Dystopia Chapter 9

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 8 by Krasnaya Zarya (Wednesday, June 28, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 1 by Krasniy Zakat (Sunday, July 02, 2006)

(posted Friday, June 30, 2006)

Crey Industries. They were a large, speculative, high-tech corporation, albeit with an inclination to over dramatize. Their scientists were seen all about the city, wearing spotless white and green lab-coats, and nobody was entirely certain just what their research was in. They wielded quite considerable power, and controlled several smaller front companies with cleaner record books and reputations.

Aside from that, Sofia knew very little about them, except that they possessed a tremendous amount of money, thus equipping their facilities with the best and utmost. Also, they researched into everything – from speculative miracle-cures to genetic experiments that were downright frightening, to alternate-dimension tech. Portals.

Sofia felt the blood slowly drain from her face. There was a strange, sucking feeling in her - empty and voracious at the same time, it seemed to gnaw upon her internal organs. Her palms were sweaty, yet she shivered with cold. For the first time in the last few years – the years in which sanity had finally, finally returned, and life was getting that little bit better – she felt the stab of relentless, cold terror.

It was an old enemy, this. She had lived with it for endless years, day after day, moment after moment. It consumed her, then, at the thought that she could lose all that she truly cared about in this world, and any other. But it had passed. It had gone, slowly, when her husband's health stabilized. Tenuously at first, and then more and more steadily, and with each little improvement some of that bone-deep terror melted away like a block of ice.

Now it was back.

She sipped from her teacup, desperately needing to add sugar to her system, praying fervently that, whatever happens, she would not faint in plain sight of other people. Self-esteem was all she had, now. Pride was the only thing left.

What have you done, stupid man.?

“The place has been cleaned up several weeks ago,” Vickie was reading off, “by some of our people. Mostly we insure that nothing is left, but half the time people miss something, and Crey leave all manner of things in there.”

“I am not entirely certain what he had been doing, but, look... there might be a way to find out. You see, the only way he wouldn't have told me,” Sofia held to her teacup as if to a lifeline, keeping her hands, and her voice, from shaking like a leaf in the wind, “is if it was something truly dangerous. So we can rule out all innocuous time pursuits safely. Now, Alex had been doing research in several fields... some of them more likely than others. Do you think you could pull out the energy consumption of the laboratory for me? Over the last two weeks, say?”

“I think so.” Vickie nodded. “I shouldn't be able to get hold of this, obviously... but...”

Sofia looked at the numbers. Almost nothing. Just enough for light, a running computer perhaps... She was a generalist, with a very limited understanding of mathematical formulae and manipulations, but with a nevertheless sharp, logical mind, and a capacity to learn. She and her physicist husband had been together a long, long time. That was why, now, her mind found the display incongruous, even if Vickie's perhaps had not. She knew just how much electricity each machine, even the smallest and least significant, required. This just wasn't right.

“Can you request of the computer to create a graph of electricity consumption? With very small intervals,” she added “say, minutes versus consumption on the X and Y axis, respectively?”

“I guess,” said Vickie uncertainly. She wasn't entirely certain what Sofia would want this for. Neither was she herself, for that matter, but it was a hunch… after all, perhaps something can be learned from it. Vickie was typing again, poking around with the mouse and looking annoyed. Finally, after several minutes of expectation the graph was on screen, and Sofia could no longer contain her fear.

Spikes. The entire graph was spikes and hollows, like the pulsing of a giant heart. At most, each spike lasted several minutes, with long, flat spaces in between. Something nagged at her awareness, and she jumped up. Pacing round and round, she tugged at her hair and thought.

Realization hit like a knife, and pierced her. It twisted in her stomach, and, as though she had not been almost ready to be sick before, it now uplifted the nausea to a crescendo of pain. She no longer seemed calm, no longer could.

"I know what he did… Look, Crey have portals, don't they?"

"Some of the labs, yes. They're supposed to disable them – I mean the crews that come in…"

"This one has a portal, I am sure. And this one would have been active. Recently. As recently as the last ping, I'd bet."

"I'll bet you're right---" Vickie was typing furiously again. "Oh, I am so not supposed to have access to this…"

Sofia waved the notion off, beyond caring for privacy, and certainly for legalism, at the moment.

"Don't care, just find it," she almost snapped "I know Alex has got the scientific authority to order a portal open again. He's got the credentials to work with them. But even if not... he would still do it – as I would have, were it an issue of importance versus an issue of legality – and he knows how."

"I can request an overlay of active portal record with the zone map, and with the period of the last ping. You know, obviously, that portals are rather notable, and easy to trace. Obviously, they are traced, because… Bingo."

The map glowed. Red and blue overlapping, it shone with a purplish hue, looking all the more sinister because of the dark background. How foolish all this was – the colours, the dramatism, the feeling of dread… only the danger was real. The paraphernalia didn't matter, after all. The people in the midst of the paraphernalia did, and in the midst of all this ridiculous, almost comic mayhem stood a man she loved – a man she lived for for the last twenty odd years.

"But why would he do something like that?" she thought out loud. But of course, the answer was fairly simple, why did everyone do the dangerous, unthinkable things they'd done? Some do them for love, or ideals, or simply because they have no choice. This was a little of everything. "Because he would be out to find what everyone is looking for." She continued, a dreadful finality to her voice, her fear slowly boiling into almost uncontainable rage. "He'd be out for solutions for problems in this dimension yet unsolved. All alone. The... the... genius." She half-spat the last few words out.

"Sofia…" Vickie looked at her very seriously. "If you go after him, and I know you will.... Don't go alone Take some of our Portal Jockeys with you. Battler...Zach if you can pull him away..."

Of course, she would suggest. And, of course, I cannot. There is no one, none that I would trust enough, and… I can't do this to Alex, she knew. He is not a runaway, not per se. I can't make him face the humiliation of a whole team of husky males are stereotypical females dragging him back. It would destroy any trust there is between us… and I still do trust him, despite this fiasco. Because he did it for me.

"I... I don't know…" she murmured noncommittally. "I don't think I have anyone. Not anyone I know well, not anyone I can think of straight off…"

"Then let me make up a task force for you," said Vickie enthusiastically, "And you do have people!" she started rattling names off, all people Sofia barely knew. All nice, good people… but…. But she couldn't dare hurt Vickie's feelings, and didn't, certainly, dare to create an additional obstacle on her way. She did hate lying, but… but nothing, she thought determinedly.

"Look, I know what he would do," she said quickly, "he wouldn't go off somewhere crazy. He'd go off to a world very much like ours. So all I have to do is find the alternate me, and probably the alternate him. Then we can track him down. That's all."

"Still let me haul up a task force for you" Vickie drummed her fingers on the tabletop. "Like I would even have to… I'll probably have to beat volunteers off with a stick. People want to think of something, to do something. Something that gets them out of brooding.

"Ye gods!" Sofia exclaimed, looking pathetic, "just don't send the entire group with me. We'll make so much noise over there that we should then expect an invasion! Just two or three people, please. I'll make my own preparations, and meet up with them, say… tomorrow morning."

And I am so sorry… the thought in her head stammered weakly while her outer self acted her part. So sorry. But I have to go through alone, at least at first. Then, if the situation truly is grave… then I can return and wait for the rest.

"All right." Vickie reached some kind of decision now, "He left records, he had to. We'll head down there, and pick them up, both for you and for me. Do you think you can get a hold of them?"

"I should be able to do that, yes," Sofia nodded her agreement. That was not a bad idea. Why burn bridges and close doors when you can't be certain what it is you are going to be facing. Even if she does not want a team with her… perhaps she would want one behind her. "He always forgets to clear up his databases… and I think I can deal with his codes. That's assuming the equipment is digital and not analog, of course. Analog would make things even simpler."

She shook her head, and looked at Vickie with almost hopeful eyes. "It's just going to be a familiar, little universe. Nothing bad is going to happen. I'll just go in there, get a hold of him and get right back…" she trailed off, realizing that her voice almost pled.

“You know it’s dangerous to say that, don’t you? Bad omens. Things never going the way we expect them to. Give me your comm. unit, will you?” Sofia handed her the PDA, and Vickie plugged a USB cord into it, uploading a program. “There. This should give you a brand new little program. It’s called Seeker. Not very hard to figure out what it does. It should act like a location finder - for people who were trapped in avalanches, and the like. For now the only transporter code it has is Alexander’s, so his is the only ping that will show. Unless it’s blocked.” She glanced at Sofia with surprising compassion. “Remember, it can be blocked. That doesn’t mean much… certainly nothing worse than just ‘blocked’.”

She logged out of the several screens and ran a program, probably to clean the drives from any traces of the history or caches related to the pages she’d just used. “Let’s go get these records, and when it’s all over?” she smiled.

“When it’s all over I shall tie him with a long chain!” Sofia laughed shakily.

“Nah, I’ll introduce you around to some friends who write this kind of software. After you’re done with it, your dear genius won’t be able to move a foot without you knowing. Now let’s get these records, and figure out where he went.”

Sofia determinedly put down her yet unfinished teacup and strode to the door.