A few hours after the meeting, Lumin was enjoying a rare moment of quiet in her cramped office when the intercom chirped. She pressed the red button. “Katerina?”
“Lumin, Eldridge Roundstone is on the line. Shall I patch him through?” asked Katerina, imitating the histrionic tone of a starlet from the 1940s.
“You really missed your calling as a switchboard operator, Kat,” said Lumin.
“Yes,” said Katerina, “but, should I patch him through, for real?”
“Yeah, go ahead,” said Lumin as her heart made a small jump. She hadn’t talked to Eldridge since their meeting at Z.
The intercom clicked again. “How are the monkeys, Eldridge?” asked Lumin. “Including Andrew.”
“Just fine, Miss Mira. I’m pleased to hear your voice.”
Lumin grinned. “If you’re hoping I’ll give you permission to simply call me ‘Lumin’ it’s never going to happen.”
“Nevermind. So, I trust you received the secure files of our recent design upgrades? The Kyoto team’s video has really lit a fire under everyone’s ass. It’s nice, if a little terrifying.
“I received the files, yes. Good improvements all around. The ferrofluid chamber was a stroke of genius.”
“Thanks. I could get used to being called a genius.”
“You are. Still though, the Japanese are going to be formidable opponents. I think the quantum vibration blade is going to be your ace in the hole.”
Lumin nervously played with a paper clip. “I’ve started a vigorous training regimen due to the demands of this one-to-one control scheme, including nightly lessons in Kendo. Lumb flew a guy up here to train me–no pressure, right? He barely speaks a word of English. It’s been exhausting, but I have to admit…kind of satisfying as well.”
“Yeah, apparently I have no shortage of pent-up aggression. Once I’m fit enough I’ll start training in the ferrofluid test tank.”
“I have utmost confidence in you, Miss Mira, but I wouldn’t fault you for having some apprehension. Three rounds stretched across three days…it’s more of a tournament than a match.”
“Lumb said framing it like a boxing match would be more marketable. I suppose he’s right.”
“Such pageantry is inevitable I suppose. The Kyoto Team’s video was bombastic but impressive. Even though you’ve spotted some weaknesses, be mindful–Kengi Sato is no fool. He may be hoping to steer your assumptions down the wrong path.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Lumin paused for a few seconds then had an evil thought. “Listen, Eldridge, I have a request. They’re going to do a full 3D scan of my naked body in order to tailor a perfect fit for my switch suit–I’d appreciate it if you didn’t open that particular data file.”
“Oh, what a shame, Ms. Mira,” Eldridge’s voice dripped with mock disappointment before he suddenly laughed. “I’m joking, of course…your scan will remain private.”
“Calling my bluff? Alright. Honestly, I don’t care. Feel free to view my virtual body and manipulate it in real-time, 3D space.” God, stop, thought Lumin.
“Miss Mira, I’m keenly aware of your tricks.” Eldridge’s voice seemed to waver just a little. “You’re trying to get a rise out of me.”
I know how you want to respond to that, just..don’t, thought Lumin. “Hmmm. I still have plenty of cards up my sleeve, watch yourself, Eldy.”
Eldridge laughed again. “I will.”
“Eldridge…after all the generosity you’ve shown I hope you’ll forgive my next question.”
“You’ll never have to censor your thoughts around me. What’s on your mind?”
“Backing us wasn’t totally about rekindling a sense of childhood wonderment or feeding the hungry, was it? I did a little sleuthing and found out Kengi Sato has been one of your main business rivals for a long time. You were even classmates at Cambridge.”
Eldridge sighed. “Yes, we were once on the verge of starting a company together but our business philosophies turned out to be incompatible…to say the least. I admit I would take no shortage of joy seeing him humiliated by you and your team.”
Lumin leaned back in her chair and took a deep breath. “You know Eldridge, that actually makes me feel a lot better. You suddenly seem a little more human…no offense.”
“None taken,” said Eldridge. “Ryan Lumb was Sato’s partner, and rival, for a time as well. Our business ties are quite tangled, unfortunately.”
“Really? So which one of you magnates is the most evil? Was there a contest?”
Eldridge chuckled. “I came in last place…as far as you know.”
“Oh, I’m sure.”
“While we’re on the subject of Kengi Sato, an Austrian camera crew was recently invited to do some extensive interviews with the members of Kyoto’s engineering team. There’s no insider information to be gleaned from the video but it may provide your team some incite into who you’re up against.”
“Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.”
“Ah yes, ‘The Art of War’–standard reading for any true business person.”
“It’s scary how deeply I’ve delved into a warrior’s mentality since becoming the team’s pilot. What have you done to me, Eldridge?”
Eldridge chuckled. “Embrace your violent tendencies while they’re applicable in a setting that won’t land you in prison. Enjoy it while it lasts.”
“Who am I kidding,” said Lumin, “I’m no bad-ass. I’ve lost two rooms of my condo because of spiders. Those rooms are dead to me.”
Another laugh from Eldridge. “You’re maintaining a difficult balance admirably, Miss Mira. I’m sending you the interviews now.”
“Leaving me already, Eldy?”
“I’m afraid I have a busy schedule ahead of me. This conversation will definitely be the high point of my day.”
“Wow, low standards. By the way, shouldn’t we be communicating through holograms or something? You’re a billionaire for God’s sake. If you’re not going to let me look at you I’m just going to picture you naked.” Lumin immediately clamped her eyes closed and thumped her head to the desk lightly. Too much! Too much!
“I’ll get one installed right away. I love hearing your voice but it would be even better if I could see your…smile. Maybe these meetings should be face to face.”
An awkward silence stretched across a few slow seconds. Lumin felt herself blushing. It was the first time Lumin had heard Eldridge at a loss for words.
“I think we’re breaking up a little? Maybe the factory is going through a tunnel. I’ll catch up with you soon, alright?” said Lumin, letting him off the hook.
“Very well, until next time Miss Mira. Take care.”
The intercom clicked again. Lumin leaned back and took a deep breath. What am I doing?
“Whoa ‘Miss Mira,’ do I need to bring in a fire extinguisher for your pants?” said Katerina through the intercom.
“Katerina!” Lumin jumped out of her seat. “Not cool!”
“Sorry Lumin, I couldn’t stop listening. I don’t know why…so, are you two…?”
Lumin slammed her hands on the desk, “Katerina, you’re fired!”
“No I’m not,” said Katerina, calmly.
“No, no you’re not. Shit. Just, don’t ease drop anymore!”
“Alright Miss Mira.”
“And don’t call me that!”