Chapter 21 (or, "How Sierra 'Learned How To Play' Digital Merge")
"So let me get this straight," Sierra said as she sat in the lobby of the town hall, cross-legged, bored. "You learned how to play Digital Merge from your father?"
Henry nodded, leaning on his hands. "That I did. My father was really into board games and card games as a child. He loved playing with his friends, even if it was just a simple game. That was before collectible card games became widespread in China, so he had to make do with what he had. He even created some ideas of his own, but never put them to fruition._
The smile on Sierra's face faded. "Why not?"
"Well, playing games was seen back then as a huge diversion from reality. His parents forbid him from playing for a long time, and he graduated and got married, starting a family. But as the years passed and Digital Merge became popular, he was happy to finally have a son he could play games with. He's always busy with work, but when we get a chance, we play together. It's something we share." He gave Sierra a small smile. It was good to remember happy memories. "Why do you ask?"
"Well...to be honest, I'm bored out of my skull. It feels like I can't really do anything to help out here, you know? Like I'm just sitting here, not doing anything to help with the cards or the world. I thought...maybe if I learned more about the card game, then I could find a way to help the group." Sierra crossed her legs at the booted ankle, staring at them intently as if they could change something about their situation.
Henry didn't understand. "What do you mean?" he asked, leaning back on his own hands.
"All of this." Sierra threw her hands up and gestured to the entire town hall. "Rhiannon and that foreign girl are having a meeting of some sort with Liana and that other Chinese kid, and we're stuck out here doing nothing. There's no food, nothing to do, and no shopping malls. I feel like a sitting duck." She jumped and realized that her purple budgie was still on her shoulder, snuggling into her neck. "No offense, Parapara."
"None taken," the budgie chirped as it settled back into Sierra's shoulder.
"It's just that I know very little about the card game itself," Sierra said with a sigh, turning back to Henry. "Liana's obsessed with it, but it's never been my thing. If I knew more, maybe I'd be a part of that meeting they are holding right now. Maybe I'd think it was a bigger deal. Maybe I'd even be able to help that girl with the baseball hat save the world. But as I see it, I can't do a lot of anything right now. I'm just...just here."
"You're not just here," Henry noted. "You've done things to help."
"Like what?" Sierra tipped back and laid down on the limestone floor with a thunk, sending Parapara flying for the nearest rafter. "All we've done is hold the map. And that's not even really a job! Anybody can do that!"
There was a pause, and then she continued. "This was supposed to be a fun vacation to Tokyo to do some shopping with my best friend. We were gonna go do all sorts of cool things. But now Tokyo's gone, the whole world is gone, and we're stuck wandering around in circles and being told what to do by Rhiannon. Stay in the town hall, she says. Don't make a commotion, she says. If she told us to stand on our heads, we'd have to comply. I wish the world would be saved already so we can go back to Tokyo!"
Henry had to think for a moment. "I'm sorry that we're both stuck here," he said. "But at least you're making an effort to make things better. You don't want to be stuck here, bored. You're asking me about the card game. I don't know if learning how to play is going to help us go back to Tokyo any sooner, since Rhiannon and the others are handling that part. But we still need to find everybody's cards. Who knows how many there are out there that need to be found?"
"Gotta find 'em all," Sierra mocked from her spot on the floor.
Henry thought about it. Maybe he was on to something. "That may be something we can do, though. Find cards, I mean. We don't have to play Digital Merge to find the cards that are scattered all around this world. We just have to find them. We will need to come up with a careful strategy...and make our way out of Disasterville. We found LaTasha here, but if we are going to find any of the other cards, we'll probably have to leave town to do it."
"Yeah...and Rhiannon's never going to let us do that without someone to help us. I think we should just sneak out." The more he thought about it, the more the plan seemed like a good idea. He would just have to find a way to get them out without Rhiannon knowing. "All we have to do is find one card. Then, that one card can defend us against the rest of the world. Plus, if we find a card, Rhiannon and the others will be more willing to trust us. What do you say?"
"Do you really think we can make it out of the city without them finding out? Rhiannon seems to have eyes on the back of her head." Sierra did look interested in this plan, though.
"I think we can." Henry stood up and held his hand out. "Come on. We'd better go now, while they're in their meeting."
"Oh, I don't think so."
Henry and Sierra turned toward the door that led to the western wing. LaTasha, Master of Turbines was standing in the door, her arms crossed and her eyes on them. "You expect to just go gallivanting off looking for cards without someone to defend you? Give me a break. Y'all are gonna get your fannies handed to you if you step outside those city walls. It's best if you stay here."
"Oh, maaaan," Sierra whined. "So much for our cover not being blown."
Henry was about to agree, but he suddenly thought of something. "LaTasha, then why don't you come with us? You'd be able to help us get through town just fine. Rhiannon and the others can deal, can't they?"
LaTasha narrowed her eyes. "I doubt that. I'm really the only card they have at the moment."
Henry stood his ground. "But that's what we want to do. We want to find more cards and make this easier on everybody. Including you."
LaTasha thought for a moment. "I probably shouldn't go with you," she said, "since Rhiannon and the others here need protecting. We don't want another situation like we had with the Moles and not have me be here for it. But if you just go out to the outskirts of town, you should be okay. You can come running back to the gated wall if you run into trouble. I wouldn't go more than a five minute walk outside that area, though."
"Yes!" Sierra yelled, pumping her gloved fist into the air. "You hear that, Henry?"
"Just do me a favor and don't tell Rhiannon or the others about where we are going," Henry notes. "Otherwise, we'll never hear the end of it."
"I won't, I guess," LaTasha said. "But why shouldn't I?"
"I don't think they need to know. We're just a couple of kids going beyond the town's borders. What could go wrong?" Henry grinned. "We'll be back before sundown."
"If you insist," Latasha finally said, and Henry held out his hand to Sierra. She took it, helping herself up.
"Stick together?" she asked.
He smiled. "Of course."
They exited the town hall together, navigators on their shoulders. They headed across town, past the high school and the fountain in the middle. They made their way down a long, narrow corridor of houses, finally coming to the wall that surrounded Disasterville. Henry turned to Sierra. "So...I'm pretty sure that this wasn't how you intended to learn Digital Merge, but maybe when all of this is over, I'll actually teach you how with a proper deck. How does that sound?"
"It sounds good to me, as long as it sounds good to you." Sierra smiled at Henry. "Let's roll."
Together, the unlikely friends linked their hands and pressed on the huge doors, opening them and giving them a way out into the wide, open world. One in traditional Chinese clothing, the other in the latest trends from Los Angeles, both yearning for a reason to exist in this new world, both searching for it...together.
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