Hikari Yagami is leaving class when her phone rings, the screen flashing with an unknown caller ID. She peers at it for a moment, then flips it open, pressing it to her ear.
Then everything goes black.---“Agent Himekawa, the Digimon have left Koushiro Izumi’s office.”
“Let them be. I’ll keep an eye on them.”
It’s not difficult to find them.
The Digimon meet in the same place the humans always do, in the shade of the Ferry Futo bridge, gathering around in a huddle.
Maki sets herself up on the nearby hill, where she can see and hear them, but they can’t see her. She doesn’t approach yet. She can guess the conversation they’re about to have.
“Should we have told Koushiro where we’re going instead of sneaking out?” Piyomon asks.
“I don’t want to disturb him,” Tentomon replies, rubbing his pincers together anxiously. “We won’t be out here for long, right?”
Patamon doesn’t meet his gaze. “S-Sure. We don’t need to be out here for long. I just thought you all needed to know that I’m …” his voice catches in his throat, “I’m …”
“You’re Infected, right?” Gabumon asks, gently.
Maki feels a pang in her chest. She does her best to ignore it. She knew this was coming, sooner or later, had thoroughly detached herself from the concept, but hearing it said out loud rattles her more than she’d like to admit.
Patamon nods without looking up.
“Does Takeru know?” Gomamon asks.
“He found out just after the school festival,” Patamon says. “I bit him. I keep -- losing time, and when I wake up, I realise I’ve gone berserk, like the other Infected, just for a few minutes. He won’t let me fight because he worries that if I do, I’ll …”
Patamon looks up sharply. “I’m going to go somewhere else. That way I won’t be a danger to all of you. I won’t Infect you.”
Gabumon shakes his head. “You don’t need to do that,” he steps forward, pulling back the sleeve of the pelt he wears, showing a patch of skin flickering in red and violet shades of static. “I realised yesterday evening. I’m Infected as well.”
“It’s not just you two,” Tailmon says. “I think I blacked out for a few minutes this morning. Nobody was around for me to hurt, but -- I’m Infected, too.”
Tentomon reveals he’s Infected next, then Gomamon, Piyomon, Palmon, until only Agumon remains.
He shrugs. “I dunno! How would I tell? Does being Infected feel different?”
“I don’t really know,” Patamon says, ducking his head again. “I’m sorry. You must have all caught it from me.”
“There’s no way of proving that,” Tailmon says. “We could have been Infected by our contact with Meicoomon, or even in our fights against other Infected Digimon. We might even have been Infected before we ever came to this world.”
They sit in silence for several minutes more, and Maki wonders if they’re just going to go home, tell their human partners what’s happened, and if the Chosen would come to her for help if they did. Maybe she’d even give it to them. She’s not so sure, looking down at the Digimon, that she could keep herself detached if they asked her directly.
Gabumon curls an arm around Patamon, letting him rest against him, while Agumon digs into the snacks they brought.
Before any of them can talk again, the wind picks up. There shouldn’t be any wind, not this strong, not out of nowhere on a clear day. She can catch the smell of orchids, cherry blossoms, and roses on the air, even though she knows that there aren’t any growing nearby.
Her gaze alights on the figure walking towards the Digimon. Hikari Yagami, stumbling, dressed like she came straight from school -- except she’s suffused with white light, her eyes turned rainbow colours, and where she steps, grass and flowers start to burst through the concrete.
Maki shifts onto her back foot automatically, but she can’t wrench her gaze away, even as any sympathy she had melts into burning, nauseating anger.“Listen,”
the being says with Hikari’s voice, echoing unnaturally.
“That’s not Hikari,” Tailmon says.
Of course, Maki realises. The Digimon had seen this before.“Listen,”
the being repeats. “I am the one who desires stability. I am Homeostasis.”
The name hits Maki like a punch to the gut. She can’t help herself from taking steps down the hill, unsteady, holding onto the rail for safety.Homeostasis,
a security program of the Digital World. Formless, bodiless, unable to interact with the world save by willingly possessing a Chosen, or by commands to Gennai, its chosen servant.
Nine years ago, when two Digimon had battled in the residential district of Hikarigaoka, the last remnants of a war that had ended with no victors, Homeostasis had turned its gaze onto the district and seen eight children with abilities it couldn’t quantify or understand, and had named them its new Chosen Children, to replace five old, unwanted ones who had failed to fulfill their function.“I have borrowed this body to speak with you,”
Homeostasis says, “because the Digital World and the human world are in grave danger.”
Maki’s read the reports. She knows that twice previous Homeostasis had possessed Hikari, using her as a medium with which to wield her powers -- once to separate WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon from battle, and once to empower the Chosen to destroy a Dark Master. She knows that even if Hikari doesn’t remember it afterwards, Hikari must have consented to this.
That doesn’t make the display any easier to watch.“A significant majority of the Digital World has been Infected now, with the percentage growing with each passing hour. Passing from Meicoomon to other Digimon to the fabric of the world itself, the Infection has now spread and mutated to the point where it will soon spread to the quantum sea itself.”
“I don’t -- quite understand,” Tentomon says.“All worlds arise from the quantum sea, and all so return. Once the Infection reaches the quantum sea, it will spread to all worlds, eventually causing their collapse at the point where they have succumbed entirely to Infection.”
“You’re saying the world will end?” Tentomon asks. “Yes. The Digital World will end first, and all Digimon will perish with it, initially depriving the human world of the usage of electronics. The human world will likely be Infected next, and other worlds will follow, until only the quantum sea is left, before it too will collapse, removing any further possibility for new worlds to be born from it.”
“Can’t we stop it?” Gabumon asks.
Maki shuts her eyes. She knows what Homeostasis is going to say next. To her surprise, Homeostasis is silent at first, staring straight ahead, calculating the answer to that question.
Then: “The Infection has spread to a degree such that there is only one way to avoid total annihilation.”
“What?” Agumon asks.”A great sacrifice. At the point at which the Infection exceeds my capacity to contain, when the primary Infection vector, the Digimon designated Meicoomon, appears once again, the Digital World will be purged,”
Homeostasis says. “And our time will end.”
Usually Homeostasis leaves gently, in Maki’s experience, but this time, the light fades in a split second, and Hikari’s body tumbles towards the ground.
Maki’s there in a heartbeat, catching her and laying her down onto the concrete, as gently as she can.
“Himekawa-san?” Piyomon asks.
“I’m not entirely sure what’s happening,” Maki lies. “But it seems like some other being possessed Hikari’s body. She’s unhurt, though.”
“Homeostasis,” Tailmon says. “We’ve encountered it before.”
“What did she mean by ‘a great sacrifice?’” Gabumon asks.
“I can’t be sure,” Maki says. “But most likely, she means a reboot.”
“A reboot?” Tailmon asks.
Maki thinks for a moment, debates whether or not to tell them the truth. It doesn’t take long for her to decide. If this is going to happen, if this has
to happen, then they deserve to know as much as she can tell them.
“The Digital World exists as a shadow of sorts of this world,” Himekawa says. “So long as this world exists, it can be remade. That’s what rebooting is. The Infection didn’t originally exist in the Digital World: It can purge itself of all Infected data, including the Infected Digimon, and restore it all from back-up files.”
“Then why hasn’t Homeostasis done that yet?” Patamon asks.
“Understand that rebooting isn’t like the cycle of rebirth that already exists in the Digital World. Those Digimon restored wouldn’t have their memories of their previous lives. Every Infected Digimon would be starting over from a blank slate,” Maki says. “Including all of you.”
Gabumon frowns. “But still -- …”
“And it’s a last resort. The Digital World and the human world, and countless others, sit on a quantum sea. Rebooting brings with it the possibility that it might disturb that quantum sea, causing it to consume the Digital World, or worse,” Maki adds. “If Homeostasis is considering this, then it must be a desperate situation.”
Tailmon shuts her eyes. “Are we out of time?”
“Yes,” Maki says. There’s no sense varnishing that. “If nothing is done, every world will be destroyed, so Homeostasis will reboot soon, while it still has the chance.”
“And rebooting will save Yamato’s world?” Gabumon asks.
“It should, so long as no Infected Digimon are within the human world during the reboot,” Maki says. “If even a single Infected is here, it will escape the reboot, return to the Digital World, and begin the Infection again. All traces of Infection must be gone from this world before the reboot happens.”
“So, if Meicoomon comes back …” Gomamon starts.
“If Meicoomon returns, it’ll be down to you to force her back into the Digital World, before the reboot.”
Gabumon takes a step forward. “How do you know all this stuff?”
Maki gives him her best nonplussed look. “Because I’m a high-level person at the Bureau.”
“No,” Tailmon says, sharply. “How do you really
know all this stuff?”
Maki can’t help but smile at that, but rather than answering, she scoops Hikari up, standing. “I’ll see Hikari back to school. We can’t just leave her here.”
“If everything is rebooted, we’ll lose all our memories, right?” Agumon asks.
“We won’t even know we lost them,” Tentomon says. “We won’t have any idea that we’ve forgotten them.”
Maki gives a quick nod. She’s good, now, at looking sympathetic but professional, she knows that, even if she can feel the muscles in her jaw twitching, and her eyes starting to sting.
“But,” Gomamon says, forcing a smile onto his face. “We’ll be saving this world. Saving it for Jyou and everyone else. We’ll make sure the sun rises tomorrow.”
“How long do we have left?” Piyomon asks.
Maki breathes out slowly, and hopes against hopes that she’s right, that this can be quick and easy for them. “Hours. Enough time to say your goodbyes.”
She starts to walk away, heading for the hill, and to her car on top of it. It’ll be a short drive to take Hikari back to Odaiba Middle School, and only a slightly longer one to return to her office, to wait the last few hours before the inevitable.
“I’m sorry, for you and for your partners,” she says, once she reaches the foot of the hill. “If it helps, in time I’m sure it’ll hurt less. Eventually, even the Chosen Children have to grow up.”