Dystopia Chapter 16

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 15 by Krasniy Zakat (Sunday, July 30, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 17 by Krasnaya Zarya (Saturday, August 05, 2006)

(posted Wednesday, August 02, 2006)

Shaking off rather curiously piled memories, Sofia took a rapid pace back from the road as the ongoing traffic increased somewhat from ‘nonexistent’ to a total of a rather grubby, puffing truck that had almost slammed her into the roadside dust with the speed of its tail wind. She came to, belatedly realizing that her swing in the realm of memories may not have, perhaps, been such a good idea while standing on the very verge of a paved inter-city road. Dubiously, she regarded the distant trail of black smoke and groped in her mind for a rather important item.

Perceptiveness rather failed her at the moment, as the brownish vehicle disappeared into the horizon. It struck her, suddenly, how flat and straight this road was. Rhode Island, while admittedly a flatland in and of itself, did have a penchant to sprout little hills as one went. This rather unabridged skyscape reminded Sofia of other places – she frowned testily, trying to determine once again what her eye and brain snared at the passing of the truck, but had escaped her attention filters.

It fled, I’ll just have to play it by ear, she decided impulsively, rather than continue standing here, like Lot’s proverbial wife.

Reverting thus into a burst of energy, related perhaps more to an overdose of caffeine digested before the so-called adventure had began and spurred on by continuous injections of adrenaline to her system Sofia felt cheated when forced into inaction by one passing car after another. She found herself continuously raising her hand for a passing vehicle, and routinely thwarted again. With an odd mixture of hyper-tension she found herself bouncing on the balls of her feet, trying to balance an urge to spring in front of the next upcoming car, and the urge to simply pick up her backpack and walk.

That would not be wise, she reckoned, as the day grew considerably hotter as the sun slowly climbed in the sky, giving an indication that the pleasant weather of the morning was not predestined to last. There was a touch of humidity in the air, too, that prepared Sofia quite virtually for a sweat bath and made the idea of walking even more repugnant.

A rather old van puffed to a halt in front of her suddenly. Sofia examined it with some suspicion; where she had come from just now this van would be rather not in line with the incomes of most people. Of course, that meant nothing much – this was a different universe, and the game was played out by different rules – she only wished she knew which – and this van might indicate the height of goodwill and prosperity. Besides, she of all people had no reason to fear rape or robbery.

She had to continuously remind herself of the fact that she was not, as one would say, one of the mob. After almost five years of activity, she still had to remind herself that the current scientist she and her husband were busy leading past a flurry of bullets was, indeed, less equipped to defend himself. Nonetheless, unlike some people she was not immune to knifings, and if someone had put a gun to her head she would not have sufficient time to melt the metal before it fired. Her brain would go SPLAT, just like anybody else’s. Sofia was a woman sans delusions of grandeur.

The van was grey and dated from the eighties. On its side, in bright white letters was the inscription Молочные продукты.

Milk delivery van, then, Sofia smiled, it would not be likely that the driver were to murder anyone while on the job. At the least, picking passengers was against regulations – why would he want to have a dead body found to incriminate him?

Then the implications suddenly made a lasting impression in her brain, and she did a classic double-take.

The greatest problem with the language-gifted is that their brains often move in mysterious ways, even to themselves. In fact, linguistic inertia is common and habitual. Once the mind falls into the constant drift of thinking in a certain language and working within the framework of it, it simply continues doing so. In fact, Sofia sometimes found herself losing track of what memory belonged to what language, and, in her more tired moments she simply kept the inertial momentum of English once having entered her home; Sasha was no longer raising an eyebrow when his confused linguist wife answered him in the wrong language, he simply corrected her, and left it at that.

Sofia backpedaled in her brain frantically, making the switch.

“Ah, excuse me?” she said cautiously, “I didn’t hear…”

“I said ‘do you want a ride?’” said the annoyed voice from the cabin, and Sofia found herself staring up at the face of a rather beefy fellow, his nose appropriately reddish, though – for a change, I am sure – his eyes were still not fogged up. He must be conscientious, she thought solemnly, and it’s still rather early.

“Of course,” Sofia grabbed her rucksack and trotted closer, climbing up the steep foothold to the van’s door.

“I’ll give you a lift as far as Omsk, suits you?” mumbled the driver, leaving his rolled down window open to the hot wind and sticking a cigarette in his mouth. Before the rather astonished Sofia managed to blink the cabin filled with acrid smoke. Some habits are easily acquired, and not easily gotten rid of, noted Sofia to herself with acid humour as she realized that the American tendency to ban smoking everywhere and anywhere had become rather addictive. She tried not to blink in surprise at the familiar names of place; Omsk… have we – they – returned, or have they never left, I wonder?

“What were you doing down there, anyway? All alone?” the driver was inquisitive, “You know, I wouldn’t suggest to you to go out alone – it could be dangerous, there’s all sorts of people out, nowadays…”

Well, that hasn’t changed, thought Sofia wryly. But what does one do in the forest? More importantly, what season was it? Assuming time ran more or less the same, it would be July – that surprise storm in the middle of summer was not in character for Rhode Island – but she couldn’t be entirely certain.

“Fruit?” she said hesitantly. That seemed to be the right answer, since the driver grinned.

“Any luck?”

“Not… much, yet,” murmured Sofia, carefully edging her rucksack away with her foot. The last thing she needed was for this man to encourage her to boast of her loot, and perhaps even share, as a reward for the ride. It was expected, too… Sofia winced slightly. At least some useful information was gained; the season was, apparently, the same.

“Nu, that’s nothing,” noted the driver complacently. “You are not local, are you?”

The wince turned from slight to a remarkably prominent one. It was true that, having left Russia as an adult she did not acquire an accent, and did not suffer from the deprivation children abroad often developed. Nonetheless, and this was part of the doctrine, her language was certainly out of date. Even in the Russia of her own universe hiding the strangeness would have required several days’ immersion in the local culture – if she had an interest of passing herself off as local, that is. Here… an entirely different universe, an entirely different world of concepts, surely, and probably distant enough from her own to have changed patterns of speech, idioms and slang. She had to find the local Rabinovich family. They would surely brief her on exactly the things she would need to know.

“No,” she answered, deciding on a safe course of action, “I’ve been born in the area but left for a while. Lived abroad… but I’ve been back for some time.”

The driver’s reaction was… unexpected. His eyebrows reared like a pair of frightened horses, and he seemed to shrink in his seat. “Abroad? And they let you in again?” Sofia got the distinct feeling that, in a moment, he would stop and let her out, or, worse ask for her papers. And why she would feel that, with Russia as it is in her own universe, she wasn’t certain, but nonetheless said hastily, to remedy the confusing situation,”Quite obviously, if I am here, they let me in. it was a while ago, too.”

The driver’s face calmed. “Well, of course, of course! If they let you in, you’re fine, then… it must be all right, then…” he smiled again, encouraged, full of belief in the mysterious ‘them’. Sofia wondered who ‘they’ were, and why in the world a person from abroad would be a problem. Twenty years ago, perhaps, and even then only vaguely. But not at this time, surely. The truck looked like a typical vehicle made in the eighties, and it looked old, so surely, she had not been thrown twenty years back…

“So where abroad were you?”

“America,” answered Sofia automatically. The driver reared again.

“Tfu,” he spat emphatically. “Nobody would force me to go to that terrible place. Why would you do something like that to yourself?”

Sofia sometimes echoed the sentiments, even while living a relatively pleasant life in the States, but she surely would not have expressed it that strongly. Another odd thing… most Russians she could think of were panting after America, nowadays. Though mostly they would not dream to emulate the Americans culturally – thank goodness! – they all wanted the imaginary economic security they thought America offered. But this driver’s reaction was not interested, nor was it awed, or even cynical – it was repulsion, pure and simple. Sofia didn’t understand that, and asking was not an option. Clearly, there was some new factor involved here, which everybody in the world knew about, except her. Because she was not, technically in the world.

“Circumstances have warranted it, at the time,” she said calmly.

“Hah,” said the driver sullenly, and fell silent, reflecting. Sofia followed the example.

Something is very rotten in this Danish kingdom,” she told herself silently, watching the road wind under the van’s wheels. Yes, indeed, Hamlet.