Dystopia: Epilogue

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

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

(posted Monday, December 04, 2006)


Sofia’s Notes

The first thing that happened when I staggered out of the gate, stumbling from tiredness and clutching at my laptop, was that Ivan Derinsky gave me a lecture. Although usually quite mild – very unlike the argumentative, sarcastic duo that is myself and my husband – he was quite agitated; enough so that I could tell, despite the all-encasing suit. Of course, when a person mumbles half-incomprehensible things at you, while shaking his head, you have to be blind, deaf and an idiot, not to be able to notice.

Victoria walked around, muttering darkly about heavy chains and anklets to fit our measure and, although I was expecting her to provide a talking-to for all she was worth, said not a word about it, except suggesting sarcastically that I might wish to let her pry Alexander from my cold, dead fingers and let the hospital teleporter do its proper job. I suggested – in more polite and lengthy terms – that she stuff it, and that he goes nowhere without me for he next year, at least. We compromised on an ambulance. The matter arranged to our due satisfaction – with something of a cramp as I fretted while my husband was towed away by two grim-looking EMTs that cast malevolent glances my way each time I tried, as best my ability, to be helpful and provide advice – the assault began. It was a very polite, pleasant assault, quite in line with our Mad Engineer’s well-intentioned – though slightly confused – personality, and it made me feel all the worse for its gentleness.

The entire barrage was artfully executed in the form of one sentence, stating simply “We were worried about you; it’s good to have the two of you back…” The helmeted head then swiveled to take in the two alter-Rabinoviches carefully attempting to merge into the little space between the equipment and one of the walls and he added. “Oh… four of you.”

It was, all in all, enough to set off my little guilt wheels. Thanking everyone profusely with a blush worthy of my nonexistent tomato ancestry, I fled the room under pretext of having to – finally – wash my grimy, tear-stricken, dusty and sun-burnt face.

I ran, and found that, for a change, I could provide very little in the way of response, or argument; while I could find myself, perhaps, confiding my momentary confusion in the people present to their great relief and gratification – perhaps even vindication – I could not contritely speak of the inherent mistrust and displacement that I have often found myself facing. Especially when I am deeply uncertain of the motivations driving the behaviour of my peers; is it merely a sort of vague pity, mingled with a chafing, though necessary obligation, or is it, perhaps, a genuine refute of my fears?

The second thing to happen was that Alexander – depleted by days of intense strain, and several uncontrolled seizures – got a bone marrow transplant. It is true that I have done this, in conjunction with my husband, at least ten times throughout the last twenty years, yet this time there was an all-new, sharply felt fear in the procedure for me. I found myself, throughout the two dreary, dragging weeks in hospital, trying to avoid casting looks upon Aleksander: the living – or not – testimony of the dangers inherent in our situation. For a change, not even Alexander managed his appropriate frivolity, and, perhaps in light of recent events, chose a different, more cautious approach.

Coming home, for us, was something of a surprise. Surprise, first of all, because the feeling came to me, perhaps for the first time in quite a few years, that this place – in which, up until now, I had been floating on air, breathing thin oxygen – was, indeed, home. Perhaps it was because, in some ways, I had gone back to my childhood, and it seemed too small to any longer fit my measure.

It was all the more surprising when, two days after Alexander left the green, gloomy corridors of the hospital, Bella Dawn Parker invaded our living room, and sat stiffly on the edge of one of our chairs, her blazing eyes slowly sweeping across the endless bookshelves, standing like proverbial soldiers in the army of ideas along our walls. It is hard to tell, with Miss Parker – commissar of an illusory Soviet army, and American to boot – whether her eyes are blazing with anger, or blazing just because it’s her, but in this instance I thought I could guess. Sitting on the other end of Alex’s couch – I find displays of public affection between myself and him as difficult as I do confidences – and balancing the laptop, which I was using to compile my notes, on my knees, I patiently awaited a talking-to.

Attempting to paraphrase a conversation some time after it happened is always a difficult thing; new impressions arise, old impressions and emotions die off. Even with an eidetic verbal memory like my own, I find that certain statements take a sharper edge, whereas others blur in. Bella Parker sat with her face in her hands for a long, long time. I kept my mouth firmly shut, waiting for the outburst – of upset or of pain, I wasn’t certain which – and Alexander even managed to doze, exhausted by more than two minutes with his eyes open. In a sense, this confrontation had been a long time coming. The two of us, by nature of our skepticism and mistrust of human nature, always presented a subordination problem to any leadership we have found ourselves under. I had been expecting, even, to hear the final bell toll on our sojourn…

Surprisingly enough, what ensued was not at all according to my expectations. I rarely anticipate my expectations to be foiled. While I do not often interact with people on the emotional level, I do observe – and in the observation, analysis and diachronic examination find a certain understanding that – although able to feel emotions – I sorely lack when faced with a predicament. Bella, shaking her head ruefully, declared that a lecture – though we richly deserve one – is not what we are about to receive. It seems that what we were in line for was, so to speak, an outburst of familial love.

The CCCP, she told us, her voice a little weary and hoarse from lack of sleep – on our behalf, as shocking as the concept might be – has slowly become a strange, awkward, scattered about sort of family, and as we, Russians, are expected to easily grasp the nature of binding familial ties, perhaps the clarification that she sees us as family members would provide a rational explanation as to why, despite our irritating, superior natures, she would have risked her neck several times over in the nooks and crannies of an alternate Earth. Alexander and myself have now received the honourary titular standing of cousins; I am forever grateful to her for not adorning us with the laurel leaf of closer siblings as my pale complexion would not have borne the body paint. I refrained, rather with admirable sensitivity, from coming out with this gem in the middle of her speech, though.

I’ll grant Bella Parker this; while in my opinion too emotional for her own good, and upholding opinions that – had she sought expert counsel – she would have found to be mistaken, I have never once suspected her of malicious intent, or insincerity. As she herself testified, the leadership title she bears would serve her ill as basis for corruption and gaining power, and, in between bouts of threatening glared and mentions of collaring us both, I believe she was relieved when I attested – for both Alexander and myself – that we did not suspect that of her.

One thing stands out to me as a point of interest, however; as she was quietly reading to me my right – in a voice soft enough not to waken up the still snoozing Sasha – I think I must have counted three times when she repeatedly asserted that she never thought, and never will think, to let us leave.

It seems we’re stuck with this forever, Alex and I. The commissariat, I had been sternly notified, will refuse to sign any resignation letters handed in by me, my alternate, or either of the Alexanders, hand written and typed, both.

It is a strange notion to think that bygones could be bygones, not only with enemies. Opening something of a new page without changing the innate workings of my personality and mind seems an impossibility. I cannot abandon with any sense of self my long-established outlook upon life and all things in it. Believing in an organization that so lacks sense of humour, and giving myself without regard to individuality to this nebulous concept most of our members are so taken by, presents to me an edge of insanity. However, I find that there is a novel notion of separation, in which I can perhaps trust the very individuals that form this nebulous organization, letting my guard slip not for it, but for them.

Perhaps I should start calling Bella Parker by her first name…

I notice, these past few weeks, a tendency to slip into a vague haze; I wake up, in the middle of the night, and grope for Alexander’s hand, to establish, within the uncertain, mutable world of slippery nightmares, whether he is, indeed, still there. The world passes around me like fog – like a cloud, or a morning chill in the air. I look at the eyes of my alternate-twin and see the same strange detachment. In both our eyes the multicoloured world shatters into incoherent pieces; ribbons and sparks of coloured glass spiraling into the unknown in a hypnotic dance, but never touching me or her. I freeze by windows and drag my hand along bookshelves, just to verify their reality.

I walk around with a smile on my face after each family gathering… Sometimes, I also wonder whether I can now be considered a true schizophrenic – enjoying woefully the company and conversation of myself. Sofia did say, though, that she had occasionally been doing the same, suddenly overwhelmed with almost too much family for her own good. Occasionally, when no one sees, she slips into tantrums, and cries for most of an hour, buried in her pillow, or hits her fist repeatedly, weakly, on the wall. Then, like a true daughter of our little family, she clenches her teeth to pain, and marches out, head held high, to face the new, unfamiliar, intriguing world.

Neither Aleksander, nor she, stepping into the new universe, cast many regretful looks behind them. All they had: the small, dusty, disorganized apartment; Sofia’s pathetic, lonely existence; even her eternal, rosy-cheeked suitor, were not worth much to either of them. It was an old and moldy life, struggling from minute to minute between a plethora of little, pesky, everyday nuisances such as how to fend off hunger for her, and a fight against being caught, discovered, subjugated for him. And for them both, the threat of going insane.

No, they should not fear this new world; there was a whole multiverse out there to conquer.

Viy sighed, walking through the empty lab to where the portal anchor lay, quietly humming. Things had gone so well, then collapsed utterly and inexplicably. What universe could harbor people with amazing powers like that? A universe full of pyrokinetics, energokinetics, and, if that Victoria Victrix could be believed, even magic!

He approached the table that the Rabinoviches had been using to work and reached underneath it, removing the small bug he had been using to listen in to their conversation. Behind him, several engineers examined the portal anchor, determining how best to move it. One of the engineers – that was comrade Gleb Kagan, if Viy remembered right – kept muttering to himself, an astonished, for some reason unstoppable string of oaths and invocations. Viy wondered what the short sojourn of Aleksander Rabinovich in company with ‘his’ scientists had done to the man.

His gaze swept across the table, over the various parts the Rabinoviches had made in their frenzied attempt to build a portal device to bring them home. Their instructions and directions - at least those they had voiced aloud - were already recorded by his men, and now they had the actual parts.

He ordered them all to be taken to the labs. They would never be able to find the Rabinoviches' dimension – and, frankly, he did not want to – but that didn't mean there weren't other worlds to investigate... The strange world of the two – now four, Viy reminded himself – scientists could go hang; there was a whole multiverse out there to conquer.

Sofia’s Notes

I find myself, these days, sitting on the couch and looking through the large veranda window, and phasing out. There is a feeling there, as if all this is a sort of dream; vague, insubstantial and perhaps a little surreal. When I wake up, I will be in my own apartment, with the cluttered, suffocating rooms, and the dusty untouched bookshelves. With nobody there but me, and empty, lonely days stretching ahead of me onto a bleak, senseless eternity.

We are, so to speak, a happy ending; the heroes rescued, the good, helpful, sidekicks receiving their boon… the threat neutralized, one way or another. Living happily ever after. The world, however, does not lend itself to happy endings, or to any kind of endings. Life, as they say, goes on, and nothing remains stable or unchanging for very long, not even happiness.

Aleksander and I are – adjusting, I suppose one could call it. Ten years apart, and we are not the same people we have been. We sit on this very couch, sometimes, and stare at each other, unsure of anything and too tangled up to strike a conversation. We walk around certain subjects carefully, treading softly around my ten years of isolation, his slipping grasp of ordinary, everyday matters, my lonely dinners every night… Sometimes Aleksander forgets himself, and when I come down to the lab, to call him home, he looks at me as if I were a stranger, some new acquisition of his that proved disappointing. Frustration can be an endless well, I find, and he is sometimes like an autistic child; well intentioned, but inadvertently obtuse and cruel. Sofia warned me this will be the case, explained everything over and over again. I do not lack for understanding, only for patience…

I wonder; if, after three months, I sometimes want to howl and tear out my hair, will the coming years be better, or, perhaps, worse?

I step out, into the throngs of noisy, happy, excited people, into the colourful little shops and the immense malls, stand openmouthed, looking at all this unappreciated plenty, my flashbacks come upon me at odd, inconvenient times; while buying food, while talking to the clerk in the apparel store, or walking slowly to university. I close my eyes and Berkeley disappears; sometimes it disappears even with my eyes wide open. I see not the broad, sunlit streets of California, but the shady, grotesque mockery of the industrial area in Omsk, and the green canopy of the twisted forest through which we ran for our freedom.

Sofia says it will pass – one way or another – that the two of us are much too practical, have much too focused a mindset to let this disturb us forever. She says I will never come to see America as normal, though… She never did. The people seem like children, most of the time. Even the adults are like children; blissful, carefree, subtly different, somehow. It is not their fault, that I feel as if I had just left a war zone – in truth, I had – and their levity zips past my head, ricocheting off a shell. Sofia did say we were both of us too serious for own our good.

With all that, good things seem to come too, for those who wait. Sofia – after she had gotten in touch with her and Alexander’s friends – told me that I would, come time, love Berkeley. After a month in the utter insanity that is their current place of residence, it seems a rather quiet sort of town, despite the occasional wannabe Archimedei that are gracing the street – in their birth suits, so to speak – at the onslaught of some random thought. Alexander, after some grumbling in the nature of ‘pulling up old favours’, and ‘calling up dead ghosts’, arranged my Sasha a place at this sunny, southern university, where our alternates had apparently spent some of the happiest years of their lives before circumstances forced them to leave. I wonder whether Sofia – like me, frankly – isn’t a little too busy holding on to the past.

I should bring this up, next I see her over the weekend.

This is a new world, after all. Wasting my time in depression helps neither Aleksander, nor myself. Somewhere, out there, there is a solution to our own problem, too.

After all, as Aleksander says, there is a whole multiverse out there to conquer.

DJK & EAL, Israel, 2006