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 a stable of talented but erratic engineers as they design and build the American team’s robot with 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 skidded into the elevator and hit the button for the ground floor five times as if each press might help the squeaking doors close faster.
Lumin jumped and gripped the rail at the edge of the elevator’s cabin. “Katerina! I didn’t see you there. Good God, you scared the shit out of me!”
“Well, it’s nice to confirm I’m invisible to you,” said Katerina. “Come on, Lumin. You’re missing the party! Spotswood’s using a roasted chicken as a puppet to terrorize Dezzie. It’s pretty great.”
“Sounds wonderful,” said Lumin, distracted by her thoughts.
“What’s up, Lumz? You look freaked.”
“Katerina, I don’t have time to explain!” barked Lumin, as the elevator began its incredibly slow descent. The two women stood facing each other silently for an uncomfortable amount of time.
Lumin’s shoulders dropped. “I’m not going to the party, okay?” she said with a groan.
“Where are you going then?”
“Skip said he has something to show me behind the factory.”
“Oh dear…Lumin…no,” said Katerina with disappointment, shaming Lumin with a knowing look.
Lumin stomped her pump and broke her heel. “It’s not like that! Crap.”
“Want me to superglue that back on again?” asked Katerina.
“No, just…forget it. I just don’t understand why everyone is up in my business lately.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, the rest of the businesses around here aren’t exactly booming,” said Katerina, matter-of-factly.
Lumin kicked off her shoes and threw them in the corner of the elevator. “Well, it won’t be long until you’re all free of this place, then everyone can chase tail in greener pastures.” The elevator stopped and the door began grinding open. Lumin slipped out with Katerina close behind.
“I’m coming with you,” said Katerina. “So, you seem to be spending a lot of time with Skip. Fess up, are you two really…you know?”
“No! We’re nothing. He quit,” said Lumin, pushing through double doors into a hallway leading to the back of the factory.
Katerina grabbed Lumin’s hand, and turned her around with surprising strength. “What? We’re almost at fight-time! Why would he quit?”
“Holy shit, you’re strong!” said Lumin, marveling.
“Well, chainsaws are heavy,” said Katerina, meekly. “Skip?”
“I can’t talk about why he quit…but don’t worry about it, alright? Everything’s fine,” lied Lumin.
Katerina nodded, looking distressed. “I actually thought you two would make a good couple.”
Lumin dipped her head and sighed. “Well, it’s not in the cards.”
“Maybe I’ll snatch him up,” said Katerina, with a sly smile.
“You have to be kidding me,” said Lumin. “You like him?”
Katerina squinted and threw her arms to the side in sudden frustration. “I don’t know Lumin…it’s not easy being stranded in the desert surrounded by all these nerds! Skip’s about the only eligible bachelor around here! Spotswood’s okay, but he’s stuck in his phony tough-guy act.”
“What about Samuel?” asked Lumin.
“Samuel? Well, he’s cute, but he’s a little old for me…plus he has a wife and three kids back at the condos so I think it’s probably not a good idea.”
Lumin was shocked. “Really? When did he bring them here?”
“A couple weeks ago. You’re a little self-absorbed, Boss.”
Lumin pinched her brow. “Yeah, I won’t argue that.”
Katerina puffed out a breath. “I’ve been so desperate lately I was about to jump all over Dezzie.”
Lumin nodded. “Are you?”
“I don’t know anymore. I just want a little SATISFACTION!” screamed Katerina, before blushing and sinking a little where she stood. “Sorry.”
Lumin snorted, unable to stop herself from laughing. Katerina’s agitated state broke apart and she started laughing along with her. Lumin put her hand flat against the wall and caught her breath. “Sorry! I’m so sorry. I needed that.”
Katerina wiped her eyes. “Me too I guess.”
“Like I said, you’ll be free in a week. Come on, let’s go see what’s making Skip act so weird.”
“Aside from you?” asked Katerina.
“Aside from me.”
Lumin unlocked and unthreaded a chain from the factory’s rear entrance. The rarely-used steel door creaked as she pushed it open. She stepped outside onto a cracked asphalt lot on her stocking feet and started hopping around. “Ow, the blacktop’s a little warm.”
“Should have just broke your other heel off,” said Katerina.
Lumin adjusted to the heat and kept moving. The pathway was lined on either side with old manufacturing equipment pulled from the factory and left to rust in the dry desert air. Skip was at the end of the row, waving, as he leaned on his Volkswagen Rabbit. Behind the hatchback was a ramshackle trailer he had constructed, its bed bowing from the weight of its cargo.
“Is that the UFO everyone’s talking about?” said Dezzie, her eyes popping wide.
“No, don’t be crazy,” said Lumin.
Lumin walked gingerly over the hot pavement up to Skip. “So, what do you have?”
“I was hoping you could tell me,” said Skip, “Hey, Katerina.”
“Hi Skip,” said Katerina, her eyes fixed on the trailer. “Tell me you have E.T. under that blue tarp.”
“Not quite.” Skip walked behind the trailer and pulled off a paint-chipped wooden gate from its rear, likely harvested from an old fence. “This damn thing’s so heavy I had to get it in the trailer using a pair of pneumatic jacks. I thought I was going to blow up the engine dragging it down the hill. Luckily, I was off the dirt trail by the time I flattened a tire. It’s been a hell of a day.”
“Explains all the sweat stains on your hoodie,” said Dezzie.
Lumin stared at the tarp-covered box in the trailer. “Enough suspense already!”
Skip untied the tarp and tore it away, revealing a smooth, dull grey cube underneath. It was giving off a low hum. “This was all I found up there. No wreckage. No signs of a forced landing. I think this was dropped off by our bogey before it took off toward the ocean. I was smart enough to check it for radiation before I hauled it away, but I probably should have asked for some assistance.”
“Probably,” said Lumin, walking closer. “What is this? It’s covered in—”
“yeah, it’s completely covered in what looks like tire rubber. Not very alien. In fact, check this out.”
Katernia was frozen in place, her hands over her mouth.
Skip helped Lumin into the trailer. “Don’t worry, its safe. Over here, squat down.”
“This thing is…active…it’s warm.” Lumin lowered to peer at the bottom of the cube. “What’s that?”
“Where are your shoes?” asked Skip.
“I’m losing my patience here, Skip,” said Lumin.
“That’s a serial number. his sheathe of rubber must have been trimmed from the back-end of a large roll. After some serious web sleuthing I discovered only one manufacturer uses a serial code with this configuration of letters and numbers.”
“Who?” blurted Katerina, wanting to be a part of the conversation.
Skip stood back up. “K.T.O.-Sangyō… a division of Satocorp.”
“Our beloved Sato-san?” asked Katernia.
“Yup. I’m guessing this is some kind of surveillance device.”
“No, it’s not.” Lumin looked at the cube, then back at Skip, marveling. “I’m betting this is a power core from one of the energy generation units Sato’s just unveiled!”
“What?” Skip leaned back, nearly falling off the trailer. “Why the fuck is it here?”
“For no good reason,” said Katerina, dramatically. “I mean, for no reason that’s good. You get it.”