The following short story is about a teacher teaching from home in a dystopian society. It is a draft and is possibly the first installment in a series of related, but standalone short stories. Written about a year ago.
“The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler
Adema lingered before the glass wall overlooking the blinking city from a flat in uptown C—. Glass flats crammed side by side lit up with notifications for miles on end. Adema marveled as chats flashed across walls and text scrolled rapidly up before blinking away. Mojis of all kinds rotflol’d, smh’d, dropped their jaws and rolled their eyes at one another. CutieCook17’s live broadcast loomed above the flat on the corner of 1st and 76th—Adema considered tuning in but then noticed the single Waymo winding through the streets toward the edge of the city. Who could be going somewhere? Adema tried to remember the last time leaving the house. The only people who went places were the illiterates—the ones who did the jobs synths wouldn’t do and who worked for paper. There weren’t very many of those people left after the cleansing. Adema watched the car maneuver through the streets until it could no longer be seen.
A blue light flashed through the apartment, announcing the start of the next class and the end of the 10-minute lunch break. Adema sighed and threw a crumpled up wrapper into the waste bin next to the kitchen counter. The glass wall populated with thumbnails, first showing placeholder people, then actual students. Freshmen. Darth Vader appeared in slot 6B. Adema scrolled through the attendance list and found the student’s name. “Tommy Larkins, no filters please.”
“Fuck you,” the student jeered.
Adema started toward the slot. The vader mask vanished, revealing a grungy brown-haired boy who probably hadn’t gotten up from his virtual reality games in days. Adema stopped. The student had complied, but as Adema turned a new filter slid into place—Adema’s face. The students laughed. Adema sighed and muted the student, blocked his video, and proceeded to deliver the lesson.
“Teacher, have you seen this?” a student interrupted. Her screen filled with a video from a police drone—clearly hacked. The drone and six others surrounded an illiterate outside a tech junk yard. He knelt on the dusty ground, hands behind his head. Nothing indicated that he’d been scavenging for parts—maybe he’d only gotten too close to the yard. Nonetheless, the drones fired and six seconds later, the man was dead.
“Damn! That was at least a hundred rounds!” another student laughed.
Adema’s heart skipped a beat—but quickly, the teacher dismissed the video. “Children, please stand for gym class.”
The students grumbled. “Do we have to stand?” complained one.
“Why can’t we sit?” asked another.
Adema ignored them and played the fitness video—another ten-minute break while the students exercised. Adema’s thoughts returned to the Waymo from earlier. Where did it go?
Only one third of the students returned after the break. Adema sighed. Only one third of the pay. Class ended. Clink, clink, clink. 30 units plunked into Adema’s virtual wallet, making 70 units total—enough to pay the Net bill and to order food for dinner. At this rate, she wouldn’t make rent.
That evening, she called her sister. Zealia’s face was still dripping with sweat from one of her virtual fitness classes. “Adema,” she greeted her sister. “Why didn’t you come to my morning power cycle? You could have fit it in before your classes.”
In the background, the clinks into Zelia’s wallet were constant.
“Ehn, could you mute that?” Adema complained. She answered her sister’s question. “I was too tired.”
The clinking stopped.
“Adema,” Zelia scolded, “you need the energy. Your students won’t come back to that dreary face of yours. Come to class tomorrow. It will do you good.”
“We’ll see, Zelia.”
Zelia let it go, and Adema knew it did not really matter. Her sister had plenty of clients. She thought again about the Waymo. “Zelia, why don’t I come visit you?” she said.
Zelia did not hesitate to decline. “Ade, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” she replied. She made up some excuse, but Adema had already stopped listening. Of course Zealia would say no. They hadn’t seen each other since school. No one saw anyone anymore.
“Hellooo?” Zealia said. “Are you going to the protest, or no?”
#bandwithbandwidth was airing later that night, but Adema thought about the 70 units in her wallet. “No, I have to teach night school,” she said.
“Didn’t you make enough money today?”
“I only had 120 students in class today.”
“Adema, how many times do I keep telling you? You’re a good teacher. You have to advertise better,” her sister scolded. “Otherwise—”
A little scream rang out from somewhere inside her house, cutting her off. Adema perked up. “Is that Kai?” she asked. “Can I see him?”
Zelia’s screen split in two and Adema could see her young nephew practicing karate in his room. She wondered what he felt and smelled like, and if she would ever get to hold him before he got too big.
Zelia’s face filled the screen again. “Listen, I have to go,” she said. “Ade, work on your ads, okay?”
“Okay, Z,” Adema responded. “I—”
But Zelia was gone.
A drone carrying takeout whizzed past Adema’s window, reminding her that she wanted dinner. As she scrolled through the options on her touch pad and considered their prices, she thought about the 20 units that would be left in her wallet after she paid her net bill. It would be enough to rent a cab.
Fifteen minutes later, she stood on the curb outside her building, on an empty and darkening street. A Waymo rolled to a stop in front of her. “Where to?” an automated voice asked.
On the way, the cab drove past a crumbling brick building with blackened windows. The school Adema and Zelia attended as children. The car deposited her on the outskirts of the city, where the ruins began, and Adema walked forward, into The Past.
What do you think? Comments & questions below 🙂