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Actions & Adventure
History & Fiction
Thrillers & Crime
Romance & Love
Mystery & Detective
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Meanwhile, there was nowhere to rush to so the fugitives shortened their stride.
‘What made them so bitter about you?’ Artyom asked, curiously looking over at the old man.
‘Well, you see, I just dislike them very much, and when the war was on . . . Well, basically, you see, my little circle put together some texts . . . And Anton Petrovich - he then lived at Pushkinskaya - had access to a typographical press. There was a press at Pushkinskaya, where some madmen were printing news . . . And that’s where he printed it.’
‘But the Reds’ border looks harmless: there’re two people there, there’s a flag hanging, there’re no reinforcements. Nothing like the Hansa has,’ Artyom suddenly remembered.
‘Of course! From this side everything is harmless because their main force is on the inside not the outside.’ Mikhail Porfirevich smiled maliciously. ‘That’s where the reinforcements are. On the borders - it’s just decoration.’
They went on in silence, each thinking their private thoughts. Artyom was listening to his sensations about the tunnel. It was a strange business but this tunnel and also the one that led from Kitai Gorod to Kuznetsky Most were both empty and you didn’t feel anything inside them. They weren’t filled with anything, they were just soulless constructions.
Then he remembered the nightmare he had just had. The details of it had already been wiped from his memory and all that was left were vague, frightening memories of faceless children and black masses against the sky. But there was the voice . . .
He couldn’t follow the thought to its end. In front of him he heard the familiar awful squeaking and the rustle of paws, and then there was the suffocating, sweetish smell of rotting flesh, and when the weak light of their torches reached the place where these sounds were coming from, they saw in front of their eyes such a scene that Artyom thought it might perhaps be preferable to return to the Reds.
At the wall, face down in a row, lay three swollen bodies, their hands tied behind their backs with wire, and they had already been gnawed at by the rats. Pressing his jacket’s sleeve to his nose so that he wouldn’t smell the heavy sweetish and poisonous air, Artyom bent down over the bodies, and shined his light at them. They were stripped to their underwear, and their bodies showed no evidence of injury. But the hair on each of their heads was stuck together with blood, especially thickly around the black dot of the bullet hole.
‘In the back of the head,’ Artyom pointed out, trying to make his voice sound calm and feeling that he might suddenly vomit.
Mikhail Porfirevich half opened his mouth and his eyes began to shine.
‘What they do, my God, what they do!’ he said, sighing. ‘Vanechka, don’t look, don’t look come here!’
But Vanechka, without showing the slightest unease, hunkered down next to the nearest corpse and began to point a finger at it, bellowing animatedly. The torch’s beam slipped up the wall and it light up a piece of dirty paper, which was stuck right above the corpses at eye level. Above it, the letters ‘Vierter Reich’ were painted, accompanied by a depiction of an eagle. It went on in Russian: ‘Not one swarthy animal is allowed within three hundred metres of the Great Reich!’ And the same ‘No through way’ sign was also displayed with its circular black outline and little man crossed out.
‘Swine,’ Artyom said through clenched teeth. ‘Because they have different colour hair?’
The old man just shook his head sadly and pulled on Vanechka’s collar. He was busy studying the bodies and did not want to be lifted up from his squatting position.
‘I see that our typographical machine still works,’ Mikhail Porfirevich said sadly, and he moved on.
The travellers went on more slowly. After two minutes they saw the words ‘300 metres’ had been painted on the walls in red paint.
‘Three hundred metres to go,’ Artyom said, listening uneasily to the echoes of a dog’s barking in the distance.
About a hundred metres from the station they were struck by a bright light, and they stopped.
‘Hands above your heads! Stand still!’ a voice roared through a loudspeaker. Artyom obediently put his hands at the back of his head and Mikhail Porfirevich thrust both his hands into the air.
‘I said, everyone, hands up! Walk slowly forward! Don’t make any sudden movements,’ the strained voice continued, and Artyom couldn’t look to see who was speaking because the light was beating right into his eyes and it was too painful to do anything but look down.
Walking with small steps for some distance, they again stood still when they were told and the searchlight was finally turned to the side.
There was a whole barricade erected there, and there were two machine gunners in position and another guy with a holster in his belt, and they were all dressed in camouflage with black berets, aslant on their shaved heads. They had white armbands - with something looking like the German swastika on them but with three points not four. There were some barely visible dark figures in the distance and there was a nervously fidgeting dog by their feet. The surrounding walls were painted with crosses, eagles, slogans and curses aimed at non-Russians. They puzzled Artyom somewhat because they were partly in German. In a visible place, underneath a panel with the silhouette of an eagle on it and a three-pronged swastika, there was that sign again, lit from underneath, the one with the unfortunate little black figure and Artyom thought that it was being displayed like some sort of religious icon for them.
One of the guards made a step forward and lit a long torch, holding it at head level. He slowly walked around the three of them, steadily looking into their faces, apparently trying to find some evidence of non-Slavic features. However, they all looked Russian and he turned his torch away and shrugged his shoulders, disappointed.
‘Documents!’ he demanded.
Artyom readily extended his passport. Mikhail Porfirevich rummaged in his pocket and finally found his.
‘And where are your documents for this one?’ the older guard asked, nodding at Vanechka in disgust.
‘You see, the thing is, that the boy . . .’ the old man started to explain.
‘Siiiilence! You will address me as “officer”! Answer the question precisely!’ the document checker barked at him and his torch jumped around in his hands.
‘Officer, you see, the boy is sick, he doesn’t have a passport, he’s just little, you see, but, look, he’s assigned to me, here, I’ll show you . . .’ Mikhail Porfirevich began to babble, looking at the officer ingratiatingly, trying to find a spark of sympathy in his eyes.
But the man stood still, straight and stiff, like a rock, and his face was like stone, and Artyom again felt that he wanted to kill someone.
‘Where is the photograph?’ the officer spat, having flipped through the pages.
Vanechka, who had been standing quietly until that point, tensely watching the dog’s silhouette and enthusiastically gurgling from time to time, now turned to the document checker and, to Artyom’s horror, he bared his teeth and hooted meanly. Artyom was suddenly so scared for him that he forgot his own hostility toward the man, and his desire to kick him good and properly.
The document checker took an involuntary step backwards, staring at Vanechka unkindly and said, ‘Get rid of this. Immediately. Or I’ll do it myself.’
‘Please forgive him, Officer, he doesn’t understand what he’s doing,’ Artyom was surprised to hear his own voice pronounce.
Mikhail Porfirevich looked at him with gratitude and the document checker quickly rustled through Artyom’s passport and returned it to him, saying coldly, ‘No questions for you. You can pass.’
Artyom made a few steps forward and froze, feeling that his legs wouldn’t obey him. The officer, turned away from him, and repeated his question to the other two about the photograph.
‘You see, the thing is,’ Mikhail Porfirevich started and, stumbling, he added, ‘Officer, the thing is that there’s no photographer where we live, and it costs a lot to get them at other stations, and I just don’t have th
e money to get a picture . . .’
‘Take off your clothes!’ the man interrupted him.
‘I’m sorry?’ Mikhail Porfirevich’s voice quavered, and his legs started to tremble.
Artyom took off his rucksack and put it on the floor, not thinking at all about what he was doing. There are some things that you don’t want to do and you pledge to yourself that you won’t do, you forbid yourself, and then suddenly they happen all by themselves. You don’t even have time to think about them, and they don’t make it to the cognitive centres of the brain: they just happen and that’s it, and you’re left just watching yourself with surprise, and convincing yourself that it wasn’t your fault, it just happened all by itself.
If they undressed them and led them like the others to the three-hundredth metre, Artyom would get his machine gun out of his rucksack, would switch it to automatic fire and would take out as many of these camouflaged non-humans as he could, until they shot him down. Nothing else made any sense. It wasn’t important that he had only known Mikhail and Vanechka for a day. It wasn’t important that they would kill him. What would happen to VDNKh? There was no point in thinking what would happen afterwards. There are things that it’s just simpler not to think about.
‘Undress!’ the man articulated carefully, repeating himself. ‘A search!’
‘But, if you please . . .’ Mikhail Porfirevich uttered indistinctly.
‘Siiilence!’ the man barked. ‘Quickly!’ and he reinforced his words with a gesture, by taking his gun out of its holster.
The old man started to unbutton his jacket hastily, and the document checker turned his pistol away and silently watched how the old man threw off his jersey, clumsily hopping on one foot to take off his boots, and swaying, trying to undo his belt buckle.
‘Faster!’ the officer hissed rabidly.
‘I’m clumsy . . . you see . . .’ Mikhail Porfirevich started, but the document checker had finally had enough and smacked the old man in the teeth.
Artyom rushed forward but two strong arms grabbed him from behind and, as much as he tried to extract himself from them, it was useless.
And then something unforeseeable happened. Vanechka, who was about half the size of the thug in the black beret, suddenly bared his teeth and with an animal roar he rushed at him. The man didn’t expect such speed from the wretched boy, and Vanechka managed to grab his left hand and even to hit him in the chest. However, a second later the officer recovered and flung Vanechka off, took a step backwards, held out his hand holding the pistol and pulled the trigger.
The shot, amplified by its echo in the tunnel, resounded in their ears but Artyom thought he could still hear how Vanechka sobbed silently and sat down on the floor. He was leaning over, clutching both hands to his stomach, when the officer kicked him and, with a disgusted expression on his face, pulled the trigger again, aiming at the head.
‘I warned you.’ He threw a cold look at Mikhail Porfirevich, who was frozen in place, looking at Vanechka with his jaw dropped and rattling sounds coming from his chest.
At that moment, everything went dark in front of Artyom’s eyes and he felt such strength inside of him that the soldiers holding him from behind almost fell to the floor when he rushed forward. Time stretched for Artyom and he had enough of it to seize the handle of his machine gun and, clicking the safety lock, he fired a round right through the rucksack into the breast of the officer.
He noticed with satisfaction the black line of dots on the green of the camouflage.
‘To be hanged,’ the commandant concluded. There was a burst of applause which mercilessly tormented his eardrums.
Artyom raised his head with difficulty and looked from side to side. Only one of his eyes could open, the other was totally swollen - the interrogators had tortured him with all their might. He couldn’t hear very well either, it was as though sounds were making their way to him through a thick layer of cotton wool. It felt like his teeth were all still in place. But what would he need his teeth for now anyway?
Again the same light-coloured marble, the normal stuff. And this white marble was already setting his teeth on edge. Massive iron chandeliers on the ceiling, once, probably electrical fixtures. Now, there were lard candles in them, and the ceiling above them was completely black. There were only two such chandeliers burning in the whole station, one at the very end where a wide staircase stood, and the other where Artyom was standing in the middle of the hall, on the steps of a little bridge that connected to a side passage that led to another metro line.
Frequent semi-circular arches, almost completely unnoticeable columns, there was a lot of free space. What kind of station is this?
‘The execution will take place tomorrow at five o’clock in the morning at Tverskaya station,’ the fat man who was standing next to the commandant specified.
Like his superior, he was dressed not in green camouflage but in a black uniform with brilliant yellow buttons. There were black berets on both of them, but not as big or as crudely made as those on the soldiers in the tunnel.
There were lots of depictions of eagles and the three-pronged swastika, and slogans and mottos, drawn with great care in Gothic letters. Diligently trying to focus on the blurred words, Artyom read: ‘The metro is for Russians!’ ‘Swarthy people to the surface!’ ‘Death to the rat-eaters!’ There were others too, with more abstract contents: ‘March forward to the last battle for the greatness of the Russian spirit!’ ‘With fire and sword we will establish true Russian order!’ Then there was something from Hitler: ‘A healthy body means a healthy spirit!’ There was one inscription that especially made an impression on him. It was underneath a skilfully drawn portrait of a brave soldier with a powerful jaw and a strong chin, and a rather resolute-looking woman. They were depicted in profile, so that the man was shielding the woman. ‘Each man is a soldier and each woman is the mother of a soldier!’ the slogan went. All these inscriptions and pictures had somehow absorbed more of Artyom’s attention than the words of the commandant.
Right in front of him, behind a cordon, the crowd was restless. There weren’t many people here and they were all dressed rather blandly and basically, in quilted jackets and greasy overalls. There were hardly any women to be seen, and if this reflected reality, there wouldn’t be many more soldiers in the future. Artyom’s head fell to his chest - he hadn’t the strength to hold it upright anymore, and if there hadn’t been two broad-shouldered escorts in berets supporting him under the arms, he would have fallen already.
He felt faint again, and his head had begun to spin, and he couldn’t manage to say anything ironic. Artyom had the impression that they would now turn him inside out in front of all these people.
A stupid indifference about what would happen to him gradually crept up on Artyom. Now he only had an abstract interest in what was surrounding him, as though none of this was happening to him, but he was just reading a book about it. The fate of the main character interested him, of course, but if he was killed then he could just pick another book off the shelf - one with a happy ending.
At first, he had been carefully beaten at length by patient and strong people while others asked him clever and judicious questions. The room had been, predictably, covered with disturbing yellow-coloured tiles, making it easy to wipe away blood. But it was impossible to get rid of its smell.
To start off with they taught him to call the gaunt man with slick, light hair and delicate features who was leading the interrogation ‘commandant.’ Then they taught him not to ask questions but to answer them. Then they taught him to answer the questions accurately and to the point. Artyom couldn’t understand how his teeth were still in his mouth - though a few of them were seriously wobbly and his mouth had a constant taste of blood in it. At first, he tried to justify himself but it was explained to him that that wasn’t worth it. Then he tried to stay silent but he was quickly convinced that this too seemed to be the wrong thing to do. It was
very painful. It is altogether a strange feeling when a strong man beats you over the head - it’s not just pain, but some kind of hurricane, which wipes all the thought from your mind and smashes your feelings to pieces. The real torture happens afterwards.
After a while, Artyom finally understood what he needed to do. It was simple - he needed to manage the expectations of the commandant the best way he could. If the commandant asked whether Artyom was sent by Kuznetsky Most, he had to just affirm that with a nod. It took less strength, and the commandant didn’t wrinkle his Slavic nose at the response and his assistants didn’t hit him. The commandant assumed that Artyom was sent with the aim of collecting military information and performing some kind of sabotage. He agreed again with a nod and then the torturer rubbed his hands together with satisfaction and Artyom had saved his second eye. But it was important not just to nod, he had to listen to exactly what the commandant had asked because if Artyom assented inattentively, the mood would worsen and one if his helpers would try, for example, to break one of Artyom’s ribs. After about an hour and a half of this unrushed conversation, Artyom couldn’t feel his body anymore, he couldn’t see very well, he could scarcely hear and he understood almost nothing. He lost consciousness a few times, but they brought him back to his senses with iced water and ammonia. He must have been a very interesting person to talk to.
In the end, they had an absolutely false idea of who he was. They saw him as an enemy spy and a saboteur, who had appeared in order to stab the Fourth Reich in the back, and having decapitated the leadership, to sow the seeds of chaos and to prepare for an invasion. The ultimate goal was the establishment of an anti-national Caucasian-Zionist regime over the whole of the metro system. Though Artyom generally understood little about politics, such a global aim seemed to him to be worthy and so he told them that was true too. And it was good that he had agreed. Because of this he still had all his teeth. After the final details of the plot were revealed, they allowed Artyom to pass out.