2055, October 16th
Collapse + 6 years
Helena examined herself before her three way dress mirrors. She twirled once, twice, then peered over her shoulder in a come-hither look so perfect that Winnie wondered whether she’d practiced it. The red folds of her dress swayed with momentum. The body-hugging gray slip beneath shimmered with each turn. Helena struck an authoritarian pose and traced her fingers along her thigh and body.
“It looks good,” said Helena, “but it’s not what I want.”
“What don’t you like about it?”
“It’s too… asymmetric. The asymmetry is good, but it’s too much of it. I like the colors though. Except not quite. Maybe invert them? Shimmering red under silk gray. What do you think?”
“I think the darker color beneath works better. If you switched them, you’d look like molten lava.”
“Hmm.” Helena folded the cloth layers around her thigh so the red was beneath the gray. Looking in the mirror, she sneered. “No. It doesn’t work, but these colors, I want them more…” She waggled her hands, “…you know?”
“I think I do. How about something like this?” Winnie tapped through her tablet to a design she had queued up. Helena skipped over and plopped onto her bed beside Winnie to watch.
Winnie understood now why no designer in the city could help Helena. Helena was a girl who would accept nothing short of exactly what she wanted. The problem was she had no idea what that was.
They were in Helena’s personal suite at the top of the Capital Tower. For hours, Winnie had designed dress after dress, with fashions ranging from northern winter to southern tropic, conservative to sultry, festive to mourning. Helena’s personal assembler was queued up with dresses, as were all assemblers in the staff quarters. Even the most patient designer should be in a screaming rage by now, which is why it surprised Winnie that she was having so much fun.
She brought up a dress similar to the one Helena was wearing, only dark blue with a sandstone color beneath. “Obviously this wouldn’t work for the charity,” said Winnie, “but do you see the pattern on the slip? Something like that might add texture.”
“Yeah. Texture. That’s what it needs. Show me what that would look like on this.” Helena gestured to herself.
Winnie tabbed back to the red and gray dress. With a few deft strokes of her stylus, she applied the pattern to the slip, took away its asymmetry, and reduced the lopsidedness of the outer dress. “How about that?” She tilted the tablet toward Helena.
Helena nodded. “Queue it up.”
Winnie sent the design to an assembler.
“Anything else ready yet?” asked Helena.
Winnie imagined all the assemblers at once—a recent trick Victoria had helped her acquire.
“No. They’re all busy, but we’ve still got these ones you haven’t tried.” Winnie motioned toward a few outfits on the bed.
“Sure.” Helena yanked off her dress as though it were a gym shirt and reached for the next. “You are so much better than the other designers. All those old people are stuck on fashion from before the Collapse. The world has changed.”
She pulled on the dress and stood before the mirror. “When I become queen, I’m going to make you my chief designer. You’ll be like the designer general for the world. I won’t wear the same dress twice.”
The idea gave Winnie pause. Six hours of trying to meet Helena’s constantly shifting expectations was one thing, but doing it for life? It would be grueling challenge which would constantly push her to new ideas, but it would make her a big name in fashion, which had always been her dream. Though she wasn’t sure how she felt about Helena dictating her future like that. Hopefully it was a whim that Helena would soon forget.
“So long as I could have a team to do all the work for me,” Winnie said.
“You will have servants from around the world, from every imaginable culture.” Helena posed in the mirror. “I like this one. I want it. Not for the charity, but I want it.” She peeled it off and tossed it toward the reclamator. It missed and crumbled beside it.
“I thought you wanted that one,” said Winnie.
“I do, but not that one. That one was assembled.”
“I’m not going to wear assembled clothes. That’s what everyone else wears. I’ll wear natural, custom-tailored fabrics.”
Winnie should have just accepted it, but she couldn’t. “But assembled clothes are better than natural fabrics.”
“How can they be? By their very definition, assembled clothes are worthless.”
“If you have that dress handmade, the fabric will be a weave instead of a micromesh, which will make it tear and wear out faster.”
“So? I’ll only wear it once.”
“But it will also have seams, which will interrupt the flow of the dress, and it’ll be dyed instead of having the pigment infused into the mesh, so the color won’t be as good. I think there are only four dyes in the entire world that assemblers can’t make a better version of, and that dress doesn’t use any of them.”
Helena turned to her. “Are you saying natural fabrics are dumb?”
Winnie took care. In the walk-in closet paces away were rows upon rows of natural fabrics. “No. There’s definitely a place for them in high fashion, but I think a lot of people overuse them just to be different. It’s like driving a muscle car when everyone else is flying around in hoppers. Sure, it’s cool, but everyone else is getting around faster than you are. It’s really just for showing off money.”
Helena narrowed her eyes. Winnie pressed on. “Fashion still thinks woven textiles are better because they’re more expensive, but that’s the only thing they have going for them. It’s like… an old idea. Designers use the old world textiles because they haven’t realized yet the new world textiles are better in every way. They’re stuck in the past.”
Helena turned back to the mirror. “But if I wore assembled clothes, then anybody could copy me.”
“What’s it matter if you’re going to wear something new every day? They couldn’t keep up.”
Helena considered it. “That’s a good point. Did you know my mother’s entire cabinet wear handmade clothes? Even the exemplars.”
“Yeah, and their clothes don’t fit as well as a commoner’s clothes do. Plus it’s a huge waste of land to grow textile crops, so it would send a better message.”
Helena slipped on another dress and examined it in the mirror. “It would, wouldn’t it? When I become queen, maybe I’ll outlaw natural textiles.”
“I’m not sure I’d go that far.”
“Why not? I’ll be able to do what I want. People shouldn’t wear them if they’re such a waste. Obviously, I’ll still wear them, but only for things they make sense for, like you said.”
“I feel like people might resent that.”
“So? Who cares?”
“Because…” Winnie chose her words carefully, “when you outlaw something, everybody wants it more. You know? Grass is greener and all that. But if you made it unfashionable to wear natural fabrics, then nobody would. You can set trends with your own wardrobe. You’d be the queen who also leads in fashion. People would want to dress like you.”
The princess dwelled on this. She smiled. “I like it. This is the reason why you’re going to be my fashion advisor.” She tried some gold accessories with her dress. “You know, you’re the first person to disagree with me in a long time. Everyone else is just pathetic. They’re so afraid of my mom. During tryouts, this girl Amy tried out for the team, she was good, but I wanted this other girl, Emma, so she could hang out with us when we’re at away games. I told the coach, and he kicked Amy off, saying some crap about her grades, even after he’d promised her a spot. Then he took on Emma, and she sucked. She quit after a month, but coach still won’t put Amy on the team. It’s always like that. Last year, the dean caught me drinking with some guys on school grounds. He suspended the guys, but he didn’t even write me up. Just gave me some shit about my future. And Isabella and Bridgette? God, don’t get me started. I could tell them they’d look good in kilt-skirts and they’d wear them. I don’t know why I waste my time with those two. I should be hanging out with you.”
Winnie kept her eyes fixed on her tablet.
Helena continued, “They’re just nobodies with rich parents. You’re a flair. There’s nobody else in the world like you. You’re the kind of friend I should have.”
“At least Isabella and Bridget are good at basketball.”
Helena snorted. “Hardly. Besides, it’s not like I care. I only do basketball because my mom makes me. It’s kind of sad that I’m way better than all the other players. It’s probably my genetics. My mom was captain of her varsity rugby team. She got a scholarship to Princeton even though she didn’t need it. Plus whatever my dad did.”
Her father? Winnie felt she should know who that was by now. “What did your dad do?”
“What do you mean? Couldn’t you ask him?”
Helena gave Winnie a funny look.
“Or your mom?” Winnie asked, but she’d already revealed her ignorance.
“You don’t know?” Helena asked.
“Oh right. You’re from nowhere. My mom never married. She had a lot of men tested on all sorts of levels to find the best genetic candidate. Then she had me artificially conceived. Only my mom knows who she finally picked. Not even my father knows.”
“I know, right? It makes sense though. You can’t leave something like the heir of the world up to a romantic whim. I’ll probably do the same when the time comes.”
“Do you think your mom will ever marry for love?”
Helena nearly laughed. “My mom? No. I’m not sure she’s capable of love. She doesn’t even like people touching her. And no one could ever live up to her standards.”
“What about you?”
“I don’t think anyone will live up to my standards either. I might have a harem of toys though, but who knows? My mom once told me it’s impossible to fall in love after you’ve read everyone’s thoughts. I can believe that. So many people are such perverts.”
A knock came.
Madeline entered. “Dinner will be the main hall in ten minutes, Your Highness.”
“Very well. Inform my mother that Winnie will be joining us.”
Winnie startled. That was news to her.
“I’m afraid your mother is at the African Ministerial Summit today and will not be joining you, ma’am.”
Helena paused. “Fine. Then inform the chef.”
“Very good, ma’am.” Madeline bowed and left.
“Pity,” Helena said. “I was looking forward to showing off my new dress.”
She currently wore a cream-colored, gauzy dress with many folded layers of different patterns. Winnie had thrown it together while brainstorming by substituting the textile of an existing dress with a modern transparent nylon mesh so light that the hem and sleeves drifted like tissue paper. Winnie was going to throw it out, until it caught Helena’s eye. Now that Helena was wearing it, it was more scandalous than if Helena wore nothing at all.
“Your mom would be okay with that?”
“Hell, no. She’d make me change immediately. She’s such a prude. One time, Isabella and I went to get tattoos together. I was going to get one right here.” Helena pointed to her pubic mound. “My mom found out and called in an orbital response team to storm the tattoo parlor. She went ballistic.”
“She’s such a freak. Everything about my life is controlled by her. Basketball, the charity, even where I’m going to college. I’m the heir to the world, but I don’t even get to decide my own life.
“Wow. That sucks.”
Helena shrugged. She changed out of the sheer dress.
“Honestly,” Winnie said. “I’m kind of relieved not to have dinner with your mom. I’m pretty sure she’d use it as an excuse to grill me about my progress. I think the only reason I don’t have lessons every single day is because she knows I’d run away after a week.”
“I know. She can be such a bitch when she wants to be.”
“I wish she’d slow down. I’m perfectly happy to develop my flair, but she just pushes so much. Hours of exercises every day.”
“Does she make you do sessions like that?”
Helena frowned. “No. Why would she?”
“You don’t… for your flair?”
Winnie regretted asking it even before she’d finished. Helena spun around. Her stare pierced Winnie.
“No. Why would I be a flair?”
“I’m sorry. I just thought with the genetics thing and your mom being one—”
“Flairs aren’t inherited, idiot. Everyone knows that. Don’t you think my mom would be breeding flairs if it was?”
“I’m sorry. No. I didn’t know. I didn’t even know flairs existed a month ago. In Washington, most of us still think exemplars are some kind of witch.”
Helena studied Winnie. “You people in North America are so backwards.” She donned a more conservative dress. “I don’t need a flair because I’ll have yours as soon as I’m queen. I’ll have everyone’s. My mom is going to leave me her necklace of glyphs. Then she’s going to give me her master glyph too.”
“Her master glyph?”
“That’s the glyph of her own power. When I have that, I’ll be able to do everything she can do. I’ll be stronger actually, because I’ll still be collecting flairs after she’s gone. That’s why you’re training your power so much. You’re making it better for us. When I rule the world, I’m going to decide who gets powers. You’ll be working for me because I’ll always be more powerful than you, and I will make you train hard just like my mother does so you can make me more powerful. That is why I don’t need a flair.”
“Okay. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I’m not upset. I’m just making sure you understand.” She eyed Winnie. When Winnie kept her eyes on her tablet, Helena’s expression softened. She sat on the bed and slung her arm over Winnie’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. I won’t actually be that hard on you. I’m not my mom. Maybe I’ll even give you some powers too. Together we’ll be lords over everyone else. Let’s go to dinner.”
“Let me just call Ms. Montes.”
“The woman at my dorm. I need to let her know I won’t be at dinner.”
“She’ll figure it out. Come on.”
Again, Winnie tread carefully. “I guess I don’t have to tell her, but she would be grateful if I did. It would make it easier to get her to do what I want later.”
“I guess so,” said Helena. “I’ll have Madeline call her then. It’s reasons like this that you’re going to be my advisor.”
On the way to the dining room, Winnie thought back on her conversation with the queen. Could Victoria really think her daughter was fit to rule? She must see that Helena was living in her own spoiled world. What was going to happen when Helena inherited her mother’s glyphs and saw what everyone really thought about her? What Winnie really thought about her?
But maybe Helena could change. She wasn’t fit to rule right now, but like Victoria said, she might be some day. Winnie would be beside her if Helena wanted it. She’d be Helena’s fashion advisor, but maybe she could guide Helena on more than just fashion.