Next morning, a small group of Parliament servants halts in front of the Presidential Suite, carrying strong-smelling coffee and serving plates with hot and cold dishes for this Bearer’s first breakfast. The Captain had cajoled them into serving and they are cowering so as not to be easily recognized by the many securiCams in the building.
Very discreetly, the Captain knocks on the doors leading to the sleeping chamber. Though there is no reply, he ventures to slip inside. He pales when he sees that overnight, the huge circular mirror which was hanging over the bed, had smashed on the bedposts, flattening the grey satin bedcovers still stained with the Bearer’s blood. Triumphantly, the President’s personal seal is visible where the mirror had been. Sourly, the Captain acknowledges he has overseen one more of the President’s traps. ‘The bed must have been wired with sensors reacting on the President’s weight or volume, or something...’ He groans, leaning against the shut doors, not yet up to approach the bed and search for whatever was left of the Bearer. But he cannot keep the servants waiting forever, so finally he does cross the semi-dark room.
A slight, very small sound in the far corner.
The Captain falls on his knees when he notices Bearer of STATE, lying on the floor on the far side of the Presidential bed. Mirroring glass shards lie on top of the realSilk sheet she had pulled over her body and face. ‘Is she moving? Is she’
“Your Grace…” he whispers, and bows away from her as she suddenly sits upright on the floor. It is definitely not done to raise one’s head above the Head of STATE, but Her Grace being so low now it was hard not to.
The silhouette of an Elite soldier, so close, and S. knows the pain will come again.
Better not move. Not move. Not even blink.
“Er... Your Grace...?”
Your Grace? S. blinks from surprise, and finds nothing happens. The Elite man stays where he is, and he is bowing. Your Grace?
“Your Grace... Please... Are you alright?”
Why would he care? Why is nothing happening? Is this a new kind of punishment? A dream?
But the man stays where he is, and he stays low, and why would an Elite man be bowing for her? Your Grace? Then, yesterday comes back to her: a jumble of flashes: of running, of falling, of burning, of waiting, of the poison, of the pain... STATE. S.’ back had ached almost all night from the pressure of STATE, first driving her from the bed, but not really lessening when she was lying on the floor. It takes a minute before her body mollifies enough to speak; the ingrained tension so strong it hampers her thinking, even negates the terrible weight on her belly.
It is so dark here.
It is too dark.
“Open the curtains,” the Bearer whispers, and the Captain gladly rushes away to do so.
Bearer of STATE for 22 hours, 16 minutes and 33, 34, 35
The light makes her eyes water and gives her a piercing headache, combined with a foul metallic taste, like a terrible hangover. Her body throbs. Through the silk, hard edges of the mirror scratch her skin, but this pain at least can be localized.
The Bearer cringes, hands over her eyes. Worried, the Captain remembers the Mark poison and glances at Her Grace’s bandaged arm. She is still very pale and covered in blood and burned metal. Softly, she grits her teeth. “Shall I call the Doctor, Your Grace?” the Captain asks.
“Yes please and water.”
“As Your Grace demands,” the Captain answers and walks to the door, uttering a short order to some Guard standing there, indicating the servants to back off.
A few minutes later, Doctor Jan approaches, eyes widening by the sight of the bed covered in shards. He examines the arm wound and finds to his surprise that it has almost completely healed overnight.
S. is thirsty, but she listens to the Captain and Jan who assert that the new Bearer of STATE cannot be seen like this: covered in dirt and blood, sitting amidst shards of the broken mirror under the President’s seal. In the most sumptuous bathroom she has ever seen, with golden taps and too many mirrors, S. tears off her badly damaged clothes. STATE is fused to her flesh from just below her small hard breasts to her hips. The touch of water hurts, strangely enough, so she washes very superficially with a washing cloth.
The suit has arrived from Schneider’s, and with the top’s opening sliding over STATE, it fits to perfection. In the mirror, a much cleaner Bearer looks back at her, the metalloid silicon of STATE protruding in a pleasant contrast with the dress’ material.
The Bearer opens the bathroom door to find the Captain and Guards, who respectfully lead her to the Presidential breakfast room. A group of servants rustle to attention when the Bearer enters. Guards stand at every entrance, servants at the ready to open the doors, other servants carry golden serving plates.
Something taints the atmosphere, a hint of fear. All servants whisper: “A good day to the Bearer of STATE!” They bow and back away when she passes, leaving a wake leading to a solitary gold-plated table and chair on a dais.
Bearer of STATE for 22 hours, 58 minutes and 25, 26, 27
S. sits there, in the morning sun. The dais is so high that, seated, she is higher than all people in the room, the Captain is the only person standing near her.
A sudden silence, unnatural in a room so full. The wrong play...
“Your Grace,” the Captain bends towards her as he softly speaks. “Ahem… As we did not know Your Grace’s wishes as to the breakfast, we have tried to anticipate on them. If there is anything Your Grace would request, please let us know immediately, to have it sent for. Moreover, we have to beware of poison. The President had the custom that the servant offering the dish would be the first to taste it, so”
“No. That is not fair!” the Bearer says. “What if the cook or someone else slipped something in?”
“Fair? Eh, Your Grace, really, I would not know…”
“Forget it. STATE will test for me. First, some water.”
A servant carrying a beautifully carved crystal carafe steps forward, curtseys. The Captain takes a crystal glass and pours it, but when S. tries to take it from him, she cannot. The crystal clashes with STATE, like water, like metal.
A small intake of breath from the Bearer of STATE. “Ouch... Nothing crystal or metal…”
The servant recoils, flinching, almost dropping the carafe on the ground. “Oh… Your Grace… P… Please… forgive us… we did not know…”
Someone writhing on the ground in a dark stain. Blood mingling with steaming coffee, red in brown, white shards of porcelain sticking out…
Screaming. Screaming. Screaming.
S. pushes the fragment from her mind as forcefully as she can.
Someone approaches the dais with a normal glass, the Captain pours. S. puts the glass of water on STATE. A blue light flashes on, the rays probing the glass’ contents. It is safe. Grateful, she drinks.
Some servants carry wine coolers. “No alcohol, and no meat,” the Bearer adds. As softly as they can, the servants leave the room, walking backwards.
S. dislikes eating in public, and being the only one eating in the centre of everyone’s attentions is worse. Because she is very thirsty, she drinks some more water and accepts the coffee black. Taking a sip, she almost burns her tongue, but seeing the servant’s body contracting in anticipation of punishment, quickly acts as if nothing happened. From a golden basket, she takes a slice of dark rye bread and butters it. Biting off a piece and chewing make an incredible noise in the tense atmosphere. It is hard to swallow.
Every bite seems to take forever.
Though the Captain prostrates himself to please the Bearer and begs her to take something more, anything, and beckons the servants to show what they have for Her Grace, she refuses to eat anything else.
S. blinks and tries to assess what is happening to her.
Her body is unusually clumsy and also her mind is numb, full of a continuing rumble like of voices next-door, pierced with shrieking and the high whistling, now and again. But... She is forgetting… something... something is wrong? Something must be done… now’
Bearer of STATE for 23 hours, 33 minutes and 02, 03, 04
It is... 9:41 a.m. 9:41!!
Adrenalin courses through her blood and makes her limbs twitch and stand. Her mind is in turmoil, thoughts weaving. The President is still out there, and all his amassed possessions make him as dangerous as before. First of all, we must recuperate STATE assets and prevent him from taking them all with him. Why did I not think about this right away!? Then, of course, Parliament will be assembled for the Test of STATE, and then... Then...
It is somehow hard to think that far ahead.
Causing consternation amongst the servants, the Bearer rushes out of the room, calling for a limo and hurrying away from the Parliament Palace, not listening to the Captain who is trying to explain they have only an hour and a half before the Bearer’s Test, and that they have to beware of the President...
“Captain! To the Central Bank first!”