It was one of the most groundbreaking events of the twenty-second century, occurring about a year before my birth. The person involved was so close to me– but for some reason, he always seemed so far away.
If only I could be there to witness the event. I probably would have scoffed at everyone’s excitement over the matter. After all, my older brother’s intentions were always ridiculed in the family (or at least, Mother had said so). They were, at least, until one had succeeded and brought the family the fame we craved and the money we needed.
He still loves to tell me the story, and proudly, too. He says everything in a condescending manner– in a “sorry you weren’t your older brother” sort of fashion. He would say:
“After years of being mocked, after years of being put down, this genius brain of mine finally succeeded!”
I would then think, if he was such a genius, why hadn’t he thought of it sooner?
“Then,” he’d continue, “I finally thought of a problem everyone had, which was getting their children to do what they want! I was a rowdy one, myself, and if they had one of those back then, I would have turned out different, for sure.”
Then, he wouldn’t be his “genius” self…
“So that is when I invented my Child Collars!” he would then take a deep breath and wait for imaginary applause. “They send in brain waves and makes kids obedient as dogs!”
I itch at the collar around my neck.
Yes, these collars are just a miracle. They come off at the age of 20, meaning its 20 years of mind control and electrocution. You’d think the parents who were tortured with this device would know better– they’d think, maybe I shouldn’t make my pride and joy shocked and brain waved into zombies. But no, everyone’s brainwashed into believing children who didn’t wear them would turn into cursing, screaming, rebellious abominations.
“Fifteen years later, kiddies like you are perfect angels!” Since he was the mastermind behind the device, he wasn’t subject to its torture…
I laughed at the use of the term “angels.” It’s hard to prevent the waves from taking complete control of my mind but I’ve still got little bits of myself left in me– my crazy, rebellious self.
“It’s only six years until you get your collar taken off. Aren’t you going to give them to your kids, too?” he asks me, one day.
“No way,” I respond. I feel a slight shock on my neck.
“What was that?” he asks, suspiciously. His hand is in his pocket, probably pressing the “shock” button.
“I mean,” say, standing up straight, “of course I will, dearest brother.”
In my head it’s played over and over. Of course I will. Of course I will. Of course I will. I’m permanently thinking this phrase, and I can’t stop.
“Good!” he says, pleased with himself. “Now, darling little sister, make me a coffee.”
In my head again, I’m thinking: make coffee, no sugar, no cream, black and bitter. Black and bitter. Black and bitter…
“Yes, sir,” I say.
“Good Nina,” he approves, nodding.
I feel like a pet. I turn around stiffly and walk away to make his coffee. Black and bitter…
The stove boils water at the touch of a button. Instead of inventing something like that, he decided to invent the child collars. He could have at least made the name creative. His mind doesn’t think much of names. He took a while to remember my name, but he’s practically obsessed with is own (it’s Nate).
The water bubbles on moves as if it were alive. Steam flows from the pot and disappears into the air, but more steam just flows upward. Eventually, the water is still again. The steam, however, still rises from the quiet, hot water. I raise the pot and pour it into a mug (it says #1 Inventor) and carry it to the table.
As I walk stiffly, I can feel something slip from under me. The next thing I know, I’m falling to the ground and releasing my grip on the coffee mug. Like me, the mug falls to the floor,with a sharp cracking sound. Its shards scatter all over the kitchen floor, and the water forms a steaming puddle of water. Drops of water splatter onto me, which seep through my clothes and burn my flesh slightly. I can hear rapid footsteps rushing into the kitchen.
“Nina! You broke my cup!” he yells, running over and falling to his knees, to mourn the shattered dishware. He shoves his hand into his pocket and a strong shock shakes me for a few seconds. I clench my teeth and bear it. The shock, even when ovee, still leaves me shaking for a while. “Stupid fool” plays through my head repeatedly.
“I am sorry,” I say without emotion. I stare at Nate, still hovering over the broken pieces.
“Go buy me a new one!” he commands. “It was my favorite cup! Go clean up this mess. And make me that coffee!”
“Which do I do first?” A slight shock runs through my spine, and I wince. “I will get to it.”
Nate storms away. I open the closet and dig out our cleaner robot. I program it to mop up the water and sweep up the shards, while I go to make him another coffee. I use a regular, gray mug this time, and the bitter, dark liquid is made without mishap. I bring it out into the living room and place it on the coffee table for him to drink. He notices it and gestures for me to go, without saying a word. With the same silence, I nod my head and go through the door.
Outside, skyscrapers almost reach outer space, to the point where there’s planes flying around just to get people from one floor of a building to the top floor of the same one. Adults lounge around, sitting on floating benches and sipping drinks. The children here walk around looking straight ahead, blankly. They have somewhere to go, and nothing could stop them. None of them make an extra step in any direction– it decreases efficiency. Across the street, infants are carried into a stark, gray building and then carried out again, but with the metal devices entrapping their necks. This was where the devices were manufactured, and where my brother’s main office is located. However, today there is something different. The constant smog that is produced, which is let out from pipes on the sides and top of the factory, is polluting the air today.
I walk across the street, not bothering to dodge the passing hover cars because they just float above me anyway, and enter the building, to see crowds of workers running around in a frenzy. Many of them are child workers, who have bulkier collars on them, are lounging around, dazed. I can see a fire on the opposite end of the factory lobby, and the elevator doors are open and releasing smoke from inside.
“Nina!” one worker in a muddied jumpsuit calls. He rushes over here. You’re not supposed to be in here.” He chuckles nervously.
“Yes, I am,” I lie. “My brother told me to go to his office and fetch his extra ties.”
“But his office is on the top floor, and the elevators are malfunctioning.”
“Do you want me to tell him that I could not follow through with his request because of you? I do not think he will like that. Do you?”
“No, of course not! He’d fire me in an instant.” He takes out his electronic notebook and sides through its screen. Its about two centimeters thin, but has room for thousands of pages of paper and drawings. “We can arrange for a scooter to fly you up the stairs.”
In a few seconds, a scooter is driven in front of me by a child worker about 7 years of age.
“Here you go,” the little boy says, grinning at me. He gets off and stands on his toes. He leans in closer and whispers. “You’re the boss’s little sister, right? Is he nice?” I can tell that he was not like all the other young workers. He could still smile and hold a decent conversation, and ask questions for his own sake.
“It depends what you mean by ‘nice,’” I mutter, and get off the scooter and speed away. I turn my head once to look at him again, and I see that his smile had faded. He is now being ordered to put out a fire in the corner. He better get used to it.
The scooter quickly flies me up the dusty stairs, which haven’t been used due to the efficiency of the elevators. When I get to him office, another child worker is guarding the door. She has a blank gaze. In my heart, I pity her.
“What are you doing here? You are not authorized. Turn back immediately,” she says, robotically.
“Oh, who cares,” I groan, pushing her out of the way.
“You are not authorized.”
“I’m doing this for the boss, okay? So why don’t ya calm down and go in the corner?”
“Have you received authorization? I am not required to follow your orders.”
I reach for the doorknob, but it is locked. I glare at the young, uptight sentinel. I reach into my pocket, and take out my laser pen, which I use to cut a neat circle around the door knob. It falls to the ground, and I open the door immediately.
“My master has not informed me that you are permitted. I will take this up with him,” she says, somewhat righteously, and looks down at the daunting stairs. I pull my scooter away from her, and stick my tongue out. She begins to go down the stairs anyway, not even bothering to fight me for the scooter. Violence is never programmed into our minds, even though we see it everyday, especially if we are accident-prone.
The room is kept meticulously cleaned. I go to his large desk, and rummage through the drawers, which are, like the room, neat and proper. I search for the fabled master remote, that he bragged about creating. He had said before that it was even more of a remarkable creation, and how it would make us even more obedient, to a group of fellow inventors at a conference. Little did he know that I was peering through the doorway, absorbing every word and detail…
However, as much as I sleuth around, the remote in nowhere in sight. I sigh, and look ahead to see a large portrait of my brother’s face, peering loftily over the entire room, including myself. Every detail was intricately painted, and his smug smirk was captured with extreme precision. Masterfully painted was hair darker than any other, eyes gray like steel, the countenance of a dictator and his impeccable posture. These features made him so life-like, and the colors were so vivid and accurate that they seemed to bounce off the walls…
I twirl the laser pen in my hand, and look toward it. Many times before had I attempted to break the collar myself with the use of this tool, but the efforts were fruitless. Fueled by the feeling of my blood boiling like the hot water, I approach the painting as if a magnetic force was pulling me to it, and point my pen at it. A thin, red ray of light burns through the painting, across his face, his smile, those eyes, before the art is in charred shambles across the floor, leaving only the wooden frame hanging on the wall.
I step in the ash of the now defunct artwork, and a glimmer coming from the frame catches my eye. I examine it thoroughly, to uncover between the frame and the wall, what I had been looking for all along– the master remote. I grasp it, rubbing my fingers all over the smooth metal, and hold it close to my body. I enwrap it in my warmth as if it were alive. I hold it in front of me, and look at how it was similar to the average remote, with an extra dial and a switch on its side.
On one side of the red switch, it says on, and on the other, off. The switch is turned on, but I soon change that. I run my finger across the switch, shivering with excitement, almost unable to handle it steadily in my hand. I press my finger down, turning it off. I hear a beeping come from my neck. Almost automatically, it opens, and the cursed contraption falls to the floor with a clang that rings through the silence of the room.
I pick the fallen collar off, and hop onto the scooter. I steer it out the door and race down the stairs with it, so that my hair flows in the breeze my speed creates. It is a steep drop and makes my insides churn, but nothing like that could ever halt me now.
If I thought that the factory was frenzied before, it was even worse now. Children are looking confused, staring in disbelief at the collars on the floor. The adults are too worried and frazzled to worry about the teenager with the remote racing through the crowds. I make it out without anyone’s attention, and I take a deep breath. Physically, the adults were stronger and more numerous than us. These few moments of freedom would vanish before it could be truly savored by us if I didn’t put an end to this…
I messily park the scooter in front of our house, and slam the door open. The living room is now uninhabited, and the coffee cup is only half empty. I dash up the stairs, wondering where my brother could possibly be. I stuff the remote in my pocket and clutch my collar tightly in my hand.
Upstairs, I hear Nate yelling. In his home office, he is admonishing one of the city’s political leaders, whose image on a large monitor, who looks absolutely terrified.
“What do you mean, they all turned off?!” Nate yells.
“I-i don’t know, sir,” he stammers. He flips through a messy mass of paperwork and files on his desk.
I creep slowly from behind by brother. The political figure is too busy going through records to notice my presence, and Nate is too busy screaming to hear my footsteps. When there is about an arm’s distance between my brother and I, I hold the collar up so that it is parallel to my brother’s neck. The political figure looks up, finally, and we make eye contact for a split second before he screams something unintelligible. Nate turns around, and his eyes widen to the size of moons.
“What–” is all he manages to say before I jump up on him, and wrangle with him until I am able to securely lock the collar onto his neck. I leap away, and fish the remote out of my pocket. My brother walks toward me, heaving like a beast.
“Brat!” he spits.
I’m trembling again, but not for the same reason as before. I can barely control the motion of my fingers, but I manage to flip the switch on again. I see my former collar glow red from Nate’s neck, and I can hear him swear. I smile, and point the master remote at him. I look at the extra dial on the device, which can be switched from “All” to “Specific Collar,” and I turn it hard to the latter setting. I press the “Shock” button, and soon my brother is sprawled out onto the floor, floundering like a newly-caught fish. I scan the remote for its buttons, and press order.
“You will follow my commands,” I order firmly.
I hover my finger over the shock button, and he nods begrudgingly. A sense of triumph rushes through my veins, and I suddenly feel bigger than the world itself.
One of the most groundbreaking moments of the twenty-second century had occurred approximately one year before my birth. Although, if I may talk highly of myself for one moment, the most groundbreaking event had occurred sixteen years later. It was when we children, starting with this one event, declared our freedom from these brutal contraptions. To this day, I admit that maybe I let the component of the collars that made us believe they were beneficial seep through my head. With me in control, though, these would not be for children anymore. The adults, however…
Giselle Garcia, Age 13, Grade 8, Mark Twain I.S. 239 for the Gifted and Talented, Gold Key