First Manifestations

By: SilvorMoon

It was not the kind of day that one would expect to breed anger and fear. The sun was still shining for all it was worth, as if determined that the last few hours of the day would be bright and cheerful ones, and a few fluffy clouds floated through the brilliant blue sky. The air was pleasantly warm, and the park Taichi walked through was alive with vegetation and playful schoolchildren. Taichi ignored everything around him, storming up the path with Agumon trailing uncertainly behind him.

"I can't believe it," the boy muttered. "It should have been perfect... how could we lose?"

"Everybody has to lose sometime," said Agumon comfortingly. "Besides, it was just a soccer game. There will be other games."

"It was the semifinals!" Taichi moaned. "If we'd just won this game... We could have gone on to the championship, and instead I let everything go down the tubes."

"It wasn't your fault. You did everything you could have done."

"It is too my fault! I was the captain; it's my job to help the team win and we didn't!"

"Taichi, it's a team," Agumon reminded him gently. "It's up to every player to help the team win, not just you. Besides, sometimes the other team is just better. There's nothing you can do about that."

"I know," sighed Taichi. "It's just... this was my last year on the team before I go off to college. I'll never get another chance, now. It's just so frustrating knowing I was that close to winning, and... argh!"

Seething with annoyance, he rammed his hand at a nearby tree. He expected, as anyone would, that he'd end up with nothing for the trouble but sore knuckles. Instead, there was a sharp crack, and much to his amazement, the tree snapped in half and toppled to the ground. Agumon had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit by a branch. Taichi stared.

"Whoa," he said softly. "How did that happen?"

"How hard did you hit that thing?" asked Agumon.

"Not that hard," said Taichi. "Nobody could hit it that hard. It just cracked in half..."

"Maybe it was rotten inside?" Agumon suggested uncertainly.

"I dunno," answered Taichi, stepping closer for a better look. "It looks pretty healthy to me. Look here."

He reached out to point at the place where the tree had split, and then stopped. He stared down at his hand. He turned it over a few times, slowly going pale behind his suntan. Sensing something was wrong, Agumon walked a little closer for a better look. He, too, stopped and stared.

"What happened to your hands?" he asked, stunned.

"I - I don't know," Taichi answered.

Where he was quite certain he'd had fingers a few minutes ago, he now had a row of claws, all of them glinting like steel, apparently razor sharp and tapering to needle points. They looked more than capable of slicing through just about anything. He flexed them carefully, trying to reassure himself that he was neither dreaming or going crazy. He ran the point of one claw along the palm of his other hand, drawing a thin line of blood. The claws felt awfully real to him.

"Well," he said, "I guess that explains the tree."

"What are you going to do?" asked Agumon. "You can't go around with claws like that - people will see them!"

"I know that," answered Taichi. "We've got to get help. Come on."

He began jogging up the path as fast as he could go, careful not to clench his fists too tightly. Agumon scampered along behind him.

"Where are we going to get help?" he asked.

"From the only person around who'd understand weird stuff like this," Taichi replied. "Koushiro."

~*~

Koushiro stared at his laptop, trying to ignore the headache that was slowly but surely rising. He'd been plagued by many such headaches lately, some of them so bad that he had to stop everything he was doing and lie down a while until they went away, and he was getting very tired of them. His parents had taken him to the doctor's office, hoping to pinpoint the source of the problem. The results had been, to Koushiro's mind, quite unsatisfactory. After examining him thoroughly, the doctor had chalked the pains up to stress, given him a bottle of painkillers, told him to take it easy, and sent him home. Koushiro had dutifully taken his medicine, but it was of very little help. These headaches were unlike anything he'd ever had before - not just pain, but a weird, tingly sensation like what he got in his foot when it fell asleep, coupled in the most serious cases by a dizzy sensation that made him feel as if he were floating a few inches outside himself. His instincts were telling him that stress wasn't likely to cause all that.

Not that he didn't have plenty of stress in his life right now. College entrance exams were coming up sooner than he would have liked, and he had no intention of becoming a ronin, one of the "masterless knights" that had to spend an extra year or years studying because they couldn't get into a good college. His parents were well aware of how intelligent he was, and fully expected him to get into one of the best schools in the country. He didn't dare let them down. Still, that wasn't going to be easy, the way his head was hurting.

He stood up, stretching his stiff muscles. Maybe relaxing would help him a bit. It certainly couldn't hurt; he'd been going over and over these notes since he'd come home from school, and he was getting tired. He would get a drink of water, take one of those headache pills, and possibly also a nap. Massaging his throbbing temples, he shuffled into the bathroom to find his medicine and a cup.

He had just finished filling the cup and was raising it to his mouth when everything seemed to explode. His head was filled with blinding pains, so sharp that the world around him started going black and dancing with wild lights. It was splitting open and he was spilling out of himself, spinning and whirling sickeningly through the ether, and-

...It was ridiculous what things cost these days. Just a stupid can of peaches, and they wanted how many hundred yen for it? They were all out to cheat her, that's what it was; they didn't appreciate how hard it was to be a housewife, as long as they could get her money...

...Where had he parked, anyway? He was always a little nervous about these big parking lots, the ones where you couldn't see your car from the front door and you had to make your best guess where you parked, because he could never remember. He was always a little paranoid that someone had stolen his car and he'd just walk around the parking lot thinking he just couldn't find it...

...She skipped up the street feeling happier than she had in a long time. Today had been such a perfect day. She'd gotten perfect scores on all her schoolwork, the weather was gorgeous, and Takeo had finally asked her out! Life held no greater joy than that, and she was almost dizzy with the happiness of it all...

Koushiro's mind slowly stopped spinning, and then he was no one but himself again, standing in his own bathroom and looking at the wet spot on the floor where he'd dropped his cup of water. Feeling slightly shaky, he found a washcloth and began mopping up the mess. It took him a moment to realize his headache was gone, as if it had never been.

"Are you okay?" asked Tentomon, peeking through the doorway. "You've been in there a long time."

"Sorry," Koushiro replied. "Something weird just happened. It's like... for a minute there, I was outside myself. I was someone else for a few minutes - lots of different people. I was in their minds."

"Are you sure you're okay?" asked the bug dubiously. "You know you haven't been feeling well lately..."

"I am not hallucinating!" said Koushiro. "It really happened! I was seeing through someone else's eyes - feeling what they felt, thinking their thoughts. I was right there with them. Do you have any idea how weird it was to be a middle-aged housewife instead of me?"

"It still sounds like a dream to me."

"It wasn't a dream," Koushiro answered. "I'll tell you this: my head was hurting like anything right up until that point. Then when I... burst out like that, it stopped. I've been telling you these are no ordinary headaches. I think they were building up to this, and I'd bet my best laptop it's going to happen again."

"So what are you going to do about it?" asked Tentomon.

"The only thing I can do - wait and see what happens next."

~*~

Jyou was nervous. This was nothing unusual; Jyou could always find something to be nervous about, everything from world disasters to minor illnesses. Being at school only seemed to heighten this difficulty. There were always tests and homework and studying to occupy his attention, and unlike many students, Jyou was determined to get the very best grades. While the others around him laughed and chattered, quite unconcerned about how they were going to do on today's test, Jyou was on the edge of his seat with nervousness.

*I've really got to learn to break this habit,* he reflected, chewing on his eraser. *I'm going to get sick if I keep acting like this... I just can't seem to help it. I tell myself I shouldn't get so worked up over little things like this after everything I've been through, but it just happens anyway.*

He took a few deep breaths, trying to get himself under control as the teacher walked into the room. Jyou had never liked this particular professor, a stern elderly woman who had little patience with students who were slow to catch on and would take off points for any offense she could find. Getting chewed out by a teacher wasn't an experience Jyou often had, and the fact that this teacher found reasons to scold him as often as she scolded anyone else made him uncomfortable at the least. He kept his eyes closed as she called the class to order and gave them their instructions for the test, but he couldn't help watching as she began distributing the papers. He was in the fourth row away from her, so he had plenty of time to sit and watch her move slowly forward. He tried to calm himself by going over his notes in his mind, but his brain felt frozen.

*I don't want to do this, I just don't want to do this...* he thought fretfully. *I just wish I could be somewhere else, anywhere but here. I just want to disappear...*

With his stomach in knots, he watched as the teacher finished with the second row and began working on the third one. The room was getting quiet now; he could hear nothing but the sounds of pencils scratching on paper and the click of the teacher's shoes on the hard floor as she moved unstoppably forward. Jyou could not remember ever feeling quite this jumpy before; there was a weird feeling building inside him that made him feel oddly like a cloud about to shoot off a bolt of lightning. He could believe anyone who tried to touch him would get shocked. He tried to calm himself down, closing his eyes and imagining that he was not in this classroom, but outside where the air was fresh and cool and it wouldn't be so hard to breathe. He enjoyed a brief fantasy of what it would be like if he wasn't in this classroom anymore, and everyone was wondering where he'd gone. He wondered if anyone would even miss his presence.

The sound of clicking heels stopped, and Jyou opened his eyes. Clearly he had been daydreaming a bit too long, for the teacher had stopped walking and was now staring down at his desk with a disapproving expression. He tried an apologetic smile.

"Sorry," he said, "I was just-"

"Where is Kido-san?" she asked.

"I don't know," said a nearby student. "He was there just a minute ago."

"Huh?" said Jyou. "What are you talking about? I'm right here."

"Maybe he had to go to the bathroom?" a girl suggested.

"He'd better not be cutting class," the teacher said ominously.

"His stuff's still here," said one student. "He can't have gone far."

"I haven't gone anywhere!" Jyou protested. "Can't you see me? I'm right here talking to you."

"How did he get out of class without us seeing him?" someone wondered.

"He must have been sneaking while my back was turned," said the teacher. "When he gets back, I'm going to give him a talking to. Students are supposed to ask permission before leaving the classroom."

Jyou stared. There was a bit of a scene building up now, as the class speculated on where Jyou might have gone and how he did it without being seen. None of them seemed to realize that the subject of their debate was still there listening to them. Completely confused, Jyou looked down to make sure he was still there, and found himself staring at the top of his desk and an empty chair.

*Invisible?* he thought, stunned. *But how? ... No time to worry about that now. I must be inaudible if they can't hear me, either... This is really weird.*

Very carefully, he got up from his chair and began walking around. Nobody seemed to notice him, not even when he waved a hand in front of someone's face or spoke directly into their ear.

"Am I right," he said loudly, "in believing none of you can see or hear me at all? Because if I am right, there's no reason why I ought to take this stupid test."

There was no answer. The class seemed to have resigned itself to the loss of one of their members, and was now busy taking their test under the watchful eye of their teacher. He felt a strong temptation to start writing things on the board to see if that would get their attention, but decided against it. Tempting as it was, he just didn't feel right about acting out that kind of mischief, even if he was invisible. Instead, he carefully tiptoed towards the door, opened it a crack, and slipped outside. He didn't notice that the words, "Okamoto-sensei is a big fat idiot" wrote themselves across the chalkboard, shimmered there for a moment, and then faded out of sight again.

Meanwhile, Jyou was making tracks up the hallway, going in search of his partner. Gomamon's personality was not suited for classrooms, so he usually stayed outside. There was a decorative fishpond on the university grounds, and once he'd been convinced that the goldfish were to be ornamental and not edible, he'd been allowed to stay outside and play there while his partner pursued his scholarly activities. Now he was happily paddling around the pool, enjoying the pleasant weather. Then, as Jyou drew nearer, the seal stopped what he was doing and stared.

"Jyou?" he called uncertainly. "Are you here?"

"Yeah, I'm here," said Jyou, hoping desperately that Gomamon, at least, could hear him.

"Really?" asked Gomamon. "I can hear you, but I can't see you."

"That makes two of us," Jyou muttered.

"What? You can't see me?"

"No, I can't see me," said Jyou, "and neither can anyone else. One minute I was in class, and the next minute... well, I was still in class, but nobody thought I was."

"Why didn't you tell them?" Gomamon asked.

"I did! It was like they couldn't hear me," answered Jyou helplessly. "Man, I'm going to get in so much trouble for this..."

"How can you get in trouble? It's not your fault you're invisible, is it?"

"I know that, but nobody else does. Besides, who's going to believe I wasn't in class because I randomly disappeared?"

"Why not? Weirder things have happened to you before."

"Yeah, well..." Jyou muttered. "I can't prove this. How can I prove I'm invisible and inaudible? When I am, I can't show or tell anyone, and when I'm not, there's no proof left."

"Write it down," Gomamon suggested. "Or go up and hit somebody. Then they'll know you're there."

"That's really practical," Jyou muttered. "Somehow, I don't think this is the kind of thing ordinary people are going to be able to help me with."

"Guess we'd better find some of the others, then, huh?" asked Gomamon.

"Guess so," Jyou agreed, "and hope they can hear me like you can."

He sighed gloomily, thinking of the long walk he was going to have to make from the university to part of the city his friends were in. Somehow, he didn't think he'd have much luck catching a cab.

~*~

Sora stared with dismay at the telephone.

"Again?" she asked, dismayed.

"I'm sorry, Sora," her father replied. "You know I'm sorry."

"But Dad, this is the third time this year! You promised it wouldn't happen again."

"I know, honey. I really don't mean to keep doing this. Things just keep coming up," answered Professor Takenouchi. "This conference is very important. I have to go. I'll come back on Monday and we'll do something then, all right?"

Sora was not completely appeased. "You said you'd spend the weekend."

"Well, I'm sorry, but that's just not an option right now."

"Can't you go some other time?"

"I could, but it would be a setback. If I don't go, I'm going to miss out on a lot of important things."

"More important than me?"

Professor Takenouchi sighed. "Sora, we've had this discussion before. If I want to keep my job, there are things I have to do. This conference is one of them."

"I know, I know," said Sora sadly. "It's just... I was looking forward to seeing you again. You've been away for a long time..."

"I was looking forward to seeing you, too," her father replied. "It's just not going to work out this time, not the way we planned it. I will come see you soon, though. I'll make something work out if I have to hitchhike all the way to you!"

That made Sora smile a bit. "Thanks, Dad."

"Don't you worry," he said. "We'll be together soon. And now I have to get going - I have an appointment tonight."

"Okay. Don't be late."

"I won't if I don't spend any more time on the phone. See you, Sora."

"Bye, Dad."

Sora hung up the phone with a faint sigh. Piyomon hopped closer to offer her support.

"What did he say?" she chirped.

"He's not coming," Sora replied. "Again."

"I'm sure he would come if he could," said the bird soothingly.

"I know," said Sora. "I just don't like it that he can't. It happens every time - he says he's coming home, and then something comes up. I wish he had a job close to home, so he wouldn't have to keep doing this."

"Can't he look for one?"

"I guess he could... but I don't know if he'd want to. Dad loves his work. He likes traveling around and seeing things. He'd get frustrated if he had to stay here all the time." She gave a faint, sad smile. "I wonder if this is how Mom felt when I was out in the Digital World? Wishing I didn't have to go and knowing I did..."

"Let's not stay in here and worry about it," said Piyomon. "It won't make you feel any better."

"That's true," Sora replied. "Sitting around moping won't do any good. Besides, we shouldn't be indoors on a day like today. Let's take a walk."

"Can I fly instead?" asked Piyomon.

Sora laughed. "Sure! Do anything you want."

They went outside, blinking as they stepped into the sunlight. Sora smiled a little, turning her face toward the breeze and letting it toss her hair. The fresh air revived her a bit - it was hard for her to feel depressed when she was out here enjoying a cool breeze. As if trying to be agreeable, the wind picked up, making her clothing flutter around her. She enjoyed the sensation for a while before setting out on her walk. The breeze followed her, as if it intended to keep her company.

Despite the fact that Sora had come here to get her mind off her troubles, she found that the more she walked, the more her brain began to spin. It was just so frustrating! Why did she have to always come second place to her father's job? There ought to be a way that they could spend some time together. Couldn't her parents look for a new apartment closer to the university? But that would mean leaving Odaiba and being far away from her friends, and she didn't really want that, did she? She frowned; the more she thought about things, the more impossible they began to look.

Unnoticed, Piyomon trotted along beside her partner. She, too, was beginning to feel uneasy, not so much because of her partner's troubles as because the weather seemed to have taken a sudden turn for the worse. When they had left their home, it had been warm and sunny, with only a soft breeze to stir the air. Now the breeze was a respectable wind that whipped past them, tugging at Sora's clothing and bending Piyomon's feathers in the wrong direction. The little bird shivered a little; this wind was cold! More than that, they seemed to have lost their sunshine, for the sky above them was rapidly filling with clouds.

"Sora," said Piyomon, "do you think maybe we should turn back? It looks like it's going to rain."

"I don't care if it rains," said Sora dully. "It doesn't really matter, anyway."

As she spoke, a single teardrop escaped to roll down her cheek. At that moment, the sky opened and began pouring down cold rain. The people on the streets, dressed for the warm and sunny weather, made dashes for the nearest shelter. Sora just stood where she was, looking up at the rain as if in a trance. Piyomon stared in astonishment. There was something very odd about this weather. Through the gaps between buildings, she could see that it was still bright and sunny in other parts of the city. For another thing, rain was now driving down in sheets all around them... but not where Sora stood. An area spreading about two feet all around her was perfectly dry.

"Something weird is going on!" Piyomon complained. "Can we go now? Please?"

Sora continued to stare at the sky as if hypnotized. A peculiarly blank look had come into her eyes; normally a soft brown, they now looked the color of storm clouds. Seeing that just words weren't going to have the effect she wanted, Piyomon decided she needed to take some more direct action, so she took a few paces back and gave her partner a determined shove.

The result was instantaneous. The moment of impact, there was a sudden rippling sensation in the air as if shock waves were rolling out from the two of them. Piyomon was conscious of a buzz and a CRACK! and a searing flash of light. Then she and Sora were lying on a wet sidewalk, feeling the last few timid raindrops quietly depositing themselves on their skin and feathers. There was still a dry circle where Sora had been standing, but now it had a scorch mark and some radiating cracks.

"What happened?" asked Sora dazedly, rubbing her head. "Has it been raining?"

"Are you all right?" Piyomon asked. "You looked so far away for a minute, and weird things were happening."

"Yes," said Sora. "I was far away. I was in the clouds..." She shook herself. "Good grief, what happened to the sidewalk?"

"Lightning struck it," said Piyomon.

"But that's impossible," Sora answered. "Lightning only strikes the highest points. It doesn't hit sidewalks!"

"It did this time! I saw it. You were staring up at the sky, and your eyes went all grey and distant, and then the lightning struck," said Piyomon. She paused, thinking. "It rained when you started to cry, on everything but you."

Sora shook her head. "That's not... it couldn't have happened. Are you trying to tell me that the weather... this happened because of me?"

"It was sunny until you came out," said Piyomon with a shrug of her wings.

"Hm," said Sora.

"Don't you remember anything?"

Sora frowned. "I remember... being very far away, and very high up, like I was suddenly a cloud...." She shook her head, as if to rid herself of a nightmare. Looking at the sky, she saw that the clouds above her were now breaking up, fading from ominous blue-gray to pale silver to white to nothing at all. All that was left of the moment of strangeness were a few puddles and a slightly damaged sidewalk. Even so, Sora had the creeping feeling that now was a good time to try to get in out of the rain.

~*~

Ken Ichijouji sat on a waiting-room chair, flipping through a magazine without really reading it. Wormmon sat draped on his shoulder, trying to offer what moral support he could. Ken was glad of the company. There had been a time when he had been immune to worries like this; as the Kaiser, he'd had practically no emotions whatsoever. Now all his feelings were back in business again, but they had yet to completely reorganize themselves. Even now, many of his childhood worries and fears, buried for so long, continued to resurface... including a childish dislike of doctor's offices.

*This is silly,* he scolded himself, trying to throttle down a worried shiver. *You've got nothing to be afraid of. Even getting shots doesn't hurt that much.* Thinking back to his Digital World days, he thought wryly, *Your teammates have hurt you more than your doctor probably will.*

"Ichijouji-san?" called a nurse. "The doctor will see you now."

"Coming," said Ken, getting to his feet.

The nurse watched him coming with a look of apprehension, and Ken heaved a mental sigh. He'd seen that look before, the slight widening of the eyes and a curl of the lips, the way she moved to take a step backwards. It happened a lot, particularly with sanitary-minded women. He knew what was coming next.

"Could you... leave your caterpillar behind, please?"

Ken's shoulders slumped in resignation. "Sure."

He gently lifted his partner from his perch and set him gently onto an unused chair.

"Sorry, Wormmon," he said. "You know how it goes."

Wormmon's antennae drooped. "I wanted to come with you."

"I wish I could bring you with me, but we don't want to cause any trouble. Just sit here and wait for me. I won't be gone long."

Brave words, Ken mused, as he walked into the examination room. He felt that this was entirely unfair; his nerves were not what they had once been, and he relied heavily on Wormmon for moral support in situations like this. He obeyed the nurse's order to sit down on an examining table with his stomach crawling, thinking to himself that he was going to have to talk to his parents about finding him a nice doctor who wasn't afraid of bugs.

There was a long unexplained wait. Ken sat on the table, swinging his feet a few inches above the ground as he waited for something to happen, trying not to look at the jars of bandages and sharp-looking instruments that lined the shelves. There were posters on the walls, and he tried to interest himself in them, but they were all unfriendly things like the symptoms of assorted juvenile diseases. Soft music was playing from a speaker above his head, but it was rather drowned out from some noise down the hall; it seemed a small child had been brought in for a shot, and the child was objecting violently, screaming as if he expected to be murdered at any second. It was something less than calming.

At last, the doctor himself arrived. He was a professional-looking sort, with neatly clipped, graying hair and a short beard. At the moment, he suited Ken's mood rather well, in that he had a way of looking over the rims of his glasses that made Ken feel six years old again.

"Well, how are we feeling today, hm?" he asked.

"Okay," said Ken, who was now feeling not at all well. Maybe it was the antiseptic smell of the room, but his stomach was starting to feel more than just a little nervous, and he wondered if he looked as pale as he felt. The palms of his hands were sweating, and he tried to discreetly wipe them on his jeans.

"That's good. We'll just see what we can do to keep you feeling that way."

*If I keep on feeling this way, I'm in trouble,* thought Ken as the doctor began investigating his eyes and ears. The queasy feeling was still with him, and as the doctor was putting the tongue depressor in his throat, he wondered what would happen if he threw up on the distinguished doctor.

"All clear here," said the doctor, mercifully allowing Ken to close his mouth and to try to get the wooden taste out of his mouth. "Now we'll just have a listen to your heart..."

However, before he could follow through with that, there was a sudden crashing noise, as one of the pictures on the wall abruptly jumped off the wall and dropped itself rather energetically on the floor, spraying broken glass in all directions. Both Ken and the doctor cringed.

"What was that?" asked Ken, staring at the mess.

"Looks like we just lost a picture," said the doctor. "Don't worry; I'll get someone to clean it up. Maybe we'd better put you into one of the other rooms for a while."

The doctor herded him down the hall and into a different room, and Ken allowed himself to be herded. He was thinking about the picture. It hadn't simply fallen, he was sure. He remembered with almost photographic clarity the way the picture lay facedown on the floor, and the solid nail sticking out of the now empty wall. The wire holding the picture up had not been broken; the nail was still in place. There was no indication of why the picture should have suddenly decided to fall, and Ken got the weird feeling that that was exactly what happened. He had a strange image in his head - it couldn't possibly be a memory - of the picture leaping several feet across the room before it landed. It couldn't have done that, of course... but why had it been lying in the middle of the floor?

He continued to mull over the issue while a nurse in the other room measured him, weighed him, and tested his eyesight. The idea made him uneasy; he couldn't seem to convince himself that he had not seen a picture jump off a wall and fling itself into the air. It didn't seem right, somehow, and he was not keen on going back into that office again.

"Don't worry," said the doctor, catching the look on Ken's face as he made his reentry. "Everything is cleaned up now."

Ken got back on the examining table, moving as gingerly as if he thought there was still broken glass strewn across the floor. The doctor was flipping through his charts.

"Looks like all we need to do right now is listen to your heart and lungs a bit, do a quick blood pressure check - oh, and take a blood sample."

Ken swallowed hard. That was what he'd been hoping to avoid. He still suffered from a childish, irrational fear of being stuck with needles, and he was still wishing he could find some way of getting out of this situation. The feeling continued to build as his checkup progressed until he felt ready to explode. Just as the doctor was finishing up the blood test...

POP.

Ken jumped, nearly spiking himself again on the needle. A jar full of cotton balls had abruptly exploded, spraying the room with bits of plastic and cotton.

"What in the...?" the doctor exclaimed. "What just happened?"

"Uhh... I think I need to get out of here," said Ken. "Bye!"

Before the doctor could react, Ken jumped down off the table and darted out the room, leaving the doctor standing bewildered in the middle of the office, covered in cotton balls.

~*~

Taichi raised a hand to knock on Koushiro's door.

"It's okay, Taichi, the door's unlocked," Koushiro called.

Taichi and Agumon looked at each other.

"How did he know it was me?" Taichi asked. Agumon just shrugged.

The door was indeed unlocked, so the two of them went in. They found Koushiro sitting in the middle of the living room rug, with his legs crossed tailor style and his hands on his knees. His eyes were closed. Tentomon was sitting on the sofa watching him, and though his face was not made for facial expressions, he still looked rather puzzled.

"Come on in," said Koushiro. "The others will be here soon, I think."

"They will?" asked Taichi. "Koushiro, what's going on? How did you know I was coming?"

"I'm not entirely sure yet," he said. "About either of those. I just knew you were coming and you were worried about something. You are worried about something, aren't you?"

"That's right. Something weird happened today. Look!"

Taichi offered his claws for inspection, and Koushiro slowly opened his eyes, shaking himself as if he'd been half-asleep.

"Well, that's interesting," he said, getting up to have a closer look.

"Be careful; they're sharp," Taichi warned. "I accidentally took out a tree with them a little while ago."

"A tree?"

"Well, it was a small tree."

"You should be more careful, Taichi. We need all the trees we can get."

"Yeah, I know. Skip the ecology lesson, would you? What I want to know is why I'm suddenly turning into a vegetable slicer."

"I'd like some answers, myself," said Koushiro. "You're not the only one who's had a weird afternoon."

"Yeah, you said the others were coming. What happened to them?"

Koushiro shrugged. "I'm really not sure. I've been trying to find out, but it's... hard to control."

Taichi and Agumon made identical confused faces.

"What's hard to control?" asked Taichi.

Koushiro shrugged. "It's a little hard to explain. I'd really rather wait until the others show up. Then we can all explain at once."

"Fine," said Taichi. "Then can I at least have a drink or something? It's been hard day, and I'm thirsty."

"Help yourself."

Taichi carefully opened the fridge, noting that razor claws were not practical for opening things. Luckily, there was a can of soda within easy reach. Unluckily, he grabbed it a little too hard, and jets of cola sprayed across the floor. He looked with dismay at the ruined can and the puddles on the floor. Koushiro shook his head.

"On second though," he said, "maybe I'd better get a drink for you."

Within a few minutes, various other members of the Digidestined team arrived at Koushiro's apartment and began settling in. Ken was the last to arrive, carrying a confused Wormmon and looking rather winded, and was rather surprised to see how many of his friends seemed to have had the same idea. He was even more surprised to see Taichi sitting in a chair and sipping soda from a soup bowl that was cupped gingerly in his palms.

"With all due respect to Tailmon," said Taichi, "I'm starting to feel like a cat."

"Hi there. Come on in," Koushiro greeted. "Take a seat anywhere. No, not there, Ken - Jyou's sitting there."

"He is?" asked Ken, staring at the apparently vacant furniture.

"Yes, I am," said a gloomy voice from the vicinity of the chair.

"Yeah, that's Jyou," said Sora with a shrug. "Only he could sound so depressed."

"I'm not depressed," said Jyou. "I'm just annoyed because I'm stuck being invisible."

"This is going to be a fun meeting," said Ken, shaking his head bemusedly.

"Well, I think I have at least some idea why you're all here today," said Koushiro, glancing from Taichi's talons to the place where Jyou should have been. "Would anyone like to explain in a little more detail?"

"Isn't it obvious?" said Jyou. "I'm invisible. I was inaudible a little while ago, but it looks like it's cleared up."

"Too bad," Gomamon muttered. "Then we couldn't hear you complain."

"Interesting," said Koushiro blandly. "Sora? What brings you here?"

"I'm still not really sure," she said shakily. "I was just walking down the sidewalk, and out of nowhere it started to rain. You saw what the weather was like today - not a cloud in the sky, but it was coming down in buckets where I was... all but a few feet around me. And then Piyomon says I kind of blanked out for a while, and lightning struck the place I was standing."

"I was at the doctor's office," said Ken, "and all of a sudden, things started blowing up around me for no reason. First this picture jumped off the wall and smashed itself on the floor, and then this jar of cotton balls exploded, so I ran out of the office. I took out two street lights and a flower pot on the way here."

"Somehow, I'm not really surprised," said Koushiro thoughtfully. "Even without the other things going on, I wouldn't be surprised... Taichi? It's pretty obvious what your problem is."

"Don't remind me," said Tachi, scowling at his hands. "It's a good thing I play soccer and not basketball. Can you imagine me trying to shoot hoops like this?"

"As for me," said Koushiro, "I've been having these weird visions - like out of body experiences. For a few minutes, I'm suddenly someone else. Reading minds, in a way. I've been experimenting a little, trying to see if I can narrow the scope down. That's how I knew you all were in trouble."

"So, do you have any idea why this is happening?" asked Sora. "It can't just be a coincidence, can it?"

"I don't think it is," Koushiro replied. "We're just going to have to figure out why this is happening now. Any suggestions?"

"I have a question," said Ken. "Why did you say you weren't surprised? I would think making things randomly explode would count as surprising."

"In and of itself, perhaps," said Koushiro, "but I've heard of that kind of thing before. You've heard of poltergeists, haven't you?"

"Aren't they like ghosts?" asked Taichi dubiously.

"That was what people used to think," Koushiro replied. "Now a lot of paranormal experts believe that the phenomenon is caused by emotional energy, particular from teenagers who are undergoing or have undergone some psychological stresses. No offense, Ken, but that fits you pretty well."

Ken frowned a little, then shrugged. "Now that you mention it, today hasn't been one of my better days."

"Really? Why not?" asked Sora.

"Doctor's office," Ken replied with a grimace. "I know I'm too old to be afraid of a doctor, but..."

"So you were afraid," said Koushiro thoughtfully, "and you were trying to repress it, and it manifested itself as telekinesis."

"As what?" asked Taichi.

"Moving things without touching them," Ken clarified.

"Guess today's one of those days," said Taichi. "I was ticked off about losing the soccer match today. That's why I knocked the tree down. Of course, I didn't really mean to knock it down, but..."

Koushiro was looking thoughtful. "You know, Taichi, I think you might be on to something. Jyou, Sora, what were you doing when things started getting crazy?"

"I was taking a test," said Jyou sulkily, "which I'm now probably going to flunk because they all think I was skipping class."

"Yes, but you didn't really want to take it in the first place, did you?"

"No, not really..."

"Thought so," said Koushiro, with a nod of satisfaction. "Sora?"

"I was taking a walk," said Sora. "Nothing special."

"Are you sure?" Koushiro persisted. "Think. Did something happen to you while you were walking? Or before?"

"Only that my dad called. He said... he said he couldn't come home this weekend," she said, with a catch in her voice. "I went for a walk to try to settle down."

As she spoke, a wind blew outside, making the windows rattle, and the assembled company jumped.

"It rained when she started to cry," Piyomon put in.

Koushiro nodded. "And I've been worrying for weeks over my college entrance exams. It's official - all of us were stressed and worried today, and it came out as all this. Taichi got angry and sprouted claws; Sora cried and it came out as rain; Jyou was wishing he could be somewhere else and he could; Ken was scared and he made things explode; I was trying to know everything, and now I know more than I wanted to," he finished wryly.

"There's got to be something more to it than that," said Ken. "I mean, not everyone has this stuff happen to them when they get upset."

"We're not everyone," said Jyou.

"True," said Koushiro. "Maybe it does have something to do with us being Chosen Children... or because we stayed in the Digital World for so long. I'll talk to Gennai about it and see if I can come up with some answers."

"How long is that going to take?" asked Jyou. "I can't stay invisible like this all week!"

"Actually," said Ken, "I can see you just fine."

"You can?" Jyou asked, sounding surprised. At the same moment, he suddenly blinked back into view again.

"Yes, I can see you perfectly," Ken replied, sounding smug.

"How did you do that?" asked Koushiro. He sounded a bit miffed that Ken had figured out something he hadn't.

Ken shrugged. "Just a hunch. I figured if he could make himself invisible just by wanting to be, I thought he might be able to make himself visible again if he thought he was."

"Oh," said Koushiro. "I think that's logical. Yes, that would be right - if this is in some sense a physical manifestation of some unconscious state..."

"Yeah, now that you mention it, I started being audible again when I wanted to talk to Gomamon," said Jyou.

"Techno-talk later," said Taichi. "If I'm understanding you two right, I should be able to get rid of these claws just by thinking they're not there anymore?"

"Probably," Koushrio said.

"All right, then! Maybe I should have gone looking for Ken instead of you."

Taichi closed his eyes tightly, concentrating as hard as he could on his own ordinary hands. Slowly, reluctantly, the claws shrank away and were replaced by a set of human fingers.

"Well, I'm glad that worked," said Taichi. "Do you think they'll come back? I don't want to have to deal with having razor blades stuck to my hands all the time."

"They might," said Koushiro, "especially if you let yourself get upset again. If I were you, I'd double-check before you attend to any itches."

"Cute," said Taichi. "Anyway, do you think any of the others are having this problem?"

"Maybe they aren't having the day from down under," Jyou said. "If they're happy, they should be okay for now, right?"

"Probably," said Koushiro. "We'd better watch our steps, though. We don't want to send anyone into a panic, but if you see any of the others, you might think about warning them... Oh, and tell them to stay calm!"

~*~

Taichi walked home quickly, doing his best to keep his mind blank, concentrating only on where he was putting his feet. Almost without thinking, he began moving into a run. Tiring as his soccer game had been, it felt good to be dashing up the sidewalks with the wind in his hair, as if he could escape all his troubles if he just ran fast enough. He didn't even feel that tired, really, just pleasantly warm...

"Hey, Taichi! Wait up!"

Taichi skidded to a stop at a street corner and turned around. Agumon was trotting along a block behind him, waving a claw in a futile effort to attract his partner's attention. Taichi felt a bit sheepish; he hadn't realized he'd been running quite that fast.

"Sorry, pal," he said, when Agumon had drawn near enough that they could converse comfortably. "I guess I got a little carried away."

"That's okay," Agumon replied. "I know you've had a tough day. You can't help having longer legs than me."

That made Taichi laugh. "Hey, I'll tell you what. We're almost home - how about I carry you the rest of the way?"

He knelt and let Agumon scramble onto his back so he could carry him piggy-back style. He never minded doing it - in this world of long-legged humans, there were some places that just weren't designed to be easy for a miniature dinosaur to reach. Still, it would have been hard work if they'd been planning to go more than a few blocks. Agumon might have been small, but he was also muscular, and weighed more than he looked like he might. Taichi could manage the load better now than he could have when he was eleven, but it still wasn't something that should have been easy to do after a long, stressful day. He was surprised when he straightened up; he barely felt the weight. Expecting more resistance, he straightened too fast and nearly tipped over.

"Whoops!" he said.

"Whoa!" Agumon yelped.

"Sorry," said Taichi. "Lost my balance. I'm okay now."

He moved into a trot, thinking. Either he was numb from shock, or something funny was going on. He wondered if snapping the poor tree in half had been done with more than just his sharp claws. Was something happening to him that couldn't be seen with the naked eye? He almost hoped so. Claws would be an inconvenience, but if it came with a boost in strength and speed, they might be worth the tradeoff.

When he arrived at his apartment, he was still mulling over the implications of this strange new situation. He almost missed seeing his sister, and when she spoke, he nearly dropped Agumon all over again.

"Hello, Taichi."

Taichi jumped. "Don't startle me like that!"

"Sorry. I didn't mean to."

There was something odd about the way she spoke, something distant, as if she were worried or sad. Taichi looked at her for a clue. All he saw was her sitting curled up on the sofa, elbows propped on one of its arms, staring off into nowhere. Tailmon, sitting in a similar fashion nearby, met Taichi's gaze and shrugged.

"She's just having one of those days," she explained.

Taichi let Agumon slide down onto the nearest chair. "What kind of day is that? Don't tell me she had one like mine."

Tailmon heard the disgust in his voice and misinterpreted it.

"Well, it's not like she had a bad day," she explained. "She's just in one of her weird moods. She'll snap out of it. She always does."

"I dunno," said Taichi. "It's been one of those days all around... What is wrong, anyway, Hikari?"

"I don't know," she said, still in that faraway voice. "I just have this feeling... Like a power has settled around me. That sounds weird, doesn't it?"

"Not as weird as you might think," Taichi muttered. "Do you know what kind of, um, power this is?"

She shook her head. "No idea. I've felt something like it before, but I can't remember where. I haven't tried to use it. Should I, do you think?"

"Maybe not," said Taichi. "Not until you hear what kind of day the rest of us are having." Briefly, he filled her in on the kind of troubles some of their friends were having. She listened with interest, but not disbelief. That was what he'd expected. He doubted there was anything left that Hikari would react to with disbelief.

"I knew something strange was going on today," said Hikari. "Maybe that's the force I felt gathering."

"You don't think you're going to start spontaneously breaking out in lightning bolts or something, do you?" Taichi asked.

"I don't think so," she said, but she didn't sound very certain. "Still, there's something..."

"Well, if you feel something weird coming on, warn me about it," said Taichi.

"I'll try," she said. "I can't promise much, though. If what you say is true, these things kind of sneak up on you."

"Then maybe you should try it and get it over with?" Agumon suggested. "I mean, so far nothing really bad hasn't happened..."

"No, just annoying things," said Taichi, "and don't tell Jyou nothing really bad has happened after he gets chewed out for skipping his test."

Hikari giggled, just a little, and looked more like her usual self. "I wouldn't dream of it."

Tailmon seemed to be considering, flicking her ears back and forth.

"I think maybe you should test it," she said. "At least then you'll know what you're dealing with. Better that than have it jump out and surprise you while you're in school. What if you hurt someone?"

"Good point," said Hikari. "Okay. Where can we practice where nobody will notice?"

Taichi frowned, thinking. "How about... down by the beach, maybe? Nobody will be there, late as it is. The water's still too cold for swimming, anyway."

"And you won't set anything on fire," said Agumon helpfully.

"Great," said Hikari. "That's very comforting."

They left the apartment, calling ambiguous excuses to their parents to the tune of wanting to take a walk. As the sun set slowly, they headed for the nearest stretch of seawater. It would have been a quick trip, had they been inclined to take the bus, but neither of them wanted to be seen if something were to happen to them unexpectedly. Instead, they walked. It took some time, and the sun had nearly set by the time they found a private area - a rarity in such a densely populated city. They managed to hide themselves away behind a warehouse by the docks, where some stacks of crates and loading equipment offered partial shielding. The workers who had been there earlier were now gone, and the only living things left were a few seagulls.

"This looks like as good a spot as any," said Taichi. "I just hope we don't have to hang around too long. This isn't exactly the kind of place you want to be after dark."

"I don't think it will take long," said Hikari. She was sounding far away again, looking out at the ocean. "I feel like this power almost wants to be used..."

"Well, let's get it over with so we can go home," said Taichi, made uneasy by the strange look in her eyes.

Hikari said nothing, but continued staring out at the water. She could feel something moving inside her, a vertigo-inducing tug. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling, no worse than she would have felt riding a swing, or when Nefertimon carried her into battle. The more she gave into it, the more aware she became of the ocean moving around her. There was power moving there, too, in the pounding of the waves and shifting of the tides. Shifting her attention, she felt other things - a warm, fiery presence that was Agumon, a sense of strength and energy radiating from Taichi, a sense as of sharp edges from Gatomon, and, more distant, an electric humming of city lights. It felt warm and pleasant, like being in a fizzy whirlpool bath.

"Um... Hikari?" That was Taichi's voice. He sounded far away. She didn't want to strain to listen to him, not while she was in this nice pleasant place.

"Hikari!" That was Tailmon. Clearly they were not going to leave her alone. "Hikari, wake up! You've got to see this!"

See what? What could be so important? Slowly, slowly, she opened her eyes.

There was a very small thunderstorm in front of her. It hovered in place, flashing tiny bolts of lightning and driving rain into the steaming ocean surface.

"Did I do that?" she asked aloud.

"You must have," said Taichi, looking from her to the storm and back again. "I mean, that's not exactly natural, is it?"

Curious, he reached out to put his hand into the streams of rain - and jerked it back.

"Ouch! It's hot!" he yelped.

"Is it?" asked Hikari. She reached out to touch it as well, then stopped. There was a shimmer of blades at her fingertips. Even as she looked, they melted away and left her with her usual fingers. She stared.

"Claws," she said softly, "and water, and lightning, and heat..."

"What are you talking about?" Taichi asked.

"Just a minute ago, I was thinking about the water in the ocean, and I could feel the way it moved... and I felt Agumon's fire, and Tailmon's claws - maybe yours, too - and the electricity in the buildings... and I channeled it through me and it all mashed together..."

"So you heated the water up to make a cloud, and the electricity made lightning," said Taichi. "So basically... I guess you don't have just one ability; you draw on whatever's nearby. It's a good thing we didn't practice indoors! You really might have set something on fire... Can you get rid of that cloud? We can't just leave it here."

"I think it's kind of pretty," said Hikari dreamily. Still, she closed her eyes, feeling for its power, and made it all drain back to wherever it had come from. She felt it running through her, rocking her with the rhythm of the waves, sparking light lightning, burning like fire, cutting like knives. She felt her knees buckle, and she dropped. Taichi ran to catch her.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Sure," she said weakly. "I'm just... drained... all of a sudden. Can we go home?"

"Yeah," he said. "I think we'd better go home."

~*~

The next day, an e-mail went out to all members of the Chosen Children group to meet up at Koushiro's house. Some, who hadn't yet heard of the outbreak of strangeness, were confused and worried. To Taichi, it was a relief, and he reported to the meeting five minutes early. Once again, he found Koushiro sitting in the middle of his living room, legs crossed, hands resting on his knees, eyes closed.

"Why do you keep doing that?" he said. "You look weird - like some kind of mountain guru or something."

"It helps me," said Koushiro, a little vaguely. "With the visions, I mean. For some strange reason, sitting this way helps me focus... and it doesn't hurt as much. I've read somewhere that crossing your arms and legs helps balance your body's electrical fields, so maybe-"

"I'm sorry I asked," said Taichi. "So, what's the deal? Have you got some answers for us?"

"Maybe," said Koushiro. He opened his eyes and stood up. "I had a chat with Gennai last night, and we batted around some ideas, but I need to run a test or two. I already tested myself, so I have an educated guess what's happening, but just to be safe, I want to test everyone."

"Well, what's your educated guess?"

Koushiro gave him a look of mild irritation. "Can't you wait until everyone else gets here?"

"I've got a cut on my leg from where I scratched myself before I was really awake this morning. I reduced a pencil to toothpicks during a test. My locker door now has a row of scratches down the front. I cut the handle off of my bicycle on the way over here. I want to know now."

"All right, all right, take it easy," said Koushiro.

He might have said more, but at that moment, the door opened, and Daisuke and V-mon bounded in.

"Hi, guys!" he greeted. "Are we having a party, or what?"

"Not exactly," said Taichi with resignation. He liked Daisuke like a little brother, but there were times when he could be too cheerful.

"Oh, well," said Daisuke resignedly. "But the others are coming, right? 'Cause I talked to Takeru and he said he got the letter too, and I tried to talk to Ken and Hikari and they said I'd find out when I got here. So why am I here?"

"You're here to find out why the rest of us are here," said Koushiro.

"Oh!" He looked at V-mon. "Did that make sense?"

"Nuh-uh," said V-mon.

"That's what I thought."

There was a knock on the door.

"Come in!" Koushiro shouted.

Takeru, Hikari, Miyako, Iori and their Digimon arrived, looking apprehensive or curious according to their nature. Taichi was relieved to see that Hikari looked more alert than she had yesterday; maybe she had used up some of whatever had been bothering her with their experiment the night before. Takeru and Iori were both being quiet, but Miyako was in the middle of a complaint.

"...to tell us about these things," she was saying. It was unclear to whom; nobody really seemed to be listening to her. "I mean, what if I'd been doing something important?"

"Hey, it's not like you've got a social life or anything," Daisuke teased.

"Oh, you're here," she said. "How'd you get here so early?"

He shrugged. "I took the subway. What did you do, walk?"

"We all decided to come together," said Iori in his usual serious way. "We waited for you a while, but we didn't see you."

He shrugged. "I figured you'd catch up. So, where's the rest of the gang? Shouldn't they be here by now?"

"Give them time," said Taichi. "Their schools are further away... I only got here this fast because I skipped out on the last few minutes of class."

Takeru gave him a hard stare. "What did you do that for?"

"Hey, you'd have left, too, if you were in my shoes! Or maybe that should be gloves," he added, staring down at his hands. The claws had reappeared again. "I can't control these things! They keep sprouting out while I'm not thinking about them! I had to tell the teacher I was sick."

"Claws?" Takeru repeated, staring.

"Yeah," Taichi sighed.

"I start to see why we had to have a meeting," said Miyako.

In due time, the others arrived. The only ones who couldn't come were Mimi and Palmon, who were still residing in America - unfortunate, but they would find a way to get the news to her somehow. In the meantime, Koushiro sized up his guests and considered how best to begin his explanations.

"How much does everybody know about what's going on?" he asked at last.

"Not much," Yamato admitted.

"I didn't really feel like talking about it," said Taichi. "It's kind of embarrassing, you know?"

"I'll say," Jyou muttered.

"So, what is it?" Miyako demanded.

"Well..." said Koushiro slowly, "it's... a problem. Or a complication. And I don't think there's any way to get rid of it."

"I should have known," Jyou moaned.

Koushiro ignored him. "Come here, and I'll show you what I mean."

He beckoned for the others to follow him into his room, where his old laptop computer was set up. There was something else hooked up to it, a boxy contraption with a bunch of trailing wires that gave it an improvised look.

"Sorry for the mess," said Koushiro as he sat down at his desk. "I had to jerry-rig this scanner in a hurry. Even with Gennai's instructions, it still took half the night."

"What is it?" asked Daisuke, eyeing the contraption dubiously. "Is it going to hurt?"

"Not much," Koushiro replied. "It's an adaptation of my old Digimon identifier - crude, but effective. I tested it as thoroughly as I could, anyway."

"Quit beating around the bush," said Taichi.

"I'm getting there! See, just look. This..." he gestured at the box, as his computer began whirring to life, "...is a kind of cellular analyzer. It checks for the presence of Digital matter in any substance I feed into it. Watch. These are some hairs I swiped from my mom's hairbrush."

He placed the hairs on his desk and ran the scanner over them. A window on the computer appeared, showing a spinning hourglass for a moment before flashing a message: "Computation complete! 0%."

"See that? For an ordinary human, it shouldn't register anything," said Koushiro. "Now, this is a bit of the last skin Tentomon shed."

He scanned the new sample. The computer hummed some more and gave a new reading: 100%.

"Now for the interesting bit," said Koushiro. "Watch closely."

Wincing, he pulled a few hairs from his own head and set them under the scanner. The window changed again: 34%.

"What in the...?" said Takeru, staring. "What's that all about?"

"That's the answer to our problems," Koushiro answered. "Every one of us have spent long periods of time in a world not our own. Entering the Digital World requires making a fundamental change in our makeup - we have to become digital, if only temporarily. While we're there, we breathe digital air, drink digital water, and eat digital food. It's gotten into our systems. There's a possibility it might eventually wear off, but..."

"But it's just as likely that it might not," Ken finished.

"Right," said Koushiro with a resigned sigh. "Since it's never happened before, there really isn't any way to predict it. The only thing I can tell you for sure is that the change seems to be manifesting itself through these strange effects. My guess is that the higher the numbers read, the more powerful and versatile the effects are going to be - they're probably related to how much time you actually spent in the Digital World."

"Which is why it got me and you and Jyou and Sora first," said Taichi. "I mean, we were living there for weeks, right?"

"So was I," said Ken quietly.

"So maybe if I'm lucky, I won't have to put up with all this?" asked Miyako.

"Aw, I dunno," said Daisuke. "I think it might be kind of fun to have superpowers like that. Kinda like on TV."

"You already saved the entire known universe - what more do you want?" asked Takeru.

Daisuke shrugged. "I just don't want to be bored."

"Well, I can test you if you want to know for sure," said Koushiro with a hint of irritation. "Come here."

He plucked a few hairs from Daisuke's head, making him yelp.

"Ow! Man! Can't you just take a fingernail clipping or something?"

While Daisuke rubbed at his sore scalp, Hikari quietly produced a pair of nail clippers so the rest of the group could take their tests painlessly. The results were less than encouraging - each one of them scored at least 15% percent. Unsurprisingly, the five who had originally had problems scored highly, but the highest number of all went to, of all people, Hikari.

"That's odd," said Koushiro, frowning. The screen was unhelpfully flashing "62%" at him, and he glared as if he thought it might have been making it all up to annoy him. "Takeru spent twice as much time in the Digital World as she did, and he didn't even score half as high. What makes her so special?"

"Hikari's like that," said Taichi. "She picks up on things. She always has."

"Hmm," said Koushiro thoughtfully. "I'm going to have to think about that."

"Think later," said Daisuke. He had scored fairly low, and could afford to be calm about the whole thing. "It's time to go home now. I think Jyou's hungry."

"Huh?" said Jyou. "How did you...?"

He looked up. There was an illusory shrimp dinner hovering peacefully in the air next to him. He glared at it, and it slowly faded away.

"There," he said. "You see what I have to put up with?"

"Are we ever going to be able to control this?" asked Sora. "I mean, I don't want to spend the rest of my life worrying I'm going to get angry at someone and shoot a lightning bolt at them."

Koushiro shook his head helplessly. "It's too early to say. It seems like you can control it with some mental effort, but..." For the first time, he lost his professor-like cool, his voice breaking a bit. "...I can't even figure out how to control my own powers, much less yours."

A gentle hand rested on his shoulder. Something about the touch seemed to drain the tension out of him, and he looked up to see a pair of soft brown eyes regarding him worriedly. Hikari was bothered seeing friend, who was usually so calm and knowledgeable, apparently teetering on the edge of a breakdown. It would have been against her nature not to try to help.

"You need to rest, I think," she said. "Didn't you say you were up all night working on that machine? You deserve a nap."

He offered a grateful smile. "I guess maybe I do. All right, meeting adjourned. I'll work on this some more and try to have some more information - later," he added, intercepting a glare from Hikari.

The group said subdued goodbyes and filed out of the room, pondering the cards that Fate had dealt them and wondering what would come next, their partners accompanying them in supportive silence. Koushiro watched silently as they walked out - and then doubled over as a fresh wave of pain smote him through the brain, making his vision dance briefly with glimpses of -

...the strangest thing. He'd never seen a sample quite like this before, and he'd seen a lot in his medical career. It reminded him vaguely of sickle-cell anemia - the cells were definitely malformed. Perhaps some new strain of cancer? The thought worried him. Maybe he needed to pass this case off to someone better equipped to deal with it...

Koushiro came out of the vision and shook himself, reflecting wryly that his new abilities had at least one use: now he could know firsthand that he wasn't the only one having a confusing day.

To be continued...