The meeting room of the Council Hall was filled with the electricity of anticipation but eerily quiet, as if the solemnity of the event muffled the usual banter and pleasantries. A request for a full plenum from Mrs. Eberhart was a rare occurrence, and even if quite a few of the ladies of the Circle knew what the meeting was about, they were still somewhat nervous about the details.
Mrs. Eberhart stood up and walked to the podium, waiting the customary minute or two for the room to settle down, a pause completely unnecessary now, given the frozen silence.
“I have had the honor to lead the Village Council for many years, and as such, was entrusted with the responsibility to uphold its laws, a duty I fulfilled with the utmost respect and of which I always strived to be worthy. It is unfortunate that our devotion to the law led us to results that sometime defy its very spirit. No justice is served when children are held responsible for things they have no control over, or can even understand, or when the brightness of our human spirit is overshadowed by fear.
A long time ago our ancestors have made a decision, one for which seven generations already paid too heavy a price. It is difficult not to mourn the loved ones who passed before their time of easily treatable illnesses, or all the curious minds and enterprising spirits who were punished in their search for knowledge or denied a chance to achieve their dreams because of the circumstances of their birth. I have no doubt our ancestors acted in what they considered to be the best interest of our community, and I don’t see any benefit in passing judgment on their mistakes. I don’t want to perpetuate them either, and deny our children the opportunities we never had.
We have been presented with an extraordinary gift, a chance to make up in one generation all the discoveries and accomplishments our society missed over the last two centuries. Some of you may already know what I’m talking about, if there is one thing that works flawlessly in our community is the spreading of news.”
“The black mirrors,” one of the ladies in the front couldn’t help whispering.
“I think the time has come to stop calling them that, but there will be a lot of catching up and plenty of time to do so.” She nodded and the girls in charge of setting up the screen worked quickly and expertly behind her, to the amazement of the audience. “I would like to present to you the team of scientists who have taught our children for almost a year now, and to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude. “ One by one the members of the science team waved from the other side of the screen, eliciting gasps.
“How are they doing this?” a lady in the back finally had the courage to ask.
“There are many things that need to be learned before you will be able to understand the answer to that question, but I can assure you of one thing: they can be learned by all of us. I have served with you for many years, and was privileged to experience your quick wit and your sound judgment. The knowledge may, for now, be beyond our reach, but it is certainly not beyond our capacity.”
“I thought it would look more like a mirror,” another lady commented, staring at the screen and the people in it with avid curiosity. Her companion started to inquire how she knew what a mirror looked like, but reconsidered, too absorbed in the novelty of the extraordinary object to waste time with the question.
“Are they real?” another lady asked.
“Of course we are real,” Caleb Coulter replied from behind the screen, unable to repress a smile.
“How can you tell?” the lady turned the question to Mrs. Eberhart, and her need for a plausible explanation brought a glimmer of admiration in the eyes of the one in the mirror.
“You have a valid point, and one we hope to be able to demonstrate soon,” he replied.
“Are you responsible for the demon poppies?” another one of the ladies interjected unceremoniously. The Council had never been known to mince words. Caleb was a little taken aback by the bluntness, but answered anyway.
“No, they were a school project. The children did wonderful research on hybridization and genome mapping.” He paused to let the information that the miraculous occurrence was in fact the work of children sink in, then asked. “Why would you call them demon poppies?”
“What am I to call poppies that are blue? There are no such things!” the lady said, then corrected herself. “That I knew about. So, you are going to explain all of this eventually?” she retorted, visibly uncomfortable.
“Certainly, actually we could provide you with some reading material right now,” he said, and the printer in the corner, which up until that point had remained unnoticed, started spitting out pages at high speed, startling the ladies sitting next to it to the verge of a conniption. It needs mentioned that the ladies for whom all of this was news, though few, were so shocked by the revelation of one forbidden contraption after another that they stopped reacting altogether and quietly waited for the ordeal to be over.
“So,” Mrs. Eberhart asked, a bit tense, “now that you have seen all of this, what is your judgment?”
The members of the Circle took a few moments to ponder and talk among themselves. The lady with the demon poppy comment volunteered her opinion.
“Surely we don’t want to be intimidated by knowledge that doesn’t scare our children! What would that make us?” she frowned, even more annoyed than before. “Can somebody stop that dreadful thing?” she twitched nervously as the printer started spewing the second batch of the printout. “What is it?” she gave it a sharp look, determined not to allow the cursed object to get the better of her. “Some sort of printing press?”
She got closer and closer to the humming box and almost fell backwards when the dreaded contraption started spitting out paper again.
“If the Council will forgive me, I think I had quite enough evolving for one day. May I be excused?”
When Mary walked into the Council Hall after so many months, countless pairs of curious eyes followed her, which didn’t help assuage her discomfort at all, but the fact that her classmates welcomed her effusively lightened up the burden a bit. She found a chair and sat down at the end of the first row, trying as hard as she could to fade into the background, a task not easily achieved. The dressing standards had been relaxed significantly, but her hair, now so long that it reached down to her waist, still remained the distinctive blond dot in a sea of black tresses.
Lucille walked to the podium smiling and waited for the room to grow quiet.
“Today I stand before you, deeply humbled by your trust, to mark the beginning of the school year, a privilege I share through time with all the principals that came before me. There is no greater, more personal gift, as I honor the courage of so many generations of Scholars who kept knowledge alive in the face of fear and prejudice, than to see their ideals brought into the light. Today the Scholars’ Line is restored to its purpose, which is to inspire the accomplishment of great things, some of which we can’t even dream of yet. It will be an extraordinary journey for all of us, this leap into the future, and a steep learning curve at times. It will require all of our efforts, especially from those of us who are honored to serve in Council, and letting go of many pre-conceived notions, to make this transition as smooth as possible.
The girls already know the teachers who are joining us remotely today, but for the sake of the rest of our group we would like to ask the members of the science team to introduce themselves and their areas of expertise before going through the structure of instruction.”
“Where is Rosemary?” Mrs. Gentry whispered to Giselle, and her question boomed like thunder through the relatively quiet room. “Sorry, dear!” she corrected herself. “That’s the best I can do on my indoor voice.”
“She’s at the rock mound, collecting and logging the evidence,” Giselle replied, one eye on the tablet in her lap, trying not to miss the digital conversation she was engaged in.
“Is that hard?” Mrs. Gentry tried not to show too much interest in the flawless contraption, but completely taken by the speed with which Giselle was manipulating the strange object.
“Not too hard,” Giselle replied without stopping the elaborate finger dance on the surface of the glass. Mrs. Gentry remembered her initial question.
“Why on earth would she go to the rock mound? Didn’t anybody tell her that we made up the artifacts?” she asked, perplexed.
“It would be hard for her not to know, given recent events,” Giselle finished what she was doing and turned all her attention to Mrs. Gentry. “I…aahm…was appointed technical liaison,” she apologized, her voice almost a whisper.
“What’s that?” Mrs. Gentry replied in a decibel range that was normal for her, an order of magnitude louder.
“I’m…supposed to bring the Council up to speed on the use of electronic devices,” Giselle blushed, looking down.
“You mean I’m going to have to learn how to compel a black mirror?” Mrs. Gentry burst with laughter at the fine ironies of Council rule.
“It’s not…” Giselle started to protest.
“I know, dear. I’m joking,” Mrs. Gentry finally settled down.
The two noticed that the smooth flow of the presentation had ceased and the shuffle of chairs in the room indicated the participants were taking a break. Mary glided by them almost unnoticed, with the soft and silent movements of a cat.
“That girl is something else, showing up right next to you without any warning, it’s like being haunted by a ghost sometimes, so help me!” Mrs. Gentry mumbled displeased that the girl’s presence had taken her by surprise again.
“Why, Mrs. Gentry!” Giselle giggled at her predicament. “You of all people! You know there are no such things as ghosts!”
“You’ll have your wisdom and I’ll have mine!” Mrs. Gentry replied, morose.
Mary exchanged a few words with the one in the mirror before the room went silent again, for the second part of the presentation.
“It’s going to be a heck of a challenge to get used to all of this,” Mrs. Gentry frowned, yet unconvinced to take that leap of faith into a new way of life.
“A steep learning curve, for sure,” Giselle acquiesced.
As the presentation resumed, Caleb mentioned casually that the team had promised Mary she could come visit, and if she made the trip right now she would only miss a couple of days at the beginning of the school year. Since Lucille had no objection to the trip in principle, Mary got up, advanced to the center of the room, opened a door into thin air and disappeared, only to show up a moment later on the other side of the screen, all grins and waving at the audience.
The Council Hall froze in disbelief. Mrs. Gentry and Giselle looked at each other for a moment and then Giselle composed herself and commented.
“As I said, steep learning curve.”