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News & Features » August 2019 » “The Only Living Teacher in New York” by Mckenzie Cassidy

“The Only Living Teacher in New York” by Mckenzie Cassidy

In October 2017 we published An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, a rare literary science fiction set in a future universe so gorgeously described and perfectly self-contained—and yet so harrowing and cruel—that its only parallel universe is our own. Solomon’s novel has inspired this speculative fiction series. We’ve been through the past, and we haven’t really learned from it. The present? We’re too busy attempting to survive it. So we’re asking you to provide us a glimpse of what comes next. Illustrate the essential choices we must make in the present that will lead us to your brilliant utopian future. Or, if you cannot anticipate utopia, provide us instead with your cautionary tale. Show us where we will fall if we—when we—fail to alter our course. Fri-SciFi stories are published on Fridays because we expect we’ll need the weekend to contemplate your vision. 

This week, a new Kaylie Jones Books author tells a chilling story about a robot takeover . . .

The Only Living Teacher in New York
by Mckenzie Cassidy
In the near future . . .

Retirement day.

Those words had resonated over my career, if you could even call it that. All my colleagues had either quit or were replaced when the ABPU’s (Autonomous Behavioral Protocol Units) came online and our school no longer saw a need for flesh and blood. Friends asked how I managed to skirt their efforts for so long. I always said it was my impeccable teaching record, but really I dug my heels in.

Everyone hung in there through budget cuts, frozen salaries, implementation of the ABPU’s and their rigid curriculum software, but they all had a breaking point. The units ran the school now, rolling down the halls on all-terrain treads, warning students to “cease disruptive horseplay” or “produce in the prescribed time allowance.” 

I was more supportive of them in the beginning after the troubled student with long greasy black hair, Zachariah was his name, pulled a loaded revolver from his hoodie. The collateral damage would’ve been worse if the ABPU in the cafeteria hadn’t sent enough voltage through his chest to put him down. Zachariah entered into a coma and died a month later, but the school boasted its enhanced security systems and every school in the city ordered their own ABPU’s.

Maintenance was costly, but cheaper than a salary with benefits. Only one company, Consolidated Technologies Institute, sold both the equipment and software. Our tech staff did the best they could. Over the years, ABPU’s equipment was dented and covered in spray-painted graffiti, barely operating and some even missing the plastic bulbs fashioned into eyes (a strategy to keep them as close to real human beings as possible). Many of the rowdy boys kicked them as they passed and a new challenge amongst the student body had been to piss on an ABPU whenever it returned to its charging base. Now the units reeked of urine.

I could complain about my career, I really could, but I won’t. At the end of the day, I supported my family and my lush pension was forthcoming. I spent the final minutes of my teaching career grading essays when the school status alert shifted to orange, one step below red, and my classroom door was auto-locked as a precaution. Slipping out early for my retirement party was no longer an option.

Three garbage cans in the hall had been set on fire and I heard screaming as the flames climbed up the wall. Two ABPU’s warned the gathering mob to disperse as they rolled around in circles releasing pressurized foam. One clique of students cackled as they loosened a few of the bolts by its neck and turned its head around 180 degrees, a prank the tech crew absolutely hated.

All I could do was finish my grading and wait for the doors to unlock. The essays were atrocious, formulated by algorithm. Poetry didn’t calculate robotic joint positions I was told. Students only needed to be competent enough to service the computers, nothing more. The way most of the kids acted, they’d be in the penal colony before 21. We’d all given up a long time ago.

I set my glasses down and rubbed the bridge of my nose. My tired eyes didn’t see as clearly as that optimistic young man I once knew. Now he had a head of gray hair and pain in his knees from standing all day. When had I turned into an old man? Everything around me changed so fast and all I wanted to do was grab ahold of it and slow it all down, but I was no longer relevant. None of us were and that’s why I was leaving. My replacement sat in its original packaging on the basement level.

The orange status cleared fifteen minutes later and the ABPU’s secured the hall. They carried out the charred garbage cans and my door opened. I gently pushed my chair back into my oak desk, the only one left in school inventory after the recommendation was to go with unbreakable polymer. It’d be destroyed when I was gone.

I once believed my role as an educator was to make a difference, to better people’s lives, but that had evolved into survival. Make it to the end, I told myself, and then it was someone else’s problem. But a problem for who, or what? I stopped at the door and glanced back at my old classroom, wishing it well for whatever its future held and then I flicked the lights off.


MCKENZIE CASSIDY is an author, journalist, marketer and professor living in Fort Myers, Florida. His debut novel Here Lies a Father is forthcoming in 2020 from Kaylie Jones Books and his writing has appeared in Clash Books, Florida Weekly and the Sanibel-Captiva Islander. Connect with him online at mckenziecassidy.com.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Fri-SciFi series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines.

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a conceivable, not a fantastical, future. No dragons, please.
—With your byline, include the date or era OR galaxy or ship or planetary system in which your story takes place. Or both. But not neither.
—To be perfectly frank, we prefer dystopias. But feel free to surprise us.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words, and must be previously unpublished.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Fri-SciFi are typically posted 1–3 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Aug 2, 2019

Category: Original Fiction, Fri-SciFi | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,