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Chapter: 28

Takato and Kazu finally found themselves outside of Kenta's home. Looking at each other briefly Takato punched the doorbell.

"His parents might not be here yet," Kazu said as they waited on the stoop. Takato raised an eyebrow.

"You're just thinking about that now?"

"Did you?"

"Well…no."

"Then get off my case." Kazu folded his arms behind his head. "I've got a lot on my mind."

Everyone does, Takato thought, tapping his fingers against his jeans. Kazu pressed the doorbell again, but as yet they didn't hear the sound of approaching footsteps.

"Maybe we should just leave a message on their house phone," Kazu grumbled. "I think they still have one of those."

"Why don't we try to get a hold of Kenta again? He could just be in a bad signal area."

"For this long?" Kazu shook his head. "Kenta would have to be more lost than usual for that to happen. I'm starting to get really worried about him. Maybe we should check the hospital or something. He could have gotten hurt. I mean, there was that huge explosion we heard…" Kazu's eyes bulged as a horrible thought came to him. "Gods… What if he got caught in that and was crushed or something? What if…"

"Kazu?" Takato raised his hands in a calm-down gesture. "Take it easy. We don't know anything. Let's just give the hospital a call and see."

"Right…" Kazu breathed, settling down a little. "Right. Process of elimination first." He grimaced. "Bad choice of words…"

Takato nodded wordlessly in agreement, pushing the doorbell again just so he had something to do while Kazu made his call. Pulling out his cell phone, the other boy stepped off the stoop and began to dial the hospital's number. As his mother was a nurse there, he had it in his phone's address book so he could leave messages for his mother whenever she lost her cell phone. The rules didn't allow it, but the hospital could be flexible from time to time. Not that Kazu cared about that sort of thing.

While Kazu began to greet the secretary at the hospital, Takato leaning slightly to the side, peering in through the window. While he noted the darkness of the home's interior, he hoped that no one passing by saw him. The last thing he needed was for someone to think of him as a hooligan sizing the house up for a break-in, or even a voyeur.

Out of curiosity he craned his head over his shoulder just in time to see a woman with a stroller passing by, giving the boys an odd look. Blushing lightly, he gave her an embarrassed smile and stuffed his hands in his pockets.

"Smooth, Takato," Kazu chided, having been watching.

"Anything yet?" Takato asked.

"Just on hold," Kazu shook his head and before speaking directly to the phone. "Yeah, I'm still here. Kenta Kitagawa." A pause before he spoke again. "Okay. Thanks."

With that, Kazu hung up and looked at his phone.

"He didn't get checked in at the hospital where my mom works. That doesn't mean he isn't getting looked at somewhere else. If he was hurt bad enough…"

His phone buzzed and Kazu's eyes lit up in surprise at the caller ID. Hitting the reply button he swung it up to his ear, his lips twisting into an angry snarl.

"Speak of the devil… Where the heck are you, Kenta?!"

Takato gave a sigh of relief. So he's okay. Well, at least until Kazu gets a hold of him anyway.

"Sorry guys," Takato overheard Kenta reply. "I thought you were right behind me and then… Well… I was…um…" Kenta lapsed into a long, uncomfortable bout of stammering and apologies. Nodding his head, Kazu understood what his friend was trying to say.

"Look, it doesn't matter, bud. We're just glad to know that you made it out okay. Where are you? We've been trying to find you all afternoon!"

"I'm with my mom at the doctor's. She freaked out when she heard the news and drove down to find me. She wants to make sure that I'm all right."

"Do you think that she'll let you go once you get a clean bill of health?" Kazu asked. "We can meet up at the playground in the park and…"

"Sorry. Mom's going to be seriously stressed about this, so she probably won't let me out again for a month. If you want to hang out at my place…" Kenta abruptly stopped for a moment before speaking again, this time in a more rapid tone. "She's finished paying the bill. I've got to go. I'll see you guys later."

"Okay. Later dude." With that, Kazu hung up his cell phone and tossed it in the air thoughtfully. Takato raised an eyebrow at him.

"Didn't we just call the hospital and they said..."

"General practitioner, Chumley," Kazu interrupted, giving him a curious look. "What? You didn't think that every place with a doctor in it was a hospital, did you?"

"No!" Takato replied vehemently, his face blushing slightly at the gaffe. "A-Anyway! Are we going to wait here for him or…?"

Kazu sighed heavily and pocketed his phone. "Not much else to do. Today's been a bust." He frowned. "I told my mom I'd be back at a certain time too. I wonder if she's heard about this. If so she's probably freaking out too."

"Better give her a call and let her know that you're all right."

"Yeah, better do that," Kazu nodded, fishing out his phone again with distaste.

"Hey, what time is it?"

"Almost four…"

"Oh crap!" Takato exclaimed, eyes bugging wide in their sockets. "I was supposed to be at Rika's house an hour ago to walk Guilmon!" Takato bolted off the steps and started to run, only to stagger to a halt and look over at Kazu helplessly. The boy waved him off.

"Get out of here," he said. "I'll talk to you later."

"Thanks, Kazu!" Takato replied gratefully as he again took off at a run, narrowly avoiding running over another passing pedestrian. Kazu watched him go for a moment before shaking his head and flipping through his address book for his mother.

###

David landed on the rooftop of the Meta Foundation's building and looked over his shoulder. Satisfied that he saw no more pursuit from the Guardian Spheres he sighed and staggered over to the center of the rooftop where a platform awaited him. Immediately upon reaching its center, the platform jerked and began to descend. Trying to keep his breathing normal, he removed his burnt hoodie and upon tossing it to the side, he lifted his shirt to inspect the damage.

"You're hurt Tank," came the voice of a young child in a teasing tone.

"Shut up, Pan," David replied as the platform settled into place. He stepped off and glared over at where tall, dark, and silver-eyed—Alex—stood, his shadow twisting near his feet. The shape parted slightly to form a simple smiley face. David glared at Alex, paying the shadow no mind.

"I'm alive," he said simply. "Happy?"
"Yes," Alex nodded. "One less person on my conscience. Are you sure no Spheres followed you?"

"I kept taking them down and then they bugged out for some reason. Don't know why." He grimaced at the nasty-looking burn—a deep black and bloody swath that revealed a glimmer of rib—on his side.

"Sphere?" Alex asked.

"One of them flanked me and when I saw it I tried deflecting it with my powers…"

"…which you said you can't do," Alex pointed out.

"I was desperate and stupid. Are you going to blame me for it?"

"I'm sure someone can," Alex said simply. "Owikawa wants to meet with us."

"Of course he does," David snorted. "He wants to tell us what a wonderful job it is we're doing."

"Everyone did a wonderful job…except you," giggled Pan as his shadow crept up the wall, still smiling. Slashing his hand through the air, a wave of force struck the wall, causing it to deform with a loud clang. Pan giggled again. "You can't hurt me that way…"

"It helped me feel better," David grated, turning to Alex. "I need a heal…"

"Your body will recover quite well on its own after some rest," Alex said. "Don't push it."

"You're going to let me suffer, huh? I go through hell for this job and this is what I get?"

Alex paused and turned to look at him. His silver eyes flashed with light for a moment before heading back toward the exit. David glanced down at his injury and touched the freshly minted skin where the burn had been scant moments ago. He breathed deeply, relishing the feeling of refreshment that flushed his body. Lowering his shirt, he retrieved his hoodie and followed the man.

"About time something went right today," he muttered under his breath. "Gods I need a drink…"

###

"How good it is to see you again," Owikawa greeted David, Alex and Pan in the meeting room. "I am glad that you have survived, and extend my sincerest apologies on behalf of Sabot. Her sacrifice will be remembered."

"Funny, I never thought of 'sacrifice' as a euphemism for being 'murdered'," David growled, leaning backward in his chair and glaring at Owikawa menacingly. Owikawa simply smiled at him, though his lips didn't touch his eyes.

"Her sacrifice was for the future, Tank. As you should see."

"What are our next assignments?" Alex asked, returning the subject to the matter at hand.

"Your previous assignments have been marginally successful due to unexpected circumstances." He frowned. "PlanPol has stepped up their production of Hall Monitors. I was under the impression that they wouldn't have enough of them ready for general civilian protection. However…" Owikawa folded his arms behind his back and turned away from the trio. "…we succeeded in our goal of reducing Guardian forces in this city. By a small amount, but as our forces in the field continue to disrupt incoming supply lines, this will be a significant loss that cannot be afforded. We will continue this action, with only two key differences." He glanced at Alex. "You will access PlanPol's network again and give us the identities of the Hall Monitor's and provide us with live locations of every heroi in the city." Owikawa turned his attention to David. "Your mission will be to begin destroying Hall Monitors in addition to Guardian Spheres. I want you to do this where heroi are so that you can…provoke them into action."

"They're all taking suppressant," David pointed out. "It would be pointless to provoke heroi who can't use their powers."

Owikawa chuckled softly. "We have already accounted for that drawback. Simply do your duty. Are you going to refuse?"

David felt his fingers tighten around the arms of his chair. "Can't," he said, raising a hand to his head and miming pulling a trigger. "Stupid question, 'boss'."

Owikawa's smile vanished from his face, and his expression hardened. "If you understand then don't question your assignments."

"He was merely pointing out a factor that we weren't aware of," Alex said, getting up from his seat. David smirked at Owikawa before following suit.

"Don't look so upset, Owikawa. You're trying to buck the system. Don't be mad that we're doing the same."

###

Owikawa made his way down the hallway, greeting his employees as he went before finally entering an observation room with a one-way window at the far end. On the other side he could see the real catch of the day, shackled and bound to a metal platform.

Today's primary goals were met to a limited extent, but with Shibumi in our possession we now have an ace up our sleeve. Now if only we can get him to work for us… To show us the best places to operate…

"How is our guest?" he asked Kurata. The other man grunted ambiguously before responding.

"Comfortable in the academic sense that he won't be getting bed sores right away." He glanced at Owikawa. "But so far he hasn't been doing much. Just…staring."

"At anything in particular?" Owikawa asked, noting the blindfold over Shibumi's eyes and guessing that Kurata had it placed on as a safety measure to seal his powers.

"No."

"This worries you?"

"Normally no, but with his power?" Kurata snorted. "Everything is suspect."

"Do you think he should be disposed of?"

Kurata looked at Owikawa sharply. "What? You mean like killing him?"

Owikawa didn't respond, content to let his silence turn the gears in his companion's head. Kurata shifted uncomfortably for a moment before speaking again.

"We should just cut him loose and let him run around on his own."

"He knows too much now," Owikawa returned.

"And whose fault is that? Pan didn't have to bring him back here…"

"He is a piece that I don't want to lose track of," Owikawa interrupted. "Just his one visit in front of our building was enough to bring PlanPol's eye down upon us." He eyed Kurata carefully. "Are you certain that they won't be able to trace anything back to us?"

"Of course," Kurata sniffed. "What do you take me for?"

"I take you for someone who is comfortable. We cannot afford to relax our guard even once until Tartarus rejoins the world. After that, it does not matter." He folded his arms over his chest. "I wonder what brought him back to civilization."

"You could ask him you know. Not that I think you'll get anything out of him."

"Nor do I expect to." Owikawa chuckled harshly. "No, it's better that he stay here for the time being." His eyes narrowed slightly. "We may have to consider the possibility of removing him from the game. Things would be considerably smoother without having to worry about his interference."

"Owikawa…"

"It is just a thought," he interrupted, heading back towards the exit. "There is no need to do anything more than entertain the possibility. One way or another we are criminals to the Empire."

Kurata made a frustrated sound and glanced over at the helpless Shibumi. "If you say so," he conceded under his breath.

###

Approximately one hour and two bus routes after parting ways with Kazu, Takato found himself on the street of Rika's home, about one block away. Ruffling his hair, the boy took a deep breath and set off down the sidewalk.

I really hope that Rumiko doesn't think badly about me for being so late. Rika too… Why would they? I mean…today didn't exactly go as…planned. Blinking, he found himself relaxing a little. He could no longer see the reptile monster that attacked at the mall, or the citizens being lined up against the wall, or the body of the Midnight Defender as he was flung…

Stop it! Clenching his eyes shut tightly, Takato's body obeyed his brain's command and halted in its motion, waiting for him to calm down before resuming. When he reopened his eyes, he felt…strange. Tired and worn out, as though he had aged somehow and become like his grandfather. Looking down the sidewalk path, his destination seemed extraordinarily far.

Guilmon… The memory of the puppy's eyes spurred him forward with renewed speed. He wanted to see the dog again, if only so that he could have something to hold onto; to give as well as to receive comfort.

He probably won't be there though, he thought, finally approaching the gate. Rika should already be out walking him.

She and her mother would both be disappointed, but if he explained things to them, then they wouldn't just dismiss him as the irresponsible individual image that he wanted to shed himself of.

He arrived at the gate and rang the doorbell. There was no response at the intercom, leaving the boy to wait patiently for about a minute before frowning. He continued to wait for another minute before ringing the bell again, this time he glanced in through the gate to see if there was anyone around. It seemed futile since he hadn't seen a vehicle when he first visited, but there was always the chance that there was someone outside and just unable to hear that there was someone at the gate.

He saw the hole in the house then, and his mouth fell open. It was just at the edge of the corner from where he stood and not easily seen from just a casual glance, but a closer inspection revealed it almost immediately.

"Wha… What happened?" he mouthed, completely taken aback by the wreckage. There was even an imprint in the ground, as though someone had hit it with the force of a meteor. Panicking, Takato pulled on the gate, trying fruitlessly to open it so that he could get inside. Realizing that it was locked, he grabbed hold of the gate with both hands and immediately began to haul himself upwards, not even thinking about the possibility of someone seeing him. His feet kicked uselessly, searching for some kind of purchase until he finally swung himself over the top. His grip slipped a little and he crashed to the ground, tearing a hole in the bottom of one pant leg on the gate's spikes as he did so. He was on his feet in short order and already on the move.

"Rika!" he called out frantically, dashing into the house through the hole, stepping over its jagged, splintered wood as he did so. "Ms. Nonaka! Anyone?!"

No answer. Takato could see that the hole extended to the other side of the house, and there was quite a bit of wreckage along the way. He followed it out, tripping over a piece of drywall as he did so. "Guilmon!" he yelled, hoping to at least get a bark or something that would tell him that he wasn't alone in the house. Nothing but silence greeted him. Grabbing the sides of his head, he swiveled around, trying to make sense of the situation.

Get a hold of yourself Takato, he told himself. Deep breaths. Calm down. Let's look through the house and…try and see if there's anyone here.

Deep down he hoped that he didn't find anyone. The fact that no one was answering his calls made him think of the mall again. All those people… The Midnight Defender…

Steeling himself, he reentered the house. I hope you don't blame me for this, he thought to himself as he looked first into the living room and then moved into the dining room and kitchen. The house was eerily quiet. Every creak and groan from rubble and floorboards shifting beneath his feet sent his heart jumping in his chest.

"Rika?" he continued to call. He ducked his head into the bathroom, but so far found nothing. Retreating, he closed the door and tried to think of where else to look. The bedrooms were the next logical place, but that felt like a gross violation of privacy.

Are they even here? More and more he was starting to feel that they weren't. He had no basis for this assumption, but there was a nagging feeling that he couldn't get rid of… Something that seemed just under his nose.

His foot kicked a piece of drywall as he reentered the living room. So far the house looked surprisingly well-kept in spite of the two holes. His initial worries retreating, he was starting to think a bit more calmly. This doesn't make any sense. It's like a heroi broke in or something…isn't it?

Were they kidnapped?

"Ow!" Takato snatched at his wrist as an electrical spark shot from his hip and danced around his fingers. He scowled at it. The effects of the suppressant were starting to wear off.

Well, if this was a time to have them, then all right. He curled his fingers into his palm, making a fist. Now if only I knew what I could do besides making…sparks? He tilted his head to one side. It's… It's all about concentrating, right? All the old stories made it look that easy.

The memory of his conversation with Riley played through his mind. As he learned over the course of these three days, his powers activating had been anything but that easy.

I've still got the bedrooms to look at, he reminded himself. Lowering his hand he quickly made his way over to the closest door and pushed it open, revealing a large room with a King-sized mattress in the middle. The purple, velvet sheets spread across it struck him as belonging more to Rumiko than Rika. The room was devoid of anyone as far as he could see, and showed no sign that there had been an intrusion or a struggle. That left him with only one place to go; Rika's room.

Returning to the dining room, Takato found himself standing at the door and, taking a deep breath, he opened the door. Like Rumiko's room, it looked clean and was empty; no sign that anyone had forced their way in or that there had been a struggle. The sheets, a light blue in color, weren't made, unlike Rumiko's, and were in a bit of a disarray, but Takato paid no mind to that detail, being a bit absent-minded when it came to keeping his own bed in proper condition. Closing the door Takato clapped his hands together and bowed his head. "Sorry," he apologized.

Standing back outside in the front yard he overlooked the scene where there actually was signs of a struggle. He couldn't make heads or tails of the impact crater, but from the holes in the house there definitely appeared as though something had been thrown through the house with a great deal of strength.

Takato scratched his head, not sure what to make of any of this.

Did someone break in while everyone was out? I just don't know enough. What…do I do?

The Companion Module clipped to his side almost seemed to call to him. He still hadn't activated it.

I'm out of my depth here, he thought, unclipping it and holding it up to his face. For some reason it felt heavier than he remembered it being. I need help.

He pressed the button that would activate the Companion, and waited as its electronic eye lit up and swiveled toward him.

"Greetings. I am Companion Module 847921-d5149b. Downloading information pack now."

"While you're at it, can you call PlanPol as well?" Takato asked. "I'd like to report a crime."

###

Tally was waiting for Riley by the launch pad, data pad in hand, as the helicopter flew in for a landing. She could tell just by looking at the other woman's face through the slide-door's window how furious she must be with her. Riley's attention was focused on her as soon as they were close enough to make visual contact, and she was out of the helicopter almost as soon as they touched down.

"With me," Riley said tersely. "My office. Now."

Tally simply nodded, finding herself unable to say anything in front of her. The trip down to Riley's office was uneventful, but for her it was filled with tension that only needed a spark in order to be blown wide open. As soon as they reached their destination, that spark proved to be the shutting of the door as Tally closed the room to privacy.

"Why did you give the order to engage Rumiko?"

Tally swallowed noticeably, and her fingers twisted against her data pad.

"She was going into the junkyard," she replied, her words tumbling out rapidly. "Given the properties of that place I was afraid that we would lose her or cause damage trying to contain her."

"You ordered an engagement while she was inside the junkyard, Tally. You could have caused damage right then and there. Don't tell me that didn't cross your mind!"

"I'm sorry, I didn't think…"

"You damn right you didn't think!" Walking up to her, Riley stabbed a finger in her face, causing the woman to flinch away reflexively. "That warp is unstable enough as it is already, and Rumiko is a high level Beta with unmeasured strength capacity. If those Guardian Spheres didn't crack the code on her F.S. Field there would have trouble and we would have lost those spheres, never mind what other consequences could have happened if there was damage to the field generator. We still lost some of those spheres and we cannot afford to lose any until we get resupplied. What do you think we're going to do if we can't? Put all of our agents in the field and hope that they can keep the peace with the heroi?"

Tally was silent in spite of her wide eyes. Riley spun around and walked over to her desk.

"You've been a good assistant, Tally. Until now you haven't given me a reason to regret putting you in that position. Gods…" Riley pressed a hand to her face before turning back to face her. "This wasn't public, so there won't be a reprimand. You won't have to worry about that going into your file, but you've damaged my trust in you. Worse, you caused harm to a heroi that we need cooperation from. I don't doubt Rumiko will let this slide, but she's going to remember this, which puts us in a difficult position in the future. Do you understand what this could cost us?"

"I do," Tally replied stiffly. There was nothing else she could say. What more could she say?

Riley was about to reply when her office phone began ringing. Practically tearing it free from the receiver she asked, "What is it?!"

Tally jerked slightly. Riley was normally composed and professional toward people that hadn't earned her ire. To see her act like this to whoever was on the other line was…unsettling. Watching her, Tally noted her friend's eyebrows furrow slightly, and her mouth twitch.

"All right," Riley said a moment later, rubbing at her temples. "Send some agents down to the house and take his statement. Seal the area and put the Guardians on notice to be on the lookout for Rika Nonaka. Keep me posted."

With that, Riley replaced the phone on its receiver and returned her attention to Tally.

"Takato Matsuki is at the Nonaka residence. There seems to be evidence of a break-in of sorts." Tossing her head slightly she returned the attention to the matter at hand. "You said that you understood our position. Prove it by working with Rumiko. That is all. Dismissed."

Tally nodded and left her superior alone. Shutting the door behind her with a quiet click, Tally stood there for a moment, waiting for her heart rate to slow down and for strength to return to her legs before moving again.

She had messed up; betrayed the trust of her friend and superior. She was going to have to work hard to get that back, even though it meant working with a heroi.

Tally's mouth twitched slightly as she walked off down the hall, wondering how she was going to be able to do that.

8