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.
The American Team’s maintenance crews rush to complete repairs to their robot before the final match. Fellow team member Skip Pantheon returns to southern Oregon in an attempt to shed some light on some secret technology the Japanese Team’s C.O.O, Kengi Sato, has lost in the desert. In the meantime, the American Team’s treacherous C.O.O, Ryan Lumb, moves to confront the team’s pilot, Lumin Mira, after her daring actions have forced him to abandon his plan to forfeit the remainder of the contest for self-serving business reasons.
Ryan Lumb’s constant stream of lies had fatigued him by the time the press conference ended. He managed to exclude Lumin from the Q and A with the spurious claim that she couldn’t be removed from Biz’s cockpit in a timely manner. Realizing they wouldn’t get any face-time with the tournament’s star, the media left in a huff.
Lumb waved away the dust from the fleeing white trucks of the news outlets and walked off the podium toward the hanger with clenched fists. Biz had already retreated inside and the retrieval team was busy pulling Lumin out of the ferrotank.
The Shuffle Pigs giggled and scurried away as Lumb walked in and stood silently on the hanger floor, waiting for Lumin to descend atop the cherry picker. She was smiling ear to ear, wrapped in a robe as the platform clunked to the concrete.
“Well, that was enjoyable,” said Lumin, tying her robe tighter around her waist.
Lumb was dead faced. “You look tired, Miss Mira.”
“Yeah well, you’d be tired too after climbing up a rope ladder attached to a 200 foot tall robot while trying not to be noticed by thugs with machine guns.”
“I’m actually impressed. Thanks for lifting that iron smelter off my useless security squad. Apparently, the fools were getting a little claustrophobic.”
“Hey, don’t be too upset with your men. Most people do what they’re told when confronted by a concussion cannon that could flatten a farmhouse. They huddled up nice and tight for me so Biz could clamp the dome over them.”
Lumb pinched his brow ridge and blew out a sharp breath. “I was ready to march over here and proceed to ruin the lives of you and everyone you know, but frankly, I’m exhausted. Seeing as I’d rather pull out my own toe nails than talk to you any further, let me end our conversation by saying good luck with your final match. I’ll be expecting your resignation as soon as the tournament has concluded.”
Lumin nodded with a grin as Lumb turned around and left; his toadies following close behind.
Lumin’s team flooded the floor as soon as Lumb’s fleet of black SUVs fled the grounds. Cheers swirled throughout the hanger.
“Stop! All this applause is going to give me a big head,” yelled Lumin.
“That noggin’s plenty big already,” said Spotswood as the applause steadily died down.
Katerina was nearly hopping with delight. “The look on those jack-booted thugs faces when you clamped that cup over them like potato bugs was amazing!”
Samuel patted her on the back. “Damn fine show out there, Lumin.”
“You guys kicked ass in getting Biz prepped for me in time,” said Lumin, “but if I have to climb that damn ladder again there’s going to be hell to pay.”
Yasamin walked up wearing her standard no-nonsense expression. “You probably noticed that despite our robot’s exterior sheen, BZ-X still needs significant work completed.”
“Yes…Biz was definitely a little wobbly. Is that a new tablet? I like the rose gold.”
Yasamin nodded and tapped her screen. “I know we’re celebrating having the chance to continue the tournament but if we don’t hurry to finish this laundry list of repairs we’re not going to be ready to fight.”
“Huh…well, don’t tell Lumb that,” said Lumin. She clapped her hands in the air. “Alright everybody, Yasamin says you all need to work harder, so let’s get back to it!”
Yasamin stepped in front of Lumin again. “You still—”
“I know, I know…I have a stack of forms on my desk a mile high. I’ll get to them as soon as I take a shower. Ten minutes in this suit is like 10 months in a rain forest. Ugh.”
Lumin managed to sift through all the work orders and whip the team’s various maintenance crews into shape by the time the moon lifted into the sky. Happy to have survived the day, she put her feet up on her desk and sighed. After leaning back in her chair she punched up Samuel’s phone number and put him on speaker.
“What’s up, Boss?” asked Samuel.
“The pinup of Jane Russell on Biz is a nice touch, Sam. I assume that was your doing?”
“Yeah, The Outlaw. Seemed appropriate to me,” said Samuel, happily.
“I’m looking at the most recent batch of progress reports from Yasamin. We’re in excellent shape. Tell everyone to stop working for the night and we’ll pick up again in the morning. I’m heading to my cot for a rest, but call me if the world resumes kicking our ass in the meantime.”
“Will do. Goodnight Lumin.”
As Lumin trudged to her makeshift bed one of her pockets began buzzing. “Shit, now what?” She noticed it was Skip calling and quickly held the phone to her ear. “Skip! You were supposed to call me when you landed, you asshole!”
“Sorry about that Lumin, I immediately resumed my obsession as soon as I got back to the factory…things are a little crazy.”
“You already started in on Sato’s generator? What did you find?” asked Lumin as she put the phone on speaker and began putting on her pajamas.
Skip groaned. “I barely know where to start. I found the cube humming like usual when I got to the storage room in the factory where I had stowed it away. After rigging up a chain hoist to move the thing around easier I accidentally flipped it on its side. That’s when all hell broke loose.”
Lumin picked her phone back up. “What do you mean?”
“When I knocked the cube over the hum got louder and this green light started shining through the rubber sheathe. I think something inside of the generator must have been damaged when it fell from Sato’s ‘UFO.’ When I started jostling the thing around I must have reconnected whatever had come loose.”
Lumin sat on her cot. “Oh my god. Go on!”
“After powering up, the cube it self-righted on its own and fell out of my hoist. There’s some kind of gyroscopic mechanism inside the generator trying to keep it level at all times. Anyway, just as I was getting ready to cut through the rubber coating the cube’s drill started up.”
“Yeah. I nearly shit my pants. A small-scale, thermal stress-fracturing drill revved right out of the cube’s bottom panel and immediately started boring through the concrete floor. I got scratched up from the flying debris.”
“Yeah! The drill was fast, too. By the time I coughed all the lime out of my lungs it had already tunneled 20 feet straight down, past the foundation, straight into the earth below the factory. Then the cube stopped. Even the hum stopped. The thing went completely cold.”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing.”
“The sound was horrendous but it didn’t last long. The drilling process sheathed off the shell of the cube half way down, destabilizing the tunnel as the covering tore away. Only seconds after the drill activated the hole had completely collapsed in on itself.”
“Why would it dig into the ground?”
“The cube was designed to hide itself—I would have never found it out in the desert if it hadn’t initially malfunctioned.”
Lumin nervously twirled her hair. “This is not at all what I was expecting to hear.”
“I’m not even to the weird part,” said Skip. “I immediately set about exhuming the bastard. I went and collected a bobcat with a crane attachment along with a half stick of dynamite from the old hanger. Sorry, but I kind of had to smash down a wall to get the equipment into the building.”
“Christ Skip! Well, as long as it wasn’t a load bearing wall I don’t care. Wait, did you say dynamite?”
“Um…yeah. I didn’t feel like digging and I assumed the cube was fairly sturdy so I decided to blow out most of the dirt in my way. Probably not the best idea but I was pretty fried by that time and not in my right mind.”
Lumin groaned. “I assume you still have all your limbs?”
“Yeah, as soon as I explained the situation to the sheriff’s department and made a few quick lies about building permits being stuck in transit everything calmed down. I still can’t believe the factory’s security guard ratted me out but I suppose I didn’t give enough warning that I’d be igniting explosives inside the building.”
“Yes, how short sighted of them,” said Lumin, in disbelief.
“Anyway, the dynamite worked like a charm but that room is never going to be the same. After clearing away the rest of the dirt with the bobcat I attached a winch to its crane arm and pulled what was left of the cube out of the hole.”
“Was the generator damaged?”
“Actually no…just a little burned and dirty. When it yanked it up I saw it was no longer a cube but a stainless steel cylinder.”
“I’m still trying to process how you thought setting off TNT inside the building was a good idea. You’re a fucking maniac.”
“It got the job done.”
Lumin groaned. “Is there more to this or I can I hang up now?”
“The rest is all gravy, don’t worry. The cylinder came up negative for excess radiation on my Geiger counter so I started carefully cutting the bitch open with a plasma torch.”
“What the hell does Sato have in there?”
“Well, most of the ‘generator’ is just a housing for the drill. Lumin…this isn’t a generator at all.”
Lumin sat back up on the cot. “What?”
“It’s just a battery. A state of the art, high-efficiency battery, but a battery none-the-less. This thing isn’t creating a single joule of electricity, just storing it. A lot of it.”
“It’s a damned impressive battery. I’m guessing it’s beefy enough to output a decent amount of electrical power if it were hooked to a power station, but it wouldn’t last more than a couple weeks, if that.”
“So Kengi Sato’s just running some kind of massive energy scam?”
“Yeah, his free electricity initiative is definitely bullshit.”
Lumin squinted and shook her head. “This still makes no sense. Why is he burying all these batteries?”
“The first thing that popped into my mind when I started cutting the housing open was that I was dealing with some kind of a bomb. I hadn’t figured Sato for a terrorist but it was the only thing that made sense at the time. Thankfully, I was wrong. There’s nothing explicitly explosive about this device.”
“Now I know how the team must have felt when they thought I’d gone nuts during the last match. So, what do you think Sato is up to?”
“I was hoping you might have some idea.”
“No clue. Come back now. I miss you, you unhinged freak.”
Skip laughed. “I need to sleep, but I’m getting on the first plane tomorrow morning. How’s my baby?”
“Don’t worry, your hideous hatchback is fine. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Yeah, see you then.”
“Let’s not do the whole ‘no you hang up’ thing alright? I’m just going to hang up…now.”
“Alright, sleep tight Lumin.”
Lumin sighed, realizing how much Skip’s voice had soothed her after the day she just had—despite all the insanity he was spouting. “Goodnight.”
“See you tomorrow.”
“Bye!” Lumin forced herself to end the call and plopped down to her cot. “What the hell am I even doing?”