“Jesus Christ, this is bad.” said Spotswood, burying his hands in his greasy pompadour.
Skip pushed Spotswood over a little to get a better view of the display. “Our pre-programmed move set is officially garbage–just look at that thing!”
“A control scheme with one-to-one movement is superior to manual controls. I tried to tell you,” said Bo, in the most satisfying I Told You So moment he had ever experienced.
Dezzie calmly stroked Buttercup, asleep beside her on the floor. “This video has to be CGI. There’s no way their build can be this far along.”
Despite being less than an hour old, the YouTube video featuring the Japanese build team’s robot had already picked up 2 million views. The sleek, black carapace of the Japanese bot shined as it rampaged through a series of filmed demonstrations. It slashed through blocks of concrete with sharpened claws, swiveled 360 degrees on its waist–and most shockingly–ran with inverted knees like an ostrich or velociraptor before leaping into the air and landing gracefully. The American team was left horrified; their bot could walk but they had never dared to try running or jumping.
As the team went silent, the visage of the Japanese build team’s Chief Operations Officer, Kengi Sato, came on the screen and started speaking in Japanese.
“Hey, where’s Yasamin to translate this?” Skip called out, looking around.
“I think she’s upstairs. You know, doing actual work?” said Katerina without a hint of sarcasm as she fished an orange juice out of the break room’s fridge.
Spotswood turned and rolled his eyes at Katerina. “Don’t act so high and mighty, I don’t see you pushing paper right now.”
“I’m on my break, dumbass,” said Katerina. She sat down and took a sip of her juice. “This is the break room, remember?”
“Oh,” said Spotswood, turning back around. “Skip, just turn on the damn translator!”
“But it sucks,” said Skip.
“It’s better than nothing,” said Bo, as he pushed the translate button on the video player.
“Look at Sato’s black Ray-Bans and stringy rock star hair,” said Skip, “arrogant bastard.”
“Like you’re any better,” said Dezzie.
Skip smiled. “I didn’t say being an arrogant bastard was a bad thing.”
The approximation of a human voice began to rattle out of the speaker from the translation software. “A new sense of doom in special collaboration event: video inquiry latest. Scene footage of battle decisive victory. The ultimate victor holds the power display of destruction and speed. To opponents such as American shuffle pigs I say to you, show us what you got! Can you match this power? Response is awaited.”
“Shuffle pigs? Is that us?” asked Bo.
“Man, he’s so cool,” said Dezzie.
Bo shook his head. “Shut up! He’s not that cool.”
Katerina wandered over. “Yeah, he’s definitely cooler than any of you shuffle pigs…besides Dezzie, I mean.”
“Stop saying ‘shuffle pigs.’ This doesn’t make any sense. Go get Yasamin!” said Skip, turning toward Katerina.
Katerina shrugged. “I’m on break. Do it yourself. I heard about your frisbee injury, you need the exercise.”
“Lumin made that up!” said Skip, exasperated.
The footage of the Japanese bot looped while the video player continued to butcher Sato’s speech with its sub-par automated translation. “Accelerated schedule requested. To win we request Americans stepping up the game. I realize every day is painful stomach pressure, but I would like to victorious over you and feel the happiness quicker. That’s right, I’m calling you out!”
“That last line was in perfect English,” said Skip.
Yasamin walked into the break room wearing one of her signature metallic dresses and a pair of towering heels. “Despite all the trash talking, that video was made primarily for the Kyoto Team’s Japanese investors, not you. Besides, being multilingual is fairly common all over the world except in the states, you patriotic plebeian.”
Katerina shook her phone at Skip. “She has been summoned. Are you happy?”
“Please Yasamin, just tell me what the hell Sato is saying,” said Skip, replaying the video.
Yasamin turned off the translator and watched the video play through once. She crossed her arms and addressed the group. “With no shortage of bravado, Kengi Sato is basically bragging about his team’s build…which is apparently nearing completion.”
“I think we got that much,” said Spotswood, his wavering voice betraying his macho facade yet again.
Yasamin continued. “Basically, he’s eager to fight. He wants to move the match up a month.”
“Yeah right,” said Skip, laughing. “It’s going to take every second we can spare if we’re expected to fight that…thing…they’ve built.”
“They’re not showing any weapons in the footage,” said Dezzie.
Spotswood stood up and stretched his back. “I’m sure they’re going to keep a few tricks up their sleeves. We’re basically fucked.”
“Hello, Shuffle Pigs,” said Lumin, as she walked into the room.
“Lumin, you’re back! I assume you’ve already seen this?” said Skip, not turning around from the screen.
Lumin put her attache case down on a round table stained with sandwich condiments. “Nice to see you too, and yes, I saw it on the plane.”
Spotswood looked at Lumin with panic in his eyes. “That thing is going to shred Biz apart. Game over man, game–”
“Please, Spotswood…don’t. I can’t handle you going all Paxton on me,” said Lumin.
Bo walked up to Lumin and stood a little too close. “Lumin, they want to move up the date of the match, can you believe it?”
“I do believe it because it’s already been agreed upon,” said Lumin. The collective gasp she was expecting rolled towards her.
Skip stood up slowly and looked at Lumin. “But we–”
“It was actually Ryan Lumb’s idea, not Sato’s. Our C.O.O. is trying to drum up more interest in the match.”
Bo threw his hands around wildly. “Wait a minute, they were both colluding together? What the hell?”
Lumin groaned. “Welcome to Sports Marketing 101. This all comes out of Don King’s playbook. It’s Caesar’s Palace all the way.”
“Vegas, baby,” said Spotswood, garnering no response.
Lumin straightened her posture. “I’m not going to get into all the gory details but I think you deserve to know the truth.”
“That phrase never leads to anything good,” said Dezzie.
Lumin continued. “Recently, our investors decided to pull their remaining funding from the build, which put the future of the match in doubt. Despite the progress of the Japanese team, the prize donors panicked when they heard the news of our little setback and were on the verge of pulling out as well. I’m sorry I kept you in the dark, but I didn’t want to create a ruckus.”
“Shit…but we’re good now?” asked Skip, looking rattled.
“A individual has stepped up and agreed to restore full funding to our build: Eldridge Roundstone. Yes, I know some of you have heard that name and trust me…I am well aware of the guy’s questionable reputation.”
“Whoa, the evil billionaire? Nice,” said Dezzie.
“Yesterday, I traveled to Roundstone’s estate for a meeting and I was pleased to discover he wasn’t nearly the boogeyman I had imagined. We can at least trust him enough to help us finish the build. So, If you want to gripe and groan go ahead and put it in an email so I can promptly ignore it. This is the way it has to be if we want to continue the match, so deal with it.”
Some of the team nodded, while others remained stone faced.
“So you hobnobbed with some tycoon…what does this have to do with the event being pushed up?” asked Richard, who had been listening intently while shoving sour cream and onion chips in his mouth.
“Despite Lumb and Sato’s assumed rivalry, they both know the most important–and most difficult—aspect of this project will be getting both teams to the match with a functional robot. If they don’t work together to ensure both builds have completed projects no one will get a chance at that prize money. Now that Roundstone’s saved our ass, they’re putting on this Vegas-style ‘show’ as a way to reassure our benefactors that we are indeed ‘ready to crumble.'”
“Rumble. It’s rumble,” said Skip.
“Whatever…you get it,” said Lumin.
Katerina tapped her juice lid on her lower lip. “So, it’s all gonna be fake…like pro wrestling?”
“Hell no!” said Lumin, defiantly, “We are still going to kick their ass! We’re simply beholden to the duties of promotion just like any other prize fight. Even if Hulk Hagen and…um…Buzzsaw Bill hate each other’s guts, they’re still going to sit next to each other at the press conferences.”
Skip lifted an eyebrow. “Buzzsaw Bill?”
Lumin stomped her foot. “Again, whatever! You get it!”
“So?” asked Bo.
Lumin took a deep breath and collected herself. “We keep building. I want us to have a fully functional prototype in three weeks. We’ll have to scrap all those preset moves; they’re far too predictable. Bo was right…we have to go with a one-to-one control scheme or we’re toast.”
Bo beamed silently and was ignored by all.
“Are you crazy? I don’t even have the right alloy picked!” said Spotswood.
“Don’t worry Lumin, we got this,” said Skip, confidently.
“I may be in Total Bitch mode right now, but I have absolute faith in all of you,” replied Lumin.
Dezzie coughed. “So, we’re replacing the control scheme…with what exactly?”
“We already have a schematic ready to–” started Bo.
“No,” interrupted Lumin.
Bo’s shoulders sank. “No?”
“Your schematic was good, Bo, but I had a flash of inspiration while on the plane. I need you and Skip to come with me so we can flesh out my idea and get it into production…quickly.”
“Sustained madness,” said Yasamin, starting to leave the room. “I have revised budgets to attend to.”
“Thanks for the translation!” Katerina called out. Yasamin waved behind her back as she left.
“Um, elephant in the room! That Japanese bot is too fast, too strong, too…everything. There’s no way Biz can match it,” said Spotswood.
Lumin looked at Richard, ignoring Spotswood. “Richard, what did you notice about that video? Did you see the same thing I did?”
“I noticed two things,” said Richard, “first, we have no idea how large the Japanese bot actually is. Nothing in the video provides any reference for scale. For their robot to move so quickly I’m guessing it’s only half the size of Biz or even smaller. Physics won’t easily allow that kind of agility in a bot the size of ours.”
Lumin nodded. “Right. They’re sacrificing size and strength for speed; it’s definitely a gamble. What else, Richard?”
“Secondly, there was a goddamn cord sticking out of the back of that thing the entire time.”
Skip gasped and played the video in double speed. “Holy shit, you’re right!”
“The type of wattage the Japanese bot requires means it most likely has to stay plugged in. If we can sever the power cable, we’ll have an insane advantage,” said Lumin.
Spotswood smiled. “Hey, finally, some freakin’ good news. Jesus, Richard, you could have spoke up a little sooner!”
Richard shook his head. “Eatin’ chips. Besides, I like seeing you quiver like a worm, Spotswood.”
“Alright, we still have a ton of work to get done. For God’s sake, Lumin, you still haven’t picked out a pilot,” said Bo. “Who’s going to drive Biz?”
“I am,” said Lumin. “Designing the control scheme qualifies me to participate as a pilot under the rules.”
Everyone cheered collectively. Lumin sighed. “Yes, you’re all off the hook. Pop the champagne.”
Dezzie walked up and put her hand on Lumin’s shoulder. “No, Stupid. I think we all knew you should have been the pilot all along–our fearless leader.” Everyone looked around, nodding in agreement.
Lumin blushed. “Alright, let’s get to work.”