One year had already passed in the new life Nova had gained, and that year had truly been filled to the brim.
It was still much too early for anything like martial arts training or the like, of course, but she had at least managed to get a good grasp of the language. In fact, this particular challenge had been accomplished in approximately two months.
A perfect memory was as great a boon as Nova had hoped when she’d invested a good portion of her points into it, when she’d rolled her character sheet.
After learning Alteran, she’d gone over her recollection of her first days since her birth to see what she had missed at the time. Since she accurately remembered every single sound every single person she’d ever met had made in her presence, she could simply use her newfound knowledge to decipher their words now.
There hadn’t been any great revelations or anything, though…
Except for confirming the fact that Nova’s mother held herself responsible for the traits her daughter had willingly chosen, perhaps.
Nova had suspected it ever since she’d seen Marian’s reaction, that first day after she was born, but hearing the woman say it explicitly like this made Nova feel even more guilty about her insensitive actions. Still, she hadn’t changed her mind about keeping it all a secret. She felt it would be even worse if Marian found out that her daughter’s soul – or whatever it actually was that made her her – actually belonged to a man nearly twice as old as Marian herself. Learning that sort of stuff would be intensely creepy, Nova reckoned.
At least, one silver lining in all of this mess was that no one knew that Nova was sterile, maybe because that condition had yet to manifest itself, since Nova’s body was still undeveloped. In any case, it would be for the best if this particular issue could remain forever hidden. Nova strongly suspected that it being uncovered might provoke an even stronger distress in her mother than when the woman had learned of the effects of Nova’s other traits.
As for this world itself, it was called Edea. It was basically earth-like, without any apparent violations of the laws of physics. There was no magic. The planet was round and orbited a sun. There were no elves or dwarves or dragons anywhere in sight. The technology here did seem somewhat more advanced than it was on Earth, but it wasn’t to the point where you’d call this a futuristic sci-fi world. For example, there was an inhabited base on one of the moons, along with manned missions to all the nearest planets, but no widespread terraforming or FTL travel or galactic empire. Most vehicles were automated and electric-powered. But there weren’t any nanomachines, and no sentient AIs or androids walked the streets.
One rather strange thing to note was that the country in which Nova lived, Altera, was actually a monarchy, complete with aristocratic titles and everything. People actually made the distinction between nobles and commoners. Nova had no idea how such a thing could have survived widespread education and technological advances – people tended to rebel against such blatant unfairness if you gave them both the knowledge and the tools to do so – but there might be reasons for it that she wasn’t aware of yet.
In any case, while both her parents appeared to be commoners, they didn’t seem impoverished in the slightest. Quite the contrary, in point of fact. Nova and her family lived in a rather sizable and luxurious house. More than that, Nova had come to realize that the hospital where she’d been born actually seemed to belong to her father, Aaron – that, or he was a high-level administrator of some kind, though that seemed unlikely. She had had occasion over the past year to return there a few times to take part in series of medical exams, and the relationship she’d witnessed between Aaron and his colleagues was much more cordial than would be usual for a manager and his subordinates.
Marian’s job was a bit more difficult to guess. After observing her for a year, Nova thought she might be part of the military, but she couldn’t be sure. The one thing giving her doubt was that she’d once noticed that the woman kept a stash of weaponry in a biometrically locked closet inside their house. And not light weaponry, either. In the one glance she’d caught of the closet’s contents, she had seen pistols, assault rifles, heavy machine guns, grenades, some kind of landmines, something that looked suspiciously like a rocket launcher, and piles of ammo for each of those. Would a simple soldier be allowed to bring those sorts of toys back home at the end of the day? Actually, did this country’s laws allow its citizens to arm themselves to the teeth like this?
It was quite a mystery.
Maybe she’s part of the mob? Or a resistance group fighting against the nobles’ tyranny? Or maybe she’s a vigilante on a quest for revenge?
Nova let her imagination run wild as she gazed upon the book lying open in front of her, a colorful thing clearly intended for young children to learn their basic vocabulary.
Lynn was sitting next to her, turning the pages and patiently explaining to Nova how to pronounce the words, something she ought to know Nova could never replicate. Still, her older sister’s attention warmed Nova’s heart.
“See, this is a horse. H-o-r-s-e. And this is a tiger. T-i-g-e-r. It looks cool, doesn’t it? Mister Killgore doesn’t like tigers, though, because they’d try to eat him.”
The rabbit was currently sitting behind Nova, with its arms and floppy ears draped around her, as if embracing her. It was tall enough to dwarf the one-year-old girl. Lynn had been the one to set him up in this position at the start of her impromptu lesson, for some reason. Well, Nova didn’t mind; the thing was very soft, so it was one of the things she didn’t mind being in prolonged close contact with.
“Nova, are you even listening to me?”
Nova’s focus quickly shifted back to her older sister, who was looking at her with suspicion in her eyes. She quickly nodded to show that she was, in point of fact, listening to her, then clumsily took the blunt crayon Lynn had prepared for her. With great concentration, she tried to force the capricious, undeveloped muscles of her limbs to move correctly, so that she could write on the sheet of paper laid down next to the book.
The motor control of a one-year-old wasn’t exactly anything to gush about, but Lynn still looked on with enthusiasm as the ideogram for ‘tiger’ slowly took form on the paper, crooked but still somewhat readable, if one already knew what word this was supposed to be.
This is terrible. Do I really have dexterity stats in the 80s?
Lynn seemed to disagree with Nova’s opinion, though, and happily clapped her hands. “Good job! You’re really smart, Nova. I’m going to do it too, now.”
Faster than Nova could react, Lynn had already snatched the crayon from her hands and was hard at work trying to copy the word ‘tiger’ on the same piece of paper Nova had used. Her eyes flicked back and forth between her own attempt and the model on the book she was trying her best to reproduce.
After a minute or two, Lynn straightened up and tilted her head this way and that to assess her work from different perspectives. In Nova’s opinion, it was pretty good – better than hers, at least, though it had taken Lynn longer to do it – but she wasn’t sure what level a regular child should be expected to reach at 5 years old.
“What do you think?” Lynn asked, pushing the paper under Nova’s nose.
Nova smiled inwardly, and she nodded in appreciation of Lynn’s efforts. This seemed to please the older girl, judging by the brilliant smile that lit up her face.
“Hey, Ryner!” Lynn abruptly called. “You try it, as well!”
Nova’s older brother was reading comics on the sofa, but he raised his head from his book when Lynn called him. “Try what?”
“Writing this. Look, this is Nova, and this is me. You do it, too. Write it over there. Then, we’ll ask Mommy to decide which is the best.”
“All right, give it here,” Ryner said, stretching his arm out from the couch toward the paper and the book Nova and Lynn had used.
He seemed fairly confident in his chances of victory, and Nova supposed that, at 7 years old and having already started school, the boy, gifted as he was, should be able to draw most ideograms already. Still, ‘tiger’ wasn’t exactly the simplest word in that picture book. There were many strokes and the curves were intricate. When Ryner was done, Nova could see several minor mistakes, here and there, though his performance was most definitely the best out of the three of them by a long shot.
Lynn squinted her eyes at Ryner’s version of the word ‘tiger’, but didn’t seem inclined to admit defeat. “Hmn. Well. I guess we’ll see what Mommy says.”
Without another word, she trotted out of the room and disappeared, her footsteps fading down the hallway.
In the subsequent silence, Ryner turned his gaze to Nova, looking vaguely dubious. “Did you really write that? On the paper?” She nodded. “Hmm.” Ryner let a few more moments of silence go before he continued. “You have to tell me if Lynn bothers you, okay?”
Nova obediently nodded again, and that drew a smile from her brother.
Before the ‘conversation’ could go on, however, footsteps approached from the hallway through which Lynn had disappeared. The little girl soon burst through the doorway, anticipation written all over her face. The paper she’d carried with her was gone from her hands.
# # #
Just a few steps behind Lynn, Marian entered the living room, an amused gaze sweeping over her three children.
She glanced down at the sheet of paper Lynn had brought her a minute ago, three versions of a word written onto it. The one at the very top was little more than a scribble, but the overall shape of the ideogram could still be made out. If one was looking for the word ‘tiger’ here, one would find it, but otherwise it would be difficult to decipher. The one in the middle of the sheet was a bit better, but still clumsy. The one on the bottom was fine, though not perfect.
“So, Mommy, which one is best? You have to tell the truth, all right?” Lynn said, staring up at Marian, wringing her hands as if her mother’s judgment on this matter was vitally important to her and would determine the future course of her entire life.
Behind her, Ryner was sprawled over the couch, pretending to be uninterested in Lynn’s antics, a pile of comic books rising up next to him. Nova was peacefully sitting on the floor, embraced by a rabbit plushie taller than her which, when coupled with her usual expressionless face, made for a rather comical picture.
Hmm? Wait, did Nova actually write one of these?
Marian’s eyes returned to the paper in her hands. Judging from Lynn’s behavior and her request to come here to give her opinion on which word was better written, Marian could guess at the situation.
In that case, Nova’s attempt was probably the topmost one. It was the worst of the three, of course, but wasn’t one year old still a little too young, even for this? As far as Marian remembered from her experience with Ryner and Lynn, children one year old were only starting to understand that moving the pen in their hand resulted in lines being drawn on the paper. Actually writing something, even with a model to copy, should be too difficult a task, shouldn’t it?
Well, I guess I’m just overthinking things…
Marian herself knew she was too sensitive to anything related to her youngest daughter. She just didn’t want anything wrong – or even strange – to happen to her little girl.
“Mommy? So? Which one is the best?”
“Huh? Oh.” Marian quickly remembered why she had followed Lynn in the first place. “This one,” she replied truthfully, pointing at the bottommost. Ryner had to be the one to have drawn it, and she felt she had to be fair in her assessment, if nothing else.
Lynn frowned at her mother’s words. “But… it’s not mine. Mine is that one,” she said, pointing at the ideogram in the middle.
So you just wanted me to choose yours regardless? Weren’t you the one who told me to be truthful?
Marian had to work hard to keep the smile off her lips. She examined Lynn’s work one more time. “Hmm, this one is good, as well. But look here, that stroke there should be curved this way. And that stroke is too long; it should stop just a bit to the left of this stroke instead of crossing over it.” She ruffled Lynn’s hair. “Ryner’s is more accurate. Don’t worry, though. I’m sure you’ll do just as well as him after a few days of school.”
Lynn still looked a bit depressed, but she seemingly accepted the result. Ryner looked quietly pleased with himself. Nova, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care either way and was paging through one of her brother’s comic books which she had just picked up.
Marian approached her and knelt next to her, showing her Lynn’s sheet of paper with a smile. “Nova, did you write this one?” Nova turned her gaze to the paper, then to Marian’s eyes. She nodded. Marian felt her smile widen. “You did very good. And do you know what this word means?”
This time, instead of directly answering, Nova dropped her comic book and made her way to her feet, then slowly and carefully waddled over to her own picture book, the one Marian herself had given her a few days ago. Her steps were tottering and unbalanced, but she didn’t fall. Marian followed after her, timing her steps to her daughter’s pace.
Once she had reached her picture book, Nova sat on the floor again and started gently and laboriously turning page after page, her tiny fingers struggling a bit with the precise movements necessary to do so.
Marian waited patiently, and eventually, Nova reached the page with the tiger drawn on it and pointed it out to her.
“Hahaha! That’s right. That’s the one.”
As she rubbed her daughter’s head and praised her, Marian was thinking.
She was currently on leave from work and would continue to be so until Nova turned 2 years old. She had done the same when she’d had Ryner and Lynn, as well. She felt it was important to spend their first years with her children, to take care of them personally until they were ready for a tiny bit of independence. Afterward, once she had to get back to work, the kids would spend their time in daycare while she and her husband were busy – although they both still tried to free up some of their time as much as possible.
Contrary to Ryner and Lynn however – especially Lynn – Nova wasn’t a challenging child to raise. Her inability to scream and cry out for attention when she needed to – to ask for food or a change of diaper, or more seriously, when she was sick or in pain – meant Marian had to be more careful and attentive than otherwise, but she didn’t mind that. And Nova herself did everything to help the process along. She found ways to warn Marian when she wanted something from her. She played peacefully with her siblings and didn’t get into any fights with them. And Marian and her husband stayed on top of any potential health problems with regular and exhaustive checkups in Aaron’s clinic – though there had been none of those health problems in the first place, strangely, conveniently, and fortunately enough.
Really, Nova could be described as quite mentally mature, for a baby. At any rate, Marian had no doubt that, when the time came to send Nova to daycare, she wouldn’t see a repeat of her experience with Lynn at the time – crying rivers of tears as if the world was ending.
That, at least, was wonderful news.