Sometimes, when I want to work out where the world might be headed, I write speculative fiction. Sometimes it gets dark. Please remember it’s fiction, so I don’t believe all the things it contains.
I wrote this back in 2017, and re-read it while looking for something else recently. I thought I was writing about a distant future. I was way too conservative in my time horizons, apparently.
I was eleven when my parents deleted my dog.
I was always a difficult kid. Beyond the genetics, most of my crib metrics showed a lot more agitation when sleeping. Mom was worried, of course. She tried to swaddle me extra tight, but I always broke loose.
Some of my first memories are of her and dad looming over me, using big words, trying to make me understand. They tried to pretend they were concerned for me—it’d change my future, I wouldn’t get into the best schools. But even then, I knew something else was up. Dad cared more about his social credit scores, and how projections about his kid would send his insurance rates skyrocketing.
I was a quick learner. They were desperate to find some way their kid was special, unique, valuable. So they got me my tablet early, and I spent more and more time in there. I found my way into chatrooms for older kids, using an app to age my face in pictures. And for the first time, I felt at home.
That didn’t last, though. I didn’t figure my parents were smart enough to put monitoring on the tablet, but maybe it shipped by default. I got flagged for using cis pronouns, and they installed a rewriter, making sure all my words were PC. It sucks not being able to write your own words. I lost interest in chatrooms pretty quickly after that, and spent more time playing with face-changing apps and VR.
My parents seemed to stop worrying a bit.
Once I started grade school, things went downhill pretty fast, and the worry came back. After the third time I’d been hauled into the principal’s office for some distraction or indiscretion, mom and dad were summoned. They were shown charts of seat sensors and eye contact levels I barely understood. Everyone seemed disappointed. I just looked at the floor and waited for it to be over.
That’s when they put me in the remedial stream. For an hour a day, I had to watch videos telling me the right way to be social. They were exhausting, not just because the content was dry and patronizing, but because I couldn’t look away. Every time I did, the eye detection algo on the camera caught me. The video paused, and wouldn’t start up until I looked back. An hour of video took an entire evening to watch; you don’t realize how distracted you are until a machine’s paying attention.
Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew that even as I watched it, it was watching me back, checking my furtive glances and responses, projecting, calculating risks.
I must have looked in all the wrong places, because they put me on pills next. The principal had a written order, valid crypto, authorized by an algorithm. I got to choose which emoji I wanted on the little patch I wore that showed I’d taken them. It didn’t help. At gym class, everyone knew I was taking. That year, I huddled with the other takers, sharing lunch and shame.
I noticed that stuff in our house was getting older. Updates were taking longer; deliveries were smaller. Generic brands. Late at night, playing with my virtual pets and feeling generally shitty about the world, I could hear them arguing around the table in our live/work space. Their social maladjustment tax had skyrocketed. Liability insurance bills were piling up. Mom had to take a second job, all because some computer had decided I was going to be a problem some day, and they had to get coverage for whatever dumb thing I was going to say or do down the road.
The last straw came when the feds seized my tablet. At first, I wasn’t going to cooperate; but they just held the camera up to my face until I looked at it, and unlocked it. Then it was only a matter of time until they found the altered porn I’d made: My teacher’s face, someone else’s body. Dad pleaded with the agents not to tell Ms. Brooke what they’d found, but she had a legit claim against me.
That’s when they had to disavow me. The claim made them uninsurable. It was either let me go, or face bankruptcy themselves. I understood that part, even at eleven years old, as I went through foster care intake.
But deleting my dog was just cruel, and for that I’ll never forgive them.
I mean, what kind of kid can’t have a crush on her teacher?
I do hope people know this is fiction! Your loving mother!!!