December 11th in the second year of the Bearer’s Reign
11:30 a.m.
“Look at this! Just LOOK at this FILTH!” The Captain barges into the Secretary’s Parliament Office with big loud steps. In his hands, a flapping bundle of print-outs from various dataFlow websites, some National TV and newspaper cartoons and some old-fashioned print-out flyers and posters. With a disgusted gesture, he flings them onto the Secretary’s large and already very full desk. Though a tidy person normally, Irene has so many things going on now, that she simply does not have to time to file everything. ‘And I cannot trust any assistant to do so…’

The Secretary of STATE looks up to the Captain and folds her hands over each other. “Do please sit down, Captain,” she says. The Captain sits and a servant enters gingerly. Her Excellency orders for some tea to be brought. The servant leaves respectfully, feeling the Captain’s urgency.

Irene leafs through the pile and stops to stare at a well-done drawing of herself, like a blonde wooden puppet, strings tying her to a black STATE hovering above her. The Bearer is a pale silhouette floating with arms wide above STATE, and Irene cannot help thinking the illustrator got it perfectly right somehow. Other drawings are more aggressive, caricatures showing the Bearer as a butcher at the Day of Souls, as an empty façade or a bedridden patient or a two-faced liar or a daydreamer, as a figure with a gross growth on her belly strangling the Countess, destroying a Palace, bombing a market hall, dabbling at music, walking the streets for hours… or showing her wallowing in the adoration of a Church she herself is paying for.
Irene is not naive, she had been aware of a stream of publications like these, but she had not investigated into the nature nor the quantity of them. She looks up into the Captain’s tight face. He is already talking: “So, what do you think? High time to crack down on these disrespectful traitors! We cannot allow this for much longer! I will track each and every one of them down and secure them somewhere for long enough to make them think again about doing these… these”
“Captain… These are caricatures, that’s all! It’s to be expected”
“That’s all!?! How can you say that!? How do you mean, that’s ALL?! These publications are attracting thousands of hits every day! Hundreds of thousands of people look at them, share them, laugh over them! People cannot just LAUGH at the Bearer of STATE!"
“LET ME finish my sentence, Captain! It is to be expected in a young democracy to have strong political feelings arise! You cannot have freedom of speech if you are restraining this kind of expression!”

The Captain rises and starts to pace through the Office. “Expression?! This is plain sowing of hatred, if you ask me! And it is downright disrespectful towards all the people who see the Bearer as their savior! These drawings trample on many people’s feelings! We cannot just allow them to remain public, to be dispersed, aimed at hurting other people’s innermost beliefs!” He looks at Irene with eager eyes: “Forget all this ‘freedom of speech’ nonsense! Let’s put them all in jail NOW!"
“THAT is NOT up to you to decide, Captain!” Irene, the Secretary of STATE, has risen, her fists white on the pile of paper. “Her Grace’s First Decree stipulates the freedom of speech EXPLICITLY! You do not have to right to meddle with this! It is the basis of her reign!"
“BASIS!? It is no basis at all! This is endangering everything we have worked for, she has worked for, you are working for! People are starting to hate STATE, THAT is what I’m saying! And these pamphlets are one of the many causes! We have to crack down on them, and crush them, the whole lot!” The Captain thumps his fist on the desk for articulation.

Irene looks at him and suddenly hates his conservatism with all of her being. Her voice becomes very sharp: “It is only logical to have that coming from you, Captain! Now you show your true face. You have always opposed any democratic movement, from the start!
But let me remind you, that S. became Bearer to do just that! To start a democratic form of government, finally! I vowed to help Her Grace with this, Captain; and I WILL!”

The Captain is aghast at her stupid trust in people. “And I have vowed allegiance to STATE, Irene! I vowed to PROTECT Her Grace! I cannot do that this way. Chances on attacks against her, attacks against yourself, are growing every day! My informers tell me an insurrection is growing, and I cannot stop that, not with all Guards in the world I cannot!
I have vowed to protect STATE, Irene, and the only way I can vouch for her and your safety is by locking away all opposition, just until the elections are over. And that is what I will do!”

That moment, the servant carrying a huge plate with the finest golden teapot, porcelain cups and plates with assorted cakes is being let into the room. The Captain and Her Excellency stand facing each other, both of them with clenched fists. The servant puts everything on the low table and hurries away.

Irene is still very angry, but she keeps her voice down now: “You are out of order, Captain! As Her Grace is not here at the moment, these questions are up to me to decide, as Secretary of STATE!” She glares at him, then knows it is his concern to worry about safety like this. Knowing how deeply he cares for S., for her, her tone softens somewhat: “I know you are right, Captain, to worry. Things are shifting and I do not think the power structure will stay as it is for very long anymore. I do know it is dangerous, for Her Grace, for you and for me. But I can only try and complete what Her Grace has set in motion, Captain. And an active and free opposition is part of that!” Straightening, she adds: “I forbid any and all of these actions, Captain, and I expect you to obey me!”

She is no longer a shy secretary, smiling to be likeable. Her eyes glitter as she measures the Captain, who has to admire her as she challenges him. ‘Again, she puts STATE before everything else, including her private life, her safety; and, yes, before me…’ It hurts to see her this angry against him, to know there are no arguments which will make her swerve from her inner obligation, not even his. He swallows and bows stiffly towards her. “As you wish, Your Excellency,” he says, and turns to leave the room.

Looking at his straight back receding and leaving her Office, Irene desires him to calm down, to sit and take tea with her, to call her ‘Irene’ again… But she does not know how to ask and looks on as he leaves, the outside Guard saluting him and pretending not to have overheard anything.

In the sudden silence she looks down at the pictures, half crumpled under her hands. Afresh, she notes their ferocity. Not one of them sees a positive side to the Bearer, they are unanimous in depicting S. as a dictator more evil than the President had ever been. ‘Have they forgotten how he was? Do they not realize they would never even have been able to draw him in any such way? Do they not see Her Grace’s efforts to create a democracy, and what that entails? Whatever has she done to make people so angry…?’ But deep down she knows what the answer is. DataNet is flooded by obscure videos and testimonies of servants, showing the Bearer sitting still like an object, unblinking, in the Palace, at the Days of Souls, everywhere. ‘People simply hate to be ruled by an entity so clearly inhuman…’ And there is nothing all Irene’s social graces can do to prevent the power from slipping from Her Grace; and it is slipping, more and more speedily. ‘If only we can make it to the elections…’ Irene does not doubt the Bearer will resign immediately, if she is not elected against her will. ‘If only the people will let her go in peace… But what will happen to Her Grace then? Will STATE let her be?’ Sighing, Irene sits down on one of the chairs near the low table. She stays for another hour but hardly gets any work done, then finally calls for the limo to drive her back to her own chambers. Susan enters discretely and pours Her Excellency some tea, her very presence calming. Irene sips her tea, disregarding the expensive sweets piled up for her. ‘Only a few months to elections… If only he would trust her… If only we knew what is happening… Trust STATE… Trust the Bearer’ But though she wants to believe the chant with al of her heart, part of her is just reciting the words without belief. ‘I am just so tired… a shell… there is nothing left of me,’ and a solitary tear salts her tea.

In the expensive restaurant, soft light is fluttering on the tables when Sarah enters. As her coat is taken by a servant, she sees Blake exit one of the private rooms. She makes sure her path crosses his in the corridor leading to the rooms, and, in his characteristic haste, he does bump into her.
“Darling, whatever are you up to?” she asks sweetly, as he stares her in the face. She can smell what he had for dinner and what he had to drink in his breath. “I can see you had a good time!” she adds.
“None of your business, Sarah,” he snaps, and tries to walk past her, but the corridor is narrow and he is just sober enough not to push her aside. Behind her, a waitress approaches with a tray with drinks. “Ah, come, come, Blake, we were close not long ago,” she says with a tilting melody, “you can surely tell me..?” He stares at her rudely, and then Sarah simply turns to glance inside the room and see who he is entertaining. ‘What? Mc Kinsey? Well, well, well… I’d better move quicker’