Breaking the Chains

From the Story Arc: EMPhysical

Previous Story in the Arc: Excoriated by Krasniy Zakat (Friday, September 30, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: You've got mail by Belladonna Aura (Wednesday, October 12, 2005)

(posted Wednesday, October 12, 2005)

Sophia moved quietly through the empty, so empty corridors of CCCP headquarters. It was dark, and very, very quiet. She felt like the last woman on Earth, in these long dreary spaces. She was the surviver of a nuclear holocaust, threading her way in the dark of empty, desolate vaults.

Her colourful costume – in its time a joke, now almost a habit – lay discarded in the closet, and she had reverted with a feeling of release to the simplicity of everyday stuff. She had tucked back her wild, struggling hair, still without any gray in it, and for the first time in many months felt... normal. Unrecognizable, able to disappear in the throngs and crowds of the city.

Perhaps not quite normal, she thought somberly. Certainly this eerie quiet was not normal. The little she had come to see of the headquarters on a regular day was bustling, a beehive of languages and colours and sounds where people in all shapes, sizes and other variants hurried to and fro. Coming in from duty, or going out, sitting, standing, talking and muttering to themselves, every person there busy with something and the entirety of the place creating around itself an aura of purposefulness. Even if you were not much of an Empath – perhaps especially if you were not much of an Empath – coming in from the mobs of the streets was a blessed relief.

But you'd still want to shrink against the wall and hide from some of the emotions.

Now the empty corridors felt oppressive to her. She clutched to her the thermos she carried in one hand and swallowed a lump of fear. It was Belladonna Aura, her illness, her lying there in the Skyway medical center, and the entire CCCP had sprung into action, leaving this place dark.

Except her and her husband, of course.

She pushed the only door in the entire building under which a shaft of light was slipping into the darkness outside. Blue-white light of a computer monitor, with a little bit of yellow, from a reading lamp over a table. Alexander Rabinovich was still, even now, hard at work.

Sophia truly felt sorry for the Medical Officer. The woman was young, enthusiastic and passionate, from the very little Sophia knew her. And that was just the problem. Belladonna has never done anyone any harm, that she knew. But then again, observing the limp form of her husband, sprawled awkwardly asleep over the keyboard, she didn't do them much good, either.

She put down her light burdens, and regretted that the heavy ones were impossible to put down. Then she shook her husband gently.

“Wake up, Sasha. I brought what you need.”

“Uh... My head hurt so badly.”

Naturally, it would. Eventually, it would kill him, and the eventuality was not as far off as all that. Perhaps in a few weeks. Already the signs of sickness were returning. She, who had taken care of him for so long, could tell. Of course, an EMP, and certainly regular EMPs, could have the same result...

She pondered the irony of it for a moment, thinking of her husband, a nuclear physicist who probably knew everything anyone could about radiation, sitting here slowly dying – and then of Bella, in the hospital out there, dying too, though much faster. It could have been funny if it were only not so incredibly foolish, and sad. Sad beyond belief. Her call on the comm unit unheeded in the chaos and havoc of frightened conversation.

And suddenly she was too tired. Too tired to call anyone's attention to something so obvious, too tired to insist, and fight, and certainly beg.

“Have you heard the news on the comm?” She asked briefly, and watched him nod. He'd want to be out there, doing something. Well, so did she. She had been thinking on the way here, and she said so now.

“You should disobey orders, and just go out. This is killing you. It is ridiculous, we both know better, and still this is killing you.”

“Is disobeying orders a good idea?”

“What could they possibly do to you,” she laughed bitterly, “it is not Russia, it is America. And even Russia doesn't take orders seriously anymore. You could just walk out of here... I'd even wear that stupid invention of yours, if it makes you happy.”

He looked at her. “But then we would lose the CCCP...”

“The workers of all the world have nothing to lose but their chains, and they have an entire world to gain” she quoted with deep irony. “We never had the CCCP to lose, Sasha,” she told him sadly. “Anyone who is a true part of it is out there, trying to save a woman anyone but us knows. I am truly sorry for Belladonna... You might have been able to help her, but you are here. And here you will stay. And the group will manage without you, as they did before we came. They will find something.”

It was profoundly sad, somehow, to feel your own uselessness. And the quiet loneliness that came from many years of closing upon yourself.

“But...” said Sasha hesitantly.

“No buts. How long has it been since we've actually had friends, hmm? Longer than I can remember, for me. And I have an excellent memory. So what have you been hoping for, in this? That our luck will suddenly change, somehow? It doesn't just happen. A loner stays a loner, and nobody wants to approach a loner. And he, from his side, can't. Whatever we seem to do in our lives puts us more aside with every passing year. Be happy with people you can respect. More than that is useless.”

They stared at each other for a long time. They had been together many, many years now. And Sophia could tell, without words, that no conclusion has yet been reached. Her husband was not a man to make hasty judgments. But, she thought, eventually he will have to agree with her. Events will prove her right. And if they did not, she would be happy to be proven wrong, for once. So long as Sasha was fine and well enough to be proven wrong.

The comm unit crackled to life on the emergency channel to which it had been switched to avoid the frantic babble of the last few hours.

“To all RPCongress,” that was Victoria Victrix, “Bella is awake... She will make it...”

Sophia nodded to herself. This was good news, and proving her point, too. The CCCP had succeeded very well, without them. She leaned forward, and pressed the button. The computer screen went dark, with something wavering between finality and hope.

“Let's go home,” she told her husband.