"I'm not to blame
But something went wrong, something went wrong
and I know
I'm not to blame
Something went wrong
Can't be to blame…"
-'Used To Be A Sweet Boy', Morrissey
Cutting a wide swathe through the dark network, the remnants of the Digidestined walked into the great desert. Their aim was simple. They were in search of the man who had the power to bring them into the digital world. They reasoned that he would also have the power to bring them out of it. They had claimed the wreckage of the battle as their own salvage, and Digitamamon had been more than happy to supply their journey in exchange for it. His supplies would last them two weeks, if severely rationed. In addition, he pledged the undying gratitude of the as-of-yet unfounded Merchant's League. It was to be a vast cartel, spanning all of File and Server, with himself at its center.
They slept through the day, in the abandoned lairs of Dokugumon, and traveled at night. They walked in single file, Tentomon leading, Izzy carrying Gomamon and Sora carrying Biyomon, Joe and carrying Tai and Agumon carrying the bulk of their food and water. With regular meals, the Digimon were recovering rapidly. By the third day, they were intermittently conscious. By the fifth day, they could speak, though only broken apologies were offered. It had never even occurred to the humans to blame their Digimon for what had happened. By the seventh day, they were often fully awake, though still too weak to move on their own.
Tai did not fare so well. He had been crippled by a sudden onslaught of memory and reality, forced to accept in an instant what the others had been allowed ten years to come to terms with. Then, before, he had not truly believed that T.K was dead. After all, he had seen other beings appear to be slain, only to rise again. T.K's own partner had performed such a feat. Now, denial was impossible. Added to that revelation was the weight of the countless deaths he, himself had caused, and of the countless more he would have gladly caused, had he remained in Datamon's service. Nor was that all. When, in a fleeting moment of lucidity, he had asked after Matt and Mimi, Izzy had simply answered that they were 'gone'.
He was never fully awake, and his eyes were never fully closed. At his best, he recognized objects and voices, but dismissed them as phantoms in a dream. When he could speak sensibly, he did so to inanimate objects, people only he could perceive or people he mistook for others. Sora was often taken for his sister, Kari, a girl she remembered. She would do her best to play the part, never knowing if Tai appreciated it. Several times he addressed Izzy as his father, speaking of trivial matters, what was for dinner, when could they buy a new television. Once, after nearly closing his eyes, he came suddenly to his senses and, looking Joe in the face, asked his mother when she was picking him up from soccer practice. Joe named a random hour, and the boy's train of thought meandered elsewhere. No one laughed.
The sight of Agumon only agitated him. He would look away, ignore words from his partner and at last fall into a violent delirium, lashing out at everything around him. For hours after such encounters, he would not speak, and would lie as though dead.
Joe carried him with one hand supporting his head, and one finger intermittently measuring his pulse.
It was not until the fourth day that they caught sight of the tower. It was a point of light on the horizon, then, and Izzy correctly guessed that it was a metal construct. From then on, they kept it directly ahead of them, and it grew from a point into a needle. By the seventh day, its full outline was discernible. It was thin, high and cylindrical, and there was a shimmering around its base that could have been a moat, or, as Izzy suggested, a mirage.
It was a moat. On the ninth day, the Digidestined stood, dumbfounded, on the far side of it. There was no way across. The water gleamed like quicksilver, giving no idea of its depth. Consuming half of their remaining rations, Tentomon digivolved. Kabuterimon ferried Joe, Tai and Gomamon across, deposited them on the flat roof of the tower and then returned for the others. As soon as he landed with them, he de-digivolved, winded.
The tower's exterior was featureless. This could be seen at once. Still, they pretended to examine it for a moment. Izzy was about to suggest a course of action when a voice echoed up from underneath them:
"Intruders! Declare yourselves." It was human, barely. It more befit a ghost than a man, it was ancient, wheezing and creaking.
"Jyou Kido," said Joe, "Sora Takenouchi, Koushiro Izumi, Taichi Kamiya, Gomamon, Biyomon, Tentomon, Agumon. You know us."
There was a very long pause. At last, the withered voice said: "Yes……I know. I have been expecting you, for some time…please…" At Joe's feet, the metal fell away, revealing a staircase leading into darkness. He climbed down without hesitation.
"In the end, you killed them," he began, before he even saw the old man's face, "It was you all along. We were so many bullets to you."
"This was never meant to happen," Gennai's voice protested, "I could not have foreseen…"
"Neither could we. We could not even have imagined it. If anyone had told me, all those years ago, that it would come to this…" He reached the foot of the stair. At once, lights flared, monitors hummed to life and the room was dimly illuminated. It was circular, and cramped with machinery. At the center of a cluster of a computers, a decrepit wheelchair stood. Gennai was sunken so deeply within it that, at first, Joe missed him. The old man raised a hand, though whether in greeting or to ward off attack, it was impossible to tell.
"Hello again," said Sora.
"Thank you, young lady, for your courtesy…" said Gennai. Joe walked up to him, within an inch of his face. He stood over six feet tall, while Gennai, sitting, rose only half as high.
"Answer to me," said Joe, "I know words can't fix anything. But I want them anyway."
Gennai sighed, and Joe imagined he could hear his bones rattling within him. "I did everything within my power," he said.
"Then…then why, why are you still alive? You didn't do everything, didn't even come close…some of us died. Others died, your old gang, trying…and you. Locked away here, still scheming. Were there others you had your eye on? Of course there were, there were thousands of candidates, millions, countless human children eager to die for you and ideas…how many before us? How many after?"
"Joe!" Izzy rushed to him, prepared to hold him back. "Nothing is his fault…"
"Maybe not. But haven't you ever considered it? Even once, haven't you considered it? That none of this ever would have happened without him? I know you have." He stalked away from Gennai, and set Tai down by the stairs, briefly pressing a hand to his forehead.
"It was a mistake, a miscalculation…" Izzy began.
"I'll say it was. The mistake was sending us out. Anything after that only compounded it. Maybe we could beat Devimon. But then he sent us in over our heads, way over, and I can't prove it but I think, I'm sure he knew it…"
"I never!" Gennai shouted. It came out feebly, but it was stronger than any words he had uttered so far.
"It doesn't matter," said Joe, "We can't prove it either way. But this much is true. He took children, sent them to die…why? He said there was a prophecy. Of course we believed him, he was older, the only adult, the only one we could look to. He knew that. He milked for everything it was worth…"
"Please…" Sora stepped forward, "Can't you see this won't do any good? Even if he is…what you say he is, he's nearly dead, he can't be expected to answer for anything. Let's just get what we came for, and leave him…"
Gennai held a hand to his forehead. "Yes, I admit…the prophecy and so on was a bit of an elaboration, a…falsification…on my part. But I couldn't expect children to understand. Politics, morality, it was all beyond you…you wanted to be heroes, not soldiers…and I gave you everything you wanted…everything…"
Izzy's mouth snapped shut, and he stood silent, enraged. Sora regarded Gennai blankly.
Tentomon spoke: "Now, just hear him out…!"
"Of course," said Joe.
"What I wanted…was all that any benevolent being ever wants, the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people…and I did not mean to sacrifice you, I never did…with your help, I meant to eliminate beings who, for their various reasons, caused harm to others…Datamon once said I would ever underestimate him. To imagine he was right…I did not think him of any consequence. And perhaps…I had begun to believe, to some extent, in my own words…the prophecy…"
Izzy turned to his partner. "Tentomon? You knew?" he asked, matter-of-factly. Tentomon looked away. Agumon, also, could not meet anyone's gaze.
Gennai was not through: "But I had underestimated you, as well. Children were used because their minds were best attuned to the realities of the digital world…but you were not powerless…you act as though I have deceived you, and I have, however…it was not as though I told you that you would be fed, and then sent you into an abattoir…you knew you were fighting, and you knew, to some extent, what you would face, and you faced it…with astonishing strength…and courage…" His voice failed him. By speaking scarcely above a whisper, he had exhausted it.
"Well. See what's come of courage," said Joe, and he looked down at Tai. The boy's breathing was ragged, and one hand was clamped over his eyes.
"Gennai," said Izzy, making every effort to control his voice, "We came here for one thing, and that alone. We want to go home."
"But…" said Sora, "Most of all, I have to get Tai home. I think…there's more hope for him than there is for any of us. He can forget all this…"
"Oh, he can't forget," said Joe.
"Please!" Izzy snapped, "We can talk later on."
"There is a way out," said Gennai, "There has been, all along…but do not think that for all of these years, you could have used it! You could not have left New Cairo, and I could not bring it within the city because of the network, I have not hidden it from you…"
"I don't believe you," said Joe, "But I imagine that comes as no surprise. Where is it?"
"It is not anywhere, or rather, it is everywhere…it is a program that I have designed, had designed long ago. If you will allow me a moment…please, only a moment…" He tapped a number of keys on a console to his right. Each motion was a tremendous effort. "There you have it. I believe you will find it…on the roof…go, then, only remember…remember…"
"What?" Izzy said.
"Please, only think of me kindly…" Gennai pleaded.
"You ask too much," said Joe. Taking Tai into his arms, he began to climb the stair. Izzy, saying nothing, followed with Tentomon. Sora lingered a moment, and looked at the wreck man on his wreck of a throne, who did not have much longer, and knew it, and had a lifetime of failures at his back.
"I will," she said softly.
"You must have known all along," Joe was saying, "And you…I can't believe it."
Izzy came to a stop on the last step, looking up at him. "Listen," he said, "I know what you expect from me. But you've changed as much as anyone, you should know personality isn't static. After…what happened, I was alone, so I had to be more, you see? I filled a niche in the group, but then there was no group. It wasn't enough for me to be intelligent, I had to be courageous, reliable, compassionate…I tried. And besides, I decided that thinking, knowledge was useless if it couldn't save anyone." He climbed to the roof as Sora came up behind him. "So you see," he went on, "How I've become what I am. And what good it's done."
"Izzy," said Tentomon, "You were spectacular…"
"I was an idiot," he insisted.
Joe gave a sickly laugh. "Well, there's no reason you couldn't be both, is there? That's exactly what we were, the Digidestined, spectacular idiots…we failed in style…"
"There's our ride," said Sora, pointing. Two metal cables, descending from the sky, had fastened themselves to the edge of the tower. As they watched, a metal conveyance slid between them, a metal box with windows and doors.
"Cable car," said Izzy. As he spoke, a dark speck came into view, drawing nearer in pace with the car. "And we all know who that must be," he added.
"Demidevimon?" Joe guessed.
"Who else?" said Izzy. "Even if there was never any prophecy, I still find it difficult to believe that there is no such things as destiny."
It was Demidevimon. The former Lord Sovereign was charred and battered, but not humbled. His wings had become so ragged that he could hardly fly, and one of his eyes had become swollen shut. His voice carried down to them: "What're you waiting for!?"
"What are talking about?" Izzy returned.
"Finish the job! Blast me!" Demidevimon blustered. Landing, he extended his wings, presenting a greater target. The Digidestined only stared at him. He preened for a moment. "You know," he said, "Recently, after all that…rough business, I was feelin' pretty low. Thought I hadn't pulled my weight in this world. Hadn't done nothing worth bragging about. And I'm getting on in years anyways, figured it was time to call it quits. This 'mon I used to know, he went out the same way, one day he just decided he was finished and that was that. And maybe I didn't like that 'mon so much while he was living, but the way he went he went out, I could respect that. So I thought to myself-…"
"Get out of our way," said Joe, "I couldn't possibly care less."
Demidevimon held up a wing. "Hear me out! Won't take long, I'll be done talkin' soon enough. Anyway, no matter how many things I've done wrong, there's one thing I know I've done right." He brandished the crest of hope, and it gleamed as it caught the sun.
Izzy spoke without emotion. "The boy you killed for that trinket was eight years old. Humans, on average, have a lifespan of over eighty years. He had lived less than an eighth of his life. By our standards, he was helpless. In all likelihood, his parents would not have let him cross the street unless one of them was holding his hand. And you consider it to your credit that you able to kill him. Not only that, but he was asleep, and his partner was unable to digivolve to the Champion level, and you were backed by Datamon, Birdramon and a platoon of armed guards. I repeat—you consider it to your credit that you were able to kill him?"
Demidevimon seemed shaken, but he continued to speak. "Well so what? The fact is I killed him. And you must hate me for that, right? Must wanna kill me, right? I threw my lot in with the bad guys when I was In Training. Now I wanna go out like a genuine bad guy. What do you say?"
"A word of advice," said Izzy, "If you ever intend to be a politician. Never tell your enemy what you want. They won't let you have it." He walked past Demidevimon, kicking him lightly out of the way.
The former Lord Sovereign was momentarily stupefied, then raged: "Fine! But take this damn thing anyway, it's only slowing me down! I'll find some other neat way to die," and he tore the crest of Hope from his neck, pitching it at Izzy. The boy caught it single-handedly.
Soon, Gennai's tower was only another grain of sand in the desert beneath them. The air around them was paling with clouds. On the horizon, far away, Datamon's network was a dark band, of no more width than a human hair. There was no other living thing in sight. Except for the hum of the cable car's engine, it was silent.
There had been no farewells, not a word had been exchanged between human and Digimon. There was nothing left to say.
Three adult humans fit comfortably within the confines of the car. Tai rested in Joe's lap, with his head on Sora's knees. Presently, his eyes fluttered open, and he said very clearly: "Kari?"
"I'm here," Sora answered.
"No, that isn't you, you're…Sora? What're you doing here? Is this the bus?"
"Right," answered Sora, stroking his hair, "The bus."
"Oh." Tai seemed puzzled, but gave a faint smile. "Camp's through already? But you weren't there, were you…Kari? Sora was. Isn't Sora here? I thought…just a second ago…but I don't remember. Wasn't it…snowing?"
"Yeah." Sora echoed his smile. "It was snowing."