Chapter 20 (or, “The Substitute”)
Jian opened his eyes.
He was standing in a white room, nothing else around. There was a figure in front of him, in a suit, with grey eyes on him. Jian looked down at his feet, then at the figure. He didn’t know how he had gotten there, or by which methods he had arrived at all. But he did know this person had something to do with it. When he spoke, it was once more in English, the words rolling unnatural off the tongue.
“Who are you?”
The man seemed to smile with his eyes. “I’m sure you will understand someday. Until then, I ask you do your best, and nothing less.” Then, he faded from view, and the room once again became bright white.
“Oye! Get up! Come on, bonito, we’ve got places to be!”
Jian stirred, opening his eyes slowly. The first thing he saw was Rosa, leaning over him, pinching his cheeks. He realized that he was laying on the ground, in the computer room at KGB headquarters. He searched for the right words to say and finally found them in English. “What happened?”
Rosa gave him a small smile. “You’re safe now. We just need to get out of here.” Rosa took Jian by the hand and pulled him up. “The police will be coming any second now. I’m sure they noticed the huge explosion that came from this room at midnight.”
It all came back to him -- Dvorak, the recoding, the boombox being smashed. “Tama-niichan? Where is Tama-niichan? He was here, wasn’t he?”
“Dude. You have got to quit dying on us,” Jason’s voice came over from the other side of the room. Jian looked and Jason and Rifka were both sitting by Tama, who was fine but getting his bearings. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, adjusted his goggles.
Jian gave him a smile. “Tama-niichan.”
The other boy opened his eyes and smiled. “Hey. Are we all okay?”
“Other than the fact that we’re going to get arrested soon, yes.” Rosa crossed her arms. “We need to go. Now!”
“The police won’t come here.”
They looked at the man sitting on the floor, what was left of Dimitri. He was back to his normal self, but talking in English this time. His dark eyes, no longer Dvorak’s grey color, went to Rifka. “Milaya, what happened? Why are we all here?”
Rifka seemed confused, but tried to hold her own. “I do not know,” she answered back in English. This Dimitri...he sounded just like he had when they had first met. The charismatic man who promised the Soviet world she knew would come back for her. This didn’t sound like the most recent Dimitri to her. Now she knew better: that the newer Dimitri was really Dvorak in disguise. But she couldn’t take back what the Soviets had done to her friend, in the other world. And she couldn’t take back how strongly she felt for the QWERTY crew now.
She had to keep her distance from Dimitri.
Dimtri looked at the ground, away from Rifka. “It felt...it felt as if I was possessed by a strong person. And that person was trying to bring about a new world for our Soviet brothers. But I do not fully understand the means he was using to go about it.”
“He’s forgotten all about it.” Rifka turned and saw Isabel standing next to her. “It’s true that Dvorak was working through this man, but the world has been made right and his mind has been wiped of all that Dvorak did.”
Rifka sat by Dimitri. “Dimitri...what was your dream?” she asked in Russian, wanting one last memory of the man who had talked her into fighting for her homeland again. “Your real dream.”
Dimitri sighed. “Milaya...I only wanted to be true to my homeland.”
“You are.” Jian stood behind Dimitri. “Nobody can stop you from being yourself. For those of us who grew up Soviet, that means there will always be a part of us that is Soviet. I don’t think we should forget about that Sovietness in us. I don’t think we can. I can’t forget what happened in my past. It makes me cry sometimes, but it makes the present beautiful.”
“You’re right.” Rifka gave Jian a smile. “We have to go. But whatever your dream is, Dimitri...as long as it doesn’t hurt others, I think you can realize it. Just...don’t hurt anybody.” Then, before she could say anything else, she stood up, turned away from Dimitri, and walked out the door.
Jian gave Dimitri a smile. “Take care,” he said, and then he followed Rifka out.
Dimitri looked towards the door, and then back at Tamasine. “Can you explain this?”
“I can’t explain everything.” Tama shook his head, trying to find the right words to say. What could he possibly say to Dimitri that would make everything better? “Nobody can do that. All you can do is figure out what is true for you. I’m sorry I can’t say more. But I don’t even know if you can understand. If you want to be true to your homeland, then do that. Do that to the best of your ability.”
“I don’t even know what my goals or dreams are now.”
“They will come in time, I feel. In time. Time is all you have now, but it’s something we don’t even have, so...consider yourself lucky.” Tama felt a hand on his shoulder, and saw Jason and Rosa there beside him. Jason carried what was left of his busted boombox under one arm. Tama followed them through the door that led out of the room, out of the KGB headquarters, and into the bright light waiting for them.
“So those freaking kids left without even saying goodbye.” Carissa turned in circles on the swings. “Just like them, I guess. We get back to your place and the door’s unlocked, the jackets and everything are gone, and we have a mess to clean up.”
Mac sighed from where he was standing, leaned up against the swingset pole. “And Isabelle now hates you.”
“Yeah -- there’s that to deal with now. Why do they come and go and make a mess? I didn’t pick this life. And why couldn’t Dvorak just stayed gone? All we got was a voice mail message saying they were off to destroy Dvorak...again. Didn’t I do enough the last time? Why won’t he stay dead?”
Mac was silent for a moment. “I don’t have that answer. And, if I’m honest, all I can do is say this seems like it’s just beginning. I don’t think that will be the last we see of those kids, or of Dvorak. I don’t know what he wants, other than to destroy this world because you had the upper hand against him, and you were the first to.”
“So great. Dvorak will be against me forever?”
“We need to find a way to support them. And in a way, we have, in Isabel. But you also keep freaking out like you don’t have a support system here, Carissa. I’m here for you. You know that. And I will be here no matter what happens. I promised myself that a long time ago.”
“Because I made you a legitimate citizen?”
“Because I love you. I have, ever since I first saw you on that roof. That won’t stop. It won’t ever stop.”
Carissa stopped swinging. “You won’t?”
“I promise. No matter what happens, in this world or the next, I will always be by your side.”
Getting off the swing, Carissa ran up to Mac and gave him a hug. “I’m a mess. You’re right. This isn’t even remotely close to being done. But I want to thank you. If you’re here, I think I will be all right.”
“Jian Liang Xiao.” Tama held his head in his hands. “That’s a tongue twister if I ever heard one, Didi.”
“It’s not a tongue twister, Tama-niichan. It’s my name.” Jian grinned from where he was sitting -- on the floor, next to Jason. “Don’t you like it?”
“I do...I’m just going to have to find another nickname to call you all the time.”
Tama tried, but it came out sounding more like “Jen.” “Is that okay?”
“I can be Jen, Tama-niichan. As long as you don’t get hurt again.”
Tama laughed. “I can’t promise that, but I’ll do my best.”
“Are you sure you’re okay with us just leaving Dimitri there?” Rosa asked Isabel.
Isabel shrugged. “We didn’t have much of a choice. Get used to it, Rosa. Most of the time, we’ll be in and out of universes, and we’ll often never know just what happened. I’m sure Dimitri will be fine, as well as Carissa and Mac. We can check on them in January. I’m not concerned.”
“I am.” Rosa drank more of the soda. She still hadn’t identified its flavor -- it was a brand she didn’t know, but it was all this building seemed to have. The six of them were back at QWERTY headquarters, with Isabel and a very broken boombox that Jason and Jen were looking at. All five members were in their jackets, sitting in different areas of the room. Rosa was lounging on a white chair with her soda; Isabel was in a nearby, identical chair. Rifka and Tama were at the table, Rifka eating blini that had been prepared by the cafeteria and Tama still holding his head in his hands.
And in one corner were Jason and Jen with the boombox. Jason was trying what he could to help Jen, which consisted of him holding tools and providing muscle support when it was needed. Jen wasn’t an electrician, but he did like to take things apart sometimes, and it was what Jason had to work with.
The door opened, and Sarah Dealey walked in. “I would like all of your attention, please,” she said, and all six sets of eyes turned toward her.
She took a position at the table, dressed in her jacket and black slacks. Her head leaned on her hand for a minute, and Tama caught a quick glimpse at her blue eyes. “You five have been through a lot in the last week,” she started. “It began with the destruction of your world six months ago, but upon your awakening three of you were transported to Earth, to put it simply. I bet you are wondering just how Jason, Rifka, and Jian Liang got to Earth.” Her eyes went to Isabel. “Or how you ran into your old nemesis again.”
“I thought I had destroyed Dvorak when I put him into limbo.” Isabel played with the ends of her dark hair. “I guess not.”
“Nothing is completely destroyed.” Sarah crossed her legs. “Pay attention, all of you. I will only be saying this once. Dvorak’s role in all of this is hard to define. He holds a role in QWERTY known as the Substitute. When two worlds are colliding -- such as yours and Carissa’s -- sometimes a world will not get a guardian. In that case, the Substitute comes in and acts as guardian so the world with a guardian can survive intact. The role of Substitute has changed hands in QWERTY throughout the millennia, and Dvorak is the current one.”
“But what about what I did?” Isabel asked.
“It’s true that Dvorak, over the years, has become corrupted as our Substitute. But the role of Substitute is a permanent one. And, as you know, members of QWERTY do not die. Isabel, when you stuck Dvorak in limbo, that made it possible for your world to be saved. But that did not destroy Dvorak. As the Substitute, he still had to exist to help all of the other factions of QWERTY.”
“Just how many members are in QWERTY?” Rosa asked.
Sarah had to think for a minute. “There are twelve divisions, and a hundred and twenty eight factions,” she said. “The actual number of members is unknown, because we exist out of time, and it’s hard to pin that down precisely. But I am one of the leaders, so I know that. Of the twelve divisions, each one has a Substitute. So Dvorak is the Substitute for the Llorin Division. Perhaps someday you’ll meet Leader Llorin, but she is a very busy lady, and she does not speak our language.”
“What does she speak?” Jen asked.
“A language you do not understand. She is not from your solar system. That is best left to another day. The point I am making is...the fate of our entire division rests on Dvorak keeping the equilibrium as the Substitute. Just because you don’t like him and he doesn’t like you doesn’t mean he gets to be destroyed. In that moment after you sealed him in limbo, he was back out in the universe, helping out one of the other leaders. Dvorak can travel through space and time to be the Substitute, and no limbo can fully stop him.”
“So why is he so peeved at us?” Jason asked from his seat. “What the hell did we do to him?”
“Carissa and Isabel were the first in a long time to initiate Operation Colemak, and the first in our faction. And Dvorak has been in his position for a long time. He doesn’t like being played with.” Sarah uncrossed her legs, then crossed them again. “This usually happens to Substitutes. They become tired of the job and retire, giving it to someone else in the faction. But Dvorak won’t give it up, and we can’t force him to. The only thing you can do is put up with him.”
“In every job that doesn’t have two guardians?” Isabel threw her hands up in the air. “Dios mio!”
“One more question.” This came from Tama. “How would we be able to get rid of Dvorak?”
“You can’t. He must choose his successor as Substitute on his own. That is the only way to stop him.” She stood up from the table. “The five of you were chosen, for unknown reasons, to be a part of QWERTY. You have all received your jackets and communication devices. For now, you will operate as a mini-faction of mine, and Isabel will lead you. But soon, you will be called to other areas, split up and sent on assignment yourselves.” She walked toward the door. “Direct your questions to Isabel. I...I’m sorry I can’t be of more help to you.” And she walked out the door, it shutting behind her.
Isabel watched her go. “So...who wants to see their bedrooms?”
“I hate him.”
“Why that world? Why 560? Of all the years I’ve done this, I’ve never understood.”
“There are some things you can’t understand.”
“I know, but like hell that’s gonna stop me.”
A laugh. “There’s the Sarah I know and love.”
“I wish he would give it up. But he’s got his eye on Gonzalez, And because of it, it won’t get any easier for those five kids. I figured I’d split them up after their first mission, but...if Dvorak is going to go after them, it would be best to keep them together.”
“What did they call themselves again?”
“The Dealey Five. Shut up, Mick. It’s kind of cute.”
“Cute name or not, they’re going to need each other. They do make a good team, from what I’ve heard.”
“I don’t know why those five were chosen. But they may just be what Gonzalez needs to convince Dvorak to change his mind about all of this, to give it up.”
“The question is...who will be Substitute next?”
“I don’t know, Mick. I just don’t know.”
Isabel sat alone in her room, after showing each of the members of the Dealey Five to their rooms. They were mostly empty, with white fixtures like the rest of headquarters, but she had told them they could customize them as need be. Her request for them to have five rooms together had paid off. Jen and Tama were across the hall from each other at the end, and Rifka and Rosa had rooms next to each other. Her new room was next to Jason’s, and across the hall from Rifka’s. No matter where they went, these five kids would be able to come home to these rooms.
She had done one thing before they had gotten there -- she had painted each door with their colors. It seemed kind of like a superhero team, but they were, in a way.
She flopped back on her bed and looked at her ceiling. Thankfully, the five of them were adjusting well -- save for Jason’s boombox. She would see about getting that down to the shop later, seeing if Nikkei could take a look at it.
If she closed her eyes, she could see Carissa and Mac’s faces again. She hoped she would never have to drag them into this again. They deserved their peace. They deserved to be together. And while she missed them, she hoped that the new kids would become her friends. They could never fill the void, as friends each leave an individual void that can’t be simply filled by another person. But they are friends, nonetheless.
They would start training within the next week, and then go on missions, and then become full-fledged members of QWERTY. They would save the world time and time again, the threat of Dvorak always over their heads. But there are still many more mysteries that need to be solved, things I haven’t told them yet, things you have not told them, either. You know what I speak of, am I right, reader? Because you are the ones who have guided our heroes this far, and with blessing, you will continue to do so far into the future. Their future rests in your hands.
Now...shall we begin the survival strategies?
The Dvorak series book 1: The Dealey Five is now complete. The Dvorak series will be on a hiatus until December 28, 2013.