Excerpt: Wings of the Stars

The robot exhibition was a weeklong event where anyone who was anyone in the mecha world showed off their achievements. Tarle was no different. He was just as mecha crazed as everyone else attending the event, but he was special because his robot had been chosen for the showcase race on the final day.

His robot was sleek and sophisticated, something Tarle liked to pretend he could emulate. Tarle’s brain was the only sophisticated thing about him, light-years ahead of all his peers in school, which had enabled him to graduate five years early and to attend an advanced robotics school when he was only fifteen. His hair was overly long from neglect and a boring shade of black that matched his rather ordinary facial features. Even his hazel eyes couldn’t decide what shade of boring they wanted to be on any given day.

At eighteen he hadn’t gotten any job offers just yet, unlike the older and more interesting students who were happily parading their future employment in front of him. But that would change after the showcase when Tarle’s robot beat everyone else’s to the finish line.

At the moment, his robot was sitting on the starting point looking unimpressive. From Tarle’s seat in the very back of the stands set aside for the race contestants he could see the unassuming white frame sitting next to fully sized robots of all colors and technological abilities. His robot looked like a box, six feet high and three feet wide. It didn’t have any visible enhancements, nor did it possess a shape that looked powerful. The betting was already at 24-1 against his robot winning, but Tarle would show them all.

An announcer hologram appeared on the racetrack and his voice echoed through the stands. It was Tarle’s signal to begin lift-off procedures, so he pulled out his datapad and started inputting the takeoff sequence. When the announcer finished his spiel, a red light flashed through the stands. Tarle tensed, his finger held over the start button. A yellow light flashed and the other pilots and engineers surrounding him also got ready.

A green light flashed and Tarle pressed down on his touch screen.

There was a loud rumble as fuel rods engaged down on the track. One by one the robots lifted off the ground. They were shaped like anything a designer could think of, from human or animal shapes to planes. There was even a flying guitar shooting off along the track.

Tarle’s robot lifted a few feet off the ground in a hover, waiting for space to open up around it, and then the programs engaged. The white shell cracked open and a set of huge arms and legs, attached to a torso that dwarfed any human size, appeared. The technology that had made his robot travel sized was something Tarle was most proud of, as were the enhancements he had made to the fuel exhaust system which allowed his robot to catch up to and pass all the others.

Once the awe of seeing his robot engage had faded, Tarle refocused his attention on his datapad. Jumbles of numbers and statistics were rolling down the screen for Tarle to watch and fix if necessary.

The race was his. No other robot could catch up to Tarle’s technology. No other engineer had his skill or his intelligence.

The course was two miles long with obstacles to avoid and hoops to jump through. As his robot approached each challenge Tarle input the correct commands to solve each puzzle and continue on. It was just approaching the finish line when everything went wrong.

Tarle tried to input the landing sequence so his robot would land just over the finish line and shift back into its more portable form. His fingers touched all the correct places on his touch screen, but nothing happened. Instead, all the wrong buttons began pushing themselves. The ignition system was engaged while all Tarle could do was watch helplessly. It didn’t matter how hard he punched the correct buttons, his datapad had locked him out.

The fire started in one of the knees of his robot, where the ignition system for that leg was housed. With one leg out of control, the steering system failed. Tarle’s touchscreen went blank and he looked up just in time to watch as his beautiful robot was engulfed in flames. It crash landed directly into the crowded stands just before the finish line and exploded.

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