THE STORY SO FAR:
Braggadocio between American and Japanese robotics engineers on social media becomes serious once corporate backers join the fray and commission build teams for an international face-off. Each team is tasked with building a gigantic robot to compete in a fighting match to the “death,” with the winner taking home bragging rights and a massive purse for the charities of their choosing.
A driven young engineer named Lumin Mira is hired by the corporate backer of the American team to manage a stable of erratic engineers and deliver a victory. While working in a secluded location in the Oregon desert, her team strives to complete their fighting robot with limited time and resources. After the team loses their financial backers an eccentric billionaire named Eldridge Roundstone steps in and restores full funding, although his motivations remain nebulous.
Lumin’s team endures various setbacks, including a disastrous test run of their robot–dubbed “Biz”–and a traitorous engineer who has given designs of their most powerful weapon to an already dominant Japanese team.
Lumin rode shotgun in Skip’s red hatchback as they rushed to Richard Den’s party at “Rancho Nerdo.” The complex of condominiums had been erected by to house the builders and engineers under Ryan Lumb’s employ; its homogeneous structures sticking out of the barren expanse as if the local termite mounds had succumbed to gentrification. Built 50 miles from the closest town, the site was regularly visited by trucks bringing groceries and other essentials for the residents. The only thing Lumin planned on bringing was the pain.
Skip’s Rabbit skidded to a stop in front of Richard’s condo. A syncopated rhythm blared from the building’s open windows.
Skip looked at Lumin with concern as they prepared to confront Bo Dozens. “You were far too quiet on the way here. You’re not going to kill him, are you?”
“Dozens? Oh no. But I may make his bowels loosen. Is that reggae?”
“It’s ska night.”
Lumin shook her head in confusion.
“Come on, Lumin! Skinny black ties and checkerboard patterns? Disaffected British youth? I was actually looking forward to this party. Skanking is about the only dance I can do,” said Skip.
“It’s like ‘the running man’ with less arm movement. Perfect for geeks.”
“It sounds like music band geeks play when they’re feeling rebellious,” said Lumin as she got out of the car.
“Exactly,” said Skip, slamming his door. “So, what’s the plan?”
Lumin ran toward the front door and kicked it in. A collective gasp reverberated over the music.
“Oh shit,” said Skip, running up to join her.
The party went silent. Some waved hello, others just stared. Katerina shuffled up with a huge, alcohol-fueled grin. “Lumin! I’m so glad they finally invited you! I know you said you can’t fraternize outside of work but cum’mon we’re all family, ya know?”
“You’re sweet Katerina,” said Lumin as she lifted Katerina’s arm off her shoulder. Near the rear of the condo she saw Bo pop his head up from behind the kitchen island like a prairie dog. “Bo!”
Bo somehow became even more pale. “Lumin? Why are you–“
“I need to talk to you. Get over here.”
Bo shuffled closer after shoving a handful of chips in his mouth. He was wearing a trilby hat, a mustard stained white dress shirt and skinny black slacks with his fly open.
“That’s a good look, Dozens. Come with me.” Lumin grabbed Bo’s pudgy arm and led him to what she thought was a bedroom but turned out to be a broom closet.
“Wooo, go Lumin! Seven minutes in heaven!” yelled Katerina, drunkenly.
Yasamin pulled Kat away gently. “Let’s go get you some air, Honey.”
Lumin eventually found a bedroom and shoved Bo inside, closing the door behind her.
Richard handed a red solo cup to Spotswood as he watched Lumin disappear into his guest bedroom. “Boss Lady put a dent in my goddamn door. What’s that about? She jumped on Dozens like he was one of her rice cakes.”
Spotswood shrugged. “Who knows. Bo’s a continual fuck-up.”
“Takes one to know one,” said Richard.
“Exactly. I guess whatever Dozens did couldn’t wait till Monday,” said Spotswood, knocking back his beer.
Bo squinted as Lumin flipped on the lights in the guest bedroom. “What the hell, Lumin?” he whimpered, looking up from the bed.
“I’ll get straight to the point, Bo,” said Lumin, crossing her arms. “Tell me exactly what you’ve sold to the Japanese, Pony Boy, or the NDA you signed when you were hired will be slapped across your ass so hard you’ll be picking teeth out of your deviated septum.”
Bo backed up a few inches on the bed. “I don’t know what–“
“Corporate espionage carries serious consequences, Bo. Spill!”
“Alright! Fuck…Lumin, it’s…well…my control schematic was so good and you just threw it away! I didn’t want it to go to waste!”
Lumin turned around. “Fine. Listen up–Sheriff Mira is about to lay down the law. Pack up your plastic figurines and get out of Dodge by sun-up. If you haven’t left your condo by then I’ll have a fully armored security team drag your ass all the way to Salem. After that, expect a posse of lawyers to be tracking your every move.”
“No, wait! Okay. I gave ’em the quantum blade too, alright? They offered me a lot of money–too much money to say no,” said Bo, with tears welling in his eyes. “Please, I’m sorry! I’ll give you every cent, just don’t–“
Lumin leaned over, grabbed Bo’s collar and yanked his sweaty face close to hers. “Listen here, you sloppy lump of vanilla pudding–you’re not going anywhere. No one knows about this mess except for me, you and Skip. As of now, consider yourself a double agent. I expect intel from your interactions with the Kyoto Team to come sliding across my desk starting next week, and every week thereafter.”
“Okay! I…I can do that.”
“The minute I deem you untrustworthy or think you’re holding back on me, you can kiss your career and financial future goodbye. Got it?”
Bo nodded his head furiously “Yeah, of course! Okay! Thank you!”
Lumin straightened up and rolled her neck. “Consider your route through the factory restricted. You’ll trudge through the front door to your office and that’s it. Network and wifi access in your office and condo will be blocked. All your interactions with Kyoto will happen in a secret, designated area under my full observation. If you breathe a word about our arrangement to anyone, you’re dead.”
Bo gasped in terror. “Dead?! Come on, it doesn’t have–“
“Okay, okay, not dead. Poor choice of words…but it will definitely be bad!” Lumin was secretly overjoyed her sheriff persona had been so effective.
Bo exhaled loudly.
“That said, if Dezzie ever finds out you screwed her over, she’ll kill you–and I mean literally; the woman has no soul.”
“I’ll do anything you want, Lumin,” said Bo, crestfallen.
“I’m going easy on you, Bo. I just can’t believe you thought I’d be so stupid. Enjoy the party and zip up your fly for God’s sake.”
Bo started crying as he zipped up his pants with a shaking hand. Lumin left the bedroom and rushed to the front door past the rest of the revelers before they could say a word.
“That idiot left his security pass in the break room, can you believe it?” Lumin announced to no one in particular. “Alright everybody, enjoy your stanking!”
“Skanking,” corrected Skip, palming his forehead. “You ready to leave, Lumin?”
“Skip, stay here and have a few beers. I’m going to go pour something a little more potent down my throat.” Lumin grabbed Skip’s head and pulled his ear down to her mouth. “Keep an eye on Bo tonight and tell me if he implodes,” she whispered.
“Did he fess up?” Skip whispered back.
“He admitted everything. He’s going to be a double agent for us, at least until he fucks it up…and he will.”
“Whoa…intense. You want to borrow my car?” asked Skip, feeling somewhat relieved.
“Nah, I could use a walk. My condo’s not far from here”
“Really? We all assumed you lived in a cave or just slept under your desk.”
“Ha ha, Dummy. I haven’t been home in a week to be honest. It’s probably infested with antelope.”
Skip laughed. “Alright, see you later Lumin.”
“Thanks for the help.” Lumin gave Skip a nod then left, feeling like her own implosion was eminent.
Halfway home, Lumin was deafened by a massive roar from above. She recoiled, momentarily blinded by a spotlight washing down on her as it cut through the dusty air. Her hair whipped around her face as something landed in the desert a few yards away.
“Christ, now what?”
It was one of Eldridge Roundstone’s helicopters.