Dystopia Chapter 10 - Cont.

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 2 by Krasniy Zakat (Thursday, July 06, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 3 by Krasniy Zakat (Monday, July 10, 2006)

(posted Saturday, July 08, 2006)

Wet tree branches lashed at her face as she approached the innocuous door that led to the secret world of wonders that scientists liked to call their own. There was an almost magical feeling to the place, at this deep hour of night, with bright flashes illuminating the skies and the water cascading from them. Sometimes, in the hazy moments when reality blurred she could not see a significant difference between science and magic. Each attempted to recreate the world in its own image – exert the control it thought it, and only it, had.

She pushed at the door and entered the deep, dark recesses of the world below. Her shoesoles echoed in the cavernous corridors as they trod upon steel and marble, and the sound bounce off the walls. It was as if not she alone, but a thousand Sofias stepped in unison, drumming a forbidding and foreboding rhythm. Her breath hung as a white cloud in the cold, thin air. She could not quite breathe properly; her lungs refused to process the oxygen and she felt like a mountaineer who, achieving his goal, in his joy removed his oxygen mask and was now suffocating.

She shivered, the cold wet drops falling onto her face, and trickling like an icy hand into the collar of her shirt. So cold… So alone…

She gripped the flashlight she had brought with her in numb, stiff fingers, coiling them about the gadget and feeling the warmth of electricity as the light broke through and cast a pale ray onto the wall. So dark. Monsters lurk in such darknesses. Not the monsters of childhood but true, genuine monsters: fear and pain and turmoil and horror and death…

I feel as if all this had happened before. All is said and done, and I am merely going through the notions of a play, long-written. Why do I feel as if all this had happened before? Why do I fear demons in the darkness?

Love was a demon. It was the most dangerous, the most frightening demon in the world, she knew. It had won over her long since, consuming her soul and rooting her in place. Why did people fall in love? All ones reason, all ones comfort was robbed from him by a giant, unrelenting hand. Instead there came torment, for suddenly, another’s life was of as much concern as one’s own.

Had not my life alone been enough to fear for? she wondered as she walked along the empty rooms in the almost impenetrable darkness. Now all the good in it is gone, and all because of some human notion, some inconceivable, unpredictable element of our hormonal flux.

What if I can do nothing? What then? What if this is beyond me, and we are doomed? I could not bear it. I wish I did not care so much…

She touched the cold panels of instruments, and felt with the tips of her fingers the smooth, unbreaking curves of levers, like a lover’s body. The adrenaline pumping in her veins was like liquid fire, and the fear was like liquid ice. Between the fire and the ice she fought to find an island of clarity, for if her mind gives way now, or does not fulfill to the utmost its role, all her hopes will be gone. Blown away.

Her head throbbed with pain. She pressed fingers to her temples to quiet the pulses of agony and tried to push them away as she worked. All this arcane machinery! she’d never wished for a better understanding of the mathematics that was so completely beyond her as she had now.

Somewhere in the furthest recesses of her brain a small voice was whispering despair in her ear. She pushed it away from her and concentrated. Power was the first thing. All this needed power. She found the power switch and pushed it. The room lit up and a deep, rumbling hum began filling it. It came from the floor, from the machines, from the walls. Her own body hummed with the power.

Now what?

She looked at the tableau of numbers before her. From low to high, they stretched in a long list of incomprehensiveness. Although not quite.

The last world would be the very last on the list, if he numbered them like I think he did. she touched the console with hesitant hands, selecting the numbers. Slowly typing them in. breathing deeply. Pressing the appropriate button. Crossing fingers.

A blinking green light asserted itself on the displays, and proceeded to stabilize. That was it, then. Now, if Alex was not a fool – and he was not – and she was lucky, the portal will have remained keyed. Remained, so that he may come back.

Unless he left forever. How that thought burned!

She prayed, and did not know whom she was praying to, or what she was praying for. There was a fervent feeling deep in her, etched in her soul and clutching her gut… she could not have put words to it, if she'd tried – she, who was a woman of words – but as she slowly moved the lever, the key to the infinity beyond anything humans could comprehend, her feeling was of deep reverence, and just a glimmer of hopefulness.

Slowly, in the transparent air in front of her the energies pulsed. At first she could not see them. They were a barely felt awareness in the corner of her mind – a sensation of danger and power. Then, as they grew greater and stronger the power spilled into light. All the colours of the rainbow flashed before her pained eyes in short, spasmodic blurs. The light stabilized into purple and swirled.

Then all the swirling, colourful glory collapsed upon itself, arcing towards the center, losing intensity and colour. It was no longer a cloud, nor was it a rainbow. It now reminded Sofia of the heart of the storm – the eyes of the hurricane. It was the birthplace of a universe. A black hole.

For a moment that seemed like an eternity nothing happened. Then, suddenly, there was no more laboratory wall. There were no machines. There were no fluorescent lights.


Instead there was, in front of her eyes, a concrete floor, littered with rubble and pieces of metal. The thin air burned in her lungs as she took a trembling, unsteady step into that Other Place. About her was destruction. Nothing remained standing that could fall, except for a large tripod with a coil growing out of the top.

She sent a shaking hand, trying to understand, to touch one of the walls. Her fingers stroked the sooted concrete.

Emotion receded into a distant corner of her mind. The pain curled into a corner like a predator, watching from the deep shadows and waiting for the appropriate moment to pounce. She felt empty. Cold. Like a shell from which everything was drained and nothing remained besides futile reflexes; arms and legs jerking around on strings with the owner gone.

He wasn't there!

There was no sign of him, no body, no sound, no sight. There was no sound at all in that place. Her breathing resonated and hung heavily in her ears. When she held her breath there was no sound at all. Like an automaton, she stepped away from the gaping hole in space-time. As if compelled, she looked about. The impression of intentional, cruel destruction became stronger and stronger.

The light about the place flickered, bouncing from soft glow to a harsh pulsation. There was little of it, as it were, and most corners were shrouded in shadows. Where the shadows met the light the borers of reality wavered, incandescent outlines moving back and forth. She watched this machine graveyard, eyes slowly perceiving the scorched walls, the shattered pieces of gentle electronics and the incredible, gaping hole that was once the door.

This she approached carefully. Beside the thick doorframe, incongruously complete, glowed green a palm-scanner plate. She winced slightly as her mind slowly grasped the thickness of the doorframe. Everything – perception, understanding, analysis – seemed to move in slow motion insider her head. Somewhere in the depths of her brain a little, tiny voice was screaming, crying and doing other, incomprehensible things caused by fear, grief and loneliness. The rest of her was wilted. She moved as if sleepwalking, thought as if her mind was filled with fog, objects took an eternity to register against her retinas.

The corridor bore a strange relief from the mayhem. Long and empty, it spread before her, and the light upon the surface of the floor glistered and rippled. She felt as if she were stepping into a river.

Crossing the Styx.

She embarked slowly on the seemingly-endless journey across the river. To the land of the dead. The symbolism had not been lost on her. Stepping slowly, feet dragging with an unwillingness of their own she wondered in that little panicked voice who Kharon was.

To the left and the right of her were closed doors. The place had a sinister air to it, as if it were the lair of a caricature Evil Genius. Which probably meant hat is was a different thing entirely – caricatures and life had a way of steering far away from each other.

She tugged at a door handle hesitantly, fearing what she might find, and was almost relieved to discover that it was locked. With the relief came annoyance. She had to know what had happened here, whose this place was, and what she had to do from here on. The steel doors gave no indication of personality, no understanding of what might have trespassed. The plates of palm scanners beside each door shone enticingly, in vain promise of the unachievable.

Whimsically, she pressed a palm to the plate, expecting nothing. The door hissed with a sound of rust and released air and slid aside.

“Huh?” she queried with incredible insight.

Beyond the door was… a room. Simple and unadorned in a Spartan way that Sofia had not seen since the years in which she and her husband inhabited hospitals more than they did apartments. Even then, in the dreary, sterile hospitals there were touches of humanity to subtract from the terrible bleakness. The walls were not painted, nor even whitewashed. The stark, unrelieved greyness reinforced the impression of a graveyard.

She shivered involuntarily. Then noticed that the mayhem had, impossibly, incredibly, followed her here, too.

The chair in the room was overturned, as if whoever was here just a moment before the destruction began had jumped up, incredulous, and ran to the door. The bed was untouched, there were no bed sheets. Whoever lived here had not slept in a while. The table leaning against the wall was, too, pristinely empty.

Something, some deeply buried instinct, dragged her eyes to the floor next to the toppled chair. There, on the bare concrete, lay pieces of shattered glass scattered in a semicircle around a picture frame.

She tried to tear her eyes from it, not wishing to intrude on other people’s lives, picking, like a scavenger, or a crow looking for shiny bits to steal, pieces and shreds of other people’s memories, but her own hands would not listen to her as she implored them to stop. Moving as if in a dream she bent down and picked up the shattered photograph.

Her legs gave way and she crumpled to the floor.

From the photograph two radiant faces regarded her with a serenity that barely hid a smile. The woman wore a long, white dress, and the man was dressed in an inappropriate, fancy dark suit. He was holding a pair of glasses in one hand, as if suddenly reminded of their existence, and vaguely embarrassed to find them there. This was not the life of strangers, after all, for she knew these people, and she knew this photograph.

She saw both these faces, much aged and worn, perhaps, but still the same faces, every day. That of the man, almost every way she turned. That of the woman, in the mirror.

The same wedding photograph hung above the couch in her own living room. Her wedding.

The sorrow hit her in huge, overwhelming waves. The little voice shrieking panic in her mind burst forth, and could not be stopped. It sobbed and gabbled inside her head, her heart, her sick stomach. Her eyes were dry. They burned with the dryness of the desert itself, dryness beyond tears.

“Sasha,” she said, in a small, plaintive voice she did not even know she had. “Sasha…”

She sat there, on the floor, for a long, long time. Not crying.

Not crying.