Dystopia Chapter 35

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

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

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 39 by Krasniy Zakat (Thursday, September 21, 2006)

(posted Tuesday, September 19, 2006)

Strong arms were carrying her somewhere. She leaned onto her husband’s shoulder in semi-sleep and decided that maybe things were not so wrong with the world after all. There she was, dreaming about dystopic universes, playing at being unconscious, just for the sake of finally being carried romantically over the threshold of their apartment.

She shook her head and woke up completely.

She must have been out cold in force, for quite a significant time, as the brambles and brush of the park ended just ahead in a rush of asphalt and construction. She could feel, dimly, through the muted sensation that always plagued her after fainting, that there were leaves and pieces of twig in her hair. Which meant that Alex…

… Aleksander…

She firmly wrapped her brain around the notion of her husband’s alter-ego, then started working on the part where he had carried her for maybe ten minutes, without flinching at the weight. Robot. Right. Robots were not so bad, really. She was more or less accustomed to sentient robots – although these generally were somewhat easier to identify as such – and to various energy creatures. What she was not used to was the combination of robots, energy creatures, and a normal – if a little obsessive-compulsive – man named Aleksander Rabinovich.

“All right, all right,” she coughed. “You can p- put me down now. No more fainting.”

What’s worse, she was having trouble with the mode of address. Politeness dictated that she should adhere to the rules applied to an unfamiliar person, of course. But she was having trouble wrapping her brain around this notion, too. When addressing Sofia, of course, she didn’t even think of using the polite plural; she would have been quite decidedly discomfited if and when any alter-ego of hers would have decided to address her that way, and she simply transferred the assumption onto her other self. With Aleksander the situation was a little trickier.

“We’re almost there you know,” he told her calmly, looking around.

“Nonetheless… you could probably use your hands just about now. I don’t suppose you’re driving by telekinesis.” He stood her up, and supported her until the momentary dizziness passed. “Did we get out fine?”

“Oh, from the agents you mean? Yes. It was mostly a beeline through a lot of highly unnavigable greenery, but I don’t think any of their direct surveillance people saw us.” He led at a brisk pace now. Sofia tried to pretend that there was nothing unusual with two people in their early middle age suddenly appearing from the bushes with their hair full of leaves and other paraphernalia. Then she realized nobody was really looking; anyone whose eye skimmed them, even briefly, quickly turned his head. Of course, she realized. Dystopia. People didn’t meddle in other people’s business; what you don’t know the police won’t arrest you for, or somesuch.

Aleksander’s car proved to be an old, Russian light-blue pickup. Sofia being Sofia, the last thing she looked at, or could ascertain at a glance before they got into the car proper, was the exact model. Her car descriptions were generally limited to ‘sleek and silver’ or ‘sort of old and square’ or ‘has a big dent in the back bumper’. She couldn’t resist commenting on the colour, however. “We’ve got a light-blue Ford back home-“ all right, she knew it was a Ford “-also vaguely ancient. Funny, that.”

“That’s not surprising. The worlds might have put us in different situations, but it’s not unlikely for us to do the same thing. We both like blue.”

“And speaking about the ‘we’,” said Sofia in what she hoped was a very reasonable tone of voice, sitting herself down passenger-side, “that’s where I am lost. You know about Alex – you know Alex – and he presumably is lost, too?”

“That sounds about right. With about fifteen quintillion complications in the idle.”

“Like our friend, the one-eyed monster,” supplied Sofia, “and the deal you made with him. Whatever possessed you, by the way,” she added, bemused, “to strike a bargain with a guy named Viy?”

“Well,” Aleksander turned the ignition, and the car roared to life in complete disregard of the environment, the passers-by and her own ears. Then again, Sofia supposed, if you don’t breathe, you don’t care about air pollution, either. “It was somewhat unavoidable. He is the man with the resources – I’m just the brains. In fact,” he said wryly, “when you think about it, all I am is a brain. The rest is supplied materiel.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, you are now presumed dead,” murmured Sofia sarcastically. “No loss of sense of humour is currently estimated. Welcome to the Next World. But what I still fail to understand here, Aleksander-“ she stopped and shook her head “-look, I can’t do this. I can’t address you in the plural. It drives me absolutely insane. I think my hemispheres are splitting into quarters, trying to reconcile the maneuver. Technically, I’ve lived for twenty years with a guy who looks, sounds and behaves like you.”

“Having no hemispheres, I can’t naturally sympathize, but since you’re technically my wife – or at least somehow related – whatever.”

“Right.” Grounds for proper behaviour established, Sofia felt some odd tension relax. It was easier to think of this man as… her husband’s twin brother. Well, no, that was not true. Having hared the same personal history through the early nineties, the two men were, of course, closer than twins. It would be easiest, she knew, to think of Aleksander – Sasha – as her husband. But that, of course, rather aroused problems of their own. “Point is, how does my Alex get involved in all this?”

Sasha waves a hand in dismissal, detaching it for a moment from the wheel. “Simple. He wanted a lever, so he snagged Alex as soon as the latter passed through the portal. Wrecked my laboratory, no less!” Sasha sounded genuinely upset. Sofia couldn’t help but smile; Aleksander Rabinovich in all his incarnations, all right. Deal with the local dictator he could take, but his lab? Why couldn’t she get a world where he was, say, a historian? Or a writer? Something reasonable, for a change.

“Seems only fair to me,” she muttered. “You lose your lab, I lose my husband. Equivalent exchange. I hope you won’t be discouraged when I say that the lab isn’t likely to be found in the same place. Or would be as easy to carry away.”

“I’ll take the husband, for now. And the wife.” Sasha coughed, embarrassed.

“Speaking about the wife…” Sofia trailed off, not sure how sensitive a topic this one was. “Uh, she doesn’t exactly acquit herself very well, does she?”

Sasha sighed. “No, no she doesn’t.”

“Want to go further into that? It seems like we’ve got time. Took me at least an hour to make it from what I assume is your wrecked lab down here.”

“What can I say?” Sasha looked mildly embarrassed again. “I died, she didn’t take it very well. This body you see is a fairly recent invention.” Sofia nodded. No, her alter-ego would not take it very well. Sofia herself was not so certain of her own reaction to Alex’s hypothetical death and persistence in an energy form; on the one hand, there were stories all about her that were even weirder. On the other, of course, there was the fact that they all ended quite happily. This one, as far as she could see, trailed endlessly due to erroneous assumptions.

“Actually,” Sofia objected mildly, “it wasn’t so much the fact that you died that upset her, as the fact that you lived. Well, no, that’s not accurate. It was the fact that you lived without her that drove her to the limit. Why did you, by the way?”

“I’m dead remember? Rather violently, actually.”

“No, you’re an energy being. That doesn’t qualify as dead.” At least in her world it didn’t. but then, Bin her world, he wouldn’t have been dead in the first place, would he? Even if he had managed to become an energy being the situation was… known, and thus simpler.

“I’m dead enough not to have papers,” he notified her in the tone of voice that she learned long since to interpret as ‘you’re not being logical, dear’. “As a matter of fact, for all the government knows, I exploded. With sparks.”

She couldn’t help it, truly, she couldn’t. It was the nervous, gut-wracking tension of the last two days, that and the being alone in an alien universe. Sofia threw back her head and laughed until tears stood in her eyes. “My God…” she gasped breathlessly. “Just like Alex… even when I die, I will go out in flames, and do something explosive. He didn’t tell you,“ she managed, after she calmed down a little, “about his toasters and vacuum cleaners, did he?”

“No, he did not. As for Sofia – what was I to do?”

“The logical thing was to stick around, I suppose,” Sofia said slowly, pondering the matter. Granted, a disembodied ghost was not precisely what she had in mind for a spouse; then again, if the choice was between a ghost and no spouse at all, she’d take the ghost any day. Especially if it was Alexander’s ghost. Human beings were, she admitted to herself grudgingly, odd creatures. “Vanishing like you apparently had done, that was not the ultimate solution for Sofia’s psyche. She – and I – are better handling the situation if it’s right there in front of us to be dealt with in a concrete manner. What drives her – and me – crazy more than anything is complete inability to do anything about the situation.”

“That’s hardly our primary concern at the moment,” muttered Aleksander, taking a sharp turn to the left that threw Sofia sideways in her seat, seatbelt or no, “I take it our primary concern involves something along the lines of insuring she’s still alive.”

“Well, yes of course. A Black Raven came for her just a short bit before you showed up. I wasn’t precisely in a position to do anything about it.” Sofia grimaced letting her annoyance show. “But that won’t make the problem disappear. Listen to me, almost-husband mine; because you are technically family, let me give you some advice for free. From the height of ten additional years of experience.”

“It’s not as if I could ever shut you up, Sofia-dear,” grinned her husband’s alter-ego maliciously, “even when I tried really hard.” And snickered at her outrage.

“Ahem!“ she said staunchly, vainly attempting to imply that this was ‘not funny’ – and failing quite miserably in the process – so that he’d let he admonish him without undue pangs of conscience. “The point is this; you both made several wrong assumptions that messed things up – once she, and you, figured out who was alive and who was dead, anyway. She thought two things; that you not only do not need her anymore, but that she is a burden to you, that your lack of involvement is some fundamental saying about her own part in your life when – let me guess – the case was quite the opposite. I did hear your tone of voice when you saw me first, after all,” she added giving him an ironic glance.

All right, so perhaps she couldn’t avoid becoming, somehow, the councilor to two rather strained, messed-up individuals. This tendency of hers was hardly limited to this dimension; despite her caustic nature, and perhaps because of her caustic nature, people came to her for advice if they knew her even a little. People, Sofia thought sometimes, needed a good slap on their face, and a healthy does of logic, to set them straight. When she gets her hands on Missus Rabinovich The Local… A few good slaps were the least of what the woman needed. Then again… “The problem with you,” she said silkily, in the same tone he used for years in the context of Alexander’s eccentricities and their practical applications, “is that you also think you don’t love her any more. Or that your condition disqualifies you from sticking around. Which is just plain stupid; love isn’t an emotion, at least not if it’s done right.”

“Oh, isn’t it?” and that tone, too, she recognized. This was Alex telling her to get out of his lab. Oh, no you don’t.

“No, of course not. It’s an action, mostly. If you’d stayed around, instead of retreating to your… lair, you probably would have seen what I mean soon enough.”

Aleksander shook his head sadly. Sofia watched his profile as he stared out onto the road. He looked, she thought to herself, as depressed as a robot probably could. That was quite the robot, too! Sofia was certainly no expert, but she knew enough – from Alex’s dark mutterings, mostly – about the problem in creating humanoid androids.

“The government knows about me now,” said Aleksander hollowly. “If I am to escape being snatched up to become a lifelong experiment, I need to avoid people. Including Sofia. So,” he said with a strange mixture of resignation and vexation, “being happy won’t happen for us in this dimension.”

Well, there was an easy answer to that.

“If I have my way – and I do,” Sofia said determinedly, “you two are both coming along. With us. Home.”