The Bearer's eyelids flutter.

Black encases her.
No! No. Should not be here... Not here... Not again..
S. struggles to open her eyes. The dark thins enough for her to see. There they are. Faces, the black ink bleeding, bleeding until the dark is black, the room is black. In the black, she screams and screams, until a crescent of red shows, a red light peering through until she can look. She cannot look around her, there is no space, only the faces are there again, blossoming with color this time. Reddish brown, bluish purple, grayish white. Faces, blood-smeared, sculls broken open, sometimes with still an eye, blood in the corner of the open mouth. Bodies perforated, muscles frayed, chests torn open, bone splintering in a sudden din.
They have names, but it is understood that the names are fake. Sterre, the charming infiltrator. Jens, the bomb-builder. Hermon, the leader. Yake, the radio expert. Ready, the fighter. Lei, the quiet strategist. Robin, female man. Has, changing hair dyes so often that no one knew her real color. Zorio, the aggressive womanizer. K., the follower. Aska, who traded life stories. Ivo, the technician. Kessler, the doctor. Marc, scribing political manifestoes but not too keen on bringing them into practice, Bo, his dogmatic boyfriend. Anne, the poison expert. Roe whom S. knew only from one hour-long stake-out. Este, whose rich parents' manor had proven a perfect meeting point. X., who thought that in truth, nothing mattered. Sacha, the Russian decoder. Pol, the crowd activator. Rambo, the sweet strong bloke.
S. kisses them, one by one.
Her lips become sticky, her face becomes sticky. The metallic blood on her lips, mingling. She bites her lip, to have her blood mingle with theirs. Everything is dark red, darker and darker until the black is dense again.
No! No! NO!
When she knows there is nowhere to go, no one to help her, she lets go. Everything slips, her boundaries open, her body dissolves. I am nothing. I am no one'

8:45 a.m. on the Second Day of the Bearer's Reign
While Jan keeps his eyes on the monitors, the Captain watches the face of the Bearer, wondering if the dark oily liquid in the corner of her mouth is blood. For hours, the Bearer remains unconscious, her face unmoving. The Captain sits near Her Grace worried, but he slips into sleep, having not slept much for more than 25 hours.

S. sees only white.
It is a blinding white, making perception impossible.
There are no indications of her scale. There is nothing to relate to, no part of her body visible, no spatial elements, no touch indicating the floor or even air around her. There is only the whiteness.
Everything is condensed into one.
No, that is not completely true.
There is some sensory information.
A high howling sound, like a storm wind whistling through wires. Almost inaudible at times, its pitch modulates slowly, grating on the threshold of pain and beauty.
It gradually becomes louder.
And louder.
It is piercingly loud now, and she fights to locate its origin.
A dropping feeling and S.
through a white ceiling.
Again, the scene of the prison, but now bathing in too much and too white light. The blood is almost decorative in the whiteness, the splatters like Abstract Expressionist paintings, the corpses like random red / black blots.
S. descends into a body.
The howl is reverberating in its throat, her throat, louder and louder. It throbs in her head, making thinking impossible, and then another rhythm pounds through the howl, making the frame of the body she has descended into, the body she already claims as hers, shake in a combined cadence.
Her arms swing in a nice strong rhythm, backwards and forwards, again and again. The rhythm is backing the high howling, the pitch swinging on the rhythm. Backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, every time a slight resistance hampering her, every time her strong muscles pulling to complete the cycle.
What is it she is doing?
It feels like cleaning, some strange and exhilarating kind of ritual. Backwards and forwards, and up and down, and again and again and again.
Then she sees what it is her arms do. Two large knives slash and slash and slash, people she had not even noticed before fall bleeding, try to flee, fall, bleed, flee, fall, bleed, fall, bleed...
All of them bleed to death.
Her arms persist in hawing, the impetus too strong to resist.
Again and again. Again and again. Again and again...
S. jerks backwards to pull herself free.
The rhythms stumble and collide and break. Before she can stop her arms, six more people have died in panic and pain.
Her arms still move but now they miss, jab into herself, her trunk spasms and she shouts and howls and cries and screeches

The heart-rate alarm and the nurse's yelling wake the Captain out of a troubled and thin sleep. Helplessly, Doctor Jan is looking at the Bearer, holding two heartbeat-regenerators that keep being rejected from the Bearer's body by STATE.
Impulsively, the Captain rises and pushes the Bearer's shoulders back onto the bed.
"Your Gr, eh, S.!
Calm down!
I am
Before anyone can decide on what else to do, the monitors show a flat heartbeat and shallow respiration returning, to the relief of all. Agitated, Jan turns to the Captain: "I know that you can expect strange things happening to a Bearer of STATE, Captain, but this really beats all records! It is medically impossible, Captain! And I do not know what I should be doing. The heart rate has reached all highs and lows, and then it stops totally... I cannot be of use without more specific information! I'll go find some, now." He leaves to search former Bearers' medical histories for any clues.

> She's almost finished, I tell you. Reached the final stage already
> Switch, fool. No data!

The Captain stops and tries to remember. Some thought had passed his mind when he was asleep, a solution... Then he knows what to do. He asks the nurse to wake Irene Delwin.

9:44 a.m. on the Second Day of the Bearer's Reign
Pushed closer in a wheelchair, Irene Delwin approaches the side of the Bearer's bed and looks at the still Bearer. Again, Her Grace's body is unmoving, but this time also the eyes do not move. The burns on Irene's shoulders and arms sting under the bandages, but she is glad she is called to maybe be of help to Her Grace. 'Almost two days ago, there was no Bearer, only a President, only fear. And then she came, unexpectedly, and she survived all those attacks without even flinching... But now, already, she is ill... Dear STATE... We have to try and save her, if we can...'
Discretely, the Captain informs her of Her Grace's changing condition, and how she revived when he called her by her name, S.. "I think Her Grace needs companionship right now, Your Excellency, normal human contact. Just be near her, talk to her about yourself..."
Though she only partly understands why, Irene starts talking to the still lying figure. Softly, she talks to her, about anything: about where she grew up, her family, her education, her friends. About where she lives now and what it was like to work in office. About her cat and the neighbor raging at her when she has been too loud again on the stairs...
Irene hears herself, her stories of a life so stupid and commonplace. 'Why am I telling these things to the Bearer of STATE, to a former freedom fighter? Our lives are utterly incomparable! What help can my banal everyday frustrations be to Her Grace...?'
Time and again, she falls silent. But she continues, there is not much else she can do. 'And it seems the Captain is right... the Bearer's heart rate has calmed since my arrival, and the Captain says I'm doing fine...'
So Irene starts again about some small thing she has experienced yesterday, or about some thought or detail or scene.
The Captain sits close to the window and makes sure Her Excellency is served coffee and tea and food.

S. rests in this artificial dream. The faces have faded, and the white has retreated, a backdrop for a tale of a life with all conditions changed. Instead of solitude in the dark, a warm room full of food and people, instead of cold and dirty hide-outs, a classroom with rowdy friends or a family party, left alone by most of them; instead of lessons in various types of bombs and detonation, tiring secretary's exams... Instead of weapons and people getting killed, quiet evenings filled with studying and reading, a cat in her lap, drinking a glass of wine... Instead of long wandering bouts through woods, small walks through the park with a lover who would later leave her forever...
S. has never experienced a life so wonderful. It is like reading an ancient children's book with watercolor illustrations, and knowing that it is real.
It can be her life, at least for now.
She sinks into the bed
and forgets all

Doctor Jan returns, carrying a dataCorder and some old paper notes. Frowning, he beckons the Captain. "Can I talk to you for a moment?"
He and the Captain leave the room. Out of earshot of the Guard and STATE, Jan turns towards the Captain. "Did you know that STATE is forcing a symbiosis with the Bearer? The 'Bearer's Disease' that De Parry mentioned has to do with the immune system fighting the intrusion of STATE."
"Intrusion? What do you mean?"
"Well, the whole process is not known or understood, and neither is the nature of the symbiosis clear, whether it is chemical, electromagnetic, bacterial or viral, or any combination of these. As it is, STATE is drawing energy from the Bearer, and will do so until the Bearer is finished and another one found."
The Captain shoots upright. "What!? You talk like she is a battery to be discarded in time! There has not been anybody fit to carry this thing for ages, remember? What do we do if Her Grace is 'finished', as you so subtly put it, before the year is over? Hmn?
What state would this leave our country in? THINK!"
The Guard near the Bearer's Room glances at them and the Captain lowers his voice. "How long does this normally take, then?"
Jan smoothes his jacket and turns to the Captain, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Do calm down, Captain! I am on your side, please..!
There are a few known cases where the Bearer could last for an incredible time, when the symbiosis had succeeded exceptionally well. In these cases, the Bearers' flesh had turned into some other material, akin to that of STATE.
Like the Professor mentioned, scientists have described various stages of the unfolding symbiosis. The first stage gives extraordinary energy to the Bearer and incredible powers to survive. A new Bearer is high with an adrenalin-induced euphoria, not eating or sleeping until he or she crashes into a first Bearer's Coma. Some sources speculate that this is when the Bearer's mind is primed to steer STATE...
In the second stage, the Bearer continues to be unable to sleep or eat and gets in pain. This stage would set in after the Bearer would start to fight STATE, realizing what price you physically pay for bearing STATE, the fight resulting in wounds like those we have seen today. The Comas then become more frequent, longer and unpredictable... And, well... As De Parry said, Her Grace does show some symptoms of this stage, already...
The descriptions of the third stage are enigmatic to the extreme: I am not sure whether to take this talk of 'object state' literally or if these are semi-religious ramblings... I still have to investigate more into all this.
Let me see, what else did I find..?
Oh yes: also, often a new Bearer was found while the old one was still alive and could be relieved."
Having listened intently, the Captain asked: "And then? What happened to the former Bearers? To be an absolute ruler one moment, and then to be discarded like that? Did they never threaten to take over power again? Or some of their off-spring?"
"No, not that we know of. All Bearers were single and without children, they even often were children themselves, imagine! Anyway, they all become infertile instantly. And for the rest of their lives, they were at the best very frail. Some of them have lived to be 40 to 45, but never more.
Moreover, because of the physical problems arising from bearing STATE, the Bearer on numerous occasions functioned as a purely symbolical and untouchable figure, with someone else the real person in charge.
I do think we have to find new ways to help Her Grace, Captain, if a stable new government based on her is what we desire...
By the way, how is she now?"
"Her heart rate has been normal for more than an hour. With the Secretary here, she is starting to relax and there has been REM sleep occasionally. I think that in your medical literature, psychological factors may have been underestimated. Maybe if we can find and create the right conditions, Her Grace may survive..."