Grim Reality

Chapter Thirteen- The Price of Winning

Day Ten- Kohler Complex- Confessional Room- 5:00 PM

Akane maintained her posture in the chair. Unlike before, this time Manny was in the interviewer’s seat. Also unlike before, there seemed to be a more formal atmosphere.

“Okay, Akane, as you know, we’re giving you tomorrow off. You can use it to rest, prepare for your next match, or anything else you see fit.” Manny said, shifted in his seat, “However, we have a commitment to produce thirteen episodes, which includes a double-length one at the end. Therefore, we have some time to eat up.” Manny laughed, to which Akane politely joined in. “So what we want to do over the next couple days is give each of the eight a full interview, where we can talk about much more than we can with the short little confessionals. So just relax, be yourself, and let’s do this.” Manny smiled.

Akane returned the smile. She continued to be polite. Of course, she was tremendously bored and wanted to get out of there, but she didn’t show it. “Well, you’ve asked me to do worse,” she replied with a stifled laugh.

“No kidding. That was pretty impressive how you and Brock pretended to not know each other for Mole 2. Nice work. Ash and Ruri didn’t do nearly as well during the race. You won’t believe what we had to cut out because of them.”

Manny quieted down and began the interview proper. He probed into her opinions of the game, and of lost friends. Akane fed him exactly what he wanted. She had been through the cycle before. She knew exactly how she was supposed to look for the camera, and how she was supposed to answer questions to best serve the program. Akane didn’t really care about any of those, of course, but it was the path of least resistance towards getting out of there and going home. That’s all she wanted.

Manny flipped through his notes. “Okay, last question… the biggie. Currently, every show has one and only one representative… except for yours. You and Ranma are both alive in the game, and have supported each other throughout. That may be a key advantage in these final days, when others fighting on their own may begin to run out of gas. Which leads to a potential situation." He leaned in closer. "What do you think Akane… can the Tendo Dojo pull the sweep?”

Akane froze briefly. There was something about the wording of the question. She was on her own path. She wanted to win to prove that she was as strong as anybody else. Meanwhile, Ranma was on his own path. He wanted to win so he could cure himself of his Jusenkyo curse. Manny just lumped the two together.

She shook it off and gave her stock reply: “I think it’s very possible that we could. We’ve both shown that we’re strong enough to go all the way.” Satisfied, Manny ended the interview. Akane excused herself and exited.

It wasn’t the first time she and Ranma had been together for a contest. There had been numerous times when the two waltzed into an event, cleaned house, and left with the grand prize. There wasn’t a problem with it- everybody had an equal footing, and therefore an equal chance of winning.

Shougai, however, had been primarily about punishing the players psychologically rather than physically. That’s where the unfair advantage lied- she and Ranma didn’t have to deal with that. They both knew exactly what was going on. Without knowing it, they had been exploiting their knowledge to advance in the competition with no pity or remorse. It seemed awfully selfish.

“But Ranma is selfish,” Akane thought as she left the building to make the short walk back to Beeda. Ranma was right at home in taking advantage of a situation for his personal benefit. However, she wasn’t. Akane was uncertain if she had a justifiable reason to fight. It was still personal benefit. She was still taking advantage of other people’s misery to make herself feel good.

She didn’t like Shougai. It was a harsh game that put innocent people through hell. Sitting back and letting everything run its course wasn’t going to be enough. Telling one or two people only so they could seize the opportunity to kill themselves later wasn’t going to be enough. By remaining in the game with the knowledge they had, Akane and Ranma were part of the problem.

But that was going to change.

Moore Facility- Drop-Off Area- 5:30 PM

Mike checked his watch. Where the hell was Tim?

After thirty minutes of waiting, the technician’s Saturn pulled into the lot. Tim stepped out.

“About time, Tim. Check these guys out,” Mike said. Tim responded by opening up the door to the Suburban. None of the four bodies inside were moving.

“What’s the problem?” Tim asked.

“Well… they’re not moving. Aren’t they, uh… supposed to be waking up soon?”

Tim reached over and took Ryo’s wrist. He shook his head and said, “They’re alive. They’ll be up soon. Don’t worry about it.”

“They were revived an hour ago. What’s taking so long?”

Tim shut the door of the minivan and sighed. “I think we’re working the McKormick a little hard. We’ve revived forty-one characters in the last ten days. It’s not designed for industrial use like that.”

“Well, we have tomorrow off.”

Tim nodded. “That’ll give it a little bit of a rest. And we won’t have too many more in the next couple days. We’ll live.”

The reassurance calmed Mike down significantly, and Tim started back towards his car.

“Hey! Tim!” yelled Mike. He was calm, but he still wasn’t satisfied.

Tim turned around. “What?”

“What the heck am I supposed to do with these guys?! I need to get the van back to Kohler.”

“So get them out of the van,” replied Tim, before entering his vehicle.

Mike chased after him, yelling, “Oh, no, you aren’t going anywhere! You’re going to go inside and find some people that can help me out!”

Tim reluctantly stepped out. “Like who?”

“Get Tamahome and Ryoga. They seem strong enough.”

Tim stared at Mike. “And who would Tamahome and Ryoga be? I don’t watch anime.”

“Never mind. Wait here…” Mike went inside, grumbling a little.

Tim leaned against the van, awaiting Mike’s return. He glanced inside the vehicle. Neither Ryo, Ash, Hotohori, nor Tai looked alive. Tim was still confident that they were, however.

“Having fun yet?” Tim asked them.

Beeda Facility- Lounge- 6:00 PM

Jeri’s hands shook. Everybody she cared about was gone. Everybody that was committed to ending everybody’s hardships was gone. If anything was going to get done, it was going to be up to her. The time to feel lonely and scared was over. Now it was time to be brave.

Her last friend was Tai, who fell at the hands of Matt Ishida. She was also responsible for the death of Sora, girlfriend of Matt Ishida. Before, she would have gone out of her way to avoid him. But now it was time to be brave.

His room was on the first floor, and he’d have to go through the lounge to reach it. Jeri positioned herself so that a confrontation was inevitable. It didn’t take long for him to enter the room. Matt had already noticed her, but continued towards his room undeterred. Until she stepped in front of him.

Matt looked straight ahead, down the end of the hallway and right over Jeri. Finally, he looked down. He had a good twelve inches on her.

After an uncomfortable silence, he said, “What do you want?”

Jeri’s hand still shook. “Why?” As nervous as she was, the word escaped perfectly clear.

He knew what she was referring to. “I had to,” he replied.

Matt attempted to walk around her, but she held her ground.

“Why do you hate me?” she asked, still nervous.

“Because you killed Sora.”

“I had to.” She was unflinching.

He peered into her eyes. “No you didn’t.” He couldn’t let himself be fooled by her innocence. “You could have…” He stopped mid-sentence.

“What?” Now it was time to be brave. “Killed myself?” She had to make him understand. “Would all of this be better if it was I who was dead instead of Sora?”

Matt ignored the question, and shoved her to the side.

As he walked back to his room, Jeri built on her case. This was her one chance. “Would it bring everybody back? Would it mean that Takato would be alive? Or your friends? Would it bring back Davis and Kari?” Jeri followed him down the hall, continuing her speech. “Would it bring back your brother?” Matt had his key in his door, but the mentioning of TK forced him to stop and look back at her.

“Would it bring back Tai?” she finally said.

“What, are you trying to give me a guilt trip or something?” Matt left the key in its hole and looked back at her. He was clearly frustrated.

“You just killed your best friend. You shouldn’t need my help for a guilt trip.”

Matt glanced away. “He wasn’t my best friend.”

“But don’t you see that it doesn’t matter? It doesn’t matter who was friends with who. Everybody’s been hurt by this tournament, and the only way that’s going to end is if we can stop it.”

“It doesn’t matter. Everybody we care about is gone. Whether or not we stop all this… they’re not coming back.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that.” Both Jeri and Matt were startled by Akane, approaching them from behind. She had a wry smile on her face. “I have to talk to you. Both of you.”

Matt’s eyes narrowed. “About what?” he asked suspiciously.

“About everything.” Akane reached them.

Matt eyed Akane carefully. He still wasn’t completely sure what she was getting at, but it seemed like she knew something everybody else didn’t. He swung the door open.

“After you…” he said, cautiously.

Moore Facility- Room 110- 6:00 PM

“I think he’s waking up.” It was all still a blur. The last thing he could remember was getting pummeled by Matt. Now, he was hearing a voice that he thought belonged to his sister. But that couldn’t be right, unless...

“Oh, thank goodness. I was getting worried.” That sounded like Sora.

Tai forced his eyes open. Sure enough, like two angels in heaven, Sora and Kari were greeting his arrival.

Kari forced a smile. “Welcome to the afterlife.”

The nightmare was over. Tai was back in welcome company. Overcome with emotion, he did the only thing he could- he wrapped his arms around Sora and kissed her.

Afterwards, he fell back down into his bed, in a total state of euphoria. “You have no idea how good it is to see you again.” Tai glanced at Kari, smiling. “Both of you.”

The feeling obviously wasn’t mutual; Kari’s mouth was wide open in horror. Both siblings looked over at Sora, feeling her lips with fingers. She slowly exited the room.

“Tai?” Kari said, with a hint of concern.

“So this is what it feels like to be dead. Feels a whole hell of a lot better than being back there…” Tai smiled. “I guess I shouldn’t say ‘hell,’ should I?” he joked.

“Tai…” Kari wasn’t laughing. “You’re alive.”

Tai stopped smiling, as he went from happy to confused. “Was that a dream?”

“No… you were dead for about two hours. The AA people have the power to bring us back to life.”

“But…” Tai leaned forward. “You said this was the afterlife!”

Kari responded by pinching Tai on the arm. “Ow!” he exclaimed.

“I was joking! Matt killed you, they brought you back to life, and now you’re here with everybody else.”

Tai finally started to get his bearings back. “Even Izzy?”

Kari stood up. “To make a long story short- yes, even Izzy. I don’t want to get into what happened to Izzy right now. Especially since you have bigger things to worry about right now.”

“Like what?”

Kari opened the door, taking a second to look back at her brother. “Like the fact that you just kissed your best friend’s girl.” She closed the door behind her.

As soon as Tai realized exactly what he did, he jumped out of the bed and ran out into the hallway. There was just one problem…

“Room 212.” Kari was standing right outside the doorway, and conveniently provided the solution.

“Thanks!” Tai ran for the stairwell. He had a lot of explaining to do.

Beeda Facility- Room 112- 6:03 PM

Akane quietly shut the door behind her and turned towards Matt and Jeri. “Okay, I don’t think we’re supposed to know this, but…” Akane lowered her voice.

“Hold on, hold on,” Matt interrupted, “Do we want the AA knowing that we know?”

“No. Definitely not. I don’t think that…”

“Then shut up. There’s a camera in here.”

“There is?” Akane asked.

Matt nodded, then glanced above the bathroom door. The small, round mirror was inconspicuous enough, but its position was very unusual. “They’ve got the room bugged too.”

Akane also had a look at the mirror and thought for a minute.

“Excuse me for a second.” She exited the room calmly.

Neither Matt nor Jeri spoke to each other until Akane returned with Ranma.

“What do you want now, Akane?” Ranma was clearly aggravated.

“There’s a camera in the mirror above the bathroom door. I need you to disable it.”

“Jeez… you need me to do everything for you, don’t ya?”

Ranma scoffed once, then bounced once off the wall and up to the mirror. A few quick pokes in rapid succession were enough to bring forth a fury of sparks from the mirror. Ranma landed, his job finished.

“Thanks. I couldn’t do that without breaking the glass or getting my hands fried.”

“And why did I do that?”

“Because… now I can tell Matt and Jeri about what’s going on.”

“What do you mean?”

Akane turned to Matt and Jeri and sighed. “I overheard Barb say that they’ve been able to bring everybody back to life.”

It took Matt and Jeri a few seconds to fully contemplate Akane’s statement. In the meantime, Ranma was livid: “Akane!! Why are you telling them?!”

“Because!” Akane snapped back, facing her fiancé. “I’m tired of this. These kids are going through hell, and I can’t just stand back knowing that they’re being tricked.”

“But Akane… I finally have the chance to lift the curse!”

“Is that all you can think about?! You know, you’ve done some pretty selfish things before, but to just stand here and let everybody go through all this… that’s too much. Now you can just keep ignoring everything and keep playing like nothing’s wrong… or you can help us stop this so everybody can go home.”

Despite her argument, Ranma stamped his foot. “You just don’t get it, do you Akane??” he yelled before marching out of the door. Akane closed the door behind him.

Akane looked back at Matt and Jeri. Jeri was eying Akane, trying to determine her honesty. Matt’s head was down. He wasn’t sure whether or not to believe this.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Well… I heard it from Barb. So if she’s a reliable source…” Akane did her best to convince them that it was true.

“Then maybe we’ll be alright after all,” said Jeri.

“Don’t you guys think it’s possible? That all of this may just be them trying to draw out our emotions for their show?”

Matt shook his head. He remained skeptical. “I won’t believe it until I see Sora again.”

“That’s the problem. We have no idea where they are.”

“That’s why we have to stop this,” Jeri added, “We can’t let them get away with this.”

Matt decided to probe the issue further. “Did you tell anybody else?”

Akane nodded. “Well, I told Ranma. He doesn’t seem to have a problem with it.” She looked down and sighed. “I also told Izzy… right before he committed suicide.”

Both Matt and Jeri looked up at her. She immediately took the defensive. “Look, I guess he just wanted to get it over with. Wherever he is, he’s probably a lot less tormented than we are.”

“Who was Barb talking to? I assume that all the AA guys would know this.” Matt continued to attempt to find holes in her story. This was too relieving to be true.

“Actually, I think she was talking to Tenchi.”

“Well then get Tenchi and let’s hear it from his mouth.”

Jeri raised a hand. “I saw him in the lounge a few minutes ago.”

Akane thought about it for a second. “Sure… why not?” she said, “Be right back.”

She left, leaving Matt and Jeri alone. Jeri seemed anxious to hear the news from a second source. Matt remained doubtful.

He eyed Jeri. “You believe this, don’t you?” he asked.

Jeri anxiously stared at the door. “Right now, we have to believe something.”

It didn’t take long for Akane to return with the Jurian prince. As soon as Tenchi walked in, Jeri asked the big question.

“Are they really dead?”

Tenchi froze for a minute, unsure of how to answer.

“Akane tells us that they’ve been secretly bringing everybody back to life somehow. Is that true?” asked Matt.

Upon hearing Matt’s question, Tenchi looked around and shut the door behind him. “Where did you hear that?” Both Matt and Jeri pointed at Akane.

“I overheard you and Barb talking about it,” Akane replied.

Tenchi frowned, and thought about his next statement before saying it. “Okay, Barb told me something to that extent. According to her, they have a device called the McKormick Reaper that can bring dead cartoon characters back to life. Supposedly, they’ve been using it on everybody that’s lost, and then shipping them off to some other dorm a few miles away.”

“So everybody’s safe and sound somewhere else.” Jeri smiled. “That’s the first good news I’ve heard in weeks.”

“There’s a bit of a problem with all this, however.” Tenchi silenced Jeri, then looked at Akane. “I don’t know if we can trust Barb.”

“What do you mean?” Akane was left confused.

“Think about it. Barb’s one of them. She says that I’m supposed to be some catalyst to bring the game down, but she doesn’t tell me what to do. She gives me this supposed ‘inside information’ but tells me not to tell anybody else. She wants to help, but claims that her career is more important.”

“But she’s… she’s…”

“She’s a she,” Matt chimed, “That’s why you’re more willing to trust her than Tenchi is.” As Tenchi and Akane pondered his conclusion, Matt continued: “In the end, she’s still in the Alliance. We can’t be sure that we can trust her.”

“Well, what kinds of other inside information did she give you, Tenchi?” Jeri asked.

As Tenchi thought about it, there wasn’t all that much, save for one little detail. “Well, actually, the only thing she really told me involved what happened to Izzy.”

“Oh no!” Akane exclaimed. “So do they know that I found out about this Reaper thing?”

“I don’t think so,” Tenchi replied, “Why do you say that?”

Akane looked down, somewhat ashamed of herself. “That’s what drove Izzy to suicide. I kinda told him about all this. I guess he just wanted to go out the easy way instead of getting beaten up by Ranma.”

Tenchi responded by sitting down and putting his hands in his face.

“What’s wrong?” Jeri asked.

“It is a lie. Everything she’s been saying was a lie, then. She gave me some stupid story about somebody sneaking an e-mail through from the other side. Izzy got it and Artie had to take care of him. But that can’t be true if Akane told Izzy instead.”

“Yeah…” Akane sighed. “That does sound a little far-fetched. They’d make sure that nobody on the other side could sneak us a message.”

“So that might mean that we’re really killing people… no wonder Barb told me those lies. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”

“It’s hard. It’s very hard.” Jeri looked down. She already had been living with it. “You’re not just killing somebody. You’re killing somebody’s daughter or son… somebody’s sister or brother… somebody’s loved one.”

Jeri bent down and started to cry. Matt put a hand on her back to comfort her.

“We have to figure out the truth,” Akane concluded. She too was somewhat saddened at the thought of killing mere children like Meilin and Rika.

“Yes… from someone other than Barb,” stated Tenchi.

Moore Facility- Room 212- 6:04 PM

Sora sat in her chair, pondering the situation. She had to make as much sense of it as possible before the inevitable knock on the door.

She didn’t get far before the pounding came.

“Sora??” Naturally, it was Tai.

She sighed and opened the door. Immediately, she turned around.

“Thanks for turning my life upside down,” she said.

Tai stepped inside, immediately apologetic. “Look, let me explain.”

Sora smiled. “You better believe I’m letting you explain. Otherwise, I’d be slamming the door in your face.” She sat down. “And don’t give me that ‘overcome with emotion’ excuse. That’s what hugs are for.”

Tai sat down opposite Sora. He wasn’t sure how to mitigate the damage. “Sora, I just spent four days believing that you were dead. I guess… I guess a hug wasn’t enough for me.”

“That’s not what I felt, Tai.”

“What do you mean?”

“You can tell what somebody else is thinking when they kiss you. It’s a kind of a connection.”

“Oh…” Tai averted his eyes. “No wonder Misty’s been acting so weird lately…” he thought. He returned his attention to the current situation. “So what did you feel?”

Sora looked down. “It scared me. I feel like I don’t know what’s going on anymore.”

“Going on? With what?”


It was Tai’s turn to look down. There were a million reasons he didn’t want Sora to know the truth. He felt like he was going to have to deal with every one of them now.

Sora stood and sat down next to Tai.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“No… I’m confused. There’s so much that needs to be cleared up and I don’t know where to start.”

Tai cautiously put a hand on her shoulder. “Sora, I’m serious when I say that it was hard to deal with it all. I tried to stay together. I knew I had to get through it. But it still made me realize just how much I care about you."

Sora looked up at him. Tai continued, “I guess what I’m trying to say is that…”

He didn’t finish the sentence before Sora leaned forward, silencing him with a kiss of her own.

Initially, he was caught off-guard, but it didn’t take long for him to receive it, and start kissing back. Which was when Sora released, leaning back slightly.

She wore a faint smile. “You’re in love with me?” she whispered.

Tai nodded, leaning forward to continue. Sora closed her eyes. She didn’t fight it. Not even when Tai came down on top of her. She put her arms around his back and allowed the session to continue. Even as Tai moved his lips away from hers, kissing her cheek, her neck, and anything else that was accessible, she didn’t back away. She was still in control. She had done this enough times with Matt to know how much was too much. Sora had ample experience straddling the fence between what was simply “making out” and something that was more sensual.

Although she had full control of what she was doing, there remained the question of why she was doing it. She was making out with someone who was not her boyfriend, and she was enjoying every minute of it. Perhaps the only thing that concerned Sora was that she felt no remorse.

“Uh oh,” she thought. They had been at it for about a minute. Kissing was plenty for Sora, especially with Tai, and she had no desire to take it any further. Tai, on the other hand, seemed to be getting impatient. He was ready to keep going. As Sora contemplated ways to end it, good luck shined on her- there was a knock at the door.

Sora broke off the kiss. “Better get that,” she whispered.

Tai smiled. “Why?”

Sora pushed him forward and sat up. She wasn’t stupid. “Because. Get the door.”

Tai was visibly annoyed. “Why can’t you get it? It’s your room.”

Sora handled it tactfully, smiling. “I need to catch my breath,” she panted. It was true- she had to get heartbeat down after all of that. She also needed time to figure out what that was. They had been kissing for a prolonged period- she needed to know what they both were thinking.

Tai wasn’t happy about the interruption as he stood and walked towards the door. After all, he had every reason to think he was about to score. The knocking persisted, until Tai finally opened it.

“This better be good,” he muttered.

Izzy smiled. “Long time no see, Tai. I need to talk to you.”

Tai raised an eyebrow. “Not now.”

“Now that you’re here, I think we finally have the opportunity to stop this thing. We’ve got enough people here to support us, and we don’t have to worry about…”

“Not. Now,” Tai asserted.

“Why? What’s going on? We only have a couple days to try something…”

“Izzy, can’t you see that I’m in the middle of something. If you hadn’t noticed, I’m with Sora.”


Tai leaned forward. “I’m with Sora,” he repeated, making sure that Izzy received the proper connotation.

Unfortunately, the genius wasn’t quite receiving the message. “Tai, I believe this takes precedence over whatever you’re discussing with Sora.”

“Izzy… we’re not discussing anything. We’re…” Tai stopped. He wasn’t sure what they were doing… or if Sora was within ear’s reach of him describing it.

Despite Tai’s lack of words, Izzy finally got it and backed away. “But… what about Matt?”

“At the moment… I don’t care. I don’t care about Matt, and I don’t care about stopping this thing. If those assholes want to profit off of our misery, we might as well let them because I just don’t feel like stopping it.” Tai looked back. “Sorry.”

He shut the door, despite Izzy’s protests. That was something to be dealt with at a different time. Tai walked back over towards Sora. She was seated straight up, pondering something.

Tai coughed. “Where were we?”

“Don’t you find anything wrong with this?”

“What do you mean?”

Sora stood. The look on her face made it clear that she was getting angry. “What about Matt?”

“What about him? You deal with him. He obviously doesn’t want to deal with me anymore.”

Sora looked down. “You don’t get it, do you? He’s frustrated. Don’t you see that he really cares about me?” Tai averted his eyes. He didn’t want to admit it, but he knew she was right. “I like Matt and all, but… I don’t know… there seems to be something missing.”

Tai grew serious. “Sora, I don’t want to hurt Matt either. We’ve been friends for a long time, and I’m sure that when he sees that we’re alright, he’ll come to his senses.” He paused. He didn’t know if he was being selfish, but had to let Sora know where he stood. “But I’ve sat on the sidelines long enough. Whenever you start dating somebody, anybody, I’ve always been there to support you through it. I was willing to put my own feelings aside, because I never wanted to fight with anybody over you. But I’m sick of that. I’m tired of being the nice guy who just wants everybody to be happy. I want to be the one to be happy, Sora. I want to be with you.”

Sora could see now that Tai had loved her for more than just the last few days. It was something that grew out of their friendship, and out of their experiences shared. Sora shared many of the sentiments, but to admit to being in love? That was overstating it.

“Tai, I’m sorry for leading you on before, but I’m still not sure. I like you too, but I can’t ignore Matt. You can’t ignore Matt either. You’re just going to have to give me some time to straighten this out on my own. I’m sorry.”

“I guess I can live with that. You know how I feel, and I suppose you’ll have to figure out how you feel by yourself.”

Sora nodded. “At least now I know how you feel. Thanks.”

Tai forced a smile, kissed her on the cheek, and walked out.

He looked down the hall. Faces that he had long since dismissed as gone had returned and were smiling. Madison and Meilin were casually walking down the hallway.

Madison looked up at Tai. She took note of who’s room he was exiting and smiled at him. “How did it go?” she asked.

Tai sighed. “I think it went pretty well.” He followed them down the stairs. “Maybe I didn’t lose after all,” he observed.

Kohler Complex- Control Room- 6:15 PM

Manny entered to find Tom working… as usual.

“Don’t you ever go home?” he asked.

Tom rubbed his eyes. Nothing ever seemed to be to his liking these days. He was determined to make this series look like so much more than a bastion of organized violence. He was having little luck.

“I’m leaving now,” Tom replied. He turned off the tape deck. “You?”

“Nah, I’m in Moore tonight. Mike handled all the undertaker stuff while I did interviews. I gotta take over.

Tom sighed. “Swell.”

Manny smiled. “Something wrong?”

“Do you really think people are going to watch this?”

Manny thought about it for a minute before replying, “I have no idea. It all sounds pretty good, but I guess it all comes down to that suspension of disbelief bit.”

“Does the audience accept the characters as behaving on their own volition, or is it evident that there is a higher power guiding them?”

“The most dreaded acronym in the English language- OOC,” Manny remarked.

“I don’t know if this will be perceived as believable.”

“I wouldn’t worry. They’ve bought all of these things so far. This one will be no different. I mean, characterization has never been a high regard among anime fans. I mean, listen to ‘Misty’s Song.’ I didn’t think for a second that anybody would accept that as canon, but there are plenty of people who do. Hell, you should see the kind of stuff that passes off as in-character in fanfic.”

Tom turned his head. “You do know that we’re not supposed to read fanfic, right?”

Manny remained sly, “No… we just can’t admit that we do.”

“Why you’d want to anyway is beyond me.”

“Exactly! As bad as some of it is, it still suspends disbelief. Whoever reads it still perceives it as possible. If that kind of stuff can be passed off as legitimate, Shougai’s nothing.”

Tom remained apprehensive. “But will it be any good?”

Manny shrugged his shoulders. “Eh, if we get worried we can just do another quiz or something. You know one of the two Megumi Hayashibara characters is still in the game!”

Tom stood. “I’m getting out of here. Lock up, okay?”

Manny, however, noticed that nobody was monitoring the cameras. “Hey, where’s Barb?”

Beeda. I’ve been glancing at the cameras. No insurrections to speak of today.”

Smiling at the statement, Manny took a last look at the monitors. Something seemed wrong… there didn’t seem to be enough. “Hey Tom- we’ve got a camera in all eight rooms, right?”

“Yeah. Why?”

Manny quietly counted the room cameras. “I’ve only got seven, plus the public areas.”

Tom walked over, and double-checked. “Hmm… guess one went out. You see who’s?”

“Let’s see… only Sakura and Ranma are in their rooms.”

Tom gave up and headed for the exit. “Oh well, we’ll have Tim look at it tomorrow.”

Manny followed. “Yeah. So do you have off tomorrow?”

“No. I’m in Moore. The only one off tomorrow is Dave. Of course, he’s the only one who actually lives in the area, so he’s the only one who can make some use of it.”

Manny nodded as the two closed the place up for the night, locking the door behind them.

Beeda Facility- Lounge- 6:30 PM

“Excuse me for being sacrilegious…”

Barb was idly passing time, reading the latest volume of InuYasha manga, when Akane spotted her. It was decided that Akane was best suited to talk to Barb, since Barb had no idea what Akane knew.

“Hi Barb!” Akane acted cheery. It was the best way to catch her off-guard.

“Hello Akane.” Barb didn’t look up.

“What are you reading?”

InuYasha. Since I’m in charge of the series here, they send me the manga for free. Pretty sweet deal.”

Akane remained friendly. “All I know is that it’s a Rumiko Takahashi series, and that the key to his father’s layer is in his eye.”

Barb was only listening passively. “I don’t follow ya.”

“Trivia questions from the Mole series?”

“Oh. I guess I don’t remember the eye thing… must’ve missed that episode.”

Akane changed the subject and got down to business. “I need to talk to somebody about something.”

Barb looked up at Akane. The wording of the request was awkward enough to catch anybody’s attention.

“A little more specific, please,” she replied.

Er… do you know if Manny’s still here?”

Barb opened her mouth, but caught herself before saying anything. Manny was in Moore that night, and the whole truth wouldn’t work.

“He already left. He should be back tomorrow afternoon.”


“Tom’s probably still around. For all I know, he lives here.”

“Uh… I’d rather not talk to Tom.” After dealing with him for two projects, Akane at the very least knew how to manipulate Manny. “I’ll find Manny tomorrow. Thanks.”

Barb didn’t respond, and quietly returned to her reading as Akane left.

Day Eleven
Moore Facility- Cafeteria- 11:30 AM

Izzy was angry. His hopes were dashed. The one thing that kept him going this whole time was his hope that somebody would come along that was capable of making a difference. Tai was supposed to be that somebody. He was going to rally the forces, and bring an end to it all. Instead… he ended up in a soap opera.

Izzy didn’t know what Tai and Sora were discussing. He didn’t really care. But the one thing that was certain was that Tai’s priorities were thrown askew, leaving nobody with the leadership capabilities to bring forth a revolution.

Yui didn’t say a word. She just sat down next to him. The two hadn’t spoken since the fight with Rika. Izzy had long since given up hope that he’d be able to help Yui. If her ties to Nakago ran so deep that she’d condone the beating of a young girl who refused to fall in line, there was no way she would come around.

In truth, however, the gears were at least turning inside Yui’s head. Something about what Rika said made her wonder whether her loyalty to Nakago made her blind to his behavior. Something about the fact that Suboshi was arrested made her question the ethics of the actions of the Seiryuu Seishi. Rika got what she deserved… but perhaps she still shouldn’t have gotten it. This was one case where injustice seemed to be more just.

In the end, there was one sticking point that Yui couldn’t get out of her head.

“Did Nakago really try to kill you?” She asked it very quietly, fearing the truth. Even if Rika had it coming, it was hard for her to picture a situation where someone like Izzy would deserve the wrath of Nakago.

“Yes," was all Izzy said.

“What did you do?”

Izzy remained quiet. “I got in his way. It was just a game… but I got in his way.”

Yui took the defensive. “Well, I didn’t tell Suboshi to do anything. In fact…”

“Don’t.” Izzy put a hand up. “I believe you. Just… whatever. I’ve got other things to worry about now.”

“Like what?”

“It’s… never mind. I’m just very angry at Tai right now.”

“What he did couldn’t possibly have been as bad as what Miaka did.”

Izzy looked up her. “Try me. What did she do?”

Yui was caught off guard. She wasn’t expecting to have to explain the story. Slowly, she gathered her words and began, “Well, she was stuck in the book and was trying to find a way out.” She eyed him, expecting him to be lost already. Instead, he was listening intently. She continued, “Well, she did find a way out. However, at the same time she got out… I was pulled in. I ended up in Kutou and…” She closed her eyes. She didn’t want to recall what happened next.

“Okay… I understand.” Izzy put a hand on hers. He surmised what happened next and skipped that part of the story. ”And Nakago came and…”

“He helped me through it. Miaka did come back… but only because she had to see her precious Tamahome. She didn’t care at all about me. I felt so…”

“Betrayed.” Izzy finished the sentence for her. His mind, however, had gone off on a tangent.

He stood up and exited the cafeteria. There was still hope after all. Tai may not have been in a position to help Izzy, but Izzy was at least going to help Yui.

Kohler Complex- Reception Room- 1:00 PM

The door to the confessional room opened. Misty was allowed to exit quietly as she headed towards her room. Manny, however, wasn’t as lucky.

Akane, Tenchi and Matt were waiting for him. Manny put a hand in his pocket and smiled, “Can I help you?”

“We have a few questions, Mr. Edwards.” Akane was polite, keeping her temper until it was appropriate to lose it.

“Certainly. Shoot.”

Matt looked Manny in the eye. “What the hell’s going on?”

Manny cast Matt a strange look. “Excuse me?”

“What really happens after they fall into the pit?”

Manny sighed. “Didn’t I explain this already? There’s a gas in the outer ring that…”

“We’re talking about after that.”

“There’s not much after that.”

Tenchi clarified, “Well, do you just leave everybody down there to rot? What did they do to deserve that? You keep saying that it’s a painful and noble death, but shouldn’t they at least get some sort of proper send off?”

Manny hesitated. These were questions that had never come up before. Manny turned it around and took the offensive. “What do you care, Tenchi? You’re alone.”

“No I’m not. I know enough people here to know that they shouldn’t be treated like this. And I will stand up for them if necessary.”

Manny raised an eyebrow. Now that he had time to think about it, he could lie more effectively. “Look, for your information, I’m not all that sure what goes on. I would guess that Henry gets them out of there and deals with them more respectfully. But again- I’m not sure. It isn’t my department.”

“Can we talk to Henry?” Akane jumped in.

“He’s off today,” Manny barked back. Fortunately, that was true.

“We’re done playing. We’re all sick of this, and we’re just going to stop now if it’s all the same to you,” said Matt.

“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that. We have quite a bit riding on the completion of this project, and we’re going to finish whether you like it or not.”

“Mr. Edwards, you can’t make us fight. If we wanted to, Matt and I could just sit in the arena and not do anything.”

“Do you really trust each other enough to rely on the other to follow through with that?”

Matt and Tenchi eyed each other carefully. Then Tenchi realized what Manny was trying to do. “Yes,” Tenchi spouted without second guessing.

Manny gave it some thought. “Well… in that case, it would put us quite behind schedule, and it wouldn’t be very exciting, but it would simply be a matter of who starved to death first. When we say only one walks out, we mean it.”

“You can’t be serious,” said Akane.

“You can’t be serious about trusting each other enough to not fight. After all Matt, you did kill your best friend yesterday… if I recall.”

Matt looked down. Tenchi stepped in. “Look, Manny, we don’t care about the stupid wish, we don’t care about winning, and we don’t care about your show. Everybody is really upset about losing their friends, so we’re going to put an end to it.”

Manny was growing increasingly annoyed. “You say you don’t care about the wish. You do know that you can wish for your friends back.”

All three looked up simultaneously.

Manny continued, “Tom keeps saying that’s what the winner would invariably wish for. Me- I don’t know. I don’t see someone like Ranma doing something noble like that.” Manny glanced at Akane, who nodded. “But it’s your prerogative. If you want your friends back, we’ll see what we can do to accommodate that. If you want a million dollars… we’ll pony up the dough.”

Both Matt and Akane seemed to be seriously considering their options. Tenchi, however, wasn’t taking the bait.

“What if we’re not bribed so easily?”

“Then my mole will foil any of your efforts.”

“Your mole?” Akane asked.

Manny smiled. “My insurance policy. Just to be on the safe side, I have one contestant available… just in case something comes up. I think it’s only fair to warn you that there’s somebody in your group that you can consider a traitor.” Satisfied after having left the three baffled, Manny started towards the control room. “I await your little instigation, whatever it may be.”

With Manny gone, Tenchi, Akane and Matt were free to discuss their findings.

“Aw crap, now we’ve got a mole to worry about?” Akane was clearly not happy.

“No we don’t,” Tenchi stated, “I don’t think he’s serious. He’s just trying to get us riled up and prevent us from working together. There’s no way he could stick a mole in here. I refuse to believe it.”

“Believe it Tenchi…” The three turned around. Barb was standing right behind them. Her hands were on her hips. “He has a mole, and he or she has been raising some serious hell from what I gather.”

“Look Barb, I don’t know if I can trust you. You haven’t been all that helpful lately.”

“Haven’t I? Well, let’s have a chat then.” Barb looked over Akane and Matt. “Your reinforcements are welcome to join.”

Barb started walking towards the conference room. Matt started to follow. “Where are we going?” he asked.

“To a room where we don’t have to punch out any cameras.”

They entered the conference room, and Barb immediately closed the door behind them. “First thing’s first- Mike’s fixing the camera in Matt’s room as we speak. You’re lucky they didn’t notice it earlier.” Barb looked at Tenchi. “So, what am I not to be trusted about?”

“Everything. Especially with reviving everybody… and Izzy.”

“Tenchi, didn’t I tell you not to tell anybody?”

“I didn’t.” Tenchi pointed at Akane. “She did. She overheard our conversation. And apparently she’s the one that told Izzy about it.”

Barb’s eyes widened. “Seriously?” Tenchi nodded. “I was wondering about that.”

“About what?”

“When Izzy got the e-mail from Yolei, he said something along the lines of ‘she was right.’ I was on Manny’s shit list until we found out about the e-mail… which somehow made everybody associate ‘she’ with Yolei. Thank God Manny’s an idiot sometimes.”

“Sometimes?” Akane muttered.

Barb cracked a smile. “Anyway, that straightens that up. Akane told Izzy, Izzy got the e-mail, Izzy was hunted down like a dog and killed. Any further doubts?”

“I won’t believe anything until I see Sora again,” Matt continued to reiterate.

“There’s a simple way to do that Matt. Just ride the game out.”

“What?!” Tenchi obviously didn’t like that option.

“It’s become very clear to me that we’ve been walking a really fine line lately. I don’t know what you guys were talking about in Matt’s room last night, but you’re lucky Tom didn’t notice that the camera was broken sooner. You’re also lucky nobody noticed that you were all in there. Likewise, I’m lucky nobody realized that Izzy found out about the McKormick before he got the e-mail. We’ve been lucky, and I’m going to cash in now and call it quits. Those guys are damn well not going to let this series fall now. And I’m damn well not going to do anything to make them hate me. I’m not a moral crusader, and I’m starting to not care anymore whether or not they pull this off. I say let the babies have their bottle.”

After reflecting on it, Tenchi could only say one thing. “Barb, if you weren’t a woman… from Earth… I’d punch you.”

Before Barb could take the threat seriously, Akane said, “Well, if everybody knew about this McKormickthing… then wouldn’t there be no point to the series?”

“Yeah,” Matt agreed, “If that’s why they took Izzy out, wouldn’t they have to get rid of all of us then.”

“There’d be no series.”

Barb shot down both of their hopes. “Unfortunately, at this point, we’re not going to let that get in the way of it. You could tell everybody else, and I kindly ask that you don’t, but they’d just ask everybody to fake it. And anything you say can be edited in post-production.”

“So we have to figure out something else,” Tenchi remarked. Barb nodded in response, “So what’s the story behind this mole?”

Barb shrugged. “No idea other than the fact that Manny’s got one, the fact that he relies on him or her frequently, and that he or she is probably still in the game. He’s been keeping the identity a secret from all of us. In fact, except for me being around when he made a call, he only told Artie about it. As far as I know, Tom, Mike, and Dave are in the dark.”

“Any guesses?” asked Akane.

“Well, I have a few, but I wouldn’t rely on my hunches. After all Akane, I thought you were the Mole last time.”

“So basically you’re saying that we’re on our own for figuring out who his mole is and with figuring out a way to stop the game.” Matt stated it quite simply. Barb nodded, with nothing to add.

“Great,” Matt said, “We have nothing to say to you anymore. Let’s go.” Matt walked out, but before Tenchi could follow, Barb stopped him.

“Tenchi. You do understand that this is where we stop meeting. I’m not going to go all out for them, but my loyalties lie with the AA. Understand?”

“Yes,” Tenchi replied. The ground rules were established.

As Tenchi made his way towards the door, Barb thought for a second and stopped him. “Hold on, Tenchi.” He turned around. “Since we are no longer working with each other, I think it’s only fair to wish each other good luck.” She extended a hand.

There was a certain gleam in her eye that suggested that she had an alternate motive for the gesture of gamesmanship. Regardless, Tenchi hesitantly shook Barb’s hand. Tenchi realized her motive as soon as he unclasped her hand. She had given him something.

Barb walked out before Tenchi could question her. He opened his palm. It was a gray key.

“Well, I’m going to bug Ranma and see if he knows anything about this mole. I don’t want to overlook the obvious,” Akane said as she walked out, leaving Matt and Tenchi alone.

“So what do we do?” Tenchi said, as they too began to walk towards the exit.

“I think it’s simple. I’m leaving it up to you to figure out who the hell it is.” Matt remained very neutral through it all.

“Why me?” Tenchi asked as he held the exterior door open for Matt. Matt merely smiled as he walked through. “Oh yeah…”

“Look Tenchi, why don’t you go over to Beeda and round up all the suspects? We can nip this in the bud, okay?”

“Okay… here goes.” Tenchi started off on his investigation, leaving Matt at the doors of the complex.

As soon as Tenchi was out of sight, Matt turned towards the outside wall. Someone was waiting for him.

“You didn’t tell him?” she asked.

Matt shook his head. “I don’t break promises, even ones like these. You told me to keep it a secret.”

She smiled and leaned her head on her chest. Her smile was lost quickly, as the reality of what she had done entered her thoughts. “I’ve done some horrible things,” she whispered.

“So have I, Misty…” Matt rubbed the back of her head. He still wasn’t used to the position, but it was one he had to follow through with. “…So have I.”

End Chapter Thirteen

Author’s Notes
First off, the Taiora does have a significant place in the overall “message” of the story. Much of it won’t come into focus until the last chapter, but I’m really going somewhere with this. The other message that Taiora relates to is more short-term… and applies to the scene immediately afterwards…

Once again, we’re through the fourth wall a little bit regarding Tom and Manny’s discussions of characterization of fanfic. It’s something that is definitely subject to interpretation, as is the whole series in general. The issues of fan suspending disbelief too easily is readily present in fanfic, and is one of the biggest problems, in my opinion, with many reality series knockoffs… which leads to the connection with the Taiora scene. Honestly, how heavily did you scrutinize the scene?

Misty’s Song” is a song featured in one of the Pokémon soundtracks. I’m as much of a shipper as the next guy, but it’s essentially a piece of out of character AAML fodder.

The whole mole thing wasn’t something tacked on. It’s been a part of the series the whole way through, and had a huge impact on several key events, as you’ll see next chapter.

Chapter Fourteen- Atonement
As Matt and Misty reflect on their deeds, Izzy attempts to jumpstart the process in Moore Facility. Can either of them overcome their demons and make a difference, or are the odds stacked against them?

Current "Shougai" Standings