Chapter 12 - Kobyashi Maru

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 Vasco clasped his hands behind his back and paced back and forth outside the door to the administrators’ office. The phone call the night after the tournament summoned him to this meeting three days later. Despite his protests that he needed to be on site to keep his team training they had insisted. Forced to leave his young charges to train alone, he’d now been waiting half an hour longer than he should have.

Eventually he sat down on one of the waiting area seats and drummed his fingers against his thighs. What the hell did they want from him now of all times. The tournament had been successful in a roundabout way. Armed with their new knowledge Codi and the others had already made great strides of improvements in only the last few days. But now, at the most important time of the preparation, the bureaucrats decided they needed a conference.

With a hiss the two opaque slabs of metal slid to either side and Vasco shot upright again. A man in the plain grey suit of an attendant gave him a nod.

“Mr. Vasco, the administrators will see you now.”

“About damn time,” he muttered. Walking past the attendant with a nod of thanks he entered the office of Brax-Delta’s administrative body.

Essentially they were the ones who made sure the academy kept the little funding it had in order to train fighters. That funding had been shrinking little by little over the years like a well drying up. Barrow hadn’t been far off with his suspicion that this might be the last year Brax-Delta ever sent a team. It was up to Vasco to change that grim prediction.

The office was a small but well lit place, with a broad window built into its left hand wall where morning sunlight streamed in. Four black-suited individuals faced him, protected by their desks, papers and computers that formed a formidable blockade. A single empty seat faced them.

“Mr. Vasco,” the pale-faced woman on the far right began. “Thank you for coming. Please be seated.” One talon-like hand flicked towards the empty chair. Reluctantly, he did as she instructed, lowering himself into the set to eye level with the administrators.

“So what’s this all about?” he asked. He had no intention of beating around the bush. Whatever the administrators were up to, he didn’t have time to waste playing twenty questions.

“You’ve been at Brax-Delta as head instructor for three months?” a man with slicked back brown hair and hatchet features asked.

“Two months, three and a half weeks,” he corrected.

“A brief window to recruit and train a Gauntlet team, wouldn’t you say?”

“Well blame the moron that left the place in such a mess.” Vasco folded his arms. “I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got – which isn’t much.”

“Alright, let’s move on to this…tournament you so abruptly decided we would host. Now you were able to make a convincing case for the friendly going ahead, but it cost us a considerable sum to make the arena fight-worthy again.”

“I’d have thought it a necessary expenditure.”

“Oh, really?” the first woman scoffed. “Mr. Vasco, the results of the tournament speak for themselves.”

“And what the hell does that mean?”

“Vasco,” the man with slick hair cut in. “When we gave you the post of head instructor at Brax-Delta it was on the understanding that you could do what previous instructors could not: make the academy competitive again. In short, you were tasked with making it worth our while to continue funding Brax-Delta.”

“If I hadn’t taken the job you’d have had to close the place down!”

“Indeed. And perhaps that might have been the less painful option.”

A feeling of dread swelled in Vasco’s stomach. “Why did you ask me to come here?”

“This is not the kind of thing I would want to do over a phone, Mr. Vasco,” the administrator replied. “But you must look at things from our perspective. Now, we agreed to let you have your friendly against some considerable opposition from the Department of Planetary Finance. I think we can all agree that we didn’t get a whole lot for our money.”

“Meaning what?”

The woman spoke again. “To be frank, Mr. Vasco, your team put up a pitiful display. Three fringe system academies – not even heavy hitters in the Gauntlet – and they pounded your ‘team’ into the ground.”

“They’re still learning,” he growled, his patience evaporating fast.

“Evidently they’re not learning fast enough. Either that or your teaching methods are not as effective as you think.”

He bristled. “Do you have any idea what it’s like training someone to fight in the Gauntlet? It’s a small miracle they managed as well as they did with the timeframe we were given! I told you this might happen when I took the job. I asked for an extended training period but you wouldn’t give it to me. So if the kids aren’t ready it’s not their fault or mine. It’s yours.”

The administrators exchanged grim looks. Vasco winced internally. Insulting the people who funded his academy was not a tactical manoeuvre.

“You’ve got exactly a week before shipping out to the Gauntlet,” the man said. “There’s no way your team will be ready to fight in that time.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

“I’m afraid the decision has already been made.” The administrator clasped his hands together and leaned forward onto his desk. “I take no pleasure in this, Mr. Vasco, but I’m afraid Brax-Delta Academy is being liquidated. As of today your funding is being cut and you will no longer be competing in the Gauntlet competition.”

For a moment words failed him. Vasco could only stare in utter disbelief at the soft-skinned assembly of pencil-pushing bureaucrats. Eventually he managed, “what?”

“The friendly tournament made it clear to us,” the man continued. “Brax-Delta will not be a remotely competitive force in the Gauntlet this year. Knowing this, the government made their decision not to continue wasting funds on a doomed venture. I’m sorry, Mr. Vasco, but your term of employment is over.”

It didn’t take long for Vasco’s anger to overpower his shock. He shot upright, kicking the chair over behind him with a crash and causing the administrators to jump.

“What the hell would you people know about competing in the Gauntlet?” he snarled. “Nothing! They weren’t ready when we held the friendly tournament; that was the whole point!”

“Mr. Vasco-,”

“I needed to figure out a way to speed up the learning process thanks to your asinine, cost-cutting training schedule that was never going to be enough!” He took in deep breath before continuing. “You can’t do this. Every one of my kids is signed up into the Gauntlet contracts. They have a legal right to compete. You can’t just pull the plug.”

“The contracts are a formality,” the administrator replied coldly. “And no-one is going to question the abrupt withdrawal of an academy that has no chance of making any sort of impact. As far as the Gauntlet’s organisers are concerned it will simply mean five less fighters they have to work into the tournament.”

“So that’s it?” Vasco shook his head in amazement. “We have one bad day and that’s enough to scare you all off? This is pathetic! For the love of God, show a bit of backbone. We’ll be ready for the Mayhems, I can guarantee it!”

“You’ll forgive my scepticism, but I highly doubt your ability to keep that promise.” The man leaned back in his seat. “We’re not discussing this any further. As of midnight tonight Brax-Delta’s funding will be cut and you will not be signed up to the Gauntlet tournament. No transport or accommodation will be provided; there will be no more financial support from Kantha’s government. The fighters may be billeted in the academy till the end of the week until their families can be informed and they can be moved out.”

“Please, don’t do this to them.”

“Vasco, it’s finished.” The man stood up and looked him in the eye. “If you want to go to the Gauntlet, find your own way there.”

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