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Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 49


  Jumping onto the track, Artyom moved toward the dark void of the entrance. It’s dangerous without weapons, he thought. But there was nothing to lose, and he had to reconnoitre the situation. Had the dark ones suddenly been able to penetrate the defences? Then any hope lay with him. He had to find out the truth and report it to the southern allies.

  The darkness enveloped him just beyond the entrance and fear came with the darkness. He could see absolutely nothing visible ahead, but he could hear disgusting chomping sounds. He regretted once more his lack of a machine gun, but it was too late to retreat. Steps began to sound in the distance, and then came ever closer. It was as if they approached when Artyom was moving forward and stopped when he stopped. Something similar had happened to him, but when and how, he couldn’t recall. It was very frightening, approaching the unseen and unknown . . . An adversary? His trembling knees did not allow him to move quickly, and time was on the side of the terror. A cold sweat ran down his temples. He felt more ill at ease with every passing second. Finally, when the steps were only about three metres from him, Artyom could not hold back, and, stumbling, falling and lifting himself up, he raced back to the station. Falling a third time, his weakened legs refused to sustain him, and he understood that death was imminent.

  ‘. . . Everything on this earth is a consequence of the Great Worm. Once the whole world consisted of stone and there was nothing on it except stone. There was no air, and there was no water, there was no light and there was no fire. There was no man and there was no beast. There was only dead stone. And then the Great Worm made it his home.’

  ‘But how did the Great Worm get here? From where does he come? Who bore him?’

  ‘The Great Worm has always been. Don’t interrupt. He made a home for himself in the very centre of the world and said, “This world will be mine. It is made from hard stone, but I will gnaw my own passages in it. It is cold, but I will warm it with the heat of my body. It is dark, but I will light it with the light of my eyes. It is dead, but I will inhabit it with my creations.”

  ‘Who are the creations?’

  ‘The creations are the creatures the Great Worm issued from his womb. Both you and I, all of us, are his creations. There you have it. And then the Great Worm said, “Everything will be as I said, because this world henceforward is mine.” And he began to gnaw passages through the hard stone, and the stone softened in his belly, saliva and juice moistened it, and the stone became alive and began to bear the fungi. And the Great Worm having gnawed the stone, let it pass through himself, and he did it thus for thousands of years, until his passages went through all the earth.’

  ‘A thousand? What? One, two, three? How many? A thousand?’

  ‘You have ten fingers on your hands. And Sharap has ten fingers . . . No, Sharap has twelve . . . That won’t do. Let’s say Grom has ten fingers. If you take you, Grom and other people so that all together there were as many as you have fingers, they each of them all would have ten times ten each. This is a hundred. And a thousand, this is when it is ten times each 100.’

  ‘That’s a lot of fingers. I can’t count them.’

  ‘It’s not important. When the Great Worm’s paths appeared on the earth, his first work was finished. And then he said, “So, I have gnawed thousands and thousand of paths through the hard stone and the stone has been scattered into crumbs. And the grit has passed through my womb, and has become soaked with the juice of my life, and it has become alive. And earlier the stone had occupied all the space in the world, but now an empty place has appeared. Now there is a place for the children I shall bear.” And his first creations came forth from his womb, the names of whom they no longer remember. And they were big and strong, like the Great Worm himself. And the Great Worm loved them. But there was naught for them to drink, for in the world there was no water and they died of thirst. And then the Great Worm grieved. Grief was unknown to him before then, for there had been no one to love him, and he had not known solitude. But, having created new life, he had loved it, and it was difficult to part with it. And then the Great Worm began to cry, and his tears filled up the world. Thus water appeared. And he said, “See, now there is also a place so that one may live in it and water, so that one may drink it. And the earth, sated by the juice of my womb, is alive, and it bears fungi. Now I shall make some creatures, I shall bear my children. They will live in the paths that I have gnawed and drink of my tears and eat the fungi grown in the juice of my womb.” And he feared giving birth once more to huge creations like himself, for you see there was not enough space or water or fungi. At first he created the fleas, and then the rats, then the cats, and then the chickens, and then the dogs, and then hogs and then man. But it did not turn out as he had thought: the fleas began to drink blood, and the cats to eat rats, and the dogs to oppress cats, and man to kill them all and eat them. And when man for the first time killed and ate another man, the Great Worm understood that his children had become unworthy of him and he cried. And each time that man eats man, the Great Worm cries, and his tears flow through the passages and flood them. Man is good. The meat is tasty. Sweet. But one can eat only his enemies. I know.’

  Artyom clenched and unclenched the fingers on his hands. His hands were tied behind his back with a piece of wire and they had become numb, but at least they were responding again. Even the fact that his whole body ached was now a good sign. The paralysis from the poisoned needle had turned out to be temporary. The idiotic idea spun in his head that he, in contrast to the unknown storyteller, had no memory of how chickens had got into the metro. No doubt, some merchants had succeeded in bringing them from some market somewhere. They had brought swine from one of the VDNKh pavilions, he knew, but chickens . . . He tried to see what was next to him, but around him was absolute, inky darkness. However, someone was not too far away. It had already been half an hour since Artyom had come to. Gradually he was becoming aware of where he was.

  ‘He is stirring, I can hear it,’ a hoarse voice said. ‘I’ll call the commander. The commander will do the interrogation.’ Something had moved, then stopped. Artyom tried to stretch his legs. They too turned out to be bound with wire. He tried to roll over onto his other side and hit something soft. A long, drawn-out moan, full of pain, was heard.

  ‘Anton! Is that you?’ Artyom whispered. There was no answer.

  ‘Aha . . . The Great Worm’s enemies have come to . . .’ someone said derisively in the darkness.

  ‘It would have been better had you not come to.’ It was that same broken, sage voice that had been relating the story about the Great Worm and the creation of life for the past half hour. It immediately became clear that his keeper differed from the other inhabitants of the station: instead of primitive, chopped phrases, he had been speaking properly, somewhat pompously, and even the timbre of his voice was completely human, unlike that of the others.

  ‘Who are you? Release us!’ Artyom wheezed, moving his tongue with difficulty.

  ‘Yes, yes. That’s just what they all say. No, unfortunately, wherever you were headed, your travels are over. They are going to torture and grill you. And what will you do?’ the voice answered from the darkness with indifference.

  ‘Are you . . . also imprisoned?’ Artyom asked.

  ‘We all are in prison. They are releasing you this very day.’ His unseen companion giggled.

  Anton groaned again and began to stir. He mumbled something unintelligible, but had not yet regained consciousness.

  ‘Why are we are sitting together in the darkness like cave-dwellers? ’

  A lighter was struck and the spot of flame lit the face of the speaker: he had a long grey beard, dirty, matted hair and dull, mocking eyes lost in a network of wrinkles. He could be no less than sixty. He was sitting on a chair along the other side of the iron bars that broke the room in two. There was something like it at VDNKh, too. It had a strange name: the ‘monkey house’. Artyom had seen monkeys only in biology textbooks and children’s books. In any event, the facility was us
ed as a prison.

  ‘There’s no way I can get used to the damned darkness, I have to use this trash,’ the old man lamented, covering his eyes. ‘Well, why have you come here? Aren’t there enough places on that side or something?’

  ‘Listen,’ Artyom didn’t allow him to finish speaking. ‘You are free . . . You can let us out! Before these cannibals return! You’re a normal man . . .’

  ‘Of course I can,’ he answered, ‘but of course, I will not. We make no deals with the enemies of the Great Worm.’

  ‘What the hell is the Great Worm? And what are you talking about? I’ve never even heard of it, so I can’t be its enemy . . .’

  ‘It’s not important whether you have heard of him or not. You came from that side, from where his enemies live, and that means you must be spies.’ The derisive rasping in the old man’s voice had changed to a steely clacking. ‘You have firearms and flashlights! Damned mechanical toys! Machines for killing! What more evidence do you need to understand that you, the infidels, that you are the enemies of life, the enemies of the Great Worm?’ He jumped up from his chair and approached the bars. ‘It is you and those, who like you, are guilty of everything!’ The old man put out the overheated lighter, and in the encroaching darkness he was heard blowing on his burning fingers. Then a new voice called out. This one hissed and chilled the blood. Artyom grew frightened. He remembered Tretyak, killed by a poisoned needle.

  ‘Please!’ he began to whisper fervently. ‘Before it’s not too late! Why are you doing this?’

  The old man said nothing and a minute later the place was filled with sounds: slaps of unshod feet on concrete, hoarse breathing, the whistling of air drawn through nostrils. Although Artyom didn’t see any of those entering, he felt that all of them were studying him closely, looking, sniffing, listening to how loudly Artyom’s heart beat in his chest.

  ‘The fire people. He smells like smoke, he smells like fear. One is the smell of the station from that side. The other is foreign. One, the other, they are enemies,’ someone hissed at last.

  ‘Let Vartan do it,’ another voice ordered.

  ‘Light the fire,’ someone commanded.

  The lighter was struck once more. In the room, besides the old man in whose hand the flame fluttered, stood three shaved savages, shading their eyes with their hands. Artyom already had seen one of them, the thickset and bearded one. The other also seemed strangely familiar to him. Looking Artyom directly in the eyes, he took a step forward and stopped at the bars. The smell from him wasn’t like from the rest: Artyom detected a faint stench of decomposed flesh emanating from this man. They couldn’t stop staring at him. Artyom winced: he understood where he had seen this face earlier. It was the creature who had attacked him in the night at Kievskaya. A strange feeling seized Artyom. It was similar to the paralysis, only this time his mind was affected. His thoughts stood still, and he obediently opened his consciousness to the silent probing.

  ‘Through a hatch . . . The hatch had remained open . . . They had come for the boy. For Anton’s son. They stole him in the night. I am guilty of it all, I allowed him to listen to your music, through the pipe . . . I climbed into the handcar. We didn’t tell anyone else. We arrived together. We didn’t close it . . .’ Artyom answered the questions that arose in his head. It was impossible to resist or conceal anything from the soundless voice demanding the answers from him. Artyom’s interrogator knew in a minute everything that was of interest. He nodded and stepped back. The fire was extinguished. Slowly, like feeling returning to a numbed hand, Artyom regained control.

  ‘Vovan, Kulak! Return to the tunnel, to the passage. Close the door,’ one of the voices ordered. Most likely it belonged to the bearded commander. ‘The enemies are to remain here. Dron will guard the enemies. There is a holiday tomorrow, the people will eat the enemies, they will honour the Great Worm.’

  ‘What have you done with Oleg? What have you done with the child?’ Artyom began wheezing after them.

  The door thudded hollowly.

  CHAPTER 17

  The Children of the Worm

  Several minutes passed in total darkness, and Artyom, having deciding that they had left them alone, began to pull himself up, trying at least to sit. His tightly tied legs and hands were numb and sore. Artyom recalled the words of his stepfather explaining to him once that even leaving a bandage or tourniquet on too long, could kill the skin. Although, it seemed to him that it didn’t matter now.

  ‘Enemy, lay quietly!’ A voice rang out. ‘Dron will spit a paralysing needle!’

  ‘It’s not necessary.’ Artyom froze obediently. ‘You don’t have to shoot.’ He had a glimmer of hope. Perhaps he could convince his jailer to help him get out. But how can you talk to a savage who barely understands you?

  ‘And who is this Great Worm?’ He asked the first thing that came to his head.

  ‘The Great Worm makes the earth. He makes the world, he makes man. The Great Worm is everything. The Great Worm is life. The enemies of the Great Worm, the people of the machines are death.’

  ‘I have never heard of him,’ Artyom said, choosing his words carefully. ‘Where does he live?’

  ‘The Great Worm lives here. Next to us. Around us. The Great Worm digs all the passages. Then man said he does it. No. The Great Worm. He gives life, he takes life. He digs new passages, the people live in them. Good people honour the Great Worm. Enemies of the Great Worm want to kill him. That is what say the priests.’

  ‘Who are those priests?’

  ‘Old people, with hair on their head. Only they can. They know, they listen to the desires of the Great Worm and they tell the people. Good people do it thus. Bad people do not obey. Bad people are enemies, the good eat them.’

  Recalling the overheard conversation, Artyom began gradually to comprehend what was what. The old man relating the legend of the Worm was, probably, one of those priests.

  ‘The priest says: it is forbidden to eat people. He says the Great Worm will cry when one man eats another,’ Artyom reminded him, trying to express his thoughts exactly as the savage would.

  ‘It is against the will of the Great Worm to eat people. If we stay here, they will eat us. The Great Worm will be sad, he will cry,’ he added carefully.

  ‘Of course the Great Worm will cry,’ a derisive voice was heard from the darkness. ‘But emotions are emotions, and you will not replace a protein food in a ration with anything.’

  It was that same old man speaking. Artyom recognized his timbre and intonation. Only he didn’t know if he had been in the room all the time or had just stolen in unnoticed. I didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to get out of the cell now. Then another thought entered Artyom’s head, and it chilled him. How lucky that Anton had not come round yet and wasn’t hearing this.

  ‘And the child? The children that you steal? Do you eat them, too? The boy? Oleg?’ he asked almost soundlessly, staring into the darkness with eyes open wide from fear.

  ‘We do not eat little ones,’ the savage replied, although Artyom thought the old man was answering. ‘Little ones cannot be evil. They cannot be enemies. We take little ones in order to explain how to live. We talk about the Great Worm. We teach them to honour him.’

  ‘Good boy, Dron,’ the priest said. ‘Favourite student,’ he explained.

  ‘What happened to the boy you stole last night? Where is he? It was your monster who dragged him away, I know,’ Artyom said.

  ‘Monster? And just who brought forth these monsters?!’ the old man exploded. ‘Who brought forth these mute, three-eyed, armless, six-fingered things who die during birth and are unable to reproduce? Who deprived them of human appearance, promised them paradise and flung them to die in the blind gut of this cursed city? Who is to blame for this and who is the real monster?’

  Artyom was silent. The old man said no more and only breathed heavily, trying to calm down. And Anton finally came to.

  ‘Where is he?’ he said in a hoarse voice. ‘Where is my son? Where is my son
? Give me my son!’ He began to scream and, trying to get free, began to roll about the floor, hitting the bars of the cage, then the wall.

  ‘Violent,’ the old man remarked in his former derisive tone. ‘Dron, calm him.’

  A strange sound was heard, as if someone had coughed. Something whistled through the air, and Anton was calm again after several seconds.

  ‘Very instructive,’ the priest said. ‘I will go and bring the boy, let him see his papa and say goodbye. A good laddie, by the way, his pop can be proud of him, he resists hypnosis so well . . .’

  He began to shuffle along the floor, and then the door creaked.

  ‘No need to fear,’ the jailer softly said unexpectedly. ‘Good people do not kill, they do not eat the children of enemies. Little ones do not sin. It is possible to learn to live well. The Great Worm forgives

  young enemies.’

  ‘My God, just what is this Great Worm? This is completely absurd! Worse than non-believers and Satanists! How can you believe in him? Has anyone ever seen him, your Worm? Have you seen him or something?’ Artyom tried for sarcasm, but lying on the floor with his arms and legs tied didn’t make it easy. Just as when he had been waiting in prison to be hanged, he became indifferent to his own fate. He put his head on the cold floor and closed his eyes, expecting an answer.

  ‘It is forbidden to look at the Great Worm. Banned!’ the savage snapped.

  ‘And such a thing cannot be,’ Artyom replied reluctantly. ‘There is no Worm . . . And people made the tunnels. They all are shown on maps . . . There is even a round one, where Hansa is, and only people can build round ones. I don’t suppose you even know what a map is . . .’

  ‘I know,’ Dron said quietly. ‘I study with the priest, he shows us. There are not many passages on the map. The Great Worm has been making new passages, and they aren’t on the map. Even here, our home, there are new passages - sacred ones, and they are not on the map. The people of the machines make the maps, they think they dig the passages. Stupid, proud. They don’t know anything. The Great Worm punishes them for this.’