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Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 11


  ‘How long are we stopping here?’ he asked.

  ‘Young men! Let’s be off!’ the booming bass of the commander’s voice rang out, and Artyom understood that there would be no more resting and he hadn’t managed to get anything to eat.

  Again it was Artyom and Zhenya’s turn to be on the cart. The levers started to grind, boots started to clatter against the concrete, and they were off again into the tunnel.

  This time the group moved forward in silence, and only the commander spoke. He had called Kirill to the front and discussed something quietly with him. Artyom had neither the strength nor the desire to hear their conversation. All his energies were taken up by the accursed cart.

  The man at the rear, left all alone, felt distinctly uncomfortable, and timidly looked behind himself again and again. Artyom was standing facing him in the cart and could see that there was nothing scary behind him but he was just as reassured when he glanced over his own shoulder to the front. This fear and mistrust followed him always, and it wasn’t just him. Any lone traveller was familiar with this feeling. They even had a name for it: ‘tunnel fear.’ It was when you were going along a tunnel, especially if you had a bad flashlight, and it felt like there was danger right behind your back. Sometimes the feeling was so augmented that you felt someone’s gaze at the nape of your neck - or not even a gaze but . . . Who knew who or what was there and how it perceived the world . . . And then, sometimes, it was so intolerably oppressive that you couldn’t stand it, and you turned around lightning fast, poking your flashlight into the darkness - and there was no one there . . . Silence . . . Emptiness . . . All was quiet. But while you were looking behind you, and straining your eyes into the darkness until they hurt, and the darkness was condensing behind you again, you wanted to throw yourself in the other direction, to light the tunnel ahead. Was anyone there, had anyone stolen up on you while you were looking the other way? . . . And again . . . The main thing was not to lose control, not to give in to the fear, to convince yourself that it was all crap and that there was nothing to be afraid of, and that you hadn’t heard anything anyway . . .

  But it was very hard to control yourself - especially when you were walking alone. People had lost their minds. They just couldn’t calm themselves down, even when they reached inhabited stations. Then, of course, slowly, they came to themselves again, but they couldn’t make themselves go into the tunnel again - or they would immediately be seized by the same feeling of alarm, familiar to every metro-dweller, and it could turn into a pernicious delusion.

  ‘Don’t be scared - I’m watching!’ Artyom shouted to the man at the back. And the man nodded, but after a couple of minutes he couldn’t help it and looked behind himself again. It was hard . . .

  ‘A guy I know at Seregi also went a little crazy like that,’ Zhenya said quietly, knowing what Artyom had been referring to. ‘To be fair, he had a pretty serious reason for it. He decided to go through that tunnel at Sukharevskaya - remember I was telling you about it? Where you shouldn’t ever go alone and you have to go in a caravan. Well, the guy lived. And, you know why he survived?’ Zhenya smirked. ‘Because he didn’t have enough courage to go beyond the hundredth-metre. When he was heading in he was so brave and resolute. Ha . . . After twenty minutes he came back - his eyes goggling, his hair standing on end, and he couldn’t pronounce a single discernible word. So, they didn’t get anything out of him - and since then, he speaks incoherently, mostly lowing like a cow. And won’t put a foot in the tunnel - just stays at Sukhareveskaya begging. He’s the local village idiot now. Is the moral of the story clear now?’

  ‘Yeah,’ Artyom said uncertainly.

  The group moved along for a while in total silence. Artyom sunk into his thoughts again and walked like that for a while, trying to think up something plausible to say at the exit post to get out of Rizhskaya.

  And so they continued until, after a while, he noticed some kind of strange sound that was getting louder and louder, coming from the tunnel ahead of them. This noise, which had been almost inaudible to begin with, was on the border of audible sound and ultrasound, slowly and imperceptibly gaining strength, so that you couldn’t tell when you’d started hearing it. It reminded him of a whistling whisper more than anything - incomprehensible and inhuman.

  Artyom quickly looked over at the others. They were all moving rhythmically and silently. The commander had stopped talking to Kirill, Zhenya was thinking about something, and the man at the back was calmly looking forward, having stopped his nervous backward glancing. They didn’t hear anything. Nothing! Artyom became scared. The calm and silence of the group became even more noticeable against the background of this whispering, which was getting louder and louder - and it was incomprehensible and frightening. Artyom stopped working the lever and stood up to his full height. Zhenya looked at him in surprise. Zhenya’s eyes were clear with no trace of the drugs that Artyom was afraid he might find there.

  ‘What are you doing?’ Zhenya asked, annoyed. ‘Are you tired or something? You should have said so and not just stopped like that.’

  ‘You don’t hear anything?’ Artyom asked in bewilderment, and something in his voice made Zhenya’s face change expression.

  Zhenya listened harder without ceasing to work the lever. The cart, however, was going slower and slower, because Artyom was still standing there with a confused look, catching the echoes of the mysterious noise.

  The commander noticed this and turned around.:

  ‘What’s wrong with you? Have your batteries run out?’

  ‘You don’t hear anything?’ Artyom asked him.

  And at that moment a foul sensation crept into his soul, that maybe there was no noise and that’s why no one heard it. He was just going mad, he was imagining it out of fear . . .

  The commander gave the signal to stop so that the squeaking of the cart wouldn’t interfere and the grumble of boots would die away. His hands crept up onto his machine gun and he stood motionless and tense, listening, and turning one ear to the tunnel.

  The strange noise was right there now, Artyom could hear it distinctly, and the clearer the sound became the more attentively Artyom peered at the commander’s face, trying to make out if he could also hear what was filling Artyom’s consciousness with ever-strengthening agitation. But the features of the commander’s face gradually smoothed out, and Artyom was overcome with a sense of shame. Moreover, he had stopped the group for nothing and had freaked out and alarmed the others as well.

  Zhenya, clearly, couldn’t hear anything either even though he was trying. Having given up his work at last, he looked at Artyom with spiteful mockery, looking him in the eye, and asked:

  ‘Hallucinations?’

  ‘Fuck off!’ Artyom unexpectedly shouted with irritation. ‘What, are you all deaf or something?’

  ‘Hallucinations!’ Zhenya concluded.

  ‘Quiet. There’s nothing. You just thought you heard it probably. Don’t worry, it happens, don’t get tense, Artyom. Go ahead and start up again and we’ll go on,’ the commander said softly, calming the situation, and walking ahead himself.

  Artyom had no other option but to return to his work. He earnestly tried to convince himself that the whisper was only in his imagination, that it was just tension. He tried to relax and not to think about anything, hoping he could throw the sound out of his head along with his disturbing and rushing thoughts. He managed to stop the thoughts for a time but, in his empty head, the sound grew more resonant, louder and clearer. He gained strength from the fact that they were all moving further to the south, and when the noise had become so great that it seemed to fill the whole metro, Artyom suddenly noticed that Zhenya was working with just one hand, and that, without noticing it, he was rubbing his ears with the other.

  ‘What are you doing?’ Artyom whispered to him.

  ‘I don’t know . . . they’re blocked . . . they’re itching . . .’ Zhenya mumbled.

  ‘And you don’t hear anything?’ Artyom asked.
/>  ‘No, I don’t hear a thing - but I feel pressure,’ Zhenya whispered in response, and there wasn’t a trace of the former irony in his voice.

  The sound had reached an apogee and then Artyom understood where it was coming from. It was emanating from one of the pipes that lay along the tunnel walls. It had been used as a communication line and who knows what else. The pipe was burst and the torn black muzzle was emitting this strange noise. It was coming from the depths of the pipe and. as Artyom tried to figure out why there were no wires, nothing, just complete emptiness and blackness, the commander stopped suddenly and said slowly and laboriously, ‘Guys, let’s . . . here . . . Let’s have a break. I don’t feel so well. Something in my head.’

  He approached the cart with uncertain steps so he could sit on its edge but he hadn’t gone a step before he dropped like a bag to the ground. Zhenya looked at him in confusion, rubbing his ears with both hands and not moving from his place. Kirill for some reason had continued walking alone, as though nothing had happened, not reacting to their shouts. The man at the back sat down on the rails and started to cry helplessly like a baby. The light of the flashlight beamed at the tunnel’s ceiling and, lit from below, the scene looked even more sinister.

  Artyom panicked. Clearly he was the only one whose mind hadn’t been dulled by the sound, but the noise was becoming completely intolerable, preventing any concrete thoughts from developing.

  Artyom covered his ears in despair and that helped a little. Then with all his might he slapped Zhenya who was rubbing his ears with a silly expression on his face and yelled at him, trying to overcome the noise, forgetting that he was the only one to hear it: ‘Pick up the commander! Put the commander in the cart! We can’t stay here, no way! We have to get out of here!’ And he picked up the fallen flashlight and went after Kirill who was marching like a sleepwalker into the pitch darkness ahead.

  Luckily, Kirill was walking rather slowly. In a few bounds, Artyom managed to chase him down and tap him on the shoulder. But Kirill continued walking and they were getting further and further away from the others. Artyom ran ahead of him and, not knowing what to do, he directed the flashlight into Kirill’s eyes. They were closed but Kirill suddenly frowned and broke his stride. Then Artyom, holding him with one hand, used the other to lift Kirill’s eyelid and shine the light into his pupil. Kirill screamed, began to blink, shook his head and regained consciousness in a fraction of a second and opened his eyes, looking at Artyom in bewilderment. Blinded by the flashlight, he could almost see nothing, and Artyom had to lead him by the hand back to the cart.

  The unconscious body of the commander was lying on the cart, and Zhenya sat next to him, with the same stupid expression on his face. Leaving Kirill at the cart, Artyom went to the man at the back who was still sitting there on the rails, crying. Having looked him in the eye, Artyom met a look of total suffering, and the feeling was so sharp that he stepped backwards in fear that he himself might also start crying in the face of this pain.

  ‘They were all killed. . . . And it was so painful!’ Artyom made out the words between sobs.

  Artyom tried to get the man to stand up but he pulled away and unexpectedly cried out angrily, ‘Pigs! Bad people! I won’t go anywhere with you, I want to stay here! They are so lonely, and are in so much pain here - and you want to take me away from here? It’s all your fault! I won’t go anywhere! Anywhere! Let me go, you hear!’

  At first Artyom wanted to slap him thinking that that might bring him back to his senses - but then he was afraid that the guy was so excited that he might just retaliate instead. So, Artyom got down on his knees in front of the man and, even though it was difficult since the noise was so loud, he spoke softly:

  ‘Now, you want to help them though, right? You want to stop their suffering?’

  Through his tears, the man looked at Artyom and whispered with a frightened smile: ‘Of course . . . Of course, I want to help them.’

  ‘Then you have to help me. They want you to help me. Go to the cart and stand at the lever. You have to help me get to the station.’

  ‘They told you so?’ the man looked at Artyom disbelievingly.

  ‘Yes,’ Artyom replied confidently.

  ‘And then you’ll let me go back to them?’

  ‘I give you my word that if you want to go back to them, then I will send you back,’ Artyom confirmed and, without giving the man time to think anymore, he pulled him up into the cart.

  He left the man on the cart, mechanically obeying Zhenya, and he and Kirill worked the levers, while the unconscious commander lay there in the middle. Meanwhile, Artyom took the forward position and aimed his machine gun into the darkness, and walked forward with quick steps. He was surprised himself that he could hear the cart following him. Artyom felt that he was doing the unacceptable, having an unprotected rear, but he understood that now the most important thing was to get out of this terrible place as fast as they could.

  There were now three of them working the levers and the group was moving faster than before. Artyom felt with some relief that the vicious noise was getting quieter and his sense of being in danger was diminishing. He shouted at the others, telling them to keep up the pace, and suddenly he heard the sober and surprised voice of Zhenya behind him:

  ‘What are you, the commander now?’

  Artyom signalled to stop, having understood that they had gone past the dangerous zone, and returned to the group and fell to the ground weakly, leaning his back on the cart. The others slowly came to their senses. The man from the back stopped sobbing and was wiping his face with his hands, looking around in perplexity. The commander started to move and rose with a dull groan, complaining of a headache.

  Half an hour later, it was possible to go on. Apart from Artyom, no one remembered anything.

  ‘You know, a heaviness pulled me down so quickly and my head was so fogged up - and then suddenly I was out. I’ve had it happen once before from a gas attack in another tunnel, far from here. But if it had been gas then it would have had a different effect - on everybody at once, without discriminating . . . And you really heard that sound? Yes, this is all strange . . .’ The commander was thinking aloud. ‘And Nikita was roaring . . . So, Nikita, who were you crying about?’ he asked the rearguard.

  ‘The devil knows . . . I don’t remember. That is, I did remember about a minute ago but it’s flown out of my head . . . It was like a dream: as soon as you wake up, you remember everything and the picture is so clear in your mind. But after a few minutes you regain consciousness a little - and it’s all gone, empty. Just fragments remain . . . Well, it’s the same now. I remember that I was really, really sorry for someone . . . but who, and why - no clue.’

  ‘And you wanted to stay in the tunnel. Forever. With them. I promised you that if you wanted I would let you go back,’ said Artyom, with a sidelong glance at Nikita. ‘So, there you go, I’ll let you go back,’ he added and chuckled.

  ‘No thank you,’ Nikita responded gloomily, ‘I’ve reconsidered . . .’

  ‘OK, guys. That’s enough hanging about. There’s nothing here in this tunnel to stick around for. Let’s get there first and then we’ll talk about it all. We still have to get back home at some point too . . .’ Though why plan ahead on a day like this - God willing they’d just make it to their first destination. ‘Let’s go!’ the commander concluded. ‘Listen, Artyom, come and walk with me. You’re our hero today,’ he added unexpectedly.

  Kirill took his place behind the cart, Zhenya despite his protests stayed on the cart with Nikita and they moved forward.

  ‘There was a broken pipe there you say? And your noise was coming from it? You know, Artyom, maybe we blockheads are all deaf and didn’t hear a thing. You probably have a special sense for that crap. You were lucky on this one, boy!’ the commander said. ‘Very strange, that it came from a pipe. An empty pipe you say? Who the hell knows what goes through them anymore,’ he continued, cautiously glancing at the snake-like interlacing pipes along
the tunnel walls.

  There wasn’t much further to go before they’d get to Rizhskaya. A quarter of an hour later, they could see the light of the patrol fire, and the commander slowed his pace and gave the correct signal with his flashlight. They let them through the cordon quickly, without delay, and the cart rolled into the station.

  Rizhskaya was in better condition than Alekseevskaya. Sometime a long time ago, there was a big market above ground at this station. Among those who managed to run to the metro and save themselves were a lot of traders from that market. The people at the station ever since the beginning had been enterprising people and its proximity to Prospect Mir and thereby to the Hansa and its main trade routes also gave it a certain prosperity. They had electric light, emergency lights like at VDNKh. Their patrols were dressed in old camouflage, which looked more impressive than the decorated quilted jackets at Alekseevskaya.

  The inhabitants led the guests to their tent. Now a swift return home was not likely, since it was unclear what this new danger was in the tunnel and how to deal with it. The administration of the station and the commander of the small group from VDNKh came together for a meeting, and the rest of them were given some time off. Artyom, tired and overwrought, fell face down onto his cot immediately. He didn’t want to sleep but he was out of strength. After a couple of hours, the station had promised to have a feast for their guests and, judging from the winking and whispering of their hosts, it seemed there would probably be some meat to eat. But now there was time to lie down and think about nothing.

  Noise started up beyond the walls of the tent. The feast was being prepared right in the middle of the platform, where the main campfire was. Artyom couldn’t resist and looked outside. Several people were cleaning the floor and laying out a tarpaulin, and a little further away they were carving up a pig, cutting it into pieces and sliding them onto steel wire to string them over the fire. The walls of the station were unusual: not marble like at VDNKh and Alekseevskaya but lined with yellow and red tile. This combination must have looked pretty cheerful at one time. Now, the glazed tile and plastering were covered with a layer of soot and grease - but some of the old feeling of it was preserved. But the most important thing was that at the other end of the station, half buried in the tunnel, was a real train - though its windows were blown in and its doors were open.