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.
Lumin walked up to Eldridge as the meeting ended. “I need to make a quick call. When I’m done I’ll come find you so we can talk more about recruitment.”
“Sounds fine, Miss Mira, but you may want to consider spending a little more quality time with your old crewmates before Operation Ramone ramps up.”
Lumin cringed a bit. “Oof. Don’t let me name things anymore, Eldridge.”
Eldridge laughed as he started walking away. “No worries. I think the team finds your awkward nomenclature endearing for the most part. I’ll see you soon.”
Lumin made a couple of phone calls while the cafeteria slowly cleared. The crowd had mostly dispersed by the time she was done. She saw Richard and Yasamin sitting against the far wall drinking coffee and hurried to join them. “Hi guys…did I do alright up there?”
Richard sat up straighter and sent up a sarcastic salute. “Yes Ma’am, General Mira!”
Lumin sat down next to him. “Knock that shit off. I’m serious!”
“Well, you certainly look the part,” said Richard.
“Ugh…I know,” said Lumin looking down at her outfit. She was wearing a black tank top with gray cargo pants and combat boots. Her “Shuffle Pigs” bomber jacket topped everything off. “I’ve been cut off from my wardrobe and let’s just say the togs Roundstone’s compound has to offer are a bit lacking. I decided just to recycle a security guard uniform.”
“I can dig it,” said Richard. “It’s better than the sweatpants most of us are wearing.”
“Well, do you think what I said resonated with anyone?” Lumin asked again.
“I think we’re all still freaked out by the situation, but, everyone seems to have a lot of faith in you,” said Yasamin.
“Definitely,” said Richard. “I’m a little salty about Eldridge utilizing our tech in his robot army without consulting any of us. Who built the damn things anyway?”
“Sato Corp’s small army of builders did most of the construction. The majority of them have already returned to Japan, though,” said Lumin.
Richard pushed his empty cup across the table. “Well, if these new robots turn out to be as amazing as they sound I suppose it’s all good.”
“They are,” said Lumin. “The robot I piloted operated liked a dream. The new units’ upgraded actuators respond faster to bio-feedback from the ferrotank, which makes response times quicker. Also, the control bell auto-synchs to the pilot’s body mass in seconds, eliminating the need for any pre-flight calibration.”
“And the robots fly. I still can’t believe it,” said Yasamin.
“The A.I. assisted flight mode was pretty easy to handle but I’ll need more practice if I’m going to pull off any evasive maneuvers on my own.”
“Sato’s battery units are mind-blowing. How long did the power cube hold out?” asked Richard.
“Outside of their shells the batteries are cylindrical shaped. I flew about 400 miles before mine had to be changed. The spare I was carrying turned out to be a dud, so I had to use GPS coordinates to track down another one. I felt like a pirate searching for buried treasure. It was an odd feeling knowing I had suddenly become part of Sato’s weird conspiracy.”
“Yeah, his clandestine crap was a little bizarre, but I suppose he had his reasons,” said Richard.
“How do you change the batteries?” asked Yasamin.
“Digging up the cylinder was a little awkward, but once it was out of the ground it was just a matter of popping off its outer shell and swapping one battery for the other. The chest plates of the new robots lift to reveal a port just below the torso.”
“So weird. What else has changed?” asked Richard.
“The robots were built with a new light-weight design to allow flight, which unfortunately means a lot of armor had to be sacrificed. Hopefully what’s left will provide adequate defense. The overall architecture is more compact on these new units. The ferrotank is smaller but it doesn’t seem to affect performance.” Lumin thought for a moment. “What else…The HUD on the visor is laid out slightly differently. That’s really about it.”
“Good, I’m glad they didn’t screw around with things too much,” said Richard.
“One of the upgrades I’m most excited about is the simulator they’ve rigged up to recruit new pilots. I took a spin in the thing and it’s amazingly accurate. It should only take the newbies a few solid hours to train, where it took me days to get comfortable in Biz’s control bell.”
Yasamin took a sip of coffee. “I can’t believe you got so close to one of the…CBGBs. I’m sorry Lumin, that acronym is ludicrous.”
Lumin laughed. “I know, but I was desperate to shift my mind out of the warzone for awhile. Just call them behemoths if you want.”
“Eldridge shouldn’t have put you up to that mission. You could have been killed,” said Yasamin.
Lumin shook her head. “I had no choice. The future of our operation depended on me sticking out my neck. But yeah, it was scary as hell being so close to that behemoth. Those dead, milky eyes are completely unnerving.” She felt a shiver creep up her spine.
“Nasty,” said Richard.
Skip came running up. “Lumin! There you are!”
Lumin raised an eyebrow. “I never left the room, you ditz.”
“Oh,” said Skip. “I had to go to the bathroom. I assumed you’d already left to meet with your ‘advisors.’”
Lumin laughed. “I don’t know where Eldridge pulled out that little tidbit, but I wouldn’t let Ryan Lumb advise me on blowing my nose much less fighting aliens. Sato’s not my favorite guy either…but at least now I understand his motives.”
“All that espionage and intrigue he put us through…he was just trying to push us to make better tech,” said Yasamin.
“Yeah, shit almost spun out of control though,” said Richard.
“Almost?” asked Lumin.
Skip leaned over and kissed Lumin before sitting next to her. “You were great up on the stage.”
“I’m still not used to you two hanging on each other,” said Richard, looking ill.
Yasamin smiled. “I think it’s great. I’m happy for you both.”
“Thanks Yasamin,” said Skip, smiling. He was eager to change the subject. “So, Richard, I heard a chopper brought your mother and your sister to the estate yesterday. Are they doing alright?”
Richard nodded. “Yeah, they’re already driving me up the wall. Business as usual.”
Skip looked over at Yasamin. “Are you keeping track of that huge family of yours?”
“Yes,” said Yasamin, looking a little pained. “I’m worried about them of course, but they’re all doing fine. My grandfather has several acres of land in Bavaria near the base of the alps, well out of harms way. Out of ten siblings, Martina and myself are the only ones absent. Martina’s leading a relief effort in Berlin for people left stranded by the destruction. I’m proud of her.”
“Ten siblings? No wonder you’re such a hard-ass,” said Richard.
Katerina and Samuel came zooming up on Segway scooters. Lumin laughed loudly, seeing Sam so obviously out of his element.
“I know, I know!” said Samuel, stumbling off his ride. “Trust me, I’d prefer a damn bicycle or…anything else.”
Katerina was beaming. “They have these things all over the compound for anybody to use! It’s great!” She spun her Segway in a circle and gave Lumin a wink.
“Nice moves, Kat,” said Lumin. “Hey Sam, I realized I was dropping a lot of F bombs up on the stage. Sorry. I kind of forgot your kids might be in the audience.”
Samuel shook his head. “I wish I could say they haven’t heard worse coming out of my mouth.”
“Is Spotswood alright?” asked Richard.
Katerina’s smile faded. “He’s…okay. He just needs some time to process stuff. We took him back to his dorm.”
“Do you know if he got the message I left him?” asked Lumin.
Katerina shook her head. “I’m not sure.”
“Before I walked over here I contacted the captain of Eldridge’s retrieval team. They’re currently flying rescue missions in the Deep South. It took their helicopters awhile to make their way to Louisiana, but they’re sweeping the area as we speak. Spotswood’s family only lives a few miles from Fort Polk, which was completely decimated by the invaders. The captain’s going to check with nearby bomb shelters and evacuation zones but it might take some time to track them down.”
“I know they’ll find Spotty’s family. They have to,” said Katerina. “I told my folks to stay put up in the hills. They’re surrounded by nothing but Douglas firs for miles so they should be okay.”
“My parents are long dead and my brother’s a dick. So no worries on my end,” said Skip.
Lumin shook her head. “You’re a real piece of work, Pantheon.”
“A piece of something,” said Richard, opening a bag of Cheetos.
Lumin stood up abruptly in the middle of everyone. “I have a request.”
“Oh great,” said Samuel.
“I’m not going to pussyfoot around this…I want all of you to try out for a squadron. I think every one of you would make a great pilot.”
Everyone went speechless. Richard kept crunching.
“Okay, you’re a little iffy, Richard…but maybe you’ll surprise me! I want everyone to sign up for a simulator run by the end of the day. We need able bodies in those bots.”
“Christ,” said Samuel.
“Lumin, people could get hurt out there…or worse,” said Skip.
“Jesus, Skip…you think I haven’t considered that?” said Lumin. “Do you think I would ask any of you to step in the path of danger unless I was completely desperate?”
“Sorry, you’re right…I just worry about—“
“I worry too,” interrupted Lumin as she fought back tears, “constantly…but this has to be done. We’re on the edge of a nuclear apocalypse or maybe something even worse. If there was any way to keep you all insulated from this horror I’d do it in a heartbeat. I love every one of you…but my love won’t mean shit if we all just wait around quietly to die. I know the strength of your characters–all of you carry the potential to do this.”
The group went silent for a moment until Yasamin stood up. “You’re right Lumin. I’m with you.”
“Only you could get me to stuff myself into a spandex switch suit, Lumin,” said Richard, standing up as well.
“I should learn to shut up,” said Skip, as he rose up and put his arm around Lumin.
Dezzie walked up, holding Buttercup in her arms. The dog wagged its tail excitedly. “Hey, what’s going on?”
“Lumin wants us all to pilot robots,” said Richard.
“Oh? Alright, sure,” said Dezzie without hesitation. Buttercup barked a couple times.
Samuel stood and gave Lumin a nod. “I have to try…for the sake of my kids.”
Katerina laughed and jumped back on the Segway. “Hell yeah! I’m ready to kick some ass!” She spun around one more time and pumped her fist. “Shuffle Pigs are go!”