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Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 27


  ‘So, are you Reds?’ he asked cautiously.

  ‘We, my brother, are communists! Revolutionaries!’ Bonsai said proudly.

  ‘From the Red Line?’ Artyom leaned in.

  ‘No, just simple communists,’ the man answered a bit hesitantly and hurried to add, ‘Comrade commissar will explain it all to you, he’s in charge of the ideology here.’

  Comrade Rusakov, having returned after a few minutes, informed them, ‘All is quiet.’ His handsome masculine face radiated a sense of calm. ‘We can take a break.’

  There was nothing with which to build a fire. They hung the little kettle over a camping stove and cut up some cold pork. The revolutionaries ate suspiciously well.

  ‘No, comrade Artyom, we aren’t from the Red Line,’ comrade Rusakov declared firmly when Bonsai related the question to him. ‘Comrade Moskvin has taken the position of Stalin, turned his back on a metro-wide revolution, officially denouncing the Interstational and cutting off support for revolutionary activities. He’s a renegade and he’s a compromiser. Us comrades, we are sticking to Trotsky’s line of thinking. You could even draw parallels between Castro and Che Guevara. That’s why he’s on our fighting banner,’ and he pointed to the sad, hanging rag with a broad gesture. ‘We have remained true to the revolutionary idea, unlike the collaborationist comrade Moskvin. Us comrades, we condemn them and their line.’

  ‘Aha, and who gives you fuel?’ Uncle Fyodor added, puffing on his rolled-up cigarette.

  Comrade Rusakov flushed and threw a vicious look at Uncle Fyodor. Fyodor just mockingly tut-tutted and took a deeper pull on his cigarette.

  Artyom understood little from the commissar’s explanation apart from the main thing: these people had little in common with the Reds who intended to string Mikhail Porfirevich’s guts up onto a stick and shoot him at the same time. This calmed him and in an effort to give a good impression, he twinkled. ‘Stalin - that’s the one in the Mausoleum, right?’

  But this time, he’d gone too far. An angry spasm deformed the beautiful and brave face of comrade Rusakov, Bonsai turned away, and even Uncle Fyodor frowned.

  ‘No, no, it’s Lenin in the Mausoleum!’ Artyom hurried to correct himself.

  The stern wrinkles on comrade Rusakov’s high forehead smoothed out, and he said severely, ‘You still need lots of work, comrade Artyom!’

  Artyom really didn’t want comrade Rusakov to work on him, but he restrained himself and said nothing in reply. He really understood little about politics, but it had started to interest him, and therefore, he waited until the storm had passed and ventured:

  ‘So why are you against the fascists? I mean, I’m also against them but you guys are revolutionaries after all . . .’

  ‘Those reptiles! Because of Spain, because of Ernst Telmann and the Second World War!’ comrade Rusakov spat through his clenched teeth and though Artyom didn’t understand a word of it, he didn’t want to make a show of his ignorance yet again.

  Once they poured boiling water into the mugs, they all became more lively. Bonsai took to exhausting Uncle Fyodor with foolish questions, obviously trying to tease him, and Maximka, having sat down closer to comrade Rusakov, asked quietly, ‘So tell me, comrade commissar, what does marxism/leninism say about headless mutants? It has bothered me for a long time. I want to be ideologically strong, and I’m drawing a blank on this one.’ His dazzling white teeth sparkled in a guilty smile.

  ‘Well, you see, comrade Maxim,’ the commissar replied after a delay, ‘this, my brother, is not a simple matter,’ and he started thinking hard.

  Artyom was also interested in how the mutants were seen from a political point of view and, indeed, he was interested to learn if they existed at all. But comrade Rusakov was silent and Artyom’s thoughts slid back down the track that he hadn’t managed to get out of in the last few days. He needed to get to Polis. He was saved by a miracle, he’d been given one more chance, perhaps his last. His whole body hurt, he had a hard time breathing, deep breaths would set him off coughing, and he couldn’t open one eye. He wanted to stay with these people very much! He felt much more calm and confident with them, and the darkness of the unfamiliar tunnel was not condensing around him and oppressing him. The rustlings and scratchings that flew up from the black bowels didn’t frighten him, didn’t put him on his guard, and he hoped that this respite would last forever. It was sweet to relive his rescue again and again. Even though death had been chomping its iron teeth just above his head, barely brushing against him, the sticky, body-paralysing fear that had seized him before his execution, had already evaporated. The last remnants, hidden under his heart and in his stomach, had been burnt out by the poisonous home-brew of the bearded comrade Fyodor. Fyodor himself, and the friendly Bonsai, and the serious leather-clad commissar, and the enormous Maxim-Lumumba - it was so easy with them, in a way that he had never experienced since he’d left VDNKh a hundred years before. None of his belongings were in his possession anymore. The wonderful new machine gun, the five magazines of cartridges, the passport, the food, the tea, two flashlights - they were all lost. Left with the fascists. All he had was a jacket, some trousers, and a twisted cartridge case in his pocket. The executioner had said, ‘Maybe it will come in useful.’ So what now? To stay here, with the fighters of the Interstational, the brigadiers of . . . of . . . well, it’s not important. To live their life and forget his own . . . No. Never. He mustn’t stop for a minute, mustn’t rest. He had no right. This wasn’t his life anymore, his fate belonged to others from the moment he agreed to Hunter’s proposition. It was too late now. He had to go. There was no other option.

  He sat there quietly for a long time, thinking about nothing in particular. But the gloomy determination was ripening within him with every second, in his emaciated muscles, in his stretched and aching veins. He was like a soft toy from which all the sawdust has been drawn and it has become a shapeless rag that someone has cruelly hung on a metal skeleton. He wasn’t himself anymore. He had been scattered together with the sawdust which was picked up by a tunnel draught, broken up into particles, and now, someone new had taken up residence inside his skin, someone who didn’t want to hear the desperate entreaties of his bleeding and exhausted body, someone who crushed underfoot the desire to surrender, to stay still, to have a rest, to give up before the endeavour had a chance to assume a complete and realized form. This other person had taken the decision on the level of instinct, and he bypassed consciousness in which there now reigned silence and emptiness. The usual continuous flow of internal dialogue was cut off.

  It was like a meandering spring inside Artyom had been made straight. He got up to his feet with wooden and awkward movements and the commissar looked at him in surprise, and Maxim even lowered his hand to his machine gun.

  ‘Comrade commissar, could I . . . speak with you?’ Artyom asked in a toneless voice.

  Then, Bonsai turned around anxiously, disengaging from the unfortunate Uncle Fyodor.

  ‘Say it straight, comrade Artyom, I don’t have any secrets from my fighters,’ the commissar cautiously responded.

  ‘You see . . . I am very grateful to you all for saving me. But I have nothing with which to repay you. I would really like to remain with you. But I can’t. I have to go on. I . . . have to.’

  The commissar said nothing in reply.

  ‘Well, where are you going?’ Uncle Fyodor interjected unexpectedly.

  Artyom pressed his lips together and looked at the floor. An awkward silence hung in the air. It seemed to him that they were now looking at him tensely and suspiciously, trying to guess at his intentions. Was he a spy? Was he a traitor? Why was he being so secretive?

  ‘Well, if you don’t want to say, then don’t,’ Uncle Fyodor said in a conciliatory tone.

  ‘To Polis.’ Artyom couldn’t resist telling them. He couldn’t risk losing the trust for the sake of some silly conspiracy theory.

  ‘You have some kind of business there?’ Uncle Fyodor enquired with an innocent lo
ok.

  Artyom nodded silently.

  ‘Is it urgent?’ The man continued to probe.

  ‘Well, look, we’re not going to hold you back. If you don’t want to talk about your business then fine. But we can’t just leave you here in the middle of the tunnel! Right guys?’ He turned to the others.

  Bonsai resolutely nodded, Maximka took his hands from the barrel of his gun and also confirmed the sentiment. Then comrade Rusakov stepped in.

  ‘Are you prepared, comrade Artyom, in front of the fighters of this brigade, who have saved your life, to swear that you are not planning any harm to the revolutionary cause?’ he asked severely.

  ‘I swear it,’ Artyom answered readily. He had no intentions of harming the revolution. There were more important things to consider.

  Comrade Rusakov looked him in the eye, long and hard, and finally gave his verdict:

  ‘Comrade fighters! Personally I believe comrade Artyom. I ask you to vote for helping him to reach Polis.’

  Uncle Fyodor was the first to raise his hand, and Artyom thought that it was probably him who had lifted him out of the noose. Then Maxim voted, and Bonsai just nodded.

  ‘You see, comrade Artyom, not far from here, there is a passage that is unknown to the wider masses. It joins the Zamoskvoretskaya branch and the Red Line,’ said the commander. ‘We can set you on your way . . .’

  He didn’t manage to finish his sentence because Karatsyupa who had been lying quietly by his feet until then jumped up suddenly and started to bark deafeningly. Comrade Rusakov whipped his pistol out of its holster with a lightning fast movement. Artyom didn’t have the time to see what everyone else did: Bonsai had already pulled the cord, starting the engine. Maxim took up his position at the rear and Uncle Fyodor took a bottle with a match sticking out of its top from the box that had held his home-brew.

  The tunnel at that point dived downwards, so visibility was very bad but the dog continued to strain, and Artyom felt anxious.

  ‘Give me a machine gun too,’ he asked in a whisper.

  Not far away a powerful flashlight flashed and went out. Then they heard someone barking out orders. Heavy boots trudged along the cross-ties, and someone stumbled quietly and then everything fell silent. Karatsyupa, whose muzzle had been clamped shut by the commissar, struggled free and started to bark again.

  ‘It’s not starting,’ Bonsai mumbled, slightly defeated. ‘We have to push it!’

  Artyom was first to climb off the section car and behind him leapt Uncle Fyodor and then Maxim. With effort they wedged the soles of their feet against the cross-ties, and got the large object moving forward. It was shifting too slowly and when they had finally awoken the engine, which started off by making coughing sounds, boots were thundering very near to them.

  ‘Fire!’ came the order from the darkness and the narrow space of the tunnel filled with sound. At least four cartridges roared past them, and bullets beat randomly around them, ricocheting, spitting sparks, and hitting pipes and making them ring out.

  Artyom thought that they had no way out, but Maxim, straightening out to his full height, held his machine gun in his hands and maintained fire for a long time. The automatic weapons went silent. Then the section car moved a bit more easily and they had to start running after it to jump up onto its platform.

  ‘They’re retreating! Push ahead!’ was the cry from behind, and the automatic machine guns rattled away behind them with redoubled strength but most of the bullets hit the walls and ceiling of the tunnel.

  Swiftly setting the stub of the bottle on fire, Uncle Fyodor wrapped it in some rags and threw it onto the path. A minute later there was a bright flash and the same clap of noise that Artyom heard when he was standing with the noose around his neck rang out.

  ‘And again! More smoke!’ Comrade Rusakov ordered.

  A motorized section car is simply a miracle, Artyom thought as their persecutors fell far behind, trying to fight their way through the curtain of smoke. The vehicle was moving easily forward and, scaring away the staring bystanders, it swooped through Novukuznetskay station where comrade Rusakov flatly refused to stop. They were carried through so quickly that Artyom had barely any time to make out the station at all. There wasn’t anything particularly special about it, apart from the meagre lighting. There was a fair number of people there but Bonsai whispered to him that the station was not good at all and its inhabitants were also a bit strange, and the last time that they tried to stop there they had seriously regretted it and only just managed to drag themselves out.

  ‘Sorry, comrade, but we won’t be able to help you like we thought,’ comrade Rusakov said to Artyom in a more familiar tone than usual. ‘Now we won’t be able to return here for a while. We’re going to our reserve base at Avtozavodskaya. If you want you can join the brigade.’

  Artyom had to steel himself again and refuse the offer but it was easier this time. He was seized by a cheerful sort of desperation. The whole world was against him, everything was going awry. However, the obstacles that the tunnels put in the way of his mission had awoken in Artyom a rage, and this obstinate rage re-lit his weakening vision with a rebellious fire, devouring in him any fear, sense of danger, reason and force.

  ‘No,’ he said firmly and calmly. ‘I have to go.’

  ‘In that case, we’ll go together until Paveletskaya and then we’ll part ways,’ said the commissar who had remained silent until this point. ‘It’s a shame, comrade Artyom. We need fighters.’

  Near Novokuznetskaya, the tunnel forked and the section car took the left-hand path. When Artyom asked what went on down the right-hand path they explained that that way was barred to them: a few hundred metres into it there was an advance post of the Hansa, a veritable fortress. This unremarkable tunnel, it seemed, led directly to the three Ring stations: Oktyabrskaya, Dobrynskaya and Paveletskaya. The Hansa didn’t intend to destroy this little inter-tunnel passage and its very important transport link but it was only used by Hansa secret agents. If someone else tried to approach the advance post, they would be destroyed immediately without even being given the chance to explain themselves.

  After travelling a while along this passage, they came upon Paveletskaya. Artyom thought how right his friend at VDNKh had been when he had told him that in the old days you could cross the whole metro system within an hour - and he hadn’t believed it at the time. Ah, if only he had a section car like theirs . . .

  But anyway, a section car wouldn’t really have helped since there were lots of places that you couldn’t just pass through like a breeze. No, there was no point in dreaming about it, in this new world there wouldn’t be anything like it anymore - in this world each step required an improbable effort and searing pain. The old days were long gone. That magical, wonderful world was long dead. It didn’t exist anymore. And there was no point in whining about it for the rest of your life. You had to spit on its grave and never look back.

  CHAPTER 10

  No Pasarán!

  There were no patrols visible in front of Paveletskaya station, just a group of dishevelled people sitting thirty metres from the station’s exit, moving aside to let the revolutionaries’ trolley pass and watching it respectfully.

  ‘What, nobody lives here?’ asked Artyom, trying to make his voice sound calm. He certainly did not want to be left alone in this deserted station, without weapons, food, and documents.

  ‘At Paveletskaya ?’ Comrade Rusakov looked at him with surprise. ‘Of course they do!’

  ‘So why is there no border guard?’ Artyom persisted.

  ‘Because this is Pa-ve-lets-ka-ya!’ Bonsai interrupted, enunciating the syllables for emphasis. ‘Who would bother it?’

  Artyom thought to himself how much he agreed with the ancient sage who said, as he was dying, that the only thing he knows, is that he knows nothing. They all talked about the inviolability of Paveletskaya station as if it needed no explanation, as though it was something everybody understood.

  ‘What, you mean y
ou don’t know?’ Bonsai was incredulous. ‘Just wait, and see it for yourself!’

  Paveletskaya station captured Artyom’s imagination at first glance. The ceilings were so high that the flickering flashes of light from the torches that protruded through rings hammered into the walls, did not reach the ceiling, creating a frightening and bewitching sense of the infinite directly overhead. Enormous round arches were supported by slender columns that somehow managed to support the mighty vaults. The space between the arches was filled with bronze castings, tarnished, yet evocative of their past greatness; and although these were only the traditional hammers and sickles, framed as they were by arches, these half-forgotten symbols of a destroyed empire looked as proud and defiant as they did when they were forged. A never-ending row of columns, interspersed with the wavering, blood-coloured torchlight, faded off into the incredibly distant haze, and even there, it seemed never to stop. The flames that licked the graceful marble pillars a hundred or a thousand paces away, seemed simply unable to penetrate the dense, almost palpable, gloom. This station once was, to be sure, the residence of the Cyclops, and therefore everything here was gigantic . . .

  Did no one dare to encroach upon it simply because it was so beautiful?

  Bonsai shifted the engine to idle, the trolley rolled slower and slower, gradually coming to a halt, while Artyom kept looking intently at the strange station. What was it all about? Why did nobody bother Paveletskaya? What was so sacred about it? Certainly not only because it looked more like a fairy-tale underground palace than a building built for the transportation industry?

  A whole crowd of ragged and unwashed urchins of all ages gathered around the stopped trolley. They enviously eyed the machine, and one even dared to jump down onto the track and touch the engine, respectfully silent, until Fyodor drove him away.

  ‘That’s it, comrade Artyom. Here our paths diverge,’ the commander interrupted Artyom’s thoughts. ‘I talked things over with the other comrades and we decided to give you a little present. Here you go!’ And he handed Artyom a submachine gun, probably one of those taken off the killed security guards. ‘And here’s something more.’ He placed in Artyom’s hand the lamp that had lit the way of the fascist in the black uniform with the moustache. ‘These are all trophies, so take courage from them. They are rightfully yours. We would stay here longer, but we mustn’t delay. Who knows how far the fascist bastards will decide to chase us? But they certainly won’t dare to stick their noses into the Paveletskaya.’