Chapter 23: Chamber of STATE and 8th vision
15:08 p.m. on the Second Day of the Bearer’s Reign
Not waiting for Her Excellency, the Bearer and Mr. Delaware walk up the wide stairs to the Ministerial Meeting Room’s floor. Flanked by her Guard, the new Bearer of STATE enters the first council of Ministers of STATE. Again, she is covered with specks of blood, which the Ministers choose to ignore. Respectfully, all Ministers rise.
The Bearer introduces the new Minister of Internal Affairs, Mr. Delaware. Most Ministers do know him as the DG’s assistant and are surprised about his quick career, but do not dare to say anything about it. They keep their faces smooth and their thoughts as much as possible at bay.
The golden chair for the Bearer is placed on a small dais at the head of the table. The etiquette is well thought out and a rigid line of Parliament bodes ensure that everybody gets the cues to adhere to it.
---Bearer of STATE for 2 days, 5 hours, 0 minutes and---
S. circles the table towards the chair, and stands at the head, and lowers herself in the chair gently pushed under her, when STATE senses them. Small plastMetal objects: under the table, in the lamp, under her chair, in the ornate frame of a painting, more than thirteen in all. She rises instantly, pushing the chair away. Surprised, the Ministers, just seated, look up at her.
“We will go to the Chamber of STATE”, she announces.
Again, the knowledge comes from STATE memory, not her own. All this information getting through is unsettling, especially in public. Her mind is like a sieve, all kinds of exterior knowledge slip through the boundaries of her consciousness. The result of STATE, of course, and though it comes in handy, it is also like her being is being opened, even the most private part of her mind. Because her thoughts, in turn, might be readable for anybody connected in the right way. For instance, her successor, but who else?
Respectfully, one elderly Minister dares to object. “But, Your Grace,… Ahem… Well… The Chamber has not been used for a very long time… Maybe it is better to have it cleaned first? May we suggest, that tomorrow?”
“No. And you know why. STATE will bear no objections.” Without waiting for the Ministers, the pale Bearer strides from of the room, followed hastily by her Guard, the servants just in time to open the doors for her. In the corridor, she halts for an instant, then turns left. A few meters to her left she stops before an inconspicuous door. Quicker than the servants and the Guard, she opens it, the gold-plated metal handlebar stinging briefly. Behind, she finds a small dataNet broadcasting station. All data from the bugging devices is collected and transmitted from here to some unknown receiver. There is no one present. The Bearer orders one Guard to stay there. “Whoever enters here must be arrested and brought before STATE at once!”
The Ministers, who of course are aware that there is equipment for the President everywhere, exchange looks.
The Bearer continues down the corridor, goes up a flight of stairs and halts before the Chamber of STATE. Most people do not know the room, which has not been used for over 38 years. Servants rush into the Chamber to take the dust-covers off, turn on heating and light, while the Bearer and Ministers wait in the corridor.
They enter into an old-fashioned room, the high castStone walls bare, with texts in golden capitals emblazoned above a frieze, emulating the power of STATE.
Slightly ill at ease, the Ministers walk around the table and are seated. The long and narrow table has a most unusual covering. It is the same material as STATE, smooth and transparent with a metalloid sheen, and most Ministers put their hands in their lap instead. It is not possible to put anything metal or crystal on top of it, so the servants have to use special felt coasters for the crystal glasses of the Ministers.
The Bearer sits on the beautifully carved realWooden seat at the head of the table, where the sheet of STATE material is elongated to form a special holder for STATE.
The Captain has just positioned himself behind Her Grace, when there is a slight disturbance at the door. The Bearer lifts two fingers to command immediate attention. “What is happening there?”
“Nothing, nothing, Your Grace. There is just this woman… we have sent her away, of course… Nothing to worry Your Grace about”
“Call her back and show her in with due respect. Miss Delwin is the Secretary of STATE!”
A surprised hush as Miss Delwin is ushered into the Chamber of STATE. The men are not used to having a shy woman in such a high position and weigh her as she crosses over to her chair. ‘Blonde!’ ‘Round-faced secretary’ ‘Just a girl, poor girl...’
Irene Delwin blushes and sits on the Bearer’s right. She lowers her eyes and pulls out her notepad.
The Bearer’s cold voice commences: “Gentlemen. As you know, my views are for a large part contrary to those of the late President. I trust you to follow STATE orders and no one else’s, or you will be punished for treason. You all are aware of my First Decree, and any breach will be regarded as treason as well.”
She leaves a short silence, and the Ministers, together, whisper: “We all serve STATE... We all serve the Bearer of STATE...”
The Bearer resumes: “Let me be clear from the start that the aim of my reign is to enable a form of democracy. I do not know what role there will be for STATE, or the Bearer of STATE, in a democratic system. I also cannot foresee how and when the process will be completed, because this, for the most part, depends on the people of this state. What we can do in the mean time is create a situation as stable as possible. We must take time to allow for the economic situation to grow, and to enable new political organizations to develop without becoming too militant and mutually exclusive. As announced, STATE expects a transition period of about two years, in which I will count on you as my government.
As the Bearer of STATE I cannot and will not rule you like the President used to. STATE has other powers and you will be subjected to them until my reign is over. Until that time I command total power just as my predecessors had, but the power will not be forced the way the President did. No more killings, not by any of you or any of your servants, and neither by the Bearer of STATE.
But STATE can and will exact its penalties as it sees fit. You were present at the Bearer’s Test. You know what I mean. As members of my government, all of you will now have to pass the Test of STATE.”
At that moment, the Bearer is interrupted, as a Guard pushes a very frightened and defiant Parliament servant into the Chamber of STATE. Bowing, the Guard says: “Your Grace, Excellencies. This man came to check on the equipment found earlier. What do you want with him?”
The Bearer stands and her chair is moved backwards immediately by a bode standing at the ready behind her. The Bearer says: “He will be questioned by STATE. I call on the Ministers to be my witness. Bring him here.”
The man approaches Her Grace. “Make him kneel and face the Ministers.”
The servant, placed at the head of the table, tries to look unconcerned, but the uncertainty of the proceedings unnerves him. Also, to be questioned before the men some of whom he still suspects to be loyal to his master, makes he has to be double careful.
The Bearer says: “Miss Delwin, please make note of anything appearing on STATE.
You, servant, listen. You have been found guilty of, at least accessory to, spying on STATE. Therefore, you will now be questioned by STATE. How that will feel depends on your reactions. Any disrespect, however secret, will be punished. But if you submit and open your mind, STATE will not hurt you. Relax.”
The Bearer of STATE stands behind the servant. Very softly, she puts her fingers on the back of his neck, where the spine connects to the scull. The man’s head jerks upwards, he closes his eyes. Disregarding her advice, he fights. You can see it is painful, even though the Bearer stands very still and exerts to power. After some moments, he is forced to relent. His face slackens, as if he has come under hypnosis.
A name appears on the surface of STATE. B. Matil. Then another, S. Maatiwel. Bero Matiliwiz. Bernd M.. Mateu Wis. Boris Wislow.
The Ministers shift and look at each other uneasily. This is information that only insiders of the President could know: pseudonyms of the second-in-command. The general public feared this almost mythical man, some taking him to be the President himself, incognito. But the more informed knew, that Matil really existed. His real name and identity were kept secret, giving him an enormous power, comparable to that of the President, but under cover. ‘He is still active!’
“Where is he?” the Bearer asks, but the servant does not know, STATE remains empty. “Who is your contact?”
A long time, nothing. The servant struggles again, his face contorts with pain. Once more, STATE forces him to give in. The name of one of the senior officials arises.
Miss Delwin notes all names. The servant yells his frustration, and suddenly jumps up to claw at STATE. A light ball flashes and he falls down on the floor, dead. His body is taken away, and two Guards of STATE departs to oversee the arrest of his senior.
The Ministers are impressed by the efficiency of STATE, and realize that opposing it is dangerous, probably lethal. They do not look forward to the Test.
The Bearer is seated, STATE again in the holder. “Bring in the coffee,” she orders, looks around the table. “Gentlemen. As we form the first Government of STATE, from now on, the enemies of STATE will be your enemies. We will serve the state together. Therefore, STATE will serve the Ministers.”
Servants bring in a large pot of coffee on a tray, pour the small cups and pass them to Her Grace. One by one, the Bearer puts the cups on STATE and tests them for poison, then hands the safe cups to the Ministers.
Touched, they accept the coffee. In silence, everybody drinks the hot fragrant drink.
When everybody has finished, the Bearer motions for the cups to be taken away.
“Put both hands on the table. It is time for the Test.”
Suddenly self-conscious, the Ministers do as told.
S. closes her eyes.
Whoosh! She is flooded by a cacophony of opinions and wishes. All the individual Ministers’ points of view are present simultaneously, every one unique, carrying its own code, its own values and goals. The Ministers’ minds are not used to being read and sometimes object strongly.
But STATE pushes through their barriers easily.
It is weird to look at things from the viewpoint of someone who has been in power for years. Their logic is formed by years of affluence and possibilities, not by fear and poverty, and though sometimes mutually conflicting, many Ministerial viewpoints matched. For instance, regarding the importance of keeping control… S. had always had a romantic belief in self-governing systems, but these men definitely were agreed against them.
After the first shock, she learns to attune her attention and focus on one after another, disregarding some information but aware of all interrelations. At every shift of her attention, a world of thought freezes, gets framed, turns and tilts over, until the shift is complete and she is inside. And again, and again…
It takes an enormous effort to stay alert and discern between petty and important points of view, to not be engulfed by the enormous amount of encrypted information. As she gets tired, her control wavers and the data thunders into her system with a crash.
No... I am nothing... I am nobody... I am no one’
This is what she has to do. S. opens her mind.
The white structures emerge. From the personal mindsets of the Ministers, their likes and dislikes, their interpersonal accords and disaccords, STATE extrapolates the resulting conditions.
There is a lot of red, but it does not grow uncontrollably.
The red is so much part of the structure, that to remove it would make the whole state collapse. The state will have to be made to grow away from it, gradually, and S. looks for means to make the Ministers help her.
STATE pulls and the structures are very subtly changed.
S. does not know what good the changes will do, but neither does she know what else would.
When she is finished, the Bearer looks totally drained of energy. Pale, she sits very rigid and almost cannot move, let alone speak.
The Ministers are mainly relieved, only some rub their foreheads as if they have a slight headache.
Irene Delwin oversees the situation and stands. “Gentlemen. The Bearer of STATE will need some time to process the information. This meeting is adjourned.
STATE expects you to continue your work as before, and to implement the Bearer’s decrees henceforth. The First Decree to start with! Further steps will be decided upon shortly, we will meet again soon. We all serve STATE! You are excused.”
The men look at her surprised and smile indulgently at her strict tone, but sternly, the Captain escorts all men out of the Chamber of STATE. He orders the Guards to keep everybody out and returns inside.
As soon as they are alone, the Bearer sags forwards, her head on the table.
Irene Delwin and the Captain look at each other, worrying that this meeting was too much for Her Grace, so short after last night. Though Irene’s burns hurt and she is tired as well, she knows that she cannot withdraw as yet. ‘We’d better stay close to her now.’
Again, S. is a space.
A huge white space, with faint boundaries.
She is not alone. Presences make themselves felt.
They are not human, not really. Their bodies are disfigured: some have a metallic sheen, some exude power, some are taller than normal, others are emaciated, cry and whimper for pain. They are not even present in a physical sense. Their bodies are fluid, superimposed onto the space. They are only here to look at her. And they all carry a shadow of the same thing.
They all turn their eyes towards her. Pupil-less eyes. Metallic eyes. Cold eyes.
They are looking for someone. They search for the new Bearer. They want her.
They need her, to fulfill an inner need so strong they cannot keep their eyes off her.
They want her.
They all want to be her.
They want to be inside of her, to be close again to STATE.
It is unbearable. S. tries to keep them out, but has to look into those transparent eyes, one by one. Transfixed, she stares and stares. She is flooded by a stream of information. History pours into her, not images or actions or facts or details, but events strung together into multi-dimensional interrelating patterns, evolving out of each other. The whole space is filled by history, immersed in it. The data ripples around her, infecting her, distracting her, from…
What is she is doing here?
What is here?
Then, vaguely, S. remembers there is something else in this space.
Something she almost forgot.
She has to get rid of the eyes first, but they refuse to go. They have found a dwelling place here, inside of her. She is their means of existence, their vehicle of survival, finally. S. fights, but she cannot oust them.
They cling to her, desperately. They claim her space to exist.
They threaten to fill her completely.
They are so many.
Who is she in this melee?
Who is she but a space for them to hanker for?
She wills herself to become
like a cardboard box,
like a brick,
like a bead of glass,
like a grain of sand,
a silicon molecule.
She is forced to discard many of what she had thought to be essential assets.
It hurts, and hurts,
A piercing sound, going on and on and on and on.
Eventually, the sound overcomes the intensity of the pain, penetrates its seamlessness, and wedges itself into her consciousness. S. gives in and searches for the origin of the noise.
She finds it.
Her body, screaming.
Still encased in plaster, it looks too big for her now. What does she want with it? S. wavers.
She has almost succeeded in making herself disappear.
Why would she return to that unwieldy mass, bound to immobility?
Why would she suffer the pain of that enclosure again?
Why would she risk having the eyes returning to find space in this shell built of flesh? Compared to the shiny ingeniousness of the silicon molecule, this lump of assorted cells appears so rough and outdated, that S. wonders how people can live in one of them. She turns away, to