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Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 33


  Artyom had approached very close, when the person with his back towards him said:

  ‘There’s somebody there.’

  ‘Of course there is,’ nodded the other.

  ‘You may join us,’ said the first, addressing Artyom, but without turning his head towards him. ‘In any event, you can’t go any farther.’

  ‘Why not?’ objected Artyom in some agitation. ‘What? Is there somebody there, in that tunnel?’

  ‘No one, of course,’ the man patiently explained. ‘Who’s going to mess around in there? You can’t go there now, anyway, I’m telling you. So, sit down.’

  ‘Thank you.’ Artyom took a tentative step forward and sank to the floor across from the bust. They were over forty. One was grey-haired, with square glasses, and the other was thin, with fair hair and a small beard. Both of them were wearing old quilted jackets. They were inhaling smoke through a thin tube rigged up to something like a calabash, from which there issued a head-spinning fragrance.

  ‘What’s your name?’ asked the fair-haired one.

  ‘Artyom,’ the young man replied mechanically, busy with studying these strange people.

  ‘His name is Artyom,’ the fair-haired man said to the other.

  ‘Well, that’s understood,’ he replied.

  ‘I am Yevgeny Dmitrievich. And this is Sergei Andreyevich,’ said the fair-haired man.

  ‘We don’t have to be so formal, do we?’ Sergei Andreyevich said

  ‘Sergei, as you and I have reached this age, we might as well take advantage of it. It’s a question of status and all that.’

  ‘OK, and what else?’ Sergei Andreyevich then asked Artyom.

  The question sounded very odd, as if he were insisting that they continue something that had not ever started, and Artyom was quite perplexed.

  ‘So you’re Artyom, but so what? Where do you live, where are you going, what do you believe in, what do you not believe in, who is to blame and what is to be done?’ Sergei Andreyevich explained.

  ‘Like it used to be, remember?’ Sergei Andreyevich said suddenly, for no apparent reason.

  ‘Oh, yes!’ laughed Yevgeny Dmitrievich.

  ‘I live at VDNKh ... or at least I did live there,’ Artyom began reluctantly.

  ‘Just like . . . Who put their jackboot on the control panel?’ the fair-haired man grinned.

  ‘Yes! Nothing left of America!’ Sergei Andreyevich smirked, taking off his glasses and examining them in the light.

  Artyom looked warily at them again. Maybe he should just get out of here, while the going was good. But what they had been talking about before they noticed him, kept him there by the fire.

  ‘And what’s this about Metro-2? If you’ll excuse me, I overheard a little,’ he admitted.

  ‘So, you want to find out the main legend of the metro?’ Sergei Andreyevich smiled patronizingly. ‘Just what is it you want to know?’

  ‘You were talking about an underground city and about some kind of observers . . .’

  ‘Well, Metro-2 was generally a refuge for the gods of the Soviet Pantheon during the time of Ragnarök, if the forces of evil were to prevail,’ began Yevgeny Dmitrievich, gazing at the ceiling and blowing smoke rings. ‘According to the legends, under the city whose dead body lies there, above us, another metro had been built, for the elite. What you see around you is the metro for the common herd. The other one, according to the legends, that’s for the shepherds and their dogs. At the very beginning, when the shepherds had not yet lost their power over the herd, they ruled from there; but then their strength gave out, and the sheep ran off. Gates alone were what connected these two worlds, and, if you believe the legends, these were located right where the map is now sliced in two as if by a blood-red scar - on the Sokolinskaya branch, somewhere behind the Sportivnaya. Later something occurred that closed the entrance to Metro-2 forever. Those who lived here lost any knowledge of what had taken place, and the very existence of Metro-2 became somehow mythical and unreal. But,’ he pointed upwards, ‘despite the fact that the entrance to Metro-2 no longer exists, that does not at all mean that it has ceased to exist. On the contrary, it is all around us. Its tunnels wind around our stations, and its stations could be just a few steps behind our stations’ walls. These two structures are inseparable; they are like the circulatory system and lymphatic vessels of one organism. And those who believe that the shepherds could not have abandoned their herd to the mercy of fate, say that they are present, imperceptibly, in our lives, direct us, follow our every step, but do not reveal themselves and do not let their existence be known. And that is the belief in Unseen Watchers.’

  The cat, curling up next to the soot-covered bust, raised her head and, opening her enormous, lustrous green eyes, looked at Artyom with a startlingly clear and intelligent expression. Her stare was nothing like that of an animal, and Artyom could not immediately be sure that someone else was not studying him carefully him through her eyes. But the cat yawned, stretching out her sharp pink tongue, and, burying her muzzle in her bedding, dropped back to sleep, like an illusion that had vanished.

  ‘But why don’t they want people to know about them?’ Artyom remembered his question.

  ‘There are two reasons for that. First of all, the sheep are guilty of having rejected their shepherds at their moment of weakness. Second, since the Metro-2 was cut off from our world, the shepherds have developed differently from us, and are no longer human, but beings of a higher order, whose logic is incomprehensible to us and whose thoughts are inaccessible. No one knows what they think of our metro, but they could change everything, even return us to our wonderful, lost world, because they have regained their former power. Because we rebelled against them once and betrayed them, they no longer have anything to do with our fate. However the shepherds are everywhere, and our every breath is known to them, every step, every blow - everything that happens in the metro. They only observe for the present. And only when we atone for our dreadful sin will they turn to us with a gracious gaze and extend a hand to us. And then a renaissance will begin. That is those who believe in the Unseen Watchers say.’ He fell silent, inhaling the aromatic smoke.

  ‘But how can people atone for their guilt?’ Artyom asked.

  ‘Nobody knows except the Unseen Watchers themselves. Humans don’t understand it, because they do not know the dispensation of the Watchers.’

  ‘Then people might never be able to atone for their sin against them?’ Artyom was baffled.

  ‘Does that bother you?’ Yevgeny Dmitrievich shrugged his shoulders and blew two more big, beautiful smoke rings, one slipping through the second.

  There was silence for a time - at first light and limpid, but gradually getting thicker and louder and more palpable. Artyom felt a growing need to break it any way he could, with any senseless phrase, even a meaningless sound. ‘And where are you from?’ he asked.

  ‘Before, I lived at Smolenskaya, not far from the metro, about five minutes’ walk,’ Yevgeny Dmitrievich replied and Artyom stared at him in surprise: how could he have lived not far from the metro? He must have meant that he lived not far from a metro station, in a tunnel - right? ‘You had to walk past food stalls, we sometimes bought beer there, and there were always prostitutes standing around near the stalls, and the police had . . . uh . . . a headquarters there,’ Yevgeny Dmitrievich continued and Artyom had started to realize that he was talking about the old times, about what had gone on before.

  ‘Yeah . . . Me too, I also lived not far from there, at Kalinsky, in a high-rise,’ said Sergei Andreyevich. ‘Someone told me about five years ago that he’d heard from a stalker that they had crumbled to dust . . . The House of Books is still there and all the cheap paper-backs were sitting on the tables untouched, can you believe it? And all that was left of the high-rise was a pile of dust and blocks of cement. Strange.’

  ‘So what was life like back then?’ Artyom was curious. He loved to ask old men this question and they would stop whatever they were doing and
describe the old days with such pleasure. Their eyes would assume a dreamy, distant look; their voices would sound totally different; and their faces looked ten years younger. Images of the past, which were brought to life before their minds’ eyes, were nothing like the pictures that Artyom conjured up while they told their stories, but it was nonetheless very enjoyable for all. It was sort of sweet and sort of torturous at the same time and it made the heart ache . . .

  ‘Well, you see, it was a wonderful time. Back then . . . ah . . . we were on fire,’ Yevgeny Dmitrievich replied, drawing out his answer.

  Here, Artyom definitely did not imagine what the grey-haired man had in mind, and when the other old man realized that, he quickly elucidated.

  ‘We were very lively, we had good times.’

  ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. We were on fire,’ Yevgeny Dmitrievich confirmed.

  ‘I had a green Moskvich-2141 and I’d spent my whole salary to buy it, to give it a sound system, to change the oil. Once, like a fool, I even had the carburettor replaced with a sports car model and then I used nitrous oxide.’ He had clearly transported himself to those good old days, when you could so easily get an old sports car carburettor to put in your car. And his face took on that same dreamy expression that Artyom so loved. It was a shame that Artyom understood little of what he was saying though.

  ‘Artyom probably doesn’t even know what a Moskvich is, never mind what a carburettor is.’ Sergei Andreyevich interrupted his friend’s sweet reminiscences.

  ‘What do you mean he doesn’t know?’ The thin man threw Artyom an angry look. Artyom took to studying the ceiling, gathering his thoughts.

  ‘So why are you burning books?’ He changed the subject as a counteroffensive tactic.

  ‘We’ve already read ’em,’ Yevgeny Dmitrievich responded.

  ‘There’s no truth in books!’ Sergei Andreyevich added in explanation.

  ‘Anyway, perhaps you should tell us something about how you’re dressed - are you a member of a cult or what?’ Yevgeny Dmitrievich delivered a decisive blow.

  ‘No, no, of course not,’ Artyom hurried to explain. ‘But they did pick me up and help me when I was in trouble.’ He explained in broad strokes in what poor shape he’d been but didn’t go as far as explaining quite how bad it was.

  ‘Yes, yes, that’s exactly how they work. I recognize the tactics. Orphaned and wretched . . . ah . . . or something in that vein,’ nodded Yevgeny Dmitrievich.

  ‘You know, I was at one of their meetings, and they say very strange things,’ said Artyom. ‘I stood around for a while and listened, but couldn’t stand it very long. For example, that Satan’s principal wickedness was that he wanted glory and adoration for himself, too . . . Before, I thought it had been a lot more serious, but it just turned out to be jealousy. Is the world really so simple, and does everything revolve around the fact that someone didn’t want to share glory and worshippers?’

  ‘The world is not that simple,’ Sergei Andreyevich assured him, taking the hookah from the fair-haired smoker and inhaling.

  ‘And one more thing . . . They say that God’s principal qualities are his mercy, kindness, and willingness to forgive, and that he’s a God of love, and that he’s all-powerful. At the same time, the first time man disobeyed Him, he was kicked out of paradise and made mortal. So then a whole lot of people die - not scary - and in the end, God sends His son to save everyone. And then His son dies a horrible death, and calls out to God before he dies, asking why God had forsaken him. And all this is for what? To purge, with his blood, the sin of the first human, who God had Himself provoked and punished, and so that people could return to paradise and again discover immortality. It’s some kind of pointless baloney, because He could have just not punished everyone so severely to begin with for stuff they didn’t do. Or he could have discontinued the punishment because the offence had taken place so long ago. But why sacrifice your beloved son, and even betray him? What kind of love is that? What kind of willingness to forgive? Where’s the omnipotence?’

  ‘Roughly and bluntly stated, but correct, in general terms,’ said Sergei Andreyevich approvingly, passing the hookah to his companion.

  ‘Here’s what I can say on the subject,’ said Yevgeny Dmitrievich, filling his lungs with smoke and smiling blithely. He paused for a minute, and then continued, ‘So, if their God indeed has some qualities or distinguishing aspects, they certainly don’t include love, or justice, or forgiveness. Judging from what’s happened on earth from the time it was . . . uh . . . created, only one kind of love has been unique to God: He loves interesting stories. First He sets up an interesting situation and then He stands back to see what happens. If the result is a little flat, He adds a little pepper. So old man Shakespeare was right, all the world’s a stage. Just not the one he was hinting at,’ he concluded.

  ‘This morning alone, you’ve talked your way into several centuries in hell,’ observed Sergei Andreyevich.

  ‘That means you’ll have someone to talk with there,’ Yevgeniy Dmitrievich told his companion.

  ‘On the other hand, many interesting acquaintances may be made there,’ said Sergei Andreyevich.

  ‘For example, among the upper hierarchy of the Catholic Church.’

  ‘Yes, they are surely there. Yet strictly speaking, so are ours . . .’

  Both of Artyom’s companions clearly didn’t much believe that there would someday be a reckoning for everything said now. But Yevgeniy Dmitrievich’s words, about how what has happened to humanity is just an interesting story, led Artyom to a new thought.

  ‘Now, I’ve read a good many different books,’ he said, ‘and I’m always amazed that they’re nothing like real life. I mean, look, events in books are arranged in a nice straight line, everything is tied to everything else, causes have effects, and nothing doesn’t “just happen”. But in reality, everything’s completely otherwise! I mean, life is just full of senseless events that happen to us randomly, and there’s no such thing as everything happening in a logical sequence. What’s more, books, for example, come to an end just where the logical chain breaks off; there’s a beginning, a development, then a peak, and an end.’

  ‘A climax, not a peak,’ Sergei Andreyevich corrected him, listening to Artyom’s observations with a bored look.

  Yevgeniy Dmitrievich also did not evince any particular interest. He moved the smoking apparatus closer to himself, inhaled some aromatic smoke, and held his breath.

  ‘OK, climax,’ continued Artyom, slightly discouraged. ‘But in life, everything’s different. First, a logical chain might not come to an end, and second, even if it does, nothing comes to a close because of it.’

  ‘You mean to say that life has no plot?’ asked Sergei Andreyevich, helping Artyom formulate his words.

  Artyom thought for a minute, then nodded.

  ‘But do you believe in fate?’ asked Sergei Andreyevich, inclining his head to the side and examining Artyom studiously, while Yevgeniy Dmitrievich turned away from the hookah with interest.

  ‘No,’ said Artyom decisively. ‘There is no fate, just random events that happen to us, and then we make things up on our own later.’

  ‘Too bad, too bad . . .’ sighed Sergei Andreyevich disappointedly, austerely looking at Artyom over his eyeglasses. ‘Now, I’m going to present a little theory of mine to you, and you see for yourself if it matches your life or not. It seems to me that life, of course, is an empty joke, and that there’s no purpose to it at all, and that there’s no fate, which is to say anything explicit and definite, along the lines of you’re born and you already know that you’re going to be a cosmonaut or a ballerina, or that you’ll die in your infancy . . . No, not like that. While you’re living your allotted time . . . how do I explain this . . . It may happen that something happens to you that forces you to perform specific actions and make specific decisions, keeping in mind you have free will, and can do this or that. But if you make the right decision, then the things that happen to you subs
equently are no longer just random, to use your word, events. They are caused by the choices that you made. I don’t intend to say that if you decided to live on the Red Line before it went communist that you’d be stuck there and that corresponding events would happen to you. I’m talking of more subtle matters. But if you again were to find yourself at the crossroads and once more made the needed decision, then later you will be faced with a choice that will no longer seem random to you if, of course, you realize and can understand it. And your life will gradually stop being just a collection of random events; it will turn into . . . a plot, I suppose, where everything is connected by some logical, though not necessarily straight, links. And that will be your fate. At a certain stage, if you have travelled sufficiently far along your way, your life will have turned into a plot to the extent that strange things will occur that are unexplainable from the point of view of naked rationalism or your theory of random events. Yet they will fit very well into the logic of the plot line that your life has by then turned into. I think fate doesn’t just happen, you need to arrive at it, and if the events in your life come together and start to arrange themselves into a plot, then it may cast you quite far . . . It is most interesting that a person may not even suspect that this is happening to him, or may conceive what has happened based on a false premise, by attempting to systematize events to match his own world view. But fate has its own logic.’

  This strange theory, which at first seemed to Artyom to be complete mumbo-jumbo, suddenly forced him to look at everything that had happened to him from the very beginning, when he had agreed to Hunter’s proposal to leave for Polis, from a new point of view.

  Now all of his adventures, all his travels, which he had previously viewed as unsuccessful and desperate attempts to achieve the goal of his quest, which he pursued wherever it led him, appeared before him in a different light, and it seemed to him to be an elaborately organized system that formed an ornate, yet well-thought-out structure.