Level 3: Experiments

Stage Three- Return

The sudden sensation of his palms on his legs assured Takato that the trip was over. He didn't feel like he was composed of anything different, but he had no doubt that he would see a different world when he opened his eyes.

Instead, he saw nothing.

What's going on? Where are we?” he heard Jeri say. Although it certainly felt like a safe trip, the unforgiving darkness was creating some doubt.

Takato reached up to his face. His right hand felt an ear and a cheek; his ear and cheek felt a hand. Before Takato could be relieved that his mind and body were still one, a few scattered florescent lamps clicked on in random corners of the room. In the dim light that was suddenly provided, Takato made out computer monitors, expansive consoles and radar systems. This was the Hypnos command center in his world.

About time the motion detectors kicked in. Now where's the light switch?” Riley asked, glancing around her old workplace.

Just as she took a step towards a nearby switch, more lights flashed on to fully illuminate the room.

That works,” Takato said.

Hello?” They heard a young man shout from one corner. He was standing near the entrance, next to a light switch. As he approached, Takato did not immediately recognize him. But his wild brown hair and awkward smile were very familiar. As he approached them, Riley stepped forward to meet him.

Did you think I was going to forget about you?” she asked.

His smile broadened as he replied, “No.” Riley drew her arms around him and he closed his eyes, his arms rested on her shoulders. “I wasn't worried. I knew you'd find a way in here.”

They separated. His smile remained as he added, “I was worried you'd try to figure out a way to save this place.”

Riley turned to Takato and Jeri. “This is my son, Terry. He's been living in here for the last few years.”

Terry laughed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Oh, uh... we've met.”

Oh.” Riley frowned momentarily before walking over to one of the massive consoles in the room. “Why don't you get reacquainted? I need to check some diagnostics and tell Tally we made it.”

Takato's limited memory of Terry returned instantly. His innocuous exterior had been the final dagger, wooing Jeri away when Takato had needed her the most. And worse yet, according to Jeri, Terry had broken up with her soon after Takato had left.

I see you found him,” Terry said to Jeri, that wistful smile still on his face.

No. He found me,” she mumbled.

Terry laughed. “Either way, right?”

Jeri turned to Takato, who cracked a faint smile. She looked away in disgust.

What's wrong?” Terry asked, as his smile left his face.

Nothing,” Jeri replied, facing away from both of them, “Thank you.”

Takato folded his arms. “So you're involved with this too?”

Nope!” Terry's smile somehow returned. “But I was the only one that stayed behind after Hypnos packed up. So I ended up being a messenger in case Mom needed something done here. I helped clue Henry in to where you were. Right now I think you guys are crazy for trying to save this world but I'll play along.” He chuckled, “Make my father proud and all that.”

You're really Tai's son?” Takato asked in disbelief. Terry certainly didn't act like it.

And that's all I am,” Terry replied, suddenly serious, “And that's all I care to be. This whole 'save the world' business isn't my kind of thing.”

So why don't you leave?”

Takato, I have no hero aspirations... but I'm not someone who runs away from my problems.”

Takato couldn't tell if Terry meant that as an insult. It sure sounded like it, but Takato knew so little about this person, and he didn't want Terry to change his mind and walk away. Anybody who was willing to help was priceless.

Terry chuckled to himself. Before Takato could ask why, Terry extended a hand. “I guess for the time being, I look forward to pretending to get along with you.”

Takato shook the hand, a little sullen. “Thank you,” he mumbled.

Terry!” Riley called, not looking up from the monitors in front of her, “Were you able to get a hold of anyone?”

Terry joined his mother. “Yeah. They're on their way.”

Any trouble finding them?”

No. They were a little surprised to hear from me, but that's all.”

Riley nodded and sat down at one of the terminals, leaning back in her chair as she started entering commands into the computer. She yawned, but she continued typing with no other change in expression.

Takato approached Riley. Whatever she was doing, she was being very casual about it. He wanted to know what made her relax all of a sudden. Furthermore, he wanted to see what made her so confident in her plan.

Hey, Mom?” Terry asked, checking out some of the advanced equipment in the room, “Is it safe to stay here? I don't know if you had a look outside, but that thing's getting a bit bulky.”

It's surrounding this building. We have eighteen hours to take care of everything we need to here and set up another base.”

Plenty of time, I hope?”

Should be. Has the first transfer been realized?”

Yep.” Terry walked back to Riley and Takato. “Want me to pull him out now?”

No.” Riley glanced at Takato, but turned away before he could ask anything about what was going on, “I only want to explain this once. Wait until Henry and the others get here.”


After fifteen minutes of watching Riley work the helm of Hypnos, Takato still had no idea what she was doing. His questions were always met with “I'll explain later.” Nobody else was anywhere near as anxious: Terry and Jeri were seated in a corner of the room, apparently having a good conversation. Takato couldn't hear what they were saying, but Jeri was talking and nodding in response to his questions. For a moment, Takato thought he saw her smile.

Terry's cell phone interrupted the conversation. As he answered it, he walked out the door, laughing.

With him gone, Takato walked up to Jeri. “What were you two talking about?”

He just wanted to know if I was going to be okay.” Jeri had no expression on her face as she stared at the door.

Will you?”

Do I have a choice?”

Before Takato could prod any further, Terry stepped back into the room. “We're all waiting for you,” he said to somebody in the hall.

Henry followed him inside. Rika and Kazu were right behind him.

Takato's first instinct was to run up to them, embrace them and tell them how happy he was to see them again. But something about the looks on their faces prevented him from moving. Given the situation, he didn't blame them for not smiling, but Henry and Rika's faces showed pain extending beyond D-Reaper. Rika's eyes were as cold as when Takato had first met her. Her hair was cut even shorter than he remembered, and for some reason she was wearing a dress- an immediate red flag.

Henry's appearance shocked Takato even more. Takato was looking forward to seeing his Henry, the one that cared about Digimon and would be eager to help. But the Henry staring back at Takato had the same demeanor as his apathetic real-world counterpart. With the exception of this Henry's red jacket, they were even wearing the same clothes.

All three were looking back at Takato, but none of them knew how to react. Still next to Takato, Jeri was also motionless. Finally, Rika approached him.

Takato... is it really you?”

Rika...” he whispered, then raised his voice as he added, “Yeah. It's me.”

She still was not smiling; her eyes were still cold. “Ever since you left, ever since you gave up on all of this, I had always told myself that if I ever saw you again, the first thing I would do was punch you in the face.”

Takato took a step back but she lunged forward, throwing her arms around his neck and pulling him in. As her chin fell on his shoulder, she whispered, "I'm such a liar."

He smiled slightly, patting her back. Perhaps she hadn't changed as much as he had thought.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you," he said.

"No..." she pulled away, keeping her hands on his shoulders, "If you had told us, I would have gone with you."

Henry stepped forward, a little smile appearing as he shook his head. "So I guess Riley got you two back here?"

Rika scowled at him for a moment, while Takato stared back blankly. Henry was technically correct, but there was so much more to it that affirming would have been a half-truth.

"I guess you could say that," he conceded.

Henry nodded. "Well it's good to see you. You too, Jeri."

Out of nowhere, Kazu laughed. Henry and Rika watched him walk up to Takato and playfully punch him in the shoulder. "Well, it's good to see you again old buddy. Guess you're here to kick some D-Reaper butt, huh?"

Takato frowned. Kazu was still energetic and apparently ridiculously optimistic as well. Takato didn't have an answer for him. He knew Riley had some sort of plan, but she had not let anybody else in on it.

"So where is he?" Kazu asked, looking over Takato's shoulder.

Takato turned around, trying to figure out what his friend was looking for. "Who?"

"Guilmon. Aren't you going to pull him out and go save the day?"

Takato faced Kazu again, but couldn't make eye contact. He didn't want to kill Kazu's hopes. He also didn't want to bear the bad news so soon. He didn't want to accept the truth himself, but too many had confirmed that Guilmon was gone for it to be a lie. Takato knew that would become harder to bear now that he was back in his world. He was thrust back into familiarity, but the most important part of his past wouldn't be there.

With a low voice, he finally replied, "Guilmon's... not coming." It hurt just to say it.

Takato gathered the courage to look up at Kazu. His smile had vanished. He was just confused now.

"I don't know who Guilmon is but I know I'll try to help out." A new voice from across the room startled all of them.

Standing next to Terry was a Digimon. A yellowish-orange dinosaur creature. Takato recognized it immediately-

"An Agumon?" Henry beat Takato to it. "What's an Agumon doing here?"

"Riley says you guys need some help," Agumon replied.

Henry and Kazu ran up to him and Terry. "Terry, are you his... Tamer?" Henry asked.

Terry laughed. "Oh God no!"

Stepping between Henry and Kazu, Rika glared at Terry. "Then what are you doing here? You had said you weren't involved with this."

"He's my son," Riley said. Three confused faces turned to Riley, who remained stoic. "Agumon was his father's Digimon."

"You don't look..."

"I'm not as young as you think."

Kazu faced Terry again. "You told us you weren't into Digimon."

"I'm not," he replied, cracking a smile, "But my parents are crazy about it."

Well, it's good enough for me!” Kazu grinned and patted Agumon on the head, “Not quite divine intervention, but whatever works.”

Don't worry, Kazu. If we pull this off, God'll get plenty of credit,” Riley replied.

Terry let Agumon occupy himself with Kazu and walked up to his mother. “Did you talk to any of them yet?”

Yeah, I got through to Izzy. He said he'll talk to Matt, so we should have a confirmation from them soon.”

Henry turned to Riley, narrowing his eyes. “Wait a minute... did you say Izzy and Matt? From the TV show?”

Oh yeah... the anime. I forgot about that,” she replied in a bitter tone, “Yes- Izzy and Matt.”

Are you telling us that the cartoon is real? Like in some other world or something?”

Riley looked at Takato, who folded his arms and continued to stare back. He wanted to see how she was going to explain this.

Turning back to the unenlightened Tamers, her answer was brief: “Short answer- yes.”

Kazu pointed to Agumon. “Does that mean that this Agumon is... you know, the Agumon?”

Yes,” Riley replied, turning back to her computer.

You said he was Terry's dad's.”

Yes.”

But Terry told us his dad was dead.”

Yes,” Terry replied, a little annoyed.

Kazu looked at him, then at Agumon. Agumon bowed his head.

That's kind of a downer,” Kazu added, suddenly solemn.

Terry shook his head. “You guys don't seem to have much trouble believing this.”

After everything we've been through, believing the kids in the cartoon are real isn't much of a stretch,” Henry replied.

Rika approached Riley, not about to let the interrogation end. “But you were here the first time. And we've known Terry for years. If you're from some other world, what have you been doing here all this time?”

Riley didn't look up from her work. “I don't want to go into details. I'm just trying to help.”

Takato wasn't sure if he agreed with Riley's refusal to explain the situation. He definitely understood why she didn't want them to hear the truth, but he was growing tired of the secrets that seemingly everybody in the other world was keeping.

Henry was apparently growing tired of them too, because he gave up on Riley and went straight to Takato. “Did you know about all this?” he asked.

Yes. Jeri and I ended up in their world. We found out everything.” Takato wasn't going to do the same. He wasn't sure if his friends would be better for knowing, but withholding information or lying to them were out of the question.

Henry silently scrutinized Takato's statement for a few moments. He glanced at Riley momentarily, then turned back. “So who else is from the other world? Or is it just Riley?”

Riley was oblivious to the conversation, resigned to her work again. Now Takato was stuck with the answers. He took a deep breath and gave the honest answer: “Everybody.”

Henry's mouth fell open. “Everybody? Like Yamaki?”

Yeah.”

Tally?”

Yeah.” Takato looked down.

What about everyone else?” Rika chimed in, “What about that girl with the Dobermon?”

Takato let out a little chuckle. “Yeah, turns out she's Izzy's daughter.”

Ryo?” Henry asked.

Him too.”

Rika brought it home. “What about the Monster Makers?”

Yes.”

Takato waited for Henry's next question. He knew what it would be. The seconds of silence meant nothing. Takato felt a hand on his chin gently forcing him to make eye contact with Henry. He dreaded the answer before he even asked the question.

What about my father?”

Takato shook his head. It had to come out.

He didn't go to the Digital World. He went home.”

Henry's hand fell to his side. He looked completely drained, his entire life just thrown into uncertainty. Before Takato could attempt to say anything reassuring, Rika marched towards Riley, slamming her laptop shut.

What's going on? You guys bored in your world so you felt like messing around in ours?”

Riley frowned at Rika. “You really want to know? Because it's not about who we really are. It's about who you really are. And you may be better off not knowing the truth. Takato, what do you think?”

Maybe,” Takato replied, “But they need to know. It's the only way they can understand what's going on. And why you're here helping us.”

Rubbing her eyes, Riley sighed heavily. “I guess so. Do you want to explain it or should I?”

As Henry still reeled from the first shocks of the evening, Takato wondered how many more surprises the guy could take. But he still had to know.

Riley, you can do the honors.”


I don't know what I can do for her. She doesn't seem to want to talk about it, so I don't really know all the details.” Michi could hear Yolei from the stairs. From the tone of the conversation, Michi guessed that Yolei was talking to someone, probably Mimi, on the phone.

Well, that's what I thought at first. But this is more than just a routine broken heart. Something is really wrong.” If it was Mimi, Michi wished she could hear the other end of the conversation. It was bad enough that her life had reached a dead end, but the added challenge of distancing herself from Koji's mission strained her further. Perhaps if she knew how Mimi was denying everything, it would subdue one of her problems.

I wouldn't know. I haven't heard anything about him other than what Ken told me.”

Ken had confirmed Koji's capture with Michi and Yolei. Michi had stayed silent, merely nodding when Ken tried to verify that she had no part in his plotting. She had felt a little guilty about denying responsibility in this whole mess, but she had her own problems to sort out and a bunch of letters from the past had less relevance now that Michi was staring into a blank future.

You didn't know anything about that... did you?” It sounded like Yolei was sniffing out Mimi's involvement. Michi could only wonder what would happen if Mimi confessed. She didn't have to wonder long as Yolei sounded much calmer, saying, “Good. I was about to say- if you're going to start something, please inform the rest of us.”

Michi entered the kitchen. “I know. I wish I knew what he was up to. What if he was doing something good? I mean, Michi obviously liked him.” Yolei turned around and saw Michi staring back. “Oh, here she is.”

As Michi stepped forward, Yolei handed her the phone. “Do you want to talk to Mimi?”

Michi wordlessly took the phone and put it to her ear. Instantly, she felt a little better hearing a familiar voice on the other end. “Hello? Michi?”

Yeah,” she replied, looking up as Yolei left the room.

Are you okay? Yolei told me what happened to Koji.”

That's not the problem.”

What else is wrong?”

I... don't know.” She wanted to ramble on about something, but she couldn't find anywhere to start. She couldn't define the problem herself; framing it into a meaningful conversation was pointless.

We can talk about it when you get back. I don't know when that will be, but just trust Yolei and Ken. They'll take care of you.”

Finally, she grasped a concept and let it out. “I just feel like I'm going nowhere.”

It's okay. You're just kinda stuck right now. We'll get you out of it. You'll be back here and back to real life in no time.”

As good as it felt to hear Mimi again, it still didn't feel right. She didn't have anything when she left. What was she going back to?

Did you get to meet any of the other children?”

Michi sighed and answered “Mima and Mari.” The two that had triggered this mess.

That's good. Like I said, we'll talk about it when you get back,” Mimi said, falling into her upbeat, cheery voice. It almost seemed repulsive to Michi. Everybody else was just breezing through this; another routine crisis in the life of a former Chosen.

Michi continued to listen to Mimi's words of support, but they were too general to do any good. Mimi's last attempt at assurance was “Everybody goes through something like this. You're just facing it a little later than we did. We're all here to help, but you'll have to fight through this. And I know you can do it.”

That was the clincher for Michi. Because whatever she was going through was her battle. And despite the people that supported her, it was clear that she was alone.


Riley made little eye contact with anyone as she revealed the truth to Henry and his friends. She tried not to delve into any of the details, and Henry didn't want her to. It was bad enough finding out that everybody, including his father, had been lying about everything. Now he was finding out why they did- and it hurt even more.

His whole world was a science experiment- and a failed one at that. One that had warranted pulling the plug and abandoning. It confirmed feelings that Henry and Rika shared: their purpose in life had been met and there was nothing further. Now he understood. It was supposed to end with D-Reaper, but outside interference kept them alive.

Why'd you help us to begin with?” Rika's question to Riley echoed Henry's thoughts.

Riley looked Rika in the eye and firmly replied, “This world means so much to me. To all of us. We didn't want to see it destroyed.”

Henry wondered if Riley really cared about the creatures of the world, or if she and her allies had wanted to preserve the world only as a sentimental keepsake. They had not consulted him and the other Tamers first, nor had they bothered to consider what would happen after they had left.

Now that D-Reaper has returned, several of us want to help you stop it a second time. And thanks to the breakthroughs of Rob, Janyuu and I, saving your world is a very real possibility,” Riley concluded.

First thing's first,” Kazu said as he stood from his chair and smiled, “Thanks! We appreciate the help!”

Henry wasn't as easily pleased. "Hold on," he said, drawing an odd look from Kazu, "After all this time, why is it back? This Yasuo guy you mentioned... he just leaves us alone for four years, then decides to try again?"

"It's because of Takato and me, isn't it?" Henry nearly jumped out of his seat when he heard the girl sitting to his right respond. It was the first thing Jeri had said. Her downcast demeanor made Henry want to be concerned, but there was too much going on between Takato and Riley. Of course, Jeri's sudden outburst did raise a big question- how was she involved with all this?

"Unfortunately, yes," Riley replied, "When Yasuo found out that Takato had reached the real world, he perceived it as a threat. Under our agreement, the only reason D-Reaper could have been re-initialized was if your world posed a threat to ours."

Rika sneered. "That's a lame excuse. How's Takato a threat to your world?"

"Maybe he's not. But remember that as this was an experiment, the researchers gave Takato certain traits that they felt would make an ideal Tamer. Try to imagine the possibilities if someone with bad intentions did the same thing, and that creation was brought to the real world."

"Still a lame excuse."

Riley cracked a half-smile. "I never said it wasn't."

"Point is- this is my fault," Takato said, “That's why I'm back. Whether we can stop this or not, I'm not going to let you suffer alone for something I've done.”

But we can stop this, right?” Kazu interjected, boisterous, “You guys have Agumon and some sort of secret plan that's going to save the day... don't you?”

Riley stared at her computer for a few moments, then hit a key. “Time to find out.”

The digital gate in the corner of the room, once used to create the impression that Janyuu had entered the Digital World, was now apparently serving a genuine purpose. Beams of light flew between its two ends, consuming so much electricity the ceiling lights started to flicker. After about ten seconds, the doorway was completely engulfed in light. A silhouette of a man began to materialize. As the image became sharper, a hand emerged from the light. Then an arm. Then the entire body stepped out of the portal and began to look around.

He looked like he was in his early forties, and his cool smile and casual outfit suggested that he was a friend. Henry found something familiar about the man's face, even though he knew nobody who came close to matching the stranger's physical description.

So this is Takato's world,” the man said, taking in the room, “If I hadn't known ahead of time I would have assumed it was real.”

Izzy!” Takato shouted, running up to him.

Takato, you made it back! Prodigious!” Izzy's reply removed all doubt about who he was. He greeted Takato like an old friend, exchanging bows before patting him on the shoulder.

You knew about this world?”

Izzy nodded. “I figured parts of it out. Riley filled me in on the rest. Speaking of which...”

Riley turned away from her computer in time to see Izzy approach and ask, “RKngel, I take it?” She smiled and nodded. “I just have one question.”

She answered, “If he had arrived in Shinjuku, Yasuo would have discovered him immediately and this all would have happened two years ago. Instead I hacked in and sent Takato to New York to keep an eye on him.”

Izzy smiled broadly. “I love you.”

You think that's impressive? Wait until you hear what Aya pulled off.”

Aya's involved with this?”

So's Tally.”

Izzy raised an eyebrow. “Tally? Now that surprises me.”

As Riley went back to work, Izzy noticed Henry and Jeri. Jeri took a step forward, but hesitated after seeing his frown. He glanced around nervously, trying to say something but not quite finding the right way to start.

D... Da...” Jeri began. She trailed off as he shook his head.

I'm sorry, Jeri,” he said with a sigh, “Ever since I was in there I had always believed that if anybody could break through to help us it would be Mari. When you showed up, I just... wanted you to be Mari so much that you were.”

Jeri drooped her head. “Same here.”

Izzy nodded, then turned to Henry. Slightly more upbeat, he said, “It's nice to see you again, Henry. Especially here.”

What do you mean?” Henry narrowed his eyes at the stranger.

Never mind,” Izzy replied, patting Henry's shoulder. “You probably don't remember me. It was a very long time ago.”

After Izzy introduced himself to Rika and Kazu, he shook hands with Terry. Rika immediately faced Henry and Jeri. “You two know Izzy?”

No, I don't,” Henry replied, a little disturbed by the idea that he knew a character from the cartoon.

Rika turned back to Izzy, who was already getting chatty with Terry.

He's weird,” she muttered.

A new voice came from the gate. “So Riley, when did you get involved with all this tech stuff?” He was about the same age as Izzy, with blond hair. Henry guessed it was Matt.

It's a hobby,” Riley replied, hiding a smile behind her laptop, “Guess I've gotten a bit more involved with it over the years.”

Matt walked up to her and rested an elbow on the console. “So what exactly is going on? Izzy says it's something about saving Takato's world, but wasn't too clear on the details. And why's Agumon here?”

I'll explain later.”

Right... better beam up my wife next,” Matt said with a sly smile as he approached Takato.

Kazu leaned in and whispered to Henry, “That must be Matt. Didn't he marry Sora?”

I don't remember,” Henry replied, folding his arms.

Indeed, Sora was next. After taking in the room, she immediately joined her husband and Takato, paying no regard to Riley.

Takato!” she said as she embraced Takato, both with broad smiles. “So what have you been up to?”

Well, it's been interesting. Let's just leave it at that.” Takato's smile began to fade as he released himself from Sora's grasp.

Sora nodded. “I understand. I don't suppose you had the chance to deliver those letters, did you?”

His smile returned immediately. “Actually, they were all sent. I even met Michi and Kori.”

Sora's face also lit up again. “That's great!”

Michi even helped me deliver a few of them. I like her.”

Really?” She leaned in, raising an eyebrow.

Takato threw his hands up in defense. “Not like that.”

That's what they all say,” Matt added.

So what exactly is going on here?” Sora said to Matt.

From what Izzy's telling me, Takato's world is in trouble and Riley found a way to get us here so we can help him. That's about all I know.”

Frowning, Sora replied, “Well I hope we get a little more information before bringing our Digimon into all this.”

Matt smirked. “Promise to behave around Riley?”

Only if you do.”

After a few quick words with Riley, Joe and TK joined in, introducing themselves to the other Tamers and greeting Takato warmly. Noticing Joe, Izzy made his way into the conversation. As the old digi-destined began gathering together, isolating Henry and the others, Henry approached them, not wanting to be ignored.

Izzy apparently didn't notice. “Joe, I was just talking to Riley to flesh out some of my theories on this place. She says this is all a MAXIS program.”

Joe raised an eyebrow. “The MAXIS? Why would they use that? It's supposed to be for medical applications.”

But think about it. It's a perfect way to test out all sorts of theories. And judging by the authenticity of this world, and the fact that Riley is here, they've made quite a few advancements.”

So all those guesses you made about where Takato came from were true?” TK asked.

For the most part. How else could D-Reaper attack it if the world wasn't digitized?”

Then you really did know about all this?” Takato leaned in, trying to make eye contact with Izzy.

Pretty much. Many of the elements you were talking about were some of Shibumi's stronger ideals. I hypothesized that he had a hand in creating this world.”

TK smiled and shook his head. “Still wonder why you're named after Takato. I mean, why not something from Frontier? Takuya or Koji or something.” As Takato laughed, TK suddenly turned serious. “Speaking of which, did you get a hold of Takuya?”

The laugh ended immediately as Takato replied, “Um... no, actually. Ma... wait-” Takato turned away from the crowd toward the smaller group of Jeri, Kazu, Rika and Terry. “Jeri! Did you talk to Takuya?”

Jeri looked back at him, rather emotionless. “Yes,” she replied before returning to her group.

Thank you!” TK shouted back. Then he turned back to Takato and added, “Who's she?”

I'll explain later,” Izzy replied, “Anyway, do you understand why I didn't tell you, Takato?”

Takato nodded slowly. “I ended up hearing it from Yasuo Akiyama.”

Each of the Chosen took a step back as they heard the name. They silently scanned each others faces. Each had the same worried look.

Finally, Matt huffed, “You mean Yasuo's involved with this? Shit.”

Hmm... I thought this was some little research project. If Yasuo's involved, this is a big deal,” Izzy said.

Sora shrugged. “Well, it must be if they need our help. I mean, if Takato and his friends can't do it alone, then it must be serious.”

Yeah,” Henry remarked. That did raise a good question, one that Henry immediately presented to Takato: “Why can't we do this alone?”

Takato looked at Henry, but turned away immediately. His lips quivered for a moment before finally responding. “Our Digimon are... unavailable.” Takato closed his eyes. He tried to say more, but he stopped and bit his lip.

As much of a disappointment as that was for Henry, the conversation wasn't stopping to let him grieve. Matt had already changed the topic: “Well, if Yasuo has something to do with all this, there's definitely more going on than some of Izzy's friends playing God.”

You guys are still going to help us, right?” Takato asked, only a slight trace of worry in his voice.

We'll definitely have to discuss this and vote on it. If your world's on the line, I doubt any of us are going to say no, but having Yasuo in the picture raises a lot of questions.”

Sora folded her arms and frowned. “And Riley better have the answers.”

Takato!” Another shout from the gate; Two more had arrived. Henry immediately recognized the speaker as Kari. Using two wooden elbow crutches to help her walk, she slowly approached her young Tamer friend. The second one was too busy taking in the room to notice anyone else. He looked younger than the others, younger than Henry even. His appearance suggested that he was Cody, but even the youngest digi-destined should have been older than this boy.

The other Chosen and Takato met Kari halfway, with Takato giving Kari a big hug. “So this is your world?” she asked, with a big smile.

Yeah.” Takato looked at her crutches. “You're out of the wheelchair?”

Just for the last few months. It'll still be a couple years before I'm running around again.”

We're in no hurry,” Joe replied, “But while we're here, maybe we can pick up some better crutches. I don't trust the ones we cobbled together.”

We can sightsee later. First we have to see what we can do to help Takato.”

Meanwhile, Henry went up to Cody, still marveling at the Hypnos facility. “Is this the real world?” Cody said in an awed whisper.

Henry barely heard it, but he replied, “I don't know. I guess that depends on who you ask.”

The boy looked up at Henry. “Do you think it's real?”

Henry took in the room himself. It was just a bunch of fancy equipment, but it certainly looked like genuine fancy equipment. Despite everything Riley had said, it was still the only reality he had ever known. And that made it real.

Yeah,” Henry replied, smiling as he proceeded to introduce himself.


After finishing yet another explanation, Riley glanced around the room to check for any confusion. At least this explanation was different- the fundamentals of D-Reaper and the best way to contain it. Janyuu and Tally still had to figure out how to defeat it entirely, but containment was the first priority.

According to Riley, that process wasn't going to be difficult. By attacking it, D-Reaper had to expend energy to defend itself. That diminished its ability to expand. Since it didn't have a strong energy source this time, depleting its energy immediately was the main goal. Upon containment, it was merely a matter of executing whatever plan Janyuu came up with.

That sounds simple enough,” Matt said after hearing her plan.

Getting you here was the hard part. Now it shouldn't be too difficult,” she replied.

Joe shook his head. “I don't like that word 'shouldn't.' This is way too easy for it to be true.”

Yeah, knowing our luck it'll be followed by another incarnation of Myotismon,” Matt joked.

Riley smiled. “Disappointed that it's not harder?”

Now with a straight face, Matt replied, “More like apprehensive. You're staking a lot on the notion that it won't find this energy source. What happens if it does?”

Naturally, it would make the operation infinitely more difficult, but Riley didn't want to consider that possibility. “Even so, I'm sure you can handle it. The combined power of you seven should be enough.”

Sora raised her eyebrows. “Should?” Riley cringed. She knew it was a bad choice of words as soon as she said it. But given how much it had taken to stop it six years ago, she wasn't going to guarantee anything.

TK pointed to the Tamers. “What did these guys have when they beat it the first time?”

It was quite a battle,” Riley conceded.

We can't afford to be vague here, Riley,” Izzy said, “How powerful were their Digimon? How many U-Levels did it take? Megas even?”

Riley sighed. She knew it would sound bad, but she couldn't lie: “Five M-Levels.”

Five?!” came the chorus of incredulous shouts.

We only needed two to beat Apocalymon!” TK added.

As I said, we just have to make sure it doesn't find a source. If it doesn't- no problem. There's no need for pessimism.”

It's my job to be pessimistic,” Joe replied angrily, “Before jumping into this, we have to think about the worst case scenario.”

Joe's right,” Matt added, “You seem to have a very good plan, Riley. But it's our experience that things like this never go according to plan.”

Kari jumped in as well: “The biggest concern I have is whether D-Reaper can get into the Digital World.”

Riley sighed, a little more relieved: she had an answer for that. “Once we get all your Digimon here and set up a new base of operations, we will have to install a firewall to make sure D-Reaper doesn't get through. Assuming we do all this in a reasonable amount of time, that will not be a problem.”

But that will mean we can't go back either,” Izzy said, narrowing his eyes. His voice shook a little as he continued, “That cuts off our only escape route if things get out of hand here.”

Joe shook his head. “And that makes the worst case scenario three times as bad.”

How do you figure that?” Henry asked.

Well, let's pretend that it finds a source and we aren't strong enough to stop it. We have no way of getting back and are wiped out along with this world.”

Matt finished Joe's thought, “And ten years from now Daemon shows up unopposed and conquers both the Digital World and the real real world.”

Joe nodded. “Three worlds for the price of one.”

Riley sneered. She was getting fed up with their negativity. “But that's nothing new for you guys. You should be used to fighting with such high stakes.”

Not by choice,” TK replied, “You're asking us to put ourselves in this position.”

Look, Riley,” Matt took a deep breath, “We would like nothing more than to help Takato. And we certainly wouldn't mind getting back at Yasuo Akiyama. But our top priority is protecting the Digital World, and we can't throw ourselves into battles that jeopardize it.”

What about Takato?” Riley glanced at Takato as she asked the question. Despite the doubts the Chosen were having, he seemed totally complacent about the idea that they may not help him after all.

He can come back with us,” Matt offered, “All of them can. If they're anything like Takato, we'd be glad to have the company.”

Takato's reply was instant and firm: “No. This is my world. If we can't save it, I'm going down with it.”

Same here,” Rika answered, stepping forward, “What about our families? Or anyone else we care about? We can't leave them to die.”

Takato, don't you have anything to say to them?” Riley asked, almost ready to snap at his refusal to plea for help.

Takato shook his head. “No. It's their decision. We can't force them to do anything, and they need to know exactly what they're getting into.”

Takato's right,” Sora said, “We're just trying to make some sense of this. Now is there anything else we need to know?”

Yes.” Takato hesitated for a moment, and briefly glanced at Jeri before turning to the Chosen. “In my world, Digimon do not get reborn.”

Riley buried her face in her hands. She was trying to convince the Chosen to help. Takato was seemingly giving them reasons not to. Dreading another barrage of questions, she looked up. They did seem more afraid, but they were all facing Takato.

Why not?” Izzy asked.

Takato shook his head. “I don't know. We just know from experience.”

Matt closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Ouch,” he mumbled.

I'm ready to vote,” TK announced.

Yeah. Good call.” Matt turned to Riley. “We're going to go out in the hallway and talk about this. We'll let you know what we decide.”

All Riley could do was nod as the seven walked out of the room. They were all frowning, and Riley noticed Sora glaring back at her. If the discussion of losing the Digital World didn't turn them away from the project, the thought of losing their Digimon certainly did.

As soon as the outside door shut and the Chosen were out of earshot, Riley screamed, “What kind of fucking death wish do you have, Takato?!”

Takato folded his arms and stared right back. “Were you not planning to tell them that?” His voice did not waver.

Takato, we need their help. They weren't sold on this before, but now that you've said that, Sora has a perfect reason to shoot this down.”

Why Sora? What makes you think she'd say no to this?”

Gritting her teeth, Riley eyed the doorway before answering, “Sora hates me.”

Takato didn't respond. He waited for her to elaborate.

Look, did she and Matt tell you they were separated?”

Yeah.”

Well, before I was in a serious relationship with Tai, Matt and I had something of an affair.” Takato was still glaring at her. In fact, everybody was. “Look, we didn't go as far as she thinks, but she's held a grudge ever since.”

That doesn't sound like Sora,” Takato replied, unaffected by Riley's story.

They're not perfect, Takato. They're not the kids from the cartoon. And not only was Sora misinformed about all this, she thinks Tai married me to keep me away from Matt. Whatever she did as a kid, I'm not impressed-”

So what?” Rika interrupted, “So you were fooling around with Matt? Who cares?”

Riley was a little angry at the interruption, but Rika did have a point; she was getting off the topic. “My point is that Sora doesn't trust me, and I can't help but wonder if any of them do now.”

Takato stood and took a couple steps towards her. “I can't believe you'd say that Sora would refuse to help us because you and her don't get along. This isn't about you. This is about us and our world. And they're going to help. I just wanted them to know everything.”

How exactly are they coming to this conclusion?” Henry asked, “I heard TK say something about a vote?”

That's how they decide things,” Takato answered, taking his seat. “They talk about it and have a vote. Something like this, five of them would need to say yes.”

Well, if five of them don't, you guys are in serious trouble,” Riley added.

Now Rika stood up. “I just thought of something. We can't reach our Digital World, right?”

Yeah, Takato says our Digimon are unavailable,” Henry replied.

Riley raised an eyebrow. “Unavailable, Takato? What happened to wanting them to know everything?”

Takato ignored Riley. “What are you getting at, Rika?”

Facing the other Tamers, Rika explained, “We're not like the digi-destined. We don't have to be tied down to one Digimon.” She turned to Riley. “So why don't we just grab a bunch of Digimon from their world and use them?”

After thinking about it for a second, Riley realized that it was a possibility. With one caveat- “I don't know how many wild Digimon you would be able to control. Especially if you don't have your D-Powers.”

On cue, Rika, Henry and Kazu pulled out their D-Powers. “We came prepared,” Kazu said, with a smile.

Suddenly, this became a very legitimate back-up plan. It was difficult to tell how strong the Digimon had to be when D-Reaper had no source, but a strong group of C-Levels did offer a slim chance.

Riley noticed that Takato was looking down. Obviously he didn't have his D-Power with him. “You know Takato, if you left your digivice in New York, we might be able to have Dwayne send it here,” she said.

Without looking up, Takato replied, “It's not in New York. I took it with me to Japan, just in case. It's back at my hotel room in Odaiba.”

Riley briefly considered suggesting that Tally or Mari go after it, but both she and Takato knew that was unfeasible at this point. That hotel room would have been cleared out by now- if not by the hotel staff then by Yasuo's troops.

Hold on...” Jeri whimpered as she began digging through her bag. Riley's eyes grew wide as the girl pulled out her old yellow D-Power.

Mom...” Jeri blinked twice, “...Aya said I should bring it... just in case.”

Now it was getting interesting. Four digivices and five Tamers. In addition, Riley knew Terry could hold his own if needed. She even contemplated finding her old Centarumon and joining the battle herself. Whatever the case, they had a plan no matter what the Chosen decided.

In an instant, the outside door swung open and slammed shut again. Within that very brief moment, a fuming Cody entered the facility.

I can't believe them!” he muttered, trying to find a private corner of the room to sulk in.

Takato approached him. “I take it you're not all on board?”

Still with his back to Takato, Cody shook his head. “Right now it's 4-2 in favor of helping. But that's a deadlock by our rules.”

So it's down to whoever didn't vote,” Riley concluded.

Sora. She didn't say a word the whole time.”

Immediately, Riley wanted to ask Cody if he knew any friendly Renamon that would be willing to help. To her, it was over- not just because of her lack of faith in Sora, but because two others had voted against helping- without Sora saying anything.

Even Takato frowned as he heard the report. “But... who said no?”

Cody huffed, “I can't say. That's fine, because right now I can't believe that they'd do such a thing.”

Well, Cody, they are going out of their way to help us. With so much at risk, I guess it can't be helped if some of them don't want to.”

That's not the problem,” Cody stared back at Takato, “It's why they don't want to help. They don't care at all about the chance of D-Reaper getting to the Digital World or us not getting back. It's just about Digimon not being reborn here.” Cody shook his head. “Why should you be punished just because of a strange quirk in this world that you had no control over?”

As much as we need your help, I don't want them to put their Digimon in any more danger than they'd be comfortable with,” Takato said, trying to sound noble.

Our Digimon are like extensions of ourselves. They would be fine with this if they knew it was to help you.”

It doesn't matter! You don't understand!” Cody was startled by the girl marching towards him. Takato turned around as well, and quickly stepped back as Jeri stared down Cody. Her eyes watered as she started yelling.

Those Digimon have been with them their entire lives! The bond between them and you are probably stronger than any of us can possibly imagine. How can you be willing to put them in danger over something as silly as this place?! Don't you understand what it means to not be reborn? It means everything you've shared with your partner, and everything special that was coming in the future vanishes in an instant. It's over!”

Cody was about three inches shorter than Jeri, and he was trying to increase that distance. He leaned back further as she continued her rant.

In your world, you're used to getting another chance. But it's not that nice here, is it? And source or not, D-Reaper isn't going down without a fight. So you'll have to take that chance to battle it.” She stopped, took a few breaths and closed her eyes. “Frankly, I'm surprised four of you said yes.”

The entire group was left to stare in silence as Jeri wiped her eyes and marched back to her chair. She sat down and shook her head as if nothing had happened.

Well...” Cody tried to frame a belated response, but could not come up with anything. Takato finally stepped in and whispered something to Cody. Cody gasped, then nodded in sudden understanding. “Never mind,” he said.

The outside door swung open again. This time Matt entered. He glanced around the room, noticing everybody staring back at him. He sighed once before closing his eyes.

Okay, let's do this,” he mumbled, raising his voice a little to ensure that everybody got the message.

Riley almost fainted. After all the grilling questions, along with Takato and Jeri giving them more reasons to refuse, the Chosen had still come through. She regained her bearings as the other five entered the room and greeted the smiling Tamers, all ready for the new battle.

Takato's smile was almost as big as Cody's. “You almost had me worried there, Matt,” Takato said, approaching the group.

Riley chuckled. As counter-productive as Takato had seemed to be, he still had faith in them. She was much more surprised by their verdict. “So you're really willing to put everything on the line like this?” she asked.

Joe shrugged. “If we're putting our world over Takato's, we're no better than Yasuo, right?”

As flawed as the logic was, Riley had to smile. She also had to lean back in her chair: as long as the day had been, there was still a lot of work to do.

I guess Cody told you about Sora then?” Riley sat up as she heard Matt's voice right next to her.

Yeah,” she replied, shaking her head, “I was even trying to come up with a Plan B.”

She did have a lot of reservations, and she still doesn't trust you at all.” Matt looked over at his wife, pleasantly talking with Rika and Kazu. “But it basically came down to how much she cares about Takato against how much she doubts your plan. Took her a while, but I know her too well to get worried.”

He set a hand on Riley's shoulder and added, “You need to give her more credit.”

Despite his lecture, hearing him was comforting. But one thing was still nagging in Riley's head: “So if it wasn't Sora, who did vote against helping us?”

Matt laughed. “Doesn't matter. In the end we decided, as a group, to help. Don't worry about who was against the idea. I don't see any dissenters now.”

He was right. Regardless of whom they were talking to, each of the other Chosen were smiling. The Tamers were equally enthusiastic about their new allies. As tiresome as the whole process was, Riley had finally given Takato his fighting chance.

Now all that remained was the hard part.

To Be Continued in Stage Four- “Chess”


Author's Notes
Once again, stage three sets the tone for everything. There's a lot going on here, and it'll be hard to catch everything on the first try. You also may have to go back to Level 1 to remember what was going on with the digi-destined... and Terry.

Terry plays an interesting part in all this, since his role in this stage basically solidifies how significant he was in Level 1. His lineage was hinted at throughout Level 1, and while only one person actually told me she figured it out, I have a feeling several more did. His personality is worth looking at, especially everything he's been through. However, all of that aside, I don't blame you if you think he's still kind of a jerk.

For your information, Jeri is not going to be taking all this lying down. She's pretty much done angsting and she will be an active character from here on out. Sorry to disappoint you.

The Tai/Riley/Matt/Sora rectangle will remain an underlying factor throughout the story. It's actually a pretty neat side story, one I may even write someday, and it's kind of my answer to the Tai/Sora/Matt triangle in the series.

Don't be surprised if future stages are as long as this one. There are a lot of things to cover here and only five more stages to do it. There was going to be a scene with Yasuo at the end of this stage, but I moved it to the next one. Ken and Yamaki will also play prominent roles in stage four.

This ends Level 3: Stage Four of The Connection.