Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 47

  ‘Are you trying to upset me? What am I supposed to think? The child left home several hours ago! Why am I supposed to think about everyone? You’re like a child yourself, you couldn’t bring him home!’ she cried.

  ‘Len, please, not in front of people,’ Anton muttered, looking round in embarrassment. ‘I just couldn’t leave the watch. Think about what you are saying, an outpost commander and suddenly he leaves his post . . .’

  ‘A commander! Go ahead and command! As if you don’t know what is going on here! Over there, a neighbour’s youngster disappeared a week ago . . .’

  Melnik and Tretyak quickened the pace and didn’t even stop to say goodbye to Anton, leaving him and his wife in private. Artyom hurried after them. For a long time after, although one could no longer make out the words, the weeping and reproaches of Anton’s wife reached them.

  All three were heading to the office facilities, where the station’s chief of staff was located. After several minutes they already were seated in the room with the hanging threadbare carpets. The chief himself, having nodded knowingly, left when the stalker asked to leave them alone.

  ‘It seems you don’t have a passport?’ Melnik remarked, turning towards Artyom.

  He shook his head. The document had been confiscated by the fascists and, without it, he had been turned into a social outcast.

  Hansa, the Red Line and Polis would not accept him. While the stalker was beside him, no one asked personal questions of Artyom, but, having found himself alone, he would have to wander between the cast-off flag stations and the uncivilized stations, such as Kievskaya. And he couldn’t even dream of returning to VDNKh.

  ‘I won’t be able to take you to Hansa without a passport. I’ll have to find the necessary people for it first,’ Melnik said, as if confirming his thoughts. ‘It may be possible to obtain a new one, but of course this will take time. The shortest route to Mayakovskaya is along the Ring, like it or not. What do we do?’

  Artyom shrugged his shoulders. He was inclined to agree with the stalker. It was impossible to wait, and he also wasn’t able to get around Hansa to Mayakovskaya himself. The tunnel that adjoined it from the other side came straight from Tverskaya. To return to the lair of the fascists, let alone to the station that had been transformed into a dungeon, would be folly. A dead end.

  ‘It will be better if Tretyak and I go together now to Mayakovskaya, ’ Melnik said. ‘We’ll look for an entrance to D-6. We will find it, return for you, and perhaps something will come up about a passport. If we don’t find an entrance, we’ll come back anyway. You won’t have to wait for us long. We can get there quickly. We’ll get it done in a day. Will you wait?’ He looked at Artyom quizzically.

  Artyom shrugged his shoulders again. He felt that they were treating him like a child. He’d served his purpose and told them about the danger and now they didn’t want him under their feet.

  ‘Excellent,’ the stalker said. ‘Expect us us towards morning. And we’ll travel straight here so as not to lose any time. As regards food and lodging, we will discuss it all with Arkadiy Semyonovich. He won’t hurt you. It seems that’s it . . . No, it’s not all.’ He felt in a pocket and withdrew from there that same bloodstained sheet of paper on which was the layout and keys. ‘Take it, I copied it for myself. Who knows how things will turn out. Only don’t show it to anyone . . .’

  Melnik and Tretyak left in less than an hour later, having spoken beforehand with the station chief. The punctual Arkadiy Semyonovich immediately took Artyom to his tent and, inviting him to have dinner with him in the evening, left to rest.

  The tent for guests stood a little out of the way and although it also was maintained in fine condition, Artyom felt very uncomfortable in it from the very outset. He glanced outside and again was convinced that the rest of the quarters were crowded together, and all of them were located as far as possible from the entrances to the tunnels. Now that the stalker had gone and Artyom was alone in the unfamiliar station, the sensation of unease that he had experienced earlier returned. It had been scary at Kievskaya in just the same way, simply frightening, without any obvious cause. It was already getting late. The voices of the children were dying away, and the adults only rarely left their tents. Artyom did not want to stroll around the platform at all. Having read through the letter from the dying Daniel a third time, Artyom couldn’t stand it and left for dinner with Arkadiy Semyonovich half an hour earlier than the agreed time.

  The office facility’s anteroom now had been converted into a kitchen, and an attractive girl, a little older than Artyom, was working there. Meat and some kind of root vegetables were stewing in a large frying pan, and boiling next to them were some of the white tubers which he’d eaten at Anton’s. The station chief himself sat next to a stool and paged through a tattered booklet, on the cover of which was painted a picture of a revolver and women’s legs in black stockings. Seeing Artyom, Arkadiy Semyonovich laid the book aside with embarrassment.

  ‘It’s boring for us here, of course.’ He smiled knowingly at the youth. ‘Come with me into the office. Katerina will lay the table for us there. And we’ll drink for a while.’ He winked. Now the room with the carpets and skull looked completely different: lit by a table lamp with a green cloth lampshade, it had become a little more comfortable. The tension which had haunted Artyom on the platform, dissipated without a trace in the rays of this lamp. Arkadiy Semyonovich drew a small bottle from the cupboard and poured a brown liquid with a head-reeling aroma into an unusual round-bellied glass. Only a little came out, a finger’s worth, and Artyom thought that this bottle must have cost more than a whole box of the home-brew he had tried at Kitai Gorod.

  ‘A little cognac.’ Arkadiy Semyonovich responded to his curious look. ‘Armenian, of course, but it’s almost thirty years old. Bottoms up.’ The chief dreamily looked up at the ceiling. ‘Don’t be afraid, it’s not contaminated, I checked it myself with the dosimeter.’

  The unfamiliar drink was very strong, but the pleasant flavour and sharp aroma made it palatable. Artyom didn’t swallow it all at once, but tried to savour it, following the example of his host. A fire was slowly breaking out inside him, it seemed, but it gradually cooled and turned into an acceptably comforting heat. The room had become even more agreeable, and Arkadiy Semyonovich even more likeable.

  ‘A surprising thing,’ screwing up his eyes in satisfaction, Artyom commented.

  ‘It’s good, right? About a year and a half ago the stalkers found completely untouched groceries at Krasnopresenskaya,’ the station chief explained, ‘in a cellar, as they often had done previously. The sign had fallen off and no one had noticed it. But one of us recalled that earlier, before it had crashed, sometimes he had looked in there, so he decided to check it. It had been there so many years it had became better. Because we knew each other, he gave me two bottles for a hundred bullets. They ask two hundred for one at Kitai Gorod.’

  He took one more small swallow, then thoughtfully looked at the lamp’s light through the cognac.

  ‘They called him Vasya, this stalker,’ the chief informed him. ‘He was a good man. Not some kind of kid who runs after nothing, but a serious young man. He fetched all the good things. As soon as he returned from above, he came to me first. Well, he says, Semyonych, some new supplies.’ Arkadiy Semyonovich smiled weakly.

  ‘Did something happen to him?’ Artyom asked.

  ‘He loved Krasnopresenskaya very much He repeated all the time that it was a real El Dorado there,’ Arkadiy Semyonovich said sadly. ‘Nothing touched in one Stalinist high-rise . . . It’s understandable why it was there all safe and sound . . . The zoo was right across the road. Just who would poke their head in there, at Krasnopresenskaya? Such fear . . . He was desperate, Vasyatka, he was always taking risks. And he got into a mess at the end. They dragged him into the zoo, and his partner barely managed to bolt. So, let’s drink to him.’ The chief breathed heavily and poured one more for each of them.

  Recalling the unusually
high price of the cognac, Artyom was on the verge of protesting, but Arkadiy Semyonovich decisively placed the round-bellied glass into his hand, explaining that a refusal would insult the memory of the reckless stalker who had obtained this divine drink.

  By that time, the girl had set the table and Artyom and Arkadiy Semyonovich moved on to ordinary, but decent, moonshine. The meat had been prepared delightfully.

  ‘It’s unpleasant for you at the station.’ After an hour and a half Artyom was frank. ‘It’s scary here, something is oppressive . . .’

  ‘We’re used to it.’ Arkadiy Semyonovich vaguely shook his head. ‘And people live here. It’s no worse than at some . . .’

  ‘No, don’t think that I don’t understand.’ Having decided that the Kievskaya chief had taken offence, Artyom hastened to calm him. ‘You, certainly, are doing all that is possible . . . But there is something going on here. Everyone talks about just one thing: that people are disappearing.’

  ‘They lie!’ Arkadiy Semyonovich cut him off. But then he added, ‘Not all are disappearing. Only the children.’

  ‘Are the dead taking them?’

  ‘Who knows who is taking them? I myself don’t believe in the dead. I have seen dead in my lifetime, make no mistake. They don’t take anyone anywhere. They themselves lie quietly. But there, beyond the blockage,’ Arkadiy Semyonovich waved a hand in the direction of Park Pobedy and nearly lost his balance, ‘is someone. That’s definite. And it is impossible for us to go there.’

  ‘Why?’ Artyom tried to focus on his glass, but it had been growing fuzzier the whole time and seemed to creep away somewhere.

  ‘Wait a little, I’ll show you . . .’

  The station chief moved away from the table with a crash, got up with difficulty and, rocking, went to the cupboard. Digging around on one of the shelves, he carefully lifted into the light a long metal needle with a barb by the thick end.

  ‘What’s that?’ Artyom frowned.

  ‘That’s what I would like to know . . .’

  ‘Where did you get it?’

  ‘From the neck of a lookout who was guarding the right tunnel. Hardly any blood came out, but he lay there all blue, and foaming at the mouth.’

  ‘Did they come from Park Pobedy?’ Artyom was guessing.

  ‘Damned if anyone knows,’ mumbled Arkadiy Semyonovich and at the same time he upset their glasses. ‘Only,’ he added, putting the needle back into the cupboard, ‘don’t tell anyone.’

  ‘But why haven’t you told anyone yourself? They’ll help you and people will settle down.’

  ‘Well, no one would settle down, everyone would run away, like rats! They’re already running now . . . Not to defend themselves from anyone here, there is no enemy. He isn’t visible, and that’s why it’s frightening. So, I show them this needle, and what? Do you think everything will settle? That’s ridiculous! Everyone will disappear, the bastards, and leave me here alone! And what kind of a station chief will I be without people? A captain without a ship!’ He had raised his voice, but he let out a squeak and was silent.

  ‘Arkasha, Arkasha, you don’t have to be like that, everything’s OK . . .’ The girl sat down, startled, beside him, and stroked his head. Artyom sadly understood through the alcoholic fog that she wasn’t the chief’s daughter.

  ‘All of them, the sons of bitches, will run! Like rats from a ship! I’ll be alone! But we won’t give in!’ He hadn’t calmed down.

  Artyom stood up with difficulty and unsteadily walked toward the exit. The guard at the door quizzically snapped his fingers in his face, nodding at Arkadiy Semyonovich’s office.

  ‘Dead drunk,’ Artyom muttered. ‘It’s better not to touch him until tomorrow.’ And, rocking slightly, he plodded towards his tent.

  He had to find the way. He tried a few times to get into someone else’s quarters, but crude male curses and piercing female squeals told him that he had gone into the wrong tent. The moonshine had turned out to be more potent than cheap home-brew, and he had started to feel its full strength only now. The arches and columns floated before his eyes and, to top it off, he was beginning to feel sick.

  At a normal hour, perhaps, someone would have helped Artyom reach the guest tent, but now the station seemed completely empty. Even the posts at the exits from the tunnels were likely to have been abandoned.

  Three or four dim lamps remained lit in the whole station, and, apart from those, the whole platform had been plunged into darkness. When Artyom stopped and looked around more attentively, it began to appear to him that the gloom had been filled by something and it was stirring quietly. Not believing his eyes, he plodded in the direction of one especially suspicious place with the curiosity and bravery of a drunk. Not far from the transfer to the Filevskaya line, at one of the arches, the movements of blobs of darkness were not gradual, as in other corners, but sharp and almost deliberate.

  ‘Hey! Who’s there?’ Having approached to a distance of about fifteen steps, he cried out.

  No one answered, but it seemed to him that an elongated shadow was oozing out of a particularly dark spot. It almost merged with the gloom. However, Artyom was certain that someone was looking at him from the darkness. He was shaking but kept his balance and took another step.

  The shadow abruptly decreased in size, as if it had shrunk, and slipped away. A sudden, sickening smell struck his nostrils and Artyom recoiled. What did it smell like? A picture of something he had seen in the tunnel on the approaches to the Fourth Reich arose in front of his eyes: bodies heaped on each other with hands tied behind their backs. The smell of decomposition?

  At that very moment with a hellish speed, like an arrow flying from a crossbow, the shadow dashed towards him. A pallid face covered with strange spots, with deeply sunken eyes, appeared in front of his eyes for a second.

  ‘The dead!’ wheezed Artyom.

  Then his head split into thousands of parts, the ceiling began to dance and turn over, and everything was fading away. Emerging and submerging into a feeble quiet, some kind of voices could be heard, some kind of visions flashed up then disappeared.

  ‘Mama won’t let me, she’ll be upset,’ the child said from not far away. ‘It was really impossible today, she cried all evening. No, I am not afraid, you are not frightful, and you sing beautifully. I just don’t want Mama to cry again. Don’t feel hurt! Well, for a short while maybe . . . Will we return before morning?’

  ‘. . . Time’s a-wasting. Time’s a-wasting,’ a low male voice repeated.

  ‘We don’t have all day. They’re close enough already. Get up. Don’t lie there. Get up! If you lose hope, if you flinch or give up, others will quickly take your place. I’m continuing the struggle. You should, too. Get up! You don’t understand . . .’

  ‘Who is it again? To the chief? As a guest? Well, of course, I’ll bring one! Go ahead, you help too . . . Shake a leg, at least. Severe . . . Don’t you care what he has there jingling in his pockets. Well, OK, I’m joking. That’s all. We’ve gone as far as we can. And I won’t, I won’t. I’m leaving . . .’

  The tent’s flap was dramatically moved aside, and the beam of a flashlight struck him in the face.

  ‘Are you Artyom?’ He could barely make out the face, but the voice sounded young. Artyom jumped up from the cot, but his head suddenly began to spin, and he felt ill. A dull pain throbbed in the back of his head and each time he touched it, it felt like fire. His hair was matted there, most likely from dried blood. What had happened to him?

  ‘May I come in?’ the arrival asked and, not waiting for permission, stepped into the tent, closing the flap behind him. He shoved a tiny metallic object into Artyom’s hand. Having finally turned on his own flashlight, Artyom looked at it. It was a cartridge converted to a screw-on capsule, exactly the same as the one Hunter had presented to him. Not believing his own eyes, Artyom tried to open the top, but it slipped. His hands were sweating from the excitement. Finally a tiny piece of paper fell into the light. Was it really a missive from Hunter?
‘Unforeseen complications. The exit to D-6 has been blocked. Tretyak has been killed. Wait for me, don’t go anywhere. We need time to get organized. I will try to return as soon as possible. Melnik.’ Artyom re-read the note yet again, to analyse its contents. Tretyak has been killed? The exit to Metro-2 is blocked? But then this meant that all their plans and all their hopes had turned to dust and ashes! He looked at the envoy in a befuddled manner.

  ‘Melnik has ordered you to stay here and wait for him,’ the visitor confirmed.

  ‘Tretyak is dead. They killed him. With a poisoned needle, Melnik said. We don’t know who did it. Now he’ll be leading a mobilization effort. That’s it, I have to run. Will there be an answer?’ Artyom thought a little about what he could write to the stalker. What can I do? What is there to hope for now? Maybe drop everything and return to VDNKh to be with those near and dear in the last minutes? He shook his head. The envoy turned around in silence and exited. Artyom dropped to the cot and began to meditate. There was simply nowhere for him to go right now. He was neither able to go to the Ring nor return to Smolenskaya without a passport and without an escort. His only hope was that Arkadiy Semyonovich would be just as hospitable in the coming days as he had been the day before.

  It was ‘day’ at Kievskaya. The lamp burnt twice as brightly, and alongside the office facilities, where the station chief’s apartment was located, another mercury lamp gave off the light of day. Wincing from the pain in his head, Artyom plodded to the chief’s office. A guard stopped him at the entrance with a gesture. Noise came from within. Several men were conversing in raised voices. ‘He’s busy,’ the guard explained. ‘Wait if you’d like.’

  Several minutes later Anton flew from the room like a shot. The office boss ran out right on his heels. Although his hair was perfectly combed once more, he had bags beneath his eyes, and his face was noticeably swollen and covered with silver stubble.

  ‘But what can I do? What?’ the chief cried, chasing after Anton, and then, spitting, smacked himself with his hand on the forehead. ‘Are you up?’ Having noticed Artyom, he smiled wryly.