After getting her breathing back under control, Nova left her running shoes on the rack in the entry hall and headed downstairs. The gym in the basement was well-equipped – and well-ventilated, despite being underground. It had everything she might ever need to whip herself into tip-top shape and keep herself there. It even had a treadmill, actually, but Nova only used it when it was raining too much to go out. Otherwise, she preferred to run in the streets, despite the additional need for shoes.
Ignoring all the tools, Nova walked to the shallow mat in the center of the room and started stretching like she had been taught to do when she was young and had practiced dancing and gymnastics.
Flexibility was set at… 85.
Nova didn’t regret investing the points she had into this stat. It made her body quite easy to use, and quite hard to injure. Even with the rigorous amount of exercise she put herself through, the last time she’d pulled a muscle or twisted something she shouldn’t have twisted was more than 4 years ago. Even while training aikido, which kind of focused on putting pressure on people’s joints to immobilize them, she’d never had the slightest of problems on that front.
She moved from one position to the next with deliberate slowness. Each motion was smooth, fluid, graceful, precise, sparing.
It was almost midday when Nova’s workout ended. She straightened and stood at rest with her eyes closed for a moment, letting out a long breath and allowing her muscles to completely relax.
Her body was sticky with sweat, so she headed upstairs to take a shower, untying her hair and stripping off her clothes along the way. Technically, her ‘clean body’ trait would have handled that on its own, but taking a shower was faster and helped her relax.
That trait is the strangest of all of them. It’s benign and inexpensive, yet it’s the only one of the lot that’s blatantly supernatural. All the others can be explained by subtle changes in the way my body was built at birth, but how on earth does it make sense that I can always stay clean? I don’t need to brush my teeth. I don’t need to shower. I can even wade through a swamp and end up spotless an hour later. Does my body secrete some kind of filth-destroying, invisible substance or something?
More than that, it was also the only trait that was controllable. Nova had discovered this after the first time her parents found her with a perfectly clean diaper, early in her new life. Once could be left as an unexplained, mysterious occurrence, but more than that would raise eyebrows and invite potentially dangerous investigation. Nova had thus tried to will her trait into becoming less effective – and that had worked perfectly well. Afterwards, spurred on by the unexpected success, she’d tried the opposite; to make the trait more effective. Here too, she had imposed her will. The trait had started considering all body hair as something to be removed and had done so unfailingly ever since. In a way, this was very convenient, as it turned Nova’s beauty into something that didn’t require the least bit of maintenance, but on the other hand, it was also a little bit scary. Could the trait be convinced that her skin itself was something ‘unclean’? Would the trait flay her alive if it did?
Well, I can’t imagine what would lead me into trying that out. Getting too drunk for my own good, maybe. Or doing the wrong kinds of drugs… But what if I get a tattoo? Tattoos are ink, right? I know from my experience learning calligraphy that spilled ink on my fingers will be cleaned up by the trait, but what about the ink from a tattoo? It’s a harmless matter for a tattoo to disappear, but if the whole patch of skin is removed… Ugh. The more I think about this, the more this trait strikes me as awfully dangerous. Why weren’t there more explanations about it? And why was it so cheap? Was it some kind of trap?
Stuffing her sweat-stained clothes into the washing machine in the laundry room, next door over from the basement’s, Nova tried to come up with safe experiments as she headed up the stairs to her room, then through the side door to the bathroom attached to it.
Nova took her time in the shower, using the opportunity to scrub her bracer clean as well – being one of Aaron’s creations, the thing was of course waterproof. In fact, it was probably everything-proof; she should be able to use it to survive a point-blank nuclear explosion.
When she returned to her room, wearing nothing but a damp towel slung across her shoulders, Lynn was there, apparently waiting for her, sitting cross-legged on Nova’s bed. Her back was propped against the flank of a huge white tiger plushie lying on its belly behind her and taking a full half of the bed.
Upon seeing Nova enter the room in the nude, Lynn couldn’t prevent a blush from creeping up her cheeks. She pointedly averted her eyes from the scenery in front of her, but her gaze unconsciously drifted away from her attempts to control it. To Nova, Lynn looked like a little kid covering her eyes with her hands but still unable to bear the temptation to peek through the gaps between her fingers. It was funny how childish it made her look.
Well, that’ll teach her to sneak into my room like this. I wonder how Ryner would have reacted, in her place. That might be something worth watching. Though he’s more careful than Lynn about this sort of thing, so I suppose it’s not likely to happen to him.
Despite her embarrassment, Lynn tried her best to act casual. “Ahem. Hey, Nova. Um, hi. I wanted to talk to you for a minute.”
Nova hadn’t expected any visitors and had left her bracer in the bathroom, so she simply raised a hand in greeting then made a small ‘go-ahead’ spinning motion to invite Lynn to speak, before walking toward her dresser to pick some clean clothes. Her long black hair sprinkled droplets of water over the linoleum floor along the way, but the warm noontime sun would dry them by itself before Nova had to do it.
Wait. What if I decide that water is ‘unclean’ in an attempt to dry off my own body? Will I be turned into a mummy as all the moisture inside me disappears? Shiiiiit! Dangerous, dangerous, dangerous! God-thing, I want a refund on this trait! Help!
No response came, obviously, so Nova vehemently cast off those thoughts before she freaked herself out too much. She took a simple black shirt from the dresser, then a skirt of the same color. Neither of them were actually silk, but a synthetic substitute that was fortunately just as soft and comfortable – and a lot cheaper.
As she put on her clothes, Nova heard a short sigh coming from behind her. She glanced back over her shoulder to see Lynn staring at her with her arms crossed over her chest and an eyebrow cocked in imperious disapproval.
“Isn’t that skirt a bit short to wear it without underwear?”
Nova shrugged at her sister’s concerns. She cared a lot less about being seen by anyone than about spending the entire day with fabric, no matter how soft, rubbing so closely against one of the most sensitive parts of her anatomy. The same reasoning applied to wearing a bra. She had to unfortunately change that policy during any physical training she might engage in, for pure convenience, but that didn’t mean that she liked it.
Or at least, that was the official version. Perhaps, the truth of the matter was simply that getting a shiny new body she herself found so attractive had given Nova some slight exhibitionist streak.
Would this be self-fanservice? Fanservice where the person doing the fanservice is actually the fan being serviced? I wonder if being excited by my own self makes me a pervert. A narcissist, certainly… But it’s also true underwear is uncomfortable. And it’s not like it’s going to bother anybody, anyway.
Buttoning up her shirt, Nova walked to her computer and after a few seconds of clicking and typing, a more verbose response than the shrug she’d given rang out from the speakers set into the walls of the room.
‘Wanted to talk?’
The voice was different from the one her bracer used. It was still robotic-sounding, but distinctly masculine, whereas the bracer’s was more androgynous. It matched Nova’s appearance even less than the bracer’s.
Lynn sighed again at her remonstrance being brushed off, but didn’t make an issue of it. At least, it looked like the small dialogue had rid her of her embarrassment – though Nova putting some clothes on might have helped, too. “I heard from Mom that you asked her to train you. Is that true?”
“Are you sure that’s wise? Aren’t you too… young?” Lynn frowned and shook her head, hesitating with her words. “W–What I mean to say is, what if you get hurt?”
Nova titled her head at her sister’s question and typed a few more words on her computer’s keyboard.
‘Then, I heal.’
Lynn shook her head again, frustration appearing on her face. “Shouldn’t you not get hurt in the first place? Couldn’t you do something less dangerous with your time? For example, you’ve never gone to school; are you sure you don’t want to try it? I think you’d like it.”
Nova shook her head.
There was no way she would willingly go to school. Not only was it a terribly inefficient education method, considering her abilities, Nova also held the view that schools were fucking jungles where immature brats made the whole thing terrible for themselves by engaging in series of meaningless pissing contests with each other, where the loser – the unpopular – would be mercilessly tortured for the amusement of the others. Certainly, Nova readily acknowledged that her personal experiences back on Earth during her past life might have colored her opinions somewhat, but even accounting for her own biases and bitterness, she still had very little good to say about it all and even less intentions to go through it again.
I hear Altera’s got a good education system, but little shits will be little shits no matter what world they live in.
“Even if you don’t go to school, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go train with Mom’s troops.”
“Because you’re a wuss,” Lynn replied immediately, but the smile on her face took most of the bite out of the insult. “Or should I say that you’re the quintessential sheltered princess? You’re more of a sheltered princess than Delia, and she’s an actual princess, so that’s saying something.”
If she could have frowned, Nova definitely would have.
‘Not sheltered. You are sheltered. Your face is sheltered.’
Lynn only snorted at this powerful repartee. “Really?” She started ticking off fingers with each sentence. “You’ve never gone to school. You’ve never participated in any sort of club or organization. You’ve always had private tutors. You don’t have any friends. You barely even have any acquaintances. You couldn’t be more sheltered from the outside world if you lived on a space station.”
‘Music competition. Capital. Last year.’
“Are you joking? I was there to watch, if you’ll remember. And you didn’t interact with anybody at all. You came, played that crazy-fast piece with your back to the audience, grabbed your trophy, and left. Where in that did you ever leave your own little bubble? You didn’t even… Wait, wait, we’re drifting off subject, here.” Lynn held up her hand, then waved it as if to clear the air of their previous words. “You’re right; ‘sheltered’ perhaps wasn’t the right word in this context. But ‘wuss’ definitely was. You’ve lived your whole life in the height of luxury and comfort. What exactly makes you think you’ll take to the life of a soldier?”
Necessity, was the correct answer. Better to suffer a little now than to die like an idiot during the trials. But that wasn’t an answer Nova could share with Lynn.
‘Only trying. If too hard, then quit.’
Hopefully, her flawless pokerface would help her convince her sister of the truth of that statement.
Lynn’s eyebrows twitched in the beginning of a frown. “Really?” she asked with suspicion. “As much of a wuss as you are, I’ve never actually seen you give up even a single one of your… hobbies… after you started with them. I’m kinda worried you’ll stick with this one, as well, even if it puts you in danger.”
‘No danger. Mom will make sure.’
That did seem to mollify Lynn’s worries, somewhat. “Well… That is true, but…” She brought a hand up to her mouth, playing with and tugging on her own lips as she thought. “Hmm… How about I do it with you? If we’re together, it’ll be safer, and I won’t be quite so worried about you doing something stupid. Or stupidly dangerous.”
Hahaha… This kid…
Nova didn’t say anything, and instead walked up to Lynn, standing in front of her and looking down at her with an impassive face as the girl sat there on her bed.
“W–What is it?”
Instead of answering, Nova suddenly reached out and rubbed Lynn’s head, ruffling her hair, like a grandma praising her granddaughter – which, considering their respective mental ages, wasn’t too far from the truth.
“Hey! What…! Stop that! Hey – Nova, stop!” Before long, Lynn caught Nova’s wrists and held them away from her own head. “What do you think you’re doing? You’re infringing on my dignity as the elder sister, here.”
Lynn was stronger by far, so Nova had no hope of escaping her sister’s grasp on her own and simply relaxed her hands. Only then did Lynn release her, the look in her eyes warning Nova not to do it again as soon as she was freed.
Nova considered trying her luck anyway, but Lynn was on the lookout, so she instead returned to her computer and plopped down into the rolling chair in front of the desk.
‘Swimming practice. Olympics.’
“Well, yes, but I can wait until next time. I mean…”
Lynn was already 17 and about to graduate from school, but instead of preparing for college, she was quite busy training in order to be part of the alteran swimming team for the next Olympics. She was in good position to succeed, too, but she would forever lose her chance if she suddenly desisted like this, without warning and for such a strange reason. People would doubt her motivation to participate. It was heartwarming that she be ready to discard her place just because she was worried for her little sister’s well-being, but Nova of course couldn’t let her do that. It would just be stupid.
She quickly typed out her words on her computer, then looked back to Lynn, shaking her head and striking her chest with a clenched fist as the words played.
‘Stop fretting. Underestimating me. I’m super strong.’
Lynn couldn’t possibly look more dubious, but there was a smile playing on the edges of her lips. “Huh-uh, reaaaaally… Well, if you’re super-duper strong, then, I guess you’ll really be fine.” She bit her lip, as if making a difficult decision, then stood up and walked to Nova. “All right, then. Don’t forget. It’s fine if you stop at any time if you don’t feel like continuing.”
Nova nodded, though she knew it wasn’t fine. Since she wasn’t made of soldiery stuff, she needed all the advantages she could get. This training was vital; it could save her life.
Nothing of Nova’s internal scruples showed on her face, obviously, and Lynn smiled happily, before quickly raising her hand and rubbing Nova’s head precisely like Nova had done to her a minute ago. Before Nova could react and reach up to block Lynn’s hand, Lynn had already stopped and retreated, a teasing smile on her lips.
“See? It’s annoying, right? Your hair is still wet, by the way. You should dry it more thoroughly.”
Laughing loudly, Lynn left the room without another word, simply waving her hand over her shoulder.
Ahem. Kids these days. No respect for their elders…
But even though Nova was still as stone-faced as ever, she was laughing foolishly inside.