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

Chapter 63: poison

January in the 1st year of the New Bearer’s Reign.
Artur Werther frowns and swallows, tries to focus on where he is. He was trying to warn Irene and the Captain that he thinks it likely that S. has passed into the next stage. But the words seem to hide somewhere in the morass behind his eyes. “You idiots! She has lost a large proportion of her... eh... you know, her...
humanity on that bridge, she has! Maybe it will become better, I dunno, but she is…. Ehmn… Oh come on!“ He rubs his forehead.

‘Fool!’ the Captain thinks. ‘He is really starting to lose it. Forgets what he is talking about in the middle of a sentence, mixes up names, can hardly focus whom he is talking to and what about. His skin is ridden with disgusting pus-filled craters. Well at least, this, combined with an unbroken stupor, block him from all public occasions and from the Bearer’s view... Hiding in his room, he is drinking more and more. Why is he here anyway? Just pressing for the Day of Souls and then drunk again.’ The Captain does not hide his contempt whenever he sees him, and whenever they do meet a loud fight is the result.
Doctor Jan tries to question Dr. Werther about the next stage, what the signs are, what they should be aware of or watch out for, but it is hard to discern between raving and knowledge in Werther’s words. In the literature, he cannot find much. Most Bearers were either dead or already relieved before they reached this stage. The sources that do mention it only warned in general terms about ‘The Bearer becoming more and more objectified.’ and ‘disregarding all things human.’ Jan cannot really make much of this, though he does notice that where before, Her Grace still in a way was concerned about politics, people or even things, she now does care at all. Like she is still stuck on the bridge, she has become an automaton, moving but not much more.

Of course, Martin Rislers notices the change immediately and does not miss any opportunity to make insidious remarks about the Bearer being uncaring, fickle, irresponsible, unreliable; managing to infuriate Irene every time. He starts to organize meetings with Committee members without inviting either the Bearer or the Secretary of STATE, not even bothering much to keep them secret. Uncertain of how to stop him, Irene gets more and more infuriated with him.
Long dark days crawl by.

9th of January in the first year of the New Bearer’s Reign
Tomorrow another heavy meeting, and Irene knows she’ll have to prepare herself, for Martin for sure will have found something to refute her last changes. She sighs, and softly, Susan approaches and refills her cup of tea. “Is there maybe something else I can do for you, Your Excellency..? We could ask Maestro Bottemani...? Or someone to massage..? Or even I could try? Please... Your Excellency?” Since she fell ill at her parents’ house, Irene knows she should take care.
“Please run a bath, Susan,” she says, before drifting off into worries again. ‘What can we do to bring S. back? After the bridge, she is not really the same... Eyes motionless and staring, she is frightening most people... She never contacts anyone anymore, neither voicelessly nor by spoken word. Jan says her flesh has hardened even more and has become a kind of metalloid silicon, and yes, she is getting enraged easier... STATE is lashing out with less restraint than it used to...” Irene sips some tea. ‘Luckily, the servants quickly have learned to adapt to this and leave her alone as much as they can.’ Irene does not blame them, and the Bearer does give any sign to mind at all. Irene frowns. ‘Is S. still here at all? After that rage I haven’t heard any sign of her... Only STATE communicating, STATE making Alexander print some reports to help counter Martin’s information, nothing more... Is she still angry at me..? Is she punishing me?’ Irene has begged her to forgive her, but the Bearer does not seem to register the need for forgiveness.

The Captain likewise had apologized, but Her Grace had not reacted in any way. Not sure if she had heard him, he repeats his apologies, but no reaction. He had needed a good hour in the gym to work off whatever was bugging him, but then his mind was quiet and after the shower he had had a good drink and was calm all night.

> She, the Filth, has finally shown her true Face: the Face of Destruction. We, the People, are left in the Cold because of her. Away with the Filth!
[As is the Word of Jason A. the One]

uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh
In her mind, the soft sound, ongoing. Stronger than a sigh, softer than a wail, the sound fills her completely. The pitch subtly altering, S. listens to the sound and waits. She waits and waits, stretching the time to its limits, she waits until she cannot wait any longer.
She opens her eyes. She has to move. She has to start.

The afternoon of the 10th of January, sleet and rain fighting across the high windows, the Bearer suddenly stands and starts to move. The dozing Guard opens the door for Her Grace just in time, and she passes without slowing down or blinking. Straightening his uniform, he motions his collegue and they follow Her Grace. She walks up the wide marble stairs, up and up until she reaches the floor where the Captain had put up Doctor Werther. The floor is little used, so no one is bothered by his raucous raving. To keep him there, a Guard watches the Doctor’s door. When he sees Her Grace, he springs to attention and salutes: “Your Grace! Er… the doctor is not really fit to receive Your Gr” He is interrupted by a loud and angry high buzzing in his securiPhone, followed by a short ‘Open!’.
The Bearer radiates anger, so he opens the door as soon as possible. Both Guards follow the Bearer inside.

---Bearer of STATE for 10 months, 0 weeks, 1 day, 7 hours and 14 minutes---
It is dark in here, the curtains are drawn. The high-ceilinged room smells terrible. No sign of the Doctor, but STATE knows where to go. While the Guards fumble to switch on the light and stumble over smashed furniture and pulled down bed covers and curtains, STATE neatly navigates through the mess.
There. There he lies. A smelly heap of man snores between piles of hard liquor bottles.

The Bearer kneels beside him, unblinking and totally without compassion.
Flash. STATE flashes brightly, and Werther presses his eyes closed, trying to wave away the light. “Whaddayawantome? Go away! Fuck off, I have a headache! Come on… Get the fuck OUT!”
The light from STATE only becomes slightly brighter. Artur crawls away, tries to hide and claws around for something to hold before his eyes, but cannot find the bedcovers with his eyes still closed.

The Guards hesitate if they should help, but Her Grace’s voice in their securiPhones tells them off curtly. Then, the Bearer lifts one of the bottles and puts it on top of STATE. The blue light flashes on and probes the remaining contents. Immediately, an ongoing alarm blares. The Doctor does not know where to hide and starts to howl. Calmly, the Bearer speaks through the din: “Guards. The Doctor is being poisoned. Get a stretcher, now. And call Doctor Jan.”
“But… Your Grace… We can hardly leave you here… The man is”
“Go. Both of you!”
The Guards bow and withdraw, glad to leave the room.

The Bearer takes the bottle off STATE. The alarm stops. In the sudden silence, the sleet is heard, hitting onto the windows behind the thick curtains. “Come here.”
Artur moans and ducks away. It has dawned on him that STATE herself has come for him. He sees himself for the first time in weeks, hiding in the stinking dark like an animal. Ashamed, he mumbles something about having failed. The Bearer’s voice is load in his head: ‘Come here! STATE orders you.’
For a few seconds, Artur Werther lies as still as his shaking body can allow him to. Then, he pulls himself together and crawls a little closer. He tries to lift his head, but when he finally does so, he is so dizzy that he faints on the floor near STATE.
“OK. Now.” The Bearer takes his head with two hands and pulls it up to STATE. Firmly, she pushes his head against STATE. Artur fights to open his eyes, but he cannot really do so.
‘I see.’ And like dropping a ball, the Bearer lets go of the head. Artur’s head bangs on the ground, heightening his headache. He is lucky the Bearer was kneeling. She picks up a bottle that has still quite something in it and presses it onto STATE. Again, the blue probes the contents and the alarm goes off. Artur is cringing with pain, but the Bearer does not notice.

The alarm goes on and on and on, is still blaring when the Captain and Doctor Jan rush into the room. Shocked, they approach the Bearer. She does not move or blink, as usual. Werther is crouching before her, holding his head and crying. The Captain and Doctor Jan wait half-way from the door, not daring to intervene. The blaring makes all thinking impossible.
All of a sudden, the alarm stops. The silence is thick in their ears.
Then the Bearer speaks: “OK. Come here, Artur.” Visibly afraid, the Doctor crawls a little nearer. The Bearer again takes hold of his head with both hands, but this time, she turns it. To prevent his neck from breaking, the Doctor turns as well, ending up in an awkward position, half on his back. The Bearer tilts his head backwards as if he is a giant baby. Then, she tips the bottle and mechanically pours its contents down his throat. Her strange eyes look in front of her, unconcerned. The Doctor gulps and almost chokes, but the Bearer insists. “Drink.” He tries to drink more, getting the liquid slopped all over his already dirty clothes. “More.”
And while the Bearer forces half a bottle of scotch down the Doctor’s throat, the Captain and Doctor Jan stand staring. ‘What on earth is she doing? Administering alcohol? To a drunk?’
‘Do not question the Bearer!’ Her voice is loud in their heads. Caught, the Captain and Doctor Jan try to think all this is completely normal behavior for a Bearer of STATE. ‘Hail STATE...’

The Guards arrive with the stretcher. Behind them, Philip Blas, the Head of House arrives, tut-tutting over the room’s mess. He rapidly orders up some servants.

The Bearer turns the Doctor to a more normal position. He is coughing up some liquid and looks very sick. ‘He was being poisoned. He has just received an anti-dote from STATE. He will need some time to recover, bring him to STATE,’ she communicates to the Captain.
He says: “Bring him to the chambers of STATE!” The Guards lift the lifeless form of the Doctor onto the stretcher and take him out of the room, while Mr. Blas leaves to fetch some servants.
The Bearer stands and turns her still eyes to the Captain. ‘Captain. Find out where this poison came from and who has been administering it. STATE cannot have its friends be poisoned under our eyes!’

Then, luckily using her soft voice: “Jan, find out what effects this drug has and how to treat someone who has been exposed for… 13 days on a daily basis to it. Since the bridge.” The Bearer of STATE blinks.

“Your Grace… Are you alright..?” The Captain asks, seeing something in her face.
The Bearer nods and walks out, after Doctor Werther. Before she leaves the room, she turns to the Captain: ‘Watch out what you are eating and drinking, Captain. And warn Jan and Irene.’ The Captain bows his head. ‘Your Grace… there is obviously a leak in security, I am ashamed to admit… eh… Do you… Does STATE have an idea of who interred Your Grace?’

The dark silhouette seen from below, the earth falling, the lumps slamming onto her body shell, weighing her down, the earth entering each and every crevice, filling her up completely, enclosing…
Nothing. Nothing. No one. Nobody. No’

‘No. Do more research.’ The Captain, feeling stupid that he had left such an important issue unsolved, bows his head. ‘This is serious... Really serious. Matil is controlling people here, at the Palace, and cleverly enough so we did not suspect a thing... So the doctor wasn’t just drunk after all... And all this time we’re just eating and drinking everything unchecked... Could’ve been Irene, poisoned... Could’ve been Irene...’

> it is about time to get started!
> time to what?
> It is the time to get organized, and to reflect
> Hail STATE, what are you referring to my friend?
> According to the Book of STATE, the Day is approaching. We should be ready, if we are deemed
> But! The last Bearer, rest his shell, abolished it! He spoke and proclaimed it too risky...
> Hmn, the question is, too risky for whom? He wasn’t our biggest ehro, I’ve read
> You DO NOT question the Bearer, John! Not ANY Bearer! Hail STATE! Hail the Bearers of STATE!
> Well, just thinking
> This is the official Church of STATE OCC, John, and as your moderator I have to warn you: expulsion is imminent!
> ow well, mr. moderator, than how does Her Grace’s First Decree hold in relation to your petty rules, hum? think you are a bit of the old line yourself?

In the chambers of STATE, Doctor Werther lies limp on a mattress that servants have found somewhere. They try not to show their disgust at his smelly clothes, but do not manage to. They respectfully curtsey to the Bearer of STATE as she enters, but, as usual, she disregards them. She walks towards the mattress and sits close to the Doctor, kneeling on the ground. Immediately, two servants approach, trying to bow while carrying a golden chair. “Ahem… Your Grace… If you would prefer”
She waves them away. “Bring water, a lot of water.”
As soon as possible, a servant brings two carafes with water with two glasses.
The Bearer says curtly: “Leave that here. Turn off the lights, only the usual one on.”
In the semi-dark, the Bearer sits with Artur Werther. Night falls as she sits still as a kneeling sculpture on the floor.

After an hour, Artur moans. The Bearer pours a glass and puts in onto STATE. After a brief exposure to the blue light, she forces some water into Artur’s mouth. He hates the taste and tries to spit it out, but she keeps pouring water in his half-open mouth. For the next hours, she stays with him, though she cannot be said to be nursing him: apart from forcing some water in, she does nothing for him.

> did you hear the gossip? she’s gonna do it
> do it, what?
> reinstall the day fo sould
> the what?
> Day of Souls I mean, typing too quick again, I am
> sorry
> can anyone tell me what the F
> oooooh, how old ARE you? wink well it IS a long time ago, it is
> and not s pleasant at all, death and all
> what is it then, this is not
> It is the most glorious! Hail STATE! Hail
> you morbid you, into killin’ or what?

At three in the morning, Irene returns from a secret massage at her parents’ house. Notified of Doctor Werther being nursed by the Bearer herself, she looks into Her Grace’s chamber. Though light-headed from fatigue, Irene knows she will not be able to sleep immediately anyway, and certainly not if she does not know what is going on here. “Your Grace?” she whispers, answered by the voice in her head: ‘Irene. I am here.’
‘Your Grace? What is the matter? What happened?’
‘Artur was being poisoned. He received an anti-dote from STATE. It will be OK.
You do have to watch yourself.’
“Is there anything I can do? Your Grace..? The servants have gone to bed, but there is the Guard, just behind the door…”
‘STATE needs nothing. You do a lot for STATE, Irene. About the Day of Souls…’
‘S., please… Do forgive me for doubting’
‘It was your worries for strand S., Irene. You are forgiven. STATE will do the Day of Souls. We need to prepare. We need Werther.’

Artur Werther hears his name, echoing in the grey haze he keeps getting lost in. He swallows with a dry mouth, tries to move his head. Together, Irene and the Bearer lift his head and force some more water in. He drinks some and spits out half, spilling it all over. Again, the Bearer’s voice penetrates the haze: ‘Artur. Come back. You are needed by STATE.’

Irene sees how Werther moves clumsily, tries to rub his face but hits his nose. He smacks his lips, mutters something. Then Her Grace whispers: “Come and touch STATE then, Artur…”
This does seem to rouse him slightly. His eyes are swollen but he manages to peek through the slits. His hands are groping already. For a split second, the edges of STATE gleam with a sharp edge in the little light coming in from the door.

‘Careful, Artur, respectful!’ Artur again rubs his head, knows where to find it this time.
‘Drink more.’ He forces himself to drink some water and keeps it inside this time. His eyes are lowered. ‘Ashamed, so stupid...’
“Someone used your drinking habit to poison you, Artur. STATE found out just in time.” The Bearer’s voice slips inside his mind. ‘Only a few weeks to the Day of Souls. STATE has to prepare. You are needed, Artur. Come.’ The Bearer takes his head and pushes it onto STATE.
Artur Werther closes his eyes. Briefly, very briefly he sees it, the white. ‘Aaaaaah…’
Then, the Bearer pushes the head away. Once more, she administers some water, then, in one swift movement, she gets up. “Sleep, Artur. Take only STATE water, nothing else. Good night.”

--- Trust STATE. Trust the Bearer of STATE. Hail STATE! Clean yourself for STATE. ---Prepare yourself for STATE. --- Come to STATE, when she will present herself to the people. To us, the people of STATE. We are the people of STATE! We trust the Bearer of STATE. Hail STATE! ---

For some days, the Bearer takes care of Doctor Werther, making him stay off alcohol by brief touches of STATE. After two days, he starts to speak. Clearly content to be taken seriously, he looks better than before, sits straight, discusses with both hands flailing. The Captain cannot dismiss Her Grace’s direct orders and the Day of Souls is starting to be organized in the shortest of times. Doctor Werther provides information as to the proceedings and advises the safest ways, the ways least heavy for Her Grace.

Maria is ordered to come and live at the Palace until she has finished the dress. She is only too happy to be still asked for and complies.

“You cannot be serious! Why, why did you allow preparations to start, Irene! So you do want the Church to get where they want, huh?” He knows he has gone too far, as the Guards approach a few steps. Her Excellency does not seem to notice, looks down on the ground, swallows then frowns and looks him in the face: “This is not up to me or you to decide, Mc Kinsey! I have heard and understood your warnings, but we are beyond that point now. We all serve STATE!”
He knows he should bow now and obediently mumble the mantra, but he freezes. ‘That’s not what we are here for! We serve the state, and not that’ Uh, no thinking, must keep my mouth shut,’ but he cannot quite stop himself, lulled as he is by her ever even and openminded aspect: “We serve the people of STATE, Your Excellency! And I think it is highly dubious that the Day of Souls is what they want! We might have riots, violence,”
The Guards inch even closer and look at the Secretary for her sign to punish his insubordination, but she looks at him and her clear voice lashes: “We will have riots when we do not have a Day of Souls, Mc Kinsey! Do you not read any dataFlow? We need to stick together on this! We must show the people that the Day of Souls is just a ceremony for believers, nothing more. And you will help promote that view. Am I clear?”
He sees she is a bit more rigid than usual and deduces she is serious. ‘Y... Yes, of course, Your Excellency... We all serve STATE,”
“We all serve the Bearer of STATE, Mc Kinsey. Remember. I will see you in Parliament after lunch.” He bows while she turns her back on him and walks back to behind her desk. The Guards linger near him but he does not give them any further cause and leaves Her Excellency’s office quietly. ‘We all serve STATE for sure...’

To the Captain’s and Irene’s relief, the Bearer almost seems herself again. She moves, and talks, orders servants and people around. But Irene does realize that it is only for the Day of Souls, that S. has roused herself, that STATE has forced S. to rise. ‘Not for anything else.’
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