Chapter 00

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There was nothing better than the smell of steel and oil. The tune of gears and pistons filled the practice room, the sweet melody broken by the crunch of metal. Battle-bots duked it out at the center of a large square arena with high transparent plastic walls. The teams sat opposite of each other. The spotters called out tactics to the operators who worked a series of joysticks and buttons to move the metal fighters around the ring.

From the stands, the judges graded the robots and teams, while the next eager hopefuls put the finishing touches onto their fighters and their spotters, study the current participants. The company's tournament was in full swing with a total of thirty teams battling it out to be the next champion fighter of Thrush Robotics, one of the top three battle-bot teams in the league. Their current fighter was outdated, and the main team was on its way to retirement after twenty years of service.

Royce pulled his eyes away from the match and took a deep breath. He hit the "on" button and held his breath as Cronus engine sputtered to life. The six-foot, eleven-inch-tall robot rattled and straightened off its holder. It stepped down and rolled one ball-jointed shoulder then the other. Royce slid the small door on Cronus' chest shut and locked it so that the bot's internal systems were protected. He pulled out his tablet and waited for the systems to sync. A split screen interface appeared. "Run diagnostics," he commanded.

On the right side of the screen, a robotic blueprint lite up in sections. Large computer text appeared at the top of the screen, "all systems clear."

Royce smiled, "okay. Test field of vision."

The 360-degree cameras installed into a bulletproof clear dome head flickered. On the tablet, several small screens appeared next to the blueprint. Royce walked around Cronus with his fingers held up. The computer text flashed, "1, 4, 5, 2, 1."

"Everything checks out," He looked at Cronus, "Today's the day, buddy."

"We'll win," Cronus' computer text read as the robot struck a pose.

"We're gonna set a new standard," Royce grinned.

The match bell rang. Royce felt his chest tighten in anticipation. "It's just like the simulations we've run," Royce said, "read your opponent, come up with a tactic, take them down. Easy peasy."

"Lemon Squeezy," the text finished.

Royce laughed and nodded, "we got this."

"Team 21 on deck," Jolie, the pit boss, called over the intercoms.

Royce turned to the blue corner stationed near the center of the ring while Cronus entered through a side door. He took another deep breath and looked at the opposing six-man team.

"This is a one round, four-minute match. If a winner is not decided by knockout, the judges will apply a score. The team with the highest score goes on, the lowest heads to the locker room," Jolie explained.

Royce nodded and fixed his headset's microphone out of nervousness.

Cronus' opponent rolled out into the center of the mat. Its arms were long and thin with claws at the end. It had small tank treads and a clear dome that Royce was sure housed 360-degree cameras too. "Looks like they built theirs for speed," Royce said.

On the tablet, Cronus vision zoomed in on several joints of the opposing robot. A series of moves scrolled along the bottom of the screen as Cronus' predictive program calculated possible tactics to use against its opponent. "Let's go with Bee Sting," Royce said.

Cronus moved into a boxer stance as Claw speed toward Cronus. Its tank treads pivoted hard and shot the bot to the left before it swooped in. The claws swept through empty space as Cronus jumped to avoid the attack. Cronus landed on one leg, the pistons whistled as its weight sunk into the mat then sprung forward. Claw swiveled away from Cronus' jabs. The high-pitch sound of scrapping metal caused Royce to wince. The blueprint lite up on the junction between Cronus' abdominal section and left hip joint, the attack just missed some of the wires. Another series of tactics appeared on the tablet. Before Royce could give a command, Claw sliced at Cronus' right foot. The big bot jumped and spun in the air to deliver a spin kick. It connected with Claw's dome but slipped off.

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