Author : Mark Thomas

The teacher flexed the piece of moulded plastic.

“I used our 3D printer to make it,” the girl said. Her heels were placed tightly together and she wobbled her hips back and forth nervously. She was new to the school and always tried so hard to impress.

The teacher rotated the model in her hands. The back was a concave shell, as if it was a large sophisticated cake mold, but the front was an incredibly detailed rendering of a partially dissected dog. Anatomical parts were labeled, but not with childish terms like “tummy.” This model referred to the “zygomatic arch” in a peeled section of skull and “adipose tissue” underneath a flap of skin pulled back to reveal glistening intestines. A “tracheal cyst” prompted the teacher to touch her own neck lightly.

“You don’t like it, Ms. Green?”

“Lilli, it’s absolutely stunning.” The girl smiled broadly.

The school board had a variety of physical simulations for students who were too squeamish to perform actual dissections, but nothing of this quality. Ms. Green brushed her fingers across a hind leg and could feel the texture of the fur, and the tiniest striations in the tendons. There was a breeder’s tattoo in the left ear, partially hidden by a fold of skin. Ms. Green had to look at the hollow back side of the model again to convince herself that she wasn’t examining a real cadaver.

There was a polite knock on the door then the principal quietly entered the room. “Hello, Ms. Green,” he said, nodding stiffly, then turned to the young woman. “Hello, Lilli.” The student smiled broadly and fidgeted in her new shoes. The principal met Ms. Green’s eyes. “Um. How’s it going?”

“Well, Lilli was just about to explain how her family’s 3-D printer works.” Pause. “It’s obviously more advanced than the machine that produced key rings for our school’s future technology unit.”

“Oh yes,” Lilli giggled. “Our printer has the eight universal colors in a dispersal fan. It mixes layers of mineral pigment with a clear gel– that’s what makes the viscera look wet…” She stopped suddenly at the sound of a loud anguished sob which seemed to come from an adjacent room. There was an uncomfortable pause, and then Lilli asked the principal “was that Mary?”

He nodded.

“Is she the girl who ran out of the gym, crying, when she saw my project?” Lilli looked puzzled.

The principal cleared his throat. “Uh, yes, she did.”

“Was she unwell?”

Ms. Green answered. “Lilli, she thought your project looked an awful lot like a family pet, and it upset her.”

“Oooooh,” Lilli said, as if suddenly realizing something important. “Is that why she screamed Amos when she ran out of the gym?”

“Uh, yes,” the principal said. “I believe that was the animal’s name.”

There was another knock on the office door.

“Sir.” Mr. Brown, a young social studies teacher leaned into the room. “There’s a problem.”

“Yes?” the principal prompted, nervously.

“It’s Tyler, again. He and his father are setting up his science fair project. It’s more video footage of his neighbors at the townhouse complex.”

“Oh, my God,” the principal said.

“It’s the conspiracy theory thing– aliens are among us. He’s playing the free speech card.”

“Yes, I’ll be there in a minute.”

Mr. Brown retreated back into the gym. Lilli quietly moved near the water cooler and observed the adults.

The principal rubbed his zygomatic arches. “Ms. Green,” he said tightly, “don’t you vet these projects?”

He opened the door and strode out of the office.

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