So, there's a LOT of timeline and background information from Digimon Tamers that either didn't make it into the show itself, or only scratched the surface, and all of it is absolutely fascinating. One of the tidbits that wasn't in the series is the fact that Rob McCoy, aka "Dolphin," had a ten-year-old son named Keith at the time the Digimon Project was underway in Palo Alto, California, who helped the the Wild Bunch/Monster Makers design the first generation of Digimon. They brought Keith into their lab and used his sketches as the basis for their digital creations.

Keith was also the first person to notice that a Digimon had achieved sentience, after seeing one staring freakily at him through a computer monitor. When the same Digimon later attempted to realize in the real world, Daisy freaked out and smashed up the lab to stop it.

When Keith grew up to be an adult, he had one daughter, Alice McCoy. The semi-canon story for Alice is that,as a little girl, she was with her grandfather Dolphin when he launched a test to connect with the remains of the Network. She was sucked in by accident and the Sovereign partnered her with Dobermon, to serve them while she grew up in the Digital World.

The published magazine story that this oneshot is based on/inspired by is called "Digimon Tamers 1984," and it's completely canon. Do a web search if you want to check it out for yourself—English scans aren't terribly hard to find, and it's a really cool source of information.

Please leave a review if you enjoyed this story!


-October 1984-
Palo Alto, California

It had been Shibumi's idea to use a child, at least indirectly.

The six of them—the "Wild Bunch," as they'd jokingly started calling themselves, five university students from different disciplines led by a high-minded professor—had been brainstorming long-term plans in the cramped research facility in Palo Alto. They talked together and shared ideas over Chinese food, the way other students might sit and watch a movie. As Professor McCoy ("Call me Rob," he often joked, "or just Dolphin. Everyone calls me that, even though I've never actually met one.") explained, the project was all about creating virtual, original life: dynamic, growing, but still completely digital.

They'd been stuck on the concept for the designs. Janyu and the others kicked around lame creature ideas for over an hour, unable to agree on any parameters they all wanted, when the lone Japanese student, nicknamed 'Shibumi' for his calm, enigmatic nature, suddenly spoke up. He mentioned, in his usual reticent manner, how he had drawn a lot of monsters and creatures of his own creation when he was a kid. All it had taken was imagination.

That had given McCoy an idea. Later that afternoon, he'd brought in his ten-year-old son, Keith, and introduced him to the group. Keith eagerly set to the task of creating monster designs for the Wild Bunch to recreate in digital form.

They didn't have names yet, but the creatures in his drawings would soon become the first-ever digimon: the beginnings of virtual life on the Network.

-October 1984-
Palo Alto, California

"What are you drawing, Keith?"

It was late afternoon. The sun was setting, casting a pleasant glow over the lab from outside the windows. The others were hard at work, sitting wherever there was any space, busy with preliminary ideas for their individual components of the project. Until the group had finalized the creature designs, however, the student called Janyu Lee didn't have all that much to do.

Janyu's job was to create the algorithms that would determine the nature of the digital creatures' long-term behavior and growth. Needless to say, the group's efforts hadn't gotten quite that far yet.

Keith paused his drawing, looking up at the older man with a grin. "Hi, Tao! This one's a dinosaur monster."

"I can see." Janyu, also known as 'Tao' to the others in the Wild Bunch, leaned down carefully to inspect the drawing. It was only one of dozens sprawled across the surface of the table. "Mind if I take a closer look?"

Keith obliged, handing him the sheet of paper. Janyu smiled at him, patting the boy absently on the shoulder, then he held up the picture to examine it in greater detail.

The creature on the paper was reminiscent of the popular public image of Tyrannosaurus rex: a large, bulky lizard-creature with clawed arms and a long tail, supporting itself on its hind legs. The creature had red stripes that ran partway down its back and across its face, and a dark horned helmet rested atop its head, adding an extra note of ferocity to the open-mouthed snarl it had been drawn with. Janyu handed the tasteful creation back to its original artist, giving Keith a satisfied nod.

"These are all very good designs," he said, smiling. "Do you draw a lot in your spare time? Or maybe in class? Don't worry, I haven't got any room to judge."

"Mm, sometimes, I do," Keith answered busily, already returning to his drawing. "What I really like is playing video games, though. There's always a bunch of cool monsters to fight, that's what I'm trying to make these look like."

Janyu chuckled, his gaze wandering to some other drawings on the table. At the top of the messy stack, he saw pictures of an angel creature and a demon, a flying insect-like monster with its face obscured, and a creature that was half-man, half-lion, wearing a scabbard and a belt with its pants. Keith had added scrawled captions in the margins of many drawings, clarifying details and assigning numeric values for the creatures' strength levels and, as he called it, their "lifeforce." The boy had been eager to help create different kinds of categories to sort his monsters by, adding another personal touch to his role in developing the project. When Janyu and the others got to programming their new life forms, their work would be heavily influenced by Keith's ideas.

One of the drawings in particular caught Janyu's eye. "Hey, can you tell me what this is, Keith?" he asked, picking it up off the table.

The boy looked up, glancing over to see which picture he had picked. "Oh. That's another dinosaur one," he said, a bit carelessly. "Not as big as the one I'm working on now, but still cool. They both use fire attacks."

Janyu looked closely at the picture, feeling something nagging at the back of his mind. This lizard-creature was certainly smaller than the other one, as Keith had said, but it was still highly reminiscent of the big dinosaur with the horned helmet. The two monsters were drawn in the same light orange-ish color, and they even had similar body types. In addition, the two also shared several detail features that were nearly identical but for size, such as their teeth and claws. Janyu glanced back and forth between the two pictures several times, gears beginning to turn slowly in his mind.

When he thought about it, Janyu realized the smaller dinosaur looked almost like it could be a prototyped version of the larger one—or perhaps even be a younger, child version, of the same monster.

Immediately an idea clicked in Janyu's mind.

"Evolution," he muttered to himself, setting the drawing down and immediately digging through the others in a frenzy, looking for those that had matching characteristics. "Evolution! That's it! These monsters grow and change into stronger forms by evolution—they have to, that's got to be it!"

"What's all the commotion about, Tao?" Curly called, looking over at him from across the lab.

"Everyone, listen!" Janyu said excitedly, holding up several drawings in his hands. "I've got it! Look at these! There's such a clear divide between child monsters and adults, but so many of them share inherited attributes at higher stages! One has to evolve into the other—and say, if the two monsters fight and defeat each other, the winner can load the other's data to gain its attributes and become stronger! That's how we're going to have them grow—EVOLUTION!"

He turned excitedly to Dolphin, whose expression of bewildered confusion was beginning to clear .

"That's a cool idea, Tao," the man said thoughtfully. "So wait, let me see if I've got this right: in your version of the network, the monsters will fight and have the ability to load the data of their fallen opponents. In the long-term, the strongest will win out over the others, evolving the most, correct?"

Janyu nodded. Dolphin laughed, reaching down to ruffle his son's hair. "A little ambitious, isn't he?" he said, causing Keith to laugh.

"I'll get started on the algorithm right now," Janyu said quickly, dashing over a stack of boxes to get to a computer.

There were obstacles to overcome, of course. Evolution was a process meant to be natural, not designed, and it would be hard to avoid the conundrum of creatures only evolving along paths that the Wild Bunch had mapped out for them in advance. But they had plenty of time to work it out. Together, the six members of the group felt little doubt that they could make their vision a reality with enough time and effort.

After all, they were young. They were geniuses, the best and brightest young minds in their field. The world was alive with opportunities all their own for the taking, and it would be a world crafted by their own design and engineering. As far as the Wild Bunch could see, the boundaries of the project before them were completely limitless.

Two years later the project was dead.

-June 1985-
Palo Alto, California

"You...You destroyed it," Keith said brokenly, standing over the pieces of a shattered computer monitor—one of half a dozen strewn across the floor. "You killed the digimon."

"No, she didn't," Dolphin said hurriedly, ushering his son away from the worst of the damage. "Those are just monitors, Keith. The mainframe was turned off for a little while, but now it's back on and running again. All our data is fine."

Despite his words, when Dolphin looked around again, he couldn't hold back a sigh of disappointment, at the sight of all the wreckage that had taken place in the lab.

Janyu didn't blame him. In addition to the broken monitors, large chunks of plaster were torn from the ceiling, now lying on the floor in chalky piles. The walls and flooring had both cracked badly during the night. Countless papers, some computer mice, and Babel's computer keyboard had fallen from desks and tables to the ground, lying either on top of the debris or under it. Outside the small building, shingles and other fragments of the roof lay on the flattened grass for at least half a mile out in every direction.

"Don't worry, son," Dolphin said, resignedly, wearily running a hand through Keith's hair. "We'll have another terminal set up for the Network soon. You'll be able to see into the Digimon World again."

Keith swallowed, visibly blinking back tears. But he nodded, and didn't say another word.

It was the summer of 1985, roughly a year after the conception of the Digimon Project. A Category-2 hurricane had ravaged the city of Palo Alto the night before, creating a great deal of property damage at the research facility and the rest of the university. That was the reason why Dolphin's lab was in ruins.

This was what the campus police had told everyone, at least. None of the Wild Bunch believed it. They were scientists, all of them, and from what scant evidence they had seen so far, no part of the 'official' version of events added up.

Daisy, the only one who might have been able to shed some light on what had happened, still sat rigidly in her chair at the edge of the room. Her whole body was motionless, save for her trembling hands held tightly in her lap. There were dark bags under her eyes; she clearly hadn't slept all last night. With a faint feeling of unease, Janyu noticed something in her appearance he had missed before in all the confusion: there was a cluster of bruises, shaped horribly like fingerprints, on Daisy's left upper arm, just below her the sleeve of her shirt.

The young woman had not said a word to any of them, not since her initial hysterics upon seeing them rushing to the ruined lab at midnight. That had been hours and hours ago. Every few minutes, though, Janyu noticed her glancing up from where she'd been staring frozen at the ground, just long enough to steal a glimpse of Shibumi—and then she would look back down again, still and silent.

Taking his cue from her, Janyu fixed his narrowed eyes on the Japanese student as well. Shibumi's greasy brown hair, grown nearly to his waist, obscured most of his face from view. From the set of his jaw, however, Janyu thought he seemed unusually grim, perhaps even angry.

For all they had worked with him, none of the Wild Bunch had ever really understood Shibumi. Real name Gorou Mizuno, the man was very quiet and sometimes moody, rarely offering conversation or insight unless one of the others mentioned something that happened to pique his interest. He was unquestionably brilliant, perhaps the most out of all of them, but his ideas could be incredibly strange. The others had wondered at first if perhaps his bizarre attitude wasn't simply part of a cultural barrier they didn't understand, but Janyu, whose wife was Japanese, knew that was simply not the case. Shibumi's inscrutability had nothing to do with his heritage.

And, on the topic of inscrutabilities, none of them knew with any certainty what had taken place at the research facility last night. Curly and Babel continued to hover over Daisy as they had been for hours, trying to coax information out of her in turns. She refused to offer any explanation, as to why she had shut off the mainframe housing the project and destroyed monitor after monitor in the lab. Daisy still looked extremely shaken, her normally confident face very pale and frightened.

Without her knowledge of what had taken place, the others were left at a loss. Even if they wanted to blame her for the damages, it was obvious to them that Daisy couldn't have perpetrated all of them. The destruction of the building's foundation and supporting structures, and the ruined ceiling, hadn't been Daisy's doing. Nor had been the deep set of gouges—enormous claw marks, so big that taken together, they were nearly Keith's size—that were now carved deeply into the outside door of the lab. Janyu knew there was no animal large enough to make those kinds of marks in one swipe, not that lived in the Palo Alto area. Or, he thought, with a distinctly unsettled feeling, anywhere else in the world.

Something was very wrong here.

"Daisy, please," Babel was urging her, his ordinarily laid-back expression now replaced with obvious concern. "We know this situation looks bad, but we also know you're not the sort of person who would a thing without a reason. We want to help you, girl, but you've got to give us something!"

"Daisy," Curly pleaded, placing her hands lightly on the other woman's shoulders. "Daisy, please. Just say something so I know that you can hear us."

Daisy took a deep, shuddering breath, and the others waited but she kept her eyes fixed on the ground. She did not say a word to them.

Keith, who had watched the proceedings with a torn expression, slowly pulled away from his father and began to walk toward the group. He was careful not to step on any of the broken shards littering the ground.

"Daisy, why did you do this?" he asked her as soon as he got close, his tone hurt, even betrayed. Janyu knew that out of all the Wild Bunch members, Keith had always gotten along the best with Daisy; at least aside from Curly, whom everyone loved without reservation.

"Why did you try to destroy the digimon?" Keith pressed again. "That's awful, Daisy! They're alive, just like you and me. I know you guys don't believe they can think the same as we do, not yet, but I know they can. I watch them all the time, on the monitor that Papa installed at home. Digimon on the Network can see us in here, just like we can see them."

At these last words, Daisy's entire body suddenly jerked in her chair. Her head snapped up to look at Keith, her expression haunted.

"Keith," Daisy said hoarsely, reaching up one arm to grip his sleeve. "Keith, on your monitor at home, did you see it? The one digimon on the monitor yesterday that was...?"

Keith's eyes widened. "The one that wasn't battling?" he asked, sounding surprised. "The one I didn't design? Yeah, I saw it, he was staring out from the monitor for a long time. I showed it to my dad. Did you see that digimon too, Daisy?"

She didn't answer him yes or no. "Tell me," she demanded at once, gripping his sleeve, "Tell me, Keith, did you see that digimon do anything else besides stare?"

Something flickered anxiously behind the boy's eyes. "I, um—" he began lamely, glancing nervously toward his father and lowering his voice, although Janyu and the others could still hear him. "I watched that digimon all night after dinner. He went—I can't really explain it, but he did something, and before he went, he said—"

"Daisy!" Dolphin interrupted, sounding angry. "Come on, what's the matter with you? You're scaring him!"

Daisy jerked her head toward the professor, and her hard blue eyes lanced through him like a sword. Startled, Dolphin actually took a step back.

"He should be scared!" Daisy cried, rising from her chair, for all the world looking like a person at the edge of hysterics. "You should be scared, too, Dolphin! You should all be scared!"

Janyu decided it was time to intervene. "Daisy—" he began uncertainly, but she'd already begun to speak again.

"I don't want to work on the Ark interface for this project any longer, Dolphin," she said raggedly, and in that moment Janyu saw something wild and terribly frightened in her blue eyes. "You told me to create a device so simple in design that even children, children could use it to communicate with the Network. But children shouldn't interface with the Network, NO one should interface with the Network—if you care about your son at all, Rob, you will end this project now and destroy everything we've built here in this lab! All of it!"

Daisy looked as though she was prepared to say more, much more, but then—her gaze seemed to catch on something that made her pause, blue eyes widening. Janyu spun around and saw Shibumi standing there by the wall, no longer leaning with his face hidden. He was glaring openly at Daisy, with a ferocity that Janyu had never seen.

Immediately, Daisy lost her nerve, going pale. "I'm so sorry. I won't say any more," she whispered to them all, sitting down in her chair and curling her fingers tightly in her lap.

When Curly asked her if she was all right minutes later, Daisy didn't hesitate to say yes.

They asked more questions after that, but she never offered any more insight about the troubling things she'd said, determinedly writing off her behavior as nonsense brought on by a panic attack during the storm. The university ordered repairs to the body of the lab, and the Wild Bunch slowly took stock of their project and got back to work. That was the end of the strange, unexplainable event that had threatened to unravel all their work in a single night.

As far as Janyu knew, despite Daisy's threats, Keith McCoy never came to any harm from his participation in the Digimon Project. Decades later, however, when Janyu had long moved to Japan with his family, he found himself on the receiving end of a certain phone call late one night that interrupted his peace with chilling news: the caller was a frantic, nearly unhinged Dolphin ("only a test, it was only a test to see if there was anything still out there, it shouldn't have had ANY results like the ones we saw; god, Tao, my granddaughter, my poor Alice, she was there and—Keith won't talk to me now, I don't know what to do, I don't know if she's even alive or not, how could everything have gone so damn wrong so fast") and the moment after Janyu hung up the phone, it occurred to him horribly for a moment that Daisy might have really been onto something that night, all those forgotten years ago.

Palo Alto, California

In the end, whatever Daisy had said after the incident, she hadn't given up on the project before it was completed. Their funders had.

The group was forced to pack up in 1986. Dolphin, who had kept the mainframe running out of his own pocket as long as he could afford to, was the saddest to see everything go. Some of the digimon had been found to be missing or even escaped from the mainframe the first time they'd restarted it—Janyu, in a supremely unconvincing tone, told the others it must have been a glitch—but those digimon that remained began to evolve more quickly into creatures none of the Wild Bunch, or Keith, could have conceived on their own. Their digital creatures' progress was incredible, and even Daisy had been excited to see the fruits of their labor truly coming into bloom before their eyes.

"What are you going to do about the monster designs and data on the Network?" Babel was asking Keith amicably. "We might have programed the DigiCore and the matrix for the Network, but those creatures were mostly yours by design. You named all of them; you paid more attention to the way they lived in their world than the rest of us combined. We've all talked it out, and we decided you should be the one who gets the final say in what happens to the digimon, kid."

All the Wild Bunch, sans Shibumi (vanished homeward), was gathered around in the emptied lab for one last get-together before they all parted ways. Janyu had to admit he'd miss the others in the small group, all their countless insights and oddities. But a fresh start wouldn't be bad, he decided firmly. His wife would be happy to have him home again, and he needed to move on with his career.

Keith pondered Babel's question silently for a long time, looking contemplative. Dolphin's boy was older now than he had been, nearly thirteen, and like his father Keith was exceptionally bright.

"No, I won't go for patents," Keith finally said, shaking his head with conviction. "I may have designed the digimon, at least the first ones, and I gave them names, but that doesn't really make them mine. They had a kind of a life of their own, I mean—they changed so much by themselves from the stuff that I drew, and even from what you guys programmed. I don't think they could ever really belong to one person anymore. They made it too far on their own, from being just a bunch of funny little dots in the matrix to a bazillion different monsters who made themselves, by themselves—does any of that make sense?"

Babel grinned at him. "Freethinker, huh?" he said, laughing. "Kids these days. Why don't you go ahead and put the designs in the public domain, then? Maybe someone will make something interesting out of 'em one day."

Keith did. Years later, when a certain Japanese toy company adopted the monsters as the basis for a popular card game and built a merchandising empire out of the Digimon Project, most of the group either found the franchise hugely entertaining—in a nostalgic sort of way—or a hugely annoying reminder of the Royalties That Could Have Been. A few of the Wild Bunch found themselves very much regretting that they'd left the evidence of their combined efforts to the mercies of a preteen boy. Though, in Keith's defense, not a single one of them would have guessed that anyone could make a profit off their ludicrously expensive venture into digital life.

-February 2002-
San Jose, California

The year was 2002. The heat in Silicon Valley was record for the month of February, but the temperature was a reflection of dire outside circumstances that no meteorologist could have predicted. The danger had appeared suddenly, and it was a danger that threatened the existence of all human life in California along with the rest of the world.

A harried-looking blond man, somewhere around the age of thirty, sat on his sagging couch in wrinkled, unkempt clothes. The man's condominium, once a respectable-looking home, now resembled nothing so much as a lazy frat boy's post-college bachelor pad. There was trash and dirty clothes thrown about everywhere; half-filled soda cans and styrofoam cups sat on all available surfaces and paper plates rested under remnants of stale, hardly touched meals. The man didn't look much better than his apartment. The light stubble on his chin was at least a week old, his ragged shoes were both untied, and his fingernails had been bitten to the quick.

He didn't care a bit about any of it. The man's blue eyes, devoid of all expression, bored straight into the television screen in front of him, seeing nothing else. The broadcast he was watching was a frantic report from the downtown area, detailing the local arm of a disaster that was unfolding everywhere.

A swirling mass of red chaos filled the screen. The man knew, from the broadcast, that this was the D-Reaper, the program-made-manifest nightmare entity from Japan now laying siege to metropolitan cities across the globe. If the man had felt like walking over to the window of his condominium, he'd have been able to see a portion of the monstrosity visible from his very apartment, attacking buildings in Silicon Valley not twenty miles away from where he lived. The chaos had emerged over a local communications center, condensing until it had smothered its target completely, and and then spread outward so it could suffocate everything with its heat that it could touch.

The man knew the D-Reaper was near, but he didn't bother to look. Everyone in the city had been urged to evacuate. The man had ignored this advice, which was probably pointless, and was resigned to enduring the apocalypse from his own couch. Keith McCoy was past the point of caring or being afraid.

"Great going, Dad," he said dully to himself, watching a group of Perfect-level digimon on screen as they fought the main D-Reaper brain in Shinjuku. The digimon kept surging forward to attack with all their strength, only to be buffeted back by reaper agents again and again. The man snorted, at the futility of it all.

"Swell job, Dad. Always protecting the world from the damn mess you made of the Network," Keith continued, in the same monotonous drawl. "You and your friends ought to be so proud of yourselves."

The accusation wasn't fair, and Keith knew it. If anything, he himself probably shared just as much of the blame as his father, Rob McCoy, for the evolution and realization of the D-Reaper program. The fact that they'd both also contributed to humanity's last remaining hope was at least a small measure of a consolation. Keith didn't recognize any of the digimon battling now on TV, hadn't designed any of them personally, but he certainly knew what they were. None of them would exist to be fighting right now without his input.

"'We're going to build a new world,' Dad says," Keith droned on, echoing the oft-spouted hopes and dreams his father had drilled into him memory. "'Creating life through artificial intelligence,' Dad says. No, nothing could possibly go wrong with that. No one could possibly be endangered..."

"You really shouldn't be so hard on Grandpapa."

A new voice had cut in, interrupting him. Keith bolted up from the couch, a shout of surprise and anger springing to his lips: how the hell had someone gotten into his apartment without his—


"Alice?" he gasped, his heart stopping painfully in his chest. Keith fell at once to his knees, overcome, seeing the familiar form of the figure that was standing in his apartment.

Alice McCoy smiled back at him. "Hello, Papa," she said, walking toward Keith in calm, even steps.

Behind her, a great black beast like a dog made of knives stood behind her the doorway, not wanting to intrude. Another digimon.

"I knew you'd never have left, home, when the True Enemy appeared," Alice continued, her words calm and peaceful. "But you'd also never let the place get so dirty when I was here with you, Papa. What's happened to you?"

Keith was hardly even aware of the presence of the digimon at the doorway, or even of the words the child spoke. He could not take his eyes off her, his only daughter; he couldn't even blink or he might lose her. "Alice," he choked out, reaching out with one unsteady hand . He stumbled blindly to his feet, seeing nothing but his lost child standing there, dressed in an elegant black dress like an apparition. "Alice, my god, Alice, are you really alive—all this time, I thought Dad was only—"

"Lying? Crazy?" she asked him, still smiling—though there was now a trace of bitterness in her voice. "I don't know what Grandpapa was, really. Maybe I am alive. Maybe not. But I'm here now, aren't I? I'm—I'm home."

Her voice broke at the last sentence, and with it she dropped all pretense of grace. Alice ran to her father and tackled him in a hug, wrapping her arms around Keith's torso and burying her face in his chest with enough force to nearly topple him over.

Keith hugged back just as fiercely, beginning to cry. He was terrified, worried that any second now he would wake up and find she was only a dream. He'd had plenty of dreams like this, over the past five years. When she had been lost.

"Alice," he managed to get out between sobs, "Alice, Alice, I'm so sorry. I don't know what happened. I never should have let you get caught up in all that nonsense with your granddad. I should have protected you. I'm your father."

Still leaning all her weight into him, Alice smiled. She was crying too, though not as hard as him.

"It's okay, Papa," she said shakily, closing her eyes. "It w-wasn't your fault. It wasn't Grandpapa's, either. I can't believe I'm really holding you like this...I didn't think it was possible for me, anymore..."

The two of them stood together, crying silently, for a long time. Keith might have never her let go, but after a time there was a warning growl from the hound-like digimon waiting at the door—Keith looked over at it, startled, and the beast stepped forward on four paws.

"Alice," the digimon said.

"Just a minute, Dobermon," she said, her voice muffled and shaking against Keith's shirt. "Just a little longer."

Another ten seconds passed. Keith, still dazed from the suddenness of what was happening, didn't understand what was going on. Alice finally let go of him, pulled away a few steps. She looked up at her father with a smile that was terribly sad, and all at once Keith understood.

"I know it's not enough, it's not nearly enough, but I can't stay," she said unhappily. "Those children and their digimon are fighting the True Enemy in Japan—I have to go and give them something to help."

Panic swelled in Keith's chest. It was stronger than anything he'd ever felt, stronger even than his anguish when he'd thought he lost her, in the aftermath of that terrible accident five years ago.

"No," he said at once, grabbing his daughter firmly by the shoulders. "No, you're not going anywhere. Tell that damn digimon to get out of here, to leave us alone. We'll go somewhere else, anywhere else. I'm not going to lose you again!"

To his shock, Alice laughed. The sound quickly tapered off into an awful, drawn, sob, and she hung her head with an expression of deep shame.

"Papa, I'm so sorry," she said, sounding like she could hardly get the words out. "The gods of the Digital World sent Dobermon to this world, to help the tamers in Japan. He has a power inside him, one that will help the children to defeat the D-Reaper. But h-he's going"

Her entire body trembled beneath his hands. No more tears spilled from her face onto the carpet.

She took a deep breath and looked up at him, her countenance determinedly composed. "Dobermon will have to die, for this power to work," she said quietly, wiping her eyes with one of the black sleeves of her dress. "He will give up his life for this battle, and I—I want to be with him when it happens, Papa. He has been my friend for many years, my only friend, when I was so lost and scared and alone."

Pain, and guilt, lanced through Keith's soul like a knife. "No," he begged, pulling Alice into his arms again. "Please, don't leave me again. I love you so much, Alice, please. Please let me keep you safe this time."

"I love you too," Alice said to him, already drying away the last of her tears. "But, the D-Reaper seeks to destroy both worlds. The Wild Bunch, Grandpapa and Grandma, the tamers, all of the digimon you helped to you really want all of them to die?"

Now crying bitterly himself, Keith glared directly at Dobermon, still waiting across the room.

"Why?" Keith demanded the digimon, his voice shaking with every word. "Why my daughter? Why Alice?"

Dobermon stared inscrutably back at him. "Many years ago, you were a child who looked upon my world," the digimon said to Keith, "and saw that living creatures are those who decide their own fate.

"You chose your fate, monster maker. Now, let Alice choose hers."

There was understanding in the digimon's red eyes. Slowly—one millimeter at a time—Keith forced himself to nod.

Mechanically, he dropped his hands and their weight from Alice's shoulders, stepping back. "...Will you come back?" he asked, numbly, hearing his own voice echoing as though from far away.

"...I will if I can," she answered softly.

Keith decided that would have to be enough.

Alice held out an object for him to take. It was a hard, plastic digital device, black in color, with a small rectangular screen inlaid at the center in front. A loop hung from a chain at the very top, making it easier to hold. Surrounding the screen was a banded circle, glittering in a hundred different colors. The circle had been inscribed with ancient markings strung together to create a message of inscrutable runes, in a language he'd almost forgotten how to read.

"Here, Papa," Alice said, in a remarkably steady voice. "Qinglongmon, one of the four gods, asked me to give this to you. It is a gift from the Four Holy Beasts who rule the Digital World."

Dumbfounded, Keith took the device, recognizing at once the shape of the Ark interface that Daisy had designed in his father's lab at Palo Alto.

"What is this, Alice?" he asked, turning the device over in his hands.

"It's called a D-Ark," she said. "It's a special device that tamers use."

He looked up at her, startled. "Tamers?" he asked. "Digimon tamers?"

She nodded. "Humans that fight with digimon," she said softly, glancing at Dobermon. "Zhuqiaomon wasn't very happy, but the other gods decided it's much better to have peace with humans than enmity. They also wanted to thank you, for helping to give digimon life many years ago."

She gestured toward the screen of the device. "With that D-Ark, you will be able to find and meet your Digimon partner again," she said. "He's been waiting for you a very long time."

Keith glanced down, pressing one of the buttons beneath the screen. A floating image of a large egg appeared, pulsing with familiar life and energy.

"Is this...?" Keith asked, mystified.

"Yes," Alice said.

She turned away from him then. Keith saw her shoulders tremble.

"Papa," she said, softly. "It—It wasn't your fault. What happened back then."

"Of course it was my fault," Keith said resolutely, exercising all his willpower not to run forward and seize her again before she disappeared. "I'm your father, Alice. I'm supposed to protect you from things like—"

"Like accidents?" she asked, shaking her head. "No, Papa. I don't believe that was an accident. I don't know if you believe in destiny, but—what happened at the test that day, it led me to Dobermon. And I refuse to believe that wasn't meant to happen."

"Alice," Keith said, feeling his heart break.

She smiled at him again. This time, it was sincere. "Goodbye, Papa," she said, walking back toward Dobermon with graceful strides. "Tell Grandpapa for me, that it was never his fault, either. If I could go back and do that same day over again, this is the path I would choose. I don't have any regrets...

"Only that it had to end so soon."

There was a flickering shadow, a ghost's sigh. And Alice and Dobermon were gone.

Keith stared at the place where they had vanished for a long, long time. He felt every conceivable emotion he could describe and more, a torrent of gut-wrenching pain and pride. He tightened his grip on the D-Ark in his hand: it was all the proof he had, that he'd actually seen her. That he had held his baby girl in his arms one last time.

After what felt like an eternity, Keith managed to turn his head to look out the window of his condominium. He could see the red chaos from where he stood. It billowed over downtown, smothering Silicon Valley a mile at a time. Keith knew not everyone had managed to get out of the danger zone.

In Shinjuku, there were digimon fighting right now against the D-Reaper's agents, working to save the world. But here in his home, there was no one. No heroes to save the helpless victims of the tide.

"My father is in this fight," Keith said suddenly, feeling his feet move before his had mind made any conscious decision to leave. "My daughter is in this fight.

"I'm a McCoy," he went on, walking dreamlike, toward the door of his condominium. "A digimon maker, tamer. I can't just sit by and watch this go on any longer. These creatures are my legacy, too!"

He threw the door open, undeterred at the blast of hot wind that hit his face. He held up his D-Ark and began to shout directly into it.

"Hello! Can you hear me in there?" Keith demanded, calling out to the image of the pixelated egg that held his partner, knowing it would hear him. "Listen up! We're going to fight, the two of us together, as digimon and tamer! It's time for you to hatch, now—seventeen years is long enough to sleep!"

The D-Ark in his hand began to glow. Keith closed his eyes, feeling a rush of familiar warmth flow over him. With a pang, he suddenly understood, why his Alice would willingly die for the chance to have known her partner. It was a bond stronger than a soulmate, stronger than death and life.

His ten-year-old self had known that. The children fighting in Japan knew it, too—and likely so did hundreds more all around the world.

The glow of the device faded. On the D-Ark's screen, Keith saw the egg had begun to crack.

"Welcome to the other side of the screen, Chimairamon," he said, smiling faintly.

He walked outside and ran to meet his destiny.