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Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 30


  And of course, it was clear right away that this was Hansa territory. First of all, it was unusually clean, comfortable, and large, real lamps cased in glass shone softly from the ceiling. In the hall itself, which, to be sure, was not as spacious as at the twin station, there was not a single kiosk, though there were many work tables piled with mountains of intricate contraptions. Behind them sat people in blue overalls, and a pleasant smell, the light odour of machine oil, hung in the air. Probably the work day ended later than at the Paveletskaya radial line. Hansa paraphernalia hung on the walls - an insignia with a brown circle on a white background, posters, appeals to raise labour productivity, and quotes from somebody named A. Smith. Under the largest flag, between the two stiff soldiers in an honour guard, stood a glass table, and Artyom lingered there as he passed, just to satisfy his curiosity about what sacred object might lie beneath the glass.

  There, on red velvet, lovingly lit with tiny lamps, lay two books. The first was a magnificently preserved, imposing volume with a black cover and a gold-embossed inscription that read, ‘Adam Smith. The Wealth of Nations.’ The second was a thoroughly dog-eared copy of a pocket book, a piece of trash with a battered dust jacket that was torn and glued together again, on which thick letters spelled out ‘Dale Carnegie. How To Stop Worrying and Start Living.’

  Artyom had never heard of either author, so what interested him much more was whether the station chief had used remnants of this very velvet to upholster the cage of his beloved rat.

  One line was not blocked, and trolleys travelled by from time to time, most of them hand-powered, loaded with boxes. But once a motorized trolley passed, enveloped in a cloud of smoke, and paused for a minute at the station before continuing further. Artyom was able to get a look at the strong soldiers, with black uniforms and black-and-white-striped vests, who were sitting on it. Each had night vision equipment on his head, a strange, short automatic weapon against his chest, and heavy body armour. The commander, stroking the enormous, dark green, visored helmet that sat on his knees, exchanged a few words with the station security officers, dressed in the usual grey camouflage, and the trolley vanished into the tunnel.

  On the second line there was a complete train, in even better condition than the one Artyom had seen at Kuznetsky Bridge. There were probably living quarters behind the curtained windows, but through bare windows one could see desks with printers on them, behind which sat your usual business types; and engraved upon a sign over the door were the words ‘CENTRAL OFFICE.’

  This station produced an indescribable impression on Artyom. It was not that it amazed him like the first Paveletskaya; there were no traces here of that mysterious, sombre splendour that reminded one of the degenerated descendants of bygone superhuman greatness and the power of those who had built the metro. But still, people lived here just as if they were not part of the teeming, decadent, senseless, underground existence outside the Ring line. Life went on in a steady, well-organized way; after the work day there was a well-deserved rest; young people did not go out into a fantasy world of foolish yentas, but to business - the earlier you started your career, the farther up the ladder you could move - and adults were not afraid that as soon as their strength began to ebb, they would be turned out into the tunnel to be eaten by rats. It now became comprehensible why Hansa allowed only a few outsiders into its station, and reluctantly at that. The number of places in paradise is limited; only in hell is entry open to all.

  ‘Why finally I’ve emigrated!’ exclaimed Mark, looking happily about him.

  At the end of the platform, another border guard sat in a glass cubicle with the sign ‘On Duty,’ beside a rather small barrier painted with white and red stripes. When someone drove up to the duty officer, stopping respectfully, the guard came out of the cubicle with an expression of self-importance, inspected documents and sometimes cargo, and finally lifted the barrier. Artyom noted that all the border guards and customs officials were very proud of their posts; it was immediately obvious that they were doing something they enjoyed. On the other hand, he thought, how could one not like such work?

  They were taken over to a fence from which the road extended into the tunnel, and turned off to the side, to a corridor for staff quarters. Dreary yellow tile with scooped-out pit holes, proudly crowned with real toilet seats; indescribably filthy overalls; square shovels with some weird stuff growing on them; a wheelbarrow with only one wheel, making wild figure eights; carts that were to be loaded up and carted off to the nearest shaft that led into the depths. And all this was enveloped in a monstrous, unimaginable stench, saturating one’s clothes, seeping into each hair from root to tip, penetrating beneath the skin, so that you began to think that it had become part of your very nature and would be with you forever, scaring away your own kind and making them get out of your way before they’ve even seen you.

  The first day of this monotonous work passed so slowly that Artyom decided they had been given an infinite shift: dig, dump, roll, dig again, dump again, roll again, drain, then go back the other way, just so that this thrice-damned cycle could be repeated. There was no end in sight to the work, since new visitors kept coming. Neither they nor the security guards standing at the entrance to the premises and at the endpoint of their route, at the shaft, hid their revulsion for the poor labourers. They stood aside squeamishly, holding their noses, or, the more delicate among them took a deep breath beforehand so as not to have to inhale next to Artyom and Mark. Their faces showed such loathing that Artyom asked himself in surprise, didn’t all this crap come from their guts in the first place? At the end of the day, when his hands were worn to a pulp, despite wearing enormous canvas gloves, it seemed to Artyom that he had discovered the true nature of man, as well as the meaning of life.

  He now viewed man as a clever machine for the decomposition of food and the production of shit, functioning almost without a hitch throughout a life without meaning, if by the word ‘meaning’ one has in mind some kind of ultimate goal. The meaning was in the process: to break down the most food possible, convert it even faster, and eliminate the dregs - everything that was left of smoking pork chops, juicy braised mushrooms, fluffy cakes - now rotten and contaminated. Personality traits began to fade, becoming impersonal mechanisms for the destruction of the beautiful and the useful, creating instead something putrid and worthless. Artyom was disgusted with people and felt no less aversion to them, than they to him. Mark was stoically patient, and tried to cheer up Artyom from time to time by saying things like, ‘Don’t worry about it, they told me beforehand that emigration is always difficult at the beginning.’

  And the main thing was that, neither on the first nor the second day did any possibility of escape present itself; the security guards were vigilant, and although the only thing Artyom and Mark would have to do to escape was to enter the tunnel beyond the shaft, heading toward Dobryninskaya, that was simply impossible. They spent the night in a nearby closet. The door was locked carefully at night, and whatever the time of day, a guard sat at the glass booth by the entrance to the station.

  The third day of their stay at the station arrived. Time here did not pass according to the usual twenty-four-hour day; it crawled along like a slug, in the seconds of an unending nightmare. Artyom had already grown accustomed to the idea that nobody would ever approach him and talk to him again, and that the fate of a pariah was in store for him. It was as though he were no longer human and had turned into an inconceivably monstrous being, whom people saw not just as something ugly and repulsive, but also somehow perceptibly related to themselves - and that scared them and repulsed them even more, as if they might catch this monstrousness from him, as if he were a leper.

  First he worked out an escape plan. Then came a resounding void of despair. After that a dull stupor took over, in which his intellect was disconnected from his life; he turned inward, drew in the threads of feeling and sensation, and went into a cocoon somewhere in a remote corner of consciousness. Artyom continued to work mechan
ically, his motions as precise as those of an automaton - all he had to do was dig, dump, roll, and dig again, roll again, drain, and go back the other way, faster, to start digging again. His dreams lost any meaning, and in them, just as in his waking hours, he endlessly ran, dug, pushed, pushed, dug, and ran.

  On the evening of the fifth day, Artyom, pushing the wheelbarrow, tripped over a shovel that had been left on the floor; the wheelbarrow overturned, the contents spilled, and then he fell down into it himself. When he arose slowly from the floor, an idea suddenly popped into his head, and instead of running for a bucket and cloth, he slowly and deliberately headed for the entrance to the tunnel. He himself could feel that he was now so loathsome, so repulsive, that his aura would have to drive anyone away. And just at the moment, due to an improbable confluence of circumstances, the security guard who was invariably hanging around at the end of his route, was, for some reason, not there. Without giving a moment’s thought to whether someone might be chasing him, Artyom started off across the ties. Blinded, but hardly stumbling, he walked faster and faster, until breaking into a run; but his reason had not returned to the job of directing his body; it was still holed up, cowering in its corner.

  Behind him he heard no shouts, no footsteps of pursuers; only the trolley clattered by, loaded with cargo and lighting its way with a dim lantern. Artyom simply pressed himself against the wall, letting it go past. The people on board either did not notice him or did not consider it necessary to pay him any attention; their gazes passed over him without lingering, and they didn’t say a word.

  Suddenly he was seized with a feeling of his own invulnerability, conferred on him by his fall. Covered with stinking sludge, it was as if he had become invisible; this gave him strength, and consciousness gradually began to return. He had done it! Who knew how? Against all good sense, despite everything, he had managed to escape from the accursed station, and nobody was even following him! It was strange, it was amazing, but it seemed to him that, if he were only to try right now to comprehend what had happened, to dissect the miracle with the cold scalpel of rationality, then the magic would dissipate immediately, and the beam of the searchlight from a patrol trolley would quickly strike him in the back.

  Light shone at the end of the tunnel. He slackened his pace, and after a minute he was at Dobryninskaya.

  The border guard there satisfied himself with the simple question, ‘Did they call for a sanitary technician?’ and quickly let him through, waving away the air around himself with one hand while holding the other over his mouth. Artyom had to keep moving, to get out of Hansa territory fast, before the security guards finally gathered their wits, before he could hear behind him the tramp of iron-rimmed jackboots; before warning shots thundered out into the air, and then . . . Faster.

  Not looking at anyone, keeping his eyes to the floor, his skin crawling with the disgust those around him felt for him, a vacuum forming around him so that he did not have to elbow his way through the dense crowd, Artyom strode to the border post. And now what was he going to say? More questions, more demands to present his passport. How could he reply?

  Artyom’s head hung so low that his chin touched his chest, and he saw absolutely nothing around him, so that the only things he remembered about the whole station were the dark, neatly arranged granite slabs of the floor. He kept walking, frozen with anticipation of the moment when he would hear the peremptory order to stand still. Hansa’s border was closer and closer. Now . . . Right now . . .

  ‘What kind of rubbish is this?’ a gasping voice resounded in his ear. There it was.

  ‘I . . . it . . . I got lost. I’m not from here . . .’ muttered Artyom, tongue-tied from nervousness or maybe just getting into his role.

  ‘Well get the hell out of here, do you hear, you ugly mug?!’ The voice sounded very persuasive, almost hypnotic, making him want to obey right away.

  ‘Sure I . . . I would . . .’ mumbled Artyom, afraid, not knowing how to get out of this one.

  ‘Begging is strictly forbidden on Hansa territory!’ the voice said sternly, and this time it was from a greater distance.

  ‘Of course, right away . . . I have little children . . .’ Artyom finally realized what button to press, and became more animated.

  ‘What children? Are you nuts?!’ The invisible border guard flew into a rage. ‘Popov, Lomako, come here! Get this scumbag out of here!’

  Neither Popov nor Lomako wanted to soil their hands by touching Artyom, so they just shoved him in the back with the barrels of their automatics. Their superior’s angry curses flew after them. To Artyom, this sounded like heavenly music.

  Serpukhovskaya station! He had left the Hansa behind!

  Finally he looked up, but what he saw in the eyes of the people surrounding him made him look back at the floor. This was not tidy Hansan territory; he was once again in the midst of the dirty, poverty-stricken bedlam that reigned throughout the rest of the metro. But even here, Artyom was too loathsome. The miraculous armour that had saved him along the way, making him invisible, forcing people to turn away from the fugitive and not to notice him, to let him through all the outposts and checkpoints, had now turned back into a stinking, shitty scab.

  Evidently it was already past noon.

  Now that the initial exultation had worn off, that strange strength, as if borrowed from someone else, which had forced him to keep walking across the stretch from Paveletskaya to Dobryninskaya, abruptly disappeared and left him alone with himself - hungry, deathly tired, without a penny to his name, giving off an unbearable stench, still showing traces of the blows of the week before.

  The paupers next to whom he had sat down along the wall, decided that they could no longer abide such company, crawled away from him, cursing, in various directions, and he was left completely alone. Hugging his shoulders so as not to feel so cold, he closed his eyes and sat there for a long while, thinking about absolutely nothing, until sleep overcame him.

  Artyom was walking along an unfinished tunnel. It was longer than all those he had traversed throughout his whole life, rolled into one. The tunnel twisted and turned, sometimes ascending, sometimes descending, but was never straight for more than ten paces. But it just went on and on, and walking became harder and harder; his feet, blistered and bloody, were hurting, his back ached, each new step called forth an echo of pain throughout his body; but as long as hope remained that the exit was not far away, maybe just around that next corner, Artyom found the strength to keep going. But then suddenly the simple, but terrifying thought occurred to him: what if the tunnel had no exit? If both the entrance and exit were closed, if someone invisible and omnipotent had shut him off - left him thrashing around, like a rat unsuccessfully trying to reach the experimenter’s finger, in this maze without exit, so that he would keep dragging himself along until he gave out, until he collapsed - and doing this for no reason, just for fun? A rat in a maze. A squirrel in a wheel. But then, he thought, if continuing along the road does not lead to the exit, will refusing any senseless forward motion perhaps bestow liberation? He sat down on a railway tie, not because he was tired, but because he was at the end of his rope. The walls around him disappeared, and he thought: in order to achieve the goal, to complete the journey, all I have to do is to stop walking. Then this thought faded away and disappeared.

  When he woke up, he was seized by overwhelming anxiety, and at first could not imagine what had caused it. Only later did he begin to recall bits of the dream, to piece together a mosaic from these fragments, but the fragments just would not hold together; they crumbled; there was not enough glue to hold them together. That glue was some idea that had come to him during his dream; it was pivotal, a vision from the heart, and very important to him. Without it, all that was left was a pile of ragged underwear; but with it - a wonderful picture, full of miraculous import, opening up limitless horizons. But he couldn’t remember the idea. Artyom gnawed on his fists, seized his dirty head with his dirty hands, his lips whispered something incompr
ehensible, and passers-by looked at him with fear and aversion. But the idea just didn’t want to return. Then slowly, carefully, as if trying to use a strand of hair to pull out something stuck in a swamp, he started to reconstruct the idea out of the fragments of memory. And - what a miracle! - deftly grabbing hold of one of the images, he suddenly recognized it, in the same primordial form that it had first announced itself in his dream.

  To finish the journey, he only needed to stop walking.

  But now, in the bright light of waking consciousness, the thought seemed to him banal, pitiful, unworthy of attention. To finish the journey, he needed to stop walking? Well, of course. If you stop walking, then your journey is over. What could be simpler? But is that really the way out? And could that really be the conclusion of the journey?

  It often happens that an idea that appears in a dream to be a stroke of genius, turns out to be a meaningless jumble of words when one wakes up . . .

  ‘O, my beloved brother! Filth on your body and in your soul.’ The voice was right next to him.

  That was as unexpected as the return of the idea, and the bitter taste of that disillusionment instantly vanished. He didn’t even think the voice was addressing him, since he had already become so accustomed to the idea that people fled in all directions even before he could utter a word.

  ‘We welcome all the orphaned and wretched,’ the voice continued; it sounded so soft, so reassuring, so tender, that Artyom, no longer restraining himself, cast a sideways glance to the left, and then gloomily glanced to the right, afraid to discover that the person speaking was actually addressing somebody else.

  But there was nobody else nearby. The person was talking to him. Then he slowly raised his head and met the eyes of a rather short, smiling man wearing a loose-fitting robe, with dark blond hair and rosy cheeks, who was reaching out his hand in friendship. It was vital for Artyom to reciprocate, so, not daring to smile, he too extended his hand.