Dystopia Chapter 18

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 21 by Krasniy Zakat (Monday, August 07, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 19 by Krasnaya Zarya (Sunday, August 13, 2006)

(posted Friday, August 11, 2006)

She stood at the bus stop, keeping a carefully neutral expression. This was a time to reconsider, reassess and rethink her assumptions – had she the time to spare. This world did not add up in her mind; two plus two here equaled five, as far as she could tell. Whatever her genius husband had specified as his criteria for appropriate target universes, he clearly mislaid a basic concept. It was not that Sofia could not conceive of a dystopia appropriate to Alex’s needs – she was a well-read woman, and had scanned through her share of technological horrors, places quite advanced enough to provide for anything the inhabitants needed, and more besides…

Yet this world gave no indication of being a technological dystopia. In fact, unless she widely missed her guess, and had found herself moved in time as well as space, this world had not advanced far past the late eighties!

And a dystopia clearly it was. Sofia knew hard times could do this to a country – Russia had been through some bad ones while she watched from the sidelines – but in order to force this sort of foolish brutality a place and a people needed to be truly desperate. She was prepared to deal with much; raging mafias, street gangs offering protection to all and sundry under threats, even horror regimes and a new world war… but not this dumb despair she saw in the eyes of a woman holding a syringe and willing to rob her in broad daylight for a pair of decent shoes.

No, this was something new altogether. She could deal with it, if only she knew what it was – she had no compunctions, and her priority list was clear; get Alexander out, get herself out, and perhaps, if she dared, if there was time enough and will… get the alternative Rabinoviches out with her. The world and its fate didn’t figure high on her list. She was – Sofia bared her teeth in a grim, amused smile – no hero. What worlds did to themselves was not her moral responsibility to solve.

The bus pulled into the station, and she boarded it, trying to decide how much money a bus ticket could possibly cost. Considering the wad of bills in her hands, not little. She puled out a bill at random, and stuck it out to the driver, affecting casualness. Receiving the change and her ticket, she stuffed them offhandedly into her wallet, realizing quickly that a true local who did not wish to arouse suspicion would hardly begin examining the coinage carefully, looking for swastikas, Roman eagles and even possible all-seeing-eyes and pyramids. Who knew? For all she was concerned, the Illuminati had taken the world over.

At a casual glance money would always be that – money. Silver coins and bronze coins and paper bills of different colours with faces of people on them. She could not quite make out the faces, but the money seemed familiar, and no surprise. This was Russia, everything should seem at least vaguely familiar.

Instead of dealing with yet another unresolvable mystery, Sofia busied herself people-watching, as well as observing the cityscape beyond her window.

Not flattering.

On the next bus seat was a heavy, elderly woman with golden crowns on her teeth, with a large jute bag that smelled f earth and faintly of rotting compost. Right behind her, another old specimen with watery eyes and a distinctive odor. Drunk. That was no surprise. Almost every single Russian man slid into pure and simple alcoholism once he had retired and no longer had to maintain work discipline. That was why Jewish men were the most wanted and desired husbands in the Russian empires, past (up to a certain point) and present. The third, and last, addition to this assortment was a juvenile delinquent with an absolutely odd getup of what seemed like a cross between American goth and radioactivity heavy-duty coveralls. That was the best Sofia could define him to herself in a quick glance.

Outside there was the eternal mud and puddles, more and more abandoned buildings – quite to her surprise as they advanced towards the center – and rare traffic of mostly familiar Russian native cars, old models, with a peppering of new oddities. One Sofia stared after with special interest. An armored vehicle, government issue or she would eat her hat, featured sleek aerodynamics that dissolved into a rather suspicious looking closed pickup, like the old Black Ravens. Now that she thought about it, the car was black, too,

Unlike the old Black Ravens, however, this exhibit slid forward into a race car futuristic muzzle, curving beautifully, gleaming silver. The tail spilled great clouds of smoke the colour of which was white. Efficient hydrogen car or Sofia was a potato. She checked herself for budding, and snickered, noting yet another patent to carry over to her own world – with access caution not to let it get into the hands of the automobile industry – what they did with patents that didn’t involve oil was nototrious throughout the entire scientific community.

She would not transgress her principles by selling anything to the bastards. Alexander would proceed to merrily kill her, besides. He could be quite fervent about certain things when he got too absentminded to remember even his rationalism. In the heat of an argument, his idealistic bend came through. He was a dear; insensitive, caustic human being that he was. Underneath the exterior of a joker lurked a serious personality, hidden deep within layers and layers of carefully, strategically placed carefree approach. Yet they had been through seven hells, and had come out on the other side, sane, alive and together – there was more steel in her husband than anybody but Sofia herself realized.

She tilted her head in tempo with the newly appearing tram wires. Up, down, up, down, up… what goes up must eventually come down. Gravity, and all that. She hoped she was not getting the angst. She didn’t know teenage angst until she moved to America; such was the nature of the Land of Opportunities, one could always find an opportunity to be dumb. Teenagers in Russia – at least Russia of her day – were too busy by half to be angst. The youth movements beat it out of them if they’d tried, for one, society itself would scorn them, for another. There were problems in their own right with a nation that expected constantly happy, smiling youngsters, granted. It received rather restrained adults, perhaps one could even say that it got adults who couldn’t feel another person’s pain. What was better, Sofia wasn’t certain, but angst made her sick

Beyond the glass, dimly, in passing, there was the sound of shattering glass, ding ding breaking and dropping onto a pavement. A windowpane shattered into little splinters, and a woman’s hysterical voice began screaming, a stream of profanities and pleas, the bus merely speeded up, making the next green light.

As they made their slow circuit of the city, each narrowing loop bringing them closer to the center Sofia began to see the familiar Omsk – slightly ragged, perhaps, its brick buildings and concrete khruschevkas a little on the shabby side, but nonetheless standing as proud as its maples. Pedestrian traffic flowed as slowly as the Om, and as they crossed a bridge a tour boat was making its way below, ploughing the water of the Irtysh, breaking a smooth line through the dark surface.

Sofia felt as if she were seeing ghosts

She got off slowly at the wide, familiar Lenin Boulevard – still carrying the name here, as it did in her home world – and found herself facing a rather more familiar environment, with women wearing floral dresses and high heels, careful makeup concealing sallowness of skin that came from food bought on too small paychecks.

A group of children marched past, and Sofia froze on the sidewalk, her eyes widening slowly as the youngsters filed past. School uniforms – old style school uniforms; brown dresses and aprons for the girls and navy-blue suits for the boys, with old-style pioneer neckties, their red fringes dangling onto the children's chests. A ghost procession in what seemed more and more like a ghost town. Sofia rubbed her eyes in disbelief,

Looking around with new, aware eyes, she saw. it; slogans draped casually over the entrances to the building, block letters large and shouting, the complete lack of advertisements on buses, street signs and walls, the long line trailing from the corner grocery store, and the newspapers spread about in the kiosks. Russia. Old Russia, the SSSR, Sofia corrected herself sternly. And – yes, there indeed it was – over the old government buildings, as if it never left, as if it rightly belonged there, the large, familiar, never expected to be seen again red flag.

A Communist dystopia. How drolly cliché thought Sofia sourly, and between bouts of hysterical hilarity – the street around her slowly growing emptier as passersby avoided the madwoman – attempted to reason her way through the tangle of what she knew, what she assumed and what she’d discovered to figure the next step.

Communism. That didn’t invoke the best of memories from her. Definitely not. Not all of them bad, of course, and some of them even pleasant… but when Communism itself became directly involved as a structure, there were few Russians in her world who espoused it and could be considered in any way sane individuals, unless their age was over seventy, at which point they were simply old.

The last thing she expected to find in this dystopic, criminal world, was the USSR, still standing.

But there was another piece missing… something else that didn’t quite fit.

I have to get to the library, thought Sofia with more urgency than ever before.