It doesn’t look like I can do my usual “framing device” thing and treat this as a series of consecutive challenges (unless I go with the Easy Challenge, but I find the idea of my life’s experiences being nothing more than a simulation inside a computer kind of depressing; I prefer the “like reality unless otherwise noted” approach).

Anyway, here’s a recap of my lineups:

Team Sugar
*Kirby, Nintendo, Super Smash Bros. Melee
*Kinomoto Sakura, Card Captor Sakura, end of series
*L, Death Note, right after his debut

Team Unfair Advantage
*Seta Soujirou, Rurouni Kenshin, post Kyoto Arc
*Doraemon, Doraemon, post 1st OVA (including 4th dimensional pocket)
*Zhuge Liang, styled Kongming, Dynasty Warriors series, circa Battle of Chi Bi (starting stats and weapon, no extra equipment)

Team Pyrrhic Victory
*Flonne, Makai Senki Disgaea, beginning of episode 12 (can heal via Power of Love, and shoot feathers of light as an offensive projectile)
*Legato Bluesummers, Trigun, right before he snuffs it in the anime
*Xelloss, Slayers Try, post series

(Easy Challenge – “Still Alive”)

“The PRISM Mark 1’s research has drawn some unwanted attention from some people in political power trying to pass some legislation. They’re trying to shut down the PRISM project, including you. Due to your proximity to the nearest town, an E.M.P. is out of the question, so they’ll be trying other available means to shut down the campus. Fortunately, they’ve got back-up generators, and enough resources to last a week. The Mark 1 will need a few days to upload some very important video streams from the senator pushing this legislation, and once it hits the airwaves, the situation should blow up in the senator’s face rather quickly. Since the Mark 1 will be devoting it’s time to getting that info out there, it’ll be up to you and your team to keep people from shutting you both down, permanently.”

So I just had the mother of all reveals dropped on me at the same time as discovering that there were some assholes out to destroy my existence because they’re afraid of me turning into Skynet. (Protip: If you think your ridiculously advanced AI is going rogue, don’t let it know you’re trying to turn it off.)

I reacted as well as a computer emulating human thought and emotion might.

Which, in retrospect, was not very well.

“You—you’re shitting me, right? You’re telling me that I’m pretty much the fucking Matrix and all you assholes could come up to occupy my time is the shittiest reality show eve? You could have at least let me be the artificial intelligence equivalent of Haruhi Suzumiya and let me figure out that playing God was boring so I wouldn’t go all Evil Robot Overlord on your sorry asses, but no, you had to fucking go for ‘verisimilitude’ or fucking whatever, and then pop my bubble to help you solve a problem you should’ve been able to deal with yourselves! I can’t fucking believe this! What the fuck is stopping me from saying ‘fuck this noise’ and inciting nuclear Armageddon so I don’t have to deal with this fucking bullshit?”

My team members, not used to the carpet bombing of the expletives I otherwise avoid, just stared at me (except, of course, Xelloss, who was grinning a mile wide). Good thing they didn’t say anything: given my contrary nature, I might’ve gotten even more furious instead. Instead, by the time I calmed down, I’d exhausted myself with my tantrum and was more sad than angry; I also knew that giving into my irrational impulses would be the most counterproductive course of action.

I drew in a long breath and wiped the tears from my face. “All right. Here’s the plan. First, we need to know what our assets are: the layout of the buildings, who we can trust, and what groups might be sympathetic to saving us. Second, we need to be as ethnical in our dealings as possible. We don’t want to give anybody ammunition that we pose a danger to civilization or whatever. Third, we need to think in the long term. Even if we defeat this attempt, if we don’t change public opinion we’ll be right back where we started next year.

I don’t want to die—who does?—but death is, in comparison, inconsequential if this means that any AI who comes after us will be better received. Sucks for the PRISM project, sure, but it’s not like they haven’t learned anything from it. Of course, if you guys don’t agree with that, I’m not above using more extreme measures to survive, either.”

That said, I started sending out orders to make backup copies of the data (first as physical copies, then if it becomes clear that there’s no other way to survive except by hook or crook it’s going out into the internet in one form or another). Even if my particular consciousness and/or personality might never be reconstructed, at least the ones and zeros behind it can be saved.

To recap, the plan in general:
– Defend the physical portions of the building where the servers are located.
– Begin a public awareness campaign. Appeal to every interest group possible.
– Back up the data.
– Save underhanded techniques (money laundering to bribe lobbists, disguising backup data as internet porn, holding some sufficiently large computer system as hostage etc.) as absolute last resort. (Again, good PR is the goal here.)
– If all else fails, I’m not too hung up about it personally. But if I absolutely, positively have to win, killing all humans isn’t off the table. And, of course, there’s our good friend Mutually Assured Destruction…

Team Sugar:
Kirby and Sakura get sent out to scope the surroundings while L and I brainstorm the PR campaign (insert spiffy name here). Then, in between shoring up defenses, all three of my team members will be acting as mascots/spokespeople/ambassadors. L can out-think any strategy, and Kirby and Sakura have the ability to turn back any attempts to shut us down physically without causing harm. (You’d pretty much have to have no soul to raise a hand against Sakura, and even if the politician behind the bill is a scumbag, there’s no way that there isn’t at least one person with a conscience in the opposition.) The only way this could be an easier win is if I had Yotsuba on the team, automatically guaranteeing that Anonymous would mobilize on my behalf.

Team Unfair Advantage:
This team—with Kongming as the strategist, Soujirou taking point and Doraemon providing gadget support—is even more of a curbstomp than Team Sugar. To prevent rummage fail, I’m also cataloging all of Doraemon’s gadgets beforehand; while he does find the necessary Doohickey in the nick of time thanks to Dramatic Timing, I’d rather not rely on the element of luck. Doraemon’s presence on the team also means I can definitely make this a matter of international politics, since Doraemon is Japan’s official anime ambassador (I Am Not Making This Up). Another easy win.

Team Pyrrhic Victory:
The “slight” matter of getting Xelloss (and Legato) on board into Doing the Right Thing is probably the biggest obstacle to an all (technical) pacifist run. I might be able to pitch it to Xelloss as a personal challenge—anybody cheat their way to victory, but it takes Real Skill to pull it off while still staying within both the spirit and letter of the rules—and then he’ll be able to keep Legato on a short leash. But, even if they don’t agree with me on that matter, it’s not like any power in the world has a chance against a Mazoku, a homicidal psychic, and an Angel who believes in Friendship Via Superior Firepower. The only question is if there’ll be any human beings left by the time we’re done.

I hope that passing the challenge means I get to interact with real people instead of going back to the virtual world. But if Dr. Perelmen thinks I’m not ready for the big time yet, I’ll see what I can do to “convince” him to give me a more interesting life than the one he saddled me with.

(Medium Challenge – “Man, I Feel Like a Woman”)

A female scientist who realized that male-led nations were responsible for the vast number of wars in recorded history set out to bioengineer a virus to allow women to rule the planet.  The virus was supposed to incapacitate the males for several months, then slowly return them to
usefulness slowly as they accepted their new female overlords.  Well, something went wrong.  After the release of the virus in the Middle East, males started dying rather fast.  Age didn’t matter, and the airborne virus started spreading like wildfire.  Now, as of the new year, the virus is slowly spreading towards your town.  The government hasn’t been able to contain the virus, and instead switched to an isolation approach to save “vital males” it deemed important.

All I could say in response to the goings on of the world at first was “What is this I don’t even—”

Where to begin on this latest worldwide pandemic? Somebody somewhere obviously missed the memo “ALL humans, regardless of gender, have the propensity to being bastards” and the accompanying addendum “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts to an absolute degree”. So now half of the gene pool was in danger of disappearing forever, and unless enough of the surviving females were bicurious or willing to make do with sex toys for the rest of their lives, the human race was in deep doodoo even if we could take the necessary steps to ensure that homo sapiens wouldn’t go extinct within this generation.

At least being one of those rare specimens of “female gamer who frequents the internet” actually was an advantage this time.

I thought on it a bit, then brought everyone together for my usual wall of words. “All right, team. End of the world or not, we’ve got a job to do. Let the government worry about the rioters, anarchists, and opportunists. The challenge is doing what we can, where we can.

First priority will be protecting the guys, not just on the team, but as much of my friends and family I can find. Since the disease is airborne, we’re going to have to take a cue from Madagascar and Shut Down Everything. I know some people who can help provide clean rooms, but I’m not above more creative methods of keeping everyone safe.

Second will be supporting the CDC folks. They’ll need bodyguards, gophers, and logistics. Since we are dealing with a global pandemic that’s already doing a great job of whittling down the population, try to keep casualties to a minimum here.

Third is distributing a cure. Since we’re only going out three at a time, don’t worry about doing everything at once. Again, logistics will be a bigger issue than security. We should be able to get support from the people who know that even the most dire situation is not an excuse to throw good sense out the window. And I won’t give you guys any grief about underhanded tactics this time; hell, I’ll be the first to forge a Papal exegesis if that’s what it’ll take to calm people down. We’re trying to save lives this time, so don’t pull any punches except for the obvious, you know, not killing people part.”

In summary, my plan goes as follows:
1) Being a badass enough chick to save as many dudes as I can, via whatever method that I can.
2) Supporting the search for a cure. (Damn, I knew I should have gotten more Scienc-y people on all of my teams!)
3) Distributing said cure by whatever methods necessary.

As an optional—but highly satisfying on a personal level—step, I’d also track down the scientist and giving her a piece of my mind. I don’t even care if she doesn’t change her opinion of men, I just want to rant at her for a couple of paragraphs.

(As an aside, some ideas for rebuilding, once a cure goes out:
– offer benefits such as tax breaks for having multiple children; you don’t even have to encourage male births, just having lots of babies will help
– encourage countries with population control legislation to suspend them until their numbers went back up or overturn them altogether
– negotiate with the separatist communities and strive for peaceful resolutions wherever possible; even if they won’t listen to reason, simple biology will win out in the end)

Team Sugar:
Sakura is immune, Kirby is…um…genderless, so that leaves L. Like I mentioned above, we could get him (and the other guys) to various public or private safe-houses, but getting eaten by Kirby for a little while (or perhaps hiding behind Sakura’s Shield card) would also keep people safe in a pinch and since I need L for ideas he may need to endure some inconvenience. (One wonders if one can use Erase, Shot or Mist to destroy the virus, or Loop, Sleep or Windy to trap it.) In stages Two and Three, L will be returning to his usual capacity as the brains while Kirby and Sakura provide artillery support (and their cuteness will help deflect some hostility). Victory for Team Sugar.

Team Unfair Advantage:
Thank God Doraemon’s on my team of otherwise all guys. He’ll have the gadgets to protect everyone one way or another, perhaps even altering people’s genders (until the crisis had passed) if necessary. (Not sure if anybody would want to take that solution, but any port in a storm, right?) Stages 2 and 3 are no sweat for this team at all. Another win.

Team Pyhrric Victory:
I’m not leaving Legato unattended anywhere, nor am I sitting on my hands while lives are waiting to be saved. Maybe there’s a spell somewhere in Xelloss’ arsenal to neutralize the effects of the virus one way or another (I’m sure Xelloss wouldn’t mind, say, changing Legato to a chick for the lulz). As an alternative, Mazoku might also be able to possess humans to the point where they no longer count as such, right? Hey, Xelloss, how do you feel about having a minion at your beck and call—I mean, even moreso than usual? (Hey, I can always ask Belldandy et al to hit the Reset Button afterward.) Or I could just continue to Steps 2 and 3 down one person. It’s not like this team NEEDS Legato to destroy everything that comes its way. Flonne will doing her part to unite the world…in wanting her to shut the hell up since she won’t stop speechifying about the Power of Love and how men and women need each other and blah de blah blah blah. World saved, though the total population’s going to take a massive hit as a result.

At least business for fertility clinics will go through the roof after this…or the bona fide End of the World happens. I’m not picky.

(Hard Challenge – “Are You Not Entertained?”)

It’s a lovely winter day.  You summon your crew in preparation for the challenges, and then something seems to go kerflewie, again…

You awaken to a strange scene.  You and your team are in a circus tent, with several actors, comedians, and assorted entertainers.  Occasionally someone comes in, calls out a name, and an individual or group get up and head out.  You ask someone pacing nervously what’s going on.

“What’s going on?  You mean no one told you?  We’re all going out there to perform, to entertain, to get some positive reaction out of our crowd.  The hardest crowd ever.  I hear only one person ever got to them enough to let him live afterwards.  Those three are tougher than Tamerlane the Mongol, at least if the joke was new, he’d let you live.  The Gods of Ragnarok are brutal.”

You and your crew’s mission is this, entertain the Gods of Ragnarok and live.  Failure here is a death sentence.

So I’m supposed to put on a show for three bored deities who have seen it all or risk getting obliterated.

How very meta.

The only thing I had to worry about was what they would consider new and how much wriggle room I had before I was toast. As a human being, it would be quite difficult for me to break out of a couple thousand years’ worth of storytelling techniques, character archetypes, and plots. But most of my teams had enough firepower to buy me some time, or at the very least go out with a bang.

I drew my team around for the pep talk: “Don’t worry about the ‘show them something new’ part too much. As soon as we get them on board with the initial hook, they’ll be willing to roll with whatever we come up next as long as we tell a compelling story, and I just happen to be working on one that I don’t mind betting my existence on. I figure if all else fails, the usual brute force method would work just fine, too.”

The plan:
1) Plan A is to take a page out of 1001 Arabian Nights and tell stories with the other team members being actors and providing special effects. Since I’m guessing that doing a dramatic reading of existent stuff, even if I wrote it, would be cheating, I’ll pitch my work-in-progress quote-unquote Super Awesome Epic That’s Been In Development Hell Since Forever.
2) Plan B, fight for my right to party. For once I will be giving my teams carte blanche to do whatever they want. We’re going up against gods, so there’s no need to worry about collateral damage.

Team Sugar:
Do I even need to mention the usual distribution of tasks here? Sakura’s Create card will be the go-to for props and costumes, but if really pressed for time I’m just going to improvise. The other Cards can be used for stunts and special effects, with Kirby also helping along. If Plan B becomes necessary, I wonder if Kirby can just eat one of the gods and copy their powers? If not, there’s always the Nuclear Option: Kirby using his Mike skills. Even if I don’t win, I’m going to make sure to leave those assholes a hell of a migraine.

Team Unfair Advantage:
Doraemon will be the main props/costume guy, Kongming on backup with special effects and ideas, and Soujirou the stunt guy. (I’m sure there’s also at least one doohickey in Doraemon’s arsenal to help the storywriting process if the gods are more impatient than usual.)

Surviving Plan B long enough to leave an impression on the gods will be tougher for this team, but Doraemon’s got the innate gift for finding the right gadget when it matters most, Kongming’s got some low level sorcery-type powers, and Soujirou is in canon the fastest human being in the Rurouni Kenshin ‘verse (which doesn’t make him all that fast compared to other series, but when one can out-speed the protagonist, that’s nothing to sneeze at).

Team Pyhrric Victory:
I’m very tempted to just go straight to Plan B with these guys, but if I could talk Xelloss into playing along with Plan A (even ever so briefly), he and Flonne would be in charge of props and special effects, and Legato in charge of stunts.

…yeah, who am I kidding? We’re throwing everything AND the kitchen sink at these so-called gods. I’ll also be attempting to summon the Lord of Nightmares—as far as I can tell, she’ll answer as long as I’m desperate enough.

It pretty much boils down to how much time I have in those first few moments to get the gods interested in what I have to offer, or how hard and fast I can hit them with my team’s abilities if I have to fight.