Pre-chapter author's notes:

[1] Finally, an update! I've renamed the chapter from Flanked to Lucky Streak, to capture the general theme of the events happening in this chapter. Content-wise, I have fallen behind again! This is just one half of what I intended for the next update of The Interloper, and it's annoying. Several things here were not in my original outline, and I added them to give the story a more realistic feel, if not a more intense reader experience. Some of the events in this chapter were even accelerated from one of the planned chapters ahead, just because I felt it wasn't realistic enough to keep them there.

[2] As a reminder, DSI Patrolmen carry FN FAL rifles loaded with regular 7.62mm ammunition and are issued flak jackets swathed in the Lockheed Dispersion Coating, granting resistance to any non-physical attack from a digimon. Their experience level is intermediate between a fresh transfer (from the Japanese Self Defense Forces—this is a real life military organization, by the way) and a veteran, though their ruthlessness has been instilled into them via military discipline.

[3] Estimated word count is 22,700, give or take a hundred or so. I wanted to end it a lot earlier, but the way I wrote this chapter made it difficult. You'll understand as you read on. LBAnime says I should just stick to it, as it'll resolve in the next update anyway…

By the way, this chapter is purely Veemon, Hikari, and Tailmon. Just so you know.

[4] Happy reading! And again, please do not hesitate to give me honest feedback on my character handling and my storyline as a whole. Constructive criticism is highly encouraged.


THE INTERLOPER

STORY ARC: PRIORITIES

CHAPTER 26: LUCKY STREAK


"NILE JEWELRY!"

Roseate gemstones flew out the steel bracers adorning Nefertimon's paws. They crashed into the concrete walls, echoing loudly as rubble burst from all four corners of the passage. Showering the soldiers barring their way.

The Digital Suppression Initiative trained their men well. Taught them how to fight properly even digimon capable of leveling infrastructure, stripping them of their very foundations. The most dexterous of the guardsmen rolled out of harm's way, while the most unfortunate were trapped beneath, paralyzed and unable to move.

Veemon had to give the Armor Digimon some credit. She was trying hard not to kill them outright, out of respect for her partner's wish.

"TAKE THEM DOWN!"

Scarlet eyes veered downwards, glimpsing a Japanese soldier hold a metal pipe at them. The gaping hole was foreboding, presaging a great disaster within. What was an impassive yet determined expression clouding his visage soon became a brown mesh of indiscernible futures—Nefertimon flew quickly through what was definitely a cramped passage for swift flights.

It was enough to fit a digimon the size of MetalGreymon. Sufficient size for military vehicles, for what must surely be the hundreds of people forming the transient population…

Veemon aimed down the iron sights. It took all the training and skill Commandramon drilled into him in the past two years for the Chosen to keep his gun from quivering madly. Its cause was less the stomach-churning turbulence of Nefertimon's flight path contribute and more the fact it was not a snug fit, specifically manufactured for an adult human's handling, not a digimon as tall as a preadolescent child. Three 7.62 NATO rounds burst from the FN FAL as soon as he pulled the trigger, one for each shot.

They missed.

The Digimon of Miracles barked. "RPG, right behind—

Whoosh.

A streak of smoke billowed towards them, approaching fast. Veemon fired a couple times at it, only for the rocket to veer out of the line of fire, as though magic controlled its every swing. "What the!" His eyes caught the shooter, whose weapon was still trained on them.

This was the last thing they needed. Another missil—no! His aim was following the rocket. Was he somehow directing it?

It was getting closer. Closer, and closer, and every time Veemon managed to align his sights on the projectile did it swerve—albeit awkwardly—to another direction. Gunfire swarmed him from virtually all sides. The back, the front, up, down, left, right, and below. It was nerve-wracking to think his body would be punctured with holes if Nefertimon hadn't been flying at a fast enough speed to minimize any chances of being hit.

Soldiers were opening fire. Close calls were innumerable. Veemon heard the screaming whistles of the 7.62 NATO rounds, zooming towards or away from his position on Nefertimon's rear. But he could do nothing about them, let alone shoot the people. He was simply too engrossed trying to dispatch the laser-guided missile, but it was proving too fast. Too volatile.

They needed to change their flight path.

"Four Gods!"

Fast.

The dragon swiveled on his seat, taking care not to unwind his tight straddle around the sphinx's hind legs. "It's closing in! We need to—

"VEEMON, I KNOW!"

She was telling him to shut up. He could easily see why. The opposition was intense. Now that the entire M&A Wing is on alert, DSI soldiers were literally coming out of every nook and cranny. The barracks must be as scattered as the utility rooms, recreational break rooms, and armories were. Each one of them was armed, wielding firearms capable of ending their infiltration mission in one shot.

The white sphinx banked left as soon as she yelled, and it was nearly a split second too late. In the next moment, an explosion flashed into existence, striking the digimon's prior position. The explosion was massive for its size. It would've left a serious—it would have killed Hikari had they been hit! Scarlet eyes found the culprit easily. It stood out, being a robot an inch or two shorter than him.

Daisuke's best friend ducked from survival instinct. "EEEEEKKK!" The fact it would've been fruitless didn't matter to her.

In her current state, the Digimon of Light was as strong as a weak Perfect-level digimon. Veemon was sure of it. When Tailmon first evolved into her Armor form last night as soon as they left the Digidestined's underground stronghold, the first evolution he witnessed since the disaster that was the Shinjuku March, even he could tell there was a gargantuan gap of strength between the Nefertimon of the past and the sphinx emerging from the light before him.

The Holy Ring made all the difference.

How Tailmon's original strength would have affected the entirety of their ordeal against the Digimon Kaiser and his puppetmasters was a topic worthy of speculation.

He wouldn't have cared about the combat drone had he failed to recognize the machine for what it was. The Foster-Miller TALON… or some odd variation of the weapon. The iteration before them fitted with a machinegun and a grenade launcher, it was one of the most versatile robots to be produced in the modern age.

Another blessed memory of the past resurfaced. Veemon remembered Daisuke's gasp of amazement at a TIME magazine's article that lauded the ingenuity of American programmers and engineers. He could remember it as though it was yesterday, with his human half yelling how he had to show Koushirou the—

He can't be distracted now! This wasn't the time. They were dealing not only with a tried and tested war machine, but also one that was surely produced for the Digital Suppression Initiative. Veemon swallowed a swelling anxiety.

If the DSI's ruthlessness and creativity—if his battle against the Modifiers and their absolute command over the Digimon Kaiser's suppression technology signaled anything, it would be the super strong possibility the DSI had a hand in this model's development.

Calibrated for use against digimon.

Another pressing matter was at hand. He gazed back, finding the laser-guided missile two meters closer than he hoped it was. The soldier who fired it was now a tiny silhouette in the distance. How powerful was the onboard computer in this rocket? How was the man even controlling the blasted thing?

We need to ditch it behind cover. His vision glimpsed a support pillar fast approaching. One was placed every fifty meters, and this was one among hundreds dotting the center of each path. No less thick than the Doctor Who police box. Made of solid concrete, most likely reinforced with rebar.

Gunfire from the TALON drone deluged the passage in an ear-cracking rattling as tens of tens of 7.62 rounds inundated Nefertimon's direct flight path, many of them aimed straight at the sphinx's metal mask. The flying Chosen flapped her angel wings and accelerated more, causing a gut-wrenching force of gravity that could only intensify when the sheer number of bullets struck the tips of her wings and—to Veemon's horror—severed small bits and pieces of flesh and feathers, every little scrap vanishing into data particles before they even hit the floor.

"AGH!"

He kept thinking of Salamon. He kept thinking of the poor creature, of the disgusting, nauseating paste she was turned into by a cruel and merciless driver.

"URP!" What food remained in the blue dragon's stomach was almost regurgitated. From disgust or from the G-Forces, he honestly couldn't tell the difference. What stopped him from releasing the contents of his belly on Hikari's back, or on the floor passing by them in a blur, was not his self-control, but by the change in Nefertimon's course. From a path free of obstruction to an imminent collision with the massive square column. "DO SOMETHING! We're gonna—

Hikari bellowed the first thing she could think of. "CURSE OF THE QUEEN, quick!"

A beam of energy radiated from the sphinx's headdress at the last minute. It struck the column milliseconds ahead, exploding and concealing the surroundings with debris carrying the smell of dust, chemicals, and electronic wires.

Not enough to clear the obstruction, but enough for a manageable leeway.

A leeway that jolted both passengers and would have certainly thrown them off if it wasn't for their stiffened clasp on the feline's body. The joggling slowed the digimon down, stopped her movements for a second or two. Veemon had no idea what Nefertimon's face looked like behind the mask, but from the way she was desperately flapping her wings, Hikari's surrogate sister was gnashing her jagged teeth.

They didn't have time to rest.

"Go!" Veemon urged. "Go, go, go, go! We're already surround—

"Damn it, I'm tryi

A startling blast flared from behind. Waves of searing heat followed the deafening bang of the missile that collided with the column Nefertimon almost crashed into and obliterated the reinforced concrete. Whatever lift, whatever speed she managed to generate vanished instantly as nature forced her into the nearby wall.

Hikari and Veemon alike did not have a soft body to cushion their experience. It was painful. Bone-shattering, maybe. He feared for the junior Yagami, but he couldn't attend to her now. Veemon's biceps shook as he attempted to get up. He saw the two DSI soldiers prone on their left and right flanks, training a pair of light machineguns propped on bipods. The FN Minimi, a Belgian 5.56mm firearm popular in the modern age and something the Digimon of Miracles could recognize… had he been properly schooled on human firearms rather than Commandramon's limited knowledge.

Operating on reflexes honed through intense training, during the Modifier's skirmish of the Satellite Base, and against the superhuman agility of Christopher Van Numen, without thinking he kicked the assault rifle he had dropped on the way down right back into his hands and aimed the barrel at one of the soldiers. A few shots rang out before Nefertimon rose protectively, shielding Hikari and Veemon from the DSI's overwhelming offensive.

The man screamed in pain. He had been hit. Veemon suppressed the agony in his heart. After he killed his first human last week, the Chosen chose to stick to his code of ethics and avoid any more kills if he could help it. He was certainly more open to it now, even if the act brought with it revulsion, not indifference. Blessed were the Harmonious Ones if this never changed.

In his peripheral vision he discerned Hikari's rising body. She was shaken, and she was in terrible pain. If not from a fracture or dislocation then from the shock her frail, human body endured. "Cover Hikari," Nefertimon's instruction leapt into his ears.

Flames surged from Nefertimon's rear, following a thunderous blast. Thankfully it did not shatter the cement around them; it hadn't been a direct hit. "The robot!"

Nefertimon stood her ground. The power and strength of a digimon of her class ensured she remained in place. "Got it." A pillar of light rose from a slot in the back, conveniently placed within the white sphinx's armor. It was bright as it was blinding. Veemon's crimson spheres couldn't look at it directly, but he knew what was coming next. Confidence returned to him, palpable in the vigor that accompanied his arms when he placed them on the sphinx's back and shoved himself back onto his seat.

"ROSETTA STONE!"

Dense slabs of stone burst from the pillar, in any direction the Digimon of Light wished. Blocks were flying at incredible speeds, many of them bashing the DSI's FM TALON until it was scrap. They peppered the path behind them, smashing into the walls, into the support pillars, into the troops following them from behind. Some had their legs broken. Some fell to the ground, unconscious. Others were not as lucky, ripped in half, their flak jacketsrendered impotent by the ferocity, by the velocity of each solid projectile.

This result would be no less catastrophic for the Digital Suppression Initiative had Nefertimon blanketed the passage with Curse of the Queen. Lockheed Martin's Dispersion Coating, a chemical used to weaken energy-based digital attacks, had become a modern standard thanks to the DSI's business efforts and millions spent "investing" in political lobbying. It might have permitted survival if the sphinx remained as underpowered as she was ten years ago. Now, that didn't matter at all. She fought with the potential she never had before, attacking the soldiers using a strength that should have been there when they challenged the slaves of the Digimon Kaiser. A strength never documented in either the animated retelling of their Digimon Adventure or the written work of the late blogger Takeru Takaishi.

Veemon trained the FN FAL in his hands and fired at the other soldier, aiming for the arms holding the gun straight. Four rounds found their mark and the man retracted his limbs, rolled away from the deadly weapon, and screeched with the pitch of a woman. Better to be shrieking in agony than to have the skull crushed into powder: a slab produced by Nefertimon's rapid-fire Rosetta Stone buried itself right where the patrolman's head had originally been.

Out of danger for now, he found Hikari Yagami leaning on Nefertimon for support. Her face, laid to rest on her digimon partner's soft, but dirtied, fur. "Hikari," Veemon clamored. "Hikari!"

The adult woman gazed at him, coquelicot eyes staring deep into his crimson spheres. "Hikari, get on. We mustn't stay—

"Agghhhhhh— I'm hurting all over," She bleated. Curse the fragility of the human body! "Give me a—

"We don't have a few seconds!" He extended his hand forward, hoping she'd take it.

"I—

Nefertimon barked at her, the desire to protect her human half and escape without a single death among them urging her to compel the woman. Force her, even. "C'mon, I can't keep this up forever!"

"My body won't—

She was in so much pain, it didn't matter if she poured all her willpower into it. Her body was unable to summon the strength to move a single inch, right now. It needed a minute to recover at least. A full sixty seconds they did not have.

This harrowing observation registered in Veemon's head as soon as those three words rasped out of her mouth. "I'll help you up," the blue dragon offered, growling over this misfortune as he slung the FN FAL over his shoulder. "Take my hand."

Without hesitation the Child of Light reached for the cerulean palm extended towards her. It shook madly, the nerves within restless and hyper. Bridging the gap on her own was not possible; Veemon leaned forward and crossed the center, seizing the outstretched palm and jerked her towards him. Towards Nefertimon.

Towards their only way out of this mess.

His pull did more than drag the Chosen Child closer. It lifted her up from the floor. High enough to slide the other leg down the sphinx's opposite flank. Somehow, he didn't know how she did it, but the woman mustered barely enough strength to straddle her digital half and collapse on her back, arms embracing the steel armor as though it were mere bristles of fur.

Shwick.

It was a miracle.

Thud-thud-thud-thud.

Veemon rotated.

A miracle that couldn't have come at a better time.

"F*CKING ANIMALS!" Roared a DSI patrolman within striking distance, whose proximity startled the blue dragon, almost paralyzing him for a split-second.

Somehow the soldier crept past the rubble, past the bodies, past the wreckage, past the howling soldiers, past the onslaught of Rosetta Stones barreling out of Nefertimon's shining pillar of light straight from thin air. In retrospect, the warrior might have pretended to be wounded and unconscious, and given the circumstances, it could have fooled anyone, even the fabled Taichi Yagami himself.

He waited until the sphinx ceased her assault, until the relief of safety—however temporary and fleeting it truly was within the bowels of the Military and Administration Wing—overcame them—until they relaxed their guard. That's when he struck.

Combat experience and, once more, agile reflexes, compelled Veemon to act, to reach for the SIG P239 holstered on his baldric and aim for the tor—

A combat knife went straight for him. Not for the neck. Not for the eyes. Not for his muzzle. But for his hands. To defend himself the Digimon of Miracles rotated his handgun until the barrel obstructed the blade's path.

Before he could do anything else, the soldier slapped the gun down with his free hand, gripped the leathery hands clutching them, brought his knife around, and thrust the tip of the blade towards the dragon's muzzle. The fact he managed to get this far indicated the DSI trained their soldiers well in close quarters.

Veemon may not have the advantage of a long-ranged attack. He may not possess the destructive abilities innate to many digimon of the Child level, with their fireballs, piercing darts, blasts of wind, arcs of electricity, razor-sharp fangs, and the like, but if there was something he had and was proud to have, it was his natural affinity for close combat.

Both of his hands were clasped tightly by the soldier. His feet still straddled Nefertimon's rear. He had nowhere to run, for the incoming swipe was too close for him to lean back and evade. But despite these glaring disadvantages, Daisuke's surrogate brother had the upper hand in this melee. A donkey kick from his fellow Chosen was unnecessary. Neither did he need support from the recovering human behind him.

Downward pressure from his attacker forced his two hands right on Nefertimon's thick tail. It granted him leverage. Leverage to bend his knees and recline. To lean back.

Not to evade.

Not to shift his head sideways.

Instead, he slammed both feet into the patrolman's chest. The damage his ribcage bore was multiplied by the sheer fact his stabbing motions provided the forward momentum needed to meet Veemon's feet halfway. He dropped to the floor on his back, with Nefertimon's solid Holy Ring clobbering the side of his knees as the digimon rose into the air, flapping her angel wings.

A couple bullets from his SIG P239, on either knee, assured him this sneaky bastard wasn't going to get up again anytime soon.

Whoosh.

Another laser-guided missile was launched by a soldier beyond his field of vision. Veemon's hearing picked up the sounds of gunfire erupting again. Reinforcements had arrived to replace the fallen and the injured. "Let's get out here!" Veemon clamored.

"Where?"

"There! That, t-that corridor," Hikari directed. She must've seen something. A source of hope for them all. Veemon was in the midst of switching to the stolen FN FAL when he heard her clarify, "Up the stairs!" Strength was returning to her, slowly but surely.

Veemon cherished any good news he could get.

"You got it!"

A flap of her powerful wings drove the airborne sphinx onward. Generating a strong gust of wind, the air currents disturbed the oncoming missile's path. Its course bent slightly, providing precious milliseconds for Nefertimon to escape its area of effect. This blessing went unnoticed, for she focused her heart on fleeing the danger zone.

Gravity compelled Veemon to coil his legs once more, its pressure no less than the force subjected to the passengers of an airplane during take-off. He caught the awed—the startled faces of the people they were leaving behind, adversaries prepared to engage them in this tight and cramped airspace. Not one of them expected Nefertimon to break away from the marked area and fly into an ascending passage containing a couple escalators and a staircase.

Funny how not one person among their group figured out that the corridors between the Nine Gates were, sans the security, virtually identical to their counterparts in subways and other underground rails located in throughout the Tokyo Metropolis.

"Cut the SCAI off!"

A vicious scream from above. Veemon whipped around and found a squad of four at the top of the staircase, armed with either the FN FAL or the FN Minimi. They opened fire as soon as the squad captain verbalized her order. Nefertimon maneuvered left and right to minimize their probabilities of hitting her partner, any and all. Veemon readied the rifle shaking in his hands, aiming downward—another patrolman stepped into his line of fire with a rocket launcher on his shoulders—

Three quick taps of the trigger and trained marksmanship sent their would-be backstabber down. Veemon's accuracy left a trio of holes in his target's belly. Souvenirs to remember him by should he live. Thunderous blasts resonated from Nefertimon's side of the battle, followed by a lull in gunfire. As they passed the apex of the path, scarlet eyes spotted the bodies.

Whether they were alive or dead, he would never know. In fact, he'd rather not know.

Nefertimon flew to the support pillar in the center of the higher corridor. She positioned herself on the other side of a four-foot divider—something Veemon did not expect to see given its notable absence downstairs—and swiped at it with her armored paw, casually hurling a solid chunk of reinforced concrete down the staircase they ascended and into the sloped ceiling.

Deep echoes of destruction followed. Telltale signs the entire path had caved in under the might of the Digimon of Light.

Both Chosen, of Light and of Miracles, panned their heads left and right. For now, the corridor was empty, free of bullets and explosions and curses and insults. They earned some respite, but it wouldn't last. All three of them knew such a thing was fleeting and illusory. After all, the alarms were still blaring. Only now did Veemon hear the earsplitting whines again, now that the action has subsided.

"The Sixth Gate's that way!" Veemon pointed to the end of the passage on their right. It revealed a large space. Another hub not unlike the first they found themselves in a few minutes after they left the Digital Dive System and its creator. How did it look like now, with the M&A Wing at full alert? Teeming with soldiers? With UGV's? With battle tanks?

Were enslaved digimon waiting for them, their autonomy and reason subdued by the DSI's own spin on the dark spirals once used by the Digimon Kaiser? Or were the Modifiers hiding, prepared to ambush them with the full power of every single form in Veemon's evolutionary line?

Nefertimon approached the opening at her top speed, probably clocking in at 150 kilometers per hour. The Digital Suppression Initiative had beaten the trio to the second hub, assigning guards to their point of entry. Two opened fire from the walls, taking cover whenever the sphinx replied their assault with rose-colored gemstones the size of basketballs.

A third stood from the stone divider trailing the center of this passage and trained her weapon at them. With his gaze squinting down at remaining opponent, the FN FAL was visible in her grasp. There was something different about it. It had an attachment on the barrel, a delicate-looking machine that encircled the tube. Something about it troubled—

Glowing projectiles populated his, Nefertimon's, and Hikari's sights. Boisterous clapping filled the dragon's ears. One for each bullet, the 7.62mm rounds leaving a trail of electricity at their wake. His blood froze at the sight.

This special effect dragged the dragon digimon back to that night in the Satellite Base. That night of fighting, agony, and death. Of unsettling insights, one after another.

"Don't let them hit you!" Veemon declared with the full authority of past experience. "They're modified!" This DSI soldier… she didn't look like a Modifier, but the weapon in her possession…

He aimed and replied back with gunfire of his own, but none of his response hit the mark. His target sprinted to the walls and rolled behind the corner, out of sight. Her last known position was basked in a beam of light emitted by Nefertimon's headdress, leaving behind black scorch marks and ashes in its wake.

No body.

Click.

Out of bullets again.

"Veemon," accosted Hikari, "Didn't you say the Modifiers have digivices on them? That woman had noth—

"Believe me," Veemon dug into his baldric, ripping one pouch open. "They do." One more thirty-round 7.62mm magazine in it. Number two out of the four in his possession. "But if she was one of them she wouldn't have retreated." He had barely finished reloading when Nefertimon zipped past the exit and into the open space of the second hub.

A large, cavernous chamber with five floors and passageways in all directions. Restaurants and other stalls for the civilians walking these halls during the day dotted the surroundings. Many of them were shut for the night, save for a 24-hour McDonald's currently devoid of employees (must've been evacuated beforehand). Veemon spied the indoor zen garden directly below them.

For a few seconds, perhaps five, the second hub was empty and free of human activity. It looked almost serene. Peaceful. The garden seemed to be a great place to relax and chill, even he could see that. Then the gravity of their situation finally revealed itself.

It manifested in the DSI personnel sliding out of their hideaways. They slunk into sight, training their firearms on the only flying beast in the center of this room. Veemon's eyes panned all around him, and this time he caught the silhouettes of Type 90 battle tanks making its way from quite a few passages. TALON drones were present as well, rolling their way into view with their SWORDS system holding up an intimidating array of weaponry, all of them aimed at Nefertimon.

"How'd they prepare all this?"

The Digimon of Light snarled. "DSI security anticipated our path. They knew where we're going, planned for it."

Rosetta Stone was not going to solve their predicament. This was clear, even to its user. Here, a thick rain of tablets conferred no advantages. Here, they were surrounded from all sides. A direct consequence of emerging on the first mezzanine from the bottom.

"Hikari, what do we do?"

"I…"

"There's not a lot of them," Veemon observed. "Maybe we can—

"Full charge, CURSE OF THE QUEEN!"

Nefertimon seized first strike. The beam from her headdress streamed towards the DSI soldiers on the same level they were, right on the other side. They ducked behind the metal railings for cover, but that was stupid of them. Ignorant of the augmented power brandished by the Armor Digimon they faced as an opponent.

Didn't the guardsmen realize the energy would melt the metal and penetrate, burning their bodies until they were turned to dust?

Before Veemon had a chance to study the carnage, the DSI responded as well. Nefertimon swerved right, dodging a 40mm grenade from a TALON. He found a target to shoot on the first level and delivered a couple bullets to the human's shoulder.

One down.

"Just keep moving!" Hikari thrust her finger at a spot on the third level. She extended her arm for Nefertimon's benefit. "Don't stay in one place!"

Her digital half complied and flew up, swerving and banking in so many directions the blue dragon couldn't keep up. Instead, he chose the second level as his reference point. Curiosity had driven him to do it; he wanted to know if his expectations rang true. If the soldiers that had taken cover behind the railings—those idiots–were soldering on the floor, comprised of nothing more but ash, singed clothing, and tongues of fire.

For his interest, Veemon was rewarded with a translucent sheen of light. Yellow, shimmering with power. Brimming with the qualities of the Digital World.

A screen of light.

The soldiers Nefertimon had sentenced to death still lived. Now they were marking her with firearms that looked strangely like the same weapon that guardswoman used on them.

"They're not yet dead!" Veemon opened fire at them, but Nefertimon's flight was out of control. Wild and rampant. He couldn't get a clean hit on the three, who answered back. Bullets streamed past them, each clothed in a veil of fractured lightning and the chirping of birds. Imbued with so much electricity, it was terrifying to imagine what the effect would be on a Child-level like him, or a human like Nefertimon's partner.

He figured it wouldn't have made a difference anyway. One round was bad enough, but several at a time were definitely lethal. The inner child within Veemon—that immature side of him that seemed to emerge only during times of happiness and contentment, times when he could forget the troubles brought by maturity, times when he could truly be himself: childishly playful, affectionate, and buoyant—dominated him for a moment and produced a surprising insight.

It contrasted this particular modification to a concept seen in one specific animé series. One of the most popular worldwide. One he was no longer sure of its status, having been isolated from the comfortable and happy life he lived during the Golden Age.

The series was about a young, naïve ninja ostracized by those among his community. Ridiculed by his peers. A young man who strived to change the world—who was destined to do great things, if Veemon understood the foreshadowing right. It took place in a world where wars were fought across the land in an endless cycle of violence, from one Hidden Village to the next, their warriors fighting with the very elements under their command.

One such element was lightning.

One particular concept—one specific technique prominently used by a major character, summoned electricity visible to the naked eye and along with it, the audible chirping of birds. Thousands of them. Their high-pitched calls presaging the deadly strike that followed.

In this fictional world, this technique was fatal. Thrust into the target, it would paralyze, if not overload the nervous system. Held long enough, it would even cook the insides, barbecuing the target into a smoldering corpse.

These projectiles… Veemon recognized the Digital Modification used here. Scratch that: he recognized his own power adding this terrifying ability to the DSI's arsenal. The influence of Lighdramon. No less potent than its first use during the Satellite Base.

Wait a minute.

Was that really its first use in combat? Or was Digital Modification a technology long under development? Was this going to be the legacy of Daisuke Motomiya, an instrument intended to undermine—to utterly demolish—everything he and the Twelve fought for?

"Harmonious Ones," Veemon heard the horrified murmurs of his airborne colleague. "Energy shields, electrified bullets! What… what else is next?"

This was merely the power of Lighdramon. Moreover, there wasn't a single Modifier within the group. The DSI wasn't bringing out the big guns just yet.

Nefertimon went straight to the top level and took shelter there, knowing the others at the bottom could not aim up through the concrete, if not due to the opacity then due to the high probability of friendly fire. They couldn't stay out in the open, but the danger was not abated by this mere act. Now, they had to deal with every person coming out of the passage.

"Nefertimon," Hikari gave her command, still unarmed. Still refusing to use the gun in her possession. "We need to close these passages. Keep them out!"

"No!" Veemon replied. His second magazine was almost out. So many discarded FAL's and casualties—alive or dead—fell around them as he and Nefertimon dispatched those they could. But they were moving way too fast for him to even start looting. "Get us out of here, Hikari. Please, get us out!"

"B-but—

"They're sending in tanks. They haven't sent any of the Modifiers yet! Barricades won't work and they won't get us any closer to Dai—chi!" He corrected himself at the last second. Veemon detested every time his tongue slipped. What a great display of his priorities, of his honesty.

.

.

.

Christopher Van Numen stomped on what little attachments of friendship they had remaining and ground it into dust. "I'm not one of you!" he shouted, freezing Veemon in his place, leaving him perplexed, confused, and sad. "I'm not a Chosen whatever. I'm not obligated to anyone here and that includes you!"

He wasn't going to help Hikari with Taichi. He wasn't going to help him with Daisuke. He was simply in it for himself and he had used Veemon as a means to an end. Chris looked out only for number one. One, one, one, one. Their friendship didn't matter at all. Not in the grand scheme of things. Not when he traveled the multiverse. Not when he was sure to meet another "Veemon" sooner or later, for better or for worse.

Veemon was shoved to the ground and he landed on his butt. His tail took most of the fall, but it ached much less than this betrayal, than the disappointment from expecting so much from someone he assumed he could count on. As another friend, as a person he might one day consider second to Daisuke, if not as an equal. "And it goes the same way," he mumbled, scarlet eyes facing the ground. Afraid to face the blond, to see the truth, to realize he committed a grave mistake, unconsciously substituting Christopher for Daisuke.

"Exactly!" Chris exclaimed, relief present in his upbeat tone. As though he finally made progress with someone he considered excessively stubborn. Or stupid. To the man, there probably wasn't a difference at all. "YOU AND I HAVE TWO DIFFERENT PRIORITIES!"

.

.

.

"AGHK!" A wordless moan of anguish slithered from Hikari Yagami. Her body convulsed in place, quivering, like she had just been subjected to high voltages. She collapsed. She slumped in her seat, still breathing, but utterly stunned. Blood flowed from a wound along her right shin. "T-that… couldn't… no words to describe it…"

"HIKARI!" Nefertimon roared. She found the soldier that had shot the Child of Light. Dodging was unnecessary. Her headdress shot a blast of light that melted any bullet that came into contact with it and destroyed the weapon. The man's hands were liquefied, and he was already screaming in agony when the white sphinx swooped in and, with one furious swipe of the arm, sent his upper torso flying into the center of the Second Hub.

Scarring the less experienced patrolmen.

Angering their seniors.

How painful it must have been! But one man's death wasn't going to do anything. At this rate…

"Hikari," Veemon whispered to her. He placed a hand on her shoulder—she jerked from the touch—a nd rubbed it as eagerly as he could, for Tailmon was too busy being a livid cat going on a rampage. "Just think and get us out of here."

"Ne, Nefertimon," she croaked weakly. "Can't you—

"NOT NOW!" She barely dodged a battle tank's line of fire and—again, a 40mm grenade from a TALON. Facing a fireteam hiding behind their energy shields, "NILE JEWELRY!" The jewels pierced the translucent veneers. The Light Screens were destroyed, but the men had enough time to escape.

"I'm too—no, I just… I just can't. I don't know what to do—

"You can do this," Veemon's platitudes encouraged her, his voice almost whining. "You can do this!"

"I'm not my brother; I'm not your partner! My mind's drawing a blank, my body's hurting all over, and I'm—

"STEP UP!" She had to. She needed to meet the pressure halfway and address it. The junior Yagami was not in a position to be wishy-washy. With all the leaders away or dead, there was no other choice left to her. "We believe in you, Hikari!"

How did this all happen in the first place? How did they end up stirring the hornet's nest like this? The M&A Wing was now fully alert and it seemed like every place they entered was a trap. Hikari was panicking, her mind unable to detach itself from the agony burdening her body and conceive something Daisuke would've thought of by now. Taichi would've been faster, being a talented strategist of his own right.

This should have been an infiltration mission. A task that demanded stealth. Not brute force. Not overwhelming dexterity, reflexes, and fatal accuracy.

This hell wasn't what Veemon envisioned so long ago.

Before Veemon defied the Tactician's desire for him to hide away in a safe place like a powerless refugee.

Before he marched to the Spire of Courage, ready to defend the sacred cave from the incoming armies of the Digital Suppression Initiative.

Before he encountered Christopher Van Numen.

Before he accompanied this self-centered monster into the Real World.

And before he learned from Hikari and Tailmon that Daisuke Motomiya mysteriously vanished from existence a month ahead of this two-year war…

…one of Veemon's greatest fantasies was a successful infiltration of the DSI's portals, breaking into their hangars and barracks. Whether he was at the Fortress or his room at the Great Forest base, the dragon digimon loved to dream about a future he could never accomplish on his own, bursting through scores of human soldiers into the Real World, or sneaking past them undetected.

So often he imagined the corridors and hallways of the DSI facility to mirror that of the Digital Monsters' own locale: a whitewashed cobalt and angular passage that carried the air of military professionalism. He did not pause to think about the idiocy he subjected himself to. He did not think about security cameras dotting the corners and the ceiling. He did not think about the various armed guards undoubtedly patrolling through the floor.

Neither did he dwell on the impossibility of such a mission. Even if Ken and Iori, the chiefs of strategy and security for their faction, entertained and supported Veemon's naïve thoughts, the end result would have been failure. To step directly into the embrace of the Digital Suppression Initiative without knowing beforehand the horrors and tribulations waiting for them within was suicidal—was death and failure itself.

Yet all Veemon thought about back then was Daisuke.

Daisuke…

He lingered on the promise they made three years ago, on the day the Child of Miracles selected a path Veemon himself never wanted. Never consented to. A promise to stay in touch and to reconnect within a year, bearing the wonderful news that he and his human half could be together once again without incurring the ostracism and racial hostilities humanity invoked as much as it did the virtues of justice and equality. Sheer hypocrisy.

Not once did the Chosen think Daisuke Motomiya abandoned him. He kept the faith, steadfast, forcing his mind to accept it as he repeated, day after day, week after week, the ridicule of the non-Chosen notwithstanding.

Daisuke…

Almost always the fabrics of his imagination directed the blue dragon not to a jail cell, but to an exit into the Tokyo Metropolis, where men and monsters coexisted with one another, where Daisuke Motomiya was surely resisting the Ministry's efforts to reduce digimon into objects for humans to fawn over like an Apple iDevice. Where Chris was involved, Veemon thought the secretive man and his human half would've made great friends, hitting it off rather well as the two of them had since their encounter in the Spire of Courage.

And if Daisuke had been in trouble with the DSI? Either Veemon overestimated his ability and his fortunes, or he anticipated Christopher's help, thinking they shared similar morals.

A shame reality deviated from his expectations.

Daisuke!

Christopher Van Numen had secretly manipulated him, toyed with him until their interests, their priorities, finally diverged. Even he had trouble accepting the DITE as a form of atonement, not when doubt could still be cast on the gift itself.

Daisuke Motomiya was not in the Mt. Fuji stronghold as he hoped. He had supposedly disappeared, but through his combat with the Modifiers last week, he now believed his human half had been turned into a guinea pig. An experiment for Mitsuo Yamaki to dehumanize, violate, and abuse, all for the sake of a technology capable of changing the face of the enemy, and society itself. Thoughts of the Chosen Child being condemned to such a humiliating fate drove Veemon's desire to rescue him as soon as possible.

Perhaps the most nerve-wracking realization of all was his disillusion. His disappointment. His anxiety. Infiltrating the DSI's military and administration wing proved arduous; the trip very nearly claimed his life. Although they were lucky so far, arriving at the famed Digital Dive System and subduing its creator Kurata Akihiro, through this night Veemon would learn his dreams were so far removed from reality it scared him to think he'd have died as soon as he set foot in the M&A Wing, forever stranded on the other side.

The corridors were wide and vast, perhaps slightly fatter than the tunnels lining Beijing's subway system. Security cameras, concealed by an opaque, black dome, were scattered across the ceiling. Reaching the Sixth Gate was impossible, not without patrols hot on their feet.

Hikari Yagami peeked out the gaping frame leading out of the Digital Dive System. She didn't dare lean out into the open, lest the cameras capture her image and alert security before their mission could even begin. "That's a long hallway," she remarked. "Counted five cameras. It merges with another passage after a thirty-second walk, but I saw a patrol passing by."

"How many?" asked Veemon. "What do they have?"

"Six each," murmured the Child of Light. "Every soldier's fully equipped. They've got assault rifles, vests, everything… can't tell if they're veterans. They're not wearing the dark blue uniforms."

Tailmon snarled. "Least we know the DSI's taking security very seriously."

Veemon reflected on the statement. The fact the Digital Dive System was infiltrated successfully without any disturbance at all was telling, and the Chosen wanted to ponder more about it. But now was not the time. "I thought they're 'focusing' on the Digital World?"

"They are, but…" Taichi's sister shook her head, "remember, there are seven billion people on Earth, and the DSI's global. No one's stupid enough to leave home unguarded and let all that talent go to waste."

"Sheesh! I can't imagine how full this place is on normal days."

"So, what do we do? How can we even get to the Sixth Gate when we don't know where we are? And even then—

"Tailmon, don't worry," comforted Veemon. He rotated towards the steel door they left behind. "I'll go back in there and question that scaredy cat." Patting one of his baldric's pouches, "I've got his keycard anyway so we've full access to anything open to him."

Veemon trotted towards the core of the Digital Dive System, but Hikari Yagami seized his shoulder. Stopped, he turned around to catch a pair of coquelicot pools shimmering, drowning in unexplained fear. How's that possible? He asked himself. Kurata was all but tied up, restrained from movement.

"Don't go back in there."

"Eh? What's wrong? The Doc's harmless—

She bit her lip. "Trust me on this."

"Hikari?" piped Tailmon. She walked over to her partner and rubbed her legs tenderly, much like a real feline would. "What's on your mind?"

"There's something about Dr. Akihiro that scares me." Veemon opened his muzzle to reply, only for Hikari to interrupt. "Yes, Veemon, I know we did everything we could. We destroyed the Xros Loaders, left him in a corner, tied his entire body up with cable, and planted C4's all around him. But…"

"Buuuuttt….."

"…but somewhere along the way, I started getting the feeling it's all deliberate; he's putting up a front."

"Now that you mention it," Veemon added, "When I brought him down to the bottom, he didn't fight back at all. Didn't even talk. Not a peep! And from all the squealing he did, you'd think he's a talker."

"That's right. I noticed that too," Tailmon nodded. "It's not normal."

Veemon shrugged. "Or maybe he's just crazy!" He propounded. "Like one of those 'evil mad scientist' types. He definitely fits the bill."

"I don't know if things will stay the way they are if one of us goes back in there," Yagami sighed. "So that means…" Reaching in her pocket, the 21-year old brought out a yellow scrunchy. Tying her shoulder-length hair into a hazel ponytail, "That means we'll have to wing it."

Tailmon glanced at Veemon. "First things first, we need to find out where we are, then get directions for the Sixth Gate."

"Hope they include something way, waaaay faster and sneakier than a flying sphinx," the dragon muttered. "I only have 65 bullets on me, tops." Three of his eight pouches carried two ten-round magazines, Chris had replaced the fourth with his DITE, and the fifth was now empty, devoid of all the C4 that could fit in it when stretched to its limits. The gun on hand carried the last clip, of which five bullets had already been spent.

"Subtract fifteen and you've got mine," replied Hikari. She sent a smile Tailmon's way. "At least I've got my partner for backup."

The blue dragon's silence brought forward some tension. Veemon's jealousy was laid bare through this utterance alone, and he couldn't help feeling rather envious of the closeness Hikari had with Tailmon. The desire for Daisuke Motomiya resurfaced, only to be tempered by the stinging memory of that day three years ago. Memories of Christopher's betrayal flashed between his eyes, strengthening the hot indignation spiraling underneath his blue skin. His cheeks reddened at the embarrassment of ever trusting the man to rescue his human half.

These emotions showed on Veemon's muzzle for a few seconds, before he suppressed them once again. This wasn't the time to be weak. This wasn't the time to be pitiful, and to wallow in misery. This was the time to take action. To rescue Taichi Yagami and, he hoped against hope, learn something about Daisuke and what horrors the Digital Suppression Initiative must have done to him.

He edged around the corner again. "Excuse me," he said, gently pushing the Child of Light behind him. Crimson orbs peered across the hall, scrutinizing the opaque domes dotting the ceiling. All were visible. Their glass shielding did not seem sturdy, as though made by a typical contractor. The .357 SIG rounds in his pistol could take them on.

Was it a good idea to take them out? Won't they potentially alert security?

"It's already too late for that," Tailmon uttered out of the blue. Veemon glanced at her. A look of surprise evident on him. Was she that observant, to detect the roots of his hesitation in the first place?

Amazing.

"You shot down the cameras in this room, right?"

He nodded.

"I don't know why security hasn't sent a team our way yet, but someone will eventually find out. We can take the corridors down to a place we can find a directory. Find the underground train." Tailmon turned to Hikari. "What do you think?"

"You're assuming the tunnels span across the M&A Wing," her partner ruminated. "The Digidestined doesn't know anything about the facility layout, so we'll be very lucky if that's true. We could take it to this 'Sixth Gate' brother's held at."

"And if it doesn't?" Veemon supplied.

"Maybe there's no security system in there."

"At the very least," Tailmon supported, "it's out of the way for patrols and we can duck into utility rooms if they have the train up and running."

The blue dragon gasped. "This late?"

"You never know."

"That's right!" He stuck his tongue out as laughter frothed from his muzzle. A habit he gained over the years, something Daisuke blamed on some girl crushing on him. "The Digimon of Miracles clung to the wall and brought out the SIG P239. "So, we're doing this?"

The junior Yagami assented. "Yes."

With that word, the DSI Infiltration had truly begun for them. Veemon found it easy to shoot the cameras down. He stepped out of cover and took aim, emptying the magazine inside within the next minute. Excessive caution did not color his stance, for his marksmanship had been cultivated to the extent it didn't matter.

The passages were mostly solid concrete. It had to be so, to withstand the enormous pressure of the earth weighing down on this subterranean facility. Solid grates along the sides suggested the architecture of each tunnel was slightly sophisticated, requiring enough working space for wires, piping, and all those finer details needed to run a facility as large as the rumors made out the Military and Administration Wing to be.

Their roles were clear. Hikari Yagami was the de facto leader for this group, filling in for the ex-ambassador whose exploits, whose sheer talent, whose legacy cast a long shadow upon her. Of the two digimon with her, Tailmon was the more perceptive. Her Adult status notwithstanding, the cat was not only naturally inclined to detection but her body had also been conditioned to utilize it to its full potential.

On the other hand, Veemon had everything to be the perfect point man. The dragon digimon had in his possession the same affinity for sight, hearing, and those forms of discernment denied to humankind Tailmon herself owned. What set him apart was his training. His upbringing.

He was paired with Daisuke, an intuitive leader that took after Taichi, recklessness and all. Taking point was not new to him, not when Motomiya was guilty of it so many times it was a bad habit. There was also the fact he had been clearly trained to use firearms, something anyone could figure out was developed to compensate for his pure inclination to close quarters.

The corridor ended where Hikari said it did; it left them with the choice of left or right. Veemon noticed instantly the wider berth of this passage. The supporting columns of reinforced concrete every fifty meters divided the hall into two halves. Each was large enough for a military vehicle to pass through, or possibly an Adult digimon of moderate size. Something along the sizes of ExVeemon and Stingmon, not lumbering giants like Ankylamon and Greymon. (Well, the latter might fit, but it'd be quite snug.)

Now and then at least two to three halls branched out from this massive tunnel. It was impossible not to notice this, even from this distance. The blue dragon presumed they led to other rooms. Sleeping quarters and barracks for the soldiers, perhaps? Maybe a break room for the administrative workers? It could even be a utility room, a rest room, or a few restaurants.

The possibilities were countless. But Veemon knew they'd be lucky to find an armory. He needed something better than his SIG P239 and Hikari needed a real gun, not a clay peashooter running on nonlethal bullets.

Both worlds were at stake again, but this time the threat came from humanity. Not evil monsters mystified by the allure of tyranny or nihilism. And they were losing. The Twelve were losing. What was Hikari thinking, bringing nonlethal rounds to a mission that going to be anything but nonlethal should they somehow wake the sleeping beast? Whether or not she was as uncomfortable as he was with snuffing out a human life, it was always better—more convenient—to have the actual choice of crossing the line.

Was she scared that the crossing was permanent? That the instant she did so, Hikari would have become a changed woman?

Veemon crossed the line only once, but that wasn't stopping the dragon from doing everything he could to preserve himself and his aversion to the act. Persons were not defined solely by actions. They were shaped, too, by their motivations. Their fundamental option. The stance they had taken towards life itself.

"Which way?" the Digimon of Miracles asked the Chosen Child. His opinion wasn't voiced so much as it was screaming through his body language. He was edging to the right, his snout inching the corner, half-waiting for Hikari's affirmation and half-succumbing to his gut instinct. He was being urged to turn right and follow the wider path to the end, regardless of those six-man patrols and security cameras.

"I'm not too sure," Yagami answered back. Her voice was shaky, tainted with the demons of doubt. She almost seemed hesitant to give an answer. Had she, perhaps, realized the enormous pressure of the Digital and Real Worlds weighing down on their shoulders? The crippling responsibility borne by Taichi and Daisuke before her? Or was she afraid of the uncertainty, of the life-damning consequences of a mistake?

For the first time in her life, the challenges of leadership manifested itself in this single choice. To the left or to the right? To their destruction or their salvation? Oh, the choices! And there was so little time: they had to move as fast as possible, lest a patrol catch them stacking up along the corner…

Hikari wore a thoughtful expression. Suddenly the floor became so much more interesting, and the woman appeared to space out, her eyes unfocused, her guard dropping as though she had all the time in the world to cogitate on the choice spread out before her like the Gates of Hell.

In the end, the adult made her decision. "Let's head right," she articulated, right before either Veemon or Tailmon had enough with the fidgeting and compel her to act. The blue dragon would never learn how his eagerness affected her selection. She trusted his instincts here, believed in his passive ability to attract luck, and hoped his partnership with Daisuke Motomiya had given birth to intuition just as good.

Going left would have been the worst choice for them, for the passage led to the elevators heading up to the M&A Tower, the looming skyscraper the Child of Courage attempted to breach the other night. Not only did it lead to a dead end, but the DSI patrol presently there presaged a violent and ruinous confrontation at the First Hub, destined to end almost as quickly as it begun. Its aftermath, indescribable. Perhaps cataclysmic, considering the people involved in this mission.

Whether such fortune could be attributed to Veemon's dumb luck or his inheritance of Daisuke's "gut feelings" was impossible to determine.

"Any cameras out there?"

"Yeah," Veemon nodded. "Not as much as the hall we came out of, but there's enough to cover the place."

"Can we sneak past them?"

The dragon deflated. "Not really. Errr, we have those columns over there"—he thrust an index finger at the support pillar thirty meters ahead.—"Concrete. Very thick. Like giant tree trunks! We can hide behind 'em, mmmmaybe, but they're not too many and, uhm, we've got those guards to deal with…

"Can you shoot—

Tailmon shook her head at this one. "More human activity along this route. They'll definitely notice something out of order."

"Something out of order, huh." Veemon thought back to the security cams he shot down at the Digital Dive System's main chamber, and the corridor leading away from it. He revisited his encounter with Kurata Akihiro, whose suspicion rose simply because the blue dragon failed to clean up after himself. The four cameras had fallen to the floor in pieces, and he had a sinking feeling the Head Scientist would discover his deeds anyway from the empty .357 cartridges his shots left behind.

The blue dragon captured this insight without difficulty. Eager to get this operation going, he relayed his theory in five words. "Because of the scrap metal?"

"Mhm," she hummed. "I've been watching you work, and it's not completely clean."

"Is there any way we can get rid of the debris then?" her human half questioned.

"Bash the cameras in! Or, we can swipe them right off their ports and chuck 'em into the trash." Then a sheepish rictus formed along Veemon's muzzle. His eyes were shut tight; clearly he found his answer embarrassing. Cute, someone else might say, but it didn't do anything to alleviate their problems. "But, uhhhmmm, I'm not built for this. My feet aren't that quick." The ceiling seemed pretty far from the floor, too. "And I don't think I can jump that high…"

But Christopher's was.

The Digimon of Miracles hated that little voice in his head. It always took the opportunity to thrust a sharp knife in his gut and twist it until some dark feeling oozed out of the wound. He didn't feed the thought a lot of attention, yet Veemon never denied he was envious of the power brandished by the blond. Sometimes the Chosen wished Hikari had that power for herself, he wasn't so damn useless without Daisuke by his side, or that Chris shared his altruism.

Stop reminding me.

Now it was Tailmon's turn to grin. "Mine are." She clenched and unclenched her paws, flexing her fingers. "I can take care of that."

Hikari brightened at her partner's initiative. Her gaze fell on a garbage bin close to one of the other corridors ahead. "We can throw the cams in there."

Tailmon walked to her fellow Chosen. Her long, striped tail moved with a single wag. "Veemon, can you spot for me?"

One nod cinched the deal. No words needed to be said. Afterwards, Veemon walked to the corner and marked a couple cameras close to the support pillar ahead.

The Digimon of Light didn't bother with an acknowledgement. Without uttering a word, the cat fell on all fours and sprinted, her Adult status giving all the power and speed she required. Tailmon was light on her feet, pushing forward without a sound. Like a lioness in Africa, ambling to her prey, undetected until the last second. Her furred body blurred from the speed of her approach, and Veemon's scarlet eyes widened in awe when he watched her leapt to the wall, ricocheting off it without wasting any of her velocity. Her paws were outstretched and with one swipe she sent the camera flying towards the support pillar.

She had done the same for the second camera.

In the meantime, Veemon fell on all fours as she did and galloped to the first pillar out of many to come. The Chosen noticed the heaviness he usually bore was not as ostensible, and to his surprise he was silent—relatively speaking. His footsteps were no different from the sound of feet and nails of a small dog scrambling across the floor. Nonetheless, an impressive feat considering his footfalls normally felt and sounded like massive boots marching along a dilapidated wooden floor.

Hikari crouched and trailed after him. Veemon had the speed and the dampened noise, and it was only the latter the Child of Light shared with him. She was the slowest, and not exactly the most quiet. But she had given this infiltration her all and would continue to do so. It was a thirty meter travel, but somehow the woman managed it.

It was enough.

"Not sensing anyone close," Tailmon reported on her return.

"Gotcha," Veemon accepted. "Cleaning up now." The childish enthusiasm he exhibited not so long ago yielded for the expression of experienced professionalism. The atmosphere of their operation necessitated it, and without a single complaint from the blue dragon the two cameras were scooped up from the floor and thrown into the garbage receptacle.

Without skipping a beat, the roles were reversed. The transition was seamless. No longer did Veemon take point for the group, inching ahead, meter by meter, and shooting down cameras from afar. Now he was Tailmon's spotter and the rearguard rolled into one. As the trio passed from one column to another, they slipped into a mechanical routine.

For every succeeding column, Veemon peered around for any cameras in plain sight. He'd mark them, tag them such that Tailmon glimpsed them after fifteen seconds' notice. Mindful of the necessity of stealth, the Digimon of Miracles deliberately restrained his voice. He shackled his rambunctious, inner child and maintained the air of a seasoned veteran. As soon as the feline left to perform her duty, so did he remain and stay alert. Veemon focused his ears to capture sounds as far back as a few hundred meters. He concentrated, making sure he caught and mentally flagged anything other than the apprehensive breathing of Hikari Yagami, the soft footfalls of her shoes, the delicate scuffling of Tailmon's pads, and the booming sound of an infrared camera being ripped from its wires and severed from its foundation. Every dislocation reverberated with the heavy echo of a bass drum. It announced every window of opportunity they have to make a break for it, but it also announced their presence to those tasked to provide security.

Hikari Yagami was often the last to follow. She was also the one left to clean up, picking up the few cameras Tailmon severed every so often and dumped the debris into a nearby trash can. There were plenty of them, and the responsibility to keep their trail clean relieved her anxiety somewhat. The Child of Light did not talk much either, for she too, knew the consequences of discovery as much as Veemon did. As much as Tailmon did.

As with any venture in life, as with any streak of fortune, Veemon's impeccable luck only lasted for so long.

The first patrol they encountered nearly found them. They came rushing as soon as Tailmon's sixteenth camera had been taken out. It generated a loud smash, and the raucous noise was easily heard meters away. Hikari Yagami's breath almost stopped when she heard the footsteps of the six soldiers. Veemon detected the hastening of her heartbeat, and he could only imagine the terror gripping Taichi's younger sister.

"What the?"

Tailmon was quick on her feet. She finished Hikari's cleanup duty for her, before any of the DSI patrolmen perceived the debris. The Digimon of Light retreated to their hideaway and stuck her petite body to the wall. A small piece of metal fell from her forepaw, probably a direct consequence of her haste. She held Veemon by the wrist and Hikari by the hand, the latter she rubbed vigorously. An honorable effort to alleviate her uneasiness. Once the blue dragon felt the sweat permeating her paw pads, he too realized it was too close. Almost too close. A few more seconds and they could've been discovered.

"Over here, it came from over here!"

"See anything?"

The six cocked their firearms. Each weapon announced their readiness through a sharp, distinct click. Hikari jolted from the sound, and Tailmon did everything in her power to keep her human half as silent as possible. Veemon jerked as well, but this wasn't the first time he fought human soldiers. This was not the first time he faced the Digital Suppression Initiative in combat. He'd taken out six before on his own, armed only with his SIG P239 and ample amounts of cover around.

He gulped. An actual confrontation here wasn't going to be the same as the mountainside of the Spire of Courage or the shoreline of Coela Beach. Space was scarce and cover was limited to one column and, a little ways off, the corners of the narrower halls connecting with this passage.

"Spread out. Whatever it is, I don't think it's far."

The DSI guardsmen's footsteps were slow. They were careful. Wary of the unusual. No doubt the first person to catch them would shoot first, perhaps not to kill but to debilitate. To cripple and render all forms of evasion and escape impossible.

"What's on your mind, sir?"

"I don't know. It could be anything." A deep breath. "An infiltrator, at worst."

"In here?" Incredulously, "In Military and Administration?"

"You read the briefing yesterday, didn't you? We've got under our custody one of the most wanted men in history. Heard he's a tough nut to crack. Not sure what the brass has in store for him, but I've heard they might fly someone in from the CIA in a few days."

"The CIA? Really?"

One of the soldiers was closing in on them. Veemon could tell from the footsteps, from the dull taste of the assault rifle dirtying the recycled air they all breathed.

"They're great at what they do. The Iraq War's seen to that."

A third soldier released an exasperated sigh. "Sir, this has got to be a prank."

Seconds of silence. "We repelled the Digidestined's invasion the other night. They couldn't have regrouped that fast.

"Besides, security here can't be any tighter than my asshole. Sir."

A chuckle. "You're smart, kid. But better safe than sorry…"

Veemon's eyes noticed the shining metal lying innocuously in front of his foot. The squad captain was intent on sweeping the area. Standing still, doing absolutely nothing was not going to help them at all. It was like waiting for death to come and embrace them. Like watching all their efforts unravel in slow motion, leading to a giant explosion of chaos as soon as the knots were untied and the truth within in display for all to view.

Only one way out of this.

The Digimon of Miracles leaned down—to Tailmon's shock—seized the piece of metal and aimed for the farthest hallway he could see. Harmonious Ones don't let him down now! He powered his arm with as much strength as he could and, concentrating to the best of his ability, chucked the metal to his target.

Bells and chimes tinkled the moment it landed, as though declaring "COME AND GET SOME!" to everyone within hearing range. Every footstep around them ceased; even the speculations of the squad captain and two of his charges lapsed into pure and utter silence.

A few tense seconds passed.

One…

Two…

"Over there!"

"Follow it!"

"Check the doors!"

"Hey! Don't go ru—sir?"

"They're frustrated from the boredom. Let them be. "

Four men, clad in imposing BDU's, the uniforms a light camouflage gray, rushed from the sides and, without looking back, made their way for the hallway to investigate the noise. The other two calmly followed, staying far back enough to keep an eye out on their surroundings.

"We're covering the hall."

Tailmon's acute senses detected immediately their approach. The white cat sighed in relief and veered left. They took the opposite side the remaining two patrolmen did and, considerate of Hikari's slow speed, went straight to the one of the hallways ahead. Behind the squad of six, where they could hopefully wait until they moved on.

Moved on they eventually did. While they waited, the only human in their group seized Tailmon and squeezed her tight, releasing a long breath. Hikari had been terrified. She wasn't ready to deal with human enemies yet. Not yet. She hasn't come to terms with it and—

"It's okay," the Digimon of Light consoled her. "It's okay to feel that way."

"I don't think I can do it, Tailmon. Th-they, they—

"Don't worry about that. Just focus on Taichi, Hikari," the cat gently whispered in reply. "I'll take care of the rest."

Veemon observed them both. A frown on his muzzle. More or less unnoticeable, but a frown nonetheless. The more he watched, the more his uncertain expression twitched and betrayed him, revealing the displeasure he hid from them both. He didn't like where their exchange was going, but for now he kept his thoughts to himself.

Because right now he wanted to just go. To keep walking forward. To proceed with their mission. They had to rescue Taichi. He had to find out anything about Daisuke. For their sake, the blue dragon prayed such intimacy between Hikari and her partner wouldn't conclude with something he deemed familiar.

"C'mon," said Veemon. He stacked up on the corner and beckoned both human and cat to follow.

They settled into their routine once again. Twenty more cameras brought them close to the end of the vast passageway. Upon visual confirmation of the opening, it was clear the path led to a wide, open space. Just how wide was something they did not discover until later. Still, anything was better than the massive tunnel they were sneaking through.

But twenty more cameras brought them to another DSI patrol as well. This time, they did not have the luxury of loose scrap metal to distract the guardsmen with. This time, they not only heard the rumbling of the cameras' dislocation but also discerned Tailmon's movements from a distance.

"A SCAI! A f*cking SCAI!"

"It just destroyed the camera!"

Elusion was not the option this time around. Their stealth was abandoned. They sprinted back the way they came, feet moving as fast as possible.

"And it's not alone! Sounds like it's got two others with it."

"Got a visual?"

"Just the first one, ma'am. Looked like a giant cat. "

"Catch them."

Several footsteps dashed in pursuit. One, however, remained behind. "Catch them? Let's just kill the little shits."

"Wild Ones marked for processing sometimes escape their cages. Admin will roast our asses if we…"

The words were audible no longer; they were not in hearing range anymore but the blue dragon had heard enough. Thank the Four Gods neither Hikari nor himself were caught in plain sight. That's all that mattered, for so long as the DSI thought they were dealing with three wayward digimon, not a small team of Chosen, then there was little reason for them to alert the entire base.

Nonetheless they needed to escape the main tunnel. The passage was long and with little obstruction. Not a good idea to run. Veemon set his eyes on a hallway on the left, coming up in three meters.

"Over there!" Veemon thrust his hand in its direction. "Maybe there's a room we can hide in!"

Two.

"Anything's fine by me," replied Tailmon. She turned back to look at her human half and snarled at her sluggishness. Hikari barely kept up. The limitations of the human body were truly a source of great frustration. "Just be quick about it before they see her!"

One.

He reached into his baldric and opened that pouch. The same one containing Christopher's parting gift to the blue dragon. Blue hands found the collapsed spatha easily, but that wasn't what he was looking for. He dug around, sticking his tongue out while frantically rummaging through the pocket. Veemon couldn't afford slowing down and going through the pocket thoroughly. They were in a hurry, and they needed to find something, fast.

"Awwwwww," the dragon whined. "I really shouldn't have put it in here!"

Several doors already greeted the Chosen from both sides when he sprinted into the narrow corridor. In his haste he passed quite a few of them, yet he kept on going, refusing to go into even one until—

FWUP.

He pulled out a card as azure as his skin bearing the name and photograph of Dr. Kurata Akihiro, PhD. Thick and stiff, he knew it was an RFID card. All the doors he passed, except the toilets, had card readers beside them. Unauthorized entry would be flagged immediately by whoever's keeping an eye on the M&A Wing's security, but the dragon digimon had the perfect answer to that.

"Haha!" Veemon's muzzle broke into a grin. We're getting away. He stopped at the very next door he came across and, with Kurata's access card, gave the reader a light tap. As soon as he did, a red light on the tiny machine turned green, the new coloration simultaneous with the faint sound of the door unlocking, providing safety to the digimon and his two friends.

He seized the knob, twisted it, and swung the whole thing open, stomping in without glancing at the contents of the room. Thanks to his peripheral vision, all he knew was its decent size. As big as the Motomiya's first apartment back in Odaiba, where his family had a hilarious, digimon-phobic businessman for a neighbor.

The three of them could hide here.

Tailmon and Hikari came in after him exactly four seconds later. Seeing the happy, comforted smiles on their faces confirmed it.

They could definitely hide in here.


If there was something mankind had gotten consistently right from their obsessive analyses of the digital monsters, it must be the perdurable fact they were no different from weapons of mass destruction. These were living, breathing organisms that had the ability to lay waste to the world around them and downgrade humanity into a source of energy, whether as food or living batteries.

Many found this prospect chilling, precisely because humans had dominated Earth for years—for centuries. The Digital Suppression Initiative, on the day of its incorporation, was celebrated throughout the world as a defender of Man, a widely-respected regulator of the so-called Self-Conscious Artificial Intelligences thriving in the modern world today.

Men and women laid down their lives for the DSI, ascribing to their service an honor beyond that of mere patriotism. Selfless, philanthropic, and courageous, they believed they advanced the interests of their species, paved the road towards a utopian ideal.

Most would never see this ideal become reality, if it ever followed through at all. SCAI's were ferocious combatants. Multiple times stronger than humans. Much more resilient to firearms. Even with the best technology has to offer, scores would die just to bring one down.

The battle tonight was no different. Although the DSI had only one target in their midst, performing all sorts of aerial maneuvers to minimize damage, this SCAI had evolved directly from the Adult level. It might not have been a Perfect class, but the power brandished throughout the combat struck a working midpoint between the two strata.

Casualties were sure to fill the records. Nefertimon was a fierce opponent to face. The DSI soldiers who engaged the Chosen in combat did not expect to escape this dire situation alive. They took it on with the full knowledge she could—and she obviously would—kill them whenever possible. Prepared for death, they fought like they had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Among those who did survive tonight, many of them met in bars, in nightclubs, in restaurants, in conferences and events—in just about any way a person could meet another. Internet sites such as Facebook or Meetup were not and would never be the main instruments to meet new friends and rekindle old relationships. These people swapped stories, their emotions drowned by alcohol yet their memories no less enfeebled than it had been before the drink was even downed.

Such stories described this battle not as pandemonium, not as a state of constant volatility, but rather, a surreal kaleidoscope of colors. The fighting seemed almost dream-like in light of the technology the Digital Suppression Initiative employed in their arsenal. Gemstones shot out of Nefertimon's arms, one after another. For every five bullets sent her way, the Digital Suppression Initiative received six. Rays of light shot out her headdress, streaming randomly towards any target unfortunate enough to be caught in her sights. There was also the occasional tablet of the densest stone, usually directed to slow or immobile weaponry.

The steel mask concealed the digimon's eyes. A plus for the human and digimon straddling her back, doing their best to hold on. But it was the only advantage they had going for them, for the DSI had surrounded them on all sides. Weapons were being unloaded on the flying sphinx. Missiles whizzed past the airborne bodies. They drew in 40mm grenades and hundreds of 7.62mm bullets from the FM TALON drones positioned on each mezzanine level, and Nefertimon had roughly fifteen to contend with, all hidden behind Light Screens and shielded further by a thick coat of Lockheed Martin's chemicals.

Each bullet fired by the drones was fitted with Fatigue Alloy, the shells shaped specifically for armor penetration. Although the Digimon of Light was, in her current state, no different from a weak Perfect level, little by little the bullets chipped away at her body. Blood dripped slowly from her body, disintegrating into particles of data when they slipped away and dropped in midair. Wounds were forming soon, and all the soldiers knew it was only a matter of time before the programming embedded within the Fatigue Bullets kicked in.

The guardsmen were equipped with FN FAL's. The DSI's standard assault rifle, armed with either hollow-point rounds or an attachment that, through some obscure science none of the soldiers would ever understand—or care to understand—electrified every shot and imbued it with the fearsome power of lightning.

They directed their weapons not only on the flying sphinx, but also the two passengers she carried. They opened fire, pulling the trigger so many times there was no real difference between burst-fire and full-auto. Yet by some miracle neither the woman nor the dragon were hit. Nefertimon was a dancer, weaving and twisting through the air whilst responding to every single attack thrown at her with many of her own.

Anyone she missed, Veemon handled. Whoever showed him how to use a gun had taught him well. His accuracy was impeccable, for her colleague landed hits far more often than what would be expected from someone in his position. That person should be proud of his protégé.

Daisuke would have been proud of him too. Nefertimon's human half had frozen from the tension, from the numbing stress of their predicament, despite the blue dragon's warm encouragements. Veemon could no longer wait. "Ooooooo-kay, we're getting out of here!"

"There's too many!"

"And there're plenty of exits. Look for the one with the least people!"

Yet the one who must feel the most pride should be none other than Taichi Yagami himself.

"I'm… I'm starting to get tired…"

"W, wha—B, but how—

"I don't know. For some reason everything I do's starting to use up more energy…"

"Really? Just keep looking. Keep dodgi"—a yelp.—"Whoa, that was close!"

Hikari Yagami, still slumped on Nefertimon's back, from either the blazing agony of electrocution or the frigid paralysis of inexperience, stirred to life. Gradually, if not surely, life was returning to her. She pounded on the walls she erected since the day Takeru died, since Daisuke vanished from the face of the Earth. She chiseled away at them, operating on the gnashing of teeth and the trembling of her fingers. She operated on sheer will alone, grumbling and moaning until the woman's eyes flapped open, their gaze beholding the scene unfolding beyond.

"URP! Nefertimon, not too hard! I almost lost it."

"'Losing it' is a lot better than deletion!"

Coquelicot eyes peered across, above, and below as she and her dragonic passenger rode the dancing sphinx. They overlooked the Digimon of Miracles, whose unfamiliarity with the more aggressive, the more forceful movements of Hikari's digital half made him sick. For a second, she perceived a slight green tinge on his white muzzle. On it was an expression normally made by someone on the verge of vomiting, or at least, fainting from nausea and airsickness.

For a moment, Hikari sympathized with him: Veemon had been subjected to the forces of gravity only in his higher forms. Never in his Child level. That he held on was admirable. A clear mark of his determination to reunite with Daisuke. To save him, wherever he was. Motomiya would be touched by Veemon's devotion and resolve. He might even be awed at the way he redirected all the pain and anguish from the betrayal by Christopher Van Numen towards the fulfillment of his goal, of his dream, of the only reason he went to the Real World in the first place.

The Child of Light did not have this problem. She and Nefertimon had practiced rapid, swift, and disorienting acrobatics of this nature in the past. Hikari remembered a special day from the short years of the Golden Age. She remembered a day when she and her significant other visited the Digital World for no reason at all, enjoying it instead of saving it as the heroes they were destined to be. They flew those clear, starry skies above File Island. Above the Server Continent.

Takeru and Hikari. Pegasmon and Nefertimon. Only the four of them.

Veemon had wanted to accompany them too. To take his surrogate brother out and steal him away from a high school girl he was dating at the time. He was already growing possessive of his partner, she noticed. It was an understandable sentiment for any digimon in his position. Yet both Takeru and Patamon dissuaded his enthusiasm, knowing full well Daisuke might feel awkward being the third wheel during what, in retrospect, turned into a romantic date.

That day taught Hikari the thrills and joys of a flying partner, something few of the other Chosen Children could ever have in the absence of some threat to the two worlds. Taichi, for one, wasn't about to drag Agumon all the way to the Digital World one afternoon so he could evolve to his Perfect or Ultimate level and entertain the Child of Courage on his back. Considering the amount of energy evolution itself consumed, that simply wasn't fair.

She remembered sneaking out of the Core Group's quarters in the middle of the night. Hikari and Nefertimon would take one of the more spacious caverns many of the liberated digimon and novice tamers used for training. All it took was a couple words to induce an Armor Evolution from Tailmon. Then off they went, twirling and twisting in the air as though transforming the entire space into one giant stage.

Each movement was like one massive ballet in the making.

"Nefertimon," Hikari enunciated through the veil of rapid gunfire, whizzing bullets, thunderous explosions, and the curses of every man around them. She pointed her finger at the top level. "Head up there and shut the openings."

A plan was formulating in Hikari's mind. In this situation, it was the only one she could think of other than revealing her trump card and demanding Angewomon to wipe out all opposition. Killing fellow human beings… no, she wasn't ready for that. She couldn't handle it now. The Child of Light had yet to come to terms with it and she hoped she could defer it for now, as much as she detested the injustice of Nefertimon shouldering all the culpability herself.

"What?" Veemon exclaimed. "No, we can't! We won't get any closer to Taichi if we stay—

Nefertimon obeyed her surrogate sister. "CURSE OF THE QUEEN!" Another laser was cast from her steel facemask, and this time the Digimon of Light whipped her head around as though she had three feet on hair flowing down her head. Her body swiveled with it, sending the beam all around.

Veemon's protests were cut off. Rendered silent by the sudden velocity. "Trust her," the sphinx inserted, flapping her battered wings for a swift and abrupt rise in altitude.

"But—

"She's my partner, Veemon! "

Hikari's voice sliced their argument apart. "Uh, get… get on the fifth level! W-we can't stay out in the open." Although it shook and didn't seem to confide the smooth confidence of her older brother, or Veemon's partner, the 21-year-old mustered enough conviction for the blue dragon to have faith in Nefertimon, simmer down, and listen to his colleague's human half.

Somehow the white sphinx landed gracefully on the Second Hub's top floor. She swatted another FM TALON away and it crashed into a nearby Starbucks, ravaging the countertops and the coffee machines. A three-round burst from Veemon's FN FAL crippled a guardsman stunned by Nefertimon's sudden landing before he regained his composure and backed off.

Another, much closer than the latter, whipped out his pistol and opened fi—Veemon was faster. He brought the soles of his feet on Nefertimon's powerful hind legs and sprung forward, his head aimed straight for the man's face. "VEE HEADBUTT!"

Veemon's attack crushed the handgun. The speed of his leap, the close proximity of his target, and the great density of his bones all contributed to breaking both the soldier's arms and knocking him out cold as Veemon proceeded onward to a solid blow to the man's nose. He wasn't getting up anytime soon. Not when he was most likely to wake up with a cracked skull at best.

Scarlet eyes fell on a bulging combat vest, its color a darker shade of grey but nonetheless splashed with camouflage patterns made specifically for urban environments. The dragon digimon knelt down and spent exactly three seconds looting the pockets for five 7.62mm clips for his assault rifle. "You won't need these anymore."

Just three soldiers out of so many more.

Veemon was right about one thing. They needed to escape, and they needed to exit through the passage least populated with soldiers and other backup reinforcements. The only problem with his plan rested on the assumption Nefertimon could dodge or absorb the DSI's attacks for a long enough time. That may have been valid if they were dealing with the JSDF, or with any of the world's armed forces, provided the Digital Suppression Initiative was not around to hand them anti-digimon technology on a silver platter.

The Digimon of Miracles had the experience fighting humans trained for combat, that much was clear. Yet he obviously had no clue what horrors the DSI developed during the two years they existed, aside from what little he had been exposed to in the Digital World.

"Veemon," the Chosen Child called. Veemon stared back at her, with those wide scarlet eyes. He did not say a word, though she had his full attention. "I'll help you look for an exit. I know you suggested this, but you're a way better shooter than I am and you've got your priorities tied—

"Yeeeeeeeyyyy!" A cute grin formed on his muzzle. "That's all I wanted to hear."


If the three infiltrators were not burdened by the heavy stakes involved in this mission, they would have found the temptation to put it on hold impossible to resist. The refuge Veemon led Tailmon and her partner turned out to be a break room reserved for employees, soldiers, and other personnel working for the Digital Suppression Initiative.

As soon as the door was closed, Hikari and the two digimon accompanying her hid behind an assortment of furniture and fixtures. Veemon stacked up behind the door, gripping the handgun in his hands. Tailmon, after dismantling the only infrared camera in the room, leapt up and above the cabinets on the wall, positioning herself on top for a surprise attack should any of the DSI patrolmen follow them in.

The Child of Light herself vaulted over the couch in the center of the large room, out of sight. She drew her own handgun, her hands shaking from fear. Fear of being a killer. Fear of turning into the same person Taichi Yagami revealed he had become when he knocked her out cold with a fierce, unexpected punch to the solar plexus. Hikari forgot her firearm was loaded with nonlethal rounds, yet to her the two were one and the same. Bullets were bullets, so to speak. They were made to harm, to maim, to kill. They were made to hurt someone, to overpower another and "persuade" the opponent to surrender.

It didn't matter who was fighting, and for what. All those platitudes and philosophical speak were nothing more but deferrals—mere distractions from the uneasy subject Hikari never wanted to confront. It was a great irony, given her position as a Chosen Child and her experience as a seasoned veteran member of the Twelve.

The next ten—fifteen—twenty seconds were tense. Terrifying. By the ninth second, footsteps and shouting reverberated from the door. The DSI soldiers stood right outside, seeking out what they thought was a small group of escapees led by a white cat twice as big for a normal feline from the Real World.

"Where'd they go?"

"I don't know! But I swear, I heard them going this way."

"Maybe they're in one of the rooms."

A distinct click resounded across the break room. Waves of apprehension and anxiety smothered whatever calm the Child of Light managed to recover in the few seconds the group had for respite. It was the sound of a lock, disengaging from its most secure position. Everyone froze.

The sound came from their door frame. From their hiding place. All they needed for chaos and pandemonium to break loose was for the DSI patrolman to walk himself in. Surely the others watching him at this point kept—or at least had some sort of epiphany—a cautious eye on him. That way, if he ever got taken down by a digimon on par with Tailmon, he'd have reinforcements to back him up. They watched the knob twist, providing further access to the soldiers on the other side.

"That's impossible," interjected the first speaker. He disrupted his colleague's attempt to open the door to the break room and went straight to the answer of the question he himself once asked. "Other than toilets, every door here is locked and inaccessible without an RFID card."

"SCAI's are smart enough to figure that out. One of those things could've swiped some cards!"

"That would be reported to the ODC immediately. And," came the emphasis as though cutting off the other speaker, "even if people were taken down for an RFID card, patrol groups pass most areas every fifteen to twenty minutes. Missing persons will be found."

A pause.

"Give me a break! I keep telling you, ODC nerds aren't reliable. Algos do all the work for them so they can effing SLEEP on the job instead of doing real work, and I swear, they're slowly taking over everything, and it all begun with the Vice-Chair!"

"Yeah, yeah," dismissed the other. "I've heard the rumors—

"You two!" The voice of the female squad leader interrupted. Her holler came from a distance. Hikari could barely pick up her voice. Perhaps she was close to the main passage. "Shut it and check the other corridors! One of the SCAI might have misled you there. I'm checking in with the ODC."

"Yes, ma'am!"

They left the door alone. Hikari waited for a few more seconds before holstering her own weapon—relaxing her guard. All the tension those two generated left her shoulders when she exhaled all of it away, replacing the anxiety with sweet relief coursing through her veins. With as much grace as a sleek predator, Tailmon jumped down the cabinets. "That was close," said the white cat. She held her partner's hand, the paw's clutch tight. Hikari felt the sweat on her soft pads. Tailmon had been just as nervous. "You okay?"

"Y, yeah."

"That was too close if you ask me!" added Veemon. He was returning his gun to its holster. "I almost yelped when the knob turned." Hikari was unsettled by the nylon baldric he wore—probably because she had never seen him wear any sort of clothing—but relaying this discomfort was unnecessary. The Digimon of Miracles had to adapt to his, special circumstances, after all. "At least that's over."

For now, the junior Yagami thought in reply. They all had to go eventually.

Wanting to distract herself from this eventuality, Hikari's gaze settled on Veemon. She watched his natural curiosity resurface as soon as the strain of the near-discovery faded away. Scarlet eyes, heavy three-toed feet, and those blue hands and their stubby, useless little claws moved across the room, seeking items of interest like a heat-seeking missile.

His steps were slow, allowing him to probe every nook and cranny with the inquisitiveness of a child. Veemon's muzzle did not bear any expression, yet Hikari figured there was one question lingering on his tongue. One his curiosity compelled him to bury for the moment: So what now?

Tailmon started on the very same. If there was truly a difference between the two, it would be the fact her partner, her surrogate sister, moved with purpose. Her footsteps were light and quick, as were her padded paws. Rather than aimlessly wandering in search of anything interesting, her cerulean eyes darted left and right for anything of utility. "Maybe there's something useful here, Hikari. This looks like a break room."

It truly was. A Hitachi refrigerator stood in the corner next to ten boxes of K-Cups of various flavors of coffee and tea and a Keurig coffee maker, attached to a water supply line. Hikari could not ignore the microwave on the opposite side. Nor could she ignore the dining table in the very center. The couch she had hidden behind was at the very back, facing not a wall but a fairly large but paper-thin LG OLED TV installed on the wall.

"The ECB is ready to do, whatever it takes, to preserve the Euro. And believe me, it will be enough."

For some reason, the television was set to CNN instead of the local news. A political anchor was discussing some kind of crisis unfolding in the European Union, initiated by Greece, exacerbated by other, larger member states, and perpetuated by the stubbornness of the technocrats leading the Union. The stock markets were still rallying, according to the scrolling captions.

"I remember—everyone still remembers the promise Mr. Draghi made last July. Considering how the troika dealt with that mess in Cyprus earlier this March—

"When bank deposits were taxed—

"—it's crystal clear this promise lives on. Yet the markets have underestimated the Europeans' political will and shall continue to do so."

"Because of the uncertainty?"

"Many economists seem to be ignoring the true costs of austerity, and the political implications of the crisis are so profound—

Hikari tuned out whatever the commentators had to say about this. However important the ongoing events in Europe were to the world at large, it had no relevance to their situation. For her, the crisis she had to resolve was her brother's. Secondary to that was Daisuke's, whatever had happened to him, wherever he was right now.

Her gaze panned across the room again. Tailmon was rummaging through one of the many drawers in the room, obviously progressing well with her search. Veemon had stopped completely, his eyes staring at a document posted on a 6' × 5' whiteboard, magnetized in place for all to see.

"Veemon, what're you reading?" the woman asked, stepping closer to get a good look at the printout herself.

"Something about the keycards the DSI's using for security." A small smile on his face. "Looks like we don't have to destroy every camera we come across."

"What do you mean?"

Veemon's gape fell on Yagami. "Read it yourself, Hikari." He ambled sideways, giving the Chosen Child some space. "Check it out, see?"


Digital Suppression Initiative

"The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity"

Memorandum concerning Internal IFF System

September 23, 2013

TO: All DSI personnel, R&D Commuters, and Authorized Employees of Third-Party Contractors

FROM: Office of Detection and Containment, Military and Administration Wing, DSI Global,

SUBJECT: Implementation of Radio-Frequency Identification

Each day, hundreds of people flow through the corridors of the DSI's global headquarters. Scientists, programmers, technical assistants, and other authorized personnel traveling through the Nine Gates are cleared for travel to the Research and Development Wing. Engineers maintain the robustness of our infrastructure and capital equipment. Guards patrol our corridors and, if needed, provide general assistance for our transient population. Our organization outsources many of its auxiliary services to employees of third-party providers.

With our noble goal of accelerating human progress after the 2002 Digital Revelation in danger from corporate espionage and radical extremists, the Digital Suppression Initiative takes the integrity and resilience of its operations very seriously. Our enemies want to seize our proprietary technology for their own use or destroy it in pursuit of absurd delusions. In order to prevent leakage, sabotage, or covert infiltration, the Office of Detection and Containment is committed to maintaining and improving the security system guarding our organization.

The RFID cards we distributed to you last week will be crucial to the October 1, 2013 implementation of a new, state-of-the-art identification system designed and installed by FLIR Systems, Inc. under the oversight of Vice-Chairman Mitsuo Yamaki and Vice Minister of Defense Hironori Kanazawa. Feeds from the thousands of infrared cameras scattered throughout Military and Administration, including our skyscraper, are collected by our computers and analyzed by complex algorithms in real time, by the nanosecond. These algorithms will flag anyone who does not carry an RFID card on their person and alert our people in the Office of Detection and Containment for further action.

Failure to comply with this requirement will result in penalties appropriate to your past record and personal history, up to and including termination of your contract with the Digital Suppression Initiative and any deferred benefits hitherto accrued. We already have procedures in place for the deactivation and replacement of lost RFID cards, which we will promulgate in further detail next week. If you have any concerns over our policies, we encourage you to approach us at the Office of Detection and Containment.

SIGNED:

Tamotsu Maruyama (Administrator, Office of Detection and Containment, DSI Global)

Mitsuo Yamaki (Vice-Chairman, DSI Global)


Hikari Yagami backpedaled, shaking her head. The woman quivered from utter fright, appalled at the very words written for her eyes to see. Thousands of infrared cameras, it said. Recording and analyzing by the nanosecond, it said. "No way." She couldn't believe this. Since when had computers grown this powerful? How long has humanity been developing this computing power, so terrible in its magnitude and intensity?

"No way."

The implications of these words were enormous. Although Veemon had Kurata's keycard, Hikari and Tailmon did not. Every moment they were caught on camera was recorded. Surely even those Tailmon sprinted to and demolished with the finesse of a professional killer captured her image, even for a scant second or two. The images must have been high quality. Clear, for all in the Office of Detection and Containment to see.

This memorandum spoke of algorithms. Automated programs designed specifically for detection and notification. These were far more frightening, for their very existence nullified any hopes of actually succeeding this mission. How many have already been alerted? And by how many times? Does the DSI know their current position? When was Hell going to break loose and, all at once, grind their chances of success to a flat zero?

Despite her resurging fear Hikari Yagami felt the skeleton of a plan forming in her head. An adjustment, so to speak, to prevent further detection. Granted, the DSI already knew they were there. Perhaps even where they were. However, they were not helpless. They could still get out of this. It wasn't like they were in the middle of a militarized zone under heavy fire from all sides, with all she had to show for being her partner, her nonlethal arms, and a useless dragon with a gun.

The Chosen Child, on instinct, bit her fingernails from the bubbling insecurity within her. "We need those RFID cards," said she.

"Definitely," Daisuke's surrogate brother agreed with her. "If we move anymore without it, we'll really be caught quick unless we do everything to take down every camera we come across."

"But that's impossible. We won't catch all of them either."

"Right. So we need two more keycards. You also remember what they said, right?"

The adult denied, "No, not really. I was, I, was"—a sigh—"too nervous to pay attention."

"Ahhh," noted the dragon. He waved it off anyway. "That's perfectly fine, Hikari! It's okay. I heard everything anyway. 'Cause I was hiding right behind the door, heh!" His cheery laughter did not alleviate too much of her anxiety, but the message he delivered next and the jocularity behind its expression siphoned just enough to calm her down. "They think those ODC people depend too much on their algos. Not doing 'real work'.

"Sooooooooooooooooooooooooo," Veemon patted her arm. "Maybe they still don't know we're here!"

Veemon mollified her anxiety to a more manageable level, that much was certain. Yet no matter what he did, as far as the Child of Light was concerned her partner—her sister and best friend—always found a way to top anyone else, without even meaning to. Tailmon shattered the reassuring air the blue dragon was giving off with excitement in her voice. "Hikari, great news!"

"What is it?"

Tailmon leaped on top of the couch and flashed a couple rectangles sitting squarely in one of her paws. "Just found two RFID cards," the white cat beamed, her eyes brimming with happiness at the unexpected turn of events. "One each."

Hikari flung herself at her digimon. She cupped her by the armpits and lifted the cat up into a happy and tight hug. "Oh thank you!" The woman nuzzled Tailmon's head, rubbing her nose on hers and giving her forehead an affectionate peck. "Fantastic, Tailmon! You just saved us a lot of trouble."

She honestly couldn't tell, but through Tailmon's gleeful expression Hikari swore she glimpsed the cheeks of her sister's snout turning red from the praise. This was likely because she was unused to such affectionate outbursts from the Child of Light.

As Hikari pocketed her keycard (Tailmon simply held on to hers), she had to ask. "Where'd you find these?"

"In a 'Lost and Found' drawer over there," Tailmon pointed to a set of fixtures opposite the dining table.

With a crisp, animated clap Veemon cheeped. "Lucky us then." As merry as it should sound, the words came out slightly dour. Any veneer of cheer penetrated by something more saturnine, tipping Yagami to his sudden drop in mood.

"Anything wrong?" she asked, staring into his scarlet eyes. They penetrated hers. They bore through her with such intensity Hikari wondered what the digimon was thinking—why he seemed a bit off, like he was wistful—jealous

The woman jolted back after realizing what Veemon reacted to. "Oh," was all Hikari Yagami had to say for it. She ran a hand through her hazel hair, wondering what she should say. Hikari broke eye contact with Veemon, finding Takeru's shirt much more alluring notwithstanding the fact it was wrapped around her neck the entire time. "Uhmm… Veemon, I…"

She felt awkward, trying to resolve the painful nostalgia and languor brought by her loving, doting affections over Tailmon. Even he had his fair share of warmth and care from his rightful partner. It wouldn't be right to say anything now even if it consoled the blue dragon, simply because it meant a lot of things.

Downplaying what couldn't be whitewashed.

Promising something Hikari Yagami knew she would not ever give urgent priority to.

Emulating someone no one in the world could ever replace.

Betraying the one person she had long pledged her life and intimacy no matter what happened to her brother, to her future significant other, to her parents, and to any other man or woman important in her life.

Hikari possessed a kind, gentle, and loving heart. Perhaps, the kindest, gentlest, and most loving of all among the Twelve Chosen Children. Or among the Digidestined for that matter. Anyone close to their digital half could easily grasp the subtle meanings and symbolisms behind what looked and sounded like a mere, meekly-spoken apology from the outside. They were numerous as they were indicative, announcing exactly where her loyalties were.

Fortunately for her the Digimon of Miracles backed away. "It's okay," he verbalized, turning away from the two Chosen before Hikari locked eyes with him again. "No problem at all, okay, Hikari?"

"…Got it…"

The Child of Light whispered a couple prayers to Buddha. One for Veemon's cognizance of his actions and motivations. A second for something good to happen for once.

Veemon sluggishly strolled across the break room, his interest apparently drawn to a single iPad on the dining table. A chain attached to the tablet invited the digimon closer, beckoning his curiosity to take over. It seemed to be made of solid steel. Tough, durable, and unbreakable in the absence of power tools—or digimon built for the task.

The portable computer sat innocently on the table, yet the chain denoted it was anything but innocuous. It was there for a reason, and he felt compelled to approach and investigate. He was already reaching for it when the Digimon of Light bounded onto the table, stopping him in his tracks. "Tailmon?"

"I feel the same as you, Veemon."

His ears perked up at the sound of that. The air around him became hopeful, expectant—

"There might be something interesting in this. Let's check this out together."

Whether Tailmon sensed his second mood change again or not, the feline did not show it. "Let's," the Chosen replied as soon as she made her request. While Veemon took a seat next to his colleague, Tailmon sat beside him and pulled the iPad closer. One push of the button on the side and the lifeless screen exploded in light and revealed an impressive, wavy background with the DSI's logo visible for anyone within five meters of the two.

Hikari Yagami would have thought the two reminded her of Patamon and Tailmon, back in the good old days when they did practically everything together. She would have remembered Takeru Takaishi and, again, the gloom permeating his death. She might have even thought Veemon and Tailmon were cute as a pair. "Mmmm'kay," the dragon observed. "Goes straight to an internal website aaannnndd…"

"—gami did so much damage in his desperate bid to crush the DSI. He sacrificed himself and a loyal group trying to end the war. He failed, but nonetheless the death toll and the rebuilding costs will be so high it won't do any good for Japan's attempts to recover from its economic slump."

"That much is understood, George, but does Taichi's death mean—?"

"No. Losing the Child of Courage may have been the worst loss the Digidestined ever had, but this war will not end on his death alone. The Digidestined are not centered on one man. They are a team. Even then, several of the Chosen Children are still alive. This gives them plenty of potential to change the game and gain enough power to push the DSI back."

Had she not been distracted at the time, the Chosen Child would have surely joined the two digimon. She would have been awed at their immense luck, choosing to hide in the break room. Behind her back, the cat and dragon were giddy in their seats, quivering not in fright, not in anxiety, but in excitement.

"Harmonious Ones," Veemon exclaimed. "It's got a map! Wahoooo!"

A little twist and turn of her digits, claws unsheathed. "3D View. Didn't expect that from Apple."

"Well I didn't expect that at all! Since when did human stuff become so cooooool?" His eyes sparkled with vigor not unlike the vitality driving Chibimon's hyperactivity. "Wow, I wonder how awesome the videogames are…"

"Focus. We've got a few minutes to skim this."

A chuckle. He stuck his tongue out, feeling joyous now that they weren't wandering aimlessly inside the M&A Wing. "Yeah! We've got photographic memory anyways.

"Wait a minute, why can't we just take this with us?"

"We are."

"Then—

"Just in case."

Hikari neither heard nor saw any of this. Her full attention was driven to the CNN interview, eyes and ears taking in the foreigners' view of their war and where it might go from here on out. They were discussing her brother. Talking about her friends. Her allies. The potential scenarios that might play out going forward.

"Hikari Yagami can always take after her brother, although her leadership ability is something heavily debated among analysts. The Chosen Children trapped in the Digital World might find a way around the Digital Dive System. And, Motomiya aside, there are also two others unaccounted for. You need to remember, we can't exactly predict how—

"A lot of bloggers—sorry if I'm interrupting you, George, but—

"It's okay."

"—but since DSI Vice-Chairman Yamaki's sudden and confident announcement of Taichi's death, the public's been restless. Yesterday Google Analytics reported growing doubts on this news. Some known political bloggers scrutinized Yamaki's press release the other day and concluded he was not being up front—

"I'm not surprised why. There's no corpse. No significant DNA tests. There aren't any survivors among the Digidestined, and the DSI soldiers rescued from the debris had no way to verify what happened after the SCAI took them out of the fight. Eyewitness reports claim Taichi's SCAI was seen fighting in its Mega form. We know any SCAI classified at this level is extremely difficult to delete even with the DSI's current level of technology. Yamaki's press release is, really, reminding us of Operation: Neptune Spear—

"That's the one where SEAL Team Six—

"—killed Osama bin Laden two years ago."

"Right. Good thing he didn't have SCAI's in that house."

"Now, with so much conflicting evidence and several possible catalysts for the Digidestined to regain some power, predicting what will happen next is unwise. We should instead consider a general set of possibilities and explore how the world powers might best adjust to each scenario."

As comprehensive as George's "set of possibilities" were, as an insider Yagami knew something they did not account for. Yes, Taichi was still alive. Yes, her friends stuck in the Digital World have found a way around the Digital Dive System. Yes, Hikari was doing her best to step up and take the mantle she inherited, or would inherit, from her older brother.

None of those had the explosiveness of the news Veemon brought with him from the other side. Digital Modification and Æther. The ruthless Christopher Van Numen and his superhuman abilities. George's strategic forecasts were going to be off the mark, dragged beyond the realm of possibilities he conceived for this war between Men and Monsters.

That even a foreign political expert wasn't willing to commit his reputation on any single prediction emboldened Hikari. It encouraged her to strive for the best she could possibly do at this point. That anything can happen at this point… as horrible as it was for the people relying on predictions, it was wonderful for the Chosen Child. Such uncertainty filled her with hope.

Hope easily dashed by the commercial break that followed.

"The self-conscious artificial intelligence is fundamental to modern society."

If only she shut the television off. If only she sauntered to Veemon and Tailmon, going through a 3D map of the Military and Administration Wing as fast and as extensively as they could given the short amount of time they had available.

Mitsuo Yamaki, walking in a corridor, did not match his brusque voice to the sweet and inspiring melody being played in the commercial. As soon as a wall passed between Yamaki and the camera, a woman took his place. Hair as brown as hers, a smile as wide as Veemon's, and a face Hikari thought cute and beautiful all at once.

A woman she recognized as Riley, Chief Operating Officer of Hypnos, another DSI-accredited supplier of tribands.

"It can assist us with work, can help us foster a new age of enlightenment for us all…"

Suddenly the setting changed, a transition made seamless through the magic of post-production editing. Janyu Li, CEO of the Monster Makers and, unknown to the world, a valued ally and sympathizer of the Digidestined, was touring the camera through the house she, Tailmon, and Veemon had just spent a few hours in.

"…while giving us TLC in the home, holding us…"

It led to footage of Jianliang Li sleeping with Terriermon on his face, his long, thick ears wrapped tight around his head. If Hikari did not have the opportunity to meet both the teenager and his digital half, she might have never known the two were partners. Not from the way this internal branding scheme made them out to be.

"…embracing us every day and night."

A quick cut to the logo of the United Nations and someone Hikari recognized as Tsuneo Nishida, Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations, seated on a desk.

"The United Nations recognizes a SCAI must never be left alone. It can threaten national security. It can delude others into believing unproven fantasies. Or it can go out of control and harm our loved ones."

Three images were overlaid his speech. All three that dug deep into Hikari's heart and sowed the seeds of anger within her.

The first was a photograph of Professor Samuel Oak being shoved into a police car. An old man. An old, fragile, but enthusiastic man who had only love for his work and ample curiosity into the workings of a world beyond his comprehension, yelling—screaming for his innocence.

"I've been framed!" Hikari remembered his exact words. She was there. All Twelve of them were. "I'm not working for Al Qaeda! I'm just here to study the digimon. I'm not—

Someone from the SAT smashed his jaw shut with a baton.

The second presented Taichi Yagami, standing with the Twelve amidst scores of people and supporters as they walked through the streets of Shinjuku to protest at the Metropolitan Government building. Hikari recoiled at the two words the Japanese Rep—the United Nations—described the Chosen Children's dreams of ideal coexistence.

"Unproven fantasies"?

The bloodied corpse of Miyako Inoue appeared in the Chosen Child's mind, her head blasted into a squishy mess of guts and body parts. Impossible it was to distinguish the features of her friend, of her comrade, who stood beside her, Takeru, Iori, Ken, and Daisuke against BelialVamdemon. Hawkmon was down for good, rendered comatose by the very thing that kept him happy, bubble, and alive: his bond with his human half.

These were not unproven fantasies! They pursued a higher calling, a moral obligation that went far beyond what was expected from the typical human being. They lived with their digimon partners, treated them—no, considered them friends, family, and more. Irreplaceable parts of their lives, so much to the point that to marry one of them was the equivalent of marrying two people at once, simultaneously.

They died for "unproven fantasies". Miyako, Yamato, and Takeru! All three died as casualties in the fight for true, egalitarian coexistence. Taichi Yagami sacrificed his name for this "delusion". How could the world—how could society—humanity write them all off so callously, so cruelly?

Worst of all was the last image. How couldn't she not recognize the Hispanic American girl standing alone in a cemetery, crying so many tears watching her entire family being buried into the ground. The sole survivor of the Fourth of July Massacre, a world-shaking incident instigated by an invader who did not hesitate to sic his digital half on a human family and eviscerate them. Men, women, and children alike.

Why was this catastrophe being played out as the consequence of a digimon going out of control and blatantly murdering the people it cared for? Why was the Digital Suppression Initiative—

"Scientifically proven to be inherently dangerous, prone to violence and hostility, the United Nations believes it is only through the Digital Suppression Initiative can we ever have peace of mind living—coexisting—with these animals."

Before Hikari Yagami could even process the images being registered in her coquelicot eyes—conscripted tamers being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, otherworldly monsters fighting off Mexcian policemen in defense of drug cartels, even children who bullied those without partners, having their digital halves pummel the defenseless victims into submission—there were no words to describe the grief, anger, and hopelessness filling her as the words of US President Barack Obama emanated from the television.

A recording from his speech five years ago, bastardized and twisted by the Digital Suppression Initiative to suit their internal branding—their accursed propaganda.

"We understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame."

A collage depicted awards being handed out to esteemed employees of the Digital Suppression Initiative, among them Mitsuo Yamaki and Kurata Akihiro. Videos of DSI Peacekeepers shoving Baby digimon lost in a megacity like Tokyo or New York into a cramped cage. They kicked them, bashed them into the uncomfortable prison, and this commercial—this deceitful cant seemed to congratulate them, with a sharp rise in melody occurring as soon as they gave each other high fives.

Then a woman began speaking, her voice lovely to hear and pay attention to. It echoed the ancient marketing strategy that worked to this very day: sex sells.

"Here in the DSI, we strive to make the world a better place. We aspire for a true and lasting coexistence between humankind and self-conscious artificial intelligence. Your contribution to our cause brings us one step closer to this dream, every day. So hold your head high, and bear the pride of the human race."

Digimon forever enslaved—suppressed by color-coded dark spirals. Hundreds, thousands, millions of them kept as glorified pets, purchased from people walking into inhumane, demeaning stores such as Mons' Mart. Dressed up in the most ridiculous getups, with the digimon accepting it. Their sense of shame lost, suppressed into oblivion.

Digimon employed as cheap labor, their emotions and personhood dulled by the dark spirals, replaced with the mindset of an apathetic robot. Abused by their employers and maltreated by the very people they served.

Digimon turned into weapons of mass destruction—an art begun by the Digimon Kaiser and perfected by the Digital Suppression Initiative and the scientists working under Research and Development.

This was the coexistence the DSI represented. One that served humanity and only humanity. That the global organization achieved this vision-mission in the two and a quarter years they've existed was impressive, reflecting the collective will and synergy of all the minor entities the Digital Suppression Initiative subsumed during its incorporation.

Now all they needed to do was maintain this state of the world. Hold it steady and eliminate the ones who cared about the digimon, who sympathized with them and disagreed with the way the monsters were taken advantage of.

Somewhere along the way, sometime during her viewing of this internal program, Hikari empathized with her brother. His desperation became hers as much as it was his. She felt the desolation, the loneliness, the hopelessness and despair! Fighting a system. Fighting a large group attuned to chaos and self-interest. Fighting her own people.

In many, many ways this was worse—so much worse—than any conflict the Twelve has had in the past. At least there was a light at the end of the tunnel, an end to hope for, an end that all of them knew was feasible so long as they believed in each other, trusted in their partners, and push one concerted effort after the next to overcome their tribulations.

Hikari Yagami still remembered the day of Dagomon's Call, her visit to the Dark Ocean. She still remembered Demon had been banished to the same realm, and she knew neither the Dark Lord nor the God those vile creatures worshipped, who sought nothing more but to claim her for procreation. Though the Twelve knew next to nothing about these antagonists, though they have not acted at all over the past ten years since the Digital Revelation, the Child of Light knew the Chosen Children—and the Digidestined—could easily topple these once empowered by the sentiments and traits embodied by the Crests.

Here, there was no light. Here, there was no certainty. Here, there was only doubt. Endless and infinite, or merely so far from salvation the end was no larger than the diameter of a needle…

But unlike Taichi, whose foray into diplomacy and politics left him crestfallen, jaded at the reality of the world around him, and willing to abandon everything for a higher calling, Hikari refused to give in. She refused to let society win. She relinquished nothing to her anger, stamped out the flames fueling any outrage to the gross injustice and inequality truly liberated digimon and their sympathizers—their partners—were subjected to every single day they lived.

I'm stronger than this.

She'd transform her darkening emotions. The disappointment and sadness she felt for her brother and the failings of humankind. The grief from Takeru's death that wrapped around her heart and never let go. The dejection for the loss—no, the abduction, of Daisuke Motomiya. She would morph each and every one of those feelings and redirect all that negative energy to the pure, innocent motivation of rescuing her brother.

Hikari Yagami felt the dull pain throb from her stomach, taking her back to the moment Taichi, her brother, her only brother, who sheltered her—fought the crushing weight of the world for her, slammed his fist into her belly, violated the sanctity of her bond even if it was for her sake, for future she wanted: that idyllic, harmonic coexistence they all envisioned ten years ago. The dream Hikari dreamed. An illusion turned into reality.

Her spirits renewed, the Child of Light marched to the two digimon sitting by the dining table, who were obsessed over the iPad, their eyes glued to the screen to absorb every bit of information it held. She ignored the CNN interview with George and, placing hands on both Tailmon's and Veemon's shoulders, asserted. "We're going," she said. The inflation of confidence ballooned when she noticed the two Chosen were staring at a map of the M&A Wing.

"We're ready," the Digimon of Light nodded. "Veemon and I spent enough time studying this. I think we got a bit of it."

"Is that what I think it is?"

"Yup, yup!" chirped the blue dragon. "A map of this place!" A hand chop fell down the chain securing the iPad. Solid steel was no match for Veemon's strength. Instantly the tablet was severed, allowing Tailmon to snatch the computer and hand it over to her surrogate sister. "But if you ask me, three minutes—more or less— isn't a lot, so we oughta take it with us."

"Good thinking," the Chosen Child approved. She took the iPad and slipped it behind her pants' belt. It fit. "So you know where to go?" she asked the white cat.

"Mmhmm," Tailmon and Veemon responded in unison.

A newfound motivation, an enflamed confidence, pushed Yagami forward. "Lead the way, then."


A newfound motivation.

An enflamed confidence.

She remembered.

She remembered what she was fighting for. What she poured all her soul and heart into. Grasped it again, holding on to it for Hikari did not want to lose it as soon as pressure mounted on her back and started screwing her with the full force and cruelty of a sadist.

From the fifth level down, on Hikari's command Nefertimon began sealing each open passage. Gemstones and beams of light rained on the forces prepared by the Digital Suppression Initiative, piercing their translucent shields of energy and crushing the military equipment they brought in to deal with the Armored digimon.

With the sphinx no longer out in the open, the soldiers and guardsmen below had no targets to shoot at. It reduced significantly the number of shooters and the volume of gunfire sent their way. Yet there were still many on the fifth level, firing at the flying sphinx and her passengers using their assault rifles, their rocket launchers, and their combat drones. Electrified bullets inundated her poor ears with the chirping of birds, and those manufactured using raw materials embedded with anti-digimon programming whistled past her almost invisibly, hiding behind the deafening noise of the battlefield.

BLAM!

A Type 90 battle tank from the other side of the floor opened fire at Nefertimon, obliterating a vending machine in the sphinx's stead thanks to her alert maneuvers. Those damn vehicles were the reason why she had her partner sealing all the passages in the first place. Not only was each opening another port of entry for the Digital Suppression Initiative, but the organization had already prepared the heavy artillery, parking the big guns to bar the Chosen Child's means of escape.

"Nefertimon, seal that tunnel!"

Guardsmen heard Hikari's cry and replied immediately. "Take out that f*ck! Her SCAI's cutting off our—

"BEEEEEHHHH!" the blue dragon responded in kind. A visibly pink tongue sticking out his mouth, Veemon trained his FN FAL on the ones he could see and took them down, his gunfire cutting them open or popping their knees. Painful but effective for the most part, as it had been since this chase began. "In your dreams!"

Better him than her surrogate sister, the Chosen Child thought. At least Veemon didn't kill his targets.

Once again, blinding light emerged from Nefertimon's back, right in front of Hikari. The woman turned her head away from it, coquelicot eyes panning behind and around them for other threats. The Digimon of Miracles had a pair of crimson orbs concentrating on each DSI guardsman attempting to stop them.

Neither needed to see the giant slab of stone shooting out of the pillar of light.

"Full charge, ROSETTA STONE!"

Neither needed to see it crush the opening and seal it away completely.

Millions of Yen would be needed to fix the damage and restore the passage to the faultlessness it lost in the explosion. Hours of work, employing expensive equipment needed for subterranean construction. That did not even include the damage they've already

None of them cared. All they cared for was an exit. ANY exit, and if they had to fight through multiple floors of DSI personnel, then they were going to do it. It had to be a passage without a tank, a passage relatively devoid of people and drones. Yes, all of them were going to be full of soldiers, but Hikari—Veemon was certain there'd be at least one available.

There had to be! With so many entrances to the First Hub, there must!

Soon enough the last exit on the fifth level crumbled, leaving copious amounts of rubble for the Digital Suppression Initiative to dig through. Many of the soldiers were gunning for the fourth floor now, and that's why Hikari had Nefertimon fly down there, attacks being churned out one after another.

Two FM TALON drones opened fire at Nefertimon as soon as she flew into their line of sight. Their controllers directed their weapons, not at Hikari this time but at the sphinx herself. A hailstorm of 7.62mm bullets welcomed the Digimon of Light from two sides. Hikari didn't need close scrutiny to know her armor was already cracked and chipping in multiple places, unable to endure constant gunfire.

Both were destroyed easily by the sphinx, but the distraction gave one DSI soldier enough time to aim a rocket launcher and fire a laser-guided missile at the digimon. No aerial acrobatics was necessary; Nefertimon had been hit squarely in the side of her armor just as Veemon found the soldier and shot one of his hands. It was only quick thinking on her part to shield both Veemon and her surrogate sister from the searing heat and concussive blast with her own wings.

Charred feathers fell from the scorched angel wings as the blast pushed her out of the open, onto the fourth level. Guardsmen aimed at Hikari from the side—she was already drawing her weapon when the giant cat dropped from the air and pounced sidewards, barreling into the soldiers with her head down, trained at each man like she was a giant bull in Texas.

Hikari hissed from a bullet grazing her shoulder. It was as painful as the one that got her by the leg a minute ago, but fortunately there wasn't any electricity this time. She couldn't help but gaze at the wound. Yagami gasped at the blood oozing out, revealing even a little bit of the meat inside her own arm. It was nauseating, to see something sticking out from her own body. That it wasn't life-threatening or serious did not matter to her.

A loud, animalistic whimper penetrated the barrage of gunfire assaulting their ears. She whipped her head further back to see Veemon falling off Nefertimon's rear. "VEEMON!" Nefertimon cried out, anxious for her best friend, whose momentum brought him close to the concrete rail… or what was left of it. Whew, at least he didn't fall.

In her peripheral vision the Child of Light found several guardsmen behind concrete barriers cloaked in Light Screens, their light machineguns propped on bipods and ready to open fire. They barricaded one of the passages, and it was fortunate Hikari Yagami saw them. "On our right. They're fire—Just JUMP; get out of the way!"

Nefertimon had already been airborne for a second. "NILE JEWELRY!" The gemstones broke through the translucent shields of energy and tore the concrete barriers apart. Whether the DSI personnel survived or not was a nonissue. The sphinx hopped to the fallen dragon with the alacrity of a wildcat. "Veemon," she verbalized, her voice shaking. "Hey, Veemon!"

Hikari was shaking too. "Is he…?"

Thankfully, Veemon was already stirring. "I'm, I'm okay." He rubbed his thigh. "It really reeaaaallly hurts, but don't worry, I'm a-okay!"

"Worried us for a second there," the Chosen Child said. She tendered her hand for Veemon and the blue dragon accepted her assistance once he retrieved his stolen rifle. He was back on Nefertimon and not a second too soon. Most of the soldiers her partner attacked survived and were attacking, not to mention their friends were rushing to their aid, shooting from the lower mezannine levels. Another Type 90 had wheeled out of one of the paths on their level and attacked as soon as they were in sight.

Hikari inspected Daisuke's partner, staring at the wound. She was astonished to see the complete lack of one. The skin was as bright blue as ever, but it wasn't hard to realize it was sore. A dark, ugly bruise was well on its way, forming right where Veemon was hit.

Amazement captured her. "That should've been a hole in your leg." A hole with all sorts of things sticking out, she wanted to tell him. Wasn't Veemon in his Child form? Since when could a digimon of his level take a hit from a high-caliber bullet and walk away with just a bruise to show for it?

Veemon didn't pay attention to her. Instead, the dragon digimon raised his voice. "There's our way out! Right there!"

"Where?" Nefertimon replied. She swiped concrete barriers and hurtled them at the Type 90. She paid no attention to the soldiers standing around it, using the vehicle as cover. They scattered as the barriers closed in. Most were spared the tragedy of having the chest crushed by solid rock. Hikari chose not to look at the mess the sphinx created. She felt sorry for the victims, yet the woman was aware her partner considered such deaths necessary for their mission.

"Third level, directly across! It's not as heavilyguarded!"

"You sure that's the right one?" Hikari doubted. "We lost the iPad earlier so I can't check—

"RAAAHHH!" The Digimon of Light shrieked and closed in on the Type 90, slashing cleanly through the steel with her full strength. It exploded seconds later. But Nefertimon had already been running, sprinting away from the destroyed tank…

"That goes to the Fifth Gate! Nefertimon's not the only one who got a good look at the map."

"But brother's at the Sixth…"

"That's okay, Hikari. We can—

…towards the concrete rail. The edge of the fourth mezzanine. "Go through there!" the sphinx stole Veemon's thunder moments before taking that leap of faith.

Nefertimon lurched back and spread her dirty wings. She swooped in from the fourth level, careening in what felt like a dive bomb towards the exit Veemon just specified. Speed maximized, the Digimon of Light ferried her two passengers through the gunfire, through the projectiles whirring around the Hub, ignoring the curses and grumbling they left in their wake.

Veemon had been right after all. The tunnel wasn't as saturated as the others they've sealed off. There wasn't a drone in sight. Not even a single tank. There were soldiers, naturally. Groups of them, many taking shelter behind Light Screens and concrete barriers, but with the lasers coming out of Nefertimon's headdress and the beautiful jewels being jettisoned from her gauntlets, they weren't too much of a problem. Some had died in the process, though majority survived the escape.

The Chosen Child jotted down a mental note to thank her partner when they return home, for restraining herself as much as she possibly could without compromising their chances for survival. She certainly would have wanted to thank Veemon too, had she known this exit wouldn't be available had they gone the other way when they left the Digital Dive System.

"Wahoooo!" the blue dragon cheered. "And we're sooooo outta there!"

As all these happened, Hikari Yagami felt a profound insight coming to her.

They were a team. One tamer, her digital half, and her best friend's life partner. Did it matter if Hikari was the designated leader? Did it matter that the digimon with her were acting on their own? Thinking and choosing, independent of the Chosen Child's wishes?

None of it did. This was not about the ego. This was not about being given the respect of leadership. This was about survival, about success. They had a mission to do, and if Hikari had trouble figuring things out, then they would help her. The same applied to either Veemon or Nefertimon herself as the battle went along.

They needed to trust each other.

Trust to cover each other's backs. To compensate for someone else's flaws, for someone else's problems. If a choice had to be made, it had to be whatever looked best at the time. What the consensus decided that was. That Hikari Yagami was the sole tamer in this group of three was a nonissue. They listened to her and, rightfully she should also listen to them, when it was appropriate.

George was right. He did not say it outright during his interview on CNN, but if an organization—any organization, whatever the size— depended on one person or a few bright stars, then it would be easy to topple. All their villains had to do was cut off the talking heads, then watch those left behind flail and run in circles like a dying, headless chicken, finishing it off when it had finally fallen and become a shadow of its former self.

Autonomy was as critical as group synergy. Generating ideas, taking the initiative to execute them, and accepting responsibility for whatever came were all critical to the survival, no, to success. It could be as small as the three now heading for the Fifth Gate, or it could be as large as the Digidestined, twelve thousand men and monsters strong.

The Digidestined shouldn't rely solely on her brother, on the rising star Rika Nonaka, or on the collective wisdom of the Core Group. They mustn't. They needed to coordinate with the people on the ground more, to be a bit more democratic—giving qualified people a say on strategies but not enough to slow down the decision-making process.

Hikari hoped Taichi would like the idea. Perhaps it would ease the pressure the world heaped on his shoulders like a living Atlas.

"Hey, ODC!" A buoyant Veemon was wallowing in their joint accomplishment. He stuck his tongue out and made a funny face, doing his very best to ensure every infrared camera they passed caught it. "See this? We survived your trap! Beeehhh. What'll you do now, huh?"

"Veemon," Nefertimon reproved. "We're on a lucky streak here. Our second one. Try not tojinx us." Resistance in this passage was minimal. There were still plenty of guardsmen around, all donning their urban camouflage, but the drones and heavy weapons weren't as plentiful.

"Looks like the DSI focused everything at the Second Hub," Yagami voiced.

"Nefertimon, you worry too much." The blue dragon laughed, happy for once at how things were beginning to look up for them. "At the rate things are going, we'll have Taichi back in no time!"

Hikari couldn't resist Veemon's contagious optimism. "I hope so. We'll need all the luck we can get."

.

.

.


So far, the DSI Infiltration has been mostly a stroke of luck for Veemon, Hikari, and Tailmon, even when it seems to have run out on them. Much has played to their favor, and the three exploited it all with success. Now they are moving onward, their hopes high despite their awareness of the ordeals they are sure to face ahead.

Coming up next on The Interloper, "The Value of Life".


Post-chapter notes:

[5] See why this chapter was so hard to break in half? My inspiration for this particular style came from DigitalSkitty's Pedestal. I remember very clearly that she wrote a chapter that played out similarly to mine. The events were happening in present time, with flashbacks to the past being presented alongside it. Readers are often confused at first, but as they read, they start understanding what was going on...

Here's something funny. You see where I ended Lucky Streak? Well, the segment following that is supposed to be the very last in the PAST section, and is meant to bring everything full circle. The only reason why I didn't include it in this chapter was simply because CH26 was already too long as it is, and that particular segment is extremely long (featuring both Hikari and Tailmon as main viewpoints).

Strangely enough, my current structure seems to work thanks to the break room scene. If you think I could've done better, again, review button is down there.

[6] REAL LIFE REFERENCES! If there is something I take pride on, it would be my hard efforts in making you, the reader, feel like this story is happening in real life. Considering my deconstruction fic already envisions a "Real Life meets Digimon" scenario, this is obviously appropriate. So for those who are curious, here's what I brought in:

~~ Starbucks, Hitachi, LG, and Kruger are all real companies and the items shown here are all real.

~~ FLIR Systems, Inc. is a real company as well. It is publicly-listed in the NYSE and owns 60% of the global infrared market as of fiscal year 2012. It is currently one of the companies I am evaluating at work.

~~ Mario Draghi is the current President of the ECB and the words mentioned in this story was a direct quote lifted from a speech in July 2011. Considering how EU is doing so far, I still think they reverberate to this very day.

~~ The Cyprus crisis mentioned here is still unfolding as I write this, where corporations, family businesses, and well-off individuals/families are at risk of losing 60% of their bank deposits if the balance is above €100,000 while draconian capital controls are put in place. Recently, the Finance Ministers who administered this policy have resigned.

~~ The "George" interviewed on CNN is actually my homage to George Friedman, Chief Intelligence Officer of Strategic Forecasting, whose opinions on geopolitics I both highly respect and follow. (I'm actually subscribed to his newsletters via RSS.)

~~ Tsuneo Nishida is really the current Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations, according to Wikipedia. Naturally, the sentences I had his self-insert say here for the DSI's internal branding does not reflect who he is, what his opinions are, or even what the UN's opinions would be in this sort of situation. After all, I am simply gunning for the further reinforcement of my "Real Life meets Digimon" theme.

~~ The FM TALON unmanned ground vehicle here is a real combat drone and it has seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's primarily used by the United States, so I had to employ creative license and give it to the DSI via ties to the US Military. I'd have used a drone manufactured by the Japanese. Unfortunately my research didn't unearth anything. D:

~~ Operation: Neptune Spear is the codename of the SEAL Team Six operation that resulted in Osama Bin Laden's death.

~~ The quote from current US President Obama was lifted directly from a speech he made in 2008, following his victory.

[7] References from other series:

~~ As stated in the previous chapter, Light Screen is an attack/technique/move lifted directly from Pokémon. In this story, it even works the same way, defending better against energy-based attacks but not physical ones.

~~ Anyone catch the Naruto reference yet?

[8] The Office of Detection and Containment (ODC) is a direct reference to a government agency in the Digimon fanfic Crossing Worlds: The Sealed Digivice, which is pretty much the only Frontier & Adventure crossover I ever liked. Go ahead and read it. It's awesome! (On a side note, the original name for the ODC was the Office of Internal Security, or OIS. Doesn't sound too catchy, though.)

[9] Any replies or responses to reviews, provided I keep track of them well. Truncated to save space, given how much I like to babble.

Kingveemon: First, thanks for the feedback. It's very much appreciated considering the other people who like my story prefer to remain silent for their own reasons. (Not that I'm pissed off for it; would've been hypocritical of me since I rarely leave comments for stories I fave either. LOL) Anyway, glad to see you found the Naruto reference easily... or did I make you reread the chapter? XD

Again, thank you for your comments on the action and especially Hikari's character development. At least I know I'm doing a good job, especially when this chapter sets the tone for what the next few are going to be. BTW, reserve your judgments on how much damage the characters have taken thus far because this is JUST THE BEGINNING. As mentioned in my profile (and afterwords in the previous chapters), the DSI Infiltration concludes the Priorities story arc with a "bang!" and the content has been planned enough to fill in no less than 14 chapters, and this assumes I don't zone out in my writing and end up producing 15K - 20K monsters containing half the intended content (as what happened in this chapter). So believe me when I say that Hikari and Veemon will be receiving plenty of love from me. :D

I'll resume writing after my CFA exams in June.

The Keeper of Worlds: Hello! Thanks for the comments. Glad to know my story attracts readers despite the... unique positioning of my fic's storyline. (You know, the whole deconstruction war thing with all the gorn and mature, complex themes. :P) I wonder though. How did you actually find my story? I haven't updated in a while and I'm sure it's been buried or something.

As I told kingveemon, I will begin writing Chapter 27, The Value of Life, as soon as June 2 is over. Real life concerns first and foremost, you understand.

Concerning Daisuke, keep in mind that Mitsuo Yamaki has every incentive to keep him alive. He is crucial to the Digital Modification project not only because he is the only Chosen Child presently held captive by the DSI but also because of his role as the Child of Miracles. Don't forget, Yamaki has a personal stake in the project's further development.