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Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 52


  ‘Missiles,’ Melnik at once became business-like. ‘The missile unit just outside Moscow. An exit from the tunnel by Mayakovskaya. You must remember what I’m talking about. We have to get there right away, and it would be better for you to help.’

  ‘Missiles . . .’ the old man repeated slowly, as if testing the flavour the word.

  ‘Missiles . . . You, probably, are about fifty years old, right? You still remember. They named the SS-18 “Satan” in the West. It was the only insight of a blind-from-birth human civilization.’

  ‘Are you really so great?! You have destroyed the whole world. Are you really so great?’

  ‘Listen, Your Eminence, we don’t have time for this.’ Melnik cut him off. ‘I am giving you five minutes.’ His fingers cracked as he stretched out his hands.

  The old man made a face. It was as if neither the combat dress of the stalker and his fighters, nor the poorly concealed threat in Melnik’s voice had the slightest impact on him.

  ‘And what, what can you do to me?’ he smiled. ‘Torture me? Kill me? Go ahead, I’m already old, and in our faith there are not enough martyrs. So just kill me, like you killed hundreds of millions of other people! As you killed my whole world! Our whole world! Go ahead, squeeze the trigger of your damned machine, as you pressed the triggers and buttons of dozens of thousands of different lethal devices!’ The old man’s voice, at first weak and hoarse, quickly turned steely. Despite his matted grey hair, tied hands and short stature, he no longer looked pathetic: a strange force emanated from him, his every new word sounded more convincing and menacing than the last. ‘You don’t have to smother me with your hands, you don’t even have to see my agony . . . You and all your machines will be damned! You have devalued both life and death . . . Do you consider me a madman? But the true madmen are you, your fathers and your children! Wasn’t it really a perilous madness to try to subjugate the whole earth to yourselves, throw a bridle on nature and cause it to cramp and convulse? Where were you when the world was destroyed? Did you see how it was? Did you see what I saw? The sky, at first melting, and then engulfed with lifeless clouds? Boiling rivers and seas, expelling onto the shores creatures boiled alive, and then converted into frozen custard? The sun, disappearing from the sky, not to reappear for years? Homes turned to dust in a split second, and the people living in them turned to ashes? Did you hear their cries for help?! And those who died from epidemics and maimed by radiation? Did you hear their curses?! Look at him!’ He pointed at Dron. ‘Look at all those without arms, without eyes, with six fingers! Even those who have obtained new capabilities!’

  The savage fell to his knees and seized on every word of his priest with awe. And Artyom himself felt something similar. Even the other soldiers unwillingly took a step back. Only Melnik continued, screwing up his eyes, to look the old man in the eyes.

  ‘Have you seen the death of this world?’ the priest continued. ‘Do you understand who is to blame for it? Who converted boundless green forests into scorched deserts? What did you do with this world? With my world? Earth has not known a greater evil than your damned mechanized civilization. Your civilization is a cancerous tumour, it is a huge amoeba, greedily soaking up everything is useful and nourishing and belching out only fetid, poison wastes. And now you once more need missiles! You need the most frightful weapons created by a civilization of criminals! Why? In order to complete what you started? Murderers! I hate you, hate you all!’ he yelled in a rage, then had a coughing fit and fell silent. No one breathed a word until he stopped coughing and continued, ‘But your time is coming to an end . . . And even if I do not survive until then, others will come to replace me, those will come who understand the perniciousness of technology, those who will be able to manage without it! Your numbers are dwindling and you will not be here much longer. It’s sad that I will not see your agony! But we are nurturing sons who will! Man will repent that he destroyed everything of value to him in his arrogance! After centuries of deception and illusions, he finally will learn to distinguish between evil and good, between the truth and a lie! We are cultivating those who will populate the earth after you. And so that your agony is not dragged out, we soon will drive the dagger of mercy into your very heart! Into the flabby heart of your rotted civilization . . . That day is near!’

  He spat at Melnik’s feet.

  The stalker didn’t respond right away. He gave the old man, trembling in his rage, the once over. Then, folding his arms across his chest, asked with interest, ‘And what? You conceived some kind of worm and made up a tale just to inspire your cannibals to hate technology and progress?’

  ‘Shut up! What do you know of my hatred of your damned, of your diabolical technology! What do you understand about people, and of their hopes and goals and needs? If the old gods allowed man to go to hell and died themselves along with their world, it makes no sense to revive them . . . In your words I hear the bloody arrogance, the contempt, the pride, that brought mankind to the brink of disaster. So, though there be no Great Worm, though we dreamed him up, you will very soon be convinced that this fabricated underground god is mightier than your celestial beings, those idols that tumbled from their thrones and were broken asunder! You laugh at the Great Worm! Go ahead and laugh! But you will not have the last laugh!’

  ‘That’s enough. The gag!’ the stalker ordered. ‘Don’t touch him for now, he may come in handy for us again.’

  They once more stuffed a rag into the mouth of the resisting old man as he cried out obscenities. The savage stood quietly, his shoulders drooped helplessly, but he did not take his lacklustre eyes off the priest.

  ‘Teacher! What’s it mean - there is no Great Worm?’ he uttered gravely at last. The old man didn’t even look at him. ‘What’s it mean? The teacher dreamt up the Great Worm?’ Dron spoke dully, shaking his head from side to side.

  The priest did not answer. It seemed to Artyom that the old man had used up all his vital energy and will in his speech and was exhausted now.

  ‘Teacher! Teacher . . . There is a Great Worm . . . Are you misleading them! Why? You are speaking an untruth - to confuse the enemies! He exists . . . Exists!’ Unexpectedly, Dron began to howl. Such despair was heard in his half wailing, half crying, that Artyom wanted to approach him to comfort him. The old man, it seemed, already had said adieu to life and had lost any interest in his pupil, for now other questions troubled him.

  ‘He exists! He exists! He exists! We are his children! We all are his children! He is and always was and always will be! He exists! If there is no Great Worm . . . That means . . . We are completely alone. . . .’

  Something terrifying was happening to the savage who had been left bereft. Dron went into a trance, shaking his head, as if hoping to forget what he had heard, emitting the same note, and the tears dropping from his eyes mixed with the drool from his mouth. He didn’t even make an attempt to dry himself, snatching with his hands at his shaved skull. The soldiers released him, and he fell to the ground, covering his ears with his hands, striking himself on the head. He began to roll around wildly and uncontrollably, and his screams filled the whole tunnel. The fighters tried to quiet him, but even kicks and blows couldn’t stop the howls bursting forth from his breast.

  Melnik looked with disapproval at the cannibal, then he unbuttoned the holster at his hip, pulled his Stechkin with the silencer from it, aimed at Dron and pulled the trigger. The silencer gave a quiet bang, and the savage went instantly limp. The inarticulate screaming he had been making stopped suddenly, but the echo repeated his last sounds for several more seconds, as if extending Dron’s life for a moment: ‘ooooooooooonnn. . . .’ And only now did it begin to occur to Artyom what the savage had screamed before his death. ‘Alone!’

  The stalker slid the pistol back into the holster. Artyom was unable to lift his eyes towards him, looking instead at the silenced Dron and the priest sitting not far away. He did not react in any way to the death of his pupil. When the clap of the pistol had sounded, the old man hardl
y twitched, then looked in passing at the savage’s body and turned away with indifference again.

  ‘Let’s go on,’ Melnik ordered. ‘Half the metro will come running here with all this noise.’

  The party formed up instantly. They put Artyom at the rear, equipped with the powerful flashlight and bullet-proof vest of one of the fighters who was carrying Anton. A minute later they had moved deep inside the tunnel. Artyom was not fit for the role of last man. He moved his legs with difficulty, stumbling on the ties, looking helplessly at the fighter walking ahead. Dron’s dying bawling rang in his ears. His despair, disillusionment and unwillingness to believe that man had been left completely alone in this horrifying, gloomy world, had been transferred to Artyom. Strange, but only having heard the savage’s howl, the full hopeless nostalgia for an absurd, fabricated divine being, he began to understand the universal feeling of solitude that fed mankind’s faith.

  If the stalker turned out to be right and they had been descending into the bowels of Metro-2 for more than an hour already, then the mysterious structure would turn out to be just an engineering design, cast off long ago by its proprietors and captured by semi-rational cannibals and their fanatical priests. The fighters began to speak in whispers. The party entered an empty station of an extremely unusual design. A short platform, low ceiling, enormously thick columns of ferroconcrete and tiled walls instead of the customary marble indicated that no one had asked that this station be easy on the eyes, and its singular mission consisted of protecting as effectively as possible those who used it. Bronze letters on the wall grown dim from time were formed into the incomprehensible word ‘Sovmin.’ In another place appeared ‘Dom Pravitelstva RF.’ Artyom knew that there were no stations under those names in the usual metro.

  Melnik, it seemed, did not intend to hang about here. Quickly looking around, he spoke softly to his fighters about something and the party moved on. Artyom was overcome with a strange feeling that he was unable to express in words. Unseen Observers changed from menacing, wise and incomprehensible powers into phantasmagorical ancient sculptures illustrating ancient myths and crumbling from the dampness and draft of the tunnels. At the same time, the other beliefs that he had bumped into during this journey were lost in the gibberish of his consciousness. One of the greatest secrets of the metro was opening before him. He was walking through D-6, called by one of his companions the Golden Myth of the Underground. However, instead of a wave of happiness, Artyom was experiencing an incomprehensible bitterness. He was beginning to understand that some secrets should remain as secrets because they do not have any answers, and there are questions the answers to which it is better no one knows. Artyom was aware of the cold breath of the tunnels on his cheek, following the trail of his falling tears. He shook his head, just as Dron had done a little while ago. He began to shiver from the dank draft carrying the smell of dampness and desolation, as well as from his feelings of loneliness and emptiness. For a split second it seemed that nothing in the world made sense. His mission and man’s attempts to survive in a changed world were worthless. There was nothing: just an empty, dark tunnel he was supposed to plod his way through, from ‘Birth’ station to ‘Death’ station. Those looking for faith had simply been trying to find the side branches in this line. But there were only two stations, and only tunnel connecting them.

  When Artyom gathered his wits, it turned out that he had fallen several dozen paces behind the others. He didn’t immediately understand what had forced him to come to his senses. Then, looking along the walls and listening closely, he realized: on one of the walls hung a loosely closed door, through which a strange, increasingly loud sound reached him. It was some kind of a dull murmur or dissatisfied rumbling. It probably hadn’t been audible when the others were passing the door. But now it was becoming difficult not to notice the noise.

  The others had already moved a hundred metres beyond it. Overcoming the desire to dash after them, Artyom held his breath, approached the door and shoved it. A long, wide corridor revealed itself. It ended in the black square of an exit. The murmur was coming from there. Increasingly, it sounded like the roar of a huge animal. Artyom did not dare step inside. He stood, as if bewitched, staring into the dark emptiness and listened until the roar had intensified many times and he saw in the beam of his flashlight something incredibly huge hurtling towards him. He recoiled, slammed the door, and hurried to catch up with the others.

  CHAPTER 18

  The Authority

  They had already noticed his absence and had stopped. A white beam darted about the tunnel. When it fell on him, Artyom raised his hands just in case and screamed:

  ‘It’s me! Don’t shoot!’ The flashlight went out. Artyom hurried forward, expecting a dressing-down now. But, when he reached the others, Melnik only asked quietly, ‘Didn’t you hear anything just now?’

  Artyom nodded. He didn’t want to talk about what he had just seen. He thought it might just have been his imagination. He knew that he had to treat his impressions carefully in the metro. What was it? It had looked like a train racing by, but it couldn’t have been. There hadn’t been enough electricity in the metro to move the trains for dozens of years. The second possibility was even more improbable. Artyom recalled the warnings of the savages regarding the holy passages of the Great Worm.

  ‘So, the trains don’t run any more, right?’ he asked the stalker.

  Melnik looked at him with displeasure.

  ‘What trains? Once they stopped running, they never moved again until they were ransacked for parts. Do you know something about these sounds? I think it’s subterranean water. There’s a river quite near here. We passed beneath it. Screw it! There are more important problems. We still don’t know how to get out of here.’

  Artyom didn’t want to let the stalker think that he was dealing with a madman so he remained silent and let the subject drop. It was probably the river. The unpleasant sounds of flowing water and the babble of thin black tiny brooks along the edges of the rails had disturbed the sombre hush of the tunnel here. The walls and arches gleamed with moisture, a whitish film of mould covered them, and here and there were puddles. Artyom had become used to fearing water in the tunnels and this line made him particularly uncomfortable. His stepfather had told him about flooded tunnels and stations. Luckily, they lay deep or were located far away, so that a disaster was unlikely to spread to a whole branch. The further they moved, the dryer it became around them. The tiny brooks gradually disappeared, the mould on the walls was found more rarely, and the air became lighter. The tunnel went down, leaving everything empty. For the umpteenth time, Artyom recalled Bourbon saying that an empty line was most terrifying of all.

  The others, it seemed, also understood this and often looked back at Artyom stumbling along last, but, having looked him in the eyes, they hastily turned back around. They walked straight ahead the whole time, not lingering at the grates cut away from the side branches and the thick cast-iron doors with locks that could be seen in the walls. Only now was it becoming clear to Artyom just how great were the dimensions of the labyrinth that had been dug into the earth beneath the city by dozens of generations of its inhabitants. The metro consisted of numerous passages and corridors, spreading into the depths of a gigantic cobweb. Some of the doors the party passed were open. The beam of a flashlight peeping into them for some seconds showed abandoned rooms and rusty bunk beds. Desolation reigned everywhere, and Artyom searched for even the slightest trace of human presence in vain. Even the metro had abandoned this grandiose structure very long ago.

  The march seemed to go on forever. The old man was walking ever more slowly, he was all in, and neither jabs to his back nor the foul language of the fighters could force him to pick up the pace any longer. The party had not halted for longer than the half a minute the fighters carrying the stretcher with Anton needed to change hands.

  Surprisingly, Oleg held on tenaciously. Although he was obviously tired, he didn’t complain once. He only sniffled stub
bornly, trying to keep pace with everyone. Up ahead, a lively discussion broke out.

  Peeping from behind the broad backs of the fighters, Artyom understood what was going on. They had entered a new station. It looked almost the same as the previous one: low arches, columns thick as elephant legs, concrete walls coloured with oil paint. The platform was so wide that one was unable to see clearly what was on its other side. A cursory glance suggested that two thousand people could have waited here for a train. But there wasn’t a soul here, and the last train had been sent to an unknown destination so long ago that the rails were covered with a black rust and the rotted ties were overgrown with moss. The station’s name, made up of cast bronze letters, caused Artyom to shudder. It was that same mysterious word, ‘Genshtab’. He immediately recalled the military personnel at Polis, and the poor lights wandering in the god-forsaken square near the demolished walls of the Defence Ministry building. Melnik lifted a gloved hand. The party froze at the same instant.

  ‘Ulman, behind me,’ the stalker spat out, and he nimbly climbed up to the platform. The robust fighter who was walking next to him followed the commander. The soft sounds of their stealthy steps dissolved at once in the quiet of the station. The other members of the party, as if on command, took up defensive positions, keeping the tunnel in their sights in both directions. Finding himself in the middle of them, Artyom decided that he might be able to examine the strange station under the cover of his comrades.

  ‘Will Papa die?’ He felt the boy pulling on his sleeve. Artyom lowered his eyes. Oleg was standing, staring at him pleadingly, and Artyom understood that the child was ready to cry. He shook his head in a calming manner and patted the boy on the head.

  ‘Is it because I told where Papa worked? Did they hurt him for that?’ Oleg asked. ‘Papa always told me never to talk to anyone,’ he sobbed. ‘He said that people don’t like missile men. Papa said that it wasn’t shameful and bad and that the missile men had been protecting the country. That others just envy them.’