This week, I wanted to share with you something special to me. It's the final punctuation placed on my award-winning series The NADIA Project. Someone's story just had to be told to its completion, and I'm sure you all can guess who I'm talking about.
By the time Critical Mass closes out, you'll either love her or you'll hate her guts. She's everyone's hopeless flirt and loose cannon all rolled into one, whether an angel or demon no one has quite figured out yet.
So without further ado, let's grab a peek at Jenna by way of Lies and Paine:
Jenna Paine doesn’t know how “special” she really is. Raised by her scientist mother and a Japanese tutor named Mama-San, her special abilities go unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of her schoolwork and training. However, other eyes are watching as well, from behind a veil of secrets. And they have plans for someone with precisely Jenna’s talents.
In college, she meets a group of people who introduce her to a new vision for world peace, and a way to realize it.
But when the cost for peace is measured in blood, can Jenna get out before it’s too late?
Project 14-257. Day 3653. Subject believes she is a normal human child of ten years. Doctor Paine continues on-site monitoring and Dr. Spielberg remains as project head. With additions to staff, project direction shifts from emphasis on normalcy to exploitation of design enhancements. Initial variation of The Turing Test now becomes realization of new human advancement. Modified project completion date Day 7305. Pending success of the remote incubation process (see Project 15-013, pending), project is on target to become our crowning achievement.
* * * *
Workmen came to empty the garage the day after Mama-San moved in. Special equipment arrived the next day on a big truck. Jenna watched them bring in boxes and bags of strange-looking gadgets, the purpose of which she could only guess. Mama-San started slowly, with special games that Jenna liked. She played them with Jenna every day after her homework was done, sometimes into late hours. They started out as a funny kind of slow dance, and when Jenna danced like that, she found she wouldn’t think so much about Daddy. It made it easier to throw herself into the other games, which involved faster moves. Moves that broke things.
Jenna imagined the boards and bricks to be the worst things in her life. She named them as her fists and feet rained shattering blows upon them, smiling in satisfaction at every crunch or crack that rang up her limbs and into her ears. They were Melissa Wheaton, who whispered behind Jenna’s back at school all day, calling her “freak” and “loser” for her eyes, larger and sharper than everyone else’s. They were Ricky Blanton, who had picked on Jenna every day since first grade. They were Cancer, who took her daddy away and put him in the ground.
One day Mama-San handed Jenna a package wrapped in a red scarf. When Jenna undid the string, on the silk lay a coarse wool belt, as black as night. And wound in the belt, pure and bright, lay a beautiful red candy. She was so overjoyed, she threw her arms around the woman’s waist and squeezed until Mama-San’s gentle hands pulled her loose. When she looked up, Mama-San stood beaming with pride. “You have done well, Sakana-Chan. I’m so proud of you!”
“I want to show Mother!” Jenna took off at a run. She found her mother on the phone with Dr. Spielberg, talking about research notes and some boring new project Mother had become involved in.
Mother held a finger up as Jenna approached, breathless. “Anna, put Petr on. I have a piece of my mind for him.” She put a hand over the mouthpiece long enough to say to Jenna, “Hold just a moment. Wait in the living room.”
Jenna retreated obediently and sat on the couch until Mother entered, rubbing her head. “I swear that man is going to be the death of me yet.”
“Here, Mother. Mama-San gave me this.” Jenna stood and laid the belt reverently across her mother’s arm.
Mother held it up. “Well, isn’t that lovely. I take it there is some sort of significance to it?”
A swell of pride grew in Jenna’s chest. “It’s for taekwondo. It means I can teach now.”
“That’s lovely, dear. Is your homework done?”
“Mama-San just wanted to take a few minutes—“
“Mama-San should be helping you with your math, dear. Homework first. Play later.” She handed the belt back to Jenna and walked out, speaking over her shoulder as she left. “I’ll call when dinner’s ready.”
Jenna stood frozen, her first black belt suddenly heavy in her arms. She looked down at it. She’d thought it was special, the way Mama-San handed it to her all wrapped in the beautiful scarf and tied with a ribbon. But Mother didn’t seem to think it was. She just turned and left.
Jenna’s hand dropped. On the way down, she brushed her pocket. Reaching in, she brought out her confirmation. The red candy glowed in the light of the corner lamp. That made the belt special. She brought the candy to her mouth, preparing to pop it in, but hesitated just at her lips. It was special. Should she really eat it so quickly, after working so hard to earn it? Just getting a red piece was too rich a reward to squander on a moment’s pleasure.
She’d lost count of the green candies Mama-San had given her for each skill learned. After the first few pieces, she quit eating the green candy. They went into the trash when she thought Mama-San wasn’t looking. She didn’t want the green candy, dammit. She wanted red.
No, this was special. She carried her new prizes upstairs to her bedroom. The candy she placed on her bookshelf with trembling, careful fingers. Then she undid the white student’s belt from her gi and wrapped the black one around her waist. She stood back to look at herself in the mirror on the back of her door. The girl in the looking glass stared back with a new kind of strength Jenna Paine never thought could be there. She took a wide stance and threw a series of lightning punches into the air, finishing with a side kick that stopped just short of the fragile mirror. Then, carefully extending her toes, Jenna touched the glass before lowering her leg again with a smile.
Okay, Mama-San. What’s next?