The day had finally arrived. The first match of the tournament between the Japanese and American robotic teams was imminent.
As Biz’s systems were being put through a final diagnostic, the arena’s event coordinator directed Lumin to a locker room deep in the bowels of the facility. Once there, she began readying herself for the pre-fight “weigh-in,” which would serve to unveil the teams’ robots and introduce the pilots to the capacity crowd. The fight was scheduled to begin once the show-boating and trash talk concluded.
To Lumin, the stuffy atmosphere inside the locker room was somehow even more stifling than Biz’s inky ferrotank. Yasamin and Katerina eventually arrived to help her prepare for the match, which alleviated some of her jitters.
Lumin’s hands were shaking as she squeezed into her black switch suit. The arena’s blaring loudspeakers were rumbling the walls of the locker room with bass-heavy music but the intermittent roar of the impatient attendees in the stands seemed even louder.
Katerina zipped Lumin up tight in her suit. “Your gear’s getting looser…you’re not eating enough, Boss.”
“Anxiety doesn’t contain much nutritional value,” said Lumin, listening to the small pops as she cracked her knuckles. “Maybe I shouldn’t wear this suit to the weigh-in, it’s a little revealing.”
“It’s your gear! Don’t be ashamed to strut your stuff,” said Katerina.
“I’ll remember you said that when you have to go stand in front of an arena full of people wearing a skin-tight unitard,” said Lumin. “Why do we have to do this bullshit ‘weigh-in’ anyway? It’s meaningless.”
“This woeful pageantry is part of the deal,” said Yasamin, not looking away from her tablet as she tapped on it furiously. “Ugh, this match caries so much contractual minutiae to sift through it’s unbelievable. Once this job is over I’m running over my iPad with a Hum Vee.”
“You have a Hummer?” asked Katerina.
“No, but I’m going to get one especially for the occasion,” said Yasamin.
Katerina’s eyes suddenly lit up. “Oh, Lumin…we all got you something! Wait!” She fished inside a duffle bag and pulled out a black leather bomber jacket festooned with the Shuffle Pigs logo in silver. “I hope you like it.”
Lumin took the jacket from Katerina and began to tear up a little. “Wow, this is amazing.”
Katerina smiled. “We all pitched in. We know you’re going to do great out there.”
Lumin put the jacket on over her suit and hugged Katerina tightly. “Pass the love along.”
“I will!” said Katerina with a laugh.
After a few minutes Lumin received the call to proceed to the elevated platform in the center of the arena. “Let’s get it over with,” she said, taking a deep breath.
Yasamin stood up and put her tablet in her sling bag. “It will be interesting to see the Kyoto Team’s machine up close. I wonder if will be the same model as the one they showed off in their viral video.”
“I can’t wait to see who’s their pilot,” said Katerina. “My money is on one of the Dokujima triplets.”
“I think it will be Sato himself,” said Yasamin. “His god complex is legendary, even compared to Ryan Lumb’s.”
Lumin pursed her lips and squinted. “It doesn’t matter who they’ve chosen, they’re going down.”
“Wow, I liked that!” said Katerina, smiling and clapping.
Yasamin nodded. “I believed it.”
“Really? You guys are sweet,” said Lumin.
“Stay mean,” said Katerina. “No smiles during the weigh-in.”
Lumin shrugged “How about tears?”
“No!” said Katerina and Yasamin in tandem.
“Well, it’s time. I better head to the floor,” said Lumin. “You two should get to the skybox.”
“Break a leg,” said Yasamin.
“Yeah, one of their bot’s legs,” added Katerina.
The entrance of the locker room burst open and the rest of the engineering team flooded inside, rushing Lumin. She found herself squeezed in the middle of a group hug between Spotswood, Richard, Dezzie and Samuel. Katerina and Yasamin joined in as well as everyone began chanting Lumin’s name.
Lumin laughed and pushed her way out of the hug. “Alright, alright! We’ve all worked too hard and skipped too many showers lately to get this close. Thanks but I gotta go, guys!”
The team kept chanting as Lumin ascended the stairs to the arena floor. Blinding spotlights flooded down on her as she entered the gigantic cage meant to protect the attendees. The crowd erupted as Lumin’s squinting face flashed on the venue’s giant screens. The teams’ robots were stationed on opposing sides of the arena under hundreds of yards of canvas, waiting to be unveiled. Lumin felt confused as she looked at the silhouette of the Kyoto Team’s bot; it was much wider than it was tall, which seemed strange.
The “Fight Master” was waiting for Lumin at the base of the platform. The rail-thin emcee wore a silver tuxedo with tails and a top hat to match. Golden dreadlocks spilled over his shoulders and bounced as he spun a cane on his fingertips that also served as a microphone. “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I’M PROUD TO PRESENT THE PILOT OF THE AMERICAN TEAM’S ROBOT: MISS LUUUUMIN MIRAAAAAAAAA!”
Lumin was still shaking. She waved but did not smile, just as instructed. After shaking the Fight Master’s hand she walked up the stairs. When she reached the platform the spotlights rushed away from her and focused on three women emerging from the pit of locker rooms on the opposite end of the arena: the Dokujima triplets.
“What, all three of them?” mumbled Lumin. A stagehand directed her to stand inside a small circle painted on the platform. She looked out at her opponents. The triplets were wearing matching orange flight suits. They balanced their helmets on their hips with one arm as they strode forward confidently.
Lumin turned on the comlink nestled in hear ear. “Hey, Richard, isn’t the Kyoto Team violating the rules by having three pilots?”
“Yeah, I looked that up in the rule book as soon as I saw the triplets walking out. Pilots have to be directly involved in the engineering process and they can’t take any performance enhancing drugs, but the rules don’t say much else on the matter. There’s no limit on the amount of operators the robot can have as long as the other criteria have been met.”
“Wonderful,” said Lumin.
“This is a good thing Lumin–there’s no way they can achieve decent coordination with three different people pulling levers.”
“AND NOW, THE KYOTO TEAM’S FINEST: THE DOKUUUUJIIIIIIMA TRIPLETSSSSSSSSS!” bellowed the Fight Master.
“This whole things stinks,” said Lumin, turning off her comlink as the triplets reached the platform.
“Incredible!” said the Fight Master into his mic as he turned in a circle for the audience. “It must be ladies’ night at the arena! Are you all ready for a real cat fight!?”
Lumin rolled her eyes as the duller members of the audience cackled and hooted loudly. She noticed the Dokujima sisters staring at her intensely so she stared back, stepping closer to them.
“Hold on there,” said the Fight Master, “We’re going to ask a few questions before—”
“I don’t care what kind of rule-bending bullshit your team is trying to pull, it’s not going to work,” Lumin didn’t know how or when her latent trash-talking ability had bloomed but she decided to let it flow. “Our tech’s better and our bot’s stronger. You’re can’t beat us!”
The Fight Master looked nervous. “Ladies, please, it’s not time for—”
“Well?” interrupted Lumin again, still holding her gaze on the triplets.
Unrattled, the triplets stepped closer to Lumin in unison. The Fight Master abandoned his grandstanding and held his mic between the pilots.
“Rules mean nothing to us,” said Miu.
“This contest means nothing to us,” said Ako
“Our team means nothing to us,” said Kokone. “We are here for one reason: to display the unrelenting and merciless savagery of the Dokujima sisters to an international audience.”
Lumin’s confidence was wavering. Maintain eye contact! Maintain eye contact!
“We know precisely how to make these supposed nonlethal implements deadly, Lumin Mira…do not expect to walk away from this match unscathed,” said Kokone as the crowd began to boo. She grabbed the microphone out of the stunned Fight Master’s hand. “People of the world, listen closely. The brutality of today’s match will serve as a warning to all who would dare oppose our quest for vengeance. Anyone standing in our way will experience untold levels of suffering.”
Lumin raised an eyebrow. “Vengeance?”
Miu took the microphone. “Our mother was left to die–pregnant and alone–in a damp, rat-infested shrine. The miraculous survival of her three children only brought more ridicule and pain to the family name. Soon, the same name will bring fear to the world. Humanity, so callous and vain, will know the endless wrath of the Dokujima sisters.”
Lumin took a step backward. Her heart was racing. “You’re nuts.”
“Alright, forget the Q and A. Let’s sit down and unveil these robots!” said the Fight Master, nervously. Ignoring him, Miu and Ako began walking off the platform while Kokone proceeded to the gaudy lime podium at the center of the platform.
“Wait, stop!” begged the Fight Master as Kokone smashed the giant red button atop the pedestal. A huge pyrotechnics display flashed at the edge of the arena and the crowd went wild. The giant sheathes covering each team’s robot tumbled to the arena floor. Camera flashes blazed throughout the stands.
Lumin went pale as the canvas fell from the Kyoto Team’s robots. Three gleaming black machines were standing side by side. Each was sleek and menacing, if less than half as tall as Biz. One machine was hunched on long, quadrupedal legs tipped with a series of steel talons. It carried an immense cylinder on its back for unknown purposes. The other two robots stood on short, backwards bending legs like those of a theropod dinosaur. Both bipedal bots had an odd implement attached to an oversized upper limb; one was equipped with a menacing claw where its right hand might be and the other had a domed mass protruding from its left forearm.
“Wha…what are you doing?” asked the Fight Master, looking panicked as the triplets walked away from the platform. “The fight doesn’t start for another 45 minutes!”
“It starts now,” said Ako, hurrying to catch up with her sisters as they strode to their robots.
Lumin’s heart sank. She willed herself out of her stunned state and jumped off the platform. She activated her comlink as she ran to Biz. “Lower Biz’s emergency ladder and flood the ferrotank!” she screamed, barely hearing her voice over the deafening roar of the crowd.
“But we still have an hour before the bout!” said Richard.
“Are you not seeing this? It’s happening…now! I have every reason to believe they’re going to attack whether I’m inside Biz or not!”
“Alright!” said Richard. “Hold on, we’ll get the support team out there as soon as—”
“There’s no time!” said Lumin. She looked over and saw the Dokujima triplets already ascending retractable ladders up to their robots’ cockpits. “Shit! Hurry!” Biz’s rope ladder spilled down and Lumin began to climb as fast as she could. “Forget the harness. I’m going to try and plug in the switch suit manually inside the ferrofluid to speed things up.”
“Lumin, no! You’ll be completely blind down there. You wont get any air until you plug yourself into the system. If you don’t hook in quickly you’ll drown,” said Richard.
“I can do this, Richard. I know that damn tank like the back of my hand. Stop questioning me and do as I say!” insisted Lumin, struggling for breath as she climbed. “Pop…the hatch!”
As Lumin neared Biz’s chest she saw the hatch pop open. Trying not to look at the ground 200 feet below her, she swung over and grasped the edge of the robot’s retractable platform as her muscles burned. She pulled herself up and took a few rapid breaths as she rolled flat to her back next to the open tank of ferrofluid.
“Lumin, are you alright?” asked Spotswood, taking over the microphone in the Shuffle Pigs command center, located in a skybox overlooking the arena.
“I just climbed…straight up…the length of a…football field. Give me a minute!” she gasped. She turned to her side and saw the Kyoto Team’s robots powering up. An inverted triangle stretching from each robot’s face to middle of their chest lit up bright red against their black armor.
“Alright, I’m going in!” Lumin grabbed a VR helmet from the rack on Biz’s hatch and put it on, going completely blind. She hung her feet over the edge of the hatch.
Samuel stared at the floor of the skybox. “I can’t watch.”
A tense hush filled the arena. Frightened attendants and stage hands hurried to move PA and pyrotechnic equipment off the field. The Fight Master scanned the the arena but failed to find anyone who could provide some guidance. “Um…are they really dong this?” He stood in the middle of the platform as a team of workers in blue suits began stripping it away beneath him. “Hold up fighters! It’s not time!” He said desperately, looking back and forth at the robots. He went pale, realizing the script for the pre-fight events had become useless. “It’s all part of the show, folks! No need for alarm!”
“Lumin, do you read me?” asked Samuel, leaning into the microphone of the Shuffle Pig’s console.
“I’m here, Samuel,” said Lumin.
“You don’t have much time. Once you dive in you’re going to need to feel around for the support arm. Once you locate it, follow it down to the switch plug panel. You’re going to need to position your back as close to the magnetic seals as possible to activate them. Once they’ve locked into your switch suit, Biz will begin powering up and an emergency oxygen hose will lower. Hook it up to your helmet and give the latch a quarter-twist clockwise to start the flow of air. At that point your view screen should come on and you’ll be in full control. You got all that?” said Samuel.
There was no response.
“She’s already in!” said Katerina, in a panic. “I watched her jump in!”
The Fight Master let out a nervous laugh and scrambled off the stage. He stumbled then sprinted for the exit as a dense hum emanated from each of the Kyoto’s Team’s machines. “Today you’ll witness the mother of all grudge matches as…um…no one’s ever seen a…no wait,” hoping to retain his paycheck he quickly stumbled through his lines, “in this corner we have…oh fuck it…JAPAN VERSUS THE UNITED STATES! LET THE FIGHT BEGIN!”
Lumin held her breath as she sank into the ferrofluid. She had never free-floated inside of the black goop before and found it instantly disorienting. Being completely blind and deaf was more of hindrance than she expected as she groped for the support arm. With her lungs starting to burn she finally located the thin titanium beam and ran her hands along it to the switch plate. Her crew’s panicked voices were warbling in her ears but she was too focused on her goal to listen. She spun around awkwardly and tried to position her back against the plate. For all she could tell she could have been completely upside down. Finally, the magnetic locks found their mates on her suit and pulled her body tight to the support arm. Her head was spinning as she shot her arms upward and grasped for the emergency air hose. She hooked the air supply to her helmet and inhaled a giant gust of air. “I’m in! I’m—”
Lumin’s view screen switched on in time to see the Kyoto Team’s quadruped robot’s single triangular “eye” glowing blood red. Without warning it rushed, leaping through the air like a black panther pouncing on its prey. Lumin attempted to enter a defensive stance but Biz was still in the process of powering up and didn’t respond to her movements. The Japanese bot slammed into Biz’s chest. Lumin’s neck and limbs snapped backward severely–the ferrofluid surrounding her remained thin and watery, offering little protection while the electromagnetic shock absorbers remained offline.
“No!” screamed Katerina. She sunk her face into Yasamin’s shoulder and began to cry.
Biz rocked backward with the tremendous impact and collided with one of the protective aluminum oxynitride walls lining the arena. A thunderous smash rang out, quieting the audience as the robot slumped to the arena’s earthen floor.
Yasamin stared out, her brow furrowed. “Come on Lumin, get up!”
The other engineers stared out at the scene, dumb-struck. Finally Spotswood slammed his fists on the table. “This shit isn’t legal! How can they have three robots out there?”
Yasamin turned to Spotswood. “They’ve found a loop hole. Look.” Yasamin pointed out the skybox’s window. “All three robots are tethered to power cables to lead to that obelisk sitting on tanktreads. That must be their shared power source. Because they’re all connected to the same power supply they’re technically considered a single entity.”
“Lumin! Lumin! This is Richard, are you okay?” Richard shouted into the microphone desperately.
Samuel pressed himself against the window. “What an idiotic strategy. If Lumin can manage to snip the robot’s’ power cables they’ll be dead in the water,” said Samuel.
Richard yelled louder. “Lumin, do you read?”
Spotswood was livid. “Those fuckers should be disqualified for that sucker punch, if nothing else!”
Yasamin nodded in agreement. Katerina still couldn’t look.
“Bad form, sisters,” said Dezzie, feeling disappointed.
The “panther” slashed at Biz’s chest a few times, but did little damage. It jumped a few yards away then turned back around, coiling its limbs for another attack.
Lumin’s vision was blurring. She struggled for alertness, knowing the worst was yet to come unless she could pull herself together.
Katerina wiped her tears away and gritted her teeth together. She shoved Richard over and grabbed the microphone in both hands. “COME ON LUMIN, KICK THEIR ASSES!”
Lumin felt the ferrofluid thickening around her, indicating Biz was finally at full power. After straightening her stance she cracked her neck and grunted, feeling her head clear. Biz rose back to his feet and Lumin clenched her fists definitely. She stomped the robot’s foot to the floor and the protective barriers surrounding the arena thundered.
Lumin grinned. “My turn, bitches.”