Davis couldn't keep from chewing his lip as he looked between the darkened land beneath him and the eerie glowing underworld above. Had he not been piloting a mechanical dragon, he would have been able to tell himself he was just having a nightmare. His worried mind started to drift back to his family, but he forced himself to focus on the task at hand. "How long 'til we're there?" he asked.

Imperialdramon peered ahead and spotted a pillar of rainbow light hovering between the two grounds. "We're almost—" he began, but suddenly snarled and veered to the left as a dump-truck-sized wave of orange magma dropped down in front of him. "Gravity is starting to take effect," he muttered. "Ugh, sulfur."

Yolei cringed as the magma splattered across the road below, igniting three nearby trees and two cars. Then she looked up and saw that other fiery lakes were dropping their loads and thought of what would happen if that stuff hit her apartment building. "Better hoof it, Imperialdramon," she said, "or there isn't gonna be anything left to save!"

The rainbow pillar came closer, and Davis made Imperialdramon slow to a hover in front of it. He turned and looked at his friends with the most serious face he had ever worn. "OK, guys," he said, "ready?"

The others clenched their Digivices in their hands and nodded. Suddenly, Cody suddenly remembered what had happened when he tried to enter Baihumon's temple with Matt and Joe. "Wait a second… Will we even be able to get through?" he asked.

"Yeah, are we gonna be left hangin' again?" Armadillomon asked.

TK scratched his head, worry crossing his face; Cody had a point. "I don't know," he said.

"Izzy said the D3s broke free of Oikawa's program when they changed," Hawkmon said. "Perhaps the Order will let us in now."

"We've got two real Digivices, too," Gatomon said, looking at TK and Kari. "I wonder if that's enough for all of us."

Kari looked down at her Digivice. "I mean, we're inside Imperialdramon, so maybe it'll work," she said. "We'll just have to try."

"If they don't, then I'll fly into it as high as I can go," Imperialdramon rumbled. "Let us begin… and buckle up, all of you."

Everyone strapped in and the kids held up their Digivices. Davis put his on the control panel, grabbed the stick and hit the button, and Imperialdramon gunned his engines and shot up into the pillar. His interior shook and shuddered like they were stuck in a tumbler dryer, and the kids saw nothing but flashing colors as they lurched around in their seats. Kari made a noise between a scream and a yell. Armadillomon's claws broke the lining of his seat. Cody closed his eyes and tried to ignore his stomach.

"Is it working?!" Hawkmon asked loudly.

"No idea!" Yolei yelled, "but keep doin' it!"

"C'mon, Imperialdramon!" Davis growled as he shut his eyes, one hand on his D3 and the other clenching the stick. As the shaking worsened and the engines blew through his eardrums, he knew the control stick would shatter from his grip and his teeth would shatter on each other—he wasn't sure which would happen first—but he stayed in his seat and urged Imperialdramon onward.

… … …

The wailing of police sirens in their ears, the Digidestined rushed down the concrete dock to Oikawa's warehouse. "OK, we get in, trash his computers and get out," Tai said to the others, "then we go help Davis and the rest."

"You really think it'll be that easy?" Matt asked, raising an eyebrow.

Tai grinned at him. "No, but it's still the plan," he said.

"I love plans like this!" Agumon said, clenching his claws. "Let's do it!"

"The force field's gone," Izzy said, pointing at the wide steel door. "Let us in, guys!"

Agumon, Gabumon, Tentomon and Biyomon all hurled their attacks at the door, and with the force field gone, the cheap steel collapsed inward. "Remember what Jun said about the floor!" Sora said as the kids rushed in, "it's—" She stopped as she saw the gaping hole in the floor in front of the forklift, not at all disguised, with a flight of stone steps leading down into its darkness. "Well, never mind," she said.

"Well, we know she was right," Biyomon said. "She'll be happy to hear that!"

"We'll let Matt tell her," Gabumon said.

Mimi stared down into the darkness, her body starting to tremble. "Why'd he leave it open?" she asked.

"Was he in that much of a hurry?" Palmon asked.

Matt glared stonily at the steps. "It's a trap, and he knows we're going to spring it," he growled. "Be ready for anything."

Tai looked at his friends and nodded; they needed a leader's words. "You know the thing about traps," he said, "you can break 'em if you keep your head on."

Sora took a deep breath and exhaled sharply. "Right…" she muttered.

Tai and Agumon went first down the stairs, and the others followed. Joe, bringing up the rear, suddenly had a confusing thought. "This warehouse is over water," he said. "Why does it have a basement?"

"Maybe it—" Gomamon began, then his joke died as the steps vanished beneath them, sending them all into free-fall. For six awful seconds, their vision swam with dark hues of purple, they watched each other get hurled in every direction but up. Everyone had their mouths open in screams, though no one could hear any sounds from the others or even themselves. Their rag-dolling limbs went numb and their stomachs sputtered with leaping acids. When they crashed down into a struggling heap, the pain was an almost welcome sign of normality… almost.

"Ow! OWWW!" Matt yelled as he tried to push Gabumon's horn out of his side.

"My stem! My stem's bent!" Palmon yelped as she tried to pull herself out from under Tai and Agumon.

"Come on, this is the new kids' gag!" Gomamon coughed, digging his way to the top of the pile. Then he looked around and his eyes widened. "Guys! Look at this!" he exclaimed.

The Digidestined untangled and found themselves in a wide chamber full of humming, whirring scientific-looking equipment: dozens of computers and monitors flashing with colors and diagrams; spinning gyros and fans; and six tall capsules with glass that glowed an eerie green. Tai could hardly believe what he was seeing. "Wha… wait, where are we?!" he asked.

"It's like something out of Yolei's games," Mimi said, pulling Palmon closer.

"It's supposed to be water!" Joe repeated in a voice creeping closer to panic. "It's supposed to be water!"

Sora looked around and frowned. Joe was right; there was no way the bottom of a seaside warehouse could accommodate something so large. "I don't think we're in the warehouse anymore," she said.

"How very observant, Takenouchi," Oikawa's voice came from all directions, making them all shoot up in alarm. The nearest monitor flickered, and then his gaunt face appeared with the familiar smirk. "So, where do you suppose you are?" he asked.

Izzy looked away from the burning eyes and thought hard, and it didn't take long for him to come up with an idea. "He must have used some of the Digital World's data to create this place," he theorized. "He altered the Digital World, so he knows how to create and change digital spaces… so he made a miniature Digital World to use as a lab."

"That's exactly right; a gold star for Mr. Izumi," Oikawa said, feigning delight. "And since you were all expecting a big, scary laboratory, I'm more than happy to oblige."

The kids and their partners slowly moved further into the room, treating each console and screen as if they might be rigged to explode. "So… you didn't really use all this stuff?" Biyomon asked.

"Of course not. The supercomputer that I built and programmed myself is all I have ever needed to bend both worlds to my will," Oikawa said, watching Joe nervously tap on one of the glass capsules. "This is just to demonstrate my technical skill. If you're foolish enough to venture further in, though, I'd be delighted to show you what else it can do."

"Oh, you know we are," Tai said, gripping his Digivice. "You think we'll get scared away by this?"

"You're going to destroy both worlds!" Palmon said. "We're not leaving until we stop you!"

Suddenly alarms blared and lights flashed red. The capsule Joe was looking at began to shudder and snarl, making him leap back in terror. Oikawa raised an eerie eyebrow. "Oh? Well, then we'll just have to see who stops whom," he said.

The capsule slid open and out lunged a Digimon that the kids recognized immediately. Veemon stood before them, twitching and growling as he rocked back and forth, his eyes as empty as when Oikawa had controlled him before. Even more unsettling were the shades of gray in place of his body's usual colors, as if he were an unpainted action figure. "Veemon?!" Biyomon asked, then frowned. "No, it can't be!"

Izzy's eyes narrowed as he remembered what Oikawa had said before. "It is… but it's not Davis's Veemon," he said.

"Your friends' Digimon were unique, finished products," Oikawa said as the other capsules behind Veemon shook, and then snapped open. Out leaped two Hawkmon, two Armadillomon and a second Veemon, all empty-eyed and colorless. "But it would have been foolish not to keep their templates," he finished.

The kids bristled, and their Digimon raced in front of them. "Get back, Tai!" Agumon said, "this is gonna get ugly!"

Izzy frowned at the gray copies. It didn't seem threatening to send a group of Digimon at the same power level of their own; Oikawa had to have an unfair advantage he couldn't see.

"Do we really have to fight them?" Biyomon asked.

Gabumon frowned. "If we want to stop Oikawa, we do," he said, starting towards one of the Veemon. "Come on, guys!"

"No, wait!" Izzy said, "Gabumon!"

As Gabumon neared the Veemon, it launched into a head-butt and knocked him clear across the room, where he hit a terminal with a hollow thud. The others' eyes bugged in terror; the Veemon they knew wasn't strong enough to do that. "What the…?!" Agumon gulped.

Gabumon groaned and slowly picked himself up. Matt turned furious eyes on the man in the monitor. "How in the hell did it do that?!" he demanded.

Oikawa's teeth flashed. "I just made a few… adjustments," he said. "I may have only reclaimed the finished products for a moment, but the data I obtained from them was quite sufficient. These copies are well beyond their original power levels."

Seemingly to prove Oikawa's point, one of the Hawkmon pulled the feather from its bandana and threw it backwards, slicing its empty capsule cleanly in half.

Palmon cringed. "Imagine what that would do to a plant," she muttered.

"I didn't want to!" Mimi whimpered.

Tai bared his teeth, hoping they had enough room to fight well. "Come on, Agumon!" he urged.

Agumon nodded and scowled at the gray Digimon as he felt his energy surge. "OK, you phony phonies! Here I come!" he snapped.

Like six bolts of lightning striking at once, the kids' Digimon warped into their Champion forms and rushed at the copies. The gray duplicates broke formation and raced around them like professional soccer players, using any opening they saw to hurl projectiles—and themselves—at their opponents. Sora cringed as the Hawkmon dodged Birdramon's Meteor Wing with the speed of flitting hummingbirds, then hurled their feather boomerangs into her face. "They're too fast!" she shouted.

Garurumon leaped at an Armadillomon and fired his Howling Blaster, but the Armadillomon spun into a ball and bounced over it, then smacked Garurumon on the nose. As Garurumon fell, it shot up like a deflected basketball, dug its claws into Kabuterimon's back and started biting. "Ow! OW! Get 'im off!" Kabuterimon howled as he jerked around in the air.

"I got him! I got him!" Togemon yelled, starting to launch a targeted Needle Spray, but both Veemon rammed her from either side and then a Hawkmon's feather clipped her orange tuft into a buzz cut. She tumbled backwards onto the ground, the leaves drifting over her face. "Don't got him," she mumbled.

Greymon spat a fireball at the Armadillomon, but it leaped off at the last moment and Kabuterimon took the hit, spinning into the wall with a pained yelp. Greymon cringed, then angrily searched for a new target. He spotted one of the Veemon rushing towards him and spewed the fastest Nova Blast he could muster, but the Veemon ducked under it with the speed of a cheetah and head-butted him right in the stomach. Greymon flew backwards into a computer terminal, sending sparks and slag every which way. "Ooogh… I don't remember tasting that before," he gurgled as he clutched his belly.

"It's no good; they're too fast," Matt said as Garurumon barely dodged a Hawkmon's dive-bombing. "We need a new plan!"

"I wish Imperialdramon was here," Mimi said. "That black hole thing would stop them!"

"Well, he's not; we have to work with what we've got," Joe said, watching Ikkakumon square off against an Armadillomon, who kept rolling away from his torpedoes. "Ikkakumon! Lead your shots!" he yelled.

"I tried! He's too quick!" Ikkakumon growled, then suddenly had a new idea. He bared his teeth and jerked his horn violently to the left and fired, and the Armadillomon veered right, directly into the path of Ikkakumon's torpedo. Ikkakumon laughed with surprise as the gray duplicate sailed backwards and landed upside-down, squirming to right itself. "Wow, that actually worked!" he said, targeting it again and bounding forward. "Guys, fake 'em out!"

"Do you honestly think that will work a second time?" Birdramon grumbled as a Hawkmon flew circles around her, but without any other ideas, she decided to try. She veered right and lobbed a Meteor Wing to the left, and the Hawkmon flew right into it, burning to a crisp. "What…?" she asked as she watched the pixels float away.

Garurumon staggered back as a Veemon punched and kicked at him. He rose onto his hind legs as if to shoot a Howling Blaster and the copy ducked, and he dropped down and pinned it to the floor with his front legs. "Are they that easily tricked?!" he asked.

Greymon moved left, then quickly right as the other Veemon rocketed right, and caught him in his hand. "Gotcha!" he snarled, then yelped as Veemon kept trying to launch itself out of his grip like a wind-up toy, smacking him in the cheek over and over. "Ow! OW! I think he's broken!" he grunted.

Ikkakumon again faked out the Armadillomon, and the gray creature exploded along with the torpedo. "That's it?" he asked. "I tricked him three times!" He turned and blew the second Armadillomon off of Kabuterimon's back. It landed and rushed at him, and he faked it out just like the first one and blasted it across the room with another torpedo. "Maybe they ARE broken!" he said.

Izzy watched it scramble back on its feet, and then his eyes lit up with understanding. "They don't learn!" he exclaimed. "They might be skilled, but they're pre-programmed; they don't adapt to the situation!"

"Oh, is that so?!" Togemon said, walking over to the spastic Veemon in Greymon's hand and slugging it onto the floor, grinding it into the metal with her glove. "I've got him, Greymon! You avenge my hair!"

Greymon rubbed at his sore cheek, then saw the remaining Hawkmon dive at him. He opened his mouth with a fireball ready, but when the Hawkmon dove low he whirled around and belted it into the wall with his tail, then let loose with the flames.

As Ikkakumon torpedoed the remaining Armadillomon into oblivion, Garurumon sprayed his Howling Blaster straight down between his legs, incinerating the Veemon he still had pinned. "And that's game!" he growled as he looked up. "That wasn't so bad!"

Matt glared at Oikawa. "Looks like we found a flaw in your program," he said.

"Very impressive," Oikawa said, his smirking face unchanged, "but don't think that's all I had to offer you."

The monitors all switched to static, the metal wall in front of them faded and drew back like a thin curtain, and the kids' ears filled with the whirring, crackling and hissing of a living laboratory. Ahead lay a long chamber with conveyor belts lining both walls, flanked by an army of sparking welders, mechanical arms and other assembly line tools that worked tirelessly on the rolling conveyor. "A factory?" Sora asked. "What does he need this for?"

Greymon looked down at the left belt and saw plastic D3 cases being fitted onto and soldered over circuit boards. Then he looked at the right one and saw D-Terminal cases. "This is where he made the Digivices for Davis and the others," he said.

"Not really; those I programmed painstakingly by hand," Oikawa's voice came in from all around them. "I'm just making a point with this room: any idiot child could have become my pawn had they picked up one of these."

"Yeah, we figured," Matt growled as he fingered his Digivice. "Now come out here so we can settle this!"

"Oh, but you've just barely begun the tour," Oikawa said. "But really, this place is so large it would be such a waste of time to take all of you to every room. So…"

Without warning, one of the assembly line arms spun around and grabbed Matt around the middle. "Hey! What're you—?!" he shouted as it lifted him into the air.

"Matt!" Garurumon huffed. "You put him down, you tin can!"

"If you insist," Oikawa cackled. "This illusion has served its purpose anyway." Suddenly, the floor beneath the conveyor belts crumbled and fell away, dropping Matt down into darkness. Garurumon roared and leaped after him.

"No! Wait!" Sora shouted, but the floor collapsed even more, forcing them all to run. As they rushed ahead over the din of shattering machinery, the floor beneath Ikkakumon and Togemon gave away and sent them plummeting into the void. Joe and Mimi spun around in horror, and that moment of shock was enough for the collapsing floor to catch up to them. Tai cringed as he heard their screams fading, but he forced himself to keep running; looking back would just make him fall too.

Suddenly one of Birdramon's talons appeared on his left, and he leaped onto it and clung beside Sora. Kabuterimon, with Izzy perched on his back, swooped down and lifted Greymon up under his arms. No sooner had they done it than the room stopped collapsing and another giant steel wall slammed down behind them. They slowed and looked back, then at each other. "Now what do we do?" Birdramon asked.

"This, for starters," Kabuterimon said, putting Greymon back on the floor. "I'm a beetle, not an ant."

Tai looked again at the new wall, then frowned and nodded. "We keep going," he said. "We're here to stop Oikawa, right?"

"Well, yeah, but what about the others?" Greymon asked.

Izzy thought back to what Oikawa had said. "I don't think they've been hurt… at least, not right away," he said. "He split us up to try and get us flustered."

Sora stared grayly down at the floor. "Great," she said, "this was hard enough already, and now we're cut in half."

Tai bit his lip for a moment, then forced his bravery to overtake his worry. "Then we work harder," he said as Birdramon let them back onto the ground. "Matt and the others can handle anything Oikawa throws at them, so we gotta keep going too! We'll catch up to them sooner or later!"

Greymon smiled and nodded. "You got it, Tai," he rumbled. "C'mon!"

Tai and Greymon started down the dark corridor. Sora and Izzy didn't look as confident, but seeing that Tai hadn't lost his spark inspired them to keep the pace, and they followed behind with their partners in tow.

… … …

The rainbow assault on Davis's eyes dimmed, and a mighty crash threw him out of his seat. Dust and dirt flew into both his nose and mouth as he landed, sending him into a fit of loud coughs. He sat up and opened his eyes to a field of soft, gray earth surrounded by gray rocks, all beneath an equally gray sky. Nearby his friends and Veemon—who had shrank back down somehow—slowly pulled themselves to their feet, looking as confused as he felt. "What the… hell happened?!" he managed between hacks.

"Is everybody OK?" Kari asked, knocking the dust off of her coat.

Yolei hocked up a black loogey and wiped the dirt off of her front teeth. "Ugh, I'm fine… but I'll be tasting that for weeks," she grumbled.

Veemon looked down and wiggled his toes. "Uh, wasn't I just big?" he asked.

"Indeed you were," a familiar old voice arrested their attention. They turned and saw Gennai walking towards them, his face as gray and somber as the landscape and his steps making unpleasant squelching sounds. "I'm sorry; I had to de-Digivolve Imperialdramon to be sure you stayed here when you arrived," he said.

Cody looked around again and shivered; the landscape reminded him of the endless plains of the Dark World. "Is this really the Digital World?" he asked.

"It is indeed," Gennai said, "but it has lost so much data, this is all that remains."

TK looked around again and slowly took his hat off. "Good grief," was all he could say.

"But where is 'here,' Gennai?" Patamon asked.

Gennai looked around and sighed. "I suppose it's hard to recognize anything anymore," he said. "You're—"

Suddenly the air rang with angry roars, and the kids whirled around to see a familiar troupe of Digimon rushing towards them: Geckomon, Gazimon, Meramon and others. Before they could react the mob surrounded them like a pack of hungry wolves, growling and clutching rocks and fireballs. "Wh-what's this?!" Kari asked as Gatomon ran in front of her.

"I bet I know," Gatomon growled.

"It's them!" a Gazimon said, pointing a sharp finger at the humans. "You were right, Gargomon!"

Gargomon pushed his way through the mob, his beady eyes flashing with rage. "You!" he yelled, pointing his guns at them. "I thought there was just an old human… but you! I warned you to stay out of our world!"

Davis swore and looked at Gennai. "Make 'em back off, would ya?!" he asked.

Gennai shook his head. "They don't know who I am, and I doubt they would believe me," he said. "It's the peril of being a hermit."

"Not this again!" Veemon said. "C'mon, Gargomon, we got somewhere to be!"

"You're not going anywhere!" a Meramon barked. "You're the reason for all this!"

"Do you see this?!" Gargomon asked, sweeping his arm over the dirt. "It looks like this everywhere! It was bad enough when you were enslaving Digimon, now you're poisoning our world!"

"That ain't us; that's Oikawa," Armadillomon said, "and we were gonna go deal with him right now. So can ya let us?"

The mob of Digimon yelled and howled, and some of them threw stones at the kids' feet. Fed up with the noise, Yolei bared her teeth at Gargomon. "You'd better let us go," she warned, "or we'll tell 'em about you-know-what."

Gargomon's eyes narrowed. "I'll shoot you where you stand!" he snapped.

"Not before they find out," she said, "and then your movement's history!"

"Yolei, c'mon, that's not helping," Kari said, pulling her friend back. "Remember we're after Oikawa."

Yolei crossly puffed her cheeks, but stepped back. Kari looked hard at Gargomon, trying to ignore the memory of his spitting in her face. "We're after the one who's destroying your world… and he's about to destroy ours, too," she said. "If we don't hurry, none of us will have a place to live anymore."

Some of the mob Digimon made angry noises. "Lies! There's no way a human would destroy his own world!" a Gotsumon yelled.

"The Dark Masters tried to destroy this one, and they were Digimon, weren't they?" Patamon asked.

"Shut up!" a Monochronomon growled.

Gargomon looked Kari and Gatomon over for a moment longer, his eyes searching. "A few weeks ago, two humans wiped out one of my squads," he said. "That wasn't you?"

"No way," Gatomon said, "that had to be Oikawa and his goons."

"More lies!" another Digimon yelled. "Gargomon, let us get 'em now!"

"Yeah, tear 'em apart!" another one shouted.

Gargomon looked at the snarling, bloodthirsty mob, then back into Kari's determined eyes again. Kari took his silence as permission to continue. "He's gone to a dimension between the worlds. Gennai was just about to show us how to reach him," she said, motioning to the old man.

"Lies! All of it!" a Gazimon yelled. "They're just trying to get away!"

"Thoot 'em, Gargomon!" a Geckomon rasped. "Thoot 'em all!"

The mob started to boil over and several more rocks pelted the kids' knees. "Ow! Hey!" TK yelped as one bounced off his shin.

"Back off!" Patamon huffed, flitting around his partner and inflating. "I've got burps and I know how to use 'em!"

Gargomon fired his guns into the air with a furious yell and the mob froze, then drew back. He looked at Kari again, then gave a long, heavy, strangely helpless sigh. "All I ever wanted was to live like I did before," he said. "No Emperors, no invaders… no humans."

Kari gave him a sad smile. "I know," she said. "If you let us go, we'll make things right again. If we can't stop Oikawa, well… we'll accept whatever punishment you deem fit."

Gargomon looked at her with surprise, his eyes showing a glimmer of understanding and perhaps even gratitude, but he quickly shoved it under another defiant scowl. "You'd better!" he snapped at her, his turrets clicking. "This is the LAST time I spare you!" With that, he turned to the other Digimon. "Fall back!" he barked. "Return to the base!"

"No way!" a Meramon yelled. "They're here, we're gonna get 'em!" It hurled a fireball past Cody's ear, making him leap back in shock. The rest of the mob gave angry affirmations and started to close in.

"Oh, shit!" Davis said, grabbing his D3. "Veemon!"

Gargomon's mouth dropped open as his once-proud soldiers hurled more rocks and fireballs at the humans. One stone hit Kari square in the cheek and knocked her to the ground. As the Gotsumon who had thrown it screeched with glee, the other kids swarmed around her in a protective circle. "Back off, you jerks!" Yolei yelled.

"Knock it off!" Armadillomon said. "We weren't doin' nothin' to you guys!"

"We don't have time for this!" Hawkmon said. "If you don't let us go, Oikawa will kill us all!"

As the Digimon laughed and pounced on the kids, punching and biting at them like bloodthirsty animals, a tidal wave of shame and revulsion washed over Gargomon's anger. Clenching his teeth, he turned his guns on the Gotsumon who had thrown the stone and shot it in the leg. The air went as silent as death. "I SAID ENOUGH!" he roared again. "Anyone touches them again, you'll get the same!"

The mob hesitated, and for a tense moment Davis wondered if they would even listen to Gargomon… but after another moment it sagged with a murmur of disapproving grumbles, then slowly filed away, two other Gotsumon supporting the one Gargomon had shot.

Kari watched them vanish into the gray, then looked at Gargomon and bowed her head. "Thank you, Gargomon," she said.

Gargomon's face looked more tired than angry as he regarded the purple bruise on her face, like he had aged ten years in a minute. He turned and looked in the direction his army had gone. "I won't say I'm sorry. I can't," he said. "Even now, I think humans are nothing but trouble… but don't let their lives be for nothing. Please."

"You have our word," Gatomon said.

Gargomon silently started after his group and disappeared. Veemon let out a relieved wheeze. "Geez, that was close!" he said. "I thought they were gonna yank my tail off!"

"But you've just put us under Gargomon's scrutiny," Cody said to Kari. "Why did you tell him we would take his punishment?"

"If we fail, we'll be dead anyway," TK reasoned, looking at her. "We might as well try to be nice, right?"

"Something like that," Kari said, rubbing her cheek. "And… I understand why he feels like he does."

Patamon turned to Gennai, who was leaning on Cody to steady himself. "They didn't hurt you, did they, Gennai?" he asked.

"I… n-no," Gennai said, panting for a moment more before straightening up as best as he could. "Ah… now, then, why I brought you here," he went on. "This is where we can access the gap between dimensions. Do you recognize where we are?"

The others looked around again, confused; it certainly didn't look like a place they had been before. Finally, Cody noticed the lip of a wide crater near their feet and peered into the gloom. Slowly his eyes picked out a small, swirling purple whirlwind in the center. "Is this where we went to the Dark World?" he asked, pointing. "The cave to the Wall of Fire?"

The others turned and looked too, and their faces lit up with knowing. "Yeah!" Veemon said. "This's where Blackwargreymon showed up!"

"Yes, indeed," Gennai said, nodding. "This was the path to Dagomon's realm."

"'Was?'" Hawkmon asked. "It no longer functions?"

"When Kari sent Dagomon back to his realm, the Order sealed the Dark World away from this one," Gennai said. "However, this loose strand of a path remained. I was able to reroute it, however, and now it will take you straight to Oikawa's base."

"Wow… and I thought Izzy was good with programming," Yolei said.

"You had best hurry," Gennai said, shaking his head. "There's no telling when he'll notice and block it off."

"Wow, this's great," Armadillomon said. "Y'know, you're all right, Gennai. Thanks."

"Yes," Cody agreed, bowing low. "Thank you, Gennai. Despite our being fakes… we appreciate your help."

Gennai just gave a weary smile. "Go on, now," he said, stepping to the side, "take care of things."

Partner beside partner, the kids headed down into the crater. Davis and Veemon went first and were sucked down again. Davis couldn't keep from yelling in alarm as he spun around like water in a drain. "I'll never get used ta this!" Veemon shouted as they both vanished.

"Isn't it funny how we're getting pulled down to be sent into space?" Hawkmon asked as Yolei and he approached.

Yolei thought for a moment, then her worried expression eased into a smile. "Yeah, it is," she said. "Thanks, Hawkmon." With that, they walked into the whirlwind and let themselves be sucked down.

Cody and Armadillomon followed after them, and then TK and Patamon. Kari and Gatomon looked back at Gennai once more. "Thanks, Gennai," Kari said, "for helping the new kids… and everything, really."

"It's all I can do to set things right," Gennai said. "Good luck… and may you all return safely."

"See you on the other side, Gennai," Gatomon said, then took Kari's hand and walked into the whirlwind.

As Kari and her partner disappeared into the earth, Gennai sensed a small warmth on his back, and the air began to lighten. "Gennai," a gentle voice spoke, "you have gone against our orders."

Gennai turned around and bowed his head. "They've gone to deal with Yukio," he said. "I am prepared to face the consequences."

"Very well, then," the voice said, "but you should know that your rash actions have proved… sadly enlightening."

Sighing like the wind was blowing through his body, Gennai slowly looked up into the light.

… … …

Matt's tumble through the dark was interrupted by Garurumon's furry back against his, and then they were both rolling on the cold ground. As his head stopped spinning, four of his friends crashed down around him: Mimi landed on Joe and she yelped, and Togemon landed on Ikkakumon and he screamed. "Get off! GET OFF!" he roared as Togemon's needles dug into him.

"Sorry! Sorry!" Togemon yelled as she rolled off.

"Ow, ow, ow… Joe, you're too bony!" Mimi huffed as she picked herself up.

Joe just wheezed feebly. Ikkakumon grouchily shook the spikes out of his fur.

As Matt walked over and helped Joe back to his feet, Togemon looked around at the dark, metallic tunnel they were in. "Did he send us to the basement?" she asked.

"I don't know… It looks just like where we were," Mimi said.

Garurumon sniffed the air and frowned. "I can't smell the others anymore," he said. "We must have fallen a long way."

Joe and Mimi both looked around with worried expressions. Matt shook his head; there was only one path to take in his mind. "Then we'll find them," he said, starting forward. "Come on."

"But what if we see more of those clones?" Mimi asked. "There's only three of us!"

"Don't worry, Mimi; we can still Digivolve," Togemon said, raising her gloved fist. "We can handle this!"

"Yeah… but I could use some giant bandages," Ikkakumon muttered, dragging his prickled keister across the ground. "Ooh, I'm gonna feel that for a week…"

As they wandered down the hall, Joe swallowed and looked up at one of the black monitors. "You think Oikawa's following the others, or…?" he began.

The screen burst with light, and Joe jumped back as Oikawa glowered down at him. "Ah, looks like you all landed unharmed… Good," he said. "Had that finished you, I would have been very disappointed."

"Stop messing with us!" Garurumon growled. "We'll find you, no matter what!"

"And when you do, it will be the end of you," Oikawa replied sharply.

"What's your problem, anyway?!" Mimi asked. "I don't get you!"

"Yeah, why go to all this trouble?" Joe asked. "Couldn't you have just asked Gennai to let you come back to the Digital World?"

"Have you ever tried to get in touch with that man?" Oikawa asked. "It took me years to get this far… years and years of research, trial and error, dead ends and wastes of time… but five years ago, I finally had a breakthrough… and it was largely thanks to you."

Matt raised an eyebrow. "How?" he asked.

"The Digital World lost so much data after your own little adventure, it was easy for me to access its program as it began to reform," Oikawa said. "I decided to start with something simple: I rearranged the continents and the terrain on them. Grow an island here, shift the ice caps there… it was child's play, once I got the hang of it. Quite an amusing afternoon diversion."

"That was you?!" Joe asked.

"Just to see if you could?!" Togemon growled, her fists shaking. "Do you know what a mess you made?!"

"It also gave the added bonus of disorienting you, should you return," Oikawa went on, ignoring her. "Once I realized I could truly do what I wanted with the world, though, I took an extra step and erected the Digital Gate, a powerful block of code that rearranged its coding each second, like a living hedge. That would confuse and distract the Order, who would devote themselves to trying to break it down, while I, the only one with the key, was free to come and go as I pleased… as were any guests I invited, like young Ichijouji."

"Yeah, we figured that part out," Ikkakumon said, then stopped suddenly before he ran into Togemon, who had also stopped. "Hey, what gives?"

"Look around," Garurumon said.

The hallway stopped abruptly in a large chamber adorned with monitors, a large steel door blocking further progress. It almost resembled the first chamber they had entered, except instead of capsules the walls were lined with rows and rows of bumpy metal containers, like dozens of giant egg cartons, all of them humming quietly and giving off stale heat, making the kids feel like they had wandered into their school's boiler room. There were also computer terminals on either side with screens flashing numbers, computer code and blueprint-like images of various Digimon the kids had never seen.

"What's this?" Mimi asked, walking up to one of them, shivering as she held a hand over it; she could feel it vibrating without having to touch it. "They almost look like—"

Oikawa's smirking face popped onto the monitors, making her jump. "Do you always go around touching other people's things, Tachikawa?" he asked condescendingly, waggling a finger at her. "What a spoiled little girl."

Mimi's face flushed and she stamped her foot. "Stop doing that!" she yelled at the screen. Then she noticed that Oikawa was just grinning unpleasantly on the monitor near Joe, while he continued to waggle his finger at her on the one near her. "Wait… HOW are you doing that?!" she asked.

"Have you forgotten where you are?" he asked as the monitor near Joe went black. "And as for your first question, have you forgotten what else I made?"

There was a loud grinding, like an elevator grinding to a halt, and three more capsules emerged from the darkness above them. With a hiss they opened, and down to the floor dropped another gray set of Veemon, Hawkmon and Armadillomon, twitching and glowering like the first batch. "Oh boy, here we go again," Ikkakumon growled, lowering his horn.

"At least there're only three," Joe said. "We'll do just like before!"

Matt just grimaced. He was sure it would not be at all like before.

"Oh, are you bored already? Children these days…" Oikawa sighed with a shake of his head. "Then let me surprise you!"

Mimi shrieked as the container she had her hand on flew open with a hiss. When she looked again, her eyes widened at the familiar contents: DigiEggs, the same ones that Yolei and the others used to Armor Digivolve. Every one of them was sitting in the container, as well as a few duplicates, all lined up in two rows and connected to a myriad of cables and wires. "I'm especially proud of these; it's not easy to create artificial Digimon, let alone a new method with which they Digivolve," Oikawa said. "I had to outsmart myself to figure out a way past my Control Spires' blocking of Digivolution… quite a rewarding challenge."

"Big deal," Togemon said, pounding her fists together. "We've seen DigiArmors before; we can take them on, too!"

"Oh… can you?" Oikawa asked, his teeth flashing.

The DigiEggs of Hope, Knowledge and Purity shook in the container, then flew out and floated over the Digimon: Hope over Veemon; Knowledge over Hawkmon and Purity over Armadillomon. Mimi blinked and looked at the combinations. "Wait, that's not right," Mimi said, "shouldn't—"

The eggs dropped down on the Digimon with bright flashes, and in their place stood three completely new monsters: Veemon became an armored centaur-like creature with a bow and quiver; Hawkmon became a red dragonfly with spiked limbs and shoulders; and Armadillomon became a yellow frog with leaf-like head armor and propellors on its back. Oikawa chuckled darkly. "Did you know that the armors are interchangeable?" he asked. "Let me introduce you to Saggitarimon, Flybeemon and Frogmon."

"Wha… what?!" Joe asked. "No way!"

"But… but the Crest symbols!" Mimi gulped. "Yolei's was…!"

"…No more important than who picked up the Digivices," Oikawa cut her off. "I even programmed Wormmon to interface with DigiEggs… but I suppose that's a moot point. No, there was never any fate tied to the eggs, no great lessons to be learned to master them… I just flicked the children away from each egg until I got bored and let one of them have it." He paused and shook his head with a sigh. "I'm rather disappointed they never even tried to experiment; I worked so hard on every variation…"

Ikkakumon's eyes widened as he stared at the new creatures. There was no predicting what would come at them in the laboratory, and the newcomers only made him more anxious about their chances of survival. "OK, we might be in trouble," he said.

"Come on!" Garurumon growled. He lunged at Saggitarimon with his Howling Blaster, but a sudden airborne tackle from Frogmon sent him rolling on the ground. Ikkakumon tried to hit Flybeemon with his Harpoon Torpedoes, but the red bug flitted around so quickly that it even dodged his led shots… and then zapped Ikakkumon's horn like a lightning rod, making him roar and crash down.

Togemon tried launching her needles at all three of them, but Flybeemon flew too high, and Frogmon protected Saggitarimon by catching them with its leaves. Saggitarimon leaped out and fired an arrow right into Togemon's knee, making her scream and stumble backwards. Saggitarimon fired several more arrows at Togemon, pinning her to the wall. "Geez… that was overkill!" she wheezed.

Mimi cringed as Togemon tried to break free. "Ugh, come on!" she yelled at Oikawa. "Fight fair, you bully!"

"You invade my laboratory and expect me to fight fair?" Oikawa asked, his eyes narrowing. "Stupid girl. You're in my world now, and I make the rules."

"Your rules suck," Matt shot back. "You're making up a game only you can win, like a spoiled brat!"

Oikawa's smug expression changed to cold hatred, and he glared straight into Matt's eyes. "And who are you to judge me, traitor?!" he snapped, spitting the last word. "You, who turned on your friends just because you couldn't deal with your baby brother growing up!"

Matt shrank back for a moment, then balled his fists and stepped forward. "At least that helped me grow up," he returned. "You might be a computer genius, but you're sure as hell not an adult!"

Oikawa's gums were visible as he bared his clenched teeth. "You're an arrogant little shit, just like your father," he snarled, "and it's time you were taught a lesson!"

Oikawa's eyes suddenly glowed an eerie purple, and the beams shot out of the screen and into Matt's. Garurumon whirled around in shock as his partner collapsed on the floor. "MATT!" he yelled before Flybeemon slammed down on his back.

Screaming, Mimi grabbed Joe and ran to Matt, who lay spasming on his back like he was having a seizure. "Joe! Do something!" Mimi yelled.

Joe knelt over Matt and looked in his eyes, which glowed purple and flashed with what looked like computer code. He had no idea what Oikawa had done, but he knew his meager med student training wouldn't be able to help. He looked helplessly back at Mimi, then at the ongoing battle behind them.

… … …

"Why can't you just chill out, Matt?!" Tai's voice cut through the fog.

Matt's vision returned, but he could scarcely believe it: before him stood Tai and his friends, eleven years old again and clad in the outfits he had memorized on their journey in the Digital World… and each with an angry or exasperated expression directed at him. As he looked around, he noticed that one person was absent: TK. Even though his mind told him to focus and figure out what just happened, his chest swelled with a sudden rush of primal terror.

"Matt, we can't just charge Puppetmon's house," Izzy said. "That's exactly what he expects us to do."

"He's got TK!" Matt heard himself yell, his angry gloved fist waving in front of his eyes. "We've got to save him! Now!"

"We get it, but we can't just rush in," Sora said. "He's probably got traps and—"

"No, you DON'T get it!" his voice roared back at her, making her brow furrow even more. "You've NEVER understood! NONE of you do!" His mind, however, shuddered and tried to re-orient itself. He was sure he had just been in Oikawa's laboratory… and even though the scene wasn't a real memory, it was an imagining that had haunted him for years. Oikawa was trying to influence him somehow, maybe even make him go crazy. Even though he couldn't move, he tried to clench his jaw. This wasn't real, he told himself; this wasn't how it went.

Indeed, they never understood, a voice that was not his own spoke in his brain. They never saw things as you did, as the concerned and caring older brother.

Matt knew the voice was Oikawa's, but as he tried to look around for the man, his body refused to cooperate and kept him glaring at the others. Their responding glares drilled into his heart, cracking the foundations of the memories he knew came later. Maybe, deep down, he knew Oikawa was right. Maybe his friends had never understood him.

"We have to think this through, Matt," Joe said, "and that means not running in guns blazing!"

"I don't CARE what you think!" Matt heard himself yell. "TK's in there and I'm gonna get him out, whether you're coming or not!"

Think hard, Oikawa's voice went on, when you fight as much as this, can you honestly call them friends?

Matt wanted to turn away, to find Oikawa and make the scene stop, but he couldn't pull himself away from his angry friends, who now all shouted at him, yet their voices were muffled and disjointed under the ringing in his forehead.

You're better off on your own, and you know it, Oikawa said, growing louder with each word. Nobody can disagree with you if yours is the only voice!

As he watched his friends angry mouths distort and spit, and he felt his own mouth doing the same back, Matt realized his body had turned from hot to cold. Even though he knew it was an illusion, the angry snarls of his friends tore into his heart and made his stomach churn with sorrow, bitterness and hatred. He looked down and saw the pale skin on his arm slowly turning a sickly gray, like Oikawa's skin. His heart and mind screamed in unison; maybe he really was just like the man. His body shook and shuddered even more his darkening eyes shot around as much as they could, looking for any sort of escape.

Give in, child, Oikawa's voice boomed. Accept the truth. Don't be stubborn.

Suddenly, his mind's ear perked up. "Don't be stubborn…" That was a familiar phrase. Cody had said the same words to him in Baihumon's temple. Cody… His flailing brain latched onto the memory of his new, unlikely friend, and a plethora of other memories began to flow in too: standing beside Tai as Gabumon and Agumon Mega-Digivolved for the first time; working with Joe to pull Sora out of a dark cave of depression; and Jun hugging and comforting the sobbing Demiveemon. The horrible scene before him quieted and his friends smiled at him, and he found he was smiling back as he remembered what really happened; even though he had broken ties with them, even though he himself wouldn't have forgiven a friend like that… they had; they had welcomed him back easily. As the warmth returned to his body, he could clench his fists again, and he opened his eyes and looked up. Just behind the illusion of his angry friends Oikawa materialized, looking as stunned as a chameleon on plaid. "You're wrong," Matt said of his own accord. "I want others in my life. Even if we fight, I know how important it is to keep friends."

"You… you little brat!" Oikawa hissed, a vein in his forehead throbbing. "How did you…?!"

"That's why we're different, Oikawa; my friends will always back me up," Matt said, waving his arm at the illusions. "But you… Nobody's gonna miss you when you're gone."

Oikawa snarled, but Matt was no longer paying attention; he swore he could hear Gabumon calling his name in the distance. Suddenly the world around him sparked and fizzled into cybernetic green, and then came a blinding blue flash. He found himself lying on the ground staring up at Joe and Mimi's backs as they stiffened. "Woah! What…?!" Mimi asked.

Matt started to speak when he saw Weregarurumon slam Saggitarimon into a wall behind them. Saggitarimon roared and tried to kick Weregarurumon away, but the werewolf leaped up and dug his claws into the centaur's face. There was a harsh, metallic crunch, then Saggitarimon crumpled to the floor as its head dissolved.

Weregarurumon flicked stray pixels off of his claws, then noticed Flybeemon and Frogmon closing in behind him. He jumped away from Frogmon's flying knife, then leaped over Flybeemon's bolt of lightning and swiftly punted the bug into its companion, leaving them a stunned heap on the floor. "Now!" he howled to the others.

Battered but still energetic, Togemon and Ikkakumon let loose with their artillery. The armored clones gave one last gurgle as hundreds of needles pierced them, and then the torpedo reduced them to pixels dissipating in the air. As silence overtook the chamber, the victors sagged and panted. "Whew… You couldn't have timed that better!" Togemon said to Weregarurumon.

"Seriously, what happened?!" Joe asked. "Why did he Digivolve all of a sudden?"

Weregarurumon shook himself off, then looked past them at Matt, his wolfish eyes flashing. "Matt!" he said.

Togemon and Ikkakumon looked up with relief. Joe and Mimi spun around and their faces changed from worried to joyful. "Matt!" Mimi yelled, grabbing him and pulling him to his feet.

"Are you all right?" Joe asked, grabbing Matt's pale wrist and flinching at his pulse. "What'd he do to you? Your heart is pounding!"

Matt blinked a few times, then smiled at Joe's concern. "I don't know… but whatever it was, it didn't work," he said, shaking his head. "Thanks, you two; I'm fine."

As Joe let go of his hand he looked around and noticed that all the monitors had gone black; Oikawa had vanished, naturally without opening the door for them. He had no doubt that the crazy man would try the same trick on the others, and his jaw clenched. "We have to keep moving, and fast," he urged, looking at the Digimon. "Can you guys get us through that door?"

"Only one way to find out," Weregarurumon said, launching himself at the metal barrier and kicking as hard as he could, making a hollow bang and leaving a sizable dent. He jumped back as Ikkakumon blew it into a gaping hole with a torpedo, then helped Togemon bash the edges until it was wide enough for everybody. "Let's go!" he urged.

The Digimon went into the dark new hallway first, their partners running after them. Matt clenched his fists, his heart pounding excitedly in spite of the danger. Oikawa may have been trying to destroy him, but instead he had shown him how much he owed all of his friends; it was time for him to return the favors.

… … …

Sora swallowed as she looked down the seemingly endless dark hall. If Birdramon hadn't been scouting ahead every few yards, she would have sworn she was having a nightmare. She bit her lip and shook her head, trying to banish the fear welling in her stomach; that was probably how Oikawa wanted her to feel.

Tai rapped on the metallic wall, frowning at its thick bang. "Well, no secret door there," he said with a halfhearted chuckle. "I guess that would've been too easy."

"Oh, so you do have some active brain cells," Oikawa's mused as his face appeared on several monitors set in the walls. "That puts you slightly above the leader of my little band… but not by much."

Sora bristled at the insult towards her father, but swallowed her anger. "Where are Matt and the others?" she asked.

"I think you'd do better to worry about yourselves," Oikawa said.

Greymon's eyes suddenly picked out pale, flickering lights in the distance. "Something's different there," he said. "Birdramon, Kabuterimon, let's check it out."

Tai, Sora and Izzy hung back as their partners made their way down the hall. After a minute, Kabuterimon zipped back, looking as shocked as a faceless bug could. "It's safe, but… well, you guys gotta see this!" he exclaimed.

"Ah, now what could they have discovered?…" Oikawa mused.

Izzy frowned, wondering what kind of trap the man might have set, but there were no other paths to take. "All right, we're coming," he said, starting down the hall with his friends.

At the end of the tunnel they found a high room where all four walls were top-to-bottom stacks of monitors, each depicting a different scene of a city or a landscape. Tai looked around for a moment and his head started to ache. "Geez, one TV's not enough?" he asked.

Greymon peered at a monitor that depicted a steaming magma field with the remains of a Control Spire scattered across its dirt. "Hey, that's in the Digital World!" he said, pointing.

Tai looked at one of the city scenes and recognized the spherical TV station where Matt's father worked. "Not just the Digital World," he said, "ours, too!"

Sora's worried eyes darted from one screen to the next, recognizing almost every one of them: the school; the Inoue's store; her mother's burnt-out flower shop; and even her apartment building. Her stomach gurgled so badly she thought it would crawl up into her ribcage.

Izzy looked darkly at her. "He was spying on us," he said. "You were right."

She shivered and looked away. "I didn't want to be," she muttered.

"Erecting the Digital Gate brought the lucky side-effect of synchronizing the worlds' time flows… so, naturally, I made use of it by monitoring every entry point," Oikawa cut in proudly. "I also connected it to the city's traffic camera system, which was child's play to hack into. If one is to be successful, one has to know his enemies' whereabouts… not to mention monitor his projects."

"What projects?" Kabuterimon asked. "I thought you made everything here!"

Izzy frowned. "He means watching Davis and the others," he said, "and presumably Ken too."

Oikawa chuckled darkly. "Even now, I consider that my greatest experiment," he mused as an image of Ken Ichijouji appeared on one monitor, followed by several more displaying number readouts and other figures. "What a golden opportunity he was."

Izzy frowned at the screens, recognizing some of it from what Joe had showed him: medical records, academic history, even personal achievements, all mundane and average until a certain point, where every record and grade spiked and remained consistently high… until it cut off abruptly. "He was a perfectly normal child before you put your hooks in him," he said.

"Oh, was he?" Oikawa asked. "The seeds of darkness were in him before I came along; I just gave them some proper soil. And he bloomed far sooner than I expected… That sudden squeal, that sickening thud, and that shrill wail… That was when I knew I had picked the perfect candidate." He paused and the screens changed to images of the Digimon Emperor. "Better than I could ever have expected."

"You're lying!" Sora said. "We know you did something to him; Joe found the evidence!"

Izzy barely heard her over his own mind chewing over Oikawa's words.

Oikawa briefly grimaced before returning to his smug smirk. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Well, then there's no point in denying it. Ichijouji was growing the right attitude for it on his own… but physically he was lacking, for what I required. So, I decided to give him a little assistance." The monitors switched to something that looked like blueprints, as well as a rotating black object that resembled a barbed seed ball. "Much like the Control Spires and Dark Rings, I crafted it based on data from the remnants of Black Gears. It was a small device, no larger than a spore. When connected to the brain stem, it amplified his natural potential in both body and mind; he became a genius and an athletic superstar. The Ichijoujis had their golden child back." He paused and chuckled. "I never did get a thank-you card."

Oikawa quieted for a moment, his smile fading to a look of disgust. "It also amplified his attitude," he went on. "The 'Digimon Emperor' was not the result I had intended; that was his own doing, his own madness when given power he had never known. Even to the partner I gave him, he was so unfeeling and cruel, when all the poor thing wanted to do was help its best friend. Such fierce loyalty in a pre-programmed being… It surprised even me." He paused again. "Perhaps that's what pushed Ichijouji to continue meddling after his role was done. If he had just stayed home, I wouldn't have had to deactivate the device; he could have kept his fame and fortune instead of slowly feeling himself reverting to a common idiot." He pursed his lips and scowled. "And even then, he stayed a thorn in my side. I finally had to pluck him out myself."

Tai's fists clenched with anger, while Izzy glared in horror at what he read. "So that's what it was…" Izzy said, the his face unable to pull out of a frown. "And you could make it self-destruct whenever you wanted to, destroying all the evidence."

"And yet your play-doctor friend still managed to find it," Oikawa muttered. "I should have designed it to evaporate into a neurotoxin."

"You…!" Tai said. "Don't you even care you killed somebody?!"

"The way you used him was just sick!" Kabuterimon growled.

"Initially I had planned to insert spores in more children and introduce them to the Digital World in the same way I had with Ichijouji… but it turns out I made the spore too well," Oikawa went on with an annoyed sigh. "His intelligence developed much faster than I expected, and he started building his own tools for conquering the Digital World, ones that weren't compatible with my data-draining program, like those Dark Spirals; their code was too complex for my program to run properly. So I scrapped the plan and let your friends pretend to be Digidestined instead."

Some of the other monitors switched to images of Veemon, Hawkmon and Armadillomon, and others showed pictures of the DigiEgg Armors. "Their ability to subdue Ichijouji certain, I moved onto different experiments. I'm sure you're familiar with my associates…" Several monitors changed to images of Mummymon and Arukenimon in both their forms. "It wouldn't do to waltz around either world in plain view, so I created them to operate in the field for me, erecting more spires to keep my plans moving along," he went on as other monitors showed his flunkies' handiwork. "Then I made my way into the Dark World and struck an alliance with its ruler… quite a gregarious creature, really. He granted us the power to animate spires if we helped him capture the Digidestined of Light." As images of Dagomon, Daemon, Devimon and Blackwargreymon replaced the remaining scenery shots, he chuckled again with a shake his head. "He was so obsessed with finding her, he didn't consider my agenda; all he knew was that my Control Spires were a new source of power."

Greymon's eyes flashed with rage. "You even used Dagomon?!" he asked. "So that's why Blackwargreymon went after you!"

"You're going to pay for all of it, Oikawa," Tai growled. "Ken didn't deserve what you did to him!"

Oikawa's smile flipped upside-down as he glared at the boy, putting his face close to the monitor. "'Deserve?!'" he snapped. "If the world operated on what everyone 'deserves,' I would have never had to return to this wretched excuse for a life!"

Suddenly, six of the monitors burst open, and another set of clones leaped out to confront the party, with three DigiEgg Armors hovering over them: The DigiEgg of Light over Veemon; Friendship over Hawkmon; and Hope over Armadillomon. Izzy looked between the eggs and the Digimon, and after a moment his confused eyes clicked into place. "Get ready, you guys," he said, "something new is coming!"

"Ah, so you understand," Oikawa cackled, falling back into his smug demeanor. "Then I'm more than happy to show you!"

The eggs dove down onto the Digimon and everyone recoiled at the blinding flash. When the kids looked again, three new Digimon stood ready to attack them: Veemon had become a lanky, winged white beast with a metal plate over its eyes; Armadillomon had turned into a pink sheep with a double-barrel jet pack on its back; and Hawkmon was a humanoid in a flashy blue and white costume with sharp skates on its feet. "Gargoylemon, Sheepmon and Rinkmon," Oikawa said. "I'm quite proud of these designs."

Tai's eyes almost popped out of his head. "They can use different DigiEggs?!" he yelled.

"I suspected as much," Izzy said.

Sora winced at Rinkmon's dangerous-looking skates, glad that Yolei wasn't there; she would have been furious to see that her Hawkmon had been denied a cool form like that. "Birdramon, be careful!" she warned.

Greymon rushed in front of the kids with his mouth ablaze, Kabuterimon and Birdramon taking point on either side. Rinkmon was the first to strike, leaping feet-first at Greymon and kicking him across the room and into the monitors. As sparks and glass shards flew, Birdramon and Kabuterimon let loose with their flames and electricity. Gargoylemon and Sheepmon countered with projectiles of their own; Gargoylemon produced three white marble statues and threw them at Kabuterimon, and Sheepmon spat grenades at Birdramon that exploded into clouds of coarse pink wool. Izzy quickly covered his mouth as the puffy clouds ignited. "Don't breathe it in!" he warned.

Greymon pushed himself out of the broken monitors and belched a fireball at Rinkmon, but the speedy skater zipped around it, spun into an icy tornado and encased Greymon's lower half in ice. As the dinosaur struggled to get free, Rinkmon leaped up and slashed at his face with his skates again. Tai gnashed his teeth as he watched; the battle wasn't going anywhere close to well.

Sora watched Sheepmon blast Birdramon to the ground with more wool-filled grenades, then ram her across the floor. "Why are you doing this?!" she yelled at the man on the screen. "Why choose this?!"

"Choose?!" Oikawa spat, glaring down at her. "This was my ONLY option!"

"Really? Your only choice was to ruin lives and destroy the world?!" she asked hotly. "You're a grown man, Oikawa! Stop acting like this!"

Oikawa's eyes narrowed to slits as his teeth flashed. "You're just like your father," he snarled. "So you can take his punishment!"

Tai heard Sora yell, and he whirled around to see two purple beams connecting her eyes to Oikawa's on the screen, and then she fell backwards like a statue that had been pushed over. "SORA!" he yelled as Izzy and he ran to her side, horrified to see her eyes flashing with purple numbers and characters.

Birdramon looked over in panic. "What's wrong with her?!" she asked before one of Gargoylemon's fists hit her in the face.

"We'll take care of her, Birdramon! Focus on the fight!" Izzy said, then looked down worriedly at the flashing symbols in Sora's eyes. "What in the world…"

"Do you know what's going on?" Tai asked, trying to support Sora's head and upper body against his own.

Izzy swallowed hard. It looked like Oikawa could hack people as well as computers; what the man was doing to Sora's mind was anyone's guess.

… … …

A chilly wind blew across Sora's face, and she opened her eyes to an oddly familiar scene: she stood looking into a campfire on the edge of a sprawling desert, hundreds of stars gleaming overhead. All of her friends and their Digimon sat nearby, each at the age she had first met most of them, looking somewhere between empty and glum… all of them except Tai and Agumon. Her mind scrambled to get its bearings, but her body started to tremble with an old despair. "Come on, guys," she heard herself say as one of her old red gloves reached out, "Tai and Agumon could still be at the pyramid! We have to go back!"

The others were silent, stirring only a little. Sora felt anger welling up and mixing with the misery. "Don't you care?!" she asked hotly.

"But… what if that black hole that ate them is still there?" TK asked, worriedly clutching Tokomon.

"I… I don't think it's a good idea; we should just keep moving and find a way home," Joe said, staring at the fire. "This is bad enough as it is…"

"But we can't go home without Tai!" Sora heard herself say. "His mom and dad would—"

"Be quiet, Sora!" Mimi cut her off, then shut her eyes and sniffled.

Sora felt her body tense even more; her friends were usually so supportive, and the sudden wave of apathy from them stung as much as if they had stuck knives in her back. "You… you…" she panted.

They don't care about what you want, Oikawa's voice rumbled into her mind. They just want to put Tai and Agumon behind them, move on with their lives. Isn't that just heartless?

"You're awful!" Sora yelled at the others. "Tai's your friend! He'd go back for any of you!"

"Sora… just stop," Matt said, glaring at her. "There's nothing we can do now."

"We just have to keep going… make the best of things," Izzy said.

Sora felt her mouth hang open as her body's temperature flew between boiling hot and ice cold. The scene had never really happened… although, she thought, it did show how she had felt after they lost Tai and Metalgreymon at Datamon's pyramid. She had chosen to leave the group to find him. She had chosen solitude.

You think friendship strengthens with time? No, Oikawa's voice bored into her brain again. They will all choose their own lives over you… and everything you say and do to try and pull them back will only drive them further away.

As she stared at her silent friends, she felt like her insides were hollowing out. All the hope and joy was draining away, nothing remaining but a flame of hatred for life and humanity. She could see the skin on her arms starting to turn pale. Her brain struggled for any sort of control, but could find none. Maybe he was right. Maybe it was better to go off on her own.

Now you understand, girl, Oikawa said. No matter how desperately you desire companionship… in the end, you will be completely alone.

Completely alone… She could feel her lower lip starting to tremble, but then her gaze lowered and Biyomon came into view, standing beside her. Biyomon frowned and nodded. "Don't worry, Sora," she said, "I'll help you find them!"

Sora's heart leaped into her throat and her eyes spilled over. Biyomon had never once abandoned her. Her addled mind took her back to their first adventure, when Myotismon had downed all of the others and Biyomon herself was poisoned… and she had still fought to protect Sora… and always had ever since. As long as Biyomon was around, she realized, she would never be alone.

Suddenly other thoughts and images began to force their way in as well. She remembered TK asking her not to run away from the group, because her presence made him less homesick. She remembered reading Tai's apologetic e-mail after their massive fight about the hair clip he gave her. She remembered Yolei apologizing for how she had treated her. Her body calmed, and she felt warm and human again.

As she remembered these scenes and more, she realized she could move again. She looked up past the corrupted memory and saw Oikawa standing just past the campfire's light, his teeth bared in frustrated anger. "Going alone isn't the answer, Oikawa," she said, defiantly balling her fists. "We might have our differences, but I know my friends won't ever abandon me… and I won't abandon them, either. I'm not going to burn my bridges like you did!"

"You… conceited, miserable little…!" Oikawa growled, his tongue twisting in rage. "You can't just ignore the truth!"

Sora was no longer listening. One by one, she saw her illusionary friends' apathetic faces brighten and look brave and happy, and then her ears perked to the sound of Biyomon calling for her from a distance. Then her vision turned a violent green and the ground fell out from under her, the color bursting into bright red as she landed on her back. She gasped and tried to get back up.

"Woah!" Tai's voice came as two hands gently gripped her shoulders. "Sora!"

She opened her eyes and looked up into his surprised upside-down face. "Uh… hi," she said, for lack of other words.

He blinked in shock several times, then finally broke back into a smile. "I knew you'd be back," he said, squeezing her a little.

She began to ask what had happened when a giant crash caught both of their attentions. "What the…?!" she heard Izzy exclaim.

She scrambled back on her feet as Garudamon, somehow Digivolved, swatted away Gargoylemon's statue attack, then punched it to the ground. Rinkmon leaped at her like it had attacked Greymon, but Garudamon caught it by the toes and held it dangling for a moment before throwing it onto Sheepmon, which choked on the grenade it was getting ready to spit and hacked up a cloud of pink smoke. Garudamon braced herself and launched her devastating crimson Wing Blade into the pile, blowing all three aggressors to dust.

Greymon and Kabuterimon picked themselves up off the ground, exchanging bewildered looks. "Well, that was lucky," Kabuterimon said, "but… how'd you Digivolve?"

"I don't—" Garudamon began, then she saw that Sora was standing again. "Sora! You're all right!" she said, her giant eyes sparkling.

"I… yeah, I am," Sora said, looking around and noticing that Oikawa was no longer on any of the monitors; all of the screens left unbroken had switched to static. One wall had disappeared entirely, revealing a new hallway.

Izzy turned around and ran to her. "Thank goodness!" he said. "But what did he do to you?"

Sora shook her head. "I don't know… It was weird… and sad," she said. "It's like he reached into my memories and tried to change them."

Izzy scratched his head. "But what would the point of that be?" he asked.

Tai just frowned. "He's a sick old man with a grudge against your dad," he said. "He'll do anything to beat us."

Sora didn't feel as certain as Tai did. The way Oikawa had tried to make her think about her friends seemed to mirror what she had heard about him from her father. Even though the illusion had tried to break her, she suddenly felt a tinge of understanding. "I wonder if it was his way of explaining why he's doing this," she said.

Izzy frowned and ran his hands up and down the straps of his laptop bag. Tai looked past the monitors at the new hall. "Let's focus on finding the others," he said, looking up at Garudamon. "Do you have enough room to move?"

Garudamon took a step into the hall and looked up. It was wider than before and there was no visible ceiling; just darkness and the occasional snake of wire. "I think I'll be fine, Tai," she said.

"Then let's get going," Greymon agreed, stomping forward. "C'mon!"

Sora paused a moment longer, then nodded. Even if she was starting to understand how Oikawa thought, it didn't change what she had to do. "Right," she said, starting after the Digimon.

… … …

"Weregarurumon," Matt called to his partner ahead, "are you getting anything?"

Weregarurumon took several more hard sniffs of air, then growled. "No, nothing," he grumbled. "If I keep this up, I'll have a nosebleed."

Mimi winced as she bumped into the cold wall again; she had done it twice before in the last few minutes. "Is it just me, or is this hall getting smaller?" she asked.

"It's not just you," Ikkakumon wheezed in front of her, both of his sides sliding along the edges with audible dragging sounds. "Ugh, it's torture every time we pass an edge."

"At least the walls aren't stucco," Joe tried.

"But if it gets any smaller, I'll be stuck-o," Ikkakumon muttered.

"Why are you making stupid jokes at a time like this?" Mimi asked.

"It just means he's doing OK," Togemon said, smiling. "It's when he gets quiet that we have to worry."

Weregarurumon quietly smiled at the banter, but then he stopped abruptly and signaled for everyone else to do the same. Joe almost fell over to keep himself from walking into Togemon's prickly leg. "What's wrong?" he asked.

Ahead the hallway widened into a black void in every direction, a long metal catwalk like the ones from Baihumon's temple the only path forward. Weregarurumon glanced back at his friends, Ikkakumon in particular. "This could be a problem," he said.

Togemon and Ikkakumon looked worriedly at the bridge. "Should we let the kids go first?" Togemon asked.

Ikkakumon winced at the thin metal plates. "Maybe I should try to de-Digivolve," he said.

Joe climbed up his partner and looked out at the catwalk. It certainly looked rickety, but he worried about what was beyond it more. "No, we need everyone ready in case more of those clones show up," he said. "Just… take it slowly. REALLY slowly."

"Well, OK…" Ikkakumon said. "Uh… Weregarurumon, you go first."

Looking each direction like he expected a storm of projectiles, Weregarurumon stepped out onto the walkway. Nothing happened, so he kept walking. "It seems safe," he called back.

Ikkakumon hesitated, then lumbered onto the bridge, his front claws pressed close together to keep a better grip. The metal rattled and shook under his weight, but still stayed intact. He waited for a few moments, then scooted forward again without incident. "W-well, that's a good sign," he said, looking back. "I think we're OK!"

As he pulled himself along after Weregarurumon, Togemon also stepped onto the catwalk; she felt it vibrate with every movement Ikkakumon made, but it didn't move enough to worry her. "I think it's safe," she said to the teenagers. "Come on, let's go."

Mimi and Matt started after her easily, but Joe was not as quick; he had to convince himself that Togemon was right, and that they had to hurry. As soon as he stepped onto the catwalk, though, he knew it was a mistake; the whole bridge started to sag and he heard the sound of metallic buckling and snapping. He began to say "oh, no," but it changed to a yell as the supports broke behind him and dropped him into the darkness, with everyone else screaming above him. He gnashed his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the end. It was bad enough he was going to crash down somewhere, but with his luck he was sure Togemon or Ikkakumon would flatten the rest of him afterwards.

Suddenly he was caught in something feathery, and he heard a familiar voice say "what the—" before several more thuds, shouts and groans. He opened his eyes to find himself on the wing of a very surprised Garudamon. "Joe?" she asked. "Where did you come from?!"

"The same place as the rest of them, I bet," Greymon grumbled as Weregarurumon jumped off of his head with Matt in his arms. "Ooch…"

"Sorry," Weregarurumon said.

Everyone else had landed safely on or around the others. Kabuterimon groaned as he struggled to get out from under Togemon. "I wish you could retract those needles!" he said.

Mimi slid off Ikkakumon's groaning belly and ran to the other kids. "You're all OK!" she said, grabbing Sora's wrists. "We were so worried!"

"YOU were worried?" Tai asked. "You're the ones who fell…"

"And then you… fell on us." Izzy said, looking upwards in befuddlement. "This laboratory gets stranger and stranger."

"Well, it seems you managed to find each other," Oikawa's voice suddenly cut in from all around, all traces of bemusement gone. "You're resilient little pests, aren't you?"

Suddenly the floor beneath them shuddered and began to move on its own, taking the group down the tunnel like a conveyor at an airport. "Where're you taking us now?" Kabuterimon asked.

"I'm just hurrying you along," Oikawa said. "Once I get rid of you, I can sit back and watch the rebirth of the world."

"Why are you still here, anyway?" Sora asked. "Gennai said you'd already gone to the Gigas!"

Oikawa's face appeared on a nearby monitor, just glaring at her. "It's not hard for me to be in two places at once," he said as a second lit up showing him from a side view. "If I so choose, I can be anywhere and everywhere." A third came on where he was upside-down. Then a fourth where he stood in the distance like a creepy stranger. "How do you think I kept such a close eye on my unwitting minions? Or you, for that matter?"

"It's quite a feat, isn't it?" another Oikawa asked the first one.

"It is indeed," the first replied.

Sora shuddered. "You talk with yourself?" she asked.

"Of course I do," one of the Oikawa said. "The more of me there are working on the same problem, the faster I find a solution."

"And I'm such good company, too," another said.

Several more screens came on, each showing him from different angles and moving differently; there was even one where he childishly stuck his tongue out at them.

"Stop it!" Mimi yelled, trying to look away from the screens and finding no place to turn.

"This guy's really getting on my nerves," Weregarurumon growled.

"I get why you'd watch Cody and the rest, but why us?" Joe asked, watching whichever monitor moved past. "I thought you just wanted to keep us out."

"I've been keeping an eye on you for years, Kido," Oikawa said, "ever since I watched you kill that vampire and then return to the Digital World." His glare somehow got even angrier as he leaned in close. "It's bad enough that you're offspring of my former friends, but seeing you pipsqueaks allowed into my world was an insult that I could not abide!"

"YOUR world?!" Greymon asked, baring his teeth.

"The Digital World isn't yours," Matt said. "How selfish are you?!"

"I was there before you," Oikawa said. "Does not a discoverer of new lands have first claim to them?"

"And what about us?!" Ikkakumon growled. "We live there; don't WE get a say?!"

"Don't try to elevate yourself," Oikawa said. "Data can't lay claim to anything; it has no true consciousness."

"Oh, you did NOT just say that!" Togemon yelled, shaking her fist at the screen.

"That's awful!" Tai said, his own arms trembling with anger. "You don't understand Digimon at all, do you?!"

"Don't dismiss my findings so quickly, boy," Oikawa snapped. "I lived and traveled alongside them myself, just like you."

The monitors switched to images of landscapes that resembled parts of the Digital World, but seemed less detailed, like abstract paintings compared to photographs. There were also various pictures of a young Oikawa and the four other children from the photograph he had left behind. "We encountered plenty of Digimon on our adventure," Oikawa went on. "Most of them were as savage and unthinking as our own wild animals. Often when we came upon one, it wanted nothing more than to devour us whole.

"Some of them were kinder, and we built a network of monster allies… Even I called a few of them friends for a while… I had a Wormmon who followed me for most of the journey, spurring me to recreate that feeling for Ichijouji… but when danger came and they had to Digivolve to protect us, they ended up draining our energy away, leaving us weak and helpless… and no better prepared for the next threat."

"Maybe that's why the Order made Digivices for us," Izzy said to Joe. "To counter that energy drain…"

"You brats had it so easy," Oikawa growled. "But the constant energy drain and the Digivices that came after inspired me; I borrowed both concepts for my own project."

"Easy?!" Mimi shouted. "If you'd really been watching, you wouldn't say that!"

"When I remake the worlds, the Digimon I create will be far better," Oikawa said. "They will be docile and obedient. They will be far superior than any original Digimon… or humans, for that matter."

"You mean they'll be mindless puppets," Garudamon growled. "We won't allow that."

Joe shook his head. "I just don't get it, Oikawa," he said. "You could make a whole world just for yourself; this lab proves that. Why not just do that?"

"Yeah, why not just leave the rest of us alone?" Ikkakumon asked.

Oikawa's left eye throbbed in rage. "Because your horrible would would still exist," he spat, flecks of foam appearing at the corners of his mouth. "I can't be happy, I can't be at peace until it's completely gone!"

"Hey! Just because YOU had a rotten life doesn't mean you get to kill everybody else," Matt shot back. "God, you really ARE a child!"

"Child?!" One of the Oikawas huffed. "I'm not a child!… Am I?!"

"Of course you're not," another Oikawa growled. "They're the children here. Stubborn, selfish idiots!"

"Try talking like that to your next batch of opponents, Hiroaki!" A third snarled, and the floor sped up, throwing almost everyone on their backs. The conveyor arced downhill and became a twisting, spiraling slide through darkness. The flying Digimon tried to get ahead to catch their partners, but couldn't see an inch in front of their faces and were forced to let the path unfold on its own.

After several moments of terror, the Digidestined crashed down into another large chamber, a pungent chemical odor assaulting their noses. The room boasted several pools of unknown liquids glowing sick shades of yellow, blue and red, while monitors around them displayed more numbers and images of spiraling DNA strands. Oikawa appeared again in a huge monitor over the sealed metal door at the other end. "Now, welcome to the birthplace of your friends' partners… and my new world," he said, again smirking triumphantly.

"Yuck! Smells like something's going, not coming!" Ikkakumon said, wrinkling his face.

"I thought you said they came from those capsules," Tai said.

"The refined, finished versions, yes," Oikawa said, "but this is where I created the first ones… after several failed attempts."

The pools bubbled and gurgled, and like a scene from a horror movie creatures began to emerge from the colored slime. The kids could see they were six more clones of their friends' Digimon, but none of them looked exactly… right. Each one had some sort of physical deformity: a Veemon had one tiny arm and one large one; a Hawkmon was missing a beak; and an Armadillomon's face and paws looked halfway melted. "Eww!" Mimi yelped, covering her mouth.

"You must be scraping the bottom of the barrel," Kabuterimon said, taking to the air and readying himself.

"They aren't much to look at, but they are fully capable of interfacing with DigiEgg Armors," Oikawa said, and six familiar DigiEggs, two of each kind, emerged from the liquid: Purity floated over the two Veemon; Light drifted to the Hawkmon; and Love hovered over the Armadillomon. With a series of flickering flashes, the Digimon transformed into dangerous-looking, but still deformed new shapes: the Veemon became masked humanoids with wooden arm shields and two wooden swords apiece; the Hawkmon were replaced with women with white wings for arms and sharp talon feet; and the Armadillomon transformed into mechanical gray pterodactyls with healthy cargos of missiles. "Yasyamon, Harpymon and Pteramon," Oikawa announced, pointing at the kids, "attack!"

"Get back, kids!" Weregarurumon said, running to the front of the line with Garudamon.

"We're ready," Garudamon said, balling her massive fists.

"Hey, don't leave us out!" Kabuterimon said, taking to the air.

Weregarurumon and Garudamon charged the new enemies, but the Pteramon opened their missile bays and rained artillery on them, throwing up smoke and slag, and stopping them in their tracks. The Harpymon added to the confusion by lobbing sharp blasts of wind every which way, knocking Kabuterimon into the wall as they went over the Ultimates and targeted the children. As Togemon, Greymon and Ikkakumon tried to fend them off, the Yasyamon bounded in and started smacking them with their swords. Ikkakumon yelped as one struck him in the face and made him launch his torpedo wildly off course. "OW! Are those things regulation?!" he snarled.

Greymon tried to spit fire at the Harpymon harassing Kabuterimon, but a Yasyamon came from beneath and swatted the side of his head, then stabbed his throat with both swords. The dinosaur gurgled and collapsed as his fireball blew out in his mouth, shrinking back down to Agumon. Tai cried out in alarm and the Yasyamon leaped at him next, deflected only by a sudden jab from Togemon. "Get back, you guys!" she yelled at the kids. "They're too fast!"

Izzy winced as Kabuterimon took another hit from Harpymon. He backed away and the laptop in his bag clattered against the wall. Suddenly his mind sparked into action. Oikawa wasn't the only person in the lab who knew his way around a computer; maybe he could hack his way into the system and shut it down. "Guys, I'm going to try something," he said as he pulled his old laptop out and opened it up. "Cover me!"

Despite his own panic and clutching his wounded partner, Tai ran back and stood in front of Izzy along with the others. "Go for it, Izzy," he said.

The roars and crashes of battle in his ears, Izzy activated his best hacking program and started typing. Just seconds after he began, though, the data on the screen fizzled out and Oikawa's smirking face appeared instead. Izzy was so surprised he almost dropped the laptop. "What?!" he asked.

"Thought you could sneak in?" Oikawa mused, then scowled at him hatefully. "No system is safe from me… not even yours, Koushiro!"

Beads of sweat formed on Izzy's forehead. Oikawa was unpleasant enough to the others, but he seemed downright hostile to him. "Just who are you to me?" he asked. "You talk like you know me."

"That's because I do know you," Oikawa sneered. "I know much about each of you 'chosen children,' but I know everything about you!"

Matt and Sora turned around with worry; that sounded like a lead-in to what Oikawa had tried to do to them. "Izzy! Put it down!" Matt shouted.

"He's trying to mess with you!" Sora said.

"Oh, I'm not trying," Oikawa cackled, and his eyes fired a purple beam into Izzy's.

Izzy groaned and dropped the laptop as he fell into Joe's waiting arms. As he struggled to lay the boy down he noticed the same type of computer code flashing in his eyes as had been in Matt's. "Not again!" he groaned.

Kabuterimon looked over in alarm. "What happened?!" he asked, then had to tear across the room as a Pteramon shot another missile volley at him.

Sora looked at Izzy and bit her lip, remembering her own experience… but also that she had been able to escape. "Come on, Izzy, you can get out of this!" she urged.

Matt looked back at the battle and swore. They were already down a Digimon, and the aerial salvos kept Weregarurumon and Garudamon from doing much. Maybe Izzy could escape the mental trap, but he wasn't sure how much time he had to do it.

… … …

Izzy had no idea where he was; one moment he had been typing on his computer and the next he floated aimlessly in a dark void. He wanted to look around, but found he couldn't move his body at all. With his mouth refusing his orders, he turned instead to his mind. "Oikawa!" he thought into the darkness, "what did you do?!"

Your curiosity, your intellect, your potential… Oikawa's voice drifted back in reply. You really remind me of your father… although maybe not as human.

Izzy's eyes flashed in shock. "Wait… you don't know my father," he said. "I asked both of them about you, and they've never heard of you!"

Now, now, you know better than that, Oikawa replied, and an image of the fourth boy from the photograph appeared before Izzy. He was short with loose-fitting clothes, bright brown eyes and a messy cut of dark hair, looking like a junior mad scientist. As Izzy looked him over, his heart started to ache in his frozen chest.

Mitsuo was a smart boy. Not as smart as ME, obviously, but, he did come close, Oikawa went on. But he was also foolish, more concerned with using his intellect to make others laugh, 'keeping our spirits high,' as he put it. I won't lie, we did need it sometimes. I remember once when Chidori felt particularly low…

Another image appeared before Izzy: a girl in blue jeans with cherry-red hair, sitting on the ground with her arms around her knees and weeping. She was so homesick… but none of us knew if we would ever see home again, Oikawa said, but Mitsuo knew what to do… with the help of what I had discovered about the world we were in.

Izzy watched as the boy walked over to the girl, then pressed his fingers into the ground and pulled up a hunk of flashing data and pixels. As Izzy watched in astonishment, he ran his hand over them and they calmed and transformed into a beautiful red tulip. He knelt down and offered it to the girl with a kind smile, and she looked up at him with her inky black pupils, returning his smile under her tear-stained cheeks. That was the magic of the Digital World, Oikawa said, his malicious tone softened. Or maybe it was just him…

Izzy's whole body wanted to tremble in anguish; he knew Oikawa was telling him a true story, and he feared its ending more than anything in the world.

Yes, you remind me of him… except for one big difference, Oikawa said, his cold tone returning as the boy and girl faded away. Mitsuo was emotional, empathetic… but you distance your heart and use cold, hard logic. But that is far from a weakness.

The scene changed to a desolate wasteland adorned only with Control Spires. You understand, don't you, Oikawa's voice said, louder than before. You know the power in logic and knowledge, and how to use it.

"I certainly don't use it like you have," Izzy thought back.

Really? Oikawa asked with bemusement. You said you forced your partner to Digivolve the first time by hacking him, did you not?

Izzy hesitated. "W-well, yes, but…" he started.

You worked night and day to find the temples of the digital gods, so you could regain your lost powers. You convinced the others to leave Ichijouji's body behind, and kept yourself safe from the police, Oikawa went on. You know the rest of these fools would have been dead in the water without your brilliant mind, both on your adventure and afterwards. You have the perfect mind to control both humans and Digimon… just like me.

Izzy felt his stomach turn as he considered everything Oikawa had listed. "N-no, that's not right," he argued. "I never knew my parents, so I couldn't be like them… and I never knew you, either. So I can't be like you!"

That's right, your impeccable logic will rationalize everything, Oikawa said with a low chuckle. It's not our fault that others are too stupid to understand; they rely on their feelings and their moods to dictate their decisions.

Another image came before Izzy, of Mitsuo shaking his head and mouthing harsh words at a much younger Oikawa in a time when he had human-colored skin.

Mitsuo always scolded me when I changed data, Oikawa said bitterly. He said I didn't think about who got hurt. What, Digimon getting hurt? They're just bits and bytes, like what I was using! If they die, they just come back! But he was wrong. I was quite aware of who would get hurt… especially that night.

Suddenly the darkness parted and Izzy stood in a dingy apartment full of dusty papers and computer parts, rain beating hard against the single window. The two children from before stood before him, now fully grown: Chidori's hair had lengthened, and Mitsuo's was pepper-gray. He himself felt taller than usual, older, and more than a little ill. He wanted desperately to move toward them, to call out, but still his body would not obey his wishes.

Mitsuo glared at him, beads of sweat on his forehead. "You can't be serious, Yukio!" he shouted, pointing angrily at a computer screen. "This is dangerous, not to mention selfish! You need to look forward, live your life!"

"Please, stop, Yukio," Chidori pleaded. "You don't have to do this. We're your friends; we want to help you!"

Izzy saw his gray, thin finger angrily stab at the door behind them. "Get out," Oikawa's voice came from his throat. "You mindless fools! GET OUT!"

Chidori's eyes lowered sadly. Mistuo scowled at him. "We can't let you do this, Yukio," he said as he turned away. "We'll be back."

They left the apartment, slamming the door as they went. Izzy's eyes turned to the nearest computer and his hands seized the keyboard. "No you won't," he heard Oikawa snarl.

Suddenly he was standing on the street outside, the cold rain soaking into his clothes. In front of him he saw Mitsuo and Chidori getting into a late-80's model car, but suddenly he could see the insides of the vehicle, too, like he was watching a video on engine construction. He could see the tiny device planted in the steering system, its one light flashing an ominous red. It was a simple little device I snuck in when I greeted them at the curb, Oikawa's voice chuckled. And just a simple little program within in: manipulate the steering, then self-destruct on impact. No evidence of anything. Just a horrible accident.

Izzy's heart almost burst as he realized what Oikawa was going to make him watch. "N-no! Wait!" he yelled at the car as it pulled away. "Stop! STOP!"

The car moved down the street towards a bridge, half of which was covered in construction cones and barriers. The fact that he was caught in an illusion thrown from his mind, he broke into a sprint after it, his eyes throbbing as he watched the backs of the passengers' heads. "STOP! IT'S A TRAP! STOP THE CAR!" he yelled wildly. "NO!"

His knee buckled and he fell into a cold puddle. He scrambled back onto his feet as fast as he could, but before he could take another step the car swerved through the construction barriers and off the bridge. There was a horrible second of silence, and then a deafening metallic smash. He ran to the bridge and fell to his knees as he looked down, his eyes spilling over as he saw the burning wreckage. His nose stung with the stench of burning metal, melting tires, and… other awful things. "MOM! DAD!" he shrieked.

The rain hissed as it landed on the flaming vehicle, and Izzy lay his head on the concrete, wailing and sobbing uncontrollably. Yes, it was a difficult choice, Oikawa's calm voice came, but you understand that this was necessary.

"Ne… necessary?!" Izzy gasped, sitting up and looking around furiously. "You k… you killed… you KILLED them!"

If the ignorant refuse to listen to you, and yet still insist on interfering, then your only option is to remove them, Oikawa's voice said. You, of all people, know that this is the only way to ensure success!

Izzy shivered in the cold rain, and tried to hug himself for warmth, but then he saw his skin turning sickly gray, like Oikawa's. He gasped and stared at his hands, thinking of every awful thing he had done to get his friends and himself this far, his heartless words of abandoning Ken's body to keep the police from coming back to his apartment. Oikawa was right; he could see no difference between them. "Dad…" he whimpered at the destroyed car. "Mom!…"

As the words came out, though, different, more gentle memories began to flow into his mind, memories of his adopted mother and father. Even though they weren't his biological parents, and had kept his adoption a secret from him for a long time, they had raised him as their own, guiding him to be a good person. He sat up and pictured Yoshie and her sweet smile, and understanding, capable Masami, and remembered their words when they finally told him the whole story. Even though they hadn't birthed him themselves, they had loved him as much as any real parent could.

He sat up and stared out at the rainy road, his eyes still running with tears but his heart throbbing; the memories of his adoptive parents helped other good memories back into his mind, too: Pabumon pulling him back from apathy when Vedamon stole his curiosity; working on computer programs with Yolei in the lab; Sora helping him with his Christmas shopping; and the humorous faux-camping trip he had taken with Tai and Matt. His bearings returned and he found he could stand again, and he wiped the tears from his eyes.

He turned away from the wreck and saw Oikawa on the other side of the bridge. Oikawa stepped back in surprise. "What?! You…?!" he snarled. "You still refuse to understand?!"

Izzy glared at the man, both of his fists shaking. "You think we're similar… but you couldn't be further from the truth," he spoke slowly, his voice still choked but strengthening with each breath. "They were your friends. They cared about you. They wanted to help you. And you murdered them."

Oikawa bared his teeth, his eyes wild. "I… I had to, or they would have ruined my plans!" he shot back. "If they had just minded their own business!… They should have just left me alone! All those years of ignoring me, and then they chose to…!"

Izzy shook his head. "My friends aren't as smart as I am, and we've had plenty of arguments… but I would never even think killing is an acceptable choice," he said, scowling. "But you took their lives… and then you took Ken's… and who knows how many others died when Dagomon invaded. And then there are the lives you upended, like Sora's and Matt's families', and my friends'… and all for a plan that only benefits you!" He bared his teeth and took a step towards Oikawa, who shrank back with furious eyes. "I could never be like you," he continued. "I'll never know my real parents, but the ones I have instead, and all of my friends, are just as dear to me. And I'm going to make sure you never hurt anyone else again!"

Oikawa just stood there, watching him with shaking arms. Izzy suddenly thought he heard Tentomon's voice behind him, calling his name. Suddenly his vision was drowned in a violent purple glow, and he felt himself tumbling through a void. He crashed down and his eyes popped open to find he was surrounded by his friends, who all gasped in relief. "Thank God!" Joe said.

"Welcome back, Izzy!" Tai said, grinning.

"I knew you'd get out of it!" Sora said.

An electrical explosion came from behind them, grabbing everyone's attention. Kabuterimon had Digivolved to the gigantic Megakabuterimon and was crashing through the chamber and knocking the clone Digimon for a loop, blocking their shots with his shell and frying them with his electrical blasts. The Pteramon couldn't react fast enough and were zapped into piles of pixellated dust. With them gone, Weregarurumon and Garudamon had more than enough of an opening to send the Harpymon and Yasyamon to similar fates. Oikawa's mouth fell open on the big monitor as his creations dissolved, his face turning grayish-pink with rage.

"Wow! That was great timing, Megakabuterimon!" Ikkakumon exclaimed.

"I… Thanks," Megakabuterimon said, looking himself over. Then he noticed that Izzy had come around. "Izzy! You're all right!" he exclaimed.

Izzy blinked a few times, some fresh tears sprouting in his eyes. "Y-yeah… I am," he said quietly.

Mimi knelt down and ran her thumb across his cheek, shocked at the wetness she felt; she had never seen Izzy cry before. "What did he do to you?" she asked softly.

Izzy hesitated for a moment, then sighed; the others deserved to know. "I know it for a fact now," he said. "My parents… Oikawa… killed them."

Almost every kid gasped. "What?!" Tai asked.

Sora turned furious eyes on the monitor. "How could you?!" she yelled. "Dad said you were all friends!"

Oikawa gnashed his teeth. "They were never my friends!" he snapped. "None of them understood my vision! None of them wanted a better world!"

"Nobody wants that world but you!" Matt shouted back.

Oikawa ignored him and continued glaring at Izzy. "If you think you'll get satisfaction from me, Koushiro," he hissed, "you are very much mistaken!" The monitor snapped off abruptly, and the door beneath it slowly faded away.

Izzy stared at the dark monitor. Oikawa's claim that he hadn't been friends with the rest didn't sound at all like what he had heard in the illusion. The further they got into the lab, the more unhinged the man sounded. He no longer knew what to believe.

As he took in Oikawa's words, Tai's eyes flashed. "Izzy," he said, turning to his friend, "he's afraid of you."

Izzy looked at him with confusion. "Me?" he asked.

"Tai's right. Look how hard he tried to get rid of you just now," Joe said. "Either he knows you're just as good with computers as he is… or he's scared of some kind of divine justice."

"Either way, he sounds rattled now," Weregarurumon said. "This could be our chance to shut him down!"

"Yeah," Sora agreed, picking Izzy's laptop off the ground and offering it to him. "try hacking into his systems again."

Izzy bit his lip, his body still shaking from the terrible revelations Oikawa had forced him to see… but that gave him all the more reasons to try and stop the man. He took the laptop from her and nodded. "Megakabuterimon, I'm going to need cover and time," he said to his partner, "are you ready?"

"I always am," Megakabuterimon said, making as much of a smile as mandibles could. "We'll get him, Izzy. I promise."

Tai looked towards the open door, then down at his partner. "I think we're getting to the end," he said. "How're you doing?"

Agumon climbed out of Tai's grip and took a few steps. "I think I've got my second wind," he said. "I'm ready, Tai!"

Tai smiled and nodded. "All right, gang," he said, pointing at the door, "in we go!"

The others gave affirmative yells, and the Digimon rushed forward into the blackness, the kids chasing after them with their Digivices held high.

They ran through the darkness for what seemed several minutes before any light came into view. Finally they came upon a simple, strange arrangement: a long wooden table, surrounded on its short sides by twelve more capsules, and a boxy big computer with a huge screen at its head. Typing on the computer's massive keyboard, his back turned to them, was Yukio Oikawa.

The Digimon stopped and growled. "So, here you are, live and in person!" Togemon said, socking her mitts together.

"Oikawa!" Matt shouted. "It's over!"

Oikawa didn't turn around; he just kept typing silently. "Come on, step away from the computer," Tai said, "we've got you surrounded!"

Oikawa continued to ignore them. "Then we'll DRAG you away!" Weregarurumon snarled, running towards him.

As he reached out to grab the man, though, Oikawa vanished like a popping bubble and a bolt of lightning struck him from the computer. With a pained howl he sailed backwards and smashed the table to splinters. Immediately the twelve capsules snapped open and four of each clone emerged, snarling and ready for battle. "Crap! We walked right into that one!" Ikkakumon gulped.

The computer shuddered, then rose up and grew into a tall, rotating silver tower—or rather, a spire—with lights, buttons and monitors and mechanical arms sparking with electricity moving around it like a furious tree. "You certainly did! After all you had seen, did you honestly think I left the nerve center of my laboratory unprotected?!" Oikawa's voice boomed as his smirking face appeared on every screen. "You may have managed to get here, but this is where your journey, and your lives, come to an end!"

"We can handle a few more of your mass-produced Digimon," Garudamon said, clenching her fists and glaring at the grey Hawkmon.

"Oh, yes, go right ahead and destroy them," Oikawa mused. "Of course, if you do, you'll be dooming your own world."

Megakabuterimon's horn suddenly stopped sparking. "Woah, wait a second, what?!" he asked.

"I've connected these creatures right to my computer's central data processing terminal," Oikawa said as the clones moved closer. "If you destroy them, countless blocks of data will erase themselves. Not only will that cost you vital information, but your precious Digital World will remain in its ruined state!" One of the Veemon launched itself and almost hit Agumon. "Of course, they aren't pushovers… Maybe there are some places you could stand to miss," Oikawa said, chuckling. "Give it some thought; do you really need a forest of road signs? And that bothersome Spaghetti Junction was never very friendly…"

"You lousy…!" Togemon growled, then yelped as a balled-up Armadillomon fired itself into her side.

His fingers starting to sweat, Izzy opened his laptop again and started typing. "Maybe I can sever the connections so we don't lose anything," he said, activating every anti-virus software he had installed. "In the meantime, try not to destroy them!"

All four Hawkmon hurled their feather boomerangs at Ikkakumon, but Garudamon stepped in and blocked them, wincing; even though she was an Ultimate, the attacks still stung. "Easier said than done," she growled.

Tai looked at Agumon, who nodded. "We have to give this our all," he said. "Come on, Tai!"

"Yeah," Tai said as he pulled out his glowing orange Crest and looked at Joe and Mimi. "You guys ready?"

He didn't even need to ask; Joe and Mimi already had their Crests ready. They raised their Digivices and three blinding flashes shot through the dark. Togemon and Ikkakumon became Lillymon and Zudomon, joining the other Ultimates on the front line. Agumon jumped into the air and became the shining, heroic Wargreymon once again. "You've done enough damage," he said to Oikawa as he floated next to Lillymon.

Oikawa grinned wickedly. "Very well," he said, "if you're bringing out your big guns, so will I."

A latch on the side of the spire clicked open, and the kids gawked in sudden terror as a familiar, gleaming DigiEgg emerged. "Oh, no," was all Sora could say.

"Is that…?!" Joe gulped.

Izzy looked up and saw the egg, then his typing turned frantic.

"When I created the DigiEgg armors, I made a special one with an extra burst of power," Oikawa said, his own eyes gleaming as brightly as the DigiEgg. "But then I realized that your friends would be Digivolving normally fairly soon, at the rate the spires fell… so I repurposed it as the power source for the Emperor's base. But your goggle-wearing protege found and used it anyway."

"You mean Magnamon," Weregarurumon growled as he nervously looked at the twitching Veemon that the egg had started to hover over.

"Of course," Oikawa said. "It helped rein in the Emperor, but after that I decided letting the child keep using it might make fighting Arukenimon and Mummymon too easy… and really, with that much power that boy might have fancied himself a new Emperor. Such dangerous toys shouldn't be in the hands of imbeciles like that in the first place, should they?"

"Davis might be an imbecile," Matt growled, "but he's more mature than you!"

"You rotten little…!" Oikawa started to snarl, then pursed his lips for a moment before his smirk returned. "Ah, but you older kids never even got to see how splendid it was, did you?" he asked, shaking his head. "Well, I'm delighted to give you the opportunity!"

"No, really! We'll take Davis's word for it!" Zudomon said.

The golden DigiEgg descended on the gray Veemon and in a terrifyingly slow flash, it became the elegant, dangerous-looking golden Magnamon. "All the power of a Mega-level creature in a pretty little golden package," Oikawa chortled as Magnamon's blood-red eyes locked onto Wargreymon and emitted a sickly glow.

"I don't care how strong he is," Wargreymon growled, lifting his claws, "we're not letting you destroy our worlds!"

"It wouldn't be anywhere near as enjoyable if you did!" Oikawa laughed, then leaned in so close, only his burning eyes were on the screen. "Now, come! Show me the resolve of two doomed worlds!"

Magnamon and Wargreymon flew at each other and clashed in the middle of the area, neither able to use their most explosive attacks and resorting to clanging fisticuffs. The Ultimates did they could think of to would disable the clones without destroying them, but the gray machine-made Digimon pulled none of their punches. Lillymon tried to ensnare a Veemon with a flower wreath, but an Armadillomon snatched it from her hand and ate it, then barreled into Weregarurumon's back. Garudamon tried to grab the Hawkmon and hold onto them, but they pecked and slashed their way free with their surprisingly sharp beaks and talons. Zudomon and Megakabuterimon had no attacks weak enough to keep the monsters alive, so they could only push and shove them away like crabby theme park mascots.

With a small beep, Izzy's laptop told him it had finally managed to get into Oikawa's systems. "Prodigious!" he said as he kept typing. All he needed to do was locate and sever the connections between the main data server and Oikawa's Digimon, and…

The computer beeped angrily, and Izzy saw a fifth Veemon emerged from one of the capsules. He tried typing a different command, but the computer beeped again and another Hawkmon appeared. He backed up and tried to enter a different part of the server, but again the computer beeped and a new Armadillomon came out. Izzy's face went pale as he realized the virtual minefield his fingers had wandered into. "Uh-oh," was all he could say.

"Uh-oh?" Sora asked, looking his way. "What do you mean 'uh-oh?'"

"Are YOU making these new guys, Izzy?!" Weregarurumon asked as a new Veemon rammed him in the knee.

"I… I didn't realize!…" Izzy tried. "He's boobytrapped the whole system!"

Oikawa looked his way and gave him a malicious grin. "I love rewarding ingenuity, Koushiro," he said. "Try whatever you want! Not that it'll do anything but hurt you."

Izzy hated to play right into Oikawa's trap, but faced with not doing anything and letting the clones trample his friends, he had no choice. He tried several more attempts to hack the system, but more and more clones popped out of the capsules with each effort, immediately attacking the other Digimon and starting to wear them down. At one point he thought he had made some progress when the laptop beeped loudly, and to his horror a second Magnamon emerged from the capsules. An audible swear escaped his mouth as it joined its sibling in punching Wargreymon.

Lillymon tried to fly up and drop flower wreaths on the Magnamon, but four Hawkmon clung to her arms and pulled her back while two Armadillomon latched onto her knees like oversized hockey pads, immobilizing her. "Hey, hands off!" she snapped.

Mimi cried out as she watched her partner dangle. "There're too many!" she yelled. "Izzy, stop!"

Megakabuterimon shouted as three Veemon hung off his horn, pulling his face to the floor. "N-no, keep going!" he urged as he tried to get back up. "We have to save that data!"

"We won't be able to save anything if we're smothered," Garudamon growled as she grabbed more handfuls of clones; the more that swarmed around her, the easier they were to pick up.

Izzy kept trying to find a way in, but more and more clones kept emerging. Oikawa shot him an annoyed glare. "Oh, stop it," he snapped, "it's not going to help you."

Zudomon shoved another batch away with his hammer, but they didn't rush him again as quickly; it looked more like they were casually walking back instead of running like they had before. "Are they getting lazier?" he asked.

Weregarurumon threw another Armadillomon across the room and watched others stroll up to him like they wanted a ride. "What's going on?" he asked.

Wargreymon found he was blocking the Magnamon's punches much easier, and even managed to out-maneuver both of them. "Something weird's going on here!" he said as he kicked them away.

On the screen, Oikawa looked around at the slower legions and his smile flipped to a furious snarl. "No it's not!" he said. "They're every bit as dangerous as before!"

Izzy suddenly realized what was happening: the more Digimon he created by meddling with the computer system, the more programs the system had to run, and that slowed all of them down. "Of course! It's so simple!" he exclaimed. "This really IS the best idea!"

"No! You little…!" Oikawa shouted, but could formulate no other words.

Izzy resumed typing and searching for the connection, making as many errors as he could and creating more and more clones. Soon the whole chamber was packed with clones that moved so slowly, their attacks were easy to avoid or disrupt. Veemon bumped their heads into the Digimon like they were happy cats. The Armadillomon just stood there, their mouths hanging open. Hawkmon floated aimlessly like balloons. "This is getting surreal," Joe said as he looked around.

"Give up and turn off your program, Oikawa," Sora said to the screen. "It's just a matter of time before Izzy figures this out!"

A vein visibly throbbed on Oikawa's reddening forehead. "You brats have NO chance of winning!" he shouted. "Did you forget?!"

The entire spinning tower suddenly emitted a dark-red glow. Weregarurumon was just about to throw another Armadillomon when he felt himself getting weaker and shorter. He yelped as he became Gabumon and fell under the Armadillomon's weight. "This is MY domain!" Oikawa shouted, grinning wildly. "MINE to control!"

The other Digimon reverted to their Rookie forms as well: Gomamon and Tentomon found themselves running from the gaggle of clones they had just pushed away; Biyomon struggled to pull Palmon free of her captors; Agumon fell out of the sky and landed on the Armadillomon who pinned Gabumon. Matt could have bitten his own hands off. "Shit!" he snarled.

"You just can't stand losing, can you?!" Mimi yelled at the screen.

"Those who don't know how to use their power are destined to lose… and I certainly know how to use mine," Oikawa snapped back, then regained his awful smile. "Now that your Digimon are as helpless as yourselves, it's clear that I am the winner here! But you worked so hard… so I won't kill you. You can sit here and wait for armageddon with the rest of your world!"

Matt watched Gabumon struggle under the Armadillomon and growled. "You're still nothing but a cheating, tantrum-throwing man-child," he said.

Oikawa turned hateful eyes on him. "Just for that, I changed my mind. Those Magnamon are launching their entire salvos," he hissed. "Goodbye, you sore losers!"

The Magnamon's armors slowly began to slide open, revealing the circular tops of a dozen or so explosive capsules each. The kids froze in holy terror. Sora thought she was about to vomit up her heart.

Agumon scrambled back on his feet, looked up at the approaching Magnamon, panicked and shoved his way through the crowd of gray clones. Even though the Magnamon and presumably the missiles were slowed down, he knew they would still disintegrate everyone in the room. He had to do something, anything to protect Tai and the others, but his terrified mind could not come up with a single plan. "Tai!" he shouted.

Just then, his chin smashed into something and he heard a metallic crunch. He looked up to see the massive tower, a sizable crack running up its side from where he had banged into it. Oikawa turned furious eyes on him. "Watch where you're going, you worm!" he shouted.

Tai noticed the crack, too, and an idea struck him. "Agumon!" he shouted. "Hit it again!"

"W-well, OK!" Agumon said, winding up his claw. He slugged the crack and the plating around it shattered like sugar glass, the wires beneath twitching and spitting sparks.

Oikawa's eyes went red with rage. "WHY, YOU!" he screamed.

Izzy looked at the damage, then down at the laptop, and his eyes lit up. The clones must have been Oikawa's only true defense for the computer; he hadn't expected the kids might risk damaging the equipment itself. If they did enough damage, maybe he could get through the remaining security easier. He looked at the Digimon with courageous eyes beneath his sweaty brow. "Everyone!" he yelled. "Wreck the computer!"

Everyone looked at Izzy like he just said he was leaving for a vacation in Haiti. "Have you flipped your lid?!" Joe asked. "What about—"

"JUST DO IT!" he halfway shrieked, pointing at the crack in the tower.

Palmon kicked the last Armadillomon loose and glared at the device. "You heard the man! Let's go, Biyomon!" she shouted.

Biyomon flew Palmon to the tower and they started smashing the silver plating. Tentomon zapped the Armadillomon off of Gabumon and they also ran and began slashing at it. "You…! Stop! Right now!" Oikawa shouted at them as some screens began to flicker and crackle with static.

"Don't let the Digis have all the fun," Tai said, kicking a Veemon out of the way and running for the tower. "Come on, everybody!"

"Right behind you!" Sora agreed, and the five kids joined their partners in kicking and punching the computer. Shimmering silver fragments flew through the air like they were carving an ice block. When the clones moved in to attack them, the kids and their partners either pushed them away or casually moved to the side and let the clones' attacks land on the machine too. Matt picked up an Armadillomon and threw it against the tower, leaving a huge hole. Mimi reached inside and yanked out gobs of wires, pulling them apart like strands of licorice. "Hurry, guys!" Izzy said from his laptop, looking nervously at the Magnamon's mostly-open missile bays. "They're gonna launch any second!"

"Stop it! STOP IT!" Oikawa shouted at them from every monitor, as half of them changed color and distorted. One of them made Oikawa's face look like a Picasso painting.

"Hey, Joe!" Gomamon urged from beneath him, "give me a lift, would ya?"

Joe picked Gomamon up and tossed him against the tower, where he sank his claws in and slid back down, leaving long, sparking tears. "So that's why cats like doing it so much!" he laughed.


Tai's response was putting a fist through the nearest screen, breaking it as easily as the rest of the computer. Oikawa continued to rage in a stream of incoherent noises and curses, but nobody paid any attention.

Izzy's laptop beeped happily, and he beamed as he read the screen; he had found the connecting program. With three quick keystrokes, he severed the link between the clones and the main data storage. With three more keystrokes, he shut down the data-draining program. And with three last clicks, the collision program was halted. "I did it!" he announced. "We're all safe!"

Tentomon looked at his partner and did an aerial backflip. "Go, Izzy!" he buzzed. "I knew you'd do it!"

Izzy frowned at the snarling face on the screens. "Now we pull the plug," he said, and hit one last key.

One by one, the monitors on the computer started to go black. Oikawa looked ready to shoot lava out of his ears. "You bastards! You little shits!" he wheezed. "You… you… DISGUSTING HUMA—"

The final screen went black, and the whole chamber suddenly shook like it was in an earthquake. Huge chunks of the tower snapped off and clattered on the floor, sending shards of glass and metal everywhere. Mimi screamed and grabbed Palmon. "We gotta get outta here!" she yelled.

"Can we run all the way back?" Joe asked. "How far was it?!"

"It's OK! Really!" Izzy said as he made his way through the shuddering clones to the rest of the kids. "I just shut down the pocket dimension's program!"

"What does that mean?" Sora asked.

"It means we should be fine," Izzy said. Then a huge metal plate crashed down next to him. "But, uh, let's all stick together, just in case," he added.

The kids and their Digimon huddled together and covered their heads as more slag rained down around them. The clones trembled for a moment more, then collapsed like marionettes with cut strings and flowed together like a gross gray bucket of paint. The Magnamon broke apart and poofed out of existence. Little holes of light appeared in the darkness and got larger and larger, the machines and the floor dissolving away like sugar in water.

Suddenly, the quiet sound of running water came to Tai's ears. He opened his eyes and found that they were in a cramped, wet little room with black mold blanketing the white walls. Stacks of yellowed, water-damaged papers sat in two corners, and a pile of old fast-food containers and empty ramen cups took up another, complete with a few mummified rats. A single old computer, its monitor flashing and smoking, sat on a wooden crate nearby, hooked up to a dingy-looking overturned refrigerator lined with flashing computer components. Everything reeked of electrical smoke, fish and gasoline. He waited a moment longer, then let go of Agumon and Sora. "Where are we?" he asked.

Mimi retched and clamped a hand over her nose. "This is worse than Yolei's room!" she said. "How did we get here?!"

"We were here all along; just inside Oikawa's pocket dimension," Izzy said as he looked around and saw an opening in the ceiling, with an old metal ladder leaning against it. "I think we're under the warehouse," he said. "He must have built this room, too."

"But… where is he?" Biyomon asked. "We still didn't find him."

Matt looked at the refrigerator and a sick feeling washed over him… but he had to know for sure. "Tai, Joe," he said quietly, "help me out."

Tai, Matt and Joe walked to the refrigerator and pulled the top open, releasing horrible stenches of filth and decay, and several gallons of grey slop oozed out of the sides onto their shoes. As they looked inside, everyone felt like throwing up: lying inside, impaled with hundreds of wires and cables and so thin they could see outlines of bones through the naked skin, was the body of a middle-aged man. "Oh… oh!" Mimi gurgled, then had to turn away.

"Is… is that him?" Agumon asked. "No… he's way too thin!"

"It has to be," Izzy said. "He must have put himself into some sort of stasis, wired his brain into the computer and sent himself into the Digital World… and then he was able to manifest himself here as well, like the Digimon do."

"He hasn't moved or eaten in years," Joe said, one of his eyes twitching in disgust.

Sora shook her head. "You wanted to go back so badly, you did this to yourself…" she muttered.

They stared at him a moment more before Tai coughed. "Is he… dead?" he asked.

"I… guess we could find a pulse," Matt said, looking at Joe.

Everyone else looked at Joe too. Joe looked down at Oikawa, his face turning green. He hesitated a moment more, then reached down and put two fingers on the spindly, emaciated arm. It felt like a mold-infested tree branch.

As Joe felt and waited, Izzy came beside him and looked down at the figure in the box. Just then, Oikawa's eyes shot open and his free hand lurched upward and grabbed the surprised boy's collar, several wires falling out of him with sick snaps and plops. "This… is… your fault… Mitsuo!" came an inhuman, rasping hiss.

Izzy yelped and frantically tried to pull the arm off, but its fingers stayed tightly on his shirt. "Hey! Get off him!" Tentomon shouted, flying up and smacking the hand away.

Oikawa turned his head slightly with a dry crunch, smiling like an evil skeleton as more wires broke away. "You… haven't… won… at… all…" he whispered. "Your… friends… Your… world… are…" His whole body trembled violently and even more wires snapped loose, the sparks making his limbs twitch like a reanimated lab frog. He wheezed three times before falling silent, a trail of reddish-black ooze dribbling from his leering mouth.

Izzy stepped back, shuddered for a few moments, then sagged against Tai. "Mom… Dad…" he murmured.

"You gonna be OK?" Tai asked, clutching his shoulder.

Izzy wiped at his eyes for a moment, then took a deep breath. "Yeah," he whispered.

The others looked around the room, then back at the body. "You think he's still alive? Out in the Digital World?" Gomamon asked.

"Probably," Joe said, folding his arms, "but now he doesn't have a body to come back to."

They all stared at the remains for several moments, until their ears perked to a quiet cracking, and flecks of plaster began to drift from the ceiling like snowflakes. Then Matt noticed some of the empty cups were rolling to one corner, where a puddle of water had started to form. "Uh… guys?…" he said, pointing.

The others looked over and saw part of the floor split, and more water started to pour in. Agumon looked up and saw huge cracks growing along the top of the room. "That… doesn't look good," he said, pointing.

Joe's face went white; the tiny room hadn't been built to hold the weight of so many people. "We need to—" he began when a segment of wall behind him burst, drenching him in cold water. He gasped and grabbed at his glasses, then pointed at the ladder. "Out! NOW!" he sputtered.

"Women and Digis first!" Gomamon shouted.

Matt, Sora, Joe and their partners rushed up the ladder and out of the room. Izzy suddenly looked over at the boxy computer and remembered all the Digital World data still on it; if they lost it, the Digital World might never recover. He started to turn back when Tentomon grabbed his arm. "Izzy, come on!" he urged.

"But the data!" Izzy protested. "If it gets wet, it'll—"

"And if you're here when IT gets wet, you'll get electri-fried," Tai said, pushing him up the ladder. "Hurry!"

Palmon watched Tai and Agumon disappear up the ladder after Izzy as the cracking turned to groaning. "Come on, Mimi!" she said, scrambling halfway up the ladder.

When she looked back, though, she almost popped her petals out. Mimi was at the crate, yanking the computer free from its wires, even as the seawater slurched towards the electronics. "Mimi, what're you doing?!" she yelled. "Come on, this place—"

One loud snap finished her sentence. Palmon yelled and reacted with a speed no plant had ever shown: she threw one handful of vines up after her friends—who had realized something was wrong and grabbed on—and the other hand back at Mimi, coiling both her and the black box and pulling them into the air. The dingy room separated from its ceiling and sank into the seawater beneath the warehouse, releasing a storm of electrical sparks, hissing bubbles and floating trash.

Yanking as hard as they could, the others pulled Mimi and Palmon up to safety, and the two collapsed on the floor, panting. "Mi… Mimi!" Palmon gasped. "What the heck?!"

Mimi heaved a few more times, then loosened her grip on the computer and looked up at Izzy. "W-well… you need this, right?" she asked. "To send the Digital World's data back."

"But that was crazy!" Palmon said. "You could have died!"

"I know," Mimi said, "but… well, I have a lot to make up for…"

Palmon's eyes widened with relief. "Mimi…" she whispered.

Izzy blinked a few times, his heavy heart lightening. Mimi may have taken a different path than the rest of the Digidestined, he realized, but on the inside she hadn't really changed. "Mimi… thank you," he said. "You just saved the whole Digital World."

Mimi blushed a little and smiled shyly as Palmon hugged her tightly.

Sora smiled at her, but then she noticed something through the hole in the floor; the gray husk of Oikawa bobbed on the surface for a moment, then sank out of sight into the frothy darkness. She clenched a fist to her chest and shook her head. "Goodbye, Oikawa," she said. "I… I hope you can find peace now."

The others maintained a respectful silence for a few moments before Gomamon started out of the warehouse… but as he stepped outside and looked up, his heart shuddered: the ominous, magma-coated interior of the Digital World was still in the sky. "Guys! Guys! It's still here!" he yelled.

The others looked up in alarm. "What?!" Joe asked, running outside.

Izzy looked sadly up at the glowing lava fields. "I was afraid of this," he said. "Oikawa must have the program running elsewhere, too…"

Matt frowned. "Like on the Gigas," he said.

"Exactly; he may even be carrying it inside his digital body," Izzy said, staring at the sky again. "It's up to Davis and the others now."

The others looked up at the ominous sight again for a few moments. Then Biyomon shook her head. "Isn't there anything we can do?" she asked.

"We could try to follow them, give them a hand," Gabumon said.

"Yeah… yeah," Tai said, his eyes flashing with determination again. "Matt, I hope your dad didn't get arrested; we're gonna need a ride."

Matt got out his phone and started dialing. "I'll call my dad, too," Sora said, producing her own phone.

Tai nodded, then helped Izzy and Tentomon lift the heavy computer. "All right, guys, head for the street," he said. "We're going back to summer camp!"

… … …

Kari's mouth hung open at the view from one of the windows in the Gigas's grimy, abandoned hallway. Beneath them glowed the blue and white Earth, and above them the fiery innards of the Digital World, each slowly creeping towards the other across the inky black void. She couldn't help but lift her camera and take a few pictures of it.

"Hope we're around to see those later," Gatomon said, her tail switching anxiously. "Come on!"

"Sorry," Kari said as she rejoined the others. "It's just… so unreal."

"I don't remember windows the last time we were here," Patamon said.

"There was a lot of the base we didn't see," TK said, grabbing at his hat worriedly. "This'll be just as confusing this time…"

"I'm already confused!" Yolei said, shaking her head. "I mean, how are we even breathing? It's a void between dimensions!"

"There must be some kind of atmospheric shield," Cody said. "Oikawa knows we're here."

"Why doesn't he just let us axe-pixelate?" Davis asked.

"Saving the pleasure of defeating us for himself, I suppose," Hawkmon said, frowning. "But I daren't think we'll allow that, hmm?"

"You got that right!" Veemon said, balling his fists and stomping a foot. "Let's go find 'im, guys!"

"Awright, lead the way, Veemon!" Davis said, pointing ahead. "We're comin' for ya, Oikawa!"

Davis, Cody, Yolei and their partners bravely marched down the hall. Kari started to go too when TK put a hand on her shoulder. "Wait a second," he said, "I gotta talk to you… about them."

Kari looked at him and blinked. "What's wrong?" she asked. "I think we've got a fighting chance."

TK shook his head, frowning. "That's what I'm worried about," he said. "Once we defeat Oikawa… what happens to Veemon and the rest?"

Patamon's eyes widened. "You mean, 'cuz Oikawa made them?" he asked.

"Yeah… Maybe nothing will happen, but…" TK paused and swallowed. "Well, what should we do?"

Kari bit her lip, her back suddenly cold and trembling. "I… I don't know," she admitted.

Gatomon frowned and folded her paws. "We have to think of something," she said. "I don't see a warp back to the Digital World, and Imperialdramon could be our only ticket to safety… If something goes wrong…"

The others swallowed as they thought about what Gatomon was implying. "I… we'll think of something," Kari said, clutching at her Digivice. "I know we will."

TK didn't look convinced, but he had no other words. He just motioned and they started after their friends.