Katerina was trembling. Her anxiety hadn’t lifted in the slightest. “Lumin? Can I get you some–”
“No, go take a long break, Kat,” said Lumin as she willed herself into her tiny office and closed the door. She slid into her chair and pressed her face to the cool oak surface of her desk.
“Lumin…are you in there? Lumin!”
Lumin shot up, a paperclip falling off her cheek as she blinked her eyes. “Who?”
Yasamin Jones’ booming German accent rattled through the door. “If the Japanese robotics team doesn’t get an answer from us soon they’re going to declare our team in forfeit of the match. I need to speak with you!”
“Yasamin? Come in…stop yelling,” said Lumin as she sat up and wiped the drool from her lip. She tied up her hair as Yasamin opened the door.
Katerina peeked around Yasamin’s shoulder. “I told her you wanted some privacy, but she’s tall and scary.”
“It’s alright, Kat,” said Lumin. The shimmering gold dress Yasamin wore made Lumin squint.
Yasmin was in charge of everything Lumin hated dealing with: diplomacy, accounts, scheduling, payroll, press releases, resourcing and on and on. She was a one-woman army and commanded well-deserved respect from everyone. Plus, her dancing put everyone else on the team to shame. She moved smoothly through the door, her impressive Afro scraping the sides of its frame. Her arms crossed as she sat on the edge of Lumin’s desk. “Have you been drinking?”
“No, well…kind of. Not recently. I really can’t handle you right now, Yasamin,” squeaked Lumin.
“We’ve lost our funding, Lumin,” said Yasamin, looking stern.
“I know. I just got off the phone with Lumb.”
“The Japanese know too. I spoke to their accounts man, Yuta Abe. Somehow, Kyoto found out about our financial meltdown long before our own people.”
Lumin winced. “Please tell me the rest of our team is in the dark.”
“For now,” said Yasamin. She stood up and stared at Lumin’s Iron Giant poster. “Lumin, what happened?”
“Remember Armon Tenders, the guy from Alloys we let go?”
“He sabotaged us by presenting our benefactors with misleading information. We haven’t totally collapsed, though…we have one more chance to regain our funding.”
Yasamin turned around, suddenly looking hopeful. “Really? I guess I’ll stop working on my resume for the moment. So?”
“Lumb set up a business meeting for me with some billionaire. I haven’t had a chance to look him up. He’s interested in our project.”
Yasamin leaned on the arm of a chair across from Lumin. “What’s his name?”
“Eldridge Roundstone, have you heard of him?”
Yasamin’s eyes went wide and she laughed into her hand.
“I think I’ll pick up that resume again after all.”
“Come on, Yasamin!”
“The guy is a complete loon. The Japanese might not like this–especially if he’s going to be your sole source of funding.”
Lumin frowned. “What did he do?”
“Roundstone earned millions after patents he developed were used to help extract oil from Canadian tar sands.”
“After that, he invested most of his money into developing computational stock trading algorithms. Now, computers making 10,000 trades a second are propping up Wall Street on the largest financial bubble in history. It’s made Roundstone a multi-billionaire.”
“That’s him? Damn,” said Lumin.
“He’s also a major player in the energy trade. He’s been engaged in a friendly rivalry with Ryan Lumb and Kengi Sato for years.”
“Sato? The Kyoto team’s C.O.O.?” asked Lumin.
“Yup. They’re all just man-children obsessed with their toys; übergeeks who escalated trash-talking between American and Japanese robotics firms into a billion dollar pissing match.”
“I don’t know if I can do this,” said Lumin, pushing around a wind-up robot on her desk with a sigh. “I’m a geek too, but this is utter insanity. I designed gearboxes and coffee makers before this. I was about to leave it behind to plant spruce trees in Oregon’s forests when this ‘opportunity’ came up.”
Yasamin gave Lumin an incredulous look. “I find it hard to see you traipsing around an old growth forest in Manolo Blahniks.”
Lumin laughed. “I grew up on the edge of the woods in Northern California. My mother tried to hide the fact that we were dirt poor, but life got pretty tough at times. I practically lived in the trees. My toys were rocks and sticks and mud. As a teenager I became obsessed with escaping, but now that I can afford fancy clothes and toys, I find myself missing those simpler times.”
Yasamin shook her head. “Yes, I’m afraid our lives have become anything but simple. Roundstone is definitely a complicated character. Most billionaires are driven solely by the pursuit of more wealth, but I have trouble understanding his motivations.”
“What do you mean?” asked Lumin.
Yasmin grabbed the toy and wound it up. She set it free to lope along the desk. “Roundstone is definitely obsessed with sci-fi concepts and doesn’t mind losing money hand over fist to see his visions come to life. He’s funded thousands of failed projects ranging from genetic engineering to inter-dimensional travel to an underwater domed city…and now Lumb’s roped him into an idiotic charity boxing match between two giant robots.”
“Shut up,” said Lumin, knocking over the toy. “I know you think this whole thing is stupid.”
“From the beginning,” said Yasamin. “Why not just give the billion dollars directly to charity? With the amount each team is spending it could have been two billion.”
“I know! You think I don’t know that?” said Lumin, frustrated. “Unfortunately, people don’t give unless they get something they want. It’s human nature. Even if it’s rooted in ridiculous fantasy fulfillment, that money could do some real good. It could feed millions of people.”
“I know…it’s all about the greater good, right?”
“If we win that billion all this insanity will have been worth it.
“Still an optimist, I see. Well, watch your behind up there; Roundstone is notoriously fickle…and most likely a sociopath.” Yasamin stood up and straightened her dress.
Lumin rose up as well and patted Yasamin on the back. “You really know how to give a pep talk.”
Yasamin smiled warmly. “Anytime, Miss Project Manager.”
“Now get out, I have some research to do…and tell that Yuta guy we’re not finished yet!”