Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction is fast becoming one of my top-ten favourite anthologies, and “The Frequency of Compassion” is a prime example of why. Kaityn is on a six-month solo scouting mission with nothing by an AI as a companion, and is dreading the six-month off-rotation coming their way.
Empathic and autistic, Kaityn has the perfect disposition for the job—enduring the endless silence isn’t enduring when you enjoy and prefer it, and the company they work for has the benefit of Kaityn helping to map out the galaxy. Everybody wins, except for the aforementioned rotation thing, where the rules will take Kaityn off the job for six months. The AI is amusing, borderline commiserating with Kaityn and understanding their situation, and then something happens that sends them both into action: potential first contact.
While this is where the action picks up (and it’s a really good story about assumptions counterpointed with some of Kaityn’s history played in flashback) and I won’t ruin it, for the first contact portion of the story was more or less icing on the cake of Kaityn’s character, and the whole made for a wonderful—and sweet—resolution. Even the ending is shaped by their characterization, and that brought the whole back to the starting position in a way that never felt forced.