Home > Twilight Watch (Watch #3)

Twilight Watch (Watch #3)
Author: Sergei Lukyanenko

Story One



THE GENUINE OLD Moscow HOUSE YARDS DISAPPEARED SOMETIME BE-tween the two popular bards Vysotsky and Okudzhava.

A strange business. Even after the revolution, when for purposes of the struggle against "the slavery of the kitchen" they actually did away with kitchens in housing, nobody tried to get rid of the yards. Every proud Stalin block displaying its Potemkin facade to the broad avenue beside it had to have a yard - large and green, with tables and benches, with a yard keeper sweeping the asphalt clean every morning. Then the age of five-story sectional housing arrived and the yards shriveled and became bare. The yard keepers who had been so grave and staid changed sex and became yard women who regarded it as their duty to give mischievous little boys a clip around the ear and upbraid residents who came home drunk. But even so, the yards were still hanging on.

Then, as if in response to the increased tempo of life, the houses stretched upward. From nine stories to sixteen or even twenty-four. And as if each building were given the right to a certain volume of space - not an area of ground - the yards withered back to the entrances and the entrances opened their doors straight onto the public streets, while the male and female yard keepers disappeared and were replaced by communal services functionaries.

Okay, so the yards came back later, but certainly not to all the houses. It was as if they'd taken offense at being treated so scornfully before. The new yards were bounded by high walls, with fit, well-groomed young men sitting in the gate lodges, and parking lots concealed under the English lawns. The children in these yards played under the supervision of nannies, the drunken residents were extracted from their Mercedes and BMWs by bodyguards accustomed to dealing with anything, and the new yard keepers tidied up the English lawns with little German machines.

This yard was one of the new ones.

The multi-story towers on the banks of the river Moscow were known throughout Russia. They were the capital's new symbol, replacing the faded Kremlin and the TsUM department store, which had become an ordinary shop. The granite embankment with its own quayside, the entrances finished with Venetian plas-terwork, the cafes and restaurants, the beauty salons and supermarkets and also, of course, the apartments with several hundred square feet of floor space. The new Russia probably needed a symbol like this - pompous and kitschy, like the thick gold chains men wore around their necks during the initial capital accumulation period. It didn't matter that most of the apartments that had been bought long ago were still standing empty, the cafes and restaurants closed, waiting for better times to come, and the waves lapping against the concrete quayside were dirty.

The man strolling along the embankment on this warm summer evening had never worn a gold chain. He possessed a keen intuition that was more than adequate as a substitute for good taste. He had switched his Chinese-made Adidas tracksuit in good time for a crimson club jacket and had then been the first to ditch the crimson jacket in favor of a suit from Versace. He was even ahead of the game in the sports that he played, having abandoned his tennis racket for mountain skis a whole month before all the Kremlin officials (even though at his age the pleasure he could get from his mountain skis was limited to standing on them).

And he preferred to live in his mansion house in the Gorki-9

district, only visiting the apartment with the windows overlooking the river when he was with his lover. But then, he was planning to get rid of his full-time lover - after all, no Viagra can conquer age, and conjugal fidelity was coming back into fashion.

His driver and bodyguards were standing far enough away not to be able to hear what their employer said. But even if the wind did carry snatches of his words to their ears, what was so strange about that? Why shouldn't a man make conversation with himself as the working day was drawing to a close, standing all alone above the dancing, splashing waves? Where could you find a more sympathetic listener than your own self?

"Even so, I repeat my proposal..." the man said. "I repeat it yet again."

The stars were shining dimly through the city smog. On the far bank of the river, tiny lights were coming on in the multistory blocks that had no yards. Only one in five of the beautiful lamps stretching along the quayside was lit - and that was only to humor the whim of the important man who had decided to take a stroll by the river.

"I repeat it yet again," the man said in a quiet voice.

The water splashed against the embankment - and with it came the answer.

"It's impossible. Absolutely impossible."

The man on the quayside was not surprised by the voice out of empty space. He nodded and asked, "But what about vampires?"

"Yes, that's one possibility," his invisible companion agreed. "Vampires could initiate you. If you would be happy to exist as non-life... no, I won't lie, they don't like sunlight, but it's not fatal to them, and you wouldn't have to give up risotto with garlic..."

"Then what's the problem?" the man asked, involuntarily raising his hands to his chest. "The soul? The need to drink blood?"

The void laughed quietly.

"Just the hunger. Eternal hunger. And the emptiness inside. You wouldn't like it, I'm sure."

"What else is there?" asked the man.

"Werewolves," his invisible companion replied almost jocularly. "They can initiate a man too. But werewolves are also one of the lower forms of Dark Others. Most of the time everything's fine... but when the frenzy comes over you, you won't be able to control yourself. Three or four nights each month. Sometimes more, sometimes less."

"The new moon," the man said with an understanding nod.

The void laughed again. "No. Werewolves' frenzies aren't linked to the lunar cycle. You'd be able to sense the onset of the madness ten or twelve hours before the moment of transformation. But no one can draw up a precise timetable for you."

"That won't do," the man said frostily. "I repeat my... request. I wish to become an Other. Not one of the lower Others who are overwhelmed by fits of bestial insanity. Not a great magician, involved in great affairs. A perfectly ordinary, rank-and-file Other... how does that classification of yours go? Seventh-level?"

"It's impossible," the night replied. "You don't have the abilities of an Other. Not even the slightest trace. You can teach someone with no musical talent to play the violin. You can become a sportsman, even if you don't have any natural aptitude for it. But you can't become an Other. You're simply a different species. I'm very sorry."

The man on the embankment laughed. "Nothing is ever impossible. If the lowest form of Others is able to initiate human beings, then there must be some way a man can be turned into a magician."

The dark night said nothing.

"In any case, I didn't say I wanted to be a Dark Other. I don't have the slightest desire to drink innocent people's blood and go chasing virgins through the fields, or giggle ghoulishly as I lay a curse on someone," the man said testily. "I would much rather do good deeds... and in general, your internal squabbles mean absolutely nothing to me!"

"That..." the night began wearily.

"It's your problem," the man replied. "I'm giving you one week. And then I want an answer to my request."

"Request?" the night queried.

The man on the embankment smiled. "Yes. So far I'm only asking."

He turned and walked toward his car - a Russian Volga, the model that would be back in fashion again in about six months.

Chapter 1

EVEN IF YOU LOVE YOUR JOB, THE LAST DAY OF VACATION ALWAYS MAKES you feel depressed. Just one week earlier I'd been roasting on a nice clean Spanish beach, eating paella (to be quite honest, Uzbek pilaf is better), drinking cold sangria in a little Chinese restaurant (how come the Chinese make the Spanish national drink better than the natives do?) and buying all sorts of rubbishy resort souvenirs in the little shops.

But now it was summer in Moscow again - not exactly hot, but stifling and oppressive - and it was that final day of vacation, when you can't get your head to relax anymore, but it flatly refuses to work.

Maybe that was why I felt glad when I got the call from Gesar.

"Good morning, Anton," the boss began, without introducing himself. "Welcome back. Did you know it was me?"

I'd been able to sense Gesar's calls for some time already. It was as if the trilling of the phone changed subtly, becoming more demanding and authoritative.

But I was in no rush to let the boss know that.

"Yes, Boris Ignatievich."

"Are you alone?"

An unnecessary question. I was certain Gesar knew perfectly well where Svetlana was just then.

"Yes. The girls are at the dacha."

"Good for them," the boss sighed at the other end of the line, and an entirely human note appeared in his voice. "Olga flew off on vacation this morning too... half the Watch staff are sunning themselves in southern climes... Think you could come around to the office right away?"

Before I had time to answer, Gesar went on cheerily. "Well, that's excellent! See you in forty minutes, then."

I really felt like calling Gesar a cheap poser - after I hung up, of course. But I kept my mouth shut. In the first place, the boss could hear what I said without any telephone. And in the second, whatever else he might be, he was no cheap poser. He simply didn't like wasting time. If I was about to say I'd be there in forty minutes, what point was there in listening to me say it?

Anyway, I was really glad I'd gotten the call. The day was already shot to hell. It was still too early to tidy up the apartment (like any self-respecting man whose family is away, I only do that once, on the final day of bachelor life). And I definitely didn't feel like going around to see anyone or inviting anyone back to my place either. By far the most useful thing would be to go back to work a day early - that way, I could ask for time off with a clear conscience when I needed to.

Even though asking for time off wasn't something we did.

"Thanks, boss," I said with real feeling. I detached myself from the armchair, put down the book I hadn't finished, and stretched.

And then the phone rang again.

Of course, it would have been just like Gesar to ring and say, "You're welcome!" But that definitely would have been cheap clowning.

"Hello," I said in a very businesslike tone.

"Anton, it's me."

"Svetka," I said, sitting back down again. And suddenly I tensed up - Svetlana's voice sounded uneasy, anxious. "Svetka, has something happened to Nadya?"

"Everything's fine," she replied quickly. "Don't worry. Why don't you tell me how you've been getting on?"

I thought for a few seconds. I hadn't held any drinking parties, I hadn't brought any women back home, I wasn't drowning in garbage, I'd even been washing the dishes...

And then I realized.

"Gesar called. Just a moment ago."

"What does he want?" Svetlana asked quickly.

"Nothing special. He asked me to turn up for work today."

"Anton, I sensed something. Something bad. Did you say yes? Are you going to work?"

"Why not? I've got absolutely nothing else to do."

Svetlana said nothing on the other end of the line (although, what lines are there with cell phones?). Then she said reluctantly, "You know, I felt a sort of pricking in my heart. Do you believe I can sense trouble?"

I laughed. "Yes, Great One."

"Anton, be serious, will you!" Svetlana was instantly uptight, the way she always got when I called her Great One. "Listen to me... if Gesar asks you to do something, say no."

"Sveta, if Gesar called me in, it means he wants to ask me to do something. It means he needs more help. He says everyone's on vacation..."

"He needs more cannon fodder," Svetlana snapped. "Anton... never mind, you won't listen to me anyway. Just be careful."

"Svetka, you don't seriously think that Gesar's going to put me in any danger, do you?" I said cautiously. "I understand the way you feel about him..."

"Be careful," said Svetlana. "For our sake. All right?"

"All right," I promised. "I'm always very careful."

"I'll call if I sense anything else," said Svetlana. She seemed to have calmed down a bit. "And you call, all right? If anything at all unusual happens, call. Okay?"

"Okay, I'll call."

Svetlana paused for a few seconds, then before she hung up said, "You ought to leave the Watch, third-class Light Magician..."

It all ended on a suspiciously light note, with a cheap jibe... Although we had agreed not to discuss that subject a long time ago - three years earlier, when Svetlana left the Night Watch. And we hadn't broken our promise once. Of course, I used to tell my wife about my work... at least, about the jobs that I wanted to remember. And she always listened with interest. But now she had come right out with it.

Could she really have sensed something bad?

The result was that I got ready to go slowly and reluctantly. I put on a suit, then changed into jeans and a checked shirt, then thought "to hell with it" and got into my shorts and a black t-shirt with an inscription that said: "My friend was in a state of clinical death, and all he brought me from the next world was this T-shirt!" I might look like a jolly German tourist, but at least I would retain the semblance of a holiday mood in front of Gesar...

Eventually I left the building with just twenty minutes to go before the time set by the boss was up. I had to flag down a car and feel out the probability lines, and then tell the driver which streets to take so we wouldn't hit any traffic jams.

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