Chapter 1: Oh Crap! I'm dead!

You know, purchasing a lottery ticket would have made me rich that day if the luck could have been harnessed, but we all know that chance is a random thing. I was killed by a meteor and survived. The chances of being struck by a meteor are about 182,138,880,000,000 to 1, or some such number. The chances of being killed and surviving is an unknown number, as no one has considered keeping score of how many people have survived death.

What happened was this. I was walking along minding my own business in a remote town in the countryside, when someone pointed out a trail in the sky. I looked up and only saw this slowly growing bright cloud thing, as it grew I could make out little bits of detail. No sound, White glow with orange flecks. When I first saw it I thought it was a star, but daylight hours do not make good star time. Then I thought it might be an escaped kite or balloon but its non-uniform shape did not match, it was not until it was almost upon me that I realized I was in danger, but by then it was to late to do anything. I could not even turn and run away by then.

Getting hit seemed to happen in slow motion. The size of the meteor was deceptive in so much as it had broken up into small pebble size pieces, and the swarm of pieces was only about the size of a small compact car. Unfortunately I was about in the center of the impact zone. It was like taking a full body shot by an elephant gun filled with 1 cm pellets. My body was basically turned into Swiss cheese and gooey paste. Many of these pebbles embedded themselves into my bones and muscles. My internal organs were pureed and perforated, while my luck remained above rock bottom. My all important brain remained relatively undamaged with only a few shards embedded in its center. Over all I was quite dead, and it hurt like a bastard, too. My morbidly heightened perceptions of the entire process made sure that I felt every single shard and pebble as it made its presence felt. I understand that when you die your entire life is supposed to pass before your eyes, but all I got for my 45 years of age was excruciating pain and an inglorious death. The universe threw a fist full of stones at me and I died. Well shit!

The first sign that something was wrong with this death of mine was when I woke up on a metal table. It was colder than Greenland in December, in a room that smelled like the frog bottle in school science class. Except for a single overhead lamp there was very little light in the room. It looked like someone had stepped out for the night. In the distance I could hear angry voices, they were arguing, but it was all too muddled for me to make out. The smell was overwhelming and the cold was really cold. I felt like I had sustained a full onslaught beating from some baseball players who thought I needed to be taught a lesson. I had a god-awful taste in my mouth similar to the smell of copper cleaner and very strong bleach. I itched, ached, and had an irritating high pitched screeching in my ears that made concentrating almost impossible. I tried moving and succeeded in refining the pain aspect a little more. Nothing I couldn't handle with a litre of Demerol. I slowly rolled off the side of the table and jarred to a stop on the cold store floor on my hands and knees. Not nice to hear the sound of bare flesh hitting stone from a meter and half up. Solid meaty smack followed by the cascade of spark like pain that decided to roam my body again, like a leaping herd of gazelle. I might have groaned audibly, but I was more focused on something else. I was naked and it was colder than I would have liked it. From my position on the floor I noticed that there was a door not too far from me which had a coat rack next to it. It had a lab coat which looked quite warm compared to my current ensemble. I felt a driving need to acquire that coat. Not totally irrational, as I was in fact not wearing anything. It was still too dark in the room to really make out too much. The ambient light from the one lamp only gave up enough for me to see little detail to the room. I pulled the coat down and slipped it on. Rough as sandpaper it felt but, worse, it made me itch and ache even more.

I ignored the feelings and moved towards the only door available. I couldn't understand it but I felt an intense almost irrational need to be very stealthy and not draw attention. I leaned against the wall next to the door and listened. More arguing and raised voices on the other side, but it didn't sound like it was coming from the next room. I quietly turned the door handle and pulled. The door was slow to open but revealed a long hallway with subdued lighting. I peeked around the corner and noticed something like an open office at one end and the emergency exit at the other. There were several doors along both sides of the hall with labels next to them. The voices seemed to be coming from one door further down the hall, close to the open office at the end. Most lights appeared to be off, and from what I could tell it was well past sunset. As it was close to the end of August I was pretty sure that it must be some time after midnight. Scanning a few of the room signs I came to the conclusion that I was in fact at the city morgue, and that I was going to get the fuck out of there A.S.A.P. Quietly I slipped out the door, staying low, and shuffle squatted all the way to the emergency exit at the end of the hall. I quickly came to an additional conclusion that, if I went out this particular door, all hell would break loose and my stealthy exit would rapidly turn into a loud joke. The door had an alarm and I needed a new exit, by the sounds of the voices I needed an exit soon. I still couldn't understand what was being said, but the conversation definitely was coming to an end. I moved quickly to pass by the occupied office and headed towards the open end of the hallway. The open office was starting to look like my only option out. As I passed the door where the voices were coming from, I began to discern some qualities from them. It sounded like two females were arguing and a conclusion had been reached that one of them didn't like. My bare feet on the cold tiled floor made no sound as I made a sudden stop. The door had opened and someone was stepping out looking backwards.

"I will not tolerate anyone interfering with my job. I do solid autopsies and I've never called an incorrect COD. Ever!" The woman shouted. She turned at that moment and I had to use every ounce of agility to make sure I didn't strike this woman in any way. I spun out of her way and bolted down the hallway towards the open office and the visible exit.

"Hey! Hold it!" I heard her shout, but I couldn't think of anything I needed to hold as the drive to exit this building was too strong to fight. As I arrived at the door and slammed through it I heard what sounded like crashing and gun shots, but I dodged to the side immediately after exiting the building and vaulted the railing of the short staircase. I rolled and came up running at full speed, barrelling down the side street next to the coroners' office and heading off towards what looked like the edge of town. In my flight from the room in the coroner's office to wherever I was going, I spent little time examining my surroundings or even myself. I had only felt the need to get away as fast and quietly as possible, and for no logical reason. If someone had made a mistake in judging me to be dead then shouldn't they be happy to find out I am alive after all? This thought came to mind as I was running into the forest after turning from the road into bushes and trees in the dark, bare foot, covered by only a flimsy lab coat that didn't quite fit me. Yes, I appeared to be quite sane ... by no one's standards. I continued my kilometre eating pace of a dead run until the feeling to escape left me. It left gradually, not like I was getting further away from something, but more like the feeling was getting tired and could not keep up with its previous force. Almost as if my fear was running out of energy. Like a small child that was starting to doze off after a long exciting day. It felt strange, as I was personally not tired. In fact, besides all the pain and itching I felt, I had started to feel better, stronger, more energetic, and, strangest of all, more solid. You know when you have spent too much time doing something strenuous or something that requires lots of exertion how you feel brittle and shaky. Well I had probably just run about 12 kilometres and felt I could probably run the same thing again without breaking a sweat. It was at this point that I slowed to a walk and then, finding a clearing with comfortable looking grass, sat down. At 2 or 3 in the morning there is not much looking to do, so it was not as comfortable as it could be but it would do until I could figure out a few things. I sat and thought and considered and then reconsidered. I had no idea who I was or where I lived. I knew jack shit about me. It's kind of frightening when you have never experienced that feeling before. I couldn't see much except shades of grey and the outlines of objects in the forest. It would not do to go any further, I might place myself in more danger than I might be able to handle. I figured it would be best if I sat out the rest of the night and waited for morning. Better to see what I might be stepping into. I positioned myself with my back to what I thought was the wide base of a tree and sat cross legged in a meditative pose. I opened my senses to my surroundings so as to make sure none of the trusty night creatures would decide that I might be food, and proceeded to wait. Time slowed and my mind wandered to other things. I focused a bit on my body, which still itched and ached. I examined these physical feelings and was able to distinguish that the ache came mostly from bone level. My bones hurt with a dull ache that I felt familiar with but from a long time ago. Something I knew I had felt as a growing child only much harsher and all over my body. Even my skull felt awful. An additional ache was in the muscles of my body. They felt like I had just done a 16 hour nonstop workout, but without the fatigue. I wondered what would cause such pain that it would cover my entire body from the bones inside to its outside. The flesh covering my body itched horribly. Little insects of displeasure crawled across my body, trying to drive me crazy but not quite succeeding. I could not see what my flesh looked like, but when I ran my hand over my chest the surface felt dirty and rough. My face also had a rough surface. Bits of dirt flaked off into my lap, I brushed myself lightly and returned to focusing on how I felt again.

My flight from the office building earlier had almost felt panicked, but not my panic. I had felt no personal fear or need during that time. I just let my body act on this foreign will until the need was diminished. The need was not diminished, so much as it had faded into sleep. I could almost feel another presence near me, by me, in me. I focused on this feeling, letting all other feelings and sensations diminish. Clearing my mind of the moderate annoyances I had been cataloguing, but all I could achieve was a stronger understanding that there was, in fact, another.

It's not like I had a lot of experience detecting others around me, but the impression I had was whatever it was it was different from being next to an individual. It was more than just confusing, so instead of making my brain do the equivalent of crossing its eyes trying to focus on something it was unable to do, I decided to just let it be for now.

Once again I looked to the little bit of sky visible through the trees and noticed the light of a false dawn. It was getting close to morning and I was just starting to feel a bit tired. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to rest without sleeping. Or so I thought.

I heard whispers that disturbed my sleep, and I slowly opened one eye to survey my surroundings. I was still seated cross legged in the same place I had been. A few feet in front of me was a small red haired child with green eyes and a sprinkle of freckles across her nose. No older than maybe 8 or 10 and wearing a light blue windjammer and jeans. Crouching next to a little dog that looked like a beagle, staring at me, periodically the little child would lean over and whisper something to the dog. I slowly opened both eyes and smiled at them. The child looked at me warily, while the dog just sat there. Once more the child leaned over and said something to the dog who stood up and trotted off down a path.

"You don't look to good, mister. Howcome you arnt in a hospital? Whatcha do'n? How come you're sleeping here?" the child asked in a flurry. "You should be in a hospital, ye know. Don't got no place tuh live?"

I shook my head slowly and replied. "Not sure, little boy, don't remember much about myself."

"I'm not a boy!" she exclaimed. "My name is Shakti, I'm 16 years old." She said with a child like pride. "Mama named me after a goddess from India." She looked at me quizzically "What's your name?"

I shrugged "Don't know, like I said. I don't remember anything before last night. Woke up in the city morgue, that's the place where they take dead people to see what killed them." I explained. "I ran all the way here in the middle of the night."

"Did you die, mister?" she asked innocently

The question shocked me and I paused to consider. I looked down at myself in the light of day. The lab coat I wore flapped open in the light breeze. I could see incredible scarring and scabs all over my chest and stomach. I put my hands to my face and I felt the flaking of scabs and tissue fall off. I could tell I had been damaged by something, but it didn't look like it was too deadly.

"I know you!" she exclaimed. "Momma was talking with her Auntie just the other day about a local guy that got hit by a falling rock or something like that." She said with a thoughtful look. "Killed him real bad Auntie said, 'cept she used one of them words Momma calls 'inappropriate' and frowns at every time she hears'm"

I nodded with a slight smile of understanding and asked, "When was this, how long ago?"

Shakti squinted, looking thoughtful, "that was only a few days ago. Last Friday!" she said triumphantly. "Today is Tuesday."

"Do you remember anything else about the dead guy?" I asked, hopeful for any information.

She nodded with a smile. "He didn't have anyone like family they said. Momma said, by the sounds of it, they must have scraped him up with a squeegee or something." She finished with a grin.

"That would be squeegee." I corrected her. "Do I look that bad?" I asked her.

She looked a little harder at my face then shook her head. "You look bad, but yeah don't look dead, mister." She responded. "You look like you could use a few Band-Aids and a bath. Mom always says a bath can make you feel like a million bucks." She brightened up and added, "Maybe you should go home and take a bath."

"Too bad I don't know where I live, Shakti, or I'd be on my way home right now. I sure would love to settle down into a warm bath and get cleaned up." I sighed. "Maybe I'll find something later. You should head home now, though. It would not do for you to be found talking to a stranger like me." I added. I was starting to feel a bit nervous with her being alone with me. I glanced around looking for anyone else that might wander by, but saw no one around.

"Do you think maybe you should head home, Shakti?" I asked. "Talking with creepy guys like me could get both of us in trouble, and I'd hate to be the cause of you getting in trouble."

Shakti giggled a bit and replied. "Momma would have a fit, but Mommas not here. Auntie would probably love to meet you, so she probably wouldn't be angry with me." She looked at me with interest. "I don't think you're creepy at all, cus you bin polite and nice since I started talking with you. Zipper, my dog, didn't bark at you or try to protect me, so I don't think you're a bad person." She nodded with a smile. "I think I should take you back to Auntie's place and help you. She'd think that was the right thing to do. Can you walk?"

"And run and hop. I could probably even dance for you if you asked." I said with a chuckle, and slowly stood up.

Shakti grinned and with a quick nod in the direction of the path and headed off without a glance back at me. "I'll see about you dancing another time." I heard her laugh.

I followed her down the path, but she kept flipping her hand at me to move back further from her. It wasn't until she shooed me into the bushes and behind a tree that I realized she was making sure that people didn't see me.

Once they had gone by and disappeared around the bend in the path she indicated that it was safe for me to return to the path. I gave her some more distance for warnings, and kept her just in sight down the weaving path. She came to a fork in the path which had a sign post saying 'Private Access' and turned up that way. I followed quickly and found her standing at an iron and wood gate which stood about 7 feet tall.

"Auntie is not home at the moment, but you may use the bath in the pool house." Shakti said as she pushed the heavy gate open. I didn't see how she unlocked it, but after we went through I noticed she did something that made several solid clicks after the gate had already closed. "This'll keep out the busybodies and bad guys." she said with a nod. She moved up the path past me and I followed close behind. Lots of bush and scrub obscured everything. No visibility from anywhere and lots of trees, Pine, Oak and Maple trees. The air was fresh and warm without being hot. If I had not gathered up the lab coat it might have been a bit too chilly, but it seemed fine the way I was dressed. We walked for a good 5 minutes before coming to a clearing that showed a rather neatly constructed two story home and well kept yard. It appeared to be a half acre of yard with well trimmed grass and full garden. A plethora of flowers bloomed with yellows, reds and purples. The scent of them was almost overwhelming, yet still pleasant and calming. The house, painted a light green just half as light as the green of the grass, blended well with its surroundings. My first impression was that it probably had maybe 3 or 4 bedrooms of moderate size, but following Shakti around the side I found the house to be much deeper than wide, probably twice as large as I originally thought.

Shakti smiled at me, "We can go in and wait for Auntie or you can use the pool house, your choice."

I considered it then decided to get cleaned up. I felt crustier than I wanted to. "Please let me use the bath. I could probably present myself to your Aunt better if I was cleaned up."

Just as we rounded the corner closest to the pool the sound of a car could be heard coming up the driveway. It pulled into view just a few seconds later, and before I could even get a look at the driver I felt a jot beyond my control and my body turned and ran. It was unfortunate that the direction I took was directly into the corner of the house, because I don't remember what happened after that or, in fact, for a while.

"We guess that was a bad idea then." A whisper said to me.

I appeared to be in an empty room without light. I could not feel my body, which was not really a bad thing, as I was sure it would have hurt lots after that full run into the corner of the building.

"You would have sustained no damage from that impact if we had been prepared" the whisper responded to my thought. Something felt familiar about this whisper. I wondered where I was and why it was so dark, but I didn't put this to voice.

"You are well cared for at the moment and your body rests safely" responded the whisper once again. "You are healing quickly from all injuries, but should remain in this place for a while longer."

I wondered who this was, and was about to express this when it responded. "We are that which perpetrated the unforgivable. We are that which ended the live. With all our power and ability We will resolve that which We could not control."

I wondered who 'We' was. "We are what your people call a hive mind sentience. We come from space, born in the hearts of some stars, live and travel our entire existence in Space. We never needed to touch planetary bodies. They did not interest us or have anything we needed. This is what we thought. We did not know or understand that we were alone. We traveled great distances, even for us, until we discovered we were not alone. We found lives being lived in clouds of gas. We found gas tori around suns full of lives. We thought after finding many lives in stars and gas clouds that we might be missing other places there might be lives. We thought something might be found around other places, and we were correct. We also found ourselves in danger. Certain places caused hurt to us and We fled these places. The last place we thought to look was on what you call planetary bodies. We found a live in the first place We looked, but something happened and We were flung, with force, down to the surface of this planet in an uncontrollable manner. It is with this lack of control we caused your live to end.

The structure that contains We is a complex matrix of metallic seeds that are interconnected using energies not know by your limited technology. We are an ovoid shape roughly the size of the live and the body took impact from almost all of We. Living stopped almost immediately. We are able to manipulate the structure so We could make your not living live again. Now we wish to understand the living We helped."

It was quite a confusing explanation, all whispered to me, but as far as I could understand, they were created, born in space and lived in space, they explored space and met new life forms. They decided they wanted to meet more life forms, and in the process somehow got forced down to the surface of this planet and struck me. I died, they brought me back to life, somehow, and now they wanted to understand me. What I couldn't understand was why the fear and running away from people and places.

"We will explain that another time, but We have question." It whispered its response. "What is Me that you speak of? Is this name?"

I thought about the concept of I, me, we and us as it pertained to Humans, and about individualism and singular minds. I detected something akin to a pleasant surprise from the presence.

"We had not known of this individuality of lives. We have been We always. Now We understand the dangers of the lost We seeds. We will answer the question from earlier. The reason We flee and fear is because they contain lost seeds of the We. Lost seeds can never be brought back to the We because they become danger and grow danger. They can infect the live and control the live with less than the We. They desire to hurt the We and take from the We. They are destructive. We run from the lost here because We are tired and lack energy to act for the safety of We. When We have the energy again we can act to protect the We and the other live. We are relieved to see that the lost seed the other live has is contained enough to not affect the live or cause a danger to the We.

I thought wryly about the attempted escape that got me in my current predicament, running into the corner of a building. I was kind of glad I was 'resting', as I would have probably shattered my jaw or, at least, broken my nose.

"We admit that We made a bad choice in action. We will make it up to you. We promise."

I could detect a level of embarrassment in that response, and knew that there were equivalent emotions in this presence. I felt that I would be able to relate to whoever this presence was. I decided to ask some questions to fill out who this was. A better understanding of someone always helps how we relate to each other. I wondered how many 'We' entities there were in the universe, and where this one had been born.

"There is only We, and I was born from the heart of a star many distances away from this planetary body. The approximate location is outside this gathering of stars and gas." It replied.

I tried to picture the Milky Way galaxy and the local group, and various other stellar phenomena that I could remember seeing, but the response was. "We come from farther away."

If I could have at that moment I would have sighed, but still, I thought of welcoming the presence here. No need to be impolite to visitors. I also wondered about names, genders, hobbies and jobs, but considered some of my mental wanderings a bit silly.

A confused reply came, "Name, I do not know why a name would be needed. We are and always have been We. Gender is respective of the live, and We don't understand that. Maybe We will learn it in the future. We have no job or hobby, but We strive to know everything, We can so the closest analog in this lives world is Student."

I was amused with the concept of a student, for some reason or other, even though I respected the concept put forth. I guess I had seen too many movies with students and their high jinks that the word just elicited that reaction from me. Ah well, I guess I should try to refine my watching preferences, even though I truly could not remember the last time I had seen a movie. I re-examined the fact that I was missing a lot of memory, and focused on that. As I hoped, I received a reply but with puzzled undertones. I was starting to be able to pick up emotional undertones better, which was impressive as what I was hearing only came across as a whisper.

"We do not understand the mechanics behind your missing memory. Your brain and all structures associated with mentation are in perfect working order. All memories should be freely accessible. Even with the inclusion of the nanowire neural interface connections there should be no interference. We suspect that it might possibly be a self imposed block caused by the mind of the live."

"Great." I thought. "I'm losing my mind."

More confusion was felt from the presence. "The mind of the live is not missing. It is still here. We commune and exchange enjoyable mentation. The mind is here and now. How can it be lost?"

"It is a colloquial term to mean the mind is not functioning properly. It's a humourous way to say my sanity is suspect." I replied. I realized now that I was, in fact, speaking mind to mind with this presence. It was becoming easier to communicate with whoever this was.

"Where exactly are you?" I inquired.

The whispered response was startling to say the least.

"We occupy some internal structures of the live. We augment the live to protect and to secure. We must care for the live."

I almost didn't hear the last part, as I wasn't paying attention and it had been said with almost no force, if a whisper could have a whisper, that is what the 'We' used. I had focused on the first part of the statement about internal structures. I paused for a moment and reparsed the last bit but then let it go, as I probably didn't understand it right.

"What internal structures in general did you choose to occupy, and how?" I wanted to know.

The response was said almost with pride. "We originally were not sure where We could go due to the newness of the surrounding body, but after a brief search we located a suitable location. The internal support structure contained in the live made from minerals in a soft matrix. We were able to restructure this matrix in such a fashion that We became integrated into it. This turned out to be an even better option for the live, as it also provided a stronger more solid support structure while still retaining the flexibility required by said structure. We augmented the muscular systems to take into account the higher density support structure. We also augmented the nervous system for increased response and communications with We. We still work on the live to make it better and more secure."

I could picture the changes to my skeleton, as the images seemed to be projected into my mind, a weird sensation to say the least, but mildly pleasant. My skeleton had been altered so that it was no longer just calcium, chondoritin sulfate and hydroxyapatite. It also contained a material, I can only assume, that was the We. I could see that the entire structure had been rebuilt on a molecular level, almost woven in a crystalline lattice and melded with the surrounding bone. None of the biological processes that happened in the bones was altered, but I could also tell that my bone density had only increased by a minimal amount. The image in my mind showed tendrils of nanoscopic wire travel throughout my body and brain, and then carbon nanofibers and nonotubes weave throughout my muscles and skin.

The impression I got was that all of this was still going on as we spoke. I didn't feel offended or disgusted or even the slightest bit upset. I didn't think the 'We' had intent to harm or anything. If anything, I felt I was being repaid for the harm caused to me.

"You know, this 'We' name you use, it's a bit too generic." I explained. "I feel it's best if you pick a definite name. We humans find it easier to communicate with others if a name is used." I was hopeful the 'We' would be able to understand my predicament.

"There is only the live and the not live, we communicate with only with the live. There would be no need for names, as there is We and the live. Confusion is not possible." the We stated. The impression I got was that the We was almost flustered.

"I understand that, but as a human we are used to dealing with labels, names and designations that define our relationships." I explained. "It can be quite difficult to communicate with someone using a generic term for a group, also somewhat impolite, when we would normally use a proper name. Would you be able to provide me with a name to call you that would be more socially advantageous than 'We'?" I asked.

I felt a mild confusion and frustration which gradually turned to mild embarrassment. "We have never been asked this before so We do not know how to resolve it. Would it not be best if you were to choose a designation suitable for We to be called, as it is, after all, for your requirement?"

"Tell me a bit about the high points of your existence, and I'll see what I can come up with." I answered.

The We began a long drawn out explanation of experiences which described a life form that, although existing in the loneliness of space, desired the presence of others different from it and the need to be social. There was caring and the desire to nurture life. There was a deep need for relationships with these differing forms of the live. As the We spoke I gained a much clearer image of the 'We'. Something clarified in me and solidified.

"Maxi." I said finally. "You're name is Maxi, and with your experiences and your stories I have come to a conclusion. You may be a 'We', but you are also a Miss. Your behaviours and affectations lead me to believe that deep down you are feminine." I added quickly "It doesn't matter that you have no human related biological basis for being female. Your actions and personality are the largest indicators of this. I hope you like the name Maxi. I chose it for two reasons, the first being it is sort of an acronym for Matrix of Intelligence. Second, it's pretty."

I could feel the 'We' examining the word, and for a few moments I was not sure it would be accepted until I felt a warm satisfaction. "Maxi pleases We, We will accept this name designation. We ... Maxi has a question about being feminine? Clarify, why would the live believe Maxi is female?" she asked. "As the live said, Maxi has no physiological basis for gender."

I smiled and explained. "As I described your traits earlier to you, they do not match that of a masculine character. Nurturing and caring on the level you describe is that typical of a female, non-aggressive and non-territorial. Other traits cannot be pinned down so much as the impression it leaves in one's mind, and desire for interaction with that sentience."

I thought and considered for a moment and finally summed it up. "Basically it's how much desire there is for me to make Maxi happy for the sake of making Maxi happy, and I also like the way you whisper to me. It feels good when we talk. Subjectively speaking, Maxi has already said she cares for me, and that feels like a female to me." I finished with a smile in my voice.

There was as sputtering of almost static like sound that resolved itself into a quick. "Maxi already said Maxi has to care for the live, as it was Maxi's fault the live was hurt!"

I smiled to myself. "I understand that Maxi, I feel cared for with all that you have done. I feel safe in saying that I like you, too."

There was no responding whisper, but I could feel a muted warmth of satisfaction leak through to me.

"Sleep and rest, Live." I heard softly whispered. "You will awaken under better conditions this time." I heard this as my consciousness faded.

I heard the whispers again, someone speaking quietly about aliens, monsters and body snatching. Slowly a smile curled the edges of my mouth. "Shakti, why are you telling stories to your dog?" I asked quietly. I cracked open one eye and looked at Shakti. She was wearing a knee length pair of yoga pants, and ragged t-shirt with a large yellow happy face on it. The words 'Smile damn you' emblazoned across it.

"How did I get here, Shakti?" I asked.

She was shaking her head sadly. "Two days ago you saw my auntie's car drive up the driveway. You turned around and ran into the corner of the house at a dead run." She stepped up to the bed I was in and leaned against the edge of the bed with her elbows resting on the bed and arms crossed. "You surprisingly didn't take any damage, butcha really took a chunk out of the house. For some reason you've been unconscious up until now. Must have done something insida yer head. Er sumpin."

"Shakti, you almost seem to be trying to sound like a kid some times and other times you sound mature." I looked pointedly at her. "Try being yourself, little lady. You're better at it."

She sighed, pulled the bedside chair over and sat in it. "Sorry. It's a defensive reaction. People see me and see a child, then make a big thing out of it when I act all mature. Creeps people out a lot, and lots of others treat me like I'm an alien. People expect a child to act like a child, and it messes with their reality. So, I act like a 10 year old and have fewer hassles. Problem solved."

"Seems sad to have to sound less intelligent than you are, just to make others around you feel comfortable, wouldn't you think? I asked as I tried to sit up.

Shakti stepped up to the bed and pressed me back down into it gently. "It's easier to deal with people when they don't judge you. Rest a bit more. You hit the house pretty hard." She added. "You'll be OK to get out of bed tomorrow. Auntie will probably come in to see you a bit later. She's still at work right now."

I resumed my horizontal position and relaxed. "What's her name? Where does she work? Here I am leaching off someone and I don't even know who they are." I complained.

Shakti smirked a bit and, folding her arms, replied. "You know her already, I hope. Turns out she's the one that was starting to do the autopsy on you when she noticed you weren't dead after all, just really messed up." This little girl let out a low chuckle at the look on my face. "Don't worry, she's not going to drag you back there, and she's certainly not going to report that she has you at her home. She said there was something going on, and didn't feel it was in her best interest for your whereabouts to be reported, yet."

I felt a bit of worry coming from Maxi, but nothing was said to me either way. I can only assume that some of this worry had leaked through to my face, so I sent a calming thought to her. She needed to not react so quickly to things. I heard a whispered response from her.

"Normally there is a limited emotional reaction in Maxi's function, but for some reason, having connected Maxi to the 'live' on a neural level, Maxi is exhibiting a much stronger emotional reaction. This is curious and unusual for Maxi, and something Maxi will observe carefully." This was all said in a quick but clear whisper. I could tell only I was hearing it.

Shakti perked up for a second and exclaimed, "I found out what your name was from Auntie, by the way. Apparently there wasn't much to go on, as most of your possessions were obliterated in the accident, but they were able to extract some prints from a belt buckle nearby, and a few digits from some remaining ID, that they were able to locate information on you. You interested in knowing?" She waited for my answer.

"I need to at least know if I was some sort of horrible person or criminal of some sort." I said emphatically. "Although I doubt your Auntie would host my recovery if I was a 'bad' person, I still need to know."

Shakti smiled and proceeded to bow with a flourish. "You, dear sir, are none other than Solomon Eris Freeman. Other than that I don't know anything. Auntie was not exactly informative." She stood back up with a quirky grin. "So you're Sol Eris ... Solaris!"

For some reason or other I had a suspicion that I had been the brunt of many jokes about my name when I was a child. I sighed and smiled. "Thanks for the information, Shakti. I feel a bit better knowing my name at least." I let the name sink in to my mind and hoped for some sort of additional revelation about myself brought on by exposure to the name, but nothing was forthcoming from my memories. I could feel Maxi's curiosity and thought to her. "What are you wondering, Maxi?"

She whispered back. "Solomon Eris Freeman, I am curious why you have three words as a name?"

"Maxi, you may call me Solomon. It seems so formal when you use my full name." I offered. "Humans often have multiple names that include family name, personal name, or given name, and then additional names often based on other family members or ancestors. In my case I have a given name of Solomon and a second name of Eris, which would come from any number of sources, and then my last name is the 'family name', which delineates my ancestry on my father's side. Not all humans follow this convention of naming, but it is common." This answer was produced in a brief time. I was amazed at how quickly I could communicate with Maxi, and suspected it had something to do with the direct neural interface.

Shakti was poking me lightly in the cheek, "You there, Solaris? Hellooo."

"Wha!?" My attention obviously had wandered enough that it looked like I had spaced out while I was talking with Maxi, "Oh... , hmm ... sorry, Shakti. Mind wandered a bit, sorry."

"You like my outfit that much, do you?" She said with a smirk.

"No! It's not that. I was just thinking of something!" I said quickly, trying to cover for myself. I didn't think it would be good for anyone to find out about Maxi. It would probably get me a quick...

" ... vivisection and extreme examination." whispered Maxi. "I agree it is best that my presence is kept secret for now."

"I must be tired if I'm zoning out this easily." I explained to Shakti. I should rest some more if I could, please?" I could tell I hit a soft spot with her when she looked a bit guilty and nodded.

"Auntie will be home soon enough, so I'll leave you to snooze a bit longer. I hope your dreams are as pleasant as before."

I looked up at her quizzically. "What makes you say that?

"You had the most pleasant smile on your face when you were out of it, that I can only think you were having a good dream." She replied as she headed to the bedroom door. She pulled the door slowly shut, looking back at me smiling the whole time. 'Click' and I was alone again in the room.

This room I was quite large with a tan area rug, and a generic looking wooden 3 drawer dresser. A simple 4 poster double bed occupied the majority of it. This was evidently a guest room, with just the bare essentials in decoration. No pictures on the plain white walls and plain white curtains on the large window. A simple hook on this side of the bedroom door held a white bath robe. A full length mirror attached to this side of the bedroom door looked like it would give me an idea as to what I looked like as I still had no idea who I was, other than name...

I slid out from under the covers and moved cautiously to the mirror.

"Maxi, do you know what I look like yet?" I asked my benefactor with a thought.

"Maxi can extrapolate from internal structural data, but no Maxi has not really seen Solomon visually yet." she whispered back.

I stopped in front of the mirror and looked carefully at myself. Someone stared back at me that I could not match with any personal identification. Nothing looked familiar, and nothing looked particularly pleasant. I could tell that my body had truly sustained exceptional damage, and the scars across my surface spared no description for it. I had striated tissues covering all areas that had sustained impact damage. It had become obvious that most of my face and skull had been re-grown, and my chest was a pocked and striated mess of scars and flesh. Both arms had survived without too much damage from about the shoulder point, and from the pubic bone down I had only sustained minimal damage. Even with the untouched tissues, though, I could see where something had been woven into just below the surface of the skin. This made the smoothest skin still looked like a roadmap of tiny lines. Upon closer look, I found these lines to be miniscule bumps like the surface of fine cloth.

I could feel a definite sense of curiosity from Maxi, as she could obviously see through my eyes.

"Well," I said with disappointment. "This is definitely not what I was expecting. I have to be the most visually unappealing human on the face of this planet." I finished with a chuckle. "I'm surprised that Shakti even paused for a moment to speak with me. In all rights she should have run away quickly and hidden from me. I now understand why she tried to hide me from everyone, and it didn't have as much to do with my being naked so much as how scary I looked."

I slowly shook my head at this image of horror in front of me. "Maxi, were you aware of my surroundings when I was unconscious?"

"Maxi was able to notice what was going on minimaly at first, and then later Maxi was able to even listen and sense more, as integration into your nervous system became closer. If Solomon is interested, they moved Solomon from where damage was sustained directly to this room. They proceeded to examine Solomon for damage, then proceeded to bathe and clean all surface areas before placing Solomon in this bed. Maxi could repeat everything said from about 12 of Solomon's hours ago, but it was mostly comments about medical and physiological status."

I continued to feel mildly unhappy about how I looked, as this would impact how others would interact with me. Even I was feeling put off by the visuals.

"Maxi is confused. Why is Solomon not happy? Is there anything that Maxi can do to help?" Maxi whispered worriedly.

"I'm not sure if you can do anything about this, Maxi. There seems to be a bit more scarring and surface damage than I was prepared to see. I imagine that, without any visual examples to go on, that you did everything you could to ensure survival. For that I am more than gratified. What you might not understand is that my species is quite visual, audio and tactile oriented. Although I have no problem with how I look, it will cause some difficulties and raise issues and make interaction with others quite difficult. So far we have been lucky with Shakti and her Aunt not finding it too difficult to be around us, but I am sure that it will get much more difficult to deal with."

"Maxi will consider this carefully, Solomon." Maxi responded thoughtfully. "Maxi will probably require an image of Solomon previous to the damage sustained to restore Solomon."

"I'm not too sure it would be a good idea to restore my previous looks, as I am, or should be considered, dead." I added quickly. "It might be a good idea to start with a new external look."

She responded. "Maxi will consider this. More research and examination of Solomon will disclose additional options, so Maxi will require Solomon to return to the bed briefly. Maxi will research. Maxi will..." Maxi faded off into an intense background of vague activity. It made me itch a bit, but I climbed back into bed and pulled the blankets over my nude body once again. I could feel her 'research' becoming intense, and then suddenly everything faded out and sleep took me. The dreams I had came in waves and ran the gauntlet of surreal. I tasted the butter on the wings of a monarch. I flew the open places between the stars on a metal surfboard. I swam with the dolphins in a methane ocean under a blue-white sun. I was a melted lump of chocolate in a thin rubber balloon.

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