SCHOOL OF THOUGHTS • by Daniel J. Kramer

“Welcome to the Academy,” the Chancellor announced. His voice was echoed by the crowd’s applause, whose eclipsing thunder reduced his volume to that of a whisper.

I was in that crowd, but clapping softly. When asked by the admissions officer how I heard about the Academy, I told him of my sister; her son enrolled after his sixth birthday, and she recommended I bring my daughter for a tour. That’s why I was in the auditorium. I brought Alura with me, her small hand gripping mine, as her impatient feet swiveled back and forth.

“Daddy, how much longer ’til we go inside?” she whispered.

“Not long at all, little one. The walking tour starts in a few minutes.”

As the words passed my lips, the doors to the main hall opened wide.

Class was starting. Doors closed and straggling students darted across the hallway. We did our best to tread quietly, and the Chancellor switched his microphone’s audio to telepathy.

“The Academy prides itself on its world class faculty,” he thought, as his words passed over my ears and silently entered my mind.

“Since the school’s founding, we have reached out to the greatest thinkers from the ancient era of our ancestors and brought them here to teach our children in their first four years of school, preparing them to learn all that we have since discovered. Philosophy with Plato, poetry with Dickinson—Newton and Einstein have become quite the team of lecturers! Who better for the generation of tomorrow to begin their teaching than the men and women who laid the foundations of our knowledge all those ages ago?”

“And to any time travel experts in the group today,” the Chancellor continued, “no need to worry about alternate timelines. Every faculty member was hired at the end of his or her life—days before death in fact—avoiding interference with any contributions to history. Once they arrive at the Academy, peak physical and mental health is restored, allowing all professors to teach your children to the best of their abilities!”

Thoughts of intrigue and approval could be sensed in the minds of the other parents.

“What about their families?” pondered another father.

“Glad you asked! The androids we leave behind to ‘pass on,’ and be buried in place of their inspirations, are programmed with full memory banks and top-of-the-line personality drives, allowing them to say goodbye to loved ones and ensuring the curtains close as history intended.”

We walked past Mark Twain’s writing class and the Chancellor allowed us to listen in. The lesson was local color, booming from under his mustache.

Interest from other parents began to flow from their minds. I restrained my thoughts, ensuring none of my intent sent feedback not meant for others to detect. Silence rippled outward as the question finally arose, the one whose answer I already knew.

“What if a professor wants to quit? They’ve lived so long and accomplished so much. There’s only so long they could keep doing the same thing here.”

“Of course none of them are forced to stay on the faculty,” the Chancellor replied. “Why, the first item in their contracts is the promise that should any of them want to return to their eras and meet the end, we immediately bring them back to the exact moments we took them from. It’s like they never left!”

“But the best part is that not a single professor has ever chosen to retire. We once asked Aristotle, he’s on sabbatical this term, and he said it’s because none of them ‘have finished searching for the Answers.’ They all consider themselves lucky to be here; our school gives them more time to figure out the little part of existence humanity managed to carve out for itself.”

“The Answers?” the woman thought quizzically. “But we discovered the meanings of all things. The moment your professors found out, they should have been ready to go home.”

“Why of course, and that’s why we don’t tell them! The data banks in the Teachers’ Lounge show our faculty a curated version of all the insights gained since their times, but we leave out the greatest ideas to which all those insights led. It’s an Academy policy; as long as they never know the culminations of all their work, they’ll never want to leave, and we’ll be fully-staffed for as long as we’re solvent!”

A little boy darted out of a door far down the hall and came over to the tour.

The Chancellor turned around and said, “Young man, what are you doing out of class?”

“Sorry, sir,” the boy replied. “My mommy said that Cousin Alura was coming to school today, so I snuck out to say hello.”

“It’s true,” I said, quick to explain. “I wanted it to be a surprise, but my sister must have told him.”

“Very well then,” the Chancellor said. “Feel free to stay back a moment so Arthur can tell you what he’s learning today, but be sure to catch up with the group when you’re done,” and the Chancellor’s tour left us.

“All set?” I whispered. Arthur needed us there as an excuse to be out of class after the bell, and we needed him as an excuse to separate from the tour.

“Yes,” Arthur replied. “The Teacher’s Lounge was empty, and I left the present just where mommy said to put it.”

“Good boy,” I said. “Now get back to class before anyone wonders where you went.”

The Teacher’s Lounge was in range, and I quickly sent the activation codes. Without those, Arthur’s “present” would just be a child’s data drive. That’s why we didn’t do this sooner. The teachers had to be the first to see it, and if anyone found the drive on our messenger before it reached its destination it had to look like his class notes. No one ever masked files as large as these.

If the teachers like Arthur’s present, the Academy will be a little short-staffed next year…

Daniel J. Kramer is a graduate fellow in Genetics at The Rockefeller University in New York.

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