Dystopia Chapter 54

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 53 by Krasniy Zakat (Sunday, November 26, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 55 by Krasniy Zakat (Saturday, December 02, 2006)

(posted Wednesday, November 29, 2006)

Sofia’s otherworldly duplicate – Sofia thought in a free moment – was self-possessed to the point of profanity. From Sofia’s point of view, that is. Granted, she had ten additional years of outright weirdness to add to Sofia’s own experience; still, she herself would have been just a little more disconcerted, were her husband half-dead at her feet, with a huge inter-dimensional hole slowly unfolding in mid-air.

At least she was not a superstitious peasant, or she would long since have either found herself plastered on the floor, weeping, or lost her mind completely. Beyond the mundane reality, she knew, there was a world full of… astonishing phenomena, and the minds of humans were odd beyond belief. At least this she, and her duplicate from a universe swarming with energy beings, conquering monsters and the forceful illusion of magic, had in common Surely they were not so different, although Sofia the Guest made her feel something of a country bumpkin, and an old, falling apart neurotic. Perhaps she was an old neurotic, who knew? Life, for the last ten years, felt as though a fog encircled her brain, numbing sensation and slowing down thought processes. It was as though she was not alive; only when she was brought so near to death as to have a standard army dagger at her throat did she start living again.

Which was, in and of itself, a wonder – the world had not gone and stopped when her life ended. Sofia wondered how come she missed it all; missed the great disasters, and the falling apart of civilization, missed the almost complete destruction of objective science, and had done nothing. Damn.

Guest Sofia was on her feet now and holding a fireball in one hand. She faced the opening portal stolidly, feet planted firmly. Aleksander, too, did not look in the least mollified. All of them were expecting this – a portal to be ‘trapped’ by the anchor – yet all of them, Sofia herself included, regarded it with deep suspicion. The surface of the portal was opaque, smooth and glassy, and Sofia – for the first time, really – truly believed, and comprehended, that her duplicate was not a figment of her overactive imagination, nor a clever liar, but the genuine article. Until now, Sofia had no choice but to trust her; this other, younger version of herself had her number so completely, she had no choice but to follow.

She was not lying – the portal really was there.

First through the gate was a spare man, brown hair and army jacket, holding a rather formidable rifle. Right on his heels was a huge… fellow – Sofia gulped audibly at the sight, and involuntarily stepped back. Aleksander moved forward, raising a hand suspiciously, but Sofia the Guest forestalled him with a negating wave of her hand, her eyebrows raised in... amusement?

The man-mound was carrying a long, heavy rocket launcher.

Sofia’s mouth fell open and even Sofia the Guest blinked at the sight several times, looking the huge lump of metal up and down with a very pronounced, sarcastic tilt of her head. “Ah,” she said, in tones describing beatific, heavenly revelation as the last member of their rescue fumbled her way through the portal, “Victoria.”

She was small, blonde and young, and dressed in a manner that could probably get her leers and indecent suggestions in the streets. She had several bags strapped crisscross over her shoulders, and a gun strapped at the waist; Sofia’s compatriots certainly came prepared. They also came wary; all of them – well, the big one was not: he was slowly twiddling a finger over the metal curve of the missile launcher – looked around with suspicious, guarded eyes. Although taking in the double-vision of two Sofias and two Alexanswes seemed to blunt their edge a little, Sofia noted maliciously. And, apparently, this woman’s appearance explained the rocket launcher somehow, even if she was not big enough to carry – not to mention aim – it.

"Took you long enough," muttered her duplicate in English, "you almost gave me a heart attack, making a theatrical entrance like that. Another two seconds and there would have been no anchor for you to find us by."

"Yes," Aleksander chose that very moment to chime in – making both Sofias wince simultaneously at the heavy accent – with his own epithet, "another minute, and in place of this Aleksander you have other Aleksander. Funny to you, but not to him, I think."

All right, her husband – or his alter-ego, one should think – was a smart-alek. Sofia the Guest snickered, and the blonde woman buried her face in her palms, finally dropping the terrible, strained expression from her face from utter exasperation. "Four of them," she moaned, turning to the rifle-totting man, "can you believe four of them?"

Behind them, the portal swirled and collapsed.

"What is going on" Sofia gasped, her eyes darting from the closing black hole to Alexander, who was still sprawled on the floor, with terrible fear. Losing one of them was difficult enough – even with certain qualifications on the loss. Losing another would be too much to think of.

"’S'nothin'," the man – Sofia still didn't know who he was – shrugged, a little uneasily, but without much genuine worry. "They got some problem back there with the coolant, I think, so we have one of our guys on site workin' on it. They'll have it reopened in an hour – for 'nother minute – when they change th' stuff."

“I see.”

“Right,” Sofia the Guest awoke briskly, “Victoria, give me your first aid kit. Aleksander, Sofia” – Sofia waved towards her vaguely – “meet Victoria Victrix and John Murdock. And Chug. These,” she said, headed towards the blonde woman determinedly, “are our alternates. As you probably may have gathered.”

The other drew back suspiciously, obviously used to being the unquestioned medic on the scene. “Tell me what’s going on, and what you need.”

“What is going on,” Sofia’s alternate advanced on the diminutive Victoria, “is that Alexander collapsed. What I need,” she bared her teeth in a growl, “is MGCSF, hemoglobin and immune system boosters. You have any of these?”

Victoria shook her head and reluctantly gave up the first aid kit.

“Since you don’t have any of these, and since you managed reluctantly to admit that I am not a complete idiot - something you seem to forget – I’ll just take glucose for now.” And Sofia scattered the new acquisition over the floor, together with the bandages and ampoules from the old kit. She snared up one of the new syringes and expertly rolled up Alex’s sleeve. “Sofia!” she demanded.

This was not foreign territory; when her Aleksander – the one standing in the corner, looking very lost beyond the sudden language barrier – was still alive, she, too, had to do this sort of thing often enough. Alternate Alexander’s hand was flaccid, and Sofia, propping it with one hand and holding the syringe, could not properly inject the glucose. Whatever that was worth… Sofia grimaced inwardly. Such terrible fits in her experience usually ended up with bone marrow transplants. And death… but this version of her husband seemed to avoid the latter, for now. She went over, and knelt beside her mirror image, grasping Alex’s hand, into which Sofia deftly slid the needle.

“What am I supposed to think!?” the woman Victoria burst out explosively. “You go portal hopping on your own, despite my recommendations to the contrary, you go gallivanting around destroying the portal behind your back, and I am supposed to assume you are intelligent?”

Sofia’s face reddened, then paled. She faced her rescuer-accused with an expression of absolute stillness, and Sofia knew, from personal experience, that after she was done – very politely – dissecting the other woman, she would go and break crockery.

“And what,” she inquired icily, “was I supposed to do? Your opinion of me – collectively, as the world knows – is as low as they go. Half of you think that I am an arrogant academic who never left her ivory tower, and the other half thinks I’m not even worth saving. I was not, to your knowledge, wishing to indulge myself. I was actually worried about Alexander more than about my pride; when I went through I was attempting to avoid the humiliation of dragging an army to see my husband drinking tea in the company of his alternate self there. Unfortunately, when I intended to get back, the generator had other plans. As you can see, for a worthless academic, I wasn’t doing too badly.”

“That is not-!” Victoria burst out angrily.

“Sofia, that’s plain nonsense-!” the man, John Murdock, chimed in.

“Chug don’t get it…” complained the huge man with the rocket launcher loudly.

The ruckus of all three trying to speak up in full volume at once was too much. Sofia let go of alternate-Alexander’s hand and faced the strange bunch. “Quiet, please!”

That was just the moment where her own Aleksander chose to interfere, pelting a question Sofia the Guest’s way, trying to rapidly work through the jumble of foreign language, foreign people and too much time alone. Sofia raised her hands to her ears helplessly, wincing from the clamour, and saw her alternate do the same when Alex – no better for the distraction – convulsed once, and started trembling.

“Quiet!” Sofia the Guest shrieked in a voice Sofia had not heard – from her alternate or herself – even in life-threatening circumstances. “Everybody shut UP! You are hurting him!” From fear and frustration, even Sofia who, until now – probably to differentiate – stuck like a burr to her American (mildly Western, if Sofia hadn’t completely lost her grip after a decade) accent slipped back into her own British tones. “Get Chug away from the equipment, everybody stop shouting, John, Vickie, please!”

Quiet suddenly reigned. Sofia could hear only the man Murdock murmur something to the man they called Chug, and Alexander’s breathing. And… she perked, watching the other Sofia do the same almost as quickly – being focused on her husband rendered her concentration a little less able to catch stray noises – and glance at her. Two identical eyes met.

“Footsteps,” said Sofia definitively, listening to the quiet tap of the hard floor.

“How long until the portal is ready to go, Victoria?” her duplicate asked sharply. “We need to go now.”

“Not sure… Petro said…”

“Ivan probably guestimated. We need to know. We have company.”

“Bad company?”

“Very bad company.” Sofia and Aleksander elaborated together.

“Right,” Murdock detached himself from Chug. “We can’t run from ‘em, so we gotta fight ‘em. We got the stuff with us, Sofia- Alek- uh… Sofia. You don’ need to worry.”

“I don’t want to fight,” said Sofia, realizing that her words were duplicated in precisely the same moment, and precisely the same tone. “I just want to leave.”

Aleksander glanced through the smashed double-doors to the hallway beyond. “I don’t think we have choice.”