GIANT FREAKIN’ ROBOTS part 23: Three days until the match (includes motivational montage playlist)

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. 

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The next few days were a blur as the Shuffle Pigs scrambled to accommodate Lumin’s accelerated build schedule. Tensions were high in the factory and patience was running low. The lazy days of conceptual design work had been replaced by pressure-filled drudgery demanding absolute precision. The members of the team developed a Pavlovian shudder every time Lumin marched into their respective work areas, even if in the back of their minds they realized her diligence was a necessity.

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“I’m cutting the midday break from an hour to a half hour. I brought in a barrel of coffee and a palette of scones, so eat, shake off your tiredness and get back to work! If you think I’m being unfair you all can unionize after the match is over.”

Spotswood broke into cold sweats every hour as the fabrication process for Biz’s armor slipped behind schedule. Lumin’s demands of progress were incessant and aggravating. He felt a measure of pride and relief when the last alloy panel was completed and installed on Biz’s shoulder, just five days before match time. Eschewing any praise, Lumin immediately moved Spotswood to a maintenance crew under Samuel’s supervision.

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“You’re not allowed to think you’re job is done until everyone’s job is done. Find a way to be useful or I’ll replace you with someone from the janitorial squad.”

Biz’s armor panels, weapon and electrical systems and sensory array were fully installed four days before the match. Miles of protective plastic sheeting were removed from the robot in front of the engineering and build teams during a brief factory-wide work stoppage. The midday sun blasted through the hanger doors streaking white highlights over Biz’s azure armor. Reinforced sensor spikes jutted from the robots shoulders and two antler-like antennas on its head threatened to scrape the hanger’s ceiling. Biz’s joints looked almost comically thin in contrast to the bulk of his limbs, but were deceptively strong. The massive, bare steel spades of his feet jutted out in four directions; large enough to dig up a ranch home with a single, scooping kick. The workers reacted to the sight of the nearly-completed robot with thunderous applause.

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“Alright folks, just look at this magnificent bastard you’ve created. We’ve put the bot together now we have to put it through its paces. So, spend the next hour eating fried chicken and patting each other on the back, because after lunch we’re going directly into testing. Get your egos good and stroked; the next few days are gong to be brutal.”

Eldridge kept trying to call Lumin but she ignored him, shoving down her emotions as she obsessed over utilizing every minute to its fullest. In a moment of weakness she retreated to her office and curled beneath her desk, fantasizing about retreating to Eldridge’s cabin. She wiped her tears away with her palms while dreaming of sliding under the thick covers of his too-soft bed forever–or at least until he made her breakfast. I can’t believe I fell for a guy who grows meat in a garage and races monkeys around a track.

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“For the workers among us who actually have loved-ones, let your family know they can blame me for holding you hostage. I’d appreciate them holding back on any civil lawsuits until after the match is over.”

Usually calm and collected, Yasamin threatened to quit several times and Katerina phased in and out of a mental breakdown. The pair were making nonstop arrangements for transport, lodging, permits, promotion and payouts in preparation for the journey to Las Vegas. Lumin wisely confiscated Katerina’s chainsaw and gave Yasamin a well-deserved bonus (secretly from her own pocket).

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“Failure is not an option. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. A job worth doing is worth doing right…anyway, I’ll be passing out a pamphlet of platitudes for you to peruse. Sorry, I get sarcastic when I’m stressed out.”

Skip and Richard were developing carpal-tunnel from the furious coding required to transfer Lumin’s movement data from the simulation rig into Biz’s central computer. Despite their best efforts to recreate Biz’s structure virtually, the robot’s physical build differed greatly from his digital incarnation. The disparity necessitated seemingly endless tweaking to the programming language that synced Biz’s sensory data to his various internal and external mechanisms.

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“I need this done right, guys. Utilizing the motion control data from the simulation rig is a must. There’s not enough time to retrain my body to a new system because your code’s out of whack. I don’t care what you have to do, make it work!”

In the build hanger, stress seemed to roll off Samuel and his construction crew like water off a duck’s back. They were the Mary Sues of the team–despised by the engineers for their endless energy and efficiency.

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“I have no complaints for you or your crew, Sam. I’m fairly amazed, overall. Let the nerds’ hate flow through you…embrace it and allow it to fuel your mighty powers of erection! Okay, forget that last part.”

Lumin began her first real-world run with Biz in the desert wastes behind the factory. To her delight it felt as though little had changed. The shaking of the ferrofluid tank was more extreme and she felt a distinct creaking if she moved Biz certain ways but it was manageable. Thankfully, the lag she had experienced in the simulation was completely gone. She was still far from an expert pilot, however. Biz’s legs wobbled every now and then and she sent the robot toppling to the ground several times, seemingly at random intervals. During a verbal command to turn 180 degrees her voice wobbled, making the robot’s arms fall completely limp as sync was lost. A later loss of sync lasting nearly half a minute would have proved disastrous in a fight.

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“I’m far from perfect but unfortunately I’m all you have. I may be a fool, but I’m your fool…so make this robot fool-proof.”

Lumin improved her performance as the testing progressed. The whole crew watched through binoculars from a safe distance each time she ran through her movement and weapon trials. The concussion cannon rammed its steel-filled “bean bags” through towers of rusting Buicks, creating a sound like thunder echoing through the plain. The retractable wrecking ball proved troublesome, but she managed to thump the steel sphere against the dry desert floor a few times, putting large cracks in the ground. Everyone was on eggshells as she activated Biz’s chain sword and carved through another pile of cars with ease. A familiar, ear rattling hum spilled through the desert when the quantum vibration blades were ignited. Holding her breath, Lumin took one vertical swing at the last pile of rusting vehicles and they cleaved apart with absolutely no resistance. Satisfied, she immediately turned off the blade.

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“Dezzie, I know I’ve pulled your reigns tightly but we have to avoid any more international incidents, I’m sure you understand.”

When the final weapons test concluded, Lumin emerged from Biz control bell smiling and drenched with sweat. Everyone was strangely quiet—too anxious to celebrate and too tired to feel any pride as they watched a crane lower Lumin to the ground. There was no hooting and hollering, just mild applause. A wisp of hope was drifting through the dusty air. Maybe, just maybe, the Shuffle Pigs had a chance to win.

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“Barring any unforeseen problems we may actually have a shot at this. That said, there will undoubtedly be several unforeseen problems so don’t get your hopes up.”

The next morning Lumin resumed her training with Biz. By midday, she could barely lift her limbs and had to stop when she reached the edge of exhaustion. As hard as she tried, she wasn’t able to better her initial performance. Frustration set in as she crawled into the locker room showers and curled up under a stream of hot water.

“Lumin?”

When she heard Skip’s voice Lumin slid up the tiles slowly and propped herself against the wall of the stall. “What is it? I’m naked…don’t come around the corner.”

“Gotcha. We took a vote. You’re officially barred from any more testing today. We appreciate your effort, but you’re wrecking yourself out there. There’s only three days until the match and you need to save your strength.”

Lumin turned off the water and pushed her forehead against the wet tiles. “Okay.”

“Okay?” asked Skip, surprised.

Lumin’s feet slapped over the wet floor as she walked to her locker, draped in a white robe with a towel wrapped around her hair.

Skip blushed and looked away. “Shouldn’t you get dressed?”

“You there…take me home and get me to my booze, now.”

“Alright, Boss,” said Skip with a laugh, “let’s go.”

 


Part 24: Cardboard Riker

What is this? I started this “serial” as a way to bring some fun and immediacy to my writing routine. Each chapter is written, edited and posted in a single day (I will do some additional editing if I find a glaring mistake). Chapters are released on an irregular basis.
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