Aeon: Digital Transcendence [Trading Card Game]

Zoicite23

Ain't got no mojo...
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⟨Act One⟩ Part I

Year: 2310

Subject: Zyler Thaumiel

Association: Federation Citizen



Does travelling at half the speed of light feel weird? I can't tell you - I've moved through space this way my whole life. But in a matter of hours I will set foot on a new planet that isn't stuck to an interstellar rocket. I'm just waiting for one of them to call me.

While lying back on my circle bed, I wonder if I'll throw up instantly upon landing. Maybe I'll just be dizzy and it'll take me years to get used to it. If something like that really happened to people, I think it'd be well-documented. But the scientists only fill me in on a need-to-know basis. There's not much I need to know.

"Echo," beep. "Does anyone ever get motion sickness from no longer travelling at half the speed of light?" I ask the ceiling.

"Not for those reasons, no."

I feel some relief. Long windows stretch the length of my featureless, utilitarian bedroom. Green catches my eye and I turn. For a second I think I see Lalamon on my dresser, its unmovable face on me. But I blink and it's gone. I sit up and approach the dresser, squinting against the orange light glaring from the window. There sits my deck. I pick up the Digimon cards and lazily flick through them. I don't even own a copy of that plant thing. Great, now I'm seeing things.

I've always felt a mysterious connection to Digimon. But no wonder - my only human friend is Frei. The scientists aren't friendly and the droids are just pretending.

When my eyes adjust I can look up. The sun looks weird: a bright smudge over a darker smudge. It's an orange main-sequence star and right now it's sitting just above the horizon. It looks weird because it has a dyson sphere built over half its face - think of a giant dome mirror that blasts solar energy back the other way, thus moving the star in a straight line and carrying all the planets along with it. That's what makes this the famous Theta-Barnett-177 system. Planet one is your typical metal-rich world, mined to dust to make the dyson sphere. Planet two is us, a world covered in colony domes. Every 8 years we get close enough to another star for us to beam over or vice versa. This system has been mobile for 60 years, for those inside. Considering high speed and its effect on time dilation, it's been 84 years for the rest of the galaxy.

I hear the whoosh of my door opening and turn.

"Mr Guliermo?"

"It's time for us to go, Zyler." He's in his sixties and dark-skinned. Dressed in the lab coat they all wear.

"I thought you'd call me over."

"I felt it'd be appropriate that this time, I walk with you." He offers a smile that is almost genuine.

I grab for my bag and he turns. I run after him but an acid-green flash makes me stop.

"Zyler?" The scientist turns.

"Almost forgot my deck…" I step back to my dresser, take the cards and zip them into the front pocket of my bag.

"Come along now, we best be off."

Hours of predictable clearance procedures follow this. It seems that being a government research organization can't help us avoid most of the formalities. First is a trip in the buggy to the station. Then a shuttle trip. Then lining up. Moving off to be scanned through a barrier. More lining up. Forms to be filled out: Mr Guliermo did most of it and I did disturbingly little, only having to sign my name a few times and let the DNA scanners do their thing. I'm 17 and in the custody of a big team of scientists, most of whom I haven't met. Growing up I told myself they were too left-brained to show care, which was why they programmed the droids to do that for them. Thank goodness I have Frei, someone in the same situation as me. At least I'll know one person at the cadet academy.

"Why is this so difficult?" I ask as we sit amidst rows of chairs with our paperwork.

"Gameliel may still be in Federation space but it's right near the border of Alliance space. That's why." Mr Guliermo didn't look up while checking boxes.

We pass through more barriers and line up several more times, then it's time for us to separate. We give our polite goodbyes and I watch him go. See you tomorrow, or in a week, or whenever. I'm given a ticket with a number on it, and after an hour of waiting the number lights up on the display board. My bag has already been handed over a few checkpoints ago. I walk into the room, stand on the markings and raise my arms. I get suited up by unspeaking, harried employees. Then the chamber opens and I walk into a scientific room, the air is humming with energy. I walk up a metal dais and then step onto a lotus-shaped pod. It closes up once I'm in. The chamber gets sealed off, then brightens with radiation and the humming intensifies until I feel my cells vibrate.

Vshhooom. Nothingness. My body gets turned into light particles.

The reason it's impossible to travel at light speed is because only light can do it. Duh. But the underlying problem is mass. To beam someone anywhere is to convert them into photons, shoot them like a laser into another lab where they can get reassembled on the other side. I'd spent time musing this part of the trip too: What happens if I hit a mirror in space and get scattered into a billion particles? Or more realistically, what if a glitch makes the co-ordinates a micron off and I miss the other lab completely? Even moving at light speed the trip would take me 3 months to cross almost 20,000 astronomical units of distance. Thanks again to time dilation, 2 and a half years later I appear in an identical pod and it opens. Suited employees haul me out. I'm unsteady and don't remember a thing about the journey. My body isn't responding right, because electrical impulses are interfering with my nervous system. These are symptoms I had been informed of. I get carted out in a business-like way: efficiency over comfort. Welcome to Gameliel.

Next I'm assigned to medical personnel whose job is to treat me more kindly. They perform all kinds of tests and keep me for a few hours of observation until the spasms stop and I can walk again. I go down a curving walkway with one hand trailing the wall in case I fall. White-coated workers go by in groups, carrying clipboards and paying me no mind. Then I see Frei bound around the corner.

"Hey! We made it!" She's in bright spirits whenever she sees me and I feel the same.

"We did. A good start for our education."

"What do you think, Zyler? Do I look 3 months older to you?" Frei's hair is the colour of honey and plastered to her scalp. Her skin is currently clammy and off-colour, same as mine. Green eyes.

"We both look the same. Those machines took a snapshot of us before we got beamed here. We got put back together the same way. Light beams don't age."

"I know that. Guess my head's still fuzzy from the journey." She digs into her ear with a pinkie. "You ready to go?"

"Go where?"

"Go get our things. Then go sign-up and find our dorms."

I consider "alright. If I collapse you can drag me after you."

Frei almost trips over her own leg as she turns around. She laughs. We take our time and soon the post-travel symptoms wear off and we're walking like normal people again. We go pick up our bags at collection. Frei points them out, sitting beside each other on the conveyer belt. We carry them out and take sleek escalators down to a populated area. We're walking through a food court and talking about the academy when we hear a loud sizzling followed by panicked commotion. The patrons begin to jump up from their tables and run.

The two of us stop dumbly as the crowd rushes by. Guys in dark suits and gas masks are running in with weapons - they don't look like security. The same acid-green light starts shining from my backpack. I feel a strange pull coming from the leader. I can tell he's the leader by how he points the others around and they obey. The guy's coming right for me and as he gets a better look he slows, assessing me.

"Zyler... your bag!" Frei is panicking.

"Stand back." I try to put her behind me. Unzipping my bag I find that sure enough, my deck of Digimon cards are glowing with the bizarre light. So it was never a trick of the eye? Is my connection to this ancient game real? The man opposite undoes a pocket of his vest and reveals his own deck of glowing cards. His cronies all move out to secure the area. I put on a brave front "Who are you?"

"I'm glad you asked." His voice is deep, and somehow familiar. "Mine's a name they'd like to erase. I'm Zarfeld, the new leader of the Anti-Union."

I pull out my deck and am astounded by the strong connection I feel. I can even sense emotions from my digimon.

"Why are the cards more real here?"

"This planet is special. And you're special, like me. Get it?" Then his hand begins to burn with that light and Frei and me get a bad feeling. We step back. "I want to see if you can truly summon the digimon, like I can."

"Stay back, Frei!" I turn to him "Alright. Bring it on."

I thumb the device around my deck and it hums to life. It syncs with my opponent and allows me to hold holographic cards. Digi-eggs are projected beside us in the hatching zone. Some jagged shapes and lines appear around me but they're just for show. Dueling this guy is crazy but I feel so full of power. A sensation I've never felt before. I take the first turn.

Active Player: Zyler

"I hatch a blue Upamon!" The digi-egg cracks then opens, a pinkish blob bounces on the checkered tiles. "For no cost I digivolve him into Veemon!" Blue light shines and I draw. I hear its little claws scrape the floor, its tail nudges a chair. The blue digimon standing to my side has come alive. Is it like how we were turned into light? Our digimon holograms are being turned into solid mass? "I pay 3 memory to summon another Veemon and that ends my turn!" I whip out a digital card and another blue digimon stands with cute determination.

Memory: (0) to (-3)

Turn Change: Zarfeld


"I hatch Tsunomon! With the option card Hammer Spark I gain 1 memory! Then I play WereGarurumon!" The huge blue werewolf bursts to life, throwing plastic chairs and tables. A potted plant is thrown into a fountain, chipping through its edge and spilling water.

Memory: (4) to (-3)

Turn Change: Zyler


I bite my lip at the sight of his real monster. Frei is stammering but staying put behind me. I draw.

"I move Veemon out of the hatching zone!" The blue digimon jumps beside its replica. A new digi-egg appears in its place. "Both these guys have jamming! So go, security break!" The first jumps to attack and a panel flies to intercept, it shatters and reveals a 5000 DP Coelamon card before fading. "And again!" My second Veemon hits an 11000 DP MetalGarurumon. "I digivolve my first Veemon into Frigimon and then again into level 5 Paildramon!" I draw twice. Blue light morphs one of the digimon into a snowman before morphing again into a blue dragonic fighter with green armour and cannons. If the masked guy is nervous his body language gives no indication.

Memory: (3) to (1) to (-2)

Turn Change: Zarfeld


"I evolve WereGarurumon into Hexeblaumon..."

The blue light is blinding. I feel an intense surge of power as the level 6 digimon transforms in the food court. A knight covered in ice spikes and wielding frozen weapons. 11000 DP.

Memory: (2) to (-1)

Turn Change: Zyler


"I hatch... DemiVeemon! I digivolve my other Veemon into Gorillamon. Paildramon does a security attack!" Bullets spray and break a panel. "Gorillamon, security attack!" The grey ape aims with its cannon-arm before firing. "Yes, that's four security down!" Even so I can't help feeling nervous in the presence of a legendary digimon come to life, even if he hasn't attacked for some reason. "I evolve DemiVeemon into Gomamon and again into Frigimon." The baby at my side transforms twice before becoming a snowman bear. I'd drawn four cards this turn.

Memory: (1) to (0) to (-2)

Turn Change: Zarfeld


"Tsunomon digivolves into Gabumon." The horned baby digimon is finally replaced with a four-armed pup. "Hexeblaumon attacks Paildramon! With its effect I trash the digivolved card under Gorillamon. Remember that so long as Hexeblaumon is in play none of your digimon without digivolved cards underneath can attack or block."

"No, Paildramon!" I'm surprised by the fear and grief I feel at seeing my digimon cut down. An icy gust makes Frei and me tense and raise our arms. Guess he had a strategy after all... my digimon won't be able to attack or block him!

Zarfeld plucks out a card "I play another Gabumon."

Memory: (2) to (-1)

Turn Change: Zyler


"Frigimon comes out!" I yell. "Since it digivolved it can still attack! Take out his last security!" Garurumon reveals himself to be the trigger, but that doesn't matter while my digimon have jamming. "...I play Elecmon." The red fox-like digimon jumps out, rippling with electricity.

Memory: (1) to (-1)

Turn Change: Zarfeld


"I move Gabumon out from the hatching zone. Hexeblaumon does a security break! Frigimon loses its digivolved cards and now my digimon gains jamming!" Zarfeld shouts. I grunt and get thrown back onto my butt. Snow blasts its way across the floor and Frei helps me as I get to my feet. Zarfeld still has two Gabumon to attack with and he continues without mercy "Go!"

The rabid clawing breaks a panel that turns out to be "a Security trigger! Vulcan's Hammer! I gain 2 memory! Your turn is over!"

Memory: (1) to (-1)

Turn Change: Zyler


"Alright!" I draw. "I hatch DemiVeemon! I evolve it into Veemon..." I assess my options. There isn't much I can do right now. I have three digimon out and my opponent has no security, but thanks to Hexeblaumon none of them can attack! "I... summon Puppetmon!" My first green digimon enters play, a level 6 doll of wood and red strings. "I suspend your second Gabumon. Now none of your digimon can unsuspend next turn!"

Memory: (1) to (-10)

Turn Change: Zarfeld


"That was risky..." he's amused. Zarfeld draws. "I hatch Tsunomon then digivolve it into Gabumon. I play my fourth Gabumon. I'll activate Hammer Spark for an extra memory. I'll play Marinedevimon for 6 memory!" A squid-like version of the notorious devil digimon spews ink from its mouth. Zarfeld stops and raises two fingers to his ear. He murmurs to somebody and then continues with his turn "What to do with the remaining memory... now I'll evolve Marinedevimon into MetalGarurumon!" Another level 6, a huge mechanized hound aims missiles squarely at me.

Memory: (10) to (7) to (8) to (2) to (-2)

Turn Change: Zyler


The sound of peppering fire comes from around the bend. Zarfeld's men are finally confronted by security. He raises a hand to his ear again.

I smirk "not a good move. You have no blockers, all I got to do is move Veemon out and this is my game!"

"Sorry kid. Looks like I'm gonna have to cut this short."

"What!?" I yell. I listen as he continues speaking over his com-link.

"Turns out the signal was just some kid. Yeah. Don't worry, he's not half as strong as me. And has much less potential. Yeah, we're done here. Time to roll out!" He waves his arm. Masked henchmen fall back and Zarfeld turns to go.

"Hey!" I shout and feel Frei grab my shoulder. We should be counting our lucky stars that this Anti-Union gang is leaving us unharmed.

The two of us stand there as the mob makes their escape. Soon Zarfeld is far enough that our game loses signal. The real-life digimon dissolve in acid-green light.

I'm safe. But I have a hundred questions.


AN: Hey guys here's my digimon fic focused on the card game. I hope you enjoyed and that this inspires others to make similiar fanfics about the new card game. Any questions, feel free to PM me or comment. Peace.
 

Zoicite23

Ain't got no mojo...
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⟨Act One⟩ Part II

Frei and me are questioned by investigators in a storeroom. There's no way the scientists would let us be interviewed alone, so this time Mr Sefirot is here.

Mr Sefirot is just another scientist - the same age and wearing the same white coat as Mr Guliermo, only he's pale and bald. They have slightly different mannerisms, but they serve the same role with professional detachment. Trading places in my life like they're in a revolving door, they loop around and line back up again. I can tell how uncomfortable Mr Sefirot is that the investigators speak to me directly, it reminds me of Mr Guliermo filling out my forms on my behalf while I just follow along, always supervised.

"Zarfeld Thagririon? Just who is he?" I ask.

"He was a scientist who stole a dangerous subtance. It was experimental, suspected to give people certain powers if they were infused with it. But not enough was known. After Zarfeld illegally infused himself he underwent personality changes and now he's established himself as leader of the Anti-Union." The suited investigator talking to me has his hands in his pockets. His partner is lounging back on a crate, none too professional.

"Okay… what's the Anti-Union?" Frei asks from beside me, the two of us are sitting close on an upturned box.

"You know Gameliel is a mining planet, right? Aside from a few research facilities and the academy, the population here all works for the Golachab Terraforming Company."

His partner draws a circle in the air "The Golachab family built the major colony domes. They work hand-in-hand with the Federation. But like you'd find anywhere, there's a party unhappy with the working conditions and support the Alliance that governs the star systems over the border. This party calls themselves the Anti-Union, and while they were never big in numbers the fact they now have wanted criminal Zarfeld leading them is a bit more of an issue."

"I see…" I cast my eyes downwards.

"You've done your questioning, I take it we're finished here?" Mr Sefirot steps closer.

The investigator nods and his partner groans as he sits up, gets to his feet. Nobody died from the attack, and amazingly nobody is injured either. Behind the scientist is another man I've not seen before. Not a scientist or officer, he's wearing a blue button-up and brown slacks. We leave the room and the investigators stroll off casually.

"It's nice to meet you." The new man says with a smile. "I'm Professor Halsa Cherenko. I'm gonna be teaching your class."

"Oh. Nice to meet you." I respond automatically. After a beat it occurs to me I'm supposed to introduce myself too. That here not everyone has read from a file chronicling my whole life and medical background. "I'm Zyler Thaumiel."

"I'm Frei Chaigidel." She adds from beside me.

"We need to sort out more details at the facility." Mr Sefirot prompts so we start moving down the corridor.

I wasn't used to having my questions answered, so the encounter with the investigators has me on a curiosity spiral.

"They said Zarfeld infused himself with an experimental substance that gave him a power right? Is that the green light I saw? Did it make his digimon real somehow?"

"It seems that way." Mr Sefirot answers from ahead, elaborating nothing.

"And that same green light came from my deck. Since being on Gameliel I feel totally different. My body is like, humming, and I can feel my digimon – like they're alive. Did…" Did something mess up during the beaming? I still have a flood of questions but something stops me. Frei is looking at me with concern. We walk in silence for a moment, like Mr Sefirot is deciding what to say.

"There is a mineral found only on this planet that is being investigated. It's the same substance Zarfeld infused himself with. It seems to have some effect on software systems and yes, the AI in the digimon game. Let's not say anything more until we're in the facility."

"Don't we still have to sign up for class?" Frei asks.

"That's been sorted out for you." He answers. Of course it has.

No lining up and meeting with the other cadets-in-training. And as expected, no further answering of questions. The scientist and my teacher leave to hash out details in private, Frei and I are shafted off to a young lap-dog that will walk us to the student dorms where we'll be staying. Letting things drop comes easily enough since we've spent our whole lives doing what we're told. Our guide is an administrative assistant who knows less than we do, but at least he's talkative and gives us details about our new planet, stuff I remember idly reading from an electronic file a few months ago.

Gameliel orbits closely to a red dwarf star. It is grid-locked, meaning one side is always facing the sun and the other facing away - a permanent day and night. With one side too hot and the other too cold, there's only a thin band in the middle that can support life. The main colony dome is on that band, without the artifical lights it is always dusk with the sun eternally circling the horizon and never climbing any higher. Gameliel is a third the size of my home planet, and yet the gravity is almost the same. Since gravity is caused by mass, this planet must be extremely dense at its core. Red dwarf stars are known to be volatile, the sun itself has erratic 'seasons' where for several months sunspots can appear and cause it to lose half its brightness, making the temperature drop dramatically. Alternatively, the sun can also randomly eject solar flares that make it four times brighter and lambast the surface with toxic rays. These 'stellar tantrums' can be detected minutes before they reach us, and the glass domes darken to protect its citizens from the radiation. A semi-regular occurance.

Likewise the life on Gameliel has evolved to deal with its temperamental parent star. The plants are black instead of green, because black is better at absorbing the less available light. There's mobile walking trees, two meters tall and fairly oblivious to their surroundings, shuffling very slowly in search of nutrient-rich soil to burrow their roots into, then after sucking it dry they move on. There's a smaller scuttling 'thing' that is also slow and stays close to the ground as it wanders. The only carnivorous life is microbial, so the bigger creatures on Gameliel can barely detect humans, let alone respond to them. No predators means little competition and so no higher development. However there are evolutionary traits that make these bumbling things somewhat impressive. The trees have a photo-sensitive 'eye' on top and when they detect an imminent solar flare they'll close up their branches and bunker down. This alerts the scuttlers who will double their speed and seek refuge under the roots. The other plants will curl up and then all life on Gameliel simply waits out the deadly space attack until it becomes safe again to resume their shambling.

They can survive the radical temperature changes, but aside from these two superpowers they're pathetic. You could kill the oblivious scuttlers with a kick, and if you pushed a walking tree over it would lay there and die. But they're carbon and water based life, making them something like our handicapped cousins.

We board a monorail transporting uniformed personnel eating sandwiches or scrolling lazily through holographic tabloids. When it zips outside we twist around in our seats to the wide windowband, beholding the colony dome's infrastructure. Beyond the enormous glass confines is a black landscape. The eternal red sunset is dimmed by our artificially well-lit civilization. Frei has her nose against the glass and I can see the faint red against our faces.

Gameliel is rich in carbon. There's deserts of graphite, and pillars of crystalized minerals that stick straight up to heights of ten meters. Diamonds are dirt cheap. The planet is all black, the rocks stained with soot. Air pressure outside the domes is half that of what humans are accustomed to, meaning if you leave the confines of safety your ears will bleed while you gasp for breath, the trace gases in the air slowly poisoning you. Less wind resistance is pretty cool though, meaning you could run faster. But then you end up breathing more and dying faster too.

If I squint my eyes I can make out a distant sandstorm, a black soot-storm. After ten minutes I catch sight of the brilliant academy building and nudge Frei, then we spend some time beholding that before the monorail whips into a darkened tunnel and then pulls up at our stop. The assistant stands and we realise the shuttle has almost emptied. With bags over shoulders we follow our guide, the door wheezes open and we mind the gap on our way out.

"Oh yeah, they wanted me to tell you all your school supplies are set up and waiting for you. This way now."

He guides us through metal walkways and we see kids our age. Other freshmen. A little older, perhaps nineteen and fresh-eyed with their big carry bags. Frei and I are the only two being chaperoned, most of our possessions already delivered for us. The metallic first floor leads us to wooden stairs and Frei stops.

"I think we can find our rooms from here."

"You sure?" The assistant looks reluctant, like he was instructed to take us right to our doors.

"I am."

"Okay, here's your student PDA and keycard. And here's a map, information and contact numbers." He fiddles with his device, sends the files electronically. I take my PDA and it flashes - files sent. We say goodbye to the friendly assistant and then we're left unsupervised once more. My heart beats with excitement.

"We're away from the scientists." I tell her.

"Finally! Let's go check out our rooms!" Frei says and we giggle and rush upwards.

"What's the chance there'll be another attack the second time we're left to ourselves?" I joke but Frei grows thoughtful.

"Hey Zyler... didn't that Zarfeld guy say he and his mob broke into the transporter center because he was following a signal? And that you were that signal?"

I hold the rail as we climb "...I keep waiting for this new feeling to pass but it won't go. I can still feel my digimon, like they're talking to me. And I could feel something coming from Zarfeld too."

"That's bad, right?"

"If the 'experimental substance' is a mineral on this planet, could it be that I'm reacting to it?" I muse and Frei grows thoughtfully quiet. "Well, guess that's a need-to-know thing. We always knew they were keeping stuff from us."

We walk down a carpeted hall to my room number. I pass a few students and exchange awkward smiles. Some doors are open and I can see digimon cards spread on the floor, guys sitting and peering over them, possibly trading.

"Cool, we can duel someone else for a change!" Frei says.

"Excuse me, the girls' dorm is the next level up." Someone says.

"Mind your own business," replies a girl with short hair. She's waiting around my door. The guy talking to her huffs and goes back into his room. I slow, re-check my PDA to be sure that's my room. It is and the girl notices us and walks over. She's adequately pretty, with dark eyes and very short brown hair. She has diamond studs in her ears. Her gaze is direct.

"Can I help you?" I ask.

"I hope so. My name's Silphy Sathariel and we're gonna be teammates."

"Right, the teams." I recall that students are put in small units for exercises and group work.

"Didn't see you at the sign-up so I made sure to come here. I heard you were lab-grown and home-schooled."

"I was a ward of the state, adopted by a research facility for special training." I recite.

"We both were." Frei chimes in. "So why the room visit? What do you want?"

"Well you see, I'm depending on you and the others for a perfect grade." She gives a hard smile and steps closer. "I've been down this road and believe me, people have tried to screw me over many times before and they've all regretted it."

Frei and me are bewildered.

"If we're gonna be teammates why would I screw you over?" I ask.

"It's just something that tends to happen. Whether it's jealousy, butting heads or plain old schadenfreude. So I came here to clear the air first and give a friendly warning for you not to try anything. Okay?" Her sweet smile is threatening.

Silphy seems like a tightly-wound control-freak. She could end up being a nightmare to deal with. But maybe she's right that a direct approach can best salvage our working relationship and not make the next three years unbearable. Before I can meet her head-on Frei jumps in defensively.

"You need to seriously chill. How about a game?" Frei points to the deck case Silphy's wearing.

"Are you serious? I'd beat you in three minutes tops."

"Then let's go!" Frei challenges, passionately retrieving her deck.

"You're gonna duel here in the hallway?" I ask. "This is supposed to be the boys' dorm."

"Hold my bag, Zyler." Frei says and I sigh, stepping back to watch their game.

The girls press their cases and they hum to life. Holographic lines and shapes circle the players, digi-eggs materializing in the hatching zone beside them.

"You first, you'll need it." Silphy says.

Active Player: Frei

"I hatch yellow Upamon! I evolve her into Salamon and then again into Reppamon!" Frei draws two cards. Her baby digimon becomes a pale dog then a masked quadruped with 4000 DP.

Memory: (0) to (-2)

Turn Change: Silphy


"I hatch... purple DemiMeramon! I evolve it into Tsukaimon and again into Meramon." Her baby morphs twice into a flaming digimon that still counts as purple. 5000 DP. "I play Tapirmon. Back to you." The 2000 DP marsupial is the first to stand between them.

Memory: (2) to (1) to (-2)

Turn Change: Frei


"Okay Reppamon, let's go!" At her command the digimon leaps out in front of her. "I play a Salamon." The long-eared pup does its best to look threatening.

Memory: (2) to (-2)

Turn Change: Silphy


"Meramon comes out..." Silphy gives an eager grin. "Security attack!" A flaming limb whips out, a blue panel intercepts the blow and shatters.

"ShineGreymon has 11000 DP!" Frei yells happily, a metal gauntlet seizes Meramon and with a squeeze it extinguishes.

"Inherited effect: on deletion I draw one and discard from my hand. I also gain 1 memory." Silphy is unfazed. "Then I use the option Night Raid to play Tsukaimon from my trash. I evolve it into Vilemon." A furry gargoyle flaps its wings in the hall. A 6000 DP blocker. Some doors are opening, students peeking out at the game curiously.

Memory: (2) to (3) to (1) to (-1)

Turn Change: Frei


"Well... you're not bad." The blonde admits. Her digi-egg rattles then bursts open into data "I hatch Upamon! I evolve her into Patamon." Yet another cute yellow digimon looks unsafe standing against Silphy's purple ones. "I play the trainer T.K. Takaishi! I get to look at my security stack and reveal one then add it to my hand. Then I can replace it with the top card of my deck. So here." Frei holds out SlashAngemon. The cartoonish hologram of a young boy laughs and waves.

Memory: (1) to (-3)

Turn Change: Silphy


"I hatch Pagumon! Digivolve into Gabumon and again into Devimon!" She draws twice. "Vilemon digivolves into LadyDevimon! Bring it on!" Now Silphy is standing alongside the famous devil digimon and his female counterpart. The former a 5000 blocker and the latter on 8000 and letting her draw twice then discard two.

Memory: (3) to (1) to (-2)

Turn Change: Frei


"Here I come! T.K. Takaishi sets my memory gauge to 3! Patamon leaves the hatching zone and digivolves into Turuiemon!" A purple martial-artist bunny with 6000 DP does kicking practices to prepare for battle. "Reppamon digivolves into Sirenmon and again into SlashAngemon!" A metal angel spreads bladed wings. "LadyDevimon gets minus 8000 DP and gets trashed!" It flashes over and carves the fiend in two with an overhead swing, she shrieks then fades into data.

Memory: (3) to (2) to (0) to (-3)

Turn Change: Silphy


"Inherited effect! I gain 1 memory on LadyDevimon's deletion. Devimon comes out!" The mounting frustration is evident in her voice. "I play Kimeramon and its on-play ability lets me sacrifice Tapirmon to take out your Turuiemon!" A fiendish hybrid towers over the other digimon, it snags both targets with mutated hands, squeezing until they're deleted. "Tapirmon lets me draw a card on deletion."

Memory: (4) to (-3)

Turn Change: Frei


"Sacrificing your own digimon so carelessly... I can't stand purple players. I hatch Upamon and digivolve her into Lopmon! I add my top security to my hand and draw one. Salamon digivolves into Unimon!" A pegasus rears up and whinies, a blocker. Behind it another innocent critter with long brown ears sits in the hatching zone. "SlashAngemon attacks!" The metal warrior shatters a security that reveals itself to be 2000 DP Tsukaimon. "To end my turn I'll play the trainer Kari Kamiya, now that I have three security I draw an extra card each turn." A holographic girl joins the boy and they raise their arms gleefully.

Memory: (3) to (1) to (-2)

Turn Change: Silphy


"Damn... I hatch DemiMeramon and evolve it into Impmon. Devimon attacks SlashAngemon!"

"I'll allow it."

"His retaliation ability takes your digimon with him!" While impaled the devil's claws clench through the armor and kill its foe. Silphy decides against attacking with Kimeramon for the moment. "I'll play Vilemon." The furry gargoyle returns.

Memory: (2) to (-3)

Turn Change: Frei


"I digivolve Unimon into AngeWomon and again into ShineGreymon! Your Vilemon gets minus 4000 DP twice and gets deleted!" The red-white cyborg is now the biggest; its gauntlet generates a plasma blast that vaporizes the enemy blocker.

Memory: (3) to (0) to (-4)

Turn Change: Silphy


"I move Impmon out. While I have ten or more cards in my trash my level 6 Beelzemon can digivolve onto Impmon for 4 memory! I evolve him again into Millenniummon! I send ShineGreymon to the bottom of your deck and trash all the cards under it!" A new black-purple monstrosity with 13000 turns the tides, ridding the field of Frei's beatstick.

Memory: (4) to (0) to (-6)

"Woah... okay I move out Lopman. I'll play another T.K. Takeshi trainer. Lopmon digivoles into Reppamon and then RizeGreymon! Since I have three tamers he gets Security Attack +1. I end my turn..." The armed dragon aims its cannon-arm. Impressive with its 7000 DP but not enough to intimidate Silphy now that she has one of her best cards on the field.

Memory: (6) to (2) to (0) to (-3)

Turn Change: Silphy


She looks smug as she draws.

"DemiMeramon hatches. I digivolve it into Gabumon, Meramon and then SkullMeramon! Millenniummon does a security break!" The giant fires the tank-cannon on its back, and surely enough the security digimon crumbles against 13000 DP. "I play the option Trump Sword to delete RizeGreymon." Swords fly and impale the lone digimon.

"You cleared my field!" Frei is in disbelief.

"Sucks, doesn't it? Your turn."

Memory: (3) to (2) to (0) to (-7)

Turn Change: Frei


"I... hatch Cupimon. I digivolve it into Patamon then Turuiemon..." The martial artist bunny is back. "I play another Kari Kamiya trainer... I play Tsukaimon and digivolve it into Unimon."

Memory: (7) to (6) to (3) to (1) to (-1)

Turn Change: Silphy


"At least you got one blocker. I move out SkullMeramon. Now Kimeramon, security attack!"

Frei lets the attack go in the hope it hits her other strong security, but it doesn't.

"Millenniummon, security attack!" Silphy orders.

"Unimon blocks!" The pegasus is annihilated.

"SkullMeramon, security attack!" The behemoth whips a shadow-chain at AngeWomon and they're both taken out. "I'll end here."

Memory: (1) to (-3)

Turn Change: Frei


Frei draws then sighs "if Mellinniummon gets deleted it can come right back for free by ditching its digivolution cards. So, I give up..." With bitter disappointment she thumbs through the options on her case for a surrender.

WINNER: Silphy

Silphy's satisfaction gives way to reticence "for a moment there, you did have me thinking I might lose."

"I thought I had you too. So, good game?"

"Good game." She allows and turns to go. "See you in class tomorrow, Zyler."

I give an uncertain wave. Hopefully this marks the end of any issues that will arise from working with her.

AN: It has been a week so I'm posting the next installment. Wow, that's a lot of views. No comments yet but feel free to leave them. Would also love to find people willing to consider my TCG roleplay idea I posted here.
 

Zoicite23

Ain't got no mojo...
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⟨Act One⟩ Part III

I wake up in the new dormroom and yesterday's exhiliration creeps back. The radio alarm blinks at 30 minutes before its set to go off but I jump up to get ready for my first class of the year. I also reorganize everything on the tabletops for the 7th time and it's still fun. Students are grouped into teams of three but as 'special trainees' under the custody of a research branch, that isn't the case for Frei and me. Instead we're both put together into a four-man team. Just another special privilege. I suspect this was arranged because the only socialization we've had with other kids was each other. Talking to other students - equals in rank and age - feels awkward. I'm not used to it. I can relax with Frei and it makes me feel grateful knowing she'll be there.

Later I step out into the halls with a towel and my uniform over my shoulder, with my little toiletry bag on my way to the showers. The last room at the end of the carpeted hall is the communal bathroom, and it even has stalls. Mint-coloured tiles and black rubber mats with holes you can squeeze your toes into. Inside some guys are brushing their teeth at the long metal sink, a few cubicals are running water and filling up with steam. It feels like I stepped into one of my TV shows. It feels like I shouldn't be here - the exhiliration spikes as I walk in to have my wash.

After that I take the wooden stairs down and investigate the building some more. I pass students, personnel and some cleaners pushing trolleys. I peer over the glass of different doorways and see a gymnasium, complete with hanging ropes from the ceiling and dive-pits full of foam cubes. Next I see a 50 meter swimming pool, sharply blue with low diving boards. My stomach grumbles again and I decide to go appease it, heading back for the sign I saw pointing toward the caffeteria. I meet up with Frei there in a big room. It has faux-marble floors like a foodcourt but the ceiling's lower, and the separate tables are steel like the serving counter.

"Good to see you're finally awake." She says.

"And starving. Let's eat." I join a line to get my meal tray. Apple, juice box, a salad meat wrap and a little jelly cup.

Once seated we talk classes and all through breakfast I'm wondering who our fourth teammate will be.

With the help of our new student PDAs and following after crowds, we find the room for Class 1B. It's a technical-looking room with rows of benches over which are holographic screens. It fills up with students as everyone just wanders in. We all are wearing polyster grey shirts and pants with the red stripe denoting us as first years. Frei and me recognize the man at the front as he smiles in welcome, now with reading glasses pushed up in his curly hair. After spotting Silphy we go sit beside her because we suppose we ought to. On her other side is a caramel-skinned boy with a blue streak in his hair.

Before we're all seated the teacher starts "I see most of you showed up on time, that's a great start to the year. I'm Professor Halsa Cherenko and I'll be with you all the way until the end of your cadetship training. This academy is the greatest in the parsec and you were all chosen to be here because you have a lot of potential. I must remind you the training can be dangerous, just like the job will be out in the field. I expect all of you to make an effort to get along with your teams and obey all orders given by me... with that said, first we will all introduce ourselves then look over some course content, and then we'll be finishing up with a field mission! You'll be splitting into your teams and going on a patrol of Gameliel!"

I'm surprised to see Frei looking so nervous beside me when it's her turn to speak, she's sitting close and keeps her introduction brief.

When the second-half of the day rolls around the room of fifty-odd students leave to be fitted into suits with a secure helmet for outside travel. As blue-streak boy follows me and the two girls I take it as confirmation that he's the final member of our team.

"Hi Escobalt, good to be on a team with you. I hope we work well together."

"Sure. Zyler, right?" He offers me his hand and we shake "Likewise man." So far so good.

Frei is again nervous and just gives a small smile.

"So where'd you guys come here from?" He asks us.

"It was a private training facility in the Theta-Barnett-177 system. The moving star with the dyson sphere."

"Ah, cool. Yes I've heard of it. I was a public training camp way down in Proxi-B, that binary system."

Then Silphy turns from ahead "Remember, out there we got to strictly follow Professor Cherenko's orders. This is serious, alright?" She's back in control-freak mode, but I can also detect an edge of... exasperation? No matter that it's a simple patrol and she has no reason to suspect we'll goof off, knowing none of us from Eve. We say nothing to her but Escobalt smirks a little. We move along.

Once suited up and with our com-links tested we step through a de-pressurizing tube and outside into the dusk alien landscape.

Silphy checks her PDA "Our patrol route is kinda far, let's go team!"

The four of us go on foot. We have to climb a few rock formations and our suits are designed for it, equipped with grip shoes and retractable arm picks. We have to jump down some drops and the fact there's only half as much air around us isn't as obvious as I'd expected. We see some alien plants, thin and black with wrinkled leaves. No fauna yet. Then we spot the nearest lake. It's worth us stopping to stare for a bit before pressing onwards. Gameliel has very little water along its livable band, no oceans and just lakes by the main colony domes.

Every few minutes a flyer will shoot by overhead. In the distance is a mechazoid, an 80-foot tall humanoid robot that is undergoing testing, lifting and lowering each of its limbs.

"Good job Team 16, bring it on home." Cherenko's voice could be heard talking to classmates over the com-link. "Okay Team 17, how close are you to the objective? It's a little farther than I thought I programmed..."

"We're coming up to it right now." Escobalt presses a button at his neck and answers, panting as we all heave ourselves up a rocky face.

"Alright, keep main communications open and I'll check back with you soon. Team 18..."

Once we reach our plateu we take a little break. The physical exertion is something we're all used to, having done so before in earlier training. In view is the main colony dome, transparent like a ginormous snow globe. Inside are all the buildings and the hustle and bustle of traffic.

"Incredible, huh?" I say to Silphy conversationally.

"It's alright." I can't tell if she's just being disagreeable.

I point into the distance at sheer mountain formations, beyond the graphite desert "I'd love to explore those."

"We can't. The canyons are strictly off-limits to everyone." Silphy answers.

"Uh..." Frei starts from behind us "Esco, what are you doing?"

We turn around and see our other teammate climbing the next rockface.

"Hey Esco!" Silphy yells. "We have to report in then head back!"

"Yeah... not gonna do that." He says and keeps climbing. We all look at each other.

"And why not!?"

"Because I got something important to do," he huffs, spiking into the rock and pulling himself up. "You know, I actually got the highest scores out of every entrant this year... I don't just want to be some soldier when I graduate, I'm aiming for lead investigator..."

"Come down now!" Silphy shouts and actually jumps a few times. "Our route was way farther than the others, we don't have time to go any further-!"

"I know. I'm the one who reprogrammed our route. You guys just wait here. Back home I used to help police catch criminals all the time, don't worry about it."

Frei and me are bewildered as we watch him climb. Silphy keeps shouting, threatening to dob him in. I feel Frei tug at my arm, she points to a rock-side plant that is shrivelling before our eyes.

"What is it?" I ask her.

"Solar flare incoming." And as she says it I can tell the horizon behind us has already started to brighten.

I walk over to Silphy who is glaring upwards "What do you want to do? Do we call this in and just abandon our teammate?"

"I tried that. Fucker jammed our communications with Cherenko somehow."

Silphy turns then and I do too. We see the entire colony dome darken to black as the protective glass does its thing. Our visors follow suit and darken as well. Our suits will protect us from the toxic radiation waves, but the surrounding rocks begin to sizzle a bit. Loose pieces pop free and bounce down. The temperature goes from cool to stuffy. We turn back as Escobalt crawls over the top and out of view.

Silphy sighs "let's go get him. I don't know how much trouble we'll be in if we leave him behind." So the three of us raise our arms, start picking into the hot rock and climb after him.

。​

Escobalt makes his way through black vegetation that has shrunk up against the higher-intensity light now lambasting the surface. It's a minor annoyance. Most solar flares last for under 15 minutes but there's no telling how restless the sun is feeling today. Escobalt is sweating in his suit but continues along to the signal he traced. Soon enough the one he's seeking climbs out from a bunker entrance hidden among boulders. He's wearing a black rubber suit with that gas mask.

"Zarfeld?"

"You managed to trace me before the enforcers did." He answers in a deep voice. "I can't tell if you're a genius or an idiot."

"You're alone? So that 'experimental substance' you injected yourself with did make you nuts. Where's the rest of your goons?"

His head turns curiously "They're long gone. I actually knew you were coming. And they would've been less help than say, collateral." Zarfeld raises a hand and it shimmers radioactive-green. The blurred images of huge digimon begin to glitch around him. But not just images, guoge marks pierce the ground from the claws of a semi-transparent Garurumon. It growls; invisible guns and cannons hum as they activate.

Escobalt keeps his cool, reaching to undo a pocket and pulling out something that is brightly glowing the same lime-green colour. It's a glass ball containing a speck drifting in clear liquid. He holds it up.

Zarfeld stares "...where did you get that?"

"I can make digimon manifest with this too, so that takes away your advantage huh?"

"Alright, then let's do this the old-fashioned way. Shall we?"

Two deck cases are whipped out and switched on, they hum to life and holographic lines of data circle the players. Two digi-eggs materialize in the hatching zones beside them. The cards are projected holographically into their grip.

"Me first." Escobalt confidently declares and his opponent watches on. The burning orange rays beat down on the suited players as they begin their game.

Active Player: Escobalt

"I hatch Kapurimon!" The black baby digimon is just a bouncing head with a spiked metal helmet and bushy tail. "Black Memory Boost lets me reveal my top four cards and add a black digimon to my hand." Escobalt holds out the four cards then extracts MetalGreymon. The others fizzle out, going to his deck bottom and a gear hovers magnetically, grinning as its edges spin.

Memory: (0) to (-3)

Turn Change: Zarfeld


"I hatch Upamon. I digivolve it into Gabumon, Coelamon and then WereGarurumon: Sagittarius Mode." He draws three cards. The pale bulb morphs once, twice and again into the towering bipedal wolf with bladed glass wings and weapons.

Memory: (3) to (2) to (-1)

Turn Change: Escobalt.


"...Kapurimon digivolves into Hagurumon and again into black Greymon." Light flashes - An ominously purple version of the trademark Greymon shakes the ground with a very physical presence. The edges of the digimon flicker with that dangerous lime glow. Escobalt draws his cards.

Memory: (1) to (-1)

Turn Change: Zarfeld


"White trainer, Nokia Shiramine!" The AI girl is a trendy teen with a mobile, older than her former trainers. "I can play Gabumon without paying its memory cost." The blue four-armed pup springs out.

Memory: (1) to (-2)

Turn Change: Escobalt


"I move Greymon out the hatching zone and trash Black Memory Boost to gain 2 memory." The spinning gear blows into parts and springs. "Next digivolve into MetalGreymon and security attack!" The cyborg dinosaur is now almost as big as the opposing digimon. Fire leaps from its jaws and a panel swerves to intercept. The security Gabumon fails to stop its attacker. "I'll now play Gotsumon!" The rocky golem blocker assembles and blinks yellow beady eyes.

Memory: (2) to (4) to (1) to (-2)

Turn Change: Zarfeld


"Tch. Coelamon on Gabumon." It morphs into a boney white shark. "I suspend Nokia to reduce MetalGarurumon's digivolution cost by 1." His giant shines and falls forward, becoming a mechanical wolf quadruped with 11,000 DP.

Memory: (2) to (1) to (-1)

Turn Change: Escobalt


"Trying the old memory choke, huh? Kapurimon hatches then becomes Agumon! MetalGreymon attacks!"

"Security is AncientGarurumon." Zarfeld states and a longsword carves through the purple cyborg from top to bottom.

"I play trainer Izzy Izumi! I reveal my top 3, since all cards are black I gain 1 memory." The AI steps out beside him and Escobalt arranges his cards before slipping them back.

Memory: (1) to (-3) to (-2)

Turn Change: Zarfeld


"Upamon hatches! Digivolve, Gabumon!" He whips out a card from his deck. "MetalGarurumon security break! Then once per turn he unsuspends! Security break again!" Icy jets of blue make Escobolt grunt and tense, surrounding frost evaporates quickly in the heat. The Gotsumon and Meteormon securities fail to stop him. "I play a second Nokia Shiramine and bring out Gabumon for free."

Memory: (2) to (-1)

Turn Change: Escobalt


"Izzy boosts my memory to 3. I move out black Agumon and digivolve MetalGreymon! Security break!" The flames look sinister as they flicker piercing tongues.

"Security trigger, Davis Motomiya. I check top 3 and add AncientGarurumon to my hand." A spikey-haired AI in a flame-print jacket hops out beside Zarfeld and adjusts his goggles.

"I play a second Izzy Izumi." Escobalt says, and another tike with a hand-held computer joins his twin. The same effects as before are carried out with Escobalt gaining a memory and arranging the three cards before they fizzle and return atop his deck.

Memory: (1) to (3) to (0) to (-4) to (-3)

Turn Change: Zarfeld


Zarfeld is down to 1 security in his stack while his opponent has 3. However he seems smug, even hidden behind that mask. "Gabumon moves out of the hatching zone. Coelamon digivolves into Beowolfmon then AncientGarurumon! MetalGarurumon attacks!"

"Security trigger, Izzy Izumi!"

"Metal unsuspends and attacks again!"

The panel bursts into data and Zarfeld continues.

"Ancient attacks! Then he allows me to unsuspend both him and Metal once more!" The two giants rise up to alertness together.

"Security trigger! Infinity cannon de-digivolves AncientGarurumon four times, destroying it!" It is less about game strategy and more about avoiding the real-life consequences of being attacked by a psychically manifested monster. Twin proton lasers hit the mechanical soldier which shudders, issuing a cry before succumbing to data.

"Hmph, lucky. MetalGarurumon, direct attack!"

"Gotsumon blocks!" The digimon's stomped into rocky pieces under a mechanical paw.

"Gabumon, direct attack!" The furry creature charges, pitter-patting on his six limbs. He swipes, Escobalt guards with his forearm and the claws pierce through. He cries out and falls back, feeling the spillage of warm blood and the hiss of his suit depressurizing.

WINNER: Zarfeld

I run out from cover while my teammates hiss at me from the boulders. Zarfeld huffs before deactivating his device. Escobalt is already wrapping his arm with a bandage in an attempt to patch up the suit. It stains red and I put my hand on his shoulder, crouching by him but eying Zarfeld. He eyes me back from behind the mask. That strange sensing, like back at the transporter center allows us to recognize each other. I can feel those waves of power, whatever they are emanating from Zarfeld. It's the same power coming from the mineral in Escobalt's little ball. The same power that seems to be radiating from the core of this very planet. Whatever it is it has something to do with me and I want answers.

"I'm not the one you should be fighting." Zarfeld says. "You think I infused myself with the substance? You think I did this to myself?"

"Didn't you?" I ask. Beside me Escobalt is hissing breaths, we have to get him back to the colony and soon.

"I wasn't even one of their scientists. I was a test subject... like you."

"What?"

"The Anti-Union stands for better conditions for Gameliel's population. It's for all those slaving in the mines. Not the priviliged few, like the messed up scientists and you cadets training here to become the Federation's newest soldiers." He catches my visor turn slightly to the shining green orb sitting within reach. "And with that I'll take my leave..." Zarfeld raises an arm, his hand burns green and the digimon vanish. Then Hexeblaumon appears in green static, the giant's feet buckles the ground once he solidifies. He lowers a frozen weapon and Zarfeld swiftly climbs it. Before I can grab that little ball Escobalt snatches it and holds it close to his chest, still gasping.

Frei and Silphy run over now. The four of us watch as the digimon spreads frozen wings that span the mountainside, then takes off, soaring out into the great expanse.



AN: Welcome to next week's instalment. Strange to think so many people could be clicking in to read. Maybe there are just a lot of skimmers? Either way you can feel free to comment or PM about anything. I'd probs reply via PMs anyways.
 

Zoicite23

Ain't got no mojo...
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⟨Act One⟩ Part IV

I'm dreaming.

I'm outside in Gameliel's sparse wilderness, alone. Crawling through the graphite dirt, between boulders at the base of a cliff similar to the one we explored on our patrol. It gets dark and I stop, sit back to rest only to fall backwards through a rabbit-hole. I turn as I freefall through empty space. Entirely empty space, a massive void, and as I turn over I realise the entire planet is hollow beneath the surface. Everything is black except for a distant lime-green glow - it's the tiny core of Gameliel and I'm plummeting towards it.

I wake up in my dorm bedroom with a start.

My legs jolt like I've fallen back into my body. I rest my arm over my forehead and sigh.

The first week of my cadet training at the academy has come and gone. I turn to my alarm, which I haven't yet needed to wake me. I attribute that to my lingering excitement since coming here - tiring myself out in the day and always waking well-rested. It's 6:02am. I get up for an early start, going to my mirror wardrobe and as I slide it open I notice several yellow digimon cards scattered at the bottom.

Frei has been leaving her stuff in my room again. Girls aren't even allowed on the boys' hall but she hasn't been caught yet. I frown as I recall her unhappy confession yesterday. It's true that our upbringing has left us socially challenged, but while I've managed to talk to various classmates Frei has only retreated into her shell further. She was quiet on her first day and that behaviour has only been exacerbated since then.

"You're the only one I feel comfortable with." She'd said, sitting on my bed while I was on the desk chair, flicking through notices on my PDA.

"I know what you mean. I feel the same, but you still have to talk to people."

"I do talk. To Silphy and Escobalt and our classmates. Everyone pretty much ignores me. They think I'm weird." And at my confused expression she said "Come on, you seriously haven't noticed?"

"I haven't." I admitted.

"Everyone can tell we're different. It makes me sort of miss when it was just you and me."

Maybe they can tell, I'd thought and said in that conversation. Presently I'm pulling a fresh and folded uniform from the drawers as I daydream about our talk. While I won't say I feel particularly comfortable with anyone else, I have made interpersonal strides on the teammates front. Unfortunately it seems like Frei is going to continue being dependent on me, which could be a problem down the line.

With towel and toiletries bag I step out into the hall and go for my shower. There are a few other early risers like me, still working off residual timezones belonging to some other planet. I give them my standard reserved smile when I think we make eye contact. When the way to the bathroom is clear I go back to daydreaming of my other teammates, this time it's Escobalt the day after our disastrous patrol mission.

"How are we not suspended? How are you not suspended?" I'd asked while he was lying back in a medical stretcher.

Gameliel's thin atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide, and this reportedly causes an excitation then depression of the central nervous system. But only gradually, the real problems with breathing the air out there are the trace gasses and almost complete lack of oxygen.

Escobalt had purpled eyes, a sick tinge to his caramel skin but otherwise he seemed unbothered. He was strapped to a medical machine measuring the toxins in his blood as his treatment did its thing.

"Esco?" I remember getting peeved at that point. "Got nothing to say? Aren't we supposed to be teammates?"

When he finally spoke he sounded bored "They're not gonna expel their highest-ranking entrant just like that. I got a slap on the wrist."

"I don't believe it. How?"

Escobalt turned over and pulled something from his pillowcase. He showed me his glass orb, and floating inside was the glowing green speck. My expression dropped, of course I could still sense the damn thing with us somehow, but even laying my eyes on it made me feel like there were tingles running down my fingers.

He smirked "the head researchers here gave me this. I'm sure they wanted me to use it. They knew my track record with helping police cases and about my scores in the intelligence and physical aptitude tests before I got here. So they called me in, let me in on some of their secret research, gave this to me under the condition they'd monitor my progress with it."

I stared. I remember thinking: is our team the designated guinea pigs for the scientists here? Maybe it made sense that Frei and me, as specially trained wards of the state were teamed with the top-scoring entrants. I don't like thinking about what Zarfeld said to me before making his escape atop Hexeblaumon, sailing off into the barren landscape. Am I a test subject? Was I somehow infused with the same experimental substance as Zarfeld, only to a lesser extent so I would be weaker, less mentally unhinged and easier to control? It worries me too much to think about. Back there in Escobalt's hospital room I remember swallowing to wet my mouth before talking again.

"What is that?" I nodded my head in reference to his little ball.

"A weapon of mass destruction, if handled wrong." He said and my stare prompted him to continue. He brought the orb closer to his face "the glass is the super durable stuff they use on spaceships, you'd need a giant hydraulic press to crack it. But if you did that little speck in there would wipe out the entire colony dome."

"Why? What is it?"

"I don't know what it is or how it's made…" Escobalt answered in that idle way of his, still peering at it. "But they said it's a highly reactive substance that converts everything it touches. The fluid is ionically charged to keep it from converting the glass and then everything outside… but the charge will run out in like a year and they'll blast this out into space… but it is essentially… a weapon of mass destruction…" He turned it this way and that.

I watched the eerie glow as it called to me, frozen in its small scientific prison and unable to unleash its green hell on our colony. For the first time it felt like a malevolent little thing.

As I twist the squeaky tap the hot water of my shower is cut off, as is my daydream. I dry my face with the towel and then start padding my skin. Today is going to be Escobolt's first day back in class. I pull my grey uniform from the hooks and get dressed, then step out among others to brush my teeth. A few boys wander out, leaving just me and someone else by the sinks. As the froth fills my mouth I zone out once more, this time daydreaming of the last member of my team.

Silphy had surprised me the most this week. I thought I had her pegged and then she did a 180 on me.

While her affect was cold on the first and even second day of classes, she all-of-a-sudden became clingy and wanted to sit with me on lunch and study breaks, reasoning that we should because we're teammates. Her tough exterior was inexplicably replaced with insecurity. What's more, after our routine tests were ranked I saw from Silphy's scores that she wasn't particularly gifted at all. Her family is wealthy, I got the gist of that from our lunch conversations. But that might be the primary reason she's here.

Silphy is not a tightly-wound control-freak after all. She's actually tolerant most of the time, and even feels needy in my interactions with her. I don't know why she put on such a different show when we first met, and I don't know why her change is so drastic and sudden now. I admit that I don't understand her.

The other boy leaves and I'm snapped back to reality. I spit the toothpaste from my mouth, finish and zip up my toiletry bag. I go down to have breakfast with Frei and Silphy.

They beat me to the cafeteria this morning. As I go to fill my tray I spy on the girls sitting at a table by themselves. The other students are in groups of about ten, their lively chatter echoing off the ceiling and marble floor. I guess I'd like to know what that's like, but I still lack the confidence to approach a big group outside of class. Frei is hunched inward while Silphy is relaxed and eating her food. Neither of them talk to each other. As I approach with my breakfast I put on a smile. Frei visibly relaxes at the sight of me and Silphy launches into her morning chatter, wearing that strange self-pitying smile I'm beginning to grow accustomed to.

I'm happy to see Escobalt in class later. By virtue of my situation, he is the closest guy friend my age that I'd ever had. We'd been on one patrol together and spoken on a total of four occasions - obviously the bar is very low.

Today's class covers topics like basic astrophysics, Federation politics and assembling weaponry. We also have 90 minutes of physical training that involves obstacle courses and hand-to-hand combat. It's pretty standard. What's surprising is Professor Cherenko's after-class activity for our team.

"Now that Escobalt's recovered your team has to make up for the field exercises you've missed. So I've organized flight training this evening."

"Are we piloting jets?" I ask.

"You'll be flying mechazoids up to the Golachab communications satellite. You'll dock there and someone will show you guys around for 15 minutes and then you'll pilot them back home."

It's an exciting and nerve-wracking prospect.

After class we leave to get suited up then meet with Cherenko on the concrete road outside the main building.

The five of us take a cart that whirs us along for 10 minutes to a restricted area outside a base. Escobalt sits at the front with our teacher while Frei is squeezed between Silphy and me. We come to a toll bar and see plenty of security personnel in white hanging leisurely about. No civilians allowed. We're let through and whir onwards to giant garages that are right along the glass edge of the dome.

Cherenko lets us through a door that shrieks along a wrack. The indoor space takes up most of the building and the towering mechazoids are in plain view. There are three levels of suspended walkways where workers in hardhats do checks, looking over everything and ticking off on their clipboards. Following instructions we split up and I raise my head to look at my model. A technological marvel of dark cyan-grey. The small fellow assigned to me is reminding me of the various safety regulations, going down a list. He has an accent I can't place. I'm nodding but I can't take my eyes off the giant before me. 73 feet tall, shorter and squatter than the other models. It has a multitude of thin cannons I won't have authorization to use, and it has retractable titanium wing-shields. To wrap up his talk the man says that if I make any mis-steps or deviations off course they'll be able to take over remotely from here.

With that out the way I'm led up grated stairs to a walkway that rattles under our shoes. It extends with a whir and the back of my mechazoid's head is opened for me. I get up inside, feeling for the levers and getting settled into the leather upholstery. A light flashes and the maintenance crew look tiny from my viewpoint as they clear the area. I press some switches and am granted access, I move the joystick and my huge mechazoid responds. It lifts powerful metallic legs and takes its first awkward steps and I jostle in my seat. There's an undeniable thrill that takes over when you feel in control of something this big. I feel powerful and it's a head rush. Either side of me are the mechazoids belonging to my teammates. I can see a navy-blue and dark-purple model.

"Alright Team 17, take your marks." Professor Cherenko says calmly from our speakers. He's watching our progress from some observation room.

We walk the giant robots over to marked zones. The wall closes behind us and seals up. Then the roof opens and there's a whoosh of air getting sucked out. Above is Gameliel's dusky sky.

Cherenko gives us a countdown before declaring "Blast off."

We each flip open plastic caps to thumb big red buttons.

Jet engines in the mechazoids' legs gush smoke before we're launched upwards. The torso of mine leans back as I peer upward. We ascend in mostly straight paths, leaving smoke trails as we climb higher and higher. We maintain a responsible distance to each other, as covered in our training. But these are military inventions and are made pretty durable. I remember once seeing a video of one kicking a missile away from it - not something I'd like to try myself. The sky darkens above us. I angle the head with the joystick so I'm looking down. The mountain ridges are bumps. The graphite desert has shrunk into a stain, a brewing sandstorm looks like lint fluff. The colony dome below is bright orange, reflecting the horizon-bound sun. Over the com-link Escobolt lets out some whoops and Frei's giggling shows her enjoyment.

The increased gravity starts weighing on me then and I feel the trembles. I angle myself back so I'm staring up. High in the stratosphere is a speck that's getting bigger. The satellite. I fiddle with the joystick slightly to stay on course. Professor Cherenko starts telling us to reduce thrusters when his voice is interrupted by strange static.

"What's happening?" Panic edges into Silphy's voice.

"I swear it's not me this time, guys." Escobalt says.

Our team com-link is still working fine then. We hear another voice. A deep one I recognize.

"Hello, Team 17."

"What the hell are you doing, Zarfeld?" I muster up the courage to speak.

"But it's not just Team 17 who can hear me. Hello, Raiden."

"What? Raiden?" Frei speaks next, freaking out. "W-who's Raiden!?"

"Relax," Zarfeld says. "Raiden is the heir to the Golachab Terrorforming Company. They run the mines and govern this planet. They're the ones your academy and research facilities are paying their taxes to."

"Okay?" I say. "So what's going on?"

"I wish you'd stop treating me like your enemy. We're in a unique position to help each other."

"Help you do what? Bother Federate operations and the Golachab family until they make the working conditions better for the lower class?" The other three are just listening as I address the madman. "Isn't that what the Anti-Union wants?"

"It's so much more than that now. Little does your professor and his commanders know, Raiden is actually on board the satellite you're heading to. He's sitting in his little office right now, and I'm broadcasting to him as well."

"Why? Get to the point already!"

"The Golachab family plan to join the Alliance and overthrow the Federation. In fact they've been building an entire space fleet in secret just to do so."

"You're crazy," Escobalt says.

"Why don't you go ask Raiden yourselves? Just so you know, I've disabled their override back at the colony." Zarfeld's voice breaks off and we can hear Cherenko again.

"-Fall back," he's saying. "Your mission has been compromised. Return to the colony immediately."

We halt our mechazoids. The satellite is now in plain view and I can see the lights of its docking station. I can see Silphy and Escobalt's mechazoids hovering at eye level, Frei's dark gold one is hanging several metres below. The small flames by their feet are keeping us steady.

"But we're already here... why should we go all the way back to the surface?" Frei asks.

"That is an order. Team 17, fall back immediately." Cherenko sounds stern.

The three of us float for a while and do nothing. I feel my brain fog up as I'm compelled onwards, I push the joystick toward the satellite and my heart starts pounding in my chest. Cherenko barks his orders at me again and I switch him off. Like Zarfeld said, they couldn't override my controls anymore. This is the first time I've ever disobeyed and I can feel it in every part of my body.

I need answers...

"Zyler?" Escobalt says.

"What are you doing?" Silphy is shrill.

Frei is speechless.

"You guys go back to base. No need to get in trouble with me. I just need answers." As I get closer the docking station's blast doors open for me. I get my position right with the horizontal and verticle thrusters, then I move on through and land at the marked position.

I jostle then wait. The landing pad switches on, magnetically holding my mechazoid in place. I have to wait a full minute for the chamber to pressurize. Gas pours in from the vents and when it's safe to exit a screen to the left lights up green. I unbuckle myself and drift into what seems like zero gravity, but I know from my lessons is actually a freefall based on the satellite's orbit. I wedge myself out the control space and thumb a button to open up the back of the head. A cart is moving over on tracks, extending a platform on a mechanical arm. The worker smiles and welcomes me to the Golachab's main communications satellite. Then he latches a rope hook to a loop on my suit before ushering me down. I hold the rail and he drives us away from the mechazoid, we lower to the ground as we go.

My heart is still thudding in my chest as we enter a metallic hall and I'm greeted by more personnel. They strap small gas canisters to my arms that are for moving. But mostly we use laddering on the walls to propel ourselves down the passage. The men put their hands to their earpieces and I can tell they're receiving orders. But from who? Professor Cherenko or Raiden Gollachab?

"This way, Sir."

I'm guided down different tunnels and copy the technique of those ahead as they swing themselves around bends. We stop to float by a circular door that opens. Inside is a young man with dark, quaffed hair. He's floating amidst holographic screens that curve around him. At the sight of me the panels deactivate and he puffs himself down to eye-level.

"Thank you gentlemen, you can leave us." He says.

I notice the workers drift away and I use the gas to puff myself inside, then again to awkwardly stop. Unlike me this man looks very accustomed to no gravity.

"You must be Raiden Golachab," I say.

"You really shouldn't have disobeyed your teacher's orders like that. You need to leave."

"I can't. I need answers. Is what Zarfeld said the truth?"

"Zarfeld isn't even in his right mind."

"Because of a subtance in him that might also be in me!" I surprised myself by raising my voice.

"Yes... the strange matter. I heard it can transform particles. Make photons, and even data, physically manifest. ...There's something you can do for me after all, Zyler Thaumiel." He reaches back and throws something at me. I catch a digimon case. "It's programmed with your deck." He explains and activates his own.

I switch mine on determinedly and we sync. The digital eggs spawn, shapes and lines encircle us to show the holographic systems activating. Raiden takes the first turn.

"I hatch Pickmon and digivolve her into Starmons." His digi-egg breaks open to reveal a walking yellow triangle encased in metal. Data encases it and it becomes a gold star with spiked sunglasses. Raiden draws. "I play T.K. Takaishi. I look at my securiy stack and take one to my hand." He reveals Tinkermon "And since it's yellow I recover a new one."

Memory: (0) to (-4)

Turn Change: Zyler


"Giving me 4 memory right at the start? You'll regret making such a bold move." I say.

"It takes being bold to win, as you'll see."

"I hatch DemiVeemon!" My blue pup springs on his hind legs. "I evolve him into Elecmon, then again into Gorillamon. Then to finish off I play Gorillamon!" I draw my cards and two full-sized yetis with cannon arms stalk forward, their breaths misting cold. Our duel is taking place just above the planet's stratosphere but I can tell how empty the holograms are. The digimon's voices in my deck are all but silenced. Interesting...

Memory: (4) to (-2) to (-3)

Turn Change: Raiden


No radioactive-green light. I see the tiniest frown on his face.

"T.K. Takaishi boosts my memory to 3." The boy raises his arms with a childish laugh. Raiden draws to start. "I move Starmons out. Then I play Petermon and his on play effect lets me play Tinkermon without her memory cost." A green buccaneer materializes, followed by a blonde spear-wielding fairy.

Memory: (3) to (-2)

Turn Change: Zyler


"I move out Gorillamon. Let's get this started! Security attack!" He shrieks and laser guns through a panel that turns out to be a weaker DP Tinkermon. "Second Gorillamon, security attack!" Another blue rectangle swings protectively into the zone of fire, a weak Pulsemon melts under the laser. "You were saying about bold playing? I'll end with Frigimon." The bear snowman takes shape beside his fellows.

Memory: (2) to (-2) to (-3)

Turn Change: Raiden


The trainer gleefully boosts Raiden's memory and he begins.

"Heh. Very direct. But trust me… underestimating my deck will be the last thing you ever do! I hatch Pickmon! And I play Pulsemon. Since I have 3 security now he grants me a draw and extra memory." A small yellow runner joins his growing line of troops.

"Hanging in there."

"I play the option Spiral Masquerade. Since I have four digimon in play I can give -3000 DP to any of your digimon four times. So that means…"

"Dammit!" The curse slips out of me. Twirling tethers bind both my Gorillamons and disperses them into data.

"That's right."

Memory: (3) to (1) to (2) to (-2)

Turn Change: Zyler


"That was a good play…" I have to admit.

"Hm."

Perhaps my opponent isn't being as bold as I first thought, having yet to attack. Perhaps he goaded me into attacking fast, all the while assembling his forces until he has better control of the field. It isn't looking good. I draw.

"I hatch Upamon! I digivolve him into Gomamon." The seal-like digimon sits and uses a foot to scratch himself behind the ear. "Now Frigimon, security attack!" The snow-bear swings a frozen fist and the security is 1000 DP Starmons. I'm lucky again, but that might not last. "Next I digivolve Gomamon into ExVeemon to unsuspend Frigimon so he can attack your last security!"

Raiden laughs and raises a finger "did you forget Digimon can't activate digivolving effects in the hatching zone?"

I turn to see the blue dragon with the glowing X on his chest as he eyes back at me. He's standing adjacent instead of forward. I clench my fists. I did forget something so simple, meaning the pressure must be getting to me. I need answers. I punch through the embarrassment "I play another Frigimon!"

Memory: (2) to (0) to (-4)

Turn Change: Raiden


"I digivolve Pickmon into Tinkermon. Then Petermon attacks your suspended Frigimon!" He dives and lashes his sabre, the bear coming apart into snow then data. "I play Starmons and he gives -5000 DP to the unsuspended Frigimon from his on play effect." Another explosion of snow. "To end I digivolve Petermon into Angewomon and regain a security." The angelic woman shines, spreading eight wings. Her pink wreath and blonde hair fall against her gracefully. Quite a glow up for the male Petermon.

Memory: (4) to (1) to (-2)

Turn Change: Zyler


Still no security attacks. It feels like I'm being toyed with and it's starting to piss me off.

"ExVeemon comes out and security attack!" Gladimon emerges from the check and they're equally matched. A fencing sword pokes through my dragon who bites back in retaliation. Both fizzle into data. "Okay, next I play Puppetmon for eleven memory! Tinkermon suspends and none of your digimon unsuspend next turn."

The tall wooden doll is for last resorts, the final defence my deck has to being overwhelmed on the field like this. Unfortunately most of Raiden's digimon are unsuspended anyway.

Memory: (2) to (-9)

Turn Change: Raiden


"I move out Tinkermon. Next Angewomon digivolves into Kentaurosmon." The angel morphs again into a six-legged centaur with red armor and a glorious purple mane. "Your Puppetmon gets -2 security attacks next turn. That is, if it survives until then. Tinkermon security attack!" My Elecmon matches the fairy's strength and both are deleted. "Starmons security attack!" The weak digimon expectedly dies against a security Frigimon's swinging fist. "Pulsemon security attack!" Gomamon emerges and prevails. "Starmons security attack!" An Elecmon fires more volts into the other digimon.

Most of his attackers are gone but now I'm left with just 1 security while he has 2.

"To end I digivolve Kentaurosmon into Chaosmon: Valdur Arm!" I see the brightest light so far and after a rippling rainbow his level 7 bursts out with a grunt. Now definitively male again, the winged knight is wearing a white coat and wrapped with green. "Puppetmon gets -7000 DP twice and goes straight to the trash." Another blinding flare bordered by rainbow and when I lift my gaze Puppetmon is gone. "With that I pass turn."

Memory: (9) to (6) to (0) to (-3)

Turn Change: Zyler


"I hatch DemiVeemon and digivolve him into Veemon." I eagerly check my draw, even though I can't think of what could save me at this point. "And again into Gorillamon." Another card pull leads to a dead draw. "I play Veemon..." The move represented my surrender.

Memory: (3) to (2) to (-1) to (-3)

Turn Change: Raiden


"Chaosmon: Valdur Arm attacks." The security Paildramon should've done well but the level 7 attacker had double his DP strength. The bullets ricocheted off his coat before that arm-cannon blasted it with rainbow blindingness. "Tinkermon goes for a direct attack!"

The fairy swerves in her approach like a dragon-fly, then lobs that spear straight through my chest.

WINNER: Raiden

I blink. Raiden frowns. Our digimon weren't corrupted up here, for whatever reason. They were just gaming holograms, exactly what they were designed to be.

"You lose." Raiden says. "Better luck next time. I'll go call someone to escort you out."


AN: Happy Tuesday everyone, here's the next instalment. Suppose one critique I've got is on pacing. I kinda like to hit the ground running you know, and the story's not rushed if there's just a lot happening. I mean, it's besides the point that this first arc is only gonna last ten chapters.
 

Zoicite23

Ain't got no mojo...
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⟨Act One⟩ Part V
"Disobeying a direct order would mean suspension for anybody else." Cherenko massages his temple, elbow up on his office desk.

"Not for Esco." I say back.

The room has some woodwork, notably the polished desk and a ticking pendulum clock. The floor is tiled and the walls are limestone. Still there's bits and pieces of the utilitarian metal most commonly found in space colonies. The roof, the featureless mass-produced fixtures including his desk-light. It gives this space a clumsy-patchwork aesthetic despite his efforts to create some kind of sophisticated or maybe just different surroundings. The most surprising thing for me is the lack of military neatness. Stacks of papers unstraightened and filing cabinets left open. My dorm room is perfectly ordered with not a speck of dust.

"I know you have questions. I want to help. But out there in the field, disobeying a direct order has serious consequences. You don't get chances. You get demoted, or booted out."

I stare and wonder if I can really trust him. His reading glasses are pushed back into his curly hair again.

I open my mouth "I've been infused by the Strange Matter since who knows when. Just like Zarfeld. Was I a baby when they did it?"

"We… didn't know how you were going to react when you came here." He admits and shuffles some papers together to break our gaze.

"I only feel a connection to my digimon, and they only become real when I'm on the surface of Gameliel. So these powers… are me reacting to a large amount of Strange Matter. So is it an ore on this planet? It can't be… because Esco said it converts everything it touches. So then… is it in those canyons? The ones off-limits to everyone?"

"Please don't speak about this with too many people, understand?" At least my teacher is meeting my eyes now.

I look around and pull up a chair "do you mind?" I sit down closer so we can continue our discussion and he leans back.

"The canyons are restricted territory by the Golachab Terraforming Company. They reported that it was a mining zone and experimental methods made the site unsafe so it was abandoned."

"Right. Speaking of the Golachab family… you must have heard what Zarfeld told us. Are they really siding with the Alliance?"

"No," he shakes his head easily. "Absolutely not. What's more, it's impossible for them to be building an entire space fleet to start a war. Scope tech could see anywhere, they couldn't build something like that or even transport materials into Alliance space without the Federation noticing."

"So… Zarfeld really is just crazy then. But brilliant enough to hack into our systems somehow."

"He was a smart man, though dumb enough to make the decision to experiment on himself via infusion with the Strange Matter. This all happened decades ago."

"He's been on the run that long?" I straighten.

"Well he only resurfaced years ago."

"How old is he?"

"Early fifties, I believe."

"What's he been doing all this time?"

"Hiding in the workers' dome, we think."

The questions are just leaping from my mouth. So far he seems happy to give them. I frown to myself "then, if he can hack and get into places easy it's probably his power influencing cyber systems."

"Sharp. We think so too." Cherenko smiles.

"Okay… but what doesn't add up for me is if the Anti-Union are Alliance sympathizers why are they telling my team that the Golachab family wants to overthrow the Federation?"

"Maybe Zarfeld no longer supports either and has come up with a new agenda?"

The seconds go by. So far my questions concerning Zarfeld and political skirmishing are satisfied. My mind goes back to the important stuff.

"When was I infused with the Strange Matter?" I watch him sink deeper into his chair with a difficult expression. "And why? I thought they took me in for special training, but am I really just a guinea pig? A lab rat? Why did nobody just tell me?" I'm getting upset.

"I can't speak for the research branch that adopted you, and honestly it's not in your files. But you are infused with the Strange Matter in an amount I've been told is negligible and safe."

I start to feel a little sick in the stomach. Mostly I'm hurt. "...that should be illegal."

Cherenko leans forward "you can come by here and talk anytime you like. So long as I'm free. Truthfully, I didn't know how much your custodians were telling you. How are you getting along with your teammates?"

I wipe the moisture from under my eyes "Fine, I guess."

"About Escobalt… there was another reason we put him in your team, not just because we're monitoring his progress too. It had to do with your psych assessments."

I shake my head, not comprehending "Are you teaming people up based on their personalities?"

"Not at all. That would be counterproductive, since you all need to learn cooperation. Esco is, to be frank, on the ASPD spectrum. He's still a polite and largely responsible young man. His scores are brilliant. But he does struggle with risk assessment, interpersonal relationships and at times, teamwork."

"Oh." I'm taken aback by the revelation. "Antisocial personality disorder?"

"He has no history of violence. No history of malicious behaviour of any sort. He's upbeat and motivated. He just lacks any interest in people." Cherenko assures me.

"And with his ability to assess risks shot, I bet you all knew he'd readily agree to be the tester for that little orb you gave him, right?"

I'm spot on, the way he bunches his mouth tells me so. I can't help but feel a sense of loyalty to Esco. It doesn't matter that he has a condition that would prevent him from caring about me beyond the level of an acquaintance. He's still my teammate, and he's still being tested on and taken advantage of just like me.

"The incident on your first patrol was the first time something like that happened with him. Seems like it was isolated, but if it happens again we'll have to reconsider his suitability for being a soldier. In the meantime, keep an eye on him for me okay?"

I nod and he smiles. That was all he wanted me for it seems, and I don't think I'm going to get any more info out of him. Besides I'm no longer in the mood for talking. He says I'm free to stand and go. We're hoping the reasons behind Esco's and my disobedience will be removed by added support. It is smarter than just punishing us. Before leaving I stop by the door and turn back.

"What about Silphy?"

"Pardon?"

"Is there any special reason she was put on our team? Is she on any kind of spectrum?"

He stares then shakes his head "No."

I smile then leave his office.

From there I take myself to my room where I brood and wallow for a bit. Nerves get me chewing my nails. I should just relax, right? But I'm not sure who I can trust. I answer messages from my teammates on the PDA, telling them I'm fine and will see them at dinner. I go to open my door then and am surprised to see Frei standing in the hallway.

"What were you thinking?" She walks right into my room like it's a public space. I close the door and she spins around to face me "You really scared me, you know?"

"Sorry. I needed-"

"Answers." She finishes softly and crosses her arms. "...did you get them?"

"Yeah. But not from Raiden Golachab. Continuing on with the mission was stupid. It was impulse, I guess. Hope it's not going down permanently on my file."

"Hey, why don't we go out?" Frei asks abruptly.

"Go out?"

"Yeah, like actually look around the colony dome. On the weekend we did nothing but get ahead with our course content."

This mirrors an urge that has been warring inside me.

"We don't have any money?" I say.

"We sorta do. I took this from Silphy's bag, it's one of her travel cards. I reckon there's maybe 20 credits on this."

My eyebrows shoot up "You stole it? I get that she has money but did you ever think to just ask her?"

"Nah…" While looking at her I realise she wants the outing to be just us. I assumed her idea would be a great opportunity for us to get to know our team better, but her mind isn't going that way at all. She reads the thoughts behind my expression. "It hasn't been just us having fun in ages."

"Alright," I sigh, knowing she really wants this. "I'll change and meet you on the ground floor."

In 15 minutes we meet by the bottom of the stairs. Neither of us own a change of nice clothes for an outing, no button-ups or dresses but we do have casual wear. I have a blue hooded jumper, black track pants and the white runners I wear in gym. The colony dome is temperate but I like the added layer for comfort, I suppose. Frei is wearing a white singlet with a purple sports bra underneath, a black miniskirt and wedge shoes.

"They got you decent clothes." I note.

"Cause I'm a girl, remember? Come on, let's go." Then she's pushing me along to the exit.

Outside.

The road is unmarked concrete. Sometimes open carts go by but usually it's empty. They don't go any faster than 15 km/h but the nearest shuttle-tram isn't that far to walk. There's no rubbish and it's pretty clean. The surrounding buildings are steel towers. Rather basic but there is a jagged design to them: some parts jut out then back in. It's mostly sleek but everything looks just a little crooked. There are lone trees positioned between what look like factories and other training buildings. There are proper parks with fountains closer to the center, as maps with photos have shown me. Frei looks happy as we walk. When we get to the shuttle station I can see some tall buildings made of white concrete, differentiating themselves from the rest.

Public transport is free and there's no need for much security measures or queuing. We just go up a few steps then we're on the station, waiting with a dozen other jumpsuit workers on a long seat. It's not like town structures on fully-terraformed planets that need coverings for things like rain or wind, and there's no dirt around. When the shuttle comes along everyone stands up to board. It's more ramshackle than the one we took directly into the academy. Now we're with the working class and it feels unmonitored and exciting. We cart along then pick up speed, the buildings become complexes and now we can see advertisements, neon lights and entertainment billboards. It starts to look like a city from the more populated planets on TV shows. Just a bit. Frei hops up as we reach the first stop, we decide to look around. There's people on the streets but not many, only colony workers with irregular days or hours. Or maybe everyone's living it up inner-city.

We set sights on our first stop: a corner pawn shop. Through a swinging door we see the inside is filled with rows of junk: electronics, lamps, a bicycle. Frei goes to the counter where a somewhat-friendly old guy in a cap serves her from behind a grate. Frei is able to exchange Silphy's stolen travel card for a plain plastic one used for swiping to make payments.

"Balance is 13 credits." He says as he flicks it to her.

"What can that get us, a couple of drinks?" I say as I join her at the counter.

The man's shrug is more laziness than an answer.

"We can't get any new digimon cards, that's for sure. I have an idea…" she goes to leave and I follow her out.

There's no crossings, we look both ways for any carts of varying sizes. We enter a drinks venue and there's green carpet, tables and chairs, a dart board and a jukebox. Waitstaff go by carrying trays and I can see more luxury items made from varnished wood. The back section sells alcohol which no student is permitted to drink, but we've not had a drop in our lives. We walk into a quiet section, just a few lone patrons sitting and watching off-colour holograms in the corners. Frei has been following posters that lead us to a row of pokie machines.

"You want to gamble our money?" I ask her.

"It's one way to get more, right?" She's still smiling widely.

We start. Lights flash and colours splash across her face. In the end we win 90 credits then lose 50.

We find seats after buying lime sodas, half-full of ice. We're at a wall by ourselves, our shiny table looks like fish scales. Air is blowing from a vent in the roof to mimic a breeze, moving strands of Frei's blonde hair. I wrap my lips around the pink straw and she takes a big sip before speaking.

"So what did Cherenko tell you?"

There is a loud clack from a pool table in another room. I look around and it doesn't seem like anyone can hear, so I tell her everything. There are absolutely no secrets between us, never have been and never will be. She mostly listens. When I finish talking she's finished her drink and stands up to start pacing. I expected her to get overprotective but I didn't think she'd look so mad.

"You're scared." She says.

"I am."

"You're betrayed. You want answers. How could they do that to you?" Her outraged question is rhetorical. We know all too well the scientists changing places in our lives never showed care nor comfort.

I want her to calm down but my concerns are spilling out of me also "if I'm their experiment, how come they didn't infuse you with it too?"

Frei shrugs and her eyes move away, the flash of colour makes me pause. I remember when we were younger and first became friends, for the first few weeks I was complimenting her eyes. But since coming here I'd seen a few students in class or in the halls with green eyes, and they were nothing like hers. Dark and dusky shades usually. But hers were lime-green.

Another clack from that pool table breaks my train of thought.

I stand up "let's go back."

"Are you sure? I reckon we have enough credits to see a movie. You know, like we used to."

"I'm just not in the mood." I say with a frown.

So we leave and make our way back. Frei is quite attuned to my feelings, whether I want her to be or not. I can tell by her face that she finds my situation unacceptable.

"We can't get answers from Zarfeld," she says while we sway in our booth along the shuttle. "But Raiden..."

"No. I don't like this train of thought."

"Zarfeld said we were in a position to help each other," she bites her thumb and murmurs. "It's because you and Esco can materialize digimon. Maybe Raiden would-"

"Don't even think about trying to make a deal with that guy. If," I stop to look around and lower my voice. "If he's really a supporter of the Alliance then maybe they want a war."

Frei's focused expression doesn't leave her, even as we separate at the stairwell and go to our separate floors. I want to brood some more in my room and maybe skip dinner, then lose my thoughts in a poor graphics game.

I don't realise what Frei is planning to do.



Instead of going upstairs to the girls' level, after we part Frei returns downstairs. She still has 27 credits left and a mind for what to spend them on. Gameliel has three domes. The colony dome houses the academy and the middle-to-upper-class. The workers' dome is home to all the miners and poor, situated close to extraction sites. Then there's the Golachab family's private dome, containing their terraforming company's headquarters and an outrageous mansion.

Frei goes back to the shuttles even though it's almost curfew. She rides it all the way to the center and by herself hunts down information desks until she can arrange transport. At first she's told she needs clearance for travel to the third dome. She makes calls at a payphone cubicle by the wall, her credits diminishing and those waiting in line scowl before walking away to find another. 20 minutes later she's pacing around, the phone's cord pulling her back into the cubicle, but such is her determination. Finally the woman on the other end tells her Raiden Golachab Junior has agreed to give her permission to see him and will pay for her flight. She suspected he would. Then as she returns to the oval desk the clerk wags her fingers along holographic keys like she's playing an invisible instrument. The floating screen changes colour against her face. Frei's transport has been approved and she's handed her flight ticket.

She goes to the platform and gets scanned through along the way. Soon she's boarding an aircraft by herself and is launched away from the colony, across the alien landscape and flying far until it docks at the Golachab's dome. After getting off she's shaperoned by employees out of a fancy building, into a fancy cab and driven along a fancy driveway. There's a lot more trees around here, they pass waterfalls too. When they stop her door is opened for her by the suited driver. She walks uphill to a spacious garage. The floor is the same eye-catching material as the driveway, her gaze is down as she's trying to figure out what it is.

"It's encrusted diamonds." Raiden appears with hands in the pockets of his white gown. His dark hair is still quaffed in what is possibly young billionaire style "Nice, right?"

"We're walking on diamonds?" They might be a lot cheaper but using diamonds to layer their long ass driveway seems excessive.

"How interesting that the two of us should meet," he stops in front of her. "Again."

Frei narrows her lime-green eyes at him.

"You wanted to watch how I duel, right?"

"Very much so. Please." He motions to one side of the empty room and goes to take his place at the other end. As Frei walks she switches on her deck case and it syncs with his. Holoraphic rings orbit the players, data and screens projecting. Their digi-eggs materialize in the zones to the right, to the left five blue rectangles stack together and hover silently, ready to shield their players from attacks. Cards fizzle to life in their hands and Raiden grins with whitened teeth "Me first."

Active Player: Raiden

"Hatch, Pickmon!" He declares and the metal triangle bursts from its egg, kicking off shells of data. "Digivolve into Kotemon then Piddomon!" Two flashes of light and then the angelic blocker spreads feathered wings, pointing a gold staff.

Memory: (0) to (-1)

Turn Change: Frei


"Upamon, hatch!" The bulb bounces in the hatching zone and yips. "Digivolve into Salamon and now I play a second Salamon!" She stands between the two canines – they're trying to look intimidating and missing the mark.

Memory: (1) to (-1)

Turn Change: Raiden


"Using yellow now? Piddomon comes out. I play Petermon and bring out Tinkermon as well." The buccaneer and fairy appear straight from their fable, joining the angel at either side.

Memory: (1) to (-4)

Turn Change: Frei


"Salamon comes out! I play Angewomon!" The much stronger female counterpart to his angel emerges. She has six shimmering wings, blonde hair and a pink wreath curling over her shoulders like a heavenly representation of Venus.

Memory: (4) to (-2)

Turn Change: Raiden


"With the option Spiral Masquerade I give her -9000 DP." Strips bind her arms and a wing together, she struggles before dispersing into data.

Memory: (2) to (-2)

Turn Change: Frei


Frei pokes her finger through a holographic square, a white card spins over to reveal her next digi-egg "I hatch Upamon! I evolve him into Salamon!" The third pup appears sitting down, a holographic card is added to her hand. "I play Patamon!" A cute marsupial flaps bat-wings coming from its head.

Memory: (2) to (-2)

Turn Change: Raiden


"You're not so courageous this time around. I wonder if our last duel shook you."

"I'm getting vengeance for what happened to my friend!"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"I think you do. He only wanted answers. I think there's more to this Strange Matter stuff that you're keeping hushed up!"

"There are some things a kid really shouldn't be sticking their nose in… and believe me, this is one of them." He drew to start his turn "Pickmon hatches. I evolve Tinkermon into another Piddomon. And Petermon into Angewomon." His field is getting stacked with angels, the most recent being a different kind of Angewomon to Frei's. She could see slight differences in the colouring and design. "Your Salamon on the left gets -2 security attacks next turn."

Memory: (2) to (1) to (-2)

Turn Change: Frei


"Salamon comes out and I play RizeGreymon!" The cyborg-dinosaur hybrid raises its cannon-arm and Raiden laughs at her reckless spending of memory.

Memory: (2) to (-6)

Turn Change: Raiden


"From holding back to throwing out memory… you just have no idea what it takes to battle, do you?"

"Oh yeah!" she reddens. "Then why don't you show me!"

"I digivolve Kotemon onto my Pickmon." The baby transforms into what seems to be a purple dinosaur hidden under kendo gear and swinging a wooden sparring sword. "Now Angewomon into LordKnightmon." He says plainly. The fizzle of yellow is much brighter as the level 6 takes shape. The magenta robot stands at 20 feet tall, gold streamers billow from her. "For each other digimon I have in play she gains 1000 DP." Her already impressive 11,000 score climbs to 13,000. "Security attack!" As she flies forward one of her streamers wraps around her arm, straightening into a blade. A blue rectangle flies from the stack and is cut through with a downward slash. The Angewomon behind it goes limp and fizzles out.

Raiden selects a holographic card "with her 'when attacking' ability I'll play Gladimon for free." The round knight waves his fencing sword. "I search my stack for a warrior or holy warrior and then… oh how embarrassing, none here. Then I digivolve Gladimon into Angewomon. I'll play T.K. Takaishi, search my security stack again and take Piddomon to my hand. Since he's yellow Recovery +1." The AI waves, it feels out of place.

Memory: (6) to (3) to (0) to (-4)

Turn Change: Frei


She's nervous. He has two blockers but she still has RizeGreymon and the 4 rookies in play, 3 of which were Salamons and the lone Patamon flaps above.

"RizeGreymon digivolves into WarGreymon!" Now she has her own level 6, a yellow-armored anthropomorphic incarnation of the classic dinosaur. It's taller than the opposing mega digimon. "WarGreymon security attack!"

"Piddomon blocks!" The angel dutifully flies into danger, those huge mechanical claws breaking his staff then his body.

"I add a security card to my hand to unsuspend him." One of the rectangles dissolves and reappears in her hand. The tyrant digimon straightens back to alertness. "With his effect I give -6000 DP to LordKnightmon. Then I digivolve Turuiemon onto a Salamon!" The martial artist bunny does some practice kicks in the air. "Second Salamon, security attack!" With a little bark it pounces.

"Second Piddomon block!" There's a sad yelp as the angel whacks it away.

"WarGreymon attacks Piddomon!" Those claws fall down to crush it, ensuring revenge. "Turuiemon attacks LordKnightmon!" The bunny springs into the air.

"They're tied!"

"Not quite. Salamon's inherited infect reduces one of your digimon by another 1000 DP when Turuiemon attacks!" Frei grins as Raiden's eyebrows raise. With another drop to 5000 DP the knight is knocked over by the smaller opponent's foot. "Third Salamon, security attack!" The pup strikes and his security is Chaosmon: Valdur Arm. A dragonic cannon-arm protrudes and fires a white beam with a rainbow halo. The pup is incinerated.

"I play a second Patamon." A lighter colour and different face. The stats hovering beside the players indicate this as the 3-cost version.

Memory: (4) to (1) to (0) to (-3)

Turn Change: Raiden


"I move out Kotemon!" It leaps forward with the others, sword in both hands. "I digivolve another LordKnightmon on Angewomon." The pink giant reappears and Frei curses. "LordKnightmon attacks Turuiemon! Then I evolve Kotemon into Piddomon." After the flurry of battle Frei looks up to see another blocker, hair falling into her face. "This isn't what I wanted to see, you're holding back. Show me the astronomical power." He's scowling in frustration.

Memory: (3) to (0) to (-1)

Turn Change: Frei


"If that's what you want..." Frei's lime-green eyes burn and the image of Chaosmon: Valdur Arm flashes in her mind. Her new draw shines acid-green as it appears in her hand. "I hatch Cupimon and digivolve Patamon! WarGreymon attacks LordKnightmon!"

"Piddomon blocks!" The angel flies as WarGreymon pounces, this time the ground shakes when it lands. A physical presence.

"I return another security to my hand to unsuspend WarGreymon and give LordKnightmon -6000 DP." The opposing mega staggered as her points halved. "Next I digivolve WarGreymon into Chaosmon: Valdur Arm and all your digimon are trashed!" White light begins to fill the room.

"But you never had that card!" Raiden gasps.

Nevertheless he finds himself standing before the giant in the white coat, wrapped in green with dragon cannon-arms. That knight helmet lowers. He lifts both arms, firing blazing white circled with rainbows, dishing -7000 DP to both his LordKnightmon and Angewomon.

Memory: (1) to (-5)

Turn Change: Raiden


Raiden picks himself back up "...I hatch Pickmon and digivolve her into Starmons! I play Petermon and bring out Tinkermon. Then I digivolve Tinkermon into Unimon!" The blocker pegasus strides forward among the others and his turn ends.

Memory: (5) to (0) to (-2)

Turn Change: Frei


The next card added to Frei's hand is also accompanied by that green glow.

"I move out Patamon and digivolve into Piddomon. Chaosmon does a security break!" At her attack Raiden stumbles back a few steps, a strand of hair falling loose. "Then I play Magnadramon!" Playing a mega outright is costly. A dragon with white fur, a mane and multiple angelic wings stretches out to full size. A clawed hand gouges a line through the glossy stone wall.

Memory: (2) to (1) to (-9)

Turn Change: Raiden


"Starmons moves out and I digivolve another Unimon. I play Lucemon for 5 memory! I recover a security." 12 wings open to reveal a prepubescent angel and his security stack is replenished to 4. "I play Starmons and with its on play I give Piddomon -5000 DP!" A star with sunglasses blasts itself through Piddomon who grips his chest wound, dropping his staff and falling before fizzling out. "Petermon does a security break! To end I digivolve Gladimon on Starmons."

Memory: (9) to (4) to (1) to (-1)

Turn Change: Frei


"Upamon hatch! I digivolve her into Salamon. Now, Magnadramon security attack!" It unfurls its long body, slithering through air and bursting glass. "Chaosmon: Valdur Arm security attack!"

"I block with Unimon!" The pegasis is blasted to smithereens.

"I digivolve... a second Chaosmon: Valdur Arm onto Magnadramon! Gladimon and your second Unimon is trashed!"

When the white dims enough for him to look up he sees the girl standing between two godly level 7s.

Memory: (1) to (-5)

Turn Change: Raiden


"If those cards aren't in her deck, then how..." His confidence is knocked but he steadies. "I hatch Upamon. Lucemon does a security attack! I'll play a second Lucemon and pass turn." The young blonde seraph is granted a twin, his security restacking back to 4.

Memory: (5) to (0) to (-3)

Turn Change: Frei


"Salamon moves out and security attack!" Her pup is predictably flattened after its strike, but it serves to set the scene for what's to come. After issuing attacks with both Chaosmon: Valdur Arms her opponent is left with just one Lucemon and both have 2 securities each.

"I don't have another blocker. And I've seen all I need to. I concede this game to you." Raiden says and thumbs his button for a surrender.

WINNER: Frei

She takes a breath and calls back her living monsters that disperse into data.

"You got your game. Now I want to hear your answers. About Zarfeld, the academy and the scientists who raised us... please..."

Raiden ushers a butler who steps over with a tray, he takes his mojito "Let's talk upstairs."

Frei says nothing but her determination compels her to follow him.

But unfortunately she'd never return from their talk. Frei would never return to the academy again.

AN: We're halfway through Act 1. I've actually been stalled for progress on my most recent chapter, but also I suppose having family over (and getting invested in some Netflix show) has been somewhat distracting. Hopefully I'll get my mojo back before Uni holidays are over.
 
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