*beep, beep, beep, beep*
Yuri woke up to the strident sound of her alarm clock and blearily slapped her hand against the switch on top to turn it off. She crawled out of the covers, and by the time she was on her feet, all traces of sleep had already disappeared from her face.
Her bedroom was small and stark, only decorated with a few pinned pictures of her husband and son on the full-height mirror on the wall, but simply the fact that she had it to herself made up for everything else. Compared to her days in the alteran army, where she shared a room with a dozen other recruits, Viper Nest’s accommodations were positively luxurious.
The pay, the gear, and the company were much better, too. Hiring herself was one of the best decisions she’d made in her life.
Oh, I should wake up the kid. The boss’ll be angry with me if she’s late on her first morning.
Yuri had settled Nova in the room right next to hers, to make it easier for the girl to come see her if she needed something.
Still in her sleepwear, Yuri stepped into the hallway and knocked on the next door over. “Nova, it’s morning. Wake up.” She waited for a moment, but no acknowledgement came, so she simply opened the door and entered. “Wakey wakey…”
Her voice trailed off as she found Nova already up. The girl was stretching on the floor wearing the same outfit she wore every day on her morning jog. Her legs were extended to the sides to form oversplits, while her torso was pressed forward against the ground, her arms open wide to touch the tips of her toes. Glancing around the room – an identical copy of Yuri’s own, except that there weren’t any photos or decorations of any kind in this one – revealed Nova’s uniform, sidearm, and knife carefully folded and stacked on top of the desk in the corner. An unopened suitcase was neatly placed along the wall, below the only window. Next to it stood a large backpack, which Yuri and Nova had filled up yesterday with all the personal equipment she might need during her stay in Viper Nest.
“Um. Okay. So I guess I don’t need to come wake you up in the mornings? Looks like you’ve been awake for some time.”
Exhaling deeply, Nova relaxed her posture and got to her feet, bending her hips left and right in a rather sensual display to loosen up and restart circulation. In the meantime, the fingers of her right hand flicked over the bracer on her left forearm.
‘Sorry. Heard you. Couldn’t type.’
“That’s fine. Don’t worry. I was the one who was too impatient.”
Yuri scratched her cheek, watching absently as Nova slipped into her uniform and belted on her sidearm. She had known that girl since she was 3 years old. It felt strange to see her now in this airfield, wearing this uniform, with a gun strapped to her thigh and a knife at her belt.
The Storm family is as crazy as ever. Sending their youngest to this place for training…
Working for Marian – and in shifts as a secret bodyguard for other members of her family – she’d often thought that, despite how successful these people were at everything they did, they were a bit touched in the head. Aaron Storm was a mad scientist who single-handedly pushed forward the technological level of the entire planet, but was so irresponsible and reckless that he couldn’t be trusted to not inadvertently destroy the world with his own inventions. Marian Storm commanded one of the most effective military forces on Edea, but was so overly protective of the people she cared for that she had once caused a full-scale war because of a comparatively minor offense against them. Their first two children were slightly better adjusted. At 19 years old, Ryner Storm was about to graduate early from Altera’s University of Commerce and was already a successful businessman in his own right. Lynn Storm was a regular high-school student, save for the fact that she was favored to head the alteran swimming team for the next Olympics, at only 17 years of age.
The youngest daughter, Nova Storm, was as peculiar as her mom and dad. She still possessed some remains of the immaturity of youth, but she was already the single most beautiful girl Yuri had ever seen – including powdered models and actors on television. So much so that she could shine even in those shapeless, drab grey military fatigues, a feat Yuri considered just on this side of supernatural. Nova could probably have comfortably coasted through life on her good looks alone but had instead elected to spend most of her childhood in her father’s research facility. Even now, as far as Yuri knew, Nova didn’t have any friends – or, come to that, any form of social life at all. The only people she ever interacted with were her family and the tutors for the half-dozen disciplines she was practicing at the same time.
And now, she had come here, the latest stop in her own personal training montage. Perhaps there was a catchy, energetic music playing in her head as she did it, too.
Well, if she’s the one who insisted on it, like the boss said, I guess it’s fine.
“I’ll get ready too, then. If you wait for me, I’ll guide you to the dining hall. And then, we’ll get to work.”
With a nod of acknowledgement from Nova, Yuri returned to her own room, and soon, both met up again in the hallway, this time dressed and ready.
“All right, let’s go.”
They started walking side by side, other soldiers also exiting their rooms and heading in the same direction, exchanging greetings with each other.
“Don’t worry about the food,” Yuri explained on the way. “Thankfully, this is not alteran military. The meals are actually something human beings can eat without puking their guts out.”
“I was part of it, in the past, yes. But then, Marian made me an offer, and I accepted it, and here I am.”
‘Why recruit you?’
“Hmm. Well, it might be better to ask your mother this question, rather than me, but I’d say it’s because I am good at what I do. We all are.” She threw a sideway glance at Nova. “And so will you be, once you leave this place. But enough of this. Come, let’s hurry up and go eat.”
# # #
After proper warming up, the morning started with running. A whole lot of running. Faster and longer than Nova had ever run before.
Looks like Mom has the same ideas I do about the importance of proper foot-powered fleeing skills.
Surprisingly enough, however, Nova kept pace with the others. The weight of the gun against her leg unbalanced her a little, though, which was annoying. She wished she could remove it, but none of the others were complaining, so Nova too refrained.
Sweat ran down her face, and her heart beat madly in her chest. Several times, she wondered if it was going to continue much longer and kill her, until it didn’t.
While the other soldiers of Viper Nest looked only slightly winded by the exercise, Nova was panting, propping her hands on her bent knees and resisting the urge to retch and topple to the floor.
Connors, Yuri, and a few others approached her, and Yuri patted her shoulder with a bright, cheerful smile, as if witnessing Nova’s difficulties invigorated her. “You all right, there, kiddo?”
Nova didn’t have the spare energy to reach for her keyboard, so she simply nodded.
“Haha. Well, you don’t look like it. But for what it’s worth, we are duly impressed by your endurance. Didn’t think you’d hold until the end. Although, I suppose you do run every day, don’t you? So maybe it’s not that surprising.”
Nova had no answer for this. Instead, it was a man who had introduced himself as Abraham during breakfast who took the opportunity to speak. “So? Ready for the next part? It’ll be a bit more exciting than this one.”
Taking one last deep breath and wiping the sweat off her brow with the sleeve of her uniform, Nova straightened up and nodded.
Next part, as it turned out, was hand-to-hand combat.
Which, admittedly, was more exciting than running, though that didn’t necessarily imply that it was ‘better’. Nova didn’t have a hobby of getting punched in the face, after all.
She’d started learning aikido because she felt she had to learn something, and this particular option seemed one of the least directly violent of the lot. Furthermore, it relied less on her embarrassingly low ‘explosive strength’ stat.
Once again, she was paired with Yuri, and although the woman wasn’t particularly physically imposing, Nova never stood a chance.
When what little fighting skills she had showed no good results and Yuri effortlessly slapped away anything Nova tried to use against her, she even resorted to focusing all her mind on the task of taking Yuri down and brought forth the full power of her 100 points of processing power.
The world abruptly slowed down to a crawl.
It had been a few years ago since Nova had discovered that the vastly increased thinking speed she’d taken to be the effect of her maxed out processing speed had in fact represented merely 50% of her actual capabilities. It was only when concentrating to the full that she could think so fast the world around her started moving in slow-motion. Of course, Nova’s own body didn’t move any faster then, but simply having the extra time to analyze the situation and decide on the best course of action was usually enough to achieve delicate high-speed maneuvers and the like. For example, winning a music competition by successfully playing Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no.2 on the piano, without twisting her fingers into knots or missing a key.
In a way, that this ‘power’ wasn’t always active was a weakness – it meant she couldn’t necessarily react to anything taking her by surprise while she was thinking at 50% speed, whereas she might have been able to at 100%. But Nova was in fact very much grateful that she could only activate this ability by making a conscious effort. Everything moved so very slowly in this accelerated state – her included – that it would be maddening to spend too much time inside it. Seconds ticked by like hours. Minutes seemed like days.
Without this control, if she had been locked at 100% all the time, Nova probably would have ended up insane within a few days of her birth.
Of course, none of this took away from the fact that, used in small measures at specific times, this was a very useful tool indeed.
Like right now.
It turned a high-speed martial art contest into something like a game of chess. Nova had enough time to consider her moves and the moves of her opponent, and to make the most rational and efficient response accordingly.
This didn’t make her invincible, though. Because, even though her mind and senses could catch everything that was happening, her body couldn’t necessarily move in time to intercept the attacks coming for her. And like in chess, it was entirely possible for Yuri to checkmate her, to force her into a position where, no matter what action she took, Nova would lose in the next turn. This spoke volumes of Yuri’s skill, too. Even though Nova was basically cheating, the woman still managed to push her into defeat with almost contemptuous ease.
Nova did manage to redirect a few attacks, but they came too fast and in too many different forms for her to catch them all. Yuri made use of her vast superiority in technique, experience, and pretty much everything else to compensate for the unfair power of Nova’s brain. Even when Yuri deliberately held back and Nova caught her for a throw or a joint lock, Yuri always escaped in the next second and turned the situation around to her advantage again, swiftly ending the engagement.
Finally, after 2 hours, Nova was once more splayed out on the floor, her chest rising and falling erratically as she tried to catch the breath that had been knocked out of her. Yuri came to stand next to her and looked down at her with a smile.
“Well, that was pretty good, wasn’t it? Very satisfying.”
Nova only gave her a flat stare.
“Hahaha. No need to look at me like that. I meant what I said. It was pretty good. Right, guys?” She looked over her shoulder at the others, who were watching the two of them after finishing their own spars. It certainly seemed that watching Yuri beat up the newbie amused them. Still, they all nodded in agreement at her question. “See? You losing to me means nothing. You’ve just started aikido a year ago, right? The level you’ve reached in that short time is already plenty impressive, but think about it. The rest of us here have been doing this for a very long time, now. It’d be weird if you could make me eat dirt, wouldn’t it?”
Even Nova could certainly see the sense of that. It wasn’t like she was some sort of fighting genius who could easily learn tons of extra-secret ultra-destructive mega-special sure-kill techniques just by watching them once. She wasn’t a shonen protagonist. In fact, she’d never even struck someone in her life. Lives. While on Earth, she’d never practiced a martial art, either. There wasn’t really any need for violence in peaceful, modern society, after all. At least, not for a wimpy, nerdy computer scientist like herself.
All of which meant that it was perfectly normal for an elite soldier like Yuri to put her on the ground with her pinky finger, even in spite of the abilities Nova’s stats had given her.
Perfectly normal, but very frustrating.
This frustration itself is frustrating. Going through adolescence once was already more than enough. I wish this ends soon. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of restraining all the hormone-induced brattiness, but it’s still pretty tiring… And getting smacked around strains my self-control.
“Now, come on,” Yuri said, extending a hand to Nova to help her stand up. “Let’s clean up, eat, and this afternoon, we’ll show you how to use this.” She pointed toward the gun she’d given Nova, then clapped her hands. “We have a lot of things to teach you, so let’s not waste any time!”