14. An exception

2055, September 5th
Collapse + 6 years

The elevator descended the side of the tower. The sun flickered against Winnie’s closed eyes as steel beams along the elevator shaft shot by. It wasn’t helping her headache.

“Six hours, hmm?” said Madeline.

Winnie tolerated opening her eyes to glance at her. “What?”

“When I escorted you to Her Majesty’s quarters at noon, I didn’t expect I’d have to tell the chefs to postpone dinner.”

Winnie shrugged. She wasn’t in any mood to talk, or do anything except maybe lie on her bed and surf the internet. Victoria had given her exercises to be done every night to practice, but Winnie had already decided that she’d skip them tonight.

She never would thought she’d get tired of using her flair. Now, the thought of projecting her mind caused her headache to swell. It was a mixed blessing. If Winnie’s brain hadn’t started hurting, she’d probably still be with Victoria, projecting her mind into the core of the sun or wherever.

Victoria was insatiable. Every question led to five more. Every experiment was repeated in every possible permutation. And Victoria wasn’t doing it just to be thorough. She wanted to. Every single answer or result absorbed into her like drops onto an endless sponge.

It’s not that Winnie didn’t want to expand her power. Left to her own devices, she would, but at her own pace. And she’d never think to ask even half the questions Victoria had.

Could she see in other spectrums of light? Like X-Rays? Victoria wanted to know. She explained that observing only on the visible light spectrum was a limitation of our eyes. Winnie needed to shake her belief that her flair was limited the same way. Victoria didn’t stop there either. She believed Winnie should be able to hear at any frequency, or at any volume.

The worst was the range-of-vision experiments. Victoria took her first crack at breaking Winnie of her “floating camera” point of view. It was another limitation just because Winnie was used to looking in one direction. That led to an hour of trying what Victoria referred to as omnidirectional viewing: looking in all directions from a single point. These tests marked the start of the headache.

As they finished up, Victoria talked about all manner of alien experiments: viewing a single object from all directions at once, seeing objects in a pocket as though the pocket were transparent, seeing multiple places at the same time, and visualizing people even if Winnie didn’t know where they were. This last one in particular excited Victoria.

Growing her power would become a chore.

The elevator stopped on the eighth floor—the security wing. This was as low as that elevator went. Madeline led Winnie to the checkpoint. Like her lessons, security would probably grow tiresome. When she arrived this morning, just as with her first visit, Winnie was subjected to a full scan, both physical and mental.

“Am I going to have to pass through security every time I come to the tower?” asked Winnie.

“I’m afraid so,” said Madeline. “You’ll get used to it. It’s faster than airport security.”

“But you don’t have to get your mind scanned at the airport.”

“Don’t worry. The exemplars are perfectly discreet.”

Something was happening at security. The guards had formed a boundary around the checkpoint, preventing anyone from coming or going.

Madeline sighed as a guard approached.

“I’m sorry. You need to stay back,” the guard said.

“Her?” asked Madeline.

“Yes,” said the guard. “She’s inbound now. Shouldn’t be much longer.”

Madeline led Winnie aside.

“What’s going on?” asked Winnie.

“Princess Helena is returning. They need to lock down security for her to pass through. Shouldn’t take long.”

Princess Helena. She must be Victoria’s daughter that Madeline had mentioned earlier. From the way Madeline said the name, she clearly thought Winnie already knew about her. Though Winnie had never even knew Victoria had a daughter before visiting here, nor did she know who the father was.

Security finished their preparations. Beyond the kiosks, guards ran about the garage bay checking everything over and escorting people away. Once clear, one guard signaled another, who popped his head into the screening rooms. Two exemplars came out, one whom Winnie recognized from her own scan this morning. They waited at attention along the side, their heads bowed.

It seemed this princess didn’t have to get scanned like everyone else.

If not for Victoria’s rules, Winnie would have projected into the garage bay to see what the holdup was. She was about to ask Madeline when a guard came from the garage bay and announced, “She’s landed.” Ah. So lockdown begins before this girl even returns. That explains it.

Soon, two casually-dressed men emerging from the garage bay hallway carrying enough shopping bags to hide their faces. They dropped them on a security counter, and a team of guards descended on them with detector wands and rubber gloves.

Another two men appeared. From their builds, they were body guards. Behind them came a young girl dressed in fur and leather. Her wild blonde curls were so flawlessly arranged that she must have had her hair styled today.

She looked down at a tablet as she walked, oblivious to those around her. At the security gate, guards opened a walkway around the detectors, but the girl stopped by the guards searching her bags.

“Make sure these bags are delivered to my sitting room.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” replied a guard, but she was already walking on.

The princess approached the elevators, where Winnie and Madeline waited. Winnie raced through her etiquette knowledge. The guard called her “Your Highness”. Got it. But what else? She’d forgotten to ask Madeline about it since Victoria corrected her earlier, and something about this girl told Winnie she wouldn’t be as forgiving.

Madeline curtsied. “Good evening, Your Highness. I hope your shopping trip went well.”

“It sucked.” Helena nodded toward the elevator, and Madeline pressed the call button. “Every designer in this city is bullshit. Seven people just showed me seven versions of the same dress.”

“Perhaps we could contact designers from out of state. I’m sure there are some in North America who could help.”

Helena heaved a sigh. “Why bother? As if they’d do any better. We should just put the attendants in flat dresses and stop caring. I don’t see why I should if nobody else does.”

“Of course, ma’am.”

“No. Call them anyway. Might as well.”

“Of course.”

“And make sure they keep my shuttle ready. I’m going back out after dinner.”

“Certainly. Your dinner has been prepared in the owl room.”

The elevator door opened. Helena didn’t get in. “Why isn’t it in the main hall?”

“The queen is meeting with the the Chinese ambassador right now.”

“What the fuck? She told me to be back by six.”

“I’m afraid your mother’s schedule got pushed back today.”

“And nobody decided to tell me this? I wouldn’t have bothered coming back.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. Your mother only just informed me.”

“What the hell has she been doing all day?”

“She was… in other meetings.”

“She was meeting the new flair today, wasn’t she?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Helena’s narrowed gaze turned to Winnie. “Is this her?”

Madeline hesitated. “Yes, ma’am. This is Cho Eun-Yeong.”

“Hello, Your Highness.” Winnie curtsied just as Madeline had.

Helena scrutinized her. When the elevator began closing, she held down the call button to keep it open. Her gaze scoured over Winnie’s clothes and body.

“What’s your power?”

Was that that how everyone was going to greet her from now on? “I can project my senses to wherever I want, ma’am.”

“Oh right.” Helena tilted her head. “Are you staying in the dorm with the other kids?”

Other kids? From the look of it, Helena was the same age as Winnie. Who was she calling kid?

“Yes, ma’am.”

The elevator beeped frantically.

“Oh fine.” Helena entered the elevator and released the button. “Keep my shuttle ready,” she yelled.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And you,” Helena looked at Winnie. “Don’t dare spy on me.”

The door closed.

“Well,” said Madeline. “Now you’ve met Princess Helena.”

“Is she always like that?”

Madeline smiled thinly. “We can get moving now.”

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