Level 1: Worlds

In Order of Severity:
Number of Lives Lost in New York City on September 11, 2001: 2,752
Number of Lives Lost in New York City on June 9, 2027: 654
Number of Lives Lost in New York City on October 2, 2028: 1


Stage Eight- Crossing
 

"The destiny stones?" Joe, completely baffled, stared across the room at his new roommate.

"Yep," Izzy said with a confident smile, "That's how we get Takato home."

"I don't remember all the details from back then, and I haven't read TK's books in a long time- but weren't they destroyed?"

Izzy laughed. "The data exists to maintain a balance in the digital world. They were created as a tangible form, but the data still functions after the stones were destroyed. Each time a stone is destroyed, it's basically fission- the sudden discharge of the data creates the temporary rift between the worlds. I'm surprised you aren't familiar with that. Your brother wrote an excellent thesis on the subject."

Joe frowned and lowered his eyebrows. "Sorry, I don't make a hobby out of reading research papers. Even Jim's."

"Well anyway, if we can gather enough of that data together to create a simulated destiny stone, destroying it would force open the gate long enough to send Takato back."

"Oh, so all it takes is a nuclear reaction," Joe said with a hint of sarcasm. He paused, now seriously considering the idea. "Why haven't we used it to send ourselves home?"

Izzy averted his eyes for a moment before answering. "We're Chosen. I believe there is a barrier surrounding the real world that prevents our digivice from entering. We can't go home because of that."

Joe nodded. "Makes sense. Generally, whenever a nasty problem is facing the Digital World, the powers select new Chosen to fix it. There's definitely a lingering problem, but we haven't seen any new kids, unless you count Takato."

Izzy pointed a finger at Joe. "It's a legitimate hypothesis. But I think Takato's digivice has different properties that somehow allow it to waive the barrier. I can't tell unless we do a full analysis."

Joe lied on his bed and sighed. "Doesn't matter. Takato can go home, but we can't. That's life for you."

"I didn't say that we couldn't go home, Joe." Izzy lied on his own bed. "We can. But the process of unbecoming a Chosen is quite difficult and painful. At this point, it would involve the annihilation of our partner Digimon."

Joe sat up momentarily. "Hey, Kari lost her partner. Does that mean she can go home?"

Izzy shook his head. "When I say annihilation, I mean everything. Data as well. I'm talking along the lines of D-Reaper."

"D-Reaper?" The concept was completely foreign to Joe. "What's that?"

"Are you still a Dragoist?" Izzy asked.

Abruptly, Joe started to laugh. "I think I know where this is going."

Sounding slightly bitter, Izzy explained, "I was working on a program that would eradicate malicious and rogue data. And yes, the aim was to destroy Daemon once and for all. It was going to be my big thing. I mean, while the others seemed to be accomplishing these great things and making a name for themselves, the work of myself and my peers were going largely unnoticed. But D-Reaper was going to change that. Matt landed on Mars, TK wrote incredible novels, Tai became a human voice for the Digimon… and I was going to destroy Daemon." He sighed, closing his eyes momentarily before reopening them and continuing, "Then I ended up stuck here and my work proved to be a waste."

The other Chosen fell back onto his pillow. "Nature has unusual ways of preserving harmony," he said thoughtfully.

Izzy stared up at the ceiling. Two years absent, and it remained unchanged.

"That it does."

The research station was left with only three occupants. One was the digiegg, seated undisturbed by a window in order to receive some natural light. The other two were Takato and Izzy, organizing and cleaning everything else in the building. Joe was looking after Kari and Cody. Matt and TK were out getting wood for the wheelchair ramp. Sora was the only interruption, popping in now and then to check on the digiegg. Although both were hard at work, Izzy continued to interrogate Takato. Although he did his best to make it sound like a casual conversation, he was mentally gathering as much information as he could compile.

"West Shinjuku?"

Takato closed a file cabinet and looked back up at Izzy. He looked the adult in the eyes, momentarily concerned. "Please say that's where you remember Henry living."

A few moments of hesitation made Takato worry, but Izzy eventually nodded. "Oh yeah. They did live there. It's been awhile. Anything else interesting about the area? I don't remember any digital weaknesses there like in Odaiba or Kyoto."

Takato paused before opening a second file cabinet and answering, "Well, that is where I found the gate. And that's where Hypnos started out."

"Hypnos…" Izzy looked up. He mouthed the word a couple times before recalling the name. "The god of sleep. Dreamscape's gatekeeper."

Takato shot an odd glance at Izzy. "Uh, try weird government organization. Close though." He went back to rifling through a folder, before turning again to the man. "Hey, maybe you know somebody in Hypnos." Takato took a moment to recall the name. "Yamaki?"

"Yamaki…" Izzy thought for a moment, but shook his head. "I don't remember anyone  named Yamaki. Sorry." With that possible tie hitting a dead end, Izzy explored other routes, "Do you have a connection with any of the historically weak points? Have you ever been to Odaiba?"

"Once. But it was just with friends. We were goofing off." Takato closed his eyes and looked to the floor. "Nothing special happened," he added, sadly.

"Basic social outing? Went to Rainbow Town and wasted money?" Izzy replied, somewhat monotone. He occupied himself with another folder.

Takato sniffed and nodded. "I rode the Ferris wheel with Jeri." It was another memory he wanted to expel. It wasn't as easy as sifting through a folder, however, and the good times kept coming back. "It's when I swore to myself that we would always be together. No matter what."

"I hate that Ferris wheel," Izzy said, still without looking over, "It's very interesting living in a tourist trap like Odaiba. I mean, everything's overpriced, and you get bombarded with the most inane questions."

He passively glanced at Takato, a smile beginning to creep on his face, "There was this one time when I was chatting online with someone from Yokohama. She asked where I was from. After I told her it was Odaiba, she said something along the lines of, 'you mean people actually live there?'" Izzy laughed quietly and went back to his work.

"Why is it that I can never keep my promises?!" Takato cried.

Surprised at the outburst, Izzy dropped the folder. He hadn't realized how emotional Takato had gotten.

He cautiously proceeded, "Well… you still can. If you want to go home, just say so. Just keep in mind that the process may take awhile. How about I give you a week to make a decision?"

Takato took a few deep breaths before nodding. "All right. I want to ask the others what they think."

"Good idea."

While Izzy went back to work, Takato remained unsettled. "You know, ever since I got here, I've been trying to forget about everything. But for some reason, everything keeps flying back when I talk with you. It's still amazing that you know Henry."

"Mari really liked Henry. He was a little stubborn, and he had a bit of a temper, but he loved computers." He smiled and looked back at Takato. "When they were talking about computers, he could have had horns on his head and she wouldn't have noticed."

Although Takato's memories were bringing him tears, Izzy's were purely joyous. "Us researchers used to have getaways. Sometimes our families would stay at the research stations like these for a weekend. Just having a good time, taking in the world. I remember that Mari would always ask me if Henry was going." He set a folder aside and rested his chin on his hand. "It always made her day whenever he was there. In fact…" He stood up. "I just remembered something… come on. I'll show you."

Izzy led Takato out of the building. He headed to cabin A and walked along its perimeter, carefully weaving around tall grasses and trees.

"It should still be here. They were playing behind this cabin. I know it…" Izzy pulled a low-lying branch aside, revealing the wall of the cabin. Takato almost fainted at the sight of the two names etched into its surface.

"He was here…" Takato leant forward and touched Henry's name. "I can't believe Henry was actually here." As he did so, Izzy smiled and touched Mari's.

"About a month later, another researcher found these and asked me who Mari and Henry were. I told him they were a young couple who snuck back here to have a good time and make their mark on the world," he said nostalgically.

"Hey, I think there's another one…" Takato said, pulling back some tall grass. Indeed, a third etching remained.

It read "ALICE."

Izzy nodded in recollection. "Oh yeah. Dolphin's granddaughter. I forgot about her. She was also friends with Henry. But I doubt you know her."

Takato whispered the name. Unfortunately, his memory was failing him. He remembered an Alice somewhere, but wasn't able to recall the details.

"What are you two doing back here?" Sora said, joining the pair.

Izzy pointed to the etchings. "Sora, check this out. Did you ever notice these names back here?"

After a closer inspection, she shook her head. "No. Did Mari and her friends do this?"

"Yeah. I completely forgot they were here."

"Did you know Henry, Sora?" Takato asked.

Again, Sora shook her head. "No, I never knew Henry. But is that Alice Rob McCoy's granddaughter?"

"I don't know of any other Alice who would have been here," Izzy answered.

Sora smiled brightly. "I remember her. She was a little cutie."

"She was a bubble," chuckled Izzy.

"Anyway, the egg's about to hatch. You don't want to miss it, do you?"

"No way!" Takato replied.

They carefully trekked back to the front door and went inside. Kari was sitting up in her bed with the digiegg. She leant forward as far she was able to, her eyes eagerly focusing on what would soon become her partner reborn. Every little movement, and every little crack stirred her further, tempting her to move in closer.

"Don't lean in too far, Kari," Joe said from the bed across from her, "Your back is more fragile than that baby is."

Cody sat next to Joe. Like Kari, he was leaning forward as far as his back would allow.

As Sora entered, the shell cracked a little more. Without taking her eyes off the egg, Sora pulled up a chair close to the bed, barely allowing Izzy and Takato enough space to squeeze into the room.

Takato stared at the egg. Another crack. Another set of eyebrows raised. Another squeak of anticipation from Kari, Sora, or Cody. He too was mesmerized by it all. Whatever was inside used to be Gatomon. The Gatomon who suffered a violent end in the midst of a violent world. Yet the creature inside was pushing through the shell, eager to get another chance.

After an ear poked through the shell, Kari's desire to get closer to the egg caused her to lean forward more. Rather than risking further injury, Joe switched beds. He took Kari's pillow and rested it against her back, using his own back to support it. Kari didn't seem to notice. Joe winced a little, straining his neck to get a clear view of the egg.

Sora kneeled down, allowing herself to be at eye-level with it. "C'mon… a little more," she whispered to it.

Finally, the Digimon obliterated the egg, revealing itself as a healthy YukimiBotamon. Sora, Cody, and Takato leant back a little in response to the burst. Without hesitating, YukimiBotamon jumped into Kari's waiting arms.

Sora dried a tear. "Congratulations, Kari. Shame Matt and TK had to miss it."

Joe moaned a little. Kari was wiggling a little as she hugged her partner. The act of supporting her back was starting to take a toll on his own. He opened his mouth to say something, but after seeing the smile on her face and the tears rolling down her cheek, he relented.

As Cody moved in for a closer look and Sora continued to gush, Takato looked up at the ceiling. It was nice to think he would receive the same reaction if he broke free and went back. But after two years, would anyone be brought to tears by his return?

He knew he was going to have to talk to each of the Chosen individually. Fortunately, with the ramp being the only major project, cornering each of the seven wasn't difficult.

Takato found Joe in the research station, carefully checking on YukimiBotamon's. Although she hatched two days earlier, it took Joe that long to pry her away from Kari to give the Digimon a check-up.

"Going back? I can't answer that. It's your call."

Takato stepped forward, in order to look him in the eyes. "Do you think I should? I mean, do you think Izzy can do it? Do you think I'd be happier?"

Joe shook his head as he pondered over a few items on the checklist in front of him. "I can't answer any of those. Izzy explained to me how it would work, and the process sounds a little strange." He checked one item off. "He sounds like he knows what he's doing. But you're the only one who can decide if it's worth making the trip. After all, there was a reason you left in the first place."

Takato glanced aside and patted YukimiBotamon on the head. "That's the problem. I came here because I didn't feel like I belonged in the real world. But then again, I don't know if I belong here."

Joe set his clipboard aside. "Sometimes you just have to make yourself belong. Humans don't belong in the Digital World. Period. But we're here, and we're making it. A lot of bad things have happened because of humans in this world. That's part of the reason why we can't go back. But despite that, we make ourselves belong here."

"Have you ever tried to get back? Or at least send a message through?"

"There's a way to get back, but the process is too painful for us to go through. But as for a message, we did try to get something through. A few years ago, Izzy found a way to get an e-mail to my brother."

"Really? What happened?"

Joe paused. He carefully pricked YukimiBotamon with the tip of his pen, causing the Digimon to jump into Takato's arms. Finally, Joe continued, "We had every reason to believe it went through okay. But we never got a response. Jim's not the kind of person to leave us hanging like that."

"What do you think happened?" Takato said, occasionally looking down at the little thing in his hands.

"I don't know. Very interesting things were happening when we left. I can't imagine what it's like now. If you went back, it could stir up a whole lot trouble."

"So I take it that's a 'no' vote then?"

"No…" Joe smiled. "If half of our guesses about Jim are right, then I want you to stir up as much trouble as you can."

"What's it like?" Cody asked with a spark of curiosity. It was night, and Takato brought the issue up before they went to bed. According to Izzy, Cody would be evolving any day, but wouldn't feel totally healthy until he did.

"What's what like?" Takato wasn't expecting to answer questions; he wanted to get Cody's opinion.

"The real world. I've never been there."

"Oh yeah." Takato shook his head, fishing for the right world. "It's… cold. It's as dangerous as the Digital World, only not as spectacular."

"Really? That's not how I heard it. I always heard that it was a place full of people. And although there's some bad people, there's a lot of good ones too. And although there's a lot of places that don't look attractive, there are others that could take your breath away."

"Yeah. I used to live in this one place called Okinawa. Absolutely beautiful- but I hated it there."

"Of course, I bet every world's like that. There is no perfect world."

"That's also true."

Cody sat up in the bed and looked across at his roommate. "Just once I wish I could see it. To find out a little more about who I used to be. I read TK's book, and I guess I did some really amazing things with everybody else. And somewhere in the real world, I even have a wife who misses me terribly. And a daughter who's older than I am."

Takato sat up in response. "It sounds a little strange, doesn't it?"

"It's incredibly strange. Falling in love, getting married, having a child? It's all so foreign to me." Cody closed his eyes. He quietly resigned himself back to his pillow, before taking another look at Takato. "And yet, I'd give anything to experience it someday."

"I'm amazed you're taking so long to come to a conclusion," Matt remarked as he sawed through a piece of wood.

"Well, it is a big decision," Takato replied.

"For you, perhaps. I'd go in a second." Matt finished cutting. "We all would."

Takato hoisted another piece of lumber and positioned it on the sawhorse. "Really? I know you all miss your families, but don't you like it here?"

"Two things, Takato. First- we really miss our families. I mean, we see them everywhere. In fact, when I first saw you, I could have sworn you were my son." Matt marked the appropriate spot, and resumed sawing. "If Kari hadn't warned me ahead of time, I would have called you Kori."

Takato picked up the piece Matt was finished with. "And second?"

"And second, the Digital World is just like the real world. It has its ups and downs. You've been here for two years, you understand that. We've been here for nine years. At this same spot, doing the same thing. The ups and downs don't seem very steep anymore. I know we have a responsibility to be here, but just once I'd like to go home and see what I've been missing."

Sora approached them with a hammer and nails. "You're not the only one," she said.

Takato handed Sora the finished plank. "But that's the problem. You all have somebody to go back to. I don't know if I have anybody. I don't want to go back to Okinawa. I don't know if I can face my friends. I mean, for all I know, Jeri and what's-his-face are married by now."

"There's somebody out there, Takato" Sora smiled. "You're too nice for there not to be. Somebody cares about you enough to help you get back on your feet. Somebody cares about you enough to make sure you aren't alone. And somebody definitely cares about you enough to fall in love with you."

Takato remained skeptical. "You say that so confidently."

Sora set her load down and rubbed the top of Takato's head. "You may not know who it is right now. You may even know the person, but not realize that it's the one for you." She looked over at Matt, still concentrating on not sawing his arm off. "I met Matt when I was eleven, and didn't think for a minute that we'd ever end up married."

Matt smiled as he continued his task. "Yeah, that's the fun of life. You go back to the real world and you don't know what's going to happen. When I was eleven, I didn't know I'd end up living in Houston, going into space, becoming an international hero, having two kids…" Matt tilted his head at Sora without looking. "…with her all of people. But it sure didn't keep me from growing up."

"So you both think I should go? You've been my family for so long, and you think I should put it all on the line and go back?" Takato asked again.

Matt stopped sawing and looked up at Takato. "Yeah, you're like family. And like a good family, we can't get in the way when someone gets an opportunity. You've got a chance that none of us do. I want to see you take it."

TK was resting on the couch outside Kari's room when Takato entered. Takato immediately seized the opportunity to get TK's opinion.

"Go. No question about it," TK replied.

Takato joined him on the couch and continued, "I feel a little guilty because I can go back and you can't."

"You can make up for that easily enough. You know we're here. You know we're real. That's a pretty powerful weapon."

"What do you mean?"

TK looked Takato in the eyes. "Do you know why I wrote about all of our old adventures?"

Takato shrugged. "To make money?" he guessed.

With a smile, TK replied, "No, that's why I wrote Frontier. People need to know the truth. Bad things can happen when they don't. I wrote the books to show people what the original Chosen went through. What they stood for and what they accomplished. Also what the relationship between a Digimon and a digi-destined should be. It wasn't supposed to be for entertainment. It was definitely engaging material, but it was true. And that was the point."

TK looked out to the window in front of him. Matt and Sora were still hard at work setting the ramp up. "This whole mess with it being a cartoon really bugged me. Feels like it took something away. Our adventures were stripped of all significance and turned into a work of fiction. Still engaging, but with no reason to believe it was real."

"It is very strange. Especially if my friend Henry really knew Izzy's daughter. And that he was even here, at this very research station. Why didn't he ever tell us?"

TK turned back to Takato. "That's why you need to go back. You need to ask him. Find out the truth. I don't know if Izzy's going to get anywhere with all his questions, but there's no telling what you'll find out in the real world."

"But why do I need to find out? How does my finding out about this help you?"

TK lowered his eyes, before bringing them back up to face Takato. "Do you remember Bokomon? From Frontier?"

Although confused by the sudden change in topic, Takato nodded.

With a slight smile, TK raised his index finger, "He always had that book. And whenever something happened, and it was foretold in the book, he was the smartest one in the group. The all-knowing expository character. But every time something happened that the book didn't prepare him for, it was all different."

"He was the most lost out of anybody," Takato replied in understanding.

TK pointed his finger at Takato. "Exactly. He'd panic. Everybody else just went with the flow, while he was completely out of it." TK leant in toward Takato and explained, "The book symbolizes a certain kind of knowledge- the way things worked before, and the way things are supposed to work now. Everybody has this book. People do one of three things with it. They could ignore it completely and just go into each situation blind."

"I guess that's kind of like me."

"That's going to change. Those people just accept whatever the truth is at the moment, ignoring the truths of the past. There's also people like Bokomon- and are only as smart as the book. They can't think beyond it, and they can't see past it." He raised an eyebrow and smiled a little. "But there's also the rare person who reads the book, knows the book, loves the book… but isn't afraid to add new chapters if necessary. That's the kind of person that you need to become."

"Why? What do you mean?"

"Takato, I still don't know who you are. I don't know where you came from and I don't know where you're going. But if you go back to the real world, and you figure out what's going on, you need to make sure that your book stays updated. And there's a lot of people out there who need to have their books updated. Because I have this funny feeling that you could be a major character in it."

Kari sat upright in her bed, reading a book. YukimiBotamon lied on her lap, quietly staring up at the eerily familiar human in front of it. Kari set the book down when she heard Takato knock.

"Come in." She smiled as he entered. "How are they doing out there?"

"Oh," Takato answered, looking to the wall as if he could see through it outside. "It's going well. Should be up in a couple hours."

She continued to smile. "Tell them I'm in no rush. My back still hurts, but I'm catching up on a few books."

"That's good." Not wanting to belabor the reason for his visit, he changed the subject. "So Izzy says I can go back to the real world."

She kept smiling. "Isn't that amazing? Do you think you're going to?"

"I don't know. I mean, I feel pretty bad. I chose to come here, and I can choose to go back. None of you had much choice in the matter."

Her smiled didn't disappear. Instead, she quietly stroked YukimiBotamon between the ears. "Perhaps, but in a way, we'd be better off no matter what you chose. If you go back, there's so much you can do. We all have family out there that we haven't seen in nine years. Even though we can't go back, we'd feel so much better if we knew you could tell everybody we care about that we're here. We don't know what they've been told. They need to know we're alright. That we're getting by. That we miss them."

Takato avoided eye-contact. "I don't know if I could do that. I mean, that's a lot of people to talk to."

"If anyone can do it, it's you. Besides, you don't have to do everything the day you get back. You won't be in the real world for an eternity, but it's still a long time."

"So… if I can do that in the real world, how would you be better off if I stayed?"

"That's simple…" Somehow, her smile grew even wider. "Then you'd still be here with us. We wouldn't have to say goodbye."

A smile grew on Takato's face. "Oh… I would really miss all of you."

"Don't let that hold you back though. If you want to go back, go back. There's things you can do that more than make up for your absence here. Going out and succeeding in the real world is the first step."

"So if I went back, you'd really count on me to tell your families one day?"

She nodded. "Of course. And you will. You may not know how it's going to happen, but it will. I've always believed that no matter what happens, eventually, everything will be corrected."

"Right." He approached door, before looking back. "Thanks, Kari." He opened the door.

"But Takato," she broke in before he was about to leave. He looked back at her. Suddenly, her smile was gone, replaced with a straight face and a focused stare. "Sometimes it needs a little push."

Even after he exited the room, Takato could still feel her eyes on him.

Izzy fed his latest observations about Takato into the computer. So far, there were several possibilities, but nothing was feasible without a lot of prognostication. Since the last time Izzy was in the real world, a lot must have changed. The one looming question was how.

Absentmindedly, he opened a folder with his old theories about the last time someone had broken into the Digital World.

"Mari…"

It had been almost a year since he sent her back to Aya. He dared not tell any of the others that she visited. If anybody asked him to justify his confidence in getting Takato back, he would simply say a random stranger visited him. He couldn't tell them it was his daughter. He was through being ostracized. Izzy was determined to share their grief, and refused to take any comfort in knowing that he was able to see his child again.

Furthermore, there was a connection between her and Takato. By all accounts, they got in the same way. Not only that, but Henry Wong was such a crucial figure in the research. Henry was the clue to help Izzy untie this knot.

Izzy read his set of hypotheses again. He nodded. Takato's knowledge of Henry and Shibumi supported one of them. It explained a lot- Takato's name, the style of his digivice, and even the anime that kept coming up.

"Izzy!" Takato said while knocking on the door, "Can I come in?"

He was startled for a moment, but Izzy quickly minimized everything on the computer except a blank page on a word processor. "Sure!" he replied.

Takato closed the door behind him and sat on the other bed in the room. "What are you working on?"

"Uhh… Inputting more data into the computer. Every little bit helps." Izzy typed a few random lines of text, pretending to be busy.

"Getting anywhere?"

Izzy balked for a moment. He lightly tapped a key with his finger. "I don't think so," he answered and resumed typing.

"Too bad. But I think I'm getting somewhere in figuring out if I want to go back or not."

"Prodigious. Did you talk to everybody else?"

Takato twiddled his thumbs. "I've spoken to everybody but one person. So far, everybody thinks I should go."

With a smile, Izzy began practicing his ability to transcribe the conversation verbatim.  "Great! Who do you still have to ask? Cody?" he asked, more cheerfully.

"Actually… you."

Izzy stopped typing and frowned. He looked across at Takato, narrowing his eyes. "What do you need to know? I told you about the destiny stones, right?"

"I'm not asking about the process, I'm asking if you think I should do it or not."

"Well… it's your decision. I can't tell you whether or not to do anything."

Takato leant forward. "Yeah, but obviously you have an opinion on it, right? Some great advice for me to follow once I get there?"

Izzy hesitated. It was never his place to make decisions for other people. "Uh… well I guess I think you should go. But I think you should do it more for yourself than for us. I'm sure everybody else is telling you to do something big, or try to change things… or tell their families they're okay."

"Is something wrong with that?"

"Not really, but make sure you take care of yourself first. Don't go all-out for us until you can afford to. Don't do anything crazy until you're smart enough to. I guess you shouldn't worry about us so much that you forget about yourself. I don't know what the world was like when you left, but I doubt it's gotten any easier."

Izzy shrugged. "Sorry, but that's all I could come up with."

Takato smiled. "No, you're right. But I think I'm ready now. If I don't go back, then I'll never know if I can make it there. And if I can't make it there, then there's no hope for any of us."

"So you're going back?" Izzy frowned a little.

Takato nodded. "Yep. For sure this time."

Izzy turned back to the computer. He restored some of the theories he had been forming. He had convinced himself it could be done. He helped convince Takato to do it. Now Izzy just had to convince himself it was a good idea.

"Any other advice?" Takato asked.

After staring at the writing on the screen for a little while, Izzy could only give out one more word of knowledge:

"Exist."

This time, Takato was confused. He leant back and raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

Izzy shut the computer down and headed out of the room. Hurriedly, he said, "Never mind. I have to talk to Matt about getting everything ready. Like I said, this won't happen overnight."

The process of finding and collecting enough of the destiny stones' data, "holy remnants" as Izzy called it, took a few weeks. Everybody did what they could to speed the quest along. They had the technology to identify where data was, but going out, gathering it, and filtering it proved to be a demanding chore. Yet the eight accomplished it together. Even Kari was determined to contribute to the team- undeterred by her wheelchair. Days were no longer routine- the search for more holy remnants took the group through dangerous territory, and the Digimon were called in to help them get through in one piece.

Along the way, Izzy continued to prod Takato, in a last-ditch effort to learn what he could about the situation. Although he made a few startling discoveries, he was careful not to divulge them to Takato, nor any of the others.

Eventually, they succeeded in obtaining the remnants. After a few agonizing days alone back at steel terminal, Izzy called the group over. His only additional note warned them that Takato would not be coming back.

"Do you have everything?" Matt asked Takato onboard the Angler-type train.

Takato did a triple-check. He didn't come in with much more than a duffel bag full of clothes and some toiletries. He was leaving with a few more items- some pictures, a couple of TK's books, some letters to family members- reserved if Takato ever sought them out.

"All aboard," Takato replied softly, just audible enough for Matt to hear.

"Are you on, Kari?"

"Yep," she replied, "But we're missing somebody. Excuse me, Salamon." Her Digimon, now at R-Level, scooted out of the way as Kari wheeled over to the door, cupped her mouth, and yelled, "Cody! Are you coming or not?!"

"Sorry, I had to see if it fit!" came the reply. Not long afterwards, Cody came running up to the train in a hooded blue shirt. It was the same shirt Takato wore when he entered the Digital World two years prior. It suddenly fit Cody perfectly, and was Takato's gift to the Chosen.

"How do I look?" the teen asked with a confident smile.

All Matt and Kari could do was smile.

"Spiffy," Matt replied, somewhat caustically, "Get on the train."

With everybody on board, the trip didn't seem to take as long. The passenger car of the train was filled with memories of the past and hope for the future. The six Chosen aboard desperately tried to enjoy the last few hours with Takato. No matter how long the trip was, it was too short for them.

Upon arrival, Izzy greeted them at the station. "Well, this is it, Takato. Ready?"

Takato looked back at the six. A few of their Digimon were present as well. The rest were  unfortunately held back because of their ongoing monitoring duties, but Takato knew they sent their best. Veemon, naturally, was there, and he and Takato shared a hug. Of course, Takato shared a hug with everybody, each of them offering their own final words of encouragement.

Finally, he turned back to Izzy. With a huff, he looked up at him with a straight-face. "I'm ready."

Izzy smiled. "Excellent," he replied, before turning to the others, "I assume you all want to observe this?"

"Hell yeah we do!" Matt replied.

"Good. Besides, I need a digivolution to create the necessary reaction."

They followed Izzy a few hundred yards to an open location just outside the terminal. Tentomon stood by a glass diamond, about the size of the original destiny stones. Inside the diamond, loose data was swirling around, giving off a radiant glow. Izzy took to a control panel nearby and grabbed several sets of safety goggles.

"Sorry- just a precaution." Izzy said as he handed them out. He was about to hand a set to Takato, but the boy was already well-equipped with his own pair.

Izzy cupped his hands. "Okay, I have all the coordinates set. Once we destroy this diamond, the gate will be opened just long enough to get Takato back to Shinjuku. It's quite possible that Takato will end up in the same spot he left." He sighed. "Who wants to do the honors?"

"I will," volunteered Takato. "After all, I'm the one leaving. It's only appropriate."

"But…" Takato quelled Izzy's response by pointing his D-Power at Veemon one last time.

"Veemon digivolve to Ex-Veemon!"

Izzy's mouth opened wide at the sight of the C-Level. It took a few moments for him to respond.

"Wow. Wasn't expecting that. I guess you're median's above 100."

Takato lightly threw his D-Power up in the air before catching it. He grinned. "Just keeping you on your toes."

"Right…"

Although he was still smiling, Takato said, in a more serious tone, "Say… did you ever figure out what was going on with me? I mean, I'll probably figure it out one day. But did you reach any conclusions about how I got here?"

Izzy inhaled. He stared the youngster in the face, trying not to make direct eye contact. Eventually, he forced out an answer. "Well… I can't tell you. I'd like to, but you're better off not knowing."

"What do you mean? All that research, and you can't tell me the answer?"

"No." He quickly turned away from Takato and faced the large Digimon nearby. "Ex-Veemon, whenever you're ready."

Slightly disappointed, but still unnerved, Takato stood near the diamond. He gave the command.

"Vee-Laser!" The attack completely shattered the glass. A spark of brightness immediately gave way to a continued radiance from the data.

"Now, Takato!" Izzy shouted. Takato was already a step ahead and approaching the light. The other Chosen and Digimon shouted their cheers as he passed through. After a minute of anxiety, the light faded away. All that remained were a few glowing bits of data scattered about the air. The cheers subsided and ExVeemon reverted back to his R-Level form.

"Well… is he back?" Sora asked.

Izzy ran to his control panel to check. The entire procedure seemed to go smoothly. At first glance, everything went according to plan. Takato went through the gate, and the gate took him to his destination. But after examining the monitor closer, he noticed a new code entered. As if someone had hacked in at the last second. He began typing in an effort to decode it. He could determine nothing other than the alleged hacker's signature. But the information helped Izzy very little; he knew nobody who went by the handle "RKngel."

"Yeah. Just fine." Izzy stood up, dismissing it. It was unlikely that anybody would know about the procedure, and nobody in the real world could prevent Takato from going home.

Matt removed his goggles and walked up to Izzy. "Okay, now that he's gone, we need to know- what happened? How did he get here?"

Izzy walked past Matt toward the rest of the group. But Matt grabbed Izzy's shoulder and spun him back around.

"Izzy, please, we're sick of this little secret. We know you found something out, and we need to know what it is."

"You really want to know?" Izzy answered, a little soft-spoken, "The possibilities really were endless. This is only a rough guess, and involves some things that were only faint whispers back in our day. But now… who knows?"

"What is it?" Kari asked loudly, "What was going on with Takato before he got here?"

Izzy sighed, and gave them the direct answer.

"Before he arrived here… Takato Matsuki did not exist."

----March, 2038----
His face was implanted in the carpet. His legs were dangling in the air. Takato lifted himself from his position, removing his goggles to take stock of his surroundings. He was surrounded by computers. He looked back at the one he had apparently come through. The screen was static for a few seconds before being replaced with an advertisement. So far, the only thing Takato knew was that the computer he exited from cost $899 and had a two terabyte hard drive.

"Excuse me, can I help you?" someone called out. Takato looked to his left. The young man staring at him had dark skin, black hair, and an ugly red polo shirt with a nametag on it. He looked like he was in his late teens.

Takato knew he was going to sound strange, but if he hadn't already scared the man away, it was worth a shot. "Where am I?"

"Circuit City," the man answered plainly, pointing to his left. "There's a big sign out front."

Takato rose to his feet and checked for his bag. He found it and picked it up.

"I'm back. The real world," Takato said. He still didn't know precisely *where* in the real world he was. But he was definitely in it.

"I take it you didn't come through the front… did you?" The salesman replied, with a hint of disbelief.

Takato approached him. "No. I… I came from the Digital World. It's an amazing place where…"

Immediately, the man extended a palm forward and silenced him. It was the first time Takato was able to get a good look at the nametag. It read "Dwayne" in clean block letters.

"Yeah, I know. I'm not as young as I look. I know about the Digital World. Everybody knows about it. They just don't talk about it. So where are you from?"

He removed his palm and let Takato answer: "Shinjuku."

Dwayne raised an eyebrow. "That in Jersey?"

"No… Tokyo." Takato was already afraid he wasn't where he was supposed to be. So far, the conversation wasn't helping.

"Japan? Wow." After a few moments of thought, Dwayne said, "Do you need to get in touch with somebody? Need a place to stay? I don't know if you can reserve hotels from the Digital World."

"Um… well… I hadn't really thought about that. I've been in there for two years. I guess I should go back to Japan, but there's really not anything there…"

"Dwayne, did you front the DVCs like I asked you to?" A second worker walked in from behind Dwayne. He was much older, and much whiter, but his shirt was just as ugly.

Dwayne spun around without losing a beat and smiled. "Already done, boss. Hey, I'd like you to meet somebody." Dwayne placed his hands on Takato's shoulders. "This is my cousin, Koji. He just came in from Shinjuku, Japan. I didn't even know he was coming! Would you mind if I clocked out and showed him around town? I also have to call my folks- if they were looking to surprise me, they did a good job!"

"You've got four hours left in your shift!"

Dwayne shrugged. "We ain't doing any business! If I clock out now, it's less human resources going to waste. Besides, I already did everything you asked. C'mon Koji."

Dwayne walked past the other man. Takato got the hint easily enough. "Um… coming Dwayne!"

The other worker backed off. "Okay, but next time we get a rush, I'm calling you in for overtime."

"No problem!" Dwayne shouted while clocking out, "The new Copland OS comes out tomorrow. I hear it's supposed to be a hot seller. I'll come in to tide things down."

"Deal."

As soon as Dwayne's offer was accepted, Dwayne and Takato were out the door. Immediately, Takato started shivering. He hadn't felt cold in a long time. No part of Okinawa, nor any part of the Digital World he had been to, ever reached such low temperatures.

"It's freezing out."

"Jeez, it's only 30. It's March- this is warm for New York."

"New York?"

"I'd be wearing shorts if I didn't have to work!"

"We're in New York?" Takato asked again, louder.

"Yep. Now here's the lowdown, Koji."

"Koji? Where did you come up with that name?"

Dwayne laughed. "I don't know. You said something about the Digital World. I kept thinking of that stupid cartoon." He returned to business. "Anyway, here's the deal- I let you crash at my apartment if you help pay the rent. I'll even help find you work. I got connections, I'll help you get the paperwork done. Get you into school or something."

"Wait a minute- you'd do that?"

"Hey, you seem to be in a bit of a fix right now. And besides, I kicked my old roommate out a few weeks ago and I've been looking for a new one. Put in your share and don't be a pain in the ass and you can stay as long as you need to."

Takato was amazed. The first person he met was willing to help him, without asking many questions either.

Dwayne did bring up one note of caution, "Just, uh… don't go around saying anything about the Digital World. I'm cool with it, but there's a lot of people around here who still have a problem with it." Finally, Dwayne extended a hand. "So, do we have a deal?"

Takato shook the outstretched hand with a disbelieving smile. "I don't know what to say."

"How about 'Thank you, Dwayne, for your kind and generous offer'?"

Takato truly was thankful. Once again, he leaped before fully looking. And once again, a kind stranger was willing to take him in. He would take Dwayne up on the offer. He would find a job and go back to school and start over again.

But this time, Takato was going to do more than that. He was going to become something. He was through wallowing in the past. This time, all he could see was the future. This time, he was going to get find his life's calling, find some way to answer it, and find somebody to answer it with. He was truly reborn, and the world before him was greater than anything. A world for him to grow- physically along with spiritually. A world for him to go wherever he wanted.

Perhaps someday he would share his digital adventures with the rest of the world. Someday he would find the families of the Chosen and tell them that their mother, father, husband or wife was safe, and sends his or her best wishes. That was in the distance, however. Right now, he had more urgent challenges to overcome, and a new life to begin.

Takato followed Dwayne into a taxi, which sped toward the apartment. Dwayne smiled. It was official.

Takato had found his new home.

To Be Continued in "Level 2: Children"

Author's Notes
Well, everybody knows what happened the first time Alice got out of Wonderland. Similar situation with Takato, although the big game of chess is only beginning. This ends the first part of the trilogy. The next story will continue the adventure, introduce the children of the Chosen, and may actually provide more answers than questions. So be sure to look for it in a few months.

The idea with the destiny stones was another brilliant product of the flock of researchers attempting to deliver a scientific explanation to the phenomena that occurred in the first and second seasons. And the sudden mention of Jim Kido and Alice McCoy set up interesting subplots in the second and third stories.

The whole thing with Hypnos being "dreamscape's gatekeeper" is another Lovecraft reference, and the reason Konaka named the organization Hypnos to begin with. Thanks Andy!

It's not really mentioned in the first two seasons, since it's common knowledge to anyone living in Japan, but Odaiba really is a big tourist trap. Rainbow Town, and even the TV station are popular tourist destinations. Since I lived near Wisconsin Dells (one of America's foremost tourist traps), I can relate.

It's definitely worth pointing out that whenever Izzy waxes nostalgic about Mari and Henry, he's talking about a pair of six-year-olds, and imagining any sort of romance between them would just be silly. Their interaction is definitely an important part of the story, but whether or not they actually hook up remains to be seen.

And finally, another big kudos to Crest of Empathy and Rb for beta-reading this story. When their schedules and computers (respectively) would let them, their comments were a big boon to this story, even that time in stage five when they disagreed on whether a scene was pro-Sorato or anti-Sorato (and I thought it was neutral).

This ends Level 1 of The Connection