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. Their pilot, Lumin Mira, returns from battle hoping her compatriots will forgive some of her questionable tactics during the fight.
Lumin was dreading her return to the blimp hanger as she rode in the back of her cab. She wasn’t ready to face the scorn of her team—her stress tanks were already filled to capacity and she didn’t know how she’d be able to take another flood of drama.
After arriving at the hanger, Lumin paid the cabby and the car sped off in a cloud of dust. An ochre sun was steadily dissolving behind the horizon, bringing down the purple shade of night. She lifted her oversize sunglasses and took a moment to watch distant city lights twinkling like inverted stars. As she shuffled towards the security gate a van skidded in the dirt behind her. She coughed and turned around. “Now what?”
Lumin lowered the hood of her HARVEY MUDD COLLEGE sweatshirt. The white van that pulled up was covered in giant gold letters reading “Lucky Day Florists” next to anthropomorphic cartoon tulip giving a friendly wave. The back doors opened and a diminutive man emerged holding a clipboard.
“Hey. I’m looking for a…” the man looked at his clipboard, “Lou.”
“Lou?” asked Lumin.
“Yeah, Lou Manmarra?”
Lumin sighed. “Oh. That’s me. Lumin Mira.”
“Oh, right,” said the man. “Sign here please.”
Lumin signed an invoice and the man went back into the van, emerging seconds later with a massive horseshoe bouquet of flowers featuring white daises and red roses. He plopped the flowers in Lumin’s arms.
Lumin grunted from the weight of the plyboard-backed arrangement. “Sorry for your loss,” said the man, before hopping in his van and driving away.
“A funeral bouquet…what the hell?” Lumin walked past security, ignoring the muffled giggles coming from the booth. She leaned the arrangement against the hanger’s paint-chipped wall and read the tag.
Especially for Lou Man from your Shuffling Pig.
“Huh? Does this mean I’m dead to them?” Lumin wondered out loud, holding back her tears and readying herself to face the team. She picked up the awkward mass of flowers and opened the door.
As soon as Lumin stepped inside the hanger erupted with cheers and applause echoing up to the soaring ceiling. The entire team assembled in front of her wearing beaming smiles, greeting her with whistles and woos. She looked up and saw a long, hastily-printed banner hanging between Biz’s knees. CONGRATULATIONS LUMIN MIRA: ACE PILOT!
Samuel moved to the front of the crowd. “Lumin! Katerina and Skip filled us in on your strategy. Goddamn brilliant. We’re sorry to have doubted you…it won’t happen again. I hope you’ll accept our apology.” The room went quiet as most of the Shuffle Pigs nodded in mutual agreement.
Lumin smiled and sat down the bouquet. She let out a laugh with tears wetting her eyes. “You guys really know how to put me through the ringer, you know that?”
“What is that?” yelled Samuel, looking at the flowers. “Spotswood! Goddammit!”
Spotswood pushed out of the crowd and flashed a smile at Lumin. “Good job out there, Boss.” He turned toward Sam. “What is what?”
“Are those the flowers you ordered?”
“Yeah. I saw the horseshoe and thought it was perfect! Good luck, you know? It’s Vegas, Baby!”
“Did you see the freakin’ lettering?”
Spotswood looked closer at the arrangement. Rest in Peace, said an ornate silk banner stretching across the middle of the flowers. “Oh shit. I swear that wasn’t on there when I ordered it.”
“Horseshoe arrangements are for funerals!” screamed Samuel. “Jesus, again, sorry Lumin.”
Lumin burst out laughing. “No, it’s perfect. RIP to all the drama. Let bygones be bygones.”
“See, it’s fine,” said Spotswood. Samuel groaned.
“Hello handsome.” Lumin hopped up on BZ-X’s foot, looking up at the battered robot.
“Speech!” someone yelled.
“Speech! Speech!” reiterated the crowd.
“Oh Jesus.” Begrudgingly, Lumin turned to address her team, ready to emulate the speaking manner of a standing President in a disaster movie. “Today we stand victorious! Victorious on the battlefield of our…um…dreams? Oh forget it.” She slumped her shoulders and cleared her throat. “Two down, one to go! Let’s win a billion dollars!” More ovation from the crew washed over her.
Richard climbed up next to Lumin and whispered in her ear. “Good job today…sorry we were dicks.” He craned his neck to the side, distracted by something. “Oops, food’s here…gotta go.” He jumped back down and hurried off.
“Alright everybody,” continued Lumin, “I’ll finalize the spec upgrades I have in mind by tomorrow morning and then we’ll get Biz back in shape for the next fight. For now though, head over to the mess and have a seat. The catering truck has apparently arrived—and yes, there will be a dedicated grill to sauté bean curd or whatever for the vegans.” Lumin hopped off Biz’s foot with wobbling legs and Skip caught her. The team gave one last cheer then left for the mess area to engage in some R and R.
“You alright?” asked Skip, as Lumin slowly wriggled out of his arms.
“Yeah, I feel at least as good as a run-over possum,” said Lumin.
Skip grinned. “At least you smell better than roadkill.”
“Thanks?” asked Lumin, smiling. “Listen, we’ll talk more later. I…I just need to get some rest.”
“No problem. Come find me whenever you’re ready,” said Skip, taking a long look at her before walking away.
Yasamin’s orange-gold skirt caught Lumin’s eye as she approached. “Yasamin?”
“I wanted to apologize to you personally, Lumin. Although rash, I now believe your actions fell within an acceptable range of risk. I will gladly accept my resignation if you deem it necc–”
“Stop,” said Lumin, putting her hand on Yasamin’s shoulder. “You’re forgiven. You can be a real bitch…but that’s why I like you so much.”
Yasamin smiled. “Thanks.”
Katerina came up and hugged Lumin from the side. “Hiya.”
“Hey, thanks for setting the record straight, Kat.”
“I always got’yer back, boss lady. Oh, hey…there’s some big black guy outside that says he’s here to see you. Security has him waiting behind the gate.”
“Couldn’t you find another way to describe him?” asked Yasamin, glaring.
“No way. This guy is hella black. And hella bald. Pretty handsome for an older guy,” said Katerina, innocently if insensitively. Yasamin just rolled her eyes.
“No, it couldn’t be. Tell security to let him through!” Lumin rushed away to the hanger door and stepped outside.
The security gate lifted and a man ambled forward. “Luma…I didn’t want to get in the way of your business in there,” said Diego Mira as his daughter hugged him.
“Dad! What are you doing here?” asked Lumin. “Is mom here too?”
Lumin’s father looked in his daughter’s eyes as the bear hug ended. He rubbed his bald spot. “I’m afraid not, Mija. Vegas has been damned hot lately and Evie got to worrying about freckling up her skin. Regardless, your mother sends her love.”
Lumin shook her head. “Puh-lease. you live in sunny LA! Mom’s collection of wide-brimmed sun hats could catch enough wind to push a schooner through the ocean.”
Her father laughed. “She don’t want to admit it but I think this robo stuff scares her a little. She worries about you, you know?”
“So you’re just here to check up on me then?”
Lumin shrugged. “Alright, but I’m doing fine. I’m in my element.”
“I know, Luma. I always knew you were destined to do great things. I’m trying to convince your mother to join me for your final rumble. I got us tickets.”
“What? You should have told me! I would have gotten you some vouchers!”
Diego shook his head. “I wanted to support you.”
Lumin knew there was no point in arguing. “Well, thanks Dad. Get Mom’s pale ass out here if you can,” said Lumin, smiling. “Come on, let me show you around the hanger.”
Lumin brought her father inside the building and he stared up at Biz, silently.
“So?” asked Lumin. “What do you think of our bot?”
“Big sucker,” said Diego.
Lumin laughed. “I don’t know what I was expecting.” After a small tour she introduced Deigo to her compatriots. She had gotten used to the looks of disbelief when people tried to comprehend her genetic makeup in comparison to her father, but Spotwood’s eyes were particularly buggy. “I’m not adopted, alright? My mother is as pale and Irish as they come. You don’t need to play race detective, Spotswood.”
“I wasn’t! I would never…sorry,” said Spotswood, shrinking away with a nervous grin.
“Still a spitfire, I see.” Diego let out a rumbling laugh then looked to his side at the horseshoe. “Who died?”
Lumin sighed. “Oh, nobody. Never mind that.”