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Teenage Neurogenesis

Elizabeth Terhune is a biomedical scientist at the University of Colorado Anschutz, freelance writer, and editor for the campus researcher newsletter, The PhD Post. She spends most of her free time chasing her toddler around or writing about sandworms.

It was 17:45 on a Friday, and Abby-Gale and Lucy were finishing their second shift in the cleanroom at Earth's First Aerospace, Inc. The brightly-lit room smelled strongly of 70% ethanol, and hummed with the whir of the HEPA filtration system that wove intricately through the facility's corridors. The two teenagers were Senior Aviation Technicians, coworkers since they were hired as interns at age nine back in the year 3052. The pair financially supported their parents, former technicians themselves who were placed on mandatory retirement at age 28. "How's your mom's school going?" asked Lucy.
"Good--she loves ancient history," said Abby-Gale, stepping up a steel ladder to the tip of an under-construction spacecraft.
The two were working on a prototype for the novel Neptunian Rover. The Rover, its gleaming exterior made of high-alloy stainless steel, was designed to withstand ambient temperatures below -250 _C. Abby-Gale and Lucy wore white clean suits with plexiglass face shields, their boots covered by disposable booties, their hair covered by white drawstring hoods.
Lucy grabbed a metallic device and handed it up to Abby-Gale. She extracted a thin metal tube and pressed a button, which triggered a red laser to shine onto the Rover's apical sensor. She muttered something and pressed the button again, retracting the laser.
"Mom said that back around the second millennium, kids went to school and adults worked."
Lucy raised an eyebrow from behind her face shield. "The brains of adults aren't labile enough to understand the latest technologies." She shook her head.
"Mom showed me ancient stills--adults at work." Abby-Gale giggled. "Old ones too."
Lucy, a natural skeptic, didn't buy it. "Adults must have been miserable. Struggling to work on technology, while taking care of their families."
"Plus voting responsibilities," said Abby-Gale. "Took humanity forever to realize it didn't work for anyone. Once tech really took off, it became obvious. Adults could never keep up."
"Teens must have been bored out of their minds--like an anxious collie dog running in circles." The two laughed.
The alarm rang out, announcing the end of their work shift. The two teenagers sighed and gathered up their tools, heading towards the atrium adjacent to the clean room. They disposed of their gloves and booties, popped their gowns into the laundry chute, washed their hands, and changed into their streetwear. "Still want to go to Ben's retirement party?" said Lucy. Abby-Gale nodded--she was obligated, as Ben's sister.
As they hung up their face shields, they dreamed about retirement. "I can't wait to learn history and the arts, to stop being a meat cog in a technology machine," said Abby-Gale. "Just because my neurogenesis is peaking doesn't mean I don't have dreams."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, October 14th, 2020

Author Comments

The idea for this story came after reading about teenage hackers and coders, who are sometimes hired by tech companies for handsome salaries. How would the workforce change if technology moved so quickly that teenagers--with their plastic minds--were the only ones who could fully understand the latest inventions? What if companies found a way to capitalize on this plasticity, for the sake of further technological growth? How would society shift if children were both the brains and brawn of progress? I feel that we are already stepping a toe into that age, and this story just took that concept to its extreme.

- Elizabeth A Terhune
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