Sirius always drew gazes when he traveled through the few subway stations separating his house from university. He’d always striven to ignore them – and to gently rebuff the girls who occasionally mustered up enough courage to come hit on him – but today was on a whole other level.
More specifically, most of the stares weren’t aimed at him, but at the young woman sitting next to him. Nova had warned him this would happen and suggested they call a cab, but Sirius felt this was overkill. There were only a few minutes of travel time until they reached their destination. Surely, nothing troubling would happen, especially with Sirius here to accompany her.
Indeed, no one had accosted Nova, yet, but Sirius could see that the eyes of every single other passenger in the wagon were inexorably drawn toward her.
There weren’t enough people in the train to consider it crowded, but when they boarded, all the seats were already occupied. Nova, making the most of her gifts, had managed to acquire a seat simply by staring for a few moments into the eyes of a young teenager presumably heading for school. She hadn’t said or done anything, but her unfortunate victim had blushed uncontrollably and readily offered her his spot. He’d looked proud and gratified when Nova nodded to him and sat down in his place, like she’d been the one to do him a favor, while Sirius could only helplessly shake his head. Now, Nova was sitting with her legs stretched out in front of her and her hands folded over her belly, looking so relaxed that she might soon fall asleep.
Today, she was wearing a formal black pantsuit and a white shirt whose two topmost buttons were left daringly open to reveal a tantalizing scenery. With her long hair left untied and crashing carelessly down on her shoulders and back, she managed to hit the right spot between looking formal and looking lazy. However, on her head rested a cap which made it difficult for Sirius to focus on the rest of her outfit. It was a large, military-style, black peaked cap. On its front was displayed an intricate emblem made of silver, of a winged human skull over a laurel wreath. The cap was inclined at a roguish angle, its visor almost covering Nova’s eyes.
Sirius couldn’t help but stare at the thing. On anyone else, such a gaudy accessory would have looked utterly out of place or even downright ridiculous, but Nova somehow turned it into something stylish and dignified which perfectly accompanied her formal suit.
Nova caught Sirius’s stare. She raised her head and looked at him. The breaths of a few nearby passengers caught in their throats when they got a better look at her face.
Nova’s artificial voice caused no small amount of surprise to their ‘audience,’ but Sirius paid it no mind. Neither did he pay any mind to the jealous glares stabbing at him when the goddess in their eyes took the initiative to talk to him.
“What’s with your hat? Is this cosplay?”
Nova’s hand reached up and resettled the cap on her head at an even more flattering angle than before. ‘Do you like it? I made it myself.’
Sirius’s eyebrows shot up. “You did?”
Nova nodded. ‘Like everything else I wear. I make my own clothes, now.’
“This suit, too? And the dress from yesterday?”
Another nod confirmed Sirius’s guess. He was downright amazed, now. Both the suit and cap looked like high-quality stuff made by professional hands. But thinking about it, it did make sense. All of Nova’s clothes fitted her perfectly, not a millimeter out of place, but none of them bore any brands or labeling of any sort. Not even those omnipresent little white tags explaining whether an article of clothing could be put in the tumble dryer and at what temperatures it could be washed and things like that.
“What about your shoes, then? Surely, you didn’t make them.”
“And the skull emblem on the cap, too? Did you… I don’t know, carve it or cast it yourself?”
Sirius whistled and clapped his hands a few times. “All right. I am duly impressed. Good job.” His eyes flicked back to Nova’s ostentatious cap, and all the praise on his face melted away. “But why a skull, of all things? And right on the front…”
‘Because it’s cool. Now, people will call me Commissar Storm.’
Sirius understood this was probably a joke or reference of some kind, but he didn’t get it.
Nova stared at his uncomprehending expression and sighed. She pulled the cap down even lower over her eyes, as if she didn’t even want to see his face anymore. ‘You have no culture. You’re a failure as a human being. I suggest you redo your life from scratch.’
Sirius only grinned at the insult and switched to English. “Is that a reference to something from Earth or Edea?”
‘Earth,’ Nova said after a moment spent changing the bracer’s language.
“Huh-uh. So, do you seriously expect me to grasp obscure references to movies or books I haven’t watched or read in almost 20 years? Coming from a different planet? Maybe even from a different galaxy or universe or something? You do realize this place also has a pop-culture, right? I would recognize your jokes and references more easily if they came from Edea. As it is, it’s been so long that I can only remember the most basic stuff.”
‘Your loss. You should have invested more points in your memory.’
“Wieslaw did, though not as much as you,” Sirius said, squinting thoughtfully. “But he’s even worse off than me. His new memories of Edea are so much sharper and richer in detail that the old, blurrier ones from Earth have been almost completely overwhelmed.” He glanced at Nova. “In a few years, you might be the only one left who truly remembers the minutiae of life on Earth.”
Something of an ironic fate, considering you’re also the one who hates reminiscing about your old life the most…
Sirius didn’t speak that last part aloud, though. It wouldn’t be well-received.
Nova didn’t offer any answer, and the conversation petered out. The two stayed in companionable silence for a minute or two, listening to the clanging of the subway train and ignoring the heated gazes of the passengers.
Soon, they reached the station nearest the university. They disembarked, Sirius trying not to smile too widely at the downcast, disappointed eyes of the teenager who had given Nova his seat perhaps expecting something in return.
The university stood right in front of the station. It didn’t take long for Sirius and Nova to make their way there.
# # #
When the two reached the classroom where Sirius’s lesson would take place, a small amphitheater that could hold perhaps 50 or 60 people, there were already a few students inside, scattered in small groups around the room. They chatted idly with each other while waiting for the teacher to arrive.
Most of them looked up from their conversation and nodded in greeting to Sirius when he entered. After Sirius nodded back, he walked toward the back of the amphitheater, Nova following behind him while looking curiously around.
Here too, inquisitive eyes followed them. Nova was wearing her cap even lower over her face than before, perhaps in an attempts to attract less attention – which would be somewhat atypical for her; she’d never had any qualms about exposing her beauty to the world before. But in any case, it didn’t have much effect. Even without getting a good look at her face, her figure alone, though blurred by her clothing, was more than enough to draw every eye in the room.
Sirius and Nova sat in an unobtrusive corner and waited for the lesson to start as more and more students streamed in.
While Nova was doodling on the electronic paper she’d found on her desk, she asked Sirius, ‘Is Wieslaw in the same class as yours? When are we meeting up with him?’
Sirius shook his head. “He’s not. He’s not even part of this department. We’ll only meet at lunchtime Neither of us has classes this afternoon, so it’ll leave us enough time to discuss everything that needs to be discussed.” At this point, a smile appeared on his lips. “Didn’t Wieslaw tell you what he was studying?”
Nova looked up from the electronic paper. She stared at Sirius and tilted her head. ‘Like Indiana Jones?’
“No. Not at all like that. More… scholarly. The university doesn’t have enough budget to hire Nazis and buy a Holy Grail.”
‘Shame. Did Wieslaw expect Grails and Nazis?’
Sirius grinned. “No. He expected reading history books and carefully brushing dust off fragmented pieces of fossilized bones. And that’s what he got. He’s quite satisfied with his choice.”
‘That sounds more interesting that whatever it is you’re learning. I should have gone with him, instead.’
“You think so? I think you’d find it quite dreary.”
‘Not at all. I am a scholar, full of patience and thirst for ancient knowledge.’
Sirius quirked a skeptical eyebrow.
Nova stared at him unblinkingly. ‘Do I not look like a scholar?’
Sirius wasn’t quite sure how to answer that. He didn’t want to offend Nova, but, no, she truly didn’t. Perhaps it was the work of first impressions, of the circumstances in which they’d first met, but in his eyes, she was more an athlete and a soldier than a bookworm. Her body was firm and fit, suntanned from regular exercise outside. Her personality too didn’t really seem to fit that of a scholar. Nova was flighty and whimsical. She wouldn’t match the austere and solemn atmosphere of a library.
Even though Sirius didn’t verbalize his answer, Nova read all of it off his face. She shook her head. ‘I only spent 2 out of the 19 years of my life with Viper Nest. Most of the other 17 were spent studying. And I exercise not because I like it, but because I’ve experienced first-hand the consequences of not doing so. Also, every time I visit the royal palace, I spend the entire day reading books in its library with Louis and enjoy it very much.’
Sirius blinked. “Huh.” Then, since he didn’t quite know what to add to that particularly witty retort, he jokingly said, “I wonder if Louis enjoys it as much as you do.”
Then, he regretted saying it instantly, because even though it was a marginally wittier reply than a simple, wordless grunt, it was also somewhat caustic, and wholly inappropriate.
Sirius was, of course, aware that the prince had been carrying a torch for years, now. It was so obvious anyone with one eye and half a brain could see it from miles away. He was also aware that Nova had never reciprocated Louis’s affection. Sirius hadn’t had all that much interactions with him, but the young man had always seemed to Sirius to be sensible and outstanding. To sneer and joke about something that to Louis must be quite a painful subject was terribly out of line, even if he wasn’t actually here to hear it.
The moment Nova turned to look at him, Sirius raised a placating hand and said without a trace of levity, “I apologize. That was petty and cruel. I’m disappointed in myself for saying it.”
He was also quite surprised at himself for saying it. Sirius didn’t see himself as a saint, by any means, but he didn’t feel that pettiness and cruelty, no matter how casual or joking, were things he was prone to. He didn’t mind bantering, as such, but that had crossed a line.
Nova stared at him for a few, intensely uncomfortable seconds, but Sirius didn’t look away and waited for his apology to be accepted.
Eventually, Nova said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s perfectly natural for you to snipe at Louis. I don’t blame you.’
This wasn’t the reply Sirius had been expecting. “What? Natural? No, it’s not. What do you even mean?”
‘It’s perfectly natural for the members of my harem to fight each other over me. Your jealousy simply got the better of you.’
Before Sirius had time to give a more constructed answer than this, however, an old professor with iron-grey hair entered the room. A bright and musical bell tone rang out through the amphitheater, and all the other students stopped chatting and turned to greet the old man. Sirius wanted to keep talking, to defend himself against Nova’s ridiculous accusations, but at the same time, he was pretty sure he wouldn’t win this argument easily. Nova would just ignore anything he said and continue saying Sirius was infatuated with her.
Better to shut his mouth right now and not give her the satisfaction of struggling…
# # #
It didn’t take long for Nova to realize that learning medicine in university was quite a lot more boring than training as a combat medic with Viper Nest soldiers.
The old man standing atop the stage droned on and on about asinine topics, listing off countless complicated terms. It wasn’t as if Nova didn’t understand those terms, but the professor used them seemingly for the only reason that he could. There was no interaction to speak of between him and the students, either.
It wasn’t exactly surprising, since it matched Nova’s experience with Earth’s education system, but after studying with her father, she’d grown higher standards. Right now, it was just too much of a chore to pay any attention to this dry nonsense.
Her opinion didn’t seem to align with that of the other students, though. The vast majority of them were single-mindedly focused on the lesson. Only a scant few were still stealing glances at her, now, even after the teacher arrived and she removed her cap.
Well, perhaps all of this chaff is actually necessary to become a real doctor, instead of a quack with super glue like Camilla said yesterday, but I’m starting to think I really should have gone to Wieslaw’s archeology course…
Eventually, Nova just completely tuned out the elderly teacher’s voice and started drawing on the electronic paper she’d found on her desk.
It was something on the cutting edge of technology, which had only been released for public purchase recently. Incidentally, the patent for its manufacture belonged to Ryner’s Storm Corp. Nova’s bracer could be considered a prototype to this electronic paper, with drastically less processing power, most of its features removed, and its thinness and flexibility pushed to the limit. It was an amusing thought that, in a way, Nova’s personal needs had changed the course of Edea’s technological development.
At least, even if the lessons are boring as shit, they’re giving the best equipment possible to the students. That’s gotta count for something.
Nova took up the electronic pen and started drawing. She could select colors or erase poor lines by selecting from the toolbox displayed in a corner of the sheet of paper. It was quite a convenient tool.
Drawing in a classroom like this while the other students did their own thing reminded Nova of her youth, when she attended Saltwell’s daycare under the watch of Ingrid Astia. A long time had passed since then, but with Nova’s perfect memory, it still seemed like yesterday.
Eventually, without Nova noticing how fast time flew, the same musical bell that had rung had the start of the lesson rang again.
After a few moments, the old teacher clapped the book he’d been holding shut. “Thank you for your time. Pay especially close attention to sections 2.B and 9.S which will be part of the end-of-year examination. That will be all for today.”
Then, as the students started filing out of the room, the professor walked back to the desk in the corner of the stage and started packing his stuff, preparing to leave also.
Nova was just finishing up on her drawing, when she caught the old man glancing down at his desk. As if his interest was caught, he suddenly abandoned his bag and, after a few seconds of scrutiny, raised his head. His eyes swept up directly toward Nova. He looked vaguely surprised upon seeing her.
“Ah, Miss? In the back, yes, you.”
His call made many of the students who had yet to leave stop and follow his gaze in curiosity. A few people audibly gasped. Even the more stoic ones didn’t resume with their departure from the classroom once they caught sight of who the teacher had called.
Nova suddenly found herself the center of half a hundred intense stares.
“You have impressive artistic talent, Miss,” the old teacher said with a small smile. “But I’m afraid this isn’t the Art department. Perhaps you should request for a transfer there?”
Nova hadn’t expected that everything the students drew on the paper given to them would automatically show up on the teacher’s control screen, but she didn’t let that trip her up. She shook her head and cooly replied, ‘I can’t. My visitor pass doesn’t allow me to attend any other class but that of the person accompanying me. Maybe you could put in a good word for me and tell the administrator to make an exception?’