Dystopia Chapter 46

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 45 by Krasniy Zakat (Sunday, October 22, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 47 by Krasniy Zakat (Wednesday, October 25, 2006)

(posted Monday, October 23, 2006)

Pavel Viy stretched in his hard, stiff chair and rubbed his neck. Life was… interesting. He stared for a long moment at the flat, black box of a computer on his desk; a clever little gadget, from which much can be learned, assuming that he could convince Rabinovich to cooperate. He stretched his fingers and unfolded the “laptop”. Who would have thought that in this world, as it is, his rigorous training in English would once more prove useful? Proving useful was an important trait, these days, and anything that could be learned – any skill of his that could be put to use – would make him a valuable man once more. Only valuable people survived. Viy touched the keyboard cautiously, typed in the password - Eight-six-one-two-en-jay-ay-see - and smiled thinly when the screen flickered, moving past the password field. The scientist had not been holding back on him, then. Perhaps he had really thought that Viy could not remember the simple randomized algorithm? That was a foolish misconception; Viy was a graduate of the infamous Military-Diplomatic Academy, the GRU. Learning to commit to memory thousands of details was the least of what he had been conditioned – punished by mild, Pavlovian electric shocks – to do.

The telephone on his table screeched alarmingly. Viy winced at the sound and considered, for a moment, to ignore the call in favour of further investigation… No, the responsibilities of command, and all that. He pressed the ‘talk’ button. “Comrade General,” the soldier on watch was diffident and wary, “the base commander requests to see you with some information. Confidential.”

“Very well,” Viy shook his head in exasperation at the commander’s incompetence, “tell him to see me in person.”

The door opened immediately, almost as if the man was waiting for the phone call to finish outside of Viy’s office. That was not convenient; the office was supposed to be Top Secret territory. If his guard would start letting each and sundry in, what could Viy expect to become of his operations? The Global Security Force that was not directly under his command could not deal with subtlety. To Viy’s experienced eyes he man looked disturbed, not a usual state for one of Nerzhin’s top people. “Comrade General?”

“Come in, come in,” Viy went for comradely friendliness, for now. The man had not failed in any way that he knew of. Yet.

“Comrade General, I was receiving reports from the base perimeter lately, and I thought that, all in all, they might interest you. Obviously, this is outside of your purview, but since you have been conducting some rather unusual business on the territory of my base, and since you are, technically, my ranking chain of command…”

“Don’t blather” Viy cut into the soldier’s rapid polite mumblings, “Just give me the reports, commander, and let me be the judge of whether or not I need to involve my people further. We are rather busy.”

“Yes, Comrade General. Two reports. One of them concerns an old patrol vehicle that spontaneously exploded: no casualties, no other property damaged, but the kids that were on watch report that they found the entire incident… odd. There was no reason for the jeep to have been damaged.”

“It’s old surplus property, no wonder it went,” Viy drummed his fingers on the tabletop. The base commander squirmed in his own metal chair, rubbing his wrists. Viy smirked, envisioning Rabinovich in the very same chair. The man had guts, he sat there, with his hands tied, completely motionless.

“Ah, yes, Comrade General. Another thing. One of the experimental animals from your laboratories fled, and apparently chewed through security monitor cables by one of the air vents in order to escape. The animal was found dead by the perimeter search, but the grate on the vent was sliced. There were no alerts on the electromagnetic field perimeter, or on the fence.”

Viy’s brows climbed in surprise. “If you think there was a breach of the perimeter, commander, why not put the base on alert?” he drawled sarcastically. “Scour everything. See what is wrong. Why come to me?”

“Sir, Comrade General,” the base commander squirmed, “we feel... what with your enterprises and all, that some of your people could be useful…”

Viy smiled thinly. “Bring me proof the perimeter has been breached on your watch, commander, and I will delegate some of my men to you. Or perhaps you should do the opposite and delegate some of your men to me?”

“I don’t...”

The siren started howling, a high-pitched shrieking sound that went on and on. Viy leapt to his feet as one of the young soldiers from his own department burst into his office without a call. This was allowed only in the most extreme circumstances. “What is it?”

“Commander General Sir! We got a call from the labs below, from the base security. The prisoner Rabinovich escaped, again, this time with one of his tools which – according to the report – can generate a… uh… photonic field. The scientists below say he’s invisible, Comrade General.” The base commander’s eyes were very wide now, and his face very pale as he watched his career careen swiftly into the abyss of failure, already feeling on his flesh not the comfortable, warmed up winters of Omsk in his cushioned, plush office, but the harsh bone-shattering snow and cold of the Eternal Freeze.

“That decides it,” Viy slammed his fist onto the table, then slapped shut the lid of the enticing computer, “I am taking over. Notify the base, alert the security and get everyone moving, soldier. And have two people in here on the instant to prepare this man for Evacuation.” He bolted out of the office door, leaving behind him a weeping, shattered man.

A couple strolled slowly down the corridor. They were, quite evidently, engrossed in a quiet, esoteric discussion. They were also, quite evidently, scientists. The woman was blonde, with a long ponytail, the man was red haired, hawkish and scrawny. Nondescript, they passed a group of techs and another small cluster of soldiers; neither one of the groups looked at them too closely.

That was a good thing, for if they had, Sofia knew, they would have immediately noticed the discrepancies and incongruities. For one, the leaves in their hair, for another, the shifting, rapid glances both of them inadvertently cast about. She resisted a terrible, atavistic urge to clutch at Aleksander’s arm. She was a feminist, wasn’t she? Capable, independent, resourceful… She needed no man’s protection; certainly not Aleksander’s. She knew every vulnerability of his, to the core, to the hilt. Still, her fingers were moving, caressing the inside of her palm in an old, nervous habit. Sofia concentrated on a mental exercise. There was no physical or even mental pain, so the simple monotonous multiplication would be of no use. No, what she needed… Her mind snapped on a song snippet; a slow, very repetitive melody which she began singing in her mind over and over and over, like a mantra. That was better; she felt her tense muscles relax and her jaw unclench slowly.

A young soldier, face sunburnt and pale-blue eyes still astonished – looking for all the world like a child who stole his mother’s best chocolate – popped out of a swinging door, right in front of Sofia and Aleksander’s noses. He rubbed a somewhat grubby hand through his very pale hair, and smiled at them uncertainly. Sofia, whose gasp of horror was only quenched by a firm effort of will, managed to stop herself from bolting out of her skin. The young man – boy, really – shifted and puffed his cheeks, preparing to issue a statement towards the lowly civilians that he and they, both, were going to regret. Sofia glowered.

Thankfully being – Sofia could tell by his mere age – a new draftee, the boy had not lost his firmly ingrained fear of teachers, mothers and other older female relatives. Sofia assumed a ‘professorial’ expression that implied clear as day, the notion that she had Scolding in mind. Scolding, with a capital S, was a technique she learned as soon as she – only a young M.A. student, sometimes dealing with people older than herself – began her unwelcome and unwanted teaching career as a T.A. The notion was simple: it involved the fact that most students one wound up teaching were deathly certain they knew less, inherently, than their professor, and that they would never dare show it. Combine that knowledge with Sofia’s own inherent sarcasm and caustic nature, and the result was one of the most intimidating effects upon young people – and some old people – she had ever found. The trick worked miracles. The soldier squirmed, and let the air out of his cheeks in a huff. “Comrade Scientists,” he proffered instead, painfully polite, “you’re not allowed to take this corridor by base regulations, comrade scientists. I’m sorry…”

Sofia smiled benignly, shivering internally and hoping that none of the showed. She cold not be certain. She could never control her face as well as her voice, and sometimes things leaked. Luckily, if they had, the youngster didn’t notice. “Thank you, young man,” Sofia decided to go for ‘wary and diffident, plus motherly plus obliging’. “Where do you want the two of us?”

“Just… uh… in here, for now, Comrade Scientists,” he held the door for them into a laboratory which was, at present, empty of people. Conveniently so. The place was really quite cozy; just a couple desks and chairs. This was not a physics, or medicine lab, because there was very little visible equipment in the place – just some file cabinets, a flowerpot and a portrait on the wall. An analyst’s room, perhaps? They required very little bulky equipment. Sofia didn’t know much about the Soviet military – her own experience, and that of Alexander, was summed up in two, three weeks of marching around the university front court, in ridiculous uniforms, and then being declared officers. She, in her capacity as a linguist, was – technically - an officer of Russian Intelligence. Alexander was – once again, technically - a Lieutenant of the Engineering corps. There was no Great Patriotic War in their times; the reservists were left in peace. Sofia hoped, for the sake of the boy’s career, that this was not a Top Secret room.

“This will do.” Aleksander landed in a chair, and leaned onto the desk in an imitation of the Thinker. “Watch the door. If anyone comes in, I am asleep.” He closed his eyes and remained rigid and motionless for a long time. Sofia paced the office, unnerved.

After a few minutes, claxons began to wait in alarm, and outside of their closed doors she could hear the sound of stampeding feet. “Come on, Sasha…” she muttered, waiting.

Aleksander swept down the corridor. Invisible, completely silent, he moved between the people like the ghost he was. In this state, when he was neither bound by a body, nor limited to human perception, it was almost as if he followed the probabilities of finding what he wanted, until they were there. Passing through walls was a little much, and permeating people was repulsive in an odd, dissatisfying way, so he flew high along the ceiling, taking corridors and exits, bolting down – and up - the small shafts and cracks where no decent living being could go. Only the dead; although Sofia claimed he wasn’t dead. ‘You’re an energy being, that’s different’ she scoffed. Perhaps she was right; it would be a relief, if so. In any case, his business now was finding what he came here to find.

Aleksander has not been to the base before; all his dealings with Viy were mostly via the phone, with an occasional meeting that served their purpose to build the appropriate level of trust for the relationship. Now he took an educated guess, and went down where fewer people strolled the base looking almost as if they were in a technological institute, and more like they were actually in the military.

Something was happening though; Aleksander saw more alarmed, frustrated soldiers than he would have expected out of a routine day. What little civilian population there was, on the sublevel he now haunted, was shooed away quickly. He traced the tide of uniformed, armed people to find the core of the alarm. Turning a corner, Aleksander found himself staring down – so to speak – at Pavel Viy himself, who was holding onto a phone while at the same time giving hurried instructions to a soldier without insignia in his late thirties. Resisting the temptation to do something rash, immediately, Aleksander headed away from Viy, and into one of the few open doors.

This looked to be an office. Sweeping around the room, the first thing Aleksander detected was Sofia’s computer, lying on the table. Viy’s office, then. With relish, Aleksander pondered a Master and Margaritian present to Viy, with perhaps his office erupting in a ball of flame, walls caving out and crumbling… but he had no way to carry off the technology, nor did he want to draw attention to himself and Sofia’s presence quite yet. But where were the prisoners – Alex and Sofia, his own wife – held? They had come for them, after all, and Sofia would not be happy to leave without them. An angry Sofia was an intimidating prospect.

Sharp alarm sounds filled the air. Aleksander tensed into a ball from the sound waves. Uh oh. If this was what he thought it was, things have just gone downhill, and fast. And Sofia would be alone, mostly defenseless, protecting his body… They would just have to come up with an alternate plan. Aleksander took off, and hurled himself back to where Sofia was waiting.

Aleksander’s eyes popped open, his head shot up from the table and he nearly jumped. Watching the body come to life like that, Sofia had to say, was disconcerting to an extreme. The transition between ‘very lifelike doll’ and ‘more or less regular guy whom I know very well’ was a trifle binary.

“There’s an alarm!” they said together.

“We have to move away from here,” Aleksander continued while Sofia’s inertia carried her as far as “I know.”

“Oh, you do… Well, we still have to move away from here. I found Viy’s office, and your computer in it –“ Aleksander grimaced, “- but not the prisoner cells. And now we have no time. We’ll have to come up with something on the run.”

“Damn,” Sofia curse softly, that certainly put a wrinkle in their plans. If they could not find Alex and the alternate version of herself fast enough – now that the alarm was going, for whatever reason, perhaps even because of tem – everything might fall on simple lack of time. Neither she nor, she was certain, Aleksander, could stand before an army. Sofia, when she had her ways, preferred other means to the purely physical; like, outsmarting the opposition, or out arguing them. So… inspiration dawned.

“Did you just say you saw my notebook, Sasha?”

“Your note… ah, the computer? Yes. But that doesn’t help us, does it?”

Sofia bared her teeth in a wolfish scowl. “Oh, yes it does.” she raked a hand through her hair, and felt it stand on end because of the dirt and dust and the lack of shower for two days. “You see, Sasha, we have these inconvenient little spying implants on us; they use them to track us down, and keep tabs… Nothing too sinister, yet, but the populace is wary. The positive aspect of this,” she crowed, “is that these pesky nuisances can be traced. And a coworker of mine installed some software – that is, provided me with some programs –“ she amended quickly at the blank look on Aleksander’s face at the technical, anglicized jargon – “that can trace these implants. It is,” she finished triumphantly, “on my laptop.”

“And does Aleksander also carry such an implant?” murmured Aleksander, entranced.

“Unless he was a complete idiot, and blocked his own implant – and he is one of the few people I know who can – he would carry such an implant, yes.”

“Oh, is that so…” Aleksander’s eyes crinkled.

“Indeed. Move, Sasha, move.”

Rapidly sneaking, Sofia realized quickly, was one of the most grueling, ingrate things that one could do to oneself. Aleksander went ahead; Sofia supposed he was rapidly darting in and out of his body, too fast even for the mechanics to notice. They didn’t talk much, attempting to keep as quiet as possible, so she really could not quite tell. The routine established itself quickly; Aleksander slowly rounded a corner, peeking cautiously into the next corridor, the next stairwell, the next elevator… if there were no people, they would run down it, and stop, panting, at the next corner.

If there were people, they clung to the wall, and slowly made their was back along ‘their’ corridor, at which point Aleksander would point to an alternate route they did not stop, did not slow down. For a long, stressful moment they were accosted by a group of soldiers. They ducked into the nearest nook, and froze. The stampede of feet next to Sofia’s ears was a frightening drumming and her pulse throbbed with it, rising to a crescendo of fear, then slowly sinking.

They trooped, finally, through the last corridor, circumventing an area Aleksander said as too dangerous and arriving to the door of an office, locked by a card reader. Aleksander smirked, and put his hand on the reader, which clicked and switched to ‘Open’.

“Convenient,” noted Sofia.

“Why, thank you!” Aleksander opened the door with a flourish, and bowed ironically, “in you go.”

Sofia dashed in, “My laptop!” It lay on the table, looking an innocent black flat box, as if nothing happened. She flipped open the lid and rapidly went through her password, noting absentmindedly that the computer was only hibernating, not off… that didn’t leave her much power, and thus, once again, not much time, but the thought crossed her mind, what was her computer doing, turned on like this. How much information had it divulged and how much Viy knew.

In a way, she had a grudging admiration for the man’s… competence. She would have loved to have a discussion with him over a cup of tea during a temporary cease-fire. She quickly pulled up the program that Victoria installed on her laptop and looked. There it was; the little dot that was Aleksander, blinking away on her screen. There was, of course, no map – and thus no precise indication of where precisely in the base he was – for it would be absurd to think that the program would pick up the architecture of the place, but there was a distance marker, coordinates changing away on the screen. And it was moving. “Let’s go” Sofia yelped. “He got away!”