TOM folded his arms behind his back, his metallic digits twiddling on their own accord as he waited for the elevator. A resounding beep heralded its arrival and the doors slid open, allowing him entry. TOM hovered his index finger over the touch screen display, gliding it to a hologram of the top floor. The elevator shifted before a quiet hum signaled the compartment was now en route. Rectangular bars of lights skimmed over his pitch black visor as the elevator made its ascent.
A moment later, the doors parted open to the bridge where his captain's chair awaited. TOM slid into the seat, taking his place in front of a large screen. A small, feminine hologram with wings fluttered about the bridge, eventually stopping in front of the screen to face her visitor.
"Welcome back, TOM." The avatar greeted warmly.
"Good to be back, SARA." TOM reciprocated with a nod. SARA had been his longtime companion, ever since he replaced Moltar as the host of Toonami. He couldn't imagine running the ship without her.
"I take it you've been watching those wrestling shows again?" SARA inquired with a curious tilt of her head.
"Guilty as charged," TOM shrugged, "How did you know?"
"Aside from fictional wrestling being one of the top trends, your browser history documents an enormous backlog of episodes from various wrestling shows."
"That's not creepy at all." said TOM as he awkwardly scratched the dome of his head, indicating a hint of embarrassment.
"Have I perturbed you? I am sorry. You've just been withdrawn and quiet the last few weeks. I wanted to ask what was wrong, but wasn't sure if you were keen on providing an answer." SARA confessed, clasping her hands and lowering her head.
Whatever the robot equivalent of a heart was, TOM felt it sink a little. He'd always trusted SARA, but he'd, indeed, been bothered as of late and had yet to disclose the details. He was hoping to keep a lid on it for a little longer, but there was no sense in avoiding it now.
"Don't apologize," he began, "I should have been more upfront. The truth is, Toonami's ratings are beginning to creep. The show still has its dedicated following, but it's nowhere near enough to keep us funded. We're forced to share our time block with these wrestling companies and they're beginning to siphon a significant portion of our viewership. If I don't secure an alternate means of funding soon, we could be facing another cancellation within a year."
SARA cupped a hand over her virtual mouth. "Oh, my, that is bad news. What do you intend to do about this?"
"I've been brainstorming a few ideas and have come to a conclusion, if we can't beat the wrestling industry as Toonami, then we'll have to beat them as our own wrestling fed."
"Start a wrestling company?" SARA's glowing eyes flickered, mimicking the act of blinking. "TOM, how do you intend to hire a roster and manage finances, let alone make a company that stands out from the rest? Didn't you just say our funds were depleting?"
TOM held up an assuring hand to quell her concerns. "I've already thought that through. Our funds are in dire straits, yes, and that's why our first show has to be a hit. All those companies are based down on Earth and are broadcasted on an international scale. They've practically divided the planet's audiences among each other. Us? We're going to go one step beyond. We'll be a program that's being broadcast across the entire galaxy, reach audiences they could only dream of, and we've got just the ship to do it. If the Vindication can transmit cartoons and anime, we can definitely outfit this bad boy to broadcast our show across the stars. We'll be an interstellar sensation."
SARA hummed, cupping her chin in thought. "While we have remote drones that can act as cameras, you'll need to hire other personnel, such as commentators, referees, announcers, and interviewers, to name a key few."
"You're right, we can't do this alone. I can manage the finances, travel, and broadcasting, but I'll need someone to oversee the roster in a more hands-on role, someone with an assertive personality and an aura of authority." TOM stroked his own chin contemplatively, before a light bulb went off in his head, illuminating an idea. "And I think I know just the man for the job."
Sergeant Arch Dornan sat at the counter of the Camp Navarro bar, one hand clutching a shot glass, the other resting atop his helmet, which rested on the adjacent stool beside him. His eyes were glued downward, fixed onto his reflection provided by the alcohol. He'd never considered himself an alcoholic, but the few times he indulged in this rare vice, it was to smother the hardships of a particularly stressful day, which were comprised of yelling at the incompetence of the higher ups or the complacency of his subordinates. With all the daily shouting, even Dornan was amazed he hadn't ravaged his vocal cords beyond repair.
With one gulp, Dornan downed the entire shot, then grimaced as he felt the alcohol sting his taste buds. A cough escaped his mouth, followed by an uncomfortable wheeze that left him winded. He pounded a fist against his chest to knock his lungs back into working order, then silently raised a hand, gesturing the bartender to refill the glass. The bartender complied, pouring a mini-waterfall of alcohol from a glass bottle, then left Dornan to his own devices.
Dornan's ears picked up the light hiss of the doors, indicating someone had entered. His mind wrote it off as another officer coming to rest from their fatigues, but that thought process was halted immediately when a familiar, metallic voice called out to him.
"Sergeant Arch Dornan drowning his frustrations in alcohol? I thought you'd be shouting them to death."
Dornan recognized that wisecracking tone anywhere.
"You'd be surprised how stubborn my vexations are." he muttered.
TOM walked into view and leaned on the counter, tilting his visor in Dornan's direction with a laid back cock to the side for added effect.
"Haven't you ever considered just leaving the Wasteland? The Multiverse has a plethora of lively realms you can visit."
"Haven't you considered leaving that ship of yours?" asked Dornan with a scrunched brow.
"Usually when a space slime is trying to kill me or I'm being robbed by space pirates, but I'd count this as a special occasion."
"Oh?" Dornan emitted a bemused snort. "And what brings you to a shit hole like Camp Navarro? Who the hell let you in, anyway? I swear we were only to allow entry to those with authorized pass codes!”
TOM produced a small pass code on his visor. "I've still got mine from the last time I visited."
Dornan rolled his eyes and removed his helmet from the stool, allowing TOM to sit beside him. "You didn't answer my other question."
"Glad you asked," TOM said, swiveling his stool to face Dornan. "I'll get straight to the point, Toonami's facing cancellation due to a lack of funds, which in turn is due to dwindling viewership. So, I need to an alternate means of income."
"Like getting a real job?"
"Kind of. We all know wrestling is the biggest industry in the Multiverse. I mean, they don't call it the Fiction Wrestling Multiverse for nothing, so I've decided to open, drum roll please…" TOM tapped his fingers along his knee to mimic said drum roll before dropping his bomb. "... a wrestling company!"
Dornan stared at TOM for what felt like several seconds, allowing an awkward silence to bloom between them. The silence was shattered as Dornan exploded with laughter.
"That's rich! You wanna hold a wrestling company!" he choked.
TOM said nothing, instead crossing his arms to show his sincerity.
"Hahaha," Dornan wiped a tear from his eye, before noticing the implications of TOM's body language. "Oh, you're serious." Another bout of silence followed… then Dornan erupted into another fit, guffawing loud enough for the guards outside to hear.
"Are you done?" TOM asked, his fingers tapping his forearm as a sign of his diminishing patience.
"In all seriousness," Dornan caught his breath. "If you haven't noticed, you've got your work cut out for you. The industry is littered with wrestling feds, all vying for viewership. It's gonna be hard to make your company unique when everyone's already done everything."
"Not everything," said TOM, "This company will be the first of its kind. All those other companies may have divided Earth's viewership, but we can go one step beyond. We're going interstellar and the Vindication can be our base."
"So wrestling in space?" Dornan asked.
"If you want to make it sound basic, sure."
Dornan looked like he was ready to crumble into another fit of laughter.
"Hear me out! So maybe one or two companies have gone to space for a special occasion, but we can be the first spacefaring wrestling federation! Everyone always talks about Madison Square Garden, the most sacred of performance centers. We could be performing at the Mass Effect Citadel for crying out loud! We'd make Madison Square Garden look like a fossil by comparison!"
"You realize how crazy this sounds, right?" asked Dornan. "If we go to space, we're on our own. We'd have to deal with aliens, space pirates, and God knows what other cosmic horrors await us."
"I've been in space for nearly two decades, Dornan. Moltar chose me, a Beta-Drone at the time, because I was a cut above the rest. I never made it to where I was by being like everyone else, and we have a chance to do something truly unheard of. Let the other companies squabble over Earth. We'll take the final frontier. But I need your help. You've got the discipline and authority to keep the roster in line. We need to run a tight ship if we're going to make this work and I don't know anyone more qualified than Sergeant Arch Dornan."
"Well, things have been somewhat dull around here." Dornan rapped his fist on the counter, his mind stewed over the proposition. He glanced at the bar, then back at TOM. "If I join you, my men join you, for security."
"Of course, it saves me the trouble of holding applications for that position," TOM nodded.
"Well, then," Dornan picked up his helmet and slid it over his face. "What are we waiting for?"
TOM held out his hand. "Welcome aboard, partner."
Dornan stared at the open palm, then grabbed it with a firm shake. "Partners."
TOM stood in the hangar bay, arms folded behind his back as he watched the Enclave men disembark their vertibirds and fall into military formation. He straightened his posture to convey an aura of confidence and professionalism, then made his way toward the men. Dornan stood at the forefront, greeting TOM with a handshake.
"I assume this is our new security force?" TOM asked.
Dornan nodded. "These are all the men I could gather from Camp Navarro."
"About fifty, give or take."
"That should be adequate," TOM said, "Do you want to address them or should I?"
"Leave this to me," Dornan turned to face the platoon. "Alright, listen up, you maggots! This here cruiser is the Vindication and the robot standing before you is TOM. He is the pilot and financier of our operation, making him one of your supervisors, the other obviously being me. Any order he gives, you will follow as if they came from my lips. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, sergeant!" the men replied.
Dornan looked back at TOM, making a subtle gesture for him to come forward. TOM took his place by Dornan's side, making sure to keep his posture straight.
"Dornan and I will be discussing our next course of action. In the meantime, you will be given a tour of the ship, so that you can memorize the layout, in order to quickly respond to disturbances, should something unexpected occur." As if on cue, SARA materialized near TOM's shoulder, enticing the men to exchange baffled looks. "This is SARA, she'll be your guide. Follow her, do not stray, and try not to touch anything."
"You heard him, men, follow the pixie! If I catch any of you wandering, I'll have your ass for dinner! Dismissed!" Dornan barked.
"Right this way, please." SARA led the men down a nearby corridor, leaving TOM and Dornan alone.
"You have a way of inspiring your men." TOM remarked.
"It gets the job done," Dornan replied, "Now, let's talk business."
TOM held out his hands. "Right this way, sergeant."
TOM leaned into his chair, holding a datapad in his hands, while Dornan leaned against the control panel, his arms crossed comfortably.
"Okay," said TOM, "Let's get the basics out of the way, we need a name to promote to the networks, something that'll give us our own identity."
"You got any ideas?" Dornan asked.
"Well, I've brainstormed a couple. Vindication Championship Wrestling, Interstellar Sports Entertainment, and Intergalactic Wrestling Association were among my best choices."
"I.S.E. doesn't roll off the tongue very well, so you can strike that one right off the bat." Dornan said. "IWA is decent, but not the most catchy. VCW, are you even trying anymore?"
TOM lowered the datapad to look up at Dornan. "Admittedly, it was the first one to come to mind." He sighed. "We're the first fed to reach the final frontier and we can't even come up with a halfway decent name."
Dornan blinked behind his helmet. "Say that again."
"Say what you just said again."
TOM repeated his sentence and Dornan felt the gears in his turning. His brain had hatched an idea.
"I've got it," he declared, "Final Frontier Federation. Triple F, F-3, F-Squared, or whatever you wanna call it, we're a triple threat."
"Final Frontier Federation," TOM mulled over the name, then nodded as he repeated it to himself. "Yeah, that doesn't sound half bad. Direct and easy to pronounce, I like it."
Dornan leaned over TOM and tapped his head, speaking in a tone laced with playful condescension. "Aren't you glad you brought me along?"
TOM swatted the hand away to move the meeting along. "I've already decided our basic schedule. Regular shows will be on the Vindication and pay-per-views will take place on different planets and stations. Like Coruscant, or Omega, or, hopefully, the Citadel. But in order to entice investors to host our pay-per-views, our regular shows need to bring in the ratings."
"We'll need a roster with charisma and talent," Dornan paced back and forth. "Preferably fresh talent to give us a unique edge over the competition. If they wanna see this person, they'll have to watch our show."
"But getting new guys over is going to be tough when no one knows who they are. A few familiar faces wouldn't hurt. In fact, they could help the rookies hone their craft and find their own identities, so long as we don't play favorites." said TOM.
"Perhaps," conceded Dornan. "But we cannot have our competition making outlandish superstitions like, 'Final Frontier is only popular because they have so-so on their roster!' I will not be accused of unoriginality!"
If TOM could sweat, he would have felt a drop slide down his forehead.
"Moving on, we should also deliberate on roster size."
"You want my advice? Don't shoot too big." Dornan stated bluntly. "Don't accept anymore than you can afford."
"Right, so we should keep it relatively moderate. Not too small to avoid repetition, not too big to avoid wrestlers falling into obscurity. When they're hired, they're in it for the long haul."
"That means we should have three divisions, each with their own belt-a world heavyweight title, a women's title, and tag team titles."
TOM's fingers danced on the datapad's keyboard, jotting down Dornan's advice. "Three championship belts. We can add more as we go along, but this is a good starting point. So, that should put us at about 30 males, 15 to 20 females, and 10 tag teams?"
"Roughly," Dornan tilted his hand, mimicking a seesaw. "We can be somewhat flexible, but I think 30, 20, and 10 are good cut-offs to avoid inflating the roster."
"So, we're looking at a rough total of 70 wrestlers." TOM's index finger scratched the side of his head as he sank into his chair, betraying a sense of unease.
"I know that sounds like a lot, but when you narrow it down by division, it'll be much more manageable." Dornan assured, leaning on TOM's chair as he peeked over the robot's shoulder to check his notes.
"Yes, of course," said TOM, sitting upright once more. "When you put it that way, I think we can handle a roster of that size."
"Now, let's decide on belt names," Dornan spun TOM's chair around to meet him face to face. "We ain't calling our big belt the 'World Heavyweight Title', since we're not really on a world. Instead, we'll call it the Frontier Championship, a perfect reflection of our dominance among the stars!”
"Not a bad ring to it," TOM nodded. "And for the tag-team championships, we can be a little more creative than that. Tag teams often have dynamics between members, so why don't we call them the Dynamic Duo Championships?"
"Outstanding, TOM, now those gears in your head are turning!" Dornan laughed.
"Technically, I'm a personality matrix occupying a robot shell-"
"Whatever, you're a metal man, therefore a gear head."
"Perhaps the radiation's eroded your patience." TOM cracked.
"Are you implying I'm a filthy mutant?!" Dornan got up in TOM's face, shoving an accusatory finger into his chassis.
TOM held up his arms defensively. "There was no implication, only a comment you took to heart, thus proving your patience is wafer thin."
"I do not tolerate games, son! This is a business meeting, so let's get back to the business side of this conversation!"
TOM could have sworn he felt a trickle of irritated oil running down his forehead, but raised the datapad to his visor to move forward with the meeting. "That just leaves the women's title. We could use something more catchy than the default women's championship, something to reflect that they're the woman at the top of the mountain."
"Matriarch!" Dornan declared.
"Matriarch," Dornan repeated. "It means a female at the head of a family or tribe, or in our case, the females locker room."
"You're just on fire with these names." TOM shook his head with a chuckle and wrote down the suggestion.
"When you're in charge of over three dozen cadets who like to slack off and cut corners, you tend to have a sharp mind that runs faster than a mama deathclaw chasing you across the Wasteland!"
"I don't know what that is, but something tells me I don't want to ask. Last thing we need to cover is advertising that we're accepting talent and additional staff. Your men are filling for security, while the ship's drones can act as cameras and maintenance. But we'll also need commentators, announcers, interviewers, and referees."
"That's easy," said Dornan. "Just make a website and aggressively advertise the hell out of it! There's always some poor sucker looking for work."
"Provided they're talented." TOM muttered. "But I suppose it's worth a shot. I've heard those Celebrity Deathmatch guys are looking for work ever since their show got cancelled, so maybe I'll reach out to them."
"I'll scrounge up some old contacts back in the Wasteland and see if I can pick up any potential persons of interest." said Dornan.
"In the meantime, my drones will be re-purposing one of the cargo holds into a stadium to hold our shows. With any luck, we should be able to have the ring installed within a few days."
"You do that, while I gather the rest of our staff." Dornan started for the exit.
"Just where are you going to find an entire staff in a hostile, radiation-filled Wasteland?" TOM called out.
Dornan stopped at the door, then glanced back over his shoulder. "The Enclave has its ways, TOM."
With that, he exited the bridge, leaving TOM alone. He swiveled his chair around to stare at the security feed of his drones installing barricades around a large wrestling ring. He relaxed, interlocking his fingers.
"Time to make some phone calls."