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’s ear piece beeped. She walked outside the mess tent to escape the noisy revelry and opened her channel to Z-Command. “Yasamin?”
“Lumin, I have urgent news.”
“I heard…why didn’t you tell me about Seattle?”
“No, this is an entirely different matter. Something went haywire with our tracking system. The diagnostic feeds monitoring Kengi Sato’s squadron somehow merged with another pilot’s and returned an inaccurate status. Sato never returned to the rendezvous point.”
“What?” said Lumin, shocked. “I just assumed Sato was resting or…wait, where is he?”
“He’s currently 40 miles south of Twin Falls, Idaho. I was able to retrieve some GPS coordinates from his robot’s black box, which is still transmitting. Everything else is offline; I don’t have any information on his vital signs or how much damage his robot may have sustained.”
“What about the rest of his squadron…his support bots?”
“M.I.A.,” said Yasamin. “Their diagnostics were completely wiped clean by the same bug that caused us to lose track of Sato.”
“Damn it. He’s normally so solitary that we must have all took his absence for granted.” Lumin looked up and saw Miu Dokujima approaching her.
“I head Sato-san’s name,” said Miu. “He’s missing, isn’t he?”
“Yes, but we’ll find him,” said Lumin.
“What’s our plan?” asked Yasamin.
“I’m going out after him. I was one of the last pilots to land and I’m still suited-up. Yasamin, get a fresh robot prepped for me ASAP and upload Sato’s GPS coordinates into its navigation computer.”
Miu stepped closer. “I’m coming with you.” Her demeanor was calm but her voice was stern.
Lumin nodded. “Miu Dokujima will be my backup. Get her a fresh machine as well.”
“Lumin, it’s too dangerous. We have no idea what Sato may have encountered out there.”
“That’s an order, Miss Jones,” said Lumin.
“Roger,” said Yasamin, giving no further fight. “Head to the east side of the camp. I have two robots already lined up for you. They’ll be ready for launch by the time you arrive. Lumin, you’ll take Unit 04 and Miu will be in Unit 09. A support crew will be waiting to get you into your control bells.”
“Thanks Yasamin, over and out,” said Lumin. She looked at Miu. “Let’s go.”
Skip came running up and put her hand on Lumin’s arm. “Whoa, what’s going on?”
“I have to go, Skip. Yasamin can fill you in on the details,” said Lumin, pulling way from him. She sprinted away toward the edge of the camp with Miu following close behind.
Minutes later, Lumin and Miu were airborne in their borrowed bots. They headed north, flying low over southern Idaho’s arid, rocky terrain.
Lumin hailed Miu. “We’re getting close to Sato’s black box. Be ready for anything.”
“I am,” said Miu.
“There he is!” said Lumin excitedly as Sato’s bot came into view. It was lying on a river bank near a meandering stream. Another look revealed his machine had been reduced to a smoldering, soot-blackened torso. There was no sign of its arms, legs or head. “Fuck…this isn’t good.”
“There’s no sign of invaders in the sky or on the ground,” said Miu, scanning her radar.
“Good. Follow me,” said Lumin, going into a dive with Miu at her side. They landed near Sato’s husk of a robot and clomped closer. There was no sign of his A.I. support units.
“I’m reading vital signs…he’s alive in there!” said Lumin, elated.
“The robot’s power is offline. Sato’s emergency air supply isn’t going to last much longer,” said Miu in a clinical tone.
As Lumin put her robotic hands on Sato’s hatch to rip it away, three mountainous masses rose from the river behind them; their jade-colored bodies gleaming as they stepped onto the rocky bank.
“Behemoths!” yelled Lumin. The beasts started shuffling closer. One of them was holding a bent and twisted leg pulled from Sato’s machine. Another was gripping the robot’s disembodied head, slathering it with slime from its oozing tentacles. Both women drew their chain swords and ignited them simultaneously. The tentacled tails running down the CBGBs’ backs began to lift and whip around erratically, their thin tips cracking loudly as they cut through the air.
“I’m going in…cover me,” said Lumin. Miu began firing concussion rounds into the beasts’ faces as Lumin rushed forward. A huge tentacle swept down at her, but Miu managed to step up and cut it away. A tentacle strike from the opposite side slammed into the left arm of Lumin’s robot, mangling it horribly. She gritted her teeth as the heavy impact rocked her ferrotank, but she kept moving forward. “Miu, take out the one on the left, I’ll work on the other two.”
Miu didn’t respond. She immediately sent her robot into a forward flip, leaping over a sweeping tentacle that would have crushed her legs in an instant. She landed with a ferocious kick that concaved her target’s wobbling face. Undeterred by the blow, the behemoth’s lumpy arms and bent claws latched onto Miu’s robot, knocking her off balance. The chain sword slipped out of her robot’s hand and dropped to the ground. She watched helplessly as the mutilated mouth hole of the beast vomited a swarm of thrashing feelers that hooked to her armor and began eating it away with seeping acid.
The behemoth holding the head of Sato’s robot threw it at Lumin with enough velocity to rip away half of her robot’s face in an instant. “Son of a bitch!” Lumin cried, scrambling to switch to her auxiliary cameras. Her vision returned just in time to dodge a clawed hand arcing at her. She immediately lunged with her sword and chopped through the CBGB’s waist, cleaving it in two. “Why do you all have to be so disgusting!” she yelled, as the top half of the beast began to tip toward the ground.
The third behemoth emerged from behind its dead buddy, swatting away the gushing remains blocking its path. Before Lumin could swing her chain sword again, the beast head-butted her robot in the chest. Her heart bounced into her throat as she stumbled several yards backwards and fell directly against the CBGB grappling Miu’s machine. The collision turned out to be advantageous, creating sufficient force to break the monster’s grip on Miu.
With her mobility restored, Miu kicked away from the behemoth, ripping free from its searing clutches. After seeing her wayward sword she crouched down to retrieve it then rose up with a vertical slice as the quantum blades reignited, cutting up through the CBGB from its crotch to its skull. The bisected fiend slumped to the ground in two symmetrical chunks.
The two women clanked back to back in their robots. Wordlessly, they rushed in unison to attack the remaining CBGB as it swung its long arms at them wildly. Know the results could be catastrophic, Lumin turned off the quantum technology of her chain sword to avoid making contact with Miu’s blade.
Miu’s quantum sword safely ignited and elegantly cleaved away the left arm and shoulder of the behemoth. However, the gnashing cut from Lumin’s mechanical chainsaw was far from clean, creating a gushing maelstrom of grey gore as it hacked violently through the beast’s chest. She screamed with rage as a flood of steaming goop obscured her vision. When she finished sawing, she flushed the fluid away from the auxiliary cameras in her robot’s chest and saw Miu returning to the remains of Sato’s robot. She hurried to join Miu, helping her lift the torso of Sato’s robot upright.
Miu tore off the top of Sato’s robot then carefully removed the interior hatch to reveal the opaque, black ferrofluid inside the control bell. “I can’t see Sato-san, but I can’t risk tipping over the tank,” she said to Lumin. “He may have become untethered from his support arm.”
“Hold the torso steady,” said Lumin. She picking up Miu’s sword and ignited it. “If I cut through the pump housing below the control bell, the tank should start to drain.” Slowly, she began pushing the blinding white edge of the sword into a cramped area below Sato’s ferrotank. “Just a little more.”
“Slower,” said Miu, remaining calm.
“There!” said Lumin, as inky fluid began flowing from the robot over the ground. Sato’s limp body was revealed, sitting at the bottom of the ferrotank. An emergency air supply hose was hooked to his helmet.
“I see him,” said Miu, reaching into the tank with two robotic fingers.
“Careful, you’ll crush him!” warned Lumin.
Miu plucked Sato from the tank with surprising gentleness and laid his body in her robot’s other, outstretched hand. She carefully lowered him to the sandy riverbank.
“My radar looks clear. You seeing anything on yours?” asked Lumin.
“Nothing. No OMFUGs for miles.”
The two women lowered their emergency ladders and descended to the ground as fast as they could. They ran up beside Sato and pulled off his helmet.
“Christ, he’s not breathing,” said Lumin.
Miu straddled Sato and began chest compressions. Lumin lowered close to him and lifted his neck to breath deeply into his mouth, again and again. Miu pushed harder, cracking one of Sato’s ribs. Finally, he gasped and coughed violently, spitting blood to the rocks. His eyes were still closed.
“Sato!” yelled Lumin. She held his face in her hands. “Hang on, we’re going to get you out of here!”
Sato shook his head and coughed more, trying to speak.
“Don’t talk, just breathe.” Lumin felt a tap on her shoulder.
“Lumin.” Miu pointed to Sato’s stomach, which was soaked with clotting blood. A metallic shard from his ferrotank’s broken control arm was jabbed into his side.
“Oh no,” said Lumin, tears immediately welling in her eyes. Sato was losing consciousness again. “Sato, come on…don’t go to sleep.”
“I need…I need,” mumbled Sato, starting to trail off.
“We’re going to get you help,” said Lumin.
“I need to tell you…very…important. They’re not…they aren’t what—”
“Sato?” Lumin moved even closer.
Sato finally opened his eyes. “Attack the beasts…here.” Sato managed to pat his hand above his right hip. “Pierce them here to keep their bodies from…burning away.” He fought through his pain, struggling to finish his words. “When you see the invaders from the inside out…everything will become clear.”
“I don’t understand,” said Lumin.
Miu leaned down tears streamed down her stoic face. “Sato-sama, do not leave us.”
“I’m sorry, Miu…I’m sorry.” He said something to her in Japanese then looked at Lumin with wild eyes. He gripped her wrist. “Don’t…”
“What is it, Sato?” begged Lumin.
Sato closed his eyes and his tensed body went Limp as Miu clung to him.
“He’s gone. I…I just can’t believe it.” Lumin stroked Sato’s face, which somehow looked more peaceful than it had while the man was alive. “He said something in Japanese. What was it?”
“Baka wa shinanakya naoranai…only death can cure a fool,” said Miu as she stood up. Her lip was wobbling. She wiped her eyes and furrowed her brow. “Let’s get his body back to the camp.”
Lumin rose up slowly and looked at the three piles of glowing ash that had once been their opponents. Her head spun as she tried to comprehend Sato’s final words.