Upstairs, the Guard springs to attention when he sees the Bearer of STATE, approaching him unexpectedly and alone. “Eh? Your Grace! But… the Captain… How…?”
The pale Bearer looks at him, eyes unmoving. “How is she?”
“Eh... Well, she is stable now, Your Grace. Her wounds luckily were very superficial, she will be OK...
And as for Mr. Almerra”
Almerra? The image of the Prison, the dark blood. S. shakes her head and tries to think of something else. Laughter in the full meeting room in the dark house of Sterre’s parents. Jason was there. Jason Almerra. The only prisoner left alive of her group.
The Guard’s voice continues: “His leg wound had to be cleaned but proved to be not too deep. He is very weak, and asleep at the moment. Well, Your Grace... both he and Miss Delwin are safe here... Everything is alright! Nothing to worry Your Grace about...
Please allow me to get Your Grace something, while we wait for the Captain?”
“No. Show me in.”
S. enters the room with no sound, as usual.
A small bedside lamp is on.
Jason is there. Very thin and sallow on the white pillow, he looks more clean than she had ever known him. On the course skin, more scars than there used to be, but then again it has been over a year, in Prison… His nose still juts out and even in these pristine surroundings he looks as violent as he could sometimes be. He is alive.
He never was a friend. He had been the last to join her group, and at his first real action, the last of her group, he had been arrested with the rest, while she had escaped. Rough and open, Jason had fitted well in the group, but S. had always remained aloof from him. In truth, she had kept her distance with almost all of her group, never trusting anyone near her. It was only natural. A few she could trust, like X... Like Moss...
Emerging from the room, she enters the opposite one. Four Guards straighten to salute Her Grace, one bends over to open the door for her, and then backs off to allow her passage. On a high bed, the still figure of Irene, sleeping on her belly, the bioRepair bandages showing under a thin realSilk covering. The blond hair is a tangle on the white, softness on softness, the moist lips open, her breathing very deep.
Sweet Irene, who never had any part in this kind of pain.
S.’ eyes burn, hot from an unseen sun, from tears undone. The white is there, and yes, maybe she should fight it again. But she cannot. Drained of energy, drained of will, S. simply slumps down on the grey linoleum.
The Guards gasp and try to catch her, but Her Grace’s body is heavy and unmovable, and they let her down carefully and step away. A few minutes after one Guard has left the room to contact the Captain on his securiPhone, the night nurse arrives to check on Her Excellency. One of the Guards blocks her way: “I am sorry, nurse, but you will have to come back later. The… The Bearer of STATE is inside.”
“What? Why?! I told you that NO one should enter!”
“But, nurse. I can hardly refuse Her Grace.”
“Her Grace wanted to save her secretary’s life, no? Then why does she endanger it in this way? Let me in, I will talk to her!” And she presses inside.
At first, the room seems empty, apart from Her Excellency lying on the white bed and two Guards near the door. But then the nurse sees something white near the floor in the far corner. Bandaged hands stick out from a small body, curled towards the radiator. The figure of the Bearer is shivering.
Her professional anger evaporates. She kneels near Her Grace and in one movement scoops her up. The Bearer of STATE is light in her strong round arms and she carries her through a side door to the old Bearer’s Room with the realWood bed, that she had made up yesterday when she heard about the attacks on the Bearer’s life.
Gently, she lowers Her Grace on the bed and takes off the damp clothes and shoes with some difficulty. STATE does not harm her at all. She has just put the limp Bearer in hospital pajamas when the Captain arrives with Her Grace’s personal Doctor.
The white is cold.
Colder than before, and S. is forced to close her eyes to keep her eyeballs from freezing.
The white resists her.
The white fights her, fights the poison in her veins.
The white attacks her, tries to expel her, but she is stuck there, frozen.
The white blocks her, encapsulates her tainted presence. Out. She should go out. She should go, out. Out.
In the wooden bed, the Bearer lies shaking, clammy in the too large pajamas. She clearly has a fierce fever. Extremely worried, the Captain starts fussing around, until the nurse dares to tell him to quiet down.
Carefully, Doctor Jan opens the bandages. Shocked, they stare at Her Graces’ hands. The cuts are ugly and open.
“What inflicted these wounds?” Jan asks the Captain, who answers that they are cuts by STATE. Wondering why they haven’t healed like the Mark wound on Her Grace’s arm, Jan rubs his front.
Politely, the nurse suggests special antiBacterial creams, but Doctor Jan thinks for another moment and then carefully removes the bandages and folds the Bearer’s hands over STATE, with the cuts down.
The nurse looks at him as though he is crazy. “But Doctor, Sir! That thing has not been cleaned! You will definitely make things worse this way!” she says, but the Doctor shows her the scar on Her Grace’s left arm. “There was a Mark here yesterday, and it was removed by STATE,” he says. The nurse looks at the clean scar unbelievingly, shakes her head and leaves.
Her Grace sighs and sinks deeper, the trembling abating somewhat.
S. breathes softly in and out, in and out, in and out... There is nothing I can do... I am nothing... I am nobody... The white is still cold but the pressure eases until there is some space around her. She looks around. Light pours in from everywhere, the walls only visible by their thin outlines. There are no shadows. There are no people in sight.
S. is enclosed by walls.
Through every opening, she spots other walls, very close by. A labyrinth.
In the deepening solitude she is conscious of her breathing, the soft thumping of her heart, her intestines moving compulsively.
She stands up, looks at the walls surrounding her. Wall after wall after wall. The air is stuffy and the walls get on her nerves. The apertures are not static: their openings are persistently becoming more and more narrow. As she looks more closely at them, the openings slide to slits.
S. wants to get out.
When the doors disappear, she knows what she has to do. She starts running, right through the walls.
They are easy to run through, like paper covered with a thin layer of plaster. The white splinters around her as she picks up more speed. S. keeps running and it is almost a game now, how many walls can she break? It does not hurt at all, the breaking creates a wild feeling of pleasure. Again and again her body crashes through the plaster, leaving a trail of debris. Again. Again. Again and again and again.
But there is no end to the walls. And slowly, the moving does become heavier. And heavier. And heavier...
In the middle of a large room she stops, panting.
It is somehow difficult
to breathe, to
She looks down.
Her entire body is covered in the remnants of the walls stuck on top of each other. Layer on layer of plaster has covered her, covered her completely. There is no more skin, only white.
And while she is standing still, the layers harden. Her legs cannot move anymore. Neither can the arms. S.’ face becomes rigid, only her eyes can blink. The trunk compresses and decompresses in the limited space, which allows only for very superficial breathing.
S. is encased in a shell, hard and unbending.
A mould, formed by
and shaping this weak bag of flesh.
A doll’s shell, fitting her into her
Worried, Jan watches the Bearer of STATE. First her temperature was rising like crazy and her heart beat speeding, but now her temperature has suddenly and inexplicably dropped, and she is in a coma-like state, her breathing very superficial and with long intervals.
As no metal instruments can be held near her, he orders for some top-range silicon transmitterChips. Attached carefully to Her Grace, they allow for some monitoring, though reflecting on the electro-magnetic powers of STATE, Jan wonders whether STATE maybe does interfere with the data and checks Her Grace’s pulse manually as well. The readings show Her Grace’s heart rate is fluctuating alarmingly, now up at over the maximum, then too low to be healthy. The nurse keeps pushing the Doctor to give Her Grace some injections, but he knows no needle will be allowed near her.
Hours pass, the rest of the night is spent in Hospital.
At daybreak there is still no improvement.
With both the Secretary and the Bearer of STATE in hospital on the first official day of the Bearer’s reign, the Captain proclaims a National Holiday and cancels all STATE appointments. He also contacts the Army and makes sure the Hospital cannot be entered from any side. ‘Matil must know we are here... Will he attack now, already? It’s more his style to make us sweat more, I guess... As opposed to the President’s impetus, Matil always operated with circumvention... We have to beware.’