Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer

It was a no-call assignment, and Carson hated no-call assignments. Attempts to contact the McCaulty family through conventional mail had been unsuccessful, though he noted that the lever of the mailbox had been raised, indicating recent use. They had no telephone, of course. Carson shifted the car to manual control as they left the grid and pulled onto the gravel trail.

“Are those real cows?” Kristin asked. He nodded. Her eyes were wide.

“You’ll get used to it. Is your defo shield charged?” he asked. The car came to a stop behind a rusted-out manual pickup truck, and Carson yanked on the emergency brake. Kristin nodded and followed him up the gravel path and he looked her over one last time before ringing the doorbell.

Long seconds passed before the door swung open a few inches, and a portly woman ran her eyes over the two of them. “Are you Mrs. McCaulty?” Carson asked as he flipped open his wallet. His badge caught the light and projected a holographic image of his face.

“I got no business with you.”

“We’re here to discuss your son.”

Mrs. McCaulty squinted suspiciously. “There’s nothing wrong with Herbert.”

“Then you won’t mind us asking him a few questions.”

“He don’t talk yet.”

Carson reached for his report pad and scrolled through the relevant information. “He’s nearly five, correct?” he asked as he moved his foot into the crack between the door and its frame. “We’re just gathering information about the case.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Herbert.”

“Are you familiar with the Re-Ability program?”

“You’re not sticking nothing in my son’s head,” she said, this time with an edge of force. Mrs. McCaulty leaned against the door, but Carson didn’t let it close.

“I think you might be misinterpreting this visit,” he said. “I’m here to tell you about the federal assistance program. Your son may qualify for-”

“You ain’t sticking nothing in my son’s head,” she repeated.

Carson revealed no evidence of frustration or unease, though Kristin had tucked herself behind him with a nervous expression across her youthful face. “Re-Ability implants are no different from pacemakers or any other medical device,” he said calmly. “If he’s struggling, there’s a solution. Surely, as his mother, you’d want him to have the best life possible.”

“You ain’t-”

“I’ll just leave you with this information,” Carson said. His hand slid through the crack in the door, holding a bouquet of holo-readers. She snatched them from his grip, and he barely retrieved his hand before the door snapped shut. Carson’s frown was almost invisible as he turned back to the car.

“She isn’t going to read those,” Kristin said as she grabbed the door handle.

“You’re learning fast.”

“So what do we do?”

He slid into his padded seat and yanked the door shut with a little more force than necessary. “Level two,” he said. “Forward it under neglect and endangerment.”

Kristin gave a short nod as she slid in and pulled her door closed. “Are they going to-”

“If he doesn’t have that implant before he’s six, he’ll be permanently delayed.” Carson snapped as he threw the car back into manual and it spun. “Don’t feel sorry for her. He needs treatment.”

“Alright,” Kristin said. Her voice was meek as she reached for the console panel.

“Label it priority,” he added. The car jerked abruptly as it reached the end of the driveway and reunited with the grid.

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