by Rie Sheridan Rose
“Take your seats, please. Everyone sit.” The robo-teacher pointed to the desks before it, and the children filed into place. “Today, we will be studying the end of Mother Earth and why no one lives there anymore.”
Axton Peters whined, “Do we hafta? No one goes there. No one can go there for millions of years.”
The teacher hummed, and a hologram appeared before the students. The text at the bottom of the page read: Central Park, New York City, New York, USA. People flitted through the park, laughing and playing. Children flew kites. The carousel spun with its gay music.
The children gasped, leaning forward in their seats, mesmerized by the hologram. Excited whispers filled the room—quelled by a flash of the robo-teacher’s lights.
“What is that?” Marjean Carlyle asked in wonder.
“That is what is known as a park. People would go there to relax,” answered the teacher.
“Like the rec room?” Neider Matthews guessed.
“Yes, but they were outside. Not on a station or in a ship. This is what Old Earth was like.”
“That wasn’t everywhere,” Axton scoffed.
The teacher’s head dipped. “Indeed. There were also places like this.” Another hum, and another hologram appeared.
This one was a bleak landscape littered with trash. The blue sky had been replaced by an atmosphere tinged with yellow and green. No people were in sight, though—as the children watched—a single figure bundled up in a big orange jumpsuit and wearing a gas mask hurried across the field of the hologram. Even through the heavy visor, they could see his bald head, covered with weeping sores. Several of the children raised their hands, but before the teacher could call on someone, it was interrupted.
“That’s why we left,” Axton blurted triumphantly—never one to wait for her acknowledgement. “Because things were more like that than that stupid park.”
“That is the park,” answered the teacher. “Twenty-five years after the first holo. Ten years before the final ship left for the colonies. Today, the only figures that move on Earth are robo-techs engaged in cleaning up debris and replanting vegetation.” Another hum from the robo-teacher, and another holo flashed on the screen.
The image was somewhere in between the pleasant parkland and the bleak desolation. The area was still empty of inhabitants, but there was a green tint to the landscape, the rebirth of nature, and the piles of trash from the previous holo were nowhere to be seen. A clunky robot wheeled into view, staking a single piece of paper and binning it in a compartment in its chest.
“This is the park today. It can be reclaimed. It is being reclaimed. If the work continues as it is, humans may be able to return to Mother Earth within your lifetimes.”
Marjean breathed, “Would it be like the first holo?”
“Not at first. At first, it would be a minimal existence. Robo-techs can only be programmed to do so much. They clean, they plant, they reclaim—but they can’t nurture. They can’t make the world a home again. Only you can do that.”
“Us?” Neider asked quizzically, glancing around the room at his classmates.
“Human beings. This is what we are working for. A return of humans to Earth.”
The dozen or so children were all quiet for a moment, letting the words sink in.
“Why should we return?” asked Axton—the perpetual skeptic. “We have the stars. The colonies are growing and expanding. Earth is just a tiny speck…and not a particularly good one.”
The teacher hissed out a sound that was almost a sigh. “That isn’t the lesson. Can anyone tell me what the lesson is?”
Marjean raised a tentative hand. “The way the Earth was left will be a problem on any world as long as we don’t change our attitude. Right?”
“The Earth was our home. We didn’t take care of it, and we’ve had to have someone else clean up after us.” Neider said. “That isn’t right. We’ve already started spoiling the colony worlds. We can’t just use them and move on forever…”
The robo-teacher’s head nodded. “Well done, Neider. Well put.”
The teacher wheeled through the rows of students, printing out flimsies from its chest and distributing them to the students. “Your assignment today is to formulate a project plan for making sure that the destruction that occurred on Mother Earth won’t happen in the colonies.”
“That’s stupid!” Axton protested. “No one will care what a bunch of kids think about anything.”
The hissing sigh again. “Axton, who do you think will be in charge of the colonies when you become adults?”
“That will be forever from now.”
Marjean’s head was bent over her flimsy, stylus flying over the sheet. “You’re such an idiot, Ax. The point of the lesson is that we’ll be the ones to make sure that the worlds we go to will be better than the one we left. The reclaiming of Earth is an important step, because we shouldn’t have used it up and then thrown it away like trash. Don’t you get that?”
“You’re such a teacher’s pet, MJ,” Axton growled, sticking out his tongue at her.
“Grow up, Ax,” Neider said, rolling his eyes. “You can be such a tool. What was that thing they used to say, Teacher? Something about making the same mistakes in history.”
A click, a whirr, and then, “‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’”
“Right.” Neider turned to Axton. “You get that?”
Axton huffed. “Whatever.”
“Some people will never learn, Neid,” Marjean sighed. “How’s this?” She handed her flimsy to the teacher.
The teacher fed the sheet into her grading matrix. “Well done, Marjean. You’ve got some good ideas.”
A buzzer sounded.
“Time for rec period, children,” the teacher said. “As a special treat, the holo system has been set for Central Park today. See what it was like.”
The children filed out of the classroom, chattering excitedly.
The robo-teacher’s head swiveled back and forth over Axton’s flimsy. It was covered with doodles. Some lessons would never be learned and some humans could never be taught.