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. Lumin and her squad mates manage to defeat the horde with some unconventional tactics, but their victory is tempered by the shocking news that Eldridge Roundstone has manufactured the entire alien invasion to forward his own secret agenda.
Lumin forced the insane ramifications of Skip’s discovery out of her mind so she could concentrate on getting her injured teammates extracted from the battlefield. Z’s medical facility was too limited, so she had the wounded airlifted to Regional Medical Center in San Jose.
22 pilots had been injured; suffering burns, broken limbs, concussions and lacerations. Three pilots, Hayashi among them, were knocked unconscious and couldn’t be roused. The forces inside the control bells must have been immense for the cushioning ferrofluid to have failed so catastrophically. Although many pilots had been critically injured, somehow, none had died.
Miu Dokujima sustained a concussion and two broken legs. As Lumin watched her being loaded onto a helicopter she finally broke apart and allowed herself a few seconds to weep inside of BZ-X. When the last injured pilot was extracted she joined the rest of the squadron, already on its way back to Z.
Lumin was drained and emotionless by the time she arrived at the compound. The news of Eldridge’s treachery had pulled the rug pulled out from under her and she was still stumbling. As the retrieval team lifted her from Biz, she saw Skip waiting for her on the ground. She smiled seeing he was finally able to stand, albeit with the aid of crutches.
Lumin hugged Skip carefully as she stepped off the cherry picker, staining him with inky grease. He didn’t seem to mind. “Please, don’t say a word. Let’s just find somewhere…quiet. I need to think but I don’t want to be alone,” said Lumin.
Skip nodded and they left together. Lumin didn’t bother changing, opting to huddle inside the white robe covering her switch suit. They walked across the courtyard to the empty cafeteria. After getting some coffee from a machine they sat in the corner of the room and hunched over their paper cups.
Skip couldn’t handle the silence any longer. “Did you try to contact that bastard? Does Eldridge know…that we know?”
“He knows. He’s disappeared along with his toady, Andrew,” said Lumin. “No one in Washington will tell me shit.” She had an idea where he might be hiding but she didn’t want to share it with Skip.
Skip slammed his fist on the table. “The behemoths and the orbs were just Roundstone’s fucking toys…and so were we. There never were any aliens trying to take over the planet, just him!”
“Having unlimited means must have left Eldridge pretty bored for him to attempt something like this,” said Lumin. “The only thing a guy with his kind of wealth desires is more power.”
“You think it’s all just a power grab? If he really is a low-rent Bond villain trying to take over the world, why would he back the invasion AND the resistance forces? It doesn’t add up.”
Only Lumin’s confusion was keeping her anger at bay. “Remember, he’s done this before. He backed both robotics teams in the fighting tournament in order to develop better weapons. His theatrics always have some kind of ulterior motive.”
“Yeah, keep telling yourself that. All this fighting has been completely pointless.” Skip shrugged. “Sorry. I’m just frustrated.”
Lumin shook her head. “It’s alright.”
“Okay, so I’m guessing Roundstone’s goal was to build perfect soldiers for his new world order. He wants to know which model of robot he’s built is the most lethal.”
“Maybe.” Lumin stared at the swirling foam in her cup. “There has to be more to this.”
“If nothing else his fake aliens were a great distraction; no one suspected he was behind the invasion. But what did he do with all those nukes he pilfered?”
Lumin hadn’t thought of that wrinkle. “Nothing good.” She stood up suddenly.
“I have to go. Keep an eye on things here, I’ll check in soon. Don’t follow me.”
“Wait!” yelled Skip as Lumin started walking away. “Are you nuts? You can’t go after him alone!” He grabbed his crutches and stumbled to his feet but he couldn’t keep up with her. “At least tell me where you’re going!”
Lumin ran all the way back to the hanger. She commandeered a cherry picker and lifted herself back up to Biz’s control bell. The robot’s head was still crumpled.
Samuel ran up to Biz’s feet and looked up at Lumin. “What the hell are you doing?” he shouted.
“I have to go, Sam,” Lumin yelled back as she strapped herself into the harness and started lowering into Biz’s ferrotank.
“You only have 25% power on that battery!” yelled Sam.
Lumin wasn’t listening. Minutes later she was strapped in and blasting through the sky away from Z.
Lumin did her best to deny herself any access to her emotions as she flew north toward Oregon. She somehow knew Eldridge would be at the ostentatious cabin he had constructed in the middle of nowhere. Remembering their brief tryst added embarrassment to her list of banned feelings.
Lumin dropped beneath the clouds into a rare desert thunderstorm. She could see the lights of Eldridge’s cabin cutting through sheets of rain in the distance. Something else was there, leaving a humongous silhouette against the gloom. A lightning strike illuminated the plains revealing a titanic red and white robot at least three times larger than Biz.
Lumin’s stomach churned. She stopped her rush and landed in a muddy pasture about 100 yards from the hulking machine. A series of flood lights on the front of the top-heavy, bipedal robot ignited, leaving her blind for a moment. Someone was hailing her on the radio.
“Eldridge?” asked Lumin.
“Hey Loomz! We had a feeling you’d show up,” said Andrew, cheerfully.
“Where’s Eldridge, you little shit?” asked Lumin, her anger steaming up her visor.
“Whoa, take it easy,” said Andrew. “No need to get your panties in a twist, babe. He’s in the cabin, waiting for you.”
“Huh, I never would have guessed your career as a balloon artist would have prepared you to pilot a robot,” said Lumin. “Don’t fool yourself Andrew, you’re a puppet just like the rest of us.”
“You’re hot but you can be a real bitch, you know that? Come park that thing near the porch and come inside. Eldridge just wants to talk.”
“Why don’t I just blow that fucking cabin to bits with concussion rounds right now?”
Andrew laughed. His robot lowered a gigantic cannon which immediately began tracking Biz’s every movement. “Not one of your best ideas, Lumin. Besides, you’re no killer.”
“You don’t know—”
Andrew fired his cannon. A blue beam left the barrel and impacted the desert, leaving a 50 foot crater belching black smoke. The force of the impact knocked Biz to the ground.
“There won’t be another warning shot. Just get in there, please? Don’t make me do this,” begged Andrew.
“Fine,” said Lumin. She stood Biz back up and walked through the piercing spotlights of Andrew’s bot as she made her way toward the cabin.
“Hey, hey…on second thought, don’t get too close,” said Andrew, following behind.
Lumin stopped her robot and lowered the emergency ladder. She crawled down the rungs carefully in the pounding rain and slopped through the mud to the cabin.
Eldridge was waiting on the porch with a towel and a smile. “Highsteak meat suits? Complete genius! The behemoths’ A.I. was left completely confused. I’ve been forced to rearrange my plans to accommodate your victory.”
Lumin, dripping wet, knocked the towel out of Eldridge’s hand to the slats below. A tremendous thunder clap made her wince.
“Woo! Did you see that one?” Andrew yelled through a loudspeaker. A lightning bolt had slammed into his robot, but it seemed unaffected.
“Please, Miss Mira…come inside. No harm will come to you,” said Eldridge. “Would you like some wine? I just uncorked an amazing 2012 Evening Land Pinot noir.”
“No,” said Lumin. Reluctantly, she followed Eldridge into the cabin. She walked into the living room and stood near the window with her arms crossed. “Are you going to kill me now?” she asked.
Eldridge laughed. “Oh, please, Miss Mira. You know me better than that.”
“I don’t know you at all!” yelled Lumin, tightening as she turned around. “What was the point of any of this?”
“Well, after listening to your conversation with Mr. Pantheon in the cafeteria, I can say your suspicions were mostly valid…but there’s still much you don’t know.”
“You had the cafeteria bugged? I don’t know why I’m surprised,” said Lumin.
“All of Z is wired for sound. I have to keep track of my compound, after all.”
“You’re coming back with me to answer for your crimes, Eldridge,” said Lumin. “People are hurt–people have died–because of you. For the love of god, why would you nuke Seattle?”
“I went out of my way to keep people from harm, but alas, sweeping change always creates casualties. Although my behemoths can absorb most of the shock of a nuclear strike by quickly burrowing into the ground, I didn’t want to risk them being damaging by the blast. I worried any loss in alien numbers might upset the careful balance of power I had created between the invaders and my robot army. That’s why I chose to reroute the missile while it was in flight. Funnily, it turned out your meat suit assault created an even bigger power imbalance.”
“You’re not answering my question! If you had full control of that missile, why didn’t you let it explode somewhere unpopulated…like the middle of the ocean?”
“When I learned the military was planning to launch a nuclear warhead in desperation, I realized I could frame the incident to fit my agenda. I sent an orb mother ship to hover above Seattle, which triggered an immediate evacuation of the area. When the weapon was launched I used an OMFUG to intercept and redirect the missile to the empty city. The nuclear blast will serve as a lasting reminder that the world governments not only failed to stop the invasion but made the situation even worse.
“Skip’s right…you are a Bond villain. You’re a fucking cliché!” screamed Lumin.
“Please, sit down. Don’t you see? I’m not a villain…I’m saving the world.”
Eldridge gestured to a leather chair. “Please.”
Lumin slammed herself into the chair. “Go ahead, spill your evil monologue. Let’s get this over with.” She listened to the heavy patter of rain hitting the roof of the cabin and wished she could be anywhere else.
Eldridge pulled a chair closer and sat across from Lumin. “Environmental destruction, global climate change, endless war, overpopulation, rampant poverty and inequality…we’ve all become numb to the scope of human folly. We live every day in a state of denial just to survive to the next. Humanity was manufacturing their own apocalypse long before I dreamed up my meager version.”
“How does simulating an alien invasion solve the world’s problems?”
“It doesn’t…it was merely a catalyst for greater change. Humanity has proved it cannot handle the responsibility of unabated freedom. Our collective quest to fulfill our endless desires has nearly destroyed the planet. We are woefully out of balance and tumbling toward annihilation. The human race needs to be put in check, so to speak.”
Lumin looked Eldridge in the eye. “So, a mock-alien authoritarian regime is your answer? You know, we’ve tried that before…without the aliens.”
“I don’t want an empire, I want to build a utopia–a society where we live in harmony with nature, where we don’t overstep our means in the service of unsustainable dreams. A simple life is the only life that brings meaning and happiness. I’m giving humanity a reset button.”
“There’s no going back, Eldridge,” said Lumin, “When the dust has settled, no one’s going to give up their smartphone for the sake of simplicity. Change comes from within, one person at a time…you can’t force it upon anyone and expect it to stick.”
Eldridge shook his head. “Attempting incremental change has not worked thus far. No one’s been willing to do what it takes to survive as species so I have taken it upon myself to make the difficult decisions for them. People need a push sometimes.”
“This really is nothing more than a power trip.”
“I have no interest in power. This is my gift to the world! A chance for all of us to return to purity…to live our lives completely free from guilt.”
“Purity, huh. Now you sound more like Hitler,” said Lumin, dismissively.
“Hitler was a fearful coward. I am not. Everyone is equal in my eyes, for better or worse.”
“Do you actually expect people the world over to fall in line with this glorious vision of yours? You can’t scare everyone into obedience with fake aliens forever!”
“The aliens will soon be defeated in a final, glorious battle…one even grander than your victory today. Soon after, my robot army will oversee the rebuilding of the world. You and Kengi Sato–may he rest in peace–have helped me develop an unstoppable peacekeeper of unmatched proportions.”
“Hold on, did Kengi Sato help you build the behemoths?”
“Yes. Sato Corp’s Japanese complex is cavernous. The Kyoto Team’s engineers and builders for the tournament were left completely in the dark about the secret secondary project occurring dozens of floors below them. Deep beneath the Kyoto Complex, Sato and I had a team in place working tirelessly to fulfill my vision by replicating the innovations of both the Japanese and American robotics teams. They built the robot army, the ‘aliens,’ and the orb ships using technology developed for the tournament. The Shuffle Pigs were the Yin to Kyoto’ Team’s Yang; a chaotic counterpoint to the Japanese’s by-the-book precision. Together, both teams unknowingly created the technology that will help me enforce the reset of the planet.”
“So, Sato eventually got cold feet and wanted to reveal your operation…is that why you had him killed?”
“No. Sato-san was one of my closest allies. Even though his views may have ultimately shifted from mine, his death remains a tragic accident.”
Lumin paused as a round of thunder rolled over the valley. “I don’t believe you Eldridge. You may be a master manipulator, but you can’t lie worth a damn.”
“You don’t blame you for not trusting me. I know I mistreated you, but I still swear that the moments we shared were—”
“Stop, Eldridge…just stop.”
“Lumin, you were the one uncertainty in my life…and it was thrilling. I became too caught up in our relationship and I let my feelings for you overtake me. There were many times I wanted to tell you everything. Many, many times.”
“But you didn’t,” said Lumin, coldly.
“No, I didn’t.” Sadness seemed to engulf Eldridge but Lumin suspected it was just another ruse. “When I told you before I wanted you to have plausible deniability in case the authorities ever caught wind of my plans it wasn’t a lie…I just didn’t reveal the full scope of those plans. I was always aware my surreptitious behavior would eventually lead to you leaving me–you’re not the type of woman who’s quick to forgive someone who’s abused their trust. Losing you was an inevitability but it didn’t make our parting any less painful. Sacrifices had to be made for the reset to occur. I was not excluded.”
“Good. I hope it hurt like hell, you bastard,” said Lumin, denying her tears. She took a few seconds to stare at the pounding rain outside and compose herself.
“Lumin, I’m not asking for your forgiveness, just your understanding.”
“You’ll get no sympathy from me,” said Lumin. “You used me, nothing more, nothing less.” She decided to change the subject, feeling sorrow and regret starting to gnaw at her resolve. “So, how exactly will your utopia-or-else scenario work?”
Eldridge seemed happy to change the subject. “While the aliens are still rampaging they’ll spread specially designed nanomachines across the world. These tiny robots will essentially ‘poison’ the world’s petroleum reserves, making it incombustible and worthless as an energy source. The next phase will make all sources of nuclear power similarly inaccessible. In the end, only clean sources of energy will remain. That alone will change the world to an incredible degree.”
“Change? More like create global chaos. Speaking of nukes, what did you do with all the warheads the CBGBs collected?”
“I released them into deep space, never to be seen again.”
“I find that hard to believe,” said Lumin. “You seem to think this ‘reset’ of yours will be quick and simple. You can’t be that naive.”
“I know this will not be an easy transition but it will succeed. My aliens will continue to collect and destroy military might the world over for the next few weeks. Any weapon more powerful than a hunting rifle will be melted down. When they finish crushing the world’s defenses they will trample the infrastructure on every continent. The internet will be ripped apart, cable by cable. Communication satellites will fall burning from the sky.”
“I don’t understand. What good will it do to cut people off from each other?”
“The collapse will cause populations to become more isolated. People will no longer be lured by the empty kinship of strangers across the Internet and will rediscover the concept of true community. Small pockets of modest dwellings will spring up in the place of trampled cities. Neighborhoods will be close-knit out of necessity, relying on sustainable agriculture and the products of local artisans. Transportation will be limited by the scarcity of energy; with horses, trains and perhaps even airships becoming the prevalent modes of travel.”
“Christ, you want to put us back in the dark ages…but with blimps?” bemoaned Lumin.
“There will still be a place for science, but all research efforts will benefit mankind and the planet. Computers will be used as tools, not toys. Engineers will develop clean energy systems, not weapons or useless gadgets. We will stave off sickness with holistic means whenever possible, but medicines will continue to be developed and distributed as needed.”
“Communist much, Eldridge?”
“Maybe it is communism, but in an incorruptible form that’s never been possible before. Finally, we’ll find a true equilibrium with our environment just like our earliest ancestors.”
“Yes, when we all lived to the ripe old age of 30”
Eldridge shrugged. “30 good years of hard work and happiness beats 80 of prescription drug-addled dependence sustained on the back of slaves. Still, I see no reason why people won’t live long, healthy lives.”
“If this movement arose organically, I could almost be on board…but no one, I repeat, no one is going to embrace this idea when they find out it was all orchestrated by some megalomaniac. People will hate you, and hate every idea you ever had as a result.”
“Don’t you see? The reset will arise organically and I will remain completely invisible throughout its duration. The only thing that will be forced upon the populace is the apocalypse, which will be blamed on the alien invaders and the failure of the world’s governments to contain them…they’re the ultimate scapegoats. After my robot resistance army finally defeats the invaders for good, everyone will be begging me to help rebuild a better world.”
Lumin was skeptical. “Say you do manage to keep all your secrets and lies from spiraling apart, how do you expect to keep the peace?”
“After society has been rebuilt from the ground up, my robot sentries will keep watch over the populace and prevent further war until the time comes when they are no longer needed. The robots will be symbol of humanity’s victory over the aliens and their presence will be welcomed. I will quietly pull the strings of any remaining governments in order to push society in the proper direction. It may take 20 years to achieve balance–maybe even a 100–but the human race will be saved.”
“And what happens to the people who refuse to play ball? There will be plenty.”
“Uprisings will be quashed. Repeat offenders will be placed in a community away from everyone else to live out their lives.”
“Prison, that’s called a prison.”
“Essentially, yes. These first years will be admittedly delicate but eventually all will learn the benefits of a simplified life…unfortunately, mine will be riddled with complexities, but I am ready for what lies ahead.”
“This…this won’t work,” said Lumin, only half believing herself–if anyone had the will to bring such an elaborate plan to fruition it was Eldridge. “I can’t let you do this. I’ll expose you to the world!”
“Lumin…accept my heartfelt apology and let’s move forward. You are well aware of the direction our planet is heading. Deep down, you know this is the only answer.”
The rain stopped and the cabin became eerily quiet. The silence filled Lumin with dread. Damn him! she thought. Could this actually work?
“Please, Lumin,” begged Eldridge.
“No!” yelled Lumin, flipping over her chair as she stood up. “There’s already blood on your hands and this will lead to the deaths of millions more!”
Eldridge paced, becoming unusually animated. “Billions will die if nothing is done! The sky will choke…the oceans will flood…the soil will turn to dust…the forests will burn…starvation will drive us into endless war!”
“You claim you want to save the human race but you have absolutely no faith in humanity! People will eventually pull together to solve our problems…somehow!”
“Somehow.” Eldridge let out a sigh and relaxed his posture. “I have the means to save us all from destruction…should I just sit idly by, hoping and praying that humanity eventually comes to its senses?”
Lumin slumped and sobbed into her hands. “Damn your God Complex, Eldridge. Damn you for pulling me into this.”
“I need you, Lumin. Your legend is quickly spreading across the world as the fearless leader of the resistance. You don’t have to love me…you don’t even have to like me…just stay by my side so our beacon of hope will shine bright the world over! The people will need symbols. They’ll need stories of heroes to sustain them through the great changes ahead.”
Lumin felt trampled. Her mind had gone completely blank. She leaned her body against the cool of the picture window and felt the low rumble of fading thunder through the glass.
Eldridge put a finger up against a small com-link in his ear. “Andrew? What is it?…Yes…I see…Give me a moment.” He lowered his hand and walked closer to Lumin.
“S…stay back!” said Lumin, her voice wobbling. Don’t let him fool you again.
“Lumin, please listen…I’m afraid Miss Jones has tracked you to this cabin. Your friends managed to disable the kill switches in seven robots before I could shut them down remotely. They’re in the air as we speak and will be here in less than five minutes. Andrew is watching them on his radar.”
“Oh my god!” said Lumin, covering her mouth in shock.
“Andrew has dubbed his robot sentry Obliterator, which should give you some idea to his current mindset. I’m afraid he’s become a little too fond of his machine’s destructive power. He’s carrying advanced armament none of your people—not even Dezzie Lynch—could dream up. He’ll protect me at all costs.”
Lumin clenched her fists. “All the battlefield data in the world couldn’t help you understand the depths of those pilot’s hearts! Don’t be so quick to write them off.”
“Do not mistake my warning for braggadocio…if your friends choose to fight Andrew they will be destroyed, without question. A hundred robots couldn’t defeat him.”
Lumin had always suspected Andrew’s Valley Boy charms were somehow disingenuous. “You’ve been wrong before, Eldridge. Call him off!”
“Andrew won’t listen to me…far too much is at stake. He’s just as invested in the reset as I am. It’s you, who must make a choice: either order your friends to stand down, or join them in a losing battle. My fate, your friend’s fate, the fate of the world…it’s all in your hands.”
“Some choice. I couldn’t hail the pilots if I wanted to,” said Lumin. “BZ-X’s antennae array was completely mangled in the last fight. I won’t be able to contact them until they’ve already arrived. By then it will be too late.”
“You can reach them,” said Eldridge. “I have equipment here that can push a radio transmission through to your friends. Call them, Lumin. Tell them you’re not in danger then order them to stand down immediately and return to Z. Once they’re safely grounded, you and I can discuss how to introduce them to the idea of the reset. They’ll listen to you, Lumin. I know it.”
“Don’t get ahead for yourself,” said Lumin.
“That leaves option two, which I hope you’ll consider carefully. I let you walk out of this cabin and reenter your robot so you can join your friends in a battle to the death with Andrew. If you somehow rise above the odds and defeat him, the ‘invasion’ ends and the reset comes to a halt. However, it will mean all the pain and destruction you’ve experienced thus far will have been for naught and the human race will continue its blind march toward oblivion.”
Lumin wanted to scream but all she could do was tremble.
“Miss Mira, this can’t wait…make your choice. Now.”