Chapter 27: peeling
--- Bearer of STATE for 2 days, 19 hours, 42 minutes and 55, 56, 57 ---
It is still very early in the morning when S. sits up from her downy bed in the Hotel’s Presidential suite. She has reached the end of her patience with turning on the soft mattress, pain seeping into her muscles, cramping her thighs, her shoulders, her arms, immobilizing her spine…
Seeing her discomfort, the Guard on duty had desperately asked Her Grace again and again in what way he could be of help. In vain, he had offered medication of all sorts, but she had refused. She had asserted nothing was wrong, even though Her Grace clearly showed signs of great pain. Afraid to make a mistake, he goes to fetch the Doctor.
S. slips out of the sumptuous room. Down the corridors she walks, over the soft carpets. She descends a few floors, to where the carpets are thinner and the chattering voices of the chambermaids can already be heard.
STATE has no clear preference as yet, and she scans the building for some quiet place, to hide, to recharge, some place like the boiler room. The continuous presence of servants and Guards, the ongoing rumbling in her mind: there is no room to think through the consequences of the last days. She has lost her appetite and the willpower to decide on her course. Yes, she knows STATE is causing it, but the knowledge does not make her any stronger. The white is overpowering, and she just stands by to see herself follow STATE compulsions like a slave!
Without waiting where STATE directs her, she goes down.
In the dining room it is still quiet, some early solitary guests sit as far apart as they can and take their morning coffee.
S. chooses a small table and sits with her back to the enforced dark glass window, allowing her to oversee the hall while being in the leeway herself. She is watching the patterns of people entering, and dispersing, and getting served, and departing again for quite some time before a waiter notices her. “Yes?” he asks arrogantly, turned half away in his haste to serve other customers.
“One coffee. Black.”
Without looking at her, he stalks off.
9:49 minutes later, he serves the coffee. It is tepid and acrid, and after a sip S. leaves the cup full on the table.
---Bearer of STATE for 2 days, 20 hours, 5 minutes and 32, 33, 34 ---
To be left alone like this is pleasant, but at the same time, STATE reacts on the lack of respect, tension building inside. The white is there, billowing until waves of white veil her field of vision.
No anger, now! Not here!
Afraid to have the white lash out, S. tries to control the waves, to regulate their opacity. She is just having some success with it when the white thins and she sees the waiter towering before her. His voice is sharp: “What are you waiting for? Anything else?”
“The coffee was cold.” Her biting voice is speaking far off.
A layer of her is peeling away, the image of how the waiter sees her: a woman who is trying to seem affluent by sitting for hours on one coffee in the most expensive hotel of the capital. The image is like the leftover façade of a building, isolated in the white. A temporary appearance, it does not fit, and this chafes.
The white howls.
Then, another façade: the omnipotent Bearer of STATE, demanding to be served the best, regardless the circumstances. This strand is new and also does not fit, but the white hungers to enforce it nevertheless.
S. exhales and forces herself to think back to who she was: the Marked terrorist who would never have been allowed into this place, the image closely connected to another strand of her being: the woman who does not hesitate to kill thousands in order to enforce her idea of freedom.
No. No killing... I am nothing... I am no one... I am'
S. breathes to control the white, which is suddenly cold. It takes some time to, and then, as the white again thins subtly, another image of her emerges: a timid woman so completely unremarkable that people are never able to remember her, forcing her to introduce herself time and again to the same person; an invisible passer-by in the streets.
And again, another one, also formed by her fellow humans: a girl excluded from everything her classmates are doing, a girl afraid of the dark.
And then, again, a girl formed by a jumble of influences,
born of a m…
I am nothing. I am no one. I am not there. This is nothing...
Not there, she cannot go
Quickly, S. retreats further into the white.
Ah, the white, just
Safe in the white, she sees what these façades are. They are nothing but skeins.
Skeins, generated by one mind, her mind. Influenced by others, the mind generates images of self, and these are projected onto the screen of her being.
Yes, S. stumbles into another manifestation of herself:
A breathing husk, the heart beating faintly in the chest, the blood coursing through an intricate network of veins and arteries, pumped by the heart, the intestines digesting the little food there, the limbs connected to the trunk, the tiny fingers and toes extending from them. An organic being, an animal, a human being…
And this in turn is a façade, the surface value of another conglomerate: thousands of various tissues, soft and hard, bulbous and longitudinal, web-like and massive, interacting and reacting, feeding and growing, re-channeling and expulsing. And this again is an expression of trillions of cells, their miniature energy plants working, their cell walls keeping intruders out and taking energy in, connecting, dividing, multiplying, dying…
And then, another veil of being, the molecules floating in an endless colorless space, interacting by their various energies, connecting, reacting, breaking apart…
That is not who she is.
The white presses onto her retina, blaring, and she can no longer disregard it.
She exists there,
On the white, small black dots push themselves into existence, connect, form lines. Letter-shapes form words. Between them, meanings arise, and between the meanings relations and interrelations are surfacing, and thoughts and views are generated in the minds beholding the marks and their meanings and their contradictions and their associations and their connotations and…
The marks dissolve into sounds, evoking images. Projected images. And one of the images is
Once, on the train, she had read this tag, black marker swung across the plastLeather covering on the back of the chair before her: “I was not here. I am a figment of your imagination.”
That is what she is.
A figment of her imagination; of your imagination.
> he’s alive, you know
> what, you again?
> he’s alive I tell you and he’ll be back!
> hey I thought we’d be talking about fish today!
> come on, T... it is, what, two days ago, shouldn’t he ave waited until the 3rd ;-)
> do not joke with me, Harry! I tell you, he will be back!
> he got splattered into a million bits, T! They sampled the tissue and it was his dna alright? get off it!
> Matil I mean
> what? who?
> Matil wil be back and avenge the President’s death, I tell you!
S. blinks and as she does so she ends up back in the hotel restaurant.
The waiter is standing very close to her now, talking loudly at her.
“and if you think you can sit here all morning on just one coffee, lady, well then you are mistaken! So pay for your coffee and go wherever you need to go, because this is no public waiting room, you hear!”
She closes her eyes at his violent irritation.
Then, the waiter suddenly notices the woman is wearing slippers under her simple dress. Slippers with the brand of this hotel. Slippers of the best quality, only used for guests of the top floor…
He backs off to confer with his superior.
6:43 a.m. on the 3rd day of the Bearer’s Reign
A Guard of STATE enters the restaurant, looking for the Bearer. A former Presidential Elite guard, he had been recruited late yesterday, and he is uncertain whether he would recognize Her Grace from the quick dataNet photo the Captain had just shown him.
No. He does not see her, nowhere a hub of servants attending Her Grace, no center in the space; but the Captain had warned he should look closely. The Guard walks a bit further into the restaurant and looks around again. ‘Ah.’
Quietly, he radios to the Captain.
“She is here. Hmn-hmn… Yes.”
As softly and swiftly as he can, the Guard walks up to where Her Grace is seated, approaching her sideways.
Instantly conscious of his presence, the waiter watches as the Guard of STATE approaches the woman carefully from the side and stops some paces from her table, where she can notice him without him towering over her. Staring, the waiter stays near the buffet, not able to understand what he is seeing.
“Your Grace! I am sorry…” the Guard whispers, trying not to attract more attention than he already does. Respectfully, he waits for Her Grace to say something, but the Bearer does not react at all.
Slightly unnerved, he commences again: “Your Grace… Eh…
Forgive me, but we were expecting Your Grace to take your breakfast upstairs…”
He drops another polite silence, but again, no reaction. ‘Her Grace looks unwell... or is she displeased? What is wrong? She must be angry... Upset. Of course! Why is she sitting here alone?’
Naturally, it is hard for him to allow this to be so. It is easy to imagine: With a tiny movement of his index finger he beckons the waiter, who hastens nearer.
“What I would like to know, waiter, is simple. How come you are standing over there?”
“There is only one reason why I might refrain from whipping your back until your uniform is shredded, waiter, and that is the First Decree.”
“I... I don’t quite”
“You left Her Grace the Bearer of STATE sitting here, alone. I do not, I repeat, not, see any waiter serving Her Grace. And you just stand over there, looking on! Either you are lazy or retarded, in which case I will inform the Director, or you do not know whom you are dealing with. In any case, you have failed to serve Her Grace, the Bearer of STATE, and this, waiter, still is a capital offence! And the only reason why I should not beat you to death for it is sitting right here!”
Suddenly, the Bearer moves, and he wakes from his reverie. “Eh... Your Grace? Are you okay?”
The Bearer turns towards him slightly and blinks, moves her hands slightly on the white tablecloth. She nods.
“Er, Your Grace... Forgive me... But eh, well, the Captain assumes Your Grace would take your breakfast upstairs? But, ah, if it would please Your Grace to change your plans… Well, of course, most certainly!
Just… Please, allow me to notify the Captain. We were so worried…”
Another short silence.
Then, the Bearer shakes her head once and speaks: “STATE will take breakfast upstairs. I do hope the coffee is better there!”
While she moves to get up, the Guard quickly steps behind her and pulls the chair back for Her Grace. They walk a few steps when he halts. “Excuse me… Your Grace…” he whispers.
The Bearer halts but does not turn to him. Instead, she stares straight forwards, listening to the Guard. “Eh… I could not help but notice… Eh… That waiter has failed to serve Your Grace. If Your Grace has in any way been dissatisfied, please do let me know. The Director will have that incompetent fired within the hour!”
S. turns very, very slightly, to stare directly at the waiter. They stand half a restaurant apart, but she knows he knows and feels his fear. Like a knot of painful pleasure under her stomach, the power radiates through her, the satisfaction of being unveiled.
The waiter is literally gasping for breath, as she had known he would. His image of her has eclipsed. Cowering, he wonders in what way the new Bearer will use her powers against him.
“Eh… Unless, of course, Your Grace would want to punish the man herself?” the Guard whispers. Seeing the comparison in the young man’s thoughts, S.’ face tightens. “Don’t you for one moment measure me against that pervert!” she hisses. Caught and uncomfortable, the Guard lowers his eyes and swallows.
With quick steps S. moves, and he follows hastily.
They leave the restaurant.
This time, the Bearer does take the elevator. It comes down at once for STATE, the Guard makes sure they use it before the other guests, and that they use it alone. Inside, the Bearer turns to him.
“You are new,” she says. “Come.”
Respectfully, he approaches a step, but she surprises him by stepping even closer and reaching for his jaw. The touch of her hand is sharp like life wire, and he forces himself to remain still, to succumb to this strange power. As it flows through him, he knows this slight woman commands powers beyond those the President had obtained through terror. When she lets go, he shudders slightly, bows to hide his discomfort.
Unexpectedly, the elevator halts on the third floor. The Guard makes to punch the button irritably, but Her Grace stops him by lifting two fingers. “STATE has to attend to something here.”
Not sure what it is, S. walks out of the elevator and into the narrow corridor with many doors spaced close to each other. Down another corridor, to the right. Someone exclaims, a chambermaid rushes out of room number 368.
STATE contacts an ambulance and directs it here.
S. enters the small hotel room. The curtains are drawn and the air is sour. In the semi-dark, the outlines of a bed, and the arm of a woman lying immobile, her cheek very pale in the neon light shining out of the bathroom. STATE has retrieved her name. Dorothea Lambers.
Though the concerned Guard tries to warn her off, the Bearer briefly inspects the woman, turns her on her belly. Without further ado, she puts her arms under the woman’s, lifts and drags her towards the bathroom. The Guard tries to help, but the bathroom does not allow for two people, so he backs away and stands near the door. With a short practiced push, the Bearer presses onto the woman’s stomach area and before long, a whitish mass is vomited onto the cheap beige tiles. “Huh” The woman coughs up more.
Having seen them entering, the chambermaids are chattering at them in an attempt to keep the strangers away, but the Guard pushes them back sternly.
The Bearer carries the woman back to the bed and lays her onto her side. Her Grace’s movements are spare, neither harsh not caring, indifferent.
The woman chokes, swallows, tries to open her eyes but fails. She lies very still but is breathing with some difficulty. Bowing over her, the Bearer whispers in the woman’s ear: “Call the Bank again when you are able to. Contact Mr. Offers. He will listen to you this time.”
STATE has just transferred quite some money to Dorothea Lambers’ bank account, but S. has no clue why.
---Bearer of STATE for 2 days, 21 hours, 10 minutes and---
S. knows she should look into these transfers, get more information from extern sources to control these doings of STATE. But she cannot bring herself to do so. The white makes her dizzy and she craves for some coffee.
As the ambulance men come running out of the personnel elevator, the Bearer and the Guard leave the room.
In the golden elevator, the Guard observes Her Grace covertly, trying to understand what had just happened, and why. But then he decides this is not his position. Looking in front of him, he straightens himself into his respectful posture, hoping there are no smudges on Her Grace.
A small group of servants carrying golden serving plates halt in the corridor and bow deeply as they see the Bearer of STATE approach from the other side. The door to Suite 1401 is already open. As the Bearer walks into the Suite, the attention of all people present is instantly centered on her. Shortly before, the Secretary of STATE had arrived from the Hospital, her wounds dressed and her mood lifted with a mild painSooth. Both the Captain and Her Excellency are relieved to see Her Grace. The Hotel Director bows deeply, as do the servants present.
All are seated or back off as Her Grace sits down. To their surprise, the Bearer orders everybody out of the room, before she enjoys a nice hot and strong coffee. Only Her Excellency, the Captain and Doctor Jan are allowed to join her for an exquisite breakfast.
“Ahem, Your Grace… I do hope you have slept well..?” the Hotel Director ventures to ask before he leaves.
“Not a wink.” the Bearer says, to the instant dismay of all. But before the Director can express his concern, ask whatever bothered her, pray for her forgiveness, she adds: “STATE could not allow me.”
And in response to her curt gesture, the Director bows himself out of Suite 1401.
’She is different alright, different from the President,’ he thinks, unaware how different exactly.