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Neverworld

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Prologue

Tai Kamiya turned on the lights of the sixth floor command center, sipping a cup of coffee as the overhead light bulbs ticked on to help the morning daylight and the bank of computer monitors illuminate the room. He wasn't usually the first one in, but he had trouble sleeping and woke up far earlier than he normally did. With any luck, it would be another peaceful day and he'd be able to sneak in a midday nap.

Days were usually peaceful in the Digital World, at least the surrounding parts. It hadn't always been that way, but hard work had forged a stable and calm territory. There were always little things popping up, like the day before when a threat of a turf war arose between a pair of Goblimon tribes. The seventeen-year-old digidestined and his comrades did everything they could to calm things down before anything got ugly. They were the mediators, peacekeepers and occasionally ass-kickers that maintained order. It was simple, it was comfortable... it was often boring, but Tai knew that was better than the alternative.

He took a stack of papers from the printer tray and sat down, sipping his coffee while skimming through the overnight data. Processing every minor detail wasn't his strong suit, nor was it his job, but Tai could always spot glaring disruptions that told him something interesting was happening somewhere. Today he was more interested in finishing his coffee. He leaned back in his chair to get the last few sips of caffeine down.

“You're up early.” Tai smiled in satisfaction as he heard the voice. Really, that was all he wanted to hear.

“Thought I'd get an early start on the day,” Tai replied, turning to the source of the voice. “Good morning, Thomas.”

Thomas H. Norstein wasn't fooled. “Trouble sleeping, huh?” He took the printouts from Tai and carried them to one of the workstations.

Tai grumbled. “All that matters is that I got up before you for once.”

As Thomas started poring through the sheets, he replied, “I've been up for two hours. Got in a round of sparring with Gaomon.”

His one chance at upstaging the twenty-year-old blond dashed, Tai changed the subject. “Hey, I think we should send someone out to follow up with the Goblimon. Just to make sure neither side tries anything.”

“I agree.” Thomas nodded, writing down observations from the data. He turned a page and his eyes suddenly widened.

“Morning,” said Izzy, sitting next to Thomas. “Anything interesting?”

Thomas wasn't quite ready to greet Izzy. “Tai, did you look through these?”

“I skimmed them,” Tai replied. “Why, what's up?”

Thomas stood up and held a sheet at Tai. “You didn't notice this?” Outside of a header and footer, the chart was almost totally covered in black ink.

Tai stood as well. That was an earth-shattering level of activity, undoubtedly something massive.

Izzy raised an eyebrow at it. “Something like that should have triggered an alarm.” He wheeled back to his station. “Better run a test to make sure they're working.”

Thomas turned to his computer, trying to get more information on this disturbance. Tai faced the large window overlooking the nearby plains and forests. It had all the information they needed. “Uh, guys...” Tai said, gulping. “I think I found it.”

Thomas and Izzy joined him. Izzy nodded slowly. “That will do it.”

“What is it?” Thomas asked. It resembled a light blue beam in the distance, swirling around but fixed on one point out in the plains, and stretched forever into the air. “It's too stationary to be a data stream.”

“Oh yeah, I guess you haven't seen it before,” Tai said, continuing to stare at it. “It means we're getting some guests.”

 

Twenty minutes later, Tai and Thomas were in full scramble mode, pacing around a meeting room with Takuya, Takato and Kari. Davis charged into the room after them, looking around and frowning.

“I'm last again, aren't I?” he asked.

“You're not actually,” Tai said. “Where the hell did Izzy go?”

“We only have a few hours before they arrive, so we can't wait. Let's at least get started with the routine operations,” said Thomas. “We need someone to head out west and make sure the Goblimon are behaving.”

“Aw, that could take all day,” moaned Takuya. “Who'd pick up the new kids?”

“Dibs!” shouted Davis excitedly.

Thomas nodded. “Davis, you and Ken will pick them up. Yolei will go with you.” He turned to Takato. “Takato, why don't you and Koji head out now to check on the Goblimon?”

Takato stood up from his chair and saluted. “Yes, sir!”

As Takato ran out, Tai kept pacing. “So that takes care of retrieval and testing. But we still have to show them around, explain what we do, feed them, find somewhere for them to stay...” He clutched his head. “Aw, that's gonna be a nightmare.”

“There's probably a bunch of things we're forgetting too,” said Kari.

The door flew open and Izzy marched in and slammed a bound manuscript on the table. He was out of breath, but exclaimed, “Found it!”

“Found what?” asked Kari, hovering over the book.

Between breaths, Izzy said, “Remember? We put it together after the debacle we had when the last group arrived.” Takuya started paging through it. “It's a comprehensive sixteen-point checklist to integrate and initiate any new teams.”

“Hmm... did we remember to put clothes on the list?” Kari asked. Everybody stared at her. “Everybody gets pulled from home in the middle of the night, so everyone shows up in their PJs. Maybe we should be prepared for once.”

Izzy stared at her, then pointed at the book. “As I was saying, it's a comprehensive seventeen-point checklist.”

Takuya flipped back to the front cover. “Why's it called the Fujieda Plan?”

Davis snickered. “Makes sense. When we kept forgetting stuff when the last guys got here, she did complain the most.”

“So what does 'the Fujieda Plan' say about getting them clothes?” Kari asked, arms folded.

Snatching the plan away, Izzy pretended to search through it. “Uh... it says...” He kept up the charade until finally looking at Kari and shrugging. “Would you go around and pass the hat? See if anyone has clothes they don't wear anymore?”

Kari narrowed her eyes at him, but said, “All right. I'll start with hospitality.” As she walked out, she added, “They have bigger hats.”

 

Kari Kamiya knew that in the limited time before the new kids were scheduled to arrive, she would never be able to reach everybody she needed to get a useful sample of clothes. They had no idea how many would be arriving, much less their genders, ages or body types. Therefore only by hitting up everybody would they have a chance of being prepared. Kari handled it the only way she could: she delegated.

By the time Tommy Himi reached his own room after bothering everybody else on the route, he was ready for it to be over. “Boy, I didn't think we'd be done in time. That was rough.”

“Look who's talking.” For all of Tommy's complaining, JP was the one lugging the giant bag stuffed with donations. “Go get your stuff. I'll bug Koichi.”

While Tommy entered the room on the right side of the hallway, JP knocked on the left door.

“Yeah?” asked Koichi.

“It's JP. We're taking up a collection for the needy. Would you care to donate?”

The door opened. Koichi looked confused. “You're doing what?”

“A bunch of new kids are showing up today. We're collecting old clothes so they aren't stuck in their nighties all day. Got anything you don't mind getting rid of?”

Koichi looked away, deep in thought. JP gave him plenty of time. “I want to help, but I don't know if I have... actually...” He walked over to his bed, grabbed a shirt on top of it, returned to JP and stuffed it in the bag. “There you go.”

JP raised an eyebrow. “Uh... Koichi?” He pulled the shirt out and looked it over. “Weren't you wearing this shirt this morning?”

“Uh...” Koichi glanced aside. “Didn't suit me. Besides, you know how quickly the fashion trends change here.”

“And since when have you cared about that?” JP held the shirt to his face and scanned it closely. Then he sniffed it.

Koichi winced. “Okay, that's a little creepy.”

JP pulled his face away and squinted at Koichi. “Hmm... it smells... different. Like someone else wore it.”

“You know what I smell like? Also a little creepy.”

After one more sniff, JP said, “Smells like a girl was wearing this.” He grinned. “Koichi??”

“Are you ready?” Tommy joined them, dumping a handful of old clothes in the bag.

JP handed him the shirt. “Tommy, smell Koichi's shirt and tell me what you think.”

Tommy's eyes lit up after one sniff. “Koichi! When were you gonna tell us you had a girlfriend?”

“I, uh...” Koichi's blush was giving himself away. JP and Tommy leaned in closer. “Look, I was afraid of the cleaning girls finding out and I'm not sure I like you guys knowing about it either. I don't want to talk about it right now.” He slammed the door closed.

“That made this whole damn chore worth it,” JP said, smiling in satisfaction.

Tommy kept smelling the shirt. “Hmm... I was hoping I could figure out which girl it is. Smells familiar... but I can't say for sure.”

JP frowned and snatched the shirt away. “Okay, now that would be creepy.”

 

Takato Matsuki and Guilmon rode KendoGarurumon back to base, mission completed and ready to rejoin the chaos of a new team's arrival. Although they didn't have any trouble with the Goblimon, it was definitely worth the trip. There hadn't been any rumors of border skirmishes, but both sides were still itching to claim the disputed territory and knowing they were still being monitored would likely prevent any future violence. It went as well as either they or Koji could have hoped for.

By the time they arrived back home, Davis, Ken and their partners were outside waiting for word to take off. Imperialdramon, with his size and speed, was the preferred method of travel for any operations and the obvious choice to pick up the new kids. KendoGarurumon was never an ideal option, but worked out nicely here.

As Takato and Guilmon dismounted, Davis grinned at them. “Hey, how'd it go?”

“Great! And it looks like we got back in time too,” said Takato.

While KendoGarurumon turned back into Koji, Ken asked, “Did you get there all right without us?”

“Yeah, it was a lot of fun actually.” Takato turned to Koji. “I gotta ride you more often!”

Koji cringed, muttering, “Don't word it like that.”

“Hey, Davis! Can we take off yet?” Veemon asked.

Ken answered instead, “We don't know exactly when they'll be here. It should be soon, but Thomas said not to leave until then.”

“Plus we gotta take Yolei so she can do her thing,” Davis said. “Where the hell is she?”

“Guys!” It wasn't Yolei running up to them. It was JP. He was out of breath by the time he reached them. “Oh man, this is big.”

Takato's face lit up. “I know! New kids! I hope they have cool new abilities and stuff.”

JP waved his hand. “No, no, not that. Koichi has a girlfriend.”

“That's great!” Takato was somehow just as excited. “Who is it?”

“He won't tell us. We gotta figure out some way to get it out of him.”

“Not that I want you guys interrogating my brother...” Koji said. “But it's pretty obvious what you need to do. Come on.”

He started to walk away, stopping only when neither JP nor Takato followed him. “Hold on, what's your plan?” JP asked.

“We hang out with him like normal people. Meet me out back.”

Grinning, JP replied, “Ooh, sneaky.”

“Takato, find a soccer ball or something.”

“But wait!” Takato's darted his head between Koji and the beam in the sky. “Don't you want to meet the new kids?”

“Aw, we'll see them later,” JP said. “Besides, what do you care? You already have a girl.”

Veemon chuckled. “In the end, that's what this is really about, isn't it?”

JP shrugged. “It's nice to get some new options. Especially if Koichi took one off the board.” He started walking away. “Sure you don't want to find out who?”

Takato looked at the beam again. As he did, Guilmon followed JP. Takato chased after him, shouting, “Guilmon! You too?”

“I just want to play soccer,” said Guilmon.

Takato shook his head and followed him out, still keeping an eye on the beam. It started to flicker. “Aw, and it's breaking up too!”

Takato may have been forced away, but Davis and Ken turned around. The beam was dissipating; the new team was landing.

Yolei rushed up to them, Hawkmon racing behind her. She shouted. “Sorry I'm late! We're clear for takeoff!”

“What took you so long?” Davis asked, fumbling for his D3.

She winked. “Just rehearsing our lines.”

“That sounds dirty coming from you.”

Davis and Ken held up their D3s in unison and, after a series of digivolutions, DNA and otherwise, Imperialdramon stood before them. Ken, Yolei and Hawkmon hopped on first, followed quickly by Davis, who admired the beast before giving the order to take off.

“Heh... let's see these new kids do this.”

 

Izzy Izumi read through his list one last time. Thomas, Kari and now Jeri were with him at the command center, ready to help him check the boxes. Tai was present as well, but staring at the window and the team's future allies.

Jeri finished one of her reports: “The kitchen has updated tonight's service and everything's on schedule.”

Izzy checked a box. “And after that?”

“They'll need to make some adjustments until the next shipment's in but there shouldn't be any problems.”

“Thanks. I think you're covered.”

She bowed. “Should I place the order for them now?”

“Let's hold off until we see how many we have. We'll have to wait to see what they want for clothes anyway.” Izzy checked another box as Jeri walked out. “Speaking of which- Kari?”

“We did pretty well. They should all be able to find something,” answered Kari. “They're downstairs. I'll take them there before starting the tour.”

Izzy nodded, handing her the document. “There's some notes about the tour in here. What to cover... what not to cover.”

“What not to cover?” Kari flipped through it, but couldn't find any examples. “What do you mean?”

“Yolei will handle the, uh... more sensitive topics with their leader. No sense upsetting the others.”

Kari stared back at him with a frown, but ended up nodding. “I understand.”

“They're here,” Tai and Thomas shouted in unison. Kari turned around and put a pair of headphones on.

“Is Imperialdramon in transit?” Izzy asked.

“Affirmative,” replied Thomas, still checking his monitor. “Six unrecognized humans detected.”

“I'm not picking up any Digimon,” Kari added. “Are you?”

“I'm not... that's curious.”

While they sorted that out, Izzy joined Tai at the window. Tai didn't react to his friend's approach at first, but then said, “Well, this is it. One more team thrown into all this.”

“At least we're ready for them this time,” Izzy said. “But is it really all right to keep information from them? Shouldn't they know everything we do?”

Tai shook his head. “We spent all day bending over backwards to make them feel welcome. But either way they're going to be confused and scared and angry.”

“Exactly. Wouldn't telling them what we know help?”

A faint smile formed on Tai's face. “I just want them to be comfortable right now. Welcome them into the family and make it feel like home. Let's show them how great we are and how nice life is here.”

He exhaled once through his nose, that smile never fading. “They'll figure out the truth on their own.”