Chapter 31: the market
10:43 a.m. on the 37th day of the Bearer’s Reign
Waiting in the huge Palace corridor, Shirley is trying to keep her attention on the box of chocolates she is carrying. Her boss, her Mistress, chef of the Chocolaterie, had invested weeks to obtain permission to present Her Grace the Bearer of STATE with chocolates, after she had heard of Her Grace’s unforeseen visit on the first day of Her Grace’s reign.
Of course, Shirley has never told the Mistress about the details of the encounter, and now she is trying to reassure herself that for sure, the Bearer being so busy, she would have forgotten all about it by now.
After finally gaining access to the Palace, an unsmiling Guard had lectured them about the Etiquette surrounding Her Grace, the Bearer of STATE, and had specified what kinds of punishment every trespass would entail.
Shirley’s head is a jumble of admonitions and she tries hard to remember what to do when. ‘Could I just walk into the room or would I have to wait until called? When should I bow again and when was I supposed to kneel? Of course, I do not dare to look her Grace in the eye, but what should I do when I was suddenly addressed by Her?’
The nerves give her nausea and the sweet smell of the chocolates makes things worse. ‘Oh! I cannot be sick now!’ Shirley swallows.
After what seems like ages, they are shown into a huge chamber. The April sun slants in and highlights the warm colors of beautiful carpets. The window frames are carved and gold-painted, a big curvaceous crystal chandelier spreads its many arms high above. ‘So pretty!’
In front of them, a slender pure golden throne on a dais awaits the Bearer.
Shirley prepares for another long wait, and the servant who has just shown them in is just retreating, when there is a sudden movement near the far door on the left.
Two Guards of STATE enter, look around, and the servant quickly steps back into the chamber and closes the back door. Two servants hold open the side doors, faces stern with respect, as a small group of people enters: a graying man, four Guards, and the Captain, bowing reverently to softly say something to a small woman at the center of the group.
It is her.
Shirley blushes. Even though the group is still at least 20 meters away from her, she instantly recognizes her. From here, the woman who had walked into the shop on a rainy evening has not changed one bit, even though she has been Bearer now for more than a month. Her hair is still unceremoniously spiky and her figure reveals nothing of the powers she incorporates. ‘Even her clothes are simple... If I were Bearer, I’d buy something nice, expensive... uh... no thinking...’
The group of Guards and servants disperses. Each door is guarded and the servants stand close enough to fulfill any demand of Her Grace, one carrying a tray with water. Two Guards position themselves behind Shirley and her mistress. One Guard and the Captain stay close to Her Grace, who halts in mid-stride. The Captain indicates the throne and after a slight hesitation, the Bearer walks forwards, towards it. Her step is strange, not like Shirley remembers her movements.
Everybody present freezes in position, waiting for an order. There is no sign by Her Grace. She sits very still. Though Shirley cannot really see the eyes she has the feeling the Bearer is not blinking. The Captain pulls back a bit and waits patiently. ‘This is weird’, Shirley thinks, but again remembers the Guard saying something about not even thinking disrespectful thoughts in the presence of the Bearer, so she tries hard to think of something else while remaining alert.
---Bearer of STATE for 1 month, 1 week, 0 days, 0 hours, 56 minutes and---
Only briefly, S. is conscious of the sunlight warming her face, before something in STATE pulls her into the white. Oblivious of how often she pulls away from the Palace reality, she accesses the patterns in STATE. Just being there, paying attention, seems to soothe the white, to rebalance it, like she is a conductor of a huge orchestra. S. still does not know what she is doing there exactly, but it is good to be there. She is so necessary there, indispensable. But now...
Something is different. A high piercing whistle, a sound she remembers, from somewhere... But this time it is mingled with other, very familiar sounds. People shouting prices and nouns, high yells over a tangle of voices, some almost blurring into a soft drone, some voices jerking up unexpectedly.
S. tries to open her eyes, to see, then knows her eyes are elsewhere. Strange, because she has a strong sensation of limbs, moving a body purposefully through the crowd. A strong feeling of belonging, of doing the right thing; juxtaposed with distance towards this melee of moving bodies, these gesturing, shouting, questioning, gossiping, all these small-minded bodies.
And, yes, balancing her coldness and her purpose, there is the weight around her middle. A familiar weight, steadying her step and ever so imperceptibly strengthening her resolve.
This is how it must be.
This is how it is done.
This is how it must be.
This is how it will be done.
But where are her eyes? With a huge effort, she pulls back to where this other body is seated and finds them.
S. blinks and looks down a long sunny chamber to some people waiting there. Where is she?
Oh… the Palace. Some reception. What again was this about?’
The return of Her Grace’s attention is noted immediately: Guards straightening, servants on the alert.
“Ehm… Your Grace…” As always, the Captains quiet voice is there, informing her discretely of the situation S. is in. But the high piercing sound continues, overruling his calm voice, making her hold her ears.
“Is something the matter, Your Grace?”
Always the same caution, the same covetousness. S. longs to escape to the other body, the one she senses is still moving through the crowds, the one nobody pays any heed to.
“Bananas! Good bananas!”
Ah. The market, the huge one just off the center of the capital.
Something about this knowledge makes her restless, and though she wills the white to view the data from another angle, nothing comes, only an intensifying of the shrieking.
S. escapes back to the Palace room.
Her Grace’s eyes open again, and Shirley and her mistress are beckoned closer. The huge flat box that Shirley balances contains all sorts of chocolates, and though made of gold-leafed cardboard, its shear size makes it heavy. The Mistress carries a smaller solid golden box with the deluxe selection, all especially created for the former President.
Focusing on keeping the box level, Shirley approaches the dais slightly behind her Mistress, both walking with small respectful steps.
The market is here, some shrieking overlaying the buzz of talking.
The weight around her middle presses S. to stand and walk. Just walking, keep on walking.
This is right.
This is the right thing.
This is the way to do it.
This is how it will be done.
Disrupting the Etiquette, the Bearer steps down from the dais and walks with an even pace towards Shirley and her Mistress, who have stopped instantly.
The Guard and the Captain and servants make haste to catch up with Her Grace.
“Bow!” behind them, the Guard hisses his reminder. Obeying him, Shirley swallows nervously. She looks down at the golden lid between her hands, glinting in the sunshine. ‘If only Her Grace would not remember…’
“Of course I remember.”
Her Grace’s voice is cold in the silent chamber. Shirley cannot help herself. Her eyes dart up and meet the eyes of the Bearer. From this close, she has to stare at the change. ‘Eyes were different then, more alive... But now... Now they don’t move, the pupils a solid grey... And the way she’s answering me thoughts is creepy to say the least... And her skin! It’s not looking unhealthy, exactly, but it has a strange shine. Looks hard, like all of her, alien…’
---Bearer of STATE for 1 month, 1 week, 0 days, 1 hour, 0---
That instant, S. stumbles backwards, as if hit in the stomach.
The Captain and the Guard hasten to catch Her Grace, but they have difficulty to hold her.
Whoosh. Whoosh. Whish.
From the ceiling, attack-proof glass panes descend like knives, blocking the Bearer and the two men from view.
Shirley feels the cold of something metal in her neck. The Guard’s voice cuts in her ear: “Down, you! Or STATE will make this bullet rebound in your body and turn it to mush inside!” Her knees buckle and she drops the box as she kneels to the ground. She whimpers without words.
“How many times I told you NOT to lift your eyes to Her Grace? You worthless dipwit! You will be punished for this, I assure you! Don’t you know you are less than a beetle, to be trampled by STATE if she so desires?”
Now, Shirley understands the enormity of her transgression that first evening, disregarding Her Grace, talking back to STATE the way she did, forcing Her Grace to even pay for something which should have been offered to STATE on a golden plate the instant Her eyes would linger on it. The difference between then and now is just to big a gap to take in, and she can only tremble.
Two Guards have to lift the shop girl to her feet and carry her out into the corridor. As they do so, they motion the terrified Mistress to leave the room. The Head of Table hastily picks up the box and retreats form the Reception Chamber as well.
The Captain with the Guard still attempt to hold Her Grace in the enclosure of the slabs of dark anthracite glass. They cannot keep her. Gasping, the Bearer falls backwards, falling and falling until they hit the glass pane. Her Grace is not conscious, and the incredibly heavy body of STATE is turning slightly, now pressing the Guard’s body against the cold surface. The Captain steps back and wonders if the fortified glass will hold STATE.
Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
The bodies’ sounds are silenced, the high wailing has transformed into a deafening siren. Now she knows.
The weight has disappeared.
The weight of the bomb around her middle has gone.
The quiet and determined body has fragmented.
The sky opens above her, as the rows of stalls have been shredded to splinters.
The bodies around her have been torn, shattered, reduced to pulp, like the fruit.
The Guard tries to keep breathing, but the weight increases.
‘What is she doing? Stupid woman!’ he thinks, panicking with weight on top of him. ‘Move! MOVE! GET OFF of me!’
A stab of pain as his ribs give in and break. The air is squeezed out of lungs, and everything spins and spins. ‘Get OFF, you filthy’
The Captain jumps sideways instinctively as a ball of painfully white light leaves STATE and enters the Guard’s body. The air smells singed after the high voltage discharge. ‘Not again.’ he thinks.
--- Attack on main market! People killed. Panic spreading. Request back up! Request back up! --- Repeat: attack on main market! People killed! Request back-up! ---
With haste, Irene walks through the Palace to the Reception chamber, when she sees two women, held at gunpoint by two Guards. “What’s this?”
“Er... Your Excellency... These shop women had the nerve to attack Her Grace just now... We await orders as to their fate!”
The women are crying; the young one especially has dark armpits from fear.
Irene smiles grimly.
“I hardly think so. There was an attack on the market. That attack was not their doing, I am sure... Let them go!”
Hurriedly, the Guards obey the Secretary of STATE, while Irene approaches the Reception room doors, but is kept back by the Guards waiting outside.
“Let me in, NOW!”
“Er... Your Excellence... “
But Irene has no patience to explain and pushes the doors open. Instead of an airy and light room, she looks into a corridor of dark anthracite glass walls. A strong, acrid smell. Far away, the Captain bows before the Bearer.
Irene has the presence of mind to close the door in the Guards’ gawking faces. Just in time. From the Bearer’s hands, a fiery liquid starts to drop. It burns holes in the hardwood floors, but it is hard to see whether they damage Her Grace.
“S.!” Irene rushes up to her, but stops, does not know how to approach her.
16 securiCams snap to record mode and collect all data, all human behavior in and surrounding the market square. 18 ambulances tear out of hospitals in the capital, carrying 72 emergency personnel. 20 police cars and 9 motor cycle police make their way to the market, crossing various Borough Bridges to arrive there.
--- No need for pursuit, the perpetrator is dead. Control panic, repeat: control panic! --- More ambulances! Control panic! ---
DataNet issues a small notice and press agencies flutter to activity, NationalTV?
and new freelance reporters mounting motoBikes, catching a taxi, taking the metro, and walk to the Market as quickly as they can, the dataFlow starts to pulse with information, and STATE throbs with it.
“S.! Your Grace!” Irene screams, helplessly. “There was an attack! We have to do something!”
The Bearer does not react, and the Captain feels he is losing ground. He checks his securiPhones; they are on but there is no sound. ‘WHAT? Attack? I’ve not heard anything. I should be the first, to. Hmn... the thing had been whining, maybe some interference?’
“S.! Please, stop!
>it was state that did this
>it was that terrorist
>it is her sign, don’t you see?
>it was that marked one, it was her
>the killer woman: she killed them
>it was state killed them
>it was the bearer who killed them, that terrorist sl*t
Drops burn her hands and S. knows that yes, she killed them.
She killed them. She killed them again. And again. And again.
The flesh in shreds and the bones’ splinters flying, inner organs exposed, mashed, the blood flowing like it should, uncontained at last.
She killed them.
She killed them.
She killed them all, again.
“S.!” Irene tries to reach Her Grace, but sees it is useless.
At that moment Doctor Jan enters, also quickly closing the door behind him. Though the fiery drops still fall, he kneels and approaches Her Grace, until his hands can touch her feet. Very carefully, he rests his hands on Her Grace’s feet, stroking them.
‘But it is dark here, too dark... She cannot stand the dark...’ Irene thinks.
Irene shouts the word and slowly, the slabs lift, the sunlight pouring in and blinding them.
The Bearer slides sideways, limp, but the burning liquid stops.
Together, Jan and the Captain lift Her Grace off the Guard. A quick check ascertains that the man is dead.
While Jan carefully straightens Her Grace, the Captain rises.
His securiPhone suddenly has connection again, and what he hears is no good.
“Irene! Her Grace has to go to the market. DataFlow?
is alive with wild accusations, the longer she is absent the stronger they will assert that it was she who killed. Jan, what can you do?”
“Nothing. It is impossible! She cannot move, Captain! You know this state can take up to hours...”
Irene and the Captain reflect for a moment, reaching the same conclusion simultaneously. Irene looks dejected for a moment, while the Captain opens the door to a brink and allows two Guards in. He orders:
“Move the poor Guard and briefly activate the securiCam to make a dataFlow broadcast that Her Grace is unwell and has not left this room this morning.” Then, he turns and walks with Her Excellency towards the door. Holding her shoulders, he looks into her eyes, sees that she understands.
“Take the limo. You will have to go... As Her Grace’s representative.”
Irene nods, though she clearly does not look forwards to it. She says:
“But Captain, I will have to change first.”
Looking at her bright yellow blouse, the Captain cannot but agree.