Jane, as she understood her name to be, was happy when her friend Natalie made it known to her that the two of them would be going places. Her current Home Place was comfortable but becoming boring.
With Natalie’s help she put on “panties” and a “bra” and “soccasins.” She was given a small plastic bag of a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste and a piece of hand soap she’d used and a small green bottle of body lotion. She already knew the names of those last few objects. Then they walked hand in hand to the elevator. She’d been up and down it before but it was still a bit of an adventure.
Her robot guard had awoken the first time she rode on it but quickly subsided to its usual watchful state. Jane vaguely sensed its presence as an invisible friend. One who would not or could not talk to her. That made her sad. But she had already made some friends in her Home Place, so she was not too sad.
Natalie pointed at the 1 button and Jane pushed it. As expected it lit and the elevator began to move. Jane’s motion sense told her in what vector and velocity she moved. The elevator was a real slow poke. Jane would have been happier if it had been much livelier. But then Natalie might have been hurt. She was not built to withstand the g-forces Jane was.
The clear blue sky and fresh air and green grass of Outside was a real treat after two days Inside. The “cars” in the parking lot were a visual treat too, all shiny (mostly) and differently colored and complexly shaped.
Jane obligingly sat in the passenger seat of Natalie’s small blue car and her friend led her to learn how to put on and off and back on her “seat belt.” Then Natalie walked in front of the car and got in behind the wheel. This turned out to be the way Natalie steered the vehicle, though one of her feet was part of the driving process too.
Then the car moved out. Jane’s motion sense woke and she became happier. They were moving in more interesting ways. Though still very modestly.
That was fine for a while. But then it became routine. The car could not change its shape to become more streamlined. And it could not levitate to give it more choices of paths. Jane had vague memories of vehicles which could.
Mentally she shrugged. This motion was fine. She was content.
She had another treat soon. They entered a big “shopping center” with several large floors filled with thousands of people of all shapes and sizes and colors moving in free-form paths. And a “department store” where Natalie got several kinds of clothing for her and, pure happiness, “running shoes”!
Next they visited a new Home. There was much complex interplay with people then she and Natalie went into a room where Natalie and a girl half a head taller than Jane put her new clothing and her possessions away. The girl, named Martina, showed her a bed on one side of the room and with motions told Jane it was hers.
Then something disturbing happened. Natalie knelt before her and said something which made Natalie sad. She hugged Jane and kissed her forehead and walked away, waving a hand which Jane already knew from “TV” meant Goodbye.
Jane was so sad that her face scrunched up and tears welled up in her eyes.
Martina put an arm around Jane as she watched Natalie go. Jane could tell Natalie was very sad. Her new friend spoke to her again and again in a gentle voice.
Then Martina took Jane’s hand and led her out of the room. From there they went to several rooms in the big Home. This included a room with a TV and an exercise room and a “library” filled with books.
Jane had already learned about books. She’d been especially taken with one which had big letters from A to Z and pictures showing words which began with those letters. She’d immediately memorized those letters and how they sounded when she pushed a flat button on each page. Sadly she’d not gotten through the entire book before it had been time to eat.
Now she said to Martina, with a question in her voice, “Alphabet book? Alphabet book?”
“You want an alphabet book? Yes? Yes! Anna! Anna!”
Anna was a woman about Natalie’s age with the most beautiful chocolate skin. She and Jane went through several books and Jane picked out three. Then Anna did something with a computer.
Jane stood holding the books to her chest as the machine did its work. This was the first time she’d been close to one while it worked. It fascinated her because she could see inside it in some way and follow along with what Anna was doing on it. She understood nothing but KNEW she eventually could.
Later she and Martina went to dinner. The food was “Mexican” and delightfully spicy. Hospital food had been bland and not enough. Here in her new Home she served herself in a buffet line and she could go back for seconds. Martina laughed at her and told her, “You’ll make yourself sick!” Jane understood what Martina was saying from context and the girl’s expression, so she memorized the phrase.
Next Jane was led by Martina to use the communal bathroom on her floor, the top floor of three. She brushed her teeth and washed her face.
Then came TV time in a communal room on the first floor. A third of the girls in the Home attended and argued over what to watch every half or full hour. An older woman moderated their arguments and had the girls vote on what they watched. Jane was silent and watched whatever was chosen. Each choice was fun and a learning experience.
Then she and Martina retired to their floor for toilet time. Jane’s visit was brief. All she had to do was pee and it was as always slight and perfectly clear.
Finally there was an hour of “me time” before lights out in each room. Jane spent that time reading her alphabet books and memorizing the letters and the spelling and sound of the words they were used in.
The next morning Jane had a treat. At breakfast Natalie was there when she and Martina came down to the cafeteria. Jane gave a shout and ran to hug Natalie about her waist. Natalie hugged her back and said, “See? I said I wouldn’t go away forever.”
The first activity after that, after Jane had brushed her teeth and used the bathroom, was counseling. Natalie sat in on that.
The counselor, a small Asian woman, began by saying, “Dr. Sasuni. What is your interest in this?”
“We at Saint Josephs are concerned with all our patients after they leave the hospital. Normally our follow-ups are brief. We have a full case load. But Jane is a special case that I felt required some explanation.
“Jane’s DNA revealed she comes from a strain of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico. Their physiological indicators, Jane’s in particular, is such that they might seem illness markers. Here is a report on her case.”
She handed over a folder containing a piece of paper and continued talking while the counselor examined the paper.
“You can see that her resting heart rate and blood pressures are unusually low. Her normal temperature is unusually high. All this is related, we believe, to her great endurance. The Tarahumara are known to routinely run for 48 hours straight with no rest stops and eating and drinking while running.
“And, to be quite frank, I’ve developed a personal interest in her. I’ve applied to become her guardian. However, due to my job demands. I can’t adopt her. I will, however, stay alert to her treatment generally. I’m sure it will be exemplary here. Marymount has a stellar reputation.”
Jane understood not one word in ten but she could read people well enough to feel Natalie was saying something that would make life easier for Jane. That made her feel very warm inside.
The counselor closed the folder and put it inside.
“The first thing we’ll do is a behavioral survey. Anything you can add to that?”
“Not much. That’s your field. I will relay some suspicions I and my boss have. Jane has suffered some emotional–emotional not physical–trauma which has left her without her native language. You’ll have to start with her as if she were a kindergartner. I’ll wager her progress will be swift. Our Jane–” She looked fondly at Jane. “–Jane is a very quick learner.”
Such it turned out to be. Within a week Jane was speaking fluent English. She was precocious to the edge of or beyond genius. Math she inhaled as if it were candy. Soon they had her taking online advanced math courses at the Free University of the Mind.
She also learned Spanish, mostly from Martina. Soon they’d abandoned English and chatted in Spanish, though in the manner of many Spanish speakers in southern California: with a free intermixture of English. Rarely did they say bueno. Usually they said OK.
In sports she was also phenomenal. Tireless, almost supernaturally quick, with athletic bodily control, she took to soccer as if born to it. She loved to swim when she and some of the Marymount girls were taken to the public swimming pool. Natalie, coming along on the few occasions she could take off work, called her “my mermaid.”
By Christmas time, when Marymount put on a Christmas program which a good many interested adults attended, she was singing in a small choir. Her voice and its control, Natalie felt, were equal to that of any of the day’s young pop celebrities, and she was just as cute as any of them. Natalie wondered if she might have a future in entertainment but kept silent. She knew too much of what those careers demanded of its practitioners.
There was a dark side to Jane, however. Which no adults ever heard about.
There was a clique of girls who wanted to rule the roost at Marymount. They had a leader, Jessica Simmons, pretty, outwardly kind, she could be cutting in her opinions. The Queen Bee stereotype used so often in teen movies was sometimes also true in real life.
When Jane began to become popular and gather her entourage Jessica began to snipe at her friends, though never at Jane herself. It took Jane some time to realize what was happening. The behavior was alien to her. She was much more likely to encourage and comfort.
Once she realized what was happening Jane began thinking of how to handle Jessica’s behavior. She decided to confront the girl, but not in public where Jessica would be forced to fight back or lose her prestige. She discreetly observed the girl and learned her routine.
Then late one night when Jessica was walking alone down her hallway on the second floor Jane stepped out of hiding and stood in Jessica’s path.
“What are you doing here? You don’t belong here. Get out of my way.”
“You’ve been saying mean things about my friends. Stop it. If you don’t I will hurt you.”
“You’re crazy! You don’t dare do anything to me.”
Jane could only think of one thing to do to Jessica: hurt her physically. But she knew from movies and TV shows there were more, and she had no doubt Jessica knew all of those ways.
“Keep on thinking that, and hurting my friends, and you will find out.”
Then she walked past the girl and returned to her floor.
Most often enemies become worse enemies. But occasionally an enemy becomes one’s friend. So it was with Jessica. Within two months she and Jane were close friends and their two cliques merged. This showed up most obviously, to anyone who might be looking, on the soccer field. Jessica was athletic too, and often Jane would set up the ball so that Jessica could boot it for the winning shot.
Four months later when Jessica left for placement in a foster home she wept and clung to Jane before leaving. Jane promised to keep in touch and visit her. They exchanged numbers on their smart phones and for a time did call each other frequently, then the mutual calls became less and less as Jessica adjusted to her new home and found new friends.
Marymount had classes for their charges in subjects they’d need in high school. Jane made only mediocre grades in Civics, Government, and History classes. In Literature she did better, as she was a voracious and fast reader. In Writing and Speaking she was outstanding, being able to quickly organize a subject and present it. She often got laughs when speaking, because she was good at exaggerating a subject and speaking ironically.
In creative writing she got barely passing grades. Her teacher chastised her for writing about “sci-fi” with aliens and space ships and mysterious deep space objects. Jane shrugged off her low grades and kept on writing about those subjects.
In physics, chemistry, and biology Jane soon equaled her math precocity. Again she was enrolled in advanced science subjects in the Free University.
Natalie, now Jane’s official guardian, received Jane’s progress reports. She increasingly wondered if they were more proof that Jane was an extraterrestrial. That her precocity was evidence that she was just relearning what she already had learned in a previous life. Yet Jane was so obviously a young girl that Natalie could not believe it.
A year went by then most of a second. In that summer the time approached the anniversary of Jane’s discovery. On the Provisional Birth Certificate Natalie had filed that as her birth date, though backdated to fifteen years earlier.
Marymount had been after Natalie to find a foster home or adoption parents for Jane or to adopt Jane herself. She’d been there for a year longer than most of their clients. She was clearly free of any trauma and they’d brought her up to nearly a senior in high school in her subjects.
Yet Marymount, so successful with other of their clients, could find no one to take Jane. She was too old and smart.
Adoptive parents almost always wanted a child much younger than Jane, even as adorable and lovable as Jane was. Foster homes wanted children who would be easy to manage so they could get their monthly stipend from the state. A smart girl, they just knew, would be hard for ordinary people like them to manage. Even the fosters who genuinely wanted someone they could love as well as added monthly income felt inadequate.
Natalie was seriously considering adopting Jane though she was still not over losing her daughter. Then Jane lucked out. Whether it was good or bad luck, Natalie was not sure.
A couple had recently asked Marymount among other agencies for prospective children to adopt. They were not intimidated by Jane’s age or precocity. The wife was a former high-school principal, the husband a physics professor near retirement from Pasadena’s CalTech: the California Institute of Technology.
Marymount’s psychology counselor was also their adoption and foster liaison. She insisted adopters and fosters meet with her at their home. This did double duty. She could see the home Marymount’s children would go to, and avoided any children getting their hopes up of finding someone to take them, both a feared and a craved-for outcome.
Natalie went along with Bertha Johnson, the counselor, a bit to Bertha’s annoyance though she could do nothing about it. Natalie was Jane’s guardian.
The two went in separate cars to the Kuznetsov’s home, each from their own homes, first thing on a weekday morning. They arrived just before 9:00, the hour of their appointment. Natalie was ten minutes early, Bertha only a couple of minutes later. Natalie got out of her car and walked to meet Bertha, who was leaving her car. Natalie had met the counselor before. She was a slender black woman.
They stood looking at the house for a considering few minutes. It was a large two-story brick house two blocks to the east of CalTech in an upscale tree-shrouded area.
“Looks nice enough,” said Natalie, turning to survey the street and the houses in the area, all pleasant enough.
“It should be. He’s rich from several important patents and she has a good retirement package.”
“You did a financial disclosure search.”
“Of course I did, Dr.” Bertha sounded annoyed.
“Let’s do this.”
They were halfway to the front door when it opened to reveal a couple. He was tall, had bushy grey hair and a trim beard and mustache, dressed in a tan jacket over a light blue work shirt and jeans with brown half boots. She was a mildly plump Latina, very pretty, with long black hair tinged with grey, dressed in a dark print dress with large colorful flowers upon it. She was barefoot.
Natalie let Bertha take the lead. She shook hands with the couple while introducing herself and Natalie, the guardian of the prospective adoptee. The couple invited the two into the living room where they gave their visitors the choice of a couch and two easy chairs on each side of the couch. Bertha chose the nearest easy chair, leaving the other one for Natalie. The couple sat on the couch.
Malena Sosa, who’d kept her surname when she married, asked if they wanted tea or coffee, gesturing at the tray on the coffee table before them. It included two pots and cream and sugar, cups and spoons. Bertha chose coffee and had it black. Natalie had tea and added a dab of cream and a cube of sugar. The couple both had coffee, Alexander Kuznetsov with cream and sugar, Malena black.
“Please call me Alex,” he said. His wife said to call her Malena.
Malena said, “I hope you don’t think we don’t take this seriously because we wore informal clothing. We wanted you to see us as we normally dress and act.”
“Not at all,” said Bertha. “I wish everyone would do the same.
“You may be wondering why Dr. Sasuni is here. She is Jane’s guardian.”
The couple turned their heads away from Bertha toward Natalie. She smiled to herself. This gave Bertha a chance to observe the Kuznetsovs without herself being observed. The woman was a smart cookie.
“I was the attending physician when Jane came in. She’s an appealing child and my own daughter was gone, so I sort of adopted her. But with my job and lack of a husband I didn’t feel able to pay a child the attention she deserved.”
She switched her gaze back to Bertha and that woman took over the interview, getting acquainted with the couple. She early brought up Jane’s physiological differences from the norm, which led Natalie to say they were within normal ranges but to let their own physician know about them ahead of time so that worthy would not be upset about them. Otherwise Natalie remained silent most of the time.
Bertha talked more about Jane’s educational and athletic progress and general demeanor.
“She’s a very even-tempered and friendly girl, always willing to help the others out. She’s quite a little leader, but not domineering. She leads from out front and by encouragement. She’ll go along with just about any suggestion, but don’t get lulled by that. The rare times when she says No she means it. Persuade but never force her to do something. You will regret it if you try.”
Malena began laughing while her husband looked on with a long-suffering expression.
“You couldn’t have better described Alex if you’d tried. One of the reasons why I love him.”
She put an arm through his and cuddled up to him. He gave an Oh Well grimace and put a hand on her arm.
He said, “Would you like to see the house?”
His guests agreed and stood. The couple did too.
The two-story house was spacious and on the first floor had a modern kitchen and dining room.
“Malena loves to cook and is really good. But she has an Argentine’s love of meat while I’ve been trying to lead a pretty much vegetarian diet. We like to have guests over. Some of them have children near Jane’s age.”
He gestured out the kitchen’s large window onto the back yard. It contained a large pool with deck chairs and tables and a grill.
“Does Jane swim?”
Natalie said, “Does she ever! She’s like a little porpoise, very athletic. One warning: she has unusual lung capacity and can stay underwater–and active–for at least 25 minutes. That’s a couple of minutes over the world record. Best tell her to stay under no more than a few minutes to keep from alarming anyone.”
There were two offices for the couple. Malena’s was modest with a small laptop on her desk though her library was extensive. Alex’s was large, had a huge library, and a fat red-surfaced computer partly hidden in a corner. There was a medium-sized flat screen on his desk and two very large flat screens mounted on the wall beyond his desk.
“I do a lot of preliminary physics research here at home and my computer there is pretty close to a supercomputer.”
“Can Jane use it?” asked Bertha.
He hesitated. “Once she’s learned how not to disturb my work and when I’m not using it. Her bedroom has a fairly advanced one though.”
One other room had a dance floor and mirrors on one wall with a long barre which stretched all across the room.
“I was into ballroom dance long ago. That’s where I met Malena and when we married we had this put in. All our children have learned to dance, starting here. We’ll teach Jane if she likes.”
Natalie said, “She will. She’s very much into salsa. Her best friend is a Latina and got her started.”
Lastly they went to the top floor. It had a big master bedroom and three guest bedrooms. Each had a bathroom with a bathtub/shower combination.
“These were our children’s when they were here. This one would be Jane’s if she came here. You can see the computer I mentioned on the desk.”
The room was big and airy and overlooked the pool. There was a walk-in closet and a big bed as well as the desk.
Downstairs again Alex asked if they had any more questions or concerns. Bertha asked about education.
Malena said, “Pasadena has four high schools. We’d take her to the one which could best serve her after she’s taken class qualifier exams. But from the information you sent us a private school might be better, given the uneven development you’ve told us about. They might be better to tailor her curriculum.
“Be assured however, that Jane’s education will be tailored to HER, not some ideal average student.”
“Can’t ask for more than that,” said Bertha.
Natalie got in the passenger seat of Bertha’s car.
“What do you think?”
Bertha said, “Go. If you agree. I’d tell them now except I like to make them sweat a day.”
“I can’t see how we can do better for Jane.”
Then she grinned. “You’re evil!”
“Oh, shit. Now I have to tell them this minute just to prove I’m not evil.” She got out of her car and slammed its door closed and began to walk toward the Kuznetsov’s house.