June 25, 2027 A.D.

The wide, tall gray clouds seemed to carry the threat of storms, as TK always thought when he saw their entire expanse. The small shuttle rolled past the airport's main terminal, out along the tarmac road to the smaller personal hangars, and stopped at the third one. Kari and he thanked the driver, got out and went inside.

The mingled scents of steel, oil and heat greeted their noses as they looked around the surprisingly large hangar, taking in piles of metal scraps and three aircraft in various stages of dissection. The noises of a clanging hammer and a whizzing drill echoed through the whole chamber, impossible to determine where they actually were. Not wanting to venture further in without direction, Kari cupped her hands over her mouth and gave a loud "HELLO?"

The tools stopped with a loud clang, and then a geyser of curses burst from somewhere to their right. "I think he's over there," TK said.

They walked behind the torn-up skeletons and found a more complete airplane with three men in oily blue mechanic uniforms beneath it. One of them, a wiry man with five o'clock shadow on his face and mummified goggles with scratched-up lenses over his eyes, rubbed at his leg and spat various four-letter words. "Shit! Damn! Dam of shit! Who the hell—" he raged, then noticed the intruders. Immediately his scowl flipped into a gleaming smile. "KARI!" he yelled, racing over and pulling her off the floor in a bear hug. She laughed and kicked her legs up behind her. Then he turned and did the same thing to her husband with a shrill shout of "TJ!"

"Ulp! N-nice to see you too!" TK gurgled.

He pulled back and they saw their clothes had big new grease stains, but Kari smiled anyway. "How's it going, Davis?" she asked.

"Frickin' awesome!" Davis replied, pulling his goggles up into his hair. "I built so many planes, they gave me a place to do my own stuff! And check it out!"

He turned and waved at the plane they had found him under. Its design wasn't anything like TK or Kari had seen before, but its colors looked familiar: it bore shining red wings, and its body was sleek black with blue and gold trim. The word "Imperial" was stenciled just below the cockpit in glowing white. "You built this?" Kari asked, looking between Davis and it. "By yourself?!"

Davis grinned. "Well, I had some help puttin' it together," he said, motioning to the other two mechanics, "but design-wise, it's all me. And with the new engine I built, he's gonna be the fastest one yet! Hell, I've even had calls about him from Europe! And America!" He banged on the plane's side and cackled. "He's just about ready for flight tests, but, uh… he still kinda bites." He motioned to his ripped pants and the big bruise forming on the exposed leg.

"Wow, that's really something," TK admitted, suddenly wishing he had kept in better touch with Davis; he had no idea what his old friend had been up to… but some of his words puzzled him. "But I thought planes are usually 'shes?'" he asked.

"Yeah, but…" Davis said, turning and looking at his creation and tugging at his goggles, "calling this one a 'her' doesn't feel right, y'know?"

Kari looked at the plane, too. "Oh, speaking of which," she said, "have you got time to talk for a while?"

"Sure! Always got time for you guys," Davis replied. "What's up?"

"Well, uh…" TK said awkwardly, then lifted his notebook. "I'm starting to write… well, our story. I want to hear your side of things."

Davis's smile waned and his eyes became glassy and thoughtful. For a moment, TK was afraid he wouldn't speak at all, but then the engineer nodded eagerly. "Awright," he said, "let's siddown, though." He scrambled over to a fold-up table in the corner and set it up, then pulled some plastic crates around it. "This's all I've got, but it oughta work," he said, motioning for them to come over.

"Thanks, Davis," Kari said, then looked back at the other two engineers, who had picked their tools back up. "Are you sure it's OK? This isn't a bad time?"

"Naww, it's—" Davis began when the plane's nosecone fell off and hit the ground with a loud clang. They looked at him and he shrugged. "Relax, it's been doin' that all week," he said, then called to the other workers. "Hey, Shinji! Akihiko! Get some pizza and coffee, will ya?! I've got a tab at the terminal!"

The other men put their tools down and left. "We'll make a party out of it," Davis said. "How 'bout that?"

"I guess," TK said, "but won't your boss get mad if you're doing this when you're supposed to be working?"

Davis burst out laughing. "Boss?!" he asked. "TP, whose hangar ya think this is? I'M the boss!"

"Well, if you say so…" TK said, opening his notebook and clicking the pencil.

"Do you know where you want to start?" Kari asked.

Davis thought for a moment, his eyebrows mashing into each other over his nose. "…Yeah, I do," he finally said. "OK, so…"



The January sun waned as Sora, Yolei and their partners arrived at the Takenouchi home. "I'm back!" Sora called as she stepped inside, then jerked back at the mess of papers on the living room table, which her Dad hunched over like some ancient monk. "Dad?!" she asked. "What's all this?"

"Hi, Sora," Haruhiko said, looking up and smiling. "Oh, and Miyako's here too! I wondered when I'd see you again."

Yolei gave a small wave, embarrassed to be called 'Miyako' in the wake of things. "What've you got there, professor?" she asked.

"Don't mind me; I'm just doing some research," Mr. Takenouchi said, looking back down at the papers and shuffling a few.

"Research?!" Biyomon asked, flapping over and getting a closer look at the mess. "Looks more like you're gonna get a giant hamster."

Haruhiko laughed. "It does look like that, doesn't it?" he said. "Don't worry, I'll clean it up before dinner."

"Is that you, Sora?" her mother's voice came from the kitchen, and then she stepped out. Yolei's stomach churned in shame; Toshiko's reddened arms were bound with bandages and her face had three more plastered on it. She noticed Yolei and smiled tiredly. "Hello, Yolei," she said. "Nice to see you again."

"'Yolei?'..." Haruhiko asked, raising an eyebrow. Yolei scratched at her head and chuckled awkwardly.

"Mom, why aren't you in bed?" Sora asked. "The doctor said not to overdo it!"

"I had to move; just lying there was too depressing… and the plants needed watering," Toshiko replied. "Besides, I don't feel as bad as I look."

Yolei looked at Hawkmon for a moment, then bit her lip and wrung her hands. "Mrs. Takenouchi… I'm… I'm so sorry," she apologized.

Toshiko gave a puzzled smile. "I… well, thank you, Yolei," she said, "but why do you look so upset? You didn't send that monster."

Yolei's stomach gurgled like an anxious whoopee cushion. Mrs. Takenouchi must not have seen that Jachomon had actually been her, and that made her feel even worse. "N-no, I mean—" she began.

Sora put a hand on her shoulder. "It's OK," she said quietly.

As Yolei quietly swallowed a few times, Sora somberly looked at her parents. "Listen… tomorrow Biyomon and I have to leave for a while," she said. "Something really dangerous is coming, and I need to go prepare for it."

Toshiko's smile fell away immediately. "What? Now?" she asked in a shaking voice. "When monsters are still running around?!"

Haruhiko said nothing, closely watching his daughter. Sora frowned and shook her head. "I know," she said, "but if I don't go, we'll be worse off… and I'm not going alone." She looked at Biyomon, who flapped once and nodded.

"Indeed," Hawkmon spoke up, "we'll make sure no danger befalls her. Won't we, Yolei?"

Suddenly put on the spot, Yolei nervously looked at Sora's parents, then grit her teeth and nodded. "Y-yeah," she said. "We won't."

Sora glanced at Yolei and smiled a little. Toshiko shook her head. "I never like it when you run off… but I also think you know more about this than me," she said. "And you came home safely last time…" She paused and looked her daughter over, then gave a shuddering sigh. "…All right," she whispered.

Haruhiko came over and put an arm around his wife, then looked at Biyomon with a gleam in his eye. "You'll protect her, won't you?" he asked.

"Yeah!" Biyomon replied cheerfully. "You know I will!"

Haruhiko smiled and nodded. "Well, you'd better get packing, then," he said.

Sora smiled and gave a relieved bow. "Thanks, Mom and Dad," she said.

Yolei hesitated. She didn't want to go home just yet; she still had things to talk about with Sora. "Uh, can I help?" she asked.

Sora looked surprised by the offer, but nodded. The girls and Hawkmon went into her room, where Sora opened her closet and pulled out an old knapsack. "What do we need?" Biyomon asked.

She thought for a moment. "Well, nobody said how long we'll be gone, so I'd better pack extra clothes… Some food and tools wouldn't hurt either," she said, and started stuffing the bag with sock balls and underwear. "I'd better have a good set of travel clothes too..."

Yolei looked over at Sora's wardrobe; there was a lot in there, much of it she had never seen. Still, a quick glance told her most of it was for function instead of fashion. Mimi would have been flummoxed, but her brain gears started to grind. "You're going to Russia, right?" she asked. "That's frozen solid right now! You need some thick stuff, maybe double layers."

"Right," Sora said, not looking up, "but who knows what the temple will be like? I should…"

She turned around to see Yolei digging through her closet. "Yolei!" Hawkmon scolded. "At least ask permission first!"

"Sorry," Yolei said, only looking back for a moment, "but I thought of something good!... Ooh, here we go!"

Yolei emerged from the closet with a light red t-shirt and some faded blue jeans, as well as a heavy pair of boots. "You've got your coat and helmet to keep warm, but if the temple's different you can take them off and this'll be a pretty durable outfit; the boots'll work in snow or mud or whatever," she reasoned, dropping them next to the backpack.

"Oh, yeah!" Biyomon agreed. "You always had jeans before; you ran really fast!"

"Plus it's a good color mix for you," Yolei finished with a grin.

Sora blinked a few times, surprised that Yolei had come up with something so quickly. "Wow… I guess hanging out with Mimi was useful," she said.

Yolei's throat suddenly felt thick. "Err, well… I guess," she mumbled, then looked away and pulled at her shirt collar.

Sora felt bad for mentioning Mimi; Yolei still felt sensitive about the whole mess. "OK, uh, tools," she quickly said, turning to her desk drawers. As she dug around for her Swiss Army knife, she decided to change topics. "So, uh… did Davis get you home OK last night?" she asked.

Yolei's cheeks turned pink. "Yeah… he did," she said haltingly.

Sora turned around, puzzled; that wasn't Yolei's usual reaction when Davis came up. "Did something happen?" she asked.

Yolei bit her lip, her face getting even redder. Hawkmon looked up at her expectantly. "W-well, uh…" she fumbled for words. How could she explain what had happened? Sora was level headed, but even she would misinterpret Yolei saying Davis and she had ended up asleep together. "I just… everything I thought was wrong," she finally said. "All those fights and stuff… he was still trying to be my friend. But we, uh, talked about it… and we're OK now. That's all."

"Well, there was—" Hawkmon began.

"I said that's all!" Yolei snapped. Hawkmon coughed and looked away.

Sora managed a smile. "Good," she said, "I knew you'd make up somehow."

"You did?" Biyomon asked, tilting her head. "How?"

Yolei chuckled, then sighed and shook her head. "Yeah, he was a jerk… but I was mean right back," she admitted. "I mean, when I bought presents for Christmas, I skipped him on purpose."

"Well, you're safe there, Yolei," Hawkmon pointed out, "you never gave those out… so no one thinks you got them anything."

She gave him a dry look. "Promise me you'll never become a therapist," she grumbled.

Sora thought for a moment, then smiled a little; she could help with that part. "Wait a second," she said, opening another drawer in her desk. She pulled out a pair of aviator goggles with black rims and a red strap and offered them to Yolei.

Yolei suddenly remembered she had seen the goggles before: Sora had bought those for Tai in the fall, the day they had seen Wizardmon's ghost. "Wait, no," she said, shaking her head. "I can't take those!"

"Well… Davis lost his a while ago, didn't he?" Sora said with a shrug.

"But what about Tai?" Hawkmon asked. "I thought those were for him."

"It's OK," Sora pressed, pushing them into Yolei's hands. "I think Davis'll really like them."

At first Yolei felt bad, thinking her whining had made Sora feel she had to give the goggles up, but as she turned them over in her hands, she remembered what she heard about Christmas Eve. "Oh, right," she said, "because you came up with something way better than these!"

"Err… yeah…" Sora started, losing her smile and falling silent. Biyomon muttered something, folded her wings and looked sour.

Yolei looked over the goggles again, then shook her head; she had to say something now. "Hey, Sora?..." she started. "I'm… I'm sorry I didn't listen to you. You were right about… being myself." She swallowed four times before going on. "And what I said at the mall… I'm DOUBLE sorry. Talking about your feelings is hard… for everyone… I learned that yesterday."

Hawkmon smiled at his partner and patted her leg. Sora's smile returned, a little sadder. "Thanks, Yolei," she said. "That… means a lot."

Yolei smiled back, then glanced out the window and noticed the darkening sky. "Oh, geez, I gotta go pack, too!" she said, stuffing the goggles in her pocket.

"Thanks for helping me," Sora said. "Remember to tell your parents you're leaving this time!"

"I will!" Yolei said, grabbing Hawkmon and heading out the door. "See you tomorrow!"

"Goodbye! Thank you again!" Hawkmon added.

Sora listened to them leave the apartment. Biyomon sighed and looked at her partner. "Feelings, huh?" she asked. "Maybe Matt's onto something…"

Sora's stomach churned. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"Looks like she's learned an important lesson," the bird continued. "But if you can't even follow your own advice, maybe it is time for a replacement."

"Biyomon!..." she gasped angrily. "I… you… it's completely different!"

"I'm just saying," Biyomon said with a shrug. "I'm gonna see if your dad needs help cleaning up." With that, she plodded out of the room.

Sora turned to her bedside table and looked at the picture of her friends, chiefly at Tai standing there with his cocky smile… and then she looked at the hair clip sitting on her desk, unworn since Christmas Eve. She pulled her lucky blue helmet off, stared at it for a moment, then hurled it with an angry shout. It bounced off the wall with a hollow thock and landed on the bed. She gnashed her teeth and covered her eyes with her hand. Why did she always do this?!

… … …

Mimi and Palmon walked in on their parents talking with a strange visitor: a shady-looking businessman with a briefcase. "Hi, Mom…" she began, looking the man over. "Who's this guy?"

"Oh, hello, Mimi!" Mrs. Tachikawa beamed, looking more cheerful than Mimi liked to see. "This is the monster insurance agent."

"We're buying a full policy," her dad chimed in. "You never know!"

Palmon looked up at Mimi, confused. "Mimi, is that a real thing?" she asked.

Mimi was frowning. "I don't think it is," she said. "Did you check this guy out at all, Mom and Dad?"

"Look, kid, let the grownups handle this," the man said unpleasantly, then noticed Palmon. "And this isn't going to cover pre-existing monsters; that's going to be extra," he said to her mother.

"Pre-existing…?!" Palmon huffed, the petals on her flower swishing angrily. "What about that giant lizard guy?! You can't tell me HE'S not pre-existing!"

"Now this'll kick in at the start of next month," the man said, clicking a pen loudly and offering it to Mrs. Tachikawa. "Just sign here."

Mimi's mom started to reach for the pen, but Mimi yanked it away and threw it. "There's no such thing as monster insurance!" she shouted. "He's ripping you off!"

"Mimi!" her father scolded. "Be nice! He's an entrepreneur!"

"Your daughter clearly doesn't understand what's going on," the salesman said. "I'll come back when she's not at home."

"No, you're not coming back at all!" Mimi barked, grabbing his briefcase and shoving it at him. "Now get out!"

"Yeah, or I'll give you poison ivy where the sun doesn't shine!" Palmon huffed, flailing her vines for effect.

"You little…!" the man snarled, though he sweat profusely. "You're making a big mistake!" He turned and raced away, and Mimi slammed the door behind him.

"Mimi, what's gotten into you?!" Mr. Tachikawa asked. "That was—"

"Don't you get it?!" she asked. "He was just trying to take your money!"

"That monster's a bad influence on you," her mom huffed, pointing an accusing finger at Palmon. "It's just going to attract more of them, like that fiery one yesterday! Get rid of it!"

"No way!" Palmon said, balling her vine fists. "I just got here! Do you know how long I waited to be with Mimi again?!"

Mimi shook her head. "The fire one wasn't here because of Palmon," she said quietly. "It was here because of me."

Both parents stared at her, their faces showing anything but understanding. She decided it was better to drop it. "Listen, um…" she began, "I'm leaving tomorrow. I have to help my friends."

Their jaws dropped. "What?! No!" Mr. Tachikawa objected. "It's too dangerous!"

"Why?!" Mrs. Tachikawa asked. "Why do think you have to go?! It's bad enough when the monsters come here, but you…!"

"Absolutely not!" Mr. Tachikawa thundered. "No, you're not going anywhere, young lady!"

Mimi screwed up her best pouty face; she knew it would come to this. "I have to; I'm one of the only people who can do something!" she snapped. "And I want to, too! For my friends and everyone else! So I'm going and I don't care what you say!"

Both of her parents looked totally dumbstruck. Her mother burst into tears and her father struggled to console her. Mimi stared at them for a moment, then sighed and walked away. She pulled Palmon into her room and grabbed a suitcase to start packing, trying to keep a stone face, but as her mother continued to wail in the other room, her resolution started to erode. "…That was awful," she mumbled.

"But everything you said was true," Palmon pointed out.

"It doesn't make it any easier," she said with a sigh. "It's just like before…"

"You mean Myotismon?" Palmon asked.

Mimi nodded. "You know they got so scared, they threatened to leave the country?" she asked. "Dad wanted to go all the way to America!"

Palmon scratched her head. "Is that far?" she asked.

"Don't you know—" Mimi began, then realized that Palmon honestly didn't know about distances in her world and sighed. "…Yes. I didn't want to go that far away from home, so I had to throw the biggest tantrum ever to make them stay." She looked over at Palmon and saw the little plant was smiling. "What?" she asked.

"Even though you tried to get away from your friends, you still wanted to be nearby," Palmon pointed out. "See? You never really wanted to shut them out!"

Mimi thought for a moment, then gave a sad little laugh; maybe Palmon was right. "But… this Dagomon guy's worse than Myotismon… way worse. I mean, look what he's done already," she said, her spine starting to freeze. She whimpered and hugged herself, the nightmares she had tried to stamp out over the last five years tearing loose and running through her brain. She had just gotten her friends back, and now she might lose them forever. "I don't want that… I can't… not again!..." she whispered.

She felt several vines around her arms and opened her eyes to see Palmon clinging to her, her own face scared but determined. "Don't think about it, Mimi," she urged. "Just focus on what we have to do. I'm here, you're here… we can do this!"

Mimi's eyes spilled over, but she sank her teeth into her lip and nodded. She had fussed, whined and hidden herself away long enough; it was time to pull her weight. "Right," she said, heading to her wardrobe. "Now what's a good outfit for North America?..."

… … …

"OK, uh, tweezers, matches, ibuprofen…" Joe rambled on as he stuffed the old medical bag full of bottles and tools, barely including anything extra for himself. "Ugh, we need more bandages, Gomamon! I've gotta run to the store."

Gomamon just sat on the bed, looking the complete opposite of his partner. "Joe, relax," he said with a wave of his claw. "You're not gonna get seasick in the air."

"No, I'll get AIRsick instead!" Joe replied, putting his hand on the doorknob. "Besides, it's not just throwing up that bothers me… it's Matt. You saw him blow up today."

Gomamon cringed and nodded. "Yeah, did his fuse get shorter?" he asked. "I mean, he was crabby before, but…"

"And we have to work with him," Joe said, slumping with his forehead against the door. With that hateful rant on being 'replaced' earlier and then getting forced into working with the new kids, he had no idea how Matt would act on the trip. Would he cooperate with Cody and Upamon—or even Gomamon and him, for that matter—or would he ditch them and do his own thing, like he had before? That was an incredibly bad idea, but would Matt care? As much as he wanted to believe in his friend, Joe had to be ready to compensate if Matt decided to disappear.

Gomamon saw his partner's face contorting in worry, so he bounced up and down on the bed. "Hey, cheer up, Joe!" he exclaimed. "I'll just turn on the old Gomamon charm and get everyone laughing in no time! Even Matt won't be able to stay mad!"

Joe gave him a flat-mouthed look. "Aww, c'mon!" Gomamon pressed. "I've been working on my routine! Honest! Listen to this: why wouldn't the lobster share its plankton? 'Cuz it was shellfish!"

Joe sighed again. It would take way more than lame fish jokes to get Matt to smile again… but at least his partner was optimistic. "Work on it while I'm at the store," he muttered, opening the door.

"Ooh, can you get some chainsaws while you're out?" Gomamon asked. "Then I can juggle 'em! Eh? Eh?! How about it, Joe?!"

Joe sighed, pushing his falling glasses back up onto his nose. Where did Gomamon pick this stuff up?

… … …

The door clicked and Tai and Agumon came into Kari's room. "Well, I'm all finished," Tai said. "How're you doing?"

Kari sat on her bed, just staring out the window at the sunset. Her backpack lay open with barely anything in it. Gatomon stood on the floor nearby, her cat ears sagging in frustration. "See, even Tai's asking now," she said to the girl. "C'mon, Kari, pull yourself together and let's get ready!"

"You haven't packed?" Agumon asked, putting his face in Kari's bag. "Nope, she hasn't," his voice came as he pulled back and the bag came with him. "Hey, who killed the lights?!"

Kari didn't speak; she just turned and looked at Tai with those dreary, tired eyes that chilled his soul. "Are you OK?" he asked. He reached for her shoulder and then drew back with surprise; her clothes were covered in cold sweat. Suddenly he knew what was wrong. "…You're thinking about Dagomon, aren't you?" he said quietly.

She nodded sickly. "He's coming for me," she said flatly. "Jachomon and Kokytomon mean he's coming..."

"But we handled them, Kari," Gatomon said tiredly, sounding like she had said the same thing a few times already. "We beat Jachomon and scared Kokytomon off."

"It doesn't matter," Kari mumbled. "He won't give up. And he's still got Daemon… and Blackwargreymon… and he's the strongest of all of them himself… When he comes, the world is…"

Gatomon groaned and shook her head. Agumon yanked the bag off his face and looked unhappy. "You'll have to fight Blackwargreymon again?..." he asked.

"But that's why we've got to go to the temples, Kari," Tai said. "We have to be strong enough when he comes, and—"

"What if he comes while we've split up?!" Kari asked, springing unhappily to life. "Or what if he attacks here when we're gone? All our parents and...!"

Tai put both his hands on his sister's shoulders, trying to calm her down. "It's just a risk we have to take," he said. "If we can get Wargreymon, Metalgarurumon and the others back in action, it'll be a million times better than just sitting here waiting with only Imperialdramon and a few Champions."

Kari raised her hand and clasped Tai's wrist, then looked up at him. "Come with me?" she asked softly.

Tai sighed, then shook his head; this was going to be harder than a simple pep talk. "I can't," he said. "It's Light and Hope, not Light and Courage… but you'll be with TK; he'll look out for you."

"Hey, what am I?" Gatomon protested. "Old hairballs?"

"Of course not," he chuckled. "Yeah, Gatomon's going too. And Patamon. You're in good hands."

Kari didn't look reassured at all. "W-well, can't you go do yours, then come back?" she ventured. "So…"

"But that would take longer," Agumon pointed out. "What if Dagomon came in the middle of that?"

"Yeah, that's no good," Gatomon agreed. "C'mon, Kari, you can do this without Tai!"

Kari's body began to shudder violently, and she put her face in her hands. Why was her brother pulling away from her? He had always been there for her before. "Why?..." she whimpered, on the verge of tears. "Why don't you want to protect me anymore?..."

Tai shook his head sadly. "Of course I want to protect you, Kari," he said, "but everyone's got to work together on this, and—"

He yelped as Kari grabbed him around the middle, her fingernails digging into his back at the ends of her suddenly vice-like arms. "You don't get it!" she cried out, sobbing into his shoulder. "I can't do this! I just can't! I need you!"

"Oh, Kari…" Agumon said.

"Kari, get it together!" Gatomon urged. "Don't make this harder!"

Tai gave an exasperated sigh. Of course he wanted to be there for his sister, but this sudden clinginess frightened him into anger. "Kari, let go," he said sharply. When she didn't, he put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back. "I said let go!" he repeated. "I can't protect you all the time!"

Immediately he was sorry he had said it; in Kari's wet eyes he could see her heart breaking. He wanted to take it back, but he knew he had to maintain his position. "If we want to be ready for Dagomon fast, we need to knock all the temples out at once," he said. "That's the only way! You know that!"

Kari sniffled a few times, then hung her head. "Why can't it be like before?..." she asked weakly.

Tai sighed and shook his head. "This isn't before, Kari," he said, somewhat bitterly, "this is now."

Kari shuddered and sobbed again. Tai hated being harsh with her and decided he'd had enough; now he had to encourage her. "Look how far you've come," he went on, loosening his grip on her shoulders. "You held your own against Arukenimon and Blackwargreymon, and even though you knew Dagomon was there, you went to the Dark World to save ours. You're a lot stronger than you think you are, Kari."

"B-but…" she tried.

"And you've made a ton of new friends, too," Tai said. "Davis, Cody, Yolei, TK, all their Digimon… even Ken, who started out your enemy. They all went to the Dark World, too; they all care about you."

Kari paused and looked up. Her brother's words took her back to what TK had said to her in the fall, about her friends caring just as much as Tai did.

Tai smiled gently. "Even if I can't be there, I know they won't let anything happen to you," he said. "So… c'mon."

Kari looked at him sadly. She never thought the day would come when her brother pushed her away… but he was right; they had to get ready for Dagomon, and it was selfish to hold him back from his own challenges. She swallowed, hung her head, and gave a quiet, sad little "okay."

Gatomon and Agumon both smiled with relief. Tai pulled her into a big hug. "That's it, Kari," he said, "you can do this. Now let's get packed, OK?"

"Ooh, I know! Tai had extra underpants, so let's get some of those!" Agumon said, starting for Kari's dresser.

"Hey, woah, NOBODY goes in there but Kari!" Gatomon huffed, blocking his way. "Just SAY what she needs and I'LL get it!"

Agumon scratched his head. "What'd I do?..." he asked.

A smile finally broke through on Kari's face. Tai smiled himself. Out of his two problems, at least he had solved one of them.

… … …

The Inoue family dinner was a lot more quiet than usual. While her parents usually remained silent, none of Yolei's siblings said a word as they ate. She knew they were trying to keep from squealing on her about Davis spending the night, and she appreciated it, but the silence just made her more nervous about what she knew she had to say.

"Did you hear there were more attacks today?" her mother asked. "Something in town, and then down by the docks. Nobody died, but I heard there were some injuries."

"And think of the property damage," Mr. Inoue added. "Even if they don't kill anyone else, these monsters aren't going to leave us a city to live in."

"Yeah…" Momoe said, glancing worriedly at Yolei. Chizuru and Mantarou were doing the same thing.

Yolei sighed and put her fork down. She had to say something now. "Mom? Dad?" she said, looking over at them. "There's, uh… someone I want you guys to meet."

Her father looked up guardedly. "Oh?" he asked.

"Are we finally meeting the boy you were making yourself pretty for?" Mrs. Inoue asked.

Yolei shuddered; Ken's memory almost made her back away, but she took a deep breath, then got up and turned towards her room. "You can come out now," she called.

Her door opened, and silence fell as Hawkmon appeared. "Ah, is this my formal invitation to dinner?" he mused.

Five forks simultaneously clattered on the plates. Yolei turned back to her stunned family, then put her hand on Hawkmon's head. "Everybody, this's Hawkmon," she said, "my, uh, partner."

"Pleased to make your acquaintances," Hawkmon said with a bow. "Yolei's told me quite a bit about all of you."

Mr. and Mrs. Inoue sat frozen, their mouths hanging open. "…Oh, dear," Hawkmon said, scratching his head. "Erm, they were positive things… mostly."

Yolei didn't like the shocked faces of her parents, so she turned to her siblings, who looked just as surprised. "…You guys?" she ventured.

Momoe blinked. "What happened to the pink one?" she asked.

"Oh, ah, yes, well," Hawkmon said, "you see, I'm—"

"Is that one of those monsters?!" Mr. Inoue erupted, bursting from his chair like his foot was on fire. "Good God!"

"Err, wait! Wait!" Yolei tried, gritting her teeth. "Yeah, he's a Digimon, but he's a good one! Hawkmon and me—and a lot of other kids too—we keep the bad ones from taking over."

"Yes, we managed to repel them when they invaded," Hawkmon said, then thinking it would help, he continued with: "and then we pursued them to make sure they wouldn't strike again."

Yolei winced; she had been trying not to bring that up.

"You pursued…?" Mrs. Inoue began, then her eyes clouded with knowing. "So when you disappeared after Christmas…" she said.

"You were fighting monsters?!" Mr. Inoue demanded.

Yolei nodded sheepishly, the repercussions of just vanishing starting to take hold. "I really should have told you; I'm sorry," she admitted, wringing her hands.

"It's probably why you've got such a tab at the store, too," Chizuru remarked.

"Well, an army does march on its stomach," Hawkmon said. "I must applaud your store on its selection."

Her mother looked haunted and her dad looked ready to go nuclear. Yolei hesitated, not at all confident in their reactions to her next bombshell, but she knew she had to tell them anyway. "So, listen, uh…" she began, "now something big is coming, and I have to get ready for it… I have to leave again for a while, and—"

Even her siblings gasped at the news. Mr. Inoue's face looked like a beet. "Absolutely not!" he thundered, making her cringe. "You worried us half to death last time, and that was why?! This is out of the question!"

"This isn't one of your video games, Miyako," Momoe said. "You could get killed for real!"

Yolei's arms hung like cement beams, Ken's horrific end playing in her mind's eye. "I know…" she said. "I really know…" Then she shook her head and set her jaw. "But Hawkmon and me, we're the only ones who can do something! We have to!" She sighed. "I just wanted to tell you this time so you don't freak out tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?!" Chizuru asked. "That's pretty short notice!"

"Time is of the essence, I'm afraid," Hawkmon said. "But I assure you, I won't let anything happen to her."

There was an uncomfortable silence as Mr. Inoue breathed through his nose, his mouth a straight, angry line. Mrs. Inoue sat with her hands in her lap, her face and hair somehow seeming gray. Finally, she took a heavy breath. "I don't like it," she said. "I don't understand why the police or the defense force can't handle it…"

Yolei's stomach churned. "Mom…" she began.

Her mother held up her hand for silence. "I don't understand why," she continued, "but I watched the news all while you were gone. I saw how terrible things were around the world, but our city seemed to be left alone… You're saying that was because of your friends and you?"

Yolei just nodded. Mrs. Inoue sighed and rubbed at her forehead. "It seems it's out of our hands," she mumbled.

Mr. Inoue bared his teeth at his wife. "Out of our…?! You're OK with this?!" he raged. "Well, I'm not! Miyako, I forbid you to leave this apartment! And get rid of that… that thing!" he shouted, pointing at Hawkmon.

Hawkmon frowned at the finger. "You may be Yolei's father, but I won't be called a 'thing,' sir," he huffed. "Kindly take that finger out of my face!"

Yolei also glared at her father. "Look what happened today, Dad!" she said, pointing out the window. "Remember what happened on Christmas?! If I don't help my friends, it's only going to get worse! This isn't like telling me I can't skip work this weekend; I HAVE TO do this!"

"I don't care what you think you have to do," her father retorted, "I'm NOT having my youngest daughter risking her life fighting monsters!"

Yolei saw her opening and, after a nervous swallow, jumped at it. "I'm the runt here! You all know it!" she said. "I get the spares, the hand-me-downs, and the leftovers! Last picks! Usually I don't think I even fit in with the rest of this family, like I'm some kind of useless… weirdo! Up until I met Hawkmon, I didn't feel respected, or all that important..." She looked down at Hawkmon, then back at them with angry, determined eyes. "But this is something only I can do, and whether you're behind me or not, I'm gonna do it!" she stated.

There was another long silence. To Yolei's surprise, her mom reached up and wiped at her eyes. "Miyako…" she whispered.

Her siblings looked equally saddened. "We… we never knew you felt that way," Momoe said.

"Yeah, we never thought you were useless!" Chizuru said. "We just, well… you're so different we're not sure what to make of you."

Mantarou shook his head. "We need you," he said. "You're fresh air."

"Well, I wouldn't go that far…" Chizuru smirked at her brother, which earned her an elbow to the shoulder. "OW! But c'mon, Miyako, you know we love you!"

Her mother stifled a sob and nodded. "If this is what you have to do," she said, "then… go."

Mr. Inoue slammed his hands on the table, strands of hair starting to float above his face. "What's wrong with all of you?!" he demanded. "Am I the only sane person here?! She's not going and that's final!"

"Good heavens!" Hawkmon grumbled. "What would it take to convince you? Dagomon putting his tentacles through your shop?!"

Yolei bit her lip and looked at the table. Mrs. Inoue frowned at her husband and stood up. "Junpei! This isn't the time to be stubborn!" she scolded. "Who knows what would happen if those things came back? And have you ever thought it might be Miyako's doing that our store is still standing?"

Mr. Inoue jerked back a bit. Whenever his wife pulled rank on him, he quickly lost steam. "W-well—" he stammered.

"I don't like it either," she went on more gently, "but this is something we can't stop her from doing…" She looked at her youngest and smiled sadly. "And I don't think we should stop her, either; she wants to prove herself, and it's high time we give her that chance. So, please…"

Mr. Inoue's clenched fists shook as he took Yolei in with angry, frightened eyes, but finally he exhaled and fell back into his seat. "…All right," he growled, then glared daggers at Hawkmon. "But if she gets so much as a scratch, I hold YOU completely responsible!" he snapped.

Yolei smiled sadly. "Thanks… everyone," she said. "I promise I'll come back! C'mon, Hawkmon, let's go pack."

"Err… r-right behind you," Hawkmon agreed, backing away from Mr. Inoue's eyes as quickly as he could.

Yolei and her partner disappeared into her room. As the door closed behind them, Mantarou looked at the rest of his family. "She's wearing glasses again," he remarked.

"Yeah, I saw," Momoe agreed.

"Well, she looks more like herself with those, anyway," Chizuru said.

Mr. Inoue sighed drearily. "It's OK, dear," his wife said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "She'll be fine."

"I know…" he agreed, "but those contacts were expensive!"

… … …

Davis could hardly believe his eyes. Jun, who had been as energetic as a salted slug when he had left her that morning, was back to her bright-eyed, wacky self, immediately grabbing Chibomon away and swinging him around like a laughing pendulum; whatever energy the Digivolution had sucked away was back in full force. "Man, what the hell?!" Davis asked. "You eat that whole box of Frosty Walrus?"

"Nope!" she said as she rolled Chibomon up and down her arm like a basketball player. "I'm just that awesome!"

"Wee-hee-hee!" Chibomon yelled. "Do it again!"

Davis watched them play a little longer, then headed to his room. He opened his old duffel bag, remembered what he had brought on his other extended trips into the Digital World and grabbed the same stuff. He was stuffing three pairs of boxer shorts in when Jun came in with Chibomon. "Hey, Daisuke, lets—" she began, then saw the bag and sobered up. "You're leaving again?" she asked quietly.

"Yeah, tomorrow," he said. "Gotta move fast before tall, dark and tentacly shows up to grab Kari."

"It's real important," Chibomon added. "Sorry, Jun. But we can play again when we get back!"

Jun shuffled her feet. "Is Matt going too this time?" she asked.

Davis's eyes narrowed at the mention of the boy. "…Yeah, he is," he grumbled.

"Oh…" she said, setting Chibomon on the bed, hesitating before she spoke again. "Hey, Daisuke… before he left this morning, he gave me this… look," she said, remembering the icy glare on Matt's face. "Is he OK?"

"Pshh, that jerk's never been—" he began, but then he saw Jun looked genuinely concerned. "…Look, he's mad at us new guys," he said. "Thinks we're stealin' his job."

Jun flinched; maybe making Veemon Digivolve made Matt think the same thing about her. "What?! No way!" she yelped. "I'd never take…!"

"That's what WE said, but he ain't buying it," he said, zipping the bag shut. "Already made up his mind to hate us." He thought about it for a moment, then punched his bag. "GOD, he pisses me off!"

Jun hesitated for a moment, then played with her fingers. That didn't sound like the Matt she thought she knew. "Is he… always like that?" she asked nervously.

"He's been an asshole since I met him," he grumbled, but then he stopped and thought about Matt again. It was true that, most of the time, they didn't get along, but he had seen some other sides of the boy, too: loyalty to Tai and the older kids; despair at the thought of losing Gabumon; offering to Digimon-sit while the others went to Ken's funeral; and even yesterday, protecting his sister from Arukenimon. There had to be a reason he got the Crest of Friendship; maybe Davis just hadn't seen it yet. "…But I guess he's gotta have some good bits in there," he admitted grudgingly, "somewhere."

Jun stared at the wall, lost in thought. Chibomon waited and waited, but she didn't speak. "Davis, I think she's broken," he whispered. "She's not talking."

Davis smirked. "That ain't broken," he said, "that's a miracle."

"Oh, shut up!" Jun huffed. If that didn't surprise Davis and Chibomon enough, the next words out of her mouths made them both jump: "Daisuke, I want to come, too!"

"Are you shittin' me?!" he snapped. "Don't be stupid!"

"Hey, I can help!" she said. "Look what happened today!"

"Yeah, look what happened!" he threw it back. "You went down like a rag doll! We can't be dealin' with that when we're on a timer! Besides, we can't SHARE a Digimon!"

"You can't?" Chibomon asked, his head-tail sagging.

"No way," Davis said, folding his arms. "You ain't comin', and that's that!"

He thought that would make Jun rage like she usually did, but instead she bit her lip and stared at the floor, her fists balled. He actually felt bad. "Hey… look, I know you want to," he said in a softer tone, "but it's just too dangerous."

Jun looked at him with worry. "It's just…" she said with a wavering voice, "after what happened to your friend… but you're leaving again, and Matt, too…"

Davis swallowed. Jun was so happy-go-lucky that when she looked scared, he became scared on instinct… but he shook his head. "It's gonna be OK, Jun," he said.

"Besides, home needs watching, too," Chibomon piped up, "and I heard you're pretty good at that!"

Jun's cheeks flashed pink as she wondered if Matt had said that. She swallowed a few times, then nodded sadly. "OK," she conceded. "But… be careful."

Davis smiled and clapped his sister on the shoulder. "Thanks," he said. "C'mon, I gotta tell Mom and Dad."

"Hope they pass out again," Chibomon chuckled, hopping into Davis's hands. "That was cool!"

… … …

Dull white text sped by Oikawa's unmoving eyes as his fingers danced on the keyboard. "Just relax," he spoke. "It will only be a few moments before you're uploaded to your destinations."

Four capsules floated in the darkness, each occupied. "This had better not be a deception," Daemon hissed from his robes, "or the wrath of Dagomon will be swift and deadly!"

"Don't you ever shut up?" Arukenimon muttered, adjusting her purple sunglasses.

"Silence, you wretch!" Daemon snapped at her.

"Now, Arukenimon, be respectful," Mummymon said, "and remember the plan."

Arukenimon folded her arms. "Worry more about yourself," she grumbled.

Devimon stood quietly in his capsule, an unpleasant smile on his fanged lips.

Oikawa looked at them with a smirk. "Don't disappoint me, now," he said, then pushed a key. The capsules flashed green, and then they were empty.

He turned back to the computer and pressed a button on the side. The black screen switched to a Tokyo news station showing footage of Kokytomon flying over buildings and Jachomon setting fire to cars. "We thought our city was safe from monster outbreaks, but the incidents of the past two days have experts re-evaluating the situation," the newscaster spoke. "Though no fatalities have come from the attacks, the governor is urging the defense force to increase security in and around Tokyo…"

Oikawa muted the news and just watched the footage, his arms folded behind his back. "Birth is a painful process for all involved," he said to the void, "but in the end, something wonderful comes of it… You'll see, Hiroki…"

… … …

The sun crept up on Tokyo, shining brightly on the pavement of the TV station plaza. Slowly the Digidestined and their partners appeared from various directions: Cody and Upamon arrived first, then TK and Matt and their partners, and then more. Yolei and Hawkmon, surprisingly, were not the last to arrive.

Davis and Demiveemon showed up after most everybody else, flanked by Jun. "Mornin', guys," Davis said to the rest.

"Hi, Davis; good you showed up," Gatomon greeted them. "Wouldn't be much of a flight without the plane."

"Ha ha," Davis muttered, then looked at Demiveemon. "Guess we'd better get growing, huh?"

"Oh, I'm all set, Davis!" Demiveemon chirped, hopping off the top of the duffel bag. "I ate everything on my plate!"

"Yeah, and my plate," Davis chuckled, taking out his D3. "Let's—"

Jun put a hand on his shoulder. "You sure I can't come?" she asked again.

Davis shook his head. "I already said no," he said. "Get over it!"

Jun grunted and rolled her eyes. "Fine," she said, then looked over at Matt, who looked especially grouchy in the morning light. "Matt? Keep an eye on Daisuke for me, will you?" she asked.

Matt glared at Davis, but then looked at Jun and nodded. She smiled. "Thanks," she said.

Patamon looked at Matt, his ears curling in confusion. "Wait, I thought you didn't like Davis," he said.

Matt stuffed his hands in his pockets. "It's an older sibling thing," he muttered.

Davis blew out of the side of his mouth. "OK, Demiveemon!" he said to Demiveemon, raising the D3. "Let's quit draggin' and—"

"Get Dragon?" Upamon suggested.

Davis rolled his eyes; so much for sounding awesome. "Do it," he huffed.

Demiveemon puffed up his cheeks and strained. As silly as it looked, it seemed to do the trick; the Digivice gleamed and he changed into Veemon.

"No Warp Digivolving," Tentomon remarked. "This could take a while…"

"That's all right," Izzy said, "we're still waiting on—"

"Wait! Wait for us!" a shrill voice made them all cringe. Mimi and Palmon clambered onto the scene. The other kids groaned loudly as they saw the size of the suitcase they were pushing. "Sorry!" Mimi apologized, "but you try going down the street with this!"

"What'd you pack? Your whole room?!" Agumon asked.

"Just the essentials," Palmon said.

"I think we have different definitions of 'essential,'" Cody muttered.

"Seriously, Mimi," Sora said, "do you always overpack?"

Mimi started to object when a loud clatter came from behind her. Joe and Gomamon appeared, scrambling to gather the rolling bottles the over-stuffed medical bag had spat onto the ground. "Sorry!" Joe panted, racing after an orange bottle in a half-crouch sprint.

"It's been like this all morning!" Gomamon yelped, trying to grab a green one with both claws. "You try this without thumbs!"

Mimi turned a smirk on the others. "At least mine closes all the way," she said curtly.

Everyone else had a good laugh. As Joe caught the bottle, Veemon gleamed and transformed into Exveemon.

Tai looked around and saw that the whole Digidestined crew was gathered. "Is everyone ready?" he asked. "We older kids haven't done this in a while, so I hope we're—"

"Wait!" a woman yelled behind him. "Koushiro!"

Izzy's ears perked up, then with everyone else he turned around to a big surprise: like a miniature army the kids' parents and relatives were coming up the plaza towards them, his mother and father at the lead with a big green satchel. "Mom? Dad?" he asked. "What're you doing here?"

"You're not gonna try and stop us, are you?" Gatomon asked. "We really have to do this."

Yoshie smiled and shook her head. "We know," she said, "but we couldn't let you leave without a sendoff. And what kind of parents would we be if we didn't make sure you were fed?" She handed the box to him. "Here. We made those rice balls you like."

"There're enough in there for all of you," Masami said to the others, "so don't think you need to starve yourselves."

Izzy's face flushed and his stomach wobbled, his body unsure whether to be embarrassed or touched. "I… thanks, guys," he said, shifting the box's weight.

"Aww, we should have thought of that!" Mr. Motomiya said, snapping his fingers. "Well, we still came to say 'good luck!' That counts for something, right?"

"Do what you must," said Cody's grandfather, "but don't be reckless; remember you have homes to come back to." Cody's mother just wiped at her eyes.

"You can do it, Miyako!" Chizuru cheered with a fist pump, then looked at the rest of her family. "C'mon, guys, back me up!"

Mantarou, Momoe and their mother also cheered and raised their fists. Mr. Inoue just pushed on his glasses, trying to stay quiet. Yolei pulled at her hair, wishing they would stop… but it still made her feel warm inside.

Mrs. Tachikawa started crying again. Mr. Tachikawa, despite his naturally happy face, gave the boys an incredibly evil eye. "Take extra-special care of my daughter," he warned, "or you'll be sorry!"

Tai, Matt and Izzy flinched. Joe immediately sprouted sweat; as if having to work with Matt wasn't enough stress, now he had a parental guillotine over his neck too.

"Dad!" Mimi huffed, stamping her foot. "You're embarrassing me!"

"Yeah, what about me?" Palmon asked. "None of them have thorns!"

The other parents gave their encouraging goodbyes too. The Takenouchis and Hiroaki Ishida stood near the back of the crowd, silent and thoughtful. When Sora looked, both Mr. Ishida and her father gave her confident smiles and waves. Not knowing what else to do, she waved back.

"Wow, what an audience," Exveemon chuckled. "Guess I'd better give 'em what they want!" He strained and glowed, and the parents gasped as he became Paildramon. Some of them applauded. "And I'm not done yet!" he said, straining.

"OK, NOW is everyone ready?" Tai asked again.

Kari was trembling slightly, but she nodded. TK looked at his mother and waved again. "Yeah, I think we are," he said.

"All right, Paildramon!" Davis said, making a fist. "Show 'em your new wings!"

"You got it, Davis!" Paildramon said, still straining like he wanted to burst his veins from his arms. "Just a little more… YEAH!"

Both of Davis's Digivices sparked and smoked, and the mammoth Imperialdramon made his appearance, the sudden wind almost knocking some of the parents down while others almost passed out just from looking at him. Jun's mouth almost fell off her face. "You… wow!" she managed.

"I'm glad you approve," Imperialdramon rumbled. "I'll see you again soon, Jun."

"We gotta go, folks!" Davis said to the crowd. "The world's as good as saved!"

"We'll be back! We promise!" Mimi cried, waving both arms.

"Bye!..." Yolei said with another wave, then turned and looked up at the dragon. "Uh, so do we all get sucked in, or is it one at a time?" she asked.

"As long as it's not through his mouth," Hawkmon muttered.

"I dunno, but wait'll you see the inside!" Davis said. "C'mon, Imperialdramon, let us in!"

In response, a green light shone over the kids and their partners and pulled them all inside at once, making some of them (especially Joe) cry out in alarm. The next thing they new, they were in a big pile on a new floor. "Aww, come on!" Gatomon yelled as she squirmed. "Don't we ever get a nice landing?!"

They pulled themselves upright and looked around. Davis hadn't been kidding about Imperialdramon's interior being spacious. In fact, it had changed a little since he had flown him yesterday: along the back under the panoramic window were long, red, cushy growths resembling couches, complete with black seatbelt-like tendrils. There was also a small door in the back wall resembling that of an airplane lavatory. "Good grief!" Tentomon exclaimed, floating over and perching on one of the seats. "It looks disgusting… but it's actually kinda comfy!" he reported.

Joe went to the door, opened it and looked inside. It wasn't a fancy restroom, but it had what it ought to have; that was one worry he could partially put to rest. "Hope no two people have to go at once," he said.

"Where are we, anyway?" Biyomon asked. "It's too big to be his head."

"Maybe his back hump, where the wings come from," Izzy thought out loud. "It seemed to be the biggest spot."

"So where do we put our bags, Imperialdramon?" Palmon asked. "I don't see any storage place."

"Hey, give 'im a break; he couldn't think of everything," Davis said. "Just toss 'em on the floor!"

They made luggage piles at the ends of both couches, then started strapping themselves in. Davis headed to the control panel and looked back at his passengers. "Awright, everybody ready to go?" he asked.

"Ready!" Upamon exclaimed from Cody's lap.

"Yeah, let's go!" Agumon said.

Matt folded his arms and looked dark.

As Davis began to sit down, Yolei suddenly remembered her gift. "Oh, wait! Wait a second!" she shouted, unbuckling and running over to him.

Davis raised an eyebrow. "What?" he asked.

She looked at the control panel and its flashing lights, then back at the others and the chamber's windows. "Well… it looks like your dream came true, huh?" she asked him. "You get to be a pilot."

He smiled. "Yeah, I guess I do," he said.

"But you don't really look like one; you're missing something," she pointed out, reaching into her pocket, "but, well… these ought to help." She pulled out the goggles Sora had given her, and as she saw his eyes light up, she gave him a shy smile. "…Merry late Christmas, Davis," she said, offering them.

He stared at the eyewear for a few moments, dumbstruck. Slowly he reached out, picked them out of her hand and turned them over, taking in the design. He pulled the rubber strap a few times, then put them over his head, letting them sink into his hair. They weren't too loose or too tight; a perfect fit. "Say, not bad, Davis!" Izzy remarked.

"Yeah, they're a good match," TK agreed.

"I always thought he looked good with goggles," Tai chuckled, "but I guess I'm kinda biased."

"Hey, when did Davis get here?!" Patamon joked. "Where've you been, buddy?"

Even Kari managed to smile.

Davis beamed at the compliments, then turned to Yolei. "Thanks, Yolei," he said. "Now I know we're gonna win! Let's get rockin'!"

Yolei blushed and went back to sit between Sora and Hawkmon. Davis hopped into the pilot's seat, pulled at his new goggles and started hitting buttons. "OK, Imperialdramon, it's all you!" he announced. "Let's go!"

Everyone felt the rumbling as Imperialdramon's engines revved up and he slowly rose off the ground. "You had all better strap in," his voice came, "because we'll be reaching near-supersonic speeds. Now, let's regenerate your Crests and save our worlds."

"You know, Imperialdramon, I love how your speech has changed," Gatomon said. "What you said before you beat up Jachomon? That's my favorite line out of you… right after when you yell 'salted nuts.'"

"Ahem! Well…" he muttered. "I aim to please, I suppose."

Davis noticed all of their parents on the monitors, trying to stay upright and wave goodbye as Imperialdramon's engines blew them backwards. Jun was waving like she wanted to snap her own arm off, yelling something nobody could hear. He suddenly felt incredibly sad to be leaving them, but also more determined than ever. Though he knew they couldn't see him, he gave a little wave to the screens. "America's northeast, right?" he asked, pushing more buttons, then grabbing the control stick. "Here we go!"

With a mighty roar Imperialdramon's engines burst to life with blue flames, and the creature shot off with a force so great Davis almost lost his grip and the others were mashed into their seats. Luggage flew down the floor and crashed into the bathroom door. Mimi started screaming. So did Joe.

"Hey, watch it, Davis!" Sora yelled. "Not so fast!"

"Gradual acceleration!" Izzy gurgled. "Gradual!"

Yolei let the forces float her above her seat, laughing and hooting like a maniac. Hawkmon's feathers went from white to pale yellow. Cody gnashed his teeth, imagining being propelled right through the couch. Upamon looked like an empty pillowcase against his stomach, his little eyes almost popping out. "Aaaaaaawesooooooome!" he wheezed with flapping cheeks.

Davis pulled himself back to the controls and hit another button. Gradually the acceleration eased, and the kids all collapsed in their seats with exhausted groans. "My bad," he chuckled awkwardly. "Guess I gotta study error dynamics better."

"Aerodynamics," Cody grumbled, peeling Upamon off of him. "You know plenty about what you said!"

"Well… you've got plenty of time to practice today," Tai said, his hair looking surprisingly wilder than usual.

"Does he have to practice with us?!" Agumon wheezed.

With a wince Davis turned back to the controls, vowing to memorize what did what. If the others were going to complain about his flying the whole time, it was going to be a long trip.

… … …

Hiroaki groaned as he got up from the concrete, rubbing at a fresh bruise. Almost every parent on the plaza had been blown over (only Cody's grandfather remained upright), and dozens of windows at the TV station had suddenly shattered; that dragon knew how to make an exit.

He made his way over to Mr. Takenouchi, who was helping his wife back on her feet. Nancy and Jun were nearby, helping some of the others up. "Well, there they go," he said, looking up at the sky.

Haruhiko nodded. "We'd better get to work, too," he said.

"Work…?" Toshiko asked.

Hiroaki folded his arms. "Right… but where to start…" he muttered.

"What do you mean?" Nancy asked, looking at her ex-husband crossly. "Hiroaki, you said you'd tell me what's going on! Now what is it?!"

"It's not your—" Hiroaki began, but then he stopped himself and thought for a minute; maybe Nancy could help them… and besides, he had promised he would tell her. "Nancy," he said, "can you get copies of all the letters Yukio Oikawa sent to your paper?"

Nancy's face showed she had expected an argument, but Hiroaki's question forced her to pull her tongue back. "Um… yeah," she said, "but what do you need them for?"

"We've gotta do our part to help, just like before," he said, "and those could be really important."

"Hey, is there anything I can do?" Jun asked the adults. "I wanna help!"

"We all want to help," Yoshie said. "So, what should we do?"

"Yeah, let's get going!" Mr. Motomiya bubbled over. "So what're we doing, huh? Spying? Infiltration? Pledge drive?"

"Dad, come on!" Jun groaned, putting a hand over her face.

Haruhiko and Hiroaki looked at each other, neither sure what to make of him. "…I guess that's where his kids get it," Hiroaki chuckled.

Haruhiko smiled. "All right, let's all think of something," he said to the others. "Now who here has a good car?..."

… … …

The blues of the sky and the ocean almost matched as Imperialdramon soared eastward, sometimes flying low enough to leave white trails on the waves. Davis's head swiveled from screen to screen, taking in the view. His fingers now knew their way around Imperialdramon's control panel, and his new goggles felt right at home in his hair. This was an experience he had waited for his whole life, and he loved every minute of it.

The rest of the Digidestined, however, weren't as enthusiastic. As Davis worked out how to fly his partner, they were jostled, bounced and undulated almost to where their stomachs had tried to eject. Even though the ride had smoothed out and they could leave their seats, their moods were dim at the thought of being stuck there for hours on end. "Are we there yet?" Upamon finally posed the annoying question.

"No," Cody said.

There was a long pause. "How 'bout now?" Upamon asked again.

"Oh, brother…" Biyomon sighed.

"We'd better start entertaining ourselves," Sora said, unbuckling and getting up. "Anyone got cards?"

Most of the others got up and went for their bags for things to do. Izzy took out his laptop and typed. Gomamon tried to get people laughing with crummy jokes. Matt stayed in his seat, his glare frozen straight ahead.

Yolei noticed Hawkmon still looked yellow. "Are you airsick?" she asked.

"A bit," he muttered.

She blinked. "But you fly all the time," she pointed out.

"On my own, yes," he groaned, "but riding is another story…"

Yolei looked at Davis, still at the controls, and a smidgen of jealousy took over; if a dope like him could fly the dragon, she could probably do it way better. "Hey, Davis!" she said, getting up and walking over. "Let me try!"

"Forget it," he replied, "it's harder than it looks!"

"You're makin' Hawkmon sick!" she huffed, giving him a nudge. "C'mon, you don't have to sit here the whole time!"

"Lay off, Yolei!" he said, pushing back.

"I just gave you goggles!" she groused, shoving him harder and getting her hands on the control panel. "Don't be a jerk!"

"Quit it!" he yelled as her hand moved towards a green button. "Don't—"

Her hand hit the button and Imperialdramon shot upwards in a wild high-speed somersault. Davis and Yolei clung to the controls for dear life as kids and Digimon flew screaming every which way, colliding with luggage, the walls and each other. Izzy slammed against the bathroom door, clinging to his laptop like it was an infant as TK's hat landed on his eyes. Tai was plastered against the window glass with Agumon and then Gabumon mashed into his belly. Sora landed right on Matt's face, warranting flailing legs and frenzied yells of "GET OFF!" before Palmon and Davis's duffel bag pinned his arms too. Gatomon dug her claws into the seat as far as she could, then from the screaming realized it was Kari's leg. Mimi flew right into Joe, who grabbed her awkwardly around the middle and prayed to every deity he could think of not to let him vomit.

Davis saw the ocean coming up fast, pulled Yolei's hand off the button and yanked hard on the stick. Imperialdramon righted himself just in time, dropping into a hover and sending high waves in all directions. "What in the world happened in there?!" he demanded. "This is no time for an air show!"

Davis panted hard for a few moments, then turned angrily on Yolei. "SIDDOWN!" he shouted.

Yolei scowled, but feeling everybody's furious eyes on her left her with little choice. She plodded back to her seat and pouted. Hawkmon shuddered for a moment, then promptly passed out. Just as Joe realized he was going to keep his breakfast down, Mimi erupted in her own display of ralphing, which naturally set him off. "Aww, nasty!" Gomamon yelped, scampering away from the twin streams.

"Eugh… we're gonna be smelling that for a while," Tentomon grumbled.

"Does Imperialdramon have a mop and bucket?" Cody asked.

Everyone got on Yolei to clean the mess up, and she begrudgingly did so with a ratty shirt. Joe had brought air freshener in anticipation of vomit, so soon enough the cabin was clean and lavender-scented. Yolei stuffed the shirt in a plastic bag and threw it in the corner. "Hope nobody wanted that shirt," she muttered.

"Whose was it, anyway?" Biyomon asked, looking around at all the opened bags and suitcases. "Everything's all jumbled up!"

TK picked up his own bag and noticed half of what had been in it was on the floor. "Good question," he said.

"OK, everyone! Clean-up time!" Patamon announced, clapping his paws.

The kids scrambled to collect their things from the mass of clutter. Imperialdramon could fly straight by himself, so Davis got up and helped. As Palmon moved Tai's backpack and Joe's medical bag, something under them caught her eye. "Hey," she said, picking up a photograph and showing it, "what's this?"

The others looked, and Davis's mouth fell open. Palmon had found a picture of Jun, apparently taken by herself, wearing a big over-zealous smile and posing in a green bikini in her room. "Isn't that Davis's sister?" Biyomon asked.

Gabumon nervously looked back at Matt, whose face burned red. Palmon, however, looked at Davis and smiled. "That's really nice, Davis," she said, walking over and handing it to him, "bringing a picture of your sister to remind you of home!"

Davis looked at the picture again, then at Matt, who quickly looked away seething. He chuckled awkwardly. "Yeah… thanks, Palmon," he said, stuffing it in his pocket.

After a little more hullabaloo, everyone's bags were re-stuffed and closed. "Well, that was… fun," Agumon tried. "Maybe we're almost there now."

Tai saw nothing but ocean out the window. "Sorry, pal, not yet," he said.

"How much longer?!" Upamon whined.

TK wondered that, too. "Davis, how fast is Imperialdramon flying?" he asked.

Davis ran back to the control panel and looked over the gauges. "Says we're goin' about… the speed of sound?!" he exclaimed. "WOW! I don't even feel it!"

"We sure did…" Gatomon grumbled.

"Sorry," Imperialdramon rumbled, "I'll try to be more steady… provided nobody pushes the wrong buttons."

Yolei rolled her eyes.

"That's pretty fast," Izzy admitted, then made some quick calculations. "Still, I estimate it'll take half a day to reach our first destination."

"Twelve hours?!" Hawkmon groaned from his seat. "Ohhh… I'm not going to make it!"

"At least we have lunch," Tentomon said, motioning to the box Izzy's mom had given him.

"And a bathroom," Joe said. "We're covered, as far as I'm concerned."

Mimi sniffed once, then silently offered him a mint.

"Twelve hours… so I guess we'll hit America by nightfall," Sora reasoned.

"Sure wish we could stop and try some of the food," Gomamon said. "I mean, rice balls are good and all, but…"

"Ooh, you think they've still got apple cider, Cody?" Upamon piped up. "That stuff was good!"

"Either way, we can't stop to look," Cody said with a shrug. "Maybe next time."

"Excuse me," Imperialdramon spoke, "but I should point out that I'm not familiar with your world… Once we reach land, I'm going to be completely lost."

Davis's mouth fell. "You don't have a map or nothin'?!" he asked. "Aww, shit!"

"Hold on, Davis; I think I can help," Izzy said, reaching into his bag and pulling out a cable. "Imperialdramon, do you have a USB port?"

"I suppose so," the voice came, "although I don't really know what my insides look like…"

Izzy searched the control panel, found the opening he was looking for and connected his laptop with the wire. He typed for a moment, and then the front screen lit up with a detailed map of the world, as well as the four blinking dots. The others heard Imperialdramon gasp in surprise. "Amazing!" he said. "You just… put that into my mind?"

"Even though Digimon are living creatures, they're still computer code; we can add to them we have to," Izzy said, pulling his laptop away. "Now you should be able to find your way."

"Err, thank you, Izzy," Imperialdramon said. "I see I need to make a correction already… there we go."

"Can he really do that?" Patamon asked with worry. "Just plug into us and change things?"

"I don't know if I like that…" Agumon admitted.

"It turned me into Kabuterimon the first time," Tentomon pointed out.

"What if your lappy had a virus?" Davis huffed. "You coulda made him sick!"

Izzy looked at the others and sighed. That was a debate he hadn't intended to start; again his knowledge had jumped over his empathy. "I'm sorry, Davis," he said, "but considering the hurry we're in, I thought it would help... but if Imperialdramon's not OK with it, I won't do it again."

"Don't be too upset, Davis," Imperialdramon said, "this is incredibly helpful."

Davis sighed. "OK, fine," he grumbled.

"Well, either way, now we've got 12 hours with nothing to do," Yolei muttered.

"Who knew saving the world meant lots of sitting?" Palmon asked.

"How about some music?" Biyomon asked. "That could liven things up!"

Davis looked on Imperialdramon's control panel, but there wasn't even a CD slot. There was a device that looked like a radio with a few buttons under it, but when he pressed them, all he got was static. "No dice," he said. "Sorry."

"Oh! Matt, maybe you could play your harmonica, and—" Gabumon began, but looking up at his partner's angry face dissolved the words in his throat. "…Never mind," he finished quietly.

"Well, how about a sing-along?" Palmon asked, looking at Mimi. "You can still sing well, right?"

Mimi scratched her head. "Not really," she said, "those Geckomon were tone-deaf."

"I bet Imperialdramon's a great singer, though," Gatomon said. "I mean, listen to him!"

"Hmm… I don't know," Imperialdramon said, a hint of embarrassment in his voice. "I've never sung before."

"Woah, wait, don't!" Davis objected. "He might hit the Brown Note!"

"What's that?" Upamon asked.

Cody made a face. "Something we don't want," he said.

"Don't be silly," Izzy said. "The Brown Note is just an urban legend."

"Maybe," Joe said, "but how many urban legends are real in the Digital World?"

Izzy looked at Joe thoughtfully for a moment, then sighed. "OK, forget the sing-along," he muttered.

With hours and hours of travel ahead of them, the kids and their partners settled in with books and other diversions, or split into smaller groups and talked. Joe tried to read one of his schoolbooks, but soon felt sick again and gave up. Matt brooded in his seat like an angry statue. Kari just sat and stared out the window. The Digimon played little games with one another. "OK, OK, I spy with my little eye…" Upamon began, "something purple!"

"Yolei's hair!" Agumon said.

Upamon pouted. "That was too fast," he grumbled.

"May I try?" Imperialdramon's voice came. "I spy with my little eye… something blue."

Patamon thought for a second. "The sky," he said.

"Wrong!" Imperialdramon chuckled.

"The ocean," Patamon tried again.

"…Darn," Imperialdramon grumbled.

"Uh, Imperialdramon, I know you want to play," Gatomon said, "but all you've got to look at is sky, ocean and clouds."

Imperialdramon sighed. "Maybe we should play 'twenty questions' instead," he said.

"Ooh, I've got one!" Gomamon spoke up. "If corn oil comes from corn, where does baby oil come from?"

As they tried to come up with another game, Izzy typed away on his laptop, his mouth pulled into a concerned line. "What's wrong?" Tentomon asked, flying up and landing near his partner's shoulder.

"Well, it's my American pen pal… or rather, it isn't," Izzy said. "He helped me get as far into the new Digivices as I could, and I've been keeping in touch with him since then… but I haven't heard from him since I told him I found the temple gates." He shook his head and typed some more. "He's usually very punctual. I wonder if he's all right…"

"He made it through the Deadmon invasion, right?" Tentomon asked. "Maybe he's busy rebuilding his home."

Izzy closed his laptop and nodded; he had to remember that the rest of the world hadn't been as lucky as Tokyo. "Maybe…" he said.

Tai watched Sora quietly reading a soccer magazine. He wanted to talk to her, but with everybody so close by, things might become even more awkward. How long would he have to wait before he had a chance to ask her what he needed to ask? And what would the answer be when he asked it?

A voice said his name and snapped him out of his morose thoughts. TK had sat down next to him. "Oh! Sorry," he apologized. "What's up?"

TK didn't look very cheerful either. "I just… well…" he tried, scratching at his hair, "it's just going to be Kari and me at this place… and, well, with what happened in the Dark World, I don't know if I'm cut out for it." He paused and looked hard at Tai. "I wasn't a good leader; look what happened," he muttered.

Tai shook his head. "That wasn't your fault," he said.

TK stared at his shoes, unconvinced. "Do you really want me protecting Kari?" he asked.

"A leader should accept responsibility for what happened," Tai said, "but at the same time, you have to remember that things happen nobody can plan on." He paused and chuckled. "That was most of my experience, anyway," he said.

TK looked up at him in surprise. "What?!" he asked. "But you were a great leader!"

"Think about it, TK, we were fifth-graders. Could any of us have guessed we'd be getting chased by vampires or robot dragons?" Tai asked. "My being a 'great leader' was reacting on the fly. Most of the time I didn't know what was coming any more than you did." He paused and gave the boy a sad look. "What happened to Ken… you couldn't have seen that coming. And I wouldn't have, either."

TK looked positively dumbfounded. For years, he had looked up to Tai as a hero who had kept all of them safe in the Digital World with his strategic mastermind… and yet here he was saying he had flown by the seat of his pants the whole time. "I… I…" he stammered, unable to find more words.

Tai smiled. "Hey, it's OK," he said. "I learned as I went; that's why I can help you now."

"B-but…!" TK tried, but the revelation was still working its way through his insides, paralyzing his speech.

"It's good that you understand the danger," Tai said, "but you can't let that stop you. I mean, look what you did: you got everyone else through the Dark World, and you stopped the Deadmon from destroying ours."

"But that wasn't just me," TK pointed out, "that was everyone."

"And that's another important lesson for a leader: it takes the whole team," Tai said. "You've certainly learned that."

"I guess…" TK sighed, "but…"

Tai shook his head and put his hand on TK's shoulder. "Enough 'buts,'" he said. "You've done a great job as a leader. You trust me when I say that, right? Now you've just gotta trust yourself."

TK looked over at Kari, who quietly stared out the window with the gray look that had scared him before. Now, however, his chest began to burn with resolution. Tai still trusted him. He had to protect her, but more than that, he wanted to; he would keep Dagomon away from her if it was the last thing he did. "I'll do it," he said.

Tai smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. "That's the spirit," he said. "You guys'll be fine!"

Unbeknownst to them, others had been listening in. Sora watched TK go back to his seat with a sterner face. When Tai noticed her, his smile disappeared and he turned away. Sora sighed, got up and stared out the window at the clouds. Mimi noticed the whole scene and decided her help was needed; after all, she had to try and rebuild her own bridges too. "So, Sora," she tried cheerfully, "what's going on with Tai and you?"

Sora said nothing. From the gloom emanating from her, Palmon sensed something was wrong. "Mimi, um…" she started.

Mimi scratched her head and tried again. "You two were at the concert together on Christmas Eve," she remembered. "Are you going steady now?"

Sora remained quiet. Biyomon frowned. "Sora, Mimi's asking you a question," she said.

Sora swallowed, her cheeks starting to burn with shame. "Well…" she muttered.

Mimi noticed the red tints and beamed. "Oh, that's great!" she exclaimed, giving Sora's arms playful squeezes. "I'm so happy for you!"

Sora bit her lip, then turned away to avoid her eyes. "We're not," she muttered. "I mean, we were, but… now we're not."

Mimi's mouth flipped upside-down. "…What?" she asked in the most deadpan tone she had ever managed. Sora stayed quiet, her expression darkening. Mimi shut her eyes and spat a sharp little sigh. "OK… are you serious?!" she demanded, lunging at Sora on the last word and bulging her eyes.

Sora leaned as far back as she could without falling over, Mimi's accusing eyes turning her spine to jelly… but still, she could say nothing.

"Mimi! Take it easy!" Palmon urged.

Mimi squealed like a kitten with a stubbed toe, then pulled back and slapped her forehead. "Ugh! What did you do this time?!" she hissed.

Sora winced at the accusatory tone diving right into her; even though they hadn't been friendly with each other for years, Mimi still could read her like a book. "I just couldn't!" she said. "I couldn't do it!"

"But why?" Mimi pressed. "Why?!"

"I… w-well, look at the trouble we're in, Mimi!" Sora argued. "How can anyone think about that now?!"

"When AREN'T we in trouble?!" Mimi huffed and seethed, her teeth grinding on each other. "That… that was… guh!" she snarled, her brain fighting with her mouth. After falling into an uncomfortable silence, she sucked in her breath and relaxed. "…OK, does Miyako know?" she finally asked.

A pang of fear tore through Sora's spine. If Yolei learned what had happened, she might lose her respect all over again… and worse, it might send her back into her depression. "N-no," she said, "and please… don't tell her."

"Don't tell…?!" Mimi whispered, the frustration flowing back into her fists and making them crunch into themselves. "How am I supposed to—"

"Uh, Mimi, maybe we should leave it alone," Palmon spoke up. "Remember what she did to Yolei?"

"Hey…" Sora mumbled.

Mimi's face looked like a burnt strawberry, but somehow she managed to keep from exploding. After a few tense moments of panting, she looked away. "…Fine, I won't," she growled, "but she's gonna find out somehow, you know!"

Mimi stormed back to her seat. As she watched her sit down and fold her arms, Sora saw Biyomon shaking her head. She turned back to the window, groaned sadly and pulled her helmet down over her eyes.

Kari glanced at Sora for a moment, but then went back to silently watching the clouds fly by; they all looked gray to her dread-filled heart. Gatomon left the other Digimon and sat beside her, for all the good it would do. Davis, Yolei and Cody all looked her way with worry. "Wish we could cheer her up," Yolei said.

"Yeah…" Davis muttered.

They all thought hard, but nothing came to their minds; remembering Dagomon and the Dark World robbed them of any cheerful things to say. "All we can do is wait," Cody admitted, "and be ready when the time comes."

"Yeah, we won't let Dagomon get her, will we?" Patamon asked the other Digimon.

"No way," Upamon agreed.

"Absolutely not," Hawkmon managed, looking brave despite his sickly plumage.

TK watched the six of them make their vow, and in spite of the moment, his chest swelled. They may have been flakey and unhelpful at first, but the journey through the Dark World had forged a solid bond between them, just like his older friends. He was glad that Davis, Yolei and Cody were there. In the upcoming battles, he knew they would fight just as hard as the older Digidestined.

… … …

Hours of monotony wear down the most resolute souls, and by the time late afternoon rolled around, nobody in Imperialdramon's cabin had any thoughts besides landing. "Are we there yet?" Agumon asked loudly, his shrill voice amplifying the whine.

"Does it look like we're there yet?!" Yolei snapped, waving at the darkened window. Now that the daylight was gone, they were fighting sleep as much as boredom. Some of them were already out; Kari dozed with Gatomon on her lap, and TK and Sora both had their hats pulled down over their eyes. Matt continued to glare straight ahead.

"I don't know," Agumon replied, "it's dark out now!"

"Yeah, it's been like that for a while," Tai noted. "I think it got dark around 3…"

"Well, of course it is; the sun sets earlier in—" Izzy began, but suddenly he froze; he had forgotten something very important about travel. "Oh, brother," he groaned, slapping himself in the head. "I forgot about time zones!"

"What are those?" Hawkmon asked. "They sound like something from one of Yolei's games…"

"Basically, different parts of the world need different times, since both the sun moves and the earth spins," Izzy said. "We went east from home, and the sun moves east to west… so obviously we're going to lose daylight much earlier than usual." He shook his head and folded his arms. "It may almost be dinnertime for us, but it's going to be the middle of the night where we're going."

Upamon looked up in despair from scouring the green box for one last rice ball. "Does that mean no supper?!" he asked.

"It also means we have to find the gates in the dark," Joe groaned, "and we've never been to ANY of these places!"

"I have something to brighten your spirits," Imperialdramon's voice rumbled. "I can see lights ahead. We're about to reach land."

"For real?!" Davis asked, springing back to life and racing to the control panel. Surely enough, a sea of lights was coming up right in front of them. He checked the map and punched the air. "Yeah!" he exclaimed loudly, leaping into the seat. "We got to America!"

That was enough to stir everybody back to life, and they all rushed to the windows as Imperialdramon left the ocean and flew over dry land; even in the middle of the night, the towns gleamed with light. The Digimon gasped in awe as they flew over a huge city that sparkled like a golden Christmas ornament. "Wow!" Upamon breathed. "Cody! What's this place?!"

Cody saw a needle-shaped tower fly by. "Seattle, maybe," he reasoned.

"Ooh! I've gotta get ready!" Mimi chirped, grabbing her purse and running into the bathroom.

"Err, actually, we're still pretty far away," Izzy said to the others. "The first gate is in the middle of the continent."

"Well, it's more to look at than the ocean," Sora said. "We're almost there."

Imperialdramon flew onward, past the shining city and across darker, less-populated places… but as they flew over another small town, Tai noticed some other lights in the sky. "Hey, Davis," he said, looking over, "I think we've got company!"

Davis looked at the other monitors. Three fighter planes were flying next to Imperialdramon on either side, their lights flashing. Immediately his inner child screamed with delight. "A-10 Thunderbolt IIs!" he gushed. "That's the US Air Force!"

The speaker on the control panel suddenly crackled loudly, and a man's voice began to speak. Davis wasn't sure what he was saying, but it sure sounded awesome. "Man, we can hear them and everything!" he laughed.

"What're they doing out in the middle of the night?" Patamon asked. "Don't they have to sleep, too?"

"I can't believe it! I'm flying with the Air Force!" Davis beamed, looking like he was ready to jump through the ceiling. "Holy crap!"

The six planes tilted and withdrew behind Imperialdramon, and then the dragon shuddered as the air burst with gunfire. Imperialdramon jerked and swayed, sending his passengers stumbling. "HOLY CRAP!" Davis yelled again, grabbing the controls.

"They're shooting at me, Davis!" Imperialdramon said. "But why?"

Yolei got closer and listened to the voice on the radio. She could only understand a smattering of English, but that was enough to make her panic. "They think we're an enemy aircraft!" she announced. "They're gonna shoot us down if we don't leave!"

"What?!" Davis asked. "Why would they think that?!"

"Gee, I don't know," she growled, grabbing him and shaking him wildly. "Maybe it's 'cuz the whole world just went through a monster attack and you just flew a damn DRAGON over a major city!"

"Don't worry, everyone; I hardly feel the bullets," Imperialdramon said. A louder explosion made him lurch upwards, sending the luggage spilling open again. "That one was a missile," he reported, "but I'm not hurt."

"Well, good for you!" Biyomon yelled from beneath a pile of laundry.

Davis swallowed a few times, then tried pushing one of the buttons under the radio; maybe he could talk to them. "Uh… hello?" he asked. "Look, uh, we're good guys! So stop shooting, OK?"

The voice shouted more words. Both Davis and Yolei flinched. "I don't know what that means," Yolei gulped, "but it didn't sound friendly!"

Another missile threw Yolei to the ground and sent the others rolling. "Gee, ya think?!" Davis huffed.

"Get us away from them, Davis!" Kari shouted.

Davis grabbed the controls and flew Imperialdramon back and forth, but more bullets rattled Imperialdramon, and more missiles made his passengers fly around the cabin; the planes would not be shaken off. "Go away!" Patamon shouted at the planes.

"I think we're on the highway to the danger zone now!" Gomamon said.

"Come on, Yolei, you can speak some English!" Hawkmon urged. "Try to talk them down!"

Yolei swallowed with fear, but as far as she knew she was the only one in the group who could even try. She ran back up and put her hand on the buttons, trying to remember what she had picked up on the Internet. "Uh… stop shitting! We are decent human being!" she yelled. "Eat my dust!"

The voice on the radio sounded even angrier, and even Davis and the others understood the word 'fire.' Another barrage of missiles kept them airborne for a full ten seconds. "Nice going," Cody grumbled.

Yolei groaned. She knew what language she would be taking in high school… assuming she ever got there.

"I don't think we can get rid of them, Davis," Izzy said. "This is the US military we're dealing with; they won't stop until they've shot Imperialdramon down."

"But I feel just fine," Imperialdramon objected. "I'm not about to be defeated by some little airplanes!"

"That's not the main problem," Izzy said. "How can we drop people off at the gates when we're being shot at?"

"And when we're on the ground, they might try to arrest us, too!" Joe panicked. "They might charge us for terrorism!"

"Oh," Imperialdramon said, "I hadn't thought of that."

"What if we let them chase us until they run out of fuel?" Yolei asked.

"Maybe," Tai said, "but what if Imperialdramon runs out first?"

"We've just gotta ditch 'em!" Agumon said. "C'mon, Davis, you can do it!"

Davis bit his lip. Never in his life had he thought he'd meet the US Air Force, let alone have to out-maneuver it. "Awright, everybody strap in," he said, looking back at the others. "This is gonna get rough!"

The others buckled up and Davis hit the throttle. Imperialdramon's engines roared and he shot across the sky, violently changing directions as often as he could. Bags emptied their entire contents across the floor and onto the screaming kids. Joe held his breath in hopes it would keep the barf down. For all the twists and turns he made, though, the planes kept on Imperialdramon like hungry mosquitoes, peppering his side with bullets and missiles.

Davis swore loudly as another missile made the barfy plastic bag hit one of his monitors. "How far are we to the gate, Davis?" Imperialdramon asked.

"I don't know! I'm all turned around!" Davis said. "We gotta ditch these guys!"

"How?" Sora asked. "We can't shoot them down; they're people!"

"Not to mention they'd send the ENTIRE air force after us, then," Cody grumbled.

Davis thought fast, remembering what Yolei said. If the military was still jittery about monsters, maybe he could use that. "Imperialdramon, prepare to face 'em!" he said, mashing buttons.

"Davis!" Gatomon huffed. "Sora just said DON'T shoot them down!"

"I'm not," Davis replied. "Just you watch!"

As the planes kept shooting, Imperialdramon swiveled around and flew backwards, then opened his mouth in a furious, fang-encased roar that rocked even his insides. Immediately all six planes shot away in other directions. Davis watched them disappear and sank back in his seat. "Whew… is that all it took?" he chuckled.

"They might come back with reinforcements," Imperialdramon pointed out. "We must work quickly."

Davis nodded. Imperialdramon was right; they had to reach the gates without causing any more delays… and he knew a way to do it. "Hey, Izzy!" he called, "can you… woah."

The back of the bridge was an absolute mess: clothes, tools and food splattered over everything much worse than at takeoff. The Digidestined and their partners wore a lot of it themselves. "Who brought a half-eaten lollipop?!" Tai demanded, yanking at the stick in his hair.

"Help!" Upamon shouted, bouncing around inside the green box. "I can't jump high enough!"

The bathroom door opened and Mimi stumbled out, a curling iron caught in her hair, lipstick smeared halfway across her face and one of her shoes sloshing with blue water from the toilet. "What the hell happened?!" she whimpered.

Yolei had a juice box sprayed across her chest, but she couldn't help but laugh at how Mimi looked. "Hey Mimi, can you make me a balloon aminal?!" she cackled.

The others laughed, the tension of the chase broken. Mimi gave a huffy shriek, then angrily stormed back into the bathroom. "Sorry, Davis," Izzy said after he had stopped chuckling, "what's up?"

"Can you plug into Imperialdramon again?" Davis asked. "Find us a way to go that won't get more planes doggin' us?"

"That's a prodigious idea," Izzy agreed, digging around and finding his laptop.

As the others cleaned up again, Izzy and Davis plotted a safe course, away from other major cities and air force bases. "That should keep the tails away," Davis said as Izzy pulled his laptop away. "How's it look, Imperialdramon?"

"I think I can manage that," Imperialdramon replied, turning back around and revving his engines. "Get ready, everyone!"

Davis hit the accelerator and the dragon took off again for the first gate.

… … …

After two more hours of flying, sometimes changing direction to avoid more attention from the air force, Imperialdramon slowed to a hover. "Hey, what gives?" Davis asked, suddenly looking up.

"We've reached the first drop-off point," he announced. "Izzy, Mimi, Yolei, Tentomon, Palmon and Hawkmon, prepare to disembark."

Yolei looked out the window, but she didn't see any lights; it was pitch black down below. "Wait, are you sure?" she asked. "Where are we?"

Davis looked on Imperialdramon's map, which was all but swallowed by the large red dot. "All it says is 'Boundary Waters,'" he replied. "Looks like lakes and trees and stuff."

"That actually sounds nice," Tentomon said.

"Yes, but it's also the middle of winter," Hawkmon pointed out. "If the weather in Tokyo is any indication…"

"Oh, great!" Mimi pouted. "First I spent twelve hours stuck in here, then you're dropping me off in the middle of nowhere?!" She cast her evil eye on Izzy, who shrank back. "That gate better be real close by!" she said.

"Um, well…" Izzy tried, "it has to be reasonably close… maybe within five kilometers?"

"Five?!" Mimi yelped. "Do I look like I brought hiking boots?!"

"I thought you did," Palmon said.

"Not the point!" Mimi snapped.

Yolei stuffed her bag and tied it as tightly as she could, then threw on her jacket and hat. This was going to be different from the Dark World; she would do her absolute best. "I'm ready," she said. "How about you guys?"

"Urgh, finally," Hawkmon muttered, swinging his wings around. "I need some solid ground."

"OK, OK, fine!" Mimi said. She threw on her coat and hat, then reached into her bag for a long purple scarf. "I hope this's enough," she said as she wrapped it around Palmon. "Plants don't last very long in the winter…"

"Thanks, Mimi!" Palmon beamed. "I'll be just fine now!"

"Hey, don't I get anything?" Tentomon asked Izzy. "Bugs don't do well, either!"

"Err…" Izzy said, awkwardly looking away.

"Just say the word and I'll transport you back to the surface," Imperialdramon rumbled.

Davis looked Yolei over. "You gonna be OK?" he asked, then added with a wry smile: "there ain't no game shops down there, ya know."

She stuck her tongue out. "Let us go, Imperialdramon!" she said to the ceiling.

"Good luck," Imperialdramon said, and then green light flashed through the bridge. When it cleared, Yolei, Izzy, Mimi and their Digimon had vanished. "Wow, just like that!" Biyomon exclaimed.

"Where'd they go?" Upamon asked.

"Down below, presumably," Cody said. "Can you see, Davis?"

Davis hit some buttons and the main screen showed what was beneath Imperialdramon. Six little figures stood in the snow, flailing their arms at him. "Aww, they're waving goodbye!" Patamon said.

"Err… actually, they might be shaking their fists," Tai said. "How deep is that snow?"

"Ehh, they'll be fine," Davis said, grabbing the controls and turning the screen back to a map like Izzy had shown him; he also wondered what he had dropped his friends into, but time was too precious to stick around. "Everyone get ready!"

Imperialdramon swiveled around to the southwest and shot off into the night.

… … …

Two more hours passed without incident, and then Imperialdramon stopped again. "Here's the next location," he said. "TK, Kari, this is your stop."

TK reached for his coat and Kari silently put on hers. Patamon looked outside and saw that, once again, there weren't any lights from nearby cities and the ground wasn't visible. "What's this place called?" he asked.

Davis turned to the map and winced. "Uh… Death Valley?" he ventured.

Kari's face lost even more color. "Death Valley?!" Gatomon asked. "Great! Just great!"

"Wait, that was in the Digital World!" Upamon piped up. "What's it doing here?"

"No, that was the Valley of Death," Cody said. "This is different."

"Death Valley, Valley of Death, how different can those be?" Upamon asked. "They're both valleys with—"

"OK, that's enough!" TK cut Upamon off, then looked hopefully at Kari. "Are you ready?" he asked as he picked up his bag.

Kari cast one more look at Tai, but he shook his head. "You'll be fine," he said.

Not looking at all convinced, she slowly turned and picked up her backpack.

"Good luck, you guys," Sora tried.

The bridge flashed green again, and Kari, TK, Gatomon and Patamon were gone. Davis watched four figures appear on the ground far below and start to walk. Two gates were taken care of. "OK, guys, time to go back across the ocean," he said as he brought up the map. "Everyone ready?"

The others groaned. "Another twelve hours of nothing?!" Upamon asked.

"Can't we take a break first?" Biyomon asked.

The air ignited with two exploding missiles, throwing the Digidestined to the floor once again. The Air Force had returned, this time with a dozen fighter planes instead of six. Again the angry voice boomed in on the radio. "Dammit!" Davis huffed, scrambling back to the controls. "No breaks today!"

"Get out of here!" Imperialdramon tried roaring again, but this time one of the planes riddled his tongue with bullets. "Ha—OW! That hurt!" he complained.

Davis grabbed the stick and slammed his hand on the buttons. Imperialdramon tore westward past the planes, but they quickly caught up and kept pelting him. "They're not going to be scared off again," Gabumon said worriedly.

"Geez, are other countries this mean to dragons?" Agumon asked.

"Good thing we're leaving," Tai said. "They won't follow us across the ocean."

"We'll have to come back later, though," Joe said.

"One problem at a time, OK?" Davis huffed, mashing the accelerator.

Fifteen minutes of gunfire later, Imperialdramon flew over one more shining cityscape and met the black expanse of the ocean. The planes shot a few more times, but gradually pulled away and disappeared. "Whew!" Gomamon panted. "I thought they'd never leave!"

"Maybe we could have scared them off with your bad jokes," Biyomon joked.

"Hey, my jokes are golden!" Gomamon objected. "How about this? This panda walks into a bar, see, and…"

Davis didn't hear the rest; he was plotting their course to the next gate, in the middle of Australia. He wondered if it would be in a place devoid of people, like the other two spots… but more importantly, he wondered how they could get there without attracting any more fighter planes; he knew from studying various air forces that most Australian cities were on the coasts. "Imperialdramon, I'm gonna leave this up to you," he said. "Find a way to get there without pissing off the RAAF."

"All right," Imperialdramon said. "In the meantime, maybe you all should get some sleep. It's going to be dark for a long while yet…"

"That sounds like a good idea," Agumon yawned. "The ocean's boring, anyway."

"Hey, that's just the surface!" Gomamon said. "You wouldn't believe what's under it!"

"Yeah!" Upamon agreed. "You gotta come when I'm Submarimon again; I'll show ya!"

"OK, OK, we get it," Tai chuckled. "But seriously, everybody get some rest."

Joe glanced at Matt, who still glared ahead icily, and at Sora, who looked as downcast and awkward as before. It didn't look like there would be much more conversation; resting sounded like the thing to do.

The Digimon got up on their partners' laps and nodded off. Cody tried to get comfortable with Upamon in his lap, but the little guy seemed to expand when he was asleep. Joe took a small pillow out of his bag and put it behind him. Sora pulled her helmet down over her eyes again and leaned back. Even with Gabumon resting on his knees, Matt continued to fume. "Davis, you should sleep too," Imperialdramon urged. "You've been awake this whole time."

"Maybe in a bit," Davis replied, looking over the map again and then moving the controls. "I wanna be sure we're going the right way."

Tai moved Agumon, got out of his seat and walked over to the controls. "How're you doing?" he asked Davis.

Davis's hair looked more frazzled from usual and his eyes looked haggard from staring at the monitor for so long, but he still smiled and gave Tai a thumbs-up. "Still goin', Coach!" he said. "We're gonna do this!"

Tai chuckled and scratched at his hair. "You know, Davis, you really don't have to call me 'Coach' anymore," he said.

Davis blinked a few times before he could find words; he wasn't even sure he had heard Tai correctly. "Really?" he asked, staring at the older boy. "But I… For real?"

Tai glanced back at Matt for a moment. "Matt's kinda right; none of us want to be replaced," he said, "but you've proven you're just as capable as the rest of us. You've improved a lot since you met Veemon, and I'm proud of how you've grown as a Digidestined. If I'm supposed to get a replacement… I'm glad it's you."

Davis just kept staring at his mentor, not knowing what to say. "I… you… I…" was all he could manage.

Tai gave him a sad smile and was about to say something else, but suddenly his expression changed to absolute terror. "DAVIS!" he yelled.

Davis looked back at the monitor, screamed "JEEZUS!" and shoved the stick to the left, sending Tai flying and waking the others up with wild screams. The commercial airliner roared past so closely, its wing grazed Imperialdramon's belly. Davis wheezed for an entire minute. "Holy… shit!" he said.

"Good grief!" Sora exclaimed. "Davis, pay more attention!"

"This is why you need to get some rest," Imperialdramon said.

Davis looked sheepishly at Tai, who was groaning and rubbing his back. "Eh… sorry, Coach," he said, scratching his head.

… … …

"Cody! Hey, Cody, wake up!" Upamon's voice burst into Cody's dream. "We're slowin' down!"

Cody sat up with a groan, his back aching from sleeping in the chair. "How long was I…?" he asked.

"Long enough that we've reached the third gate," Imperialdramon said. "Wake up, everyone!"

The others got up with similar groans and grumbles. Biyomon noticed that the windows were still dark. "Hey, it's still night!" she said. "Are you sure we're there?"

"The sun hasn't risen the entire journey," Imperialdramon replied. "We seem to be trapped in time."

"Really?" Gomamon asked. "Oh, crap! How do we get un-trapped?"

"I don't think we're trapped," Joe said. "Remember what Izzy said? Now we've been flying westward, so we're going the same direction as the sun. I guess we just haven't caught up with it yet."

Davis looked down into the dark void, unable to see any lights or other signs of life. He was used to the cramped, perpetually lit confines of Tokyo, and to suddenly behold so much empty space made both his stomach gurgle and his chest swell; seeing the world was one of the reasons he wanted to be a pilot.

"Where are we?" Gabumon asked.

Davis ran over to the controls and looked at the map. "Some place called Ayers Rock," he said, then looked up at the ceiling. "Damn, Imperialdramon, good job gettin' here yourself."

"It was quite an undertaking," Imperialdramon replied. "I had to go halfway around the continent before I found an unpopulated bit of coast…"

"All right, it's our turn now!" Gomamon said, hopping out of Joe's lap. "C'mon, Joe, let's go, go, go!~"

"Isn't Ayers Rock a big, flat mountain?" Cody suddenly remembered from one of his classes.

"Hoo boy…" Joe swallowed, stiffly grabbing the medical bag. "Does that mean we have to climb?"

"What's wrong with that?!" Gomamon asked. "You've done it before!"

"Not for a long time…" Joe muttered.

"I could let you all off on the summit," Imperialdramon suggested. "Would that be better?"

Joe swallowed loudly. "Aww, c'mon!" Gomamon huffed. "Quit pretending you don't have a backbone!"

"I think the summit might be better," Cody said. "If it's not up there, at least we can scout the rest of the terrain."

Gabumon looked at Matt. "What do you think?" he asked, hoping for a response.

Matt got out of his seat and grabbed his bag, still scowling the entire time. Gabumon sighed and shook his head. As Cody picked up both his bag and Upamon, he tried not to look at that cold glare. This wasn't going to be an easy adventure.

"Good luck, you guys," Tai said. "Don't fall off, now!"

"Why'd you have to say that?!" Joe asked.

The bridge flashed green and he was gone, along with the others. Tai glanced at Sora and gave an awkward chuckle. "Well… guess it's just us now…" he said.

Sora just nodded, not looking at him.

"Awright, headin' for the last stop now!" Davis said, pulling the control stick and pushing the accelerator. "Who's ready for Russia?"

No answers came. Davis turned around to an uncomfortable scene: Tai stared out the window at the darkness, Sora stared at her shoes, and Biyomon looked grumpier than birds were usually allowed to look. "Uh…" he tried, scratching his head. "What's wrong, you guys? Coach?"

Again, the bridge was silent. Agumon looked between them, then gave him an awkward shrug. Davis watched them for a moment longer, then went back to the control panel and hit more buttons. Whatever was going on, they weren't going to tell him. He decided to focus on getting them to the next gate.

… … …

Silence gripped Imperialdramon's bridge for hours as he crossed the Indian Ocean and returned to land; neither Tai nor Sora nor the Digimon had said a word since Ayers Rock. Davis was about to go crazy when suddenly a fierce wind howled across the roof. Every one of the monitors showed only white; they had flown into a snowstorm. "Shit!" he suddenly yelled. "You got windshield wipers, man?!"

"This is bad…" Imperialdramon groaned, and the bridge began to shudder and shake.

"Just relax!" Davis urged. "You took bullets and missiles; snow won't stop you!"

"It's not that…" Imperialdramon said. "I've been flying for almost a full day… I think I'm spent, Davis…"

"What?!" Tai yelled, leaping out his seat. "Oh, geez!"

"You can't go down yet!" Agumon said, teetering around as the floor hiccupped under him. "We're not there!"

Davis looked at the map. The map showed they were almost at the red dot in the middle of Siberia. "You're almost there, Imperialdramon!" he urged, mashing the accelerator. "Just a little more!"

"Davis!" Sora said, grabbing his duffel bag and throwing it his way. "Get ready; this is gonna get rough fast!"

Almost as soon as she said it, Imperialdramon's engines shut off. With a great groan, the dragon tumbled down and crashed into the hard snow on his side, throwing his passengers against the ceiling before ejecting them into the cold along with all the extra garbage. Davis's face scraped against an icy patch and he shot up just in time to see his partner de-Digivolve all the way down to Chibomon. "Shit!" he yelled, clawing through the blizzard and grabbing him. "Are you OK?!"

Chibomon coughed a few times. "Da… Davis…" he rasped.

"Awright, don't talk," Davis said, opening his jacket and jamming Chibomon inside. Immediately he felt the cold cutting straight into his bones. The winter gear he packed wasn't going to protect him for long; Japanese winters were nothing compared to Russian ones.

Agumon had landed near Davis too. He coughed a few times, trying to spit fire, but nothing came. "I can't even get a spark!" he complained.

"We have to find that gate!" Sora shouted in the wind, scooping Biyomon up and making her way over to Davis. "Now!"

"But how?!" Davis asked. "What does it look like?!"

Sora's body felt even colder; Gennai hadn't said what the gates looked like! "I… I don't know!" she gasped.

Davis looked around for Tai, but he only saw Agumon, Sora and Biyomon. "Where's Coach?!" he asked.

Sora's eyes widened in horror. "Tai?!" she yelled into the wind.

"Tai!" Agumon screamed as loudly as he could.

Tai heard his friends, but he couldn't see them. He pulled his goggles down over his eyes and looked, but in the swirling snow he could hardly see past his hair. Sora's words disturbed him too—he had no idea what a gate to the Digital World would look like either—but he knew there was a way to find it. First, though, he had to find his friends. Praying it hadn't frozen up, he took out his Digivice and looked at the screen. Thankfully, it showed a flashing light off to his right, and that sounded like where the yelling came from, too… but there was another flashing dot on the screen too, somewhere to the north. "Sora!" he shouted, starting for the closer signal. "Davis! Agumon!"

The others turned and shouted with relief as Tai appeared in the howling gale. "Thank God!" Davis panted.

"We thought we lost you!" Biyomon said.

Tai smiled wryly. "It'll take more than that," he said, then held up his Digivice. "Here, look!"

Sora and Davis saw the dot on the screen, too. "What is it?!" Sora asked.

"I don't know, but let's go look!" Tai said. "Hurry!"

"Don't gotta tell me twice!" Davis said, clutching Chibomon inside his jacket.

Not knowing what was ahead, but hoping they found it before they froze to death, the remaining Digidestined left their baggage behind and started north.