Dystopia Chapter 50

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

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

Next Story in the Arc: Chapter 25.3333 by Victoria Victrix (Monday, November 06, 2006)

(posted Friday, November 03, 2006)

Soldiers spread down the narrow corridor with the simultaneity of a hive-mind. Sofia froze in mid-step, balanced like a crane on the balls of one foot for a moment before sinking back onto the other with a thump. The linoleum under her shoes – a dirty yellow-mustard colour with no recognizable pattern that she could see – creaked softly, then subsided. Immediately in front of her, her alter-ego caught her breath.

Sofia stared down at her adversaries with what amount to almost scientific interest; seven or eight of them, armed with long, tubular, clearly non-projectile weapons, even she – who was neither an expert nor a connoisseur – recognized what could be only laser rifles. The expressions of the soldiers – training their rifles down what seemed to them an empty corridor – were impossible to read behind their face-gear. Sofia thought she could detect, underneath one of the helmets – lightly askew and back – the flaxen blond hair of the boy-soldier who had done them an inadvertent favour of escorting them into an empty office, only thirty minutes ago. The recognition was unpleasant; she did not, in the last, enjoy killing, and he was just a boy, someone’s baby… she hoped that no battle would ensue.

There was, Sofia thought, a deep irony to this confrontation. By nature, neither she nor Alexander were violent people. Their method of work – when life forced them into circumstances where any confrontation other than the verbal was necessary – involved a tremendous amount of pre-calculated tactics, committed to avoiding, as best they could, huge, Hollywoodian fight scenes. Mostly her idea; Alex’s sense of timing and drama could be downright obscene at times. He tended to present the right dramatically chosen moments, flashy disappearances and huge explosions better suited to some absurd teenage cult-hero than to a reasonable scientist who thrived on logic.

She pried her thoughts away from the favourite trail of husband bashing and concentrated on the proceedings. Clearly, they were outdone again. Sofia felt a grudging, wondering admiration towards their uncanny nemesis; Pavel Viy clearly was a man well suited for his job as well as – again, impressive – a fitting match for four quite brilliant minds. Granted, he had the numeric and technical advantage, their abilities notwithstanding, nevertheless Sofia considered herself suitable challenged. Really, she thought regretfully, Viy would have made an excellent addition to their assortment of rather bizarre family friends; Sofa was not averse to people with pasts, so long as they did not proceed to try and kill her or hers.

‘Friendly’ was not precisely a description Sofia would have assigned to Pavel Viy now… she examined her foe curiously, while he pontificated about sonic scanners; a large, tall man with a sheer physical presence that was – to anyone but someone completely indifferent to such things, like herself – daunting and overwhelming, she could not determine his age. He could have been forty, with – like her alternate self – more grey in his hair than usual, or he could be a very well preserved sixty. One could not tell with his trim uniform, and the green, sickly glow of his personal forcefield.

Sofia could never quite explain her attitude about danger. She was not unafraid, nor was she a masochist; she did not enjoy pain. In her years of facing crises, though, she’d seen only three attitudes with which humans reacted to such overwhelming rushes of adrenaline. Out of the three, one involved emotional fits - sinking into deep despair, bursting into tears and, in general, crumbling from the inside. The second attitude generally generated a sense of apathy so profound that every second seemed to stretch for an eternity, dragging on and on forever. Death for them was like a release from the burden of eternity. And then there was the third way; time slowed and sped independently of the beholder, and irrelevant, petty details leapt out of the dull background to the very front of consciousness and thought flew about.

Sofia was a proponent of the third approach.

Time slowed down, and her mind dwelt on irrelevancies. She noticed, for example, the long grooves upon the face of the ugly yellow linoleum, from soldiers’ boots, and perhaps machinery. She noticed, also, that one of the soldiers stared down at the corridor with an almost glassy, bright blue eye. His other eye was dead, puckered skin covering what was plainly an eye socket. Then auditory input kicked in.

“Kill them all,” Viy declared dramatically.

Sofia pressed into the wall, her shoulders brushing the cold concrete and felt against her side the trembling touch of her alternate self. Sofia-A, even more so than Sofia herself, would fear death, now. Especially now, after all that time she spent in a world that was neither life nor death, but merely a sort of existence. She felt a rapid, soft breath of air when Alex and Aleksander – both probably with no awareness of the other – stepped in front of the two women. They had good instincts, her men…

There was no sound as the soldiers pressed their triggers, sweeping the corridor – probably more for added security than from inability to aim – with invisible death. Sofia closed her eyes briefly, but there was a nagging sensation in her mind – a sort of uncanny premonition, perhaps – that, while this was not, quite her moment, there was more yet to come. She refused to allow herself to face this, the most important, the most final event, in her entire life, in the way she had never faced any other hardship. She refused to face her death with closed eyes. She looked up steadily, and imagined for a moment that – through the distance of the corridor, and through her invisibility shield – she somehow found her enemies’ eyes, all of them together.

“Why aren’t we dead yet?” asked Sofia-A hoarsely. “These lasers should have fried us to a crisp.”

Alex laughed suddenly, the sound incredibly loud in the corridor. A second late Aleksander’s harsher, slightly less melodious voice – indistinguishable, Sofia was sure, to anyone but her own ear – joined him in gratified revelation. “Faraday Cages!” Alexander couldn’t hold himself back from gloating; for a change, Sofia didn’t argue with him. “They bend light! Just keep shooting, Viy. Until you run out of charge.”

Uh oh.

“Or until we do,” her twin said very quietly, reading Sofia’s thoughts.

“Or until… you do,” murmured the ISB agent, raising an eyebrow and resting a blunt finger against his chin, mockingly. “Indeed. Even such a fool as I can deduce that much. How long have you really got before you broil, Comrade Scientists?” he twitched his finger at their little execution squad. “Hold fire for now. No reason to waste charge.”

Turning back towards the four people clustered at the end of the corridor, Viy’s brows twitched again. “Last surrender would be better perhaps…” he offered. His face, behind the shimmering haze of the green field softened into grudging benevolence as a calculating smile thinned his lips.

Sofia wished she could at least exchange a glance with Sasha. There were, she thought, worse ways to die. Slowly rotting away in one’s apartment, all by one’s own, for example. She wondered what provisions Viy had made for Aleksander; was he aware of his true, energy nature, or was he simply assuming that the robot was a duplicate of some sort, with the real Aleksander lured out to save his wife? Sofia was not sure. She did know, however, that for Aleksander, losing his Sofia – as well as the alternate Rabinoviches – would mean a different, more profound kind of death. They would die instantly; Aleksander would be stripped off his humanity slowly, by bits and pieces, with no one the wiser, until eventually he is nothing more than a stream of vaguely conscious atoms… No, clearly, this was not the worst way to die.

Alex, apparently, had thought along similar venues. Sofia heard his dry chuckle followed by a dry “I think we would prefer a last stand, Comrade Agent.”

Light flared, and there all of them were. Alex stood, legs braced a little apart, face grey and immobile. He apparently decided to go for ‘perish my soul with the Philistines’ approach. Between his hands he held a huge sphere of energy, pulsing at his mental touch. Sofia-A stood with her eyes wide open, rimmed with red – Sofia realized that she had not blinked for several minutes – and her gaze fixed with surprising accuracy on the place where Aleksander now appeared. Of all four of them, only Aleksander remained unperturbed. Sofia had to remind herself that, emotionally, he was not precisely the average person… but the analysis didn’t hold. Under the thin veneer of coldness burned feverish, brutal anger. Alex felt the same way, but his anger was powerless. Not so Aleksander.

“Sasha!” Sofia screamed what she thought would be her final word. She wasn’t even certain which one of them she was talking to anymore.

Viy negligently waved their firing squad into order again. Rifles were raised, and Alex tensed silently. Aleksander moved for the first time; with one hand he hurled Alex roughly back, dissipating as a result his somewhat tenuous explosive sphere. The other hand reached forward. The rifles’ triggers rattled and clicked, power supplies humming and whirring, yet… here they still were, with Aleksander frozen in the same intimidating pose in front.

Alexander stared at his counterpart and frowned uneasily. Sofia, regaining mobility after the initial stupor in which she froze for the last eternal two minutes finally managed to move her arm enough to elbow her husband. “What is going on, Alexander?”

“It’s hard to say…” Alex raised a hand to his temples. “He’s doing something with the lasers, controlling them. He’s not dissipating them or anything, I can feel them building up. I think – and this is a wild guess – that he’s catching them.” He grinned. “I wonder when he’s going to throw them back?”

“Can you do that?”

I certainly can’t.” Alex said emphatically. “He is an energy being, though.”

Aleksander stepped back. At the same instant, an inferno exploded along the corridor, searing the walls and obliterating the flimsy carpeting and a glow that was stronger than looking directly at the sun. The living shouted – all three of them together – and Sofia found herself covering her eyes, pressing her clenched fists onto the closed eyelids to hide from the pain of the light. Immediately after followed the tearing sensation of people dying; pain rippled and then became as sharp as a razor, only to be replaced by a void that was worse than pain. Her duplicate screamed again, and Sofia realized that what she herself was feeling only vaguely – and the men, not at all – gripped Sofia-A with vengeance.

“Enjoy your ball game?” queried Alex sarcastically.

“That entirely depends on how I scored. I am hoping for a big catch; namely, our favourite ISB agent,” Aleksander replied, shading his eyes casually with a hand and glancing out into the wreckage of the corridor. “Viy’s shield should not be able to handle such a sheer amount of laser blasts at full force. But I don’t see him in there,” he added somewhat gloomily.

Sofia shook her head. “Let’s not wait to find out, shall we?” She stepped over the charred form of what once was gleaming metal; a rifle that was hurled away from the force of the blast Aleksander released. “Which way to the doors, Alex?”

“This way.” Her husband moved, sluggishly at first, then briskly down the corridor and away, stepping over lumps on which Sofia preferred not to dwell. I’m sorry, kid, she sighed inwardly. Sofia wished they could race down the corridor; she was forty, and not at all in shape, but for this she would exert herself. They were so close now…

“Behind us!” Sofia-A shrieked. Sofia spun on her heel, and saw the telltale green glow of the forcefield, suddenly shimmer within her field of vision. It simply appeared, coalescing out of what was, just a moment ago, the blackened emptiness of a charred, ruined hallway. Behind the reappearing Viy, spread out in a semicircular cluster, were the gleaming metal bulks of several robots. They were featureless, seams smooth and rounded, and they moved on a knife-point’s base; three of these razor-sharp appendages served to scrape the floor with some of these deep, previously noted grooves. The only indication for a ‘front’ on these machines – designed for most efficient killing – was the direction in which they aimed their guns. At them, in this instance.

There was no warning; the robots simply raised their guns, and a brief flash of plasma fire lit the dim hallway with green and yellow light. Sofia dove down in an old, almost forgotten reflex yelling “Rikti weapons!” at the top of her lungs. Her hand roughly caught her duplicate as she fell, and dragged down the woman’s inert, shocked frame. Sofia-A grunted heavily as she fell, and made choking noises when Sofia pressed her face into the concrete by accident from sheer nerves. Alex and Aleksander both flattened down almost simultaneously; and now one of them – she couldn’t quite see which – rolled frantically out of the way of another beam. Alex, she supposed; Aleksander would not be nearly as frantic, even now.

They had to get out of here; in this hall, they were like ducks in a shooting range. Sofia’s hand limbed to clutch almost religiously at the heavy necklace she wore. Wait a minute… She pulled herself a little towards Alex. Just a mere inch, but it was enough. “Sasha! Take everybody and start retreating behind that corner, out of sight.”

Alex shook his head in a sharp negative. “Sofia…”

“Sh! Sasha don’t. Take everybody and go. You can’t be here.” Her voice hardened into a tone she almost never used with him, and cracked like a whip, ”Move!” Behinds her back she heard Alex groan as if he were hit in the gut, then slowly crawl towards Aleksander. He would do what she told him to do, Sofia knew. As for herself, she focused pained eyes upon the bubble of the forcefield floating docilely behind the cluster of firearms and in the chaos found the one person for whom she had to put up a show.

She hoped Agent Viy was – as she had estimated him to be – as similar to herself as she thought. A survivor, looking for levers of utility anywhere he turned. Sofia hoped, also, that he was as arrogant as his flare for the theatrical seemed to indicate. Perhaps it was his initial downfall; the Soviet service, supposedly, had place in it for nothing but expediency. If that was the case, could she force him to react in just the way she needed? Perhaps… Sofia gulped, straightened her face as she would a wrinkled shirt and slowly rose to her feet. She needed just a few seconds – with her hand clenched about the little jewel-that-was-not – to raise the temperature sufficiently.

“Agent Pavel Viy, hold your fire for two seconds! I have something to say that might interest you.”

The green forcefield shifted, considering. Behind her back Sofia could almost feel the other members of her group slowly retreating backwards. She saw, from the corner of her eye, Aleksander swing unceremoniously up an unconscious Sofia, bleeding copiously from a gash in her skull where a stray chip of broken-down wall plaster hit her. They were still too close, however. Line of sight with her in just a minute would kill Aleksander and disable Alex. Viy waved is hand again, probably saying something too low for her to hear, and the fire ceased. In the sudden quiet of the hallway Sofia’s breath sounded loud and harsh, all of a sudden. “I am counting time,” Viy said flatly.

“It won’t be very long,” Sofia smiled grimly, the hair at the back of her beck stood on end, and her shoulder blades prickled, as if she could feel, without looking, the progress the others made. “I wanted to discuss... terms of surrender.”

“Your humble servant, Madame,” Viy bowed inside his forcefield with deep mockery.

“You have,” Sofia said clearly, “been hurting my husband. And my twin. I need to know with certainty that it won’t happen again.”

“Ah,” smiled Viy, “cooperate and…”

“That is why,” Sofia cut over his oily tone, the cluster of pearls was almost boiling against her skin. “I expect your unconditional surrender, Agent Pavel Viy.” Now, now! It must be now! She reached up and tore at the chain at her throat, snagging the burning gadget, and hurling it, bola-style, into the approximate middle of the robotic assembly.

An invisible shockwave crushed the room, seemingly flattening the air. The lights winked, then went out with a bright spasm. In the sudden darkness, Sofia could hear sounds of grinding, tormented metal and – as robots slowly lost their balance, rendered dysfunctional – heard the crash of the huge, metallic bodies to the floor. A shower of sparks kept shouting up here and there, fountaining upward and then sinking down. Somewhere behind the glowing embers Sofia saw a green nimbus flicker once, twice, then die off. She was hurled back by the shockwave, tossed down and hit the ground, hard, not even having sufficient control of her movements to roll as she fell. The Electromagnetic Pulse she had released finally rolled over her, and quieted down somewhat.

Sofia raised her throbbing, painful head a little, and reached out to the bits of cumbustible matter within one of the now-dead robots. Another shower of sparks, and a nimbus of flame engulfed it. In the flickering, reddish glow Sofia saw Alex and Aleksander, faces wild, turn the corner at a dead run and stop, gaping. She slowly collected her sore self, limb by limb, gathering herself up from the floor as she would a sack of grain. The men were not even looking at her. Alex hissed “you!” in a voice Sofia didn’t even dream hearing, coming from him, and moved down the corridor, slowly advancing upon his once-tormentor.

Defenseless without his forcefield, Viy thumbed his wrist-pad rather frantically but, for the moment, nothing happened. Alex raised his hands and Sofia saw – with more worry than relief – the gigantic, iridescent blue sphere of energy he held. It left his palms and floated slowly down the corridor, inching towards Viy’s unprotected form, growing in size constantly as it moved. “Sasha, no…” Sofia managed to choke, but it was too late already as he sent a tiny triggering blot of energy into his floating bomb. Sofia screeched and hurled herself for the second time, this time clutching awkwardly at Alexander’s shoulders and pinning him down with all her weight and the desperate gain of speed in the jump.

They fell together, tumbling down as the corridor heaved and groaned with the explosion. Everything froze for a second, bathed in terrible light, then time moved on and Sofia had to clutch at her ears from the reverberating BOOM that the explosion created. She huddled down onto the floor, clinging to Alex with one hand and to the wall with the other. In front of her, chunks of concrete began to detach off the ceiling and crash down onto the floor. The corridor was collapsing.

The aftershocks let off, just a little bit, and Sofia managed to stand. She had to lick her lips several times and swallow saliva before she could say – croak, really, “Are you all right?”

“Yes.” Aleksander was succinct. “He isn’t though.”

Alex was not. He had passed out – from the tremendous expenditure of energy and from the radiation sickness, and, probably, from the shock of the explosion – and his face had a waxen quality to it that Sofia registered with a shiver. His blood pressure would be fluctuating wildly now, soaring and plummeting within minutes. She had to get him settled somewhere quiet, warm with a cup of tea with a lot of sugar, and forced rest for a few days… She sighed. “You will have to carry him, I think. He’s no good to anyone like this.”

Sofia-A shuffled around the corner, on hands and knees, panting painfully. “The hit on the head…” she mumbled shamefacedly, “it makes me dizzy.”

“Aleksander can’t carry you both,” Sofia informed her twin in a helpful tone. “Can you grind your teeth and walk?”

“I’ll do my best.”

“What happened to Viy?” demanded Sofia suddenly, almost as an afterthought.

“No clue,” said Aleksander, frowning slightly, “he is probably dead. Although, Viy being Viy, maybe he managed to teleport out of there. I don’t know.”

Sofia held out a hand for her duplicate, and when the latter slowly stood, wincing and touching her head, she threw the woman’s arm around her shoulder field-medic style, taking half her weight. Sofia leaned onto her heavily. Aleksander knelt for a moment, and scooped Alex up, half tossing him over his shoulder. It was not pretty, or comfortable; Alex’s feet almost dragged on the floor, and his head bobbed threateningly on Aleksander’s back, but that was the best they could do for now. Sofia sighed and assumed command. “Let’s get out of here, people.”