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.
Five hours remained until the invaders reached the compound. Lumin was running on anxiety, caffeine, and little else. She met with Yasamin at Z-Command to watch the progress of the invaders through the radar terminal and run through some potential battlefield strategies.
Once Lumin was confident Yasamin and her team were ready for the operation, she left to check on Skip at the infirmary. She was pleased to find he was recovering quickly and was in good spirits. Although he had regained feeling in his legs they were still extremely weak and he wasn’t able to stand. He begrudgingly agreed to forgo the coming battle and told Lumin he’d help out Yasamin at Z-Command instead. Watching a nurse help Skip into a wheelchair as he winced with pain filled Lumin with so much hate for the invaders she could barely contain her rage.
Lumin dragged herself away from the clinic to supervise Samuel and Richard’s production of the Highsteak ‘armor.’ She stepped into Warehouse 4 and took in the ludicrous sight of dozens of meat suits hanging in a row. The bamboo netting helping contain the wet slabs made the suits look absolutely perverse. At least 50 former members of Sam’s maintenance crew had been relegated to assembly line workers, manning oversized sewing machines and robotic arms that flipped and manipulated meat chunks as they rolled along conveyor belts.
Samuel was hunching over a monitor when Lumin walked in. After noticing her, he stood up straight and stretched his back. “Hey, Lumin. Welcome to our sweatshop.”
“It certainly smells like one,” said Lumin, flaring a nostril. “Z-Command says we have about five hours until the invaders arrive. I want our bots out of the compound and marching towards the CBGBs a good hour before that happens.”
“We have 24 suits constructed. We’re managing to build about 12 per hour but we’re getting steadily faster. I think we’ll be ready in time…barely.”
Lumin hugged Samuel tight. “You’re amazing, you know that?”
Samuel laughed. “Well, I had some damn good help.”
“Tell your team I’ll double…no triple…their pay,” said Lumin with a smile.
“Gee, thanks boss…what’s zero times three?” asked Samuel.
Richard walked up. “What, no love for me? I programmed all this machinery myself. My fingers are numb.”
“C’mere you big lug,” Lumin hugged Richard too.
“You seem to be in a cheery mood,” said Samuel.
Lumin shook her head. “I’m just delirious. Like…seriously looped. I just want to get this mission over with.”
“I hear you,” said Richard. “I think I’m going to end up a vegetarian after this job is done.”
Sam and Lumin both stared at him skeptically.
“What?” asked Richard.
“Sam…I’m going to give a quick briefing to all our pilots in an hour, but I want you and your crew to skip it and keep working,” said Lumin. “I’ll give you a quick rundown of the operation now so you can relay the information to any pilots you have working on the floor.”
Four hours until contact…
Lumin and Yasamin took to the cramped stage in the cafeteria to go over the upcoming mission with her pilots. She could see the doubt on everyone’s faces, which meant she couldn’t dare reveal any of her own anxiety as she spoke to them.
“Where’s Ryan Lumb?” Lumin whispered to Yasamin.
“He left on one of the buses,” Yasamin replied. “I didn’t think you’d be too heartbroken about it.”
“I’m not,” said Lumin. “Good riddance.”
Lumin stepped up to the microphone. “Thank you for coming, everyone…and thank you for not deserting the compound after hearing my admittedly bizarre plans to counter the coming threat.”
A small rustle of laughs filtered through the crowd but a shared sense of apprehension prevailed.
“I know everyone is aware of the general scope of this operation but I’m going to spend the next few minutes going over the minutiae of our battle plan. Any questions so far?”
A woman raised her hand. “There’s no name for this operation?”
Lumin shook her head. “We’re all working so quickly I haven’t had time to think of one. Operation Meat March? No, it’s too silly. This is our final battle…there’s nothing silly about it. Anything else?”
“How do we know these meat suits are going to work? Will they actually keep us hidden?” asked a man near the back.
“Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough time to test our theories. But, even though we’re flying by the seat of our meaty pants I wholeheartedly believe this is going to work,” said Lumin. “Any more questions?”
A woman rose up in the front row. “If we do somehow manage to cut down 500 of those things, what’s to say they won’t just drop 500 more from those damn mother ships?”
“It could happen. Who knows? Maybe the aliens will turn to taffy and shit gold? It doesn’t do us any good to speculate what might happen without any evidence. We can only tackle what’s in front of us or else we’ll all go insane.”
The room went quiet.
“Alright. Please open your mission packets that we handed out and look at Phase 1.”
Two hours until contact…
Lumin and the rest of the pilots put on their switch suits and entered their robots. Their heavy feet shook the ground as they left the hanger like a line of ants. They queued up in a row outside of Warehouse 4 where the Highsteak suits were waiting to be worn.
Lumin hailed her team on the open radio channel. “Remember, everyone…this process could prove to be a little awkward. You’re going to feel like a four year old trying to dress themselves for the first time. Cranes will be stationed at each side of your robot to assist if necessary. Once you’re…dressed…walk to the designated assembly area on the other side of the compound. If your suit rips, for whatever reason, return to the warehouse for immediate repairs.”
The robots lined up to put on their Highsteak armor as each suit rolled out of the warehouse on rails. It was a laborious and awkward process, so much so that nearly everyone was laughing by the time the last robot had finished suiting up. Lumin was happy the mood had lightened, if only momentarily. Even she let loose a giggle when the most braggadocios member of her team, Hayashi, ended up falling to the dirt after stumbling out of a slippery pant leg. The A.I. enabled bots put on their suits on with such ease it was embarrassing. She wished the support units acted more creatively as ground fighters but ultimately, they were lacking; they’d be relegated to bringing up the rear during the charge.
Despite being composed of weak materials the suits were sturdier than Lumin had anticipated. Still, Samuel warned her they would only last a few hours at the most and it would take nearly a full hour to march into the desert to meet the invaders…flying was completely out of the question.
One hour until contact…
The robot army was dressed in meat and waiting in formation for Lumin’s order to march. She planned to intercept the behemoths while they were still a good distance away from the compound. Before she prepared to give her final address to the team she contacted Yasamin in Z Command.
“Yasamin, did Skip ever show up there?
“No. I expected he’d arrive by now. That wheelchair doesn’t seem to slow him down much. We have a few other people missing as well, but we’ll be fine without them.”
“Shit. Can you patch me through to his cell phone?”
“Will do. “
“Thanks.” Lumin waited as the line switched over.
Skip answered on the first ring. “Hello?”
“Skip, why aren’t you at Z-Command?”
“Lumin, we never found the weak point of the CBGB you recovered. I’m in the warehouse preparing to resume the dissection of the behemoth. If we can find away to dispatch the horde more efficiently than chopping off all their heads it could make a world of difference.”
“No! Digging around in that thing isn’t safe…it nearly killed you last time!” yelled Lumin, desperately.
“It’s already sprung its trap. There’s not going to be anymore surprises. You know I have to do this.”
“Please Lumin, don’t worry about me. Let me do this…I can’t do much else.”
“Alright, fine,” said Lumin, angrily, “but I don’t want you alone in there!”
“I have four volunteers from Z-Command with me. We’ll be fine. I’m going to get cutting. Hopefully I’ll have an answer for you by the time you arrive at the horde. I love you.”
“I love you too,” said Lumin, taking a deep breath.
Lumin called Yasamin back. “Skip’s determined to find a weak point on the CBGBs and equally determined to piss me off. He’s got four of your people in the warehouse helping him resume the dissection.”
Yasamin laughed. “They knew I wouldn’t let them try anything behind your back. Sneaky bastards.”
“I gave Skip the go-ahead. It’s not like he’d listen to me anyway.”
“Alright Lumin…be careful out there.”
“I will. I’ll stay in touch.”
A half-hour before contact…
The robot army trudged beneath a sapphire sky over low hills of barren scrubland. Z had become a speck in the distance behind them. The meat suits had been inundated by swarms of flies, which while disgusting, was nothing more than a nuisance in the pilots’ view screens. The Highsteak was holding up well but the bamboo mesh “shoes” were delivering plenty of awkward steps.
Lumin hailed her team. “We’re nearly there. Once we make visual contact with the invaders we’re going to split up into two groups and flank them on both sides, making our way to the rear of the horde. If any of you are noticed by the behemoths, retreat immediately. I will sound an alert if our cover has been blown. Don’t be a hero…your lives matter more than the compound. The behemoths are too numerous to beat in a fair fight.”
As the robots climbed up a low slope a humongous cloud of dust could be seen lifting in the air on the other side of the hill. “We might have a dust storm on our hands,” announced Lumin through the open channel. “If your view becomes compromised, switch to thermal imaging. We…oh my god…”
As the robots crested the hill the behemoths in the valley below came into view…hundreds of them, like an emerald-hued mountain range somehow brought to life. The CBGBs’ slow approach was lifting tons of dirt into the air with each pounding footstep. Lumin could feel the constant vibration through her ferrofluid.
“Nobody panic! We were expecting this!” she called out.
One of the robots broke formation and started back toward the compound, tearing the meat off its body as it scrambled away. It activated its turbofans and lifted into the sky. Another robot broke ranks and followed the first deserter over the hill.
“Let them leave! Come on, keep moving. Let’s go!”
No one else fled, although Lumin felt tempted. Her heart was pounding against her ribs. This is impossible. She stuffed her doubts into the pit of her stomach and forced herself forward.
“There’s no time to waste, as soon as we get to the rear of the horde, start chopping their heads off from behind on my signal. Keep it as clean as you can!” Lumin wished they had a better option for killing their enemies. They had to engage the CBGBs in a way that wouldn’t expose too much of the quantum blades, which would give away their inorganic presence. Lopping off the heads of the monsters with just one blow from the tip of their sword would prove tricky; the things barely had a neck.
The most critical moment of the operation was underway. The robots separated into two groups and began moving alongside the CBGBs through the stratospheric cloud of swirling filth. Lumin gasped a giant breath of relief when it became apparent their machines were indeed invisible to the horde. The Highsteak suits were working–the aliens’ complete indifference couldn’t be blamed on limited visibility alone.
“Yes! We’re in the clear. Everyone, proceed with caution.”
Lumin led a formation to the right of the behemoths while Miu led another group to the left. The pilots were forced to turn on their thermal imaging as the dirt cloud became even thicker.
Lumin noticed Yasamin was hailing her. “Yaz…they can’t see us! The meat works,” said Lumin, overjoyed.
“Thank God,” said Yasamin. “Lumin, Skip has some important news for you, let me patch him through.”
“Yes, go ahead.”
“Lumin?” asked Skip.
“Yeah Skip, it’s me. Did you find something?”
“Before that…have you made contact? Can the behemoths see you?”
“We’re moving alongside the CBGB horde now…my god, it’s terrifying…but we’re completely invisible to them.”
“Yes!” yelled skip. He turned to his assistants in the warehouse “The suits worked! They can’t see them!” he shouted. Everyone started cheering.
“Skip, I don’t have much time, you had something to tell me?”
“Okay, so, these monsters are completely synthetic. They’re designed to appear organic–even just below the surface–but deep down they’re nothing more than giant freakin’ robots.”
“Really? I thought they would be at least partially organic.”
“I don’t think so. The skin of the CBGBs looks fatty and fish-like, but it’s actually some kind of weird, self-sealing polymer. It’s pretty incredible. The gray ‘blood’ is a lubricant for their internal moving parts; it starts hardening upon contact with the air.”
“Yeah. We’ve already cut halfway through the behemoth’s chest and we’re working our way down to its abdomen. The robotics we’ve found so far may be a little exotic, but they function a hell of a lot like ours.”
“Hurry it along, Skip.”
“Long story short…Lumin, we’ve found a weak point! Attack the CBGBs from the rear and strike them directly in the center of their right shoulder—directly through the trunk of that huge starboard tentacle affixed to their back. They’re completely dependent on a power routing unit located there, just below the surface.”
“Really?” asked Lumin. “Are you 100 percent certain about this?”
“I guarantee results or your money back! Hit each monster’s weak point cleanly with the tip of your sword and they’ll fall like 100 tons of bricks. That router distributes power through their entire body…without it they won’t be able to move a claw. It’s an easier kill than lopping off heads. One poke is all it will take.”
“You actually found it!” marveled Lumin. “What exactly is powering the behemoths? Is it nuclear?”
“I have no idea, but all of this beast’s wiring is pointing towards the lower back. We haven’t cut down that far yet but we’re on the way.”
“I’m actually in awe of you,” said Lumin, “I didn’t think that would ever happen.”
Skip laughed. “Go on! Knock a few of them down for me.”
Lumin wasted no time getting the news of the CBGBs’ weak point to Yasamin and her pilots. Only the tip of the quantum blades would be required to pierce their targets, as opposed to using nearly half the length of the chain sword to cut off their heads. Lumin had every pilot adjust the output of their swords then send a status report to Z-Command for confirmation. Yasamin made the necessary adjustments to the A.I. piloted bots remotely.
The two squadrons reassembled in the trampled wake of the invaders, a few yards behind the horde. The status reports all came back clean. Everyone’s meat suit seemed to be holding together. The robots’ power cubes were reading a ¾ charge across the board. It was time to strike.
“Everyone, raise your weapon!” ordered Lumin The robots hoisted their hands, which had been covered along with their swords with a massive, grotesque mitten of meat.
The tips of the meat sheathes burned away as the quantum blades lit up, sending shards of white light through the cloud of grime. The behemoths showed no response.
One by one, row by row, the behemoths fell as the robot army stabbed their quantum blades through simulated flesh into the beasts’ power routers. As each CBGB toppled, the robots stepped over them to their next row of targets.
“Don’t move too fast! Find your footing before you strike.” Lumin could feel the thumps of the behemoth’s bodies crashing to the ground. In a matter of minutes they had cleaved through hundreds of them. Lumin dared not to acknowledge they were actually winning. She felt even better knowing these weren’t living things—just husks—but if these weren’t the aliens, who were their masters?
Lumin slowly became aware that something was drastically wrong on the far east side of the line. Her thermal scanners were picking up a robot making large, sweeping movements instead of the small steps and quick jabs the pilots were supposed to be performing.
Lumin hailed Yasamin. “One of our pilots is going nuts on the other side of the formation. I don’t think I can make it over there without climbing over a mountain of bodies. Who the hell is that? Can you tell?”
“The radar blips are merging together…it’s a real mess. Hold on,” said Yasamin. “Okay, yes, one of the robots is definitely acting erratically. Damn it, I can’t get an accurate GPS reading on individual units…everyone’s too close together.”
“Hurry, this could be a real problem,” said Lumin, still stabbing her way through the alien ranks. She noticed her suit was starting to fray a bit. “Shit.”
“Let me try something different.” Yasamin started scanning through the bio-metric data transmitted by every pilot. “It’s Miu Dokujima in Unit 03. Her heart rate is through the roof compared to the other pilots.”
Lumin closed her communication with Yasamin and forced opened a channel with Miu. “Miu, what the fuck are you doing?” She didn’t answer. All Lumin could hear were growls and grunts.
With her anxiety spiking, Lumin made her way around the pile of hulking alien bodies toward the commotion. The haze lifted as she got closer, revealing Miu ferociously slashing through the CBGBs in front of her. “Miu, stop!” she yelled, horrified. Several other pilots had stopped their assault and were backing away slowly in confusion.
Miu had the entire length of her quantum chain sword ignited. Instead of stabbing and moving slowly ahead, step by step, she was slicing through the behemoths in a fit of rage; lopping off heads and limbs as she rushed forward. Her robot tromped relentlessly through a shallow sea of gray fluid as the CBGBs fell around her. Her fierce attacks combined with the caustic lubricant splashing against her robot’s body were rapidly degrading her Highsteak suit.
Lumin didn’t know what to do. She was momentarily frozen with fear. “Miu?”
“THEY WILL ALL PAY FOR KILLING MY FATHER!” Her scream was so loud Lumin’s ear piece crackled.
One CBGB stopped in its tracks. Then another. Slowly, they all began to turn in unison.
“Yasamin! How many are left? How many invaders are left?” Lumin yelled.
“There’s approximately 200 remaining. Lumin, they’re aware of your presence! Get out of there!”
The world went still for an immeasurable amount of time. 200. You can still win Lumin. You can do this.
“Everyone, shed the suits! I repeat, shed the meat suits and attack! Attack at full force!” Lumin shouted to all the pilots on the open channel. “Yasamin, send all support bots to the front lines!”
A tremendous roar–audible even through the control bells–rose into the sky from the remaining horde. They were alert and angry. The first row of robots succumbed to the hammering tail tentacles of the CBGBs and were knocked to the ground. The beasts dashed at their attackers with surprising speed, trampling the robots under their clawed feet.
“Break into pairs…cover your partner!” yelled Lumin. She looked up and saw pulsating red shapes start falling through the dust cloud. Heavy thumps peppered the muck on either side of her as the red orbs began firing from above. “Incoming! Units 1-10, get airborne and dispatch those OMFUGs!”
A behemoth lurched at Lumin as robots began jetting into the sky. She tried to step away but the CBGBs’ spilled ‘blood’ had transformed the clay floor of the valley into a ankle-high pool of viscous mud. The attacking behemoth quickly closed in and vomited its strangling tentacles around her robot’s head and promptly crushed it.
Quickly switching to her backup sensors, Lumin cleaved through the meridian of her opponent, sending both halves toppling into the mire. Finally, she was able to pull herself onto solid ground. “Everyone, retreat to dry ground, don’t get caught up in that sludge.” She went on the offensive, doing her best to ignore the crunch of metal surrounding her in every direction. A robot’s dismembered arm flew against Biz, knocking the robot to its knees. Lumin stood back up, firing her concussion cannon to halt the advance of a behemoth that was readying itself to pounce on one of her compatriots. As her steel orbs smashed into the beast, she rushed in and struck it down. She helped pull the prone robot out of the murk and saw it was unit 08.
“You alright in there, Gold Swamp?” asked Lumin.
“Arigatou gozaimasu,” said Kanazawa.
Together, they lured a pair of behemoths out to solid ground and successfully chopped them apart.
Lumin hailed Yasamin. “How many are left?”
“Approximately one hundred!”
Lumin looked out at the battlefield. They were still severely outnumbered. With horror she saw that several escape pods had launched from damaged robots only to steadily sink into the mud. If the pilots inside didn’t drown they would soon be trampled.
“Kanazawa, go down there and collect all those eggs! I’ll cover you.”
“Hai!” Kanazawa didn’t hesitate to fire up his turbo fans. He put his robot into a hover and began skimming over the mud, plucking up the escape pods with impressive dexterity. Lumin fired more steel balls at any CBGB that approached until Kanazawa cleared the acidic soup carrying an armful of pilots, still safe in their pods.
“Nice work. Get our people as far away from here as you can and protect them.” Lumin resumed her attack as Kanazawa carried the pilots to safety. She rivaled Miu’s display of savagery as she cut an impressive swath through the remaining horde. Disintegrating red orbs were falling out of the sky all around her. She prayed the majority of the horrifically wrecked machines on the battlefield were the A.I. support units.
After bisecting a wayward beast Lumin noticed Miu’s robot lying a few yards away. Four CBGBs were viciously tearing it limb from limb. “Damn you!” Lumin fired her rocket fist as she leaped forward, successfully knocking one of the assailants to the ground. As she landed she cast her wrecking ball and lassoed a CBGB around the neck with her chain. She beheaded it with a hard pull then dispatched the remaining two with a sword swing that tore trough their heads. “Miu? Miu!”
“I’m here, I’m alright,” said Miu, sounding weak. “I came loose from my support arm. Feeling dizzy. My ejection system…it’s not working.”
Lumin pulled Miu’s robot from the muck. It had been reduced to little more than a hunk of torso. She quickly retreated away from the thick of the battle and placed Miu on dry earth away from danger. “I’ll be back, don’t worry!”
Lumin turned around with her sword, ready to keep fighting. She watched unit 18, Dezzie, lop a behemoth limb from limb. Unit 37, Richard, quickly stabbed through the weak points of three CBGBs in a row. Unit 51, an A.I. unit, grappled one of the beasts in a stranglehold until they both exploded into burning hunks of metal. Unit 20, Ako, dispatched two fiends with scaled-up Kendo maneuvers that were remarkably effective. Unit 33, Spotswood, fought sloppily but effectively, mowing down a series of foes.
One robot was moving so fast Lumin could barely track it’s movements. It spun and flipped through the mud, completely unencumbered. Its sword was a blinding blur, leveling several beasts with each swing. She finally saw the number on its shoulder as it dispatched it’s last target: unit 10.
“Katerina. Holy hell, girl,” Lumin muttered to herself. She quickly hailed her. “Kat! I thought you decided to sit this one out? Weren’t you hoping to hear some news about your folks?” Katerina’s parents had been exposed to radiation from the nuke that had hit Seattle.
“Search and Rescue found my mom and dad. They’re getting treated for radiation sickness right now. All I was doing was worrying, so I decided to kick some ass instead,” said Kat. “So, I guess we done here?”
“What?” Lumin realized the battlefield had gone quiet.
Lumin kept her sword lit, unwilling to believe the fight was actually over…but it was true. They had won. Every CBGB and OMFUG was burning away into piles of white-hot ash, dotting the landscape like dying fireflies.
Lumin hailed Z-Command. “Yasamin, we fucking did it…I don’t know how, but we won. It’s over.”
“Lumin, Skip has something you need to hear.” Yasamin sounded rattled.
“No,” said Lumin, her building elation extinguished as she remembered the battered, broken robots lying in every direction. “It can wait. We have several wounded pilots here that need immediate medical attention. Send out as many helicopters as you can.” She couldn’t bring herself to think about how many pilots had died in the face of such carnage.
“You need to hear this!” yelled Yasamin, with rare and disturbing urgency.
“Okay! Alright…patch Skip through,” said Lumin.
“Lumin, it’s Skip. Do you read?” Skip sounded crestfallen.
“That place Sato told you to attack the CBGBs, above their right hip…remember?”
“Of course,” said Lumin.
“Well, there’s a device there that controls reservoirs of thermite spread throughout the body of a Behemoth. When they sustain a catastrophic blow, these thermite packets ignite at 4,000 degrees, leaving no trace behind.”
Lumin felt her tears slipping. “Goddamit Skip, people are dying out here, I need to help them!”
“Sato wanted you to know the truth with his dying breath! I know what he was trying to tell you!”
“What the hell are you talking about, Skip?”
“I found the Behemoth’s fucking power source, Lumin. It’s one of Sato’s energy cylinders. A battery, identical to the one sitting in your robot’s chest right now—it’s even stamped Sato Corp.”
Lumin dropped her sword to the dirt. Her mind was reeling. “Why? Why wouldn’t he just tell me?”
“He must have thought you wouldn’t believe him,” said Skip. “You weren’t exactly on good terms. He knew stopping the thermite reaction was the only way to leave some evidence behind.”
Lumin tensed every muscle to keep from vomiting inside her helmet.
“Kengi Sato may have designed these batteries but they were commissioned by someone else.” said Lumin, calmly. “Eldridge Roundstone. The son of a bitch has been playing all of us from the beginning.”