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 resistance has begun.
Lumin stayed wary of sneak attacks by the OMFUGs as she headed for the salt flats to regroup with her team. Her battered support bots were struggling to remain aloft but she was confident they could still make it to their makeshift base of operations.
Lumin hailed Z-Command. “Yasamin, now that my adrenaline has stopped pumping I’m starting to realize our pilots are going to need some time to rest and regroup before our squadrons go out again.”
“Way ahead of you,” said Yasamin. “We’re setting up cots and tents in the desert as we speak. A refrigerator truck packed with sandwiches and snacks is waiting for the pilots.”
“Lovely,” said Lumin. “For not having any kids, you sure know how to coordinate a field trip.”
“You’re all a bunch of children in my eyes,” said Yasamin.
“That’s fair. We’ll break for three hours. That should give us sufficient time to rest and make minor repairs to our equipment. How many squadrons do you think we can return to battle-ready status during that time?”
“I’ll let Sam field this one,” said Yasamin.
“Hmm.” Sam quickly poured over Z-Command’s diagnostic reports. “I’d say with the materials we have onsite at the flats and the time frame we’re facing…we can probably get 40 squadrons back up and running.”
“That leaves, what, 85 robots knocked out of commission? Damn, we really took a beating.”
“87. It’s not quite as bad as it sounds though,” sad Yasamin. “That number doesn’t include the squadrons that have less than two support units remaining. If you’re willing to allow a single support bot to accompany a pilot during the next sortie then—”
“No,” interrupted Lumin. “It’s not safe. We’ll make do with what we have for the night. After the next strike we’ll return to Z and get all our units up and running by morning.”
“Sounds good,” said Yasamin. “Biz needs a lot of work. Get some rest while you’re waiting…you need it.”
“I will,” said Lumin. “The camp just came within visual range.”
Lumin landed with her squadron inside the temporary lot where the most damaged robots had been corralled. A skeleton crew rushed to Biz and helped Lumin out of the ferrotank. She removed her helmet and took a deep breath of fresh air, tasting a hint of salt on the back of her tongue. Even after putting on sunglasses she had to squint against the sunlight. Her legs wobbled as a couple of crewmen helped her to the rail of the cherry picker. “I feel like one of those blind cave salamanders…and I imagine I look like one too,” she told the man next to her, who returned a polite smile.
Lumin looked at the limbless, dented and shredded bots in the maintenance pen as she lowered to the ground. “Damn. I’m glad no one was seriously hurt.”
“Some folks got some sprains and strains, some good bruises, but really that’s all,” said the man beside Lumin. “Pretty remarkable, after seeing the sorry shape of these bots—yours included.”
“Better him than me…no offense Biz,” replied Lumin. “I’m glad robots can’t get gangrene.”
“What?” asked the man.
“Nevermind,” said Lumin. “Thanks for the lift.” Several of her teammates were waiting for her on the ground. No shortage of hugs, fist bumps and high fives were exchanged after she stepped off the platform.
Later on, Lumin was sitting at a long table with the majority of her old Shuffle Pigs crew. Yasamin had set up a big screen television under the mess tent and was streaming camera feed footage from the last battle. Sam had been careful to leave out any footage he deemed too harrowing. While most pilots were eager to see the video some couldn’t bring themselves to watch the screen.
The first clip showed Spotswood bludgeoning one of the CBGBs using a giant Douglas fir tree as a club. After a couple solid hits, he drew the beast’s tentacle attack to the log then struck it down with his sword while it was distracted.
“Nice way to utilize the environment, Spotty,” said Lumin.
“Thanks, but I’m just waiting to see Kat’s bit…her run is already legendary, sight-unseen.”
Next up was Ako Dokujima, calmly slicing away a behemoth’s tentacles as they flew towards her. Her robot’s body barely moved at all during the attack. She finally took a single sidestep as the monster lunged and swiftly cut off its head.
“Well, that took balls of steel,” said Richard, behind his pile of sandwiches. Coincidentally, his video was next in the queue. He was dancing erratically around his opponent in a wheat field, absorbing several hits and tentacles swipes that severely damaged his robot before he managed to get close enough to slice open the monster’s belly.
“Graceful,” said Lumin with a smile.
Richard shrugged. “Hey, it wasn’t pretty but it worked.”
Miu Dokujima’s clip was next. Her moves were nearly identical to her sister’s, and had similarly impressive results.
“Didn’t we already see that one?” asked Skip.
“No, that was Ako. I wish I could stay so cool under pressure,” said Dezzie.
Hayashi pushed the acrobatic capabilities of his machine to its limits, somehow managing to perform several evasive flips, even a back flip, as he battled his opponent.
“Show off. I didn’t know you could do that…how do you do that?” asked Katerina.
Everyone gasped as Katerina’s footage began. It showed her approaching not only her target, but two other CBGBs in the middle of a dense swamp. Seemingly unfazed, she lured them all under a canopy of cypresses to keep the ensuing battle out of the sight from the OMFUGs circling high overhead. Using her support bots as bait she chopped through a stand of towering trees and sent them crashing down on all three behemoths simultaneously. After leaping atop the writhing mass of splintered wood and splaying tentacles she mercilessly chopped all the beasts to pieces.
Everyone under the tent jumped to their feet and cheered wildly. Lumin turned to Katerina, who was blushing. “Goddamn, girl! You should not have engaged three targets at once!”
“I know, but I did,” said Katerina.
“Absolutely amazing,” said Skip.
“Well, unfortunately I got a little too worked up and accidentally chopped up one of my support bots that was beneath the pileup. Rest in peace, Lumpy,” said Katerina. “At least Lou Lou’s alright.”
Lumin laughed. “Just…please Kat, don’t do that again.”
Lumin sighed. “I was hoping one of us would retrieve some remains to study, but the aliens leave absolutely nothing behind when they die.”
“I know, it’s utterly bizarre,” said Skip. He leaned closer to Lumin and whispered in her ear. “Is there anywhere…we can sneak away and…you know.”
Lumin pushed a finger against Skip’s shoulder. “I’ve lost three pounds in sweat alone since this day began, Skip. Unless you want to make love wearing a gas mask I think we better wait. You do not want to unzip my switch suit right now…my B.O. could be classified as a chemical weapon.”
Skip carefully considered her words. “Alright, fine…but keep in mind the world might be ending soon.”
Lumin shook her head in disappointment. “Don’t use the apocalypse as an excuse for a booty call, Pantheon.”
Skip settled for a quick kiss. “Alright.”
“Where’s your highlight reel anyway?” Lumin asked Skip as she returned her attention to the video. Sam was right…her teammates had wildly exceeded her expectations.
“There were no highlights during my run,” said Skip, looking somewhat ashamed.
“Well, don’t feel all emasculated about it. I almost needed to eject from Biz. We were all a hair’s breadth from disaster out there.”
“I lost my cool when I saw that humongous glowing sphere,” said Skip. “I don’t know why it was so unnerving.”
“Didn’t Yasamin tell you?”
“No,” said Lumin, “not yet.”
“It was a gigantic red orb…much, much larger than the OMFUG ships. It was descending over downtown Seattle. The thing was large enough to carry three or four of those behemoths.”
“That sounds like one of their nuclear warhead transport ships, but there’s definitely no nukes housed in downtown Seattle.” Lumin’s heart was pounding again. “What did Z-Command say about this?”
“I only talked with Yasamin for a couple minutes over the com. She said the government is evacuating the entire city, just in case the invaders decide to attack. The big orb was still floating there about 500 feet off the ground by the time I regained my wherewithal and jetted the hell out of there. It never moved an inch.”
Lumin felt suddenly cold. “Christ, are they already moving ahead?” she mumbled.
“Ahead with what?” asked Skip.
“Nevermind,” said Lumin, forcing a smile. “It doesn’t change a thing. I’m just glad you’re alright.” She leaned in and kissed Skip then hugged him tight.
“You’re trembling, Lumin,” said Skip with concern.
“I…I just need to eat something,” lied Lumin.
Richard overheard Lumin. He slowly curled his arms around his sandwiches and pulled them closer.