Level 3: Experiments

Stage Four- Chess

What started as a precautionary measure had evolved into two full-blown crises for Yasuo. The first was Takato Matsuki's appearance in the real world. Having some dreamer's artificial creation become reality troubled Yasuo enough. But it also bothered him to think that Takato had gone unnoticed for two years. Clearly, Yasuo's network of surveillance was diminishing. He had hoped that fear alone would prevent his opponents from stepping out of line, but the Takato situation threw that into doubt.

Yasuo had not really believed that Michi and her companion were up to anything. But their actions had been suspicious and warranted an investigation. Takato was one thing, but TK Takaishi's letter added a completely new threat. Michi's involvement was still speculative, but her companion had definitely been up to something- trying to expose the biggest secret Yasuo had to protect.

Suddenly, Yasuo had to deal with both matters at the same time. D-Reaper was running its course through Takato's world; that was a start. But Yasuo also needed to recover Takato for the situation to be secure. And although Takato had claimed that none of the other letters had been delivered, Yasuo needed to verify that. Such detective work would normally fall to Ken Ichijouji, but for obvious reasons, Yasuo couldn't give Ken that job. Someone else needed to step in.

Said someone entered Yasuo's office, clutching something in his right hand. Yasuo didn't bother to look up from his paperwork until Yamaki said, “This definitely should be Ichijouji's job.”

“Can't take that chance,” Yasuo replied, finally meeting Yamaki eye-to-eye. “Find anything?”

“The hotel had already cleared out their room, but the staff let me look at what was left behind. Michi's laptop was still in there, but there's nothing useful on it.”

“Uh huh,” Yasuo muttered.

Yamaki stepped forward. “I also found this,” he said, unclasping his hand.

It was a D-Power- white with gold trim. Unmistakably Takato's.

Yasuo's eyes grew wide and he leaned back in his chair, both amazed and repulsed by the item. “A digivice?”

“I'm surprised Takato left it in there. I'll hang onto it for now.”

“Yes.” Yasuo took a deep breath as Yamaki pocketed it. “Find anything important, such as the other letters?”

Yamaki shook his head. “There was no sign of the other letters.”

“That's not good. He should have had at least the letters for the other Japanese children.”

“If you don't mind me saying so, I don't want to have anything to do with this.” Yasuo glared at Yamaki, who was trying to avoid eye contact. “I don't know enough about the Chosen and their kids, and I'd like to keep it that way. I'd rather concentrate on monitoring D-Reaper's progress.”

As one of the few people who knew about the MAXIS, having Yamaki investigating Takato's actions was proving useful to Yasuo. But given the absence of anything valuable in his search, it wasn't useful enough. “Very well,” Yasuo responded, adding a nod, “Just make sure to give me an update on its progress tomorrow.”

As Yamaki nodded and left the room, Yasuo pondered the missing letters. D-Reaper wiping out the MAXIS world was all but a foregone conclusion; the letters were the real problem. If they weren't with Takato and they weren't in the hotel room, that left few possibilities. Michi was one of them, but Ken and Takato had both claimed she knew nothing of the plan. Naturally, Takato could have lied about not delivering any of the others- a very bad situation for Yasuo. In addition, Takato may not have brought all of them; with three of the intended recipients in New York, those letters may have been delivered already, or were back at Takato's apartment.

Yasuo did not have access to the forces that had sought and silenced trouble-makers in the past. Except for the Jim Kido incident, the Chosen had been dormant for far too long for them to be incessantly monitored. Taking care of any completed deliveries or scoping out an apartment in Queens would be a burden. Yasuo knew they could end up being necessary, but first he had to make sure. Fortunately, he could do that very easily:

He had to speak to Michi.

From her vantage point from the kitchen, Yolei could only dread what Ken was discussing on the phone. He was slumped against the back of the living room couch, staring at the ceiling as he replied “right” every ten seconds or so. As worried as he looked, she didn't want to interrupt: the sooner he hung up, the sooner she could find out the bad news.

“I'll see what I can do. See you tomorrow,” Ken said. After one last word from whoever was on the other end, Ken turned off the phone and blindly set it on the end table. That was Yolei's cue to enter.

“Who was that?” she asked as if she hadn't already guessed.

“Yasuo,” Ken mumbled. He sat forward, resting his arms on his knees. After staring down for a few moments, he turned to his wife. “He wants to see Michi tomorrow morning.”

Yolei sat next to him. “Why? I thought you said she had nothing to do with this.”

“He just wants to make sure. He says she can clear up a few things.”

She folded her arms, leaning back into the couch. “You're not going to let him, are you?”

“I don't have much of a choice.”

“Of course you do! Michi's in no state to deal with Yasuo. There has to be some way to get around it.”

Ken remained quiet. “I don't think dodging the issue is the best idea. Yasuo says he doesn't think she did anything wrong.”

Yolei scoffed. “Sure he doesn't.”

“He also said that if Michi shows that she had nothing to do with Koji's activities, Yasuo would let her go home.”

“I don't believe him,” Yolei replied flatly.

Ken shook his head. “Yolei, this isn't a request he's making. He is telling me to bring Michi tomorrow. If I don't, he's going to suspect both of us.”

It wasn't Ken she was mad at, but Yolei couldn't help but raise her voice at him. “But you know he's going to catch her on something! He's out to get her, and if anything happened to Michi, Mimi would never forgive us.”

Somehow, Ken remained calm. So calm, in fact, that Yolei wished he would show a little more emotion over the pinch they were in. But he just stated, very plainly, “If I take her in, there's a chance he'll find a reason to take care of her. If I don't, he'll definitely have a reason to take care of both of us. I don't want anything to happen to Michi, but I can't put her above you or me or the kids.”

“What's this about the kids?” Ken and Yolei were both started by Chiaki coming in from behind.

Ken faced his son. Retaining his flat, expressionless tone, he asked, “Chiaki? Could you get Michi?”

Chiaki nodded and ran upstairs without saying a word. When he was out of earshot, Yolei continued where they had left off: “But there has to be an easier way than throwing Michi to the wolf like that.”

Ken shook his head. “I don't think so. Besides, I haven't heard anything that makes me believe that Michi knew what Koji was up to. I don't think Koji implicated her, because if he had, Yasuo would have just told me to arrest her. If she's as quiet as she is here, Yasuo won't have much to accuse her with.”

The trouble with that logic, of course, was that it involved Koji. Yolei didn't know anything about this boy, other than the fact that he was trying to stir up trouble that neither she nor the other remaining Chosen wanted to be involved with.

“Speaking of Koji, did you get anything back from Riley?” asked Yolei. Riley was another problem. While still a friend among the group, even after the Sealing, Riley's relentless refusal to move on set her apart from the others. At first it had only been Riley's disturbing belief that Tai was not really dead. But as the years went by, Riley had become more determined to plot a way to reverse the Sealing, never coming close to realizing any of her ideas.

“No,” Ken answered, not surprising Yolei in the least. She had no doubt that Riley and Koji were somehow connected in this, but Riley seemed content to get information from Ken while leaving him in the dark.

“I'm going to kill her,” Yolei mumbled.

“Who? Riley?”

“I mean, even if she and Koji have good intentions, they had no right to drag Michi into all of this. And now you and Chiaki are involved. I just wish she'd leave it all alone like the rest of us.”

Ken turned toward the stairs as Michi descended. She moved cautiously; her face didn't help Yolei figure out what she was thinking.

“Michi?” Ken said as she stopped in front of them, “Do you know what Koji was trying to do?”

She looked down, shook her head, then replied, “Yes.”

That alone was new information for Yolei. “What was it?”

Michi opened her mouth, but after looking both of them in the eye, shook her head again. “I don't want to say. I don't know if I believe it anymore. No point in getting your hopes up.”

Rather than prod the issue, Ken got to the point. “Michi, there's somebody that wants to talk to you about this. He's been investigating Koji and wants to see if you can answer some of his questions. Before you say anything, you should know that he's not the friendliest person out there. He can be a little harsh at times, and-”

Yolei didn't bother sugar-coating it: “He's an asshole.”

Ken paused, but nodded in response. “Yeah. But if you can show that you had no idea what Koji was doing when you came to Japan, and that he tricked you into helping him, Yasuo will let you go home.”

“Michi, keep in mind that we don't have to go through him if you don't want to. He's going to try to force you to talk about all this, whether you want to or not. Ken and I don't think you did anything wrong, but I'd understand it if you want to avoid this guy all the same.” Yolei turned to her husband. “Right, Ken?”

Ken said nothing. He was busy watching Michi for any sign of response. From Yolei's guesses, Michi was either heavily weighing her options or the whole discussion had flown completely past her.

Finally, she looked up at Ken. “I just want to go home,”

Ken sighed. His voice remained monotone as he replied, “So you're going to do it? Are you sure?” Michi nodded. “Okay. See you tomorrow morning.”

Without saying anything else, Michi ascended the stairs and was out of sight.

Yolei shook her head. She couldn't help but think this was going to be a disaster. “Ken,” she warned, “You better make sure nothing happens to her. I still say this is a bad idea.”

“I don't like it either, Yolei, but this may be the best chance to get Michi home and getting Yasuo off of our tails.”

“Well, if this goes sour-”

Ken nodded. “I know. Mimi's going to kill me.”

“Mimi?” Yolei said, sitting back on the couch and folding her arms, “She won't have anything left to kill after I'm through with you.”

As soon as the Chosen had committed themselves to helping, the wave of preparations began. Riley showed Izzy how to bring in the Digimon- a necessary delegation since she had to essentially disassemble the Hypnos server. They still had all night to get themselves and the required technology off the premises, and Riley guessed that the entire process would only take a couple hours. The sooner they were gone, however, the sooner they could set up base somewhere else and begin the battle properly.

One by one, the Digimon arrived. There was no happy reunion here: each Digimon met with its partner and received a full briefing on the situation. In turn, each responded with the same eagerness to help Takato.

Since Riley's work on Hypnos was a one-person job at the moment, Rika was left with little to do. Henry and Kazu were off securing a new location for their headquarters. Takato helped the Chosen explain the situation to the arriving Digimon. Terry and Jeri seemed content sitting back and watching the proceedings. Rika was not. She wasn't one to let the digi-destined have all the fun. This battle was for her world, and there was no way she was going to stand on the sidelines as a group of outsiders did all the work.

Izzy was typing on a keyboard, entering a series of quick, choppy keystrokes while staring at the monitor. He appeared to be engaged in some very serious business, but that didn't stop Rika from approaching him.

“Hey, Izzy,” she said, making no effort to sound humble, or even sorry for interrupting him.

Izzy stopped, frowned, then turned to her. Before he spoke, he forced a smile. “Yes? Rika, right?”

“Yeah. While you guys were out in the hallway, we were considering a backup plan in case you all chickened out of this.”

He chuckled, his smile growing wider. “I don't blame you. It was a very loud discussion. We almost didn't do it. What's the plan?”

“Can you pull out some Digimon for us?”

Izzy raised his eyebrows, slowly turning to the monitor. He scratched his chin as he considered the idea. “Something along the lines of partners for you guys, in place of the real thing?”

“You can do that, right?”

“I don't know. That depends on the Digimon and you. They'd have to be willing to help, and you'd have to know how to help it fight.”

“That shouldn't be a problem,” Rika said, pulling out her D-Power. “We're not tied down to one partner, so we should be able to help anybody.”

“Hmm...” Izzy pushed his chair back and stood, calling out towards the gate, “Matt! Do you have a second?”

Both Matt and Gabumon came over. Izzy put an hand on Rika's shoulder as he explained, “Rika has an interesting idea. What if we retrieved Digimon for them too?”

Matt cracked a smile. “Couldn't hurt. I mean, we're used to high-powered one-on-one battles. But from the sound of things, we're basically putting this sucker under siege. If that's the case, even a bubble attack from a dinky little I-Level will help.”

“Okay, but which Digimon should we use?”

“Let's make it simple. Rika, who was your partner?”

“Renamon,” Rika replied, shrugging Izzy's hand off.

Matt's reply was immediate, but still very casual: “Never heard of it.”

Izzy shot Matt an incredulous look. “Matt, my sister-in-law had a Renamon.”


Rather than wait for Izzy to jog Matt's memory, Rika fiddled with her D-Power until an analyzer screen appeared with a picture of Renamon. She showed it to Matt. “Here,” she said, in her best demeaning tone.

Matt's face quickly lit up with realization. “Oh yeah! It's been a while.” After nodding, he quickly took a closer look at the screen. “You guys have an analyzer on your digivice? Izzy, why didn't we get these?”

Rika pulled the distraction away. “Can you get her or not?”

Izzy shook his head. “I don't know. We got along well enough, but I don't think she's fought alongside a human before. I don't know if she's fought at all.”

“I wouldn't worry about that, Izzy,” Gabumon said. He stepped in front of Matt and continued, “If she's anything like every Renamon I've come across, she won't mind getting into a scrap or two.”

“True. And they certainly are prodigious Rookies. Rika, if you think you can handle her, I'm all for it.”

Rika smiled. “I look forward to the chance.”

“Good,” Matt responded, “Now how about your friends?”

Kazu and Henry barged into the room, with Kazu proudly proclaiming, “Mission accomplished!”

“You two beat D-Reaper?” TK joked, “Great, let's go home.”

Matt sounded a little more professional. “I take it things went well?”

Henry was equally serious. “We have space in an office building a few blocks away and a truck to get everything there.”

Rika wasn't surprised. The three of them had already talked to the city, alerting officials of D-Reaper's presence. As a result, they not only had the full cooperation of the Tokyo government, but had helped make sure the city got evacuated before it became urgent. With everybody gone except for some emergency services, securing some downtown real estate wasn't going to be any trouble.

“I can get used to having support staff,” Matt said with a smile.

“Henry, are you still partnered with Gummymon?” Izzy asked.

After a momentary delay, Henry answered, “If by that you mean Terriermon, yeah.”

“Right... Terriermon's his R-Level,” Izzy mumbled as he typed away. “In fact, it looks like the one I was looking at digivolved to C-Level on his own. Even better.”

“What are you going on about?”

“Rika suggested retrieving Digimon for you. To ease the adjustment, we're trying to take the same type as your original partner, at whichever level we can get.”

Henry raised an eyebrow. “So you're saying you just found another Terriermon?”

“Gargomon actually.”

“Thank you, Rika,” Kazu said in such a cheesy tone that even Rika had to smile.

Izzy was too busy staring at his screen to notice. “How about you, Kazu?”

“One Guardromon, please.”

After typing for a second, Izzy frowned. “Guardromon. Not sure about that one...” His face lit up before Kazu could think about being disappointed. “But Guardromon digivolves into Andromon. And I know that won't be a problem.”

Henry, however, raised one: “Actually, uh, after he became Kazu's partner, Guardromon never digivolved to-”

“Shut up, Henry,” Kazu interrupted, adding a playful elbow.

Izzy quickly turned to the next subject. “And Jeri?”

As all eyes turned to her, Jeri stepped back. The other Tamers looked apprehensive, while Izzy and Matt were just waiting for an answer.

“What did you want?” she asked.

“Who's your partner?” Izzy repeated the question, as casual as when he asked Henry and Kazu.

Jeri hesitated before her slow reply. “Well... it's Leomon, but...”

Matt cringed. “Ooh, Leomon.”

Izzy was already back on the computer. “What's wrong with Leomon? He's a good fighter. Always willing to help us out.”

“Uh, Takato and I had an incident with one a few years ago.”

Izzy's eyebrows furrowed as he stared at the data on the screen. “Says here he's only three years old.” He looked up at Matt. “An incident, huh?”

“He was corrupted. Almost killed Kari and Cody.”

With a chuckle, Izzy resumed typing. “Well, he won't remember that, now will he?”

“What are you talking about?” Jeri asked, slowly approaching them.

“Nothing,” Matt replied. He gave Jeri a thumb's up. “You're all set.”

Izzy quickly resumed. “And we know what Takato gets.”

As he finished up, Riley approached them, her laptop secured under her arm. “What's going on?”

“Just getting some back-up. From what you said, it'll be smart to have a few extra Digimon around,” Matt said.

“Rika's idea,” Izzy added.

Riley nodded. “It's a good one.”

“I don't care if it was a good idea. I just don't want to get bored,” Rika said, with a smile.

Glancing over Izzy's shoulder, Riley said, “Well, get everything squared away with that. We should get going.”

A few keyboard strokes later, the new additions began arriving.

The relocation process turned out to be as demanding as any other move. With the system temporarily secured, everyone capable of moving the equipment was needed. That included the new Digimon arrivals, preventing any of the Tamers from holding an extended conversation with their new “partners.” Veemon, of course, wasn't doing any heavy lifting, but Takato certainly did his share. Fortunately, with almost everyone contributing, and Kari doing her damnedest to despite her disability, nobody had to make more than one trip to the lobby.

With just a large box of peripherals and extension cords, Jeri got off relatively lightly. But as she rode the elevator down to the truck, she couldn't say the same for her companions.

“I'm not speaking from experience, but this isn't what I envisioned saving the world to be like,” Renamon said, shuffling the two computer monitors in her arms.

The stifled chuckle from behind startled Jeri. It was the first sound that came from Leomon since they had boarded the elevator. From the harsh look in his eyes and the tone of his voice, she already could tell that this was not the same one. That alone wasn't a problem: Jeri didn't ask for her Leomon back, nor did she expect this one to mimic him exactly. However, despite not being this Leomon's ordained partner, Jeri was still responsible for his safety.

“Something funny, Leomon?” Renamon asked.

“You've never fought alongside a human before?” Every word cemented his presence, making Jeri more nervous.

“No. I just hope this Rika knows what she's doing. Because I certainly do not.”

“You'll be fine,” Jeri interjected.

“So how about you, Jeri? This is somewhat new for me as well,” Leomon said.

“Um...” Jeri couldn't go into details about her history as a Tamer, but had to say something. After rubbing her hands together nervously, she admitted, “I'm not that good at this.”

“Well, Matt says you guys beat this once, so you must have done something right. Just point me in the right direction and get out of my way. Can you handle that?”

“Yes,” Jeri said, smiling a little. If there was anything good about this Leomon's personality, it was that she wouldn't get too attached to it. He was more distant and more gruff. Not enough so that she couldn't work with him, but he wasn't her Leomon. And as the elevator opened and the three saw the pool of chaos across the street, Jeri considered that a good thing.

By the time everybody was on the ground floor, it was almost nine o'clock at night. The tower's lobby was minimally lit, but the only visual aid Matt needed was outside. “Okay, if you haven't figured it out yet, that's D-Reaper,” he said, pointing to it. Then he turned to Riley. “Right?”

Riley nodded; Matt continued: “For now, the best we can do is keep it at bay, prevent it from moving forward, and force it to use up its energy to defend itself. To do that, we need to constantly attack it. So instead of hitting it all at once, we're going to do this in shifts, so somebody is always attacking.”

“You can explain more once we finish moving,” Riley said, “Henry, where's the truck?”

“It's right outside. Kazu and I didn't bother with the loading dock,” Henry replied.

“That makes it easy,” Matt said, smiling, “First shift is TK, Cody and Jeri. Which means Shakkoumon can keep the truck covered while Leomon provides the offense. All right?”

TK and Cody immediately stepped forward. Jeri followed their lead.

“How long's the shift?” Cody asked, “Because if it's more than a couple hours, our Digimon won't be able to go the whole time.”

Matt nodded. “Six hours, and you're right. The Digimon will definitely need to take a breather somewhere during the shift. As long as somebody's attacking, that's fine. You can work that out on your own. Any other questions?”

“Nope,” TK replied, holding his digivice at Patamon. Patamon started glowing, and Angemon took his place within a few seconds. With Cody's help, Armadillomon digivolved as well.

With Ankylomon and Angemon leading the way, the group stepped outside. The truck Henry had provided was parked rather illegally on the plaza. But it was far enough from D-Reaper to let them load everything without incident.

Along with all the equipment, Matt, Riley, Henry, Izzy, Takato and Sora boarded the truck. As Henry started the engine, D-Reaper began showing interest in them: a lone bird-like Seacher agent emerged from the chaos and hesitantly flew towards the group.

“Looks like we have her attention,” Takato said.

“What is that?” TK asked.

“Searcher. Second agent of D-Reaper,” Riley replied.

As it began scanning the group, Jeri took a couple steps back. “It's gathering information on us. Trying to determine if we're a threat.”

“Fortunately, it doesn't have much in the way of offense,” Henry added.

Matt smirked. “In other words- cannon fodder. Who wants to do the honors?”

Cody gestured towards Jeri and smiled. “Seems only appropriate that Jeri and Leomon deliver the first shot.”

“Yeah,” TK said, “Once she takes that thing out, we'll call up Shakkoumon and escort everybody out of here.”

After carefully eyeing the truck, the Searcher was now staring back at Jeri. Its emotionless expression almost matched Jeri's. She stepped forward, took a deep breath, and pointed at it.

“Leomon, aim for the cord connecting it to D-Reaper.”

Automatically, Leomon responded, “Fist of the Beast King!”

The shot connected, the Searcher dissipated, and two Digimon were uniting. The emerging giant stood watch as the truck took to the streets.

Behind them, the pedestrians followed Leomon and Jeri. “Don't stop now. Just keep attacking it,” Jeri commanded.

As Leomon started delivering a steady pounding on the mass, Cody nodded at Jeri. “Nice shot.”

“Thank you,” Jeri said, smiling briefly before resuming her duty.

Armed with a cup of coffee, Yamaki entered what had pretty much been his office for the last week. Unfortunately, he hadn't had much time to do what he was supposed to- make sure that the MAXIS world was being eradicated. After a day of playing detective, Yamaki was eager to check on D-Reaper.

At first glance, the charts only told Yamaki what he had already known: the deletion program was taking its sweet time. Naturally, that was due to the lack of a human source, but Yamaki was certainly willing to wait on the plodding D-Reaper if it meant avoiding that route.

Perhaps it was his imagination, but its development seemed even slower than expected. The visual data showed a thin ring surrounding the towers- D-Reaper's focal point. That too was not unusual, but Yamaki had thought that D-Reaper would have started filling itself in by this point. Instead, the circle of chaos had made no attempt at consuming the tower and its width was strangely inconsistent. A section on one end was several hundred meters wide, but another on the opposite end was only about fifty.

“This is odd,” Yamaki mumbled to himself as he tried accessing more information. This time, he called up a historical chart. One of D-Reaper's characteristics was exponential growth, and the first couple days reflected that. But rather than take off and overwhelm the world with its size, D-Reaper had leveled off to a moderate increase starting at about ten o'clock the previous night. In fact, rather than curve upwards, the line gradually arched down, until the startling mark in the middle of the night.

“Regression,” Yamaki mumbled, unable to fathom how this could be possible. Somehow, D-Reaper was losing energy. He frantically tried to access whatever he could to learn more, but he knew nothing in that world could have stopped the program.

“Unless someone else is interfering,” Yamaki said to himself, sitting back in his chair.

He almost didn't want to check for the presence of real world humans in the MAXIS. He knew whose name was bound to appear. But he needed confirmation, and found it easily enough. The only one the database recognized was Riley Ootori.

It pained him to see her inside, expending her energy to save something that just didn't matter in the long run. Yamaki had never envisioned her to be so stubborn when they had first met, and hadn't even noticed it when they began their affair. She had been the reason he poured his efforts into saving the world the first time. At the time, Yamaki had been so depressed over the Vikaralamon incident and so angry for having to shoulder the blame that it didn't take much for Riley to bring him around. That had been one of his weaker moments, and Riley had said all the right things. Now that he was thinking more logically, he saw Riley's continued fight as a fruitless defense for a world that wasn't worth it.

But there she was- not only had she snuck back into the MAXIS, but she was also apparently finding some success. With seemingly nothing to fight back with, she was winning. This was, obviously, a problem for Yamaki. He reached for the phone, but as his hand rested on the black handset, he hesitated. As much as it was his responsibility, he still had to accept the fact that he was betraying Riley.

Upon Takato's arrival in the real world, Yamaki recognized the other world as dangerous. What set him apart from Yasuo was in how much Yamaki saw it as a threat. While eliminating the world was the best option, Yamaki wasn't prepared to go to extreme lengths to do so. Given what threats the MAXIS did pose, were they really significant enough to go to war with Riley? Knowing Yasuo's tactics, that could mean overloading the system or introducing a human source. Furthermore, Yasuo would have no mercy should Riley become trapped inside.

Unfortunately, Yamaki had already chosen where his loyalty would lie. And if Riley was content with risking her life for some insignificant application, Yamaki couldn't stick his neck out to save hers. He picked up the phone and called Yasuo.

“What's your name?” Yasuo asked Michi, a seemingly innocuous question, but her answer could potentially say a lot.

“Michi Grant,” she replied, barely louder than a mumble. Fortunately, the conference room was small enough that Yasuo could hear her, even from the other side of the table. Unfortunately, her answer didn't tell him much.

“Who are your parents?” He typically was more direct in his questioning. But since he didn't know how much Michi was aware of, he had to be careful not to make her suspect too much.

“Matt and Sora Ishida.” Her eyes remained fixated on the ground.

“Where are they?”

“They died,” she said with no change in tone, “When I was really young.”

“How did they die?”

“I guess it was a fire. I don't really remember it that well.”

“What do you remember about them?” Yasuo turned away and leaned back in his chair. While they always had the possibility of tricking Michi into saying something incriminating, they were filler questions while he determined how to approach the meat of the interrogation.

“I'm jealous of them.” That caught his attention. He looked over as she continued, “They did so many unbelievable things by the time they were my age. It was difficult, but it was so incredible at the same time. And it showed them the way to go. For my father, it shaped his entire life, but my mother was able to accomplish something else entirely. But what am I supposed to do?”

Yasuo didn't expect that answer, but it was irrelevant anyway. “When did you first meet Takato?”

For the first time in the conversation, she looked up at him, narrowing her eyes. “Takato?”

He blinked. “Koji,” he clarified.

And her head went back down. “I met him at a party a few weeks ago.”

“What do you see in him? So much that you'd go to Japan with him despite only knowing him for a short time?”

She shook her head. “He just... knew where he was going. He didn't always know the best way to get there, but he seemed to have his journey set out before him.”

“That was enough for you to travel with him?”

“He was going anyway. And it's been so long since I had been to Japan. I wanted to do something. Have my journey too.”

Yasuo huffed. This was doomed to go nowhere unless he got into specifics. “Why exactly was he going to Japan?”

Michi looked up. Her eyes were drooping, but still met Yasuo's without flinching. From the way she slouched over in the chair and seemed ready to either fall asleep or burst into tears at any moment, Yasuo had assumed he could bully all the information he needed out of her, but even his glare was off-target.

As she glanced aside, Yasuo leaned in, anticipating a response. “He knew where he was going,” she said.

After failing with the direct approach, Yasuo changed the subject: “What made you run off Monday night?”

“I don't want to talk about that,” she mumbled.

Yasuo turned away. “Listen Michi, Koji's already in trouble. You can't hurt him any more. Anything you say is in your defense,” he said, as polite as he could manage.

Michi leaned back and folded her arms. “I think...” She closed her eyes and concluded, “I think I fell in love with him.”

He had no follow-up for that response. In fact, he and Ken had developed several theories over why she left the hotel. None of them were remotely close. At the moment, all Yasuo could do was stare at the ceiling and try to steer the interrogation back to anything remotely useful.

He couldn't be sure if it was fortunate or unfortunate, but Michi elaborated, “But I didn't know what I was doing. And by the time I was ready to talk to him, he and Mari were...” Michi paused. Yasuo rolled his eyes and mouthed, “He knew what he was doing,” as Michi said it.

“It just completely threw me off guard. I had always thought that I had things figured out, but he showed me that I didn't know anything. So now I'm lost. I left to go clear my head and... I never saw him again.”

Yasuo shook his head. This was going nowhere. But just as he was planning to give up and let her go, he caught it...

“Mari? As in Mari Izumi?” He sat up straight and faced Michi again. She too looked startled, looking up from whatever she was fantasizing.


“I know you were visiting the children of the Japanese Chosen. I want to know why.” With Mari in the picture, everything had changed. She had inadvertently said something crucial, especially since Takato had denied delivering any of the letters.

Michi backed away. Caught in his stare, she froze; the only sound she emitted was her heavy breathing.

Yasuo resisted the urge to smile: he had her now. “Michi, what do you know?”

“You mean the letters?” she squeaked.

Despite successfully forcing a confession, Yasuo wasn't happy. He closed his eyes and sighed. He had wished Michi was oblivious to all of this. He had wanted to get both her and Ken out of the picture. Unfortunately, life was never that easy.

Of course, that was why he had called her in. He needed to find out the truth. “So you do know about the letters?” he asked in a grave voice.

She slumped down in the chair again. “Yeah. They're supposedly from our parents.”

“Did you receive one?”



“Before we left.”

This was turning out very bad for Yasuo. “Koji's journey” that Michi was talking about was proving to be as serious as Yasuo had imagined. But before he could conjure up a way to discredit the letters, he had to know the extent of the damage.

“How many letters did Koji deliver?”

Michi looked up, and thought before answering, “Five.”

That, of course, was going to require a lot of discrediting. Yasuo could only guess how he was going to convince five people that the letters were not genuine.

As he mentally cursed Takato for getting involved with all this, Michi continued, “I don't know if I believe it anymore. This whole thing with Koji and the letters seemed too good to be real. It's like something out of a dream. Someone passing out good news like Santa Claus.”

“It wasn't real,” Yasuo replied, “The whole thing was a fraud, and Koji will be punished for it.”

Somehow, she didn't react. Michi remained slouched in the chair, glancing at the floor. For a moment, Yasuo didn't know if she believed him. He said it to test how well the children received the letters. Michi was clearly not a good test sample. Whatever she believed, she was going through a personal crisis either way.

“Figures,” she finally mumbled, “I got carried away with the whole adventure. I just wanted to be a part of it. I shouldn't have left New York.”

Yasuo nodded. At least she seemed willing to forget everything. Then she added, “I shouldn't have left him either. Fake or not, I should have stuck with it instead of throwing it away in a moment of panic. No matter what it is, I don't know where I'm going. Right now I just want to go home and start over.”

Before Yasuo could comprehend that, he heard a knock on the door.

“Damn,” he muttered, hoping it would go away. But a second knock forced him to stand up and open the door.

Yamaki was on the other side. “Your phone was turned off.”

Yasuo glared at him, forcing Yamaki to back away. “Of course it was. I'm talking to Michi.”

Yamaki didn't seem to care, instead handed Yasuo a sheet of paper. “This can't wait.”

On it was a series of charts, random numbers and other statistics that meant nothing to Yasuo. “What is this supposed to mean?”

“Something's fighting D-Reaper...” Yasuo looked up at the frowning Yamaki, “...and winning.”

Yasuo leaned forward, his eyebrows furrowing as he asked, “What? How?”

He stepped away, shaking his head as Yamaki answered, “Riley's in there. I don't know what she's doing but it's working.”

“Is Takato in there?”

“I can't tell. It's very possible.”

“He keeps finding new ways of giving me trouble.”

“How so?” Yamaki opened the door a crack and looked at Michi. “What's the status on her?”

“She knows everything,” Yasuo replied, with his back to Yamaki, “She's involved, but says she was just tagging along. Some business about having a journey. She's not even sure if she believes him.”

Yamaki shut the door. “Think she's telling the truth?”

“She's in no position to lie. I made sure of that,” Yasuo said.

“Well, you'll have to take care of that on your own time, because D-Reaper is losing energy fast. What do you think we should do?”

Yasuo folded his arms. Two potentially disastrous problems- both emerging within minutes of each other. His enemies had gotten a head start, and his response was going to have to be immediate and decisive.

He turned around and faced Yamaki. “I think the answer's painfully obvious.”

As Terry stared out the third story window, the presence of D-Reaper several blocks away seemed so nonthreatening. The new headquarters Henry had provided was in a good location- far enough from the battlefront to be out of danger, but close enough to effectively monitor the front line. The best part, of course, was the facility itself. Not only was there enough room to set up the essentials from Hypnos, and Riley's connection to the real world, but a lounge and an executive suite upstairs provided a makeshift sleeping quarters. Terry, however, was busy enjoying the view from the floor's lobby- which quickly had become a popular venue for taking some time to unwind.

He had been alone until the sound of steps alerted him to someone else's presence. He turned around to see Jeri, arching her back and stretching her arms behind her. She closed her eyes and inhaled, her chest protruding just enough to get Terry's attention. He smiled, admitting to himself that he still found her beautiful.

“Sleep well?” he said, mostly to let her know he was in the room.

It worked, as she quickly stood up straight and let her hands fall to her sides. Despite being momentarily startled, she smiled and said, “Good morning.”

Terry checked his watch, prompting her to add, “Is it still morning?”

“You have an hour to spare.”

Jeri shook her head, but still kept smiling as she walked up to him. “It's eleven?” she said in disbelief, “I've never slept this late before.”

Terry raised his eyebrows in amusement. “Well, you were on duty until three. As far as I know, Cody and TK are still asleep.”

She nodded. “I suppose. How did the second group do?”

“Pretty good. Izzy and Kazu did really well. Takato...” He tried to think of something positive to say, but nothing was coming out.

Jeri's smile faded. “I suppose it's tough without Guilmon.”

“Someone said Takato got Veemon to evolve once, but I guess it didn't happen today. Maybe he should have taken Agumon instead.” It was a thought that had crossed Terry's mind a couple times after learning about Veemon's ineffectiveness against D-Reaper. Terry had been appointed an “emergency backup.” He was satisfied with that, but couldn't help but think Agumon would be more useful under Takato's supervision.

She smiled again, approaching the window. “I'm sure he'll do it eventually.”

Despite staring out at the destructive force she had been such a part of, she still carried that serene smile. As captivated as Terry was by it, he still found it very odd. “You're in a good mood today.”

“It's strange,” she replied, “When I woke up, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. Ever since I came here I could feel it. It still wanted me. It was still calling me. And now... nothing. I think it finally let me go.”

Terry chuckled. “Maybe after you attacked it for six hours, it finally got the hint.”

“No,” she said immediately, “That wasn't it.” She turned to him, now with a straight face. “While Leomon was attacking it, I still felt like it was a part of me. I could almost feel what it was going through. It was losing energy, and there was nothing it could do.”

“But that's good.”

“That's very good, except for me. It was still trying to reach me when I went to sleep. I did my best to ignore it, and when I woke up it was gone.”

She looked back out the window and sighed. “I suppose it was a good idea for me to come here after all. Takato practically had to drag me here, but I'm so glad he did. Now I think can finally get this out of my system. It's such a relief.”

Terry smiled. He loved seeing her like this. Her personal issues had always made him uncomfortable while they were dating. He had tried to support her after she finished seeing her therapist, but he had no way of understanding what she was going through. He may have broken up with her, but Terry was still glad to see her overcome these problems.

Joining her at the window, he too stared at D-Reaper. Taking a breath, he said, “You know, even if we're not together anymore, I'm still really glad you're back. I mean, no matter what's going on with Takato, I just want you to know that-”

“Why are you letting me go?” she said all of us a sudden. He looked at her, wondering if he was talking to him. But he noticed that her face had turned more pale. Her mouth fell open a bit as she stared at D-Reaper... apparently seeking an answer.

“Jeri, are you all right?”

She didn't respond. After staring out the window for several seconds, her eyes suddenly grew wider.

“What is it?” he asked, making no effort to hide the worry in his voice.

Again, no answer. She turned away and walked past him. He watched her, baffled, until he saw her walking towards the exit. It took a few moments for that to register in Terry's head. When it did, he ran into the hallway, just in time to see her behind the closing doors of the descending elevator.

He put a hand on the door. “Jeri?”

“What's wrong?” he heard from the other side of the room.

Recognizing the voice, he approached her, pointing to the elevator. “Aunt Kari, Jeri just left. She suddenly looked really pale. Like she was possessed or something.”

Kari turned just as pale. “That can't be good.” She got to the window in time to see Jeri leaving the building, and walking directly towards D-Reaper.

“She was fine one minute and then... I don't know what happened.”

“Jeri was D-Reaper's source the first time, wasn't she?” Kari asked.

“What's going on?” Now Sora was entering the room.

Kari continued to watch Jeri. “Sora, you know that look I get when I have one of those Dragomon moments?”

Sora gulped. “Yeah?”

“Looks like Jeri has those too. Except I doubt that it's Dragomon.”

By the time Sora was looking out the window, Jeri was already a block away and gaining speed. Sora turned to Kari, who stared back. Neither needed to say anything; Sora ran back into the office.

“Are you calling Matt?” Kari asked.

Sora stopped, and turned around. “No, I'm calling Biyomon. I'm getting her myself.”

As WereGarurumon and Zudomon continued the assault on D-Reaper, Renamon had another responsibility- buying the refreshments.

“So this is what you call cooling down?” Renamon asked Matt as he took one of the six bottles of water she had in her arms.

Matt smiled. “You were really going at it. Don't want you to cramp up or anything while you're taking a break.”

“That, or Matt's too lazy to get these himself,” Rika added, taking one herself.

Joe took a third bottle and thanked Renamon. After setting two bottles down, she opened one and took a drink.

“Where's my card?” Rika asked.

“Oh.... right,” Renamon said, returning Rika's cash card.

“Thanks for buying, Rika,” Matt said, raising his bottle in her direction.

Joe did the same. “If I had any money here, I'd buy the next round.”

Renamon joined Rika on the sidewalk bench, across the street from the battlefield. Matt and Joe remained standing, but with their partners thoroughly in control of the situation, they needed to do very little supervising.

“So when do you want me to jump back in?” Renamon asked.

Joe smiled. “You like this whole battling thing, don't you?”

“I have been in battles before. Just never with a human partner.”

“Who was your original partner? Aya's sister?”

“Yes. Although I was never in the real world much, I did enjoy her company. A nice break from Digital World life, I suppose.”

“What do you mean you weren't in the real world much? Didn't your partner want you around?” Rika asked.

“Rika, Renamon's relationship with her partner was very typical back then,” Joe explained, “Just because everybody had a partner didn't mean that everybody had a Digimon running around the real world. Some kept their Digimon around for company, some only brought them to the real world every once in a while. And some never bothered to meet their partners at all. Renamon may not have had any spectacular adventures with her partner, but they had a good relationship anyway.”

“And she can sure kick some butt against D-Reaper, and that's what's important here,” Matt added.

Rika smiled, then turned to Renamon. “To answer your question, why you take another twenty minutes to catch your breath? Then you can jump back in.”

“Yeah,” Matt said, “By that time, I'm sure WereGarurumon will need a break. Or at least he'll need to drop to C-Level for a while.”

Renamon nodded and leaned back on the bench as she finished her drink. Rika did the same, every so often glancing at Renamon and smiling.

Matt took a swig from his own bottle. “So what's your story?” he asked Rika.

Rika narrowed her eyes at him. “What do you mean?”

With a smug smile, he answered, “Well, what do you do when you're not here saving the world? You guys know everything about us; it's only fair we know what you ended up doing.”

“Oh.” Rika turned away. “I'm in the, uh, fashion industry.”

“Really?” Matt replied, raising his eyebrows, “Designing or modeling?”

She shook her head. “Neither. I work on the management side. My mother was a model and tried to get me to follow suit. I couldn't stand what she did, but she introduced me to the business end of things. I found that a lot more interesting, and I've been working my way up for a couple years now.”

“Ah,” Matt said with a nod.

“The whole modeling side of it is just a circus. I didn't want to have anything to do with that. But management is harsh, cold-hearted, and we're encouraged to screw people over every day.” Smiling, she added, “It's fun.”

Matt chuckled. “Sorry I asked.”

Rika frowned. “Why?”

Still smiling, he replied, “My wife used to have a clothing line. She liked doing it, but she always hated having to deal with executives that were in charge of buying and selling her designs. Kind of amusing.”

“Would have been funnier if Sora had asked Rika what she did for a living,” Joe added.

Matt nodded. “And I almost put them together.”

“Oh yeah...” Rika said, looking up at WereGarurumon and Zudomon. “Sora did become a designer. I remember that.”

“As I said, you already know about us.”

Rika looked down at her bottle. “Not everything. I'm still wondering how the heck you became an astronaut.”

“It's not really an interesting story. Talk to Kari, she's the mastermind behind...” Matt trailed off as he noticed someone coming into view behind the bench. He was nervous for a moment, but calmed down when he realized who it was.

“Hey, Jeri.” As she drew closer, Matt noticed that she wasn't looking at him or his companions. She was staring up at D-Reaper, her mouth partially open as she continued to walk up to it.

Joe started to approach her. “What is it?”

Jeri didn't acknowledge him. Rika frantically jumped out of the bench and ran up to her. “Jeri?” she shouted.

Before Rika reached her, Jeri stopped. Still, Rika grabbed Jeri's wrist. Despite being only a foot away, she still yelled, “What is it? What's it doing to you?”

Again, Jeri didn't seem to hear it. She continued to stare at the red mass.

“Jeri, can you hear us?” Matt asked, cautiously approaching.

Jeri eyes suddenly grew wider and she tried to release herself from Rika's grasp. Rika held tightly and tried to pulled her away from D-Reaper. But that was the same direction Jeri was trying to go, and another jerk forced Rika's hand away. Now free, Jeri began backing away from D-Reaper.

Joe turned to Jeri, then to D-Reaper, and then back. In a soothing voice, he said, “Okay, calm down. We're taking care of this.”

“No... what are you doing?” Jeri mumbled.

“What was that?” Matt said.

“What are you doing?” Jeri repeated, louder this time.

Rika stepped between Jeri and D-Reaper, spreading her arms out. Facing D-Reaper, she shouted, “Leave her alone!”

“No! You all need to get out of here!” Jeri shouted. Rika looked over her shoulder. Jeri was looking right back at her, and she turned to Matt and Joe as well.

“Jeri, we've got this under control,” Matt held up his hands, slowly approaching her.

“Not anymore!” With no further explanation, Jeri ran away, turning back around every few yards.

Matt dropped his hands to his sides. “Um...”

After glancing at D-Reaper once more, Joe also took a few steps away from it. “You know... call me crazy but I think we should listen to her.” Turning to his partner, he shouted, “Zudomon! Fall back!” Without a word, Zudomon began backpedaling, flanked by his partner.

As she looked up at the program, Rika also began to back away. “You know what... I'm with Joe.” Without looking, she commanded, “Renamon, I'll meet you back at headquarters.”

“Um... yes, Rika,” Renamon said as she vanished.

While Matt wordlessly watched the spontaneous retreat, WereGarurumon landed nearby. “Why are they leaving?”

“I don't know,” Matt mumbled as he faced D-Reaper. He didn't notice any difference in it, other than the fact that it was slowly starting to spread. Not surprising, since the Digimon had just stopped attacking. “Hey, could you attack it just once, then go back down to C-Level?”

“Wolf Claw!” WereGarurumon shouted, slicing at the blob. Finishing that, he landed and devolved into Garurumon. If anything, the attack made D-Reaper grow faster.

“What now?” Garurumon asked.

Matt turned around. Jeri was already out of sight, while Joe and Rika were a block away and had no intention of looking back.

“Matt?” Garurumon said, this time with more urgency. Matt looked at his partner, backing away to avoid the chaos. It was spreading faster, and Matt could hear a low rumble in the distance.

He ran up to Garurumon and jumped on his back. “Let's get out of here.”

Garurumon spun around and sprinted away. Matt turned around in time to see the chaos spread past the bench and the two remaining bottles. And it was spreading even faster.

“Hurry up!” Matt shouted.

Garurumon obeyed and started picking up speed. Thankfully, they were outrunning D-Reaper, and caught up to Joe and Rika immediately. As they flew past, Matt shouted, “Joe, you two better pick up the pace. That thing must have caught a second wind.”

Rika, Joe and Zudomon turned around. D-Reaper was just fifteen yards away.

“Vulcan's Hammer!” Zudomon attacked, but it did nothing.

Matt wanted to shout more instructions, but Garurumon had already moved out of their earshot. He was confident that Joe and Rika would get to safety. He wasn't so sure about the next person he reached.

“Jeri! Hop on!” he yelled, extending a hand.

Jeri saw him, and also saw D-Reaper, spreading even faster. She leaped into the air and grabbed his lower arm. He clutched hers and hoisted her up, letting her swing her legs around Garurumon's back.

“Thank you,” Jeri said, wrapping her arms around his waist.

Despite D-Reaper's best efforts, Garurumon easily outran it. After going another two blocks, Matt heard a familiar cry from above.

“Matt!” Sora and Birdramon descended and landed next to Garurumon.

“Sora!” Without Matt needing to say anything else, Garurumon stopped.

“Is everybody okay? What's going on?”

“I've got Jeri, but Joe and Rika are still back there. Make sure they get back all right.”

Sora nodded, then looked up at her Digimon partner. “Let's go, Birdramon.”

Unfortunately, Joe wasn't as fast as Garurumon. He wasn't as young as Rika either, and ran out of breath quickly.

“Move it, Joe! It's catching up to you!” Rika shouted, ten yards ahead of him.

Joe looked back once, then screamed. D-Reaper was getting dangerously close.

Zudomon stepped forward, attacked, then picked Joe up with his free hand. But as the giant beast retreated, a large hook struck him in the back of the head, forcing him to drop Joe.

Joe landed on his feet and faced the attacker- a large, red agent with hooks at the end of its tentacle-like arms. Long scythes made up its feet, and they were hovering two feet above the ground.

With help from Rika, Joe got away quickly, leaving Zudomon to attack the Pendulum Feet agent. “Vulcan's Hammer!”

“No, wait!” Rika shouted, but the attack already connected, striking what appeared to be Pendulum Feet's face.

“What is it?” Joe asked.

The agent responded by slamming both of its feet against the ground. An energy beam shot from the ground, directly at Zudomon's head. He took the attack full-force and fell backwards, devolving into Gomamon in the process.

Rika gritted her teeth and muttered, “It can use our attacks against us.”

“Gomamon!” Joe wasn't concerned with that, charging forward to retrieve his Digimon.

“Joe!” Rika shouted after him as Pendulum Feet drew its arms back for another attack. She knew he was foolishly throwing himself into danger, but knew better than to stop him. Before Joe could reach Gomamon, however, Pendulum Feet shot its arms forward.

“Meteor Wing!” cried Birdramon as she swooped down and struck the cord between the agent and the chaos.

“Sora!” Joe shouted, cradling Gomamon as Pendulum Feet dissolved into a puddle of red.

“Get on!” Sora replied. Joe jumped on Birdramon's unoccupied foot. The bird Digimon flew to Rika, who joined Sora. Birdramon took to air and delivered them back to base.

Matt and Jeri were waiting outside, the former running to meet the group as soon as Birdramon landed. He noticed Gomamon immediately. “What happened?”

“Another agent,” Rika replied, “Hit Gomamon pretty hard.”

Resting in Joe's arms, Gomamon's breathing was labored, but at least he was breathing. “He'll survive, but I think he's done for the day,” Joe said.

Matt sighed, slumping his shoulders. Sora gently set an arm on his back. “What on Earth just happened?” he asked himself. He reciprocated his wife's gesture by briefly patting her on the back, then turned around and walked up to Jeri. Again, she was staring blankly at D-Reaper, stabilizing a few blocks away.

“So what's going on?” he asked.

In a low voice, she replied, “Ever since I came back here, I could hear D-Reaper calling for me. Even while I was attacking it, it still kept trying to reach me. Then this morning, it stopped. And I didn't know why.”

Matt didn't respond. He took another look at it, just happy its sudden growth spurt had subsided.

Jeri continued, “I just realized why. It's because it doesn't want me anymore... it doesn't need me anymore.” She took a few steps towards D-Reaper, before turning around and bowing her head.

“It's found somebody else.”

To Be Continued in Stage Five- “Family”

Author's Notes
Some readers were afraid Michi was going to be left behind as Level 3 unfolded. I guess they don't have to worry any longer.

After Grim Reality, I felt obligated to have an Izzy/Rika moment somewhere. So here it is. And while I did shed light on what Rika ends up doing with her life, don't expect too much more out of her in future stages. She has a little more time in the next stage, but her role is greatly reduced after that.

For once, I'm following the convention that any character with a name is important to the story. While I bent that in the past and provided names of a few family members like Junko or Mizuki (Cody and Joe's wives) out of curiosity, nobody needs to know the name of Izzy's sister-in-law. I was considering naming her in the story, but figured there's enough people to remember here already.

For those who counted, six of the seven letters were successfully delivered, but Michi didn't know about Shinya receiving his letter from Mari... er... Jeri.

This ends Level 3: Stage Four of The Connection.