Hope dies last.

But how could have Gale hoped for anythingright now, when the last hopes of the dying alive humanity were rapidlycrumbling into thousands of tiny shards, precisely like the fragments of abroken mirror, in which it, humanity, in a moment of brief spiritual insight,was able to behold itself for a brief moment of its history?

Hope for salvation. Hope for earthly life.For the life after death. Is there one?

Today, by some kind of a miracle, Galefinally managed to get inside into one of the overcrowded churches, wheredivine services had been held without stopping for several months already. Allover the planet, the temples of the three world religions have been crowded fora long time, during both day and night. Now, when the so glorified by earthlymaterialists science could not answer the challenge thrown by natural forces,people tried to find it in their appeals to the Gods.

Now, standing at a distance from the altarof the temple in the sea of other people pressing down on him from all sidesand towering over them like a two-meter giant, Gale observed. He needed tounderstand what was driving these people now when they had almost no hope leftto bear. What made them appeal to those of whose very existence this earthlylife had made them doubt time and again?

Faith in the possibility of salvation? Fearof devouring nothingness that is opening its greedy mouth? Love for everythingthey have created – including the very nature that has become so deadly?

As for Gale, until the events of recent years,he believed only in science. It has been his holy grail for many years of life.It, with due diligence, observation, and long experimentation, was able togrant humanity an answer to any question and challenge... if you do not takeinto account the existence of a Higher Mind.

A sea of human faces. An ocean of emotions.A kaleidoscope of feelings. Raised either in prayers or silent threats, loweredin despair hands. Would anyone see them, would anybody hear this voicelessspeech? Gale possessed no answer to this question that had been tormenting himfor so long. The day of the answer has not come yet.

* * *

“Mining of antibodies. Participate in avolunteer program to test new vaccines. Earn pharmacoins. Give your answer tonovovirus!”

A huge holographic billboard floated aroundthe corner of the skyscraper right in front of Gale’s eyes as soon as hestepped out into the central square. Gale grimaced in disgust. The endlessattempts to create vaccines will all die in vain. It’s never possible toaccurately predict the shape of something that changes every moment of its existence.

“Virt-club “Pleasure”. There is no fear ofdeath. There is life’s pleasure!”

A three-dimensional rainbow-coloredhologram of a girl with her legs spread wide enlightened with neon-laser beamsa couple of dozen meters away from Gale, sensitively and quickly reacting tothe approach of a lone wanderer. No, he definitely doesn’t need to go that way.When the whole world is going straight to hell in front of your very eyes,there is no more time for pleasure.

“Life after death. Cryostasis. The latestmilitary development. Call us right away!”

As if a living hologram of a man in a blueand seemingly frozen space suit waves his hand in greeting, inviting Gale tocome to the next “saviors”. No. There is no escape from novovirus, there is nosalvation. All the scientific researches of the best bio-geneticists on theentire planet were unshakable proof of this.

Novovirus. This pestilence had many othernames, too. A new plague. Black Death. Reaper. Punisher. Wrath of God. Doom.

Being fueled by fear, the human fantasygave birth to more and more associations. And more and more cases of infectionand either mass death or mutation of people only fueled this hysteria ofuniversal fear. What can the smallest virus do against a man who thinks ofhimself as the master of nature? Anything. Especially if there cannot be anantidote for this kind of poison.

The government records to which Gale hadbeen granted access after he started working on the “Salvation” projectcontained a wealth of data on the primary localized cases of infection andtheir associated symptoms. South America. North Africa. Southeast Asia. First,second, third wave. Initially, the disease was considered to be a new type ofmalaria and didn’t gain significant attention – until the moment of a rapidsurge in the number of infections across the entire planet. And all of a suddenthe concept of a “mosquito bite” started looking not so harmless at all.

Along with the development and evolution ofthe virus, the symptoms also changed. Fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting wereonly the initial stages of the virus-induced disease. Then the infected onesstarted to cough up their bodily innards along with the blood. Then came thenerve paralysis and cardiac arrest. Genetic mutations followed their steps. Andafter them, human madness knocked on the door of omnipotent science.

The virus mutated rapidly, changing itsprotein-molecular structure within a matter of days. More and more cases,together with the accompanying symptoms, began to be recorded by thegovernments of many countries every few days. The entire civilized world wasswept by a wave of panic. People stopped leaving their homes. Looting, arson,and street looting came into action. Many new “apocalypse witness” sects haveraised their heads, each with her mad prophet and course. The quicklyapproaching collapse of social spheres threatened to plunge the entire worldinto chaos, hunger, and poverty.

Governments in numerous countries have madehuge financial investments while trying to produce a life-saving vaccine. Butwhat seemed so simple and routine at first to many scientific minds, stuck likean irresistible curse of a mad old woman-death on many groups of virologistscientists. The vaccines did not keep up with the virus mutations in theinfected cells. And cell mutations inevitably led to the mutation of humankind.And this was so much more terrible than the casual and familiar conventionalwar – because in the flames and fumes of this new war for survival, the veryconcept of “man” was about to become the ashes of history.

Vaccines didn’t work. It was paramount tofind different ways of salvation, locate it at any cost. Thus the “Salvation”project was born, uniting many of the best scientists around the globe. Allthey had to do was find another way to save humankind – even at the cost of thelives of thousands of infected people who had become new experimental materialin underground laboratories, even at the cost of the lives of the scientiststhemselves. Everything for the scientific battlefront, everything for victory.And Gale desired to be on the edge of it.

* * *

Gale’s flycar roamed through thedepopulated streets of the once-overcrowded metropolis, increasing anddecreasing its altitude in violation of all the rules of multi-level traffic,rapidly obeying the commands of the machine’s artificial intelligence, soaringover the arches and billboards of skyscrapers, and diving into high-speedunderground tunnels. But no people were willing to issue him fines.

Simon’s words were still ringing in hishead. Uninfected one! One among hundreds of millions, one who somehowmiraculously passed through the gates of this earthly hell and remainedunharmed. A soldier with no signs of novovirus mutation delivered to the“Salvation” scientific laboratories.

A miracle? But science does not believe inmiracles, science believes in experiments. And the relentless logic of sciencedemanded that this experiment was to be carried out immediately for the sake ofall the living. And if the life a new-found test subject it to be put at stake– it had to be done without the slightest portion of hesitation and remorse ofunnecessary conscience. Agitated by the morning’s message that came to hisaudiovisor, Gale raced through the streets of deserted Chicago with his lipssilently whispering prayers to the scientific gods only he knew.

* * *

“Good afternoon, Professor Gale. Simon isin his labs, waiting for you early this morning.”

“Thanks, Miranda. I’m just in a hurrycatching up with him.”

“Looks like you have something reallyinteresting planned for today,” their young assistant winked on her way, andafter a couple of seconds disappeared around the corner of the sterile whitecorridor inside the underground laboratory complex.

Gale literally flew through the massiveglass doors of the laboratory, almost breaking his forehead – all their outdatedautomatic opening system based on solar cells seemed to be too slow for him atthat instant.

“Where’s the uninfected test subject? Iwant to examine him!” he shouted from the doorway.

“My, oh my, it must be no less thanProfessor Gale Newman himself, safe and sound! Did you pour a whole pack ofnitro-coffee pills into yourself before the trip, so as not to fall asleep atthe wheel at such an early hour?” Dr. Simon grinned through his mustache as hecaught a glimpse of a colleague who had flown into the lab, while deftlyadjusting his glasses with a free hand. “And Miranda and I were just arguingabout whether you’d make it to us before sunrise, or whether you’d becompletely put asleep by thoughts of a Higher Intelligence. Did mysticism getthe better of you due to old age?” Simon said in a friendly tone, his fingersstill working silently on the holo-terminal.

“Have you got a file on him?”

“The NSA transferred a piece of data thismorning. Corporal James Cassle, Marine Corps. Participated in the rescue ofcivilians in Brazil and Venezuela after the outbreak of the pandemic wars. Hewas seriously injured by marauding gangs of mutated infected ones during thelast operation. Received the Purple Heart Medal for battle wounds. He was takenout of the operation area and hospitalized in Seattle. This is all we know sofar.”

“And the screening, how did he manage topass the infection screening?!”

“After being extradited by helicopter fromthe infection zone, he was examined at a Seattle clinic. They confirmed thisfact. The NSA reported that the local medics there literally dropped their jawsopened when no sign of novovirus was located inside his bodily cells, even in alatent state. You know – by today’s standards, this is something akin to a miracle.

“Have you confirmed the diagnosis with ourequipment?”

“Not yet, only the general survey wasconducted. He was delivered here just a couple of hours ago.”

“Simon, do you even realize that this maybe our only chance to…”

“I clearly understand everything, Gale. Goahead, he’s in the Alpha Bay right now,” Simon said softly, patting Gale on theshoulder, “Authorization code for today: Miracle”.

* * *

“Disinfection of the compartment iscomplete. Welcome back, Professor Gale Newman."

The voice of artificial intelligence,“Ada”, filled the sterile-white space of the Alpha Bay. As he walked in, Galechecked the protective functions of his tessa-suit once again and nodded insatisfaction. At the very least, this suit will protect him from potentialphysical aggression or infection for at least half an hour, if somewhere in thehigher ranks a mistake was made with regards to the diagnosis of this notoriouscorporal.

“Do you have a habit of putting your guestsin handcuffs these days, or is it just that I was so incredibly luckytoday?" demandingly questioned James, shaking his huge cryo-cuffed fistsin a show of force as soon as Gale entered the Alpha Bay, which servedtraditionally as the pre-interrogation cell.

A huge and strong one. Ones such as heusually tend to get away of troubles unscathed. Except for novovirus, perhaps.

“It’s for both your and ours safety,Corporal James. You are a very special case for us. But your true intentionsand capabilities remain to be seen.”

“I hope it won’t take too long. My militarycommand did not give me the order to go “awol” after the completion of mytreatment.”

“You are within the borders of ourresponsibility here, with the NSA’s permission. Take my word for it, yourcommanders won’t have any questions concerning your temporary absence.”

“Is that so?” James leaned his beefy armson the table and squinted at Gale’s face, his jaw working, “And to whom do Iowe the favor of being invited to your party?”

“It’s thanks to your fighting skills,James. And your potential immunity to novovirus," Gale decided not todelay revealing his cards.

“Considering the so-called immunity – is itwhat your grandmother-midwife sang to you, or did a bullet suddenly fly intoyour forehead?” James chuckled bitterly and shook his head. “I have noimmunities. None of us have. We are not the ones to decide the length of ourown lives. Only the width.”

“Whether it exists or not remains to beseen. If the diagnosis made in Seattle is not confirmed – tomorrow you will bea free man.”

“Sure, great! That’s what I am going to doanyway!” James agreed abruptly, fixing Gale with his gloomy gaze. “Come on,don’t delay, your scientific majesty, I still have ordinary mortals to savefrom hordes of infected!”

“We were not the ones to develop thisvirus, James," Gale retorted, suddenly serious and edifying, “The virus iscurrently spontaneously mutating every day under the influence of naturalforces that we don’t fully comprehend and…”

“Yeah, sure! Tell those who have beenturned into animals alive about where the experiments on genetic material haveled to in an attempt to create the desired vaccines! I saw with my own two eyeshow the hordes of these madmen were tearing my fighters apart on thebattlefield!”

“I understand your pain, Corporal, but ourdepartment has nothing to do with…”

“Be off with your lies, doc, or find a moreattentive audience! What exactly do you need from me – blood plasma tests,cortical screening, a smear from the fifth point? Spit it out!”

“Nano-molecular cell screening. Observationof the reaction of cell membranes to the injection of viral molecularstructures.”

“Simply put, you want to re-infect me witha new strain of novovirus and then observe with genuine scientific interest howlong I will suffer in mortal agony? Am I missing anything from your plans,doc?!”

“If our tests are correct, this will be anattempt to develop a primary immunity to a new form of the virus.”

“Do I have any choice?”

“I am afraid you don’t,” Gale spread hishands, “until the test procedures are completed, you are placed at our directdisposal by your superiors.”

“More like being sold out.”

"However you desire to think of it. Ifyou are ready, security will extradite you to the testing bay right now”.

“Then don't delay. I still have otherunfortunate people to save from you and similar experimenters.”

* * *

Gale could not believe his own eyes. Overand over again, he rechecked the data coming from molecular nanoscopes,adjusted the scanning frequencies, and even rubbed his own eyes with barehands. But the tools weren’t lying. The miracle lived on and did not intend todie out like misguided humanity.

The virus mutated, continuously rearrangingits molecular structures, repeatedly trying to break down the protective cellbarrier, to overcome the membranes separating it and the cells – and time andover again, as if an invisible and insurmountable wall stood in its way. Theseunsuccessful attempts of a newly created by nature bio-weapon to enslave andturn its next victim into a mad monster lasted about a dozen minutes. Andthen... then it finally came, a Miracle.

“Finish your experiments. You can see that,can’t you? I feel no fear!” James’ powerful voice ringed in the room.

He yanked at the inner levers of theterra-capsule he was trapped in with all his might, trying to free himself, buteven his enormous strength wasn’t enough. And during that exact moment, thevirus that had been trying to inject itself into the cells over and over againseemed to explode from the inside, rapidly disintegrating into hundreds ofindividual tiny molecules. It was as if a wave, invisible to both the eye orthe instruments, had hit it, crushing, knocking over, and smashing to dust. Thedefeated micro-Goliath fell, and so did Gale’s glasses, hitting the lab floor.

“You... what… but how…”

“I am not afraid of you! Freedom!” Jamespounded on the inside of the terra-capsule with his powerful fists.

“Calm down... I just need to... readings…”continuing to fastly whisper something under his breath, Gale was rapidlypushing the keys of the terminal. “The reason for the disintegration of theviral structures… the impact of an unknown type of energy... the wave generatedby the cell... I don’t understand!”

There is always room for wonder in genuinescientific discoveries.

“Cellular mitochondrial synthesis ofunknown origin... Bipolar intracellular currents... But from where?”

“I am afraid of neither of your viruses,nor you nor anyone like you!” the violent impact from within caused a smalldent in the outer surface of the terra-capsule.

“What... what did you just say?” Gale casta confused glance at the prisoner who was struggling to get out of the capsule.“But this cannot be! If... only… A feeling! What kind of feeling did youexperience a few seconds ago?!” Gale screamed in a frenzy of excitement thatfilled his entire being. “Please, James, repeat it!”

“Freedom! Life!” – another dent in thesurface of the terra-capsule.

And the remaining viruses are scatteredinto molecular dust. Eternal – to eternal. Dust – to dust.

A feeling!

It was as if a new great revelation wasdescending on Gale at that very moment, breaking and overturning all thematerialistic theories of the world, all the endless scientific skepticism andincalculable human stupidity in a single, unrestrained rush.

Spirit was prevailing over matter. Thefeeling was overcoming the disease. Fearlessness has become an immunity.

And this was echoed in unison by thelaboratory devices that were going off scale from the waves of new-foundenergy.

“You are… free… to go," Gale Newmanwhispered helplessly, opening the capsule’s locking mechanism, “We are all freenow…”

* * *

On this great starry night, Gale was onceagain flying in his now-adult dreams.

His spirit, freed in one fell swoop fromthe yoke of all materialistic prisons, was floating in this wonderful dreambetween seemingly absolutely real planets, moving like a great trailblazerstarship on a hitherto unknown thrust. It was unspeakably calmly and joyful –as if wings had suddenly grown on his back.

And then an invisible warm wave lifted him andcarried him somewhere high up. Two great figures, radiating with anotherworldly light, whose love for him surpassed any human love, tenderly tookhim into their enormous warm hands. They gently lifted his tiny spirit to theirfaces – and in that infinite moment, a wave of rapture and bliss, together withtears of joy, swallowed up his whole being…

“Blessed are those who weep, for they willbe comforted…”


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Short Story
Science Fiction
writing prokhor_ozornin
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