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, named “Z,” 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 begins. The latest battle claims the life of the Kyoto Team’s founder, Kengi Sato.
Lumin sat bolt upright in bed, freshly freed from a nightmare. In her dream the alien behemoths had regrouped and proceeded to stomp the entire world to rubble. She forced herself back down to the mattress but her eyes refused to close. A few restless minutes passed before she gave in and rose from the bed carefully, not wanting to wake Skip. After taking a quick shower and throwing on some clothes she left the dormitories to take a brisk walk. The sun was just starting to rise, pushing up an orange haze beyond the foothills in the distance.
“This isn’t over…I can feel it,” she said to herself as she stepped out into the cool, morning air. She resisting the urge to walk directly to Z-Command and instead followed a cobblestone path through the center of the complex, trying to calm herself. Along the way she tried to call Eldridge, but was sent straight to his voicemail. Frustrated, she attempted to reach his assistant, Andrew.
“Loomz? Long time no talk! What’s up babe?” said Andrew, in his usual cheerful manner.
“Oh crap,” said Lumin. “I kind of forgot how early it was. I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“Nahhh,” said Andrew. “I was jut about to head to bed. I was up all night working on a painting.”
“Oh, good…art must go on. Hey, have you seen Eldridge?”
“Eldy? Yeah, he had to fly to D.C. He took the plane out himself this time. Sorry, I forgot to tell you he was leaving. He’s checking in with some bigwigs at the Pentagon.”
“He’s trying to get inside their heads. The generals weren’t as happy as you might expect after the aliens left. He’s worried the military is sill keeping their nukes warm.”
“Figures. I’m sure the top brass were itching to use them.”
“Seriously Lumin, thank you. You pretty much saved the planet.”
“I had a job to do and I did it,” said Lumin, dismissively. “Besides, Dezzie Lynch is the real hero. If she hadn’t developed the quantum vibration technology there’s no way we would have made it this far.”
“It’s incredible tech, for damn sure…but weapons don’t mean shit without some skills behind ’em. You got skills, girl. Eldy is over the moon about all the alien heads you’ve been collecting.”
“Then why is keeping me out of the loop? If I’m truly in charge here he should let me know when he’s talking to government officials!”
“You’re totally right. I’d expect a call from Eldy soon. You know him…he’d rather deliver one big, boring speech than dole out the facts as he gets them.”
“He’d rather beg forgiveness than ask permission,” said Lumin with a groan, “I hate that shit.”
“I also think he wanted to give you some space while you helped the crew grieve. When I heard about Sato…I couldn’t believe it. It sucks.”
“Yeah, I know…well, tell Eldridge to call me if you hear from him. I hope you realize how much he depends on you, Andrew. You shouldn’t have to make excuses for him.”
“Excuses? I’m not…I just know how his mind works. Well, I’m gonna crash now. It was good catching up, Loomz.”
“You too, Andrew.”
“Hey…one more thing before you hang up.” Andrew suddenly sounded sheepish.
“Since you’re back on the market after breaking up with Eldy, I was wondering if you might need…you know…a rebound buddy.”
“The market?” Lumin chuckled. “That’s sweet, Andrew, in a sexist sort of way. Women don’t really like being compared to hunks of meat hanging…on hooks…” She paused her half-hearted diatribe as an epiphany hit her all at once.
“Whoooa, I didn’t mean it that way. It’s cool though…a guy’s gotta try, right? Lumin?”
“Sorry Andrew, I have to go. Talk to you soon!” Lumin hung up and started jogging to Eldridge’s Highsteak warehouse.
A few minutes later Lumin entered the warehouse and asked around until she found the plant’s project manager. “Hey, I’m Lumin. We haven’t officially met.” She held out her hand.
The mustachioed man, dressed in white from head to toe, looked star-struck as he shook Lumin’s hand enthusiastically. “Lumin Mira! I hoped we’d eventually meet face to face. Thank you for all you’ve done! I’m Jackson, Jackson Michaels.”
Lumin raised an eyebrow.
“My name always gets that reaction,” said Jackson with a laugh. “So, what can I do for you?”
“Well, Jackson…I was wondering how much Highsteak is this plant is actually producing?”
Jackson looked upward in contemplation. “Well, Mr. Roundstone has significantly ramped up production lately, anticipating a greater need due to all the…um…tribulations of late. We have at least 6 square miles of uncut, synthetic meat product in cold storage and we’re making more each day.”
“Goddam, that’s a lot!” said Lumin with surprise. “Sorry, I have a foul mouth.”
Jackson laughed again. “Everyone should be cursing these days. Why do you ask, anyway?”
“I’m just trying to get a better idea about Z’s day-to-day operations, now that everything’s calmed down a bit,” lied Lumin. “Thanks for the information.”
“My pleasure. Is that all? Need to know anything else?”
“No, that’s about it. I think I’m going to walk up to the second floor and take a quick look. Do you mind?”
“Not at all! Be my guest…I heard you lurk around here sometimes. It was nice finally meeting you, Misses Mira. Keep up the good work.”
“You too, Jackson.”
This is ridiculous, thought Lumin as she climbed to the steel platforms overlooking the mass of mechanically-massaged synthetic meat on the factory floor. After taking a moment to enjoy the mesmerizing motion she picked up her phone again and called Spotswood, her former armor engineer.
“Hullo?” said Spotswood, groggily.
“It’s 5 a.m. Spotty, are you going to sleep all day?”
“Lumin? What the hell?”
“I need some info on our bots and I’m not by a computer at the moment.”
“Oh sure, I’ll be more than happy to help, mine Fuehrer.”
“Shut up. Not funny.”
Spotswood sighed. “Okay, sorry. What’s up?”
“What’s the total square footage of armor on one of our robots?”
“Um…God, it’s too early to be using my brain. All together, the panels take up about 450 square feet of surface coverage. I won’t be able to remember the exact number down to the decimal point until I have some coffee.”
“Thanks Spotswood, bye!”
“Hold up, what’s—”
Lumin hung up excitedly and started doing math in her head. “Holy shit, this could actually work.”
Yasamin was unsurprised to see Lumin sitting in front of Z-Command’s consoles when she walked in the door. The far-away look on her leader’s face however, was decidedly atypical.
“Good morning, Lumin…are you alright?” asked Yasamin.
“Yeah…I mean, no… but yeah,” said Lumin with a strange glint in her eye. “You ever start your day with a weird thought in your mind? One that comes from out of nowhere? A bolt from the blue that seems totally irrelevant until suddenly…it isn’t?”
“No,” said Yasamin, crossing her arms and cocking her hip. “Are you feeling a little clairvoyant?”
“I’m not sure.” Lumin swiveled her chair toward Yasamin and looked her in the eye. “I want to cover all our robots in meat, from head to toe.”
Yasamin’s eyes popped wide. “Excuse me?”
“I know it’s crazy, but it will work, right?” She saw Samuel walking in the door and pulled him over eagerly. “Sam, I need you too!”
“Whoa!” said Samuel, nearly dropping his coffee. “We got an emergency?”
“Lumin is in dire need of immediate mental health services,” said Yasamin.
“Huh?” said Samuel.
“Listen, the CBGBs don’t attack anything organic, right? We’ve seen it time and time again! People were taking selfies next to those things without worry. It was only when anyone brandished a weapon that the behemoths attacked…the red orbs too, for that matter.”
“Yeah…there’s pictures of cattle grazing right next to the bastards’ feet. What’s this about, anyway?” said Samuel.
“Lumin wants to cover our robot army in…meat. In Eldridge’s Highsteak, I assume.” said Yasamin.
“To try and make us invisible again?” Samuel laughed heartily. “It’s a touch ridiculous, but I suppose it might work. What would be the point now, though? The worst is over. Besides, we kicked their butts heartily even without the element of surprise.”
“We took out less than 150 of them. There were 800 behemoths…at least,” said Lumin. She turned back toward her monitor and swiveled it toward Sam and Yasamin. “I haven’t had time to count all the blips on the radar yet, but I’d say there’s what… at least 500 here?”
Samuel dropped his coffee mug and it shattered on the floor. “Lord in heaven.”
“They’re back,” said Yasamin, feeling suddenly sick.
“They landed about an hour ago. I told you someone should always be monitoring these consoles.”
Samuel leaned against the wall. “What are we going to do? Why didn’t anyone warn us?”
“You mean the Feds?” asked Lumin. “Their manpower’s a little underwhelming of late. We’ll probably get their warning call after we’ve all been stomped flat.”
“Goddammit,” said Samuel.
“We aren’t going to be able to pick and choose our targets and attack at our leisure this time. Our remaining squadrons aren’t going to last long against an army of 500 behemoths,” said Lumin.
Yasamin hurried behind another console and backtracked through a mountain of data. “47 minutes ago the orb motherships dropped off a huge battalion of CBGBs 500 miles to the east. They’ve already traveled approximately 25 miles.” She tapped the keyboard furiously for a moment. “At that rate it’s going to take nearly a day for them to arrive, but their vectors are definitely converging on Z.”
“They’re headed for the compound?” asked Samuel.
Yasamin nodded. “All of them.”
Samuel rubbed his bald head and composed himself. “Okay, so apparently we riled them up a bit. Why didn’t the orb ships just drop the big green bastards directly on top of us?”
“Are you complaining?” asked Yasamin. “At least we’ll have time to evacuate.”
Lumin still felt dazed. “Maybe they’re trying to draw our robots out in the open to make easier kills. Or maybe they’re interested in the tech Eldridge has in the compound and don’t want to risk destroying it. I’m sure they were pretty surprised by how easily our quantum blades cut through them…if I were invading, I’d want that tech.”
“Maybe you are clairvoyant,” said Yasamin.
“Alright, here’s what we’re going to do,” said Lumin, standing up. “Sam, you’re in charge of developing and constructing these Highsteak meat suits. Cover every part of our robots…leave nothing exposed except a tiny slit for a camera. Even the weaponry needs to be covered. Fasten the slabs together with some kind of organic glue, or wooden rods, wicker? something!”
“You expect me to cover hundreds of robots in meat in 24 hours?” balked Samuel.
“I can’t give you 25 hours or I would,’ said Lumin.
“Hell…fine…let’s do this!” Samuel bolted of the room.
Lumin yelled to Samuel as he left. “I’m sending Katerina to help you! Contact Jackson Michaels in the Highsteak plant immediately…he hasn’t heard about any of this yet!”
Samuel stuck his head out from around the corner. “Jackson Michaels?”
“Yeah, I know…go!” ordered Lumin. Sam nodded, and left.
Lumin turned to Yasamin. “Yaz, you’re in charge of the evacuating the estate. Get everyone who’s not a pilot or builder on buses and trucks and get them the hell away from here, I don’t’ care where…just away.”
“Okay,” said Yasamin. “I’ll go to the motorcade to assess how many people we can carry out of here per trip.”
“Good,” said Lumin as Yasamin left. She slumped in her seat and stared at the alien blips pulsing on the monitor. After making a tally she picked up her phone and called Skip.
“Lumin, why did you rush off?” asked Skip.
“Sorry,” said Lumin. “Where are you?”
“I’m at the warehouse getting ready to cut this squid open. You coming?”
“I need you to work fast, Skip. We’ll need any advantage we can get our hands on. The aliens…they’re back, and their heading directly for Z en masse. 533 behemoths.”
“Fuck,” said Skip.
“Don’t worry, I know how to beat them. I’m going to the launch hanger. I’ll fill you in with more details as soon as I can. Skip…I love you.”
“I love you too,” said Skip, “wait, I mean…I know.”
“Too late, Han Solo,” said Lumin with a laugh. “This is no time for levity, Pantheon.”
“It may be the last time I ever make a joke, so enjoy it. Fill me in on the details as soon as you can.”
“I will,” said Lumin, hanging up.