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Eager Men

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There is always an infinite number of things to worry about in the Metro. Back at his home station of VDNKh, Artyom’s days were usually filled with chores from his father. ‘Ask the butchers if the hogs require any additional food for the month.’ ‘Check with the gate masters to see how many more bullets they need this week.’ ‘Fetch some more pencils from the supply, won’t you?’ At the time, he only saw these tasks as annoyances, but during these few chaotic days and dreadful nights in the tunnels, he realized how much they truly benefited him.

The tasks were a welcome removal from his thoughts, thoughts that recently threatened to swallow him whole and squeeze the life from him. Artyom could also see that it was his father’s way of keeping his son close to him. Lazy young men were frequently enlisted to be gate guards, and from there it only took one wrong step to send you to a frantic burial in the mushroom garden. The true irony was that men eager to prove their worth after many years in the relative safety of VDNKh died in much the same way as lazy men. The only real difference was that lazy men had funerals, and eager men rotted in the tunnels.

Was Artyom an eager man, desperate to prove his worth? He didn’t think so, but when Hunter gave him his Ranger token, he felt a feeling of emptiness take his feet out from under him. He needed to save his home, to become more than an errand boy, more than a solemn dreamer, more than Alex’s mute son. Above all, he needed to prove to himself that he could accomplish something undoubtedly good. 

“You sneak very well for a Red, little cub.” The Nazi sneered, driving the tip of his boot back into Artyom’s side. The man had long since disarmed him, pocketing all but one of his Military-grade cartridges. The blows kept coming, one after another. “You also have many more bullets than the other red swine I’ve gutted. What are you, a hure? Give the men a good time before they march off to war, eh?” Judging by the roar of laughter that came next, this Nazi had not heard a joke in years. Another, much thinner Nazi stood at a distance, his face offering little more than a grimace.

Artyom replied only by curling tighter into himself in an attempt to protect his head. As the treacherous laughter wore down, Artyom realized that the large Nazi had paused his assault. He hoped with all his heart that the beating would not resume, but he stayed positioned regardless, choosing to steady his breathing instead. The Nazi in front of him barked something in German at the smaller one, who promptly approached, exchanged something, and returned to his place against the wall. Artyom’s thoughts sped up as his heart rate decreased. What were they going to do to him? Why hadn't they killed him yet? What would happen if they find out he's not a Red?

The ruthless tug on his dark curls forced Artyom to look up, only to be met with the beam of a flashlight. Straining to see past the light, Artyom gripped the wrist of the man to steady himself. He blinked sharply a few times to re-orient himself and was startled to see the bulky Nazi only mere inches from his face. "Ah, yes, I was correct! This little one has quite the baby-face." The pungent smell of bad whiskey blown into his face caused Artyom's stomach to flip.

“Open up, ferkel.” With little more than a chuckle, the Nazi pried Artyom’s mouth open and forced the butt of the flashlight to the back of his throat. Letting out a panicked shout, Artyom kicked his legs and grabbed for the man’s eyes. Instead of relief, he was met with multiple disorienting jabs to the temple. “Quiet! Take it, like the bitch you fucking are.”

As the darkness slowed down it’s spinning, the gagging started, overwhelming all potential plans of escape. It left his mind in a state of pure panic, its only intention was to get the pain to stop. Tears streamed down his face as he wordlessly begged the man to release him. His only response was two dark eyes looking down on him with amusement.

Finally, after Artyom’s vision had begun to dance with colorful specks of light, the Nazi pulled the flashlight from his throat. Artyom sputtered and gasped, desperate to get the oxygen he needed. Bile flooded his mouth which he spat out onto the floor, along with flecks of rust and mud from the flashlight. The whole ordeal probably lasted a minute, two at the most, but it shocked him to his core, leaving him shivering slightly, but with a much clearer mindset. He knew what he would have to do, and the time for action was now.

Laughing, the Nazi rubbed the flashlight teasingly against Artyom’s chin. "What do you say we... take him for a spin?" The smaller Nazi said nothing, his arms crossed and head turned away slightly. His rifle was casually over his shoulder, the man obviously not expecting to have to use it. It's now or never, Artyom realized grimly. As the large Nazi turned to place the flashlight on his belt and reach for something else, Artyom sprung into action. "I'll be very gentle, don't worry little- agh!" Using his hands around the man's wrist, he rolled on his stomach to the side, forcing his captor to do the same, only less ceremoniously.

Wrenching his hair away from the man's grasp, he dived forward, pulling his confiscated combat knife free from the man’s belt. With as much precision as he could muster, Artyom slit a half-circle around the howling Nazi's exposed inner-arm, effectively rendering that arm dead-weight. He grasped the man's shoulder and struggled to yank him closer. Pressing the scarlet blade against the Nazi's Adam's apple, he glowered up at the other Nazi, who had finally pulled his rifle from its shoulder sling.

"Fuck! You cut me, you cunt! God- don't shoot me! Damn it, Matvey, don't shoot!" The man under the knife roared. A river of other obscenities followed - half in Russian and the other half in German - as he futilely tried to keep the new gap in his arm closed. The man with the gun, Matvey, was at a total loss. Artyom could practically hear the man's brain whirring and clicking. He trained his rifle at Artyom's head, but his companion was simply too close to logically risk a shot. If there was an issue in the gun’s barrel, the bullet could miss, or worse, hit the wrong target. The room also had very poor lighting, which made a close shot nearly impossible.

“Shit! Don’t kill him! Fuck!” Matvey screeched, lowering the gun again.

“Give me your gun,” Artyom muttered lowly, praying to the sleeping god above that his voice was loud enough to be heard. His throat burned from the flashlight and bile. With a little hesitation, Matvey set the weapon down and kicked it across the room. 

Ignoring the gun, Artyom continued giving commands, “Get down. Hands behind, behind your head.” Biting his tongue, he cursed himself for his stutter. Matvey did as he was told, slowly and carefully surrendering. He couldn’t have been much older than Artyom, possibly even the same age. Artyom tried to ignore the fear that glittered in Matvey’s eyes, focusing instead on the next actions he needed to take.

Clearing his thoughts, he took a deep breath. In, and out. Knowing he could not afford to wait any longer, he dug the knife deep into the man’s neck and ripped it from ear to ear. The death wasn’t clean and it wasn’t silent; the lungs still push air through the slit, releasing a terrible wheezing sound and spraying the pressurized blood further out of the wound. Gory, hideous, not silent, but not loud.

Matvey, hearing the rattling coming from behind him, choked out a sob. “Oh Jesus! Please! I’m sorry, so so sorry! ” His whole body shook, rocking himself slightly back and forth, seemingly an attempt for some sort of comfort. Artyom wiped the bloody knife on the dying Nazi’s jacket, not wanting to risk rusting such a trusty blade. He shoved the body to the side as it began convulsing, the brain struggling to get enough oxygen. He picked up Matvey’s rifle and scoffed lightly when he found that the weapon wasn’t even out of safety. He fixed the mistake and approached the quivering man.

Matvey kept his head bowed as he continued quietly begging for forgiveness. As stupid as it sounded, he watched his life flash before his eyes. It wasn’t like he was watching a movie - he vaguely remembered seeing those when he was a young child - but more like a series of photos. The faces of everyone he’d lost, every person he drank farther into his head each night. His mother, his sister, and his girl, Darya. Even his best friend, Boris. All of them months gone, but now, with the clarity only death could bring, he saw their smiles again. He didn’t hope for mercy from death, he only hoped that he would see them again, wherever that would be.

Artyom stood behind the man, silently watching him break down. A lazy man , he thought to himself. He didn’t do anything to hurt me personally, but I’ll kill him nonetheless. How many more lazy men have I killed to get here, men just going through the motions? Why should he be any different? He had no answers, just an incredibly irrational feeling. A feeling that he should show this pitiful excuse for a Nazi some mercy.

The rifle slapped against the floor beside him, shocking Matvey out of his thoughts. The voice behind him spoke again, and Matvey realized that this was only the third time he had heard the man talk. “Take it. Go to Hanza.” Blinking through tears, Matvey stared at the weapon, not believing his ears. In the back of his mind, it registered that this could be a trick, but he accepted the chance anyway.

“Th-thank you, sir! I-I… thank you!” He cried, not finding the proper words to display his gratitude. Unable to look the man in the eyes, he stood and retrieved his rifle. No more words were exchanged between the two, but that was because there was nothing more to be said. Matvey wiped his eyes and swiftly left, leaving Artyom with the cooling corpse and a better conscience.

For several minutes, Artyom stood there in the dark hallway, his muscles stiff and his retrieved shotgun trained on the door Matvey slipped out through. He half expected the thin Nazi to betray him, to bring a hoard of soldiers to his location. The minutes ticked by on his watch, but nothing else could be heard. Finally, his adrenaline tanked, and after so much stress and anguish and pain, his knees gave out. The gun clattered to the side as he caught himself with his hands.

His throat tightened suddenly, and Artyom began to gasp for breath, trying to get air into his lungs. A buzz rattled through his whole body, sending what little he could see spiraling. Rolling onto his back, Artyom held the hem of his coat with whitening knuckles and squeezed his eyes shut. The room spun faster, and the tingling grew so strong that he couldn’t feel his fingers or lips. He felt like he was floating, floating up slowly through the concrete and the dirt and the snow above him. Opening his eyes, he found that he was floating.

Breaching the surface of the Earth, Artyom continued to float, like a bubble of carbonation in soda. As he rose through the air, he felt so at peace. The sun warmed his face unlike it had done when he surfaced with Bourbon, and the azure sky held fat white clouds that drifted by. For the first time in days, probably even weeks, Artyom smiled. It was a small, content smile, but those are a rare commodity in the Metro.

As he continued to float, he realized that the wind was picking up, leaving him feeling chilled. The sun, however, continued to grow brighter as the warmth faded. In fact, it was physically growing, swallowing the sky, the clouds, and the ruined Moscow landscape below. A voice - Artyom recognized it as the voice that had spoken to him repeatedly in his dreams - murmured to him, “Awake, your journey is not over yet.” The sun swelled to the point that it engulfed everything, including Artyom himself, leaving him freezing and blinded. “Awake.”

As if flipping a switch, Artyom opened his eyes and felt himself snap to attention. For the second time that night, Artyom found himself with a flashlight blinding him. Words were being said, and after a few moments, he started to understand. “Yoohoo, Ass-kicker, are you back to the land of the living?” Without any thought, Artyom lunged at the shadow behind the flashlight, his fists flailing around to try to get any reach. “Hey, fucking, kid, stop! He’s dead! Pavel, help me out here!” The man behind the flashlight cried, trying to block the fists being thrown his way. Another set of hands grabbed Artyom’s neck and held him in a headlock.

Struggling, Artyom tried to wrench himself free of the headlock, but the man behind him held fast. Being about a foot shorter than the man behind him caused him to lose his footing, and his boots brushed uselessly against the floor. The men didn’t speak like the Nazis, but who were they? “Stop it, kid! We’re Rangers! What the hell are you doing here?” Flashlight Man questioned after Artyom had begun to stop kicking. 

Rangers? For a few silent moments, Artyom’s mind rolled the words around, knowing that the phrase was important but unsure how. Then, it struck him, like a bolt of lightning. Still restrained by the tall man - Pavel, he believed the other Ranger had called him - he gestured to the corpse of the large Nazi, in which his front pocket sat Hunter’s Spartan tag. He tried to ignore the fresh memory of the Nazi digging through his pockets before tearing the precious item from around his neck.

It took a little bit of time, but eventually, the man with the flashlight understood what Artyom was trying to tell him. “Shit! It’s Hunter’s tag! Why do you have this?”

The rest of the night was an absolute blur. He was rapidly introduced to Pavel and Ulman, before the latter rushed off to complete their undisclosed mission. Pavel agreed to help take Artyom to Miller, and they fought through countless Nazi outposts and fended off nosalises. The mental and physical exhaustion from everything that had happened clung to Artyom like a shadow, and as soon as he let his guard down, his new companion Pavel was snatched from him. Artyom dreaded to assume the worst, but he had little doubt that Pavel was growing cold somewhere in an abandoned tunnel.

Before he could even wrap his head around this terrible loss, Artyom had been roped into defending Hole Station from a hoard of nosalises, a task which ultimately failed. The station was overwhelmed, burned, and Artyom rescued a child that had been accidentally left behind. Without much thought, he refused the bullets offered to him for saving the boy. Why should he be rewarded for saving a child, when that should be the first instinct of any rational human? Alas, the Metro was a hostile place that discouraged rational thinking in favor of personal gain.

Finally, realizing he had a few hours to himself, Artyom found an empty corner among the Hole Station refugees and collapsed into his sleeping bag. Tearing off chunks of his final bits of pork jerky, he wondered how to describe his ordeals in his journal. So many different thoughts filled his head, and he knew that if he failed to record his feelings, he wouldn’t be able to get any sleep. Matvey, Pavel, the child, the bodies.  So, without any clear direction in mind, he began to write. 

I am incredibly stupid. Throughout this journey, when I came across a monstrosity committed by a human, I always asked myself, ‘How could a human do that to another?’ I questioned this, I rolled it around in my head at night before I slept. Despite this, I had no answer. I had just been too blind to understand. Until today.

The maiming, the killing, the blatant disregard for life. It’s always been there. Even back home in VDNKh, I had witnessed my share of crimes. Muggings, beatings, abuse, neglect. People robbed others and were robbed themselves. But even then, I was sheltered from knowing the true nature of humans. I had even been warned about the brutality of the Red Line and the Fourth Reich, but still, I was ignorant. 

I used to often ponder about the type of society that would drop nuclear bombs on one another, a society so power-hungry that it killed itself and its home to hurt its fellow species. Without even realizing it, the men I imagined were not men at all, but beasts that had devil horns and a forked tail. I had separated myself and everyone in the Metro from them. ‘We are different,’ I told myself.

No. We are the same species with the same nature and the same capabilities. The devils that scorched the earth above are in fact us, and it is up to every individual to make their choice to try to be better than our wants. Men who do nothing in the face of evil are evil themselves, and the only way to become truly good is to fight evil until you die. I can only try to live up to this to the best of my ability.

Satisfied with himself, and finally feeling his mind begin to slow down, Artyom closed his journal, placing the invaluable book and pencil stub neatly in their place in his bag. He shifted himself closer to his loaded shotgun, before slowly allowing himself to drift off into a fitful sleep.