It’s Friday evening, and time to dive into the second chapter in the continuing saga that is Earthian. If you missed the first one, you can find it right here at the Oktopod Blog.
On with the show…
It’s exactly one year later. The sun is bright, the skies are blue, and I’m lying on the turf again. Feels like a coincidence, I guess.
But I’m just relaxing this time, enjoying my last summer before college. The blades of grass are soft. My friends are here, and the sun’s only so bright. Everything’s just right. I don’t know why I’d ever screw this up.
Then a reason finds me.
My buddy Wiley is reading something on his phone. “Hey Jason,” he says, “you on Audition yet? I can’t find you on the scoreboard.”
For a moment, I’m not sure I heard him right. “What’s that?”
“Oh wow… you haven’t heard. It’s, um… aw, just look it up.”
I’m too comfortable to pick my phone up right now. I just want this perfect day to feel like it lasts for something longer than a millisecond. Just a little while longer.
Sophia has a simple enough answer. She says, “It’s a scoreboard.”
“For what?” I ask.
And the next word out of Sophia’s mouth is so weird, I will absolutely never forget it. “Everything,” she says.
Everybody else has a laugh and I feel dumb for not knowing, even though I know it’s ridiculous.
Sure enough, I look it up when I get home…
You’re already a competitor and you don’t even know it! Click below to complete your registration!
Man, that’s a bright background. I squint at it, and the truth is that I usually don’t play anything quite this enthusiastic, but… there’s no sense being left behind. I gesture at the screen, and the button flashes in response.
Thank you for registering, Jason Yun! You are now enrolled in Audition, the biggest competition ever devised. All across the globe, players just like you are already competing, advancing, and inching ever closer to the finish line.
Are you ready to compete?
I lean back and say, “Um… sure?” I seem to be fidgeting an awful lot.
“Ahem,” the computer says out loud. “I asked if you’re ready.”
With mock enthusiasm, I say, “Yeah.”
“That’ll do,” it replies. “What are you good at, Jason?”
“As in life. You’re pretty good at something. Everybody is. What is it?”
“Just one thing?” I ask.
“However many you’re good at.”
“Like, school subjects?”
“That… or anything else.”
Does the computer sound annoyed? And why do I feel like such an idiot today?
“Alright,” I say. “I’m pretty good at soccer, I guess. I don’t know.”
“I don’t think you’re getting it,” the computer says. “Here are some of the brackets your friend Martin Wiley is currently competing in: spelling, skateboarding, chopping wood, math, TV trivia…”
“I get it. You can stop.”
“So, Mr. Yun… what are you good at, then?”
The screen blinks with impatience.
So I start listing every outlandish thing I’ve ever thought I was good at. Math, for one; I’m way better than Wiley ever was, and he won’t be able to cheat off my tests this time. Free running, because that class I took last year was awesome. Skipping stones. The perfect cannonball. Fixing household items. Biology. Wrapping presents. And on, and on, and…
“Oh,” I say, “and this game called Sprintfinity… it’s one of those where a little guy runs, and all kinds of spies and robots are chasing him, and you… like, dodge stuff and shoot back and… why am I explaining this to a computer?”
“I really don’t know,” the computer replies.
“So, now what?”
“We’ll do a little scheduling on our end, and you just wait for a notification.”
“That’s a surprise,” the computer says gleefully, then it drops back to the desktop.
I walk away and have dinner.
My first notification comes the next day, right when I’m leaving the library. My phone makes a sound like a brass squirrel chittering, and there’s a message: I have a challenge in ten minutes.
My job doesn’t start for another hour… and I do bicycle delivery, so it’s not like I have to be neat and tidy when I clock in.
The screen says, “Audio direction mode engaged. Affix your earpiece and get on your bike.”
Oddly assertive. I usually prefer my games with more smiley faces and exploding candy.
But I do what it says. Next thing I know, I’m pedaling away down a tree covered street, then up some other bare block, and I’m not really sure where I am anymore. I feel like I just found a street behind my house that I somehow never noticed before.
The street trails off into gravel, followed by a small and secluded pond. There’s a gnarled old oak to the side, with a rope swing rocking slowly in the breeze.
Someone else is already here. A latin guy in a blue button-up shirt. He looks like an accountant, and the expression on his face says he’s roughly as confused as I am.
Beyond him, there are a pair of red rings propped up in the water. They’re old and rusty things, shabbily put together. It’s anybody’s guess how they managed to stay up as long as they have.
Smooth round stones sit piled up near the water.
“I’m Jason,” I say, and offer him a handshake.
He shakes it. “David,” he says. “Are we supposed to mention our names?”
“No clue,” I reply. “Does it make a difference?”
There aren’t any questions left to ask. Everything else is as clear as the glasses on David’s face.
I give him a nod, then we both go to it.
The rocks are all exactly the same, polished to a shine with soft rounded corners. It’s like someone sanded down floor tiles, then dropped them in a river for a few years.
I flick the first one out and it happily jumps along the surface of the pond, only to miss the ring by a mile. David’s first throw goes right through.
I grimace and throw the next one. And another. I home in on the target quickly, and start threading my throws through.
David’s grimacing now, so hard I can practically hear it.
It’s like someone firing a starter pistol. We both stop immediately, eyes wide, slightly terrified. Then the water starts to bubble and a handful of extra rings rise up. They’re in a straight line, and it’s pretty clear that we’re supposed to skip our rocks through all of them.
I look down, and we each have one rock left.
We’re supposed to do that in one throw?
David gamely picks up his rock, kinks his hand back and flings it out flat along the water. It’s an obnoxiously good throw.
The spinning stone drifts down, touches the pond’s surface and leaps back up, through the ring then down again. It passes through two more before finally splashing down.
I take a breath and stare down the tunnel of red rings. I draw back and throw.
My stone sails out, and I can already feel how badly I’ve messed up. Wobbling, it comes down and skips off the shining waters, careens off at an angle, and bounces off the very first ring with a loud THUNK.
A single firework spirals up into the air and bursts in a dozen colors. I have no idea where it came from.
“Good game,” I say.
“You too,” David says, checking the time on his phone and hurrying away.
That was my first challenge in Audition, and in retrospect, I’m not completely sure it was such a great one. I managed to get lost in my own neighborhood, then got positively spanked at a game… and it was skipping stones, of all ridiculous things.
The worst part was that I wanted to play again. My name was up on the scoreboard, and I was pretty sure I could do better.
No… scratch that. I knew I could do better.
Thus do we bid adieu to plucky Chapter 2. The next one (titled Climb) should be up Monday afternoon, so be sure to reserve your seat!
What do you mean we don’t reserve seats around here? That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.
Oh, fine. No reservations. Just share the post, and we’ll call it even. 😉