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 next, the American Team goes on to win the second match. The team’s pilot, Lumin Mira, now finds herself facing an entirely different battle.
Lumin went pale. “Eldridge! How did you get into the locker room?”
“I’m a billionaire,” said Eldridge with a shrug.
“Right.” Lumin shook her head as she walked up to him. “I’m sorry I haven’t been answering your—”
“It’s fine,” interrupted Eldridge. “You needed to focus on the tournament above all else. I wouldn’t have bothered you at all but I thought it important to show my support. Congratulations on your victory.”
“Thanks, it was touch and go for a bit.”
“I’m so glad you weren’t hurt.”
“Yeah, I’m okay,” said Lumin. “Did you watch the fight this time around?” asked Lumin.
“No, I’m afraid my fears over your safety kept me confined to the Limo. I had a blogger on my payroll transcribe the events as they happened to a secure feed accessible on my phone. Unfortunately, the anticipation of her sporadic updates probably rattled my nerves worse than if I would have just watched the match.”
Lumin laughed. “It was a real mess out there. Your blogger may not have fully understood the depth of the situation.”
“Before the match I informed her of the dangerous weaponry shared by both teams’ robots…namely, the quantum vibration technology. Her employment required the signing of an NDL so don’t worry about any messy details leaking to the general public.”
“Despite how this woman may have perceived the match, everything was under control. I had an emergency shutdown system in place to keep the quantum tech weapons from clashing.”
Eldridge nodded. “I suspected as much. It’s unlike you to act recklessly.”
Lumin couldn’t look him in the eye. “I wish that were true.”
“What do you mean?”
“So, were you running the hotdog cart again?” asked Lumin, changing the subject.
Eldridge laughed. “No. I put someone more charismatic in charge. We’ll see if he fared better.”
Lumin chuckled. “I knew it! I bet he sold a ton of your weird wieners.”
“I haven’t checked in with him yet.” Eldridge moved closer but Lumin turned to the side, denying an embrace. He took a step backward. “I suppose I better be going. You’ll want to freshen up.”
Lumin steeled herself. She realized what she was about to say was going to leave an impact crater in the room. “Eldridge, I need to tell you something.”
Eldridge lowered his eyes and sighed. “Alright. I assume this has something to do with Mr. Pantheon?”
“Less than you may think,” said Lumin, trying to remain strong. “Have you been spying on me?”
“Miss Mira, it doesn’t take the resources of a billionaire to see how close you two have become.”
Lumin finally mustered the courage to make eye contact. “I care about you Eldridge…you’re an amazing person but you’re incredibly guarded. There’s a secret passion glinting in your eyes you’re always trying to conceal. I know you’re holding back an ocean inside of you…if you care about me, just let it out. It’s now or never.”
“Lumin…I…I just can’t. Not now. Please,” said Eldridge, visibly shaken.
Lumin shook her head and crossed her arms, feeling naked. “I’m sorry, but after all that’s happened I just can’t suffer anymore mysteries or obfuscations…especially not from the person I’ve devoted myself to.”
Eldridge couldn’t hide his distress as he looked into Lumin’s eyes. “Please, give me time. Everything will make sense in time.”
“I’m sorry, but there’s no time left,” said Lumin, with sorrow.
“I find it hard to believe Mr. Pantheon hasn’t played a factor in your decision,” said Eldridge, regaining his composure.
“The widening distance between us is what drove me closer to Skip…not that it was any excuse to betray your trust.”
“Have you slept with him?” asked Eldridge.
“No, but we’ve kissed.” Lumin stomped her foot to the floor. “Damn it, the play by play isn’t what’s important!”
“I suppose not,” said Eldridge, coldly.
“I know what I did was wrong…unforgivable…but I fought so hard against this, Eldridge. I gave you all the time I possibly could. I tried with all my might to deny my feelings but my heart is a fucking maniac; it won’t listen to reason. It’s screaming orders at me and if I don’t listen It’s going to tear me to shreds.”
Eldridge sighed. “I knew this was coming, Lumin. It was inevitable. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.”
“What? What do you mean you knew?”
Eldridge couldn’t answer her.
Tears ran down Lumin’s cheeks. “I should have ended this sooner. I was a coward. I…I’m sorry.”
Eldridge hung his head. “Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
Lumin wiped the tears from her face. “Don’t you dare start reciting poetry. It’s too late.”
“Apologies,” said Eldridge. “Kahlil Gibran wrote that. It’s always stuck with me…maybe for this moment.”
Lumin pushed from stray hairs from her face. “I thought I might actually see you angry for once, Eldridge.”
“The moments we shared carried me the furthest distance from anger imaginable. You could never hope to inspire rage within me. My love for you was born from an entirely different place.”
All Lumin could do as she felt her heart sink was let out the whisper of a laugh. “You could have anyone you want at the snap of your fingers. There’s nothing special about me, Eldridge. You don’t love me.”
Eldridge gently took Lumin’s hands in his. He ran his thumbs over the tops of them, then let go softly and lifted his gaze. “I doesn’t matter now, does it?”
“I hate this,” said Lumin, wiping away more tears.
“I know,” said Eldridge. He slowly walked away, returning to the steel door. As he grabbed the handle he looked at Lumin over his shoulder. “I hope this means you won’t be out of my life forever.”
“No,” said Lumin, “of course not.”
Eldridge forced a smile and opened the door. “Until next time then, Miss Mira,” he said, before leaving Lumin alone in the locker room.
Lumin exhaled loudly and plopped down to the bench. She slammed her hand to the wooden slats and winced. “Shit!” she said with a wavering voice, blowing on her fingers as if it might help take the sting away.