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View Full Version : Sonya: The Start of Something Bigger [3.3k words; sci-fi/mature content]



The Carcosan Herald
July 18th, 2019, 04:01 PM
Looking at Old Moscow today, you'd never have guessed this place was the seat of Russian power eighty-eight years ago, when the Great Technological Singularity of 2045 began to take hold. Back in the day, this place used to be a glittering metropolis. Immaculately-kept lawns, a thriving business centre, and platinum-white stratoscrapers as far as the eye could see. They said it was at one point the richest city in the world. After all, we led the way with artificial intelligence and nuclear fusion, and became the first country in the world to pioneer AI rights. But then came the Americans, who after seeing their world domination about to go tits-up, decided if they couldn't have technological supremacy, nobody could. Now, after the nuclear shitstorm, there's almost nothing left of the glorious Old World.

At least, that's the official excuse. There certainly aren't any shimmering white towers dominating the skyline any longer – just a bunch of hideous neon-lit gunpowder grey office blocks. This sad excuse of a CBD is ringed by a ten click-wide belt of dilapidated suburb, itself surrounded by miles upon miles of shanty-town. Moscow City Hall's the one that stands out the most, the spire-like structure built in the 'Chistaya' style. Y'know, that quote-unquote 'artform' that looks like what happened when Stalinist Baroque shacked up with Ultramodern for a one-night stand. Unfortunately, the condom broke, and when Ultramodern went and told Mister Baroque he was gonna be a dad, he dropped off the grid and nobody heard from him again. And who can blame the poor guy? If I was ever made to squeeze out a fugly retard baby, I'd probably disown it too.

Not that I've ever thought I'd make a good mother anyhow. Teenage idiocy, booze, cigarettes, the occasional line of coke and kids don't have a habit of getting along when they're all together. I guess that's why my parents gave me and Anzhela up to Uncle Dima, shortly after I was born.

Life sure is a bastard. So saith the dashing young lady leaning against the lamppost with a cigarette in her mouth. Her short cream-blonde hair flutters in the stale wind, burgundy red eye augments flickering as they examine the architectural monstrosity that is Moscow City Hall a mile to the north. At the back of her mind, a worry that her white-striped black track pants and matching hooded jacket might get a little dirty germinates. And who the hell does this lady think she is standing in this dingy morning street by herself, I hear you think?

Friends and family call me Sonya. My identity card calls me Volkova, S. My schoolteachers used to address me with "Sofia Vasilevna!" - as for that matter does Uncle Dima every time I come home drunk. Those familiar with online gaming know me as IppolytaManreaper, the most common prefix being 'killed by'. Everybody else just calls me Sofia, or Sophie if you're an English speaker. I hail from Yakimanka District, the closest of the suburbs to Old Moscow's centre – hence, 'Yakimanka' is the answer I give when asked by other youths: 'What are you for life?'.

Will I stay in Yakimanka for life?

I fucking hope not.


~

"Hallo? Wer ist das?"

"Hey Igor, it's just Sonya. Where's Johan at?"

"Oh, he's just outside at the moment."

"Could you do me a favour and tell him I need a place to crash tonight? Uncle Dima's gonna have my ass if I get back wasted."

"Hey, you know you're welcome to stop by anytime!"

"Yeah, but y'know how busy he can be with his work. I wanna make sure I'm not causing any problems with his ... uh, business."

"Ah, I see. I'm sure he'll appreciate the consideration. But yeah, I'll let him know."

"Thanks, Igor. Hey, I'll catch you later, alright? Stay sane, alright!"

"Hah, you too Sonya. See ya."

Johan Arturas is an old friend of my parents. An Old Nations expatriate, he came to Moscow about ten years before I was born. He briefly rolled with the Balaklava syndicate before he ditched them – which resulted in his left forearm getting chopped off in retaliation. I definitely prefer the badass blade he got attached to the stump as a replacement, but it's still sad he can't go to a proper augmentation clinic. Otherwise he'll get put on medical records, and then the Directorate will come get him. So I lend him an extra pair of hands with his work. At first I didn't want the cash he gave me for the help – it's shit form to demand payment for helping a family friend. But since Johan insisted, and Uncle Dima was bothering me to get a job once I left school, I caved, and now I work as an assistant in his small-time pharma lab.

(I shouldn't have to say that Uncle Dima doesn't know what exactly I do in there. More on that in a moment.)


~

As I end the phone call and proceed down Shabolovka Street, the ancient words of a long-dead metal vocalist begin to growl into my auditory implant. I heard the song's about an old legend from what's now part of the Commonwealth, about a dude named Carolus Rex. From what little English I can understand, his deeds of badassery were indeed sufficient to warrant such a song for me to headbang to. On that warrant, he's fine by me. That's the great thing about music: you don't need to know the language to understand it. Hopefully somebody will one day write an equally awesome song about me, assuming I haven't smoked or drank myself to death by then. Maybe they'll write a cautionary tale about the dangers of alcoholism in my memory.

Hell, my entire existence is basically just a massive compendium of "how the fuck did this happen". For instance, my house is almost exactly a mile from where the Kremlin used to be; were it not for the cleanup efforts (one of the few things the government did right here), I'm certain this place would be an irradiated death zone.

But before I get to work, I've got one more call to make.

"Sveta?"

"Oh, Sonya? It's you."

"Hey, you think we should go pick up the others for a day out tomorrow?"

"Huh? What's the occasion?"

Internally, I facepalm. "Don't you damn well tell me you forgot it's Tanya's name-day tomorrow!"

"It is?! Fuck my life, I haven't got her anything!"

"Neither have I, which is why I'm suggesting we take her out on the lash tomorrow! How the hell did you forget?! She has a national fucking holiday named after her! Tatiana Day – Student's Day! The Twenty-fifth of Jan-"

"Alright, I get it! I'll go pick up something from downtown, a little gift!"

"Don't bother. You know as well as I do she can spot last-minute presents like a rapist spies drunk teens!"

"That's true, but you don't think she'll appreciate the thought anyway?"

"...Yeah, you've got a point there. We'll go pick up one of those matrioshki she likes after work. Does she have the Snegurochka one?"

"How the fuck would I know? You know I don't give a rat's ass about that shit."

"Alright, since neither of us have any idea if she has the Snegurochka one, I propose we go pick that one up for her!"

"And if it turns out she does have the Snegurochka one?"

"THAT, dear Sveta, is a bridge we will cross when we come to it. If we come to it."


~

After giving Sveta a due reprimand, I arrive at my destination. It's a modest grey tower block, about twelve stories tall; judging from its architecture and general state of disarray, I'd say this particular building might have been standing since before the Exchange. Obviously it will have been renovated a few times, which is probably why it hasn't crumbled to dust. The courtyard car park is empty, which means the shop must have just opened. I pull up my optic sensor's HUD to determine the time to be one minute past seven.

Welcome to Alyosha's Pharmacy. A suitable disguise for the man who owns the place, a man effectively on the run from both the vozhdi and the cops. The staff entrance is on the first floor, just above a flight of metal stairs. It's a small metal door with a buzzer built into it. A security camera watches over the courtyard and the balcony, its narrowing glass eye glowering at me as I walk up the stairs and approach the doorway.

Rap-rap-rap, goes the door. Three and a half seconds pass before the buzzer sounds off.

"Who is it?" the gruff security guard growls through the speaker.

"Your mama!" is my exasperated response. "She brings semechki!"

To give weight to my proclamation, I brandish a sealed green bag full of sunflower seeds before the camera. With great pride I point to the part of the label that says they still have their shells on, like any civilised human eats them. In case you've not worked it out yet, this is my lunch.

The voice on the other side sighs.

"Morning, Sonya," he grumbles. Seconds later, the door buzzes and the lock snaps open.

Simeon knows goddamn well who it is. We do this at least five times every week, and he can plainly see through the security camera watching the door. Not to mention I often see him at the desk when I come here to get Uncle Dima's meds. Unless his other eye's been gouged out by the same guy who caught him at his daughter's bedroom window and his implant broke again.

Upon mounting my coat in the cloakroom, I proceed into one of the laboratories. There are beakers, flasks and jars full of liquids everywhere, all arranged on the shelves as neatly as one can hope in an establishment such as this one. The bags of ingredients and the piece of paper pinned on the corkboard indicate that an order has been placed for crystal meth. There's a good chance that that's what I'll be doing today – helping to cook junk for the panoply of deadheads in this town.

The lab is currently being manned by a hunchbacked, swarthy old man in a bleached-white lab coat, blue gloves and thick, circular spectacles that look like welding goggles. He gives me a cursory glance, until he sees the bag of semechki in my hand. His eyes promptly widen and a scowl of shock and anger covers his wrinkled face.

"Ay!" he bellows at me in a thick Middle Eastern accent, pointing his baleful finger to me: "No foods, no drinks, wash hands!"

"They're going in the kitchen!" I yell back at him, gesturing to the specified room on the other side of the lab.

Ramazan's Russian is laughable at best, but he gets the memo after my gesticulating. Still, he shoots daggers at me as I make my way to put the bag of seeds in the fridge.

I haven't spoken much to Rama, even though I work with him on an almost daily basis – the extent of my communications with him is shouts denoting what ingredient or tool he needs next for his work. Nearly all of what I know about him comes from Igor. Moscow may be a stinking shitpile of a town, but I'm told it's even worse down in Baku, where Rama hails from. Considering how the authorities around here are notorious for mistreating ethnic minorities and especially those who look like they might be Muslim, that doesn't surprise me at all.


~

The rest of the day passes by without any interesting events, so I'll skip ahead a few hours to ten past five, ten minutes after the pharmacy closes for the day. Another day, another kopeck. At least, I think that's the saying. It came from the West, so I don't think the real one translates into Russian properly. Which leaves me to just make do with whatever I can get my mitts on.

Speaking of the West, I'm currently perched at my earlier haunt by that lamppost on Apakova Avenue. I'm listening to the radio on my phone at the moment, where they're talking about the Baltic war going on at this minute.

"And that's another thing! Do you know what that bunch of glorified raiders do to our brave soldiers?! They bombard our boys and girls with molten sand and cut up our synth-brothers as if they're some sick doctor's playthings! These quote-unquote 'people' need to be properly civilised, and I'll be damned if Colonel Trotskaya isn't setting a good example of how to do just that! Purge the criminals responsible for brutalising our countrymen and set an example to the rest! Just as the Entente is doing to the Martians – yet you don't hear as much as a fart from those pathetic desk-monkeys in New Geneva about any of that!"

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Varfolomei Kaffarov, a firebrand populist from Donetsk and all-around jag-off. Judging from the name he just dropped, they must be talking about that business in Abrene. The so-dubbed Free World is clamouring for her head, and naturally the government's having none of it. But if they're talking about putting her in front of a court martial, she must have done something nasty even by our brave soldiers' standards.

But it does put a thought in my head. That thought is another axiom of mine: Criminals don't get punished for the crime itself, they get punished for being stupid enough to get caught. Which sounds like an excellent place to commence my epilogue for today.


~

Some people call me a rebel, but I don't think that's really accurate. If I were to rebel, it'd basically involve grabbing the same state that's raised you and kicking it in the teeth. The Mechanocracy has done a pretty shit job of raising me, that much is obvious – along with everyone else in this town. Its centre of power is New Leningrad, just to the east of the Urals. That's where all the star children get raised. Many in megacities just like it, like Baikonur and Vladivostok, don't really have to work for anything. Some are born into wealth, and have their lives all ready and set out for them by their super-rich parents. Those who aren't born into wealth get allocated work on a government lottery, based on their strengths and personal virtues.

Then there's us. Those who dwell in the reconstructions. The proles who don't so much get oppressed by the dictatorial government as flat-out neglected. The biggest city in our command sector is Minsk – so it should surprise nobody that our command sector is called the Byelorussian Sector. No, I wouldn't call myself a rebel – more someone trying to make their own way through life after her guide has vanished. Or got killed. I don't know, and I don't care to find out.

In my head, 'beating the system' is an oxymoron. You can't beat the system. It's bigger than you, and it's way stronger. If you, Average Joe, were to try and fight the system ... well, think of how you'd feel if a house spider looked you square in the eye and told you to go eat your own shit. If you were the spider stating his thoughts, then sure, you might skitter around the place and annoy the hell out of the system. But at the end of the day, you're gonna end up being introduced to Mister Boot. Even if push comes to shove, just remember – they have tanks. You do not.

They say the most successful criminals are the ones with the suits. These criminals, they don't fight the system. They're savvy enough to know that if they do, they're starting a war they won't ever win. Instead, they hit the system from within. They crawl in and feed off it, taking a piece of the pie for themselves, and from there they thrive. A spider probably won't be able to take you down, but a virus...

Let's take a look at Gennady Ermakov, the richest man in Russia and one of the richest arms manufacturers in the world – and also one of the most reviled. He pays his employees a subsistence wage, barely enough to cover the monthly payments they need to make for their seventy-inch holovision. He makes them work long hours so they miss the latest live episode of The Arretaenian Chronicles. What a monster, I know. But everything he's doing is legal, it's all legit. He treats the system like a good husband treats his wife. He doesn't beat her or threaten her – he showers her with flowers, jewellery and shoes. In return, he gets to fuck her every night, and boy is she good in bed. As long as he keeps giving her gifts, she won't cheat on him, and she'll give him plenty of kids if he wants that. Ermakov isn't playing the game of life. He's already played it – and he's won. No amount of unionising or boycotting or bitching on social media is ever going to change that.

And then there's the flip side – the poor man and his morals. Whether it's self-righteousness or organised religion and everything in between, morality is the biggest load of horse shit I've ever seen. Funny thing is though, those smug fucks who harangue the rich for being evil, uncaring bastards are often people with families. It's even funnier when you learn it isn't them who suffer for their principles. More often than not it's their kids who have to put up with lousy birthdays and constant scrimping for cash because "only assholes invest in stock markets", or "I don't care about politics because they're all dickheads". Because the garbage man and the fast food worker are doing so much better in life than the stockbroker and the politician, aren't they?

Of course not. Notions like that are idiotic, bordering on madness, arguably even suicidal. Yet that bullshit slides by without challenge because it pleases the ear. Meanwhile the ruthless capitalist tosses morals aside, plays the poor moralist for the stupid moron he really is, and rakes in the profits. The poor laugh because they think the rich are idiots. The rich laugh because they know the poor are idiots. Really, it doesn't matter who's in the right: as long as everybody's laughing, the comedy show that is capitalism will keep on touring.

Such prickery is a grudging truth, and the closest thing to reality I know. It sucks, and it sucks hard. But the virtue of sucking doesn't suddenly make it an untruth. The nuclear exchange sucked, and yet we're living its aftermath.

This conclusion I reach as I smoke my cigarette before setting off home. My focus is on a hover-limo at the traffic lights in front of me. I recognise the man relaxing in the back as a prominent foreign businessman from the Commonwealth, a hedge fund manager – a man whose day job consists of devising creative ways to rob people in broad daylight and get away with it.

As the car drives off, the phone starts buzzing, prompting me to silence Kaffarov's rant. Upon investigation, I discover that my modest investment in Ermakov Military Systems is paying off. I smile as a hundred and sixty seven more rubles go into my bank account, closely followed by another one thousand one hundred and eighty eight from a month's work for Johan. One thousand, three hundred and fifty five hard-earned rubles to blow on booze, pizza, boy-whores – maybe even all three tonight, just to treat myself.

As much as I want to, I can't just wish away all the badness. I've got to work hard for it. And if that means a bunch of losers I'll never even meet have to suffer so that my friends, family and I can live with a little comfort, then so be it.

Each day is the start of something bigger.


~