Dystopia Chapter 38

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

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

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 41 by Krasnaya Zarya (Sunday, October 08, 2006)

(posted Friday, October 06, 2006)

Sofia relaxed. Relaxing was important; it allowed her to function – when the time came to move quickly – better, faster and with a cooler head. Over her head, the sun was slowly inching towards the treetops, carefully pinned down by the night. She’d almost forgotten how incredibly late sunsets on the sixtieth parallel were in her fourteen years of absence.

There was a fine smell of pine and oak in the air, together with a hint of rain. Sofia hoped that she would not have to face rainfall while outdoors, without even a tent for her to duck into. She could not afford getting wet, or sick. Which rather brought an uncomfortable association; her mind worked that way, bouncing from topic to topic with the speed of light. Thinking of sickness made her think of Alexander and – though she was certain that he took at least some amount of medications with him on this “field trip” – to the frightening certainty that the ISB would not be inclined to inquire as to his health.

Which meant, as Sofia was in a position to know very well, death in frighteningly short order. Two weeks, if her husband was lucky; a week, if he was not. She was a practical woman, and luck had stopped factoring in her life from the time she entered high-school, which made the urgency of getting Alex out all the more immediate.

She stared across the crackling fire at her ticket into the lion’s den, her husband’s alter-ego and identical twin, Aleksander. As odd a relative as one could hope to find, for sure, yet – in what was left of Sofia’s decayed Sentimental Lobe – he was as much, or more, a member of the Rabinovich family as were her siblings. And being a family member entitled him to much as well as obligated him to much.

“That’s how it all started.” She told him now, following the last few rays on the setting sun as they dissipated in the atmosphere. It was difficult to determine quite what he was thinking about the whole affair just from the way he looked. He was poking a branch into the flames of the small fire absentmindedly, in a very Alexander-ish way, shifting coals with it. There was a momentary flash of surprise, Sofia judged, when she neglected the matchbox and proceeded to light the fire with a snap of her fingers – having gotten used to this little display of theatrics she could not get rid of it any longer – and then curbed the smoke pillar from the campfire, tilting it at an angle where it would not be seen, instead. But – again in a way she expected from her unphased scientist husband – the facts were assimilated rapidly and were not made much of.

Aleksander shifted uncomfortably on the other side of the flickering flames. “Are you worried?” This was not a rhetorical question.

“What do you think?” she said dryly, quite certain that sarcasm never died.

“Viy is not a nice man,” Aleksander was busy thinking out loud. “It’s important that we get both Alex and Sofia out as well as the research, of course. But first of all the people.”

“I should think that would be obvious.” Murmured Sofia half under her breath.

“He wanted the research,” Aleksander was decidedly uncomfortable now. Always a poor liar, even a mechanical exterior didn’t help conceal his nervousness. He was good at dissembling when he had to, and he knew how she ticked, so tricking her was, for him, easy enough. Correction, Sofia thought; it was Alex who knew how she ticked. Aleksander was ten years out of date and he knew it. She, on the other hand, could read him like an open book, if one lying a little too far away, which made her squint.

“What’s the base like, Sasha? What mess are they really in?”

“Fortified,” said Aleksander so dryly that Sofia had no doubt as to the implications of the statement. “You’ve got the electro-magnetic field which, for me, is an impassable barrier… Then some more lovely green forest, with an equally lovely electrified fence in the middle. All the usual security, soldiers of various sizes and shapes, and of course, Viy himself.” He smiled enticingly.

“Easy,” grinned Sofia. They both laughed.

Darkness surrounded them and their little fire. Mosquitoes buzzed thinly and one of them attempted again and again to land on Sofia’s arm. She aimed a puff of smoke in the generic direction of the miscreant, and doubled up coughing from the stinging grey mass of it almost directly into her face. There was a fickle, erratic light from the flames falling onto Aleksander’s face, obscuring it almost completely. Sofia examined him carefully; she did not expect outbursts, or an attack, but she had to be careful nonetheless.

“What I am wondering,” she said carefully, in a tone that was so neutral it was almost as if she were reciting the multiplication table, “is what Viy offered you, Sasha, to give Alex over to him.”

Aleksander jumped. If Sofia had any doubts at all before, they were quickly swept away by the astonished reaction of her partner. She suspected for a while now, and Aleksander’s nervousness at any mention of Alex was almost proof enough to tell her what she needed to know; that and his little slip concerning the deal with the devil.

The truly surprising part was that she was not even upset. While her questionable morality and refusal to surrender to fanaticism might have caused a few eyebrows in Paragon to rise questioningly, and several persons to wonder about whether or not she belonged with their elite caste, there was an advantage to not falling prey to righteous rage. Now, for example. Sofia found that she liked Aleksander and that – inexplicable incident notwithstanding – he was neither a corrupt nor an unreasonable man. In fact, she didn’t think he could be unreasonable; which fact may have led to his downfall in regards to her Alex. If what Viy had to offer was beneficial, who was this unknown variable from another dimension to bother thinking about?

And, unless she was entirely out of her wits… “It was this android, wasn’t it, Sasha?” she said sympathetically. “Sit back down, do me a favour. My neck will hurt otherwise. I’m not going to do anything about it; I hardly even blame you.”

Still looking a little shocked and off balance Aleksander sat back down shaking his head as if recovering from a blow. “It’s been too long since…” he muttered under his breath, annoyed.

“Too long since you had around you a Sofia who was functioning on all four wheels and could read you at a glance, eh?” Sofia found herself enjoying the compliment. Yes, she definitely needed to get her hands – balled into fists – on her alternate self. “Didn’t it occur to you to ask Alexander for help? Together, with your communal IQs and other pooled resources, you could have dealt with the one-eyed monster.”

“He’s got two eyes.” muttered Aleksander. He sulked when she roved him wrong; had for the twenty-odd years she’d known him.

“Ah, so it didn’t occur to you. More’s the pity. Now I also have to deal with the possibility that my rather-justly-miffed husband decides to shoot his rescuers on sight.” Sofia shook her head. This universe was getting more and more interesting as time passed. She could not wait to scoop up the entire Rabinovich congregation and haul them back home… that is assuming that they could get into and out of the base, and then fix the portal. The portal was her fault; she winced at the thought, and hoped that the out-of-touch Aleksander hadn’t retained her own husband’s uncanny ability to read her. Despite the fact that he seemed to be on her side now, she could not be sure that knowledge of the disaster won’t change his mind. A completely rational Aleksander was quite capable of reconsidering his profit margins. She doubted he would reestablish his deal with Pavel Viy… but he could easily tumble himself – and her – into another disaster.

“No… it didn’t occur to me. I am out of the habit of trusting people. The environment doesn’t encourage.”

“And yet you only had to think of this logically; whom would a duplicate of yours rather cooperate with? You, of course. More commonality of interest there. Besides,” Sofia smiled quite wryly, with a touch of well-quenched sadness of the kind that doesn’t sting anymore, but feels rather like a scar tissue that stretches each time the old wound is perturbed, “you are family. The only family we will ever have.”

Aleksander glanced at her over the fiery nimbus of the flames. “No children.” It was not a question.

She nodded; what more was there to say? Any lasting influence she or her husband will exert on the world will be through their work and after they are dead… there won’t be anyone to remember them personally, not as people, only as names. Yes, the Rabinoviches here would have faced the same issue. Too bad for them; children would have kept Sofia functioning, if not entirely sane in the clinical definition of the word. Well, that was one thing she could and would do something about. If there is time…

“It’s mostly fine now, Sasha,” her voice sounded very normal, even to her ears; no worries there. “It’s been a long time.” She could lie to him about that. She had to lie to him, and to everybody else, and to herself, because if she did so consistently enough, perhaps she could convince Alexander – the Alexander who wasn’t there, and who could read her in a manner that defied logic, and implied nonexistent telepathy, the Alexander who didn’t really believe her, even after all these years – and maybe she could convince herself, too.

Aleksander looked glum. A change of topic would be good just about now… Sofia. Too, was not in the least interested in dwelling upon a topic painful enough to depress someone who, theoretically, had no emotions. The subject most immediate in her mind, however, was not much better. “It would be nice,” said Sofia wistfully, “if we had Alex’s little PDA. It’s got a nice security analysis system… we use it to bypass locks, laser and various other sensor security systems. Some of it is quite elaborate. Now I guess we’ll have to do with pliers and isolating tape.”

“PDA?” Aleksander perked.

Shaking her head in amusement Sofia responded to the newly aroused scientific curiousity. “Personal Digital Assistant. A computer, but little, about this little,” and she held her palm out.

“Little computer?” Aleksander looked considerably more interested. “You mean a square grey thing with a little plastic pen attached?”

“Actually… yes,” Sofia said slowly, “I do mean a square little thing with the pen attached. You’ve seen it? But of course you’ve seen it,” she couldn’t help looking slightly annoyed. “ and probably do not have it. No hope for that, all things considered. You must have handed Alex’s equipment to Viy as well, or else you would have presented it by now.”

“Do you think I am a complete idiot?”

“I’ve been pondering that quandary myself for over two decades now,” Sofia answered dryly, “and haven’t reached a conclusive decision. Mostly, I lean towards the ‘no’, but occasional mishaps – like handing your duplicate off to the Evil Government – do make me wonder and reassess. Do you mean to say you do have it?” She doubted. Luck was not a factor until now, why should anything change?

“Yes,” grinned Aleksander with sudden maliciousness that – Sofia was quite certain – boded nothing good for the Comrade Pavel Trofimovich Viy. “It’s in the back of the car, actually, pushed under the seat.”

“What!” Sofia leapt from her warmed-up patch of ground. “And you were sitting on this quietly all this time? Hand it over! Do something useful with yourself, for a change.” And she laughed with a much lighter feeling in her heart at Aleksander’s sudden unfeigned outrage. And at her luck which, perhaps, was finally changing.