Trying to isolate himself from his surroundings as completely as he can, Mr. Daveaux sits in the Underground train. He sincerely hopes his impeccable pants will not get dirty on the seats of this public transport, but today he had no other option to go to the Palace. It is rush hour too, and before long there are people everywhere, pushing against his knees, their backsides and bags swinging dangerously close to his head, the carriage heating up quickly.
‘Terrible. Terrible. Why people allow themselves to be stuffed like this every day! And look at them! Oh... Why are people so base, so… terrible!’ Their bodies are like overflowing shopping bags, covered in the cheapest textiles which are robot-cut in the most ill-fitting ways and stitched together so completely without any feeling, that he shudders at the thought of being forced to wear something like it.
Haughtily, he straightens himself, but to prevent another collision with an office lady’s huge bag, he has to incline his head. He cannot stop his eyes from looking. To his left, one of these horrible training pants, a huge logo emblazoned and pushed upwards over a pair of muscular thighs. To his right… ‘Hmn… But that is nice fabric, very nice, in fact! Hmn... somehow familiar, my fingers know its feel… And I should be the one to recognize quality fabrics, being the Dresser of… - Oh…’ Mr. Daveaux becomes rigid, when he remembers where he last saw that fabric. ‘Yesterday. On the ironing board. In the Palace… It cannot be! But who else?’ He glances sideways and then has to fight the strong compulsion, pulling at all his fibers, to bow and back off. ‘STATE! I... I am sitting next to the Bearer of STATE! Oh... My leg is pushing against Hers..! Trust STATE... Hail the Bearer of STATE...’ He becomes more hot than he already was, reddening in the face, sweating. It is almost impossible to deny years of conditioning by not reacting. ‘But to betray Her Grace’s identity here would be endangering the safety of STATE... and would be punished severely... Hail STATE... Hail the Bearer of STATE... Serve STATE... Serve the Bearer of STATE... ’
Mr. Daveaux swallows and forces himself to sit very still. When the first shock abates, he, as casually as he can, pulls his leg away from Her Grace’s. He closes his eyes. ‘Something... I must think of something else... But what? The Bearer of STATE, on this train! I am sitting next to the Bearer of STATE, as if we were equals!’ He sits with his knees pressed together, his head bent, dares not move. At every stop, he braces himself, as the movement of the train pushes him unwillingly against the Bearer.
Bearer of STATE for 1 year, 0 months, 1 week, 6 days, 22 hours, 52 min
STATE hardly notices him; his discomfort is a small bump of nervous energy in a web of intricate structures, and she is busy looking elsewhere. The web of the Underground encompasses all of the capital, and by riding one train STATE can follow all trails simultaneously. For one thing, she can check for any attacks on innocent commuters this way, and with the persistent awareness of Matil planning in the shadows she does so more and more often. Also, STATE is attuned to what the people in the train are thinking, what their worries are, what their combined and extrapolated outlook on life is. Every ride is fascinating and S. almost always concludes her nighttime walks this way.
“Where did you say he went?” Irene’s voice is incredulous as she reacts on the Captain. Together, they are taking some breakfast, as usual with only Susan serving. They can speak freely this way and it is comfortable to be just the two of them. Today, Irene asked him if he had any new information on Jason Almerra. They both know that Almerra had had a mental breakdown end of January, some time around the Day of Souls, and that he had been taken into custody and had been medicated for some time now. ‘But now he is free!’
“Somehow, he persuaded the Doctors that he regretted his attempt and that his actions were the result of a over-stimulated brain. They have let him go! Yesterday, he walked out of the mental hospital and said to all who wanted to hear, that he is going up into the mountains, alone, to reflect and to purify his soul. Will you believe it!? His soul!”
“So he still has followers, does he?” Irene asks quietly. The Captain looks at her and nods, knowing what she means.
“They will be awaiting new prophesies, then,” she adds.
“Is there something we can do?” The Captain interrupts, and answers his own question rapidly: “We can arrest him, we can, going alone into the mountains is proof of mental instability for sure!”
“No, Captain, you know it is not, we cannot...” Her eyes are very blue as she looks him in the eye over a spoonful of cereals. “The First”
“Decree, I know, Irene... The First Decree... I know.”
At the Eastern Palace stop, the Bearer descends, Mr. Daveaux behind her. She passes the gates opening for STATE without a travelChip and walks towards the exits. But there is an old-fashioned door there, with metal handlebars, so she has to hesitate. Mr. Daveaux discretely passes before Her Grace and holds the doors for her, forcing himself not to bow. Outside, he makes sure he stays behind her, but the Bearer slips out of sight.
> I am the heights and I will clean myself for you, the People.
[As is the Word of Jason A. the One]
The Guard of STATE at the gate recognizes the Bearer as she walks in, in a queue of servants entering the Palace. ‘Strange... Normally, she arrives either way before or after them... Coming in during the morning rush is unusual... and huh? Instead of circling through the bushes and entering from the front, where she would be saluted by relieved Guards, she continues for the servant’s entrance. Why?’ Just in case, he discretely sends the small signal to the Captain, to tell him Her Grace has entered the grounds.
Inside, Ronaldo makes sure that all bags get properly checked in the xScan machine. “Hello, Ella!, everything all right? Oh! Good morning Mr. Daveaux, Sir, a very good day to you! Hello Patrick and Gary, how’s life today? Good morning Rosaly, looking good as always I see! Hi Pete, and how’s the wife? Yes, Yasmin, I am fine thank you, and you? And… who might you be, then? This is not the visitors’ entrance, or you start working here today? OK then, hello good morning Mr. Weller, please proceed...
Hey! You there, wait! I will have to check your name on the list before you can enter. Security measures, see! This IS the Palace of STATE, you know… Wait there until I have time to check on you!”
Bearer of STATE for 1 year, 0 months, 1 week, 6 days, 23 hours and
Where is the reason why she is entering at this moment: what does STATE want her to know, to see? Quietly, S. inches herself in the position where she can watch the monitor of the xScan machine.
Ronaldo does not have time to do anything about the stranger and forgets all about her existence. “Oh… Ehm… Good morning Mr. Bernston, Sir…”
S. steps out of sight, behind a door that happens to stand open. She had once rejected Mr. Bernston as Dresser, but now he was the Server of STATE during the more official dinners and would recognize her instantly. In her occasional presence, he is always very subservient - almost to the point of being irritating, but now his whole demeanor is quite different. Not deigning to look at anybody, he sails in, past the xScan without having his bag examined.
“Eeeh… Mr. Bernston, Sir, forgive me, but you do have to,” and lamely, Ronaldo points to the xScan machine. At first, it seems as if Mr. Bernston is going to refuse, but then he shrugs and gives in. Slowly, the conveyor belt sucks in the black leather bag.
There… What are those? Long metal objects, in the bag. Knives. They look like breakfast knives, by their rounded shapes. But cheerfully, Ronaldo ignores them.
“All right, Mr. Bernston, thank you! A very good day to you!”
“Wait.” S. steps in sight.
Mr. Bernston looks at her and sucks in his breath, recognizing Her Grace though his mind rejects the information. Caught between conflicting modes of operating, he briefly does not know what to do, visibly lost.
But there is no sound... STATE cannot hear him thinking and this is worrying, but S. has to step aside first as Ronaldo aggressively approaches her: “You! How do you dare! Keep out of it, you little”
“Better not insult the Bearer of STATE, Ronaldo,” S. interrupts quietly.
Ronaldo looks sheepishly at Mr. Bernston. From his reactions he deduces that the woman is probably telling the truth. He, too, gets stuck between routines. Looking from the Bearer to Mr. Bernston, he jerks to do something, but does not know what, again looks at Her Grace and freezes, awed to be actually in Her Grace’s presence, then jerks again, a robot receiving conflicting commands.
“What is in the bag, Mr. Bernston?” the Bearer asks, a slight threat in her tone.
“Eeeeh, well… I… I just… by accident… But I have brought them back... F... Forgive me… Your Grace…, I did not mean”
“Take them out, slowly,” the Bearer orders.
STATE is giving off signals of alarm; the old scar of the Mark contracts painfully. But when Mr. Bernston takes them out, they are indeed knives, blunt golden breakfast knives, for use by the Bearer of STATE. Why is he bringing them into the Palace?
At that moment, the inner door opens and the Captains enters, with three of his Guards. “Ah! Your Grace! There you are… Good, good! But… Bernston? What…”
He walks towards the table and sees the knives. “What is this!? Why are you smuggling golden knives into the Palace, Bernston?”
He approaches the table and then STATE sees it.
- ‘You ignorant’
Mr. Bernston is already narrowing his eyes. The Captain is very near the table when the knives explode. STATE, standing on the other side, cannot reach him in time, cannot protect him.
A high, disembodied scream. Her scream.
S. does not see the Captain fall, but she knows he has fallen. When she looks, his body is slumped under Mr. Bernston’s, who was even closer to the knives and whose body lies a mess.
Ronaldo jumps into action. Drawing his pistol, he drags Mr. Bernston off the Captain and turns him around.
S. bends over him. Bernston’s chest has a gaping wound, revealing part of the ribcage, the flesh torn by the bomb he had detonated himself. “You… you… sssll..” But he cannot even finish the insult.
S. touches him and wham! Her angle of perception shifts. She sees him from beneath, from the hole. From the dark hole of the trap. He was the one shoveling the earth on her. He was the one digging the trap. “Matil, right? You are Matil’s man! RIGHT!?” And roughly, she takes his head and pushes it against STATE. There they appear, the pseudonyms of B. Matil.
Mr. Bernston’s breath chokes, coughing up some blood. He is dying.
Quickly S. turns towards him, but he is not dead. Clearly in great pain, he clutches his right arm. He moans, blinks against the blood in his eyes.
S. speaks, her voice too loud: “Call Doctor Jan!” while STATE contacts an ambulance.
Ronaldo jumps up and does as told. S. adds: “Guard! Call the Secretary of STATE! Quick! And ready the limo!”
- ‘You, thinking you know it all!’
S. had not counted on what she is feeling now. Strand S. is throbbing with a powerless anger, and with a dangerous need to protect the wounded Captain. A weird desire to throw herself next to him floods her, out of character but so strong that she does not even wonder about its origins. STATE does not allow her body shell to move.
All those people who had suffered or died for STATE, all this blood still dripping from her hands, the blood of the Mark, the blood of the President, the blood of S.’ friends, the blood of her victims... The blood bond between her and Matil is only deepening. Matil is close, closer...
S. tries to let go of this thought, of these strange human feelings. STATE knows rage will cause power fields that will not be healthy for the wounded Captain. As Artur Werther has shown, strand S. must not allow herself to get into emotions too deep. Else, STATE will react by disturbing more structures of state, only impeding her.
“Y… Your Grace!” Out of breath, the Guard returns. “The Secretary… Your Grace… Her Excellency has left, I’m afraid, an emergency call from the hospital, her father… She left some ten minutes ago, I am so sorry…”
- ‘You useless piece of nothing’
STATE stops moving. Strand S. pushes all overview from her mind. Panic sloshes around in her body shell. Irene is walking into another trap, and both traps have been timed perfectly.
Of course. Killing her closest friends is the best way to get to the nearly invincible Bearer. For some time, STATE had kept her from feeling this possibility as a loss, but now, after the Day of Souls, she is opened to emotion. And Matil apparently has the means to have noticed...
Attacking the friends of STATE is efficient as well: apart from any personal distress on part of the Bearer, the signal will be clear: Get close to the Bearer and you die. Why did STATE not have them guarded more closely!?
S.’ first compulsion is to run out, shouting, screaming, to order everybody everywhere. STATE rules, she is the boss, this cannot, this should not be happening…
She is the Bearer of STATE. No need to run around.
S. closes her eyes.
The panic of strand S. still churns inside her body shell. It has to be soothed, otherwise the next step will be too dangerous. She takes a breath of air, her first breath of air in ages. The chest expanding and then falling, expanding and falling again, the undulation in her body shell is a funny feeling after all this time. Another lungful of air, and the old automatic repetition of breathing is re-activated. The physical breathing routine calms her down.
She withdraws all energy into STATE, pulling it in as a long thread, winding incredibly fast into a ball inside.
All lights in the Palace black out.
Around Her Grace, people almost panic, but the Bearer stands very still. And realizing that nothing harmful is happening, they try to calm down as well.
STATE slightly relaxes, allowing some energy to flow back. The lights turn back on, but the light is yellow instead of white.
An ambulance is speeding towards the Palace to pick up the Captain. Though she cannot dare to believe it, part of STATE knows he will be fine.
She has to focus on Irene.
Where is she?
A slight convulsion of fear. What have they done to her? Is
The white churns again, blurring all information. No. S. has to stay calm.
The white slowly shifts into focus again.
No sign of Irene.
S. thinks of Irene in different ways, trying to find patterns connecting her to possible whereabouts.
Irene really loved her family.
Strand S. had glimpsed it when Irene was talking about her life to her in the hospital, and later, when Irene lay ill at her family house. To S., it was something alien, so she had kind of forgotten about it. But now she sees that she should have protected Irene’s family as well, to prevent this.
OK. So that is the past. But what about the present?
Where is Irene NOW?
S. has to think of the now.
All people registered into hospitals by that name or who checked in with urgency today are appearing in STATE and are cross-checked. Nobody of that name checked in today, as she had thought.
STATE shows more data. Addresses. Irene’s family members’ addresses, all over the country.
Before S. has even consciously given the order, at least one Policeman of a station in the vicinity is directed to go and check on Irene’s family members, without knowing their names.
A bit later, all Police reports on Irene’s family members’ conditions are entered into STATE simultaneously.
Nothing is wrong.
Where is she?
Where is Irene?
S. tries to remember Irene, her face, smiling shyly, her precise gestures, but most of all, her presence. Sitting next to Irene gave a certain feeling. A very calm and sure feeling. S. concentrates, and whoosh! There she is. Irene!
As if she is really standing behind her, here.
S. almost opens her eyes and turns.
It is a simulacrum. It is her, but she is not here.
Where is she!?!?
Is STATE just generating a memory of her, to placate strand S.?
The white is fuzzy and numb, a clear sign of Matil. Anger flares, but has to move aside.
Irene is still somewhere. The…
A short flash, originating in one of Matil’s men, getting excited maybe, letting himself slip just a fraction. He has focused and withdrawn from her view, but he is there... somewhere...
They are there. At the Hospital, awaiting the Captain, to take both of them and kill them together, somewhere. STATE redirects the ambulance, back to the Palace.
Then, S. knows what to look for in the white.
The red. Where has the red gone?
She has to considerably expand her scope of vision, away from the human one, away from the breathing husk, away from the mammalian love for the people of STATE, and expand her scope even more, bigger than the Underground net, bigger than the capital, and bigger.... At first, strand S. has to adjust to the scale and gets dizzy from the changed perspective. All patterns become very small, almost undistinguishable. They merge and interconnect to form larger overall patterns, though some of them break up in a jumble of confused data. S. tries to search in an organized way, but here is so much to see and the patterns are so all-encompassing that she loses track of where she has checked, and where not.
Then she remembers that she has to allow herself to be led. STATE releases her push from the data, withdraws her urgency.
There. Since she last checked it, a very long time ago, the red has shrunk, concentrating in a smaller area, a very intense red area.
Ploink. Without thinking, without any strategy, S. drops a white rectangle in the middle of the red.
Ploink. Without any delay, a red rectangle is inserted into the white.
Ploink. Again a white rectangle.
Ploink, a red countermeasure.
Strand S. wonders if this move was wise, but also knows she cannot stop now. So again, she inserts a white rectangle in the red.
Again, a red card into the white.
White into red.
Red into white.
White into red.
Red into white.
They do not mix; and as yet no one seems to outweigh the other.
A directionless and aimless game of go is played with red and white rectangles and without any grid. But sure enough, a structure evolves. The positions of the rectangles are guided by a reciprocal sense of distance.
Strand S. continues to add white to the red, even if she does start to fear that she has allowed herself to be pulled into a diversion. That in real life, her friend is in danger, has maybe already died.
A red-and-white checkered pattern arises, very pretty, a pleasing decorative field stretches around her, as far as she can see. But she has to pull herself out, now.
The Bearer opens her eyes and slowly all lights return to normal, bringing relief to the servants who report to Doctor Jan as soon as possible. Amost an hour had passed, and servants were at a loss what to do.
The Captain is in his rooms, being treated by Doctor Jan. Only his right hand is really wounded. Very carefully, Doctor Jan has put the Captain under narcosis and operated on the hand, restoring as much as he can. He is no plastic surgeon and he knows the result could have been prettier, but in all probability the Captain will retain use of his right hand.
Bearer of STATE for 1 year, 0 months, 2 weeks, 0 days, 0 hours and 45 minutes
STATE makes sure only Susan is allowed to serve the Captain. The girl is glad with any distraction, she worries so much over her mistress that she bumps into things. There is not much she can do, as the Captain remains asleep for hours.
- ‘You, obsolete’
STATE pushes the thought-voice away: too much to worry about. Nausea, every time she attempts to connect to more information. Matil is at work here, and the thought-voice is distracting her. Again and again STATE scans the data for clues but is forced to skid the cloudy surface of the white. The white does not open up for her, and strand S. fears to push the fog and find the pattern of rectangles.
Where is Irene?
Where is she?
S. decides to go to the Bearer’s Bed, hoping her body shell will fall asleep after skipping some nights’ and stop hampering her movements into the white.