Digimon re:CONNECT || Something wicked this way comes.

Episode 15: What You Know

Grey clouds hung heavy over Atlas Park, the scent of imminent rain lingering thickly in the air but refusing to pay off in a timely manner. Yesterday's intense heat had mostly dissipated, ruled off as a freak outlier.

If only everything else that had happened yesterday could be written off the same way.

Barely more than twenty-four hours had passed since the digimon incident, and the entire downtown area was still something of a disaster zone. When all was said and done, the attacks had caused easily hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property damage- and that was before accounting for the fires that IlDoctorimon had started.

Mm.

At least five people had been hospitalized for the injuries they had sustained in the destruction. It was difficult to discern which were thanks to Draugmon, and which were thanks to the immediately-prior rampage of Raremon, Vegiemon, and Weedmon; to the general populace, it didn't really matter. Most of them were fairly minor -- as far as 'hospital-worthy injuries' go -- but it was a solemn smack of reality. Up until this point, none of the digimon incidents had hurt anyone.

Local and national news alike were running stories, speculating on the causes; the larger news stations seemed slightly derisive of the local belief in Unidentified Destructive Creatures, but even so, it was hard to chalk up the ample amounts of video footage to something as simple(?) as a terrorist incident. The entire downtown was practically shut down, with investigations and news coverage and police tape cutting off access to every street in a several-block radius.

Natalie hadn't slept very well last night. She couldn't tell if the sirens had been actually going off in the distant downtown, or if they had been entirely in her imagination, but every time one went off she found herself snapping awake.

Considering how well (read: badly) her dreams had been going, though, being awake might not have been the worst possible outcome. Between the frigid chill the huge skull-faced ice monster's presence had induced, the sickening smell of thick black smoke, and the shape of the inky-black, snake-necked vulture that had taken the place of her best friend--

Well, anyway.

Raumon had come to not long after Natalie got home after the fight, but he had seemed foggy and drowsy, like his brain was half-a-step behind the rest of him.

They hadn't really talked about it; neither of them knew how to breech the subject. It wasn't that it had been awkward or anything; just quiet, with a mutual understanding of the where do you even start?.

Natalie sat on the wall on top of her apartment building, looking out towards downtown. Raumon sat just to the side, his back to the wall, hidden-- not unlike they had been sitting the very first night, before they had gone to the river, and before all of this started.
(... well. Before the digimon attacks started. All of this was kind of a nebulous term, and the more they learned, the more they realized that there was a lot more to it than digimon showing up and wrecking shit.)

Her phone, set beside her, buzzed with a message, but she ignored it.

"I think it's might be starting to rain," Raumon said, the first thing he'd said in quite some time, and not more than five seconds as he said it, Natalie felt the first couple drops hit her.

Natalie exhaled through her nose, standing up on the wall and stretching her arms above her head. "How on earth do you notice it before I do? You have feathers, that should totally count against you."

"Raw animal instinct?" Raumon tried, craning his neck to look up at her; she was looking around at the city around them.

"Is that what we're calling it now?"

"You know me." Raumon flexed, and with his tiny bird arms, the gesture was almost impressively pathetic.

It was a little thing, but even that much levity -- that much familiar banter -- was a comfort, even if something about it nagged at the back of her mind. (Maybe it was a bad time to be joking about raw animal instinct, so soon after she had seen just that from him as IlDoctorimon.)
Despite the light sprinkling, she was in no hurry to get inside.

"Are you feeling alright?" she asked as she stepped back down onto the roof proper. For the second time, her phone buzzed.

"As good as I can possibly hope," Raumon said evenly, which was a polite way of saying not particularly, but you know, it's whatever. He looked at his claws and frowned, then shook his head as though to dispel whatever thought he was having and looked back up at Natalie, nodding once. "Are you?"

"As good as I can possibly hope," she echoed, smiling thinly. Raumon gave her an understanding look. Yet again, her phone buzzed with a notification that she ignored.

(She couldn't shake the unease. She couldn't help but see echoes of IlDoctorimon's constricted pupils and unnatural movements even in the sympathetic eyes and familiar body language of Raumon-- or rather, she couldn't help but see echoes of Raumon in her memories of his-- what had it been called? Ultimate level? -- and she couldn't say that that was much more comforting. In some ways it might even have been worse.)

Raumon seemed to recognize that something was amiss -- maybe it was because she was having a hard time making eye contact with him. He glanced away instead, casting his eyes over the short wall bordering the roof to look out at the city around them.

That first night -- the night they had fought Yasyamon, the time they had spent up here just like this, mere months ago at the start of Natalie's summer break -- felt like it was years away, when in reality, it had only been months. Some long, long, interesting months, yes, but...

The few cursory raindrops that had fallen seemed to be flukes; try as they might it seemed that the sky just couldn't muster it up. So much for raw animal instinct.
Natalie's phone buzzed a fourth time, and she finally resigned herself to look at the messages, turning her phone's screen on and glancing at it. Though she didn't realize it, she pulled a truly amazing expression at the notification she had ignored just moments before, and Raumon took notice.

"Now there's a face," he said wryly. "What's up?"

***

Sam's chair groaned as he leaned back in it, tucking his hands behind his head.
Maybe he was losing his mind, but sitting in the general chat channel in MMOs and quietly sniping at people trying to start fights was starting to lose its lustre.

Or maybe he just had shit on his mind.

It was probably the latter. The former never got old.

But even so, he wasn't particularly enthused about engaging with that. He actually had interests outside of sitting around and pretending to be mission command for the digimon incident, and there were only so many times he could read internet conspiracy theories before they started getting repetitive, at least until he gave it a few more days to fester and for the theories to start getting really crazy.
(Admittedly, the one about how it was a shared mass hallucination spurred by government-issue fear gas was pretty amusingly batshit, but still.)

Still.

He figured if he tried to dig into the D-Rive any more he'd just be running in circles without anything new to go off.
And moreover, Gelermon was asleep, and he was reasonably sure she might claw his eyes out if he woke her up, and the risk of filling the room with the demon-fax-machine screech again was not worth it.

She had been unusually tired since the fight yesterday, and he couldn't begrudge her for it. She still looked a bit worse for the wear even now, which hadn't really happened before-- usually, de-digivolving back down to their normal forms was kind of a cure-all, at least for the minor injuries they sustained in the random monster-of-the-week fights they had dealt with so far. He figured that it was because of how soundly they got tossed around, but still.

He sighed and looked out the window. The sky was grey and miserable, but it resolutely refused to actually start raining despite a couple of false starts. It was the best kind of day, in other words, but...
(He told himself that it was just because he didn't want to be caught unawares in case of digimon incident, even if it was just the ten-minute walk down to the convenience store, but he had to admit that having Gelermon with him -- even in her D-Rive -- was a pretty potent security blanket of sorts even for non-Digimon-related bullshit.)

He resigned himself to his fate. He got to his feet, and was in the middle of considering walking to the bathroom to get some water to heat up some instant noodles in the dinky little microwave he kept in the corner of his room, when his phone went off. Considering just about the only people he talked to regularly was the digimon response task squad (they really needed a better name), he had a distinct feeling that the alert was going to be courtesy of the group chat.

He was not wrong.

hey, a message from Natalie read, the first new message today, so. ryan just texted me asking if we could talk about digimon things.

Sam huffed through his nose as though to say this ought to be good to himself.

considering how well yesterday went, i figure it's going to go really well. Her sarcasm came across even in text form. but i figure, at this point...
A few seconds' worth of pause.
so if i don't say anything for a while, i may have gone to jail for assault. because i might punch him in the face. just a heads up. anyone who wants front row tickets is welcome, i guess.

Sam hummed to himself and debated whether or not he should
On one hand, he'd probably have to go out. Be around people. Be around El Douchadore, more specifically, which just sounded... awful.

But on the other hand, as far as he was concerned, he was the one with the best chance of figuring any of this shit out, right? So it'd just be easier if...
Right.

That's how the psyched himself up as he opened up a direct message with Natalie to suggest he get those proverbial front row tickets and come along.
(It took him a couple minutes.)

Unbeknownst to him, Gelermon cracked an eye open and watched without comment as he paced back and forth to disperse some of the nervous energy.

***

For not the first time, nor the last, the meeting place was the city park-- this time, a ways away from the bridge where so much commotion had gone down, under the mediocre shelter of a picnic pavilion. They didn't want to be standing out in the open in case it finally started raining, but the idea of gathering in somewhere where they could be overheard -- like a cafe or a restaurant -- was totally out of the question. Maybe they could have met up at one of their homes, but--
Um.
Frankly, hell to the no.

Natalie couldn't say she was surprised about a lot of things. For instance, the fact that Sam had gotten here first, even though he lived significantly further away than Ryan did, or the fact that Sam wasn't being particularly talkative, instead sitting with hunched shoulders and his eyes on his phone.

She looked to her own phone, scrolling through the messages from Ryan that had led to this point.

look i get it if you're pissed at me
but considering your friend(?) punched me in the face, and, you know, in light of literally everything else that happened yesterday
can we like, meet up somewhere and talk?
ill tell you what i know about the digimon shit

She had debated with Raumon about going, and eventually -- clearly -- decided to, which led to her announcement in the group chat. When Sam had messaged her -- she hadn't really been expecting anyone to take the offer, but she had sent off a notice to Ryan that one of her group was coming with, to which Ryan responded with a glib w/e.

Admittedly, she felt kind of bad for dragging someone else into this -- after all, her track record on dragging people along for digimon business was going really swimmingly -- but the idea of dealing with this on her own hadn't been terribly appealing.
Well. Raumon was, of course, with her, but he had decided quite firmly that he was going to stay minimized in Natalie's D-Rive this time unless there was absolutely no other option. He had no particular desire to start a fight, now less than ever; moreover, if he didn't pop out, then the worst that could happen was a yelling match between humans.

After all, it didn't seem like Shitomon was in any rush to try and threaten anyone but the digimon themselves, so the only thing at stake was how long they could put up with each other.

"I'm kind of surprised you decided to come along for this," she said out loud, looking away from her phone and over at Sam.

"Hm?" he said, lifting his eyes only for a moment before looking back to his phone, then -- after a moment to finish whatever he was doing -- setting the device on the bench next to him, and belatedly giving his full attention to where she sat at the next table over.

Natalie scratched at her face as she thought of how to put it. "Well, like, you don't strike me as the type to jump at the chance to get all social."

"You're not wrong," Sam said, eyebrow raised. "Least of all with fuck-o the clown."

Natalie couldn't help but huff a laugh. "It's kind of a comfort to know nobody else seems to like him, as shitty as that sounds to say," she said, rubbing the back of her head. "I was kind of afraid it'd just be my biases getting in the way."

"Uh, no. He has a tribal tattoo and knockoff designer sunglasses," Sam said flatly, curling his lip. "And that's before the condescension and the constant talking over people and, you know, the part where he's in league with the rabbit-thing with a high horse so far up she can't see the ground."

Natalie smiled a bit, despite herself. "And yet you volunteered to come hear him out with me."

"Well, yeah, considering I don't trust him as far as I can throw him," Sam said, "which isn't far, for the record, because he looks like he enjoys replacing meals with protein shakes and I opted out of high school gym to become a shut-in playing League of Legends and eating microwave pizza for three years, which doesn't do much for the muscles."

"That's fair, though I don't--" Natalie paused, blinking at Sam. She was going to ask how his distrust of Ryan tied back into why he decided to come, and then the entire rest of that trainwreck of a sentence hit her. "Wait, what?"

Sam offered zero elaboration, and instead, proverbially barrelled forward. For as quiet as he had been, Natalie was kind of taken aback by how much he could talk when prompted. "All that in mind, I'd rather hear his bullshit side of things myself, instead of trying to parse it as re-told by someone else -- you -- in post."

"I kind of feel like I should be offended," Natalie said, scratching her nose.
Sam shrugged one shoulder ineffectually, and Natalie chose not to take it personally.
Any further conversation was cut short when they saw Ryan on the approach, crossing across the grass to beeline for them.
Natalie nodded once in greeting as he drew nearer; Sam's attention was quite suddenly back on his phone.

"Hey," Ryan said in a clipped and business-like tone, casting a glance in Sam's direction, seeing he was being ignored, and looking to Natalie instead. "No impromptu monster fights this time, yeah?"

"I'm not really in the mood for another, no," Natalie said, shaking her head and biting her tongue to avoid saying that it wasn't Raumon who went picking fights. (... usually, anyway. Again, an uncomfortable flash of IlDoctorimon lunging for Shitomon's higher forms came to mind, and it only helped her desire to keep her comments to herself. Didn't need to give him any ammo.)

"I just want to talk," Ryan said, putting his hands up defensively, as though Natalie was going to lunge at him. "Shitomon and I talked about it, and we talked with the others, and-- well." He gestured vaguely.

"Do you finally accept that we don't know jack shit about what's going on?" Natalie prompted, and Ryan scratched at his chin.

"Something like that, yeah," Ryan admitted, nodding. Natalie could still see the faint bruise on his cheek from where Xander had decked him, and she sighed heavily. She couldn't even feel good about that, no matter how much she said she wanted to punch him in the face (and she did say so, frequently).

Ryan cast a look around, making sure they were alone -- and they were, because it was a grey and miserable day and very few people were out at the park in fear of that imminent-but-ephemeral rain.

"Alright, then," he said, and as if that was the cue word, Shitomon materialized out of red light, standing on the picnic table that Natalie was sitting at. Ryan took a seat on the opposite end of the table. "She can explain it better than I can," he said. "She's had a bit more practice."

"Oh, shut up," Shitomon said, sticking her tongue out playfully at her partner; Natalie got the distinct impression that she had been waiting a long time to be able to make a dramatic speech, and if not for the fact that this little angel-rabbit thing wanted to kill Raumon and company, she might have found it kind of endearing.

"Alright-- how much do you know?" Shitomon said unnecessarily, looking between Natalie and Sam. "I mean-- anything the refugees have told you at all counts here."

"We keep saying 'nothing', and we mean nothing," Natalie said, her shoulders slumping; she was already starting to dread this. "Our digimon have a hunch that they knew each other before they got here; that's the extent of it."

Shitomon looked between them again, then over her shoulder at Ryan; he nodded, and she sighed, stroking her chin. "Let me start at the start, I guess. We-- Digimon -- come from another world. The Digital World."

"We've gathered that much," Sam said, muttering to himself, but he went ignored as Shitomon continued.

"Our worlds are interlinked in ways I myself don't fully understand-- I've heard it said that we're connected by the branches of Yggdrasil, though I admit I'm not entirely sure what that means, considering Yggdrasil is... well. Anyway." She trailed off, clearly getting distracted.
"When everything is working as it should, a certain amount of energy is passed between the two. I don't know exactly how our timeline matches up to yours, but as I understand it, for a very long time, up until recently, our time passed many times faster than yours did. Hundreds of years could pass in our world while mere months were passing in yours." She saw the vaguely bemused expressions on her audience's faces, and she smiled faintly. "I'm telling you this so that you don't get as confused as Ryan did, the first time I mentioned things happening thousands of years ago."

"I didn't get how thousands of years could have passed when digital stuff at all -- like, computers and phones and stuff like that -- has only been a thing in our world since the 20th century," Ryan said, shrugging. "I still don't think I get it-- she said it had something to do with the energy exchange, but it sounded kind of bogus to me."

"Go on, then," Natalie prompted Shitomon, who nodded and did so.

"Thousands of years ago, the god-king of our world sealed away a great evil in a huge cataclysmic battle, and brought about an age of peace. There have been conflicts in the interrim, of course, and small wars between countries and factions-- but through Dinmon's power, almost all threats to the integrity of our world have been dealt with before they could become issues." She spoke with a reverence in her voice that it was clear that Dinmon was the name of the aforementioned god-king, and they could practically see the sparkle in her eyes when she mentioned him. She had to take a moment to bring herself back down to earth.
"Um-- anyway! For thousands of years, he ruled that mostly peaceful world-- but as should be obvious by now, that couldn't last forever. A little over a hundred years ago, the remnants of that evil began to re-emerge. It didn't have a form, and it could only whisper in the minds of weak-willed digimon. It promised them power in exchange for their agreeing to doi its bidding." Shitomon frowned. "Because of the subtlety of its re-emergence, Dinmon was not able to eliminate it without coming across as cruel and vengeful. He couldn't just kill any digimon he suspected of being swayed to the corruption, and there was no way to tell before it was too late. As the corruption began gaining an underground following, this kind of became a self-perpetuating problem."

Natalie frowned, but said nothing. Sam looked like he was taking notes on his phone, or maybe he was just playing some mobile game-- it was hard to tell.

"Digimon of all kinds were swayed-- weak-willed digimon, digimon with selfish goals, digimon who simply wanted chaos for chaos' sake, digimon who simply didn't know any better-- but power isn't free. Everything the corruption touches rots-- the digimon it infects are driven mad by its influence, almost every time. They're driven to raze the land and destroy everything and everyone in their paths. They all go the same."

An uncomfortable mental image of black flames and reckless destruction filled both Sam and Natalie's mind's eyes-- especially Natalie's, and they had the distinct feeling they knew where this was going.

"Over time, the corruption began to spread far and wide, and its power grew." Shitomon paused for dramatic effect here, and she sighed, folding her arms. "Dinmon decided that the best course of action -- his best chance to halt its growth -- was to quarantine it. He had to cut it off from the power in the core of our world, and by extension, cut it off from the power that our world borrows from yours. If he severed the connections between our worlds, he would be able to cut off a huge amount of power, slow it down. Dinmon couldn't completely sever the connection without destroying the core of our world, but it'd more or less do."

"We're getting the impression," Ryan cut in, "that this slowdown may have brought their world in line with ours, temporally speaking, so the past fifteen years has been fifteen years for both sides, as opposed to fifteen thousand or whatever."

"Right!" Shitomon said, nodding with a smile, but then her smile faltered as she returned to her point. "Admittedly, I don't know for sure-- I haven't really been there since it happened..." her shoulders fell before she continued. "Anyway-- Dinmon began to prepare to cut off the worlds. A lot of digimon objected. They didn't know what would happen to our world, and didn't trust in Dinmon's judgment. More than that, though, the corruption itself wasn't a huge fan of the idea of being destroyed, and so it created a contingency plan.

"It chose five of its devoted followers, evil digimon who had sworn fealty for its power. It sealed part of itself within them, with the intent that was that they would escape and take refuge in the human world, while the weakened origin of the corruption lay in waiting, the same way it had for thousands of years before its re-emergence. When the time was right, it would force open the connection, and be strengthened by the digimon incubating the parts of it."

Hm.
Well. This was starting to sound familiar.

"Right before Dinmon was able to sever the worlds, the carrier digimon made their escape. Of course, god-king Dinmon expected this." Shitomon beamed. "That's where I-- we come in-- Hulimon, Lurumon, and me. We were specially appointed, hand-chosen by Dinmon. It was going to be our job to follow the refugee digimon, and eliminate them before they could escape."
Again that sense of clear pride snuck back into her voice; she didn't quite puff her chest out, but it was practically audible in her voice anyway. Once again, as soon as she continued her story, she deflated just as quickly.
"... it didn't exactly work as well as we might have hoped."

"Obviously enough," Ryan said, and Shitomon folded her arms.

"Obviously enough," Shitomon echoed. Natalie furrowed her brow, but didn't have time to comment; Shitomon wasn't done talking. "We lost a lot of our power as we were coming over-- I'm starting to wonder if it wasn't because of the connection closing behind us as much as whatever attacked us..."

"Whatever attacked you?" Natalie prompted, and Shitomon looked confused for a moment, before she realized she hadn't explained that yet.

"Oh! Something attacked us en route between our world and this one. It separated us. Our best guess is that it had been one of the refugee digimon, but..." She sighed, shaking her head. "We had no proof, and nothing to go on."

"That aside, though-- when the D-Rives showed up," Ryan picked up from his partner here, "we figured it must have meant that something was going wrong, and when digimon started showing up afterwards, that pretty much clinched it."

Natalie wanted to tell him that the digimon had definitely shown up before she got her D-Rive, but she wasn't sure what that would imply-- or if Ryan and his little group got their D-Rives at the same time as she and all of hers.
(They had, and this was relevant information, but she had no way to know this at the time.)

Shitomon nodded.
"We figured that it must have meant that the connection between the worlds was being pried open again. My theory is that the corruption has been trying to worm its way through this entire time, and its cracks are finally starting to spread. If other digimon end up coming through, like they have been, that must just be acceptable collateral damage.

Ryan nodded. "So you have feral digimon on one hand, breaking through because they wanted to escape a stagnant world, and then you have digimon who want to be the hero by taking the window of opportunity to be the ones to apprehend the refugees, since these guys," he gestured at Shitomon, "haven't done the job yet."

That was likely what was going on with the emergent digimon-- the ones who were looking for them. They must have been followers of Dinmon, trying to apprehend the--
Well.

"Rub it in, why don't you," Shitomon said sticking her tongue out again. "We'd been separated from each other. We weren't even sure we had ended up in the right world at in the first place, and that was on top of being weakened by crossing over. We couldn't have done much of any good even if we had known we had ended up in the right place."

Natalie felt her heart sink into her stomach the more she thought about it, and instead she decided to prompt further. "Why are you telling us this now, then?" she said, frowning and folding her arms.

"Oh, right!" Shitomon said, coming back to the subject-- she was a bit easily distracted. "See, I had wondered why the refugee digimon hadn't been driven mad, like most digimon who had taken power from the corruption do," Shitomon said, perking up. "When we first saw the fights with your digimon, I thought that was what had happened, but when we ran into you -- the humans -- it complicated things. It made me think--"

"It made Lurumon think," Ryan corrected.

"... that maybe the corruption had been dormant in them. I think, that way, they wouldn't be reckless, or get themselves into trouble until they were needed."

... they way Shitomon was talking about their digimon was disquieting, and Natalie and Sam both felt a distinct sense of unease. They exchanged sidelong glances.

"See? That's why the refugees claim they don't know anything," Shitomon continued, nodding resolutely. "They must not remember it. If the corruption in them was dormant, then it could have had some defense mechanisms, to keep them from blowing their cover or giving themselves away."

"That didn't really answer her question," Sam said quietly, again, not really speaking to Shitomon but more to himself. Even so, this time, his comment was heeded. (Sam seemed a little bit surprised, actually.)

Shitomon stood up on the table, gesturing with her palms up. "Right! So the point is that yesterday, I think something activated the corruption somehow." She said something in a way that suggested she quite well knew what that something might be, even if not the somehow. In fact, so did Natalie and Sam.

Ratamon.

It was like the puzzle pieces were falling into place. Even if they didn't know what Ratamon had done-- he had run off with Natalie's digivice, and not long after that, their digimon had had that little seizure, with that familiar sound, and then...

"Ratamon is -- I think --"

"Eli thinks," Shitomon corrected with a smirk.

"... a servant of that corruption," Ryan continued, unfettered by Shitomon's interjection. "I think the way it works is something like... it's small and weak enough to cross between the worlds through the cracks relatively easily. It could carry out its will and scout information back and forth, and if there was a way to activate the corruption in your digimon," he said, gesturing with one hand, "well-- if anything would have known how to do that, Ratamon would."

"Which is why Doctorimon was able to digivolve to ultimate," Shitomon explained, a little bit excitedly. "Ratamon reactivated that piece of the corruption, and Doctorimon must have been able to draw power from that reactivated corruption inside him! I think I was just able to digivolve further because of the heightened threat, but I have to admit that I don't know for sure."
That seemed like a pretty major thing to handwave away, but there were more relevant things at hand.
"But it makes sense, right? That's why he reached the next digivolution stage, and why he went off and started setting things on fire!"

Natalie and Sam exchanged glances; Sam shrugged one shoulder in a nonverbal fucked if I have anything better.
"... well, shit," Natalie said, folding her arms and frowning, and both Shitomon and Ryan looked like they were relieved to hear that-- which, honestly, kind of pissed her off a little, but now was not the time. After all, there were still some massive pieces missing from that proverbial puzzle, but it was as compelling as any other argument they could have come up with on their own.

Shitomon hopped off the table so she was standing on the bench next to Ryan, and she placed her hands on the table proper. "So from there, I think it's obvious what we need to do, right?"

What?

"What?" Natalie said, furrowing her brow.

Shitomon blinked, like it was obvious. "Now that you're in agreement with us, you can see why we need to eliminate the refugees before they cause more damage. I mean, you seem to think my theory makes sense, so we thought you'd be on board--"

Ahah.

So that's what their angle was. Natalie felt kind of stupid for not catching onto it quicker. The A, therefore B, therefore you should totally be on board with F while taking everything in between for granted sort of logic-- she felt like she should have seen it coming.
Admittedly, most of her prior arguments with Ryan didn't quite reach this level of gravity, but still.

"You answered maybe half of the questions we've been working on. Appreciate it and all; still doesn't mean we're going to drop everything and tell you it's totally A-okay cool to kill our friends," Sam said, eyes on his phone but his voice acerbic.

"Did you think we were going to just--" Natalie said, pulling a face. "Seriously?"

Ryan and Shitomon exchanged looks, and Ryan looked back to Natalie. "When you put it that way it sounds kind of douchey, but even if it sounds douchey, it's right," he said, frowning. He furrowed his brow, rubbing the back of his head. "I mean-- hell, Nat, you saw what that thing did downtown yesterday. Half of the property damage could have been avoided if he hadn't started setting shit on fire. If that's what even a little bit of that corruption can do then-- hell, I don't know what to tell you."

Shitomon put her hands on her hips and frowned, picking up as Ryan stopped. "Are you really going to prioritize yourselves over the good of everyone else?" she said, looking from Natalie to Sam; her tone wasn't quite lecture-y, but it was close. "All it's going to do is cause more damage by prolonging things just for sentimental reasons."

"As much as you might like to think we're just being difficult for the sake of being contrary, or for-- sentimental reasons," Natalie said, feeling like 'sentimental reasons' was a pretty glib way of putting trusting in your best friends of fifteen years and being cautious that there's more to this situation than can be dismissed in one history lesson from a holier-than-thou rabbit, "there's more to it." She sounded more confident than she felt, but fuck it, fake it 'til you make it.

Sam glanced sidelong at her and nodded once.

Ryan, though, was unimpressed. "Are you saying that because you actually think that," Ryan said, his voice condescending, "or do you just not want to be wrong?"
It was clear what he thought the answer was. It sounded like he had rehearsed that line-- like had it pre-prepared in case things didn't go their way.

What followed was a few seconds where Ryan and Natalie stared each other down, each one refusing to be the first one to blink -- metaphorically speaking, anyway. It was only a few seconds, yes, but with the tension as high as it was, those seconds seemed to stretch into eternity.

"Let's go," Ryan said to Shitomon, standing up. "We've done all we can do for now. Better get out of here before it escalates."

"I just don't get why they want to have to fight over it," Shitomon muttered, folding her arms, but she nodded with a sigh. In a burst of red light, Ryan minimized her into his D-Rive-- and not a moment too soon, as a middle-aged woman in a tracksuit jogged around the bend, the first sign of human life they had seen in the park today aside from themselves.

That was as good a sign as any, one supposed.

Ryan nodded curtly to Natalie, didn't really acknowledge Sam at all (not that Sam minded this), and turned to walk back to wherever he had parked.

A few moments of silence passed, and Sam broke it in spectacular fashion once he was sure he wouldn't be overheard. He didn't even look up from his phone as he said:
"Christ, what a douchebag. Why did you date him?"

Natalie paused before saying, "well, in fairness, I didn't know he had the tribal tattoo when I agreed to the first date."

Sam laughed dryly through his nose.

Natalie pulled her D-Rive out of her pocket. She looked down at it and turned it over in her hand. Shitomon's entire lecture was still sinking in, and she was having trouble picking out what to focus on.
(That was a big fat lie -- because you get one guess what she was focusing on, and it involved corruption and five trusted acolytes and a snake-necked vulture who barely acknowledged her, but, you know, she didn't want to dwell on that right now.)

"I'm assuming that there is more that they're missing," Natalie said, "because while I'm pretty sure there is, I'm blanking pretty hard, but the idea of admitting they might be right makes me want to throw myself in front of a train."

"You know, at some point, you might have to stop counting on me to keep track of everything," Sam said, and Natalie was half prepared to apologize, but Sam was smirking a little bit and looked quite pleased at being called upon for his -- well. Not expertise. Memory and pattern-recognition?
"Nah, there's definitely some problem areas."

With impeccable dramatic timing, rain -- proper rain, not just half-assed drizzle drops-- began to fall.

"Explain it to me over text?" Natalie asked, standing up; she'd rather get back to her car now, rather than risk having to run through what felt like an imminent downpour.

"I was planning on it," Sam said, nodding as he, a few seconds later, stood up as well.

Natalie took off for her car, and Sam went in another direction -- presumably he had parked elsewhere. As Sam took a turn around a patch of trees, Natalie saw a quick flash of green light as Gelermon decided she couldn't keep her comments to herself any longer.

When Raumon materialized in the shotgun seat of Natalie's car, he sat with arms folded and brow furrowed. He was so lost in thought that he didn't even ask to get any food on the way back to the apartment.

***

"... so I gotta say I'm not surprised," Ryan said, shutting the door of his apartment behind him; he was picking up on a conversation he had been having with Shitomon on the drive. "Just frustrated as shit." As the door clicked closed, Shitomon appeared next to him, listening intently. He shook his head to shake the water out of his hair; in the time between leaving the park and driving back to his place the rain had started coming down, and so the walk from his car to his door had been a damp one.

"We tried," Shitomon said, turning her palms up. "I mean... it was kind of a long shot, anyway. Not that I wasn't hoping for it, but."

"Yeah, I know," Ryan said, walking over and slumping down onto his couch. "But, christ, man, I wonder how much of this is just because Natalie is still pissed at me. Like, I can't help but wonder if she'd be a bit more helpful if she didn't still hate my guts."

Shitomon frowned, and she climbed up onto the couch beside her partner.
"I don't know if it would help, even if you were still on good terms," she said, careful not to make it come across as lmao don't worry because they'd hate you anyway. "It seems like they've got their own personal investments in the refugees."

She frowned, her mind drifting back to what Lurumon had said just yesterday-- that maybe things had changed -- but her own point still stood. Personal investment or not... she looked at her paws.

People had gotten hurt, now. Human people. She'd kind of hoped that maybe, just maybe, the news of their own kind being caught in the crossfire... she had almost hoped that would be enough to get the humans to realize that there were more important things at stake than their friendships.

"Do you think they really know things we don't?" she asked, looking at her partner.

"Fucked if I know," Ryan said. He pulled his phone, wallet, and keys out of his pockets in turn and set them on the coffee table, but when he pulled his D-Rive out, he paused.
These things were still a massive mystery. None of them seemed to know where they came from, or why-- or more importantly, why the Refugees had them, too. There had to be things they were missing, they knew that; they weren't so ignorant as to assume they knew everything about this entire shitty situation, but...

(To say nothing of the fact that if the corruption had activated, it may already be too late to stop it and the best they could do was just try to take down the refugees before anyone else got hurt--)

"We're just going to have to be vigilant, I guess," Shitomon said, shaking her head. "I think I'll need to talk with Hulimon and Lurumon."

Ryan frowned and looked over at her, and nodded.

"Right."

***

biggest hole in their story, and by hole i mean total gaping chasm, is everything about the d-rives, Sam explained in the group chat, following a recap of the conversation-slash-lecture. Natalie's suspicion that he had been taking notes was all but confirmed-- either that, or he just had a crazy good memory for keeping everything straight. She'd accept either.

How do you figure? Peter asked.

At the exact same time, a message from Xander came in: ie: they have no fuckin clue about them either

Sam's response was quick. unless they're hiding information from us, i actually think they know less than we do. which is pretty impressive, if you think about it.

Natalie kept her eyes on her phone even as she didn't provide any commentary of her own. Raumon was seated next to her on her bed, occasionally peering over her arm to read the words on the screen. He hadn't needed the recap, so only now that Sam was getting into his own points was he tuning in.
He wanted to wait for Sam's thoughts before he shared his own with Natalie. While she understood, she couldn't shake the unease of knowing he had things to say that he wasn't sharing.

my idea is this, and i could be way off base but hear me out:
theyre theorizing that the noise has something to do with the corruption shit getting activated
more broadly, it has something to do with the corruption theyre playing at our digimon being backups for, right?
remember the minimized digimon data bricking the old shit computer?
and how plugging in the d-rive slaps a bandaid right over that shit
i think these things are not unrelated

They could practically hear the frantic typing as Sam's fingers tried to keep up with his thoughts.

what? from Meghan, followed almost immediately by an oh! right!; she hadn't been present for that and had only heard about it second-hand. but... wouldn't that mean that all the rest of the stuff, about them being like... you know? wouldn't that be true?

Do we have a compelling reason to doubt it? Peter asked.

There was a pause as that sunk in.

The pasts of their digimon. This wasn't the first time the thought had been brought up, but it had been nebulous, questionable, and undefined. Now, even a version of the story...

Unsurprisingly it was Xander who spoke up first.

look to your left or your right or wherever they're reading over your shoulder, Xander said, and look in their eyes and tell me, yeah, that's totally the face of a seasoned evil monster. fuck that noise.

It was meant to be heartening, but Natalie found that it made her a little bit uneasy. She set her phone down face-down and sighed, slumping backwards. Raumon looked at her, and his ears twitched.

"Are you alright?" he asked for the second time today.

(It hadn't even been that bad, right?
It could have been a lot worse.)

"I don't know," she admitted, sighing as she ran a hand backwards through her hair. Raumon nodded understandingly, and he paused before heaving a heavy sigh, and he looked like he was trying to find the right words to articulate what he had been turning over in his head for the past day, and even moreso for the past few hours. Natalie sat back up straight, attentive, as she realized that he was preparing to finally talk about what was on his mind.

"I don't think Shitomon is entirely wrong," he said slowly, and Natalie frowned. "There are things I have questions about, but," he looked down at his claws, "I think she's telling the truth that she knows."

Natalie pulled her knees to her chest. "What do you mean?"

Raumon thought for a moment, and shook his head. "I... hm. Let me put it this way. When we first had that... seizure thing, I felt like my brain was kickstarted. It felt like things and memories were just kind of slid back into place, but I couldn't quite make sense of them without the context."

Natalie didn't quite follow, but she decided not to interrupt just yet.

"And then, right before I became IlDoctorimon," Raumon said, looking at his claws before placing one over his heart, "I felt..." He sighed and tilted his head, unsure how to put it. "I felt like I remembered that I had forgotten something. I felt a surge of a very familiar feeling. I thought of a time before I came to this world that I hadn't thought of in fifteen years. Whatever that seizure was, it definitely turned a key somewhere."

"Right," Natalie said, nodding.

"But then, when I digivolved into IlDoctorimon," he said slowly, "it felt... well, first of all it felt wrong, like something that wasn't supposed to happening was forcing its way through, but it the same way as the seizure, at first. Like something forgotten was being brought back up, maybe not to the surface but dusted off. And when I had digivolved..." He frowned. "It felt... familiar, in a way. I felt like I was sleepwalking, or watching myself from the outside, even as I felt myself move."

"Like a dissociative episode?" Natalie provided, and Raumon nodded.

"Right!" he said. "But it was like-- like I was going through the motions of something familiar. If Shitomon was telling the truth... it would make sense, wouldn't it?"

Natalie frowned; none of this was making her feel better. She knew that it wasn't Raumon's job to make her feel better, but the more Raumon agreed with Shitomon's assessment, the worse she felt.

"And when she was telling us that explanation of events," Raumon continued, "it felt like being told something I'd forgotten, but knew I'd been told before."

Natalie felt a twinge of something uncomfortable, and she sighed in resignation. "So that's it, then?"

"What do you mean?"

"Is IlDoctorimon who you are? If all of what Shitomon said is true, then is that-- ?"

She didn't know what she meant by that. It meant a lot of things. A corrupted vulture monster without regard for his allies? A follower of some unknown evil? A backup drive for a world-eating corruption?
Doomed to go mad because of that evil influence, now that it was active?

"I don't think so," Raumon said slowly.

Natalie swallowed around a lump in her throat: "Are you saying that because you think that, or just because--"

"If you quote Ryan, I'm going to Symptom Claw you into the next century," Raumon snapped huffily, and Natalie couldn't help but smile a little bit just at his immediate reaction. "I don't think it's who I am, and I don't think you're doing the wrong thing by not wanting to turn me over."

Natalie wondered how Raumon was able to discern what was on her mind even without being told-- but then she remembered he had been her best friend for the past fifteen years.
But Ryan and Shitomon's words did stick in her mind-- she couldn't shake the idea that she was willingly throwing who knew how much under the bus for the sake of her friendship with Raumon, for the sake of not wanting to be wrong, for wanting to be the hero in this story--

"So I don't think Shitomon is wrong," Raumon said, cutting through her thoughts, "but I don't think she's entirely right. I think there's things we understand about it that she doesn't, and there's parts that neither of us know. If it were as simple as just turning us over, I feel like we wouldn't have the D-Rives. We wouldn't have the means to fight back, and we wouldn't have something apparently so intrinsically related to--" he gestured with his claws, "all of this."

"I suppose," Natalie said, but she couldn't quite shake the doubt. She looked at her phone set on the bed next to her; it was still buzzing occasionally with message notifications.

"Back when this first started," she said, slowly, still looking at her phone, "I thought it was cool as shit. I thought we were going to be the heroes, you know?" She smiled, a bit bitterly. "But every time we get involved, it feels like things start going wrong, but I was okay with it, because it was up to us! We had to. We were the only ones who could do anything."
She hesitated, and sighed.
"But it's not. There's Ryan and-- what are their names? Jen and Eli? And their digimon. They cause a hell of a lot less damage than us. Digimon don't come after them. It feels like we're the problem that needs solving, or the ones getting in the way."

"How many digimon incidents would have gotten way worse if we didn't get involved?" Raumon countered. "A lot of the damage yesterday was caused by the digimon who showed up before Draugmon. If Xander and Meghan and Sam hadn't interfered, they might have hurt more people and caused even more damage before Ryan," he said like one might say fungal infection, "and company did. Imagine how badly people would freak out if they had seen half of the digimon we've taken care of, and how much more damage they'd have done without us."

Natalie sighed and tilted her head to one side. "Right. You're right." She bit the inside of her mouth in thought. "But those have all been champions. What are we supposed to do if something else like Draugmon happens? I don't-- I don't think we should run the risk of IlDoctorimon again."

Raumon looked at Natalie and frowned, but he nodded slowly. "I understand that. But if it helps--" He paused, looking out the window as he thought of how to put it. The rain was falling still, and it beat a pattering, calming rhythm against the glass.
"When I heard your voice, I came back into my senses a little bit. When I hesitated, when Eudaemon got that last blow on me, it was because you called out to me, and I heard you long enough to stop."

Natalie blinked. She hadn't been entirely sure that that momentary hesitation had been intentional or not-- but it had been the opening Eudaemon needed to hit him hard enough to force him to de-digivolve, hadn't it?
"It took me like ten tries," she said, shaking her head.

Raumon nodded solemnly, his expression serious as he thought hard. "That's true."

"I just... don't want you to be in that position again."

Raumon paused, and looked over at her. "You can't control if it happens, you know," he said gently. "And if it's down to me digivolving or letting you or any of our friends -- or anyone -- be in danger, I might have to choose to digivolve."

Natalie thought of IlDoctorimon-- not just the pain he caused, but the pain he seemed to have been in as he digivolved, and she felt a pang in her chest.
"But what if you do more harm than good?"

There was a long pause.

"Then you'll have to be there, yelling at me until I come back to my senses."

Natalie looked over at Raumon with a vaguely incredulous expression, but she met his gaze, and she realized she hadn't really looked him in the face since yesterday. She saw the familiar, friendly (if slightly eerie) white-masked face of Raumon, a subtle sympathetic expression on what few features he had, and she felt the smallest pinpricks of wetness gather in her eyes, which she quickly blinked away.

"You'd better not scare me again like that, you jerk."

"I make no promises."

Natalie shook her head with a huffed laugh as she stood up. She'd catch up with the group chat's assessments later. Right now, she was the kind of hungry that only a milkshake and a chicken sandwich could satisfy.

EPISODE 15: CONNECTION INTERRUPTED

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