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Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 12


  You didn’t find trains in every passage or station by any means. Over the last two decades many of them, especially the ones that had got stuck in the tunnels and were unsuitable for living inside, were gradually pulled apart by people who used the wheels, the glass and the outer material of the train to make things at their own stations. Artyom’s stepfather told him that at Hansa one of the passages was cleared of trains so that passenger trolleys could move between points easily. Also, according to rumour, they were pushed into the Red Line. And in the tunnel that went from VDNKh to Prospect Mir, there wasn’t a wagon left, but that was probably just accidental.

  Locals were slowly gathering, and a sleepy-faced Zhenya crawled out of the tent. Half an hour later the local leadership came out with Artyom’s commander, and the first pieces of meat were put on the fire. The commander and the station’s government were smiling and joking around a lot, seemingly satisfied with the results of their discussions. They brought a bottle of some kind of home-made liquor, there were toasts and everyone was very merry. Artyom gnawed on his meat and licked the dripping hot grease off his hands, looking at the glowing coals, the heat of which brought on an inexplicable feeling of cosiness and peace.

  ‘Was it you that dragged them out of the trap?’ said an unfamiliar guy who was sitting nearby and had been looking at Artyom for the last several minutes.

  ‘Who told you that?’ Artyom replied to his question with a question, looking at the man. He had a short hair cut, he was unshaven, and under his rough and tough leather coat you could see a soft vest. Artyom could see nothing suspicious about him: his interlocutor looked like a normal trader, the kind that you find at Rizhskaya, a dime a dozen.

  ‘Who? Yeah, it was your brigadier said something.’ He nodded at someone sitting a little way away and talking animatedly with the commander’s new companions.

  ‘Well, yeah it was me,’ Artyom reluctantly admitted. And even though he’d been planning to make a couple of useful acquaintances at Rizhskaya, now that he was faced with an excellent opportunity, he suddenly didn’t feel much like it.

  ‘I’m Bourbon. What’s your name?’ the guy said.

  ‘Bourbon?’ Artyom was surprised. ‘Why is that? Wasn’t there a king of that name?’

  ‘No, my boy. There was a kind of drink called bourbon. A fiery spirit, you see. It would put you in a good mood, so they say. So what IS your name anyway?’ The guy was still interested to know.

  ‘Artyom.’

  ‘Listen, Artyom, and when are you going back?’ Bourbon seemed insistent, and it made Artyom suspicious.

  ‘I don’t know. Now no one will say when we’re going back exactly. If you heard what happened to us, sir, then you should understand why,’ Artyom answered coolly.

  ‘Listen, I’m not all that much older than you so you can speak with me without the formality . . . Basically, I’m asking you . . . I have something to propose to you, boy. Not for your whole group but for you personally. Me, well, I need your help. You get it? It won’t take long . . .’

  Artyom didn’t get it at all. The guy was talking haltingly, and something in the way he pronounced his words made Artyom wince inside. He wanted nothing in the world more than to end this incomprehensible conversation.

  ‘Listen, boy, don’t you . . . don’t get tense.’ Bourbon sensed his feelings of mistrust and sought quickly to disperse them. ‘Nothing dodgy, it’s all above board . . . Well, almost all. Basically, this is it: the day before yesterday some of our guys went along to Sukharevskaya, and well, you know, they went straight along the line and they never got there. Only one of them came back. And he doesn’t remember anything, came running back covered in snot, howling like your brigadier was telling us. The rest didn’t come back. Maybe they got out at Sukharevskaya. . . . But maybe they didn’t get out at all, because no one has come from Prospect for three days now, and no one wants to go to Prospect either anymore. And well, basically, I think that there’s the same crap there as what you had. As I was listening to your brigadier, I just . . . I got the idea that it might be the same thing. The line is just the same. And the pipes are the same too.’ Then Bourbon quickly looked over his shoulder, to check, probably, that no one was listening to him. ‘And that crap didn’t affect you,’ he continued quietly, ‘you get it?’

  ‘I’m starting to,’ Artyom replied uncertainly.

  ‘Basically, I need to get over there now. I really need to, you see? Really. I don’t exactly know what the chances are that I’ll lose it, like our boys did, probably like all your guys did. Except you.’

  ‘You . . .’ Artyom muttered, ‘You want me to take you through the tunnel? To lead you to Sukharevskaya?’

  ‘Yeah, something like that.’ Bourbon nodded in relief. ‘I don’t know if you heard about it or not but there’s a tunnel beyond Sukharevskaya, which, like, is even worse than this one, full of crap, and I need to get through that one too. Bad shit has happened there to the boys. Everything will be fine, don’t worry. If you take me, I’ll make it worth your while. I’ll need to get further, of course, to the south, but I have there, at Sukharevskaya, some people, who will dust you off and set you on your road back home and all the rest of it.’

  Artyom who had wanted to send Bourbon and his proposals to hell, understood suddenly that this was his chance to get past the southern gates of Rizhskaya without a fight and without any other problems. And to go even further . . . Bourbon didn’t say much about his next moves, but still he’d said he was going through the accursed tunnel between Sukharevskaya and Turgenevskaya. And that was exactly where Artyom needed to get. Turgenevskaya - Trubnaya - Tsvetnoi Bulvap - Chekhovskaya . . . And then it was only a stone’s throw to Arbatskaya . . . Polis . . . Polis.

  ‘What’re you paying?’ Artyom decided to add for the sake of acting normal.

  ‘Whatever you want. Currency, basically,’ Bourbon doubtfully looked at Artyom, trying to make out if the guy understood his meaning. ‘I mean, like, Kalashnikov cartridges. But if you want, I can get some food, some spirits or weed.’ He winked. ‘I can also get you that.’

  ‘No, cartridges are fine. Two magazines. And, well, enough food to get there and back. I won’t negotiate.’ Artyom named his price as confidently as he could, trying to meet the Bourbon’s challenging gaze.

  ‘You drive a hard bargain,’ Bourbon responded. ‘OK. Two horns for the Kalashnikov. And something to eat. OK, fine,’ he mumbled, apparently to himself. ‘OK, my boy, so how’re you doing there anyway? You should go and sleep, and I’ll come and get you soon, when all this ruckus calms down. Pack your stuff, you can leave a note if you can write so that they don’t arrange a search. . . . So be ready when I come. Got it?’

  CHAPTER 5

  In Exchange for Cartridges

  He didn’t really need to pack his stuff since he hadn’t unpacked - there’d been no special reason to do so. The only thing he couldn’t work out was how to get his machine gun out of the station so it wouldn’t be noticed, so it wouldn’t attract attention. They were given bulky military 7.62 calibre machine guns with wooden butts. VDNKh always sent their caravans to the nearer stations with these bulky guns.

  Artyom lay there, his head buried in the blanket, not answering Zhenya’s puzzled questions: why was he snoozing here when everything was so great at the feast, was he sick or something? It was hot and humid in the tent, and it was worse under the covers. Sleep was a long time coming and, when he finally went out, his dreams were unsettling and muddled, as though he was seeing them through clouded glass. He was running somewhere, he was talking to some faceless person, and then he was running again . . .

  Zhenya woke him up, shaking him by the shoulder and told him in a whisper: ‘Listen, Artyom, there’s some guy here for you . . . Are you having some trouble?’ he asked carefully. ‘Why don’t I get all the guys up and we’ll . . .’

  ‘No, it’s fine, he just needs to talk to me. Go to sleep, Zhen. I’ll be back in a sec,’ Artyom said quietly, pulling on his boots and wa
iting for Zhenya to go back to sleep. He was carefully dragging his rucksack out of the tent and gathering up his machine gun, when suddenly Zhenya, having heard a metallic clattering, asked again, ‘Now what’s happening? Are you sure that everything’s OK?’

  Artyom had to get him off his back by making up a story that he wanted to show the guy a thing or two because they’d argued, but everything would be fine.

  ‘Liar!’ Zhenya said pointedly. ‘OK, when should I be worried?’

  ‘In a year,’ Artyom mumbled, hoping that this was inaudible enough, and he moved the tent flap aside and went out onto the platform.

  ‘Boy, you’re slowing us down,’ Bourbon said through his teeth. He was dressed as before, only he had a long rucksack on his back. ‘Fuck you! Are you planning to drag that big lump across every cordon with you?’ he asked disgustedly, pointing at the machine gun. As far as Artyom could tell, Bourbon didn’t have a weapon himself.

  The light at the station was fading. There was no one on the platform, everyone had gone to sleep, exhausted from the feast. Artyom tried to walk faster, worried all the time that he would bump into someone from his group, but at the entrance to the tunnel Bourbon trapped him and told him to slow his pace. The patrolmen in the passage noticed them and asked them from afar where they were planning to go in the middle of the night, but Bourbon addressed one of them by name and explained that they had some business to attend to.

  ‘Listen, carefully,’ he said to Artyom and turning on his flashlight. ‘Now, there’ll be guards at the hundredth- and two-hundredth metre lines. So you just keep quiet, above all. I will figure it out with them. Shame that you have a Kalash that’s as old as my grandma - you won’t hide that thing . . . Where’d you dig up such a piece of crap?’

  Everything went smoothly at the hundredth-metre. There was a small fire dying out, and two people were sitting next to it, dressed in camouflage. One of them was snoozing and the second one shook Bourbon’s hand like a friend.

  ‘Business? I seeee . . .’ he said with a mischievous smile.

  Bourbon didn’t say a word before the two hundred and fiftieth metre. He just sullenly marched forward. He seemed sort of angry, and unpleasant, and Artyom was starting to regret that he’d come with him. He stepped away from Bourbon and checked to see that his machine gun was in order, and he put his finger on the trigger.

  There was some delay at the last guard post. Bourbon either didn’t know them well, or they knew him too well. The main guy took him off to the side, putting his rucksack by the fire, and asked him a lot of questions. Artyom, feeling pretty foolish, stayed by the fire and sparingly answered the questions of the duty officer. They were obviously bored and had nothing better to do. Artyom knew for himself that if the duty officer was chatty then everything was fine at the post. If something strange had happened there recently, if something had crawled out of the depths, or someone had tried to break through from the south, or they’d heard a suspicious sound, then they would be crowding around the fire silently, saying nothing, tense, and they wouldn’t take their eyes off the tunnel. It looked as though everything had been quiet, and that they could get at least to Prospect Mir without worrying.

  ‘You’re not from around here I guess. From Alekseevskaya or what?’ The duty officer was trying to elicit information from Artyom and looking at him right in the face.

  Artyom, remembering that Bourbon had ordered him to stay quiet and to talk to no one, muttered something that could have been interpreted in several ways, leaving the guy to his own interpretation. The duty officer, having given up on getting an answer from him, turned to his mate and started discussing a story told by some guy called Mikhail who had been trading at Prospect Mir a few days ago and had had some trouble with the station’s administration.

  Satisfied that they’d given up on him, Artyom sat at the fire and looked at the southern tunnel through the flames. It looked like the same wide and endless tunnel as they had in the northerly direction at VDNKh where Artyom had, not so long ago, sat by a fire at the four hundred and fiftieth metre.

  By the looks of it, it wasn’t different at all. But there was something about it - a particular smell, brought up by the tunnel vents, or was it a particular mood, an aura, that belonged only to this tunnel and gave it an individuality, made it dissimilar to all the rest. Artyom remembered his stepfather saying that there weren’t two tunnels alike in the metro. Such supersensitivity had developed over many years of trips and not many had it. His stepfather called it ‘listening to the tunnel’ and he had such a ‘sense of hearing’ that he was proud of it and often admitted to Artyom that he had survived many adventures thanks to this sense. Many others, despite their many travels in the metro, had no such thing. Some people developed inexplicable fear, some heard sounds, voices, and slowly lost their minds, but everybody agreed on one thing: even when there wasn’t a soul in a tunnel, it was still not empty. Something invisible and almost intangible slowly and viscously dripped onto them, filling them with its being, almost like it was the heavy cold blood in the veins of a stone leviathan.

  And now the duty officers’ conversation was fading into the background as he tried in vain to see something in the darkness that was swiftly thickening about ten paces from the fire. Artyom started to understand what his stepfather meant when he would tell him about the ‘feeling of the tunnel.’ Artyom knew that beyond that indistinct boundary, marked by the flames of the fire, where crimson light mixed with shivering shadows, there were more people, other people - but in that moment he couldn’t quite believe it. It seemed that life stopped ten paces beyond the firelight, and that there was nothing in front of them, only dead, black emptiness, that answered a shout with the deception of a dull echo.

  But if you sit for a while, if you plug your ears, if you don’t look into the depths of the tunnel like you’re looking for something but instead you try to dissolve your gaze in the darkness, and to merge with the tunnel, to become a part of this leviathan, a cell in the organism, then through your fingers, that are closing off the sounds of the external world, past your auditory organs, a thin melody will flow directly into your brain - an unearthly sound from the depths, indistinct and incomprehensible . . . It’s nothing like that disturbing, urging noise, spilling out of the broken pipe in the tunnel between Alekseevskaya and Rizhskaya. No, it’s something different, something clean and deep . . .

  It seemed to him that he could dip into the quiet river of this melody for short spells, and suddenly he would understand the essence of this phenomenon - not using reason but using an intuition that was probably awakened by that noise from the broken pipe. The flowing sounds from that pipe seemed to him the same as ether, slowly extending along the tunnel, but they had been rotting inside the pipe, infected by something, seething nervously, and they broke out where tension in the pipe became too much, and the rotting matter pushed itself out into the world, taking its sorrow with it, imparting nausea and madness to all living beings . . .

  Suddenly it seemed to Artyom that he was standing on the threshold of an understanding of something important, as though the last hour he had spent wandering in the pitch-black darkness of the tunnels and in the twilight of his own consciousness had pulled the curtain of this great mystery slightly to the side, separating all rational beings from a knowledge of the true nature of this new world which was gnawed into the earth’s bowels by previous generations.

  But with this realization, Artyom also became scared, as if he had only had a peek through the key hole of the door hoping to find out what was behind it, and seeing only an unbearable light punching through it and singeing the eyes. And if you opened the door then the light would gush out irrepressibly and incinerate the audacious person who decided to open the forbidden door on the spot. However, this light is knowledge.

  The whirlwind of all these thoughts, feelings and worries came whipping through Artyom too suddenly and he wasn’t at all ready for anything like it and so he recoiled in fright. No, this was all ju
st a fantasy. He hadn’t heard anything and hadn’t realized anything. It was just a game of his imagination. With mixed feelings of relief and disappointment, he observed how, for an instant, an amazing, indescribable vision was revealed to him. It instantly grew dim, melted, and the mind again was faced with its usual muddy haze. He was afraid of this knowledge and stepped back from it, and now the curtain was lowered again and perhaps forever. The hurricane in his head died down as quickly as it had come and he was left with a devastated and exhausted mind.

  Artyom was shaken and sat there trying to understand everything - where his fantasy ended and where reality began - wondering if any of these sensations might be real after all. Slowly, slowly, his soul was filled with bitterness at the fact that he had stood a step away from enlightenment, from the most real enlightenment, but he hadn’t been resolute, he hadn’t dare give himself to the flow of the tunnel’s ether, and now he would be left to wander in the darkness for his whole life because he was once too afraid of the light of authentic knowledge.

  ‘But what is knowledge?’ he asked himself again and again, trying to give value to the thing that he had just refused in a hurried and cowardly manner. Sunk in his thoughts, he didn’t notice that he had said these words aloud a few times.

  ‘Knowledge, my friend, is light - and non-knowledge is darkness!’ one of the duty officers explained to him eagerly. ‘Right?’ He merrily winked at his friends.

  Artyom was dumbstruck and stared at the guy and sat like that for a while until Bourbon returned and got him up and said goodbye to the officers, saying that he had been detained and that they were in a hurry.