This is Part Three of a short fiction.
Mr. Mero’s morning was off to a promising start. As advertised, an anaesthetic injection had worked wonders on his surprisingly decrepit spine, allowing him to stand without agony. It gave him the extra energy to program the MatterMate properly, which led to a much richer approximation of tea and toast. But a phone call the previous evening was the real reason for his mood.
The conversation suggested his involvement in Vitrius’ latest prototype. Their contact meant that he could get personal access to an exciting, if elusive, new development. Mr. Mero had followed their progress closely for a decade, especially since they found fame designing apps for use in classrooms worldwide. The effectiveness of Vitrius’ technology was staggering. Its widespread introduction revolutionised education by affording students more independence than ever before.
Much had changed on the path to Mr. Mero’s relatively old age. Teaching as a profession faded quietly into practical obsolescence. His role became that of a watchful eye — a human influence. It seemed, against the fears of his younger years, that freedom simply bored adolescents into an increased interest in study. But pupils hadn’t grown so Utopian as to be completely self-sufficient. Tried, tested and tired Mr. Mero remained at the head of the room, even though he was regarded as a mere shepherd for occasionally meandering mind-sets.
Well, he thought as he booted up the cloud-integrated tablets gathered in the central hub, at least that virus has been flushed from the system. It wasn’t juvenile or chaotic in its execution; instead, it struck a more rebellious tone by blanking all codes of conduct. The clever youth who programmed it was probably in a corrective booth asfinished his routine, staring down the white, smooth walls of confinement and dwelling on isolation (or so was the idea).
A soothing melody beeped from a flashing red light by the door frame. Mr. Mero wondered how many generations had suffered hearing damage from the merciless crack of school bells. Defunct, they still clung to the walls in vestigial martyrdom — too expensive to remove and far too ugly to utilise. The musical chatter that replaced them was warmly welcomed. Regimented to the very second of the eighth note, the classroom door unlocked itself and slid open in silence.
The children who marched in wore sleek, androgynous uniforms. They spoke, like any of their age would at prudent opportunities, but not rapturously. Similarly, they discussed the self-same nothings of their predecessors; but their discourse came tinged with a dulled sense of dissent. The group seated themselves quickly and logged-in to Vitrius.
‘Portal H-17, Sir?’ asked Jordan, a pupil who Mr. Mero remembered for extreme sycophancy alone. Some of the class laughed discreetly at their hub-mate’s anachronism; only the eldest tutors demanded formalities like “Sir”.
‘Hang on,’ Mr. Mero replied, ‘hang on.’ He made dithering movements over to his own tablet as Jordan slumped back, irritated by the detour. ‘Two of you,’ he began with fluid, deliberate swipes on his screen, ‘are responsible for changing my avatar last week.’ No one showed a single hint of guilt.
‘Your penalty,’ he continued in honey-laced, punitive pride, ‘is to have your handiwork displayed.’ With that, and an animated prod on the “SEND ALL” button, each student received a pixelated doodle of a cartoon penis. Many of them sighed. Others chose not to even validate it with a reaction. However, one rotund scholar trembled in a doomed attempt at hiding his amusement. He did it, Mr. Mero thought as he scaled the others’ disapproval in a search for his accomplice.
‘I’m sorry, Sir,’ his suspect gasped between giggles, unable to restrain himself any longer. ‘It was all about testing the hack! The picture was rushed!’ Although he couldn’t stop tittering, he was deeply embarrassed.
‘Did it have to be so crass, Daniel?’ Mr. Mero deliberated aloud, ‘But an impressive hack, I’ll give you that. Since they won’t come forward, you can tell the Administrator who helped you with it.’ He detailed this carefully and calmly, and pointed his finger towards the door. Daniel, without a word, stood up to leave. Mr. Mero realised that he missed the heated conflicts of the past.
Daniel barely got half-way to the door before his partner-in-crime, Nic, owned up. He knew Daniel wouldn’t protect his name in some sonnet to solidarity. That was long gone, and it would be better for him to accept his fate with chutzpah.
‘I’ll just go, Sir,’ Nic said clearly. He was only behind the hack’s data encryption, and he could talk his way out of a corrective booth if it came to it.
‘Thank you,’ his teacher smiled at him, ‘ponder on the moments of study your class has lost because of this.’
Once the door had softly closed and re-locked itself, all tension dissipated. The group resumed their log-in procedures, and Jordan congratulated Mr. Mero on his disciplinary victory. Mr. Mero was somewhat uncomfortable with this, but moved on to finally answer his pupil’s earlier query.
‘Portal H-17, class,’ he commanded. ‘Within, you’ll find today’s unit on the Holocaust and the events preceding it.’ Nobody could learn an entire unit in a day before Vitrius. Their apps and methods made it possible to tackle a year’s work in a matter of hours. Mr. Mero looked up and around at the regulation blank walls and felt — not for the first time — like a relic.