Dystopia Chapter 34

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 33 by Krasniy Zakat (Wednesday, September 13, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 37 by Krasniy Zakat (Sunday, September 17, 2006)

(posted Friday, September 15, 2006)


“Sasha!”

Stunned into near insensibility, Sofia wavered frantically between jumping her husband and thoroughly embarrassing herself in public – such as that may be – by kissing him, doing the same, only instead of kissing judiciously applying her fists to some very sensitive spots, and – blessedly simple, though not as satisfying – fainting dead off. She pressed her fingers roughly to her temples, to force some blood flow and focus herself, and regarded this most blessed of sights. Satisfied after a moment that she was not about to pass out quite yet, she proceeded to seize him by the shoulders, and heartily shake.

He still looked a little on the stunned side, eyes a little glazed over, and didn’t resist. He shook his head rapidly, to clear it of whatever residue of shock there still was, and they both asked the same question almost in unison: ”Are you all right?”

“Yes,” they both said, again in almost perfect unison. Still giddy with relief, Sofia was about to plop down onto the bench again, as a safety margin for her shaking legs and dizzy head, and intended to begin pelting Alexander with a million questions, followed by several blows… Her emotional state wavered so rapidly she almost failed to follow it, from the sheer joy of having him there, hale well and more or less intact to an all-consuming fury. How dare he go off on her that way, into this insane universe?

“Sasha, what happened?” she demanded, her voice slowly inching towards the angry. “What Is going-“

Refusing, apparently, to wait to be scolded, her wayward man of the house grasped her arm firmly and hauled her back to her feet, muttering something incomprehensible under his breath and dragging her towards the bushes. When she dug her heels in, from sheer surprise as much as anything, his grip tightened. “It isn’t safe here. Move!”

Well, not safe she already knew. Apparently, she was not the only one who assumed some sort of surveillance. Judging by Alex’s frown, he’d actually managed to detect the people, and knew where they were going. Since that was more than she herself had an idea about, she let him drag her into the nearest clump of shrubbery, pausing only long enough to judiciously grab her basket of foodstuffs.

They ducked into the bushes. Her husband kept a vise-like grip on her arm while they ineffectively trod through more last-autumn’s-leaves than there must have been air molecules, the impromptu carpeting cracking and rustling under their feet as they went. Alex pushed her ahead of him – which made sense too, if their problems were to come from behind their backs. It was Alex’s job to shoot things to death; it was Sofia’s job to ensure said things don’t shoot them, first. Thus, half pulling and half pushing her, her husband adroitly managed to avoid being kicked to death. Granted, his curt mannerism could easily be explained by all these inconvenient, pesky surveillance cars – whoever they were, clearly he knew about them, and they about him – but still, Sofia thought she warranted at the least an apology for ragging her into this mad universe, letting her think he was lost, dead or something worse and then appearing out of the blue like nothing happened.

“How did you get out?” he deigned to ask her, holding a thick branch for her to pass under.

“Not with much difficulty,” she said calmly, wondering why ‘getting out’ would be a problem. If he was talking about the people who took the other Sofia… “I hid in a bunch of bushes, actually. Appropriate.” And, true to her word, she squeezed through more rather prickly growths.

“No, fortuitous,” grinned Alex. “I wouldn’t have found you otherwise.”

“Because you would never think I could possibly follow your good example and hide, yes. Incidentally, are you going to tell me what you have been up to, or am I going to have to go on my knees and beg?”

“Since kneeling and running are two mutually exclusive actions… You will have to wait until we reach the car. It’s a very long story.”

“Well, at least explain to me again why men in dark suits and dark cars are so profoundly interested in us, Sasha! What have you managed to get yourself into?” Sofia asked, perplexed. She was not a fussy woman, she told herself firmly, and she was a reasonable wife but – hell and things beyond – there was a point in which one’s patience simply ran out. If he was here now – and not in the hands of the local dictator – why had such ominous figures come for the other Sofia?

“Also a long story; Viy wants some of my research, among other things.”

Sofia stopped dead n her tracks. ”Viy??”

Alex grabbed her by the arm and pulled again, resuming his trek. She was getting winded, fast; to her immense surprise, her usually rather sluggish man displayed no signs of tiredness yet. He must be truly desperate, if that is the case. “Yes, Viy,” he said darkly. “I made a deal with the devil, and it’s coming back to haunt me.”

Some things in life simply did not make sense. “Sasha,” she said. “You did say Viy, right? I hope I am not mishearing you here… but – the Gogolian monster, Viy?” according to the novel, the entity so named had one eye, covered by a thick eyelid which needed to be propped up by an outside source, and was rather fond of devouring its enemies. However insane this universe might be, Sofia seriously doubted that fantastical beasts from Russian classics abounded here.

“Nooo…” this time, it was Alex who stopped from sheer surprise. “Pavel Trofimovich Viy… head of the local ISB,” he looked about him automatically at the mention of the Dreaded Name. “Ring any bells?” he queried sarcastically.

Only then did Sofia notice something that was subtly bothering her in Alexander’s appearance all along. Short hair? He’d had his long, red ponytail for at least a decade now. She liked it; it offset an otherwise rather prim appearance. The words escaped her almost without volition as she blinked at him with annoyance. “Oh, no! What have you done to your hair?

“My… hair?”

“Your ponytail, Alexander!” said Sofia with exasperation. Alexander looked, first blank, then downright dumbfounded. She expected him to make a grab for her, and a dash for wherever his car was, but rather than any of these logical things, he stood dead in his tracks.

”Uh-oh.”

“I’m confused,” said Sofia piteously.

“I think you’re looking for the other Aleksander.” Said… Alex? “Luckily, so am I.”

“Other Aleksander?” Sofia echoed, managing to find herself, for once, at a complete loss both for thoughts and for words. “Wait, what?” she pinched the bridge of her nose, thinking furiously. This couldn’t be, could it? “But… but… Sof- Sofia said you were… that her Aleksander was dead. Are you?” she felt like fainting again. Instead, she found herself outright wailing, “I’m confused!”

“Technically, I did die. Uh.. let’s hurry to the car? This story has just gotten a whole lot longer.”

Just like Alex, to dodge the important stuff! Not to mention that if he was, indeed, not her Alexander, then… “Oh, no you don’t.” She said firmly, planting her feet – as much, frankly, for support as from stubbornness – and staying put. “How do I know you are not in league with thh people who took the other Sofia? Uh… ISB, whatever that means.”

“Internal Security Bureau; they replaced the KGB and the GRU – you know these, obviously – when things began happening on a larger scale. If I was with them, you’d already be unconscious.”

Sofia looked at him doubtfully, “KGB and GRU working together sounds like a utopia to me, not a dystopia. and I wouldn’t be,” she added maliciously. “you’d be on fire.”

“Metal doesn’t burn too easily,” Alex… ander snickered in response.

Sofia was seeing stars. For the first time, she truly understood how her own alternate self felt, faced with the utterly, wildly unexpected. She might wish to pretend to be unphased by this world, the people in it and the historical events and changed it had undergone but hearing a sentence like that from a man who looked, sounded and spoke exactly like the person with whom she shared a house for the last twenty years… that was… disconcerting.

She decided that banging her head may not be a good idea, and sunk to the ground, muttering to herself ‘sit down, put your head between your knees, don’t faint, don’t faint, don’t faint…’ all the while feeling her arms and legs fill with cotton balls, and the sounds around her become eerily distant.

“Sofia,” Aleksander’s voice over her head said urgently. “Come on! We’re in a bit of a hurry here!” he sank down next to her and grasped her elbow. That did explain much; up to and including his surprising strength and endurance.

“Metal…” she whimpered, befuddled.

“Well yes. The consciousness is still mine, but the body is technically an android. Are you..?”

Things went downhill very hard, very fast after that. Putting her head down stopped helping in a miraculous fashion, and the world blacked out entirely.