20. Winniebear

2055, September 6th
Collapse + 6 years

The International School of Porto Maná didn’t have a cafeteria. It had the grove. Students gathered food from the kitchen house, which Winnie would have guessed was a repurposed summer lodge had she not known that the school was built from the ground up twelve years ago. Students carried their trays to an outside eating area scattered with wooden picnic tables. It was broken into separate sections, each divided by ivy-rich stone walls, as though nature had reclaimed an ancient castle. Except the foliage was far too domesticated.

Winnie’s orientation guide had mentioned that when it rained, a repulser field built into the stone walls would curve the water to the side. The most the students felt was a gentle misting. Winnie had asked what they do when it’s cold out. It never is, the guide had said, not anymore. They used to eat in the classrooms during the worst of the nuclear winter, but the weather was fine these days. Just like everything else around here.

This is what happens when a company famous for selling high-demand and seriously overpriced assemblers builds a city around its manufacturing: a gold rush town that never stopped prospering. Winnie wondered whether she would ever take it for granted like everyone else around here.

She meandered from section to section holding a tray of food. Each section had several dozen picnic tables. All were claimed.

It was her first day. So far the only person she’d talked to was her guide—a scrawny freshman who was more bored by his tour than she was.

If she were back home, she’d track down Bethany and the other cheerleaders. They’d have saved her a spot. Maybe they still had. She could get on a plane and fly home for lunch. Afterward, she’d fly back, or maybe she’d stay. Who knows?

If she never returned here, this school would certainly notice. They must be celebrating their sudden bump in diversity. She hadn’t expected as many asian students has California had, but so far, she was the only one. The school was mostly white, not even many South Americans. Porto Maná was bubble of old US culture. LakiraLabs had hired its specialists from the States back before the Collapse. She hadn’t realized how much of an effect that had on the population. Or maybe it was just because this was a prestigious, and expensive, school. Some things never change.

Winnie did recognize someone. Princess Helena was sitting with a group a girls, all attractive and athletic like her.

Winnie averted her eyes. She didn’t want Helena to glance and see her staring like a lost puppy. Or to see her at all. Though Helena was the only one who’d so far reached out to Winnie. That said something, right? She was the leader of the female basketball team. Putting up with her might get her in with the right crowd. And if Winnie were being honest, there were probably plenty of people at her old school who thought of Winnie the way Winnie thought of Helena.

She pretended to look around the grove. It wasn’t long before Helena held her arm high and waved. Winnie walked over.

Helena scooted to make room. “Everyone, this is Winnie. She’s that flair my mother found, and she just moved here from North America. Winnie, this is Isabella and Bridget.”

Winnie exchanged greetings with everyone.

“What’s your power?” Isabella asked.

Helena answered. “She can see anything she wants. I saw her this morning jogging around the lake blindfolded. She doesn’t need her eyes.”

The other girls marveled.

“It’s not just that,” Helena continued. “She can see anything. Isn’t that right?”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“She could be looking in some boy’s shower in China right now.”

“Have you ever done that before?”

“No,” replied Winnie. “I haven’t really had my power that long.”

“What do you look at?”

“Um… I’ve mostly been doing my lessons that the queen gave me. I guess I like to look for the other planets in the solar system. I also use it when I’m on the phone with my uh… family back home so they can show me things.”

“So could you see my house?” asked Isabella.

“Where is it?”

“It’s on Santiago Avenue down by the marina.”

“Can you show me on a map?”

Isabella fetched her tablet and pulled up a satellite image. It only took Winnie a few seconds to fly down to that location from where the satellite saw it.

“Is your house the pink one?”

“Yes. What’s going on? Don’t look inside though.”

“There are people working in the backyard. One guy is cleaning a pool.”

“What’s he look like?”

“He’s hispanic, or local. Um… He looks pretty old. He’s got a short gray beard. He’s wearing a green cap and vest. They all are actually. It’s a uniform I think.”

“That’s right!” Isabella nearly clapped.

“This is cool,” said Bridget, “What about Troy? What’s Troy doing right now?”

“Oh yeah,” replied Isabella. “Go look at Troy.”

“Whose Troy?”

“He’s on the men’s team. He and Bridget have been a thing for ages.”

“No, we aren’t. We broke up.”

Isabella made a show of correcting herself. “Oh, I’m sorry. They broke up again.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? I said we’re done this time. He decided he prefers slut cows to women, so who am I to stand in the way of his happiness?”

“So you just want to see if he’s happy now?”

“I just want to see whether he was lying about being sick today. He’s totally with her right now. It’s not like I’m asking her to do anything I couldn’t do myself. I can see his window from my bedroom.”

“With a telescope, sure.”

“I don’t spy on him. I just look out the window sometimes. He’s the one who looks in my window.” Bridget turned to Winnie. “Anyway, you can probably see his house already. It’s that condo two blocks north with the spiky fence.”

Winnie saw it, although she didn’t say immediately. She was growing more uncomfortable with this by the second.

“His window is on the second floor with the ugly blue curtains. Do you see it?”

The blue curtains were drawn closed. Winnie tried not to think about what was inside that window, but her mind worked against her. Just wondering about it caused her flair to fill in the blanks.

Troy was a dark haired boy. From his complexion, probably Brazilian or Argentinian. Winnie wasn’t sure. He was sitting at a desk in a T-shirt and boxer shorts. One hand poked idly at a screen tablet. The other hand…

Winnie panicked. She yanked her mind away before she could process what she was seeing, but by then she realized he wasn’t doing what she was afraid of.

His other hand was tucked into the waistband of his boxers, but that’s it. He was scrolling through some image site. He might be sick. He certainly seemed mellow.

Winnie brought her perspective back to herself and concentrated to keep it from straying. A stray thought could send her back to that room, or any room. Just days ago, focusing on anything had taken concentration. Now her mind drifted as easily as daydreaming. This was the first time she’d ever looked at something by accident.

“What do you see?” asked Bridget.

“He’s there.”

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s just on his computer.”

“But what’s he doing on it. Is he chatting with someone?”

Winnie shrugged. “I didn’t look.”

“Why not?”

“He wasn’t really dressed. I didn’t want to stick around.”

“You you didn’t want to see Troy Garcia naked?” asked Isabella. “You’re not a lesbian, are you?”

“He wasn’t naked naked. I’m just… I’m not sure I should be using my flair to look in people’s windows.”

“Why not?” asked Helena. “Your flair was basically made for it.”

“Spying?”

“Yeah. You’re the best spy in the world now.”

“It doesn’t mean I should.”

“It’s your flair,” Helena said. “You have the power to see whatever you want, and no one will even know you’re doing it. Why shouldn’t you?”

“If I went around looking in everybody’s windows, no one would trust me. Wouldn’t you all be uncomfortable if you knew I might spy on you?” She looked at Helena. “You even warned me not to.”

“Obviously,” said Helena, “I would find out. But everyone else? Fuck ’em. If they have a problem with where you look, then that’s just that: their problem. Not yours. You’re the flair. Why should you hold yourself back just because you’re better than them?”

I wouldn’t want to be spied on,” Winnie said. “Seems hypocritical to do it to others.”

“You should have thought of that before moving here. Didn’t you ever wonder why my mom was so excited to find you?”

“Exploration. Telecommunication. Military scouting.”

Helena burst out laughing. “Exploration? As in space exploration? Nothing in space poses a threat to the empire. And military scouting? That’s a nice word for spying.”

“It’s not like it never occurred to me,” Winnie said. “I just… don’t think about that part of it.”

“That’s stupid. Your power is going to help keep the empire more secure than ever before.”

“I guess,” said Winnie. “What about you two? Don’t you feel uncomfortable knowing I might be spying on you at any moment?”

“Are you going to?” asked Isabella.

“No.”

“Good, then we can be friends.” Isabella said it as a joke, but Winnie wasn’t sure if it was.

“Anyway,” Helena said. “I was thinking Winnie should try out for the basketball team.”

Her?” Isabella said. “But we don’t need any other players.”

“Our bench is short,” Helena said. “And Maria is dropping out next month.”

“What? Why?”

“I don’t know. Some family thing.”

“Does she not care at all about regionals?”

“It’s fine. Winnie can take her place.”

“Has she ever played basketball before?” asked Bridget.

“Not on a team or anything,” Winnie replied, “but I’m pretty athletic.”

“What have you done?”

“I was in cheerleading?”

Cheerleading?”

“Yeah. Cheerleading.”

“Cheerleading doesn’t count as athletic.”

“It does,” Winnie didn’t bother saying more. No one around here would respect cheerleading no matter what she said. Porto Maná might be a bubble of old USA, but apparently not of all US culture.

“Hmm.” Isabella looked her over. “You’re pretty tiny.”

“So? It’s not all about being tall, right?”

“Exactly,” said Helena. “Besides, it’s not like I’d put her center. If I say she gets to try out, then she gets to try out.”

And Winnie knew she would. It was silly, but something about those girls’ attitude fanned her flame for a sport she’d never cared about before.

“Fine,” Isabella said. “I guess it can’t hurt. You can keep the bench warm if you’re no good, and if you are, well… good then. I hope you don’t mind waking up at five on Saturday morning for shuttle trips”

“Stop being a bitch,” Bridget said. “It’ll be fun. You’ll have fun.” She faced Winnie. “Even if you don’t play much. We all hang out wherever away games take us. Last month we were in São Luís against the Jaguars. We went bar hopping. Oh my God, it was awesome.”

“Do you drink?” Helena asked.

“I haven’t much,” said Winnie. “My town didn’t have any bars.”

“None?” asked Isabella. “Did you grow up in one of those cult factions?”

“No. We just don’t have any drinks. The assembler station didn’t like wasting Food Ready assemblers for alcohol.”

“Sounds boring.”

“Yeah. We didn’t have much free time up there. My friends and I would just hang out when we could. I also liked to design clothes and stuff if I was free.”

“Like a fashion designer or something?” Izabella asked.

“Sort of.”

The girls scrutinized Winnie’s outfit. “You didn’t design that, did you?” asked Isabella

Winnie looked at herself. “These? No. Most of what I make aren’t allowed by the dress code.”

“Why not?” Helena asked.

“It’s just… you know… some of it’s a little racy, the kind of stuff you’d wear to a club maybe. A lot of it’s just silly stuff I make for some extra money.”

“You’re making money?”

“I sell stuff on the assembler library.”

“So you have a site? Where?” Helena pulled a tablet from her backpack.

Winnie froze. She had not expected them to actually be interested. She imagined the three girls crowded around the tablet, looking at her silly socks. She could imagine their derision.

“Oh, it’s just a small site. It’s kind of bad.”

“It’s on the public library, right? What’s the domain?”

“It’s… Winniebear.”

Winniebear?” The other girls said. Helena typed it in. Winnie recognized her splash page displaying her best pieces, including some colorful knee socks. Helena paged through as the other girls craned to look.

The corners of Helena’s mouth turned up. She giggled. The others laughed too, even Isabella, who couldn’t see the screen.

Winnie’s cheeks burned. “I know. They’re kind of dumb. I haven’t worked on it in a few years though. I don’t really wear those clothes anymore. I only keep the site up cause it does make some money.”

“People actually buy these things?” Bridget asked.

“Yeah. I mean, fashion is really different in California. I just made these things for fun mostly.”

Winnie should have just told them it was a private account, or made up anything. People in Porto Maná lived in the hub of fashion, whereas Winnie had designed those clothes when she was thirteen. It seemed childish in comparison. If she took the site down tonight, she could probably stop it from spreading around the school at least.

The girls continued giggling at various items while Helena paged through the site at her own pace, as though by herself.

Helena snorted. “Oh my God,” She pointed out a dress. Winnie couldn’t see which. The other girls tittered.

“Could you imagine my mother’s reaction of she saw me wearing that?”

Isabella and Bridget’s giggle trailed off.

“Is that supposed to be a bathing suit?” asked Isabella.

“Of course not,” replied Helena. “Bathing suits don’t have skirts.”

“It’s a little… skimpy. Isn’t it?”

“That’s obviously the point.” Helena moved to another page. Her head tilted. “Are you modeling these yourself?”

“Most of them,” Winnie said. “The larger sizes are a friend.”

“Why aren’t you showing your face?”

“My mom didn’t want me to.”

“You should. What’s she going to do about it now?”

“What’s your thing with leggings?” asked Bridget. “Nobody wears leggings anymore.”

“They do in Washington,” said Winnie. “Those are all ClusterFabricene. It’s way colder up there.”

“Have you ever designed formal gowns before?” Helena asked.

“I’ve made dresses, but nothing formal.”

“Wait,” said Isabella. “You’re not thinking of having her make the outfits, are you?”

Helena ignored her. “Could you make something like this…” she pointed to one of Winnie’s dresses, “but, like, I don’t know, a simpler design? And longer?”

“Yeah. I could. What for?”

“My mom is making me run a charity auction next month. It’s for an ecological restoration project in Asia, except nobody knows what I fucking want for an auction theme.”

Winnie vaguely recalled yesterday how Helena had been complaining about something clothes related. “Is this dress for you?”

“Yes, but also for the staff and the girls who present the auction pieces. I’m trying to make an actually memorable affair instead of just another boring-ass cocktail party where everyone stands around doing nothing. This is going to be my first political appearance. I want it to be special.”

“But I don’t think you want kneesocks, do you?” asked Isabella.

Helena ignored her. “Are those the only colors your dresses come in?”

“No,” said Winnie. “Those are just the modeling samples. If you click on them, you can open the palette menu.”

“Show me.” Helena scooted toward Winnie, and Winnie did so. For the rest of lunch, Winnie and Helena talked about clothes. Isabella and Bridget had little to add to the conversation.

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