Dystopia Chapter 51

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 25.6666 by Petrograd (Thursday, November 09, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 52 by Krasnaya Zarya (Wednesday, November 22, 2006)

(posted Saturday, November 11, 2006)

Alex regained consciousness - slowly, hazily - in stages. The voices came to him first: his wife talking; himself replying; his wife also replying to herself. Mulling over the impossibility of the second and the oddity of the third, he considered the likelihood that he was hallucinating. He had done so in the past, on some of his stranger medications, making it a distinct possibility. Or so he had been told, at the least; he never could remember a thing that happened when under the influence of the heavier kind of prescriptions.

Vision returned a second or two later, the purple haze of the non-functioning optics fading away towards the edge of his eyes, being replaced by tan upholstery. The square, darkened light-bulb with a small lever on the side marking “On”, “Off” and “Door” confused him momentarily: one of those things did not belong, but in his slightly addled state, he couldn’t tell which one. His eyes wandered to one side, staring up at the chin and the nostrils of someone familiar. She looked down at him and grinned, relief painting her face.

“Sofia…” He murmured, squinting at her. She looked older than he remembered, and beaten up.

Not Sofia. The thought came unbidden, the opening salvo of reality reasserting itself on his addled mind. Awareness came flooding through his body, pointing out all the little weaknesses and stresses in his limbs and muscles as it went, followed by the assertion of memory, wiping out those vague moments from the edge of wakefulness and seamlessly tying together the instant before unconsciousness and the present. Later, when looking back, all he would remember is throwing one last burst of energy at Viy then suddenly winding up in the back of Aleksander’s car.

He knew right away that was where he was, his brain ever-so-efficiently taking in all the data gained over the last ten seconds and processing it: the conclusion jumping forward as if he had always known. The brain worked like that often enough, providing information without thought, extrapolations without thesis. It was how magicians tricked and confidence men convinced. It was generally frowned upon, in the scientific world, to rely on these intuitive leaps, though they were often required to start the spark of discovery.

A long ways from the importance of Newton’s discovery of the Theory of Gravity was Alex’s personal discovery that they had somehow won. He may have passed out – he lost far too much energy in that last burst – but the group had pulled him out and made it safely away from the base. If things were going very well, they would already be en route to Aleksander’s lab and the portal anchor. Hope it isn’t far…

“Sofia,” the woman whose lap cradled his head, the Alternate Sofia, called ahead to the front seat. “Sasha – your Sasha – has awoken.”

“Sasha!” The front seat jerked and rocked as his wife tried to twist around and get to him. She had to settle with peeking around the vinyl and snaking an arm to touch his cheek. “Don’t worry, we’re almost home.” She turned her head to the side, glancing at the robotic driver just long enough to ask a question: “How much longer?”

“Less than a half hour,” Aleksander replied. He didn’t turn back, though his eyes darted to the various mirrors in turn. “So far no pursuit, and so long as there’re no roadblocks along the way… Maybe fifteen minutes…”

“We’ll have to be careful,” Alex cautioned, still prone on the back seat. He couldn’t have gotten up if he wanted to, not without risking another fainting spell until his blood pressure stabilized. And he didn’t mind where he was. He took his mind off the problem of having, in a sense, two wives, and focused on what Viy had told him during their meeting. “Viy said there were a group of soldiers sent to the lab to secure it, in case anybody from our side decided to follow us.”

“Ah, yes,” Aleksander nodded slightly, “during my first trip to scout the base, I saw a military truck pass. Probably was them. We’ll deal with them when we come to it.”

“He mentioned something about…” He frowned, searching his memory for the words. “Scratchers, cutters, tearers…”

“Rippers,” his alternate self helpfully proposed. There was an edge to his voice, a dangerous one.

“What?!” The alternate Sofia stared at her husband, wide-eyed. “I thought they were just stories – propaganda – a conspiracy theory… They’re real? And you know this?”

“Yes,” both Alex’s replied as one. The driver finally turned his head and stared at the passenger, a look of surprise and worry on his face, then returned to piloting the vehicle. His face was slightly darker, grim. “Viy showed them to me when I met him at his base. He wanted me to fear them, though I doubt they could do anything to me.”

“Sasha?” His wife asked, still peering over the chair. “What are Rippers?”

“Special soldiers of the ISB,” the alternate answered. He felt slightly miffed at being cut off, but understood how easy it was to make that mistake, with the sharing of names. Besides, he wanted to hear the full explanation. “The ISB tests people for certain brain patterns, for susceptibility to The Treatment. Then they cart them away to some special training center, where they strip their minds of any personality, of any independent thought. Somewhere along the way, they undergo some strange chemical therapy which creates – or at the least awakens – a specialized brand of psionic abilities.”

“They use these to probe the minds of the people, looking for dissidents." He paused while taking the car down a sharp left. “And if they get their hands on an ‘Enemy of the State’, the Rippers pour through their memories, pulling out everyone they’ve ever met, everything they’ve ever heard, read, said… You get the idea.”

“Telepaths…” Sofia grumbled. The family had always made it clear, much to the consternation of certain psionic friends, that they considered their minds absolutely sacrosanct: nobody was allowed in, nothing was allowed out.

“Sounds about right,” Alex murmured. He craned his head a little, causing the muscles in his neck to crack and pop. “He let them loose on me a bit, trying to get the portal technology from my head. I don’t think it worked, since he still tried to convince me to explain it afterwards.”

“Well, it takes time,” Aleksander suggested. “He didn’t think he had it, and, obviously, he didn’t.” The last part was said with a smirk.

“But if Viy said there were going to be some at the lab…” Sofia frowned, for a moment looking as worn out and tired as her alternate self. “Do we have to worry about them in a fight?”

“I doubt it,” Aleksander answered. The car took another turn and left the last semblance of road, the sound of gravel and dirt hitting the bottom of the car echoing through the cabin. “The require drugs and headsets to work, and the subject must be bound and injected. Unless some of the crazier conspiracy theories are true, they’re there for when the fighting is over.”

The car started to slow as it approached the entrance to the abandoned bunker that served as Aleksander’s laboratory. The empty convoy truck of the GDF was sitting just ahead.

“We’re about to find out,” the alternate Sofia murmured.