(Author's Note: For reference, it might be helpful to read another of my stories, "Unintended," though it is not necessary as events from that story will be summarized. Keep in mind that "Unintended" was written a long time before September 11th, 2001. In it, a substantial portion of the World Trade Center is blown up. Believe me when I say that the real-life tragedy touched me as deeply as the rest of the country. That said, I'd also like to establish that, in this "reality" the WTC was never destroyed, since the events of Unintended took place in late 2002, and this story takes place in mid-2003. While this story does not coincide with our own reality, it is my hope that it will still have some relevance to real life. Thank you, and enjoy!)
The dream is always the same.
I'm standing alone, my eyes closed, but I can feel a cold wind blowing against me. I hug myself and shiver in the cold. As the wind begins to howl, I open my eyes and stare out onto Tokyo.
Or, that is, where Tokyo used to be.
The city is totally gone now. All that remains is a massive crater filled with rubble. Twisted metal, chunks of concrete, shards of glass, tangled knots of wires, and even some charred remains of trees litter the area. In the distance is Mount Fuji, its snow gone, its beauty no longer appreciated.
I think of my family, my brother, my friends, and the digimon. Now they're all gone. No one else is left but me, and that doesn't make me the lucky one.
I look around at my surroundings, and find that the countryside is gone as well. The woods nearby the city swept away like dead leaves by some unstoppable force. Even the topsoil is gone. Since all the plants died, there is nothing to keep it in place, and the wind carries it off, leaving only bare, rocky terrain.
The real terror doesn't come then, though. It comes when I realize that Tokyo isn't the only place like this; it's like this all over the world. Everyone is gone, and I am the last person left alive.
Once I realize that, he comes for me. I feel his frozen breath on my neck, icier than the howling wind, and I turn to face him. I never get a good look at his face, but I can sense his dark power. Of all the dark forces I've ever had to face, none of them were as evil as this. He's a superior of Myotismon and a brother to Apocalymon, and he's more ancient than the Pyramids or the first dynasty of China. And all he wants is to kill me.
I let out a scream and awake from the dream. Gatomon is awake after me and is quick to ask what's wrong. I tell her it's just a nightmare and leave it at that.
Like I said, the dream is always the same. But now something else is scaring me. I'm starting to have the dream more often. I had it for the first time a few days after we defeated MaloMyotismon. Then it started coming every week, then every few days, and now it's almost every night. I'm afraid to go to sleep and my family is starting to worry about me.
I can't tell my family what's going on. They wouldn't understand. I'm not sure I understand either. I haven't written about this until now because I was sure it was just a dream. Or that I was going crazy. But now I know that I'm not going crazy, and soon I'm going to have to face facts: that thing in my dream is real. That horrible thing that wants to kill us all is real. I've always had these strange abilities to sense things, and I can tell that the dark force in my dreams is out there, somewhere, and not just in the digital world, but in our world. He is here on Earth and he won't stop until the last human and digimon are dead.
I can't tell my brother, or my friends. Even Gatomon doesn't know anything. I finally figured it out, and now I know why I can't tell them: there's nothing we can do.
It makes me so angry sometimes! I think I'm strong enough to face things like this, but then I realize that sometimes there's nothing I can do to keep the darkness out. Tai wouldn't understand; he'd try to fight even if he knows it's hopeless.
But it isn't totally hopeless. Just because the other Digidestined and I in Japan can't do anything doesn't mean that there aren't others who can. I know that my dream doesn't have to come true. Somewhere, far away, are the ones that can save the world.
I just hope they can do it before he finds them.
-Hikari "Kari" Kamiya
May 15, 2003
Kari went to bed that night and was surprised that there was no nightmare this time, but she woke up with a distinct chill. She had this feeling, this awful, dreadful feeling, that something had been there. Something terrible and unearthly. Nonetheless, she walked over to her desk, taking out the diary. She turned to the last page and screamed, dropping the book on the floor.
Written below her last line, "I just hope they can do it before he finds them," was a new entry written in handwriting that was not her own. It said this, and only this:
Don't bet on it. I'll be seeing you real soon, little girl. :)
BEGIN NORTH AMERICA ARC
The NY Three
New York City, also known as the city that never sleeps, sometimes affectionately known as the Big Apple, buzzed with activity just as it always did. It was a warm, sunny day and whole neighborhoods of children spilled out onto the streets, enjoying what was, for many, the first day of summer vacation. One of those children was a girl named Mimi Tachikawa.
She stood on the balcony of her family's apartment, looking out onto the city she loved and had grown to think of as her home. Looking out in the distance, she could see the ocean as it sparkled in the afternoon sun. Far below, the cars rushed by. The car horns floated up to her in a chorus that many found annoying, but she found strangely soothing. It was a reminder that the city was always alive, always moving forward, the people living their lives as best as they could.
She wasn't much for analysis, but she was content just to experience it.
"Mimi, what are you still doing here?" Palmon asked, coming out the door.
"Oh, I was just watching the ocean," Mimi answered, looking down at her digimon. "Isn't it pretty?"
"I always think the ocean's pretty!" Palmon exclaimed. "I just thought that since it was the first day of your vacation you would go to the mall with your friends. I like going to the mall. I'm so glad you don't have to hide me from your friends and family anymore."
"Couldn't stand living in the closet, could you?" Mimi joked.
"It's cramped in there with all your clothes!" Palmon shot back. "Anyway, I think I spent enough time in there and I don't recommend it."
Mimi laughed and finished her coffee. She had started drinking it this year and found it repulsive, but necessary. She hadn't understood how anyone could drink something so bitter, but found it even harder to get up and get to school on time without it. Besides, it was trendy and guys were always asking her out to get some coffee, so it was convenient to drink it anyway. Her last boyfriend and her had broken up before the school year ended and she couldn't have been happier about it. She really wanted someone a little more like a friend and less like a stuffed animal. Sure, the last guy had been nice, but she got the feeling that he only dated her because she was pretty and she admittedly felt about the same about him: good looking, but dull and, in the end, a disappointment. The next guy she dated would have to be sweet, honest, and like her for who she was, and she would make darn sure before she went out again.
"Well, I thought I'd relax. You're lucky you don't have finals to take, Palmon. I'm exhausted!"
"So am I. I helped you study, remember?" she reminded her.
Mimi sighed and went back in the apartment. "Well, it isn't just the finals. It's also… well, the bad dreams."
Palmon froze. "Bad dreams?" she asked carefully.
"Uh-huh," Mimi said quietly, taking a seat on the couch. "I started having them months ago. It was just once or twice, but now I can't seem to sleep at all without seeing him."
"Yeah, there's just this dream I have about a crater—"
"—where the city used to be," Palmon finished.
Mimi eyed her partner carefully. "And then, when you think that you're all alone in the world, you turn around—"
"—and there he is."
"This guy. He's really tall and he looks just like a shadow, but—"
"—his eyes are glowing red."
The two of them looked at each other uneasily, Mimi turning white and Palmon a paler shade of green.
"Weird," Mimi said. "What does that mean when a Digidestined and her digimon have the same dream over and over again?"
"I don't know," Palmon confessed. "Maybe it means that we're so close that we're starting to share dreams, or in this case, nightmares."
Mimi thought for a moment. "Do you have any other dreams a lot?"
"Me too. Let's tell each other what else we've been dreaming about."
"Okay," Palmon agreed. "Sometimes I dream that I'm being chased by that guy in those movies with the hockey mask and he's got a lawnmower. You?"
"Sometimes I dream about Brad Pitt."
Palmon waited. "What's he doing?"
Mimi looked away, her cheeks reddening. "Um... I can't tell you that."
Palmon shrugged and went to the refrigerator. "Well, it's weird whatever it means," she went on. "Maybe we should e-mail Izzy or Joe and see if they know anything."
"Or if they have the same one."
"About Brad Pitt?"
They both had a good laugh about that. Mimi laughed so hard that tears came to her eyes. As she wiped them away, she looked up and saw the calendar, noticing that one of the days had been circled. In fact, it was that day.
"Oh no!" Mimi gasped. "I almost forgot! Quick, Palmon, we need to leave! I forgot what I have to do today!"
Earlier that morning, there was an incident that slipped by the attention of most, but it was to set in motion fairly significant events later that afternoon.
A hotdog vendor was serving his latest patron one of the delectable franks when it came loose from his tongs. No sooner had it hit the ground when a small, black blur shot by, snatching up the hotdog and disappearing around a nearby corner. The vendor and his customer were both quite shocked, unsure of what it was they saw.
The hotdog thief, meanwhile, was trotting happily in the alley, the hotdog held securely between his teeth. He often heard humans say that New York was tough, but he found it incredibly easy to live in. The digital world had been tough; this place had food everywhere. It would be a utopia for him if it wasn't for all the stupid—
He heard a growling and completed the thought with a snarl: "dogs."
Emerging from behind a dumpster, he saw an immense doberman pincher, ears lowered and teeth barred, staring at his prize.
"Not this again," he sighed, dropping the hotdog. "Let me guess: you want the meat I just snatched and you are willing to fight me for it. You're big and scary and I'm a poor, defenseless rookie digimon. I know the way this works, and you better turn around if you don't want to get hurt."
His name was Scarmon. He was fairly small, standing on all fours. His reptilian head didn't even reach the top of the average human's knees. All over his body were shiny black scales. Each of his four feet had three sharp, curving claws, and a few bony protrusions at the back of his head. He had a box-like head with a wide set of jaws, complete with several large, razor sharp teeth. His nostrils flared, taking in the scent of the both the real dog and his hotdog, keeping an eye on both with his large, yellow eyes. His stubby tail lowered and twitched excitedly as he crouched, ready to pounce. The dog, confused by the lizard-like creature that spoke like humans, was not so put off that it wasn't willing to fight for the hotdog.
"Not going to back off, are ya?" Scarmon asked, barring his own sizable teeth in a voracious grin. "You're brave, but stupid, Rover. I eat puppies like you for breakfast, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that."
The dog barked and Scarmon snarled, displaying his chompers with pride. The dog was apparently unfazed, however, and it charged its opponent. Scarmon leapt straight up into the air with his powerful legs and landed skillfully on the dog's back as its momentum carried it forward. Whirling around upon the dog's back, he opened wide and sank his teeth into the scruff of its neck. The dog yowled in sudden pain, which was made worse as Scarmon dug his claws into the dog's flesh, getting a better hold. "Not exactly a pushover am I, Sparky?" Scarmon taunted as the Doberman furiously shook himself, trying to dislodge his assailant. The dog was stronger than Scarmon suspected and he found it difficult to hang on. Deciding to end it quickly, he released his grip from the dog and landed easily on top of the nearby dumpster. "Up, here, Bingo," Scarmon called, drawing the dog's attention. "Plasma Fire!" he attacked.
The small green fireball hit the ground just ahead of one of the dog's paws. His canine adversary noticed the smoke emanate from the burned ground and then looked to him. Whimpering slightly, the beaten dog retreated back down the alley, its tail between its legs. "Yeah, I thought so," Scarmon called after it in his gruff, growling voice. "I've met cats tougher than you!"
He hopped down from the dumpster and gave a contemptuous snort as he turned back to his hotdog, only to see a mouse nibbling on it.
"Why you cocky little…!" He sprang forward, seizing the mouse in his jaws. It only managed to give one terrified squeak of protest as Scarmon tossed his head back and swallowed the mouse whole. "Serves you right, you little thief," he grumbled, taking up the hotdog. "If you want it so badly I'll send it to you," he added, snapping up the hotdog after him.
Satisfied after his meal, he followed the alley back to a manhole. Grunting as he used all of his little body to lift the heavy cover, he finally removed it and descended into the catacombs beneath the streets. He followed the familiar path he had taken many times before, through the abandoned subway tunnels heading towards his lair. He had holed up there over the winter and found it perfect protection against the harsh New York City cold. It was a nice, secret place to wait a while until his partner was free to join him. He had no idea when that would be, but he was a patient digimon and, if he had to suffer a little indigestion from eating sewer rats, that was fine with him.
"Get away!" shouted an old man in an old Irish accent as he stalked by. "Get away, ye curséd demon! You'll not be getting me soul today!"
Scarmon sighed. He was used to living with the bums that took refuge in the abandoned tunnels deep below the city, but he wished that Mr. Morrison, the only one that knew about him, would remember who he was. He was insane, which meant that no one believed him when he told people that a Komodo Dragon was living in the sewers. Or an alligator. Or Bulgarian pit-bull. Or, like today, a demon. It came in handy when he wanted to keep hidden, but it was annoying to deal with nonetheless.
"For the last time, Mr. Morrison, I'm not a demon," Scarmon sighed. "I'm a digimon! Understand? Digimon? From another world, made of data from the Internet? 'Show me your brave heart?' Any of this ringing a bell?"
"Get away! Get away, ye foul thing!"
"Whatever," Scarmon sighed, proceeding on to his lair. It wouldn't have bothered him so much if he could be with his partner. With Jin. His best friend would understand how he felt. As much of a loner as he could be, he needed someone else there. If he didn't, he might lose it. He might become like those other crazies out there that saw aliens and demons and walked around with signs that said, "The End is Near." Not that he could hold a sign.
As he approached the little cranny at the back of the tunnel, just a spot with some blankets and a few old boxes, he caught the scent of someone he didn't recognize. Coming up on the lair, he called out, loudly, "All right, whoever you are! Come out or I'll have to eat one of your major organs!"
"Relax," came a high, soothing voice. "I just want to talk. I have some news, and you're a part of it. Come on in and I can help you. Yep, help you I can!"
Michael James Washington, Jr., wore a big grin on his face when he walked out of school that day. It was the last day for the Seneca School for Boys just outside of New York, and even though it got out a day later than most public schools, he didn't mind. They had a party in class, which was great since he felt like celebrating. This was not only the end of the school year, but the beginning of something very special.
His father was waiting in a limo outside the school and the chauffeur held it open for him. He got inside hurriedly, feeling ecstatic about his plans.
"How was your last day, son?" his father asked.
"Great!" Michael replied. "Why'd you pick me up in a limo?"
"I've got an interview to get to. They want to know about the latest movie."
"You mean 'Iowa Smith and the Pearl of Wisdom'?"
"I can't believe they wanted you to do another sequel," he replied, rolling his eyes.
"It puts food on the table, doesn't it. Don't be so snotty."
"All right, all right," he relented. "Well, could you drop me off somewhere?"
"A flower shop."
"Which one?" he asked.
"You know, that one over by Central Park, right around King Towers."
The elder Michael Washington eyed his son suspiciously. He grinned knowingly as he asked the second question. "You mean the one near Mimi's apartment?"
Michael reddened slightly. "Yes, that's the one."
"Well, what about Betamon? Aren't you going to bring him along?"
Betamon was asleep on the floor of the limo, resting comfortably on a cushion. The amphibious digimon was completely oblivious to the other passengers, tired as he usually was in the increasing summer heat. He much preferred the cool summer nights or the soft rains of spring to the stifling June sun. He and Michael had become local celebrities since the events of last December, being part of the crew that saved New York from rogue digimon and later revealed as the ones that helped stop Gorillamon from wrecking the Empire State Building. Both accepted their roles with honor and dignity. It was at an awards ceremony in which Michael and Betamon stood next to Mimi and Palmon that one of his friends nudged him and remarked that the two looked pretty good together.
At first, Michael had dismissed the idea. Mimi was his friend, nothing more, as far as he was concerned. Then, gradually, he found himself considering the idea whimsically, then seriously as he realized what Mimi meant to him. She had been his best friend since she came to New York and she had introduced him to the other Digidestined from Japan. He had been attracted to Yolei at that first meeting, but he found that many of the qualities he liked in Yolei were ones she shared with Mimi. That honesty, that Sincerity that had gotten her a crest, was so innocent and pure that he couldn't help but admire it. Her caring personality showed in everything she did and no one could feel neglected when she was around. And then there was her laugh, and her very voice which seemed melodious in his ears. And her big brown eyes, always vibrant and emotional; he had lost himself in her eyes many times, prompting her to ask him if he was all right. And her chestnut hair, which flowed softly around her head like a halo, and her smile, and…
Before he knew it, he realized that he really did feel that way about Mimi. He just hadn't had the courage to tell her. But now, with school out of the way and a whole summer to spend with her, it was his big chance to finally ask her out.
"Michael! I asked if you're going to bring Betamon with you," his father repeated when Michael seemed to have lost himself in a daydream.
"No, I wanted to be alone with her. I thought it might be uncomfortable if I brought him along."
"Brought me along where?" Betamon piped up, awakening from his nap.
Michael sighed while his father laughed. "Hey, Betamon, do you want to go to Mimi's?"
"Sure! Are you going to finally ask her out?"
Michael groaned, slapping his forehead as his father laughed again. "Looks like you're not too good at hiding it, son," he chuckled.
"I wish Mimi would notice so maybe I'd know how she'll react."
"Oh, come on, it's no big deal to ask a woman on a date!" his father said, slapping him on the back. "She either says yes or she says no."
"I've dated before, Dad. But I'm worried that if I ask and she says no, she won't want to be friends anymore," Michael protested, getting even more nervous. "I'm worried that things would be awkward after that."
"You don't need friends that would let a little thing like that come between you," he argued.
"You don't have a friend that means as much to me as she does," he sighed.
Mr. Washington rolled his eyes. "Saunders," he called to the driver, "can you hurry to the flower shop? I'm getting an overdose of teen angst back here and I don't want to be sick for the interview."
The limo sped up slightly and in moments it was at the flower shop. Michael and Betamon got out, his father waving goodbye and wishing him the best of luck. He wasn't sure what kind of flowers to get her and decided that a bouquet of roses was too much, one rose was too corny, and a Venus fly trap was too weird. (The latter suggestion came from Betamon, who felt an instant camaraderie with anything that could catch flies.) In the end, he settled on an assorted bouquet of several flowers. He wasn't very experienced at these kinds of things, but he did know what kind of flowers Mimi liked and he and the florist both thought it looked very pretty. He knew that she loved flowers and felt certain that this would be the best way to tell her how he felt.
As he made his way to her apartment building, he felt butterflies in his stomach, the prospect of telling her making him excited, but also jittery and nervous. He told himself it was stupid. They'd been friends for over a year now, there was no reason to be nervous. Betamon followed, hopping behind him trying to keep up with his partner who was marching deliberately ahead. People turned their heads and whispered, "That's Michael Washington, Jr. He's one of those New York Digidestined."
Michael was above it all, not hearing a word, even the annoyed grunts of Betamon who was struggling to keep up. As he entered the apartment, heart beating rapidly, he was thinking of what life would be like with Mimi. Maybe they'd go on walks in the Digital World. He could see her at a karaoke club, him trying to get her to sing, her giggling and refusing before giving in and singing a song for him. Or maybe she would ask him to play his violin for her. He could see the two of them so clearly. They wouldn't need anyone else. Just them, their digimon, and that would be all they'd need in the world.
"Michael, slow down!" Betamon protested.
Michael halted and looked back to his partner. "Sorry about that, Betamon," he apologized. "Come on, I'll carry you to the elevator. We just need to hurry. Who knows what could happen in a minute. If I was too late—"
"You could be too early if you keep hurrying," Betamon remarked.
"What? Oh, I didn't think about that," he said worriedly. "Wait, how could I-"
"All I'm saying is that there's no rush. Just calm down and be yourself. I'm sure she likes you too. Who doesn't?"
Michael relaxed. "You're right," he agreed. "You're right. I'll just give her the flowers and say… and say…"
"Well, just say something nice and honest. Don't go overboard and tell her she's the girl of your dreams."
Michael shuddered. The very word "dreams" sent a chill through his spine. He had woken up often after a terrible nightmare. His friends, his family, Mimi, Betamon, and everyone had been killed by something. A red-eyed creature of pure evil that finally came for him. He pushed it out of his mind and tried to think of happier thoughts.
Betamon noticed his sudden change of mood and wondered, "Does he have nightmares too? Those dreams about the dark man? The monster with the red eyes?" He would have to ask him later, however, because the elevator doors opened and he stepped out onto Mimi's floor.
He approached her door, his heart thudding loudly, his hands shaking. He stopped about ten feet from he door and took a deep breath. This was the moment of truth. He just had to stay calm. Stay calm. Stay calm.
Both of them almost leaped right out of their shoes when the door opened wide and Mimi burst from it, Palmon hot on her heels.
"Mimi!" Michael croaked, his face reddening momentarily.
"Michael?" she asked. "Oh, you remembered!" she cooed. "I should have guessed that you would. You never said anything, but I guess you remembered better than I did. You're so considerate!"
Michael just about melted. "Uh-huh," he said. Betamon rolled his eyes.
"And you even brought flowers! You're so sweet!"
The stupid looking grin on his face widened. He couldn't do much more than laugh bashfully. Betamon poked Michael's ankle with one fin. "What's she talking about?" he asked.
Michael froze, but thought quickly. "Well, why don't you tell him, Mimi?"
"Oh, you didn't tell him?" she asked. "Oh well. Betamon, today is the day a friend of ours might be coming back!"
"Who?" Betamon asked for both himself and Michael.
"I almost forgot," she said, embarrassed. "But if we hurry we should be able to make it. You see, today is very special. Today is the day of Jin's parole hearing, and they'll probably let him out!"
"What?" Michael asked, his eyes going wide.
"And you're so sweet that you brought flowers to welcome him home!"
That's when Michael's heart caved in.
"Sanbyaku ni-ju… sanbyaku ni-ju ichi… sanbyaku ni-ju ni…"
Jin Takamura was in the prison gymnasium doing pushups. He had been allowed the privilege of working out as it relaxed him and it was important. The good behavior he'd shown while in the New York City Juvenile Detention Center had gotten him in the good graces of some important people. Even he was surprised when they said he might be getting out soon.
"Sanbyaku ni-ju san… sanbyaku ni-ju yon… sanbyaku ni-ju go…"
"Ever try doing it in English?" the guard on duty asked him.
"Fine," he relented. "Three hundred twenty-six… three twenty-seven… eh, that's enough for today."
He rolled over and crawled to his chair.
"No, I'm fine."
He was quite an individual, unlike any in the facility, and distinctly unlike any Digidestined.
The guardians of the digital world had seen fit to make him a Digidestined, giving him a crest that was energized by dark power: the Crest of Rage. He had gone to the digital world, but never joined with those eight children that had saved the world. No, he and his digimon had wandered the planet alone. His situation was given a cruel twist, however. When the Digidestined pursued Myotismon back to Earth, he had been too late to follow them and was stranded in that world. The time difference between the two worlds had been disastrous for him, for while Myotismon laid siege to Tokyo over the course of a few days, two years passed in the Digital World, during which time the Dark Masters had arrived and survival became a daily struggle. After the defeat of Apocalymon, he had remained in the Digital World another three years. His body had aged two years longer than normal, even though, as far as Earth was concerned, he'd only been gone three. So, he could honestly give his age as 14 or 16, whichever he found more convenient.
The ordeal had warped him in ways he hadn't even understood until it was almost too late. His wrath grew upon learning of his mother's death while he had been away. The loss of his normal life, his role as an unintended Digidestined, his mother's death, and his feeling of inadequacy against the Dark Masters and the Digimon Emperor left him in search of a purpose; a target. He had wished to fight evil, and believed he'd found it in New York City. He'd tried to destroy the place, and with Carnagemon, his digimon's Mega form, he'd almost succeeded. A large portion of the north tower of the World Trade Center had been destroyed in the fight with those who'd tried to stop him.
But someone did stop him. Mimi. That sweet girl who had understood him, comforted him, taken his rage away and made him understand that his way was wrong. He was a monster and it horrified him that he had almost killed thousands of innocent people. Some days he looked at himself in the mirror and hated the sight of himself. He would live it down for the rest of his life that he had almost become a killer and the guilt wouldn't leave him.
But, nonetheless, he had learned and he was trying. In the face of the taunts and insults of other young men and the daily confrontation with his own horrible past, he was trying. He felt like he was finally turning a corner and leaving the anger and violence behind him. It had taken five years to do it. That, and, of course, the use of his legs.
"Ungh," he grunted, pulling himself into his wheelchair. "Well, let's go. I think I can face the board now."
He could barely remember it. The army helicopter, the tears in his eyes, the explosion that had sent him over the side. And Scarmon, his partner, in the form of Carnagemon, shielding him with his own body as he plummeted to the ground. He had broken his fall and both had survived, but the force was still strong enough to snap his spine. The end result was that he now had two useless limbs. He'd made the best of it, however, and continued to exercise. His time in the digital world conditioned him, made him strong, and working out was a good way to work through things. He tried to do 350 pushups a day, 300 crunches, and fifty curls of 30 lbs. per arm, among others. Three days a week a physical therapist came in and helped him exercise his legs. (He'd been against it and hated the idea of someone else moving his legs for him, but it kept the muscles from atrophying and she said that it might one day help if he regained the use of his legs.) He was in prime condition and any newcomers to the juvenile hall quickly learned that Jin was nobody they wanted to mess with, though he avoided outright fights if he could avoid them. He couldn't kick, but he was skilled with his arms and had even learned to fight on the floor if some punk knocked him out of his chair. He'd earned the other inmates respect and that was the best way to survive in this place.
If he'd earned the respect of the inmates with his fighting and his toughness, he'd earned the respect of others with his schoolwork. He'd shown a great ability to learn languages, polishing his English skills and the classes he was taking showed he had natural aptitude for it, although he still made several mistakes, particularly with the letter "L." In any case, his schoolwork and his reluctance to fight except in cases of self-defense had earned him good standing. He had even taken a liking to reading, since he couldn't engage in many physical activities that required running, standing, or walking. It was a good way to pass the time, and in prison there were few things more crushingly horrible than boredom.
He'd done well. So well, in fact, that he wasn't even sure that he was ready to be paroled. He was supposed to be there until he was twenty-one, and the courts judged him to be 14 according to his birth records, and he hadn't been there for more than eight months. Still, it would be nice to get out, go to a real school, see other people, see Mimi without a glass window between the two of them, and, of course, Scarmon.
He wheeled himself into the room, three adults sitting in at a table in front of them. They had a lot of papers and a few items obscured from view and they were exchanging a few last minute words before they proceeded.
"Okay, inmate #081385," the chairman began, "please state your name."
"Uh, Jin Takamura, sir," he stated, hesitantly. He felt a little nervous and had almost tried to give his surname first, as they did in Japan, but he'd caught it in time.
"Well, how do you feel today, son?"
"I feel very good, sir," he replied.
"That's good," he continued. "I guess you know how this works, then, don't you? We ask you a few questions then see if you're fit to reenter society. I don't mind telling you that there's a fair chance of that happening."
Jin only nodded.
"Then let's get started," he said, taking sip from his glass of water. "First off, are you willing to stay in a youth hostel for a while?"
"Are you willing to continue attending school, working towards your diploma once school restarts in the fall?"
"And are you willing to meet regularly with a parole officer who will report on your condition?"
The chairman examined several more of his notes. "Well, Jin, you realize that the violation of such things, especially that last one will result in you coming back here. Even the slightest criminal action will send you back here immediately. You steal so much as a stick of gum and you return here for a long, long time."
"I understand, sir," Jin replied. "I won't be involved in any more crimes."
"As you can imagine, we hear that a lot, son," the chairman remarked. "What would you do if a former associate of yours—"
"What is 'associate'?" he asked, unsure of the word.
"Oh, uh, someone you used to know," he clarified. "If a former associate of yours asked you to help him in a gun running operation, what exactly would you say to him?"
Jin cracked a smile. "I don't think I'll be running anything," he said, gesturing at his wheelchair. The board chuckled slightly, and he felt his confidence return. "Seriously, I would tell him that I've had enough of that. I've done it before and it didn't get me anywhere. He'd have to find someone else to do it."
"—I'd call the police," Jin quickly added.
"Well, I must say, Mr. Takamura, you've shown remarkable progress since coming here. There is one issue that we must discuss first."
The chairman held up two plastic baggies. Jin swallowed when he saw what was in them: his digivice and crest.
"This device baffled us when we first received it. We had it examined but determined it was not dangerous or illegal. The same goes for this tag, which we thought may have been gang-related, but found no indication that any gang used it for a symbol."
Jin folded his hands, keeping calm, eyes narrowed and emotionless.
"Are you aware of the testimony given last January before the Japanese Diet? The one regarding the creatures known as digimon? In particular, that of a…" he checked his notes, "Koushiro Izumi?"
"Everyone knows about it, sir," Jin replied.
"Of course," the chairman went on. "Well, his testimony and subsequent pictures taken afterwards have identified these items which were found on you. This electronic device is known as a 'digivice,' used to empower digimon partnered with certain humans. This tag and crest harnesses an individual trait typically for the purpose of further empowerment, though the majority of these crests were destroyed."
Jin was silent.
"I'll be frank with you, Jin. We know your secret. We know you're one of these so-called 'Digidestined.' This was not something you told us or had mentioned at your trial. The conclusion reached was that you were working under one of the creatures, armed, and held the other children atop the World Trade Center at bay. Now, however, the case is complicated. Details were always sketchy at best, but now we realize that you may have had a greater hand in it than you might have indicated."
Jin hated the chairman at that moment. He despised him for revealing his secret. It was his secret to share, not the world's to flaunt. Now, they all knew it. They knew about him. They knew about Scarmon, would find out that he had been guilty, not an accomplice, but the mastermind, and they would keep him there for another six years.
"Well, would you care to confirm or deny this?"
Jin kept quiet. If they wanted to condemn him, let them do it. He wouldn't lie, but he wouldn't give them the whole truth. He would let them judge for themselves.
The chairman sighed. "That's not surprising. There's been a code of silence among Digidestined. Even native children such as Michael Washington have not been totally forthcoming with details until confronted. Still, this council recognizes the good that you and your comrades have done and are capable of. We have counted four children on the tower that night, but five creatures. We believe that you helped to defeat the odd, offending creature and, when captured, you allowed yourself to be imprisoned for the sake of keeping the identity of the others a secret."
Jin kept still, but was reeling from this conclusion. "Willis," he thought. "They don't know that Willis has two digimon. They think one of his was mine and that we were trying to stop Carnagemon!"
"Anything you'd care to add?" the chairman asked.
Jin shook his head.
The chairman turned to the woman next to him. "What do you think?" he whispered.
"He seems fine, but I worry about the notes of the hall's psychologist," she answered. "He has issues. Anger issues, guilt issues, and he seems easily prone to depression and violence. And then there are those apocalyptic dreams he's been complaining about."
"But do you think he's stable?"
She thought for a moment. "Yes, I think so. His therapist seems to think so. He's got a good head on his shoulders, but he's a little unpredictable. If he can keep out of trouble, I guess he's harmless."
He turned to the man on his other side. "What about you?"
"I wish he'd say more about the night he fell off the WTC," the man whispered. "I'd feel a lot better if he'd say something about it."
"But you know how these kids are: they never talk about it unless they have to. I think he still thinks he needs to protect the others. Maybe he does. Do you really have doubts that he is who he says he is?"
The man thought a moment. "No, I guess not."
"Anything else you want to say, son?"
Jin thought for a moment. "Yes, sir," he said. "I've done some things I wasn't proud of. A lot of the time, I'm a little sorry I survived falling off that building. But I'm going to try my best if I can go free. I promise you, I will try to act with honor."
The board had one last quick discussion among themselves. They looked once more at Jin, then at his file. The chairman considered the situation very carefully, and Jin sat there feeling like he was going to explode unless they made their decision quickly. Finally, however, the chairman chose one of the stamps and loudly imprinted two words upon his file: PAROLE GRANTED.
"And this," said the hostel manager, "is your bed."
"Thanks," Jin told the manager, named Miss Fine. "I think I'm going to like it here."
"I hope so," Miss Fine replied warmly. "I'll let you and your friends unpack. Let me know if you need anything."
Jin looked up to Mimi who smiled proudly at him. He returned the smile and said, "Home Sweet Home." She and Michael had arrived shortly after his parole and had ridden on the bus with him to the St. Augustine's Youth Hostel in downtown New York. The place was a little shoddy and he shared a bedroom with several other children, his bed being the last in a long row. Still, there was a dresser, plenty of bathrooms, and, best of all, a window. It wasn't much but it was far better than a juvenile hall.
"Oh, Jin, I'm so proud of you!" Mimi squealed, hugging him. "And so is Michael!"
"Yeah. Uh-huh. Proud," Michael said begrudgingly. Michael truthfully couldn't think of anyone he disliked less than Jin, and he had tried. First of all, there was the cozy relationship he and Mimi had, and he was more than a little bit jealous of it. Then there was the kind of person Jin was: a gun-toting delinquent from Japan who abused his strength and his digimon for his own selfish desires. Finally, and most importantly, Jin had tried to kill him not once, but twice; first by nearly strangling him in an alley and then by almost throwing him off the WTC during their fight. As far as he was concerned, there were some people who deserved to be in jail, and Jin qualified.
Still, for the sake of Mimi, he tried to be nice. "So, you have a lot of black and gray clothes in your suitcase," he said, making polite conversation.
"Beats an orange jumpsuit," he chuckled. "By the way, thanks for the flowers," he added, thinking, What kind of idiot gives an ex-con flowers?
"Well, I guess you'll want to get acquainted with your new home, so maybe Mimi and I—"
"Actually," Jin interrupted, "I need your help, if that's okay."
"Of course!" Mimi said. "We'll be willing to help however we can, right Michael?"
"Sure," Michael said through clenched teeth. "What do you want?"
"I want to find Scarmon again," Jin said. "He said he's been living in the abandoned subway tunnels last time I saw him, so I might need a little help getting around."
"Don't worry," Palmon spoke up. "I'm sure we'll find him. With Betamon and I, we'll get you through anything."
"Right!" Betamon piped up, drawing a glare from Michael.
"Thanks," Jin replied, digging out his digivice. "I should be able to use this to find him." He took it out and examined it. He noticed a faint dot on the screen.
"What's it say?" Palmon asked.
"He's near," Jin answered.
"I can't believe I'm actually down here," Michael complained, wrinkling his nose in disgust. These abandoned subway tunnels were revolting. Dirt and garbage littered the floor and homeless people eyed them greedily as they walked by. Mimi was holding her nose, but seemed not to notice the stares they were getting. He was glad the digimon were close by. He couldn't believe anyone would choose to live down there, but then decided that it figured that Jin's partner would choose it for home: a scummy, rotten place for a scummy, rotten digimon.
"Look on the bright side," Jin grunted, pushing extra hard. "At least you don't have to worry about getting stuck in anything."
"Yeah, but this is pretty gross," Mimi remarked. "I hope we find Scarmon soon. I think I just saw a rat."
"You did, it's right over there," Jin said, pointing.
Mimi shrieked when she saw it and hugged Jin tightly, shutting her eyes in fear. Michael nearly exploded. Why did she go to Jin? He was there, wasn't he? At least she didn't have to crouch to hug him!
The signal on Jin's digivice became stronger and he led them to a tunnel dimly lit by light filtered from the streets above. He rolled to the end of it and found several stacked boxes and a neat pile of bones and burger wrappers.
"Scarmon?" Jin called cautiously.
"About time you got here!" the little black lizard exclaimed, poking his head from one of the boxes.
"Scarmon!" Jin cried.
"Buddy!" Scarmon hollered, leaping into his lap. "You made it!"
"Yeah, I made it," he said, hugging his partner tightly. "They paroled me today. I brought some friends along, too."
Scarmon looked and saw Mimi, Michael, and their respective partners. "Hey, good to see you Mimi, Palmon!" he greeted them.
"Good to see you too!" Palmon exclaimed.
He then turned to the other pair. "Michael. Betamon."
"Scarmon," they said coldly in unison.
"Enough greetings!" a new voice declared. "The time has come for seriousness!"
Mimi's eyes went wide as a new figure floated out from the shadows. "Pixiemon!" she cried, running to the small, pink digimon and embracing him.
"Nice to, oof!, see you, oof!, too!" he choked, nearly crushed by the affectionate girl. "Now please let me go before I suffocate."
"Oops. Sorry!" she apologized, releasing him.
"Who's this guy, Scarmon?" Jin asked.
"I am Pixiemon, yep-yep!" he declared with pride.
Jin looked at the diminutive, cheerful puffball and made a face. "Scarmon, you did try to eat him, right?"
"Ahem!" Pixiemon interrupted irritably. "More respect you should have!"
"Pixiemon trained me and the other original Digidestined and saved us from the Dark Masters, Jin," Mimi explained. "He was deleted, but it looks like he was finally reborn!"
"And it took me a long time to get back to my old self, but I'm finally here, and just in time, too!" Pixiemon added.
"Why's that?" Michael asked curiously.
"Because I have a very important mission to give you," he replied. "Tell me, all of you, have you been having a certain nightmare, over and over again?"
All six confirmed it with their mutual looks of surprise.
"A dream of a world destroyed, everyone but you dead, and the one that caused it, the red-eyed creature of shadows, comes for you at the end?"
All of them looked to each other, then nodded.
"Well, I have bad news for you," he continued. "It is no dream. It is a future of what may be. That creature is real and he is out there right now!"
Michael swallowed. "What's the good news? Or is there any?"
"Oh, there is good news!" Pixiemon told them. "The spirits of the Digital World have given me a message and told me to pass it to you! You three, and some allies that will soon join you, will meet this enemy and face him. Together with your combined strength, you just might be able to stop him!"
"Whoa, hold it!" Jin spoke up. "I just got out of prison! I just got back together with Scarmon and now you want us to fight?"
"Yes," Pixiemon affirmed. "All of you are needed."
"And what if we refuse?" Jin demanded.
Pixiemon flew up and looked him right in the eyes, his voice serious. "If you don't, then both Earth and the Digital World will suffer the same fate: both will be swept clean of all life, left utter wastelands, and both will be destroyed."
On a deserted highway, around midnight, Abner Westmore drove his pickup truck towards the nearest town. Soon he would be able to rest. He had business to take care of, then he could head home to his family. He was getting a little tired and fought to keep his eyes opened. Then, to the side of the road, he saw a fire flaring up from the ditch. A man appeared in front of him waving his arms in the headlights trying to flag him down. Abner stopped the car and got out.
"Mister, you've gotta help me!" the man cried hysterically. "My car crashed! It's on fire and my daughter's inside! I need your help to get her out!"
Abner nodded and ran towards the flaming car at the side of the road. Only once he got down there did he realize that there was no car: there was only a bonfire, with a tire on it to produce more black smoke.
"Sorry 'bout that," the man said. "But I need your truck."
"What?" Abner exclaimed, whirling around to face the man. He backed up in fear as the stranger lunged forward, grabbing his shoulder in an iron grip.
"Besides," he giggled, "I haven't killed anything in almost a day," and rammed his fist through Abner's ribcage.
Walking back to the truck, a dark energy burning the blood from his hand, he smiled jovially. "You're lucky," he addressed the remains of his victim. "You should be glad you didn't live to see what is coming. You'd pity the Digidestined." He got in the truck and turned the ignition. He spoke again, and the twang of his southern accent was gone. "Yes, I'm going to do some truly awful things to them. Their agonized shrieks for mercy will be the prelude to the end of your world."
To be continued…
(Next time: The heroes have been called, but the Ancient Enemy is already a few steps ahead of them...)