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. They have less than a week to make repairs to their battered robot in preparation for the next match against an unpredictable Japanese team
Lumin couldn’t sleep. She tossed and turned in her cot, watching dust particles swirl near the blimp hanger’s wooden ribs. In a moment of weakness she picked up her phone and made an impulsive call. What am I doing?
After five rings Skip answered his phone. “Hello?”
“I didn’t feel like texting you…so I called.”
“Lumin? Hey…hi! What time is it,” said Skip, groggily.
Lumin coughed. “It’s late. Sorry. I didn’t think you’d be asleep yet.”
“Normally you’d be right, but it was a fairly exhausting day. I put the finishing touches on a boat I’ve been building and took it out on the reservoir. Turns out, I shouldn’t be building boats.”
“Are you still squatting at your condo in Rancho Nerdo? When are you heading back to Washington?”
“I don’t know,” said Skip with a groan. “I sold my place before I moved, so I’m essentially homeless. I didn’t think my resignation through very well. I’ll be out of here soon…I just need to get my ducks in a row.”
“Well…take your time, Dork. No one’s itching to evict you from the middle of nowhere.”
“Thanks,” said Skip.
Lumin laughed. “Hold up. Did you say you built a boat? What happened? Did it sink?”
“No. I got a little too confident with the outboard motor I had slapped together. It crapped out on me as soon as I got to the center of the lake. I had to paddle back to shore with my arms.”
“That sounds like you,” said Lumin, holding back another laugh.
Skip groaned. “My arms feel like limp noodles and I’m sunburned to a crisp.”
“Another fun day trip, huh?”
“Yeah. Why does your voice sound like its echoing?”
Lumin looked around her hideout. “The acoustics must be a little strange in here.”
“I couldn’t handle sleeping among a herd of snoring engineers with nothing but tiny partitions to separate us, so I sneaked away with my cot through a little door I spotted earlier. It led me to a surprisingly roomy space between the wall and the hanger’s outer shell. I feel like Jerry in here.”
“Jerry?” Skip’s confusion was turning to agitation.
“You know, Tom and Jerry.”
“Wait…you’re with the rest of the team in the hanger? I thought you quit!”
“I’m being held hostage, send cheese!”
“Ha ha,” said Skip, sarcastically. “By the way, I called Katerina to find out what you wouldn’t tell me about the match…I couldn’t resist. Sorry.”
“It’s alright. So, she told you about the dirty bomb?”
“Yeah, but only after asking me a series of incredibly painful personal questions.”
Lumin laughed. “Of course she did.”
“I’m just glad you’re okay…that everyone’s okay.”
“Yeah. Thinking about the potential tragedy of the situation really threw me for a loop for awhile. We were damned lucky.”
“So, did you resign, or not?”
Lumin sighed. “I did actually…and it felt so satisfying. Sato put the entire city in jeopardy with his gross negligence. The callous attitude he displayed alongside Lumb after Kokone’s failed plot was absolutely sickening. They expected me to play along with some bullshit story line they concocted to cover up the truth but I refused. At that point I didn’t care about the tournament or all the work I had put into it…I just wanted out. I was ready to expose their lies and burn every bridge I crossed along the way.”
“I don’t blame you,” said Skip.
“I told the team I was out. I had the utmost faith in their abilities and knew they could still win the tournament without me.”
“Obviously not. You’re still there.”
“Well, my grand gesture of trust wasn’t enough for these jerks. They informed me that if I quit they would all do the same. I wasn’t about to let them do that–so–I’m back. My affection for these miscreants outweighs all the hate and regret boiling inside of me.”
Skip laughed. “Stubborn bunch, aren’t they?”
“I know, right? Since then, I realized how selfish I was being. Everyone had been working tirelessly for weeks, not just for the sake of the robot, but to keep its pilot–keep me–safe. Exposing Sato would have brought the roof down on everyone I cared about. I swallowed my anger and pride and resolved to keep the truth a secret for the sake of the team.”
“Yes, bury those emotions. You would have made my father proud.”
Lumin coughed again. “I really don’t give a shit about the billion dollars or the bragging rights anymore…I’m going to win this for my team.”
“I’m happy to hear it. I think you’re making the right decision.”
“Before I returned to the fold I had some stipulations for the project leaders. Lumb and Sato weren’t too happy with my demands, but I knew I had them over a barrel.”
“What were your decrees?”
“No theatrics in the upcoming matches. No ringmaster, no flashpots, no strobe lights, no blaring music…and especially no scripted dialog or pre-match trash talking. This pro wrestling garbage has to go.”
“Nice. What else?”
“I demanded Sato’s entire team be reevaluated physically and mentally in a clinical setting of my choosing to ensure no one else is harboring homicidal tendencies. He’s shipping a crate of documentation tomorrow for me to sift through.”
“Is that all?”
“I informed both C.O.O.s that I refuse to lie for anyone, no matter the circumstances.”
“You should have demanded they stop using the quantum vibration tech or any other technology Bo Dozens stole from us.”
“I tried, but Sato is still claiming he’s innocent. He says the filament that cut through Biz’s hand like paper uses a completely different technology than ours. It’s bullshit of course, but I can’t prove anything at this point.”
“I know, but Koyto’s played all their cards; they’re out of surprises. Their asses will be mine in the next match.”
“I wouldn’t be so quick to—”
“Come on, Skip,” interrupted Lumin, “can’t you allow me just a pinch of misguided confidence?”
Skip chuckled. “Alright, fine.”
The line was silent for a few seconds. “Skip, you really should be here.”
“Lumin, listen to this.”
A fast-paced thump knocked against Lumin’s ear. “What is that?”
“It’s my heartbeat Lumin. As soon as I heard your voice it started racing. I can’t be there Lumin–not yet–I need time.”
Lumin took a deep breath as the conversation suffered an awkward pause. She felt saddened and angry at the same time. “I don’t think you understand how confused I feel when you pull shit like this, Skip. It’s not fair.”
“Not fair? You called me, remember?” Skip sounded just as frustrated.
“You’re right, I shouldn’t have,” said Lumin, crestfallen.
“Hey, don’t worry about it. I’m sorry. I wish I could just–”
“I better get going. There’s going to be plenty of sleepless nights ahead while we repair Biz. I’m sorry I called you so late.”
“Good night, Skip,” said Lumin, her voice trembling as she ended the call. She threw her fist against her pillow and closed her eyes tightly for a long moment. What was I thinking?
Lumin was more awake than ever. She sat up and let out another hacking cough, realizing if she stayed too long inside the hanger’s dusty walls she’d probably end up with a black lung. As she folded up her cot and prepared to leave something in her peripheral vision grabbed her attention . “What’s that?”
Lumin stood up and wandered over to a stack of moldering papers trapped beneath a cinder block. After pulling away the brick she knelt down for a closer look. “Holy shit.” Beneath a few layers of crumbling newspaper broadsheets she found a stack of yellowing but otherwise intact posters for a movie called The Outlaw. The artwork featured the film’s star, Jane Russel, reclining in a sultry pose as she brandished a six-shooter. “Directed by Howard Hughes. Well, what do you know?” Lumin picked the posters up carefully and smiled. “Samuel’s going to freak when he sees these.”