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 builds a gigantic robot to compete in a best-of-three fighting tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada.
When the tournament abruptly ends amidst chaos, eccentric billionaire Eldridge Roundstone reveals he has been secretly funding both robotics teams, with the goal of developing unconventional weapons to combat an impending alien invasion. The doubts of the American Team’s pilot, Lumin Mira, are erased when she witnesses the alien invaders arrive and use their towering beasts to destroy all who oppose them.
Roundstone welcomes the American and Japanese teams as well as their loved ones at his compound near Cupertino, California. There, he reveals his plan to attack the invaders using a robot army built with a hybrid of American and Japanese technology.
Although Eldridge was chomping at the bit to launch his privatized defense program, Lumin wouldn’t agree to join his crusade until it was crystal clear that the other engineers and builders in the compound were on board with his plan. With Eldridge’s blessing, Lumin spread the word that anyone wishing to leave the compound would be safely transported by helicopter to their state of origin. A C130 cargo plane was prepped to return Kyoto Team members who wished to leave back to Japan. Additional helicopters were deployed to retrieve the displaced loved ones of team members and bring them back to the estate. Eldridge opened his complex of dormitories to anyone who needed shelter, whether or not they believed in his mission.
It soon became clear that almost everyone from both teams were staying put in the compound. The C130 cargo plane was relatively empty when it departed for Kyoto. Lumin arranged a meeting inside Eldridge’s massive cafeteria to address the concerns of the estate’s new residents. It was important to her that everyone on the new, combined team felt a sense of stability before they started working again.
Lumin Mira, Eldridge Roundstone, Ryan Lumb and Kengi Sato stood on a makeshift stage on the edge of the cafeteria floor as their engineers and builders settled into folding chairs to face them. An air of uneasiness was filling the room. Lumin stepped forward as soon as everyone had found a seat and tapped the microphone. “Hello…Hello. Testing. Okay, it’s working.” She cleared her throat. “As you all know, an unprecedented and dangerous task lies ahead of us. You have all displayed incredible courage by choosing to stay…by choosing to fight. I called everyone here today so we could answer your questions and listen to your concerns. Please, don’t be afraid to speak your mind.”
Lumin paused to let Kanazawa Saburou translate her words for the builders in the crowd who only spoke Japanese.
Lumin continued. “So, line up behind the microphones if you have something to say and we’ll begin. You may state your name and job title if you wish but it’s not required.”
A distressed Japanese woman stepped up and talked for a while with a quavering voice. Kanazawa turned to Lumin when she finished talking. “The woman did not give her name. She says she is still unclear on the resistance plan and wants to know what it entails and who’s in charge.”
Lumin nodded. “I know our initial briefing was more than a little vague and I apologize. In a nutshell, we’re going to run simulations in order to recruit new pilots for Mr. Roundstone’s robot army. Once recruiting and training has finished, we will immediately deploy and begin our counterattack. We’re calling it Operation Ramone.
Ryan Lumb leaned over to Eldridge. “What, like the rock band? I didn’t think we named the operation yet.”
“We just did, apparently,” replied Eldridge with a smile.
“And just like the music of the Ramones, our counterattack will be a breakneck-paced, surprise assault from an unlikely group of rebels.” Lumin was pleased to hear a spontaneous round of laughter rise from the crowd. “I know…it’s a little corny…but I’m getting a little tired of all this gloom and doom, aren’t you?”
“What is she doing?” whispered Lumb.
“She’s trying to win over a mass of frightened people,” said Eldridge, leaning closer to Lumb. “These aren’t hardened soldiers, they’re builders…they’re dreamers.”
“We have 69 squadrons, each consisting of three robots. Each squadron will be tasked with bringing down a specified target, consisting of one of the giant alien beasts currently roaming the American west. Only one robot from each squadron will be piloted by an actual human. This lead pilot will make tactical decisions while the other two robots assist them using an advanced A.I. programmed with a variety of battlefield situations. The lead pilot’s robot will be equipped with a quantum vibration tech sword to deliver a killing blow to the primary target. Although each squadron will operate independently, all 69 squadrons will launch simultaneously in a sweeping, surprise attack. Some of the people in this room will become pilots. The others will be tasked with keeping our equipment in peak condition and repairing damaged robots if they’re forced to return from the battlefield.”
The woman who asked the first question seemed dissatisfied. She spoke into the microphone again. Lumin looked at Kanazawa.
“Again, she asks who is in charge,” said Kanazawa.
Lumin stepped closer to the mic. “Well, I’m really not—”
“This brave woman—Lumin Mira—is in full command of this operation,” said Eldridge, stepping up to the mic beside her. “I’m merely providing the hardware and the means. Kengi Sato and Ryan Lumb will serve as her advisors.”
Lumin tried not to look too surprised to hear she was in charge. She didn’t want to lose what little confidence people had in her. “Yes. That’s correct. I’ll be leading the team into battle.”
“One need only look at Miss Mira’s performance in the tournament to see she is the most capable person among us to lead the offensive. She has the strength, intelligence and will to deliver us to victory,” said Eldridge.
Measured applause filled the room. Lumin tried not to dwell on her own personal doubts and move the meeting forward. “Thank you…please…who has a question?” She pointed into the crowd.
“General Mira, how much damage have the aliens caused? Are they killing people?” asked a frightened man.
“I wouldn’t exactly call myself a gen—”
Sato grabbed the microphone. “The aliens have shown no interest in attacking anything organic…unless provoked. That doesn’t mean they aren’t incredible destructive. We estimate the invaders have already confiscated 30% of the world’s nuclear weapons. They’re targeting missile silos and stockpiles the world over, and destroying military bases along the way. No conventional means seem capable of stopping their assault.”
“Confiscated?” asked Richard, standing up. “Where are the invaders taking the nukes they steal?”
“We’re not yet sure,” said Eldridge.
A brunette woman stood up. “What exactly are we up against?”
“The big, green nasty ones all look the same…we’re calling them the Cloned Biological Ground-based Behemoths or CBGBs for short,” Interrupted Lumin.
“Come on, really?” whispered Lumb.
Sato addressed the crowd again. “All vehicles that approach the green colossi are immediately destroyed with physical attacks. Long range missile strikes are being intercepted by the red—”
“We named the red UFOs the OMFUG: Omnidirectional Mechanized Flight-enabled Unmanned Gunships,” interrupted Lumin.
“I see what you’re doing, Lumin!” yelled Skip from the audience. He turned to Katerina. “I had no idea she was such a punk rock fan.” Katerina returned a confused look and a shrug.
“Ahem,” said Sato, annoyed. “Yes, the…OMFUG…seem to be robotic drones. They carry light armament and are willing to sacrifice themselves to intercept missiles directed at the, uh, CBGBs.”
“Whatever the hell they’re called…I still want to know why they’re taking our nukes. Maybe we should be launching nuclear missiles if they’re so afraid of them!” said a flustered man in the crowd.
Eldridge shook his head as he stood up and grabbed the microphone. “No. I highly doubt these invaders would want the territory they seize to be left toxic and barren. Whatever the aliens’ plan may be, they seem determined not to irradiate the planet.”
“How the fuck could you possibly know what their intentions are?!” shouted another man on the floor. “We should nuke them to hell while we still can!” Cheers erupted from the people seated near him.
“It won’t work,” said Lumin, stepping up. “The aliens recently landed on the Johnston Atoll just south of Hawaii. Never heard of it? Probably because it was used as a nuclear weapons testing site and later as a chemical weapons dump. The base is mostly abandoned but its stockpile of weapons is still there, which is probably what drew the aliens’ attention to the site. The U.S. Military jumped on the opportunity to attack the invaders in an underpopulated area and detonated one of the multi-megaton warheads they were keeping in storage on the atoll. Unfortunately, satellite pictures taken afterwards revealed the CBGBs were still roaming the island—looking completely unscathed. Nukes simply don’t work on these things. Even knowing this fact, the military still seems hellbent on using its nuclear arsenal. We need to defeat the aliens before the Pentagon has a chance to press their red buttons.”
The room went eerily silent until Spotswood stepped up to the microphone. “My name’s Darwin Spotswood Jr.,” he said, looking on the verge of tears. “Lumin, I just wanted to ask how you manage to be so jovial and calm in the face of all…this?”
Lumin shook her head. “I’m anything but calm. Trust me, I’m about to wreck my shorts just like the rest of you. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to dwell on my fears. I’ve maintained my momentum since the tournament ended and I don’t plan on stopping until these alien bastards are all fucking dead.”
The engineers and builders seemed to appreciate Lumin’s honesty and confidence and the cafeteria filled with wild applause.
“Once I allow myself a break I’m sure I’ll burst into tears, but right now I can’t afford that luxury,” added Lumin.
“Can I say something else?” asked Spotswood.
A wistful smile crossed Spotswood’s face. “My three older brothers picked on me constantly growing up. Once, I put marshmallow fluff in the brylcreem they all shared hoping to get even with them but it only led to my head getting dunked in the toilet. I thought I’d never stop hating them for how difficult they made my life, but now I find myself almost nostalgic for those times. The problems I had back then, hell, last week…feel like nothing compared to what we’re all facing now.” He paused for a long moment, wringing his hands together.
“Darwin? Are you alright?” asked Lumin.
“It’s funny…for years I desperately wanted proof that aliens were among us, now I just wish I knew that my brothers were still alive.”
All the air had been sucked out out the room. Lumin could see the pain in Spotswood’s face as he turned slowly without another word and walked back to his seat. Samuel leaned over and put his arm around Spotswood to comfort him but Lumin couldn’t make out what he was saying. Samuel’s sturdy wife and twin boys looked shell shocked beside him.
“We will do everything in our power to find everyone’s missing loved ones and return them to safety,” said Lumin, her heart breaking a bit. “I swear no effort will be spared.”
Katerina walked up to the microphone next. “I just want to say Spotswood is a great guy and I know the helicopter crews are going to find his family soon. All of us Shuffle Pigs love you, Spotty…I guess that’s all.” She wiped away a tear before leaving the mic amidst a spattering of polite claps.
A woman from the American build crew walked up to the mic. Lumin recognized her but they had never spoken face to face. “Amy Lancer, Electrical. I don’t understand…if a nuke couldn’t take down these heebie geebies–or whatever they’re called–how could a handful of robots?”
“I’m glad you asked, Amy,” said Lumin. She picked up a remote control and a screen lowered behind her. “I’m about to show you some battlefield footage shot by one of the U.S. Air Force’s predator drones.” Lumin hit play and a digital projector hanging from the rafters lit up. A video began playing, showing a POV shot of the drone approaching a CBGB in the distance. Before it could even get close, a swarm of tentacles burst from the behemoth’s face, tangling the aircraft. The screen went black seconds later. “This footage was obtained by one of Mr. Roundstone’s sources at the Pentagon. The drone you saw was equipped with conventional weapons: a pair of hellfire missiles and two laser-guided bombs. It was dispatched by the CBGB and its support OMFUGs before it could even fire its payload.”
The crowd groaned and began to stir.
“Now, watch this footage taken just a few hours ago.” A second video began to play, showing a CBGB stomping through the desert outside of Los Angeles. The camera panned over and revealed one of Eldridge’s robots standing less than two hundred yards from the creature. The beast completely ignored the robot, paying no mind as the sable machine walked even closer. The video abruptly ended and the audience gasped.
“Mr. Eldridge talked me into conducting this secret test flight in order to prove a theory I initially believed to be ludicrous. And yes, I said flight…our robots can fly now. Isn’t that cool? They use high-bypass turbofans—entirely electrically powered. One battery can’t get you very far but still it’s an amaz…”
If crickets were in the room they would have been chirping.
“Sorry, I’m rambling. Moving on…when I landed in the desert I was prepared for one hell of a fight but our robots stayed completely off the aliens’ radar. Apparently, our machines aren’t yet seen as a threat in the invaders’ eyes, which gives us an incredible opportunity to attack before they even know what hit them.”
“We may be able to take out a hundred of them before the real battle even begins,” added Eldridge.
Richard stood up again. “Are they blind? I don’t understand…your robot definitely looks threatening.”
“We don’t know how the CBGBs work. They obviously don’t think like us…we can’t begin to understand how they perceive the world. In any case, this is one hell of a gift horse that we can’t look in the mouth.”
A young woman took to the mic to ask a question. “What was your robot armed with?”
“Only air-powered concussion rounds, a battering ram and a quantum vibration sword. Hoping to stay invisible–so to speak–I purposely avoided equipping the robot with any conventional weapons. I carried no combustion-based guns or explosives of any kind. As an added precaution, these new robots use Sato-san’s cutting-edge battery packs instead of nuclear power. Although I didn’t attack the CBGB I’m confident we can tear these things apart at close range,” said Lumin.
A man barged his way to the microphone. “You said you can take out a hundred…but your previous briefing claimed there were nearly a thousand of those squid-faced fuckers. What happens when they finally deem us a threat?”
Lumb finally saw his chance to chime in and stood up. “There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also—”
“Lumb, Jesus, no…stop,” said Lumin. She turned back to the crowd. “Operation Ramone will dispatch a large number of these bastards, which should make the following operations much easier. This plan isn’t perfect but it’s our best chance to take out these invaders and stave off a global, nuclear catastrophe. Beyond our initial surprise attack things could get ugly, but I know we can win! I believe in each and every one of you.”
More murmurs traveled around the room for a few seconds before people began to stand and clap. The applause grew louder…until the cheers and whistles filled the cavernous space.
“This is why you’re in charge,” said Eldridge, whispering in Lumin’s ear.
Lumin sighed. “I should be wearing my samurai armor.”