“Can anyone tell me what this is?” the teacher asked. Outside the rust rains had come again and the building reacted by assembling a nano sphere shield. They would be inside until it stopped. None of the children were old enough for the skin adaptation. She might as well keep them busy.
She held up half of a glass object, the top edge crude and sharp.
“A cup?” asked Sarla.
“Close. It’s been broken. It’s from the 21st century, circa 2017. Let me show you what it used to look like,” said the teacher. She turned the Time Jog to find images of the object in its prime. There was a website – an old page of text that had once been viewed on a glass screen – that showed the item whole. It was some sort of silicate jar with red beads inside, much like the sand outside the school. She projected the image in the air in front of her.
“An hourgulp,” said Rudo. He had been weaned off of ed-stim and could finally focus on human faces. He searched for a reaction in his teacher’s. She smiled.
“Very good,” she said. “But they called it an ‘hourglass’ back then. That’s an excellent answer, though,” she said. She glanced to her periphery to bring up his daily log and noted his face-to-face interaction improvement. His overall score inched out of the red and into the yellow.
He made a smile like a grimace. She noted that, too. Facial expressions were an indicator of a healthier mind.
“Before we came to this planet, our home, the planet Earth was full of artisanal objects that they sent up the gravity well in hopes of recreating our old life. They had special writing tools called pencils and objects made of paper that they could read with their eyes. They also had special foods, like pickled cucumbers,” said the teacher.
“That’s discussing,” said Rudo.
“Disgusting, yes. They didn’t understand the things we do now,” said the teacher. “They also had things like this, things that had little value but were still used in order to improve their moods, like the drugs we use now. We have little use for an object like this now but at the time it cost a very reasonable $12,000. It was made by a great artist, Marc Newson. He once made an object that all of the earth humans adored. It was their god.”
“Dollars?” asked Pip. He was still ed-stimming but something passed through to his subconscious and he woke out of his educational reverie.
“Dollars are old money,” said the teacher.
“Wasn’t that a lot?” asked Sarla. “I saw an old YuTubez about dollars. They were expensive.”
“Not much more than a printed organ costs today. They didn’t have important things to spend their money on so they spent it on silly things. Remember, this was one hundred years ago. Times have changed,” said the teacher.
The children nodded. Many of them had had their biomes replaced at the age of five. They remembered their parents worrying about the cost and they remembered the pain. But now they could breathe the methane outside. So they understood that now you spent money on important things.
“What’s a Hodinkee?” asked Pip.
“We don’t know. But what is important is that we understand that this is how the early people told time. It was very sad for them and they were very naive to spend so much on a glass object,” said the teacher.
“We’ll never be that dumb again,” said Rudo.
Some of the kids giggled. Pip fell back into edu-stim and began to drool. The teacher sent a hover to clean him.
As the hover washed the boy’s face the teacher looked out past the horizon of the red, dead planet and remembered the YuTubez of the earth shattering, 15 cities blossoming red then black, the final ships escaping her orbit and entering the future. Then she looked back at her students, ten children, five stuck in a virtual dream world, their metallic carapaces glinting in the soft light above. The burning rain outside slid off the nano spheres and hissed on the ground. We’ll never be that dumb again, she thought, imagining how care-free humans had been, buying needless hourglasses while their politicians plotted the End War. Let’s hope so.