At Wieslaw’s unexpected question, all the fun Nova’d been having picking on Sirius earlier was instantly dispelled, like she’d been suddenly dunked in a tub of ice-cold water.
Though it wasn’t exactly the question which was unexpected, but rather its timing. Nova knew the subject would come up at one point or another. If nothing else, Aaron and Marian would want to know where Sirius’s unusual strength, which had been caught crystal-clear on camera, came from. They might not have pressed the point, yet, but Nova was sure they wouldn’t commit themselves to anything big without having some questions answered. Thus, it stood to reason that at least some part of the truth about the two boys would soon come to light.
What she hadn’t expected was that they would be the one to make the first move and try to get the truth about her. And at such a time, too, in the middle of a crowd, barely a minute and a half after greeting each other for the first time…
Fortunately, on this occasion, Nova’s mandatory expressionlessness was a blessing. Not a single inkling of the shock she felt inwardly ever made it onto her face.
The world around her slowed to a crawl as her brain went into overdrive.
That confirms it, then. Wieslaw is a reincarnator. Sirius doesn’t look surprised or confused by Wieslaw’s question. Added to his superhuman abilities, he too is one. So I’m still one step ahead. I know they are, while they merely suspect I am. Or do they? Wieslaw doesn’t look like he’s bluffing. He seems very sure. How could he be sure? Did I betray myself? Unlikely. I’ve been careful. Even if I had betrayed myself, it would have been to Sirius; I’ve never met Wieslaw before. Could Sirius have transmitted a message to Wieslaw? Possible. The bags we found in his hotel room in the capital and the communication equipment he was carrying on his person that night were returned to him afterward. But Mom and Dad must have been monitoring them. If Sirius had revealed something about me on there, my parents would have also known about it, and I would have noticed a change in their behavior. Is Wieslaw just fishing for a reaction, after all? But what does he even hope to achieve by revealing himself so openly? What’s the catch, here?
With how things had been going, Nova had imagined that the status-quo would remain solid for a long while still, with both sides slowly and carefully sounding each other out to try and expose the other without being exposed themselves. But then what was up with Wieslaw’s overly blunt approach?
I don’t think I need to worry about any immediate risk to my life. Reincarnator or not, both Sirius and Wieslaw should know what kind of reprisal they’d have to face if something happens to me. Revealing myself shouldn’t put me in direct danger, right at this moment. And they might have valuable intel about the trials, too. On the other hand, worse than powerful enemies are untrustworthy allies. Keeping my cards close to the chest when faced with unknown quantities like them would be a good idea. All right. It’s decided, then. For now, I’ll just play dumb and see how things develop.
“Are you slowing down time, right now?” Wieslaw asked with a widening grin, his voice absurdly distorted and lengthened by the spike in the processing speed of Nova’s brain. “To find some innocuous answer you can give me?”
Sirius spoke up next. “Nova, you don’t need to worry. I can solemnly swear that we hold absolutely no ill intent. We’re only curious. And prudent. The three of us aren’t the only reincarnators in this world, and some of them are… dangerous individuals.”
No shit. That’s precisely my concern, boyo. The reason I’m not sure what to do is that you two may very well be part of these ‘dangerous individuals.’
Eventually, Nova decided to go with her first idea and just play it safe. ‘What’s Earth?’ she asked, looking back and forth between Sirius and Wieslaw like she was confused at them speaking nonsense.
Wieslaw returned Nova’s gaze with a mischievous smile. “You don’t know what Earth is?” he asked.
When Nova shook her head, he laughed out loud and glanced at Sirius, sending him a small nod, as if confirming something between the two of them. Nova started to feel a little nervous. She was getting the distinct impression she was losing control of the situation.
“Nova,” Wieslaw said more soberly, “I don’t know if you’ll recall, but in the list of traits available for purchase during the reincarnation process, one of them was called ‘truth-telling.’ It cost 1200 points. It required getting perception and intuition to 100. Do you remember that trait? I acquired it.” Wieslaw paused for a beat, probably to let Nova appreciate the feeling of her own sinking heart. She did, in fact, remember that trait. Its characteristics matched those Wieslaw had just described. “I wasn’t actually sure you were a reincarnator until you answered that last question with a direct negative. But now, I am.”
While Nova cursed inwardly, she was also somewhat relieved. The trait Wieslaw referred to worked in two different ways. It allowed one to tell the truth – as in, distinguish it from lies – and also to tell the truth – as in, speak the truth in such a way that people noticed it was the truth. This latter feature would make the next steps a lot simpler.
Nova reached for her bracer again to continue the conversation, when it suddenly occurred to her that this thing constantly recorded everything that happened to her. Additionally, as a security measure, it was impossible to deactivate this recording – or even just mute the audio – from the bracer itself.
And Wieslaw had already spoken aloud his guess that Nova was a reincarnator and could slow down time…
Fuuuuuuuuck. Mom and Dad shouldn’t be watching right now. They respect my privacy. But if they ever have cause to view the records, or if one of dad’s AIs flags it for them, I’ll be in deep shit.
Nova would have to physically go to the server and delete the files by hand. This would still look quite suspicious, since she’d never had cause to do that before, but it was better than leaving something so incriminating in there. If asked for a reason, Nova would just have to say that she forgot to remove her bracer before masturbating or something like that, and she didn’t want this shameful scene on the server. This was still a pretty faulty explanation, since Nova never bothered to remove her bracer when she played with herself – on the contrary, she found it rather exciting to know she was being filmed, even if no audience would likely ever watch it – and she’d never gone to manually remove the evidence afterward. But that was fine. All she needed was plausible deniability.
Still, better be careful from here on out.
‘Speak the truth,’ she said to Wieslaw in English, a language no one on this planet but a reincarnator would understand.
The English spoken by her bracer was kind of broken, with the accents on the wrong syllables and weird pauses here and there. That made it a little difficult to understand, but there wasn’t much Nova could do about it. She couldn’t speak it herself, and there existed no voice samples from that language that her father might have used as a reference when programming the bracer. Still, the voice synthesis software could speak Ethilonian, and Ethilonian’s acoustics were passably similar to English, so Nova made do with that.
Both Wieslaw and Sirius grinned upon hearing English from Nova, like they’d met a fellow member of their home village while visiting a foreign country.
Wieslaw nodded repeatedly, understanding her request and happy to oblige. “We wish you no harm at all,” he said in English too, his voice sounding normal to Nova’s ears, but resonating like a clear bell inside her mind, dyed with the tint of undeniable truth. “We want to learn more about you and come to an understanding, so we can coexist peacefully without having to be on guard against each other.” Seeing that Nova still hesitated, Wieslaw continued gently, his hands in the air, palms out, like he was trying to soothe a spooked animal. “Let’s at least talk. I can’t lie to you; you can’t lie to me. Neither of us is going to lose anything through this. If you don’t feel comfortable answering any one of our questions, just stay silent. We won’t force anything out of you. It’s not an interrogation.”
Nova stared at Sirius.
Understanding the meaning of her gaze, Wieslaw shrugged and said, “I can vouch for Sirius’s… thick moral fiber. He may not be able to Tell the Truth like I can, but he’d probably put the both of us to shame in the righteousness department anyway.”
Hearing that, Sirius scowled at his friend. “You make it sound like I’m some self-important goody-two-shoes who couldn’t compromise if his life depended on it.”
Wieslaw pursed his lips in thought, then quickly nodded. “Yes. That’s what I’m saying. Well, perhaps not the ‘self-important’ part, but the rest is right on point.” He then proceeded to ignore Sirius’s continued disapproval and turned back to Nova. “Do you mind if we have this talk before I meet your parents? Like, right now?”
Nova agreed. She didn’t want these two to blow her cover. She had to make it clear right now that she wouldn’t allow them to disturb her peaceful life by somehow ratting her out to her family.
She pointed toward the opposite end of the terminal, where an overpriced coffee shop looked to be fleecing tourists out of their holiday budget, and the group quickly relocated. They gathered even more attention from passersby now that Wieslaw had joined them. He was approximately as attractive as Sirius, though in a rather different way. Where Sirius was the rough-around-the-edges handsome jock type, Wieslaw was more the intellectual, indolent pretty boy type. Also unlike Sirius, Wieslaw didn’t seem affected at all about the stares he was receiving. He even returned bright smiles and cheery waves to a few of the girls he crossed, to noticeable effect. He seemed a more difficult opponent than Sirius, however, so Nova refrained from teasing him about it; he looked like the kind of guy who’d turn everything she said right back on her.
Inside the coffee shop, the three settled at a table in the corner, out of the way of the other patrons, and ordered a few drinks to wet the tongues that would soon engage in conversational jousting. Sirius, gentleman that he was, offered to pay for Nova’s drinks. He was gently rebuffed with the argument that Nova carried enough pocket change on her person at the moment to buy a soda can.
She carried enough to buy the coffee shop itself, too.
And the airport.
The awkward look on his face when Nova told him as such was so glorious as to make Wieslaw burst in laughter, and Nova would undoubtedly have followed suit if she could’ve.
Eventually, once everyone was comfortably settled, they got down to business.
“You can ask whatever questions you have first,” Sirius cut in when Wieslaw seemed like he’d start talking. “Since we essentially forced you into this, it’s the least of courtesies. Right, Wieslaw?”
Wieslaw didn’t hesitate long before assenting.
Nova readily took the offer as well, and after pondering a few moments as she idly sucked on her straw, she asked, still in English, ‘How did you discover I reincarnated?’
This was a vital first step. If she had somehow betrayed herself, she needed to correct that as soon as possible, so that it wouldn’t happen again in the future.
Wieslaw blew on his cup of tea, took a small sip, and once he had collected his thoughts, started to explain. “As I told you earlier, we weren’t sure of anything until a minute ago. We simply believed there was a good chance you were a reincarnator. As for the reason why we suspected you, well, I’d say you’re simply… too outstanding to be an average person, I suppose. And too secretive and careful to be an average teenager. Which means, either you were drawing on the wisdom of your past life or on the stats and traits of your reincarnation.”
Nova blinked. ‘Family. Wealth. Training.’
“Of course, I’m not discounting the influence of the resources available to you, but that you could use these resources with such efficiency, to achieve what you have in so little time, is unrealistic,” Wieslaw said and leaned forward to accentuate his point. “You’re only 15 years old. Would you expect even a ridiculously precocious and talented 15-year-old to be as outstanding as you are? You’re a musician, a dancer, a soldier, a driver… And those are only the ones I’m aware of. And such an outstanding individual also coincidentally happens to be a world-class beauty on top of it all? Now, that’s just pushing it. Perhaps if one didn’t know about reincarnation, one could just accept it as simple chance, but when there is such a convenient explanation waiting on the side, isn’t it natural to put some stock in it?”
“Even if we’d been wrong,” Sirius continued quietly, “we could have just pretended that all this reincarnation business was just us… role-playing as a game or something. After all, we are children. It would have been a little embarrassing, but that is all.”
Nova ruminated on that for a while before asking her next question. ‘Told your parents? Anyone?’
Wieslaw nodded. “My mother knows I’m a reincarnator. On that point, my truth-telling gives me an advantage over you guys. I can make people believe even outlandish things, as long as they happen to be true. Telling her about my situation wasn’t difficult.”
Nova gave Sirius and interrogative glance, and he replied with more hesitation. “My father knows. I didn’t tell him on my own initiative. He discovered my abilities by accident. Afterward, when he confronted me about them, I ended up explaining it as best I could. My mother and little sister shouldn’t know, though.”
“What about you?” Wieslaw asked in return. “Did you tell your family?”
Nova didn’t answer for a long time. Instead, she tried to imagine the reaction of Wieslaw’s mother when her son suddenly told her, in that voice that positively rung of truth, that he was an adult man with a mental age higher than even her own. Did she ever breastfeed him, when he was a baby? What kind of thoughts went through her head when she remembered all the times she did that? Or all the times she changed his diaper or took a bath with him? Was she embarrassed? Ashamed? Did she feel like she’d been taken advantage of? Did she find it creepy? Did the memories of watching her son grow up become awkward or disturbing to recall? Did she feel uncomfortable when she looked at her son? Did she ever wonder if, well, he was even genuinely her son? Hadn’t he spent most of his time alive as someone else’s son, after all? He might be hers now, but in his heart of hearts, didn’t he only see her as a replacement for his real parents, those from his life on Earth?
Nova didn’t feel guilty for not telling her own family the truth about herself. At all. Quite the contrary, in fact. To her, it was a kindness to keep that secret buried.
Nova had never had kids of her own, of course, and she never would, even in this life. She didn’t even like kids, in general. But as far as she saw it, one of the few good points about having kids was that this cute, innocent little critter would sometimes do cute, innocent things around you. And if you were lucky, you might take a picture of that at the right moment. And you’d laugh about it and remember the good times, once your child grew up and you stumbled upon that old photo twenty years later, and you’d tease them about it, and everyone would have fun and be happy.
All those moments would be ruined if that cute, innocent little critter suddenly revealed himself to be a fifty-something motherfucker. All those moments would all of a sudden become intensely disgusting.
Which was why Nova had always endeavored to act cute, in a manner appropriate for her apparent age. She couldn’t make funny faces, of course, but that fact itself could be made into something funny. A little girl, looking all serious, doing something goofy and making poses before the camera. Good stuff.
Though ‘act’ wasn’t the right word, either. Because it implied it was only a performance, a fake, a mask. But Nova had had a lot of fun doing this. She’d had a lot of fun growing up, and she was convinced her family had had a lot of fun watching her grow up too. There was nothing fake about any of that.
Telling the truth was all well and good, but if this truth damaged Nova’s happiness, damaged her family’s happiness, then it wasn’t worth telling. She might as well substitute it for another truth.
She was Nova.
She was not that pointless, worthless man from the planet called Earth, whose name she’d buried somewhere in the confines of her perfect memory. That piece of shit was long dead. And good riddance, too. He just plain didn’t exist anymore.
As for anyone who tried to convince her family otherwise…
‘No. I didn’t tell,’ Nova said finally.
Then she looked up into Wieslaw’s eyes as her fingers flew across her keyboard, forming a perfect, coherent, sincere sentence. A sentence worthy of her conviction, whose absolute truth Wieslaw would be able to feel right down to his fucking bones, thanks to that convenient trait of his.
‘If you tell the truth to my family, I will beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot.’