Nectar

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Nectar by Adeena Bromberg Seltzer - Photo by Marika Campbell

The tunnel was dark. She felt as if she was walking underwater, with no end in sight. Only faint traces of shapes could be seen, and the occasional brightly colored far-off dot, a speck of fleeting light trying to hide from her. Delila’s EIS kept attempting to find something to focus on, her pupils dilating over and over again, but with no luck. She wasted time while walking by watching the Nectar Streams of her friends at the party, and then noticed what felt off. If they were all there, they would have slightly different perspectives. Delila felt an intense bzzzzt. Suddenly, all light stopped shining. She felt like she was dropping through a black hole, weightless, as if a comforting weight had been lifted off by something that she had never before seen: total darkness. Always, some tint, some light, some something, had been displayed but for this one fleeting second, nothing.

She blinked at the shock of the darkness, powerless, emptiness, in front of her.

_____________________________________________________

Two days earlier:

Bzzzzt. Delila saw her EIS focus on her image in the mirror. Her mechanical pupils quickly dilated and then constricted, like camera lenses focusing on a target. She heard another faint bzzzzt in her ear, along with the slightest of nudges, as a notification displayed in midair in front of her:

@bitter_like_honey: hello, Delila

Delila had had EIS installed in her since birth. EIS, or “Embedded Interactive System,” were government sanctioned devices used by every single citizen. EIS helped each user to see the world more clearly, with interactive displays with many applications. Currently, Delila was sitting in her bed, staring at the wall, to any average onlooker. However, Delila saw bright, artificial displays projected in midair all around her. EIS, pronounced like the word “eyes,” eliminated use of almost every other type of electronic device, and were used for everything from schoolwork to social media.

Delila read the message, which was invisible to all others, but to her was slightly opaque, surrounded by a translucent orange message bubble, projected into thin air. “A new fan, who must have watched her public pasts,” she decided.

@delilas_eyes: hi! thanks 4 checking my pasts.

Delila responded, by typing behind her back, as not to include her private message in her Nectar Stream.

@bitter_like_honey: w893774. You drop it.

@delilas_eyes: huh

@bitter_like_honey’s profile disappeared before she could look them up. So, she went back to chat pasts and copied @bitter_like_honey into her Nectar Strings. Nothing came up. “It must have been a bot,” Delila thought, determining that the Government hadn’t been great about finding those recently.

Delila quickly forgot the whole encounter.

“Hey,” said Sonia from her room across the city, who now had gotten into bed and B-C (blink control) turned off the lights. Delila could see the outlines of Sonia’s ceiling, because that’s what Sonia saw. So could 30 other people, who were also checked into Sonia’s Nectar Stream, a constant live video streaming app, which doubled as the most popular social media app for EIS. With Nectar, one’s entire life, from their point of view, is recorded and streamed live to anyone with whom they are “friends.” One can check the entirety of their own footage, and post public “pasts,” which can be viewed by the public. Unlike EIS, however, when one closed their eyes the streamed image went dark, so that everyone has some privacy. Using Nectar Stream had virtually eliminated all in-person crime, and now the only real threats were cyber.

“Has anyone heard of a Stephan Miller?” asked Sonia, to the general people watching her life around the city. No one responded. “Whatever, I’ll accept him.”

@teller.sonia: remind who he is again?

@delilas_eyes: he’s that cute guy from the coffee shop. ACCEPT HIM!!!

@teller.sonia: I did!!!

@delilas_eyes: now don’t interact. That’s the whole point of asking if anyone knows him, to catch him off guard.

But Sonia didn’t listen, and she addressed him directly through her Nectar Stream, which Stephen had just checked into. “So, my pasts weren’t enough, and now you want the real thing?”

Stephen laughed from his bed three streets down.

Delila sighed and turned over pressing her head into the pillow, as she watched her best friend flirt with a stranger. Sonia didn’t care anymore what people saw her do, she had even hooked up with her eyes open before, so people could see. Her parents never checked her live, and so she did as she pleased.

But Delila followed all protocol. She closed her eyes when she was doing anything private, and only said real things through messaging. She typed out of view, unless working on homework, and she rarely ever posted publicly to her pasts. When she did, they were highlights of her life and very edited.

Bzzzzt. “Dear citizen, Government surveillance is now on” Displayed across the center of Delila’s view.

This notification didn’t faze Delilah at all, as she and all other citizens received it every couple of hours, and their frame changed from orange to green for a couple of minutes. EIS surveillance was utilized by the government to make sure that each citizen was acting respectably. However, as Delila and everyone else knew, the government could watch you even without warning, and leave the frame orange so you didn’t know.

Sonia always had a green frame, for she had accidentally left her Nectar off at a party once to try something illegal. Delilah never found out what it had been because her best friend couldn’t share anything sensitive through messages, or anything anymore. Sonia was on the “Gov Watch List,” but she could not care less, as she usually didn’t do anything too bad, only slightly inappropriate.

Delila swiped out the show she was watching for her “highlights of the day” and looked through to see if anything was worth posting to her public pasts. She fast forwarded through her day as she continued to hear Sonia flirt in the background, and another friend get in a fight with her mom. Delila noticed a cute interchange she had had earlier with her sister, who had no doubt already posted before she went to sleep. Delila checked her sister’s profile, and sure enough, there was the interchange from her perspective. Except something looked slightly off. The wall was rounded slightly. Video-editing gone wrong. Delila clicked the displayed button to private chat:

@delilas_eyes: take that down the wall is curved

@breedabomb: oops.

Two minutes later, the video was replaced by a more accurate version, although Bree didn’t look quite as beautiful in it as she did before. Satisfied with her sister’s past, Delila laid down to go to sleep, and softly rubbed her eyes.

“Night mode activated!” a feminine voice whispered in Delila’s ear. “Have a good night!”

As soon as she shifted into night mode, her EIS displayed a calmer, less intense design. An empty center displayed in front, with stars projected (again, just for Delila) on her ceiling. The time read to the side, and messages could go through, but only on the side. If Delila looked down, she could see the Nectar interface, and her friends going to sleep all over the city. Bzzzzt. Delila’s EIS auto-focused on her old-fashioned fire detector on the ceiling. These weren’t the most necessary, but her house had some, so Delila’s parents made her utilize them. Her EIS re-focused on it blinking, filling the mostly dark room with quick, red flashes. Delila got up, and night mode turned back off, shocking her with bright light. She took the batteries out of a drawer and stepped onto her tiptoes to reach the low ceiling. When she unscrewed the machine from the ceiling to fix it, she searched for the white imprint into the plastic in a seemingly random, pattern-filled circle. Her EIS auto-focused on it and read her information, step-by-step, going through fire safety laws and how to replace batteries. It also read out its production code: w893774.

She fixed the old-fashioned fire detector back into place and sat back down in her room. Delila got into bed and rubbed her eyes, to go back to night mode.

“Night mode activated!” a feminine voice whispered in her ear. “Have a good night!”

Delila looked up at the stars. She had her night mode set to what the solar system would look like without light pollution. Beautiful. Slowly, Delila fell asleep.

The next morning, Delila watched her dream sequence during Math class. While her teacher’s lecture displayed word by word to her right side, in the middle she was Day-Dreaming, a new technology developed in the last update for EIS where one could watch their own dreams. She was sitting at a table, drinking tea with her grandmother, when grandma gave her a fancy tea cup, a family heirloom, and then she dropped it, and its star-y pattern shattered all over the floor, lost forever.

Suddenly, Delila felt her eyes close, although not on her own accord. She was in class, and if she didn’t keep her Nectar Stream open, then she wouldn’t be able to replay these lessons as notes. Even when her eyes were closed though, her EIS continued to Day-Dream, show her classmates’ Nectar Streams, and display a graph of the hyperbola that she was learning. She could see the class from any of her classmates’ perspectives, but not her own. In fact, as she tried to open her eyes, they just closed tighter.

Five seconds later, Delila’s eyes opened again, allowing her Nectar Stream to be shown again, though she hadn’t directed them to.

Bzzzzt.

@teller.sonia: what happened

If it hadn’t been for the lack of livestream at that moment, Delila doubted that Sonia would have been able to tell anything was wrong.

@delilas_eyes: they just closed again. no clue why

@teller.sonia: that’s the third time today! It’s not a usual thing for your eyes to just close without you making them

@delilas_eyes: yeah i’m making an appointment.

To her mother, Delila sent:

@delilas_eyes: I need an appointment with an eisologist.

Her mom, no doubt bored at work, responded almost simultaneously:

@drdreamer22: k. I’ll book it.

That afternoon at home, right before her appointment, Delila’s mother handed her a mug filled with rich, dark hot cocoa. Delila burnt her fingers on the mug, and dropped it, shattering it into a million pieces. Through her Nectar Stream, a lot of people laughed in the background, as they saw it. Almost automatically though, she received a message.

Bzzzzt.

@bitter_like_honey: I said you’d drop it.

@delilas_eyes: WHO ARE YOU?

@delilas_eyes: WHAT IS GOING ON.

Again though, when Delila went to click on their profile, they disappeared.

Delila was sitting in bed again, this time, watching her Day-Dream with her grandmother, and comparing it to her interaction with her mother. They seemed so similar, and yet predictable. And how had @bitter_like_honey known that it was going to happen, or the individual code of her fire detector. Her eyes closed themselves again, closing her view of reality but still displaying her Nectar. And then her Nectar flashed on and off. Her Nectar slot lit up and then darkened, repeatedly, until finally turning off completely. Delila screamed, but her voice felt muffled, and she barely heard herself. Never had she heard of Nectar shutting off in the history of the social media app. Sure, occasionally Nectar would crash, but never fully turn off. Her view of the world felt incredibly dull with one less glowing app in her face. Delila had no idea why this was happening to her of all people, the perfect citizen. In her panic, she thought about going back to her eisologist, but then Delila remembered her appointment from earlier that afternoon.
The eisologist had had nothing to say to Delila.

“Your EIS look perfectly normal, and your body is adapting to all updates normally. Try to get more sleep, maybe you are just dozing off without realizing,” he had said to her, barely glancing at her pupils through a magnifying glass. She had not told him about the hacker, for fear that they would put her on Gov Watch List, which would no doubt be horrible for her reputation.

But now, after having gone to the eisologist, the blinking and sticking had just gotten worse. Now her Nectar had creepily turned off. Thank goodness her EIS still stayed on. Delila didn’t know why, but for some reason she felt as if losing one’s EIS would be like being buried alive. As if losing this piece of technology would feel like being alive without being able to be a part of society, move around, or even have any form of interaction, in total darkness.

Suddenly, Delila’s Nectar restarted, filling the vacant slot in her EIS projection with intense white light.

“Welcome to Nectar, the sweetest social media app!” sounded the feminine voice through her app. Delila instantly calmed down, as if a heavy blanket had enveloped her and she was being swaddled. “Please sign in or make an account!” Delila typed in her username, and her entire account went back to normal, as if NOTHING had happened. There were no messages from her friends, not even Sonia, asking her what happened, and absolutely no government questions. Something about the app looked slightly off, but Delila couldn’t tell what it was. Maybe the chat box shape, or something similar. Delila decided that it was just her mind tricking her, and that her whole EIS didn’t feel less bright, and duller than it had just minutes ago.

Bzzzzt. Delila felt the notification nudge as usual, but it felt more intense.

@bitter_like_honey: darkness outshines the dusk.

Delila tried to click on the username, but this did nothing.

@delilas_eyes: LEAVE ME ALONE.

@bitter_like_honey: if you want to be alone, then why are you here.

The profile disappeared as Delila puzzled over what they had said. She now understood the correlation. @bitter_like_honey was causing these issues and the eisologist either was ignoring them or didn’t recognize the hacking. To think that the three trillion dollars towards EIS security from the federal government a year was being wasted.

Delila was extremely frightened, and angry. She could not understand why she was the target for such harsh, bitter hacking. She tried to inform her friends of what was happening, but anytime she did, the Nectar Stream made it seem like her eyes were closed. It wouldn’t even post the past of her blackout.

She tried to message her family, but it wouldn’t go through for them either.

Delila also tried to message the Government EIS Department about it, and Nectar Management, but she got no response.

Delila searched through her family’s Nectar Streams, but her parents’ and Bree’s Streams were creepily blank, and when she walked around the house they weren’t there.

Thankfully, she could still see her friends’ Nectar Streams. Apparently, they were all at an underground party, and watching a live concert. They were all standing so close together that they had the exact same view of the stage. She realized that the only way she could inform anyone of the issue was in person, so she decided to join Sonia and the others and get help, as she obviously wasn’t going to get any help from an eisologist or the Government. Delila tried to search for the party, and immediately found directions. She had traveled there before, and so she began to walk across the city. She would have gone anywhere to get away from the hacker.

As Delila walked down the street, at night, there were so many bright signs and intense ads, many of which were interactive with EIS. Cars zipped past her and each other, and the sky was filled with projected ads, mostly all for Nectar and other apps. A bright yellow car zipped by her, and then an orange, and then a green. The cars zipping past were going so fast that they almost looked like lines, strings of light, or little streams of color. Her EIS auto-focused on each sign quickly, making the street confusing and made Delila feel like she was spinning, but she pushed forward. She wished that she had a car, but she was too young to have a self-drive license, and anyway she didn’t have any money to pay a taxi, as her e-bank had also crashed when Nectar shut down.

After walking for a couple minutes, with artificial blinks and distracting auto-focuses every couple of seconds, Delila noticed a black car driving slowly behind her. She picked up her speed and turned a corner, and the car sped up and turned with her. Suddenly, Delila’s eyes closed extremely tight, and stayed closed for several seconds. She tripped over something on the sidewalk, and when her eyes opened again, the car was gone. Delila was terrified and ran toward the closest alley that she could see. She found herself in a dark, abandoned tunnel, with a little stream of still water on the ground. Panicking, Delila checked her map. Apparently, this tunnel was constructed before the traffic crisis had ended, when no one had self-driving cars yet. Her EIS informed her that although the project was abandoned, the non-lit, damp, tunnel let out a couple of miles away, and then she could reach her friends.

She felt as if she were walking underwater, with no end in sight. Only faint traces of shapes could be seen, and the occasional brightly colored far-off dot, a speck of fleeting light trying to hide from her. Her EIS kept attempting to find something to focus on, her pupils dilating over and over again, but with no luck. She wasted time while walking by watching the Nectar Streams of her friends at the party. She felt jealous of her friends, all unbothered and looking at the exact same singer. In that moment, she noticed what felt off. If they were all there, they would have slightly different perspectives. Delila felt an intense bzzzzt. Suddenly, all light stopped shining. She felt like she was dropping through a black hole, weightless, as if a comforting weight had been lifted off by something that she had never before seen: total darkness. Always, some tint, some light, some something, had been displayed but for this one fleeting second, nothing.

She blinked at the shock of the darkness, powerless, emptiness, in front of her, and promptly lost balance. Then, as soon as it had come, it had gone.

Delila was now lying on the ground, eyes closed, but she could see some warm, dark light through her eyelids. Slowly, she opened her eyes and realized that for the first time, she was looking at the world without any EIS displays. The tunnel was still dark, but from the position she had fallen to, she could see some graffiti on what she had thought was a blank wall. Delila read the graffiti and understood. She felt like a headache had been lifted out of her like the sickly sweet taste had finally left her mouth. It read:
darkness through eyes is brighter than light through EIS
nectar=bitter honey

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Adeena Bromberg Seltzer is a senior at Northampton High School in Northampton, Massachusetts. She is a member of her school’s comedy improvisation troupe and the outreach chair for the Northampton Mayor's Youth Committee. Adeena loves to paint and write poetry and is highly involved with USY and Camp Ramah. In her free time, you can find her talking your ear off about Jewish philosophy, or teaching her friends Israeli Zumba dances.
Accompanying photo: “Ghost Town” by Marika Campbell-Blue