Dystopia Chapter 36 - Cont.

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 39 - Cont. by Krasniy Zakat (Monday, September 25, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 40 by Krasniy Zakat (Wednesday, October 04, 2006)

(posted Wednesday, September 27, 2006)

“I’m still not entirely certain about this vigilante business, though.”
“Frankly, neither am I.”
“So how does this work out for you?”
“You shoot people. Try not to get shot yourself, and in general have a merry time of it. Can you pass me that kettle, please?
“Sure. And I gathered, about the shooting. I meant you, specifically. From you this is… unexpected.”
“Mostly, I try to keep my sense of humour in a world where everyone thinks they are a great hero. Including your lovely alternate. Toss me that knife; I want to clean the fish.”
“Sounds inhibiting.”
“You’ve no idea.”
“Then how did you even get there in the first place?”
“Well…”

“How many times must I tell you, Alexander; I do not want to go to Paragon City!”

Sofia paced back and forth, making miles on the wooden floor of their house’s living room. She took great pains with her living room, and was proud of it; it had an air of openness and utilitarian comfort that was incredibly rare in American homes of her acquaintance. Replacing the carpets had been a pain, but worth every minute and every hard-earned cent; the cat’s orange hair no longer taunted the fastidious woman from between the brownish, bushy threads.

The plants were all dead now, of course, and the garden would need several months of dedicated work, but, so God help her, they were home again and, if she had her way, home they would stay.

“I told you a hundred times, Sofia,” her husband repeated, patient but annoyed, “the research hospital is closing up, packing their belongings and moving out! There is no way out of it.” He glared at her from the depths of his armchair, eyes baleful in his once-again pale face. The cat, as always her husband’s faithful ally, crouched at his feet – pretending to be a dog, no doubt – and glared at her too.

She threw her hands up in the air, facing the household males.

“Just for once, just for the sake of novelty, if nothing else, I would like to see something managed in another way one more convenient to me!” she kicked at a stray pillow nervously, but without strength, and stared down at the floor. “I don’t want to leave Berkeley.”

“Sofia…” Alex was getting the look on his face that she termed lost-puppy-pleading-for-help. It appeared every time she was angry at him and – nine times out of ten – was a foolproof recipe to quiet her down. She’d already been angry with him nine times, however; this was one such tenth time, and his look didn’t help. The problem was that he got an identical look whenever he was too embarrassed by his condition, or too powerless to stop the inevitable disruption of their routine. A disruption that – also, nine times out of ten – was paid for by Sofia; its price was her career, her peace of mind, and her freedom.

They seldom argued; for the last few years they learned to act as one mind, almost to the point where their double-sayings convinced half the experts of a telepathy that didn’t exist. Alexander was, in fact, quite paranoid about telepathy. Sofia had thanked whatever forces that be many times in the last few months that her psionic abilities were purely within the realm of the physical, and not the mental. That was in the short intervals when she stopped cursing said powers that be for her abilities, period.

“Sofia,” Alex tried again, “they have universities… great research facilities…”

That was not a good tactics. It only served to anger her further. “Great for you! Not for me.” She burst out angrily. “Berkeley is one of the top ten schools in the world for Linguistics. PCU doesn’t even get to its soles! What don’t
you like in Berkeley, Alex? Why must I settle for a worse school so that you can benefit?” she turned around and started picking at the dead leaves of one of her favourite plants; a precious and delicate lily that se had been nursing to be planted out in her garden during the summer. Unfortunately, summer rather went up in smoke, quite literally, and the poor thing perished.

“They offered me a research grant on one of their teams, Sasha,” she said softly. “Finally, after all this time as a post-doc… They said I was good, that I am due to become one of the big names in the field… For a change…” her nose wrinkled and she bit her lip down. She stared at her dead lily with more interest than could possibly fool her husband.

“At PCU you could get a professorship…” he said awkwardly.

“At PCU I could be head of department,” retorted Sofia sarcastically, “and I would still be the head to the foxes, whereas here I have a great opportunity to be the tail of the lions. Sasha, they hardly even know what Linguistics is! Please, for a change… couldn’t we find another option? Paragon makes me uncomfortable, too,” she noted, finally regaining control of her face and turning around, “all these heroes…”

“Dear,” said her husband dryly, with infallible logic. “I punch holes in walls, and you are a pyrokinetic. We
are heroes.”

“Like hell!” fumed Sofia vehemently. “Heroes are a caste! Bow, scrape and fear us, ye mortals!

“That is hardly the case. They are just people. All the ones I met, or you, for that matter, were perfectly pleasant, and lacking prejudice. Nick…” Alex winced slightly, and Sofia followed suit – that incident was still fresh and painful to both of them, “-was a family friend. You can’t go around accusing people of such things; especially not here in America. There is enough irrational fear to go around. Don’t assume they – we – are planning to take over the world.”

“Really?” Sofia raised a sarcastically inquisitive eyebrow at her husband. “Do tell. Just how many dealings do these egalitarian heroes have with us mortals, hmm? How many of them are married to people who do not have superpowers? How many of them are good friends with such people, work with them every day, invite them to their homes, share with them their lives? Egalitarianism on paper, that’s one thing; lack of prejudice in reality, that’s quite another. You and I of all people should know that.”

“There are valid reason why that should be the case, Sofia. You know that and you will admit that, when your rationality takes over your brain again. Safety, for one… all these criminals they are angering can’t help but look for a lever. It’s almost within the realm of tradition!”

She left her window vantage spot and loomed over him menacingly, hands planted on hips, eyes glaring.

“Then why didn’t you divorce me?” she hissed out, truly angry now.

“I am doing this fire nonsense,” she continued, her tone fit to freeze icicles, “for five months. You,” she poked a finger into his ribcage, “have been destroying property for the last four years. I,” she went on, enunciating very clearly, “see a gap here.”

“That is not the same thing!” Alex objected, “and it’s far afield, too.”

“All right,
Zakat,” Sofia lashed out, losing all patience, “go to Paragon! And when you die in one of your stupid forays, they will bury you and write Krasniy Zakat on your grave and remember that the best you could do was shoot energy out of your hands! Just like with Nick! Go try and find him now! Big Chill, indeed.”

Alex’s lips narrowed and his jaw clenched. “That,” he said very quietly, “was not amusing.”

“It was not meant to be amusing!” Sofia retorted, looking him straight in the eye.

“That is not what I meant, Sofia,” he added in that moderate tone that told her louder than a hundred screams that he was truly upset. Well, fine, so was she. Nick’s death hit both the Rabinoviches hard, and Alex would not claim some kind of heroic camaraderie and priority on this. Too, her grievance with the whole bloody system was boiling to a point of absolute intolerability. She thought that, if she doesn’t get it out of her system, and soon, she would begin to steam.

“I know exactly what you mean!” she continued staring at him, not flinching. “Listen to me, Alex. Nick was a good friend, and a talented doctor. And what would he be remembered for now? For his ability to shoot icicles! There is,” she said judiciously, “something inherently wrong in a world where that is the case. I do not want to be a part of such a world. I do not want to be remembered as… as..
Krasnaya Zarya for heaven’s sake. I don’t want to base my entire life and what is left of thereof on the fluke of fate that is my pyrokinesis. I want to be remembered as Sofia Rabinovich, for achievements that are truly worthwhile, that I have truly reached by virtue of my talents, of my persistence. It would be very sad for me indeed,” she added thoughtfully, “if that was not the case for you. You are by far too talented a man to sink into oblivion behind a mask and a stupid moniker. If you go to Paragon, you’ll go alone.”

She stared at the inlay of wooden boards at her feet for a long time, waiting for Alex to speak. She never did manage to deal well with the silent treatment he was so adept at giving it made her fidget and squirm and want to scream. She loved him too much, that was the trouble. So, after a bit, she gave in and raised her eyes to see his face, completely drained of colour.

He looked very resigned and Sofia realized, for the first time, that perhaps he had been asking himself the divorce question, too, most likely, for longer than she. All these years, she didn’t even once think of just packing up and leaving. All the eternally long time where it would have been understandable, perhaps even sensible. He had expected her to, she suddenly realized, and that was why he was so resigned, so quietly desperate.

“If that is what you want, Sofia…” his hands hung in his lap like lifeless rope.

He would do it, too, she knew. Then – judging by the way he looked now – he would climb the nearest rooftop and toss himself down from it. But he would write her divorce papers first. That was not, Sofia knew, what she wanted.

“No,” she muttered regretfully. “That’s not what I want. I’m sorry… That is not what I want at all.”

The relief on Alexander’s face was so stark and apparent that she almost wanted to bash her head on the wall in a mixture of resigned frustration and regret. That was not the lost-puppy-look; this new addition was a declaration of immediate disarmament.

It was her turn to be resigned, now. From the very onset of this argument, she knew she’d lost it. Egotistic, yes, foolish, yes, but she had to try. Nonetheless, Alexander had to follow the facility that kept him alive for the last few years; its closure was already affecting him to the worse, and he was paying the price in excruciating headaches, the onset of one of which was clearly imminent now. She turned around and went for his medications, automatically measuring the largest dose, and coming to perch on the arm of his chair while he drank the pills one by one.

“No…” she sighed regretfully. “We’ll go. It’s not your fault, after all. But Alex, promise me. When we are there, we won’t play that game. We won’t find ourselves falling into that trap, we wont just go around losing our identities for some social notion. Do you hear? No masks, no stupid costumes, no posing and secrets and closed elite social circles. Promise me!”

“I’m almost offended,” muttered her husband under his breath, “that my own wife should think so little of my sense of humour. I never once called Nick
Big Chill you know.” He shook his head sadly.

“No, you had a thousand other ways to tease him, instead.” They snickered, honouring the memory in their own, perhaps appalling but no less reverent way. “Well,” sighed Sofia reluctantly,”maybe you’ll just have to put up a portal between here and there so I can travel to work. Think of that… Three hours difference. I’ll be able to go to work at 11 in the morning! Now
that sounds appealing.”

Alex grinned, and decided to use the benevolent interlude to pull her into his lap. “See? You just weren’t thinking straight.”

Sofia could already see the little cogs and wheels in her husband’s brain whirring away at the possibilities; distracted, he’d be no good for anyone, and there were so many ways in which he got distracted. “I haven’t relented on that promise you owe me, Sasha,” she insisted, eyeing him sternly from close range. “I may know the game they play, I may even watch and enjoy, but I won’t play it. And neither will you. No nonsense. No games.”

“All right, Sofia,” said Alexander seriously. “When we go, no games.”