WRITTEN BY GLORIA KHA
Finally. After having been flaunted worldwide on every single inch of advertising, the new
object of obsession was out. All around me, students were whipping out their season-old EyePhones to hurriedly order the new Shadow phones. A succession of sighs echoed throughout the packed assembly room as one by one, pupils bought the anticipated device with a light caress of their thumbs to their screens. Likewise, I let out a breath when my EyePhone recognised my thumbprint and the receipt popped up. This phone would definitely eradicate life’s issues, even the name was promising.
The Shadow was supposedly named so because it would be as reliable a friend to users as a shadow, assuring that it would always be there to help. The device was released by the faceless technological genius, Dr. Neuro. Word on the web was that she owned the multi-trillionaire company, Versed. It had only taken a few short years for Versed to reach its dominant position on the market of… well everything I could imagine. Anything commercial in this year 2040 seemed to have been produced by this company, ranging from the much sought after expensive electronic devices, to the cheap but crucial chicken wings adored worldwide. In fact, it was now unbelievable to me that twelve years ago, a three-year-old version of myself was eating rice not branded by Versed.
“No way!” screeched a hysterical teenage girl in my ear. “Coraline, is this a glitch? The delivery time stated on the receipt is a minute! Look, it’s even counting down!”
With eyes wide in excitement, I followed the prompting of my comrade and reopened the receipt I had just dismissed. Surely enough, Tiana was right and a countdown of the minute delivery was displayed on my perfectly pixellated screen.
“You’re right! Isn’t it slightly strange how they know exactly where to deliver it to though?” I asked, somewhat unsettled.
“Haha, no wonder it’s the new norm to call people comrades instead of friends, electronic devices are so much cooler!” Mocked Tiana, “Of course they know where to deliver it to, don’t you remember that we have tracking devices in our shoes and phones?”
“Oh yeah…” I recalled, “Those really do make life much safer and more convenient, don’t they?”
“Exactly, why else would they have been created?” Exhaled my comrade, “Sometimes I wonder how the new video game exams show you to have the highest IQ and EQ ever recorded, you can be so slow at times.”
Before I could face her violet eyes set into an angular face to respond, a colony of whirling drones swarmed into the energetic area through the opening vent at the back of the room. The U.F.O. resembling machines each had the word ‘Versed’ proudly branded in silver onto their black bodies. As their wings sliced smoothly through the air to guide them nimbly towards people, I noticed that cradled within the grasp of each drone’s metallic claw, was a sleek black box.
Filled with the need to hold one of the boxes nesting a Shadow phone, everyone stared up intently at the machines and held up their hands expectantly towards the ceiling. I noted briefly that the room now looked as though everyone were worshiping, how peculiar.
In succession, the claws released the packages from their clutches, resulting in a sight similar to rainfall. It was just as we had once dreamed Christmas day to be like, with multicoloured presents of pure joy dropping out of the sky. The only difference was that here, all of the presents were black.
I laughed when a parcel plopped down ever so gracefully into Tiana’s neon pink pixie cut, leaving a dent in her gelled hair.
“What the…” Stuttered a shocked Tiana before squealing, “Yes! I got it, I finally have it! Eep!”
Expecting my delivery to arrive shortly too, I looked back towards the ceiling in search for it. Confused, I realised that the multitude of drones were all flying back from where they had entered.
“Wait what?” I asked in puzzlement, “How about mine?”
Perplexed, I glanced back at my phone and was greeted by a message of apology stating that due to a minor issue, my Shadow would be sent at a later time. That was strange since everyone else was already embracing their Shadows around me.
“They probably had too high a demand,” I explained to a half-listening Tiana. “Come on, school ended a few minutes ago. Are you up for a frozen yogurt?”
“You mean you want to go for a real hang out outside of school?” She said in disbelief, “Those stopped being fun ten generations of RoboPals ago. How about you hologram call me from your new Shadow once you get it?”
Seeing as she was completely enthralled with her shiny Shadow, I didn’t bother further interrupting the bonding session they were undergoing. Instead, I stood up among the mass of preoccupied bodies and exited the school through the west elevator.
Our 44th Sector School was situated on the 50th to 60th floors of the Erudite tower. If you left the building within school hours, your installed shoe tracking device would flash like a red siren and automatically report your rebellion to the school authorities. No doubt the consequences would be severe so I never tried it.
On my ride down, I decided to walk home through the cooled glass tubes that connected each building together like a giant playground. Crossing along the first tube however, I found myself pushed around like a pickle in a jar being shaken vigorously. The suffocatingly sour smell of sweat fortified this feeling. It was the shift-rotation hour for farmers.
My dad had once been a farmer, a true farmer. He tells me he had grown real corn in a real field, and even fed four-legged cows grass. Unfortunately, a strange plague had suddenly invaded every farm in the world and they were all destroyed. As an improvement, Versed had created new indoor ‘farms’ that were basically factories filled with mutated organisms. At least there were no famines now.
One particularly bulky man couldn’t seem to keep his balance and squished me to the right, causing me to crash against the side glass. Stunned and with a stinging face, I crumbled to the ground.
Encompassed by rushing legs reeking of chemicals, my senses were slow to return. Whilst my ears were able to readjust to the constant chattering, it seemed as though my sight was struggling to focus. Flashes of red were dancing in front of my eyes.
Disorientated, I shook my head and tried looking forwards at my tangled feet again. The red flares were still there. In fact, they were being emitted from my shoes- more specifically my tracking device. For some reason it had been activated. For some reason I was being monitored.
Well aware that the authorities were tasked with the immeasurable responsibility of preventing crime, I convinced myself that they were simply doing routine checkups on citizens. Rather than dwelling on the matter, I got up, brushed a few creases out of my shirt, then navigated around to the next elevator as smoothly as I could.
Making a big mistake, I took a large gulp of air at the same moment the elevator doors opened onto the ground floor. A wave of dust sucked into my lungs and the acrid smell of pollution made me gag. I couldn’t believe I forgot my mask today.
Determined to get home so that I could prepare for the Sector vs. Sector exam games, I braced myself and hurried across the deserted streets. Normally, I found the desolation of the streets to be their highlight despite the lack of colour. This time though, a strange nervousness was pressing into my consciousness. It was ridiculous but I felt as though I was being watched.
I picked up the pace of my blinking feet yet the sensation of unease did not leave. Turning my head upwards, I saw the normal vibrant, thin skyscrapers above. Pivoting around, all I noticed was my shadow responding naturally by spinning around too.
Then, I saw it. The flying device was heading straight at me and my heart beat erratically. As it drew nearer, my suspicions of being watched were confirmed. All worries melted away as I understood why I was being tracked. My palms open on their own accord in the glorious moment when at last, my Shadow was cupped in my own hands.
Relieved at the resolving of my wariness, I marvelled at the lightness of the box. I was impressed since the little I had seen of Tiana’s Shadow hadn’t seemed so paper-light.
Eager to discover for myself exactly how amazing the Shadow was, I opened the box… only to find a piece of paper.
Aghast, my mouth hung wide open and terror gripped me. I began to tremble as the realisation that there would be no escape hit me. Wherever I ran to, they would find me. The words,
“Peekaboo, I’ve been following you” printed onto the paper made it very clear.
Slowly, I raised my head up. Piercing blue eyes smirked victoriously at me. Before I could react, a nylon sack was forced onto my head and a powerful figure twisted my arms behind my back. I felt my legs give way as someone kneed me to the ground. Just as the pain was beginning to register, I was crammed into a metallic container.
Cutting through my bewilderment, a poisonous voice resonated around the confinement.
“Hello experiment number 17, I am Dr. Neuro. No matter what, I will be Versed in the functions of your brain.”
With that, the steel lid clanged shut.