Level 3: Experiments

Stage Five- Family

By noon, the seven Chosen were all awake, aware of the situation, and awaiting further instruction in the control room. Four Tamers stood by the doorway, silently watching their TV heroes and would-be saviors appear completely lost amidst the recent development. The one person that united them was not in the room; he was upstairs talking to Riley. Until either of them appeared, nobody dared make a move. Bolstered by a human source, D-Reaper now had the energy to not only devour the world, but also to repel any attack that was unfocused or disorganized. Whatever move the Chosen made next, it had to be smart.

The silence scared Kazu. To him, the world needed heroes and the mighty digi-destined had come to the rescue. Only here they were just seven people fearing for their lives in downtown Shinjuku. Sora was sitting with her arms folded, glaring at the clock on the wall. Matt gently rubbed her shoulder, but his face was blankly looking up at the ceiling. Izzy yawned; thanks to his three o'clock shift he had only gotten a couple hours of sleep. The same applied to Kazu; he yawned back. Joe was still cradling Gomamon. The Digimon was merely asleep but Pendulum Feet's attack was enough to scare any respectable partner. Cody remained focused, glancing around the room and trying to read some eyes. Given the unhappy expression on his face, he either wasn't having any luck or didn't like what he saw.

Kari's head rested on TK's shoulder, with TK wrapping an arm around her waist. Both were staring at the ground, TK shaking his head slowly. Their intimacy struck Kazu as interesting, although he was discouraged that TK wasn't emanating the hope he was said to embody. Instead, TK appeared to be another adult helpless to stop the end of the world.

All eyes turned to Takato as he entered the room. He didn't seem to acknowledge them, instead concentrating on finding a place to sit. Unable to find one, he gave up and stood in the center of the room.

“So what's the world from Riley?” Izzy asked.

Takato didn't make eye contact as he nervously answered, “I think she's taking this pretty hard. She said she needed some time alone to think things through. She wasn't planning for this to happen.”

“Why not? She should have at least considered the possibility,” Sora muttered.

“Takato, she needs to know that sulking about this won't help,” Joe said, “She's the only one who knows enough about this thing to make smart decisions. We need her right now.”

As TK and Izzy started to echo similar thoughts, Takato looked up at them. The uneasiness in his voice seemed to vanish as he said, “Listen, it's not like we have to wait around for her. We still need to try to control D-Reaper while we still can.”

“Takato's right,” Henry added, “It's going to start growing again soon, and much faster. Probably enough to swallow up this building by this time tomorrow.”

“You mean we may have to move again?” Cody asked.

“We have to be ready for the possibility.”

Matt stood. “Would attacking it now do any good?” he asked Henry.

“It can't hurt, although it's going to have a few more agents in its arsenal now.”

“So we'll need some firepower...” Matt looked around the room. “Gomamon's still recovering and Renamon's only an R-Level, so let's send the fourth shift out now.”

“For how long?” Sora asked. The fourth shift comprised of herself, Kari and Henry.

“I'm not going to forget about you, dear. Just go out and kill whatever you can.”

She and Kari stood and walked to the exit. TK said, “Be careful, Kari,” the only comment made as they and Henry left.

Takato immediately claimed Sora's seat. He slumped down, closed his eyes and exhaled. Izzy patted him on the back, but Takato didn't seem to notice.

“Are you sure it's a good idea to just send them out?” TK asked Matt. TK was sitting sideways in his chair, his upper arm brushing up against the window as his head leaned on his hand.

Matt shrugged. “I don't want too many going out until we have a better idea of what we're doing. You and Cody and Jeri are next in line, so I want to save you. And Izzy and Kazu didn't get much sleep. They and their Digimon are probably exhausted. If it makes sense, maybe Rika and I can go back out in a bit. But the girls will be fine for now.”

TK shook his head. “What are you basing that on, Matt? One of those agents took out Zudomon in one swipe, and it's getting stronger.”

Rika stepped forward and said, “That only happened because Joe didn't know what its powers were. Henry's out there; he'll tell them what to watch out for.”

Kazu smiled. “Wow, Rika, that's the nicest thing you've said about Henry in years!”

“Shut up, Kazu,” she fired back.

Nothing seemed to reassure TK, who sat forward and said, “But Gargomon and Gatomon are stuck on C-Level. Can they really do anything?”

“Gatomon?” Kazu replied, an incredulous smile appearing. “Aren't you forgetting about Angewomon?”

He was more surprised to see a row of somber faces, most with their heads down.

Takato was among them, and he looked up at Kazu and delivered the news: “Kazu, Gatomon was deleted a couple years ago.”

Cody nodded. “In our world, Digimon get reborn, but she had to start over with Kari. They haven't reached Ultimate yet.”

“And last time I checked, their synch level wasn't high enough,” Joe added.

Matt looked around the room. The mood had somehow gotten even worse. Doing his best to sound optimistic, he said, “Look, Sora can still go M-Level. And there's always the chance of a dynamic.”

“A dynamic?!” TK shouted, suddenly standing up. His wide eyes stared up at his brother. “You don't seriously plan to rely on a dynamic digivolution, do you? We can't put Kari in that kind of danger.”

Matt shrugged. “Way most dynamics work, it's not up to us.”

“This is serious, Matt. We can't expect a dynamic digivolution, especially if it's for the first time. If it doesn't happen, then Kari would be... she'd be...” TK couldn't finish the thought.

Matt sighed. “They've never let us down before. Guess you just have to have faith in Gatomon.”

“Yeah,” Kazu added, “Where's your crest of Hope?”

TK narrowed his eyes and sneered at Kazu.

“In case you haven't noticed, we're not kids anymore. I don't know how you guys do things here, but we're beyond relying on intangible symbols and miracles to get things done.” TK turned back to Matt. “We're accostumed to knowing what the situation is and being in control. Now, thanks to Riley, we're lost and scared and just trying to get back home. I don't know about everybody else, but I have no desire to feel like I'm eight again.”

As TK took his seat, Izzy continued the thought, speaking slowly and calmly: “Matt, consider the fact that you mentioned a dynamic digivolution. You're assuming that if Kari's life is in danger, Gatomon will digivolve. We haven't relied on that assumption since the first time Daemon appeared. Back then, we knew so little about the nature of the Digimon that such miracles seemed so automatic. Now that we've researched all these facets of the Digital World, we know how extremely fortunate we were that we all survived. Call it fate or destiny if you want... but a lot of the time it was just blind luck keeping us alive.”

Shaking his head, Izzy continued, “We were absolutely oblivious back then. We weren't fighting to save the world: it was basic survival. No matter how TK spun it in his books, or how glamorously we were portrayed on TV, truth is we were just seven scared children trying not to die. Now I have no doubt that D-Reaper can be defeated. But as TK said- we're not kids anymore. When you tell us to hope for dynamic digivolution and such, that sets us back forty years to when we were just barely surviving without any clue as to what was keeping us alive. I am afraid to go back to that.”

“You guys are missing the point,” Takato murmured, his head still down, “We know more about D-Reaper now than we did last time. We beat it last time and we should be strong enough to beat it again this time.”

“I didn't say we wouldn't,” Izzy replied, “I just think it's fair to acknowledge that we are all very, very scared right now.”

“D-Reaper has a source.” Takato raised his voice slightly. “A human source.”

Matt nodded, but his reply was cold. “I think we have our hands full as it is. We can't worry about trying to make a rescue.”

“I'm assuming D-Reaper has to be weakened somehow before we can try anything?” Cody asked.

Takato nodded. “But whoever's in there is going through something awful because of us. And we don't even know who it is.”

Izzy hesitated at first, but finally said, “It probably doesn't help ease the pain, but I would imagine that D-Reaper needs to keep the source alive at all costs. So when we do get around to rescuing, there will be somebody to left to rescue. Right?”

“Yes,” Jeri answered, very quietly, “In a matter of speaking.”

Joe grimaced, his eyes squarely fixed on the floor. “I hate to suggest this, especially in front of Jeri, but as an absolute last resort- is it feasible to eliminate the source?”

“No,” Jeri replied immediately.

Joe looked up at her, quickly putting his hands up. Hurriedly, he said, “I'm only saying that if it gets really desperate and we're out of-”

“It won't work,” Jeri interrupted, stepping forward, “D-Reaper will protect the source at all costs, and any attempts to attack the source directly will be repelled. Believe me... I tried.”

“But you-” Joe looked up at Jeri and stopped himself. Her eyes answered his question.

Matt muttered, “It's that bad, isn't it?”

A loud chime echoed through the room. While it startled everybody, it shook Matt the most since the sound originated from behind his chair. Matt jumped up and looked at it.

“I didn't touch it!” Matt squeaked, holding his hands up.

“Is that Riley's?” Izzy asked, claiming Matt's chair and opening the laptop on the desk behind it. “I'll take care of this.”

Still standing, Matt sighed and addressed the room. “Anyway, I don't think we should get too worked up over the source. We don't know who it is, and I don't see any way of finding out. So it's probably best not to worry about it.”

“No,” Takato replied. He stood and walked to the door. “I need to know who it is.”

“Where are you going?” Joe asked.

Takato opened the door and looked back at Joe. “To find out.”

After the door shut behind him, the group looked at each other, all trying to figure out what Takato meant. “How does one find out?” Cody thought aloud.

Matt looked at the Tamers. “One of you might want to, uh...”

Rika nodded. “Yeah, I'll watch him.”

Just as Rika left, Izzy mumbled, “My God...” His eyes had become wide and a faint stream of tears started to run down his cheek.

“What's wrong?” Matt asked, leaning over Izzy's shoulder to get a glimpse of the computer.

Still in awe, Izzy replied, “It's Mari...”

Alice389: Are you there?
RKngel: Who is this?
Alice389: Riley?
RKngel: Riley's not here right now.
Alice389: Who is this? Why are you on her computer?
RKngel: My name is Izzy. My friends and I are helping Riley with D-reaper.
RKngel: Are you still there?
RKngel: Alice?
Alice389: Dad? Is that you?
RKngel: Highly unlikely. My daughter's name is Mari.
Alice389: I am Mari.

Given how quickly the two could type, the whole exchange took less than a minute. Taking it in, however, took longer. Mari had always dreamed of contacting her father again. She had known he was alive, and she knew he was helping Riley and Takato. To accidentally start chatting with him though, even under such dire circumstances, forced such an explosion of emotion that even she had to step back and feel it.

The only reason Mari had helped out with any of this was out of love for her father. Even six years ago when she had contributed her bio-merging theories, she did so with the faint hope that Janyuu and the other researchers could use the MAXIS to restore a connection to the Digital World. At the very least, it would keep the spirit of the digi-destined alive. She had always found it ironic that to help with the project, she had to assume a false identity and deny any connection to the Izumi family. When the whole mess was over, she found the MAXIS without a Digital World and herself no closer to Izzy than before. So she kept trying, denying herself the name Mari Izumi until she had earned it.

Now, only two days after Takato had convinced her to reclaim Mari, she was talking to her father. Whatever serendipitous forces brought them together didn't matter, and both father and daughter made that immediately obvious: within two minutes, both of them had made up for years of absence. Izzy explained how he and his friends lived at the research station, how Takato came into all of this, and of course some of the more interesting developments in his Digital World research. Mari shared her contributions to the first D-Reaper battle. She smiled at Izzy's response: “What was harder? Putting your theories into practice or pretending to be Alice?”

As she stopped typing for a moment, she noticed that the rushing water from the bathroom had ceased: Tally was finished with her shower. That snapped Mari back to reality- as gratifying as it was to chat with her father again, she and Tally needed answers. Mari's fingers snapped back into action as she asked about the current state of D-Reaper.

When Tally emerged from the bathroom, Mari hadn't learned anything new. The group in the MAXIS was just as confounded as Mari and Tally.

“Is that Riley?” Tally asked, holding the towel wrapped around her body. “What does she know?”

“It's my father. They know little more than we do.”

“It's Izzy?” Tally gasped and approached the monitor.

“Riley is not available at the moment.”

Tally chuckled. “Probably off swearing in a corner somewhere. That's what I'd be doing.” She smiled and patted Mari on the shoulder. “But that must be nice to talk to your dad again.”

“Yes,” was all Mari said.

“So they don't know anything about where the source came from?”

“It isn't Jeri. They know that much.” Tally nodded as Mari continued, “But the presence of a source makes the original plan obsolete. One agent took out Zudomon in a single shot.”

Tally furrowed her eyebrows. “Is that bad?”

Mari rolled her eyes. “I suppose you still know nothing about Digimon.”

“Nope. But I assume that Riley will figure something out. I just wish we could do more on our end.”

Both of them frowned. They had vast amounts of data on every subject imaginable within the MAXIS. Finding a practical use for it, however, was fairly difficult at the moment. D-Reaper was strengthening, and at the moment the only way to weaken it was brute strength. Once D-Reaper was losing energy, the data was crucial to eliminating it. Until that time, Tally and Mari were merely spectators.

Regardless, Tally smiled at Mari. “At least you finally got a chat with Dad.” Tally's eyes appeared to water slightly.

“I asked him to put your husband on,” Mari replied.

“TK?” Tally grimaced and stepped back, putting a hand up. “Oh, that's okay. I, uh... need to change.”

Mari maintained a straight face. “It's not a video conference. He can't see you.”

Tally smiled awkwardly. “You know... still...”

She had almost reached the door when a tone on the computer indicated a new message. Mari glanced at it, raised an eyebrow, and turned back to Tally. “Apparently, he doesn't want to talk either.”

Awkward as it was, Tally's smile fell anyway. Her eyes moistened again.

She huffed. “Figures,” she muttered as she marched out of the room.

The service tunnel looked normal enough as Takato and Veemon entered it. They quickly discovered that the illusion was due to the sunlight illuminating the entrance. The farther they went, the more ominous it seemed. Apparently, with the city evacuated, it had been deemed unnecessary to fully light the tunnel. As a result, only a few bare light bulbs lit the way. The only other light source came from above; splotches on the ceiling were giving off a faint red glow. Occasionally, a small splash of chaos would fall to the ground. Without a doubt, they were walking under D-Reaper.

Veemon watched a glob of chaos form a puddle on the floor. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” he asked, “This place gives me the willies.”

Takato continued walking, eyes straight ahead. “This is the only way to get inside.”

“Inside what?” Veemon stepped ahead of Takato, turned around, and walked backwards, glancing from side to side. “Secret base where they keep the prisoner?”

“Inside D-Reaper.”

Veemon stopped and stepped aside as Takato passed him. “What?!” He ran to catch up and then walked alongside Takato, growing more frantic. “You mean we're going inside the blob?”

“I need to know who it is.”

The matter was beyond curiosity for Takato. When he made the decision to re-enter this world, he did so for himself. It was a matter of taking responsibility for events in the past. He brought Jeri along for the same reason- the existence of this world and everybody native to it would be defended or rejected once and for all.

He had never considered the introduction of a new human source. The battle was supposed to be Takato and his allies against Yasuo and his forces. Instead, somebody else was suffering because of all this. Takato couldn't live with himself unless he knew who got caught in the middle.

As he and Veemon began ascending to street level, Takato felt a hand on his shoulder. As serious as he had been, he suddenly jumped and turned around. The feat was too much for his legs to handle and he fell to the ground, staring up at Renamon.

“Jeez, where did you come from?” Veemon shouted.

“Sorry to startle you. Rika told me to find out what you are doing,” Renamon replied, helping Takato back to his feet.

“I'm finding out who the source is,” Takato answered, “Rika has nothing to do with this. Just tell her I have some private business.”

Renamon eyed the tunnel's exit. She could make out D-Reaper's interior, along with a few trees standing defiantly in the park. “It doesn't look safe. I wouldn't go in there.”

“Well, if you tell Rika where I am, she'll come after me. Then you'll have to go in there.”

“Good point.”

Takato looked up at Renamon. “I know it's dangerous and a little reckless. Probably stupid too. But I need to find out who Yasuo dragged into all this. I don't want anyone else getting hurt because of me. That includes Rika.”

Renamon nodded. “Very well. Be careful. I'll keep her in the viscinity in case you need help.”

“Thanks,” Takato replied as Renamon vanished. He looked down at Veemon, staring in awe at the spot Renamon had been at. “You don't mind dangerous, reckless and stupid, right?”

Veemon shook his head, turned to Takato and smiled brightly. “You haven't met Davis, have you?”

They shared a laugh and continued out of the tunnel, into the park.

The fourth agent wasn't as large or as powerful as Pendulum Feet. Five of them, however, were just as dangerous as they all rapidly fired on Garudamon. Their attacks were not strong enough to subdue the U-Level, however, and Garudamon was able to blast them away efficiently. Unfortunately, that only summoned more to the fray.

“How long are we supposed to keep this up?” Gargomon asked as he took potshots from the ground.

“Until we get our act together, I guess,” Henry replied, observing the battle from a safe distance with Sora and Kari.

“Knowing Riley, that may take a while,” Sora added.

Gatomon stood in front of the humans, ready to pounce on anything headed in their direction. “I can keep this up for hours,” she said.

“You're not the one firing at these things!” Gargomon replied, raising his voice over his constant spray of bullets.

Henry frowned and shook his head. “Moumantai, Gargomon.”

“What the hell does that mean?!”

“He does have a point,” Kari said, “We can't keep this up for an entire shift.”

Sora winced as Garudamon took another hit from the agents. “Matt will think of something. And we still have Hououmon and Angewomon if things turn bad.”

“That's what I'm afraid of.”

Sora raised an eyebrow at Kari. It took her a moment to figure out what Kari was implying. “Why? What's your synch level with Gatomon?”


Blinking, Sora muttered, “Oh shit.”

“What's the problem?” Henry asked.

“Kari needs a synch of 300 for Gatomon to digivolve on command,” Sora explained.

“Well, if Kari's in trouble, I'm sure-”

“That whole getting in trouble part... that's the problem,” Kari replied with a nervous grin, “I'm not as mobile as I used to be.”

During the discussion, Gatomon noticed Rika approaching. “Hey, Rika's coming. Hope Henry doesn't mind another girl in the group.”

“Since when was Rika considered a girl?” Henry folded his arms and glared at her. She noticed it and responded with her own fiery stare.

Once close enough, she turned to Sora and Kari and asked, “Have you seen Takato around?”

Sora shook her head. Kari replied, “No, why?”

“Gogglehead walked out. Said he was going to find out who D-Reaper's feeding off of.”

Kari furrowed her eyebrows. “He can find out?”

“He'd have to go inside D-Reaper,” Henry said in a low voice, “That's suicide.”

Rika smirked at Henry. “This is Takato we're talking about. I was just hoping he talked to you guys first.”

Henry raised his voice. “Well, he's probably in there by now!” he said, hurriedly, “We've got to figure out how he got in and go after him!”

Retaining her smirk, Rika replied, “Covered.”

Renamon appeared immediately and her partner asked, “Did you talk to him?”

“Takato doesn't want anyone else hurt, so he's only taking Veemon.”

“How is he getting in?” Sora asked.

“Well, there's that service tunnel that leads into the park,” Henry replied.

“You didn't hear that from me,” Renamon added.

Rika cracked her knuckles. “Who's up for a rescue mission?”

Gatomon raised a paw and said, “Hold on, if he doesn't want us chasing him, he probably has a good reason. Besides, Garudamon and Gargomon have their hands full already.”

“Gatomon's right, but what if we moved our battle closer to the park and worked on a way to get him out from there?” Kari said.

Sora nodded. “Yeah. If it doesn't work, Matt can have TK or Cody go in through the tunnel.”

Henry started to walk away. “Sounds like a plan, but we'd better get moving. I don't know how long Takato can last in there.”

Most of the park still remained as Takato and Veemon passed through. Takato noticed a playground that had lost a few structures and had to tiptoe around a few puddles of chaos on the grass, but he could wander through the area without worrying about immediate obliteration.

Not that the place looked friendly, though. They were in a dome of chaos, the ceiling standing a mere fifteen feet above the ground. In the distance, red splotches oozed up the sides of buildings, with electric sparks flashing across the landscape like lightning. A distant rattle of machine gun fire clued Takato in to where Henry and the others were fighting. The interior wall of D-Reaper flowed towards the battlefield- lending energy to where it was most needed.

Takato wasn't worried about Henry. He was here for one reason. There was no clear way of asking about the source's identity, but that wasn't about to stop Takato.

“Who's in here?” he shouted. The shout was met by dead silence; even his echo was absorbed and dissolved by the chaos.

Veemon looked around nervously. “I'd say we are.”

Takato ignored him. “Come on out and gloat about your new victim.”

“Who are you talking to?”

“The first agent.”

Veemon's eyes became wider. “Agent? You mean like that thing that took out Zudomon?!”

“Yep. Except this one's a lot more dangerous,” Takato replied, turning his head quickly to prevent a surprise appearance.

Finally, the reply came in the form of a girl's voice, echoing throughout:


Takato tensed up immediately. With the loud echo, he couldn't recognize the voice. Regardless of who it was, the reply was disturbing enough.

He gulped and replied, loudly and defiantly: “My name's Takato.”

“Koji Mathews from New York City.” The voice was emotionless and unwavering.

To hear his alias was unsettling enough, but the implications were even worse. Takato may have used the name throughout his entire life in the real world, but only a few relevant people actually knew him as Koji. The list of possible sources had shrunk, but those remaining were particularly concerning.

Veemon, however, remained oblivious to all of this. “I think you got the wrong file, lady,” he said, stepping forward and doing his best to face a disembodied voice.

“State your purpose, Koji.”

Takato looked up at the red ceiling, starting to reverse its flow away from the exterior battle. Knowing D-Reaper, it was likely some vague rhetorical question, but there was no sense remaining silent. “I'm here to find out who you've got captive this time,” he answered.

“That is incorrect,” she replied, “Your purpose was to fool seven children into believing that their parents did not die twelve years ago.”

“What?” Veemon replied, scratching his head.

“What does that have to do with anything?!” Takato shouted back. If this D-Reaper was Yasuo's doing, Takato could only wonder why it would bring up the letters. After all, according to Yasuo, Koji was never supposed to exist.

“You have fulfilled your purpose in the world,” replied the voice. This time, however, Takato noticed that it sounded more tangible, as if it actually originated from somewhere. As the echo became less dominant, the voice also became more recognizable.

“Therefore, Koji Mathews...” Takato turned to the origin of the voice. Behind a tree, a tall figure emerged. It was vaguely human, but with pale blue skin, small wings, and the requisite umbilical cable connecting it to D-Reaper. The face, however, was certainly inspired by humans. One human in particular. Koji had already matched the voice to the human and his knees were already beginning to buckle as he stared up at the face of Michi Grant.

“Since you no longer have a purpose, it is my purpose to destroy you,” she said, still in that cold, unwavering impersonation of Michi.

Takato fell to his knees, helplessly staring up at the approaching agent. Yes, this was what he had come for, but it was a matter of necessity. He neeed to know who was being thrown into harm's way. The last thing he wanted was for anyone to end up in trouble because of him. Seeing Michi's face in the first agent, now bearing spiteful eyes and a disfigured grin, was too much for him to handle.

“I've heard enough,” Veemon muttered, charging after the agent crying “Vee Headbutt!”

With her grotesquely long arm, the agent slapped Veemon away and continued to approach Takato.

Takato couldn't stand to look at her, much less stand at all. He knew she was coming, and she had already declared her intention to kill him, but he couldn't move. Takato could only stare at the concrete below him, trying to trace how Michi could have ended up here. He regretted not chasing after her when she ran from the hotel. He regretted not demanding that Riley let him find her and say goodbye. Above all, he regretted dragging her into this without making sure she was securely out. No matter how it happened, the pain she was surely going through was his fault.

“Takato...” Veemon moaned as he crawled towards him. Takato still didn't look up, and would have been at D-Reaper's mercy had Veemon not stepped between his partner and the agent. Veemon stared up at her and shouted, “You want to destroy him, you're going through me first!”

“Very well,” the agent replied coldly as she grabbed Veemon by the neck and hoisted him up.

The number of pestering Bubbles agents started to wane as Sora and the others safely arrived at the edge of the park.

“I don't think they followed us,” Sora said, turning back as Kari and Gatomon brought up the rear.

Henry scratched his chin. “That's odd. Back there, whenever we killed them, more came out.” He paused as Garudamon blew the last few away, then added, “So either D-Reaper doesn't think it's worth spending energy on us...”

Rika finished the thought, “Or it's busy worrying about another battle.”

Sora turned to Rika. “You mean... Takato?” She pointed to the mass of chaos. Rika nodded.

Kari was staring into the park at D-Reaper with a blank look on her face. Eyes wide open, she started walking up to it. “Something's definitely going on in there,” she murmured.

Wasting no time in running after Kari, Sora put a hand on her shoulder. “Watch it, Kari. I don't like the idea of you getting too close to evil red blobs, okay?”

“But Takato's in trouble,” Kari replied, a growing sense of urgency in her voice. She tried shaking herself away, but her crutches prevented her from going anywhere.

Still restraining Kari, Sora turned back to Rika and Henry. “Okay kids, you know this thing better than we do. How do we get inside?”

“That depends on whether or not you want to get out in one piece,” Henry replied, “I don't know if we have the firepower if you do.”

“Let's find out.” Rika grinned and commanded, “Renamon- hit it right in front of Kari at ground level.”

As she obeyed with her Diamond Storm attack, Sora ordered Garudamon to follow up with a Wing Blade. The combination of attacks made a little indentation in D-Reaper, but not anything useful.

“It's no good,” Kari said, shaking her head, “It's not responding to those attacks.”

“Try it again,” Rika ordered. Renamon and Garudamon attacked again, but the effect was insubstantial.

Sora sighed, momentarily letting go of Kari, who immediately started walking forward again. “Kari, I'm serious. Don't get so close,” said Sora, sounding more condescending than concerned.

Kari stopped about ten feet in front of the small wedge in D-Reaper. “Sora, we need to do something now. I don't think Takato will make it much longer.”

“How can you tell?” Rika asked.

“Oh, she can tell,” Sora muttered in response. Raising her voice, she said, “Kari, let's just call Matt. Patamon and Armadillomon are healthy and they're better suited to go in.”

Kari didn't respond. She closed her eyes and placed a hand on top of her chest, resting her other hand over it.

Sora and Henry stood silent as they watched her. Rika reached for her cell phone. She said, “I'm going to call-” before Sora shushed her.

Nobody said anything further as they waited for Kari. Not even as Gatomon began to glow. Everybody saw it happen, but were completely speechless as she digivolved to Ultimate.

Kari didn't turn around until she heard Angewomon whisper her name. When she did, Kari looked up at the U-Level, her hands still against her chest.

She said one thing to Angewomon: “Please.” Then she carefully stepped aside.

“Heaven's Charm!” Angewomon shouted, bringing her outstretched hands together before splitting them apart.

The attack of light blasted the sea of red, parting the chaos enough to forge a walkway to the park. On the other side, Takato was down on his knees as an ugly humanoid agent held Veemon up by the throat.

“That's our cue,” Rika spat, charging through the gap with Renamon quickly following.

“Give them some cover!” Sora shouted.

Gargomon opened fire, protecting Rika with a tunnel of bullets. The only attack that got through was Garudamon's, who launched a Wing Blade directly at the first agent. Not anticipating the attack, the agent took it head on, screamed and threw Veemon to the ground. It took one look at the group, backpedaled and disappeared.

Henry smiled. “So much for Gatomon not digivolving on command,” he said to Sora.

Sora's smile was more smug. “That wasn't on command. That was dynamic.” Henry frowned and raised an eyebrow as Sora shook her head. “Leave it to Kari to arouse a dynamic digivolution purely out of concern for somebody else.”

“Hurry up, Rika! I can't hold it much longer!” Angewomon shouted, struggling to keep the gap open.

Rika didn't need an order to hurry. She sprinted to Takato and Veemon, managing to keep pace with Renamon. Takato was breathing heavily, a mixture of tears and sweat falling from his face. Veemon was clutching his neck, desperately gasping for air.

Rika started with Takato, carefully draping his arm around her shoulder and forcing him to his feet. He wasn't cooperating, however, and her grip loosened. Fortunately, Renamon took his other arm and held him up. Rika managed to scoop up Veemon and they turned around.

Of course, with two helpless passengers, running was out of the question. “Takato? Are you okay?” Rika asked.

She thought she heard him mumble something along the lines of “Michi,” but the lack of a coherent response was answer enough.

As they struggled to get Takato and Veemon through the gap, Angewomon began to lose control.

“I'm losing it!” shouted Angewomon. Everybody heard it, but with Gargomon and Garudamon preventing further agent attacks and Kari, Sora and Henry waiting just outside the gap, they had no answer.

“They'll never make it back in time,” Sora said. To reiterate the fact, the chaos started to fill in, narrowing the walkway.

“Just a little more, Angewomon!” Kari shouted.

“I can't!” Angewomon replied.

“Shit...” Henry muttered, walking away for a moment.

“Henry, get back up here!” Sora ordered. Henry ignored the command, instead reaching into his pocket.

He pulled out a deck of cards and started flipping through them.

“Gargomon, you're pretending to be my partner, right?” he asked.

“I suppose. Why?”

Henry dropped all but one card, produced his D-Power and turned around. “Just go with it.”

“With what?!”

“Digi-Modify!” he shouted, running the card through the slot, “Poison Ivy activate!”

Gargomon's eyes widened and his mouth fell open as his arms transformed into a cluster of vines. As he was already firing into the tunnel, the vines immediately shot forward.

“Grab them!” Henry ordered. Rika and Renamon clutched Takato and Veemon tightly as the vines wrapped themselves around the four.

“Now what?” asked a frantic Gargomon.

“PULL!” shouted Henry... as well as Sora, Kari, and Angewomon.

Gargomon jerked his arms back, forcing the vines to retreat, hurling the two Tamers and two Digimon out of the gap. As soon as they were out, the gap closed and Angewomon reverted back to Salamon.

Rika and Renamon crashed to the street in front of Gargomon, whose vines soon turned back into guns. He fell backwards on his rear and yelled, “Never do that again!”

Letting go of Takato and Veemon, Rika sat up. Still catching her breath, she glared at Henry and angrily muttered, “Had to wait until the last minute, huh?”

Henry rolled his eyes and folded his arms. “Shut up, Rika, you know I'm not letting you kill yourself.”

Sora looked at Gargomon, then at Henry. “How did you know that was going to work? You're not really Gargomon's partner. Er... Tamer.”

Eyeing Sora for a moment, Henry broke into a smile. “Same reason Kari knew Gatomon would digivolve, I guess.”

“I didn't know Gatomon would digivolve,” Kari replied with a straight-face as she bent down over Takato.

“My point exactly.”

Takato's heavy breathing continued as Kari looked him over. Sora pulled out a phone. “I'd better call Joe,” she told Kari, “What's wrong with him?”

Kari furrowed her eyebrows and looked up at Sora. “Nothing. He's not injured.”

“Looks like Veemon took all the damage,” Henry added.

Sora held the phone out, but didn't dial. “I wonder what happened. He's been through worse things.”

Rika looked down at Takato. His eyes stared straight up into the air. She snapped her fingers in front of them. “For all that trouble, I sure hope he found out who the damn source is.”

“Michi,” he mumbled through staggered breaths.

Sora was busy dialing something on the phone. She glanced up at Kari, passively interested. “What did he say?”

As Sora finished dialing and started talking to Matt, Kari leaned forward as Takato kept mumbling, “It's my fault... I never should have left her...”

Kari sighed and patted him on the head. “It's not your fault. Just calm down, alright?”

“I thought she was safe. Riley said she was with Yolei. But no... she's in there. Michi's in there...”

Kari backed away, still staring at Takato. She gulped and said, weakly, “Sora?”

It was loud enough to bring Sora over. She sat on her knees, moving the phone away from her mouth. “What's he saying?” she asked Kari.

“Michi...” he mumbled again.

Sora's face suddenly became pale. Her mouth fell open, silent for a few moments before she whispered, “Michi? My Michi?”

Takato's eyes slowly turned to meet Sora's. Tears continued to stream down. “I'm sorry,” Takato said.

Sora dropped the phone. As it fell against the concrete, Kari heard Matt's voice through it. She picked it up. “Sora? Are you there?” cried a worried Matt.

“This is Kari.”

“Is everything all right?”

“In a sense,” she replied. As Sora's eyes started to water, Kari's did as well.

“Good. Sorry you guys had to go through all that. We tried to tell Takato that it didn't matter who the source was, but-”

“No, Matt...” Kari bit her lip before answering, “It matters.”

Michi opened her eyes, but wasn't completely sure if she was awake. She was in a small, enclosed area- the untextured pink dome surrounding her made it hard to call it a room. She did not remember how, where, or if she fell asleep, only that her present surroundings were unfamiliar and there was no way she arrived by her own will. She neither heard nor smelled anything, but could feel her arms resting on her torso and her constricting jeans.

She sat up, setting her hands on the soft surface below. Wherever she was, she was alone. The lack of any door made her wonder if there was any way in or out.

“Hello?” Michi called out, with not even an echo answering back. “Where am I?” she added, again with no reply. She was growing frustrated by the lack of any answers. Nothing in her bubble gave her any clues from where she sat, and she thought about standing up and looking more closely. This was when she noticed that she lacked the energy to do so. Michi felt incredibly tired, and laid down once more.

“What am I doing here?” she asked, facing up at the pink ceiling. She yawned once, not expecting a reply.

It came anyway, sounding like her own voice echoed back: “This is your purpose.”

She was surprised to hear the reply, and more surprised by the actual response. As far as she knew, she had no purpose, and that was the whole problem. She certainly wasn't doing anything here, yet she was allegedly fulfilling a purpose. Either that was a morbid joke or bizarre irony.

Michi was tempted to yell something back to get more information, but found herself content with closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep. She knew this unfamiliar situation was somehow wrong, but for some reason the ominous atmosphere made her feel at peace.

At first, Yolei didn't want to disturb Ken as he sat dejectedly on the couch. It bothered her enough that he had come home so early in the afternoon. The real issue, of course, was that he had returned without Michi.

She didn't need to ask him what had happened. It was exactly what Yolei had feared- Yasuo caught Michi on something and was detaining her indefinitely. Yolei wasn't about to stroll in with a gigantic 'I told you so' and scold him for not listening. This was beyond one of their mundane arguments: they had dropped the ball and now Michi was in serious trouble.

She had to do something, however. Although the severity of the situation prevented her from chastising Ken, she was still quite pissed. She had to release that anger somehow, and Ken was the only logical target. With no intention of starting an argument, she marched into the room and stood in front of him. He looked up, eyes drooping and his mouth trying to find the right way to apologize.

Obviously, Ken knew Yolei was right. Yolei understood that, forgave him, and only wanted to make him feel better. Ever the peacemaker, she slapped him across the face.

That opened his eyes, and he rested a hand on his cheek as he turned back to her. His eyes started to droop again, wordlessly accepting the punishment.

“Stop it, Ken!” she shouted, ready to give him another one if he continued moping. “Okay, so you screwed up. Right now you can't worry about that. This isn't something stupid like forgetting to get Miho an anniversary present. We need to get Michi back.”

Ken's eyes were wide open now, but the frown on his face was still discouraging. “How do you expect to do that? Yasuo wouldn't even tell me what she was guilty of. Forget about locating her and getting her out. Not without Yasuo sniffing us out and throwing us in there too.”

Yolei shook her head. It was the same story- big, evil Yasuo preventing them from doing anything remotely subversive. This was different, however. Michi was innocent, and Yolei was determined not to lose her. “I don't care anymore. She didn't do anything wrong, and I won't let him snuff her out. Whatever he does to us is worth it as long as Mimi gets Michi back.”

Ken stood, forcing Yolei to step back. “Are you sure? Yolei, I'd be with you, but I don't want Chiaki and Masayuki to-”

“And Michi doesn't matter?” she interrupted, “Mimi trusted us to take care of Michi and we let her down.”

“No, I let her down.”

Yolei nodded. Raising her voice, she said, “Yes. This is entirely your fault. But the important thing right now is getting her back. If you're not going to do it, I will.”

“No,” Ken said, sounding much more level than Yolei. “I'm not letting you do this alone... we'll have to work together.”

Yolei smiled. Ken sat back down and rubbed his palms. “First thing we need to do is figure out exactly what's going on. That means finding out who Koji is. Riley's not helping us out, but if you're really willing to put your neck on the line, it doesn't matter who we talk to.”

“Good,” Yolei replied, walking to the coat closet. “I'm going to Odaiba.”

“Now?” Ken sounded surprised. “Why?”

Yolei smiled at him as she retrieved a jacket. “I haven't talked to Aya in weeks. Thought I'd pay a visit.”

Ken smiled back. “Good idea. If those two were trying to visit the kids of each Chosen and they were staying in Odaiba, odds are they'd start with Mari.”

As Yolei put the jacket on, Ken had an afterthought: “But is Aya back from her trip?”

Yolei sighed as she zipped the coat up. Aya had gone to Germany, but Yolei had no idea when she was due back.

“If she's not there, I'll talk to Mari,” she said, sounding less enthusiastic. Getting information from Mari was next to impossible.

“Good luck,” Ken replied with a pinch of sarcasm. He walked up to her, they kissed, and she put her shoes on.

“Hold on...” She turned around as Ken apparently had one more thought. “What about dinner? Should I call Maho and cancel?”

Yolei closed her eyes and mentally swore. They were planning on meeting Davis and his wife for dinner. With no idea how long the trip would take, and knowing how exquisite Davis's restaurant selections were, Yolei had already created a conflict.

“No, let's meet with them. Davis talked to Koji and Michi; maybe he knows something we don't,” she replied decisively.

Ken nodded. “Try not to be too late.”

“I make no guarantees,” she said as she walked out the door.

The only thing troubling Sora more than having Michi trapped in D-Reaper was the uncertainty over how it happened. Of all the people in these worlds, why did it have to be her daughter? Takato had mentioned something about Michi being involved, but gave no hint that she was in any sort of trouble because of it.

In any event, Matt was in one of the makeshift sleeping quarters, trying to get some information from Takato. Sora waited outside; Takato seemed traumatized enough by the turn of events and Matt didn't want to subject him to a frantically worried mother as well. Not wanting to strain Takato further, Sora agreed, but it didn't make her any less frantic.

The door opened and Matt exited, his head facing down as he quietly closed the door behind him.

“Well, what did he say?” Sora asked, struggling to keep her voice down.

“He doesn't know,” Matt mumbled, “Seems pretty upset about it though.”

“So what now?”

He sighed and replied, “Nothing's changed.”

She couldn't contain her voice any longer. “What do you mean nothing's changed? Michi's in there! We have to-”

Matt refused to look up at her. “We still can't do anything unless we weaken it first. There's no shortcut just because it's Michi. It's still going to be just as difficult as if it was anybody else.”

“Matt...” Tears started to flow.

Matt took two steps forward and embraced his wife, letting Sora cry into his shoulder. “You should lie down too. I don't want you doing something stupid like Takato did.”

“How am I supposed to relax with Michi in there?” she sobbed.

“Just try to calm down. I'm going to need you later.”

She stepped back and looked up at him. “What are you going to do?”

He kept his head down. “I'm going to talk to Riley. See what she knows. Maybe snap her back into action.”

Sora had managed to stop crying, but now she found herself clenching her fist. Warranted or not, the notion that anything useful could come of Matt meeting privately with Riley sickened her.

“This is all her fault. She pulled us into this,” she said bitterly.

“We agreed to it. We all wanted to help Takato.”

She sniffled and replied, “TK was right. This was a mistake. We were so eager to help that we let ourselves end up in a situation we didn't understand.”

“That's why we need Riley,” Matt replied. He shook his head and started walking down the hallway.

Sora wasn't satisfied. She calmed down enough to ask, “Aren't you at all worried?” Her voice was low, but direct enough to make him stop. “Matt, that's your daughter. Aren't you scared about what might happen to her?”

“No,” he said defiantly, “We're going to beat this thing.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“This isn't about Takato anymore. Not him, or whatever reason Riley has for saving this place.” Finally, he turned around and looked her in the eyes. “We will get Michi back. No matter what.”

Too unsettled to take Matt's advice and lie down, Sora went downstairs. In the control room, everybody seemed to be having quiet conversations: Joe and TK with Jeri, Henry and Kazu with Kari and Cody, and to Sora's surprise- Biyomon with Izzy.

“B...” Sora stopped as all eyes fell on her. She could see the sympathetic looks on everyone's face, but nobody was talking. She walked up to Biyomon. “What are you doing here? You should be resting with the others.”

“I'm not tired,” Biyomon replied, “And I'm too worried about Michi.”

“Oh...” Sora knew she couldn't object, so she patted her partner on the head.

“You okay?” Izzy asked her as he navigated around some of the maps on file.

“I don't know. I just feel so helpless right now. Matt says we can't do anything rash to save her, but I don't want to sit here while she's going through something terrible.”

“Henry! Jeri!” Izzy called out suddenly. He turned to Sora. In a lower voice, he added, “Sorry. I got a little distracted. Hold that thought.”

Sora backed away as Henry and Jeri arrived, but kept an eye on Izzy and the map of Shinjuku that appeared on the screen. Izzy said, “I noticed that the chaos tends to rotate in a very slight clockwise direction, suggesting that it diverts energy in a spiral motion. Am I right in thinking Michi would be located at D-Reaper's focal point?”

“Sort of,” Henry replied, “Although the source isn't in the chaos.”

“Right. Otherwise it would be deleted too.”

“She's above the chaos.” Jeri pointed to a spot on the screen. “Right there.”

Izzy leaned forward, squinting at the point on the map. “Isn't that where you brought us in here?” Henry nodded. “Glad we put that firewall on.”

“We should be able to see the tower from the hallway.” Cody had snuck into the conversation. He and Kazu left immediately to verify the statement.

“Are you saying you know where Michi is?” Sora asked.

Izzy cleared his throat before answering. “Possibly. Theoretically, she should be at the focal point, which is the tower. But that doesn't make it any easier to get her out.”

“It might,” Jeri replied, “It is possible to get through its defenses.”

“Really?” Izzy raised an eyebrow at Jeri. “What kind of power would it take?”

Henry scratched his chin. “If you can get past all the agents thrown at you and get to the kernal sphere, a strong attack from a Mega-level Digimon would do the trick.

Kari approached the group and said, “Not only that, but Angewomon was very effective against it. MagnaAngemon could do some damage too.”

Cody and Kazu burst into the room again. “The big red sphere is in sight,” Kazu boasted.

“It's floating right between the towers, just like Jeri said,” Cody added.

“Then what are we waiting for? Let's get her out of there,” Biyomon said.

Sora pet Biyomon. Despite a frown, she calmly replied, “Hold on. Matt said we shouldn't rush into anything dangerous. Besides, you just finished battling a little while ago.”

“So did D-Reaper,” Henry said, prompting Sora and Biyomon to look over at him as he scanned the map. “And between fending off you and Gargomon, forming the first agent and dealing with Angewomon, it's probably worse off than us.”

“Come on, Sora,” Biyomon pleaded, “I want to save Michi almost as much as you do.”

Sora shook her head and closed her eyes. The concept was so tantalizing, but this couldn't have been the right thing. It was exactly what Matt had warned against. “But Matt-”

Joe interrupted. “Matt doesn't know about this, Sora. D-Reaper could be as vulnerable now as it ever will be.”

“Where is Matt, anyway?” Cody asked.

“He's talking to Riley,” Sora quickly replied.

Izzy narrowed his eyes. “And you're okay with that?”

She glanced away and exhaled. “No, but if anyone's going to get her moving again, it's him.”

Izzy turned to the computer and started typing. “For the sake of decency, I won't comment. But the point remains that this may be an excellent opportunity to take the offensive and try to rescue Michi.”

“And if we can get her back, we pretty much win,” Joe added.

“Sounds good so far, but what kind of Digimon do we have available?” asked Kari.

“Not Gargomon,” answered Henry, “And I doubt Salamon is ready to go again either.”

Kari shook her head. “No, but what about Biyomon?”

Biyomon fielded this one herself: “If it's to save Michi, I can go mega whenever you need me to.”

Sora could almost cry. “Oh, B...” she said, stroking the back of Biyomon's head.

Izzy summarized, “So with Gomamon, Salamon and Gargomon recouping, that leaves Biyomon, Patamon, Armadillomon, Andromon and Leomon.”

“What about you?” Cody asked.

“I don't want to throw everything at it at once. I'd like to keep someone in reserve in case of emergency.”

“But not all of them can fly,” Joe observed, “They won't all be able to get to the tower.”

“That's not a problem,” Henry replied. He leaned forward and used his finger to diagram a basic strategy. “While Takato was inside, we noticed that D-Reaper had trouble diverting energy from one battle to another. If we had Kazu, Jeri and Cody attack first from the outside and draw a few agents out, Sora and TK can make a run at the sphere.”

As Izzy nodded, Joe turned to the back of the room. “What do you think, TK?”

All eyes turned to TK, who had distanced himself from the group but was still listening to the plan. He backed away once the attention fell on him, but replied, “Kari's right. If Angewomon did damage to it, imagine what MagnaAngemon can do. Besides, that's my niece in there. I want her back too. Count me in.”

Izzy smiled. “No sense waiting then. TK, you're in charge of this. Stay with the ground troops and send out Hououmon and MagnaAngemon when the time's right.

With a nod, the five sending out Digimon left the room. Biyomon remained close to Sora.

As the group waited for the elevator, Sora took Biyomon aside and said, “I'm not letting you do this alone, B. I'm going with you.”

“Are you sure, Sora?”

She turned away for a moment and noticed the tower in the distance. The red sphere was plainly visible. That was the target, and there was no way Sora was letting Biyomon attack it alone.

“I want to be there when we get her out. I want to do this together.”

She expected some sort of protest from Biyomon, but instead felt a wing pat her back.

“Then let's do this,” Biyomon replied.

Despite the circumstances, Sora smiled.

Mari called up random pieces of data from the system, doing her best to ignore the weeping Tally sitting nearby. Izzy had just informed them of the source's identity; as it was her niece, Tally was not taking the news well. Mari had neither the capability nor interest in consoling her. She was more interested in finding some useful data that would serve to change the subject. Tally was never afraid to show her emotions, and even less afraid of changing them on a whim. Still, given the dire news about Michi, Mari had to find something good.

To her surprise, she did. Mari had stumbled upon the synch levels between all the humans and their Digimon. “Prodigious,” she mumbled as she started converting the raw data into names and numbers.

“What is it?” Tally asked, between sniffles.

“Everybody's synch levels. They appear to be higher in the MAXIS than in the real world.”

“Oh,” Tally replied, sounding disappointed.

“A few of the Chosen are going into uncharted territory. I don't suppose you know the record high?”

Before Tally could answer no, a series of knocks came from the door. Mari stood up immediately and Tally's tears dried quickly. “Oh shit, who's that?”

“You're looking after the house. You see to it.”

Tally nodded and walked out, carefully shutting the door behind her. Mari continued to convert the data, awed by the high numbers. One in particular jumped out at her.

She heard Tally from the other room say, “Well call us next time. You almost gave us a heart attack.” That relaxed Mari sufficiently, and she didn't flinch when the door opened. “We have company.”

Mari didn't bother to look at who else entered. It was made obvious when Janyuu said, “Tally tells me they have a source.”

“Yes,” Mari replied, changing the subject just as quickly, “What's the highest synch level attained between a human and a Digimon?”

“Davis and Veemon recorded a 317 once. Why the sudden interest?”

Before Mari could answer, another voice interrupted, “Hey, can I see?” Mari turned immediately as Janyuu stepped aside to let his son enter the room. Henry's mouth fell open as he saw the remarkable arrangement of machines Tally and Riley had cobbled together. “This is ridiculous. And you actually go inside this thing?”

Mari caught herself smiling and dropped it immediately and cooly replied, “Actually, the physical server is located at a university in Europe. But we have hacked into the system and may enter from this point.”

“And don't worry. The way things are going, we won't be going in any time soon,” Janyuu added. “Anyway, Mari, why were you interested in synch levels?”

“I just discovered the current levels of everybody inside.”

“It wouldn't surprise me if a few were higher than 317. For some reason, levels in the MAXIS are higher than in the real world. And don't forget that the Chosen have been with their Digimon for an additional twelve years.”

Mari glanced at the screen before turning back to Janyuu. “Still... Sora and Biyomon are approaching 400.”

At once, Janyuu bounded forward and stood next to Mari, gazing at the data tables. A few of the levels were rising in front of them. “Do you think it's possible?” he said.

“What's possible?” Tally asked.

Mari ignored Tally and answered Janyuu. “Given the surge in many of the levels, they seem to be entering a battle. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen here.”

“Hey, a couple of us don't know what you two are talking about,” Henry said, sounding a little annoyed.

“Bio merge,” Mari whispered. The words alone were sacred to her, and she focused her eyes on the screen, hoping to see the miracle in action, albeit through a series of data.

Above the trio of Digimon distracting D-Reaper, Hououmon and MagnaAngemon flew towards the true target downtown. Sora rode atop Hououmon, eyes focused on the kernal sphere between the towers. Despite Henry's claim that D-Reaper had trouble attacking two places at once, a swarm of Bubbles agents flew up to greet the offensive.

“Starlight Explosion!” Hououmon shouted. The attack destroyed several, but the ones remaining quickly opened fire on the phoenix. Hououmon evaded most of the attacks, and the ones that hit did little damage. MagnaAngemon swept in to finish off the rest of that wave. The march to the sphere continued.

Two more waves of Bubbles shot up in a similar manner. Again, Hououmon and MagnaAngemon were forced to slow down to finish them off. While they had no trouble doing so, the rapidly-firing agents were still able to land several shots on the Digimon. By the time they neared the tower, the mighty M-Level winced.

“Are you hurt?” Sora asked.

“Not enough to stop,” Hououmon replied.

MagnaAngemon pointed to the chaos below them. “Heads up. Looks like another round. I'll take care of them. You go after Michi.”

As Hououmon flew up, though, Sora looked down to see something else attacking MagnaAngemon- the same blue humanoid that had attacked Takato and Veemon. The Michi-Type, as it was formally called, sprung up and punched MagnaAngemon in the stomach and into the tower.

As much as Sora wanted to help, she knew this was her chance to go after her daughter. Hououmon slowed down as he reached the red sphere, close enough for Sora to knock on it. The sphere had a smooth, almost glassy, surface and sounded hollow inside. More importantly, it sounded penetrable.

“Ready, Hououmon?”

Hououmon wordlessly flew back several meters and prepared his attack: “Crimson-”

“Look out!” Sora shouted as soon as she noticed the surprise attack coming from above. Hououmon dodged in time to prevent a direct hit, but the speedy attack clipped him in the wing. Sora held on tight as Hououmon momentarily lost control, but the Digimon recovered and both looked up to see the assailant. Another agent- this one a pair of large, blue hands connected by a small ribcage. One hand was springing back. As it recoiled for another attack, the Creep Hands started crawling down the side of the north tower.

As Hououmon floated back up to the sphere, Creep Hands attacked again. Hououmon dodged, but clearly couldn't get close enough to the sphere to attempt an attack. Sora glanced down and saw MagnaAngemon and the Michi-Type grappling, with the agent holding a slim advantage.

Hououmon attacked the Creep Hands directly, but it dodged easily and shot a hand out in response. With few alternatives, Hououmon descended as Sora considered helping MagnaAngemon and then double-teaming Creep Hands. Another attack by Creep Hands led Hououmon to attempt a dodge, but the hand missed well to the left of the Digimon. Instead, it continued to pursue its true target- MagnaAngemon.

Sora recognized this and shouted. “MagnaAngemon! Up above!” As soon as MagnaAngemon did, the Michi-Type struck, clasping MagnaAngemon by the neck and forcing him directly into the hand's path.

The resulting strike was enough for MagnaAngemon to lose energy. As he started to glow, Sora ordered Hououmon to attack. The resulting Crimson Flame caught the Michi- Type off-guard. As the agent fell into the chaos, it released Patamon, who also started falling. Another command from Sora, and Hououmon quickly swooped down and made the rescue.

“Are you all right Patamon?” Sora asked.

“That lady sure is mean,” Patamon replied, seemingly unhurt but clearly not in any position to continue fighting. Still, Hououmon flew back up after the Creep Hands.

Unfortunately, the agent was waiting with an outstretched hand right in Hououmon's flight path. Hououmon couldn't evade it in time and flew into its grasp. The hand closed around it and started to squeeze.

“Sora... I can't get out!” Hououmon screamed.

Sora was trapped as well, and growing uncomfortable pressed against her partner. Somehow, she spotted an opening large enough to fit Patamon through. “Patamon... go get help.”

Patamon wasted no time in flying away, but the space grew tighter every moment. While it was the most constraining to Hououmon, the pressure was equally damaging to Sora. Forced against a Digimon with an exhorbitantly high body temperature, her skin was starting to burn. She forced her sweaty hands to clutch Hououmon's back; letting go would force her down to Hououmon's legs, which were unsuccessfully trying to kick a way out.

Just when the heat was making her feel faint, Sora saw Hououmon glow. She closed her eyes and sighed, knowing that one way or another this was going to end soon.

“Sora...” Biyomon cried. Sora opened her eyes. She was no longer uncomfortable, but she was now holding a weak R-Level, still within the grasp of the giant hand. Now with a smaller handful, the agent clenched tighter. All Sora could do was clutch Biyomon and pray.

After a few moments of silence, she heard a shout from outside: “Equus Beam!” In an instant, the hand had dissolved and Sora and Biyomon found themselves in midair.

This time, TK and Pegasusmon made the rescue, as TK caught Sora and guided her onto the saddle. “Everybody okay?” TK asked.

“Yeah,” Sora replied, exhausted, as Pegasusmon rode away from the battle. She was tempted to say something else, but she knew it was pointless- she and TK were both thinking the same thing.

This had definitely been an opportunity, and they came away with nothing. D-Reaper clearly had vulnerabilities, but it would take a perfect execution of a perfect strategy with the perfect Digimon to succeed. In the meantime, Michi was still in there suffering, for reasons Sora still didn't know.

Sora clutched Biyomon tighter, silently reassuring her Digimon that they did give it their all. That was the only solace Sora could take out of the battle- that there was nothing else they could have done.

Tally watched Mari and Janyuu closely as they analyzed the numbers on the screen. Despite her experience with the Hypnos system, she had no idea what the numbers represented. Janyuu started to frown, though, which told her all she needed.

“What is it?” Henry asked.

Janyuu answered, “Many of the synch levels are dropping back to their medians, which means the battle is over.”

“No bio-merge?” Tally asked, although she could guess the answer.

Mari shook her head. “Sora is down to her R-Level. No bio-merge indeed.”

Janyuu put a hand on Mari's shoulder. “It was highly unlikely to begin with, wasn't it?”

“Perhaps. It depended on how Riley brought the Chosen in. Apparently, her method was not conductive to a bio-merge.”

Tally looked down. Sora and Hououmon had attained an extreme level of 409 during the battle: if it had been possible, it would have happened.

Janyuu sighed and said, “Well, unless there's anything else you need, we probably should be going. I just wanted to check in and show Henry around.”

“Yeah. Cool setup here. I hope you pull it off,” Henry added, already halfway out the door.

Janyuu followed his son outside, leaving Mari and Tally alone. Mari continued to stare at the numbers, although they weren't showing anything hopeful.

“Who are we fooling? We are absolutely helpless on this side,” Mari mumbled as she rose from her chair. Walking out, she continued to mutter, “We are spectators watching friends and family kill themselves for our benefit.”

Tally frowned. She didn't like to see anybody upset over something they had no control over. Especially when the situation was far from hopeless. “So Sora didn't bio-merge,” she said, following Mari out into the living room. “So what? There is a way to stop this thing. We just have to trust them to find it. Remember, your father's in there.”

Mari was headed into a bedroom, but stopped and turned around. She narrowed her eyes at Tally, glaring for a full three seconds before replying, “That is exactly the problem. My father and your husband are risking everything because we want our world to play with again. How can we stand to watch them sacrifice themselves again?”

Before Tally could respond, Mari entered the bedroom and slid the door shut.

“She's still not over it,” Janyuu observed.

“I don't blame her,” Tally replied, forcing a half-smile, “All her life, the only ones she had ever started to care about left her. She's been abandoned so many times, but the reasons had always been so glorious that she has no choice but to abide by them.”

“So this is about her dad?” Henry asked.

“That was a long time ago,” Janyuu answered, “This is about Dobermon.”

To Be Continued in Stage Six- “Bond”

Author's Notes
Presenting the digi-destined as adults isn't a new concept, but I think it's important to see how they compare their current adventures to those we're all familiar with. We saw a lot of this in Level 1 with the calm, professional response to Daemon. Now we're seeing the other side, as they are thrown into an unfamiliar situation and show more fear than we're accustomed to seeing. It is also interesting that most of the Chosen refer to the Tamers as kids, despite the fact that Henry, Rika and Kazu are all about nineteen years old by now.

I said that Mari and Tally wouldn't be forgotten, and their situation is plainly illustrated here. Mari's past existence as Alice comes back to light, as well as one of the few references to Dobermon in the story.

As TK hinted at in Level 1, Tally was never big into Digimon. Expect more of her story next time.

Although the agent names were never used in the dub, they were revealed in Japan. I use them to have something to identify with, and descriptive monikers like Creep Hands and Pendulum Feet make it fairly obvious who they are if you remember them from Tamers. Although the rapid-fire Bubbles are unfortunately named (and unfortunately the most common agent). The first agent, originally known as Jeri-Type, has been changed to Michi-Type for obvious reasons.

Briefly mentioned in Level 2, Miho is Ken and Yolei's daughter, the oldest child in the family. While I regret not being able to squeeze her into the picture, the least I could do is mention her in an example of one of Ken and Yolei's mundane arguments.

This ends Level 3: Stage Five of The Connection.