Dystopia Chapter 13

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 6 by Krasniy Zakat (Friday, July 21, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 14 by Krasnaya Zarya (Thursday, July 27, 2006)

(posted Tuesday, July 25, 2006)

Sofia breathed in the thin, ragged air.

Leaning on the doorframe, rucksack at her feet, she shielded her eyes from the bright, cloudless light of this brave new world, and looked around.

Behind her back the concrete wall was singed with black streaks, the massive doors broken off their hinges, although carefully positioned to cover the entryway. She measured their thickness appreciatively, wondering at the people who built such things.

About her rolled flatlands, stretching from horizon to horizon, their borders straight and unending, touching the sky. There were jagged peaks, coloured verdant green, which stuck their gnawing teeth into the blue. Trees by plenty, growing and scattered about the landscape unevenly. Something about the feeling in the air, and the green tinge of the foliage seemed eerily familiar. Not quite trusting herself to react adequately, Sofia squinted into the horizon, trying to shake off the feeling of Déjà vu.

Now, that the initial mind-numbing shock was over, and concentration returned slowly, she was relatively calm. When one’s universe goes unhinged in such a profound manner, the mind retreats slowly into the concrete, and paces itself appropriately to suit the rather fragile human psyche. She concentrated on the current, the immediate, tracking small details almost with the quality one would assign a yoga exercise. A strange brand of fatalism asserted itself slowly as she looked about; not a fatalism of doing nothing, but one of reluctant acceptance of circumstances – at least for now. At present, her thoughts were concerned with her own survival, and the repossession of her husband. That latter point was rather important.

Curiously she examined her surroundings, determining just what trek she had to make, and where. Clearly, the possibilities were almost limitless. Just as clearly, she had to focus on the best course, which meant making decisions. That she could do. Most decisions in her life had been rather firmly grounded in the objective and well based. Although she could easily linger for a half an hour in a futile argument with her husband over what to eat for dinner, she did not exhibit the same lack of assertiveness when it came to the question of whether or not to marry, whether or not to leave Russia for the U.S… or whether or not to pursue a nigh-onto-futile rescue. In the aforementioned context, too, she did not think she’d linger much over what branch of road to take.

First of all, she realized with consternation that she was not well prepared for this kind of trek. Despite her awareness of possible dangers, and an attempt to outfit herself appropriately, she nonetheless did not consider the possibility of a hideout somewhere in the midst of wild forested areas. Her light, low heel shoes, quite appropriate for a great amount of walking on straight terrain, were nonetheless insufficient for branches, high stinging grass blades and grainy earth. As well as dirt – she shook the heel of her shoe, beating it fiercely against the concrete wall of the bunker behind her back and rubbed clumps of wet brown soil off it.

The bunker itself was quite hidden. Interesting... clearly its initial setting was intended for it not be found. Clearly, also, it didn’t work quite in the fashion that the builders expected.

Sofia regarded with interest the many vehicle tracks laid out before her in a pattern of intertwining mosaic. Then she slowly crouched down, examining them with a great deal more attention. The road stretching before her, curving gently around a tree and vanishing in the greenery was mostly dirt and gravel. In it, the long, upturned clumps were scattered about, and deep grooves were made, testimony to some heavy machinery marching along.

She frowned, wrinkling her forehead at the jumble. She was a scientist – a linguist – and not a tracker, although the similarities were certainly there to be found. When she had done digging through the intricacies of Icelandic case, or Hebrew motion verbs, she sometimes felt that a profession as a grunt labourer would be preferable. She’d never been in the army, and not even her experience in the scouts – obligatory for all Russian children in her time – prepared her for this sort of endeavor. On the other hand, she was a resident of Siberia’s Great Plains, at one point in her life, and so had learned to make do with the forest and with nature almost despite her will. In Russia, if one wanted to eat well, one had to learn. So she knew forests, in the same superficial way that a tourist knows a city where he had been more than once. She could mostly set accurate directions, when the sun was up, and could find appropriate berries, mushrooms and plants. That was, after all, what she had gone to forests for.

She realized, therefore, just from her knowledge of shallow mud and from her consistent reading of anything that had printed letters – including mysteries and detective novels, as well as survival journals and tourism magazines – that the tracks must be relatively fresh. And if these were the people who had taken her husband… wherever they had taken him to, she would follow.

But where did they lead? That was, of course, the question. And at the least I do not have to solve the riddle of existence for that, she noted, or I would be here forever. Presumably, one could not take Alexander if he’d been in any way capable of defending himself. Which means that he was not. Sofia swallowed a ball of terror at that. Which meant that they could not simply lead him away on his two feet; they had to use a car, a large enough vehicle to allow the transportation of a wounded, perhaps unconscious man.

Making a quick circle around the bunker-lab, Sofia mumbled nearly forgotten epitaphs when she saw the square of ground on which a car must have stood but a few hours ago. It felt good, a distinct relief, though she knew that even alone for about half a continent – or so it felt – she was mild and cultured. For the moment, it seemed, she would have to contend herself with walking, and hitching a ride. Hopefully in the general direction of the tracks. If, that is, she could talk with the inhabitants. Although assuming that Alex had gotten along, she calculated her own chances at somewhere around 100% Except for Binary, there wasn’t a language Alexander spoke that she didn’t know.

And that, of course, was understating it. She grinned wolfishly at the memory of her husband’s finally found cerebral incompetence. Being exceptionally good at something her genius spouse could not do made her feel, as the Americans oddly stated, warm and fuzzy. The problem was not that he was actually more intelligent – though sometimes she did wonder – but that his intelligence, both due to the sort of material he dealt with, and his eccentricities, was much more apparent. People considered her cunning; people were that little bit in awe of Alex.

Occasionally, in the deep dark hours of the night when he had, once again, committed a thorough theft of all the blankets, she resented that.

Hoisting her pack to her shoulder she began following the road, and the tracks on it. She paced steadily on the very edge of the road, where the mixture of gravel and beaten-down earth turned into the mossy floor of a forest. Sometimes her shoes crunched on dry gravel, sometimes stepped softly on thick moss. Most of the time, however, they sank deep in highly inconvenient mud.

She thought wryly that if she hears yet another squish she will scream.

Squish, responded her shoe helpfully.

Instead of screaming her lungs out as she desired to do, relieving the stress, anxiety and annoyance all at the same time, Sofia began to hum. Visotsky’s Wolf Hunt was, in her opinion, almost as good as a truly satisfying scream could be.

Long-buried nostalgia was, quite unexpectedly, perking its head. And that one was surely odd, because Sofia did not count patriotism to be among her sentimental soft spots. She’d lived outside of her country of birth for many a year, and had no wish to return. There were few people there she missed – most friendly ties she had were severed quite thoroughly in her years of isolation, and her family was no longer alive – and as for the culture, well, one could always be a cultural island onto oneself.

Remembering a furtive detail from her days of foresting, she stopped for a few moments under a tree to tie a scarf around her hair. Although uncertain as to her whereabouts, the bout of nostalgia made her suspicious enough to attempt to listen to her generally dormant subconscious. Some forests were known not only for the sort of mushrooms they could provide, but also for the long-unnecessary Japanese biological weapons that tended to jump at you from among the branches. Sofia had no wish to snag an encephalitic tick, thus ruining all chances of success irreparably.

The dirt track wound between huge pines, now, having left the temperate forest. The quality of light changed here, seeping somnolent and static among the tall brown trunks and yellow needles. The smell, too, was different from that of the summer foliage forest. The evergreens gave out a scent of age and calm, standing unperturbed in long almost ideally straight rows; where previously there was the rich smell of the earth, there was now the whispering scent of sap melting in the sun and dripping amber.

The trek took a surprisingly long time and by its end, to Sofia’s immense bewilderment, she was relaxed – instead of the Wolf Hunt she discovered herself humming tourist campfire songs, yet another surprising bit of nostalgia unveiled.

She stopped her singing abruptly. Stepping aside, into the cool shade of a large pine, Sofia realized that her plan of following the car tracks all the way to nice and clean repossession of Alex had a fatal flaw. It involved asphalt, and a road made of it, stretching lazily into the distance. The raw dirt ran onto it, swinging in a wide arc and then rolling, dissipating and disappearing.

Sofia drew breath angrily as her plan lay in its death throes before her eyes. After a few minutes of merely standing there, however, reason took over. She could not possibly have thought, she decided contritely, that she could just walk all the way to wherever her husband was taken, knock on the door and enter. Not knowing the rules of the game, not even knowing who the players were, was not an optimal situation.

You are an intelligent woman, Sofia, she calmed herself silently. Intelligence comes first, and then the action. Find out the rules; find out who the players are. Find yourself… then you can proceed. Then the plan will not be wrecked so easily.

She stared at the bumpy, uneven road in front of her and considered. Which way now?

Which way now? A familiar question. The feeling of déjà vu returned again, offering within it the consolation of memories, as it had done back in the laboratory. She would wait here, of course, but now only a part of her mind was looking out at the dull grey concrete. With the other part, she remembered.