The playground was silent. No squirrel scolded, no bird sang. The swings did not move in the still spring air. Nothing stirred, not even a silent cat hunting a bold mouse. There were no children on the slide or on the small jungle gym.
The children were inside the small brick building nearby. Each sat with their spines straight and their eyes focused on the teacher. No one squirmed. No one giggled and passed notes. No one played with their hair, or tore small pieces of paper to roll into spit wads when the teacher wasn’t looking.
The teacher, a small, light structure of aluminum and plastic, stood at the head of the class, droning in a monotone about recent history. “In the wake of the supervirus, small birds and mammals were the first to die out. This led to more deaths as the predators, finding easy meals of bird and rodent, were exposed to the contagion. Larger animals were also affected, with fatality rates of seventy-five percent.”
The children sat in rapt attention, silent and still.
“Humans were susceptible to the virus, and once contracted, the fatality rates were upwards of eighty percent. Until a pharmaceutical lab began trials on a cure.”
“There are no cures, only solutions.” The children, fifteen in all, said as one.
“That’s right, class. The medicine treated the symptoms of the virus, but did not destroy it. Those affected by it typically would lose certain brain function. Creativity and self-identity were often curtailed. Those affected still kept their ability to reason and learn, although at decreased rates.”
The children listened intently.
“Johnny, could you please read from the text? Page seventy two.” The teacher called on a small child, in the back of the room.
He looked up and flipped his book open with stubby fingers. He was the youngest in the class at five years old. “The medicine for the virus saved the world, but at a cost. Billions of people died, and there were great efforts made to safely depose…”
“Dispose.” The teacher corrected placidly.
“Dispose of the bodies.” The child finished the paragraph and looked at the picture above it, showing rows and rows of shrouds and people in hazmat suits pointing towards something off the page.
“Thanks to Alexion, we are alive today.” The teacher said.
“Thanks to Alexion.” The children repeated back.
“History is over. You have ten minutes. Why don’t you go outside and play?” The teacher suggested.
“You haven’t taught us how to play, Teacher.” Beth said, staring at the robot for further instruction.
“I lack the programming to instruct you how to play. You must learn on your own.” The robotic teacher said patiently.
The children neither looked left nor right, not looking to their other peers at all. They picked up their books to read, instead.
Ray looked away from the video. “They’re all like this?”
“All of them.” His partner confirmed.
Ray sighed and rubbed his temples. “So, all we have to do is figure out what causes this. The virus or the vaccine.”