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 team’s pilot, Lumin Mira, finds herself preparing for the next match, knowing another loss will end the fight for good.
“The diagnostics look good, Lumin. How are things on your end?” asked Richard, looking down at the slimmer, trimmer Biz from the skybox. Round two of the tournament was about to begin.
“I should have peed before I got in here,” said Lumin, “but other than that all systems are go. Again, you guys did an incredible job getting Biz repaired in time. I’m beyond impressed.”
Dezzie grabbed the mic. “Lumin, your constant shower of praise is getting old.”
“Yeah,” said Katerina, “it’s time to get mean again!”
“You’re both ungrateful bitches,” replied Lumin.
“There you go!” said Katerina, breaking out in laughter along with Dezzie.
“Okay, okay, game faces. Did we manage to dig up anything about Sato’s strategy this round?” asked Lumin.
Spotswood moved in front of the mic to chime in. “We don’t know squat. I’m just happy the Dokujima sisters are out of the cockpits for good.”
“They may be a little unstable, but Miu and Ako saved my life. Don’t forget that,” said Lumin. She stared through her view screen at the three Japanese bots standing side by side like statues at the other end of the arena. “With the Dokujima triplets sidelined, who’s going to pilot the robots? It doesn’t make sense.”
“There’s only three engineers left on the team, including Sato,” said Richard.
Lumin smiled and cracked her neck. Biz made the same motion. “God, I hope he’s inside one of those bots. I would love to rattle his brain pan for a little while.”
“That puts Gold Swamp…uh…Kanazawa and that scrawny maniac Hayashi in the other two robots,” said Richard.
“They’re all going down, I don’t care who’s piloting,” said Lumin.
“Remember, keep your distance for as long as you can,” said Yasamin, “drain their shared battery.”
Lumin exhaled sharply, looking at the awkward black box sitting on tank treads behind the Kyoto Team’s robots. “Do you really think I’d change up the plan now after all the complaining I had to endure from you lot?”
A gigantic foghorn bellowed, signaling the start of the match. The capacity crowd started screaming and cheering.
“Shit, here we go,” said Lumin. She rocked back and forth, feeling Biz respond to her movements. “The ferrofluid’s not as dense this time around. I can move a little easier in here.”
“Go kick their ass!” yelled Katerina. The rest of the team cheered.
Lumin lowered the concussion cannon over Biz’s shoulder. “Come on, Sato-san. Make your move.”
“Lumin, we’re getting a communications request from the pilot of the Kyoto’s Team’s ‘jaguar.’ It’s Hayashi. Should I patch him through?” asked Richard.
“That little shit,” said Spotswood, remembering the brief fist fight he had with Hayashi during the Kyoto Team’s tour of the factory.
“Sure, why not,” said Lumin. “Audio only…I don’t want to see his smug face.”
“Greetings, Lumin-chan,” said Hayashi, snidely. “Ready to lose?”
Lumin turned down the volume. “Hello Hayashi. Are you ready to live up to your nickname, ‘Early Death?’”
Hayashi laughed obnoxiously. “I just want to hear you gasp in horror when you see…this!” Lumin put Biz into a defensive stance as The Kyoto Team’s bots started moving closer to each other. The jaguar reared up on its massive hind legs and held solidly. The other two bots flanking the jaguar on each side turned and began splitting open–nearly in half–before their splayed bodies clamped to the jaguar’s frame violently. A loud whirr and series of clanks echoed as the three robots and their power source began to merge into one machine.
“Holy shit! They’re going full Voltron!” yelled Spotswood.
“You have to be kidding me,” said Lumin. She began firing concussion rounds into the mass of merging metal, hoping to interrupt the process or knock the jaguar’s legs off balance. Her blasts did little but put a few dents in the machines’ ebony armor. The legs of the bipedal robots served as glorified kickstands, keeping the machines steady as they merged.
The arena’s audience had gotten so loud Lumin could hear them inside her control bell through the ferrofluid. “Shit! That thing’s going to be huge!” She started firing at the “kickstands” but they held solid. The jaguar’s front limbs folded inward as the oversized claw and geodesic dome of the bipedal bots became the robot’s new arms. One of the four supports fell away, slamming loudly to the dirt below.
“Did I damage it?” asked Lumin.
“I don’t think so, Lumin. When the last strut falls away that thing’s going to attack. Be ready for anything!” said Samuel.
Hyashi was laughing maniacally. Lumin muted his transmission. “Shut up.”
“Lumin, you gotta rush that thing, knock it over before it’s done transforming!” yelled Richard.
“Transformers, more than meets the eye,” Dezzie started singing.
“Shh!” ordered Yasamin, transfixed on the battlefield.
Lumin prepared to rush her opponent. She took a step forward in the ferrotank but Biz didn’t respond. Without warning, the ferrofluid surrounding her shook violently. “Guys, what the hell is happening? I can’t move!” Lumin could twist Biz and move his arms, but his legs had become frozen in place.
“Something exploded inside Biz’s abdomen!” said Richard, in a panic. “The electrical system is going haywire. Voltage spikes are lighting up the diagnostic board.”
“An explosion? How, Richard?” asked Lumin.
“I don’t know. The starboard bridge converter is completely fried. The actuators controlling Biz’s lower limbs will be out of commission until we get the electrical load regulated again.”
Lumin could see smoke rising from Biz’s side through her cameras. “We have contingency systems in place for this. Reroute the power!”
Richard crushed a package of Twinkies sitting near him in frustration. “I can’t. A chunk of the posterior heat sink was knocked lose by the blast. It’s wedged in the redundancy system, shorting out the circuit. Biz will be paralyzed from the waist down until the blockage is removed,” said Richard.
“I’ll pluck it out with Biz’s hand and—“
“No,” interrupted Richard. “The affected area is too small. Someone’s going to have to—holy shit, is that Skip?”
“What?” Lumin looked down, and saw Skip Pantheon sprinting out on to the field in his ubiquitous Chuck Taylors with a welding rig strapped to his back. He was holding his phone in the air, waving it at the Shuffle Pigs’ skybox.
The arena’s security team rushed to the floor and started chasing Skip. Richard’s phone began ringing. He picked it up and stared at the screen. “Skip’s calling me.”
“Patch him through!” yelled Lumin. “And tell security to stand down!”
Richard fumbled around, hitting switches on his console, putting the call through to Lumin. He grabbed a nearby two-way radio and held it to his face. “Stand down! Stand down! He’s with us!” The security team stopped their chase after a few seconds.
Lumin heard Skip’s voice blast in her ear. “Lower the emergency ladder!”
“Skip! What are you doing here?” shouted Lumin, dropping the ladder for him.
“I’m coming to fix the blockage in your backup power system.” Skip turned on his earpiece and shoved his phone in his jeans pocket.
“How the hell did you know about—”
“I have an inside man in your booth…er…woman.”
“Of course,” said Skip, huffing and puffing as he grabbed the ladder and started climbing. He looked over his shoulder and saw another support leg falling away from the Kyoto Team’s bot. “Shit.”
“You’re going to get killed out here, you fucking idiot!” yelled Lumin, angrily.
“Everything’s fine,” said Skip, his voice wavering. “You’ll have to disengage the armor blocking the damaged site.”
“Alright, I’m uncoupling the locks on that chunk of the abdominal section. Ejecting…look out below.” A ten foot section of armor on the robot’s side popped off and fell to the ground with a tremendous clatter. A small breach in Biz’s softer inner hull was revealed, steadily belching smoke.
“Looks bad,” said Skip, coughing.
Biz’s anti-fire measures hadn’t engaged. “Christ, I’m still burning.” Lumin manually turned on the halon system to blast away any flames still smoldering inside.
“The smoke’s clearing.” Skip had made it a quarter of the way up the ladder. “Crap. I’m in the wrong spot. You arms are still functional, correct? I need you to grab the top of the ladder and maneuver me to the breach. I’m going to crawl inside and cut away the blockage…restore the circuit.”
Lumin knew there was no point in arguing with Skip when he set his mind to something. “Fine. Hold on tight!”
“I’m ready,” said Skip, white-knuckling the rope ladder.
Lumin had Biz gently pull up on the ladder and swing Skip over to the hole in the robot’s side. Skip leaned from the ladder, and shoved himself into the three-foot diameter tear, trying not to cut himself on jagged metal. “I’m in.” He commando crawled through a mass of wiring and brackets until he saw a hunk of the titanium heat-sink lying across the backup power panel. Sparks were bursting in random intervals as arcing electricity wreaked havoc with the circuit.
“This welding rig is useless,” said Skip as he pulled it off his shoulders. “Luckily, the blockage isn’t very large. I’m going to pry it off manually before the panel completely fries itself.” Skip coughed and held his breath. The air smelled of smoke and ozone. He crawled up cautiously as sparks erupted near his face.
“You’re going to get electrocuted in there! Skip, get out! This isn’t worth it,” begged Lumin.
“I’m fine,” reiterated Skip. “Keep your eyes on that bot!”
“I’m getting a call from Bo Dozens,” said Richard, looking shell shocked.
Spotswood did a double take. “Did you say–”
“Yes,” interrupted Richard.
“Son of a bitch,” said Spotswood. He turned off the mic, not wanting to distract Lumin.
Richard answered the call and put it on speaker. “What the hell do you want, Dozens?”
“Security was sorely lacking around your team’s blimp hanger. It only took a white apron, a paper hat and a couple of free hoagies for me to slip past the guards, unmolested. Pretty sad,” said Bo.
“Wait, you did this?” asked Yasamin.
“Yes, I’m your saboteur. I’ve missed you, Yasamin. I thought we might hit it off one day.”
“Not in a million years, you moist hunk of hog fodder!” said Yasamin.
Bo laughed. “Slipping the bomb in Biz wasn’t hard. It wasn’t much larger than a can of coffee. The real challenge was finding an open console where I could program a blind spot into your diagnostic system. You know…the one I helped create.”
“Hang up on this asshole!” said Spotswood.
“Have anything else to say, low life?” Richard had expected Dezzie to give Bo her two cents but she was nowhere to be found.
“The next time any of you think you can push someone around and threaten their career. The next time you callously humiliate someone in every way, shape and form…think about this day and remember how I ruined your—” Bo suddenly stopped his rant.
“Bo?” asked Richard, turning up the volume.
“Please! No! How did you…” Bo’s phone sounded as if it had collided with the ground. “Wait! Stop…stop!”
“What’s that noise?” asked Katerina.
“Sounds like boot leather striking flabby flesh,” said Spotswood, listening closely.
“Fucker! I knew you wouldn’t pass up a chance to gloat in person,” shouted Dezzie in the background of the call as Bo grunted in pain. “As soon as I heard your nasally tone I started searching the arena with my binoculars…the cheap seats of course. It only took me a few seconds to find you staring up at our box, wallowing in self satisfaction.”
There was a loud thump and another cry of pain from Bo. “Lynch, stop!”
“Surprised I got here so fast? I’m going to flay your lily-white ass and hang it on my wall. Let’s see how you like being framed…literally,” said Dezzie.
“Down there! I can see them!” shouted Katerina. “Oh…Dez is real mad.”
“God, she’s kicking the shit out of him,” said Spotswood. “I’ve never seen her so pissed. Samuel, did you call security?”
“In time, in time,” said Samuel with a smile, listening to Bo Dozens weep openly over the phone.
“Hayashi’s bot is armed!” shouted Yasamin, watching two cannons jut from the robot’s chest.
Lumin restored her communication with Hayashi, hoping to distract him a few minutes longer. “Espionage now sabotage…how did you bastards pull this one off?”
“Tsk tsk, Lumin-chan,” said Hayashi, condescendingly, “don’t blame your inferior engineering skills on us. Your robot’s lame legs are your own doing.”
“You’re a liar,” said Lumin, unaware Bo Dozens was the real culprit.
“Do you like our robot’s new form?” asked Hyashi with a laugh. “I could have sped up the transformation process but I wanted to make you squirm. It seems your incompetence has made my job easy. How boring.” Another support leg fell away from the Japanese bot. The transformation was nearly complete. Dual cannons mounted on the robot’s chest began firing steel concussion cubes at Biz.
“Shit, hold on!” shouted Lumin. She batted away the projectiles as they came, sustaining heavy damage to the plating around Biz’s forearms. “Skip, I’m going to shut down the power so you can fix the panel!”
“No!” demanded Skip, his teeth gritting. “Biz takes too long to power up. You’ll be even more of a sitting duck if you do that. We have to do a hot swap.”
“Are you nuts?” asked Lumin, panicking. “Don’t you dare!”
Skip felt Lumin fending off incoming projectiles and knew he didn’t have much time. His body shook inside Biz as if he were trapped inside a martini mixer. “Oh, fuck it.” Skip took off his shoes and put them on his hands. He clamped the rubber soles around the mangled hunk of stray metal and pulled as hard as could. Pain rocketed through his body as sparks flooded the cavity. A massive jolt of electricity sent him flying backwards, directly through the breach in Biz’s side.
Something tiny in Lumin’s peripheral vision caught her eye. “No!” She reached out Biz’s hulking hand and caught Skip as he plummeting to the ground. “Gotcha.”
With Skip safely in hand, Lumin twisted and turned Biz’s back to the incoming projectiles. Her mobility had been restored. She lowered the robot to his knees and brought Skip near the arena’s floor.
“Skip! Skip! Answer me!” yelled Lumin, tasting tears in her mouth beneath her helmet.
Skip groaned, pushing himself up the palm of Biz’s hand. “Ow. I guess that worked. Can you wiggle Biz’s toes?”
“You need to get out of here, you idiot!” gasped Lumin. “Can you walk?”
“Yes…I’m alright. Just a little singed.” Skip rose up, feeling rattled. His nose was bleeding.
“If you can walk, then run! Head for the wall, we’re still under fire…I’ll kick your ass later.”
Skip nodded and began sprinting for the base of the massive aluminum wall that shielded the audience from the match. A door at its base opened and a security guard rushed Skip inside.
“What the hell did I just witness?” asked Katerina, chewing her hands as she looked down at the match.
“Power’s back! Skip did it!” cheered Richard, looking at the readout.
Spotswood shook his head. “Did you see those sparks? He’s lucky that shock didn’t kill him!”
Katerina shivered. “He…he didn’t tell me he was going to run out there like that!”
“You knew he was here?” asked Spotswood.
“Yeah, he didn’t want to make a big deal about it,” said Katerina.
“The crowd’s eating it up,” said Samuel, shouting over the roar.
Biz rose back up and began strafing away from the incoming concussion cubes. The last support leg fell away from the Kyoto’s Team’s monstrosity and it began stomping forward.
Lumin creased her brow and growled. “Enough bullshit. Show me what you’ve got, Hayashi.”