Followed closely by her Guard, the Bearer rushes through the first door that stands open. Quickly, the Guards close the door and stand outside to prevent anybody from entering.
The Captain orders some Army men to block off the corridor and signal top priority in protecting Parliament from any foolhardy last attack. Saluted by his men, he returns to find the Bearer, but the door of the room is firmly shut. ‘Did Her Grace fall against it?’ He remember her sudden increase in weight, accompanying one of her black-outs. ‘Better to leave her for the moment...’ Secretly, he is relieved Her Grace had not dropped off into one of these coma-like states during the Test, or in Parliament. ‘After what happened at the Prison, it was more than likely...’
Bearer of STATE for 1 day, 3 hours, 12 minutes and 30, 31, 32
S. is lying immobilized by STATE. She recognizes the pattern of these black-outs, recharging periods after heavy use of STATE power. Her body is heating up rapidly and her heart rate is thumping.
This time though, no unconsciousness, no visions. In this hyper-alert paralysis, unable to move or speak, she can hear everything, she knows everything. STATE is branching out and envelops all kinds of knowledge around her. STATE is aware of the Army, trying to readjust to a new leader, the soldiers’ uncertainty masked by a display of efficacy. She knows the Captain is waiting in the corridor. Even in the adjacent rooms she hears the voices of all kinds of personnel, a cacophony. S. forces herself to remember that she cannot do anything against this STATE and orders her muscles to relax.
In the big office next to the copy room, an ongoing voice is blaring: “OK now Stella I told you no more spelling mistakes or you are out and this time for good! Look at it again girl, we cannot have letters like these come out of this office! I’d be shamed to death if anybody were to read them! Where on Earth did you get your training?!... Now Irene, what do you stand there loitering for! You are such a to-tally lazy girl I cannot imagine how anybody would want to work with you. But here I am, condemned to it! Really, get on with copying those documents, now! Now Barbara, where were we? Oh yes, look I expect you to type these letters here before lunch, we are terribly behind schedule because of all this hanging around here, really! So”
A side door of the copy room is opened by Irene. She stumbles and drops some documents. To prevent Mrs. Grezner noticing, she quickly enters the room and closes the door, almost stepping on a woman lying on the floor. “I.. I am so, so sorry!” she mumbles. A bit frightened, she closely watches the pale woman, covered in brown smears and reddish flecks, lying with her eyes open. “Did… Eh... Did I hurt you?... Are you wounded?”
She gently strokes the woman’s head so see if there is a head wound. Silent as a snake, the hand of the wounded woman moves and grabs her by her wrist. A tight and dry grip, somehow soothing. Irene looks the woman in the eyes and softly asks: “In what way can I help you?”
Still, S. cannot speak and just blinks her eyes.
Irene wishes to help but is distracted by the voice on the other side of the wall. ‘Oh... Mrs. Grezner will totally freak out when I stay away this long for just a few copies... She is always going on about how lazy I am... But, well... probably that will happen anyway, however quick I would be. Let her fire me if she will! I can spare a moment...’ She kneels and patiently waits, looking concernedly at the still face of the lying woman. They sit like that in silence.
> we’d better watch out
> Why? What is your problem, Guv? He's dead, you know.
> I’m not so sure, and anyway, we have her now- haven’t we? Killer for a killer is what I say...
> Hail STATE! HAIL THE BEARER OF STATE! And you, Guv, shut up
Bearer of STATE for 1 day, 3 hours, 49 minutes and 01, 02, 03
Then, from somewhere within STATE, S. can speak: “You are to be my secretary.”
“Oh… How I would like to be that!” Irene says softly and smiles self-consciously. “But my records are one of the worst, for laziness and sloppiness. I do not think any transfer”
The men are getting restless and Captain suddenly remembers that this door probably leads to one of those dingy copy rooms, also accessible from the offices behind. ‘No one can enter there now!’ And quickly he walks to the next door, which is opened by one of his men. To the general alarm of all office personnel, he walks in. 'Just in time...’ The busybody boss running this office is near the copy room. She lands a loud bang on the side door. “What the hell are you doing in there, you stupid girl!” she shouts, as the Captain freezes at her language. “Get out or I will get you out! Irene! Do you hear me!?” And she pushes the handle.
Before she can enter, the Captain shouts to attract her attention and orders her away from the door. She turns and stares at him: “Who..? Captain?! B… But! Where is Irene, then? Is she there? What on earth is she doing in there all this time? Tell her she is needed, NOW!”
“Stay away. No one enters here!” He answers curtly as he opens the door and slips in, quickly closes the door behind him to prevent anyone else seeing Her Grace, knowing two Guards will secure the door for him. Her Grace must have tripped over some boxes and lies in a jumble of printPaper, against the corridor door as he had suspected. But she is not alone. Some blonde is kneeling close to Her Grace, too close! The Captain opens his mouth to intervene, but shuts it when he sees the Bearer’s right hand closed tight around the secretary's slender wrist.
Irene looks around, shocked to see a Captain in the room with her.
“Eh… M… Maybe it is better if I go. I… I am very sorry, I must be in your way, Captain, sir” Irene mutters, then turns towards the woman. “Forgive me, but I do not think it will be possible for me to be your secretary... Mrs. Grezner will never let me go, I am not good enough for anything, and she will anyway refuse any transfer, and... eh” She is stopped by the Captain’s voice. “Secretary? What are you talking about, woman?”
Bearer of STATE for 1 day, 3 hours, 52 minutes and 39, 40, 41
S. opens her eyes and tries to move, attracting the Captain’s attention as planned. Again, she manages: “She is to be my secretary.”
The Captain stops his sneer and coughs to hide his surprise.
Irene, feeling she is intruding something, but unsure in what, says again: “Er, I am sorry, please, I must go now or I will be fired, please, she will be mad, Mrs. Grezner”
The Captain has taken in Her Grace’s order and snorts a short laugh: “Ha, I would think that you are a tad above Mrs. Grezner in rank now, Miss…”
“Eh… Miss Delwin, Irene Delwin, Captain.”
“Miss Delwin. I do not think you can be ordered around by Mrs. Grezner anymore, as from now you are Her Grace’s Secretary!”
“Her Grace?” Miss Delwin stares at the Captain, her small mouth open and blue eyes round, blushes building.
Irene turns to the Bearer and sees she is sitting right next to a metalloid object she recognizes as STATE, protruding from the silent woman’s belly; and that she, Irene, is almost touching it. ‘Her Grace! Hail STATE!’ “Oh..! But… I am so sorry..! Forgive me... Please... I… I should not have imposed myself!”
Respectfully, the secretary crawls backwards as far as she can, bends and rests her forehead on the ground, her right hand still clasped by the Bearer. “I beg Your Grace’s forgiveness, this is so clumsy of me, please... I am not worth to be… Just let me go, please…” The Captain looks on, wondering how this subservient woman can ever be a good Secretary of STATE.
“Bring some water,” the Bearer orders her. She lets go of her wrist. “STATE does call on you to become Secretary, Miss Delwin. You cannot refuse. Come here.”
Irene crawls a bit closer, knowing she should be afraid of this woman who was a Marked terrorist yesterday and her absolute ruler now. ‘But I can’t, somehow... She is... She is, well... just a woman... A bit older than me, I’d’ But then all thinking is stopped by the touch of Her Grace’s hand on her jaw. A strange sensation of rushing into an ocean of white, enveloping but cold, which suddenly pulls away, leaving her stranded. “Uh...”
“Irene Delwin, Secretary of STATE, get some water.”
And trembling, Irene goes to get the Bearer of STATE a glass of water.
As soon as Mrs. Grezner spots Irene, she accosts her. “Where are you going, Irene? You have spent all morning in that copy room, it’s incredible, never before have you been this neglecting in your work! I propose you tell me what is happening or I will have you fired NOW.”
“I have already quit working for you, Mrs. Grezner. I have other responsibilities,” Irene says quietly, savoring the words. For the first time, she is able to go against Mrs. Grezner. It feels odd, unconvincing, and Mrs. Grezner does not take her word for it. “What!? Who? But… I will see to THAT Irene! Nobody authorized any transfer from my office! You cannot just run from me, you can’t!”
Irene remains silent as she walks into the small kitchenette and fills the cleanest glass. When she returns with the water, Mrs. Grezner follows her to the copy room, unstoppable, speaking all the time: “Really Irene, are you crazy or what? Whatever happened in there! I demand to know! Ah! Captain, really! We need to talk! What do you think you are doing, bringing the poor girl’s head around like you do! You know you are being very in”
Linda Grezner bites her tongue when the Guards hold the door open, saluting, and the office is suddenly full of alert Army soldiers, saluting as well. ‘What is happening, what’s with this Captain? Who?’
The Captain comes out of the copy room, bowing to hold the door open for a slight tanned woman whose stern face and stark suit are covered in brown smudges and dark flecks.
Then, Linda Grezner gapingly deduces that she must be in the presence of the Bearer of STATE herself. Her Grace’s grey eyes do not blink, do not even register her. Linda Grezner retreats, and bows, kneading her skirt. Everybody present in the office rises and bows, a sudden silence.
The Bearer halts briefly to drink some water Irene has brought her. This allows the Captain to say: “Grezner. I inform you that Miss Irene Delwin is from now the Secretary of STATE.”
Linda Grezner gasps and glances at Miss Delwin, bows for her, confused. “Oh... That is great, Miss Delw”
“Your Excellency would be more appropriate, Grezner!” the Captain adds with a sharp edge.
Linda Grezner becomes very, very still as the knowledge settles. ‘Secretary of STATE! That... That is almost...’ She tries to ingest the career jump the timid girl had made in just 15 minutes, from clerk to highest civil servant. She swallows. ‘She can now do anything to me... Anything... Anything.’
Looking down on her, Irene says: “Mrs. Grezner. I expect you to be a bit more positive to the girls from now on! That will prove to be more efficient than your constant nagging.” She hands her the glass, taken aback to suddenly see the thinning hair on the top of Mrs. Grezner’s head. Suddenly, she does not know what to say anymore, other than a somehow stern “Goodbye.”
Fwd: To All
Subject: Finally! Fwd to all!
To: Undisclosed recipients
> The President is dead!
> I cannot believe I can write this just like that, without destroying my life or my future...
>> The President is dead!!
> They say he was splattered in Parliament today, killed by STATE!
> His troops have defected to Her Grace!
> We have a Bearer of STATE!
> We have a former freedom fighter for Bearer of STATE!!!!
> Spread this message to everybody in your dataFlow addressBook!
> Spread the word!
> We are FREE finally!!!
The Bearer and her Guard swing out of the Palace of Parliament, taking Irene Delwin with them to the escorted limo waiting outside. Bowing soldiers guard it, and two of the first Guards of STATE bow to open the doors for them. When they are inside there is a brief silence.
“Your Grace…” the Captain says. “Where would you care to reside? We have some Palaces at your disposal,”
The Bearer lifts two fingers to stop him, closes her eyes.
While STATE weighs accessibility, safety, history of all Palaces, S. waits quietly.
“The Eastern Palace,” she says.
With short syllables, the Captain passes the destination through his securiPhone. As they speed away, he looks out of the window to hide his surprise. ‘The Eastern Palace is old, relatively small, and not often used. Hmn... Some refurnishing will be necessary…’ He contacts the Head of House, Mr. Blas, whose piped-up replies and remonstrations are audible for all in the limo. When he is finished, the Captain turns to Her Grace. “Ahem... May I suggest a nice small restaurant for lunch? The Palace will need to be prepared...”
“Restaurant? A public restaurant?”
Quickly, the Captain assures Her Grace that the place of course will be reserved for STATE and for STATE only.
“No servants? Okay. Miss Delwin is hungry. After lunch we will proceed to the Palace of Parliament to do some work.”
Irene blushes, thinking her stomach must have been really loud while she was sitting next to Her Grace just now... ‘But truth is, I am hungry, very...’
The Captain dials a number, makes reservations in a very tight tone, and then contacts the Army to clear the area. “We will need extra Guards of STATE as well, Commander. If you can scan your men to see... Huh? What? A STATE dataFax is already rolling in with a list of candidates?”
The Captain looks at Her Grace, who is sitting with her eyes closed in concentration. ‘Can it be..? Really? So rapidly? They do say that STATE knows everything, connects to everything... But how...? How can she know so soon? How can we know it is from STATE?’
“Eh... Your Grace...?”
The voice of the Bearer is strange, almost mechanical, as she answers his unspoken question: “On the dataFax he will see the Seal of STATE. Let him to describe it to you.”
“Colonel..? Describe the seal. Yes... Oval... a curvy S...”
“That is the Seal of STATE. All documents signed with the Seal originate from STATE.”
“The Seal of STATE will be obeyed... We all serve STATE,” the Captain says, and the Colonel acknowledges.
Next, he turns to the shy Secretary and asks her address, so as to arrange the moving of her possessions. “We cannot have the Secretary of STATE live anywhere but in the same Palace as STATE, as you understand...” Irene only nods, and gives the address and her key to a Guard.
“Wait!” the Captain says, and turns to Her Grace, who has kindly opened her eyes and seems to be listening. “Er... Your Grace..? Maybe Your Grace has some belongings that can be sent for?”
The flat brown cardboard box, containing a photo she hates, some fake IDcards, money and a blurry print of the man she had loved, long, long ago, before he had disappeared from the group and from her life. Moss.
The Guard exits the limo and contacts some movers.
Smoothly, the limo accelerates and turns around, the escort stopping all traffic.
On the skin-soft dark red leather couch, Irene sits. She looks out through the tinted glass, trying to feel all this is normal, is real.
In a deserted posh restaurant she is served a delicate multi-course lunch by two very fearful men, who never make eye-contact, serve the food and drinks fast and perfect, and bow away from the table. While Irene and the Captain enjoy the food, Her Grace does not eat at all. Glancing at her, Irene concludes she sits like a totem, covered in unidentifiable substances. ‘Better not think what has happened to her today... Better not think of what she has been going through before all this... Now she is Her Grace, the Bearer of STATE, and I have the honor to serve STATE... We all serve STATE. Hail STATE... Trust STATE... Hail the Bearer of STATE...’