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I would like to learn, or remember, how to live. - Annie Dillard

04 January, 2011

Bodwell was always busy and bustling on the first day of a semester. The large private school was among the most well-known and well-regarded in Canada, and attracted a fairly diverse international crowd of students. Most of the new kids had attended the orientation yesterday, and today was their first full experience of the prestigious establishment. But the buzz in the courtyard as they waited for the first bell was a touch different than the usual murmur of new and old students integrating.

"You heard about it?"

"Everyone's heard. I heard he glows."

"Heard what?"

"Sheesh, where've you been?"

"St Tropez. So tell me."

"We've got a nova!"

"Huh? What, some Teen Two-Em super-hottie come to give a talk?"

"No. An actual nova student, here."

"Holy crap, really? Wow."

"Yeah. The local Utopians are shelling out for him to come here. Bet the Board are stoked."

"So which nova is it?!"

"It's that one they found in the Crush last year. Alex something."


"Figures you'd know about it. Geek."

"He was amnesiac, total blank slate. Here, I have a pic of him from the Utopia press conference a month after he was found."

"Hubba hubba. Dibs!"

"Don't grab! That's my iPod! Give it here."

"So, he was a vegetable. Why's he coming here?"

"I heard on NovaWatch that he's super smart. He was talking minutes after they found him. I guess he's all caught up on his preschool and stuff by now."

"Not to mention wearing clothes and not drooling on himself?"

"Well, yeah. Plus, you got to figure that Utopia want to show how integrated and human novas can be."

"So what's his powers?"

"He flies!"

"And he's cute!"

"I heard he can absorb energy, like the Fireman."

"Down girls. Have you seen who he's been seen with?"


"Look at this."

"Oh shit. Is that...?"

"Yup. That's Bombshell, and that's Jael Carver, and that's Katya Skovskaya. This lucky bastard's been up to his ears in top shelf nova hotties since he opened his eyes."

"That doesn't mean anything."

"Suuure it doesn't."

* * * * * * * *

"I can go myself. It's okay, Jael." Sunshine said as his nimble, strong fingers struggled briefly with the knot of his tie. The striking blonde woman smiled at him from where she was perched on the edge of his bed, somewhat torn between big-sisterly pride at how far Sunshine had developed and the urge to jump the golden Adonis in blazer and slacks. It had to be a school with a uniform, didn't it?! I bet that's Katya's doing... The Russian beauty had a far-too-puckish sense of humour when it came to dressing Sunshine. Thankfully, Jason was a more reasonable influence, encouraging a jeans-and-t-shirt atmosphere through her own example.

"I know you can." she told him, still smiling. Doing for himself had become important to Sunshine. Perfectly normal behaviour for an adolescent male, and at least he wasn't a tantrum thrower about it. Quietly forceful was perhaps a better way of describing it. She knew that at least part of his drive towards self-sufficiency was because of Doctor Jia trying to hold him back. They probably thought they were being subtle about it, but Sunshine himself had reasoned out their motives and told Jael as much. It was nothing to call in the cavalry about, just little things that were probably calculated to cause frustration and perhaps even a slip of temper. They'd talked about it: he, Jael, Jason and Katya, and decided not to rise, not to push back against the poking.

Right now, public opinion in Canada was on Sunshine, or 'Alex Andrews' as he'd been named, side. At first, there had been a question of whether it had been Alex himself that had caused the disaster during an Eruption. Thankfully, that had been quashed by the Utopians, who provided evidence to the Canadian investigation teams that the energies of the Crush bore no resemblance to Alex's quantum signature. Now he was seen as a visible and prominent symbol of the Crush, a literal Phoenix born amidst the devastation, as one OpSite had put it. With no family, no memory, and no life before the disaster, Alex had become a focal point for all the hopes and grief surrounding the incident, wingnut conspiracy theorists and the Church of Michael Archangel aside.

"I just thought you might be nervous. First day and all that." Jael said with a grin. Alex's reaction wasn't one of wounded pride, but good-humoured puzzlement.

"Why would I be nervous?" he smiled as he adjusted the collar of the blazer. He appeared to consider. "We went to the orientation yesterday, remember?" he told her earnestly. "I know people will stare, but they will get used to me. To tell the truth, I'm excited. I feel kind of like Pinnochio: a real boy at last." He shrugged, chuckling. "After months of being schooled at the Facility, I feel like I'm being let out to play finally."

Though she wasn't usually a hugging kind of person, Jael impulsively gave Sunshine a hug. As usual, he felt warm as a tropical afternoon as he hugged her back.

"Have fun, then." she told him, then winked. "And watch out for cheerleaders." Cause they'll be watching out for you. Which wasn't too much of a problem at this school, but if he graduated then went to college in America like they'd been discussing... Whoo boy.

"I will." he promised sombrely, then smiled and grabbed his bag.

"See you later, Jason!" the glowing young man called out as he hurried through the main room to the balcony, shouldering his book bag an instant before diving off the penthouse rail. A short plummet levelled out into gold-trailing flight as his node pulsed, micro-gravitic pulses from the thousands of tiny suns that were his cells propelling the young nova towards his first day at school.

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Alex (he tried to think of himself as Alex so that he'd answer to the name, though he preferred Sunshine) took it easy on the flight, staying below civilian airline paths and the sound barrier both. He'd learned to sync clothing and small items to his quantum aura, sparing his uniform and bag the worst of the high speed flight. It took maybe ten minutes before he landed in the quad of Bodwell High, knees flexing as he brought his feet down to touch the asphalt.

He straightened up, one hand pulling his hair out of his face as he set the bag down and spent a minute adjusting his uniform. As he did so, the young nova became aware of the staring.

This was new. Sure, people had been staring at him before now. He'd gone out in public a bit, but always with Jael and Jason around at least. He was a matter of interest, but the presence of the other two, especially the larger-than-life Bombshell, deflected a lot of the gawkers, as Jael called them. But here, there were no other novas. And these weren't Utopia personnel used to dealing with the quantum enhanced. They were his age and younger (at least physically) and their expressions were a mixture of curiousity, awe, fear, mistrust, adulation and other, less definable emotions. A few murmurs and whispers ran through the crowd as they all gazed at him. He gave them a nervous, hesitant smile and scooped up his bag, then turned towards the main building, trying to shrug off the nagging feeling of isolation that the silent reception was causing. Three students, two male and one female, were standing there, having moved forwards from the others clustered around the quad.

"Mr Alex Andrews?" the girl squeaked from between the guys. Alex looked from face to face, giving them a puzzled smile, and nodded.

"Just Alex." he said, wondering what this was. "Can I help you?" he asked with a smile, remembering his manners.

"Oh." The mousey-brown haired girl blushed as she met his eyes, trying to keep her composure. "I'm Lucille. Uh, Lucille Howell. Um, from Ghandi House." She was kind of like a mouse, Alex thought to himself. Cute and timid. Painfully so, in fact. Her eyes dropped to his chest and stayed there as she went on "This is Tom and Jean-Pierre. You're in Ghandi too, so we thought we'd... uh..."

"Welcome you to Bodwell." Jean-Pierre finished smoothly with a touch of accent. Dark and handsome, though still a few inches shorter than the nova, he offered Alex his hand to shake. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Alex." He had more confidence than the girl, or Tom, who murmured a greeting as he, too, shook hands. Jean-Pierre got them all moving towards the building as the bell rang, breaking the spell of hush over the quad and sending students towards their respective first periods, albeit still sending looks over at the glowing young man as he walked away.

"We are also all in your first few classes." Jean-Pierre said jovially. "You have never been to school before, n'est-ce pas? So we thought it would be a good thing to sit with you, make sure that you are not a fish out of water." He nudged Alex in a comradely fashion. "Also to make sure that you don't feel everyone is a stranger, yes?" he stage-whispered.

"Oh." Alex blinked, then smiled warmly, his aura equally warm on the three students' faces. "Thank you. I wasn't really expecting the... staring." he glanced at the small crowd of other students moving through the corridors with them, the clamor muting somewhat as he passed.

"Don't worry about it." Tom said quietly. He gave the impression of being someone who never raised their voice. "Most of us have never seen a nova in the flesh, XWF-ers in the ring at live shows and T-2-M'ers giving guest speeches not counting. Much less been this close to one."

"Plus you're, um, glowy?" Lucille added, trying not to blush and mostly failing. "It catches the eye."

"Which is a good thing!" Jean-Pierre said with a laugh. "Come, the joys of Advanced Math await us."

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"So you feed on the Sun?"

"Well, any light really, but sunlight feels best."

"How fast can you fly?"

"932 miles per hour."

"Whoa. Do you need to wear earplugs at that speed?"

"Not really. It's noisier at lower speeds. Once I get past the sound barrier it's almost quiet."

"Are you super-strong?"

"Not really. Kind of. When I absorb energy I can make myself strong. But not as strong as Jason. I'm not really supposed to show off at school, though."

The dining hall of the school was somewhat different today from the usual first-come-first-served seating arrangement. Like a lead weight on a rubber sheet, Sunshine sat in the middle of cluster of students, ringed by another cluster of students, and beyond them more students all looking around trying to hear the conversation. The questions were coming fast on each others heels, but the glowing nova didn't seem unduly flustered by them. The unrelenting attention, however, was starting to get to him a little.

"What does flying feel like?"

"Like swimming, but different." he replied. It wasn't really correct: flying felt like flying. But for baseline human beings who had no basis of comparison, swimming was the best analogy, he'd been told.

"Is it true you've got no family?"

"No. Jael, Jason and Katya are my family."

"I mean from before you lost your memories."

"I don't know. They've not been able to find anyone."

"So... Living with Bombshell. You ever see her naked?" Sunshine blinked and gave the questioner a hard blue stare.

"No. Jason doesn't walk around naked."

"What about Jael Carver? I heard she's one of the nova girls least likely to say 'No'. She ever give you an eyeful?"

"No." Alex blinked again, shaking his head. Their faces were all around him, eyes bright with want and curiousity, each one hungry for something indefineable. He felt a little nauseous, unsettled. That dark feeling started in the middle of his chest. I wish they'd stop. "Jael's nice. She's a good person. And Jason's been very kind to me. Why are you asking me those things?" he asked with sudden heat in his voice. The boy who'd asked the hormone-driven questions backed up from the baleful gold-flecked stare. "Are you a pervert?" Alex asked as he stood. "Are you trying to... to find some dirt to roll in? I know what people say about my friends, but they're wrong. They're stupid and small-minded and wrong." he almost shouted, his fists clenched. aura brightening in his anger. He stopped then, seeing the faces around him, slack-jawed and unlovely in their fear and shock.

"I'm sorry." he shook his head to clear it, closing his eyes and taking a deep, steadying breath. "I... I think I need some air." He wanted to be away from them, with their strangeness and their fragility and their fascination which he'd liked so much at first. "I don't want to answer any more questions. I'm sorry." And he fled.

They parted to let him go, watching silently as the glowing figure exited the hall at a blurring run. Jean-Pierre sighed exasperatedly and picked up Alex's bag, looking around the crowd.

"Lets not treat him as a zoo exhibit next time, kids." He said with some asperity as he stood, shouldering both his and the nova's bag. "Assuming he comes back." he added, looking out the window at the glowing figure that had exited the building and practically hurled itself skywards.

* * * * * *

Huddled into a ball Sunshine hovered above the clouds, feeling miserable and, truth be told, also feeling a little sorry for himself.

Why wasn't there a school for novas? Why did he have to get educated anyway? Why were baselines so stupid? He reminded himself that the Professor at the Rashoud Facility wasn't stupid. Or mean. And the teachers at the school weren't stupid. It was just...

It was just what? He felt uneasy around all those other students his age? Yes, that was it. He felt like he was under a microscope. He'd felt their stares, heard their whispers, seen their faces. They wanted something from him, even if it was simple validation of their curiousity, or opinions, or to say that they knew a nova. Harmless things, for the most part. But some things weren't harmless. Like the questions about Jael and Jason. There was an ugliness to those questions. Envy and vicarious wish-fulfillment combined, like his friends weren't real people to the questioner, but fantasy figures.

And what did that make him? Was he a fantasy figure? Did they really want to know him, or did they just want to know a nova? Would they care if another nova student took his place? Probably not. He sighed, uncurling and glancing down through the clouds. The Sun's rays bathed him, nourishing and strengthening him, a source of comfort as well as life, but he knew he couldn't stay here all day. He had a choice to make.

He could go back. He could set up polite barriers to ward off the incessant questioning. He could give them a chance to know him for him, and give himself another chance to adapt. Or he could go home, admit failure, tell Jael that he didn't like it and didn't want to go back. It wasn't pride that made him hesitate to take that path, rather a sense that he might disappoint them. The doctors at the Facility would definitely be disappointed. They would also delay his being able to choose to go and live with Jael at Stanford. Sunshine wanted to go to Stanford. Jael had told him about life there, about the professors and the lectures and the parties and the people. He glanced down through the clouds again and his jaw firmed up, decision made. He was going to try again.

He dropped back down through the clouds, a glowing mote trailing light as he descended to land in the grounds of the school. Aware of the stares, he ignored them as he went to seek out Jean-Pierre, Lucille and Tom, and the next lesson of his first day of school.

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"Hey Alex!"

Sunshine turned around, still conscious of the crowd of students giving him a slight wider than normal berth. A group was approaching him where he stood with Jean-Pierre and Lucille at the main building's entrance. With a tightness in his throat the nova recognised some of his questioners from that lunchtime, and he must have shifted uneasily because Lucille had placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"It's ok." she murmured to him with a smile, only to blush and drop her eyes when he looked at her. "I don't think they're going to bug you." she told his shoulder before snatching her hand back. It was warming to be next to him, to touch him: warming in more than one sense. She flexed her hand gently, unobtrusively, passing her fingertips through his aura where none could see (she hoped). The mixed group provided a good distraction for that as they stopped a short distance away. Alex's deep blue eyes studied them with a certain wariness, though there was no hostility in his expression, merely apprehension. Lucille fought the urge to stroke back some of the loose hair brushing against his cheek. Like an angel she thought to herself, and tried not to blush at the blasphemy. There was something angelic about Alex, though, the rebellious part of her mind went on. Even when he'd been angry, then later apologising for storming out and scaring people, there was something unmistakeably innocent about him, as though the pettyness of the world hadn't touched him. Of course, how could it have? He hadn't been 'alive' long enough.

"Yes?" Alex said quietly as he scanned the faces in front of him.

"We wanted to say 'sorry'." the spokesperson for the group said as she stepped forward a little. "We were all out of line earlier, and you came back and apologised to the whole classroom for getting mad. We all felt a little crappy about that, so... sorry. We didn't treat you well." The nova blinked, then smiled shyly.

"Oh! Um... No harm, no foul. That's what Jael says. I'm glad I came back." he replied in a rush. "And thank you. I'm not really used to people asking so many different questions. Most of the questions I get are medical sorts of questions from doctors." He paused, and frowned a little. "I really didn't like the questions about my friends, though." he stated firmly. "Especially not about... well, the nakedness and sex and stuff. They're my friends."

"Yeah." One of the offending boys from earlier piped up. "Sorry about that too. Just... just being guys and stuff."

"Yeah, stupid insensitive guys." the first girl to speak said with a snort before smiling at Alex. She opened her mouth to say something more, but then stopped as she saw people in the quad pointing upwards. Following their gaze, the others doing likewise, the students of Bodwell High saw a blonde woman floating overhead, long hair whipping in the gusts of January wind.

"Is that who I think-?" Jean-Pierre said, turning to Alex, or rather, where Alex had been; for the glowing youth had rocketed upwards as soon as he'd realised who it was. Unreserved as ever, Sunshine covered the distance between them and threw his arms around her waist in a hug.

"Hi Jael!" he said, somewhat belatedly considering he'd been simply hugging her for about thirty seconds at that point.

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Jael had known she probably shouldn’t. After all, this was Sunshine’s first day of school and he was working to forge his own identity. She should give him space to develop into his own person, well away from her and her influence. He was a growing nova and there was no reason that she should get involved.

None of those really good reasons stopped her from being over the school at the last bell, or stopped her from dipping low enough in the sky to be seen. Several of the students began to point; Jael gave them a lazy wave, glad she’d remembered to wear jeans instead of a skirt. While she wouldn’t care, she had a feeling that it wasn’t a good idea to flash Sunshine’s classmates.

Then all other thoughts were displaced as Sunshine stepped out of the building. Even from above, he was unmistakable – golden and beautiful and perfect. Jael felt herself grin widely as he glanced up and she gave him a big wave. As always, just seeing him made her feel better, brighter. It was a unique sensation; no one else could evoke such feelings in her. She might have wondered what it was that she was feeling, were Jael inclined toward self-examination.

Instead, she found herself occupied with a big, warm hug. “Hey, you!” she laughed as he latched on, spinning them in the air from his momentum. Jael giggled as she wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him close.

“Hi Jael!” he finally chirped as they both leaned back a little.

“Hi, Sunshine!” she replied with an easy laugh, despite having already greeted him. “You seem extra huggy, not that I’m complaining. I like your hugs. Was school alright?” She’d been worried about that all day; it was part of the reason she’d ditched her classes at Stanford today. Jael knew he could take care of himself, but this was high school! This was like nothing he’d ever dealt with before, and if any of those punks had harassed him, Jael was going to cut ‘em. In the face.

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Oblivious to Jael's darkly protective impulses, Alex grinned at her happily, then sobered a little as he considered the question. In itself, that wasn't a bad sign. Jael knew that Sunshine had a habit of taking questions seriously and literally, if sometimes out of context due to his lack of experience. "You been behaving?", for instance, usually said by Jael on her frequent visits as a light-hearted greeting, had until recently elicited a thorough self-evaluation on Sunshine's part, including him asking Jason if he had done anything amiss before he would, with a touch of pride, answer soberly that yes, he had been behaving. It wasn't that he was slow - quite the opposite - it was just that without life experience roughening his edges Sunshine took things literally. It was kind of cute. His blue eyes looked down at the crowd of students and some staff in the quad as he considered, then he nodded at her.

"It was educational." he said, breaking into a boyish grin at his little joke, the golden motes in his eyes dancing with humour. "I got a little overwhelmed by people asking me questions and had to get some air at lunchtime." he told her candidly. "I kind of freaked out a bit. But they apologised and we're all friends again now." he added hastily. Further proof that Sunshine wasn't a complete naif: he knew how protective Jael was of him. He drifted downwards a little, tugging at her hands.

"Do you want to come and meet them?" he asked, deep blue eyes looking up at them. "I don't really know most of them, but Tom, Jean-Pierre and Lucille have been looking after me today, making sure I don't get lost and stuff. Which is odd, because I don't think I would get lost, but it's nice of them anyway."

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"Hmm, I suspect that they weren't worried about you being physically lost," the nova guessed. Jael let herself be tugged downward, though she was honestly more than willing to meet his classmates. "Sure, I'd love to meet them, get to know them, learn their scents," she said, adding a wicked grin to the last.

"Jael, they were nice," Sunshine added, smiling. Though he didn't mean it as censure, she heard the message.

"I know!" she said, picking up speed so that she spun around him. Sunshine let her pull him into a spin, their linked hands the axis.

"I just wanna meet them." She gave him that rare, genuine smile that only he and Shelly received, her hair snapping around her face in a chaotic halo. "They're your friends."

He smiled and dropped one of her hands so that they could land side-by-side. "Hello, everyone, this is Jael." Sunshine made introductions for as many as he could, and the boisterous crowd filled in the rest.

"Hi, there," she said as a general greeting, smiling around at everyone. She waved but declined to say too much; they were Sunshine's friends and she'd follow his lead.

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The students were, for the most part, awestruck at actually having two novas in arm's reach, let alone one. The girls were torn between jealous liver-chewing at how happy Sunshine was holding Jael's hand and... well, liver-chewing pretty much covered most of it. The guys were torn between ogling Jael (and privately thinking that she was way hotter in the flesh than on their desktop wallpapers), and trying to be cool and non-geeky over her presence. The awkward phase between boy and man that took anything from five to ten years to traverse was very much in evidence, though less so in some instances...

"Enchanté, Mademoiselle Carver." Jean-Pierre said upon introduction with a very Gallic flair as he shook her hand, turning it slightly as though he might have, in times past, kissed it. He smiled at her as he released her hand, the heartbreaker that he'd become three or so years from now evident in the soft brown eyes and charming grin. "Alex has told us many wonderful things about you, yet he neglected to mention how much lovelier you are in person."

"Jean-Pierre's going to help me with learning French." Sunshine told Jael excitedly. "And Lucille has offered to help me with math and history." he said by way of introduction. The quiet girl nodded and murmured a greeting, trying to fight off a blush as Alex smiled at her, but he was already moving on to Tom. "And this is Tom. He's a musician, and he's going to see if there's an instrument I can play." Tom's greeting was, if anything, quieter and more self-effacing than Lucille's, but on the plus side he wasn't blushing scarlet. Sunshine introduced the others he knew in the crowd, smiling back at Jael the whole time.

Eventually the house-tutors were able to get some semblance of order, gently ushering the boarding students to their dorm buildings to change and get on with their evening activities. After quickly arranging to meet Jean-Pierre the next afternoon after class to practice his French and saying his goodbyes, Alex turned back to Jael as his friends drifted away.

"I've got some homework." he announced with a smile. "It doesn't seem too hard, though." He frowned a little, looking over at the school building. "I thought the schoolwork here would be harder than at the facility. But it's not." That, of course, was as a result of the lessons being tailored to his enhanced intellect, though Sunshine hadn't seemed to grasp that he was smart. Considering her recent altercation with a mega-brain online, Jael considered that one of his good points.

"So what do you want to do tonight?" Alex asked her with a beaming smile as he began to rise into the air, motes of light dancing in his warm aura.

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