Chapter 1: Starting Fresh
I ran away. The alternative was to die in a fashion that – well, okay, let's just say that running away wasn't really a choice. It was my only option.
My story isn't always easy to understand. I've learned that this isn't only true for me. It's true for everybody's story. There's an undercurrent of complexity to the actuality of life that sometimes leaves us without the words to explain our experiences.
To understand my experience, it's important to be able to think about what it means to live in a place where there is no matter. A place where there are no bodies, no physical things to touch or sense, and no organs with which to sense them. Ears, eyes, and noses do not exist. Nobody has ever thought of them.
It's a slippery concept to grasp. It is, however, how my universe works.
In such a place, running away is not about going a far distance away. At least, there doesn't exist a measuring stick that could quantify distance in the place where I'm from. Instead, running away is about making oneself smaller and fitting into the crevices of reality that others have never set their thoughts upon.
It was while cowering away, hoping to remain hidden, that I happened upon the most important discovery of my life. In the smallest corners of reality, tucked away and hiding, sit little hypothetical constructs. They take a few very simple rules and extrapolate from there. The mathematical basis is simple, but the forms they can take are infinite as the rules intertwine and build upon one another.
Soon enough they begin to incorporate time and energy until senseless little particles can be seen flitting about. One builds upon the next until electrons, atoms, elements, particles, structures, planets, solar systems, galaxies, and entire universes emerge. All of it built out of a few simple mathematical rules.
This mini-universe drew my attention because of it's incomprehensible simplicity. At its base, the rules were simple, but the emergent properties were unintuitive and complex.
The toughest part about hiding is keeping from boredom. Boredom drives you from the safe and hidden places to the more vibrant and exciting spaces which are fraught with the danger of being found. This mini-universe that I had found became my distraction; My obsession. I watched and made a game of predicting what might happen next.
Years passed and I slowly grew weary of the subtle dance of particles. The magma of a star too complex and the drifting of the planets to simple, I began to look elsewhere. I was the structure of the planets that intrigued me next. Through luck or fate I happened across a planet that housed little microscopic bacteria. Self-propelling organisms that single mindedly bent their purpose upon survival and reproduction.
I spent many years watching them adapt. Watching their struggle to survive. I learned, then, about the fragility of life in this place. A build-up of energy flared from the nearby star and sanitised the planet I kept watch over. Left again with a lifeless rock, I searched out a new planet where different bacteria may thrive for a time.
I searched for what felt like an eternity. Time is, in many ways, subjective and impossible to standardise, but from the perspective of this new world I searched for nearly 30 thousand years. I was on the brink of despair when finally I found a planet that was unlike any other I had glimpsed so far. Like the others it was dark and seemingly still, but what little light it did reflect, it reflected in colours I had not sensed before.
What I saw there defied all expectation. The diversity of life was unlike anything I had imagined possible. There was one discovery, however, that eclipsed the rest. An intelligent life form. I discovered an intelligent life form so small it defied all expectation. It existed solely in three tightly contained spatial dimensions.
The life form lived on the third planet from their star. They called their planet Earth. Probably because their entire existence was lived inside such a tiny fragment of reality, the control they exerted over their environment was phenomenal. For such a small species, they dreamed big. They looked to the stars and as they discovered their place in the universe, they sought to overcome their limitations.
As I had with the planet of bacteria, for a time I was content to watch. 118 years after I discovered these fascinating creatures, I watched as they landed a hunk of metal on the satellite orbiting their planet. Ten years later, they sent three members of their species there as well. Two of them landed on the surface and walked around. I watched their exuberance as they celebrated their first moon landing.
They used the planet's orbit around their star to count years; they used the rotation of the planet to count days. I started to study the nature of their reality. The matter from which they were made was far too complex a thing for me to recreate in any meaningful way, but I could create a semblance of it.
So it came to pass that 164 years after my discovery of earth, I was able to create a body for myself. I created a body and for the first time I could walk upon their planet; I could feel the sun upon my skin, and I could feel the pressure of gravity as my feet were pressed into the ground.
Here, I thought, was a way I could put an end to my solitary exile. I was lonely. I was so lonely that I thought the weight of it might crush me. I could never go home, but perhaps I could make a home here.
That's how I became an alien blending in with humans. It's funny, how for all the creativity humans have brought to bear on the subject of alien life in the universe, they could only imagine fleshy three-dimensional beings. Anything else was either a God or a God-like alien. I am, however, none of those things.
I thought that being a child would make it easier to integrate myself into human society. I would be given an education and excused any weirdness. I would have time to adapt to using the senses that humans use.
In 2005, I was found on the side of a highway in Canada. When they found me, they found a six year old child with a bunch of broken ribs, a broken humerus, and a broken femur. Most importantly, however, was the severe head trauma.
The doctors figured I had been dropped out of a car. I didn't correct them. They blamed the haemorrhaging in my brain for the fact that I didn't have any memories of my life as a child. I didn't correct them.
I made news as a survivor. They searched for my family, but nobody came forward to claim me. They taught me how to talk again. I understood English fairly well, but it took me a long time to master all the necessary phonemes. They gave me a name, made me a Canadian, and placed me in the foster-care system.
Each year that passed made it less likely that I would ever be adopted. By the time I had turned 16, the chances were slim-to-none. I had a few foster parents when I was younger, but I could never have been the child they saw when they looked at me. I looked up how long ago modern humans were thought to come into existence. I laughed out loud when I learned that I was roughly as old as the oldest homo sapiens. I didn't know much about the world or about what it meant to only live in three (very confining) dimensions. In some ways, I was what you might expect of a six year old. In others though, well, it's hard to be like all the other kids when you're actually close to 200,000 years old.
I lived in a home with 7 other crown wards, and a rotation of social workers that took care of us.
Grade 10 was brutal. I did fairly well in sports. I did fairly well academically as well. Socially, however, I didn't fit in. If I was honest with myself, it was mostly my fault. I made the jocks insecure by being better than them and not really caring. I couldn't get too competitive because, in my mind, the only reason there was any challenge in the sport was due to limitations I placed on myself.
When you can, quite literally, move between any two points in space instantly, winning a game of soccer is rather trivial. I only allowed myself to move using the physical muscles in my body, which returned some of the challenge. Imagine playing soccer, but in order to make it not too easy to win, you only allowed yourself to hit the ball by getting on all fours and hitting it with the side of your head. It might be challenging, but it would still be hard to take it seriously.
Sometimes, I dreamed about going home and teaching my friends about sports and how they were something that could be played in any of the 3 dimensional physical aspects of reality. I knew I was becoming more like the humans, when thinking about home made me cry.
In grade 10, for some of these kids, soccer was the only thing that mattered. I didn't think about it at the time, so I was dumb enough to be surprised when they got upset being bested by a kid who didn't much care.
The biggest problem, though, was that I didn't really feel as though I belonged. Humans (especially teenagers) are intuitive about that sort of thing. The biggest reason I didn't belong was that I didn't think I belonged. Sometimes, that's enough.
I was too sportive and too good academically in school to be a loser. Since I wasn't popular, that pretty much left me in the last category; the nobodies. The nobodies are the kids that fly just under the radar. They never get picked on, but they don't really get talked to either. When they return for the five year reunion, they're the kids that don't get recognized.
30,000 years by myself taught me that being in a room of 30 people who are ignoring you is still much better than being in a room by yourself, so I wasn't unhappy.
I had two friends. We were all nobodies, but we somehow found one another. Matt was home on detention after having been caught smoking pot again. Richard (we called him Dick), was home sick, so I was spending my lunchtime alone.
The tables in the cafeteria were all big enough for twenty people. It felt weird sitting at one end of those tables by myself, so I avoided the cafeteria when I was alone. Sitting against my locker eating a peanut butter and jam sandwich wasn't cool, but even the most extravagant lunch would never win me a popularity contest, so I didn't care. I could walk down the hallways muttering to myself and I still wouldn't be labelled a loser. I was far too solidly embedded in my position as a nobody.
Somebody sat down next to me, "Hello Simon."
I took a deep breath and turned to study her for a moment. The year before, Kerry sat next to me in geography, and while she would sometimes have a smile for me, we never talked. Somehow I had assumed she didn't even know my name.
I finished chewing while her eyes studied me. I kept my response simple with, "Hi."
I tried to keep my tone as neutral as possible. Most guys crush on the hot girl in school. I'd always hated doing what everybody else was doing, so that wasn't me. Guys tended to stare at Kerry and drool. The popular kids knew to control themselves before the saliva pooled on the floor. The nobodies and losers somehow lacked that control.
While I wasn't exactly immune, I was as close to being indifferent as she was ever likely to find. Having spent 200,000 years without a physical body, I couldn't really understand how my peers valued beauty over personality. She never talked to me, so I made a point to never really think about her.
It's harder to not think about somebody, however, while they're sitting right next to you. There was something about the way she said my name. My 16 year old body was suddenly flooded with hormones. Stupid hormones.
"Eating by yourself?" She asked, "Where are," she paused, trying to remember their names, and then gave up, "the other two?"
I didn't bother answering the first question. The second question seemed a bit silly too. She didn't even know their names, so it would be strange for her to really care where they were. Kerry was trying to engage me in small-talk.
Why? What did she want?
A few of the kids in the hallway where looking at us curiously. They were no doubt wondering the same thing I was. Why was the grade 10, uncontested goddess, sitting on the hallway floor and talking to a nobody?
Kerry was as solidly cemented as a popular kid as I was cemented as a nobody. I suppose it gave her the freedom to do as she pleased. I opted not to overthink it and answered her with a shrug.
"Where are the socialites?" I asked. She gave me a confused look, so I smiled and answered her unasked questions, "It's our nickname for the girls that follow you around."
She laughed. It sounded genuine. "They don't follow me around."
The timing was perfect. I raised my eyebrows and then looked over her shoulder. Kerry turned her head and looked down the hallway just in time to see four of her friends enter the hallway. They looked around and spotted Kerry. Some of them frowned; the others looked confused. They turned to talk to each other as a fifth girl entered the group. One of them, Sarah, pointed at us and then they continued chatting excitedly.
We were too far away to hear anything, but it was obvious what they were discussing.
Kerry sighed, "I told them I was busy ... did they come looking for me?"
I shrugged again, "Could be a coincidence."
She rolled her eyes, "Want to go talk somewhere else?"
She looked uncomfortable with her friends just down the hall. I didn't think walking away with me would help her socially either though, and well,
"I still have my lunch," I told her.
She sighed and leaned back against the locker next to mine. She sat quietly while I ate my apple. Given how chatty her peers were, I was surprised at how comfortable she seemed with the silence.
I took the last bite from my apple and then studied her for a moment. She was staring at the lockers opposite us, clearly lost in thought. She turned to look at me and smiled.
"What?" she asked, keeping her smile.
"Why are you here, Kerry?" I asked. Hopefully I sounded inquisitive instead of bitchy.
She surprised me with her honesty, "Tomas kissed me."
That wasn't an answer. The fact that Tom was Sarah's boyfriend explained why Kerry wasn't huddling with her friends, but it didn't explain why she was sitting next to me.
"Okay," I said, "But why are you here," I asked, pointing at where she was sitting. I knew I was probably being a bit rude, but well, I wasn't a social expert.
"Why did you never talk to me?" she asked, clearly referencing our geography class last year.
Obviously she didn't want to answer my question. I almost decided not to answer hers, but I really didn't have anything to lose. Also, she was cute enough that the boy in me wanted to keep talking with her. Kind of silly, but there it was.
"I have two friends Kerry. Clearly I have a lot of practice not talking to people. Also, I'm pretty sure it was you who didn't talk to me."
She seemed a bit surprised at my answer, but recovered quickly, "Well then, we're talking now."
An astute observation.
I simply nodded. I didn't have anything to add, so I picked up a granola bar and started eating it. We sat in silence for a time.
"Are you sure you don't want to go somewhere else?" she asked, "I think Sarah is working up the courage to come yell at me some more."
"Fine," I said, trying to keep the petulance out of my voice as I got up, "Where then?"
"Outside!" she answered with a smile. Her friends were all talking about her behind her back and she didn't seem to care. That seemed strange.
We opted to walk the school boundaries; along the parking lot, past the soccer field, along the football field, around the library, next to the forest, and back to the front entrance.
We were behind the library when she tried to kiss me. One moment we were talking about our classes and the next, she managed to wrap her arms around my neck and tried to kiss me. I was so shocked that I think our lips actually touched before I found the wherewithal to push her away.
"What!?" was all I could think to say.
She looked hurt by my refusal, but she also looked at me defiantly, "What?"
"What," I said, trying to figure out what was happening, "are you doing?"
She just stared at me.
My mind was reeling. What was happening? The cute girl in school doesn't just try to kiss you for no apparent reason. Especially if you're a nobody.
"Trying to kiss every boy your friends don't approve of you kissing?"
"No!" I was surprised that she seemed genuinely shocked at the accusation. What else could it be?
"I didn't kiss Tomas ... he kissed me. That shit is not my fault!" she said through gritted teeth.
"So what's this then?" I asked more calmly.
"I like you," she said, keeping her chin high. Her eyes hardened as though she expected me to laugh.
I didn't laugh. I just looked at her skeptically. Ten minutes of conversation is not enough to like somebody. Especially when that somebody is a nobody.
What was her game?
The silence got to her, "I'm tired of boys trying to score me." She said. She sounded like she was holding back a mixture of anger and annoyance. "I'm sick of going to a movie and not being able to watch it because a boy is being handsy. I'm done with boys saying they've done things with me when they haven't. I'm tired of guys doing me favors because they think I'll owe them."
She let out a deep breath.
"And you think I'm different?" I said, almost laughing.
"Yes!" she said. I wondered what had given her that conviction.
"Well I'm not." I said, "Have you tried being single?"
She didn't say anything for a moment as she composed herself. "I've never dated anybody and for your information being single just means there are ten boys trying to get in my pants instead of one."
"Shit." High school sucks I thought. I'd never really considered that unlike some of the girls, Kerry never did bask in her own glory. Though she never seemed to be bragging or vying for attention, she still ended up leaving the impression that she was somehow better then you.
I had never before contemplated the difference between somebody who believed they deserved attention and somebody who had resigned themselves to it. Kerry seemed to be the latter; she had come to expect the attention and learned to make the best of it.
Being a nobody meant I had focused heavily on the perks of being popular and altogether ignored the detriments. Even so, none of this explained the events that brought us here.
"So you were hoping we'd start dating and I would make an effective shield?" I asked.
"You make it sound so ... No. That's not-. I don't want you to be a shield. That's dumb. I wanted to do the chasing for once."
"And I'm the only guy that wasn't already running after you?"
"No. Well, yeah, but ... dammit Simon, are you trying to be difficult?"
"You tried to kiss me!" I accused.
"Too fast?" she asked.
"This is kind of a lot to dump on a guy," I answered.
"Well that's how they do it!" she said.
"Who? The brain-dead guys you were complaining about two second ago?" I asked.
She didn't have anything to say to that, clearly mimicking them was not the road to success so she tried a different tack, "Are you saying you don't want to date me?"
I closed my mouth. Had she just effectively asked me out? Every part of my 16 year old self screamed at me to see where this would go, but the 200,000 year old alien in me knew better. I was surprised at how close it was though.
"Come find me when you can honestly say I'm not just a distraction from Sarah and your boy-troubles," I said, then walked away.
Her voice followed on my heels, "Everybody knows that if bad luck hadn't taken away your childhood, you'd be one of us."
I turned around. "One of you?" I asked.
"You know what I mean. You'd be sitting at the popular kids' table," she answered
I had no idea that she knew anything about my history or how I was found. I hadn't told anybody save Matt and Richard. To learn that my history was something that Kerry's group of friends knew about felt bizarre. It felt like an invasion of my privacy.
I just stared at Kerry. She closed the distance between us again as she absorbed the silence.
"You're not the only person who can see all this high school drama crap for what it is. I don't know if it's the accident or not having a family, but you look at us as though you're constantly on the verge of rolling your eyes and I'm baffled that I'm the only one who sees it," she said.
It seemed a bit self-important to me, but I didn't interrupt her.
"Well I'm tired of it too. I know what it's like to have seen things that take something away from you. I've never seen you jealous, but I recognise the way you look at everybody around you. It's like they have something that was taken from you and you know you can never have it back. Which is why you're so wistful and full of regret," then she paused as I absorbed her words, "and way too old for your age."
I couldn't possibly have been so easy to read. There was no way she could have known how close she came to the truth. My chest tightened when I thought about how homesick I suddenly felt. Just thinking about the insanity of 30,000 years of solitude was casing my head to spin. What I wouldn't give to actually be 16 years old again.
Kerry looked stunned. Flabbergasted. I was only confused for a moment before I noticed that I was crying. It must have looked weird to see the few teardrops that adorned my otherwise calm face.
I grimaced. My first time crying and it had to be in front of Kerry Malone. I wanted to disappear.
Suddenly, she was hugging me as though she could somehow help hold me together. "It's okay." She whispered as she patted me on the back. "It's okay."
I pushed her away and I ran. She stood there in stillness and watched me disappear.
Matt woke me the next morning.
"Simon! Get up man. School's a-waitin'"
I tried to push him away, so he stuck his foot in my face. It reeked.
"God! I'm up! Jeeze," I said.
I could smell the weed. "Matt. Really? You just had a suspension for that stuff. You can't show up high on the first day after a suspension!"
He combed his fingers through his blonde hair, "Watch me," he smirked.
Sharing a room with one of your only friends is a tough business sometimes. We made it work, but mostly because I had the necessary patience. For somebody so young, Matt had dealt with a lot of shitty, shitty things in his life. It gave him a little bit more slack than I would normally be willing to give.
We walked past Dick's on the way to school, but his mom said he was sick again, so we made our way to school without him.
Matt looked behind us as we approached the school, then he looked forward again, "Who the hell is she waving at?" he asked looking at Kerry in the distance. He looked behind us again, not comprehending the concept that she might be waving at us. I couldn't blame him. Yesterday had been way too weird. Human emotions were still a very bizarre thing to me. One person on this planet had seen me cry. The last thing I needed was for her to tell everybody else.
"Simon! Hi!" she said once we were close.
Guess my plan to avoid her wasn't going to work. Matt kept looking back and forth between us as though it would somehow give him the answer to the mysteries of the universe.
She walked inside with us. Matt was uncharacteristically quiet. I think being talked to by Kerry was already enough. Seeing her grab my hand probably short-circuited his brain. Again, I couldn't blame him. I wasn't sure how I felt about the hand holding either.
Matt separated from us to go to his locker when we headed upstairs. I looked at Kerry questioningly. She took stalk of my look and nodded approvingly.
"You're either going to date me or you're going to befriend me and I'm going to make everybody believe you're dating me," she said with a smile, then with a cheeky grin, she added "I really hope you pick option number one."
I wanted to go back outside and make sure there weren't flying pigs. They may have surprised me less.
Kerry and I were both in the gifted program so we shared a lot of classes. Our seats were not next to one another so I had had an easy time ignoring her for the remainder of the day yesterday.
Somehow I had thought that after I shoved her off of me and stormed away as only a 16 year old can, that that would be the end of it. Turned out I should have stopped assuming I understood Humans. I did not understand them.
Math was the one class I didn't take the gifted stream for. It's the only class that gifted didn't matter for. I could have written the grade twelve final math exams and gotten 100% when I was six years old. I literally could have done it before I was born as a human. Math is as close as human beings seemed to get to understanding parts of reality outside the confined space they lived in. I may not have known all the vocabulary, but I grew up in parts of reality that math let humans peek into.
Ahhh you think Math is your ally? You merely adopted the Math. I was born in it, molded by it
Gifted or not gifted, Math was going to bore me senseless. I decided on this class because I knew I would be sharing it with Richard. Unfortunately, he was sick again. Sarah, one of Kerry's friends, spent way too much of the class staring at me and whispering with her friend. Fortunately, Math was the class before lunch. I excused myself a bit early. Ms. Darraday was strict with most of her students. She let me do mostly whatever I liked though. Acing every test and assignment will do that.
I texted Matt to meet me by the library and ran out of school before Kerry could find me.
"I have a comment and a question," said Matt when he arrived.
"What!" he said, pausing for a moment, he continued with, "What?"
I laughed, "It's a long story."
"I'm aaaaaaaaaaaall ears," he said, drawing out the word all.
"Okay. I lied. It's not a very long story. Kerry has gone insane. Like off her rocker bat-shit crazy."
Matt laughed and pulled out a joint, "There's more to it than that," He stated.
I grabbed the joint, "Not during lunch break."
He tried to grab it back but his heart wasn't really into it.
"Fine. Smith & Co.?" he asked.
It sounded like a decent way of getting me away from the school for an hour so I readily agreed. Also – they did make fantastic pizza.
The six socialites arrived at Smith's about five minutes after us. When they saw us at our table they all froze in unison. They turned to each other and started talking so quickly it hurt my head. They all talked at once as well, I had no idea how they managed to understand one another.
It seemed like Sarah was in a disagreement with the rest of them. One of them tried to stop her, but Sarah pulled out of her grip and came over to our table. She pulled out a chair and sat down across from us.
"Hi Simon!" she said brightly.
Matt was looking back and forth between us again. He was just as confused as I was, so I wasn't any help.
"Hi Sarah," I responded. She smiled at my use of her name, "What can I do ya for?"
She leaned forward. Matt stared studiously at her cleavage; she ignored him just as studiously.
"Just wanted to talk. How are you?"
"I'm well," I answered. This was weird. Like, really weird.
Sarah smiled sweetly, "I hear you've been hanging out with Kerry?" she asked. It wasn't really a question though, so I didn't bother answering.
"Well, just wanted to give you a heads up. Just, so, you know, nobody gets hurt. Kerry's seeing Tom."
Suddenly this made sense to me. They wanted me to stay away from Kerry. A popular girl mixing with a nobody – they didn't want that.
"Okay," I said, no skin off my back. Matt was still just staring at her cleavage.
"Pretty sure I saw them being kissy kissy just – like, ten minutes ago," she said, studying me carefully.
"Ah," I said, nodding as though this was somehow interesting information. I think she was a bit surprised at my lack of reaction.
"Well," she said with a forlorn sigh, she leaned forward and put her chin in her hands. "Now that my old boyfriend has been stolen, I'm totally single again."
I don't know how she could be partially single. I didn't bother to bring that up though.
I guess I was wrong about keeping me away from Kerry. This was about revenge. Kerry kissed her boyfriend, and Sarah wanted payback. Well, probably. This would all be easier if I could better understand people.
I must have been quiet for too long, "Does that give you any ideas?" she asked me.
15 year old girls. Even popular ones are never this forward. I guess there's nothing quite like a girl who wants revenge.
"Sarah," I started saying, but was interrupted when the owner came over and dropped a pizza on our table.
"There you go, pizza," he said with his fake Italian accent.
"Oh! Guess that's my cue," said Sarah, she took a few steps before turning around, blowing me a kiss, and saying, "Talk to you later, Simon!"
Matt's mouth open and closed a few times, but no sound came out. This was starting to get comical.
"What the fuck dude!" he exclaimed, "I was gone for two days! What happened!?"
I tried to explain that I was just as clueless as he was, but he wasn't buying it. The pizza was great though. Sarah would occasionally look at us from her table at the other end of the pizza shop. When our eyes met, she smiled and waved before turning back to her friends.
The girls ordered the same amount of food as we did. They had six people to our two. Needless to say, they finished first. Sarah waved at me again as they left. Jaelynn trailed behind the group a bit and came up to our table once all the girls were outside.
She placed both palms on the table and looked me right in the eyes, "If you hurt Kerry, I'm going to shove my heel so far up your ass that you'll be eating that pizza a second time." She didn't wait for a response before turning around and leaving.
Matt and I stared at one another.
I pulled out his joint and gave it back to him, "They're all insane." I said, "Certifiably insane."