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.
The American team endures various setbacks, leaving them a clear underdog to the dominant Japanese team. Less than a week remains until the two teams’ giant machines clash in the first match of a best-of-three tournament.
Lumin suffers a panic attack when she is submerged in a massive tank of ferrofluids; part of the unique control system of her team’s robot. Determined to make their robot–nicknamed Biz–take its first step, she musters the courage to return to the “bell” and continue her training.
The pneumatic rig holding the control bell shook violently with Lumin inside. Another failed first step in the simulation had sent virtual Biz falling face-first to the digital dirt. The alarm in Lumin’s earpiece cleaved through her head as her visor flashed red with a damage report. “Dammit!” she yelled, “can we at least turn off this alarm?”
“Sorry Lumin, we’re stuck with it until we can do a firmware upgrade,” said Richard through a mouthful of sandwich. He was stationed in front of a console monitoring bugs in the control bell’s operating system.
“Richard, if you get egg salad on the console I’ll murder you,” said Skip. “Where did you even get that?”
“Alright! Alright…geez,” said Richard, setting the sandwich on a table behind him.
“Lumin, If you could manage to take a step, you probably wouldn’t hear the alarm as much,” said Skip.
“Shut up and reset the simulation,” sighed Lumin. Her limbs were starting to feel numb and her headache had spread to her shoulders.
“On the bright side, Lumin, we’re getting some great data from the simulation,” said Richard.
Battling the claustrophobia of the ferrofluid tank was more of a trial than Lumin had expected. “I’m sorry to tell you that this simulation rig is bullshit. I can barely feel a thing when Biz takes a fall.”
Richard laughed. “To you, the impacts feel mild, but the control bell is shaking like a paint can in a mixer every time you take a spill. Frankly, it’s terrifying.”
“You can say that again,” said Skip, “and the sound isn’t hot either.”
Lumin shook her head. “Wow, I can’t hear anything.”
“It’s all good,” said Samuel. “The control system is responding perfectly to the motion generated by the simulation rig. If the electromagnetic dampeners weren’t altering the viscosity of the ferrofluid you’d be a lump of pulp in that suit right now.”
“At least something’s working,” sighed Lumin.
Samuel could sense Lumin’s frustration. “I know this was the 12th consecutive fall, but don’t give up Lumin…you’re nearly there! Go with the flow. Don’t try to move like a robot, just be yourself.”
“Yeah, because outside of here I’m constantly strolling around in zero G while submerged in liquid death with a pole coming out of my back,” snarked Lumin.
Samuel shook his head. “You know what I mean! You gotta move more like a dancer than a project manager. Find your inner hippie.”
“Oh Christ, fine…whatever you say, Sam,” said Lumin, repositioning herself in the dense liquid. Her virtual opponent stared at her emotionlessly. “I’m so tired of this goddamn monkey and his fishbowl face. I want to punch his lights out.”
“That’s the spirit Lumin, get it, girl!” said Richard. “Get that…what the hell is this thing again?”
“Robot Monster,” said Skip. “I keep telling you it’s from an old movie.”
“That’s right…I keep forgetting.” Richard rolled his eyes. “I can’t believe we spent hours coding a move set for such a stupid looking thing.”
“Lumin, you’re losing some sync with Biz. Your vitals are a little wobbly. You sure you’re alright in there?” asked Skip.
Lumin didn’t answer. She took a deep breath and focused on her ridiculous foe. She attempted to take another step, trying not to overthink her stride and rely solely on muscle memory. The simulation rig clanked and shook vertically as she finally gave Biz his first successful step forward. A ton of pressure immediately melted away. “Okay, nice…I got this.”
Skip screamed in joy while Samuel nodded and grinned. Richard kept his eyes fixed on the console’s diagnostic screen. “Whoa, she is…the one.”
“Shut up, Rich,” said Skip, annoyed.
“I don’t even see the code anymore. All I see is a blonde, brunette, a redhead in a ferrofluid tank.”
Skip ignored Richard’s Matrix quotes and clapped his hands. “Lumin, you rock! Keep going!”
Feeling confident, Lumin took another stride, then another, until she was in arms length of the Robot Monster. “Switch this gorilla on; let’s tangle,” said Lumin. Despite her pounding heart she finally felt in control.
Skip looked up at the tank. “Let’s not get ahead–”
“Do it!” barked Lumin.
Richard hit a button and the Robot Monster sprang to life, entering a defensive stance. Lumin rushed the ape and sent a right jab into its face. The virtual space gorilla reeled backward goofily and shook its head. Biz wobbled a bit after the impact, but held his footing.
“Fuck yes!” yelled Lumin. “That felt great!”
The three men outside the tank hooted and cheered. Richard pulled up his laptop and started tapping the keys.
“What are you doing?” asked Skip.
“Everyone’s gotta see this!” said Richard, hitting send on a mass-email.
“Get that son of a bitch!” yelled Samuel, enthusiastically.
Lumin took a step forward and sent a combo of three punches into the monster’s head and chest. The gorilla managed to block the last hit, and returned a fist into Biz’s trunk.
“Oh shit!” said Lumin, as the tank shook, “I felt that one.” Undaunted, Lumin charged and launched a kick into the virtual gorilla’s groin that sent it crumpling to the polygonal sand.
“Wait, we can do kicks? Did I know Biz can kick?” Skip asked Sam.”Weren’t we worried about stability?”
“I guess we’re fine,” said Samuel with a shrug.
“This is cathartic, I’m not going to lie,” said Lumin, grinning ear to ear behind her helmet. “Next I’m going to–”
The gorilla suddenly glitched from the ground, teleporting above Biz instantly. “Uh oh,” said Lumin, as the beast landed on top of Biz’s shoulders with millions of pounds of pressure, causing Biz’s left arm to tear away and slam to the earth. The gorilla began pounding with double fists on the robot’s chest. Lumin grit her teeth as the tank vibrated incessantly.
“Lumin, the rig is getting too unstable…we’re going to have to reset the simulation!” yelled Skip. He backed away from the control bell as it jolted violently in response to the simulated punches of Lumin’s opponent.
“No, keep it going! I can do this!” Lumin yelled back.
Samuel rushed to the console to watch the display. “Nice coding, Skip. Do you really think Kyoto’s bot will be capable of teleportation?” he asked, sarcastically.
“I only had a few days to program this shit! Richard was the bug tester, blame him.”
“Hey, It’s not…wait, look!” said Richard, putting a mayo-stained finger print on the console’s display.
Lumin grunted and strained hard, pushing upward with Biz remaining arm. She slipped her hand behind the gorilla’s ass and grasped a handful of matted, black hair. Straining with all her might, she rolled and threw the ape off of her. The Robot Monster flew a hundred yards and collided against the 3D model of the can opener factory, flattening it instantly. A towering cloud of pixelated dust rose to the bitmapped sky.
“Whoops,” said Lumin, feeling her heart sink until she reminded herself none of the carnage was real.
“Holy shit, that was incredible!” shouted Skip.
“I just killed all of you,” said Lumin.
“We deserved it,” said Sam. “Careful, that thing’s still–”
The space ape burst out of the rubble, screaming and pounding its chest. Its rabbit ears were bent and the dome covering its face was cracked. The beast hurtled toward Lumin on its toes and knuckles then leaped into the air.
Lumin felt the ferrofluid between her fingers solidifying as she reached for an invisible sheathe at her back. When she brought her hand forward she could see a virtual chainsaw firing up in Biz’s grip. Lumin lunged and swung the blade, feeling it connect with the gorilla’s shoulder. She pushed hard, slicing the motorized chain through flesh until the Robot Monster’s arm cleaved off and hit the ground. The ape collapsed as an arterial spray blasted out its arm stump, covering several acres of sand with shimmering blood.
“Jesus! The gore’s a little much!” said Lumin, barely realizing she had just won. The Robot Monster blinked out of existence. Screams and applause started ringing in her ears.
“That was incredible!” yelled Sam. Skip and Richard high-fived behind him. “The quantum blades weren’t even hot!”
“I could actually feel the chainsaw in my hand. Crazy,” said Lumin.
“Simple geometry rendered in real-time with iron nanoparticulates using three dimensional magnetic resonance. Basically, the ferrofluid thickened between your fingers as your hand movements were tracked, allowing you to feel the hilt of a virtual weapon. I wasn’t sure we’d have the tech ready in time so I didn’t mention it to you. Surprise!” said Skip. “Sorry about all the blood, I’ve been watching too much Lone Wolf and Cub.”
“You never cease to amaze, Mr. Pantheon. I just thought I was losing my mind,” said Lumin. “I…I think I need to get out of here.”
The next few moments were a blur as Samuel drained the bell and brought Lumin out of the tank. A cherry-picker lowered her to the floor as Samuel and Skip held her up carefully with their arms around her. The last thing Lumin remembered was the sight of her entire crew cheering for her as she stepped onto the hanger floor, dripping with soybean oil.
Lumin woke up an hour later in the medical bay. A small, stuffed gorilla was resting on her chest. It held a heart reading “I’m ape for you!” A simple basket of wild flowers sat on her bedside table; the same variety that grew near Eldridge Roundstone’s cabin. She sat up with a groan as the door opened. Eldridge stepped in, smiling.
“Eldridge? What happened?” asked Lumin, sitting the stuffed ape beside her. “Funny…is this from you?”
“The flowers were from me. The doctor said simple dehydration mixed with a dose of exhaustion took its toll on you. You really pushed yourself out there, Miss Mira.” Eldridge sat on the edge of the bed then leaned over and kissed Lumin gently. “I insisted they monitor your vitals more closely next time around. I saw the footage of the simulation…you were incredible.”
“I had a blast. But I also knew it wasn’t real, which helped.”
“Of course, but I have no doubt you’ll–”
“Kick their ass!” said Skip, as he rushed in the room. He hugged Lumin as the rest of the engineers crowded through the doorway, reveling. Katerina popped some cheap champagne and passed around some Dixie cups.
Eldridge gave Lumin a nod and backed out of the door into the hallway. She smiled warmly, looking into his eyes as he left.
“Guys! Guys! I won a video game, calm down!” yelled Lumin, directing her attention to the crew as they swarmed her.
Yasamin grinned. “Lumin, let’s enjoy this moment. Who knows what the coming days will bring?”
“Right,” said Lumin, her smile slightly fading. Whether she won or lost the coming tournament, this chapter of her life would soon be ending.