Chapter 35 (or, “The Beach Episode”)
Rikimo and Canberra arrived in Disasterville the next day, racing toward the town hall on the Trio of Light Dogs as Rainbow Ryuuzaki rode the last one in.
They all had a meeting that night around the board room table in the town hall. Tamasine, Rifka and Jen sat at one end of the table, while Canberra, Rikimo, Erika and Rhiannon -- all that was left of the group now -- took the other side of the table. “We must be serious about our mode of attack,” Rhiannon said, taking charge of the situation. “For too long, we have sat on our laurels and let this man run our reality. From here on out, we need to work together, as the seven of us who remain. Erika, Canberra, Rikimo, we need to work in tandem to create a plan for when that man comes for us.”
“Because he will,” Rifka piped up. “We shouldn’t rest at all. But we also can’t go looking for him. That’s resulted in us losing our friends to limbo.”
Tama sat silent, listening. Here it was, their first mission, and Jason and Rosa were gone, along with Isabel. They had spent the last four months in classes together, and to be without two of his comrades made the entire mission feel empty. He knew this wasn’t normal, wasn’t how QWERTY typically handled things. He just had to stick together with Rifka and Jen and see this through, hook up with Jason and Rosa on the other side of limbo.
And he had come too far with Erika and the others to let them down. He remembered how Mick had insisted they stay together as a team, how they couldn’t let the worlds they visited influence them. So much for that. Dvorak had put a huge gash in all of their plans.
“First things first,” Rhiannon noted. “Komari, we need to create a list of all of the cards we have and their properties. When that man attacks with his own set of cards, we can defend using his own strategy. It will be card against card, but sometimes choices have to be made.”
Komari was able to automatically record all of the cards the kids had collected up to this point. This included Canberra’s Rainbow Ryuuzaki, Trio of Light Dogs, Glass Girl, Tree of LIfe and the Magical Faeries of Yore. It also included all of the cards Storm had collected and then had given Canberra in the castle, including the Sen Tohr, Takeru Yamato the Deliverer, and the Puddle.
Rhiannon had LaTasha and the Mother of the Air card. Rikimo had her Alpine Queen, Frost Ninja, the Warrior of the Crystal Shield, and the Yuki-Onna. And Erika had her Red Giant, the Onibi, and the Salamanga. “All together, we are quite the force,” Erika noted as she thought about all of the cards they had collected. “We can most certainly defend against any threat, if we play by Dvorak’s rules.”
“Yeah, but can we win?” Rifka pointed out. “He’ll be able to manipulate any battle to be in his favor.”
“That’s what I’m working on.” Jen was staring straight at his communicator. “I’m working on an application that will allow us to bend reality the same way Isabel does in her world. If it codes properly, we’ll be able to all download it and manipulate the world the same way that Dvorak does. Remember how, when we were looking for each other, Isabel could get invisible and spur tidal waves and food fights?”
Now that Tama remembered it, he did recall this. “Go on, Didi.”
“I asked Isabel if I could take a look at her phone. She’s able to do that, and only in world 560, because she ended up being the guardian. But I figured there must be some program on the phone allowing her to do all of that. If I replicated and then edited that code, then put it on our phones, we can do the same thing Dvorak’s doing without his substitute permissions.” He tapped on the screen again. “I wasn’t sure if the code would be done in time for this mission. It wasn’t, but I’ve been working on it every day since we got here, and it’s almost done.”
“You’ve been coding for four months?” Rhiannon asked. "That's a long time to be working on one project."
"Well, it's a huge project. You can't just recode the world in one night. Even when I was working for Dimitri, it took me a long time. I didn't get any sleep for weeks and weeks."
Tama paused as Jen made mention of weeks and weeks. "Didi, what are you talking about? We were only in New York for a week."
Jen shook his head. "I never told you that, but maybe I should now. Remember how you and Rosa arrived here? The rest of us arrived at different times. I talked to Rifka about it because we were both Soviet, and she confirmed she was in New York for at least a month."
"Hmm. The plot thickens." Tama was deep in thought. "We know for a fact Jason arrived at the same time we did. Perhaps there's something important to take from this."
"And perhaps there's not," Rhiannon piped up. "Let's focus. Erika-san, we will work on a defense plan. Jen-san, meanwhile, will continue to work on coding reality. If you need any assistance or a checker, Jen, please let me know."
Jen gave Rhiannon a sweet smile. "I'd love for you to help! Two coders are always better than one."
Erika turned to Tama. "If you don't mind, I'd like for you to help me sort out the cards and plan a defense. Since you're from QWERTY and all."
Tama blushed a bit. "Sounds good."
"Hold on." Canberra stood up and pounded his fists on the table. "So they're just going to plan all of this without Rikimo and me? What are we supposed to do? Be the filler episode?"
"This isn't a TV show," Rikimo muttered under her breath.
"Canberra, you can help me," Erika said, raising her hand, but Rhiannon silenced her.
"You, Rikimo and Rifka will have a different job," she said. "Your job is to guard the sides of this town hall and make sure that, if Dvorak comes, we know before anybody else. Rikimo, you will guard the South Wall with your Alpine Queen. Rifka, you will go with LaTasha to the East. Canberra, you take the West with Rainbow Ryuuzaki. And Komari will monitor the North."
"You realize Rainbow Ryuuzaki's powers can't be activated without the right gift cards," Canberra pointed out. "And we don't have a lot of those. We don't even know how to find them."
Rhiannon paused. "They're usually in their own separate deck. I wonder how you would find something like that in this world?"
"Well," Erika thought out loud, "the gift card deck usually sits right on top of the school in regular Digital Merge play."
There was a pause, then "The school!" both Rikimo and Erika exclaimed at once.
Canberra tied his happi shut. "If there are gift cards, we need them. Rainbow Ryuuzaki could very well be our trump card."
"But extremely hard to pull in a regular Digital Merge game," Rhiannon noted.
Canberra winked. "Who said this was a regular Digital Merge game? Rikimo, come with me. We have gift cards to find!"
He stormed out of the room, with Rikimo muttering behind him again. Rifka had to chuckle as they left. "They really are good for each other, aren't they?" she asked to nobody in particular.
Rhiannon paused, then gave a knowing smile. "If they wouldn't be so stubborn, they would be. We have to focus on what's important here, though. Erika and Tama, build defense. Rifka, you go on up to the wall, and I'll send Komari to go with you. Jen, we have work to do."
Canberra hit the ground running once he got out of the town hall. He knew the map by heart and so knew exactly where the school was. There were actually two schools, since the entire card map was actually two maps put together, facing each other. They would try the one on the east side first, and then the western school. He called out his Light Dogs and jumped on one of them, then turned. "Are you coming, Yoshida?"
She tried not to show her disgust. "I'd rather stay back at the town hall," she called out as she jumped on her usual Dog.
The Dogs took off running for the school, and Rikimo held on tight. "I'd rather get the old world back," Canberra yelled over the wind. "Wouldn't you?"
She paused, then voiced her opinion. "I agree! But let's do this quickly and get back there! We don't want to leave the entire town hall unguarded!"
Canberra gave Rikimo a thumbs up. "Sounds like a plan, Rikimo."