Stage Seven- Merge
If being trapped within D-Reaper's Kernal Sphere was truly Michi's purpose in life, it was not keeping her very occupied. In all her prior musings about what people are supposed to do with themselves, Michi had always carried the assumption that one's calling would be stimulating and interesting. Instead, she felt even more tired and bored here than she did with the Ichijouji family. Despite the change in scenery, she was basically doing the same thing here- sitting around and moping about life. Given the foreign environment and eerie lack of any ambience, she'd rather be moping with the Ichijouji's.
Although Michi did enjoy quiet solitude from time to time, and it was in abundance here, she knew something unusual was going on and didn't like it. Besides the environment herself, there were other oddities Michi had noticed. For starters, she was no hungrier now than when she had found herself here countless hours (or days?) ago. Her last memory of the real world was the meeting with Yasuo Akiyama, which as she recalled was in the morning. Throughout her time in this bubble, her appetite was that of someone starting to count down the minutes until lunchtime. If she had been in this place as long as she thought, wouldn't she be starving by now?
On the other end was the fact that Michi had not needed to go to the bathroom. She had wanted to since before meeting Yasuo, but it had never become a crisis. Despite being isolated in the same place for so long, the only time she thought about it was to consider how strange it was.
Convenient, perhaps, but it wasn't right. Michi stood up and paced around the room again. She had already scoured the walls for some sort of exit and was not surprised to find nothing once again.
“Hey!” she shouted, hoping to get a reply this time, “If this is my purpose, how come I'm not doing anything?” She was surprised at how angry she sounded. Letting loose with her true emotions, especially after the incident with Koji, was not something that came naturally to her.
“You are doing much to power this program. Continued output will be necessary in order for the program to successfully operate.”
It was only the second time she had heard it, but it was another clue that something was wrong here: the voice resembled her own. Not the outward voice that everybody else heard either- this was her own voice the way she had always known it. Only it was in a monotone, with an almost robotic use of language.
Her curiosity finally got the better of her: “What program? What's going on?”
“The purpose of this program is to eradicate the excess data found in this system.”
She probably could have deconstructed the statement to get a vague idea of what was happening, but it didn't answer the important question- where she fit into it all. “I don't understand. What system?”
The program responded by displaying an view of the Tokyo skyline, and the chaos engulfing it. It had covered a substantial portion of the visible area, piling high enough to completely swallow all but the massive high-rises downtown.
The implied damage snapped Michi out of her funk immediately. She stepped forward to get a closer look at the chaos. “Oh my God, are people getting hurt?”
“Affirmative,” droned D-Reaper, clearly not programmed for remorse.
Before Michi could protest, another image flashed in front of her. This time, it was a hideous red giant with eyes all over its body. It had a girl captive in its arms while a woman tried to rescue her. After attacking some unknown target off-screen, Michi got a clear view of the monster grabbing the woman and throwing her against the side of a building.
Michi gasped and struggled to remain standing, horrified by the footage but unable to look away. The image continued to stay on the woman. As Michi got a first glimpse of the victim's face, her eyes widened.
“Subject identified as Tally Onodera,” D-Reaper replied.
Michi felt nauseous. “Aunt Tally... is she...”
“Subject has been terminated.”
She suddenly became dizzy and fell onto her backside. She clutched her stomach as she tried desperately not to throw up. She still had no idea what was going on, but somehow her presence in this chamber was causing destruction. Not only were people getting killed, one was her own aunt. She was causing all this, but she had no way to escape and no way to control it.
Michi turned to her side, her knees sliding up towards her stomach. As tears started to stream down her face, D-Reaper got just the energy surge it was looking for.
As Riley drove the truck back to headquarters, TK tried to figure out his exact feelings over Tally's death. His wife was dead, yet he didn't feel the agonizing grief he would have anticipated. Time and separation could have been to blame, but TK wanted to believe that love knew no boundaries. He was now faced with the reality that her flame had somehow never died while his had been flickering on and off even before the Sealing.
The biggest source of friction between TK and Tally had been her lack of interest in Digimon. She had been enchanted by his writing, and thought Frontier was not so much about Digimon as it was a carefully-disguised allegory about the state of international politics (this was partially true, but TK was never pretentious enough to admit it publicly). Outside the world of fiction, Tally saw Digimon as foreign, troublesome and sometimes dangerous. While TK worked with Matt and Tai to advocate Digimon rights throughout the world, and Sora and Riley followed their husbands step-for-step, Tally stayed behind.
The difference, and Sora and Kari had driven this point home years later in the Digital World, was that the Digimon rights movement had blossomed before Michi or Terry had been born, but while Takuya was an infant. Upon reflection, TK had always carried some guilt about not being a better father, but surmised that his work helping Digimon made up for any loss of karma. Tally had always felt otherwise.
So what did it mean that Tally was not only helping Riley support Takato's world, but that she blindly threw herself into it just to see him?
“How did she get involved with all this?” TK asked.
Riley nodded, not looking away from the road. “When Yasuo implemented the Hypnos program, the researchers who created this world wanted someone on the inside. I didn't want to go in alone and Aya couldn't accept the risk, so I talked Tally into it.”
“I knew she was good at computers, but was she qualified to operate Hypnos?”
“She knew more than you'd realize. Computers became her hobby. She had plenty of time to kill while you were away.”
TK closed his eyes and nodded. It didn't sound like an accusation, but it still stung. “So she just stayed with you?”
“She didn't have to. The first time D-Reaper came, we all stood up against Yasuo. I wasn't going to force her into that. She fought because she wanted to.”
Riley paused to make a turn, but continued right away. “I don't know if she was like Mari and dreamed of this world someday undoing the Sealing, but she was motivated by something. She never became too attached to Digimon, so... well, there's only one other reason she would support something like this.”
TK's head slumped. “And here I just wanted to skip it and go home.”
“You were one of the 'no' votes, I take it?” Riley said.
“We all had doubts... except for Cody. In the end, they couldn't stand by and watch this happen to Takato. I have nothing against helping Takato, but not at the risk of losing Patamon for good.”
“Right...” Riley replied, half-heartedly.
“That's why Kari voted against it. She made that very clear.”
Without warning, and without any sign of trouble on the road, Riley slammed on the brakes. TK reeled forward before being restrained by his seatbelt, then turned to her.
“What happened?” TK asked, his heartbeat quickening.
Riley just stared forward, her breathing labored. She turned, slowly, to TK and said, “You mean Kari didn't want to help?”
“Maybe it doesn't mean as much to the others because they've never lost Digimon before. But Kari and I know just how much of a blessing Digimon regeneration is. Can you blame her for being afraid to fight without it?”
Riley finally sighed, shook her head, and continued driving.
“I guess not. It just surprises me. As skeptical as Joe was, I would have thought it was him.”
“Joe's like that. He always considers what would happen if things went wrong. Now that so many things have, you can see why it's good to know.” TK looked out the window. While they were at a safe distance, D-Reaper still loomed over the Shinjuku skyline. “He was borderline. So was Izzy. But when we were talking in private, Kari was the only one who really argued against helping. That convinced me.”
“Amazing. Even with Takato?”
“The well-being of our Digimon will always take priority over Takato.” TK paused for a moment, then let out a stifled chuckle. “Funny how after all this time I'm still putting Digimon ahead of Tally's interests.”
“As long as you're helping now. You're going to have to keep fighting, even after this.”
TK seemed to ignore Riley's comment and kept going. “Crazy thing is- Kari was right. We stuck our necks out too far this time. Even if we win, we can't deny that. When Joe almost lost Gomamon, he had to have thought that.” He shook his head, a sad smile forming. “Kari was definitely right. But right doesn't mean anything. Nothing feels right anymore.”
A sudden pang of guilt struck him, and his face lost all expression, his eyes drifting downward. “Especially with Kari,” he mumbled.
There was a long pause as TK recognized that regardless of the circumstances that could have helped justify it, he had not even been faithful to his wife.
“You and Kari had an affair in the Digital World, didn't you?” Riley asked.
“How do you know about that?” TK muttered, stewing in remorse.
Riley sighed. “Tally told me.”
TK looked up at her. “She knew?”
“The Hypnos system helped us monitor the Digital World here. When it was all over, Tally and I still had access to the system. For some reason, it was suddenly monitoring your Digital World. Now that I think about it, it might have something to do with how Takato got to your world to begin with. Anyway, Tally, uh, checked in on you guys once in a while.”
Once again, TK was taken aback. Not only had he been unfaithful, but Tally knew about it and still carried that beautiful smile when he held her hand for the last time.
Sympathetic, Riley said, “Look at it this way- if she hadn't, I would have never found out about Takato.”
“She just keeps finding new ways to make me look like an asshole.”
“You're not,” Riley declared, “You may have made a few mistakes, and she hadn't wanted to admit it, but she loved you this whole time. And what she'd want us to do right now is to keep fighting. Because this isn't over. I still need you here. We have to stop D-Reaper, and we can't let Tally's death interfere. Okay?”
She slowed down and stopped the truck before turning to him and waiting for him to look her in the eyes. He was still a mess, and had an infinite number of things to sort out in his head, but he forced himself to look at her and reply, “Okay.”
With a nod, she continued driving.
“Just give me a minute when we get back.”
Riley smiled weakly and nodded again. “Of course,” she replied.
At headquarters, they were greeted with the intimidating, yet somehow encouraging sight of Ikkakumon standing at the ready. Riley and TK saw immediately that almost everybody was standing outside. While Sora and Matt were the first to offer their condolences to TK, Riley managed to avoid the mourning session and found Joe standing next to his suddenly-active partner, launching a Harpoon Torpedo towards the chaos.
“When did he get better?” she asked him.
“He's not up to full strength yet, but we're a bit depleted at the moment so there's no choice,” Joe replied, focused solely on the battleground ahead of him.
That's when Riley saw it- only a couple hundred yards ahead, a stream of Bubbles agents were advancing and firing upon any moving target in the vicinity. Takato, Jeri, Rika, Kazu and Cody were back in action as their Digimon, plus Agumon, fought back.
Riley immediately tensed up- this is the farthest D-Reaper had advanced yet. “When did they get so close?”
“Not even twenty minutes ago. The kids are doing a good job up there, but except for Andromon, they don't have much firepower. I figured there's no harm in letting Ikkakumon take some potshots from a distance. He's our best defensive Digimon at the moment.”
Joe frowned. “I assume Shakkoumon's out of the picture for the moment?”
Riley looked back at TK, who was busy listening to whatever Sora was trying to preach. “Not for long,” she said as she walked up to check on everybody.
“Just remember that if you need anything, even if it's just somebody to talk to, let us know,” Sora told TK, “Matt's right that we need you and Patamon to get back out there, but not if it means bottling your feelings up. Don't be afraid to feel sad about this. This has been a nightmare, but we'll get through it together.”
TK nodded slowly. “Yeah. I just, uh-”
“TK?” Kari had stepped outside from the headquarters and approached him, wrapping one arm around him before he was fully ready to receive it.
“I'm so sorry,” she whispered.
His body stiffened, shirking her arm away almost reflexively. She struggled to keep her balance, and struggled more to grasp the cold gesture.
As TK stared at her, his hands started to shake. Then he sprinted for the doors and went inside.
“What?” Kari was shaken herself. She planted her crutches, about to go after him, when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Don't,” Matt said, “You're probably not the best person for him to talk to right now.”
“Remember how I said there were consequences to you and TK being together?” Sora said, “Considering how he treated her, a lot of things must be going through his head right now.” She sighed and looked at Kari. “You're probably one of them.”
The sheer number of agents in front of the group meant nobody had to wait for open targets. Ankylomon took the offensive, targeting the chaos while Leomon and Renamon gave him plenty of cover. As the only U-Level in the field, Andromon attacked often, but was busy keeping the humans safe from whatever came their way. Agumon helped out with this regard, and despite being a rookie he was well-rested and doing plenty of damage.
Veemon, however, wasn't as productive.
“Come on, Veemon, isn't there anything you can do?” Takato said in frustration.
“They're too high for me to reach! If I can't digivolve, I can't attack from a distance.”
Takato grumbled as he stared across at the looming chaos. As impressive as Ankylomon or Andromon looked, the “kids” in the thick of the battle couldn't help but feel apprehensive. Besides Takato, none of them knew Tally that well. Having lost his memory, Cody didn't know her at all. While Rika, Kazu and Jeri knew her as just “that other Hypnos girl.” They weren't overwhelmed with grief, and therefore received the task of maintaining an attack while the Chosen who had known her could mourn properly. It was a real death, however, and regardless of who it was it struck a rather pensive chord among all of them.
Ignoring the artillery firing overhead, Riley approached them, managing to stay professional. “How are you doing?”
“We can keep the agents under control, but that thing keeps growing,” Cody replied, “We might have to fall back soon.”
“Izzy and Mari are packing up whatever they can, just in case we have to move,” Rika answered.
Judging by the rapid growth D-Reaper was experiencing, Riley surmised that they wouldn't have time to relocate again.
“To the right!” Takato shouted. Riley looked up in time to see a Bubbles agent preparing to open fire.
“Pepper Breath!” Agumon took care of it.
“Agumon? Why are you here?” Riley asked. Not that she minded, but Agumon was considered Terry's partner.
“I'm the emergency backup. Matt considered this close enough,” Agumon replied.
“Inside with Izzy and Mari,” Agumon answered quickly, then fired another shot at another agent.
“Terry asked me to watch him,” Takato clarified.
Riley nodded; with D-Reaper surging again, they were getting desperate. Matt had always been a rational leader, so the thought of him calling up Agumon was pretty jarring.
“I suppose Matt's related to her too,” Kazu stated.
“In-laws, but yes,” Riley replied, somewhat annoyed at the small-talk in the heat of battle.
“That's crazy- that means Michi's related to her too.”
Riley nodded sadly. “Tally was her aunt.”
“That must be why it's getting stronger all of a sudden,” Jeri said, startling everybody.
Cody wanted clarification. “Because of Tally?”
“She must know what happened to Tally, and I'm sure D-Reaper is twisting it to make it seem like it's Michi's fault.”
“The blood of a relative. That'll do it,” Rika said.
Jeri looked up at a fixed point in the chaos. They couldn't see the Kernal Sphere from that location, but Jeri stared at it anyway. “It will do everything in its power to draw as much negative energy from the source as it needs. As strong as we are, it needs Michi to be in that much more pain.”
Now Riley found herself looking through the chaos. She had tried to keep Michi out of the equation, but if D-Reaper had not yet tapped into the full level of its energy source, then they needed to somehow get her out before it could.
For the second time in a day, Ken found himself in front of an unfamiliar doorstep. At least he anticipated a warmer welcome from Janyuu Wong and knocked on the apartment door without hesitation.
He had considered contacting Janyuu ever since Yolei had mentioned that Izzy's old friends were involved with Takato's world. Of course, just because they were involved then didn't mean they were involved now. Once Ryo explained Janyuu's role in the other world and his active participation in saving it from Yasuo, however, Ken became convinced that this was the man to talk to.
The door was answered, however, by a girl- barely in her teens.
“Yes?” she answered sweetly.
Ken composed himself and asked, “Is Janyuu home?”
“Whom should I say is looking for him?” she asked, sounding more eager to show off her grammar than to actually be of service.
“My name's Ken Ichijouji. That should be enough for him.”
At least Ken hoped it was: they had only met once, briefly, and that was more than fifteen years ago.
The girl turned around and swung the door shut behind her. Ken heard her yell out, “Henry! There's another suspicious character at the door!”
“Little brat,” Ken muttered to himself.
The door opened again. This time it was Henry, and Henry didn't look too pleased.
“What do you want?” Henry sounded irritated.
“I need to speak with your father.”
“Sue told me that. What's it about?”
“Well, I work with the city police and I'm trying to find some missing people. I'm afraid they might be in danger, and I think your dad can help me find them.”
Henry raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Why would Dad be able to help?”
“It has to do with a project he was involved in. I don't know how much he told you about it.”
“I know enough,” Henry replied, narrowing his eyes, “I can't help you.”
“You don't know where he is?”
“I can't tell you. I can't let him get into trouble.”
Ken wasn't expecting Henry to be more defiant than Ryo, but then realized that Henry may not know which side Ken was on.
“Listen, Henry is it?”
“Henry, my name's Ken Ichijouji. You may not remember it all that well, but I'm one of the Odaiba Chosen. You were friends with Mari Izumi, right? Her dad was one too.”
The reference to Mari seemed to work, as Henry flinched as soon as she was mentioned. “Did Mari send you here?” he asked.
“No, but Mari's mother helped fill me in on the details. I know your father helped create another world and I know that it is somehow connected with two missing people- Michi Grant, another child of the Chosen, and a boy from that world named Takato Matsuki.”
Henry clutched his head. “You're involved with Takato too?”
“You know about him?” Ken asked, only slightly surprised.
“Don't get me started with Takato. What about Michi? First time I heard that name.”
“Michi may be in serious danger right now, and I need to find out what's going on in that world to see if it can help save her.”
“And you need my Dad for that?” Henry said, adding an exasperated sigh.
Another sigh from Henry. Then he conceded, “I'll show you where he is on one condition- I go with you.”
Ken opened his mouth, but couldn't decide whether he was concerned or confused about the terms.
“On the way, you tell me what you know and what you plan on doing.” Henry stepped forward and looked Ken in the eyes. “I'm trusting you here. Give me a reason not to and you'll never find him.”
He spooked Ken enough to leave Ken speechless. Henry went back inside to grab a jacket and, presumably, explain everything to Sue.
As he waited outside, Ken's cell phone rang. “Yolei?” he answered immediately.
“I'm still at the airport. The plane was delayed for a couple hours. How is everything?” Yolei said.
“Things are falling into place,” he replied, “Just to be safe, we need to do this today.”
Ken heard silence on the other end. He wasn't one to rush, but the plan would work best if everything happened too fast for anybody to respond. It still hinged on what he found out from Janyuu, but hesitating would be disastrous if anything went wrong.
“Where and when do we meet?”
Ken took a deep breath. “Four o'clock. Downtown Shinjuku. Pass it on to Davis.”
That was the extent of the conversation. Few specifics and no hint of what cards Ken had available. Of course, at the moment, Ken's ability to play them rested solely in the hands of Henry Wong.
For better or for worse, Riley put to rest any notion that the team would be retreating. There was too much work and too little time for such a process. Izzy and Mari were told to unpack whatever they had boxed up. Henry was to help assess the current status of everything. Terry got a better deal- given the situation and his general uselessness, Riley asked if he wanted to go home. Terry politely declined.
“I've been in here way too long to leave it before you do,” he said. Riley made no attempt to convince him otherwise.
So Riley went back to monitoring the situation and trying to make a useful interpretation out of the information Janyuu was feeding her. Terry went out to check on Agumon and, with Mari completely uninterested in any of the usual “catching up” discussions, she and her father found themselves discussing bio-merging.
“Takato told me about it in the Digital World. I didn't believe him,” he admitted.
“Why not? I had been under the impression that the theory was always present.”
“Calling it a theory is misleading. More like blind speculation shared by a small number of researchers. Although I remember Shibumi being one of them.”
After pouring himself a cup of coffee, Izzy continued, “Truth is, we didn't know what would happen if anybody ever reached a synch level of 400. Nobody ever did. Most of us thought it was impossible and most of the rest of us figured it was either a level above Mega or merely strengthened an already-existing M-Level.”
Mari remained inquisitive. “What about TK's book? Humans turning into Digimon?”
“Outright fiction. Spawned some 'what if' articles, but nobody thought it could really happen. TK was just setting himself apart from the other quadrillion Digimon stories.”
“Can Tentomon digivolve to Mega?” she asked.
Mari raised an eyebrow. “Really? How?”
A good point- Mari and Izzy both knew the discoveries that had been made here. The Digital World naturally inhibited M-Level digivolution. Even at the required synch level of 300, an additional force was required to allow a partner to digivolve to Mega- sort of a divine approval to make sure a human couldn't use a Mega to cause harm. Dubbed “Gennai's Law,” it had limited the number of humans with partners capable of digivolving to Mega to the single digits at the time of the Sealing. Despite almost all of the Japanese Chosen having a synch level above 300, only three of their Digimon could go Mega.
“After we arrived in the Digital World, Azulongmon bestowed us with that power. But I see your point. The Tamers needed a way to cheat Gennai's Law.”
“The Digimon Sovereign were their enemies for a time. Bio-merging forced it through.”
“Bet the Sovereign weren't happy about that,” Izzy replied with a smile, “But it doesn't change the fact that the logistics of it happening are ludicrous. In the Digital World, perhaps, because the human body is converted to data. But this is supposed to be the real world. A purely organic life form fusing with pure independent data?”
Mari smiled slyly. “Therein lies the secret. Who said it merged the purely organic with pure data?”
Izzy didn't understand. “But they were. I was always under the impression that MAXIS worlds were incompatible with the Digital World. The two have completely different compositions.”
“Correct. I worked around that.”
“Mari, the point I'm making is that even if bio-merging was feasible under your specifications, either both parties would need to be pure data, like in DNA digivolving, or one of the two would need to be both organic and data- a Hybrid.”
“Exactly. Dobermon was.”
Izzy stared at Mari for awhile. She had already explained that part, but it then began to fill in for him- when the Tamers' Digimon absorbed Dobermon's data, they too became Hybrids... thus allowing bio-merging in the real world.
“Prodigious...” he mumbled.
“In addition, since Ryo was already a Hybrid, he and Cyberdramon did not need our support.”
“You are a genius,” Izzy said, in awe. The remark forced Mari to smile as her face became a slightly redder shade of pale.
“True,” she replied as she composed herself, “Although that now appears to be our flaw. When Riley brought you here, this world recognized you as purely human. I had hoped that since you were imported from the Digital World, you would be recognized as data.”
Izzy nodded at that, then raised a finger in a moment of epiphany. “But anyone who was originally a Hybrid would stay a Hybrid here, correct?”
Then Izzy sighed as his finger dropped. “But Cody isn't anywhere close to 400 with Armadillomon. He's hovering around 250.”
Mari shook her head, unsurprised that Cody was a Hybrid. “Naturally, the only one capable of bio-merging is in no position to do so. Unless...”
As she trailed off, Henry burst in and interrupted both Mari and her thought process.
“You two might want to get downstairs. I think we're at the point where we can call this a crisis.”
“Is D-Reaper growing that fast?” Izzy asked.
“Worse, its territory is starting to shrink,” Henry replied as he dashed out the door.
Izzy turned to his daughter. “How is that bad?”
Mari stared at the door. She gulped and answered, “D-Reaper is evolving.”
As ominous as it was, Kari found the sight of D-Reaper shifting from horizontal to vertical growth mesmerizing. She sat, alone, on a bench on a nearby pedestrian bridge where she had a clear view of the phenomenon. The pools of chaos, once churning outward, were now elevating themselves, climbing over already-established areas to reach new heights. While she knew it was a destructive program created and executed by humans, the process of D-Reaper's final evolution appeared to be inspired by something more divine. A giant flower reaching full bloom in front of her eyes. A stop-motion movie projected across the entire skyline. God was ending the world just as masterfully as He had created it.
At the very pinnacle of Mother D-Reaper was that red sphere containing Michi. Kari stared at that distant orb and tried not to think of what it was doing to Michi. It was doing enough to everybody else. Tally's death was just the breaking point; when TK coldly refused Kari's sympathy, Kari had the urge to do nothing but find someplace quiet and watch the curtain come down.
Even after voting against helping, Kari had tried to show her support for it. She and Salamon fought as well as anybody, and all witnesses agreed that Takato and Veemon would not have survived had it not been for Gatomon's dynamic digivolution. She loved Takato, but as the situation grew worse and worse, it came closer and closer to confirming what Kari had dreaded since Riley's briefing.
Perhaps it was the close calls with Gomamon, Veemon or Birdramon. Perhaps the revelation that D-Reaper was being powered by Sora and Matt's daughter. Perhaps it hadn't sunk in until a life was actually lost. In any event, all of the Chosen had by now recognized this as a major miscalculation- a charitable cause gone fatally awry. Those who had supported it still clung to the hope of a last-ditch plan from Matt or Riley. Kari wanted to believe, but found herself unable to tolerate the optimism that cursed them in the first place. She was so emotionally tapped that she was now content with sitting by and watching it all come down. Win or lose, she would never see her spouse again like TK. Win or lose, she would never see her child again like Izzy. With everybody, including Takato and her Digimon, going down together, winning or losing didn't seem to matter anymore.
She tried not to acknowledge the sound of feet clanging up the staircase. Not wanting anybody to see her in a rare moment of resignation, Kari wanted to be left alone, but she would never be mistaken for hiding perched up on the bridge. Finally, she sat back at waited for whomever it was. It was Cody.
“Here you are. Matt told me to come get you.”
Kari nodded slowly, not taking her eyes away from D-Reaper.
“In its own ugly way, it's kind of pretty,” she said to him.
“What do you mean?” Cody sat down beside her. “All I see is a monster trying to destroy this world.”
“It is. It's just incredible that we all thought we could beat it so easily. Now look at it.”
Cody looked at her, his eyes narrowing. “This is no time for gloating about being right. We're running out of time to stop it!”
“I'll be there. Don't worry. I'll get Salamon in the battle soon enough. I just need to prepare myself for what might happen.”
“Don't think like that. We can't let it happen. If it does, then everything Joe said about Daemon would-”
“I'm not worried about that. Like it or not, we chose to do this and we need to accept the consequences.”
Cody opened his mouth, but paused before asking her to clarify. In fact, Kari was clinging to a fairly ambitious faith to believe her Digital World and her real world were not doomed: if an eminent threat was present and there were no digi-destined to stop it, wouldn't the forces of the Digital World find a way to create new digi-destined?
“Win or lose, there are consequences to us being here,” Kari added.
Cody understood immediately. “Tally...”
“As painful as it may be to stand aside, there are some battles that we can't afford to fight. Tally's gone and Michi is in danger because of us.”
“But the only reason Tally and Michi were here in the first place was to help Takato. They didn't stand aside, and there was no way they knew what they were getting themselves into.”
Kari lifted her head. Perhaps it was unpopular to think about, but Cody was right- Tally and Michi weren't chosen randomly. Fair or not, they had entered the picture for a reason. It was the same reason the Chosen were here.
Cody continued, “We probably thought a lot more about the risk involved than they did. So what right do we have to think about it now? We can't let this thing take over. That's all you need to dwell on. We must win.”
Kari looked at D-Reaper again. Suddenly, she again could see it as the abomination it was. It was gluttonous, evil, and it needed to be destroyed.
She turned to Cody. “You always were the most mature out of all of us,” she told the child.
Cody smiled back. “I had good parents.”
Despite the compliment, Kari leaned back and frowned. Now she understood why TK had avoided her. Their affair was never meant to be a slight on Tally, but through everything it sure felt like it. Now here was Cody, the physical embodiment of his infidelity.
“What's wrong?” Cody asked.
She turned away as she replied, “You know Tally was TK's wife, right?”
“Yeah. Why, how well did you know her?”
“It's not that. It's just that now that she's gone, I feel really bad about being with TK.”
“So what does that make me?”
Kari looked at him. He kept a straight face, waiting for her to answer. She couldn't.
“Because I would have been reborn regardless of what happened, right?”
“Yeah,” she mumbled in response. It was true, but the circumstances of how he was reborn still changed the situation. It left her embarrassed, ashamed, and in a great deal of pain. It also changed her relationship with Cody- she was now his mother.
“So why is it suddenly such a bad thing that you're my mother? You and TK were together anyway, and because of that I was able to come back the way I did. Besides, why should you feel more guilt now because of what happened to Tally? If Tally was such a concern, you would have considered it at the beginning, right?”
“We did. She was just... very easy to forget about. Same with my husband.”
“So I guess you have to think about what you two are doing now?”
Kari nodded slowly.
“Good.” Cody smiled. “Something to look forward to after we beat this.”
His words startled her. A sudden change of subject with a sudden burst of confidence snapped her back into reality. With his presence, her mind strayed away from D-Reaper. Cody somehow had managed to send it back on a more productive course- one which had a future after D-Reaper. She had too much to take care of- not the least of which was Cody himself, who was destined to make the best of his adulthood the second time around.
She nodded. “Right. Let's do this.”
As Kari reached for her crutches, Cody linked his arm around hers and started to lead her away. Kari called out, “Hey, wait, I need to...” but he wasn't stopping. Leaving the crutches behind, Cody just kept on going.
And so did she.
Somehow, she was walking, almost jogging, step for step with Cody as they descended the ramp and started along the street towards D-Reaper. Somehow Cody knew she didn't need the crutches. Kari quickly discovered that he was right.
“Where are we going?” Kari asked.
“To stop D-Reaper. Where else?” Cody said.
“But our Digimon are back at headquarters!”
Cody smiled and turned back to the target. “We don't need them.”
Ken explained everything he knew to Henry- who Takato was, the significance of the other world, and the likelihood that whatever was happening with the other world was somehow connected to Michi. Henry was satisfied with the explanation, and added that where they were headed, someone had hacked into this world to allow access to it- supposedly to fight some program called D-Reaper which was trying to destroy it.
This information was the last piece of the puzzle. Ryo had explained D-Reaper in vivid detail, and Ken now knew exactly what needed to be done.
“Okay, this is definitely the block. I remember these houses,” Henry said for the third time. Having only been to the place once, Henry's directions were understandably imperfect. Thankfully, this time he was right, and pointed to a house with two cars parked in the garage. “That's it. That's Dad's car.”
“You know what to do, right?”
Henry sighed. “Why do I have to?”
“You guys have to end this yourselves. I can't force you to do it, but it's the only way this will be settled,” Ken answered as they pulled into the driveway.
Ken nodded at Henry and the younger man knocked on the door. After a moment of hesitation Janyuu asked, “Who's there?”
“Seems nervous,” Ken mumbled.
“Dad, it's me!” Henry replied.
“Henry? You should have called,” Janyuu said as he opened the door. “Did you take the train or-” he stopped the moment he saw Ken.
“Good afternoon, Janyuu. My name's Ken Ichijouji.”
“Ken... Ichijouji... the Chosen?” As Janyuu stammered his way through the introductions, Henry sneaked into the house and headed to the computers.
“Yes. I've been investigating the situation and have come here to take care of it,” Ken replied.
“How so?” Janyuu narrowed his eyes.
They widened and he turned his head back the moment he heard his son yell from the office, “Are you sure about this?”
Janyuu ran into the other room, with Ken following. Ken cried out, “Janyuu, stop! He knows what he needs to do.”
“No!” was all Janyuu could say as Henry's finger hovered over the power button on the central computer.
“Sorry, Dad,” Henry replied without looking up.
“What are you doing?”
“I'm ending this.” Henry looked up once at Ken, then back down again.
“But they'll all be trapped! There won't be any way to stop it!”
“As I said... I'm ending this.”
He held the button long enough for all four monitors to go black simultaneously.
Janyuu's jaw fell. He sunk into a chair. “No release valve for D-Reaper... no gate to let Riley out... no more data for them to use... It's over, all right.”
Without saying a word, Ken walked out. Janyuu stared at his son, still on his knees in front of the tower.
“He put you up to this, didn't he?” Janyuu asked.
Henry looked up at his father. “He didn't force me. This was my decision.”
Janyuu jumped to his feet and chased after Ken. “Mr. Ichijouji!” he shouted as Ken left the house. Following him out, Janyuu saw Ken stop in front of his car.
Ken stared back. “This had to end.”
“You don't understand. That whole world was for you and the Chosen. By cutting off our access like that... there's no hope left. You don't realize how many lives are in danger now.”
“That's not my concern,” Ken replied coldly, “As of right now, it's not your concern either. If you want the full story, ask your son. He pushed the button.”
Before Janyuu could protest further, Ken entered his car, started it, and pulled out of the driveway. He was surprised at how little sympathy he felt for Janyuu. In the end, however, Ken knew what he had done and regretted nothing. After all, his job was to save Michi, not to save an alternate world that meant nothing to him.
Of all the things to further complicate the mission, a basic computer glitch should have been the least of Riley's concerns. Instead, she yelled for any nearby techie that could hear her.
“What's wrong?” Izzy asked as he, his daughter and Henry ran into the room.
“Programming skills aside, any of you three know tech support?” Riley sat back in her chair and grumbled, “I think the network is stalled. It's not refreshing the numbers.”
The three looked around at the other screens. All the visual representations of the data, which normally had shown minor adjustments every five seconds or so, were eerily static. Even during a slow period, D-Reaper was always doing something; now that it was trying to evolve, the displays should have been extremely active.
“I don't suppose you can ping it or something?” Henry suggested.
Riley shook her head. “That only works from outside the system. Right now, we are the system. The data comes from in from outside. Janyuu would have to ping us.”
“Have you contacted him?” Mari asked, leaning in and glaring at the main screen.
“I sent him a message, but no response. But for all we know, he could just be out to lunch.”
“Does your system say he's online?” Izzy asked.
“He sends messages through the internal Hypnos system. It's not like a basic IM program- there's no clear way to tell if he's on or not.”
“Check Hypnos then. He is logged on your account. See if it is still active,” Mari said.
Riley took a deep breath and did so. The system allowed her access to the real world, and to open a gate between the two- but only if there was a user on the other end waiting to receive it. If the user had logged off, such functions would appear disabled.
Just as they were, much to Riley's increasing dismay. “He's offline,” she whispered.
“What does that mean?” Henry asked.
“It means we no longer have a link to the outside world,” Mari answered, frowning, “Which, in turn, provides us with our information.”
“And provided the release necessary to flush D-Reaper out of this system,” Riley paused and then, barely able to comprehend it herself, added, “And was the only way for Terry, Mari and I to leave.”
Izzy and Henry fell silent. Mari looked down. Riley wanted to take a moment herself to grasp what had just happened, but her cell phone broke everyone out of their trances.
“Yes?” Riley answered swiftly and professionally.
“This is absolutely incredible!” Takato, with a newfound enthusiasm, was on the other end. His tone certainly was a jolt to Riley. “I don't know what Mari just did but tell her it worked great!”
“Uh... hold on.” Riley set the phone aside and looked at Mari. “Were you working on something up there?”
“No. I have been decidedly useless since my arrival,” Mari answered curtly.
“What do you mean? What's going on over there?” Riley asked Takato.
Takato's response was just as bright. “We're not sure either, but it's awesome! It has to be a Mega, or M-Level, or whatever.”
Riley looked at the other three in the room. Mari and Henry stared back blankly. Izzy shrugged his shoulders.
“We'll be down there in a second,” she concluded.
He? She? It? They? Whatever pronoun was appropriate, the new Digimon had no trouble using its twin shinai to slice through the wave of Bubbles that had come out to greet it.
“That was easy,” Kari said with a chuckle. She still wasn't entirely sure what was happening, but between the overwhelming righteousness she felt and the notion that Cody carried no trepidation about this whatsoever, she just went with it.
“I'm sure it'll get harder the higher we go,” Cody replied, from wherever he was. Kari was almost in sensory deprivation- she only knew she was still in her body because she saw it when she looked down. Cody's voice, on the other hand, had no origin point. Either he did not have a body anymore, or she was encapsulated in it.
“Well, let's find out,” Kari said, urging him up the face of Mother D-Reaper.
Without having seen what she was a part of, she knew what it looked like: it was only slightly taller than a human- maybe eight or nine feet tall. Under the bogu headgear, completely obscuring the Digimon's face, was long, cerulean armor and a black hakama that exposed only a glimpse of bare feet. The most glorious feature was the set of white wings it used to glide higher up D-Reaper's edifice.
Cody was right- about halfway up, a pair of disfigured golden arms impeded their progress, launching a legion of agents at them. Using its swords, the Digimon was able to block their attacks, while looking over at the new menace- yet another new agent, this time a tall but shapeless creature sprouting out from the ground. Its purple upper body gave way to a pair of thin wings and the two immense arms preventing any further escalation.
For now, Optimizer was content with blocking the new Digimon while letting the Bubbles do the dirty work. The swift M-Level had no trouble defending itself and every attack it made took out several agents in one slice. There was no end in sight, however, and Kari began to tire.
“Don't stop!” Cody shouted.
“We can't keep this up!” Kari replied.
They continued battling, but the stalemate continued. For every Bubbles that they destroyed, more came to take its place. After minutes of constant fighting, nothing was being accomplished.
From behind them, they heard a deep voice scream, “Kodomon! Look out!!”
Registering the name of their Digimon, Kari and Cody saw Optimizer shooting an energy beam from its mouth. Kodomon dodged out of the way and saw a giant, green insectoid Digimon charge past them.
“Giga Blaster!” HerculesKabuterimon shouted as it launched its attack at the Optimizer. The blast connected, disrupting the agent enough to force its hands to its sides and the wave of Bubbles to stop momentarily.
“Izzy sent me here as soon as he found out,” he explained to Kodomon, “I'll take care of this thing. Go get Michi!”
“Right!” Kodomon replied as it flew past Optimizer and toward the Kernal Sphere once more.
Naturally, the evolving D-Reaper positioned the Kernal Sphere as its brain, and encased this brain with a protective skull made up of one final agent- Gatekeeper. Besides serving as a protective casing around the Kernal Sphere, Gatekeeper also had a ring of jagged edges, one of which dislodged itself and flew at Kodomon as soon as it drew near.
Kodomon slashed through that one, but more followed. Again, Kodomon had no trouble avoiding any damage, but D-Reaper's resistance prevented any clean attack on the Kernal Sphere. Kodomon afforded a moment to check on HerculesKabuterimon, but it was still busy dueling with Optimizer. With no other options, Kodomon continued to plow forward, blocking Gatekeeper's attacks as they came and inching closer to Michi.
Finally, as it stopped in front of the Kernal Sphere, Kodomon managed to anticipate a break in the attacks and took one single shot at penetrating the Kernal Sphere.
It barely made a scratch.
"We're going to need a fully-charged attack!" Kari exclaimed.
"Then let me give you some room," a new voice beamed from below. "Angel Rod!" MagnaAngemon cried, taking out two of Gatekeeper's blades.
"MagnaAngemon? If you're out here it must mean TK..."
"TK's not going to leave you to do this alone. I'll take care of these things- just get through that sphere!"
"Right!" Kodomon replied. As MagnaAngemon shielded Kodomon, Kodomon brought its swords together, lifted them overhead, and struck down upon the Kernal Sphere.
"Dual Parry!" it shouted as the attack landed. At first, it did not penetrate, but Kodomon refused to give up and Kari and Cody each willed the attack through. Finally, a crack began to form and in a moment the swords sliced through the sphere, cutting a gash right through the center. Globs of pink ooze began to leak from the bottom and they could make out a smaller egg inside with a large crack through it.
"Yes!" Kodomon shouted.
A ghastly scream drowned it out, and every remaining blade in Gatekeeper's arsenal fired simultaneously at both Kodomon and MagnaAngemon, ripping through their armor and knocking them downwards. By the time they recovered, the entire headpiece of Mother D-Reaper began to gyrate rapidly, as splashes of chaos began to spew randomly out of its body. Two Horn Striker agents popped out of the mass and took a swing at each Digimon, knocking them further downward. As the Digimon allowed themselves to fall further, the Horn Strikers vanished back into the chaos.
Below them, HerculesKabuterimon had finished off the Optimizer, but a Creep Hands suddenly launched itself out, punching the defenseless bug. HerculesKabuterimon fell, reverting back into Tentomon.
"What's going on?" Kodomon asked.
After catching Tentomon, MagnaAngemon shook his head. "I don't know, but it's too unstable to stick around. Come on!"
Dodging outbursts of chaos and the random agent the whole way, the two Digimon descended to ground level and flew out to greet the rest of the team, already starting to retreat. The nearest side of D-Reaper started to collapse, gushing chaos from its summit all the way to the base, spreading wildly toward the group. Most of the humans and Digimon were able to stay ahead of the crimson avalanche, but there were exceptions that needed a boost.
"Armadillomon!" With a shout, Kodomon instinctively transferred both of its shinai to one hand and raised the other towards Armadillomon. In moments, the Rookie began to glow and evolve.
"Tail Hammer!" In seconds, Ankylomon was formed and trying to repel the surge. A few scattered Digimon like Andromon and Leomon joined in to help, but there seemed to be no stopping the wave.
"That's not going to do it!" Henry shouted as Gargomon jumped in.
MagnaAngemon descended next to them. "Gate of Destiny," he called. The gate drew in some chaos, but quickly dissolved the portal itself. Furthermore, the others' attacks were only serving to divert the path of the chaos rather than block it.
"This is not helping," Mari observed as the chaos started to encircle the few Digimon standing in its way, as well as Henry, Kazu and Jeri standing alongside their partners.
"So let's step it up." Before the chaos could completely trap them, TK jumped into the circle and looked up at Kodomon.
Kodomon stared back at him. The father was smiling as clutched his digivice. "Ready?" TK asked.
"Ready!" Cody and Kari replied as Kodomon held a hand up.
"DNA Digivolve to Shakkoumon!"
A few Justice Beam attacks finally began to subdue the rushing chaos. The supporting Digimon could, and did, clean up the rest.
Kodomon dropped a few feet and hovered near TK. TK looked it over- the unlikely bio-merge between Kari and Cody. After scrutinizing every minor detail of Kodomon's exterior composition, TK could only nod and grin.
"Very nice," he said.
In the distance, despite the "leak," the core of D-Reaper remained active. Various agents leaped out of the chaos, only to reach the end of an apparently short cable and go bouncing back in. Either way, its instability made a second attack unfeasible, so Kodomon landed and began to glow. A few seconds later, Cody and Kari stood there, appearing as normal as they would ever get.
TK took a cautious step towards them, then bounded forward and caught Kari just as her legs gave out.
"Are you okay?" he asked hurriedly.
She was breathless, and needed a few moments to compose herself, glancing at both TK and Cody several times. Finally, she took a deep breath and said, "Flying's fine, but I'm still not used to walking." She turned to TK and smiled brightly, adding, "Good catch, TK."
Again, TK grinned, but this time he shook his head. A tear fell from his eye as he said, "Any time."
With Shakkoumon standing guard, the chaos began to subside. "Looks like it's done," Henry said after carefully watching D-Reaper's regression.
The remainder of the group wasted no time surrounding Kari and Cody, trying to get any sort of feel over what had just happened. As if Kari or Cody knew. The lone exception was Izzy, who patted Mari's shoulder.
"Good work," he said.
"Thanks, Dad," she whispered.
On the front lines, Leomon stepped forward, curiously observing the chaos. "Hey, would someone please explain what's going on with this thing?"
"What do you mean? Kodomon put a gash in the sphere and it sprung a leak," Kazu replied.
Henry and Mari were more suspicious, staring at the chaos from a safe distance. Scratching his chin, Henry said, "Now that Leomon mentions it, this is very strange behavior for D-Reaper. I don't remember it ever gushing like that."
"Furthermore, agents are active at D-Reaper's center but not here," Mari added.
Emerging from the crowd gathered around Kari and Cody, Takato and Riley took a closer look. Takato said, "What Kodomon did though- damaging the Kernal Sphere... that was a good thing, right?"
"Of course it was..." Riley seemed unsure, however, and turned to Jeri. "Right, Jeri?"
Jeri was also staring up at D-Reaper, trying to get a feel for it. "Um... perhaps," she mumbled.
Leomon was still at the forefront, shaking his head. "I don't understand how anybody can figure out-"
"LEOMON, GET BACK HERE!" Jeri shouted, without warning. Though startled, Leomon jumped back towards Jeri, just as the chaos surged forward again. Henry and Mari backpedaled immediately, and Riley quickly gave word for the entire group to retreat.
"Thanks," Leomon muttered to Jeri, both equally flustered. "Sure saved my ass."
Just as soon as the chaos surged, however, it retreated back.
"It stopped again..." Kazu said.
"I say keep moving!" Takato replied.
Everybody agreed with him and retreated back to headquarters as D-Reaper continued to propel itself forward, and then immediately slide itself back. Any permanent advances were barely noticeable. In addition, the towering Mother D-Reaper at the center of town was just as erratic. At times it ballooned out to twice its depth before returning to its original size. It wobbled back and forth, developed the occasional growth on its sides, and in the strangest display of all- periodically erupted chaos from its headpiece like a geyser. For minutes, all anyone could do was watch it.
Finally, Takato asked the only one who could have possibly known what was happening. "Jeri? What's going on?"
After staring at the face of Mother D-Reaper, Jeri's eyes fell to the ground. "We won," she said solemnly.
"D-Reaper is no longer capable of functioning according to its programming. It won't last like this."
She started to draw a small group over. "Wait, what makes you say that?" Riley asked.
With her eyes still to the floor, Jeri answered, "D-Reaper is only accustomed to dealing with emotional pain. Now it's being forced to accept a completely new type of pain and apparently it's too much."
Henry asked, "What do you mean 'new type of pain?'"
"Physical pain," she said, "That attack cut right through the Kernal Sphere and must have hurt Michi."
Everybody looked up at D-Reaper, wobbling unsteadily in the skyline.
Jeri looked around at the group. "Right now there's three possibilities. All result in D-Reaper's defeat. One is that D-Reaper is so overloaded that it collapses on itself, taking Michi with it."
"We can't let that happen," Takato said, still staring at D-Reaper through narrow eyes. "I'm hoping number two is us pulling her out in time?"
Jeri nodded. "Yes. Without Michi, D-Reaper will not be able to function on this scale."
"That one sounds pretty good, but what's number three?" asked Kazu.
"Before either of the first two happens, Michi bleeds to death."
Only the collective deep breaths among the group were heard. Judging by the suddenly unpredictable nature of D-Reaper's movements, Riley knew Jeri's diagnosis was correct. Regardless of what had transpired, the battle would be over soon and the world would survive. Yet, nobody dared to feel relieved, least of all Riley.
Matt and Sora were not privy to the conversation. They joined in moments later, after the news had sunk in with Riley.
"So what now? Did you figure out what's going on?" Matt asked.
Riley could only stare up at the Kernal Sphere. Even if her war was destined to be won, only one outcome would be acceptable.
Sora... you're up."
To Be Concluded in Stage Eight- "Beginning"
We haven't had a good WTF moment in a couple stages, so hopefully the notion of Kari and Cody bio-merging does the trick. It would be a good idea to re-read Level 1: Stage Five, which sets up just about everything regarding TK, Kari and Cody (along with the brief foreshadowing in 1:4 where Cody registered a synch level with Takato).
In a mistake I didn't catch until the very last revision before posting, I originally had Gennai's Law written as Jinnai's Law. While an obvious misspelling, anyone who has seen El Hazard would know that using Jinnai's Law to refer to the inability for humans to use high-powered creatures for malice... is actually just as appropriate.
While the whole Hybrid thing is my way of explaining how the real world bio-merges in Tamers were possible through Doberman (and a way to prevent the Chosen from bio-merging with their partners), it also accidentally explained the plothole in Tamers that allowed Ryo to bio-merge without being anywhere near Dobermon.
The Gatekeeper is the official Japanese name for the ninth agent, and not to be confused with the term used in this canon to refer to scientists given access to the Digital World for purposes of research and regulation. It better not be confused with that silly parody story I wrote a couple years ago.
I cannot reiterate this enough- one more stage, and it's all over.
This ends Level 3: Stage Seven of The Connection.