Chapter 1

Alpha

Dear Muscovites and guests of the capital!
The Moscow Metropolitan Railway is a high-danger transport enterprise.

- Announcement posted in one of the train cars.

He who has enough courage and patience to stare into the darkness for his entire life, shall be the first to see the flash of light.
- Khan

World’s End

“Who’s there? Hey, Artem! Go take a look!”

Artem reluctantly rose from his seat near the bonfire and, pulling the submachine over his back, stepped into the darkness. Standing on the very edge of light, he ostentatiously clicked the bolt loudly and forcefully and shouted hoarsely:

“Halt! Password!”

Fast, abrupt steps resounded from the darkness, where a minute ago were heard strange rustling and deaf muttering. Someone was retreating into the depths of the tunnel, frightened by Artem’s husky voice and his rifle’s rattle. Artem quickly returned to the bonfire and uttered to Petr Andreevich:

“Well, there was something… It didn’t name itself, just ran off.”

“You scatterbrain! You were told: if there’s no answer—shoot immediately! How would you know who it was? Maybe the Dark are stealing up to us!”

“No… I don’t think it was human at all… The sounds were very strange… Even its steps were not human. You think I can’t recognize human steps? And then, if it were the Dark, would they ever run away like that? As you recall, Petr Andreevich, lately the Dark rush forward immediately and attack the patrol with their bare hands, even going against the machine guns _with_ their full height. And this one fled immediately… It was just some cowardly creature.”

“Whatever, Artem, you smartass! You have you instructions—you follow these instructions, end of discussion. Maybe it was a scout. Maybe he saw that there are few of us, while they have superior forces… Maybe they’re about to kill us, a knife to our throats, then slaughter the entire station, as it happened with Polezhaevskaya, and all because you did not cut the bastard down in time… You be more careful, boy. Next time you do something like that, I’ll make you chase that thing down the tunnel!”

Artem shivered, imagining the tunnel after the seven hundred fiftieth meter. Even the thought of going that far was terrifying. No one dared to go past seven hundred fiftieth meter. The patrols on handcars went to the five hundredth meter, and after shining a floodlight on the boundary post from the trolley and making sure that no mutant trash had crossed it, returned in a hurry. Scouts, big men, former marines—even they stopped on six hundred and eightieth meter, hid the lit cigarettes in their palms and froze, clinging to their night vision _devices_ [|goggles]. They then retreated slowly, quietly, without taking their eyes off the tunnel and never, ever turning their back on it.

Artem’s current watch was on the four hundred fiftieth meter, fifty meters from the boundary post. But the boundary was checked only once a day, and the last inspection was several hours ago. Now their post was the _farthest in line_ [|last], and in the time since the last inspection, anything which could have been scared off by the patrol would surely begin to creep up again, attracted to the flame, to the people…

Artem took his seat and asked:

“So what happened to Polezhaevskaya anyway?”

Even though he already knew this blood-chilling story and heard it countless times from the merchant travelers back on the station, he wanted to hear it again, just as children who can’t resist hearing the terrible fables of headless mutants and baby-stealing vampires.

“To Polezhaevskaya? You haven’t heard? A strange story… Strange and freakish. First their scouts begin to vanishing. They went into the tunnels and never returned. It’s true that their scouts are green, no match to ours, but their station is a bit smaller, and with fewer residents… I mean, former residents. So… Where was I? Ah, the scouts started to disappear. They sent in a squadron—and it did not come back. First they thought that they were just slow—they have a winding tunnel just like we do,” Artem felt uneasy at these words. “But neither those keeping watch nor anyone on the station could see them. They’re peering into the darkness for half-an-hour, an hour, two hours—but no sign of the squadron. It seemed, what could have happened in that tunnel—they were told to travel only a kilometer, and forbidden from going farther, and the scouts themselves were not fools, you know… Well, they never came back, so the station sent a reinforced detachment to search for them. They looked everywhere, called for them as loudly as they could, but all in vain. The scouts just vanished. It’s only half the problem that no one saw what happened. The other half was that no one heard anything… Not a sound. Not a trace.

Artem already began to regret asking Petr Andreevich about Polezhaevskaya. Petr Andreevich was either more-informed or more-imaginative than the merchant travelers, the masters of storytelling, but his story recounted the details that even they could not imagine. These details made the skin _turn to goose-flesh_, so that even the bonfire felt uncomfortable, and every noise coming from the tunnel, however harmless, disturbed the imagination.

“And then, well, there was no shooting, and they decided that their scouts probably ran away from the station—maybe they were dissatisfied with something and just left. Well, they thought, good riddance. If the scouts want an easy life, wandering around with the rabble, with the anarchists, let them be. It was easier to think that. Calmer. But a week later another group of scouts vanished. Those weren’t even supposed to go past half a kilometer. And again the same story. Not a sound, not a trace. As if they vanished into thin air. Now everyone at the station is getting nervous. It’s quite irregular for two groups to disappear in a week. Something had to be done, some measures taken. Well, they built a fortified cordon on the three hundredth meter. Hauled bags with sand, installed a machine gun, a searchlight, everything according to the rules of fortification. Then sent a messenger to Begovaya—they were confederated with Begovaya and Ulitsa of 1905. Oktyabrskoe Pole also used to be in the confederation, but that was before something happened there, nobody knows precisely what, some sort of accident, which made the station inhabitable, so everybody abandoned it… Well, that’s unimportant. They sent to a messenger to Begovaya—to warn that something is awry and to ask for help, just in case. Not even a day after the first messenger reached Begovaya—they were still deciding what to do—another one comes running, lathery, sweaty, and says that their entire fortified cordon perished without a single shot. All were cut down. It was as if they were knifed in their sleep, that’s the scary part! It’s not like they could they fall asleep with all this dread, not to mention the strict orders and instructions! After that, Begovaya understood that if they don’t do anything, soon they will have the same mayhem on their station. They equipped an special brigade of about hundred veterans, with machine guns, grenade launchers… That, of course, took a bit of time, about a day and a half, but at least they went. When the soldiers entered Polezhaevskaya, there wasn’t a single living soul left. And not a single body either, only blood everywhere. That’s it. And hell knows who did it. I don’t believe humans would be capable of doing that.

“But… What happened to Begovaya?” asked Artem in _an alien_ voice.

“Nothing. They saw what happened and collapsed up the tunnel that led to Polezhaevskaya. I heard there are forty meters of rubble, not something you can clear out without machinery, or even with machinery. And where are you going to get these machines, eh? They rotted _away_ fifteen years ago, you know…

Petr Andreevich became silent, looking into the fire. Artem gave a _low_ [|quiet] cough and agreed:

“Yeah… I should have shot it… I messed up.”

A shout was heard from the south, _the direction of station_:

“Hey there, on the four fifty! Is everything okay?

Peter Andreevich formed a mouthpiece with his hands and shouted in reply:

“Come closer! There’s something!”

Three figures approached from the tunnel leading to the station, illuminating their path with pocked flashlights—probably _watchmen_ from three hundredth meter. After coming to the bonfire, they switched off their flashlights and sat down.

“Hello, Petr! You’re here today! And I was thinking, who got sent to the world’s end today?” said the eldest of them, smiling and taking a cigarette from a pack.

“Listen, Andrey! One of my fellows here spotted somebody. But didn’t have enough time to shoot it… It ran away into the tunnel. He says, it wasn’t human.”

“Not human? So what did it look like?” Andrey turned to Artem.

“Well, I didn’t exactly see it… I only asked for a password, and it immediately ran away. But its steps were not human—very light and frequent—as if it had not two feet, but four…

“Or three!” winked Andrey, making a scary fate at Artem.

Artem _gagged_ [|chocked] _over_ that, recalling the stories about the three-legged people from Filevskaya Line, where part of the stations lay on the surface, and the tunnel was barely underground, so that there was almost no protection from the radiation. From there all three-legged, two-headed, and other freakish monstrosities spread to the rest of the Metro.

Andrey _inhaled_ his cigarette and continued,

“Well, guys, now that we’re here, why don’t we stay with you for a while? If some three-legged monsters appear, we’ll help you out. Hey, Artem! Have you got a teapot here?”

Peter Andreevich stood up, poured some water from his flask into a cracked sooty [|blackened] teapot, and hung it over the fire. The teapot began to boil in a few minutes, humming; and this sound, so homely and cozy, made Artem feel warmer and calmer. He looked at the people sitting around the bonfire—all of them strong men, dependable, hardened by the difficult life down here. These people were trustworthy, reliable. Their station was always reputed to be one of the most safe and stable on the entire line—and all thanks to those who gathered here—and those like them. All of them were bonded [|bound] by warm, almost brotherly relations.

Artem was already in his twenties; he was born there, above, and he wasn’t so pale and scrawny as all those who were born in the Metro—who never dared to show up on the surface, fearing not only radiation, but also the incinerating sunlight, fatal for those living underground. Artem himself could remember being on the surface only once, only for an instant: the background radiation was strong enough to murder the excessively curious in a couple of hours, before they could walk around to their hearts’ content and admire the outlandish world lying above.

He didn’t remember his father at all. He lived with his mother until he was five, on Timiryazevskaya. Everything seemed to be going fine back then, and life was stable and calm, until Timiryazevskaya fell under a swarm of rats.

Rats—enormous, gray, wet rats—suddenly gushed out of one of the dark lateral tunnels without any warning. This tunnel was split inconspicuously from the main northern tunnel and veered to imperceptible depth, where it turned into a complex interlacing of hundreds of corridors, labyrinths filled with horror, icy cold, and disgusting stench. This tunnel led to the reign of rats, a place where not even the most desperate adventurer dared to tread. Even a stray wanderer without any understanding of maps or passageways would instinctively stop at the entrance to this tunnel, sensing the dark and terrible danger emanating from it, and would _avoid_ the gaping maw like the gates of a plague-infected city.

No one disturbed rats. No one entered their territory. No one dared to cross the boundaries.

But they attacked anyway.

Many people perished that day, when the living flow of gigantic rats, the largest that anyone has ever seen in the Metro, flooded both the fortified cordons and the station, burying both the defenders of the station and its population, muffling the dying cries of their victims with the mass of their bodies. They devoured everything on their way—the dead, the living, even their just-killed fellows—blindly, inexorably, moved by an incomprehensible force, the rats pressed onward, farther and farther.

Only a handful survived. Not the women, not the old, not the children—none of those usually saved first—but only five strong men, who were able to outrun the deadly flow. They escaped only because they were on a handcar, standing watch in the southern tunnel. When they heard the cries from the station, one of them rushed to see what happened. The station was almost _done for_ when he saw it from the end of the tunnel. As he entered the station, he immediately understood what happened—after distinguishing the rat bodies slipping through onto the platform from the other end—and turned back, knowing that he could not help the defenders of the station in any way. But just as he turned, someone grabbed his hand. He turned around and saw a terrified woman, who pulled insistently on his sleeve and shouted, attempting to overpower the countless cries of the dying station:

“Save him, soldier! Pity him!”

And then he saw that she was extending a child’s hand to him—a small, pudgy palm—and he gripped this palm, not to save someone’s life but because that she called him a soldier and asked him to have pity. First dragging the child behind him, and later carrying it under his arm, he raced with the first rats, raced with death—forward, into the tunnel, toward his watch comrades’ trolley, shouting them to start the engine from fifty meters away. They had a motorized handcar, the only one for ten surrounding stations, and that’s how they were able to outrun the rats. The trolley rushed past the half-desolate Dmitrovskaya, home to several hermits, and the men barely had enough time to shout “Run! Rats!” fully understanding that these people would not make it in time to save themselves. Driving up to the cordons at Savelovskaya, a station with which they, thankfully, had a peace treaty at the moment, they started to brake, so that the watch would not open fire on them, mistaking them for racketeers. “Rats! Rats are coming!” they screamed to the patrol, getting ready to continue running through Savelovskaya and further down, on and on, begging each watch to let them pass, until the gray mass of rats would flood and slaughter the whole Metro.

Miraculously, there was something on Savelovskaya that saved them, the station, and, quite possibly, the entire Serpukhovsko-Timiryazevskaya line. They were still approaching, lathery, warning of the gray death right on their tail, and already the watchmen on the station were hurrying to uncover some imposing rig at their post.

It was a flamethrower, probably assembled by the local tech-heads from found parts, primitive, but incredibly powerful. As soon as they saw the first column of rats, as soon as they heard the ever-increasing rustling and gnashing of thousands of rat claws, the watchmen _ignited_ the flamethrower and let it burn until the fuel ran out. The roaring orange flame filled the tunnel dozens of meters ahead and burned, seared the rats without ceasing for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes. The tunnel was filled with odious stink of burnt meat and singed fur and wild rat screeches… Right behind the watchmen of the Savelovskaya, who became the famous heroes of the entire line, the cooling-down trolley was waiting for a new run, and on it—five men, who rescued themselves from Timiryazevskaya, and the one child they saved, a boy. Artem.

The rats backed off. Their brainless will was broken by one of the last inventions of human military genius. Man always knew how to kill better than any other living creature.

The rats ebbed and returned to their vast kingdom, the actual size of which nobody knew. All these labyrinths, which lay incredibly deep, were so mysterious and strange and, it would seem, completely useless for the function of the metro, that even despite the assertions of authoritative people, it was hard to believe that they were built by regular people, simple underground construction workers.

One of these authoritative figures was the train driver’s mate back then, before. There were almost none of these people left, these workers, and they were held in great respect, because in the beginning they were the only ones not lost or frightened being out of the convenient and safe capsule of a train in the dark tunnels of Moscow metro, in the stony maw of the Megapolis. This man was held in great respect by everyone on the station; children were taught the same, and that is probably why Artem remembered him _his entire life_: a thin, exhausted person, pined in the long years of underground work, dressed in a worn and dingy metro worker’s uniform, which long ago lost its glossy stylishness, but was still worn with great pride, like the ceremonial uniform of a retired admiral. And Artem, back then just a boy, saw in the frail figure of the driver’s mate such an unspeakable power of character…

And of course! The workers of the metro were like the native guides for the scientific expeditions in a dense jungle. People piously believed in them, completely relied on them; the survival of the rest depended on the knowledge and abilities of these few. Such people often became the leaders of the stations when the system of centralized control fell apart, and the metro turned from a complex object of civil defense, from a giant nuclear _fallout_ shelter, into a multitude of disconnected independent stations, sinking into chaos and anarchy. Stations became autonomous, sovereign enclaves with their own ideologies and regimes, leaders and armies. They warred with each other, united into federations and confederations, one day becoming the metropoleis [|metropolises, for the non-Greek reader] of the erected empires, and the next being devastated and colonized by former friends or slaves. They made short-term agreements against a bigger threat, but as soon as the threat passed, they tried to rip out each other’s throats out with a newfound strength. They squabbled over everything with great abandon: for the living space, for the food—protein yeast implantations; fungus farms, which required no sunlight; hencoops and hogfarms, where pale underground pigs and sickly chicken [|chickens] were raised on colorless underground mushrooms—and, of course, for the water—that is, for the water filters. Savages, poisoned by the radioactive water because they could not repair the filter installations at their own stations, assaulted the strongholds of civilized life with beastlike fury, attacking the stations, where generators and small primitive hydroelectric power plants were running smoothly, where the filters were regularly maintained and cleaned, where, cultivated by gentle female hands, the white caps of agarics covered the wet soil and fed the pigs, grunting in their enclosures.

They were led to this desperate assault by the instinct of self-preservation and the old revolutionary principle—take away and divide. The defenders of the successful stations, organized into combat-effective units by former professional military officers, repelled the attacks of vandals to the last drop of blood, assumed the counteroffensive, and battled battle for every meter of the interstation tunnels. Stations accumulated military power in order to answer any raids with punitive expeditions; in order to push out their civilized neighbors from vitally important living space, when they failed to reach agreements peacefully; and, finally, in order to rebuff all the evil which crawled out from all the holes and all the tunnels. Rebuff all the strange, deformed, and dangerous creatures, each of which could lead the poor Darwin into desperation by its explicit inconsistency with all the laws of evolutionary development. However strikingly different they were from the creatures that people were used to, either transformed from the inoffensive representatives of urban fauna into devil incarnates under the invisible disastrous rays, or always dwelling in the depths, and only now disturbed by man, they were nevertheless a real part of the life on Earth. Distorted, deformed, but nevertheless alive, subordinate to the same main impulse that governs everything organic on the planet:

To survive. To survive at any cost.

Artem accepted the white enameled cup, filled with their special tea, made on this station. Of course it wasn’t real tea, only liqueur from dry fungi with additives, because real tea was incredibly rare, and was spared and only used during holidays, and cost dozens of times more than their fungus infusion. However, the station took a liking to its broth, and proudly called it "tea". Foreigners spat it out the first time they tried it, but even they got used to it eventually. The fame of their tea spread past their station, and merchants moved to VDNH. One by one at first, risking their own skin; but then their tea became a hit along the entire line, and even Hansa took an interest in it, sending large caravans to VDNH for their magic liqueur. Money started to flow. Along with money—weapons, firewood and vitamins. And life. Ever since VDNH started making the tea, their station began to strengthen; economical people from the surrounding stations and railways began to immigrate. The station prospered. Inhabitants of VDNH were also proud of their pigs and even told legends that this was the station responsible for having pigs in the Metro—when, at the beginning, some daredevils reached the half-wrecked pavilion "Hog Breeding" at the Exhibition and drove a herd of pigs back to the station.

“Hey, Artem! How’s Suhoy?”—asked Andrey, sipping the tea slowly while zealously blowing on the cup.

“Uncle Sasha? He’s all right. He just came back from a trip up the line with our guys. With the expedition. But you know that, right?”

Andrey was a dozen years older than Artem. His main job was a scout, and he rarely stood in watches closer than four hundred fifty meters; and even so, always as the commander of the cordon. He was initially ordered to the three hundred meter mark, but he was always drawn deeper into the tunnel, and would always use the first false alarm as an excuse to get closer to the darkness, closer to the mystery. He loved the tunnel and knew all of its offshoots. He felt uncomfortable at the station, among the farmers, the plodders, traders, and the administration, as if he were unnecessary. He could not force himself to plow the ground for the mushrooms, or worse, feed the fat pigs, sinking knee deep in manure at the station farms. Nor could he trade: he couldn’t stand petty traders; he was always soldier, a warrior; and believed with his whole heart that this was the only worthy vocation for a man. He was proud that he, Andrey, spent his entire life protecting the reeking farmers, fussy merchants, smug adminstrators, women, and children. Women were attracted to his disdainful, almost derisive power [|might]; to his utterly complete [|faultless] self-confidence; to the composure [|calmness] about his future and the future of those around him, because he knew he could always protect them. Women promised love and comfort, but he felt truly at home after the fiftieth meters, when the lights of station hid behind the bend, where women never followed.

After getting warmed from the tea and taking off his old black beret, he wiped his steamed whiskers with a sleeve and started to question Artem greedily about the news and the gossip brought from the last expedition south by Artem’s step-father—the very person who snatched Artem from the rats nineteen years ago on Timiryazevskaya, and decided to raise him, unable to abandon him.

“I may have heard some of the stories, but I’ll gladly listen to them again. Come on, don’t be greedy,” insisted Andrey.

His persuasions didn’t have to last very long: Artem himself liked to remember and retell all of his stepfather’s stories, knowing that _everyone around the bonfire would listen to him with their mouths open_ [|he would have everyone’s undivided attention].

“Well, you probably already know where they were headed,” began Artem…

“Somewhere south, that’s all I know. They’re too secretive, your runners [|explorers]!” smiled Andrey. “Their special assignments from the administration, you know!” he winked to one of his people.

“No, this wasn’t a secret,” Artem quickly _disregarded_ the claim. “The purpose of their expedition was reconnaissance, intelligence gathering… Real intelligence. You can’t trust all the foreign merchants who twaddle on our station—maybe they’re merchants, or maybe they’re provocateurs, spreading misinformation.”

“No merchants can be trusted, at all,” muttered Andrey. “They’re greedy. How do you know them? Today they sell your tea to Hansa, and tomorrow they’re selling you, with all your belongings. Maybe they are gathering information here, too. In all honesty, I don’t even trust our own traders.”

“Andrey Arkadich, you’re a bit unfair to our locals. They’re okay. I know them—they’re just people. They just love money, want to live a little better, maybe want to achieve something,” Artem attempted to defend them.

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m speaking about. Love money, they do. Want to live better than everyone else. But hell knows what they do when they go out into the tunnels! Can you be sure that they aren’t recruited by someone’s agents on the very next station? Can you?”

“Whose agents? Whose agents would our traders want to work for?”

“Here’s what, Artem! You’re young, and there’s a lot you don’t know. Listen to the elders, you might live longer that way.”

“Well, someone has to do the job! Without the merchants we’d cuckoo here without any ammunition and toss salt at the dark with our homemade rifles, while sipping our tea,” Artem retorted.

“All right, all right, you economist. Calm down. Continue your story about Suhoy. How are our neighbors doing, on Alekseevskaya and on Rizhskaya?”

“On Alekseevskaya? Nothing new. They’re just growing their mushrooms—they’re just a hamlet… But they say,” Artem lowered his voice to signal secrecy, “that they want to join us. Rizhskaya, it seems, doesn’t mind joining as well. They’re under pressure from the south. They are gloomy, always talking about some threat that everyone’s afraid of, but no one quite knows what. Either there’s a new empire growing nearby, or maybe Hansa is trying to expand, or something. All these farmsteads are sticking to us, including Rizhskaya and Alekseevskaya.”

“So what do they want, precisely? What are they proposing?” inquired Andrey.

“They want to form a federation with a combined defense system, to strengthen the boundaries on both sides, create constant illumination in the inter-station tunnels, organize a militia, collapse the lateral tunnels and corridors, _actuate_ handcar transport, _lay_ telephone cable, convert the free space into farmland… To build a collective economy, and to aid each other when in need.”

“Yeah, and where were they earlier, huh? When all this crap was happening to us, when the Dark were storming from Botanicheskiy Sad, from Medvedkovo?” grumbled Andrey.

“Hey Andrey, be quiet, or you’ll jinx us with your speeches!” interrupted Petr Andreevich. “There are no Dark here now, so let’s leave it at that. It was obviously not due to us—they’re having some problems among themselves, that’s why they are quiet. Maybe they’re accumulating forces. So a union will definitely help us, especially with our neighbors. Good for them, good for us.”

“And then we’ll have freedom, equality, and brotherhood!” sneered Andrey, _counting off_ [+on his fingers] as he spoke.

“So you don’t really want to hear any more?” asked Artem with a grudge.

“No, I am interested; go on, Artem. We’ll discuss this with Petr Andreevich some other time. This is our continual debate.”

“Well then. They say that our main leader is agreeing—he has no fundamental objections, they just have to iron out the details. There’ll be a congress soon, and then a referendum.”

“Oh yes, of course, a referendum. If the people say yes—that’ll mean yes. If the people say no—it means the people didn’t think it through all the way. Let them rethink their decision,” derided Andrey.

“So, Artem, what’s happening beyond Rizhskaya?” asked Petr Andreevich, ignoring Andrey.

“Let’s see. Past Rizhskaya is Prospekt Mira. Well, Prospekt Mira is same old, same old. They’re on the Hansa boundary. Hansa, my stepdad says, is still at peace with the Reds. No one even remembers the war anymore,” continued Artem.

Hansa was the nickname for the Commonwealth of the Stations of the Ring Line. These stations, intersecting all the other lines and trade routes, became the marketplace for the traders from all ends of the metro from the very beginning. They became rich in an incredibly short time, and understanding that their riches would become the envy of others, decided to unite. The official name was too long, and the people _dubbed the Commonwealth simple as Hansa_—someone once accurately compared them to the alliance of trading cities in the _middle age_ Germany. The word was much easier to pronounce, and so the nickname stuck. At first, Hansa comprised only some of the stations from the Ring Line. Their growth was slow. The initial group of stations, called the "Northern Arc", stretched from Kievskaya to Prospekt Mira, and also included Kurskaya, Taganskaya and Oktyabrskaya. Later Paveletskaya and Dobryninskaya joined the Hansa, creating the "Southern Arc". The key obstacle to joining the two arches into a ring of power was the Sokolnicheskaya Line.

“Here’s the thing,” Artem’s stepfather used to tell Artem. “Sokolnicheskaya Line has always been special, people say. It’s the first thing you notice when you look at the Moscow Metro Map. Straight as an arrow, bright red on all the maps. Furthermore, all the station names are related to communism—Red Village (Krasnoselskaya), Red Gates (Krasnye Vorota), Komsomolskaya, Lenin Library (Biblioteka imeni Lenina), Lenin Mountains. Either from these names, or for some other inexplicable reasons, this line attracted everyone nostalgic for the glorious socialism. The idea of re-establishing a soviet leadership was accepted _especially well_. Eventually, one of those stations officially embraced the ideals of communism and the socialist government; its neighbors followed. Next, people on the other end of the tunnel got infected with the revolutionary fever, overthrew the administration, and it all _went downhill_ [|avalanched |followed] from there. War veterans, members of the former Communist party and of the Komsomol, the ever-thriving Lumpenproletariat—everyone gathered on the revolutionary stations.

They created a committee, responsible for distribution of revolutionary propaganda throughout the whole Metro, which bore a communist-sounding name—"Interstational". The Interstational trained groups of revolutionists and propagandists, and sent them increasingly deep into the enemy territory. There was generally almost no conflict, since starving people on the barren Sokolnicheskaya Line were longing for some sort of retribution—which, in their understanding, could be accomplished only through egalitarianism. The entire line, having caught fire on one of its ends, was soon engulfed in the red flame of revolution. Thanks to the miraculously undamaged bridge over the river Yauza, the communications between Sokol'niki and Preobrazhenskaya Ploschad' remained _constant_. At first the short segment of the bridge that lay on the surface had to be crossed only overnight, on fast trolleys; but later, the _condemned_ [|people on the death row] raised the walls and the roof, hermetically sealing the bridge from the outside. The stations received their old, Soviet names: Chistiye Prudy became Kirovskaya, Lubyanka became Dzherzhinskaya, Okhotny Ryad became Prospekt Marksa (Marx Avenue) and later Ploschad’ Sverdlova (Sverdlov Avenue). Stations with neutral names were zealously renamed to something ideologically clear: Sportivnaya became Communisticheskaya (Communist), Sokol'niki became Stalinskaya (Stalin’s), Preobrazhenskaya Ploschad' became Znamya Revolutsii (Banner of the Revolution). And so this line, which used to bear the official title “Sokol’nicheskaya”, but commonly dubbed “Red” by the Muscovites, who customarily called all the lines by their colors on the map, became the Red Line quite officially.

But the revolution stopped there.

By the time the Red Line formed completely and began claiming stations from other lines, the cup of patience was running over. Too many people remembered the real Soviet power. _Too many saw the metastases of a tumor through the propaganda squads disseminated by the Interstational_, and that it was threatening to destroy the entire organism. And no matter how much the agitators and propagandists from Interstantsional promised the electrification of entire Metro, asserting that in conjunction with the Soviet regime, this will give rise to true communism (this Leninist slogan, exploited shamelessly, was hardly more urgent at any other time in history), people beyond the limits of the Red Line were not tempted by the promises. Interstational rhetoricians were caught and expulsed back into the Soviet state.

In return, the Red leadership decided that it was time to act more decisively: since the rest of the Metro did not catch revolutionary fever by itself, they had to be ignited. The adjacent stations, alarmed by the strengthened Communist propaganda and the subversive activities, came to a similar conclusion. Historical experience clearly proved that there was no better carrier of the Communist virus than a bayonet.

And then there was thunder.

The coalition of anti-Communist stations, led by the Hansa, which was cut in half by the Red Line and craving for the completion of their Ring, accepted the challenge. The Reds, of course, did not expect such an organized resistance, and overestimated their own forces. The easy victory, which they awaited, was nowhere to be seen.

The war was long and bloody, and it decimated the already _not-that-numerous_ population of the Metro. It lasted a year and half, and it consisted primarily of positional battles, but with obligatory partisan sorties and diversions, with the collapsing of the tunnels, the execution of the prisoners, and with atrocities from both sides. This was a real war, with troop operations, encirclements and breakthroughs of the encirclements, with its feats of arms, with its generals, with its heroes and its traitors. But its main feature was the fact that none of the _belligerents_ could move the front line for any significant distance. Sometimes, it seemed, one side gained superiority, taking an adjacent station, but the enemy strained itself, mobilized extra forces—and the scales _went_ to the other side [|equated] again.

War wasted resources. War took away the best people. War was exhausting.

Those still alive were getting tired of it. The revolutionary leadership unnoticeably changed its ambitious goals to the increasingly modest ones. If the propagation of socialist authority and Communist ideas throughout the entire Metro was the primary goal of the revolutionary war, now the Reds wanted to at least control that which was for them the holy of holies—station “Ploschad’ Revolutsii” (Revolution Square)—because of its name, and because it was closer than any other station of the Metro to the Red Square, to the Kremlin, whose towers were still crowned by ruby stars, according to the descriptions of a few brave men, ideologically strong enough to go up to the surface to take a look at it. Of course, that and the fact that on the surface, next to the Kremlin, and in the very center of Red Square, stood the Mausoleum. Nobody knew if Lenin's body was still there, but that did not even matter. During the long years of the Soviet power, the Mausoleum ceased to be simply a tomb and became something valuable in and of itself, a sacral symbol of the succession of authority. The great leaders of the past oversaw parades and ceremonies specifically from the top of the Mausoleum. There were also rumors that precisely from the station, in its service rooms, were the concealed pathways that led into the secret laboratories within the Mausoleum, and from there, to the coffin itself.

The Reds controlled the station Ploschad’ Sverdlova—the former Okhotny Ryad, fortified and made into a bridgehead for assaults on Ploschad’ Revolutsii.

Numerous crusades were blessed by the revolutionary leadership, in order to free this station and the tomb. But its defenders also understood its importance for the Reds, and they defended it to the last man. Ploschad’ Revolutsii turned into an impregnable fortress. The most severe, the bloodiest battles were seen in the tunnels leading to this station. Most of the people fell there. These battles contained their own Alexander Matrosovs, who stopped machineguns with their chests; and heroes, who strapped themselves with grenades to blow up the enemy’s strategic emplacements; and the forbidden use of flamethrowers against people… All in vain. The station was taken for a day, but the next day, without any time to make fortifications, it was taken back in a counter-offensive.

The same thing, but in reverse, happened on Biblioteka im. Lenina (Lenin Library). The Reds defended against the coalition forces, which repeatedly attempted to knock them out. The station had enormous strategic value for the coalition, because a successful assault would allow them to break the Red Line into two sections, and also because it was a transfer station to three other lines—not one of which intersected the Red Line anywhere else. Only there. It was a lymph node, which, being struck by the red plague, would allow access to the vitally important organs. And to prevent this, the Lenin Library had to be taken at any cost.

But the attempts of the Red Line to take the Revolution Square were as unsuccessful as the attempts of the coalition to force them out of the Library.

The people, meanwhile, got more and more worn out. Desertion began already, and cases of the fraternization became increasingly frequent, when both sides would simply throw down their weapons and went their separate ways… But in contrast _with_ [|to] the First World War, this gave no benefit for the Red. Revolutionary fuse slowly came to naught. The coalition was faring no better—tired of fearing the constant threat to their lives, people left the central stations and went to settle on the outskirts. The Hansa was growing weak and deserted. War struck almost lethally the trade business; merchants sought out more roundabout paths; important trade routes became desolate.

The politicians, receiving less and less support by the soldiers, had to find an urgent way to finish the war before the weapons turned against them. A meeting was held in strictest secrecy, on a neutral station, as is required in similar situations, by the leaders of opposing powers: comrade Moskvin from the Soviet side, and Prime Minister Loginov and the head of the Arbat Confederation Kolpakov from the side of the Coalition.

The peace treaty was signed quickly. Stations were exchanged by the two sides. Red line obtained at its complete disposal the half-wrecked Ploschad’ Revolutsii, but granted Biblioteka im. Lenina to the Arbat Confederation. This was a difficult [+step] for both stations. The Confederation lost one member and, together with it, all possessions to the northeast. The Red Line became broken, since directly in its middle there was now a station not under its control, cutting it in half. And despite the fact that both sides guaranteed the right for free transit through former territories, this scenario could not but disturb the Reds… But the offer of the Coalition was too tempting, and the Red Line took it. Hansa, of course, benefited the most from the agreement, since it removed all the obstacles closing of the Ring and leading Hansa to prosperity. The _sides_ agreed to keep the status quo, to prohibit of any agitation and propaganda activity in the territory of former enemies. All in all, everyone was satisfied. And now, when the guns and politicians became silent, it was propagandists’ turn to explain to masses that precisely their side achieved the salient diplomatic successes, and, essentially, won war.

Years passed from that memorable day, when the peace treaty was signed. It was kept by both sides: Hansa perceived a favorable economic partner in the Red Line, while the Red Line dropped all of its aggressive intentions: comrade Moskvin, the Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Moscow Metropoliten im. V.I. Lenina, dialectically proved the possibility of constructing the communism on one separately taken line and a made the historical decision to begin this construction. Old hostility was forgotten.

Artem memorized the lesson of this story well, as he tried to memorize everything his stepfather told him.

“It is good that the slaughter ended…” said Petr Andreevich. “For a year and a half year you couldn’t step into the Ring—encompassment everywhere, checking your documents a hundred times. I had some business back then, and I could only go through the Hansa. So I went through the Hansa. They stopped me right on Prospect Mira, almost shot me there [|at the wall].”

“Really? You never told us about it, Petr… How did that happen?” Andrey inquired.

Artem drooped, as he saw the banner of storyteller impudently pulled from his hands. But the story promised to be interesting, so he didn’t meddle.

“How-how… Quite simple. They took me for a red spy. I come out from one of the tunnels on the Prospekt Mira, which leads to our station. But Prospekt Mira is also under the Hansa. Annexed, so to speak. Well, it is not that strict there—after all, it’s a marketplace, a commercial zone. Well, you know, in the Hansa it’s everywhere like this: the stations, which are located on the ring itself, are their home, and the transfer from the ring stations to the radial ones are the borders with customs and passport control…”

“We all know that, stop lecturing us…” interrupted Andrey. “Tell us what happened to you instead!”

“Passport control!” repeated Petr Andreevich, furrowing his brows sternly. “At the radial stations they have markets, bazaars… They let foreigners pass there. But through their borders—no way. I came out on Prospekt Mira, had half a kilo of tea with me… I needed some ammo for my submachine gun. Thought I could barter. But they had martial law at the time. No ammunition trade. I asked one merchant, another—all made excuses and went away from me. Only one of them whispered, ‘Shut up about the ammo, you idiot… Get your ass out of here, they must’ve reported you already.’ I said thanks and went slowly back into the tunnel, and right at the border a patrol stops me, while another was rushing from the station. ‘Documents,’ they said. I hand them my passport, with our station’s stamp. They examined it, carefully, and asked: ‘So where’s you permit?’ I reply, surprised: ‘What permit?’ So they explain that permits are compulsory, and that there’s a table right at the border that verifies the identity and issues the permit. Started up this bureaucracy, stupid rats…

“I don’t know how I got around that table… Why didn’t these blockheads stop me? That’s what I had to explain to the patrol. And there’s this guy in camouflage, with a shaved head, who keeps saying, ‘He slipped! He sneaked! He crept!’ He turns over the pages of my passport—and sees a stamp from Sokol’niki. I used to live there, on Sokol’niki… He sees this stamp and his eyes fill up with blood, like a bull seeing a red flag. He pulls out his gun and roars: ‘Hands behind your head, you snake!’ Some training, eh. He grabs me by my shirt and drags me through the whole station to the checkpoint to the ring station, to his captain. He says: ‘You just wait till I get the permission from the authorities—I’ll shoot you right there, you filthy spy.’ I felt really nauseated, tried to defend myself: ‘I’m no spy, I’m just a trader! See, I just brought some tea from VDNH.’ And he goes, ‘I’ll stuff your tea into your mouth with the barrel of my gun, to fit it all in.’ I see that I can’t convince him, and that if his superiors say yes, he’ll lead me to two hundred meter mark, put my face against the pipes and make some holes in me, martial law style. Not very good, I thought… We approach the checkpoint and this boor goes to ask where the best place is to shoot me. I glance at his captain, and it’s like a mountain falls off my shoulders—Pashka Fedotov, my old classmate, we’ve been good friends for years after school, but lost each other some time after…

“Damn you! You scared the daylights out of me! And here I thought that that was the end, that they killed you,” Andrey laughted acidly, and all the people around the bonfire roared with laughter.

Even Petr Andreevich, initially staring at Andrey angrily, couldn’t keep up his serious façade and _broke a_ smile. Laughter rolled out into the tunnel, giving birth to distorted echo somewhere in its depths—a frightening hooting completely unlike the laughter itself… Listening to it, everyone gradually became silent.

Suddenly, from the depths of the tunnel, from the north, those same suspicious noises resounded distinctly—rustles and easy fast steps.

Andrey, of course, was the first who heard them. Instantly silent and giving everyone a sign to keep quiet, took his submachine gun and stood up from his seat. Slowly opening lock and pushing in the bullets, he slowly moved along it from the bonfire into the tunnel, sticking to the wall. Artem rose too, curious to see whom he missed that time, but Andrey turned around and hissed at him angrily.

After pushing the gun against his shoulder, Andrey stopped at the place where the darkness thickened, lay prostrate on the ground, and shouted: “Light!”

One of his people switched on a powerful accumulator lamp, assembled by local skillful _individuals_ from an old automobile headlight, which he held _at the ready_. The beam of light, bright and white, ripped the darkness apart. An obscure silhouette appeared for second in their sight, snatched out from the gloom—something very small, seemingly harmless, immediately dashing off to the north. Unable to bear it any more, Artem shouted from the top of his lungs:

“Shoot it! It’s going to get away!”

But Andrey did not shoot. Petr Andreevich also rose, readying his gun, and yelled:

“Andryukha! You’re alive or what?”

Those sitting in bonfire whispered in alarm, clanging the locks of their guns. Finally Andrey moved and stood up into the beam of the flashlight, shaking the dust off his jacket.

“Yes, I’m alive, alive!” he pressed through the laughter.

“What’s so funny?” asked Petr Andreevich cautiously.

“Three feet! And two heads! Mutants! The Dark are sneaking through! They will cut us all! Shoot it, before it escapes! How much noise you guys made! Of all things!” Andrey continued to laugh.

“Why didn’t you shoot? I mean, my boy is still young, it’s understandable for him… But how did you muff such an opportunity? You’re not a kid… Do you know what happened to Polezhayevskaya?” asked Petr Andreevich angrily, when Andrey returned to the bonfire.

“Heard about your Polezhayevskaya ten times already!” Andrey brushed him off. “It was just a dog! A puppy, even… It’s the second time it’s trying to get to your fire, to the light and the warmth. You nearly killed him, and now you ask me why I’m so kind to it? Knackers!”

“How should I’ve known it’s a dog?” Artem took offence. “It was making such noise… And then, people say, they saw a rat the size of a pig here last week,” he winched, “half a cartridge went into it, with no effect.”

“Yeah, go on and believe all those fairytales! Here, wait… I’ll get you your rat!” said Andrey, threw the gun across his shoulder, and dissolved in the darkness.

In a minute they heard his quiet whistle. And then his voice, affectionate, beckoning: “Here, come here… Come here, doggy, don’t be scared!”

He was coaxing someone for a while, about ten minutes, calling it and whistling to. Finally, his figure loomed in the shadows. Having returned to the bonfire, he triumphantly smiled and opened up the jacket. A puppy scrambled out onto the ground—shivering, pitiful, wet, completely dirty, with _clotted_ fur of undeterminable colors, black eyes filled with terror, and little ears. Once on the ground it immediately attempted to flee, but Andrey gripped it with his strong hand and held it in place. He then took off his coat and put it over the dog.

“Let the poor thing warm up…” he explained.

“Stop that, Andryukha, he’s got fleas for sure!” said Petr Andreevich, in an attempt to dissuade him. “Maybe even tapeworms… Or some other infection—you catch it from the dog, then infect the whole station…”

“Come on, Andreevich! Stop nagging. Here, look at him again!” Andrey lifted up his coat and pointed at the muzzle of the dog, still shivering either from the cold or from hunger. “Look at his eyes, Andreevich! These eyes cannot lie!”

Petr Andreevich looked at the dog’s eyes skeptically. His eyes, albeit terrified, were undeniably honest. Petr Andreevich acquiesced.

“All right… Young naturalist… Let me see if I have something for him to chew on,” he muttered and started _rummaging_ [|searching] through in his backpack.

“Keep looking. Maybe he’ll grow into something. Like a German shepherd,” said Andrey and moved his coat with the puppy closer to the fire.

“How did it end up here? There are no people on that side. Just the Dark. Do the Dark keep pets as well?” asked one of Andrey’s people suspiciously eyeing the dog. He was an emaciated-looking man with tousled black hair, who was silently listening to others until now.

“You’re right, Kirill,” answered Andrey somberly. “The Dark don’t _hold_ any animals, as far as I know.”

“So how do they live? What do they eat?” asked another of Andrey’s men with a dull voice, while scratching his unshaved chin with his nails.

He was a tall, big, broad-shouldered man with a bald head. He was wearing a long well-made leather cloak, a real rarity nowadays.

“What they eat? Supposedly, all kinds of rubbish. Rotting meat. Rats. Humans. They’re not really picky, you know…” replied Andrey in disgust.

“Cannibals?” asked the bold man with the same intonation, and it became apparent that he had faced cannibalism before.

“Cannibals… They’re monsters. Ghouls. Hell knows what they are. Good that they don’t have any weapons, and we’re holding so far. So far. Petr! Remember how we took one of them captive half a year ago?”

“I remember,” said Petr Andreevich. “Sat for two weeks locked up, didn’t drink our water, didn’t touch our food, and just died that way.”

“You didn’t interrogate it?”

“It didn’t understand a word. We’re trying to talk to it in Russian, but it kept silent as a fish. We tried to beat it—still silent. Gave it food—silence. Growled from time to time. And howled so loudly before his death, that the entire station woke up.”

“So where did that dog come from?” reminded scraggly Kirill.

“Who knows. May have run off from them. Maybe, they wanted to eat it. It’s only two kilometers here, right? A dog can cross that distance. Maybe it’s someone’s. Went from the north and encountered the Dark. Only the dog escaped in time. Hey, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Take a look at it—does it look like a monster? A mutant? Just a little dog, nothing special. It’s accustomed to the people—someone must have brought it up. Why else would it go round the fire for three hours then?”

Kirill went silent, thinking about Andrey’s arguments. Petr Andreevich poured some more water into the teapot from his canister and asked,

“Anyone want more tea? Let’s have a last go, soon our relief should arrive.”

“Tea—now that’s an idea! I’m in,” agreed Andrey. Others started to liven up, too.

The teapot boiled. Petr Andreevich poured everyone a cup and asked:

“Hey, guys… Let’s not talk about the Dark anymore, all right? Last time we were sitting just like that, talking about them—and they came by. And others told me, that happened to them too. That, of course, may be coincidence, I’m not superstitious, but what if? What if they sense us? Our watch is almost done, we don’t need any more complications right now.”

“You’re right… Let’s not”, Artem voiced in agreement.

“Come on, be a man! We’ll make it!” Andrey tried to cheer Artem up, but it didn’t sound very reassuring.

Just a mere thought about the Dark made even Andrey tremble slightly, despite his trying to conceal it. He feared no man—neither bandits nor murdering anarchists nor the soldiers of the Red Army. But the monsters he loathed, and he could not think about it calmly, as he did when he analyzed any threat which was connected to humans.

Everyone got silent. Heavy, pressing silence enveloped everyone huddling around the bonfire. It was interrupted only by the quiet cackling of gnarled roots in the fire and the deaf, sepulchral growls from farthest reaches of the northern tunnel—as if the Moscow Metro were the giant bowels of an incredible monster. These sounds made everyone feel especially eerie.

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