When Nova woke up, she was in her bed, in her room. Sunlight filtered in through the window blinds and stabbed mercilessly into her eyes.
She rolled over onto her belly and buried her face into the pillow to escape the light. Her head felt blurry and heavy. The sheets were soaked with sweat, and so were her pajamas.
Huh? Pajamas? Why am I wearing pajamas?
Nova usually didn’t wear anything at all while sleeping. It seemed strange for her to suddenly do so. However, since she had just woken up and her thoughts were still murky, she didn’t bother thinking about it any further about it and laboriously crawled out from beneath the covers.
Her body was still sticky with sweat that her trait had yet to clean. It would only require something like 10 minutes for it to do its work, but Nova didn’t want to wait, so she headed toward her bathroom with ponderous steps, stripping along the way. It was inordinately tricky, and she almost tripped and fell when her pants caught at her ankles. Clumsily, she clambered into the shower stall and let the jet of cold water jolt her awake.
She stayed in the shower until her thoughts were a little clearer and her brain worked halfway properly.
I guess I just fell asleep after arriving here. I sure don’t remember going to bed by myself…
Nova herself hadn’t realized at first how exhausting – both physically and mentally – her adventures last night had been. The tension and adrenaline had kept her going for a while even after everything was resolved, but once she reached home and truly relaxed, she fell asleep in two seconds flat.
And apparently, judging from her current state, her rest had not been entirely peaceful and easy.
She couldn’t recall any nightmares – her perfect memory didn’t extend to her dreams, perhaps fortunately – but it wouldn’t have surprised her if she’d been at least a little affected by what had happened. Not because of guilt, of course. She may have killed four people, and in a rather violent fashion at that, but those were self-defense. There was nothing to feel guilty about. And as for the violence of her fashion, well, it was vital that she make sure the mercenaries stayed down for good. Blowing their brains out seemed the easiest way to accomplish that. The only problem Nova had with her actions yesterday was that they were disgusting, in the most literal sense of the word. That is to say, the sight of shattered skulls and leaking brains was icky.
I did hang the first one, though. I guess I wasn’t exactly striving for efficiency with that one. But he deserved what he got. Since he had the guts to threaten to rape me, he would naturally accept the consequences.
No, any nightmares wouldn’t have come from guilt, but from fear. It was the first time that Nova found herself in any real danger, whether in this life or the last. She’d been the primary target of armed murderers. This time, there hadn’t been a dozen Viper Nest members between her and the people trying to shoot her.
To be hunted down like that, only able to run away and hide like a puny little mouse. It was terrifying.
And it was humiliating.
Nova’s pride was smarting at the idea that she had allowed her enemies to frighten her, to hunt her down and render her helpless and in need of aid.
‘Young master,’ was it… Clifford… I’m definitely going to kill that little cocksucker. Or wait. Could the ‘young master’ in question be that Sirius guy who saved me, instead? He wanted to meet my parents to offer them some sort of business proposal, right? Could he have hired some mooks to put on a show, while he burst in at just the right moment and saved the damsel in distress? I’m sure that would endear him to my parents and put him in an advantageous negotiating position.
It didn’t sound too farfetched an idea, either. Sirius’s timing had been simply masterful. Either he – or rather, Nova – had been wonderfully lucky and enjoyed the benefits of a great coincidence, or the whole event had been staged from start to finish.
If that turned out to be the case, then not only would Nova have been frightened and hunted down and rendered helpless, but she would also have been used. At that point, it would be doubtful whether she would be satisfied with just killing Sirius himself. She’d probably be mad enough to go after his friends and family, too.
I’ll see what Mom and Dad have to say about this. They’ll be able to investigate this guy better than I.
Being right about this was important. Nova didn’t want to be used, but neither did she want to be ungrateful if Sirius had truly saved her with kind intentions.
And then, there was the superhuman strength he’d displayed while effecting Nova’s rescue. There were a few possible reasons for it. For example, he might be the spawn of some genetic experiment to create super soldiers. If a genius inventor like Nova’s father could exist, then it was plausible for other fields of science to also possess minds far ahead of their time.
It’s not merely plausible, actually. I know for a fact that Edea’s medicine is more advanced than Earth’s. The frequency of lethal cancer is much lower. AIDS just plain doesn’t exist. There is a vaccine for the common cold…
Another, more disturbing possibility was that Sirius was a reincarnator. Nova had just kind of assumed she was the only one in the world, probably as a subconscious effort to see herself as a special, unique individual – the protagonist of this world’s story, so to speak. However, this idea was wholly unsubstantiated. The god-thing back then certainly had never even implied that she would be the only reincarnator in the world.
If that’s the case, Sirius must have allocated a lot of his points to strengthening his physical abilities. And it would also explain why he’s so handsome.
Really, the more she thought about it, the more Nova felt like this was quite a reasonable explanation. Furthermore, testing that theory wasn’t necessarily difficult. If Sirius wasn’t careful about hiding his circumstances – which he wouldn’t, if like Nova, he assumed he was the only one – then Nova would be able to catch references to Earth from his speech and his actions. Perhaps famous quotes from movies or literature, reflexively cursing in English when surprised or in pain… There were countless little differences between Earth and Edea which she could use to test Sirius.
Somehow, the idea felt… uncomfortable to Nova. Threatening, even. Beforehand, even if she slipped up and revealed Earth knowledge, no one would notice anything wrong. But now, she would have to be constantly on her toes, careful of how she acted lest she out herself, because anyone she met could be a reincarnator too and somehow use her secret against her.
Yes, reincarnators are definitely dangerous people. Just look at me. If they follow the same pattern as mine, their rebirth might have turned them from good, law-abiding citizens into narcissistic, perverted, remorseless killers. How can such people not be dangerous?
Well, no. This was perhaps a bit harsh.
More accurately, in Nova’s experience, reincarnation had removed a lot of her inhibitions. And she wasn’t sure other people, with different circumstances, would change in the same way she did. In her case, her death had simply made her realize, like a punch to the gut and a slap to the face, that she’d led a boring, meaningless, pathetic life and that she’d missed a shitload of good things because she’d been lazy or afraid or indecisive or just plain incompetent. And so, with another chance given to her, it would be criminal not to do it all differently – especially when her trials were looming on the horizon. However, someone who started out their new life while still relatively satisfied with their last, who started out more self-confident and more… mentally healthy… wouldn’t have had to change. They might have retained their previous personality.
Good people might still be good people, even after dying once.
Right. Right. Let’s not be prejudiced. Even if Sirius is a reincarnator, I shouldn’t judge him based on that. At least, not on that alone. I certainly must exercise some measure of caution, but in the end, being a reincarnator only changes the amount of raw material one has to work with. Judging Sirius based on the strength of his arms or the acuity of his senses or whether his body can magically stay clean would be almost as ridiculous as judging him based on the color of his skin.
The real problem was that certain traits available for purchase during the reincarnation process were quite objectionable. For example, just as ‘perfect memory’ was the trait Nova could buy with a maxed-out memory stat, maxing out each of the beauty, presence, and willpower stats would unlock the trait ‘mind control.’ Even after maxing out the stats, buying the trait itself would still cost a lot of points, but the danger it posed…
As far as Nova was concerned, anyone she so much as suspected of possessing this trait – not even talking about whether they would attempt to use it on her – had earned themselves a death sentence in her books. It was all well and good to say that there were ‘no bad powers, only bad people,’ but only people who hadn’t been enslaved to another’s will would have the leisure to spout that kind of idealistic drivel. Much better to nip the problem in the bud altogether.
Nova mulled over the matter for a long time, going in circles between rampant paranoia and a desire to avoid treating anyone too unjustly.
Eventually, she just closed her eyes and tilted her head back, letting the stream of cold water from her shower hit her right in the face. That cleared up her mind rather well.
In the end, it all came down to being careful.
Trust but verify.
Or perhaps more accurately – and sensibly – distrust and verify.
Yes. It’s possible Sirius might not be a reincarnator, too. Perhaps the wall he bulldozed his way through was made of sugar, and the mercenaries were all toddlers, whom I saw as adults only because of some sort of optical illusion.
More importantly than all this, however, was that she’d thought for long enough under this cold shower that her lips were starting to turn blue. Any longer and she’d die of hypothermia in her own bathroom. Which would just be shameful.
She hopped out of the shower stall and quickly toweled herself dry, trying to fight off her body’s shivering. Once she was done, she wrapped herself in a bathrobe and walked back into her bedroom.
The first thing she discovered here was that her so-called pajamas weren’t pajamas at all. They were just the clothes she’d worn yesterday.
Oh, of course. I wasn’t unconscious, just asleep. I would have woken up if someone had tried to strip me.
Nova gathered the dirty clothes in a pile, to which she added her bedsheets. She’d take this down to the washing machine later on, when she wasn’t feeling quite so lazy. In the meantime, she opened the windows wide to air out the room, powered on her computer for later use, and exited, still in her bathrobe.
Hmm. I wonder what they discussed, last night. They were talking to Wieslaw Kowalczyk on the screen, right? Did Mom and Dad reach a decision already? Surely not… They wouldn’t be so rushed about it.
Her brain still churning with questions, Nova absently walked into the kitchen to grab some breakfast.
There, she was surprised to find Sirius, sitting at the table and munching on toast.
Oh, right. That guy is living in our house, right now. What the fuck. I’m really out of it, today. I’ve been thinking about him so much, but it didn’t even occur to me to form the concrete thought that he was actually here.
Perhaps even more unexpected was the person sitting opposite him.
# # #
“No, no. I’m not skipping school,” Sirius assured Lynn Storm with a forced smile. “I officially took a leave of absence.”
“Hmm… All right, then. I’ll take your word for it,” Lynn replied seriously. “And what about your friend? Oh, don’t forget to drink your milk. Otherwise, you won’t grow up correctly.”
“…Thank you,” Sirius said, politely taking the glass of milk she handed to him. “And yes, Wieslaw is the same. He took leave.”
Sirius’s smile became ever drier the longer this conversation went on. He’d met Lynn Storm face to face for the first time half an hour ago, when she invited him to have breakfast with her. When they started speaking, he’d expected her to thank her for helping her sister or some such, like everyone else had. Instead, the young woman had elected to criticize him for staying up so late at night and skipping school and not putting his security belt during the car trip to Saltwell and other such mundane things, like one might rebuke a disappointing child…
And she’d done so with such a bright grin on her face, with such obvious relish, that Sirius was still quite stumped as to how he should react. It was obvious that she was teasing him, but…
Let alone all the years I’ve lived back on Earth, I’m already 15 years old, here. Why am I suddenly being treated like an elementary schooler?
His savior finally seemed to arrive when the kitchen’s door opened.
Except, not at all.
Sirius had hoped that either Aaron or Marian would be the one to come in, returned from wherever they’d gone early this morning. They might have been able to rein in their daughter. However, in this, he was disappointed.
Sirius almost choked on his toast when Nova came through the door. Her gaze flicked between Lynn and Sirius, lingering on them for a few moments, and Sirius had to admit that he certainly returned the favor – and then some. He’d already had some trouble keeping his eyes to himself, yesterday, but this was something else altogether.
Nova was wearing a bathrobe of some kind, which indeed covered most of the important bits, but it was clear the thing had been thrown over her shoulders quite casually. It was – loosely – tied with a belt at her waist, but every time she moved, its hem swayed and revealed her bare legs beneath. Her hair was still damp, too, and clung to her skin rather distractingly, framing cleavage that really shouldn’t have belonged to a 15-year-old.
It was quite embarrassing, but Sirius couldn’t exactly fault her for dressing as she liked in her own home. And it wasn’t as if he disliked it, per se…
Through a superhuman effort of will, Sirius tore his eyes away from the spectacle before him. His gaze landed on Lynn, instead. She had also noticed Nova’s appearance and was now staring at him. The look in her eyes was distinctly… mischievous… and her grin was slowly growing wider.
Sirius cursed inwardly. His reaction had most definitely not escaped her.
He coughed to try and clear the piece of toast still stuck in his throat and forced himself to act unfazed. “Uh, ahem, good morning,” he said to Nova. “Did you sleep well?” Then, he casually picked up the glass of milk Lynn had so kindly given to him a moment ago. Now, it was welcome. He’d be able to wash down that piece of toast with this.
Nova simply shrugged in answer, which Sirius took to mean something like “Nah, not so good, bro, but thanks for askin’.” Then, she plopped down on the seat next to Lynn and started stealing food off her plate like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Lynn didn’t seem to care at all, either. She continued staring at Sirius in a very disconcerting way. Lynn herself was quite a pretty girl, so maybe, under different circumstances, it would have been nice to be the subject of her attention, but right now, Sirius could only see her gaze as that of a predator searching for a weakness in its vulnerable prey.
After a moment, Lynn leaned back into her seat and glanced at Nova, giving her a sweet smile. “It doesn’t surprise me that Nova didn’t sleep well. She would have slept better in the rugged embrace of a handsome man. Right, Sirius?” she asked, emphasizing his name and turning her not-so-sweet-after-all smile toward him.
Sirius didn’t have the leisure to answer. He was too busy coughing out a mouthful of milk through his nose from the lethality of that question.
“Hahaha–owowowow! Novuh! Shtop it!”
Lynn burst out laughing at the sorry sight of him, then immediately had to stop when Nova reached out and pinched and stretched Lynn’s cheeks in disapproval.