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 best-of-three fighting tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada. The winning team will take home bragging rights and a massive purse for the charities of their choosing.
Despite a valiant effort the Americans have just lost the first round of the tournament. Their pilot, Lumin Mira, waits to be retrieved in the dark control bell of her powerless robot, unaware she’s still in danger.
“The jaguar’s not moving! Why?” asked Dezzie, peering down from the Shuffle Pig’s box.
“That’s a good thing, Lynch,” said Samuel. “The match is over; maybe the pilot came to her senses.”
“I don’t think so,” said Dezzie. She watched Ako and Miu Dokujima sprint in front of Lumin’s robot, delaying Kokone’s next attack. “Go, blood sisters!” she shouted, to the confusion of her teammates.
Ako and Miu quickly climbed up Biz’s limp body. They stood atop one of Biz’s thighs and waved their arms to get the attention of their sister. The jaguar’s humongous piston clanked; its killing blow delayed.
“Kokone! Stop this!” yelled Miu.
A loudspeaker in the jaguar’s mangled face activated, sending out a blare of feedback. “Ako, Miu, get out of the way!”
“We won’t let you kill their pilot!” screamed Ako.
Richard squinted as he stuck his head out the door of the skybox. “What is that woman ranting about? I can barely hear her.” Only Kokone’s voice was audible as it pumped from her robot’s speakers.
“That thing could crush Lumin at any second,” said Katerina, her voice quivering. She stood up as if possessed, a sudden look of determination crossing her face. “That’s it, I’m going down there!” She stomped past Richard out the door.
“Katerina, it’s not safe,” said Richard. Katerina flipped him off and hurried down the concrete steps, out of sight.
The jaguar’s speaker went quiet for several seconds before they crackled again. “Sisters, all we’ve worked for…all our ambitions…you’re destroying it all.” Kokone’s voice was intense, but subdued. “Mercy has made you weak, made us weak. We swore a pact to make the world pay for its crimes against our family…have you forgotten?”
“You’re right. We are weak, Kokone. We should have never let you push us toward a future only you wanted…a future full of suffering and death,” said Ako. “We followed you because we feared you. Now we beg you to stop because we love you!”
“You’re losing what little respect I still had for you, Ako,” said Kokone.
“Please Kokone…there’s other ways to show the world our strength, to restore our family name,” said Miu in desperation.
A dozen armed men in body armor stomped on to the field. Ako held out her hand, signaling them to stay back. The men halted, many of them seemingly relieved they wouldn’t have to confront a gigantic murderous robot.
“Oh sweet Satan,” said Dezzie, looking at her phone. “Miu sent me an email a few minutes ago.”
“What is it?” asked Yasamin.
“It’s…everything,” said Dezzie, reading the email quickly. “The triplets have gone rogue. They planned to use Sato’s robot to tear out Biz’s nuclear power core. They were going to march the reactor into downtown Las Vegas and blow it up, dirty bomb style. Thousands would be killed.”
Richard–the designer of Biz’s nuclear core–felt his heart sink. He was speechless.
“Stop…” said Spotswood, before fainting. His anxiety had been running rampant throughout the entire match.
“Someone help him, for Christ’s sake,” said Samuel. “Richard, would it even be possible to blow up that thing?”
“Very,” Richard managed to say. “The explosion wouldn’t be equivalent to a true nuclear bomb, but the resulting fallout would be devastating.”
Samuel turned back to Dezzie. “Lynch, did Miu say if Sato knew about their plans?”
Dezzie shook her head. “Miu email says they kept Sato and the rest of the Kyoto Team in the dark about their plot. After she revealed her apprehensions to Ako she admitted to having cold feet as well. When they saw for themselves that this town wasn’t the den of evil Kokone had described they decided to play along, but not go through with their sister’s plan.”
“Wow, Kokone must have really overplayed the evil card if her sisters found Las Vegas worth saving,” said Samuel.
“Why didn’t Ako or Miu say anything until now?” asked Yasamin.
Dezzie put down her phone. “They were scared. The sisters really only have each other. I’m Miu’s only friend…literally…and we’re only pen pals.”
Katerina forced herself down to the arena floor but couldn’t will herself to step a foot inside the dirt ring. “Lumin, please get up,” she muttered to herself, mesmerized by the gleaming black steel of the predator hovering over Biz.
“If you don’t move, you’ll be killed. I won’t stop…even for my sisters,” announced Kokone, leaning her Jaguar closer.
Lumin could hear a voice resonating in the ferrofluid tank, but couldn’t make out the words. “What the hell is going on out there?”
“We won’t move!” yelled Miu.
“Shikata ga nai. prepare yourself to die without honor just like the rest of these pigs,” said Kokone, coldly. She shut off her loudspeaker and fired her battering ram.
“No!” yelled Richard, helplessly. None of the other engineers in the skybox dared to look at the scene below them.
Kokone’s ram clunked lightly against Biz’s chest. Ako and Miu looked up in surprise as they cowered atop the robot’s leg. The jaguar’s menacing red eye flickered and went dark as the beast finally ran out of power. The hydraulic piston hadn’t been able to build up enough pressure before the robot’s emergency battery ran dry. The once intimidating machine slumped at its joints as it straddled over Biz. Kokone emerged from the hatch, infuriated. “I trusted you!” she screamed to her sisters below.
Ako looked up at her. “We’re not going to let you hurt anyone. The backup power supply you had us install in secret was never fully functional. You’re clever though, Kokone–when we realized you were rerouting your robot’s emergency life support system to give yourself a few more minutes to attack we knew we’d have to confront you face-to-face, no matter the cost.”
“What are they saying?” asked Yasamin. “Is it over?”
“None of the mics on the field are picking up the conversation,” said Richard, cycling through an array of audio channels on the console.
“I’m going down there too!” said Dezzie, rushing out of her seat.
“Traitors!” screamed Kokone. She opened her robot’s hatch and stepped out onto an awkwardly tilted platform, high above the ground. A look of tranquility spread across her face. “My own sisters have failed me…betrayed me. I suppose the time has come to meet Mother in hell.”
“Kokone, stop!” shrieked Miu.
“Neither of you deserve to be a Dokujima,” said Kokone, her tone frigid. “The family name dies with me.” She spread her arms out and stepped off the platform; plummeting 100 feet to the ground. Her body hit the dirt with a heavy thump.
“Oh my god,” said Katerina, holding her hands to her face. She jumped as Dezzie put her arm around her. “Dez!”
“I’m going out there…you coming?” asked Dezzie.
Katerina shook her head, looking pale. “My legs are jello.”
“It’s okay, stay here,” said Dezzie, forcing a smile. She ran out onto the arena floor, past the stunned security officers.
A collective gasp rattled through the crowd after Kokone jumped. “It’s all part of the show, folks!” said the Fight Master, his voice wavering. “Wow, what a dramatic ending! Everyone, give the Kyoto Team a round of applause to congratulate them on their first victory.” The nervous audience clapped halfheartedly as the security forces and paramedics finally rushed to Kokone’s aid. Ako and Miu climbed off of Biz and lowered near their sister, weeping inconsolably. An ambulance arrived and stopped beside the triplets. Kokone was wheeled inside on a stretcher and spirited out of the arena, quickly and quietly.
Ako and Miu were clinging to each other as Dezzie hurried up to them. She hugged them tightly. “It’s going to be okay, you did the right thing! You saved so many people today.” The sisters didn’t respond.
Several minutes later a retrieval team pulled Lumin from Biz’s innards. Her legs were barely strong enough to hold her upright but besides exhaustion and a sore neck she was mostly unscathed. Samuel and Yasamin were waiting for her on the cherry picker. They wrapped a towel around her shoulders as the platform slowly lowered.
“Will someone please tell me what’s happening?” asked Lumin.
Yasamin was busy on her tablet again. “I’ll tell you everything when we’re back in the locker room.”
“The hell you will,” protested Lumin. The crowd had cheered when Lumin emerged from Biz but they quickly slipped back into an uncomfortable silence. Droves of people were filing out of the arena. “Something’s very wrong here. Out with it, Yasamin.”
“Just a second,” said Yasamin, tapping furiously.
“No need to worry folks. I think we’ve all been put through the ringer tonight! What a spectacle!” announced the Fight Master. “The Kyoto Team now leads one match to none! A hearty thanks to the pilots and their teams for an amazing show. The next event is in one week…be there!”
Lumin swallowed her frustration with Yasamin. “I was so close to pulling it off,” she said after taking in a long breath of fresh air. “Even after all their dirty tricks, we nearly won.”
“You were incredible out there,” said Samuel with a reassuring smile.
“Lumin, I’m so sorry…I was trying to get some answers from Kengi Sato,” said Yasamin. “Kokone Dukojuma was getting ready for another round of attacks after the horn sounded. It didn’t matter that the match was over, she wasn’t going to stop hammering you with that battering ram until you were dead.”
“What?” said Lumin, shocked. “I thought the triplets were just spewing trash talk before the match, pro wresting style!”
“Apparently not,” said Samuel. “Ako and Miu had a change of heart and stopped their sister from killing you. They got between you and the ram, delaying her attack until the jaguar’s power finally ran out. They saved your life.”
Lumin was dumbstruck. She looked at the ambulance leaving the arena. “Where’s Kokone?”
Yasamin looked up from her tablet. “She either fell from her robot, or she jumped.”
“She jumped,” said Samuel. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
“Jesus” said Lumin as the cherry picker lowered them to the ground. “Is she alive?”
“We haven’t got word yet,” said Samuel.
Lumin shook her head. “I can’t believe she’d try to kill me.”
“There’s more…much more,” said Yasamin. “I’m setting up a sit-down meeting with Sato as we speak. For now though, let’s get to the locker room and I’ll fill you in on the details.”
“Is this going to delay our next match?” asked Lumin.
“There might not be another match,” said Yasamin.