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.
With less than a week remaining before the last round of the tournament the American Team’s project leader and pilot, Lumin Mira, learns their project’s C.O.O., Ryan Lumb, is preparing to forfeit the final match.
Lumin drove Skip’s clunking Volkswagen Rabbit to the Hammerstead Business Complex, located just a few miles from the Vegas strip. The black glass tower housed several spurious corporate ventures, including Ryan Lumb’s temporary office on the 19th floor.
Lumin’s mind was racing with possibilities as she pulled through the gate. Despite Lumb’s decision to forfeit the final match of the tournament he had yet to reveal his intentions to the tournament officials or the public. That meant there might still be time to change his mind.
After a wordless exchange with the security guard in the building’s lobby, Lumin slid into the elevator. She looked at her reflection as the silver door closed, readying herself for an ugly confrontation. After arriving at the 19th floor she marched into her boss’ office in a pair of power heels worth more than ten Volkswagen Rabbits.
Ryan Lumb was sitting at his desk, tapping on his laptop. He nearly did a double-take as Lumin approached. “Is that Armani, Mira? You look stunning in white.”
“Listen, I know there’s no love lost between us but I’m prepared to put my personal feelings aside so we can focus on the matter at hand,” said Lumin, doing her best to hold in her rage as she sat across from Lumb.
“Very well,” said Lumb. “Which matter are you referring to exactly?”
“Why in HELL would you forfeit our final match?” said Lumin, unable to keep herself from fuming.
Lumb closed his laptop and looked at her. “I trust you received my memo? My private auditing team assessed the functionality of your robot and found it to be irreparably damaged. As Chief Operations Officer I’m choosing to forfeit the next round in order to expedite the distribution of the prize money to the charitable organizations that have been patiently waiting for the outcome of this tournament.”
“What private auditing team? No one at the factory has seen any outsiders come in to assess BZ-X. This is bullshit!”
“The methods I use to review my organizations are not your concern, Mira.”
Lumin took a deep breath, trying to unruffle herself. “Ryan, we already share one horrible secret. Just tell me what the fuck is going on…please?”
“Fine, then,” said Lumb, standing up. He turned away from Lumin and looked out his window. “This tournament has spun completely out of control. I fear for the safety of your team, and more over, the safety of the planet. I can’t exactly put the truth in a press release.”
Lumin couldn’t help but let a laugh slip. “You expect me to believe that? You don’t even have your facts straight.”
Lumb looked over his shoulder at Lumin. “Apparently, facts aren’t so easy to come by. Why am I just now learning that the quantum vibration technology your weapons designer developed has the potential to create a catastrophic warping of space and time, or worse, a fission event equivalent to a multi-megaton explosion?”
Lumin jolted up from her chair. “Those are completely hypothetical scenarios that would have never been an issue if Kengi Sato and his team hadn’t stolen our technology and put it inside their own robot!’
“So, despite knowing the Kyoto Team was utilizing quantum vibration tech you still activated your blade during the last match? Fairly hypocritical, considering your outrage over the handling of the Dokujima situation.”
“That’s not the same…not at all!”
“Of course it is. You escalated an attempted terrorist bombing to an extinction level event. Your recklessness is appalling. I can’t in good conscience allow the tournament to continue.”
Deep down Lumin knew Lumb was just trying to spin her into a fury. It was working. “Do you ever read my reports? I had a contingency plan in place during that match! There was never any real danger. I was in total control.”
“Is that what you tell yourself?”
Lumin walked around Lumb’s desk and stood next to him. “You’re right. I have made a mistake. In doing everything in my power to win that goddamn match I gave you a convenient excuse to end the tournament prematurely.”
“I do as I please when I please. Excuses are for the weak.”
Lumin felt the overwhelming urge to throw a fist into Lumb’s chiseled chin but instead walked a few steps away. “You’re still trying to bullshit me. This contest was never about fulfilling your childhood fantasies was it? No more lies.”
Lumb went quiet for a time then sighed. “If the truth will get you out of my office, fine. Sato’s the one who’s been obsessed with robots since boyhood. I couldn’t care less about this Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em ridiculousness…when I was a child I wanted to discover Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.”
“So, this whole tournament has been a farce?”
“As you know, I was once business partners with Kengi but we had a falling out. After a decade of competition we remained no closer to a reconciliation. When I saw Sato’s dream of free energy actually coming to fruition I read the writing on the wall–my entire fortune is tied up in energy markets and I knew I’d be left with nothing once Sato began delivering unlimited, cost-free electricity to the world. Left without options, I suggested this tournament to him as away of getting back in his good graces. If you can’t beat them…well…you know the adage.”
“I’m honestly shocked you managed to swallow your pride past your double windsor,” said Lumin. “But you once told me you didn’t know how Sato could make any money off his venture. What do you stand to gain by siding with him?”
Lumb laughed. “I’ve used this tournament to regain Sato’s trust, hoping to better understand the nature of his inscrutable plans. I know the man; he wouldn’t be spending so much capital unless it was guaranteed to net him billions. I need to align my interests with Sato Corp before my empire falls apart.”
“Wow, that’s actually really pathetic,” said Lumin. “You’re throwing the last match simply to bend over and show Sato your pasty white loyalty.”
Lumb laughed. “Funny girl. Sato doesn’t know this, but I’ve planned on throwing the tournament from the very beginning. Somehow, losing has turned out more difficult than I imagined.”
Somehow, Lumin wasn’t surprised by the news. “Don’t worry…you’ll always be a loser in my eyes.” She was starting to doubt she could sway Lumb’s decision.
“Unfortunately, you’ve exceeded my expectations. Considering the budget and talent disparity between the American and Japanese teams I was shocked to see you actually win a match. Your success has complicated matters greatly.” Lumb walked over to a small tray and poured himself a lowball of single-malt. “Care for a drink?”
“Fuck it. Yes,” said Lumin with a sigh. She took a glass of whiskey from Lumb’s outstretched hand. She took a sip and shivered. “Damn…that’s really good. So, were you the one enabling Bo Dozens to steal our designs and bring them to Sato?”
Lumb shook his head. “Absolutely not. Sato would think me weak if he suspected I was rigging the outcome of the tournament. I’d lose his respect for good. The corporate espionage was all Sato’s doing. All standard, cut-throat, business tactics.”
“But BZ-X is nearly repaired and combat-ready. Won’t forfeiting the final match reveal your slimy motives?”
Lumb shook his head. “Absolutely not. I’m bringing in a demolition crew to insure the damage your robot received in the last match looks truly catastrophic.”
Lumin shook her head. “Sociopathic much? We could have fed the world with that prize money…for decades,” said Lumin calmly, as she sat down her glass. “To you, that billion dollars is just another sweetener for your business dealings with Sato. You’re only interested in saving your own ass.”
Lumb shrugged. “I’m a survivor. The starving wretches pulling at your heart strings should figure out a way to help themselves.”
“Very nice. I’m leaving,” said Lumin, heading for the door.
“By the way, Mira, I’ve just sent out a vague press release to the news outlets to get them frothing at the mouth. I’m organizing a media event outside the hanger later this afternoon where I’ll reveal our team’s forfeiture of the match. Miss Jones has all the details.”
“Great. I can’t wait to answer some of their questions,” said Lumin with a smile.
Lumb’s face turned stern. “You will attend the press conference but you will remain silent. Remember, before you were hired you signed a nondisclosure agreement with a non disparagement clause that spans decades.”
Lumin crossed her arms. “I don’t give a shit about my career. I’ll work at the post office if I need to.”
“Cross me and I’ll sink every one of your teammates into a living hell. I can end all of their careers in perpetuity with the swipe of a pen…all legally. Is that what you want?”
Lumin clenched her fists. “Piece of shit!”
“I didn’t think so. So, come to the press conference with a smile on that pretty face and let’s get all of this behind us,” said Lumb, his relaxed tone returning.
In desperation, Lumin tried to appeal to Lumb’s ego. “Just hear me out, Ryan. As I said, BZ-X’s repairs are being completed as we speak. He’s ready. We…you…can win the tournament, I know it!”
“I already told you—”
“You don’t need to hook yourself to Sato’s wagon! With the amount of publicity you’ll get when we win the tourney, on top of the new tech we’ve developed, you and your company will be set for life. You can parlay this mess into a mountain of profit!”
Lumb sat on his desk and straightened his cuff links. “I admire your devotion to your cause but sorry, I can’t risk everything on an unpredictable outcome. Sato’s interest in this contest has worn so thin that he’s planning on returning to Kyoto even before the tournament is over. If I put a billion dollars in his pocket before he leaves it will go a long way in cementing my future.”
“Coward,” growled Lumin.
“So, if that’s all, I’ll see you at the junket,” said Lumb with a smile.
“Yes, you will.” said Lumin, staring at him with dead eyes. She exited Lumb’s office without another word.
Lumin left the Hammerstead Complex and rushed to return to the hanger, knowing exactly what she had to do.