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 fight. The team’s pilot, Lumin Mira, is in the midst of the second match, knowing another loss will end the tournament for good.
A blinking red light flashed in the corner of Lumin’s visor. Someone was hailing her from the Kyoto Team’s monstrous robot. Reluctantly, she accepted the transmission. “So, Hayashi…who else is in there with you?”
“I’m operating all three units in tandem. Does the combined might of these machines fill you with dread?”
“I’m not impressed, you egomaniac.”
“No? But you are afraid…I can hear your voice trembling. Don’t worry, this will all be over soo—”
Lumin cut off the line. “Ugh, enough of him.”
The Kyoto Team’s trio of robots had merged with their massive power source to become a singular tool of destruction. The transformed robot dwarfed Biz; each step it took rattled the arena.
Lumin’s red light pulsed again. It was another transmission, this time from the Shuffle Pigs skybox. “Go ahead.”
“It doesn’t look like their quantum filament is activated. Maybe they’ve learned their lesson?”
“Yeah right…wait,” Lumin turned up her headset, “Skip, is that you? Are you alright?”
“It’s me. Your crew invited me up to the skybox. I got a little bonked around in your bot but I’m good. Nice catch.”
Lumin groaned. “You’re crazy, you know that?”
“Yeah I know. Forget about me though, keep your eyes on the prize,” said Skip. He noticed Katerina staring at him with an infinite grin. “What?” he asked, putting his hand over the mic.
“What you did out there was the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen,” said Katerina with a sigh. The rest of the crew held back their giggles, semi-successfully.
Skip blushed. “She needed help out there! Maybe if one of you turds would have lifted a finger I wouldn’t have had to come out of retirement so soon.”
“I wish I could have seen the look on Roundstone’s face when you ran out there,” said Spotswood with a laugh. “I know he’s in the arena somewhere. He’s not going to be happ—”
“You, shut up! Say one more thing and I’ll knock your goddamn teeth out,” said Skip, turning around angrily. Spotswood recoiled with wide eyes.
Samuel ran up and grabbed Skip’s shoulders. “Whoa, easy. I think you better take a seat.”
Yasamin leaned over to a shell-shocked Spotswood. “Touchy subject,” she whispered.
Skip slumped to a chair in the corner and took a deep breath. “Sorry! Sorry Spotswood… adrenaline. Christ, I’m all amped up.”
“Let go of him, Sam.” Dezzie had just returned to the skybox after overseeing Bo Dozens transfer to the arena’s security office, where he’d stay behind bars until the police arrived. “I want to see Skip knock Spotty’s block off.”
“Hey!” said Spotswood, shrinking even further.
“Nice work down there Dezzie,” said Skip with a grin.
Dezzie nodded. “Same to you. So, are you officially back on the team?”
“Dozens…what a bastard, huh?” Skip diverted the subject, not quite ready to answer her question. “I’m going to play that recording of you pummeling him a thousand times.” Everyone let out a cheer for Dezzie–even Spotswood.
“I’m glad you’re all in such a good mood,” said Lumin, her voice dripping with sarcasm as she dove out of the way of another steel cube.
“Everyone, quiet down!” said Richard, wiping chip crumbs off his shirt. He leaned over the mic. “Sorry for the distraction Lumin, continue kicking their butt!”
At least there’s just one bot to deal with now, thought Lumin as she dodged and traded blows with Kyoto’s crimson-eyed nightmare. She was quickly running out of rounds for her concussion cannon but the Japanese bot was firing its steel projectiles with abandon, inflicting steady damage to Biz’s armor. “Damn it, that thing is packed to the gills with ammo!”
“Keep moving, Lumin! It can’t keep firing forever…probably,” said Richard, looking down from the skybox.
Katerina moved beside Richard. “It used to look like a panther or something, now it’s more like a gorilla. How did they beat Donkey Kong in that one movie?”
“King Kong,” corrected Richard. “I don’t think Lumin has time to seduce the Japanese robot and lure it to the top of skyscraper, unfortunately.”
“Oh yeah, I remember that now,” said Katerina.
Lumin was thankful the “gorilla” wasn’t using its quantum filament, but it also meant it wasn’t going to run out of power anytime soon. “Biz’s arms are beat to hell from batting away those cubes,” said Lumin. “I have to make my move while I still can.” Before Lumin could attack, the gorilla launched the bizarre geodesic dome attached to its arm. The chain trailing behind the projectile tightened around Biz’s right wrist.
“Shit, not again!” yelled Lumin. She quickly disengaged the wrist linkage and ignited the rockets at the base of Biz’s hand, ejecting it. The fist flew out with a loud scrape, unraveling the chain and dome from Biz’s arm in a shower of shredding sparks. The tangled mass rocketed back to the Japanese bot.
The gorilla activated the tangled chain’s whirring blades as Biz’s fist rapidly approached. The sawing motion tore the hand into titanium chunks, inadvertently transforming it into a storm of shrapnel. The wreckage battered the chest of Hayashi’s robot with tremendous momentum, mangling its armor severely as the impacts echoed along the clear aluminum walls protecting the crowd. As the audience cheered the gorilla stumbled backwards and sank to one knee.
“Yes! You have a flail too, use it!” yelled Richard. The engineers were cheering along with the crowd.
“Way ahead of you.” Lumin lept forward, activating the wrecking ball hidden behind Biz’s now missing hand. She swung the tethered titanium orb through the air in a long arc. It connected with her adversary’s domed appendage, causing it to burst into a thousand pieces. The remaining links of the gorilla’s chain spilled out the end of its bent and twisted arm to the arena floor.
“Nice!” yelled Skip, returning to the mic. “You won’t have to worry about that bucky ball anymore.”
Lumin switched off her headset, not wanting any distractions. She twisted Biz in a circle and brought the wrecking ball around in a long arc. It careened into the side of the gorilla, sending it plunging to the dirt. The entire Arena rumbled from the crash.
Lumin lashed out with the wrecking ball again but her opponent quickly rose on one knee, lifting its vicious claw to intercept the incoming strike. The pincer snipped the chain of Biz’s flail in two and the untethered 25-foot sphere flew freely over the top of the gorilla. The titanium globe pounded against one of the protective walls, embedding itself inside of the aluminum. The fight fans seated behind the impact loosened their bladders simultaneously.
Before Lumin could disengage the remnants of Biz’s broken flail, the gorilla tugged the American machine forward by the dangling chain and delivered a tremendous punch. The blow lifted Biz off its feet. Even surrounded by protective ferrofluid, Lumin could feel her teeth rattling from the hit.
After nearly blacking out, Lumin somehow returned her robot to an upright position. Through her view screen she could see the huge gouge in the dirt where Biz had slid to a stop. After realizing her mobility had been compromised by freshly damaged armor she dropped several chunks of shielding to the ground, leaving Biz’s midsection completely prone. “Christ, that was bad,” she remarked to herself, cracking her neck. Still, she was pleased to see the gorilla’s concussion cannon had been damaged by its fall.
Lumin unsheathed her chainsaw. “Alright, time to escalate things. What are you going to do now, Hayashi?” The gorilla dropped the dead weight of its concussion cannon to the dirt. Once back on its feet, it raised the huge claw into the air. Half of the pincer flipped and spun around, merging with its mate to create a sickle shaped blade, looking impressively sharp.
Lumin restored her communication with the skybox. “Any advice here, guys?”
“Don’t you dare turn off your com again!” complained Skip. “Listen Lumin, it doesn’t matter if that scythe is as dull as a butter knife–one swing by that beast carries enough momentum to completely sever one of Biz’s arms or legs. You’ll have to deflect every blow, even if your chain sword gets trashed in the process.”
Before Lumin had a chance to respond the gorilla rushed her position with surprising speed. She side-stepped away from the overhead strike of Hayashi’s scythe and swiftly retaliated, swinging Biz’s chain-sword into her foe’s middle. She activated the sawing blades and a shower of sparks and metal spilled out of the gorilla’s side. The gorilla escaped her lacerating attack by launching an elbow into BZ-X’s shoulder, sending the robot reeling backward. Before Lumin could raise her sword in defense the scythe cleaved Biz’s battered, handless arm in two.
Lumin’s heart pounded as she tried to move away from danger. Wasting no time, the gorilla gave chase and struck again. Lumin batted away two more slashes from the scythe with her sword gripped in Biz’s remaining hand. Luckily, her weapon proved to be sturdy as she deflected more of Hayashi’s incoming attacks, finding a rhythm to the assault. Even though the Kyoto Team’s bot was telegraphing most of its moves due to its gargantuan stature, it proved difficult for Lumin to find an opening for an offensive maneuver.
The gorilla swung its reaper toward Biz’s legs but Lumin managed to jump over the curved blade, to the delight of the crowd. The energy of the Biz’s return trip to the ground was immense and he collapsed to his knees. Wasting no time, the gorilla brought down another strike directly at Biz’s head. Lumin dropped her sword and caught the scythe by its base with Biz’s remaining hand, stopping the attack mid-swing.
A horrible grind filled the arena as the two robots pushed against each other. Lumin stood Biz back up, trapped in a deadlock with her opponent as she held its weapon aloft. The stumps of the two robots’ severed arms wriggled ridiculously, occasionally clashing together. Lumin stomped down on the gorilla’s foot, attempting to keep her opponent immobilized.
Lumin’s body shook violently inside her control bell. The surrounding ferrofluid responded to Biz’s extreme physical stress by tightening around her arm. “God…this…feels…weird!”
“Push the bastard back, Lumin,” yelled Richard, taking over the mic. “Their robot might be bigger but our servos are far stronger! We’ve got torque for days; burn that bitch out!”
“My arm…the ferrofluid feels like its crushing it!” cried Lumin.
“Hang in there,” said Skip, “we can’t adjust the load limiters now or Biz could lose his grip.”
Somehow, Hayashi’s transmission wormed into Lumin’s ear. “It’s over. Call the match. End your suffering.”
“Fuck you!” Lumin pushed against her foe as hard as she could. She felt the gorilla lose its strength and begin to tilt backwards. “You’re mine.” Lumin delivered a devastating front kick to the Japanese bot’s abdomen and it fell to the arena floor with with a boom. Hayashi was screaming in frustration as his transmission abruptly ended.
Lumin quickly retrieved her chainsword from the ground and revved the blades. As she stomped toward the prone gorilla a blinding light stopped her dead in her tracks. “No! NO!” Within the depths of the ferrotank a sonorous hum filled her ears.
The Japanese bot stood up slowly, a net of glowing filament surrounding its entire body.
“It’s completely covered in a mesh of quantum vibration tech. We’re fucked,” said Richard, from the booth. “That’s Hayashi’s trump card. We can’t get through that.”
“The hell we can’t! I’ve been waiting for this,” growled Lumin, as she smashed the handle of the chain-sword on Biz’s thigh, activating her quantum vibration blade. Her sword buzzed to life, pulsating with a light even more blinding than the Japanese bot’s filament. She switched off her link to the skybox, disinterested in hearing the screams begging her to stop.
Lumin hailed her opponent. “I know you race cars, Hayashi. Ever play chicken?”
Hayashi laughed. “If your sword touches any part of this filament while our quantum tech is ignited…well…you know what will happen.”
“Actually, I don’t,” said Lumin. “Know one knows.”
“You’re insane,” said Hayashi, sounding almost proud. “You’ll crush this entire arena–maybe the entire planet–into a quantum singularity.”
“Or maybe I’ll just slice your dumb robot in half,” said Lumin. “Shut off that stolen tech and give up. We both know you won’t gamble the planet on the slim chance of a victory.”
“And you would? I think not,” said Hayashi, with a laugh. “I was born ready to die! I accept the odds.”
“Chicken it is,” said Lumin, shutting off her headset. She ran Biz across the arena floor, raising her white-hot quantum blade to strike down Hayashi’s robot for good.
Hayashi rushed to meet the attack, fearlessly raising his scythe.
The arena’s crowd was going wild but Lumin’s crew in the skybox had gone stone quiet. Finally, Katerina piped up. “She’s not really going to…I mean…she’s not that crazy, right?” she said, looking at Skip.
Skip kept his eyes on the field. “I trust her.”
“Don’t do this, Lumin. It’s not worth it,” mumbled Samuel. He turned to Richard. “Get ready to shut her down remotely. I don’t care if we lose…this is too goddamn much and she knows it!”
Richard shook his head. “She’s screwing around with Biz’s calibration and rerouting his systems. The auto-shutdown mechanism is completely out of whack. I couldn’t activate it if I tried.”
“What? Why?” asked Samuel.
“These better be the best Zingers I’ve ever ate,” said Richard, unwrapping a snack cake. “See you on the other side of the singularity.”
Spotswood stumbled forward to the microphone, grabbing it in a panic. “STOP YOU CRAZY BITCH! YOU’LL KILL US ALL!” he yelled uselessly. He fell to his knees and began weeping.
Lumin wasn’t listening. Time seemed to crawl as she swung Biz’s sword directly at the Japanese bot’s head. It was too late to pull back.
The filament burned out a second before Lumin’s blazing sword chopped through the gorilla’s scythe, shoulder and head with a single horizontal slash. Without a second’s hesitation she delivered three more blows, lopping off the machine’s arms and legs cleanly; careful to avoid the cockpit housed in the robot’s chest. Black lubricant erupted from the robot’s limbs as it collapsed in pieces to the ground; sputtering a shower of sparks.
The foghorn signaling the end of the match sounded for ten seconds. Lumin raised her sword in victory, then slammed its hilt back down to Biz’s thigh, turning off the quantum vibration.
I’m still alive, thought Lumin, I shouldn’t feel so surprised.
The cheers from the crowd were deafening, but the Shuffle Pigs in the skybox were in shock. “We won,” said Katerina, “why don’t I feel better?”
“I think I’m rubbing off on the girl. That took some balls,” said Dezzie.
“I’m just happy it’s over. Damn. My heart can’t take this shit,” said Samuel. “I’m going to go call my wife.” He grabbed his jacket and left the box, pushing through the energetic crowd as sirens blared and confetti flew everywhere.
Yasamin shook her head. “After all Lumin’s misgivings about Kengi Sato’s recklessness, she goes and pulls something like that. Unbelievable.”
“Lumin did what she had to do,” said Skip, defending her. “She won the goddamn match, didn’t she? Why don’t you try getting knocked around in a giant metal coffin for awhile and see how predictably you act?”
Yasamin shrugged. “You’re not thinking objectively at the moment, Mr. Pantheon.”
“You’re even more of a robot than Biz, Yaz,” said Skip, cutting his eyes.
“Everyone, shut up!” Spotswood pulled himself off the floor. “I feel sick.”
“I’m hungry. Let’s get the hell out of here,” said Richard, standing up. No one attempted to check in with Lumin in the ferrotank as they began filing out.
Skip stayed behind. “I’ll lead the retrieval team myself then, you fucking babies.”
Katerina stopped short. “I’m…I’m staying with Skip.”
No one else seemed to care.
Lumin finally took a breath. The reality of the situation hit her and she sobbed with relief. “I knew it. I fucking knew he’d fold!” After composing herself she hailed Hayashi again. “Hayashi, are you alright?”
Hayashi coughed and began to laugh, louder and louder, until tears were rolling from the corner of his eyes. He stopped himself and turned on his camera so Lumin could see him. His cockpit was filled with a smoky haze. “Lumin-chan, I underestimated your insanity. Congratulations: you’re far more worthy of the moniker Early Death than I am.”
Lumin turned on her own camera. She was still catching her breath. “I’m not crazy, Hayashi. I carefully studied every page of your personality profile and public records. Aside from a few speeding tickets you have no criminal background. I watched the security footage of your fist fight with Spotswood—it looked like you’d never thrown a punch in your life. I’m afraid your fabled recklessness is beyond predictable…it’s only a ruse.”
“Ridiculous!” Hayashi sounded rattled.
“You’re all talk, Hayashi. You bring toys to an orphanage in Takayama almost every week, for God’s sake. You act like a tough guy with nothing to lose but you’re not…I knew you’d back off.”
“Takayama is where I was born. I…” Hayashi stopped himself. “Still, even with all your information you couldn’t have been completely certain I’d shut down the quantum filament. Perhaps you’re not insane, Lumin-san…just stupid.”
Hayashi closed the transmission and emerged from the cockpit of his smoldering, quartered robot. He waved the crowd, coughing, but otherwise none the worse for wear. Fire trucks rolled onto the field and began spraying the gorilla’s severed, burning limbs with fire retardant.
Lumin shut down Biz and waited to be retrieved. Left in complete silence, she knew most, if not all of her team probably agreed with Hayashi at that moment.