Author: Sergei Davydov
Translator: Daria Kochetova
Matvey – 15 y.o.
Aurora – 15 y.o.
Matvey’s dad – 40 y.o.
Matvey’s mom – 38 y.o.
Winchester – 24 y.o.
Andrey – 23 y.o.
Safety Service Dispatcher – does not save anyone
Security Service Agent – does not secure anything
Aurora and Matvey walk through a snowy field. Cold wind blows. Behind the teenagers, there is only a commuter town and nothingness, nothingness for miles around.
MATVEY. So you really visited the afterlife?
MATVEY. What was it like?
AURORA. (Bored.) Predictable.
MATVEY. Did you see God?
AURORA. Nah, he didn’t show up. But I saw gramps and my cat. It’s called “clinical death”.
MATVEY. And how long ago did you...die?
AURORA. Last summer. It happened in Greece – I drowned in the sea. My heart wasn’t beating. But a sailor saved me – he gave me a mouth-to-mouth. Have you ever been at sea?
AURORA. I knew it.
MATVEY. You didn’t know shit!
AURORA. I did. I sensed it.
MATVEY. Aurora, you aren’t a psychic, you just make lucky guesses.
Aurora gives Matvey a stern look.
MATVEY. Prove it then.
AURORA. Matvey, I don’t have to prove anything to you.
AURORA. And you’re a thief.
AURORA. You shoplift all kinds of shit from the supermarket. Must have stolen a million worth of stuff. Not very cool, considering your dad’s respected by everyone. But don’t worry, I won’t give you away.
MATVEY. Dad’s not cool anymore. He was fired when the refinery was downsized. Now he spends the whole day playing “World of Tanks”.
AURORA. Sorry. I didn’t know you were in hot water too. You know, my mom was also fired from the refinery. She can’t find a job in her area of expertise, so she keeps trying to read her fortune in tarot cards.
MATVEY. My godfather told me, that wherever you work, you should find stuff to filch. No other way. I think that’s dreary.
AURORA. Everything’s dreary here.
MATVEY. And if I think of something... anything... will you guess it at once?
AURORA. Only if it’s interesting. For example, I know that you always wear one sock backwards. For luck. But today you wear them both the normal way, and they’re even clean. Weird.
MATVEY. How the hell do you keep doing that?!
AURORA. It’s simple, really. Not like casting curses – it makes my head hurt. By the way, don’t visit your godmother in Obsharovka this summer, or a dog will bite you.
MATVEY. Damn, I wish I had powers too – to teleport or read minds. Be special in some way. It’s awesome to be Tony Stark or Captain America, but I’m just a Mat from Samara.
AURORA. Don’t sell yourself short, you’re the top student in our programming course. You definitely aren’t going to end up working as a cashier in “Magnet”. Anyway, you’re too unsure of yourself.
MATVEY. You think?
AURORA. I sense it. (Sniffs the air.) By the way, do you sense this? It’s stinking again.
MATVEY. Yeah. Bitter taste in my mouth, too.
AURORA. I’m sick of this oil refinery. Our neighbor has asthma and she calls an ambulance every week. And they used to say: a Volga River village, a healthy environment, we’ll live close to nature.
MATVEY. I heard that pollution causes an increase in mental disorders. Once, an entire German city went crazy because of chemical emissions.
AURORA. Never thought I would say it, but I want back to “Metallurg”. Did you know that Hungarians used to live there?
AURORA. Yep. Nomads. The Hungarians made off to Hungary, and the encampment remained.
MATVEY. Good on them.
AURORA. They were like: well, well. What do we need to be happy? Carpathian Mountains – that must be it. The Danube River, Budapest, partying. Sea nearby. Besides, it’s Europe, not this backwater. Venice, Vienna – within a couple of hours on a bus. And within a couple of hours from here there’s only Chapayevsk or such. Anyway, they didn’t want to stay on the wrong side of civilization so they moved on. And then affordable housing was built for us near the oil refinery.
The teenagers look at the clouds.
AURORA. Are these clouds or is it smoke?
AURORA. Our refinery generates clouds.
MATVEY. And sulfur dioxide.
AURORA. It’s hard to breathe.
MATVEY. You should move away.
AURORA. You too.
MATVEY. (Dreamily.) To California.
AURORA. Yeah boii.
MATVEY. We will... we will ride skateboards and listen to Californian punk rock.
AURORA. And wear chic clothes.
MATVEY. And swim in the ocean. And eat pizza. Eat pizza, jumping into the ocean from Hollywood Hills. Unless we die, of course.
AURORA. There are sequoia groves, too. Those trees are a hundred meters tall.
MATVEY. And palm trees.
AURORA. This cloud looks like a palm.
MATVEY. I think it looks like a nuclear explosion.
AURORA. Thanks, I hate it.
MATVEY. Me too.
A distant explosion is heard.
AURORA. What is that?!
MATVEY. I don’t know.
A large black cloud bears down on the teenagers.
MATVEY. Do you see this too?
AURORA. Yep! Run!
Matvey comes home. He goes into the kitchen. Mom sits at the table covering her face with her hands.
MATVEY. Mom, did you hear the explosion? It stinks outside, and there’s some kind of fog. The refinery exploded, looks like. Mom? Hey? What’s the matter with you, Mom?
Mom doesn’t react.
MATVEY. (Softly.) Mom, where is Dad?
MOM. Dad’s gone.
MATVEY. What do you mean, gone? Gone where?
MOM. To war.
MATVEY. What war?
Mom grabs Matvey’s hand and leads him to the sitting room. Dad sits on the coach in front of the TV, there’s a VR headset on his head.
MOM. At first, he just played “World of Tanks”. Then he stopped answering questions. Then there was that noise. I ran home and saw this!
Matvey reaches out to Dad.
MOM. Don’t touch him! He can’t be distracted. He’s driving a tank right now.
MATVEY. We need to bring him back! Some shit is going down outside.
MOM. But what if he dies! Or goes into a coma. It’s written in the manual.
Mom gives Matvey the manual.
MATVEY. Thank you for buying the “SuperDream” virtual reality headset. Now, you can choose any of our ten thousand games and spend up to six million hours with joy, not distracted by dreary reality. It is not recommended to disconnect the headset from the power outlet or take the device off the user before the end of the cycle: the outcome can be fatal. Best regards, “SuperDream” corporation. (A pause.) What the hell is this?
MOM. I knew we should have bought an apartment in “Koshelevo”.
An explosion is heard. Matvey turns the TV on.
A VOICE FROM THE TV: The Kuybyshevo oil refinery undergoes a routine testing of treatment facilities. A severe weather warning has been issued in the city. Stay at home and do not panic. Measures against transgressors will be taken. The situation is under control. Coming up next: “Health” with Elena Malysheva: treating poisoning with chili peppers.
MATVEY. We need to leave the district.
MOM. We can’t leave dad here.
MATVEY. But we can’t stay! What do we do?
MOM. I don’t know.
MATVEY. No, Dad couldn’t have done this. Not Dad. He wouldn’t just flee from problems to “World of tanks”!
MOM. If he hadn’t been fired, everything would’ve been fine. And I told him to stay put, lay low. To be inconspicuous. Not to argue with his superiors. He’s staying put!
MATVEY. Wait. There’s a note.
Matvey pulls a note from the chest pocket of Dad’s shirt.
MOM. What does it say?
MATVEY. “I’ll be back once the mortgage is over”.
MOM. I drove him to this!
The doorbell rings.
MATVEY. I’ll open.
MOM. I’ll go check the windows.
Matvey opens the door. Aurora stands on the other side.
AURORA. Mat, I’ve got a problem.
MATVEY. Listen, I’m kind of busy right now.
AURORA. Mom left to live in the “Sims”!
AURORA. The “Sims”! The third or the fourth, I can’t tell by the sound. There’s a crisis, and she’s off to somewhere. Sure, Mom’s been acting weird for a while, especially after she got obsessed with fortune-telling, but now it’s something else.
MATVEY. Is she home?
AURORA. Well, she’s sitting on a couch in some stupid headset. Can’t see or hear shit. I listened closely, and it sounded as if she was building a house. Also, she left a note saying how sick and tired of everything she was. Is this even normal?
MATVEY. No. They couldn’t have abandoned us so easily. Couldn’t have. There has to be a point to it.
Matvey turns Dad’s note in his hands.
AURORA. Look. There’s a postscript on the other side.
MATVEY. (Reads.) 212, 218, 228 xb... what is this?
AURORA. A bunch of nonsense.
MATVEY. Looks like a cipher. Maybe a code. A secret code. Dad’s a programmer, he loves ciphers.
AURORA. Can you understand anything?
MATVEY. No. Can you?
AURORA. No idea.
MATVEY. What does the cosmos say?
AURORA. Mat, it doesn’t work like that.
MATVEY. Damn, Aurora, you’re the psychic here, so use your powers!
AURORA. Wait, you really bought into that? You’re this dense? I just... I just wanted to be special, that’s all. I don’t have any powers.
MATVEY. But you knew about the socks and the shoplifting!
AURORA. I’m just observant.
MATVEY. But I thought of a number and you guessed it!
AURORA. Sixty percent of people think of number seven, it wasn’t hard.
MATVEY. I knew you were a liar.
AURORA. And you’re a thief!
MATVEY. I only stole to get attention!
AURORA. So did I!
MATVEY. Fine, whatever.
AURORA. Could it be a number?
MATVEY. Good guess. Let’s call it?
Matvey takes out his phone and calls the number.
SPECIALIST. You have reached the Safety service.
MATVEY. Hello!! Do you know what’s wrong with my dad?
MATVEY. Never mind. Listen. The Volga River village, Kuybyshevo district. There was some kind of explosion. It’s nuts. We can’t breathe! Dad’s gone to cyberwar! Help!
SPECIALIST. The Volga River village? Everything is very, very, very well there.
Mom returns to the room.
MATVEY. No, it’s not! There’s an explosion and some kind of fog!
SPECIALIST. It’s in your head. Everything is very, very, very, very well in the Volga River village.
MATVEY. But people in the street are choking. They can’t breathe.
SPECIALIST. So don’t breathe.
MATVEY. Have you lost your marbles?
SPECIALIST. Why should I listen to you, young man? You are a child. You are holding the line.
MATVEY. So what if I’m a child!
SPECIALIST. Did someone you know die?
MATVEY. Not yet, but...
SPECIALIST. Call when they are dead.
MOM. Let me handle this.
Mom grabs the phone from Matvey.
MOM. Listen here. We’re losing our minds in this Volga River village! We’ve fought for two years so they’d stop poisoning us. Two years and kilograms of letters to all authorities! We spend hours in traffic jams because you haven’t fixed the bridge and it’s impossible to drive out of here! The tap water is brown! And now there’s fog everywhere, and we... we don’t understand what’s going on. Take measures!
SPECIALIST. Take a hold of yourself, madam. Everything is fine.
MOM. Nothing is fine about this, can’t you... can’t you show some empathy? Don’t you care at all? Our children are in danger!
SPECIALIST. If you cannot take care of your children, it is your own problem. The state did not make you reproduce. Goodbye.
Specialist hangs up.
AURORA. Well, you are certainly no master of rhetoric.
MOM. I feel so helpless.
TV signal turns into white noise. Mom clicks the control, but there is only white noise. Matvey picks up the phone again and tries to make a call.
MATVEY. My phone has no connection.
Aurora and Mom take out their phones.
MOM. Mine too.
AURORA. No internet, no phone. We’ve been cut off.
MOM. It’s some kind of end of the world, I swear.
MATVEY. Mom, don’t worry! Don’t worry, Mom! We’ll think of something. Look, go to the kitchen and put wet patches into the ventilation. It’ll stop the smoke for a time.
Mom leaves for the kitchen.
MATVEY. Aurora, what’s the situation?
AURORA. The cars aren’t moving. I think the roads are blocked. There’s no leaving the Volga River village.
MATVEY. This means we’re trapped. (A pause.) Listen, I know who can help us decipher the code.
MATVEY. Later. Stay here and watch my parents.
AURORA. What if it’s a red herring? I mean... maybe it’s not a secret message at all? Maybe it’s simply a disaster and chemical emissions and we’ll just die? The usual, that is.
MATVEY. It can’t be a coincidence. Look, our parents were fired at the same time, right?
AURORA. Well yeah, so what?
MATVEY. What did your mom use to do there?
AURORA. I don’t remember, she was a developer or something.
MATVEY. One of the programmers, right? Like my dad?
AURORA. Someone smart, I don’t know. What does it matter?
MATVEY. It matters because it wasn’t a coincidence. They must have known something. Dad is trying to tell us something with this note.
AURORA. It makes no sense. If they knew about impending disaster, why did they go catatonic and left us to deal with all that? Why did they abandon us?
MATVEY. I don’t know. Maybe they were blackmailed. Maybe... I don’t know.
AURORA. They just don’t give a damn about us, that’s all. Why are our parents so helpless?
MATVEY. My dad gives a damn about me, okay?
MATVEY. Exactly. Stay here, I’ll be back soon.
An apartment building. Matvey knocks on Andrey’s door, using his other hand to cover his face with a wet patch.
MATVEY. C’mon, prof, open up!
Andrey opens the door.
ANDREY. Matvey? What are you doing here?
MATVEY. Professor Andrey, let me in, please, I can’t breathe.
Andrey brings Matvey into the apartment and closes the door.
MATVEY. The air’s so clean here.
WINCHESTER. Yo, Andrey, the pizza’s getting cold, let’s go play “Detroit”. (To Matvey.) Oh. Hey there.
ANDREY. Matvey, Denis. Matvey was my student in the school programming club. And this is my... friend.
WINCHESTER. We’re buddies. He’s my buddy. We go to the gym together...
ANDREY. Well not quite buddies, but...
ANDREY. Roommates. We just live together.
WINCHESTER. We just live together, yes.
MATVEY. Erm... it´s fine, guys, it’s cool, I get it. Just so you know, my favourite actor is Neil Patrick Harris. He’s a cool dude.
ANDREY. What are you talking about?
MATVEY. No matter. Are you aware the world is ending outside?
ANDREY. Yes, but there’s no sense in running. The roads are blocked.
MATVEY. Look, Professor Andrey. I think, these are like, not just emissions. I might know what’s going on. My dad’s been kidnapped today. So to speak. But he left some kind of code. And I really need your help.
ANDREY. Matvey, don’t be silly.
MATVEY. Please! You are the only one who can help me! You’re a genius! And you were the best teacher in our dumb school! Just take a look at the code.
ANDREY. Hush-hush-hush. I don’t know what’s going on with your dad, but it looks like you’ve inhaled too much of this shit. Come on, let’s play the PS, eat some pizza. There is nothing to be done.
MATVEY. But I don’t understand...
ANDREY. Just go with the flow. It isn’t your fault your dad left...
MATVEY. I can’t go with the flow! My father is sitting on the couch in some virtual headset, and if we don’t take it off, he’ll die! And that’s not freaking okay!
ANDREY. Eliminating insiders?
WINCHESTER. It’s possible.
MATVEY. What do you mean?
ANDREY. Go on. Did he put the headset on today?
MATVEY. Yes. And he’s not the only one. Those who left are somehow connected to the refinery’s R&D, but they were fired. They must have known something.
ANDREY. Do you have a picture of the device?
Andrey and Winchester study the picture attentively.
WINCHESTER. Looks like an X-3.
ANDREY. I’m not sure.
MATVEY. Father left a message. But I can’t decipher it. It might be a code that can help us hack the headset and free him. Or something of the sort. I don’t have a clue.
Matvey gives Andrey the note.
ANDREY. A Polybius square cipher. The key is five, three, one, eight.
ANDREY. Looks like our developments.
MATVEY. What developments? You are a programming teacher.
Andrey sits in front of a computer and turns it on.
ANDREY. I used to work for an anonymous sponsor. I developed VR that was capable of holding a person against their will. If that is it, you are in a bad way.
MATVEY. Against their will?
ANDREY. It’s impossible to take it off on your own. And if it’s taken off forcibly, the person...
ANDREY. Maybe. The headset is connected to the reflex arc by a synaptic impulse. I don’t know on whose toes your dad stepped, but if it’s what I think it is, they decided to remove him by force. Matvey, we aren’t who we claim to be.
MATVEY. I already got that.
Andrey opens a browser and puts the numbers in.
MATVEY. Don’t even try, there’s no connection.
ANDREY. An old trick – I have satellite access in case of disconnection. Let’s try this.
MATVEY. Searching “VKontakte” news?
ANDREY. You didn’t know? Ninety percent of secret messages are hidden on social media platforms. Russian Federal Security Service, Mossad, military corporations – all of them send messages to each other via “VKontakte” profile statuses.
MATVEY. That means Dad might be a secret agent?
ANDREY. One minute ago you thought I was a simple programming teacher.
WINCHESTER. When he worked for intelligence, he had to experiment on me, because I also worked for intelligence, but a different one. But instead of frying my brains, he saved me.
ANDREY. Tell him our entire life, why don’t you?
MATVEY. Bloody hell!
WINCHESTER. Try binary.
ANDREY. Someone still uses it? It worked!
MATVEY. What does it say?
ANDREY. It’s a cipher. It’s repeated again and again.
WINCHESTER. 4901... A corporate code.
ANDREY. Damn corporations. I guess your daddy really has a connection to the Armageddon.
MATVEY. Can you decipher it?
ANDREY. Not an easy task. But an interesting one.
MATVEY. Does this mean you’re in? You’re in?! Yes!
ANDREY. Wait up. I signed up for deciphering the code, not for saving the city.
MATVEY. But why not save the city? It would be awesome!
ANDREY. Mat, let’s be real, I’m no hero. We have no idea what we are getting into.
WINCHESTER. Andrey, stop being such a wimp! Remember the Kabul case! (To Matvey.) I’m with you, dude. We’ll get your father back.
MATVEY. Yay! Are you like another supergenius?
WINCHESTER. Nah. But I was the best sniper in my squad.
MATVEY. Amazing! You’re on the team! Dan. Can I call you Dan?
WINCHESTER. My friends call me Winchester.
ANDREY. Doesn’t it faze you that our leader is a fifteen-year-old kid?
WINCHESTER. Hey! While we were pretending we couldn’t do shit, he went to save the city. This kid has character.
MATVEY. It’s not age that matters, it’s what you can do! You said so yourself!
MATVEY. What is it?
ANDREY. We’ve got a problem.
Matvey sits on the couch with a laptop. Next to him sit Aurora, Winchester and Dad. Andrey nervously paces around the room and rubs the back of his head. Mom gives out cookies and tea.
ANDREY. I’ve tried everything. It’s all gibberish. A joke of some kind!
MOM. (To Winchester.) I’ve baked them today.
WINCHESTER. Thank you, Mrs. Elizaveta.
MATVEY. Mom! You’re distracting us from solving the mystery!
MOM. I’m creating the conditions for it. Brainstorming requires sugar.
ANDREY. A freaking picture. Zero, zero, zero, what the hell?
MATVEY. Are you sure you got it right?
ANDREY. I’m sure. A hundred attempts. And every time – this picture. The same picture with four zeros. They have no meaning. None at all.
MATVEY. Dammit, Andrey, you’re our only hope!
ANDREY. I know.
WINCHESTER. Have you tried the Vigenère cipher?
ANDREY. The Vigenère, the “Caesar”, the “Enigma” – none of it makes any sense.
WINCHESTER. Well then try again.
ANDREY. Do you think I’m dumb?
WINCHESTER. And you think I’m dumb?
ANDREY. What are you, smart?
WINCHESTER. Let’s go have a chat.
ANDREY. I should have left you back in Syria.
AURORA. Hush! Let me!
Aurora puts the laptop on her lap.
ANDREY. And what are you going to do? Draw over the picture in Paint?
AURORA. No, I’ll open it in Notepad.
ANDREY. Rubbish. What’s it for?
AURORA. The code of the picture. I read about it on a forum. Sometimes secret messages are hidden this way.
ANDREY. Good luck.
AURORA. Here, I told you! There’s a message!
A pause. Everyone looks at the screen.
MATVEY. Damn, Aurora, do you know you’re a genius?
AURORA. I just have an eye for detail.
WINCHESTER. Put this key into the search bar on futureexploration.com and learn your future.
Aurora opens the site and puts the key in.
ANDREY. What does it say?
AURORA. “Gotcha”. And an emoji.
A video call from an unknown user appears on the screen.
AURORA. Who’s this?
Everyone exchanges glances. Aurora takes the call. Elon Musk beams from the screen.
ELON MUSK. What’s up guys!
MATVEY. Elon Musk?! Is that you?
ELON MUSK. The one and only! How’s the weather in Saratov?
MATVEY. Actually, we’re in Samara.
ELON MUSK. Sorry, I keep confusing them. Anyway, you are the first to solve my secret supercode! And that means you’re the chosen ones!
ELON MUSK. Well, the code. My hidden super-secret code. I post it on anonymous forums all over the world to search for the most talented coders of today. A creative solution for human resources problems. Well, are you ready for your flight to Mars? Ooh is there a dust storm today!
ELON MUSK. You seem upset.
ANDREY. A red herring. Damn it was a red herring!
ELON MUSK. I get your confusion, but trust me, you’ll be working in the most advanced company in the world!
MATVEY. Elon, buddy, I don’t know how this happened, but we don’t want to work on your team, we want to save people.
ELON MUSK. And I want the same thing. That’s the right motivation!
AURORA. We solved your code by accident!
ELON MUSK. Oh. But you’re still going to Mars.
MATVEY. Listen, Elon, it’s a long story, and we’re very grateful to you, but our city is about to perish in an ecological disaster!
ELON MUSK. That’s rough, buddy.
MATVEY. We can’t get out of here and we were hoping that by solving the cipher we could get our parents back and do something. But something went wrong.
ELON MUSK. Stay calm, guys. I’ve got a solution. I’ll help you.
ELON MUSK. Sure. Elon always helps his friends.
MATVEY. What’s your solution?
ELON MUSK. It’s easy. I’ll track your exact location, fly there on my tesla-plane and... take you to Mars. And you’re saved.
AURORA. That’s not how it works!
ELON MUSK. No objections, Elon’s coming to the rescue. See you soon.
The screen turns off.
AURORA. What the heck.
WINCHESTER. Does anyone have an idea of what just happened?
MATVEY. We solved the code incorrectly.
WINCHESTER. Hey, Andrey, what the hell?
ANDREY. I don’t know, Winchester. It seems there’s an error in the source key.
AURORA. Maybe we should download the picture again?
MATVEY. No! This way, we’ll be sitting here our entire lives while the house is filled with lethal smoke! And Dad’s in some digital prison or... or whatever it is. We’ll never solve this code! Never!
MOM. Do you mean these numbers?
Mom looks into Dad’s note.
MATVEY. Yes, I mean these numbers.
MOM. I was the one to write them down.
MOM. Well, yes. These are the readings for gas, water and electricity meters.
MATVEY. So there’s no hidden meaning in them?
MOM. Of course not!
MATVEY. So Dad’s just... playing “World of Tanks”? So he’s just... been playing... “World of Tanks”... all this time? While there’s a disaster happening?
WINCHESTER. Don’t panic, we might have got it all wrong.
Several explosions in a row are heard.
AURORA. I guess the refinery is blowing up.
Matvey jumps and starts walking around the room.
WINCHESTER. We need to hurry.
MOM. I’m so scared...
ANDREY. We need to run.
WINCHESTER. How? The district is closed!
ANDREY. When has that ever stopped me?
AURORA. But we can’t leave our parents! You promised to help!
MATVEY. I’ve decided.
Matvey comes to Dad and puts his hands on the headset.
AURORA. What are you going to do?
MATVEY. I’m taking the helmet off. Here goes nothing. I’m not leaving my dad.
AURORA. What if he goes into a coma?!
MATVEY. You think he’s okay right now?! My father may be a coward who fled from problems. So be it. He’s still my father and maybe... maybe he had reasons to be scared and to lose faith in himself. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to turn my back on him or... or leave him here to die. He raised me, he taught me to be brave. And even if I... even if I... no matter. I did what I had to.
WINCHESTER. Yeah, perhaps he’ll get lucky.
MATVEY. What do you think, Andrey?
ANDREY. (Spreads his hands.) You’re taking a chance. I don’t know.
AURORA. He might come back on his own...
MATVEY. He’s going to sit like this for six million hours! And... and maybe this manual is another dumb attempt to scare us, make us stay put. Or close our eyes and play their games for all eternity? Maybe it’s all crap? Maybe... Even if he goes into a coma or something, we can’t leave him here to a certain death. And it is certain. Mom? Are you with me?
MOM. We have to try.
Matvey holds the headset tighter.
AURORA. Matvey, are you sure?
MATVEY. No. I’m sorry, Dad.
Matvey takes the headset off. Dad limply falls down on Aurora. She yelps, then puts her hand on Dad’s forehead.
Dad takes Aurora’s hand and pulls it closer, smacking his lips as if dreaming.
MATVEY. Dad? Dad, are you alive? Dad? Dad, our car’s is being evacuated!
Everyone screams in joy and hugs dad.
DAD. Where am I? What? Who are you people?
MATVEY. Dad! You’re alive!
DAD. What happened?
MATVEY. You don’t remember? You left for cyberwar, but I brought you back! You’re alive! You didn’t abandon us!
DAD. I wasn’t going to abandon anyone.
MATVEY. But you left that note!
DAD. It’s a part of the plan. I’ll explain everything.
MATVEY. We’re out of time! There’s deadly gas outside!
DAD. I know. We’re safe at home. I installed a safety system into our flat. Give me a minute. Aurora, go wake your mom.
MATVEY. I nearly killed you!
DAD. And I’m freaking ravenous!
MOM. I’ll bring the pie!
AURORA. And I’ll go wake Mom!
Dad and Matvey sit on the couch and eat pie.
MATVEY. That is, you left the manual on purpose, so that your team could crash their servers and nobody suspected you?
DAD. Exactly. But we got stuck in an integral hole and couldn’t proceed. If you hadn’t got us out, we would have stayed there for a couple of years or died from hunger and thirst much earlier. And the numbers are just meter readings.
MATVEY. Dammit, it turns out you were trying to save us, and we thought you were playing “World of Tanks”.
DAD. A few years back I was researching the condition of the refinery’s generators. The old Soviet equipment was bound to malfunction. We needed amortization, new eco-friendly equipment, investments. But the corporation wanted to increase the production at any cost. And now they can’t stop the fire and they know it. They haven’t come up with anything better than trapping people here and disconnecting all means of communication to sweep this under the rug by any means necessary.
MATVEY. If you knew everything, why didn’t you contact the government?
DAD. The government, the environmentalists, the board – I alerted everyone, but all I got were threats. And then we decided to hack the servers on our own and stop the trials. But we screwed up.
MATVEY. Damn, well, you gave it your best shot.
DAD. And what was the point?
MATVEY. To hell with it. What do we do now?
DAD. We’re safe inside the flat. It has a safety system installed. All that’s left is to wait until the accident runs its course.
MATVEY. So we are safe, Dad, but what about the others? We could try to unite the people somehow, coordinate, or... or... I don’t know. Well we aren’t rats to hole up and do nothing!
DAD. We did all we could.
MATVEY. So all we can do is stay quiet and watch people around us... die?
DAD. Matvey, you have to understand, we risked our lives, and yet we... we couldn’t stop the abuse of power. You don’t know how complicated things are. If they admit that the accident did happen, there will be a crisis. They’ll have to rescue us, rehouse the entire district and close the refinery, which means resignations and prosecution of the ones responsible. No one profits from saving us. It’s easier for them to sacrifice us rather than oil. We are not commercially advantageous enough for them. I’m sorry, Matvey, but it’s true. There are few of us, we cannot change anything. Now everyone has to think for themselves.
MATVEY. These superiors also think for themselves, so how come we are any better? How come? Because we are weak and they are strong, is this it? Does our weakness make us better? I hate being weak! I hate this injustice!
DAD. That’s how the world works, Mat. You can’t change anything. These are the rules.
MATVEY. And wherever you work, you should find stuff to filch, I remember. They really do act like gopniks. Shut up and suck it up. I don’t want to play by these rules.
DAD. (Sighs heavily.) Fine.
Dad takes the pie plates and leaves for the kitchen. Aurora runs into the room.
AURORA. Mat! Mat, come here, we’ve got stuff to do.
MATVEY. It’s all for nothing. We have no more stuff to do.
AURORA. Mat, don’t be obtuse, I’ll tell you in secret!
Matvey approaches Aurora.
AURORA. I found a solution! We could create a satellite connection hotspot for a part of the district.
MATVEY. That’s an option?
AURORA. Yes. Well, the connection is weak and it won’t be for long. Anyway, I created a chat. It already has a hundred thousand users. There’s everyone! Neighbours, journalists, scientists, even Greta Thunberg! That’s to say we’ve got the whole world, we are not alone anymore! Now everyone knows what happened! They won’t be able to cover up the accident!
MATVEY. Damn, that’s genius. You think people will help us?
AURORA. You bet! All the sites have written about us already. People are making arrangements to break through the lockdown and get into the city, but there aren’t enough of them yet. That’s why they want to make a DNS attack on the main server to return connection to everyone else. Then people will unite and we will get out of here!
MATVEY. What are we waiting for? We should go help!
AURORA. Only it’s dangerous because they can track us. And that’s a crime. A real one. If they find us and we won’t make it, then...
MATVEY. We’re dead.
AURORA. Yep. I decided not to tell my mom, she thinks I came here for the pie.
MATVEY. I won’t tell mine either.
AURORA. Come, we need Winchester.
MATVEY. Wait. What if we can’t do this? What if making all of this public only makes it worse? And they’ll come after all of us for disturbing their plans? What if Dad’s right and they actually are stronger?
AURORA. Mat, in our days nothing is stronger than a crowd of people armed with the Internet and a shared hatred. We only need to make it in time. Are you coming?
MATVEY. Let’s go.
Andrey and Winchester’s flat. Andrey gives Matvey, Aurora and Winchester laptops.
ANDREY. You have to realize that what we are doing is very serious.
AURORA. We know.
ANDREY. We’re hacking into a super-secret server. All corporation data is stored there. This is a crime. A real cyberwar. And if they track us down – and they will sooner or later – they’ll come after us. So we have to return Internet connection in time and save the city before they find us. Do you understand?
AURORA. Aye-aye, captain.
ANDREY. Follow my instructions to the letter. We have to implement scripts to all expert systems of the first level at the same time. Then the second level, then the third and up to the ninth. We’ll have no more than five seconds for each.
MATVEY. What if I screw up?
ANDREY. I’ll be seeing you in a correctional colony.
WINCHESTER. Enough scaring the kid already! (To Matvey.) Chin up, he’s winding you up on purpose. He’s responsible like that.
AURORA. Look, they are so afraid of us they turned they turned off the Internet connection. You’ll make it. I’m an idiot and I’m not scared, and you are the one who knows what’s what.
ANDREY. Has everyone loaded? Ready? Three, two, one. Go!
All four start typing quickly.
ANDREY. The first is done. The second. The third.
AURORA. I can’t enter the script fast enough!
ANDREY. Hush. The fourth. The fifth. We’ve hacked the first system!
WINCHESTER. And the second! We’ve almost got them.
ANDREY. Hurry up. The sixth. The seventh.
MATVEY. I can’t do this!
ANDREY. It’s okay, don’t fret!
MATVEY. I’m nervous!
AURORA. Don’t screw this up, Mat.
MATVEY. I’m trying!
All laptop screens light up with a glaring red light.
MATVEY. Did I break it? I broke it, didn’t I?
ANDREY. No. Someone jammed the satellite. Our connection is cut.
A projector light flashes into the room’s darkness through the window.
SECURITY SERVICE AGENT. (Very loudly and using a megaphone.) Everybody down! Put your hands up! Now!
ANDREY. They’ve tracked us!
SECURITY SERVICE AGENT. Do not try to resist, you are surrounded. We will shoot to kill.
MATVEY. We haven’t done anything! We’re kids!
SECURITY SERVICE AGENT. You are spreading false information that insults the state as well as society. You will be declared foreign agents and punished accordingly.
AURORA. Lies! We just want to save people! You are the ones lying and you’re pinning the blame on us!
SECURITY SERVICE AGENT. Resistance is futile. Do not make us use force.
AURORA. I’m a psychic, I’ll boil your brains!
SECURITY SERVICE AGENT. Your actions are a threat to national security. You have a minute to surrender peacefully, failing which we will proceed with the capture.
MATVEY. Andrey, what’s with the server?
ANDREY. They’re jamming the satellite, we won’t make it in time.
Everyone exchanges looks.
ANDREY. They’ll get us anyway.
WINCHESTER. Over my dead body.
Winchester takes his rifle and turns to the window in a combat position.
ANDREY. Don’t provoke them, Winchester!
WINCHESTER. I’m doing what I must. I’m protecting my friends.
MATVEY. Do we have even the smallest of chances to break through the blockade?
ANDREY. No. But our chances of surviving this are slimmer still. This is the end.
MATVEY. The end...
WINCHESTER. Guys, I want to tell you something. Even if these minutes are to be our last, they are beautiful. I’m grateful for the bravery and fellowship you’ve shown in this special op. Including you, Andrey. Once, you’ve given me a second life, and I’ve lived it to the fullest. I believe that we will meet again.
Andrey pats Winchester’s shoulder.
MATVEY. Get behind me.
MATVEY. Just do it, okay? I’ll feel calmer this way.
AURORA. Okay. I feel calmer near you, too.
MATVEY. Can I hold your hand? I’m still scared of dying.
Aurora takes Matvey’s hand.
MATVEY. Winchester, you’ve seen a lot. Is it possible to not be scared of dying?
SECURITY SERVICE AGENT. Time is up.
Aurora stands behind Matvey, Andrey and Winchester – shoulder to shoulder. All four take each other’s hands and squeeze their eyes shut.
SECURITY SERVICE AGENT. Preparing the missile. Roger that. Capture. Roger that. Ready, aim...
ELON MUSK. (Shouts.) Oh shut up would you!
A fire extinguisher falls from the sky and hits the Security Service Agent. The projector turns off.
SECURITY SERVICE AGENT. That hurt!
A beam of light lifts the Agent up. He turns out to be short and doughy. He screeches in an unpleasant high-pitched voice that doesn’t seem threatening at all without the megaphone.
SECURITY SERVICE AGENT. Let me go! Let go! Do you even know who I am?!
The kids peer out of the window. There is a spaceship above the house with Elon Musk looking out of it – wearing sunglasses, with a winning smile and a joint between his teeth.
ELON MUSK. What’s up guys?
MATVEY. Elon Musk, it’s you! How did you find us?
ELON MUSK. I tracked your IP. I’m joking. I told you: Elon Musk always helps his friends. Come out, you’ve sat late today.
Everyone runs outside. Elon parks the spaceplane on the playground.
ELON MUSK. The whole world’s talking about you. They are calling your superheroes. You’ve stopped the death of an entire city.
MATVEY. We haven’t stopped anything, Elon. The refinery is still burning.
ELON MUSK. Not a problem. Thanks to you, people managed to unite and break through the lockdown. They’re safe now. And our guys are already putting out the refinery fire. We’ll put it out and take it on Mars – we’ll need refineries, even used ones. We’ll take this dude and his buddies too, they’ll be building our colony – we jokingly call it “The GOODLUCK Archipelago”.
MATVEY. No shit...
ABDREY. How can we thank you, Elon?
ELON MUSK. Pay the taxes and don’t get into espionage. By the way, my offer still stands. And now I have to fly. See you on Mars!
Elon starts the spaceplane and flies into the sky. The Agent is dragged through the air behind him. Everyone waves Elon goodbye.
AURORA. I’m high as a kite.
ANDREY. What was that?
WINCHESTER. I don’t know. I guess we really are heroes.
MATVEY. (To Aurora.) Sorry for the sappiness.
AURORA. It’s fine.
WINCHESTER. Maybe we should go and finish the pizza?
MATVEY. Good plan.
AURORA. Why am I so hungry all of the time?
A warm spring evening, the streetlights are on. Matvey and Aurora sit on a bench. Aurora eats ice cream.
AURORA. Still, it’s so cool to have real superpowers. At least something useful came out of these chemicals. Now Mom can see the future for real, and I can boil people’s brains. Do you want me to boil your brain?
MATVEY. Will you be gone for long?
AURORA. I guess. I’ve also been invited to Stanford, it’s in California. Haven’t I told you? They’ll be researching my new abilities. I’ll get to meet famous people: Gosling, Bieber, Timberlake. How are you going to spend you summer?
MATVEY. I’ll be helping my dad. He opened his own IT firm. You know, in the eco-centre, where the refinery used to be. We’ll be making VR headsets. I mean, he will be.
AURORA. That’s nice too. Listen, it’s so weird that everyone except you has got superpowers. Maybe you are doing it the wrong way?
MATVEY. How else should I do it?
AURORA. Well I don’t know. If Snezhkova hadn’t got me mad, I would never have learned that I can boil brains. Maybe you need to get angry?
MATVEY. At whom?
AURORA. I don’t know, destiny.
MATVEY. I’m not angry. I just miss things.
AURORA. What things?
MATVEY. I miss that Andrey and Winchester left for South Africa and work for Elon Musk. I miss that you’re leaving for the States. And we don’t see each other a lot. I miss that we saved the city and now everything’s great, except it’s not. And everyone’s different somehow, everyone’s leaving to live new lives, and I’m still the same. My life’s just as boring as these identical houses. I’m not missing things, I guess, I’m just sad, that feels right.
AURORA. I see. Sadness suppresses your abilities. But don’t be sad. Want me to tell you a secret? You were the only person I liked talking to in the whole city.
AURORA. Yeah. Because you’re interesting and very smart. I think you really need to apply to an engineering or an IT program. You’ve got a knack for electronics. And for saving the world. By the way, you’re wearing clean socks again. You’re learning to look after yourself. Don’t be sad, you are a very good person.
Aurora’s phone rings.
AURORA. Justin Bieber DMed me! Well, not Bieber himself, but his agent did. He’s asking whether we can have a photo session in Santa Monica. I’m thinking, yes.
AURORA. Okay, I have to run, I need to gather my things. Want to finish my ice cream? Well, suit yourself. Don’t be sad. Bye.
Aurora stands up and leaves. Matvey shouts after her.
MATVEY. Will I see you in summer?
AURORA. Of course!
MATVEY. This summer?
AURORA. The next, silly.
MATVEY. Okay. Well, I’ll be waiting for the next summer then! Good luck! Have a good photo session! (A pause.) With Bieber.
Matvey stands still for a little while and looks at Aurora as she leaves, but just as she disappears behind a turn, he angrily kicks a streetlight. The streetlight flickers. Matvey kicks it again, so hard it hurts. Streetlights and windows in the whole district start flickering faster.
MATVEY. Hate it! Hate it! Hate it!
The light flashes and disappears entirely.
MATVEY. Damn, have they cut the power again? (Turns on his phone.) Now I’ll have to find my way blind. And now the freaking phone’s died. Chinese crap. Goddamned corporations.
Matvey goes home. The streetlights turn on again.