Chapter 1: Encounter

In the grim dark of the twenty-first century, there is only war.

Hikari glanced up from her computer screen and felt her heart stop for a moment at the sound of the alarm. Immediately she would be up from her seat and rushing out to the living room of her family's apartment as her father, already there, switched on the TV to check the local announcement that was going out to the entire city.

The feeling she felt in her heart a moment before would be echoed by the rest of her family as they saw the code flashing on the top of the screen. R-08-N-X1. Residential section 08, north side... level one alert. Mandatory evacuation order.

"-the third barrier generator on the northern front, forcing technicians to divert additional power from the rest of the network to maintain the barrier. According to Hunter Command, the emergency network in that section is being pushed to its limit and will not be able to be maintained indefinitely. Cascade system failure is expected within one hour. All residents are to evacuate to their designated safety zone within that time. I repeat..."

Hikari was the first to react, running back to her room to grab begin gathering all her necessities. Photographs and other sentimental items received first priority. These were the things that couldn't be replaced. Second was every piece of electronics that had any sort of unique data stored on it. Computers, smart phones... these were matters of personal security. Myotismon's digimon were capable of easily breaking any passwords they put on their computers once they came in and took over, so the only way to protect their personal data was taking it with them or destroying it completely.

Hikari's laptop and phone were easy enough to pack. The desktops were more of a hassle, but fortunately they were built to standard Hunter specs, allowing them to easily eject all their hard drives and other data storage devices to be packed away. After all those came more basic necessities like clothes. They didn't take much, just enough to last them a few days until they could get more. And that was it. Everything else was replaceable, and the family wasn't going to risk not making it to the evac zone for such paltry possessions.

Of the three of them, Hikari was the calmest, though that wasn't saying much. She knew the protocol, she memorized the procedures front and back... but the difference between knowing and acting... between understanding how such an evacuation would take place and actually going through with it... it was beyond description.

Nothing could adequately prepare her for fleeing from her home, likely never to return. Nothing could prepare her to know that in under an hour that barrier on the north side of their sector was going to fall, and then the countless hundreds of ravenous, beastly digimon under Myostismon's command were going to flood that region, killing everything that put up a fight... and then the hundreds more soldiers in his army were going to capture the few survivors to take them away to face God-knows-what manner of hell as his prisoners.

Their lives were ending. Their home, their jobs, their relationships with friends and neighbors... they were about to become refugees, to be shipped off to some corner of the city, country, or the world, likely never to see any of this again, while the Digimon Hunters and the invaders fought over the crumbling ruins of their old home.

All this weighed down on Hikari's mind as she led her parents down the apartment complex stairs, through the ever-thickening fields of people, toward their vehicle to flee... and she was still one of the calmest that moved among the crowd.

Only one thing kept her nerves in check... a piece of knowledge that those around her lacked. Her brother, Taichi Yagami.

Her parents had tried to hide the news as best they could, but she picked up bits and pieces regardless... enough to learn the truth. The rogue six... the children who fought alongside digimon, feared or hated on both sides of the war between humans and digimon... Taichi was one of them. Along with his unknown reptilian digimon, Taichi stood at the front lines, throwing himself into the heart of the conflict with all the brash recklessness she would have expected, and then yet more... he didn't fear death. If anything, he mocked it, daring it to take his life while casting himself into worse and worse straits with every passing day.

He could fight. He was just a child, like she was, but he fought harder and better than any of the adult Hunters that were continually being pushed back by the invaders. If he could do that... Hikari could too. She didn't have the digimon companion to fight with her against the invaders, but here she could fight a very different kind of war. A war to protect her family, to serve as her namesake... a beacon of light that kept them calm in spite of the madness that swarmed around them. Now, more the ever, in the time of worst strife, they needed that...

Their belongings would be loaded into the car quickly enough once they reached it, and then they were off. They were, unsurprisingly, one of the first families to finish loading up and head out of the complex, which put them ahead of part of the rush. However, of those in their sector that had been designated to flee through the south barrier to escape, they were further to the north than most, so they quickly found themselves driving streets that were becoming more and more congested with other vehicles heading the same way they were.

At the sight of several vehicles turning off to make for a different sector exit, Hikari's dad made a motion to follow them before he was promptly stopped by the girl in the back seat.

"Dad, don't. Stay on this road."

Her voice was shaky, but firm enough to be commanding. Commanding toward her own father... she never thought she'd see the day.

"There's too many cars here, Hikari. One of the other exits-"

"Will be just as packed as this one. We're on the grid, dad. We were told to take this exit. It's the only one that has us on file. Any other exit would have to stop us and run us through security to make sure we're not digimon spies or something, and it'll just slow us down more. We have to take this exit."

Hikari understood... her parents were scared, trying to hurry. Hell, she was scared too, doubly so because she knew if they went to another exit they might not get out in time. Please... for the love of God, do NOT turn off this road...

Hikari breathed a sigh of relief when her father readjusted to continue down that road. She may have been a child, but her parents knew she was no fool... she knew all the ins and outs of Hunter protocol, at least as far as civilians were allowed to know. If she said they had to take this exit, then they had to take it.

Fortunately for all parties, Hikari proved correct. The trip got quicker with each intersection and lane merger they left behind and they found themselves at the barrier stop far sooner than they ever expected. A quick flash of each of their IDs to the Hunters that stood guard and they were in without discussion. The Hunters were clearly trying to work everyone through as fast as possible to get the entire sector evacuated within the hour, so they were perhaps being a little lax on the security.

Then again, perhaps not...

Halfway through the tunnel that would take them to the next sector, their car, along with three others, would be abruptly stopped. A military vehicle with Hunter markings moved ahead of the string of vehicles, and another behind, to escort them out the far end of the tunnel.

"What's this about..."

Hikari's father wondered aloud as their vehicle came out of the barrier tunnel and they breathed a collective sigh of relief despite the... peculiar circumstances they found themselves in.

Once they stopped, the Hunters ushered everyone out of all of the stopped vehicles, lining them up in front of a nearby wall as several men began working over their vehicles with several large devices... likely some kind of scanners.

"What's going on here?"

Someone from the group asked, though his question would go unheeded until the officer in command of the group was finished giving orders to his subordinates and moved toward the civilian group.

"Something tripped the DG sensors in the tunnels. We weren't able to zero in on a specific source, so we have to check all of you. IDs, please."

Each of the people in the line was brought one by one, moved out several feet ahead of the rest and scanned by a soldier while another man standing beside the officer with a laptop in one hand looked over their ID and checked it with his records. A pair of additional soldiers stood behind him, armed with their special Hunter gear designed specifically to harm data-based life, likely in case one of them was a digimon in disguise.

Hikari didn't know if digimon ever actually took the forms of humans or if this was just the Hunters being extra paranoid... then again, something apparently tripped the sensors, so perhaps it was necessary?

They worked down the line to Hikari's parents, and then Hikari herself. Her check seemed to be going normally until something on the man's computer apparently screwed up, though with her being unable to see the screen it was impossible to know what.

"Problem?"

The officer asked, glancing aside but showing no emotion.

"System glitch. Minor data hiccup switching from the standard ID database to special ID."

"Special ID?"

The voice of Hikari's father sounded from behind her. The officer was silent a moment, looking over to the tech man beside him before looking up again.

"Standard IDs are issued to adults, and serve their usual purpose in addition to being a part of the Hunter security database. IDs given to minors do not serve the first purpose, and are saved in a separate database."

Hikari blinked, slight confused. One problem with that... she recalled several kids ahead of her who had already been checked. Why did none of them cause a data hiccup?

"Clear. Next."

Hikari moved back to the line and waited for the rest of the people to be checked. Glancing aside, she double-checked those ahead of her in the line and sure enough... several kids, just as she remembered. And one more after, too. No problems with any of them, though.

Before long they were all done being checked, and their vehicles with them. Moving off to one side, the officer spoke briefly with all of his men before returning to face the civilians again, apparently satisfied.

"You're all cleared to go. For future reference, please remember to disable all electronics when passing through barrier checkpoints so that you do not accidentally trip the DG sensors. Understood?"

Everyone predictably nodded, several of them glancing aside to the others, likely wondering which ones were responsible for tripping the sensors. However, the officer gave no hint by his eyes or expression and simply turned to walk away, leaving them all simply to wonder.

Oh well... Hikari, for her part, knew that she and her parents weren't the ones responsible, so it didn't bother her. That data hiccup, however...

Back in the car, they continued toward their destination, a temporary refugee shelter. Meanwhile, Hikari mulled over the issue in her head. Why her? Just random chance? One glitch out of a thousand civilians passing through? Doubtful. Most likely the whole glitch thing was a lie anyway.

So, what was so special about her? Only one thing... her brother. Taichi was one of the rogue six, and they had to know who he was after all the time they had been fighting. So they knew she was his sister, and likely she was on watch. After all, she was now eleven, wasn't she? That was the same age he had been when the war started. The same age he had been when he joined up with his digimon companion... however that happened.

Maybe they thought she would do the same. Not that she knew how to, even if she wanted to. Taichi disappeared at summer camp that year and the next time she saw him, he was riding on the back of a giant fire breathing dinosaur. She'd never had a chance to really speak with him in all that time, so how he got from point A to point B was still a mystery.

But then, who was to say they didn't know? Maybe they did... and maybe they saw signs in Hikari that she could do the same.

On the one hand it was troubling that she she could have people from the Digimon Hunters stalking her out of fear that she could become a rogue seventh... but on the other hand, it was something she desperately hoped was true. Because if it was possible... if she could become like her brother, fighting at the front lines of the war, saving lives and truly making a difference?

She'd likely never be able to speak to her parents again... never have a normal life in any form, but it would be worth it to make that sort of difference...

Things were as expected when they arrived at the shelter. Slow and tedious. They were forced to make due with a tiny room and only a few basic amenities. They wouldn't likely be seeing anything change any time soon, either. The first people to be handled were those with friends or family in the city that they could stay with. Everyone else had to find a new home or register to be shipped out of the city on the first available military transport.

Hikari had no such family or friends. Her grandparents were the only extended family that had lived in the city, and they moved away as soon as the war started. Everyone incapable of working or fighting was required to leave Odaiba as soon as the Hunters got enough control of the city to make such a decision. Their former home had since been occupied by another refugee family and was no longer available, so they were forced to either wait for new accommodations or leave.

Hikari spent most of the first day on her laptop with a few other kids around her age, checking official reports on their sector... images, estimated casualties, Hunter resistance... whatever they could get their hands on. There wasn't much that was actually useful. Anything that could tell them what was really going on was blocked due to potential security risks, in case the Digimon managed to hack the network and gain access to those same records.

Most of the data left was questionable. The only clear fact was that the evacuation was a nearly universal success. Compared to other sectors that had been taken previously, a substantially higher percentage of people managed to get out before the barrier fell. As for the rest... Hikari couldn't tell what data was propaganda and what was honest fact, so she had far less interest in that than the rest of the kids.

Eventually she would rejoin her parents after they were finished getting talked through everything they needed to know about their new life, and together they would head to their room where Hikari assumed they would talk about their future living arrangements. Instead, she would find herself facing something entirely unexpected...

"...we're running away?!"

Her words, not theirs... to her parents, it was a logical choice. With the digimon attacking every day, forcing the Hunters steadily back through the city, sector by sector, it was only a matter of time before they'd have no other choice. Better to go now, before things got too dire and they had to fight for a place in line with thousands of other fleeing civilians.

"Hikari, we have no home. Your father's workplace is now near the front line. It won't be long before they have to close down. Then he won't have a job either and we'll have to leave. If we go now-"

"We haven't lost yet! And the Hunters need all the help they can get, we can't just walk out on them like this!"

"Hikari! This isn't just about what we want, we have to think about our safety, as well as yours."

Her father promptly cut in, clearly as upset about the situation as her mother, though neither of them compared to the anger that Hikari herself was feeling in that moment...

"...and what about Taichi's safety?"

The room was silent for a moment, her parents taken aback and hurt by that question. It was a low blow, she knew... a deep cut to both of them. They tried so hard to hide what they felt about Taichi and the war because they didn't want Hikari to see it. She always knew that was because it hurt them as much as it did her, to know what he was out there, putting his life on the line where they weren't, and any day they might hear that he had been captured... or worse.

Now, however, she found herself wondering. If they cared so much, how could they simply walk away knowing that he would remain behind fighting, and fighting for them no less?

"...He already made his choice, Hikari."

"Yeah, and so have you."

Hikari promptly stormed out of the room, down the hall and away toward... anything. Nothing. She didn't care, so long as she got far enough away from her parents that they couldn't find her.

She was beyond furious... beyond livid. All the others that treated her brother like he was their enemy... they didn't know him. They could justify their idiocy by ignorance, but her parents had no excuse. They should have known what Taichi was doing. He was trying to save them! And if they did know, that was even worse... that they could walk away while he was still fighting, leaving him to die, or worse...

"Estimate how many captured?"

Hikari froze just before rounding the corner to the next hall. Beyond she heard a voice not unlike the voices of the other children she had been talking to earlier that night, though there was something distinctly different in his tone. Not a normal person... he sounded more like he was one of those military officers from the Hunters.

"No. We have no assurance that such an operation would succeed, and we can't spare the manpower. Finish current rescue operations, then withdraw behind the barriers."

Hikari moved to the wall and inched closer, listening carefully, knowing full-well that this was likely a conversation she wasn't supposed to be hearing... but she had the instincts of a cat, apparently. Curiosity...

"No. If the pattern holds, they'll secure their control of that sector first before launching their next assault. Make sure all the DA teams are positioned for immediate deployment as soon as possible, but don't attack. Do we have any leads on the rogues?"

Hikari tried to fill in the blanks of the conversation in her mind, though it was tricky, especially with a dozen other questions bouncing around in her mind, not the least of which being why this person, this... boy, was apparently giving orders instead of taking them.

"Good. That should be enough. Hopefully they'll raid that sector and give Myotismon's troops a bit of hell for us. Once they're reeling, send in the DA teams immediately for a follow-up. Combat Protocol Zero."

Without knowing Hunter protocol or anything about what was happening in the sector that had just been captured, it was difficult to make sense of everything that was being said. All that she could really tell was there was a plan to strike back, and it somehow involved the rogues... her brother's team. yet the Hunters always talked about them publicly like they were an enemy, so why did it sound like they were planning to work with them now?

"Doesn't matter. Recapturing that sector is likely impossible now anyway. I just want them to bleed Myostismon for every troop they can. If he's going to take that sector, I want him to suffer for it."

Another pause, and this time Hikari dared to peek around the corner toward the boy who was, fortunately, not paying enough attention to notice her. She hadn't seen him before in the shelter... black hair, blue jeans, yellow shirt... she couldn't see his eyes, but that was a good thing since it meant he couldn't see her, either. Ducking back around the corner, she briefly pondered why somebody who was talking about official Hunter business wasn't more paranoid and watching for people around the halls... though she quickly realized she had no idea where in the shelter she had wandered to, and most likely few people came around here in the first place.

"Make sure nobody knows. Cover it up, classify it, I don't care. Myotismon's the real enemy. We're not turning our guns on a potential asset just to satisfy some idiots over in PR. They want something to advertise, get a recording of the DA teams at work. They don't even have to know about the rogues' involvement."

Hikari felt her heart skip a beat. Classified... crap. She really wasn't supposed to be here right now. If the boy looked and saw her standing nearby, listening to his conversation...

Turning away, she prepared to rush back down the hall, away from the boy before she caught something out of the corner of her eye. A security camera, zeroed in directly on her face. A security camera... in the shelter. A Hunter facility. They were watching her all this time...

"Good. Then I'll leave it in your hands – I have another lead to follow up on. Report to me as soon as there's something to report."

Hearing those final words, Hikari paused, watching the camera another moment as it then turned away from her and back to its normal position watching the hall. Another lead... she waited a few more seconds, expecting the boy to come up to her from behind, but... nothing. Finally she turned around and went back down the hall, rounding the corner to find the boy still there, leaning back against the wall, apparently playing with his phone.

"That was clever."

"Hm?"

The boy glanced up, blue eyes meeting hers as if oblivious to what she was talking about, though from one look in his eyes she knew that couldn't be the case. The way he was watching her, he was clearly waiting to see how she was going to respond. A test...

"The camera. You knew I was there all along."

"And you pieced it together without any help. I guess we're both clever."

The boy's face almost cracked a smile, but even that hint of joy seemed unfit for his features. He had a look about him... like she was looking into the face of death. Like the whole war could be summarized in the expression that hung on this single boy's face. Cold, hard, empty. She'd seen pain in people's eyes before, but the boy... he practically embodied it.

"So I guess that whole conversation was an act?"

"Only the part where I pretended you weren't there."

Something about his eyes was unnerving... it was like he was constantly waiting for her... expecting something. Every question she asked seemed like it had already been anticipated, and all the while it seemed like he was still expecting something that she was yet to provide. It made her feel unnervingly small, like she was constantly trying to fill his significant expectations and failing, even though she wasn't making any conscious effort to do so.

"Why would you pretend that?"

"It seemed like a bad idea to let an officer know that a civilian was spying on our conversation."

"Why would you let a civilian spy on your conversation?"

"You already know the answer to that."

"Okay, why would you let the sister of one of the rogue six spy on your conversation?"

"I didn't. I gave you a choice. Walk away immediately, or stay and listen. The fact that you did the latter means you have an interest in what was being said."

"So? What does that matter to you?"

"You're clever. Piece the rest together yourself."

The way the boy answered every question without even pausing became more unnerving with every second, and her frustration peaked at his final words. She felt like she was going through the motions of a dance she didn't even know she was a part of, and now she was being put on the spot by this... whatever this boy was.

Sighing heavily, she half turned away. Alright... figure it out. She had an interest in what was being said... well, of course she did. And assuming this boy knew everything he pretended to know, he knew it wasn't just academic. She desperately wanted a way to help out in this way, the same as...

…the same as... Taichi.

Sister of one of the rogue six... she wanted to help against the invaders somehow, just like her brother was. This boy... well, he was a boy. A child, the same age as her, working for the Hunters. She hadn't known that they even permitted children in their ranks before. The rest clicked together in her head by itself.

"...you want to recruit me."

She turned to meet his gaze, which suddenly looked much more stern. Not angry, though... simply focused. Like she was finally starting to meet a few of his lofty expectations, and now she had actually earned some real attention from him.

"But... why?"

"You heard the conversation, and you've put this much together..."

She huffed and turned away. Darn it all! Stupid boy... alright, fine, another puzzle... thinking back, she replayed the conversation in her head as best she could, trying to imagine what the other half might have been. None of it really meant anything to them here and now, except...

"When you said that thing about a 'potential asset'... you were talking about my brother and his friends, weren't you?"

One look was all she needed to confirm that suspicion. Okay, so... he wasn't an enemy of the rogues. So, a sister of one of the rogues. She was being recruited because of her connection to them, so...

"...you want me... to be your... what, diplomat to the six?"

"Liaison... but close enough."

His eyes lit up just a little then. Nothing resembling actual happiness, but nearly resembling contentment... approval, even. For a moment, at least, she felt like he wasn't looking down on her.

"How? And more importantly, why? I mean, I understand about my brother... he might not trust you, but he'd definitely trust me, but... you could still send him a message, at least. You don't need a... liaison or whatever, so there's got to be more than that."

"We can't communicate with them directly. All the data channels outside of our secure network are likely being watched by Myotismon's people, and nobody in Hunter command would approve of giving the rogues open access to our network."

"You didn't answer my question."

"No, I didn't. And I won't. Not here. I have to show you, and for that, I need you to come back to Hunter command with me."

Hikari pondered the offer a moment. Tempting... but there was one hurdle they had to jump first. Even after their stupid decision earlier, she wasn't just going to disappear and leave her parents to panic and wonder what had happened to her... even if she sorely wanted to.

"My parents are planning to leave the city to get away from the fighting... I doubt they'd be happy with the idea of me going to Hunter command to join the war."

Besides, they also needed some justifiable reason to bring a child into Hunter command in the first place. Whatever child army they were apparently running wasn't public knowledge, and it was doubtful they'd want it to become so, thus they needed some kind of cover.

"Then we'll bring them with you. I already have everything prepared. We can leave whenever you're ready."

Bring them... wait, what?

For a moment, Hikari almost told the boy he was crazy, but something in the back of her mind told her not to. If he was really as clever as he seemed to be, he likely had all this figured out well in advance. He'd been testing her all this time. Now it was her turn to see how well he could do things...

"Alright... just one question-"

She was promptly interrupted by him extending one hand to her, having once more anticipated what she was going to say well in advance.

"Katsu Fang. Pleasure to meet you, Hikari Yagami."