?” The android added, glancing down at the stout alien as he hopped into the passenger side of his sensei’s muscle car.

“He was never given permission by the Grand Kai to train on his planet,” King Kai replied as he hopped over the car door and slid his key into the ignition. With a smile, the pudgy demigod turned the car on and hit the gas, prompting the vehicle to jolt forward as it glided off the surface of the tiny planet. “He’s too conflicted of a person, but he should be back soon. Once the Void is done with someone the obelisk reconstitutes itself.
This thread is me working to complete some old loose ends -- the first few posts are vintage 2008, so I'll have them encased in quote tags.
 

Android XVII

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Hundreds of miles from the quaint little home of King Kai, the activation obelisk of the Void stood—its rune-laden surface polished and perfect as it floated amongst the clouds. A few yards from the altar, a bloodied, battered namekian lay with his eyes half closed as he tried to drag himself across the solid surface of the clouds. His clothes had been reduced to charred rags and his left arm looked as if it had been torn clean off, but despite his grievous wounds, the deceased alien was trying his hardest to escape.

“I didn’t say you could leave yet,” a deep voice snickered as a white, four-toed foot came crashing down on Daniccolo’s spine. The namekian let out one final, weak scream before slipping into unconsciousness, leaving his vanquisher to laugh manically into the orange, ethereal heavens suspended above his horned, elongated cranium.

“All right,” Seventeen said as the car zipped into the nearby clouds. About an hour later, King Kai slammed the gas pedal and the 60’s muscle car darted up out of the cloud layer. The android let out a jolly huzzah as the vehicle came to a smooth stop in front of a massive stadium. “So this is the Grand Kai’s place?” The android inquired as he made his way out of the car and took a few steps toward the large entrance.

“Nah,” the kai replied as he shut his door and stuffed the key to his car into his pocket. “This is the tournament grounds that the Grand Kai uses to determine who is worth training from the numerous warriors that we kai’s submit to the challenge,” the North Kai replied as he led the android to a smaller, dome shaped building that was connected to the central complex.

“Wait,” Seventeen mumbled as his former sensei moved to open the door. “You’re telling me I got to do a bunch more menial, seemingly senseless tasks before I can train under the Grand Kai?” He demanded, crossing his arms over his chest as King Kai opened the door to the lavish dome.

“Plus you have to win a tournament comprised of other dead fighters,” he snickered as he vanished into the building. With a groan, Seventeen let his arms fall back down to his sides and he followed his former master into the building. As he crossed under the threshold, the android noticed that the structured seemed to be a sort of training grounds. Either that or it was for those battle royal type matches that they hold in the preliminary stages of tournament competitions.

“Welcome to Thunderdome, Seventeen!” King Kai decreed, lifting his hands up into the air as he walked toward a portly, green-skinned alien standing beside a relatively puny-looking man in tights and boxing gloves. “This right here is the illustrious East Kai,” he replied, his voice laden with a light touch of sarcasm as he reached out and shook the female’s hand.

“Thunderdome?” The android snickered, rolling his eyes as he walked up to the group of three. “Are you kidding me?” He replied, arching an eyebrow as he glanced down at King Kai.

“None of your students ever have manners,” East Kai sighed, her voice reminiscent of a tubby, snide Victorian woman. “Now come on there,” she added, glancing out from around the wide frame of her coworker. “Time for one of my students to thrash you, lad,” she decreed with a condescending sigh. Without another remark, the woman fixed her red and green sunglasses, fixed her orange bob of hair, and then walked to the side of the large wrestling ring that stood at the center of the building.

“Go on then, Seventeen,” King Kai shouted, giving his former student a smack on the lower back. “Get in there and beat her student. If you want to compete in the tournament as a late entry, you’ll need to gain the approval of all four kais,” he added as the android hopped off the ground and landed in the center of the ring.

“Okay then,” the android replied, narrowing his eyes as he stared at the diminutive, human-looking boxer who stood on the other side of the wrestling ring. “Ready to dance?” He inquired as the fighter lifted his gloved hands in front of his face and began to hop from foot to foot as a boxer on Earth would do.

“All you have to do is hit Chantho once,” the East Kai instructed, grinning smugly as she noted the look of confusion that had spread across the deceased man’s face. “Trust me, it won’t be as easy as you think,” she snorted as a bell chimed from somewhere unseen.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Seventeen groaned, rolling his eyes as he took a few steps toward the relatively human-looking warrior. “Why do I always get put in these gimmicky little tests?” He sighed as Chantho lowered his gloved fists and flashed a sinister smirk at the raven-haired android. And then just like that, Seventeen felt a most vibrant pain explode out from his gut as the man ten feet away from him fizzled out of sight.

Clenching his teeth as he swallowed down a shriek, the android toppled backwards as he heard the sound of machinery whirling to life overhead. Looking up, he noticed that they were lowering a steel cage over the wrestling ring. Rolling his eyes in disbelief, the deceased android quickly sprung back up to his feet and began to scan the square ring for a sign of his spry adversary. After a few moments of glancing to and fro, the air was once again driven from the man’s lungs by an unseen attack.

“Fuck,” Seventeen yelped as he put a hand over his chest and stumbled backwards—his legs wobbling as he tried not to fall to the ground. With a foe this quick, the last place he wanted to be was on his back. Before the android had a chance to formulate another thought, there was a flash of red from the corner of his left eye that was precipitated by a blindingly painful jolt of agony from his temple.

“Come on, Seventeen!” King Kai yelped as his fresh new graduate toppled to his knees and clutched at the sides of his head. “You just got to focus and you’ll be able to catch him,” the kai of the northern quadrant shouted, smacking his pudgy hands against the steel cage as he tried to will the android to get up off of his feet. As Seventeen, shaking as he did so, climbed to a standing position, Chantho stopped moving and finally became visible on the other side of the arena.

“Take him down,” the East Kai snickered, her pompous and condescending voice and irritant to both the android and his former teacher. With a growl, Seventeen heartily cracked his knuckles and slid into a fighting stance—his legs spread out slightly and his body low to the ground. From this position, he would be able to spring into an offensive, but against a foe, whose speed eclipsed his by leaps and bounds, would anything Seventeen muster up prove effective?

“I got this,” the deceased warrior muttered to himself as the humanoid boxer began to bounce from foot to foot in an almost rhythmic manner. After a couple additional beats, Chantho literally exploded forward—his body blurring into an incoherent mass as he rocketed toward the now wide-eyed android. With a grunt, Seventeen reeled back, but he wasn’t quick enough to stop his opponent’s fist from drilling him in the side of the face.

“This is ridiculous,” the deceased man rasped as he slammed into the floor of the wrestling ring. A beat later, the android noticed the blur barreling down upon him, but this time Seventeen was prepared for the wiry boxer. Growling beneath his breath, the raven-haired warrior threw his weight to the wayside and rolled out of the way just as Chantho’s fist slammed down onto the cream-colored canvas. As he popped off the slightly bouncy surface, Seventeen gritted his teeth and hurled a fist toward his opponent.

With a faint grin, Chantho effortlessly ducked under the android’s swing, and before Seventeen could react, he got a mouthful of the East Kai’s pupil’s fist. Like a pile of cards struck by a child’s breath, the man collapsed to the canvas and began to heave as blood began to dribble out from a wound on his lower lip. As he lay there, the android closed his eyes and clenched his fists—prompting a faint red glow to shimmer around his lithe form.

“Kaioken!” Seventeen screamed as the fires of the North Kai’s technique burst to life. As the power coursed through him, the android sprung up off the mat and shot out his hand. Although he failed to strike the springy warrior, the deceased man could see the bead of sweat forming upon Chantho’s brow as the humanoid boxer jerked out of the android’s trajectory.

Realizing that he had turned the tides in his favor, Seventeen was quick to launch a volley of attacks at his adversary. Biting down on his lower lip, the East Kai’s student was forced on the defensive as he dipped and dodged his way around the android’s plethora of violent, Kaioken-infused punches. Looking over his shoulder, Chantho’s eyes widened as he realized that his opponent had almost backed him up to the wall of the ring.

Turning back a round, the humanoid boxer let out a frantic shout as he dived underneath a double fist attack, and with a grunt, Chantho slammed his palms into the android’s exposed chest. With a gasp, Seventeen lurched backwards as he tried to replenish his air supply, which had once again been depleted by one of his foe’s rapid blows. As the android tried to recover, however, the tides were turned against him, and Chantho dashed forward and swung.

And Seventeen caught the fist in front of his face.

“Think you’re so snazzy?” Chantho hissed, narrowing his eyes as he tried to wrench his hand free from the android’s vice-like grasp. “I got a couple other talents on top of being the faster warrior in the eastern quadrant of the galaxy,” he added snidely as a green aura crackled to life around his muscular form. With a gasp, Seventeen moved to recoil from the now vastly powered up boxer, but as the lithe warrior tried to pull away, the East Kai’s star pupil let out a cackle and pulled his opponent back toward him.

“Bollocks,” Seventeen muttered as the boxer’s gloved fist slammed into the side of his face, causing the android’s head to snap violently to the left. A gurgling moan escaped the man’s throat as he spit up a mouthful of saliva and blood, and then, without much more urging, the deceased warrior toppled onto the canvas. The android’s lithe body smacked the floor of the wrestling ring and proceeded to bounce up into the air a few inches before falling motionless.

“Some student,” East Kai snorted, glaring across the caged platform as the blue demigod began to smack his palms against the unyielding metal bars. “That was how long, North Kai? Less than five minutes? At least your last student was able to hit one of my rookie pupils. It seems to me like you’ve lost some of your shine these days,” she snickered as Chantho pumped his fists in the air and began to grin.

“Oh, get up!” King Kai urged as a bead of sweat began to roll down the side of his pudgy blue cranium. “You can’t make me look like a fool in front of that banshee, or she’ll never ever let me live this down. And unlike you mortals, that means I’ll have her harking on me until the end of days!” He pleaded beneath his breath as his student began to show some signs of consciousness.

“I’m not done,” Seventeen rasped as his aura—which had died down to mild embers—began to burn with renewed vigor. Groaning and gasping as he moved, the android pushed his body up off the ground and used the nearby cage bars to pull himself into an upright position. “You’ll find that I’m not the easiest man to keep down,” the deceased man coughed as a grin spread across his bruised visage. As he took a moment to regain his bearings, the android dragged an arm across his mouth to wipe away all of the blood and saliva that had spilled out from the various wounds on his face.

“I’ll make you devour those words,” Chantho growled as he darted forward, his eyes becoming narrow slits as his lightning fast feet quickly carried him across the canvas in the blink of an eye. Screaming aloud, the humanoid boxer drew his fist and moved to swing, but instead of the android’s gut, his gloved hand cleaved through empty air. With a gasp, Chantho came to a screeching halt as his head began to scan the caged ring for signs of his foe. “Where are you?” The star pupil of the East Kai seethed as he wiped a trail of sweat from the side of his cranium.

“Behind you!” Seventeen shouted as he reappeared in a flurry of white and blue light particles. As Chantho tried to pivot to face his foe, the android let out a joyous shout and drilled the boxer in the side of the head with every ounce of Kaioken-infused strength he could muster. The boxer’s eyes widened to the size of dinner plates as his foe’s knuckles drilled into his skull, but before Chantho could even cry out in pain, he slammed into the canvas—unconscious before he even hit the floor.

“No!” Screamed the East Kai as she flailed her pudgy green hands in the air and watched as the steel cage was hoisted up into the shadowy rafters of the Thunderdome. Ignoring the pompous woman’s cries of frustration and fury, Seventeen pivoted to face his former sensei. The stout alien was grinning from ear to ear—obviously impressed by the android’s tenacity and determination.

“Y’know,” King Kai said as his bloodied pupil hopped over the ring’s cables and landed in a crouch next to him. “You never cease to amaze me, Seventeen,” the blue demigod said as he placed a hand on the android’s sweaty shoulder and led him to a nearby metal chair. “That’s good, because you’re going to need all the spunk you can muster if you are going to gain approval from the other kais,” he snorted as his former student rolled his eyes and reclined into the uncomfortable foldout chair.

“Great,” Seventeen sighed as his tubby mentor started toward the exit. “Where are you headed?” He inquired, glancing over his shoulder as King Kai opened up the wide doors that served as the structure’s main entrance and exit.

“I have another student who is training on this planet as well,” the North Kai replied, smiling deviously as he watched the look of confusion spread across the android’s countenance. “I’m going to go check on him to see if he has completed his training, but in the meantime, you’ll be dealing with South Kai. He’s the next kai you have to ‘impress’ in order to secure your bid for the Grand Kai’s tournament.”

“Great,” Seventeen reiterated sardonically as his former mentor slipped through the large doors. On the other side of the main ring, the East Kai was dragging the unconscious Chantho toward a door that bore a label that read ‘Locker Room/Recovery.’ The female demigod looked up once, and although she was wearing designer sunglasses, the android could tell from her scowl and posture that she was irate about the defeat of one of her star pupils.

“My bad,” the android whispered as he stretched out his arms and legs. “I hope this trial deal isn’t another kind of gimmick,” he mumbled as he pushed away from the uncomfortable chair and began a series of quick stretches to make sure he was limber enough to deal with whatever jolly ordeal the next kai had in mind.
 

Android XVII

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Whilst Seventeen strove to prove himself within the cold, labyrinthine walls of the Thunderdome, a shadowed figure materialized in the depths of the Underworld. Wreathed in darkness, it crept into a nearby alley as a man garbed in black rounded the corner a block or so down the road. The man in black, who was identifiable as a darklighter based on his garb and the antique crossbow strapped to his back, sneered angrily as he trudged down the dank, foul smelling road.

“I can’t believe that Aeries would send me on some wild goose chase,” the instrument of chaos and evil growled as he glanced around at the dilapidated buildings that lined by sides of the cracked, broken-down road. Since the little revolt a few decades back, this little town had been relatively quiet, but apparently the ruler of the darklighter society had been picking up some type of power signature cropping up in the region.

As he was too busy whining about having been sent on the mission, the black-hearted menace failed to notice movement in the shadows. With a brutal grace, the concealed figure sprung from his hiding place and punched his fist through the darklighter’s abdomen. The demonic harbinger let out a faint gasp as the figure yanked the crossbow off his back and proceeded to vanish in a swirl of purple light particles.

“Wh-what was that?” The darklighter groaned as his body caught fire and quickly collapsed into a small pile of ash and dust.

---​

“All right, I’m here,” the gruff, booming voice immediately caught the android’s attention and prompted him to pivot as an immediate reflex. “I’m the South Kai,” the figure said, placing his hands on his hips as he made his way over to Seventeen, who looked relatively unappealing with his cuts and bruises. A faint smirk spread across the towering alien’s face as he pivoted his torso and glanced at the door.

“Thanks for waiting up on me,” a hissing figure replied as a changeling sprinted through the door and up to the demigod’s right side. “Because I totally enjoy sprinting as much as any other bloke,” he groaned, rolling his eyes as he flashed a glance over at the android. Upon noting his opponent, the alien placed his hands on his knees, leaned forward, and then began to draw deep, replenishing breaths of air whilst his sensei continued to analyze the lanky android standing a few feet in front of him.

Unlike the short, overweight kais of the East and North quadrants, South Kai was tall and muscular, and his skin was a faded shade of pink that stood as a vivid contrast to the blue and green tones of his coworker’s flesh. Despite his size and skin tone, the South Kai wore the same outfit as the two other kais and was also sporting a similar style of sunglasses (although his were far more contemporary than the others’ shades).

“The name is South Kai,” the gruff demigod spoke, smiling faintly as he extended his hand toward the android. With a cordial nod, Seventeen shook the alien’s hand—twitching just ever so slightly as the burly kai tightened his grip. After a few more moments of trying to subtly crush the android’s hand, the South Kai released his grip and took a step away from the black-haired man. “Looks like you’ve got to earn my approval before you can compete in Grand Kai’s ole tourney, eh?” The demigod inquired—a blatantly rhetorical question that caused Seventeen to laugh beneath his breath.

“Yup,” the man replied, frowning softly as he glanced around the towering demigod at the changeling who was standing in silence behind his mentor. “So what is the inane task or trial that you got laid out for me, South Kai?” Seventeen inquired, lifting an eyebrow to punctuate his sardonic remark. With a soft chuckle, the muscular demigod took a step to the side and gestured for his changeling student to his side.

“This is Kabul,” the South Kai spoke, gesturing toward changeling, who bobbed his head politely upon being introduced to the android. “Like you are to ole Westy, he’s one of my graduate students, and if you want to get my approval to compete in this here tournament, you are going to have to prove that you can knockout Kabul,” the demigod instructed as he crossed his rather massive arms over his equally enormous chest. As he stared up at the towering individual, the android couldn’t help but ponder how the seemingly frail outfit didn’t just rip under the stress of the demigod’s muscles.

“Doesn’t seem to complicated,” Seventeen spoke, prompting the statuesque demigod to erupt in a fit of deep, echoing guffaws. With a heavy sigh, the android put a palm to his pale forehead and made his way toward the ‘squared circle’ that served as the Thunderdome’s main battleground. “I hope the two other kais just want me to sow them a blanket or something, because this is getting monotonous,” the deceased man lamented as he climbed up onto the ring apron and dipped underneath the top rope.

Turning around, Seventeen noted that the South Kai had finally shut his enormous mouth, and his graduate student (a changeling, of all things) was slithering into the ring. With an odd smile on his face, the white-skinned warrior rose up to a fully vertical position and began to crack his knuckles. When he finished popping the last of his digits, Kabul slid down into a fighting stance and set his eyes upon his opponent, who was still wearing the injuries he had accrued during his previous encounter.

“Okay!” South Kai shouted as he punched his right fist into the air. “Let the ‘bout commence,” he roared, swinging down his ham-sized hand as the metal cage that loomed overhead slid down into place around the opponents’ battlefield. With a frown, the android summoned up a light red aura around his features and diverted his attention back to the changeling.

It’s going to be hard not to pummel that creature into a pulp. Seventeen thought, clenching his fists as his opponent waited for him to make the opening move. Even in death, I can’t escape their noxious, appalling presence. The android continued as the tension between the motionless warriors reached a boiling point. Just when the man was ready to pounce, he was stopped dead in his tracks by a voice in his head.

You shouldn’t judge someone because of their species or race. Seventeen’s eyes widened as the realization dawned upon him that his alien adversary was telepathic! Before the android had much of a window to analyze this new development, a set of five ash-white fingers slammed into the side of his head.

With a groan, Seventeen stumbled backwards—his eyes going wide as the changeling’s second attack found its mark upon the man’s exposed abdomen. Before he knew what was going on, the android was on the ground, his hands clenched over his throbbing gut as he stared up at the somber changeling. Instead of pressing his advantage, Kabul simply bowed his head slightly and took a few steps away from his trounced opponent. Moderately irritated by the seemingly vain tactic, Seventeen clenched his teeth and sprung up off the cream-colored mat.

Darting forward, the android drilled his knee up into the alien’s chest, causing Kabul to now be on the receiving end of a shocking turnaround. As the armored warrior lurched forward, Seventeen lifted his laced fingers up over his head and then proceeded to swing them down on the small of the changeling’s back. Instead of collapsing to the canvas, however, the telepathic warrior merely clenched his eyes shut and ducked under the android’s legs. When he was directly beneath Seventeen’s groin, the changeling popped up and drove his armored shoulders up between the android’s legs.

A faint squeak escaped the deceased man’s lips as his knees buckled from the low blow. Capitalizing on his opponent’s condition, Kabul slipped up behind the android and unleashed a single, thundering punch into the small of Seventeen’s back. As the overwhelming pain exploded through his lithe form, the student of the North Kai found himself fighting the urge to throw in the towel. But then, just as it seemed that everything was going to fade to black, the android remembered what he was locked in fisticuffs with—

—Changeling.

It was one of those seedy monstrosities that had claimed so many of his friends across the years. Deep inside, the deceased man knew that to falter here today would mean to bring shame upon those who had perished at the hands of this warrior’s race of cold-blooded killers. And although he was sometimes more crass and headstrong than he would admit, the android was certainly not one to let down those who meant something to him.

“Ahh!” Seventeen screamed as the fires of Kaioken exploded to life around his trembling body. As the ensanguined flames danced across the bruised, bloodied surface of his body, the android felt all the fatigue and weakness slowly beginning to subside. In its place, he could feel that warm, sweet feeling to raw, undiluted strength that had yet to truly fail him. “You’re done,” the raven-haired warrior rasped as he spun around and dove at the startled alien.

Kabul’s eyes went wide as he tried to dodge around the android’s attacks, but despite the changeling’s considerable strength and ability to withstand pain, his speed was lax—especially in comparison to Seventeen, who was able to drill the alien with almost half a dozen blows before his foe could take a handful of steps. With each vicious blow, the android could see the wounds opening up on the exposed parts of the alien’s body, and even the sections that were shielding with his natural armor were beginning to splinter.

You attack with such violence. Kabul said, his words conveyed telepathically to the man who was attempting—quite successfully, at that—to pound in his face. Why do you harbor such disdain for someone you have never met? The question caused the android to pull his punch and then promptly recoil away from his battered opponent.

“What?” Inquired Seventeen—his voice a gruff rasp as he stared at the bloodied changeling. Kabul coughed softly as he wiped a trail of blood away from what was possibly a broken cheekbone.

“Why do you hate me?” Kabul asked, furrowing his brow line as he continued to breath rather raggedly. “I can feel your hatred emanating from you like a suffocating summer’s heat. Your thoughts before our scuffle were fueled by such a strong avarice…what has rooted these seeds of hatred in your mind?”

“Your fellow monsters have slain, time and time again, many of those closest to me,” Seventeen snarled, the flames of his aura burning higher as they feed of their master’s emotions like it was dry kindling. “You beasts have been responsible for so many genocides, and none of you deserve a moment’s solace,” the deceased man growled, springing forward and slamming the side of his bare foot into Kabul’s temple. The changeling let out a muffled grunt as he collapsed against the ring ropes.

“This I am well aware of,” the alien spoke, his words slurring together as he clung to the cushioned cables like bright, red lifelines. “My people have a knack for being unable to satisfy what some may consider a genetic bloodlust, but I will have you know that I am different from my people,” Kabul continued as he tried to shake himself out of the daze that the thunderous blow to the head had bestowed upon him.

“That’s what they all say,” Seventeen replied, cracking his knuckles as he went to move in for the final blow. Just as he had tensed up, the changeling lifted a trembling hand and looked deep into the android’s fiery eyes.

“I fought during the invasion of Earth,” Kabul groaned, his eyes shaky as he struggled through the concussion. “I fought against the CIA invasion forces.”

“Yea, whatever,” Seventeen replied, his expression just as sour and unmoving as it had been for the last couple of minutes. Despite the changeling’s tenacity, the android’s own impenetrable hatred for his people prevented him from accepting what looked very much like a genuine story. Moving forward, the deceased man wrapped his hands around Kabul’s throat and slammed the white-skinned warrior into the unyielding metal bars that surrounded the Thunderdome’s central battleground.

“I was forced into service with the CIA after they threatened my family, but after my loved ones perished in the uprising on Frost, I defected to the other side. I helped the underground resistance decode messages from the empire, but during the final fight, I gave my life to save a young earth child from a group of CIA soldiers,” the changeling coughed—his lips adorned with a thin layer of violet blood as he struggled to breathe.

Frowning heavily, the android cocked his head to the side and pushed the armored warrior against the metal bars, causing Kabul to wince in agony as his skin bruised beneath the cold, unbending steel. “You…call my people a monster, but what does this little display make you?” Kabul wheezed, his words causing the android’s stone-like expression to falter.

With an almost inaudible gasp, Seventeen released the changeling and backed away from the wall of the caged arena. The alien let out a hoarse sigh as he began to cough and wheeze—his lungs and heart trying their hardest to re-oxygenate his body. Outside of the steel cage, the South Kai stood in complete and utter silence, his mouth a straight line of indifference that was the only expression of emotion visible on his face due to his contemporary sunglasses.

South Kai had an extended track record of chiding his fellow coworkers for their spastic, almost neurotic attitudes when it came to these little contests. Unlike the portlier kais that had preceded him, the tower of muscle and fitness was completely content watching the little drama play out in front of him. Both Kabul and he knew that Seventeen was the stronger warrior, so the kai and his graduate student had opted to test the android’s mental fortitude rather than his physical constitution. And what better way to test a man than to show him himself?

“You…you are an anomaly,” Seventeen muttered, his fingers twitching intermittently as his changeling opponent stumbled away from the ring ropes. “I know this type of game you are trying to play, and trust me, it is not going to work,” the android continued as the corner of his lip also began to twitch. Try as he might to keep up the façade, the android was starting to feel the weight of the scenario on him.

He had spent three years trying to do good in the world but had all his championing somehow corrupted him? Kabul had come into this little contest as a friendly competitor, and the android had beaten him down on the basis of his genetics. Seventeen had judged a noble soul before even knowing him…what did that make the android? Who was he to play the role of judicator?

“Fuck!” Seventeen moaned as he rolled over the thoughts in his head: A noble changeling? Throughout the last three years, the changelings had been the constant bad guys, with no redeeming qualities and nothing but a taste for blood and death. Unlike many of the android’s foes, they hadn’t vied for redemption or been tricked into their evils. Now, however, Seventeen was standing just a few feet away from a changeling who had lived a noble enough life that he had been invited to compete for a spot to train with the Grand Kai.

What does this display make you? The changeling’s simple remark was on playback in the android’s head. This little bout, as insignificant as it could have been in the long run, was going to be something that would haunt the android for a long time to come. After all, if it was possible for changelings to be good people…what about the Red Stallions? Had their entire fleet deserved destruction or were there some people in that group who had been forced into service in order to protect a loved one?

“Fuck,” Seventeen mumbled as a rested Kabul rushed forward and knocked him across the wrestling ring. “I hate all these variables!” He shouted as he threw out his arms and legs, which caused his body to come to a grinding stop near the center of the caged arena. “Sometimes you just have to wonder if you’re better off just having no morals at all,” the android thought out loud as the changeling began toward him.

“No morals?” Kabul inquired as he came to a stop just a foot or so in front of his free-floating opponent. “I can read your thoughts, Seventeen. You’re too conflicted a person to exist without morals.”

“Yea…maybe,” Seventeen replied, rolling his eyes slightly as he dwelled on the thoughts. “But I think that the winds of change are blowing, and after I win this match, win the tournament, and then go on to become the Grand Kai’s most awesome student, I reckon I’m going to have a chance to start new. No more synthetic morals imposed on me by other powers, and I won’t be having all these crusades thrown at me to help a bunch of top-secret, universal bureaucracies.

“I’m going to be honestly, truly free, and for that, I thank you for trying to stir up my mind by showing me that the established order isn't so black and white. I guess I should thank ya, but I think that instead of that...I'm going to opt to own you. Because I'm excited to be reborn, and the first step is to take you down!” The android roared as his kaioken flames exploded with a raw vigor.

In lieu of the mentally reinvigorated android, Kabul could do little but throw his arms up in an attempt to fend off the upcoming assault. The changeling also managed to recoil a few inches before the first bony fist arched around his raised hands and slammed into the side of his cranium with such force that an expression of apprehension spread across the pink visage of the South Kai. With a blood-laced groan, Kabul pitched backwards—his hands shooting out to his sides as he struggled not to lose his equilibrium.

Like a hungry lioness stalking a wounded gazelle, Seventeen pressed his advantage and unleashed another thunderous punch that landed square on the alien’s armored chest. Despite the strength of his species’ natural defenses, Kabul could do little but let out another frail yelp as his chest plate splintered beneath the might of the android’s kaioken-infused assault. As he continued to waver backwards, an aura of violet energy suddenly sprung to life around the battered changeling, and with a defiant shout, Kabul swung his gauntleted fist at the android’s forehead.

Smirking faintly at his adversary’s attempted counterattack, Seventeen proceeded to narrow his eyes and effortlessly drop down into a split. As the changeling’s fist soared high, the android gritted his teeth together and slammed his palm against Kabul’s knee. With a grimace-inducing snap, the alien’s joint shattered, but before his opponent had a chance to properly register the pain, Seventeen sprung up off the canvas and slammed his fist into the underside of the changeling’s neck.

“Shoryuken!” The android shouted as his kaioken aura flared around his extended fist like a raging inferno. As Kabul was launched up toward the roof of the caged arena, Seventeen’s bare feet calmly landed back on the canvas. A frown spread across the deceased man’s visage as he watched the wounded changeling smack the roof of the cage, but instead of plummeting back down, Kabul managed to wrap his muscular, prehensile tail through the mesh.

“Tricksie changelings,” Seventeen whispered as the telepathic warrior stared down at him with a newfound determination. “That’s how I like it,” he added as he bent at his knees and proceeded to launch his lithe, sinewy body off the mat and up toward his foe. Frowning down at his adversary, Kabul released his grip on the network of steel bars and began to plunge down toward the raven-haired warrior.

I don’t lose when it comes to playing chicken… The android spoke into his head, knowing full well that his opponent would be able to hear him. Despite Seventeen’s remark, the changeling merely smirked as the two opponents closed in on one another from opposing directions. Between the roof of the cage and the canvas mat below, the android and his alien foe collided—the force generating a small sonic boom that caused the reinforced metal bars to shudder.

With a yelp, South Kai turned his head away from the deluge of sound energy, but despite his status as a demigod, his movement was quick enough to prevent the shockwave from knocking his sunglasses clean off his chiseled face. Groaning beneath his breath, the pink-skinned kai turned his attention back to the caged arena and let out a gasp when he saw that both warriors were standing motionless. Seventeen was clinging to the roof of the arena, whilst Kabul was standing where his opponent had been just prior to their aerial scuffle.

Leaning forward, South Kai noticed that both warriors had been bloodied in the exchange. The android had a large gash on the side of his head that was oozing blood down his neck and onto his already sweat-encrusted outfit. Every once in a while, a sole droplet of the sanguine fluid would plunge down to the canvas and splatter the ground around Kabul, whose jaw now appeared to be dislocated.

With a scream, Seventeen let go of the cage’s roof and began to freefall toward his white-skinned opponent. Instead of repeating his opponent’s earlier tactic, the android exploded into an amalgamation of blue and white orbs, leaving the changeling to immediately throw up his defenses. A heartbeat later, the deceased man rematerialized next to his alien opponent, but as the android moved to attack, the changeling’s tail shot up and closed around his neck!

Seventeen’s eyes went wide as the changeling’s muscular tail closed around his neck—instantly robbing him of the precious oxygen he needed to sustain his corporeal body. If he hadn’t been the one on the receiving end of the stranglehold, the android would have had a field day reflecting upon the irony that, even in death, the corporeal were still forced to abide by natural laws. Unfortunately for the deceased man’s sense of humor, this wasn’t the most opportune moment to crack a joke.

Realizing that he didn’t have long before the crushing weight on his neck did some rather unwelcomed damage, Seventeen clenched his teeth and swung his bare foot at Kabul’s injured leg. When the changeling moved his body to avoid the attack, the android gritted his teeth and summoned up a small handful of energy into his right palm. Flicking his wrist, the raven-haired man smirked as the concentration of ki jutted upward in the form of a ki saber.

In the wink of an eye, the blade cleaved clean through changeling’s tail—instantly cleaving away the appendage without facing the slightest hint of resistance. Although the stump was instantaneously cauterized by the blistering heat of the energy sword, the pain was extreme enough to cause Kabul to clench his teeth shut in an effort to choke down the scream welling up from within his tormented body.

Realizing that the end was drawing closer by the second, Seventeen calmly drew another breath and pressed the assault. In a fury, he proceeded to reduce the changeling’s face into a bloody, broken mask like something from a Picasso sketchbook. With each thunderous strike, the deceased man felt a surge of adrenaline course through his veins. It was a soothing feeling that numbed his consciousness of the grotesque pummeling he was bestowing upon the wounded, defeated warrior.

“I must fight on,” Kabul mumbled as he swung his right hand around at the side of Seventeen’s exposed cranium. Almost as if he was driven by instincts alone, the raven-haired warrior slid down into a split on the cream-colored canvas of the wrestling ring. As a result, the changeling’s right hook sailed high and the momentum behind the attack caused Kabul to stumble forward ever so slightly—just enough space for his fate to be sealed.

“Shoryuken!” Seventeen screamed as he erupted up from the ground. As he was propelled upward, he threw his fist up in the air, and before the changeling could react, his opponent’s bony knuckles slammed into his chin with all the fury of a steroidal bodybuilder. Upon impact, the kaioken aura around Seventeen’s fist exploded with a fiery vigor, and with nothing more than a faint groan, Kabul was propelled off the ground.

The changeling was airborne for only a few seconds before his unconscious body came crashing down onto the canvas. After a single twitch, Kabul came to rest on the floor of the ring, and around the victorious man, the walls of the steel cage were lifted into the shadowy ceiling of the Thunderdome. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Seventeen turned away from the defeated changeling and flashed a smile toward the somber visage of the South Kai. The towering demigod simply nodded his head and slid into the ring to collect his defeated warrior.
 

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“Well fought!” Someone interjected from the outside of the wrestling ring. Turning his attention away from the somber South Kai, Seventeen found himself staring at a rather short, squat being dressed in the same garb as all the other kais. The only real difference between the newcomer and his coworkers was that his skin was a dull shade of purple and he complemented his uniform with a monocle instead of the sunglasses that the other demigods seemed to enjoy so much.

“Thank you,” the android replied as the South Kai hopped over the top turnbuckle and began carrying his defeated graduate student back to the locker room. “West Kai?” Seventeen inquired, raising an eyebrow as he stared down at the midget-sized instructor. With a snort, the purple kai puffed out his chest and sneered up at the tall, lanky cyborg. After a moment or two of that awkward silence, the newcomer finally replied to the statement.

“Of course,” he rasped, his voice like the sound of fingernails dragging against a chalkboard. “I take it your another one of King Kai’s little pounces?” He snickered, clutching his hands across his chest and chortling insanely—as if he had made the funniest joke in all of time. Rolling his eyes, Seventeen took a step forward and leaned forward, crossing his arms in front of him as he leaned down against the top turnbuckle.

“You bet’cha!” The deceased warrior loudly exclaimed, putting on the widest, most asinine smile that he could muster given his advanced state of wear and tear. The almost squawking declaration caused the undersized kai to immediately fall silent, his eyes glaring up at the smug warrior with the utmost disdain. “Which one of your students do I have to pummel into a bloody pulp?” Seventeen added, flashing a toothy grin down at the irritated little demigod.

“It seems like your teacher’s aggravating sense of humor and idiocy has rubbed off on you,” West Kai growled, frowning heavily as he looked back over his shoulder toward a cracked door near the far wall of the Thunderdome. “Get out here, Annemarie!” The monocle-wearing alien shouted as his left foot began to tap impatiently against the padded floor that surrounded the arena. Lifting an eyebrow, Seventeen also turned his attention to the oak door.

After a few seconds of utter and complete silence, the door softly swung open and a curvaceous figure stepped out from the darkness. For a moment, she stood motionless, her body half bathed in the shadows that adorned the northern wall of the building. A beat or two later, she slowly made her way out of the shadows and began toward the wrestling ring at the center of the Thunderdome.

“O la la,” Seventeen mumbled under his breath as the six-foot tall woman drew closer to his location. Unlike the last female that he had been force into combat against, this one was drop-dead gorgeous. She had all the right curves in all the right places, and the fatigues that she wore as a fighting outfit were cut and torn in such a manner to accentuate her features without making her look like a vapid slut.

“I would like to introduce to you one of my most talented students,” West Kai snickered, turning his attention back to the sardonic android. With a grin, the exceedingly short demigod noted the wide-eyed expression on the bewildered man’s face. “Annemarie has trained with me for countless decades, and she represents—undoubtedly—the type specimen of her species.”

“You flatter me, West Kai,” the women chuckled, her blue eyes sparkling as she hopped off the ground and cleared the seven feet necessary to vault over the turnbuckles and into the ring. Almost instinctively, Seventeen retreated a few steps and made a mental note of his immediate surroundings. It was then that he realized he was already boxed into the corner of the wrestling ring, but before he could really strafe out of his position, his opponent pounced.
Everything after this point is new content, which means it's probably as awful as the rest of my content #cynicism
 

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In a startling display of speed and grace, Annemarie sped forward and swung a lithe, sculpted leg up toward the side of the man’s head. Unable to effectively deal with the attack, Seventeen opted to gracelessly topple backwards onto the uppermost turnbuckle. The padded post let out a sigh as it leaned back against the force of the man’s momentum. Before Annemarie’s foot had a chance to click back onto the cream-colored canvas, the android propelled his body out from the corner of the ring.

As he launched forward, Seventeen pushed himself up off the floor and flung a quick fist at the female warrior’s head. With a smile, Annemarie batted away the punch and countered with a forearm cross to the center of the raven-haired man’s chest. A grunt escaped his clenched mouth as the force of the blow and the momentum from his vault prompted him to slam painfully into the steel bars of the cage.

Sagging onto the ropes, the machine-hybrid shook his head to try and clear out the ringing noise as he slipped down to his feet. Before he could set up a proper guard, the smiling woman had closed the gap and landed an unyielding straight jab that drove the air out from his lungs. While he didn’t need said air to function (he was dead, after all), the impact was still more than enough to pop him up off his feet and momentarily shatter any semblance of a functioning battle plan from his brain. As he teetered, a left cross send him literally twisting through the air before crashing down to the mat.

“All right,” Seventeen groaned after hacking up some blood-laced saliva in an effort to catch his breath—an unnecessary gesture for the living dead but a piece of muscle memory that was hard to forget in the heat of the moment.

“Come on, honey,” Annemarie purred as she hopped her way back to the middle of the Thunderdome’s ring. The woman then continued to hop from one foot to the other as she pumped her fists like a world class boxer. “I could do this for days,” she added with a giggle. “Not even breakin’ a sweat,” she shouted to West Kai as the cyborg planted his elbows into the canvas and drove himself into an upright seated position.

“Stop foolin’ around, Girl!” West Kai barked from his outside corner of the Thunderdome. The demigod’s purple countenance was tinged with some darker hues as it became clear that his student’s lack of killer focus was getting to him.

“Awww, you’re worryin’ too much,” Annemarie remarked as she stopped hopping on the balls of her feet and watched as Seventeen shambled up to a fully vertical stance. After fighting off South and East Kai’s students, the machine-hybrid was a little worse for wear, but by the grin on his face, his adversary knew he wasn’t going to just lie down. “You ready, Sugar?”

Seventeen spit the last bit of bloody saliva from his mouth and flashed his mostly white teeth at the shapely lady in the chic tattered clothes. “Are you?” He asked as Annemarie launched off her feet.

She was quick, but he was ready for it this time. Her lariat flew high as the man ducked and jammed his knee into her thigh. Carried by her own momentum, Annemarie left her feet and crashed against the steel cage. The metal bars shuddered against her frame, but the pride of the West Kai was quick to reorient herself to avoid a swift, vicious kick that cleaved nothing but air.

Scowling as his eyes trailed the woman as she slipped through the bottom two ropes, Seventeen twisted and got his hands up in time to grab her fist as it veered for his already bruised face. “I have enough scratches to the money-maker,” he mumbled before the smiling woman balled her other fingers and threw that fist into his side. Feeling the impact in his teeth, the cyborg clenched his chattering chiclets and swung his forehead into Annemarie’s face. Even as fresh flashes of pain light up in front of him, he found himself smiling at the woman’s yelp and the spatter of blood from her newly broken nose.

“Good gracious,” Annemarie slurred as she hopped back and clamped a hand over the sanguine mess in the center of her face. “The face?” She asked as she tilted her head sideways.

“You can fix it,” Seventeen grinned as he wiped the red from the lower half of his face. “Benefits of being the best students of demigods, am I right?”

Annemarie removed her hand from her bloody, broken nose and blew the man a sarcastic kiss. “If you weren’t such a hoot, I’d tear your arm off and beat you to death with it.”

“You tease,” Seventeen remarked.

“Destroy him!” West Kai growled, eliciting an eye roll from his own student.

“He’s always so tense,” the girl spoke as she flicked some blood from her chin. “One day he’s gonna clench up too hard and snap that monocle, or he’s gonna erupt like a volcano up through that little helmet-hat of his.”

“I hear you!” West Kai shouted as he stamped his feet. “Do I have to remind you that I personally spent half a decade training you to the be the best?”

“Yea, yea,” Annemarie muttered as she set her sights back on the raven-haired fighter. “Somethin’ tells me that we should probably settle this little affair before he genuinely has an aneurysm.”

Seventeen nodded his head. “Ladies first,” he whispered as Annemarie came lunging forward.

The two colliding a beat later and exchanged a rapid salvo of blows. With both of them having had prior skirmishes to learn the patterns, they proceeded to swap a variety of parries and blocked strikes while trying to jockey for position. Knees slapped into palms and fists found themselves redirected into empty space as the growing frenzy of Seventeen and Annemarie reduced them to little more than multicolored blurs shuffling around the encaged wrestling ring.

From the outside, the North and West Kais watched with growing concern as two of their best current students slugged it out at breakneck pace.

“…can you tell what’s going on?” King Kai whispered after edging closer to his slightly stouter rival.

“Of course I can,” West Kai barked, his tone clearly a little too flummoxed.

King Kai sneered. “No you can’t,” he teased.

“Shut up!” West Kai snapped. “Just watch as my student breaks yours in half … just like they always do!”

“What universe are you from?” King Kai asked before he started to snort at his own stupid joke.

In the ring, the two blurred figures suddenly came to an abrupt pause.

After blocking knee strikes with the same limb, the pair of fighters had both opted for straight punches, and the end result had been a sudden and anti-climatic conclusion to their blurred combat dance around the squared circle.

“Well this is awkward,” Annemarie chuckled as she shoved away from her opponent and lifted her fists back up to her face.

With a quick smirk, Seventeen sprung forward once again and ducked a right hook that seemed to almost sizzle through the air overhead. He landed a jab right below the woman’s ribcage that buckled her over with an audible oof just moments before he followed up with a leaping uppercut. It was that second, thunderous impact that sent Annemarie literally flying upward off her feet and then crashing down to canvas.

Seventeen grinned as he dashed forward and hooked an arm around one of the woman’s legs. Before she could gain her bearings, he had already whipped her across the wrestling ring and into the other side of the steel cage. Dashing at his stunned foe, the deceased warrior’s grin expanded as he rushed in to deal the closing blow. Instead, he found his hand caught mid-punch by the woman’s fist, which now glowed faintly with ethereal red flames.

“That’s cheatin’, darlin’,” the cyborg spoke as a clear facsimile of the woman’s distinct drawl.

“You didn’t see nothin’,” she chuckled as the flames vanished and she pulled the machine-hybrid in close enough to kick him square in the center of the abdomen. She then let go after she landed a second, twisting kick that slammed into the side of his head with enough force to send him twirling through the air.

Scrambling quickly, Seventeen rolled hard to the left as a knee dropped down nearly through the canvas where he had initially landed. He kipped up to his feet a moment later and caught Annemarie’s leg as she leashed it outward for another thunderous kick. With a tut-tut, the cyborg threw the woman’s leg in the other direction, causing her to spin off balance long enough for him to dive forward and tackle her down to the canvas.

“Well this is forward,” she muttered before an elbow slammed into her chin. Even though she was seeing stars, the female warrior knee well enough to start squirming and throw up her forearms to stymie a second strike. Throwing out her forearms, she managed to dislodged her attacker backwards enough that she could swing her legs up and hook one of them up and over his armpit. A moment later, her leg strength played to her advantage as she swung him down and managed to almost reverse the situation.

“This is forward,” the deceased cyborg whispered as he cinched in on the woman’s leg and twisted it sideways to prevent her from trying any extra funny business. Annemarie winced but attempted to fight through as she drilled an elbow into Seventeen—a little bit of personalized payback for a few moments prior. Gritting his teeth through the fresh and somewhat nauseating waves of pain, the dead machine-hybrid wrenched the leg and threw his weight sideways, managing just barely to topple the woman sideways. As they rolled, he shoved the well-toned limb away and scrambled backwards before making his return to a fully vertical position.

A few feet away, Annemarie sprung back up and brushed away some of the dirt and blood from her face. She then proceeded to smile as she gestured for their ‘dance’ to resume.

All too happy to oblige, Seventeen dashed forward, and the two managed to perfectly telegraph what was coming their way. The machine-hybrid’s cross swung high over a ducking Annemarie, but he was quick to twist and spring backwards as the retaliatory forearm swing veered for his midsection. Just as quickly as they had broken apart, the two lunged forward one more. On this occasion, it was Seventeen who found the magic combination. After his first quartet of strikes fell to blocks or deft dodges, he threw out a half-assed lariat that served as bait for a hopping knee strike. He felt the whoosh from Annemarie’s lips as the air drove out of her lungs, and with a faint smile, he hoisted up his elbow and then drove it down into the spot between her shoulder blades.

The woman crashed back into the canvas, and a beat later, Seventeen stepped forward and drove his foot almost through the side of her stomach, propelling her up off her hands and knees and into the ropes.

Advancing silently and effectively, Seventeen hooked a hand under her armpit and yanked her back up to her feet. A beat later, he shoved her into the ropes, prompting her to tumble back for a moment before her momentum brought her into the range of a vicious hook. Blood sprayed as the woman’s face wrenched sideways at the impact, and a beat later, she was collapsing limply against the ropes after a laced axe handle chop crashed down against her sternum.

“Give up yet?” Seventeen asked as he gave the woman some time to catch her breath and shake away the malaise associated with a successive cranial injuries.

“On you, Darlin’?” Annemarie spoke, her distinct drawl a little slurred due to some swelling on her face. “I could go a few more rounds.”

“You make me blush,” Seventeen chuckled, even as he heard the two kais squabbling outside the Thunderdome. “Last round?”

“Feels that way,” the woman replied as she dislodged herself from the ring ropes and made it to her feet. “You’ll go easy one me, won’t ya?” Even as she said it, it was clear from her grin that Annemarie didn’t expect that to happen in any version of reality.

“I wouldn’t be a true gentleman if I did that,” Seventeen offered in rebuttal as he sprung forward. With surprisingly deft speed, Annemarie was able to block the first swing with enough remaining reaction speed to jam her boot down onto his foot. A few minutes ago, that pain would have been horrendous, but the belle of the Thunderdome had lost a little spring in her step, allowing Seventeen to grit his teeth and shove her off balance. She lashed out with a standing roundhouse kick, but her foe ducked, stepped forward, and clubbed her in the head with his elbow.

Not losing a beat, Seventeen grabbed the woman around the waist and launched her backwards over his head. As he loosed his grip, he managed to spin and land on his knees and palms as Annemarie crashed awkwardly down onto her neck and shoulders. Pushing up to his feet, the cyborg hooked the woman into a full nelson and yanked her up off the ground before driving her back down into the met. He repeated this process a few more times, until he stopped feeling any sort of writhing resistance to the hold.

“You still with me?” The cyborg muttered. When his response was the woman’s leg swinging back and narrowly avoiding a direct hit to a very precious region, he replied by slamming her, ass-first, into the mat. Releasing his grip, he retreated just enough to have the angle he needed to deliver a square kick to the side of her head.

Annemarie slumped sideways to the mat, and based on the bitter shouting from the West Kai, it was clear to the machine-hybrid that even the demigod knew his student wasn’t about to brush off that hit.

There was the sound of groaning mechanisms, and then Seventeen noted that the steel cage was once again being hoisted back up into parts unknown. With a grin, the cybernetic warrior turned and watched as an irate West Kai slipped into the wrestling ring to retrieve his unconscious student.

“Yea, fine, good job,” West Kai barked—the closest to an admission of defeat that that purple-skinned demigod would get. Still smiling, Seventeen waiting until Annemarie and her sensei had vanished into whatever backstage area existed here in the Thunderdome. Once they were gone, he slipped out of the ring and flashed a ‘thumbs up’ to his own master.

“Well it looks like I upstaged your cosmic rivals,” Seventeen answered.

King Kai nodded his head. “That you did,” he declared enthusiastically as he gestured for the raven-haired fighter to follow him. “But the tournament is not yet finalized, and you have one more sponsorship you must acquire…”
 

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Seventeen felt his eyes roll despite his best efforts.

“One more?” He asked as he glanced around the now empty ring-side area. There didn’t seem to be any more sneering demigods around to throw down another gauntlet. Except, of course… “Oh, how great,” Seventeen mumbled as he caught the wide grin on the face of his own sensei.

“You’ve figured it out!” King Kai declared joyfully as he started to waddle his way to one of the area’s many exit doors. He continued to speak as he led the cyborg through the gorilla position and through a network of short corridors back toward where they had initially entered the domed structure. “You’ve gained the, uh, somewhat unwilling endorsements of East, South, and West Kai to participate in the tournament. You require one final Kai’s approval before you can enter the upcoming cosmic battle,” with that, King Kai suddenly spun around, causing Seventeen to almost bowl over her sensei. “Me!” The stout demigod declared dramatically as he placed his hands on his hips and tilted his head back.

“Yes, I am aware,” Seventeen replied softly, prompting King Kai to deflate just a little before shrugging his shoulders and motioning for his protege to follow him.

“You know, sometimes I wished you’d just … let me have these small moments,” King Kai lamented as he motioned for the cyborg to continue following him to his classic muscle car.

“I’m not contractually obligated to do anything of that sort,” Seventeen answered as he hopped into the passenger side of the vehicle and rested his head back on the cushion. After a few rounds of combat with the other kai’s trainees, the adrenaline was just starting to subside, and he knew a crash was coming sooner rather than later. “Where are we off to now?” He muttered as he closed his eyes and listened to the rev of the engine.

“The proper tournament grounds,” King Kai replied. “It’s a short drive, but I didn’t expect it to take you quite so long just to get this close to qualifying.”

“You plan to tell me what inane task you’d like for me to complete?”

King Kai snorted in disdain before responding. “Yes, you ungrateful,” he reached over and gave the half-conscious Seventeen a gentle shove against the door. “You be happy I don’t make you walk.”

“I know, Sensei,” Seventeen muttered with a faint grin as he readjusted himself and tried to relax as the flying car burped and shuddered for a few moments before its engine roared to life.

“So, Seventeen,” King Kai replied as the car left behind the staging planetoid and started on a trajectory toward the tournament’s official location. When the stout demigod received no immediate response, he twisted his head and jabbed his trainee in the side. “No napping, come on now — you can nap when you’re dead! Ohohoho!”

At the sound of King Kai’s guffawing, Seventeen found himself fully and regrettably alert. As he shook away the sensation of grogginess, he didn’t even bother to ruminate on the fact that he probably shouldn’t have felt tired or sleepy in the first place, because weren’t those sensations for the living alone? “Yes, King Kai?”

“Do you regret it?” The demigod asked as he eased on the accelerator and took them up over a bank of clouds. In the far distance, there were a couple faint sparkles that looked suspiciously like fireworks. When the kai got no response, he glimpsed sideways to see that there was an expression of confusion on the young man’s face. “Do you regret your decision to return to your training here? I’m certain that King Yemma would have been willing to let you go back to Earth, especially after that recent Syntech event. Why did you decide to stay here? Why did you really decide … none of that nonsense about being mopey after losing again in Dante’s Abyss, because twenty or thirty people lose every year.”

Seventeen, remembering his initial conversation with the blue-skinned demigod upon his return to the planetoid, frowned as he tried to process what he was actually feeling in his head. “I felt like it was slipping away from me, I guess,” he muttered.

“What?”

“An idealized life that was never in the cards at all…” Seventeen scowled as he leaned against the door of the muscle car. King Kai never drove too quickly, so the wind felt nice as it blew through his hair and caressed across his still bruised facial features. “After we defeated those Avatars, it was supposed to be,” he paused again as he sought out the words. “It was supposed to be easy, y’know? We hadn’t just defeated the Avatar … we had taken out anyone who may have had scores to settle with the two of us, and we’d broken ties with the Elders and their ilk. It was supposed to be a clean break.”

“But then.”

“It wasn’t just the pregnancy,” Seventeen grumbled as he leaned over and swatted his master on his pudgy shoulder, causing the antennae’d demigod to flail a stout arm at him in protest. “She just started acting … strange.”

“She was pregnant,” King Kai laughed.

“You know it wasn’t just that,” the cyborg lashed out, although he didn’t smack at his teacher on this occasion. “Mood swings are normal, I know,” he grinned. “I read books,” but the expression quickly turned soured once more. “She just became hostile. It was as if I was watching her changed at a molecular level each day we were together.”

“The strange powers.”

“The strange powers.”

King Kai veered casually downward, and they pair dropped through a soft cloud bank before leveling out once again. “So you plan to hide here in the afterlife, eh? Dante’s Abyss as a clever means to fake one of those ever-elusive permanent deaths you super warriors fear so much?”

“I don’t want to go back and watch the remainder of what we had unravel and rot, King Kai,” the cyborg responded. “Paige and I had … plans and wills for this thing.”

“The twins?”

“They’ll grow up best without me in their lives,” Seventeen answered. “Without me there to attract intergalactic warlords or cosmic assassins or dreaded paparazzi. Paige could hide whatever she was rather effectively, so I have no doubt that would change in any world.”

“I see,” the sensei muttered. “You don’t think that makes you a coward?”

“They’ll have me watching over them,” Seventeen mumbled. “Maybe your boss will actually be able to train me to be strong enough to always protect them, wherever in the cosmos they may be. I would be a whole lot better at that than actually raising them… that’s for sure. I love them — I love her — but there’s also just something missing inside me. I just know that they’re better off without me, as pathetic or idiotic as that may sound.”

King Kai took them back above the clouds, and at this distance, Seventeen could see a much more traditional tournament setting—the classic design always used for the Earth’s World Tournament events. “You’re right about something,” the squat blue alien spoke.

“What’s that?”

“You’re an idiot,” King Kai replied with a chortle. When he calmed himself down, he lifted a hand to silence the cyborg’s clear and present ire. “I’ve had dozens of students over the years, Seventeen, and I can safely say you’re probably no less conflicted and confused about the universe and your place in it than any of them.” King Kai eased off the gas pedal as they started their descent down to the planetoid’s surface. At this distance, it was harder to hear the chortling demigod, because whatever tournament they had driven to had clearly started. “I’m not your papi, so I’m not going to tell you what to do with your life, but I can promise you one thing.”

“What’s that?” Seventeen asked as they touched down with a thud that nearly bumped him out of the car.

His master spoke once they had settled back to cruising speed. “I promise you that you’ll find purpose if you’re up to the challenge of this tournament. It’s been a good, long while since I’ve had a student win this tournament. Decades, if we’re counting in your time. Decades. Do you how agonizing it is to listen to West Kai berating you at every kai meeting for a decade straight?”

“So does this mean I’m in the tournament?” Seventeen asked as the car came to a stop near a closed garage door.

King Kai hopped out of the car and made for a small door nearby. He paused just long enough to crane his virtually neck-deprived head back toward his student. “Well, duh, you really think I’d prevent you from competing after you showed up all those dorks I work with?” The blue-skinned kai grinned wildly as he waited for the cyborg to join him. “But, if you can’t already tell, we’re late … the tournament already started while you were over in the Thunderdome flexing on the other kai’s non-entrants.”

“So does this mean you’ve already lost?” Seventeen asked, causing King Kai to chuckle once again.

“You really think I only entered you in this tournament? You took so long in the Void, I scrounged up another one of my star pupils to participate, but you do have a spot reserved. You’ll just be unable to compete out there under the bright lights, since all those stages are reserved for people who show up on time.”

Seventeen frowned. “Well what are we waiting for? Let’s get this show on the road!”
 

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Seventeen followed King Kai as he led him into a dimly light backstage area. Beneath a few weak spotlights, a battle platform in the same vein as those outside had been erected.

“What did you say this was supposed to be?” The cyborg asked as he made his way toward the marble platform and hopped up onto the raised surface.

“A dark match,” King Kai replied as he made his way all the way around to the other side of the platform and pressed his pudgy face against a small window. “Yea, the first round is already underway, so you’re competing in the dark match back here.”

“I mean, I know the lighting could be better, but I’m not gonna have to be blindfolded, right?”

“It’s a piece of jargon in the fight business, Seventeen,” King Kai chortled as he spun around to speak across the room to his pupil. “No audience and no cameras back here … hence, it’s a dark match. Didn’t you and Kirano used to watch those staged fighting shows on cable years ago? This is a common term in that industry as well, for the non-televised matches they use to see if prospective talents are any good.”

“You’re saying I’m no good?”

King Kai palmed his forehead. “No, I’m saying we got your here late, so you’ll fight here. If you win here, then you’ll compete on the main stage for the remainder of the tournament. Did that woman hit you too many times in the head, because you’re usually a little more clever than this.”

“Hilarious,” Seventeen replied as he began to perform a variety of stretches. “You really should be a comedian, King Kai.”

The blue-skinned alien scowled as he made his way up into the stands. “Your competition is arriving shortly, Seventeen. Do you need me to go over the rules?”

“This is just the WMAT, right?”

“The what-mat?” King Kai remarked as he plopped down onto the front row of the bleachers. “That’s marble beneath your boots, not a mat, Seventeen.”

The cyborg blinked heavily for a few moments before offering a response. “This is the same rules they use in the Budokai, right? People on Earth sometimes call it the World Martial Arts Tournament? Don’t you have all the channels in your house?”

King Kai started to go over the rules without bothering to address his student’s snark. “Your goal will be to knock out the three other adversaries, each of them chosen from one of the other kai’s quadrants. Only the last fighter standing will be abable to advance to the second round of the tournament.”

“That doesn’t sound too hard,” Seventeen replied as a secondary set of lights hummed to life. As he adjusted his bandanna, he heard the creak of another door on the other side of the room. Pivoting, the cyborg smiled faintly while his adversaries approached to the elevated platform.

“Hey,” the first fighter grunted as he hopped up onto the eastern edge of the platform. “Name is Jed,” he added with a thick and imposing accent as he cracked his neck a few different ways and ran a hand through his short, unkempt red hair. At seven feet tall and a couple hundred pounds, Jed was built like a heavyweight boxer, and Seventeen was genuinely shocked that the shirtless man wasn’t clad in gloves and drawstring shorts.

On the southern edge of the platform, a humanoid insect pulled himself up onto the platform. This one was an alien species that Seventeen didn’t recognize, but then again, his knowledge of the cosmos beyond his own quadrant was limited to ‘changelings bad.’ “Are we doing introductions?” He inquired, his voice a little muffled behind what seemed to be a natural sort of mask that covered the lower half of his face. “I’m Skeezar, from the planet Shendora in the Southern Quadrant. Did your kais make you late to this tournament as well?” He added with an awkward and uncomfortably human-esque chuckle as his chitinous wings twitched behind him.

“Yes,” a feminine voice replied from the western edge.

Seventeen glanced and saw a woman that was shaped and molded in a similar vein as Annemarie. The curves and edges were all very similar, but the hair was red and freckles adorned her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. “Howdy,” she muttered as she crossed her arms over her chest. “The name’s Jessamyn, and I’ll gladly been knockin’ y’all out cold this afternoon.” Her grin was one of cool confidence as a gong sounded somewhere in the distance.

“That’s the signal to start fighting!” King Kai shouted from his spot up in the bleachers. When Seventeen glanced in his direction, the cyborg also noted that a small crew of officials had filtered into the backstage area and taken their positions around the platform. “Last one standing on that platform will advance to the second round and fight under the lights. You can be eliminated via ring out or failing to answer the ten count. The losers will … get to explain to their kai why they just weren’t good enough! All the rules of standard martial arts tournaments will apply, although you are all free to use your wild and zany arrays of trained and natural techniques.”

When the gong sounded a second time, the fighters on the other edges of the platform all burst forward. For his part, Seventeen casually started toward the center of the ring, unwilling to dive headfirst into the fracas but also unwilling to linger near the perimeter of the elevated tile stage. Jed went off like you might expect someone of his size to go off—his ham-sized fists had a surprising speed to them as he clipped Skeezar in the shoulder and sent the insect skittered sideways like a stone might bounce on water.

Twisting his body, Jed grabbed Jessamyn’s leg before it could strike him in the side of the head, and with a grin, he literally hurled the woman up into the air. With both of the other two competitors dealt with in the interim, the colossal fighter turned and smiled at the casually advancing cyborg. “You are not in a hurry, little man?” He inquired with a tone that was a little too snide for Seventeen’s tastes. “Scrawny woman will fall down before you reach Jed.”

“In my experience, women usually prefer a man who doesn’t rush through things,” Seventeen smiled as he held up his fists. Red flames burst to life along the length of his forearms as he let out a soft, control breath. “It’s been a bit since I’ve focused these applications, so you might have to bear with me.”

“Bear with this,” Jed roared as he slammed a foot down onto the platform. The impact shattered the marble surface and sent an entire panel twirling up into the air.

Seventeen grimaced as he dove to the wayside, avoiding the panel-turned-missile after he was punched at him by the brawny warrior. Before the raven-haired warrior could retaliate, he felt a swirl of wind around him that was followed a split-second later by an insect crashing right into his chest and gut. Staggered, he fell prey to what felt like a spray of acid that splashed against his face, and while the attack didn’t cause his flesh or hair to melt, it nevertheless obscured all of his facial senses.

In a panic, Seventeen swung high and kicked out with one of his feet. He knew he wasn’t going to hit his adversary, but the retaliation at least made him feel a little better before the inevitable and crushing impact of the knee between his shoulder blades drove him down to the fractured and uneven marble surface. Second later, a foot hooked up into his abdomen, and he was tumbling a little too quickly for his own good.

Exploding into a spattering of white and blue light particles, Seventeen rematerialized up amid the the large lights that hung from the rafters. Once his feet were on a solid surface, he could take the moment he needed to wipe away the viscous, spit-like gunk that the insect had sprayed into his face. With that done, all it took was a few steady blinks to get his vision back to where he needed it to be to continue the scrap with the other three fighters.

Down below, Jed found himself the victim of a much more concerted two-on-one effort. The bruising powerhouse, despite the odds, seemed to be holding his own surprisingly well. The pair would get a few licks in on him, but then he would roll through an attack and absolutely level one of them with a steady punch or knee shot. The more he watched, the more Seventeen understood that even with the way things were set up, he should be able to win. None of these other fighters were as balanced as he was, and even the woman, though she came close, seemed to be a sloppier version of Annemarie. Her stance and her strikes didn’t have the same panache as her fellow student.

With a grin, Seventeen hopped off of the crossbeam and dropped down to the broken arena. Upon landing, he sneered as a coat of red flames burst of life around him. “Kaioken time,” he whispered, more so to hype himself up than anything else.

Launching up off the platform, the cybernetic warrior closed the gap between himself and the three warring contestants. In a blur of red, he crashed straight into Jed. For all his muscles, the man still let out an audible grunt as the air was driven from his lungs and one of his legs collapsed beneath him. Seventeen landed on his feet and had to dive backwards as the goliath retaliated with a massive hay-marker that fortunately sliced only air. The cyborg landed calmly on his boots only to spin and throw up his hands to painfully block the full force of a spinning roundhouse from Jessamyn.

“Well that’s not very kind,” Seventeen replied as the woman hopped back and lashed out with a vibrant burst of green energy. The sudden ki attack caught the machine-hybrid by surprise and sent him skidding in reverse toward the edge of the platform. Despite the shock and awe, he managed to kill his momentum and regain his footing as he glared across the uneven marvel surface at the sneering woman. “Oh, okay. I see you,” he shouted as the kaioken aura started to burn a little stronger around him.

“I also see you,” a chittering voice whispered as the cyborg turned right into a chitinous fist from Skeezar. Tumbling backwards, Seventeen threw out his arms and channeled the full force of his kaioken while managing to somehow land on his hands and knees.

The cyborg looked up to see the insect from the south quadrant rushing at him. Once more unto the breach.

In an burst of red flames, Seventeen dashed forward and sidestepped as Skeezar attempted to intercept him. The insect had been wholly unprepared for the pallid man’s rapid increase in speed, and as he turned, the South Kai’s student winced even before the inevitable blow crashed against the side of his skull.

Skeezar swayed and dropped to his knees with a dull thump as the alien tried to will himself to remain conscious. He wouldn’t have the opportunity to achieve that goal, because a second blow slammed squarely onto the top of his skull. The warrior went limp, and with a final motion, Seventeen stepped forward and kicked the winged fighter off of the platform and into the willing and ready hands of the medical staff.
 

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With the battle reduced to a three-way dance, Seventeen turned to see that the other two had paused their skirmish long enough to watch him for the last half a minute or so.

“Hi,” the machine-hybrid muttered as snatched something from his side pouch held out his left hand. “I think this is the part where you’re both going to turn against me, isn’t it? Where suddenly, me, Mr. ‘Fancy with the red shiny’ is number one enemy in this little brawl for all?” Seventeen smiled as the katchin ingot in his extended hand broke apart into a liquid cascade of metal that coated the limb all the way up to his elbow. “You’d be shocked how long it has been since I’ve broken out some of these tricks. Just don’t tell anyone in the audience, because I’ll probably do the same thing out there under the lights.”

“Arrogant, aren’t you?” Jessamyn remarked with a sneer.

“Just confidence,” Seventeen grinned as his metal-encased limb started to sprout short spikes. “Spiked… for her pleasure,” he added as the pair of undead fighters charged at him. Given her more lithe physique, Jessamyn was the first to close the distance, and she came in with all her metaphorical guns blazing. Without yielding ground, Seventeen swung up the katchin-coated limb and used it to parry and block the woman’s swings, and much to his amusement, he could tell that each foiled offensive hurt the woman. Despite her years of training in the mortal and undead realms, each failed strike laid the foundation for fresh bruises on her forearm, legs, and fists.

While he could have gladly out-maneuvered the woman and allowed her to metaphorically impale herself on his defenses, Seventeen had to move within a few seconds of the ill-fated exchange.

Jed steamrolled into the equation and struck the ground beneath the threesome with the full weight of his molded and shaped physique. The crushing impact shattered the marble surface and sent both Seventeen and Jessamyn off-balance, but in that instant, it was the cyborg who was the target. He managed to twist himself just enough to get his metal-infused arm in between himself and Jed’s strike. The last-second defensive tactic wasn’t enough to spare the cyborg from having the wind knocked out of him and being thrown off his feet. He recovered quickly enough to right himself midair and hold himself in a position a few feet above the thoroughly shattered portion of the battle stage.

A few yards away, Jessamyn was struggling to get her feet up under her near the edge of the platform. Seventeen consider his options for a moment before turning his focus to the sneering, thickly accented bruiser. Jed motioned for the cyborg to resume their bout, and despite their difference in size, the smaller and scrawnier of the two combatants was all too happy to acquiesce. In a blur, Seventeen crashed into Jed elbow-first, but the large fighter barely wavered. Before retaliation could befall him, the cybernetic warrior vanished in a swirl of white and blue light particles.

He appeared overhead of Jed and dropped a metal-infused and spiked forearm strike down onto the crown of the man’s head.

Knees instantly quaky, the bulky man tried to take a step forward but wound up collapsing to the uneven, shattered floor of the platform. Seventeen whispered an apology before landing a solid, kaioken-infused kick to the side of Jed’s head. The cyborg held back enough to make sure he wouldn’t kill the man, but he doubted very much that the brawny fighter would rise up anytime soon.

As quickly as he could, Seventeen turned and braced himself as Jessamyn landed a glancing blow to his skull.

***​

Heaven was, if you could believe it, a serene landscape.

Around the Dojo of Light, the streets were quiet, as a mostly synthetic ‘nighttime’ had befallen the idyllic metropolis that had formed around the ancient temple over the last few millennia. In a back alley a few streets removed from the shining temple, a swirl of white and blue light particles flickered briefly before being replaced by a hooded figure.

“Into the light,” the figure rasped softly as they lifted their concealed face to stare at the dark corner of the back street. From that blackness, another individual, likewise shrouded in garbs that made their identity impossible to discern, stepped forth. “You have a lot of gall pressing to arrange a meeting like this so in our domain, Darklighter.”

“Heh,” the response hissed from beneath the hood as the figure stepped forward and suddenly drove a hooked knife up into the whitelighter’s ribs.

With a surprised yelp, the stab victim lashed out and managed to knock down his attacker’s hood. “You’re … you’re not.”

Scowling, his killer drew a venom-tipped crossbow bolt and drove it into the whitelighter’s forehead. The cosmic guardian angel was dead in the time it took for him to strike the floor, and with a chuckle, his murder held out a hand and proceeded to harvest the corpse’s magical essence.

***​

The machine-hybrid touched down and ducked as Jessamyn again sailed a strike wide over his head. This time, he retaliated with a swift chop after popping back up to a fully vertical stance. The woman wavered, and the next blow slammed into her sternum.

Watching silently, Seventeen observed as the woman crashed onto the ground outside the boundaries of the platform. Tilting his head just to double check that the medical team had already removed Jed from the stage, he proceeded to nod his head. “Did I win?”

“Yes!” King Kai shouted from the stands with joy as he proceeded to hop down toward the ground level. “I knew you had it in you, Seventeen! I didn’t expect anything less from one of my star pupils of the last few years.”

“You say ‘one of’?” The cyborg said with a shit-eating grin as he was ushered down from the stage and toward a set of double doors. “In the next round, I’ll get to fight outside, right? No more nonsense matches with people the other kais scraped together on a whim?”

“Yes, yes,” King Kai muttered as he led his student toward a locker room. Before he opened the door, the kai twisted and toss something at Seventeen’s face. The dead man snatched it out of the air, and with a faint smile at the senzu bean in his palm, he threw it into his mouth and chewed away at the healing legume. “Keep up, I’ll want to debrief you and your partner before the second round.”

“Partner?”

“Yes, they’re adding a gimmick to the second round, so you’ll be partnered up with one of my other students.”

“Who?”

King Kai paused and turned to look at Seventeen. The stout alien’s face was devoid of emotion as he offered the reply. “Someone you know… but for all the wrong reasons.”
 

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Seventeen followed his sensei into what seemed to be one of many locker rooms set aside for contestants in the Grand Kai’s tournament.

“What does that even mean?” The cyborg muttered as he tried to keep pace. “What’s ‘all the wrong reasons’?”

A raspy, sinister voice spoke up from a poorly light corner of the locker room. “Hello, Robot.”

Without turning to that dim region of the backstage area, Seventeen’s face immediately twisted up into a scowl as his eyes bored through the back of his teacher. “…you didn’t, King Kai. This isn’t the punchline for one of your dumb jokes, is it?”

The blue-skinned alien turned around before dropping down onto a bench. Reaching to his robes, King Kai retrieved what seemed to be a small pad of paper. Without addressing his student, he scrunched up his face as he flipped through a few sheets on the little pocket-sized legal pad. “The second round is kind of like a round robin deal, where fighters get randomly paired up to challenge other odd-ball pairings. The whole thing is a dumb and frustrating stunt to keep everyone from getting too cocky or building up an advantage. You win the round the same way as all the others.”

“You did this,” Seventeen gestured with his head back toward the corner of the room. “On purpose? You do remember that thsi guy and I have killed each other? That we’ve tried to kill each other on multiple occasions?”

King Kai turned and squinted as he tried to see something through a small window. He frowned before looking back down at his pad. “You two have also fought alongside one another … didn’t you just cooperate during that death tournament?”

“That was extenuating circumstances,” Seventeen muttered.

“Hah,” Minoshia grunted as he stepped out of the dark. The konat’s sneer was just as malicious and venomous as always. “Don’t lie to yourself, Robot, we got along just fine in the Abyss. We both know that we were robbed by an errant twist of fate.”

“I wasn’t in the right state of mind, and you … exacerbated that,” Seventeen replied as he turned to glare daggers into the mohawked prince’s vile eyes. “I could have won, if we hadn’t gone all bloodthirsty and walked into that trap.”

“You agreed with the plan,” Minoshia hissed, even as his sneer turned into a callous grin. “Don’t blame me because you’re the one who always tends to get blown into pieces.”

Seventeen stepped forward until his chest was nearly pressed against the smaller warrior’s nose. “I seem to recall an instance where I was very much intact, and you were very much bleeding out at my feet.”

“And you best hope I don’t come for that rubber match,” Minoshia snickered. “I can’t believe I got paired with you, either. I can’t imagine how soft you are, after having spent all this time moping on King Kai’s planet and watching reruns of garbage television shows.”

The cybernetic warrior’s head snapped back toward his sensei, who immediately looked the other way. “King Kai, you said I had earned that time off!”

Minoshia laughed as he walked back toward one of the little holes in the wall that served as windows. “Let me guess, you probably had to fight a bunch of soft, second-hand fighters while I was busy going toe-to-toe with real intergalactic warriors.

“They were very tough,” Seventeen snapped.

Before the konat could reply, both of King Kai’s students heard their stout sensei audibly groan from his bench a few yards away from them. “No, this is awful,” the alien muttered as he put the pad down and let his head loll backwards in despair.

“What’s the matter?” Seventeen and Minoshia spoke in unison, and after sharing a glare, they both turned their eyes back to the demigod who had dragged them all this way.

King Kai threw his hands up in the air before rolling his head back to look at his two students. “So each kai gets a handful of students in this tournament. In this round, you’re fighting another one of my former trainees. He’s someone I dragged away from Earth to participate in this tournament.”

“It’s not that damn idiot monkey with the long hair?” Minoshia rasped as his hands made tight fists at his sides. “I will murder that saiyan and his whore.”

The demigod shook his head. “No, not that one … I’m not sure where he went off to, but this one is a saiyan. For some reason, I tend to get a bunch of those.”

“It’s not his brother or the other one?” Seventeen asked, thinking back to when he had partnered with a saiyan years ago in a tag-team tournament on Earth.

“No,” King Kai replied. “This one’s called Toma. He’s an often-dead mercenary type, with one hell of a personality.”

Minoshia chuckled. “I know that one,” he added as he cracked his knuckles. “It’s been a few years, but this should be one hell of a contest.

“You say that now,” King Kai grumbled. “He’s been paired with one of the South Kai’s students. I’m not sure who this person is, but I know that they’re not a pushover.”

The konat prince shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll take them both on,” he replied. “Are you sure I can’t kill them? It feels like such a waste.”

“No killing!” King Kai barked as he looked at Seventeen. “You two have a history together, and you’ll need to rely upon that to defeat Toma and his partner. They don’t have any chemistry, and you can rest assured that will be one of the only advantages you’ll be able to claim in this match-up. Few have mastered kaioken to the extent that Toma has.”

“So you say,” Minoshia replied smugly as he started toward the door that would eventually lead to the entrance ramp that connected to the tournament grounds. Before the konat vanished through the door, he glanced over his shoulder and sneered at Seventeen. “Try and keep up in the fight.”

The door slammed shut as Seventeen lifted his hand up to offer the smug little bastard a one-finger salute. “I can’t believe you, King Kai.” The machine-hybrid replied as he turned to glare at his sensei.

“It was random,” King Kai replied, even as the blue-skinned alien’s lips betrayed a barely contained smirk.

“You’re a riot,” Seventeen shot back as he removed his satchel and tossed it into a locker. As King Kai watched silently, his student vanished in a swirl of white and blue light orbs, and a beat later, the pallid fighter returned with the Power Sword properly sheathed behind his shoulders.

“You and Minoshia probably don’t want to try and get into a swordfight with either of these two. I can’t speak for that South Kai’s fighter, but I can tell you that Toma knows his way around a knife.”

Seventeen drew the sword and glanced at his haggard reflection on its polished surface. “In a past life,” he slipped the blade back into its scabbard with an almost melodic schink before glancing over at his master. “So did I.” The undead cyborg grinned as he made his way through the door and toward the staging grounds of the tournament.

***

By the time the cybernetic warrior had made it up the long ramp and onto the grass field that was adorned with an assortment of tournament platforms, the pomp and circumstance had already started. Announcers, their voices in a multitude of alien languages, were running down the contestants who remained in the event. As he stepped further out, Seventeen craned his neck to see the large structure that loomed over the tournament grounds. Modeled after some historical coliseum, the marble edifice was impressive, but it was the bearded figure standing up in the box seating that drew Seventeen’s lingering attention. A little over five feet tall, the man’s white hair flowed long behind him, and his ivory beard fanned downward, almost as if it had been combed apart. The hair, coupled with the figures long, pointed ears and sunglasses, made the old man someone who would be immediately recognizable in a crowd.

“That’s the Grand Kai,” Minoshia spoke from a few paces ahead of the cyborg. “I overhead some of the other fighters mentioning that he’s just as batty as the rest of the kais.”

Seventeen furrowed his brow as he watched a smiling Grand Kai leaned and press the play button on what seemed to be a boom box. Something you’d expect to hear from the inner city started to pour out from the machine before the demigod’s cheeks went red and he managed to mash the pause button.

“Why do all these cosmic sensei have to be idiots?” Minoshia whispered as he turned and headed off toward their platform. For his part, Seventeen watched a little longer as the Grand Kai, clad in his blue jean jacket, matching jeans, and white undershirt, clapped at the mention of something on the load speakers. King Kai was bonkers, but his training had helped the cyborg to tap into a deep potential so surely this eccentric-looking demigod had equally potent mysteries, right?

“At this point, all fighters should be at their platforms,” a voice on the PA system announced as Seventeen turned sharply on his heels and started to jog after Minoshia. He made it to the stage and hopped up onto the marble surface just a something hummed to life just behind him. Twisting, Seventeen squinted at the very faint particles he saw swimming in the air just behind him.

“It’s a protective shield,” the konat replied. “Don’t touch it … it stings,” he added from a few feet away. Although he was speaking to his ‘partner’, Minoshia’s focus was on the sneering saiyan on the other side of the marble platform.

“It’s been a few years, hasn’t it?” Toma remarked. “Kill anyone interesting lately?”

The konat flashed his sinister sneer. “Not yet,” he spoke as the announcers finished going over the tournament’s various rules and by-laws. At some point, there was a gong, but even though plenty of the other matches exploded into action, this particular foursome remained glued to their spots on the platform.

“Who’s your pal?” Minoshia inquired as the air around the self-proclaimed ‘Dark Prince’ began to glow red with the gradually building might of his kaioken.

Seventeen looked over and saw that the fourth man in this battle seemed to be no different from anyone else. He was wearing what seemed to be some light yet fashionable armor that bore some logos and foreign characters that the cyborg couldn’t translate without his HUD. His hair fell in blonde waves a few inches passed his shoulders, and his features were chiseled without being overly muscled.

“My name is Josephus,” he replied in a baritone voice as he strode forward and started to rub his palms together. “I heard that all three of you trained under the same kaio?”

Minoshia furrowed his brow before nodded his head. “Yea, the same kai. We all got the fat blue one with the terrible jokes and outdated puns.”

A distance voice screaming from the stands could be clearly heard by all four people in the arena: “I can hear you, you know!”

Ignoring their sensei’s ire, Seventeen stepped up alongside Minoshia and crossed his arms over his chest—a clear imitation of the konat’s attempt to showcase an intimidating posture. “Yea, but don’t you worry, I don’t think there’s a single drop of lost love in this little dome.”

The konat almost laughed. “True.”

With a grin, Toma adjusted the saiyan armor that he wore over his equally sculpted physique. “You and me, little fella?” He asked as he looked at the mohawked murder.

“You can fight this one,” Minoshia replied as he drew his own blade and pointed it at the warrior from the southern quadrant. “I’ll take care of this one first, and after you deal with the android, we can settle some old scores.”

“I’m standing right here,” Seventeen grumbled as he reached and drew the Power Sword. Yards away from them, Toma, even though he seemed to be fighting back a grin, shook his head as he drew a scabbard from his belt. He flicked the device, and as he did, a stream of liquid metal spat out before rapidly solidifying into a curved blade. “That’s a pretty neat piece of equipment,” the cyborg replied after Minoshia had erupted into the air in a torrent of swirling crimson flames.

“Saiyan experimental tech, I think,” Toma replied as he and the cyborg started to slowly pace in opposing directions. “I don’t think the people I stole it from will miss it a whole lot.”

“So it’s the best sort of experimental tech,” the raven-haired fighter remarked as he adjusted his grip on his own blade. “Katchin, I imagine?”

“Anything else would just be a waste of a good sword,” Toma shot back as he continued to keep his distance from the pale-skinned man. “You look familiar.”

“Dante’s Abyss?” Seventeen asked as an explosion of ki in the sky above them caused both fighters to duck instinctively. “I’ve managed to get myself blown up in a few of ‘em.”

“Maybe,” Toma replied as he held up a palm and summoned a humming red sphere of ki into existence.

Seventeen shrugged his shoulders. “We should probably skip the foreplay before the angry little guy up there finishes his meal and asks for seconds.”

The pure-blooded saiyan nodded. “You’re right.” He squeezed the twitching mass of energy above his palm and swung his hand like his hurtling a baseball bat. “Riot Javelin!”

The swirling conglomeration of energy sizzled as it took a vague speak-like shape after a few inches of travel. Seventeen hopped backwards to avoid the attack, but as he did, his mind completely forgot about the existence of the dome that surrounded the battle platform. While he avoided Toma’s attack, his back smacked into the forcefield, and the result was what felt like a thousand volts pumping through each and every cell in his body. It was only with a great, shrieking force of will that he was able to kick away from the semi-solid surface and drop to the ground, his body smoldering and smelling faintly of overcooked meat.

“Impressive,” Toma shouted as he started to casually close the distance between them. “Someone did that same thing in the last round, and they had to scrape their charred remains off the bug zapper with this big, spatula-looking thing.”

“I’m a tough bug to squash!” At that last word, Seventeen slung up the Power Sword and intercepted Toma’s blade. The dark-eyed saiyan grinned as he swung his foot forward, but his boot caught only air as the cyborg dove to the wayside. Landing shakily on his feet, Seventeen readjusted his grip on his trademark weapon and stepped forward to meet Toma’s oncoming assault. Their katchin weapons met in the air between them with a crackle of static electricity.
 
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