10:35 a.m. on the Second Day of the Bearer’s Reign
Irene Delwin has poured out all of the banalities of her life and is out of topics. Talking is not her usual pastime, so she sits silent. Her burns hurt and she wipes her front, tidies her hair.
When the Captain re-enters the Bearer’s Room, he realizes that he might have asked too much of the timid woman. He calls for the nurse. “Nurse, take care of the Secretary of STATE. Treat her wounds and return her to her bed…”
Visibly happy with some normal nursing tasks, she wheels the Secretary of STATE around.
The Captain looks Irene in the eyes. “You have done some great work for STATE just now. Do get some sleep, Miss Delwin…” While he looks at her receding figure, he thinks: ‘I know more of her than of any woman I have ever dated with…’ Being a fulltime professional had always got in the way of getting to know anyone, really, an occupational hazard. He smiles slightly bitterly.
S. looks down.
There is no more ground. Only the white. An oppressive white, pressing close, too close…
It takes some time for her to define her conditions.
She finds herself inside the plaster shell that encased her before. Her body is yielding to it, almost snug in the too tight enclosure.
S. is not afraid, she knows that fear is something she cannot allow herself. Composed, she waits and starts to value this state.
Her self expands, the white space becoming a reflection of a boundless being. She dissolves. Though her body remains shelled in, her mind permeates the expanse she is in. It is empowering and free, free in an exhilarating way.
Where did she leave her body?
When her mind has permeated the entirety of the space, there is no more room to turn and look. She has a new body now, a spatial body, with somewhere, hidden, her old husk, discarded.
The space is so huge that S. just hangs there, waiting to get accustomed to it.
She waits until her mind becomes conscious of patterns, present in the all-overwhelming white. They push themselves out of the white like very shallow reliefs, disappearing when S. tries to focus on their meaning. They vaguely remind her of something.
Then she remembers. The mind-map of Parliament had the same white noise surface. So did the map showing her the hospital. These are not just accidental patterns, these are structures. Structures of the powers that STATE incorporates. Not just STATE - the thing, but the state, the whole of a society represented in interrelating structures. In this moment, S. understands. Literally, she is bearing the state.
The whole state.
All powers in the state, all energy in the state, the history of the state, all data in the state.
S.' mind recoils at the enormity of the information. Layer on layer on layer on layer of it. It is too much and too near, invading her. She cannot oversee it,
the data moves and moves, changes as she watches. Her head splits and she becomes sick, as more and more data enters her, forces her to observe, to listen, to understand, to deduce, to follow, to see… Every time she tries to focus her intellect to understand, details come avalanching, engulfing her. The amount of data is so vast, and so diverse, coded in so many ways… Again, she gets immersed in it, loses all sense of direction.
But she has to.
She has to get in touch with this.
She has to learn to break the code, to read the information, to impose some order, if she is to be a true Bearer.
S. tries, and tries again.
Nothing, the white remains a turmoil.
Why? STATE should be able to steer this, STATE can manipulate its many flows.
Altering her mind-set to the tranquility STATE will correspond with, she relaxes her muscles, slows down her brainwaves, opens up.
Something is wrong.
Some thing blocks her, hampers the white. Then, in the back of her mind, she recognizes the stickiness, recalling the physicality she had thought to have left behind. The President’s poison. The blood s/he had spent. The bomb exploding, the belly slashed open, her hands hawing, her friends' heads blown to bits…
Blood. Poison. Blood…
Rusty red, it has formed a structure of its own, tentacles clawing into crevices of almost all structures of STATE. On all levels, the rust has found a foothold and it has warped dependencies, changed connections, severed relations. The poison has tainted the clear structure of STATE, and STATE had grown accustomed to it, reacting on it, developing the changes, grafted onto it.
And her presence here feeds the poison.
Because of her, the poison attracts powers that could not connect to before. The residues of Mark poison in her body shell connect to new resources, attaining new strengths. S. has to admire the fecundity of it, the speed at which it is developing. Almost as quickly as her mind had unfolded in the whiteness, the poison starts to envelop them both. It is searching for something stronger than the poison itself.
It gropes around, in S., in STATE…
Before S. can ascertain its aim, the poison has connected to the state’s energy plants' depots. The instant the poison connects to the voltages stored in STATE structures, they are in reality generated in the body of
The alarms blare. The Bearer’s body is arching under strain of a high voltage generated within STATE. Jan now understands why the bed is made of wood.
For what seems to be ages, the monitors register no heart rate or any brain activity at all.
Doctor Jan and the nurse run around the Bearer, trying to attach the re-animators, or infuse some drug, anything. But there is nothing they can do: the re-animators and injection needles keep being pushed from the body by STATE.
The Captain, at a loss what to do, again calls for Irene Delwin, asleep next door.
Irene is wheeled up to the Bearer of STATE, dizzy with sleep and pain. This time, when she tries to approach the bed, the metal wheelchair is pushed back from the Bearer, and she is forced to get out. It hurts and hurts to move her legs, the skin on her thighs stretching and breaking, but she sees Her Grace is in more danger and she forces herself to go on. Leaning on the bed, she makes to take Her Grace’s hand.
“NO! Irene!” the Captain yells, then is ashamed for yelling out. What does he care?
“Don’t worry, Captain,” Irene says. “Whatever is working on her is not directed against others. We have to break her solitude. It would be best if someone would take her other hand…"
The Captain steps forwards and does so. Irene is right, nothing happens to them.
Bit by bit, the body of the Bearer seems to become conscious of their presence, and lays still. But the heart-rate indicator remains flat, an ongoing beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.
Nevertheless, Irene does not give up. She bends over and softly speaks in Her Grace’s ear. “S. come back, now.
We need you here.
Please fight… You have done it before, S.!
You can do it.
Far away, S. hears the voice.
The voice of quietude, of safety, of warmth. The voice of someone who might be a friend, calling her. S. wants to approach the voice. She has to be near it, as close as she can get… An unbearable pressure holds her back. She is held captive, her muscles too tight to move. But the voice gently urges her to fight. The voice is so supportive, so calm, so convincing… The voice is her friend, and she has to return to it, but where? Where? The poison makes her panic and almost, almost, she looses the voice… S. fights to regain mental control.
At first, nothing seems to happen.
But then, the poison retreats. Or rather, it is as if S. can pull herself out of the picture. She sees the poison in STATE, no longer inside her, and then knows what to do.
S. concentrates. She has to distribute the energy levels more evenly, and she can do that by simply focusing on them. Like a programmer tuning the parameters of sets of rules, she subtly alters the structure.
The energy discharge stops. Though the poison and blood are still there, they cannot grow unimpeded anymore. For the moment, they are counterbalanced.
Two hands, left and right, locating her body.
There it is, the shell that she thought discarded. Now it is being held, its boundaries redefined, it slowly assumes its volume again.
Though the plaster shell remains, S. knows she has to regain consciousness. STATE calls.
The Bearer opens her eyes.
“Your Grace!” the Captain and Irene Delwin exclaim relieved.
Bearer of STATE for 2 days, 3 hours, 4 minutes and 08, 09, 10
S. tries to move, but she cannot. Like after her bout of anger, her body is totally rigid and tense, as if a heavy flu has cramped all her muscles. This time, it is much worse. Everything hurts, even breathing is difficult. She almost longs to slip again to the white, but her resolve holds. There are people here, awaiting her.
STATE has to start.
The Bearer blinks, tries to speak. Quickly, the Captain offers her some water and with some difficulty, she takes a sip.
“Thank you, Irene…” the Bearer says, softly. “You… you saved my life. I cannot express…"
“Your Grace, I cannot thank you enough for getting me out of that office!” Irene says sincerely. And they have to smile at the comparison.
Concerned, Doctor Jan approaches and checks Her Grace’s temperature and pulse. Both have returned to normal. ‘Incredible!’ “Your Grace…. It is good to have you back! Er…
Would you request a massage?"
While Jan massages the Bearer’s rigid body, S. senses his preoccupation.
He knows something he does not want to show. Shards of words seep from his mind, but she cannot get them recognizable enough to understand what he is thinking.
“What is it you know, Jan? Tell me."
So, Doctor Jan tells Her Grace about the Bearer’s Disease and the implications. He informs Her Grace very carefully, but S. does not care. It does not matter what form life will take, or how long it will be. And anyway, she cannot take STATE off, the symbiosis has already started, and the process is irreversible.
I have got rid of the Mark and now I have this instead… What freedom will I have in deciding politics or any other affairs of STATE? Will I become a walking pedestal, carrying out some STATE agenda? Who will I be, when STATE has fully nestled? Ah, well…
I am nothing… I am no one… I am nobody…
The Bearer shrugs. “Bring some breakfast: bread, eggs, coffee, milk, fruit. And whatever you would like to eat. But no servants! I will eat together with you three only, or I will not eat at all."
The Captain bows and conveys Her Grace’s wishes.
In the sunlit hospital room, Irene, Jan and the Captain have a simple breakfast. Unaccustomed to eating without servants, the Captain time and again looks up to order something, then realizes he will either have to walk to the doors and tell a Guard or has to do without. But Jan, Irene and Her Grace are clearly much more comfortable like this, though neither of them is in a talkative mood.
After breakfast, a Guard allows Mrs. Curlings in, a decisive graying woman, who efficiently measures Her Excellency and then departs to buy her some clothes. A courier arrives with new suits from Schneider’s for Her Grace, and Doctor Jan helps Her Grace to put them on.
The nurse checks the Bearer and to her surprise has to conclude she is slightly weak but healthy, then looks after Her Excellency’s burns and dresses them afresh. ‘I would’ve kept them here longer, but yes, there are affairs they have to attend to, I guess… They are the Bearer and the Secretary of STATE, after all. Won’t be the one to block them, I won’t.’