Table of Contents
A Gollancz eBook
Copyright © Dmitry Glukhovsky 2007 English translation copyright © Natasha Randall 2009 All rights reserved.
The right of Dmitry Glukhovsky to be identified as the author of this work, and of Natasha Randall to be identified as the translator of this work, has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in Great Britain in 2010 by
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane
London, WC2H 9EA
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This eBook first published in 2010 by Gollancz.
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is available from the British Library.
eISBN : 978 0 5750 8626 5
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Dear Muscovites and guests to our capital!
The Moscow metro is a form of transportation which involves a heightened level of danger.
- A notice in the metro
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
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, you didn’t hear about it? It was a strange story. Strange and frightening. First their scouts began disappearing. Went off into the tunnels and didn’t come back. Granted, their scouts are completely green, nothing like ours, but then again, their station’s smaller, a lot less people live there . . . well, used to live there. So anyway, their scouts start disappearing. One detachment leaves - and vanishes. At first they thought something was holding them up - up there the tunnel twists and turns just like it does here . . .’ Artyom felt ill at ease when he heard these words. ‘And neither the patrols, nor those at the station could see anything, no matter how much light they threw at it. No one appeared - for half an hour, then for an hour, then two. They wondered where the scouts could have gone - they were only going one kilometre in. They weren’t allowed to go any further and anyway, they aren’t total idiots . . . Long story short, they couldn’t wait to find out. They sent reinforcements who searched and searched, and shouted and shouted - but it was all in vain. The patrol was gone. The scouts had vanished. And it wasn’t just that no one had seen what had happened to them. The worst part was that they hadn’t heard a sound . . . not a sound. There was no trace of them whatsoever.’
Artyom was already beginning to regret that he had asked Pyotr Andreevich to recount the story of Polezhaevskaya. Pyotr Andreevich was either better informed, or was embellishing the story somewhat; but in any case, he was telling details of the sort that the traders couldn’t have dreamed, despite being masters and true enthusiasts of story-telling. The story’s details sent a chill over Artyom’s skin, and he became uncomfortable even sitting next to the fire. Any rustlings from the tunnel, even the most innocent, were now exciting his imagination.
‘So, there you have it. They hadn’t heard any gunfire so they decided that the scouts had simply left them - maybe they were dissatisfied with something, and had decided to run. So, to hell with them. If it’s an easy life they want, if they want to run around with all kinds of riff-raff, then let them run around to their hearts’ content. It was simpler to see it that way. Easier. But a week later, yet another scout team disappeared. And they weren’t supposed to go any further than half a kilometre from the station. And again, the same old story. Not a sound, not a trace. Like they’d vanished into thin air. So then they started getting worried back at the station. Now they had a real mess on their hands - two squadrons had disappeared within a week. They’d have to do something about it. Meaning, they’d have to take measures. Well, they set up a cordon at the three-hundredth metre. They dragged sandbags to the cordon, set up machine guns and a spotlight - according to the rules of fortification. They sent a runner to Begovaya - they’d established a confederation with Begovaya and 1905 Street. Initially, October Field had also been included, but then something had happened, no one knows exactly what - some kind of accident. Conditions there had become unliveable, and everyone had fled.
‘Anyway, then they sent a runner to Begovaya, to warn them that, as they said, trouble was afoot, and to ask for help, should anything happen. The first runner had only just made it to Begovaya - and the people there were still considering their answer - when a second runner arrived at Begovaya, lathered in sweat, and said that their reinforced cordon had perished to a man, without firing a single shot. Every last one of them had been slaughtered. And it was as if they’d been butchered in their sleep - that’s what was scary! But they wouldn’t have fallen asleep, not after the scare they’d had, not to mention the orders and instructions. At this point, the people at Begovaya understood that if they did nothing, the same story would begin in their neck of the woods as well. They equipped a strike force of veterans, about a hundred men, machine guns, and grenade launchers. Of course, that all took a bit of time, about a day and a half, but all the same, they dispatched the group to go and help. And when the group entered Polezhaevskaya, there wasn’t a living soul to be seen. There weren’t even bodies - just blood everywhere. There you go. And who knows who the hell did it. I, for one, don’t believe that humans are capable of such a thing.’
‘And what happened to Begovaya?’ Artyom’s voice sounded unusual, unlike him.
‘Nothing happened to them. They saw what the deal was, and exploded the tunnel that led to Polezhaevskaya. I hear forty metres’ worth of tunnel is collapsed; there’s no digging through it without special machinery, and even with machinery, I bet you wouldn’t get very far . . . And where are you going to find that kind of machinery, anyway? Our machinery rotted away fifteen years ago already . . .’
Pyotr Andreevich fell silent, gazing into the fire. Artyom gave a loud cough and said,
‘Yeah . . . I should’ve shot the thing, of course . . . I was an idiot.’
A shout came from the south, from the direction of the station:
‘Hey there, at the four-hundredth metre! Everything OK there?’
Pyotr Andreevich folded his hands into the shape of a megaphone and shouted in reply:
‘Come closer! We’ve got a situation here!’
Three figures approached in the tunnel, from the station, their flashlights shining - probably patrol members from the three-hundredth metre. Stepping into the light of the fire, they put out their flashlights and sat down.
‘Hi there, Pyotr! So it’s you here. And I’m thinking to myself - who’d they send off to the edge of the earth today?’ said the senior patrolman, smiling and shaking a cigarette from his pack.
‘Listen, Andryukha! One of my guys saw someone up here. But he didn’t get to shoot . . . It hid in the tunnel. He says it didn’t look human.’
‘Didn’t look human? What did it look like, then?’ Andrey turned to Artyom.
‘I didn’t even see it . . . I just asked for the password, and it ran right off, heading north. But the footsteps weren’t human - they were light, and very quick, as if it had four legs instead of two . . .’
‘Or three!’ winked Andrey, making a scary face.
Artyom choked, remembering the stories about the three-legged people from the Filevskaya line where some of the stations went up to the surface, and the tunnel didn’t run very deep at all, so they had almost no protection from the radiation. There were three-legged things, two-headed things and all kinds of weird shit crawling all over the metro from those parts.
Andrey took a drag of his cigarette and said to his men, ‘All right, guys, since we’re already here why don’t we sit down for a while? If any three-legged things crawl up on these guys again, we’ll lend a hand. Hey, Artyom! Got a kettle?’