"And now, the panel we've all been waiting for, the reason why we're all here today - literally. It is my pleasure and my privilege to introduce the six tamers and their digimon who fought to save the world and won! Let's hear it!"
The crowd erupted with applause. The convention hall was packed. The space closest to the stage was reserved for journalists and reporters, but the audience stretched back far enough to necessitate three large screens above the stage broadcasting live images of the panelists. The images on the screens, plus a few from different camera angles, were also being livestreamed on Twitch and YouTube, for an audience of millions at home. The scene was more like a live concert than a convention panel.
"From right to left we have…" The moderator continued, pausing to build up the audience's anticipation.
"Hirokazu Shioda and Guardromon!" The audience burst into cheers again, which had to die down before the moderator could announce the next panelists.
"Kenta Kitagawa and MarineAngemon!"
It went on like this, with more applause after each pair of names.
"Ryo Akiyama and Cyberdramon!
"Jianliang Lee and Terriermon!
"Ruki Makino and Renamon!
"And finally, Takato Matsuda and Guilmon!"
The audience went wild at the last two names, screaming and whistling in an ear-splitting swell.
Most of the digimon on stage looked the same as they always had, but their tamers, now all in their twenties, couldn't be more different. Takato wore a graphic tee, faded jeans, and a couple of days worth of stubble. He had even dug up his old pair of goggles for this occasion, although he had to replace the band so that they would fit on his head. Ruki sported a suit jacket, pencil skirt, and heels. Her posture and appearance were levels above the men around her in terms of professionalism and composure. Jian wore a plain button-down, and the slumped shoulders of someone who spent all day in front of a keyboard.
"And I'm your moderator, Trendynair. Let's get this started!
"So this is a particularly exciting year for DigiCon. I think the last time we had all twelve of you here was back in 2014."
"That's right." Said Jian, leaning a little too far into his microphone. "I know we've all been pretty busy lately, but I'm glad I was able to make the time to be here."
"That actually brings us to my first question." Said the moderator. "Everyone knows the story of how all of you fought fought the D-Reaper, a malicious sapient program threatening to consume all life in both the digital world and the physical world, but that was all the way back in 2002. What have your lives been like afterwards, and what are you all up to now? Jianliang, why don't you start us off?"
"Well, In 2008, my father and I started the Information Future Organization to research the changing state of the internet and its effects on the digital world."
"That was when you were still a teenager." Trendynair cut in. "That's amazing."
"Right, well I wanted to follow in my father's footsteps, but I ended up working alongside him instead. I had to learn fast in order to catch up. I knew a little bit about programming when I first became a tamer, but since then I've had all of the original Wild Bunch to mentor me. I couldn't ask for a more brilliant group of teachers."
"Not a lot of people actually know exactly what the IFO does." Said the moderator. How would you describe your work?"
"Well, it's complicated…" Jian paused. "The IFO employs hundreds of programmers and tamers across the globe, so we're doing all kinds of work, but most of it relates to how the real world, the internet, and the digital world all interact. The digital world is created by the information and connections of computers all over the world, so the type of data we put online, and how we share and consume that data all have impacts on that plane of reality. When you also factor in the fact that entities from the digital world can manifest in the physical world, the state of the internet can have a real impact on people's safety.
"And it's more important than ever we all pay attention to these issues. When we first went to the digital world, it was actually pretty small. We wandered all over the place, and visited a bunch of different locales, but even when we got separated, we kept running into each other by pure coincidence. That should tell you something about the size of the place. But now, with how much the internet has evolved, we estimate that the digital world covers roughly three billion times the surface area of the earth."
The room was silent at that. Apparently this wasn't general knowledge for most people.
Jian shifted in his seat. "Of course, that depends on how you measure space and distance in the digital world. It's all relative, and places shift in relation to one another based on how you go about navigating them. So it's not as if we can just draw a map of the world and get a definite idea of how big it is."
"Wow, sounds like a big job." Said the moderator, finally.
"You could say that." Said Jian. "Right now I'm mostly working on the problem of digi-trolls. It's not the most creative name for them, but it's descriptive. When people post toxic content online, it creates toxic spaces and creatures in the digital world. It's not a pretty sight. We're trying to address it by both creating intelligent programs to attack the trolls themselves, and working with a number of web platforms to enforce healthier posting guidelines and content restrictions." Jian smiled. "Our motto lately has been 'just get rid of the comments section.'"
The audience laughed.
"Does that mean I have to stop shitposting so much?" Takato cut in. "Because I'm not sure if I could handle that kind of responsibility."
"I would tell you to stop shitposting even if it didn't make my job harder. Your social media is a garbage pile." Jian grinned. "But no, jokes and memes are usually fine. It's the really hateful stuff which we're most worried about."
"What about you, Terriermon?" Said Trendynair. "I know you're working on something a little easier to explain."
"Sure," Said Terriermon, "I've got a podcast called 'Monday 'Mon Time'."
Another round of cheers and whoops from the audience.
"It sounds like you've got a few fans here." Said Trendynair. "But for anyone not in the know, could you explain what it's about?"
"You bet." Said Terriermon. "I talk about all the news and culture in the world of tamers and their digimon. That's another thing that's changed a lot over the years. I want to keep people current, and find out what it's like for the next generation."
"It's very cool. I'm actually a listener myself." Said Trendynair. "As one of the first digimon to partner with a tamer, you have a lot of great insights to share."
"Moumantai." Said Terriermon. "Although it's not easy to keep up with the kids these days. You don't even need a digivice anymore. You can get an app on your phone that does the same thing. It's great for anyone who loves convenience and accessibility, but terrible for the people printing the option cards!"
Another laugh from the audience.
"And how about Shaochung and Lopmon?" Said the moderator. "We've been trying to get those two on the panel since forever. How are they doing?"
"They're college roomates now." Said Terriermon. "After all these years, they're still totally inseparable. If you're not following their Instagram, you're missing out. It's the cutest!"
"Well all right. Sounds great." Said Trendynair. "Now I think anyone who's followed the news in the past few years is aware of the work Ruki and Renamon are doing, but why don't you two go into a little more detail and talk about why it's important."
"Gladly." Said Ruki. "Renamon and I founded Integrated Law, a non-profit organization dedicated to solving the complicated legal implications of digimons' existence, and fighting to establish and protect digimon rights."
"So the two of you are lawyers."
"That's correct. People might not think of courtrooms when they think of digimon, but there's an entire world of new laws written around them in the past decade alone. When digimon first started to appear in the physical world, they had no rights whatsoever. Since they are not 'born' in the traditional sense, they were not citizens of any country. Beyond that, digimon are the first non-human sapient entities to exist. They're an entirely new category of people that existing laws were not written to accommodate."
"So what does that mean in practical terms?" Said the moderator. "Could you give us some examples?"
"Well first there's things guaranteed to ordinary citizens like voting and education." Said Ruki. "Our organization was able to establish the precedent here in Japan that digimon who appear here are granted all the rights and responsibilities of Japanese citizens. It was met with a lot of pushback at first. Not only were people against accepting digimon into their society, they were worried that digimon would take their jobs." Ruki smiled grimly. "In one sense, it's a good thing that Japan's human population is declining. Having digimon citizens has been inarguably beneficial to our economy. In a more plentiful time, we might have have turned them away.
"But it's much easier now for digimon to exist in society than it was a few years ago. You would not believe how many hoops we had to jump through in order to get Renamon into law school at the same time as me. And it would have been impossible if we hadn't called in some major favors from a few higher-up government officials. Nowadays though, digimon in Japan can pursue an education just like the rest of us."
The audience clapped and cheered at that.
"Sounds like you've done some incredible work." Said the moderator.
"It's not just us." Said Ruki. There are a lot of people working in this field, doing just as much or more. Renamon and I just happen to have the most recognizable faces."
"Still, It's unbelievable what you've managed to accomplish at your age, even for someone who finished school as early as you did. What legal challenges do you hope to take on in the future?"
"Well, there are still countless laws that need to be written or rewritten." Said Ruki. "Digimon may have full rights as citizens, but not as people. Did you know, that the company which created the Digimon video games still holds the copyright to those characters? Any digimon which appeared in one of those games has an appearance which is technically considered intellectual property, which prevents them from certain forms of media. It's a big impediment for any digimon who wants to work as an actor. And of course, digimon and humans still can't get married, and many have accessibility issues which need to be addressed due to their non-humanoid bodies.
"But one of the most interesting issues that no one has tackled yet..." Her eyes gleamed. "Is mumans and digimon who matrix evolve together."
"Well, you've certainly got my attention now. What legal issues are there with martix evolution?"
"Everything." Said Ruki. "Right now, there are only four humans in existence who can matrix evolve with their digimon while in the physical world. All of them are on this stage, by the way. But, theoretically speaking, more humans could gain this ability from certain digimon with godlike powers, or even from our own advancing technology. And as of right now, the courtrooms have no idea what to do with a matrix evolved digimon. Are they treated as one person or two? And if they are one person, than how do we deal with the sudden appearance of this individual who had previously never existed? If the digimon and the human are from different countries, than what citizenship does the ultimate form have? If a human has a driver's license, then can it apply to their matrix evolved form? And if so, do they need two photos on their ID? If a matrix evolved digimon commits a crime and then splits up, how are they prosecuted? Does the person who committed the crime technically still exist? What happens if either the human or the digimon didn't want to commit the crime, but their partner forced them? And how could you even prove a scenario like that actually happened in a court of law?"
"Those are a lot of tough questions." Said Trendynair. "I'm glad I only have to ask the easy ones. Speaking of which, Renamon, this next one's for you - and I'm sure it's a question most of the men here are dying to ask - will you marry me?"
The audience laughed and whooped. Renamon remained still and expressionless, retaining their detached air.
"Very funny." They said, although it came out harsher than they intended it to sound. Not that the moderator didn't deserve to be chastised for this childish display. Renamon didn't want to let on how much questions like that actually got under their skin.
"But really," said the moderator, pressing on, "what's going on in your love life these days? Have you hit it off with any of the admirers beating down your door, or are the rumors true that you and your tamer-"
'That's enough." Snapped Ruki. "I specifically told you that we wouldn't be answering any personal questions."
"Well you were the one who mentioned marriage." Said Trendynair. "If talking about humans and digimon getting married is on the table-"
"It isn't." Said Ruki.
"Maybe you should let Renamon speak for herself."
Renamon leaned forward - only by a few inches, but they made the motion intimidating by their sheer presence.
"You heard her."
"And don't make me say it again." Said Ruki. "By the way, when you're referring to my partner, I expect you to use their correct pronouns."
The moderator was speechless for a moment, struggling for a way to recover without making the situation boil over. After a few seconds of heated silence, he plastered a big fake smile on his face.
"Wow, you sure shut me down. Although I guess that's just the ice-cold Digimon Queen we all know and love!
"Anyway, moving on, Takato! I haven't heard very much about you lately. Got any big, secret projects in the works?
"Uhhh…" Said Takato. "Well, you can find me on all the social media. I'm pretty hilarious there. Make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel. I haven't posted anything in a few months, but I've been meaning to get back into that."
"Uh-huh." Said the moderator. Anything exciting coming up in the future?
"Oh, right!" Said Takato. "I'm doing a meet-and-greet after this panel, so line up in front of booth 301J. Autographs are two thousand yen, and selfies are fifteen hundred."
"Fascinating. Well then, Guilmon, what about you?"
Guilmon grinned. "I'm a baker."
"That's right. I heard you started working for Takato's parents."
"And then the store got so popular, you had to move to a bigger location in Tokyo?"
"And you're still working for them, making bread all day?"
"Anything else you'd like to say to our audience today?"
"There you have it, Digi-fans. I think it's time to take a quick break while our panelists stretch their legs. In the meantime, enjoy these messages from our sponsors. When we come back, we'll catch up with the rest of the panel, and discuss current trends in the world of tamers."
Renamon vanished into the crowd almost immediately, but it didn't take long for Ruki to find them again. She just had to look for the emptiest, quietest hallway in the immediate area.
Renamon stood reclining against the wall, arms crossed, characteristically still. Ruki wordlessly walked up beside them and leaned back in the same manner.
"Hey." She said. "How are you holding up?"
"I'll survive." Said Renamon.
"Listen, I'm sorry for dragging you to this thing again." Said Ruki. "I know how much you hate all the attention."
"It's fine." Said Renamon. "I agreed to be here. What about you?"
"I'm mad as hell. The one who should really apologize is the panel host. Why do guys think they can get away with treating you like a piece of meat?"
Renamon said nothing.
"God, there's nothing I hate more than horny fanboys."
Renamon dipped their head. "Truly."
The pair stood like that for a moment, staring straight ahead, stretching out the silence for as long as they dared it to last. Finally, Ruki checked her phone.
"Hey, it's starting up again soon. Want to head back?"
"Good, me neither." Said Ruki. "Want to ditch the panel, head back to our hotel room, and abuse the fuck out of our complimentary room service privileges?"
"I'd like that." Renamon turned away. "And... Thank you for sticking up for me."
"Don't mention it." Said Ruki, smiling. "It's what partners do."