Metro 2033

CHAPTER 1

The End of the Earth

‘Who’s there? Artyom - go have a look!’

Artyom rose reluctantly from his seat by the fire and, shifting the machine gun from his back to his chest, headed towards the darkness. He stood right at the edge of the lighted area and then, as loudly and threateningly as he could, he clicked the slide on his gun and shouted gruffly, ‘Stop! Password!’

He could hear quick, staccato footsteps in the darkness where moments ago he’d heard a strange rustle and hollow-sounding murmurings. Someone was retreating into the depths of the tunnel, frightened away by Artyom’s gruff voice and the rattling of his weapon. Artyom hurriedly returned to the fire and flung an answer at Pyotr Andreevich:

‘Nope, no one came forward. No response, they just ran off.’

‘You idiot! You were clearly told. If they don’t respond, then shoot immediately! How do you know who that was? Maybe the dark ones are getting closer!’

‘No . . . I don’t think they were people . . . The sounds were really strange . . . And the footsteps weren’t human either. What? You think I don’t know what human footsteps sound like? And anyway, when have the dark ones ever run off like that? You know it yourself, Pyotr Andreevich. Lately they’ve been lunging forward without hesitation. They attacked a patrol with nothing but their bare hands, marching straight into machine-gun fire. But this thing, it ran off straight away . . . Like some kind of scared animal.’

‘All right, Artyom! You’re too smart for your own good. But you’ve got instructions - so follow them, don’t think about it. Maybe it was a scout. And now it knows how few of us are here, and how much ammunition they’d need . . . They might just wipe us out here and now for fun. Put a knife to our throat, and butcher the entire station, just like at Polezhaevskaya - and all just because you didn’t get rid of that rat . . . Watch it! Next time I’ll make you run after them into the tunnel!’

It made Artyom shudder to imagine the tunnel beyond the seven-hundredth metre. It was horrifying just to think about it. No one had the guts to go beyond the seven-hundredth metre to the north. Patrols had made it to the five-hundredth, and having illuminated the boundary post with the spotlight on the trolley and convinced themselves that no scum had crossed it, they hastily returned. Even the scouts - big guys, former marines - would stop at the six hundred and eightieth metre. They’d turn their burning cigarettes into their cupped palms and stand stock-still, clinging to their night-vision instruments. And then, they’d slowly, quietly head back, without taking their eyes off the tunnel, and never turning their backs to it.

They were now on patrol at the four hundred and fiftieth metre, fifty metres from the boundary post. The boundary was checked once a day and today’s inspection had been completed several hours ago. Now their post was the outermost and, since the last check, the beasts that the last patrol might have scared off would have certainly begun to crawl closer once again. They were drawn to the flame, to people . . .

Artyom settled back down into his seat and asked, ‘So what actually happened at Polezhaevskaya?’

Although he already knew this blood-curdling story (from the traders at the station), he had an urge to hear it again, like a child who feels an irrepressible urge to hear scary stories about headless mutants and dark ones who kidnap young children.

‘At Polezhaevskaya? What,