THE STORY SO FAR:
Braggadocio between American and Japanese robotics engineers on social media escalates to a real-world, multi million dollar face-off. Backed by corporate donors, each team begins building a gigantic robot to compete in a fighting match to the “death” in Las Vegas, Nevada. The winning team will take home bragging rights and a massive purse for the charities of their choosing.
A driven young woman, Lumin Mira, is sent to a secluded location in the southern Oregon desert to manage the American team’s stable of talented but erratic engineers. Her team toils under a tight deadline to design and build their robot using limited resources.
When the Americans lose their financial backers, an eccentric billionaire named Eldridge Roundstone steps in and restores full funding–with the strange stipulation that Lumin pilot the robot herself. Despite Eldridge’s quirks, Lumin finds herself drawn to his charms and their partnership becomes more than professional.
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.
“Alright, so, everyone got that? Our time frame has shifted…drastically. We only have eight days until show time. Eight. Days.”
Every engineer and builder sitting at the break room table went glassy-eyed over Lumin’s pronouncement.
“I know it seems bleak but I have some sort-of-good news. Kengi Sato has agreed to change the single match format into a best-of-three tournament. The matches will now take place over the course of three consecutive Sundays. Yes, the breaks will give the Japanese time to perfect their bot, but it also gives us an opportunity to ‘tap out’ of the first match if need be. We’ll use the extra week to finish our build then rally to win the next two matches. It’s a hail-Mary, but we can do this, people!”
Lumin looked around the table. “Hello?”
Finally, Samuel Maston–BZ9.5’s Build Manager–spoke up. “Biz is undergoing final repairs and is 90% up to spec. We’re putting the finishes touches on the ferrofluid reservoir and magnetic linkage system. It will be ready for testing by tomorrow morning–if you’re ready, that is.”
“Yes, that’s what I want to hear! Thank you, Samuel. I’ll be there with bells on,” said Lumin, feigning confidence. “I won’t leave that ferrofluid until Biz is spinning cartwheels.”
Samuel looked skeptical. “We’re in uncharted territory here…if the initial tests of this control scheme fail miserably we’re not going to be able to recover. Just being honest.”
“I’m not listening,” said Lumin, keeping a fake smile affixed to her face.
Darwin Spotswood shook his head, looking distressed. “Eight days? This is crazy…there’s no way! It would take months in that black, oily shit before you’d even come close to feeling comfortable with the controls.”
Lumin furrowed her brow. “Spotswood. I’ve been scuba diving in Unity reservoir twice a week to prepare, which is far from having crystal clear waters. I’m ready be submerged in that tank every minute I can stand until I’m ready to go.”
Skip Pantheon stood up slowly. “Lumin, the training you’ve done is admirable but I still think I should be Biz’s pilot.”
Lumin shook her head. “Eldridge Roundstone stipulated I control the bot as part of the refinancing agreement, so I’m going to be the pilot…end of story. Besides, I’ve already been fitted for the switch suit.”
“Please Lumin, he’s toying with you somehow. I can sense it. I don’t want to see you hurt out–”
“I’m a big girl, Skip.”
Spotswood only seemed more agitated. “I don’t think–”
“Enough!” barked Lumin, interrupting. “If anyone wants to whine and crap your pants I’d rather you just leave. Don’t use my safety as an excuse! The rest of you, stand up and tell me if we’re hitting our benchmarks!”
“Okay, you’re right,” said Spotswood as he rose to his feet. He took a deep breath and straightened his stance, stuffing down his fear. “Biz’s armor is being fabricated as we speak. I’ve perfected the alloy–it’s strong as hell and even came in underweight. Barring any issues it will be ready to be installed by Tuesday, mid-day.”
“There! Good, Spotswood…you can stay. Samuel, does that work for you?”
“Yup,” said Samuel with a nod.
“Who else has good news?” asked Lumin, looking around.
Buttercup jumped on the table and barked as Dezzie Lynch stood. “All weapon systems are ready to go online. The concussion cannon is fully operational.”
“Wait, did we spec that?” asked Lumin.
“‘Concussion Cannon’ sounded more menacing than ‘Giant Bean Bag Launcher.’ A steel mesh pouch the size of a Volkswagen filled with titanium bearings is not a bean bag.”
Lumin shrugged. “Looked like one to me.”
“I suppose it might as well be…the cannon’s still too wimpy. These safety rules are really chapping my ass, Lumin. Satan decries safety.”
“And yet, I’ve allowed you to build a potentially universe-collapsing death blade. Actually, I wouldn’t count on seeing that thing in action.”
Collective gasps swirled the room.
“I have my reasons. What about the rest of Biz’s armaments, Dez?”
“Hear me out, Lumin…I sensed your yellow-bellied hesitation over the quantum vibration blade, so I modified its design. I integrated quantum-entanglement technology with the diamond-tipped blades of an industrial scrapping chainsaw. The saw operates normally until the ‘q-tech’ blades on the chain are ignited. This way, the weapon will still have some use if you insist on running it cold–as cold as your tits, Lumin.”
“Alright, don’t talk about my tits. You didn’t get those changes approved, but still, nice work Dezzie.”
“Well, without juice, the sword iteration of the weapon would have amounted to a glorified spatula. I had to do something.” Buttercup chewed up a lined notebook on the table as Dezzie continued. “I’ve also equipped Biz’s left palm with a retractable wrecking ball linked to a titanium chain. Good old kinetic, blunt-force trauma.”
“I hope it’s enough,” said Lumin. “Excellent work, Dezzie. Now please, get Buttercup off the table.”
“Retrofitting that scrap saw was a real bitch,” muttered Samuel.
Lumin nodded appreciatively at Samuel. “Who else? Richard?”
Richard Den stood up, swallowing half a “Zinger” before he spoke. “My work’s been done for months. No changes, just maintenance. The nuclear power core in that robot is as solid as Bo Dozen’s kidney stones. Hey, where the hell is he?”
Lumin ignored him. She wasn’t ready to talk about Bo. “Yasamin, are transport arrangements for Biz and the crew finalized?”
Yasamin Jones crossed her arms. “Despite an egregious lack of notice, yes, our refurbished Las Vegas hanger is being outfitted triple-time for our arrival.”
“Are all the matches going to be held in Vegas?” asked Skip.
“Yes. Existing ticket holders will receive discounted vouchers for the additional matches. All promotional materials are in the process of being updated as we speak,” said Yasamin.
Skip shrugged. “At least we’ll get some extra days to gamble, if nothing else.”
Yasamin rolled her eyes at Skip then put her arm around Katerina shoulder. “Katerina’s been working with me to expand our web presence in lieu of our lost promotional time. We’re also making sure all vendors and contractors are aware of our accelerated schedule.”
“Nice…you two always make a good team,” said Lumin. “As the rest of you have probably guessed, I briefed Katerina and Yasamin on this mess a day ahead of this meeting.”
“Left out of the loop…nice,” complained Spotswood.
“You’re looped now, so shut up,” retorted Lumin.
“Did you see Katerina’s bear? I loved the carving so much I bought it. Her art gave me the idea for the chainsaw modification,” said Dezzie.
Lumin grinned. “I can’t believe you still have both your arms, Kat.”
“Me either!” said Katerina with a shrug.
“So, Skip, is Biz’s skeleton back in working order?”
“Structurally sound,” said Skip Pantheon, “but there’s going to be a lot of tweaking to get his servos in sync with the new control system. Lumin, we need your movement data more than anything else at this point.”
“I’m heading straight for the ferrofluid chamber as soon as we’re done here,” said Lumin.
“Hey, what about Bo?” asked Richard, again.
Lumin put her hands on the desk and lowered her head for a moment. “Bo Dozens was caught smuggling secure documents out of the factory. The schematics for our scrapped control system and the quantum vibration blade are now in the hands of the Japanese.”
“Christ,” said Richard, after a gulp of RC Cola. “I can’t believe that little bastard!”
Overlapping voices chattered angrily until Lumin banged her shoe on the table to regain everyone’s attention, breaking off a heel in the process.
“Shit! Okay, listen…I had Bo escorted off the property this morning, never to return. He’s a ghost. Initiating contact with Mr. Dozens will be result in you being booted off the team immediately. As hard as it was, I had to let him go with little more than a scare. We can’t afford to risk further controversy on the eve of our first match.”
After a few more seconds of murmuring the crew quieted again, most looking shell-shocked.
“You now live in this factory, people. Perpetual overtime. Any complaints?”
No objections were raised beyond some incredulous stares.
“Alright then. Listen up, here’s the schedule for next eight days. Today we’ll be testing the control system in the ferro tank. Sunday…” Lumin paused, “I’ll get back to Sunday in a minute. Monday we’ll integrate our motion control linkage and tweak the servos as needed. Tuesday we’ll install armor and run mobility trials. Wednesday we’ll conduct a reevaluation of all systems and move on to weapon testing–”
“Jesus Christ, Lumin. Are we just going to gloss over the fact that they have a quantum blade?” interrupted Spotswood.
Lumin couldn’t be mad at him. “I know. We won’t go hot with the blade until we’re damned certain the Japanese aren’t using some iteration of it themselves. The risk of a disaster is too great.”
Dezzie smiled. “The end times are upon us. Bless us, Dark Prince.”
“Shut up, Dez,” said Skip, annoyed.
Lumin tried to move on. “Thursday we’ll do as many full test runs as we can manage. All work will pause on Friday so we can transfer our operation to Vegas. That Saturday will undoubtedly be utter chaos as we scramble to finish up before the first match.”
“Brutal,” said Skip.
“Absolutely,” said Lumin as she pulled back her hair. “Skip, now that Bo’s out of the picture you’re in charge of putting our software through its paces. Richard, since you’re so damn confident about your power core you’ll be Skip’s code monkey.”
“Oh, joy,” said Richard.
Lumin jumped in the air in her best impression of a cheerleader. “Go Shuffle Pigs!”
“Lumin, you didn’t mention tomorrow…Sunday,” said Katerina.
Lumin took a deep breath and slumped. “Oh, right. Tomorrow the entire Kyoto Team is flying in for an extremely limited tour of our factory and hanger. Everything we don’t want revealed will be stowed away, including Biz. Members of the international press will be in attendance but this tour is strictly promotional. I don’t want to hear one word of substance, people! If anyone grills you about specifics you just smile and say “no comment.” We’re going to keep it fluffy and stupid; just think like a Kardashian. Sato, his crew, and the journalists will arrive at 7 a.m. and your attendance on the airstrip is mandatory. We’ll have a short briefing tomorrow at 6 a.m. before they arrive.”
The room went silent once more.