Level 2- Children
 
Kensuke Motomiya- Age 23
Born to Davis and Maho Motomiya on January 20, 2017
Head of Japan Division of "C.G.Y. Noodle" restaurant chain
Currently living in Tokyo with wife Natsumi and son Taro

Stage One- Date

The black skirt clinging around Michi's waist baffled her as she stared into the mirror. It was hardly modest; her bare knees were clearly visible from her vantage point. Was it too high-cut for her to wear to this event? It had been years since she and her brothers last saw Adam. Perhaps he still preferred to perceive Michi as an innocent girl who demanded sympathy wherever she went.

The sympathy wasn't the problem. Michi and Kori cherished every friend driven to tears by the story of what happened. Since Adam suffered a similar fate, the three coped together, along with the four other children overseas.

But Michi was sixteen, and the tragedy was eleven years behind her. She wasn't innocent anymore, and she had a surplus of sympathy. She'd rather leave it all in the past than depress others with her sob story.

Michi looked at the skirt again, her thoughts straying from Adam to the other party attendants. Maybe it wasn't revealing enough. Perhaps she should focus on her impression on the strangers in attendance. After all, she would always be a little girl in Adam's eyes.

"To hell with him," she thought.

She heard Tony shout from downstairs, "Michi! Are you ready yet??"

She twisted around in time to see her digital alarm clock flash six o'clock. It was half-past five when she entered the room to change. She hurriedly threw on a blouse to match the skirt and ran downstairs.

Tony and Kori were waiting for her in the living room, Kori wearing a wry smile. "Is it me, or did Michi actually have to think about what she was going to wear?" he said.

"Shut up, Kori," she growled back. She had little to say in defense. In fact, she was a little embarrassed about her indecisiveness. Kori had good reason to tease.

"At least you chose well," Tony said, casually eyeing Michi's outfit.

Michi shrugged. "You know more about women's fashion than I do." This sent Kori into a fit of chuckles.

Before he could respond, his father entered and gave Tony a ten-dollar bill. "Here's some money for the subway."

Tony was complaining before the money was even in his pocket. "The subway? Why can't we take a taxi?"

"All the way to Brooklyn? It's too expensive. You have your cell phones in case you get lost, right?"

The three teens mumbled in confirmation.

Not through with his parenting, the family patriarch continued, "Is Steve going to be there?"

"No, but you trust Adam, don't you?" replied Tony.

His father placed his hands on his hips and stared at the trio. "It's not Adam I'm worried about. It's his friends. I don't know what college kids are doing these days, but I don't want you to be part of it."

"Trust us," Michi said, stepping forward, "We won't do anything stupid. We haven't seen Adam in so long, and we don't want to ruin any chance of seeing him ever again."

"Fine, but be home by ten."

"Ten?!" The three shouted simultaneously.

This drew the attention of Tony's mother, who walked in from the kitchen. She moved slowly, but her cautious stride still maintained a certain degree of elegance. At first, she didn't interrupt the bickering between the father and the children, but she knew her presence in the room would be required. It wouldn't be long before…

"Mom, tell Dad we can be out past ten!"

"Yeah. If we have to take the subway, it'll take an hour to get there and back anyway!" While Michi always played on emotions, Kori relied on logistics. They were an unstoppable tandem.

She turned to her husband. "Michael, make it eleven. Adam can't afford to do this every day."

Michael folded his arms. "There's a reason for that," he said stubbornly.

"Nothing's going to happen to them. They can take care of themselves." She was immediately greeted with hugs from Michi and Kori. She smiled and rubbed the top of Kori's red hair. "Okay, I bought you an extra hour! Don't waste it here. Get going!"

In a flash, the kids were out the door. Michael stared out the window as the three walked toward the nearby subway station. Without looking at his wife, he said, "I just have a bad feeling. This party is going to cause problems. You really shouldn't encourage them like that."

His wife stuck out her tongue.

"You're getting really good at working her Kori," Michi threw an arm around her brother's shoulder. "One of these days, you'll figure out how to get Dad on our side."

Tony folded his arms, his eyes narrowing as he walked alongside the two. His posture was a smaller duplicate of his father's pose five minutes ago. "You know, Dad has a point. We don't know what's going to happen at this party."

Michi stepped forward and turned around to face Tony and Kori. She walked backwards, matching their pace. "We're going to have fun! Are parties suddenly not allowed anymore?"

"Considering what the party's for…" Tony replied gravely.

Michi turned around and marched ahead. "We're meeting up with our old buddy Adam. Nothing more. How can they lock us up for that?"

Tony didn't respond. Kori, meanwhile, changed the subject, "Are we far enough away from the house yet?"

Michi looked back. They had walked at least a block. "Yep," she concluded, raising her arm toward the street. "Taxi!!"

The night was young, but a few party-goers were already settling into the large, open basement. Adam was still setting the food table in order when he heard a familiar voice.

"Adam! How's it been?!"

Adam promptly turned around and smiled. Dwayne was an old friend from high school. They were in different classes, had different hobbies, and were of different races, but somehow had the right chemistry to support each other through graduation.

"Dwayne! Glad you could make it!" Adam ran up the stairs and greeted Dwayne with a few hand slaps. "This should be a hot party. Plenty of girls- good picking if you ask me." Adam smiled slyly.

Dwayne shook his head, but kept smiling. "Shame I already have a girlfriend. Remind me to look for the hottest bidder before I take myself off the market next time. But maybe Koji could use some company."

"And maybe Dwayne could move his fat ass so I can see what's going on down there!" Adam was startled by the voice behind Dwayne. Dwayne and Adam both reached the bottom of the stairs, allowing the newcomer access. Adam immediately figured this was Koji. He was a few years younger than Dwayne, and a little skinnier. Adam immediately noted Koji's untamed brown hair. It was hard to imagine how Koji and a neat freak like Dwayne could survive being roommates.

"Hey, Koji. Glad you could make it," Adam shook Koji's hand.

"No problem. You're Adam, right? Nice to meet you." Koji smiled, even giving a little bit of a bow.

"Sorry I had to drag him along," Dwayne said, immediately getting a harsh look from Koji.

"Hey, try as you like, you can't get rid of me Dwayne."

Adam started laughing. "Are you two thirsty? We've got… well, everything."

"Is the punch spiked?" Koji asked.

"Yeah."

"Perfect." The seventeen-year-old headed for the drinks, immediately followed by Dwayne.

When Adam had invited Dwayne to the party, Koji had become an interesting topic of discussion. While Adam had encouraged Koji to attend, Dwayne had been hesitant. Dwayne had given in eventually. But it was confusing to Adam- why would Dwayne, normally open and friendly to everybody, not want his roommate to be present?

Adam remained at the base of the stairs and watched Dwayne and Koji. They were drinking whatever was in their Dixie cups and were chatting and laughing like typical friends.

With nothing wrong in their relationship, Adam focused on Koji. His youth may have been a factor. But Dwayne knew there would be plenty of high school students at the party. Koji would have no trouble finding people to talk to. Perhaps it was something about Koji's attitude. But with bright brown eyes and a constant smile, he seemed rather cheerful and friendly.

As more guests began to arrive, Adam quickly stopped thinking about the matter. It was totally inconsequential. After all, the party was not about Dwayne or Koji. The most important group hadn't arrived yet.

They arrived a half-hour after Dwayne and Koji came in. By then, the basement was filled with college students showing off their dance moves, the chatter of girls exchanging the latest gossip, and underage high school kids throwing down a couple of drinks.

"Wow… cool party," Kori mused as he, his sister, and Tony descended the staircase.

"Where's Adam?" Tony asked as they reached the bottom of the staircase.

Fortunately, the room wasn't crowded enough for them to miss Adam approaching them.

"Hey, you made it. It's been so long, how are you guys doing?" Adam made quick work of the pleasantries, shaking hands with Tony and Kori and hugging Michi.

The four caught up quickly, each giving their story of what they had done since they last met.

It wasn't hard for Dwayne to spot them. They were still at the bottom of the staircase. He knew the three from some of his father's friends, and through Adam, but never actually met them personally. The eldest boy was tall, with dirty blond hair and cold brown eyes. The second boy was a few years younger. His short, red hair was combed neatly above a rounded face. The girl's hair was also blond, but colored a more vibrant yellow than the eldest boy's dingy look. She was neither cute nor pretty, according to Dwayne's standards. But with her strikingly beautiful eyes, emphasized by a confident smile, it was hard not to call her attractive.

Dwayne casually entered the conversation. "Are these three who I think they are?"

Adam smiled at Dwayne. "Dwayne, I don't think I've ever introduced you to them."

"If you have, it was so long ago I can't remember."

"Well, this is Tony Grant," Adam said, pointing to the eldest boy, who nodded carelessly. Adam moved his finger to the second boy and the girl. "And this is Kori and Michi…" He raised his tone as if to say something further, but fell silent.

Dwayne shook hands with all three and introduced himself. But soon after he did, the conversation turned to more uncomfortable matters. The event. It wasn't that Dwayne wasn't affected by it, but his loss was foreseen ahead of time. For Kori, Michi, and Adam, it was more sudden and more devastating.

Tony quietly excused himself from the discussion, giving Dwayne an out. With Tony, he entered the thick of the party. But Dwayne wasn't completely safe yet, as he suddenly found himself forced to listen to Tony's take on the situation.

"I can't stand hearing them talk about it," he said, frequently glancing back at the three. "I mean, it's not that I don't feel sorry for them, but really- it may only be the beginning."

"The beginning of what?" Dwayne replied.

Tony eyed the floor. "Every person needs to know their place in life. And every person needs to know the consequences of stepping out of line."

Dwayne leant in closer. "You really think their parents were stepping out of line?"

Tony looked up. "In a way, yeah. They challenged the system and faced the consequences. I think it's a little extreme myself, but every time we talk about it, it's a baby step away from the line. Don't you think that's a bit dangerous?"

"Dunno… depends on what you think of the system." Dwayne glanced at Adam, still deeply engrossed in the chat with Michi and Kori. He returned to Tony, who was starting to tremble. Tony cautiously looked back at Dwayne, until he faced away.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said nervously as he walked away.

As ten o'clock approached, a few people had started to leave. But most were still around, including Michi. She was casually dancing, wondering which of the many boys would gather up the nerve to ask to dance with her. She would say no, of course. Nothing against them, but spurning offers and maintaining her elusiveness was her only form of entertainment. Michi only knew a few others, and she definitely wasn't going to spend all of her time with her brother or Tony.

"Hey there,"

A boy had sneaked up from behind and tapped her on the shoulder. She was startled at first, but spun around to greet the intruder.

 "My name's Koji," he said. He seemed innocent enough. Michi could tell he was nervous. His voice was a little squeaky and he had a lost look in his puppy-dog eyes.

She smiled at him, but said little more than, "hi."

He smiled in response, and with a little more bravado, asked, "So how do you know Adam?"

Although she was able to maintain her smile, she began to fret. She didn't want to make a sympathy plea for Koji, but it was pretty much the only thing that connected her to Adam.

"Our parents are friends," she answered, settling on a half-truth.

Suddenly, Koji raised his eyebrows. "You know Mr. Fisher? He's my history teacher."

"No, I mean his mother," she corrected him.

He thought about that for a moment, filling Michi with fear. Immediately she realized she shouldn't have said that. He probably knew about…

"Isn't Adam's mother…?"

Before he could finish his query, Michi grabbed his hand. "Wanna dance?"

He nodded slowly, his smile growing slightly wider as the previous song faded below the dense murmurs fogging the basement. Michi had made a mistake in committing herself to a dance with her mysterious suitor; she silently prayed it would be to a lively upbeat number rather than a slow love ballad.

Luck was on her side- the initiating drum solo at 140 beats per minute reassured Michi that she would enjoy paying for her error. She released his hand and began swinging her arms to the rhythm. Koji was also receptive to the music, and danced in perfect time. With the opportunity to turn him down long past, Michi decided to lose herself and enjoy the moment. By the time the song reached its first chorus, she and Koji were hand-in-hand, attempting with some success to synchronize their moves.

As an instrumental approached, Koji leaned in closer. "You're a pretty good dancer," he said, barely loud enough for Michi to hear over the music.

She responded, equally careful to make sure he could hear, "Thanks. Everyone says I have a good sense of rhythm. My brother thinks I should take drum lessons."

They continued, increasing the complexity of their pas de deux. The song was upbeat indeed, but it was also long. By the time the cymbals crashed for the final time four minutes later, Michi and Koji had developed enough chemistry on the floor to earn the attention of the spying wallflowers. They were also completely exhausted, and quickly fell into two empty seats as a slower song began to flow through the speakers.

Michi started laughing. It had been a while since she actually accepted an offer to dance with a stranger. She had taken so much enjoyment in refusing requests, but it paled in comparison to accepting them.

"That was great. Where'd you learn to dance like that?" she said in-between huffs.

Koji sat back in his chair with a satisfied smile on his face. "Never did. I kinda surprised myself out there too. Maybe I picked up some of Dwayne's moves."

"Oh, are you Dwayne's roommate? Adam was talking about you over the phone a couple days ago."

After glancing at Dwayne, safely occupied by a bottle of hard lemonade, Koji turned back toward his dance partner. "Yeah, he wasn't sure if I'd fit in at a party like this. Don't know why he had any doubts. It would have been a shame to miss meeting you… what was your name again?"

"Michi. Michi Grant. What was yours again... Koji?"

"Yep, Koji Mathews." He peered across the room, and saw Adam, also occupied by a few particularly shapely ladies. "So uh…" Koji began, with a little hesitancy, "So your parents knew Mrs. Fisher?"

Michi stared at Koji before answering. "Yeah. They were friends from school. I'm assuming you knew her too?"

"Nope," Koji replied without flinching, "But like I said, Mr. Fisher is my history teacher. Everybody I talk to says he's still got issues or something. You know, like he can't move on or something."

She looked down and sighed. "I don't blame him. I mean, when my parents died it took a while to…"

Koji quickly turned to face Michi. She lifted her chin so her eyes would meet his gaze. "What happened to your parents?" he asked, with some degree of concern.

Unable to glance away and dodge the question any further, she answered, "They died when I was four years old." After a moment's pause, she quickly added, "It was a fire."

"Wow… my parents died in a fire too. It's awful, isn't it?"

Her gaze quickly turned from one of sadness to one of curiosity. She tilted her head, trying to recognize his face.

"What?" he asked, suddenly confused by her change of expression.

"Never mind." She gave up and turned back to the happy dancers. "I mean, it's in the past, right? Whatever happens, you just have to make the most of it and move on. There's no sense dwelling on what you can't control, because if you do that, things will only get worse, right?"

"You bet!" Koji exclaimed, nervously glancing aside. "So, uh… what are you doing next week?"

Michi caught herself turning toward Koji, and stopped midway. He had turned back to face her, and she didn't want to look at him until she knew whether or not she wanted to tell the truth. Michi had already let her guard down, and had no intention of beginning a foolish romance. However, Koji seemed harmless, and she had already decided that at the very least she liked him enough to want to start a friendship. She answered the question with that specific goal in mind.

"Uh…" Koji closed his eyes. He could picture the date. "November… 9th?"

Dwayne rested his head on his right arm, itself balanced on the right arm of the chair. "Close," he replied, trying to lead his roommate to the answer.

"Okay…" His eyes remained closed. Suddenly, the numbers reversed and Koji blurted the new date. "September 11th?"

The left side of Dwayne's lips curled upward into a smile. "What year?"

Koji again looked within, but no vision was able to guide him this time. He stood from his armchair and paced around the living room angrily. "I am so fucked."

Dwayne leaned back in his chair, paging through the textbook resting on his lap. "Don't sweat it. I always thought history was more about the what and the why than of the when."

Koji leant forward on the chair he had once occupied. "Then why did Mr. Fisher say we had to know dates for the test?"

Dwayne threw his arms up over the back of the chair and stretched. "I dunno. The date of the event is the setting. Makes you think about all the underlying stuff going on when the event happened. It must mean something that it happened in 2001." Dwayne carefully stressed the "one" to make sure his roommate would get the date.

"So what's so special about 2001?" Koji said, not moving from his position. Dwayne shrugged his shoulders, stumped.

"Look, Koj', don't be so stressed. It's one test. Besides, Fisher's an easy grader. You'll be fine."

Koji flipped over the back of the chair, and landed squarely in the seat. "He'd better be. You know, I'm really at a disadvantage with history. I don't remember any of this happening. How can I know the dates?"

Dwayne leaned forward and thumbed through the text. "You don't remember any of this stuff? I mean, most of these are earth-shattering events. You've never heard of them?"

Koji shook his head slowly. "All I can remember from my old history classes are ancient stuff. We never got any 21st century history. Everything on the test happened in the last 40 years… and it's all so foreign to me."

Dwayne shook his head. In one motion, he stood and handed the textbook back to Koji. "You'll survive. If this book says nothing else, it's that mankind has gotten through a lot worse things than history tests."

As always, Dwayne proved to be right. Koji had fretted, panicked, and ultimately memorized his way through the material. Dates were on the test, but fortunately for Koji, he was expected to know what events were associated with what dates, and not vice versa. Koji could handle that. He knew what happened on September 11, 2001. He knew what happened on February 14, 2014. He definitely knew what happened on June 9, 2027. Under each date, he regurgitated what he had memorized without much hassle.

With one exception- December 31, 2028.

Koji had read every word of the text in preparation for the exam. Yet this date was totally unfamiliar to him. He looked around the classroom. The other students always seemed so capable during these tests. They knew what happened on that day, of course. They were probably old enough to remember it. They could describe every vivid detail. Each of the other students probably had their unique story of where they were when they heard the news about whatever it was that happened on December 31, 2028. But Koji was completely in the dark. To him, nothing happened before his arrival in New York two years ago. As the subject implied, it was history- completely in the past and miles away from anything considered relevant.

He scribbled "New Year's Eve" underneath the line and moved on to the short essay question about the impact of the Siberian War.

Despite the mysterious date, Koji was confident about his effort on the test. After fervently consulting the textbook and coming up empty, he determined the date was listed on the page in error, or it was some sort of trick question. Either way, he was not going to dwell on it in the days between taking the test and receiving his grade. Besides, the grades were to be handed down on a Friday, and Koji wasn't going to let December 31, 2028 spoil his weekend. He had his date with Michi to look forward to that night.

"One of the questions on the test was thrown out, since so few people answered correctly." Koji beamed as soon as he heard Mr. Fisher's announcement. "Those who did answer correctly…" The teacher paused and stared at one student in the front row, who cowered a little. "…shame on you."

Koji raised his hand, waited for Mr. Fisher to call on him, and asked, "So what did happen on December 31, 2028?" Koji didn't want to sound smarmy, but he had no doubt that the date was the question in question, and his curiosity demanded an answer.

Suddenly, he felt forty eyes turn on him. He glanced around nervously at the rest of the students, who were all glaring at him. He turned back to the teacher, who was also fixed on Koji. After an eternity of hesitation, Mr. Fisher quietly answered "nothing" and returned to the front of the room. He set a stack of papers on the desk and announced, "You can leave as soon as you pick up your test." Without another word, he walked out of the room.

Koji stood instantly and approached the desk. Halfway to his paper, he noticed that nobody else was standing. Afraid of committing another taboo, he stopped.

"You should know better than to ask that," said one student.

"Who answered it anyway? Was that you Charlie?" said another, this one turning to the boy in the front row whom Mr. Fisher had been staring at.

Finally, a third student stood and snatched his test away. "Jeez, nobody's got any decency anymore," he muttered as he walked out. One by one, the other students retrieved their tests and left. Koji didn't move. He was still baffled by the whole thing.

Finally, he made his way to the desk to get his grade- an 87. In the end, he still got the grade he was shooting for. But somehow, that wasn't satisfying him.

Charlie was the only one left in the room. He stood quietly and fetched the last sheet on the desk. With no one else in the room, Koji seized the opportunity and asked, "So what did happen on that day?"

"That's the day his wife died," Charlie whispered without looking up. He slowly walked to the door. Suddenly, he looked back at Koji, as if he had an afterthought.

"It was a fire," he added.

Unlike a week ago, Michi had no trouble determining her wardrobe for the night. It was the same T-shirt and the same blue jeans she wore to school. The only addition was a baseball cap and a fanny pack.

Kori was decked out in the same outfit, without the fanny pack. "So did you find someone else to go or do we have to drag Tony along again?" he asked his sister.

"Don't worry, I've spared Tony the misery and found somebody. One of the boys from Adam's party last week."

Kori folded his arms. "You told him it was a date, didn't you?"

Her eyes darted around as she scratched the back of her head, "Well, he asked what I was doing tonight, and I told him I had an extra ticket. If he wants to think of it as a date, that's his problem."

"Has anyone ever told you you're evil?"

Michi laughed at Kori's response. Kori shook his head and continued, "So what time is he coming?"

"Any minute now."

"Five bucks says he brings flowers," he muttered.

Kori made a mental note to collect his bet as Koji walked through the door with a rose. Michi made a mental note to tell Kori he said flowers in the plural. She thanked Koji and handed the rose to Tony, who had walked into the room to see who rang the doorbell.

"Who's this?" Tony asked, scrutinizing the rose.

Michi smiled. "Your saving grace. He's going to the game with us so you don't have to."

Tony looked up at Koji, recognizing him immediately as Michi's dance partner. "Be careful," he told Michi before taking the flower into the kitchen.

"So where are we going again?" Koji asked. Michi had given him details at the party, but he couldn't hear half of them over the noise. He had heard her telling him to be at her door at 4:30, and nodded in agreement.

"The Saints game. It starts at seven, so we'd better get going."

"The Saints… is that…" Koji attempted to connect the team to the right sport, but came up empty.

"I can see you're a big lacrosse fan," Kori replied jokingly. "Don't worry, I'll fill you in on the train."

"Wait… you're going too?"

"Of course. Didn't she say she had three tickets, and needed to find someone to take along?"

"Um… oh yeah! That's right! I remember now!" Koji did his best to make it sound like it wasn't a blatant lie.

Kori glanced at Michi, who met his gaze. "Of course. She wouldn't forget to mention something important like that, would she?"

Michi laughed nervously, and looked back at Koji, pointing a hand at Kori. "This is my brother, Kori. You don't have to talk to him if you don't want to."

"That's alright." Koji shook Kori's hand. "No sense in going to the big game if we don't talk to each other."

Kori smiled as he received the handshake. "Of course. And it may be a big game- New York may actually win for once!"

"Yeah, the Bandits suck pretty bad too," Michi added.

"Do you need money to get there?" Neither of the two noticed Mrs. Grant entering, but quickly turned around when she asked. They didn't, but naturally they accepted the handout. Besides, they actually planned to take the subway this time.

Koji stood by idly while Michi and Kori got their transportation money. His first thought was that he should have listened a little more closely when Michi made the proposal. He assumed a little too much, and quickly realized that Michi wanted him to be a mere friend instead of a boyfriend. Although he had already made an idiot of himself with the rose, Koji was willing to take that route. He had no specific interest in Michi- she was there, she was alone, and it was worth a shot. Just being friends was no real sacrifice to Koji, and he was able to relax, knowing he wouldn't have to play "romantic conquest" with her tonight.

Mrs. Grant stayed in the room. It was a good thing Koji already knew she wasn't really Michi or Kori's mother. She looked too young to be their mother. Somewhere in the mid-thirties, as far as Koji could guess. Still, there were some signs of age- the worry lines around her eyes as she looked down at her step-children, a shaky hand reaching into her purse to fetch the money, and her slow, deliberate mannerisms- all suggesting that her days of going to the ballgame were long in the past.

She looked up at Koji and smiled. Koji stepped back; for a second, she looked familiar. A figure from years ago, from Koji's past. He couldn't remember who it was- he had committed himself to forgetting about his past. Even then, it wasn't a face that carried distinction in his life. He recognized her as familiar, but also recognized that he never met her before.

Koji didn't require much will-power to survive the outing. Even if he was unfamiliar with lacrosse (or just about any sport, for that matter), the match had enough action to keep him engaged. He did his best to converse with Michi and Kori, but every ten minutes they would direct the discussion back to the play on the field. Koji couldn't keep up. While Kori was analyzing the home team's defensive tactics, Koji was barely able to make out whose net had the little rubber ball in it.

The siblings were big fans of the game. Koji learned that the two had taken it up as part of a youth initiative program years ago. Their mother had encouraged them to try something, and Michi and Kori had taken a real shine to it.

"Of course, I think Mom played tennis in her day," Michi added.

Koji also learned that their favorite team wasn't the local New York team who was squarely dominated by the visiting Buffalo squad that night. Since they were originally Texas natives, they were fans of the Houston franchise. In fact, Kori was watching the out-of-town scoreboard as often as he watched the game itself.

Although he learned plenty about Michi and Kori, Koji was careful not to spill too much about himself. It wasn't difficult; the pair was more concerned with discussing the game than with the third wheel tagging along. Koji didn't mind being ignored. He was inserting himself into their social life, and being accepted without much effort. Soon, the three would be friends enough to not discuss their prior history.

It wasn't until the way back that Michi and Kori turned their attentions to Koji. By then, Koji welcomed the chance to share his personality with them. They had ascended the subway stairs and were making the short walk to the Grant household. Koji entertained them with his story of the mysterious date on the test. Given their knowledge of Mr. Fisher, Michi and Kori were sure to take some enjoyment out of it.

"So I basically have all these dates that I'm totally familiar with. And I'm answering them all, thinking 'hey, I've got this down. I'm going to be all right!' But then this last date comes that I've never heard about! I think I read the chapters over five times, and this last date stumps me completely!" Koji laughed a little at his own expense.

Michi smiled. Koji smiled as well- they were nearing the door, and he was ending the night on a positive note.

"I ended up writing some B.S. down that I knew wasn't right. So after the test, I dove straight to the textbook- nothing there."

"Really?" Michi replied, with clear interest.

"Yeah. He ended up taking it out because nobody got it. And how could they? I heard it was the day that his wife died or something… how were we supposed to know that?!"

He turned to Michi in time to see her freeze. Her smile fell immediately. Koji saw Kori run up the stairs to the house without responding. Before Koji could ask Michi what the problem was, she was running up the stairs as well.

"Um… I guess I'll see you around sometime!" he yelled, trying to elicit some sort of positive feedback. Michi opened the door without responding.

Koji looked down and did an about-face. He wasn't sure what he said, but figured he had screwed something up. He'd make an effort to restore the friendship later, but for now, he decided it was best to retreat home for the night.

As he began to walk away, he didn't see Michi step out from behind the open door. She took a deep breath, and called out his name.

He turned around in time to see her standing on the stoop, completely expressionless. "December 31, 2028 is the most important date in history," she said before running inside and slamming the door.

To Be Continued in "Stage Two- Road"

Author's Notes
By reaching these author's notes, you are one of two classes of readers. Since I am writing with both classes in consideration, you need to know that. Firstly, you may be one of the many readers expecting a continuation of the ever-popular "Level 1: Worlds" story. It may not be easy to tell right off the bat, but this is. This is a sequel, and I'm writing this as a sequel. However, you may never have heard of Level 1, or didn't get a chance to read it. Are you at a disadvantage? Not as much as other sequels. This is also written as a completely new story, so you can jump in without too much of a problem. In fact, as the story progresses, you are under no obligation to read Level 1 to understand anything. As anyone who has read Level 1 will tell you… it probably won't help you anyway.

The one advantage that Level 1 readers will have is that they know who most of the characters are. While they're going "that's so-and-so, that's so-and-so, that's so-and-so," new readers are busy trying to figure out why this belongs in the Digimon section. Take my word for it- every character in this chapter, except two, have appeared, in one way or another, in the series. Of course, only two of the characters actually appeared in Level 1. Many of the others were merely referred to.

And for the new readers, a few words of explanation… This is the second in a trilogy of stories known collectively as "The Connection." It unites all four seasons in what is probably the most messed up way possible. Everything is based entirely on the canon endings, with the appropriate relationships intact (this may be the first Sorato story to have neither Sora nor Matt in it). A full timeline has developed between the end of the series and the year this takes place, and a lot of crazy stuff happens (and yes, I know what happened on February 14, 2014 and June 9, 2027). Hopefully you jump on now, since it won't be quite as easy for a newcomer to begin reading with "Level 3: Experiments."  

With that out of the way, a few minor notes- I seriously hope I don't offend anybody by making somewhat arbitrary references to 9/11. My reason for doing so is clear- this takes place in the future, and the fact that Koji has problems remembering the date illustrates a few things about the course of history, some things about the whole "remembering specific dates" aspect of history, and a lot of things about Koji's character. 9/11 has an interesting role in all of this, and has been incorporated into the master timeline.

The New York Saints are, or were, the Big Apple's representative in the National Lacrosse League. They recently suspended operations, but since I wanted a fairly obscure sport to give some color to Kori and Michi, I decided to make it so that lacrosse grows in popularity in the future, and the Saints rejoined the league (and presumably, Houston hosts a franchise).

This ends Level 2: Stage One of The Connection.