Education in Altera started at around 6 or 7 years old. Before that, a vast majority of children were placed in public, well-funded, well-staffed, well-equipped daycares. The amount of money invested into these facilities was rather impressive. Nova could see that this country cared about its children. Despite her distrust for monarchies, which at their core supported systematic discrimination based on which family one was born in, she couldn’t help but admit that this, at least, was a good sign for the health of this nation.
Incidentally, since her mother had returned to work, being picked up in front of their house by a black car with tinted and bulletproof windows driven by a bald man who looked like some kind of special forces soldier, Nova had also been sent to the same daycare as her older siblings before her.
As for Ryner and Lynn, both of them had already started with school itself, so they now spent a bit less time together. It was a shame, Nova felt. She was never bored with Lynn around – although perhaps she should say that, sometimes, she wished she’d been a bit more bored – and while Ryner wasn’t as exuberant or talkative, he was still very good company. He always took good care of his siblings, and he was never impatient with them, something indeed quite impressive, with someone like Lynn as a sister.
Nova could remember considering the option to keep her emotional distance from her family, when she’d just arrived to this world, in order to not feel any grief when she had to leave them to take part in her trials.
Now, that option was gone.
It had disappeared at some vague, unknown point in the past three years, as she lived with Marian and Aaron and Ryner and Lynn. Now, she couldn’t even consider distancing herself. She cared too much. It worried her, when she tried to imagine how she would cope, after her 24th birthday, but at least, the years before then would be as happy as possible.
It was strange, as well. In her old life, Nova hadn’t had any family to speak of. No close friends or significant other, either. Basically, she had been a loner and fine with it.
Is it because I’ve turned back into a child? Has it become easier for me to become emotionally dependent on the people close to me?
Currently, Nova was sitting in a miniature chair in front of a miniature table within a classroom of sorts. The other children were milling about around her, talking and playing in groups, spending their time with the various toys available to them. As for Nova herself, she picked from pencils and crayons stacked together in a cylindrical case to draw a picture on a wide sheet of paper. She had been working on this picture since the start of the week, and it was starting to take form.
In her old life, Nova had never been anything like an artist, but she’d taken it up in this one, as a way to train the dexterity of her hands. She was, after all, still only 3 years old. Too young to start proper training of any kind, she instead worked on improving her control over her own body in various ways. This one was as good as any.
More than simply dexterity, drawing also trained her willpower, as well. Nova couldn’t have imagined her old self spending days on end on a single drawing, improving it little by little. She would have lost patience after half an hour and gone back to the computer she’d spent all her life stuck to. Yet now, she was still adding touches of color here and there, erasing lines she felt were not as good as she wanted, adding shading in parts where it lacked. Yes, her patience had definitely improved a lot since she had been reborn.
My willpower is set to a bit less than 90, but that still brings it to more than twice as much as what I started out with. The effects aren’t as immediately obvious as my maxed-out intelligence stats’, but it’s definitely helping.
Finally, she leaned back into her seat and examined her own work. The quintessential child’s drawing. Her family and house under a sunny sky. Except this particular rendition was vastly more realistic than what would be expected of a 3-year-old.
Did I go too far? I wouldn’t want to get scouted into an art school or something like that… That would put a dent in my plans.
This was still far from being worthy of being called a piece of art, but it would definitely raise eyebrows if people learned that a little kid had drawn it. Still, Nova didn’t want to simply destroy it. She had spent nearly a week working on it, after all. And a week was a lot of time. It would be a shame to discard something she had put so much effort into.
Immediately, the decision was taken out of her hands altogether.
“Oh, Nova. Did you finish your drawing?”
One of the staff approached. It was a matronly woman, slightly overweight, wearing a long dress and a shawl of a color that brought out the amber of her eyes quite strikingly. Her name was Ingrid Astia, and she was the one in overall charge of this daycare. Nova had caught conversations between the adults implying that she was actually a fairly highborn noble. She couldn’t help but wonder why such a person would be working in this kind of place. She might have suspected nefarious motives – like indoctrination of children, or looking for future elements who might disturb the balance of the noble houses and eliminating them beforehand – but everything she’d seen so far only demonstrated that Ingrid genuinely cared about the children left to her responsibility. The children themselves might not return the sentiment, though, as the woman was strict to a fault against misbehaving rascals. Still, someone with the proper mental maturity would be able to look past this and see her supportive attitude and encouragement of the children’s development. She truly seemed to have only their best interests at heart.
Case in point, Nova, who never needed any sort of disciplining and was consistently well-behaved, had never run into any problems with her. Quite the contrary, actually.
Nova turned to Ingrid, tucking her shoulder-length black hair behind her ear, and nodded.
Ingrid smiled and looked over Nova’s shoulder, her eyes sparkling with curiosity and interest. “It looks very good. That’s your family, right?” Nova nodded again. “Would you like me to put it up on the wall, so that the other children can also see it?”
After a short hesitation, Nova shook her head. Showing off was all well and good, but it would bring more trouble than it was worth. She was already a bit uncomfortable with having been found out by Ingrid – though there had been little she could have done to prevent it – so it wouldn’t do to worsen the situation any further.
“As you wish, then. I’m not going to force you. Are you going to draw a new one, now?”
Nova pondered for a minute, gazing upon her completed drawing, before eventually shaking her head. She instead bent down to retrieve a tablet from the bag propped up against the foot of the table. She booted it up and, after a few touches here and there, opened the file she needed. She turned the tablet around to show to Ingrid the cover of the digitized book she’d called up.
The middle-aged woman’s brows rose up in surprise. “Calligraphy? You want to practice calligraphy?”
Since she had no other way to communicate, Nova figured she would be writing a lot, in this life. In that case, it made sense to learn to do it as well as possible. Never again would she lose a competition on who wrote the better looking word. The next ‘tiger’ she wrote would be a timeless and legendary artwork that would resonate throughout history in echoes of wondrous, titanic skill.
…When did I become so childish that I can’t take a single loss? Lynn must have had a bad influence on me.
“I see. Yes, that’s a good idea,” Ingrid said, nodding to herself. “Do you want me to find ink and a brush for you? We should have some of those, somewhere around here.”
This time, Nova didn’t directly answer, but reached for the small storage space tucked underneath the desktop, where she pawed blindly for the notepad she always kept near at hand. She found it quickly and brought it out, also grabbing one of the pencils she’d used in her drawing.
After a minute or two of careful writing, she spun the notepad around to show Ingrid what she had written.
‘Not yet. First, read the book.’
Ingrid blinked, as if she hadn’t been expecting that. She took the tablet Nova had produced and started scrolling through the book, her expression growing bemused. “Did your parents give this to you? Isn’t it going to be a bit too difficult for you? There aren’t many pictures in it, you know?”
Nova just shrugged at that. When Marian had checked on the internet – Nova herself wasn’t allowed to do so, on account of her age – she’d found that this book had the best reviews when it came to teaching calligraphy, so it was the one they’d ended up buying. And while Nova hadn’t had time to peruse it just yet, she doubted it would strain her grasp of the alteran language. As for mastering its contents, she had enough time to spend on that endeavor to achieve proper results, in due time – though it would probably take a while.
“All right, then. Good luck. I’ll just keep the ink and brush ready for when you need them, okay? Call for me if you need anything else.”
With one more nod from Nova, Ingrid took her leave to go and take care of the other children.
# # #
Once her son had become competent enough and she had handed off all her responsibilities to him, Ingrid Astia had come to Saltwell, away from the capital, to retire. She’d chosen this city first because the Storm family lived there and Ingrid shared a long-standing friendship with them, and second because, well, it was a fine city in and of itself. Eventually, Ingrid ended up working in the local daycare. It might seem like quite a step down from her previous position of power, but Altera was a country famous for its exemplary education system. Working within it, no matter at which level, was prestigious enough.
Apart from some hardline nobles who still preferred to grow their flowers inside their own controlled greenhouses, so to speak, most parents chose to send their kids into daycare, as advised by the government. It allowed children to expand their horizons and get used to social interactions with other people. It made them more open and tolerant and curious.
Of course, there were a few oddballs, here and there, but those made it all the more fun.
Ingrid’s gaze unknowingly wandered back to the little girl sitting alone in front of her small table, rolling her drawn picture into a cylinder and carefully storing it into her backpack. She was wearing a white, one-piece dress that contrasted with her jet-black hair. Her eyes were a deep and brilliant green the likes of which Ingrid had never seen on anyone else. Still, at that age, all children were all almost equally beautiful, so appearance-wise, there was not much to differentiate this little girl from the others playing rowdily around the room.
It was her behavior that set her apart. Regardless of the outstanding ability and intelligence she clearly displayed with each activity she took up, the most noticeable thing about Nova was that she had started coming to this place almost a year ago yet still had to make even a single friend among the other children. She kept to herself and seldom took the initiative to converse with anyone. She mostly let other people come to her if they wanted something, and otherwise left them alone and ignored them. Even now, while the other children were milling noisily around her, she showed absolutely no interest in any of them and was peacefully doing her own thing. It was strange for such a young child to be so unconcerned with and detached from her peers.
It might be a result of her peculiar circumstances, which her parents had already explained to Ingrid when they had first brought Nova to her, though Nova herself didn’t seem to care much about her own handicap. Although, it just might be that she simply couldn’t show that she cared. After all, the very nature of her disability made it so that she couldn’t display any of her emotions. If she was sad or angry or frustrated, nothing of it would show on her face.
All in all, the little girl felt too mature, poised, reserved, and independent for a 3-year-old child.
If Nova’s parents had been anyone else, Ingrid might have even suspected the child to be a victim of abuse, but she knew that Aaron and Marian would sooner start a war than see one of their children hurt in any way. Past experience had already quite explicitly proven that particular fact beyond a shadow of a doubt.
No, perhaps, the girl was simply the way she was because of her unusually high intelligence.
After seeing her almost every day for the past year, Ingrid had no doubt Nova was a genius – at least in some measure – and she knew such people could feel disconnected from the world around them. Her own grandson was the same, as well, although Nova’s precociousness seemed to even trump his.
Perhaps, she could try to introduce the two of them, in the future, to give them at least one partner in the same generation as theirs who they could consider an equal…