Foreword

I've not really seen a lot of Digimon, so forgive the stuff that's not exactly as it should be. This was actually meant to be a completely different and original story along a similar theme, but then I found Digimon and realised it would work better as a fanfic, so here it is :)

T for occasional strong language, pretty harmless other than that.


Jason awoke early, well before his alarm was due to go off. He cursed the jetlag that plagued him, for the past two days he had suffered it acutely, this was the third morning he had woken early and feeling grouchy. He fumbled around on the desk beside the simple cot he was sleeping on, feeling for the lightswitch. Through the tiny glass window above his head there was a feeble light just beginning to spill past the edges of the dark green blind.

"Argh," he groaned involuntarily as the sharp light of the fluorescent tube in the ceiling burnt the back of his sensitive eyes. He was in a tiny room, lying on the only bed, pressed up against the whitewashed brick wall. The only other pieces of furniture were a small metal chest beside the bed and a folding metal chair by the door. On the table lay his only possessions, a wallet, phone and laptop. A few clothes spilled out of a rucksack on the cold, hard concrete floor beside the bed.

He suppressed a shiver as his bare feet touched the ground, it was as cold as ice and about as featureless. No carpet, no tiles, not even a layer of paint, just concrete. It was all he came to expect from a military installation. From what he could gather he was lucky to have a room to himself.

He wrapped a towel around his waist and slipped his ID card over his head and around his neck, it seemed silly to have to carry it everywhere but the facility was extremely security conscious and to even leave his room he needed it. What happened during a power failure was anybody's guess. He showered with it as regulations insisted he did and then resented it even more when the fabric of the strap held the water and slowly let it leak out over the course of the morning.

Breakfast was served in a canteen every bit as spartan as the room in which he had slept for two nights, the lines of long metal tables reminded him of a prison, and if he was honest with himself he realised that he was little more than a prisoner, formally a civilian consultant working for the government. The canteen's lights were set low except in a corner where their motion sensors detected the only other person up at that time. Jason recognised him and collected some porridge and toast from the warmed counter before sitting opposite him without a word.

"Morning," the man grunted, barely even looking up from his unappealing meal.

"Is it even morning yet?" he responded, humourlessly. "It feels barely past last night. I don't know how you can sleep in this place, Mack."

Mack Bailey was a large man, well muscled and built for fighting. He had been a marine in theUSarmy since he was old enough to join up and had only been transferred to the counter-digimon task force a few weeks before Jason arrived. He was a computer genius, they said, although Jason had yet to see any real evidence. What he had seen, however, was that he was a very capable gamer, something that a year earlier nobody would ever have thought to be a valuable vocation.

"Used to it," he grunted, still absorbed in his meagre meal. Jason assumed that the army made you like that, stripped away your desire to talk for talking's sake. Bailey was a man of few words.

"I don't think I'll ever get used to it," he said ruefully, stirring the porridge with a spoon. It had been sitting out on the counter for a while already and had started to congeal. He couldn't imagine how much worse it would be in another hour when he was supposed to have been eating it. In fact, he said to himself, he could imagine it because he had sampled it on his first morning.

"What was your frag count last night?" the ex-marine asked, his voice flat and seemingly uninterested in the reply.

"Thirty four," he replied eagerly, anxious to show off how well he was doing on only his second run. Bailey grunted and his pride deflated slightly. "Two of them were bigguns, as well, ultimates, at least. What about you?"

"Stopped countin' at ninety," he said, his voice still flat and monotone. Jason studied his face, there was the barest hint of amusement there, he thought.

"Show off," he said with a grin, hoping to at least get a small smile back. There was no response. Bailey stood and picked up his tray, then with a slight nod in Jason's direction he strode off across the canteen, dumping his tray on the counter and disappearing from the room. His footsteps echoed hollowly.

Jason sighed, he had only met a few of the other operatives so far and those he had met were either on different shifts to him or just plain uninterested, like Bailey. There was no sense trying to savour his breakfast, he was too tired and grouchy and it was hardly anything worth savouring in the first place so he shovelled the rapidly cooling slop into his mouth and got the experience over with as soon as possible.

That day's shift was his first chance to go out alone, to play the game solo. His first two jaunts had been tailing someone else, a more experienced young woman called Samantha who seemed equally uninterested in him. Upon entering the virtual world she immediately ran off before Jason had even had chance to get to grips with the control system at the terminal he was on. He had to learn fast and struggled to keep up with her at first, even though she claimed to be going slowly for his benefit. When he finally had caught up with her she had already encountered a selection of low level digimon and had disposed of them all, depriving him of the experience he needed. When they were attacked again later he was overcome immediately, not knowing any of the moves or attacks he was expected to be using. She had shown little interest until his avatar had been shredded and he was dumped back out of the interface. Only then did she realise that she may have made a mistake and they were both given a stern talking to by the commander of the unit they were in.

To enter the virtual world they needed some sort of avatar that they could control and that could interact with the world. The procedures needed to do such a thing were complicated, injecting code into the "digital dimension" was very difficult. He knew this because he had been largely responsible for finding out how to do it in the first place, mostly the reason he was now trapped in a military installation somewhere in the southernUSA. "Dying" had cost them all time and money, and got them into trouble to boot. Samantha went slower after that incident, and attempted to help him out until he learnt his own way. Her fighting style was vicious and quick, during one bout he risked glancing away from his screens to look at her across the room, the flickering lights of the monitors all around her casting her face into deep, twisted shadows. Her lips had been drawn back from her teeth and her usually pretty face was a picture of psychopathic anger. He found he was actually afraid of her, and more than a little intrigued.

Today, however, he was able to go off on his own, and would not need to worry about her. He would have the chance to show them what he was capable of. The first two days had been very illuminating, he had achieved a firm grasp of the control system and even though the avatars they controlled were primitive, blocky things his understanding of the rules of the game allowed him to fight quite effectively. He need not have felt so ashamed of his low kill-count, if people had been keeping accurate logs then he would have seen that for a rookie on his third day anything over ten kills was almost unheard of.

His task was simple, the issue at hand was the sheer amount of processing time and bandwidth that the simulation was consuming at the expense of the rest of the world's computing needs. The size of the simulated world and the number of complex entities in it were directly related to this metric, so removing sections of the world alleviated the problem they were having. The ultimate goal was to remove the entire thing and hope that without anything to seed it no more would grow. It seemed that new areas of the virtualised universe appeared only next to existing pieces, there were never any instances of non-interconnected pieces of space. This was something they hoped to use to their advantage. Jason and his colleagues would attempt to cleanse an area of digimon and then mark it off for deletion by placing special markers around a small area. When ready, these beacons would detonate and leave a manageable island of virtual space that semi-automated crews of disassemblers would take apart piece by piece, returning their runtimes to the human networks. It was important to remove as many digimon as possible since they would invariably attack the disassembly crews and hinder their work.

Jason turned his avatar around slowly in a circle, taking in the breathtaking virtual world around him. Under his imaginary feet the textures rendered on the ground indicated that he was standing on a meadow of thick, long grass. Small, blocky flowers dotted the area around him, stopping some way into the distance as the renderer decided it was not worth drawing such small items in the distance. To one side a thin forest was growing, formed of strange trees with regular branches that split in fractal patterns, each twig ending in a green blob to signify leaves. In reality the trees were far more complicated than that but to keep the amount of data they needed to extract from the net down to a minimum some assumptions and simplifications were used. Most of the time they were not an issue, it was rare for anything of consequence to hang on whether a tree had a hundred branches or a thousand, it was only important to know that the tree was there at all.

Over to his other side the meadow stretched off into the distance, bushes and occasional trees spotted here and there as if someone had sprinkled them from a giant salt grinder. Beyond them a range of large hills rose up into the sky, blocking any further view. Their peaks glittered with virtualised snow, rendered very inaccurately. Jason tested out his controls, making sure everything was correct. His avatar twitched and jumped on screen in a dance that made little sense to the handful of electronic creatures that were watching him quietly from their vantage point atop a rocky outcropping nearby, biding their time and squawking to one another quietly.

He stepped forwards, hearing the synthesized whisper of grass under his feet. In the bottom corner of his screen a small map had appeared, superimposed on the view. It showed the area he had been working with Samantha the previous day, a stylised top-down view of the immediate terrain with a set of glowing red lines indicating the area they had already marked off. There were only a few more markers to be placed, so his task would be find any of the wild digimon that they had missed before finishing the boundary and signing off for the day. He checked around himself nervously one more time, sometimes it was difficult to remember that despite all its appearances it was not actually a game and losing here would mean a whole lot of work for somebody to put him back together again. Up on the rock the digimon were aware of none of this and simple prepared to move and follow, rubbing a their forelegs together in an insect-like manner before skittering down the rockface.

Just as Jason was unaware of the attention his stalkers were giving him, they were in turn unaware of another's gaze upon them. From the shadows of a tree two piercingly blue eyes followed their progress with an icy calm. Abruptly they vanished and a quick observer would have seen a flash of yellow leap in a great bound across the landscape, hopping from cover to cover and always keeping carefully out of sight. A hunter, stalking her prey.

Jason hummed to himself as he worked to cover the ground inside his area. He held a glittering machete in one pixellated arm and was using it to slash away at undergrowth that got in his way. All the time he kept a careful watch on the small proximity display on one of the monitors to his side, wary about anything unexpected sneaking up on him. There were only meant to be small, weak digimon in the area but even so they could do some damage to his virtual body if he was not paying attention.

"Jesus, man, can you stop that sodding humming!" yelled Samantha from across the room, glaring at him. He smiled weakly and apologised, taking his eyes off the monitors just long enough to miss a blip from his sensor readout. When he turned his eyes back to the screen he nearly fell off his chair from shock as a small green thing with far too many teeth appeared in mid-leap. He cried out aloud and mashed the attack key on his controller, bringing his avatar's arm around in a vicious swipe. Unfortunately he was slightly too slow to catch the attacker with the bladed part of the weapon and instead knocked it to one side with his fist, dealing far less damage. The vegetable based digimon was up on its root-like feet again in a split-second and leaping for him with a hiss.

Jason put one arm up to defend himself while back-peddling to get out of the way, all the time scrabbling at the keyboard on his left to get the codex program up on another terminal, desperate to identify the foe. He was too slow and did not notice Samantha creeping up behind his chair and stifling a laugh.

"You're such a noob, Jason!" she exclaimed scornfully. "You're getting beaten by a low level aruraumon. You're hopeless."

"Don't you have a job to do," he muttered through clenched teeth, finding the appropriate page at last. The hissing sound turned out to be more sinister than he had thought as a greenish cloud of gas began to form around him, despite his constant defensive moves. A warning flashed in the corner of his screen, informing him of the damage his avatar was taking. The codex informed him of a weakness to bladed weapons and he cursed himself for not just continuing his attack, rather than wasting time looking things up. Sure enough, two simple slashes across its stem had it flopping about on the ground before bursting into a crackling, hissing shower of sparks that faded rapidly to nothing.

"You've lost three points in that," Samantha said, shaking her head sadly. "That's pathetic."

"Piss off," he grumbled, quickly scanning around the area for any more attacks before setting the avatar's program to heal mode. It would take a while and he sat back to study the codex, determined not to be caught out in the same situation again. He scolded himself, once upon a time he would have known every digimon there was, but as he had made his way through university his interest had waned and many of the newer additions to the game had slipped past him. Not that it was always a good idea to rely on the games, the real simulated digital dimension was only loosely based on the series, there were many differences both large and small.

A few minutes later the healing scripts had managed to repair the majority of the damage done to his virtual body and he resumed his hunting, catching another few of the aruraumon, strange plant based creatures that stood rooted to the ground, keeping very still and camouflaging into their surroundings perfectly. It was only when one opened its eyes and mouth that it could be seen at all. When he was expecting them they were easy to deal with, little more than annoyances.

Overhead the branches rustled and he flicked the controller with quick reflexes, looking up at the canopy above him. Nothing moved, but he was certain he had heard something and he silently cursed the resolution of the data they downloaded from the simulation, a bit more information and the interface could have rendered more detail about individual aspects of the trees, perhaps giving him a hint of whatever it was that had startled him or where it had gone. He considered scouting around some more but decided that the best course of action was probably simply get on with the job, there could be little left alive after two days working the region.

How wrong he was. A rattling, clicking form of speech caused him to turn around swiftly to see a horde of insectoid creatures rustling through the grass and trees towards him. They were each around half his size and he dropped his avatar into a defensive stance, readying an ranged attack and letting it go in the same fluid movement. The leader stumbled and fell, his companions running over his twitching body.

"Human!" one hissed as it drew closer, its voice barely recognisable. He silenced it with a whirling kick from one foot followed by a downwards slash of his machete but it was not enough, the next was on top of him before he could do anything, biting and clawing at his face and arms while he flailed to try and dislodge it. The two he had injured were soon back on their four thick legs and joining in the battle. He was driven back until he tumbled over a fallen tree trunk, mossy with age, a writhing mass of segmented limbs and shining carapaces almost completely obscuring his view.

He kicked back from his des, taking his hands off the controls in defeat, there was nothing he could do about the situation, particularly after the injury he had taken earlier. The quick fix heal he had performed was not as good as a full rest. His mind wandered to what the commander would say when he found out Jason had lost another avatar, and on his third day, not more than an hour into his first solo mission. He was almost too preoccupied to see the activity on the screen. Seemingly out of nowhere a rain of glittering icy fragments materialised, dealing massive damage to the okuwamon smothering his dying body. They clicked and hissed in rage and pain, abandoning him to turn to face their new aggressor.

A blur of yellow shot across the screen as something delivered a solid kick to one of the digimon, smashing it into pixels immediately. Another yellow blur marked the demise of the second, the third exploded into pieces when a tightly clenched paw took its head clean off, glittering black claws slicing effortlessly through its chitinous armour plates. Jason quickly got back on the controller, bringing his avatar wearily to its feet. It was slow to respond, partially because of the action on screen slowing their data connections down and partly because it was badly damaged, struggling to hold its form together.

"Whoa," Samantha breathed from behind him having snuck up to watch him get battered in a fight again.

"It's a renamon," he said, slightly in awe.

"It's the Renamon," Samantha corrected him, leaning over his shoulder for a closer look. "We think there's only one. She's one of the most complex entities in the 'dimension. We're not even sure it can support more than one of her."

A tall, slender vulpine digimon stood with one large paw pressing the final insect into the forest floor, holding it tightly in place while it struggled. Her arms were covered by purple sleeves and a deep ruff of white fur hung around her neck, but the most striking thing about her were her eyes: large, angular and dark but with icy blue pupils that seemed to bore into his skull through the glass of his monitor when she glanced at him occasionally. For the most part she ignored him, so intent on whatever it was she was doing, her large bushy tail flicking back and forth lazily behind her as she worked.

"You've gotta kill her!" Samantha said urgently, hopping about from foot to foot. "She's one of the intelligent ones, you'll score big points with the brass if you can take her out. Think of the runtime you'll save!"

"There's no way I could take her," he said, frowning. "I'm half dead, and she's way more powerful than me. Unless she attacks first I'm just going to walk away and hope for the best."

"Coward!" she hissed at him, hitting the back of his chair with her palm. Luckily he was spared her further wrath as her own terminal started beeping urgently, calling her attention away.

Jason returned his attention to the main monitor, watching Renamon fiddling with something in one paw while still trying to restrain the struggling okuwamon with the other. As the largest of the group it was actually bigger than her but she seemed able to force it down nonetheless, thanks to the strange physics of the digital world in which she lived. She achieved whatever it was she was trying to do, the top of a translucent cylinder came cracking off and a bright yellow light came flooding out, making the colours of his screen appear pale and washed out. She carefully fastened the crystalline cylinder around the head of her captive and then calmly brought her fist back, holding it over her shoulder for a second until it began to glow with a pale blue flame, then thrust it hard into the okuwamon's head, breaking through its thick skull and killing it immediately.

Instead of evaporating in a starburst, however, it seemed to shimmer and shrink away underneath her, vanishing into the neck of the vessel around its neck until the thin chain went limp and fell to the slightly blackened ground. Renamon reached out cautiously and touched it with a fingertip, as if worried it would be hot to the touch. Satisfied it was cool she picked it up by its chain and slipped it back over her own head, letting the crystal become hidden in her ruff. She stood up straight and fixed Jason with her piercing gaze again, face impassive. He leant back from the monitor, almost afraid that she could see him for real.

"What are you?" she asked, cocking her head to one side slightly. When she spoke her voice was low and smooth through his headphones. "I have seen several of your kind before."

The urge to reply was intense, yet they were expressly instructed not to. Contact with the digimon was to be limited unless there was some urgent need. Unbidden, his mind floated back to all the daydreams from his childhood when he would long be able to enter the fantasy world of the stories he watched and speak to the very character before him, and now she was really there but he was meant to keep quiet. It was frustrating.

She took a step towards him and her eyes narrowed to slits. He wondered what she thought of the human avatars, as simple as they were. They must appear mysterious and alien to the native inhabitants of the digital world, always silent and working to some hidden agenda. The representations of the digimon that the humans saw through their monitors were also simplified, yet compared to their own human avatars the digimon looked fantastic. Through the eyes of a true digimon they must look as if they were made from cardboard boxes and gaffer tape. As she got closer he instinctively took a step back, wary of her strength. Her appearance was certainly intimidating.

He licked his lips and looked over surreptitiously at Samantha, aware she was near enough to hear him typing on his keyboard. She had her angry face on again, indicating that she was deep in a fight with something and he was satisfied she would pay him no attention. He leant forwards and pressed the keys as quietly as he could, slowly and carefully.

"I'm a human," he wrote. Through his earpiece he heard his avatar speak, a hideous gurgling rendition of the words he put in its mouth.

The angle of her head changed, yet her expression remained completely impassive. "None of your kind have spoken before. I was beginning to think you were unable."

"We're not meant to talk to you," he admitted honestly. "I'll get in trouble if I'm found out. You're Renamon, aren't you?"

"Yes," she said with the barest of nods, then a pause. "What are you doing here?"

He stopped, suddenly wary of what her reaction might be. Every sensibility he had was screaming at him not to respond. "Promise you won't hurt me?"

"Yes."

"Your world is too big. We're trying to shrink it." He paused, trying think how to phrase the next bit. "The size of it is damaging my own world."

"I am aware of the holes you have made." She paused for a while as if thinking about what he had said. "I would help you with this."

He raised an eyebrow at the monitor, somewhat taken aback by what she said. He was expecting anger. "What? Why?"

"I know of humans. I have seen you in my dreams. You exist outside our world. You must see a great many things. I have seen the edges, as far out as I dare to venture, where it is dark, where the harmful digimon come from. I would offer my aid to rid our world of their taint, and to help you recover your own."

Jason sat back from the monitor slightly, cocking an eyebrow in surprise. She was not at all what he had expected. On screen she shifted her position, standing up straighter and looking up at the sky through the canopy above. The crystal vase around her neck poked out from the thick fur there, still glowing with a gentle yellow haze. "What is that?" he asked, pointing clumsily with his blocky arm.

She fixed him with her piercing glare again, pushing the pendant back under her fur while her eyes flashed dangerously, daring him to ask again. Despite himself he swallowed nervously. "It is nothing of importance."