Twenty years in the future, 2040.
“So, Grandpa, what was it like during the pandemonium?”
“That’s pandemic, sweetie.” Robert squinted into the iAir; his eight-year old granddaughter’s face pixilated into a rectangle, then a triangle, until finally settling back into being recognizably Mona. “How’re things on Mars?”
“Good! Wanna see?” the view into the iAir spun past a pile of oddly shaped stuffed animals to an expansive window, refocusing on a fiery landscape. “We can’t go outside, cause of the fire storms, just like during the panda…thing”
“Uh huh.” Robert smiled, wondering for the millionth time why his daughter and her two life partners moved to Mars with his only granddaughter. Sure, every immigrant got a new Tesla-copter. But it was almost always too hot outside to fly it. “So, Mona, your mom told me you’re doing a report on the Great 2020 Pandemic.”
“Yes,” Mona said, looking serious. “We could choose that, or the Trumpian Wars or something called the Climate Catastrophe, which sounded dumb, or the Period of New Beginnings, which mom said sounded like a female high genie product, which would’ve been cool, but mom was wrong,” Mona threw down her hands dramatically. “I choosed the pandermis.”
Robert tried not to grimace. “Kind of heavy topics for a third grader,” he said, knowing that under the Harris-Abrams protocols children living on Mars spent ages five to 10 learning about history. “What do you want to know?”
“Well,” Mona looked down at scattered iPages on the floor in front of her. “Was the Masked Singer responsible for stopping the pandemonium? Is it truth that crowds of white people, led by their leader Karen, got together to virus-shout into one another’s faces? Who was the orange guy, and why did he stick out his hands funny?”
“Those are hard questions,” Robert said. “It’s true that everyone was supposed to wear a mask when they went outside…”
“Like this kind of mask,” Mona struggled to lift-up a thick rubbered full head helmet, which had to be worn outside the shock shelter.
“Uh, no, more like putting a sock over your face.” Robert pulled off one of his socks and rubbed it across his mouth. Mona giggled.
“And we weren’t supposed to touch one another. And we only ate outside. I mean at restaurants…Oh, and we washed our hands. A lot. With alcohol. Which we also drank. A lot…”
Mona leaned over her iPages. Her tongue jutted out of her month as she concentrated on writing. “No touching. No eating inside. Alcohol in hands and tummy…” Mona shifted back to look at Robert. “Okay. This is good. One more question. What did you learn from it?”
“What did we learn?” Robert rubbed his chin. “Well, electric bikes became a thing. Some of us baked a lot of bread, or became pretty good guitarists…”
“Oh,” said Mona, her eyes brightening. “So, there was more music, which bugged people and caused the Trumpet Wars? I get extra special credit if I make connections.”
“No, no, not that.” Robert frowned. “What we learned,” he smiled, “was that it was really, really, important to be kind to one another. And to the plants and animals outside.” Robert leaned towards Mona, caught up in his now fast-coming thoughts. “That there’s a grace in quiet listening. That words, and how you say them, matter, that life is exquisitely beautiful when we, family and friends, even strangers, can be together. That the ability to smile at one another is precious…”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Mona said, writing fiercely. She paused then looked up. “Didn’t you already know this stuff?” She looked down at her iPage`. “I mean, did you think you were supposed to be mean to one another?
Robert hesitated, then said slowly. “Yes, I suppose that’s what we thought. Which led to the Trumpian Wars…”
Mona’s eyes shined. “Perfect!” she squealed writing furiously. She looked up. “Good thing humans finally learnt that nice lesson.”
“Yes,” nodded Robert. He thought he glimpsed a spark of worry in Mona’s eyes; probably a stray pixel. “Yes, it is.”
“Thanks, Grandpa. Bye!” Mona waved.
“Bye, honey. I love you,” Robert replied.