The internet was the best thing to happen to Matilda since Miss Honey.
That was saying a lot, since Miss Honey was the best thing to ever happen to Matilda. And Miss Honey was partly responsible.
The first computer Matilda ever saw was in a lab at the university where she was studying. She was nine and vastly unimpressed. Of course it did cool things, but it was large and clunky and tedious to program. Matilda felt she could do better if they'd just let her at it, but as much as the other students and professors liked her, earning their respect was still difficult and earning computer rights was probably going to have to wait a few years.
"Not until you have a training bra," one of her professors said, and patted her on the shoulder. (Mostly on the shoulder. Ew.)
Matilda, who had always adhered to the "when people do bad things, they should be punished" law of existence, and who was already well-read in radical feminism, set his office on fire.
Just a little fire. Honest.
Miss Honey sighed when she heard, but she went out the next day and came home with a large box. An Apple IIe, all Matilda's. Now this was business.
Of course, they didn't have the internet at first, but by the time they did, Matilda had disassembled the Apple IIe's operating system down to binary, and she was prepared. She still made sure to spend plenty of time outside, getting fresh air and reading and playing with her friends. But she also made friends with the phone phreaks and the first-gen hackers. They liked her.
Her hacker name was @~. She thought it looked like a flower.
Matilda graduated from university with an honours in computer science when she was twelve. She'd considered lots of different careers, but nobody took a twelve-year-old medical intern seriously and it was hard to imagine being a lawyer when they didn't make Junior sized robes. Nobody judged you for being twelve on the internet as long as you didn't tell anyone you were twelve.
She sent her senior project to Stark Industries.
Tony Stark showed up at her house the next day. He flirted with Miss Honey until she informed him that she wasn't the brilliant computer programmer who put the virus on his computer.
"What did it do, if I can ask?" Miss Honey said.
"Sped up my processing time by twelve percent," Mr. Stark replied.
"Well, that's nice. Matilda," Miss Honey called, and Matilda came down the stairs warily. "This is Mr. Stark."
"Pleased to meet you," she said, offering her hand.
"You're kidding me with this, right?" Mr. Stark said to Miss Honey.
"I'd think you of all people would understand that genius doesn't come with a minimum age requirement," Miss Honey replied.
"Point. Hello," Mr. Stark said, as wary as Matilda. But he did shake her hand and he didn't make the voice some adults made, the syrupy one that said they thought Matilda was a genius tacked onto an average twelve-year-old. "You're @~, huh?"
"Yes, Mr. Stark."
"I was going to ask you if you wanted to work for Stark Industries but there are still some pretty stringent child labor laws I have to adhere to," Mr. Stark said. "But I'm not going to let anyone else get their hooks in you, I saw you first. Got any recommendations, kid?"
Matilda looked up at him, considering the matter. "I could be an intern."
"An intern, she says. Okay, you're about to become the most well-respected intern on the planet," Mr. Stark said.
Matilda liked how he smiled.
Her first six months at Stark Industries were brilliant. She missed Miss Honey, of course, but Mr. Stark paid for her long-distance phone calls and Stark Industries was already working on a video-calling system that would be ready in a year or so.
It wasn't that anything changed. It was that Mr. Xavier showed up.
The first Matilda heard of it was when she came into the lab one morning and found Mr. Stark there, arguing with a bald man in a wheelchair.
"She's already been to college," Mr. Stark was saying, in his I'm Being Very Patient voice. "She works for me, you can't have her."
"She's thirteen," the other man said.
"What's that got to do with the price of eggs? She's perfectly happy here and if she is flinging shit around with her brain I don't care, as long as the work gets done."
"She needs training."
"In what? She's a genius, if she needs to learn something she has the internet. She invented a search engine."
"You can't learn everything from books and the internet, Tony."
"What are you going to do, punch me in the stomach and roll away with -- Matilda," Tony said, sounding relieved, as he noticed her in the doorway. "Come here and tell this nice man to go to hell."
"Don't be rude," Matilda said, sidling forward.
"Matilda, my name is Charles Xavier," the man said. "I'm here to speak to you about your abilities."
"You mean the brain stuff? I'm over that," Matilda replied.
Both men looked at her.
"The brain stuff?" Tony asked.
"I can do stuff with my brain. I mean, you know, aside from programming and quantum physics," Matilda said. "Making things float and stuff."
"Oh. Well. You should have put that on the background check," Tony said.
"You didn't do a background check. I'm still an intern."
"Matilda," Mr. Xavier said, "I'm here to offer you a place at my school. It's for gifted youngsters like yourself who -- "
" -- need a graduate degree?" Matilda asked. Mr. Xavier looked perplexed.
" -- have special abilities," he finished. "What you call the brain stuff."
"Oh. Well, I taught myself how to do what I need, so I'm fine," she said. "Thank you for the offer."
"Tony, I really must insist -- "
"Hey, I'm out of it," Tony said, holding up his hands in mock-innocence. "Matilda's call."
"But surely you'd like to use your skills to the utmost?" Mr. Xavier pressed Matilda.
"I have a lot of skills," she said. "Most adults do, and we don't expect them to use every single one of them. I like programming," she added.
"You heard the woman. Look, no sore feelings, lemme buy you lunch," Tony said.
"It's nine in the morning, Tony," Mr. Xavier said.
"Mimosas, then," Tony said.
"Are you sure you won't reconsider, Matilda?" Mr. Xavier asked.
"Quite sure, thank you," Matilda said. "Have a nice day, Mr. Xavier."
"Just so," Xavier murmured. Tony followed him until he was out the door, then shut it firmly behind him and ran back to Matilda, sweeping her into a hug.
"You're my favorite," he said, putting her down. "Uh, wow, that was inappropriate maybe, sorry."
"It's all right," she replied.
"So move something with your brain, I want to see," Tony said.
"Why? I thought you loved me for my programming," she replied.
"Well, now we've both been inappropriate, awesome. I love your brain like a father, just so we're clear."
"I didn't have any illusions otherwise," she said. "I'm not going to move anything with my brain. But I did finish that aggressive security protocol you wanted."
"Best intern!" he crowed. "Show me, wunderkind."
She turned to one of the computers and brought up the file.
"A Grim And Tremendously Heartless Application," he read aloud.
"A.G.A.T.H.A. for short," Matilda said smugly.