“Ooh sweetie, so good to finally catch you!” Her mother’s voice, close by but from a distant reality. A reality that was so normal only months ago... Irene had made herself smile even though her mother did not use visioPhone from principle. “Hey mom, it is good to hear you! How are you?” The line was extra-secured, as Irene had expressly warned the Captain what no one should be allowed to trace the specific identity and whereabouts of her parents. Luckily, Delwin was a common name.
“Oh, dear, things are really changing all the time nowadays,” her mother had said, “you remember poor Mrs. Amerant, who used to come around here every week? She cannot afford it anymore, I am sad to say, ever since her husband died on that stupid attack of the President on his own Army, that first day of the Bearer’s Reign... And now she is stuck in that big expensive house, no servants, no income, and joints too stiff for any work! I know he was serving the President, but he was a good man, he was, and Army men were never asked to do the dirty stuff anyway... And she, all alone,”
“But mom, how are you? And how is dad?”
“Well, we’re fine honey, really. I did get some new customers, to be sure: people working like crazy starting up small companies, stress related tension mostly, easy to dissipate luckily. I’m fine, really. Though, not to worry you, but your dad did have a cough for weeks and weeks that didn’t seem to go away... Finally he did go to the doctor, you know how he is with going to the doctor, and then she did some tests, and sure enough, one of those quickTests showed anti-allergic anti-bodies or how you call them in his blood... seems he’s been developing an allergy to dog’s hairs! Can you imagine? We’ve had dogs all our lives! So that meant a big clean-over, I can tell you! I had to do it myself of course, ‘cause he couldn’t breathe them in of course, and it took me days and days! But can’t say that wasn’t called for, a big clean-over, so the house is nice and airy and clean now... When are you coming over honey?”
“Oww mom, you know I can’t, not right now. We’re busy”
“Yes, yes, I know, sweetheart, don’t feel pressured by me! Just callin’ in to hear your voice, honey, and before you go on being busy just the one question: how are you?”
Time had stopped, and Irene had realized then that she had no idea. No feeling inside: no joy or pride or fear or anger or anything. Nothing. ‘I am nothing,’ she had thought, but then she had forced the thought away. She was the Secretary of STATE. What more did she want?
Still, while sitting on the uncomfortable wooden chair in the warm sun, Irene checks if she can sense any emotion now. Nothing, nothing... Nothing. A numb silence. Then she notes the Professor again looking in her direction, and the Captain who is sitting too straight-backed beside her. Offended, angry, shocked? She has to defuse him again...
“Captain?” He inclines his head to listen to Her Excellency, who points out one of her notes on her ‘Corder. “Did we not invite this man for one of the Committees?” After nodding yes, he breaths out and relaxes a little, then looks around to follow the discussion.
Though some students are discussing, most are careful with what they say and how they word it. Irene is making notes, as some students do have interesting points. As it is, she has to distract the Captain once more, as he is getting so worked up again that he once more almost attracts the attention of the Professor.
Even after months of STATE, there is a huge gap between the students’ views and their words. They are afraid. And though he acts daring, the Professor is more careful than S. remembers him; is it his age, or the fact that he does not know the Bearer personally? After some twenty minutes, he cuts the discussion short, formulates some vague conclusions and then dismisses the class. The students have not finished talking, and briefly S. longs to follow them outside, to listen. But no, STATE is here for something else. For someone else. For him.
Finally, the Lecture Hall empties. Some last questions from a small group of eager students, then Alistair Mc Kinsey bows to pack away his papers in a brown and torn bioLeather bag. When he looks up, his eyes immediately dart to where a few people are still sitting. ‘They do not look like students. Who are they? Secret Police?’
The Captain sits tight, offended to the core by the man’s lecture. He knows that there were personal reasons why the President never allowed anyone to bother Mc Kinsey, but he cannot see any reason why the Bearer would spare him now. ‘Punishment. We are here for punishment, finally.’
And he thinks back to yesterday, when Her Grace herself had suddenly walked in alone, forcing all soldiers’ guns down. All men had saluted her, and she had entered the Head’s dataCorder in no time, accessed all incriminating data, and had grabbed the Head’s jaw with her thin fingers until he had screamed out. ‘Huh, fool tried to withhold information even then! Struggled against STATE. Lied about the lands: all possible locations where anti-government groups could hide, and even the Naval Commander’s murder until the last...’ The Captain had glimpsed the fierce white flare between Her Grace’s fingers and watched the howling death of the former Head of the Assembled Forces with deep satisfaction and pride. Subsequently, Her Grace had made it explicitly clear to all present that her Captain of STATE was highest in command.
The Captain smiles contentedly at the memory and pushes the shoulders of his suit a bit straighter. He looks at that little Professor who they are going to punish in a bit. The man is turning very, very pale, only his nose stays a darker shade, almost red in his white face.
> with her bare hands, She did, She, the most holy!
> Hail STATE, destroyer of the filth, restoring of the glory of our history
> What are you going on about?
> that filth-drenched Palace, finally flattened and that by Her Grace’s bare hands!
> Yes, yes, bre hands, got that! Some trick I am sure! Really
> Hail STATE, cleansing the blood of trture away, returning to our people to purity
> wouldn’t know you’re the more pure now, Henry, now, and shouldn’t you type a bit more neatly, when addressing Her Grace? She knows all that’s happening, you know! She hears you, you know... wahahah
Alistair glances around him, to see if there is some escape. But there is only one exit, the door near them, and the automated lock is red. ‘Who?’
The woman slides her dataCorder back in her bag and collects her coat. When he sees her profile he recognizes her. ‘No… The Secretary of STATE! Why is she here? What for?’ Alistair’s mind starts racing. ‘Luckily, I’ve been very explicit about being rhetorical… Would the Secretary of STATE be able to see it in that way? According to rumors, she’s not prone to harsh judgment… But why is she here then? Did someone tell?’
He scolds himself for his fear, tries to shrug it off. But long years of walking the line with the President had molded his behavior as much as the students’. Always looking over his shoulders, always afraid of falling over a line and ending up in the prison he had so successfully escaped until now. There had been times when he had tried to analyze what it did to his thinking to have to function in such a state. Whenever he had met colleagues from outside he had to admire their light discussions, the way they unfolded their views without cushioning them in, their carelessness and flair. On the other hand, he did see how simply they could be lured to see only the positive sides of any system, of any new revolutionary ideology.
He looks again at the Secretary of STATE and sees her frown over something. Involuntarily, his whole body tenses. ‘She is not alone. That man next to her’ His breast compresses. ‘O no… That is the Captain, guarding her! Why, why did I not recognize him before? It has been a long time, a very long time, true - but no, the Captain would never condone my remarks about STATE. Loyal servant of the powers that be, he is not able to understand the subtleties of the intellectual framework I encased this discourse in...’ Sweating, Alistair looks around him, in vain. ‘Guards wait outside, of course! They’ve locked us in. I will never get out alive...’
The sun slants into the lecture hall, highlighting the dancing dust particles.
S. remembers looking at them in a thin beam of light coming in through a slit in the black: a materialization of light, of air. Opening her mouth she had tried to drink them and imagined the warmth entering her, making her happy at last.
Then, she becomes aware of the building tension, and fears the Professor might run and harm himself. She stands.
Alistair has been looking at the Captain standing now before her, at the Secretary of STATE, but now she stands he focuses his eyes to her in mounting disbelief. ‘No… Oh... No… No, no, no… It cannot be… The Bearer would be far too busy… She is sick... She would not deign… She would not be interested to know’
But the rigid alertness of the Captain, the way the Secretary of STATE looks sideways respectfully make it all too clear that the woman is Her Grace. ‘No… the Bearer herself. Noooooooooooooo...’ His gut drops, as if he is falling off the fiftieth floor of a building. Alistair is just as sure of his death; tries to think of what he had said, what he had called her, tries to think of ways to legitimize his verbal transgressions against STATE. He had just been rhetorical, he had not himself voiced the harshest of opinions. Though to be called an occult idol might offend her... In fact, to even discuss the possibility of overthrowing the Bearer was treason in the first degree, and the law still ascribed incredible powers to STATE to punish any form of opposition in any way thought necessary. ‘I have been careless, flippant... a fool.’ Again, he looks at the door, weighing his chances, but concludes it would be a dishonorable show of weakness leading to an inevitable death. ‘No. I have walked the line all my life. It is maybe fitting I would fall this way. I will prove what the Bearer really is... Finally I will prove myself to be a real hero.’
“Interesting lecture,” the Bearer’s voice speaks in the empty hall. Alistair Mc Kinsey inclines his head, confused. He tries to say something but his mouth is too dry. Her Grace continues: “quite some opinions here.”
The Captain is already standing and makes to walk to the Professor, but the Bearer indicates him to wait. The Secretary moves out of the bench, so does Her Grace. The Bearer walks down the few steps, followed by the Captain and the Secretary. The Bearer of STATE approaches. Alistair is getting more frightened but turns to face them, straightens and attempts a casual smile, feeling rigid. ‘She is only an idol after all…’
S. knows his fear and tries to say something calming, but all words carry a threat. She should be careful, STATE might lash out, react on a thought of his, on his disrespect, on a memory… Some paces away from him she halts and looks at him. “But you are fundamentally wrong on some points. It is only natural, most people have the same basic assumptions.”
Caught, Alistair looks at the Bearer. A cool glimpse of STATE is visible under her short cloak. Audaciously, he lifts his eyes to hers. The Bearer’s eyes are a cool dark grey; uncanny, almost unblinking. But one thing is completely absent in her eyes, her bearing. There is no rage, no thirst for revenge. ‘Charles could really utterly thirst for hurting someone, anyone,’ as Alistair had witnessed for a long, long time. ‘But this woman does not seem to… Or is she hiding it?’
Impatient, the Captain moves, but the Bearer lifts two fingers to stop him.
Bowing, the Captain tries to release his anger. With longing, he remembers the President’s clear-cut reactions. ‘After insult, there was punishment, severe punishment. Always…’ But when he sees Her Excellency glance at him and frown, he quickly tries to think of something else.
The Bearer’s voice rings through the empty Lecture Hall, even though she speaks softly: “So, let STATE answer some of your fears:
No, I did not covet STATE before it was thrown next to me.
No, I am not steering towards a religion of the Bearer.
And no, I am not waiting for time to decide anymore.”
A brief silence, then the Bearer narrows her eyes. “Professor, STATE can allow you to give your lectures in any way you like, but STATE will not accept you to doubt me when the Bearer is truthful to you!”
Alistair is surprised for an instant, thinks briefly and then, more on intuition than on ratio, admits in himself that she might be speaking the truth. He finds his tongue to speak: “Your Gr…”
“Professor. You are called by STATE to take seat in the Constitutional Committee. Also, STATE requests the attendance of some of your students… Let’s see…” And the Bearer pulls aside the cloak. On STATE, three names arise.
“Note their names and contact them discretely. It would be of great value to the state.” Alistair inclines his head in agreement, amazed at how STATE has retrieved exactly the three people he would have selected after long deliberation. He concludes that indeed, STATE is a great information machine.
With the Bearer, the Secretary and the Captain, Professor Mc Kinsey leaves the Lecture Hall and walks over the grounds towards the exit. To his surprise, there are no further Guards, no limo. And nobody recognizes the high visitors.
> okay so it’s Committees now, it is
> yep and what are you implying mr G? please enlighten us
> well it’s a good way to buy some more time. don’t you see? what they’re doing
> What Her Grace is doing, is making a gradual and non-violent change in the affairs of state, which, I might add
> oooo pompompom mr important is here! shut up
> well maybe he’s
> as Jason says, all this is part of a plan, to lull us to semi-security, then another attack or disaster, maybe even another lull, and then BAM total control
> Hail STATE! Total control is already in place, hail STATE! In the holy and capable hands of Her Grace, the Bearer of STATE.
> oompf, boogaloo der reverent is there! I’m outta here
> Hail STATE! Hail the Bearer of STATE! Her wise hands will lead us now
When they reach the road, the Captain steps in front of an approaching Police car to stop it, unaware that STATE forces the car to a halt. The outraged Policemen’s faces flicker to respect when they see the iCard reading, and on the Captain’s orders, one of them steps out of the car to allow the Bearer, the Secretary and the Professor to enter, while the Captain takes the front seat next to the driver. “Palace of Parliament,” he says in short tones, and inclining his head the Policeman does as ordered.