Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 8

  ‘The guy is an occultist. He’d spent half his life studying all kinds of mystical literature. He told Lekha mostly about this Castaneda chap . . . So the guy, basically, reads a lot, and looks into the future, finds missing things, and knows about future dangers. He says that he sees spirits. Can you imagine, he even . . .’ Zhenya paused dramatically. ‘He even goes through the metro without a weapon! I mean completely unarmed. He only has a penknife - to cut up food, and he has a plastic staff too. See? So, he says that everyone who takes weed and the people who drink it too - they’re all madmen. Because it is not what we think it is at all. It’s not any kind of real weed, and those mushrooms, they aren’t mushrooms either. Such toadstools have never grown in the central region before. Basically, one day I looked in a mushroom book, and it’s true, there’s not a word about the kinds of mushroom we have here. And there’s nothing even remotely like them . . . Those that eat it thinking that it is just a hallucinogen and they can watch cartoons on it, are totally mistaken, says this magician. And if you cook these toadstools in a slightly different way then you can enter a state where it is possible to regulate events in the real world.’

  ‘That’s quite a magician you have there - more like a drug addict!’ Artyom declared with conviction. ‘A lot of people here play around with weed to relax but, as you know, no one has ever taken it to that degree. The guy is addicted, one hundred percent. And he hasn’t got long, I’d say. Listen, Uncle Sasha told me this story . . . There’s some station - I don’t remember which - where this old man he didn’t know came up to him, and starts telling him that he has a powerful extra-sense and that he is waging an ongoing war with similar powerful psychics and aliens, only they are malicious. And they are almost defeating him, and he might not be able to fight them any longer, and all his strength was going into the fight. And the station - it was like Sukharevskaya, a kind of half-station where people sit around campfires in the centre of the platform, a ways off from the tunnel mouth, so they can get some sleep before they move on. And there, let’s say, there were three guys that walked past my stepfather and the old man, and the old man said to him in horror: “You see, there, that one, in the middle, that is one of the main evil psychics, a disciple of darkness. And on either side of him are aliens. They’re helping him. And their leader lives at the deepest point in the metro. And he says, basically, that they don’t want to come up to me because you’re sitting with me. They don’t want regular people to know about our fight. But they’re attacking me with their energy right now and I’m putting up a shield. And he says, “I will continue to fight!” You think it’s funny, but my stepfather didn’t think it was so funny at the time. Imagine: in some godforsaken corner of the metro, who knows what might happen . . . It sounds like rubbish, I know, but all the same. And there’s Uncle Sasha telling himself that this old man is crazy, but then the guy who is walking with the two aliens on either side, is looking at him meanly, and there’s something flashing in his eyes . . .’

  ‘What crap,’ Zhenya said, disbelievingly.

  ‘Crap it may be, but you well know that you should be prepared for anything at the distant stations. And the old man says to him that soon he (the old man, that is) will face the final battle with the evil psychics. And if he loses - and his forces are less than theirs - then it’s the end for everyone. Before, he says, there were more positive psychics, and the battleground was even, but now the negatives had started to conquer and this old man was one of the last standing. Maybe even THE last one standing. And if he is killed then the evil ones will win, and that will be it. Checkmate!’

  ‘We’re already at checkmate in my opinion,’ Zhenya observed.

  ‘Well, let’s say not total checkmate. There’s still possibilities,’ Artyom replied. ‘So, in parting, the old man says to him: “My son! Give me something to eat please. I have little strength left. And the final battle is coming nearer . . . And everyone’s future depends on its outcome. Yours too!” You get it? The old man was begging for food. That’s your magician, I’d say. Also, lost some marbles, I’d say. But for another reason.’

  ‘You’re a total fool! You didn’t even listen to the ending . . . and anyway, who told you that the old guy was lying? What was his name, by the way? Did your stepfather tell you?’

  ‘He told me, but I don’t remember it exactly. Some kind of funny name. Starts with a “Chu.” Could it be Chum - or Chump? . . . Bums often have some kind of funny nickname instead of a real name. And what - what was the name of your magician?’

  ‘He told Lekha that they call him Carlos now. Because of the similarity. I don’t know what he meant but that’s how he explained it. But you should listen to the end of the story. At the end of their conversation, he told Lekha that it’s best not to go through the northern tunnel - though Lekha was preparing to go back the next day. Lekha listened to him and didn’t go. And he was right. That day some thugs attacked a caravan in the tunnel between Sukharevskaya and Prospect Mir even though it had been considered safe. Half of the traders were killed. The rest barely managed to fight them off. So there!’

  Artyom went quiet and sank into thought.

  ‘Well, generally speaking, it’s impossible to know. Anything can happen. Things like that used to happen, that’s what my stepfather said. And he also said that at the most distant stations, where people have gone wild and have become primitive, they’ve forgotten that man is a rational being, and the strangest things happen - things that our logical minds wouldn’t be able to explain. He didn’t go into it, though. And he wasn’t even telling it to me - I just overheard by accident.’

  ‘Ha! I’m telling you: sometimes they describe things that normal people just wouldn’t believe. Last time, Lekha shared another story with me . . . Want to hear it? You won’t have heard this one from your stepfather, I tell you. A trader from the Serpukhovskaya line told it to Lekha . . . So, do you believe in ghosts?’

  ‘Well . . . every time I talk to you I start to wonder if I believe in them or not. But then when I’m on my own or with other people I come back to my senses,’ Artyom replied, barely managing to hold back a smile.

  ‘Are you serious?’

  ‘Well, I’ve read some things, of course. And Uncle Sasha has told me a lot of stories. But, if I’m honest, then I don’t really believe in all these stories. In general, Zhenya, I don’t really understand you. Here at the station, we’re living an unending nightmare with these dark ones - something you don’t find in any other part of the metro, I bet. Somewhere in the centre of the metro system there are kids talking about our life here, telling scary stories and asking each other: “Do you believe the tales about the dark ones or not?” And to you that means nothing. You want to scare yourself with yet more things?’

  ‘Yeah but don’t tell me that you’re only interested in things you can see and feel? You don’t really think that the world is organized into things you can see and hear? Take a mole, for example. It doesn’t see. It’s blind from birth. But that doesn’t mean that all the things that the mole doesn’t see don’t actually exist. That’s what you’re saying . . .’>

  ‘OK, so what’s the story you wanted to tell me? About the trader up at the Serpukhovskaya line?’

  ‘About the trader? Well . . . Somehow Lekha met this one guy at the market there. He, I guess, was definitely not from Serpukhovskaya. He’s from the Ring. He’s a citizen of the Hansa, but he lives at Dobryninskaya. Over there, they have a passage to Serpukhovskaya. On the line, I don’t know if your stepfather told you, but there’s no one living beyond the Ring - that is, until the next station which is Tulskaya - where there’s a Hansa patrol. They take measures to protect it - they basically think that since the line is uninhabited, you never know what will crawl out of it, and so they made a buffer zone there. And no one goes beyond Tulskaya. They say that there’s nothing to find there. The stations are all empty, the equipment there is broken - and life is impossible. A dead zone: not an animal, not any kind of vermin, there’s not ev
en rats there. Empty. But the trader had one acquaintance, a wanderer type, who once went beyond Tulskaya. I don’t know what he was looking for there. And he told the trader, that things are not so simple on the Serphukhvskaya line. And that it’s not empty for no reason. He was saying that you can’t even imagine what’s going on out there. And there’s a reason why the Hansa aren’t colonizing the area, even though you might think it would be a fine place for a plantation or a pigsty.’

  Zhenya went silent, feeling that Artyom had finally forgotten his robust cynicism and was listening with an open mouth. Then he settled more comfortably on the ground, with an inner feeling of triumph:

  ‘Yeah, well, you’re probably not interested in all this crap. Old wives’ tales. Want some tea?’

  ‘Wait a second with the tea! Instead tell me why the Hansa didn’t colonize the area? You’re right, it’s strange. My stepfather says that there’s a general over-population problem anyway - there isn’t room for everyone anymore. So why would they give up the chance of taking a little more space? It’s not like them!’

  ‘Ah, so you are interested!? OK, so this stranger went pretty far into it. He was saying that you walk and walk and there isn’t a soul. There’s nothing and no one, like in that tunnel beyond Sukharevskaya. Can you imagine? There’s not even a rat! You just hear water dripping. Abandoned stations just sit there in darkness and no one has ever lived there. And you always have a sense of being in danger. And it’s oppressive . . . He was walking quickly, and he went through four stations in almost half a day. A desperate person, no doubt. I mean, really, to get into a game like that alone! So, he gets to Sebastopolskaya. There’s a passage to Kakhovskaya. And you know the Kakhovskaya line, there’s only three stations on it. It’s not a line but an unfinished thought. Sort of like an appendix . . . And he decides to spend the night at Sebastopolskaya. Having worn out his wits, he’s tired . . . He found some wood chips, laid a fire so it wouldn’t be all so awful, and crawled into his sleeping bag and went to sleep in the middle of the platform. And during the night . . .’

  At this point, Zhenya stood up, stretching, and said with a sadistic smile, ‘OK, I don’t know about you, but I myself really want some tea!’ And, not waiting for an answer, he took the kettle out of the tent, leaving Artyom alone with his impressions from the story.

  Artyom, of course, was angry at Zhenya for leaving him there, but he decided to patiently await the end of the story and then he’d give Zhenya a piece of his mind. Suddenly he was reminded of Hunter and his request. It was more like an order, really. But then his thoughts went back to Zhenya’s story.

  Having returned with tea, he poured some into a tea-glass which had a rare metal outer-casing, the kind they used to have in trains for tea, and he continued, ‘So he went to sleep next to the fire and there was silence all around - a heavy silence as though his ears were full of cotton. And in the middle of the night there’s a strange sound . . . a totally sanity-challenging and impossible sound. He was immediately covered in cold sweat, and jumped right up. He heard children’s laughter. Coming from the tunnel. This is four stations from the nearest people! Rats don’t even live there, can you imagine? There was reason to be alarmed . . . So he jumps up and runs under the arches to the tunnel . . . And he sees . . . There’s a train coming into the station. A real train. Its headlights are shining, and blinding him - the wanderer could have been blinded by them so it’s good he covered his eyes with his hand in time. The windows were lit in yellow and there were people inside and this was all going on in total silence! Not a sound! There wasn’t a hum from the engine, not a clatter of wheels. The train glides into the station in total silence . . . You see? The guy sits down, something’s wrong with his heart. And there’s people in the train windows, like real people who are chatting away inaudibly . . . The train, wagon by wagon, is going past him, and he sees in the last window of the last wagon, there’s a seven-year-old child looking at him. Looking at him, pointing at him, and laughing . . . And the laughter was audible. There was such silence that the guy could hear his own heart beating along with this child’s laughter . . . The train dives into the tunnel, and the laughter gets quieter and quieter . . . and goes silent in the distance. And again - emptiness. And an absolute and horrifying silence.’ ‘And then he woke up?’ Artyom asked maliciously but with a certain hope in his voice.

  ‘If only! He rushed back, towards the extinguished fire, quickly gathered up his belongings and ran back to Tulskaya without stopping. He ran the whole way in one hour. It was so scary. You have to think . . .’

  Artyom had gone quiet, frozen by what he’d heard. Silence descended in the tent. Finally, having gathered his wits and coughed, making sure that his voice wouldn’t give him away and crack, Artyom asked Zhenya as indifferently as he could:

  ‘And what, you believe all that?’

  ‘Well, it’s not the first time I’ve heard this kind of story about the Serpukhovskaya line,’ Zhenya replied. ‘Only I don’t always tell you them. It’s not possible to talk about these things with you in a normal way. You start interrupting straight away . . . OK, we’ve sat here for a while you and me, and it’s almost time to go to work. Let’s get ready. We can talk more when we get there.’

  Artyom got up reluctantly, dragged himself home - he needed to get a snack to take to work. His stepfather was still sleeping, it was totally quiet at the station: most people had probably been let off work and there was a little time left until the night shift began. He should hurry up. Going past the guest tent, in which Hunter was staying, Artyom saw that the tent flaps were pulled aside and the tent was empty. His heart skipped a beat. Finally he understood that everything he’d discussed with Hunter hadn’t been a dream, that it had actually taken place, and that the development of events could have a direct impact on him. He knew what fate lay before him.

  The tea-factory was located in a dead-end, at a blocked exit from the underground, where there were escalators leading upwards. All the work in the factory was done by hand. It was too extravagant to waste precious electric energy on production.

  Behind the iron screens that separated the territory of the factory from the rest of the station, there was a metal wire drawn from wall to wall, on which cleaned mushrooms were drying. When it was particularly humid, they made little fires underneath the mushrooms so that they would dry more quickly and wouldn’t get covered in mould. Under the wire there were tables where the workers first cut and then crushed the dried mushrooms. The prepared tea was packed into paper or polyethylene packages - depending on what was available at the station - and they added some extracts and powders to it, the recipe of which was only known to the head of the factory. That was the straightforward process of producing tea. Without the much-needed conversation while you worked your eight-hour shift of cutting and crushing mushroom caps, then it would probably be the most exhausting business.

  Artyom worked this shift with Zhenya and a new, shaggy-haired guy called Kirill with whom he’d been on patrol too. Kirill became very animated at the sight of Zhenya - obviously they had met and spoken before - and he quickly took to telling him some story that had apparently been interrupted the last time they spoke. Artyom sat in the middle and wasn’t interested enough to listen so he plunged into his thoughts. The story about the Serpukhovskaya line, that Zhenya had just told him had started to fade in his memory, and his conversation with Hunter surfaced.

  What could be done? The orders given to him by Hunter were too serious not to think them over. What if Hunter would not be able to do whatever it was that he intended? He had committed to a completely senseless act, having dared to venture into the enemy’s lair, right into the heat of the fire. The danger he was subjecting himself to was enormous, and he himself didn’t even know its true parameters. He could only guess at what awaited him at the five-hundredth metre where the light of the last fire at the border post grows dim - the last man-made flames to the north of VDNKh. All he knew about the dark ones was what everyone else
knew - but no one else was thinking of going out there. In fact, it wasn’t even a known fact that there was a real passageway at the Botanical Gardens where beasts could enter the metro from above.

  The likelihood was too great that Hunter wouldn’t be able to complete the mission he’d taken upon himself. Obviously, the danger from the north seemed to be so great and was increasing so quickly that any delay was inadmissible. Hunter probably knew something about its nature that he hadn’t revealed in his meeting with Sukhoi or his conversation with Artyom.

  Therefore he probably was aware of the degree of the risk and understood that he would probably not be up to his task, otherwise why would he prepare Artyom for a turn of events? Hunter didn’t resemble an overcautious person, so that meant that the probability that he wouldn’t return to VDNKh existed and was rather significant.

  But how could Artyom give up everything and leave the station without saying anything to anyone? Hunter himself was afraid of warning anyone else, afraid of the ‘worm-eaten brains’ here . . . How would it be possible to get to Polis, to the legendary Polis, all alone, through all the evident and mysterious dangers that awaited travellers in the dark and mute tunnels? Artyom suddenly regretted that he had succumbed to Hunter’s strong charms and hypnotizing gaze, that he had told him his secret, and agreed to such a dangerous mission.

  ‘Hey Artyom! Artyom! You sleeping there or what? Why aren’t you saying anything?’ Zhenya shook his shoulder. ‘Did you hear what Kirill was saying? Tomorrow night they’re organizing a caravan to Rizhskaya. They say that our administration has decided to make a pact with them, but meanwhile it looks like we’re sending them humanitarian aid, with a view to becoming brothers. Seems they have found some kind of warehouse containing cables. The leaders want to lay them down: they say they’re going to make a telephone system between the stations. In any case, a telegraph system. Kirill says that whoever isn’t working tomorrow can go. Want to?’