They desired to “fix” us all. Men, women, even children. To bring down to our knees and kill our spirit. Transform our genome. Break our will. Turn us into experimental rats. There were many of us, but we were too weak. And they broke through the first line of our defense.

“The authorities of the metropolis remind that under the decision of the Emergency Council in connection with the rapid spread of novovirus, all city’s residents are prohibited from leaving their homes to avoid infection. For those who have been successfully vaccinated, food and basic supplies will be continuously delivered by volunteers and members of the internal security service.”

One by one, the megaphones of the city that has been plunged into the darkness of the night kept on announcing the deserted streets within a several-minutes break, screaming with all the voices of hell about how heartfully these bastards care about the population entrusted to them by fate. The population which they have willingly sacrificed.

Artyom carefully chose the route of his movement, constantly checking the map created by the Resistance engineers. There are too many ground patrols and cruising over the city drones and too little time for this operation. But the suit of a liquidated member of the internal security service, stuffed with all the electronics he may require, will give him this time, and an element of surprise in the event of a meeting with a patrol. With his hand tightly gripping the pistol that was switched to silent firing mode, Artyom raced through the streets of the dark city like a silent shadow.

* * *

Pandemica. That’s how members of the Resistance who have passed through three years of pandemic wars started calling this city. A monster born on the wreckage of a bygone era of false prosperity. A plague-city. A prison-city. The one which voluntarily agreed to this.

“The internal security forces of the megapolis continue patrolling the city’s territory to identify violators of the global quarantine regime, criminals, and looters. We thereby ask all law-abiding residents of the capital to keep sending their infograms in cases of detection of violators of the new order.”

Order. No, this didn’t look like an order of magnitude by the standards of those who were not yet enslaved during the pandemic wars – those who chose to remain human, vaccine-dissidents. This was the new order of those who thought of themselves as the masters of this world. New fascism with a taste of medicine and genetics in one flask.

Another night patrol marched along the street very close by. The sensors built into the suit warned Artyom in time about the approach of “his kind", and the internal number assigned to this patrol group was displayed on his neuro helmet. Everyone had such numbers now – both people and animals, ones still alive and long dead. Artyom waved to the group that was marching towards him with a greeting identification sign, painfully reminiscent of the notorious “Heil!”, while continuing to move and look as confident as possible. They didn’t turn around, didn’t suspect. The temporary access code, automatically transmitted between all members of the internal security forces, should be valid for several more hours. That would be enough.

Since now seemingly immeasurably distant days when the global quarantine regime was imposed, the very concepts of “friend” and “enemy” have changed beyond recognition, precisely following the invisible hand of a new ideological order, a new way of thinking. Many of the once seemingly strong and worthy people sided with the regime. Some people disclosed active members of the Resistance to the authorities for the opportunity to temporarily relieve the symptoms of novovirus with the aid of periodically offered to them painkilling injections, others handed over their infected former beloved ones to incessant medical experiments for the opportunity to get fed for at least a few months more, and some were even ready to become members of the internal security service and forcibly sterilize those who had so far refused the “gift” that was offered to all of them.

A patrol drone smoothly floated high above his head, slowly cutting the darkness of the night of the already sleeping metropolis with its searchlights. Artyom abruptly pressed himself against the wall, trying not to move. They could not get identification codes for the air tracking systems. If he gets noticed – the game is over.

Drones have become an additional means of monitoring compliance with the global compulsory quarantine regime, which the authorities imposed more than a year ago. The year during which they managed to suppress the willpower of most of its inhabitants, and either drive the rest of them underground or drag them into various medical experiments. The year during which every living soul inside the city took off its mask and revealed its true face to others. The year of traitors and collaborators. The year of the Resistance’s forming. The year of his, Artyom, new rebirth.

Jump. Hands cling to the fire escape ladder. Pull-up. Swinging. Push on the hands. Jump to the next building. There was no other way to pass through this zone of newly created cemeteries, of bottomless “mass graves” that were hastily dug by the authorities. By stairs, through buildings, on roofs. Until another patrol drone looms on the horizon.

* * *

Hundreds of thousands of victims were blamed by them on the pandemic, on novovirus. The authorities and the medical cartels under their vigilant control have not disclosed where it came from, who and for what far-reaching and desirable purpose once created it. But by the time the novovirus appeared, they already had a cure ready for action. And what, according to their statements, was supposed to be the salvation of humanity, became its curse instead. Not everyone understood this and not at once. And when they finally did it was already too late, because the doors of this huge prison cell were slammed shut with a bang, so that those living inside would forget about the very concept of “freedom”.

Artyom joined the Resistance during the first pandemic war. He was a scout in the army and became a saboteur in the ranks of the Resistance forces. Patrol tracking stations, police checkpoints, cordons, mobile stations of voluntary-compulsory vaccination – there was always work for him to be done. Each broken bar of the prison cell moves the final release date closer.

The shrill wail of a police siren somewhere far behind. Automatic bullets bursts. Explosion. A mushroom of fire broke out over the buildings half a kilometer away. Another victory of the Resistance or a police terror? There’s no time to find out.

The guards of the new prison regime who had sworn loyalty to the authorities were protected from periodic injections, which were mandatory for almost all other categories of citizens. And that is why novovirus did not circulate in their ranks. The cure was both a weapon and a guarantee of a repeated demand for that cure. But very few people understood this.

Sensors on the right arm of the suit issued a warning signal telling about leaving the patrol zone. He has to get rid of the suit. Then to get back at his own risk. If he survives.

Just a way bit more. A few more quarters through an abandoned industrial zone. There are no more human patrols moving here, yet there may be mines. It’s good that, unlike the suit, the night vision glasses didn’t have built-in location sensors.

* * *

Once in this now dilapidated building there was an underground genetic laboratory, which became one of the experimental grounds during the development and testing of vaccines against norovirus, which infected people with it at the same time. The Resistance learned about it from a medic who used to work here and joined them a month ago. And then this operation was planned. 

The vaccine was a virus. During the injections, it penetrated the body cells, bypassed the immune system, was embedded in the DNA, starting the process of self-replication. Norovirus carriers suffered from a variety of symptoms and diseases of inner organs, which were a side effect of forced-voluntary changes in their genome. Cases of infertility and uncontrolled genetic mutations were also recorded, during which the infected showed signs of regression to animal-like states. But the death of tens of thousands of test subjects was not the ultimate goal of the creators of this secret violent experiment – because each new portion of injections given to the population contained new series of genes that were introduced into living bodily cells by the virus. Like a vessel lost in the fog, the very concept of man as an intelligent being was rapidly blurring and disappearing. The developers of the vaccine knew all of this beforehand. But silence, as we all know it, is gold, and life tends to be short. And many of them were silenced voluntarily.

The medics also created an antidote – if in any way it could be called as such. This “antinovovirus” was, certainly, unable to restore the destroyed genome of those already infected, but it allowed to block the replication of its distortions for newborns, giving a chance for salvation at least to their children. And this was a chance worth fighting for.

The terminals and records created shortly before the hasty evacuation of scientists and medics after the outbreak of the first pandemic war were supposed to remain intact in the laboratory’s backup storage. They will allow those few scientists who have joined the Resistance to recreate the antinovovirus. And then it will only be necessary to come up with a way to distribute it, thereby correcting the mistake of scientific and medical madmen. Turning on the infoscanner, created in the catacombs of the Resistance’s technical laboratories, Artyom started searching for the laboratory’s backup storage.

* * *

He didn’t even notice how he stepped on a mine on the way back from the laboratory. The joy of his discovery filled his whole being so completely that for a brief moment he lost his usual vigilance. But that moment was enough. Neither instinct nor skill helped. Only the rest of the combat reflex – and a sharp, forceful jump to the side at the moment of the explosion. Last attempt for salvation.

The phalanges of the toes turned into meat crumbs. Bullet shrapnels embedded in his legs. A painful cramp pierced the whole body, and his mouth opened in a soundless scream but was clamped with both hands immediately. You can’t make a sound, you should not attract drones. No, you cannot lose consciousness, only not now!

Tossing from side to side, trying to overcome the initial pain shock, with barely obeying fingers, he pulled out the remnants of the analgesic gel from his waist bag, pouring it on the blood-soaked clothes. Then he rolled over on his back and, clenching his teeth until they gnashed from the incessant pain, fixed his bleary eyes on the heavens.

He never truly believed in Higher Powers – in his opinion, this world has already become too cruel and ruthless with their tacit permission. But here it is, just in front of him. Sky. Blueish-black. Have you forgotten about us? Stars. Here they are circling above him as if in a mad dance. Being so far and so close at the same time – just to stretch a hand. Who now lives in the worlds warmed by them – are they the same as us, madmen? No, they can’t be insane, they shouldn’t be. At least somewhere in this universe, there must be a grain of reason – otherwise what is the point of all this?

It’s quite possible that during that very moment all of this was just a trick of his tormented by hellish pain imagination, but for a brief moment, it seemed to him that several of these lonely wandering stars in the night sky flashed brightly, as if forming a new constellation – a constellation in the shape of a Cross…

* * *

When Artyom finally regained consciousness once again, the stars were shining above him as before. He’s still alive. He must finish what he has started.

He checked the disks found in the laboratory in his belt bag and backpack. Without external damage. So, hope is still alive.

And then, gathering the last remnants of his powers, he started crawling back. First – through the industrial zone, peering into the night darkness with all possible intensity, so as not to run into another mine. Then he had to bypass the burial grounds. Through the neighborhoods destroyed during the first pandemic war. In the Gallows Zone. Passing through The Firing Squad Square. To the catacombs of the Resistance.

It must have been the Guardian Angel himself who led him that day. Dragged by the hands. Carried on his wings. Poured in all of his strength.

Twice, by some miracle, Artyom managed to avoid the patrols marching through the night city. Three times patrol drones flew over, without noticing him from above. He lost consciousness four more times. And when he finally crawled to the catacombs, and a detachment of Resistance fighters noticed him, he only had enough strength to smile weakly and whisper softly: “I’m back.”

* * *

“Did you manage to study the samples obtained by Sergeant Artyom and check the relevance of the information found?”

“That’s right, Comrade Colonel. Our hopes were justified. The scientists who have joined us promised to create an antidote within a couple of months. They will just need some additional equipment, though.”

“Have no worries about the equipment, we will send our guys into an industrial raid.”

“We plan to hold the ceremony today. They all promised to come.”

The gray-haired colonel slowly approached the desk, silently took the filled glass in his hands, took a deep breath, as if driving away sad thoughts…

“Well, come on, without clinking glasses. Eternal memory to the hero.”

“Eternal memory…”