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On my twelfth birthday Mom and I went to the bank to get my phone. With the new deadline it was awfully busy—with trade-ins and upgrades, and we had to wait in line just to get in the door.
Mom had to put all our information in the terminal. I fidgeted as she typed in our address, social security numbers, and other essential stuff that she had to pull out of her purse to double check. I looked over all the display phones, deciding once and for all to go with the white one so that I could put a pink cover over it. I flipped the shiny device over in my hands, waiting for the next assistant to come and get us all hooked up.
A man named Greg sort of welcomed us to LinkTech. His voice hollow with boredom. With a dull gaze he glanced over our information. I tried to imagine him laughing or even smiling, but Greg didn't seem capable of even blinking. He pointed out where Mom had missed a few questions and once everything was in order he headed to the back and returned with my phone, already out of the box but still with the plastic over the screen. Then he swept his arms mechanically towards the counter. “Okay, right this way.”
The phone felt cold, as though it had been sitting in a cooler. Or maybe it was just my hands. I’d felt my chest tighten when Mom had followed Greg to the counter, where four stations were set up for micro chipping. There were two for girls and two for boys and at one of those stations I’d watched as a teary eyed girl slid her arm into the device. And when the tech adjusted the strap and fiddled with the buttons, I’d felt a chill skitter down my spine.
The girl only winced slightly, but enough for me to see because I was really watching. When she was done, Mom turned to me with a big old smile on her face.
“Okay sweetie, your turn.”
I stood up, looking down to the phone in my hand. How long had I wanted a phone of my own, and now it was actually in my hands. But it was nothing like I’d imagined, everything felt rigid and sterile, like a doctor’s office. Mom called me again. I was holding up the line.
At the counter Greg loomed behind the device like a hangman at the gallows. I glanced back to Mom, wanting to be brave but hearing my voice sound like a little girl. “Does it hurt?”
Mom dropped her shoulders. “Honey, we’ve been over this. It just…pinches a little, that’s all.”
My knees went all wobbly and my chest burned with fear. The girl who’d just been chipped was already talking on her new phone, rubbing at her arm. We’d been instructed at school and I knew the process. It was mandatory to have your phone at all times. Lost phones would have to be reported. If your phone didn’t match your chip you could be reported. All thoughts and memories would be logged on a chip. If you thought right there was nothing to worry about. If you thought wrong, well, it may time for a talk.
I looked over Mom’s shoulder at the lines of people getting chips, I figured it might be true.
Mom wiggled her fingers for me to take her hand. I reached for her. Up close the device looked sleek and sharp, like it could crush my arm and rip it clean off my body. I wondered if anything like that had already happened. I’d heard that it doesn’t actually touch the skin and that the chip will dissolve in time. Not that it mattered, we’d receive a new chip at the age of eighteen.
I let Mom guide my hand up to the device. Greg adjusted a few levers and it slid down lower. I tried to look and see where the inserter was but I couldn’t find it. Then I realized my whole body was shaking, rattling without control.
“Clara, it’s okay. It will only take a second,” Mom said again. I bit my lip. Mom studied me closely and then turned to Greg. “Can we just have another minute? Please? “
The hangman nodded and Mom led me over near a display shelf. On the wall were posters of happy families with healthy smiles, twirling around in sunny meadows. Everyone looked happy, the complete opposite of the people in the store, who were consumed in the greenish glow from their devices. Babies cried in the corners, weary mothers. Sons and fathers talking quietly under the buzz of the chips going in people’s arms. Two brutes at the door with guns on their hips. Not exactly paradise.
“Clara, it will only take a second. And you’re twelve now, so it’s time.”
“But I don’t want a phone anymore,” I pleaded, suddenly wishing I were eleven for one more year, where I could roam free and climb trees and not have that thing inside of me.
“Clara, it’s not my choice any longer,” Mom said, and for the first time I heard the panic in her voice. Up until then she’d been happy and light. In the car ride she’d only wanted to talk about my birthday party and pizza, and she’d even let me pick the music. Now when I looked in her eyes I saw only a fear that mirrored my own.
I turned away, to the holsters, holding guns with bullets. Then I followed Mom back to the device. Greg’s gray eyes clung to me. I wondered how many kids he’d tagged that day.With a deep breath and Mom’s urging I stuck my arm through. I could feel my heartbeat, fighting to get out of the cuff, pulsing in my ear drums. Mom touched my head, her gentle fingers so unlike those cold straps grasping my arm. And then, just before I could pull away, go running out of the mall and to the parking lot it happened.
I’d been chipped. I was now a blip on the screen. No matter what I did—tree climbing, riding my bike, sitting in the basement—someone would always know. A faceless stranger in a room could find me. Anywhere, any time. My thoughts were being logged, right now. My fears, my crushes, my innermost emotions, all of it was now public record.
On our way out a boy was being dragged away. He was kicking and screaming, his face nearly purple as he struggled with the two burly guards. Mom grabbed my hand. "There, that wasn’t so bad."
No, it wasn’t, I forced myself to think. I had to get used to thinking that way.
Or to just not think at all…