23:19 p.m. on the 16th day of the Bearer’s Reign.
Irene Delwin turns and turns on her downy bed. After half an hour, she raises, glad to have explicitly told Rachel to let her alone after 22:00 p.m. even though this met with disapproval of both the Captain and Mr. Blas. ‘They must be crazy! To have a servant jump to my bedside in the night... no way!’
Even though tomorrow again will be a long and stressful day, she opens her dataCom and starts to browse through some messages she had received. It is dark around her, the light of the screen her only guidance to type, and she renounces the idea of replying people at this late hour. ‘Too risky anyway...’
She rubs her brow and forces her mind to reflect on what worries her most.
Though she has been serving Her Grace for over two weeks, the Bearer still hardly talks, and it is hard to serve a Bearer without knowing anything about her. Always, the narrow dark face is closed, unmoving, never a smile, never even a moment of relaxation. Rigid and locked inside herself, the Bearer had attended no Ministerial meetings, had not issued any more Decrees nor made any Constitutional changes. Consequently, there are no further changes in government. Day-to-day governing is done by the Ministers, experienced as they are, and Irene tries to chair them as well as she can. But there is so much information she misses, and she senses a lot is kept from her. ‘Without STATE it’s impossible to do... and all this time, Her Grace’s symptoms do not lessen: still she hardly eats, hardly drinks, and never sleeps in a normal way... Is this really the Bearer’s disease, like De Parry had told the Captain? Is she already too far away to lead the country?’ Irene does not want to believe it, will not allow herself to think it even. ‘There must be something else... Some reason...
Maybe she always was like this? Maybe it’s just her way?’
Irene reflects for a while and enters some catchWords for the dataNet web, to see what she finds. At first, not so much, notwithstanding the press attention for the new Bearer. The first days, everybody had wanted to know who she is, where she grew up, why she had become a freedom fighter, what her hobbies are...
But the Bearer had refused all interviews, had given no information on her backgrounds, and though a score of informers had appeared in the media, the information was contradictory to the extreme, frustrating the journalists and the public.
Soon, also Irene had stopped reading the newspapers, but this time she refines and widens her search until she reaches a very simple data hub, listing all headlines that had appeared in a certain time span. She enters “STATE, Bearer, President” and the hub promptly yields results:
STATE TAKEN BY WANTED CRIMINAL
KILLER STEALS STATE
TERRORIST CLAIMS TO BE BEARER, ARMY DIVIDED
ATTACK ON TERRORIST BEARER FAILED – MANY SOLDIERS DEAD
SELF-PROCLAIMED BEARER SURVIVES FALL
THE BEARER’S FEATS – A SHORT LIST
PRESIDENT KILLED BY BEARER
PRESIDENT DEAD! FREE AT LAST!
BEARER - FREEDOM OR OLD WINE IN NEW HIDE?
BEARER TAKES CONTROL
PEOPLE’S HERO TAKES OVER STATE
FORMER TERRORIST BEARS STATE
STATE TIMES RELIVE!
STATE: HABBERDASH AND LORE
BEARER ISSUES FIRST DECREES
WE ALL SERVE STATE, HAIL THE BEARER
UNEXPECTED APPOINTMENT OF SECRETARY OF STATE
BEARER – WHERE IS SHE FROM?
STATE HOLIDAY PROCLAIMED
RISE TO STATE - MISS DELWIN’S STORY
NEW MINISTER APPOINTED BY BEARER
PRESIDENT’S MEN FLEE
WAITING FOR CHANGE – WHAT DOES STATE WANT?
BEARER ILL? SECRETARY REIGNS
FORMER BEARERS’ POWERS
IS BEARER JUST A PUPPET?
THE PRESIDENT LIVES! BEWARE OF HIS WRATH
‘Oh, THAT!’ With all data channels devoid of information, with no Bearer taking her role visibly, wild rumors have started to rage.
After living under his dictatorship for so long, many people cannot believe the President dead. Former President’s men, organized in different guerilla groups, feed that fear, spreading ‘breaking news’ stories of how the man splattered by the bomb had really been a replica, only Presidential genes and bio-tech tissues. They broadcast grainy videos of the President, threatening the people to remain true to him, to fight for his return. Though many people reasoned that he would have been too afraid even of his own replica, an uncertain fear persisted, feeding loyalty for his admirers. Others propagated the reign of Matil as the true successor of the President, but many were wary of the mythical name.
Irritated, Irene makes to click away, then, on an impulse, reverts to the main search box of the hub and enters ‘S.’.
“No results found in this time frame”
‘Hmn... but what if she widened the time frame to, say, some 15 years ago?
“No results found in this time frame”
‘But what if S. looked younger than she was? No reporter had yet found any accurate year of birth, as no one had any inkling of Her Grace’s real name, not even her former friends...’ Irene widens her search to the past 20 years.
The hub shows two small articles:
GIRL S. FOUND STARVED
GIRL (8) FOUND, 12 KILOS
‘Would it be..? Would this be the S., Her Grace?’
Irene shrinks from the thought, but then remembers the fact that no relatives had been allowed into the palace, that S. had categorically refused to meet any of them... When the Captain and Irene had persisted, talking on about the importance of family ties, Her Grace had frozen into some kind of shock, not responding nor moving for a day.
‘Maybe he aught to know as well...’ She tiptoes to the door and startles the Guard.
“Call the Captain, please!”
“Your Excellency... Most certainly... is anything the matter?”
“No, no... Just something I’d like him to know.”
Within minutes, the Captain arrives in his dressing gown, worried and clearly still awake as well. Without words, Irene closes the door behind him and takes him to her dataCorder. She activates the 24-year old article. In silence, they both read:
‘This afternoon, a girl, S., was found in a small cellar room, the walls lined with garbage bags. The Civilian Police testify that the room was filthy with her defecation and that there were traces of the girl having been chewing off pieces of the carpet, having been eating her own hairs. The girl (8) weighed only twelve kilos and was dehydrated. In one corner, a long copper wire hung down, connected to the electricity poles of a wall socket screwed open. Apparently, the parents had hoped that, groping in the dark, their daughter might touch it and be electrocuted. It was a routine check that had made the Police discover her. In the house, the Police also found a cat of more than 4 kilos.’
All stories of family values stick in Irene’s throat. The Captain looks away. They try to think of something to say, but they cannot. Concerned, the Captain looks in Irene’s eyes, but they refrain from speaking out loud. Both know they will never mention Her Grace’s parents or family again.
00:16 a.m. on the 19th day of the Bearer’s Reign.
“Call him.” It is past midnight when the Bearer’s voice rouses the Guard from some reverie. Half an hour ago, he had snapped to attention when he saw the Bearer rise and move without any explanation. She had passed through her Chamber’s door, held open by some servant, and walked down some corridors, until she had halted before the old President’s Eastern Palace Office. Nobody had used it all this time, and the door had turned out to be locked; but when Her Grace moved towards the passWord protected door it had automatically opened for STATE.
The Office was very messy, full of the paper files the President often preferred, and the Guard had summoned some servants to make some space for Her Grace.
“The chair,” she had ordered, and he had found an old-fashioned realWood chair hidden under some boxes, the wood covered with the same material as STATE. As soon as Her Grace was seated, the material had folded over her, and she had appeared to enter one of those weird trances almost instantly.
In her rooms, Irene stares with a sick feeling at another pile of papers that Rachel had left for her when retiring. ‘Work, more work, I should look into them now, tomorrow another Ministerial meeting. Suppose Her Grace will be unable to attend, as always... Does she even care?’
It is then that she suddenly remembers the burning dress and Captain telling her of Her Grace's frozen anger. And of how Mr. Blas had blamed Susan for the burns when Her Grace had appeared incensed in the doorway. She groans at her own stupidity, and starts when she is approached.
“Your Excellency? Are you alright?” It is one of the Guards. “I could not help but notice... Is there anything you need? Your servant is, eh, occupied elsewhere.” Fucking Mr. Blas, as they both know.
Irene smiles and asks: “Could you please get the Captain?”
The Guard in front of the old Palace Office had sent the servants away, considering the mess did not seem to bother Her Grace at all. But now she is calling him and his partner on their securiPhones, her voice curt. “Call him in!”
“Call him in!”
‘But who?’ Some junior servant is slipping past them along the far wall of the corridor. ‘Surely he is not allowed’
“Call him in, now!” The voice of Her Grace is urgent, so one of them shouts to the boy: “You! Stop!” The narrow shoulders of the boy hunch as if struck.
Al freezes and tries to hide his face. ‘shouldn’t ‘ve taken this corridor, shouldn’t, shouldn’t have... too close it is... shouldn’t ‘ve...’
In the other wing, the Captain listens to Her Excellency, observes how pale she looks even in the subtle lamplight. Within half an hour, he has his men locate Susan and escort her back to the Palace. Then, he has Rachel Mainread screened and sure enough discovers she was one of the former Internal Affairs’ DG’s favorite escort whores. In the middle of the night he finds her naked in Mr. Blas’ bed, has the woman fired and Blas reprimanded.
Then, he sternly makes Her Excellency go to bed, taking the pile of paper from her room. After quick investigation, he concludes that they are notes of meetings and decisions of more than a year ago, and has the whole pile burned. ‘This is close to treason. Cannot have Her Excellency turn sick on us as well...”
“I said, come here!”
The boy turns slowly and approaches the two Guards of STATE warily. ‘One of the cleaning boys. What does Her Grace want with him?’
“Hey, you, boy! Hurry!”
The Guard almost pulls the boy closer, but the boy slinks away, until the other Guard opens the door and shoves him into the Office. Both of them stand close behind the boy, and they cannot help smelling him.
Her Grace’s eyes are open and she even looks in their direction. They step a bit closer, but the Guards cannot allow the boy closer than this...
A direct order and STATE must be obeyed. They push the trembling boy closer and closer, the last meter he crawls on his knees towards the chair where Her Grace is seated, encased in some shiny material.
“But... Your Grace...” The Guard does not understand, why does Her Grace allow this boy to even come to her? The boy only trembles more, knowing from experience that diversions of Etiquette never bring him any good.
Al cannot help himself. He stares up to the voice calling him by the name only his mother had called him, when she was still alive.
“Alexander. Stand up.”
The name brings back some sense of himself he had forgotten. He is still afraid what she will do to him, of what she will allow the Guards to do to him, of what different pain he will find this time, but he can stand up at least.
The hand is hard like metal on his jaw. The touch is so unexpected he almost faints, but the hand lifts him easily.
“Step back, Guards,” the voice says.
The cold enters him so quickly that he feels his face tighten. ‘Think of something else... think somewhere else... think of nothing...’
S. senses the small brains of the body almost cave in by the white, so she allows the power to subside a bit.
The sense of white freedom is almost too much for Alexander, and tears run down his pallid cheeks as the lice leave his body, dead like the worms inside.
“Wash yourself upstairs and put on something clean.
You are needed by STATE.”
One Guard shows him the small stairway hidden in a corner and Al thinks he is dreaming, that he really has left this life, but when the hot water hits his back and bites in the wounds on his buttocks, he realizes this is for real.
To his surprise, the Guard does not touch him, only hands him a soft towel, a very fine white shirt and a pair of too large boxing pants, and he dresses. Downstairs the Bearer orders him closer again.
The boy respectfully brings the box of plain white paper to Her Grace, who adds:
“Guards, leave the Office.”
“Bu...” They glance at each other, should they leave the cleaning boy there?
‘Highly unusual, all this...’
But they cannot go against Her Grace and they know that with STATE she will be safe anyway. They withdraw to the corridor, their ears attuned for any sound from within.
Al tries to stay on his feet. A long day has passed, and another long hard day will follow, but this night not even an hour of rest he will get. He does not complain, used to the numb pain in his body, his mind not quick enough to follow everything around him.
He takes a sheet and hands it to Her Grace, respectfully, the white rectangle hanging limply between them.
“Put it in.”
The cold hard hands take his and guide them, towards STATE. A slit is there, and unthinking, he pushes the paper in. The cold touch of the strange material, followed by a strange flash, like the almost physical memory of a nice dream whipping by. ‘Ah...’
Again the brief hard touch of material and the painful pleasure he soon associates with his mother.
Between Her Grace’s orders, he sleeps, on the wooden steps at her feet, a white pile growing next to him.
8:04 on the 19th day of the Bearer’s Reign
Not having found her in her chambers, Mr. Blas tries to locate Her Grace, and finds the Guards in front of the unused Office.
“Dear, dear...” he mutters, “if only Her Grace would have allowed us to clean it first... Ahem! Guards, show me in please! Let me see if Her Grace would need anything...” He stiffens when he sees who is inside.
“WHAT! What are you doing in here, Al, in Her Grace’s presence! And WHAT are you wearing? The President’s shirt! I will have you punished for this, you presumptuous little imp!”
His cock has already hardened in anticipation of the punishment. ‘Ha! It will not be Al’s first, and certainly not his last! And I will take him like he is now, in that fine white shirt he should never have touched!’
‘Oh!’ Bowing, he acknowledges Her Grace’s presence.
Though his posture hides his erection, he has a strong feeling she knows. He tries to negate the thought, but he feels naked, and hates STATE the more, though he tries to hide this even from himself. ‘I am Her Grace’s Head of House... We all serve STATE...’
The Bearer says:
“Alexander is the Paper Boy of STATE. He sleeps in the small room upstairs and will never leave this office. Bring his belongings here.”
As soon as he can, Mr. Blas leaves the Office and sends some servants over. He cannot just forget this humiliation and he takes the first lowly servant he finds apart, to cool his anger and lust on her.
When Irene sees the papers the boy servant hands to her, she cannot believe her eyes. All kinds of information she had needed, just here! ‘Highly delicate information as well,’ and suspiciously, she glances at the boy. He looks dull, exhausted. Her Grace seems awake and present, and even speaks:
“STATE will take breakfast here, and so will Alexander.”
Alexander feels he is dreaming, as he swallows spoonfuls of mushy scrambled eggs with some incredibly soft bread.
Her Grace orders Mr. Borges to give him only a small serving, knowing his stomach will not be up to large quantities of food. When only the Captain, his manservant, Irene and Alexander are present, the Bearer orders:
“Alexander. Read the headlines to Her Excellency!”
The manservant hands the boy the newspaper, his behavior expressing disgust at this lowly servant’s rise of fortunes.
“Bu... But... Y... Your Grace...” the boy stutters, reddening. The manservant hides a snigger, knowing what comes next.
“I... I... er... I cannot read...”
Then, Irene understands the wisdom of STATE and quietly folds the pile of white papers away, to read them later.
When the Captain and his servant leave, Her Grace and Her Excellency stay in the Office. Irene reads the papers and poses some questions to Her Grace, which she sometimes answers and sometimes not. Irene then memorizes the information, before she burns the prints on Her Grace’s sign, or files the prints she will use for future use in a folio she keeps near her, always.
11:00 a.m. on the 22th day of the Bearer’s Reign
‘She is just a secretary,” Johan Delaware thinks while keeping his face very serious at the weekly Ministerial meeting. ‘Look at her! Eyes round, blushing easily, smiling too often. A simple girl... Really does look like a secretary, nothing more, but well, with this Bearer...’
This meeting, the fifth since the reign of STATE, the Bearer had again been excused on basis of her health, so again, all Ministers look at the Secretary of STATE to chair the meeting.
Clearing her voice, Irene holds out a print to him.
“This is the second time, Mr. Delaware, and STATE does not forget any time you fail to serve STATE,” she says and he has to acknowledge the edge in her voice. He had not had time to pass by his office and he glances at the sheets of printing paper with the STATE Seal clearly visible.
This record contains fatal errors.
All copies have been removed from securiNet and all data storages.
See new report as issued by STATE.
Irritation at this know-it-all ruler object flares, but with his long experience in the DG’s office, he is an expert in controlling his emotions. Bending his head, he says softly: “Your Excellency.... I am most sorry... There must have been some mistake, I swear I will trace the originators and question them! We all serve STATE!”
“We all serve STATE,” Ministers murmur obediently, while the Secretary of STATE nods sternly.