After the meeting at Koushiro's, Yamato walked home at a leisurely pace. Twilight was gathering, and the sky was full of gilt-edged blue clouds that glided smoothly across the sky, nebulous and insubstantial as his thoughts.
*So, we're all going to have these strange powers now,* he mused, trying the thought on for size. He was surprised to find that it wasn't particularly disturbing. It was just another step beyond everything else he'd been asked to do, and while he might not care for the idea, he thought he could learn to deal with it. At least, he hoped he could. He thought again of Jyou's random outbreaks of illusions and Taichi's claws and winced a bit.
"Are you all right, Yamato?" asked Gabumon.
"Um... yeah, I think so," the boy replied, pulling his thoughts back down to earth. "Just wondering what's going to happen to me next. It's always something, isn't it?"
"But you never know... it might not be so bad," Yamato continued. "It might be useful to be able to control the weather like Sora or make illusions like Jyou... Taichi's abilities aren't bad, either."
He thought about that for a while. It seemed to him that there was some logic in the way these abilities were being parceled out. Sora had always been associated with flying, so why shouldn't she control the sky? Taichi had always been the warrior of the group; now he could do that job that much better...
*Actually, it was Taichi and I who did a lot of the major fighting. We were the first ones to have our partners evolve. We were the only ones in our group whose partners went to Ultimate. Wouldn't it make sense that my abilities would be similar to his?*
He pondered that idea a while. What would his abilities be like? Would he gain enhanced strength and speed like Taichi? Or maybe they would have something to do with his partner's cold fires? No matter what it was, he was sure he'd wind up fighting alongside his friend, just as he always had. That was how his life usually worked, right?
He stopped walking for a moment, standing in the middle of the sidewalk with his eyes closed, willing his power to show itself. He felt nothing, other than a little silly for just standing there doing nothing. Whatever his power was, it was remaining steadfastly hidden.
*Well,* he told himself, *it will show itself sooner or later.*
He started walking home again, trying to take his mind off the subject, because for the first time that evening, he was starting to feel unnerved.
Sora sat by her window, watching the clouds. She had always loved watching clouds, especially when she had been very young. Her bed had been placed in just such a way as to facilitate cloud watching, so she could lie there for hours and stare up at the shifting cloud patterns, imagining this one to be a bird and that one a dragon or a cat. Now she watched them and let her mind wander where it would.
*It's never going to be quite the same again, is it?* she mused. *Not while I know...*
Instead of finishing the thought, she turned her attentions to the clouds themselves - not just idly looking at them, but consciously taking in their every detail, every shadow and highlight, every wisp and billow. Instantly, they seemed to fill her vision, blocking out the buildings, streets, and lights, until her whole world was nothing but slowly shifting clouds.
*Move,* she told them. *Go away.*
Despite the fact that her body was safely surrounded by the thick walls of a building, her mind felt a wind start to blow, and the clouds that had been drifting in began rolling back out to sea, revealing a sky full of stars and an elliptical moon.
The wind died, then shifted. The clouds rolled back in. For a moment, Sora felt their cool softness wrapping around her, gentle and comforting. Then her mind snapped back into her body, and all she felt was a stiffness in her legs from sitting too long in an uncomfortable position. Outside, she could still see the results of her work: a sky that was completely filled with clouds, so that not even the strong light of the moon filtered through them. Suddenly, the thought of being able to blot out the stars made her feel cold all over.
*Why is this happening to me?* she thought. *I never asked for this kind of power... Isn't saving two worlds twice over enough? At least I was given those powers for a reason. This is just a stupid accident that I can do this. There's no point to it...*
She suddenly felt in desperate need to talk to someone. Not to Piyomon - she would listen, as she always did, but she was just as scared and confused by all this as Sora was, if not more so. No, what Sora really needed was someone calm and knowledgeable who wouldn't be unnerved by strange goings-on.
Sora got up and reached for her telephone.
"Who are you calling?" Piyomon asked.
"Someone I hope can help me deal with all this," Sora replied. Her fingers were dialing the number of their own accord, as if they had just been waiting for her brain to realize what they were supposed to be doing. Within seconds, she heard the sound of a phone being lifted and a familiar voice on the other end.
"Hi, Dad. It's me again."
"Sora! It's not like you to call so late. Is something wrong?"
Sora hesitated. Then, slowly, she said, "You might say that..."
She began explaining the events of her day as best she could. The only thing she left out was the possibility that the outbreak of these strange new abilities had probably been triggered by her disappointment that her father wasn't coming home to see her. She wasn't sure why; partly it just made her feel guilty to think of trying to lay any of the blame for this on him. For now, she simply wanted it to sound as if this was a random happening. When she was done, she waited anxiously for his response. He hadn't said a word while she was telling her story, and now that she was done, he remained silent. She knew what that meant. It meant he thought this was too serious for a playful remark; he was thinking hard about it before he said anything, so she waited. When she got her response, though, she was the one who was shocked into silence.
"I'm coming home," he said.
Sora was stunned.
"Did you hear me?" he asked. "Hello? Are you still there?"
"Do you mean it?" asked Sora. "I thought you said you had to go to the conference... You said you couldn't miss it..."
"It's more important that I be there when you need me. It sounds like you need me there now," her father replied. "Give me a little time to get packed. I'll be there tomorrow morning."
"Thanks, Dad," she said. "This means a lot to me."
"Get some sleep," her father told her. "It's late, and you've had a long day, it sounds like. No matter what kind of situation you're in right now, I'd imagine a good night's rest would do you some good."
"Don't worry, Dad, I will," she told him. "See you tomorrow... and thanks again."
"Good night, Sora. Pleasant dreams."
Sora hung up the phone with a smile on her face. She sank back onto her bed with a sigh.
"What did he say?" Piyomon chirped. "Something good, right?"
"He's coming home," said Sora. "Dad's coming home, after all!"
"That's great!" said Piyomon happily. "He'll be able to help, right?"
"I hope so," Sora replied. "But even if he can't, just having him here will make me feel a lot better..."
For the first time that day, she broke into a real smile. High overhead, the clouds silently broke up and disappeared.
Appropriately, the next day dawned clear and bright, without a cloud in the sky, and a brisk breeze blowing. To Daisuke, it seemed that the world was trying to communicate a message to him: go outside and play soccer. Who was he to turn down a message like that? After all, it was Saturday, and he had nowhere else he needed to be, so...
"Mom, Dad, I'm going to the park!" he shouted. "I'll be back for lunch, okay?"
"All right," said his mother's voice vaguely. It sounded as if she was occupied with something else. As Daisuke headed for the front door, he noticed her mopping the kitchen floor and pretending not to be interested in the cartoons Jun was watching. Daisuke shook his head. TV was fine in its place, but anybody who could stand sitting at home doing nothing on a beautiful day like this had to be half brain-dead.
*Which explains my sister. Nice girl, not heavy on brain cells. You'd never know we were related, sometimes.*
He headed out the door and made tracks toward the park. All around him, other people were walking to their own chosen destinations. Not Daisuke, though. He ran. He loved the feel of the wind in his hair, of cutting through the air around him, dodging around all the dull slow-moving people around him, feeling completely free and unrestrained. He even had enough breath to laugh as he cut through a group of surprised-looking businessmen on their way to an early lunch. Nearing the park, he leaned into his run and began moving full-throttle, trying to see how fast he could go.
*Not bad,* he thought, slowing to a walk so he could catch his breath. *If I wasn't already on the soccer team, I might join the track team.*
He walked slowly through the park, searching for others like himself who needed something to do on a day like this. Luck was with him; a group of his acquaintances from school had already started a casual game.
"Hey, guys!" he called. "Room for one more?"
"We need another player on this side," one of the guys called back.
"No fair!" said a pigtailed girl. "He's better than us!"
"You're just saying that 'cause you're winning," the first boy shot back.
Daisuke joined the boy's team, and they huddled together for a brief discussion of tactics. The other team already had a substantial lead, and by this point, they were willing to take on anyone who had a chance of helping them pull ahead. When they were ready, they broke up and continued the game.
Right away, Daisuke knew one thing: the girl who had complained really hadn't been being fair. She was as good as anyone on his school soccer team, and quite possibly better than some of them; he wondered why she wasn't on the team herself. It wasn't quite like playing against Ken again, but she was still quite good enough to give Daisuke a run for his money. Despite his best efforts, his ragtag team was only holding their own. If they were going to start gaining any ground, something was going to have to give. He cringed as one of his players kicked the ball toward the opposing team's goal, only to have it intercepted and driven the other way. Daisuke began running to try to stop them, but he was on the wrong side of the field. He would never get there in time...
*Man, if I could just move a little faster...*
There was a blur. Daisuke felt the world lurch around him, as if gravity had just turned itself sideways. The next thing he knew, he was standing on the other side of the field. The next thing to hit him after that was a soccer ball, which soared through the air and bonked him on the head. It bounced off and rolled away, while Daisuke watched it blankly and thought, *How did that get there?* Then he looked up and saw everyone staring at him.
"Ummm..." he said. "I gotta go now. Bye!"
And for the first time in his life, he turned around and ran from a soccer game as fast as his feet could carry him... and hoping as hard as he could that it would be only his feet doing the carrying.
Iori walked. He was not the kind to hurry, not unless there was some life-threatening emergency afoot. Right now, he was simply out running an errand, and that was reason enough to be quick, but not to rush. His mother had sent him up the street and around the corner to pick up a jug of milk and some bread, just enough to last until she had time to do the rest of the shopping. That was fine with Iori. He often worried about his mother, having to take care of nearly everything on her own, and he felt sometimes in a dim way that he ought to be doing what he could to take care of her, rather than the other way around.
Stopping by a lamp post, he set down his burdens for a moment to collect himself. He'd had enough kendo training that he was strong for his age, but a gallon of milk was a large and awkward thing for a boy to have to manage with one hand, and he was already getting tired of carrying it, even though he'd only gone half a block so far. He could actually see his apartment building from here, but the way to it looked interminable. He sighed.
*Too bad my Digimon is still usually a Baby II stage in the Real World,* he thought. If Armadimon had been there, he could have carried the groceries himself, and possibly Iori as well, but Upamon could barely have made the walk without being carried - it was tough work getting around without legs, and baby Digimon tired quickly. Knowing he'd need both hands to manage the groceries, Iori had been forced to leave his partner behind.
*Maybe we'll do something fun together later,* he thought, as he bent to pick up the jug again. *I wonder if it would be safe to visit the Digital World for a while?*
The idea appealed to him, at least in part. Now that the Digital World was supposed to be free of anything particularly dangerous, he and his friends had made several trips there just for their own enjoyment. Iori in particular felt he had a certain responsibility to explore there, for the sake of those who hadn't had a chance. However, considering the current situation, he wasn't sure that would be completely wise. Going to the Digital World for extended periods of time was what had gotten the group into their latest mess; continuing to go there would probably aggravate the problem. Still, they were Chosen Children, and it seemed wrong that they should have to give up on ever going back...
"Hey, I know who you are," drawled a voice.
Iori looked up. There was a boy watching him from a few yards away. He appeared to be a year or two older than Iori himself, and was wearing a sneering expression. Iori regarded him warily.
"Yeah, I know you," said the strange boy. "You're one of those Digimon kids. I saw you on TV."
"That's right," said Iori carefully. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"Listen, I don't need help from no Digimon alien kid," the other boy said. "Bet you think you're really special... Getting to be on TV and in all the papers..."
Iori suddenly realized what he was looking at: a case of juvenile jealousy. Good sense told him to ignore this character and walk on. Another part of him wanted to tell this boy what it was really like being a hero, and that it definitely wasn't all about getting his face on TV. He gritted his teeth, shifted his grip on his groceries, and started heading for his apartment again.
"Yeah, that's right, ignore me," the boy jibed. "Think you're too good for me, don't ya?"
*Don't listen to him,* Iori told himself. *Just ignore him. Just walk on by...*
"I don't know why people act like you bunch are so special, anyway," the boy went on, trotting along beside him. "All you ever did is run around and play in some other dimension with a bunch of goofy monsters, and people act like you're so special. I bet you all just made up half that stuff you did. I bet you never did anything."
"If that's what makes you happy, go ahead and think that," said Iori primly.
"Ooh, listen to him," said the boy. "Boy, you really sound scary. I bet you never did anything at all, did you? A little kid like you couldn't do anything."
"I would have liked to see you do better," Iori replied, a bit more sharply than he'd intended.
"I could do better than any little kid could do," the boy said. "I bet I'd have done a whole lot better than you. I bet by now, I'd be running that place."
"It's been tried," said Iori, "by people a lot smarter than you. It didn't work. Look, I have things today. I don't have time to talk to you right now."
"Listen to this guy. You're giving me the brush-off? I knew it," the boy muttered. "You do think you're better than me, don't you? You think you're just so special. Just 'cause you're a big hero, everybody thinks you're so cool, just because you hang out with a bunch of ugly monsters..."
"You think I think I'm better than you?" asked Iori slowly. "Well, let me tell you something. Let me tell you what it's like being a big hero. Do you know what it's like? I've been beaten and blasted and locked up and trapped underwater and tossed into other dimensions. I've had to deal with monsters and ghosts and things you can't even imagine. I've had to spend every day worrying that my friends and my family were in danger and it was up to me whether they'd live or die. I've seen people die - people I care about - die right in front of me and I couldn't do anything to help them. That's what it's like being a hero, and until you've done all that, you don't have any right to tell me what's wrong with me."
For a moment, the boy looked nonplussed. Then he regained his sneer.
"Seen people die, huh?" he said. "And you couldn't help them? What a wimp. I knew you couldn't be so special. No wonder they died, with just a stupid little kid to protect them..."
Iori just stared at him. Outrage was slowly building in him like a crashing tide. People had given their lives to keep the world safe - they had died so this boy and a million other people like him could go on living their safe little lives, and he had the nerve to sneer about it! He was just standing there acting like their sacrifices meant nothing... Vividly, as if it were happening right there in front of him, Iori could see them all... He could hear Ken's wail of anguish as Wormmon faded away... He could see BlackWarGreymon as he died... He could feel Oikawa's passing even as Iori tried to hold him back...
"No," he whispered. "How dare you? How dare you say things like that? How dare you!"
Without thinking, he dropped everything he was carrying and swung at the sneering boy, even though he was out of arm's reach. Much to his amazement, a streak of blood appeared across the boy's arm, and both of them stared in amazement.
"What the hell?" the boy swore.
Iori looked down at his hands. He was holding a sword in his hands, slim and light, just the right weight and length for him to manage comfortably, with a gleaming razor sharp edge. It was made of some kind of dark metal, nearly black, except for a smear of red at the tip. Iori stared at it, and then up at the boy.
"I didn't mean..." he began.
"Get away from me," said the boy, and he turned and ran as if demons pursued him. Iori just stared.
*I just attacked someone,* he thought weakly. Then, *I could have killed him.*
A violent shudder ran through him. He threw down the sword, and it vanished before it hit the ground. Without looking back, Iori grabbed his things and fled for home, trying to escape the fact that just for an instant, he really had wanted to kill a human being.
It seemed rather odd to Hikari that she seemed to be the only human being in the house who wasn't in a bad mood. At the moment, her mother was in a bad mood because the dishwasher was broken, and she couldn't find anyone who was willing to come out on a Saturday to fix it. Taichi was in a bad mood because of his claws, which were continuing to be an annoyance. He had yet to learn to control them for any length of time, and they kept popping out at odd moments, obliging him to be very careful with what he did with his hands. He had spent most of the morning hiding in his room. Hikari knocked on his door.
"I'm going for a walk," she told him. "Do you want to come?"
"I can't go anywhere looking like this," he snapped back. "I look like Freddie Krueger or something!"
"You can't stay in your room for the rest of your life, Taichi," said Hikari.
"Well, I'm not coming out today," he said grumpily.
Hikari was not bothered by his surliness. It was obvious to his sister what the source of his annoyance was: he really did want to go outside, and the fact that he couldn't without tempting trouble was grating on him. Few things annoyed him half so much as having to stay in when he wanted to go out!
"You shouldn't go out, either," he said. "What if you have a breakout? People will definitely notice if you start shooting off sparks or something downtown."
"I haven't been shooting off sparks," she said calmly. "I haven't been doing anything at all. I don't think anything strange is going to happen."
"Well, you should still be careful," he said sulkily.
"I'll be careful," she said. "I'm just not going to lock myself in all day because of something that might or might not happen."
"Well... it's your problem."
"You could go out, you know. Just keep your hands in your pockets."
"And slice my leg off by accident? No thanks! I'm going to stay in and practice keeping these claws out of sight where they belong."
"Suit yourself! I'm leaving. Want me to pick you up anything?"
"Nah, I'm okay, I guess. Have fun. Enjoy your walk."
"Thanks, Taichi. Bye!"
She collected Tailmon and left the apartment. It was nice to be out in the fresh air, feeling the warmth of the sunshine and the pleasant breeze...
*Careful; don't think too hard about that,* she told herself. She had felt her mind slipping back into the same trance she'd been in two days ago, when she had made it rain by the ocean. What was she likely to do if she thought too hard about sunlight? Would she start to glow, or just heat up everything around her? What would thinking about the wind do? There really wasn't much way for her to predict exactly what she was going to do next. She was really going to have to practice being more careful!
*Well, so far, so good* she reminded herself. She seemed to be the only one who had her abilities more-or-less under control; surely that bode well for her. As long as she was careful, she didn't think there was anything she needed to be worried about.
"What do you think of all this, Tailmon?" she asked. "Are we getting worked up over nothing? I mean, I know it can't be much fun to be sprouting claws or turning invisible, but I can't believe it's really that big of an emergency."
Tailmon gave the question her due consideration before answering, "I don't think it's anything to worry about yet... but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be careful. You got enough publicity after we defeated BelialVamdemon. I'd hate to think what would happen if they started finding out about all this. What if they tried to take you to a lab and do experiments on you?"
"I don't think that's legal," said Hikari musingly. "I'm not sure, though. Anyway, they'd have a hard time getting us to go along with it. I think most of us would rather spend the rest of our lives camping out in the Digital World before we'd let anybody drag us off to do experiments on us."
"True... but you never can be too careful."
They walked aimlessly for a while, peering into shop windows, greeting friends and acquaintances as they passed. After a few minutes of this, however, Hikari began to grow vaguely bored. She wanted to be doing something, or to at least have a direction. Was there somewhere she'd particularly like to be? She considered going to the mall, just because that was where teenaged girls were supposed to go to amuse themselves, and rejected the idea. Malls were too crowded and superficial for her taste. She thought about going to the park, but eventually decided against that, also. On a Saturday, it would be crawling with noisy students of all ages, playing games and causing commotions. She thought the most people around her she could stand (besides Tailmon, of course) was one or maybe two people, at most. Not just any person, but a close friend she could talk to.
She was halfway ready to turn her footsteps in the direction of the Ai Mart to see if Miyako was willing to have a talk, when it occurred to her out of the blue to wonder what Koushiro was doing. Normally she didn't spend that much time with him, but he was still her friend, and he was the one who was supposed to be researching this strange new phenomenon. On top of that, he hadn't been looking well the last time she'd seen him, and she was mildly concerned that he might be working too hard and worrying too much. It would make her feel better to visit him and see how he was doing.
"Want to go visit Koushiro?" she asked.
Tailmon gave her a curious look, as if she was not quite able to comprehend what had prompted that question, but she shrugged and said, "Fine with me."
A short subway ride later, they arrived at Koushiro's apartment building. Hikari made her way to her friend's door and knocked. There was no answer. She knocked again, more loudly this time, and called out, but she received no answer. She was almost ready to decide that the family had gone somewhere, when the door was opened, by, of all people, Tentomon.
"Do you know how hard it is to manage doorknobs with these?" he asked, waving his insect pods in irritation. "I asked them to put in lever handles, but nobody listens to me."
"Hello to you, too," said Hikari. "Where is Koushiro?"
"Um, well... he's not doing so good," said Tentomon, sounding worried. "Maybe you can buck him up a little."
He moved aside so his guests could enter. As Hikari and her partner walked into the apartment, they heard a sleepy-sounding voice say, "Who's there?"
"Just us," Hikari called back.
"Oh, hello, Hikari. Just a minute."
Koushiro appeared, running a comb through his hair, which was showing some signs of neglect. He was wearing casual clothes instead of his usual neat school uniform, and the contrast between what she was used to seeing and the faded jeans and T-shirt he was wearing made him look twice as exhausted as he'd been yesterday. He was smiling warmly in greeting, but his eyes looked red, and there were faint but unmistakable shadows beneath them.
"Sorry I don't look more presentable. I wasn't expecting company today," he said. "What brings you here. Nothing wrong, I hope?"
"I was going to ask you the same question," Hikari replied. "Are you okay? You look... really tired. I thought I told you to get some sleep," she added, trying to make it sound light and teasing. She wasn't sure she managed. The worn expression on his face was bothering her; it made him look ten years older than he really was.
Koushiro smiled wryly. "I did. It didn't do me much good, though. The good news is, I think I'm starting to make some headway in getting these visions under control. The bad news is, they seem to be coming in a lot more often... especially when I'm trying to sleep and my mind is relaxed. It's not very conductive to resting."
"You've got to do something," said Hikari. "If things keep up like this, you're going to get sick."
"I'll be okay. I just need more practice," he said reassuringly.
He looked like he was going to say something else, but instead he cringed and doubled over, clutching his head. Hikari cried out in alarm, but the spasm passed as swiftly as it had come on.
"Koushiro! What happened?" she asked.
"Nothing, nothing," he said, waving a hand vaguely. He was breathing rather quickly, and his face looked pale. "It's just... these visions. They hurt. Oh, and by the way... if you're interested, there's a shop downtown that just put all its sweaters on sale for half-price."
He looked up at her and tried to smile. She did not feel particularly reassured.
"I'm worried about you," she said. "This thing is harder on you than all the rest of us combined, I'm starting to think."
"I'm getting it under control," he said. "I will get it under control. I just need some time. You'll see."
"Is there anything I can do?" she asked.
"Well... Hmm. Maybe."
"Well, judging by what Taichi told me earlier, your talent seems to be linked with drawing out the power of things surrounding you and utilizing it," he said. "I noticed yesterday when you touched my shoulder, I suddenly felt a lot better. If my system isn't up to dealing with the shock of these visions, it could very well be that you could help a lot by acting as a - a kind of buffer. I suppose we'd have to do some experimenting to be sure, though..."
"If I can do something to help, I will," she said. "Just tell me what to do."
"Well, just... do what you did yesterday, and we'll see what happens."
"Oh. All right."
Rather gingerly, she reached out a hand and rested it on his shoulder. When nothing bad happened, she set the other hand on his other shoulder. For a moment, nothing happened except her thinking how silly they must look, standing there like that. Then a wave of tiredness washed over her, and at the same time, she heard Koushiro sigh with relief.
"Yes, that's lots better," he said.
"I felt it happening this time," she said. "You really were tired, weren't you?"
"Exhausted," he replied. "Most of that's gone now, though. Thanks a lot, Hikari."
She smiled and didn't bother to reply. She could definitely feel how tired he had been - it seemed her ability stretched to sharing power as well as drawing it in. Despite how tired she felt, it was nice to know she'd done something useful.
She was distracted by the sudden ominous sensation that something was about to happen. Without thinking, she gripped the force that was rushing towards her, and...
...think we ought to run some more tests. Frankly, this has me more than a little worried. I've never seen a disease like this before, and after everything else the boy has been through...
Hikari shook herself. If this was the kind of think Koushiro was having to put up with on a regular basis, it was no wonder he was feeling down! It was a very strange thing, to suddenly be in someone else's mind...
"Did you see that?" asked Koushiro.
"I don't know how, but I did," Hikari replied.
"It didn't hurt this time," he said. "This experiment is really paying off. Hm."
"If it didn't hurt you this time, then why are you frowning?"
"I'm frowning because something else is bothering me. I had a vision of the same man yesterday evening - the same doctor worrying about the same problem case. I think it very odd that of all the people in the world who could randomly pop into my mind, seeing the same person twice in the span of two days has to be something more than a coincidence. And there's something else that seems wrong, but I can't put my finger on it..."
Hikari frowned. "You're right. I feel the same way. Like there's something important I just missed..."
"Well, I'll tell you one thing," said Koushiro. "This experiment has really paid off. I'm going to have to start hanging out with you more often!"
Hikari smiled, pleased. "Any time."
There was a moment of silence. Neither one of them seemed to know quite what to say next. They were saved from having to say anything by the fact that the phone suddenly started to ring.
"I'll get it!" said Tentomon. He buzzed over and caught the receiver. "Hello? It's who? Never heard of him... Oh, yes, he's here. Just a minute." Tentomon proffered the phone to Koushiro. "It's Jyou... I think."
"You think?" Koushiro repeated. He took the phone. "Hello?"
"Oh, thank goodness," said Jyou's voice, sounding extremely harassed. "I've got a problem over here."
"You sure do," said a voice in the background. "Actually, you've got more problems than I can count, but I'm a nice guy, so I'm not going to get into that."
"Sorry, Jyou, but I can't help you with your personal problems," said Koushiro.
"This isn't a personal problem!" said Jyou. "I mean it is, but it's... Well, you've got to see it for yourself."
"Don't worry about him," said the other voice. "He just wants someone else to deal with his problems. Either that, or he's just so pathetic he'll use any excuse to get people to associate with him."
"I don't quite follow," said Koushiro. "Who is that over there, anyway?"
"It's me," said Jyou. "Just me and myself."
"I'm the new and improved model!" the other voice chimed in.
"This I've got to see," said Koushiro. "Hang on. I'm on my way."
He hung up the phone without a goodbye. He turned to Hikari with puzzled exasperation written all over his face.
"Why is it always me?" he asked.
"Because you know things," she told him.
He laughed. "Maybe whoever said ignorance is bliss had it right. I'm going to Jyou's place. Do you want to come? Judging by what I heard, it might just be interesting."
"I guess I'll tag along. I did want something to do today," she said.
"Great. If this situation is as weird as it sounds, I might just need all the help I can get." He sighed. "Something tells me I'm going to get really tired of being in charge of this endeavor."
"At least you don't have to do it all alone," said Hikari.
He smiled a little. "You're right, that's a good thing. Thanks. You always know the right thing to say."
He headed for the door, beckoning for Hikari and the Digimon to follow. Hikari trailed behind, smiling and feeling glad that she had decided to visit Koushiro today.
Takeru was in no mood to think about anything serious. Perhaps it was wrong of him, but he just didn't want to think too hard about the fact that at any moment, for any reason, he might find himself spontaneously manifesting some kind of strange powers. As a general rule, he didn't like major upheavals in his life. The first time he'd experienced a change like that, it had been when his parents had split up, which had definitely not counted as a pleasant experience, and had given him a certain amount of distrust of changes. The second major change had been discovering the Digital World and becoming a Chosen Child, which had been better... but by no means perfect. It had given him the best friends in the world, brought him closer to his brother than he'd ever been, given him a partner he loved more than anything... one he still saw dying in his nightmares. In the Digital World, he'd seen death for the first time, and come to know, not just the usual scraped knees and closet-monsters of childhood, but real pain and fear. The world had changed him - in most ways, he hoped, for the better, but there were still things he wished he hadn't had to live through.
And now there was this newest surprise it had brought him. Would it turn out to be another good thing, or would it be another nasty shock? Judging by what some of the others were going through, he didn't feel safe in believing that this would be a good thing, and so he did the only thing he could possibly do in a situation like this: he ignored it. There was nothing he could do about it, and no way he could accurately guess what was coming, so instead, he simply tried to distract himself so he wouldn't think about it.
In this case, the distraction he was using was homework. Under ordinary circumstances, this wouldn't have been his choice of a weekend diversion, but it had to get done sometime, and it did give him something to think about. With a sigh, he pulled out the worksheet he'd been given, opened his book, and began flipping through it in search of anything that would help him fill out these long-answer questions. Boring as it was, the simple ritual of homework made him feel a bit better. He could imagine what would happen if he should, for example, suddenly sprout wings in a crowded subway station. It was harder to imagine that he might do something bizarre or dangerous while answering questions about erosion and the greenhouse effect. It was very peaceful and mundane, sitting there doing worksheets, listening to Patamon playing with a toy from this morning's cereal box.
Takeru flipped through his book, found the passage he was looking for, and reached for his pencil so he could write down an explanation of how acid rain worked. However, he never got as far as the first word, because as he reached for his pencil, it disappeared.
Takeru blinked. He couldn't even manage to be startled, because his brain was having trouble completely accepting that a physical object could simply cease to be all on its own. Had it gone invisible, like Jyou had? No, he had felt the pencil touching his fingers, and then suddenly it hadn't been anymore. He supposed he might have dropped it. He looked around on the desk, bemusedly lifting papers - and then his homework disappeared. Takeru gawped.
"Did you see that?" he asked Patamon.
"See what?" Patamon replied, looking up from his new toy.
"My homework disappeared!" he said. "It evaporated, or something."
Patamon shook his head. "Your teacher is never going to believe that."
"I don't believe it either, but it's true," said Takeru. "I just touched it, and then - it was like there was this light or something, just for a split second, and then it wasn't there anymore. Watch."
Takeru reached for a rubber eraser that was sitting on his desk - one of the cheap rubber ones teachers gave out as prizes to good students, the kind that came in all kinds of bright colors and silly shapes and never seemed to really be able to erase anything. The second his fingers touched it, there was a tiny flare of light, and the eraser seemed to turn into pale steam and fade away. Patamon's eyes widened.
"That was cool!" said Patamon. "Do it again!"
Patamon took to the air and flapped closer to Takeru. Takeru backed away, suddenly struck by an awful idea.
"Stay back!" he said. He raised his hands to fend Patamon off, realized that was probably the worst thing he could do, and lowered them again quickly. Patamon backed away, looking puzzled.
"What's wrong?" Patamon asked.
"Don't you see?" asked Takeru. "If me touching something makes it disappear, if I touch you, you could disappear!"
Takeru let that thought sink in. Patamon... disappear. What if it had really happened? What if his powers had manifested as he slept, and awakened to discover he couldn't find Patamon because there was no longer any Patamon to find? What if he had deleted his best friend without ever knowing what he was doing? Or even worse, what if he'd done it while he was awake? What if he'd been holding Patamon just like he always did, and Patamon suddenly disappeared, leaving him to slowly realize what he'd done... The thought was too horrible to consider and he shook it off with a shudder.
*You can what-if yourself to death... that's what Dad always says, anyway. I was lucky this time, and nothing bad happened. Now I just need to figure out something productive to do about it.*
Well, what could he do? This wasn't the kind of thing it was safe to ignore, after all. His first impulse was to try to talk to Koushiro, who had that comforting way of seeming to know everything about everything.... On the other hand, now that he thought of it, Koushiro hadn't been looking too well the last time Takeru had seen him. Perhaps it wasn't best to burden him with any more problems.
On the other hand, there were a few members of the team left who hadn't had anything unfortunate happen to them yet. For example, Yamato had shown no signs of manifesting interesting powers. He had nothing specific to worry about right now, and he was always willing to listen to his little brother when Takeru needed him. If there was ever a moment when Takeru needed a big brother's support, now would be the time.
"I want to tell Yamato about this," he said aloud.
"What can he do about it?" asked Patamon, looking politely puzzled.
Takeru shook his head. "Nothing I doubt anyone can. But I want to tell him anyway."
He made a move to reach for Patamon, to place him on his head where he usually rode, but he pulled back as he saw Patamon quail away from him. Takeru let his hands fall to his sides as Patamon fluttered into the air to follow at a careful distance. With a sigh, Takeru headed for the door, wondering if he'd ever seen Patamon cringe from him before.
Rather hesitantly, reflecting the fact that he had no idea what he was getting into, Koushiro knocked on the door to Jyou's apartment.
"Come on in! The door's not locked," said a cheery voice.
"Yeah, come in," added Jyou in a gloomy tone. "Nobody's here but me... well, us."
Not entirely reassured, Koushiro and Hikari exchanged confused glances. No explanations seemed forthcoming, though, so they hesitantly pushed the door open and peered inside. Tentomon buzzed into the room and ran reconnaissance.
"I don't see any problems," he said.
"Well, Jyou called us here for something," said Hikari, stepping into the room.
The first thing she saw was Jyou, stretched comfortably on the sofa. He was looking very unusual - instead of his usual buttoned-down appearance, he was wearing a pair of faded jeans, a loud Hawaiian shirt, a pair of sunglasses, and his long hair was pulled in a ponytail. He grinned and waved as she came in. When he spoke, Hikari, jumped - the voice was not Jyou's.
"Hiya, babe," he said casually. "Wanna come over here and join me? Plenty of room for two, you know." He grinned slyly and peered at her over the rims of his sunglasses. Hikari felt herself blushing. She'd been looked at that way by some of the ruder boys at school, but the expression did not belong on Jyou's face.
"Don't talk that way to guests," said Jyou's voice, and he walked into the room. "It's rude."
Koushiro stared. There was a Jyou in the doorway, and a Jyou on the sofa. Their voices, manners, and dress might be different, but in looks, they were identical down to the last hair.
"Why do I care what's rude?" asked the Jyou on the sofa. "It's fun! You ought to try it sometime."
"Um, excuse me," said Hikari hesitantly, "but which of you is the real Jyou?"
"I am!" they said in unison.
"Don't listen to him," said the Jyou in the doorway - the one who looked the most like Jyou. "He's a terrible liar."
"I'm not a liar. You're a hypocrite," said the other Jyou.
"Yeah, but at least I'm not an illusion!"
"I think I'm starting to figure this out," said Koushiro slowly. "This..." He waved his hand at the Jyou on the sofa, "is just one of your projections, right?"
"Hey, buddy, I'm a hell of a lot more than that!" said the illusion.
"Watch your language," Jyou told it.
"To quote Shakespeare... I don't wanna, I don't hafta, and I ain't gonna!"
Jyou rolled his eyes. "Do you see what I have to put up with?"
"Can't you make him go away?" asked Hikari. She reached out a hand to prod the illusion- Jyou. Naturally, her fingers went right through him.
"Hey, babycakes, you keep your paws to yourself," he said. He leered again. "Unless, of course, you can't help yourself."
"In your dreams!" she snapped at him.
"I can't make him go away," said Jyou. "I keep trying, but he just keeps coming back, and he gets more aggravating every time!"
"Well, naturally," said Koushiro. "If he is what I think he is, he'll naturally be next to impossible to control. He speaks with your voice, doesn't he?"
"Huh?" said Jyou.
"I mean, his voice sounds to you exactly the way your own voice sounds to you," said Izzy. "The way your voice sounds inside your head."
"Well, of course it does," said Jyou, looking slightly taken aback.
"But it doesn't," said Gatomon, who was beginning to look completely confused as well. "His-" she pointed at the illusion. "-voice is a lot deeper."
"That's right," said Koushiro factually, "because that's how Jyou's voice sounds to Jyou. Haven't you ever listened to a recording of your own voice, and thought it didn't quite sound like you? This illusion is speaking with Jyou's own inner voice - like his thoughts."
"You aren't making a whole lot of sense yet," said Jyou. "I'm hoping you're planning to one day, right?"
"Maybe I'm just too big a concept for you to handle," said the illusion.
Koushiro ignored him and went on talking. "Judging by what little evidence I have, I'd have to surmise that this particular illusion is a manifestation of some level of your subconscious." He glared at the illusion and added, "Perhaps an extremely annoying level of your subconscious, but..."
"So what does that mean in practical terms?" asked Jyou.
"It means that he probably represents something in your subconscious you haven't dealt with yet," said Koushiro, "and until you do, he's probably not going to go away."
"You mean I'm stuck with him forever?" asked Jyou, incredulous.
"No, not forever," Koushiro answered mildly. "Just until you deal with whatever caused him... Then again, these manifestations seem to come and go in cycles, so the odds are he'll fade out on his own eventually."
"I don't want to fade out!" said the illusion indignantly. "Jyou never lets me play outside. It's about time I got a say in how things get run around here!"
"Go away," Jyou told him.
"Can't make me!"
"On the other hand," said Koushiro, "odds are, once your powers flare up again, he'll probably come back. So all I can say is, you're going to have to learn how to deal with him."
"I was afraid you'd say that," said Jyou with a sigh.
Koushiro shrugged. "Sorry. Not much I can do about your subconscious mind. I'm a computer guru, not a psychiatrist."
"Are you going to name him?" asked Hikari. Everyone looked at her.
"Why would I want to name an illusion?" Jyou asked.
"Well, if he's going to be around for a while, you might as well name him," said Hikari. "I mean, he might be an illusion, but he has a personality."
"Yeah, that's right! You tell 'im, babe!" said the illusion.
"Well..." said Jyou.
"Let's call him Mike!" said a voice.
Everyone looked down. They had overlooked Gomamon, who had just appeared from around the corner and was watching the exchange with interest.
"Why should we call him Mike?" asked Tentomon. "Did you just pick that name at random, or was there some reason for it?"
"It's short for My Consciousness," said Gomamon. "MyC. Mike." He looked around for appreciation of his cleverness.
Jyou sighed. "Well, I guess if you want to call him Mike, that's fine with me. I guess it's as good a name as any other."
"Well, glad to be of help, then," said Koushiro. "Sorry we couldn't do more, but..."
"I know, it's my problem and I've got to deal with it," said Jyou. He glared at the newly-named Mike. "Hopefully this guy will go away soon."
"I'll never go away," said Mike, grinning broadly. "I'm you. And best of all, you know it, too, don't you?"
"This is getting too weird," said Hikari. "Can we go now?"
"I guess we should," Koushiro replied. "Bye, Jyou. Bye, Gomamon. Bye, Mike."
"So long, egghead! See ya 'round, babycakes! Come back soon, okay, doll?"
Hikari ignored these parting words and shut the door firmly behind her. Mike turned to Jyou with a grin.
"You know," he said, "now that you've given me a name and a personality, you're never going to get rid of me."
Jyou sighed. "I was afraid of that."
Yamato's room wasn't an impressive one, not what one would expect for an internationally known hero and local rock star. It was seldom completely clean, with the usual scattering of dirty clothes tossed over the backs of furniture or shoved under the bed, and with an assortment of odd litter cluttering the floor. The brightest spots in the room were a few colorful posters of assorted bands Yamato liked, his highly polished bass guitar, and a bamboo plant in a pot. It sat on his windowsill, its natural cleanliness looking rather incongruous in the untidy room. It had been a gift from his mother, a good-luck token for his high-school entrance exams, and he'd been dutifully keeping it alive ever since.
"Haven't you managed to kill that thing yet?" Takeru joked, nodding at the plant as he entered his brother's room.
"Not yet, but I'm working on it," said Yamato, smiling a bit at the old joke. When he'd first been given the plant, he'd objected that he'd never been able to keep any growing thing alive for any length of time, and yet the bamboo plant had proven remarkably resilient to dying. "So, what brings you all the way out here?"
"I just needed someone to talk to," Takeru answered. He sank - carefully - into a chair. His nerves were somewhat frazzled. He'd had to take the bus to Yamato's place, and he'd spent most of the ride worrying that he'd find himself explaining why the bus had suddenly disappeared, or that someone would brush against him and accidentally lose a hand.
Yamato's blue eyes seemed to darken with concern. "Something wrong?"
"Well... you know those weird powers Koushiro told us we'd be getting? Well, mine just showed up," said Takeru.
"Let me guess - it's not something good."
"It's something terrible," Takeru blurted. "I destroy things! Just by touching them, I destroy them..."
"Take it easy," said Yamato. "Don't get all stressed out - I get enough of that with Dad." He smiled a little, trying to get Takeru to accept the joke. "Look - it's obvious you don't destroy everything you touch, or I'd be short a chair right now. Heck, if you destroyed everything you touched, you'd be walking around naked."
The absurdity of that image was enough to get Takeru, not to laugh, but at least to relax a little. He gave a wan smile.
"I guess you're right. Maybe I'm overreacting just a little," he said. "I was just... scared. I was afraid I might hurt somebody, or kill them, if I touched them by accident."
"Well, back up and start from the beginning. Now, what do you mean when you say you destroy things by touching them? Do they blow up, or what?"
Takeru shook his head. "Not exactly. They just... vanish. Disappear."
"Then how do you know you destroyed them? Maybe you just make them... go somewhere else," Yamato suggested. "What did you make disappear?"
"A pencil," said Takeru. He grimaced. "And my homework. I don't know how I'm going to explain that."
"Okay, so it was just a pencil and a piece of paper. You haven't hurt anybody yet, so for all you know, it only works on stuff that isn't alive," said Yamato. "So don't panic until you know for sure."
"You know, I hadn't thought of that," Takeru said, sounding a little more cheerful. "Hmm..."
The next thing Yamato saw was Takeru reaching for the potted plant in the windowsill. His fingers brushed its leaves, and there was a soft glow as its leaves faded away, looking as if something had just taken a large bite out of it.
"Hey, my plant!" Yamato exclaimed indignantly.
He grabbed at the plant, snatching it away, though it was plain the damage had already been done. He ran his fingers over the damaged stalk... and a strange feeling came over him. It was as if something warm had started welling up inside him, something that flowed down his fingers and into the plant. As the boys and their Digimon stared in astonishment, the plant began stretching out new leaves and stalks. Within seconds, it was as if it had never been damaged at all. Everyone stared.
"Well," said Takeru. "I guess we know what your talent is, now."
"I guess so," said Yamato. For some reason, he sounded unhappy.
"And I guess my talent works on living things, after all."
"I guess so," said Yamato again.
"Well, now what do we do?" asked Takeru.
Yamato had no idea. There was a moment of awkward silence. In that quiet, they heard a beep.
"What was that?" asked Yamato, startled out of some inner musing.
"My D-Terminal just went off. I've got e-mail," said Takeru. "I don't know if I want to try reading it now, though. I might just delete my D-Terminal, and I don't think I could get a new one."
The D-Terminal beeped again.
"You ought to do something," said Gabumon. "It might be important."
"But if I touch it..." Takeru protested.
"I'll check my e-mail," said Yamato. "If it's Digimon business, odds are, it'll be sent to all of us. Hang on."
He turned on his computer, while Takeru fidgeted and the D-Terminal continued to blip in annoyance. At last, he was able to log in to his e-mail, where they found a single terse message waiting for them. It read, "This is getting entirely out of hand. I want you all to report to the Digital World as soon as possible - no ifs, ands, or buts. Do not tell anyone what the problem is." It was signed by Gennai.
"Finally," said Takeru in relief. "Maybe now we can talk to someone who has some answers."
"I hope so," Yamato replied grimly. "Right now, I have a few words I'd like to say to him, too."
Takeru looked at his brother, and for a moment, his concern for his own plight was counterbalanced by worry for Yamato, because he couldn't imagine what had put that angry look in his eyes.
Miyako was trying to enjoy a quiet morning. Trying was the key word, and unfortunately, she wasn't doing a very good job of it. Saturday morning was never the best time to relax around here, not in a house where teenagers or Digimon dwelled. True, it was better than it had been a few years ago, due to the relocation of a few household members. Her brother had graduated from college and found a paying job, allowing him to move into an apartment of her own, and her oldest sister had married a high school sweetheart and likewise moved out. Now all that was left was Miyako, her older sister Chizuru, her parents, and of course, her trusty Digimon. It should have been so much more comfortable and quiet in her apartment with the absence of two of her siblings, but somehow, her home seemed to remain as crowded and noisy as ever.
"Chizuru, would you turn your music down?" Miyako called. "I can't hear myself think!"
"I'm not playing it any louder than you were playing yours last night, and I didn't complain," said Chizuru.
"Well, maybe you should have!" Miyako called back.
There was a sudden drop in the noise level, and Miyako could only assume that her sister had given up on arguing and put her headphones on. Miyako felt a smug sense of satisfaction. She'd never been able to out-argue her brother Mantarou - he was too clever at turning her words back on her - and Momoe had a stolid way of simply ignoring her until she gave up in frustration, but Chizuru had never had the patience to stand against her for very long.
"That was very strange," said Poromon.
"What do you mean?" Miyako asked. She was busy playing games on her computer, and had already put the exchange with her sister out of her mind.
"Well, I always thought you liked that song," the bird Digimon replied.
"I do," said Miyako. "I just don't like being forced to listen to it whether I like it or not."
"Hm," said Poromon. "Well, I guess it doesn't matter. I never liked that song much, myself."
Miyako laughed. "You know, Poromon... you understand a lot of things better than I do, but I don't think you'll ever figure out pop music."
She went back to her game. She had been playing it without sound, the better to listen to her own music, but she hadn't bothered to restart the CD after her sister had started playing her own music - the clashing of two different songs was annoying, and try as she might, she'd been unable to tune the other music out. Now everything was quiet - too quiet for her taste - but she realized she couldn't start playing her own music again, because Chizuru would hear her and start complaining. She could use her headphones, except that she'd stepped on them the other day and they hadn't worked right since. It looked as if she was doomed to spend her morning trying to be silent.
*First I have too much noise; now I don't have enough!* she thought, mildly peeved.
Well, she wasn't going to let Chizuru get the better of her. She could stand being quiet for a while...
She went on playing her game, trying not to think too much about how empty the room seemed without any noise and commotion to fill it. In the silence, the sound of her fingers on the keys seemed unnaturally loud. She could hear the rasp of her clothing when she moved, the whirr of her computer's fan, and the tiny whistle that was Poromon's breathing. Gradually, she became aware of other noises: the cars rushing down the street outside, the thump of footsteps going down the hall, the dishwasher swishing in the kitchen, and...
"Chizuru, I thought I asked you to turn that music down!" she shouted.
Immediately, she wished she hadn't; the sound of her own voice in her ears was loud enough to hurt. Compounding her pain, her sister bellowed back, "I did turn it down! What more do you want?"
Miyako clapped her hands over her ears, biting her tongue to keep from perpetuating her problem by crying out. That didn't help a whole lot; now all she could hear was the thud of her heart and the rush of her blood in her ears. She had closed her eyes reflexively, but a rush like thunder told her that Poromon was fluttering over to check on her.
"Are you all right?" he chirped, and she cringed again. He wasn't shouting, but his high-pitched voice so close to her ears was hardly comfortable.
"No," she whispered. Her voice sounded harsh and rasping, but at least it didn't hurt. "Could you please... not talk for a minute?"
There was no answer; Poromon was too polite to refuse any request, no matter how strange, as long as she was suitably courteous about it. The thunder of his wingbeats stopped, and she assumed he had perched somewhere. She slowly opened her eyes to take stock of her situation.
She closed them again. The light in the room seemed to have suddenly gotten a lot brighter; the sunlight streaming through her window was like staring into a spotlight.
*This is not good,* she thought vaguely. *Am I going crazy, or what?*
A sharp, high-pitched noise speared her ears, and she wanted to cry all over again. Who knew getting e-mail could be so painful?
"Um, Miyako... I think your computer wants your attention," said Poromon hesitantly.
"I can't read it right now," she said. Just now, even the thought of looking at that glowing computer screen made her eyes water.
"Oh... Should I read it for you? It looks like it's from Gennai."
That caught her attention. An e-mail - an important one - and just when she couldn't read it!
"Go ahead," she said. "Quietly."
There were several loud clicks, and Poromon began reading the message in his quietest chirp. Miyako listened, far more intently than she really needed to. So Gennai wanted to talk to them all? She could only hope he had some positive news! If he didn't, she was liable to give him a shouting-at, no matter how much it hurt!
Mimi was very busy. Not that she ever really minded that - she liked being at the center of lots of people and activity. She had a natural gift for organizing people and getting them to do the things that needed doing, so it was only natural that when a committee needed heading, people asked her to do it. This particular committee seemed like her natural element: she and a number of others were busy preparing for a school dance. Naturally, Mimi had been put in charge of the decorating committee, and with the dance only a day away, she was keeping quite busy with it.
Almost too busy.
"Mimi, where do you want these tables?" called a boy. He and his friend were perspiring heavily as they attempted to move a stack of folding furniture.
"Put them over there against the wall," she said, waving at the end of the auditorium furthest from the stage.
A group of freshman girls appeared at her elbow.
"Mimi, where are the flowers?" they asked.
Mimi blinked, looking up from the inventory list she and Palmon had been going over. "I thought you had the flowers."
"We thought you had them!"
"But I saw you carrying them!"
"We were," said one of the girls, "but we put them on the stage and now they're gone!"
"Who moved the flowers?" Mimi shouted to the auditorium.
Naturally, nobody admitted to moving them. A brief search revealed that someone, for some inexplicable reason, had thought the flowers weren't actually part of the decorations and had thrown them out. The flowers were retrieved from the trash can and dusted off, and the girls did what they could to make them look decent. Mimi went back to her inventory-taking feeling somewhat harried. It was one thing to be in charge, but did she really have to do everything herself?
"Mimi!" Another girl came running up to her, flushed and panting. "Mimi, Susan's putting up the streamers wrong, and I told her to stop it, and she won't listen to me!"
Mimi sighed and went to address Susan, who, as it turned out, had put the streamers up just fine, after all. This led to her having to moderate a small argument between Susan and the other girl, who didn't want to admit she was wrong and tried to claim that Susan had fixed it when she has seen Mimi coming. The fact that it made no difference when she fixed it so long as it was fixed seemed lost to her. By the time it was all over, Mimi was beginning to feel the strain.
Mimi turned, ready to snap at whoever was distracting her, only to find that it was Palmon.
"Mimi, are you okay?" asked Palmon, her large green eyes reflecting worry. "You look kind of stressed out."
"I am kind of stressed out," she said. "I'll be glad when we get all this straightened out. Where did the inventory list go?"
"I think he has it," said Palmon, waving vaguely at a boy unpacking a box of decorative silver stars.
Mimi went to retrieve her list. As it turned out, the boy had decided Mimi hadn't needed it anymore, and had thrown it out. She decided to give up on it and do without for a while. Instead, she oversaw the hanging of the silver stars from the auditorium ceiling, until...
Mimi rounded on the person calling to her, thinking to herself that the next person who shouted at her was liable to end up with a broken arm, at the least.
"Now what?" she asked tiredly.
"Will you help us hang the banner?" asked a boy. "We keep getting it crooked!"
"Can't someone else help you?" she asked.
"Everyone else is doing stuff!"
Mimi throttled down the urge to ask if he thought she was on vacation, and went to supervise the banner hanging. When that was over, she turned to discover that the boys with the tables had set them up wrong, and it took some time to communicate how they were really supposed to be set up. Then she went back to the boys with the stars, only to be informed that someone had lost the tablecloths. By the time Patamon had finally located them (on the stage with the other materials, just where they were supposed to be) the decorating session was already running late, and Mimi's temper was running high.
*I wish these people would learn how to think for themselves,* she thought wistfully. It was a good thing they were nearly done, because she was beginning to lose her patience. A few more minutes of this would have her crying in frustration.
"Mimi!" called one of the never ending voices.
Mimi lost her cool.
"Would you all just stop it!" she exclaimed. "I am getting sick of it, I do not have to babysit you all night, I'm tired of being yelled at and I want to go home, so just stop!"
There was dead silence. Mimi began to feel ashamed of herself. Everyone else was working hard and getting frustrated, just like she was. She had no right to whine like a little child. She looked around, expecting to see everyone staring at her... but they weren't. They were all looking fixedly in a variety of directions, frozen with their hands outstretched to place a vase of flowers or hang a star, or with their feet half-raised, halted in mid-step. It looked as if they had taken her order to stop quite literally. Mimi turned to comment on this to Palmon, and found her standing there as still as a potted plant. She didn't even seem to be breathing. Stunned, Mimi looked around more closely. Someone had dropped a star, and it had not yet reached the floor yet. Flower petals hung motionless in midair.
*Oh, no,* she thought wildly. *Oh no oh no oh no oh no... What did I do? How do I fix it?*
"Please move," she begged. "Please, please start moving again!"
There was a warping noise, like a record being started up, as the noises of the cafeteria slowly rolled back to full speed. People continued to move around, talking and joking as if they had noticed nothing out of the ordinary.
"That was strange," Mimi murmured.
"Yeah, I know," said a girl next to her blithely. "I told him he shouldn't do it that way, but he did it anyway, and now we can't get the stereo to work at all, so..."
She babbled on, but Mimi only half listened to her. She was occupied mostly with the problem of finding a way to get the girl to go away as quickly as possible so she could tell Palmon what had just happened in private. She was saved by the sound of a tell-tale beep. The sound had never been so sweet.
"Oops, I'm sorry," she said to the girl, cutting off the flow of chatter. "It sounds like I've got some Digimon business to take care of, so I've got to go now, okay?"
"Okay," said the girl, looking somewhat bemused. But what else could she say? That was one of the advantages of being a Chosen Child - nobody ever objected to letting Mimi get away with things, even skipping classes if she had to, if there was "Digimon business" involved. Mimi grabbed Palmon and dragged her out of the room, and she never once stopped.
All in all, it was a frazzled-looking bunch who gathered at Gennai's house. Gennai himself was looking sterner than usual, and he only looked more serious as he watched the stream of arrivals. When Jyou and his new mascot arrived, he raised his eyebrows in surprise.
"This is getting more serious than I thought," he murmured.
Jyou sighed. "Tell me about it."
"Man, I am telling you about it," said Mike. "You just don't listen to me. If you listened to me, you'd have a lot fewer troubles."
"Be quiet. I wasn't talking to you," Gennai said.
Amazingly, Mike became quiet. Apparently Jyou's respect for the sage extended into his subconscious mind as well.
Taichi and Hikari appeared a few seconds later.
"Boy, am I glad to get out of the house!" were Taichi's first words. He waved a claw in illustration and managed to accidentally put a row of notches into a nearby bookshelf.
"Careful!" Hikari scolded.
"Go easy on him," said Takeru. He and Yamato had been the first to arrive. "It's not like these things are easy to control."
Yamato said nothing; he appeared to have been sulking since the moment they had all arrived. When Taichi arrived, his stormy glare intensified a bit, but he said nothing as to what was going on in his head. Gabumon, sitting on the floor next to him, leaned against his leg in a doglike gesture of support.
Miyako arrived next, causing a bit of a stir. Gennai's windows were all wide open, allowing the late-morning sunlight to stream through them, and the room was brightly lit as well as being full of excited talk. The minute she appeared, she curled up, whimpering in pain, her eyes squeezed shut, hands clamped over her ears.
"Miyako, what's wrong?" Takeru shouted, making her whine again.
"Not so loud!" Poromon hissed. "Be quiet! You're hurting her!"
Silence fell instantly, and Miyako relaxed a tiny bit.
"What's wrong with her?" Hikari whispered.
"I'm not sure," Poromon admitted. "She's just turned very sensitive to light and noise all of a sudden. I don't know how to help her."
"Maybe I can," said Jyou.
Miyako heard the sound of people shifting to get out of his way, and of his footsteps, only slightly muffled by the carpeted floor. Then, suddenly, she heard nothing at all. Cautiously, she opened her eyes. She seemed to have been surrounded by fog. Then it cleared slowly, leaving the world looking dimmed, as if she were peering through dark sunglasses.
"Is that better?" said Jyou. Thankfully, his voice sounded normal.
"Much better," she said. "Thanks a lot. What did you do?"
"Well, I figured as long as I'm going to be projecting illusions and things, I might as well put it to good use," he said. "I think I've got it set up so most of the sound and light waves will be deflected away from you. It should last a while. Most of my projections do." He glared at Mike.
"Oh," said Miyako, following Jyou's gaze. "Who's that guy?"
"That's Mike," Gomamon piped up. "He's Jyou's subconscious. He's pretty cool!"
"Oh," said Miyako again.
"Hey, babe," said Mike, sidling over to greet her. "You know, you're kinda cute! How 'bout you dump this stick-in-the-mud and hang out with me, huh? I am a dream guy, after all."
"Get lost," Miyako told him. "I like guys with a little class, thank you very much." She shot an appreciative glance at Jyou, who blushed faintly. It didn't have time to develop any more, because she continued, "Speaking of which, where's Ken?"
"I dunno," said Taichi. He made a move to scratch his head, remembered what he was doing, and stopped. "Guess he's not here yet."
"We'll have to wait," said Gennai. "I'd like to have at least most of the team here before we start."
They waited. Koushiro appeared next, looking rather relieved, as if glad someone else was taking charge. Within short order, Daisuke arrived, followed by Iori. They both looked faintly bothered, but nothing could keep Daisuke down for long, not even spontaneous teleportation, and Iori was good at hiding his emotions. When Mimi showed up, she looked so distraught that everyone stopped their conversations to stare at her.
"Oh, no, I did it again!" she wailed.
"Did what?" asked Daisuke.
"It's okay, never mind," she said. "I thought I made everything freeze again."
"Like ice?" asked Patamon curiously.
"No, like time," she replied.
"Does that mean all our powers have manifested by now?" asked Iori.
"Mine have," said Daisuke.
"Mine too," Takeru replied.
"Unfortunately," Yamato muttered. It was unclear whether he was referring to Takeru or himself.
"I guess that's what my problem is," Miyako sighed.
"It sounds like everyone is accounted for, then," said Gennai. "I was afraid of this. I was hoping it would only be a few of you, at most... Should we keep waiting for Ken, do you think, or should we start now and let him catch up?"
Nobody wanted to wait. It was plain to see they all wanted answers and wanted them now. Gennai sighed.
"All right. We might as well get it over with," he said. "We might as well start at the beginning. I've checked and double-checked everything I can think of, and it seems our original conjecture was right. These manifestations are a direct result of your time spent in the Digital World... and, possibly, the connection formed with your Digimon. In essence, you are becoming something similar to digital beings yourself, complete with their... well, you'd call them magical abilities, though I suppose they're really more like extraordinarily stretched scientific principles..."
"Any sufficiently developed technology is indistinguishable from magic," Koushiro quoted quietly.
"What does that mean in layman's terms?" asked Yamato.
"It means that basically there are explanations for what we're doing," said Jyou. "I do some really weird things, but I do them by bending sound and light waves, not by some kind of magic. It can be explained rationally; it's all just really weird."
"Thanks for telling us," said Taichi. "Second question: how do we stop doing them?"
Gennai looked embarrassed. "I'm still working on that. In some extreme cases, I might be able to work out a short-term cure..." He cast a meaningful look at Takeru, who looked guiltily down at his hands. "But for now, it's entirely possible that you'll be having to deal with these... ablities on a long-term basis - possibly for the rest of your lives."
"I can't go through life like this!" said Miyako. "I'll go crazy!"
Iori nodded. "These things are dangerous - we could hurt someone."
"That is a possibility," said Gennai. "However, I am convinced that given time, you will be able to control them. Some of you have already shown some progress in that direction. You'll just have to work at it. In the meantime, I promise I will do everything in my power to find a permanent solution. You just have to understand that I'm not omnipotent, and I've never seen a case like this before. I want you to be prepared for a long wait... and in the meantime, you're going to have to take some precautions."
"Like what?" asked Daisuke warily.
"Well, for one thing," Gennai replied, "until we have this problem under control, I don't want you or Taichi playing soccer."
"WHAT?" the boys exclaimed.
"You've got to be kidding me," said Daisuke faintly. "I can't give up soccer! I just can't."
"You have to," Gennai answered. "I don't want any of you taking part in any competitive sports. These powers seem to manifest themselves chiefly when you're under stress, and a sporting event is just the kind of thing likely to bring them on." He glanced at Daisuke, who managed to look guilty. "Besides attracting some unwanted attention, you'd have an unfair advantage over the other players."
"This isn't fair," Taichi muttered. "What am I going to do all day?"
"Practice keeping your claws under control," Tailmon suggested. "I'll help. I'm an expert."
"Why do we have to worry about attracting attention, anyway?" Daisuke muttered. "We're already world-famous heroes, for crying out loud! People expect us to do weird things."
"Yes, but this is different," said Gennai. "You are destined heroes, chosen specifically for your own special abilities. You are unique; no one else could have done what you did in exactly the way you did it. People know that. They can dream of being like you, but in their hearts, they know that you have been set apart. But these strange powers of yours appeared for only one reason: you spent too much time in the Digital World. Anyone who can open a gate to this world could gain such powers. Now, suppose that news got out? What do you think would happen?"
"There would be chaos," said Koushiro, eyes widening. "Everyone on the planet would be trying to hack their way into the Digital World, trying to become a superhero!"
"Exactly," said Gennai, nodding. "And that is why you absolutely must keep these powers a secret. If any of this gets out to the general public... well, if you thought keeping Oikawa out was difficult..."
"We understand," said Hikari. "Don't worry. We won't let anyone find out."
No sooner had she spoken, when there was a flash, and Ken appeared, clutching Wormmon tightly and looking pale. It was a lucky thing Wormmon was an invertebrate, or he would have had a few bones broken by now.
"Man, what's wrong with you?" asked Daisuke. "You didn't blow up an aunt or something, did you?"
Ken shook his head. "No, it's not like that. It's just... well, I told you on the day our powers started manifesting, I had to go to the doctor's office, right?"
"Yeah," said Taichi. "Hey, man, you aren't sick or something, are you?"
"No," said Ken. "Nothing is wrong with me... nothing but the fact that I'm part digital now."
There was a moment of silence. Koushiro and Hikari looked at each other.
"The doctor," she said.
"The one with the strange case," Koushiro agreed weakly.
"What's with you two?" asked Yamato, drawn out of his malaise by curiosity.
"Don't you get it?" asked Koushiro. "Ken got blood drawn at the doctor's office. The doctor sent it to a lab to have it analyzed. Do you think digitized blood is going to look normal?"
A chill fell over the room, as the truth sunk into everyone's minds: before they had even fully grasped what had happened to them, their secret had gotten out.