18. Blindfold

2055, September 7th
Collapse + 6 years

Winnie’s alarm chimed. It wasn’t her phone as she had used previous mornings, but a specialized alarm clock that slowly illuminated the ceiling of her room with a floodlight before chiming gently using real chimes instead of a speaker. It was one of many things a Series Five assembler could make from the assembler public library.

Back home, creating such a thing at the assembler station would have cost a hefty fee, especially given all the metal of the chimes. Here though, there was a whole closet full of matter packs which the staff restocked weekly, no charge. The assembler didn’t even needed them for most jobs. It was a Series 5 breather model. They got the bulk of their material from the air.

She wondered if she were allowed to mail items back home. People here would probably think it was silly, but metal supplies would go a long way for her mom.

As she sat up, she visualized her kitchen back home. Dark outside. Lights off.

Oh right. Time zones.

Today would be her first day at the International School of Porto Maná, but classes wouldn’t start for another hour. She was going to start her new life off properly.

A tank top, shorts, and a pair of running shoes later, she was outside in the breaking dawn. Birds had only begun chirping. A short jog brought her to the lake. A paved walking path circled it, passing manicured gardens and sectioned-off forest. This was certainly an improvement from the near-freezing roadsides she used to jog on. She checked her old path in her mind. No new snow, but the wind was vicious there. Here, the air was chilly and damp with dew, but just warm enough for short sleeves.

Winnie took out a strap of cloth and tied it around her eyes. This was the first of several exercises Victoria had given her: practice relying entirely on her flair to get around. Perhaps it was foolish to try this when jogging, but Victoria wanted Winnie to practice four hours every day, and she would know if Winnie was shirking practice. So unless Winnie wanted to walk around her first day of school with a blindfold, or read computer screens with her power, which felt like reading traffic signs without glasses, she’d have to squeeze in her four hours wherever else she could.

Besides, Winnie had practiced this yesterday. She’d stumbled constantly at first as she watched herself from a third person perspective, but then she learned the trick. She visualized exactly what her eyes would see, only she convinced her mind to ignore the blindfold that was in the way. It made sense. Just because she was visualizing from behind it didn’t mean she shouldn’t know what was beyond.

She was actually looking forward to her next session with the queen to show how she’d evolved. It was a big step toward breaking down that “floating camera” limitation the queen kept going on about.

Winnie began jogging. She encountered a few others, landscapers mostly. They stared openly after she passed, as though the blindfolded girl would be less likely to catch them gaping from behind her back. It made her smile. This was actually kind of cool. She was like a superhero, or a blind seer, more aware of her surroundings than those who could see. Maybe she could stylize her blindfold too, at least make it not press on her eyes so much.

Two men in a hover cart came by. They slowed as they passed. A burly man in the passenger seat looked her over. She might have taken offense, except they were clearly bodyguards. Both wore ear pieces.

Projecting behind her, she saw a trio of joggers approaching: two women with holstered weapons, and Princess Helena between them.

Winnie considered getting off the path. But then what? Hide in the bushes? The bodyguards would love that.

The point was moot, the princess had caught up enough to see Winnie. As they passed, Helena glanced at her, did a double take, then slowed to match pace.

Of course she would.

“You’re the new flair, right?”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“Why are you blindfolded?”

“The queen wants me to practice using my projection to see, ma’am.”

“Can you see me right now?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Even though you’re not even looking at me?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Helena studied her. It was the same judgmental pat down she’d given Winnie at the security checkpoint.

“Huh,” said Helena. “Is that as fast as you can run?”

How pleasant.

“No, ma’am. I can run faster.”

“Good. Run with me.” Helena resumed her pace, and Winnie sped up to match. Was Winnie allowed to say no and let the princess run off? She doubted it.

“Are you going to the International School right?”

“I’m starting today, ma’am.”

“You can stop saying that, by the way.”

“What? Ma’am?”

“Yah. I got it already. It gets old.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You’re not used to being around royalty, are you?”

“No. I’m from California.”

“Oh. The outer states? I thought those places were practically lawless.”

“No. We have law.”

“Did you even have schools there?”

“Yes. We have schools.”

“Weird. It must be trippy suddenly moving to the civilized world.”

“Yep.”

They ran on. Winnie grew winded, but she tried not to show it. It would give the princess another reason to look down on her. Hopefully Helena would grow bored soon and move on, but she didn’t. They kept running. And soon Winnie was panting.

“Do you need to slow down?” Helena asked. There was no mockery in her tone, but nor was there concern.

“No.” Winnie kept running. She checked ahead. There was a lot left to run.

“Yes,” she finally admitted.

Helena slowed. “Don’t feel bad. I’m pretty much in top shape for the basketball team. You’re not that bad. Did you do any sports back home?”

“I was on the cheerleading team.”

Cheerleading? I guess you are from North America. So you wave fluffy balls and cheer while other people play sports?”

“Our team doesn’t use pom-poms,” said Winnie, “and it’s harder than it looks.”

“I’m sure. Well, I’m afraid we don’t have a cheerleading team at our school. We don’t need one, but you’re definitely in better shape than some basketball players I can think of. You should try out. I’m the team captain, so I’ll make sure you get in.”

“Oh, thank you. I’ll check it out, but I’ve never done sports before. It’s not really my thing.”

“You should totally do it. Our team really needs more people who actually try.”

So far, the toughest part of dealing with nobility was distinguishing between recommendations and veiled orders. Diplomacy was a skill Winnie would have to develop quickly. She was already taking orders from a very demanding queen. Putting herself on a basketball team where she would take orders from an equally demanding (and clearly bitchy) daughter would be too much.

“Yeah. I’ll totally check it out. Anyway, I think I need to take a break. I don’t want to hold you back.”

Winnie slowed to a walk.

Helena and her bodyguards slowed right along with her.

“You should find me at school. I’ll introduce you to my friends.” Helena pointed at Winnie’s face. “You’re not going to wear that blindfold to school, are you?”

“No.”

“Good.” A pause. “Although maybe you should. Your flair is cool. You should show it off. It gives you a mysterious, blind martial artist look.”

“Thanks.” If Winnie needed any more reason not to wear it to school, that cinched it.

“Well, I need to keep my pace up, so I’m going to run. What was your name again?”

“Winnie.”

“Okay. I’ll see you at school, Winnie.”

Helena ran ahead. Her guards followed.

Somehow, Winnie had the impression she’d just passed a test. She mentally tracked Helena and her guards until they were far ahead. Then she resumed running.

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