Another day, another lesson. 

George Herrington, a paunchy, middle-aged man in a tweed jacked, sat at his desk surrounded by papers, books, and pens.  He was reading a dusty tome and taking notes, augmenting slides on an ancient laptop.  He hummed quietly to himself while he worked, occasionally reaching up a hand to readjust his glasses.  In the background, the whir and click of a clock prompted him to look at the antique watch on his wrist, his eyes widening while he did so. 

With a sigh, George busily bundled up papers on his desk into neat stacks and cradled them in his arms. He adjusted his glasses again while he scanned the desk’s surface, snatching up a pen at the last second before heading out the office door. 

By design his office opened directly into the classroom, where everything was neatly arranged in rows and brightly decorated.  He dropped the papers onto the empty teacher’s desk in the classroom and straightened his back while he glanced around his workspace. He tidied up the papers at the desk and spent a few minutes cleaning the interactive whiteboard at the front of the class. Satisfied, George turned to regard the classroom through the familiar shimmer. 

There were some dropped books at the back of the class, and a few of the desks had been shifted out of the neat rows that George preferred them to be in. He sighed again and pointed his right index finger at the books in turn, directing them through the air and back onto the bookshelf at the back of the class. Pinching the air in front of him with his forefinger and thumb he shifted the desks back into their proper position; except for one in the back corner, it simply refused to move as he pointed at it. George tried one more time to move the desk but with an exasperated sigh he turned back to his lesson on the whiteboard behind him. 

Outside he could hear rain begin to pelt the windows. He watched for a moment before turning his attention back to his work. 

As George was pulling up the day’s lesson on the whiteboard, the clock in the classroom gave an electronic chime and the door to the classroom opened on an empty hallway. Students appeared in the door and made their way to their seats in the classroom, their forms flickering in a digital haze.  George winced a little as he heard the scraping of desk legs, but he stood smiling in greeting at the front of the class, wordlessly waiting for the chatter to die down.  A second chime sounded, and the students opened their books as their voices dropped to a whisper. 

“Hello everyone and welcome back.  I trust you all had a good weekend?” George said, his eyes darting down and to his left to check on the audio levels suspended in the air. 

There was a murmur of reply in the room while George tapped the air in the direction of each student’s head, a green checkmark and name appearing suspended there momentarily to let him know that their attendance had been registered. 

“Missing anyone?” 

Digital shrugs from the students while they finished whispered conversations. 

“All right, class, let’s get back to our work with the Greek Myths and Tennyson.  Now, I am sure that you all finished the reading over the weekend,” George said with a wink, “So let’s review the plot together, to see what you came up with.” 

George drew a plot line graph on the whiteboard and, with a practiced grace, turned to face the class while flinging the graph onto the glass surface with a sweeping gesture.  

He was pleased with how well they had managed to streamline this process, watching as students set up notes independently at their desks and others turning to the story they were studying, screens hovering in mid-air around their desks as they organized themselves. Some students still had the classic paper books on their desks; he admired their commitment to authenticity. Outside he heard a distant rumble of thunder. 

“Okay, so who has the inciting incident from Homer’s poem?” More green lights and hands than he expected, he noted hopefully to himself. 

One by one he called on the students, quickly tapping the air above their heads and calling out the names that hung suspended there. Together they built the plot graph for the story, remarkably simple and relatively easily. Sometimes George would make notes with his fingers on the graph, sometimes students would reach out their own hands to jot down notes or make connecting lines between ideas.  In a few minutes they had efficiently dissected the story, from landing on the island to Odysseus wrestling his sailors back and lashing them to the boat to make their escape. 

George held up both hands in parallel to the note they had created and with a smooth gesture pushed up and out simultaneously. The note hung in the air in the middle of the classroom where students reached out and plucked copies from the air to add to their own notes. 

“All right,” George said, “That’s the basics of the story. Now we need to make some comparisons between what we have just read to that poem we looked at a few days ago, ‘The Lotus Eaters’. What are you noticing?” 

George waited for the green lights and raised hands. He knew to take his time, to wait for the students to think. He watched while some sat mute, others scurried through their notes, others called up comparison graphs on the internet. 

Once he saw two or three lights, he started calling on students, calling out the names that hovered over their heads. 

“Yes, N1kk!_LOL?” 

“The poem is long -like really long- and the original story is so short.” 

“Excellent observation, Nik; you’re right about that. Tennyson’s poem is one-hundred and seventy-four lines; Homer’s poem dedicates about twenty-seven lines to the incident.  Why is that a relevant observation?” 

A long silence, a lot of screens flickering and pages rustling. George did not panic.  In his peripheral vision, he saw a hand raise. In front of him, more hands and green lights. 

“What do you think, Que40?” 

“It just makes me wonder: why?” 

“Can you expand on that, please?” 

“Well, why the big difference? Homer’s epic is so big, thousands of lines, and this story only takes up twenty-seven lines. Why does Tennyson spend so much time on this poem?” 

“Great observation.  That’s the question we are going to be delving into today.” 

George turned to the whiteboard again and flipped digital slides to a structured note he had prepared. With the same gesture he used with the plot graph, he flicked the document onto the glass surface between himself and the students. 

“I made this note to help you with your comparisons.  On the left you will see lines pulled from Homer’s rendition of the story; beside them, empty spaces,” George tapped the blank spaces in sequence, each highlighting momentarily. “On the right you will see lines pulled from Tennyson’s poem; again, empty spaces. Your task is to make comparisons between the two works.” 

George clapped his hands together then held his palms parallel to the floor. The note tilted on the glass. Sliding left palm back and his right palm forward, the note shot out into individual copies for each student and rocketed into their individual workspaces. 

Pacing slowly at the front of the class, George watched his students work for a while, taking notes in the air about their efficacy. He noticed two students in the back passing digital screens to each other; from their body language, their notes to each other were not academic in nature. 

He looked at the names above the students’ heads and drew a line between them then with a chopping motion with his palm George bisected the line. A translucent brick wall grew up in the space between the two students who turned to regard their teacher sheepishly. 

“Let’s focus on Tennyson for the moment, shall we?” George said amiably, but with a slight edge to his voice.  They reluctantly pulled their work closer and started reading and making notes. Lightning flashed outside. 

He hiked up his tweed sleeve and checked his watch; he would give the students twenty minutes before going further with the discussion. George liked to show the students how to look for connections as a group, then give minimal guidance on how to make their own.  Watching how busily his students were working, he found he was anticipating the conversation to come. 

While the students worked, he marked the essays that were stacked on his desk. He circled and made comments, then filled out a checklist and a rubric at the back of the assignment pages. As he completed each one, he stood and walked over to the glass. Holding the paper up to it, the text and all the marking disappeared from the pages and reappeared in digital format against the glass. He tapped on the code at the top of the page and watched as feedback and comments were absorbed into his gradebook. After a moment’s pause, the individual digital package floated across the classroom to a specific student’s workspace. 

When the time came, he signaled his students by standing with his hands clasped behind his back. He could see the rustling of pages, students typing on screens, comparing notes, asking questions; except the student in the back corner who sat staring mutely at a book open on his desk. 

Ah well, more than enough students would be prepared for a great conversation. George cleared his throat and said: 

“All right, students, I am going to ask you to stop working on that note for now.” 

Students mumbled and flashed answers to each other, digital panels darting back and forth across the class. In concert with the flashing screens, outside began to pulse and thunder crash in earnest. 

“Class, the storm’s getting pretty close. If we get disconnected, for the last part of class we are going to be discussing why Tennyson wrote so much-“ 

A tremendous crash outside preceded the flickering of lights and power in the classroom. Random students disappeared and reappeared, looking around the class trying to readjust to the quick succession of environments. The power held steady for a few moments, everyone looking at the lights for a prophecy. When nothing seemed to happen, George continued with the lesson. 

They spent a few minutes defining the problem together as a class. This late in the period he’d had to mute a couple of students’ feeds; they sat impotently at their desks, unable to speak or get the attention of their classmates. Other than those expected interruptions, he was pleased with the progress they were making. 

The power shut off and the room was instantly pitch dark. George could still hear the drumming of raindrops on the windows, so he knew he hadn’t passed out. He stood there, at the front of the class his arms outstretched, feeling for the glass or for a wall to get his bearings. 

For a few moments, all he could hear was his own breathing and the shuffle of his feet as he made his way clumsily across the space. He finally touched the smooth cool of the glass partition. In an instant, he knew exactly where he was in the room and his breathing slowed as he steadied himself. George tapped on the glass and chuckled faintly to himself. 

Then he heard his own tapping echoed back. 

George paused while he replayed the moment again in his mind: tap, chuckle, echo. That did not seem right, so he tapped again on the glass surface. He counted to five in his head before the echo sounded again. 

“Strange,” thought George, deeply concerned about the phenomenon occurring in his class. There was a flicker and the dull orange glow of emergency power broke the darkness. George looked at the clock and whiteboard; both lifeless. Of course, the emergency generator was designed to power only the essentials, lights and communication.  He reasoned that the office would soon be calling him with instructions, so he busied himself with grading the remaining papers at his desk.  He had almost finished with two essays before he heard anything at all. 

“Excuse me, Mr. Herrington?” came a soft voice, somehow muffled. 

“Yes, what can I do for you?” George said, lifting his eyes from the paper to confront the owner of the voice. There, in the back of the class, sat a student who was lifting his arms in a shrug to indicate that he couldn’t hear George; for his part, George was sitting there thinking that it was quite remarkable that this student’s OMNI system was working at all, let alone that it was still connected to the school’s network. 

“I said, what can I do for you?” George repeated, a little louder. He dropped his eyes down and to the left to check on audio levels. That’s when he realized that there was no power. 

George pantomimed slapping his forehead and pointed at the glass. The student smiled back at him. George scrounged through the desk drawers until he found an old-fashioned whiteboard marker.  It was legible enough as he wrote ‘How can I help?’ on the partition, backwards so the student could easily read it. 

The student shook his head, grinning, and wrote something on a piece of paper. George squinted to read it.  The student stood, walked to the front of the class, and placed the page against the partition: 

“Lift the glass.” 

George read the note twice. He didn’t understand what it would accomplish, but something about the fervent expression in the young man’s face made the teacher shrug and walk over to the manual release panel. He read the instructions carefully, then pulled the proper sequence of latches and turned a hand crank on the wall and watched the glass wall lift into the ceiling. 

But the young man was still in the classroom.  He stretched out his hand and cheerily said: 

“Pleasure to meet you in person, Mr. Herrington!” 

George sat down quickly at his desk, his mouth hanging open. He shook his head to collect himself and tried to return the polite gesture offered by the student. 

“Pleasure to meet you as well, ah . . .” George’s voice trailed off as his eyes lifted over the student’s head before remembering that the partition was gone. 

“Graves,” returned the student, “Henry Graves.” 

While he said this, the student stepped forward to meet the dazed teacher at his desk, thrusting his small hand into George’s thick grip for a standard handshake. 

“Right, Graves, yeah,” George said, stumbling over the name. 

Henry, a very slight young man with a quiet voice but bright eyes, looked over his shoulder into the near empty classroom. All of George’s carefully planned decorations and digital library had disappeared. In fact, the only furniture in the room was a single desk, slightly askew, at the back of the room. The young man marched confidently to the back of the class to collect a paper notebook, two books, a pen and a chair. 

The folded glass around George’s wrist began vibrating. on the desk rang, snapping George out of his shocked observance. He lifted his wrist to his ear. 

“Yes, Herrington here . . . No, all the OMNIs were disconnected . . . Yes, a bit sudden. Any word on repairs . . . Oh, I see . . . That does sound complicated . . . No, no, I’m fine.  It’s just that I have a student with me . . . No, yes all the OMNIs . . . I retracted the wall and there he was . . . I mean here, in the classroom, with me . . . Yes, physically here . . . Sure, I’ll wait.” 

During this whole conversation Henry had set up on the edge of the teacher’s desk, books opened to the relevant pages and a crude rendition of George’s own note started in the notebook. George finally hung up the phone and looked at Henry. 

“Well, this is a first for me, in twenty-five years of teaching.” 

“I guess I haven’t been around that long,” Henry said, still smiling, “I’ve always preferred being physically in the class. It’s pretty complicated, most days; you keep marking me absent.” 

All George could do was shrug. He pointed to the desk in the back of the class. 

“When was that put in?” 

Henry turned to look at his desk. 

“My guess, it’s always been there. Probably all that’s left from when this classroom used to be full of them. And the only reason that one’s still there is because of the case my parents won to make sure I could attend physically if I wanted to, fourteen years ago.” 

“But you would have been in kindergarten!” 

“Yes, sir, I was.” 

“And you wanted to be around other children? Didn’t your parents have an OMNI for you?” 

“Oh, certainly they did; I just liked being around other people.” 

George grunted and sat back in his chair, shaking his head slowly. Henry continued: 

“I thought if I came to school I might get to play with the other kids. Guess not. But I have shown up every day since.” 

“And you just sit in the empty classroom? How do you follow along?” 

“Did you ever go to school without an OMNI?” 

“No, not that I recall.  The tech was pretty new when I was young, but my parents felt like it was important for me.” 

“You’ve never been on the other side of the glass?” 

“No, no I guess not,” George marvelled, a curious smirk on his face. 

Henry walked back into the classroom, standing in the middle of the space and looked up at the edges of the room. 

“Well, I remember from my court case, when the OMNI was introduced, there was a lot of doubt as to how effective the technology would be in school, so they wrote a single line protecting classrooms into law: ‘Every school must provide, in perpetuity, a physical space for every class offered in the course calendar.’ That meant that any class that was offered had to have the requisite equipment and physical space of an old-fashioned classroom. More recently in its history, people argued about the intention of this line, especially since everyone was using OMNI, for work and for school. Maybe it meant that schools just had to make sure that they were always OMNI capable. My parents were able to prove otherwise. As for accommodating my physical attendance, turns out it wasn’t that hard,” Henry said, gesturing for George to join him in the middle of the class. 

George hesitantly stepped past the raised partition. He felt like he was stepping into a museum space, only there was nothing on display except for dust and a desk in the corner. He stood beside Henry and looked along his fingers to where the student was pointing, the speakers and cameras that hung along the glass’ line in the ceiling.  The set-up was familiar to George, since he used the same set-up on the other side to broadcast himself.  Henry kept talking. 

“You see, it was the least expensive option to just keep things as they were, even if no students were coming to class. The technology had already been installed. And besides, when it first came out, maybe a third of students were using it, then half within a decade, two-thirds a few years later. Now,” Henry said, pointing to himself, “I’m it. For the whole region. I know; I checked.” 

All George could do was to mutter incoherently while he made his way back to his desk.  Henry followed him and sat down opposite the teacher, busying himself with setting up his notes. 

“Incredible. Unbelievable and incredible,” George kept repeating, quietly to himself. 

“I wonder, Mr. Herrington, if you can tell me why?” 

“Hmmm?” George’s eyes snapped over to the student, sitting across from him with pen and paper at the ready, “Why what?” 

“Why did Tennyson spend so much time on ‘The Lotus Eaters’?” 

George shook his head and looked at Henry with a slight tilt. He considered for a long moment before giving a slight nod, it seemed as good a way as any to spend their time waiting for the power to come back on.  Without power, George supposed they would have to do this the old-fashioned way; he just wasn’t sure what that was.  Conversation seemed like a good first step. 

“Oh, yes, well, there are a few things to understand about that. First, the selection. Certainly, Tennyson could have chosen any number of more famous anecdotes from Homer’s work, but he chose this one, most specifically.  What was the draw, do you think?” 

Henry thought for a while before he spoke, going back through his note and references. 

“I think he chose it because it was so poorly done.  The original story doesn’t leave a lot of room for description, of any of the characters, and the big problem of the story is so quickly and mundanely overcome.” 

“Why would that be a draw?” 

“It gives Tennyson room to be creative, to fill in the details that Homer didn’t tell us.” 

“Yes, exactly. I am sure that there’s more to it than that, inspiration of the moment, emotional connections, et cetera, but yes, because this story has so few details, Tennyson could fill in so many of his own.” 

Henry was jotting this information down in his notes, drawing lines and making margin notes on what he had written previously. 

“Now,” continued George, “Imagine the sailors in the poem. What must it have done to them, the lotus. Imagine the journey that they had already been through and imagine how much they had left to go.” 

“They were just tired, weren’t they?” 

“Exhausted, to the bone weary, of doing the same thing, day after day, and not getting anywhere. Imagine that exhaustion compared to the perpetual, numbing bliss of the lotus.” 

“But, it’s too easy, isn’t it? These were hardened warriors. They fought for a decade at Troy, for almost as long to get home.  Some drugs and a beach are going to beat them?” Henry asked, his brows furrowed. George studied the student’s face; giving himself the luxury of understanding the question being asked right there in the room. 

“What would it take to beat you, do you think? You have to understand, these sailors had given up all hopes of getting home.  This was a close as they were likely to come, in their opinion.  Better than some of the other fates their comrades had fallen to.” 

“True,” said Henry, nodding, “I’d rather intoxication over being an hors d’oeuvres for a cyclops. But that’s not the point, is it? The point is, that’s what Tennyson was feeling: exhausted, looking for the easy end, an easy victory.” 

George admired the quickness of Henry’s wit. 

“Yes, you got it. At least, in theory. How would you set about proving it, without any extra research?” 

Henry was flipping through his pages, but George could see that he was really processing an answer.  He could watch this student’s face and found that he could read the reactions, the connections that were being made behind his thoughtful eyes.  George savoured the experience. 

“Not by what Tennyson wrote, but by what he didn’t.” 

“Explain, Henry, if you don’t mind.” 

“Tennyson is telling the point of view of the sailors, characters who had been given no voice in the original story.  Almost the whole story is theirs except for the part where Odysseus gets them off the island.  Tennyson doesn’t tell that part of the story. In his version, the sailors are trapped in exhaustion, ready to give in.” 

“Nicely done, Henry. Really nicely done.  That’s some excellent reasoning.” 

“So, it’s just as important because it wasn’t written, right?” 

“In this case, certainly.” 

“Then how did Odysseus get them off the island?” 

George was taken back by the question. It had never really occurred to him before.  He reached out to move the text into view, moving his chair to sit beside Henry. 

No mention of Odysseus in Tennyson, but even in Homer’s epic, details were pretty vague. Odysseus just got the sailors on to the boat and lashed them in place. 

“I’m . . . I’m not sure. Brute strength doesn’t really suit the character, does it?” 

“That’s what I was thinking. I mean, if this was Achilles or Heracles, sure, but Odysseus is a clever hero. Homer wrote him that way. So Odysseus had to use the one thing he still had with the sailors, to get past the lotus and euphoric despair.” 

George sat wracking his brain, reading the passages over to garner new insights or revelations. 

“And what does Odysseus have?” the teacher finally asked the student. 

“A connection. They have been through so much together; he had to use that connection to get them back to the ship. That same connection, that deep personal trust, is what lets the others just follow orders to make their escape while Odysseus straps down the two sailors. And as they were coming down from the lotus, it would be the connection they felt that would eventually save them.” 

George sat back in his seat, gazing intently at Henry. There was an audible click and the lights and power came surging back into the room. The end of class bell sounded as Henry gathered up his materials. 

As the student turned to leave, he was met with the strange sight of half a dozen staff members standing silently in the doorway staring. 

“Oh, hello,” the boy said, in his softest possible voice. 

George stood up from his desk as the staff shuffled slowly out of Henry’s path. Before he disappeared into the hallway, George called out: 


“Yes, sir?” 

George smiled. “I will see you tomorrow. Thanks Henry.” 

Henry grinned in return and disappeared past the doorway. The staff watched him walk away. 

“What was that?” one of them asked, her voice creaking dryly in her throat. 

“I think,” George said, “That was learning.” 

George lowered the partition and cleaned it of all physical markings. Then he did something he had never done before, his hands shaking uncertainty as he did it. He pulled up a class list with pictures and names. Whispering to himself, he started memorizing the names of his students.