The heart of U-32 is in the center of the building: the tech offices, in the old library. Years ago, there were large windows to the atrium and a steady stream of students went in and out through the big double doors to use computers, study at a table or in a cubby-desk in the back, to sit on a comfortable chair with their phone, or even to read or sign out books.
The first area of the library to shift over purely to technology was the old reference room, where at one time people read from encyclopedias and multivolume histories. This room became a computer lab, then a tech-support office for students to update their laptops, then simply a tech office, stacked high with broken computers and half-unpacked cardboard boxes. Plastic bubble wrap, foam peanuts and unread directions littered the floor.
When the library’s book collection was digitized, more space was made available for tech, until finally the hardware cluttered against the big windows to the atrium and the principal had them painted over with inspirational murals. The double doors now opened into a maze of smaller rooms, including the long, narrow “ports,” as they were called, with their close, crowded rows of stations for charging and updating the TT’s. There was no natural light in the tech offices, and the fluorescents were half-obscured by the looming clutter. It was a dim, dusty, airless place, where the dank smell of the mold was rivaled by the humming smell of hot electronics.
That October in 2060, when temperatures soared above one hundred degrees on some days, the heat had little impact on the work of the tech offices. The TT’s were mostly self-maintaining; they came in at the close of each school day and sat in their “port” charging, uploading student assessment data, and syncing lessons and programs for upcoming days. Two simpler “technician” robots moved about in the offices, stacking and unstacking equipment, performing fixes on aging laptops, and servicing projectors and other equipment from around the school.
There was one human technician: Nancy Driscoll, the school’s Curriculum Director. She was a wiry woman, quick and light like a bird, new to the school that year. She sat at what had once been the circulation desk, three laptops going at once, checking her phone every few moments and keeping a close eye on the clock, working through the backlog of thousands of work-orders left by her predecessor. In-person visits to the tech office were few, and there were whole days when she spoke almost exclusively to the TT’s, or to the two robot technicians.
The bane of her working life were the blackouts. They came with the hot spells and the heavy rains. Often the TT’s would be partly synched, or charged, and overnight the power would fail; then, in the morning, she would come to school and find the TT’s unfit for service. On one occasion the TT’s repeated lessons from the day before and no one alerted the administration until after lunch. Now Nancy had an alarm set on her phone for blackouts, and she had come in at night more than once to reset the circuits and resume syncing the TT’s. In her frustration and hurry, she never noticed that anything was out of place.
I looked the woman up and down. She looked like she was in her fifties and was wearing grease-stained denim overalls, a long-sleeved white t-shirt, and old, battered sneakers. Her eyes shone with urgency and terror.
I decided to go with her. I ducked into the room and she quietly pushed the door closed and turned to face me.
“Who are you?” I asked, a little sharply.
I knew I should be nicer but I wasn’t used to trusting people. She didn’t answer. Instead her face turned emotionless and hard. Suddenly she looked much older than fifty. She swished forward, dragging her feet as if pulled on a string. She drew one arm back and slammed it forward. I dodged the punch and her hand pushed through the white plaster.
I picked up an old chair that had been turned on its side and brought it crashing onto her head as hard as I possibly could. She screamed and fell to the floor, twitching violently. Blood seeped through her graying blond hair into warm pools on the chipped linoleum.
I didn’t stay and watch. I sprinted out the door, but I heard the woman rasp out the words “They’ll bring you down there!” Then a shuttering breath.
“What did she mean by that?” I thought, as I sat in my boring Science class and listened to the cheerful voice of the T.T. drone on and on. “Maybe it was nothing,” I think, “After all I did hit her pretty hard on the head.” It was true, maybe she had just been rambling. I decided to think no more about it.
Before Math I had to ask my Social Studies teacher (human teacher) a question. As I walk down the hall I heard voices coming from just around the corner, a T.T.’s sweet sunny voice saying “Follow me, Mindy Cobble. I have been notified. You have been scheduled for the extermination.”
“What do you mean extermination!” said Mindy, her voice tearful and alarmed. I duck into an empty closet. I can still hear the voices, perfect.
“You have been scheduled for the extermination,” the T.T’s voice repeated blankly.
“Stop saying that!” Mindy said, now sobbing violently.
I knew who Mindy was. She called me a snob and a freak. Should I help her? I would be risking my own safety. But if I don’t, she might die.
The New Kid
“Oh no, no, no,” I said. I ran behind her. “You can’t just run away like this! You started saying something, and I expect you to finish it!” She whirled around on her heels.
“I don’t know what you are talking about, but if you don’t stop following me right now, I am going to call the principal.” She walked into her office and slammed the door.
Well, that was a waste of time, I thought. I left the gym, and was walking down the hall when I remembered what she had said. The girl you met has the symbol of the Tech Teachers on her. That means she is the property of…
The property of what? The school? Now that was just wrong. I decided to stop by the vending machine to get a quick snack. After I punched some buttons and put my money in, I realized that the machine was stuck. I banged on the glass, but nothing worked. The food was stuck. What a horrible day!
“Having trouble?” asked a female voice behind me. I jumped and turned around. A tall girl with stunning blonde hair and a big smile stood behind me.
“Hi!” she said. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m Lindsay. I’m in the 8th grade.”
“Hi!” I said. “Yeah, my food’s stuck. I always have really bad luck with vending machines.”
“Here, let me see.” She stepped in front of me. “You just have to go like this!” She lifted up her foot and kicked the machine so hard I thought she was going to shatter the glass. The food dropped into the little door at the bottom.
“Wow!” I gasped. “You have talent!”
“Thanks!” said Lindsay. “I’ve learned to work with the stuff around here, especially since the school has stopped updating things. This food has probably been here since last year.” I suddenly lost my appetite and dropped my cookie in the nearest garbage bin.
“Speaking of which,” I said, “do you know what has been going on with the TT’s?”
Lindsay nodded. She pulled her hair up and showed me her neck, where I realized there was no apple tattoo! “I planned ahead,” said Lindsay. “They put their injection days up on the calendar, so I just made sure that I didn’t come to school on those days.”
“Smart idea,” I said. “I just got here today, and I’ve been trying to figure out what has been going on.”
“Well, you’ll find out soon enough,” said Lindsay. “See you around!” she walked off towards the gym. I had met a lot of nice people today, but it seemed like Lindsay was the only one who actually had any sort of idea about what was happening.
I walked back down to the middle school. I saw Sam, and we struck up a conversation about the frustration of lockers. Then I went to my actual locker and got my backpack. Only two more classes till I could escape this mess. I was walking past the Science room, humming a tune, when I saw a TT standing next to two girls, Sam and Lindsay. The TT said, “Come with me, girls! It is time for the second injection.” She used her strong metal arms to push the two girls into the classroom, and I just stood there.
I racked up all the courage I had, and decided to follow Bradley into the mysterious room. As I entered, all I could see was darkness. The passage seemed quite narrow and long, so I guessed that I was walking down a hall.
“Hey Bradley, you there?” I asked tentatively.
He couldn’t have gone very far, unless he ran. Then I saw a faint glow of a light up ahead. I started to run towards it, and noticed that as I got closer there seemed to be more and more rust on the floors and walls. But the curious thing was it didn’t look like rust, it looked more like if you spilled red paint on the floor and it dried. I peeled some off the floor to examine what it was. I realized, it wasn’t paint or rust. It was blood! I was holding blood! I instantly dropped it, and decided to get out of there, I sprinted back to the entrance and collapsed on the cold marble floor.
Questions were swarming my mind. Why was there so much blood in there? Where did it come from? Did anyone know about this? I had hundreds of questions, but no answers. Then I thought: does this principal know about this? Does he know about the secret door? I need to tell him, I thought, students may be getting murdered, and nobody knows. I ran to the main office and almost face-planted into the door.
“I need to see the principal, this is urgent!” I yelled at the receptionist.
“You’ll have to wait, he’s in a meeting at the moment. Go have a seat over there.” She pointed to a moldy couch in the corner.
“I don’t care about his meeting. I want to see him now!”
“Well, if you keep that attitude up you won’t see him at all, now sit!”
I reluctantly sat, glaring at the receptionist. After what seemed like a lifetime, the principal came out of his meeting.
“Mr. Collins, someone’s here to see you,” the receptionist said, pointing to me.
“Oh, excellent,” the principal said in a strained voice. “Come and step into my office, if you would,” Mr.Collins said, ushering me into his office.
I took a seat in a rickety folding chair, and Mr.Collins sat across from me at what you could consider a desk. Running Tech-32 had obviously put a strain on Mr.Collins, and not just emotionally. His hair was receding rapidly, and he had huge bags under his eyes, that were turning purple.
“So what would you like to tell me… uhhh.”
“Yes, Felix, thank you. What would you like to tell me.”
I told him all, everything, from Bradley’s tattoo to the blood hallway. “Well I am so sorry for your friend, but maybe he was just playing a practical joke on you, did you consider that?” Mr.Collins said. He could be right, Bradley was a trickster sometimes. But he wouldn’t pull a prank on me, no one played a prank on me. Or else bad things would happen to them.
“But what about the blood in the hallway? That’s definitely suspicious,” I asked.
“Felix, please — it was nothing. Your friend was just playing a joke, and it was only paint in the hallway. Now, please, I have more pressing matters at hand,” Mr.Collins said in an authoritative, scared voice.
“Okay, sorry. I’ll leave,” I said as I left his office.
I knew I was supposed to go back to class, but I decided to follow the principal around for a while. How he had responded seemed very suspicious about the hallway. I crept to a window where I could see the principal. He didn’t do anything for a while, but then he left his office and walked toward the theater. I followed him all the way down toward the music department. I realized that he was going into the blood hallway. I instantly hid behind the door to the chorus/band room, where I heard voices talking.
“We have one sir.” I knew that voice, that was a voice of a TT. Why were they down here, and not in a class?
“Good, let’s see him.” I knew that voice too. It was the voice of Mr.Collins