But the bed under her felt... strange. A curious hand pushed down against the mattress, finding not sheets and springs, but instead some sort of springy gel. There was also a strange fluttering sensation, the bed feeling not entirely stationary.
The oddities piling up, Hikari cracked one eye open and looked around for the green walls, her nightstand, Frosty's fish tank, Bow's pot, her closet, all the familiar sights of her room. But they were all absent, and this wasn't her room at all. “Huh?” Confusion overrode her fatigue and she sat upright, looking around.
She rested upon a circular pad of some kind, about eight feet across. The room around her looked like a compressed cylinder, rounded along the sides but flat along the top and bottom. The walls themselves were shiny and metal, and lined with all sorts of shelves and computer equipment. It was all brightly lit and squeaky clean, in an unnerving kind of way, reminding her of a doctor's office.
Glancing down at her d-ban, she saw some kind of probe attached to it. The small device attached over the screen, and blinked benignly with a pair of lights set into its tube-like structure. Beneath it, Hikari could see the screen of her d-ban scrolling through menus at dizzying speeds.
Catching her reflection in what looked like a shiny cabinet door, Hikari saw another pair of blinking lights and reached a hand up. To her shock, Hikari found a similar probe attached to her forehead. “Ugh!” She didn't know what was going on, where her partners were, where she was, but whatever this thing was, it couldn't be good.
“Don't touch that, you'll throw off the data!”
Whirling around at the sound of the voice, Hikari saw a stool behind a slim aluminum desk, occupied by a single Digimon. It had four long ears, looking vaguely like a rabbit's, and a chubby face with pink eyes behind a pair of squarish glasses. The creature's form was stubby, barely a few feet tall with short arms and no discernible feet. A pale blue ribbon was draped over the shoulders, held by a moonburst pin.
“I must say,” the Digimon went on. He tapped a control on the keyboard near him, and the rapid scrolling on Hikari's d-ban ceased. “I've never had a chance to study a human up close before -”
“Who are you?” Hikari snapped, cutting him off. He was talking about this like they had just happened upon each other, not like she'd been brought here against her will. “Where did you take me? Where are my partners?” Her hand drifted toward her d-ban, hoping that this Digimon hadn't disabled her ability to spirit evolve.
“Easy, easy!” said the Digimon, a Lunamon according to Hikari's quick glance at her d-ban. “My name is Renatus, I'm a scientist studying your world. As for where we are...” He touched his keyboard. A panel slid open along the side of the room, showing a window, and beyond it, blackness.
“That's not very helpful.” Hikari's voice was as flat and sharp as a steel blade, throwing Renatus a look of loathing. But he pointed her back toward the window, and Hikari gasped at what she saw.
A colossal marble came into view, its surface a pattern of blue, green, and brown, swirled with white. Some of the clouds were puffy and benign, but across the southern ocean she could see a pinwheel hurricane the size of a small continent brewing. It wasn't Earth, but Hikari recognized some of the geography. It was the Digital World, viewed from the space high above it. Hikari let out a gasp, her chest tightening as her situation sank in.
“Bow, wake.” The rumbling voice of the Shakomon close to her ear brought Bow out of her sleep, and her first thought was wondering what the Frost Knight wanted to bother her about at this time of night. Following that was a tiny amount of reluctant relief that at least he was bothering her instead of bugging Hikari.
“What's going on...?” Bow opened her eyes, expecting to see a dimly-lit bedroom. Instead however, fluorescent light jabbed hard into those opening windows, making her wince sharply. “Did I oversleep?” she wondered vaguely, sitting up tiredly.
“I do not believe so,” said the Frost Knight, and as she looked over, she saw the Shakomon was resting on a narrow slab of a cot next to Bow's. Wait, what was she doing on a cot?
“Where are we?” she asked sharply, looking around now. The surfaces of the modest space were gleaming, with much metal and plastics, and no wood to be found. There were three cots along the wall, and opposite them stood a table ringed by padded stools bolted to the floor. Against one wall was a bank of cabinets and a small refrigerator.
“I do not know,” said the Frost Knight, bouncing slightly, yet it took a few seconds for the heavily-shelled Digimon to flutter back down to the cot. “I awoke here moments ago.”
The Frost Knight shook what passed for his head. “That appears to be a doorway,” his eyes flickered to the wall at one end of the room. Metal panels formed some kind of sealed hatch, a bit on the small side and midway up the wall.
“She's close by, I can feel it,” said Bow, able to tap into the reservoir of power that Hikari was able to generate for them through her d-ban. “Tried knocking?” she asked, hopping to her feet and walking toward the door. Her lips twisted with wry amusement at the thought him bouncing his hard shell off the metal door and all the noise it would probably make.
Bow banged a fist on the door. “Anyone home? Open the door, please!” She was met with silence and frowned, looking for some kind of way to open it. But there was no handle, not even any kind of button. “Hellooooo?” she called, knocking again.
The Frost Knight's features, always hard to read in the first place, iced over even further as he considered the strangeness of the place.
“Fine, I'll rip it open,” said Bow, reeling out her vines. The Alraumon's tendrils brushed over the sealed hatch, probing for any kind of weakness to exploit.
“That may not be advisable,” the Frost Knight said, his voice sharp. “Something feels... wrong about this place.”
The Frost Knight's hesitation in his words made Bow pause briefly, but after a moment it only made her more determined to get through the door. If this place was bad enough to give brainfreeze the willies, it certainly wasn't the kind of place they could leave Hikari's safety to chance.
The world below slowly rolled out of view again, showing Hikari a star-speckled blackness. “I once had a research lab down on the surface,” said Renatus, his voice dropping slightly. “But it was destroyed during the war.” He slowly shook his head, looking surprisingly sad behind his glasses.
“What-?” Hikari began, but Renatus cut her off.
“What kind of research was I doing? Studying your world, as I said. Quite possibly why Insomnia ransacked my lab, I believe she was looking for a way to repair the firewall between worlds. Trying to stop other tamers from arriving, you know.” He inhaled sharply. “It's been my greatest wish to explore the human realm for myself.”
At that, Hikari found herself strangely elated given her situation. Did this stranger perhaps know of a way to go back to Earth? If he did... her long and thus far fruitless quest might finally come to an end.
“Unfortunately,” Renatus continued, apparently oblivious to the thoughts brewing in Hikari's head. “My efforts have been less than successful. Establishing a stable bridge has proven virtually impossible. Probe disintegrates in transit, aperture opens into deep space.” He shook his head and shuddered, sending the tips of his ears quivering. “I'd hoped that studying something that originally came from Earth would be illuminating.”
Hikari uttered a tiny snarl. She wasn't something, she was someone. Not to mention he didn't sound like he was anywhere close to a way to send her home, though he was at least trying to develop the technology. No one else Hikari had crossed paths with yet was even looking for a way. “I'm not a lab rat...” she grumbled, scooting toward the edge of the bed.
Standing however brought on a wave of dizziness, the ground feeling unstable, and her hair floating oddly around her. Clutching her forehead, she felt her stomach wobble and quickly sat back down.
“Sorry, centrifugal gravity,” said Renatus, as if that explained everything. “I must say, the preliminary scans of you while you were unconscious were simply fascinating! Your d-ban, too. I think it may explain some of my early failures -”
“Ugh!” growled Hikari, snatching up a nearby clipboard and flinging it at Renatus. The clipboard sliced sideways through the air, and the Lunamon's eyes widened before he ducked hastily behind his desk. The clipboard struck the wall and bounced off. “You – you – you jerk!” Hikari's voice readily betrayed that she'd wanted to call him something far worse, but hadn't been able to bring herself to do it. “If you'd come down and asked me to help you with researching a way home, I would have been fine with it! But no! You had to snatch me in the middle of the night and start just running your stupid tests on me! And you never did answer where my partners are!”
“Calm down, calm down!” The Lunamon's voice was pleading, only his ears visible above his desk. “You're right – I'm sorry, I just – I've never seen a human up close. I'd heard all sorts of things... but I couldn't take the chance of you saying no...”
Hikari's fingers were dug into the gel surface of the bed, her knuckles white. “If one said no, you could have asked another, there are dozens of us just in the city.” Her voice was sharp and her brow was crunched in a scowl, but she had stopped yelling.
When Hikari didn't continue, Renatus peeked his eyes out. “As for your Shakomon and Alraumon, I have them locked in another room on the station.”
That her partners were close relieved Hikari, but it gave her a chance to put more pressure on this presumptuous little scientist. It was clear his elevator skipped a few floors, mainly the ones to do with social boundaries, but Hikari got the bizarre sense he was sincere. “They won't be happy with you when they wake up~” Her voice perfectly blended singsong with a bit of malicious glee. “The Alraumon in particular, and she can give you a nasty rash if she wants to.”
Renatus looked alarmed, and disappeared from sight behind his desk again. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry!” he wailed, making Hikari think she had gone far enough.
“But they know I'm trying to get home,” she said, softening her voice a little. “So if you can help me with that I'll tell them not to hurt you.”
“You mean it?” Renatus peeked out again.
“Mm-hm!” Hikari said sincerely, though she was still fairly angry at the circumstances. “I would have helped if you'd asked...” she said again, standing. This time she was on guard for the strange pseudo gravity here, and though her hair still billowed slightly around her, she managed to steady her feet on the floor. “And no more shenanigans, or else.”
“Okay...” Renatus reached up and touched a button on the keyboard, and Hikari heard a hiss. A door at one end of the room opened, revealing a tubular hallway. Another, more distant hiss followed, echoing up the narrow corridor.
“Oh, and I'd better take this off.” Hikari removed the probe from her forehead, and noticed one of Renatus's monitors flicker unhappily. “Bow?” Hikari called loudly. “Frosty?”
“Kari!” Sinuous vines shot up the hallway and latched onto the hatch's frame. Bow quickly pulled herself into view, the Frost Knight against her abdomen. “Are you okay? What happened?” Her voice was higher than usual, clearly upset. Bow pulled herself quickly into the room, and set the Frost Knight on the ground.
“I'm okay, I'm okay,” Hikari said, giving them a reassuring smile. She stepped carefully across the floor, for walking in microgravity felt strange, but swept Bow into a hug when she reached her. Bow hugged Hikari tightly in turn, and let go only reluctantly.
“Um, hello there...” Renatus said timidly, still hiding behind his desk.
“Who is this?” rumbled the Frost Knight, turning to face the Lunamon and closing his shell as he moved.
“This is Renatus,” said Hikari, standing. She felt Bow's touch on her leg, the Alraumon sticking close and keeping a grip as though to suggest Hikari should keep it that way. “He's a scientist trying to work on making a portal back to Earth!” Though she was still a little dubious of the Lunamon's methods, Hikari couldn't keep the thrill at what he was working on from her voice.
Hikari felt Bow's hand twitch, but the Frost Knight spoke first. “I assume we have him to thank for our being brought here?”
“Um, yes...” said Hikari. “He...” she paused, trying to figure out the best way to describe him. “He means well but he's spent a little too much time alone in his lab.”
“Where is here, anyway?” asked Bow, looking sharply between Hikari and Renatus. “It feels all strange here... was it a region disturbed by the pulse?”
“Um, no, we're...” Hikari began, but she thought it would be better just to show them. As she pointed out the window, Bow gave a startled gasp, and the Frost Knight's silence and stillness grew deeper than usual. “Insomnia destroyed his old lab... so he built a new one where he hoped no one could mess with it.”
“Mm-hm, mm-hm!” Renatus nodded enthusiastically. “The lack of gravity also simplifies some of the calculations, particularly with some echoes from the planetary-scale data-shift disturbance still bouncing around.”
“And what did you need my Kari-chan for?” Bow asked sharply, her eyes narrowing. “That desk won't protect you if you have the wrong answer!”
Renatus cringed, shivering where he hid. “I'd hoped that studying some – uh, one that originally came from Earth would make the process easier. Just scanning her already helped correct the reintegration process.”
“My baby isn't your science project!” Bow said hotly, flexing her claws.
“Bow... hush,” Hikari said softly, bringing the Alraumon up short. “I've been here for months... and no one besides us has even been trying to find a way to Earth. And now we find a scientist who has actually made progress. I know he picked a bad way to start -”
“Damn right,” grumbled Bow, not even bothering to muffle or censor her curse.
“-But I told him as long as he behaved himself from now on I'd see past it,” said Hikari, again surprising her mother figure.
Bow still looked less than happy, but she knew how much Hikari's family meant to her, and what it was like to miss her home. She glared at the Lunamon, but eventually she let out a sharp sigh. “Fine. But if you hurt so much as one hair on her head,” her gaze drifted to the window. “It looks like a long way down.”
Renatus gulped but nodded vigorously. He cleared his throat nervously and slid out from behind his desk. “Well then, I'd like to run a few more scans, with your permission...?”
“Hikari,” the girl said simply, smiling.
“Pretty name,” said Renatus, a slightly distant look in his eyes. “If you'd be so kind as to lie down and relax, we can get started.”
As Hikari moved back to the center of the room, the Frost Knight looked at Bow. “Are you certain this is wise?” he asked quietly.
“No,” Bow admitted at a whisper, her expression conflicted. “But I know what it's like to want to go home...”
Hikari Senka kicked her legs lazily as she leaned against the console, enjoying the novelty of zero gravity and floating in midair. They were in the central hub of Renatus's station, a section that didn't rotate as it was the location of his main lab.
Computers and capacitors ringed the room, beeping, chirping, and humming. Several pod-like probes lay in a rack off to the side, each an ovoid perhaps two feet tall and packed with sensor equipment. At the center was a collection of equipment, surrounded by a lattice of metal bars. Black and yellow hazard markings were painted in a perimeter around the lattice, and on the bars themselves. Around that, as another precaution, was an invisible energy field designed both to keep what was in in, and what was out out.
This was Renatus's portal device. They'd been hard at work on it for several hours now, with the Lunamon in the lead and the others acting as his assistants.
Hikari felt a sense of wonder as she stared at the device. After all her searching, this might finally be what could send her home again. She'd grown fonder of the Digital World, thanks in no small part to Bow. The place was a lot more bearable with someone who thought a day to relax was perfectly acceptable, and who could make Hikari feel safe and accepted no matter what. But the dull ache of being separated from her family still stuck with Hikari, and could only be put aside for so long.
Her slender fingers plucked idly at the collar of the jumpsuit she had changed into, something Renatus had synthesized. There was much less loose fabric here than on her pajamas, and it was nice and warm. It was primarily blue, trimmed with white, and joined by lightweight shoes.
Hikari had also put her hair up, tired of it billowing and getting in the way all the time in zero gravity. Now it was tucked away in a ponytail. “Not long now, right?” Hikari asked, looking over at Renatus.
Scrutinizing the displays before him, the Lunamon nodded. “Nineteen seconds before it bounces back.” The armatures of the portal device swung down into position over the pedestal below them, and light flashed inside the teleporter. “Five seconds...” he continued, his expression tense.
The light flared brilliantly, forcing the four assembled to shield their eyes. Waiting until the light faded, Hikari finally looked. The armatures retracted away from the pedestal, but instead of the sandwich they had sent, only a pile of white goo had returned. “Eww...” Hikari wrinkled her nose as globules drifted into the air.
Renatus seemed only dimly aware of what had happened, already engrossed in the multiple monitors before him at his workstation. “Are you not bothered by this setback?” asked the Frost Knight.
“Of course I am,” said Renatus, his eyes remaining glued to what he was doing. “But cursing or throwing things won't tell me what happened or help me fix it – aha – there, that was easy. Now – oh my – failure in the coolant system for the primary tunneler. Blue pipe, red valve, over there, hurry!” he said to Hikari, who obediently pushed off.
Yet as she moved, the temperature readout on Renatus's computer continued to climb rapidly. “Where is this component?” asked the Frost Knight.
“Up there!” Renatus pointed to a dome-shaped piece of equipment. It was encased within a metal shell, already starting to groan with the temperature change. A tube of coolant that ran to it had visibly gone dry.
“Water Screw!” The Frost Knight fired a spray of water from within his shell, the attack having sufficient pressure to hold together even in zero-g. It splashed against the sensitive equipment's hard shell, slowing the rise in temperature.
“Got it!” called Hikari, wrenching the valve open. The secondary coolant system kicked in, and a blue fluid flooded the bare piping.
“There, temperature dropping!” Renatus was visibly relieved as the device's readings returned to normal. “Good idea,” he said, looking to the Frost Knight.
Hikari exhaled, stretching in midair. Some of the help she had rendered thus far had been allowing Renatus to scan her structure. He had told her it was clearly different from that of a Digimon, but not like what he had imagined. What that was supposed to mean, Hikari didn't know. She'd also helped with a few minor repairs, and Renatus also seemed to enjoy letting her hit the 'engage' button on the teleporter when it was time to test it.
“I hope you're planning on giving Kari-chan hazard pay,” said Bow, anchored by her vines to a nearby handhold.
“She is a capable little lab assistant,” said Renatus, adjusting settings on the portal device. “Let's see if we can stabilize the portal this time before sending anything through.”
The compliment made Hikari smile as she drifted back over toward Bow, but it disappeared from the girl's face when she saw the rather sour expression Bow had. “What's wrong, okaa-san?”
“Hm?” Bow blinked. “Oh, it's nothing,” she smiled and shook her head, leaving Hikari a bit puzzled.
“I'm gonna go get something to drink,” said Hikari, drifting toward the door.
“Affirmative,” said Renatus. “I'm going to double-check these settings, then try opening the portal again. I'll hold off on sending the probe until you're back.”
According to Hikari's d-ban, morning had given way by now to early afternoon. Being in space however meant that time of day and sunlight or lack of it didn't have the same connection, but the teen was too wired to be concerned by the fact they were on the dark side of the planet right now.
“We're getting close,” murmured Renatus, rubbing his eyes before turning back to his screens. “I know we are. The tunnel itself has shown a stability improvement of 495%, but the exit remains... flaky.”
Hovering behind him, Hikari looked over the displays. Most of it was incomprehensible to her, but she had still witnessed each successive experiment, the anticipation gleeful but also almost painful. Not once in all her weeks in the Digital World had Hikari been this close to finding a way home, but there was a part of her that wondered if this all could possibly work. The Digital World had done a remarkable job thus far as acting as a human roach motel.
Renatus's nimble digits clattered away at the keyboard, updating parameters within a spreadsheet his system used. “Hmmm,” he glanced at another monitor. “Station power level at 61%. Enough to spare for several more tests, but then we'll have to wait until we've passed around the dark side again and the solar panels can recharge us.”
Hikari nodded, her foot tapping against nothingness anxiously.
“Okay, powering up,” said Renatus, turning a key in the console. A light came on, flashing red at first, but then a yellow neighbor lit up, followed by a green light. The Lunamon flicked a switch beside that, and the array hummed to life.
The armatures extended again, and light boiled and frothed within the teleporter's enclosed center. “Tunneling underway,” announced the scientist, while two of his guests looked on. The Frost Knight had retired from the lab for the time being, stating vaguely that he was hungry.
“Tunnel established. Exit opening,” stated Renatus, eying a whirling line of color on-screen. “Determining exit point... that's strange,” he frowned thoughtfully, as several number readouts shifted, and a line graph kinked strangely.
Hikari gulped nervously. Even if the portal had yet to do anything but hiccup, each one still made her nervous. As she watched the monitor, the splash of color that represented the tunnel itself started to shift. It had been flowing left to right, a current of greens and blues speckled occasionally with red, but now it shifted to following back on itself. Angry red swirled across the screen, and the flickering light of the portal sparked and swelled. A warning tone sounded from the console as a purple blip followed the flow. “Incoming!” said Renatus.
Emerald water gushed out of the portal, flooding the sealed test chamber. Hikari lurched back in alarm, and Bow's eyes widened as a shadow appeared within the water. It was sleek like a missile, yet powerful and broad, with fins sprouting from the sides. A larger one extended from the back, and a sinuous tail ended in a forked fin.
Hikari's gut chilled at the silhouette the creature presented. This wasn't a Submarimon or Tylomon, this was a real, live terrestrial shark.
Bang! The room trembled as the shark slammed into the barrier encasing its water bubble. Bang!
“Send it back, send it back!” Hikari yelled, adding to Renatus's confusion. He complied however, typing in the commands. The portal arms sparked again, and the water drained from the holding tank.
The creature within was visible for a glimpse, a meaty head, dark and mottled hide, countless hooked teeth and deep, glassy eyes. Then it was gone, leaving Hikari to gaze in silent, transfixed horror at what had just happened.
“Kari-chan, are you okay?” asked Bow, drifting over. Reaching up, she gently stroked Hikari's face.
“It's just...” Hikari murmured. “That was an ocean predator from Earth called a shark. Seeing it come through was scary...”
“I bet it was,” Bow said, her voice sympathetic, soft, and sweet as she cupped Hikari's chin. “I know I'd be scared if I was trying to get home and ran into a Metal Greymon. Why don't you go take a break for a bit, okay?”
Hikari could feel herself shaking, her pulse pounding audibly in her ears and her nausea returning. Try as she might to chase away those feelings with hopes of seeing her family again, her fear would not loosen its hold. Sighing, she decided to agree before Bow forced the issue. “Kay...” She gave Bow a quick hug, and then pushed off for the door.
Hikari flopped down on the bed, finding even the simulated gravity a relief that helped steady her head. The spin declined to more of a gentle wobble, and Hikari closed her eyes, trying to breath. She should be happy to be working on what could get her home, but she had felt a growing sense of anxiety the longer the experiments had gone on. Was it simple discomfort on being taken up to a space station? Or was it something about the work they were doing?
Sighing, she eyed the shadow of a hand held aloft against the glare of a florescent light. Their progress reminded her of all the little adages of encouragement she had heard over the years. Hikari wasn't home yet, so they hadn't really succeeded, but with every test Renatus learned something new, and they got one step closer.
Yet one step closer was all they could do for now, as the finish line remained out of sight. The next test could do it all. Or... or it might never work, Hikari thought, rubbing her nose and blinking. That, she realized, was what sent her stomach churning, and left her with the feeling something was wrong. She finally had genuine hope, but she was afraid it would count for naught.
Shifting, she tried to get comfortable on the gel padding, thinking a nap might help even if falling asleep now was a bit of a longshot. Still, she tried, leaving the bed briefly to turn down the lights as Renatus had shown her before settling on her side.
Hikari wasn't sure she had ever dozed off when a musical tone awoke her. Her eyes shot wide and her heart thudded against her ribs. Had she just dreamed that sound? There was no mistaking that little jingle, the one her phone made when she had a new message. In fact, it could get stubborn sometimes, continuing to sound the tone until she read it.
There it was again, coming from nearby. Head snapping around, Hikari saw her pajamas where she had discarded them on a nearby table. The light of a screen shone through the pocket, and Hikari's heart jolted as she bounded across the room.
In her haste Hikari tripped, but frantically worked her legs to keep her feet under her. She didn't so much run to the table as fall to it, but she paid no mind to her stinging knees as she tore her cell phone out of her pajama pocket. She flipped open the screen.
Eyes watering, Hikari whimpered softly. Her hands shook so badly she could barely hold the button to access her voice mail. Holding the flip-phone in two hands, she held it up to her ear.You have 57 missed calls and 39 unread text messages
“New message,” said an automated female voice.
“Hello Hikari, dear,” said Hikari's mother. “I was just calling to make sure you made it to Jeanie's alright.”
“Hikari?” asked her friend Samantha. “Is everything okay? You didn't get lost, did you? We're all waiting. Hurry up!”
“Hey, it's Mikey. Call me when you get this!” Another of the friends she was supposed to meet up with before she got scooped up.
“Hikari?” It was her father's voice. “Jeanie's parents called and they said you never showed up. Where are you? Did something happen? Call me.” Though he tried to sound calm, the worried edge in his voice was unmistakable.
“Hikari, it's Thomas. Where did you end up last night? Give me a call when you get this.”
“Hikki, Ellen here. Where are you? We're all worried... this isn't like you. Please call me when you get this!”
“Hikari,” It was her mother again, the sound of fear in her voice an emotional knife in the gut, making Hikari give a dry sob. “Please call me when you get this... where have you been? We've got the police out looking... please... just come home safe.”
“If it's you listening to this Kari, get your ass home.” The brusque phrasing was that of the middle sibling, Kevin. “And if this is somebody else that took her? Either let her go, or start. Effing. Running.”
“Hikari?” asked Jeanie's soft, silky voice. “Please, answer us. If someone hurt you, don't shut us out. We can...”
“It's Thomas. Hikari... we're all worried sick. C-call me back,” his voice cracked. “little sis!” Her eldest brother's weary, straining speech sounded nothing like the confident, affable officer in training that he normally was. How long had it been since she had disappeared that that message was left?
“Hikari, it's your father. The police are following up some leads, if you can hear this... please just hang on. Whatever happened, they'll find you.” Despite all the pain and worry he had to be in with his daughter missing, he held his composure, instead speaking in the warm and steady voice he used when she was upset.
Feelings of terrible loss barely kept in check boiled to the surface at the sound of those worried voices. The tears flowed hot, free, and fast from Hikari's bluish eyes. Great sobs shook her slender form, and the phone slipped free from her hands and clattered slowly to the deck. Her tears formed a sparkling corona around her head, but her vision was too blurred as she hunched up and cried.
“Karichan?” A soft touch caressed her shoulders. It was not expectant, only comforting, and soon a familiar pair of arms hugged around Hikari's neck. “Shhh,” Bow said softly, rubbing Hikari's back. She couldn't have had any idea what had set Hikari off, but she didn't seem to care in the least.
Bow held Hikari tightly, and the distraught teen pushed herself against the Alraumon's small, rounded chest. After several minutes Hikari's breathing eased, and as Bow stroked her hair, the teen rubbed at her eyes with her sleeve. “Thank you, okaa-san...” she murmured, sniffling.
“You're welcome,” Bow said softly, easing Hikari back onto the bed. “Can you tell me what happened?”
“My phone,” Hikari croaked, before clearing her throat. “My, uh – phone,” she said, watching as Bow reached out with a vine to retrieve it. “S-somehow it got a signal when the portal was open. It – it got all the text – messages and voice mails people had left me after I got pulled into the Digital World.”
“They must have been so worried about you...” Bow passed Hikari her phone back, her own voice straining, for she knew what it must be like.
“Yeah,” said Hikari, having to immediately clench her teeth to avoid crying again. In addition to the voice mails, they were a multitude of text messages, from family, friends, even a few from teachers and classmates.
“Hikari,” Bow said, catching the girl's eye. “I have an idea. Want to hear it?”
Hikari's eyes brightened and caught in Bow's. She could tell by the Alraumon's tone that she had something good. “What?”
“I know you want to go home, but what about this. You heard how worried they all were. You know you're okay, but they don't.”
Don't remind me, Hikari thought glumly, biting her lip painfully hard to keep it from trembling.
“If your phone can receive messages from an open portal, maybe it can send them too.”
An electric jolt of wonderful possibility shot up Hikari's spine. “That's brilliant!” If she couldn't get back to her family, then letting them know she was okay and that she would be home as soon as she could was the next best thing.
“Why don't you get a message ready?” suggested Bow. “And I'll go talk to Renatus about what we need to do.”
What had started out as a consolation prize had turned into a source of dizzying excitement for Hikari. She paced back and forth in what passed for her room, debating endlessly what to say and how to say it. So much had happened since she got sucked up. If I had my laptop, I could send them the video diary I've been doing.
Being able to hear a family member's voice talking back to her would have been bliss, so a phone call was tempting. But what if there was no one there to pick up? Or the signal cut out mid conversation? A text message seemed better, or an e-mail.
An e-mail she decided on mentally, sitting down at one of Renatus's workstations to type it up. She could load it on the phone when she was done. She tapped up the start of a message, but then looked at it and huffed. She held backspace, and then shook her head in bemusement at her own behavior. Would anyone care at this point whether her e-mail was up to the formal specifications of English class?
She typed up the e-mail and then read back over it again. It was probably a completely inadequate explanation, but at least it would let them know she was still out there.
Satisfied, she saved the file and wirelessly sent it to her phone. She fiddled with the device for a moment more before standing and heading back for the teleportation lab.
“So,” Renatus turned to Hikari, some time later as the four floated in the test lab. “You want to send a message?”
Hikari nodded. “I'm not giving up on you actually being able to get me home just yet, but if I can just let them know I'm alright...” She chewed at the inside of her lip, already hot and swollen from earlier abuses.
Bow nodded. “From what 'Kari tells me, we just need to open a portal somewhere within – what did you call it? The continental United States.”
“A large target,” murmured the Frost Knight, amusement tinging his words. “Have you prepared the message?”
“Mm!” Hikari nodded enthusiastically, holding up her phone. “All I have to do it wait for service and hit this button.”
“Well then!” Renatus clapped his hands together. “Let's get to it, then.” He settled in his chair and brought the machinery back up. He glanced at an indicator and frowned. “Only enough power for two more attempts, then we'll have to wait until we can recharge.”
That didn't sound so bad, but after fruitless weeks Hikari was close enough for at least a taste of what she had wanted so badly. Having to wait longer for such a simple thing would just make her that much more uneasy, as she was still worried that at any moment, something could go wrong and take this hope away.
The portal crackled to life, and Hikari glued her eyes to her cell phone. Any second now signal bars should start appearing, and the words 'No Service' beneath that would disappear.
“Portal established,” reported Renatus, turning to Hikari. “Anything?” he asked of Hikari, Bow and the Frost Knight also waiting with bated breath.
“Nu-uh...” said Hikari, glancing unhappily up at the portal. What was wrong with the stupid thing? Did she have to not be in the room with the phone or something? Yet as her fingers tightened on her phone, she saw an odd white vapor seeping out of the portal.
“Fog... clouds?” murmured the Frost Knight. “It would seem you aimed too high, Renatus. What is the range on that device, Hikari?”
“Um, several miles? I don't really know...” Hikari shrugged helplessly. “There are cell towers all over the ground, but in the air...” she trailed off, shaking her head. “Can you move the portal without shutting it down?”
“Never tried,” said Renatus. “Figured I had enough problems. Anyway,” he tripped the shut off switch and frowned at the displays. He refined several settings, and double checked them. More numbers were tweaked, a variable or two nudged one way or the other.
“Ready,” he said, feeling the tension in the room. Hikari's hand was going numb from holding so tightly to her phone, and Bow was sticking close to comfort her. The Frost Knight rested on a nearby table. He didn't look nervous, but then again he seldom looked anything.
“Commencing!” Renatus engaged the portal once more, and the interdimensional tunnel once more coalesced into being within the containment chamber. “Ready any time – son of a Shakomon!”
“What?” asked Bow anxiously, even as the Frost Knight gave Renatus a dirty look. Her question was answered by a loud crackling sound followed by a pop. The portal flickered ominously, and the numbers on screen shifted wildly, the color graphs distorting.
“Popped a breaker!” he pointed to a junction in the power conduits running along the ceiling. “Close it again, we're about to lose the portal!”
Hikari hastily pocketed her cell phone and shoved off. She shot toward the ceiling, arm extended to catch herself when she reached her target. Pain rattled her hand from the impact, but she ignored as it as she tucked down against the circuit breaker.
“Hurry!” called Renatus. “Hurry!”
“I'm – trying!” Hikari pushed at the breaker, but she couldn't get it back down into position. Looking around frantically for some way to improve her leverage, she braced her legs along the conduit and pushed at the breaker with both hands.
Creaking slightly, the head nudged downward, but not enough to get it to lock. “Hikari, move!” Bow's sharp tone made Hikari snap her head around, and she had just enough time to roll to the side before a heavy weight slammed into the stubborn breaker.
There was a clack as the Frost Knight crashed into it, and Renatus gave an exultant cheer. “Portal online! Send it!”
“Hai!” Hikari whipped out her cell phone, giving a silent prayer to whatever Huanglongmon was listening before she thumbed it open. Three bars! she noted, before thumbing the 'send' button. A progress bar appeared on the screen, and Hikari was glad she had been concise. Within seconds, the message was away.
“Ha ha...” she laughed softly to herself as she went limp with relief in midair, and heard the sound of the portal fizzling out. It didn't matter though, because they did it. A great weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and euphoria fluttered in her heart. Tears again flowed, but these were warm and happy, and Hikari made no effort to stop them.
“Thank you,” Bow said, curtsying to Renatus. “It means a lot that you were able to help us.”
Renatus powered down his workstation. “You're quite welcome.” He sighed and looked at the equipment, and then to the diagnostic screen that showed a number of items in yellow and even a few in red. “I think it will be awhile before I can risk sending anything beyond automated probes through the portal, though I could let you send another message later. You know, when the teleporter isn't trying to blow up every other time it turns on. Come, I can take you back down to the surface.”
Hikari strapped herself into one of the shuttle's seats, one of several in the cockpit. The seat was thickly padded, and complete with a less than comfortable five point harness. Bow made sure the straps were tight before moving to a seat of her own.
The Frost Knight's yellow eyes gazed out from inside his shell, fixed to the back cushion of the seat by the harness. His shell held shut by the straps, his speech was muffled. “How do you feel, Hikari?”
“Good,” said the teen, leaning back in her seat. Though there was still a giddy, trembling feeling, exhaustion was starting to rise. Considering the roller coaster ride of the day, she supposed she shouldn't have been surprised. Idly her gaze turned out one of the shuttle's thick, squarish forward windows, watching the stars.
Renatus drifted out of the aft cargo compartment. “Everyone ready?” he asked, to general agreement. “Okay then.” He dropped into the pilot's seat and set about starting the engines before he strapped in. “Hatches sealed, umbilicals disconnected. Engines... online.” A gentle hum ran through the wedge-shaped shuttle. “Clamps, release.” He pushed a button, and the ship jolted slightly as it dropped away from the station.
As the craft moved away from the station, it passed over to the daylight side of the Digital World. The brilliant sun of a new day dazzled their faces, and Hikari gazed out the windows to the world below...
Natsumi Senka turned off the evening news with a sigh. As she set the remote down on the shelf on her way out of the room, she wondered why she even watched the news anymore. Surely the police would call them directly if any leads were uncovered as to the whereabouts of their missing daughter.
Her husband Michael had given up watching the news quite some time ago, and had instead stated that he thought doing so only made it worse. Every week new supposed leads were brought up, suspecting that the dozens of disappearances were somehow connected to a religious cult, aliens that had visited Earth in the past, or something equally nefarious. Interpol was investigating, but it was hard for them to determine what was just another runaway child that would be found in a day or two, and what was another victim for that case.
Her stomach churned, dinner resting poorly as Natsumi curled up in her favorite chair. Brushing a long lock of purple hair back over her ear, she plucked her laptop off the table. Booting it up, she decided the only thing that could take her mind off things was a game. It couldn't erase the pain and anguish of her daughter just disappearing, but it could at least help her not fret helplessly for awhile.
The start-up music was perfectly cheery, at odds with Natsumi's morose mood. With a tired sigh, she looked among the desktop icons, wondering which game could provide a sufficient diversion today.
There was a flashing near the computer's clock, indicating a new e-mail. Grudgingly, Natsumi opened it, already preparing to say a few rude choice words to one of Michael's coworkers. How many times have I told him not to use our home e-mail for business?
It wasn't from Kurt at all. Natsumi gave a startled, strangled squeak, her hands flying to her mouth in shock.
“What is it?” Natsumi heard the sound of Michael's footsteps hurrying over from his office down the hall. “Sumi?”
“A-a-an e-mail!” Natsumi stammered, shaking so badly the laptop nearly slid off her.
“Who's it from?” asked Michael, sounding frankly bewildered.
“Hikari!” said Natsumi, at the same instant Michael's eyes found the bold heading on the list of an unread e-mail. He reached down over her shoulder and hit the Enter key, bringing up the e-mail.
“Is it... really her?” murmured Michael, staring at the monitor. It seemed beyond belief, but it was Hikari's e-mail address, not something everyone knew, and those who did would not make such a heartless prank.Mommy, Daddy, Thomas, Kevin
I know you're all really worried. But I want you know I'm okay, I really am. I just can't come home right now, though I swear I'm trying.
This is gonna sound nuts but the day I disappeared I got sucked into an alternate dimension. It's called the Digital World, I think it might exist inside the computers of the world but I'm not sure. It's not easy to get home. Almost no one I've talked to has any clue how to get back, though now I'm helping someone who is working on it.
I want you to know that I'm being looked after by a couple of locals, and one of them in particular takes very good care of me.
I miss you all, and I love you so much. I'll find a way home.
Seeing an attachment at the bottom, Natsumi clicked it. After a moment, the virus scanner determined the attachment was but a harmless picture, and the file opened.
Hikari stood in polished surroundings, her hair longer than usual and tied back in a ponytail. She still looked pale and from the redness around her eyes she'd been crying recently, but she was smiling warmly and waving with her free hand, the other holding the camera.
The laptop was hastily set aside, and Natsumi stood, throwing her arms around her husband. “She's alive!”