“Training? You want to train with my troops?”
Nova nodded unhesitantly. She had asked Marian to come see her early in the morning and had then made that absurd request. Although it wasn’t the first such Nova had made over the years, this one might really be the worst of the lot.
“Nova, do you realize what you’re asking me? You might not have a very precise idea what that sort of training entails. Or is there one part in particular you wish to practice? Data analysis or counterintelligence or something else…?”
Marian watched with a bit of trepidation as Nova dug through a pile of papers standing on the edge of her bedroom’s desk.
Nova’s bedroom gave the false impression that it was messy, by virtue of the sheer number of different things stored within it. There were computer parts stacked over one table, next to a soldering iron and various precision work tools; two rows of potted plants in a miniature, environmentally controlled greenhouse; and several dozen different piles of books – after filling all her bookshelves to the brim, Nova had had to start leaving them directly on the floor. At least, however, her bed was neatly made, and her clothes were perfectly washed and folded in her dresser.
Nova quickly found the sheet of paper she was looking for and took a moment to scribble something at the bottom before handing it to Marian, who promptly read through it, her heart dropping lower and lower with each line.
- Outdoor survival in various environments
- Usage and maintenance of firearms
- Usage and maintenance of bladed weapons
- Martial arts
- Field medicine
- Infliction of and resistance to torture
- Driving and piloting
At the very bottom of the list, two more lines had been added by hand:
- Data analysis
Did I just give you ideas to fuel this madness of yours?
Marian dropped the list onto Nova’s desk and looked her daughter straight in the eye.
“Nova, the only reason I’m not going to start thinking you’re crazy because of this list right there, is because I started thinking you were crazy a long time ago.”
Nova’s expression didn’t flicker in the least, but the fingers of her right hand danced over the bracer wrapped around her left forearm – since it had been altered to match her size several times as she grew, it still fit snugly on her.
‘Currently laughing,’ a robotic voice said with as much passion as a particularly cold and unsympathetic prison door.
A faint smile graced Marian’s face. She had said it as a joke, of course, and Nova had taken it as such, but some time after that night, almost 10 years ago, when she and her husband had decided to try and have the girl study in Aaron’s research facility, they had discovered that their little Nova was indeed a bit crazy. She thirsted for new learning opportunities to a point dangerously close to madness. Really, they needn’t have feared that she would find nothing that would hold her interest in the various disciplines studied at the facility.
Because instead, everything had held her interest.
Absolutely anything that might be even remotely useful in someone’s life, Nova endeavored to learn, as if she was a sponge that only lived to absorb more and more knowledge each and every day and would dry up and crack if it ever stopped doing so.
Nova had indeed proven herself a most apt student. Yet, Aaron and Marian had also quickly realized, as they saw their daughter in action, so to speak, that despite it all, she was not technically a genius. At least, not in the sense they both usually meant it. Aaron was a genius. He had that combination of knowledge and creativity that consistently produced the greatest technological inventions the world had ever seen, decades ahead of his contemporaries. Nova was different. Marian’s precious daughter ‘simply’ – if such abilities could be qualified as simple – had a very, very fast mind, and a very, very good memory. However, she lacked that creative spark of intuition that made one a genius. She could calculate or memorize anything with such a contemptuous ease that most geniuses would be sent into fits of apoplectic jealousy, but actually understanding everything she committed to her incredible memory was already much more difficult for her. And then, building up on that understanding to build something brand new and revolutionary was more difficult still.
Of course, all of this they had noted purely as objective data. To both Aaron and Marian, whether Nova was a genius and whether her brain was as fast and precise as a supercomputer didn’t really matter. To them, nothing would change even if she was a perfectly normal girl going to a perfectly normal school.
Even beyond her studies at the facility, Nova had also taken up ‘pastimes’ of sorts that she would invest herself in wholeheartedly. Even before that point, she had already shown signs of this tendency with her interests in painting and drawing and calligraphy, which she didn’t give up until she was satisfied with her performance in each of them – and which, as everything else, she still kept up even now, albeit less intensively, to prevent herself from slipping out of what she had learned. But then, she took dancing and gymnastics when she was 6, the piano when she was 9, the violin when she was 10, aikido when she was 12.
And now, at 13, she wanted Marian to train her into some sort of overqualified special forces soldier.
Well, I somewhat expected she’d come to me, one day, but what the fuck is all this? This is going a bit too far, even for her.
“Sweety, why exactly do you want me to teach you how to torture people?”
“Well, not as much as you’d think, actually. And I’m a bit worried about the ethics involved in a mother teaching this stuff to her teenage daughter. I don’t think it’s altogether legal, either.”
‘Resistance to torture. Useful.’
“Ah, yes. A bit more useful. But if you think that’s going to convince me to torture my own daughter just so she can see what it’s like and get used to it, you’ve got another thing coming. In fact, I’m even less inclined to do that than to teach you how to torture other people.”
‘The rest of the list?’
Marian took another glance over the list and sighed audibly. “Nova, I’m really sorry to say this. I don’t want to discourage you, and I know discovering new things and mastering them is important to you. But going through the sort of training all of those skills would require would be very, very, VERY harsh on you. I think you know why without needing me to tell you.”
Indeed, another thing that had been made clear over the years, beyond Nova’s peculiarly powerful brain, was that she suffered from a general and rather acute sensory over-responsivity. Her eyes were sharper than those of a vast majority of people; her ears could catch the faintest of sounds; she could differentiate between smells and catch them on the wind almost like a dog. But all of that didn’t come without disadvantages. Most of her clothes and bedsheets had to be carefully selected for her to feel comfortable inside them; loud sounds could easily stun her; she was very bad with crowds; she was a rather picky eater. And worst of all, any pain seemed to be several times worse for her than for anyone else.
Firearms? I’m pretty sure she’d faint on the spot if someone so much as discharged a gun as far as a meter away from her ears. Torture? Morality aside, she’d probably want to kill herself after only a few seconds of it…
“Nova, I’ll be frank with you. You’re made for a peaceful life. You are a perfect scholar. You’re only 13 years old, but that brain of yours is already an incredible repository of all sorts of knowledge.” Marian poked her daughter’s forehead before continuing with a somewhat strained smile. “You’re a wonderful walking library. However, if you want to be a wonderful soldier …” She shook her head. “I’m afraid that won’t work out quite so well. I can teach you a few things, but some in your list… No. I won’t do it. And I forbid you from going to someone else to learn them. I don’t want my little girl to end up a traumatized cripple.”
‘Which ones good?’
“Hmm. Survival… This one’s a borderline ‘no’, but I guess we can try. We’ll do it gradually and see how you adapt. Firearms, no way. You know your ears don’t react so well to loud bangs. Bladed weapons. I guess we can try that, too, if we’re careful. Martial arts… I assume you mean that as in ‘killing people with your bare hands’?” Nova nodded without hesitation. “Yeah, well, I suppose we can try that, as well. Stealth and espionage are perfectly fine. Torture. As I said, I’m not even going to touch that one with a kilometer-long pole. The rest is perfectly fine also. Is that all right with you?”
There was a few seconds of silence. Marian could see the conflict raging in Nova’s bright green eyes.
Gah! This girl! Haaa… All right, calm down. Compromise is good enough. At least, she’s not negotiating for a more thorough torture curriculum.
Marian sighed again. She was pretty sure that if she refused Nova’s proposal, her order to not go looking for another teacher would be promptly ignored.
“Fine. We can go through firearm training with properly silenced weapons – which probably won’t do quite as much good as you seem to believe, for some of them, but I suppose it’s better than nothing. And ear protection, too. Always. But you’re not learning torture. Not from me, not from anyone else. If you try, I’ll break both your legs and keep you confined in a cupboard in the house, got it?”
Marian sighed yet again, though this time in relief. “Good. Then. I don’t have any sort of operation planned for quite a while, actually, so I think we can take this opportunity to start with the less onerous stuff as soon as possible. What do you think?”
“Excellent. And at least, you’re keeping yourself in shape, so we won’t need to work too much on that. That’ll win us a lot of time.”
Marian couldn’t help but glance up and down at Nova’s current ‘outfit’. It was still early morning, and like pretty much every day, Nova would go and run a few kilometers before returning to the house. Marian definitely approved of the practice, but she wished her daughter wore more to do it than a sports bra and a pair of skin-tight shorts, especially considering her looks. Still, allowances had to be made for her circumstances.
If Nova runs with a heavy parka constantly rubbing against her skin, I guess that might count as torture, for her. She could try that and consider it the acclimation training she was hoping for.
In any case, no matter how revealing her clothing, Nova was safe, if nothing else because two of Marian’s subordinates – who, in point of fact, possessed most of the skills written down in Nova’s wishlist – were secretly escorting the girl everywhere she went.
“Okay. Be careful on the road.”
Nova bobbed her head and waved her hand, then left the room, tying her hair in a loose ponytail as she went down the stairs to the first floor.
# # #
The rhythmic sound of her footsteps beat in tandem with the rhythmic sound of her breathing as it started to become labored, going into her 8th kilometer – judging by her bracer, which her father had improved with such convenient tracking features after she started exercising regularly. There were also readouts of her vitals, and a map of her position, updated in real-time, in case she actually got lost along the way.
Nova tried to run around 10 kilometers every single day, because she had it on good authority that this, along with a few other exercises, was the best way to become the strongest person in the universe. This was all in an attempt to improve on the strength stats she had sacrificed when she’d rolled the character sheet for this body, a long time ago.
I say ‘sacrificed’, but they’re still double of what I had during my past life. I was kind of a weakling, admittedly, but twice the strength of a weakling is already plenty good. It’s just that those stats pale a little in comparison to all the others.
Fortunately, no matter how low they were, Nova could remember the god-thing telling her that those stats were nothing more than a baseline, and that it was entirely possible to improve or spoil them, depending on how she led her life.
So, she had decided to make some efforts.
Running seemed the most obvious. Running was important. Running, as in running away. One of the most vital tactics known to mankind, and one she had no doubt she would have to use with great skill and proficiency if she wanted to pass the trials waiting for her on the horizon.
24 years old. Already more than halfway there. Time flies so fast… I’ve still barely even done anything, yet.
More than 13 years had already passed since she had rolled her new character sheet and started this ‘new game plus’. Only after arriving in this world for some time had Nova realized she may have committed a few mistakes in the choices she’d made at that time.
God-thing was right. 94 points was way too much.
At her current age, Nova was in the process of shedding the generic cuteness of young children for her more personal brand of beauty. Her body had yet to completely mature, of course, but it was already abundantly clear to anyone who cared to look that Nova was well on her way to becoming someone with such a flawless appearance that it wouldn’t be too surprising if wars were fought over her. Sometimes, when looking at herself in a mirror, she even questioned, quite embarrassingly, whether a human could actually be this pretty.
Maybe I’ll really need to buy a mask, like the god-thing advised…
There were also more immediately practical issues involved with Nova’s current body. Namely, her breasts. The situation had still been acceptable when she had been an undeveloped child, but now, they were starting to get in the way.
It’s a trade-off, I suppose. I lose something dangling between my legs; I gain two somethings bouncing in front of my torso.
Well, none of this stuff was such a terrible problem. More of an annoyance than anything else, really. And despite it all, Nova couldn’t deny she liked her own appearance very much.
No, the greatest issue Nova faced was that Marian was correct. Her stats and traits made her ideally fit to be a scholar, but not so fit to be a soldier. And worryingly, from what the god-thing had implied, the trials wouldn’t be of the peaceful variety. When you needed to be reassured that the place you’d be sent to wouldn’t be a death trap where you were supposed to die, it sure didn’t presage anything good.
Nova loved her perfect memory just as much as she’d expected upon choosing it at the time, but maybe she should have selected the wolverine-like regeneration or the hulk-like strength instead. Those didn’t match her personality quite as nicely – and had been more expensive, to boot – but on the other hand, they would also have been more directly useful to ensure her continued survival.
Still, it wasn’t all that bad. Her situation wasn’t desperate, by any means. Her mother underestimated Nova’s toughness. After all, her healing factor stat was in the 90s. As long as she didn’t die on the spot, she could take a lot of punishment and recover from it without any sequela. Additionally, her willpower stat was also high. Beyond just helping her to remain focused and never skip out on her training – despite sometimes finding it little more than a tedious chore – if Nova put her mind to it, she could also bear with pain and discomfort and act as if they weren’t there to distract her. This was definitely a great advantage.
Well, I’ll just have to do the best I can with what I’ve got. Which… kind of sounds whiny, now that I think about it, coming from the beautiful, rich, privileged, borderline superhuman girl who was born with a diamond-encrusted golden spoon in her mouth.
As her thoughts roiled restlessly inside her head, Nova completed her morning jog without incident and reached the end of the looping circuit that brought her back home.