(Off the suggestion of "blackboard" from Nicole)
THE TALKThe chalk dust always made her cough. Well, cough more. Everyone coughed now. The filters left the air stale and rife with particles. The ever present stench of bodies and sweat. And of course the radiation. She didn't like to think about what her RAD count was over the last twelve years even though she knew it by heart. They all did, just as they knew their white blood cell counts and what their last chest x-rays looked like. But the chalk made it worse.
Silvia finished erasing the blackboard and wiped the yellow dust on her jeans. Picking out a fresh piece of chalk, she turn back to the classroom and the children's attentive faces. Thirty boys and girls, ages seven to ten. This was a lesson she was dreading.
"Okay, class. I need you all to pay attention and take this seriously. I know it is an uncomfortable topic. That's okay. But it's important and that we don't get distracted by giggles."
She turned back to the board and wrote three letters, large and clear. S. E. X. She expected giggling to erupt behind her but there was only silence.
"Sex," Silvia announced towards the class. There was little recognition from most of them, as if she was speaking a foreign language. "So, does anyone know what 'sex' means?"
The class shifted uncomfortably and exchanged nervous glances. The lights flickered and went off, plunging the room into black. A few second later there was a thump and a hum as the back up generators shifted on. The lights sputtered back on. When she had been a child, a moment like that would have frightened her. Hell, when they first moved into the vaults, it scared her. But not anymore. Nor did it frighten the children. Fear of the dark is the fear of the unknown. They had always known the dark and took it as a given of daily life.
Timothy, sitting near the front, cautiously raised his hand. Silvia noticed it was bandaged and assumed that he had lost another finger. The phrase "ten heathy fingers and tenhealthy toes" flashed through Silvia's mind and she forced it out.
"It's when a man and a woman get naked and touch each other." There as a small wave of giggling which filled Silvia with joy. It was a sound she so rarely heard and reassured her.
"Yes and no. It doesn't have to be a man and a woman. It can be two women or two men. And it can be between more than two people." More giggles. She remembered when there was a time that speaking those words would have started a flood of controversy. Not any more. There were too few of them left to care anymore. And all the arguments for only same sex relationships had disappeared. It was hard to defend those sort of moral judgments these days.
"We're going to spend the rest of the day talking about sex. You can ask any thing that you want. It can be confusing, I know. But you are all getting older and soon you will begin to want to experiment and experience sex. I would guess some of you have already begun to experiment."
She noticed a quick exchange of nervous looks between Amber and Benjamin, both aged ten. She made a mental note to approach both of them privately. And to notify medical for them to both be checked again. Just to be safe.
"First, the important thing for you all to know is that your body is your body. No one has the right to make you do things that you don't want to. It is your choice. That is very important. We can talk about that in more detail later. But, please, know that if you ever feeling like someone is forcing you, even if only with words, tell me or your parents or a doctor or an enforcer. Tell an adult, okay? I repeat: your body is your body." Even if it is rebelling against you and slowly dying. She thought of her own body and its pains and sores that never seemed to heal.
They nodded, most of them probably not understanding.
"Sex can, if done with people you feel comfortable with and trust, be wonderful and pleasurable. I am going to tell you about some of the things people can do with each other and ways that might help it be more pleasurable. But each person is different. But let's start small."
She turned back to the board and wrote KISSING.
"Kissing isn't sex!" a voice said loudly. Turning back, she saw that it was Bradley. "My mommy kisses me before I go to bed. And I don't think that is sex."
"You're right, Billy. There are different types of kissing."
Christina's hand was up and waving for attention and Silvia knew exactly what Christina was going to say. She was only eight, but Christina was smart and her parents, unlike most parents in the vaults, did not go out of their way to protect her from the truths of the world. Like any eight year old, her knowledge was incomplete and often mixed up, the old world mixing withe new, but Christina had the awkward, if healthy, habit of shattering lies people often hid behind.
Maybe it would be better to lie, to pretend. It is not like it matters in the long run. There was no long run anymore. Who was Christina or Silvia to force people from fantasies that made it easier to go on day to day? But Silvia was a teacher and believed in truth. Even now, making informed choices was a human right.
Silvia point towards Christina who looked like she was about to explode. "Yes?"
Christina cleared her throat. "Sex is also how you make babies. But not kissing. The other thing. When a man puts his penis in a woman's vagina." A mixture of giggles and shifting and mumbling. Still certain words always bring giggling. But the mumbling was from the other word, the word no one liked to say any more. This is what Silvia had dreaded.
"Yes. It is how we used to make babies."
Babies. The word that had no more meaning since there were none. Not for seven years. In this very room was Eve Mendleson, the youngest person in the vault, probably the world. Her parents had named her in an obscene hope that Eve would not be the last but a new beginning. Not the choice had already been made.
The vote had been overwhelming. The facts were clear. To have more children was just to extend the suffering of the human race.
Silvia looked across the faces and forced herself to smile, living her own lie. She wanted to cry and hug them. She missed her own little girl who had died just weeks after they entered the vault. Her little girl, dying in incredible pain, coughing up blood and the skin pealing from her flesh. She forced the memories from her mind, forced the tears to not flood from her eyes and smiled at the children.
"But we don't have babies anymore. Everyone has had surgeries so that no one can have babies ever again. So people only have sex for comfort and fun and pleasure now." Silvia knew that wasn't exactly true. Sex was still used to hurt and to feel sorrow and anger and any of the thousand reasons people have always had sex. Just not to make life. "That's why there are no babies."
The children, no matter what they had been told in their short lives knew what this meant. But they all already knew and had always known. Just like darkness, it was all around them. The concrete corridors and rooms were empty of new life and would some day soon be empty of any life.
Their lives now would be short. Her job was to help them find what joy they could.
"So," Silvia said as brightly and cheerfully as she could manage, "let's talk about kissing." And some of the class leaned forward to listen.