The Meeting of Minds
Inwardly, Jerry sighed in relief. He would have sworn it might have become violence had Corbet not given in. He watched in fascination through the entire affair. Mech, however, was able to read body language as well. His calm demeanor and unveiled threat of financial destitution had played right into the black dragon's fears.
The auctioneer brought down his gavel and banged it hard on his podium. Casey looked at him and winked before turning her attention to the two mega Digimon below. I wish I could hear them, she told Alice. The fact that they were talking made her nervous, but at least the metal Digimon had won. She preferred him as the lesser of two evils, though she still had plans to escape as soon as opportunity allowed.
You and me both, Alice replied. But she, too, felt a sense of relief, if only for her personal well-being. Casey, it seemed, was a veteran of these affairs, and knew how to take care of herself. Still, the human preferred knowing the plan beforehand. Next time, though, just tell me you're going to do something like that.
The two guards who escorted them out advanced again. Casey let them escort her off the stage and back to a holding cell, much less comfortable than the viewing area they had been in earlier. There she sat, having a good view of the platform, and watched as Garth trotted up the steps on the opposite side.
"A Garurumon of fine quality," she heard the auctioneer announce. "A good Digimon for field or domestic work, this one will start at five hundred. Do I have five hundred?" Casey smirked. She had known Garth for years, and unlike her, he would not stoop so low as to influence the sale.
"Five thousand," said a familiar voice.
That metal Digimon, again? She heard the murmurs of resentment and disappointment from the crowd, as well as a few not-so-hushed curses. Whoever he was, he was rich. In all, that might not have been so bad. Except, in her experience, Casey found that the more well-to-do a master was, the more cruel they tended to be. She would not let her partner suffer so—not when she was the only hope for the Digital World.
Then she heard the hammer come down once more, ending the sale of her companion. He had done it again, quite to her surprise. She saw Garth coming toward her and she grinned at him. I wonder if that's a good sign.
I don't believe in signs, Alice stated. You have to make your own opportunity. Take it by the horns and yank 'til it comes loose. Although, sometimes it worked the opposite way, she mused. The unexpected often threw her for a loop, leaving her disoriented and wondering what to do next. Now, during one of those times when she needed to gather her thoughts, someone else was making the decisions.
It bothered her. Normally she was in charge, making the tough choices for her and her brother. In a world where she knew nothing, though, Alice had no choice but to acquiesce. And Casey… she was so strong willed. Did Alice even have a say in the matter? She was a part of the Digimon now—they shared a body. Yes, Casey knew more about the goings on of the Digital World, but Alice was not going along just for the ride.
Garth did not grin back, however. He merely shrugged and sat down beside her as they were shackled once again, silent and stoic as ever. Casey had told Alice about him. He hardly ever spoke, but he tended to be as strong-willed as her, even so far as showing contempt for the other slaves. He had even been known to pick a fight.
This is unusually subdued for him, Casey told her. She eyed the lupine Digimon carefully. Though she had never had any problems with him, personally, she preferred to keep as much a distance as possible. She had never seen him so calm, and it made her wonder if something were wrong. Not even the tip of his tail twitched—the surest sign of apprehension in a Digimon.
Garth, as he sat, listened cautiously for the footfalls of the metal Digimon who had bought him. He had watched and listened to the bidding war that took place over Casey, wondering just was so spectacular about her that he would shell out so much money for one slave. Then again, the Digimon had put a large sum of money down on him as well. Something was amiss.
Michael sensed it too, and also kept a watchful gaze on the entrance to the holding pins. They did not wait long, either, as the familiar footsteps, heavy and ground-shaking, stopped outside the pins and the door swung open. The metal form took time to examine both Digimon in turn, and, it seemed to Michael, that it could see him as well. He shrank back unconsciously.
The chief guard approached Mech and beckoned for his attention. Mech turned his gaze downward at the Digimon. "Your paperwork, sir. Please sign and they will be discharged into your custody." Mech took the stylus into his oversized claw and tapped at the electronic pad. His signature looked unintelligible to Jerry, who wondered how long it took his partner to master the written word with such tiny utensils.
The chief bowed. "Allow me to go fetch the master key, sir," he said, before turning smartly on his heal and marching off.
They are efficient, aren't they? Jerry asked, a little impressed. He wondered briefly it was a courtesy extended to all the patrons of the auction, or if it were merely for someone who had put down such a large amount of credit. Jerry laughed to himself, eliciting a low rumble from his shared body. If only they knew what futility these auctions were.
The others gawked, having just witnessed an almost jovial exclamation from the giant before them. Garth had the presence of mind first to close his opened muzzle before being reprimanded. Casey followed suit, snapping her jaws shut with an audible click. There was no use in a beating before they had managed to get their shackles off.
Jerry quickly apologized to his partner. Think nothing of it. A creature ruled by emotion will undoubtedly display such emotion on occasion. The two slaves had certainly noticed, and no doubt wondered at the strange behavior. The human wanted to roll his eyes at that, but found he could not. So he contented himself with an inward, exasperated sigh.
The guard will be back soon with the master keys, Mech told him. From here, we will proceed to the Kellogg to meet with this bold Digimon. He was not used to being invited anywhere, much less summoned by personal messenger. For some reason, the idea galled him—that he someone should expect a Digimon of Mech's presence and power to come at his beck and call.
Perhaps he merely misinterpreted it. He brushed the thought aside, however, has he spied the chief making his way back to them. Mech motioned for him to leave and began unshackling the two slaves. He could see them both tense, muscles contracted like a well wound spring, ready to fight or take flight if the opportunity presented itself.
"Before you consider escape," he said, his voice modulated to elicit a mix of fear and respect, "mind you that I am a mega Digimon, fully evolved and capable deleting you both with the expenditure of minimal energy." He lifted one claw to point to his cannons, emphasizing his point. "Keep that in mind, as I will not put you in chains again, unless need be."
Both the ExVeemon and the Garurumon looked at him with surprised expressions. He thought he sensed something more, however, as if the emotions were somehow amplified within them. He checked his sensors, but the readings came out negative.
I felt it too, Jerry said, defying Mech's sensors. It was a faint hint of something out of the ordinary—an intangible that left both human and mechanical giant with the feeling that the two slaves were somehow strikingly similar to them. Then, as quickly as it had come, it vanished, leaving them both struggling to grasp the strange sense of familiarity.
He had seen them come, and he had seen them go; heroes of the Resistance never lasted as long as they needed. Sooner or later, DoyenGreymon would have them, and trample them into the ground. Darius remembered many such hopefuls. First they had the spirit beaten out of them, and once they were broken, the false emperor would lure them to his side, spilling forth the secrets of their fifth column. And once he had wrung the information out of them, he would execute them.
The MetalGreymon growled under his breath. The worst of it was each and every one of them wanted to pay for their alleged "crimes." Thus far, Darius had seen to it that no one from his district had been captured. His little chapter, way out in the backwaters, was a quiet one, hardly noticed even by the Resistance headquarters—let alone by the reigning authority.
Oh yes, he had seen them come. Peering over the monstrously sized desk, one fit for an ultimate level Digimon, Darius had never seen anyone quite like this before. The gleaming metal and monstrous claws of the Machinedramon suggested a weapon of war than a benefactor to his cause. But he had heard of this Digimon—but few had ever seen his face outside of his trading company.
The Machinedramon hailed from District Eighteen, as well, and often did business here at the plantations. When news had reached Darius that a human child had been discovered in District Eighteen, he had put the pieces together quickly. This trade baron was well known to the MetalGreymon, having freed more slaves than the Kilroy had ever thought possible.
So he had sent a messenger to "Mech," offering him a drink in the name of future business together. He was not sure how the other had managed to figure out his true purpose, but when Mech had asked him how many slaves he had freed, Darius had stared drop-jawed at the audaciousness of his remark.
"Your messenger made only one mistake in his disguise," Mech said, analyzing his host carefully. The Kilroy had been a very well-kept secret, for not even he had known of its true purpose until today. "He looked me in the eye. His insistence that I forego my customary bartering to meet you gave him away instantly."
Darius nodded slowly, his great metal horn momentarily scratching the concrete ceiling. A smile crossed his scaled lips and he decided it was time to lay down a bombshell of his own. "You must be very perceptive," he replied calmly. "Is that hardwired into your programming, or is your human partner responsible?"
Mech's expression did not change. Inwardly, Jerry wondered how it was possible that this other Digimon knew about him. Mech also had doubts as to Darius' knowledge of the preceding few days' events. Once more, he ran his simulations. The chance, however infinitesimally small, had beaten the odds. Someone must have seen Jerry besides him in that mountain city.
How does he know? Jerry tried to recall the memory. He remembered the cold, chilling wind, harsh sunlight, and the deep shadow of his Digimon partner enveloping him. There was a momentary flash of light, and he blacked out. When next he woke, he was inside Mech's body.
He tried to read the other Digimon's body language. Jerry would have guessed that this Darius fellow wore a smug expression—like he had put Mech and him over a barrel. Then he wondered if they should deny his existence. Darius had no proof, nor had he any to force Mech to reveal his identity.
"You are likely wondering how I know about you," he said, directly addressing Jerry. "Partnered with the Baron of the West, the most valuable resource the Resistance has at its disposal. And a mega Digimon as well—that was very fortuitous."
It unnerved him. The big Digimon seemed to be looking through Mech and at him. He doubted that Darius would believe them now even if they wanted to deny it. But how did he know? Who could possibly have told him?
There was no one, Mech decided. He had been thorough in his checking and his simulations. Darius would have deduced it himself, but with what clues, Mech did not know. "Yes," he said. "It is true. I do have a human partner." With that, the floodgates opened. There was a light, brilliant and intense, and then Jerry stood between the two giants on the massive wooden desk, blinking.
Marcus and his partner rested comfortably on a pair of cots set up in a large chamber. It was decidedly military in style, as they were arranged neatly in rows on one side of the cavern, situated across from what appeared to be a small kitchen and a communications kiosk.
Mason rested not too far away, unable to help but stare at the two. How he of all the Digimon in the world had ended up with a human partner, the Leomon could not tell. The human was spirited, that was for sure. He had met a soul so fiery as his in great while. It was just what his cause needed.
But why, oh why did it have to be Pat? he wondered. Sure the Digimon could act tough. But as far as taking action was concerned, his brother would have preferred the safe confines of his cushy government job. He was no fighter—he barely had an aggressive bone in his body.
Mason's mind flashed back to their escape. The patrol had been overwhelming in numbers, and Pat's attack had devastated them. Whether it was the dragon's own, raw power, or if bonding with that human had made a difference, Mason could not be sure. Only that it was powerful—that was all he knew.
That kind of power belonged in the hands of someone who could use it, though. He should have been the one to find a human partner, not his brother. If anyone deserved such a boon, it was he. His furry features hardened into a frown and he found himself growling in frustration. The human, Marcus, and he were so much alike, in so many ways.
Their passion, their fire, their spirit—it all seemed blindingly obvious to him. Somehow, this was a mistake. He got up from his bed and began pacing around the back wall. There had to be a reason. Maybe he would be given the chance to partner with another human? Mason knew there were two humans already in the Digital World. How many more might there be?
It was then that a door opened from the far side, squealing on its hinges in protest. Their host entered, speaking softly to another Digimon, whose movement alone shook the ground under him. The cacophony roused his sleeping brother and the human beside him suddenly, prompting one of them to mutter something about an earthquake.
A large, orange Digimon appeared through the portal, striped strikingly in blue. His one metal claw rapped against the door as he turned his helmet-clad head to the two champion level Digimon, making sure they were fully awake. "These," and the MetalGreymon turned back to his other guest, smiling excitedly, "are the others. Far as I can tell, only the ExVeemon has a partner."
"I see," another large Digimon said.
Mason stared in awe as the other body came into the barracks. He was huge, metal and looked like something out of a nightmare. In point of fact, the sight of the Machinedramon conjured up images from his childhood that made him want to shrink back. Even a Digimon of Mason's caliber would scarcely dare to challenge a monster like that.
Then a smaller figure caught his eye—someone who looked notably like Marcus. But that was impossible—Marcus was fast asleep not ten feet away. So he looked closer. In point of fact, there were differences in the two, as subtle as the variations between two Digimon of the same species. The human's mane was much darker, his skin a little more tan, and his face much less defiant. He had the look of a thinker, not a fighter.
He rode atop the metal giant's shoulder, holding on with one feeble hand to the stock of one of two cannons that arched out of its back, staring, quite obviously, at him. So one more human had been partnered up—and it looked like a powerful partner indeed. He wondered who it was.
Jerry could sense the trepidation in his partner, though he could not discern the cause. He and Mech stared at the two Digimon on the opposite side of the room. The ExVeemon, whom Darius had mentioned—the one who bore with him another human—and the Leomon that had accompanied him. A strange look of recognition passed over his face, mixed with utter terror. Then that passed as the leonine Digimon's eyes fell on Jerry, and he looked curious, as to why such a small thing as him had been sent here.
Was that why Mech had been so wary of coming here? Why would someone have given them such a look? Then there was guilt: an unbridled shame that would have put Jerry very near the edge of sobbing had he not kept his wits about him. Then, as swiftly as they had come, Mech clamped down on his emotions with an iron grip.
Pat had come awake now, and only half recognized his surroundings. Marcus was still groggy, but now sobered as the Machinedramon drew near. "Oh, my god..." he gasped. Pat's reaction was much the same and more vocalized. Mason nodded his agreement before Darius introduced them.
"Mason, of District Four," Darius announced, gesturing toward the Leomon with his metal claw. "He is chief among our fighters, and is responsible for the raid on DoyenGreymon's warehouse supply last year." He turned to Pat. "Patrick, of District One. One of our financiers, kindly in the pay of the government. And his human, Marcus Gray, of Earth."
Marcus waved weakly, staring up at the giant. Pat had seemed huge to him, and incredibly strong, when they had met, and again during the escape from the capital. He had not thought Digimon came in larger sizes, until he had met Darius. Pat had taken great care to explain to him that there were several stages of evolution for Digimon. Pat was evolved, but only marginally so compared to the orange dinosaur that he had met last night. And from the sense of awe that he felt from Pat now, he would guess that this other Digimon was further along still.
Mech nodded his acknowledgment and introduced himself. "I am Mech, of District Eighteen. My partner, bonded with me, is Jerry Young, also of Earth." He looked behind him, finding the two Digimon he had purchased at the auction.
Casey looked up at him. He was in the resistance—and had brought, of all things, a human! When he had come out of the office with the MetalGreymon, she had hardly known what to think, seeing the human atop his shoulder. She could hardly breathe, and Alice's thoughts raced through her mind.
Should they say something? Did they know a way home? Who was he? She wanted to speak, to shout in her own voice, desperately. But she had not decoupled from Casey yet, though she could hardly think of what she might say in any case. Alice had the feeling she might have stared open-mouthed at them, fumbling dumbly for words that would not express the joy she felt at seeing other human beings.
Her partner agreed. As they had come upon the Kellogg, something of which she had heard of only in passing, she and Alice had felt sick in the stomach. Slaves that worked there were put through all sorts of humiliation. And the slaveholders, who paid to deprave and destroy their dignities, were considered to be the elite of them.
Darius had met them at the entrance, and questioned Mech about the two of them. He had replied calmly that they were recent acquisitions, requiring integration into his establishment. Then they were led to a back door, and down a flight of stairs, all the while the two speaking in hushed tones. Only now, that they had come this far, did they raise their voices enough for Casey to make them out.
Mech asked for her name. No one ever asked for her name. She was a slave. She had planned to try and escape, of course. But her plans now dissolved in her mind as she fumbled for words. "Casey," she said, a bare whisper. Silently she thanked the gods. These children really were angels from heaven. "And... my partner, Alice Burns..."
A slave! Mason reeled. From her demeanor, her scars, and stubs where once she had wings, the lion man knew in an instant that she was a slave. Or former slave, now. He'd heard of the savior of District Eighteen, the Baron of the West, who freed the slaves. No one in the resistance knew who he was; he had no face.
Now, when he gazed upon the metal clad muzzle of the mega, he cringed, not knowing why. And the slave—she was a fighter. While she stood, stooped over in the manner of a servant, she also had a fire in her eyes which startled him. He looked at his brother and saw the same look of astonishment.
No one had yet noticed the Garurumon, sitting on his haunches, tail a-twitch, eying them all with grave seriousness. Garth did not trust the lot of them, especially the Machinedramon, "Mech." Even if he were in the resistance, regardless of whether he would set them free, he still bought Garth. He laid down credit after credit in purchase of another Digimon. His eyes flashed angrily.
I think we should stay quiet, he explained to Michael. The boy heartily agreed. He had only trusted one person in his short life. His mother, now departed, could never comfort him again. But he had managed, though he knew not why, to begin trusting Garth. He felt safe with the Digimon, even though they only knew each other briefly. He would go along with whatever Garth told him.
Mason turned to him next, finally spotting lupine figure. "Don't tell me. You have a human as well?"
Garth remained silent as ever, narrowing his eyes at the arrogant Digimon. He did, but they would never know by his will. How was a child that small supposed to fight a war? He had seen enough death for a life time anyway, if Garth was to understand him correctly. Far, far too much.
Maybe we should tell them, Michael suggested. He hated telling lies. And while Garth might have suggested that they were, in fact, not technically telling a lie, Michael knew better. Momma always said that "honesty is the best policy." And it had gotten him out of more scrapes than he could remember.
Besides that, who was to say these other kids were bad? They might be able to help him and Garth, or maybe the other way around. He was prepared, he thought, to do what he could. Hard work, his partner had told him. I can do that, he said, recalling the words. Sure, why not?
Garth shook his head, suddenly feeling a tingling all over his body. Michael felt it too, and used a paw to scratch behind their ear. Casey had felt it too, unmistakably showing signs of an itch or a tingling she found intensely uncomfortable. No, he thought, gritting his teeth. He had to keep his partner from them.
Why though? Michael asked, suddenly aware that the others were staring at him. At him, he thought, and then realized he was gripping tightly Garth's fur. He let go and slid down the Garurumon's back, landing on the floor with a soft thump. He picked himself up and went to stand by his partner's troubled face. He looked at the others, his lips drawn into a tight frown.
Now, Marcus wondered, what was the use of sending a child that small to the Digital World, especially to fight a war? He looked up at his partner, who had had the same thought. What sort of damage could something that small do? The kid could not have been more than six years old.
Not much more than an in-training Digimon, Pat decided. He had thought Marcus was small. But his human had a fire in him he felt almost overwhelming when they merged. But this kid—he tried to look defiant, but it came off as pouty, like he had never stood up for anything in his life. Sure with a Digimon he could fight, but could he handle the stress and pain of battle?
"You're a bit small for a digi-destined, aren't you?" Marcus asked.
"He's fine," Garth replied, growling. And what was he supposed to be? He was scrawny, a pathetic excuse for a warrior. Not that Garth was a warrior either, but he did know how to brawl against Digimon. It was a skill he picked up.
Alice watched the exchange and the perplexed faces on the humans' faces. She hardly understood it herself. But, she thought reasonably, if the kid had been brought to the Digital World by the same powers as themselves, then there was a good reason for it. "Whoever brought us here brought him as well. There must be a reason." Marcus turned to her and glared for a brief moment before going dumb-struck. She smiled at him.
"Yeah…" he said at length. "I guess so. I'm just worried about his safety is all. Little guys don't fight so well most of the time."
"He's got a partner to take care of him," Jerry interjected, citing the Garurumon, who nodded curtly at the suggestion. "Fighting isn't all about size and strength anyway." He was suddenly struck with the irony of his statement, and smiled as he looked up at the hulking form of his partner. He had forgotten, while they were merged, just how small he was. "Says the guy partnered with him," he quipped as he jabbed a thumb at his partner.
"Your concern is noted," Garth said, eyeing them all. "But we will be fine. He's already proven himself stout enough to handle whatever is thrown at us." They had no idea what the child had been through. The past forty-eight hours had been a terrible shock to them both.
That was right, Casey realized, glancing at her partner. How long had this kid been there, she could never know. He might have been in the Digital World for months, enduring beatings and fights within Garth and never saying a word. Even if he had arrived at the same time as her human, he would still have had to take several hours' worth of painful scrubbing before the auction.
"I think Garth is right," she said. "What's your name," she asked, stooping to be on eye-level with him. He backed away instinctively, but not too far as to show cowardice, only caution. So he was smart too, for his age.
"Michael Harris," he said softly. He saw the girl approaching. She sort of looked his mom, but much younger, and she was darker skinned than her. She smiled at him with warm eyes and, he sensed, friendliness. He liked her. But he turned back to the big creature in front of him and said, "I do the hard work."