Dystopia Chapter 25

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 28 by Krasnaya Zarya (Monday, August 21, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 22 by Krasniy Zakat (Friday, August 25, 2006)

(posted Wednesday, August 23, 2006)

The air outside ‘her’ window was growing hotter and humider by the minute. Soon, a haze hung about the street under the window, and heat began drying out puddles. Yesterday, apparently, had been rainy; today there was no indication of moisture or clouds. The sky shone brilliantly while seeming, at the same time, somehow oppressive, its colour almost white.

Mopping her forehead over yet another book, Sofia wondered what her American friends – the dead ones and the live ones – would have said, seeing the local climate. Everyone down there had possessed the naïve illusion that in Siberia, snows do not melt, and white bears routinely poke their noses into houses. This was not at all the case. Accurately enough expressed in the apt joke that ‘in Omsk, we’ve got only twelve months of winter, the rest is summer!’, it was not the capital of warmth, but in summer Siberia could be quite choking.

She hated the heat, and the humidity, and the breathless days dragging on forever, sunset only occurring almost at midnight. She would much have preferred it to be winter – or, survival taken in mind, at least autumn – when the air was crisp and fresh, and the air pollution beaten down by the heavy snowfall. She loved the winters, missed them with no less ardour every year. Loved the deep snow covering every nook and cranny that was not regularly trodden upon, or cleaned. Loved the balcony-turned-freezer with sacks of food stacked upon it for the duration. Winter, while not precisely the all-white, all-pure dream people who did not live here thought it was, gave a stately grace to a city that hibernated in suffocating coma in the midst of summer.

She felt suddenly tired, hot and cold at the same time. She hoped it wasn’t menopause yet – hot and cold flashes were a symptom, after all – but she was in fact too young for something, little consolation as that may be. It was simply exhaustion, nerves and high blood pressure. What she needed, she thought with consternation, was a place of safety, a notion that had not been disproved. What she needed was an ally.

Was that a good idea, what with everything? When she had just come through, finding the local versions of herself and Alex seemed like a primary objective, now… she was no longer quite so certain. Without factoring in even the fact that the Rabinoviches of here might not be happy to see a duplicate appearing at their door – not having lived with the notion long enough to be in any way accustomed to it – with the regime as it was, would she perhaps be putting them in danger? Creating a lever for the government to use? Or for whomever has Alex… she added mentally. The government was not a certain bet, after all. Terrorist organizations prevailed in her home dimension; renegade criminal gangs were abundant, too. This one she was not sure about, but from what little she had seen of the crime level – she cringed at the memory of a shining, deadly needle – mafias were highly possible, even probable.

So, who had Alex? How does she find out? No… she had no choice, it was either find a native guide, or be lost in the tangle. She would rather do everything in a simpler manner and her idea of ‘simple’ did not involve bursting into the nearest government building and taking everyone in it hostage. Not – she thought ruefully – that they would know.

The tendency prevailed in Paragon to offer solution by blasting the living hell out of anything that moved in a radius of a kilometer from the focus of the problem. At least. She had friends living in the Rogue Isles – normal people who kept shops, dental clinics and taught in schools – and their reaction to the word ‘Paragon’ was downright frightening. Sofia hoped that she had not caught the ‘shoot first, reach objectives later’ disease. Great idea; let’s just hurl fireballs around, shall we? That will achieve so much, including the eternal gratitude of the civilians whose houses you happened to raze in the process. She shuddered; no, definitely not. Subtlety was good, and for subtlety she needed Sofia and Sasha of this universe. She’d have to make up for it somehow; if there was one thing the Rabinoviches clung to in their dubious morality was that debts had to be paid.

So, how does one go about finding themselves in what was, essentially, an undiscovered country?

Well, not quite undiscovered country… She didn’t have a language problem, for one; she had several assumptions that would probably work, for another. And she had a notion of what not to do. She couldn’t very well ask, well, Naumov, for example ‘Oh, excuse me, Boris, but I suddenly went amnesiac and I can remember neither my phone number, nor my address. Help?’

She could, theoretically, ask him to give her a ride home…

Sofia Rabinovich, who didn’t look at other men for the last twenty years, even when her own was practically in a coma, or even clinically dead, who spent years dodging an unwelcome suitor in the person of Boris Naumov, PhD, sick with worry for her absent husband, shuddered with revulsion. No, thank you.

The USSR was a very well documented country. Very. In fact, Sofia mused to herself, she was now quasi-dead, as she had no papers. Her own existence – she looked at the pile of books on her table with as much loathing as she could summon against innocent lumps of paper – was now a sort of wave function. She felt surreal; old habits die hard. So how does one go about finding someone?

The librarian was shuffling silently around her desk. Sofia quickly folded her retrieved laptop, and dangled a journal over it. Not having seen, not only the local variation of the thing itself, but also plugs for the purpose in the library, she deduced – perhaps not justly, who knew – that they were, if not completely unknown, entirely not common. So a mere low-paying linguist would certainly not have one in her possession. The grey-haired, sullen woman glared at her from under the rims of her glasses. She did not like being foiled by the appearance of Naumov, with Sofia in tow, presenting her to the dry stick as ‘my long-absent, brilliant colleague, be nice, Elena’, and vanishing.

Perhaps all Sofia had to do was ask. Not ‘excuse me, how do I find myself?’ but something more moderate and plausible, especially if she affects academic absentmindedness.

“Excuse me,” she ventured hesitantly. The librarian paused and stared down at Sofia with unblinking fish eyes. The latter gazed h\at her innocently with an owlish stare. “Uh, how would you go about finding a person whose address you don’t know? I thought about calling information,” she added brightly, with faux pride in her presumed practical abilities, “but it occurred to me that they would want the address.”

Elena, or whatever her name was, was not visibly impressed. “The phone book is over there,” she pointed a skeletal hand and marched off in a huff. Phone book! Oh, yes. Sofia shook her head, embarrassed, as she rose to retrieve one. Perhaps the librarian’s scorn was not so ill-deserved, after all.

“Phone book, phone book…” she muttered under her breath leafing intently through the pages until she hit R. Rabinovich was a common last name; there would be so many Rabinoviches that the mind boggles. Her method, therefore, was simple and academic. She found the first of the Rabinovich constellation and left the last name altogether, looking for ‘Aleksander’. She wasn’t even reading, precisely, but rather scanning. Name, another name, another…

There were no ‘Aleksander Rabinovich’ to be found.

She bit her lip with worry and began going over the names again, this time reading the entire list; last name, husband and wife. …Rabinovich, Raul. Rabinovich, Rita. Rabinovich, Roman and Natalya, Rabinovich, Silvia…

Rabinovich, Sofia.

Her fingertips tingled alarmingly, the blood flow to them stunted. That was it; something – intuition, foreboding, whatever – told her so unequivocally. But where was Alex – Sasha, she corrected herself – in this universe? Oh, Alex… So that was what Naumov had meant, about grieving. No wonder he had seen her, Sofia, as valid prey. If Sasha was dead… she shuddered. That was bad, both for Sofia of this world, and for the two guests. Sasha was the mathematician, the engineer and the scientist. The man who could make anything work; golden hands and no joke. The two Alexanders putting their brains together should have been able… well, aside from the frightening potential of such a union, the two men together should have been able to move worlds.

Then again, she supposed it changed nothing, in the short run. Sofia herself – she coughed, embarrassed at the thought – was no slouch. Granted, the four of them putting their IQs together were more formidable than an army, but three of them were not so bad.

**************************

Yet another stuffy, almost empty bus dropped her off. It wasn’t so bad. Whatever the local Sofia was, she was not living in the squalor Sofia-the-guest envisioned. Red brick buildings – she knew the area, it was stuffed full to bursting with relatively elderly populace. Indeed, there were several old women loitering on the benches outside the entrance, chattering away. Sofia caught snatches of conversations; someone’s grandson not yet returned from the War (what war?), someone’s crop of apples for the year being eaten by worms. There were almost as many sighs over the apples as there were over the grandson.

Sofia-the-guest strolled past the chattering ladies nonchalantly, blithely ignoring the looks. Interesting looks, too; wary, furious and embarrassed. To keep up the impression for her local self, she decided to smile maniacally. The crones quickly looked away. She didn’t quite blame them for their vicarious gossipy lives, however. Life for pensioners in Russia had always been… somewhere between harsh, impossible and murderously boring. Retirement brought endless hours of poking around in the dirt of their gardens, obesity and hours of watching soap operas on television. For most of these women, no further educated than high school, withering their professional lives away as secretaries, factory workers or even housewives, there was no better pastime.

Sofia climbed the dark stairwell to the sound of someone’s clanking kitchenware, a mewling cat and a furiously crying baby up to the fourth floor. She stared at the numbered but nameless door. Her own door. Technically.

Taking a deep breath, she knocked.