Digital War: Campaign II

Part One: First Contact

[Chapter VIII]

By T. D. Larson

The eyes of the universe peered down on him. They were inquisitive, judgmental and overwhelmingly huge. Michael wished the others were with him now. But the Sovereignty had prohibited them from standing together until after they conducted the initial interviews. Three of the eight Sovereigns surrounded him, the imposing auras of just the three driving his senses into the ground.

In the back of his mind, he remembered Cotramon's words that it would take effort to make it through this in one piece. The largest of them was a serpentine dragon surrounded by chains and a flowing white mane; he glared at Michael through icy blue eyes. If only judging by the stony cordiality alone, the hybrid would guess he had made an enemy. Azulongmon, he had called himself. He spoke with a command and clearness of intent that seemed military in nature. But that was what he should have expected.

The other two were much less inimical to him. Baihumon, who had shown great interest in his life on earth, was almost friendly. Only his visage, two monstrous fangs and a spiked collar, gave Michael pause. His resemblance to something as earth-like as a tiger almost comforted him, but for the fact that he was clearly not from Earth.

Baihumon asked very specific questions of him. What had he done before coming to the Digital World? Did he ever have any contact with the Enemy? Michael had hastily answered no to that question. Baihumon had cast a reproachful stare at Azulongmon at that point. There must have been some disagreement about him within the council. Inwardly, he was reassured. It had sounded, at first, as if all of them had wanted his head on a platter.

What did he think of the Digital World? It was beautiful, from what little he had seen of it. How had he digivolved, the third Sovereign asked him. She looked nearly human, and stood only a head taller than him. Rosemon, she had introduced herself as, bowing gracefully and wrapping a leafy cape about her.

At this point the other two, previously locked in a silent debate, scrutinized him once more. He told them the story, beginning with the onset of his transformation, more than a month ago. No one in that time had thought anything of it, just that he had been sick with a prolonged illness. No Digimon had come to him, had asked him any questions or made any propositions to him, as Azulongmon had assumed. Only the tightness in his stomach and the constant pounding in his skull had alerted him to anything abnormal.

What was his human family like, Baihumon had asked. They were fine, hardworking people, Michael replied. His father worked at the local manufacturing plant, and his mother worked from home as a sales representative. He was an only child. No, they had never suspected that he was anything other than human. Neither had he.

And Cotramon? Well, he explained, that had been a wonderful afternoon. The sarcasm shocked the three of them, none of them expecting such harsh criticism. That was what they deserved for that blunder, at the very least. No, he was normally a pacifist. What right had they to mess with his life anyway? He waited impatiently for their justification.

"You drew me into this," he said. "Not the other way around." He looked each of them in the eye, daring them to deny it. They could not have predicted the results of their actions, he knew. But if it had not been for their meddling in the first place, he might have turned out normal. "What gives you the right to play god anyway? Who said it was okay for you try and make a Digimon?"

Azulongmon snapped his jaw shut and brought a claw alarmingly close to Michael. "We are the Sovereignty," he said indignantly. "We led the fight against the Enemy, your father. You cannot possibly comprehend the damage that was done and the number of lives lost to liberate our world. We owe you no explanation!"

"I beg to differ, Azulongmon," Baihumon told him. "The hybrid is right. We dabbled in a power that was far greater than us, that we could not hope to understand. In that, we took the life of an ordinary human and made him thus." He gestured to Michael. Just what would they have done if their machinations had been successful?

Rosemon sat silent for a moment, and then nodded. "Yes," she said, seemingly picking up Baihumon's train of thought. "We would likely have manufactured more and more of them until we had risen an army of our own."

Michael flashed the other two a smile before turning back to the dragon. "Then you would have been no better than the Enemy. What makes you morally superior to any other dictator, tyrant or politician?" he demanded. "Especially when you can't even justify your actions to yourself!"

"That's enough out of you!" Azulongmon roared.

Michael's head swam and his ears rang from the deafening bellow. But he stood his ground, staring defiantly up at the Sovereign Digimon. "You can't, and you know it! And when you knew you had made a mistake, you tried to cover it up by sending someone to kill me. How brave of you! What a joke…" He felt the low rumble of the dragon's growl rise out of the floor and into his feet.

He had to wonder what the purpose of all this was in the first place. If they were going to execute him, they might as well get it over with. Only a few humans might miss him. And his two partners, he thought solemnly. Certainly, Cotramon would be the only Digimon to think of him afterwards. "Why don't you just get it over with," he asked. "You've made up your minds already."

A sharp yelp to his left and an alto chuckle from behind alerted him to the laughter of the two other Sovereigns. Azulongmon did not share their mirth, and by Michael's estimation, looked ready to carry out that sentence. "I have only one more question," Baihumon told him. "Knowing what you know now, would you change the past? Would you have come on this adventure?"

He stood motionless, quiet in contemplation. Michael had already admitted to himself that he was never comfortable in his own skin. After the first pains of evolving, and then the exhilaration of digivolving into Helmdramon, he wondered if it were because he had subconsciously known that he was somehow different. It felt right now. He had adapted so quickly to the changes. Now he could walk with perfect balance—and much more, to his surprise.

Then there were those two: Isaac and Cotramon. Who would he kid if he lied? Somehow, in only knowing them for a few hours, he had come to the conclusion that both of them were worth what had happened. They fought for him, would have died for him. And he, inexplicably, would have done the same. "Adventures are rarely safe," he said at last. "I don't think I would change anything so far."

"It's possible you can be of help to us," one of the Sovereigns said. Of the two present, he was the smaller, and bore an uncanny resemblance to Tank, who stood behind and to the left of Isaac. Victory Greymon had offered him a seat on a large cushion and some refreshment. Isaac took it politely and nibbled at it, not sure if Digimon food was fit for his consumption.

"How do you suppose," he asked, replacing whatever it was he had taken. The other Digimon was a veritable giant. The tortious Digimon spoke out of one mouth, and finished with another attached to a separate head. He tried not to look at him, unnerved by the strangeness. "I don't know how one human could be of any help to you."

Tank smiled under his helmet. "Your assistance to me in writing my report was invaluable. As you saw, our database was grossly inadequate to suit our needs. It was a total mess, to barrow a human phrase."

"More than that," Ebonwumon started, "we have heard of your involvement in the hybrid's digivolution." There was not that much involvement, as far as he was concerned. All he had done was get in the way. "We've seen this sort of bond before, a long time ago. It is unique," the second head finished.

"Precisely my thoughts," Victory Greymon agreed. "Tell us what happened, in your own words." In his own words? Isaac hardly remembered it. He had not actually thought about it until after the deed was done. But he told them the story, from his perspective. How many Digimon were present? He did not count. Were they hostile toward just the hybrid or to him as well? Both, by his reckoning—Dinohyumon had aimed at him specifically the first time.

Would he have made the same decision twice?

"Yes, definitely."

Cotramon knew the protocol as well as anyone. He bowed, greeted them each in turn, and asked how he might be of service to the Empire. Zhuqaiomon told him to stow it. Metal Seadramon and Ancient Garurumon had given their consent as well, much to the rookie's relief. They were not as pompous as some of the others. He had gotten to know the phoenix before. That Digimon stood on his own merits, not on the perceived notion that his rank entitled him to certain treatment. He was the respectable sort, if argumentative.

Still, somehow he hated to dispose of the protocol entirely. He respected these individuals. Their bravery in the face of the Enemy had saved the Digital World. But it would be as they wished it.

Zhuqaiomon looked down at him, his red eyes shining. Cotramon suspected he shared Azulongmon's opinion of Michael and the human world, if not his total xenophobia. These three maintained that a strong self-reliance would ensure their survival. He listened carefully while the rookie gave his own account of what had happened, as did the others.

"And that's the way it was," he finished.

"I see," was all any of them had said. He had hoped to gauge their reactions, that they might question him on more specific details, so that he might offer some explanation of his actions. The sense of aggravation was palpable, almost as if the Sovereigns were asking how he dared think for himself.

They did give him a specific mission, Cotramon mused. He had failed to carry it out, and in fact did the exact opposite as to what they had intended. A startling sense of shame rose up within him. He had failed them. All the work, the effort and the time spent training and preparing himself had gone to waste. He saw it in their eyes and shrunk back from it.

But wait! The Emperor had chosen him specifically for his ability to analyze and adapt to changing conditions. He had done that. What more justification did he need than the Emperor's word? He sighed inwardly, chastising himself. A soft growl escaped his lips and caught himself looking over his shoulder, as if Michael would be there. Be there for what, he wondered? The hybrid had been there for him that morning, making sure he would be victorious. That was more proof he had done the right thing.

He hoped that Michael was well at the moment. Cotramon had expected the three of them to be interviewed as a whole, not separated. Of course, he knew the reasons behind their isolation—that they might corroborate the three stories. But, and he shuddered involuntarily, Michael was in the presence of the single most callous Digimon in the Empire. Of all of the Sovereignty, Azulongmon alone was possessed of a hatred bordering on fanatical.

The only comfort the rookie could take was that Baihumon was there as well. As the single greatest supporter of this experiment, he would be sure that Michael would be heard properly, and not hung before his trial had begun.

His trial? At first it seemed only a metaphor, but as he looked closely, Cotramon could see a certain hint of truth to that analogy. Michael was fighting for his life in that chamber. He and Isaac had it comparatively easy in that he would be stripped of his rank and Isaac merely sent home. But the hybrid, if they found his motives questionable, would be utterly destroyed.

More and more, he found himself wishing he could be there for support. Soon, he reminded himself, the interviews would be over and they would be brought together before the entire council. Then, only one thing remained. While they waited, watched and worried, the Sovereignty would deliberate. And then it would be decision day.

Two possibilities remained after that; the hybrid would be executed, or he would be allowed to live. However—and he thought about his own time away from family and friends—the probability of him being a prisoner of the Digital World remained none-to-appealing. Cotramon's sojourn to the human world had taken merely days, his training and preparation only a handful of weeks. He would be happy to return to his family in Kishar once this was all over. He had not been permitted to send even a letter to them about his mission or what sorts of things he had undergone in his training.

He wondered if the hybrid would be permitted to contact his family. Surely the Sovereignty had enough honor remaining in the complacent bodies to indulge in that one kindness. But the looks on their faces, and the grumbling, deliberate use of their native language, suggested otherwise.

"You are dismissed," Zhuqaiomon said at length. Cotramon sighed. He had done his best. Now it was up to fate. He turned to leave. "Be back here in one hour with the hybrid and his companion. We will have made our decision by then."

The rubble had been cleared by dawn. Reconstruction had already begun on the guest wing of the palace and scaffolding rising hundreds of feet into the air glistened in the bright sunlight. Michael sat near the edge of the guest wing's garden, on a bench next to an artificial lake, admiring the cool breeze coming stirring from it.

His escort, a Digimon assigned to him by the Sovereignty, stood guard close by, eyeing him suspiciously. He had been asked politely if there were any places he would like to see in the palace—bearing in mind of course certain parts were off limits except by invitation from the Emperor. He suggested a walk outside might do him some good.

The interview had taken place in a tremendous chamber, accommodating the three great Digimon. But despite its size and grandeur, the presence of the megas and the hostile and guarded nature of the questions had stifled him, nearly suffocating the hybrid. He wanted to clear his head. Thankfully, his guard had permitted it.

Michael had tried striking up a conversation with the Digimon, but to no avail. He had tried speaking to any number of Digimon he had crossed paths with. Most gave him a wayward glance and moved on. Some had given him a properly polite response, but nothing more. He had ended up walking only a fifth of the way around the palace, finally stopping at the bench where he now sat, pondering.

He would be taken back shortly to face their decision. He had done his best. And he felt confident that Isaac and Cotramon had done theirs as well. Their questions seemed odd in retrospect, though. It seemed that more than just his future depended on the outcome of their deliberations. Judging by Baihumon's line of questions, it seemed as if Earth itself might be caught in the crossfire.

An ear twitched. He heard shouting; it was Isaac. The human waved to him, puffing his away along the garden path, out of breath. "We've been looking for you," he called, approaching. Tank was right behind him, keeping up with long, even strides. "How did the interview go?"

He looked in good spirits. His must have gone well, Michael decided. "It could have gone better, I think. But at least one of the Sovereignty is willing to leave me be." He motioned for Isaac to take a seat, and the out-of-breath human did so gladly. "Baihumon was very interested in our world," he informed his partner.

"I think most of the Sovereigns are willing to let you go," Isaac replied. Ebonwumon had nearly said so. Victory Greymon was inclined to agree. Tank had been a tremendous help in assuring their success. But he had yet to hear from Cotramon. "They were very friendly towards me. But then again, I'm not the one on trial either."

Tank approached them as well, relieving the guard who had been tailing Michael. "Don't thank me, human. Your suggestions to improve our database helped win them over. I was able to place the proper information into the index to give both Helmdramon and Huntmon proper status as recognized species of Digimon."

"Index?" Michael asked, directing the question to Isaac.

The Black WarGreymon bothered him. His presence, ever since they had talked on the balcony, had been a stink to him. It felt black as pitch, like something had taken his spirit and left only an empty husk of a man. By all accounts, he could not justify his position, except by the content of his questions toward the hybrid. Until he could be sure, he wanted to keep his distance from the black Digimon.

"It's a sort of digi-dex," Isaac replied. "A compendium of all known species of Digimon. Tank let me snoop around a bit last night. There are hundreds of thousands of Digimon listed there," he informed Michael excitedly. "Some are unique, like you. Others, not so much—like Tank here is a common species."

"But an uncommon man," the mega retorted, chuckling.

Isaac shared his laughter, but Michael found it hollow. "Right," he said, trailing off. He tried to smile, reassuring the quizzical look on his human partner's face. "So what did it have to say about me," he asked. "Super amazing Digimon powers, right?"

"Nothing like that," Isaac told him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a printed sheet of paper. Written on it were a few printed lines of information and a photo of him. "Tank explained it this way: In addition to the digivolutions, Digimon are classified into types of species and attributes. You're a humanoid type Digimon, and are classified as having the data attribute. The rest of the information defines your level and the two attacks you can use."

"Yes," he remembered. "And the third part of our little trio?"

"A beast Digimon," the human said, pulling out a second sheet. "According to the time stamp, he was only recently added—just a few months ago, in fact. Also has the data attribute. And, of course," he continued, laying a finger softly on Michael's bandaged arm, "we know his attacks."

That he did. But speak of the devil, where was the Digimon, Michael wondered. He would have thought Cotramon would have joined them already, if he were out of his own interrogation, that is. But the scaly green monster was nowhere in sight. Isaac had not seen him, and Tank could give no answer. Wherever he was, Cotramon was sure to be in a darker mood than any of them.

Still, Tank reminded them, they had an appointment to keep. They could not afford to waste time speculating on their partner's whereabouts. Cotramon would be there, Tank assured them. Isaac agreed, and Michael knew it as well. He was trained to obey their authority. And the Sovereignty detested lateness, in any case. They should be moving along, lest they keep the council waiting.

Michael felt a curious sensation of fear mixed with eagerness and reluctant resignation. At one point, as he approached the doors to the great chamber, he felt quite ready to hear their decision. A moment later he wanted to shrink back and run away. Stand your ground, he told himself firmly. He had no reason to fear them. He shook his head. He had every reason. They held his life in their hands. Only a fool would not be afraid.

At least this time he was not alone. Isaac stood next to him at the threshold, clasping his shoulder in a firm grip. It steadied the hybrid's frazzled nerves, and he willed his tail to stop twitching in agitation. He looked at his human partner.

"I won't let them do it," Isaac stated.

If it came down to it, Michael had no doubt the human would risk his life to defend him. He could not ask that, though. He had to face what was coming, good or bad. Now he heard footsteps along the marbled floor. Cotramon drew near, face solemn, and he too put a firm grip on his other shoulder. He was glad that he was not alone this time.

"Are you ready," the Digimon asked him.

"As I'll ever be."

The massive doors swung open, revealing the broad cavity that the Sovereignty had selected for this engagement. It only just accommodated them. They formed a circle around spotlighted area in the middle, undoubtedly where they would face judgment. The only room larger, Cotramon whispered, would have been the throne room in the central tower. They might yet see that room as well.

All at once Michael felt overwhelmed by the huge Digimon. His tail began twitching again and his knees shook. He was sure they could smell the fear emanating from him like a bad odor. Sweat beaded on his forehead and trickled down his muzzle. He wiped it away and tried to swallow. His tongue was shoe leather.

He felt the grip from Isaac's hand get tighter. He was nervous too, Michael realized, and was doing his best not to show it. The thought brought him some comfort. But the human needed reassuring too, he decided. He had to support his partners like they now supported him. "Don't be scared," he whispered, wrapping his tail around Isaac and squeezing once. "You're a good man, and they wouldn't dare harm a good man."

"It isn't me I'm worried about," he murmured back.

Then they were there, in the center of the great hall, the eyes of the universe fixed upon them. Cotramon shushed the two visitors, but tried to give them an encouraging smile. Tank had not entered with them, Michael realized. A loud bang informed him that the doors had been shut, and to his alarm, locked from within. He gulped once.

"Stand and be heard," Victory Greymon intoned. "You stand before us, hybrid, accused of crimes against the Empire and the Digital World." The other megas remained silent, listening intently. "This council has convened to review the evidence in this case. We have listened to your testimony, and the accounts of the two relevant witnesses."

There he paused. This was it, Michael knew: decision time. His heart pounded in his chest and throbbed in his ears. The Sovereignty must of heard it—they stared at him intently, unblinking, almost statues. He wanted to shout, to scream at them, get on with it! The urge to run hit him, then to fight his way out.

No! Stand your ground. You are not a coward, and you have done nothing wrong. He felt the clasping hands on his body grow tighter still. They were there. And they would not let anything happen. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Try to keep calm, he told himself. He took another, and then raised his head to meet eyes with the Sovereign directly in front of him, Azulongmon.

"It is the decision of this council," Azulongmon began, "that you are to be brought before the Emperor with the recommendation that you…" Michael cringed, feeling the animosity like a knife in his flesh. "…That you be allowed to keep your life."

What was that? Had he heard correctly?

"Upon corroborating your stories, we have determined that you are not, in fact, a threat to our world," Baihumon stated. "Your spontaneous digivolution and subsequent brawl in the streets was the result of an unprovoked attack upon your human partner, which you defended with honor. The damage from the battle last night was likewise caused by an unprovoked attack which your Digimon partner ended."

He had heard them right!

"However," and the growl from Azulongmon bordered on dangerous. "Upon final approval of our decision, you will hereby be a permanent resident of the Digital World." Where they could keep an eye on him, the Digimon's expression read. "You will be granted citizenship and the rights and responsibilities thereof. But you may never again return to the Human World, or make contact with its citizens."

"That isn't fair!" The locked eyes of the draconic mega flashed angrily as they turned to Isaac. "You can't deprive him of his home! What are you so scared of?" Even Michael tried to shush him. The other Sovereigns looked on calmly, only a hint of surprise on their various faces. "What about his family? What about our friendship? I'm his partner!"

Azulongmon flushed under his silvery scales. "This is our decision," he roared, instantly silencing the human. "Barring the Emperor's decision, it is final. We uphold the laws of this land and its security, something which a puny specimen like you cannot possibly comprehend. You have been shown a great deal of latitude, human. But I suggest you do not try my patience any futher." He barked once and the gate to the outside corridor opened, signaling an end to the proceedings.