Chapter 35: leading gangs
20:14 p.m. on the 2nd day of the 10th week of the Bearer’s Reign
“Chef! Chef! What do we do with this?” The new waiter is all fluttered when he shows the Chef the receipt. “Table 17,” he adds and looks around to point to the small table in the corner near the toilets, when he sees the table is empty. “Oh! Chef, Sir! Gone, she’s gone! Did not even take off her coat, Sir! And that in a restaurant of this quality! And now she just walked out! Really!”
“Calm, calm, Tomas,” the Chef says, but his junior waiter cannot stop: “Did not touch the cutlery either, Sir! Really! Eating with her hands like a homeless, she was. And now she left without paying! Chef, Sir, do you want me to call the Police?”
The Chef studies the bill. Just soup and some bread, so anyway, it’s not worth the trouble. ‘But there, in the corner, what is that..?’ An oval stamp. ‘It… it cannot be…’ Bending the paper to let the light skim the paper’s surface, he makes sure that this is no stamp, but a curvy ‘S’, burned into the paper. ‘Oh no… Table 17 is next to the toilets! And this, I am sure... Why did I not notice!?
’ Impatient, the young waiter repeats his question. “Chef, Sir, shall I go and call the Police!”
The Chef looks up. “NO! This is terrible! Table 17, for Heaven’s sake! Table 17! Where did she go?”
“Uh... did not see, Sir. Just disappeared when I went to show you the receipt. Typical!”
The Chef draws a deep, exasperated breath, then forces himself to speak calmly: “What did she look like, Tomas?”
“Well Sir, to be honest, I wouldn’t recognize the woman if I would see her again. She is just plain, a bit drab… looked tired,”
“Listen very carefully, Tomas! If she ever enters the restaurant again, you show her as unobtrusively as you can to the best room available upstairs! Then, come to me personally, to notify me immediately!”
“B… but Sir, well, yes, OK… but... I don’t”
“This, Tomas, is the Seal of STATE. You have served the Bearer of STATE, in person. You had better served her well!”
Upstairs, the Chef carefully wheels the cabby full of hot plates around. He pushes it towards the large private dining room, when he almost jumps. Someone stands in the dimly lit corridor. A woman, a bit below average in height, very thin, plain, her face pale in the low lights… He sucks in his breath when the facts connect.
“Eh… Your Grace,…” he whispers, bowing, wiping his hands on his apron. “Fo… Forgive… us… It is a blemish for our restaurant, for not having offered Your Grace what STATE deserves… My junior waiter did not realize… P… Please…”
“Show me in,” the Bearer says only, stepping in front of the door leading to the large dining room. ‘Clearly, Her Grace is irritated - and understandably so! But, in there?’ Though he would like to point out the dangers, the Chef cannot find the words to. ‘Maybe a meeting was agreed upon?’ He bows deeply as he opens the door.
---Bearer of STATE for 2 months, 2 weeks, 2 days, 10 hours, 15 minutes---
S. has no idea why she is here, driven by STATE, again. Tired, so tired. But she shakes off her misgivings to concentrate on the situation STATE is throwing her into as there is some connection to Matil.
The room is full of men. Broad shoulders, bullet-proof vests jutting through expensive suits. Hard eyes. Danger. STATE tells her there are more weapons than men in this room. S. has to focus her energy, her body is sluggish from not sleeping since bearing STATE. Her attention, at times hyper-awake, also tends to fall away. No lapses now. Concentrate.
The Chef is exceptionally nervous, bowing and swiftly wheeling in the cabby, placing plate after plate before the immobile men.
“Gentlemen, your dinner,” he says in an artificially cheerful tone. But the men have only eyes for the plain woman, hands ready to use their arms. With one smooth movement, the Bearer drops her coat. The Chef bends swiftly to catch it, and is happy with the excuse to bow himself out of the room. He closes the door softly.
In a split second, the huge man with long blonde hair on S.’ left pulls out a heavy automatic gun with silencer and points it to her head. “No uninvited visitors here, la-dy.”
“You do not order the Bearer of STATE, or you pay with your life,” S. says coolly.
“Ha! What you threaten me!” the man says, but he clearly has difficulty to hold the gun aimed.
S. lightly touches STATE. A flash of light fills the room, illuminating everything too brightly, blinding everybody except her. For some minutes, all heavily armed men grope for the table or their chairs, to steady themselves.
“You may not be aware of it, but I carry the largest weapon here,” S. adds. “STATE will be obeyed, even by you.”
A very long silence.
All men stare at STATE hanging exposed. For the locals, it explains why nobody can draw a gun; the outsiders have no clue. ‘Who is she? What on earth is she wearing there?’
The Bearer simply sits down in the empty chair at the head of the table and lowers her hands on the table. Her thin muscular arms are bare. The scar of a Mark is visible, an ugly dent in the thin skin. Her top opens to make space for STATE, a shimmering transparent rectangle protruding from the belly.
Silence. The food is billowing steam.
“Gentlemen, eat.” the Bearer says. “STATE will wait.” One by one, the men start eating, eyeing each other uncomfortably.
---Bearer of STATE for 2 months, 2 weeks, 2 days, 10 hours, 26 minutes---
The red is thick, but S. can observe it without intervening. She now knows what the men are here for. A truce. Lately, there have been many daylight killings related to criminal gang wars, and STATE indicates this is related to her cutting off Matil’s weapon supplies two months ago. S. had thought it would weaken his position, but apparently, Matil has other resources. Still, it did destabilize the criminal world’s power balance, and this evening was meant for repairing that. STATE searches for more information on traces of Matil’s money transfers, but again, finds none. But maybe tonight STATE could get a measure of influence on his world, on the Criminal clan...
“Let’s get down to business, shall we?” the Bearer says.
“What business?” says Zacha in his coldest voice, “What has STATE got to do with us?”
“STATE has enough of the passers-by getting killed by accident,” the Bearer begins, and the men roar with laughter. ‘Good!’ Zacha thinks and says:
“Just as if you would care, S.! You hypocrite. How many people died as a result of those nice deeds of yours, huh? Where were you, when the market was bombed, hey?” And he smiles widely.
“As I said, STATE has enough.” the Bearer states, her voice without any emotion.
“So what?” Mariano, leader of the opposite side, asks in his accent. “Bearer? State? Who the fuck you are, come barging in here! You lucky you not dead already.”
“As you might have noticed, luck has nothing to do with that,” the Bearer says distinctly. “No one can or will lift any weapon against STATE.” And indeed, still no one present can get his weapons to move. “Now, back to business. The truce. STATE will have it negotiated and agreed upon now.”
“Or else WHAT?” Zacha drawls. “You little”
The Bearer has her hand already in STATE and pulls out a hand grenade. She holds it up in her fingertips, like a ripe fruit. “Or else, I will be the only one leaving this room alive, dear Zacha.”
‘Now how the hell does she know my name!?” Zacha wonders, frightened for the first time. ‘Only my closest friends know me by that name, and even they are careful when to voice it! Who has this tiny bitch been in touch with?’ Suspiciously, he tries to catch the eyes of his men; gives up. ‘More pressing matters.’ The Bearer sits with the grenade, playing with the pin, while the men try to measure her resolve. Soon enough, Zacha, remembering the stories of the bomb going off against the Bearer’s body in Parliament and leaving her alive, says: “Right, well. Let’s talk about the territories then.”
Silent and still, S. sits through hours of defining mutual rights. Many points are completely abstract, and the discussions seem more about showing off muscle than anything else. She does not mingle in them ever; only when they threaten to block the agreement, she pushes the negotiations. S. does so totally on STATE control. Seeing rights and advantages as in a graphic maze, STATE is making sure they are balanced without knowing anything about the details, and not wanting to. It requires total concentration, and also, she has to keep an eye on the men, making sure they do not forget about the grenade or STATE powers.
---Bearer of STATE for 2 months, 2 weeks, 2 days, 13 hours, 59 minutes---
S. plays with the idea of pulling the pin anyway, to rid the capital of what Police and media would undoubtedly call mafia rot. But she is also aware that businesses this profitable will not be left alone for long, and STATE gains nothing by having to deal with new gang leaders, fighting over the borders of their territories.
After a fifth round of drinks, the men have reached a truce and have it sealed by STATE. Though STATE indicates the truce is good for the Bearer in every way, S. wonders what this will do to Matil, if this will finally stop him. She knows the answer.
Matil is unpredictable, and such a simple move will not catch him. B. Matil, or S. Maatiwel, or Bero Matiliwiz, or Bernd M., or Mateu Wis, or Boris Wislow or whatever other name he might be using, S. will have to find him. She will find him. She will have to end him.
The Bearer is careful to be the last leaving the room.
In the corridor, she finds the Captain and two Guards; notified by the Chef. Instantly, Her Grace is cushioned in a circle of respectful attentiveness. Worried, the Captain asks why she had attended this meeting alone, but the Bearer does not answer. Trembling, the junior Tomas serves Her Grace, the Bearer of STATE, a light but superb supper from golden plates.
“Different now, is it?” she asks, smiling very slightly as he reddens. Then, she is bowed into the limo and driven to the Palace of STATE for another sleepless night.
“If she had been her predecessor, that is when the pain would start, Tomas!”
Tomas looks at his Chef. “Pain?”
“The whipping, a fist or foot stomping, or some knife,” Chef says, and shows his hands. Tomas, who had wondered where his Chef had gotten his scars, shakes his head.
His Chef looks at him, wondering if the boy really understood. “Listen, Tomas! The Bearer has the rights to do the same, you know. And she does not even have to use her Guards. STATE can cut you, blind you, electrocute you in a flash. She can hold an exploding bomb and survive! Get it, Tomas? Better serve Her Grace with more respect, next time!”
11th week of the Bearer’s Reign, the 12th, the 13th
Reluctantly, the Captain and Guards become used to Her Grace’s walking bouts. The Captain reminds himself that with STATE, the Bearer is protected and that if people would try to attack her, they would pay dearly. ‘If only we could get more information, either on what would help Her Grace’s condition or on that silent threat Matil.’ But as days pass into weeks, there are no incidents, and against his better judgment he allows himself to be lulled. At all costs, he refuses to call in Professor de Parry, and he is not connected well enough to the former President’s information networks to find other sources.
Late at night, Jan again adds notes to his paper notebook, the old-fashioned graphite scratching in his silent room. <<2 mns; 4th wk - somn=--; cre: h=-/s=-/tmp=flux; ao-rcts: +; wnd: hands=hld;>>
Irene is still scared to bits by the idea of S. walking out there, alone. ‘She is not strong, even if STATE has incredible powers... She hasn’t slept for all this time!’ Unvoiced, Irene wonders if Her Grace is maybe out to meet someone. ‘Someone who can help to deal with STATE, someone who knows about STATE. Someone who will tell her how to find a balance, how to use STATE and realize some sort of control... Or maybe even another enemy?’ STATE has many hidden enemies. Irene checks different dataFlow chats regularly, and she knows opinions are arising, endangering the Bearer’s Reign. ‘Some mask their animosity, some remain just out of our circle. If I were S., I’d prefer to meet them, to look them in the eye. Them or this Matil. Yes, Matil is out there, and still the Captain has had no success with tracing any of his activities, or even his existence. Is Matil throwing sand in their eyes, or has he disappeared across the border? Why can STATE not find him, why does STATE not yield anything on him? Has he some access to STATE, can he manipulate even STATE?’
Whenever STATE has no information to print for the Secretary, S. walks the streets. Alone in the dark, there are plenty of points to connect to STATE structures. Especially on nice summer nights like this one, S. is outside. It has been months since she last slept, and to pacify her itching body, she walks and walks. Every night. She has to, to get away.
Away from the voices. Away from the knowledge. Away from the responsibility. Away from the limbo in which she is stuck. Away from her failure to catch Matil, away from her failure to change the state. She has to escape.
But wherever she goes, STATE goes with her.
She can run, but STATE will run with her, an extension of her, or, to put it more exactly: she has become an extension of STATE. And she knows without trying that she will never be able to end this herself. There is no escape. There is nowhere to go.
And there is no one able to help her, or stop her, to even understand her.
> and I ask you, I ask you all: why do we have a bearer of state? why can we not rule ourselves, like other nations do?
> hear, hear: time for true democracy!
> We all serve STATE! We all serve the Bearer
> shut up you religious fool! state is just another form of President. we must STOP the hierarchy! we must make the bearer go..!
> stop state : time for democracy!
> spread the word! don’t believe the fears. the rpesident is dead, and the new one soon will be, mark me words
> is that a threat
> no , no just a prediction, I’m a regular Cassandra haha