Here’s another great story from my Champions: “The Orb”

The Circle of Champions, the winners of my monthly writing contests, bring forth another great Sci Fi story collaboration. Today, we reveal Part 4, the penultimate installment of the story!

The Orb

A Circle of Champions collaboration story

Jim Hamilton, who won my October Contest, took on the challenge of writing a story in five parts with two other champions, Katherine Shaw and S. Songweaver. Each writer will write a segment of 500 words or less. Jim started the story below, wrote Part 3 and will finish the story with Part 5.

Each Friday, I’ll bring you a new segment, and we’ll see how this the story progresses. And we’ll see if Jim can bring it home with a big finish. I know he can.

In today’s edition, we add Part 4 by S. Songweaver, who won my March Contest with the story “Lucky Day.”

The Orb

Part 1 by Jim Hamilton

It was five o’clock on a Saturday morning when Elizabeth and Robert Tanwell were rudely awakened by a pounding on their front door.

“Who the hell can that be at this hour?” asked Betty. She nudged her husband. “Go see who it is, Bobby.”

“I will, honey,” he said, getting out of bed and drawing on his bathrobe. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”

As Bobby descended the stairs, the pounding continued. “I’m coming!” he yelled, as loudly as he could. When he reached the door, he peered through the peephole and was surprised to see a policeman and a man in a dark gray suit staring back at him. He unlocked the deadbolt and opened the door. “Good morning, officers, what can I do for you?”

The middle-aged gentleman in the suit regarded Bobby with piercing eyes. “Are you Robert Marris Tanwell?”

“Yes, sir, that would be me.”

Holding up several folded sheets of paper, he handed Bobby one of them. “You are hereby under arrest for felony theft, including breaking and entering a government facility.” He handed Bobby another set of papers. “This is a warrant allowing us to search the premises for any evidence involved in the afore-mentioned crime.” He handed Bobby the last of the papers. “And this is a warrant authorizing the freezing of any assets you may have.” He nodded at the uniformed policeman. “Officer Wilmington here will take you into custody.”

The officer spoke up. “Please step out of the house and face the street, sir.”

“I haven’t done anything wrong!”

Dazed, Bobby complied and became aware of the numerous vehicles that lined his driveway. Within seconds, a menacing-looking, riot-gear-clad squad rushed past him into the house. As the officer brought Bobby’s arms behind him and fastened them with handcuffs, Bobby swore he could hear Betty screaming over the policeman’s words.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” He turned Bobby around to face him. “Do you understand these rights as I have explained them?”

“I haven’t done anything wrong!” Bobby protested. He looked at his house, searching for Betty. “What about my wife?”

The officer repeated, “Do you understand these rights as I have explained them?”

“Yes, yes, I do.” Bobby shook his head, “I think I want a lawyer now.”

Without replying, the policeman led Bobby to a marked SUV and opened the rear door. “Watch your head.”

Before climbing in, Bobby turned once more toward the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of Betty, but there was still no sign of her. As the door closed behind him, he wondered what he had gotten himself into. One thing he knew for sure, it had to be something to do with that alien artifact he had found in his backyard two weeks ago.


Part 2 by Katherine Shaw

Bobby’s heart hammered in his chest as he sat sandwiched between two stern-faced officers, both of them staring forwards as the SUV jostled them in their seats. No one had spoken to him since they had set off, ignoring his anxious questions until he finally gave up and succumbed to their silence. With nothing to distract his whirring thoughts, Bobby’s panic only grew.

They hadn’t told anyone about the artifact, had they? No, definitely not. It was in his office, in its box, while they figured out what the hell they were going to do with it.

The journey was taking much longer than Bobby had anticipated. He’d had no time to properly dress or put on his watch, but the rising sun told him it must be nearly six. Surely the police station is much closer than this? Unless . . .

A dull ache spread across his tightening chest. Are they going to kill me?

Finally, the car slowed, and the crunch of gravel under the wheels suggested they had reached their destination. Bobby braced himself for the worst as the officer to his left stepped out of the car and signaled for him to follow.

He was led into a stark, featureless building with no obvious signage or markings, and the inside was equally devoid of identity. The walls were painted a humorless gray, and the expressionless staff members walking the corridors were dressed in plain, dark suits. He could have been anywhere, which only frightened Bobby more.

The leading officer stopped partway down a corridor and motioned for Bobby to enter a room to his right. It didn’t take a genius to recognize it as an interrogation room. He shuffled to the lone chair in the center of the room and sat, his hands clasped tightly on his lap. After several long minutes, a new officer entered. He was tall and thin, all angles and corners. His eyes were like cold steel.

“Where is it, Tanwell”? His voice was as sharp as his features.

“I’m sorry, what—“

“Do not play dumb with me. We’ve seen the tapes.”

“Tapes? What tapes?” Panic roiled in Bobby’s stomach. “Will someone tell me what’s going on? I haven’t done anything!”

The officer’s mouth twisted into a smirk and Bobby’s panic froze into ice cold dread. “They say a picture is worth a thousand words, Mr. Tanwell, but what about several minutes of film?”

He held up a small remote and pushed a button. The nearest wall opened up to reveal a large, black screen which came to life at the officer’s touch. It showed a security tape from some sort of museum or archive, dated the night before.

What does this have to do with . . . ?

Bobby’s eyes bulged as a figure walked into the shot. A recognizable but impossible figure. It was him. Bobby himself!

“No! It can’t be! I’ve never—“

The words caught in his throat as he saw his doppelgänger punch into a glass case to retrieve an item from within. He didn’t even flinch, simply pocketed the object, turned and walked back out of the shot. The tape flickered and looped around, showing Bobby over and over again. But it wasn’t Bobby; it couldn’t be. 


Part 3 by Jim Hamilton

Bobby had a sinking feeling in his gut. He didn’t remember this place or breaking into it, but now
that he thought about it, this explained where the meteorite must have come from. And that nasty
gash on the back of my hand
, he thought to himself.

He glanced at his bandage as the officer spoke. “Isn’t that where you hurt your hand?”

Bobby paled as he looked back up again. “I . . . I think so, but I don’t remember it, I swear!”

The officer smirked as he said, “Let me guess—you’re taking Ambien?”

Bobby shook his head. “No, nothing like that, but I’ve had several blackouts recently where I don’t
remember what happened.” He pointed at the screen. “That must be one of them.”

“Blackouts? Seriously?” The officer laughed. “Do you really expect me to believe that?”

Bobby nodded vigorously. “It’s the truth, officer. It all started with an alien artifact that fell into
my backyard.”

The officer laughed again. “Oh, now you’re bringing aliens into it?”

“I’m serious! Two weeks ago, my wife and I heard a loud thump coming from the backyard.
When we went to see what it was. There was a dull silver sphere, about the size of a golf ball, embedded in the dirt. From the very beginning, we both felt . . . I don’t know, drawn to it. I picked it up and we brought it back into the house.”

“Maybe a large ball bearing fell from a plane?”

“That’s what we thought. However, when we went to bed, it was on our coffee table. When we
woke up, we found it in our microwave. It was glowing brightly enough to hurt your eyes to look
at it.”

“How did it get in the microwave?”

“I don’t know.”

Bobby shook his head, knowing it sounded insane. “One of us must have moved it,
but neither of us remember doing so.”

He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “Since then, we found it in the sink, filled with water. Then it moved to a large wooden box. Next it was nestled into some kind of sawdust and fertilizer. Then a light coating of sand was added. Last night, I found what looked like a meteorite in the box next to it.” He pointed at the video that was still looping. “One that I . . . apparently stole from this place.”

“Do you honestly expect me to believe that cockamamie story?”

“Yes! Because it’s the truth! I went to the store last night to get groceries and when I got home,
the meteorite was in one of the grocery bags and my right hand was bandaged.” He rubbed his
temples. “I remember shopping and coming home, but I don’t remember anything else.”

“As we speak, we’re searching your house. Care to tell me what we’ll find?”

Bobby nodded. “The box is on my desk.” He smiled. “However, I don’t think that your meteorite
is actually a meteorite.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because, when I went to bed, it had cracked open and green goo was oozing out.”

The words caught in his throat as he saw his doppelgänger punch into a glass case to retrieve an item from within. He didn’t even flinch, simply pocketed the object, turned and walked back out of the shot. The tape flickered and looped around, showing Bobby over and over again. But it wasn’t Bobby; it couldn’t be. 


Part 4 by S. Songweaver

“Green goo?” The officer raised an eyebrow; it sounded absurd.

“Yes, green goo,” Bobby insisted. “Actually, not unlike the stuff that’s coming out of the door behind you.”

The officer didn’t budge, his steely, cold eyes fixed on Bobby. “You really think I’ll fall for that?”

“I mean, it’s nothing to fall for, sir.” Bobby said, frowning at the green sludge squeezing through the crack of the interrogation room’s door.

The man in front of him scowled and turned. “What the . . . ?” he managed before his face was accosted by the green mush sliding up his nostrils and into his mouth.

Bobby panicked and jumped up from his chair as the officer slumped and fell forward onto the floor.

A few moments passed before he gathered enough bravery to nudge the man with his feet. “Sir?”

“Sir . . . ? Are you . . . OK?”

The man stirred, causing Bobby to jump back.

“Mr. Tanwell, you are safe.” The officer broke into a broad smile.

Bobby gulped.

“We have to get you out of here.” The man’s voice sounded squeaky; it was different than before. His eyes were glazed, like he didn’t quite know how to operate them.

“Uhh . . . ”

“Don’t worry, we might be alien, but we come in pieces,” the officer offered, making a Star Trek-style sign with his fingers.

Confused, Bobby managed, “Are you the orb thing that’s been controlling my wife?”

“Yes, terribly sorry about that.” The officer gathered himself off the floor, seeming like he was learning how to walk again. He looked down at his arms like they were new to him. “We needed something from the museum and this facility. I promise we’ll get you home safe, and you won’t remember a thing. Nor will the people here.”

The man made a hiccup noise as he walked into the door. “Right, primitive technology,” it reminded itself, finding the doorknob. “Follow me, Mr. Tanwell. We shall meet up with your wife. My mates are with her now.”

Bobby hesitantly looked at the officer and the open door, then back at the chair that he had been seated in just moments before. “This is a weird dream. I’m dreaming and I’m going to wake up soon.” He pinched himself. No dice.

“Hurry, Mr. Tanwell, we are on a line-dead.”

The man gestured for Bobby to go.

“You mean deadline,” Bobby corrected, following the officer out of the room and down the hall.

“No, I mean line-dead. My connection to the others was terminated when I came to get you. And until we meet up with them again, I can’t restore my live connection. If we don’t meet up at the checkpoint, I might miss them, and my ship will leave without me,” the officer replied, rushing past the security doors. “I just want to go home, Mr. Tanwell. I hope you can relate.”

Bobby frowned. It was as much as he could relate to a clump of green goo, he supposed.

“Your planet is terribly primitive, and we never, ever wanted to end up here again,” the officer added. “We were supposed to go to Andromeda, but my mates insisted on exploring something new. This is the last time I let them drive.”

At that moment, Bobby realized he might have a lot more in common with the strange alien sludge than he had thought.


We hope that you are enjoying “The Orb” so far. If so, please leave some kind comments for Jim, Katherine and S. below. And make sure to check back next Friday when we release the conclusion in Part 5 written by Jim Hamilton.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Join the Circle of Champions, if you can survive

My Circle of Champions–my name for the winners of my monthly flash-fiction writing contest–banded together to create a special holiday treat this December. Each Friday, I posted a new segment of this flash-fiction story. The next champion in line write the next segment in 250 words or less. The final segment was unwrapped on December 25th, 2020.

Learn more details on the challenge I posed to my Circle of Champions and read more about the photo artists. Or just enjoy the completed story.

Circle of Champions

Introduction by Matthew Cross

“Welcome to the Circle of Champions!”

The emcee’s booming voice filled the comms of the ten champions, who floated in the cold vacuum and Zero-G. The sound and their images streamed planetside, of course. Bookies slavered and took notes.

Salem shivered in spite of her red thermal suit. She would have a month to train in the Zero-G of the Thunderdome, a grotesque contraption in high orbit designed to look like the Death Star. The producers were such Sci Fi nerds! Inside, VIP boxes surrounded the vast void.

Death was not required, of course, and not inevitable. The twenty-foot mech suits were protected by the defense industry’s most advanced force shielding. But the suits were also loaded with the most advanced weapons. So deaths occurred.

Back home, Salem had survived countless battles. In her sixteen years, she had progressed from video games to waldo jockey to mech fighter due to her speed and flawless instincts. But the armor in her mech suit–modified for her small size–could withstand all the standard weaponry allowed in sanctioned ground battles.

Here, in the Thunderdome, she could die. And even if she won the Circle of Champions, that only assured her ten mandatory years of battle with the professionals each week here in the Thunderdome. She would have wealth beyond her wildest dreams for as long as she could stay alive. But few lived to retirement.

Spotlights rose and for a few breathless moments, she forgot it all when she saw her shiny, red mech.

Round One by Frasier Armitage
Image: Red neon lights behind a woman's silhouette. Text: 13 Questions with Frasier Armitage - INSIDE SCOOP

“Come to Mama,” she thought, as she clambered into her exo-suit, the mech responding to her whims as if it were natural as breathing.

A voice shook the Thunderdome. “Competing against our challengers tonight is an undisputed battle champion. Returning from retirement—give it up for the queen of carnage, the undefeated, the legendary Neon Tigress!”

Salem stiffened. Her thermals did nothing to stave the chill from her bones.

Neon Tigress—one of the founding fighters.

As a kid, Salem never missed her battles. She’d studied her every move. “Did you see that, Mom? You can’t stop a Flaming Fury attack. The only chance you’ve got is your thrusters.”

“It’s all rigged,” her Mom would say.

“No. It’s real!”

“Come now, darling. Why do you think the favorite wins week in, week out?”

“You’re lying!” She’d fought her Mom, and had kept fighting. All the way to the Thunderdome. To face off against Neon Tigress and her Flaming Fury.

“Are you ready?” The emcee interrupted a carnival of klaxons from the VIP boxes.

Systems test. Check thrusters.

Salem flicked switches and waited for the orange light to signal they were functioning. But nothing came.

“I said, are you ready?”

Check thrusters.

Still nothing.

Neon Tigress’ custom banshee-mech flooded the stadium screens. The emcee’s roar faded into her Mom’s voice. “It’s all rigged,” she would’ve said.

Check thrusters.

Air fled from Salem’s lungs. Her heart pounded to the rhythm of chants.

“Forceshields, activate! Three . . . two . . . one . . . Let battle commence!”

Don’t Panic by Jim Hamilton

Salem knew that panic was her biggest enemy.  She took a deep breath and slowed her breathing to calm herself.  The Thunderdome was ten kilometers in diameter and, with the contestants spread evenly around its equatorial perimeter, she was in no immediate danger.  Not even from Neon Tigress, who floated, patiently waiting, in the center of the giant sphere.

During the past month, she had deliberately lost one practice round after another while she studied the other contestants.  How they moved.  What weapons they favored.  Whether they used or conserved their thruster juice.  She had carefully developed her strategy and being a few moments late leaving the gate wouldn’t affect her plan, one way or the other.

She glanced at the chrono in her HUD.  She only had a few more seconds to enter the dome, or she would be disqualified.  With a mighty heave of her legs against the rear wall of the gate, she propelled herself into the arena.  She steadied her breathing as she told herself, “I got this.”

Still, her strategy needed the thrusters.  Without them, she didn’t stand a chance.

In frustration, she balled up her fist and brought it down on the control panel as hard as she could.  Relief poured over her as the thruster indicator flickered on and her suit began to come on-line.  She eagerly flipped the other switches and grinned as they each came up orange and yellow in sequence.

She held her breath as she toggled the last one.

Shall We Dance? by Shanel Wilson

Green!” Salem’s fist thrusted up, her mech fist following suit.

“Looks like our newest champion is showing some early enthusiasm,” the emcee chuckled as he began his commentary of the battle in the Thunderdome.

Salem felt her cheeks burn but she didn’t care. She had her thrusters. She was ready for anything, including Neon Tigress’s Flaming Fury. The emcee’s voice faded into the background as she took one last deep breath. She waited her entire life for this moment and impossible chance had chosen Neon Tigress as the reigning champion. It was an omen.

“This is my time.”

She took off toward the melee. Three champions had already fallen and were being pulled from the Thunderdome by repair drones.

“Seven left.”

Monstro, the lumbering graphite champion, was aiming straight for her. In the practice rounds, Salem knew he was a smash-and-bash kind of fighter. Her size and agility would be her strength against him. She engaged her Spinning Slash attack.

CRASH!

“Make that six.” She smirked to herself, looking for her next target.

Her focus was magnetically drawn to Neon Tigress. Seeing her fighting up close was better than she could have ever dreamed as a girl. It was like a violent ballet. Salem made quick work of another champion entranced by Neon Tigress’s deadly arabesque.

Suddenly, the Thunderdome rumbled. Cheers from the VIP boxes were deafening. The last mech carcass was dragged out. She had survived, so far. Neon Tigress’s thrusters revved, waiting for Salem’s next move.

Go for It! by Matthew Cross

Hands flicking over her switches, Salem turned to face Tigress.  Then Salem did the unthinkable.  She launched a head-on assault.

As expected, Tigress whirled into Flaming Fury.  Salem’s mech spun, thrusters firing in all directions, performing a ballet she had dreamed endless nights.

Somehow, Salem came through the barrage intact and faced Tigress’s backside.  “Yes!” she exclaimed, firing both charge cannons.

She could win!  She would win!

But nothing happened.

Then blue flames climbed Salem’s mech.  Why?!  How?!

Suddenly, Salem was ejected from her mech.  “No!” she cried.  “NOOOO!”  Floating in the void, Salem watched her mech burn.  And with it, her hopes of claiming the seat.

 . . . . 

Salem woke, covered in bandages.  Lab coats and paparazzi swirled.  Clicks, whirrs, questions.  Then blessed silence.

“You made it, girl!”

It was Neon Tigress, in the flesh, sitting on her bed.

“What happened?” Salem cried.

“Don’t worry, girl.  The bandages, the doctors?  Just for show.”

“What?”

“What hurts, honey?”

“Nothing!  I feel fine!”  And she did.  “You mean . . . Mom was right?  It’s all rigged?”

“Not all rigged, girl.  The fighting is real.  Mostly.  But we’re too valuable to kill.  And the producers gave you a story line, Salem.  A rookie with a story-line!  You gonna be rich as me.”

It took a while to sink in.

“So . . . I get to fight in the pros?  I can be rich, like you, but . . . I don’t have to die?”

“Yeah, that’s right.  Can you handle it, girl?”

Slowly, Salem nodded.

“That’s what I been tellin’ ‘em.”


Well, we did it! My Circle of Champions and I completed this story by the deadline, Christmas Day, 2020. And we did it on budget. Each segment is 250 words or less. And we each worked our “challenge color” into our segments. (See challenge words in bold.)

Thanks to all my Champions!

Please visit them on Twitter or share some kind words below.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross