At the center of this world, there is technology.
We all use it, and we all depend on it. Without it, we are not whole.
Yet this technology sits on the other side of the screen. In another world. We can see it, we can touch it, but we cannot know it. After all, it is not a part of reality.
But, what if it was?
Richmond Dispatch-Post, May 2008
With the whole world having been rocked by the mysterious incident known as the "Girl_2 Incident", experts say citizens will be looking for answers wherever they can find them.
That's what one local scientist insists is the cause of the 'Spiked Sphere' phenomenon. Halston Richards, a professor of Neurobiology studying the effects of technology on the human mind at North Union University, says the strange event being reported by almost everybody who was at the intersection of Brooke Street and Paddy Avenue was a 'shared delusion'.
"I know it sounds almost as fantastical as the rainbow leading to a pot of gold, but this is a phenomenon that's been well documented throughout human history," she added.
"Though personal cellphones, cars fitted with Global Positioning Systems, and plasma-screen billboards are all relatively recent developments, humanity has quickly adopted them into our every day lives."
"Under such circumstances, when all these devices suddenly fail, even for a period as brief as a quarter of an hour, anything seems possible. The mind tries to make up solutions."
"One person reports seeing a light in the sky, another describes a shape, and it all gets very out of hand," she continued.
"That's why the final shape seemed so implausible; a technicolor spiked sphere?"
Other experts agreed with her assessment, noting that this phenomenon occurred in a single place where most people were within earshot of one another.
Professor Richards added that this is a prime opportunity to reconsider the proliferation of technology throughout every aspect human life.
"Nowadays, my tween daughter and her friends insist that they're attached to their phones by the hip," she explained. "Quite literally, in fact. They have bedazzled hip holsters for their phones. When I was young, we had our human friends attached by the hip, not tiny computers!"
"In these circumstances, it's easy enough to suffer significant trauma when the device and it's novel capabilities are taken away from you."
The Girl_2 incident, named after the "Girl_2" computer virus that attacked most commercial devices on the planet through what data scientists are calling "the most sophisticated Brute-Force mechanism known to modern computing", has given those at the forefront of the technology industry pause for thought.
The virus spread from device to device over a number of days, but was never picked up by anti-virus software or firewalls before attacking simultaneously at a set time.
It also managed to infect devices that were set to offline mode by tricking them with signals that appeared to be coming from radio or cell tower signals. Some devices were reported to have suffered infections from the mere vibrations of an audio file that each infected device played at a frequency so low it was undetectable the human ear, transmitting the virus's source-code line by line via morse-code.
The virus was notable for only targeting consumer-facing devices, such as cell-phones, laptops and digital screens used for advertising. However, these included digitally-enabled pacemakers and other vital life-preserving machinery. It is estimated that over one thousand people died worldwide due to it's influence.
Some see the "Girl_2 phenomenon" as an opportunity to improve data security techniques so as to prevent any future attacks.
Other mass delusion events in recent history include the Cheerleader Delusion of North Carolina and the "Strawberries with Sugar" 'virus' that affected Portuguese teens, the latter of which was named after a children's television program .
"Anything can trigger a mass delusion," Professor Richards explained. "It's an area of neurology that we still don't have many explanations for."
"It's important that people keep with the facts of the situation, rather than reaching for such things as 'proof' of something magical," she continued. "I know a number of religious organizations have been using this incident to act holier-than-thou and are using this as a recruiting tactic."
"Under these trying circumstances, we should always prioritize dealing in the facts of the matter instead."
She pursed her lips and shook her head from side to side, causing each of her two loosely tied braids to fall towards her face. Using her favorite navy blue pen, she whacked them away. Even these simple physical acts were enough to drown out Mrs. Abernathy's low droll.
This science class was meant to be a lab, but then one of the upper school kids had set half the Upper Floor lab on fire. Another set of upper school kids had the Lower Floor lab booked for the whole afternoon, so the St. Augustus lower school class were stuck covering more coursework in homeroom.
At first, when Zoe Kingsley had moved to the lower school after eighth, she had been afraid of the upper school kids. At St. Augustus, ninth and tenth grade were called First and Second Form, and comprised of the 'lower school'. Eleventh and twelfth grade, which made up the upper school, were called Third and Fourth Form.
Rumor was that the upper school kids were mean and needlessly vindictive. However, she'd quickly discovered that they were too concerned with themselves to bother the lower school kids, and too dumb to do anything about it if they ever did.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Abernathy, who Zoe bet had been teaching at St. Augustus since her father attended practically thirty years ago, was still stuck on the fourth page of a thirty-six page chapter.
Marie Curie she was not.
Focusing on everybody else's problems helped Zoe forget her own. Lately, everybody, in school seemed to be changing, becoming more like the upper school kids. Zoe had always known that she wanted to join journalism club, but she had been blindsided when Kay Donnell had joined along side her, giving a long speech on "integrity and ingenuity" that Zoe was sure had to be rehearsed.
Zoe had never thought much about the food in the cafeteria, either, but lately her best friend Gabby was always complaining about it, like it was a genuine hobby. Kay caught wind of their conversation, and came to school the next day with a fancy Japanese bento box, complete with cutesy rice balls and yakitori chicken.
She got in trouble, obviously, since out-of-school lunches were banned on campus. Her parents were even called in, but everybody seemed to think it was the coolest thing they'd ever seen.
Now, Zoe felt like she was the only girl in class still happy with the way things 'were'. It used to be a pretty common thing, to giggle excitedly about things people now considered boring, like her favorite navy pen. Everybody seemed to find more fun in complaining and obsessing over what the upper school kids were up to.
Zoe wondered if it was time for her to start changing too. Was she being really childish, obsessing about all of this? She didn't know. What she did know was that she didn't feel like changing.
Trapped in her own thoughts, she was an open target for a paper note right to the nose. Through a slightly startled stare, she spotted Gabbie with a giant smile on her face.
At least Gabbie still wore her hair in short dreads decorated with dark-green beads. Dark green to match the uniform, of course.
Zoe unfurled the note and quietly took a look around. Mrs. Abernathy had her back turned. A few students around her gave a side-long glance, probably wishing somebody would throw them a note to break up the monotony of class. Ignoring them, she set about reading it.
"Wanna meet at my house after school today? We can watch the new Sharade and Luciana Giga music video premiere together!"
Nowadays, Gabbie was always clued in about the latest happenings in music. Her phone was always buzzing with notifications of new YouNow video premieres and album releases. Zoe had no idea how her best friend kept up with it all.
She was glad though, to have a best friend who was so vibrant and open to sharing her interests.
Which is why she frowned as she made her own little note on the piece of paper.
"Sorry, I can't. Journalism club!" she jotted down in lustrous navy blue ink.
With a quiet crinkle and a quick toss, the note was back in Gabbie's hands.
Since she could remember, Zoe had always admired news anchors. They knew so much about the world, and spoke authoritatively on every subject they came across. When she was younger, she spent her days interviewing Gabbie, who would drape herself in silk sheets and take on the persona of a super-rich heiress or rock goddess.
On those days, Gabbie's smile was unbelievably bright. A great contrast to the somewhat annoyed pout she was giving her best friend now. But Zoe knew that Gabbie's foul moods never lasted long, and in an instant, her best friend went from a scowl to a shrug, quickly returning her attention to the teacher in front of them.
Lucky for Gabbie, and for all of them really, the bell tolled at that exact moment.
"Homework; read on the rest of the chapter at home," Mrs. Abernathy said, as she was known to do. "Complete the exercise on page 30, and hand it in on Thursday."
The whole room attempted a groan, but the dull teacher's surprisingly swift lion stare quickly shut them up. Though St. Augustus was a prestigious private school where all the students paid exorbitant amounts per year, they weren't given any special treatment as a result. It could be a brutal place when push came to shove, known for it's extensive self-study programs and hard-as-nails teachers.
But Zoe didn't need to think about that any more, at least for that afternoon, because school was out.
The hallways of St. Augustus' were wide and high, with large arches carving up one corridor from the next. The floors were lined in functional monochrome tile; a sophisticated gray and white alternating with every step. There were few lockers in the building, owing to the school's small student population of just 200, which meant every other hall was lined with beautiful, large arched bay windows where students could chat and catch up between classes.
Zoe said goodbye to Gabbie as they checked books in and out of their lockers. Even though she was filled with dread at the prospect of a whole night spent on science homework, she made sure to keep her science book in her brown leather cross-body book-bag. She even jotted down a sticky note on which exercise to do.
It was a skill she'd inherited from her father, who was always popping sticky notes on every surface imaginable, even though he had a top-of-the-line smartphone to do all his remembering for him instead.
Zoe had joined the Journalism Club three weeks ago, after Spring Break, and always looked forward to a club meeting. This week was the most exciting yet, because the club president had promised that all three first-formers that they could work on a story for the fortnightly lower school paper.
It was just a four page piece of fluff. More technically; one piece of A3 paper folded into two sheets of A4, but everybody had to start somewhere.
The journalism club met on the school's upper floor, where all the upper school students took their regular classes. Zoe was usually late to meetings, because she wasn't great at traversing a thick crowd, and today was no different. Upper school kids lingered at their lockers and chatted at the windows, seemingly unaware that they could leave the building now that school was out of session.
Still, she summoned up all of her courage and asked people to step out of the way as kindly as possible. One boy, who had replaced his standard black shirt with a designer polo, hiding it behind the uniform's green sweater vest, smiled at her as if she were a lost puppy before moving to let her pass. The expression bothered her, as if he knew something she didn't.
In her heart, she knew that it was wrong of him to break school regulations like that. It was pointlessly defiant; he'd done it entirely to show off his cool new shirt.
But a part of her wondered if she was going through life missing something.