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Actions & Adventure
History & Fiction
Thrillers & Crime
Romance & Love
Mystery & Detective
Time News Roman
Metro 2033 41
‘What sunrise?’ Artyom asked, puzzled. The news that he would have to reach the other metro station on the surface alone, to which, judging by the map, was about two kilometres away, was for him like a kick in the head.
‘The sun. People are night animals, and it’s better for them if they don’t show themselves on the surface by day. But there are those who crawl out of the ruins to warm themselves in the sun and you’ll regret it a hundred times over if you interrupt them. And I’m not just talking about the light: you’ll go blind in two seconds flat, and the dark glasses won’t save you.’
‘But why am I going alone?’ Artyom asked, still not believing his ears.
‘Never fear. You’ll be walking straight ahead the whole way. You’ll exit onto Kalininskiy and continue along it, there aren’t any turns. Don’t show yourself on the way, but stay really close to the houses, they live everywhere there. Go on, until you reach the intersection with a second broad avenue, this will be Sadovoye Koltso. There you turn left and straight ahead to a white stone apartment building. It was once the House of Fashion . . . You’ll find it right away, right opposite, across Sadovoye, stands a half-ruined very tall building, the trade centre. There will be sort of a yellow arch behind the House of fashion on which “Metro Station Smolenskaya” is written. Turn into it, you’ll come to a small square, a sort of inside courtyard, and you’ll see the station itself there. If everything is quiet, try to get below. One entrance is closed there and guarded, they keep it for their own trackers. Knock on the gate like this: three fast raps, two slow, then three fast. They should open it. Tell them that Melnik sent you and wait for me there. I’m taking Ten to the infirmary and will leave right away. I’ll be there before noon. I’ll find you myself. Take the machine guns with your, we don’t know how it all will turn out.’
‘But there’s another station, closer, on the map, you know . . . Arbatskaya,’ Artyom had recalled the name.
‘There is such a station. But you don’t have to go near it. And you don’t even want to. You’ll pass right by it, stay on the other side of the street and move quickly, but don’t run. That’s it. Don’t waste any time!’ he concluded, and he nudged Artyom towards the exit from the vestibule. Artyom didn’t want to argue anymore. Having thrown one of the machine guns over his shoulder, he held the second at the ready, went into the street and hurried back toward the monument, covering his eyes with his right hand so as not to see the beckoning radiance of the Kremlin’s stars by accident.
There Up Above
Before reaching the old stone man in the easy chair, Artyom turned left in order to cut across the corner of the street along the Library steps. Passing it, he glanced at the majestic building and a shiver went down his spine: Artyom remembered the terrible inhabitants of the place. Now the Library once more was immersed in dreary silence. The custodians of the predominant silence in it most likely had dispersed among the dark corners, licking their wounds after their impudent incursions and preparing to pay the next adventurers back for it.
The pallid, drained face of Daniel appeared before his eyes. It occurred to Artyom that the Brahmin, not without reason, had been frightened of these creatures, refusing even to speak of them. Had he seen his own death in his nightmares? His body would remain forever lying in the stacks, embracing the librarian who had killed him. Of course, if these creatures disdain carrion . . . Artyom winced. Would he ever be able to forget how his partner, who had become almost a friend to him in only two days, had died? It seemed to him that Daniel would trouble his dreams for a while longer, trying again and again to speak with him in the night, putting together indistinct words with his bloodstained lips.
Exiting onto the broad avenue, Artyom hastily turned over in his mind the instructions given him by Melnik. Go straight to the Kalininskiy intersection with Sadovoye Koltso, do not turn off anywhere . . . Try to guess again which of the streets is Koltso itself. Don’t go into the middle of the road, but also don’t press up to the walls of the houses, and mainly, get to Smolenskaya before the sun comes up.
The famous Kalininskiy high-rises, which Artyom knew from the yellowed postcards with views of Moscow, began half a kilometre from the very place where he was standing. Now, low, detached houses stood along the sides of the street, which curved left into New Arbat. The outlines of buildings, clear close-up, blurred when he moved away and they blended into the twilight. The moon was hidden behind low clouds. The meagre milky light barely filtered through them and only when the misty curtain had dissipated, did the ghostly silhouettes of the homes again take shape for a short while. But even in such lighting, in the alleys that dissected the street every hundred metres, the powerful contour of an ancient cathedral could be seen on the left. A huge winged shadow once more circled over the cross-capped dome.
Perhaps it was for that reason Artyom stopped, in order to look at the soaring beast in the air, that he noticed it. It was hard to determine in the twilight whether his imagination was drawing the strange figure that had stopped dead in the depths of the alley and had fused with the partly destroyed walls of the houses. And only when he examined it further, did it appear to him that this blob of darkness moved a little and possessed its own free will. It wasn’t easy to determine precisely the form and dimensions of the creature at such a distance, but it clearly stood on two legs and Artyom decided to act as the stalker had told him. Switching on his flashlight, he aimed the beam into the alley and made a circular movement with it three times.
There was no response. Artyom waited for it in vain for a minute until he realized that staying in that same place could be very dangerous. But before he could go on, he illuminated the motionless figure in the alley again. What he saw forced him to turn off his flashlight immediately and try to pass the alley as soon as he could.
It clearly had not been a man. Its silhouette had become more distinct in the spot of light, and it was no less than two and a half metres, its shoulders and neck were missing and the large round head emerged directly from a powerful body. The creature had hidden, biding its time. Despite this apparent indecisiveness, Artyom felt in his bones a threat from it.
He did the hundred and fifty metres to the last alley in less than a minute. Taking a hard look, he understood that it wasn’t even an alley, but an opening burnt into a residential neighbourhood by some kind of weapon: they had either bombed here or simply demolished a whole row of buildings with heavy military equipment. Artyom looked with curiosity at the half-ruined homes fading into the distance but then his attention was fixed on the unclear, motionless shadow. It was enough to put the beam of the flashlight on it for a second to dispel all doubt: it was that very same creature or its mate. Standing right in the middle of the alley in the same block, it wasn’t even trying to hide.
If the creature was the same one he had observed in the block behind him earlier, that meant it had snuck along the street parallel to the one he was walking along, Artyom thought. It turned out that it had covered this distance twice as fast as he: for at the very moment he reached the next crossing, it was already waiting for him there. But something else was even worse: this time he also saw a similar figure in the alley to the right of the avenue. As the first one, it was standing there, frozen in place, like a statue. For a moment Artyom thought that perhaps they weren’t living beings, but signs placed here by someone for intimidation or as a warning . . .
He was already running to the third intersection, stopping only at the last detached house to look carefully around the corner into the alley and make certain that the mysterious pursuers had outpaced him once more. There already were several of the huge figures, and now they were a little easier to see: the layer of clouds that had been covering the moon had thinned out a little.
And as before, the creatures stood there, not stirring, as if waiting until he appeared in the opening between the houses. And for all that, had he not deceived himself, taking stone or concrete stubs of collapsed structures for living
beings? His acute senses were able to stand him in good stead down below, in the metro. On the surface lay a deceptive world, unknown to him, and here everything was different and life went on with different rules. He was no longer justified in relying on his impressions and intuition.
Having tried to dart past a new alley as quickly and inconspicuously as possible, Artyom pressed himself against the wall of a house, waited a second and again looked around the corner. He gasped: the figures were moving, and in a surprising manner. Stretching still higher and raising its head as if sniffing the air, one of them unexpectedly dropped onto all fours and disappeared around the corner in one long bound. The rest followed it several seconds later. Artyom moved back, hid and, sitting onto the ground, caught his breath.
There were no more doubts - they were pursuing him. It was as if the creatures were leading him, moving along parallel streets. They were biding their time until he passed a new opening. They would appear in an alley to make certain that he had not deviated from his route and they continued their silent shadowing of him. Why? Choosing a suitable moment for an attack? Simply out of curiosity? Why hadn’t they made up their minds to come out to the avenue, preferring to hide in the gloomy shadows? He again recalled Melnik’s words which forbade him to turn away from the straight road. Was it because they were laying in wait for him there and Melnik knew about this danger?
In order to calm down, Artyom replaced the clip in his machine gun, pulled back the bolt, and turned the laser gunsight on and off. He was well armed and, in contrast to the library, was able to shoot here without any dangers; it would be easier to defend himself. Taking a deep breath, he got to his feet. The stalker had forbidden him to stop and waste time. He had to hurry. It seemed that here, on the surface, one always had to hurry.
Passing another block, Artyom slowed his pace in order to look around. The street here had got wider, forming something like a square, part of which, cut off from the road by a fence, had been converted into a park. In any case, it looked as if there had been a park there at some time: trees still stood in places, but they were not at all the trees Artyom had happened to see in postcards and photographs. Thick, gnarled trunks carried spreading crowns to a height of a five-storey building which stood to the rear of the park. Most likely, the stalkers went to such parks for the firewood that heated and lit the whole metro. Strange shadows flickered in the spaces between the trunks and, somewhere in the distance, a faint fire flickered. Artyom would have taken it for the flame of a bonfire if it were not for its yellowish color. The building itself also looked sinister: it created the impression that it had been the arena of brutal and bloody clashes more than once. Its upper floors had collapsed and in many places bullet holes showed black. In places only two walls remained intact, and the dim night sky was visible through empty windows.
The buildings parted beyond the square and a broad boulevard intersected the street. Above him, appearing out of the darkness, like watch towers, rose the first high-rise buildings of New Arbat. Judging by the map, entry to Arbatskaya should have been located nearby, to his left. Artyom again looked at the gloomy park. Melnik had been right: one didn’t want to delve deeply into this labyrinth while trying to find a descent into the metro within it. The longer he stared at the black bushes scattered next to the base of the ruined structure, the greater it seemed to him that he saw those most mysterious figures that had been following him earlier moving among the roots of the giant trees.
A swooping puff of wind shook the heavy branches, and the crowns creaked under the strain. The wind carried some drawn-out wail from afar. The thicket itself was quiet, but not because it was dead. Its silence was akin to the hush of Artyom’s mysterious pursuers and it seemed it too was waiting for something.
Artyom was overtaken by the feeling that if he stopped here, examining the park’s innermost depths, he could not escape retribution. He better gripped his machine gun, looked around to see if the creatures had approached, and moved forward.
But only several seconds later he stopped again, when he was crossing the boulevards in front of the start of Kalininskiy Prospekt. Such a view was revealed here that Artyom simply was unable to force himself to go further.
He was standing at an X-shaped intersection of wide roads, along which vehicles must have driven at one time. The junction had been constructed in an unusual way. Part of the asphalt road went into a tunnel and then emerged at the surface again. On the right, boulevards went into the distance. It was possible to recognize them by a black line of trees, just as huge as those past which he had just made his way. A large, square, covered with asphalt was seen on the left - a complex tangle of numerous paths, beyond which the brush began again. Now it was possible to see further, and Artyom asked himself whether the rising of the frightful sun was already nearing.
The roads were strewn with deformed and burnt carcasses of automobiles. Nothing else was left here: in two decades of trips to the surface, stalkers had succeeded in getting hold of everything they possibly could. Gasoline from fuel tanks, batteries and generators, headlights and traffic signals, seats torn out with flesh still on them - it had even been possible to find all this at VDNKh, and at any huge market in the metro. The asphalt had been dug out, and craters and wide cracks could be seen everywhere. Grass and soft stems poked through, bending beneath the weight of their crowning balls filled, apparently, with seeds. The murky gorge of New Arbat came into view directly ahead of Artyom. On one side, formed, for some unknown reason, of undamaged houses, resembling open books in layout, and on the other of partly collapsed high-rise buildings, about twenty storeys high. The road to the Library and the Kremlin remained behind Artyom.
He was standing in the middle of this majestic cemetery of civilization and felt like an archaeologist, uncovering an ancient city, the remnants of a bygone power and beauties of which even many centuries later forced those seeing it to experience the chill of awe. He tried to imagine how the people who populated these gigantic buildings, who moved in these vehicles, then still sparkling with fresh paint and rustling softly along the smooth road surface warmed with the rubber of wheels and who descended into the metro only to get from one point of this boundless city to another more quickly had lived. It was impossible. What had they thought about every day? What had bothered them? Just what can bother people if they don’t have to be concerned about their lives every second and constantly fight for it, trying to extend it at least for a day?
At this moment the clouds finally dissipated and a piece of the yellowish disc of the moon was seen, striated with strange drawings. The bright light that fell through the hole in the clouds inundated the dead city, intensifying its gloomy magnificence a hundredfold. The houses and trees, until now looking like only flat and disembodied silhouettes, had returned to life and acquired dimension.
Unable to move from the place, Artyom looked, spellbound, from side to side, trying to suppress the chill that had overtaken him. Only now did he begin to understand the anguish which he had heard in the voices of the old men recalling the past, who had returned in their imagination to the city in which they previously had lived. Only now did he start to sense how far man now was from his former achievements and conquests. Like a proudly soaring bird, mortally wounded and dropping to the ground in order to hide in a crevice and, having concealed itself there, dies quietly. He recalled an argument of his stepfather and Hunter he had overheard. Will man be able to survive, and even if he can, will he be that same man who had conquered the world and confidently ruled it? Now, when Artyom himself was able to evaluate from what heights mankind had fallen into the precipice, his faith in a beautiful future evaporated once and for all.
The straight and broad Kalininskiy Prospekt moved away from him, gradually tapering, until it dissolved in the dark distance. Now Artyom was standing on the road completely alone, surrounded only by the ghosts and shadows of the past, trying to imagine just how many people once had filled the pavements day and night, how many cars had swe
pt past at fantastic speed in that same place where he was standing, how comfortably and warmly the now empty and black windows of the homes had glowed. Where had it all vanished? The world seemed more deserted and abandoned, but Artyom understood that it was an illusion: the earth had not been abandoned and lifeless, it had simply changed owners. Having thought about it, he turned back, toward the Library.
They were standing motionlessly only a hundred or so metres from it, as was he, in the middle of the road. There were no fewer than five of the creatures, and they no longer intended to hide in the alleys, although they also had not tried to attract his attention. Artyom couldn’t understand how they had managed to steal up on him so quickly and silently. These figures were especially distinct in the moonlight: powerful, with developed rear extremities and, perhaps, even taller than they had seemed to him at first. Though Artyom was unable to see their eyes at such a distance, he knew nonetheless that now they, biding their time, were examining him and sniffing the damp air, getting to know his scent. It must have been that the smell of gunpowder was known to them and had affixed itself to him and so the beasts still had not decided to attack, observing Artyom from a distance and searching for a sign of uncertainty or weakness in his behaviour. Perhaps they were just accompanying Artyom to the boundary of their domain and did not intend to inflict any harm on him? How could he know how creatures that appeared on the earth contrary to the laws of evolution would act?
Trying to maintain his self-control, Artyom swung round and with feigned nonchalance continued on, looking over his shoulder every ten paces. At first the creatures stayed put, but then his worst fears began to be realized. Getting down on all fours, they slowly plodded after him. But as soon as they were only a hundred metres from him, they again stopped fast. Although he’d become accustomed to his strange escort, Artyom was afraid to let it out of his sight and held his machine gun at the ready. They walked like this together, along the empty avenue, flooded with moonlight: a man, alert, wound up like a spring, stopping and looking back every half minute and, behind him, five or six strange creatures, leisurely keeping pace with him.