Dystopia Chapter 53

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

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

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 54 by Krasnaya Zarya (Wednesday, November 29, 2006)

(posted Sunday, November 26, 2006)

The two Sashas returned from the portal lab slowly, small deliberate steps taking them through the main hallway and into what constituted for a main room. Alex was relieved to see an extra cup of tea waiting on the table, opposite from where the two Sofias had been in deep conversation. His wife turned away from her counterpart and gave him a small grimace. She was looking tired, he realized, and guilty; he wasn’t sure if that was because of the broken portal or as a result of whatever discussion the two women had been having.

“So how does it look?” Sofia bit her lower lip, as she oft did when nervous and afraid of hearing bad news. It was one of her mysterious dichotomies: able to handle the worst of situations with a grim determination and steely gaze, yet totally devastated if the situation was her own fault.

“Not good,” Aleksander answered darkly. He had turned off in a different direction, cutting through the room to reach one of his storage areas, and disappeared from sight through a doorway.

“What he said.” Alex pulled the chair out and sat down. Or tried to, it was too ungraceful to be called “sitting” and somewhere in between collapsing and falling. He reached for the tea and quickly drank it; he needed to get the sugar and caffeine into his system to keep himself going. He felt his wife’s hand on his arm and gave her a sad, small smile. “The portal generator was set up to send a small tracer to this dimension to wait for my signal, and activate if it detected it. I’ve been sending the signal –“ he tapped the PDA “- and the portal hasn’t opened.”

“Is it broken?” The alternate Sofia asked from behind her own mug.

“I believe so. If Sofia left it on, then it is probable that some component burned out due to overuse.” He grimaced. “My fault; I had to bypass a lot of the Crey security measures to get the portal to do search algorithms. That would have included any built in time limits.” He sighed, waving his nearly empty cup through the air. “Maybe it blew the electricity, or a part wore down and broke, or the generator overheated… So many ways for it to go wrong.”

He heard a stifled sob as he refilled his mug of tea and glanced up. Both Sofias were on the verge of tears, and already had puffy eyes. He wanted to reach out and hug his wife, stroke her hair and tell her it would be all right, but with two of them; his protective instincts were snagged on both, yet it was all too weird.

“Thus, we can’t rely on activating that portal,” he continued. He wanted to hug them both, but his brain was swimming and he knew that standing up quickly would bring another fainting spell; standing up slowly would just remind Sofia of his weakness and cause her more stress. “I’ve thought of waiting for the CCCP to fix it, but if something overheated, it might have exploded – taking out the computer and preventing them from ever knowing where we are. We have to open a portal from this side.”

“We can do that?” The two Sofias asked simultaneously then glanced at each other. They both snickered, relieving some of their depression, and turned their bright eyes on him, eyebrows climbing in an eerie mirrored effect.

“Of course!” He glared at his mysteriously empty mug and filled it a third time. “Physics works the same in these two worlds, no reason why not. I have the schematics on the PDA – encrypted – that should help us build one from scratch. We might have to cannibalize Aleksander’s portal anchor – “ he grimaced “- but I’d rather not, just in case the CCCP are able to locate this dimension. I’m sure Petrograd can find a way to recover the coordinates from the computer and give them to Portal Corp.”

“There’s a Portal Corporation?!” came the loud exclamation from the returning Aleksander, who was dragging a long flat cart piled with parts. He shook his head slowly. “And here I thought you were some lone portal hopping mad scientist! Why don’t we just build a transmitter and send them a message? Faster than a generator…”

“Thought of it: no good.” Alex swiveled on his chair to get a good look at the parts as they approached. “If they have a communication protocol for trans-dimensional contact, they aren’t sharing. I can send a message, but there’s no reason to suspect that they’d get it. Besides, I’d rather not get them involved. We’d never hear the end of it from the Commissars.” He gave a small smirk.

Commissars?” Aleksander asked, his expression somewhere between total surprise and abject suspicion.

“What?” Sofia burst out laughing. “No, no, no… The Soviet Union long collapsed; communism is dead. The group we – um – work for takes all its names from the old Soviet Union as kind of an – um – homage to the history.” She grimaced. It was hard to explain the CCCP to anyone, let alone someone who was living in the worst that communism had to offer. “The members are mostly Russian, but the group is growing more and more American with each passing day. The Commissar is from Las Vegas, Nevada!”

“I think it’s all some crazy American joke,” Alex suggested.

“I… see…” Aleksander obviously did not.

“Well, um…” Sofia waved her hand in the air, searching for the right way to put it.

“Never mind,” Alex inserted, “we’ve got more important things to do. After all, even if Viy is out of the way, there’s no reason to think that aren’t more soldiers heading this way.” The others stared at him with wide-eyed alarm; obviously they hadn’t thought of it.

“I can seal the entrance,” Aleksander chimed in. “This lab is an old Soviet bunker, it will take them some time to get through. Plus, it doesn’t have any conveniently large ventilation shafts.”

“You do that, then.” Alex returned his grin. “If you’ve got the exact parts needed, we could be out of here in a day. Two tops.” He glanced at the cart of parts and sighed softly. “You go seal the doors, I’ll take this junk to the portal room and start sorting through it.”

“And what about us?” Sofia asked, crossing her arms. “How can we help?”

“Uh…” He raised his once-again-empty teacup and beamed. “You can keep the tea coming. I’m running on adrenaline and caffeine now…”

“Your wish is my command,” she replied, rolling her eyes. Normally such a comment would also provoke a smack to the head, but she held back due to the truth of his last statement.

“Here, I’ll help with the cart,” the alternate Sofia said and rose to her feet while the other Sofia started heating a new batch of tea. The pair took their prospective items and began to head down the hallway, only pausing when Alex failed to follow them.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” he said, waving them on. He was only partly off the chair, and already his head was swimming. He waited, and it passed.

A few seconds later, he followed the worried women into the portal room.

“Definitely don’t have it.”




“I double-checked, none here,” Aleksander stated grimly, looking up from the ocean of electronics that surrounded him. He tossed a long circuit board out to sea, splashing with a cacophonous crash. “We’ll have to make it from scratch.”

“Bad enough to merit cursing,” Alex muttered from his spot on the other side of the silicon waves. “The only working dimensional stabilizer is in the portal anchor; if we disable that, then there’s no way the CCCP will find us.”

“We might have to cut our losses,” Sofia replied, her fingers massaging the bridge of her nose. “We don’t know if they can come at all, let alone before the army shows up, but we do know that we can build a portal of our own.”

“Might be best not to gamble on it,” the other Sofia chimed in.

“How long did it take you to build the first one?” Alex asked of his duplicate.

“Three months.” The crowd grumbled. “But that was mostly planning and tweaking. I estimate about ninety hours of work if I were to rebuild it from scratch, by myself.”

“But you’ve got me,” Alex interjected.

“And I’ve got some of my prototypes that we can build off of.” Aleksander rose to his feet, not remembering to wipe off the dirt and grime from his hands. “I figure, oh, twenty hours of work, between us.”

“Still going to be awhile.”

“Hello!” Sofia waved her hands in front of Alex’s face. “You’ve got us, too. I’ve helped you in the lab before, and we’re not exactly bad at following directions.”

“Actually, there’s something more important for you to do,” Aleksander replied, walking over to one of the many carts that had been pulled in. This one had, heretofore, not been touched. It held a large black bag, which he carefully unzipped, exposing several ominous looking objects with big shiney timers on them. “I need you to plant these. When we leave, we don’t want Viy – or whoever replaces him – following us to your dimension. I was merely going to destroy the portal anchor when we left, but since we’re building our own system, we’ll need to take down the entire lab.”

“Agreed.” Alex nodded slowly. “You tell them how to work it; I’ll put together a blueprint for the stabilizer.”

“They’re all set,” Sofia announced as she returned to the portal lab, her duplicate in tow.

“All the transmitter lights were green?” Aleksander asked, not looking up from the worktable, sparks flying from the small torch he was using into his unshielded face. There were some merits to being a robot, and the lack of eye damage was one of them.

“Yes.” Aleksander’s wife responded. “And the timers are set to twelve hours.”

“The suicide switches were enabled, I hope?” he asked - his voice calm and steady. His gaze was fully concentrated on the massive copper coil that he was cutting into a suitable length.

“Of course,” she answered again, slightly impatient in tone.

“And how is the stabilizer coming along?” Sofia queried, turning the inquisition around, while she carefully crossed the Component Sea, which had been pushed into two separate piles to allow people to pass.

“It’s coming.” Aleksander leaned back a little to double-check his handiwork. “And you altered the rigging on the doors like I asked?”

Yes,” Sofia responded, hissing the word between her bared teeth. She pulled a small sheet of paper out of her pocket and wadded it up into a ball. “We have done everything on the list.”

“Good.” Alex, sitting next to Aleksander, flipped up the blast shield from his safety helmet and grinned. “That means you can refill my tea.”

“Arg!” Sofia screamed and took a step forward, raising her hand in the air to throw the ball at Alex.

Instead, she let it fall to the ground, a look of worry on her face as she watched her husband’s eyes roll up into his head, which landed neatly into the pile of circuitry he had been soldering.

“Alex!” Sofia squealed, and bolted across the room, all thoughts of vengeance left behind in an outpour of panic. This was not a good time for him to collapse, nor did it look good. Much would depend now on whether or not he was still conscious; if he was, he will be able to help her, if not… well, if not, whether or not they had or didn’t have a portal might not matter much any longer.

This was an all-too-painfully familiar scenario – both for herself, and for the two alternates present with her – occurring at yet another all-too-inconvenient time. The alternate Sofia’s breath caught as she watched what - for her even more than for Sofia kneeling to hold Alexander’s head – was the stuff of nightmares.

Even Aleksander was not having a pleasant time.

Alex was shaking; small, persistent shivers that made his teeth rattle and wouldn’t end. When she pulled his head back he shifted bloodshot, miserable eyes to look at her – conscious, but fading fast. Rats. “Do we have a first-aid kit?” Sofia demanded, gesturing Aleksander to help her straighten his duplicate out on the floor.

“I have an old one, back in the office room,” Aleksander affirmed.

“Do you know where it is, Sofia?”

“Yes, I do. I’ll find it.” Sofia-A rose.

“Run,” Sofia hissed through clenched teeth, putting into the one word all her annoyance, frustration and urgency. “Run!”

Aleksander was staring at his duplicate, dumbfounded. “I didn’t realize,” he whispered bemusedly, “how bad it was for him.”

“What did you think?” Sofia snarled, holding Alex’s head to stop it from hitting the concrete as his convulsions grew worse, “That it was all sun and roses? I told you Chernobyl happened in our world, same as yours. Alexander is…” she glanced down quickly, to determine Alexander’s condition, and gulped down a stronger statement, “… not well. We need to get him out of here, now. Aleksander… we can’t wait anymore. Take apart your portal anchor.”

“Are you sure it’s a good idea?” Sofia-A’s voice was a little strained after a long run in the corridor. Sofia snatched the first-aid kit from her, and spilled its contents ruthlessly on the floor. With one free hand, she ruffled the bandages, useless burn plasters, some pills, a syringe wrapped in plastic, marked as ‘antidote’…

“You have a better idea?” she grumbled at her alternate, finally digging out a syringe with adrenaline. Just one syringe. Sofia twisted it between her fingers, hoping that the expiration date was not somewhere in the ‘90s. “This is all I’ve got; one little syringe of adrenaline from a supply several years old, to keep Alexander alive with. This is ridiculous; I might as well sit down and pray! We don’t have any clue where the people from the other side might be, what they are doing and when they are doing it. We have a chance to get out of here by building our own portal, and we’re sitting back because of one ingredient. How is that logical?”


“Take it apart, Sasha!”

“But there is no…”

Sofia stared pointedly down at Alex, limp and fainted, for now, but not better. “Take it apart!”

Aleksander hesitated a moment, still staring at his alternate self. Sofia could nearly feel the thoughts rushing through his brain: the memories of his own “death”; the weight of the choice. He spun around and rushed over to the massive portal anchor. Electricity raced up and down the Tesla coils, sustaining the field which helped contain all portals. As his robotic body approached, a small blue line of lightning arced across from one of the coils, causing a small twitch in some of his fingers. He took a step back and frowned.

“It’s been running too long: the electric field is too strong. I’ll have to unplug it.” He turned to the side and dashed over to the wall, where the thick black cable was plugged into a power generator. He knelt down, placed his hands on the plug and started to pull.

“Wait!” Sofia-A shouted, pointing to the anchor itself. A high-pitched screech began as two of the Tesla coils started spinning around the base, the sparks and crisscrossing bolts increasing in size and frequency. There was a feeling of electricity in the air; more than a few hairs rose on end.

“Unbelievable…” Aleksander murmured, rising to his feet, the power cable untouched. He shook his head, eyes wide in disbelief.

“Is that-?” Sofia began, also unbelieving. This was the kind of last chance save and coincidence that only happened in Hollywood movies or bestselling novels sold in airports. Of course, with their luck, this would be the Rikti discovering this world for the first time, or something equally disastrous.

“Yes.” Aleksander took a step forward, gathering energy into a ball in his palm, just in case.

The bolts vanished with a flash, leaving purple streaks in Sofia’s vision. A small purple dot appeared in the air beside the anchor, almost unnoticeable if not for the small pulses of blue and purple light it made - once… twice… thrice – before expanding into a man-size black sphere. She always wondered what it would be like to see a black hole, an object from no light could escape, and this object was as close as she believed she would ever get; the great void sucked at the eyeballs, threatening to drive the brain away chittering in terror.

The black sphere melted away, revealing a razor sharp disc, a gaping entryway into another dimension.