Early Intervention

[CW: child abuse]

“Regarding Subject NT-223, let’s look at its chart for this last month.” Therapist swipes her terminal’s screen and your chart appears on the room monitor.

“That’s still a little uncomfortable,” mom says. “Couldn’t we use his name at least outside of the sessions?”

“Evidence suggests that would undermine our progress. Individuals are statistically most likely to pass technopath qualification if they report feeling detachment from their identity. Since the Subject doesn’t naturally have this feeling, we must be deliberate in fostering it.” She always has the right answer, without hesitation.

“I guess...if that’s what the science says,” mom says.

“I also think it’s time you stopped referring to it as ‘him.’ The most successful cases in the program have been those who feel most detachment from gender. Not reinforcing that aspect of its identity will help restructure its thought patterns to think more autistically.”

“Isn’t that a little extreme?” mom says.

“The SynSync Foundation has been very generous in offering you this charity contract, but if the Subject fails to pass its technopath certification, you will be liable for our losses, as you know. You would do best to help me, not constantly question our evidence-based practices,” therapist says.

“Right...I know.”

“Now, the chart. Over the last month I’ve recorded a 1.5% increase in the Subject’s focus time on its assigned special interests, and a 1.9% increase in recorded occurrences of stims. You can see that this has correlated with a 0.09% increase in its average sync rate with the interface.”

“That’s good, right?”

“It is progress. Unfortunately the Subject is lagging behind expectations for progress by this stage in the program. I recommend we increase therapy time to 192 hours next month.”

“I see...will it cost extra?”

“As long as the Subject passes qualification and certification, you don’t need to worry about the cost. If it fails, the extra hours will be billed to you as agreed in our contract. But this will increase our chances of success, so there is no reason to worry.”

“Well when you put it that way...”

“So it’s agreed,” therapist says.

“I guess...” mom says.

Not long after you wake up, your door opens. There’s no knock or announcement.

“It’s time for therapy.” It’s therapist. As long as you can remember, she’s come over, five days a week. She never has told you her name. She never has called you yours either.

“Yay!” You jump up from bed and do a happy stim. Hands at face level, arms at 85 degrees, alternating flap for 2.5 seconds. The more precise the better.

Therapist walks up to you. “Good stim, but...” She grabs the top of your head in her long fingers and turns it away from her. “Eyes off.”

So careless, you looked at her eyes. It’s so many steps to remember. “Sorry...”

She takes your wrists in her hands. “Where’s your appropriate stim?”

“Uhh...” Which one...what’s the right reaction to making a mistake and being corrected...anxious? No, maybe, embarrassed? When she lets go, you try that one. You look down, cover your face and rock side to side at a rate of 1 per 2 seconds.

“Good.” She reaches into her bag and pulls out the collar. “Now let’s begin.”

Without pause she snaps the device around your neck. You feel the cold metal points stick into your skin. Next comes the two little shocks of the calibration test as it activates and syncs with your brain signals. You see her pull up her chart on her terminal to begin monitoring the neural interface output. It feels like being stared at from the inside.

“Now, what do you want to do today?” she says.

“I want to practice coding.” Right answer. Ow. A little jolt from the collar. Wrong answer?

“Yes, but echolalial script, please.”

“I want to look at the computer.” Obviously. You should have known better. You’re making so many mistakes today, what’s wrong with you? You’re lucky she’s being so lenient.

You pick up your terminal and its screen lights up. You go to sit at your desk and project the terminal output onto the bigger monitor there, where you can use your keyboard.

“Do you like to use the keyboard?” she says.

“Yeah! It makes a stimmy noise,” you say, making sure not to look in her direction when you answer.

You open your tutorial program. Today’s lesson is a continuation of the fundamentals of type theory.

“Can I have breakfast before I start?”

“It would be better to hyperfocus on this for a few hours first, don’t you think?” she says. “You shouldn’t focus so much on your body, it will distract you.”

“Of course.” You get started and open your example program from yesterday. There was an error here when you left off, and you still haven’t figured out what’s wrong. You look over the problematic block carefully.

A shock. Ow. Just a little one. Just getting your attention. You don’t hear her come up behind you before she grabs your wrists tight.

“Wouldn’t you think better if you did something with these quiet hands?” She lets you go.

Idle stims, of course. You have to make sure you do that while concentrating. You pick one of the toys on your desk, a cube puzzle. Maybe you’ll think of the answer if you occupy your brain with something. Therapist says a technopath candidate can solve this in under a minute. You’ve memorized so many algorithms, but it’s hard to get a clear picture in your head of what to do just by looking at it.

You work for a while more, trying code edits and solving your puzzle in between errors.

Suddenly there’s a terrible sound. Therapist is playing music through your room speakers, the kind of experimental AI-generated noise she likes. It’s like it’s engineered to be abrasive to your ears. It’s like listening to broken glass stuck to sandpaper. You can’t think, you can’t focus. You swear it sounds worse every time she does it. You hate this part.

You pick up the noise canceling headphones on your desk, but she snatches them out of your hand.

“How do we deal with sensory overload when we can’t access accommodation devices?” she says.

Stims. You breathe deep and try rocking gently back and forth. You try stimming with a tactile toy and make an effort to read your code.

“Good, good.” She gives back your headphones and finally you can block out some of the noise. This is your reward. You got it much quicker this time.

You’re so hungry. You’re finally allowed to have breakfast. You go straight to the autokitchen to get something quick.

“What do you want to eat today?” therapist says.

“How about eggs?” You enter your order into the autokitchen via your terminal.

Egg style? The device responds.

“Hmm...fried.” Ow. Shock. “Why...”

“You always get scrambled eggs. It’s your samefood,” therapist says.

You get scrambled eggs.

“Can I get salt on them?”

“It might be a little overwhelming to your olfactory hypersensitivity if it’s seasoned too much. You’d like it more if it was plain,” she says.


You hate the late night sessions. She’s finally gone, and you have a few hours to yourself before you have to sleep and then get up for school and then therapy when you get home.

You hate being a kid. It’ll be different when you’re grown up. You’ll be a technopath and you can go far away from New Star and do anything you want. And maybe if you have kids they’ll just be autistic and never have to go through this. Why couldn’t you have just been born right, why can’t you just see the world the way you’re supposed to? Broken, flawed child, there’s no place for you in this world.

You can still feel the interface around your neck even though it’s gone. The skin feels so numb. The little red marks where the points dig into your neck are all swollen. You feel the sensation of a shock when you touch them. Even now that you’re alone, you feel like there are eyes on you. You try not to look in their direction.

“That’s it for today,” therapist says. “Let’s have our weekly progress meeting.”

You follow her out into the living room. Normally she would take your collar off first. The routine is a little off. It feels wrong.

Mom is waiting in her chair. You and therapist sit down across from her on the couch, in your assigned spot.

“Let’s have a look at the data.” She projects a graph onto the room monitor. “I’m a little concerned by its lack of progress in developing sensory hypersensitivity. This is one of the harder things to reinforce, but most subjects are further along in this metric by this stage.”

“I see, I see.” Mom looks over the graph. “What should we do?”

“I think the problem is too little reinforcement time.”

“But between school and at-home therapy, it’s already getting nearly 240 hours per month,” mom says.

“I can’t offer much more in-person time than that. But I do have good news.” She switches to another graph. “Subject NT-223 has finally reached a synchronization rate of 40%.”

“That’s good?” mom says.

“Most subjects are past 50 by now. But at 40% it’s safe to wear the neural interface full time. This way, even when I’m not around, we can automate the reinforcement of the Subject’s behavior and sensory response at all times. It’s the best way to ensure no progress is lost to downtime.”

“Oh! Then if we do that, do you think we’ll be able to cut back on therapy time? I think it’s really becoming exhausting for it. Its grades in school are suffering. I don’t think it’s sleeping well.”

“We’ll try this for the next month, and if our progress looks right, we can consider that,” therapist says.

“Will it be stressful to wear it all the time?” mom says.

“Autistic technopath candidates usually wear an interface collar at all times, there’s no harm in it. It will be an adjustment, but it’s the best hope you have of reaching the required 80% by the age of qualification.”

Mom looks at you. “Is that okay?”

“Subject NT-223 is fine with this, right? You like the collar.” Therapist looks at you.

You avert your eyes before you can accidentally make contact with hers, but you can feel her stare as much as you feel the interface collar reading you. You nod in agreement to whatever she is saying.

“Then it’s settled,” therapist says. She gets up. “I’ll see you next week.”

She heads out the door. You feel the collar around your neck. Smooth plastic, rounded corners, little bumps around the latch on the side, æthernet port in the back, it’s kind of stimmy to feel. But the little metal points that dig into your neck are itchy.

A day off. Aunt Z and your cousin Alpha are over for dinner. Alpha sits in the chair across from your seat in the living room as you both use your terminals. You never really talk, Alpha doesn’t talk much at all, but it’s nice to hang out. It’s easy to not accidentally make eye contact because they never do either.

“They have him wearing that awful thing all the time now?” Aunt Z is arguing with mom again.

“Yeah. It’s for the best, it lets it get so much more therapy time,” mom says.

“Oh, did he start using it/its?” Z says.

“Not exactly. We’re trying not to foster attachment to identity. And it is a more common autistic pronoun than he, so--”

“Do you even hear yourself? You can’t just pick someone’s pronouns for them based on statistics! How can you think all this is okay?” She’s raising her voice. “Look at him there, that’s not the little boy I used to know. He hardly speaks, he hardly eats. Do you even know what goes on in those sessions?”

“I get regular reports about it,” mom says.

“Reports? Do you even spend as much time with your child as this therapist does? Do you even know if this crazy treatment actually works? I don’t think it’s possible for a kid like him to just become autistic.” Z says.

“It’s an evidence-based program, many successful cases of getting an allistic-born kid to pass technopath qualification. It’s based on tried-and-tested techniques used for over 200 years. It’s simple really, behavioral intervention over enough time, getting the brain used to autistic behaviors, with a little help from the neural interface, it can alter the child’s neurology to actually become autistic. The science is really interesting, I’ll send you an article.”

“Did it say anything about the long term side effects? Half of the kids subjected to this therapy end up with PTSD!”

“That was years ago! The program isn’t like that anymore.”

“How do you know when you don’t see what she does to him?” Z says.

“It will all be worth it,” mom says.

“Worth your child’s well being? His childhood?”

“It likes therapy time I’ll have you know! It’s always happy when she’s around. And once it’s a technopath it will have a stable, high demand job--”

“--in the military,” Z says.

“Its future will be all set, after service it can work and live anywhere it wants. Who wouldn’t want that for their child?”

“But what about what he wants? Did he even choose this career path?” Z says.

“It doesn’t know what’s best for it! It’s just a kid!” mom says.

“This is--it’s not right! It’s cruel!” Z says.

“Easy for you to say!” mom says. “Your Alpha is autistic, born full of natural talent! They could qualify for technopath training with no preparation at all!”

“But they’re not going to!”

“What?! Why not?” mom says.

“It’s their choice!” Z says.

“Why would you just throw away the gift they’ve been given?”

“They don’t want to be a cyborg spending their life with their head halfway inside a computer, they just want to be an artist! What’s wrong with that?” Z says.

“Have you seen housing prices in this colony today? Imagine it in ten years!” mom says. “You’re gonna regret not helping them get a good job when you’re still supporting them a hundred months from now while they work on pixel sprites!”

“You’re truly hopeless!” Z storms out of the kitchen. She’s scary when she gets like this.

“Alpha!” she says. “We’re going home.”

They get up and wave goodbye to you without looking up from the drawing on their terminal. Then Aunt Z comes up to you, kneeling down to look you in the eye. You can’t avoid it fast enough. Once your vision catches the shape of her eyes, the interface gives you a sharp shock and you jerk your head away from her.

“You know, you can always call me, if you think something bad is happening, if you want to get out of here, okay?” she says.

You nod your head, focusing on your listening stim and not really absorbing her words. She follows Alpha out the front door.

A day out in the city. It’s a test of your navigation of complex social spaces. You know what to do, you’ll be fine this time. You keep your sunglasses and headphones on and squish your stim necklace tight in your grip as you walk across the long bridge. With a train track and a sidewalk, this bridge crosses the glass to connect two habitable strips of the colony.

Down under the bridge, below you through the glass, the stars drift by as the colony rotates. It’s a warm twilight here on the bridge, as the sunlight on the two other partially illuminated sections of your city reflects onto you. You can see it all up above, the rest of the city, hazy through the pale blue sky.

The colder air on this side causes a wind from above as the pressure of this massive atmosphere fluctuates. You feel cold, wearing this dress. It comes down to your knees and it doesn’t have sleeves. It’s made of a light, flowy material, light pastel colors, with a circuit pattern, actually a functional circuit that lights up an LED pattern. It’s a cool article of clothing on a technical level, but you’re still not used to wearing things like skirts and dresses.

It’s not like it feels terrible but something is off. It feels wrong to be perceived this way. With this and your hair getting longer, most people are assuming you’re a girl. You don’t know if you’re a boy, but you don’t really feel like being a girl is right. You haven’t really had the chance to consider this for yourself either way. Therapist says this kind of discomfort and confusion is a good autistic way to feel. She keeps putting you in these dresses whenever you go out.

“See anything interesting?” therapist says.

“The colony is interesting.”

“Right, colonies are your special interest,” she says. “Why don’t you infodump about it?”

You hurry to gather your thoughts, and find your script. “Colonies produce simulated gravity through centrifuge, by rotating, and are powered by a reactor core and serviced by a municipal computer core. Their massive walls are a thin layer of iron-nickel and silica glass panels, and they provide radiation shielding via a water barrier, which is also used in thermal regulation. A colony this size can support hundreds of thousands of people in a self-sustained world, with nutrient-rich soil and abundant water, all built from the rubble of an asteroid. There are now over a thousand colonies, some much bigger than our homeworld New Star. Our world is a first-generation colony, one of the oldest still inhabited. It was once the biggest colony in space. We are in orbit of Earth at point L4.”

“That’s very interesting!” therapist says. “Would you like to go see other colonies?”

You nod. “When I’m a technopath I’ll visit every colony.”

“That’s good, you’ll do whatever it takes to become a technopath.”

“I don’t think it likes dressing that way,” mom says.

“No, but that’s precisely why it’s helpful,” therapist says.

“Are you...trying to make it trans?”

“Oh don’t be ridiculous, that’s impossible. Well, I never say something is impossible with behavioral psychology, but it would be way harder than making it autistic. Still, experiencing gender dysphoria improves subject outcomes. If it’s actually a cis boy, this experience will feel much like how a trans boy would experience dysphoria from a feminine presentation. And after long enough living socially as a girl, returning to its masculine state will be like a simulation of transition. That will give its brain more exposure to common autistic behavior.”

“Do you just consider everything autistic people do to be autistic behavior? Doesn’t the reasons for the behavior make any difference?” mom says.

“Everything humans do is behavior. Change the behavior, and you change the thinking behind it. Change the thinking long enough and you change the neurology. It’s the foundation of behavioral psychology itself, long-accepted science.”

“Right, well, what do I know about neuroscience, I’m just a linear car operator,” mom says. “Best leave it to the experts...”

“You won’t regret it,” therapist says. “We know exactly what we’re doing.”

Not a moment of rest. All hours it’s watching, recording, judging. You lie on your bed. You should sleep, but this is the only time you can be even a little alone. But you can’t be alone. You dig your fingers underneath the interface collar, it only makes the little contact points scrape against your skin, and makes the two calibration shocks fire as soon as it regains contact. You pull at the clasp, but it’s locked tight, only therapist’s personal key can open it.

When you’re a technopath you’ll be able to solve puzzles like this. But you’ll have to wear a collar like this anyway. At least it’ll be yours though, at least you can take it off. Until they give you the implants. Then you’re one with the interface, one with every computer around you. The autistic dream. Your dream. What you’ve always wanted, she says. She never asked though. Mom didn’t either.

What you want is this thing off of your neck. A night to yourself, alone. To sit still and relax. To try some new foods. To wear the clothes you like. One day. When you’re a technopath you’ll be free. When you’re autistic enough you’ll be free. It’ll be worth it, they say. It’ll be worth it, it’s for your own good, mom knows what’s best, therapist knows what’s best.

But it’s so far away. And what if you don’t pass? Then what was it all for? You have to, you have to keep going and pass qualifications. But it’d be so much easier not to, not to keep going at all, not to even wake up tomorrow. That’s what you want, after all, for it to be over. One way or another.

You open your door. The house is dark. Nobody else is awake. Nobody can stop you.

In soft steps you reach the kitchen. As you approach the HomeLab, it lights up with a too-bright blue light and makes a loud beep. You freeze. You listen. No sounds of movement. Maybe mom didn’t wake up. You turn the volume down to minimum.

It prompts you for your order. Will you enter it on the device or through your terminal? If you fail, mom might see the command history on the HomeLab. But therapist would see the history on your terminal. You enter it on the device’s shell where you know it at least won’t appear in the UI use history, or in your personal command memory where therapist could see.

> make ‘thallium sulfate’ --mass=1000mg --solvent=water --concentration=50mgml --silent

You know this is a poison the HomeLab cam make. You remember mom using it to kill mice, a real problem in space colonies ever since the end of shipping regulation in the 2100s. But now isn’t the time to infodump, now is time to die.

You put your favorite cup under the HomeLab and let it fill up with clear fluid. Quickly, before you can change your mind, you pull it toward your face. But your interface collar responds with a painful shock. This behavior isn’t permitted either. Every time you try to bring the cup closer it shocks you harder. Now you can’t move your arm. The interface’s signal to your spinal cord has overridden your brain’s output.

When you try to move it away, the collar releases you. Frustrated, you pour the liquid down the drain. Then your peripheral vision catches sight of the knife block. Before you can think to hesitate, you pull the biggest knife out. Moving fast, you bring it down toward your other arm. This is another way you’ve read about in your free time.

But again the shock hits you and your arm freezes up, as if there’s an invisible wall between your arms keeping them apart. No amount of force can overcome it. You should have known, the collar won’t let you. It looks out for you. Therapist wrote this program to keep you safe. You tried acting without thinking, but it knew your intent. It knows your feelings. It stopped you. It always stops you, every time, every way. Why would tonight be different?

You slink back to your room, feeling worse than before. It’ll be over someday. This is just what being a kid is. Everyone must go through this, right? But not Alpha. They don’t have to do this...

You pick up your terminal. The startup ads play. You look at the actors in the ad, you look for their eyes. You look right into them every chance you get. Every time, the shock. It gets worse, it probably doesn’t actually get stronger but it gets worse when it’s in quick succession.

The ads run out. You activate the terminal’s front camera. Now it’s just you. You look at your own reflection. The interface knows when you make eye contact with yourself. Shock. Again. Again. Again. Therapist looks out for you. You can only be hurt if therapist wants you to.

You never get numb to the shock. Your muscles twitch sometimes when unintended nerves pick it up. Eventually the pain is met with calm. Your brain responds. Pain leads to relief. The one thing you can be sure of. That’s how you know the therapy will work in the end.

Keep going, look yourself in the eye until you can’t keep your eyes open.

Running. No, don’t run, that’s suspicious. Walk. Walk away. The terminal can show you the way. You’re not supposed to be here. It’s a therapy day. You didn’t ask mom, you didn’t ask therapist. Who cares.

The interface cares. Every hundred meters or so you get away from home, a shock. A little one. It’s warning you. It stops if you stay still. You can handle this. You’ve had worse. Keep going.

Down the street. The tram stop. You like trains. Do you? You’ve always had to read about them. Either way, it’s useful to you today. You don’t have any money but you slip on unnoticed, right behind someone who scanned their chip. They won’t notice.

The tram takes you where you want to go, across New Star, across the long bridge, to the next section of the colony. Shock. Shock. Shock. It happens so fast as the tram takes you away from home. It slows down when it makes a turn. You get a break when it takes you a little closer to home.

You get off at your stop. It was day where you left, here it’s night, for now. You walk through the twilight, the city lights around you and the daylit ground far above you. You reach the building.

You knock.

Aunt Z opens her door. She looks surprised. She looks around behind you.

“Mom’s not here,” you say.

“Better come inside quick,” she says.

Inside. You’ve only been here a few times. Aunt Z and mom’s arguments only got worse and worse, then she wasn’t allowed to come over at all.

“You look worn out. I’ll get you some water,” she says.

You stand there, unsure what to do. Nobody’s told you.

Aunt Z looks back. “Come on in, go have a seat and relax.”

You go in. The next shock hits you as you enter the living room. Alpha’s there, on their tablet. They glance up at you for just a second.

“Pretty dress,” they sign to you. You didn’t choose to wear it, it’s just all you have now since they got rid of your boy clothes. But you understand it’s a genuine compliment. You’ve learned all about autistic social norms.

“I like your hair,” you sign back. It’s been freshly dyed a light pink and cut short on the sides. They have a shiny silver dress.

You sit down and Aunt Z brings you some water.

She sits down across from you. “Are you okay?”

Finally the collar is quiet. You’re still. You want to be still, but you can’t help stimming a little with your fingers, rocking a little. It’s calming. You make sure to avoid her eyes.

“I...” You’re having a hard time talking. “No,” you sign.

“You’re safe now. You can stay here as long as you want. You can live here. I’ll get that thing off of you and it’ll all be over.”

You sign, “Yes.”

You drink your water.

You find your signs. “I don’t want to be a technopath! I don’t want to be autistic! I don’t want to be a girl! I just want to be me!”

“Do you want a hug?” she says.

You nod.

But you recoil at her touch. You haven’t been touched in so long, except when therapist grabs your hands or your head, makes you stand the right way, look the right direction, stim the right way. Mom doesn’t even touch you.

Aunt Z gives you some space. “It’s okay. It’ll all be okay now.”

She finds the clasp of your interface collar. When she touches it, your terminal vibrates and flashes a message:

WARNING: this Neural Interface device is property of the SynSync Behavioral Foundation, an evidence-based practice. Damage to this device carries contractual liability enforceable by the L4 Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s locked,” you sign.

“Every lock can be picked.” She goes to the other room.

There’s a loud knock on the door.

Aunt Z rushes back to you as the knock repeats even louder. “Alpha, take him to your room. Lock the door and don’t answer if anyone tries to enter. Understand?”

Alpha jumps to their feet, extending their hand to you. You take it, and they lead you away in a hurry. Once in Alpha’s room, they shut the door, and use their terminal to lock it.

They sign for you to be quiet as they put their ear against the door. You do the same to listen in.

You hear the vibration of actuators as the front door slides open.

“L4 District Police,” a woman with a stern voice says.

“What can I help you with?” aunt Z says.

“We’re here to recover stolen property. Bring us the child called NT-223.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Location tracking confirms the missing asset is here.”

“You must be mistaken, there’s only me and my child Alpha here. What kind of name even is ‘NT-something?’” aunt Z says.

“Ma’am, the tracking signal doesn’t lie.”

“Could the signal have been hacked to falsely point here?”

“Our precinct technopath confirmed the signal. And the child’s owner told us it would likely be here, and that you would likely lie to us. Don’t bother.”

“Why would I--”

“Ma’am, bring us the missing child willingly or we will recover it ourselves and bring you in on charges of theft.”

“They’re not here, I told you. Now leave my property--ahhh!” She screams.


She hits the floor.

“Search the house.”

Alpha grabs your arm and pulls you away from the door. Their hands are shaking. They push you onto the bed and throw the blankets over you. You feel them pile up pillows and plushies over you.

They whisper, “Still...”

You try to take deep breaths. Nobody can see you here, covers over your head. You can feel the interface watching you. But if you’re still, if you’re quiet, maybe...

A knock. A louder knock. “Open up, police!”

No answer.

“Message precinct, we need this door open,” the officer says.

A few minutes of silence. Then it opens.

“Search the room.”

“No!” It’s Alpha.

You hear a blow as they cry out. A crash. Sounds like they fell right into the desk.

“Go away!” Alpha says. They scream. Their mouth is covered. Their cries are muffled. A blow.

Light. The covers fly off. She stares down at you, so tall, imposing in her dark grey uniform, her hair cut short, silver sunglasses obscure her eyes, a hand rests on her taser.

“NT-223?” she says.

Behind her, her partner has Alpha pinned to the floor, a hand over their mouth.

You can’t speak, can’t move.

Her hands are on you, grabbing your forearm so tight. She drags you away.

An office. The lights are so bright, you keep your sunglasses on inside. You hate the silence in the background. You nervously stim.

Across the desk, the older police officer looks down on you. She’s an older woman with silver hair, a cyborg with silver eyes, but not a technopath, she still uses an external terminal. Mom and therapist are by your side.

“Your statement is in order,” the imposing woman says. “I just need the child’s authorization key.”

“Go ahead, sign off on the statement,” therapist says.

You read over the text on your terminal again. “It says aunt Z kidnapped me.”

“That’s true, isn’t it?” Therapist looks at you. Collar gives you a shock, bigger than usual. You nod. You submit your personal key to sign the document.

“Excellent,” the officer says. “Now we’ll need an authorization from an adult guardian.”

Mom reaches for the terminal, but the authorization is sent before she can touch it, from therapist.

“Thank you,” the officer says. “That is all we need from you.”

You follow mom and therapist out through the corridors of bare metal and plastic walls, out into the morning light in the downtown block of the colony.

“Is my sister going to be okay?” mom says.

“She’ll be fine. The Chamber will just charge her a fine. And your restraining order will prevent her from contacting you or NT-223 again,” therapist says. “This kind of thing isn’t unheard of, a family member who doesn’t understand our program, falls for some radical propaganda about it. People will believe anything these days.”

“Ahh, I can’t believe my sister would go that far just because she doesn’t agree with my parenting...”

“And this close to exam time, too. We’re just lucky this kidnapping happened now and now any later,” therapist says.

“It wasn’t really kidnapping though, was it?” mom says. “It did go there on its own...”

“We can focus on the positives of that. It’s perfectly normal autistic behavior for a child to be compelled to run away from home like that. This is a good sign, we’re making real progress,” therapist says.

“But I hope it wasn’t too traumatic there when the police came in...”

“It will be a helpful experience. Most autistic children experience some kind of childhood trauma. It will help reinforce its behaviors, trust me.”

You couldn’t escape. Now you won’t get another chance. The only way out is to finish the program, pass your qualification exams. Your 13th birthday is coming up. Soon...

The test was so hard. It called on every bit of programming theory and technique you studied all these years. The neural scans were intense. The nerve conductivity tests were painful. It took every stim you had to stay calm, stay focused. The testing process took days, but it’s finally over.

You’re back home when the message comes in. Therapist grabs the terminal out of your hand before you can open it yourself.

She shows the screen to mom. Mom looks so happy.

“You passed!” mom says. “You’re a technopath candidate! You’ll be leaving to start your training next month!”

Finally. You do your happy stim, you make the noise loud.

Therapist unlocks your collar with her touch. You recoil at her touch. You do your surprised stim.

She pulls it off of you. It’s been so long.

“You don’t need this anymore. Soon you’ll get a new interface collar from the academy,” therapist says. “Congratulations, NT-223!”

You happy stim again.

“Oh, thank you so much!” mom says. “We never could have done this without your help!”

“Oh, think nothing of it!” therapist says. “I just did my job.”

“And such a good sync rate!” mom says.

“Even I was impressed how high we got it,” therapist says.

“I just can’t thank you enough, you worked so hard to make this possible!” mom says.

Their voices are drifting farther and father away. The couch under you feels unreal. The room around you, mom and therapist, all so unreal. You can’t grasp what’s real. You don’t know where to look. You stare ahead, at a pattern on the wall. It seems infinitely distant, mathematically incomprehensible.

You need to focus on something. You return to your tablet and your letter of qualification. You follow the link to your school registration form. Might as well complete it now.


What was your name?