A therapist? Why would I need to see a therapist? I’m not crazy or anything. On the contrary, I’d say I’m a very sane person compared to most of the rest of the world…
Nova sighed, her breath pushing away a lock of hair which had gotten in her eyes. She tightened her grip on the wrench and locked the last bolt in place, taking care not to mess the alignment of the sidecar relative to her motorcycle. Once it was secured correctly, she took hold of the loose cables hanging below the frame of the sidecar and connected them to the bike’s engine block.
Brakes, propulsion, suspension…
With all the cables anchored in the right place, Nova took a step back to admire her handiwork.
Looks good. I think. I should probably give it a test drive before actually inviting someone to ride in the sidecar, though.
Satisfied, Nova wiped beads of sweat off her forehead and cheeks. She reached up and resettled her headphones, which had the double purpose of holding back her hair and blaring music into her ears but had been slowly slipping out of position as she worked on the bike with her head down. She dropped her wrench on her worktable and instead took up the instruction booklet again. Slowly, she read through every step once more to make sure she didn’t miss anything the first time. She knew she hadn’t, though. She’d gone through it once already, so she could recite its contents from cover to cover without a problem. She was only reading it again to comfort herself – it was the first time she’d attached the sidecar to her bike, and it might crash if she was careless in her setup.
Should be fine…
Nova threw the booklet to the side and grabbed the console her father had lent her. She pulled the two wires sticking out of the head of the console to unroll them to their full length, then knelt before her motorcycle’s engine and plugged them into the ports there. The console’s screen lit up to life with dozens of different menus to configure the engine.
Right now, she needed to deactivate the throttling her father had put in place beforehand to restrain her bike’s speed. Otherwise, the engine wouldn’t be powerful enough to tow the sidecar and its additional passenger. This was quickly done.
Then was syncing the sidecar’s internal configuration to that of the motorcycle. That took a bit more time, but Nova had been there when Aaron installed that new, modern, customized engine, so it wasn’t like she was going in blind. Half an hour later, she was pretty much done and entertaining the idea of playing with the other menus inside the console. After browsing through them for a while, however, she decided against it. She already wasn’t used to driving with a sidecar; if she also overhauled the way the rest of her engine behaved, she would likely die horribly long before making it to her destination.
With her work approaching its conclusion, Nova’s thoughts couldn’t help but return to the conversation she’d shared with Marian earlier this afternoon.
It had started well, with her mother telling Nova that her motorcycle had arrived and she could start repairing whatever damage had been dealt to it yesterday, but then the subject quickly changed toward less pleasant waters.
# # #
“Yes. He’ll help you process and deal with everything that’s happened,” Marian replied, looking her daughter in the eye to convey her earnestness as best she could. “Even if you don’t feel anything wrong right now, mental conditions can be insidious. You have a very healthy body; now, you need a healthy mind to put in it, too. Or rather, it might sound a tad less insulting to say that you need to keep the mind inside it healthy.”
Nova looked back blankly and silently. Only after a good long while did her fingers trail over the bracer on her forearm.
Marian smiled bitterly. “What century do you think this is? It’s not like I’m sending you off for electroshock treatment. It’ll be mostly… talking.”
‘You send the mute girl to talk to someone…’
At that, Marian raised her hand and, before Nova could react and take evasive maneuvers, flicked her forehead. Nova recoiled at the pain and rubbed at the reddening spot on her skin.
“Stop using this as an excuse only when you find it convenient.”
Nova let out a defeated sigh. ‘Just fine, though. Really necessary?’
Nova didn’t seem convinced at all. It was Marian’s turn to let out a sigh. She reached for the laptop on the table in front of her and opened its screen, at which point the television attached to the wall switched on too, with a clone of the laptop’s display. Marian opened a video file. Nova looked at her with what Marian guessed was an inquisitive gaze, asking what this was all about, but Marian only nodded toward the screen, hinting her to watch.
The video was a replay of last night’s incident, captured from the point of view of Nova’s bracer. It was the video Aaron and Marian had watched live as it happened. Later on, Sirius would burst out of the wall and throw the ‘camera’ at a mercenary to distract him. Right now, however, the image showed Nova patiently waiting in a dark room. The field of view of the bracer’s camera was very wide. It wasn’t exactly 180°, but it wasn’t too far from that. It was certainly enough to clearly make out the scene. The sound quality was good enough to hear the approaching footsteps, as well.
When the footsteps reached Nova’s position, a door opened right beside her, and a man entered. Marian had already watched this several times already, but once again, she inwardly shook her head at the recklessness of that mercenary. How could someone be so careless, even when hunting a 15-year-old girl? The man who entered was holding his assault rifle one-handed, barrel loosely pointed at the floor. He opened the door brazenly, without even checking his corners or taking any other precaution. He was definitely looking down on his quarry – and not just a little, at that.
And obviously, he paid for it.
The video suddenly blurred as the holder of the ‘camera’ burst into motion. The Nova on the screen swung a metal rod at the mercenary’s gun hand. There was absolutely no hesitation and no holding back in that swing. With a sickening crunch and a clattering of metal, the rifle fell to the ground out of the man’s shattered hand. Before the mercenary could even give a cry of pain or surprise, the metal rod swung up and slammed into his chin. That seemed about enough to shake his brain and stun him, but Nova didn’t stop there, and a backswing crashed into the man’s temple.
The mercenary dropped like a stone. And while the confrontation had only lasted a moment or two, Nova’s shoulders were already heaving up and down. It was clear that she’d put all her strength behind her blows. Some blood had spurted onto her cheek during that last, vicious strike. She raised a gloved hand to wipe it off, giving herself some time to rest and compose herself.
Then, with precise and economical motions, she unrolled the length of electrical cable she’d slung over her shoulder. She tied a quick noose at one end of the cable, slipped it over the mercenary’s neck, and dragged his unconscious body below a metallic beam barely visible amidst the darkness of the empty ceiling. She threw the loose end of the cable over the beam, then pulled.
And hanged the man.
Nova’s face didn’t betray any emotion, but neither did she turn her eyes away, even when the pain woke up the man and he started sputtering and clawing at his own throat in panic.
Marian stopped the video shortly after the mercenary died, at the point where Nova picked up his pistol and went back to hide in a dark corner, waiting for the next target to arrive.
We certainly trained her well. Perhaps a bit too well…
All of the Storm children had received varying degrees of self-defense training, but none as much as Nova. Marian’s youngest daughter was the only one who had trained alongside Viper Nest’s soldiers, following the same regimen they did, and that had certainly borne fruit. When she watched this video of Nova’s performance, even Marian was impressed. The girl may still be lacking in some areas, but when it came to coordination and control of her body, her performance rivaled that of Yuri – or even Marian herself. Perhaps it was due to her background as a dancer or perhaps it was simply due to her natural beauty, but Nova even managed to make smacking a dude with a stick and hanging him by the neck until he died into something pleasant to watch, every motion smooth and graceful and elegant.
Once the video was over, Nova didn’t avoid Marian’s gaze. She looked back at her steadily and said, ‘Well-deserved.’
Marian gave a smile and shook her head. “I’m not here to tell you that what you did was wrong, Nova,” she said softly. “I don’t want you to misunderstand. I’m not questioning your morality. Not at all. Better them than you. Better a thousand more of them than you. But… you can understand why I’m concerned, can’t you? My 15-year-old daughter was forced to kill half a dozen people, yesterday. I was already worried about what happened in the forest a while ago, and then this happened… Are you really just fine?” she asked finally. “You have dark circles under your eyes. Did you sleep well, last night?”
Nova hesitated for a long time before answering.
# # #
After that, Nova didn’t have many arguments to offer against the idea and eventually had to consent.
Funny how such a simple question decisively removed all possibility of Nova going against her mother’s wishes. She could have lied, perhaps, and said that she’d slept like a baby, but it was plain to see on her face that she hadn’t. And then, the flash of sympathy – pity, even – in Marian’s eyes when Nova admitted it…
Nova hadn’t wanted to reject her mother’s good intentions.
Well, it won’t hurt me, anyway. And seeing a therapist might be an interesting experience. I just need to be careful not to reveal anything strange about reincarnating or about Earth.
In a way, that she couldn’t argue against it was a sign that Nova herself recognized the reality of the situation. It was indeed true that the experience had affected her. Moreover, her mother had worked in this business for a long time; listening to her and following her arrangements on the matter could only be beneficial. She likely had seen cases like Nova in great numbers and knew how to best deal with them. In any case, even with the best arguments in the world, with how Marian doted on her, Nova would never be able to convince her otherwise. Now that she had recognized that there was a problem, she wouldn’t rest until it was fixed and her daughter was safe and sound.
Still wondering exactly what a therapy session entailed anyway, Nova retracted the console’s cables and straddled the bike. When she started the engine, the dashboard flickered to life with a quiet buzz of coursing electricity, but when she glanced to the sidecar next to her, she immediately noticed that its dedicated onboard computer had lit up with red warning lights.
That doesn’t look right.
Nova quickly cut the power to the engine and got off the bike, circling around it while rubbing her chin and wondering where the problem was.
Are the alim cables damaged, maybe?
Nova swapped her console for a voltmeter and approached the side of the sidecar. Bending down, she reached out underneath it, then lifted it one-handed – the frame attaching it to the bike was sturdy enough not to buckle under the strain. She clamped one of the crocodile clips on the alim cable’s sidecar port, but before she could attach the second clip and get a reading, a voice sprung out from behind her, piercing through the music in her headphones.
“You’re a lot stronger than you look,” Sirius said. “Even an adult man would have some trouble lifting this thing like you’re doing.”
Nova froze mid-motion, then forced herself to relax and slowly lowered the sidecar back down to the ground. She wiped her dirty hands on the front of her t-shirt, slipped her headphones down around her neck, and turned to face her guest. Sirius was standing near the open door of the garage, hands in his pockets. He was smiling politely at her. Nova wasn’t sure when he’d arrived; her music had been too loud to hear his footsteps.
‘Nothing compared to you,’ she said.
“Hmm?” Sirius quirked an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
Ohohoh, trying to keep your super strength a secret? A little late for that, whippersnapper.
Nova quickly typed out her answer, then raised her left hand and tapped her bracer’s screen a few times to show it to Sirius while her robotic voice read out her words. ‘Camera in this. Constantly recording everything around me.’
Sirius looked astonished, his eyebrows rising in surprise, then his expression changed to enlightened. He started nodding to himself, as if a lot of long-standing questions had just been answered all of a sudden. “Aaaaah, I see. That explains a lot. Well, yes, as it happens, I do possess a… rather sturdy body, for my age.”
Nova was relieved to see that Sirius didn’t press the point of her impressive physical strength. Apparently, her ploy to distract him with his own, even more uncommon – and suspicious – prowess had worked. In any case, she was far from his level. Her strength was well within the bounds of what a human could achieve; it was strange only because she was still just a teenage girl. If she really had to, she could probably pass it off as merely the result of intense and regular training, which was in part true. Even if Sirius held doubts, he probably wouldn’t make an issue of it and would quietly accept her explanation. Still, just to be safe, Nova diverted the conversation and forcefully changed the subject toward something safer, which she also happened to be curious about.
‘Why are you here?’
“Ah, yes, my apologies. We’ve agreed with your parents that Wieslaw – that’s my partner, who was on the radio – will come here too to discuss our proposal with them. He’ll be coming by plane to Altera tomorrow.” Sirius hesitated for a few moments, then continued. “Um, your mother told me to see you in order to go to Altera and pick him up at the airport. I was wondering…”
Nova nodded. ‘Yes.’ Marian had spoken to her about this, already. She pointed a thumb over her shoulder at her bike and its shiny new sidecar. ‘Ready for tomorrow.’
“Oh, are we going there by motorcycle?” Sirius asked, looking interested. He took a few steps closer and studied the bike from different angles. “It looks pretty good,” he said.
‘You like motorcycles too?’
“I do. Quite a lot. Though I’m more partial to sports bikes myself. I must have inherited that taste from my father.” Sirius paused for a moment, and as Nova watched from the side, his face went through a variety of different expressions, like he was struggling with an intense and difficult decision. Finally, he forced out, “I, uh, I actually came from Verizen by bike, too.”
Nova tilted her head when he stopped there. Judging by his tone, there was more he’d wanted to say. ‘Yes?’ she prompted.
“It, uh… Unfortunately, the bike was…”
Sirius didn’t seem like he would be able to say it on his own – he looked incredibly embarrassed, though Nova couldn’t imagine why – so she tried to help him along. ‘Stolen?’
“No, it…” Sirius continued floundering for a few more seconds, until he finally managed to gather his courage. “Well, it got blown up. Yesterday,” he said lamely.
…Blown up? How did it get blown up? I don’t remember seeing any wreckage around. Except for that car which had smashed into a building, outside the construction site, and it wasn’t blown up at all.
But then, it hit her. She remembered hearing a terrific explosion while the mercenaries’ cars were chasing her motorcycle. At the time, she wondered what Ethan and Hiraki were doing that caused such a ruckus.
So they’d blown up Sirius’s motorcycle.
Which probably explained why he felt so awkward raising the subject now, too. He probably didn’t want to come off as accusing and demanding.
‘Grenade launcher?’ she asked, just to be sure she hadn’t misinterpreted the situation.
Sirius cleared his throat. “Um, yes.”
‘I apologize on Ethan’s behalf,” Nova said, forming a proper sentence to convey her sincerity – she wouldn’t be happy if her motorcycle got blown up, either. ‘He didn’t do it on purpose.’
“I know. I don’t blame him,” Sirius said, waving his hand like it was obvious he didn’t. “It’s only… My father lent me his bike for the trip. He cared about it quite a lot.”
Before Sirius could make the request himself – Nova wasn’t even sure he’d manage it, considering he was already this embarrassed just from explaining the facts – Nova nodded in understanding and made the commitment herself. ‘Tell us the model. Custom modifications. License plate number, if you want to keep same. We’ll replace it. Or money to buy better one.’
Fulfilling this wish shouldn’t be a problem for the Storm family, Nova reckoned. It was indeed an awkward situation for Sirius, and it was the least Nova could do to try and help him out of it. Especially since it was her bodyguard’s fault – and by extension, her own.
“Thank you very much,” Sirius said, smiling brightly like a weight had suddenly been lifted off his chest.
‘I’ll come to Amidonia. Meet your dad and explain.’
In her past life, Nova hadn’t traveled much. Or at all, really. But in this life, she’d gone to many different countries around the world alongside Viper Nest. And she didn’t spend all that time lying prone with a sniper rifle in her hands, either. As it turned out, visiting distant locales was quite a fun pastime. While Nova had never been to Verizen before, Sirius’s misadventure was the perfect excuse to do a little tourism. Marian would likely be opposed to the idea of Nova rejoining Viper Nest for the foreseeable future, anyway, so she might as well enjoy her vacation while it lasted. Maybe she might even be able to push back her therapy sessions for a while, thanks to this.
Also, if Sirius turned out to really be a reincarnator, it would be a worthwhile endeavor to learn more about him and his loved ones, just in case he one day revealed himself to be less righteous and kind-hearted than he appeared right now, and Nova needed a way to deal with him.
This idea was also a little test, in and of itself. If Sirius didn’t agree to it, it might mean that he had kept this trip of his – or at least, the trip’s real purpose – a secret from his parents. Otherwise, if he found no problem with Nova explaining to them what had happened, it would increase the probability that his parents knew about Sirius’s superhuman abilities. Either way, it would tell Nova something about him and his situation.
Considering he’d saved her life, it was perhaps a bit ungrateful to plot against Sirius like that, but even though Marian had already told Nova her previous suspicions about him were misplaced, it didn’t change the fact that, in all matters, it was better to be prepared. Hopefully, Sirius would truly be as good a guy as he seemed, and Nova wouldn’t need to take his family hostage or anything of the sort. This would be the best-case scenario. But if she ever did need to, she might look back upon today and curse at the missed opportunity to prepare in advance and gather valuable information.
Hearing her suggestion, Sirius’s eyebrows rose up, and he looked at her incredulously. “Were you planning on going to Amidonia anyway?”
Nova shook her head.
“You decided that just now, then? While we were talking?” This time, Nova nodded, and he continued. “Shouldn’t you talk to your parents about this, first? I imagine they might have reservations about you taking such a trip.”
Nova blinked. It hadn’t really occurred to her that her parents would oppose the notion. Aaron and Marian were big proponents of free-ranging their children – though a team of shepherds with grenade launchers would accompany them, of course. They’d never really forbidden Nova from doing anything she wanted, apart from the obviously insane stuff, and going on a holiday trip didn’t seem to qualify as ‘insane’. Marian might be a little more circumspect, what with the recent incident and all, but it likely would only manifest as a supplementary team of Viper Nest bodyguards – and perhaps a drone or two – watching her from the shadows.
‘No. Just a trip. No problem.’
Sirius smiled wryly. “Aren’t you a little too young to suddenly decide you’ll go on a trip to a foreign country, without consulting your parents at all? Actually, now that I think about it, aren’t you too young to even drive this bike?” He patted the handlebars of Nova’s motorcycle.
‘Forged license. You? Even younger than me. Came to Altera alone. Driving a sports bike. Criminal. I’ll report you.’
For a moment, Sirius seemed to wonder if he should take those last words as a joke, probably thrown off by Nova’s expressionless face and robotic voice, which both made it hard to convey humor. Eventually, he seemed to decide – correctly – that it was indeed a joke. He grinned at her. “In Amidonia, it’s perfectly legal for 14-year-olds to drive motorcycles. My license is not a forgery. And I had to work really hard to convince my parents I’d be fine on my own. My trip wasn’t decided as casually as yours.”
Nova only shrugged in indifference. She could try to boast about how her family trusted her more than Sirius’s did him, but that would just be mean. Instead, she turned back toward her motorcycle. There was still work to be done, and this conversation was making her lose time.
‘Go back. Need to get it ready.’
“Hmm. I don’t have anything specific to do until Wieslaw gets here, so shall I help you out, instead? I can’t pretend to be a gifted mechanic, but if you need someone to do the heavy lifting, I’m your man.”
Nova blinked for a moment, caught by surprise by the proposal, then readily nodded. Things certainly would go faster with another pair of hands on the problem.