Level 3: Experiments

Stage Eight- Beginning

Yamaki stared at the data one more time, prepping himself for the moment the door would slide open and Yasuo would burst in angrily.

It did slide open, and Yasuo did burst in, but he appeared more annoyed than angry.

What is it now?” he muttered, “I do have other issues to deal with, you know.”

Yamaki sighed and asked, “Do you want the good news or the bad news?”

I don't have time for this. I thought having a source assured that the world would be wiped out.”

As recently as an hour ago, Yamaki would have agreed. While he didn't approve of the decision to insert Michi, he had felt that it would take care of the nuisance Riley was making in there. Two recent developments had changed his mind.

Yamaki explained, starting with what was technically the good news: “First off, there is no longer a second connection into the MAXIS. Whoever is fighting us, they no longer have access to the system.”

Yasuo nodded curtly. “Good. That should simplify things.”

Unfortunately, sir, it strands Riley and whomever else is inside. If they're trapped-”

Then they'll get what they deserve,” Yasuo answered with a dismissive wave of his hand, “What else?”

Yamaki dropped that issue and pulled up a new screen- Michi's vital signs.

A little while ago, D-Reaper started behaving very erratically. Obviously not according to any program, but it doesn't appear to be in response to any of Riley's tactics.”

Yasuo glared at the monitor. “Go on.”

I don't know what happened, but these are Michi's vitals- her blood pressure is falling and her nervous system is going crazy. Either she's injured, going into shock, or both.”

Yasuo did not react. “Go on,” he said again.

Sir, D-Reaper feeds on pain, and Michi is overloading it. It's going to crash, and I can't predict what will happen when it does.”

Leaning forward and glaring at the readings, Yasuo thought for a moment before responding, “So what do you suggest we do about it?”

Yamaki sighed. “We need to get Michi out while we still can. Especially with the possibility that she needs medical attention.”

But then D-Reaper wouldn't survive.”

At this point, don't you think saving her would be more important? You can try again later; they're locked out, remember?”

I will do no such thing,” Yasuo replied as he set, almost pounded a hand onto Yamaki's desk. “I will not let the well-being of some rabble-rousing dissident get in the way of the task at hand. This world needs to be eradicated, and there's no sense quitting now and starting over.”

My point is that D-Reaper may be collapsing on itself before it does its job. If that's the case, then shouldn't we-”

Is there still a chance that it will take the system down with it?”

I suppose, but-”

Then we will let it run its course. No sense giving up over someone like her.”

Yamaki sighed, but did not answer. Somehow, he knew he would get a response like that.

Is there anything else we can do to keep it going?” Yasuo asked as he perused the monitor once more.

No,” Yamaki muttered, “It's not up to us any more.”

Yasuo turned to Yamaki. “Then there's no sense keeping you around here, then. Come back tomorrow to assess whatever is left of the situation.”

Yamaki didn't bother looking up at Yasuo. He merely sighed, nodded, and stood up. “Yes, sir,” he mumbled, grabbing his jacket and calmly leaving the room.

At this point, Yamaki was so unnerved by the situation that stepping away from it wasn't the worst punishment in the world. He felt bad enough about inserting Michi in the first place, but the notion that they were abandoning her inside D-Reaper, in spite of whatever condition she was in, only made it worse. He also couldn't help but feel a great deal of remorse for leaving Riley trapped in that world.

Strong as these feelings were, Yamaki had no desire to act on them. He had just protested Yasuo's decisions about as long as one feasibly could. For that, he was getting off easy to be told to walk away from the mess and let the events of the MAXIS sort themselves out. In fact, as the elevator landed and he walked through the tower's lobby, Yamaki wasn't even sure if he would come back the next day as instructed.

Hey, Yamaki! Where you off to?” a young, but familiar voice called out to him. Ryo Akiyama was leaning against a wall, hands resting in his jacket pockets and idling the time away.

Yamaki looked around carefully, never discounting the improbable notion that this was some sort of trap, and approached Ryo. “Ryo? Are you looking for your dad?”

Ryo shook his head. “I'm not. Just hanging around. Something big's going down today. Something I have to see for myself.”

What do you mean? Do you know what your father's been up to?”

For the most part.” Ryo flashed a grin. “The real kicker's coming up though.”

Why? Does it have something to do with the other world?”

Seems that way. I don't know the exact details. All I know is that whatever it is, I need to be around when it happens.” After glancing at the entrance doors, Ryo turned to Yamaki. “You might want to be here too.”

Why? Does it concern me?”

Maybe. It's worth watching either way. It'll be fun, trust me.”

Yamaki sighed, found a chair nearby and sat down. “What the hell, my afternoon just got freed up. So what have you been up to, Ryo?”

Nothing,” Ryo deadpanned, “Say, Dad wouldn't happen to have some girl named Michi Grant up there, would he?”

I don't know if I'm supposed to tell you.”

In an hour or two, it won't matter anyway. How's D-Reaper doing?”

I don't know if I can tell you that either.”

Ryo smiled broadly. “Nice talking to you too.”

Appropriate was not the way anyone present would have described the sight of Matt and Sora leading their Mega-level Digimon into battle, but he and his wife both felt entitled to take the lead at this point. With only a firm nod shared between them, the two rode atop MetalGarurumon and Hououmon for one last-ditch effort to save their daughter.

Matt felt no pride as a father in riding to Michi's rescue; the only reassurance he felt came from the two other Digimon flanking the pair. It was only natural that Matt and Sora would step up, but the two companions were almost miraculous. Joe rode atop Plesiomon, who had somehow regained most of his strength from the vicious attack by Pendulum Feet the day before. He may not have been completely healthy, but he was in his Mega form and that was encouraging enough.

On the other side, after everything Kari had gone through, her true Digimon partner was ready and willing to go forth. Among her many options, Nefertimon rode alongside the three M-Levels. She was by far a more reliable transport for Takato and Veemon than Angewomon. Takato insisted on being part of the rescue effort; as he was the only one whom Michi would recognize immediately, nobody protested.

The four Digimon flew as high as they could, to prolong any combat until they reached the summit. D-Reaper, already reeling from the overload of pain, was unable to process the tactic and send an early wave of agents to meet them. As they approached the summit and started to descend, they saw the mass gathering of agents overhead, eager for one last infliction. An Optimizer bulged out of the chaos and unleashed five or six Bubbles upon the Digimon before melting back in. Hououmon dispatched them easily.

Matt gave instructions to MetalGarurumon, whose booming voice was better suited to relaying them to the others: “Hououmon and I will go in first and secure the area. Plesiomon- help us if necessary, otherwise support Nefertimon. Once the area is secure, Takato will ride in to get Michi. Understand?”

Yes,” came the unified response.

As Matt and Sora's Digimon descended towards the battlezone, two Horn Strikers emerged to greet them. Rather than letting them occupy both Digimon, MetalGarurumon launched missiles at both, allowing him to draw their fire while Hououmon advanced on. The two agents not only absorbed the damage, but their combined strength proved formidable, even for the M-Level.

MetalGarurumon engaged them single-handedly, however, happy to let Hououmon move forward and Plesiomon conserve energy. Unfortunately, the Horn Strikers were able to get into close range, putting MetalGarurumon at a disadvantage. Little damage was done on either side, but the Horn Strikers were able to physically restrain the Digimon. Matt soon saw why as a Creep Hands shot out from below, directly at Hououmon.

Crimson Flame!” Hououmon shouted, recognizing the sneak attack and vaporizing the Creep Hands immediately.

It was not as fortunate against the Michi-Type agent that sprang out of the chaos and pounded Hououmon into the side of the tower. Unlike her first appearances, Michi-Type looked absolutely feral, uncontrollably wailing on Hououmon through bouts of labored breathing. Sora managed to find safe ground where she could clutch her Digimon without risking injury to herself, and Hououmon managed to deliver the occasional shot on the foe, but the agent clearly held the upper hand.

Metal Wolf Claw!” MetalGarurumon finally landed a meaningful hit on one of the Horn Strikers, knocking it away. He turned to the other, but it wasn't necessary.

Water Tail Blaster!” Plesiomon's attack from above distracted the second Horn Striker, allowing MetalGarurumon to finish the first. Matt let Joe deal with the second and charged after the first agent.

Giga Missile!” The first step was getting it away from Sora. The blast connected as Michi-Type fell back with a deafening howl.

Starlight Explosion!” Hououmon was right there to launch another attack on it.

Now seething, Michi-Type charged after Hououmon again, but MetalGarurumon interposed himself and slashed at it with one of its claws.

Are you okay, Sora?” Matt shouted.

I don't think I can stay up any longer,” Hououmon replied between staggered breaths.

Find a safe place and take a breather then. There's no safety net if you devolve here.”

As Hououmon made her escape, the Michi-Type struck again, this time landing a more damaging blow. MetalGarurumon howled and swiped at her in retaliation. Matt clutched his partner as the two exchanged blows. Neither appeared to take damage, but Matt could sense otherwise- MetalGarurumon was losing energy, and couldn't sustain much more damage in his Mega form.

Give it everything- go!” Matt instructed.

Ice Wolf Bite!” This was MetalGarurumon's fireworks display- every missile fired at once. Several of them must have connected, but Matt could not see through the volumes of smoke that billowed from the resulting explosions. He took a moment to make sure Sora and Hououmon were indeed flying away, then looked back.

He saw a crazed and scarred Michi-Type ten feet in front of him, screaming as she lashed one of her grotesque arms at him. He saw her face, saw Michi's face- the insane, desperate face of his daughter scrambling to give whatever energy she had left into destroying anything in her path. Matt froze for just a moment, but it was enough time for the agent's arm to slap him off of MetalGarurumon.

By the time Matt got his bearings back, he was already plummeting. He gasped as he saw MetalGarurumon continue to engage the agent, unable to make the rescue. Matt was unable to look down, not that he wanted to know what was under him. He could only look to his side, but just for a moment, he saw the kernal sphere. Just for a moment, he caught a faint glimpse of Michi.

She was curled up, clutching her side and wincing. The image was there for just a brief moment; Matt fell helplessly past her.

The sight of his daughter in clear pain was the only thing on his mind. All for the better as it distracted him from the reality that he was falling to his death. He landed on something soft, but did not bother to ponder his mortality or even if he was still alive. All he saw was Michi.

Matt!” Joe's shout woke him up. His mind may have drifted elsewhere, but he found that his body had instinctively clutched onto Plesiomon the moment he had landed on it.

Head back up. Let's go for Michi while we can,” Matt ordered. Plesiomon flew up at the Kernal Sphere.

The first agent, still fighting off MetalGarurumon, saw this, and flew down to defend its most valuable asset.

Shoot, it spotted us,” Joe said.

Finally collecting himself and remembering the original plan, Matt gave a new order, “Turn away and fly to one of the rooftops. Let's draw it away from here so Takato can get her.”

Joe nodded and Plesiomon obeyed. Sure enough, the agent flew after it, her fist extended the whole way. Plesiomon had no trouble staying ahead of it until it reached the roof of a nearby skyscraper. It flew around, pausing to let Joe and Matt disembark. Then, as the Michi-Type approached, Plesiomon charged after it.

Shaking Pulse!” The attack met Michi-Type's fists head-on. Another horrible scream; Matt covered his ears and fell to his knees. When the attack concluded, Michi-Type still stood, her arms still extended, her face still insane and her scream still horrifying.

Crimson Flame!” Hououmon put her out of her misery; Michi-Type did not see the attack from the side, which engulfed both the agent and her cord in flames. With one last scream, the agent dissolved into chaos and fell to the street.

Matt ran up and hugged Sora as she leaped off Hououmon. After all the images and sounds of his tortured daughter, he didn't want to leave her embrace. The two Digimon present, however, forced the issue when they began to glow and devolve.

Sora...” Hououmon moaned as she found herself reverting to Biyomon. Gomamon also emerged where Plesiomon had once been.

Looks like that was all he had,” Joe said.

You did wonderful, B,” Sora added.

Matt looked up at MetalGarurumon. He was still airborne, but evading attacks from all comers- multiple weaker agents had emerged from the chaos to keep him away from Michi. They couldn't damage him any more than Michi-Type and the Horn Strikers had, but they distracted him well enough.

Sora clutched Matt; she saw the same thing. He wrapped an arm around her and looked skyward. Above the towers, Nefertimon was making her descent. With virtually every strong Digimon out of energy, this was truly the last chance to save Michi. Takato was her only hope.

The taxi reached its destination just as Yolei's watch beeped four o'clock. She looked up at the towering city hall building, took a deep breath, and turned to her companions in the back seat.

Ready?” she asked.

Mimi and Michael nodded.

As soon as they exited the cab, all three looked around to see if anybody had already arrived. A difficult task as the plaza was fairly crowded- just another March afternoon in downtown Shinjuku for everyone else.

How are we supposed to find them?” asked Mimi.

Walk around and look. Try to blend in,” Michael replied, a slightly rushed edge in his voice.


With all of us getting together like this, especially here... why shouldn't I be?”

Yolei did her best to reassure him. “Let's just lay low, hope we spot them, and pray Yasuo's goons aren't out here.”

A tap on his shoulder startled Michael. “Too late- already found you.”

Michael narrowed his eyebrows. “That's not funny, Davis.”

Davis smiled and greeted Mimi and Yolei. Yolei nodded back, but was more interested in the tall Caucasian man clutching a briefcase.

Who's your friend?” she asked.

The stranger answered, “I'm with the American embassy. Mr. Ichijouji said he would meet us here, but he didn't say there would be an entourage.”

We just want our daughter back,” Michael replied.

I suppose you're the parents of Michi Grant?” the embassy official asked Michael.

Mimi nodded. “Legal guardians, yes. Her parents are... um...”

Deceased,” Michael answered for his wife, shooting her an unhappy look.

Davis and Yolei rolled their eyes, but both knew better than to bring the subject up.

The official nodded, but spoke straight to the point. “Keep in mind that I am not here regarding the girl. Mr. Ichijouji is still investigating her whereabouts. Today is about Riley Kamiya.”

As he started walking toward the tower, the four Chosen trailed behind.

You didn't say Riley's involved with this. Why would she be up there?” Michael asked Yolei.

Yolei grinned. “It involves Digimon, computers, and getting back at Yasuo. Why wouldn't she be?”

I'll have you know I'm scared to death of that woman.”

Why's that?”

She could control Tai. Not a force to be messed with.”

Michael has a point. Why would she need the embassy for help?” Mimi asked.

Yolei's smile grew. “What do you think Ken's been doing all day?”

The four followed the official inside. As soon as they reached the lobby, Michael froze.

Oh, God,” he muttered, looking around nervously.

What is it?” Mimi asked.

That young man over there.” Michael tilted his head in the general direction. “That looks like Ryo Akiyama. I remember that grin.”

Mimi and Yolei glanced at him, just long enough to accidentally make eye contact. Ryo's face lit up and he approached them. The tall blond seated next to him followed.

Michael tried not to wince as Ryo nodded at the ladies. “Well, everybody's here... except Ken. Where is he?”

Yolei narrowed her eyebrows. “Ken let you in on all this?”

Who are you?” Mimi asked. She stared at him, shaking her head at the lack of recognition.

Ryo Akiyama,” Michael answered, “Formerly Yasuo's older brother. Now the world's only known Digiworld Hybrid.”

Yolei's eyes lit up. “Oh... I've heard about you! You were quite a pain in the ass back in the day!”

He's also probably the reason Yasuo hates Digimon so much,” Michael added.

Ryo took a step back, then threw his hands up.

Well, I didn't realize you guys knew as much about me as I do about you. It's like I'm already part of the family!”

Everybody glared at him.

Yolei broke the uneasy silence by changing the subject. “How much did Ken tell you?”

Just that I should be here this afternoon in case he needed my help.”

Why should we trust you? You're related to Yasuo,” Mimi said.

I'm also a former Chosen, just like you guys. That means I belong here.”

Michael shook his head. Then he turned to Yamaki. “Who's this?”

This is Yamaki. He's here to help too.”

Helping with what?” Yamaki asked, “You didn't say anything about-”

Ryo nudged him, not listening. “Depending on what's going on up there, you may need him.”

Before Yamaki could protest, Ken ran in. Without so much as a glance at anyone else, he and the embassy official marched towards the elevators.

What's with the posse?” the official asked Ken.

They're helping me with my end,” Ken answered, “I didn't want any other officials. We're going for low profile.”

Yes we are. Why are Michi's parents here?”

An elevator arrived. All eight of them squeezed in together.

Rest assured that I'm not out to reunite Michi with her parents,” Ken answered, “That's what I'd like to prevent.”

With all due respect, why aren't you looking for her?” Michael asked.

We still can't confirm where she is,” Ken replied.

And that means we do not implicate Mr. Akiyama. I'm nervous enough as it is about implicating him on the things we can confirm,” the embassy official added.

Upon exiting the elevator, the delegation found Yasuo's main office. Ken instructed everybody but the official to wait outside. The embassy official rapped on Yasuo's door and retrieved a folder from his briefcase as Mr. Akiyama answered it.

Who are you?” Yasuo asked, unamused as always.

I'm with the American Embassy here in Tokyo. One of our citizens is in eminent danger and I need to, I guess you could say, commandeer your computer to help her.”

Yasuo narrowed his eyes. “Who's in danger now?”

A woman by the name of Riley Kamiya. We have learned that she is in a MAXIS system and this is the only remaining access point to it.”

Yasuo cracked a faint grin. “That woman entered on her own accord. If anything, she's trespassing on our system.”

Um... unfortunately, that's not technically applicable. While you do hold jurisdiction over the system, that jurisdiction came with a right of passage clause that allows anyone with access to the system permission to enter it.”

Yasuo sighed impatiently. “She should not have access to the system. We believe she hacked in.”

Well, then that's a gray area.”

With derision, Yasuo replied, “The whole thing's a gray area. There's no precedent for any of this.”

The official nodded in acknowledgment. “Yes, but we have to intervene regardless. File a complaint against her if you want, but we tend to err on the side of not getting our citizens killed.”

And if I refuse to cooperate? Do you have an injunction?”

Yes,” the official answered, “If you take issue with it, then we will have to go to the embassy to sort this matter out. We can call up some lawyers and get an initial ruling.”

Yasuo glared at him for a while. Finally, he raised an eyebrow and said, “Fine. Let's go.”

He grabbed a jacket and followed the official out. On the way to the elevator, he saw Ken, watching them without trying to draw attention to himself.

Ken? What on Earth are you doing here?” Yasuo asked, immediately suspicious.

Ken bowed. “I've finished my investigation, sir. I'll have the full report for you on Monday.”

Yasuo narrowed his eyebrows. “For your sake, I certainly hope you weren't involved with this injunction.”

With a sigh, Ken didn't answer. Instead, he said, “I made some very interesting discoveries. You were certainly right about Koji- definitely one to keep an eye on.”

Then Ken smiled. Before Yasuo could fume properly, the elevator had arrived and the official led him aboard.

All clear,” Ken said as the others came out of hiding.

Good call keeping us out of that,” Ryo said, “If he knew I was here, he'd kill me.”

He's going to kill all of us, but that's not the point. Let's find Michi.”

I thought you said this was about Riley,” Michael said.

Ken smiled again. “That was just to get that injunction through. I don't give a damn about her; I just want to get Michi back.”

Wait... so you just convinced a national embassy to take down Yasuo just so we could get Michi out of here?” Yolei said, walking up to her husband.

Michael shook his head. “Are you kidding? Something like this won't take down Yasuo. He'll be back up here in no time.”

Michael's right,” Ken replied, “Whatever Yasuo's up to, his lawyers will keep him out of trouble. If anything, it's the embassy that's stepping over the line. This may end up becoming an international incident and I'm pretty sure I just ruined my career... but in the end, it's nothing more than an diversion.”

Out of nowhere, Yamaki stepped forward. “In that case, come with me. I know where he's keeping her.”

Yamaki led the group up to the computer, explaining the situation to them along the way. Obviously, Mimi and Yolei were hardly pleased to hear about Michi's condition, but their anger was all the more motivation for Yamaki to help. Unfortunately, after pouring through lines of code and data, he came to a problematic conclusion.

Damn, she's been in there too long. Someone's going to have to go in and get her.”

Us pulling her out of D-Reaper? That's impossible!” Ryo exclaimed.

Not if we start breaking down D-Reaper first.”

Ryo chuckled and turned to the Chosen. “Okay, who here can spin around the fastest?”

Yamaki smiled. “Thankfully, I had the old Juggernaut program written into D-Reaper for emergency purposes like these. Once activated, it will suck D-Reaper out of the MAXIS and load it onto a different system.”

And then we can just go into the computer and get Michi?” Yolei asked.

Shaking his head, Yamaki answered, “It's not that simple. With Michi embedded like that, if D-Reaper is flushed out of the world, Michi goes with it. And a human wouldn't survive where I'm taking it.”

So we have to get Michi out before D-Reaper's flushed,” Davis surmised, “How do we do that?”

Ken let out a laugh. “Looks like we're saving Riley after all, huh?”

Yamaki nodded. “Whatever she's doing, it's been keeping D-Reaper at bay. If it weren't for her, that world would be gone by now. I'm sure she'll help you get Michi.”

You sure about that?” Ryo said, “There aren't any Digimon in that world anymore.”

She's getting it done somehow.”

But if you're wrong about her, Michi's a goner,” Yolei said.

Mimi stepped forward and looked Yamaki in the eyes. “Is this our best shot?”

It may be your only shot,” he answered.

Mimi looked at Yolei. “I'm her mother. I say we do it.” She turned back to Yamaki and said, “Where do we go to get beamed up?”

Yamaki pointed out the location. Mimi grabbed Ken's arm. “C'mon, Ken,” she said, leading him to the spot.

Well, I'm going too, I need to see what this place is like,” Yolei added.

Davis joined her. “No way you're leaving me out of this one.”

And since I've been there before, you'd better have someone show you around,” Ryo said as he strolled over.

Wait a minute, somebody has to stay here!” Michael protested, “We don't know how much we can trust this man. Besides, what if Yasuo comes back?”

Thanks for volunteering, dear!” Mimi shouted.

They'll be fine, Mr. Grant,” Yamaki said as he began the instructions. “The entry site is already set outside D-Reaper's zone of influence. I'll contact Riley and let her know you're coming.”

How long will we have to get Michi?” Ken asked.

I'll execute the command once I've confirmed your arrival. I don't know the exact time, but I'd estimate less than an hour before D-Reaper is completely downloaded.”

Mimi and Ken nodded. Yamaki entered the final commands, but stopped before opening the gate. Glancing at Ryo briefly, he opened a desk drawer and started rooting around.

What's wrong?” Michael asked.

No answer. Instead, Yamaki pulled out a foreign-looking digivice- Takato's D-Power.

Michael's eyes widened. “A digivice? Impossible...”

Yamaki walked up and handed it to Ken. “I think Takato can make better use of this than Yasuo.”

Ken nodded without saying a word. Yamaki returned to the computer and executed the command.

Digi-port open,” Davis muttered as the five entered the MAXIS.

Yamaki did not change the entry point; they arrived in the same department store that Tally and Mari had appeared in. After the initial disorientation and Yolei momentarily freaking out, they felt their way out of the building and onto the street.

As they remarked on the eerily silent streets, Ryo smiled. “Feels like I'm back home.”

Is... is this normal here?” Yolei shrieked and pointed at a nearby sidewalk. The concrete was stained red and the surrounding buildings all carried their share of collateral damage.

Ken walked up to the crimson pavement. “Blood spatter,” he muttered, “Somebody fell.”

A new voice added, “Yes, it was very tragic.” The five saw Renamon standing beside them suddenly.

Renamon?!” Yolei and Ryo both exclaimed.

Yes. Sorry to startle you.” Renamon bowed and looked at the group. “Mr. Yamaki informed us that you were coming.”

Do you know what happened here?” Ken said, pointing at the spatter.

I can explain later. For now, we must head to safety.”

Before they could, Rika sprinted towards them. Once she saw that there was no impending danger, she slowed to a jog and stopped besides Renamon. The five newcomers stared at her as she stopped to catch her breath.

She turned to Renamon angrily, “Don't ditch me like that!”

Sorry,” Renamon replied, turning away.

We were about to leave anyway,” Davis said. He glanced at the blood. “Whatever happened here, we don't want it happening to us.”

Rika took a long look at him. Then Ken. Then Mimi. Then Yolei. Then Ryo. Ryo smiled back.

Davis, Ken, Mimi and Yolei?” she muttered.

That's us,” Mimi replied.

Rika sighed and turned around. “Let's go.”

The group started back for headquarters together. Ryo jogged up to Rika.

You, uh... don't seem so shocked that I showed up here with four digi-destined,” he said.

Rika stopped and glared at him. “You know, I always told myself that if I ever saw you again, the first thing I would do was punch you in the face.”

Yeah?” Ryo said, smiling.

She punched him in the face.

The Chosen stopped, but didn't really react. Ryo rubbed the cheekbone her fist impacted and checked for any traces of blood. There were none.

He shook his head. “Takato did worse,” he said. The group started walking again.

I see you found Renamon,” Ryo said, changing the subject.

It's not my Renamon. We don't know where our Digimon are.” She glanced at him. “You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you, Ryo?”

Ryo froze for a moment. Before he could say anything, they heard a loud crackling from above. The clouds overhead started swirling in a new direction and they felt the wind change.

What was that?” Rika asked.

Yamaki,” Ken replied, “The clock starts now.”

He broke into a run, as Davis, Yolei and Mimi followed suit. Renamon showed them the way. Rika tried to run, but was too tired to go any faster.

They're going to be in for a hell of a surprise,” Rika muttered to Ryo.

The news that Yamaki was pulling D-Reaper out was great, although nobody was able to get it to Takato. As MetalGarurumon expended the last of his energy to fend off the agents, Nefertimon managed to get close enough for Takato to reach the Kernal Sphere. The exposed portion of the sphere had grown immensely, allowing for a small landing pad for Nefertimon. Takato and Veemon disembarked just as Yamaki entered the command to retract D-Reaper.

In an instant, the sphere began to rotate, disorienting Veemon and Nefertimon. Veemon recovered just in time to see Takato lose his balance and fall off the edge.

Takato!!” Veemon leaped forward and grabbed Takato's arm just in time.

Breathless, Takato looked down at the swirling world below him; the sphere was rotating faster. “Thanks, buddy,” he said between gasps, “Think you can get me up?”

No problem!” Veemon tugged, but Takato was far too heavy. “Nefertimon?”

Nefertimon had little room to maneuver and was unable to see the situation. Even if she could, she didn't have arms. “If I fly off and catch him, I won't be able to get back on.”

So what do I do?!”

Vee!” Takato shouted. The rotation was getting even faster and Veemon was starting to lose his grip.

Veemon clenched his teeth and shouted, “Hang on, Takato!”

The laptop stationed outside offered a view of the trouble Takato was in. Unfortunately, no one was watching it. Instead, the remainder of the group was waiting for the surprise visitors. The four came running into view. As soon as Davis, Ken, Yolei and Mimi saw who was greeting them, they came to a quick halt. Their mouths fell open and tried to form words, but none emerged. None could describe who they were seeing.

Perhaps it would have been more fitting with Matt, Sora or Joe present. Perhaps it would have been less awkward if Cody had been in his adult form and could recognize his fellow Chosen. Neither thought struck Davis, whose mouth curled into a smile as he became the first to break free from the shock and run to them. On the other side, Kari was the first to receive them, running forward as fast as her legs would allow before they gave way and she fell into Davis's outstretched arms.

Yolei, Mimi and Ken were quick to follow, embracing Kari along with TK and Izzy. Cody was hesitant, but Yolei ushered him in as well. Nobody asked of his age or Kari's injuries, and nobody questioned how it had happened. There was only the flow of joy as the Chosen released all the fears that they would never be reunited.

Watching from aside with the remaining Tamers and Mari, Riley felt a slight teardrop, but brushed it away. The reunion wouldn't be complete without the other three, but that would happen in due time. She walked back to the laptop, determined to make sure the mission was completed successfully before any celebration had begun.

Instead, she saw Takato, Michi's last hope, dangling from a swirling and sinking Kernal Sphere. Her scream interrupted the Chosen.

Izzy, Kari and Davis ran up to her. “What's wrong?” Kari asked.

Izzy! Get Kabuterimon over there now!” Riley commanded.

He hasn't completely recovered,” he replied.

Just send him, he's all we've got left!”

With no more questions, Izzy obeyed, instruction his Digimon to fly to the center of the retreating chaos. He turned back to Riley and was about to ask what it was for when he saw Takato.

Oh my God...” Kari muttered and clutched Davis's arm.

Izzy's jaw dropped. “Riley... Kabuterimon won't make it in time. Maybe if he could go Mega...”

Who's with him?” Davis asked.

Nefertimon and Veemon. Nefertimon can't leave her place and Veemon's not strong enough.” Riley flipped open her cell phone. “Matt, is MetalGa-”

Matt interrupted over the phone. “He's out too. Isn't there anybody left?!”

Davis leaned in. “Why's Veemon there?”

He's been acting as Takato's partner,” Kari answered.

Why doesn't he digivolve?”

I said 'acting,' Davis. It doesn't work the same.”

Takato doesn't have his digivice either,” Izzy added.

Well, hell!” Davis stood and walked up to Ken. “Hey, give me that digivice blondie gave you!”

Ken furrowed his eyebrows, but retrieved it and tossed the D-Power to Davis. “There's not much you can do with it.”

As Davis walked back to the computer, Izzy said, “Ken's right. We're more than a mile away from them, that's not your digivice, and Veemon's technically not your partner any-”

Veemon, digivolve!” Davis commanded as he hoisted the D-Power at the screen.

They watched Veemon begin to glow. Izzy sighed and finished, “...more.”

ExVeemon was more than capable of hoisting Takato to safety. Davis smiled and tossed the D-Power back to Ken. Then he noticed the blank stares on Izzy and Riley's faces.

What?” he said, shrugging.

Kari shook her head. “Oh, we missed you so much.”

On his knees in the Kernal Sphere, Takato caught his breath. “Thanks, buddy.”

ExVeemon reverted back to Veemon. “For a second I was afraid that I didn't have it in me anymore.”

Takato feigned a smile, which he lost as he saw his knees start to sink into the surface. The Kernal Sphere was starting to dissipate into slime and the far exterior shell began to sublimate. Takato rose to his feet and ran through the slush to the epicenter. He found Michi- barely conscious and curled up, clutching the left side of torso. Her body had sunk more than halfway into the muck.

Michi?” Takato said. She didn't respond.

He tried again, louder, dropping to his knees beside her. Her clothes were blood-stained and the surface below her was a darker shade of red.

He placed a hand on her shoulder and shook her gently. “Michi, c'mon.”

Michi's eyes opened slightly. He said her name again; her eyes opened more.

K... Koji?” she mumbled.

Takato reeled back for a moment. Once again, his false identity was thrown in his face. He shook it off and nodded. “Yeah. I'm getting you out of here.”

Careful not to disrupt her wound, he picked her up. “What are you doing here?” she moaned.

Takato had too much of a burden already to answer. She felt heavy in his arms, the slime made it hard for him to walk, and the dizzying spin and slow contraction of the sphere was disorienting. By the time he reached Nefertimon, his strength was drained and his clothes were as stained as Michi's.

Get her on, quickly,” Nefertimon said, bending lower to help Takato hoist Michi on Nefertimon's back. He caught a glimpse of her wound- a gaping gash on her left side that scraped off much of the skin. She had clearly lost a lot of blood already, but had Kodomon's attack been slightly more to the left, it would have impaled her completely.

Takato jumped on in front of Michi. “Keep her steady, Veemon. We need to find Joe and the others right away.” Michi wrapped her free arm around Takato's waist and clutched his jacket. Her head fell on his shoulder as she leaned in.

Go!” Takato commanded. Nefertimon took off from the spinning sphere.

They found Matt, Sora and Joe on a nearby rooftop and flew in their direction. Takato felt Michi's grip loosening. He grabbed her hand and held it.

You're going to be okay,” he told her.

Biyomon flew into Nefertimon's path. “How badly is she hurt?”

Badly enough. Where should we land?”

On the street. There's an ambulance coming.”

Nefertimon nodded and descended.

Koji,” Michi moaned. Takato clutched her hand tighter. “Was this my purpose?”

He tensed up. It was barely more audible than her increasingly staggered breathing. Takato was still surprised. He wanted to say something encouraging, that she would get past this and move on to happier things. But he couldn't deny the fact that this experience had changed her life forever.

No,” was all he could say, “No, it isn't.”

Before he could say more, Michi managed a faint smile.

Good,” she said. Her eyes closed and her arm started to fall limp.

Hang on, Michi!” Veemon shouted from the back, tightening his grip on her.

Nefertimon landed. As soon as Takato helped her off and laid her down, he realized she was unconscious.

Michi?” he cried, “Michi?! Come on, wake up!” His voice grew louder and more urgent. Already on his knees, he cradled her head. Takato held it against his chest as tears started to fall into her hair.

He didn't look up until he heard the ambulance siren. Help was on the way, and Michi's parents were exiting a nearby building with Joe.

Oh God, Michi!” Sora cried as she neared.

Joe grabbed her shoulder. “Hold on, Sora, let's get her on board first. It looks pretty bad.”

As Joe looked over Michi, he instructed Takato how to let her go carefully. Takato did, and stood back as Joe and the rescue workers did their thing. Matt and Sora embraced, not watching the proceedings.

As they loaded Michi into the ambulance, her parents, tears in their eyes, joined her. Before shutting the door, Joe turned to Takato.

Are you coming?” he asked.

Takato looked down at his jacket. The blue fabric had now soaked purple. He turned back to Joe. “No thanks,” he replied.

The ambulance sped away, and Takato was left at the beginning.

Back at base, as Riley typed on her laptop and Yolei and Davis shared pictures of the grandchildren, TK stood at full attention and watched D-Reaper subside. Mimi walked up to him, also watching the shrinking mountain of red give back whatever it had engulfed of the city.

Whatever's going on, it looks good,” she said, “Sorry to hear about Tally.”

TK nodded and replied, “I just want this to be over with.”

It's over,” Riley announced, setting the computer aside. “Michi's out and D-Reaper's beyond the point where it can threaten us. We're done.” There was little excitement in her voice.

Izzy started to clap. “Good job, everybody,” he said. He walked around, patting Kari and Cody on the shoulder and giving TK a quick hug. He received a more enthusiastic response from some of the Tamers, including a high-five from Kazu. When he reached Jeri, he hesitated at first, but eventually leaned in and gave her a hug.

Good work... Jeri,” he said.

Jeri smiled. “Thanks, D... Mr. Izumi.”

Henry and Rika made their rounds and thanked the participating Chosen, reserving special gratitude for Riley. The whole celebration was rather subdued, however, as Michi's survival was still in doubt and, while no longer a threat, D-Reaper would still be out there for a little longer. Riley did little to acknowledge any praise in her direction. She was tired, and all she wanted was peace and some time to unwind.

She got neither as Takato approached them, accompanied by Veemon and Salamon. Veemon's eyes lit up as he saw his old partner.

Davis!” he shouted, running to him. Davis smiled as Veemon leaped into his arms.

Good to see you, old buddy. Looks like you saved the day again,” Davis said.

Yep, sure did!” Veemon narrowed his eyes as he looked at his partner for the first time in twelve years. “Wow, Davis, you got old.”

As Salamon joined Kari, Takato stopped. He didn't look up from the ground. Finally, Jeri walked up to him. She tried to hug him, but he shook her off.

Jeri bit her lip, then saw his blood-soaked jacket. “Takato, your jacket! Are you-”

It's not my blood,” he mumbled, still looking down, “It's Michi's.”

Is she going to be all right?”

Finally, Takato looked up. He looked Jeri in the eyes and asked the only question on his mind: “Does it matter?”

Without waiting for an answer, he walked away, his eyes cast downward again. Nobody moved.

A tear rolled down Jeri's face as he left. “Yes, it matters,” she declared, more for herself than anyone else.

Determined to change the mood, Ken turned to Riley. “So what happens now?”

Izzy's mouth broke into an exasperated smile. “Now? Now Kazu's going to round up some sake because we all need to take a minute and decompress.”

He glanced at Kazu, who nodded and smiled. “Sure thing!”

As Kazu headed out, he noticed Jeri still staring at where Takato had left. Kazu walked up to her and put an arm around her shoulder.

C'mon, Jeri, you're with me on this one,” he said with a big smile.

What?” she replied, a bit bewildered.

Kazu pointed at the surrounding streets, where bars, restaurants, and hopefully alcohol-dispensing vending machines waited. “The digi-destined demand booze! This is where we shine.”

Jeri broke into a smile. She nodded and answered, “Right, let's go.”

Ken watched them leave, then cleared his throat and turned to Riley. “What I meant was when can we leave? We left Michael and Yamaki in a very bad position if Yasuo comes back before we do.”

I've been working on that,” Riley replied, “Thankfully, Yamaki's more susceptible than he looks. Especially around me.”

How long before Yasuo gets back to the office?” Yolei asked.

Ken answered, “By the time they get to the embassy and summon all the lawyers, it should buy us a couple hours. But we can't leave them hanging that long.”

We'll be out by then,” Riley said, “Besides, even if Yasuo did beat us there, I already talked with Yamaki. Apparently, he wasn't so fond of putting Michi inside, and having Michi's stepfather in the room gives him some leverage.”

Ken scratched his chin. “That's true. With Michi in here, there's no arguing that injunction now.”

After listening carefully, Henry stepped forward. “That's great for you guys, but where does that leave us? Is he just going to try to delete us again in a few years?”

Rika followed. “Not only that, but where exactly is D-Reaper going if you're not sending it to the Digital World?”

Riley stared at Rika for a moment, then walked up to the laptop and started typing. “Good question... let's find out.” After a few moments, she got her response. “He's putting it on an external flash drive. With any luck, I can talk him into accidentally destroying it.”

Shaking his head, Henry persisted. “Look, I don't want to live with the fear of that thing coming back. Whoever this Yasuo is, he doesn't sound like the type who gives up that easily.”

True,” Riley said, turning to Ken, “That's why it's up to you four to keep fighting for this place.”

Ken and Yolei looked at each other for a moment. Then Yolei walked up to Riley, narrowing her eyes. “What do you mean it's up to us? When did this world concern us so much?” She shook her head. “No offense, but unlike you we can't spend all of our time worrying about some world inside a computer. Don't forget- we came here for Michi. That's it.”

Before Riley could offer a rebuttal, Ken joined his wife. He was equally stern. “She's right. We all really stuck our necks out to get here, and Yasuo is going to try to ring them somehow. Maybe the Americans will catch him on something and slap him on the wrist, but it won't stop him. We have families, Riley, and we can't continue to put them at risk for a world that we have no real reason to fight for.”

As Ken and Yolei argued, Henry glared at them from the distance. Finally, he glowered and walked away, shaking his head. Equally disgusted, Rika followed him. Again, nobody moved.

Wow...” Veemon said, surprised at the remarks, “Guess you guys never met Takato, huh?” Davis laughed and patted Veemon on the head.

Okay, uh, you know this may be a bad time to bring it up...” Mimi started, then pointed at Davis and Veemon, “But that's been bothering me for awhile. If Veemon's here... is there any way you can get Palmon?” She flashed a cute smile at Izzy.

Izzy hesitated before answering, “Uh... well, no, there's a firewall restricting access to the Digital World. We put it up so D-Reaper wouldn't get through.”

But D-Reaper's going to be gone in twenty minutes. You'll take it down, right?”

With a nod, Izzy replied, “Yes. Besides the Digimon, we'll have to go back too. Right, Riley?”

Yes,” Riley answered, “Unfortunately, since you came from the Digital World, the MAXIS recognizes you as beings from this world. Which means you still can't go back to the real world.”

Mimi continued, “So you can do it, right?”

We could, but Ken's right. We need to leave as soon as D-Reaper is gone to prevent a run-in with Yasuo.”

Oh.” Mimi slumped her shoulders.

The portal, presumably, will remain open, however.” Mari, who had been practically invisible this whole time, joined in suddenly and commanded everyone's attention. “And since Riley now knows the secret to accessing the world, particularly with Yamaki back on our side, you can always return.”

Everybody stared at Mari. Then Mimi turned to Riley, who nodded. “That's true.”

So I can see Palmon then?” Mimi asked, eager.

Sure.” A thought struck Riley, and she smiled. “In fact, bring along Kori. No matter what happens with Michi, I'm sure Matt and Sora would love to see him.”

This got Kari's attention. She slowly walked up to the group. Ken and Yolei looked at each other, their eyes growing wider.

Mari looked up at them. “You said something about a reason to fight for this place?”

After everything, Takato was back at the park. After everything, he was alone.

Even though he had made the trip several times before, the uphill path to the old, familiar structure felt more cumbersome this time. Exhaustion from his adventure started to make its presence felt as his legs seemed ready to buckle. He fought back tears; with every sniff his caught the strong smell of Michi's blood on his jacket. After four years, that stench was all Takato had with him.

When he reached the shed, the gate was unlocked and swinging open. He walked through it and entered. Perhaps somehow, despite all that Takato had discovered, he would be there.

Takato stood there in silence for a moment. He closed his eyes and pictured that someone was there waiting, only a little confused that it took so long. Takato opened them again- nothing.

He stepped forward to see the gateway to the Digital World. As promised, the firewall was up and active, literally a flaming barricade obstructing the bottom of the hole. Whether he was contemplating it or not, he wasn't going through this time.

With a sigh, he gave up and walked out. He was back here, with no path to the Digital World and no path to the real world. After all of Takato's fighting to stand up for it and claim it as his, in the end it was not much of a prize. His world was some intermediate place that was not exactly real and not exactly digital. He wasn't sure if he was any better-equipped to live here than he was when he had left four years ago. Even if he was, it was at the expense of so many people: undue stress on the Chosen and Riley, the death of Tally, and whatever awful fate awaited Michi.

As he passed the gate, his legs finally gave in and he fell to his knees. Without warning, he burst into tears. He clutched the gate; it offered little support. All he could think about was the purpose of his journey. The few good things he had accomplished were washed away by the trouble he caused and the lives destroyed in the process. In the end, he gained nothing. The naive Takato that tagged along with the digi-destined had grown up and moved out. The free-spirited Koji that was entrusted with a good deed was no more, taking good people down with him. Now, whomever he was, Takato had nothing left.

He heard footsteps approaching. Takato did his best to control his crying and tried to sit up straight. He looked up and saw a tall, middle-aged man, wearing a gray jacket and blue jeans. The man was staring back at Takato in a somewhat troubled manner. Takato looked back down.

Takato?” the man asked.

Yeah?” Takato muttered back.

What's wrong?”

What have I done?” Takato replied, looking up at him, “What was all this for?”

The man glanced at the receding D-Reaper. “Well... you saved the world.”

Takato shook his head. “If it weren't for me, it wouldn't be in trouble to begin with.”

What do you mean?”

It's because I went to the Digital World. And then I went to the real world. I was wrong to leave. People suffered because of me.”

The man sighed. “Maybe, but a lot of good things came out of it.”

Like what?”

Well, did you see the Chosen down there? All of them together again? Who would have thought we'd ever see that?” the man said with a smile.

Takato wasn't moved. “People died. Tally and Michi? Nothing makes this worth it.”

There was nothing you could have done about Tally. She wanted to be here. She wanted to be with TK. And you don't know about Michi. She might pull through.”

She'll never be the same,” Takato replied, shaking his head.

The man cracked a faint smile and sat down next to Takato. “Things change people, Takato. I mean, look at how you've changed through all this.”

Takato turned to the man, appalled by his gumption. Raising his voice, Takato said, “How? Finding out that this world is artificial? That I was created for some science experiment that could be wiped out at any time? That my entire purpose in life was filled six years ago and everything from here on out doesn't matter?”

The man tried to reply, but Takato continued, pointing at the shed with his eyes watering. “I went through there for one reason! How do you expect me to be happy with all this? With all the shit I've been through, to come back here empty-handed? It was all a mistake.”

I suppose. Whether you consider it good or bad, you did do a lot of work. In fact, you did everything I asked you to.”

I did,” Takato declared, pausing to sniff back a tear, “I did everything. It was a big, ugly circle. And I got nothing out of it.”

Shaking his head, the man replied, “I can't argue with that. Maybe it was wrong of me. But it had to be done.” He looked back at the shed. “I know it's breaking the rules a bit, but that's nothing new for me.”

Takato stared at the man, raising an eyebrow at the shed. The man finished and turned to Takato. “It's only fair.”

Scrunching his eyebrows, Takato glanced at the shed. Nothing seemed to have changed, but he stood up. After taking two steps toward the shed, he turned back to the strange man that Takato seemed to have no trouble pouring his heart out to.

Go on,” the man said with a nod. He shrugged and added, “You've earned it.”

Takato proceeded cautiously. He wasn't sure what to expect inside the shed, but he didn't want to get his hopes too high. He peeked inside; nothing had changed. The shadowy shed was still empty and cold.

Hello?” he said meekly.

With no response, he turned around. Why would he expect anything to be there this time? He wasn't sure if the man was even real, let alone capable of miracles. Takato thought he heard a rustling behind him, but that too was probably just his imagination.

As Takato stepped out, a voice called out from behind him: “Takato?”

Takato froze, his breathing became heavier and he felt like he was about to lose control of his body and fall to the ground at any moment. He recognized the voice immediately, but couldn't turn around to face it. He had been so prepared for disappointment that to be let down now would be too much.

Finally, before his legs refused to let him, he forced himself to turn around again. He closed his eyes, picturing it in his head, praying to make it become real. When Takato opened his eyes, despite the impossibility of it, it was.

Guilmon climbed out of the hole.

Hello, Takato,” Guilmon said, “Did you bring bread?”

Takato fell to his knees, too overcome with emotion to move. “Guilmon,” he whimpered.

Either completely ignoring or blissfully unaware of the six years since they had parted, Guilmon walked up to Takato and sniffed his face. Takato threw his arms around him, taking in his partner's scaly skin and unusual odor. It was perfect, and now Takato wept for an entirely different reason.

What took so long?” Guilmon asked casually, as if Takato hadn't been gone more than an hour.

Sorry, buddy. I got a bit sidetracked.”

So what should we do today?”

Takato looked Guilmon in the eyes. They were as innocent and playful as ever. Takato was going to abandon all responsibility and play with Guilmon as long as he could. Unfortunately, as the thought came over him, reality set back in. Takato frowned.

Hold on...” Takato stood up and ran out of the shed. Guilmon ran after him.

Hey!” Takato said, but the man was already walking down the path. “Um... uh...”

Desperate to get the man's attention, Takato yelled out his name: “Tai!”

Tai stopped and turned around, a pleasant smile on his face. “Yeah?”

How long do I have?” Takato asked, gulping.

As long as you need. I have one more thing to take care of,” Tai replied.

As the reunited Chosen, still without Matt, Sora and Joe, talked excitedly of the future for this world, enjoying the drinks provided by Jeri and Kazu, Riley left quietly. She went into the office building that had served as headquarters. She pulled up a chair and sat down by the third story window, where she could watch the party from afar. Riley leaned back, her eyes heavy, and reminded herself of all the good this world could serve now.

Never mind that the seven fighting Chosen were all but convinced that they had made a bad decision when times were bleak. Even Ken and Yolei weren't convinced until Mari's covert statement helped turn them around. Riley couldn't help but feel detached from them, since they suddenly had so much to gain from the world, while she had been using the same silly excuse for six years. Great as it was to see the Chosen find a tangible use for the world, they didn't suffer half as much as Riley had, leaving her to wonder if it was really worth it?

Closing her eyes, she felt a pair of hands massaging her shoulders. While she was confident that it was her imagination, it relaxed her. She indulged herself in the fantasy for a moment. Reflexively, she placed a hand on top of the soothing fingers. Her eyes flew open as she felt nothing and the illusion vanished.

The feeling remained, however. She looked closely at the window and saw both her reflection, and her husband's.

You really need to relax, dear. You're working yourself too hard again,” Tai said.

Riley exhaled a tremendous sigh of relief, smiling and closing her eyes. “I knew you were in here. Since the moment I first stepped foot in this world, I just knew that somehow you were here with me.”

Tai smiled. “Thank you. You know, I never lost faith in you. I knew you'd come through for me.”

Thanks, but you're wrong,” she replied, shaking her head, “I did lose faith. When they initiated D-Reaper again, I didn't think anything could be done. I just wanted to save Takato and give up on you. You should thank Takato for refusing to accept that.”

I already did.”

He's something else, isn't he?”

Yep. That's why I chose him. It may take him a while to appreciate what he's done, but he'll be happy. No doubt about it.”

Riley looked out the window at the Chosen again. “Was this all part of the plan?”

Wish I could say it was. But I can't control everything. All I can do is make it possible. The rest was up to you guys. And you've all earned this. This is a great reward.”

She looked to the sky. The last traces of D-Reaper had left the skyline and the last stream of cloud cover were revealing a glorious blue sky. “It is a beautiful world you have here, Tai.”

Thanks, but it's not mine. It's Takato's.” Tai gazed out the window as well. “They made it for him.”

So what now? Do the other Chosen and I just keep fighting Yasuo?”

Of course. Don't worry about Ken and the others, though. They jumped at the chance to fight for Michi and I'm sure they'll do again. They've suffered as much as Matt and them; I think they're ready to let some of that out.”

Riley sighed. This one was not out of relief. “Is Michi going to be all right?”

Tai shook his head. “That's up to her. She's been through a lot, but if she wants to keep going, she'll be able to. But we can't force her.”

With a sad nod, Riley replied, “I guess that's fair.”

It's not something for you to worry about. For now, join the party. Catch up with Ken and the others. You're going to be seeing a lot of them in the future.”

Right,” she said. She stood up and turned around. Tai was smiling, his hands in his pockets and a loving look in his eyes. He had probably missed her as much as she missed him.

Will I ever see you again,” she asked.

Tai raised his eyebrows. “I'm not going anywhere.”

She smiled brightly and headed for the elevator.

He had taken a four-year journey, and through countless obstacles and sacrifices, Takato's reward was fifteen minutes of wasted time playing with an old friend. Yet he couldn't have been happier. Takato and Guilmon wrestled around, chased each other, and managed a brief staring contest in those precious minutes. He knew their time would be short and every moment counted. Even so, there was no activity more valuable to him.

As usual, Guilmon wore Takato out quickly. Takato was already tired from rescuing Michi, so by the time Tai returned, Takato was exhausted and laid on the grass next to Guilmon.

All set?” Tai asked, standing over them.

Takato sighed. “I think so.” He rolled over on his side and hugged Guilmon again.

Is time up already?” Guilmon asked.

I guess so,” Takato replied sadly, “I'm gonna miss you, Guilmon.”

I'll miss you too, Takato.”

Goodbye.” Takato felt one last tear roll down, but somehow this was so much more bearable than before. He had already recognized that this was borrowed time, a moment he had fought for and finally seized after four years of searching. Takato was careful not to make any promises; he would not get another chance to honor them.

Thanks, Tai,” Takato said.

No, thank you,” Tai replied, “Great place you've got here.” He turned to Guilmon. “Come on, Guilmon, let's go.”

Guilmon hopped to his feet and joined Tai. Takato watched as the two walked away, side-by-side. Takato smiled; whether they really existed or not, they sure made an impression.

I'm really hungry, Tai. When are we going to eat?” Guilmon asked.

Tai stopped and raised an eyebrow at Guilmon. He sighed and said, “You don't quite get this, do you?”

Takato chuckled as the pair continued down the path. He may not ever see them again, but they would never be completely gone.

Hey, Takato! There you are!” Takato heard Henry calling him from behind. Sure enough, he and Rika were running after him.

Hey guys,” Takato replied with a grin.

We found your jacket up there; we were a bit worried.” Henry handed Takato the bloodstained jacket. Takato had taken it off while playing with Guilmon; he had forgotten all about it.

Ew...” Henry muttered, using his pants to wipe a little blood off his hands.

Takato looked at the jacket. “Thanks, but I don't think I want to wear this any more.” He found a nearby garbage can and dropped the coat, Michi's blood and all, inside. “I'll just get a new one.”

I can get you a discount on a nice one,” Rika said absent-mindedly. Henry gave her a strange look. She glared at him and menacingly added, “What?”

Whatever,” Takato said, ignoring the friction between his two friends. “Where are the others?”

Probably drunk,” Henry answered, a little spite in his voice, “They seem a little too happy about all this.”

Takato walked past them. “No reason we shouldn't be. After all, we live here.”

Well... yeah, I guess.” Henry gave up and followed Takato back to the party.

So, now that you're back, what are you going to do?” Rika asked Takato.

It's my world. I'll do what I want,” he replied, “I mean, once you've fulfilled your purpose, the only thing left to do is find another one.”

Henry and Rika smiled, but neither answered. They just kept following Takato as he walked through the park. It was just him, his friends and the world. It was perfect.

Takato knew that whatever happened to him, he had control over it. Whatever happened to Michi, he knew that he no longer had any control over it. Whatever the fate of his world, he knew he would always be there to fight for it, and that he would not be alone.

He and his friends were walking back to a tremendous assortment of allies. There were the Chosen he had met long ago in the Digital World, the ones he had met in the real world, and those he had not met at all. There were also his fellow Tamers, and Ryo- who apparently qualified as “all of the above.” Riley and Mari were there, capable digi-destined even if not Chosen or Tamers by definition, and represented all the wives, husbands, daughters and sons that would soon find solace in this world.

Whoever they were, and whether they realized it or not, all of them were home.

This Ends The Connection

Author's Notes
It may not have always been at my full attention, but five years after Tamers ended in Japan (less about ten days), the journey is over. When I had originally envisioned the idea of Takato entering the Digital World and ending up on a soul-searching quest, I did not picture something like this. It was a subdued affair, thinking maybe I could use the adult digi-destined to assist Takato in bridging the gap between child hero and functional grown-up. That's when I remembered that we never quite found out how the digi-destined transitioned from child heroes to functional grown-ups.

If the opening chapter of Odaiba Memorial Day (remember that little thing?) was my image of the digi-destined's future, The Connection was my way of finding peace with the actual epilogue. As the premise for Level 1 began to flesh itself out, I began to consider how the digi-destined got to that point, and found that their stories and their fates had to be tied to Takato's. Only then did I realize that this was going to be a trilogy. And only after developing the history between the MaloMyotismon's defeat, the 02 epilogue and beyond did I realize how wild this story would become.

I could go on about the genesis of the story, but everything else I have to say about it is already embedded in the story itself. That includes my fascination with season two's ending. As much as we deride it (and at the time I hated it as much as anybody), building a backstory around it, and attempting to explain some of its ideosyncracies, has made me look at it now as a coal mine for fanfiction writers. It may not be pretty, but inside are resources with so many uses. So many ideas can be gleaned by just picking a concept from that epilogue and explaining how the hell it happened.

As far as the actual stage, since this story is ultimately about Takato, it makes sense to stop where I did, even if there is still more to be resolved. Michi's fate, Yasuo's resistance to punishment, the future of the MAXIS, Henry and Rika's quarrel, Jeri, and of course the Digiworld Chosen all are left somewhat hanging. All are addressed in this stage, so you might have some idea of what will happen. But where's the fun in resolving every little detail? Incidentally, if you were completely lost regarding the whole thing with Tai, consider it one last mind-fuck from me to you. If you got the jist of it- good.

Since it's all over now, there's no real secrets left to be had (except Tai, perhaps), so I have no problems with answering any final reviews or e-mails about what exactly was going on. I'll get to as many as I can, although keep in mind that some things like the Henry/Rika issue are meant to be ambiguous and any interpretation on my part would be pure speculation. If you want to talk in person, I'll be at Anime Central in Chicago this May and I love talking shop.

One last shout-out to any prereaders that helped me along the way. To Chromus for sticking with the story despite not being much of a Digimon fan. To Zach Kaiser for that time at ACen when I absolutely had to confess that I was killing off Tally, and for keeping his mouth shut when I did. To Gerjomarty for the tremendously thoughtful reviews (and the plug on your website). To Nikara for constantly re-reading everything to stay fresh (the one unaccounted for in the Digital World was Jeri/Mari). To anyone who took a skeptical eye to the backstory and forced me to put even more thought into it. To everybody who put up with the delays to Level 3 caused by work, stress, writer's block, or my own damn whim. And of course, to that guy who kept calling me a cryptic bastard- that's what I was going for. Thank you all for choosing this airline; I hope you enjoyed your trip (due to the delays, enclosed is a voucher for...).

While it's not a mind fuck per se, or fanfiction for that matter, I hope everybody checks out my next project, Magical Security Taskforce (initials may or may not be deliberate). It's a somewhat-satirical look at the fantasy/magic-user genre with a cast of characters that probably should have no business using magic. It will be posted in brief sessions every week or so (think of it as a webcomic without pictures), and should start around May. While it will be posted on fictionpress.com, you can also find it, and all of my other goodies, on my site firstagent.net

Once again, this ends The Connection.