Chapter 17: inauguration
> Hail STATE! What a day! celebrate! o celebrate!
> yes, incredible, what
> Ahem, shouldn’t we be a bit more careful? he’s still
> ah shut it, he’s dead as a pile o' feathers, exploded, he did
---Bearer of STATE for 1 day, 11 hours, 6 minutes and 21, 22, 23---
Unblinking, S. looks in front of her. Face after face appears, and bows, and lips move, saying things, but she does not care to hear. Gold serving plates full of all kinds of food are offered to her, one after another, but she does not care to eat. All kinds of beverages appear, but she does not care for drinks. She only takes some water.
She would like to lie down and sleep, but knows the white will swallow her then. No. Better stay here, keep her eyes open.
The cuts on her hands hurt under their bandages, and STATE is more present than before, claiming its space in the pit of her belly. Does it augment under the people’s attention? Will it lash out again, when she is crossed?
The Captain observes her closely. “Your Grace, please, you haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast!” he urges. He wonders how strong this small frame is, and while he has seen her perform amazing things, he worries for how long Her Grace can keep this up. But the Bearer refuses to eat.
More drinks, more food. More faces. Eager faces, calculating faces, happy faces. People around are celebrating. ‘A new ruler!’ ‘The President dead!’
And she should be happy as well, now she has finally and unexpectedly fulfilled her purpose. She should be satisfied, but instead there is just a hole.
All this is wrong.
She should be celebrating elsewhere, invisible in some café corner, not in this stupid glittering Palace with people bowing and drawing back wherever she moves!
“Y… Your Grace,” the Captain whispers, “Thank you for saving me in Parliament. You endangered your life for that of your servant. It… it’s”
Without looking at him, the Bearer lifts two fingers to interrupt. He falls silent.
The Bearer speaks, but her expression remains vacant. “Captain. We all serve STATE…” Slowly, the Bearer blinks, then continues: “We thought that the President’s end would solve everything. But this view was naive. We need time...”
23:14 p.m. on the 1st day of the new Bearer’s Reign
A few hours into the Inauguration Party, the drink is getting to everybody’s head. The Ministers and statesmen assembled try to forget the uncertainties of what lies before them, and even though some fear the future, all act as if they are overjoyed.
The Captain is approached by a servant, whispering and pointing discretely to one of the side doors. When he understands what the man is saying, he turns to the Bearer: “Oh, er, Your Grace, the Countess would like a word with me in private... I will introduce Your Grace to her, she is a very special person, I am sure you”
“No.” The Bearer’s rejection is absolute and conclusive.
The Captain bows in acknowledgement. ‘Well, today is maybe not the day... I will introduce them later,’ he thinks as he respectfully gets up and leaves Her Grace for a moment.
The air around her is full of people. They are too close, they want too much. STATE is hot, and her body throbs with it. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
S. rises and leaves the room.
---Bearer of STATE for 1 day, 13 hours, 6 minutes and 10, 11, 12---
S. did not plan to go outside, but she does. Taking a short cape from the wardrobe, she walks past a bowing and not too clear-headed Palace Guard, down the stairs and out into the dark.
She crosses the grounds, passes two outside Palace Guards laughing their heads off over something, and goes out onto the streets. Scattered fireworks crackle, and the din of people partying is everywhere.
The night air is damp.
S. walks on in a quick and even pace. She is trained and knows she can do this for a long, a very long time. And that is what she does.
She walks and walks and walks and walks, past dustbins and mewing cats, past drunken couples hailing a taxi, past policemen having had a drink too much themselves, along dark wide avenues lined with grand houses. She walks alone through the park, follows Park Lane leading out of the center, jumps over the fences lining the freeway, crosses between blaring car horns, and walks. She walks through smelly alleys, past gangs of men calling after her, past well-lit windows with girls waiting. She walks through the crowds leaving a bar at closing time, past small restaurants still smelling of fried and spicy food being prepared, past rows of three storey family houses. She walks past industrial silos, crosses a deserted roundabout, and walks.
When the Captain discovers the Bearer of STATE is gone, he almost chokes. ‘She went out, alone... I have not even warned her! That Matil, or Maatiwel, or whatever he calls himself is still out there, and she has no idea... How can I be so negligent! This Matil might find out where she is before I do... What if he finds her out there, alone, somewhere? What if he tracks her down and kills her on the first official day of her reign?’ He wants to jump up and start after Her Grace, but there is no clue as to her whereabouts. Anxious thoughts flooding him, the Captain is forced to remain in the Eastern Palace, waiting for any sign of Her Grace.
S. is still walking.
Further up the road, to her left, a huge ‘H’.
No, no… That would be too much coincidence. There are many hospitals, all over town, why would she be walking to the right one? But as the cadence of her walking feet forces her to continue, she cannot stop to think. S. turns left, crosses an empty parking lot, and scares the night watch at the entrance desk.
“What can I do for you, Miss? The Emergency desk is at the other end, I’m afraid! If you just turn…”
“No. I come for Irene… Irene Delwin.”
“But, Miss..! It is two in the morning! The visiting hours are…”
“Is she here?”
“Eh... well... What relation are you to her? Family?”
“I need to know if she is here!”
Daunted somehow, the night watch checks the dataCorder’s check-in log. “No Miss, I’m afraid. Maybe at Clara’s..? Or you can try and call the Police… though on a night like tonight, I doubt…”
S. is already outside.
Her drive is totally spent and she has no idea where to go.
The park is black, and the dampness is beginning to get to her skin. She shivers.
Facing the car park there is a bench, where she sits. She looks up at the dark branches, faintly outlined against the city night sky.
What am I doing here?
Why am I succumbing to these urges? I was never one to be so impulsive…
What is happening?
All this is STATE!
Why did it chose me to bear it? Why did I take it?
In that one moment, it had seemed simple and straightforward: taking STATE. But ever since there is no silence in her, only shrieking and buzzing and high whistling, never quiet to think through the implications crowding her mind. All the time STATE presses close against her, too close, protruding from her flesh.
What is it doing to me?
---Bearer of STATE for 1 day, 16 hours---
The city sky is dark blue, tainted with orange lights reflecting off the thin layer of clouds. Though the sky pretends to depth, it is flat, imperturbable.
S. is empty. Just so empty.
All this is babble, only babble, hiding the real fear.
I do not care at all what happens. I just want to get out. Out of this life, at last. I’ve been in the danger zone for long enough, fate should find a way to end it, now. To be sucked into the blue-black above, to be lost without a trace… To finally not be, not any more, never more...’
But STATE pulls at her belly skin.
What would happen to STATE?
Pah! Someone else would find STATE, and bear it, and be an awesome and wise ruler.
Just to be gone, now... Finally not be...
But then, she sees she is trapped. She is no longer alone. She is tied, to STATE, to this country, to its people. Many have died today, and she now is responsible for the all of state.
Hmn. The people do not mean anything to her. Those faces, drinking, speaking, urging, pleading, what would she lose if they were all wiped away?
There is nobody, who’
That is not true anymore. People do care about her. Two people depend on her. The Captain, worrying in the Eastern Palace. Irene, in pain, very close by... Where is she? Where is Irene?
I am nothing... I am no'
S. closes her eyes and –wham- again the lifting sensation, the white blinding her. Now, the white is bright and clear, composed. Soon, emerging from the whiteness, the map of the city: the well-known outlines of the river first, then some key buildings. The Prison is marked, the Parliament, the big Bridge, the Stadium and the former Eastern Palace, now Palace of STATE. And sure enough, this Hospital is as well. She had walked almost a full circle to to this Hospital, the nearest to the Eastern Palace, where else would they bring a wounded Secretary of STATE? Again, S. enters the Hospital.
“Here again?! I told you, no Delwin is here, and as you are no family I never should have given you any information anyway! Now look, I might have to call the Police if you insist, Miss! It is almost three in the morning and this is a hospital, the patients do need their rest! Now”
Looking at him coldly, S. interrupts. Her hands tingle and STATE expands ever so slightly. “She is in the Presidential quarters. Show me in at once!”
The man raises his brows, and, leaning his fists knuckles down on the clean white surface, he rises for emphasis. “I do not think so, Miss! The Presidential Quarters! Ha! Who the hell do you think you are! We cannot to let”
“Who I am?” she says, pulling the cape open to show STATE.
Dumb, the man stares at STATE, looks left and right and visibly wonders why there are no Guards. ‘Who is this woman? Can she be telling the truth? Hmpf... Improbable’
Swelling. The white is expanding and pressing both inwards and outwards.
The white has to be contained, or the energy will overflow again.
No! Not here, in a Hospital!
Almost, almost the white reaches the borders, almost the white breaches -
S. clenches her hands, but the white seeps through the slashes, ripping through the thin layer of congealed blood.
She concentrates hard to keep breathing, so keep even.
No! I am nobody. I am no one. I am nothing’
“Oh…” The night watch sees the hands turn into two balls of light. He recognizes the power that killed the men in the helicopter the night before. The power he had thought some National TV data trick suddenly flares before him. ‘She really is the Bearer...!’ Though behind glass, he moves back. The Bearer is white and rigid and very, very angry. ‘What is she going to do to me?’
Anger seeping, STATE denser than before.
No! Not again... No slipping...
No. I am no one... I am nothing... Nobody'
S. exhales softly and the light diminishes, her hands hurting like slashed anew.
The hands’ flare diminishes, but they still have a strange sheen. The night watch will not risk the light to flare again. “Oh… Of course, uh… Your Grace… I did not realize… Eh… Forgive me… I did not recognize...” he manages.
“Call the Elevator,” the Bearer asks impatiently.
“The... Oh yes, eh... certainly.... The Elevator of STATE... But... Allow me to... Eh... Maybe if we call the Guard…”
“No.” The Bearer walks towards the hidden realWooden Elevator and disappears from sight.