THE STORY SO FAR:
Braggadocio between American and Japanese robotics engineers on social media escalates to a real-world face-off on a massive scale. Utilizing multi-million dollar budgets provided 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 billion dollars for the charities of their choosing.
Despite a valiant effort the Americans lose the first round of the tournament. Afterwards, the American pilot—Lumin Mira—begins to learn just how much deception, drama and conspiracy surrounded the match.
“Miss Mira! Were you ever in real danger out there?”
“Will you contest your team’s loss because of Kokone Dukojima’s actions?”
“Were the pre-match death threats by the Dukojima triplets just for show or did you truly fear for your life?”
“If Kokone survives, will you press criminal charges?”
“Please, we will answer everyone’s questions at the scheduled press conference, an hour from now,” said Yasamin, stepping in front of Lumin to shield her from the horde of barking reporters flooding the dirt field. Katerina and Samuel hurried Lumin away to the locker room as Spotswood and Richard helped run defense.
“We need a comment, now!”
“What did Kokone Dukojima mean when she said she’d make the world pay for its crimes?”
“Miss Mira just gave her all out there in the arena. Please give her some time to recuperate!” said Yasamin. A security team finally arrived to halt the chase of the media and usher the reporters out of the arena. After the rabble dissipated Yasamin hurried to join Lumin in the depths of the arena.
Lumin was slouching on a long bench in the locker room with a towel wrapped around her shoulders. Ignoring her aches and pains, she straightened her posture with a deep sigh then drank an entire bottle of water in one gulp. She heard Yasamin’s heels clacking on the concrete steps and turned to face her. “Do we know if Kokone’s alive?”
Yasamin sat down across from Lumin, her ubiquitous tablet computer in hand. “The latest word from Kengi Sato is that Kokone’s alive, but in critical condition. She’ll be in a body cast for weeks.”
Lumin shook her head. “I honestly believed the threats the triplets made before the match were just trash talk but I was just fooling myself.”
“Kokone completely lost her grasp on reality. You weren’t the only one in danger out there…we have much to discuss.”
“Everyone clear out of here, except Yasamin,” said Lumin, looking around. “I appreciate your concern but I need to get a handle on what just happened.”
“None of us are leaving the building,” said Samuel, “If you need us, just call.” Everyone nodded in agreement.
“Thanks guys, I’ll get you back in the loop as soon as I can.”
Lumin’s incredible tension was evident to all. Samuel, Katerina, Spotswood and Richard left quietly without another word.
Lumin looked at Yasamin. “Tell me what I need to know while I shower and get dressed. But first, contact Sato and have him to meet us upstairs in the arena’s conference room. Don’t take no for an answer; the Kyoto Team owes us an explanation. Tell him I’ll be there shortly. ”
“I’m on it,” said Yasamin, tapping her screen.
“I want our beloved C.O.O. there too.”
Yasamin nodded. “Ryan Lumb. Yes, I believe he’s still in the arena.”
Lumin’s wet hair dripped onto her vantablack skirt suit as she hurried with Yasamin down the hallway toward the elevator. She was doing everything she could to keep her composure as Yasamin told her the details of Kokone Dukojima’s foiled terrorist plot. Even though Yasamin was eight inches taller, she was struggling to keep pace with Lumin’s long strides.
Yasamin pressed the call button for the elevator that would take them to the conference room in the upper reaches of the arena. She could sense Lumin’s stress coming to a boil. “Lumin, I know this has been a hard pill to swallow. It’s unfathomable how quickly everything spiraled out of control.”
“I’m still trying to process it all.” Lumin groaned and rubbed her eyes. “I think I’m just going to wallow in denial for the next few minutes.”
“Remember though, it’s over. The worst has been averted.”
“We were just lucky…that’s all.” Lumin mentally prepared herself to confront Kengi Sato while she waited for the elevator to arrive. She only hoped she’d be able to keep her anger from exploding. “Yasamin, what does your gut tell you about Sato?” she asked, as the aluminum doors opened in front of them.
The two women stepped into the elevator and stood side by side as it began to rise to the conference room. “Honestly, the man puts me at a loss,” said Yasamin. “It seems ridiculous that Sato could be totally in the dark about Kokone’s intentions. That said, the triplets I.Q.s are astounding…if anyone could fool Sato, it would be them.”
“We’d all be glowing green right now if Ako and Miu didn’t have a change of heart. Thousands could have died, and ultimately, it would have been our fault.”
Yasamin shook her head. “You can’t think like that, it’s not—”
The elevator doors opened directly into the conference room. At the end of a ridiculously long redwood table sat Kengi Sato in a mauve silk suit. He took off his sunglasses and stood up, looking relaxed as Lumin stepped closer. “Miss Mira, a pleasure to see you again,” he said, giving her the smallest of smiles and a polite bow.
Lumin gave an unenthusiastic bow in return. “Please sit, Sato-san. We have a lot to talk about.” Only four chairs surrounded the conference table, each fifteen feet away from each other. Lumin grabbed one and dragged it over, ignoring how loudly it screeched across the marble tiles. She sat directly next to Sato. “Where you aware of what your pilots had planned?”
“No, of course not,” said Sato, swiveling his chair toward her.
Lumin crossed her legs and stared back with a skeptical look. “Where are Miu and Ako?”
Sato faked a look of concern. “As much as I would appreciate their input on this matter I’m afraid the Dokujima sisters are currently uncommunicative. They are undergoing a mental health evaluation at a local facility as we speak.”
“They saved my life,” said Lumin with a pained look. “This is a true shit storm, Sato-san.”
Ryan Lumb walked in the conference room, straightening out his grey sport coat. “Sorry I’m late. This is a big place.” Sato stood up and they exchanged bows.
“Enough formality, I want to know how the hell this could have happened!” said Lumin, cutting to the chase. “Sato-san, as the head of the Kyoto Team you had a responsibility to fully vet your pilots before letting them loose in gigantic killing machines!”
“All of my employers undergo a rigorous background check and have their personalities profiled…unfortunately, no test is fool-proof, Lumin-san.”
Lumb sat down. “What’s done is done, Mira. Sato-san couldn’t have known—”
“This is your fault too, Lumb!” interrupted Lumin. “You’re former business partners with Sato…you’ve always known far more about his dealings than you let on.”
“Paranoia does not suit you,” said Lumb, sternly.
“I don’t know why I’m so surprised. All stuffed suits are the same…willing to gamble the lives of thousands, even millions, if it serves their needs.” She looked at Sato, her anger breaking loose. “Even though our robot was out of commission and I couldn’t hear a damn thing, the black box recorder picked up everything happening outside. Yasamin played me the audio files. Those poor women are beyond troubled.”
Sato nodded. “Indeed. Who could have predicted the breadth of their misguided passions?”
“Oh? So you found the pre-match death threats they made on that platform surprising? If so, you should have pulled the plug immediately!”
“I told them to play up the drama for the sake of the match. I had no reason to believe their wild threats contained any merit.”
Lumin gripped the arms of her chair tightly. “I think you knew the Dokujima triplets were damaged goods from the start. It made it easier for you to harvest all you could from their brilliant but traumatized minds. You nurtured their hate in the worst way by giving Kokone the means to enact her twisted revenge fantasies!”
Lumb stood up. “Mira, I know you’ve been through a lot today, which is why I’m cutting you some slack for your incredible lack of respect, but getting bent out of shape isn’t going to solve a damn thing! If you remember, I gave you full discretion to hire or fire anyone from our core group of engineers…most of which are far from being pinnacles of mental health themselves. You stood by time and time again while they displayed erratic and troubling behavior. Where was your concern then?”
Lumin banged her hand on the table. “There’s a big difference between being a little quirky and being a complete sociopath! I would never allow anyone with potentially homicidal tendencies to get an inch near our operation. Even Dezzie Lynch, with all her spooky talk and dangerous ideas, wouldn’t trim a leg hair off a fly!”
“I’ve said everything I’m willing to say on this matter,” said Sato, calmly. “My intentions regarding this contest were pure and I stand by actions, even if the match took an unfortunate, and unforeseen, turn.”
“The Dokujima triplets manipulated everyone, Mira. Be thankful…it could have turned out a hell of a lot worse,” said Lumb.
“You be thankful, Ryan…even your PR team isn’t large enough to have spun your ass out of a nuclear disaster.” Lumin walked away and stared out the window, crossing her arms. Cars were still filing out of the parking lot. “It’s all over.”
“No, it’s not,” said Sato. “No matter what regrets we may harbor, we must move forward to salvage the tournament. Mr. Lumb and I already have a plan.”
Lumin didn’t respond.
“Everyone’s still scrambling to figure out what happened today. It may not seem like it at the moment, but we’re in full control of this situation,” said Lumb.
Lumin turned her head, looking at Lumb over her shoulder. “Are you insane? Everyone heard Kokone’s multiple proclamations to kill me…to kill her own sisters! She was completely unhinged!”
Lumb smiled. “None of that matters. Nobody outside of our teams are aware of Kokone’s larger plot to detonate BZ-X’s nuclear core. As long as we keep her true intentions under wraps, we’ll be able to avoid further investigation and retain control of the narrative.”
“We will frame Kokone-san’s erratic proclamations as if they were scripted from the beginning…much like a professional wrestling match. Are you familiar with the Hulk of Hogan?” asked Sato.
“Yes…and you’re crazy if you think people will buy that,” said Lumin.
“You’re too close to everything, Lumin,” said Lumb, walking up to her. “You’ve forgotten the ridiculous nature of this tournament. Our marketing team has played the kitsch factor from the beginning. Sure, people marvel at the tech, but deep down what they want is over-the-top drama. Above all else this is entertainment. What happened in the arena is exactly what people were expecting.”
Sato nodded. “The public will believe it was all for show, except for the tragic accidental injury of one of our ‘actors’–her fall being completely unscripted, of course.”
Lumin turned around, her fists clenched. Her birthmark on her forehead had turned bright red. “We’re not actors! We’re doing crazy shit out there that could easily get us killed at any moment, even in the best of conditions!”
“This is the only way,” said Lumb. “Were we nearly the catalyst of an international incident? Definitely…but if we tell the truth, we’ll all be under investigation by Homeland Security and probably end up in a Black Site prison. Besides, we’re not going to claim the outcome of the match was scripted, only that we had two scenarios ready depending on who came out on top. We’ll even provide the press a fake script that we’ll claim would have been used if you had won the match. Your efforts were real, Lumin…we’re not going to diminish how hard you fought out there today.”
Lumin groaned. “This has nothing to do with my ego, you moron.”
“Excuse me,” said Yasamin, standing up. “For the record, we did win the match. The Kyoto Team’s bot contained an unauthorized power source installed by the Dokujima triplets.”
“We were unaware of this backup power system. It was installed in complete secrecy and masked from all of our diagnostic scans. Besides, it wasn’t operational during the match,” retorted Sato.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Yasamin. “That external power system forfeits your win.”
Lumb turned toward Yasamin. “No, it doesn’t. We’re not going to complicate matters any further. If we accuse the Kyoto Team of malfeasance it’s just going to harm our story. We don’t want the match to appear as if it went ‘off script’ anymore than necessary. Sato’s team won the first match. Period.”
“Wow, none of you get it.” Lumin’s fire had faded. She shook her head and dropped her gaze. “I’m not going to take part in all these lies. I refuse.”
Yasamin took a few steps closer. “Lumin?”
Lumin walked past Yasamin to the elevator. She turned and faced Lumb and Sato with a cold look. “Find someone else to pilot your fucking robot. Control this narrative…I quit,” she said, flipping them off as the elevator doors closed.