Settings
Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 4


  He was tall and obviously battle-hardened, broad-shouldered and thickset, with a completely shaven head. He was dressed in a long and well-sewn leather cloak, which, in this day and age, was a rarity.

  ‘What do they eat? They say they eat all kinds of junk. They eat carrion. They eat rats. They eat humans. They’re not picky, you know,’ answered Andrey, contorting his face in disgust.

  ‘Cannibals?’ asked the man with the shaved head, without a shadow of surprise - and it sounded as though he’d come across cannibals before.

  ‘Cannibals . . . They’re not even human. They’re undead. Who knows what the hell they are! It’s good they don’t have weapons, so we’re able to fend them off. For the time being. Pyotr! Remember, six months ago we managed to take one of them captive?’

  ‘I remember,’ spoke up Pyotr Andreevich. ‘He sat in our lock-up for two weeks, wouldn’t drink our water, didn’t touch our food, and then croaked.’

  ‘You didn’t interrogate him?’ asked the man.

  ‘He didn’t understand a word we said, in our language. They’d speak plain Russian to him, and he’d keep quiet. He kept quiet the entire time. Like his mouth was full of water. They’d beat him too, and he said nothing. And they’d give him something to eat, and he’d say nothing. He’d just growl every once in a while. And he howled so loudly just before he died that the whole station woke up . . .’

  ‘So how’d the dog get here anyway?’ Kirill reminded them.

  ‘Who the hell knows how it got here . . . Maybe it ran away from them. Maybe they wanted to eat it. It’s about two kilometres to here. Couldn’t a dog have run here from there? Maybe it belongs to someone. Maybe someone was coming from the north and fell on the dark ones. And the little dog managed to get away. Doesn’t matter anyway how she got here. Look at her yourself. Does she look like a monster? Like a mutant? No, she’s a little puppy dog, nothing special. And she’s drawn to people - that means she’s used to us. Otherwise why would she have tried three times to get close to the fire?’

  Kirill went silent, thinking through the argument. Pyotr Andreevich filled up the kettle with water from the canister, and asked: ‘Anyone want more tea? Let’s have a final cup, soon it’ll be time for us to be relieved.’

  ‘Tea - now you’re talking! Let’s have some,’ Andrey said. The others became animated at the idea as well.

  The kettle came to a boil. Pyotr Andreevich poured another cup for those who wanted it, and made a request:

  ‘You guys . . . There’s no point in talking about the dark ones. The last time we were sitting like this and talking about them, they crawled up. Other guys have told me that the very same thing happened to them. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, I’m not superstitious - but what if it’s not? What if they can sense it? Our shift’s almost over already, what do we need these shenanigans for at the last minute?’

  ‘Yeah, actually . . . It’s probably not worth it,’ seconded Artyom.

  ‘OK, that’s enough, man, don’t chicken out on us! We’ll get there in the end!’ said Andrey, trying to cheer up Artyom but not really succeeding in convincing him.

  The mere thought of the dark ones sent an unpleasant shiver through everyone, including Andrey, although he tried to hide it. He didn’t fear humans of any kind: not bandits, not cutthroat anarchists, not soldiers of the Red Army. But the undead disgusted him, and it wasn’t that he was afraid of them, but that he couldn’t stay calm when he thought about them or indeed any other danger.

  Everyone fell quiet. A heavy, oppressive silence came over the men grouped around the fire. The knobbly logs in the fire were crackling, and to the north, a muted, deep-chested croaking sound in the tunnel could be heard from time to time in the distance, as if the Moscow metro were the giant intestine of some unknown monster. And these sounds were really terrifying.

  CHAPTER 2

  The Hunter

  Once again, all sorts of nonsense started filling Artyom’s head. The dark ones . . . He’d come across those damn non-humans only once during his watch, and he’d been scared silly - but how could he not have been . . .

  So, you’re sitting there on watch. You’re warming yourself by the fire. And suddenly you hear it: from the tunnel, from somewhere in the depths, a regular, dull knocking rings out - first, in the distance, quietly, and then, ever closer, and ever louder . . . And suddenly your ears are struck by a horrible, graveyard howl, and it’s coming closer . . . And then complete mayhem! Everyone jumps up; they heap the sandbags and crates on which they’d been sitting into a barrier - quickly so that there’d be something to hide behind. And the most senior among them shouts with all his might, at the top of his lungs, ‘Alert!’

  Reserves rush in from the station to give support; at the three-hundredth metre where the main blow will have to be absorbed, they pull the cover from the machine gun, and people throw themselves to the ground, behind the sandbags, directing their guns at the mouth of the tunnel, taking aim . . . Finally, having waited for the dark ones to draw closer, they turn on the spotlight, and strange, delirious silhouettes become visible in its beam. They’re naked, covered in black, glossy skin, with huge eyes and mouths like gashes . . . They’re striding rhythmically ahead, towards the fortifications, towards death, with reckless abandon, without wavering, closer and closer . . . There are three . . . Five . . . Eight beasts . . . And the first among them suddenly throws back its head and emits a howl like a requiem.

  You feel a shiver along your skin; you resist the urge to jump up and run, to toss your gun aside, to abandon your comrades, to throw everything to the devil and run . . . The spotlight is aimed straight into the muzzles of these nightmarish creatures to strike their pupils with its bright light, but it’s obvious that they’re not even squinting, they’re not throwing up their hands, but they are looking into the spotlight with eyes wide open, and continuing to move steadily onward, onward . . . Do they even have pupils?

  And now, finally, the guys run up from the three-hundredth metre with more machine guns; they lie down alongside, commands fly overhead . . . Everything’s ready . . . The long-awaited ‘Fire!’ thunders. At once, several guns begin to rattle, and the big machine gun rumbles. But the dark ones don’t stop, they don’t crouch; they stride ahead fully erect, without slowing their pace, just as steadily and calmly as before. In the light of the spotlight, you can see how the bullets tear at their glossy bodies, how they’re being pushed backwards, how they fall; but they get right back up again, rise to their full height, and march on. And again, hoarsely now, because its throat has already been pierced, a sinister howl rings out. Several minutes more will pass as the steel tempest finally breaks this inhuman, unthinking obstinacy. And then, when all of these ghouls have tumbled, breathless and motionless, the guys will finish them off with shots to the head from five metres, just to be sure. And even when everything’s over, when the corpses have been tossed into the shaft, that same sinister image will continue to hover before your eyes, for a long time to come - bullets plunging into those black bodies, the spotlight scalding those wide-open eyes - but they kept on marching, as steadily as ever, onwards . . .

  Artyom convulsed at the thought. Yes, of course, it’d be better not to chat about them, he thought. Just in case.

  ‘Hey, Andreich! Get ready! We’re on our way!’ they shouted from the south, from the darkness. ‘Your shift’s over!’

  The men at the fire began to move about, throwing off their stupor, rising to their feet, stretching, putting on their backpacks and weapons and Andrey picked up the little puppy. Pyotr Andreevich and Artyom were returning to the station while Andrey and his men were returning to the three hundredth metre since their shift there hadn’t quite ended.

  Their replacements walked up and exchanged handshakes, ascertained whether or not anything strange or peculiar had happened, wished each other the relaxation they deserved, and sat down a bit closer to the fire, continuing a conversation they’d begun earlier.

  When everyone was alre
ady headed south along the tunnel, towards the station, Pyotr Andreevich began speaking heatedly with Andrey about something, apparently returning to one of their eternal disputes; and the husky guy with the shaved head, who had questioned them concerning the dark ones’ eating habits, fell away from them, drawing even with Artyom, and beginning to walk in step with him.

  ‘So then, you know Sukhoi?’ he asked Artyom in a low, muffled voice, without looking him in the eye.

  ‘Uncle Sasha! Well, yes! He’s my stepfather. I live with him,’ answered Artyom honestly.

  ‘You don’t say . . . Your stepfather? I’ve never heard of such . . .’ muttered the man.

  ‘And what’s your name?’ Artyom decided to ask, having reasoned that if someone questions you about your own relative, then that gives you the right to ask a question in return.

  ‘My name?’ asked the man, surprised. ‘Why do you need to know?’

  ‘Well, I’ll tell Uncle Sasha, Sukhoi, that you were asking after him.’

  ‘Tell him that Hunter was asking. Hunter. Tell him I said hello.’

  ‘Hunter? That’s an odd name. What is it, your last name? Your nickname?’ Artyom asked.

  ‘Last name? Hmm . . .’ Hunter smirked. ‘What of it? It’s totally . . . No, son, it’s not a last name. It’s . . . how should I put it . . . A profession. And what’s your name?’

  ‘Artyom.’

  ‘Fine then. Nice to meet you. I’m sure we’ll see each other again. And fairly soon at that. Cheers!’

  Giving Artyom a wink before parting, he remained behind at the three-hundredth metre, along with Andrey.

  There wasn’t much further to go; from a distance, the lively noise of the station could already be heard. Pyotr Andreevich, walking alongside Artyom, asked him worriedly:

  ‘Listen, Artyom, who was that, anyway? What was he saying to you back there?’

  ‘He was a strange sort of guy . . . He was asking about Uncle Sasha. An acquaintance of his, I guess? Do you know him?’

  ‘Don’t seem to . . . He’s just come to our station for a couple of days, on some sort of business, it seems. Looks like Andrey has already met him; he was the one who insisted on being on the same watch with him. Who the hell knows why he found that so necessary! His face is somehow familiar . . .’

  ‘Yeah. It’s probably hard to forget an appearance like that,’ said Artyom.

  ‘Exactly. Where was it that I saw him? What’s his name - do you know?’ inquired Pyotr Andreevich.

  ‘Hunter. That’s what he said - Hunter. Just try and figure out what that’s supposed to be.’

  ‘Hunter? Not a Russian name . . .’ frowned Pyotr Andreevich.

  In the distance, a red glow had already appeared. VDNKh like the majority of stations, didn’t have normal lighting and, for thirty years now, people had lived under scarlet emergency lights. Only occasionally were there normal electric light bulbs in their ‘apartments’ - their tents and rooms. And only a few of the wealthiest metro stations were illuminated by the light of genuine mercury lamps. Legends had formed around them, and provincial types, from distant, god-forsaken substations, would nourish the dream for years on end of making it there and beholding this miracle.

  At the tunnel exit, they handed over their weapons to the other guards, and signed their names in the ledger. Pyotr Andreevich shook Artyom’s hand before parting and said:

  ‘It’s about time we hit the sack! I can barely stand on my feet, and you’re probably ready to sleep standing up yourself. Give Sukhoi my warmest regards. He should pay me a visit.’

  Artyom said goodbye and feeling the sudden onset of fatigue, took himself off to his ‘apartment.’

  Two hundred people lived at VDNKh. Some in the service quarters, but the majority in tents on the platform. The tents were army-issue, now old, tattered, but still intact. They didn’t have to contend with wind or rain underground, and they were well maintained so it was easily possible to live in them. They didn’t lose heat or light, and they even kept out the noise. What more could one ask of one’s housing? . . .

  The tents were tucked up against the wall on either side - both along the tracks, and in the central hall. The platform had been turned into something resembling a street: there was a fairly wide passage along its middle. Some of the tents were large, housing the more numerous families and they occupied the space beneath the archways. But several arches remained free for passage - at each end of the hall, and at its centre. There were other accommodations below the platforms as well, but the ceiling there wasn’t very high, and they weren’t very suitable for habitation. They used them at VDNKh for the storage of provisions.

  The two northern tunnels were joined by a side tunnel, several tens of metres beyond the station, which, once upon a time, allowed trains to turn around and head back in the other direction. Now one of these two tunnels was plugged up; the other led to the north, towards the Botanical Garden, and almost to Mytischi. They’d left it as a retreat route in the case of extreme circumstance, and it was there that Artyom had been on watch. The remaining segment of the second tunnel, and the unified stretch between the two tunnels, was designated for mushroom plantations. The rails there had been dismantled and the ground had been tilled and fertilized - they hauled waste products there from the cesspit. Tidy rows of mushroom caps shone white along the tunnel. One of the two southern tunnels had been collapsed as well, at the three-hundredth metre, and they used that area for chicken coops and pigpens.

  Artyom’s home stood on the main thoroughfare - he lived there in one of the smaller tents together with his stepfather. His stepfather was an important man associated with the administration. He maintained contact with other stations so the powers that be reserved the tent for him - it was granted to him as his own personal tent, and it was a first-rate one at that. His stepfather would frequently disappear for two or three weeks at a time, and never took Artyom with him, excusing himself by saying that he was occupied with matters too dangerous, and didn’t want to subject Artyom to any risk. He’d return from his trips thinner, his hair unkempt, sometimes wounded. But the first evening of his return he would always sit with Artyom, telling him things that were hard to believe even for a resident of this grotesque little world, and one who was used to unbelievable stories.

  Artyom felt the urge to travel himself, but to wander around in the metro for no good reason was too dangerous. The patrol guards at independent stations were very suspicious, and wouldn’t let a person pass with a weapon - and heading off into the tunnels without a weapon meant certain death. And so, ever since he and his grandfather had come from Savyolovskaya, Artyom hadn’t had the chance to take part in any decent excursions. He’d sometimes be sent to Alekseevskaya on business but he didn’t go alone, of course. They went in group, sometimes as far as Rizhskaya. But on top of that, he had one more trip under his belt, about which he couldn’t tell anyone, although he desperately wanted to . . .

  It happened a long, long time ago, when there wasn’t even the slightest hint of the dark ones at the Botanical Garden, when it was simply an abandoned and dark station, and patrols from VDNKh were stationed much further to the north. At the time Artyom himself was still just a kid. Back then, he and his buddies decided to take a risk: during a shift change, they stole past the outer cordon with flashlights and a double-barrelled rifle stolen from someone’s parents, and crawled for a long time around the Botanical Garden station. It was eerie, but it was interesting. In the light of the flashlights, you could see the remnants of human habitation everywhere: ash, singed books, broken toys, torn clothing . . . Rats darted about, and from time to time, strange rumbling sounds would ring out from the northern tunnel. One of Artyom’s friends - he didn’t even remember who it was anymore but it was probably Zhenya, the most lively and most curious of the three - said, ‘What if we try to take down the barrier and go up to the surface, up the escalator . . . just to see what it’s like there? To see what’s there?’

  Artyom had said right aw
ay that he was against it. The recent tales his stepfather told him about people who had spent time on the surface were fresh in his mind, about how afterwards they had long been sick, and about the sorts of horrors sometimes seen up there. But they immediately began to argue that this was a rare opportunity. When else would they manage to make it, with no adults, to an abandoned station, as they had now? And now they had the chance to go up to the surface too, and see, see with their own eyes, what it’s like to have nothing above your head. And, resigning all hope of convincing him nicely, they declared that if he was such a coward, then he could sit down below and wait for them to come back. The thought of staying alone in an abandoned station, and, on top of that, besmirching his reputation in the eyes of his two best friends, was completely unbearable to Artyom. So, summoning his courage, he consented.

  To everyone’s surprise, the mechanism that brought the barrier dividing the platform from the escalator into motion actually worked. And it was Artyom himself who managed to start it up after half an hour of desperate attempts. The rusty iron wall moved aside with a nasty grating sound and before their eyes stood the short row of steps of the escalator, leading upwards. Some of the steps had collapsed and, through the yawning gaps, in the light of the flashlights, one could see colossal gears that had stopped years ago, corroded with rust, grown over with something brownish that was moving, just barely noticeably . . . It wasn’t easy for them to force themselves to go up there. Several times, the steps they stepped on gave way with a screech, and dropped below, and they climbed across the chasm, clinging to the old hulls of the metro lamps. The path to the surface wasn’t long, but their initial determination was evaporating after that first collapsed step; and in order to raise their spirits, they imagined themselves to be real stalkers.

  Stalkers . . .

  The word, strange and foreign to the Russian language, had caught on very well nonetheless. Earlier, this was the name given to people whose poverty compelled them to make their way to abandoned military firing ranges, take apart unexploded missiles and bombs and redeem brass casings with those who bought non-ferrous metals. It was also given to those strange people who, in times of peace, climbed around in the sewers. But all of these meanings had something in common: it was always an extremely dangerous profession, always a confrontation with the unknown, the mysterious, the ominous . . . Who knows what happened at those abandoned ranges, where the radioactive earth, disfigured by thousands of explosions, ploughed with trenches and pitted with catacombs, put forth monstrous sprouts? And one could only guess what might dwell in the sewers of a teeming metropolis once the builders had closed the hatches behind them, leaving those gloomy, narrow, reeking corridors forever.