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. With new pilots trained and squadrons formed, the counterattack is about to begin.
Operation Ramone was imminent. Tension was filling the cramped robotics warehouse as the squadrons prepared to launch.
“Remember folks, keep your chatter to a minimum. Once we’re airborne our com links should only be used for emergencies,” said Lumin, hailing her team through the open radio channel shared by all 69 pilots. As the exception to the rule, she’d remain in constant contact with Z-Command: the modest control center where Yasamin Jones was coordinating the behind the scenes aspects of the operation.
“You ready, Lumin?” asked Samuel Maston, hailing her through a private channel.
“Hey, Sam…yeah, ready as I’ll ever be. I didn’t know you were working in the monkey cage,” said Lumin. Z-Command had been set up in a repurposed testing lab at the edge of Eldridge’s defunct monkey race track.
“Yup,” said Samuel. “Got any bananas?”
“Samuel’s my right-hand man,” said Yasamin, chiming in. Her small but capable team was manning Z-Command’s array of diagnostic consoles.
“How are things looking on your end, Yasamin?” asked Lumin.
“It’s a little cramped in here, but I don’t have much to complain about, considering your situation,” said Yasamin.
“How are the robots’ diagnostics looking?
“All units are 100% operational across the board.”
“Hold on Yasamin, there’s a transmission coming through the open channel.” Lumin switched her radio over to the incoming signal and heard Katerina singing softly.
“For we can fly…in my beautiful balloon. Way up in the air, in my beautiful balloon.”
“Katerina, cut the chatter. We all need to focus on the mission,” said Lumin, taking over the channel.
“Oops! Shit…I didn’t realize I was broadcasting. Roger, Boss. Sorry…I sing when I’m nervous. My mom likes that song.”
“What’s the matter Lumin?” asked Skip, overhearing Katerina’s ditty. “Not a big fan of The Carpenters?”
“Skip, I said cut—”
“That’s The 5th Dimension. I should know, I’m the old fogey here,” said Richard, adding his two cents.
“Oops, you’re right,” said Skip.
“All of you, shut up!” said Lumin with a groan as she readied Biz for flight mode. “Everyone, prepare for launch. Make sure you have the Operation Ramone’s time table uploaded into your flight computer. Watch yourself out there…the A.I. of your robotic squad mates can only cover your ass so much if things take a turn. Remember, at any sign of resistance you are to retreat immediately and regroup at the rendezvous point.”
“For we can fly…in our big robotic wombs,” crooned Skip. Laughter filled the open channel.
“Stow it, Mister Pantheon,” barked Lumin.
“I’m done! I’m done! Over and out,” said Skip.
“All units, prepare to launch by order of squadron number. Liftoff in 30 seconds.” said Samuel.
“Confirmed. All systems are go, Lumin,” said Yasamin.
The roof of the warehouse clunked loudly and began sliding open on rails to reveal a blue sky.
“Flight conditions above the compound are optimal,” said Samuel. “Prepare for lift-off.”
The robots’ turbo fans roared as each three-unit squadron launched from the hanger. They soon blotted out the sun like an immense swarm of hornets before dissipating; heading to intercept various targets spread all over the west. Lumin was the last to leave, making sure the launch was successful before her own squadron left the hanger.
She accepted another incoming transmission with a scowl. “Yes?”
“Sorry Lumin, I just wanted to tell you good luck out there,” said Skip. “Also, I’ve been waiting for the worst possible time to tell you I love you, and this really seemed to fit the bill.”
Lumin shook her head. “God, I hate you so much,” she said, her voice wobbling.
“I love you.”
“Shut up!” begged Lumin, before exhaling loudly. “I love you too.”
Skip smiled wide beneath his helmet. “I’m headed to darkest Idaho. I’ll see you at the Salt Flats when this is all over.”
“Okay, go kick their ass then come find me,” said Lumin.
“I will,” said Skip. “Go get ‘em, queen bee. Over and out.”
Skip thought he had been joking, but his timing was indeed awful. Lumin didn’t want to have to think about how much she stood to lose in the span of the next few hours. Everything and everyone she loved was on the line. To distract herself she let the automatic flight controls take over and put her mission parameters front and center in her virtual cockpit view.
It wasn’t long before she was flying over the Nevada desert with her two A.I. squad mates close behind. Christ, this is really happening. She decided to check in with Z-Command. “Yasamin, is it too early for a status report?”
“Well, we have a lot of bots still in the air but there’s no problems to report as of yet,” said Yasamin. “There’s been a few sightings of the aliens’ red drone ships but so far they have not engaged our pilots…it’s an excellent sign.”
“Thanks for some good news. Over and out.”
Seconds later Lumin’s quarry came within visual range. Phase one was officially underway. Her squadron landed just inside the virtual demarcation line indicating the minimum safe distance from their target as it clomped through the open desert. The CBGB was shuffling directly toward Creech Airforce Base.
Lumin breathed a sigh of relief. Her target was wide open and still miles away from any signs of civilization. The beast was likely the same one she had seen stomping through the outskirts of Las Vegas from the windows of the airship.
All squadrons had to be on the ground and in position before phase two could begin. A little over a half hour after landing Lumin lost her patience and hailed Yasamin. “Yasamin… is everyone in position?”
“Good timing,” said Yasamin. “All squadrons are on the ground. The last one just checked in. All units on the mission grid have battery levels above 65%—there should be ample charge remaining to conduct an attack and return to the rendezvous point. Phase two will begin on your command.”
Lumin took a deep breath. “Signal all pilots to begin phase 2!”
“Roger,” said Yasamin. The signal light on Lumin’s mission console flashed.
Lumin left her two support robots behind and began stalking her target slowly from the rear, staying out of its forward field of vision. The closer she got to the behemoth the harder her heart thumped. When her range finder flashed she stopped moving; remaining 100 yards from the CBGB. Thankfully, the towering beast seemed unconcerned by her presence. High above her, the red UFO drones were buzzing through the sky in random directions. She hailed Yasamin. “I’m in place and ready for phase 3.”
“Hold,” said Yasamin. After a few, excruciating minutes she checked back in. “Lumin, all squadrons have reported. Phase 2 is complete.”
“Why did it take so long to get our people in position?” asked Lumin.
“Some pilots found difficulty approaching the behemoths. Several are tromping across heavily wooded areas on uneven terrain. Many are dangerously close to populated suburbs. One of the targets is half-submerged in Lake Shasta. However, all squadrons have made the necessary adjustments and are now ready and waiting in strike positions.”
“Have any pilots been acknowledge by the CBGBs or OMFUGs?”
“No, we’re in the clear. Awaiting your order to begin the final phase.”
It’s now or never, thought Lumin. “Begin phase three! Attack!”
Lumin charged the behemoth from its rear flank, gaining speed with every long stride. “Going hot!” She yelled as she drew BZ-X’s chain sword and ignited her quantum tech.
Lumin’s view screen went blinding white for a moment, but she kept her focus and delivered a devastating swing from her chain sword; chopping cleanly through the CBGB’s neck. The blade traveled all the way through the behemoth’s torso until it emerged from its hip. With no resistance to counteract the weight of the vicious swing, BZ-X stumbled off-balance and shoulder checked the massive alien as it bisected in two. Geysers of grey gore shot skyward as the beast collapsed.
Lumin shuddered as BZ-X collided with the ground. The ferrofluid in the control bell cushioned most of her fall but she still felt a significant impact. She gasped in shock as Biz was suddenly pulled backward. Her A.I. squad mates had swooped in and grabbed her robot’s shoulders to drag her away to safety.
“Thanks guys,” said Lumin, as she stood back up and turned around. She readied herself for an attack from above by the red drones but they never came. A bright flash returned her attention to the fallen CBGB. She looked at the corpse in awe as it became white hot and started melting into the ground, leaving no remains. Even its pair of flopping tentacles had completely disintegrated. She stepped closer, seeing nothing but a black sheen where the tremendous heat had turned the desert sand into glass. “What the hell?”
“Lumin, do you read? Are you alright?” asked Yasamin, anxiously.
“I took a little spill but it was my own damn fault. All systems seem to be operating normally. My target has been eliminated.”
“Lumin, this is Sam. We did it! All targets have gone down without a fight. Our pilots are safe. We did it!”
Lumin let out a spontaneous laugh, feeling like a thousand pounds had been lifted off her shoulders. She threw a victory punch through the ferrofluid and her robot responded in turn. “Incredible! Has there been any sign of retaliation? Anything strange on the radar?”
“Nothing,” said Yasamin. “We’re completely clear.”
“Excellent. I’m returning the rendezvous point now. Lumin out!” It all seemed far too easy.
When Lumin touched down at the salt flats she saw most of the squadrons had already arrived. A crowd of sky-scraping robots greeted her with the surreal sound of metallic applause so loud she could hear it resonating through the ferrofluid. The cheers flooding the open channel became blown-out white noise. “Nice work everyone, I can’t wait to hear your stories,” said Lumin across the channel. “All targets we’re taken down without a single casualty. You’re all rock stars.”
“Well, almost,” said Skip. “Look behind you.”
“I didn’t want to alarm you, Lumin,” said Yasamin. “Don’t worry, everything’s fine.”
Lumin turned Biz around and saw Skip’s bot waving to her with a missing forearm. “Jesus, Skip! Are you alright? What happened?”
“I’m alright, don’t worry. When I found my squid-beast it was trudging its way up a mountain for some damned reason. I thought I had found a good position to strike, but I lost my footing when I chopped into it and I kinda sorta fell over a cliff.”
“Of course! Of course that happened to you,” said Lumin, frustrated.
“I bashed up the armor on my bot’s legs and lost part of its arm, but everything else is fine. I kept my sword and my thrusters are still operational, obviously.”
“Yasamin, you should have told me,” said Lumin. “Just…don’t do that again, Skip.”
“What, fall off another mountain? I don’t plan on it,” said Skip.
“Lumin, don’t forget we have a small maintenance crew stationed at the west end of the camp. They brought along a couple of spare robot chassis we can cannibalize for parts. I’m confident they can have Skip’s robot repaired in less than an hour.”
“Good, I’m heading there now,” said Skip, clomping away.
As the rest of the squadrons arrived at the salt flats, Lumin took a moment to think about her options. After all units were accounted for she hailed the entire team. “Now that everyone has touched down we’re going to do an old-school assessment and take a vote. First of all, raise your hand if you’re feeling fatigued or sick inside your robot.”
No one raised their robot’s hand.
“Z-Command says all diagnostics look good, but raise your hand if you suspect your robot isn’t operating correctly.”
Again, no pilot raised their robot’s hand.
“Alright then, don’t get comfortable…we’re going straight back into the fray. Z-Command is going to update your mission computers with a secondary batch of targets. We’ll hit the aliens hard while they’re still off kilter.” Lumin paused for a moment. “It’s highly unlikely the CBGBs and OMFUGs are just going to sit idle and let us hack them to bits a second time around. Expect heavy resistance…but remember your training and remember how easily your sword just cut through those bastards. We can do this, people! There’s no sense in waiting to bring the pain. Raise your fist and give me a roar if you’re with me!”
The open channel rattled with blown out sound as the team collectively roared. Robotic fists filled the air.
Lumin smiled. “Alright! Retrieve your spare power cylinders and prepare to launch by the end of the hour! Let’s take back our planet!”
More cheers rattled her ears.
Lumin closed her eyes and turned off her view screen. She locked Biz in place and leaned back a little, enjoying the solitude of the surrounding darkness for a moment.
Her ear buzzed with an incoming transmission and she patched it through. “Yes?”
“Nice speech babe, but you’re no Bill Pullman,” said Skip.
“I still hate you,” said Lumin.