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Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 14


  ‘Hold this!’ he gave Artyom the weapon. ‘And don’t pack it away. It might prove useful. Though the passage looks quiet . . .’ And Bourbon didn’t finish his sentence but jumped onto the pathway. ‘OK, let’s go. The sooner you go, the sooner you get there.’

  It was frightening. When they went from VDNKh to Rizhskaya, Artyom knew that anything could happen, but at least people went back and forth along those tunnels every day, and he knew that there was an inhabited station ahead of them where they were expected. It was just as unpleasant as it always was for anyone leaving a lighted and peaceful place. Even when they were headed for Prospect Mir from Rizhskaya, despite his doubts, he could amuse himself with the thought that ahead of him lay a Hansa station: that there was somewhere to go where he could relax in safety.

  But it was terrifying here. The tunnel that lay before them was totally black, and an unusual, total, absolute darkness reigned - it was so thick you could almost touch it. As porous as a sponge, it greedily swallowed the rays of their flashlight, which was hardly sufficient to illuminate even a foot ahead. Straining to the limits of his hearing, Artyom attempted to distinguish the smallest germ of that strange and painful noise but it was in vain. Sounds probably had as hard a time getting through this darkness as light did. Even the bold crashing of Bourbon’s boots sounded limp and mute in this tunnel.

  On the right wall suddenly there was a gap - the flashlight beam sank into a black spot, and Artyom didn’t immediately understand that it was simply a side-passage which exited sideways from the main tunnel. He looked at Bourbon questioningly.

  ‘Don’t be scared. There was a transfer passage here,’ he explained, ‘so that trains could get directly onto the Ring without transferring at other stations. But the Hansa filled it in - they’re not fools. They wouldn’t leave an open tunnel pointing straight at them . . .’

  After that they walked in silence for quite a long time, but the silence was getting more and more oppressive and finally Artyom couldn’t bear it.

  ‘Listen, Bourbon,’ he said, trying to disperse any hallucinations, ‘is it true that some morons attacked a caravan here not long ago?’

  Bourbon didn’t answer at once and Artyom thought that perhaps he hadn’t heard the question and was about to repeat it when Bourbon responded, ‘I heard something like that. But I wasn’t here then so I can’t tell you for sure.’

  His words made a dull sound and Artyom barely caught their sense, and had a hard time separating the words he heard from his own grinding thoughts about the fact that everything was so hard to hear in this tunnel.

  ‘What? No one saw it? There’re stations at either end - how could that be? Where could they have gone?’ he continued, and not because he was especially interested in the answer but simply in order to hear his own voice.

  Several minutes went by before Bourbon replied at last, but this time Artyom hadn’t wanted to rush him, because there was an echo of the words he had just said resounding in his head and he was too busy listening to them.

  ‘They say that somewhere here there’s a . . . kind of hatch. It’s covered over. It’s not really visible. Well, how likely is it anyway that you’d see something in this darkness?’ Bourbon added with a sort of unnatural irritation in his voice.

  It took some time for Artyom to remember what they were talking about, and he agonizingly tried to catch hold of the sense of it all and to pose another question simply because he wanted to continue the conversation. Even if it was clumsy and difficult, it was saving them from the silence.

  ‘And is it always so dark in here?’ Artyom asked, feeling a bit spooked that his words made such little sound, as though there was something covering his ears.

  ‘Dark? Yes, always. Everywhere is dark. It comes in . . . the great darkness, and . . . it shrouds the world and it will . . . dominate eternally,’ Bourbon responded, making strange pauses.

  ‘What’s that? A book or something?’ Artyom said, noticing that he had to make increasing efforts to catch the sound of his own words, and also paying attention to the fact that Bourbon’s language had altered in a frightening way. But Artyom didn’t have enough strength to be surprised by this.

  ‘A book . . . Be afraid . . . of truths, concealed in ancient . . . volumes, where . . . words are embossed in gold on paper . . . slate-black . . . they don’t decay,’ Bourbon said ponderously and Artyom was struck by the thought that the man wasn’t turning to speak to him as he had before.

  ‘Beautiful!’ Artyom almost yelled. ‘Where does it come from?’

  ‘And beauty . . . will be overthrown and crushed, and . . . the prophets will choke, endeavouring to pronounce their premonitions . . . for a day . . . the future will be . . . blacker than their most ominous . . . fears and what they see . . . will poison their reason . . .’ Bourbon continued quietly.

  Suddenly he stopped and he turned his head to the left so sharply that Artyom could hear how his vertebrae cracked and and he looked Artyom straight in the eye.

  Artyom started and stepped backwards, groping for his machine gun just in case. Bourbon looked at it with wide-open eyes, but his pupils were contracted into two tiny dots even though in the pitch black darkness of the tunnel they should have been thrown open to their limits in an attempt to capture as much light as possible. His face seemed unnaturally peaceful, not one muscle was tense, and there was even a contemptuous smile which had just disappeared from his lips.

  ‘I’ve died,’ Bourbon said. ‘There is no more me.’

  And as straight as a cross-tie, he fell face down.

  And then that same terrible sound rushed into Artyom’s ears but this time it did not expand and amplify gradually as it had the last time. No, it burst suddenly at full volume, deafening him and knocking him from his feet. The sound was more powerful here than it had been when he met it before, and Artyom, laid out on the ground, couldn’t muster the will to stand for some time. But once he had covered his ears like before, and yelling as loudly as he could, he rushed and got up from the ground. Then he picked up the flashlight that had fallen from Bourbon’s hands, he started feverishly to scan the walls, trying to find the source of the noise - the broken pipe. But the pipes were absolutely intact here, and the sound was coming from somewhere above.

  Bourbon was lying there, immobile, still face down, and when Artyom turned him over, he saw that Bourbon’s eyes were still open. Artyom tried hard to remember what to do in situations like this, and he put his hand on the man’s wrist to look for a pulse. Even if it was as weak as a thread, or inconsistent, he wanted to feel it . . . But it was useless. Then he grabbed Bourbon by the hands and, pouring with sweat, he dragged his ever-heavier body forward, straight out of this place. It was fiendishly hard and made even more so because he had forgotten to remove his companion’s rucksack.

  After a few dozen steps Artyom suddenly stumbled on something soft and his nose was struck by a sickening and slightly sweet smell. He immediately remembered the words ‘we might bump into them’ and he redoubled his efforts, trying not to look underfoot, passing bodies stretched out on the rails.

  He pulled and pulled Bourbon along. Bourbon’s head hung lifelessly and his hands were growing cold and slipping out of Artyom’s sweaty hands but he didn’t acknowledge it, he didn’t want to acknowledge it, he had to get Bourbon out of there and he had promised him, they had an agreement!

  The noise gradually began to die down and suddenly disappeared. Again there was a deathly silence and, feeling an enormous relief, Artyom allowed himself to finally sit down on the rails and catch his breath. Bourbon was lying motionless next to him and Artyom was looking with despair at his pale face as he breathed heavily. After about five minutes he made himself get up onto his feet and, taking Bourbon by the wrists, he moved forward stumbling. His head was absolutely empty apart from the vicious determination to drag this person to the next station.

  Then his legs buckled and he tumbled onto the cross-ties but after lying there for a few minutes he crawled
forward and grabbed Bourbon by the collar. ‘I’ll get there, I’ll get there, I’ll get there, I’ll get there, I’llgetthereI’llgetthereI’llgetthereI’llgetthere,’ he assured himself although he barely believed it. Having lost his strength entirely, he pulled his machine gun down from his shoulder and switched the safety lock to single shots and he directed the barrel to the south, let out a shot and called out: ‘People!’ But the last sound that he heard was not a human voice but the rustle of rat paws.

  He didn’t know how long he had lay there like that, gripping Bourbon by the collar, squeezing the handle of his machine gun, when his eyes perceived a ray of light. An unfamiliar old man with a flashlight in one hand and a strange gun in the other was standing above him.

  ‘My young friend,’ he was saying in a pleasant and sonorous voice. ‘You can forget about your friend. He’s as dead as Ramses the Second. Do you want to stay here and reunite with him in the heavens as soon as possible or can he wait for you for a little while?’

  ‘Help me to take him to the station,’ Artyom asked the man in a weak voice, covering his eyes from the light.

  ‘I’m afraid that it’s necessary for us to reject that idea,’ the man said bitterly. ‘I am resolutely against turning the metro station of Sukharevskaya into a tomb, it’s not even that comfortable as it is. And then, if we take this lifeless body there then it’s unlikely that anyone in the station will undertake to put him on his final path in a respectable way. What difference does it make whether the body decomposes here or at the station if its immortal soul has already returned to his Creator? Or to be reincarnated, depending on your religious views. Although all religions are mistaken to differing degrees.’

  ‘I promised him . . .’ Artyom sighed. ‘We had an agreement . . .’

  ‘My friend!’ the unfamiliar man said frowning. ‘I’m starting to lose my patience. My rules don’t tell me to help the dead when there’re enough living people that need help. I am returning to Sukharevskaya. I’m getting rheumatism from spending a long time in this tunnel. If you want to see your companion as soon as possible I advise you to stay here. The rats and the other lovely creatures will help you with that. And if you are concerned about the legal aspect of the question, then the contract is considered terminated if there is no objection from the other party.’

  ‘But I can’t just leave him here!’ Artyom quietly tried to convince his rescuer. ‘This was a living being. Leave him to the rats?’

  ‘This, by the looks of it, was indeed a living person,’ the man responded, inspecting the body sceptically. ‘But now it is definitely a dead person and that isn’t the same thing. OK, if you want, we can return here and you can make a cremation bonfire or whatever it is that you do in such circumstances. Now, get up!’ he ordered and Artyom got to his feet reluctantly.

  Despite his protests, the stranger decisively pulled the rucksack off Bourbon’s back and threw it over his shoulder and, supporting Artyom, he quickly walked forward. At first Artyom had a hard time walking but it was as if with each step the old man was giving Artyom injections of his ebullient energy. The pain in his feet subsided, and his rational mind returned gradually. He was looking intently into the face of his rescuer. By the looks of him, the man was over fifty, but he looked surprisingly fresh and robust. His arms, which were supporting Artyom, were firm and didn’t once tremble with fatigue the whole way back. His short hair was turning grey and his little, sculpted beard surprised Artyom - the man looked too well groomed for the metro, especially given the godforsaken place where it seemed this man lived.

  ‘What happened with you, friend?’ the unfamiliar man asked Artyom. ‘It doesn’t look like an attack, but more like he was poisoned . . . And I really want to hope that it’s not what I think it is,’ he added, not going into what exactly it was that he feared.

  ‘No . . . He died by himself,’ Artyom said, not having the strength to explain the circumstances of Bourbon’s death, which he himself was only just starting to get his head around. ‘It’s a long story. I’ll tell you later.’

  The tunnel suddenly widened and they appeared to have arrived at the station. Something seemed strange to Artyom here, something unusual and a few seconds later he understood what it was.

  ‘It’s what - dark here?’ he asked his companion in dismay.

  ‘There’s no authorities here,’ the man replied. ‘So there’s no one to provide light for the people. That’s why whoever needs light has to get it himself. Some can, some can’t. But don’t be afraid. Luckily I’m acquainted with the top ranks,’ and he quickly climbed onto the platform and held out a hand to Artyom.

  They turned into the first archway and went into a hall. There was only one long passage, a colonnade with arches on both sides, and the usual iron walls, the stalled escalators. Barely lighted by weak little fires, and most of it plunged in darkness, Sukharevskaya was an oppressive vision and very sad. Crowds of people swarmed around the fires, some were sleeping on the floor, and strange half-bent figures in rags wandered from fire to fire. They were all clustered in the middle of the hall as far from the tunnels as they could be.

  The bonfire to which the stranger led Artyom was noticeably brighter than the rest of them and it was located in the centre of the platform.

  ‘One day this station will burn to the ground,’ Artyom thought aloud, looking despondently at the hall.

  ‘In four hundred and twenty days,’ his companion said calmly. ‘So, it’s best you leave before then. In any case, that’s what I plan to do.’

  ‘How do you know?’ Artyom asked and froze, remembering in a flash all that he had heard about magicians and psychics and scrutinizing the face of his companion - looking for the markings of unearthly knowledge.

  ‘The mother heart-python is unsettled,’ he answered, smiling. ‘OK, that’s all, you must have a sleep, and then we’ll introduce ourselves and have a talk.’

  With these last words, Artyom suddenly was overcome by monstrous fatigue, which had accumulated in the tunnel before Rizhskaya, in his nightmares, in the recent tests of his will. Artyom had no more strength to resist and he got down onto a piece of tarpaulin that was spread near the fire and put his rucksack under his head and fell into a long, deep and dreamless sleep.

  CHAPTER 6

  The Rights of the Strong

  The ceiling was so sooty that there wasn’t a trace left of the whitewash that had once been applied to it. Artyom looked dully at it, not knowing quite where he was.

  ‘You’re awake?’ he heard a familiar voice, forcing the scatterings of thoughts to build a picture of yesterday’s (was it yesterday?) events. It all seemed unreal to him now. Opaque, like fog, the wall of sleep had separated actuality from recollections.

  ‘Good evening,’ Artyom said to the man who had found him. He was sitting on the other side of the fire, and Artyom could see him through the flames. There was a mysterious, even mystical quality to the man’s face.

  ‘Now we can introduce ourselves to each other. I have a regular name, similar to all the other people that surround you in your life. It’s too long and it says nothing about me. But I am the latest incarnation of Genghis Khan, and so you can call me Khan. It’s shorter.’

  ‘Genghis Khan?’ Artyom looked at the man disbelievingly. Artyom didn’t believe in reincarnation.

  ‘My friend!’ Khan objected as though insulted. ‘You don’t need to look into my eyes and at my behaviour with such obvious suspicion. I have been incarnated in various other and more easily acceptable forms too. But Genghis Khan remains the most significant stage along my path even though I don’t remember anything from that life, unfortunately.’

  ‘So why Khan and not Genghis?’ Artyom pushed further. ‘Khan isn’t a surname after all, it’s just an professional assignation if I remember correctly.’

  ‘It brings up unnecessary reference, not to mention Genghis Aitmatov,’ his companion said reluctantly and incomprehensibly. ‘And by the way, I don’t consider it my duty to explain the
origins of my name to whoever asks. What’s your name?’

  ‘I’m Artyom and I don’t know who I was in a previous life. Maybe my name was also a little more resounding back then,’ said Artyom.

  ‘Nice to meet you,’ Khan said, obviously completely satisfied with his answer. ‘I hope you will share my modest meal,’ he added, lifting and hanging a battered metal kettle over the fire - it was just like the ones they had at the northern patrol of VDNKh.

  Artyom stood up and put his hand in his rucksack and pulled out a stick of sausage, which he’d acquired on his way from VDNKh. He cut off several pieces with his penknife and put them on a clean rag that was also inside his rucksack.

  ‘Here.’ He extended it towards his new acquaintance. ‘To go with tea.’

  Khan’s tea was VDNKh tea, which Artyom recognized. Sipping the tea from an enamelled metal mug, he silently recalled the events of the day before. His host, obviously, was also thinking his own thoughts, and he didn’t bother Artyom.

  The madness lashing at the world from the broken pipes seemed to have a different effect on everyone. Artyom was able to hear it simply as a deafening noise that didn’t let you concentrate, a noise which killed your thoughts, but spared your mind itself, whereas Bourbon simply couldn’t stand the powerful attack and died. Artyom hadn’t expected that the noise could actually kill someone, otherwise he would never had agreed to take one step into that black tunnel between Prospect Mir and Sukharevskaya.

  This time the noise had snuck up surreptitiously, at first dulling the senses. Artyom was now sure that all usual sounds had been muted and the noise itself had been inaudible at first, but then it froze the flow of thoughts so they were suddenly covered with the hoarfrost of weakness and, finally, it delivered its crushing blow.