GIANT FREAKIN’ ROBOTS part 24: Cardboard Riker

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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Skip parked his hatchback on the dark side of Rancho Nerdo in front of Lumin’s lonely condo. He walked around to help Lumin–still in her bathrobe–out of the car.

“Are you sure you want to start drinking, Lumin? You almost nodded off on the way here,” said Skip, extending his arm toward her.

Lumin batted away Skip’s assistance. “Ease up, Mom…I’m not going to get smashed just have a few sips. If you’re not going to let me work, I’m going to make sure I at least sleep well.” She walked with Skip to the condo’s porch and leaned her head against the door jamb with a groan.

Skip raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“My keys are on my desk…back at the office.”

“Shit,” said Skip. “Wait, hold on.” Skip rushed back to his car and fished a couple of paperclips out of his glove box. He was bending the clips straight as he returned to the porch. “I just learned how to pick locks. I found a tutorial online.”

“You taught yourself how to pick locks…seriously?” asked Lumin. “Why would you do that?”

“Looked fun I guess.”

“Creep,” said Lumin, stepping to the side as Skip knelt to the lock.

“Do you want in or not?” asked Skip, as he pushed the straightened clips into the deadbolt and started to wriggle them.

“If you can pull this off, I’ll pour you a double,” said Lumin, watching intently.

A few second passed. “Just one more tumbler and I’m in.”

“Hurry up, it’s starting to get dark and I’m cold.”

“I gave you the option of putting on clothes and you declined. Ah ha! Got it! Wait, no. Shit!”

Lumin jumped off the porch and walked away a few steps. “I guess some fresh air is kind of nice after being in that womb of soy sauce all day.”

Skip leaned closer to the door, concentrating. “Please, never say that again.” A half minute of fishing around later, and the lock suddenly popped. “I think I—“

Skip nearly fell over as the door opened. Lumin looked down at him from inside the condo. “I remembered my window was unlocked. You looked so eager to attempt a B & E that I was going to let you go for it…but I got impatient. Sorry.”

“Lumin, really?” Skip hopped up. “I almost had it popped, I swear.”

“Just get in here and pour me a drink. I’m bound for the couch.” Lumin went and plopped down on her leather sofa and lifted her legs to a coffee table that had never held anything but her feet.

Skip poured some whiskey into a couple of short glasses and sat next to Lumin on the couch. “Here you go. Seagram’s huh. You buy some real cheap shit, Boss.”

Lumin shrugged. “This isn’t so bad! It’s mostly a sleep aid, anyway. I don’t drink all that often.”

The two stared quietly at a blank television screen while taking a few sips. “So, you and this Roundstone guy…you’ve got a thing going on, right?”

“Right,” said Lumin, offering no further details.

“I know some people are giving you shit for dating him, but I understand. He’s a handsome, unpredictable billionaire. It’s a no-brainer that you’d find him attractive.”

Lumin furrowed her brow. “Who exactly is giving me shit about it?”

Skip started blushing. “You know, people…I don’t know.”

“Uh huh,” said Lumin with a sigh. “Look, I’m trying not to overthink things and just go with the flow. I’m not looking to plan a future with anybody right now.”

“I see,” said Skip.

“Weren’t you dating someone?” asked Lumin, eager to change the subject.

“Your little birthmark looks redder somehow. I like it,” said Skip.

“Answer the question,” ordered Lumin, pursing her lips.

“I went on a few dates with someone from the build crew—Diane—she’s the one who helped strap you into the switch suit.”

“Really? Her? I mean, she’s pretty, but she called me Ma’am…not cool.”

“That’s just military-style politeness, relax.”

Lumin shrugged and took another sip. “So, why didn’t it work out with you two?”

“I guess a few things about Diane bothered me. She’s an ex-marine, which is fine, but her constant stoicism got a little old–except when it came to the U.S.S. Enterprise. She was way too into Star Trek.”

Lumin laughed. “What…you’re more of a Star Wars guy?”

“No! I like Trek—but she LOVES Trek—like, show-up-to-jury-duty-in-a-Starfleet-uniform loves it.”

“Yikes,” said Lumin.

“She has a life-size, cardboard standee of Riker, complete with lipstick marks all over his face. I mean, you have to establish a set of personal boundaries to go along with your nerdom, right?”

Lumin laughed even harder. “Oh God, I wish I could have seen your face when you stumbled upon the First Officer!” Lumin smiled deviously. “I bet you still had sex with her, though.”

“Well, yeah…but that was before I found the standee. Anyway, it’s over now…but we’re still friends. It’s fine.”

A few awkward seconds of silence passed until Skip let a small smile slip, “So, you’re seeing Roundstone but you said you’re not making any long-term plans with him, right?”

Lumin immediately tensed up. “I said all I’m going to say.”

“I’m just wondering if that means someone else might have a chance to sweep you off your—”

Lumin stood up with clenched fists and stared at Skip. “Is this why you’ve been acting so weird? Do you have some kind of bullshit unrequited love thing going on, Skip? Christ! Do you really think I’d—“

“Whoa!” Skip went red and bug-eyed. “Do you have to be so blunt all the time? I was just—”

Lumin threw her arms down to her sides. “Let me finish! Yes, I’m with Eldridge, and no, I would never do anything with someone else while we’re–”

“Lumin!”

“I said let me finish!”

“Lumin, your robe came open!” said Skip, covering his eyes with his hands like a grade schooler.

Lumin quickly closed her robe and blushed. She groaned and sat back down with crossed arms. “Well? What do you have to say for yourself?”

Skip leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and pointing his bright red face to the floor. “Look Lumin, I don’t know. I guess I’ve just been going with the flow too. To be honest, I’ve always kind of had a crush on you.” He paused for a few second before continuing. “Ugh, I wasn’t ready for this conversation.”

Lumin leaned up as well, feeling somehow sympathetic. “Christ, Skip, couldn’t you have made your move a little sooner? It’s too late now.”

Skip looked at Lumin, reluctantly. “Would it have made a difference?”

“I don’t know…maybe?” Lumin tucked a couple strands of hair behind her ear. “I like you, Skip, but I’ve never really allowed myself to a chance to consider you in that way.”

“This conversation never happened.” Skip stood up quickly, his muscles tight and his heart pounding. “I better get back to the factory. No one voted for me to have the day off. There’s still plenty to do before the cargo plane arrives to transport Biz to Vegas. You should try to get some sleep.”

“Alright,” said Lumin, feeling troubled. She put a thick pea-coat over her robe and they walked outside together.

The edge of the sun was tickling the horizon, sending orange light over the foot hills. “You and me are okay, right?” asked Lumin nervously, as she stopped with Skip in front of his car.

“Of course! Listen, forget it alright? We’re better as friends and you’re with Roundstone so…” Skip’s voice trailed off as he took a couple of steps closer to Lumin.

Lumin took a step closer as well, until their bodies were nearly touching. “Good, I don’t want it to get…”

“Weird.” Skip leaned toward Lumin and gently took her hands in his.

“Yeah, weird,” said Lumin, leaning up and pressing her lips against Skip’s.

Skip returned Lumin’s kiss until a green glow at the edge of his vision diverted his attention. He went slack-jawed as he turned his head toward the distraction.

Lumin backed away, feeling light-headed. “What the hell is that?” she said, turning toward a large, luminescent ball darting through the dusky sky a few miles away. It steadily picked up speed until disappearing in a blinding flash of light. Skip and Lumin recoiled as a sonic boom thundered over the valley, leaving the windshield of Skip’s hatchback cracked.

“The kiss was good, but not that good,” said Skip, marveling–and lying.

Lumin was stunned. “I’m not going to say it, you say it.”

“U. F. fucking O? No way. It has to be some kind of drone,” said Skip. “Someone’s just screwing around.”

“Drone’s don’t break the sound barrier.” Lumin rushed toward the condo. “Forget rest! I’m getting dressed and coming back with you to the factory. Maybe our instruments got some kind of reading on that thing!”


Part 25: S.N.A.F.U.U.F.O.

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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