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Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 55


  Someone was coming towards him. Not hurrying, as he was, not walking with his cowardly, slinking short steps, but with a confident heavy tread. Artyom stopped in his tracks, catching his breath. The other one also stopped.

  Artyom promised himself that he wouldn’t run this time regardless of what happened. When, judging by the sound, only about three metres of darkness separated them, Artyom’s knees shook, but somehow he found the strength to make one more step. But, feeling a light flutter of the air on his face as someone approached, Artyom couldn’t bear it. Flinging out a hand, he pushed the unseen being away and fled. This time he didn’t stumble and he ran for an intolerably long time, an hour or two, but there was no trace of his home station, there were no stations at all, nothing at all, only an endless, dark tunnel. And this proved to be even more terrible.

  ‘Hey, that’s enough of a nap, you’ll sleep through the meeting.’ Ulman pushed him on the shoulder.

  Artyom roused himself and looked guiltily at the others. It appeared that he had dropped off for only for a few minutes. They were all sitting in a circle. In the centre was Melnik with the map, pointing and explaining.

  ‘Well,’ he said,’ it’s about twenty kilometres to our destination. If we keep up a good pace and nothing gets in our way, it’s possible to make it in half a day. The military unit is located on the surface, but there is a bunker under it and the tunnel leads to it. However, there’s no time to think about that. We have to split up.’ He looked at Artyom. ‘Are you up? You are returning to the metro, I will appoint Ulman to look after you,’ he said. ‘The others and I are going to the missile division.’

  Artyom was on the verge of opening his mouth, intending to protest, but the stalker stopped him with an impatient gesture. Leaning towards the heap of rucksacks, Melnik started to distribute the supplies.

  ‘You take two protective suits, we have four left, and we don’t know what it will be like there. There’s one radio for you and one for us. Now the instructions. Go to Prospect Mir. They are waiting for you there. I have sent some messengers.’ He looked at his wristwatch. ‘In exactly twelve hours go up to the surface and look for our signal. If everything is OK and we are on the air, we’ll move to the next stage of the operation. Your mission is to find the best way to the Botanical Gardens and then to get up high in order to help us direct and correct the fire. The “Smerch” has a limited destruction area and we don’t know how many missiles are still there. And the gardens aren’t small. Don’t worry,’ he said to Artyom, ‘Ulman will be doing it all, you are there as company. We have use for you too, of course. You know what these dark ones look like.

  ‘The Ostankino tower is very suitable for guidance. It’s wider in the middle: there was a restaurant there. They served tiny sandwiches with caviar there at prices that were out of sight. But people didn’t go there because of them, but for the view of Moscow. The Botanical Gardens can be seen clearly from there. Try to get to the tower. If you can’t get to the tower, there is a multi-storey building alongside, sort of white, shaped like the letter P, and almost uninhabited. So . . . This is a map of Moscow for you, and this one is for us. It’s a shambles there around the squares. You simply look and communicate. The rest, follow us. It’s nothing too complex,’ he assured them. ‘Questions?’

  ‘And if they don’t have a nest there?’ Artyom asked.

  ‘Well, we can’t do the impossible,’ the stalker slapped his palm on the map. ‘And I have a surprise here for you,’ he added, winking at Artyom.

  Reaching into his backpack, Melnik took out a white polyethylene bag with a worn coloured picture on the side. Artyom looked inside and took out the worn passport and the children’s book with the cherished photograph that he had found in the neglected apartment at Kalinskiy inside. Having raced after Oleg, he had left his treasures at Kievskaya, and Melnik had gone to the trouble to collect them and carry them with him all this time. Ulman sitting alongside looked at Artyom with a puzzled look, then at the stalker.

  ‘Personal things,’ Melnik said, smiling. Artyom wanted to thank him but the stalker had already got up from his seat and was giving orders to the fighters going with him.

  Artyom went up to Anton who was absorbed in his own thoughts.

  ‘Good luck!’ Artyom extended his hand to the lookout. Anton silently nodded, putting his rucksack onto his back. His eyes were totally empty.

  ‘Well, that’s all! We won’t say goodbye. Note the time!’ Melnik said. He turned and, without saying another word, was off.

  CHAPTER 19

  The Final Battle

  Having moved the heavy cast-iron lid of the closed manhole aside, they began their descent. The narrow, vertical shaft was composed of concrete rings, from each of which jutted a metal bracket. As soon as they were left alone, Ulman changed. He spoke to Artyom in short, monosyllabic phrases, mainly giving orders or admonishing him. As soon as the lid of the hatch had been removed, he ordered Artyom to put out the flashlight and, putting on the night vision instrument, dived inside first. Artyom had to crawl down, holding on to the brackets. He didn’t really understand what all these precautions were for, as, after the Kremlin, they hadn’t encountered any danger along their way. Finally, Artyom decided that the stalker had given Ulman special instructions and, having been left without a commander, he was enthusiastically filling the role himself. Ulman smacked Artyom on the foot, giving the sign to stop. Artyom obediently froze, waiting until the other man explained to him what was happening. But, instead of explanations, a soft thump was heard from below. It was Ulman jumping to the floor. A few seconds later, Artyom heard muffled gunshots.

  ‘You can come down,’ his partner said to Artyom in a loud whisper, and a light came on.

  When the brackets ended, he released his hands, and dropped about two metres, landing on a cement floor. Lifting himself up, he dusted off his hands and looked around. They were in a short corridor, about fifteen paces long. The opening of the manhole yawned above them in the ceiling. There was another hatch just like it in the floor, with the very same cast-iron grooved cover. Beside it, in a pool of blood, lay a dead savage face downwards, squeezing his blow pipe tight in his hand even after death.

  ‘He was guarding the passage,’ Ulman replied quietly at Artyom’s questioning glance, ‘but he had fallen asleep. Most likely he didn’t expect anyone to crawl in from this side. He had put his ear to the hatch and dropped off.’

  ‘You killed him . . . what, while he was sleeping?’ Artyom asked.

  ‘So what? It wasn’t a fair fight.’ Ulman sniffed. ‘If nothing else, now he’ll know not to sleep on duty. Anyway, he was a bad person: he wasn’t observing their holy day. He was told not to go into the tunnels.’

  Dragging the body to the side, Ulman opened the hatch and again put out his flashlight. This time the shaft was extremely short and led to an office filled with trash. A mountain of metal plates, gears, springs and nickel-plated handrails, enough parts for a whole coach, completely hid the manhole from prying eyes. They were heaped on top of each other in disarray right up to the ceiling and stayed there only by some kind of miracle. There was a narrow passage between this pile and the wall, but getting through it without touching and bringing a whole mountain of metal down was almost impossible.

  A door buried in dirt up to its middle led from the office to an unusual square tunnel. A line from the left there: either there was an obstruction or they had stopped laying the track for some reason. To the right there was a standard tunnel, round and wide. It seemed as if there was a border between two intertwined subterranean worlds here. Even breathing was different: the air was damp but not so ghastly and stagnant as in the secret D-6 passages. They weren’t sure where to go. They decided not to move out at random, as there was a frontier post of the Fourth Reich located on this line. Judging by the map, it was only about twenty minutes from Mayakovskaya to Chekhovskaya. Digging into the bag with his things, Artyom found the bloodied map he had got from Daniel, and worked out the true
direction from it. Less than five minutes later they reached Mayakovskaya.

  Sitting down on a bench, Ulman took the heavy helmet off his head with a sigh of relief, wiped his red, damp face with a sleeve and ran his fingers through his dark-blond crew cut. Despite his powerful frame and having the habits of an old tunnel wolf, Ulman, it seemed, was only slightly older than Artyom.

  While they were looking for somewhere to buy food, Artyom was able to inspect the station. He no longer knew how much time had passed since his last meal, but his aching stomach was no laughing matter. Ulman had no supplies on him: they had left in a hurry and brought only what was necessary.

  Mayakovskaya resembled Kievskaya. It was just a shadow of the once elegant and airy station. In this half of the ruined station people huddled in ragged tents or out on the platform. The walls and ceiling were covered with damp patches and trickling water. There was one small campfire for the whole station but no fuel.

  The inhabitants talked among themselves quietly, as if at the bedside of a dying man. However, there was a shop even here: a patched up three-man tent with a folding table displayed at the entrance. The selection was modest: skinned rat carcasses, dried up and shrunken mushrooms, procured here God knows when, and even uncut squares of moss. A price tag lay proudly next to each item - a piece of news print with carefully handwritten numbers. There were almost no shoppers except them, only an undernourished stooped woman holding a small boy by the hand. The child was pulling towards a rat lying on the counter, but his mother admonished him:

  ‘Don’t touch! We’ve already eaten meat this week!’ The boy obeyed, but he didn’t forget about the carcass for long. As soon as the mother turned away, he once more tried to reach for the dead animal.

  ‘Kolka! What did I tell you? If you are bad, the demons will come out of the tunnels to get you! Sashka didn’t obey his mommy and they took him!’ the woman scolded him, succeeding at the last moment to pull him away from the counter.

  Artyom and Ulman couldn’t make up their minds. Artyom began to think that he could survive until they got to Prospect Mir where the mushrooms would at least be fresher.

  ‘Some rat, perhaps? We fry them in front of the customer,’ the shop’s bald owner said with some dignity. ‘Certificate of quality!’ he added enigmatically.

  ‘Thanks, I’ve already eaten,’ Ulman hastened to turn him down. ‘Artyom, what do you want? I wouldn’t take the moss. World War Four will start in your gut from it.’

  The woman looked at him with disapproval. In her hand were only two cartridges which, judging by the prices, was just enough for the moss. Noting that Artyom was looking at her modest capital, the woman hid her fist behind her back.

  ‘Nothing here,’ she snarled spitefully.

  ‘If you don’t intend to buy anything, get lost!’

  ‘We’re not all millionaires! What are you staring at?’

  Artyom wanted to answer, but he was carried away by the sight of her son. The boy was very similar to Oleg. He had the same colourless, fragile hair, reddish eyes and turned-up nose. The boy put his thumb in his mouth and smiled shyly at Artyom, looking at him a bit sullenly. Artyom felt as if his lips were spreading into a smile in spite of himself, and his eyes were swelling with tears. The woman intercepted his glance and flew into a rage.

  ‘Damned perverts!’ she screeched, her eyes glaring. ‘Let’s go home, Kolienka!’ She pulled the boy by the hand.

  ‘Wait! Stop for a minute!’ Artyom pressed several shells out of the reserve clip of his machine gun and, catching up to the woman, gave them to her. ‘Here . . . These are for you. For your Kolia.’

  She looked at him with distrust, then her mouth twisted scornfully.

  ‘Just what do you think you can get for five cartridges? That he’ll be your child?’

  Artyom didn’t immediately understand what she had in mind. Finally, it came to him and he was on the verge of opening his mouth to start making excuses, but he wasn’t able to utter a thing, and he just stood there, staring blankly. The woman, satisfied with the effect she had produced, replaced her rage with mercy.

  ‘Agreed certainly! Twenty cartridges for half an hour.’

  Stunned, Artyom shook his head, turned and nearly took off running.

  ‘Jerk! OK give me fifteen!’ the woman cried after him.

  Ulman was still standing there, discussing something with the seller.

  ‘Well, what about the rats? Haven’t you made up your mind?’ the owner of the tent inquired courteously, having seen the returning Artyom. ‘A little bit more and she’ll start bargaining with me.’

  Artyom understood. Pulling Ulman behind him, he hurried from this Godforsaken station.

  ‘Where are we going in such a hurry?’ the fighter asked when they were walking through the tunnel in the direction of Byelorusskaya. While trying to cope with the lump rising in his throat, Artyom told him what had happened. His story did not especially impress Ulman.

  ‘So what? She has to live somehow,’ he responded.

  ‘Why is such a life necessary at all?’ Artyom’s face convulsed. ‘Do you have any ideas?’

  Ulman shrugged his broad shoulders.

  ‘What’s the sense of such a life? You cling to it, you endure all this filth, humiliation, you trade your children, stuff your face with moss, for what?’ Artyom stopped short, recalling Hunter, who had been talking about the survival instinct, about the fact that one would fight like a wild animal for his life and the survival of others with all his might. Then, at the very beginning, his words had inflamed a hope and desire in Artyom to fight like that frog who had whipped the cream in the jar with its feet, turning it into butter. But now the words uttered by his stepfather for some reason seemed more reliable.

  ‘For what?’ Ulman teased him.

  ‘Well, all right young man, “for what” are you living?’ Artyom regretted that he had got involved in this conversation. As a fighter, he had to give Ulman his due, he was superb, but as a companion he wasn’t especially interesting. And Artyom could see it was useless to argue with him regarding the sense of life.

  ‘Well, personally I am “for what”,’ he answered sullenly, not able to bear it.

  ‘Well, for what?’ Ulman began to laugh. ‘For the rescue of mankind? Leave it. It’s all nonsense. You aren’t saving it, so it’s someone else. Me, for example.’ He shined the flashlight on his face so that Artyom could see him and made a heroic face. Artyom looked at him jealously, but said nothing. ‘And then,’ the fighter continued, ‘they all just cannot live for it.’

  ‘And what about you, is life without meaning?’ Artyom tried to ask the question ironically.

  ‘How is it without meaning? It makes sense for me, the same way as for everyone. And generally, searches for the meaning of life usually happen during puberty. But for you, it seems, it’s taken longer.’ His tone was not offensive, but mischievous, so that Artyom wouldn’t sulk. Inspired by his success, Ulman continued, ‘I remember when I was seventeen. I was trying to understand it all, too. It passes. There is only one meaning in life, brother: to make and bring up children. But let them be tormented by the question. And answer it how they can. Well, that’s the theory,’ he smiled again.

  ‘And then just why are you coming with me? Are you risking your life? If you don’t believe in rescuing mankind, then what?’ Artyom asked after some time.

  ‘First, I was ordered to,’ Ulman said severely. ‘Orders are not questioned. Second, it’s not enough to make children, you have to raise them. And how will I grow them if your riffraff from VDNKh eat them up?’ Such self-confidence exuded from him, his strength and his words, that the picture of the world was so seductively simple and organized, that Artyom no longer wanted to argue with him. On the other hand, he felt that the fighter was inspiring a confidence in him too.

  As Melnik had said, the tunnel between Mayakovskaya and Byelorusskaya turned out to be peaceful. True, something was banging in the ventilation shafts but they slipped past norma
l sized rats a few times, and that reassured Artyom. The section was surprisingly short - they had not even been able to complete the argument when the lights of the station appeared ahead.

  Being close to Hansa had a profound influence on Byelorusskaya. It was immediately apparent that it was rather well protected. A blockhouse had been constructed ten metres before the entrance: a light machine gun stood on sacks filled with dirt, and the guard detail consisted of five men. Checking their documents (and here the new passport came in handy), they asked them politely whether they were from the Reich. No, no, they assured Artyom, no one here has anything against the Reich, it was a trading station, observed full neutrality, and did not interfere in the conflicts between the powers, as the chief of the guard called Hansa, the Reich and the Red Line.

  Before continuing their trip along the Ring, Artyom and Ulman decided they could take a break and have a bite. Sitting in an affluent, even chic, snack bar, Artyom obtained information about Byelorusskaya as well as eating an excellent and inexpensive cutlet.

  A round-faced, fair-haired man sitting at the table opposite, who introduced himself as Leonid Petrovich, was tucking away an epic portion of bacon and eggs, and when his mouth was empty, he told them with pleasure about his station. Byelorusskaya survived because of the transit of pork and chicken. Huge and very successful enterprises were located beyond the Ring - closer to Sokol and even to Voykovskaya, though the latter was dangerously close to the surface. Kilometres of tunnels and engineering lines had been converted to a huge livestock farm that fed all of Hansa, and delivered goods both to the Fourth Reich and to the eternally half-starved Red Line. Moreover, the residents of Dynamo had inherited from their enterprising predecessors an aptitude for the tailor’s trade. They sewed the pigskin jackets that Artyom had seen at Prospect Mir. No external danger from this end of the Zamoskvoretskaya line existed, and in all the years of living in the metro, no one even once had put either Sokol, Airport, or Dynam out of business. Hansa laid no claims to them, being satisfied by the ability to collect a duty from the transportation of the goods, and at the same time they rendered them protection from the fascists and the Reds. Nearly all of the residents of Byelorusskaya were involved in business. Farmers from Sokol and tailors from Dynamo had the sense to make a profit from the wholesale deliveries. Bringing a batch of hogs or live chickens on handcars and trams pulled by men, the people from that side, as they called them here, unloaded their belongings - for these purposes special cranes even had been installed on the platforms - settled up their accounts and left for home. Life bustled at the station. The resolute traders (at Byelorusskaya they were called ‘managers’ for some reason) drifted from the ‘terminal’ - the unloading locations - to warehouses, jingling bags with cartridges and dispensing instructions to sinewy loaders. Small carts on well lubricated wheels, laden with boxes and bundles, rolled noiselessly towards rows of counters, or to the Ring boundary line, from where Hansa buyers took the merchandise, or to the opposite edge of the platform, where Reich emissaries awaited the unloading of their orders. There were quite a few fascists here, but not the ordinary ones, mainly officers. However, they behaved themselves. They were a little arrogant, but within the bounds of decency. They looked with hostility at the swarthy dark-haired men, of whom there were enough among the local tradesmen and loaders, but they didn’t try to impose their beliefs and laws.