Disclaimer: The cast and concepts of Digimon Tamers is the property of Toei and other such companies. Nothing much here is mine unless maybe you count Mimura and DRACO.
Warning: This story contains gunplay, attempted rape, and other unpleasantries. Reader discretion is advised.
Yamaki came home to find that his bedroom had been ransacked. Several drawers stood open and partially emptied, with their contents strewn across the floor or tossed into small piles. The closets were in a similar situation, with many of the clothes removed and assorted other objects heaped on the bed. In the middle of the mess was Reika, surrounded by piles of boxes, papers, and other odds and ends.
"Do you mind if I ask what's going on here?" he asked.
"I'm cleaning the closets," she answered.
"Ah," he said. "I wasn't aware they needed cleaning."
"Well, they will soon," she said. "You did say we were moving out of here as soon as we could, and the less stuff we have to haul with us, the better."
Yamaki nodded. It was true that they intended to move out of the apartment, and quite soon. They had already announced their engagement, much to the surprise of some who hadn't been able to believe that someone like Yamaki would entertain dreams of marital bliss, and to the disappointment of many who would have liked to see the beautiful Reika go back on the market. However, with that change in status had come a new awareness of their surroundings, particularly of their current living space. The apartment they were currently sharing had originally been meant to be a bachelor's quarters. While it was workable for two, it was somewhat less than ideal, and would be utterly impractical if they ever took a notion to start a family. What they really wanted was a small house of their own, but those were expensive and hard to come by. Nevertheless, they thought they could manage something, and they lived in optimism, hopeful that the perfect place would present itself soon.
"Just don't throw out anything we're going to want later," he told her.
"If there's anything you want to save, you'd better find it and rescue it, or it's going out," she replied. "You haven't touched half of this stuff in years, anyway."
He made an indeterminate sound and went shuffling through the objects on the floor. Most of it really did seem to be junk, and probably would not have been missed if Reika had thrown it out without telling him. He salvaged a few small items, but he was about to decide that this collection of odds and ends belonged in a trash can until something unfamiliar caught his eye.
"What's in there?" he asked, indicating a battered shoebox. "I know that's not mine."
"Oh, it's a bunch of old pictures," said Reika. "I can't make up my mind whether I want to keep them or not. Why don't you have a look at them? You might like them."
Curiosity piqued, he picked up the box and upended it on a clear portion of the bed. Out spilled a pile of pictures - not just photographs, but magazine clippings as well. All of them featured one or more young women dressed in an assortment of attractive clothing. One of them looked familiar. Yamaki had never seen any pictures from Reika's childhood, but now he realized he was seeing her as she had been in her teenaged years.
"Where did all this come from?" he said.
"College job," she said. "A good education costs money, and my parents had a limited supply, so I managed to get a job as a magazine model to pay off some of the bills. At the time, I thought it was a terribly glamorous occupation."
"You should have stuck with it," he said, continuing to study the pictures.
"I'm glad I quit," she said. "After a while, it gets very tiresome having people you've never met knowing what you look like. I like what I'm doing now. Besides, if I had stayed a model, I wouldn't have met you, would I?"
"True... and that would have been a great loss, wouldn't it?"
She laughed. "What? Don't you think I could have done better than you?"
"I don't doubt that," he said. "I only meant that I don't think I could have gotten through that ordeal with the D-Reaper without your support, and that might have had negative consequences."
"You could be right," she said thoughtfully. "Do you suppose we were destined to come together then, to help save the world?"
"I'm not sure I believe in destiny," he replied, "but I am thankful I found you... and I'm going to keep your pictures."
"Go ahead," she said. "I don't really look at them. I thought you might like them, though. I was prettier back then."
"Pretty is for children," he said. "Beauty comes from maturity and wisdom, and you are beautiful."
She beamed. "Every once in a while, Mitsuo, you say exactly the right thing."
"So this would make, what, six times now?"
"Five," she answered impudently. "But who's counting? Now, if you want to further improve yourself in my sight, you will quit ogling those pictures and help me with this cleaning."
He sighed. "Only for you."
He set the box of pictures aside, where it was forgotten until much later.
One thing the D-Reaper had done was to change the way Hypnos was run. For starters, it was no longer a top-secret establishment known only by a select few. It was now world-famous for its role in saving the human and Digimon races, even if not everyone understood exactly what that role was. In the light of recent happenings, the corporation had undergone a great deal of restructuring. New programs were introduced, intending not to destroy or block incoming Digimon, but to regulate and study them, and to facilitate communications between the two worlds. The practical upshot of that was that quite a few employees had either been let go, or had voluntarily left when they realized their work was a bit more dangerous than they'd at first thought, and a number of new employees had been brought in to carry on the new work.
Therefore, Reika was not in the least surprised to look up from her work to find Yamaki showing an unfamiliar man around the main laboratory. She surreptitiously caught her partner Megumi's attention, and both of them paused in what they were doing to observe the newcomer. It wasn't long before their boss realized they were watching him, and he beckoned for them to join him.
"Come over and say hello to our newest recruit," he said. "Ladies, this is Mr. Akira Mimura. Mr. Mimura, this is Megumi Onodera and Reika Ootori. I daresay you've heard of them."
"Of course," said the man, making a small bow. "It is an honor to meet both of you."
He gave them a brilliant smile, and Megumi giggled and blushed a bit, but Reika limited herself to returning the polite gesture and making a covert inspection of the man. Objectively, she decided he was good-looking enough, with neatly trimmed dark hair and handsome features. He appeared to be a few years older than herself, but not very many, and he didn't show any signs of age or weakness. His eyes were very dark, almost black, flashing with something she couldn't quite identify.
*Nice enough looking,* she decided. *Not a patch on my Mitsuo, though. I don't think I'd have taken much interest in him even if I wasn't already happily engaged.*
"Mr. Mimura is taking over the post of chief of security," Yamaki was explaining. "Depending on how things go, he may be assisting you both at some point; he's an expert on video technology and other observation techniques, or so his resume claims."
"I shall endeavor to live up to it," said Mimura, "particularly with the incentive of working with such lovely ladies."
Megumi blushed again, but Yamaki gave the man a sharp glare.
"None of that," he said. "I run a tight ship here. There will be no fraternizing during work hours. If you want to socialize, do it during your breaks or outside the building. Understood?"
"Of course," said Mimura. "I apologize. It won't happen again."
"See that it doesn't."
Yamaki began leading the man away again, and Mimura gave the women a last smile before following his new employer.
"I wonder who hired him?" Reika mused. "Not Yamaki, that's for sure. He likes his workers more businesslike than that."
"Who cares?" asked Megumi. "He was cute! He has such mysterious eyes... I wonder if he's seeing someone?"
"Why don't you ask him?" retorted Reika. "Maybe you'll get lucky... during a break, of course."
"That's not fair," Megumi complained. "Mr. Yamaki met you at work. Why don't the rest of us get a chance?"
"We met at work," said Reika, "but as long as there was work to be done, he gave that his full attention. As long as we're on the job, we're just employer and employee... It got very frustrating, too."
Megumi laughed. "I'll bet! Well, I guess we'd better get back to work. Otherwise, Mr. Yamaki might make me work through my break."
"And that would be a tragedy," Reika agreed, grinning playfully. "Far be it from me to ruin your chances with Mr. Mimura."
Lunchtime found Mr. Yamaki paying very little attention, his full attention being taken up by the newspaper spread out in front of him. He frowned slightly as he skimmed the rows of tiny writing, trying to read between the lines and construe what they were really talking about. Cynical by nature, he was loath to trust advertisements, on the grounds that anyone trying to get rid of anything must have had a reason for it. He was so wrapped up in what he was doing that he didn't realize someone had come up behind him.
"Don't tell me you're searching the 'help wanted' ads!" said Mr. Mimura, in the hearty tones that annoyed Yamaki.
Yamaki turned to look at the interruption, giving him a glare he knew he couldn't see beyond his dark glasses. He hadn't put his finger on why yet, but he didn't like Mr. Mimura. That was nothing unusual; Yamaki was a solitary sort whose friendship was not often or easily given. Perhaps that was part of why he found his new employee so irritating. Mimura had an over- friendly manner, always trying to ingratiate himself with everyone, and Yamaki chafed under it. He himself didn't care whether anyone liked him or not. If they did, well and good, and if they didn't, that was their problem. Mimura's constant attempts to gain people's approval struck him as pathetic.
"No," he said at last. "If you must know, I'm looking for a house."
"Ah!" said Mimura, lighting up. "That's right, you're getting married soon, aren't you?"
"That's right." Yamaki turned pointedly back to his newspaper, hoping the man would take a hint and go away.
"Perhaps I could help you," said Mimura. "There was a house for sale back in my old neighborhood - I think it's still on the market. You should look at it. As I recall, it's a charming little place, quite comfortable."
"Hm," said Yamaki.
"Here," Mimura said, taking a notepad out of his pocket and scribbling something on it. "This is the address, in case you're interested."
He handed the paper to Yamaki and, giving a cheery goodbye, wandered off towards the water cooler. Yamaki picked up the paper and looked at it. There was only so much that could be told from an address, but he knew the area was a good one - just what he'd been looking for, in fact. He frowned a little, torn between wanting to accomplish his goal and not wanting to take favors from Mr. Mimura. Eventually, practicality won out; just because he didn't like the man personally didn't mean his advice wasn't good. He would investigate the tip, at least, and see if it lived up to its promise.
Subsequently, a few days later, Yamaki and Reika were being led around the little house by a cheerful real estate saleswoman. It was, as promised, a very pleasant location, a cozy two- storey house with a tiny attic. Perhaps it would have been small by the standards of an American man in his position - a well-to do businessman there might be able to afford something with three or even four storeys, with a basement and attic thrown in. However, used as he was to the tiny living spaces of Japan, Yamaki could barely imagine living in such a place. What on earth did anyone do with that much space? His mind boggled at the idea. He would be perfectly content with something like this.
In fact, this was probably one of the better locations in the area. It appeared that, like many small homes, it had once had a business of some sort, perhaps a restaurant or a bakery like the Matsuda's, operating out of the lower floor, while the upper rooms had formed the actual living spaces. Someone had come along in the near past and renovated the lower floors, adding in extra rooms. Reika explored these with every indication of approval, exclaiming over the spaciousness and good taste of everything.
"Comes fully furnished," said the helpful agent. "Two bedrooms, one full and one half bath, complete kitchen..."
"It sounds like just what we'd be wanting," said Reika to Yamaki.
"What on earth are we going to do with two bedrooms and two bathrooms?" he asked.
She gave him a teasing grin. "That's where we'd put the children."
He made a noncommital noise, which surprised her. Normally, any hints that she wanted children were met with curmudgeonly dismissal, and she found his lack of objections now to be encouraging.
"Something like this is bound to be expensive," he said at last, looking around once more.
"It's very reasonably priced," said the helpful saleslady. "The last occupant had to leave in a hurry - something to do with his job - and he wants it sold as soon as possible."
"It's perfect," said Reika. "We aren't going to get a better opportunity than this."
"Well, I don't want to rush in to anything..."
"Please?" asked Reika, looking at him soulfully.
Yamaki turned to the real estate woman. "We'll take it," he said.
Reika gave a happy squeal, and her expression of thanks was more than enough to confirm that he had made the right decision.
"I hate you," said Megumi.
Reika, bending over a computer, looked up at her friend with mild puzzlement.
"What have I done now?" she asked.
"You keep snagging all the interesting guys," said Megumi in a half-teasing, half-annoyed tone. "Leave some for the rest of us, won't you?"
It had been almost two weeks since Reika had moved into her new home. They had been busy days, filling out forms, making down payments, packing and unpacking. She had hardly had time for her fiance, much less for anyone else.
"I'm not doing it on purpose," she said.
Megumi sighed a little and settled into her seat. "I know you aren't. I guess I'm just a little frustrated. It bugs me that some people have such effortless love lives. I mean, look at you - you're already engaged to a good-looking, intelligent, successful guy, and I haven't even got a steady boyfriend."
"What happened?" asked Reika sympathetically, sensing some mishap. "I thought Mr. Mimura asked you out the other day. Didn't it go well?"
Megumi grimaced. "It was a farce! He's not the least bit interested in me. The only thing he did the whole time was ask what I think he thought were subtle questions about you. It drove me nuts."
"Oh, so that's what it is," Reika said, nodding wisely. "I hope you informed him that I'm not on the market."
"I did. He just didn't sound very convinced. It was like he didn't even care..."
"Well, that's his problem," said Reika. "If he's low enough to try to use my best friend to get close to me, he's no one I would be interested in, even if I was available. And you can tell him so, if you see him before I do."
"I think I will," said Megumi. "You're right - that is kind of grade-school behavior, now that I think about it."
"You deserve better than him," Reika said encouragingly. "Now, let's see if we can get some work done, before someone catches us gossiping."
She was pleased to see Megumi tackle her job with renewed good cheer. It was one of the things she liked about Megumi - nothing ever seemed to get her down for long. She had been there the first day Reika had started working for Hypnos, and the young woman's sunny smile and exuberant welcome had made her feel at home in what had seemed, at the time, to be a painfully clinical atmosphere. That, added with the fact that the two of them worked side by side for hours at a stretch, made friendship almost inevitable.
For a while, the two of them worked in silence, keeping watch over the city. Hypnos didn't do exactly what it had when it had first been founded, but Reika thought she liked this type of work better. It felt constructive, guiding Digimon back and forth across the divide, keeping watch over them in their stay in the real world. She had even become friends with a few of the more frequent visitors, and it was nice to see the creatures she had befriended find partners of their own and settle down. She even entertained a fantasy that one of them might decide she was the partner it was looking for. True, no one had heard any reports of a Digimon bonding with a human, but there were a few teenagers with partners, and at least one college student she had heard of, and she wasn't really that old...
"Reika, where's the file on those Dolphmon?" asked Megumi.
"Huh?" said Reika, embarrassed to be caught daydreaming.
"The Digimon dolphins," Megumi repeated. "A pod of them was supposed to be helping the Coast Guard with some project or another, and there's a special file on them, and I can't find it."
"I think Yamaki's got it in his office. He likes the government files under his supervision," Reika replied. "He doesn't trust government projects much if he's not looking after them. Can you blame him?"
"Not really," Megumi admitted. "Do you think you could run and check it for me? I'm supposed to be making special permits for me, and I can't remember how many are supposed to be coming."
"I suppose I could ask. Nothing important is going on now, anyway," Reika replied. She slid out of her chair and went walking off in search of her employer and the file.
As she walked up the hall, she rounded a corner and nearly walked into a ladder. Mr. Mimura was standing at the top, tinkering with a security camera.
"Oops! Sorry!" she said, in the general direction of the ladder. She looked up to see Mimura beaming down at her, a bright, false smile that made her stomach squirm.
"Not to worry," he said. "I never object to running into a lovely lady."
Reika wasn't sure how to react to that. She tried to maintain her professional demeanor.
"Thank you for the compliment," she said, "but I really am in a hurry. Good afternoon, Mr. Mimura."
"Oh, don't run off so quickly," he said, bouncing down from the ladder to land next to her. "Stay and chat a while. It's not polite to run off so quickly."
"I'm sorry," she said, "but this is rather pressing, so-"
As quickly as she moved to get away, he stepped in front of her.
"Please don't go," he said, shifting his bright smile to a sad-puppy look as swiftly as a snowflake melted. "I've been looking forward to speaking to you, and there's no telling when I'll get another chance. A few minutes shouldn't matter, should it?"
"Mr. Mimura, as much as I'm flattered by your attention, I need to finish this job in a hurry," she said, politely but firmly. "We'll talk another time."
"I don't know," she said. "When I have more time. Excuse me, please."
She finally managed to shoulder past him. It wasn't very polite, but she felt justified. For all his friendly words, he wasn't being very polite, either. It was with relief that she reached Yamaki's office. She collapsed into his spare chair, making him look up at her in surprise.
"You look like you've been put through the wringer," he said. "What's wrong? Nothing is going wrong downstairs, I hope?"
"Nothing, except Megumi wants the file on the Dolphmon," said Reika. "I've just had an unpleasant experience."
"Oh? Is it something I can help with?"
"Not exactly," she replied. "That is, I don't think so. It's just that I had a run-in with that Mr. Mimura. You know, the surveillance expert."
Yamaki frowned a bit. "Did he say anything offensive?"
"No-o-o," said Reika slowly, "but he was... very friendly. A little over-friendly, you know."
"Yes, I'm familiar with his style of congeniality," said Yamaki wryly. "I think that Impmon character has more class than he does - at least he achieves a measure of sincerity once in a while. Was he getting out of line, or just being generally annoying?"
"Just irritating, really," said Reika. "It made me uncomfortable. He was insisting I should stop and talk to him, and he wouldn't take no for an answer."
"Hm," said Yamaki. "Well, I'll tell him off for disrupting work, then. I warned him at the start that he shouldn't be fraternizing during work hours. Will that make you feel better?"
Reika nodded; she was familiar with Yamaki's way of telling people off. He had a talent for it. When he gave someone a scolding, they usually remembered it.
"That will be good. He'll listen to you," she said. "Really, people spend a fortune trying to be pretty, but there are days when I'd give anything to be a formidable old battle-axe just long enough to scare a few people."
"Remind me to make a recording next time you lose your temper," he said. "You can get your point across with the best of them, when you want to. You're just too nice to do it."
"Well, maybe I am," she said. "And maybe I'll find out what kind of a temper Megumi has if I don't get those numbers she asked for."
"Megumi is ferocious as a kitten, and you know it," he retorted, but he did give her the folder. He followed her to the door and was annoyed to find Mimura there waiting. He scowled. The man glanced at him, looking surprised, and then broke into his ingratiating smile.
"Hello there," he said. "Sorry to be lurking in doorways, but I thought I heard you talking to someone and didn't want to interrupt."
"Normal people knock," said Yamaki tersely. "What are you doing here, Mimura? I was under the impression that you were supposed to be installing cameras."
Reika took the opportunity to scurry away, clutching her folder defensively, and Mimura followed her with his eyes before letting them flick back to Yamaki. He saw that furtive glance and frowned.
"I was," said Mimura. "I just dropped in to tell you I'd finished. I thought you'd be pleased."
"Fine," Yamaki replied. "How long ago did you finish?"
"Why - just now."
"Discounting the time you spent lurking outside my office, of course," said Yamaki.
"Yes, of course."
"And loitering in the hallways," Yamaki added.
"What? I wasn't loitering," answered Mimura innocently. "Where did you get that idea?"
"From Miss Ootori. She has led me to believe you stopped her in the hall while she was trying to collect a report. Is that true?"
"I said hello to her, that's all."
"I see," said Yamaki. "Are you certain that's all you said?"
"Nothing but a few meaningless pleasantries," Mimura replied.
"Well, this is not the time or place to chat about the weather," said Yamaki. "From now on, I don't want to hear any more about you stopping people in the halls for any reason other than an emergency. If there are any more complaints that you are keeping people from getting their work done, I will be forced to discipline you. Is that understood?"
"I'm sorry, sir. It won't happen again."
"For your sake, I hope it doesn't."
Mimura nodded and turned to leave, but Yamaki called him back.
"Oh, and one other thing," he said. "Until further notice, I don't want you hanging around the downstairs lab."
Mimura looked startled. "What? Why not?"
"Because that's not where you belong. Now that you are done with your cameras, as you say you are, you have no need to go there."
"But... the security systems..."
"The downstairs lab is underground. No one is getting into the building through there. Anyone getting in is going to get in through a door or a window. Focus your attentions there. As for getting into the laboratory itself, no one can enter without a key card and a retinal scan. It is quite secure already."
"But if it breaks down..."
"If it breaks down, you will tell me what is broken, how you are going to fix it, and how long it will take, and I will give you permission."
"I see," said Mimura, looking sulky.
"That is a high-security area," said Yamaki sternly. "What goes on down there is no concern of yours."
"I understand. Good afternoon, sir."
Mimura bowed politely and walked off. Yamaki felt an irrational urge to sneak behind him and squelched it.
*He'd be a fool to try anything after this,* he told himself. *He may be annoying, but I don't think he's a fool. He won't cause any more trouble.*
Unfortunately, Yamaki was wrong. As long as Yamaki himself was present, Mimura was the model employee, working swiftly and efficiently, not speaking to anyone who didn't speak to him first, answering quietly and succinctly when he was addressed.
However, Reika found that wherever she went, she could count on finding Mimura somewhere nearby. She was safe as long as she was in the laboratory, but going anywhere else in the building was asking for trouble. He met her in the lobby in the morning until she started asking Yamaki to walk with her. After that, he started turning up in the cafeteria, trying to convince her to eat with him. He was there beside the coffee machine in the mornings, and waiting for her beside the water cooler in the afternoon. He was even in the ladies' restroom, installing cameras which were, he told her, there to keep employees from doing anything illegal behind those closed doors.
"I can't go anywhere without tripping over him!" she complained to Yamaki over breakfast one morning. "I never know where he's going to turn up next, and every time I think I've shaken him off, he invents something new. I half-suspect him of purposely breaking something in the lab so he'll have an excuse to follow me down there."
Yamaki threw up his hands in exasperation. "It's out of my hands. Until he does something that indisputably off-limits, and until we have some proof he's done it, no one can touch him. He's always a model of propriety when he's in public. He's getting his job done. That's all the men upstairs care about."
"You can't do anything?" she asked pleadingly. She was used to him being able to do almost anything, and seeing him helpless bothered her.
"I wish I could, but I can't. Much as I hate to say it, mine is not the ultimate authority. I only had a small say in whether or not he was hired, and I can't fire him unless he does something everyone agrees merits it. I almost wish he would sabotage something; that would be a good reason to throw him out on his ear. I would enjoy that."
"So would I," Reika sighed. "Well, I'll just have to put up with him, that's all. Maybe sooner or later, he'll realize he's fighting a losing battle. Maybe he'll get tired of me."
"Or at least give up," said Yamaki. "You're very hard to get tired of."
She gave him a grateful smile; she knew he was trying to make her feel better.
"I'm sure you're right," she said. "How much longer can he hang on?"
He didn't answer, and she lapsed into thoughtful silence. She devoutly hoped the answer to her question was, "Not long."
Lee Jenrya rushed into the apartment so fast that Terriermon's ears streamed out behind him. The family members gathered in the living room looked up in mild surprise at his hurried arrival.
"Hello, son," said his father. "What's the rush?"
"I've got to go to work today, remember?" asked Jenrya said.
"I know that, but I didn't know you had to be there so fast."
Jenrya grinned. "I don't. I just want to."
"He wants to try on his uniform," said his sister Jaarin with a smile.
"That too," he said. "By the way, where's Shuichon?"
"She's already there," said his mother. "She couldn't wait to leave, either, so I gave her a lift."
"Then I'd better go catch up to her! Hang on to Terriermon for me, and I'll be right back."
He scampered off to his room, leaving the rest of his family somewhat bemused. His mother laughed.
"He's got a strong work ethic, just like his father," she said.
"I don't call that work," said the oldest brother. "I want a job like his!"
"You don't have a Digimon," said Terriermon with a trace of smugness.
"I want one of those, too!"
"Well, maybe we'll catch you one while we're out."
Within a few minutes, Jenrya returned. He'd exchanged his school clothes for the aforementioned uniform and looked rather pleased with the change. He was now sporting loose gray pants tucked into a pair of black boots, and a black T-shirt marked with a stylized red dragon breathing fire over the letters DRACO. Over that he wore a matching gray jacket with yet more logos: the DRACO symbol on one side of his front, his name and the title "Ground Control" on the other. The back was marked with the familiar Hypnos logo.
"How do I look?" he said, spinning around so the others could admire his new finery.
"Very professional," his father said.
"Thanks," he said. "I'm not actually required to wear the whole getup, but I thought I'd make my first official day on the job look good."
"See?" said Jaarin. "I knew he just wanted to show off his uniform."
"Actually," said Jenrya, grinning, "I want to go to work and play with my new toys. Later!"
He scooped up Terriermon and hurried out of the room.
"Hey, wait up," said Mr. Lee. "You'll get there faster if I drive you. Besides, I want to see this DRACO thing in action."
Jenrya grinned. "You'll like it! Much better than the old way of doing things. Less stuff gets blown up."
"That's always an advantage, yes."
They headed off to work, with Jenrya sitting proudly next to his father and explaining the fine points of his new work.
"DRACO," he explained, "stands for Digimon Regulation and Capture Organization. Basically what we're doing is helping the folks at Hypnos keep tabs on the Digimon wandering in and out of the Digital World, and stopping any troublemakers before they start. They can't just go around trying to delete them like they did in the old days, and since they've figured out we're better at dealing with Wild Ones than they ever were..."
"If you can't beat them, join them," said Mr. Lee.
"That's about it," said Jenrya. "We only delete any Digimon that are only here to cause trouble and won't let themselves be captured and sent home. The rest we just give permit-tags so we can keep track of them and send them on their way. That's the idea, anyway. We'll see how it works in practice."
They arrived at the Hypnos building and were met by Reika, who ushered them both inside. Terriemon was dropped off at the front door and told to go get ready, while the rest of them headed for an elevator.
"Nobody told me you were coming," Reika said to Mr. Lee.
"I just came to spectate," he replied.
"Oh," she said. "Well, it should be interesting. Wait until you see our control room."
The control room was situated on one of the upper floors of the building, where a window provided a bird's eye view of one corner of the city. A large desk held three different terminals and what appeared to be some radio equipment. Jenrya took his seat at the desk in a comfortable- looking leather chair. He flipped a few switches on the machines and seemed pleased with whatever results they were giving him.
"I tested them all myself this morning," said Reika. "Everything should be in working order."
"Great. Thanks," Jenrya replied. He took a look at one of the terminals. "And it looks like everyone else is in position. That's pretty good. During our last trial run, Kenta managed to get lost and it took us half-an-hour to get him back where he belonged."
"Every new system has a few bugs to work out," said Mr. Lee with a philosophical shrug.
Jenrya put on a headset and checked his microphone. "Testing, testing... Can you guys hear me out there? ... Good." He turned back to his audience. "Everything's ready. I'm going to put this on speaker so you guys can hear, too. It should be... entertaining."
"So what do we do now?" asked Mr. Lee.
"We wait," said Jenrya with a shrug. "We can't do much until I get a call. Miss Ootori, do you think I could install some video games on this thing so I have something to do while I'm waiting?"
"Do your homework," she suggested.
However, they hadn't been waiting long before there came a voice over the radio. It was Megumi, saying, "Ground Control, this is Hypnos-3. Do you read me?"
"Loud and clear, Hypnos. What have you got?" Jenrya signaled back.
"We're picking up a bio-emergence in sector C-14. Child level, Data type. I'm sending you the coordinates now."
"Got you covered, Hypnos-3. Over and out." Jenrya cut off the connection and turned to a different terminal. "Attention, this is Ground Control. We've got a code green, repeat, code green in sector C-14. That's your area, White Knight."
"I'm on it," said Takato's voice over the radio. "I haven't got a visual, though. Lionheart, do you see him?"
Perched high on a building, Juri peered through a pair of binoculars a moment. She could just see the swift white shape that was Culumon soaring high above the city. She took out her radio and held a quick conversation with him.
"Sorry," she said. "No sign of him. Archangel, any luck?"
"No luck here either," said Kenta. "No - wait a minute - Marine Angemon says he's heading northwest into... sector B-12. That's your territory, Kitsune!"
"No problem," said Ruki. "Renamon will track him down."
"Right," said Jenrya. "I've got a lock on him now - you need to be heading due east, and with any luck you'll cut him off that the pass." He flipped another toggle on his switchboard. "Tank, what's happening?"
"I'm on the way!" Hirokazu cheered. "And by the way, I love these walkie-talkies!"
"Just track the Digimon, Tank."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever."
Meanwhile, Renamon was moving swiftly in the direction of the rogue Digimon. She didn't need any directions or high-tech equipment to help her find a Wild One, but she'd consented to wear a radio collar like the rest of the Digimon. Now she touched a paw to the intercom button.
"I see him."
"Kitsune to Ground Control - we have a visual," said Ruki.
"Great," said Jenrya. He glanced at a clock - ten minutes had already been spent chasing this Digimon - too long. "Just keep your eye on him. The others are closing in. They'll back you up."
"I don't need any backup," said Renamon primly.
At that moment, the rogue seemed to realize he was being followed. He spun in place and lobbed several small missiles at Renamon. She dodged them easily, and they hit the earth and burst with puffs of dust and smoke. They weren't hazardous, but they were distracting, and she kept well clear of them.
"Surrender," she ordered the Digimon, "before I get serious."
"Not gonna do it!" the rogue answered impudently. "You can't catch me!"
"Would you like to bet on that?"
The rogue threw another projectile at the ground, and a smokescreen burst up. He appeared to vanish into thin air, leaving behind a disgruntled Renamon.
"Ruki, I've lost him," she reported.
"That's okay; the others will get him," she replied.
Sure enough, they got a report a few minutes later, but it was not news they wanted to hear.
"Ground Control, this is Hypnos-3. According to our readouts, the Wild One has just evolved. Adult Level, Data type."
"All right, I hear you. Thanks, Hypnos," said Jen. "Guys, we just upped the ante, here - code yellow, I repeat, we have a code yellow. The target has moved into A-11. Has anybody got a visual?"
"Yo! This is Double Trouble. I got your visual - what do you want me to do about it?"
Jenrya sighed. "Impmon, why are you using your Tamers' radio?"
"Because they couldn't agree on whose turn it was to use it, so I took it!"
"Well, give it back to them and go take care of the Digimon!"
"You're no fun," Impmon muttered, and shut off the connection. Jen shook his head.
"Miss Ootori, do you think we could get an extra radio for the twins?" he said.
"I think I can do that," she replied, mouth twitching a bit with a suppressed smile.
Jenrya turned his attention back to his computers. According to his readouts, the Digimon was moving rapidly towards the Hypnos building itself. The others would reach it shortly, but they weren't moving fast enough to gain any ground on the rogue Digimon. He picked up his radio and made another call.
"Ground Control to Pink Deva. Come in, Pink Deva."
"Hi, Jen-nii-chan!" called back a cheerful voice.
"I told you not to call me that on the radio," he said. "Look, the Digimon's on its way over, so I need you and Lopmon to keep it busy until they get to him, okay!"
Jenrya sighed and glanced back at the clock - twenty minutes since the call had gone out. This was taking too long! He got up from his chair and went to the window, just in time to see an Adult-level Digimon hurrying up the street.
"There he goes," he remarked. "And look, here comes Antieramon! Anybody want to go down and watch the fun?"
They all hurried for the elevator and rode down to the ground floor. They exited the front door just in time to see another burst of smoke and dust go up, and Guilmon dropped to the ground at their feet.
"Hi!" he said. "I'm gonna take a little nap now. Night-night!" He closed his eyes and apparently went to sleep.
However, even without Guilmon to contend with, it was obvious that the rogue Digimon didn't have much of a chance. He was hemmed in on three sides by Renamon, Guardromon, and Antieramon, all of whom were doing their best to make life difficult for him. Finally, Ruki slashed a Wormmon card through her D-Ark, and Renamon flourished her paws and produced a quantity of sticky webbing, wrapping him up tightly. Guardromon walked up and gave him a light shove, and he toppled over onto the pavement.
"All right, all right, I give up already!" he yelped. "Man, you guys play rough!"
"Don't complain, Galgomon," said Renamon. "I could have decided you were a danger and really played rough."
"Is anybody hurt?" asked Kenta.
"Just Guilmon," Takato replied. He indicated his snoozing dinosaur, who appeared to have been liberally coated with green chalk dust. "He took a powder puff right on the nose."
"That was a bad move," said Hirokazu. "Knowing him, he might have gone and sneezed poor Galgomon all the way across the city!"
"I'll clean him up," Kenta offered. "I am supposed to be the first aid guy."
"Can you let me out first?" Galgomon begged, trying to wiggle free of the webbing. "This stuff is sticky!"
"Just evolve back to Terriermon," said Jenrya.
"That's easy for you to say. It's harder than it looks!" Galgomon protested. Nevertheless, there was a soft flare of green light, and a few seconds later, Terriermon came crawling out of the webbing.
"That was still a pretty good run," said Takato. "Hey, Juri, what was our time?"
Juri checked a pocket watch. "According to my clock, it took five minutes and twenty seven seconds from first report to first sighting, and twenty-three minutes and sixteen seconds to make a capture. That's seven minutes better than last time."
"Yeah, we're getting better," said Jenrya. "Still have a few small glitches to work out, though." He shot a look at the twins and Impmon, who were just arriving, and at Guilmon, still daubed in green powder. "Still, not bad. Hey, Miss Ootori, you'll have to thank your friend for making those powder puffs for us. They're much better than actually shooting at each other."
"Harder to clean off, though," Kenta muttered, trying to get the green powder off of Guilmon's scales.
The little group began scattering into talkative little groups, talking about how much better they had run the practice drill this time, or how they might run it better next time, or just how generally fun it was to run around playing with radios and code names. It took some time before anyone noticed that one member of the group seemed to have very little to say. Renamon broke away from the main gathering and walked silently to Reika's side.
"Is something troubling you?" she asked.
"Hm?" she said, looking up in surprise. The last thing she'd expected was for the golden fox to take an interest in her troubles. "Oh, it's nothing, really. I just have something on my mind."
"Ah," said Renamon thoughtfully. "Would I be invading your privacy if I suggested that perhaps the trouble is greater than you are willing to admit?"
"Maybe," said Reika smiling wryly. "You really don't need to worry about it, though. I'll work through it one way or another."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I don't think so, but thank you very much for offering. This is something I have to deal with on my own."
"Hm," said Renamon thoughtfully. "And yet, I would help you if I could. You are a good person, as far as humans go. You are... how do I say it? Sensitive. Intuitive, perhaps. Some humans are better at it than others."
"Better at what?"
"At sensing when things are not as they should be. I can help you with that. Here."
Out of her glove, she drew a flower, a conical cluster of small purple blooms with a few green leaves still attached. Reika was mildly surprised; there was no way it could have been inside Renamon's glove all that time. It would have been crushed, and yet the flower was as fresh as if she'd just plucked it from its vine, without so much as a bruise on its delicate petals. Renamon inspected it briefly before offering it to Reika.
"This is a wisteria flower," said Renamon. "I can only do so much for you, but I can give you this. There is a small charm on it, one that will help you. While you have this flower near you, you will be able to think more clearly and to recognize danger if it approaches. Keep it under your pillow at night, and you may have dreams of relevance. Don not be afraid of damaging it - I believe you will find it remarkably resilient."
"Thank you," said Reika, accepting the flower. It looked like a perfectly ordinary plant to her, but when she touched it, she could smell its sweet perfume wrap around her, and she felt a measure of calmness. She pocketed the flower.
"It will do little to protect you from actual danger, I'm afraid," said the fox, "but forewarned is forearmed."
"Do you think I'm in danger?" asked Reika, surprised.
Renamon's ears twitched. "You were worried."
"I know fear when I smell it. I am not in favor of it. It is best that it be found and dealt with. You have no Digimon to protect you, and so I am helping you. Good day."
She turned to rejoin her partner, but Reika stopped her.
"Did you ever give Ruki one of these flowers?" she asked.
"She doesn't need one," Renamon replied. "She has me."
And with a flick of her tail, she faded into invisibility. Reika hesitated a moment, staring down at the flower. She wasn't entirely sure she trusted it to do anything, but it was hard to doubt anything when Renamon looked you in the eye and said it. She pocketed the flower. After all, it couldn't hurt.
The rest of the day was a busy one for Reika and the rest of the Hypnos staff. Besides running another test with DRACO, there was a total of two small Wild Ones, both of whom had to be tracked down, apprehended, issued the correct permits, and catalogued. Besides that, three other Digimon came in to have their own permits renewed, and one of them changed his status from a temporary visitor to the permanent partner to a girl in the Odaiba district. Then there was the usual work of experimentation and data processing, all the minutiae that had to be dealt with on even the slowest days. It was very late by the time everyone was allowed to clock out and go home. By the time Reika reached her house, she felt ready for nothing more strenuous than a hot shower and some sleep. She fell into her bed with a sigh, grateful for the time to relax. The last thing she did before she fell asleep completely was to take the wisteria flower off of her bedside table and slip it under her pillow.
Renamon had promised her dreams of relevance; what she had not warned was that those dreams would not necessarily be pleasant ones. Sometime in the small hours of the morning, her mind wandered from its hazy sleep-images into a dream of such sharpness that she did not fully realize it was a dream. She opened her eyes to find her room draped in shadows, thick, cotton-like wreathes of darkness that seemed to whip about in an unfelt wind. The only true light came from the bedroom window, which was filled with a ghostly blue glow... filled, except for a man-shaped patch of shadow that blocked it. Even as she watched, the man began walking closer, climbing silently through the window, gliding towards her, reaching for her with hands as cold as death...
She sat up with a gasp, staring wildly around her. The room was dark, but it was only the ordinary kind of darkness, with its familiar furnishings outlined softly by the lights from outside. The window showed her nothing more threatening than the usual outdoor scenery. Nothing seemed to be out of place, and she tried to take comfort in its ordinariness. It did not work very well. The dream had been so real...
Beside her, Yamaki stirred slightly.
"It's not morning yet..." he mumbled in a complaining tone. He had never been a quick starter when it came to waking up.
"I had a nightmare," she said. "I dreamed there was someone outside the window. They were coming to get me... I couldn't move..."
Yamaki opened his eyes and sat up, looking at her with concern. This was the same woman who had faced down one of the most horrifying beings Earth had ever seen and had barely blinked an eyelash; it was unlike her to be so rattled over a simple nightmare.
"Are you sure that's all it was?" he said.
"No," she said carefully. "I had this... sense. I can't really describe it, but somehow, I just knew I was looking at something terrible... evil. It was more than a dream - it was a warning, I'm sure of it."
She met his eyes, trying to make him believe, and was met by an expression of reluctant skepticism. It was clear he wanted to believe her, for her sake, but his scientific mind was balking at the prospect of a prophetic dream. She reached for the wisteria flower and showed it to him.
"Renamon gave me this earlier. She said I looked worried, and promised this would help me. She told me it would give me dreams if I kept it under my pillow."
"A magic flower?" he said, still fighting down disbelief.
"Just look at it. It's been in my pocket all day, and under my pillow all night, and it's still perfect. It hasn't so much as lost a petal."
"So you think this dream is a warning," he said slowly. "A warning of what, then?"
"I don't know," she admitted helplessly. "I would feel a lot better if you would... you know, look around a little bit. Just in case."
He balked visibly; getting out of his warm bed in the middle of the night to look for stray dreams after he'd already put in a long day's work, and with another one to look forward to in the morning, was not his idea of fun. She met him with a pleading look that would have melted a heart of stone. With a resigned sigh, he got up, put on his slippers and a robe, and began prowling around the room.
He peered outside the window, but found nothing there but a few shrubs, too small to have hidden anything larger than a cat, and beyond those, an empty street and the houses beyond. Feeling he might as well do the job properly as long as he was up, he looked in the closet and under the bed. As long as he was crawling around on the floor, he also looked under the dresser. A faint glint of light caught his eye, and he looked again. Fishing under the dresser brought up a glossy bit of paper - a cutting from a magazine.
"Nothing but a bit of trash," he said. "No, wait, that's not right. One of your pictures has escaped."
"Hm?" Reika leaned over so she could have a look. Sure enough, the picture was of her, years younger, posing in a flattering swimsuit, tossing her hair and smiling playfully.
"What's that doing under the dresser?" she wondered. "I thought we hadn't even unpacked that box yet."
"So did I," said Yamaki grimly.
Hoping he was wrong, he went and retrieved the shoebox with her college pictures. Shuffling through its contents produced a duplicate of the picture he'd found under the dresser.
"You didn't keep any copies, I'm assuming," he said.
"I didn't think I needed to," she said.
"So where did this come from? How did it get here?"
"I don't know."
Yamaki frowned. "I'm going to have to give credit to your Digimon friend. Something isn't right. I have no idea what it is, but there's something strange going on here... and I have a feeling we've only discovered the tip of the iceburg."
As time went by, Reika found more reasons to be thankful for the flower. She kept it on her person at all times now, and took to taking it out and toying with it whenever she felt stressed or confused. As Renamon had promised, she always seemed to think more clearly when its sweet scent was riding the air. She discovered that as long as she had it near her, it seemed to allow her some sixth sense, as of what some people called auras. The people around her seemed to give off fields of energy that she could almost see and feel. For example, her partner Megumi gave off an aura that reminded her of air, a constant fluttering of effusive goodwill. Yamaki gave her a sensation of protection and safety, a fierce loyalty that would make him fight to the death for anything or anyone he cared about - particularly where she was concerned. Janyuu and Shibumi, both frequent visitors in the lab, reminded her water, calm and reflective. No one she met gave off an unpleasant aura, and it made her feel safer to be able to detect all the positive forces around her.
Then, one day, she was walking up a hallway to deliver a report to someone in another part of the complex, and she bumped into Mimura.
"Well, hello!" he said pleasantly. "I haven't seen you in quite some time. I've missed you."
It was on her tongue to tell him she hadn't missed him in the slightest - was happiest when he wasn't around, as a matter of fact, but she was too much of a lady to actually say so.
"I find that hard to believe, seeing as how you barely know me," she answered instead.
"I know enough," Mimura replied. "Anyone would feel bereft to lose the company of such a beautiful woman."
The words were polite enough, but the way he breathed the word beautiful suddenly made her skin crawl. There was a light beginning to kindle in his eyes that she didn't like at all.
"Well, I'm flattered you feel that way, but I certainly can't do anything about it. My presence is required in the laboratory assisting Mr. Yamaki, so-"
"Yes, but you aren't in the laboratory, are you?" asked Mimura. "Mr. Yamaki works you too hard. A young woman like yourself deserves better than to be cooped up in that dungeon all day long. Aren't you ever tempted to just... slip away for a while?"
"Frankly, no," she said. "I happen to like my work, thank you very much."
"I don't see why. As far as I can see, you're doing nothing but work like a slave. That's hardly considerate of Mr. Yamaki, is it? He seems a very demanding man."
"He asks nothing of any of his employees that he doesn't demand of himself," Reika replies. "He works as hard as anyone."
"Ah, but that's not true," said Mimura. "He asks me to keep away from you, and keeps you all to himself. Don't you ever get tired of him?"
"We've been working together for years - ever since this corporation started. If I were going to get tired of him, I'd have done so by now." She introduced a note of frost to her voice; manners were all very well, but it was obvious Mimura wasn't going to listen to civil words.
"Are you sure?" asked Mimura. "Don't you ever want a little variety? Someone for your lighter moments? If you'll excuse me, your Yamaki hardly seems like the kind who knows how to have fun."
"I'm not going to have this conversation anymore," she said, trying to step past him. "I have an errand to run, so you're going to have to excuse me."
"Don't be shy," he said. "Mr. Yamaki will never know you were talking to me here. I've disabled the cameras for the moment, so we can have all the privacy we need." He took a few steps toward her, coming uncomfortably close. She winced away as she felt his aura brush against her; it felt like water, but oily, polluted, poisonous...
"What I need is to deliver this report," she said. "Get out of my way."
She managed to brush past him and hurried up the hall. As soon as she had escaped his gaze by rounding a corner, she stopped and leaned against a wall, trying to control the shaking in her limbs. Would she never be rid of this man? It seemed he didn't mean to take "no" for an answer, and there was no doubt in her mind what he wanted from her. To steady herself, she took the flower from her pocket and held it to her nose, taking steadying breaths of its sweet perfume to clear her head. She did not hear Mimura's silent footsteps as he drew near.
"What do we have here?" he said in a near-whisper. "A token from your lover? One would think he could do better than that. I know I could show you something much better..."
He gripped her hand, the one that held the flower. Much to her surprise, the plant suddenly blackened and withered as if he'd held a flame to it. He seemed as startled as she felt; his eyes widened, and in that moment, his hold faltered enough that she could pull her hand free and escape. Forgetting all about the report, she fled down the hall, back to the safety of the lab.
As soon as she was back on her own ground, she went straight to Yamaki and handed the flower.
"Look at this," she said.
"What is it?" he said, staring with distaste at the withered plant. She couldn't blame him for the reaction; it looked diseased and slimy as it drooped in her clenched fingers.
"This is my wisteria flower - the one Renamon gave me. It wilted," she said.
"Well, you can't expect a flower to last forever..."
"But it didn't wilt like a normal flower, Mitsuo. One second it was fine... then Mimura touched it, and it went like this - instantly."
"Mimura?" Yamaki's expression suddenly became wary. "What was he doing around you? I thought I'd forbidden him to talk to you. He shouldn't be anywhere near here."
"Well, he was," Reika replied. "You won't prove it, though - he turned off the security cameras, so there won't be any evidence. The way he talked, he was out there just waiting for me to walk by so he could... could..."
"Could what? Reika, what did he do to you?"
"Nothing, yet... but I get the feeling he'd like to. He was saying things about you - hinting I ought to leave you and go to him... and I don't think he's going to take no for an answer. He's going to keep following me around, trying to get me alone."
"And he'll make sure it's always your word against his," said Yamaki grimly. "Well, I won't let go on any further. We can't have this kind of thing in a well-run business - not with you or any other woman. Don't worry; I'll catch him in something. Leave it to me."
She sighed in relief. "Thank you. I know you won't let me down."
"Just doing my job," he answered with a faint smile. "And now... Mr. Takehito, would you be so kind as to deliver these reports to Ms. Yuka, please? And if you see Mr. Mimura, persuade him to go back to work."
Takehito nodded obediently and accepted the packet. Reika watched him go. To an outside observer, Mr. Takehito would look more like a barroom bouncer than a scientist, with broad shoulders and a neck that looked to be nearly as thick as her waist. She couldn't help but give a small smile herself; if Mimura was lurking outside waiting for her, he was in for a very large surprise.
Takato panted as he tried to keep up with Guilmon's long-legged lope; for something that looked so clumsy, the red dragon could gallop along at a respectable pace. They rounded a corner, Guilmon keeping his grip with his sharp claws and balancing with his tail, with his Tamer following with less grace. They barged up a side street and came out at a crossroads. Looking ahead, Takato could see their quarry, and he reached for his communicator.
"Guys, I see him!" he called.
"Roger. Standing by," Jenrya acknowledged.
Takato and his partner moved forward confidently. So far, their quarry, a lone Floramon, didn't seem to have realized he was being followed - at least, not until Guilmon put on an extra burst of speed and darted out in front of it.
"Hey!" the Floramon yelped. He sized up Guilmon, then turned to appraise Takato in his official uniform.
"Hey there," said Takato. "Sorry to startle you, Floramon. Sometimes Guilmon just gets a little carried away."
"What are you doing here?" asked the Floramon.
Takato fished a notebook out of his jacket pocket and held it out for the Floramon's inspection.
"According to this, your visitor's permit ran out yesterday," Takato told him. "We just thought we'd better check up on you - just in case."
"Oh," said the Floramon, looking somewhat chagrined. "Sorry. I thought I still had another day."
"No biggie," Takato replied. "We'll just renew it for you now. Any luck finding a Tamer?"
"Not yet," the Floramon replied. "I'm just on vacation."
"Ah! So... what do you think? Should two weeks do it, then?"
"Two weeks is fine."
Takato made a mark on the pad, then reached for a small box that was clipped to his belt. It contained a number of small, square chips, coded in different colors. The Floramon held out one arm, which was marked with what would appear to a casual observer to be no more than a decorative bracelet, but a similar chip was fixed to its top. Takato pried the old chip off and set a new one in its place.
"There! You're good to go," he said. "Just remember, if you don't go home before your two weeks are up, you need to go back to Hypnos and get a new permit. Got it? 'Cause we don't really like having to chase you down all the time."
"I'll be careful next time, I promise!" said the Floramon eagerly.
"All right, then. We'll let you off with a warning, then. Behave yourself!"
He waved to the Floramon as it set off on its merry way again, then reached for his communicator.
"White Knight to Ground Control - mission completed," he said. "How'd we do?"
"Everything looks fine on this end," said Jenrya. "Good job, you two."
"We did good!" said Guilmon, wagging his tail happily.
"Anything else going on I ought to know about?" asked Takato hopefully. Like most of the team, the novelty of the DRACO project hadn't worn off yet, and he was enjoying his new responsibilities.
"Nothing that needs your help. Ruki's off chasing down a herd of Moosemon, but she ought to be able to handle that with Hirokazu helping her. Shuichon's busy outfitting a bunch of baby Yukimibotamon with trackers - that'll keep her happy for a while. They like her," said Jenrya. "Other than that, things are pretty slow."
As if to contradict him, a computer at his side suddenly lit up, hissing with a burst of static.
"Hold that thought," said Jenrya, and turned his attention to the computer. It was not quite doing what it was supposed to be doing, and until he knew why, it demanded his full concentration. He tapped a few buttons and twisted a knob, and gradually, the hissing and crackling gave way to words.
"...repeat, this is Lone Dragon calling Ground Control. Can anybody hear me out there?"
"I read you, Lone Dragon - not necessarily loud and clear, but I read you," Jenrya replied. He continued tweaking the controls, but the transmission continued to crackle and snap with static. That made him frown. This particular computer had more technology in it than anything else in the room, because it was meant to communicate, not only with the Tamers in the city, but with people traveling in the Digital World. It was supposed to work reliably under all conditions, but since they hadn't actually been able to test all conditions yet...
"Anyway," said Ryo, "I'm just calling to let you know there's been some activity going on that I think you should know about."
"Well, don't beat around the bush, then. Spill, before this connection gives out."
"Okay, I'll make it quick. There's a data storm on the way."
Jenrya blinked. "Data storm?"
"That's the best name I can give it. They blow through the Digital World every so often, from what I can gather. They act like big tornados, sucking up all the data packets in the area and gathering them together into new forms. They rearrange all the scenery, and sometimes even work changes on the Digimon - anything they touch. That's what I'm told, anyway. I've only seen one before, and that was a small one compared to the one that's blowing through now. It's going to cause a lot of trouble before it dies down, so be on your guard."
"Aren't you coming home?" asked Jenrya, worried. "I mean, what if you get caught in it?"
"Oh, don't worry. We're holed up with some local Digimon, for now. They know how to keep high and dry until it's all over," Ryo assured him. "As a matter of fact, I'm probably safer where I am than I would be if I tried to get back to Earth while the storm is going on."
"Well, okay. If you're sure," said Jenrya. "I'll pass the word along."
"Great. And tell any of your local Digimon that they might want to consider staying where they are for the next few days. If my sources are right, a storm this bad could last a week or more. I won't be coming home until it's all over, so let everyone know."
"Will do," Jenrya replied. "Is this storm going to have any effects on us here?"
"I doubt it," said Ryo. "It mostly seems to effect digital matter. We might have a little trouble communicating across the worlds, but the safeguards at Hypnos will keep anything really nasty from leaking through. Unless someone's crazy enough to try opening a major gate, I don't think anything is going to happen."
"Got it," said Jenrya. "I'll tell the Hypnos people to cut back on their door-opening for a couple of weeks. Thanks for the info, Lone Dragon."
Jenrya could almost hear Ryo grinning as he said, "Any time, Ground Control. Over and out."
What connection there was broke entirely, but that only meant the beginning of Jenrya's job. He began making out lists of things that needed doing. For starters, he'd have to tell Ryo's family that he might be coming home a little later than expected. Then he'd need to alert the rest of the Tamers about the necessity of keeping any Digimon in the Real World for a while, and tell the Hypnos people not to try any experimenting for the next few days. While he was at it, he thought it might be a good idea to send in a sweeper team when they went to collect Ryo, just to scout around the Digital World and make sure the storm hadn't awakened or created anything dangerous. The last thing they needed was another D-Reaper to contend with!
It took him a few minutes to finish with his note-making. He was just reaching for the phone to start making a few calls, when it started ringing of its own accord. He picked it up and was greeted by Megumi's voice.
"Ground Control, this is Hypnos-3. We're picking up a bio-emergence, Adult Level, Virus Type, in sector A-19."
"Oh, boy," said Jenrya. "I'll get it dealt with. Over and out."
He hung up the phone and skimmed over the contact list. Well, Takato had wanted something to do; here was his chance! With a slight smile, Jenrya reached out for the control panel to page his friend. Working around this place definitely kept him busy... but at least, he reflected cheerfully, he never got bored.
Yamaki was on the phone. More specifically, he was on hold, swiveling thoughtfully in his office chair and staring thoughtfully at a pile of papers that were strewn around his desk. These were the papers that Mimura had submitted when he had first expressed interest in working at Hypnos. At the time, they had been read with an eye to seeing why the man ought to be hired; now Yamaki hoped they would let him reverse the process. One thing Yamaki could say for the man: he was a slippery character. At the beginning of the search, Yamaki had been unable to find a single concrete piece of evidence that Mimura was doing anything wrong. The only thing he had was Reika's word, and while he might trust her implicitly, it was hardly good conduct to go around firing one's employees just because they complain about one another. No, he needed something more solid, so he had resorted to the application papers. He had thought that contacting Mimura's past employers might turn up some information about the man... an avenue of investigation that had proven far more interesting than he'd hoped.
The person on the other end of the line picked up the phone again.
"Hello?" said Yamaki. "That's quite all right. Did you find anything? ... Is that a fact? ... Actually, I'm not in the least bit surprised. ... No, more like a hunch. ... I was just making sure. ... No, trust me, you've been a very great help. Thank you very much. Goodbye."
He hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair, considering the information he'd gathered. He was not quite sure who to be more annoyed at - Mimura, for his brazen duplicity, or himself, for missing it. He decided to just be thankful that he'd been able to catch him so easily. Unable to keep his success a secret, he left his office and marched briskly toward the laboratory, where he found his industrious fiancee hard at work as usual.
"Hello, Reika," he said. "Do you mind stepping aside with me for a moment? I have something interesting to tell you."
"Interesting?" she replied, raising an eyebrow. "How interesting?"
"Something very interesting," he replied, "about our friend Mr. Mimura."
"This I've got to hear," she replied.
He led her off to a shadowed corner where they could have a semblance of privacy - not that anyone who valued their skins would be got eavesdropping on their employer and his betrothed. Anyone whose business carried them anywhere near that area walked around them with their eyes fixed straight ahead, simply radiating assurance that their minds weren't on anything but their work.
"So," said Reika, "what have you been up to all afternoon?"
"I've been doing a little research on Mimura's background," Yamaki replied. "Checking up with his past employers, trying to see if he's got a history of this kind of nonsense. Now that I've done it, I wish I had sooner. I suppose I should have, but he seemed so knowledgeable, and things were so hectic... who was I to doubt such sterling references?"
"Should I take it they were a trifle tarnished, after all?" asked Reika wryly.
Yamaki allowed himself a smug smile. "Better than that. They don't exist."
Reika blinked. "Come again?"
"Not one of his references checked out. Two of the places on his list don't exist and never did. The rest of them have never heard of the man."
"Incredible," she said. "I knew he was brazen, but I had no idea he'd go that far..."
"Well, he's not going much further. I believe infractions of this kind count as federal crimes. Not only is he definitely getting fired, but he's liable to pay some stiff fines - possibly even do some time behind bars."
Reika's expression turned uncertain. "I don't know if I like that idea."
"Why not? I would have thought you'd be glad to see him get his just deserts."
"I would," she said, "but... I don't know. There's something unbalanced about that man. I have this nasty feeling that if you push him too far, he's going to get angry. He'll know it's because of me you're firing him, and if he gets angry, he might want to take it out on me. I'd feel much safer if you just... sent him away."
Yamaki frowned, but said only, "Very well. Perhaps he'll be grateful enough that I decide not to press charges that he'll decide to cut his losses."
"That might be the better way to do it," said Reika. "Thank you, Mitsuo. This means a lot to me."
"I'm just sorry I didn't do it sooner. I'm slipping," he said. He sighed. "I suppose this means I'll have to do a background check on the rest of the staff while I'm at it - otherwise, I won't feel right."
On the other hand, he reflected, as he returned to his office, now he had the excuse he was looking for to fire Mimura, and that would feel very good indeed.
The man best known as Akira Mimura, former Hypnos employee, walked up the sidewalk. It would have been quicker for him to take a train, if he were interested in getting home quickly. If he wanted privacy, he could have caught a cab just as easily. However, what he needed most now was the release of walking somewhere, to put his thoughts in order. There were a lot of angry feelings to be walked off.
The anger was not about losing his job, not completely. He could get another job. It was what went with that job that was really bothering him. He had lost his only reasonable contact with Reika - the only real reason he had come to work with Hypnos in the first place. Just when his victory appeared to be at hand, that Yamaki character had foiled him again! When he had first seen the man, on those interminable television interviews that had come about after the D-Reaper incident, Mimura had not thought him to be anyone to reckon with, not really. Truthfully, he had barely noticed him, not when the beauteous Reika was there to be watched. Even when he had learned she was to be engaged to the man, Mimura had not been too worried.
*Engagements break off all the time. That's what they're for, after all - one last chance to back out before you take the plunge.*
Therefore, he had been mightily confused when Reika had refused to pay Mimura any attention at all. For reasons passing understanding, she seemed thoroughly committed to the idea of marrying Yamaki, ridiculous as it was.
*What does she even see in him? That arrogant, overblown excuse for a human being! He's nowhere near good enough for her. Why can't she see that?*
Objectively, he wasn't bad looking, really... and he was wealthy and successful, particularly these days, when everyone was acclaiming him as a hero. Maybe she'd thought that was enough...
*But not now. Not now that I'm here. She belongs to me. We are destined for each other, and I will make her see that! If only I could get her alone, away from that man, I'd make her realize the truth. Once I have her to myself, I'll make her realize that no one can do for her what I can. I'll make her forget all about him. She'll forget about everyone, once I have her... but first I have to get rid of him.*
He frowned, staring down at the sidewalk and pondering this change in his life. For the last few months, even years, his one goal in life was to find that woman and make her his own. Now, though, he was slowly forming a new obsession. It seemed clear to him that Yamaki was determined to get in his way - first forbidding him to talk to Reika, now forbidding him to be anywhere near her, trying to steal her for his own. This could not be permitted. Anger flared into a blaze, burning a new path into Mimura's mind. He would have Reika in due time - that was inevitable as the rising of the sun - but before that, he knew he had to destroy Yamaki.
Reika couldn't deny that she felt much better now that Mimura was out of her life. Despite the fact that he'd done nothing worse to her than make a few inappropriate comments, the mere knowledge that he was gone made her feel as if a dark cloud had lifted from over her head. Objectively, she could tell herself she was being silly - it was ridiculous to be so bothered, so frightened by one unpleasant man, but deep down, she had to admit that he scared her.
*It's not that silly. Not when just his touch burned Renamon's flower to a crisp.*
She had hoped the magical flower would recover, but it seemed its power was spent. Nevertheless, she couldn't make herself be rid of it completely. She stopped taking it to work with her, finding that no longer did anything to aid her there, but she still left its remains under her pillow, which proved to be a disturbing choice.
Every night for the last week or so, without fail, she'd had the same nightmare, each time more intense. She dreamed of waking in a dark room, and a dark stranger would step inside, walking silently toward her, hands outstretched, whispering things to her that she was terrified of hearing clearly. Each night, he seemed to draw closer, until she could almost feel his icy hands on her skin, and she would wake up gasping for air.
"I'm starting to worry about you," said Yamaki over breakfast.
"Thank you for being so tactful about it," she replied. Her sleepless night had left her feeling grouchy and irritable, quite unlike her usual cheerful self. Yamaki frowned at her.
"Are you sure you're all right?" he asked her. "Tactful or not, I have to say you don't look well. You aren't getting sick, are you?"
"I don't know. I just haven't been sleeping well. I keep having bad dreams."
"Is there something bothering you?"
"Not... really," she said hesitantly. "If I tell you, it will sound silly."
He leaned across the table to look into her eyes. "Try me."
"All right," she said. "Lately, I keep having this paranoid feeling, like someone's watching me. I just can't seem to shake it. I tell myself there's nothing there, but I don't believe it. It's starting to drive me crazy. I keep having nightmares about someone sneaking into the house to get me."
"Hm," said Yamaki, frowning. He regarded her seriously, feeling at a loss for what to tell her. He was used to her being so brave and sensible, to see her so unnerved by something that didn't even seem to exist was enough to unnerve him.
"You know," he said at last, "you've been under a lot of stress lately. You and I both know it's been one thing after another for months - rescuing the children, dealing with the D- Reaper, all that publicity, everything happening at work, moving into a new home, planning a wedding... maybe it's time you gave yourself a break."
"You could be right," she said, after considering the idea a while. "Maybe I really do need to get away from it all."
"You deserve a vacation, if anyone does," Yamaki told her. "Take some time off. Go visit your friends, relax, enjoy yourself."
"That sounds like a good idea," she said, beginning to look more enthusiastic. "I wonder if Megumi would let me come visit her for a while? Not that I don't like your company, you understand, but..."
"I understand," he assured her. "Getting away from it all means getting away from me, too - for a while, anyway."
She laughed. "It's not like that. It's just... you know. There are some things only girls can talk about."
"Of course," he said. "We'll have plenty of time to spend together once the wedding is over. Right now, you do what you need to do for yourself."
She got up and kissed him on the cheek. "You really are sweet. I don't care what anyone says."
"Don't spread it around; I'm trying to keep it a secret."
She laughed, looking much happier than she had when she'd awakened that morning. He smiled back at her.
"Go ahead and take the day off. I'll see that everything is arranged at work. Megumi's competent enough to look after things herself for a few days."
"Thank you," she said, and she sounded truly grateful. "I think I'd like to get out of the house for a while - maybe get some shopping done."
"Don't waste your day off doing chores," he warned you. "I know you; that's exactly the kind of thing you'd do if I let you get away with it."
"Don't worry, I won't," she told him. "And speaking of work, you'd better hurry, or you'll be late."
He glanced at his watch. "You're right. Goodbye, Reika. Let me know as soon as you've got everything settled."
"I will," she promised. She gave her betrothed an extra kiss goodbye and went about gathering the breakfast things with considerably better cheer than she'd set them out. A vacation was exactly what she needed, some time to relax and regain her perspective. Count on Mitsuo to find a sensible solution so easily. This idea was going to work out perfectly.
Yamaki came home to an empty house, but he'd been expecting that. He'd gotten a phone call earlier that day, informing him that Reika would be staying with Megumi for a few days, and that she'd call him later that evening after she'd gotten settled in. Knowing that she was in good hands, Yamaki was able to feel reasonably relaxed himself. He was a solitary creature at heart, and as much as he loved his bride-to-be, he still enjoyed a few moments of privacy from time to time.
Examining the house, he found that most of Reika's favorite clothes and her personal items had already vanished. A few other changes had also been made. Despite his instructions not to waste time with domestic tasks, she had still seen fit to make provisions for him. He found his clothes for the next few days had already been washed and pressed, and a note on the refrigerator door informed him that there were a few frozen meals - not the kind that came in supermarket boxes, but actual pre-cooked food - just waiting to be thawed and eaten. He felt a rush of gratitude towards her; the culinary arts had always escaped him, and he'd become somewhat dependent on her cooking abilities. The prospect of spending the next several days dining out alone had not appealed to him.
*I suppose it does make sense that we take some time away from each other,* he mused. *Just enough to remind us we're still separate entities, before we take the plunge. It's one thing to rely on each other as partners, and another to be so dependent we can't do anything on our own...*
Besides, while she was out with her friends, he would be free to pursue some of his own interests. He'd been meaning to spend some time talking to Janyuu, for example. This would be a good time to do it. It would be nice, too, to work on a few of his own projects without her complaining about leaving papers and disks all over the kitchen table.
Even as he was making his plans, the telephone rang. He sat up and made a grab for it, catching it on the second ring. He hadn't expected Reika to call again so soon; hopefully, nothing had gone wrong.
"Hello?" he said.
He was answered by silence... no, not complete silence. He thought he could hear the faint rasp of someone breathing.
"Hello? Is someone there?" he asked worriedly.
There was an ugly laugh. A hoarse whisper hissed, "Missing your girlfriend, Mr. Yamaki?"
"Who is this?" Yamaki demanded.
"You might as well get used to it," the voice whispered. "She won't be yours much longer."
"What are you talking about?" Yamaki demanded. "I'm warning you-"
There was a click, and then a dial tone. Yamaki stared down at the phone in consternation.
"I don't like this," he said. "There is something wrong here. How did they know she was gone?"
Reika returned to Megumi's apartment and dropped onto the sofa, swinging an armload of shopping bags to the floor. Megumi, similarly burdened, collapsed into an armchair with a small laugh.
"That was fun," she said. "We need to do that more often."
"Can we afford to do that more often?" asked Reika jokingly. "I might just be in trouble when I get home, considering what I spent on this."
"You're supposed to be enjoying yourself, right?" asked Megumi. "Nobody's going to care if you indulge yourself a little."
"Yes, but I want a little bit left for after the wedding. What am I supposed to do on the honeymoon?"
Megumi gave her friend a sly look. "Oh, I'm sure you'll think of something."
Reika threw a pillow at her friend, who squealed and retaliated. A small pillowfight broke out, interrupted only when the phone began to ring.
"That will be Mitsuo, worrying about me," said Reika, getting up to answer the phone. "I told him I'd give him a call; he probably thinks I've been hit by a car or something."
She picked up the receiver and answered with a cheery, "Onodera residence!"
"Reika, is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me. Is something wrong? You sound upset."
"I'm more than upset, I'm ready to hurt someone."
Reika blinked as she tried to shift gears from playful to concerned. "What happened?"
"I think you'd better come over and see for yourself. Otherwise, you might not believe it. Grab your things and get over here."
"Good thing I didn't get around to unpacking," she muttered. "Okay, hang on. I'm on my way."
She hang up the phone and turned to Megumi, who was watching her with a puzzled expression.
"There's an emergency at home," Reika said. "I hate to say it, but I'm going to have to cut this vacation short."
"That's okay, I'll deal," said Megumi. "Hope you get your emergency straightened out. Gee, seems like everything is hitting you all at once, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is," answered Reika quietly.
*Here's hoping it doesn't get any worse.*
Reika arrived back at home to find Yamaki waiting for her. He seldom looked outright cheerful, but at that moment, he was looking grimmer than she'd seen him in some time.
"What's wrong?" she asked him. "You look like you found a dead body."
"That would be too simple," he answered. "Let me show you something unpleasant."
Puzzled, she followed as he began leading her upstairs. As he walked, he began filling her in on the day's events.
"Shortly after you were gone," he said, "I received a very strange phone call - someone taunting me about you not being around. It occurred to me to wonder how they knew you weren't at home."
"Couldn't someone have just looked out the window and seen me leaving the house?" asked Reika, as she scaled the steps.
"That occurred to me," he said, "but then I thought of the picture under the desk. It made me wonder if someone wasn't keeping a much closer watch on us than that."
"You think someone's getting into the house?" she asked, aghast.
"I don't just think," he answered. "I'm sure of it."
Much to her surprise, he stopped beneath the trapdoor to the attic and opened it, unfolding a flight of wooden steps. Beckoning for her to follow, he crawled through the door and into the dusty room above. It was not a place one would immediately go looking for trouble, being only a bare space, hardly high enough for a man to comfortably stand in, lined with insulation and a great many cobwebs. The young couple had given it only a cursory exploration before; never having had the luxury of an attic before, they had very little to put in it. Now Reika began looking around more closely, trying to see what had gotten her partner so upset.
"Over here," he said, picking his way over to a corner. Lying on the floor was what appeared to be an old carpet and some cardboard boxes.
"Looks like someone left behind their old junk," Reika commented. "Can't people throw out their own trash?"
"Look closer," Yamaki instructed.
Shooting him a questioning glance, she moved towards the heap of trash. It was on the tip of her tongue to say that they still looked like a pile of old junk, when her attention was caught by what looked like an electrical cord leading away from the carpet. Pulling it up, she found that someone had hollowed out a portion of the floor, concealing what appeared to be a VCR. When she moved the boxes, she found a small television screen and a collection of cassette tapes.
"What is all this?" she asked, suddenly feeling shaken.
"Someone's home entertainment center," answered Yamaki grimly. "Would you like to guess who the entertainment is?"
Reika felt herself go pale. "You mean-?"
Instead of replying, he knelt to push some buttons on the machinery, making them come to life. The tape began to play, showing her a sharp black-and-white image of what she recognized as her own bedroom. For a moment, the room was dark and empty, but then the door opened and she saw herself come in, laughing and calling to someone over her shoulder. Then Yamaki also entered the room, catching up to her, pulling her close. Reika continued to stare at the screen until it dawned on her what she was actually seeing, and she turned away in revulsion.
"I feel sick," she murmured.
Yamaki snapped the television off. "When I bought this house, I didn't count on finding rats in the attic."
Reika shuddered. "When I think that someone's been watching... seeing everything we do..."
"I'll tell you one thing - next time you have nightmares, I'm taking you more seriously."
"So am I," she replied. She turned to stare at the offending machinery. "It's that Mimura, I know it is. He's been after me all this time, he's still after me now..."
"There's no proof of that," said Yamaki. "Not that I doubt you. Expert in surveillance, indeed..."
"What are we going to do now?" asked Reika. "We can't stay here, can we?"
"The first thing we're going to do," Yamaki replied, "is talk to the police. Come on."
He headed for the exit, and Reika followed, feeling glad to leave the attic and its unsavory secret. As they made their way toward the lower floors, Yamaki stopped short, then turned around and headed for a closet. He took down a small box and handed it to Reika.
"Here," he said. "I'd feel better if you hung on to this."
Reika opened the box. Inside was a small handgun. She stared at it.
"Mituso, I don't know if-"
"I want you to have it. Keep it by you at all times. If someone out there isn't afraid to sneak into our own home to make videotapes, there's no telling what else he'll do. I'll feel safer knowing you'll be able to defend yourself. Do you hear me?"
Reika nodded mutely and slipped the gun into her purse. The feel of its weight next to her did make her feel a bit more reassured. Much as she hated violence, she thought she possibly could take a gun to the person who had done this. She had loved this house, felt so safe here, and now...
*For the first time in my life, I think I could actually kill someone.*
She shuddered again. She didn't like the way that thought made her feel at all.
Reika looked up as the front door snapped open, and Yamaki marched into the room, looking quite able to take whoever "them" was apart with his bare hands. He dropped into a living room chair across from where Reika was sitting.
"Damn every last one of them," he muttered.
"The police wouldn't listen?" she asked.
As soon as they had sufficiently recovered from the shock of finding the machines in the attic, Yamaki had made a call to the police, which had in turn led to him going out to the station himself, while Reika had waited at home, torn between wanting to be as far from the scene of the crime as possible and not wanting to talk to anyone about what she'd seen. She had compromised by hiding in the living room, the room furthest from the upstairs bedroom, furthest from that unseen eye.
Yamaki gave a bitter laugh. "Listened? They listened, all right. They're just not going to do anything about it."
"Why not?" asked Reika, outraged.
"Because no crimes have been committed, that's why," Yamaki replied. "Do you want to know what they found out? Before we bought this house, it was occupied by one Akira Mimura. This was his house first, and there's no law against leaving junk in an attic. As far as the law is concerned, he has done nothing."
"But - but that's-"
"I agree with you," Yamaki said. "But there's nothing we can do about it, save for throwing all those machines in a trash compactor. We might not even be able to get away with that. If Mimura claims them, we might be prosecuted for property damage." He gave another of those ironic laughs.
"So what are we going to do now?" asked Reika.
"What can we do? I actually went so far as to track down the man at his apartment - I don't know, maybe thinking to settle it man to man... but he wasn't there. He must have known, somehow, that he'd been found out. There was evidence that he'd cleared out in a hurry. He didn't even bother to lock his door."
"How could he have known if he wasn't still watching us, somehow?"
Yamaki shrugged. "I have no idea. This character is a lot slipperier than I thought."
"This is impossible!" said Reika, bordering on tears. "We should be safe in our own house! How can this man sit around and spy on us all he wants when we can't stop him? How can they let him get away with it?"
In frustration, she seized on the nearest handy item, which happened to be a small radio sitting on a small table. She hurled it across the room, and it smashed into the wall, bursting to bits like a small firecracker. Small parts skidded across the hearth tiles. One of them rolled right to Yamaki's feet, and he stared at it.
"Hold the phone," he said softly. He bent and picked up the object. He stared at it a moment. Then he dropped it like a hot coal and stomped on it as if he intended to crush it to powder.
"What's wrong?" asked Reika.
"That was a camera," he answered. "A spy camera. This place is bugged."
Reika stared at him, then at the crushed metal and plastic on the floor, then letting her gaze roam around the room as if suspecting to find eyes staring back at her everywhere. Yamaki got to his feet.
"We are getting out of here. Now. Go throw some things in a suitcase."
Reika nodded and scampered off. Yamaki headed for the nearest telephone. Then he stopped, hand hovering over the receiver. Then he changed his mind and reached for his cellular phone instead. Flipping through a phone book, he chose the number of a hotel and dialed.
"Hello? ... Yes, I need to book a room for two. Cost is not an object... This is an emergency. Move someone if you have to."
By the time Reika came back downstairs with a suitcase in her hand and her purse in the other, Yamaki was closing the deal.
"I've got us a place to stay," he said. "We'll camp out there until we figure out what to do next."
They fled from the house. Outside, night had fallen, bringing a sprinkling of stars and a thin moon. A cool night breeze tossed Reika's hair, and she felt the first stirring of relief.
*It's going to be all right,* she thought vaguely. *We're safe. We're going to get away.*
She took an inquiring look at her partner, and he set a hand on her shoulder reassuringly. His eyes met hers, and she knew that no matter what, he would not let any harm befall her. Feeling more resolute, she picked up her pace, and the two fugitives fled into the night.
Mimura sat alone in a hotel room, prowling like a caged beast. On the whole, he counted himself fortunate; he had thought to check on his cameras just in time to see that Yamaki was getting a little too nosey for his own good. How had the man gotten so clever all of a sudden? Now he knew about Mimura's little spy cameras, and there was no telling what he'd do about it now. Mimura had just barely had time to pack a few of his belongings and get out of his apartment. Who knew what that meddler would do now that he was on to Mimura's tricks?
To calm himself, he took out a few of his favorite videos and slipped them into his VCR. He had watched this particular recording many times - it was the record of the night Reika had first moved into her new house, his house. She and her fiancee had been celebrating, and while it galled Mimura to see his woman with another man, it was still very good entertainment. He watched hungrily as she began removing her clothing, taking in every smooth curve... but now his eye was drawn to the man, as well. Objectively, he had to admit that Reika didn't have anything to complain about, at least not physically. The man clearly wasn't one to let a desk job soften him; he was still in the peak of condition. But that wasn't the point! She belonged to Mimura, and nothing was going to change that!
Finding himself suddenly disenchanted with his video, he turned it off. After prowling restlessly a few minutes, he went to one of his spy cameras. It was a relief to know that even if the recorder had been found, the rest of his surveillance equipment was still in place. He was proud of the job he had done, getting those cameras in place, and thankful for the Japanese habit of offering living spaces that were furnished right down to the appliances. Who would ever suspect there might be tiny cameras hidden within an ordinary wall clock or radio? Who would guess they might be broadcasting images to someone miles away?
A brief check showed that someone had guessed, after all. Mimura scowled fiercely as the camera that should have been inside the radio broadcasted nothing but static. Someone must have found it! How? No, that didn't matter. All that mattered was that Yamaki was on to him, and more thoroughly than Mimura dreamed possible. Apparently the man was cleverer than Mimura had thought. Well, if he wanted to be clever, Mimura could be far more devious. Looking around his makeshift room, Mimura's eye fell on a supply of cameras yet unused, and a plan began to hatch.
*You think you can outsmart me, Yamaki? Better start thinking now, because you're about to be punished for what you've done to me...*
The hotel was reassuringly plain. Normally, when Yamaki had cause to travel, he booked the very best rooms available, but in this instance, he'd had to make do with what he could get. Their new room was only an economy room, with little more than a single bed, a tiny table, a miniature bath, and a television set perched on a low stand. The colors were bland: white walls, pale green carpeting, minimal decoration. At the moment, the starkness was comforting. No one would be able to hide anything here.
"I think we can relax a while," said Yamaki, trying to sound confident and, owing to long years of practiced self-control, succeeding.
Reika shivered a little. "I think it will be a while before I can relax again."
"Well, at least we can try," he replied. He sat at the foot of the bed and stared thoughtfully at the ceiling. "Perhaps I wasn't such a fool to try to control the network, after all. Someone needs to put a few restrictions on what can be done with modern technology. I simply can't believe there are no laws against this kind of thing, but there aren't - no one has gotten around to it yet."
"You can do it," said Reika. "You have some pull with the government, especially these days."
"You know I never wanted to get into politics... but in this case, I'll give it serious consideration," he promised. "At the moment, though, I'll settle for dealing with the situation at hand."
"He can't find us here, can he?"
"If he tries, he'll regret it," said Yamaki, with a dangerous edge to his voice. "Someone needs to teach him a lesson, and if the law won't, I will."
"You don't mean that," said Reika, faintly shocked.
"And why wouldn't I? He has no right to do what he's done, and he won't listen to reason. Maybe he'll think twice about trying it again if someone applies some forceful persuasion." More quietly, as if admitting something shameful, he added, "I think that if he had been there when I found those tapes - when I began to realize how far he would go to get you - I think I would have killed him."
"Don't say things like that," she scolded. Then she added, hesitantly, "but I know how you feel."
He shook his head. "This is getting us nowhere. It's late. We both need some sleep. We'll be thinking more clearly in the morning."
Reika nodded quietly, and began going through their bags for her toothbrush and shampoo. Ever since she had seen those videos, she'd been feeling faintly grimy, as if she had touched something dirty, and she thought a long hot bath would comfort her. However, before she could even finish unzipping the bag, there was a rap on the door.
"Room service!" called a muffled voice.
"We didn't call for any room service," Yamaki snapped back. "You've got the room."
"Compliments of the hotel, sir," said the voice.
Yamaki and Reika exchanged puzzled glances. Reika shrugged. Yamaki went to open the door, primarily with the intention of telling whoever was out there that the best way the hotel could serve them would be to leave them alone. However, when he opened the door, the words died, drowned in shock.
Mimura was standing there, leaning on the doorframe and grinning insolently.
"Well, isn't this cozy?" he said.
Yamaki's face contorted in fury. "You! What are you doing here?"
"You ran away from me," said Mimura calmly. "I don't like that. But I should have expected that of a thief. They take what they want and run, isn't that right, Yamaki?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Yamaki snapped. "Get out of here, or so help me, I'll have you arrested!"
"For what?" asked Mimura. "No law against knocking on hotel doors, is there?"
"I'll find something."
Mimura gave a short laugh. "You're bluffing. You know it. I know it." His face contorted into an insane grin; Reika wondered why she had ever thought he was even the least bit attractive. "You always thought you were so clever - a hero, a celebrity, a genius. You think that gives you the right to take anything you want, isn't that so? Well, you're wrong. You're in my hands - you always have been. I have eyes wherever you go. You'll never lose me, no matter where you run. I'll follow you forever until I have what I want." His eyes cut in Reika's direction, and his tongue darted across his lips.
Something in that look made Yamaki snap. The next thing Mimura knew, a fist had slammed into him, momentarily dazing him with pain, sending sparks shooting across his vision. The next punch hit him in the gut, and he gasped as his lungs were forcibly emptied of air. He staggered backwards, throwing up his arms to protect himself, trying clumsily to counter-attack, but it was a lost cause. He was smaller and lighter than his opponent, and he had been taken by surprise. Inexorably, he was being beaten down, forced against the wall, cornered and helpless...
Yamaki stared down at him crazily, his vision red with rage as one of his hands found his enemy's throat. He tightened his grip, watching the man's expression turn frantic as he struggled to breathe. He had him where he wanted him now. All it would take was a little more pressure, and he would never bother either of them again.
"Stop it!" Reika shrieked. "Stop right there!"
Such was the fear in her voice that it broke through Yamaki's rage, cooling and stilling it. He loosened his grip, not enough that Mimura could escape, but he was no longer in danger of choking. Yamaki stared the man in the eye, holding his gaze.
"You deserve to die," said Yamaki quietly. "You are a vile, miserable excuse for a human being, and the world would be better off without you. Unfortunately, that decision is not in my hands. If you have any sense, you will go away now, and you will not come back. Never let me see you again, or you'll go away with more than a few aches and pains. Is that understood?"
Mimura nodded as best he could with a hand still squeezing his neck. Yamaki turned him around and gave him a shove towards the door, and Mimura staggered towards the doorframe, gasping for air. Slowly, he straightened up. He grinned, not seeming to notice the trickle of blood from a split lip.
"See me again?" he rasped. "Oh, you'll see me again, but it's you who'll be sorry."
"Maybe in that dream world you live in," said Yamaki. He gave the man another push, sending him sprawling in the hallway. "Get out of here. This hotel is bad enough without garbage like you littering the halls."
The door slammed in Mimura's face. For a moment, he simply lay there, catching his breath. Slowly, he got to his feet. Leaning against the wall, he walked slowly and carefully toward the exit. He laughed softly the entire way.
Yamaki turned away from the closed door and saw Reika staring at him. The frightened look in her eyes made him feel ashamed, and he bowed his head.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean..."
"You were frightening," she said softly. "For a moment, it was like you were someone else."
"Please, forgive me," he said. "I'm sorry I frightened you... but I'm not sorry for what I did to him. He deserved it." He stepped closer, folding her hands into one of his, using the other to tilt her chin up so she was looking into his eyes. "Don't think I would ever treat you that way. You're the best thing I've got in my life. I would die before I let you be hurt."
"I know," she said.
"I don't want to lose your trust."
"I know. It's just... this is all so awful. It's like a nightmare."
"We've survived nightmares before. Things will look better in the morning. Come on, let's try to get some sleep."
They went through their nightly routine in uneasy silence. They curled up together on the bed, huddled close together for mutual comfort, and clicked out the lights, but it took long dark hours before either of them fell asleep.
However, things were not better in the morning. It started just as the exhausted couple was starting to wake up, about nine o'clock the next day. Normally, they were both early risers, but they were physically and emotionally drained by the events of the previous day, and had no inclination to get out of bed. The company could look after itself for a while.
Then there was a knock on the door.
"Go away!" Yamaki said hoarsely. "I said we didn't want to be disturbed!"
"Is this Mitsuo Yamaki speaking?" asked an authoritative voice on the other side of the door. It didn't sound like Mimura, or like anyone else Yamaki knew, and the tone lacked the obsequious tone of a hotel worker. Yamaki sat up in bed and glared suspiciously at the closed door.
"Yes," he answered warily. "Who are you?"
"This is the police. We think you had better open up."
"Police!" Reika exclaimed softly. "What can they want?"
"It's too much to hope it's good news," Yamaki answered. More loudly, he said, "Could it wait a moment? We're not dressed for visitors."
"Now, please," said the voice.
So, still garbed in pajamas and with hair still unbrushed, a disgruntled Yamaki went to answer the door. He was met by no fewer than three policemen. They all looked at him as if they expected him to attack. They probably had good reason to; Yamaki was tall for a Japanese man, and well-built, and the expression he was wearing would have been enough to make a rampaging Digimon think twice about bothering him.
"What can I do for you?" he said curtly.
"You can follow us to the station," answered the policeman in front, "and answer a few questions for us. You are under arrest."
"Arrest!" Yamaki was indignant. "For what?"
"Assault and battery," answered the officer. "If you could come along quietly, please..."
"I will not come quietly until you tell me what's going on! Who is bringing these charges against me?"
"You don't need to know that," said the officer gruffly. "Mr. Yamaki, I recognize what you've done for this city, and I don't like doing this to you, but the law is the law. Either you come peacefully, or we handcuff you and drag you. Which is it going to be?"
Yamaki stared at the floor.
"Damn the law," he muttered. "If it lets the vermin go free and sends innocents to prison, damn it to hell." Raising his head defiantly, he said, "All right, if we must proceed with this farce, who am I to fight it? Reika, get out of here. Go find somewhere to lie low until all this is over. Whatever you do..."
He didn't finish the sentence, but she nodded to let him know she understood. Whatever you do, don't let him see you!
"You can have a moment to get dressed," said one of the other policemen. He glanced at Yamaki in his pajamas, then at Reika still beneath the blankets, and then looked away again.
"Small comfort," Yamaki said, but he nevertheless took advantage of their offer. With the door closed behind him, he dressed quickly, feeling an insane urge to climb out the window and escape... but that was impossible. Even if he could manage such a feat, where could he go? Bad enough to have Mimura tailing him wherever he went; he didn't need the police chasing him, too. Beside him, Reika was also working quickly and frantically to prepare for her escape. He met her eyes and guessed what she must be thinking: Where could she go where the man who claimed to have eyes everywhere wouldn't follow her? As she threw the last item into her case and zipped it shut, he touched her shoulder.
"Be safe," he said.
"Come back soon," she replied.
Then she was gone. With a resigned sigh, Yamaki followed the policemen to their car. He refused to look out the windows, instead keeping his face pointed towards the floor. The last thing he wanted was for anyone to see him like this.
*This is just going to do wonders for my reputation.*
When he reached the station, he was in for another rude surprise. Waiting for him was none other than Mimura himself, looking somewhat worse the wear this morning, with bruises darkening on his face. He was wearing an expression of triumph that he quickly tried to suppress when Yamaki arrived with his police escort.
"It's you again," said Yamaki. "I should have known."
"So, you two know each other?" asked one of the policemen.
"We've met," Yamaki answered tersely.
"This gentleman," said another officer, younger and less formidable, "claims that you were responsible for these bruises. What do you have to say to that?"
"I think," said Yamaki carefully, "I would like to hear the whole story before I agree to anything."
"Very well," said the gruffer officer. "He claims that he checked into a hotel sometime last night with a young woman, and that you arrived sometime later and attacked him."
"That's a lie!" Yamaki bellowed.
"It is not," said Mimura calmly. "You've been antagonizing me for weeks, and you know it."
"When have I antagonized you?" asked Yamaki incredulously.
"For starters, when you fired me."
"This is a previous employee of yours?" asked one of the policemen, giving Yamaki a sharp glance.
"For a short time, he was employed at Hypnos," Yamaki said. "He was released for falsifying his records."
"That's a serious charge," said the young officer. "Did you report it?"
Yamaki fidgeted uncomfortably. "No."
"He had been bothering one of the female employees," Yamaki answered. "She was afraid he would blame her for complaining, and hoped he would leave her alone if he wasn't reported." The excuse sounded weak, and he knew it. Mimura gave him a gloating look.
"He's lying," he said. "The lady in question came to me voluntarily, and he fired me because he wanted her for himself. He's already threatened to fire her if she didn't submit to his whims. When he found out I've been seeing her anyway, he followed me to the hotel and attacked."
"That is a complete falsehood! You're the one who followed me!"
"Why would he do that?" asked the older policeman skeptically.
"Because that's how he is! He's been stalking both of us for weeks. He won't leave her alone!"
"Do you have any proof of this?" asked the young policeman.
"Of course I have proof! Search the house! He's got the whole place bugged!"
The older officer gave him a hard stare. "Surely you don't expect me to believe that."
"Go and look. They'll be there," said Yamaki stubbornly. "Anyway, what proof does he have?"
"I have proof," said Mimura. "I knew you would attack me. I was just waiting for you to make a mistake so I'd have a case."
Yamaki's eyes widened as realization dawned. "You filmed it! You had a camera with you, didn't you!"
"Just a small one," Mimura answered. "No audio. Just enough to catch what happened."
"He showed us the recording," said the young officer. "It doesn't leave much room for doubt."
"Let me see it," said Yamaki.
In response, they brought him into a small room, where there rested a computer that was hooked to a small recording device. One of the policemen sat down and went through a series of clicks. A short segment of video began to roll. First there was a burst of static. The first thing to come clear was a rather unclear black-and-white video of a fistfight in a grungy hotel room. Yamaki recognized himself and frowned. Reika had been right - he did look frightening, not quite sane. There was a brief glimpse of her standing in the corner of the room, looking scared. She mouthed something, and then the video broke off into more static.
"Any more objections, Mr. Yamaki?" asked the officer.
"That was staged," said Yamaki. "He goaded me into attacking him just so he could film this."
"Nevertheless, you did attack him," said the young policeman.
Yamaki didn't comment.
"What was that business with the girl in the background?" asked the gruff officer. "Is she the one you two are fighting over?"
"In a manner of speaking," said Mimura.
"It's hard to tell without audio, but it looked like she was coming to his defense," said the young officer. "Would anyone like to comment on that?"
"I told you," said Mimura, "she didn't want to see me hurt."
"It fits in with what he said about her not wanting him reported," said the young officer.
Yamaki only scowled at the floor. He doubted that anyone would be impressed if he told them that Reika was simply a gentle soul who didn't like to cause people trouble - even people she didn't like.
"You can't take that video as solid evidence," he said instead. "There are a million ways of altering something like that. This man is an expert with cameras and recordings - something like that would be child's play for him."
"Nevertheless, his injuries are real, and you seem to have admitted you caused them," said the older officer. "I'm afraid that until we get this knot untangled, you're going to have spend a little time here at the station."
"You're going to put me in prison," said Yamaki, voice flat with incredulity.
"Just as a precaution," the young officer replied. "Just until we look into this further."
"And what about him?" Yamaki asked, pointing at Mimura.
"We have no evidence he's done anything wrong," the older policeman answered. He turned to Mimura. "Sir, you're free to go for now, but don't be surprised if we come around asking questions."
Mimura gave a polite goodbye. Shooting a triumphant look at Yamaki, he walked out of the station. Yamaki was led away to a holding room deeper inside the station. The two officers went their own ways, the younger one looking faintly concerned, the older one shaking his head.
"What do you make of all that?" he asked his young partner.
"Something doesn't look right," the man replied. "Mr. Yamaki is right - that man's answers are too easy. They sound rehearsed. This looks staged to me."
"Glad I'm not the only one who thinks that," the older officer replied. "Did you get a good look at that tape? The way it looked, it seemed like Yamaki was already in the room. Mimura's back was towards the door. That sounds like it tallies with Yamaki's story that it was Mimura who showed up and provoked him."
"The whole thing is crazy," said the young man. "Why would anyone want to walk into a hotel room and ask someone to beat them up?"
"To ruin his reputation?" the older man said. "I don't know, but something here is wrong. I get the feeling we need to look more deeply into this. Who is this Mimura? What was he doing at that hotel last night, anyway?"
"I guess it wouldn't hurt to ask a few questions. I'd hate to put someone like Mr. Yamaki behind bars for no good reason."
"Then let's go ask some questions."
Megumi was surprised to come home and find there was someone in her apartment. Reika was huddled on the sofa in an attitude that suggested she was freezing cold, though the air in the room was warm. Her face was pale, her eyes showing signs of recent crying. She jumped when the front door was opened, then relaxed visibly when she saw it was only her friend.
"Reika! What are you doing here?" Megumi asked. "You weren't at work today. I was worried about you... You look awful. What's going on?"
"The last twenty-four hours have been one long nightmare," said Reika tiredly.
Megumi sat down next to her. "What happened? Can you talk about it?"
"I don't know. I'm exhausted. I can't think. I feel like I'm running for my life." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "He's after me, Megumi, and he won't stop until he gets me."
"Mimura. He's crazy, Megumi. He put cameras in my house. He's been watching me, whatever I do. He followed us..."
Very little of this was making sense to Megumi, but it was clear to her that something had gone very wrong.
"Where's Yamaki?" she asked. "Shouldn't he be with you?"
"The police took him. They took him away because he fought Mimura, trying to protect me. Now I don't have any protection. Even the flower is gone." She shivered a little. "I've just been going from one place to another, trying to find somewhere I don't feel like he's watching me."
"You're in shock," said Megumi, "or something. Just relax. You'll be okay here."
"I impose on you too much."
"Now you're sounding like yourself. You're my friend, Reika. What good am I if you can't ask me for help when you need it? ... And it sounds like you need help pretty bad right now. Can I get you anything? A cup of tea or something?"
"I am thirsty," Reika admitted. "I was crying... I'm such a mess right now."
"I don't blame you. You just wait here, and I'll see what I can do."
She went into the kitchen and began rattling around in search of a teacup and something to put in it. However, before the water had even finished, there was a knock on the door.
"I'll get it!" Megumi called.
"No, don't!" said Reika, eyes wide. "It might be him!"
"Don't be paranoid, Reika. It's probably just a-"
Megumi didn't get to finish her sentence. As soon as she opened the door, a hand lashed out and struck her temple. She staggered backwards and slumped to the floor, apparently unconscious. Mimura stepped into the room, climbing over her still body as if it were no more than a lump in the rug.
"I thought I might find you here," he said, fixing his gaze on Reika. "The same place he sent you last time you were trying to hide from me. I should have known he'd be foolish enough to send you to the same hiding place twice."
"He didn't send me. I came on my own," she said. She was fighting a wild urge to get up and run, but where would she go? There was only one door to the apartment, and Mimura was standing in front of it.
"Don't try to defend him," he said. "I know you're not that foolish. You're only trying to protect him... but you don't need to, anymore. He's out of your life. I've got you, now."
He took a step towards her, and she bolted. She wasn't sure where she was trying to go, only that her mind commanded her to get as far away from him as possible. However, she had barely made a move before he lunged for her. She didn't see him, only felt as something struck the back of her head. Stars spun across her vision, and she struggled to cling to consciousness. She had to stay awake, she had to get away... but pain and dizziness overcame her, and her mind dropped into darkness.
*Morning already?* he wondered blearily. *But it's so dark...*
"Answer the phone," mumbled Terriermon sleepily.
"Huh?" said Jenrya. He opened his eyes. The phone he'd been issued by Hypnos was ringing, its lights flashing urgently. He'd been given it so that he could be called out on DRACO business any time of the day or night, but this was the first time he had been summoned from his bed for such work. This had to be serious. He snatched it from its stand and pressed the button. "Hello?"
There was no immediate answer, but he could hear strangled noises on the other end of the line. It sounded like a woman trying not to cry, and not succeeding very well.
"Hello?" he asked again. "Who's there? What happened? Hello?"
Someone sniffled. "He got her."
"What? Who got who? Tell me what's going on!" Jenrya demanded.
"This is Megumi... Miss Onodera, I mean," answered the halting voice. "Jenrya, Miss Ootori has been kidnapped."
Jenrya came fully awake with a jolt. "What? When? How?"
"I'm not sure... A little while ago. I just woke up..."
"Okay, start at the beginning," said Jenrya, trying to stay calm. Miss Onodera sounded disoriented enough already without him shouting at her.
"Okay." There was a sound of someone taking a deep breath. "You wouldn't know about this, but... there's a man, Akira Mimura... He used to work for Hypnos, but he was stalking Reika, and Yamaki finally fired him. He's been threatening both of them. Mr. Yamaki's been arrested for attacking him, and Reika came to stay with me. Mimura followed her here, somehow. I tried to stop him, but... he hit me in the head, and I blacked out. When I woke up, they were both gone."
"Okay, this is bad," Jenrya muttered under his breath. "Do you have any idea where they are now?"
"No," she said plaintively. "I didn't know where else to turn, and I thought..."
"Don't worry," said Jenrya, forcing himself to sound confident. "We'll find her. You just stay calm."
He didn't bother to say goodbye. He closed the connection and made a grab for his walkie-talkie, broadcasting a signal to all the Tamers.
"Guys, wake up! I mean it, we have a major emergency, and I need you now! Code Red, I repeat, Code Red! Wake up, already!"
"I'm up," said Ruki's voice. "You say there's a Code Red? Now?"
"It doesn't come any redder," Jenrya retorted.
"What? But Renamon would have sensed if there was a Digimon that powerful..."
"It's not a Digimon."
"Then what is it?" asked Takato's worried voice.
"It's a human being," answered Jenrya, "or a monster pretending to be human. Guys, Miss Ootori's been kidnapped, and I don't like to think what's happening to her now."
"Kidnapped?" Kenta repeated.
There was a moment of silence, and Jenrya thought he could almost feel the shock radiating from his fellow Tamers. Everyone who had come through the D-Reaper disaster together had formed a special closeness, but even without that bond, all of them would have liked Miss Ootori. They knew her as a kindhearted woman who loved children and Digimon, and the idea of anyone wanting to hurt her rattled them.
"Hey, where's Mr. Yamaki?" asked Hirokazu. "Shouldn't he be taking care of her?"
"I don't know all the details," Jenrya replied, "but I was told he's been arrested - he's probably in a cell right now. We aren't getting any help from him tonight."
"Then we'll just have to help him," said Ruki. "Leave it to Renamon and me - we'll find him."
"You aren't leading a jailbreak on your own," Jenrya retorted. After a moment of reflection, he said, "Take Hirokazu with you. He's good at causing distractions."
"You're probably right," said Ruki. "You heard the man, Tank. Meet me at my place, and make it snappy!"
"I'm on let. Just lemme go wake up Guardromon, and I'll be with you in five."
"What about the rest of us?" asked Juri.
"You do what you always do," Jenrya replied. "Search. Scour the city. You and Kenta get your Digimon searching from the skies, and the rest of us will go on foot."
"Go where?" asked a sleepy child's voice. Jenrya realized tha Ai and Makoto had finally awakened to see what all the fuss was about.
"Look for Miss Ootori," he said. "We have to find her, and fast."
"You crazy?" asked Impmon's raspy voice. "You're talkin' about findin' a needle in the biggest haystack in the country! How are we gonna find one woman in this city?"
"I don't know!" Jenrya snapped. "But we have to. She may not have much time..."
Reika came slowly awake. The side of her head throbbed, and the world seemed to spin around her. She tried to move and found she could not; she had been bound tightly, her wrists and ankles tied tightly to something she couldn't identify with her eyes closed, but she guessed they were bedposts. The realization sent a thrill of fear through her, enough to make her open her eyes, twitching in an instinctive urge to get up. She was in a dimly lit room, streetlights illuminating a window through which snatches of night sky could be seen. A man was silhouetted against the darkness.
"Don't worry," he said. "You're safe now."
The irony of the words struck her like a slap to the face. She made a choking noise that could have been a laugh or a sob.
"Does your head hurt?" he asked her. "I tried not to hurt you too much... Here."
He offered her something, a pill, but she turned her head away. "You aren't drugging me."
"I'm only trying to help," said Mimura.
"Then let me go."
"No. I can't. Don't you understand?" He ran a hand across her cheek. "You have to be here. I need you here."
"No! Get your hands off me, monster!" She struggled against her bonds, but to no avail.
"You can't get away," he told her. "This is destiny, Reika. You belong to me. I've waited such a long time for you..."
"How could you? You only met me a few weeks ago."
"I first saw you years ago," he said. "Your picture in a magazine. You were the most perfect thing I'd ever seen. I knew I had to have you. It was love at first sight..."
Reika felt a chill. The picture under the dresser - of course, it had been Mimura's, lost in his haste to move out, so he could lure her into that trap of a house. Mimura didn't seem to notice her shock; he was lost in his own world.
"I tried to reach you then," he continued, "but I couldn't find you. For years, I searched. I tried to make do with others, but they weren't the same. It could only be you, but I couldn't find you until that day. I saw you on television, after the D-Reaper came. They said you were working for Hypnos, so that's where I went. I knew my time had finally come, the day when we could be together..."
"You were wrong," she said. "You never had a chance."
"Yessss..." he hissed. "There was someone else, that thief Yamaki. Well, I've dealt with him. He's behind bars, and by the time he gets out, you and I will be long gone."
"Yes. You can't fight it, Reika. It's destiny." He leaned closer, his hand brushing her skin again. "I finally have you all to myself. I'll make you forget you ever saw him, and you will be mine... forever."
The policeman who was minding the front desk felt mildly annoyed; he didn't like doing desk duty. He was only a young policeman, new to the job, and he had been hoping for a little more action in his chosen profession. Though he knew intellectually that it had to be done, he didn't feel properly useful unless he was actually out in the field tracking down criminals and settling disputes, maybe catching a few traffic violations. Even handing out parking tickets was more interesting.
True, he did have a charge to watch, but even that wasn't interesting. He had been mildly surprised by the fact that the famous Mitsuo Yamaki, hero, genius, technological pioneer, had been locked up for brawling in a hotel room, but he was proving to be a singularly uninteresting guest. He declined to make conversation, not even ranting or complaining as some of them did. All he did was sit there, staring off into space, ignoring any remarks addressed to him. The policeman wondered if the poor man had suffered some kind of breakdown.
Such thoughts were driven from his mind by the sound of something exploding outside. The young man was on his feet in an instant, rushing out the door in search of the disturbance. What he saw was a sizeable hole in the sidewalk, and, a few yards away, a large robot and a boy in polkadot pajamas.
"Evening!" shouted the boy. "Nice night for some random property damage, don'cha think?"
"What are you doing?" the policeman explained.
"Oh, I was thinking Guardromon and I might blow up a few storefronts," answered the boy amiably. "What do you think, buddy? Sound good?"
"Whatever you say, Hirokazu," the robot agreed.
"Hey, you can't do that!" the policeman bellowed. "Come here this instant! You are under arrest for vandalism!"
"Only if you can catch me, chumly!" Hirokazu shouted. "C'mon, Guardromon, let's blow this popsicle stand!"
The robot turned and began jogging away, with the policeman in hot pursuit. So carried away was he that he didn't see the redheaded girl lurking inconspicuously in an alley.
"I was wrong," she said, mostly to herself. "There are people dumber than Hirokazu. Okay, Renamon, do your thing."
Renamon didn't answer, and when Ruki turned to look, the golden fox was already gone.
At that moment, Yamaki was sitting very still in his cell, hands folded in his lap. He hadn't cried since he was a very small child, and had not been tempted to for years. He was finding it a hard thing to resist now. He was beaten. Somehow, he had been outsmarted, outmaneuvered by that piece of filth, Mimura, and there was nothing left in his power that he could do about it. It didn't matter to him that he might be cleared in the morning. By then, it would already be too late. Mimura would have Reika, if he didn't have her already, and thinking what the man might be doing to her now was what was really pushing Yamaki to the edge.
Yamaki jumped. He had been so lost in his thoughts that he had not seen Renamon enter the room. Then again, he realized, there was no way she had entered his cell in the normal way. The heavy barred door was still closed, and the walls around him were as solid as they had always been, but here she stood before him, regarding him with her ageless green eyes.
"Renamon," he said. "What are you doing here?"
"Your lady is in danger," she answered. "We must move quickly; it may be that we can still help her, but first, we must get you out of this cell."
"With my help," Renamon answered simply. "Here. Hold this."
Yamaki stared, nonplussed, as a length of furry tail was pressed into his hands. He stared at Renamon, gingerly gripping the appendage. "What am I supposed to...?"
"Hold tightly," she scolded him. "Do not be afraid of hurting me. We are going to walk through the wall, through the shadow realm. It is not a journey that humans make easily. You must not lose your grip on me, or you will be lost. I would not try this if it were not urgent. Do you understand?"
"I think so," he answered. He tightened his grip on Renamon's tail. "I'm ready to try, anyway."
"Good. Move as I move... and I would close my eyes if I were you. You may find this disorienting. Whatever you do, do not let go."
He had no opportunity to answer, as Renamon began walking forward. The shadows on the wall swirled to allow her passing, and Yamaki, still holding her tail as tightly as he could, had no choice but to follow.
A wall of force slammed into him. He felt as if he'd walked into a raging waterfall, with tons of force pressing down on him. He could not move his feet; every part of him seemed to be weighted down. His eyes ached from the pressure, and he closed them tightly, feeling as if his head would burst. He felt Renamon's tail slipping from his fingers, and he struggled to keep his grip. It was as if that slender handful of fur was trying to drag him through a sea of slowly hardening concrete as he moved forward, inch by painful inch. The weight was killing him; he couldn't breathe; his head spun; his lifeline was gradually pulling free of his hands, and he couldn't find the strength to hold on tighter. The last few strands slid away, and he made a wild grab for them -
- and fell flat on his face in an alley. He sat up, breathing heavily.
"You almost lost me," he panted.
"Yes," answered Renamon. "And I also almost lost my tail trying to keep you. I'm going to be sore for weeks." She flicked her tail impatiently; it seemed to be missing a few tufts of fur. "How close you came matters not. What matters is that you are still alive, and free."
"Yes," he said, managing to collect himself enough to stand. "It is always helpful to be reminded of the realities. Thank you."
"Be polite later," said Ruki. "Like, say, after we catch up to your girlfriend and that creep who snatched her."
"He's got her?" asked Yamaki, snapping to attention. "Then let's not waste time. Where is he?"
"We don't know," Ruki replied. "We were hoping you might have some ideas."
Yamaki sighed. "Not a clue.... Or... wait a minute. I wonder... I think I might have an idea, after all. Come on."
He took off at a dead run, and Ruki found herself suddenly struggling to keep up. Renamon leaped after them both in an easy glide, and all three vanished into the shadows.
Reika had always prided herself on her self-control, but there were situations where all the self-control in the world couldn't help. Right now, it was all she could do to force herself to keep her eyes closed, to not react to anything. She tried not to listen to what was being said to her, to not feel the hands touching her in ways she never would have permitted if she had been free to move. Desperately, she tried to pretend she was somewhere else, with someone else, that it was not this horrible person who had her in his power... but she couldn't. Mitsuo's voice didn't sound like that, nor did he touch her in just that way. He even smelled different, a mix of cologne and the cigarettes he smoked. This person reeked of frantic sweat, and she could close her eyes against the sight of him, shut out his voice, ignore his touch, but somehow, she couldn't block out that stench. Unbidden, tears slipped from behind her eyelids.
"Mitsuo, Mitsuo..." she sobbed. "Please, help me..."
She was surprised to feel the groping hand pull away as if she'd bitten it.
"Stop talking about him!" Mimura snarled. "He's gone! I got rid of him! He is never coming back. You belong to me now. Forget him."
"No! I love him. No matter what you do, I won't-"
His hand cracked across her mouth, hard enough to draw blood. "You will love me! Only me!"
"You disgust me," she said. "I'd rather be dead than have anything to do with a slimy piece of filth like you."
She braced herself for another slap, but it didn't come. Surprised, she risked opening one eye a slit. Mimura had walked across the room and was now staring thoughtfully out the window.
"I see," he said softly. "I see how it is. That interfering... He's polluted you. He's poisoned you against me. You're ruined... I'll get him for this. I will punish him for taking you from me!"
He looked around the room crazily, and Reika cringed, somehow far more frightened now than when he'd been touching her. Suddenly, he seemed to get an idea, and he made a dash for a dresser. Reaching into an upper drawer, he pulled out a knife with a long, gleaming blade. He turned back to Reika, and cold shot through her veins as she guessed what he was going to do.
But her guess was wrong. Much to her surprise, he began sawing through the bonds that held her to the bed. Her feet were cut free, but he left a length of cord affixed to her wrists, holding it tightly in his free hand.
"We're going to take a trip," he told her. "We're going to work."
"What do you mean?" she asked weakly.
"Yamaki has taken the one thing that matters most to me," he says. "I'm going to pay back the favor. We're going to Hypnos. We're going to take it apart."
"Why do I have to come?" she asked, thinking, *If he'd leave me alone here, I'd find a way out somehow.*
"You are Yamaki's right hand woman. You know how to get inside, past the security. I'm not allowed there anymore, but you have clearance to go anywhere, to the most top-secret areas. You know how all those machines work. You're going to bring me there, and we're going to destroy them."
"Destroy Hypnos?" she repeated. "But - you can't - you have no idea - if that building were destroyed..."
The hand with the knife went to her throat. "Don't try to defend him! Just do it!"
Faced with the threat of the blade, she lapsed into a tense silence.
*The safeguards at Hypnos are the only things regulating traffic between the real world and the Digital World. If he destroys it, or even damages it, there's no telling what will break loose...*
A dark shadow flitted from rooftop to rooftop, high above the Tokyo streets. As it leaped across a roadway, green eyes flashed in the light of a street lamp. The Tamers acknowledged Renamon as the queen of surveillance - and quite rightly, considering her speed and her ability to flit from shadow to shadow - but Impmon ran a close second. In his own opinion, he even had a slight edge over her in a situation like this. He was thoroughly used to roaming at night, and he knew by nature every shady hideout and disreputable dive in West Shinjuku.
He took a running start and leaped to the top of another building, pausing a moment to watch and listen. A peculiar sort of desperation was building inside him. It hadn't been very long ago that he had been in this position: trying with all his might to save a young woman, and being unable to reach her. He had not succeeded that time. He was determined to succeed now.
A few more flying leaps brought him to his destination, and he paused again, staring intently into the darkness. Some instinct had drawn him to the shadows that gathered between the Hypnos building's twin towers. So much digital activity went on there, it was hard not for a Digimon to be drawn to it. They all felt its pull, like a giant magnet, and now that it was actively encouraging travel between the worlds, the attraction was stronger than ever. Anyway, it was also the tallest building in the vicinity, making it an ideal place to scout the territory.
However, he did not get long to look around before he was distracted by a new arrival. Culumon had dropped out of the sky to land next to him. He fixed the interloper with an accusing stare.
"What're you doin' here, cream puff?" he demanded.
"Looking," answered Culumon, in his usual ingenuous way. "What are you doing here, culu? Aren't you supposed to be on the other side of town?"
"Yeah, well..." said Impmon. "I'm supposed to be findin' the lady. If she ain't in my area, why stay there? Anyway, this is a good place to look for her. Don't the badguy always come back to the scene of the crime?"
"But he didn't catch her here, culu," said Culumon. "He caught her at Miss Onodera's house. Juri told me so, culu."
"So?" said Impmon, snapping to cover his embarrassment. "The guy still worked here. It would be a good place to hide. Someone needs to investigate, and - wait just a cotton pickin' minute! What's that?"
His sharp night vision had detected what Culumon's sight could not: a flicker of movement in a shadowed alley. Moving silently, both Digimon scurried closer for a better look. Yes, there it was again - a man dragging something. Impmon felt his pulse pick up as he realized the something he was struggling with was a woman. He recognized the curtain of red hair. It was the missing Miss Ootori. He also recognized the knife in the man's hand as he forced her ahead of him, toward a side door leading into the Hypnos building. His hand went to the communicator on his wrist.
"Ai, Mako! Guess what I found!"
Moments later, a very stressed Jenrya was following Terriermon on a systematic search through the city. Impossible as the task was, he felt called on to join in the search instead of staying home and coordinating, and Terriermon's ears were nearly as good as a satellite for picking things up. Somewhere in the city, he knew, his sister and Lopmon were making a similar search. He hoped with all his strength that one of them would pick up something.
What he finally picked up was a voice over his radio.
"Double Trouble to Ground Control," said Ai's childish voice. "We found her."
"You did?" he exclaimed.
"Impmon found her!" Makoto interjected. "She's alive!"
"Wonderful," said Jenrya with relief. He tapped the broadcast button on his radio. "Heads up, gang! We've found her, and she's okay!"
On the other side of the district, Yamaki heard the news and gave a deep sigh of gratitude.
"Thank goodness," he said fervently. "Where is she? Is she safe?"
There was a moment as the question was relayed to Impmon and back again.
"Impmon says she doesn't look hurt," Jenrya reported, "but Mimura is holding a knife to her, so we'd better not take any chances. They're going into the Hypnos building."
"Hypnos!" Yamaki repeated. "I knew it! He wouldn't be able to stop at taking her; he'd have to go after me, too. The two things that matter most to me..."
"Don't worry, Mr. Yamaki," said Ruki. "We'll get her back." She reached for her radio. "Tell Impmon we're already on our way, and Mr. Yamaki's with us. With all of us together, we ought to be able to deal with the slimeball."
"Provided he doesn't bring out something unpleasant to surprise us," said Yamaki grimly.
"What can he do?" asked Ruki. "He's one man up against eight Digimon."
"What can he do?" Yamaki repeated. "Don't kid yourself. With the equipment inside Hypnos, I don't doubt he can do something very nasty indeed."
It took quite a long time for the young policeman to finally realize he was being led on a wild goose chase, as evidenced by the fact that he had been running around for almost fifteen minutes, and so far, the boy and his robot had yet to make good their threats, and indeed seemed to only be leading the young officer around in circles. He came to that realization at about the same time he saw the boy reach for a handheld device - probably a walkie-talkie of some sort - listen for a moment, then abruptly leap onto the robot's shoulders and fly away. Knowing this had to be some kind of signal, the policeman became suspicious, and decided at once that the place he really ought to be was the police station.
Meanwhile, two other officers were convening at the office to compare notes on Yamaki's case.
"Find out anything at the hotel?" one asked.
"Talked to the lady at the front desk. Yamaki's story checks out - the sign-in sheet has his name on it, and the reservations were paid for with his credit card. She says she saw a man matching his description and a red-headed lady checking in at the time in question. Sounds like this Mimura character's a phony."
"In more ways than one," said the other officer, in a smug tone that promised revealing information. The other policeman raised an eyebrow.
"What did you dig up?" he asked.
"While you were at the hotel, I was checking the background on Mr. Mimura. You know what I found out?"
"He doesn't exist!"
"What? What do you mean?"
"I remembered Yamaki's line about falsifying his employment records, so I started doing some snooping to see if it was true. Not only did the guy fake his references, his whole identity is a sham. I checked his birthdates in the computer, and there was no Akira Mimura born on that date in his supposed hometown."
"Something's not right about that," said the first policeman. "We need to look a little deeper into this."
However, they were going to be denied that privilege, at least for the moment, because just then, their young colleague came rushing in. He skidded to a halt in front of the senior officers, his face frantic.
"And where have you been?" asked the second policeman.
"He's gone!" the young man exclaimed.
"What? What are you shouting about?" asked the first officer. "You look like you've been running marathons. What's got you so worked up?"
"It's Mr. Yamaki! He's vanished!" the young man managed to gasp. "I heard a disturbance outside, so I went out to look, and when I came back, he was gone!"
"He broke out?" asked the first policeman sharply.
"No! I'm telling you, he vanished! Like, into thin air!"
"Impossible," the second policeman scoffed.
"Look for yourself! The door is locked, everything is in perfect order, but he's gone! And I had the keys with me the whole time! There's no way he could have broken out..."
The other two officers ran to have a look. The door was still closed and locked. The room had no windows, and no furnishings save for some plumbing and a pallet of a bed. Everything appeared to be in place, except, of course, for the fact that Yamaki was indisputably gone.
"This is getting too strange," said the first officer. "Mimura lied to us. Yamaki's disappeared. Who's on first?"
"I don't know," said the other officer, "but I think we should start a search. Come on! He can't have gone far!"
"Maybe he teleported," said the young officer nervously.
"Idiot! Things like that don't happen. Now, come on!"
Reika had no inkling that anyone was on their way to her rescue. All she had mental space to conceive of was that someone was holding a blade to her throat, guiding her through a maze of doorways that led to things she would never have voluntarily let him anywhere near. Mimura crouched behind her, as if trying to be invisible to the very cameras he had installed.
She tried desperately to stay calm. Panicking, at this point, seemed useless. It wasn't just her that was in danger, now. There was machinery in Hypnos that could put the whole of two worlds in jeopardy if it was misused, things she wasn't sure she could stop once they got started. Yamaki might have been able to, but - no, she wasn't going to think about that, now. She couldn't think about anything but stopping this before it got too far. In the back of her mind, a thought was building: one way or another, she was likely going to die tonight. The only choice she had was how many people might go with her.
Experimentally, she began guiding her captor toward the wrong hallway, one that would eventually bring them down to a boiler room where the heat and air conditioning units were kept. The movement was countered by a tightening of her captor's grip on her, and the knife pressed more closely to her skin.
"None of that," he hissed. "I know my way around this building, too. We're going to the lab. Don't try to mislead me."
"Then let me go. You know how the security systems work. You can get through without me. You can take my key card and let me free."
"And let you go running back to him? No. Keep moving."
She relented, and they continued their journey downwards, toward the deepest, most secret parts of the building. She took the longest route she knew, hoping to buy some time, but Mimura did not seem bothered by this. She had the vague notion he was enjoying this, enjoying having her in his grasp, forcing her to obey him, but she put the notion out of her mind. It didn't matter, really, what was going through his mind right now. What mattered was drawing this out as long as possible. Maybe if she stalled long enough, help would come...
*Maybe there will be a way out of this. Maybe.*
All too soon, they reached the door to the lab. She hesitated. For all her determination, even in spite of the knife against her skin, she had trouble bringing herself to open it for him. Her instincts were shouting that he didn't belong in this place, that his presence there would defile it, somehow.
"Open it!" Mimura hissed.
With a shaking hand, she ran her key card through the slot, pressed her hand to a screen, and said an access phrase. The door slid slowly open, revealing a dark void before them. Mimura shoved her inside. He shut the door behind him and leaned against it. For a moment, she was so stunned that he had released her that she couldn't move. He glared at her.
"What are you waiting for?" he demanded.
"What do you want me to do?"
He waved a hand around him. "Destroy this. You know how. Ruin these machines, so they'll never work again."
"But... I can't do that! Some of these machines are the only things stopping another thing like the D-Reaper from entering the world. If something happens to them, the consequences would be-"
"I don't care. I want them destroyed. Do it!"
Slowly, she walked toward the nearest machine, thinking, *I've got to stall him.* She began pushing buttons, turning things on and off, causing whirrs and blinks of light that would hopefully pass for activity. Mimura watched over her shoulder, scowling.
"What's taking so long?" he demanded.
"This is complicated equipment. Unless you want it all fixed tomorrow, they have to be completely de-programmed. It will take some time."
"I don't believe you."
"It's the truth! Just be patient."
"You're lying to me! You're still trying to thwart me. Well, I won't have it! If you won't do what I want, I'll do it myself!"
He shoved her roughly away from the machine, ignoring her as she fell to the floor. He began recklessly turning dials and flipping levers, causing the machines to beep in protest.
"Stop! You don't know what you're doing!" she shouted.
Mimura ignored her. His face was contorted in an insane grin as he continued his rampage. A few machines shorted out, throwing off showers of sparks. The lights flickered, and somewhere, a siren began to wail.
Reika abandoned all caution. The last time something like this had happened, the building had nearly collapsed, and she had no intention of being inside if it happened now. She made a scramble for the door, and was caught with a jerk that nearly pulled her arm out of its socket. Mimura tugged her into a bearlike embrace; she could hear him laughing in her ear.
"Let me go!" she cried. "The building is going to explode! We're going to be killed if we stay here!"
"I know," he whispered. "We'll die together, my love, and I'll hold you in the embrace of death forever..."
The siren continued to howl. Then there was a colossal explosion, and Reika felt a burst of force that threw her off her feet. Her world spun, and once again, everything went dark.
Running at top speed, Jenrya rounded a corner and nearly collided with Takato and Kenta.
"Glad to see you," said Takato. "Any idea where the others are?"
Jenrya tried to picture the map of their areas in his mind. "If everyone is in the positions they were supposed to be, I think we should be running into Shuichon pretty soon. Ruki and Hirokazu have probably met up by now - they'll meet us coming from the other direction. Juri is probably with Impmon and the twins at Hypnos by now."
"Then let's hurry and catch up with them," said Kenta uneasily. "Marine Angemon says he's picking up bad vibes, and he doesn't say that kind of stuff without a good reason."
"Pi pi pi!" added the little Digimon emphatically.
"What kind of bad vibes?" asked Jenrya. "Does it have something to do with the kidnapping, or is it something else?"
Marine Angemon chattered rapidly, and Kenta translated: "He says he doesn't know, but it's bad, and he doesn't like it."
"Well, that's a lot of help," said Takato. "Oh, well. We've been in tight spots before, I guess."
Guilmon commented with a doglike growl. He liked Miss Ootori; she shopped at the Matsuda bakery, and she never neglected to buy a treat for Guilmon every time she was there. His pupils had contracted to slits, a sign of anger, and Takato could almost feel sorry for the kidnapper when Guilmon caught up to him.
Suddenly, there was a crackle of static on Jenrya's radio, and he hurried to answer it.
"Lone Dragon to Ground Control - come in, now."
"Make it quick, Ryo. We're kind of in the middle of a situation right now," Jenrya snapped.
"Well, you'd better brace yourself for another one," Ryo replied. "You remember that storm I told you about a few days ago?"
"Yeah," Jenrya said. "Hasn't it died down by now?"
"Almost," said Ryo. "Just a few minutes ago, though, it started up again, meaner than ever. I don't like the looks of it. I might be wrong, but it looks to me like it's making a course toward the Real World Sphere."
"And that's bad, right?" Takato asked worriedly.
"If that storm hits the networks on Earth, I don't know what's going to happen. We could get worldwide power outages, uncontrolled Digital Fields... even another D-Reaper. You'd better tell the folks at Hypnos to keep an eye on this one."
"It's the middle of the night," said Jenrya. "And for your information, the only people at Hypnos right now are a crazed kidnapper and his captive. Which one do you want to fix the problem?"
There was a brief pause. Then: "I'm coming over."
Then there was a click. It was obvious that the Lone Dragon had signed off. The other Tamers looked at each other.
"Well," said Takato at last. "Looks like we're in for a rough night."
A block away from the Hypnos building, they caught sight of the rest of the group. Ruki and Hirokazu were apparently squabbling with each other, Hirokazu boasting about his escape from the police and Ruki telling him sharply to be quiet. Yamaki was with them, looking far more tense than anyone had ever seen him during any of their previous crises; he looked as if he hardly knew what to do with himself, far removed from his usual confidence. Juri stood nearby, looking rather pale but resolute, cuddling Culumon for comfort. Ai and Makoto were still in their pajamas, but they were as wide awake as the rest of the group. Shuichon, as predicted, had joined her brother and her friends, and now the entire group converged beneath a street lamp, where they could keep a strategic eye on the Hypnos building.
"Good, we all made it," said Jenrya. "What do we do now?"
"Find a way to get inside and get those two out," answered Ruki. "Preferably with all of us in one piece. I'll make exceptions for what's-his-name."
"Getting inside won't be easy," said Yamaki. "That building has more security in it than any three banks put together... and unfortunately, anything I might have been able to use to get inside are in police custody."
"To heck with security!" said Hirokazu. "If the door won't open, we'll just blow it off its hinges. Guardromon can do it, easy."
"Well, whatever we do, we're going to have to do it fast," said Takato, looking speculatively up at the building. "That's not going to be fun. That's a big building, and we don't have a lot of time to search."
"I know where they are," said Yamaki grimly. "In the laboratory, in the basement of the building. I told Mimura he wasn't allowed to go there, so that's exactly where he'd be most likely to go."
"We can check on that," said Ruki. "Renamon, do you think you could get in there and look around?"
Renamon looked up at the building. Her eyes narrowed, and her ears flicked back and forth a few times.
"We may be too late," she said. "Something is going on in there. Can't you feel it?"
Everyone was silent, and in the stillness, they did feel something. There was a tension in the air, a tingle like lightning about to strike, a tightness against their skin as if they stood too close to a fire. Suddenly, they heard a rush like thunder. Marine Angemon gave an earsplitting shriek, the youngest children bawled and clutched at their partners, and then everyone was hit by a rush of force.
For a moment, they were all dazzled by a wave of red-purple light. Then they slowly adjusted and began to look around. They could still see the Hypnos building, or what was left of it, standing before them - most of the upper floors seemed to have been blown off, as if a powerful wind had burst up from its core. Now the building was half its original size, with its top crowned by broken stone and twisted scaffolding. However, beyond that, they could see nothing but a vast, desert-like expanse of sand, tinted red by the eerie light. Rocks like old dinosaur bones were strewn across the landscape. The horizon seemed blurred by reddish clouds. Everyone stared.
"Are we in the real world, or the Digital World?" asked Kenta.
Renamon sniffed the air, and a few of the other Digimon copied her example.
"It smells a little like the Digital World," Lopmon offered, "but something isn't right."
"It isn't the Digital World," said Renamon. "Look at the clouds."
The others obeyed. If they looked closely enough at the shifting clouds, they could catch glimpses of the Tokyo city beyond them. They could even see the street lamp they had been standing beneath, its golden glow just barely penetrating the fog.
"It's as if a piece of the Digital World got pulled into ours," said Jenrya softly. "Is that possible?"
"It must be," said Takato. He looked around at the eerie landscape, and his attention was caught by a moving speck on the horizon. "Hey, look at that!"
Coming rapidly closer was a large, dark shape. It took the others only a few moments to recognize it as Cyberdramon, with Ryo perched on his back. They landed with a flurry of wings and a stir of dust.
"Hey, how did you get here?" Ryo asked.
"We don't know," said Kenta. "One minute, we were standing on the street corner outside Hypnos, and the next - wham! - we're here."
"Hypnos?" Ryo repeated. "Man, that's the last place you want to be standing when a data storm strikes! Don't you know that place is like a lightning rod for digital activity? I'm surprised you're still in one piece!"
"Then what would it do to someone who was inside?" asked Yamaki quietly.
Everyone looked from his face to Ryo's to the wreckage of Hypnos. Someone said, "Uh- oh." Then, before anyone could stop him, Yamaki turned and headed for the building at a dead run. The others scrambled to keep up with him.
A few hundred feet from the building's base, the rubble began, and everyone had to slow down to avoid tripping over it. A few people, particularly the youngest, did trip, stumbling and skinning their hands and knees. It was a measure of how serious the situation was that none of them wasted time with crying. It was on one of those stumbles that Shuichon landed on something that didn't feel like rock nor ground nor metal. It was warm and soft... and alive.
"Look - look - look!" she squealed. "I found her!"
The others gathered around her to look at her find. Half-buried in the rubble was Reika, looking disheveled, bruised, and cut in a few places, but still breathing. There was a scramble to unearth her, and in a few seconds, she was whimpering faintly and opening her eyes.
"Where am I now?" she asked faintly.
"We aren't entirely sure of that," said Yamaki, voice quaking faintly, "but I think you're safe."
She turned her eyes to him, and tears began building. "Mitsuo... Is it you? I thought I'd never see you again..."
He put out a hand to brush her tears away. It only made her cry harder. Everyone else stood silent, mildly stunned by this display of emotion from the normally self-controlled adults.
Almost everyone, that is.
"Be mushy later," said Ruki. "In case you've forgotten, there's still a crazy guy with a knife running around here somewhere. What happened to him? Did you see?"
Reika sniffled and got her emotions under control.
"I don't know where he is," she said. "He was standing behind me when the building went up - I think he took the full brunt of the blast. I got knocked out, so I couldn't see much, but I doubt he could have survived."
"Well, we can't be too careful," said Jenrya. "I'd hate for this guy to get away. We ought to make a search."
"That won't be necessary," hissed a voice.
They looked up. Perched on the sill of one of the shattered windows was Mimura... or was it? Whatever they were looking at had only the barest resemblance to a human being. His clothing was ripped, showing skin that was now the same kind of mottled red-purple of the sky, and the face had taken on a reptilian elongation, complete with slitted golden eyes. A pair of mismatched bat's wings perched awkwardly on his shoulders, one larger than the other. One hand seemed to have stretched into a set of claws, and he showed signs of having sprouted a stubby lizard's tail.
"What happened to him?" asked Juri in a quavering voice.
"The storm hit him," Ryo said softly. "He got the full blast of it... and it changed him."
"Not really," said Yamaki. "He's always been a monster; now he just looks the part."
"You think you're so clever," the Mimura-monster snarled. "Well, now I'm going to have the last laugh. I'll have my revenge on you, no matter what it takes!"
He sprang from the ledge, and the Tamers and their partners scattered. However, the monster showed no interest in them. He lunged at Yamaki, who was just barely able to dodge what might have been a lethal blow, turning it into only a row of scratches along one arm. The monster tried to attack again, but was distracted by something bursting against his shoulder; Guardromon was shooting small missiles at him.
"Stay out of this!" the monster snarled. "This is not your fight!"
"No," said Takato, stepping forward. "Those are our friends you're picking on. You mess with them, you mess with us! Guilmon, you ready?"
"Ready, Takato! Pyro Sphere!"
A burst of fire forced Mimura and Yamaki apart, and the man took the opportunity to sprint as far from Reika as possible. If Mimura wanted to target him instead of her, that was fine with him. He didn't care about being in danger as long as she was left in safety. Immediately, the other Tamers moved to put themselves between Yamaki and the monster.
"Coward!" Mimura railed. "Always hiding behind someone!"
Yamaki looked stung. Ruki caught the expression and shouted back, "Knock it off. We all know Mr. Yamaki, and he's a lot braver than you!"
Yamaki was surprised; he knew Ruki wasn't free with compliments. He hadn't realized he'd earned such high respect from these children. The knowledge bolstered his spirits somewhat.
"If he's not a coward, then why doesn't he come out and fight me?" Mimura demanded.
"You're not worth my time," Yamaki replied. "I won't sully my hands with the likes of you. These children are more than a match for you."
Seeing that his target wasn't going to rise to his bait, Mimura switched his approach - to a direct attack. With a primal roar, he leaped at the children, and the Digimon moved to defend their partners. There was a confusion of fire and light as the creatures went into battle. Takato watched, feeling faintly disturbed. The Digimon were keeping the monster busy, but they didn't seem to be doing much damage to him - the creature was phenomenally fast, and nothing anyone was doing seemed to harm him.
"If we're going to stop this guy, we've got to undo whatever that storm did," he mused aloud. "Hey, Kenta, do you think Marine Angemon could fix him? He's good at that kind of stuff, isn't he?"
Kenta held a consultation with his partner and reported, "He says he'll try."
They watched as the tiny Digimon flew out onto the battlefield. He dodged a fireball from Impmon, ducked underneath a spray of ice from Lopmon, and just barely avoided Renamon's Diamond Storm. He launched a spray of glowing lights at the monster, but it leaped out of the way, and Marine Angemon was hit squarely with one of Terriermon's tornadoes. Fornutately, the Mega Digimon wasn't hurt, and he tried again. Again the creature dodged, and his lights did no more than momentarily annoy Impmon as he tried to aim another shot. He made a few more tries, but with no better results. He flew back to his partner's side, chattering and chirping his irritation.
"He says he could undo the damage, but the guy won't stand still," Kenta translated for Takato's benefit. "Marine Angemon is powerful, but his aim isn't that good."
"Well, then, we'll just have to deal with this guy the old-fashioned way," Takato replied. "Why don't you and Marine Angemon go look after Reika. Keep her safe until we've got this taken care of."
"Right," said Kenta. Dodging between the fallen rocks, he and Marine Angemon hurried to Reika's side.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I'm the first-aid guy, remember?" Kenta replied. "I'm here to look after you."
"I see. Thank you."
"Just hold still," he said, with the quiet authority of one who has a job to do. "I'm getting pretty good at this. Maybe I'll be a doctor someday if I keep my grades up."
He continued speaking softly, keeping her attention both off the battle and her own aches and pains, as he opened his first aid kid and began cleaning off the worst of her cuts. In the background, they could hear explosions and shouts, and the occasional bellow as an attack found its target. That particular sound didn't come often enough for anyone's peace of mind.
"They aren't doing very well, are they?" Reika asked.
"Don't worry. They'll win," Kenta assured her.
"Not at the rate they're going," she replied. "Your partner can heal. Couldn't he get rid of the... whatever happened to him?"
Kenta shook his head. "He tried, but that thing is too fast for him. If we could just get him to stand still long enough."
Reika was silent a moment, lost in thought. Then she said, "I might have an idea, but I need you and Marine Angemon to help me. Will you do that?"
"What have you got in mind?" Kenta asked.
Out on the battlefield, Yamaki took his eyes away from the battle just in time to see Reika, Kenta, and Marine Angemon climbing across the debris toward the remains of the Hypnos building.
"Where are you going?" he shouted in consternation.
"To get my purse!" Reika called back.
Hirokazu stared at the departing figures.
"She's cracked up," he opined.
"No, she hasn't," Yamaki replied. "She's thought of something... I can't imagine, what, though."
"He's right," said Ryo. "If she'd gone crazy, Kenta wouldn't be following her."
Hirokazu considered. "You're right. He'd either be holding her back or running in the other direction."
"I hope she knows what she's doing," said Yamaki.
"We'll just have to trust her," said Takato. "In the meantime, maybe we'd better be worrying about ourselves!"
His pronouncement was accompanied by the sound of an explosion. It seemed the monster had realized that it had powers it had not yet fully grasped before, and was now littering the battlefield with bursts of yellow light. They were having an effect; of all the Digimon, only Renamon, Guardromon, and Cyberdramon were still in fighting shape. The rest were huddled on the ground, scorched and battered. Impmon, stubborn as always, was trying to haul himself to his feet.
"I'm tired of getting kicked around!" he snapped. "I am taking this up a level!"
"We're not trying to kill him!" Takato protested.
"Why not? He is!"
"But he's a human being!" said Takato.
Impmon pointed at Mimura, who was busy trying to blast Renamon with his golden fireballs. "Does that look like a human to you?"
Takato blinked. It might have just been his imagination, but he thought the creature they had been fighting looked more monster-like than he had when they had first started. It was hard to tell, but it looked like his mottled skin was becoming scaled. And wasn't his tail getting longer? Had he had horns like that when this had first started?
"Okay, maybe you're right," said Takato. "I think we'd better wrap this up in a hurry. Guilmon! Can you hear me? Digivolve!"
"I'll try! Guilmon, digivolve to... Growmon!"
"Renamon, digivolve to... Kyuubimon!"
"Terriermon, digivolve to... Galgomon!"
The monster shied back, startled, as several of his opponents suddenly shifted forms. He sized them up a moment, decided he didn't like the new odds, and leaped up into the air. Clinging to a windowsill, he began bounding straight up the side of the building.
"Now what do we do?" asked Galgomon, watching the retreating figure.
"We go after him, genius!" Impmon snapped. "If you won't, I will!"
There was a blurry moment as he seemed to be surrounded by purple fog and light. When it cleared, they all found themselves looking up at the formidable figure of Beelzemon Blast Mode. In a flurry of dust and feathers, he leaped up into the sky, following the creature.
Meanwhile, Reika and Kenta had made it inside the Hypnos building... or what was left of it. The lower floors had fared better than those on higher storeys, but there was still rubble here and there where bits of the ceiling had fallen in. The pair moved carefully, afraid to do anything that might cause a cave-in. The power was out, and the only light was a faint glow cast by Marine Angemon.
"Where is it?" asked Kenta.
"Down here somewhere," Reika answered, scanning the shadowy room. The lab had always been a dark room, and it was worse than ever without the lights. "It must have gotten blown away by the blast."
"We'll find it," Kenta replied. "I'll look over here - you try over there."
They split up, moving cautiously through the shadows. Bits of pipe and cable had been thrown all over the floor by the explosion, and they had to step carefully in the almost complete darkness. They had no way of measuring how long they were down there searching, only that they gradually became more aware of a commotion going on above their heads. They tried not to think about what might be happening upstairs, or if the roof might cave in. They were below ground level, with no elevators now that the power was out. If something happened to block the staircases, they'd be trapped...
"I found it!" Kenta called.
Reika hurried to join him, guided by Marine Angemon's soft light. Kenta proudly lifted her purse out of the rubble, dirty but otherwise unharmed.
"Now all we need to do is find him," she said, putting the bag over her shoulder. "From the sound of things, he's on the roof... or whatever is up there now."
"How are we going to get there?" Kenta asked.
"We'll have to climb," she answered. After a pause, she added, "You don't have to come, you know. This is for me to do."
"Are you afraid?" he asked.
She hesitated, the resolute look on her face faltering. "Just a bit."
"Then I'll come with you," Kenta replied. "You know, for moral support."
She smiled faintly. "Thank you, Kenta."
They turned and left the dark room, heading for the stairs, towards the battle above their heads.
"What's going on up there? I can't see!" Hirokazu complained.
"It's hard to tell," said Jenrya, squinting up at the hazy sky. "They both look the same from way down here."
"Then let's get up there!" said Hirokazu.
He clambered up onto Guardromon's shoulders. Without prompting, Guardromon scooped the twins into his arms. Ruki bounded onto Kyuubimon's back, beckoning for Juri to join her. Takato scampered onto Guilmon's back. Jenrya perched on Galgomon's shoulder, helping Shuichon and her partner climb up after him. Ryo boarded his partner and looked down at Yamaki.
"Want a lift?" he offered.
Yamaki nodded. Ryo said a few words to Cyberdramon, and the dark dragon crouched to let another passenger board.
In the next moment, all of them went up - Growmon climbing up the walls like a lizard, Kyuubimon leaping from wall to wall, Cyberdramon and Guardromon flying, Galgomon blasting his guns like rocket boosters. They landed on the building's new roof - what used to be a collection of offices a few hours ago - and were nearly bowled over as Beelzemon flew over them.
"Watch your heads!" he shouted down at them.
"That's easy for you to say!" Ryo shouted back. "You watch out for us!"
The monster glared at the newcomers. There was almost nothing human left of him now; he resembled only a slimy dragon wearing tattered human clothes. Purplish drool dripped from a new set of fangs.
"Ganging up on me, are you?" it rumbled, its voice nearly indistinguishable through its reptilian mouth. "I'll teach you! I'll show you all!"
It flourished both claws, and gold lights blasted around. The Digimon dove to protect their humans, themselves taking the brunt of the blast. A few of them hissed in pain as the bolts struck home. Guardromon turned angrily on the monster and fired off a round of missiles, but he was too slow. The monster easily leaped out of the way. Kyuubimon tried to intercept him, but she'd barely gotten her Dragon Wheel wound up before a burst of fire threw her backwards, and only fast scrabbling kept her from sliding off the building. Beelzemon did what he could to keep the beast contained, but a lucky shot had thrown his gun out of his grasp, leaving his abilities curtailed.
"This isn't going well," said Jenrya tersely. "This thing is just too fast! We can't make it sit still long enough to shoot it!"
Ruki frowned, watching as the winged creature dodged blasts of fire from Growmon. "What we need is a distraction... Anyone got any ideas?"
There was a moment of silence. Then Hirokazu pointed and said, "How about her? Is she distracting enough?"
Standing at the top of a staircase was Reika, looking calmly over the chaos. Kenta lurked, almost invisible, behind her. She was wearing a strangely detached expression, but otherwise seemed perfectly calm. As soon as she was sure all eyes were on her, she began walking slowly forwards.
"Akira," she called softly. "Akira, it's okay, it's just me."
The monster stared. "Reika?"
She nodded. "That's right. It's just me. It's all right, Akira. I'm giving up, see? I'll go with you. Everything will be all right. We'll go away together, far away, and nobody will ever bother us again."
The monster blinked. He took a hesitant step forward, then another. She smiled at him, opening her arms wide as if to embrace him. Slowly, he shuffled towards her, reaching for her...
Suddenly, just before he would have touched her, something bright and shining flew out of her sleeve, and he stopped, surprised.
"Pi pi pu!" Marine Angemon chirped.
A swirl of glowing bubbles streamed from his mouth, surrounding the monster. It tried to back away, confused and frightened, but there was no escape now. The lights did their work quickly. Even as they watched, his fangs shrank away, the horns and claws vanished, the wings disappeared, and the tail departed. Gradually, the scales turned back into human skin, and his eyes went from yellow back to black. Then Mimura was nothing more than a human man again.
"What - what did you do?" he stammered.
She didn't reply. Moving as if sleepwalking, she reached in her pocket and took out something shiny. It was the handgun Yamaki had given her what seemed like ages ago, forgotten until now in the depths of her purse.
Beelzemon dropped in front of the children, screening them with his broad wings.
"Don't look," he said.
There was a loud bang. Mimura staggered backwards, looking with shock at the spreading red patch on his chest. Then his feet faltered, and he toppled over the edge of the broken building. There was a gradually fading scream. Then there was a thud. Then silence.
Immediately Reika sank to her knees, flinging the pistol away from her, where it disappeared in a pile of rubble. She dissolved into tears, and Yamaki ran to comfort her, kneeling next to her and letting her sob out her tears of revulsion and relief on his shoulder, murmuring things that were meant for her ears alone. As the children watched, the red sky faded away, the strange otherworld vanishing like a drop of water absorbed by a napkin, until they were only standing on a ruined building in the middle of Tokyo, looking up at its opaque black sky. The night was quiet, and all that could be heard were Reika's slowly quieting sobs, the soft murmur of Yamaki's voice, and in the distance, the lonely wail of a siren...
Reika Ootori and Megumi Onodera were both taken to a local hospital for treatment of their injuries, and then released, but it took several weeks of therapy before Reika's emotional scars began to heal. Dental records later proved that the man known as Akira Mimura was actually Akemi Miyazaki, a criminal on the run and wanted for numerous sexual assault charges. His death was ruled self-defense, and both Reika and Yamaki were cleared of all charges. Once again, they and the Digimon Tamers were hailed as heroes.
The wedding of Mitsuo Yamaki and Reika Ootori was postponed several months, allowing them both more time to recover from their ordeal. When the event was finally celebrated, it was in a simple ceremony, viewed only by a handpicked collection of family, close friends, and a few Digimon. There were no cameras and no videos. After returning from their honeymoon, the couple returned to their old apartment. They feel safe there.
From time to time, Reika still wakes with nightmares. She is thankful that her husband never asks if she's all right. He understands. They both know it will never be completely right again, that they'll never feel certain that wherever they go, someone isn't watching them. But they also know that they're there for each other, and after that harrowing night, they can be sure that someone always will be watching over them... and that's not such a bad thing.