Episode 35: Thanks for the
Memories, Part Two

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As it turned out, bumping into Dalimon was probably the best thing that could have happened to Russell. The little Digimon was a fountain of knowledge as far as the Digital World was concerned. He explained that where they hid that night was a rare and elusive tree known as a ‘Hiding Tree’ - a perfect safe haven when trying to escape enemies. He also seemed to know his own world better than any explorer Russell had ever read about. He was able to lead them safely from the Hiding Tree, through some heavy brush land, avoiding fights and other dangers simply by pausing, listening, and then choosing a different way to go.

Where they were going was a mystery to Russell, but the chameleon seemed to know, so Russell wasn’t about to question his rather abrupt savior. All Dalimon had said was that he was taking them to a place where the Digital World’s connection to the real world was the weakest. ‘The Rift’ he called it, and that it was probably the best place for Russell to try and get back home.

They traveled at a slow pace, but filled the time with talking. Russell was fascinated, perhaps morbidly so, with this new world he had discovered. And Dalimon took a similar interest in Russell, his family, and his own world. Their conversations were long and in-depth, neither running out of things to say or to ask about.
Dalimon explained that the Digital World was parallel to Russell’s own world, and that occasionally random things turned up there: buildings, items of garbage that people had thrown out haphazardly (this was later proven when they passed by a portable toilet laying rather sadly on its side, overgrown with the greenery of the Digital World). The Digital World was, at this moment in time, a peaceful and nice place to live, that it was ruled over by six Gods, keeping it calm and in order. Each God ruled over its own specific area and each of them met whenever things needed discussing. They were all rather elusive Digimon, keeping to themselves and rarely mingling with their subjects – Russell noticed a somewhat bitter edge to the Digimon’s tone when he explained this – but they kept the Digital World happy, and that, in the end, was all that truly mattered.

Russell felt his own world was rather dull in comparison to the one Dalimon spoke about.

The Rift was a location far from where Russell had originally landed, a far-flung place in a not too hospitable area of the Digital World; a land almost forgotten, and whipped by terrible winds and rains the likes of which Russell had never seen before.

Dalimon was quick to move and to set Russell on his way, looking for the perfect spot by staring at the sky and waiting. Thunder clapped, with lightning flashing up the sky every few moments. Each time the thunder clapped, Dalimon moved again, until he was finally happy and stayed in the same spot for a longer period of time.

“Here will do,” Dalimon instructed, calling Russell over and getting him to stand on the same point. Russell was drenched while he stood, his back to the wind and rain did little for protection, and he could barely hear Dalimon over the noise. “You still have that little remote... thing?” he asked.

Russell took it from his pocket, the only thing that had kept him marginally sane as they had traveled. He had toyed with it almost the entire time, rolling it around in his hands to make sure it was still there. “You said it wouldn’t work.”

“Here it will,” Dalimon said knowingly. “Get it working, and just hold it up.”

A dubious look crossed Russell’s face. “I’m the tallest thing here, if I hold something electrical up to the sky, I’ll be a perfect place for lightning to strike,” he said firmly.

“Precisely,” Dalimon retorted. Russell’s expression blazed, and Dalimon returned it, folding his small arms. “If I had wanted to kill you I would have done it already. Have I led you wrong yet?”

Russell struggled for a moment. “N-…No.”

“So trust me,” Dalimon ordered.

Chewing the inside of his mouth, Russell nodded firmly. He lifted his arm up into the sky, the remote in hand, tapping the buttons. Immediately there was a response from the lightning, as if the remote was a magnet drawing it in. The lightning became more frequent, striking closer to Russell, who tried his utmost not to flinch or yelp as it singed at his feet.

Dalimon had retreated from him a few meters, keeping out of the lightning’s trajectory. Before a prong of lightning crashed down, engulfing Russell, he caught the small lizard Digimon’s gaze and offered a grateful smile. Before he could see if Dalimon returned it, he was swallowed by white light. There was a searing pain in his chest, as if his ribcage was about to be torn out. His heart pounded, filling his ears with the sound of blood rushing through his veins, and then nothingness.

Russell stumbled wildly, and crashed against something metallic, while something else clattered noisily to the floor. He clung to whatever it was that supported him, and breathed deeply for a few moments. His eyes were clenched shut, blocking out light and anything that might tell him where he was; he was terrified to open them, to see whether or not he was back where he should be.

He heard something, that sounded like footsteps and then a click, like a door opening.

“Russell...” The voice was familiar, and filled with a dumbstruck tone. “Good God man, what happened to you?”

Slowly, Russell’s eyes opened. He saw beneath his hands was a table, and beside that, a chair had been knocked to the ground. At his feet was a puddle of water where his clothes dripped. He breathed heavily, slowly moving, afraid if he went too fast this mirage would disappear. To his right, Mason stood in the threshold of the doorway, a younger bespectacled man behind him.

“Mason...” Russell said slowly. He moved a foot, surprised to have feeling in his limbs. “Mason, I’m back.”

Mason looked uneasy, and moved towards his companion. The younger man, sensing he was not needed, left the room and closed the door behind him. Mason picked up the chair and Russell almost collapsed into it. He started to laugh softly, running his hands through his hair and leaning his elbows upon his legs. His laughter became louder, almost manic. Mason waited patiently, confused and worried by his friend’s behavior. “Russell...” Mason repeated, “what happened?”

Russell raised his head. “I was gone!” Russell shouted, grabbed Mason by the collar of his shirt. “For two weeks, gone!”

Mason looked shocked, staring at his companion with wide, worried eyes, before gently taking his wrists in his hands and pulling them off his collar. “Russell, I left the room barely thirty seconds ago... you were sitting down when I left. You haven’t been gone. At all,” he explained slowly. Russell’s expression became troubled and confused. Had he imagined the whole thing? Dalimon? The pod working? He couldn’t have, he was soaked through, and had stubble on his chin that was two weeks old. Russell slowly looked around the room. The pod stood in the corner as it had when he had entered the room himself, stationary, and off, no lights. Nothing. And Mason still looked shocked and confused by Russell’s ramblings.

“Mason,” Russell said slowly, “I... was... gone.” He rubbed his face. “I can’t explain how. I tapped the remote for the pod, and stepped into it, not expecting it to work when you left. But... it did work, Mason. It did. I was transported.”

“The other pod is off, Russell,” Mason explained firmly. “Are you sure you didn’t fall? Bang your head?”

“Don’t talk down to me!” Russell shouted. “I know what happened, I know I didn’t imagine anything. Mason, you fool, I was transported to a different world. A Digital World, I met an inhabitant, a creature, called Dalimon. It existed. I was there.”

Slowly, Mason coaxed the events out of Russell, letting him speak in broken terms and words as he recounted everything he believed he had gone through. Mason had to admit, the way Russell spoke, with such conviction and belief that what he had gone through was the truth, it was hard not to believe him. He spoke about Dalimon, this Digimon who had rescued him. How he had slept night after night on the ground, worried for his safety and out in the open, eaten nothing but fruits and whatever else Dalimon could find and how he had found a way back.

“It was real,” Russell exclaimed, for what was probably the hundredth time. Mason slowly nodded, carefully surveying Russell in his delirium. “You believe me,” Russell turned to the other man, “don’t you?”

“Of course,” Mason placated. “But, Russell, you’re sleep deprived and soaking wet. Perhaps we can recount this once more, when you’ve had some sleep and a warm bath.” Mason stood up and helped Russell onto his feet. A short walk through the lab and they were outside, Mason bundling Russell into a waiting car, despite protests from the delusional man. Mason sighed as the car disappeared out of view. He returned to the room where he had found Russell and stared at the pod with an unreadable look, turning over the remote in his hands, just as Russell had done. He scrolled through the list of numbers that had been entered, viewing each of them, most he recognized, except the most recent one, random co-ordinates that Russell had entered.

He was sure that Russell had imagined it all, but there was no rational explanation for his disheveled and soaking appearance, just... a random happenstance that he would never let out of his lab. Little did he realize that Russell was not about to let things go so easily.

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It was a year later that Russell mentioned the Digital World again. Though he had explained his journey to Bella, and recounted it to Richard and Claire several times, it had turned into something everyone else had forgotten about, something they humored him with. And to them, Russell reciprocated the teasing. They believed that he had dreamt the whole thing, taken a fall, and slipped into an unconscious and vivid dream, never explaining the wetness of his clothes and the stubble on his chin. They preferred to pretend it had been a trick of the mind, rather than anything that could have been real.

But Russell remembered.

He remembered the sounds, and the smells of it every day - little echoes of the Digital World and of Dalimon, reminding him of a place that he knew he could find again. A place he had to find again, if only to prove to the others he was not as insane as they said he was.

He carried on with business as usual. Atlas Corp was back on top of their game, now that Mason was marketing the transportation pods to large business in Japan and China. It was a project too costly to make for normal, household use - it was an exclusive product, one only the best could afford, and the best wanted it. Russell let the company run itself, he signed papers, attended meetings, and made sure things were as they should have been, carrying on like clock-work while he worked diligently on his own personal projects at home and in the privacy of his office.

Despite his closeness with his work colleagues, the only two who noticed the change in Russell's demeanor and attitude were Bella and Claire, and both had mentioned their worries to each other. Claire saw how Russell behaved at work more than Bella did now, that he was short with everyone and always seemed distracted, like he didn't want to be working on what he was doing at the time, like other things plagued his mind. At first Claire had thought it might have been something to do with Bella, but after mentioning it to the other woman it was clear that was not the case.

Bella also confirmed a change in Russell, that she had noticed it and did not like it. How he locked himself away in his study at home, and rarely came to family meals. That he would work from the moment he got home until late at night, long after the children and Bella had gone to bed, and then he would awake barely four hours later to continue whatever it was he had been working on. It was as if he was possessed.

And despite her best efforts to approach him about it, Bella's concerns had always been rebuked. Russell was still kind and warm towards her, and their children, the little amount of time he spent with them, but whenever he was asked about what it was he was working on, he would give Bella a small, secretive smile and tell her it was a surprise and that she would love it. Any more pushing and he became angry, and would disappear into his study again.

Needless to say, Bella was worried, and the lack of information she could get from anyone else did not ease her worries. But, knowing the way Russell could be when he became involved in any kind of project, she left it alone, sure that eventually he would return to normal after unveiling whatever it was he had been working on.

As it turned out, what he had been working on was unveiled sooner than Bella had anticipated, and not only to herself, but to Mason, Richard, and Claire also. One wintery afternoon, he summoned them all to his study in the house he and Bella lived in with their children. A room even Bella was prohibited from most of the time. Mason and Richard had been invited to the house by Russell under the pretence of a pre-Christmas get together, and Claire was over anyway, having her weekly coffee with Bella. Russell had seemed excited, jostling the four of them upstairs, leaving Logan, Hunter, and Rose with their nanny for the time being.

The study was completely different to how Bella had seen it last - a mess in comparison, with the desk pushed to one side, and several bookshelves tipped over. The potted plants that lived on either side of the bay windows had been haphazardly dragged away from it, leaving trails of soil in their wake.

Russell was disheveled and unshaven, his stubble growing into what was almost an impressive beard. Bella had never seen him look so unkempt. Even with bed-head he looked better. But now his clothes were barely on properly, buttons done up badly and without any care. His hair was unwashed, and consequently was smoothed all over to one side, just about standing on end.

The most startling thing about the room was that in the furthest corner was what Mason recognized as a transportation pod. He had not authorized one to leave the vicinity of the lab in Germany, so he reasoned that Russell had had one commissioned specifically for him and whatever spectacle he was about to astound them with. Mason had to admit, through Russell’s delirium, there had been something in his conviction that had made Mason want him to be right, and for what he said to be true. Richard and Claire didn’t know what to make of the scene before them, and Bella clutched Claire’s hand as if fearing for her husband’s sanity.

Russell wasted no time, inviting them into the study and closing the door behind them. The transportation pod started up as soon as the study door closed, whirring softly in the corner. It trembled as the power coursed through it.

“I am going to prove to all of you that what I experienced a year ago, was real,” Russell said firmly. “Bella-”

“Darling,” Bella placated, releasing Claire’s supportive hands. “We believe you.”

“No you don’t!” Russell snapped. “You don’t know, or understand. None of you. You must experience it for yourself.”


Bella’s eyebrows furrowed. “Russell, enough. You have to let these silly delusions go,” Bella said firmly. “You’re beginning to lose touch with reality.” Her tone was waspish and fierce, as she tried to have a rather private discussion in front of others, who stood awkwardly a few paces behind her.

Russell’s expression matched her own, fierce and proud. “Humor me,” he growled. “Try the pod. If it doesn’t work, I will leave this alone until the day I die. Forget all about it. But all I ask if for you all to humor me. As I have humored you all and your ideas through the years.”

“Russell…” Richard sighed, he rubbed his forehead gently with his finger tips. Russell looked at him squarely. Richard had been relatively quiet and on the sidelines of the last twelve months with regards to what Russell said he had experienced, and had never been one to completely write off anything. That wasn’t to say he believed Russell, but the conviction his business partner had made it hard to think nothing did happen. “Show me how this works.” Richard stepped forward, willing to be the first lamb to the slaughter if it meant an end to Russell’s delusions and that things could go back to the way they were.

Russell slapped his friend on the shoulder and led him to the pod. As they neared, the quiet whirring became a louder more insistent noise, as if anticipating that it would be used any moment. Inside of the pod, the air seemed to quake and quiver with anticipation, sparking with electricity. Russell input some information into the remote in his hands, and instructed the others to watch. Richard stood in front of the pod door and waited until Russell said it was safe.

“Put your hand in, only,” Russell said. Richard did as he was asked, and stretched his left hand into the air in the pod. Mason, Bella, and Claire all watched with interest from a safe distance. What they saw immediately put their doubts of Russell’s words to death. Richard’s hand disappeared, and the air shifted, as if a television screen was bringing up a new show. Wherever Richard’s hand was disappearing to was an entirely different place, unlike anywhere any of them had been before, full of lush grassland and beautiful, if strangely colored trees. The most proof they needed was the shaky image of an upright chameleon visible through the portal.

Without any more hesitation, Richard stepped through, followed by Mason. Bella was next, asking Claire to stay at the house as she left in case they did not return – Claire was more than happy to do this, and explained she was probably too old to be involved anyway. Richard followed after his wife, and in a flash the room was vacant, aside from Claire and the whirring of the transportation pod.

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The Digital World was nothing like anything Bella, Richard, or Mason had ever seen before. It was as if it was an entirely different world – and eventually it was explained to them by Dalimon and Russell that it was indeed an entirely different world, one parallel to their own. Russell told them all that he had recently found a way back to the Digital World by tinkering with an existing transportation pod, and realigning a few of the components. He had remembered the longitude and latitude co-ordinates from his first trip, like they had been ingrained into his memory, never to leave his mind, and found his way back. He had bumped into Dalimon almost immediately, and they had discussed Russell bringing his business partners there. They had set to making things ready – the reason for Russell’s distracted moods of late – and made sure the pod was safe to use with so many people.

“So, what do you think?” Russell asked, seeming more human and less a mad man now that his sanity had been proved. He directed the question to all three of his companions and looked squarely at Bella.

“What do I think?” Bella repeated, looking around the vast open space suddenly feeling exceptionally small and insignificant – not something she was used to. They had arrived in a large, lush field with a forest on one of the edges, and aside from that, hills as far as the eye could see. The ground was covered in thick, healthy green grass, and dotted occasionally with what looked like iridescent crystals that let out an eerie and soothing hum whenever they were neared. “Russell, I’m sorry for ever doubting you.”

Russell seemed satisfied with this and turned to Mason and Richard, who were both in their own types of awe. Mason, his arms crossed looking at his surroundings with suspicion, calculating, and Richard with a wonder like that of a child witnessing snow for the first time.

“What do we do now we’re here?” Mason asked, once he had come to the conclusion that the ground was not about to open up and swallow him, and that his friend was not the mad man that he had begun to suspect he was. “What is the purpose of this place?”

“It’s home to Digimon,” Russell explained. “Creatures like Dalimon.” Mason regarded the small chameleon with a judging eye. Dalimon decided there and then that he did not like Mason one bit. “Digimon – rather, Digital Monsters - live here in a type of… harmony. Ruled over by—” Russell paused, and turned to his lizard companion. “Dalimon can explain it far better than I can.”

Dalimon smiled appreciatively. Though he would never admit it, he had missed Russell in his absence – which in the Digital World had been years, not just a year – and in his absence, things had changed. His sudden and unexpected return had made Dalimon happier, and feel younger than he had felt in years. For certain, Russell had changed very little, and honestly Dalimon had not thought he would see the human again, in fact, he had somewhat hoped he wouldn’t. News of Russell’s arrival had spread like wildfire through the Digital World, and because Dalimon had been one of the only Digimon to interact with him, it had made him something of a Digital World celebrity for a time. It even got the attention of the Gods, who had summoned him to them, to ask more about Russell and humans themselves.

“The Digital World is a plane of existence exactly like yours,” Dalimon explained. He was walking, leading the group of four to a safer place. One of the provisions of Russell’s return visits was that he and Dalimon could find a way for him to return from anywhere in the Digital World. With Dalimon’s help, and some assistance from lab techs in Germany, Russell had manage to calibrate the remote for the transportation pod to be able to transport himself and anyone from anywhere in the Digital World back to the pod they used to transport, without the use of lightning. Russell had affectionately taken to calling the remote a Digital Device, or Digivice for short.

“I mean, we actually exist, Digimon like me. And we can cross over to your world like you can cross of here. It’s just not really done,” Dalimon continued, in fact it shouldn’t have been done. The Gods, worried for the Digital World and what humans would bring, had forbidden any Digimon to interact with humans if they arrived in the Digital World on purpose, or by accident. Dalimon would be strung up for his treason – but that was only if anyone else found out.

“How does it exist?” Mason asked curiously, interested in how the Digimon walked and talked.

Dalimon considered the question. “It just does,” he replied simply. “How does your world exist?”

“Well-” Richard began, but stopped as soon as he saw the small, and slightly tired grin on Dalimon’s face. “Rhetorical question.”

“Right,” Dalimon responded. He continued. “The Digital World exists like anything else. Energy, power, an untapped force that keeps everything together and moving smoothly like well oiled wheels. The six Gods rule over their respective nations and areas, convene all the time. Two of ‘em actually married not that long ago.”

“Digimon can… marry?” Bella queried. “You procreate too, I suppose?” She also supposed she should have been more confused and unsure about speaking to a three foot tall chameleon who spoke and walked on two legs. But it, now proved real, had saved Russell originally, and appeared trustworthy.

“We can create DigiEggs,” Dalimon explained slowly. “I guess that’s sorta the same thing. Anyway, like I said, the Digital World exists because it does. And consequently, so do Digimon,” Dalimon explained cheerfully. They had walked from the wide open fields and into the forested area. The walk had taken them barely any time, and they found themselves led by Dalimon to a small building shrouded protectively in the trees, suspended off the ground by poles. “Sometimes stuff from your world lands here too,” Dalimon added. “I guess we get your trash.”

“How did this get here?” Russell asked, following Dalimon up the steps.

“Dunno.” Dalimon shrugged. “I just found it one day. Brushed it up, looks pretty good now. It’s nice and hospitable too.”

The small house, which was more like a traditional Japanese home, with sliding doors and tatami mats, became a center of operations over the next few weeks, as Russell returned regularly with Bella, Mason, or Richard in tow. Sometimes in a group, at other times just two of them. Each of them were interested in the Digital World and the Digimon for different reasons, and the more they visited, the more they witnessed about it. Bella was fascinated by the Digimon themselves, how they were constructed, as Dalimon explained they were, by all faults, digital mass, and had even cut himself on purpose to prove he didn’t bleed. Instead, data dispersed from his arm, and was then almost immediately replaced and he was healed.

Bella found herself interested, though, in the fact Digimon still needed to eat and hunted each other for food. Just like animals on the Serengeti. And yet, she still did not understand how they needed to hunt and eat, if they were made up of digital mass.

As far as Dalimon explained, it was like a natural thing they were ingrained to do. That they were programmed to hunt and forage for food, just like any animal. To seek company and live in herds of other Digimon for protection, unless, like Dalimon was, you were a more solitary Digimon.

Richard found himself just fascinated in general with the Digital World and more or less with its history and how it all worked out. He wanted to know everything and seemed the one human who was most open to listening to Dalimon and taking everything he said on board. Richard was a fountain of questions, and every time Dalimon saw him, it seemed like he had more and more questions. He had taken to bringing a Dictaphone (something Dalimon found intriguing) with him to record Dalimon as he explained more and more about the Digital World and its rulers.

Dalimon’s main concern was Mason, and also his effect on Russell. Dalimon’s instincts on Mason had been right from the moment he met the large man - that he was power hungry, and greedy. This nature rubbed off on Russell, and Mason was the only person who did not seem fascinated by the Digital World’s face value, and wanted to know more about how it existed and these ‘powers’ that Dalimon had mentioned. He was also curious about the Gods, and how they existed and ruled together. Dalimon refused to tell him, but had not counted on Russell disclosing the information Dalimon had told him long ago.

“The place is run off the power of something Dalimon calls the Core. That keeps everything moving and flowing. It is what the Gods are there for, to protect. It’s some kind of ultimate power source. According to Dalimon, the Digital World would flail and fumble massively without it,” Russell explained one afternoon. Mason had taken a leisurely trip with Russell that day, knowing Dalimon would be unlikely to be there and unable to interject. He had not intended for Richard or Bella to tag along, but they had, and Mason could hardly stop them. Instead, he walked ahead of the other two with Russell is hushed conversation.

“Sounds like quite an impressive energy. To sustain an entire world, and its inhabitants,” Mason commented, trying to breathe normally as they walked up a hill that had appeared smaller in the distance. Their regular visits seemed to have changed Bella, Richard, and Russell incredibly – making them seem younger, like they had regained some of youth’s vigor. While Mason felt the opposite effect; he felt like he aged with every trip.

“Obviously,” Russell replied. He glanced behind him, Bella and Richard were walking slowly - talking, it seemed, about something quite in-depth.

“Imagine what that kind of energy could do for our world,” Mason said slowly. He came to a stop as they reached the top of the hill, to catch his breath. Russell did the same, and while he breathed a little heavier, he barely seemed to be struggling at all. “For the human world, I mean. The real world.” Mason stood up straight and recognized the expression on Russell’s face in an instant. He had obviously thought of this before but extinguished that thought in favor of his fondness for this world he had discovered, and the Digimon that inhabited it. But now Mason had mentioned it, even as a passing comment, that idea have been reignited, and now Mason was going to fan the flames. “Fossil fuel won’t last forever, Russell. If we could… utilize this energy the Digital World has, not only would it make Atlas Corp the most powerful company in the world – probably a super power in its own right – but think of all the suffering it could end.”

Russell’s mouth shifted and he chewed the inside of his cheek. He did not look at Mason, but over the area they had just walked across. They always stuck close to the small building they kept as their ‘base’. Never venturing any further than a few fields because of the possible dangers in the area, which Dalimon warned Russell and the others about regularly. His gaze switched to Bella and Richard, still walking leisurely up the hill. Bella saw him looking and waved.

Russell’s smile increased a little.

“That kind of notoriety, imagine the income. You could support Bella, the children, until you’re old and grey, and obviously secure health and happiness for future Atlas Corp generations.” Going in and plying on Russell’s family was a low down, dirty tactic, and Mason knew it. But he was willing to be a snake to get Russell thinking the same way he was.

“It would mean the possible destruction of this world though,” Russell explained, shifting his hand through his hair.

“Unfortunately. But think of all the human lives you could be saving,” Mason said eagerly, seeing the same eagerness spark in Russell’s eyes. He found them joined by Bella and Richard seconds later, not allowing Russell to reply immediately.

“This was a very good idea,” Bella said, laying down on the grass. She felt younger and more energized than she had since having the twins. She hoped, soon, she would be able to bring Logan, Hunter, and Rose for a day. Perhaps have them meet Dalimon, she believed they would enjoy it here. And it would obviously give them a chance to see their father for more than a few minutes in the day.

Richard agreed with her, catching his breath as he stood up, and did as Russell had been doing, viewing the surrounding area and the distances between. Light glinted off the strange humming crystals, reflecting pretty rainbow colors on the grass. As far as Richard was concerned, this place was a paradise. He saw the expression of Mason and Russell, both serious, and Mason’s irritated as though he did not want Bella or Richard there. “Something troubling you, Mason?” Richard asked, slapping the other man on the shoulder.

“I’m fine,” Mason replied icily. “In fact Russell and I were just discussing a possible business… advance.”

“Only you two would think of work when you’re surrounded by nature,” Bella said, breathing out of her nose in a rush. She stood up. “Let’s hear it then.” She crossed her arms and looked at Mason with a judging and well practiced gaze. Any mention of work, and Bella’s business demeanor instantly came out. She was no longer Bella-enjoying-a-day-off-in-her-own-private-paradise. She was now Bella-one-of-the-most-powerful-businesswomen-in-the-world.

Russell hesitated, and that was something Bella sensed. Her expression hardened. Whatever he was about to say, she was not going to like it. “Mason made quite an astute observation, that the energy, the Core that sustains this place, could do wonders in the real world.”


“So?” Bella snapped, she hated when Russell took the longer route to explain something to her, as if to make it seem better, and like he was padding it out.

“I thought that we could take it. Use it. It would make Atlas Corp a super power in the business world, and would also, I think, serve to solve thousands of world-wide problems,” Mason explained.

“Out of the question,” Bella said firmly. “What about the Digimon that live here? You would be taking away what it is that sustains them and their world.”

“Digimon are data. You saw yourself, they are not real, nor feel pain,” Mason argued.

Bella’s eyes narrowed. “You’re a power hungry person Mason, but I never felt you would be capable of cold blooded murder.”

Mason sniffed indignantly. “It would make life better for people, humans. Who matter.”

“And you would gain some of the profit,” Bella returned. She turned to Russell. “You can’t actually be considering this, can you?”

Russell shrugged. “He makes a valid point. If the energy here can keep an entire world going, and support the life here, it could solve all the problems we have in the real world. World famine, AIDS… we could use it to put a stop to threats of nuclear war.”

“All man-made problems, which should be solved by men under their own steam, and not by stealing the energy of a place like this,” Bella argued. Her arms tightened across her chest, and Russell glared at her.

“What is your opinion, Richard?” Mason asked, turning to the other man, who had remained relatively silent.

Almost surprised at being addressed, Richard looked between his three business companions for a moment. “I agree with Bella. Taking the energy from here would cause this place unknown anguish. We have no idea what could, or would happen if the power source was taken away. No matter what it could do, it wouldn’t make up for the destruction taking it would probably cause.”

Mason scoffed. “You’re a soft shell. You always have been. Never seeing the bigger picture.”

“It’s better than being a money grabbing son of a bitch like yourself,” Bella snapped.

“Bella!” Russell shouted, his face darkened. “It was a suggestion, not something we have already decided upon. I don’t understand why you’re getting so defensive.”

“Because you do this all the time,” Bella explained, suddenly sounding exhausted. “You find something wonderful, and then destroy it with your need to be better, with your greed. I won’t let you do it to this place. Not to this place, or to those who live here.”

“You won’t let me?” Russell repeated, his tone steady. Bella stood up straight, not about to back down or cower, despite how much Russell might have wanted her too. Eventually Russell shook his head. “We’ve been here too long. We should leave.”

Which to Bella was code for: I don’t want to have this discussion in front of my business partners, but I will yell at you later.

And to Mason, was code for: we’ll discuss this further when Richard and Bella aren’t around.

Russell activated his Digivice, and the four of them were gone in flashes of light, returning to Russell’s study.

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Bella never did get the opportunity to take her children to the Digital World with Russell. After that day, and the discussion, neither she nor Richard returned to the Digital World. Not because they didn’t want to, but because they hoped in themselves not doing it, Mason and Russell would not go again either. That in showing solidarity, and working and focusing on Atlas Corp and the outlets they had now, it would make Russell and Mason forget their notions of using the energy in the Digital World for their own means.

Little did they know.

A year went past quickly from that time, and Atlas Corp found itself in new, unfamiliar waters as far as their business went. Though they were waters easily sailed and conquered. It wasn’t long before Atlas Corp’s low period was nothing but a blip on an up-and-up report chart. The new industries Bella and Russell agreed to enter into made Atlas Corp more of a super power, and a name that was becoming more of a household one. They had entered into the world of air transportation, and had a small business in the field, catering sometimes for the rich and famous exclusively, but mainly for holiday goers at affordable prices, letting them travel in luxury.

Bella also convinced Russell to invest in several sports teams, to sponsor several major teams across the globe in different sports, and also to invest in events and take initiative in hosting them. Russell even attended a few with Hunter and Logan to show support, and present the image that sold: that of an average family man, and not the tyrant he was turning into behind the scenes.

Russell had agreed to Bella’s forbidding on returning to the Digital World, and in doing so, it made his mood worse. He was no longer a man patient to listen to others and their ideas, and he often lost his temper with his children and his wife. Bella was able to stand up to him, and Logan to a certain extent – inheriting some of his mother’s stubbornness – but even for Bella it was becoming too much, and she often found herself sleeping alone, while Russell slept in a spare bedroom, or worked at the office until late and stayed at a hotel rather than driving home. Things were not as happy as Bella wanted them to be, and while she had at first been enamored by the Digital World, she now found she was rather regretting Russell ever discovering it, because all this – his change in attitude and demeanor – was because of that discovery.

All that time, Bella kept herself up at night, worried, and she was never the wiser that she was being deceived.

Mason had become Russell’s closest confidant, and the two spent many, many hours together locked away in Russell’s office at work; it had now become a room with full walls – no longer glass - sound proof and with the only way in a hand lock. His promise to Bella, not to visit the Digital World, had been false. Secretly, and without detection, he and Mason had moved the transportation pod calibrated to the Digital World co-ordinates to the panic room attached to Russell’s office, built in case of emergencies. It was now their secret base of operation. Like two small boys in a tree house, they schemed and plotted for a year, making plans and cajoling Dalimon into helping them.

Mason had been against bringing Dalimon into their plans, thinking that the Digimon had a strong enough grip on Russell to talk him out of their plans to use some – not all – but some of the energy from the Digital World for Atlas Corp. But he had not needed to be worried, it appeared the other way around, that Russell had a strong grip on Dalimon, and the lizard Digimon was dedicated to making Russell happy, even if it was something Dalimon disagreed with.

Dalimon was necessary because he was able to get things that Russell and Mason had no idea how to obtain. In their scheming, they had agreed that when the idea had initially been mentioned, the two men had been thinking too small. Deciding that instead of using the energy of the Digital World for a good cause, to use it to somehow better mankind, they could use it for the sole purpose of making Atlas Corp a world power.

The idea had come when Russell had overheard his children asking Bella why they couldn’t have a dog, like other kids could have. Bella had explained allergies of the nanny, and that it wasn’t fair to her. Russell’s idea was simple: to use the energy of the Digital World to create and manifest Digimon in the real world. Being of digital matter, things like allergies and shedding would hold no worry for anyone as – in theory – these things could not exist on a creature made entirely of digital matter. It also meant that if a family got tired of having a dog, and fancied a cat, they would – again in theory – be able to delete the dog’s data, and rebuild it in the form of a cat. That was the idea anyway, and Russell had thought it a stroke of genius.

Mason had thought they were starting too small, but agreed they had to start somewhere.

Dalimon’s input, despite Mason’s complaints, had been invaluable. Dalimon had reasoned the Digimon with the most energy would be the Gods, and through some less-than-honest means, had managed to gain entry to their personal and private quarters, in the Circle where they convened regularly to discuss the goings-on of the Digital World. He had procured essence, a kind of life force, from each of them, bottled it like a precious liquid, and delivered it back to Russell and Mason intact.

It had been a start.

The two men had worked tirelessly at their idea, and their inventions, to create Digimon, to make them in whatever form they wanted and allowing them to retain their form, shape, and gain organic material, like real animals – without all of the side effects.

“It’s not enough,” Mason grumbled, watching as another attempt at a creation flittered away into the air. It was four o’clock in the morning, and this was becoming tedious. Through all their experiments and trial runs, the creating of Digimon was no problem, but they never existed beyond the time the machine that created them remained on. It appeared that they could not be sustained without power always being supplied to them, and as soon as that power was cut, they disappeared, becoming data once again. It was an issue, and one that neither Russell nor Mason had yet been able to figure out. “Why not bring Dalimon here?”

“No,” Russell barked. He sat at his desk, his hands covering his face, hiding the tiredness. “The same thing could happen to him if we brought him here, and then where would we be?” he snapped. He breathed deeply and rubbed his face. “There’s nothing more we can do tonight.”

“Hmm,” Mason agreed. “We’ll just pick back up in the morning.” Rising from his seat, Mason slipped on his blazer. “We’re getting close, I’m sure of it my friend.”

“I’m sure,” Russell replied, his tone disinterested as he stared at the pod across the room.

Mason stopped short of the door, pressing again the Dalimon matter. “Have you considered bringing Dalimon here? Might he know a way to keep the creations in a physical form without power?”

“I don’t want to risk it,” Russell explained, his tone short. He did not regard the other man, as this was something they had discussed several times. “What if the same thing happened to him? And he crossed over and became data?”

“Then I’m sure he would just be rebooted in the Digital World,” Mason said.

Russell shook his head. “We don’t know that.” He paused. “I wouldn’t want to risk it. Dalimon has been a good friend, and useful in our endeavors. Once we can keep fake Digimon alive here, then we can attempt to bring him. But not yet.” Russell shook his head once more. “Not yet.”

Mason sighed softly, and checked his pockets for his car keys. He, like Russell, was staying more and more in the city at a local hotel, rather than driving home in the early hours of the night. “Very well. Good night, Russell.”

“Good night,” Russell returned, his eyes never leaving the pod. The door made a self-satisfied hum as it closed behind Mason and locked itself. Once sure he was alone, Russell sighed loudly and rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair, which was beginning to thin and grey through stress. His desk was a mess of papers and formulas he and Mason had been trying, which had all been failures. Looking at them caused Russell more irritation, so he moved them all to one side. His desk had a trick drawer, one with a code needed to open it, which he quickly tapped into to the hidden key pad on the underside of his desk.

The drawer popped open beside Russell’s leg and he pulled it. It was velvet-lined, with six different indentations in the velvet and cushion. Each indentation was home to a small glass vial, each one glowing in an unnatural, but oddly comforting way. Russell removed two, the glass clinking together in his fingers as he rolled them around together, warmed by their ethereal light. These tiny vials contained more power than he could have imagined. Capable of creating artificial Digimon, and sustaining them – he just knew it – he just didn’t know how to utilize that energy effectively to sustain the Digimon for longer. The energy could power their inventions, the machines used for creating the Digimon. But as soon as the vials were removed, the machine would turn off and the Digimon disappear into data.

This latest attempt had been the most successful – the Digimon they had created had lasted nearly a full minute without the vial and without power. But like all other attempts, it had been an unmitigated failure. They were getting closer, so close that Russell could practically taste it, but they were still so far away from perfection, and Russell hated that more than anything. He wondered, often, why he was so eager for this to work. Was it for the money, the notoriety – yes, to a point – but it was mainly so he could bring Dalimon to the real world and show him everything the two had spoken about. Dalimon had been intrigued and almost fascinated by the real world and the stories of it, but so far Russell had been unable to show him anything except the few bits and pieces he had taken to the Digital World on purpose. Dalimon had been the most helpful, and most faithful of all of Russell ‘companions’, and he wanted to reward him, but only when it was safe.

Rising from his chair, still twisting the two vials in his hand, Russell approached the transportation pod and walked around it, so caught up in his thoughts he didn’t hear the door to it open softly and footsteps enter.

“Russell,” Bella’s voice was tired, angry, outraged, upset. It held more emotions than Russell had heard in her voice ever before, and it startled him from his stupor. He turned towards her, his chin high. “This is where you’ve been hiding, is it?”

“It’s hardly hiding.”

“I was beginning to think you were having an affair. Now I wish you were,” Bella said stiffly. She had her arms folded, and was dressed in smart jeans and a turtle neck, her long hair down and tied in a simple clip at her back. She had not slept yet, that much was obvious. “What the Hell are you doing?”

“That’s fairly obvious, isn’t it,” Russell stated, with a smirk.

Bella’s jaw tightened. “Don’t try and be cute with me,” she hissed. “Russell, we discussed this! You agreed, no more Digital World. No more Digimon!” She waved her arm wildly at the transportation pod. “And now I find you here with the gateway, with an apparatus that does God-knows-what. Russell, this obsession has to stop.”

“Says who?” Russell retorted, sounding more like a petulant child than a grown man. “I am making headway on something you can’t possibly comprehend. Something bigger and better than anything Atlas Corp has done before. Something that will make us famous.”

“We’re already famous,” Bella replied shortly.

Russell’s eyebrows furrowed. “This is important! I’m doing important work.”

“More important than your family? Your children?! For God’s sake Russell, you’re missing them growing up!” Bella choked on her words, regained her cool quickly, and swallowed whatever emotion was about to make her seem weak. “Doesn’t that matter?! Logan is going to be a teenager soon, he’s going to need your guidance as he grows up into a man. Hunter and Rose! You don’t even know them.”

“They-”

“Do you know how athletic Hunter is? He’s got so much promise, already. And Rose! Rose is so clever. She’s already reading alone and aloud. But you wouldn’t know that, you’re never home!”

“This is more important!” Russell repeated, his voice rising a few notches.

“More important than your children?”

“Yes.” Russell’s voice caused their argument to stop suddenly, both of them taken aback by Russell’s words. He had not really thought about it before, but it was true what he had said, that the work he and Mason were currently doing was more important than his children. Than Bella. Than anything they had done before. And Bella was dumbstruck by his admission.

“I can’t believe you just said that,” Bella murmured softly, feeling as if she had been slapped in the face. Russell steadied himself.

“I did. And I mean it, Bella,” he said sternly. “You have to understand how important this work of mine is!” He went to the drawer where the other vials were sitting.

“Be quiet,” Bella said softly, unheard by Russell as he approached her, vials in hand.

“See there, Bella? They’re essences of the six Gods from the Digital World. These tiny vials have enough energy in them to power a small city, indefinitely. This work is important. More important than anything else. This could mean not just big things for Atlas Corp – the creation of Digimon to take over construction work and transportation in places – but big things for the third world.”

“Please, be quiet,” Bella said again, a little louder. She felt like there was bile choking her, rising up her throat trying to escape. She had never felt so sick as she did at that moment. She looked at the man she married and saw a shadow of his former self. A changed man, deformed, and devoid of anything she recognized. She saw a stranger and it made her feel dirty and unsafe.


“Bella, listen to me!” Russell grabbed her shoulder with his free hand, the six vials all clutched in his other.

“I said, be quiet!” Bella yelled, shoving Russell roughly with her arms and sending him reeling back. Everything happened slowly, the vials all fell from Russell’s hand, clattering onto the carpet noisily, but none of them breaking. Russell fell back against his chair, smacking his head against it, leaving him bewildered and confused on the floor for a few moments. Bella quickly gathered up the vials and opened the transportation pod, showing an image of the Digital World that tempted her back somewhat.

She looked between it, the vials, and Russell, still dazed on the floor but somewhat aware of her. It would be so easy to step through and never return, go back to the Digital World and be back in a place that had been like a paradise. But she resisted. Instead, she grasped the vials tightly in one hand.

Russell looked up at Bella, his eyes finally grasping the situation as he silently pleaded to her.

Bella’s face had turned emotionless and cold. She grit her teeth and threw the vials through the open portal, letting it close shortly after.

“This is for your own good, Russell. This obsession will destroy you,” Bella explained, walking past her husband without looking at him.

-----------------------------

Russell became more determined and more detached after that. He barely came home, Bella refused to see him and took to working more from home than coming to the office. Claire was worried, but didn’t say anything to Russell, and didn’t like to bring it up with Bella when they saw each other, because it was obviously a sensitive subject.

After Russell told Mason how Bella had thrown the vials into the Digital World again, the two became determined to find them, and made regular long trips to the Digital World, camping out there for days at a time with supplies and other things to make it more bearable. Dalimon was their guide as usual, and for a Digimon, he was looking more and more unlike his old self. The color of his skin had dulled considerably, and he lacked the vigor he had had the year before. He almost seemed apprehensive to help Russell and Mason any longer, but with the temptation of seeing the real world consistently dangled before his nose like a carrot in front of a rabbit, he agreed.

Dalimon wasn’t the only thing that had changed in the Digital World. It was almost as if the Digital World itself was changing dramatically. Lush green fields had become little more than dry, dead grasslands, and the crystal gems no longer hummed. The sky was rarely clear, it rained more, thundered more. It was no longer a paradise, it was as if it was being mutated by something.

According to Dalimon, Digimon were fighting more and more among themselves too. The Gods were no longer able to keep the peace between each realm, and there were whispers from the Digital World inhabitants as to whether they needed the Gods at all. Plans were discussed to overthrow them, but were never followed through with. Disquiet and unhappiness was spreading like a plague, and no one could understand the cause of it.

One late evening, while Dalimon slept and Russell and Mason were unable to, the two sat up, talking in hushed voices, barely able to see their hands before their faces, despite the fire they had made. It seemed even light was growing dimmer in the Digital World now. Russell secretly wondered if his initial visit had caused a chain reaction to create this change, but wrote it off quickly. Believing that if it had been his first visit, then this change would have happened much, much sooner. The wind was low in the evening, and they were well shielded from what little breeze there was by an overhanging rock, on which their shadows were reflected. The two men didn’t talk much anymore, there wasn’t much to talk about, apart from their main goal, which was to find the vials of essence Bella had disposed of, and more Digital World power, if possible.

Neither of them noticed when the wind stopped completely, because they couldn’t feel it, and they were so wrapped up in their own thoughts that they didn’t realize the silence that spread over and around them, the crickets stopping their chirping and the birds ceasing to sing. It was only when they heard a hissing that they sat up more alert and aware.

“I know what it is you seek…” The hissing manifested itself in the sound of a voice, deep, unyielding but a voice that did not sound as if it was coming from something close by. It sounded far away, but was audible, and the fire showed a third shadow, twisting and reeling in the flames against the cliff underside.

“Who are you?” Mason asked loudly, getting to his feet. Russell followed suit, staring at the shadows, almost hypnotized by the writhing form that had joined them. The shadow barely seemed to register Mason’s question, and had its attention fixed on Russell, just as Russell had his attention fixed upon it.

“Who I am… is not important,” the voice spoke, its own form wrapping around Russell’s quivering shadow. “But I am someone who can help you.”

Mason was a little shaken by the voice that appeared to have no owner - skeptical and disbelieving of its words. Russell however was the complete opposite, the voice, the words made him feel relaxed, almost lucid, like nothing this… thing was saying could ever be wrong.

“How?” Russell asked, seeing the shadow coil itself around his. He touched around his body, his shoulders, his wrists, trying to feel for something, a form, that should have been enveloping him like it did his shadow. But he felt nothing out of the ordinary, just his clothes beneath his fingertips and the air.

The shadow shifted, moving over to Mason, who moved back a few steps. It alternated between the two men as it spoke in soft, warm tones, still laced with the hiss.

“The power you covet is here. You’re so close…” it murmured softly. Russell could have sworn he heard something shift behind him, but daren’t turn to look in case the image before him disappeared. “There is a core… the core of the Digital World. It is what we need… What you so desire.” The voice paused, Russell barely breathed, and Mason stood so still he might as well have been made of stone. The voice continued moving once more, the fire snapped and popped. “It will fix everything… It holds tremendous power for us both. It would benefit all who so desire it.”

Russell turned to Mason, who made eye contact on point. He seemed apprehensive at first, unsure.

“Where do we find, this core?” Russell queried, stepping forth a little, feeling bolder for a moment.

The voice chuckled with amusement. Russell heard something else there too, anxiety? A worry that this figure was losing them. “Follow me and I will take you to it…” it tempted. And Mason wanted to, it was like he was being pulled by a string, he could almost feel something tugging at his chest.

“No. Not without Dalimon…” Russell said sternly. Mason was broken from the tempting tug he felt by those words, and rounded on the other man.

“What are you saying? We should go and retrieve it now! This is what we want, Russell. This is what we’ve been after!” Mason explained, in a harsh but hushed tone. He didn’t want to wake Dalimon, this didn’t involve the Digimon anymore as far as he was concerned, and Russell’s seeming need to have the Digimon nearby annoyed him.

“Do you always trust strange voices that you can’t see?” Russell snapped at Mason, who grunted, folding his arms. “How can we follow a mere shadow?” he added, Mason hated the logic of his words. “No. I refuse.”

Mason tightened his arms, growling in a low breath. At this point, he was tired of Russell’s games with these Digimon. He didn’t understand it, how his once astute and clever business partner saw these creatures, these forms of data, as actual living beings. They had witnessed enough to see that was not so, and he didn’t understand Russell’s fascination with Dalimon. Here they were, having the perfect opportunity. There was something willing to show them what they really needed, the break they had been after for years, and Russell refused because of some conjoining of data he happened to be fond of.

Mason’s face contorted. He wouldn’t follow a shadow – that was fine. They would follow whomever the shadow belonged to in that case.

“Show yourself!” Mason yelled out to the voice. “Show yourself and I will follow you myself since… someone here is losing sight of the bigger picture.” He glared at Russell.

Russell was taken aback by Mason’s comment, but he said nothing in response. It appeared Mason’s patience with Russell had come to an end, and the same could be said for Russell’s patience with Mason and his avarice.

“As you wish…” the voice said calmly, but hissing with a sort of snicker.

The wind picked up around them, and along with it, it began to pick up dirt and other natural things. Both Russell and Mason felt a sudden tiredness as the breeze touched them, and felt their bodies jerk as if something was passing through them along with it. They both almost lost their footing, as if being pushed aside, but looked up to see what had formed before them.

Rising above them was a human head, with a human-like torso, which was a slightly pale grayish-green and did not look healthy. It had its back facing the two men, so it also appeared as if on the human head there were horns. The human torso gave way quickly enough as its full form came to light, showing that it delved down into an insectiod thorax with an armored back shell, in a kind of maroon color. Several pairs of legs sprouted from the bottom half, making up twenty-or-so legs in total. Finally, it faced them, and what Russell saw made him recoil. The horns he had assumed he saw, were truly insect feelers, sprouting from what were once eye sockets. It was a grotesque sight, something akin to a terrible nightmare or horror film. It made Russell’s stomach turn to know they had been talking to such a creature, but Mason seemed to be made of stronger stuff and looked at it with awe on his face, combined with a mixture of distain, disgust, and morbid fascination.

“I am your humble servant,” the creature explained, bowing low.

Mason sneered. “You have a name?”

“I am called many things, but most commonly, a Parasite,” it explained, rising to a height far above that of either Mason or Russell.


Russell could barely stand to look at that thing, let alone speak to it, so it was Mason who took the lead, unafraid, seeing this creature as he saw everything, as something below him. “This core, you mentioned,” Mason said, switching into business mode. “Where is it?”

The Parasite’s mouth moved into a sort of sneer. “It is protected deep in the centre of the Digital World, in a place known as ‘The Circle’. It is where the Gods convene. Where they have been meeting more regularly of late.”

“And what do you want with the Core?”

“My aims are the same as your own,” The Parasite hissed. “You wish for power, for yourself, your world.” Its gaze turned to Russell. “And to help those of a less fortunate nature. My wish is the same.”

“Explain,” Mason ordered.

A look of annoyance crossed the Parasite’s face for a mere moment, before it regained composure. “The Gods are failing in their ruling of this world, and have been doing so for decades. The core would enable both your world and this one to live in peace, without the Gods there, and with Digimon living as they should: ungoverned, and unsuppressed. Peace for this place, and your own – what harm could there be?”

“There must be a catch,” Russell said, finally finding his voice. “How does it work?”

“Whomever has the core can control it. Order it to his whim,” the Parasite explained softly. “In gaining peace, no Digimon will be harmed, the Gods will be deposed – peacefully – and once we both have pieces of it, we can do as we wish…” the Parasite trailed, and turned slightly, its gaze landing on Dalimon. “Even bring your precious friend with you to your world, without the chance of harm to him.”

“You say both,” Mason butted in. “There are three of us here.”

“Forgive me.” The Parasite bowed once more. “But I was under the impression the two of you desired the same thing.” Russell and Mason caught one another’s eyes once more, and held the gaze for a few moments. Mason was the first to break it.

“Of course,” he said, his best, placating tone lacing his words. “We both want the same thing, isn’t that right, Russell?”

Russell nodded his head firmly.

Mason meant none of his words. Russell knew for certain that if Mason got a hold of the Core first, then there would be no chance of Dalimon coming to the real world, that Mason would keep the power for himself, and everything he was agreeing to now with the Parasite would never be. So it was imperative that Russell found the Core first. He, too, would not give the power over to the Parasite – something about this creature and its deformity, its plan did not sit right, even in Russell’s somewhat twisted conscience, but having the Core would be the only way to bring Dalimon to the real world, and for that reason Russell was determined to be its one sole owner and controller. It was his duty and right to have the Core, after all, he had discovered the Digital World. Had it not been for him, Mason wouldn’t be on this course, and no one else would know either. Russell was steadfast in his resolve, he would take the Core, and Dalimon with him once it was in his grasp. Mason and the Parasite be damned.

-----------------------------

Before the Parasite left, it gave specific directions and instructions to Mason and to Russell for how to get to the Circle. The location was hidden away, but with the Parasite’s words and hidden guidance, they would be able to get in and access the area. Dalimon was not to know of the Parasite, or what the three were planning to do, so he was to still ‘lead’ them, but also be led. An easy task when Russell had the Digimon practically feeding from the palm of his hands, doing whatever he said.

The Parasite would be with them, hidden away, and would eventually meet them all at the Circle in five days time – the time it would take for them to get there. In the mean time, the Parasite explained, it would be amassing an army to assist with the dethroning of the Gods.

Dalimon awoke that morning well rested, and both Russell and Mason carried on as if nothing was different, nothing had happened, and nothing had changed. The two men did not speak much as they traveled, instead, Russell and Dalimon filled the silence with conversation about the Digital World, and Dalimon’s favorite subject, the real world. He was most excited to try the many things Russell had told him, including meeting his children and trying human food.

Walking took time, and Dalimon’s sense of direction was not as honed as he liked to think it was. Often, Mason would say a few words to Russell to indicate they were going in the wrong direction, and Russell would have to try and divert them into going the other way, the wrong way to Dalimon’s mind, but the right way according to the Parasite.

They should have expected the trip to be difficult, the Circle was meant to be a place hidden away, protected and well shielded, so the Parasite had said, and it had not lied. The long journey forced the three of them to cross some rough terrain, taking them through regions Dalimon did not even realize existed. There were caves cut into mountains to allow Digimon to pass underneath them, rather than go over. But with that came new issues, such as lack of light and very little air. Weather changed more frequently, going from blazing sunshine to hailstones the size of a rock in minutes. Even Dalimon had never seen such things, such tumultuous and erratic changes.

He was also put off from their journey by the fact that they met so few Digimon. Many of the Digimon villages they went through or passed were empty, or nearly empty. Digimon had disappeared in droves, and those who remained didn’t know where they’d gone or why. In most places, there was no one left to answer any questions. Dalimon’s growing confusion gave way to growing worry and concern, something Russell didn’t like, and he also didn’t like lying to the lizard Digimon – but what other choice did they have? Dalimon would have been more upset if Russell told him that Dalimon had been leading them the wrong way and they were now going to dispose the rulers of the Digital World all in the name of power. If he did tell his companion that, then there would have been no way that Dalimon would have gone with him back to the real world.

The five days were up, and on the morning of the fifth day, Mason woke first with a start. Russell and Dalimon were still asleep, and the sun was barely up. Mason was groggy, but had felt something waken him. The fire they had made the night before now smoldered and grumbled with its dying embers. Mason quickly kicked dirt over it and stretched, waking his body up. He wondered why he had awoken so suddenly, it was unusual, especially for him, as it was usually Russell or Dalimon woke first. But it was something, and a short walk away from their camp told him what it had been.

Under his feet, the ground trembled and shook, like a stampede of elephants was racing not that far away. It had been that feeling that had woken him. That, and the falling of nuts and berries from the tree tops that had added to it. Over the ridge of a hill, Mason saw it: crowds of Digimon in different shapes, colors, and sizes all stood in droves. Many of them the same, some there were only one or two of, but they all moved as one in the same direction, and at their head was the Parasite. Mason quickly woke Russell and Dalimon – begrudgingly – and with Russell’s insistence, Dalimon followed with them.

They weaved and ducked between the congregated Digimon, relatively ignored or unseen. Many Digimon were taller than anything either Russell or Mason had seen before, and in some instances they had to dodge giant feet. The Digimon Mason had seen at first did no real justice to just what a congregation this was. Not only were there Digimon on the ground, but many remained in the sky, buzzing and flapping their wings to keep aloft while their attention was focused on the Parasite before them.

Leading them, the Parasite was at the head of the group, and appeared to be speaking, shouting up at a high white cliff face with what could have almost been a window and balcony carved out of it.

“It’s the Circle. Or, rather the outside of it,” Dalimon explained, leading Russell past a group of agitated and grumbling Monochromon. “I don’t understand what all these Digimon are doing here…” Dalimon added, mainly speaking to himself. Russell felt a pang of guilt, but remained silent, following after Dalimon at a quick pace. Mason struggled a little, and in the fray and movement of Digimon, the two men became separated.

The Parasite paced in front of the stark white wall, his face directed upward. On closer inspection, Russell could see two forms, shadows from this distance, of what looked like humanoid men.

“How are we meant to get in?” Russell asked as Dalimon brought them to a stop.

Dalimon smiled a little. “The same way I got in before. We just have to get around… this.”

Russell nodded in agreement. There was nowhere to go for now, now that the Digimon were everywhere, the whole area was blocked off. Dalimon found them a place to hide, between a group of rocks, and a group of small plant Digimon, Floramon, who gave Russell an odd look but said nothing.

“See how they hide in their fortress, so high above you! Afraid to face those who they are pledged to care for, pledged to look after!” The Parasite shouted, his words aimed not at the window, but at the crowd of Digimon. Roars and grumbles erupted from those on the ground, bellows echoing up at a deafening level. “It is time you answered to those who make the Digital World what it is! Time you answered for all your misdemeanors! Time you gave away the power you hold to let the Digital World be as it should be!”

More roars, trumpets, more bellowing and cheering. Russell was forced to hold his hands over his ears.

The noise quieted dramatically, almost to a silence, and Russell was quick to look up. Above, the window was becoming full, and he was forced to shield his eyes from bright, blinding lights that shone down over the horde of Digimon. Dalimon seemed to have no trouble seeing, and in fact could barely take his eyes off of the forms that were revealing themselves. A silence, akin to that of the silence before, was like a blanket that covered the crowd.

Before it was abruptly broken.

“Why have your brought these Digimon here?” A voice from above was speaking directly to the Parasite, her voice resonant and full of authority, with a commanding tone. “Your quarrel is with us, why involve so many others?”

“I have seen their states. The way your ruling works!” the Parasite responded, hissing. “It has failed. Your subjects are unhappy with your leadership.”

“And you expect to lead them, do you?” A male voice, his more of a bark, than a shout. An incredulousness filled his words, as if he could not, or would not believe what was being said.

The Parasite sneered. “Digimon need no leader. They have never needed one! Their only purpose is to be free of your clutches!”

Another female voice. “We have held no such ‘clutch’ as you call it. We have interfered as little as possible in the daily lives of the Digimon we rule over. It is you, stirring up such unhappiness and trouble.” She paused. “Tell me, if your intention is not to rule the Digimon after you overthrow us, then what is your plan?”

“It does not concern you,” the Parasite replied, mocking.

“If you intend to overthrow us, I think it does.” A second male voice, seemingly jumping to the defense of the woman who had just spoken. “You will answer our questions.”

“You hold no power or influence over me,” the Parasite replied venomously. “Nor over anyone else any longer. Your powers, your hold is forfeit!”

A third female voice, this once gruffer, more commanding and superior. “You have no right to condemn us to an unwanted war, and thousands of innocents to an early death! But if it is war you want—”

“Then we shall meet it!” The final voice, a man’s, ending on a loud and unyielding roar that broke the hush over the crowded Digimon.

Immediately there was pandemonium. Digimon rushing to-and-fro as other Digimon, previously unseen, attacked from behind them, from where there group had been. Russell saw the shadows of those who had spoken in the lights leap from the window and land, their light burning any who touched them, each one running in a different direction. Digimon scattered and screeched, thundered, and bellowed out attacks as fireballs flew overhead, and icicles fell from nowhere. Large Digimon charged one another, clashing horns and heads, while others barely stood a chance, being crushed under foot or by larger bulk.

Russell had never seen anything like it, and was terrified for his life.

Dalimon, however, was quick to act and grabbed his arm. “This way,” he ordered, shooting around the back of the cliff, and underneath, through the thick and dense leaves. Russell followed, crawling on his hands and knees, keeping Dalimon ahead of him, and always in eyesight. He stopped when Dalimon stopped, taking his cue from any movement or actions Dalimon made.

After several stops and starts, Dalimon led the way through a small, almost completely hidden hatch, which Russell wouldn’t have noticed if Dalimon hadn’t shown it to him. Together they slipped through, and down into the very bowels of the Circle. Dalimon was worried they would be seen, but the sounds of the fighting outside were more than enough to convince them both that there was little likelihood of any Digimon being inside the Circle protecting anything. So they made quick work. Down further, through long hallways and vast, sparsely decorated corridors. Everything was white and each wall was occasionally punctuated by large doors, too big to be anything but decorative. Through one hallway, then another, traveling further and further down, Russell reasoned they must have been underground.

Eventually, Dalimon came to a stop, they had come to their destination: a door, far smaller than any others, blocked the way, and Dalimon was out of breath staring at it, with worry evident on his face. As if wondering if what he and Russell were about to do was the right thing, or even sensible anymore. He had not questioned Russell’s leadership yet, but now he felt doubt niggling the very back of his mind. Russell seemed to sense it too, and placed a placating hand on the lizard’s head.

“You’ve been so good about helping me,” he murmured. “Even when you didn’t have to. I hope I can repay you in kind, eventually.”

Dalimon smirked a little. “Save the sappy speeches for later, when we’re safe.” He grinned a little and shoved Russell towards the door.

Despite the blockade, Russell could hear a kind of chiming coming from the other side, a regular sound, like bells, almost like a heartbeat. He found the door unlocked, like it had been left like this, like someone or something knew he would be coming for the Core. He held his breath and pushed the door open, immediately engulfed in a warm, white light that filled the entire room. The chiming noise was louder and became more so as Russell neared the shining beacon.

He was surprised by how small the Core was - barely any bigger than a soccer ball, it didn’t look impressive, but he could feel the energy pulsing off of it in waves, blowing his hair back off his face and his clothes back from his body. The room it was in was small too, about the average size of a bathroom, and it had barely anything in it. The ceiling above was glass, and though distorted, Russell could see a room above with six high pedestals. The Core was situated between two pillars, where it floated, suspended by its own energy, just waiting to be touched and taken, so tantalizingly close. Russell had to wet his lips and swallow several times to make himself remember to breathe or to move.

Casting a quick look at Dalimon, who stood at the mouth of the door watching, his hands closed in around the floating sphere of energy, Russell held his breath and snatched it away from its suspension.

The glowing stopped immediately, and there was a deafening roar above them – as something crashed through one of the walls.

“Your Digivice!” Dalimon exclaimed, it would get them out of there in a flash. Russell’s hands dug into his pockets. They could hear footsteps coming, and was horrified to find his pockets empty. “You forgot it?!”
“It’s at the camp site!” Russell exclaimed.

Dalimon saved whatever else he was going to say, and turned tail. “No time to lose, let’s run!”

-----------------------------

Russell had never run so fast in his entire life.

His feet pounded into the floor, urging him on and pushing him to keep running, through hallways and corridors, always a step or two behind Dalimon. He clutched the Core – now cool to the touch – to his chest, like some precious package, as he swerved and dodged the falling rubble of the walls, created when Digimon crashed into it from outside, where the fighting continued to rage.

Any Digimon that had not been inside, had now returned, alerted to the removal of the Core from its place, and urgently seeking it out to replace it. Dalimon dodged attacks and responded, his own doing little damage, but enough – in most cases – to throw others off balance, allowing himself and Russell a quick passage past them.

Once outside, through the hatch they had come in from, they continued running harder still. Trying to avoid Digimon being thrown one way, or falling another. Watching out for attacks that misfired or trees and branches that fell to the ground, having been badly impacted. Terror was evident on Dalimon’s face whenever Russell chanced to look at him, and Russell was certain his own fear was mirrored.

The campsite had not felt as far away as it did now, when the three of them had set out earlier that morning, but now it felt like it was miles away in an entirely different world. Russell had not seen Mason for some time, and was concerned as to whether the other man was still alive or not. He could have been trampled and killed by another Digimon, or worse – but he didn’t dare stop to check. He would have time to feel guilty over the other man’s death later, for now his main priority was to get away, get out of the Digital World safely with the Core.

The campsite was quickly coming into view, and sounds of the fighting were disappearing from Russell’s ears, though that might have been because he was being deafened by the sound of his heartbeat and his foot falls. Hope was kindled when he saw their belongings, still in place and where he left them. The Digivice would be there – they would leave this place and everything Russell hoped and dreamed would come true.

“Wait!” Dalimon stopped suddenly, and Russell did the same, skidding and almost slipping on the ground. He understood immediately why Dalimon had stopped, their things had been moved, and were still being moved, rifled through.

Mason held the Digivice in his hand, and upon seeing Russell, sneered, taunting him with it.

“You have the Core, I see,” Mason stated, holding a hand out expectantly. “Hand it over.”

“No,” Russell rebuffed.

“Hand it over, or you’ll be left here to rot and you’ll never see your wife or children again,” Mason threatened, holding the Digivice tightly in his hand. “I’m not a man to be trifled with, Russell. You know that.”

Russell furrowed his eyebrows. “What you intend to do with it, and what I intend, are two very different things. I won’t let you get your hands on it.”

“You’re a foolish man. You always have been,” Mason spat. “I should have never influenced you in this – just done it all on my own. Cut the middle man out, as they say.”

“You would be nothing without me, you bastard. Nothing,” Russell snarled.

Mason surveyed the other man with bored eyes. “Enjoy dying of old age here, alone with no one. Perhaps I’ll take Bella as my wife, once she’s finished mourning your passing, of course.” Mason sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “Goodbye, Russell.” He pressed the largest button on the Digivice, expecting immediate transportation, and as he did so, Russell felt his heart in his throat. But nothing happened, Mason stood in place, Digivice non-reactive, silent and nothing happening.

He pressed again, and another time, several times until he was beating the buttons with his fingers, cursing loudly. It took all of Russell’s composure not to laugh at him.

“You were saying?” Russell sneered.

Mason glared at him and thrust the Digivice out at him. “Get it to work.”

“No.”

“Now - agh!” Mason yelped, grasping his hand and bringing it into his body, surveying the scratches covering his skin and drawing blood. Dalimon landed on the floor, Digivice in hand and smirking. Mason had completely forgotten about him. Mason’s eyes turned on the chameleon Digimon, and he saw red. “You horrid, little freak!” Mason yelled. “I’ll kill you!” He charged, hands out, ready to grasp Dalimon, who went to dodge but Mason was surprisingly nimble. His hands wrapped around Dalimon’s leg and he dragged the chameleon Digimon towards him, hands rising around his throat. “I’ve wanted to do this since I met you.”

Dalimon struggled to speak, to summon up the words to attack. He kicked and flailed, gripping tightly to the Digivice.

“Let. Him. Go!” Russell yelled. There was a sudden thud, a cracking sound like that of bone breaking. The pressure of Dalimon’s throat was relieved and Mason dropped to the floor, blood seeping from a wound on his head. Russell dropped the stone he had found beside the downed man, watching as Dalimon recovered his breath. “You alright?”

“Been better,” Dalimon explained, shrugging off what had just occurred. “Here.” Russell opened his hand as Dalimon placed the Digivice into it. He felt a sudden surge of power course through his hands and arm, like electricity seeping from the device and entering into both himself and Dalimon. The Digivice shone softly, glowing a cool silver color. It stopped moments later, and in his hand lay a new device, similar to the one he already had, but silver, with a screen that showed Dalimon on it. Dalimon looked at it curiously, then at Russell and back. “Huh.”

“What?” Russell asked.

“We’re partners,” Dalimon explained simply. “Guess me saving you, and you saving me kind of sealed the deal,” he added with a small grin.


Russell looked dubious. “Do I have to do anything?”

“No,” Dalimon explained. “It’s more like it’s a kind of bond. Or contract. I’m your Digimon now, officially. I’ll protect you, no matter what.”

“Dalimon…” Russell sighed.

“No sappy crap.”

A small grin. “I’m worried about taking you with me through the portal,” Russell explained. “The Core isn’t alight anymore, what if you die? Get deleted, coming through?”

“It’s a risk. I’m willing to take it,” Dalimon said slowly. “But… you’re… not?” He read Russell’s face far better than any of his business partners ever could, than even Bella could. Russell slowly shook his head.

“I want to take you with me. Show you everything, but the risk of you dying is too great for me, I couldn’t live with myself if you died after helping me so much. I just… I don’t want to risk it,” Russell explained. He shifted the Core in his hands. “You understand?”

“Yeah,” Dalimon nodded. “It’s fine.” He saw Russell’s surprise, and smiled warmly. “It’s nice to be cared about by someone, who cares more about you being alive. Y’know? Just promise you’ll figure out if I can live there safely, and you’ll come back for me. Yeah?”

Russell smiled. “I swear.” They shook hands, meeting each other’s eyes with warmth. As equals, friends and partners. Russell would return, and Dalimon knew that.

Their hands dropped, and Dalimon’s gruffness returned. “So, get going!” He paused. “What’re you going to do about Mason?”

“I’ll take him with me,” Russell sighed. “As long as a little bit of me is touching him, he’ll come through too.”

“Fair enough.” Dalimon took a few steps back from Russell and the unconscious Mason. “See you in a few,” Dalimon said, waving.

“You can count on it.” Russell’s finger pressed down on the Digivice and a few feet away the transportation portal opened, showing Russell’s office, empty, and everything just as he and Mason had left it before they went. Russell cast his Digimon a small smile.

He stepped towards it.

“NO!” Voices came through the trees and branches, followed by bodies and forms. Russell was forced to cover his eyes, he knew it was going too smoothly. They had been found, and not just by anyone – but the Gods themselves. “You have no idea what you’re doing!” One of the women yelled.

“Return the Core! Leave this place! Never return!” One of the men. Russell vaguely saw shadows through his squinted eyes. Weapons poised for action, one of them held a spear. Two with swords, another with a bow.

“You are being tricked. Give us the Core back. Leave this place, forget it,” a woman’s voice urged him, feeling like a warm and comforting sound. He almost wanted to, he could feel a tugging on his chest, like an urge to hand over the sphere to a hand he could see open and waiting. Where was Dalimon? Was Mason there too? Could they both see this, were they witness to it?

Suddenly, there was a seventh shadow, this one Russell recognized, and all the warmth and good vibrations he had felt from the woman before were gone. The Parasite stood before him, almost like a protective shield.

“You have lost,” he hissed, triumph audible in his voice, filling his tone with glee. “I will make you watch each other’s suffering.”

Russell didn’t dare look, he didn’t dare speak or move. He wanted to get to the portal. He could see it so close, just a few feet.

“It is against our ruling to kill one who is not our own,” one of the women again, “but you give us no choice!”

“See how they resort to the violence. The destruction of others!” The Parasite crowed. “Try your worst, you will be dead before you know it!”

Everything slowed down then.

Colors raced towards Russell, yellow, green, purple, pink, blue and orange. Each different light blinding, and they combined as they traveled. He ran for the portal, his hand went through just as the attacks all impaled the Parasite. He felt a rush of air and something shatter in his hands - the Core. He screamed, something had cut into his leg and he could hear things ripping, his skin, his clothes. It was like he was being electrocuted and impaled by knives, which slashed his limbs and muscles open. His vision was blurring and then suddenly there was nothing, a silence.

-----------------------------

“OH MY GOD! RUSSELL!!!” Bella screamed. She rarely screamed. She had screamed in child birth, threatened to kill and maim, but this was different. This was a scream of terror. Of horror.

She had entered Russell’s office, the children waited out in the lobby with their new nanny, Emily. She had wanted to ask if Russell would like to go with dinner with them. But, she was faced with the one thing no wife ever wanted to face.

Russell was lying on the carpet, which itself was seeped in his own blood. His clothes were torn, as were his face and limbs. He bled profusely. His right arm lay at an odd, unnatural angle, and his head was not as it should have been. One of his eyes looked ready to pop out of its socket, and he was spluttering, barely breathing, choking on his own blood.

“HELP! SOMEONE HELP ME!!” Bella screamed again, falling to her knees at Russell’s side, unsure whether to touch him. All her composure was gone. All her know-how, her coldness, had disappeared in that one moment. She was as any woman, scared and beside herself with panic.

In seconds, the door to Russell’s office was open again, this time it was Emily and Russell’s receptionist, George, who came in. Both were dumbstruck by what they saw.

“Call an ambulance!” Bella yelled. “Call anyone! Call for help!” She waved George out of the room and Emily came to her side, trying to calm the screaming woman, while trying not to panic herself. George avoided eye contact with the Divine children while he dialed.

In the corner of the room, the transportation pod hummed its quiet, monotonous hum. The image of the Digital World was closing, unnoticed by those in the room, too preoccupied with the case at hand. Wind picked up from nowhere, suddenly whipping up papers on Russell’s desk and Bella’s undone hair, while - unseen - a group of bright, differently colored lights flew out, just as the portal closed for good.

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