Save for chatter, very little happened on the first day. The Canadian Prime Minister accused Russia of violating international treaties with unapproved space program tests. The UN hypothesized it to be a military tactic by obscure African countries under martial law. Activist groups ranging from treehuggers to skinheads tried to claim credit, though each proved to be short-lived. Comedians went into overdrive pumping out jokes and skits, desperate to be on the front lines of relevance, and Buzzfeed mined clickbait gold at unprecedented speed with Everything You Need to Know about the Orb. Every politician facing potential reelection extended their “hopes and prayers to those affected,” though no one was quite sure who the “affected” were. The orb did nothing. It meditated in the center of the Atlantic as the populace buzzed around it.
The first video appeared exactly twenty-four hours post its arrival. Two more were discovered a day later. By the end of the week seven versions made their rounds on the web.
The original began with a colorless city. A middle-aged, bored-looking woman in khakis and flannel trudged through a bustling downtown, head down. A beacon of light illuminated her from above. Her steps slowed as she lifted her gaze to the light. Color appeared on her face, over her clothes, bled to her surroundings, and people stopped to face the light, following her example. Her face lit up and the camera panned up to her smile, though the reason for that smile remained a mystery. A soothing, disembodied female voice cooed, “Ready for the spotlight to shine on you?” The scene faded to white, leaving a single line of clean black text on the screen.
The second version featured a thin, nervous teen in suspenders and a bowtie awkwardly hovering behind red velvet curtains. Shuffling his feet and running fingers through his curly hair restlessly, he took a deep breath. Others could be seen behind him, rehearsing a variety of talents—singing, dancing, gymnastics . . . After a moment, the boy took a step forward, pulled open the curtains, and was greeted by a cheering audience. He smiled, and the lights hit him center stage. The same line was spoken, though this time by the voice of a teenage boy.
Ready for the spotlight to shine on you?
The rules are bewildering, and there are no second chances for losers. Yet while Astra fights to stay alive and save the world from imminent destruction, the people of Earth are more interested in tabloids and gossip, like whether or not she’s engaging in a scandalous love affair with a fellow contestant . . . or the mysterious alien known only as Eleven.
In her struggle to survive, Astra forms tentative alliances with a handful of trustworthy friends. But as the global gossip seeps into the game and contestants are eliminated with each round, Astra’s celebrity threatens to become infamy and the line between friend and foe blurs.
Will she emerge from the arena a hero, or just another headline?
About the Author
J. D. Edwin is a writer of character-driven speculative fiction both long and short. She is a fan of books of all genres, but specifically horror, urban fantasy, and science fiction.
Her short fiction work is currently published through the online magazine Short Fiction Break, where she is a staff contributor, and her articles on writing are published at The Write Practice.
When not writing, working her day job in IT, or chasing after her children, she can be found adding to her already long list of hobbies.