Ryan and Theo made it to school with just over a minute to spare. The two of them had been running through the underground tunnels since they were five years old, so they knew all the shortcuts. That knowledge paid off today, because their math teacher gave them significant looks and checked the clock as they burst through the door. Clearly, Mrs. Stewart had briefed him on the situation.
Math wasn’t Ryan’s favorite subject. Though he guessed he couldn’t exactly say he hated it. Theo and Ryan had been gone for days on their military detail. It was always hard to try to jump right back into the flow, especially with something like math.
The lesson involved flashy images projected on the main screen. Apparently the teacher hadn’t gotten off his making math fun kick yet. It’d been a week old when Ryan had left class. He wouldn’t have thought it’d last that long. It was kind of like watching a plane crash that lasted fifty minutes, but you had to give points for effort.
Next was physics, which tended to focus more on engineering than anything else. Everyone in the enclave needed to know enough to repair basic machinery. Anyone with a knack for it was strongly encouraged to specialize in chemical, electrical, or mechanical engineering.
After science came social studies. Studying the lost nations of Earth was pretty interesting, especially the really far back ones, but Ryan didn’t really see the point. One day a week though, Mrs. Stewart devoted class to studying the aliens. Major battles were dissected in detail. Strengths, weaknesses, and behavior on both sides were analyzed.
Those kids whose parents were wealthy enough to pay the service exemption tax got bored and tuned out those days. To them the aliens were boogeymen on a screen. Everyone else paid attention even if it was something they’d already learned firsthand. She never talked about it, but Mrs. Stewart must’ve served when she was Ryan’s age. You weren’t eligible for public office otherwise.
Since it was the middle of the week and Mrs. Stewart usually saved her alien day for right before the weekend, Ryan was prepared to learn about more nations that’d gotten wiped off the map when the alien apocalypse hit. He should probably give the memories of those cultures more respect, since just hours ago he was climbing over their cast-off bones, but the climbing was tough. When Mrs. Stewart started talking though, Ryan was surprised.
“You’re getting older. Soon those of you who serve will be too old to use your suits and go topside. You’ll have to find other ways to contribute.”
Ryan guessed the others were feeling the same strange mix of emotions he was. He’d be glad to be free of the constant danger, but he’d miss the suit. He was so clumsy without it. Even just walking felt like he was stumbling, forget if he tried something that required grace and balance.
“There are many responsibilities in this enclave,” Mrs. Stewart said. “Some are difficult. Some are rewarding. Some are a bit of both.”
Theo spoke up. “Mrs. Stewart, is this your way of saying the class is scheduled for septic system maintenance?”
That got a chuckle from the other students and a glare from Mrs. Stewart.
“No Mr. Gates, I’m not saying that. But we do have some new arrivals today, as you well know. Helping them get acclimated can be challenging, but it’s vital for the health of the enclave.”
Theo turned and gave Ryan a look. They were most directly responsible for the new arrivals, but they’d both heard the stories. Ryan would rather be looking forward to another three-on-one fight.