The Project Gutenberg eBook of The last class

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Title: The last class

Author: Richard Banks

Illustrator: Dan Adkins

Release date: November 20, 2023 [eBook #72178]

Language: English

Original publication: New York, NY: Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, 1962

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at


The Last Class

(With Apologies to Emile Zola)


Illustrated by ADKINS

Many years ago Emile Zola wrote a tale, by this same title, of a French schoolmaster who was forced to leave his pupils by the victorious German troops after the Franco-Prussian War. The schoolmaster's last words were: Vive la France! Miss Hippiness, in this story, had no final words. But if she had, they might have been:

"Long live the 20th Century!"

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Amazing Stories July 1962.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

"And now, children," said Miss Hippiness, her smile shooting deep wrinkles across her face like the cracks up the scarred sides of the ancient, empty sky-scrapers of New York.

The twelve children in the cozy classroom came to attention. It was not her words, it was the tone, the creaking smile.

"And now, children," said Miss Hippiness again, sitting down on the old-fashioned straight chair she affected, "have you all put away your atomic blocks?"

"Yes, teacher," came the chorus of sweet young voices.

"Your electronic jackstraws? Your pencil-mnestics?"

"Yes, teacher."

"And have you all put the pretty little activator pills in your mouths?"

They nodded. Miss Hippiness raised her hand for silence.

"Thirty dear, dear seconds, children," she said.

A sigh of pleasure suddenly smoked up from the twelve young faces as the pills took effect, and they remembered. Poor little darlings, to be so terribly fooled, said Miss Hippiness to herself.

If it was only possible for them to remember THIS part of the day, outside—and not to have it blacked out by the pills half an hour from now. To remember this part of the day, above all other parts, on into adulthood. What a different world they would create....

"So we come to the nice nice part of our day," she said. "We are going to talk again about the 20th Century."

The children fidgeted in pleasure. She had turned on the sun five minutes ago and its beams through the window highlighted the youngness, the eagerness of their faces, turned so trustingly to her.

Here and there the sunlight flashed silver glints for instants on the tiny identification discs, smaller than 20th Century dimes in their foreheads and half hidden in the hairlines where they were inset in each person nowadays at birth.

A small hand shot up.

"Yes?" said Miss Hippiness.

"Can we talk about the gangsters?" Marymarymary asked.

Another small hand jerked up, eagerly.

"Yes?" said Miss Hippiness.

"Can we talk about wars and bombs and things?" Henry Sixhenry asked.

Miss Hippiness beamed on them. "Children, children," she scolded in fake sternness, "of course we can. But we've talked about them all so often. Isn't there something else you'd rather hear?"

The little hands sprouted like fast weeds.

"Miss Hippiness—" "Miss Hippiness—"

She was called Miss Hippiness, even to her face now, and she didn't dislike it. Somewhere inside her the name had begun to give out a pulsing warmth like a tiny real sun. Fifty years ago she would have disintegrated any child who would have dared to call her such a name.

Her eyes flicked at the disintegrator, still standing in its corner opposite the matter transmitter. But it was a dusty, dirty old thing. She hadn't used it in years. At home, she still had the hair ribbon—they had been in style briefly that year among certain types of families—the last little girl had been wearing the day she had walked so defiantly into the disintegrator.

More frequently, the last year or so, Miss Hippiness had been troubled by nightmares in which the little girl's face peppered everything. Strange. She didn't remember the faces of those other children she had forced to march into the machine. But then, she had been much younger in those days, so much more a part of this contemporary world. And of course, that was before she had begun delving so avidly into history.

Miss Hippiness had been teaching the first grade in the same school—Official Learning Dome 111, called OLD Triple-One—for almost sixty years and she had been a great teacher. She had never been a really large woman or a fat one. It was just that she tended to massiveness in the one part of her anatomy, and ten years ago she had let the massiveness really bloom.

Never again had she given in to the pressures of fashion in a world where hips and breasts came and went on women like hemlines of the 20th Century.

The 20th Century!

Miss Hippiness let a dreaminess invade her eyes.

"Children," she said in her fond voice, "the 20th Century has never been duplicated. It stands unique in history. Think of the richness of that far age when a person could actually choose what he was going to do in life, and where there were still hunger and sickness and want and—"

"And wars," said little Charley Tencharles.

"Yes," said Miss Hippiness. "And accidents hurting people faster than seconds in a clock. And people fighting each other and cursing each other with words we don't even know any more."

"Like someday-vitch," cried Marymarymary.

Miss Hippiness rolled her eyes in joy. "It was son of a bitch, dear," she said. "It was a string of tiny real words that slished off the tongue like a string of bright little silver daggers."

"Yes, teacher," the children chorused, squirming in wonder.

"And there were the gangsters, those wonderful, wonderful eccentric persons, like the robinhoods and beowulfs I've told you about. And yes, there were the bombs that went bam and boom and wham, and made beautiful colors and high gorgeous mushrooming clouds—like the pictures in the ancient book I smuggled in to show you the other day."

"And people blown to bits," said Stan Thirtystanley in a fake grownup voice.

"To little itsy-bitsy bits," Miss Hippiness cried. "The 20th Century, children. Ah, what happiness to have lived then, the whole world violent and dangerous and seething and exciting like a string of storybooks every inch of the way around the equator. But where you could be an individual—your own boss, they used to call it."

She couldn't sit now. She raised her massive hips off the straight chair and began pacing up and down the room, her face like an ancient television screen. And the children's eyes followed her like hungry puppies after a mama dog.

"It was the final splurge, children, of the individual man," she said. "Nowadays we have a world of people, all the same, all dull, all safe and healthy and secure. Then it was a world of persons. And in between every bit of violence there was a cozy bit of restful safety. In between every bit of anger there was a silent bit of cozy peace. For every tragic moment there was a moment of sunny happiness."

"And were people really, really allowed to die by themselves?" asked Charley Tencharles.

She stopped and bent a loving glance on him. In the 20th Century he would have been called Teacher's Pet. He was a dear and a doll and an angel.

"Oh, many, many good people," she said, a catch in her voice, "died by themselves. Imagine, some were taken by old age! And, as we said last week, there were those wonderful sicknesses. A person could die of one of those. Nobody in the whole 20th Century had a card in the central bureau which had on it the date of their death. Think of it, children."

She was wound up now, coming to the new part she had to tell them. The part about electronics, which had been an infant science at the start of the 20th Century. Matter transmitters were not known, nor disintegrators. Robots were just on the horizon. Radio and television came to flower. Man was just beginning to step off the face of the world into deep space. And there were so few people on earth that there were open fields all over every continent. Fine blowing trees everywhere, and real, live wild flowers.

"Man started the 20th Century in complete privacy," she said, her vast hips quivering as she paced. "Then came the time—this was during the years of the gangsters—when electronics helped man put tiny ears in rooms, behind pictures on the walls, so private speech could be recorded. And telephones—did I tell you what telephones were?—could be tapped, as they called it, so other people could listen in when you had secrets to tell a friend."

And then, she told them, late in the 20th Century came the best part of the story—the discovery that man could "wiretap" other men so secretly that nobody knew.

"Think of it," she cried. "You could be telling your secrets to Papa. And then, later, Papa would be called in to a police station and his wiretap taken out and everything you said was recorded on a tiny spool inside him."

"Ah," said the children, relishing the shudder of it all. It was like a prehistoric ghost story, possible but weird because it had no connection to known life.

"But the human wiretaps didn't last long," said Miss Hippiness, making a serious-comic face which brought a ripple of laughter to the twelve youngsters. "By early in the 21st Century every part of the world had passed laws so nobody ever again could be wiretapped."

She looked at the clock. In two minutes the pills would wear off.

"Enough for today, children," she announced.

"But how about the gangsters?" Marymarymary asked in a petulant voice. "Please, Miss Hippiness, you said—"

"Enough for today," Miss Hippiness said sternly. "It's time to go home. We'll tell more stories tomorrow."

She said it just in time. The sun blinked out. A bell tinkled, and the school day was over. The children stood up and waited.

"All right," said Miss Hippiness with a smile. "Single file, children. To the transmitter in your right order."

The children walked, like children always have, with spurting giggles and sudden scuffles, toward the gleaming wire cage, festooned with pretty cutouts of colorful animals and buildings and trees.

Marymarymary was always the first, this year. She stood in front of the transmitter opening, let the electronic beam play on her forehead identification disc, then stepped in.

Swup. She was gone, delivered to her home, delivered to her mama and papa—and she wouldn't remember a thing of the "story hour," Miss Hippiness thought happily. But maybe when she grew up, maybe when they all grew up, things would erupt here and there from their subconscious and—

They each stood their moment for the beam to catch their discs, stepped in and were swupped off. At last only Charley Tencharles was left and he scurried around, like teacher's pets immemorial, helping Miss Hippiness do the last things a classroom needs to put it to rest for the night.

Miss Hippiness gave his shoulders a last motherly squeeze and pushed him in front of the matter transmitter.

"Tomorrow?" she said. His young grin was like wine in her blood. He stepped in and was swupped instantly.

Miss Hippiness sighed and went back to sit on her straight chair. It wasn't comfortable and it wasn't pretty. But it somehow fit whatever had been happening inside her the last year or two.

She glanced at the faint shimmer inside the transmitter where Charley had been swupped. He was such a darling. Quiet, shy, adorable. If they had allowed her to have a son, instead of decreeing that she be a childless teacher, she said. But she couldn't finish the thought.

It was when the children went that she felt the growing anger and unrest and sickness inside her. It was terrible when the children left. She wondered how long it had been now since she had seen the real surface of the earth. She swupped back and forth, morning and night, from her sleeping room to her classroom. They were a thousand miles apart, actually, but an instant apart through the transmitter.

And she had been swupping to that old library in the south of what had been France to browse in the forgotten ancient books there. But she never went outdoors. She never saw the sky anymore.

"Why, it must be spring," she said aloud, "and I've not seen a creek or a river in—how long?"

If she had been allowed to have a son, and that son had been Charley Tencharles, what fun it would have been to leave school every afternoon and be swupped to seashores, to brooks, to mountain peaks, to the moon, to the tiny parks that still remained occasionally in cities.

She sat on her hard straight chair, uncomfortable but unmoving, for a half hour, deep in the reveries that so often beset her now.

And then the beeper on the matter transmitter sounded. With a puzzled frown she got up to press the admittance button.

Little Charley materialized and came out of the wire cage.

"Charley," she cried. "Does your mama know you've come back?"

He didn't answer. He went to stand in front of the straight chair and she followed him, sitting down and putting her hands on his shoulders.

"Charley," she said in her fake stern voice, "you should always ask your mama before you—"

Charley's lips came open but it wasn't Charley's little voice which came out.

"Susan Fiftysusan," said a deep grownup voice, "this is Holmes Oneholmes. Remember? I was one of your pupils forty years or more ago."

Miss Hippiness remembered instantly. She remembered Holmes as a child, but she knew what he was now. He headed the bureau known only by an electronic symbol. Too secret to name, it was said in high circles.

Miss Hippiness dropped her hands from little Charley's shoulders and covered her face. Things twitched and twirked like little knives somewhere deep inside her. Fear? Horror?

"You were my greatest, my very best teacher," said Holmes Oneholmes on the recording coming through little Charley's open lips. "And I have treasured your memory. So you know how hateful is my task this afternoon."

Miss Hippiness peeked at Charley's face through her fingers. His little blue eyes were blank, fastened to a spot high on the classroom wall behind her. There was no tiny bit of expression on his face.

She heard Holmes Oneholmes cough and his voice went on, official this time, all pupilness erased.

"Susan Fiftysusan," he said, "the latest recording from inside Charley Tencharles, which we have just heard, convicts you beyond reprieve. Where you found the human-wiretap information we do not know. But we'll find it, and destroy it. It is the order that your future disintegration date is hereby superseded. Instead of disintegration two years and ten days from now, you will proceed to the nearest disintegrator within the hour."

Miss Hippiness lowered her face and her old eyes began sparking. Nobody ever knew their disintegration dates which the computers put on the card at birth. Nobody ever knew when they had to march into one of those horrid machines and cease living. But to learn that her own had been set a mere two years away—and she in the prime of life....

"Son of a bitch," she said, using the first 20th Century epithet that came to mind.

"You are convicted," Holmes Oneholmes was saying, "of spreading sedition and danger to our entire world in an unthinkable way, tampering with the minds of our children—"

"As if YOU don't tamper with children," she shouted.

"—and it is the order that there be no appeal from this verdict."

Miss Hippiness sat straighter. In the 20th Century, no matter what—for gangster, for statesman, for teacher—there would have been an appeal, and even another appeal, and perhaps another appeal. Life was still rich and treasured in the 20th Century.

So she held the 20th Century before her angry eyes, letting it blot out the dirty old disintegrator in its corner. How had they learned what she was doing to the sweet children?

Holmes Oneholmes' voice changed texture.

"Miss Hippiness they call you now," he said, almost fondly. "We had another name for you years ago." Almost a chuckle. "It was even better than Miss Hippiness. Don't hate little Charley, Miss Hippiness. He is an android, naturally. We had him made last year after the Freudists began picking up troublesome things in the dreams of the children you've had in class. Charley has been our wiretap, Miss Hippiness."

The old teacher's eyes clamped on Charley Tencharles. But then they softened. She shook her head. It made no difference. If they had allowed her to have a son—

"We caught an affection beyond affection," Holmes Oneholmes was saying, "in your voice when you talked to our android. So, since he has finished his service to us, we—I—decided to send him back to you, Miss Hippiness. He will march into the disintegrator with you."

A faint click told her the recording inside Charley had played itself out. Charley moved almost immediately. His eyes came down from the high wall to her face.

He grinned.

And she grinned back.

"Charley Tencharles," she said gruffly, "can't you stay away from Miss Hippiness? What a boy you are. You should be out playing, maybe in a park, maybe in a boat."

"Or on a horse like in the 20th Century?" he asked.

She almost laughed. "Yes," she cried, "maybe like on a horse. With a gun on your hip—"

"And a lasso to throw at things?"

Miss Hippiness got up from the straight chair. It was so sweet, why wait? She took little Charley's hand and they walked toward the disintegrator.

There was a dreadful moment of hesitation in front of it. Miss HippIness had heard of that last dreadful moment and she let it wrack her. Maybe this was a last relic of the 20th Century, a last real-for-sure relic.

Charley's hand moved in hers and she stooped quickly, enfolding him in her arms.

"You know what?" she cried. "There was something else in the 20th Century, Charley. It was kissing."

"Kissing?" he said.

"Yes, and I'm going to kiss you, Charley Tencharles. Just like back then."

He grinned as her lips came at him. "Aw, Miss Hippiness," he said.

There is an odd difference in the minute sounds made by matter transmitters and disintegrators. The transmitter goes swup, no matter who steps in. But the disintegrator goes schup, no matter who.

Miss Hippiness stood up and took a deep breath, holding Charley tight in her arms, almost like a baby. She didn't have to look. Having sent so many naughty children into the disintegrator years ago, she knew the way.

She took the last three steps.