S./The Bearer of STATE - a book by Karin Arink

Chapter 37: lost

---Bearer of STATE for 3 months, 1 week, 5 days, 19 hours, 33 minutes---
When she has mustered some strength, S. wheels the body off her. STATE pushes her on, she cannot rest here, she has to move. Wiping at the blood from her nose, she clumsily undoes the ties on her ankles. She is shaking, but has to leave. Blindly and disoriented she stumbles out and takes the road to her right, leading out of the suburb. Her pace is not so quick and even now. Her body aches, her feet lose contact with the ground, her mind is an angry buzz of fatigue, STATE more heavy than usual and getting more so by the minute. S. needs to rest, to sleep, at long last; but for the moment, she has to keep going. She does not know where, but STATE seems to. With every step, she moves away from the city. The asphalt stops, the country road starts to curve slightly around fields full with crops. The air is still warm, but S. is cold inside. ‘I am nothing. I am’
Is she hallucinating all this: the road, the dark, or is she at the Palace? Everything is slipping. Did Moss really tie her, and die? Is she really walking here or is all of this some murky vision and should she return to the white as soon as possible? What is that behind her? That noise, something breaking in the dark? Matil? Is that dog coming after her? What is that sound? Is someone following her, creeping up to her, to land in her neck like Moss had done? Is Matil following her, watching her all this time? An old panic makes her body tense. If she is performing a part in this stupid play, she should know where the script would lead her. If she could only stop now, even stand still... But STATE continues to search for someone, for something here, close by; not allowing her lumpy body any rest.
On her right, a solitary house stands in the dark. S. approaches, but violent barking tells her that this is not a good idea and she continues down the road. At another house, no one answers her knocking, and then again she has to walk past fields of corn rustling in the dark. Then, around the corner, an old farm house stands, just off the road.
A vague feeling of recognition, though she never was here before. S. walks up to the front door and knocks. No dog, luckily. She waits, and knocks again. Someone stirs inside the house. A light, the door opens to reveal the sour and very suspicious face of an old farmer.

“Who there?” He sees a woman with dark blood smears all over her white face and on her throat. “Go AWAY!”
“You need to help me,”
“No. Don’t want no strangers here! And sure not filthy ones like you. You GO and help yourself. Might not have a dog but I do have a very good gun, and I’m not afraid to use it on strays like you!”

He is not joking and S. turns to leave, walks a few steps into the dark. Two more roofs are visible just over the hill. But STATE turns to the house again. Something here, something safe… she has to stay and find it. As softly as she can, she circles the house. At the back door, there is a light. S. stands just outside its circle. A movement. The back door is very carefully opened and a bend elderly lady looks at her. She beckons silently, and S. goes to her. Without a word, the farm wife offers a warm glass of milk, which S. downs instantly. Then, the lady gives her two horsehair blankets.
“I am sorry,” she whispers, “but there is an unused shed to the back, behind the farm tools. It is not cold tonight… I am real sorry, but my husband will hurt you if he finds you inside.”
S. turns and finds the shed, pauses before she knows that this is not where that she has to sleep… something pulls at her, at STATE. Outside.
Between the rusty farm tools, S. lets herself down. The ground is hard, she is lying on a huge rock of some sort, with only dry moss clinging to it. But it is not uncomfortable, not at all. It seems welcoming, at last. This is what was needed.
S. blacks out instantly, without any more thoughts.

8:23 on a clear June day in the 4th month of the Bearer’s Reign
In the Eastern Palace, the Captain rubs his temples as he looks at the empty bed. ‘Again! This continuing insomnia is not a good sign at all... if only Jan would finally find a way for Her Grace to sleep!’
The Secretary of STATE walks in and looks at the bed. “Oh dear,” she says. Worried, the Captain and Irene look at each other, thinking the same but not voicing it.
Though she has become accustomed to Palace life, Irene is always acutely conscious of the servants looking on and overhearing everything that is said. She cannot be herself like this, she has become the Secretary of STATE, has become her role. Her blue eyes worried, she frowns. Her voice light, she says:
“Oh, I suppose Her Grace will walk in soon, like she normally does... But maybe we can check for signs, just in case?”

The Captain walks to his extra-protected dataCorder and checks Police records for any STATE-like casualties in the city, or any reports of a homeless woman found immobilized. ‘Hmn, a man found electrocuted in his house in one of the poorer suburbs...’ Without any delay, the Captain calls his men and leaves for the police station of the precinct.
The Secretary of STATE departs for the Palace of Parliament to chair the weekly Ministers’ meeting.

Chief Inspector Jack Cribben looks up irritably when he sees a group of uniformed men enter the office. Being woken in the middle of night never helps, and then for this unsolvable case he already hates. The dead man was a known alcoholic and a wanted terrorist. Apparently he had been inactive for years, but he was still a dangerous individual the neighbors are happy to be rid of. ‘Why do we have to solve cases like this, where nobody cares anyway what the cause of death was?’ He grumbles and eyes the strangers with distaste. ‘Huh, look at them! Oh-so-nicely dressed, and behaving arrogantly, like they own the place. This is really a pain, and that on a morning like this!’
Disregarding an officer who is tersely asking them what they come for, they walk straight to where Jack sits working. ‘City people, can see that from their fine manner, but nothing they’re gonna get out of me!’
“Good day, Chief Inspector,” the man says.
“Says who?” Jack counters coolly.
“We come for the electrocution case. Where is the scene of crime? We have to investigate it now.” The man’s tone of voice is incredibly short and arrogant. Jack replies: “Nobody will be investigating anything in this precinct apart from me, sir! The man was a known terrorist. Go away. As the officer in charge I will have to”

“Ah, I see you really do not know whom you are talking to,” the Captain says, overly smooth as he slips his iCard into the slit of the reader. “Because refusing the Guard of STATE to investigate a possibly STATE-related situation is, as you undoubtedly know”
The Chief Inspector sees the Top Rank sign flash, blanches and straightens himself.

“Oh… Eh, right you are, eh… Captain.” Jack’s index finger pushes between his collar and his badly shaven neck in an attempt to create some space there.
“Forgive me… I did not realize… But of course... Or rather... Well, right then. Ehh… If you would follow me, eh, Captain, Sir, gentlemen.”

> Hail STATE! Another day in this new era. Hail the Bearer of STATE!
> Yes, though when put like that it does sound a little
> and what, may I ask, is the problem? Hail STATE! She who bears our lot, should be hailed as often as we can! we who are but the particles
> don’t know, don’t think Her Grace would want us to
> No, Her Grace does not have the time to think about us, now, does she? but
> Yes, She does! Her all-encompassing Mind looks everywhere simultaneously. Hail STATE! Hail the Bearer of STATE and her noble servants!

Repulsed, the Captain looks around the terrorist’s apartment. He normally is not confronted with surroundings this squalid, and he is happy for it. ‘The idea that Her Grace had been here, even lived in places like these...’
A glance at the corpse had made it clear that the cuts on the hands and the subsequent death by electrocution had indeed been inflicted by STATE, and he had signed the document relieving the Inspector of the case. ‘But where is Her Grace?’ He notices another smear of blood on the floor. A quickTest ascertains it is not the victim’s, is not properly blood at all, but some silicon mixture. ‘The Bearer! Wounded!’ Extremely worried, the Captain leaves the apartment and the Guards of STATE stand in front of the block, stared at by children on their way to school. No trace of the Bearer. Uncertain where to go, they divide: two go straight, two go to the left towards the city and the Captain turns right.

Showing the Bearer’s picture to the farmers living in the few houses up the road, the Captain gets “no” for an answer everywhere. ‘What has happened to Her Grace? If only she is not mortally wounded, lying somewhere with no proper help!’ He pauses and uses his securiPhone to summon Jan.
He is almost leaving for the village when he thinks, ‘that old suspicious man. His “No.” had been a bit too quick.’ The Captain retraces his steps to the old farmhouse. He goes around the house and finds the farmer’s wife, hanging washing on the lines in the morning sun. He pulls out the small photo of Her Grace, and the moment her eyes hit on the face, he knows she has seen her.
“Where is she?” he asks softly. “I need to find her desperately!” Surreptitiously, her old eyes dart towards the open door, but they are alone.
“In the shed,” she points. ‘The shed! They have put Her Grace in the shed!’ The Captain turns and walks over. But the shed is empty, sunlight slanting through the dust. And yes, a light trace of recent movement, but no Bearer. Disappointed, the Captain walks out. Searching for other traces, he steps carefully amongst the disused tools.
Then, he almost steps on the Bearer’s head. Shocked, he bows, kneels. She lies sunk into the rock, hard moss framing her face. The Bearer looks like a tomb carving, the rusty smears of what the Captain fears to be her blood like oxidized veins in old marble. On her throat a rusty line… The Captain feels his own blood sinking from his face. ‘Is… is she…?’ Then he realizes that the cut cannot have been deep enough to kill, if Her Grace had walked all the way over. ‘The Bearer of STATE, here!’
Very carefully he touches her. In the warm sun she is quite cool, but there is something very unusual. She is breathing. Not shallow and coma-like, but a very deep and even breathing. ‘The Bearer is asleep! Hail STATE! Asleep!’
Thankful, the Captain bows again, then returns to the back door where the wife had disappeared. She is in the kitchen, cooking. Without any explication, he orders the best bed cover they own to be brought down. He contacts the other Guards, covers Her Grace with the eiderdown and hides the white under the horsehair blankets, then kneels on the hard grass to protect Her Grace.
In the rising heat he sits, the hip-high weeds rustling in the wind. Happy with their partial cover, he looks at their leathery leaves, green with patches of rust, inhaling their bitter metallic smell.
In his securiPhone, he hears the limo with Jan approaching. ‘Hmn, servants will come with him, servants and people who have taken on functions allowing them near STATE, even if in truth Her Grace had never even looked at them at all. But, well, this kind of retinue is the least we can do, with Her Grace’s position...’
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