Digital War: Campaign II

Part One: First Contact

[Chapter I]

By T. D. Larson

The day was lost to him. Michael felt it as soon as he woke that morning, keenly aware, also, of a ferocious, splitting headache. Without exception, morning after morning passed this way without any deviation that might have caused Michael Delancy to take pause. He would wake, shake off his covers and curse the metallic beeping of his alarm clock. He would plod down to the small kitchen where his father often sat waiting, sipping an oversized mug of coffee, offering what was left in the carafe to his son. No thanks, he would say, and pour himself a glass of milk.

Then he would try to wake up.

Only one artery led traffic into the small town where he lived. It was devoid of action, adventure, or any newsworthy event at all. Sure, sometimes the occasional third-party politician would come charging into town, making speeches. But even that momentary excitement was mediocre. So, Michael had spent seventeen years in such dull conditions.

It was with great effort that he managed to get up at all that morning. The recent few days had seen to his utter lack of energy, and barely any strength at all. He felt restless, and tossed and turned at night, dreaming vivid dreams that he could never remember. This morning, he thought he might have remembered something vaguely resembling dragons.

He shook off his covers and nearly tore the switch off his alarm, trying to shut off the irking beeps. His head pounded, like deafening drums, threatening to explode his skull. Still, he dutifully plodded down to the kitchen, where his father sat sipping coffee. The man glanced up, and then frowned at his son.

"You look terrible," he said. Michael waved him off dismissively. Of course he looked terrible; he felt terrible. "You should have some coffee. It'll perk you right up," Mr. Delancy chuckled at his own pun. "There's still some in the pot."

There was always some in the pot. "No thanks," Michael replied, and poured himself a cup of milk. The creamy liquid soothed his parched mouth and throat, and he felt his headache lessen a little. That was all he needed: a smidgen of food. There was nothing more wrong with him than stress. Though, what stress was affecting him was a question he could not answer. He sighed and filled a bowl with cold cereal and more milk. He would survive.

So this morning passed again. At approximately a quarter of an hour past seven, he caught the bus to his school, an inane little building of tan stucco and red brick. He exited with the rest of the shuffling students into pale morning-light, diffused by ominous gray clouds and a trifle bit of rain. The human looked up to the sky, thinking he might catch a bolt of lightning. Only dark skies greeted him, and his headache returned sharply.

Isaac Marx greeted his friends warmly on the cold day. It was oddly chilly for September, even though fall was right around the corner. He felt charged, though—tingly even, as if a bolt of stray lightning were about to strike. Around every corner, possibilities waited, adventures poised on the brink of happening.

He, too, had grown up in the little town. He found it charming in its own way, and the summer festivals that preceded the new school year were a wonderful treat before diving back into textbooks and algebra. Not that he was not curious about the possibilities of leading a life away from his home, but he had never saw the need beyond going off to university the next year. Then he might have an adventure or two. But that was still a year off, and his mind was on more immediate matters.

Twelve o'clock had finally come around, bringing with it the solidarity of lunch. The commons were composed of a square block of building surrounded by windows on one side and an outer courtyard with a few stray benches and tables. Two more walls consisted of a lowered pit filled with lockers and an a la carte style lunch, with the remaining side opened as a series of double doors that led to the lobby and faculty offices. The inside bustled with students milling about tables and trying not to run into anyone.

Normally Isaac would have found his group by now, and would be chatting companionably with them about whatever various and strangely random topic they picked. He grabbed his lunch quickly and turned just in time to avoid having it thrown back in his face in a collision. He sighed in relief. That had been close.

It looked as if his friends had decided to meet somewhere other than the commons for lunch. That was typical, though. Many students decided to eat off campus. Maybe that was a good thing, he supposed. He still had the nagging feeling that something extraordinary was about to take place-like a train was about to come through and he was going to be under it.

He looked about for his companions one last time and spied instead the hunched over form of another student, intently trying to block out the world about him. How strange, he thought, recognizing the student. Michael Delancy was his name. They shared a few classes, but did not know each other beyond that. Michael was an athletic type, though he never went out for any of the teams. And he was reasonably intelligent, as far as Isaac was concerned, and the boy had a few friends of his own. So why was he alone, and why did it look as if he were in excruciating pain?

He tapped Michael's shoulder. "Are you alright?"

Michael gritted his teeth, trying not to scream at the merest touch. When the bell had rung for lunch, he had managed to tumble into a seat near the door to the commons. It had taken all his concentration to will himself not pass out from the pain. As soon as he had had exited his algebra class, his whole body had begun to burn and his vision swam.

"It burns…" he said softly, turning his eyes to the table again. He tried to sit up straight, and put his hands on the table. Even that simple movement made him recoil in pain. He stared at his hands for a moment, wondering if he was hallucinating.

Isaac found himself looking on in shock as well, as Michael's hands had turned a deep shade of red. Suddenly the teenager doubled over, squeezing his eyes shut and gasping for air. Michael fell out of the chair then, screaming incoherently. By now everyone in the commons had become aware of the uncharacteristic screeching breaking the monotony of an otherwise average day.

The rash on his hands had grown now to encompass his bare forearms, as well as his face and neck. But as Isaac continued to watch, he grew more and more horrified as claws began protruding out of his fingers and his face began to reshape itself into a short, boxy muzzle. He had heard of spontaneous combustion, freak drownings without any water, and even the hyper sensitivity that Michael had seemed to be experiencing earlier.

But this had him mystified. The students had congregated around the transforming teenager, gawking as his screams turned from unintelligible, but still human sounds, to garbled, disjointed growls. His clothes tore as his body changed more uniformly now, but still unbearably painful. He could see fear in Michael's now opened eyes, and hear it in his voice; it reflected in the crowd around him. Isaac looked on, fearful not for himself, but for whatever was happening to his classmate.

"It brrrnghssss..." Michael growled, hissing the s. His tail twitched and he clenched his fists, feeling for the first time claws unsheathing. The room spun around him, hundreds of faces twisted in horror, whispering to one another, as if he were some sort of monster. Slowly it coalesced into a more solid form. Hundreds of faces became merely dozens, and gradually the burning subsided.

No one had seen him approach. The dozens of humans had their attentions focused solely on the Enemy's offspring-the creature who had so casually taken on the Digital World's beloved hero and turned his form into a cruel parody. All of the Digital World's surveillance had also been focused on this puny excuse for a Digimon, all to pinpoint his location on Earth. All for the one chance to destroy it before he could do anyone any harm.

Cotramon growled under his breath. He crouched in the shadows, ready to pounce as soon as he could. He may only have been a rookie Digimon, but he was more than a match for someone with only seconds of experience. He had heard the gibberish emitted by the Enemy's clone, the horrible noise it made. For a moment he had reconsidered his commission. Sheer strength might overwhelm him.

Then common sense broke through the confusion, and his sense of duty reasserted itself. Of course Cotramon would fight, and win. He had fought in the Liberation War, had been at the siege of Anshar. He had been witness to wanton destruction and genocide. And he could not-would not-let it happen again.

Ah ha! The moment had presented itself at last. The cluster of humans had parted, and the demon child was in clear view of him, trying to rise to his feat. No doubt he would attack as soon as he steadied himself. Cotramon charged forward, claws bared. "Blazing Fire!" A black jet of flame arched from his muzzle, leaping for the newly transformed Digimon.

The stream of flame hit its mark, searing Michael and renewing the burning sensation he had just overcame. The other humans jumped back, startled and then, upon seeing the green, reptilian Digimon, fled in full-blown panic. Michael screamed again, dropping to one knee, gasping as he caught sight of the dark green form of his opponent.

Cotramon stood to his full height, still a head shorter than Michael. He was a muscular Digimon, with a compact frame that belied his real strength. His tail lashed angrily behind him as he stared with dark, menacing eyes at his foe.

"You!" he shouted, pointing a single claw toward Michael. "Stand and fight me. The son of the Black Diamond will not deprive me of my honor." His jaw snapped shut, emphasized with a spark of black flame.

Isaac watched the exchange intently, wondering what this bizarre creature wanted with his classmate. Michael had always been odd, never working well in teams. He was the go-it-alone sort-the kind that looked out the window for better days ahead, daydreaming instead of having his mind on the present. But he had always been human.

The student tried to make sense of what was going on. A monster, a dragon even, had appeared out of nowhere to terrorize his school. But that was not quite right. He was intently set on fighting Michael. But now, instead of a human opponent, this other creature faced a red-scaled wiry form with fiery red eyes. He stood on two legs, just as the other did, hunched over slightly on three-toed claws, using a trunk-like tail for balance.

But there were still some obviously human qualities about him. Thankfully, for Isaac had a sneaking suspicion that Michael was unaware how badly damaged his clothing was, enough rags still held tightly enough to him to prevent modesty from becoming an issue.

Michael was not, in fact, aware of anything. He struggled to make sense of his situation. The past few days he had felt exhausted and fatigued, like something was sapping all his energy. This morning, he was running on empty, and only just managed to stay awake in his morning classes.

Then all hell had broken loose. All he remembered was a burning, agonizing feeling, radiating from his stomach, spreading across his entire body. He had felt dizzy, and fell, blacking out until he saw one of his classmates-he could not quite place the name-standing over him, worried for some reason.

He had tried to rise to his feet, but a sudden lance of flame had scorched his hands again. The source, and he looked in horror, was a monster, glaring daggers at him. Stand and fight, it had said. Fight! Michael took a step back. He was no fighter. Sure he was fit enough to be trouble if he ever did start something, but he never did start anything.

"I don't want to fight..." he said weakly, unable to produce any more than a bare whisper. He watched the other teenagers flee, terrified of the oncoming wrath. He wanted to run with them, get away. This monster was out for him and he had not a clue why. "I don't want to fight!" he said more loudly.

Cotramon took a step forward, seeing his enemy back away. He could sense the fear in him. "You lie!" Ha! As if such petty tricks would work on him. Cotramon had been trained for years for this task. He was unique, a gift from the Digimon Emperor himself. Only he had won the honor of destroying this child before he could digivolve. "You and your father will die," he said resolutely.

His father? Michael suddenly glimpsed his father, a fair skinned man with a mop of graying hair, sweeping sawdust off the floor at the mill. What did he have to do with anything? "What are you talking about? Leave my family out of this!" He shook the thought from his head, trying not to think of this creature attacking his parents.

"Don't feign ignorance with me," the green Digimon retorted. He knew better. And now he was close enough. "Your family is responsible for the wholesale destruction of my world! Phantom Claw!" He leapt for Michael, swiping with dark arcs of energy from his claws.

Michael rolled out of the way, watching the table behind him splinter and its metal base melt into slag. How did he do that? What kind of monster was this? He watched as the one remaining human also managed to dive out of the way. Why had he not run yet? "Run!" he beckoned, waving Isaac away. "Get out of here!" and he gestured to the burning remnants of the table.

"You will fight me!" Cotramon roared, gearing up for another leaping strike. "Phantom Claw!" He hurled himself at Michael, backed against the wall. This was it, the finishing blow. All of the warnings and training he endured had made this seem like it would be a fight for his life. But so far, the enemy had not even attempted to fight back.

"Dynamight Rush!" Michael sprang from his position and twisted in the air, bringing down the full force of his muscular tail onto Cotramon's unprotected face. There was a deafening sound, like a peal of thunder, that knocked away the remaining furnishings and sent the opposing Digimon flying.

What was that? he wondered, landing on his feet. The windows at the farm end of the room overlooking the courtyard had shattered, and the monster that had attacked him was picking himself up out of a heap of debris. Isaac-that was his name-stared at him incredulously, not believing what he had seen either.

What was that! How had he leapt so high? It had been out of instinct. Had he done nothing, Michael would have been rent apart. "What do you want with me? What have I done?" He saw the monster glance at him, then charge forward, throwing another jet of flame his way. He dived to the left, toward the back of the commons and careened into the lunch cart.

Isaac got to his feet and tested his ankle. It was not sprained, and he thanked his maker for it. He could still walk, and from the sight of the ensuing battle, he might need to run. He heard MIchael shout to him to get away, and then heard lightning strike. It sent him flying into the locker pit and he skidded to a stop at the end of one row.

How could he leave though? Michael was outclassed-this he could tell from the rapid movements of his adversary. The other monster charged Michael again, who dodged again, only to find himself face first in a pot of corn chowder. He was a loner, but never had Isaac seen him pick a fight. He was the peaceable type.

Isaac was the same way, although much more extroverted. He had rarely fought with anyone, let alone a monster. But he had to do something. He could see flames licking at the other's muzzle, ready to spew yet more black fire. Suddenly Isaac made up his mind, grabbing the nearest object to him.

He took the chair and launched himself at the charging dragon, interposing himself between the two opponents and bringing his makeshift weapon down hard across the dragon's skull. There was a deafening crack as the chair split in two the dragon stumbled and fell forward, sputtering and spitting blood.

"What the devil is wrong with you?" Isaac demanded.

Cotramon turned to look at the human and wiped the blood from his mouth. What was wrong with him? This interloper just stopped him from saving the world. "I'm doing my duty, human. Don't interfere again."

"Duty?" Isaac scoffed. He looked at Michael, his transformed body burned and bruised, covered in soiled food. "He doesn't want to fight you! He said so himself." He tried to save Isaac-tried to convince him to run. Now the human was glad he stayed. "He's never done anything to warrant that kind of attack."

It was all a trick. Cotramon knew it-he had to convince this human, otherwise the collateral damage would be too great. Even for him. "He's not human. You can see that. He's an abomination... the son of the most reviled enemy of my kind! We fought to seal him away forever and now this-" and he spat the word with as much venom as possible-"is threatening to destroy my world again!"

"Look at him, though," Isaac pleaded. He knew nothing about ancient enemies and wars fought long ago-at least nothing about otherworldly wars. "He's a daydreamer, not a fighter. He's never lifted his hand against anyone, except in self defense at this very moment."

Michael had managed to collect himself once again. He was cut badly across his arm and his body ached terribly from the force of the collision. But he understood the conversation. "I don't know what you're talking about. I don't even know what you-what I-am! I don't want to fight." He pulled a strand of stray noodle from behind his head.

He limped forward. His legs also sported long gashes, though they were not deep. He looked pathetic, and Cotramon could not dispute that. The Digimon shook his head. Of course this was a trick-it had to be. The Enemy was cunning, so it would be with his offspring. The human still stood in his way, though. And he still wielded a large fragment of that chair.

Was it possible, he wondered. Could the hybrid be telling the truth? He certainly doesn't fight like a Digimon, Cotramon thought to himself. And its confusion seemed genuine. The Enemy had never known what happened to his machine. The clone-works lay dormant for years, collecting dust and its fair share of bugs. And he, the Digimon cast a sidelong glance at Michael, did not attack, even though he would have had the advantage.

Cotramon had never been a true soldier. In fact, he had been in the medical corps during the war. He had made life and death decisions for wounded fighters, he could do it now. He was intelligent, wise for his age-or so the Emperor had told him. Now that he stopped to think, nothing here made any sense at all.

The glaring human held tightly to his weapon, poised to strike if the Digimon so much as twitched. He stood between the two, a life saver by the very definition of the word. Michael had been fatigued, worn down-and had just come out of what Isaac would guess was the most traumatic experience of the young man's life.

"Look at him," the human directed. "Look at him. He's helpless. He doesn't know up from down right now and you're ready to murder him." The monster looked, his storming, furious eyes abating. Isaac sighed in relief: it looked as if he was reaching him. He did not know the circumstances, nor did he even really know Michael-only what he had observed in passing.

He was unremarkable, quiet, and definitely not a the son of anyone's enemy. This could pass as a misunderstanding, he decided. The monster looked at him now, then the piece of hard plastic he held. Isaac dropped the remnant chair and offered his hand. "I'm Isaac Marx. That's Michael Delancy. And, for the most part, we're humans."

Cotramon took the offer, seeing the fight was over. How was he going to explain this one? Not only had he failed in his objective, but he now had serious misgivings about the information he had been given. The Emperor might understand. But at the advisory of his council, he might still act rashly. And then there was the fact that he had been bested by a human.

As he stood and dusted shattered tile and dust from his scales, he introduced himself. "I am Cotramon, clan Koromon. I am a Digimon." Isaac's back was turned to him, helping the one known as Michael to an upright chair. He hardly paid attention, as he was inspecting the various cuts over the other's body.

"Is that what I am?" Michael asked, looking over Isaac's shoulder, wincing.

Cotramon came toward them, pulling a small box from a pouch on his belt, which had remarkably remained intact. "Move over," he said, nudging Isaac out of the way. "I'm trained in medicine." Out of the box he pulled clean bandages and disinfectant and began to apply it liberally over each gash. "And yes, sort of. We are digital monsters from another world."

"Digital?" Isaac remarked. "As in computer data?"

"Only partially," the Digimon explained as he tied a bandage taut "Our biology feeds off the electromagnetic radiation from your computer networks." He pulled another bandage from his pouch and tended to the wound on Michael's arm. "You," and he looked directly into Michael's fiery eyes, "are... unique." He finished with the bandage.

Michael's ears twitched. The sound of sirens in the distance, headed their way. The ruckus they caused had undoubtedly terrified residents in the surrounding homes. And with students and faculty running in panic from the scene, babbling on about monsters fighting, he could only surmise that the sirens were that of police cruisers.

Cotramon heard it as well, attention suddenly focused on something Isaac could not comprehend. He hastily stuffed his first aid kit back into the pouch at his side and took Michael by the arm and dragged him away. He cut through the hedges that surrounded the courtyard, grumbling at the two wayward humans to move quietly.

"Where are you taking us," Isaac whispered.

"I don't know," he answered. This was not the way he came in. The Digital Gate was at a fixed point, but they would have to cross the entire town to get there. He knew the layout and whereabouts well enough by now. He had stalked his target for some time before the opportunity to strike had presented itself.

"We'll have to lay low until I can get him to the Digital Gate," he informed the two, pausing at the other side of the hedge. He poked his head out tentatively, looking from left to right. The streets were crowded with people investigating the cacophony generated by their brief battle. The sirens approached in earnest now, and even the human heard them clearly.

Stealth was not Cotramon's primary skill either. His compact form made it easy for him to go unnoticed, but as for moving silently or hiding, his bulk was in his girth. He was built for strength, for fighting, not for sneaking around and trickery. And trying to do so in broad daylight with a second Digimon and a human in tow would not help matters. He retreated into the bushes.

"We can go to my place," Isaac said, catching a glimpse of a police cruiser parking. It would have to do. His parents would not be back until late. The two could wait until nightfall to sneak back to wherever it was they were going. And it would Cotramon proper time for an explanation. He turned, motioning for them to follow. Cotramon nodded, seeing it was opposite the crowd. He still held Michael tightly by the arm and dragged him through the brush.