He starts with the most basic one: putting one palm over his throat, and the other over his mouth.
Thankfully, this particular communist isn’t stupid.
“You don’t talk, man?”
Artyom nods. It’s a little more complicated than that, though… he does talk, just not with his voice. He doesn’t have a voice to talk with. Instead he talks with his hands. He introduces another word from his made-up language, *ESCAPE*, and then points to the chute. The Red gets it. This is good for a lot of reasons. People who’ve known him his whole life like his stepfather or others back in ВДНХ can have long conversations with him, understanding his hands and often using theirs at the same time as they talk with their mouths. But it usually takes a little bit for new people to get the broad strokes of what he says, so he’ll stick to the simplest words possible, the obvious ones, as much as he can.
They go down the chute. Just one combat knife isn’t the best thing, but he’s a Spartan so he’ll make due. It’s a bit more practical in this situation anyway, to avoid drawing attention to themselves. He teaches the communist more words, the ones that are whispered to him now: *QUIET*, *DARKNESS*, *POISON GAS*, *SNEAK*. He shows that he has a whole shadow-language for his hands that runs parallel to Russian. It only takes three extra seconds for them to gain this understanding. Usually it’s several minutes at least, but this guy is smart, and he seems to realize immediately that Artyom’s smart, too.
Incredibly, the whole thing goes off without a hitch. They make it to the airlock and the communist - Pavel - talks a little more while the elevator moves, what their next steps are. And then: “Show me your name, comrade Ranger.”
Artyom thinks for a second and pulls out his knife again. He scratches it into the paint on the wall, watching Pasha’s eyes follow the letters.
“Tyoma, the Rangers must love you, you’re a stealth mission’s dream, man,” Pasha comments with a huge grin. The elevator stops. “Otlichna, let’s get our asses away from these fascists, eh?”
The door opens into an abandoned stalker hideout, low enough radiation levels that say the dust isn’t thick enough to choke them. Pavel moves his hand that it’s probably safe for them to come up. It is - there’s nobody here. He watches Tyoma emerge and come to the same conclusion.
*WAIT, SLEEP, TOO BRIGHT OUTDOORS*
It’s a good point. When you live in darkness for too long you can’t be in the sun - it’ll mean you can’t see in the light or in the dark anymore. Just the beams trickling through the boards and fabric over the windows is a little too much by themselves.
“Ladna, we’ll take shifts,” Pavel agrees. He sits on the counter for a second to rest his feet. “I can go first, man.”
Tyoma shakes his head. *HURT, ALMOST DIED, SLEEP* And then points his finger at Pavel very deliberately.
Pavel laughs and rubs the sore spot on his neck. “Okay then. Two hours in turns?” he suggests.
Tyoma nods, then also sits and checks over his recently-stolen Tihar. *FAVORITE GUN*
“A silent gun for a silent man, eh?” he chuckles, getting off the counter and pulling a tattered bedroll from the backpack that for some reason didn’t get confiscated when he was captured. “I have pork tushenka and a mushroom conserve.”
*BOTH, SHARE, NUTRITIOUS*
Pavel grins at his unlikely companion. “Ah, see? We’ll make a good communist out of you yet, D'artagnan.”
Tyoma makes a face at him. *SPARTA, IMPARTIAL*
They sit on the floor and open the pork first, passing the can back and forth to take bites until it’s gone. Good thing it’s not a long walk to Teatr. Pavel pops open the can of mushrooms next and hands it to Tyoma.
“Is there one for ‘comrade’?” Pavel wonders.
Tyoma frowns, but it’s thoughtful. He takes a bite from the can, hands it back, and looks like he’s thinking as he chews. Finally he nods and balls his hands into fists, then presses his knuckles together across his chest. A lot of his words are said through his face, not just his hands. Pavel can’t help liking that - he’s so expressive.
They finish up the mushroom conserve and Pavel doesn’t say much while they do it, because it wouldn’t be fair while his companion’s hands are full of something. The empty cans are stuffed in his pack and he lies down on his bedding, clumsily mimicking Tyoma’s *SLEEP* with his hands and earning a bright smile in reply.
“The storm must be driving them,” Pasha speculates quietly as they hide.
Artyom curls his fingers briefly before tapping two of them against his throat - his words for *CLAW* and *YELL* combine into one word, *WATCHMEN*. There’s no need to come up with a whole new word for a type of mutant that can be described with words that already exist. Lurkers are *SIT*, nosalis are *CLAW* and *NOSE*. The only ones that are different are demons and librarians - a demon can be pretty reliably signed by flapping his arms, anyone can figure out what that means. With librarians, they’re so terrifying but also so rare that Artyom never bothered to come up with a word for them. He never wants to see or even think about librarians ever again, anyway, so why would he talk about them?
Pasha mimics Artyom’s hands, learning these words for himself. He’s a quick student, too, which is refreshing. Artyom can throw in different words and Pasha will almost always guess what they are just from context clues.
The watchmen pack finally vanishes and they’re moving again. Into a small under-street passage, where he finds a better mask with less scratches across the visor. He screws in the filter and pulls the straps tight, then breathes out as hard as he can to push the leftover dust out of it. There’s still a little bit inside, but it’s workable. He taps Pasha’s shoulder. *YOU WAIT, I CHECK ROOM THERE*
A Duplet. Also a lone watchman that was hiding under a table. Artyom’s ears whistle as he loads a fresh shell into the left barrel, and they’re going again. The sun’s mostly down as they head for the plane. He thinks he could get used to Pasha.
There’s no need for the guard to hit Tyoma in the head again. Actually that’s kind of the opposite of what Pavel’s going for, here, and he puts a stop to it right away. He’s not squeamish, you don’t get to be a major by being gutless, but something in him clenches up as he watches Tyoma drool a string of blood.
Pavel does his best to explain as they take Tyoma further into the station, occasionally using his hands if he knows a word that goes with what he’s saying. He wants Tyoma to live, he wants things to work out. “My advice, Spartan… cooperate.”
Tyoma changes hands between guards when General Korbut arrives. He glares bitterly up at Pavel, and his arms are free just long enough to say *COMRADE* with the strongest look of hurt and betrayal he can probably come up with right now. Pavel wishes he could unsee that, not only for the obvious reasons but also because it means Pavel won’t get what he wants. Tyoma clearly isn’t going to cooperate… and that means he’s going to die.
+You have words,+ the small Dark One comments as Artyom climbs the ladder up to the lowest level of the bridge.
+Yes. We have words and clothes,+ he says back, mostly because he’s not sure what else he’s supposed to reply with.
+Artyom is your word. Families give each other words.+
It takes him a second. +Oh! You mean names.+
+Yes. Why do humans have those words?+
+So we can tell each other apart. Someone can yell out my name and I know they’re talking to me and not to anyone else in the room. But it’s also… affectionate. For someone who cares about me, it’s not Artyom, it’s Tyomka or Tyomuchka.+
+I would like a word,+ the small Dark One decides.
+Um… okay.+ He struggles to come up with a name for the inquisitive little creature while slipping past three watchmen who’re devouring a corpse. +Aleksey. Alyosha.+ He thinks a little more. +Why do you want a name? You don’t need one.+
+Humans may talk with me sometime… not just you, Artyom. But I know that I scare humans. Maybe now I’m less scary for them with this word.+
+That’s a good idea.+
The small Dark One - Alyosha - darts far ahead of him again. Artyom smiles to himself even though he’s currently discovering evidence that there’s a pack of nosalis somewhere nearby - he hates those damn things. But he’s endeared to Alyosha already, the fascination and lingering innocence. Alyosha’s not too different from a human child like that now that he thinks about it. That just makes him even more ashamed of what he’s done, and then he stops smiling.
“Ooh, a knife, huh? That’s my boy!” Pavel yells, ignoring the pains in his leg and shoulder. Tyoma’s going to execute him in the most brutal way possible. He deserves it. He knows he does. But in a very sad way he’s glad that he got what he wanted however many days back… Tyoma lives, despite him and Korbut. He can die taking solace in being wrong.
Tyoma’s eyes are blank under his mask and his hands never move off his gun - his version of silence. It’s kind of unnerving for Pavel. He wasn’t expecting this, he thought there’d be some kind of a speech where he’s getting what’s coming to him. But there’s nothing. Finally the knife comes out and Tyoma presses it to his neck, enough to threaten but not enough to cut… yet. But if his hands are busy how will he talk?
Then the Dark One slips into being and grabs Pavel’s head. He loses track of the world around him, his wounds and his clogged filter. It feels like there are footsteps happening inside his brain for a minute. And then he’s trapped, suspended, and fear crashes through him. He sees the friend he betrayed and screams, begs for help, to not be left here like this. Tyoma approaches, reaches for him. He can’t see for awhile after that.
A child in a raincoat stands in front of him. +You were forgiven. Do you think you deserve it?+
Pavel shakes his head. +No. I did a really bad thing, sinok. You shouldn’t do what I did, understand? He shouldn’t forgive me. Not for this.+
+But he did,+ the kid says, really insistently. +Artyom forgives you. Sometimes it’s better to forgive. You should just not do bad things anymore, Pasha Igorevich.+
+I know. Fuck. I know that.+
+Instead you should try other things. Try to love him the way people do.+
+What do you mean?+
And then he wakes up.
Pavel wakes up to a clean filter, and bandages over his injuries. Someone took care of him. He’s sitting upright on the wall and draped with the bedroll from his pack. Another thing he doesn’t deserve… he knows without knowing that Tyoma took care of him. Who else could’ve done it? And who else but this one Ranger could’ve destroyed a squad of twenty men but made sure that he and Pavel both lived after? Pavel doesn’t understand. He wouldn’t forgive him.
But somehow, for some reason, Tyoma did.
“Artyom, you don’t have to go, you’re still hurt.”
He looks at Anna. *HAVE TO, LOOKING FOR SOMEONE*
Artyom’s tagging along with a couple of the few remaining Rangers to poke through the Red Line. It’s not an invasive action - the Red Line themselves asked for this, to help mop up any remaining supporters of Korbut while they’re busy getting Moskvin prepared for his trial. A lot of them didn’t want this any more than the rest of the metro did.
“Every doctor in Polis told you to rest for another week.”
*HAVE TO* he repeats, making the motions more eccentric to mimic shouting. *DONE ARGUING*
“Well who are you looking for over there that’s so damn important?” Anna shouts back.
*MISSING FRIEND* he says without thinking. He realizes his mistake when she looks shocked. *NOT ALL RED IS BAD*
“I know, but how would you have friends over there?”
*LONG STORY, TALK LATER*
He gets on the train. Almost half his ribs are broken and he knows she’s right, he shouldn’t be doing anything right now, especially considering the concussion. But Artyom needs to know where Pasha is. There’s no way he was at D6, he would’ve been way too hurt for that. So Artyom needs to go look for him now. He has a good feeling that Pasha’s still alive.
And when Artyom finds him… what then? Will there be a discussion or a fistfight? Will Pasha want to see him at all? Artyom’s positive that Pasha regrets turning him in all those weeks ago, mostly because Alyosha said so. That fact by itself gives him hope. Pasha’s not a bad man. Artyom wants to find him. There’s political implications, too - if he can find Pasha, who’s fairly high-ranking, then possibly talks can happen and the Red Line will truly be at peace with Polis. It would be better for everyone. It would give Artyom some closure, too.
He pulls out his journal as the train moves.
I wonder what I’ll find when we arrive there… most of the Red Army has been destroyed at D6 thanks to Alyosha and his kin. The only soldiers left here will be those who for whatever reason were forced to remain, probably those already injured or officers with soft desk jobs. I’m certain there will be no fighting force left there. But the Red Line is large, it will need to find a way to defend itself from Reich and from the capitalist slavery of Hanza. The politics of this situation are much more difficult than just losing a war with Polis… if the communist state collapses, there will be a large scar down the center of the metro which everyone will be fighting over to gain extra resources, including - especially - people.
The only solution I can see around this is for Polis to help defend the Red Line until it can hold its own again. I think it’s a great irony that this is the case… they tried to destroy us, and now we must protect them. But it’s not so different from what happened only a week ago with Alyosha. I, a human, arrogantly tried as hard as I could to obliterate his people. And yet he found more of them and brought them back to protect humanity. Everything in life goes in circles.
Artyom stows it back in his gear and naps for the rest of the ride. When he wakes up he has a headache, but he’s used to having a headache right now and it won’t stop him from completing his mission.
“We’re an occupying force, now,” Gennady jokes as the three of them climb down from the train.
Artyom snaps his fingers to get the attention of the other two. *SEARCHING, CATCH UP LATER ON*
Fedir shrugs. “Alright, we’ll be talking to the Politburo. It’ll probably take awhile, too, so no rush to come back.” He lightly slaps Artyom’s shoulder.
Artyom pulls out his journal again and rips a blank page out, then scribbles down I’m looking for Major Morozov Pavel Igorevich on it so he can show it to people and save himself a lot of hassle. He tucks his pencil behind his ear and crosses the station to where the sign for the hospital is. It could be this hospital in this station, or one of the others… but this station is the closest one to the Red Square and also has the biggest hospital as far as he’s heard. So it seems the most likely Pasha will be here.
There’s a civilian section and a military section, which saves him a lot of time just by itself. He comes over to a doctor and shows his paper, as well as his identification.
“Why do you need to see him?” the doctor asks suspiciously.
Artyom huffs impatiently and pulls his pencil from his ear. It may seem unlikely but we’re friends. He saved my life a little while ago. I’d like to see him.
The doctor eyes him suspiciously for a very long moment, but finally sighs. “Just for a few minutes. We know why you’re here, Spartan. The Politburo explained it to us. Morozov was not a supporter of General Korbut.”
Artyom writes some more. I know he wasn’t. I’m not here to arrest him.
He gets led to the very back, where it’s quieter and has private beds for officers. Pasha’s eyes are closed when Artyom steps inside… he sits and reaches out, lightly shaking Pasha’s good shoulder to rouse him. Bright blue eyes find his face.
“Tyoma!” Pasha starts to sit up but Artyom pins him there so that he’ll stay put and not hurt his shoulder worse. “How did you get here? Fuck, I heard the reports, I guess D6 was a massacre, eh?”
*OTHER RANGERS HERE, LOOK FOR SUPPORTERS* He mouths ‘Korbut’ as he says it. *YOUR WOUNDS?*
“Not as bad as they look, I had to get some more blood, man.” Pasha shakes his head against the pillow. “Why didn’t you finish me up there?”
*KNEW YOU REGRET EVERYTHING* Artyom pauses. *SMALL DARK ONE SAID FEEL SAD, MAYBE YOU HAD BAD DECISIONS, DOES NOT MAKE YOU INTO BAD PERSON*
Pasha nods, then grins. “So now you came to see me, D’artagnan? Well I’m all banged up after your last visit, maybe this time you’ll only break my fingers instead of shooting me, eh?”
Artyom doesn’t appreciate this joke. *NOT FUNNY*
“Plenty of other people would disagree with you, man.” Pasha sits up and looks as Artyom rubs his head. “Hey, you alright?”
*HURT, SHOT, HIT HELMET, VEST, STILL HURTS TO GET SHOT, EXPLOSION, HURT CHEST EVEN MORE*
Pasha resituates to sit on the side of the hospital bed and loosely puts his arm over Artyom’s back. Their foreheads lean together and Pasha’s watching his hands.
“Prostiy menya, Tyoma. I thought it was the right choice… all the choices I made after that were the wrong ones, too. I’m sorry, man. For all of it.”
*FORGIVEN* Artyom assures him.
“Otlichna, but why?”
Artyom smiles and puts his fists together across his chest, a word he made up just for Pasha. *COMRADES*