Level 2- Children
 
Mima
Hida- Age 20
Born to Cody and Junko Hida on September 3, 2019
Freelance Singer
Currently living in Odaiba, Tokyo with boyfriend Touji


Stage Five- Imposter

Koji woke the next morning with a beautiful girl in his arms. But that did not alarm him. He and Mari had rested on the bed the previous night, and apparently both drifted off to sleep. What alarmed him was the relentless sun, filling the entire hotel room with its morning light. It was not the alarm Koji had been hoping for. He sat up and looked across the room. As he had feared, Michi was nowhere in sight.

“Uh oh,” he whispered to himself, carefully rolling off of the bed so as not to wake Mari.

Once again, he had been counting on Michi’s interruption. The mere anticipation of her return prevented him from doing something regrettable with Mari. But Michi’s return also was his cue to escort Mari home. Now it was nine o’clock the next morning and Mari was waking up.

“Koji?” came the inevitable voice from the bed, “Did we fall asleep?”

“Yeah,” Koji replied, standing over the empty futon rolled out on the floor.

“Oh, how embarrassing.”

“Don’t worry. It’s not like we did anything stupid,” Koji said.

“That’s true.” Mari cast her eyes downward for a moment before looking up at Koji. “I take it Michi didn’t come back.”

“No. I’m starting to get worried,” he said. It was almost a lie; Koji was already very worried.

Mari swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat upright. “Maybe we should go look for her.”

“Yeah. But where the heck would she be?”

Mari stood and placed a calming hand on his shoulder. “Well, we’re not going to get anywhere sitting here and worrying about it.”

Koji smiled at her. She knew he was beyond baseless reassurances. She was instead helping him by saying something useful. These quiet gestures were beginning to convince him that his relationship with Mari was more than circumstantial: that he was genuinely and deeply attracted to everything she encompassed.

“Right,” he answered, and retrieved a change of clothes from the drawer. “First things first- I need to take a shower. That’ll give me time to figure out what to do.”

Mari nodded, and with a little smile, said, “Okay. I’ll just um… wait here.”

“All right.” Noticing Michi’s laptop on the desk, he smiled. “If you need something to do, there’s a laptop over there.”

Mari turned to the portable computer with interest. “Oh. Thank you.”

 

The focused rain on his face washed away some of Koji’s worry. Michi was capable of handling most situations. If something happened, he was confident in her ability to alert him. If she made a conscious decision to run off, he trusted that she would make a conscious decision to run back when she was ready.

Somewhere between rinse and repeat, he considered Michi’s other option- Yolei Ichijouji. If she wasn’t able to return to the hotel, Yolei was the safe harbor. Although Koji would have expected Michi to contact him if she had gone to Tamachi, she certainly wouldn’t have hesitated to use the resource if the need had arisen. There was no way of being sure, but it was definitely worth checking out.

With cleansed spirit and a new day’s wardrobe, Koji left the lavatory ready to announce his plans to Mari.

The computer was operating on the desk, displaying an e-mail on the screen. Mari, however, was slumped over on the bed, her hands trembling, her body shaking.

“What’s wrong?” Koji asked.

She gave no response at first, then whispered, “I’m Mari Izumi.”

He walked up to her, sat next to her, and held her carefully as she continued to shake. It was hard to be supportive when he didn’t know what the problem was. Guessing it had to do with the e-mail, he asked permission to read the message.

Emphatically, she replied, “Yes, but I *am* Mari Izumi.”

Koji approached the laptop. Whatever this was, they didn’t need it. They had enough problems as it was. He read the subject heading- “IMPOSTER.”

With a gulp, Koji’s eyes trailed through the rest of the message:

And so the charade ceaselessly continues, MARI. As months cede to years, the truth is obscured and MARI is apparent. You will be exposed one day. Perhaps I shall lift the mask eventually, but currently your ruse is mutually beneficial to me. MARI is alive and well; the world rejoices. Perhaps YOUR mother will choose to recognize you as the imposter you are. You can only pretend for a finite time. No matter how endearing you are to any of my colleagues, you are not Mari Izumi.

Your digital companion,

ALICE”

Koji stepped back. The message was eerily frightening to him as well. The tone was vague, absent of any details that could clue him in to the sender. He wanted to advance forth and delete the demon message, but he couldn’t. It was Mari’s beast, and the best he could do was comfort her as she fought its attack.

She could only ramble: “I am Mari Izumi, I am Mari Izumi, I am Mari Izumi...”

Koji remained silent as the message seeped into his own mind. He didn’t know what to believe. He had no reason to believe she wasn’t Mari Izumi, but no proof that she was. Not only that, but the name ALICE resonated somehow, holding some faraway significance in his life. Perhaps Alice was one of the many suppressed memories of Takato Matsuki. But for all of Takato’s memories that Koji tried to set aside, he could not ignore what he never remembered to begin with.

Haunting as the message was, Koji resolved to ignore the e-mail and move on to more important things. He had two messages of his own to deliver, and he was not going to let Alice’s cryptic text get in his way. He stood, and went to retrieve the letters.

“Mari,” he said, emphasizing her name, “I don’t know what that e-mail was about, but I have to get going. I have to get those last two letters out, and figure out where Michi is.”

In the ensuing silence, he pulled out the letters from TK and Joe. As he looked up each son’s address, Mari said, “Do you know where Michi is?”

He turned toward her. She had deleted the e-mail and was approaching him.

“There’s a chance she went to Yolei Ichijouji’s house in Tamachi. I’ll stop by after I deliver these letters.”

“Do you want me to help?” she asked suddenly.

Koji appreciated the offer, but wasn’t sure if enlisting Mari’s help was the safest, or smartest, option. “How?” he replied.

Mari folded her hands. Sounding slightly nervous, she explained, “Well, I want to talk to Shinya about that e-mail. I can deliver your letter at the same time.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea. They’d get suspicious if they saw you together.”

Mari shook her head. “No, we’ve met a couple times before. My mother’s friends with his mother. Nobody seems to mind.”

Koji sighed. “What was that e-mail about?”

“I don’t know. I was hoping Shinya could help me out with that. He seems to know more about all of this than I do.”

Despite the hesitancy, Koji agreed. It seemed unnecessarily risky to have Mari deliver the letter instead, but it was awfully convenient. Takuya Takaishi was attending university, and lived on the other side of the city. Going there, followed by a detour in Tamachi, would take all day. And the prospect of having the mission completed that day was too tempting to pass up.

He handed Mari the letter and gave her a kiss on the forehead. “Just be careful. We’ll meet back at your apartment tonight.”

Carefully pocketing TK’s letter, and Yolei and Takuya’s addresses, Koji and Mari left the hotel room.

Koji ran back inside a minute later to shut down Michi’s laptop.

 

When she woke up, Michi found herself alone on an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room. The window allowed just enough light to enter to let Michi find and turn on a nearby lamp. She was in somebody’s bedroom, but the bare walls did little to indicate whose it was.

The previous night was a blur. She could remember agonizing over her feelings for Koji, compounded by her inexperience and fear regarding such issues. Then she remembered Koji, and his guilty smile as he introduced her to Mari. He had been so casual about the whole thing. While Michi deliberated, Koji easily jumped in and won someone’s heart.

At that moment, her mental debate was settled. Mari had looked embarrassed and exasperated. She and Koji had been doing something up until Michi walked through the door. Michi could only imagine what it was. And every crude depiction she created told her the same thing- she wanted to be in Mari’s place. Michi wanted her heart to pound. She wanted to be excited and passionate and awake.

But Michi wanted to be with Koji. And just as Michi needed Mari to make her realize what she wanted, Mari also made her realize that he was gone.

From that moment of revelation, the rest of the night was a misty abstract. Through the fog, she could see Chiaki. For some reason, he was waiting for her outside the hotel. He must have guided Michi through the night. The only question was where. All that remained from the previous day were her clothes and the dried tears burning her face.

She cautiously stepped out of the room and eased down a staircase. The home was a pleasant compromise between large and efficient. As the thin lavender carpeting cushioned her toes, she trailed her fingers down bright, textured walls. On this particular wall were several framed pictures. She stopped at one- a man and a woman smiling behind three beaming children. *Their* children, Michi had no doubt. Their resemblance was unmistakable. The child standing on the left side of the picture was Chiaki.

Furthermore, Michi recognized Chiaki’s mother, who bore the same odd hair color as Chiaki. Michi had seen the woman in pictures before. In fact, if she wasn’t mistaken, her stepmother had that very same picture in her bedroom.

“Yolei?” Michi whispered.

“Oh, you’re up!” called a voice from the bottom of the stairs, startling Michi. Michi turned to its owner, the same woman from the picture- Yolei Ichijouji.

“I was about to wake you up,” Yolei continued, “How are you feeling?”

Michi didn’t respond. Instead she stared blankly at the woman, trying to figure out what Yolei wanted to know.

“You can talk about it later. Are you hungry? Thirsty?”

“I… I am a little thirsty,” she murmured.

Yolei smiled and led Michi to the kitchen, asking, “What do have a taste for? Juice? Tea?” Yolei opened the refrigerator. “Alcohol?” she added dryly.

“Water’s fine,” Michi replied, falling into the nearest chair.

As Yolei filled a glass of tap water, she said, “I still don’t know what Chiaki was doing in Odaiba last night. Did he tell you anything?”

Michi received the glass and took a few sips. “No,” she replied, adding, “I didn’t even know he was your son.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Yolei muttered as she sat across from Michi, “He doesn’t like to talk about himself. He’s guarded, you know? Takes me forever to figure out what he wants for his birthday. And he’d be the last person to admit his parents were you-know-whos.”

Again, Michi didn’t respond. She remained slumped in her chair, slowly sipping her water. Now it was Chiaki she was thinking about. Yolei raised a good point- why had he been in Odaiba helping them out? And after Michi had admitted her lineage, why didn’t Chiaki reciprocate and admit his? Either an immense circumspection prevented him from a simple “me too,” or he was deliberately hiding it for some unknown reason.

She glanced up at Yolei, who was watching Michi with a concerned frown. Yolei lowered her head and asked, "So what happened between you and Koji?" Looking back up, she quickly added, "That was his name, wasn't it?"

Michi dreaded hearing his name. At that moment, she wanted to ignore every feeling aroused in her because of him. "How do you know this is about him?" she replied coldly.

Yolei raised her eyebrows and smiled a little. "Isn't it always?"

Michi quickly turned her head. "I don't want to talk about it."

She let a sigh escape as her last memory of Koji began to replay itself. A round of tears was cued to follow, but she violently forced it back by slamming her eyelids shut and violently turning her head. She was determined not to lose it again. Silently she cursed Koji for leading her to this, and that brief burst of bitterness brought her attention back to Yolei.

"Alright, but whenever you're ready to talk about it, let me know. Whatever you're going through, I've probably been there before. When you get to my age, there's not much left to surprise you." For an instant, Yolei looked away as her face blinked melancholy.

It flashed back into sympathy just as quickly. "I'm not going to call Mimi... yet. And you know the situation better than I do, so I trust you'll get a hold of Koji when you're ready." Standing, she took Michi's empty glass and began washing it in the sink. "In the meantime, you're welcome to stay here as long as you need to. You can stay in my daughter’s old room."

Too busy with her demons to appreciate her host's graciousness, Michi mumbled back a "thank you."

"It's actually kind of nice having another girl in the house..."

Michi tuned Yolei out and stumbled way out of the kitchen, settling into a couch on the living room. She didn't want to listen to anybody at the moment. Yolei was kind enough, but like everybody else, seemed to have all the answers. Michi was sure she could explain her problem with Koji, whereupon Yolei would immediately drop the perfect solution like candy from a vending machine. The answer was probably obvious, automatic to everybody except Michi.

It was her own fault she was so new at this. She was new at everything. Koji had woken her up. She should have known it wasn't a dream. Her first sixteen years had been spent dormant- always elusive, never committal. With Kori and Tony flanking her, Michi did her thing with such an air of confidence that it was just that- air. Standing on top of the world was no place for someone about to be thrown into the middle of it.

In truth, she was completely unprepared for Koji. Her feelings for him fell somewhere in the realm between friendship and love. Naturally, she couldn't discern which way the scale leaned since she had felt little of either in her life. Kori and Tony were her primary companions- brothers, not friends. She preferred them immensely to her social group- most of whom were either self-absorbed and only interested in discussing themselves, or narrow-minded and completely fixated on one topic of limited interest to Michi. She would, on occasion, be asked out on dates, but she never found any serious interest in any of her suitors, and therefore had no reason to accept their invitations. Koji somehow weaved his way through all of that. She was interested in Koji: interested in being his friend, interested in being his love... but lacking the power to do either.

 

The train to Takuya's university was anything but fast. Each time it seemed to pick up speed, it would stop at another station. Koji listened intently for his stop, but felt like it would never come. Instead, the droll announcer focused his attentions on meaningless locations. Or at least they should have been meaningless. The farther Koji went the more familiar the names became. He was getting closer.

As the train pulled out of Yoyogi, Koji's ears were tuned in not for his destination, but rather his departure point:

"Shinjuku."

It was announced just as monotonously as the others, but the word seemed to carry more color this time. Koji hadn't planned for his train going through Shinjuku. Whether he liked it or not, Takato was heading home.

Not that Takato was planning to stop. Koji was in charge, and he had an important mission. He was not about to be sidetracked by his past. Despite what Shinjuku had given him, he had turned it around in New York. He was happier for having left. To Koji Mathews, Shinjuku should have been another meaningless station between him and his destination.

But what exactly had he left behind? Takato had abandoned so much when he left for the Digital World four years earlier. He had no idea how much his world had changed since he began his journey. Especially his friends. If Alice was a testament to what Takato could not remember, she also reminded Koji of what he couldn't forget. Jeri, Henry, Rika- the memories could never go away. Neither could his old friends. They still existed, moving on past Takato and blazing their own trails in life. Where were they? What were they doing? A thirsting curiosity overcame Koji.

But something held him back. Returning to Shinjuku was a big deal. If his friends were still around, how would they take it? What did they know about his disappearance? More importantly, what did they think of it? Takato couldn't return home without serious ramifications; Koji wasn't sure he wanted to face those. Koji wanted to not care about his old life. He wanted to move on to Takuya, deliver the letter, and find Michi. There was no time for stopping in Shinjuku, looking up his old friends, and showing his face again. Jeri, Henry, and Rika had probably dismissed any notion of seeing Takato ever again. And they wouldn't see him- he would be returning as Koji, eager to satisfy the questions from his past. Koji Mathews was beyond his past- he was facing his present and his future. What reason did Koji have to go backwards?

The train stopped at Shinjuku and opened its doors.

Takato Matsuki hastily stepped off.

 

Shinya Kido pulled Mari into the apartment and hurried her into his room.

“You need to give me a little more warning, Mari,” he said, carefully closing the door behind him. “Twenty-four hours at the very least.”

Mari sat down in an office chair. Shinya had always been overly cautious about who he met with, but she wanted to talk to him immediately. She reassured him that she had taken every precaution necessary in coming over- she didn’t use the direct route, making a side trip to a nearby department store in case someone wanted to know where she was going. Even when she and her mother visited the Kido family with purely innocent intentions, her mother still recommended a detour along the way.

After he was content, she gave him the letter right away. She wanted to get that out of the way quickly. That way, her mission from Koji was fulfilled, allowing her to discuss a more complex subject- her e-mail.

His eyes practically bulged through his glasses as he read the letter.

“I just got my letter, so that’s why I didn’t call. I wanted you to get this as soon as possible,” she said.

“You get right to the point, don’t you?” he murmured as his eyes trailed down the page.

“I hope this isn’t too much for you at once,” she replied, lapsing into silence as he finished reading.

Shinya fell back on his bed and held the letter above his head. His eyes focused on the words with a look of concern. After finishing, he exhaled once before saying, “Is the kid who was with them still around?”

“Yes. He’s going to see Takuya as we speak.”

“I hope nothing happens to him. This is important evidence.”

Mari narrowed her eyes at Shinya. “Don’t you understand what it means? Your father is alive.”

Shinya sat up and looked at her. “Ever since Uncle Jim died, I knew something was up. Something happened to Dad that nobody told us. I just didn’t guess that it was this,” he said grimly.

“Are you okay with this?”

Shinya took another look at the letter. “I guess so. This explains everything. What really happened to Dad, why it happened... he even says what happened to Jim. I suppose it’s good to have all the answers.”

Mari began to nod, but the part about Jim surprised her. “How does it explain what happened to Jim?”

Shinya read aloud, “A few years ago, Izzy and I got an e-mail through to your Uncle Jim. However, we never received a response. I hope he is alright, but given the circumstances, I fear the worst.”

Mari opened her mouth to respond, but nothing came out. Nothing had to. She and Shinya both knew what Joe’s letter meant. Before Jim could do anything with the e-mail, he had been silenced by the authorities.

Casting a mournful stare at the carpeted floor, Shinya recalled, “The day Jim died, somebody came in to check our computer. Specifically our e-mail program. They just deleted our entire inbox and left without explaining why. From that moment on, I knew something was going on... and that Jim got in the way of it.”

Mari was quite surprised by Shinya’s openness. She had met with him several times in the past, but this was the first time he had really discussed the incident with his uncle. For years, he had kept his opinions to himself, careful not to say anything incriminating. The letter, combined with his trust in her, was giving him the chance to speak his mind. She knew how freeing it was to release such secrets, but could only wonder how safe it really was for Shinya. He trusted her, but she didn’t trust herself.

For all she knew the e-mail was a twisted prank, but it was still upsetting. She wasn’t living the intricate lie the sender was implying; she was Mari Izumi by all accounts. But it was the lack of concrete proof that troubled her. She came into the Digital World with conflicting memories- dream-like images that never could have existed in real life. Fortunately, she found Izzy, who recognized her as his daughter, embraced her, and sent her home. She loved her father for doing so, but he failed to explain her past. She was scared because she didn’t know herself: she was only Mari because her father said so. She could trust him, obviously, but not knowing for sure made the e-mail all the more painful.

“Are you okay?” Shinya’s voice jolted her back into reality. Her neck jerked up toward his bespectacled face. “Looks like something’s on your mind.”

“Yes. There was something else I wanted to talk to you about. I got a very disturbing e-mail today.”

“Go on.”

“Basically, it said that I wasn’t really Mari Izumi and that I would be exposed as a fraud one day.”

Shinya calmly pushed his glasses up. “Well, are you really Mari Izumi?”

“Yes!” she shouted defensively.

“Then there’s nothing to worry about.”

“I mean…” Mari clasped her hands before continuing softly, “I am, but I don’t know for sure. My…” She caught herself about to mention her father, something she was still hesitant to reveal to Shinya. She switched to the other parent and said, “My mother says I am. Isn’t that enough?”

“I would hope so.” He looked down and began mouthing his next question. Mari gave him time to frame it properly.

“Do you remember anything from before you… disappeared?”

Mari could tell the last word was difficult for Shinya to say. Based on previous get-togethers, he knew it was something she didn’t like to bring up. Still preferring not to, she shook her head. “That’s the problem. I remember so little about my past that I don’t know who I really am.”

Shinya scratched his chin. “Let’s see… do you remember Motimon?”

Mari sighed. She knew this game. Shinya would blurt out names and places, and just like every other time she played it, she would not be able to remember. She earnestly tried to, but nothing ever came up.

“No,” she replied.

“Your elementary school?”

“No.”

“Your father?”

“No.”

“Um… the Digiworld research retreats?”

“No.”

“Me?” he asked with an awkward smile.

“No.”

“Any of the other Chosen or their kids?”

“No.”

“Henry?”

Something in the name made Mari break the pattern of negatives. Henry… somehow that name was familiar.

“Yes… I remember Henry…” she whispered, awed by her own revelation.

Shinya smiled brightly. “Yeah… you remember Henry. That’s not surprising. You and Henry were really close.” He leaned forward and patted her on the shoulder. “You have nothing to worry about. You are definitely Mari Izumi.”

She smiled back. It still hurt to not be completely aware of her identity, but Shinya’s reassurance did help. Besides, if Henry was such a significant part of her past, perhaps it would lead to other helpful memories.

Shinya stood. To him, the identity crisis was settled. “Yep, you and Henry were great friends. Uncle Jim used to call you the trio of tech tots. Just you, Henry, and Alice. And the rest of the world didn’t matter.”

 

Ken Ichijouji never used to fall asleep on the job. He was once very passionate about his work- especially after his career as an undercover police officer segued into detective work. He enjoyed the mind games he played with criminals as much as he enjoyed the board games he played with his sons.

This new job, however, was a different matter. He wasn’t sure what chain of events linked him to it. They could have, and should have, found somebody different. It wasn’t difficult, but keeping an eye on Michi and her companion hit a little close to home.

Ken’s eyelids began to sink lower and lower, until his brain issued another reminder to stay awake. At that point, his eyes snapped open and his head jumped perpendicular to his shoulders. That was the third time he caught himself napping that day.

Futility and incapacity were the main suspects. Chiaki had lost track of Michi and Koji the previous afternoon. He ended up taking Michi home, and had given up on Koji, so Ken had no recourse. Not that it mattered, since their conversation with Kensuke suggested purely innocent intentions, and Davis assured Ken that Michi and Koji were legitimate. After hearing that, Ken wanted to leave them alone and work on something else. If everything Chiaki said about Michi was right, the last thing she needed was government interference.

If any good did come out of the assignment, it was the experience Chiaki gained. Ken had given his son the opportunity, and Chiaki took advantage of it to the best of his ability. There was plenty of room for improvement, but Ken was proud that Chiaki could steer the course of events in the most opportune direction.

But now he just wanted to give it up. Unfortunately, he was stuck answering to Yasuo Akiyama, who insisted on following each suspicious circumstance through to the end. Yasuo's hand always seemed to be stirring things. His political career gave Ken nightmares- as the Japanese representative in the United Nations, Yasuo was one of the leading supporters of the Sealing. He had an innate tact; he always knew exactly what to say. Ken had once admired him as a worthy, honorable rival- until he met Yasuo in person.

Ken should have known Yasuo was far from honorable by the way Tai despised him. Tai always befriended everybody he worked with- ally or enemy. Some called it political strategy; Tai called it being a good sport. That was especially apparent with Tai and Michael- who were practically best friends even though they disagreed on almost every policy in existence. But Tai reserved a special disdain for Yasuo. It was only years later, after Ken began working for the man, that he understood Tai’s contempt.

Ken looked up from his workstation in time to see Yasuo approaching. His hair, a dazzling black a decade ago, had since turned gray, but he bore the mark of age well with his rigid cut, accented by thin, silver glasses. Through them, his eyes never darted, always concentrating on one thing in the room. Unfortunately for Ken, he was it.

“What’s the latest on the Ishida girl?” Yasuo asked, in his usual stark tone that made “I don’t know” an unacceptable response.

“We lost track of Ishida.” Reasoning that the following truth would render his lie irrelevant, Ken continued, “Something must have happened between her and Mathews. Chiaki saw her running out of the hotel last night. He says she looked pretty bad.”

“Hmm... a ruse perhaps?”

Ken shook his head at the notion. Yasuo was convinced Michi Ishida was up to something, and nothing seemed to shake him. “Have you ever considered the possibility that they really are here on spring break and have no ill intentions?”

“I won’t be satisfied until we know for sure.”

“Unless one of them slips up, we know as much as we’re going to. Chiaki, Kensuke, and Davis all say the same thing- they just want to visit some old friends.”

“Can we...”

Ken interrupted, “We can’t monitor those visits without them knowing we’re doing so. Those families aren’t stupid- they know you’ve been bugging them and have all cleared their homes of the equipment.” He was confident about that. Yasuo had tried listening in on their residences years ago, and all of the Chosen families had gone to great lengths to stop it. Even Ken’s wife insisted on frequently verifying the absence of any eavesdropping in their own house.

“You say Ishida disappeared? What about Mathews?”

“Koji?” Ken was thrown off by the question. He was always under the impression that Koji was insignificant, even if he and Michi were up to something. He was nothing more than Michi’s boyfriend, at least up until the prior evening.

“I haven’t bothered tracking Koji,” Ken answered. “He has almost no connection to any of this.”

“Why, have you checked?” Yasuo asked, with interest.

“Yes, I have.” Ken pulled up a folder on his computer. Inside was all the information Ken could scrounge up regarding Koji Mathews. His record was totally absent of anything incriminating.

As Yasuo looked through Koji’s records he said, “You say Koji has *almost* no connection. Is there any?”

Ken cracked a smile as he scrolled down to a section on Koji’s roommate. The lone tidbit was so minor, yet so ironic. It also proved how anal Yasuo was about the investigation.

“He shares an apartment in New York with Dwayne Williams.” Still smug, Ken turned to Yasuo. “Dwayne’s father was a volunteer helping the Tai Kamiya campaign in 2018.”

To emphasize its insignificance, Ken closed the window on Dwayne’s file. Yasuo stubbornly began opening other files in Koji’s folder as Ken sat back, reveling in Yasuo’s frustration. Yasuo had been looking for something for years. But there was nothing. Yasuo had won the battle against the Chosen long ago. Ken and the others had accepted that. There was no point to stir up any more trouble; yet Yasuo continued to look for it. The only enjoyment Ken received in this job was watching Yasuo’s endless search for something that wasn’t there.

Yasuo stopped his frantic search the moment a picture of Koji flew onto the screen. Ken looked at the picture, then up at Yasuo. Apparently they were seeing two different things. Ken saw a harmless kid. The only thing about Koji that warranted investigating was what Michi thought was so special about him. But Yasuo was backing away, his eyes unmoving, his nose flaring in angry turmoil.

“What?” Ken asked.

“Fuck...” Yasuo muttered, before furiously charging out of the room.

 

Takato’s unbound memories carried Koji to an apartment just west of downtown Shinjuku. The plate on the door read “Wong,” just as expected. It scared Koji to remember so much about his past. But his sudden urge to face it led him to ring the doorbell.

He closed his eyes, waiting for a response, but none came. He tried again. There was a realistic chance nobody was home, but the profound compulsion that drove Koji suggested an alignment of events laid out precisely for him. Koji was supposed to come here, he was supposed to ring the doorbell, and somebody was supposed to answer it- if not Henry, then Suzy or another of his siblings.

Nobody answered. After two minutes, Koji walked away, wondering if he could remember the way to Rika’s house. Before he got anywhere, he heard two pairs of footsteps noisily climbing the staircase across the hall. Koji paused as Henry and Suzy Wong ascended the stairs and strolled to their apartment.

Both were happily oblivious to Koji at first, chatting to themselves about meaningless topics. The two had grown taller, and each carried signs of maturity in their attentive eyes, but it was definitely them. Besides Henry’s wardrobe of a black jacket and matching pants, he looked pretty much the same to Koji. Suzy, however, had clearly evolved into a teenager. The ponytails were gone from her hair, and she was wearing a purple blouse and blue jeans- a far departure from her old pink tones.

Koji stood between the pair and their apartment, so they noticed him eventually. But they each chose a side and passed him, never bothering to look him in the face. “Excuse us,” Suzy said quickly.

As the two neared the apartment, Koji turned around. “Henry?” he said.

Finally, Henry turned to Koji. But that was all. Both waited for the other to respond. Impatient, Henry asked, “Yeah, I’m Henry. What do you want?”

Koji pointed to his face. “Henry... it’s me. I’m back.”

Henry blankly stared back. He looked down at Suzy, who shared his absent confusion.

“Takato?” Koji pleaded.

“Henry, do you know him?” Suzy asked, pointing at Koji.

“I don’t think so,” Henry replied, before returning his attention to Koji. “Am I supposed to know you?”

“Yeah! We were... we were...” Koji couldn’t put it into words. They were everything. That Henry wouldn’t remember him was unimaginable.

“We were what?” Henry asked, sourly.

“Tamers!” Koji shouted.

Neither reacted at his outburst, until Suzy finally asked Koji, “What’s a Tamer?”

“You know... Digimon?”

Henry rolled his eyes in disgust. Suzy continued to stare, not comprehending the idea. Still sour, Henry said, “Look... if you want to talk to my Dad, he’ll be home in a couple hours. Just don’t get me involved with that Digimon stuff. I grew out of that a long time ago.”

Koji silently watched as Henry unlocked the apartment door.

“Digimon? Like in history class?” Suzy asked Henry.

“Yeah. It was before you were born. They’re gone now.”

“Wait a minute!” Koji blurted suddenly, “Isn’t your dad dead?”

He regretted saying it, but the epiphany had come to him before he knew what to do with it. Still, Koji clearly remembered something about losing Henry’s father in a failed effort to retrieve everyone’s Digimon.

It took a second for the comment to register. But when it did, Henry turned to Koji. “How dare you say that?” he snarled through clenched teeth.

“Sorry... I guess he came back.”

“Of course he came back! He never should have left!”

“Henry...” Suzy pleaded weakly, tugging on his arm.

“Sue, go inside,” her brother ordered. She did so without hesitation.

Koji grew more nervous as Henry’s fury increased. Still, he was determined to get some answers. “What about Rika? Where’s she?”

“I don’t know anyone named Rika. Never did. So come on, who the hell are you?”

“Takato Matsuki!” Koji shouted.

Henry shook his head, controlling himself. “Whoever you are, just get out of here before we call the police. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Frankly, I don’t want to know. So leave Sue and I alone.”

Before Koji could get another word in, Henry was inside. The door slammed shut; the sound of the deadbolt lock kept Koji from pursuing the issue further. He slowly walked to the staircase and descended.

 

Koji briefly considered hunting down someone like Rika or Kazu, but gave up the thought, resigning himself to aimless wandering. Henry didn’t remember him. What chance was there that Rika or Kazu would?

The moment he saw Henry, he had been briefly reassured that his old world still existed somewhere. But Henry had never known Takato Matsuki. Had anyone ever known Takato Matsuki? Did Takato ever really exist?

“Exist.”

Izzy’s advice when Koji left the Digital World still resounded. Koji was doing his best to follow through, but never really considered the meaning of the word. He certainly thought he had existed once as Takato. He thought he and his Digimon had saved the world once. Perhaps that was all a figment of his imagination.

Without realizing it, his legs had taken him to a park amid the shadow of skyscrapers. Any efforts to suppress his memories had failed; Koji recalled the place vividly. Was it from some extended dream? Even if it became a nightmare in the end, Koji wanted it to be real. Takato still had so many positive memories; Koji wanted them to be authentic. His parents had died tragically, but Koji wanted to know he once had them. His childhood crush had discarded him, but Koji wanted to know he had once loved and lost. His Digimon companion had left him, but Koji wanted to know Guilmon was real.

“Guilmon...”

Koji knew exactly where in the park his partner’s house was. The shed was slightly off the path, but it was still there, as radiant as ever. This was where it all started. Where Guilmon passed the time between Takato’s visits, and where Takato ultimately fled to in desperation.

Koji eagerly ran up to it, but the gate was chained and locked.

Slightly disappointed, but undaunted, Koji peered inside, hoping for any sign that his best friend had been there years ago. But nothing surfaced. The interior was bare. Not even the hole that opened the portal to the Digital World was there. Koji threw his hands on the bars and shook them. Nothing happened.

Koji fell to his knees. His past was completely gone. Was it ever there to begin with?

He turned around, sitting with his back against the bars. He could see a nearby playground, where children idly played with their human friends. Koji could merely sit and wonder if his childhood was real or imaginary.

He didn’t feel like getting up. At the moment, the present didn’t exist either. He had no letter from TK Takaishi. He had no responsibility to look for Michi. His existence was composing of nothing but staring at the lives on the playground.

Suddenly, Koji’s view was obstructed. He looked up and saw a tall man with short, blond hair. He was staring directly at Koji, in a quiet, perplexed manner. Koji recognized him, but struggled to come up with a name.

The man came up with a name first. “Takato?”

Koji stood, instantly elated. He had been dying to hear it since he first stepped off the train.

“Yes. Yes!” he shouted, taking a step toward the man. “I remember you! You’re... you’re...”

“Yamaki,” the man answered, “Mitsuo Yamaki.” After a sigh, he continued, “Are you really Takato Matsuki?”

“Yes. I’m Takato Matsuki.”

Before he could ask Yamaki anything about what happened, the man placed a hand on Koji’s shoulder. But it wasn’t reassuring. Yamaki clenched Koji’s jacket, pinching the boy’s skin.

“I was afraid of that.”

Yamaki forced Koji away from the shed. Koji immediately sensed that something was wrong, and tried to wrestle free from Yamaki’s grip. He eventually succeeded and started running.

“It’s no use Takato,” he heard Yamaki call, “You can’t run from the world!”

Koji only put forty yards behind himself and Yamaki before a car drove along the path, trying to block his escape. Koji ran off the path as two men jumped out of the car, dressed in black suits. Before he could get anywhere, they had chased him down and were dragging him to the car. He tried to fight their grasp, but they responded by lifting him higher, until his feet were off the ground. The men threw Koji into the car; his head collided hard with the opposite door. In his fading consciousness, he saw Yamaki join him in the back seat. Yamaki pulled out a phone.

“Yasuo?” Yamaki turned to Koji as the boy blacked out, “We got him.”

To Be Continued in “Stage Six- Control”

 

Author’s Notes
Since I started planning this out (yes, everything is planned out, and I do know exactly what’s going on), I was really looking forward to the last stage and this one. This is one of the most disturbing stages, since Koji is faced with the most disturbing images. For most of Level 2, most of the weirdness is artificial- the story is actually very understandable, it’s just the mood of it all that creates confusion (a stark contrast to Level 1, where there were clearly some strange forces at work, even though the mood was much brighter). Not with this stage- Alice’s e-mail and the concluding scenes were just plain bizarre. The good news is that Koji is about to get the explanation of a lifetime- whether he can handle it or not.

It seems like I’m constantly adding things to the story, but it’s absolutely necessary for purposes of these all-encompassing epics. Since seven of the Chosen were heavily featured in Level 1, the others have to get due representation. And that means focusing on Yolei and Ken. Some of the undertones in the conversation with Michi tell you a lot about Yolei’s situation. And there’s certainly a lot of questions to be raised from Ken working with Yasuo. While we’re on the subject of all-encompassing, note Yasuo’s last name- Akiyama. You know I can’t leave Ryo out of this.

A few important reminders from Level 1- stage four covered the loss of Janyuu, while Izzy discussed Mari and Henry’s friendship in the final two stages.

In case you lost count, Henry and Suzy have aged six years from the time Tamers took place, making Henry about 19 and Suzy about 13. Henry calling his sister “Sue” merely suggests Suzy’s attempt at maturity; she wants a more grown-up name.

This ends Level 2: Stage 5 of The Connection.