Dystopia Chapter 48

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

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

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 49 by Krasniy Zakat (Sunday, October 29, 2006)

(posted Friday, October 27, 2006)

“Look,” Alex began, changing the subject, “it is really neither here nor there, what Aleksander was thinking – or is thinking, for that matter. There are a lot of soldiers running around this place and one mean KGB officer, all looking for us.”

“ISB,” Sofia corrected. “Internal Security Bureau. Replaced the KGB and the GRU during the formation of the Internationale.”

“Regardless….” He crossed his arms, leaning back against a wall of the closet. “We need to escape, and escape fast. This little thing “- he held up the wand –“ will render the two of us invisible to all electromagnetic spectra – that is, light and such, visible, infrared, whatever – and allow us to slip past any guards.”

“What about doors and elevators?” Talking about the dangers at hand was having a transformative effect on her, bringing her closer to his strong-willed imperious wife. “We need keycards – I’ve seen them.”

“I’ve stolen one before, I can do it again,” he smirked. “There is one elevator, which will take us up to the ground floor, from there we pass through the grand entrance airlock to, um…” He paused, reaching up and running his hand through his hair embarrassingly. “I don’t really know what’s on the outside, except for the glimpse of a forest when they brought you.”

“Aren’t you worried about that?” Sofia raised an eyebrow.

“One thing at a time. If it was hard to find an invisible man in the base, it’ll be harder in the open air.” He spun the rod around demonstratively. “Let me recharge this, then we can get going. In the meantime “– he twisted a section of the rod and began feeding small amounts of energy into it, avoiding the throbbing headache it brought on – “you can tell me when you met my wife, and where, and how she is doing.”

*****************

“She’s doing fine, thank you.” Sofia noted, as she pushed a clinking can of paint out of her way, and firmly closed the lid of the laptop. Aleksander inched in after her, eyeing her husband warily. Sofia looked around briskly, glancing at Alex – finally, finally her Alex! More or less well, and certainly in his full glory – and her alter-ego.

Both looked a little stunned; Alex had an expression on his face that was utterly dumbfounded. Sofia stopped for a second, in the midst of all the chaos, to relish his unfeigned, unconcealed surprise. Alexander was not easily surprised, as things generally went, and he had an annoying habit of pretending nonchalance at the most inopportune times. This once, for a change, she managed to fluster him utterly. Only the tremendous sense of danger – as well as Alex’s tensed, defensive stance, glaring at Aleksander – prevented her from hanging from his neck.

Speaking of defensive stances… Alex looked ready to explode – quite literally, Sofia reminded herself worriedly – and Aleksander, too, shifted subtly.

“Sasha, no!” Sofia’s eyes opened wide with the realization, and she bounced out in front of Aleksander. The cry was out of her mouth before she could stop herself; she was not entirely certain which Aleksander it was intended for. At the same time her alter-ego’s eyes also brightened with the fear of the same revelation. As if some unknown voice coordinated their movements, she reached and grabbed Alex’s raised hand.

“Alex, no!” Sofia repeated, glaring at his forcefully while at the same time pushing back an Aleksander who attempted to dodge the meat shield she provided – probably more for fear for her person that as an attempt to gain a superior position on Alexander. This time the exclamation was pointed, and not at her erstwhile, once-treacherous escort. “You idiot! Look, we came for you. He came for you. Don’t you dare!”

“Do you know,” Alexander growled in a voice that was almost not his won, “what he did to me?”

“Yes.” Sofia tried to keep her voice level, reminding Alexander subtly that shouting was not a good idea at the time. “I know what he did; I also know why he did it. Wouldn’t you have?”

Alexander’s eyes dropped, and his defensive stance dissolved into embarrassment. He raked a hand through his hair, rendering his ponytail almost useless. The strands of hair seemed to charge with electricity almost immediately, and some of them were already climbing slowly up as if they had a life of their own. He looked terrible; grey and somehow thinner, his bones standing out sharply. Sofia knew it could not have been hunger – he was only absent two days, and he was surely fed. It was the stress, and the radiation sickness, gaining on him in rapid inexorable steps.

“Yes…”

Sofia nodded. “Let go of him, Sofia,” she instructed her alternate self calmly. Sofia-A somewhat reluctantly let go of Alexander’s wrist. Sofia wondered for a moment what went inside the service closet before her fortuitous arrival at the sound of their voices. The conversation when she opened the door was innocuous enough… but there was something a little too guilty in Alexander’s eyes, and a strange, haunted look in her alternate’s ones. That was… Sofia considered. To say that it was completely fine would be lying, and while she was certainly capable of lying to others, she was generally loathe to leave her own conscious mind in ignorance of such things. Nonetheless, Sofia-A needed – desperately, if she had her duplicate’s number right – human contact. And despite Sofia’s somewhat overextended reputation… she grimaced mutely, acknowledging that she would be the first to try and save a desperate person. By all means necessary.

So, this alter-ego of hers, her – could she think? – twin sister, lonely and drawing as faraway from humanity in her own way as Aleksander had – could not hold herself back from her husband. And Alexander, worried to the bone, probably by this point in considerable pain, alone in a strange world… Regardless of his pretense of confidence, he must have been ruffled. No wonder, then, that they… what? Nothing. At the worst, very little. No, she did not begrudge Sofia her stolen little moment. She glanced covertly at Aleksander and breathed silent relief; he had noticed nothing. For his sake, there will be no repeats from her husband’s and Sofia’s side. And she would have words with her duplicate, oh, yes… Aleksander depended on her now, more than ever.

What side of her was it, which acknowledged the needs of the oddest people? Certainly she was an acerbic, difficult woman. So then, how was it that even back home she found herself mothering and big-sistering half of the bubble-boys – and girls, of course – that she passed, even casually in the street. Some of them had not even caught on yet, but Sofia knew what she was about. Most humanity would be astonished if they found out with what soft kid gloves Sofia could treat true emotional wounds, real desperate needs and sadness. She supposed, if one had, himself, lived through hell on earth, one was bound to recognize it in others. Rather that presenting pity, which she knew to be useless, she could give people what so few others could; practical approach and strength of character.

But that was neither here nor there, really.

“We will not shoot at each other,” she said with emphasis, moving warily from the potential centre of the collision, “is that clear?”

Both men sighed in a drawn out, simultaneous exasperation. “Yes, dear…” Sofia saw Alex’s lip quiver, and quirk upward; he nodded at his duplicate slowly, with something like acknowledgement.

No comment from her alter-ego yet. That was not good. As the psychologist in charge – having been qualified for the job as the only sane person in the entire group – Sofia is moderately concerned. Not too surprising, that she would not comment about her own appearance; but Aleksander should have stunned her senseless. Sofia-A was looking at him now, past Sofia’s shoulder, and biting down harshly on her lip. Sofia could see a myriad questions there, and an almost insane hope. That latter was perhaps a little premature… then again, perhaps it wasn’t. Odder things happened in the world.

“Hello, Sasha,” Sofia-A said lowly. Aleksander shifted in discomfort.

“Uh, hello Sofia. I’ve been… working… on things. Uh. I came for you,” he finished awkwardly. That had nothing to do with robots, or being dead. It had everything to do with Alexander, of all shapes, sizes and universes. As was evident by the odd look that Sofia-A and her Alex exchanged. Was that an ‘I told you so’ look?

Alex coughed. Aleksander shuffled his feet with an even greater discomfort than before. "I… came for you, too,” he said awkwardly. Very awkwardly. It was his turn to rake a hand through his much shorter hair. “I actually came for you first… uh… It wasn’t… in the best of interests of mine for you to be hurt,” he continued in an almost breathless rush, “I had this idea, give Viy the technology, work my way out of here… Take Sofia with me. He turned on me very early on in this game. In fact, five minutes hadn’t passed since I drugged you, down in my lab, when I realized that you were more of an ally than an enemy. I tried to get them, and to get them not to get you, but they used an Electromagnetic Pulse on me.” Aleksander winced. “It hurt.” He added as an afterthought.

The three living people in the room winced. Alex eyed his duplicate thoughtfully. “Hasn’t it occurred to you to ask my help?” Sofia provided an eloquent ‘I told you so’ look that even Aleksander was bound to grasp. The latter looked like he was trying to disappear from the face of the earth; preferably, in as little time as possible. She patted his shoulder reassuringly.

“Well, he couldn’t know that you’re not the stereotypical evil twin, I suppose, Alex.”

“Hmpf. The fact that he thought that I would be a stereotypical anything is quite enough to shoot a leg off.” Alexander advised her in a manner that was only a little wistful.

“A hand, surely,” Aleksander decided to go fro the safe course of bartering for the life of his limbs behind her back, “or else we’ll be stuck here, and you would have to carry me. I like you fine, but not that much.”

“Point conceded,” Alexander, considering the possibility of having to carry for an unknown length an armful of wires and metal, titanium frame and so on, decided to forego the mutilation. “Let’s get out of here first, and toss gloves at each other later.”

“Yes. Speaking about getting out of here…" Sofia glanced at Alex questioningly, “Do you have a plan, oh, brilliant ones, or is it an improvise as we go sort of situation?”

Alex raised his hand suggestively, waving his photonic Faraday cage emitter, from which little sparks of energy were leaping around and presenting themselves to the viewer. “We could just walk out through the front doors. I like the notion.”

“Well, I don’t.” Alex had a feel for the theatric; he often tried to make a show for the public as much as he attempted to do something actually useful. Disappearing when everybody was watching, for example, was just like him, as was the tendency to blow things up, with a big, loud bang and a great flare of blue flame. Sofia could just picture it; the best escape according to Alex would be to show up in front of Pavel Viy, taunt him – preferably from different corners of the room – under the cloak of invisibility, then blow apart the entrance into the base, and stroll away from the huge fireball engulfing the place. In fact, now that she thought about it, his sense for theatrics was downright Hollywoodian.

“No,” Sofia reasserted. “We – Aleksander and I – found this nice, highly convenient vent. I think that, if something goes in, then it could serve to go out, too.”

“Indeed,” Alex murmured, “And just what were you doing in a dark, little tunnel with my duplicate, hmm?” Sofia raised an eyebrow at him, and opened wide, innocent eyes. “Yeah, right,” her husband managed to pronounce, before wilting noticeably under twin baleful gazes from her alter-ego and herself.

“Why don’t we all stand very close together now,” he suggested, quickly changing the subject and waved his wand about, like some amateur magician on the circus stage, “and then we can all go for a walk.”