Grim Reality

Disclaimer- I do not own any of the shows used here. The Animation Alliance is my intellectual property, so please don’t use them without permission. This story is rated R and contains violence, strong language, and adult themes including discussions of murder and rape. In other words, if your Mom won’t let you watch Fushigi Yuugi because of its content, turn around now.

Chapter One- The Coming Storm

Two Weeks Ago- Pallet Town

"Did I really start this whole damn thing?"

Tom Wallace sighed as he started ascending the long flight of stairs to the Oak Laboratory. It was just a little stupid thing he wanted to do on the side. But just like with the live action equivalents, Survivor kicked off the explosion. There was the second Survivor, which Tom had no hand in. There were the Moles, which Tom had no hand in. There was that cross-country race, which Tom only did as a favor to Mike. But other than that, Tom had no part in what he helped create. And he wanted it that way.

So how the heck did this thing get through the company?

Simple- it was the last one. The big finisher. That’s why Tom approved of it.


The name of it was different. The actual originality of the concept itself could be questioned, but given the way they were going to do it… Tom had to admit that Dave had balls when he introduced it.

Tom finished climbing the steps and approached the front door. The Oak residence. How was he supposed to announce himself? Was there a videophone somewhere? A stylish doorbell that rings throughout the compound? Maybe he was being viewed by a hidden camera somewhere. Then again… maybe he was just supposed to knock. Tom went with the latter option.

"Hold on! I’ll be right there!"

The host of the original Animation Survivor smiled. The voice was instantly recognizable. The one who surprised everybody. The one who played the game the way it was meant to be played. The one who Tom always referred to as the secret of the show’s success…

"Hello. My name’s Tracey. The Professor is busy at the moment. Who do I have the pleasure of meeting?"

The one who didn’t have a clue who he was greeting at the door.

"Whoops…" Tom whipped out a device that looked like an ordinary cell phone and started punching keys. Given all the projects the company does with certain characters, it was important to be able to control what said characters can and can’t remember. In five seconds, Tom pushed the "send" button and waited…

"Mr. Wallace! What a pleasant surprise!" Tracey said.

A device that erases and restores selective memories from the subconscious mind- another fine item in the Animation Alliance’s line of toys. They couldn’t have Tracey or Ash or anybody else having discussions on how great those Digimon kids are, right? As a result, none of the characters that participated in those reality series remember doing so… unless the AA wanted them to. Right now, they wanted them to.

"Come on in," Tracey continued, "Professor Oak will be out in a second. Did you need to see me or him?"

"Actually, both. Sam’s the best one for contacting everybody else," Tom said as he stepped inside.

"Please say you’re doing another one. And please say I’m in it."

"Yes. But this one’s… different," Tom concluded as Tracey went into a different room to check on the status of Professor Oak. It certainly was different, but hopefully he wouldn’t have to elaborate further. He just wanted to sign them up and get out of there. Given the nature of Shougai, the six company heads decided that it was best to visit each show personally to get each of them signed up. The biggest reason was simply the number of characters involved- forty-eight. Since they were being taken from only six different shows, recruitment demanded a personal touch. Tom was stuck in Pallet Town while Manny Edwards, the head officer of Kid’s WB, headed to Readington.

Tracey returned and said, "Sam will be out in a couple minutes."  Tom nodded.

"Important research?" Tom inquired.

"No… tea break with some friends."

"Oh." Tom dropped the subject, and started a new one: "So how have things been going for you?"

Tracey smiled. "Couldn’t be better. We’re going to Viridian next week for a massive convention of Pokémon researchers. Hopefully if I create the right impression and network, network, network, I can get a lot of ringing endorsements. That really pays off later."

"Great. Nice to see you’re doing well."

"So what’s this series going to be?"

Tom hesitated for a second. He didn’t want to go into details quite yet. Fortunately, a distraction helped him out of the conversation.

Professor Samuel Oak entered the room, along with Delia Ketchum, mother to the show’s star and all-around pleasant TV-mom. "Well, thanks for dropping in Mrs. Ketchum. That pie was delicious," the good Pokémon expert said.

"Thank you! I might have to bake another one next time!"

As Mrs. Ketchum headed out, the good professor addressed Tom, "Tom, haven’t seen you in awhile!"

"Haven’t seen much of you either Sam. If you don’t mind, I’d like to get down to business. We’ve got another series, and we need the usual roundup."

Professor Oak nodded in complete understanding. "Certainly, certainly. Ash and his friends?"

"Those three definitely… and Tracey." Tracey smiled as Tom continued, "And to top that off… we need your grandson…"

"Okay, Gary’s due to make a call so I’ll let him know then. When are you starting?

"Two weeks hopefully. Oh yeah… we need Team Rocket too."

"Do you need the whole Team Rocket or just Jessie and James?"

"Oh… uh… just Jessie and James. I don’t know how you did it last time, but if you could do it again, it’d be appreciated."

Professor Oak scratched his chin. "Well, this is the first time you’ve ever asked for seven different people, but I’ll see what I can do. I’m sure Gary’s looking forward to another one, and Ash bugs me every other day, so I’ll talk to him and his friends. Shouldn’t be a problem. Two weeks you said?"

"Yeah. Two weeks." Tom looked up at Tracey, who was still smiling. Tom shook his head. Neither Tracey nor Professor Oak had any idea what they were getting everybody into…


Mike Storch exited the Kuno estate with two more contestants on the signup sheet. Sure, he was almost fed to their pet alligator, but it was a small price to pay for getting them on the list. He still had to hit the Tendo Dojo and the Cat Café for the other five, but he knew he wouldn’t have a problem selling it to them. Originally, they wanted to keep Shougai restricted to shows that people were familiar with. Despite the success of Love Hina and even Battle Athletes in previous shows, they wanted this one simple. Stick to the stuff people know. But after looking at things from all angles, they knew they needed Ranma. Barb’s little feather-ruffling ensured that.

Barb was always like that. Speaking without thinking about the ramifications. She made it clear that she wasn’t too sure about this series. Mike could understand why; he was a little disturbed by the whole concept of it as well. Even as a façade, the thought of death is a touchy one. But he wasn’t going to raise a fit about it. Everybody seemed to approve, so Mike voted for it as well. But Barb- her objection was apparent. It needed a unanimous vote to pass, and Barb would only let it through under one condition- the shows under her control could be left out.

It was something that could have been, and still remained, a devastating blow to the project. Each of the six heads of the Animation Alliance controlled their share of the programs airing in the US. Mike, for example, was in charge of the shows on Fox Kids. But Barb- she was Cartoon Network. Some of the big ones- Gundam Wing, Cowboy Bebop, Sailor Moon, DBZ… those last two would have really been fun for this. But Barb put that idea to rest. She even debated with Manny on who owned Cardcaptors; they both pooled their resources and collaborated after a less-than-stellar first season. Had any of the others objected- such as Tom, who handled the more adult primetime shows like South Park, or Artie the Nickelodeon guy- those wouldn’t have been an issue. They could have just walked away and left well enough alone. But Barb was key, and Mike often wished that she would just be a little more passive about this whole thing.

Kutou Country

Nakago signed the edict, ensuring that the criminal would lose his head at a public execution the next day. He handed it off to an underling and sighed- another boring day as Shogun of Kutou Country.

One of his servants entered his chamber. "Nakago, sir? There’s a foreigner outside that wants to speak with you," he said.

"And he’s still alive… why?" Nakago’s deep voice indicated that there was no element of sarcasm in that statement. Nakago was not one to be disturbed by the mundane and trivial.

"Well… we have reason to believe he’s from the same world as Lady Miko." Nakago looked up and signaled for the foreigner to come forward. His or her presence meant one of two things. On one hand, it could mean another visitor from Yui’s world. Another person waiting to be ordained priestess to one of the four gods. Since all four gods did, or once did, possess priestesses such as Yui, Priestess of Seiryuu, or Miaka, Priestess of Suzaku, this would be something unexpected. Something unforeseen- not foretold in any of the scrolls. Then again, it could just be someone from that strange company from Yui’s world.

"Hey Nakago! Artie Elker, head of Nickelodeon. Saw you on that Pokéball Run show. Man… you were awesome!" Nakago looked at the overweight redhead extending a hand, a cocky smile in his face. Nakago stood and started to walk away. He didn’t want to deal with this again. He had been asked to participate in a so-called "reality series knockoff" some time ago. Despite the valuable information he learned about Yui’s world, it was a rather boring trip, and one that he would prefer not to repeat. But this Artie person kept pestering him. Nakago could have killed him then and there, but he knew that Artie wasn’t worth the trouble.

"Whatever you want me to do, I am not interested."

Artie raised his hands and took a few steps towards the shogun. "Oh, oh, oh… Nak… you had your moment! Everybody knows you were the star of that race show. Shame you didn’t win. But we’re doing something else… and we want a couple of your friends."

"As in whom?" Nakago turned around and glared into Artie's face, but Artie didn't flinch for a moment.

Unafraid of Nakago's intimidation efforts, Artie glanced at a sheet of paper and answered, "Uh… Suboshi… and Yui."

"I’m sorry. Lady Miko is of invaluable significance to this country. She may not leave without a proper escort." Yui was significant. She was the key to his plans for world conquest. Currently, she was dancing in the palm of his hand, and Nakago wanted to keep it that way.

"That’s what Suboshi’s for. I’m sure he’ll take care of her. Look, the Suzaku troop is coming too, including their precious Miko, so both of your countries will be catless."

"Catless?" Nakago was confused, but Artie shrugged it off.

"Yeah… Miko means cat right? I’ve seen Digimon!"

"Miko means priestess," Nakago corrected Artie… although the thought of killing Artie was getting more and more tempting.

"Huh. Kari named her cat ‘Priestess?’ Weird…"

"Frankly, Kari scares me." Nakago dead-panned, recalling the memory of his teammate for the cross-country race.

"Look, I’m just saying- this will actually be an excellent opportunity for your forces to challenge that other country’s. You are at war with them, right? Now you’ll be able to settle things in the field of a big-budget reality series!"

As much as Nakago hated to admit it, the redhead had a point. This would be a chance for Suboshi and Yui to disrupt the forces in Konan. After what they did to Suboshi’s brother, Suboshi wanted revenge. And Yui could fully demonstrate that she was Miaka’s enemy rather than her friend. Nakago called for the Priestess of Seiryuu.

Artie, meanwhile, pulled out a small dial and looked at it. Another fine toy was of extreme necessity for this show. Not only was the Animation Alliance capable of selecting which shows to go into, they could pinpoint the exact time to enter. The LCD display on the dial read "26." The device kept track of time not by minutes or days, but by episodes. Twenty-six was the midway point in the series. Perfect for this situation...

"Yes, Nakago?" Yui had entered, with the usual cold look in her eyes.

Nakago greeted Yui, and extended a hand in Artie's direction. "This is Artie. He is providing us with an opportunity to defeat Konan Country and Miaka. I want you and Suboshi to go with him. When you see the priestess of Suzaku… you know what to do."

Miaka was once Yui’s best friend, but after what happened with Tamahome, she quickly discovered that Miaka didn’t care at all. Life was all about Tamahome to her. Nakago was the only person who truly cared about Yui. And if he said that Yui would get a chance to punish Miaka, she believed him.

"Yes Nakago." She headed off to tell Suboshi.

Artie just smiled. This was a lot easier than he thought it would be!

The Digital World

David Wenzler looked around at the underwater motif. Interesting place. Definitely worth a visit, but not someplace he’d want to spend any more than a few hours in. Perhaps it was the unfamiliarity. Perhaps it was the rugged terrain. Then again, perhaps it was the vicious-looking Digimon that wanted to tear him apart. Fortunately, Terriermon jumped in with a "Terrier Tornado" attack to distract the creature. Henry and Takato rushed to the scene. Just the pair Dave was looking for. He had already bumped into the others. Apparently, the team of Tamers had been separated. So while the others hung with some Gekomon and Kazu found his partner, Takato and Henry were on their own. Fortunately, Dave found them easily enough. Unfortunately, they were busy battling this Digimon.

"Hey! Henry! I gotta talk to you!" Dave yelled impatiently.

"Not now! I’m in the middle of something!" Henry was too busy playing with his modify cards to address Dave. Dave sighed and calmly pulled out a thermos. At the previous venue, he scooped up a quart of the Gekomons’ milkshake mix in case he got thirsty. It came in handy here as Henry was not to be disturbed.

"Wow… powerful stuff," he said to himself. The milkshake was noticeably strong, but nothing Dave couldn’t handle.

Takato, meanwhile, found his way up to Dave. He was without Guilmon at the moment, and was pretty much helpless in the battle. "So who are you?" the boy asked.

"Huh?" Dave looked down, a little surprised. Then he shook Takato's hand. "Dave Wenzler, Head of ABC at the Animation Alliance."

"Animation Alliance? The Mole guys?"

"That’s us."

"Oh. Great," Takato said, not incredibly enthused, "Hey, what’s in there?"

"Milkshake. Want some?" Dave passed the thermos to Takato, who poured some from himself.

"Did you say Animation Alliance?" Dave heard Henry yell. Dave nodded at Henry. Henry nodded at Terriermon. Terriermon quickly finished off the menacing Digimon within a second.

Henry walked up to Dave. "Animation Alliance, huh?" Henry didn’t sound pleased.

"Want a swig?" Takato offered him a sip of milkshake. Henry took the cup and downed the contents in one sip.

Scrutinizing the cup, Henry said, "Hachi machi… what’s in here?" Dave shrugged as Henry grabbed the thermos for a refill and continued, "So are you here to discuss back pay?"

"Back pay?" Dave asked in surprise, "The hell are you talking about?" Dave watched as Henry filled up the cup.

Takato, obviously not sated, yanked the thermos away. "Hey Hen, don’t bogart that milkshake."

Henry calmly let the thermos go, and turned to Dave. "Well yeah. I mean what did Kitsune get out of that whole thing? Four thousand dollars?" Dave did some mental math regarding the final prize awarded to the Mole 2 winner and nodded. Henry continued, "Okay, so what about the rest of us? There really should be compensation for the remaining twelve contestants. I talked to Manny and I lost by one question. Why the hell do I get completely blanked just because I didn’t know Pokémon was produced by SoftX?"

"Uh…" Dave was speechless.

"I mean it’s only fair that I would get say one thousand. Rika did half as well… she would get five hundred."

"What about me?" Takato looked up from his cup and asked.

Dave looked at the last-place finisher and cracked a smile. "Got change for a twenty?" He returned to Henry, his smile vanishing. "Look, we’re working on another series. Stop by and we’ll talk about it. Get things settled out, okay?"

Terriermon suddenly shouted, "Henry! There’s another one coming our way! Looks like he means business!" His warning was followed by a loud roar. "Sounds like it too!" he added.

Henry looked urgently at the approaching creature. He quickly glanced at Dave; the meeting would have to be cut short. "Look, sure, whatever. We have to go. C’mon Takato!"

"Lemme just finish this glass." Takato was starting to feel the after-effects of the milkshake, but Henry grabbed him and ran off.

Dave smiled. He knew this was going to work. He was the one that proposed it in the first place. He was sold to the idea himself, although he never did know who the guy was that conceptualized it. Whoever it was, he told Dave about it, told Dave to implement it, worked out the details, and that was that. Dave fell in love with the idea, got the AA to support it, and that was that. Now they were going to produce Shougai, make a ton of money, create a critically acclaimed monster of a reality series… and that was that.

Odaiba, Tokyo

One show didn’t need somebody to come in and sign them up. They had been through enough of these to know the ropes. Nine of the twelve digi-destined had already competed in at least one series, and all had made appearances in one form or another… whether they knew it or not. On the television screen, the ending to the series looked like a flawless transition between present and future. In reality, however, that transition originally contained the footage- the documentation, of the twenty-five years in between the finale and epilogue. The episode dial again was of use, as it was set up to roughly half a year after the events of the series unfolded. Expensive technology and a brilliant product… were going completely unnoticed by Tai Kamiya and Matt Ishida in a friendly basketball game after school.

"It’s all tied up at eighteen… thirty seconds left on the clock…" Tai dribbled the ball around, while Matt looked at him oddly.

"There’s no timer, Tai. First to twenty-one wins," Matt observed.

"Thirty seconds on the clock… Kamiya’s got it at the top of the arc. Is he going to try to put it away or simply take the lead? Big decision here…" As Tai continued the chatter, Matt made a move, stole the ball, and dribbled towards the hoop for an easy lay-up.

"Maybe you should shut up and play the game, man." Matt passed Tai the ball.

Tai shook off the humiliation and continued the narration: "Fifteen seconds on the clock… the home team down by two. It’s twenty-eighteen with ten… nine… eight…" Tai continued to countdown as he looked for a good position. Matt’s defense was holding well. "Seven… six… five… Ishida’s holding his ground… three… two…" In an instant, Tai stepped back, behind the three-point arc, and fired. "AAANNNKKK…" Tai simulated the buzzer as he and Matt watched the ball sail into the air…

"AND IT’S GOOD!!" Tai yelled as the ball went through the hoop.

"That was a lucky sh…" All Matt could do as watch as Tai ran around, celebrating his victory.

"The crowd rushes onto the court to celebrate the victory!" Matt shook his head and looked around the outdoor court- not a crowd in sight, save for a little Pagumon watching from outside the fence- Even it thought Tai was making an idiot of himself.

After the victory had been worked out of Tai’s system, the two headed back to their residences. Neither found anything unusual about the Digimon in the streets. They were an everyday part of life now. And part of being an everyday part of life was the opportunity to make some money. Tai and Matt passed one of these money-makers on the way back. One of the many Digimon-centric stores that opened up soon after the Digital World "went public."

"Hey, can we stop in here for a second? I need to get something for Biyomon," Tai said. Matt was obviously confused, but followed Tai in. Matt wasn’t a big fan of places like these. Half of the store consisted of products relevant to the actual Digimon, similar to that of a pet store. The other half- human stuff. Everything for the Digimon enthusiast who had everything. It wasn’t exactly up Matt’s alley.

Inside, Matt occupied himself with a few of the merchandise items while Tai looked around elsewhere. Matt was scooping out a calendar when a kid came up to him.

"So you like Digimon, eh?"

Matt rolled his eyes. "You uh… might say that."

"Bet I know more than you." Matt looked this kid over. He had "typical snot" written all over him. Matt saw Tai approaching and smiled.

"Okay… name the digi-destined of friendship and courage."

The kid smiled as if the answer was easy. "Simple. Davis." Having had his fun, the kid went to bug somebody else.

Matt turned to Tai and said, "Damn otaku. Think they know everything." He then addressed the calendar, "But look at all this crap. I don’t understand how they sell all this stuff. Next thing you know they’ll have a Digimon anime."

"Already do," Tai replied, "Sunday mornings on Fuji TV."

"Angelic Layer?"

"No… before that. It’s not half bad."

"Whatever, can we get out of here?"

"Sure. I got Biyomon’s present all ready. Too bad they don’t do gift-wrapping," Tai said as he and his best friend headed to the exit.

"Why are you getting Biyomon a present, anyway?" Matt asked.

"Simple. It’s Sora’s birthday in a couple weeks."

Matt was totally oblivious, but quickly shrugged off any worry. "I knew that."

"Of course you did," Tai said with a smile.

"It’s next… Thursday, right?"

"Friday," Tai corrected him.

"Well, better early than late! So why Biyomon?"

"Simple. I can’t shop for Sora, so I just get something for Biyomon. She’s easier to shop for. I give this present to Sora. She gives it to Biyomon. Everybody wins!"

Matt shook his head. "I wish I had that luxury."

They exited the store. Tai put the present in his gym bag and they started walking, "So what are you getting her?" Tai asked.

"I don’t know. Think we’ve gotten to the lingerie stage yet?"

"Don’t know. Frankly, I don’t want to know." Tai was almost sick to his stomach, but hid it very well, as he always did. Fortunately, the conversation reached an abrupt halt due to the sound of Matt’s cell phone ringing. Unfortunately, Tai knew what that meant.

"Could you uh…" Matt went after the phone and motioned to Tai. Indeed, Tai knew what that meant, and quietly walked away to let the two lovebirds enjoy their private conversation. "Hello? Hi Sora. Yeah, just heading back now…" Tai tuned out Matt’s voice and stood idly on the sidewalk about ten yards away.

It’s not like it was the worst thing in the world. Did he miss an opportunity with Sora somewhere? Perhaps, but Tai wasn’t about to make a big fuss over it. Tai did have a romantic interest in Sora. He did for a long time. Ever since the two became so close on that island a few years ago, Tai wanted to remain close to her. It was a feeling he couldn’t describe. But he didn’t want to ruin a good thing like their friendship, and wasn’t forward enough. He wasn’t all that jealous of Matt. Tai just maintained the feeling that he screwed up somewhere, and that he didn’t seize the chance he had.

"She was probably the biggest help to me, and I know that she deserves this win as much as I do. Whenever I was down, she was there for me. What else can I say other than- I love her."

It certainly seemed a bit strange that Tai didn’t seize the opportunity. Over and over Tai would wonder why he never revealed his intentions. After all, he did confess his love for Sora on national television. But neither he nor Sora made anything of it afterwards. Perhaps it was because there were other issues at hand. Perhaps it was because Sora didn’t return those feelings. Perhaps… well perhaps their memories of the incident had been erased by the Animation Alliance. But Tai wasn’t aware of that. All he knew was that he blew his chance, and that he couldn’t screw things up between Sora and Matt because of something he did or did not do.

"Tai! Tai!" Matt was trying to reel Tai back into reality, and motioned for him to come over. Tai finally caught the signal and walked back towards the blond.

"What is it?"

"She wants to talk to you." Matt, more than a little confused, handed the phone to Tai.

Tai smiled and gestured to Matt. "Could you uh…"

"Shut up." Matt returned the smile as Tai started the conversation.

"You really need to get Kari a cell phone." Sora sounded a little bit concerned, but Tai didn’t pick up on it.

"Well her birthday’s next October."

"Kari’s birthday is in December, Tai."

"Well, better early than late!" Tai gave Matt a thumb's-up. Matt quickly returned it, leaning in a little. Obviously Matt was trying to eavesdrop, but Tai turned away. "So what’s going on?"

"Kari got a notice. You know… from them."

"Who’s them?" Tai remained oblivious to Sora's worry.

"I think you know who I’m talking about. Those Survivor guys." Tai frowned upon hearing that. He didn’t want to have to deal with another one of those reality series. He had already been in two, and was plenty sick of the concept.

"Oh. Goody," Tai feigned sarcasm, "Who do they want this time?"

"That’s just it Tai… they want everybody."


"All twelve digi-destined."

"They’ve never asked for all twelve before."

Tai was surprised enough that they wanted seven people for the race across America. Since he wasn’t one of the seven, he didn’t object. But twelve? Who else was going to be in it?

He continued, "Look, why don’t we all get together and discuss this? It’ll give me some time to make up an excuse for why I don’t want to go."

"Okay… bye." Sora said, hanging up on her end.

Tai handed the phone to Matt. "Another reality series?" Matt asked, apparently putting two and two together.

"Yeah… think we can get out of this one?"

"Why do you want to get out of this one? I always wanted to be in another one." Matt had only been in one series, and didn’t do as well as he had hoped.

Tai looked up. "I’m just really tired of all this. I mean, we’re trying to get on with our lives. Do they expect us to just drop everything when they need to be entertained?"

"Well…" Matt leaned in. Suggestively, he said, "You might get to see Misty again."

Tai looked back at Matt. "That’s part of the reason I don’t want to go." The relationship between Tai and Misty was an ongoing saga in itself- the last chapter of which featured Tai chewing out the redheaded trainer after she wouldn’t stop teasing him about his crush on her.

"Besides, what do you care? You hate Misty." Tai tried turning the tables on his friend. Misty was part of the reason Matt did so poorly in the original Survivor.

"I don’t hate Misty! She hates me!"

"She probably hates me too now. Frankly, I don’t care. I’m not about to beg for forgiveness. I just want to forget about all of this."

Matt continued to plead, "Come on Tai… one last try? We’re all in this one- it should be fun." Tai could tell Matt really wanted to do this. He wanted a second chance at stardom. Maybe Tai was just tired of it because he had been so successful at his previous undertakings. But Matt was practically a rookie. And then there was Joe, Cody, and Ken- they had never even been contestants. Tai finally caved in.

"Oh alright. Maybe we’ll get lucky and it will just be a Real World spoof or something."

Readington, NT

Manny Edwards almost felt like he was at home as he strolled past Penguin Park. Readington reminded him so much of his days as a child in rural Virginia. "Readington, USA! Sister city to Tomoeda, Japan…"

"…and testament to your ego." Barb Bresnick sullenly trailed behind him. Manny was given the green light to change certain names from their original Japanese into something more pronounceable. Manny did so by incorporating names from his own past. "Honestly, you name this town after the school you went to. You don’t find something wrong with that? When Tenchi leaves home, he goes to Tokyo, not Iowa State."

"C’mon Barb, Mike does it. Hell, Yolei’s named after his old girlfriend. Says she reminds him of her."

"I guess. Can we just get this over with?" Barb had never had a problem with these reality series before. But before, they were just innocent fun. Besides the spontaneous fainting or occasional shoulder injury, there was no harm being done to the "contestants." But this… this was a little too far. Shougai’s concept was inherently violent, and it all seemed to be a little too cruel. Of course, all of Barb’s objections were met with the usual defenses- they can be revived immediately after death, everything is treated seriously and humanely, and the big one- they aren’t real anyway.

Something didn’t strike true with that. To anybody outside the Alliance, the characters being worked with were completely fictitious. That they did not exist on any level outside of the imagination. What one perceives as Ash Ketchum is merely a series of animated cells and Veronica Taylor reading off a script. Obviously, the Alliance knew the truth- that the characters were being taken from other worlds. Other worlds which have many parallels, but that are fundamentally different. Most importantly- other worlds that the Animation Alliance can exert control over. In the concept of a "reality" series, the characters can’t be controlled, which creates the impression of a reality. But in the end- they do not exist in this world, and are therefore not real. But did that still make this right?

"So what are you going to do if they say no?" Barb wanted to shake Manny’s over-confidence a little bit. The kids of Readington were the test. They would determine who the winner of this custody battle would be. If they didn’t want to go through with this, they would be considered a Cartoon Network show and left out of the series. If they wanted to do it, they were with Manny and the WB.

"They’ll say yes," Manny boasted, "Trust me. I don’t have a doubt in my mind."

They reached the doorway of the Avalon residence and knocked on the door. Having already restored full memories to everybody, Sakura’s father let them in immediately. They found Sakura in the living room with her best friend… Tomoyo?

"Sakura-chan, this was the best routine you’ve ever done. The one on January 28 was very, very good, but this was even better. I know you struggled a little last week, but you really recovered for this one. You looked so cute in that outfit!" Tomoyo and Sakura were apparently going through a video of Sakura’s latest cheerleading meet.

"Hoe… Tomoyo-chan…" Sakura mustered up her usual reply.

Manny knew what this meant, and pulled out yet another AA toy. He quietly laughed. "Whoops- had it set on sub. I really should’ve checked this thing before heading out." Barb shook her head as Manny set the device properly. "There we go."

"Chelsea and Nikki do a really good job with the choreography. You all put this together really well." Madison was still complimenting the routine, but in a much less direct fashion.

"Thanks Madison!" Sakura managed a reply before Manny stepped in.

"Hello there Sakura, Madison." Manny entered the room.

"Oh, hello Mr. Edwards!" Madison was polite, as always.

"Do we get to do another series?" Sakura was enthusiastic before even hearing the news.

"You might say that," Barb muttered.

"Yes you do. It’s something very different this time. It’s a game we’re calling Shougai. We’re going to be explaining the rules when you all get together in a few weeks. We need a lot of players, so if you could spread the word around to all your friends…" Manny grabbed a list of names he wanted and read them off, "Li, Meiling, Tori, and Julian are on the list too. It should be, uh… fun!" Manny smiled. He knew that the game itself was anything but fun, but to say otherwise probably wasn’t smart.

"Sounds good!" Sakura was still enthusiastic.

"All our friends will be there, it’ll be great!" Madison was also excited.

Barb knew that she had to step in and explain her case. "I suppose we should explain some of the little details involved with this. Now I guess this could be fun, but really, there’s potential for serious difficulties, both serious and emotional. And I’m talking about levels you’ve never experienced before." Barb coughed, to stress her final statement: "This includes dealing with potential loss of life. Not only among your friends, but of yourself as well." Barb couldn’t lie and say that death was a "forever" type of thing, but the way she stated it was good enough… right?

"Whatever, let’s do this Sakura!" Madison’s continued enthusiasm shocked Barb.

"Yeah! I bet we can win this one!" Sakura gushed. Barb had to wonder if the two girls were even listening.

"Okay then! We’ll see you and your friends in a couple weeks!" Manny smiled and bid farewell to the two girls. Barb was still in shock, and slowly followed him. As soon as they exited, Manny basked in his glory.

"See, what did I tell you? Now, let’s get this thing set up so we’re ready when everybody gets here."

Barb was still shaken up by their non-reaction to everything. Usually when a potential life-threatening situation is presented before someone, they at least think about it before doing it. But neither Sakura nor Madison batted an eye. Something was wrong with this picture, and Barb knew it. But for now she wasn’t going to do anything about it. Her own shows were safe and she wasn’t about to risk her career for a bunch of cartoon characters.

She continued to shake her head and continued walking down the streets of Readington with Manny. She finally replied to Manny’s statement, albeit under her breath, "This is going to get ugly."

End Chapter One


Author’s Notes
Before I actually say what this Shougai is, I have to set up exactly how it’s involved with this series, hence the delay and mystery. When you do find out what it is, it may sound a little bit stupid… but that’s kinda the point. These guys are building the Titanic, and my job is to make sure it is not iceberg-proof.

Angelic Layer is an anime by CLAMP that replaced Cardcaptor Sakura after its conclusion. It aired immediately after Digimon Tamers in Japan, hence the joke.

Okay, time to give you the skinny on these AA guys:

Tom Wallace- Primetime- 35 years old. He’s tall, with black hair, and is pretty confident, and somewhat uptight. Always enjoys making jokes, but gets annoyed pretty easily, especially when a joke is made at his expense or his work is being criticized.

Mike Storch- Fox Kids- 24 years old. Far from an intimidating demeanor, he’s the runt of the group, skinny, with brown hair. Unless something concerns him directly, he’s pretty non-confrontational, and more likely to be friendly with everybody.

Artie Elker- Nickelodeon- 34 years old. A husky tall guy with messy red hair. Over-the-top and outgoing, the others find him quite annoying. However, he demonstrates his competency time and time again, and commands respect from everybody.

David Wenzler- Disney/ABC- 36 years old. Overweight, with black hair. An businessman through-and-through, he manages to make everything marketable. He supposedly knows what the audience wants, and is driven mainly by profits in anything he does.

Manny Edwards- Kid’s WB- 29 years old. He has slick, brown hair and always seems to be wearing a smile. Likes the spotlight, especially when it comes to cashing in on the genius of others. He has a bit of an ego, but hides it very well in public.

Barb Bresnick- Cartoon Network- 33 years old. She has dark blond hair and seems to think on her own level. Dealing with others, she’s not afraid of saying what she thinks or putting somebody down. But for matters concerning herself, she’s very protective.

Chapter Two- The Gathering
The day arrives, and the AA prepares for the arrival of the group. While many of the regular participants are happy to see each other again, the laughter quickly diminishes when the game is announced. The reaction is a mixture of excitement, fear, anger, and the general feeling that the whole thing is stupid. But regardless of how anyone feels about it, there’s nothing they can do.