Made to Order
There is a methodology in leaving. Helena has had enough practice to distill this process down to a science, with room for continued experimentation. She subscribes to it on a daily basis. Expounds. If there were magazine publications centered around departures, Helena would have a column highlighted with editorial status. She would have write-in letters.
You must start beforehand to give yourself enough time to pack everything together. This is considered your predeparture, so in reality the time remaining to you is at least ten minutes less than what you actually are scheduled for. Fifteen minutes, forty-five. Two to six hours, depending on your flight plans, your assembled layovers. Gas up the car. Handle traffic.
Theoretical commencement at three-fifteen a.m. becomes, in actuality, leaving the house at one-twenty a.m., showering at twelve-fifty p.m. of the evening before. Rousing oneself at twelve-thirty. Time counts backwards when you are scheduling your predeparture, so that while you will be assumed off the ground at a certain hour, you will in actuality be conscripted to the flight long before that moment comes.
Clock hands will sweep past your estimated time to begin preparations. You are expected to be in action. Committed.
All this is in your responsibility to schedule, so it is only your fault if you do it wrong.
Helena likes the illusion of control even as she recognizes the façade of power.
Helena's flight plans are all made to order, tailor-scheduled around the preferences she dictates. First-class. Leather seats. Morning, please, unless the flight will be over ten hours, and then she will require a post-noon departure. In-transit dining. Vegetarian meal required.
All these luxuries are granted to her without protest. Helena Bahbem travels frequently under orders from her uncle, and each trip carries the assumed benediction that she operates with explicit permissions on his behalf.
Helena collects the stubs of her travel tickets and keeps them arranged in a deep-mouthed drawer. If asked, she is ready with the answer that they are retained for filing purposes--but no one asks, because no one opens that drawer. It is located in the front of her study desk, but Helena has no visitors to her sterilized apartment that have the will to wander. Business is nominally conducted in the greeting room that doubles as a sitting parlor, and none of her more intimate guests have intruded long enough to leave the predetermined flight path from front door to bed.
Helena is unsurprised; the D's never were imaginative, not a single one.
The D's have never picked up the picture frame that Helena always tips over whenever she has company. If they did, she wonders if they would be surprised to see their own face staring back from the photograph paper, sour-mouthed. Left of Itsuki, who is sitting just below Helena herself. One cheek smudged with dirt. Teacher hadn't caught that error in time.
Helena found the picture frame on the dresser when she moved into her apartment, but it was empty.
The photograph keeps her company at night. She fills the empty air not with music, but with memory of those other two voices. Itsuki Kisaragi and Makoto Isshiki. Their names are parallelogram bookends upon her tongue, and she says them as if they belong to her.
Because they do.
Just as her travel stubs belong to her, or perhaps her to them. Itsuki and Makoto are proof she exists; Helena does not know what to do with how it feels as if they grow even more distant each year, not needing her, so instead she devises more ways to draw reaction. To remind them.
They grew up together, and sometimes when Helena walks through her tailor-made cookie-cutter apartment, she realizes she is silently terrified of being forgotten.
She is a B. She is not a D, not a mass-production model. She is a B, but Itsuki is a B as well, and has already been replaced by the next pet Ollin clone. When Itsuki and Makoto are completely gone, Helena will only exist as a version number on a document, just like the creatures she makes mockery of now.
Any uniqueness, forgotten. Any possessions, discarded as neatly as she had erased the previous occupant's furniture from her flat.
Helena's apartment is also made to order. Unlike her itineraries, it was not constructed from the ground up. Rather, it was tailored from the resident before, the furnishings paraded before her eyes for her decision to discard or no. Helena chose the rubbish heap for them all, all save the silver picture frame; the tastes of the previous inhabitant were too much like her own, enough that she lives currently with furnishings she hates, but has chosen on the basis that they are different. They are hers.
As are Makoto and Itsuki.
To keep from drifting apart, Helena scripts trite little memos to Makoto's Foundation e-mail account. She needles him about his productivity ratings. She demands documentation of his geographical transfers. Makoto's expense reports are threatened; his personal diet is scrutinized, his tailor and his barber. Helena has something to say about each and every one.
Makoto occasionally replies in shorthand. His text blocks hang terse and black upon the screen. Helena strongly suspects that he erases the majority of her e-mails unopened, selecting them all at once and clicking on the digitized trash-can symbol.
Itsuki is easier. He is shackled to Quon, so he does not often voyage. Rather, Itsuki remains in his quaint glass cage by the ocean, so Helena resorts to inviting him out when she can, threatening dinners at his house otherwise.
Each month, Helena receives a collection of used stubs from the other two--airplane and boat for Makoto, train for Itsuki. Not copies. She is very strict on that point; only the actual tickets themselves are acceptable, and so the stewards on duty are held responsible if they accidentally pitch one in the discard bin.
Itsuki found out about her demand somehow, back when he was still a frequent participant of travel. In an act of oblique retaliation, he started to pen witty haikus on the backs, commentaries on the frequency of nosiness in the world. The last poem she received from him in this manner combined an artful observation of spring along with polite warning of a restraining order. The one before that involved the state of theater in the modern world, and the illegality of stalkers.
Then a dip in Quon's health attracted Itsuki's attention, and he canceled all his travel plans. Helena is now left with only Makoto's dry lack of creativity, the way he simply passes in his tickets to be torn and stamped.
Makoto flies semi-commercial. Itsuki no longer strays. There are always the private jets of the Foundation, catering to one or two select individuals who are given luxury for flights longer than a helicopter's ease, but those leave Helena with no papertrail records and hence no sign that any of them have traveled at all.
Her drawer is almost full. Helena has begun to wonder if she will need a second, but for the time being she simply shoves them in, compresses the stacks with use of paper clips.
It frightens her whenever it's difficult to separate the details of the trips, when the leather seats of one airline blend into another indistinguishable. Helena does not like it when the planes remind her of herself. Whenever that happens, she goes through the records with meticulous care, focusing on each combination of gate numbers and airzone codes until her mind yields up slow fragments of molasses-memory.
She knows she is not the first. Sometimes, though, Helena wishes she were the last.
Everything is individualized for Helena, but her selection comes from a predetermined range of palettes. They are all satisfactory; whoever has collected these options is an excellent judge of her character. She reads her life from a library of catalogues with her name upon them.
Helena has thought, upon occasion, of throwing everything out. Breaking the Foundation chinaware, pitching the forks from the window in a silver shower of prongs. Upend the perfect sofa with its doiled covers and lap-blanket afghan with the three-cat stitching. Clothe herself in jeans, or painter's coveralls. Grow her hair long. Dye it. Cut it all off.
The predeparture plans for her life could be condensed to twelve minutes, by generous measure; all she needs to do is grab her shoes and her petty cash and run. Fast. In two to six hours, Helena could be on a commercial plane booked for the next major continent and from there escape. Coach class. Any meal is fine.
Twelve minutes, and Helena would have completed the preparations to leave her entire existence behind. She can pack light.
Usually these urges come strongest when she is sorting through her flight stubs and adding a new sheaf to the pile, and Helena always stills her clever fingers and resists them. Rebellion is unseemly, she knows. After all, that was not how she was raised to be--and she, too, is made to order.
She is an assembled agency package. Her luggage is, theoretically, en route, but Helena knows she will never be in a position to receive it. Her arrival time is already set. Thank you for flying Airline Bahbem.
All she can do is restore her seat to an upright position, draw in a deep breath while looking out the window to the clouds, and wait for her uncle to announce the final approach.