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Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 59


  ‘That’s true,’ the driver brightened up. ‘They found people with needles in their neck, but no one was able to say who had done it. What nonsense the Great Worm is! But this is where these dark ones of yours are from . . .’

  ‘I have seen him,’ Artyom interrupted him.

  ‘The worm?’ Pavel asked, not believing him.

  ‘Well, something like it. A train, maybe. Huge, it bellows so that you block your ears. I didn’t manage to see what happened - it tore right past me.’

  ‘No, it couldn’t be a train . . . What would power it? Mushrooms? Trains are driven by electricity. You know what it reminds me of? A drilling rig.’

  ‘Why?’ Artyom was taken aback. He had heard about drilling rigs, but the idea that the Great Worm who had gnawed the new passages about which Dron had spoken may turn out to be such a machine hadn’t occurred to him. And wasn’t all belief in the worm built on denying machines?

  ‘Don’t say anything to Ulman about the drilling rig, and the colonel, too: they’ll all think I’m nuts.’ Pavel said. ‘The thing is, I had been gathering information at Polis earlier. I tracked down every plainclothes detective, and in short, I was involved with subversives and the internal threat. And one day an old guy ran into me and he was convinced that in one recess in a tunnel next to Borovitskaya, a noise was constantly heard, as if a drilling machine was operating behind the wall. Of course, I would have immediately determined he was insane, but previously he had been a builder and knew a lot about such things.’

  ‘But who would need to dig there?’

  ‘No idea. The old man raved on that some miscreants wanted to dig a tunnel through to the river so that all Polis could bathe, and he had somehow overheard their plans. I immediately gave a warning only no one believed me. I rushed to look for this old man in order to present him as a witness, but he, as luck would have it, had got lost somewhere. An agent provocateur, maybe. And maybe,’ Pavel looked carefully at Ulman and lowered his voice, ‘he really heard how the military are digging something secret. And they buried my old man at the same time. Since then I have had ideas about a drilling rig and they are putting me down as a nutcase. It’s hardly worth saying that they begin to taunt me straight off about the rig.’ He went quiet, looking searchingly at Artyom: what was his attitude to his story?

  Artyom vaguely shrugged his shoulders.

  ‘Not a damned thing heard, empty air!’ the approaching Ulman spat angrily. ‘We can’t get it from here, son of a bitch! We have to get higher: Melnik most likely is too far away.’

  Artyom and Pavel immediately started picking up. No one wanted to think about other explanations for why the stalker’s team hadn’t made contact. Ulman folded the antenna into sections, put the radio into the rucksack, lifted his machine gun onto his shoulder and walked off first toward the glass vestibule that was concealed behind the television tower’s mighty pillars. Pavel handed one case to Artyom, took the knapsack and rifle himself, cracked the vehicle’s doors and they followed Ulman.

  Inside it was quiet, dirty and empty: people, apparently, once ran from here in a hurry and never returned again. The moon surprisingly shone through the broken, dusty glass onto overturned benches and the broken counter of the ticket office, onto the security post, with the remnants of a service cap forgotten in haste, and onto the broken turnstiles at the entrance, and illuminated stencilled instructions and cautions for visitors to the television tower. They turned off their flashlights and, looking around a little, found the exit to the staircase. The useless elevators that had been able to take people up in less than a minute stood on the first floor with their doors flung feebly open. Now the team was approaching the most difficult area. Ulman explained that they had to get to a height of more than three hundred metres. Artyom did the first two hundred steps with ease. Weeks of travelling around the metro had toughened his legs. He began to flag at three hundred and fifty. The winding staircase stretched upwards, and there was no perceptible difference between the floors. It was damp and cold inside the tower, and, apart from naked concrete walls, all that could be seen was abandoned equipment rooms, through the occasional open door.

  Ulman decided to take the first break after five hundred steps but he took only five minutes to rest. He was afraid of missing the moment when the stalker tried to communicate with them.

  Artyom lost count after the eight hundredth step. His legs were filled with lead, and each one now weighed three times as much as at the beginning of the climb. Lifting his foot off the floor became very difficult. The floor pulled it back, like a magnet. Perspiration flooded his eyes, and the grey walls floated, as if in a fog, and the insidious steps began to clutch at his boots. He was not able to stop and rest: behind him, panting, was Pavel who was carrying twice as much as Artyom. After about fifteen more minutes, Ulman again allowed them to take a break. Even he looked tired. His chest heaved heavily under the shapeless protective suit, and his hand rummaged along the wall in search of a support. Pulling a canteen with water from the knapsack, the fighter first extended it to Artyom. A special valve was provided in the gas mask through which a catheter passed: one was able to suck water through it. Artyom understood that the others wanted a drink, but he was unable to tear himself away from the rubber tube until the canteen was half empty. Afterwards, he settled to the floor and closed his eyes.

  ‘Come on, it’s not much further!’ Ulman shouted. He jerked Artyom to his feet, took the case from him, loaded it onto his own shoulders and moved forward.

  Artyom didn’t remember how long the final part of the climb took. The steps and walls merged into one dull whole. Beams and spots of light from behind dull stains on the viewing glass looked like radiant clouds and for some time he was distracted by the fact that he was admiring their iridescent tints. The blood pounded in his head, the cold air tore his lungs and the staircase went on forever. Artyom sat down on the floor several times, but they picked him up and forced him to walk. Why was he doing this? So that life could continue in the metro? Right. So that they could grow mushrooms and pigs at VDNKh in the future, and so that his stepfather and Zhenkina’s family lived there in peace, so that people unknown to him could settle at Alekseevskaya and at Rizhskaya, and so that the uneasy bustle of trade at Byelorusskaya didn’t die away. So that the Brahmins could stroll about Polis in their robes and rustle the pages of books, grasping the ancient knowledge and passing it on to subsequent generations. So that the fascists could build their Reich, capturing racial enemies and torturing them to death, and so that the Worm people could spirit away strangers’ children and eat adults, and so that the woman at Mayakovskaya could bargain with her young son in the future, earning herself and him some bread. So that the rat races at Paveletskaya didn’t end, and the fighters of the revolutionary brigade could continue their assaults on fascists and their funny dialectical arguments. And so that thousands of people throughout the whole metro could breathe, eat, love one another, give life to their children, defecate and sleep, dream, fight, kill, be ravished and betrayed, philosophize and hate, and so that each could believe in his own paradise and his own hell . . . So that life in the metro, senseless and useless, exalted and filled with light, dirty and seething, endlessly diverse, so miraculous and fine could continue. He thought about this, and it was as if a huge crank turned in his back and nudged him to take one more step and another and still another. Thanks to that, he continued to move his feet. And suddenly it all ended. They tumbled into a spacious area - a broad, circular corridor, a closed ring. Its inner wall was faced with marble, and Artyom at once felt as if he were at home. And there was an outer wall . . . The sky began at immediately behind the completely transparent outer wall, and somewhere far, far below were strewn tiny little homes, split into neighbourhoods by roads and patches of parks, and there were huge black craters and the rectangles of surviving tall buildings. . . . The whole, boundless city, like a grey mass moving toward the dark horizon, could be seen from here. Artyom got down onto the floor, leaning
against the wall, and he looked for a very long time at Moscow and the sky slowly turning pink.

  ‘Artyom! Get up, that’s enough sitting! Come, give us a hand.’ Ulman shook him by the shoulder. The fighter handed him a large bundle of wire, and Artyom stared at it blankly. ‘This damned antenna won’t pick up anything,’ Ulman pointed at the twisted six-metre probe scattered on the floor. ‘We’ll try the loop. Over there’s a door to the engineering balcony, a floor below us. The exit is right there on the Botanical Garden side. I’ll stay here with the radio, you go outside with Pashka, he’ll uncoil the antenna, you secure it. Be lively ’cause it will start to get light soon.’

  Artyom nodded. He remembered why he was here and he got a second wind. Someone had tightened that invisible crank in his back and that inner spring began once more to unwind. Only a short while remained to the goal. He took the spool and moved towards the balcony door. The door didn’t give, and Ulman had to fire a whole salvo into it before the glass, riddled by his bullets, cracked and spilled out. A powerful gust of wind almost knocked them off their feet. Artyom stepped onto a balcony enclosed by a grate the height of a man.

  ‘Wow, look at them.’

  Pavel extended the field binoculars to him and waved his hand in the appropriate direction. Artyom pressed the binoculars to his eyes and looked over the city until Pavel pointed him in the right direction. The Botanical Gardens and VDNKh coalesced into one, dark impassable thicket, among which rose the peeling white cupolas and roofs of the Exhibition’s pavilions. Only two gaps were left in this dense forest, a narrow path between the main pavilions (‘Glavnaya Alleya’ Pavel whispered timidly) and this. A huge patch had formed right in the middle of the Gardens, as if even the trees had drawn back in disgust from an unseen evil. It was a strange and repulsive sight: a large city like a gigantic life-giving organ, pulsing and quivering, that stretched out for several square kilometres. The sky gradually was being painted with morning colours, and this terrible tumour was becoming ever more visible: a living membrane entangled with veins, tiny black figures crawling out of cesspool exits, running about in a businesslike way, like ants . . . Ants especially, and their mother city reminded Artyom of an enormous anthill. And one was walking away from the paths - he saw it well now - towards a white round structure standing on its own, an exact copy of the entrance to the VDNKh station. The black figures reached the doors and disappeared. Artyom knew the route all too well. They really were right next door, and hadn’t come from some remote place. And it would be possible to really destroy them, simply destroy them. Now the main thing was that Melnik didn’t fail. Artyom heaved a sigh of relief. For some reason he was reminded of the black tunnel from his dreams, but he shook his head and set about unwinding the cable. The balcony encircled the tower, but the forty-metre wire wasn’t enough to go right round. Tying off the end to the grate, they went back in.

  ‘I have it! There’s a signal!’ Ulman began to yell cheerfully on seeing them. ‘We have comms! The colonel is turning the air blue, he’s asking where we were earlier.’ He was pressing the headphones to his head, listened some more and added, ‘He says everything is even better than we had thought. They found four installations, all in excellent condition. They had been preserved . . . In oil, beneath a tarpaulin . . . He says Anton is a hero. He’s familiar with it all. They’ll be ready soon. We have to report the coordinates. He sends you greetings, Artyom!’

  Pavel unfolded the large map of the area that had been divided into quarters and, looking through the binoculars, began to dictate the coordinates. Ulman repeated them into the microphone of his radio.

  ‘We’ll seal up the station itself too in any case.’ The fighter consulted the map and called out several more digits. ‘That’s all, they’ve got the coordinates, now they’ll do the aiming.’ Ulman removed the earphones and rubbed his forehead. ‘It’ll still take some time, your missile man there is the only one who knows how. But that’s nothing, we’ll wait.’

  Artyom took the binoculars and again went out onto the balcony. Something had dragged him to this disgusting anthill, some oppressive feeling, an intangible and inexpressible anguish, like something heavy pressing on his chest, not allowing him to breathe deeply. The black tunnel once more rose up before his eyes and suddenly it was clear, distinct, as Artyom had not seen it even in the nightmares that had pursued him relentlessly. But now it was possible not to be afraid: these vampires didn’t have long to lord it in his dreams.

  ‘That’s all! It’s taken off! The colonel says wait for the greeting! Now we’re going to fry these black bitches of yours!’ Ulman yelled.

  And at that moment the city beneath their feet vanished, the sky disappeared into a dark abyss, the happy cries behind his back abated - and there remained only one empty black tunnel, along which Artyom had strolled so many times . . . for what? The time thickened and congealed. He pulled a plastic lighter from his pocket and struck the flint. A small happy flame jumped out and began to dance on the wick, illuminating the space around it. Artyom knew what he would see and understood that now he must not fear it, and, therefore, he simply lifted his head and looked at the huge black eyes without whites and pupils. And he heard it.

  ‘You are the chosen one!’ The world had been turned upside-down. In those unfathomable eyes he suddenly saw in a fraction of a second the answer to everything that had, for him, been left incomprehensible and inexplicable. The answer to all his doubts, hesitations and searches. And the answer turned out not to be what Artyom had been expecting.

  Having disappeared into the gaze of the dark one, he suddenly saw the universe with its eyes. New life was being reborn and hundreds and thousands of individual minds were being joined together into a single whole . . . The resilient black skin allowed the dark one to endure both the scorching sun and the January frosts, the soft telepathic tentacles enabled it to caress any creation and to painfully sting an enemy, and it was totally immune to pain . . . . . . The dark ones were the true inheritors of the ruined universe, a phoenix that had risen from ashes of mankind. And they possessed a mind - inquisitive, living, but completely unlike the human mind.

  But, somehow, it connected with him, with Artyom. He saw people with the eyes of the dark ones: embittered, living beneath the earth, talking back with fire and lead, destroying the bearers of the flag of truce who had been sent to them with a song of peace. And they had wrested the white flag from them and stabbed them in the throat with the shaft. Artyom understood the growing despair at the inability to establish contact and to reach a mutual understanding, because, in the depths, in the lower passages, sat unreasonable, infuriated creatures who had destroyed their own world, who continued to bicker among themselves and who would die out soon if no one could re-educate them. The dark ones were extending a helping hand to people. And again the people seized it with hatred. He saw the desire to rid themselves of these embittered but very clever creations. But he also saw the desperate searches to find one of the unfortunates - one who could become a bridge between the two worlds, who could explain to the people that there was nothing to fear, and who could help the dark ones communicate with them.

  He understood that there was nothing dividing people and the dark ones. He understood they were not competing for survival but were two organisms intended by nature to work together. And together - with man’s technical knowledge and with the ability of the dark ones to overcame perils - they could take mankind to a new level, and the world, having ground to a halt, could continue to rotate about its axis. Because the dark ones were also part of mankind, a new branch of it, born here, in the ruins of a megalopolis swept away by war. The dark ones were the consequence of the final war, they were the children of this world, better adapted for the new terms of the game. And they sensed man not only with their customary organs, but also with tentacles of consciousness. Artyom recalled the mysterious noise in the pipes, he recalled the savages who could cast a spell with only a glance, and the revolting mass in the heart of the Kremlin that
could assault one’s reason . . . Man had not been able to cope with their influence on the mind, but it was as if the dark ones were created for it. Only they needed a partner, an ally . . . A friend. Someone who could help establish communications with their deaf and blind elder brothers - with people. And so began the long, patient search for an intermediary, a search crowned with luck and delight, because such an interpreter, the chosen one, had been found. But, before contact had been established with him, he disappeared. The tentacles of the Commoner looked for him everywhere, sometimes grabbing him in order to begin discourse, but he, afraid, tore away and ran. But he had to be supported and rescued, stopped, warned of the danger, urged on and again taken home where communication with him would be especially strong and clear. Finally, contact could become established and then the chosen one could another timid step towards understanding his mission. His fate. He had been intended for this because he had opened the door to the metro, to the people and to the dark ones.

  Artyom briefly thought about asking what had happened to Hunter. But this thought began to whirl in the vortex of new improbable sensations and it vanished into the seething whirlpool of experiences and disappeared without a trace. Now nothing distracted him from his primary goal, and he once again opened his mind to their mind. He now stood on the threshold of something incredibly important. He had experienced this feeling at the very beginning of his Odyssey, when he was sitting next to the bonfire at Alekseevskaya. And it was this clear understanding that kilometres of tunnels and weeks of wandering had led him to a secret door, and knowing that opening it would give him access to all the secrets of the universe and allow him to tower over the wretched people gouging out their world in the unyielding frozen earth. His long trip was forcing Artyom to throw the door open and bathe in the light of absolute knowledge that would gush out. And let the light blind him: eyes were a clumsy and purposeless instrument, suitable only for those who have not seen anything in their life except the sooty arches of the tunnels and the filthy granite of the stations. Artyom now had to extend his hand towards the one offered to him. Though it was frightening it was, undoubtedly, friendly. And then the door would be opened. And everything would be different. Unseen new horizons spread before him, beautiful and majestic. Joy and determination filled his heart, and there was only a drop of remorse that he had not understood all this earlier, that he had driven away his friends and brothers.