Carefully, S. approaches an inconspicuous door in the outskirts of Bernin Borough. The restaurant, close to three Borough bridges and with easy access to multiple escape routes, is a perfect place for illegal rendezvous. S. looks around to take in her situation. Behind the door, a small hallway with a grease-stained carpet and smelly stairs leading to the restaurant on the first floor. She turns left to go up the stairs when she pauses. From above comes some noise of people talking, but it sounds more like radio or tape. It is not loud, nor rough enough… Something is wrong.
She should recoil or fly, but her body moves on. Step by step, she continues up the stairs, unconsciously clutching STATE. When she can look over the last stair, her fears are affirmed. Nobody is there, the tables and chairs a mess.
Then, she hears someone come in behind her, heavy booted feet.
Her only chance is going up, and so she does, through the small corridor with toilets. In the middle of the empty restaurant, she pauses.
Sure enough, the footsteps follow her.
Frantically, S. tries to remember the flight routes from here, but to her frustration her mind is a blank. This cannot be! She always knows where to go. Always! But now the knowledge is gone, utterly and irrevocably. And what is more, her body fails to move.
STATE is getting really, really heavy. Pulling at her gravitation center and pressing her feet down onto the cheap sticky floor, STATE seems to deliberately hinder her, allowing her to get caught.
S. smells herself, the garlic sweat of fear.
She turns to face her end. A soldier in his late thirties, by his uniform a top member of an elite corps, points his gun at her from over the top of the stairs. As she freezes, she notices his concentration.
14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19,
Strangely enough, she has time to observe him. His very short, cropped hair is dark, with grey specks. His eyes are brown, his cheekbones prominent. He is handsome in a hard way, and clearly used to being obeyed, to people fearing him.
Slowly, like he is dragging his feet, he is coming up the remaining stairs, keeping the gun carefully pointed to her head.
S. cannot move, the weight of STATE pins her to the ground.
When the man is level with her, she sees that keeping the gun pointed appears to take him some effort. But that is ridiculous, why would a trained elite soldier hesitate to kill a known terrorist, a thief of STATE? She should be dead already.
In a weird slow-motion manner, his finger is reaching for the trigger.
Dimly, she becomes aware of STATE, pushing off strongly against her. Her stomach muscles aching from the unusual strain. Staring the uniformed man in the eye, she realizes that this time, there is no adrenalin. She is not afraid at all. She concentrates on him. Her mind is conscious of the gun slipping, though she does not look at it, but only unblinkingly into the man’s hard eyes.
Opposite, the man is breaking out in sweat, his face rigid. With both hands he is holding the gun, but still he cannot control it.
The gun is slowly
It is not clear whether his hands are betraying him or the gun is wriggling itself out of his grasp. Some force is working on him, and S. knows the force is STATE.
The Elite soldier is almost facing his own gun, and then he sinks through his knees. Whatever is forcing him, is going to kill him, with his own gun, there and then.
S. closes her eyes against the blast.
So does the soldier.
And suddenly, he releases his resistance. He allows his thumb to take off the safety pin, his finger to go to the trigger. He knows there is no excuse.
S. does not know whether she has actually cried out or not, or if the soldier had, but there is no gunfire, and when she opens her eyes the man is still lying on his knees in front of her. He is offering the gun to her, still pointed at himself.
“F… F… F…” The Captain struggles with the words, his mind and tongue at odds.
He glances up at her, his eyes met by her hard stare. ‘Thief of STATE… Th…’ But he can no longer think ‘thief’ when the old words of STATE Etiquette return to mind: ‘No matter in what way a person is given STATE to bear, once he or she is Bearer, he or she is the Head of State.
The Bearer of STATE.
And from that moment, every state citizen should serve STATE, unconditionally.
We all serve STATE. We all serve the Bearer of STATE.
We all serve STATE. We all serve the Bearer of STATE.’
“F… Forgive me… Forgive me… Forgive me forgive me,” he mutters, not daring to raise his eyes again to her. “Y… Your Gr… Your” he swallows, then tries again. “Y… Your Grace… F… Forgive me… I have raised my arms against STATE… and I will be punished as STATE decides…”
Normally, to be offered a gun to shoot a person representing the regime is not something S. would have relinquished; but there is no righteous anger inside her now. There is nothing inside. Nothing… Just an emptiness, uncomfortable and open, and a strange knowledge that the gun would be terrible to touch.
And as there will be no help from the revolutionaries, she does need some assistance. This man is no mere soldier, he is a Captain. His men must be somewhere around, in fact, it is surprising they have not intervened already.
She looks down on him and says:
“Put that gun away. If STATE wanted you dead, you would have been killed.
With shaky fingers, the Captain puts down his gun, but he does not rise.
“You… You are… now… the Bearer of STATE”, he says. And he sits very still. “Y… Your Grace, I cannot even beg you to forgive me. I pledged to protect STATE, and I have broken my vows. I am a useless traitor. I…
The… The Pr.. would have k…
Please, just kill me… I am worthless…"
“No. You are here to protect STATE, and that is what you will do. Get up!” While she speaks, S. steps forward. Instinctively, she takes his chin with her right hand and lifts him. Trembling, he stands, his eyes down respectfully, until she orders him: “Look!"
When they look each other in the eyes, a current flows from her through him and back into STATE. He is accepted.
“Now, where are your men?”
The Captain shakes his head, and opens the door leading to the ladies'. In the toilet, a heavily armed soldier is sitting on the floor. Unable to have lifted his weapon all this time, he is clearly embarrassed.
“Sir, the gun was going down no matter what!” he says, avoiding to look at the terrorist woman.
The Captain opens his mouth to say something, but S. walks in, takes the soldier by his chin as she had done with the Captain and forces him to look into her eyes, which he does defiantly. Then his eyes widen and again the current flows back into STATE.
He sighs and looks weak for a moment, and S. does no longer doubt his loyalty.
In the toilet next to him, sure enough, another heavily armed Elite soldier is trying to pull his weapon off the floor, in vain.
Again, S. takes him by the chin, and forces him to look up to her.
He, too, gives in, and S. turns to do the same with the last soldier in the men’s closet opposite. A lot of resistance there, and although he does act convinced, S. is not so sure. Still…
“OK, are we complete?” she asks the Captain, but he shakes no, there is another man, waiting downstairs. He orders his men around the Bearer and sternly says they are to protect her, then turns to go down.
“I go first”, S. says.
“But… Really… Your Grace, I can not allow you to, it’s not safe”.
“I am protected by STATE, and will not be disobeyed. Step aside,” she says, mouthing the orders as if she had never done otherwise.
Reluctantly, he does as told and down she goes, followed by her new Guard.
She has only gone down a few steps, when the last soldier, standing feet apart in the dark hallway, points his gun at her.
S. waits quietly until again, the gun starts slipping against his hand.
Frustrated, the soldier shouts: “No way I’m gonna defect to you, you terrorist bitch!” Dropping the gun in a flash, he grabs a knife from his boot and flings it at S., aimed perfectly for her head. Behind her, the Captain tries to jump forwards, but the stairs are too narrow.
A high whistle and a loud ‘clang!’
When S. opens her eyes, the knife is half embedded in STATE. A strong sickening feeling, and the knife is dragged into the metalloid silicon mixture of this strange thing. The soldier’s name and rank begin to surface, the letters formed in relief, and S. starts to appreciate the powers and potential of STATE.
Down in the hallway, the soldier stands staring, then, as the Captain shouts at him, he turns and flees. Both S. and her Guard rush down the stairs after him, but they fail to catch him. The Captain says: “He will have warned the Military Police! I’ve suspected him to be an agent for ages, and now for sure we’ll get them all after us within minutes!"
“Move then!” S. says and off she goes, the small four men group running to keep up with her.