Lumin dragged her way through the hallway, already late for her next meeting. The closer she got to the cafeteria the more desperate she became for a boost of energy.
Darwin Spotswood’s leather jacket squeaked as he strolled past Lumin. He smiled at her while keeping his hands behind his back.
“I know you have a cigarette behind your back, Spotswood. Toss it. If I catch you smoking in here one more time you’re gone.”
Spotswood growled and tossed the butt in the trash bin. “Happy?”
“No, keep moving.”
“Sorry boss, I’ll be a good Boy Scout.” Spotswood slicked back his pompadour and kept moving.
Lumin leaned her head on the warehouse’s archaic coffee machine and sighed–taking refuge behind her long auburn hair as it shielded her from the world. She plunked two quarters in the slot.
“Accidentally glue your head to one of the vending machines again?”
Lumin’s faced pinched, hearing Skip Pantheon’s familiar snarky tone. “Go away, Skip. I was running late this morning and didn’t have time to get my caramel quad–I’m tired.”
“Did you tell Bo I was kicked off an ultimate frisbee team?” asked Skip, leaning his back against the dusty machine as well.
“Yes. I was trying to prove a point. I lied and I don’t care if your feelings were hurt.”
Skip laughed. “I don’t even play frisbee.”
Lumin stood up straight and looked in his eyes. “What? Your hatchback is littered with them.”
“Those are discs, not frisbees. I play disc golf. It’s totally different.”
Ignoring Skip, Lumin kicked the machine. “Why is this machine so slow? I put my money in and all its doing is cranking and whirring. HURRY UP!”
“I forgot this thing was even here. Everyone drinks energy drinks, except you.”
“Pansies,” said Lumin. “Ah, here it comes.” The machine shook and wheezed. A red paper cup covered with playing cards dropped out and a trickle of liquid started whizzing into it.
“This thing has been in the building since it was a can opener factory,” said Skip, with a look of concern.
“Since the fifties? No way.” Lumin picked up the cup and immediately regretted her purchase. “Ew.”
“I still find can openers laying around the building.” Skip leaned over and winced. “I don’t think coffee should be gray.”
“Or cold,” added Lumin. She took a sniff and tossed the cup in the garbage bin. “God, it smells like jet fuel!” She grabbed the tall can out of Skip’s hand and started chugging it.
“Lumin, stop! Give that back.”
Lumin’s eyes went wide and she coughed. “This isn’t an energy drink, Skip, it’s a goddamn screwdriver!”
Skip shrugged. “Hair of the dog. I went to a party with my girl last night, we got a little tore up.”
Lumin drank the rest. “You told me you broke up with your girlfriend.”
“Okay, fine…it wasn’t a party, it was a ‘Magic’ tournament. Still…give it back.”
Lumin handed Skip the empty can. “Well, it woke me up at least, but no more drinking on the job! I let you guys get away with murder. I just caught Spotswood smoking for Christ’s sake.”
“Okay, I fess up…it wasn’t a Magic tournament. My buddy in the hanger got a hold of an unopened case of cards from the 90s and we were doing an unboxing for Youtube.”
Lumin shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about and I’m eternally grateful.”
“Damn Lumin, you can really knock it back.” Skip tossed the can across the hall and missed the recycling can. “Why are you so tense? What’s up?”
“Well Skip, there’s only a billion dollars on the line. We could end world hunger for decades with that cash. We have to win this thing.”
“Don’t get so worked up…this is a no lose situation. Did we find out what charities the Japanese are backing?”
“I am NOT going to lose. The Japanese are earmarking a lot of that money for the ‘Society for the Preservation of Japanese Cultural Heritage.'”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“Except the organization is just a front. Their real goal is to resurrect the whaling industry. Someone on their team has a stake in getting the country’s ‘scientific research’ fleet up and running again.”
“Yeah, pretty evil. Fortunately, I heard the majority of their team is somewhat sane and are trying to cut the whalers out of the prize, but who knows if that will actually happen.”
Skip exhaled loudly. “Alright, I’m fully invested in kicking their ass now. But I can tell there’s something else bothering you.”
Lumin kicked the monolithic vending machine. “Bo isn’t listening to me–his control scheme for the bot is exactly what I didn’t want.”
“Bo’s been turning in so much spec work lately he’s making the rest of us look bad. I gave him free reign to do whatever he wanted with the input architecture, thinking it would chew up a little of his energy. The little bastard is a dynamo.”
“That’s not a bad thing. You all need to be dynamos.” said Lumin, frustrated.
“We’re doing our best! He’s just…something else. He was supposed to get his design vetted by me before he brought it to to you. This is what you’re looking for–here.” Skip handed Lumin a “Masters of the Universe” folder featuring a triumphant He-Man on the front.
“What’s this?” said Lumin, opening the folder.
“I finished the operation schematics on my own. I wanted to see what Bo could come up with but this has always been waiting in the wings.”
Lumin quickly perused the specifications. “Actually Skip, this looks pretty good.”
“Five point harness, a directional yolk for general movement–and don’t laugh–a reinforced X-Box controller designed exclusively for combat.”
“Really, Skip?” asked Lumin, her verdant eyes shining at him intensely. “Are you messing with me too?”
Skip swallowed and broke eye contact. “It’s what we’re all used to! Drone operators at the Pentagon use a similar setup, if you can believe it. Trust me, this works.”
Lumin shook her head. “Well, alright. Thanks Skip. This makes me feel better.”
Skip grinned. “Good. Is that vodka loosening you up at all?”
“Not enough,” Lumin looked at her watch. “Shit…I have to meet with Dez before lunch.”
“Hey, about Lynch, I think she’s kind of in a tail spin lately. Be ready to put on your kid gloves.”
“Boxing gloves, is more like it. How did we end up with such an unstable weapons designer?”
“Did you hear what you just said?” asked Skip, as Lumin’s heels clicked down the hallway. “Hey, you owe me a screwdriver!”
“Screw this,” yelled Lumin, flipping him the bird without turning around.
Bo opened his office door as Lumin passed by him. She stared at him silently as the elevator closed. Bo looked down the hall at Skip, looking frantic. “Hey, did I hear the Coffee machine come on? Don’t use that!”
Skip picked up his poorly tossed can from the floor. “Why?” He watched Bo run toward him in a panic.
“No one uses that! No one ever uses that machine!” yelled Bo.
Skip tossed his empty can in the trash, knocking over Lumin’s still upright coffee cup in the process. “What the hell, Bo, what are you–” The trashcan burst into flames as Lumin’s “coffee” met Spotswood’s cigarette butt.
“Shit!” said Bo, stopping in his tracks and backpedaling.
Skip tripped over himself and fell to the floor. He scrambled over to the extinguisher hanging on the wall and quickly put out the blaze. After dropping the extinguisher and assessing his singed eyebrows he grabbed Bo by the collar of his polo shirt. “WHAT IS GOING ON?”
“I…I modified the coffee machine to drip a new fuel mixture I’m working on. I guess it’s more unstable than I thought. I put a note on it! Didn’t you see it?”
Skip ducked down and pulled a post-it note out from under the edge of the machine. “DO NOT USE” it read.
“It fell, Bo…your minuscule note fell. Why the hell would you even do this? Get this goddamn thing out of here before it explodes and Lumin kills what’s left of us!”
Bo nodded. “I will, I swear! I was just searching for a fuel that could run efficiently in a grimy environment…this relic’s dusty innards seemed like a good test chamber for the mixture. I thought I had kept the stoichiometrics low, but I guess the fuel’s still a little lean…it was a bad idea. Sorry.”
“How the hell could you even hope to replicate this experiment of yours?” fumed Skip.
“I wasn’t testing a theory, I was just…curious. I didn’t plan on gathering much usable data from it.”
“Just keep your madness in the lab. Lumin’s worked up as it is.”
“The vending machine was too heavy to move…but you’re right. I will.” Bo wiped the flop-sweat off his brow.
“Our bot has a nuclear core anyway, what use could this fuel of yours possibly have?”
“It was for the crawler-transport. That thing is slower than encumbered power armor in—”
“Please, don’t finish,” interrupted Skip. “Hey Bo, is the little distillery in your office putting out anything that goes well with orange juice?”
“What?” asked Bo in confusion.
What is this? I started this “serial” as a way to bring some fun and immediacy to my writing routine. Each chapter is written, edited and posted in a single day (I will do some additional editing if I find a glaring mistake). Chapters are released on an irregular basis.