November 2nd in the 1st year of the Bearer’s Reign.
After walking around with a growing unrest, Irene does invite the Captain to her quarters, and makes sure only Susan is serving. Softly, they talk about Her Grace’s state in private. Werther did give all his research to Doctor Jan to study, but as yet they have not had many new insights from Jan. And even Werther had not managed to rouse Her Grace into talking or into doing anything public. Irene sighs: “Which is lucky, no end to the problems he could raise by getting Her Grace to perform in some kind of Church ritual...”
“But, to be honest: Her Grace’s absent-mindedness and the fact that she does not really seem to do much at all, do result in a slow but inevitable waning of the Bearer’s popularity. This is feeding the rise of that Jason person... and I must say also Martin Rislers is becoming less polite by the day! You were right to distrust him, Irene, I must say... But, let’s focus on what is ailing Her Grace? How can we get her to behave more like, well, more like a ruler, you know? People like that, they would be more enthusiastic about the Bearer, and it would put a stop to all kinds of vile rumors going on on all those OCC chats on dataFlow...”
They fall silent for a while. Then, it occurs to the Captain how devoid of pleasures the life of the Bearer is, compared to those of other leaders. “You know Irene... What does she have, to connect to things human? Food nor drink interest Her Grace, and no object of value can thrill her... Of course, any kind of touching or, well, you know... is out of the question. And neither punishment nor killing are her thing.”
“Luckily, I would say!” Irene adds a little sharply. Both think for a while. Irene glances at him. ‘It is special to be able to sit like this, just be quiet with him... But no, focus. Is there nothing we can propose to Her Grace to do?’
After long deliberation, the Captain suggests that maybe skiing would be something for her. Irene nods. ‘The speed, the solitude… Yes, he is right. That might be it! For the sake of Her Grace, for the sake of the state...’
They propose the plan to Her Grace, but she does not really react. Only a few days later, Irene receives a paper from Alexander and signed by STATE: “Strand S. will come to ski.”
End of November in the 1st year of the new Bearer’s Reign; it starts snowing in the mountains surrounding the capital. As soon as there is enough snow, the Captain organizes a trip to the most exclusive skiing resort in the country. From the capital, it is only a few hours’ drive to the mountains. They are tall and imposing. Looking out of the window, the Captain thinks that their picture-postcard beauty makes them somehow unreal: flat cut-outs stuck behind the horizon. It has been ages since he has left the capital and it is nice to be driven up the winding roads to the mountains. He stifles a thought of regret that Her Excellency had claimed to be too busy to join them. Of course, he had made sure that enough Guards were left behind for her, but she is terribly absent all the same.
82 km/hr – 71 km/hr - 68 km/hr – 66 km/hr - 62
The limo of STATE speeds into the luxurious resort, where the Captain has reserved the best suite in the best hotel. STATE sees the last-minute preparations in the Grande Suite: the soft clean hands straightening Her Grace’s realSilk bed covers, the last flower arrangement carried in, the room inspected by the Director herself, the servants reminded of their duties...
In the capital, the Secretary of STATE again is reacting too strongly to an only too light remark by Martin, and he raises an eyebrow without daring to say much more in the presence of the Guards.
Doctor Jan leaves the Palace for the Bell’Etoile, an expensive and very tight-lipped Hotel near the capital. STATE had refused to bring him to the mountains, organizing a short holiday for Jan with Patrick, the Guard, whom STATE has made sure he is off-duty, without anybody really noticing it. In the lobby, they meet the Countess, who’
From 09:08 a.m. Doctor Werther has been drunk. As he would be: now STATE is away there is nothing deterring him; and the servants are easily cowered into service. He is the physician of STATE, after all...
Without any other retinue, they are with a relatively small group. To get their skiing equipment, the Captain takes them to Dorner’s, one of the best assorted suppliers. The small shop is cluttered with the full range of state-of-the-art skiing and snowBoarding gear. It is midweek and the shop is empty at this hour. The Captains orders the shop assistant to lock the door and put the “Sorry, we’re closed” sign up. Knowing where to go, he and the Guards move up to the half floor, where the better quality outfits are on display. Immediately, two shop assistants are busy with finding gear in the right sizes for the important customers.
Bearer of STATE for 8 months, 2 weeks, 3 days, 7 hours, 6 minutes
Pinned onto the realWooden wall behind some skis, a drawing of a birds’ view map with all skiing routes in this part of the mountains. Green, blue, red and black lines are twisting down light grey slopes, indicators of the routes on the mountain. STATE cross-checks them, finds many unsettling discrepancies and omissions. This is not how it is! This is misleading. This has to be put straight.
Being called from his office, Matt Dorner sees a strange woman staring for a long long time at the tourist map. ‘She cannot be of the Captain’s party; the rich and famous visiting my shop always wear the most fashionable fur-lined suits. And this woman, in a normal rain-coat, her hair spiky… Let’s just get her out of the shop as soon as possible…’ He approaches and says: “Can I help you with something, we’re closing,”
Pulling herself from her thoughts, S. looks at him, an amused curl of her lips at this human’s ignorance. “The best skis you have.”
“Well… We have this range here.” And hurriedly, he takes her to the skis lying close by. STATE scans their size, S. lifts a tip and measures their weight. “Not good enough. I asked for the best.”
“But these are the best”
“In this price range. Yes.” Distracted, she looks away. Near the till, white plastic cylinders on the worn wood, the ink hidden. Black, blue, green and red.
The woman takes some felt markers from the till and turns towards his skiing slopes map.
“Hey! What are you doing?” But she does not react at all. Again, she stares unblinking at the map for some time. Matt Dorner has never seen anybody so strange and has a mind to shove her out of the shop. When she unscrews the cap of one marker and steps towards the map, he really has had enough. He takes a step after her. A huge guy, he towers over her, who, to his frustration, does not notice him at all.
On the landing, the Captain suddenly realizes the Bearer is not being helped here. ‘Where is she?’ Turning, he looks down over the thick realWooden balustrade and sees Dorner towering over Her Grace. ‘What the hell does the man think he is doing?’ Matt Dorner takes another step closer to her, when the Captain shouts: “DORNER! Back off at once! Are you crazy?!”
Already wearing his skiing boots, the Captain clumsily thumps off the wooden steps. The Bearer is adding some black patches in blue routes, and does not react. The Captain steps alongside Her Grace, slightly behind her, and looks at the map respectfully.
Two Guards grab Matt and pull him away from the Captain, then force one of his arms painfully on his back, and push him into a bow.
The Bearer adds a few more changes. Watching her face intently from the side, the Captain catches the not so frequent movement of her eyelids blinking. Knowing she might be near now, he speaks softly: “Eh… Your Grace..?” She turns towards the Captain.
Matt bends until his head touches the floor. Fear courses through his body. ‘Oh... Her Grace... And I... O... But, er, they say the Bearer does not punish that easily... She is often not there really... Oh, should not be thinking that, hail STATE. Hail the Bearer of STATE! We all serve’ Then he feels that the Guards have let go of him, and one of them pulls him on his feet, hissing: “OK then, serve STATE!” Trying to shrink his body, he clears his throat. “Oh… Eh… Your Grace. The skis… On… On the landing I have the best ones… I… if it would please Your Grace to deign to look at those…”
The Bearer smiles a small smile and goes up the stairs, followed by the Captain and Dorner. Without any hesitation she selects the best skis for really advanced skiers. The Captain had not known whether or not Her Grace could ski, but she sounds like a real expert. Already, he is really content with this proposal.
Bowing and very attentive, Matt takes the right size and brings the best skiing shoes. He takes extra care that the fittings are perfectly adjusted to Her Grace’s feet, while avoiding touching her directly. ‘Hail STATE... Forgive me, STATE... I just’ “Er... As for Your Grace’s suit… We have some very special designer suits, I am sure that th”
“That will not be necessary.”
“Uh? B.. But… Your Grace… It is very, very cold on the slopes…”
“That will be OK.”
The Captain frowns, thinking. “But… Your Grace… a good suit also protects you in case you should fall, and against water, and”
The Bearer says indifferently: “OK then. Simple and strong. No fur! And a pair of gloves.”
Dorner complies with Her Grace’s wishes as efficiently as he can. Soon, the whole group is fitted out and they leave Dorner’s. Though there is only an hour of daylight left, the Bearer insists to ski now, so they go to the top of the mountain.
“STATE will not wait for you, Captain,” the Bearer says, and adds, in his mind: ‘If needed, contact me.’ And swish! The Bearer is going down the slope. The Captain, himself a very experienced skier, never saw anybody going down with so much speed. Like a child, Her Grace is going down in almost a straight line. Reminding himself that STATE is guiding and protecting her, the Captain tries not to worry. After a few seconds, he loses sight of Her Grace completely, and can concentrate on getting back into the swing himself.
In the Palace of Parliament, meeting with Grezner, Delaware and Rislers, Irene straightens her back, stifles a sigh. ‘They cannot see my fatigue...’ But of course Rislers cannot fail to miss, and pushes his point, his voice low: “And, Your Excellency, please do explain to me: why does SHE need a holiday? Huh? Never does much anyway, now does she?” His bland face is sneering, and Irene’s hatred for him finds another foothold. ‘Hypocrite! Liar!’ She tries to keep her tone smooth, but the sharp edges show: “What a tone, suddenly, Martin! You have NO right to judge Her Grace, and you have no idea of what it takes to rule!”
The Guard near the door hears Her Excellency’s tone of voice and draws nearer. Her Excellency’s face is set, as she continues: “And what have YOU contributed to the Committees’ work these last days, Rislers? Well?” A very cold silence.
Linda Grezner does not even dare to move and wonders where the sweet Irene had learned this kind of cold anger. Then, Her Excellency continues: “STATE will have your results in three days. You are right: this way, further meetings are useless. Not one more word! You are dismissed until next week!” She stands, and her sudden refusal to communicate is more scary than any display of anger would be. The Guards are on the alert.
Martin Rislers gets the message. He stands and bows obediently. ‘Huh! These Guards will be serving someone else in no time! Their loyalty can be bought by power, and that is just’ but out of habit, he stops the thought and eases his face into a smile. “Your Excellency’s understanding of Her Grace doubtlessly exceeds mine, I am sure... But it is just that the roles are slightly confusing, don’t you think? Your Excellency does bear a load comparable to Her Grace’s... I was just expressing my heartfelt concern! Oh, but I am so sorry to distress you... And yes, much remains to be done! Next week, then!” and bowing slightly, he withdraws, to the contentedness of the Guards.
Irene wishes she could kick him but reminds herself of the First Decree and tries to think of someone else, touching her diamond ring absentmindedly. ‘He is not cooperating, he is working on something else, something more rewarding, but he does not come out and tell us, the coward. How can I achieve anything here,’ Irene thinks. ‘Without the Captain, the Palace is empty, without Her Grace, Alexander can give me no papers to back me up. And anyway... There is no one to back me, however indirectly, no one. And things are slipping all the time... I fail to control them,’ and she longs to be somewhere else, anywhere, nowhere...
> Hail STATE! Growing and developing, enveloping
> what? nveloping? no way! I’d like a warmer kinda body to envelop me, brother
> Trust in STATE! Hail the Bearer of STATE! We, simple people, can never even touch on the greatness of STATE!
> ow come ON man, what’re ya saying, just another president, she is
> Just wait for the great Day! The Day of Light! hail STATE!
In her chambers, Susan quickly pours Her Excellency some tea and serves a delicate lunch, listening to her outpour of the meeting’s discussion. “Your Excellency... Maybe you really should take some time off?” she ventures to say. “Maybe join Her Grace on the mountain?”
Irene has to agree she needs some rest. Though traveling after Her Grace and the Captain is tempting, she decides to fulfill a wish she had postponed too long now. “Yes. I will visit my parents, this afternoon,” she says, “cancel all other appointments. And make sure the security measures are in place! I cannot risk to be traced!” And with a contented almost invisible smile, Susan turns to pack and inform the Guards.
Artur looks into the glass, enjoying the warm yellow color in the cool morning light. It is his first and he remembers now. ‘They still do not wanna hear! Come on, I told them, explained, I did, the reasons... Yes, someone else might take STATE, but who cares? Come on! She is just a vehicle, carrying that beautiful, complicated, subtle... Doesn’t matter who does, erases all personality anyway. Wish I could just, for a moment...’ And he takes a sip to feel the alcohol where it should be.