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.
Before Lumin could make her final test run in Biz, a full battery of diagnostic tests had to be run to make sure every system was still in operational order after the robot’s transport. Lumin decided to take a quick tour of the T-Mobile Arena with Yasamin while she waited. She called the arena’s event handler and arranged an impromptu tour of their future battleground.
“Lumin, the weapons systems are looking good. I already submitted my report to Samuel. Can I tag along?” asked Dezzie, running up.
“Sure,” said Lumin. “If you behave.”
Dezzie looked offended. “What? Me?”
The women boarded a charter bus bound for Las Vegas’ largest arena. The facility was sandwiched between The Monte Carlo and New York-New York casino hotels. Reality slapped Lumin across the face as the bus pulled into the lot. She stared up at the gleaming glass panels of the colossal, freshly-constructed bowl. “Christ, this is really happening.”
“Yup,” said Dezzie. “Ridiculous, ain’t it? Soon you’ll be swimming in a vat of black goop, throwing proxy punches at something actively trying to destroy you. All for entertainment.”
“We’re all officially nuts” said Lumin, shaking her head.
“Impressive,” said Yasamin, craning her neck. “I can see why they licensed out the name of the arena—it must have cost a pretty penny to erect this in such a prominent area of Vegas. “
Dezzie scratched Buttercup’s ear. The dog panted with approval, sitting comfortably inside a backpack. “I don’t know. Biz is pretty damn bulky. Lumin’s not going to have a whole lot of room to maneuver in there. I hope no one gets squished.”
“They took out several rows of seating for the event and constructed a series of clear, aluminum oxynitride walls using specs we provided. It should prevent any injuries caused by flying debris or wayward projectiles,” said Lumin. “They put up a steel mesh as an extra precaution, but Yasamin’s trying to get them to remove it…it’s overkill and an eyesore.”
“They’re ruining all the fun,” said Dezzie.
Lumin nodded. “I conducted my last VR test run inside a simulation of the arena. It is a little smaller than I’d like but it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”
Dezzie shrugged. “The quantum vibration blade will cut through those walls like butter.”
“Yet another reason we should avoid using it,” said Lumin.
Dezzie put Buttercup on her back as she walked with Lumin and Yasamin through the arena’s empty lot. “The weapons I’d equip on Biz could grind this entire gaudy city into a glittery grease stain.”
“Dezzie, why do you think I had that giant, custom rubber stamp made? You know, the one screaming ‘NO’ in huge block letters?”
“For comic relief?”
Lumin rolled her eyes. “I wish. It was specifically for your overly-destructive designs.”
A portly man in a security uniform rolled up in a golf cart. He greeted the women with a half-hearted nod. His name tag simply read ‘ROY.’ “You ladies must be some real big wigs to get a tour on a Saturday. Too bad you’re not important enough to get a stuffed suit from the corporate office to show you around instead of me”
Lumin smiled. “Well, Roy, I wouldn’t say–”
“I ain’t no tour guide, so don’t expect much,” interrupted Roy. “And I have no idea what the hell that big-ass metal net in there is for so don’t ask. Some circus queers in skin tight leotards will probably be dangling from it at some point. Anyway, I’m just here to lead you around and make sure you don’t die…so don’t die and don’t ask too many questions.”
“Of course,” said Yasamin, annoyed. “We won’t take up too much of your precious time, Roy. We just want a quick overview of the facility.”
Roy tilted his head, noticing Yasamin’s German accent. “Huh, a black Kraut? What next?”
“How about a black eye?” said Dezzie, with clenched fists.
“Hey, hey. Everyone calm down!” said Lumin, grabbing Dezzie’s arm and pushing her back.
“Whoa, keep your breasts at rest, Ladies. I’m just funnin’ ya.”
Yasamin slouched and sighed. “Can we just get this over with?”
“Well, what are you waiting for? Hop in…I sure as hell ain’t walkin’ the grounds.” The women climbed into the back of Roy’s electric cart. He mashed a pedal with his foot and the electric engine whined. “Women these days are so goddamn sensitive. I tell ya, from what I hear on the radio, feminism has turned all of you completely crazy. What you need is—”
Dezzie had enough. She hopped to the front of the cart and sent Roy flying out of the driver’s seat with a double booted kick. The man grunted and tumbled out of the vehicle, flailing to the concrete below like a fat carp out of water. Dezzie stomped the accelerator and slowly motored away.
Lumin grasped her face with both hands. “Dezzie! What the hell!” Yasamin was laughing maniacally.
“I was tired of that asshole,” said Dezzie. Buttercup barked incessantly. “Shit, this thing is a slug.”
“Stop! Stop the cart!” yelled Lumin. Dezzie stopped with a sigh and Lumin ran up to the security guard. “Shit shit shit!”
Roy was up on one knee and patting his belt in a panic. “That’s it lady, I’m calling the cops! Where the hell is my radio?”
Yasamin, 50 yards away in the cart with Dezzie, whistled and held Roy’s radio aloft.
“Ah…fuck,” said Roy, still catching his breath. “I still have my pepper spray, though!”
Lumin put his arm around the man and gently helped him up, taking his hand off his belt as she did. “Hey, hey…no need for that. Now who’s too sensitive, huh? Man up, Roy, we’re just screwing around, right? You can’t tell me that little tumble hurt a guy like you.”
Roy turned from bright red to a softer shade of sweat-glazed pink. “You crazy bitches went too far!”
Lumin kept her arm around Roy. “Well, Roy, words hurt…and so do boots…so consider us even. Maybe this will help the healing process?” Lumin plucked a flask out of her purse and put it in Roy’s hand. “Do you like bourbon, Roy?”
A smile softly wiped across the big man’s face. He titled back the flask and took a healthy swig. He pulled up his pants and dusted off his blue, short sleeve button-up. “It takes a hell of a lot more than a mule kick to keep me down. Just keep that goth-lookin’ chick the hell away from me and we’ll call it good.”
Lumin shook Roy’s hand. “Deal. Let’s take a ride, Roy.” Lumin walked with Roy back to the cart. Yasamin handed back Roy’s radio, which he snatched out of her hand without making eye contact.
Lumin glared at Dezzie. “Get in the back, you maniac. I told you no drinking before noon!” she said dramatically with a wink. Dezzie held back a laugh and quieted Buttercup with a dog biscuit.
“Sorry, Roy. I don’t know what came over me,” said Dezzie.
“Yeah, yeah, let’s all shut the hell up and just get this done,” said Roy, taking another big pull of bourbon before putting down the flask.
Roy clomped the cart’s pedal and it scooted off again. “You know, since we’re all friends now, maybe after this we can all go get a drink at—”
“Don’t push your luck, Roy,” said Yasamin, patting the man’s back.
“Alright, alright,” said Roy.
The rest of the tour was uneventful. Lumin was thankful not to find any surprises with the arena’s layout. She just hoped Biz would fit through the cargo entrance. It had been expanded to accommodate him but it might still be a tight squeeze.
“See anything concerning?” Lumin asked Yasamin.
“Besides Roy? Everything looks to be structurally sound. We already had an inspector take a look at the inner cage,” said Yasamin, looking at her iPad.
“How about you, Dezzie? Any qualms?”
“Did you see how much they charge for a hot dog here? And no Coke, only Pepsi…disgusting,” said Dezzie, her face pinching.
“I think we’re good Roy. Go ahead and take us back to the front entrance,” said Lumin. She called the charter bus to come pick them back up.
“Wait, you’re all part of that robot fighting outfit, aren’t you?” asked Roy.
“Yup, I’m the pilot,” said Lumin. She handed Roy two tickets to the match. “Come see us fight tomorrow night.”
Roy looked skeptical as he parked the cart. “Level with me…this is some kind of scam right? Puppets or laser holographic beams or something like that?”
“Metal on metal action. Monster trucks with feet and…weapons,” said Lumin, the accuracy of her statement leaving her feeling a little nauseated over the silliness of it all.
“My kid will love it, thanks,” said Roy, finally displaying an honest smile.
“Uh, Lumin,” said Dezzie, poking her.
“What? Oh.” Lumin felt herself shiver. Eldridge Roundstone was waiting in the parking lot, his hands in the pockets of his grey slacks.
Dezzie whispered something in Yasamin’s ear and both women snickered.
Lumin glared at them. “Get on the damn bus. I’ll catch a cab back…I won’t be long.”
“Sure thing, Lumin,” said Dezzie, winking at Eldridge.
“Good morning, ladies,” said Eldridge as the two women passed by. He ruffled Buttercup’s head and the dog gave his knuckle a playful nibble.
“What are you doing here? I told you, I didn’t want any distractions before the match!” said Lumin, stepping up to Eldridge.
“A cheap suit always makes ‘em melt,” said Roy with a sigh. “Hey lady, you forgot your flask!” he called to Lumin.
“Keep it, Roy,” said Lumin, not turning around. Roy shrugged and motored off.
“Friend of yours?” asked Eldridge.
Lumin put her hands on Eldridge’s shoulders as Dezzie and Yasamin pulled away in the bus. “Roy and I just got married. I was going to invite you to the wedding but I didn’t know if you could find a sitter for your monkeys…Andrew included.”
“Sadly, I’ve returned our monkeys to the wild. I had grown accustomed to them but our research garnered all the brain-wave data we required.”
“On to bowling elephants? Parasailing Slugs? Go small this time.”
Eldridge laughed. “Shut up and kiss me already, Miss Mira.”
Lumin and Eldridge pushed closer and shared a long kiss, their heads tilting together. As their lips parted Lumin gently pushed away from him with a smile. “You know I hate when you call me that.”
“No you don’t.”
“You’re right, I don’t.” Lumin’s smile faded as the image of Skip’s face flashed in her mind.
Eldridge ran his hand through Lumin’s hair. “What is it?”
Lumin shook her head and forced a smile to her lips. “I’m fine. I just have a lot on my mind.”
“Of course you do. Here, hop in my town car and I’ll take you back to the hanger. I just wanted to see you one more time before the match—I don’t want to distract you.”
“It’s fine …thanks for coming to see me.” Lumin hopped in the car and Eldridge slid in beside her.”
“Woo. Lookin’ good in that green dress, Loomz!” A familiar shaggy head peeked out from the front seat.
“Andrew!” Lumin leaned up and hugged him. “Staying out of trouble?”
“Oh, more or less,” said Andrew. “Just doing my Jeeves routine for old Eldy here. He’s been really whining lately about missing you.”
“Andrew, enough,” said Eldridge, calmly.
“Aw,” said Lumin, smiling.
“I can’t wait to see you kick the Japanese team’s ass!” said Andrew with a fist pump. “I was hoping to paint a nude portrait of you standing atop your metallic steed.”
“That sounds kind of badass, actually,” said Lumin.
“We better get her back to the hanger, Andrew,” said Eldridge.
“Alright, alright.” Andrew, peeled out in the parking lot and raced over the road.
Lumin turned to Eldridge. “Sato’s generators are–”
“Yes, they’re online,” said Eldridge. “Remarkable, aren’t they?”
“Aren’t you worried? I know you have a lot of cash tied up in energy.”
Eldridge laughed. “No, I’m not worried. Sato-san’s ‘free’ energy is exactly what this world needs to move forward.”
“Oh,” sad Lumin, a little surprised at his indifference. She decided not to tell him about the derelict generator core Skip had found.