Valeriya Volkov bent her head against the vicious, biting wind as it tore at her ragged dress. Mud splattered her thin face, and she squeezed her eyes closed in a vain, futile hope that doing so would provide her with some small degree of warmth. It didn't.
She stopped, coughing, to check her watch- one of the few things she owned that actually worked. It dutifully informed her that she was precisely- precisely, mind you- 30 minutes late for school. Not that it really mattered. The teachers were impressed if any of their students turned up at all. Valeriya sometimes imagined them simply standing in front of an empty classroom and reciting times tables. Her lips quirked into a small smile. Times tables. She'd been able to recite them since she was a tiny rebenok. Then again, she reflected ruefully, as she hefted up her heavy satchel, she'd been able to calculate pi to 3,000 digits in her head before she could walk.
It was a shame, Valeriya had always thought, that she'd been born into the furthest reaches of Russia, where howling blizzards and deadly frostbite were daily occurrences. If the God that her babushka had always told her about really existed, why had He gifted her like this, only to drop her where she'd be no use? Sure, it was fun being able to beat everyone at everything, but shouldn't there be more to life?
Her arrival at the local schoolhouse drove Valeriya out of her reverie. It was a dismal building- moss covering the walls, and damp rotting the cheap wooden boards that made up the roof. If the building was a person, Valeriya reflected, it would probably be either a cranky old man, or stone-cold dead.
Someone had made an effort to carve a path from the road into the school that morning, but it was already filled with thick, dry snow. Blin. Hefting her satchel further up her skinny shoulder, Valeriya began the long, cold struggle to her class.
'...due to today's sources, that he was born on the seventeenth of December-'
'Yes, spasibo, Valeriya. Stalin was born on the eighteenth of December-'
'At twelve o'clock in the afternoon.'
The teacher pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing.
'Yes, very well, Valeriya. Lets just move on to our homework, shall we?'
Eight satchels rustled, and small, grimy pieces of paper appeared on the children's desks. The teacher paced up and down, commenting on the quality of the work, handwriting and spelling, but stopping at the desk that had the word Volkov scrawled on it in fancy writing. He smiled thinly.
'What have you prepared for us today, mi linkee?'
Valeriya smiled, and pushed a pile of paper towards him. It was covered with equations, detailed blueprints, and a small army of stick men having a violent battle down the bottom of the first page.
'I've discovered the way to increase the average persons-' she glanced pointedly around the class, 'mental capacity to 6x its average ability. This way, everyone would be able to have photographic memory, and other mental advantages that certain people have over everyone. I've already tested it on myself- it worked quite well, I must say. I memorised a novel word to word in two minutes- my previous record is nine.'
The teacher smiled indulgently. 'Very good, Miss Volkov. Have a sticker.'
Valeriya took the offered sticker with a strange expression on her face. The teacher saw her hesitation, took it from her once more and pressed it firmly onto her paper, right over the precious blueprints. Valeryia stayed silent for the rest of the day, and when she arrived home, back at the dingy little cabin she shared with her babushka, and was asked to get a fire going, she used her work as the kindling.