Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 10

  This was already the second such conversation in the last two days, and Artyom already knew about the Morlocks and about Herbert Wells, and he didn’t want to hear about it all over again. So, disregarding Zhenya’s protests, he resolutely turned the conversation back to its original direction.

  ‘So, what does your generation know about the metro?’

  ‘Mm . . . Talking about the devilry in the tunnels is bad luck . . . And about Metro- 2 and the invisible observers? I won’t talk about that either. But I can tell you something interesting about who lives where. So, do you know, for example, that at the place that used to be Pushkinskaya station - where there’s another two pedestrian passages to Chekhovskaya and Tverskaya - that the fascists have now taken that?’

  ‘What - what fascists?’ Zhenya asked, puzzled.

  ‘Real fascists. A while ago, when we still lived there,’ the commander pointed upwards, ‘there were fascists. There were also skinheads who called themselves the RNE, and others who were against immigration, and there were all kinds of different types, since that was the trend in those days. Only a fool knows what these acronyms mean, now no one remembers, and they themselves probably don’t even remember. And then, it seemed, they disappeared. You heard and saw nothing of them. And suddenly, a little while ago, they turned up again. “The metro is for Russians!” Have you heard of that? Or, they say: “‘Do a good deed - clean up the metro!” And they threw all the non-Russians out of Pushkinskaya, and then from Chekhovskaya and Tverskaya. In the end they became rabid and started punishing people. They have a Reich there now. The fourth or the fifth . . . Something like that. They haven’t crawled any further yet, but our generation still remembers the twentieth century. And what fascists are . . . The mutants from the Filevskaya line, basically, exist in actual fact . . . And our dark ones, what are they worth? And there are various sectarians, satanists, communists . . . It’s a chamber of curiosities. That’s what it is.’

  They went past the broken down door to an abandoned administrative room. Maybe it was a lavatory or maybe before it was a refuge . . . Full of furniture: iron bunk-beds and crude plumbing - it was all stolen long ago and nowadays no one tried to get into those dark empty rooms scattered along the length of the tunnels. There’s nothing there . . . But truth is, you never know!

  There was a weak blinking light ahead. They were approaching Alekseevskaya. The station was minimally populated, and the patrol consisted of one person, at the fiftieth-metre - they couldn’t allow themselves to go any further. The commander gave the order to stop at forty metres from the fire that had been lit by the patrol at Alekseevskaya - and he turned his flashlight on and off several times in a precise sequence, giving the patrol a signal. A black figure was delineated by the light of the flames - a scout was coming towards them. From far off, the scout yelled, ‘Halt! Don’t approach!’

  Artyom asked himself: Could it be possible that one day they wouldn’t be recognized at a station with whom they considered themselves to have friendly relations, and they would be met with hostility?

  The person was approaching them slowly. He was dressed in torn camouflage trousers and a quilted jacket which displayed the letter ‘A’ in bold - apparently from the first letter in the station’s name. His hollow cheeks were unshaven, and his eyes gleamed suspiciously, and his hands were nervously stroking the body of an automatic machine gun that was hanging from his neck. He looked them right in the face and smiled - he recognized them and, with a little wave showing his trust, he pushed the machine gun onto his back.

  ‘Great, guys! How are you doing? Is it you guys heading to Rizhskaya? We know, we know, they warned us. Let’s go!’

  The commander started to ask the patrolman something but it was inaudible, and Artyom, hoping that he also wouldn’t be heard, said quietly to Zhenya:

  ‘He looks overworked and underfed. I don’t think they want to join forces with us because they’re having the good life.’

  ‘Well, so what?’ His friend responded. ‘We also have our interests in the matter. If our administration is pursuing it then it means there’s something they want from it. It’s not out of charity that we are coming to feed them.’

  They went past the campfire at the fiftieth-metre where a second patrolman was sitting, dressed just like the one who had met them, and their cart rolled towards the station. Alekseevskaya was badly lighted and the people that lived there looked sad and seemed to speak little. At VDNKh, they looked on guests with friendliness. The group stopped in the middle of the platform and the commander announced a smoking break. Artyom and Zhenya stayed on the cart to protect it and the others were called to the fireside.

  ‘I’ve never heard about the fascists and the Reich,’ Artyom said.

  ‘I’ve heard that there were fascists somewhere in the underground, ’ Zhenya answered, ‘but they only said that they were at Novokuznetskaya.’

  ‘Who told you?’

  ‘Lekha did,’ Zhenya admitted reluctantly.

  ‘He’s told you a lot of other interesting things,’ Artyom reminded him.

  ‘But there really are fascists there! The guy just got the wrong place. He wasn’t lying OK?!’ Zhenya said in defence. Artyom became silent and sank into thought. The smoking break at Alekseevskaya was supposed to last no less than a half hour. The commander was having some kind of conversation with the local leader - probably about the future cooperation. Afterwards, they were supposed to push on forward, so that they would make it to Rizhkaya by day’s end. They would spend the night there, decide what needed deciding, and look at the newly discovered cable, and then they would send a messenger back to ask for their next instructions. If the cable could be used for communication between three stations then it made sense to unwind it and to open up a telephone connection. But if it looks unusable then it would be necessary to return to the station at once.

  So Artyom had dispensation for no more than two days. During this time, it would be necessary to invent a pretext under which it would be possible to get though the external cordons of Rizhskaya, who were even more suspicious and nit-picking than the external patrols at VDNKh. Their lack of trust was totally understandable: there, in the south, the wider metro system began, and the southern cordon of Rizhskaya was subjected to attacks pretty often. And though the dangers that were threatening the population of Rizhskaya were not as mysterious and frightening as those hanging over VDNKh, they were different in their amazing variation. The fighters that defended the southern approach to Rizhskaya never knew what to expect, and therefore they had to be ready for everything.

  Two tunnels go from Rizhskaya to Prospect Mir. To collapse one of them for some reason didn’t seem possible, and the Rizhskys had to put blockades up in both. But this took such a toll on their forces that it became vitally important for them to at least secure the northern tunnel. They joined forces with Alekseevskaya and more importantly, with VDNKh, and shifted the burden of defence in the northern direction onto them, which provided some peace in the tunnels between stations, so that they could focus on their domestic goals. And at VDNKh, they saw this as an opportunity to widen their sphere of influence.

  In light of the imminent union, the outposts of Rizhskaya were showing increased vigilance: it was necessary to prove to their future allies that they could be counted on to defend the southern borders. That’s why it seemed a particularly difficult task to get through the cordons in either direction. And Artyom had a maximum of two days to figure it out.

  However, despite the complexities, it didn’t seem impossible. The question lay in what he would do after that. Even if he got through the southern outposts, it would be necessary still to find a sufficiently safe route to Polis. Since he had had to make an urgent decision, he hadn’t had time in VDNKh to think about his next moves to make it to Polis. At home, he could have asked traders he knew about the dangers out there, without raising suspicions. And he knew that he would raise suspicions immediately if he asked Zhenya or anyone else in the group abo
ut the way to Polis - and Zhenya would definitely know that Artyom was up to something. He didn’t have friends at Alekseevskaya or at Rizhskaya, and he couldn’t trust mere acquaintances with these questions either.

  Having taken advantage of the fact that Zhenya walked off to chat with a girl who was sitting nearby on the platform, Artyom furtively got a tiny map of the metro out of his rucksack. It was printed on the back of a card with charred edges that was advertising a market fair (that had been and gone long ago), and he circled Polis a few times with a pencil.

  The way to Polis looked easy and short. In the ancient, mythical times that the commander had been describing when people didn’t have to carry weapons, and they went from station to station, even if they had to change trains and take another line - in the times, when the journey from one end to the opposite end, didn’t take more than an hour - in the times when the tunnels were only populated by rattling and rushing trains - back then the distance between VDNKh and Polis would have been quick and clear.

  It was directly along the line to Turgenevskaya and from there a pedestrian tunnel to Chistye Prudy, as it was called on the old map, which Artyom was examining. Or take the Kirovskaya line and the Red Line, the Sokolnicheskaya line - straight to Polis . . . In the era of trains and fluorescent light, such a trip would take about thirty minutes. But ever since the words ‘Red Line’ had been written in capital letters, and the red calico banner had hung over the pedestrian tunnel to Chistye Prudy, there was no point even thinking of a short-cut to Polis.

  The leadership of the Red Line had abandoned attempts to force the population of the whole metro to be happy by forcing Soviet power on them, and it had adopted a new doctrine which established communism along a separate line of the metro system. Though it had been unable to dispense with its original dream and continued to call the metro system the ‘V. I. Lenin Metropolitan’ it had taken no practical steps to pursue the grand plan for a while.

  But despite the seemingly peaceful behaviour of the regime, its internal paranoid nature hadn’t changed at all. Hundreds of agents of the internal security service, like in the old days, with a certain nostalgia for the KGB, constantly and diligently watched the happy inhabitants of the Red Line, and their interest in guests from other lines was unending. Without the special permission of the management of the ‘Reds’ no one could get to any other station. And the constant monitoring of passports, the total watching and a general clinical suspicion was imposed on the accidental travellers as well as the spies who were sent there. The former were equated with the latter and the fate of both was rather sad. So there was no point in Artyom thinking about getting to Polis through three stations that belonged to the Red Line.

  Generally there wasn’t an easy route into the very heart of the metro. To Polis . . . Just the mere mention of this name in a conversation made Artyom (and most others) fall into a reverential silence. He clearly remembered even now the first time he heard the word in a story told by one of his stepfather’s friends. Afterwards when the guest had left, he asked Sukhoi quietly what the word meant. His stepfather then looked at him carefully and, with a vague sadness in his voice, he said, ‘That, Artyom, is probably the last place on the earth where people live like people. Where they haven’t forgotten what the word “person” means, and, moreover, how the word should sound.’ His stepfather smiled sadly and added, ‘That is a City.’

  Polis was located where four metro lines crossed, and it took up four stations all by itself: Alexander’s Garden, Arbatskaya, Borovitzskaya and the Lenin Library. That enormous territory was the last, genuine seat of civilization, the last place with such a large population that provincial types who happened upon it couldn’t help but call it a city. It was given a name - but it meant the same thing anyway: Polis. And perhaps it was because this word had a foreign ring to it, an echo of a powerful and marvellous ancient culture which seemed to protect the settlement, that the name stuck.

  Polis remained a unique phenomenon in the metro. There, and only there, you could still meet the keepers of old and strange knowledge, which in this severe new world, with its disappearing laws, you just couldn’t find anymore. Knowledge for the inhabitants of almost all the other stations, and in essence for the whole metro, was slowly plunging into an abyss of chaos and ignorance, becoming useless along with those who carried it. Driven from everywhere, the only refuge they found was in Polis, where they were welcomed with open arms, because their colleagues were in power here. That’s why in Polis, and only in Polis, you could meet decrepit professors, who at some point worked in the departments of famous universities, which were now empty and in ruins, crawling with rats and mould. And the last remaining artists lived there too - the actors, the poets. The last physicists, chemists, biologists . . . Those who stored the best of man’s achievements in their skulls, and who knew a thousand years of history. Those whose knowledge would be lost when they died.

  Polis was below what used to be the very centre of the city above. Right above Polis stood the building of Lenin’s Library - the most extensive storehouse of information to come from all ages. There were hundreds of thousands of books in dozens of languages, covering probably all the areas in which human thought was directed. There were hundreds of tonnes of papers marked with all sorts of letters, signs, hieroglyphs, some of which no one could read anymore because the language had died with the last of their speakers. But the whole massive collection of books could still be read and understood, and the people who died a hundred years ago and who wrote them still had a lot to say to the living.

  Of all the confederations, empires and powerful stations who had the means to send expeditions to the surface, only Polis sent stalkers up to get books. It was the only place where knowledge was valued so much that people were willing to risk the lives of their volunteers for the sake of books, to pay enormous sums to those they hired to do it and forego material assets for the sake of acquiring spiritual assets.

  And, despite the seeming impracticality and idealism of the administration, Polis stood strong year after year and troubles bypassed it. If any danger threatened it then the whole metro was ready to rally for its protection. The echoes of the last battle that took place there in living memory - between the Red Line and the Hansa - had died down and there was a magic aura of invulnerability and well-being surrounding Polis again.

  And when Artyom thought about this wonderful city, it didn’t seem strange to him at all that the journey to such a place wouldn’t be easy. He would have to get lost, go through dangers and tests of strength, otherwise the purpose of the journey would have its charms wasted.

  If the way through Kirovskaya along the Red Line to the Lenin Library seemed impenetrable and too risky, then he’d have to try overcoming the Hansa patrol and go along the Ring. Artyom peered into the charred map even more closely.

  Now, if he could be successful in getting through the Hansa territory, by creating some sort of pretext, chatting to the guards at the cordons, breaking through with a fight or by some other means, then the trip to Polis would be short enough. Artyom pushed his finger into the map and drew it along the lines. If he went from Prospect Mir in the direction of the Ring, through the two stations that belonged to the Hansa, he would come out at Kurskaya. Then he could switch over to the Arbatsko-Pokrovsk line and from there he could get to Arbatskaya, which is to say, to Polis. True, Revolution Square was on the way, surrendered after the war to the Red Line in exchange for the Lenin Library, but the Reds guaranteed free transit to all travellers. This was one of the basic conditions of the peace agreement. And since Artyom was not planning on staying at that station but just going through it, he would ideally be let through freely. Having thought about it, he decided to stick with that plan and to try to iron out the details along the way about the stations he would have to pass through. If something didn’t work out, he said to himself, he could always find an alternative route. Looking at the interlacing lines of the numerous passages, Artyom thought that the commander
went a bit too far in painting a picture of the difficulties of even the shortest trips through the metro. For example, you could get from Prospect Mir not from the right, but from the left - Artyom drew his finger down the map to the Ring - until you got to Kievskaya, and there you could go through a pedestrian passage to the Filevskaya line or the Arbatsko-Pokrovskoi line with just two stops to Polis. The task didn’t seem so impossible to Artyom anymore. This little exercise with the map had given him confidence in himself. Now he knew how to act, and no longer doubted that when the caravan got to Rizhskaya, he wouldn’t be returning with the group back to VDNKh but would go on with his journey to Polis.

  ‘Studying?’ Zhenya asked him having walked right up to Artyom without his noticing.

  Artyom jumped up in surprise and tried to hide the map in his confusion.

  ‘Yes, no . . . I was . . . I wanted to find the station on the map where this Reich is, the one that the commander was telling us about before.’

  ‘Well, then, did you find it? No? Oh come on, let me show you,’ Zhenya said with a sense of superiority. He oriented himself in the metro much better than Artyom - better than their other contemporaries too, and he was proud of it. He put his finger on the triangle of Chekhovskaya, Pushkinskaya and Tverskaya straight away without mistake. Artyom exhaled with relief but Zhenya thought that it was out of envy.

  He decided to console Artyom: ‘Don’t worry, one day you’ll be as good as me in figuring it out.’

  Artyom had an expression of gratitude on his face and hurried to change the subject.