“Thanks for coming, everyone. I have something to show you.” Lumin walked to the front of the break room and switched on the large flatscreen television on the back wall. Using her smartphone she streamed a video to the display.
“Edridge Roundstone gave me this file. It’s an interview piece shot by an Austrian news crew. He thinks it will shed some light on our Japanese opponents.”
“Austrians are interviewing the Japanese team?” asked Dezzie. “Weird.”
Lumin sighed and pressed pause. “Yes, I know it’s strange, but with the reach of the internet you never know where your fan base will sprout up.”
“I don’t see any Australians beating down our door to interview us,” said Bo, crossing his arms.
“Austrians…and we’ve had interview requests but trust me, none of you are ready for your close-ups,” said Lumin.
“I can’t wait to see how the translation software handles this mess,” said Skip.
“It’s already been subtitled, thank God,” said Lumin, starting the video.
Onscreen, a white Bell helicopter roared above an ancient Buddhist temple before skimming past a series of rolling hills smothered in blood-red maples. The lush landscape soon gave way to the gleaming glass towers of Kyoto’s skyline as the chopper descended; landing on a platform beside an immense concrete cube pocked with a single steel door.
“Goddamn, it’s so beautiful there. It makes the wasteland we work in look like an underwear stain,” said Spotswood.
“Quiet! I want to hear this,” said Yasamin, pushing Spotswood to the side to move closer to the television.
Subtitles flowed across the bottom of the screen as an unseen female narrator began speaking in German. “A war of words on social media between Japanese and American engineers will soon come to fruition in an epic, physical fight to the finish utilizing gigantic robots. The winning team will secure bragging rights as the top robot builders in the world and bring home a prize of one billion U.S. dollars for the charities of their choice. The Japanese seem confident that the top-secret, nightmarish robot housed several floors below ground in this facility will give them an edge in the competition. ”
“These translations are actually fairly decent,” said Yasamin, with a smile. “It’s nice to hear my native language…even if the dialect is different.”
“They must do all their building and testing underground,” said Richard, as he unwrapped his muffin. “Neat.”
“Yeah, we get an asbestos filled dump and they get a brand new, supervillain-grade facility. Typical,” said Bo.
“But Bo, we benefit from the evil spirits permeating these old walls. The Kyoto team’s base seems cold and soulless,” said Dezzie.
“Dezzie, dont’ talk to me…ever,” said Bo.
“Alright, quiet down!” said Lumin, turning up the volume as if it mattered.
The scene shifted from the cube’s landing pad to a brief interior shot of the complex before settling on a view inside a rapidly descending elevator. A window behind an armed escort in black body armor gave fleeting glimpses of the complex’s many floors as the elevator sank into the facility.
The Austrian woman provided narration as the elevator ride continued. “In response to the flood of interest in their upcoming match, the Japanese build team–simply known as the ‘Kyoto Team’–has granted our small crew unprecedented access to the inner workings of their complex. We will be interviewing their Chief of Operations, Kengi Sato, and the key members of his engineering crew. Afterwards, we’ll get an exclusive first look at the prototype of their battling robot.”
A hush went over the crowd in the break room. “Don’t get too excited,” said Lumin. “Roundstone already told me there’s not much new footage of the Japanese bot in this video…this is simply to help us know who we’re up against.”
A few groans rolled up to the front of the break room.
The elevator stopped and the camera pushed out past the armed escort into a wide hallway. Everything in the Kyoto Team’s headquarters was composed of gleaming black composite plastic or bare metal polished to a blinding sheen. Ancient woodcuts and antiquities had been hung on the walls, seemingly to offset the sterility of the building.
After the camera crew walked a few meters the scene abruptly cut to the interior of Kengi Sato’s office which was similarly unadorned and minimalist. Sato clasped his hands on the other side of a outlandishly large hardwood desk as he faced the camera crew. Shoulder length hair and dark sunglasses complemented his stern expression.
“So cool,” swooned Dezzie.
“Before we interview the mastermind of Kyoto Team, Kenji Sato, we will profile the talented engineers working to bring his vision of the perfect robot warrior to life,” said the Austrian narrator, chiming in.
“Ah, man,” grumbled Dezzie, disappointed.
“First up, we have Kanazawa Saburou, lead armor designer,” said the narrator.
“Hey Spotswood, it’s your evil twin!” yelled Skip, turning to him with a smirk.
“Shut up,” complained Spotswood, “that guy looks like he’s 400 pounds…plus he’s bald!”
Dezzie shrugged. “He still looks better in a leather jacket than you do.”
“So, Saburou-san, what drives you forwardwhen tasked to work on a project so outlandish?” An off-screen woman could be heard translating the interviewer’s questions into Japanese.
Saburou laughed heartily. As he leaned closer to the interviewer his jacket fell open revealing a t-shirt printed in English that read “GOLD SWAMP.” The subtitles scrolled quickly as he began to speak. “I suppose it is outlandish, isn’t it? While Sato-san has become enamored with his mission of good will, and rightly so, I remain focused on the grave insults and boastful lies the Americans have used to discredit Japanese engineers.”
“Yeah right, the trash talking went both ways, pal,” said Skip
“Coming from a culture of violence, the Americans’ best robot designs are clumsy battlefield weapons while the majority of ours have been designed to benefit mankind.”
The crowd in the Shuffle Pig’s break room began booing at the screen.
“Until recently our most fierce robots only existed only in the realm of Science Fiction. This is no longer true. I have joined this team to show the Americans just how ferocious the Japanese can be when cornered!” said Saburou.
More boos. “I’m half Japanese and I say bring it on, pal!” said Katerina, defiantly.
“Good passion…nice…but shut up you guys! Just watch,” said Lumin, turning up the volume again. “Let’s keep the jingoistic flag-waving to a minimum, please.”
The scene shifted to a darkened room illuminated by three tall lamps clamped to a large aluminum desk. The desktop was covered with wire spools, servos and other machine parts organized in an immaculate, geometric arrangement. Three identical faces suddenly pushed into the lamp light from the back of the room, their expressions emanating equal amounts of boredom and disdain. The camera pulled back revealing three striking women standing shoulder to shoulder.
“Next, we’ll showcase three very talented sisters. The Dokujima triplets: Kokone, Miu and Ako. After graduating with highest honors from The University of Tokyo they were chosen by Kengi Sato to be Kyoto Team’s lead weapon designers,” said the narrator.
Dezzie smiled wide. “So, the person holding my job title turns out to be three people–a set of hot, evil triplets. I’m in love.”
Skip started laughing. “Not even these three creeps could equal your amount of crazy, Dez.”
“The ‘accord’ between the rival teams bans most projectile weapons or explosive devices in order to protect the robots’ pilots. Do you feel a lot of pressure having to design mostly unconventional weapons to destroy the American machine?” the interviewer asked the Dokujima sisters.
“No,” said the sister in the middle, Miu.
“I see,” said the interviewer. “Some might say your lack of experience puts you at a disadvantage…do any of you find such criticism valid?”
“No,” said the sister on the right of the screen, Ako.
“What do you hope–”
“Enough,” said Kokone, the third sister, interrupting the interviewer. “Our circumstances have made us objects of ridicule and isolation throughout our lives. Our hearts have been continually poisoned yet still beat on, still remain virtuous. Before speaking a single word we were able to recognize the deep cruelties of this world and have long yearned for its devastation. We would like to thank the American team for giving us an opportunity to unleash our destructive force upon them. This match will be the first step in the pursuit of our violent destinies. There is nothing left to say.”
“Brrr…spooky,” said Skip, staring at the screen.
“Wow, I like those girls,” said Katerina, smiling. Dezzie was speechless beside her.
“Can you show us one of your weapon designs?” asked the interviewer.
“No,” said Miu as the sisters backed way, returning to the darkness.
The scene changed again, showing the confident face of a young man with a permanent grin and a blackened eye. The camera shifted, showing off his perfectly taylored suit and diamond cuff links. He switched off a 3D projected diagram of an unknown device then turned to face the camera. “They call me Hayashi or ‘Early Death’ because of my tendency to get into fights, but the people I abuse always deserve such treatment,” said the young man, proudly.
“So, what is your job on the team, Hayashi?” asked the interviewer.
“Everything. I do what other engineers can’t, which is quite a lot. Sato-san favors me over my teammates due to my endless energy. I sleep one hour a day and spend the rest designing, drinking and fighting. Despite my nickname I am unstoppable! Cross me and you may see for yourself,” said Hayashi, letting out an exaggerated laugh.
“Wow,” said Bo, shaking his head. “They’re all maniacs.”
“They have a flare for the theatrical but I’m betting it’s mostly an act for the cameras,” said Yasamin, crossing her arms.
“I don’t know, Yasamin,” said Lumin. “Since I’ve started working here I’ve learned to recognize the glint of instability and insanity in a person’s eyes…and their eyes are practically on fire.”
The next scene returned to Kengi Sato, still behind his desk looking gelid and intense. After a brief reintroduction from the narrator the interview began. “Sato-san, as co-founder of this robot fighting match and leader of the Kyoto Team, please tell us what this project means to you.”
Sato remained motionless as he spoke. “It’s not what it means to me, or even to Japanese pride. The money and attention this match brings will be used to lift the impoverished masses from their shameful stations. Humanity cannot reach the next stage of evolution until the basic human needs of even the lowliest members of society have been met. The only other choice is to wipe the needy from the planet without a second thought…end their suffering”
“Ouch. Kind of harsh there, Kengi. Hopefully that was due to some rough translation,” said Richard, looking at Yasamin.
“Nope, that was just about spot on,” said Yasamin.
“How does your charitable mission differ from the American Team’s goals?” asked the interviewer.
Sato gave a hint of a smile. “I’m afraid the philanthropic philosophy of my opponents, led by an honorable if misguided American business man named Ryan Lumb, is much different than my own. Mister Lumb wishes to provide food and clean water for the hungry, which is important, but I believe simply filling bellies will not solve the world’s problems.”
“Then what will?” asked the interviewer.
“What a load of crap!” blurted Lumin, “If we win, every dollar will go to providing sustainable solutions to hunger! We’re not just going to drop bags of wheat from heli–”
“Lumin, quiet! I can’t hear,” said Skip, looking around her. “We all know the truth, save your breath.”
Lumin crossed her arms and scowled.
“I will provide clean, renewable, affordable energy to villages the world over so the impoverished can begin to focus their efforts on raising themselves up rather than relying on an endless supply of foreign aid,” said Sato. “Moreover, when poor nations abandon their reliance on the corrupt influence of the petrol-dollar they will be able to provide proper funding to infrastructure, agriculture, commerce and healthcare. My energy plan will save the world.”
“You have to be kidding me,” whispered Lumin to herself.
“This clean energy you speak of…where will it come from?” asked the interviewer.
“With the full blessing of the Japanese government and our generous benefactors, the prize money will be used to continue production of a new type of energy generation and transfer methodology that my company, Sato Corp, has recently developed. Without saying too much, these compact energy units will be leased to any nation who requests them for a modest fee. This technology will end the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.”
Lumin paused the video, hearing her teammates start to murmur. “What is Sato talking about?”
“Unless he’s blowing smoke, what he’s proposing will change the world,” said Skip.
Richard swallowed his last bite of muffin. “Maybe not all for the better. Rapidly eliminating the world’s reliance on petroleum will lead to massive destabilization around the globe, especially in the middle east.”
“What could this tech possibly be, though?” asked Spotswood. “A new kind of solar cell? Wind? Cold fusion? What the hell?”
“Start the vid again, Lumin,” said Bo. Lumin nodded and hit play.
“Your company is poised to make billions should your plans come to fruition. Aren’t you worried your philanthropic efforts will be misconstrued as profiteering?”
Sato laughed lightly. “My plans will be realized either way…winning the tournament will simply speed them up. I will not make billions on this endeavor…I’m afraid my detractors are eager to spread lies about my projects. Under the rules of this competition an individual is not allowed to profit in any way from the prize money. My company has already spent over a billion yen developing this technology and now I’m prepared to essentially give it away to the world. Any profit gained in the leasing of my energy units will be used to increase production. That is all I wish to speak on this topic for the time being.”
The interviewer seemed reluctant to press the issue. “I guess we’ll have to wait and see the impact your technology has on the world. In regards to the Japan-based charities you plan on aiding…many have taken umbrage with your team’s planned backing of the whaling industry in the guise of preserving Japan’s national heritage.”
“Who cares about whales, what the hell is this energy source?” asked Spotswood.
“Quiet!” scolded Lumin.
Sato leaned forward and sighed. “In my opinion, whaling on the Southern seas has left a black mark on Japanese culture for far too long and should be phased out as soon as possible. The committee members who proposed funding for the whaling industry have been cut from the Kyoto Team’s ranks. Documents released this morning reflect the recent changes to our board of trustees.”
Lumin smiled. “Wow, finally, some good news!” Dezzie, Skip and even Yasamin cheered and whistled.
“Goddamn hippies,” mumbled Bo. Richard gave him a gentle high five.
Spotswood rolled his eyes at everything. “Hello? There’s bigger fish to fry, almost literally.”
The air in the break room room felt hushed and strange as Sato’s interview ended. The same footage of the menacing Japanese robot from the viral video began to play on screen as the narrator gushed over its magnificence.
“Yeah, we’ve seen this much. Let’s get back to work,” said Lumin, switching off the television.