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. The most recent battle has claimed the life of the Kyoto Team’s founder, Kengi Sato.
Operation Ramone was over. The robot army–its pilots still stunned by Kengi Sato’s death–left the salt flats quickly and quietly. Miu and Ako Dokujima insisted on leading the fleet as they returned to Z with Sato’s body in tow. The joy permeating Eldridge’s estate over the aliens’ apparent departure was immediately tempered by the news a pilot had died.
The Cloudskim airship arrived at the compound an hour behind the robots, carrying the remains of the alien behemoth. It was unloaded with little fanfare and placed in a refrigerated warehouse to be prepped for immediate dissection under Skip Pantheon’s supervision.
Despite the retreat of most of the invaders, Lumin refused to believe the fight was over. One red orb mothership—the last trace of the aliens still on the planet—was still hovering above Seattle, which remained evacuated. Wary of an alien counterattack, she ordered the maintenance crew to repair all the robots with extreme haste. She took it upon herself to monitor Z-Command’s surveillance systems for hours at a time.
Lumin paused her burgeoning paranoia to attend a makeshift funeral service for Kengi Sato and say a few kind words. She climbed an unadorned platform in front of a microphone to address the crew, wearing a vanta-black dress and sunglasses to hide her bloodshot eyes–wrecked from a lack of sleep.
“Kengi Sato was a complicated man. In truth, I hated him for a time. He was stubborn and his convictions were completely unshakable…traits that made him frustrating as an opponent, but steadfast as an ally. He didn’t easily offer up his emotions but his loyalty to his Kyoto Team, and later to all of us, was indisputable. He was never asked to put his own life on the line but he hopped in one of those robots without a second thought.” Lumin paused for a moment then smiled. “When I think of Sato-sama I see the image of a fox running through my mind. In American folklore the fox is a sly trickster. In Japan the kitsune is portrayed similarly but is also shown to be wise, powerful, and loyal…all traits that describe Kengi Sato.” Lumin paused, trying not to cry and praying she didn’t mangle the next part. “Gomeifuku wo inorimasu, Sato-sama.”
Lumin stepped off the platform to measured applause and sobs. Each member of Sato’s core engineering team took turns stepping up to give their eulogies, which were mostly in Japanese. Mostly lost to the language, Lumin could still feel the respect and sadness resonating from each person’s voice.
Sato’s casket was loaded onto a cargo plane to be returned to Kyoto for cremation and burial in his family’s cemetery. Despite having permission to return to Japan for the funeral, the key members of the Kyoto Team refused to leave the compound until Lumin officially ended the war…which was something she wasn’t ready to do.
Lumin returned to Z-Command shortly after the wake to resume her constant vigil of the surveillance equipment. She woke up with a start hours later, feeling her own drool sliding down her arm as she leaned over a console. Skip was tapping her on the shoulder.
“Lumin, come on. You’ve gotta stop this,” said Skip, as he sat down beside her.
Lumin wiped her mouth. “Just resting my eyes.”
“Uh huh,” said Skip with an eye roll. “There’s only one orb ship left. Maybe they actually are leaving. You need to be more positive.”
“Shouldn’t you be cutting apart that alien?” asked Lumin, changing the subject.
“They’re almost done setting up the equipment. Dissecting a body hundreds of feet tall is no easy feat.”
Lumin sat up and stretched her arms. “Did you learn anything during your cursory examination?”
“Not really,” said Skip. “The grey fluid filling the alien’s body has pretty much solidified. It’s going to take some real work just to get through that gelled mass. The thing’s skin…is weird. It looks organic, but it doesn’t really feel organic to the touch. It’s difficult to explain.”
“Well, by morning I want you tearing that fucker apart. Sato said ‘everything would become clear’ once we looked inside one of the behemoths.”
“How did he know stabbing the creature in such a specific location would keep it from burning up?”
“I wish I knew,” said Lumin. “That’s why you have to get cutting.”
“I will…I swear…but Lumin, you need rest. Please, come with me back to the dormitories. Someone else can man these monitors. Lie with me until morning. You don’t even have to admit you’re tired…do it as a personal favor to me,” said Skip, concerned.
Lumin laughed. “I guess I am a little sleepy…and starting to hallucinate. That’s bad, right?” She leaned in and kissed Skip passionately. “Is there anything else we can do in that bed besides sleep?” she asked with a grin.
“Well, I suppose there are a few things we can do before we close our eyes for the night,” said Skip.