Chapter 18:

Living Dolls

The WTP Club

When Wark woke up the second time, he was alone in the room. The voices coming from the outside had also fallen silent in the meantime. He felt way better already and now had an urge to find out what exactly had happened after he had fainted from the arrow.

Wark looked around. The room he was in was about 200 square feet, built fairly high, and right below the ceiling were several shallow windows that let light into the room. Was he in a basement? He usually knew such windows only from cellars. He tried to look through the glass, but the raindrops pattering against the glass from outside blocked his view.

In the room, besides the bed, there was a sink, the chair that Beat had sat on earlier, and a pile of empty boxes stacked on top of each other.

Wark got up and walked to the door. 

"Locked?", he wondered as he tried to push down the door handle. Remembering how Beat had walked out of the room, he began to rattle the door a little. However, it was no success.

"How strange", Wark said to himself and started banging on the door, calling for Beat.

Suddenly, he heard a key being inserted into the hole from the other side. He stepped back a little so that the door could be opened.

Beat stood in front of him again and smiled at him.

"Why did you lock me in?" Wark asked skeptically.

Beat ignored his question and instead said "Sit down, Wark. We need to talk."

Wark was confused but did as he was told.

"We're here with Landini and Keiichi in the basement", Beat said "I've already explained them that you're a really nice person, but they still have doubts, that's why they demand the door to your room to stay locked."

Wark couldn’t quite follow. "We're with Landini and Keiichi in the basement?"

Beat nodded.

"Then why are you here? And most importantly, why do you have a key to the room here?", Wark continued in confusion.

"Because I joined them. And you should too", Beat explained and then started laughing weirdly to override Wark's startled reaction. 

Wark didn't understand anything anymore. Beat was in WTP after all. And even though he had been absent from so many meetings, Wark had still thought of him as an integral part of the club. What could have potentially caused him to join their enemies?

"Do you realize what kind of people Keiichi and Landini are?" Wark asked incredulously "We've been able to find out so many things about them. You have no idea what you're getting yourself into!"

"You're wrong!" Beat didn’t want to hear any more accusations. "Keiichi isn't evil and neither is Landini. Landini is actually a real visionary! And Va has also realized that by now."

"Beat, I still don't get it", Wark said somewhat exasperated "Why don't you first tell me everything that has happened since we last heard from you?"

Beat nodded. "After Star treated me so coldly and unfairly, I started playing Hoen Ryomen a lot to distract myself from the pain. Since I stopped going to school and had nothing else to do, I actually got really good at it. Then Landini suddenly messaged me in the game. He didn't know who I was, but he was so amazed by my progress that he wanted to get to know me."

"Wait!" Wark interrupted "Are you Trousers Shitter? We saw you on the world rankings when training with Sikh for Landini's clan."

"Yes", Beat confirmed and continued "I told Landini who I was and that we knew each other already. I assumed that he wouldn’t like me because of the thing with the flyers. But Landini seemed to have forgotten about that already and invited me to his place for a chat. I accepted. Landini asked at the beginning if I was still in WTP. I said no, and then he asked if I would be interested in helping him with his project."

"His project?", Wark asked skeptically "What would that be?"

"Keiichi and Landini want to bring anime girls to life." 

"Keiichi and Landini want to bring anime girls to life!?" Wark repeated with widened eyes, wondering if he had misunderstood something.

"Yeah, I didn't want to believe it at first either", Beat confirmed "But what Va said about Keiichi's goals is partially true."

Wark dropped down on his bed again. That was something he had to process first. Had they been wrong in their theory that Va had become a victim of sexual assault? Had Va been telling the truth all along? But then what did those ominous chat messages mean, and what was it about Va and Keiichi's past?

"And you're sure he wasn't just messing with you?" Wark asked.

"Yes. I've seen the lab where Keiichi works."

"And how promising do you think the whole thing is? Successfully infusing actual life into fictional characters would be an enormous scientific breakthrough, no? It's not something one can simply do.”

"I don't know how promising it is, as I don't understand too much about the technology behind it. Apparently, Keiichi uses a software that analyzes anime characters down to the smallest detail. From this information, it creates artificial intelligences that are a perfect imitation of the anime characters. These artificial intelligences are then inserted into dolls, whereupon they come to life. It all sounds very crazy, but Landini said that Keiichi has already had success."

"What!?" Wark cringed "So there are already living anime dolls?" The whole thing sounded like the beginning of a bad horror movie where anime dolls take over the world at the end.

Beat pondered. "To be honest, I don't know for sure. Supposedly, right after the experiment was successful, some kind of error occurred. But I haven’t been told what exactly happened."

Wark felt goose bumps all over his body. Failed experiments with living dolls: If there hasn't been a horror movie about it already, people should definitely produce one.

"And they really told you all that, and you saw the lab with one hundred percent certainty?" Wark asked again, hoping Beat would crack the joke.

Beat, however, nodded and confirmed "I'm serious. It's all true." 

Wark shook his head in disbelief. What had he gotten himself into? It all sounded so creepy and twisted that he just wanted to run away.

After regaining his composure a little bit, he continued "How do you know the experiment won't fail again?"

"Of course, there's no guarantee. But just think of it, Wark..." Beat's eyes began to shine. "All our lives no girl has ever expressed interest in us and the thing with Star showed what happens when you gather your courage and approach girls yourself. But that could all change now. Remember all the attention, admiration and affection girls give you in Hoen Ryomen? Just think about their cute teasing behavior and how much they appreciate your gestures. All this could soon become reality. And that's why you should join us!"

Wark faltered and looked up at the ceiling. "Beat", he then began cautiously "You're escaping into a fantasy. Don't you think anime girls, when brought to real life, would develop the exact same traits that real girls have?"

Beat fell silent. "Waisie will never turn out like Star", he said defiantly after a while.


"That's how I named one of my girls in Hoen Ryomen", Beat explained "Landini promised to bring her to life. And then we'll be happy together forever!" 

Wark couldn't believe Beat's shortsightedness. It seemed as if he had completely lost himself in his fantasy.

Wark reflected on himself and his personal development. A few weeks ago, he and Beat had actually been very similar to each other. Probably that was also the reason why Beat wanted him to work on the project too. But the WTP Club had shown him how magical and beautiful reality could be too. He remembered the intimate hug with Glenn, Sousui, Emily, and Sikh, their first trip to the rooftop, and all the fun they had shared on their last night together. But despite all that, reality was not as simple and perfect as fantasy of course. For example, he found both Va and Emily attractive, but would they ever go out with him? Probably not. He recalled the many snide comments that were thrown at him by Glenn over the past weeks. And then there was the shameful fact that he had been the only one who hadn't identified Va and Glenn during their fake attack and made a fool of himself. But that was the way it was, reality, and he had begun to make the best of it.

"Beat, you still have so much to learn", Wark said to his stubborn friend. 

"No Wark, you still have a lot to learn", Beat replied "Do you think it's fair that all the girls at school are into someone like Glenn, who has big muscles but nothing in his head? Do you think it's fair that people like Sousui, who are good at chess, are admired while we, who are good at video games, are laughed at? Do you think it's fair that everyone stayed in Va’s club because of Va's charisma, even though she put me down so many times? Here's finally a chance for people to come into this world who are kind-hearted, who appreciate us!"

"Beat, the girls aren't into Glenn just for his muscles. People don't admire Sousui only because of his chess skills and we all didn't stay in the WTP Club just because of Va's charisma", Wark replied, increasingly noticing that Beat had really gotten mentally lost "Glenn, Sousui, and Va are all wonderful people with individual, distinct, and lovable personalities, and that's why they have more social success than we've had so far. But that's exactly why we should take them as role models. We should reflect on ourselves, ask ourselves who we want to be, and ultimately work on developing a great character too. And it doesn't help to escape into fantasies where everyone simply believes we're great. We've been given so many opportunities with the WTP Club..." 

"You've gone insane!" Beat interrupted upset "Everything you say doesn’t make any sense at all! I don't want to put up with this any longer!"

Beat stormed to the door.

Before leaving the room, he noted "Oh by the way, your 'lovely' Va has turned her back on WTP in the meantime, just so you know!"

Then he slammed the door shut and locked Wark up again.

Agitated, Beat began walking up and down the basement hallway that led to Landini's gaming room. He didn't understand what had happened to Wark. Wark suddenly sounded so submissive, as if he had accepted to be treated unfairly by life. This WTP Club had only been causing trouble. What had Va, that bitch, been thinking when she had started it?

Beat tried to calm himself down. For himself, everything was still good. He might have lost his only friend, but soon he would be with Waisie; and then he wouldn't need Wark anymore either way.

Beat stepped through a door that was located at the end of the hallway and now stood in an ominous, blue-lit lab room. Being here always had a calming effect on him.

Beat took a deep breath and muttered "Oh, Waisie."  

Then he strode past all kinds of technical equipment, toward a glass capsule filled with liquid, in which an anime doll was floating.

"Soon you will be alive. And then I'll finally get all the happiness the universe owes me."

He held his hands against the glass and gazed at the doll in love.

Suddenly Beat heard a ranting voice from the next room. Had anything bad happened again? Beat nervously left the laboratory.

"What do you mean, everything's getting too dangerous for you, Keiichi!?", Landini shouted as Beat joined them.

In the room, which was right next to the lab and served as a meeting place for the squad, Keiichi, Landini, Va, and Smoke had gathered around a table.

"A club has formed to stop us. One of its members is still on the run. We have five people locked up in our basement. The police could be at our door at any moment. And we haven't even started waking up the girls yet! Where do you think this is all going to end!?" Keiichi replied. The nervousness and exhaustion were written all over his face.

Landini snorted. "The reason that so many people know about our project in the first place is entirely the fault of your great Va. She got us into this mess; so don't even think about leaving us behind now.

"Leave Va out of this!" Keiichi shouted angrily, taking her by the hand "Va was just confused and acted in emotion. But she is not to blame! If anyone, I’m the one to blame!"

Va nodded sadly and replied "We both made mistakes. But what makes our relationship so beautiful is that we can forgive each other." 

"Oh Va!", Keiichi exclaimed, hugging her as a tear ran down his cheek "I'm so so happy that we're back together. Now nothing will ever separate us again." Then he turned back to Landini and said "With Va, I have everything I want in life. I don't need this stupid project anymore. I just want to go far away with Va and start a completely new life."

All of a sudden Smoke grabbed him by the shirt, pulled him up from the chair and spoke with a threatening look "Keiichi, you know very well that we had a deal. I kept my part by spying on the WTP Club and capturing its members. Don't you dare not to keep your part of the agreement! Otherwise..." Smoke paused for a moment to give his next words more credibility. "Otherwise, I'll kill you! You got that?"

Keiichi noticed several sweat drops running from his forehead. Frightened, he nodded several times. Smoke was definitely not to be messed with. There had been good reasons why they wanted him on their team in the first place.

Smoke let go of Keiichi and strode toward the door. "I'm tired of this nonsensical discussion. It is not about who to blame. That isn’t getting us anywhere. We’re all in massive trouble and we’d better focus our energy on how to get out of it. In any case, I'm going back to the factory now. Maybe I’ll be lucky and find this stupid red-haired girl somewhere." 

Before anyone could retort, he had already grabbed his car keys and left the room. One could hear his footsteps moving further and further away and finally disappearing into the door to the gaming room.

"And there we have the next problem", Keiichi said to Landini in desperation, once Smoke was gone "How am I supposed to tell Smoke that I'm not able to keep my part of the agreement."

"Calm down Keiichi!" Landini said sternly "You only promised him to give it a try. You never guaranteed him success."

"But I told him that the odds were good. In reality, the odds are at 0%." Keiichi lowered his head onto the tabletop, wondering how he could possibly have gotten himself into all of this.

Landini, however, was undeterred "He'll never have to know that there was never a chance. You'll just tell Smoke that you did your best but unfortunately didn't succeed. Then you express how sorry you are and that’s it. It can't be that hard!"

Beat didn't understand what Keiichi and Landini were talking about now. However, he didn’t dare to ask either and just stood silently in the corner, thinking of a way to enter the conversation. 

"I haven't been able to convince Wark to become part of us yet", he finally said with a laugh to compensate for his failure.

"That's the smallest of our problems", Keiichi replied with a sigh "We won’t be able to convince the whole WTP Club to join us anyway. So we need a long-term solution for our prisoners at some point."

"Can't we just keep them locked up until all the girls have come to life, then destroy all the evidence and let them go?", Beat asked.

"If it were that simple", Keiichi said, sighing again "To avoid the same error from happening, we plan to be available for the girls all around the clock in the first couple of weeks. We want to give them an extensive introduction to their new lives and conduct their first interactions with their future boyfriends. The main reason the Trusted Alliance even exists, is to make sure we can manage all of that logistically.

"I see", Beat replied.

Va reported "One positive development, at least, is that the clan has received my briefing well. The guys seem really euphoric about the project and are willing to help wherever they can.”

"That's good. No wonder, after you did such a great job presenting it”, Keiichi praised, trying to calm himself down a little. Then he concluded "I'm so tired already. I will offer the prisoners something to drink and an opportunity to go to the bathroom and then I will go to bed and just hope Smoke finds Emily by tomorrow. Want to join me, Va?"

"Stop!" Landini interrupted "We agreed not to let Va see the prisoners. The risk is too high."

"Do you still think Va is just pretending to be on our side?" Keiichi asked indignantly, but immediately added "All right... I'm honestly too tired to argue this out right now. I'll just go by myself then."