"Congratulations, Miss Max. You have a healthy baby boy," the doctor smiled down at his exhausted patient. It had been a hard labor, and for a while, they had feared the baby would be lost.
"Can't you fix that? I wanted a girl. I was certain she would be a healthy baby girl."
"As you probably already know Miss Max, ethics law prohibits genetic resenquencing between birth and adulthood when the patient can legally consent on their own. If you want a baby girl, you can try again and pay for the assurance treatments."
"No, that won't do at all. Those treatments are more than I make in a year." Carla Max thought to herself while giving the doctor a polite nod.
"I'll just have to work with what I have."
"Now, if you will just sign your name and the child's, you're ready for discharge." The words of a bubbly young nurse brought the new mother from her reverie.
[Sign here, and here, and now, what do I name this child, that simply couldn't be born a girl? Samantha, I will still name her Samantha and she will grow into what she is supposed to be. Yes, that is the best course.] Carla Max decided.
The son that Carla Max had just given birth to woke up for the first time, confused and trying to grasp the last fading memories of his past life, just as his mother was hurrying out of the free clinic where he was born.
The clinic didn't let patients stay to recover any longer than necessary, they just gave them a generic healing injection and discharged them as soon as they could walk again, in order to free up bed space.
This newborn boy was Maximilian, Hero of the Ten Worlds Crusade, Defender of Humanity and Bonded Pilot of the God Machine Gloriana. Or at least he was. The memories of his past life were fading fast, until there was nothing left, leaving him alone and confused in this newborn body.
He had the sense that this wasn't how it was meant to be. There was something wrong with the body he had inhabited, but he had lost too much of his memory before he could discover the cause.
The clinic was a gray market office, operated by unlicensed physicians in a run-down part of town. They didn't even do the birth screenings for nanotechnology compatibility, or the screenings for physical and developmental aptitude that was so common at every reputable facility. Instead, they had left them all to be done at the legally mandated 6-month government checkup.
Every child on Kepler Terminus was closely monitored by the government as a potential military recruit. An intergalactic war had been raging for decades and they needed every soldier and Mecha Pilot they could get just to survive.
Max's head was aching from trying to understand the world around him with nothing as a reference, not even a common language, but he soon found he was able to reach out to a nearby mind belonging to a newborn in a car sitting at a traffic light on the street in front of him.
[Personal Ability Active]
Max didn't even notice the dialog at the edge of his vision or the voice in his mind, he was too preoccupied with what he found.
This infant's mind contained incredible memories. Memories of war, of robotic suits fighting on far-off planets, knowledge of languages and martial arts. Who was this child whose mind he had invaded?
There was no sense of self like they were forgetting who they were, but somehow they were managing to retain some memories of their past life. The exact opposite was true of Max, who still remembered his own name, along with his personal sense of righteousness but nothing else.
Was it possible he wasn't the only one who had been reincarnated? Max knew for certain that he was, but as hard as he tried, all he could clearly recall of his former life was that it had happened.
Max was determined he would not forget these memories that called out to an instinct deep within him. He would carry on that love of robots from this child's fading past life. It was a love that he felt deep in his bones, the lingering longing for the passion that has shaped every moment of his forgotten past life.
Max, as he preferred to call himself, ignoring the horrid name his mother gave him, soon realized he had a very useful gift. With effort, he could borrow the memories of those around him. With repeated use, he could take on a mimicry of their personality and use skills they knew, to some extent.
Currently, his small body limited much of his ability to duplicate the actions that he learned, but it was progressing rapidly with his concerted efforts.
An industrial accident millennia prior had released nanobots into the atmosphere of Kepler Terminus, where they multiplied and created an artificial intelligence net that infected every citizen of the planet, affecting each person in a different way beginning at birth.
Some were born with extra strength or long lives, and some with abilities that bordered on the supernatural.
Max had gained one of those types of benefits, the microscopic machines in his body were capable of deciphering the brain patterns of those around him, granting a glimpse into their thoughts and recent memories. Such an ability was highly prized in this world, not for science or justice, but for war and espionage.
Max was unaware of that fact, so when the police came with a doctor to give him his overdue 6-month checkup, he didn't try to hide anything and they discovered he had an Alpha level Innate Talent, which caused them to automatically enroll him in the military academy, as they did for every other talented youth in this Kepler Kingdom.
The Kepler Kingdom, which spanned over two thousand populated worlds, was a relatively young Kingdom embroiled in constant conflict and needed all of its best and brightest from every planet for the war effort.
His mother was overjoyed, as parents of future academy students got an extra government stipend to help raise the talented children of the empire until age twelve when they would go to the academy for military training.
A monthly credit transfer she was free to spend on drugs, as it turned out, much to Max's detriment.
Max really didn't care, he just wanted to get away from this crazy woman and her drunkard of a boyfriend, who may or may not be his father. That was the thought that dominated his childhood. That and giant robots.
To reach that goal, he put everything he had into developing his physical and mental abilities, learning to walk and talk before age one. Much of this was due to the partially active System created by the nanotechnology enhancing and helping develop his mind and body.
He had started his second day in this world with a lifetime of someone else's memories, so he did not need to learn the basics, only to tone his body to accomplish them. A feat that is easier said than done for a toddler.
In the early years of his life, Max only ever saw the one System notification, the very first, when it partially activated to help him understand the world around him.
The system wouldn't fully come online until after a child had started at the military academy, where the AI network would recognize the need for the body to be upgraded. For now, it remained only the most basic of a shell, waiting for his body to mature.
At home, his mother still insisted he was her daughter, not a boy at all, at least when she was coherent enough to address him and acknowledge his existence.
She bought him only dresses and insisted his blonde hair be worn long and in a constantly refreshed perm. In her mind, that was the only style that properly complimented his baby blue eyes.
Were he a normal toddler he would most likely have perished of neglect before age three, but Max quickly learned to control his body well enough to manipulate small objects, like the fridge door and food containers, making himself reliant only on there being something edible in the house.
Fortunately, his drunkard of a father believed that only the finest of snacks were suitable for watching sports games.
So, chicken wings, prepackaged burgers, pretzels and orange juice for mixing in his mother's drinks were always in plentiful supply. If that failed, the boy would simply use his father's data tablet to order prepaid delivery, a happy surprise for everyone when it arrived.
The planet known as Kepler Terminus was a highly advanced one, with automation and technology involved in every aspect of their lives. Had his parents been responsible, the talented child stipend, as the government called it, would have been enough to buy him an android nanny, pay off a house in a good neighbourhood and buy the most advanced of educational virtual reality simulations.
Instead, Max learned from the minds of those around him and played pirated versions of the publicly available Mecha trainers with a disabled Veteran turned hacker who lived a few doors down.
The man found the overly mature boy amusing, and after the toddler gave him a timely warning about the approaching minds of the cyber security SWAT team, they became the best of friends.
He fed the boy's obsession with Mecha, and the boy kept him updated on police activities through regular trips to the convenience store past the local police station.
If anyone thought it strange the older man in his wheelchair was always with a child that didn't appear to be his own, nobody in their housing project was willing to say anything about it.
A few times Max's parents freaked out on his friend, thinking the man would demand money for babysitting or harm their government funding meal ticket, but by the time the boy was five they stopped caring as long as Max could be found for his mandatory checkups every six months.
Max passed his entire early childhood in that manner, learning the intricacies of Mecha handling, as well as the best ways to repair pirated technology and avoid police detection.
He also learned of the System, the artificial intelligence created within everyone in their world that was decently compatible with the technology. Alpha Rank compatibility like his could activate a higher Quality upgrade than the Beta and Gamma Ranked children, as well as having a higher chance of activating an Innate Talent.
For Delta ranked children, The data he found on the information nets said it would barely matter to their lives, helping them heal a little faster, or maybe helping them learn trade skills, but with minimal ability to upgrade. F Ranked compatibility, like his parents, would never see the system at all, the technology had rejected them as a host.
F Rank citizens made up over half the planet, with the nanobots in their system serving only to assist doctors with testing them for injuries and illness. Alpha Rank Compatibility occurred in less than one percent of the population, making them the military elites, as that was their only available career path.
One late spring afternoon as Max and Dave, the friendly neighbourhood hacker were returning to reality after playing Mecha combat games on hacked VR consoles, Dave's mood took a somber turn, causing Max to fear his only true friend was more seriously ill than he let on.
A poisonous attack had ruined his organs in battle, and he had lost the use of both legs, but so far the nanobots only had been capable of keeping his body stable in its crippled state, due to his low compatibility and inability to afford cybernetic surgery to repair the damage.
The veteran's benefits for infantry soldiers like Dave were barely above subsistence level, and an amputee with organ damage was in no position to take on full-time work.
"You'll be twelve years old soon, and off to the academy the first day of summer, so we need to get you ready. I got you a new uniform and some supplies." Dave finally told Max, handing him a package.
"The bus comes the day after my birthday, so this will be goodbye for a while at least. I'll return from school when I can." Max smiled at his friend who was searching for the cigarette pack sitting under his long numb leg.
"Aye, but first you must survive another Princess-themed birthday party. I swear that woman gets more delusional every year. Drugs are rotting her brain." Dave laughed, lighting a smoke from the pack he finally found and placing the pack back under his leg.
"Wanna spot me a bag of Flect? If she gets high enough she'll forget it's my birthday." Max teased his friend, knowing that Dave won't enable his mother's addiction.
"Tempting, but no. Now go, and be well until I see you again." Dave said, trying to hide his overflowing emotions as tears ran down his leathery cheeks and into his graying beard.