Early next morning, the Bearer calls for Mr. Blas, the Head of House. As he bows for her, her voice fires: “How was that possible, Blas?”
Philip Blas had been afraid of exactly that question and mutely thinks: ‘One of my servants had managed to poison Doctor Werther. One of my servants was a betrayer of STATE... I will be punished, surely... But the Bearer does not seem intent to blind me as yet... Forgive me, STATE... Hail the Bearer of STATE...’
The Bearer shrugs at his silence, speaks again: “STATE wants all personnel to come down to the Ballroom at 11 a.m.. And I mean ALL personnel. From the most important to the youngest assistant to assistant, no one is to stay behind.”
“Yes, well… eeeh… of course… Your Grace…” With a curtsey, he leaves to fulfill the Bearer’s outrageous command. More than a hundred thirty servants work in the Palace; some have had to work all night, and the youngest has just gone to bed. But a direct order from the Bearer of STATE must be obeyed.
Blas starts at the kitchen and notifies all servants of rank to notify their subordinates. He has to call the people outside as well, and has to find a way to enable the Guards to leave their posts temporarily. The Captain decides to lock the whole Palace as securely as they can and hope the best for it.
“Ah, Mrs. Grezner, welcome, welcome!” Martin Rislers rises to shake the hand of the elderly secretary and take her coat.
“Where are we, Martin?” she chides. “Is it safe?”
“Yes, yes, Mrs. Grezner, perfectly safe, which is why we are meeting here and not in a more uptown place!” he says cheerily, his arm sweeping to encompass the dark and slightly squalid restaurant. “It is, well let’s say this belongs to my family,” he adds as the bell rings again and his uncle shows in the next guest. Martin rises and smiles. “Sarah Feyman, what a pleasure, dear girl, to have you over!”
The huge Ballroom is barely used nowadays.
In small groups, the servants enter. Some avidly take in the lavish surroundings: the golden ornaments, the huge mirrors and chandeliers, the shiny parquet. Most of them have never been on this floor of the Palace, being confined to their working quarters downstairs.
The Head of House is busy keeping some degree of order. He arranges everybody in small groups, roughly according to rank. The Captain and the Secretary of STATE, followed by Doctor Jan, Susan, Alexander, Mr. Daveaux and the successor of Mr. Bernston, all Guards... Trying to count everybody and check his list of names with his far-sighted eyes, he holds the paper at arm’s length.
As yet unnoticed, the Bearer enters and stands just behind him. Mr. Blas is still talking: “Yes, yes, if you would just take your position...” As he waves her away, he turns half-way and sees whom he is addressing. “Oh! Your Grace..! Ahem… I did not realize… Is it already..? Uh”
Coolly, the Bearer says: “Forget about that list. STATE will check. Take your position.” Quickly, he does as told.
- ‘You usurper of power!’
Again, the thought comes in hard and evaporates, invading and leaving her so quick it is untraceable and all the more unsettling. S. shakes her head to ward off more distracting words. Focus.
Bearer of STATE for 1 year, 0 months, 3 weeks, 2 days, 1 hour and 2 min
“We are here today, to discuss our next step,” Martin says, and Sarah suppresses a jawn. ‘Even in bed he is tedious, let alone in this dirty restaurant,’ she thinks, trying not to remember in detail what he had been like, naked. ‘Ah, could be worse, he’s a tad less egocentric than my dear mister himself, I guess. And much more respectful than that filthy Captain! Hmn, what shall I do, give Martin another try? He is gaining importance, he is...’
The Bearer walks towards the Captain. “Everybody.”
The awareness of Her Grace’s presence changes the atmosphere immediately. No more light chattering or laughing. Everybody looks at her in silence, some very afraid, some praying wordlessly. She speaks again, her voice unbending: “Form one large circle, so that STATE can look at all of you at once.”
The soft clatter of many feet as everybody moves to form the circle. It is huge, filling the Ballroom. Adapting to the space, it becomes an oval.
“OK. Think of your name, as you are registered in the Central Computer.”
Puzzled, the servants do as the Bearer of STATE orders. They look at her while she closes her eyes for about twenty seconds.
“There are two uncertainties. Laura…” The Bearer leaves her position at the top and walks towards the center of the circle, eyes closed. She stops before a very pretty dark-haired girl, who reddens and tries to speak. But Her Grace lifts two fingers to stop her: “All right. STATE understands. And Richard…” Again, STATE finds him with eyes closed, and retrieves the reason for the mismatch in information without him having to speak.
Everybody present now knows that in truth, the Bearer can read their minds. Nervously, they glance at each other, try to think of something innocent, something suitably serious, now… ‘Hail STATE... Hail the Bearer of STATE...’
Sarah looks again at Martin, who is talking with pride about his latest, and very predictable decision as if it was the most daring move ever: he had quit working for Her Grace. ‘Duh, next step would’ve been the sack! Hmn, but though he has gained some weight around the waist he does look more strong than when last I touched him... Might try him, I might’
The Bearer stands very still, bends her head as if listening.
Then, a loud creaking sound. The door opens and a frightened girl steps onto the doorstep, dressed in her nightgown. It is old, a discolored white, and her red knees show.
The Head of House is furious: “And where do you think you come from, you little la-dy!? Thought you were exempt from the order to come down, did you!? And how do you DARE to appear before Her Grace, the Bearer of STATE, dressed like -”
But with an impatient jerk, the Bearer lifts two fingers and silences him: “She was ordered to come as she was. Take your position, Elizabeth.”
The girl is petrified and clearly wishes to flee, if only she could move.
“Lizzie, come here.” Mrs. Belzwynski calls. The well-known voice of the Cook calms the girl down a bit, and she walks towards her and stands next to the strong woman.
Hail the Bearer of STATE
Trust the Bearer of STATE
Again, the Bearer closes her eyes.
Traversing the length of the oval, she walks. She walks slowly, all the way from the one end to the other. The servants curtsey for her as she passes, even though she cannot see them. The Bearer walks straight towards the girl.
When Lizzie sees Her Grace coming for her, she starts to whine, first almost inaudible, then gradually louder.
The Bearer continues to approach her until she is very close.
“What are you afraid for?” she asks while opening her metalloid eyes. “I am not the President!” But, clearly, the girl wants to run even more.
Someone whispers “The Angel of Death”, but when the Bearer turns it is impossible to locate the speaker, and the thought is present in many minds.
“You think my touch will kill?” the Bearer says softly.
‘Oh; Irene thinks, ‘The Day of Souls… many people had never understood the ritual and feared the Bearer for it ever since.’ But she then she hastens to empty her mind of thoughts and submit to STATE.
S. lifts her hand to touch the girl human when a jarring thought-voice cuts through the multitude surrounding her already: ‘You terrorist, killing randomly to obtain your goals!’
No. Not now.
She turns back to Lizzie: “Do not be afraid. STATE does not kill for nothing. Look,”
She puts her index finger under the chin of the girl, tenderly.
The girl looks at her, eyes wide open,
mouth dropping open as well.
And Lizzie sees the Bearer, standing in a circle of people.
The light is strange, different. It is sooo light, almost too bright. More bright than when you look at a light sand beach in the summer, whiter than the page of a paper magazine reflecting the sun. As if there is only light around, as if the air is filled with light.
It is nice, very nice!
Lizzie has to squint to see the Bearer.
She sees Her Grace retreat from her, further and further away, until her figure is surrounded by the brightness.
The Bearer is alone. A small dark figure against the white bright sand.
Lizzie is part of the circle. They are a group, and the Bearer stands alone in the center of the circle.
It is like a game, ring-a-ring-a-Rosie…
Slowly, the ring starts to turn. They circle around Her Grace in a steady rhythm.
A pagan dance.
First slowly, then harder and harder the rhythm accelerates, pulling Lizzie with it, into it. Her feet step in a moving cadence, it is so easy to do, so free!
The floor trembles, and the air trembles, and Lizzie is shaking as well, from deep within her belly it thumps, like a bass beat in a dance festival.
It is the rhythm, seeking a way out, a wild celebration.
Lizzie starts to hum, then to sing with the others, softly, then louder and louder.
She is howling, but still her body wants more.
All their bodies want more.
They dance to the bass in their bowels, to an unkempt happiness rising from turning there, around the Bearer.
The Bearer, who stands so still, and so solitary.
Why is she not happy?
Why is she different?
Why is she blocking the beat?
What makes her so special, so central?
Lizzie bends, and picks up some things.
Stones. The weight of their roundness follows the direction of her anger.
She starts hurling them at the still figure, with the others.
Everybody hurls stones.
The whole circle is hurling stones as hard as they can.
At the Bearer of STATE!
In the middle, she is standing,
then cowering to duck the stones,
then getting hit, and
then, in slow-motion,
trying to hide her face with her arms, while
more stones hit on her,
hitting her back,
hitting her arms,
hitting her head,
the first blood…
“Huh,” a sharp intake of breath, between cry and sigh. The Bearer is white, and shaking. Concerned, Jan takes a step to check on Her Grace, but her eyes fly open and her look stops him: “Keep your position. Everybody!”
Lizzie is very afraid now, making herself as small as possible, expecting the blows. She does not dare to raise her eyes to Her Grace’s, now she has seen this, and participated in it as well… iiiiiiiiiih iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiih iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiih
Softly, she moans. But the Bearer speaks to her mind: ‘Ssshh. This is not your fault, Lizzie. It is not in your thoughts. It is in STATE.’
Then, the Bearer straightens herself and her voice rings out: ”Let us continue.”
And she steps between Lizzie and the Cook, Mrs. Belzwynski. The Bearer looks around the oval, takes in all faces. “OK, everybody. We are complete.
After the recent attacks, the whole household has to pass the Test of STATE. Do not worry. It is not difficult, nor dangerous, as you have just witnessed.
Take the hands of your neighbors and form a continual circle.
Now, STATE will briefly visit each of you. Do not be afraid, and do not struggle against STATE. That will only make it painful.
You may close your eyes.”
Though some have a strong superstition that they will die from being touched by the Bearer, however indirectly, nobody dares to go against the Bearer’s explicit demand. The hands close in each other to form a continual circle.
STATE oversees the whole instantly, then passes from the one to the other, swift like a current through copper wire.
Many servants try to hide their views on the Bearer, the times they found her frozen and unmoving, her weird absences, her flaring anger... But STATE is not interested in them.
There. This servant collaborated with Bernston on the first poisoning of Doctor Werther. But he was not involved with his murder, had known nothing.
The deluxe bottle had entered the Palace directly,
Again, an irritating gap in knowledge, indicating Matil’s direct involvement.
S. pushes her frustration aside in order to continue.
There. One of the assistant servants had been paid when he had overseen Bernston take the knives from the drawer, though he had no clue what Bernston had done with them.
The small hump of Ronaldo’s fear at not having recognized the Bearer.
There, one elderly servant had been in charge of the wiring equipment before S. had it removed…
A few others carry useful knowledge of old Presidential traps, some of them still lethal. Here and there some servants still long for the President’s clarity and cruelty.
Whoosh! It is over before they know what has happened.
The Bearer opens her cold eyes. Her face does not show any change or knowledge or emotion. She simply says: “You can let go now.”
A bit shyly, everybody stands around, not knowing immediately what to do.
Still no trace leading to Matil. Or Bernd Matilowitsch, or any other of his pseudonyms. S. briefly considers what to do with the collaborators, but she decides not to punish them publicly. She will inform the Captain later and work out what to do with them then. She says: “That was helpful. You may resume you duties. You are dismissed.”
And curtseying to the Bearer, the servants file out of the Ballroom.
“Do you know what that was about?” Irene asks the Captain, softly, that evening. Susan had left them a bottle of red wine, and they were sitting in Irene’s new old couch, with two Guards waiting outside, as usual. The Captain shakes his head, but says: “I suppose we will hear soon enough. I just fear that again there will be no trace of this Matil... Who knows, we might even be inviting him to the Reception next week... We have no idea whom we are dealing with, Irene, none at all! And other people are also not sitting still... On OCC some are really disrespectful, and I do not trust that Jason Almerra, though what exactly he is doing escapes me...”
“He is making his own religion, Captain. Yes, he scares me as well, but I do not think he is going to attack STATE in any direct way for the time being...”
“And then Rislers,”
“He is doing well for himself, Irene... Getting famous, he is! He is invited, you know.”
“Yes, I know I agreed, no way we can afford to leave him out...” Irene drinks a large sip of wine and allows the perfect taste to soothe her. ‘Ah well, there will be hundreds of people, no need to see him a lot...’ She smiles as a thought hits her, and she says: “Shall we invite Susan?”
“WHAT?” The Captain looks down at her, surprised. ‘A mere servant?’
“Well, she is my private secretary, in a way, and does the secretary of the Secretary of STATE does not rank high enough?” She smiles sweetly while he thinks through the consequences. “But Irene, then we could start to invite all serving personnel! I do not see...”
“She is special, Captain... She saved my life! Please?”
The Captain remembers the grey realSilk dress, and suddenly realizes that the dress that Irene had made for the Reception of STATE resembles that poisoned dress. ‘On purpose... Clever girl,’ he thinks and smiles at her. “If you insist, Your Excellency,” he says playfully, and pulls his pocket ‘Corder from his suit and enters the name. “That makes 112 people, Irene. Shall we please leave it at that, or would you like to include maybe more personal friends? Your parents, maybe?”
Irene recoils at the thought. “Eh, no, Captain. I would prefer they come to the Palace, maybe, some time, but it is work, a Reception of STATE... I do hope Her Grace can relax tonight.”
Both know what she means. The ongoing fruitless search of this Matil is making STATE more and more easily vexed, both in function and on her frequent anonymous trips. Irene thinks that frustration at being unable to control or even contain her enemy has kept S. on her feet, has made her roam the capital for traces. Reacting on these emotions, STATE is a danger for anyone crossing the Bearer. ‘Or is in fact STATE becoming more power-conscious and forcing her and the people around her in the old patterns of subjection?’
The Captain finishes his drink and looks at his watch. “Ow, I’ve been in here a tad too long... Let’s also go to sleep, Your Excellency!”
“Good night, Captain. See you tomorrow!”
> She will celebrate where her filthy Predecessor celebrated. She is his Seed.
[As is the Word of Jason A. the One]