Dystopia Chapter 33

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 30 by Krasnaya Zarya (Friday, September 08, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 34 by Krasnaya Zarya (Friday, September 15, 2006)

(posted Wednesday, September 13, 2006)

The streets of Omsk felt more populated than ever before, though Aleksander knew from his memories that it was the inverse that was true. He could remember his youth, before Chernobyl, before America, before China, when Omsk was a provincial city, with its teeming hordes of people going about their daily business. Now, even though the war had moved out of Russian territory, people were afraid of being outdoors. Part of it was because of the roaming jobless, the criminal element that was growing with every passing month, and part of it was because of Viy.

Back when the sound of Chinese artillery kept every Omskite up throughout the night, the military took over everything; employment, entertainment, education, all of these were swiftly regulated by the hawkish figures within the Party. General Nerzhin had become de facto ruler of the entire region, mobilizing every able bodied man to fight Maoists. And at his side was the head of the regional ISB, Pavel Trofimovich Viy.

Viy had been relatively unknown before then; Viy was – in a way – still unknown now. Aleksander's research into his former partner and current nemesis only turned up some of his old GRU background. A powerful officer from the old school of Soviet thought, he had been shunted off to Siberia during the restructuring in the Nineties – a relic of the old Soviet Union, with no place in the new Internationale. He had been on the way down, falling from grace, when the opportunity came to catch himself on Nerzhin's rising star. And in the Soviet Union, if you began to fall, a rise from the ashes was rare; so very rare. It was an indication of Viy’s personality, and of his phenomenal luck, that he was the one man to do so.

Now Nerzhin was south and east of here, directing tanks and bombers, while Viy remained, a temporary, dictator, unbeknownst to the public holed up in the army bunker just outside of town. His resurrection of the old black raven cars was just one of his Stalinist programs; instilling an aura of fear and paranoia was another.

As Aleksander plodded down the sidewalk, he tried his best to look unobtrusive, yet observe everything – and more importantly, everyone – that passed by. When he was young, it had been easy to ignore the pedestrians, brush them off as a kind of static noise; now every person was a potential informer, somebody that Viy might have set up to keep an eye out for him. And now that he was without the restrictions of a human brain, it was impossible for him to delegate any observation as just white noise; for better or for worse, he was constantly aware of everything. That was why it seemed so crowded: every person was important, drawing his attention in some way. Mostly, it was a nuisance. One of the main reasons he preferred so much to be alone. Very few people actually warranted the undivided attention he could provide them.

Perhaps, in this case, more of an asset than a disturbance, however, as – paranoia having become something of a habit – the diversions offered him by the street also registered incongruities. For example, too many men in good, sturdy cars. Unusual, that. The men had mostly been drafted to serve, in one capacity or another, excepting these that could bribe an official, or that lived in villages and kolkhozes small enough to avoid notice. Even elderly alcoholics were pressed into service, their hands becoming essential on factories and work crews.

Too many men in too good a vehicle meant someone was being watched by the government. Aleksander’s paranoid brain shifted immediately to tracks pertaining to his own affairs. While he could not be certain the distinct possibility existed that Agent Viy – in the best tradition of the country’s security forces – decided to pull another lever in an attempt to move Aleksander. The Archimedes Principle didn’t work only on objects, after all; people were just as susceptible to it. That could mean that Sofia could be in severe trouble, regardless of what he may want for her.

That was a distinctly unpleasant thought; which meant that Viy had, indeed, found the right lever. It still amazed Aleksander sometimes, how – with most of his ties to mankind severed – this one remained almost unchanged. He took the first turn off of the side of the street, swerving way and across the great sprawling park that bordered Sofia’s building on the one side, and found himself walking towards another apartment building. It wasn't the best of possible places to hide while he began his reconnaissance, but it would be good enough. He entered through the main door and into the stairwell, then found an out of the way nook and took a seat. He would look like a homeless bum – or perhaps a drunk layabout – and would probably not be bothered for the fifteen minutes he would need. If Viy had, indeed, put his hands on Aleksander’s wife, he would need to take a look.

Closing the eyes of the automaton, Aleksander expanded his consciousness, and exited the body.

Leaving the frozen, apparently sleeping robot body behind, he floated down the corridor and through a large window to the outdoors beyond. He always found it difficult to pass through any matter that did not permit light through it, having to do complex transformations of his energy structure so as not to interact with the dense matter and become impeded or entwined with the substance. Luckily, there were few places he would want to go that did not have some way for light or air to enter.

It took him little time to pass the space between his hiding place and Sofia's apartment. Floating at the height of the third floor, he looked through Sofia’s window to see his assessment confirmed. There was a distinct lack of curtains in Sofia’s window, and the table was flat on its side rather than standing. Entering, he altered his original observation, amending the status of the curtains to 'torn off and laying on the floor'... Along with all of her other belongings. It looked like a small tornado had come to Omsk and localized itself entirely within the confines of her apartment, tossing every object that was capable of having the verb applied to it, and tipping over everything else.

He gave a mental sigh and expanded his awareness to encompass the entire room. After all these years, it still seemed strange to him, to have to apply the principles of quantum mechanics to his own existence, but there it was; the more likely his probability of being in more places became, the less likely his knowledge of the place was… His low density gave him less control and weaker observational skill, but the greater volume let him quickly take stock of the condition of every molecule within the confines of the walls. He went from room to room, repeating this to try and piece together exactly what had happened here.

It certainly didn't take a man of his mental faculties and observational prowess to determine that a struggle had taken place, and that shortly afterwards the apartment had been thoroughly searched. The men, probably some of Viy's ISB, did not find much – or at least they did not take much – which was not surprising, given his wife's lack of anything incriminating. The only one who truly violated the new regime was Aleksander, and he left no traces.

His metaphorical eye was caught, likewise metaphorically, by the mess next to the overturned table in the salon. The remains of a pair of teacups and a jar of sugar were strewn across the floor, still warm tea slowly staining the tile. Aleksander's mind raced, using this piece of evidence to try and construe what happened to his wife, and the fact that his wife, who had become the ultimate recluse, had had company when this happened disturbed him for reasons that were mostly unknown to him.

Who was this other person? Had Sofia finally moved on, leaving him behind for a man with flesh, blood and authentic papers, who could satisfy all her needs – emotional and physical? He quickly diverted that train of thought, sending it careening into a mental ravine; it was more unpleasant than the more paranoid alternative – that Viy himself had been here sharing a cup of tea with his wife. An ironic option, but by far the more likely. If this was indeed the case, then either Viy was trying to be cordial and get information the nice way (possible for Viy, but not likely for the ISB), or the two of them were in on this together.

Could she have? Could Viy have somehow convinced Sofia to help him with the new Alex? Aleksander could not see Viy as any kind of suitor for Sofia – nor Sofia as inclined for intentional betrayal – but the ISB agent was very manipulative, and not beyond striking the weak at their emotional soft spots. She was definitely within the definition of ‘weak’, and even he cold perceive that she had quite a few emotional soft spots… If he had convinced, then Viy would now know that he was still alive and not just a robot.

Which meant that he had two new problems: Viy knew he was still around, and had his wife. It was almost funny, how his objective became more dangerous as it became more demanding.

He contracted into a small ball of energy and shot out the window, only pausing a moment after exiting the glass pane itself to adjust his course of flight. Now that there was the distinct possibility that Viy knew about his continued existence, he had to play it a little more safe, just in case the ISB had weapons like the EMP Gun that could hurt him even while incorporeal; he angled around to fly a sideways arc, keeping his distance from the road.

Once back in his nook at the dark depths of the atairwell, he was glad to find that his body remained untouched and undamaged... But he could not let his guard down for a moment; instead of returning the way he came, he hunted for the back exit, which opened to the park behind the various apartment complexes and hidden from the view of the street. His car had been left several blocks away for safety's sake, and by making a beeline through the park, he'd be able to reach it without incident.

As he leapt hedges and pushed through bushes, ignorant of the scratches of the branches as they caught at his clothes and synthetic skin, his mind continued racing with probabilities and possibilities, organizing the data into a quick snapshot for his perusal. Sofia, for the first time that he was aware of in years, had entertained a visitor just moments before her capture. This visitor was more than likely the instrument of her downfall, an agent of the government, probably Viy himself. She was now several kilometers from here-

He froze after pushing through a bush to an area by one of the apartment buildings, his mental musings coming to a complete halt. The woman sitting on the bench had spun around at the sound of him stomping and thrashing through the park, looking half-ready to run or leap at him in attack. Now, it looked like she might faint. He might have done the same, if such things were possible for him. Instead, he gaped and gasped:

“Sofia?”