The men stay where they are. They are pros and keep very still for minutes, looking around them and listening. Then, without warning, one of them jumps over the fence and lands very close to S..
Without thinking, she stuffs the stone in STATE. A sickening surge, but she has no time to feel as in the same second she runs and propels herself over the 2.18 meter high concrete wall in the back.
The armed man stares at the human shape streaking past him and over the wall, and quickly jumps back over the side fence to run after the thief through the back door there. “Here! He is here!” Both men start chasing her.
As fast as she can, S. starts to run towards the bigger street where she expects the Captain to arrive in…
Strange, STATE cannot assess how long it will take the Captain. Everything is
Though S. has a good head start, she is being slowed down inexplicably. Her trained limbs are heavy and unwieldy, the air has a thick viscosity. She runs and runs, but like in a nightmare, she does not move forwards at all. Whether time is being stretched or her gravity increased, her resulting progress can be counted in bricks; and though the armed men seem to be slowed down as well, they do gain on her.
S. throws herself forwards and fights to get more speed, but she only slows down more.
A sickening feeling.
No! Trust in STATE!
- ‘You are good for nothing’
Thud! S. has fallen, but when she scrambles up to continue fleeing, she is standing not on the ground, but on the high brick wall on one side of the alley.
What is happening?
The men look up at her, very surprised. They try to jump up to catch her head, sticking out towards them.
Quickly, S. walks away from them, up the wall, when the anonymous thought-voice hits her again.
- ‘You useless’
Thud! She falls, ending up in a littered corner, smelling of piss. She is sick, so sick... The men run towards her and S. knows she has to activate STATE. Trust in STATE...
Thud! She falls, again on the wall opposite. As soon as she can, she gets up and is away from their groping hands. The men have already found out that their guns are useless on her, and though they seem to know what that means, they become only more determined.
- ‘You empty headed’
A sickening feeling and S. is sliding down the wall onto the alley floor.
No panic! She has to steer this! She should be able to…
Thud! Again her body shell is smacked against the other wall, and is up and running before the men know where she is.
S. is covered in stinking soil.
- ‘You have survived your right to be’
The nausea flashes and she is thrown high onto the opposite wall. Well, she is out of reach at least…
But then, everything starts tilting. Like a huge box slowly tipping over, the whole alley tilts. The wall is almost horizontal, and the men stand from the alley floor, looking at her. But the alley continues to tilt, the wall already angling towards the void of the sky.
S. lies face down on the wall and tries to grab hold of something. But there is nothing… Her nails dig in to the crevices between the bricks and she uses her thin-soled shoes as well. But while the men stand on the alley’s dirty floor almost head down, she starts to lose grip on the wall, sliding towards the small edge of the roof protruding under her feet. The orange-black sky is a gaping hole deepening below her. The city lights are too bright to allow for the light of stars to show, and the solidity of the orange clouds contrasts oddly with the blue.
The wall tilts and tilts, almost tauntingly. No... Wildly, her human heart pumps. Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump! Matilde. Matil. Matilde. Matil. Matilde. Matil. Matilde...
S. withdraws into the white.
At first, there is only the sound of her panting, the smell of her dirty clothes, of her fear.
Where does this fear come from?
Come on! She is the Bearer!
All at once, she loses contact with her body shell; hears nothing, feels nothing, smells nothing.
It is so exhilarating to be there! S. is an entity in the void, just there.
The white is an architectural space for the first time in ages. A small, clean space, a compartment, holding her. The space confines her regardless of her attempts to control it, to open it. Even the mental trick of letting go does not change a thing. What is happening? What is wrong?
S. looks around wildly, but she is alone.
The alien thought-voice is her, as well.
- ‘You fake idol of power!’
Again, the sickening feeling. The white cubicle is tilting… It is tilting slightly, very, very slowly.
Out of precaution, S. lies down, trying to get some grip on something, anything… But the white floor is very, very smooth and there are no holes to dig into. Try as she might, the material of STATE does not soften at all.
STATE has never betrayed her in this way. What is happening!?! She tries to think but she cannot concentrate.
What again was it she wanted..?
What again was she trying to prevent..?
What is she doing here..?
Then, with a swoop, the space jerks perpendicular and S. slides down.
The space suddenly opens up and she hits the opposite wall with quite some force. Crash!
She crashes through the thin wall and is thrown onto a new one. Trying to regain her composure, her arms hug the cold smooth floor. But it is tilting, first gently, then again a jerk, throwing her body shell.
S. falls harder on the next wall, her legs crashing through it, pulling her body shell down through the hole until it is falling and changing direction in mid-air
and hitting the next wall, and crashing through, the sharp sides chafing her body
but not slowing her down one bit, and falling, falling, falling and
hitting another wall
and crashing through, the splintered walls tearing bloody lines on her bruised legs and belly and back and arms and again falling and crashing through another wall
and falling and smashing through another wall and
falling even harder now
and hitting onto a wall, feeling it break anyway instantly and then tearing through its surface and entering a huge void and falling and falling and falling and falling
and smashing through a wall, head first, and falling
down and down, curling her arms above her just in time and feeling the walls splintering her bones
and again falling and twisting in mid-air
and hitting a wall with her back and crashing through it, the white crushing her ribs,
and again falling and smashing her nose against the next wall and crashing through, her ears filled with the noise of crashing and the howl of her pain and her body shell bruised and torn and broken and bleeding and falling and crashing and bleeding and falling and crashing and tearing and breaking and bleeding, her body shell reduced to pulp of pain, a mass flung from wall to wall, torn open at each encounter, again and again and again and again and again and again and again…
The moment S. thinks ‘stop’, she thumps onto a solid wall and lies there. She just lies there.
Her eyes are open and she takes in the surface, stretching away from her, disappearing into whiteness. This wall is like the others, very white and very smooth. But S. does not question it.
It is there to hold her. Finally. Finally not having to brace for another impact, finally not feeling the pain tear at another part of her. Body?
S. looks down and sees a mess, a jumble of matte white and shiny dark red alternately, stuck on top of each other, no human form recognizable. For some time, S. lies there and takes in the jumble of flesh and plaster that is supposed to be her
There is no sound of breathing, there is no heart thumping, there is no pain.
Grateful for the absence, S. does not mind looking at the red and white patches. As she stares, the patches slip out of focus and lose their materiality, turn into blotches of light. Red light. White light. Red light. White light. Red light. White light. Red light. White light. Red’
That is not her
S. blinks and the red and white dissolve in a thick mist, clearing to reveal the gleaming white surface of STATE.
Wall nor floor nor ceiling are defined any longer, the white has expanded into its usual boundless space. She allows herself to be where she is, enjoying the soft perpetual motion that is always discernable in STATE.
There is some commotion, nearby. What is going on? She listens intently and then hears the Captain, frantically calling out for her in his thoughts.‘Your Grace! S.! S., please! Your Grace!’ “All men, request back-up! Repeat, request back-up! Code RedSnake! Code RedSnake! Get the Doctor!” A string of hasty actions both near her, in the Palace and in various Headquarters is the result, as STATE notices. Jan is rushing to find and put on his clothes, Guards are getiing on their motoBikes to assist his car to get through the city as soon as possible, the Police in this Borough are alerted and an Army ‘chopper is ordered. What a fuss.
After a slight hesitation, S. blinks.
Next to where she is lying, a door has materialized, flat in the surface which looks like a tilted wall because of it. S. opens the door and looks down into the alley.
Below her, way down, her body shell is lying on the dirty soil. The Captain is bowing over it, calling her. At the end of the alley, three Guards of STATE hold the armed men, who aggressively try to escape even though they are kept at gunpoint. Waiting on the quiet main street, the STATE limo and some more Guards block the scene from view. In the far distance, the ‘chopper is lifting off.
“Please, Your Grace… can you hear me? Please… Come back!” The Captain is very, very worried. Through his securiPhone, he has just been notified of a sudden and very dramatic fall-out at the energy plants and he knows what is causing it. Something is wrong with STATE, with the Bearer. ‘Never thought I’d even think it... How I miss that bloody Werther...’
‘OK then,’ S. thinks indifferently. She steps through the door and crashes down through the air and into her body shell.
“Uh…” The Bearer gets sick instantly. Her body heaving, she curls onto her side, trying to vomit, but is has been days since she has eaten, and her stomach is empty. Only some dark grey bile comes out. She looks terrible and the Captain yells in his ‘Phone to have that Doctor come over, now.
S. wishes she had stayed in the white. She is sick, so sick. The ground tilts up and down before her eyes. She closes them to focus, to think. Her blood is coursing through the body shell rapidly, without pause: thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump...
There is something she has to pay attention to.
What is causing this imbalance in STATE?
Whatever had just happened?
The stone. Matil’s stone. It is in STATE!
It has to get out. She has to get it out of STATE.
Still convulsing, S. frees one hand and reaches into STATE. “Ouch!” She screams out involuntary. Something very sharp cuts into her hand, slicing it open, severing its muscles. The pain of a pin under the nail, of a slip of skin torn off at the side, of a splinter of glass imbedded there where you push…
No, she will not be diverted by that trick again. The body shell is an accessory, a vehicle; and it cannot be damaged that way, by an idea. She disregards the pain, which is very real, and gropes around for the stone.
There! No, it slips from between her fingers.
Again, her fingers search for it. STATE has many folds, and all of them are lined with incredibly sharp pins, ripping her fingers. Again, the stone slips between the sharp-edged folds.
Nothing is wrong with her fingers… Nothing hurts her, nothing can...
She wills her fingers to find the stone. There it is, icy against her raw fingers that fumble to keep hold of it, but fail to.
OK then, different approach. S. retracts her hand from STATE. Then, without thinking, plunges it back in, grabs something and pulls it out.
The sickness subsides immediately and the tilting stops. She waits for a few seconds, until the churning blood has calmed to a quiet and distant thumping.
She opens her eyes.
There it is.
The stone, in its pouch. The reaLeather is frayed, so S. turns the pouch and the stone falls into her hand. A diamond. A huge red diamond. It shines beautifully in the lamplight, the unusual rectangular shape sharp.
Even the Captain is intrigued by its size and apparent value.
The men glimpse what the Bearer is holding and start shouting like crazy: “THAT is NOT yours! Return that to us!”
The Bearer has to stabilize herself with one hand to be able to stand, the Captain helping her.
A coughing old car rattles into the street. It stops behind the limo and an elderly woman climbs out, holding two eager pit-bulls at the leash. Looking very self-righteous, she walks past the Guards towards the armed men who greet her politely and point to the Bearer. When the woman sees whom she is dealing with, though, her composure sags.
STATE knows what she is thinking, whom she wishes was here.
Matil. Matilde. Matil. Matilde.
The Bearer opens her hand to show a glimpse of the stone. The woman clearly would like to claw it back, but is refrained by the Guards. Still, she tries: “Er... Your Grace… I was just asked to keep it safe… for eh, someone. If I could have it eh… back? My client will surely kill me if”
“No. This diamond is being used to support attacks against STATE.”
The Captain jerks his head to Her Grace with a sudden understanding, but he does not speak. While the dogs bark loudly, the woman does not give up: “But… But… eh… Your Grace… It is not mine to give… If I could just…eh, contact the owner, then, eh…”
At that moment, the car with Jan finally arrives, the Doctor hastening to come closer though he can see Her Grace is standing already. Above their heads, the chop chop chop chop chop, the ‘chopper’s huge beam of light flooding the scene.
S. is suddenly distracted. There she is.
Matil. Matilde. Matil. Matilde. Matil.
Without the others noticing, a nice but inconspicuous car has stopped opposite the alley.
STATE is aware of how they look to her: a small group of people, standing under the lamplight. The Captain is just stepping forwards, aggressively pointing out to the woman that she has no right to ask anything from the Bearer. Seeing herself from outside, S. plays with the stone, its color changing subtly as she moves it to catch the light from the nearby lamppost.
STATE senses its unbalancing effect. The tickling is unpleasant, like metal or crystal, but more subtle. S. surmises it was the stone that made STATE react against her just now. This stone has powers apart from its value, privileges for the one owning it. Powers for Matil. Powers for Matilde, the self-made Countess. When she has made sure that the Countess has seen it, she cuts the Captain short by lifting two fingers.
‘Bring water with ice.’
One of the Guards rushes from the limo to fulfill Her Grace’s unspoken command. The ice-cubes tinkle and catch the light in a pale imitation of the stone.
The Bearer’s hand is very dirty and she accepts the damp towel he has thoughtfully provided for Her Grace to wipe the worse off before taking the glass. She drinks, obviously to wash the taste of bile away.
Respectfully, the Captain holds up his hand in case she would like a refill, but instead she tips the glass over and takes out one ice-cube.
The old woman and her dogs are getting restless. ‘What is she getting at?’
S. catches the light in the ice-cube and then, making her hand heat up in seconds, squashes it thoughtfully. The woman looks on uncomprehending, but S. of course was not communicating to her. She has to concentrate to make sure no thoughts slip through to the Countess.
Then, she turns to the woman, showing her the red diamond briefly. “STATE will keep this. Tell the owner she can come for it at the Palace of STATE,” she says. “As for your men…”
S. walks up to them and holds them under their chin. They fight the power of STATE, but they cannot resist it. As their eyes widen, S. knows they will never attack STATE again. One of the two has committed various crimes for the Countess, and he is sent to Prison. The other has just started working for her and STATE makes sure he enters a closed Police training camp that same evening.
In the limo, the Bearer sinks in the soft white bioLeather, staining it for the fourth time. Concerned, the Captain looks at her: “Your Grace… Are you… Was that Matil?”
“STATE is fine, Captain. And no, neither those men nor that old woman is Matil. But yes, the stone is Matil’s. It has certain properties that do not go too well with STATE. We have to be careful with it…”
As they approach the Palace of STATE, Her Grace orders the Bearer’s Bath to be run, and the Captain makes sure no one can see Her Grace before she has left her Bath cleansed.
While Her Grace soaks in the boiling oil, he fills in Irene on what happened. She looks at him, trying to make sense of what is happening. “Who was behind this, Captain? Matil, you say? But isn’t it coincidental that the young Guard tailing the Countess has reported regular visits to exactly that store? What does she have to do with this?”
“I do not know, of course... Maybe Matil was preparing an attack on the Countess?”
Irene looks back at him doubtfully, then shrugs: “Hmn, well, yes, maybe... If you think so.”
She looks away, thinking it must be her dislike of the Countess that makes her think something else. She does not voice it, the thought is too absurd to, and she does not have the patience to explain another subtle paranoia to the Captain. There are simply too many things on her mind these weeks. The Constitutional Committee is dormant, only active to answer some last questions, may they arise. The Validation Committee has almost finished with all of the Constitutional changes, which then only will need a Seal of STATE. She has briefed the Ministers of the changes and even they had not found much to disapprove of. One of these weeks, STATE will have realized a major break-through, paving the way for the first democratic elections, but Irene is suddenly not so sure if STATE will ratify the document. ‘She is so changeable, lately... Uh... Trust STATE... Trust the Bearer of STATE... What’s more, the elections are not anymore something I’m looking forwards to. Rislers’ Party for the People is in the news every day, though luckily often for incidents notable only for showing Martin’s limited tastes in clothing, women, cars, etcetera. His only opponent is Jason Almerra, but he has made it clear that he does not believe in any elections and would prefer to rule the state as a kind of bearer without STATE...’ But last week Irene had heard Mc Kinsey whispering that the Countess also is preparing for running in the election, and for some reason this bothers Irene no end. ‘She has so many resources... Her image is picture-perfect... She is so sweet and compassionate, but still does not deny any glories of the past, though never admitting to them in public... She is just too clever, too smooth...’
To top all of this, the Committee for Crimes Against the People also was to be publicly presented soon. All members were appointed, though only STATE and the people themselves knew who would sit in the CCAP. The subject was still under fierce debate on the OpenChatChannel and on less transparent dataNet pages, dividing people to the extent that the jury member kept their nomination a secret just to save their lives. ‘This country is too violent for all these changes, maybe.’ Irene sighs, but then, from habit, thinks: ‘All will be as STATE declares... Trust STATE... Trust the Bearer of STATE...’