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. The deception, drama and conspiracy surrounding the first match has convinced the American team’s pilot—Lumin Mira—to leave the team.
Lumin’s blood pressure was spiking as the elevator slid back down to the arena floor. She closed her eyes, feeling thankful that her pounding headache was drowning out most of her thoughts.
The elevator clunked to a stop and the doors parted. Lumin opened her eyes and jumped an inch off the ground, seeing Katerina standing directly in front of her. “Good god, Kat! Stop that!”
“Sorry boss,” said Katerina, looking distressed. “Yasamin told me about…you know. I guess I shouldn’t call you boss anymore.”
“I guess not,” said Lumin as she stepped out of the elevator. The reality of the situation was slowly hitting her but she felt no regrets. “We’ll always be friends, though—nothing can change that.”
“Kat, I just can’t go into it right now. I’ve never been so exhausted in my life. I swear I’ll let everyone know why I decided to quit but for now I just need some time to process.”
“Okay, but, I just came to tell you that Eldridge Roundstone is trying to track you down. He wants you to meet him by some hotdog cart parked outside. He says you should start answering your phone.”
“Shit,” said Lumin, clamping her eyes shut and pinching the bridge of her nose. “Wait, a hot dog cart? What does he want?”
“What do I care?” said Katerina, walking off, her eyes welling with tears.
Katerina stopped but didn’t turn around. “Get some rest boss–I mean, Lumin.” She continued down the hall without waiting for a response.
Lumin made her way out of the arena to the parking lot. She saw a roach coach parked at the edge of the lot several yards away. Is that the hot dog cart? she wondered as she walked up tentatively. Despite her dour mood she cracked a smile when she saw the signage plastered on the side of the food truck.
INTRODUCING HIGHSTEAK™ HOTDOGS!
100% CULTURED BEEF, GROWN IN A CLEAN, CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT. NO SOY, NO FILLER, NO KILLING, NO GUILT! 100% ANIMAL BASED PROTEINS—NO COWS REQUIRED! AND IT TASTES GREAT! JOIN THE HIGHSTEAK™ REVOLUTION AND HELP SAVE THE PLANET!
Lumin walked closer and peeked inside the cart. “You have to be kidding me.”
Eldridge Roundstone–wearing a white apron and matching paper cap–looked down at Lumin with a goofy smile. “What would you like on your hotdog Miss Mira?”
Lumin laughed again. “Nice hat. Umm…mustard and sauerkraut please.”
“Coming right up,” said Eldridge. A puff of steam rose as he opened the lid on his hotdog holding tank.
“What the hell are you doing?” asked Lumin.
Eldridge squirted a line of yellow mustard on a bun. “Well, as much as I wanted to support you I was too concerned for your safety to bring myself to watch the fight from my personal skybox. My agricultural division already had this cart prepped for a test run in this market, so I hijacked it and set it up here in the lot.”
“You’re such a weirdo,” said Lumin.
“I had hoped selling hotdogs would allow me to remain nearby while distracting my worried mind from your match…I don’t think it worked so well, however.”
“That’s sweet, but you’re the one who put me up to this if you recall.”
“I suppose you’re right, but that was before I fell for…how much sauerkraut would you like, Miss?”
Lumin cocked her hip and crossed her arms. “Load it up, wiener boy.”
Eldridge nodded and piled on the pickled cabbage. “After hearing what happened I willed myself to review some footage. You performed admirably despite of how out of control the match became. I should have been in there. I should have used my influence to properly vet the Japanese team. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. It’s over, in more ways than one.”
Eldridge stepped away from the window and opened the door of the food truck. He stepped out and handed Lumin her hotdog. “Yes. You’ll always have my support, no matter what you choose to do going forward.”
“The choice has been made,” said Lumin. She raised an eyebrow at her hotdog and sniffed it carefully.
“It’s quite good actually. I think we’re coming very close to perfecting the formula. We already have preliminary approval from the FDA.”
“Just so you know, I’m not quite sure if I can trust you any more than Lumb or Sato, but you’re cheering me up at the moment so you get a pass…for now.”
“I understand,” said Eldridge.
Lumin took a bite of the hotdog. Then a larger bite. Then another, until the hotdog was gone. “Wow Eldridge, that was freakin’ good! I didn’t realize how hungry I was. How was business today, anyway?”
Eldridge sighed. “Not so great. I sold 23 in total.”
“Out of a capacity crowd of 17,000? Ouch.”
“I’m afraid I’ll be forced to dump several more millions into marketing Highsteak, but I’m confident the people will come around. Ultimately, I’m not selling hotdogs and ribeyes, I’m selling an idea—which is infinitely more challenging.”
“Hey! I thought I recognized you!” bellowed a gruff voice behind them.
Lumin turned around and saw a stocky many hurrying towards her. “Roy?” A scrawny, toe-headed boy was scampering alongside him, no older than ten.
Eldridge was confused. “Why does this man look so familiar?”
Lumin grinned. “Don’t you remember my husband, Roy?”
Eldridge chuckled. “Oh…right. He’s part of the arena’s security staff.”
Roy stopped in front of Lumin, huffing and puffing. “I…want to apologize again, for being such a prick.”
“No worries Roy, we’re all past that. Did you enjoy the match?”
“Holy sh—I mean, wow. I’ve never seen anything like that before. You were kicking ass all over the place! Shame you didn’t win.”
“Thanks, Roy. Who’s this?” said Lumin, leaning down to the little boy. His bright blue eyes shined at her.
“This is my son, Silas,” said Roy proudly, ruffling the boy’s hair.
“Hello, Silas. My name’s Lumin.”
“Will you sign my Biz bot?” asked Silas, holding out a pen along with a plastic toy replica of BZ-X.
Lumin laughed. “Whoa. I had no idea they were making merchandise. I suppose I should have guessed.”
“The thing cost me a pretty penny, but hell, when are we going to do something like this again?” said Roy, as Lumin signed the toy.
“What did you think of the match?” Lumin asked Roy after handing the robot back to his son. She was curious to know how he perceived the insanity as a spectator.
“Honestly, I was expecting it to be boring…like a couple of dressed-up bulldozers pushing at each other or something, but no, it was awesome! All that WWE-style drama was a little over the top, but you gotta put on a show I suppose. I was a little confused by the ending…is that Chinese girl okay? The news said her fall was an accident.”
“Word gets around fast,” said Lumin. It seemed that Lumb and Sato’s spin machine had gone into full gear and was firing on all cylinders. “Kokone Dokujima. She’s Japanese actually, and I think she’s going to be okay.”
“Did the writers force you to lose? What a load of B.S.,” said Roy.
“No, the fighting was all real—none of that was scripted.” As much as Lumin wanted to scream the truth to the world, she knew it would put her former teammates in jeopardy. She was beholden to the spin machine more than anyone else.
“I can respect that,” sad Roy. “My boy was a little scared by those Asian girls. Your writers should tone down the gloom and doom a touch next time.”
Silas nodded. “I still want their action figures, though.”
“I think that’s good advice, Roy. Hey, do you two want a hot dog? It’s on me.”
“Cultured beef huh? I’m gonna pass on that one.” Roy looked at Eldridge skeptically. “No offense, hot dog guy.”
“None taken,” said Eldridge.
“I want one!” said Silas.
“No you don’t. Well, we better get out of here. Kick their ass hard next time!” said Roy, as he started to pull away his son.
Silas flashed Lumin a grin, his mouth full of missing teeth. “Nice to meet you Misses Lumin!”
“You too, Silas! Hey, Roy…I’ll have both of you put on the guest list for the next two matches.”
Silas jumped and laughed in approval. “We get to come again? Yes!”
“Really? I can’t thank you enough. I haven’t seen my boy this happy in a long time.” Roy seemed honestly moved as he turned around to leave. Silas waved goodbye and Lumin waved back.
“That was sweet,” said Eldridge. “The next two matches? Are you having a change of heart?”
“Oh…well, no. I’m sure they can find someone else to pilot BZ-X,” said Lumin, feeling suddenly off kilter. “I better get back inside the arena. The team is waiting for me to give them an explanation. It’s not going to be pretty.”
Eldridge nodded. “I understand. I’ll be in my limo, waiting for your call when you’re done.” He put his arms around Lumin and moved closer to her.
“I have sauerkraut breath,” said Lumin, looking up at him.
“I don’t care,” said Eldridge, kissing her passionately.