The Renaissance of 2121 This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 20, 2012
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The second the Orb broke, my life fell apart.

Tangerine started making them in 2080, custom producing an Orb for every person in the world. Six billion Orbs. They didn’t require much of their hosts, only minds, souls, and energy. The humans were passive, for the Orbs did the thinking and the entertaining. People had only to absorb the information fed to them.

The governments of the world loved the idea of the device, easily controlling entire populations by hacking into the Orbs’ motherboard. At first, people enjoyed the Orbs and used them for good, but over time, the Orbs took advantage of their hosts…and conquered existences. Unlike Tangerine’s first devices, the uVod and the Strawberry, the Orbs got to know their hosts very quickly—finding weaknesses, guilty pleasures (like Star Quest obsessions and compulsive needs to check publishing websites) to become the world’s most compact bullies.

I was in the eighth grade when it happened. While eating dinner, my little sister Neon spilled her pomegranate-açaí juice onto the dining room table. My Orb began to shake, to sizzle, and then it was dead, but a paralyzing jolt pulsed throughout my spinal cord. I felt like I was a television set being turned off. Neon offered to let me use her Orb, and Mom ordered another one for me from Tangerine, but I was without an Orb for about a month. A month of complete solitude.

A government official put me on forced bed rest until another Orb could be made. I couldn’t think at all. My mind was a blank canvas trying to pull pictures from the world around me. I had only jigsaw puzzle-like fragments of a life, and near the end of the month I began to put the pieces together.

My name was Silicon and I wanted to work for Tangerine when I grew up (like my father before me). But next I thought If Tangerine is so great, then why can’t I function without my Orb? It was either a problem with me that I couldn’t think, or a problem with the Orbs, that they were too controlling. Controlling to a dangerous point even. I looked around for something I could use to organize my scattered thoughts to make my broken words seem like they were part of a whole. I usually used the Orb’s patented ThinkStream…but at the moment I had nothing.

Just then, a man walked by my bedroom window. He was poorly dressed; his hair scraggly and his coat in tatters. He had a hooked nose, smile lines, and an old-Italian grandeur about him. Normally, I would have been scared out of my mind and my Orb’s personal alarm system would have gone off. However, I just sat there and remained quiet, hoping that like the extinct bumblebee, he would just leave if I was stagnant enough.

“Looking for this?” the man asked. He held out a small plastic stick. It seemed vaguely familiar to me. I realized that people hundreds of years ago used these utensils to write books!

“T-th-th-ank you,” I forced past my lips. My speech was slurred, but I knew that I was beginning to develop again. I limped to the window, hoping that I could become my old self again with the quill, was it called? No, no it was a fountain…something.

As soon as my fingertips touched the plastic, a siren went off throughout my house. I gasped. It was a setup! The man devilishly grinned at my shock.

“Let’s go!” he exclaimed, pulling me through the open window.

“Where are you taking me?” I asked as we fled to the woods. I realized that my legs were quite able, contradictory to what my family had told me during my bed rest.

“To the Renaissance,” the man whispered.

“What’s the Renaissance?” I asked a bit too loudly. The man shushed me.

“Not so loud. We don’t want the fuzz to hear us, now do we?” he whispered as we reached a small clearing in the forest. He looked around to make sure no one was watching, and then climbed into a large hole inside a nearby tree.

“Come along,” he commanded. I was a stupid kid. This guy could have been some weird child predator, taking an ignorant girl into the woods. But he seemed okay to me (of course, I wasn’t the best judge of character at the time). I could hear the speaker blaring beyond the forest. There was no turning back now; I’d surely be arrested if I returned to my family. Taking a deep breath, I stepped into the hollow tree. The floor gave out below my feet. The man and I whizzed through a wide glass tube similar to the ones at the center of commercial relations, or as the elderly say, “the mall.”

My body was shaking, for there was an overload of new information circulating throughout my brain. I was lying in the middle of a town square when we emerged from the chute. None of the people dressed in brightly colored costumes had Orbs on their wrists. No one had that oh-so-familiar blank, glazed-over, façade. People were dancing, singing in the piazza, even painting—such pastimes had been outlawed when the Orbs had come into power.

“What is this place?” I asked.

The old man looked down upon my face.

“This is the rebirth of creativity. From the day you were born, my colleagues and I saw potential in you, Silicon. We saw the potential to think, to learn! We want you to become the person that you were meant to be. There are other children your age at our Florentine Academy,” the man explained as we walked into the largest building. “We can teach you to draw, to innovate, to invent…the possibilities are endless.”

“Does the government know that you’re here?” I asked. The man looked at me.

“Why should they? They’re already geniuses,” he replied sarcastically.

“I was just wondering,” I muttered. The inside of the building looked like a giant beehive (or so the ancient beehives looked before the honeybee went extinct). Little hexagonal rooms were staggered along the walls.

“Bonnie!” the man called. A wiry blonde girl ran over to us.

“What’s up?” she asked. Bonnie had paint splatters all over her clothes.

“Please show Silicon where she’ll be staying,” the man said. Staying? I thought to myself.

“I can’t stay,” I said. “What about my family?”

“The family that subjected you to that horrendous Orb and named you Silicon?” Bonnie asked. “That’s like naming your kid Tangerine or Strawberry. You’re better off with us. Follow me,” she said. I trailed Bonnie into one of the larger cubicles of the beehive-like building.

“So what do you do?” Bonnie asked me.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I admitted. Bonnie buried her face in her hands.

“How did you get kicked out of society?” Bonnie asked me.

“Um, I touched a…um…let me think…oh! I remember now! A pen,” I finally remembered.

“A pen?” Bonnie asked slowly. She rolled her eyes. “Do you even know how to use a pen?”

“No,” I replied.

Bonnie had an idea. She dug through her trunk in the sparsely furnished room only to emerge with a brush and a piece of wood. “Here, take this.” She rolled out a slanted piece of canvas. “Alright. Take the brush and dip it into the paint. That’s the creamy stuff on the palette,” she explained. “Now drag it across the canvas.”

I had made a beige stroke across the blank surface.

“Is this magic?” I asked. Bonnie giggled.

“No. Try to drag your brush in the shape of a face,” Bonnie suggested. I did as she said, but this time I added more colors, different values of the same hue. When Bonnie checked my painting, her jaw dropped.

“How did you do that?” she wondered. “Are you sure you’ve never painted before?” she asked. “It usually takes years to get people back to where they were before the Orbs,” she muttered. “Leo?” Bonnie called. The scruffy man in the trenchcoat came back into the cubicle.

“Yes?” Leo asked impatiently.

“Look what Silicon’s done!” Bonnie exclaimed. Apparently, I had painted the perfect human face, complete with shadow, proportion, and gradient. Leo’s eyes widened.

“I knew she had talent!” Leo exclaimed. “You must help us,” he insisted. “But first you have to be sworn into secrecy,” Leo muttered.

“Mr. Leo and I plan to hack the Tangerine system,” Bonnie explained proudly. “The Orbs have gotten far too powerful for our liking.”

“Just think what you might have done in the past fourteen years if you hadn’t had that despicable device controlling you!” Leo cried out.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked, thinking about my father. He was away helping Tangerine develop the Orb2, a more sophisticated Orb system. They just kept getting more efficient as the years passed.

“We are going to reprogram the Orbs, so that instead of making the people of the world passive, they’ll be innovative, and unique! It will be a wonderful society once again. I have this ten step Orb-withdrawal plan…and with your father’s position at Tangerine—”

“How do you know about my father?” I demanded.

“We know all about you,” Leo said. “You have been our prodigy in the making.” He smiled a toothy grin. I couldn’t help but notice Bonnie’s face darken. She would have been considered ‘the prodigy’ if it wasn’t for me. I could just tell.

Two months later, my ‘wanted’ signs popped up everywhere. I was considered a felon throughout the country. My parents even supported the government! My own parents! I stayed with Bonnie and her friends in the underground Renaissance, preparing for our mission at Tangerine as the world above desperately searched for me.

The day had finally come.

I know firsthand that I wasn’t able to function without my Orb. My technology. But others too, others that had found ways to break away from the Orbs (though they still had them), volunteered to help us, putting their lives on the line. Bonnie and I got a private jet to the Tangerine headquarters deep in the deserts of Arizona, or as I called it, the Arid Zone. Palo Bajo, to be exact. We skydived down to the top of the sphere-shaped building in the center of a jungle of barbed wire and machine guns.

Bonnie and I had both memorized the floor plans of the Tangerine building inside and out. We knew where the guards were stationed and the places at which the dogs congregated. Bonnie was to create a diversion as I reprogrammed the Orbs.

As soon as we split up, I felt like something was wrong. I had a déjà-vu-kind of-sixth-sense-hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-my-neck-type-feeling. I shook it off, focusing. I didn’t want any other kids going through that Orb nonsense that I was forced to put up with.

The Orb control center was located in the core of the building. I made my way through air-conditioning ducts and slid down banisters until I came upon the panel. It was literally the size of a billboard as it whirred and buzzed. Mr. Leo told me that it had a separate computer chip for each person. Cue omnipresent horror movie soundtrack. It was like a panopticon, one of those prisons that make inmates feel like they’re being watched all the time.

I hurriedly tapped colored buttons red-green-orange-pink-pink-yellow and typed in passwords and number locks 2-2-3-2-6-7-0 until there was only one thing left to do.

Suddenly I heard footsteps approaching. There was a clamoring on the metal door to the panel room. There was nowhere to hide!

Before I could figure out what to do, the guards busted down the door, led by someone who I thought was on my side.

“Bonnie?” I asked.

“Look at her!” Bonnie exclaimed. She now wore a Tangerine vest. “That girl’s hacking the Tangerine system!” The Tangerine guards stormed the room. Each had a metallic Orb attached to his wrist and a hand gun in his pocket.

“Stop where you are!” a guard exclaimed. I knew what I had to do.

“Keep your hands still!” another called out. I saw the right switches, all lined up next to each other.

“May I scratch my head?” I asked. The guards shrugged, only to be shocked by the Orbs.

“Get her…” quiet voices chanted. “Kill her…she knows not what she is doing…Man needs us…” the voices mistily whispered. The Orbs! They were…alive!

The orange switches were right behind my ear. Technology surrounded me. I pulled the plug on it, literally. The guards stood there with dazed expressions plastered upon their faces. They dropped their handguns and smiled in white glee.

Their Orbs sizzled as mine had months ago, and Bonnie stood alone.

“Bonnie!” I screamed. “What the heck was that about?” I wondered. Bonnie shook her head.

“You wouldn’t understand,” she muttered.

“Yes I would,” I told her. A siren blared overhead. Tangerine had realized we there, looking up to see a red strobe light.

“It was supposed to be me,” she said. “I have worked so hard for this moment—”

“But what good would you do by ruining the plan?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Bonnie said. “I guess it would be cool to have my face in the electronic newspaper or maybe on Orb-TV.” Controlling to a dangerous point even, I had said.

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