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.
Eldridge Roundstone waved Lumin over to his jet-black chopper. Lumin walked up tentatively, ready for the bad news–whatever it may be.
“Lumin, hop in!” yelled Eldridge over the roaring rotors as he handed a headset to her.
Fuck it, thought Lumin, climbing inside the helicopter. My headache couldn’t be any worse. She put on the headset and slid into a leather seat next to Eldridge. “What’s this all about, Eldridge?”
“Hey, babe! I missed you!” called a voice in Lumin’s headset.
No. Lumin did a double take as she peered into the cockpit. A familiar grin shined beneath the pilot’s visor. A mop of wild, wavy hair was jutting beneath his helmet. “Jesus, Andrew? You’re flying this thing?”
“Yeah, Eldy’s been teaching me. I’ve logged quite a few hours now, so no worries!”
Eldridge leaned closer to Lumin. “This thing is state of the art. It practically flies itself.”
“Take me somewhere with alcohol,” said Lumin, annoyed that her life was suddenly in the hands of a balloon artist.
“Actually, that was going to be my suggestion,” said Roundstone.
Remarkably, Andrew proved to have a steady hand with the yoke. The helicopter touched down minutes later in the tiny town of Fields, just east of the middle of nowhere .
“Would you mind taking off those heels? They’re lovely but a touch impractical out here, I’m afraid.” Eldridge pulled out two large, ugly galoshes out of a metal compartment and slipped them over Lumin’s feet before she could protest. He put on a matching pair of his own. “I built my cabin on old pasture land. I’m afraid a proper landing platform is still in the works. We may have to traverse a few cow patties.”
“The dry ones make pretty good fuel for camp fires,” said Andrew.
“Wonderful,” said Lumin, as Eldridge lowered her slowly from the helicopter. She could feel herself blushing at the feeling of his large hands on her waist. Andrew led the way as they trudged a few yards through the field to the cabin. Luckily, the pasture was dry as a bone, making the galoshes ultimately unnecessary.
“Cabin huh? This place is massive!” said Lumin, marveling at the structure as they approached. It was rustic but modern, with huge exposed logs arranged in complex, interlocking patterns.
“Calling it a cabin may be a stretch but it’s only six bedrooms; I really didn’t see the need for more than that all the way out here. I had it built so we could have a place to meet, away from prying eyes.”
“You cut down an old-growth forest for me? How sweet,” said Lumin, sarcastically.
“These redwoods were genetically engineered to grow at an accelerated rate. We can produce a log with a 5 foot diameter in less than a year. All the building materials were shipped over from my plantation in Northern California.”
“Stop impressing me, it’s getting old,” said Lumin. She turned to Eldridge after walking up the steps to the porch. “You could revolutionize the timber industry with this tech.”
Eldridge shook his head as opened the door to the cabin. The interior was ultra-modern mixed with simple, frontier furniture. “Since I started this project several synthetic construction materials have emerged that are far superior to lumber. I’d rather promote new technology than bolster the unsustainable practices of the past.”
“It could save thousands of jobs…especially around here. You should reconsider,” said Lumin.
“I’m always willing to revisit my decisions…but this isn’t why I brought you here. Come, sit down and relax. Single-malt, neat?”
Lumin plopped in an overstuffed leather chair and sighed. “Rocks, please.”
Eldridge looked at Andrew, making him jump a bit. “Oh, right! I’m gonna get out of here. There’s a bitchin’ old-school shuffleboard table at the local bar. I got fleeced by the hayseeds last time I played but I’ve been practicing on a shuffle board app I found for my tablet. Time to win my money back!”
“Oh, alright Andrew. Thanks for not sending me to my death in a horrific fireball. You did alright up there. Good luck with the shuffleboard.” Lumin waved goodbye.
“See you soon, Loomz.” said Andrew, before clomping down the stairs.
Lumin heard a motorcycle start with a grumble and speed off. “He gave me a nickname, does that mean he likes me?” she asked Eldridge.
“Oh, I think he has a little crush for sure,” said Eldridge with a laugh. He poured himself a drink and sat across from Lumin on the couch. “That makes two of us, I suppose.”
“Yeah, he’s definitely crushing hard on you,” said Lumin, deflecting Eldridge’s admission. She was suddenly distracted by the wall behind him. “Wait, is that Luncheon on the Grass…in wood?”
Eldridge twisted to look at the replica Manet inset into the cabin’s wall. Eschewing paint, the artwork was composed entirely with scraps of wood of varying varieties and hues. “Yes, I’ve always loved Manet. While superficially gorgeous, a closer look at his work reveals a darkness hiding in the details. His strokes were subtle but bold, always favoring truth over beauty.”
Lumin stood up and got a closer look. “I’ve always loved this painting.”
“I’m afraid my rendering is fairly pedestrian…even as a tribute. It lacks the qualities that makes Manet great. I was a touch too enamored with my band saw when I made this…I may end up removing the piece.”
Lumin ran her hand along the different textures of wood, all perfectly polished. “You made this? It’s beautiful! Don’t you dare take it down.”
Eldridge softly smiled. “I’m glad you like it. I was a carpenter for a year before being seduced by grander ambitions. Sometimes I miss it…there’s something to be said for a simple life.”
Lumin came over and sat next to Eldridge on the couch. She put her empty glass on a weathered antique table in front of her. “You can say that again. Everything’s been so nuts lately.”
Edridge sighed. “I actually had some important news for you, but honestly, I’m not in the mood to talk ‘shop.'”
Lumin nodded. “Let’s get it out of the way quickly, then. I think I know what you’re going to say.”
“I have a source on the production floor of the Kyoto Team’s complex. They’re hesitant to give me much information, but I managed to learn that–”
“They stole the specs of the quantum vibration blade. I know. They’re also using an outdated schematic of our control scheme. An engineer named Bo Dozens was passing the Japanese information in exchange for cash and glory. I already threatened him with criminal charges unless he starts working for me as a double agent. No one else knows he’s betrayed us, except Skip Pantheon.”
Eldridge raised an eyebrow. “Well then, I suppose this jaunt was all for naught. Nice detective work, Miss Mira.”
“I hate loving when you call me that,” said Lumin. She took a deep breath and continued. “Listen Eldridge, I’m not some dippy co-ed. We could have talked business at the shuffleboard bar, standing on peanut shells and cigarette butts. We could have done this all over the phone. If your goal was to seduce me, just kiss me already.”
Without a word, Eldridge leaned to Lumin and embraced her; kissing her passionately. Their black rubber galoshes scraped together and squeaked loudly as they pushed closer.
Lumin laughed through the kiss. Eldridge leaned down to take the boots off but Lumin stopped him. “Leave them on,” she said, running her hands through his thick, dark hair.
Lumin watched Eldridge’s gentlemanly demeanor extinguish, replaced by an intensity she hadn’t yet seen. Quick to match him, she tore open his shirt, popping buttons to the floor. “I always wanted to do that.”
“Me too,” said Eldridge, returning the favor as his large hands roughly parted Lumin’s blouse. They tore away the rest of each others clothes with urgency. Eldridge paused to run his hands over Lumin’s body then gently leaned his forehead against hers.
“More fun than your band saw?” asked Lumin.
Lumin felt Eldridge’s tensed muscles pressing against her as they lowered to the couch. They made love as the full moon sent cool, white light through the windows over their bodies.
Lumin awoke the next morning on the couch beneath a large divan. Andrew was sitting in a chair a few feet away watching a muted soccer game on the TV. He seemed oblivious to her presence as he stuffed a piece of bacon in his mouth. Lumin sat up and pulled the comforter up over her breasts. “Good morning, Andrew.”
“Oh! Sorry Loomz, I was just trying to see the score and then I was going to leave you alone.” He smiled at her, knowingly. “Fun night with Eldy?”
“We had sex…grow up,” said Lumin, squinting at the sun. Surprisingly, her headache was gone.
“Andrew, give the lady some privacy!” Eldridge called from the kitchen.
“Did you win your money back, Andrew?” asked Lumin.
“I’m not ready to talk about it,” said Andrew with a groan. He flipped off the television and hurried away after giving Lumin a wink.
Lumin put on a white bathrobe she found draped over a nearby chair and shuffled over the hardwood floor toward the smell of bacon and eggs.
Eldridge–dressed solely in a pair of pajama bottoms–was standing in front of the stove. “Sorry about that,” he said to Lumin, looking over his shoulder. He was sliding an omelet out of a pan onto a plate next to two strips of bacon.
“It’s fine,” said Lumin, “but you have six bedrooms, we probably should have used one of them.” She sat at a small table next to the kitchen enjoying the smell of fresh wild flowers in a vase in front of her.
“I picked those this morning,” said Eldridge. “I’m an early riser.”
“The food smells even better.” Lumin looked at Eldridge and grinned. “It takes a brave man to fry bacon topless.”
“I baked it, actually. Less messy,” said Eldridge. He walked over and gently placed the plate in front of Lumin. “I hope you like eggs.”
Lumin looked up and nodded, her mouth already full of the first bite.
“That garnish was mainly for presentation.”
Lumin shrugged. “Hongray.”
Eldridge chuckled but Lumin could see consternation in his face. She put down her fork. “What is it? Listen, what happened doesn’t have to mean–”
“No, no…it’s not that. It’s just…there’s been some recent business developments,” said Eldridge, sitting across from her.
“I won’t want to hear this, will I?”
“I received word this morning that my source on the Kyoto Team’s factory floor has been discovered. The Japanese are demanding the match be moved up or they’re pulling out of the contest entirely.”
“You had a spy? We’re supposed to have three months! Even with that time line we might not–”
“If we had revealed Kyoto’s espionage first we might have some leverage, but we’re under their thumb. I’m sorry, this is my fault.”
Lumin shook her head, “Lumb will never agree to this.”
“He’s already on board. I think he’s grown weary of the entire affair.”
“Great. So, how long do we have?”
Eldridge face looked pained as he took Lumin’s hand in his.
“Just tell me.”
“We have a little over a week.”
Lumin lost her appetite.