Cal loved Admin Long’s science class. It was the only class where there were no daily films. Instead, there was “workshop time,” which meant Cal could click “play” on his GLASS and watch HOVER vids or embarrassing clips of peers in compromising situations. His favorite was Bella Smart petting Sprout on her family horse farm. Sprout got a huge erection. Bella blanched in embarrassment.
The first time he called Bella “HD” (“Horse Dick”) to her face, she thought he meant “Hi-Def,” an old-school term for super clear TV. His crew always laughed when he said it because they knew exactly what he meant. Cal made a conscious effort to use the expression as often as he could.
Joanne Fromme was another favorite. She often posted clips of her canine pets, so Cal adopted the practice of calling her “Dog Face.” He stepped it up by reposting pics with her face superimposed on the heads of her dogs.
Then, there was James Sparks. The newest transgender child in the school, James was a replica of his parents. On a recent test, he drew an anatomically realistic vagina and penis on his screen and narrated his artwork with the explanation that most people have one of each. Even though trans people had long been accepted and the school demo was composed of many students with either same-sex or trans parents, Cal construed James’ artwork as an irresistible opportunity to pick on a target too weak to fight back.
Besides a natural inclination to bully others, Cal had the added advantage of being born to parents who were politically connected because of their status in the management hierarchy at the INTER. That gave him license to run amok without consequences – mostly. It also gave him access to recommenders who would vouch for him in future even if his academic and behavioral record was less than stellar.
When the door to Admin Long’s classroom swung open indicating that class was in session, Cal followed his normal routine. He shouldered his way to the front of the crowded doorway to ensure getting the best seat for “workshopping.” Mel, Amy, Tag, and Earnest — front of the class types who always made teachers happy — slid out of his way. Their movement was not without a daily ritual of eye-rolling and a “fuck off loser” elbow in the back from Mel. Cal responded with a high-pitched whinny about six inches from her nose and kept moving. He hopped onto the rolling chair that rested inside the door and, with one kick from his right leg, sent the chair, and his body, sliding across the floor. It stopped with a thud as it banged against Admin Long’s lectern. Cal couldn’t resist a few circle spins as he held out a hand to slap the backsides of Jackson, Michael, Harry, and Ted. They were both his class buddies and squad mates on the HOVER team. All of them tolerated his arrogance, willfully allowing him to commandeer the chair each morning because they knew he would carry the team in HOVER matches later.
One day, when Cal was absent, his four comrades in arms made sure he wasn’t missed. Ted hopped on the chair to execute the daily spectacle, but before he could get enough traction to slide across the room, Jackson grabbed the back of his shirt and wrenched him to the ground. “You got domed!” came a shout from behind as the others burst into laughter. Mel and the front of the class crew didn’t have time to respond before Admin Long shouted from the doorway, “What the heck is going on here?” Ted and Jackson pointed at each other, their faces mocking disgust. “He did it!” they chimed in unison. But Admin Long wasn’t having it. He pointed back at the two with two fingers and an emphatic scowl on his face. Wordlessly, he directed them back out into the hallway.
“Screw you fuckers,” Mel mumbled as they passed her. The last thing anyone could hear before the door sealed was the two of them bickering and a trailing off of words. “Cal… every day… no detention.”
Today, Cal once again went unnoticed, or at least unscolded, by Admin Long. As his last revolution in the chair came to a slow halt, he smiled at the other guys and extended a slow middle finger in their direction as if to say “Gotcha again, Donks!” He then back-pedaled the chair behind the desk farthest from the podium where Admin Long habitually stood. From this vantage point, he could swivel his chair in the direction of Long, keeping one eye on the Admin and the other on the entertainment du jour he would dial-up onscreen while supposedly “workshopping.”
As everyone settled into the morning routine, Cal touched his screen to bring it to life. Mel raised her hand, summoning Admin Long to her table. “Did you see this, Mr. Long?” she asked, holding her GLASS up for him to look at. “I did,” he responded, “I was planning to bring that up after workshop was over, but maybe we should hop in now.”
“Hi, ALBRT, please run the news report for today on the front wall,” Admin Long requested of the virtual assistant. The lights in the room automatically dimmed to optimum viewing luminance — a feature of ALBRT’s entertainment pack.
The disembodied ALBRT’s main responsibility was school safety and security, but it controlled almost every aspect of running the school’s physical plant as well. Body scans at all external openings made it impossible for any unapproved person or material to pass from outside into the school. The scans registered students, teachers, and others, along with their devices, the moment they entered and was able to track social media, photos, and online activities.
Although there were privacy concerns when ALBRT was deployed, the consensus was that the scales of balance between freedom and security needed to tip in favor of security. The American Liberty Bureau (the first three letters of the acronym for ALBRT) had been initiated with maintaining a safe balance in mind. The last two letters of the acronym stood for Restriction and Technology, in the style of the times. Most federal, state, and local facilities had a version of ALBRT specifically tailored to the needs of their campus layout and physical plant. The design of the restriction technology gave most people peace of mind.
In response to Admin Long’s command, ALBRT projected the NewsNow logo onto the wall in the front of the room. The entire class could view ALBRT’s feed on their desktop GLASS screen. Every student had one as standard issue when they first enrolled in school.
Similar to “phones” of previous generations, “GLASS” was a technology that allowed seamless interface with endless amounts of data that had been collected since the very first days of the now old- fashioned “internet.” Each bit of information was cataloged by date, time, relevance to search criterium, and reliability of the source. Information was scored based on the number of accesses it had. If a person wanted to hear a song that featured the word “feel,” they could tactile interface, speak, or merely think the word and the GLASS would produce potential matches based on preferences. While GLASS technology made it easy to get tailored results quickly, it also excluded outlying information that was considered irrelevant.
The government heralded GLASS technology as a revolutionary device for “an advanced society such as ours, where racism, class, and wealth disparity has all but been eradicated.” Congressional representatives extolled its virtues: “What is the need for listening to bad news, or even news that you don’t really want to hear?” they said. “We are America The Great and GLASS makes us even greater!”
Cal had heard his mom recite the chant many times. It was even the lead post on her “card” — a tech profile that allowed people to authenticate usership and interface with any ALBRT at any facility. This was the card guardians used when visiting schools for parent-teacher conferences. His mother’s card displayed the phrase morphed into a waving flag at the end.
Mel’s facility with maneuvering the GLASS interface beyond normal parameters often made her the one Admin Long called upon to present news stories to the class that were outside of ALBRT’s constricted realm. Most students did a general search for “news” and received limited results – mostly gossip about singers, dancers, actors and other entertainers. Mel shared stories about science, politics, global society, and social unrest. She didn’t care when classmates laughed and said her news report was “fake” or “stupid.”
Huddled together as NewsNow displayed on the front wall, Mel and Amy made audible noises with contorted faces as the monotonous newsreel droned on. Cal looked up from his HOVER vid. His chair made a light squeak as he spun a quarter turn to make sure he was facing the direction of Admin Long. He wanted to keep up the appearance that he was using his workshop time wisely. Upon seeing the NewsNow logo on the wall, his eyes snapped back to the HOVER vid as ALBRT displayed the canned newsreel for the rest of the class.
He wasn’t paying attention when the announcer said “Footage released today shows a huge tidal wave making landfall on the islands of the Philippines. A massive ice cap broke off from an arctic glacier, sending a 100-foot surge of waves over the bayside town of Manila on the island of Luzon. A massive search and rescue is underway for survivors. The wave, the third of its kind this year, washed hundreds of miles inland, leaving incredible devastation in its path.” The video continued to show trees popping like toothpicks, houses disappearing under the froth of surf, and unwary beachgoers being washed into oblivion.
“Oh damn,” huffed Ted, cupping his closed hand over his mouth. Others in the class were making similar noises and the din of the room is what pulled Cal’s eyes from his HOVER vid toward ALBRT’s projection of the NewsNow report.
“A small number of survivors have been discovered. They are being classified as ‘Arctic Refugees’ and relocated to INTER locations around the globe…”