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Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 21


  In the middle of the hall, on the right side, through one of the short flights of stairs, beyond the little bridge, you could see the second hall of the station. Artyom wanted to wander around there too, but he stopped at the iron enclosure, which were made up of two-metre sections like at Prospect Mir.

  Several people stood by the narrow passage, leaning on the fence. On Artyom’s side were the familiar bulldozers in training pants. On the other side, they were swarthy and moustached, of average size, but they didn’t look like they could take a joke either. One of them was squeezing a machine gun between his legs, and the other had a pistol poking out of his pocket. The bandits conversed calmly together and you could hardly believe that there had ever been hostility between them. They fairly politely told Artyom that passage to the adjacent station would cost him two cartridges and he’d have to pay the same to get back again. Having learnt his lesson from bitter experience, Artyom didn’t dispute the fairness of the tariffs and just walked off.

  Having made a circle, carefully studying the stalls and bazaars, he returned to the end of the platform where they’d arrived. The hall didn’t end there, there was another staircase leading up. He went up and found a small hall there, split in half in exactly the same way with a cordon. Here, apparently, was another boundary between the two areas. On his right, he saw, to his surprise, a real monument - one of those that you see in pictures of the city. But this wasn’t a full figure, just the head of a man.

  What a big head! It was no less than two metres high . . . Though it was dirtied on top by something, and its nose was shiny from frequent rubbings by human hands, all the same it demanded respect and was even a little frightening. Fantasies about giants entered his mind. One of the giants lost the battle in his head and now its head was dipped in bronze, to decorate the marbled hall of this small Sodom, buried deeply in the earth’s crust, hidden from the all seeing eyes of God . . . The face of the severed head was sad, and Artyom suspected at first that it belonged to John the Baptist of the New Testament, which he had once leafed through. But then he decided that, judging from the scale of it, that it was probably something to do with a big and strong hero who had genuinely been a giant but had lost his head in the end. None of the inhabitants scurrying around could tell him who this severed head belonged to, and he was a bit disappointed.

  But near the statue he came across a wonderful place - a real restaurant, set up in a spacious and clean tent of a pleasant, dark-green colour, like at his own station. Inside, plastic vases of flowers with cloth leaves were in the corners, and a pair of tables had oil lamps on them, suffusing the tent with a comfortable, soft light. And the food . . . It was the food of the Gods: the most tender pork with hot mushrooms which melted in your mouth. Restaurants served that at VDNKh on holidays, but it had never been so delicious . . .

  The people sitting there were solid, respectable types with good and tasteful clothes. Apparently they were important merchants. Carefully cutting pieces of fried crackling, which oozed with hot fat, they unhurriedly placed small pieces of it in their mouths. Meanwhile they sedately conversed with each other, discussing their business, and sometimes threw a politely curious glance over at Artyom.

  It was expensive, of course - he had to give over a whole fifteen cartridges from his supply and put them in the wide palm of the fat inn-keeper, and then he regretted that he’d succumbed to temptation, but his stomach was nonetheless happy, calm and warm so the voice of reason was silenced.

  And the mug of fermented mixture was sweet, and it pleasantly swirled his head but it wasn’t strong, it wasn’t that poisonous, turbid home-brew in the dirty bottles and jars that would make you weak at the knees with one sniff. Yes, and it was only for three more cartridges, and what’s three cartridges if you exchange them for a phial of a sparkling elixir which helps you to come to terms with the imperfection of this world and restores a certain harmony?

  Drinking the fermented mixture in small gulps, sitting alone in silence and peace for the first time in a few days, Artyom tried to resurrect recent events in his memory and to understand where he had got to and where he had yet to go. There was still another section of his designated journey to overcome, and he was again at a crossroads.

  He felt like the hero of the almost forgotten fairy tales of his childhood. The memory of them was so distant now that he didn’t remember who had told them to him . . . Was it Sukhoi or was it Zhenya’s parents, or was it his own mother? More than anything Artyom liked to think that he’d heard them from his mother, and her face even would swim out of the fog for a moment and he could hear her voice reading to him with smooth intonations: ‘Once upon a time . . .’

  And so, like the fairytale hero, he was standing there and in front of him there were three roads: one to Kuznetsky Most, one to Tretyakovskaya, and one to Taganskaya. He savoured the intoxicating drink, his body seized by a blissful languor. He didn’t want to think at all, and all that was circulating in his head was: ‘Go straight - you’ll lose your life. Go left - you’ll lose your horse . . .’

  This probably could have gone on forever: he really needed this rest after his recent experiences. It was worth waiting at Kitai Gorod - to look around, to ask the locals about the tunnels. He had to meet up with Khan again, to find out if he would be going further with him or if their paths would diverge at this strange station.

  It hadn’t gone at all according to the lazy plan that Artyom had made. He exhaustedly contemplated the small tongue of flame that was dancing in the lamp on the table.

  CHAPTER 8

  The Fourth Reich

  Pistol shots began to crack, slashing through the merry din of the crowd, and then there was a shrill female scream, and a machine gun rattled. The chubby inn-keeper snatched a small gun from under the counter and ran to the entrance of the tent. Leaving his drink, Artyom leapt up after him, throwing his rucksack on his shoulder, thumbing the safety catch on his gun, regretting as he went that they had made him pay in advance, otherwise he could have slipped away without settling his bill. The eighteen cartridges he had spent could prove very useful one day soon.

  At the top, from the stairs, he could see that something terrible was happening. To get down there, he had to push through the crowd of people who had lost their senses out of fear and who were throwing themselves up the stairs. Soon the crush was so bad that Artyom asked himself whether he really needed to get down there, but his curiosity pushed him forward.

  On the pathways lay several prostrate bodies, clad in leather jackets, and on the platform, right under his feet, in a puddle of bright red blood, lay a dead woman, face down. He quickly stepped over her, trying not to look down, but he slipped and almost fell. Panic reigned, and half-dressed people were jumping out of their tents, hysterically looking around. One of them was left behind, his foot still stuck in one leg of his trousers, when he suddenly bent over, clutched his stomach and tipped over to the side.

  But Artyom couldn’t figure out where the shooting was coming from. The firing continued, and heavy-set people in leather were running from the other side of the hall, throwing squealing women and frightened traders out of the way. But these weren’t the ones being attacked - it was the bandits themselves, the ones who controlled this side of Kitai Gorod. And along the whole platform, it wasn’t clear who was creating this slaughterhouse.

  And then Artyom understood why he didn’t see anyone. The attackers were in the tunnel - and they were opening fire from there, apparently afraid of showing themselves in open space.

  This changed things. There was no more time to reflect: they would come out onto the platform when they felt that there was no more resistance - he had to get away from that entrance as soon as possible. Artyom ran forward, tightly gripping his machine gun and looking over his shoulder. The echo of the thundering shots, resounding through the arches, made it difficult to tell from which tunnel the shots were coming - the right or the left.

  Finally, he noticed camouflaged figures in the opening o
f the left-side tunnel. Instead of faces, there was blackness and Artyom felt a chill inside. Only after a few moments did he remember that the dark ones who had encroached on VDNKh never carried weapons and weren’t dressed in clothes. The attackers were just wearing masks, balaclavas of the kind you could buy at any arms market (they would even give you one for free when you bought an AK-47).

  The Kaluga reinforcements had also arrived and were on the ground, hiding behind the corpses, returning fire. You could see how they smashed the plywood boards mounted on the wagon windows, breaking open hidden machine gun positions. Heavy fire thundered.

  Looking up, Artyom managed to get a glimpse of the plastic tablet that showed the stations and hung in the middle of the hall. They were attacking from the direction of Tretyakovskaya - so this route was cut off. To get to Taganskaya, he’d have to go to a part of the station that was now on fire. The only route left to him was to Kuznetsky Most.

  Jumping onto the path, Artyom headed for the blackened entrance to the one tunnel he could get into. He couldn’t see Khan or Ace anywhere. He thought he saw a figure who reminded him of the wandering philosopher but when he stopped for a moment Artyom realized he was mistaken.

  He wasn’t the only one running into the tunnel - almost half of those escaping were heading that way as well. The passage was ringing with frightened cries - one person was sobbing hysterically. The lights of torches shined here and there, and there was even the uneven flickering of a few fire-torches. Each person was lighting the path for himself.

  Artyom took Khan’s present out of his pocket and pressed on the handle. After directing the weak light of the torch to the path under his feet, trying not to trip, he rushed forward, catching up to small groups of fugitives - sometimes whole families, sometimes lone women, old men, and young, healthy men, who were dragging parcels that probably didn’t belong to them.

  He stopped a couple of times to help someone who’d fallen. He lingered with one of them for a moment. Leaning against the ribbed wall of the tunnel, sat an old man, totally grey, with a painful grimace on his face, clutching his heart. Next to him stood an adolescent boy who was looking serenely and dully. From his animal looks and his turbid eyes, you could see that this was an unusual child. Something squeezed Artyom’s soul and when he saw this strange pair, even though he was pressing himself forward and cursing himself when he met obstacles, he stopped.

  The old man, feeling the attention that was being focused on him and the boy, tried to smile at Artyom and to say something but he didn’t have the breath for it. He frowned and closed his eyes, gathering his strength, and Artyom bent over the old man, trying to hear what he was trying to tell him.

  But the boy suddenly started to bellow threateningly and Artyom noticed that there was a thread of spit coming from his mouth, and that he was baring his small yellow teeth. Not wanting to deal with any attack, Artyom pushed him aside and the boy moved back and settled clumsily onto the rails, issuing plaintive howls.

  ‘Young . . . man . . .’ The old man struggled. ‘Don’t . . . he . . . That’s Vanechka . . . he . . . doesn’t understand.’

  Artyom just shrugged.

  ‘Please . . . Nitro . . . glycerine . . . in the bag . . . at the bottom . . . One pill . . . Give it to me . . . I can’t myself . . .’ The old man wheezed horribly and Artyom dug into the bag, quickly finding a new-looking package and he cut through the foil with a fingernail. The pill jumped out and he gave it to the old man who extended his lips into a guilty smile and said:

  ‘I can’t . . . my hands . . . don’t listen to me . . . Under my tongue . . .’ Then his eyelids closed again.

  Artyom looked at his black hands in doubt, but he obeyed and put the slippery little ball in the old man’s mouth. The stranger nodded weakly and said nothing. More and more fugitives were striding past them hurriedly, but Artyom could only see an endless row of dirty boots and shoes. Sometimes they stumbled on the black wood of the cross-ties and then there was an outburst of swearing. No one paid any attention to the three of them. The teenager was sitting in the same place and was quietly mumbling. Artyom noticed with some indifference and even a little smugness that one of the passers-by kicked him hard and the boy started to howl even more loudly, smearing his tears with his fists and swaying from side to side.

  Meanwhile, the old man opened his eyes, sighed heavily and muttered, ‘Thank you very much . . . I feel better already . . . Will you help me to get up?’

  Artyom supported him by the arm while the man rose with effort, and he picked up the old man’s bag, which meant he had to put his machine gun over the other shoulder. The old man began to hobble forward, and went to the boy and started encouraging him to get up. The boy bellowed, offended, but when he saw Artyom come up to them, he started to hiss maliciously and spittle again dripped from his protruding lower lip.

  ‘You see, I just bought the medicine,’ the old man said. ‘Indeed, I came here especially for it, to this far away place, you know. You can’t get it where we live, no one brings it in, and there’s no one to ask for it, and I had just finished my supply, I took the last tablet on the way here, and when they didn’t want to let us through Pushkinskaya . . . There are fascists there now, you know, it’s just a disgrace to think that at Pushkinskaya there are fascists! I heard that they even want to rename it, either to Hitlerskaya or to Schillerovskaya . . . Though, of course, they haven’t even heard of Schiller. And, imagine, they didn’t want to let us through. Those swaggering fellows with their swastikas started to tease Vanechka. And what could he answer, the poor boy, in his condition? I was very worried, my heart went bad, and only then did they let us out. What was I saying? Oh yes! And you see, I especially put them deep into my bag in case anyone searched us, and they would have asked questions, and you know that they could get the wrong idea, not everyone knows what kind of medicine this is . . . And suddenly there’s all this firing! I ran off as fast as I could, I even had to drag Vanechka because he had seen some chickens on sticks and he really didn’t want to go. And to start off with, you know, it wasn’t squeezing so hard, I thought, maybe it will go away, and I don’t have to get out the medicine, it’s of course worth its weight in gold, but then I understood that I wouldn’t manage. And as I reached for a tablet, it got me. And Vanechka, he doesn’t understand a thing, I’ve been trying to teach him for a long time to give me tablets if I don’t feel well but he just can’t understand it, and he either eats them himself or he gets the wrong thing out of the bag and gives it to me. I tell him thank you, smile and he smiles at me, you know, with such joy, he bellows merrily . . . God forbid something happens to me - there’s no one to take care of him at all, and I can’t imagine what would become of him!’

  The old man talked and talked, ingratiatingly, looking into Artyom’s eyes, and Artyom felt very awkward for some reason. Even though the old man was hobbling with all his strength, Artyom thought that they were moving too slowly - everyone was overtaking them. It looked like they would soon be last. Vanechka clumsily walked to the right of the old man, holding his hand. His former serene expression had returned to his face. From time to time he pushed his right hand forward and excitedly gurgled, pointing at some object that had been thrown away or dropped as the fugitives ran from the station, sometimes pointing at the darkness that was thickening in front of them.

  ‘Forgive me, young man, but what’s your name? Because we’re talking, right, and we haven’t even introduced ourselves . . . Artyom? Nice to meet you, and I’m Mikhail Porfirevich. Porfirevich, that’s right. They called my father Porfiry, an uncommon, you know, name, and in the Soviet times he was even questioned by various organizations because at that time there were other names in fashion: Vladilen or Stalin . . . And you’re from where? VDNKh? Well, me and Vanechka, we’re from Barrikadnaya, I once lived there.’ The old man smiled, embarrassed. ‘You know, there was a building there, it was such a building, so high, right near the metro . . . But you probably don’t remember any buildings do you? How
old are you, if you don’t mind? Well, of course, that’s not important. I had a little flat there, two rooms, on a high floor, and there was such a wonderful view of the city centre. The flat wasn’t big but it was very, you know, comfortable, the floors, were of course, oak, and like all flats then there was a gas stove. Lord, I’m thinking right now about just how comfortable. A gas stove! And back then no one cared for them - they all wanted electricity but they just couldn’t get it. As you walked in there was a reproduction of a Tintoretto painting, in a pretty gold-plated frame, what beauty! The bed was real, with pillows, with sheets that were always clean and a big desk, with a lamp and it burned brightly. But most importantly, there were bookshelves to the ceiling. My father left me a big library and I collected them too. Ach, why am I telling you all of this? You probably aren’t interested in all this old man nonsense . . . And yet still now, you see, I remember, I really miss the things, particularly the desk and the books and recently I really miss the bed. You don’t know such luxuries here but we had these wooden beds, handmade, you know, and sometimes we slept right on blankets on the floor. But that’s nothing, what’s important is what’s here.’ He pointed to his chest. ‘What’s important is what goes on inside, and not outside. The important thing is that what’s in the head stays the same and who gives a fig about the conditions - ’scuse my French! But you know that bed, it’s especially . . .’

  He didn’t shut up for a minute and Artyom listened the whole time with great interest, even though he couldn’t at all imagine what it would be like to live in a tall building, and what the view would be like, and what it would be like to go up in a lift.