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.
Less than a week remains before the final match of the tournament with each team holding a win. The American Team’s project manager and pilot, Lumin Mira, remains ever-wary of the Japanese Team’s increasingly secretive and devious machinations under the leadership of their C.O.O., Kengi Sato.
Lumin sat up on the squeaky motel bed with a sigh. During one of the team’s rare breaks she had fled with Skip to a dessert flophouse a few miles from the hanger. She turned toward the clinking blades of an old metal fan, feeling the cool air gently evaporating the beads of sweat clinging to her naked skin. She twisted her head and looked at Skip. “I hate how good that was,” she told him.
Skip was sprawled out on the mattress trying to catch his breath as he stared at the ceiling. “Generally, the sexual tension between two people ends as soon as they’ve had sex,” he replied, not breaking his gaze with the cloudy light fixture above him.
“Yeah, well, I feel more tense than ever,” said Lumin, plopping down beside Skip. She played with his disheveled mop of hair absentmindedly.
Skip leaned up and stole a kiss. “Personally, I feel great.”
“Fine, I admit I’m a bit more relaxed now,” said Lumin, gently biting Skip’s lip, “even though I feel like I’ve just survived a bear attack.”
“Is that a good thing?”
Lumin smiled. “Definitely.” She stood up abruptly and walked to the bathroom. “I’m going to give myself a hobo bath in the sink. There’s a 90% chance that the scummy owner of this fleabag has a video camera hidden in the ceiling tiles above the shower.”
Skip leaned up and shrugged. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.”
“To be honest, I just know if I step into a hot shower I’ll never want to come out again.” Lumin looked at the nicotine-stained clock hanging crookedly on the wall. “We need to get back to the hanger soon. Ugh…I feel so worn down.”
“I’m not that good.”
Lumin groaned. “In case you haven’t noticed there’s a few other things going on in my life besides our trauma-filled relationship.”
“You’re wearing more armor than Biz.” Skip stood up and wrapped his arms around Lumin from behind. He left a trail of kisses along her neck. “Turn off your brain and turn on the shower. We still have some time.”
After a long shower and a couple of stale croissants, Lumin crammed next to Skip in his red hatchback and they left the PAIR-A-DICE hotel in the rear-view.
“By the way, your Dad was cool. Shame he didn’t stick around longer,” said Skip.
“Dad’s not one for crowds…he gets a little skittish.”
“Pushing seven feet tall and timid? Poor guy.”
“Don’t worry about him. He’ll be happy as a clam back at his hotel. He can play a few slots and watch his detective dramas in peace without constantly having to do my mother’s bidding.”
“Ah…so, you get it from her?” said Skip with a wink.
“Quiet, you.” Lumin smiled and threw her gum wrapper at him.
Lumin put her hair back in a quick pony tail. “It was good to see Dad. I’ve been so caught up in the match I’ve barely had time to consider anything–or anybody–else.”
Skip nodded. “It’s too easy to get wrapped up in this mess. I’ve been obsessed with trying to figure out Kengi Sato’s secret scheme.”
“The Dokujima debacle was so upsetting I haven’t been able to spare a stray thought for that bastard.”
“Maybe that’s what he wants,” said Skip. “These green UFOs people are spotting all over the place have to be related to Sato. I need to get back to the factory and cut open that cube I found in the desert. I’m positive it was dropped by that supersonic flaming…thing…we saw.”
“Yeah, Sato’s been treating the tournament like nothing more than a distraction. He’s got bigger things on his mind.”
“Have any of the countries hosting his weird electrical generators actually turned them on yet?”
Lumin shook her head. “From what I’ve read, the cubes are still being held under lock and key by the private security forces Sato Corp has provided to each host nation.”
“Awfully generous of him.”
“A few countries have realized this is all too good to be true and rejected Sato’s offer of free energy.” Lumin gasped after picking up her cell phone.
“What is it?” asked Skip.
Lumin focused on her call. “Yasamin? Hey, it’s Lumin…Yes…I know your phone tells you who’s calling, it’s just force of habit, okay?…Will you just shut up for a second? I need you to do a favor for me…Can you plot out a couple of quick maps?…Great.”
“Maps?” whispered Skip.
Lumin continued talking to Yasamin. “Yeah, I know it’s weird. I need one map showing the location of each of Sato Corp’s energy generators. And…don’t laugh…I need a map that charts every sighting of those green UFOS.”
Skip raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t Katerina already show us a map she found of the UFO sightings?”
“Shhh!…Sorry, that wasn’t for you, Yasamin…Yeah, I know… Just do it! I mean, please, can you do that for me?…Thanks…You too…Bye.” Lumin hung up and looked at Skip.
“I think I know what you’re up to but care to fill me in anyway?”
“Let’s wait until Yasamin’s data backs up my hypothesis. It will probably only take her a couple of days to get the maps finished. She’s that goo—” Lumin stopped talking as her phone buzzed with a message. “Jesus, she’s already done!”
Skip stifled a laugh. “Wow.”
Lumin called Yasamin back. “How the hell did you do that so fast?…What do you mean?…Oh…Yes, I have Google on my phone…Shut up, and thanks…Okay, bye.”
Skip shook his head. “I tried to tell at least one of those maps already existed.”
“Right. I guess I should have just searched the net. Oh well.” Lumin brought up the links to the maps Yasamin provided and examined them. “Holy Shit. Sato’s plopped his generators down in every country willing to take them. There’s one every few hundred miles.”
“Yeah, we already knew that, so?”
“Care to guess where the bulk of the UFO sightings happened?”
“In nations that have refused to take any of Sato’s generators. The UFO sighting map fills the gaps in the generator map almost perfectly. I think Sato’s trying to blanket the planet with these things.”
“Whoa, that would take some serious funding. Even if it were true, wouldn’t more people be finding stray generators lying around the countryside like I did?”
“That part I can’t figure out. Maybe there’s been some kind of media blackout?”
“No one has that kind of pull in the internet age. Not even Beyoncé.”
Lumin kept staring at her maps. “Skip, I’m sniffing something sinister about this. This feels too important to just write off as paranoia.”
After a few minutes of silence, Skip veered off the road onto the exit for the airport.
“Where are you going?” asked Lumin, wide-eyed.
“You’re right…this is too important. We have four days until the next match. I’m going to catch a flight back to Oregon tonight and cut up that damned cube to see exactly what we’re dealing with. After you drop me at the airport you can drive the hatchback back to the hanger.”
“Skip, you can’t just leave! Can you? I guess you can. What about your toothbrush?” asked Lumin with confusion in her voice.
“I shouldn’t have waited this long to tear that generator apart,” said Skip. “You distracted me. I’ll fly back to Vegas as soon as I’m done.”
“You distracted yourself! Seriously though, even though Sato swears up and down his cubes aren’t nuclear powered and claims to have the certifications to prove it I don’t trust him. Be careful.”
“I will. Don’t worry.”
“Sato’s due back in Vegas tomorrow. I’m going to hold his feet to the fire about this, see if he lets anything slip.”
Skip had Lumin purchase a plane ticket for him on his phone as they drove to the terminal. He leaned over when they arrived and kissed her intensely. “Take care of my ride, baby…unleaded only.” After pinching her butt cheek he hopped out of the car with a grin and rushed off.
Lumin cringed. “That’s it…we’re finished, you maniac! Call me when you get there!” she yelled. Skip waved before disappearing inside the doors.
When Lumin returned to the hanger she was immediately greeted by the sight of Katerina running up to the car, crying. Several people were milling around in front of the building, looking distraught.
Lumin hopped out of the car and Katerina hugged her. “What’s going on, Kat?”
“Lumb…Ryan Lumb went over our heads and forfeited the final match of the tournament!”
“He said Biz sustained too much damage during the last fight to be repaired in time for the last round.”
“Bullshit! Biz is already over 85% repaired! Wait…are you just messing with me? This isn’t funny, Katerina.”
Katerina wiped her face off on her sleeves. “No Lumin…it’s true. It’s all over. We’ve lost!”