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. In hours the two teams’ giant machines clash in the first match of a best-of-three tournament.
Lumin, her engineers and a significant portion of the build crew had crammed on to a Southwest Airlines flight bound for Las Vegas. Everyone on the American robotics team was wearing the SHUFFLE PIGS t-shirts Lumin had designed and printed, featuring a ferocious, anthropomorphic boar wielding a shuffleboard stick. The few people on the flight that weren’t on the robotics team seemed rightfully confused.
As Lumin was returning from the restroom, Katerina grabbed her arm. “Lumin!”
Lumin knelt down to Katernia, knowing Kengi Sato’s cube was still weighing heavily on her mind. “Hey, it’s fine. We have to keep this hush-hush, though, alright?”
“Right,” said Katerina. “So, it hasn’t exploded yet or anything?”
“I had Skip put it in a secured equipment bay at the factory,” Lumin whispered in Katerina’s ear. “Only he has the keys. I’ll decide what to do with the thing when we get back to Oregon.”
Katerina looked around nervously. “I just have a bad feeling about this.”
Lumin became nervous when she saw Richard looking at Katerina quizzically. “Haha! Yeah, they say that in every one of those movies! Okay, see you on the ground, Kat!” she said, hurrying back to her seat.
Katerina looked at Richard with a nervous grin. “I’m watching the Star Wars movies for the first time.”
Richard shrugged. “Flash Gordon was better.”
“Hey Boss, next time spring for business class!” yelled Dezzie. Lumin ignored her.
Lumin plopped down in her seat next to Yasamin. “Hey, how’s it going?”
“I think I’m developing calluses on my fingers from this damned tablet but other than that I’m fine,” said Yasamin, stuffing her iPad into the seat-back pocket in front of her.
“Is Biz on the ground?”
“Yes. BZ-X arrived at the hanger none the worse for wear. Somehow, everything seems to be falling in place for the match.”
Lumin let out a sigh of relief. “Thank God. Oh, I almost forgot.” Lumin dug around in her purse for a moment. “I knew you would never willingly wear a t-shirt so I had this made for you instead.” Lumin handed Yasamin an unassuming pendant on a silver chain featuring an etching of the team’s logo.
A smile beamed crossed Yasamin’s usually stoic face. “Lumin, thank you. This is really quite thoughtful,” said Yasamin, putting on the pendant.
“Well, don’t act that surprised,” said Lumin. “You’ve really been busting your ass behind the scenes. I appreciate you always having my back, no matter how outrageous my demands become or how bitchy I get. I couldn’t do this without you.”
“Lumin, despite my initial misgivings about this project I’ve since turned a corner. Going forward, I want you to know that I’m fully invested to the match. The technological innovations we’ve developed have the potential to permanently change the world for the better; no one’s ever seen robotics engineering this advanced. Beyond all that, your tireless efforts to see this mad quest come to fruition has impressed me beyond measure.”
“Well, I’m happy to hear that you’ve come around…one goddamn day before the match,” said Lumin. Both women laughed. “That prize money will do some real good if we can manage to win.”
“Will you two hens quit clucking? I’m trying to compose my memoir up here,” said Spotswood, peeking around from the mauve seat in front of Lumin.
“Like anyone would want to hear your story,” said Lumin, throwing a pretzel at his head. “Wait, are you serious?”
“Don’t get salt in my doo!” complained Spotswood, quickly running a comb through his hair. “Yes, I’m serious. Maybe you forgot I’m already a published author.”
Lumin turned to Yasamin. “Oh, I wish I could forget. He wrote one book, what was it called? Struggling…Something.”
“Struggle of the Atomic Heart,” interrupted Spotswood. “It’s an interstellar space epic.”
“Really?” asked Yasamin.
“His uncle is a Literary Agent,” said Lumin, dismissively.
“I submitted my story under a pen name! He had nothing—”
“No one cares,” said Lumin. “Weren’t the sales dismal enough to discourage you?”
“It did fine, especially in foreign markets. My unc…agent wants me to write my life’s story.”
“Oh great, I’m sure the autobiography of a grease-monkey barely out of his 20s will prove to be scintillating reading,” said Lumin, crossing her arms with a smile. Yasamin laughed.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Lumin,” said Spotswood, defensively, “What if told you I was transgendered…AND a war veteran?”
“What?” said Yasamin and Lumin, in tandem, leaning closer to Spotswood’s seat.
A smile crossed Spotswood’s face. “So, you’d buy that?”
“Buy what? What the hell are you talking about?” said Lumin, with confusion.
“I’m just trying on a few different personas. Don’t get me wrong, my life’s more than worthy for the page, I’m just hoping to…augment…some of the details to help sell a few more books.”
Yasamin’s face turned cross. “Are you insane? No one wants to read a memoir full of lies. If you want people to believe you have an interesting life you need to actually be interesting.”
“Please,” said Spotswood, with a shrug. “No one cares if you fudge a few truths as long as you have a good story to tell.”
Lumin kicked his seat. “You idiot! If you actually get that thing published, I’ll be the first one to call you out on your bullshit!”
“Ow, hey! I hope you do! Controversy sells books.”
Lumin rolled her eyes. “Well, I can’t wait to hear about your adventures as a transgendered war hero slaying vampires across Antarctica.”
Spotswood tapped his chin. “Hmm. Maybe change Antarctic vampires to…Somali pirates? Not bad, actually.”
“Despite your apparent need to embellish your personal history, the fact remains that you’re part of a team that has designed a skyscraper-sized fighting robot! That’s probably the story your uncle wants, you dolt,” said Yasamin.
Spotswood took off his sunglasses and rubbed his eyes. “Ugh, maybe I am floundering a little here.”
“Just pull back a little, Spotty,” said Lumin. “We all know those pirates would kick your ass.”
Yasamin squeezed Spotswood’s shoulder. “Write what you know. Trust me, trans people have enough problems without some greasy money-grubber falsely representing them.”
Spotswood shook his head. “How would you know?”
“Trust me,” said Yasamin, staring into his soul.
Spotswood went pale. “Oh my god, you’re? Wow! Really? I mean…I’m sorry, I didn’t…I won’t put that in there!” Spotswood turned around and closed his laptop. He shuffled quickly to the bathroom, saying “Sorry!” once more as he passed by Yasamin.
Lumin’s eyes were wide and shining, “So, those tampons you loaned me—were you just carrying them around for show?” she whispered in Yasamin’s ear.
Yasamin grinned. “I was born female and I’ll stay that way. I’m just trying to spare the world a portion of Spotswood’s bullshit.”
“The look on his face…priceless!” Lumin laughed into her hands until Spotswood came back. The grandmother sitting on the other side of Lumin flipped through her Redbook nervously, silently praying the plane would be landing soon.
After landing at McCarran International Airport airport, the team loaded into a series of charter buses. They orbited the edge of Las Vegas’ glitzy core before heading into the open dessert. 45 minutes later, the vehicles squeezed through a gated checkpoint and pulled in front of a towering, abandoned blimp hanger in the middle of nowhere.
“Welcome to Wasteland 2.0,” said Richard, hopping out of the bus. “Damn it! I already have sand in my shoes.”
“How’d you find this decrepit monolith?” Spotswood asked Lumin, staring up at the immense wooden building. It resembled a massive cylinder lying on its side, half-buried in the sand.
“Yasamin rescued this hanger from demolition and had it retrofitted for our purposes,” said Lumin.
To Richard, the off-white, bowed slats of the wooden hanger resembled a sun-bleached rib cage. “It looks structurally unsound,” he said, raising an eyebrow.
The light reflecting off Yasamin’s silver dress made several team members squint as she stepped out of the bus. “The outside’s remained mostly untouched, but the inside’s been completely reconditioned,” she said. “It’s not exactly pretty but we didn’t have many options.”
Lumin nodded. “This place has history. Howard Hughes used this hanger to plaster movie advertising on his flotilla of blimps.”
“That’s right, I forgot he had directed films,” said Richard.
“Hughes? Really?” asked Samuel, lighting up. Lumin nodded.
Spotswood shook his head. “Nice of us to carry on Hughes’ legacy of madness.”
“If there’s a banner for ‘Hell’s Angels’ in there, I call dibs!” said Samuel, unusually animated. “The building’s so big…I bet there’s still a few unexplored nooks and crannies.”
Dezzie looked around at the security stations sprinkled at the edge of the property. “Do we really need this much implied thuggery?”
Yasamin nodded. “Our profile, not to mention our accessibility, has raised significantly in recent days, requiring added security. Just as we hoped, our decision to delay the reveal of our robot until match time has left the media in a lather. The Kyoto Team has followed suit and is going to delay their unveiling as well. Sato hopes to hold the interest of the media until his energy generators go online. He wants to parlay publicity from the tournament into interest for his free energy initiative.”
“He’d be smart to keep his mind on the match.” Lumin looked at her phone after slipping down her sunglasses. “Everyone, get your asses in the building,” she bellowed to her team. “The news outlets are already on their way. Yasamin will assist me in conducting a small press conference while the rest of you set up our equipment in the hanger. I want a full diagnostics check on BZ-X finished by the time I walk through those doors. Let’s go!”
Six security officers in black uniforms tugged open the hanger’s double doors. Biz’s silhouette could be seen behind a hazy, four-story high plastic curtain. Lumin peeked Inside. Although rough and unfinished, the interior looked less likely to collapse than the structure’s outer shell.
“This place is huge! Where is the Kyoto Team keeping their bot?” Dezzie asked Lumin as she collected her duffel bag, which was wiggling a bit.
“They’ve built their own state of the art facility, of course, just a couple miles away from the Las Vegas Arena. You should see their security.”
Dezzie groaned. “Sorry I asked. I miss Buttercup.”
“I know he’s in your bag, Dez, don’t even pretend. Just make sure he doesn’t overheat.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll keep him in my jacket, for the most part.” Dezzie unzipped her bag and the Boston terrier peaked out with a big, curled tongue smile.
I assume there’s a makeshift kitchen in the hanger?” Lumin looked at Yasamin, who nodded in return. “Good. I’ll go get Buttercup a bowl of water.”
Dezzie grinned. “Thanks, Boss.”
“This feels weird without Skip,” said Richard. “I can’t believe he just went and quit on us.”
Lumin started blushing, “He had his reasons, reasons I can’t get into right now.”
“Believe me, when this is over I’m going to grill his dumb ass,” said Samuel.
Lumin started clapping her hands. “Alright, folks let’s go! We only have a few hours till the match. That’s hours, people!”