5 Minutes to Midnight
Star of "Power Puff Pummel" (Canceled)
“Am I kept intentionally ignorant?” Noemi thought to herself as the junior executive, Tsuko Masami, broke the bad news.
“As you can see, we have been trending down this season.” Tsuko pointed to a graph containing months of data Noemi had never seen till today. “Losing NoNo in season two’s finale was huge for ratings, but now without his somber demeanor to offset you’re…” Tsuko paused for a moment looking for and failing to find a nice word “…high strung personality, the show has lost its balance.”
“We could bring NoNo back; build a stronger housing for him.” Noemi sounded more desperate then she meant to; even though NoNo was an A.I. created just for this show, he was the only one she considered a friend. His loss was not just a huge hit on the show’s ratings; it was also a huge hit to Noemi personally. Noemi was a simulacrum, an artificially created person, much like a clone. She was only three years old, but already looked fifteen and had the mental capacity of an adult human. Each simulacrum was different, some strong and slow of wits, some with hyper intelligence, some simply made to be eye candy; each was created for a purpose. Noemi’s genetic code made her look younger to suit the needs of the show she was the star of, Power Puff Pummel.
The show followed a set routine each week. It would start with Noemi interviewing two guest contestants. The contestants would usually have a beef to settle with each other and the show gave them the chance. Noemi would make jokes with them and lead the interview towards the inevitable; an opening fight for the show. In the interview she would ask lots of questions till she got answers that made the contestants look both “good” and “bad.” Her interviews with each would often take hours, but then the editors would cut down the footage to less than 5 minutes per interview. The interviewees would then fight, usually till the death. The “writers” would then find a gimmick to tie that fight to the main event, Noemi fighting. The person who lost the fight would be edited to be overly evil, or perverse or negative and the winner edited to be heroic, humble or positive. Hours and hours of interviews refined and boiled down to five minutes, reality TV at its finest.
“I know it would fix the ratings, I am willing to take more risks with him around and I could make a better spectacle of the fight.” Noemi knew she hadn’t been showing the same flare that she used to; needless flips, taking out extremities, using the terrain to make each fight more unique. She had fallen into a pattern of “efficient” reserved fights, ending it as quickly as possible. She had justified it in her head by thinking the audience just wanted to see violence.
“You know we sold the rights to NoNo.” Tsuko sighed. Noemi blinked in disbelief, she hadn’t known. Noemi felt her eyes tear up against her will; for so long she had hoped that she would see NoNo again. NoNo had sacrificed himself to destroy the season 2 finale’s competitor, a giant demon unicorn being ridden by another simulacrum, an effeminate blond boy dressed up to reflect a multitude of the western cultures. Noemi had gone straight to the producers after the show ended.
The fights were never rigged, the show hyped that every season and every episode could be the last. “See Noemi fight for her life in the next episode against…in next week’s episode of Power Puff Pummel!” Noemi had spoken with the producers, asked if she could have NoNo’s A.I. core so that she could see her friend again. NoNo’s housing had been destroyed but the A.I. core was so small that it had
not been damaged in the carnage that had befallen the bear. The produces refused Noemi’s request at the time, telling her they wanted the grief to be “real” on the show. In the end they had agreed that they would upload the show into NoNo’s A.I. core so that he could “watch” all her shows but that she could not speak to him; she had felt better for the deal at first, like she had a guardian angel watching her. She couldn’t let NoNo see her die, so she would fight hard.
Noemi choked back her tears. Lucky for her Tsuko was distracted enough with his phone that he hadn’t noticed. Tsuko rarely acknowledged her, even when talking to her. He was obsessed with social media and networking. He was the kind of talentless hack that thrived and advanced based solely off his own ambition. “I forgot,” she lied, “last I heard the deal was still being brokered. When was it finalized?”
Tsuko sighed again, only loader, “I don’t remember… like a year ago, right after the season ended.” Tsuko looked up from his phone, clearly annoyed by the questions. His job was to tell Noemi the board’s decision to can the show, not to answer her annoying questions. Had he been paying attention to her reaction, he would have easily known he was disclosing information he shouldn’t have.
“Pompous pricks!” Noemi raged as her hands balled into fists. Tsuko looked up confused and almost had time to say a syllable before Noemi hit him across the temple. He didn’t even have time to reel from the hit before she landed a blow on his solar plexus to knock the wind out of him a knee to the groin to freeze his body in pain and a finger strike to his eyes to blind and disorient him. There was a slight pause in her attack, just long enough to allow him to double over in pain and then he felt her hands hard against the back of his head. He lost consciousness the moment her knee connected to his face.
“Sleep soundly sad, sad Tsuko,” Noemi chimed in her stage voice. She walked from her dressing room to the elevator. Kai, The friendly simulacrum that ran the elevator smiled as she approached. “Good afternoon Ms. Noemi, what floor?”
Noemi smiled back; Kai was always nice to her, “Top floor please.” The ride up was filled with chit chat and Noemi laughed several times; Kai was very funny. When they reached the top floor she thanked Kai and said. “Please hold the elevator, I will be right back.” The whole ride had almost made her forgive the executives for their deception…almost.
The sixteen executives were sitting around a grand table, the VP Kaede Hakunawa at the head. “So Power Puff Pummel’s last episode, it’s going to be grand.” Hakunawa said with enthusiasm. “Our writers have a special treat in store. We call him YaYa Bear.” Hakunawa tapped the table and the 3-D display turned on. Footage of a twisted monstrous teddy bear played. It looked much like NoNo bear only with a dark twist, long steel claws and teeth, demonic eyes. It had an undead look to it, as if it had been ripped apart and sewn back together by a mad scientist.
“Our boys put this together from the remains of NoNo bears previous housing, along with some special twists. Our analysts say the emotional response that we should receive from Noemi’s reaction to seeing her previous sidekick twisted in such a way should end the series on a high note. We have also used an adaptive A.I. Core. This new core can analyze Noemi’s combative form from all of our previous episodes. It will be able to anticipate and react to all her moves. It will force her to get creative in the fight, and if not he is programmed to toy with her, deliver flesh wounds until given the execute command.”
Hakunawa was ever the businessman, he held no ill will towards Noemi, in fact in his own way he actually liked her; she was much like a daughter to him. Had his career ever allowed him to marry and have children, he would have wanted them to be like her. Hakunawa liked success better however. He did not set out to destroy Noemi, he set out to create two possible endings to a show he had spent nearly a hundred plus work hours a week on for the last three years. One ending was the death of the heroin after a long fight. YaYa’s attack programming would make her look tough and skilled. It would be a painful end for her, but that’s what Hakunawa sold to his audiences; death. If by some talent or luck Noemi defeated YaYa, she would have to do so by fighting in a manner unlike the executives, or their audience had ever seen. In addition, the hit in the ratings showed one thing, the audience liked to see Noemi and NoNo on the screen at the same time, and Hakunawa intended to give the audience what they wanted.
Aiki, a senior executive, began her briefing to Hakunawa and the rest of the board about the opening contestants of the show. Half way through her brief the doors to the conference room quietly opened and Noemi nonchalantly walked in. Aiki paused and looked to Hakunawa on how to proceed. He shrugged and nodded to Aiki, a gesture that she could handle the situation as she saw fit. Aiki adjusted her skirt and addressed Noemi. Aiki’s voice elevated slightly and her speech slowed as if she was speaking with a small child. “Noemi dear, you are to go through Mr. Tsuko if you need to speak with someone on the board…you can’t just come in here.” Aiki smiled as sweetly as she could muster and made a mental note to fire the doorman for letting her in.
“I came to collect my severance package” Noemi replied coyly. “You can keep the money, I have enough of that, all I want is NoNo bears A.I. core; the show will be over after this week, you won’t have any more need for NoNo. I think my severance pay should be more than enough to pay for it.”
Several annoyed glances were exchanged and even more angry looks, executives did not like to be interrupted, disrespected, or demanded from. Their time was far too valuable. Tamo, the oldest member of the board stood up, and hammered his hand on the table. “Noemi! You can NOT come to the board and make demands, you are lucky we are even offering you a-a-aAAAAH!”
Noemi snapped Tamo’s arm.
In the time it took Tamo to speak those dozen words, Noemi had vaulted the table, hooked around Tamo’s shoulder with her legs, and using her full body weight rolled over his shoulder. Noemi had intended to dislocate his shoulder, but she ended up snapping his forearm in the process. Hakunawa’s eyebrows lifted slightly with interest.
Noemi rolled to her feet; most of the other executives were on their feet as well. “You lied to me!” Noemi screamed, jumping onto the table, waiting for the next executive to challenge her; hoping they would challenge her. “You sold my only friend, you made me believe…made me hope I would see him again. Where is he?”
The executives all looked to Aiki, who in return looked to Hakunawa. Kaede Hakunawa was the only executive still in his seat. “We did sell NoNo’s A.I. core.” Hakunawa said calmly, “For much more than your severance pay for that matter.”
Noemi wanted to hit him, she wanted to beat everyone one in the room, but she wanted NoNo more. “To whom?” she said sharply advancing two steps on the table towards him.
Hakunawa looked at Noemi intently; like a father whose child is about to be sent to war. “To people much more dangerous than you, who have many more connections than me.” He admitted.
Noemi rushed Hakunawa. She mounted the chair he sat in and held her fist ready to strike his face. Hakunawa didn’t flinch. He knew Noemi better then she knew herself.
Noemi raged inside and in the end she turned around and punched the large oak table. The crack from the impact veined across all twenty feet of the table’s length. Noemi knew she couldn’t hit Hakunawa without being provoked or threatened, and she knew Hakunawa knew that as well. She wasn’t going to get any information from him. Noemi shuffled towards the door in defeat. “I’m done,” she sighed “You can finish the show without me.” As she walked towards the door, the only thing she had to look forward to was one last elevator ride with the funny Kai.
“You’re contracted…” Aiki started her voice a little too sharp. Hakunawa stood up and silenced the executive with a wave of his hand. Aiki looked towards Tamo still writhing on the floor and realized Hakunawa had done her a large favor.
“Finish the show and I will tell you were to start your search.” Hakunawa said. He smiled because he had seen all he needed to know now how the show would end. He had known there were two possible outcomes to the show. As he traced the crack in the table he knew now which ending would come to pass. Hakunawa was ever the business man.
Noemi was in the hospital for nearly a month after the last episode. Hakunawa had underestimated how good the YaYa A.I. core would be, but he knew Noemi wouldn’t lose. Hakunawa personally picked Noemi up from the hospital. Noemi refused to speak with him, angry about what they had done to NoNo bear. She had nearly lost the fight off her belief that they had simply corrupted his A.I. core; she thought she could save the core. Once she realized no part of the core was NoNo, the fight ended swiftly. It was the highest rated episode of the show’s three seasons. As Hakunawa pushed Noemi’s wheelchair towards the hospital exit the only words that he said to her were “I hear Denver is a good place to live…”