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Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 56


  ‘And we have banks here, too, you know . . . Many of them, from the Reich, come to us supposedly for goods, but really they come to invest their savings,’ his companion shared with Artyom.

  ‘I doubt that they will touch us. We are like Switzerland for them,’ he added incomprehensibly.

  ‘You have it good here,’ Artyom noted politely.

  ‘It’s not just us, it’s all about Byelorusskaya . . . So where are you from?’ Leonid Petrovich finally asked out of respect. Ulman pretended that all his attention was on his cutlet and he had not heard the question.

  ‘I’m from VDNKh,’ Artyom replied, glancing at him.

  ‘What do you say! How terrible!’ Leonid Petrovich even put down his knife and fork. ‘They say things are really bad there? I heard they are hanging on by a thread. Half the people have died . . . Is it true?’

  A lump stuck in Artyom’s throat. For better or for worse, he had to reach VDNKh, see his own kind, perhaps, for the last time. How had he been able to waste valuable time eating? Moving the plate away, he asked for the bill and, despite Ulman’s protests, pulled him along with him, past the counters with meat and clothing in the openings of the arches, past the piles of merchandise, past the bartering peddlers, bustling loaders, the sedately strolling fascist officers, towards the crossing to the Ring line. Over the entrance hung a white cloth with a brown circle in the middle. Two machine gunners in the familiar grey camouflage checked their documents and inspected their things. Artyom had not succeeded in getting through to the Hansa territory with such ease before. Ulman, still chewing a piece of cutlet, dug into his pocket and presented an unknown type of ID to the border guards. They silently moved away a section of the barrier, allowing them in.

  ‘What kind of a pass is that?’ Artyom was curious.

  ‘So . . . The award booklet for the medal, “For Service to the Fatherland’,” Ulman laughed it off. ‘Everyone is indebted to our colonel.’

  The crossing to the Ring was a strange mixture of fortress and warehouses. The second Hansa border began beyond the footbridges over the tracks: real redoubts had been erected there with machine guns and even a flame-thrower. And further away, next to a memorial - a bronze, bearded guy with a machine gun, a frail girl and a pensive lad with weapons (most likely, the founders of Byelorusskaya or heroes of a battle with mutants, Artyom thought) - a whole garrison of not less than twenty soldiers was deployed.

  ‘This is because of the Reich,’ Ulman explained to Artyom. ‘It’s like this with the fascists: trust but verify. They didn’t touch Switzerland, of course, but they subjugated France.’

  ‘I have gaps in my knowledge of history,’ Artyom acknowledged with embarrassment. ‘My stepfather couldn’t find a tenth grade textbook. Though I have read a little about ancient Greece.’

  An endless chain of loaders with bundles on their shoulders trailed past the soldiers like ants. The movement was well organized: the bearers descended on one escalator, and they came up, unladen, on the other. A third was intended for the remaining passers-by. Below sat a machine gunner in a glass booth, watching the escalator. He checked Artyom and Ulman’s documents again and issued them papers with the stamp, ‘Temporary Registration - in Transit’ and the date.

  This station also was named Byelorusskaya, but the difference from its radial twin was striking: they were like twins separated at birth, one of whom ended up in a royal family and the other who was adopted and grew up poor. All the prosperity of that first Byelorusskaya faded in comparison with the Ring station. It gleamed with shining white walls, fascinated with intricate stucco work on the ceiling and dazzled with neon lamps, of which only three were burning in all the station, but even their light was more than enough. The loaders on the platform were divided into two parts. One group walked to the tracks through arches on the left, the other to the right, casting off their bundles into piles and returning at a run for new ones. Two stops had been made at the tracks: for merchandise, where a small crane had been installed, and for passengers, where a ticket office stood. Once every fifteen or twenty minutes a cargo handcar went past the station. They were outfitted with a peculiar body - board planking on which they had loaded boxes and bundles. Besides the three or four men who stood at the handles of the handcar, there also was a guard on each.

  The passenger handcars arrived more rarely - Artyom and Ulman had to wait more than forty minutes. As the ticket collector explained to them, the passenger handcars waited until enough people had gathered so as not to send the workers on errands for no reason. The fact that somewhere in the metro it was still possible to buy a ticket - a cartridge for each stage - and pass from station to station, as before, completely fascinated Artyom. He even forgot about all his problems for a while and simply stood and observed the loading of the merchandise. It showed him how fine life in the metro must have been earlier when huge sparkling trains, not manual handcars, moved along the tracks.

  ‘That’s your carrier coming!’ the ticket collector announced and he began to ring a small bell. A large handcar, to which was attached a tram with wooden benches, rolled to a stop. Having presented their tickets, they sat down on unoccupied seats. After waiting another few minutes for tardy passengers, the trolley moved on. Half the benches were situated so that the passengers were sitting facing forward and half facing to the rear. Artyom had got a seat facing backwards and Ulman was sitting in the remaining seat, with his back to him.

  ‘Why are the seats arranged so strangely, in different directions’? Artyom asked of his neighbour, a hale old woman of about sixty years old who was wearing a woollen shawl riddled with holes. ‘It’s uncomfortable you know.’

  She threw up her hands.

  ‘And what? Would you leave the tunnel running wild? You young people are thoughtless! Didn’t you hear what happened over there the other day? Well, such a rat,’ the old woman gestured in dismay, ‘jumped out of an interline, and dragged away a passenger!’

  ‘It wasn’t a rat!’ a man in a quilted jacket interrupted, turning round. ‘It was a mutant! They have a lot of mutants running about at Kurskaya . . .’

  ‘And I say, a rat! Nina Prokoievna, my neighbour, told me. Do you think I don’t know?’ The old woman was indignant.

  They argued for a long time, but Artyom was no longer listening to their conversation. His thoughts once again had turned to VDNKh. He had already decided that, before he went up to the surface to set out for the Ostankino tower with Ulman, he would definitely try to get through to his home station. He still didn’t know how he would convince his partner but he had a bad feeling that this might be his last chance to see his home and friends. And he couldn’t ignore it. Who knew what would happen later? Though the stalker had said that there was nothing complicated about their task, Artyom didn’t really believe that he would be meeting him any time again. However, before starting his own, perhaps, final climb up, he had to at least return to VDNKh for a little while. How it sounded . . . VDNKh ... Melodic, endearing. ‘I could listen and listen to it,’ Artyom thought. Had his casual acquaintance at Byelorusskaya really been speaking the truth? Was the station really on the point of falling to the onslaught of the dark ones? Were half its defenders already dead? How long had he been absent? Two weeks? Three? He closed his eyes, trying to imagine his beloved arches, the elegant, but reserved lines of the domes, the delicate forging of the copper ventilation grids between them and rows of tents in the hall. The handcar gently swayed in time to the lulling chatter of the wheels, and Artyom didn’t notice that it was putting him to sleep. He was dreaming about VDNKh again . . .

  Nothing surprised him any more, he wasn’t listening and not trying to understand. The goal of his dream was not at the station, but in the tunnel. Leaving the tent, Artyom went right to the tracks, jumped down and headed south, towards the Botanical Gardens. The darkness no longer frightened him, but something else did: the forthcoming meeting in the tunnel. Who awaited him there? What was the point of it? Why did his courage always fail h
im in the end?

  His twin finally appeared in the depths of the tunnel. Soft confident steps gradually approached, as before, and Artyom felt his nerve failing. However, this time he comported himself better. His knees shook but he was able to control himself and wait until he came right up to the unseen creature. He was covered in a cold, sticky sweat, but did not break into a run when the light ripple of the air told him that the mysterious being was just a few centimetres from his face.

  ‘Don’t run . . . Look into the eyes of your fate . . .’ a dry, rustling voice whispered into his ear. And here Artyom recalled - and just how had he been able to forget about it in his past nightmares? - that he had a lighter in his pocket. Groping for it, he struck the flint, preparing to see who was speaking to him. And he immediately went numb, feeling only that his feet were taking root in the ground. A dark one stood next to him, not moving. Its dark eyes were without pupils and wide open, searching for his glance. Artyom cried as loudly as he could.

  ‘Damnation!’ the old woman was holding her hand to her heart, breathing heavily. ‘How you frightened me, you tyrant!’

  ‘Please forgive him. He’s with me and . . . He’s nervous,’ Ulman said turning around.

  ‘Just what did you see there, that you shouted out?’ The old woman shot him a curious glance from beneath half closed, swollen eyelids.

  ‘It was a dream . . . I had a nightmare,’ Artyom answered. ‘Excuse me.’

  ‘A dream?! Well you young people are impressionable.’ She again started moaning and bickering.

  Actually, Artyom had slept for a rather long time - he even had slept through the stop at Novoslobodskaya. But he didn’t have time to remember what he had understood at the end of his nightmare as the passenger handcar arrived at Prospect Mir.

  The situation here was strikingly different from the satisfying prosperity of Byelorusskaya. There was no business recovery at Prospect Mir, not even a sign of it, but on the other hand one immediately noticed a large number of military personnel: Spetsnaz and officers with the chevrons of the engineering troops. From the other edge of the platform, on the tracks, stood several guarded cargo motorized trolleys with mysterious boxes covered with tarpaulins. In the hall, nearly fifty poorly dressed people with huge trunks were sitting right on the floor, looking round hopelessly.

  ‘What’s going on here?’ Artyom asked Ulman.

  ‘It’s not what’s happening here, it’s what you have going on at VDNKh,’ the fighter replied. ‘It’s obvious they intend to blow up the tunnels . . . If the dark ones crawl through from Prospect Mir, Hansa will have to answer for it. Most likely, they are getting ready for a pre-emptive strike.’

  While they were crossing to the Kaluzhka-Rizhskaya line, Artyom grew convinced that Ulman’s guess was most likely correct. The Hansa Spetsnaz was also active at a radial station where it wasn’t supposed to be. Both entrances to the tunnels leading to the north, towards VDNKh and the Botanical Gardens, were fenced off. Someone had constructed some makeshift blockhouses here, where the Hansa border guards were on duty. There were no visitors in the marketplace, almost half the stands were empty, and people whispered nervously, as if inevitable misfortune was looming over the station. Several dozen people were crowded into one corner, whole families with bundles and bags. A chain had been strung around a table with the sign, ‘Refugee Registration.’

  ‘Wait for me here, I’ll go find our man.’ Ulman left him at the shopping area and disappeared.

  But Artyom had a few things he wanted to do himself. Climbing down onto the rails, he went up to a blockhouse and started talking with a sullen border guard.

  ‘Can one still get to VDNKh?’

  ‘We are still letting them through, but I don’t advise going there,’ the guard answered. ‘Haven’t you heard what’s happening there? Some kind of vampires are getting in, so many that they can’t be stopped. They’ve taken over nearly the whole station. Obviously it’s really hot there. If our miserly leadership had decided to let them have some free ammo, if only to hold them off till tomorrow.’

  ‘What’s happening tomorrow?’

  ‘Tomorrow we’re going to blow everything to hell. We are placing dynamite three hundred metres from Prospect in both tunnels and everything will be just a fond memory.’

  ‘But why don’t you just help them? Certainly Hansa has the power?’

  ‘I told you. There’re vampires there. It’s swarming with them, there’s not enough backup.’

  ‘But what about the people from Rizhskaya? And from VDNKh itself?’

  Artyom couldn’t believe his ears.

  ‘We alerted them several days ago. They’re trickling in. Hansa is taking them. We aren’t animals. But they had better hurry. When the time runs out, it’s so long. So you should try to get there and back as soon as possible. What do you have there? Business? Family?’

  ‘All of it,’ Artyom replied, and the border guard nodded knowingly. Ulman was standing in the arch, quietly speaking with a tall young man and a stern man in a machinist’s coat and with the full regalia of the station chief.

  ‘The vehicle is up above and the tank is full. In any event, I still have a radio and protective suits, and another Pecheneg and a Dragunov sniper rifle.’ The youth pointed at two large black bags. ‘We can go up at any time. When do you need us up there?’

  ‘We’ll be monitoring the signal every eight hours. We should already be in position by then,’

  Ulman answered. ‘Is the pressurized gate working?’ he addressed the chief.

  ‘It’s OK,’ the chief confirmed.

  ‘When you give the word. Only we’ll have to drive off the people so they aren’t frightened. That’s all I have. So, we’ll rest for about five hours or so and then full speed ahead,’ Ulman summed up. ‘So, Artyom? Lights out?’

  ‘I can’t,’ Artyom told him, pulling his partner aside. ‘I have to get back to VDNKh. To say goodbye and just to look around. You were right, they will be blowing up all the tunnels from Prospect Mir. Even if we come back alive from there, I won’t see my station any more. I have to! Honestly.’

  ‘Listen, if you are just afraid of going up, to your dark ones, just say so,’ Ulman nearly started, but on seeing Artyom’s look, he stopped short. ‘It was a joke. Excuse me.’

  ‘Honest, I have to,’ Artyom repeated. He couldn’t explain his feeling, but he knew that he had to get to VDNKh at any cost.

  ‘Well, if you have to, then you have to,’ the fighter replied, embarrassed. ‘You won’t have time to get back, especially if you intend to say goodbye to someone there. Here’s what we’ll do: we’ll ride from here along Prospect Mir in the vehicle with Pashka - that’s him with the cases. We had intended to go directly to the tower earlier, but we can take a detour and run by the old entrance to the VDNKh metro. Everything new has been turned upside-down, your people have to know that. We’ll wait for you there. In five hours and fifty minutes. Whoever doesn’t make it is late. Did you get a suit? Do you have a watch? Here, take mine, I’ll get one from Pashka.’ He unfastened the metal bracelet.

  ‘In five hours, fifty minutes.’ Artyom nodded, shook Ulman’s hand and raced towards the blockhouse. Seeing him again, the border guard shook his head.

  ‘And nothing else strange is happening in this crossing?’ Artyom asked. ‘Are you here about the pipes or what?’

  ‘It’s nothing. They patched them up. They say your head will spin when you are going by,’ the border guard answered.

  Artyom thanked him with a nod, turned on his flashlight and walked into the tunnel. Different thoughts raced through his head for the first ten minutes: about the danger of the crossing laying ahead, about the considered and reasonable way of life at Byelorusskay, then about the ‘carriers’ and real trains. But gradually the tunnel’s darkness sucked these trivial thoughts, this confusion of flashing pictures and snatches of phrases, from him.

  At first he grew calm, empty, then he began to think about something else. His journey was coming
to an end. Even Artyom could not say how long he had been away. Maybe two weeks had passed, perhaps more than a month. How simple, how short the trip had seemed to him when, sitting on the handcar at Alekseevskaya, he had been looking at his old map in the light of the flashlight, trying to plan a route to Polis . . . An unknown world lay before him then, about which he knew nothing for certain. It had been possible to develop a route by considering only the length of the journey and not how it would change the traveller walking it. Life had turned out to be very different, confused and complex, mortally dangerous. Even casual companions, sharing small segments of his trip with him, had paid for it with their lives. Artyom remembered Oleg. Everyone has his own predestination, Sergei Andreyevich had told him at Polyanka. Could it have been that the terrible, nonsensical death spared other people and allowed them to continue their affairs? Artyom grew cold and uncomfortable. To accept such a proposition, to accept this sacrifice, meant that he had to believe that his journey could only be at the cost of somebody’s life . . . Could it be that in order to fulfil his predestined fate others had to be trampled, destroyed, crippled? Oleg, of course, had been too young to ask why he had been born. But if he had thought about it, he would hardly have agreed to a fate. The faces of Mikhail Porfirievich, Daniel and Tretyak passed before his eyes. Why did they die? Why did Artyom himself survive? What gave him this capacity, this right? Artyom was sorry that Ulman, who with one mocking remark could dispel his doubts, was not with him now. The difference between them was that the trip through the metro had forced Artyom to see the world as if through a multi-faceted prism, but Ulman’s Spartan life had taught him to view things simply: through the sight of a sniper’s rifle. He didn’t know which of the two of them was right, but Artyom no longer was able to believe that there can be only one, single true answer to every question. Generally in life, and especially in the metro, everything was unclear, changing and relative. Khan had explained this to him at first using the example of the station clock. If such a basis for perceiving the world, as time, turned out to be farfetched and relative, then just what could be said about other indisputable views of life? All of it: from the voice of the pipe in the tunnel through which he was walking, and the shining of the Kremlin stars to the eternal secrets of the human soul, had several explanations. And there were many answers to the question, ‘why?’ The people Artyom had encountered, from the cannibals at Park Pobedy to the fighters of the Che Guevara brigade, knew how to answer it. All of them had their own answers: the sectarians and the Satanists, the fascists and the philosophers with the machine guns, like Khan. It was for this reason that it was difficult for Artyom to choose and accept only one of them. Getting a new version of the answer every day, Artyom was unable to compel himself to believe what was true, because the next day another, no less precise and comprehensive one, might arise. Whom should he believe? And in what? In the Great Worm - the cannibalistic god, shaped like an electrified train and populating the barren, scorched earth with living beings; in the wrathful and jealous Jehovah; in his vainglorious reflection - Satan; in the victory of communism in the whole metro; in the supremacy of the fair-haired men with turned-up noses over curly haired, swarthy races Something suggested to Artyom that there were no differences in any of it. Any faith served man only as a crutch supporting him. When Artyom was young, his stepfather’s story about how a monkey took up a cane and became a man made him laugh. After that, apparently, the clever macaque no longer let the cane out of his hand because he couldn’t straighten up. He understood why man needs this support. Without it, life would have become empty, like an abandoned tunnel. The desperate cry of the savage from Park Pobedy when he realized that the Great Worm was only a contrivance of his people’s priests still resonated in Artyom’s ears. Artyom felt something similar, finding out that the Unseen Observers did not exist. But for him, repudiation of the Observers, the Snake and other metro gods made life easier. Did that mean that he was stronger than the others? Artyom understood that was not true. The cane was in his hands, and he was supposed to become brave enough to recognize it. His awareness that he was carrying out an assignment of huge importance, that the survival of the whole metro was in his hands and that this mission hadn’t been entrusted to him by chance, served as his support. Consciously or not, Artyom looked for proof in everything that he had chosen for carrying out this mission, but not like Hunter, but someone or something greater. To destroy the dark ones, to save his home station and those near and dear from them and to stop the destruction of the metro - that was his task. And everything that had happened to Artyom during his travels proved only one thing: he was not the same as everyone. Something special had been intended for him. He was supposed to make mincemeat of and destroy the vermin which otherwise would make short work of the remnants of mankind. While he was walking along this path, faithfully interpreting the signs being sent his way, his will for success was overcoming reality, playing with statistical probability, warding off bullets, blinding monsters and enemies, and compelling allies to be at the right location at the right time. How else could he understand why Daniel had turned over to him the plan of the missile unit’s location, and this unit by some miracle had not been destroyed decades ago? How else to explain that, against all common sense, he had met one of the few, maybe only living missile men in the whole metro? Had Providence placed powerful weapons into Artyom’s hands personally and sent him a man to help deliver a death blow to the inexplicable and merciless force, crushing it? How else could all the miraculous rescues of Artyom from the most desperate situations be explained? While he believed in his own predestination, he was invulnerable, although people who accompanied him perished one after the other. Artyom’s thoughts turned to what had been said by Sergei Andreyevich at Polyanka about fate. At that time those words had driven him forward, like a new, lubricated spring installed in the worn-out, corroded mechanism of a wind-up toy. But at the same time, they were unpleasant for him. Maybe it was because this theory deprived Artyom of his own free will and forced him to submit to the story line of his own fate. But, on the other hand, how was it possible for him to refute the existence of this line of thinking after everything that had happened to him? He could no longer believe that his whole life was only a succession of random events.