The sun beats down on the exercise grounds. Row after row of soldiers stand to be inspected by the terrorist Bearer of STATE, many of them eager to pull their triggers at her.
Bearer of STATE for 2 hours, 19 minutes and 34, 35, 36
Facing the thousands of soldiers, S. is physically conscious of the President’s threat and his widespread powers, his influence over all these minds before her.
Slowly, she walks, flanked by the Generals and Colonels, with a growing headache but alert. Her eyes hurt, and the metallic taste is stronger, and being so visible does not help. Row after row of unseeing eyes and rigid bodies turn into and out of sight. So many of them! Soldiers’ bodies, wrapped in uniforms, so replaceable, so expendable. Why am I wasting time, inspecting this puppet show?
After some regiments, there is a sudden awkward movement. In the back, one of the medics is breaking ranks. His white uniform is buttoned up hastily, his curly hair too long for Army standards. He has a weird, concentrated look in his eyes.
“What the hell!” the Head of the Assembled Forces shouts. “STOP! Hey! STOP, YOU FOOL!”
When the medic doesn’t react in any way and continues towards them, panting but hardly slowing down, the Head orders calmly: “Get that man down, NOW.”
The soldiers turn to grab him, but the Bearer lifts two fingers of her right hand, to override the order. “Let him come to STATE.”
The Head nods so as to confirm her command, and the soldiers obey him. Annoyed, the Head watches the man approach. The other soldiers are uneasy in their lines, something like this had never ever happened before and certainly would not have been condoned by the President.
Close by, the man seems even more disheveled, like he got dressed in a hurry.
“Ehm… Y…Your Grace,” he says and bows before S., “Forgive my appearance, but this has never happened to me before. I... I had to come.”
“You are welcome, Jan. You have been called by STATE,” S. says, knowing the name from somewhere close.
Jan bows for Her Grace and follows closely behind her when they continue the inspection, his eyes scanning the spot of brownish matted hair on the back of the Bearer’s head.
Just when they are about to reach the 18th tank division, a roar rips the silence. One of the frontal tanks explodes, killing tens of soldiers on all sides. Shells rain down and cut into the heads of the military command. The Head of the Assembled Forces dies instantly, the Air Force Commander has severe cuts in his shoulder and arms.
But the Bearer stands totally unharmed, a ring of shells around her.
S. is dazed.
This is not really happening. This is not here. This is not now’
The light is blinding, the light is everywhere. Far away, the black dots of bodies, some standing, some running, some lying still. Their minds are open, the prejudice temporarily lifted.
Unfolding, that’s the only word she later finds for it, unfolding. Out of the tight presence of STATE on her belly, a power unfolds and spreads.
S. does not know what it is, nor what it does, but around her the soldiers stare.
A very pale light blossoms out of STATE, hides the aspect of the Bearer in a halo surrounding her. Some swear they see her float, some feel an eerie high sound enveloping them, some later say they were blinded though the light is soft indeed. Though some fight what they feel to be the infection by STATE, many fall to their knees. ‘We all serve STATE.
We all serve the Bearer of STATE.
We all serve STATE.
We all serve the Bearer of STATE.
We all serve STATE...’
“Look, everybody!” the bleeding Air Force Commander shouts, having decided his loyalty. “She is the true Bearer of STATE! And no cowardly attack by the President or his men can change that! No weapon can hurt her! No weapon is stronger than STATE! We have sworn to serve and protect STATE, and we should keep our vows...”
“People!” the Bearer says and her words are audible above all noise, even though she speaks calmly.
“See how the President treats his beloved Forces!
He will stop at nothing to keep his powers. But as from 10:08 this morning I am the Bearer of STATE, and my powers supersede his. He has only one possibility to retrieve the power: from my hands at the Parliament Assembly tomorrow morning. If he is fit to bear STATE, he will be able to lift STATE from me during the Test. But until that time I am your legal Chief Commander and I expect to be treated as such! My orders, and only STATE orders, are to be obeyed.
STATE will have no more military actions undertaken against the Bearer or against anybody else. We must prevent escalation at all costs!
The parade is over.”
A rush of medics coming to aid, of people are being carried away. The soldiers stand, confounded, and many waver out of fear for the President, but most follow the Air Force Commander’s orders.
The Bearer orders Jan to bandage the Air Force Commander. He claims to be fit enough to lead the men, and stays at the Headquarters to lead the Army from there. Her Grace and Jan leave the Army Headquarters soon afterwards in one of the spare Presidential bullet-proof limos, with an escort of armed soldiers.
In the limo, Jan with utmost care treats the wound on the back of Her Grace’s head.
Bearer of STATE for 3 hours, 31 minutes and 01, 02, 03
They are on the main inner city highway back into the center when an increased pressure in her temples warns S. of something. For a second, she thinks the head wound is getting to her, but then she gives in to the instinct that has been guiding her all day. “STOP!” she orders.
“But, Your Grace, we cannot stop at this speed… the escort needs to be notified, and”
But the driver is cut short: without his doing, the brake pedal is pushed to the floor and all passengers are thrown forwards. The backing escort skids only just past them. With sudden strength, the Bearer pushes the bodyguard between her and the door out of the limo. Standing behind him, she grabs his arms and pushes him to lift his state-of-the-art mGun gun and point it at the sky. ‘What is she doing?’ the soldier wonders, ‘this gun can never reach anything that high!’
A small speck ducks from behind a cloud. The grenades falling, cutting through layers of air, approaching at high speed. S. aims and makes the soldier empty the mGun at the helicopter. Right after, the soldiers brace for the impact of the grenades, which are hitting the asphalt only meters from them, tearing huge holes in the surface.
But STATE had flung the mGun bullets much higher than usual, and some of the projectiles hit aim. A loud explosion and the helicopter slants backwards, losing height until it catches in the trees further down the roads and crashes.
“Get anyone alive out of there and get an ambulance to bring them to a civilian hospital,” S. orders three of the escorting soldiers. “Guard them, they need to be questioned later.”
Shaking, she gets back into the limo and sinks in the leather cushions next to Jan. She only just manages the next order: “Quick! To NationalTV!”
The effort had drained her energy, like at the Borough Bridge.
When she closes her eyes, burning from the dust of the impact, white flares. The texture lures her, but she does not, she cannot give in.
Not going into this weird sleep again, maybe for hours. No dreams now, I cannot afford to! There is so much to do… Where should STATE start? Going to NationalTV makes sense, STATE needs exposure, as soon as possible. The Bearer has to be the new ruler, visibly. People have a right to know. But what next? What
S. is about to close her eyes when she remembers that is not a good idea. Her head wobbles heavily on her neck. Strange they call this light-headed, she thinks briefly, then again forces herself to focus. Focus! OK. What again do I have to do after the TV thing? Prevent something… oh yes… a civil war’ But the words mean nothing. She just wants to lie down. Very, very briefly… only a moment…
Pretend you are driving a car. Closing your eyes is lethal. Stay awake! She stares in front of her, but her eyelids are heavy, and her eyes are dry, so dry. When she blinks the white curls over her like a wave, so bright and beautiful…
Doctor Jan looks at the Bearer of STATE with alarm.
“Your Grace… Whatever is the matter? Are you in pain? Can... Can we get you something?”
His mouth is moving but S. does not hear him. A thundering sound, like waves breaking during a storm, wind hitting her eardrums, hard, harder, deafening.
She tries to close her ears with her hands, but the noise comes from within. Instinctively, she closes her eyes, but then recoils.
The white, pulling her away, down to the quiet beneath the waves, the white whirling, whirling… A faint pink shape arising…
Her hands try the old trick, the one she had used during long boring stake-outs. The skin of her neck between her nails, twisting hard, the specific pointed pain often sharp enough to jerk her consciousness away from the brink of sleep.
It works, but too briefly.
Her nails dig into the soft spots in her neck, to no avail. She pinches herself in the pressure points on her face, but the pain is superficial, her skin anesthetic. It is hot in the limo, stifling hot, then all of a sudden the air is cold.
The Bearer claws in her face, drawing blood. Her face is swollen. “Ice… Get me ice!”
Jan finds some in the on board refrigerator and tries to softly apply it to her. He is getting more concerned by the minute. Her Grace is obviously suffering an acute immune system attack, either a violent flu just hitting in or some other, possibly allergic reaction. ‘But what is she reacting on?’ Hmn… The only thing he can think of is STATE. ‘It could not be..?’
While the soldiers and driver try hard not to stare, the Bearer grabs the ice and presses it against her neck, pushes it into her collar.
The ice melts instantly on her face, pricking water mingles with blood and drips down, scratching her skin. Ah… that is better... To enjoy the coolness, S. closes her eyes. Her body throbs with fighting some alien intruder, she shivers and sweats alternately.
In one spiraling movement, she is sucked towards the white.
She cannot fight it any more. Tired, just so tired, so hot, aching all over… and she gives in.
S. sees her body from above. The fever is gone, the body a tranquil pink.
It is quiet... so quiet...
And she is floating in a very white space. The light comes from everywhere and soothingly envelops the flesh.
The body looks very pale in the bright light.
And it seems long, longer than usual.
Is it hers?
She closes her eyes, has a subtle stretching sensation.
She looks again.
Her toes are distant. They almost do not seem to belong to her. At the same time, power radiates through her. It is a pleasant feeling even though her stomach hurts.
Then, her body widens.
Opening at the sides, spilling over like sand displaced, her body expands and expands. First, it is as big as a double bed.
S. slightly opens her legs. A small plain, bare like a desert, opens between them.
Then her body stretches even more.
It becomes a small island.
Her lungs hold all air, her bowels all water, her flesh all land.
It feels very good, empowering and free, as if she is flying above herself.
Slowly, the body of land continues to expand.
It is getting very thin, with only small dunes of flesh on either side.
S. is a country now.
Subtly, the stretching becomes slightly too tight.
And tighter still, until it becomes painful. Skin is stretched beyond its elasticity, fibers are pried apart, nerves fraying.
A tearing feeling, like her skin can no longer contain her.
There is something she is forgetting to do.
Something, she should...
But before S. can think of what that is, a scream reverberates in her ears.
S. finds herself screaming on the soft leather of the limo.
She screams and chokes on the air around her. There is so much air around, too much… Her lungs cannot take it in, do not seem to know what to do with it. The pain is everywhere, and she is hot... so hot...
Doctor Jan bends over the Bearer, anxious. He could not help but notice that when Her Grace was using both hands to sit up, STATE stayed where it is, stuck onto her belly. 'So it was true' He asks: “Er, Your... Your Grace... Can I help?”
“A... A drink,” the Bearer gasps. She is white and covered in streaks of blood.
Glancing in the mirror, the driver thinks: ‘Does not look like a ruler, now, does she? More like a struck criminal...’ But he says formally: “Of course, most certainly, Your Grace. There might be something in the fridge…”
Jan opens it again and scans its contents. It is stashed with champagne and vodka. The Bearer's voice rasps: “Water.”
“Most certainly, as Your Grace wishes,” the driver says automatically, but Jan sees there is only alcohol.
“Here!” the Bearer says, “Stop!”
The limo and what’s left of the escort halt abruptly in one of the poorer Boroughs, just outside of the central city. On the corner, there is a small neighborhood cafe, the smell of fries. Quite a large group of aggressive looking men is hanging out just in front, heavy feet on the greasy pavement. The soldiers look out of the tinted glass, assessing the situation.
A small pause.
When they realize it’s not just any limo halting there, the local gang scrambles away. The President is well known to be a recreational killer in these parts.
One of the soldiers walks into the cafï¿½ to the terror of the woman owner, and orders a bottle of water, to her infinite surprise. Ducking in a bow, she expects some cruelty, but he turns and leaves, the limo pulling away rapidly. ‘The President, ordering water?! Everything really is different today...’ she thinks, hoping her customers will dare to return soon.