It’s time once again for…
Jason’s considering quitting Audition after his last (nigh-disastrous) challenge, but it seems fate has something else in store for him.
If you’re just joining us, you can find the previous chapters of Earthian right here at the Oktopod Blog.
Saturday morning. I’ve been lying in bed for an hour or two, begrudgingly awake with an arm draped over my face to guard against the light… to blot out this stupid day.
All I can think about is the sight of Helena Moore dangling from her fingertips, the street so far below that I could swear we were in orbit. How long would that fall have taken? Minutes? Hours? Would she have run out of breath before she hit?
I want to sleep but I just can’t manage to shut off. My body knows it’s time to get up, despite my brain’s furious disagreement.
That’s when I hear it. June is shouting something unintelligible and I can hear other voices murmuring. She isn’t angry. This is her excited voice.
I honestly prefer an angry June.
I roll over and put my feet on the floor, and I have that feeling like I woke up in the wrong house. The lighting’s a little off and the air feels weird. This is going to be another one of those memories that really burns itself into me. I just know it.
“Jason!” June shouts down the hallway. Something hits my door with a thud. Rolled up socks, I’d wager.
And I’m up. I stretch, and after all the challenges I’ve taken recently, every bit of me feels like a loose guitar string. Slackened, sloppy, funky. My shoulder pops, and it sounds a little too much like my dad’s… which sounds like a walnut being smashed under a cement truck. That can’t be a good sign, can it?
I throw some clothes on, but my eye catches for just a second on an old toy on the shelf. It’s the Orange Prism Trooper, and I know he should be stored away somewhere but he hasn’t gotten there quite yet.
The guy in the show… I bet his shoulder didn’t pop like that at my age, and he fought giant rubber monsters once a week. Orange Trooper, how’d you do it?
Then I head off to investigate all the commotion. I step through the door and I can already see June bouncing and jumping like a puppy begging for a treat. It’s safe to say I’m having second thoughts about coming out of my room, but it’s too late now. I’m ensnared.
“Jason!” my mother says, while waving me over. She looks absolutely immaculate, as always; not a wrinkle out of place, or a single flyaway hair. “There’s something going on with Audition!” she says.
I suddenly recognize one of the things that’s odd today. Everyone’s here. No one is out at a challenge.
I stumble out, rubbing my eyes, and I can only imagine what a spiky mess my hair must be. Susan Villalobos is on the big screen in the living room, but her streams usually aren’t on until prime time.
“…and we here at News Focus promise that all of your questions will be answered. Again, this is a breaking report, and we’re proud to have it exclusively, due to…”
Man, I hate the news.
“What’s going on?” I grumble.
“Don’t know anything yet,” my father says. “Not really.” Inside his square-framed glasses, his eyes are lit up like I haven’t seen in a long time. “The challenges have all stopped, though. Maybe they’re announcing winners.”
Or maybe they’re announcing the next level.
“What do you think they win?” Mom wonders out loud.
Dad is all over it. “A trip to Hawaii,” he says in a giddy voice, and I’m left wondering if he switched from tea to coffee this morning.
“I hope it’s a new car,” Mom says dreamily. It’s hard to overstate how much she hates her car. She says its computer has a bad attitude, and she refuses to drive it.
I glance at June, who’s oddly quiet for once. She’s standing off to the side, staring blankly at the floor, and her lips are moving. I’m no expert at reading lips, but I think she’s chanting the word aliens.
Thanks, June. That’s not disturbing at all.
“What do you think they win, Jason?” Mom asks.
But the news cuts back in before I can answer. I say jokingly, “A ticket to the chocolate factory, of course,” but no one hears me.
Susan Villalobos’s calming voice says, “Alright… it looks like we’re finally ready. We here at News Focus proudly present a very special announcement about the game that has swept the globe. We now take you live to Geneva, Switzerland.”
I’m expecting snowcapped peaks and ski houses, and instead there’s an idyllic meadow backed by rolling hills in green. Out in the middle of it, there’s a dark podium with an unusual microphone shaped like a ham sandwich.
And the stream is silent.
I cross my arms.
Then a small blue creature walks into frame on four stubby tentacles, and that awkward stride is familiar. It’s a charming quirk I’ve heard him make jokes about with late night hosts. Owijer.
He’s dressed in a shiny vest and four-legged shorts, and the body underneath is shaped sort of like a bouy that bobs about as he makes his way to the podium.
“Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, people of Earth!”
I swear I hear cheering all around me and it’s not coming from the TV. Is everyone in my neighborhood clapping right now?
“As many of you have guessed, we Seelio are the developers behind Audition. You’ve been participating in the open beta, and the project has been so successful that I’m positively flabbergasted. Did I use that word right? I think I did.”
His two tentacle-arms wave around in momentary embarrassment, and then he relaxes again. “So… you’re probably wondering what the purpose of the game is. Where’s it all been going?”
“Drag it out, why don’t you?” I mutter.
“Shhh!” June hisses at me, flashing the braces she usually works so hard to hide.
I shut up.
Owijer goes on. “Nearly sixty-seven percent of your world’s population registered and played. You challenged one another, you excelled, and you had a lot of fun. At the same time, we were watching your scores in order to find just the right individuals. The right candidates.”
I’m fairly certain the entire planet gasps all at once. No one will ever corroborate this, but I swear there’s a breeze outside the window. A breeze.
“I must profess an ulterior motive in coming here to your lovely world. We’ve met you in friendship, given you many gifts… but always under shadow of a pretense. Today, I’m here to tell you the truth: We’ve come to ask for your help.”
This pause is so plump, I think it might burst.
“The Seelio are here as representatives of the Star League, a vast confederacy of starfaring powers that stretches over thousands of worlds. And of all the lifeforms we’ve encountered, we see something unique inside of you. You’re an exceptional people, and we believe there are some among you capable of a greatness never before seen in this galaxy.”
Owijer’s big fat eyes are misty. I’m not ashamed to admit that mine are, too.
“That’s why we started the auditions… to find the truly remarkable among you and humbly beg for your assistance in defending our civilization from dangers most grave.”
When the last word bubbles out past his facial tentacles, I’m struck by this feeling like I’ve got a garbage pail over my head and someone just hit it with a wiffle-bat. I’m so shocked and dizzy, I think I may fall down.
“Did he just say that?” I murmur.
June says, “He did,” and she’s smiling so hard it comes through in her voice.
A few seconds pass while my brain catches up with reality, and I’m sure six billion people across the world suddenly have the same exact thought I do: Just how well have I done?
I mean, it can’t be me, we all think next with mock humility, but what if it is?
Sure, I’ve got a good score, but that might not be what the Seelio are looking for. Maybe they’re only interested in a particular set of skills… or maybe they only want those who were smart enough not to waste time playing a silly game.
Owijer clears his throat, and out of the corner of my eye I see the rest of my family snapping to attention all together. How did he know the audience was distracted?
“In the end, there were six young people who stood out, and I would now like to cordially invite you to join me on the Moon in two days. The winners are Michael Oxbow…”
Five spots left. I’m still in the running.
Only two now. Come on… Wait. Did he say…
“June, did he say…”
“He did,” June says.
“And Cam Trinh. If you are willing, simply accept the invitation we send you through the app, and I’ll see you soon… And don’t worry! We’ll provide the transportation.”
His tentacles part in a silly grin.
“As for the everyone else, I’m so very pleased to announce that Audition is coming out of beta! You’ll be able to continue playing, and I promise, this is not the end of exciting prizes and special competitions. Soon, you’ll even be able to augment your experience with in-game transactions and…”
Owijer keeps babbling on, but I can’t possibly pay attention to a word of it anymore. There have to be other Jason Yuns out there. It can’t be me.
“But he didn’t even top a leaderboard,” my father scoffs bitterly.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say anything petty in my entire life. He must have wanted to win really bad, but heck, I never even knew he liked space.
Mom swats his shoulder then turns to me with warmth in her eyes. “Did he mean you, darling?”
I hate when she calls me that. It’s the most awkward sounding thing in the world.
“It’s him,” June says while staring at her tablet, face bathed in orange light. “It’s totally, totally him.”
Words. Do I have any around here somewhere. Maybe in my pockets. Hello? I don’t think I’m breathing.
I don’t need any words, though. Next thing I know, my mom is hugging me. Then my dad joins in while June is jumping in the background the way only she does, like a lopsided pogo-stick on uneven pavement.
Everything was bright and warm that morning, and I didn’t want the moment to ever end. It did of course, because time always carries on… but it remains the one instant I absolutely have to remember.
It was a flashflood of love and hope. I don’t know how many times a person gets a moment like that in their lives, and I’ll be damned if I ever let a single detail of it slip away.
Thus ends Chapter 05, and we’ll pick up again next Tuesday with Chapter 06: Farther. Also, just a note… I’ll be dialing back to two chapters a week in order to devote more time to writing.
See you in four days!