Author's Note: Well, this is a departure from my usual style but then, I'm awfully optimistic about this story. It'll be smacking of adventure and romance and all sorts of goodies. Hopefully. We'll see how it goes. I have an idea of where I want this story to go – it'll certainly be long – but I'm not sure if I want to continue. Consider this chapter a preview of sorts. It'll be continued based on the response I get so do review! Let me know what you think; thoughts and suggestions are certainly welcome, compliments even more so!
By the way, my one-shot, Trains, was sort of what started all this. I must admit that I had this strange image of Ruki, waiting at the train station to return home to Japan, after so many years of estrangement from the Tamers. There were some murmurs in my head about what could spark such a reluctant return but at the time I conceived of the idea, I didn't have time to commit to the length that was required and I didn't want to try and ruin something potentially good. So I only developed and polished the little nugget that was in my head and pushed it out in the form of Trains. You'll see echoes of it, later on, more fleshed out. It'll be a bit different than what I had originally envisioned but hopefully, a much better version. Now...enjoy!
Chapter 1: Back into the Game
Mizuki Shin was currently wishing that he was someone else, anyone else if only it meant that he would be far, far away from here, without the burden of the information that had just been disclosed to him.
"Are you sure then?" The steadiness of Mizuki's low voice was belied by his rather-pale demeanor. He had always been a calm and unflappable man but this, this was a different situation. "Well, are you?" He wasn't sure why he felt the need to repeat himself but he told himself that he was most certainly was not afraid, that it was not the sour tinge of panic that he was swallowing so valiantly. "Tell the truth." He stared intently at the slight scientist before him as if almost convinced that the man was lying.
"Completely," the man's tone and face suggested that he wished he were anything but, "the data corroborates our suspicions." He offered him a thick beige folder, holding it out as if it were poisonous. Mizuki paused, for a fraction of a second, before he took it, almost snatching it in his haste. He did not like to show his shaking hands.
The scientist stood in silence as Mizuki flipped briefly through its contents. If only the numbers were unintelligible to him, he thought wistfully, but there was no mistaking it. His expression turned grim – almost stormy in the realization – as he looked back up at the patient messenger.
"Well, well." That was all he said but the man seemed to understand him perfectly.
"You'll have to tell him then, won't you?"
The folder snapped shut querulously. Mizuki already knew what he had to do. But he wasn't particularly inclined to do it. It would be, he reflected gloomily, a disagreeable task at best.
"I'm retired, Mizuki. Consider me officially out of the game, whatever this is."
Mizuki knew a dismissal when he heard it but he did not leave. Even if he happened to be in the man's own apartment and the man had every right to throw him out. Such matters necessitated the neglect of social propriety. "Sir," he said again, uncomfortably aware that he was echoing his predecessor. It was strange how such situations tended to repeat themselves. "Sir, it's a matter of national…if not global security! Only think of what's at stake here."
The blonde man appeared unmoved by his appeal.
"Think of it yourself, Mizuki. You were entrusted with Hypnos after my departure. Anything that happens now…" He stopped short. "Well, it's your responsibility. You must deal with it." Following that reprimand, he proceeded to resume sipping his tea, as nonchalantly as if the unwanted guest were not there.
Mizuki was not accustomed to being scolded. He bit down a swell of acid that longed to hurl itself at the arrogant jerk. It would not do, he told himself desperately, it would not do and they neededhim. He would agree to help, if he were properly appeased. He could afford to swallow his pride, if only for that.
"Sir, if you do not help," he said with an impressive calmness, "many lives will be lost."
Mizuki Shin was not a man given to exaggeration. He spoke with a desperate earnestness that somehow made the formerly indifferent man turn to him with examining eyes.
He peered sternly at Mizuki over his dark sunglasses, as was his wont. Having never been personally acquainted with the infamous glare, Mizuki flinched slightly. It was fortunate, he reflected, that he had been forewarned about Yamaki Mitsuo. Otherwise…
"Well," Yamaki said finally. "Let's hear it, Mizuki."
Mizuki slumped visibly in relief before he held out a familiar-looking beige folder, crumpled from repeated perusals. "Yamaki-sama, this will explain…"
"No," the irritable man snapped as he waved the proffered item away vigorously. "From you. I'd like to hear this from you…so, the world, eh?" He said it so casually, as if he were talking of the weather or some other trivial thing.
"Yes," Mizuki said heavily. "My team first noticed it a couple days ago, some strange activity, when they were surveying the Digital World. They continued to monitor it and finally brought it to my attention when it was apparent that the activity was only growing."
"And what exactly was the activity?" Yamaki asked immovably. "You might want to clarify things for me. You're being rather vague, Mizuki."
"Forgive me, sir. It is only that we don't understand it completely ourselves. Not with the technology we currently have. I am telling you all that we know."
"Which doesn't appear to be much." Yamaki's upper lip curled slightly in evident disdain.
"Such activity," Mizuki continued, determined to ignore any and all snide interruptions, "appears to be in the form of digital disturbances. That is, parts of the Digital World – bits of code and data – are being warped, manipulated, and subsequently deleted. These 'disturbances,' if you will, seem to be growing. That is, more of the Digital World is being destroyed each time, with each disturbance." He paused for breath before plunging on.
"The Digital World is unable to sustain itself, as a consequence of the effects of Project Hydra and the now-defunct Project Echelon. At this rate, the Digital World will certainly suffer irreparable damage. Based on our calculations, inevitable destruction will result. The Digital World will collapse from within…sir, are you all right?" For Yamaki had become quite still and pale behind his dark glasses.
Yamaki roused himself from his reverie and glanced sharply at Mizuki. "Well, you said lives would be lost. Virtual creatures don't count. I don't yet see how this will affect us here in the real world, Mizuki."
Mizuki hesitated. "Although the Digital World was first programmed by humans and derived from our communications networks, it is still very much a real world, connected intimately with our world by virtue of its conception. We have come to discover the presence of tears and rips in the connections between the two worlds. This suggests that…well, these rips are expanding. They are beginning to appear here. We think, know that this will allow the source of the disturbances to spread to and enter our world."
"It seems that our two worlds are destined to share the same fate." Mizuki did not say anything further; he did not need to. Yamaki understood now what would happen if the situation were not remedied.
And if it were impossible to fix? Yamaki set down his tea hard, not seeming to care or notice that the tea had sloshed haphazardly out of the sides of the cup. "Mizuki, this seems oddly reminiscent of what occurred ten years ago."
"We are not sure whether what's happening now is related to Project Echelon. As I said, sir, further investigation is required," Mizuki said reluctantly. He did not like to say more on this point, lest Yamaki take his words as a subtle insinuation. Yamaki had been the one in charge of Hypnos when Project Echelon was executed.
"What a persistent beast it is," Yamaki muttered to himself. He suddenly looked much older. Mizuki assumed that he was talking to him. "Sir?"
Yamaki only ignored him, reaching over to grab the formerly rejected folder and rifling through its contents fiercely, as a man possessed. Mizuki watched Yamaki read through it all once, then twice, several times over, appearing increasingly haggard with each reading. Another silence grew, enveloping them until they were nearly suffocating with its ominous thickness.
Numbers won't lie. There they remained, stubborn and unchangeable, telling him everything that was horrible and true. Facts don't change. Yamaki finally lifted his resigned eyes to meet Mizuki's concerned expression. And he had thought he was done with all this.
"Mizuki, I cannot help you." Mizuki's face crumpled into despair, "For matters on the Digital World, I must defer to greater experts than me."
He had never been the hero of this story. He had once been the villain, and then the shadowy background support. But the brilliant shine of glory, it had always belonged to others.
Oh yes, he still remembered, even after all these years.
"Have you ever been told of the Digimon Tamers, Mizuki?"
It has been ten years.
They grew up in the only way they knew, battling through cracking voices and awkward limbs with a ferocity that suited the Digimon Tamers. But puberty was a merciless villain, even worse than their former Digimon nemeses. They found themselves almost longing for the good old days, when the line was distinct and 'bad' was easily identifiable. Battling against chaos was easier.
Heroes must someday descend from the heights of triumph to the monotony of daily life. Having tasted the sweetness of victory, they found the ordinariness of regular life dry indeed. They were the Digimon Tamers no longer, just 'normal' teenagers trudging through school and work. For a while, they clung to each other, bound by shared experiences and battles fought.
Then they scattered, stumbling away from each other like blinded strangers.
"The only one left in the area," Yamaki said as he led Mizuki into another room, "is Kato Juri. She'll be easy to work with." He opened a set of drawers, pulling out some files, eight in all. "It'll be harder yet to locate the others and convince them to cooperate."
"But won't they be willing? Especially if you ask." Mizuki labored under the impression that 'familiarity bred understanding' and that Yamaki somehow improved upon acquaintance.
Yamaki smiled or rather, smirked. It was not much better than his usual expression.
"Not likely, Mizuki. But you can rest assured that I will take over this mission. I'll handle everything from now on."
It was not a pleasant task but then again, Yamaki Mitsuo was not a pleasant man. If he did not exactly revel in it, he did not shrink away from it either. It was nice to wear a suit again, to be in charge. Even if the world was in danger. He began right away, ever mindful of the growing damage and the consequences thereof. The folders he had with him now, they were copious records of the Tamers' every movement, kept dutifully up-to-date. Hypnos was nothing if not diligent; they had kept careful tabs on all the Digimon Tamers.
Just in case.
So, he did not hesitate, only stepped up to the Kato residence and knocked firmly.
In the intervening ten years, Kato Juri had become a woman of considerable poise. Upon opening the door and discovering Yamaki, she did not falter, only blinked at him confusedly several times before she recovered herself admirably.
"Yamaki-san," she greeted as composedly as if she had been expecting him all this time, "what a pleasure. Do come in."
The last time Yamaki had seen Kato, she had been a rather eccentric girl with a penchant for hand puppets. Now, she had become quite the young lady, head proudly poised and beautiful eyes glimmering limpidly at her unusual guest. Grace traced the outlines of her pale and delicate features, offset by a mass of dark auburn hair that tumbled about her shoulders.
Not that Yamaki actually observed all this. He only reflected gruffly that the girly brat had become quite different and that, thank goodness, she was no longer waving that creepy dog puppet about. (Even Yamaki had been slightly disturbed by the girl's fascination with the toy.) Truly, she was rendered almost unrecognizable by time. He could not make the connection; the gentle-looking woman that stood before him seemed so incongruous with the gore and struggle that had ensued so many years ago.
And yet, if Yamaki had cared enough to pay closer attention, he might have noticed a soft something lingering in Juri's eyes. It suggested that she had suffered and fought some terrible battles, having emerged all the stronger for it. It lent a quiet beauty to her otherwise ordinary face. She was certainly no normal young woman.
But Yamaki was preoccupied with more urgent matters to pay much mind to the subtleties of Kato's face.
"Kato," he said, remaining coolly in the doorway. "We require the Tamers' services again."
Juri gazed at him with contemplative eyes. Time had not been kind to Yamaki-san…or had it been the burden of his duties that aged him so? Either way, he appeared much older and greyer, his blonde hair sprinkled with white. But his face, partially obscured behind his familiar dark glasses, was still hard and fierce as ever.
The Tamers? She repeated the phrase softly to herself. It felt so long ago and yet, it might have been just yesterday. Well, they had saved the world, once.
She had always been the one to stay behind. They had all moved so quickly, so far ahead. And she was still here, quietly waiting.
"Only tell me what I need to do." She spoke slowly, her clear eyes shining with the tender memory of an unforgotten and cherished partner. If for nothing else, she would fight for him.
Yamaki looked grim approval.
"It's time to gather the Digimon Tamers and save the world, once more."
End of Chapter 1
Author's Note: Thoughts, comments, suggestions, compliments? Do click on that lovely 'review' button. Remember, I'll be basing my decision to continue the story on the response I get so…review! Also, this is (I think) the longest chapter I've ever written. Huzzah!