AUTHOR'S NOTE: This flash fiction piece was written for Sunday Scribblings. It is not part of the novel and it contains no spoilers. I've embedded links to spoiler-free supplemental information, where appropriate. Be sure to drop by Sunday Scribblings for more fun!
Alaina sat at her desk, watching in satisfaction as the children bent over their books. It hadn't been easy to get ten copies of the same text. Although Mundo gave lip service to the importance of education for their tribe of pandemic survivors, convincing him to authorize a trip to acquire teaching supplies was another matter. Anything not directly related to the group's day to day survival was suspect.
One girl glanced up from her book. Alaina nodded, and Tashawna reached for her colored pencils. Good students were allowed to amuse themselves quietly while waiting for the others to finish.
Alaina bent back over her own book - a coveted teacher's guide for the history lesson the children had been reading. As the daughter of a high school teacher and university professor, she keenly felt her responsibility to do everything the correct way. The pandemic retrovirus was merciless and the days were numbered when teenagers like herself, who had been taught by actual grownups, would be around to instruct the younger generation. Thousands of years of civilized history stood to be wiped out, but Alaina wouldn't let that happen without a fight.
Ten minutes later, with most of the class now bored and fidgeting, Alaina stood up. "Is everybody done? Who wants to share their thoughts about what we just read?"
Tashawna raised her hand. "I liked it."
"Yes?" Alaina glanced at the other children. Since no one else seemed willing to chime in, she asked Tashawna for clarification. "What did you like about it?"
"It was interesting. You know, the way it said how the president made laws so people would always be safe and have food."
"And good water," a boy piped up.
"And medicine," a girl added.
"The president doesn't really make the laws," Alaina explained. "That's what Congress does. But the president helps give them ideas, and he can say no if Congress tries to make a law he doesn't like."
"Who's our president now?" Tashawna asked.
"Mundo is our president," a boy told her.
"He's a gang leader." Tashawna looked to Alaina for confirmation.
"Well, yes," Alaina said. This wasn't how she had intended the lesson to go. "Only grownups can be president, so until someone cures the Telo or writes new laws..."
"It's just a fairy tale," Tashawna finished for her. "Something that sounds nice and pretty, but isn't real."
The other children nodded, and Alaina suppressed a sigh. She had always wanted to be a teacher, but never like this. What stupid whims of fate had put her in this crazy situation, educating children for a role in a world that was likely gone forever? Moments like this made her wish she had lived in just about any era but this one.
"We talked about fairy tales a few weeks ago," she reminded Tashawna. "Besides being 'not real' what else did we learn?"
Tashawna screwed up her face in thought. "That they teach us important things about the world?"
"Exactly." Alaina glanced around the room, feeling as if she were on more solid footing now. "So if it's just a fairy tale that there's a grownup leader, elected by the people to help other grownups make laws, what does that say about our own situation?"
"That we're doomed," a girl said.
Once again, Tashawna came to Alaina's rescue. "It means that the best way to make decisions is to vote on a leader who will listen to your ideas."
Alaina nodded. This was probably as good as she could expect. "That's right. We're all smart, but none of us is so smart we can make every decision for ourselves. We need each other's ideas, but we also need each other's cooperation. That's how we make sure there's food, water, and safety for all of us." She looked around the room and met each child's eyes in turn. Would they grow up to remember any of this? Would they grow up at all? She had no way of knowing, but like the others in the Regents tribe, she did what she could.
"Working together is how we make things right. And that's no fairy tale."
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