Digital War: Campaign II

Part One: First Contact

[Chapter III]

By T. D. Larson

Night had fallen at long last. The past few hours had gone on in silence, until Isaac had decided to turn on the television. The local news had broken the story of measured destruction at an area high school earlier that day. "Around the noon hour, students were just beginning to enjoy their lunch," the broadcaster said, eyes solemn, "when an unexpected explosion rocked the building. Police say it was likely a gas explosion."

The three looked at each other, then back to the broadcast, which had switched to a prerecorded tape. A blond-haired reporter in a light yellow jacket held a microphone tightly while police were busy cordoning off the area. Cherry lights flashed, alternating with the blue that marked police cruisers, lending an urgent feel to the tape, and a light rain had begun to fall. "As you can see behind me, the building is in fair shape, but police aren't taking any chances. Until a fire-marshal can inspect the building, it's being closed to everyone.

"Reports have come in of two missing teenagers, but no names have been released to us yet. Students are also going on about strange sightings of monsters fighting each other, claiming that as the cause of the destruction." The tape ended and the screen flitted back to the broadcaster, who turned to face the camera.

"It's likely that a toxic buildup of gas created a mass hallucination, experts say." The anchorman shuffled some papers in front of him dramatically. "They also say the explosion could have been much worse. The two missing students have still not been identified yet, but our thoughts go out to the families of the missing," he said, finishing his report. Then, as if nothing at all had happened, he smiled and his eyes lit up, moving on to a happier story.

Isaac switched of the television at that point. "You're both hallucinations," he grinned, trying to inject some humor into an otherwise awkward silence. No one laughed. "At least you're not going to be hunted down," he said to Cotramon. "If they don't believe you exist, they won't be looking for you if you return from the Digital World."

"When we return," he corrected. He looked out the window and saw that it was sufficiently dark to move about freely. His dark colored scales would blend in nicely with the underbrush and shrubs that lined many of the residential areas. Michael might be more of a problem, and he was unused to having a tail, though with practice he had achieved a modicum of proficiency at moving upright.

"Right…" the human trailed off. He wondered if he should tell his parents. They would undoubtedly worry about him if he were gone too long. And if he decided not to, what excuse could he come up with on such short notice? Staying the weekend at a friend's place? No, he decided. "How long do you suppose we'll be gone? I have to tell my parents something."

And speaking of that, what would Michael say to his parents? Did they know he was half-Digimon? Doubtful, he thought. He looked over at the hybrid, who was currently lost in the same train of thought as he. He had to tell them something. The mention of two students disappearing on the News was bad enough. But when their parents discovered them missing, it would send them headlong into panic.

Michael looked down at his feet. He did not want to see his parents—not like this. Not when he was a monster. He wanted to look at them through human eyes. But Isaac was right. He did need to tell them something; though lying to them was not high on his to-do list. He would also need his own clothes. Isaac was kind to let him borrow a pair of pants, but he did not relish the thought of wearing the saggy jeans any longer than he had to.

That was not to mention his tail, which had become stiff with lack of movement. He noticed Cotramon shift positions several times, swishing his tail about lazily. He thought he would do the same and stood up, letting it hang loosely out the back of his pants before it began moving—and he thought strangely—of its own accord.

"I'll have to go home, too," he said. The others looked at him questioningly. "If only to gather some personal belongings. I have the feeling that I might not be back for a long time…" He felt certain of that. His parents were of the conservative lot, not inclined to take change well, let alone change of such a drastic nature. And besides that, he was barely recognizable as his old self. How would he prove his identity?

He, of course, knew his social security number by heart—but anyone persistent enough could glean that information from somewhere. He had childhood memories to fall back on as well, like Christmas on the coast with his extended family. Choppy seas and the drive out to the beach front to gaze up at the familiar sight of the lighthouse. He relished the thought and a faint smile parted his draconic muzzle.

Then he sighed, forcing himself back to reality. That was all wishful thinking—hoping that they would somehow recognize their son after such a dramatic and violent transformation. It would only serve to pass his trauma of the past day to them, continuing a cycle of pain that no one but him should have to endure. No, he decided. He would bear it alone.

"I'll deal with it," he said quietly, not caring if the others heard him. This was his alone to do. They knew he had always had his heart set on seeing the world. Would it be too great a shock to them if he were to run away? In retrospect, he had, after it was all said and done, wanted an adventure.

Isaac nodded, catching the note of resolute determination the hybrid's voice. He was leaving his life behind, and everything he knew. All of a sudden he saw Michael in a new light. How come he had not taken the time to know his fellow better? The two of them could easily have been friends. Perhaps it was not too late, though. Isaac was sharing in this escapade.

For that matter, Cotramon had been thrust into these shenanigans as well. Of course, he had brought it upon the two of them initially, with an ill-conceived notion of good versus evil. But beyond that, he was a very agreeable person, if a little terse. He seemed not much older than Isaac or Michael, maybe about twenty or thirty years of age.

But he had the insight of experiences that neither of them could comprehend. He had been to war, had trained as a field medic, and now as an assassin. Isaac studied him carefully. He was a complex mix of youthful vitality and aged cynicism. He wondered if the volatile mix would cause problems later. That would have to wait though. Cotramon looked anxious to get underway, and he did not want to set tempers flaring. "What should I pack then? How long will we be gone?"

"Pack some of these… crude… vestments," the Digimon told him, picking at the sleeve of his shirt. "And whatever personal items you think you might need." Michael—he had already begun to think of the hybrid as Michael now—looked contemplatively out the window. "We might be gone for a while."

The hybrid nodded, and as Isaac scooted off to go pack an overnight bag, he followed, wishing to speak to Isaac alone. The human seemed surprised to see him standing in the doorway, eyes, for once, not downcast. Isaac turned to him. The last vestiges of his transformation had come into being while they waited. Disconcertingly long eyeteeth protruded from his upper jaw, glistening white and in stark contrast to his scarlet colored hide.

"I wanted to ask you something," he said, his voice having taken on a rougher quality. It had been bothering him. The two had not known each other well, and had shared only a few core classes in school. But he had been watching and listening to him, and had begun to see a little of the man's true quality.

"Shoot," Isaac replied, pulling a small duffel bag from under his bed.

"Why did you help me? You don't know me, you couldn't have known what was going to happen," Michael said, not really expecting an answer. "You could have been killed. And if you want my honest opinion, you were way too smug about this whole thing… inviting us to your house, offering a sandwich to him." Michael narrowed his eyes.

He had seen this coming, the inevitable question. Isaac had no ready answer to give—only that he had had a sense of something important about to happen. He had been glancing over his shoulder all that morning, waiting for something to leap out of the shadows. He had merely been ready for the opportunity.

"It just happened," he replied, shrugging. He pulled open the top drawer of his dresser and pulled out a threesome of folded shirts. What, he wondered, was appropriate to wear when meeting a Digimon emperor or his corresponding high council? Red or green? He sighed, throwing both of them into the bag.

Digimon… "Digital monsters," and he looked at Michael, who looked as if he had not been satisfied by Isaac's vague answer. Living creatures, living in an artificial world: it had to be an amazing twist of fate that created them. "How do you…" he stopped mid-sentence. "I honestly don't know. My dad once told me that a true test of courage comes when only when you have the choice: the choice to do nothing or the choice to make a difference."

His mind momentarily flashed back to the helpless, semi-conscious form in the commons. Why should he not have stepped in? He was a gentle soul, or at least that was what people told him. But he had hit Cotramon hard! Why? It was not bravery, or even pity that had driven him. Perhaps it was an unconscious desire to get involved with something.

"Call it—instinct?—I suppose."

This was getting him nowhere, and quickly, Michael decided. He completely entered the little room and sat down on the bed. It was, at first glance, a remarkably ordinary room. Posters hung from the walls, depicting various movies, television franchises and other teen-aged icons, overlaying white paint. A computer desk and its accompanying equipment sat against one wall, compact disks strewn about haphazardly and dirty cloths piled in the swivel chair in front of it all. In all, it was not so dissimilar from his home.

How could he be so casual? He was going to another world, surrounded by monsters; and it was not very likely that they would ever come back. Pack for a week, you're about to be executed, he thought dismally. If he could, he would have stopped Isaac from going at all, if only to make sure he did not have to leave his life behind.

"You're acting like this is just a day trip to the city!" Michael growled, unable to stand his companion's nonchalant behavior. Isaac turned from folding a pair of jeans and glared at him. "This isn't some tourist destination—not a cruise, not a bus tour—this is real. It isn't some fantasy adventure where no one gets hurt." He emphasized his point by pointed a clawed finger at one of the bandages on his arm.

"Look at me… Does this," he pointed to himself, pounding once on his chest, "look like a game to you? It isn't to me. This… this hurts. It's painful. More than just the physical torment I had to go through, but now I can't even go tell my parents goodbye. And now we are being hauled off to see a pack of monsters that sent him to kill me in the first place. How do we know they won't finish the job?"

"I trust Cotramon," Isaac replied, dutifully continuing the task at hand. "He won't let anything happen." Seeing the look on the hybrid's face, he clarified. "Think of it this way. Cotramon risked life and limb in an attempt to thwart what he thought was an evil conspiracy against his people. Not only did he brave the unknown to save their lives, but he also had presence of mind enough to listen when he realized his mistake."

And that was the key. Despite their obvious differences, and the Digimon's tendency toward contempt for the humans, he listened. If, as he claimed, his superiors were wise and just creatures, then they would also listen to reason. And who else was going to testify as to what happened? Isaac had been the only one present and clear-minded.

"I know it isn't a game, too," he said, laying a hand on Michael's shoulder, looking earnestly into his eyes. "But what if he doesn't go back? They might send someone else who might be willing to go farther than him to kill you. Someone else might have destroyed the school, students and all. Or he may even go so far as to wipe out the town. We need to go so that this can be resolved without violence."

He understood that, but wondered if the Digimon would be as enlightened as the human currently jaunting off to meet them. A faint smile tugged at the edge of Michael's scaly lips. Isaac was a much wiser man than he. He would make a great diplomat if he ever had the chance. Of course, and now he could not help but grin, he was acting as the emissary of the Human Race. There was certainly much more to him than Michael had previously known.

"I'll take your word for it," he told the human.

Isaac zipped his duffle shut and nodded, eyes glimmering. Fate, divine providence, or destiny—whatever one wanted to call it—had chosen him and Michael for this sojourn into the unknown. "We're off then." And quickly as well; sundown was quickly approaching.

Not yet, as it turned out. Cotramon had not wanted to take any chances in being seen, and took the most circuitous route he could manage in the drizzling, cold night. Isaac had had the good sense to "borrow" a few old coats from his parent's closet, sighting that they would need to be warm. Cotramon refused, however, as his hide could protect him better than any human contrived garments. Michael initially refused as well, but one step outside into the freezing mud changed his mind and he gladly accepted the additional protection.

He was not as hearty as Cotramon, apparently.

The course, though twisting and turning on every side street and dark alley—most of them only dimly lit by far-off floodlights, did bring them manageably close to Michael's residence—or his former residence, he thought sardonically. They stopped there momentarily. The two story building was dark except for a light in an upstairs window.

"Oh god," he said, alarmed by the realization that his family was not only home, but in all probability waiting for him to return home. He stopped short of the fence line, and the worn cement walk, fingering his house keys. He almost cursed Isaac for retrieving them from his battered clothing.

Eventually they would find out what happened, be it through rumors or television broadcast, or even Isaac. He shuddered. He could not bear to open that door, even for just the tiniest fraction of a second. Suddenly, a hand gripped his shoulder, then another hand gripped his other shoulder. He turned to his right, recognizing Isaac in the dimly lit night. To his left, the glistening blue eyes of the Digimon looked back at him.

"You don't have to go in," they both said in unison. "You're still getting used to being a Digimon—er—half anyway," Cotramon continued, almost compassionately, as if he knew something of the sort transformation. "You don't have to be brave yet. That'll come in time. For right now, just focus on getting through the present."

It was that advice, more than the stiff grip the Digimon had on him, that helped him decide. They would go on, and he would avoid the problem until he could set things right within himself. How could he hope to persuade his family of his identity while he was not sure of it himself anymore? Michael had pinned his hopes on the vague notion that maybe, just maybe, he could find answers in the Digital World.

He made his decision public, and asked Cotramon, very gravely, to lead on. From there, the reptilian Digimon did not take any more winding, sneaking paths through hedges and back alleys. It was only a five block march to the Digital Gate, which they made in silence.

"I don't see anything," Isaac said, incredulously.

Michael gawked at him in disbelief. How could he not see that? It was huge, a mass of swirling, opalescent fog, opening massively before them. It seemed to generate its own sort of luminescence, a pale sort of violet color, much darker at the center than at its amorphous fringes. It reminded him of a tunnel in the sky, like something depicted of an out-of-body experience.

"Your eyes don't register the ultraviolet radiation," Cotramon informed Isaac. "You'll see it once we cross over." He glanced at the hybrid, knowingly. He saw it. His eyes had changed along with the rest of him. He was seeing something that no other human could, or would ever see. And even as he stared for a moment, he had to admit, it was breathtaking.

Isaac only saw dark buildings, a few trees, and some automobiles silhouetted against a dark, overcast sky. Then, Cotramon stepped forward into the darkness and flickered out of existence. Michael went next, wonderment registering on his face. Suddenly he remembered the Digimon's words: "You don't have to be brave yet…" Yes, he did. He breathed deep and shouldered his duffle more comfortably. Then he stepped forward.

Suddenly he was enveloped by churning, misty tendrils of fog, and a scorching heat washed over him, parching him instantly. He closed his eyes, protecting himself from the searing temperatures, and then found himself much cooler, and a little damp. He opened his eyes. The three of them stood, in undeniable daylight, though it was still diluted by fog. The others looked patiently at him, and then started forward again. He followed, not wanting to lose sight of them in the thick soup. Then, as if someone had turned on a light, the fog lifted.