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 losing the first fight and falling prey to a sabotage attempt during the following round, the American Team goes on to win the second match. The team’s pilot, Lumin Mira, finds herself facing intense scrutiny from her own team after committing a series of rash actions on the field that could have lead to disaster as easily as they brought victory.
Skip and Katerina rode a massive cherry picker up to the hatch of BZ-X’s ferrotank along with the rest of the retrieval team. Most of the crowd had remained in the arena to witness Lumin emerge from her robot.
“Wow,” said Katerina, scanning the stands. “These people have no idea how close they came to—”
“Just stop, Kat,” interrupted Skip. “Before you throw Lumin under the bus let’s get her side of the story.”
“Calm down, Skip. I didn’t mean it like that. I’m here, aren’t I?” said Katerina as the lift clunked to a halt. The ten-person crew of the retrieval team hurried to do their job, pretending not to notice the spat.
“Sorry Kat,” said Skip. “I’m just pissed at the rest of the engineers for not supporting her.”
“It’s cool, I get it. I’ll…I mean…they’ll come around.”
The retrieval team lowered a hidden platform on Biz’s torso, revealing the hatch to the tank, which Skip promptly unlatched and opened. The crowd roared as Lumin was lifted out of black goop. Skip unhooked her harness from the crane and disengaged the switch suit. She masked her exhaustion with a big smile and a wave to the crowd as Skip wrapped her in a space blanket.
“You all right, Lumin?” asked Skip.
“I feel like I’ve been trapped in a jello mold,” said Lumin. She hugged Skip tight and a tear slid down her cheek. “But yes, I’m alright…thanks to you.” She grabbed Katerina and pulled her into the hug as well. “C’mere you.”
When the squeeze ended Lumin could tell her compatriots were concealing tumult behind their cheerful faces. She sighed and leaned on the rail of the cherry picker as it descended, watching the maintenance crew assemble below to prepare BZ-X for transport back to the blimp hanger.
“Everyone in the skybox took off besides us,” blurted Katerina.
Lumin straightened up. “Wow, I really pissed them off, huh?”
“Pretty much,” said Katerina. “To be honest, I guess I’m just a little confused too.”
“Understandably,” said Lumin.
“So?” asked Skip.
Lumin blew out a breath. “I was going to save this for the entire team.”
“We stuck around. Indulge us,” said Skip
“Fine…after the Dokujima debacle I researched the personality profiles of everyone on the Kyoto Team. My foray into amateur psychology assured me Hayashi would shut off his quantum filament if challenged by our own quantum tech—and he did—but I had a backup plan in place in case he defied my admittedly shaky diagnoses .”
“You did?” asked Skip.
“It’s my fault for not properly relaying this information but I was kind of busy, guys.”
“Even if the rest of the team is a little salty they’ll come around,” said Skip. “Why were you rerouting so many of Biz’s systems? Was it part of this backup plan?”
Lumin nodded. “When Hayashi fired up his quantum filament mesh I realized I had entered the worst-case scenario. I knew I had a good chance at intimidating the bastard but I couldn’t bet the whole farm on a hunch. I quickly recalibrated Biz’s sensors to detect incoming electron field emissions at close range and linked it to the proximity alarm. If Hayashi’s quantum mesh was still hot as my quantum blade approached, the proximity alarm would have triggered Biz’s emergency shutdown system.”
“Cutting off your power and ensuring your quantum vibration tech didn’t contact his,” said Skip, grinning. “You’re a goddamn genius!”
Lumin shrugged. “Losing power would have meant losing the match, but it would have been preferable to a spontaneous warping of space-time…or worse.”
Katerina raised an eyebrow. “Okay, but that’s not what you told Hayashi over the comlink.”
Lumin shook her head. “Yeah, because I might have to use the trick again! Admittedly, it was still too risky. I should have set the electron field sensors to have greater sensitivity. Still, the situation was a lot more controlled than anyone realized. I wanted Hayashi to wonder if I had completely lost my mind…give him a taste of his own medicine.”
“I never doubted you for a second, Boss.” Katerina hopped off the cherry picker as soon as it touched the ground. “I gotta pee like a racehorse! I’ll catch up with you guys back at the hanger.” She smiled with a little hop and then rushed away.
“Such a delicate flower,” said Skip, with a laugh.
The post-match press conference was a whirlwind. Everyone wanted to know about Skip’s emergency field repairs and the “real-life lightsaber” Lumin had used in the match. Lumin struggled to divulge enough information to satisfy their curiosity without relying on outright lies. When the questioning became more frenzied she retreated with Skip, who fended off any stray reporters who gave chase. The arena’s security team finally stepped in to stymie the press, allowing Skip to escort Lumin safely out of sight behind a wall adjacent to entrance of the locker room.
“One match to go,” said Skip.
Lumin just stared at him blankly. The remnants of ferrofluid clinging to her suit created a slight metallic smell, like an incoming electrical storm.
“What is it?” asked Skip.
Without warning, Lumin pushed Skip against the concrete facade and pressed her lips to his. He gave in after little fight and they began kissing wildly. He ran his hand over her lycra-encased curves as she crushed herself to his body, letting out a small sigh against his shoulder. After a few seconds she shoved away from him and took several steps backward.
Skip leaned on the wall, catching his breath. He was speechless.
“Goddamit. I’m about to break up with a billionaire because of your silly, Frisbee-throwing ass,” mumbled Lumin.
Skip felt light-headed. “Disc golf is a great cardio-vascular workout if you jog to each tee and it improves hand-eye coordination.”
“Can you please get out of my face? I’ll catch up with you back at the Hanger after I clean up.”
“Alright,” said Skip, unable to hold back a massive smile as he left.
Lumin pushed open the door to the locker room with her remaining strength. She nearly jumped out of her suit as she turned around. Eldridge Roundstone was standing near the lockers with his hands in the pockets of his Armani slacks, smiling at her gently. “Hello, Miss Mira.”