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 leader, 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. Despite winning some battles, the invaders regroup and start to converge on the compound in gigantic numbers. Knowing there’s little hope, Lumin hatches a desperate plan for a last stand.
Lumin was making her way to the warehouse where Samuel was developing the Highsteak suits for the robots when her phone buzzed. Eldridge was calling.
“About goddamn time you decided to check in,” said Lumin, her voice brimming with exasperation.
“Miss Mira, we have a serious problem.”
“I am absolutely aware of the problem, Mister Roundstone,” said Lumin. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to prepare our fleet to intercept hundreds of alien giants coming to stomp your compound flat.”
“Please, wait! Lumin, there’s a lot more you need to know. Forgive my earlier silence…I didn’t want to trouble you with this information until I could confirm its validity.”
Lumin stopped walking. “What information?”
“The Pentagon rushed production of a ballistic missile to carry its last viable nuclear warhead, weighing in at 2.5 megatons. It’s being primed and readied for launch at the aliens’ ground forces as we speak. They want to hit them before they cross the Utah border and enter Nevada, concerned the fallout may reach Las Vegas if they attack any later. The missile will be in the air within the hour.”
Lumin laughed to keep from crying. “Oh, of course!”
“As loath as I am to concede to the use of nuclear weapons, I agree with the president’s decision. There are simply no other options. Although the attack will happen a significant distance from Z, we’ll still need to evacuate the compound in case the strike fails.”
“Of course it will fail. Launching a nuke is pointless! You saw what happened in Hawaii. It didn’t work there, and it won’t work here.” Lumin took a deep breath, trying not to fall apart. “Anyway, I’m way ahead of you. Anyone who’s not piloting or maintaining our robots is readying to leave. Yasamin’s in charge of the evacuation.”
Eldridge sighed. “No, Lumin…everyone should leave. The alien’s CBGB horde dwarfs the remaining numbers of our meager robotic army. To engage them now would be nothing short of suicide. The nuclear strike is our only hope.”
“No, it’s not. Tell me…were the control bells in these adapted robot designs properly shielded from radiation?”
“Then we fight on, Mister Roundstone. You might as well stay there where it’s safe. I’ll call you when the battle’s over.” Lumin ended the call and walked on, feeling more determined than ever. After noticing the time she decided to call Yasamin. “Are the trucks ready?”
“Yes, we have just enough capacity to empty the dormitories and get everyone to safety. We’re going to transport everyone to a bomb shelter outside of Santa Cruz, away from the path of the invaders,” said Yasamin. “The evacuation will begin in less than an hour.”
“Excellent. Good work,” said Lumin, wishing she felt more relieved.
“I’m back in Z-Command. The CBGBs are maintaining their course and speed. No surprises there,” said Yasamin.
“I have one hell of a surprise to tell you and I’m not going to sugar coat it, Yasamin.”
Yasamin turned away from her screens. “Let’s hear it.”
“The Pentagon is launching a nuclear warhead at the mass of behemoths. There’s no way to stop it from happening.”
Yasamin gasped. “When? Where will it hit?”
“It’ll be in the air soon. I need you to alert me as soon as you see it on Z-Command’s radar. It’s going to detonate somewhere near the Nevada, Utah border.”
Yasamin looked stunned. “It’s not going to work.”
“I know,” said Lumin. “I’ll talk to you soon.”
Warehouse 4–sitting directly beside the Highsteak plant–was hastily emptied of its contents to make room for Samuel Maston’s project. Despite Lumin’s anxiety and cold sweats over the impending nuclear strike, she couldn’t help but laugh when she walked in and saw a towering suit of red meat hanging from the rafters on hooks.
Samuel turned around from the table he was hunched over. Richard was beside him. “Lumin, hey! Come on in.”
“Looks like you’re making some progress,” said Lumin.
“Is this the part where you tell me this was all a big joke and we share a laugh?” said Richard, looking up at the dangling meat slabs. “I’ve never once lost my appetite in my life, until this moment.”
Lumin shook her head. “I’m afraid not, Richard. Why are you here, anyway?”
“I needed a seamstress,” said Samuel. “Seamster?”
Richard shook his head. “I used to make costumes for LARPing tournaments…you know, Live Action Role Play.”
“I am aware of LARPing…unfortunately,” said Lumin. “You sewed this monstrosity together?”
“More or less,” said Richard. “We’re using a robotic arm equipped with a titanium needle to close the seams on the suit. It took quite a bit of programming to get it right. We’ve just finished this prototype suit.”
“The pilots are going to put the suits on their robots just like giant clothes…it’s going to look pretty stupid, but it should work. Once they’re in the suits we’ll sew up any rips and seal them shut,” said Sam.
Lumin raised an eyebrow. “Wait…what did you use for thread? And what is that mesh covering the meat? Everything has to be completely organic.”
“We are still well-within the project’s parameters,” said Samuel. “This prototype suit is held together with polyester fiber, but the production models will use a bamboo polymer.”
“The stuff’s all-natural. Completely organic,” added Richard.
Sam continued. “I found a textile company in Cupertino that has miles of it. The owner was sympathetic to our cause and offered to donate as many spools as we need. His trucks are on the way and should be here in minutes.”
“I’m seriously impressed,” said Lumin. “Any issues?”
Samuel sighed and rubbed his head. “Our time frame is cramped, to say the least. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to cover every robot in time but we’ll do our damndest.”
“Lumin, how exactly are you planning to take out the CBGBs?” asked Richard. “The quantum swords will need to be sheathed in meat as well. We need to know the bare minimum of exposed surface area the blades require for an effective attack. The less the better.”
“Shit…do you think the sword is going to give us away?” asked Lumin.
“The sword aside, I really don’t know if this suit will fool them at all. This is a long shot no matter how you look at it,” said Samuel.
“I know it’s crazy, but we have to try,” said Lumin. “You have to remember that these things don’t think like we do. They are completely blind to anything outside their current objective. Hopefully our giant meat men will be as invisible to them as our robots were at the start of Operation Ramone.”
“We’re so dead,” said Richard.
Samuel cut his eyes at him. “Shut up! I trust Lumin’s instincts.” He turned back toward Lumin. “Have you found a weak point on the behemoth’s yet?”
Lumin shook her head. “Not yet. Skip is busy dissecting our captured CBGB…he’ll uncover a weakness soon. I’m about to head over and check in on his progress.”
“Okay Lumin, sounds good,” said Samuel. “Please hurry.”
Lumin didn’t know how to tell them a nuke was on the way, so she didn’t. “Keep up the good work, guys. Tell me when the trucks arrive and update me every hour on your progress. I’ll let you know as soon as we find the CBGB’s weak point.”
Lumin left the warehouse and looked up at the overcast sky as if it could somehow giver her an answer to any of her problems. She felt suddenly woozy, and realized she needed to eat something. Not wanting to make a side trip to the cafeteria, she dug around in her sling bag until she found a granola bar of unknown age and origin. After tearing open the package she noticed Katerina running toward her. Lumin dropped the bar, knowing something was wrong.
“There you are!” Panic was streaking across Katerina’s face as she grabbed Lumin’s arm. “Come on, we have to get to the infirmary!”
“W..what? Why?” said Lumin, standing up.
Katerina pulled her along, urging her into a run. “It’s Skip…he’s been electrocuted!”
“Oh my god,” said Lumin, running faster.
A few moments later the women entered Warehouse 111. After the invasion, Eldridge had retrofitted the building as a makeshift clinic and hospital. It was manned by a small group of doctors and nurses that had volunteered their time after hearing about Z’s mission. Once inside, Lumin immediately started searching for Skip. There were no individual rooms—a shuffle of tall, numbered curtains were spread across the concrete floor to separate several rows of beds.
A doctor hurried to Lumin after seeing the alarm on her face. “General Mira? Can I help you?”
“Skip…Skip Pantheon, is he here?”
The doctor put his hand on Lumin’s shoulder. “Mr. Pantheon’s here. He’s resting in partition 39 on the east side of the warehouse. He’s stable now, but he’s been through a lot. He was showing signs of a mild cardiac arrest when we brought him in but we were able to stabilize his arrhythmia. He suffered a few second degree burns on his abdomen and forearms but they are relatively small. There are some signs of keraunoparalysis in his legs but with any luck that should resolve itself in short time.”
“I need to see him!” said Lumin, trying to push past the doctor.
“Whoa,” said the doctor, holding on to her. “He’s resting now…and he needs it. You can talk to him when he wakes up but it might be a few hours.”
Lumin gritted her teeth and grabbed her scalp through her hair in frustration. “Goddamit!” Katerina put her arm around her.
“He’s a lucky man, considering he was hit with the equivalent of a lightning strike. He’ll likely make a full recovery, but I can’t guarantee anything at this point,” said the Doctor, sympathetically.
Lumin blew a long breath through her lips and straightened up. “Thank you, Doctor…?”
“Madison,” said the man with a smile.
“Thanks Doctor Madison,” said Kat.
Lumin looked over at Katerina. “Kat! Are you okay? Jesus, you were there too. I’m such an idiot!”
“I’m fine! I don’t know why, but I’m fine. They’ve already checked me out,” said Katerina. “I flew back a few feet and bonked my head but it wasn’t that bad.”
“I’m glad you’re alright,” said Lumin.
“There’s an area in the corner over there with chairs and books if you’d like to wait until Mr. Pantheon wakes up,” said Doctor Madison.
“Okay, thanks,” said Lumin. She walked over and plopped into a patio chair.
Katerina sat next to her and grabbed an ancient People magazine off a battered wooden table in front of them. “1996? Come on!”
“There’s things I need to do…but I can’t. I just can’t,” said Lumin, wiping her face with her palms.
“It’s okay Lumin,” said Katerina, putting down the magazine. “No one could have seen this coming. Give yourself some time to decompress; you’re no good to anyone if you’re all freaked out.”
“You’re right,” said Lumin, grabbing a tissue. “What happened exactly?”
“We adapted a quantum vibration blade to work as a robotically assisted scalpel,” said Skip, leaning up on his elbows. He had woken up about a half hour after Lumin and Katerina sat down in the waiting area. “As soon as we made the first abdominal cut…well, that’s all I can remember.”
“The sound was horrible,” said Katerina. “There was this white flash, and then suddenly Skip was on the floor and I was leaning against the wall. The entire warehouse smelled like burnt hair”
“The behemoth’s aren’t entirely organic…if at all,” said Skip. “the body was booby trapped.”
Lumin shook her head in disbelief. “Is the trap still active?”
Skip shook his head. “The electrical discharge was immense; I highly doubt it would be able to muster another charge. I can say for certain these aliens definitely don’t want us looking inside…them…or are the behemoths just their machines? What the fuck are we dealing with Lumin? Cyborgs? I need to get back in there.” Skip started twisting his hips to move off the bed, to no avail. “As soon as my legs work a little better.”
“I don’t know what they are but they all need to die,” said Lumin, putting her hand on Skip’s leg through his gown. She leaned up and kissed him on the forehead. Her phone started ringing. It was Yasamin. “I better get this,” said Lumin, answering it with trepidation.
“Lumin, the missile’s airborne,” said Yasamin, sounding frantic.
“It’s not heading for the behemoth horde, it’s off its vector!”
“What?!” said Lumin, standing up.
“What’s going on?” asked Skip, raising an eyebrow.
Lumin was getting another call. “Stay on the line, Yasamin.”
She switched to the incoming line. “Eldridge, why is the missile off course?”
“Somehow STRATCOM lost control of the missile’s trajectory shortly after launch. No one here knows what’s happened…or they won’t tell me. The warhead is armed and heading hundreds of miles off target.”
“Hold on, Eldridge.” Lumin switched back to Yasamin. “Where is the missile heading?”
Skip, Katerina and Lumin silently held on to each other for a long while. All of them were trembling. Katerina drew away and slumped in her chair, weeping with her head in her hands. Lumin stood up and wiped off her own tear streaked face and took a deep breath with her eyes firmly closed.
Skip looked up at Lumin with unease. “Seattle. It’s gone. It’s really gone?”
Lumin nearly broke into tears again. She nodded. “I knew this wasn’t over. Not by a long shot. That red orb hovering above the city…somehow it drew the missile directly to it.”
“Why? Why would they…?” asked Skip, trailing off.
“It’s a message. They want us to know we are powerless to stop them. They’re toying with us,” said Lumin.
Katerina looked up. “Seattle was still evacuated, wasn’t it? At least tell me that.”
“It was,” said Skip. “They cordoned off the entire city when that mother orb started hanging above downtown…thank Christ.”
“I’m sure hundreds still died,” said Lumin, becoming angry. “A nuclear bomb isn’t going to go off inside a city without taking lives. The fallout is going to spread for miles”
Yasamin, Samuel and Richard pulled back the curtain and walked closer. Everyone was rattled.
“We just heard,” said Samuel. “Fuck, this can’t be happening.”
Spotswood arrived a few minutes later. “Tell me it isn’t true.”
Lumin looked at him. “I’m sorry.”
Spotswood sunk down to the floor and hugged his knees.
“My family…they’re up in the woods outside of Everett,” said Katerina with a grim realization. “They’re not far from the city! Oh god…oh god!” She stood up and ran for the exit.
Yasamin took off after her. “Kat, wait!”
“Sam, you need to keep working. Are we on schedule?” asked Lumin, her anger beginning to boil.
Sam nodded. “Barely, but yes. We’ll have the suits ready in time.”
“Fuck finding a weak point,” said Lumin. “We’re going to take their heads…all of them!”