Level 2- Children
 
Adam Fisher- Age 23
Born to Steve and Kari Fisher on September 13, 2016
Graduate student in college
Currently living in Brooklyn, New York

Stage Three- History

Mimi could have sworn she had put the dishes away hours ago. But there they were, undisturbed in the dishwasher after their cleansing the previous night. What should have been the simple task of putting a dirty glass in the tray had turned into yet another chore for her to complete before preparing dinner. She set the glass on the counter and began putting away cutlery.

Before she could move on to the plates, the phone rang. She stood, walked to it, and answered.

"Hi, is Michi there?" said the boy on the other end.

Mimi smiled and replied, "Hold on, I'll get her."

She covered the mouthpiece and called out to her stepdaughter in the living room. Michi, attention diverted from the cartoon on TV, entered the kitchen.

"It's a boy," Mimi said, adding a wink.

"Shut up, Mom," Michi replied with a smile, taking the phone away.

Mimi continued to unload the dishwasher, but kept her ears on the conversation. It wasn't the first time Michi had received a call from a boy, but Michi consistently turned down all previous offers for a date.

She wasn't just avoiding the company of men. Michi had few friends of either gender, preferring mostly to spend time with Kori and Tony. Mimi wasn't surprised that Michi was a bit of a loner; she was the daughter of Matt Ishida, after all. But Mimi could never quite understand the bond Michi formed with her brothers. Of course, Mimi was virtually an only child. Her lone brother had been born while she was in high school. But while he had been a major pain in the last few years she spent living with her parents, as well as the source of a minor factual error in one of TK Takaishi's books, he had no real influence on her life.

Perhaps it was the Takaishi in Michi that formed her strong fraternal bond. Nevertheless, Mimi secretly hoped Michi would branch out and socialize with other girls and boys. Michi's eagerness to take the phone call offered some hope.

"Mom, can Koji come over?" Michi asked.

Mimi closed the now-empty dishwasher and smiled. "Sure. He can even stay for dinner. Your dad's working late, but I'd love to meet your friend."

Michi spoke with Koji for a moment before asking her stepmother, with a slight tone of disgust, "Is Tony going to be here?"

"Of course," Mimi replied, a little confused.

Michi concluded her conversation and hung up. Before heading back into the living room, she said, "You're not going to regret this, Mom."

Now Mimi was really curious. It was one thing for Michi to be bringing guests to the dinner table. But how was the mother going to benefit? Mimi knew very little about Koji. Tony had told her about Koji's effort to get information about the fire that killed several of her friends years ago. And while her husband was concerned, Mimi didn't care. Michael was the one who didn't want the family discussing the incident. Mimi was quietly thrilled that someone had taken such a deep interest in it, and that Michi wasn't afraid to try to find out the truth.

Mimi followed Michi into the living room. That was when she noticed that Michi and Kori were watching a rerun of the old Digimon cartoon. Both of the kids stared at the screen as Takuya completed his transformation into Agunimon.

"Since when did you two start watching this?" Mimi asked, leaning forward and resting her arms on the back of the couch.

"I don't know. It's interesting..." Kori replied, not taking his eyes off the television.

Mimi frowned as Zoe began her transformation sequence. "I don't remember TK having such an active imagination." The cartoon was based on one of TK's most popular novels. After his death, the conversion rights quickly found their way into corporate hands. When a new public interest in Digimon surfaced a few years after the Sealing, the cartoon debuted and spread the myth of the Digital World to children everywhere.

"So Uncle TK just made this up completely?" Kori asked, finally taking his eyes away from the screen and turning toward Mimi.

"Most of it. You can see some of his influences in there. Takuya for example..." Mimi looked at the TV in time to see Agunimon turn back into the goggle-laden leader. "Based very much around Davis."

"No way, I remember Davis," Michi said, shaking her head. "No way Davis ever acted like that."

Mimi laughed a little. "Oh yes he did. And I can see a lot of your father in Koji."

Kori turned to his sister. "Speaking of Koji, what time's he coming over?"

 

In all the excitement of Adam threatening to kill him, Koji had forgotten the gifts the Chosen had given him years ago. Most important were the letters each of them had written to their families. They were the proof Adam was demanding. Clutching the sealed envelopes addressed to Michi and Kori, Koji rang the doorbell.

Mimi answered it and immediately smiled. "You must be Koji, right?" As soon as Koji nodded, she ushered him inside. "Michi's told me... well, she's told me almost nothing about you, but I'm sure you're nice."

"Um... thanks Mrs. Grant."

"Please, call me Mimi!" She exclaimed, extending a hand to Koji.

For a second, Koji was tempted to hand her his jacket and go about his task of delivering the letters. In truth, her presence was overwhelming. He knew she was another Chosen- the famed Mimi Tachikawa, bearer of the Crest of Sincerity. Koji was about to drop a bombshell by confirming that her old friends were still alive; Mimi witnessing it was yet another reason to be nervous.

Furthermore, she still looked too young. Koji remembered that Mimi was ten during her first adventure in the Digital World forty years earlier. By Koji's best guess, she only looked thirty-five.

"ARS." Kori whispered, startling Koji. The Ishida kids had snuck up to Koji while he was staring at Mimi walking back into the kitchen.

"What was that?"

"That's why she looks so young. She got that surgery a few years ago," Kori explained, a little sadly.

Koji understood why it pained Kori to say it. Koji had read about the Age-Reduction Surgery before. It was apparently popular among television and movie stars decades ago- an all-inclusive cosmetic procedure that made the subject look fifteen years younger. But as the long-term side effects began to take hold, the "miracle operation" ultimately did more harm than good. Mimi may have looked thirty-five, but if all the reports were true, she felt like she was sixty.

"You sounded really excited on the phone," Michi said enthusiastically as she led Koji into the living room. "Did you find proof?" she asked hopefully.

Koji smiled and began to pull out the letters. Any concern about Mimi would have to wait.

He hesitated for a moment when he saw Tony descending the staircase. The two made eye contact; and Koji could sense the hostility on Tony's face. But before Koji could say anything, Tony silently went into the kitchen.

"Proof of what?" Kori asked.

Koji turned to him. Obviously, Michi had been very careful about following Adam's demands and not telling anybody, not even her brother. He eyed the letters carefully, but yet another interruption from Tony prevented him from handing them over.

"But Mom!" Tony left the kitchen, whining about something.

"The store's only three blocks away. You'll be back in fifteen minutes," Mimi said, following her son out to the foyer, even going so far as to remove Tony's jacket from the coat rack.

He angrily took it away from her. "Can't you get Kori to do it?"

"Quit complaining or I'll send you to get dinner too."

Koji saw Michi smile as Tony gave up and stormed out. Obviously, she knew whose side Mimi was on.

"Now," Mimi said, clasping her hands together and turning to the living room trio, "Anything I can get you kids?"

Koji smiled and stared at the letters again. With Mimi removing Tony from the picture, she was giving Koji the go-ahead.

"You may need to get a box of Kleenex. I don't know what they wrote," Koji said, handing a letter each to Kori and Michi.

Kori analyzed the penmanship on the envelope. Only his name was written on it. "What's this?"

Michi turned from her letter to Koji repeatedly. "Are these from..."

"Your parents," Koji said. He eyed Mimi, whose mouth fell open. She joined Michi and Kori as they opened the envelopes.

 

"Dear Michi- I don't know what they told you, and I don't know how much you knew about us. But regardless of what you heard, and regardless of when you get this, the only thing you need to know is that your father and I are very much alive, and very comfortable here in the Digital World."

Michi wasn't making use of the Kleenex yet, but her hand trembled as she read the letter. She could have reached for the box at any moment.

Kori was already drying his eyes as he read the letter from Matt.

"Koji, this is... this is incredible," Michi said, setting down the letter for a moment to look up at him.

Kori started sobbing again. "It's just that... all those lies they told us. About the fire? Why?"

Mimi sat down next to Kori and wrapped her arms around him. She said nothing, instead staring solemnly at a window.

Koji also remained silent. He knew this was a personal moment, and although he was the messenger, he still felt like he was intruding. He continued to watch Michi. She never shed a tear, but he could tell her mother's words were going straight to her heart.

"I just wish I could see them," she said, "Tell them we're all right, and what we're doing with ourselves. It's sad that we'll still never get to see them again."

"But they are alive," Koji reiterated, "That's the most important thing."

Abruptly, Mimi stood and went into the kitchen. Michi watched her leave before turning back to Koji. "It's probably just as emotional for her. She was a lot closer to our parents than we were."

Rather than responding, Koji followed Mimi. Michi was right- the news had to affect Mimi as much as it did her stepchildren. Not only that, but there was still the underlying mystery of why it was just those seven.

Koji entered, but no question seemed appropriate. Mimi was seated at the kitchen table, her head buried in her arms, crying harder and longer than either Kori or Michi.

He waited a minute, but her tears did not stop. He took a step toward her. "Mimi? Are you okay?"

"I should have stuck with them... I wanted to... I really did," she sobbed, "I'm sorry. I let all of them down..."

Koji was tempted to say something about how well she raised Kori and Michi, but he knew it wouldn't help. He still didn't know enough about them, and he still didn't know how Mimi could have changed her fate.

He left Mimi to her tears and motioned for the living room. But by then, Tony had returned, carrying a carton of milk and two loaves of bread. Kori was quick to deliver the news, to which Tony reacted with a disgusted glare. Before Koji could hide in the kitchen, Tony called him out and demanded an explanation.

Koji told Tony and Kori the whole story as best as he could. The letters were enough to convince Kori that it was true, but Koji still had no answer for the big question- how did he get in to begin with?

"How can you two believe this guy so easily? You don't think he could just be playing a joke?" Tony narrowed his eyes. "Or worse? Maybe this is a set-up."

Michi didn't hesitate, replying, "Stop it. I trust him."

"I wouldn't. Remember what Dad said, we'll get into trouble if we..."

"If we what, Tony? Keep pretending they died in a fire? Admit it, the whole thing is suspicious."

Tony turned away, his hand clenched in a fist. His head was shaking, and he opened his mouth several times as if to say something. But each time, he failed to let something out.

"It's okay, Tony," Kori said, "I know Michi and I are taking a chance in trusting him, but we are. So why can't you?"

"It's not just him!" Tony shouted at Kori, "How do you know somebody else isn't listening?! If he's not trying to pin us on something, somebody else is!"

"Tony..." None of the four saw Mimi enter the living room until she walked up to her son and placed a hand on his shoulder. "It's okay. You may be right. We're risking a lot. But right now we have to." She continued to stroke Tony's shoulder. "There's a lot we don't know about Koji, but if Michi thinks we should trust him, then let's trust him."

Mimi looked up at Koji, flashing that same smile she used to greet him at the door.

"Hey, Koji?" Koji looked over at Kori, who had returned his attention to the letter, "One more question- you said you were in there with our parents, right?"

"Yeah?"

"Who's this Takato person Dad mentions? Dad says he was the one in there."

All eyes fell on Koji, and he nodded sadly. He knew it was going to come up. It was another reason he was so hesitant. But his credibility was too important to lie to Kori. "Matt's talking about me. I'm Takato."

Tony turned to Koji, eager to jump on the revelation. "So Koji isn't even your real name? I should have figured," he said, disapprovingly.

"It's my real name now. When I got back, Dwayne said it would be best if I changed it. Just to make sure nobody was following me or anything." Koji looked back up. "I guess he figured someone might be watching me just like they might be watching you."

"If you came out of the Digital World, that wouldn't surprise me," Mimi said.

Koji stepped back and sat in the chair behind him. "At that point, I wanted nothing more than to start over. I saw this as my chance to forget about everything Takato went through and begin a new life as Koji Mathews."

"What did Takato..." Kori stopped and corrected himself, "Er, what did you go through?"

Koji hesitated. His life as Takato was over and he had no desire to try to recall it. Takato's final months before entering the Digital World were something he wanted to forget about forever.

"I don't want to remember," he finally answered, "But it's all over. I left Takato in the Digital World... he'd be happier there anyway."

"Well, Koji, you'd better find Takato again," Mimi said.

Koji looked up at her. His news about her friends had driven her to tears. His confession about a former identity, and all the deceptions that came with his new one, were still on her mind. And yet Mimi was wearing a grim smile.

"Why?"

"Because Takato has five more letters to deliver."

 

Neither Michi nor Kori reacted much to the news about "Takato." Koji expected them to disapprove, but his reasoning must have been accepted. As Mimi prepared dinner, Koji entertained questions about the lives of Matt and Sora Ishida in the Digital World. Mimi was as interested as her stepchildren; although dinner was her top priority, she took every opportunity she could to join them in the living room.

Koji did the best he could. His experience in the Digital World was still somewhat fresh in his mind. And the two years he spent there had been generally positive. But they were still Takato's years. As enjoyable as they were, Koji wanted to distance himself as much as he could from anything that happened before he came to New York.

Eventually, he ran out of stories. But having shared his history, he felt it appropriate to ask Mimi about the history of the Chosen. In the Digital World, the past was never brought up. But now that Koji had given the family his past, he finally raised the ultimate question- how did December 31, 2028 happen?

Mimi probably wasn't the best person to ask. But she was the only one willing to answer. She told Koji of the first quarter of the century. "The Digimon Age," she called it. For a span of 25 years, everybody on Earth had a Digimon partner, and each person was free to make their partner a major part of their life, or ignore it completely and let it roam wild in the Digital World.

While access to the Digital World was strictly regulated, nobody could control the Digimon presence in the real world. Digimon were loyal to their human companions, adopting both their good and bad behavior. Mimi explained that while most humans who kept Digimon around the house were responsible, there were obvious exceptions. The troublemakers represented a very small percentage of the population, but their antics were reported constantly. It wasn't long before the world's perception of Digimon grew increasingly negative.

"Then there was Daemon," Mimi explained.

Over those 25 years, he attacked twice- in 2015 and in 2027. The first time, a kid living in the Digital World noted his presence. Digi-destined around the world, including several of the Japanese Chosen, contained him in the Digital World and sealed him away. But word spread about the threat he could have posed, and Digimon were viewed as more than just troublesome- they were now potentially dangerous.

A few tricks helped improve their reputation. "PR maneuvers," Mimi called them. She said that Kari helped to orchestrate events like TK Takaishi's books about the Japanese Chosen and Matt Ishida and Gabumon's Mars landing. Digimon also gained some political power when they were allowed to elect their own representative in the United Nations. They elected Tai Kamiya, but even he wasn't enough after June 9, 2027.

"I was on a plane heading back to New York. I was taping my cooking show on location that week, and I was really looking forward to coming home again. I knew Daemon had attacked again, but the battle was still in the Digital World, and I figured whatever digi-destined were in there were taking care of it. I wasn't even thinking about it when the pilot said the flight was being redirected to Philly. But when the lady sitting next to me got a call on her cell phone and told me the city was being evacuated... I knew Daemon was involved.

"When we landed, I got the news that he was forcing his way into the real world. They were able to figure out where he'd break through, but they were unable to stop it. Naturally, the first thing I did was call ahead and make sure Tony was alright." Mimi stopped at looked up at her son. She had told him the story before, but he was still hanging on her every word. Mimi continued, "The sitter was taking care of him, and getting out of there like everybody else. I knew Tony was going to be fine."

"So what then?" Michi asked.

"Then I did what everybody else should have done. I got Palmon out of the Digital World, rented a car, and sped up I-95 to join the battle." She paused and looked around the table. Koji was smiling. Years after her original adventures, Mimi was still a genuine hero.

However, her courage was not the point of the story: "The scary thing about it all was that we did everything about as effectively as possible. The evacuation was handled pretty well. We dealt with Daemon as well as we could, given our numbers. And I'd hate to think of what would have happened if Izzy hadn't figured out Daemon was heading to New York and took the appropriate action. But it was still awful. Downtown Manhattan was a bad place for a battle like that. We did what we could to limit the destruction. And the death toll could have been much, much worse. But in the end, all that mattered was the billions of dollars of damage and the seven-hundred people killed."

No PR maneuver could help redeem Digimon after that, Mimi continued to explain. Tai had tried to establish that Daemon was an unusual element- one bad element in a realm of goodness. But the damage had already been done. Everywhere, especially in America, it was no longer appropriate to have a Digimon around. Suddenly, anyone who kept their partner in the real world was ostracized, hated, and considered un-American for keeping a pet capable of such destruction.

Most of the Chosen had stubbornly refused to go along with popular opinion, especially the Japanese. But they paid for it in their social standing. Mimi's cooking show was cancelled. "Low ratings," they told her, but she, like everybody, knew the real reason.

Still, Tai continued to fight for the Digimon in the political arena. Several calls came up to banish them from the real world completely, but Tai held his ground, and for more than a year he was able to rally enough support to keep the gate between the worlds open.

However, on October 2, 2028, a bitter twist of fate destroyed all hope- when a wild Digimon broke into the real world, ending Tai's life before it could be subdued.

The "wild ones" that would infrequently "bio-emerge" into the real world were used as one of the stronger arguments against Tai. The only person who denied the danger the incidents presented was killed by one. All political support suddenly vanished and the UN voted to seal off the Digital World completely before the year was over.

"But what about the Chosen? Couldn't they open a gate anyway?" Koji asked.

Mimi nodded. "Everybody in the world had to hand over their digivice. Really, they only needed them from the Chosen. Most agreed. They made deals, got caught up in the politics of it, some didn't want to put their reputation on the line... however it happened, most of them gave in."

"I take it Mom and Dad didn't?" Kori guessed.

"We were getting phone calls, e-mails, and all sorts of nasty threats, but most of the Japanese Chosen held their ground. Not all of them though..." Mimi said, with a tone of guilt, "Yolei and Ken had just had another kid. She said she got a really nasty letter one day and... well, she couldn't take the chance with the baby around." Koji's eyes grew wider as she went on, "Davis was too far up in his business. He knew that if he fell, thousands of people would fall with him."

She stopped and closed her eyes. There was one more, but she said nothing until Koji prompted Mimi for her own reason.

"I promised myself I wouldn't give in. But Michael was very passionate about it. He said it wasn't safe to defy the orders, and that there would be consequences against those did." Mimi looked up at the four faces in front of her. "After a couple weeks of screaming... I backed down." She had to pause and hold back tears before she could continue.

"On December 31, the gate was shut and Digimon were no longer a part of the world. But by then, everybody had stopped caring." As she continued, she could no longer restrain them, "And those seven, the ones that never gave up until the very end... what did they get to show for it? None of us ever thought it was really a fire. But even if they were killed... nobody cared. Raising a fuss about it wasn't going to help, because the same thing could have happened to us. And for all I know, it still can."

"That's right," Tony said, nervously eyeing the others, "Dad said that's why we can't talk about this."

With her napkin, Mimi began drying her tears. "He's right, Tony. It's very dangerous to get the wrong idea about what went on that night."

Still looking at his mother, Tony pointed to Koji. "So why the heck is he still here?"

"Because I know the truth," Koji said, boldly, "I know that those seven are still alive and those letters are the proof. It's not much, but I think the people that were close to them deserve to know what really happened."

"So why didn't you mail them out as soon as you got back?" Tony asked, now glaring at Koji.

Mimi answered for Koji, "Because it's not safe to mail them. Michael knew some of the people in charge of the Sealing. He heard they're still watching us. Phone calls, mail, whatever we do online... they always try to keep tabs on the Chosen. Just to make sure we don't get out of hand."

"So how do I get these letters out?" Koji asked.

"Hand-delivered," Michi whispered, prompting the others to look at her. She looked up at Koji. "Besides, they'd want an explanation. And they'd have questions, like what their parents are doing. They'd want to hear stories. Koji, there's no other way to do it."

Koji shook his head. Michi was reaching a little far, and he had to flatly renounce his ambition. "Well, I don't plan on going to Japan anytime soon. I can talk to Adam next week, but the other four are..."

"What are you doing for spring break? That is in a couple weeks, right?" Mimi interrupted, smiling as if Koji's last statement flew harmlessly over her head.

"Well... nothing..." Koji looked over and saw Michi's face creep into a smile.

"Can I go too?!" she shouted excitedly.

Tony put his hands up. "Hold on a minute, you can't possibly be thinking about..."

Mimi nodded at Koji. "Koji, I know it may be a little risky, but this is something that needs to get out. And Michi's right, the best way to do it is in person. If you want, I can take care of everything."

"Please, can I go too?" Michi asked again, just as excited.

"It would be less suspicious," Kori added, not looking up from his dinner plate, "I mean, someone Koji's age traveling overseas by himself... that would seem a little strange."

Michi began nodding. "Yeah, but if I went... you know, two teens spending spring break in Japan... sounds like fun!"

Mimi scratched her chin. Then she smiled. "Well, Michi, if you really want to... I guess you're old enough to make your own decisions." She turned to Koji. "Koji? It's up to you."

Koji took a deep breath. Not only was Mimi entrusting him with the duty of distributing the truth, she was entrusting him with Michi. He was being asked to unmask lies perpetuated by some worldly force with unknown influence. But as much as he wanted to leave Takato Matsuki behind him, he still felt an obligation. The seven had given Takato so much; it was time for Koji to repay the debt.

"Let me talk to Dwayne," he said.

 

Koji did not tell Dwayne his specific intentions. Ever since the day he had come back from the Digital World, Dwayne had kept Koji from telling anybody about it. Therefore, Koji tested out Michi's idea of "two friends on spring break." He figured it was better to verify its effectiveness as a cover story before they left.

Dwayne, ultimately, wasn't the best person to test it on. He was very hesitant about Koji going back to Japan. Afraid that Koji would "get into trouble" and "do something stupid," Dwayne almost refused to allow it. But Koji continued to plead his case, until he finally realized that Dwayne really had no say in the matter. When Koji announced that it was out of Dwayne's hands, Dwayne gave up.

As the vacation week approached, Koji soon discovered how fortunate he was to be making the trip. Koji's friends at school were all envious. Not only was Koji spending a week in Japan, he was spending it with a girl from Staten Island. For fear that his friends would become so jealous they'd never speak to him again, Koji didn't dare mention that the girl's mother was not only paying for the trip, she was also handling the work of buying plane tickets and reserving a hotel room.

Somewhere in that time, Koji delivered Kari's letter to Adam and Mr. Fisher. With one of the recipients being his teacher, Koji was careful to plan things so he could deliver the letter without classroom influence.

Adam was shocked to see the letter. When Mr. Fisher confirmed that it was indeed Kari's handwriting on the pages, Adam had the proof he was looking for. Adam confessed that he never really believed Koji. However, the letter was not only proof that his mother was alive, but proof that everything his mother stood for still existed in a precious few like Koji.

That compliment, in turn, had changed Koji. Before he delivered Kari's letter, he was more concerned that he would single himself out in the eyes of his history teacher. Now, he understood how significant the letters were. They were more than the words of family members to estranged loved ones. They were, in essence, the spirits of the original digi-destined.

 

Mimi happily made the arrangements for the trip. In fact, she felt obligated to. While seven of the Chosen were unable to influence the decision to seal the Digital World, they still made a statement by refusing to give in to threat. It was something Mimi was unable to do. In the years spent thinking the seven were killed for standing up to authority, Mimi had little regret. She was sorry she caved in, but she had no guilt about remaining alive because of it.

Koji's story had changed everything. The seven defiant Chosen were no longer martyrs in a winless battle. According to Koji, they were still alive and living comfortably in the Digital World. Even though Mimi was sure they missed their families, the price they paid suddenly seemed so much more affordable. Staying alive was nothing to feel guilty about, but somehow her present situation was. It wasn't that she was unhappy with her life, but her friends had sacrificed the association with their families. Why shouldn't Mimi have done the same?

At least she had the ability to make up for it. By arranging the trip, she could at least pave Koji's quest to inform the families. She was spending more than a thousand dollars and countless hours on it. While it wasn't the same sacrifice the seven had made, at least Mimi could take comfort in making her own small contribution.

"I like this hotel. My parents always stayed there whenever we went to Japan," she told Michi and Koji, sifting through papers on the kitchen table.

"So where do they all live? This hotel's in Odaiba, so how far are they?" Michi asked, setting down a map of Tokyo with the hotel starred in blue pen.

"Well, that's a problem. It's been so long since I've talked to those four families that I don't know if they're living in the same place. Most of them were in Odaiba, I can tell you that much."

"You can't call or e-mail them?" Koji suggested.

Mimi shook her head. "That's asking for trouble. Asking for those four addresses is bound to be suspicious. But once you get there, there shouldn't be a problem finding them if you look them up yourself. The hotel comes with a free internet connection!"

"Great. I'll bring my laptop," Michi said.

"Mimi..." Mimi's eyes closed as she heard that voice in that tone. It was Michael. He didn't sound happy. "Can I talk to you for a moment?"

Without saying a word, she stood and joined her husband in the living room. She walked by him, brushing against his shoulder as she indignantly sat on the couch.

"The plane tickets and hotel room is reserved, so it's too late," she said, folding her arms.

Michael rubbed his eyes with his left hand. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Already well aware of his frustration, Mimi restrained the laughter that wanted to leave her mouth. She looked away quickly and frowned. Nothing was funny about Michael's stance on the issue. "Because you would have said no."

"Of course I would have said no!" Michael walked into Mimi's view and continued shouting, "How can you just ignore the risk you're putting on all of us, especially Michi?!"

"Well, how can you ignore everything that's going on just because you're afraid of a little risk?"

"There's a difference between taking chances and throwing yourself into a trap. I don't trust Koji. He might have sweet-talked Michi into believing him, but I'm surprised you're this gullible."

Mimi stood suddenly, forcing him back. She continued to walk toward him, prompting him to continue backpedaling. "You know I am feeling gullible. I'm gullible because I spent twelve years thinking that all of my friends were dead because they stood up for what they believed in."

"Why fight something that can't be won? They knew there would be consequences."

"But they didn't know what the consequences would be. How could they? Hell, until Koji got here, we didn't even know the consequences! But now that we do, those other families need to know the truth."

"What difference does it make?!" Michael continued to shout, and his tone forced Mimi to step back. "You're just causing them more grief by raising the issue again! Why go to all this trouble for a lost cause?"

"You didn't see the looks on Michi and Kori's faces when they found out. You should have seen me! Michael, they're alive. And it's a crime that nobody knows that."

"It doesn't change anything." Michael shook his head.

"It changes everything," Mimi replied, but softly. When she stepped forward, Michael didn't budge. Their faces were only four inches apart as she continued, "Because if I knew that refusing to hand in my digivice would mean spending the rest of my life in the Digital World... I would have stayed with them."

Michael didn't flinch for a moment. Rather, he continued to stare into Mimi's eyes. Despite his stone appearance, she could tell she got through to him. Years of marriage had given her a good indication of when he was about to break down.

She was still caught off guard when he violently shoved her back onto the couch. Mimi took a moment to regain her ability to breathe before looking back up at him. Michael hadn't moved any further. His face remained frozen in an icy stare.

"Hypocrite," he muttered, "Now that somebody tells you they're alive, you suddenly regret not going with them. You know there's more to life than being alive."

"You call me a hypocrite?" Mimi slowly rose to her feet. The accusation against her was already forgotten. Words did not pass through mirrors. "You, the head of a Digimon Advisory Board, opposing the movement to give Digimon the right to elect their own representative? You, who appointed yourself their representative after Tai died, and then voted to seal them away? And when the American Chosen were told to submit their digivice, you refused to give them a choice."

Michael still didn't react. He couldn't. Mimi knew he couldn't deny any of her charges. In fact, until she spat them back in his face, he was probably proud of them. Her point was already made. She had only one thing more to say to him:

"Fuck you."

She wanted to slap him, but she knew better. It wasn't his fault. He had merely succumbed to the pressures of a population. Most of mankind was biased towards mankind. The presence Digimon had in the real world was never about a mutual relationship- it was about humans ensuring a peaceful existence with dangerous creatures around. This perception was the problem. Michael was never the enemy. He merely shaped his opinions around his own kind. And after decades spent refereeing the Digital World and the political world, he never considered the needs and wants of the creatures he was supposed to be representing.

Mimi turned around and went back into the kitchen. She had won the argument. After more than twenty-five years, she had finally won the argument pitting her against her nation. Now she had a trip to plan.

 

The train sped into the outskirts of Tokyo as Michi and Koji held their breath. The outskirts were as crowded and frenzied as their homes in the middle of the urban wilderness. They were fortunate to find seats on the train, but the unlucky masses standing in the aisles were increasing the discomfort. Koji had Japanese roots- his desire to forget his past did not mean he could ignore his fifteen years in Japan. But he cut those roots when he left, and he had to admit his sudden re-entry into the city was leaving him stumped. Nevertheless, he and Michi were determined to successfully reach the hotel before sundown.

Getting off the train from Narita Airport wasn't the problem. They were able to figure out the best station to exit. It was transferring to the proper subway that was giving them grief. They refused to get lost the first day, and skipped several trains until they could be sure of the one that led them to Odaiba.

"I'm going to ask for help. We can't take chances," Michi concluded. Koji nodded slowly as he continued to pore over the giant city-wide map. He heard her sneakers take a few bold steps over the tiled floor, followed by a crash. Koji turned as soon as he heard her and her luggage hit the ground.

"Oh God, I'm sorry!" The boy who had run into her was bowing repeatedly. He appeared the same age as Michi. He was her height, with short bluish-gray hair. He seemed more shaken than Michi.

Michi laughed. She had landed on her rear, and her hands resting on the baggage had cushioned the fall. "It's alright."

She extended her hands out to the boy, who stopped bowing long enough to help her to her feet.

"Are you okay?" Koji asked Michi.

She didn't look up at Koji, choosing instead to focus on dusting off the rear of her blue jeans, "I'm fine," she said obligingly.

"Sorry, I wasn't watching where I was going. I thought I was going to miss my train..." the boy watched as a nearby train pulled away from the station, "It was the wrong one anyway. I need to catch the next one."

"Hey, do you know the best train to central Odaiba?" Koji asked.

The boy perked up immediately. He smiled as he walked past Koji to the map and quickly explained the proper route. It included two transfers and a short walk; Koji was glad he asked.

Michi smiled, slinging her second and final bag around her shoulder. "Thanks. What's your name?"

He smiled and extended a hand. "Chiaki. And it's no trouble. The subway system is really remarkable when you're familiar with it, but I can see how it gives foreigners a headache."

"You can tell we're from overseas?" Koji asked as he shook Chiaki's outstretched hand.

Chiaki nodded, never losing his smile. "It's pretty obvious. So where in America are you from?"

"New York," Koji replied, "My name's Koji, Koji Mathews."

Before he could introduce Michi, she took the liberty herself. "I'm Michi. Pretty good that you could pick us off as Americans. Both of my parents, and both of his parents were Japanese."

Chiaki hand fell to the back of the neck, and he bashfully replied, "Yeah, well I'm kinda interested in being a detective. I'm learning how to observe people and stuff."

"Well, you're doing well so far," Koji responded.

Koji looked over at Michi, but her face told him nothing about what she was thinking. Meanwhile, he was thinking of finding out how good a detective this Chiaki was.

"You're into detective work, huh? We're here visiting some friends, but we weren't able to get their addresses."

Michi frowned immediately. Koji could tell by the look in her eyes that she didn't approve of his question. But she quickly looked back at Chiaki and smiled.

"Yeah, it's a bit of a surprise. We tried looking online, but we couldn't find anything."

Chiaki raised his thin eyebrows. "Hey, I'd be happy to see if I can help you. There should be an internet terminal around. What are their names?"

Rather than answering out loud, Koji set one of his bags down and dug through it until he produced the names of the four children. He gave it to Chiaki.

The eroding smile on Chiaki's face made Koji nervous. Chiaki slowly said, "I recognize some of these last names. They're um..."

"Yeah," Michi blurted, preventing him from saying the C-word.

"Don't suppose you know where they live?" Koji asked, nervously.

Chiaki returned the list. "I don't. But I have a friend whose Dad was a, uh... you know."

He took a moment to think about something. Koji and Michi were still nervous, but now a little hope crept in.

"How about if I arranged a meeting between you three?" Chiaki concluded.

"With who?" Michi asked, the hope in her voice starting to conquer the hesitation.

"His name is Kensuke Motomiya. I used to work with him. If anybody knows where your friends live, he does."

"And you... can help us meet him?"

"I can try." Chiaki raised a finger. "I don't guarantee anything. I'll try to get a hold of him tonight. If nothing else, I'll see about getting the addresses of some of those names on your list."

"That's great!" Koji exclaimed. "What should we do?"

"How about I meet you for lunch tomorrow? You said you'd be in Odaiba? Let's say we'll meet at the C.G.Y. at eleven. Do you have C.G.Y. in New York?"

"Of course!" Michi replied. The noodle franchise was popular all over the world. New York was no exception.

"It's a date then." Chiaki smiled, and looked over at a station platform. "Well, you'd better get to your platform. You don't want to miss your train!"

Koji shook Chiaki's hand one more time. "Thank you, Chiaki. Good luck with talking to him."

"Yeah, like I said, I can't guarantee anything, but I'll do my best."

Leaving Chiaki behind, Koji and Michi wheeled their luggage to the platform. Michi sat down as they waited for the next train.

"Man, I hope he pulls through. That would be a great break," Koji said, watching Chiaki walk away in the distance.

Michi shook her head. "You know, you should be more careful who you show those names to. The fewer the better."

"Hey, we got somewhere, didn't we?"

"I don't know if that's good luck or bad luck. I mean, the first guy that bumps into me is supposedly friends with Kensuke Motomiya. I know, Chiaki seems harmless, but we don't know who we can trust here."

"It's not like he ran into you on purpose."

She grimly shook her head. "You don't know that for sure!"

Koji smiled and sat next to her. "Don't worry about it. There's no way somebody like Chiaki could be secretly plotting against us. We'll be fine."

"I'm not worried," she clarified, "I just think we should be a little discerning next time we ask for help."

"Hey, if Chiaki pulls through, we won't need to ask for help!"

Michi broke into a smile. "Look, if Chiaki is able to deliver Kensuke, then yeah, we don't have to worry. I just want you to realize that if it's a set-up or something... we have to be prepared."

"Fine, but I think all we need to worry about right now is Chiaki coming through for us," he stood as the train pulled into the station. Michi's concern was probably well-warranted, but Koji wasn't about to spend the trip in a needless paranoia. He trusted Chiaki as much as he needed to. In the meantime, he was more concerned about what to do with the eighteen hours until the lunch meeting.

Michi followed Koji into the train. "Well, it's the first day. We shouldn't take too many chances."

"I agree. How about some sightseeing after we check into the hotel?"

Michi smiled at Koji. "Just what I was thinking. Nothing else to do tonight anyway."

 

"Michi, Michi, Michi..." Chiaki smiled and shook his head at her skepticism. He was a little disappointed at her lack of faith in him, but was pleased for another reason- the bug was working effectively. All through their conversation, he was worried that it fell on her luggage instead of her blouse. Either way, it was picking up the discussion from the opposite train platform perfectly. Chiaki needed to remain close to it to pick up its signal on his small earpiece. But it wouldn't matter- wherever it was, it was bound to be discovered. Fortunately, it was small enough to pass off as a speck of dirt; Michi would flick it away just the same. The little gizmo had served its main purpose. As a future detective, he had to have the appropriate cool equipment.

He was distracted from his eavesdropping by the ring of his cell phone. Chiaki set the earpiece aside and answered it.

"Did you meet up with them?" the man on the other end asked.

"Yeah. Everything went perfectly. The bug works. Heck, the guy even asked me to find the addresses himself!" Chiaki replied confidently.

"Good job, Chiaki. So you set everything up the way we wanted?"

Chiaki grinned. "Sure did. They know Kensuke's a definite maybe. We can feed them as much or as little as we want."

"Did you find out what they're doing here?"

Immediately, Chiaki frowned. "You didn't tell me you wanted me to find that out."

On the other side of the conversation, the man quickly reassured Chiaki, "I didn't. I was just wondering if they spilled something accidentally."

"No. But after I left, they were talking about doing something. They're definitely here for a reason."

"Okay..." the man huffed, "We need to get them to show us their cards before we play. And before they find who they're looking for."

"So what do we do? Do we give them Kensuke?"

"Better- we'll get them to plead their case... to Davis."

Chiaki repeated the name, almost in awe. "D... Davis?"

"Let's see what he thinks. I have to go. Once again, great work."

The caller hung up, but Chiaki was too busy staring at the phone to notice. Suddenly Davis was involved. This was much bigger than he had originally thought.

 

Michi was pleasantly exhausted by the time she and Koji returned from their sightseeing trip. She kicked her shoes off as soon as she entered- more for comfort than any cultural necessity. While Koji sat down in a chair, Michi gathered her night clothes and went into the bathroom to change. Her uneasiness about Chiaki had been lost somewhere in Rainbow Town. On the giant Ferris wheel she was feeling a new high. She was enjoying herself here. Their task was important, but any worries about their secret mission were lost in the sights and sounds of Odaiba.

Koji was a big reason for this. Michi would have never wanted to go along if it weren't for Koji. Michi could see why her parents in the Digital World liked him so much. After everything she had been through, and with all the secrecy and deception in her world, seeing a genuinely nice person in the middle of it all made her feel welcome. She wasn't out to deceive anyone, but that didn't mean she couldn't be a factor in who discovers what.

After changing into a t-shirt and pajama bottoms, she opened the bathroom door and saw Koji lying on the bed. "Hey, I thought I called the bed before we left!" she shouted.

"No you didn't! But I'm calling it now! Okay?" He hopped off and grabbed his clothes, trotting into the bathroom.

Despite his "calling it," Michi laid down anyway. Koji had already rolled the futon out on the floor, but she had to stake her claim in the bed when Koji came back in. This was another fun part of the trip. Considering that they had only known each other for a couple weeks, they had already grown fairly comfortable with each other. It took a certain special combination of maturity and immaturity for a girl and a boy to have such an innocent argument about who slept where.

She could tell Koji expected her to be on the bed when he left the bathroom. She turned on her side, facing away from him. "What's wrong with the futon?" he asked.

"Nothing," she said with a mock pout, "It's just the principal of it. Don't you know the girl gets the bed?"

"I don't remember ever hearing that."

"Well, unless you're bold enough to pry me out..." She turned back to face him, just to make sure he wasn't going to take her up on the offer.

With a mischievous smile, Koji took a step forward. "We can always share!"

She could tell immediately he was joking. But something instinctive made her shirk back with a disapproving frown. As soon as she realized her reaction, her frown remained, but for a different reason. She really wasn't concerned, but Michi knew she was giving off the impression that she was. Now Koji was the one stepping back.

"Just kidding," he said, sounding more like an attempt to apologize than a frantic clarification.

Michi remained silent as Koji fell to his knees and began spreading a blanket over the futon on the floor. The balance permitting the argument of who got the bed was a distant memory. Michi silently watched him, scolding herself for making him feel uncomfortable. That simple reaction was bound to make things awkward indefinitely. Perhaps even the rest of the trip.

"At least he isn't blushing," she thought.

Then Koji started to snicker. He shook his head constantly as he went about making what was now definitely his futon. "It begins..." he said.

"What?" Michi said, totally confused.

"I suppose it's hard to avoid."  Still on his knees, Koji rotated until he was facing Michi. He was smiling again. "Tell you what, I won't fall in love with you if don't fall in love with me. Deal?"

Michi raised an eyebrow as her mouth crept into a smile. He also apparently wanted to restore the balance. Knowing that neither of the two would be able to survive the trip without a platonic relationship, she smiled. "Deal."

"Good. Since that's settled..." Koji rose and motioned to the bed again. "Now we can share the bed!"

It was in the exact same tone as last time, but after the ensuing discomfort, the suggestion now seemed so totally ridiculous that Michi burst out laughing.

"Don't even think about it!" she exclaimed.

Koji began laughing as well as he tucked himself into the futon. As her laughter faded out, she knew it was his intention. The balance was restored; the relationship was back on solid ground.

And yet, as Michi turned out the light, the relationship was still not where she wanted it. In mere weeks, Koji had already become an invaluable friend to her. Until he came along, she was satisfied having her brothers as her best friends. But one was more conservative, more cautious, and more emotional than her. The other was temperamental and a bully when Michi wasn't keeping him fenced in. Koji's naivety was fresh. And like her, he wasn't afraid to be bold once in awhile.

Several reasons were already preventing her from falling asleep. The next day could potentially decide the fate of their quest. Because of Koji, she was giving Chiaki a chance to either help them immensely or destroy their lives. With so much at stake, the last thing she needed was another reason to worry. But as Koji drifted off easily, the reality was right in front of her. Michi feared the possibility of not holding her end of the deal she had just made with him.

To Be Continued in "Stage Four- Home"

 

Author's Notes
In Level 1, it took a little while to realize exactly where the story was going. The key to any "mind fuck" is to have a genuine story about genuine characters at its roots. "Serial Experiments Lain," which this is heavily inspired by, is best-known for its confusing imagery and non-linear plot, but fans like it primarily because of its genuine story about a girl trying to discover her true place and purpose in the world. Here, the story gets going very quickly, and while I still remain a "cryptic bastard" (as one reviewer very accurately stated), the emotions of Mimi, Koji, and Michi are paramount to the chapter.

Under no circumstances should anyone even consider trying to make this work with the original Japanese situation. I made a deliberate decision at the very beginning to use strictly dub canon, which applies to the years and ages of the characters, the fact that Koji and Chiaki speak remarkable English for Japanese kids, and little references to specific dubbing errors early in the first season.

On that note, everything regarding any of seasons being a television show is integral to the plot. The discussion of Mimi's baby brother does have purpose, especially if you didn't catch the discussion of Matt's rock band in Level 1. Namely, it shows that the TV show is not 100% accurate. I won't use that to pull any fast ones on you, but the fact that inconsistencies do exist is important to recognize.

The problem with writing these big epics is that often, fascinating characters and fascinating situations can't get as much attention as I'd like. In particular, Tony didn't get much of a fair shake. Loyal to his father and the actual child of Mimi and Michael, Tony was often put on the other side of the fence as Michi and Kori. As Mimi sides with Michi, thereby opposing Michael, Tony becomes something of a tragic character, as his own mother betrays him in many ways. His relationship with Michi is also something deserving analysis, since they are not blood relatives.

This ends Level 2: Stage 3 of The Connection.