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Tiger's Spring

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  00:10:26  25 October 2009
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snorkbait
Nexus 6
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 11/21/2008
Messages: 1081

---QUOTATION---
Marked One will follow his path, and Tiger will follow another.
---END QUOTATION---



One thing I will say, Tiger's got a lot of interesting backstory still to come, I feel, and I like the way it's being revealed.
This is easily one of the best Stalker stories I've read.
  00:51:30  27 October 2009
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belizarius
Strelok Holmes
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 09/02/2009
Messages: 222
Awesome job creating this character , and the story line.
  03:20:06  4 December 2009
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BobBQ
2007-2017
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 07/30/2007
Messages: 3336
The Devil in the Darkscape

(Thought it was dead, didn't you?)

“So tell me, what's up?” Nimble asked, waiting idly when Tiger arrived at the campfire.

“Just some questions.” Questions Tiger couldn't ask right then and there, of course. “Come over here, let's not bore the others.”

Nimble didn't suspect his secret was out, or else he had a great poker face. Either way, he followed Tiger to the derelict house at the far end of the right-hand row without comment. “That's better,” said the loner in the long coat, settling himself on a dilapidated mattress in the former living room. “First of all, I heard you had quite the adventure with the bandits.”

“Wasn't really my adventure,” the scout replied modestly. “I just got mixed up in it.”

“So you met the Marked One?”

“Just briefly... Nice guy, he was.” Nimble patted the front of his new chain-mail apparel. “He bailed me out, then he went and got this for me. I gave him a Stone Flower for it.”

“That was kind of him.” Tiger took Suslov's note out of his pocket and held it up for the other stalker to see. “Now, let's talk about your Clear Sky days.”

It wasn't a poker face after all. “...Where did you get that?”

“From the body of another bandit victim.”

Nimble's lean face seemed to retract into the hood of his jacket. “What do you know?”

“Enough to get you in trouble,” Tiger pronounced ominously, “though I'd rather not do that.”

“I... Why should I trust you?” Nimble swallowed. “You weren't one of us.”

“But I did work for you.” Tiger adopted a more imposing posture. “I know that during the faction wars Clear Sky was hunting a group of stalkers who reached the center of the Zone. I know Lebedev hired mercenaries to assassinate those stalkers, with partial success. I know some portion of Clear Sky's members tried to reach the center themselves... Your real problem is that I've only got part of what was in your stash: bandits took the rest, and you know perfectly well that Borov will exploit anything he can.” He folded his arms. “You can help me get a head start on him, or you can keep silent and let your comrades' work turn a profit for criminals. It's your call.”

Nimble glared at the floor. “What's in it for you if I talk?”

“I don't know,” Tiger admitted. “But if this information stays in the wrong hands, it could restart the faction wars or worse... I prefer the Zone we have now.”

Nimble weighed his choices for three or four minutes. “I can't tell you much,” the fake rookie said at last. “It's the truth, honest. Lebedev compartmentalized everything, 'cause he was paranoid about deserters.”

“I'll take what I can get,” Tiger responded gamely. “Why didn't you clean out the stash as you were ordered?”

“The courier got wasted before I could meet him. Where was the stuff?”

“In a buried pipe near the tracks, apparently.”

Nimble slouched against the wall. “Should have known.”

“This happened while Clear Sky was breaking up,” Tiger extrapolated. “How many actually went north?”

“Almost everybody, except a few guards and some of us scouts. When they didn't come back, Cold and Suslov tried to hold things together... Then people started dying.”

“In the fighting?”

“That's what we thought at first.” Nimble shook his head. “We were being hunted. Somebody knew all our meeting points, all our passwords, even most of our faces. One of our own guys must have sold us out... After that courier was killed, I figured I'd be next. Getting cozy with Sidorovich probably saved my butt, even if it emptied my pockets.” There was a rueful chuckle. “Right here with him and Wolf was the safest place I could find without joining one of the big factions.”

“I see.” Tiger stretched his legs out. “Do you think it's safe now?”

“I did until you came.” The fugitive smirked self-mockingly. “I haven't tried to find any of the others or checked any of the old places. I'd just be a target, right?”

“Maybe... Can you tell me anything more about the route Lebedev took?”

“I only knew it ran through Limansk and then some kind of buried hospital. I wasn't involved in any of that.”

“So what were you doing?”

“Trying to cover the other scouts' backs, finding safe paths, making sure nobody got killed by crossfire.” Nimble grimaced. “The worst part was right at the beginning, when renegades invaded the marshes... We were almost bottled up in the base before a couple of the fellas brought in a freelance merc they found out on the border.”

“A mercenary?”

“Yeah. Never got his name, but he had this scar on his face... Anyway, Lebedev made a deal with him and he became our brute force in the field.”

That piqued Tiger's interest. “I was near the Army Warehouses when Freedom took over,” he mused, recalling those stressful days with great distaste. “A mercenary with a scar helped them clear out the military.”

“That was him,” Nimble confirmed. “After Limansk was opened up, he went in with Lebedev and the rest. Never heard anything else about him.”

“I would expect not,” said Tiger gravely. “The fallback point in Suslov's note, where was that?”

“In the Dead City. We didn't actually have anything there, but the other factions mostly ignored the place. The plan was that if our base were overrun, we'd retreat to the city and recover... I never tried to go, though, so I don't know who made it.”

The stripe-haired stalker frowned. “If the courier's load was meant to go to the Dead City, why pass it to you? Where was he going, if not north?”

“He was going to the Darkscape.” Nimble wiggled his fingers under his hood and scratched. “Suslov bought some guns from Chekhov, cash up front, but Freedom wouldn't deliver 'em to the marshes.”

“There aren't many good hiding places in the Darkscape, are there?”

“That's what I thought,” Nimble agreed. “We had one place where we would store rations when we went on long patrols – maybe they just put the goods in there.”

“Where was that?”

“In the village... We hid things under the junk in the cellars, but it's probably all gone by now.”

“Hm.” Tiger cocked his head. “I visited your old base and it's been gutted. Do you know of any other stashes or meeting points?”

“Nope... Some of the guys had personal stashes for spare weapons and stuff, but that was private info.”

“And you know nothing else?”

“Nothing useful. It's all out of date now.”

“All right.” Tiger pushed himself onto his feet. “I think that's enough.”

Nimble looked pretty relieved to hear it. “Hey, uh... If you do find any of the others, don't tell them about me, okay?”

Tiger shrugged. “If that's what you want.”

“Thanks... You can have whatever's in the stash, too. Just don't let it lead back to me.”

The loner nodded, and led the way back to the campfire. “All done,” he said to Wolf. “I'll be leaving now.”

Wolf blinked. “Just like that? You still look like shit.”

“I know,” Tiger replied with a shade of wry humor, “but I have urgent business and time doesn't owe me any favors.”

“Gotcha.” The camp leader nodded. “See you around.”

The sun was beginning to sink in the sky as Tiger departed, a raft of clouds massing to the north. He crossed the main road, passed through the garage – noticing as he went that Petruha still hadn't posted a proper sentry – and followed the eastbound dirt track until it vanished into the tunnel mouth at the top of the hill overlooking the recently occupied ruins.

***

The Darkscape's name was apt: it was a sinister place, unpopular among the free stalkers. Its sparse anomalies offered no better artifact hunting than the Cordon, and it lacked the convenience of that region's proximity to both the porous perimeter and the more lucrative prospecting grounds of the Garbage. If Tiger kept following the road as it passed due east through a shallow, wooded canyon, he would eventually come to a crossroads. The road past there had been blocked by avalanches during the early Zone's violent expansion, as had the southbound road. Were he to turn north at the junction, his path would take him near a derelict village and into a narrow ravine. The railroad track which ran along the north fringe of the marshes and bisected the Cordon also crossed through here, briefly emerging from long tunnels where the ravine was spanned by a badly damaged bridge. The road below curved back towards the west beyond the bridge, after which it ran straight up to the Dark Valley.

Tiger had been here not long ago, when he joined Fanatic and Clumsy in checking out the scene of a government helicopter crash. That trip brought him no great profit, but the knowledge update saved him time now. He left the road, weaving among the trees on its north side to conceal himself from whatever bandits were in the place now. Borov's ambition for the Darkscape was to use it as a base for raiders preying on the Cordon's residents. It was fortunate for Tiger that he didn't yet have enough thugs to pull that off.

Just a minute – where were the thugs? For that matter, where were the blind dogs, the misshapen pigs and the rest of the mutant fauna? Whatever its other features, the Darkscape was never short of animals. Tiger listened, but heard nothing save the wind in the trees. He sniffed, but smelled nothing save the same. His sixth sense detected only a couple of crows high above. This wasn't normal: he wondered if Borov was trying to improve his gang's discipline by organizing hunting trips, or perhaps the Ministry of Internal Affairs had sent out a gunship to strafe a few herds for the entertainment of some dignitary. It wasn't a good expenditure of hryvni by any stretch, but it did happen. The cause remaining undetermined, Tiger's wariness increased with every step as he traversed the woods.

Boom!

A shotgun blast ahead sent the stalker diving behind the nearest rock. So it's Peculiarities of the Gangster Hunt after all? he thought, easing the Lee-Enfield's safety forwards with his thumb. A second report let him get a fix on the shooter.

Then he heard a panicked shout: “Eaaargh! Get away, you freak!” Tiger rolled out of cover, scrambled back onto his feet and hustled towards the village. That was no bandit, and he didn't sound like a military man either. The hustle became a sprint as the loner took a shortcut through a leafy thicket, exploding out of the far side in a shower of dislodged twigs.

In front of him was the village, with the only intact house directly ahead. There was a figure in a green stalker suit perched atop the roof, who turned at the noise of the other's arrival. It was his old friend Southpaw. “Tiger!?” he yelled. “Look out, there's a huge monster down there!”

Tiger could feel only one major source of vital energy beside Southpaw's own. It seemed to lie within a jumbled pile of rotted timbers which marked the former site of another cottage away on his left. “Are you alone?”

“Yeah!”

“Got it!” Tiger aimed, but the heap of flotsam flew asunder almost at the instant he pulled the trigger. He glimpsed a flash of bloodstained brown hide as he chambered another round, then the beast was gone. Running around the side of the house, the stalker caught a brief sight of the fleeing predator's haunches as it escaped up the path to the northward road. There was no chance of landing a shot, so he cautiously withdrew to the house.

“It got away.” The left-handed loner sounded relieved and disappointed at the same time.

“Yes,” Tiger agreed. “Are you all right?”

“Mostly... There's nothing else around, is there?”

“Nothing. We're alone.”

“I hope so.” Southpaw gingerly climbed down to the roof's edge, then dropped to the ground. “Aw shit,” he groaned, seeing the condition of his suit. “I just bought this thing...”

Tiger didn't think the damage was severe enough to merit such despair. “What were you doing here?” he asked, topping off his rifle's magazine in the meantime.

“I met a Duty team up in the Dark Valley, thought I could go prospecting while they kept the crooks busy... But then I found a bunch of dead bandits on the road coming down, all ripped apart. I was trying to figure out what happened and...” Southpaw shuddered. “That thing was behind me the whole time.”

“It chased you all the way here?”

“Yeah... I knew it was close, but I couldn't see it. Used up all my buckshot trying to keep it away.” He looked around nervously. “At first I thought it was a bloodsucker, but it didn't fit what I've heard of them.”

“I didn't get a clear view of it,” said Tiger. “Did you?”

“A little. It moved on four legs and had two heads... The faces on them – ugh!”

That was enough detail. “A chimera.” Tiger's voice was solemn. “This is bad.”

“You know about them?”

“I've never seen a live one before,” the stalker confessed, “or heard of one coming so close to the perimeter.”

Southpaw's mood wasn't improved by the elucidation. “What should we do?”

“Duty needs to know about this,” Tiger answered. “A chimera isn't like the mutants we normally see here: it's strong, fast and cunning. It has two brains and two hearts, so even a sniper can't easily kill it. Do you have a radio?”

“I did, but I dropped it while I was running.”

“Then we'll have to go back for it, or else warn Duty in person. How many of them are in the Valley?”

Southpaw thought for a moment. “I saw five or six, but none of them had big guns... There were some free stalkers at the pig farm, too.” His alarmed expression was renewed. “If that thing goes up there – ”

“They would be dead before we ever arrived,” Tiger finished bluntly.

“Or it might hide along the road and wait for us instead,” Southpaw went on. “But that's fine if you're here,” he declared brightly, “because you're a... I mean... You have a special power, right?”

“I don't know what you've heard,” Tiger sighed, “but I'm not a wizard. More importantly, I don't have the firepower to take out a chimera.”

Southpaw was plainly upset at his reluctance. “You wanna just let those guys fend for themselves, man?”

“Not if I can help it.” The more experienced stalker walked over to the skeleton of a half-fallen house, weighing his options. He didn't really want to get involved, not when he had his own quest to follow, but as usual his altruistic streak won out. “Do you remember where you lost your radio?”

“I think so.”

“All right, then listen – I heard an extinct faction had an arms cache somewhere in these ruins. I was coming to check it out when I found you... If it exists, we might find what we need in it.”

“A cache?” Southpaw looked around expectantly. “Where?”

“Under junk in the cellars, that's what I was told.” Tiger slung his rifle. “Let's search quickly. If the chimera returns, we won't stand a chance.”
  14:14:31  4 December 2009
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snorkbait
Nexus 6
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 11/21/2008
Messages: 1081
Didn't think it was dead, but I hadn't realized it hadn't been updated in so long!
Good addition - even if I did have to go back quite a way to 'get' it all again.
  06:36:43  16 December 2009
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BobBQ
2007-2017
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 07/30/2007
Messages: 3336

---QUOTATION---
I hadn't realized it hadn't been updated in so long!
---END QUOTATION---


Hopefully the next one won't take so long, holiday season be damned. In the meantime, have some spoiler-free hint soundbites:

"At Duty, we always pay our debts."

"What are you, deaf? What are you here?"

"Goddammit, Anton!"
  13:31:44  16 December 2009
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snorkbait
Nexus 6
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 11/21/2008
Messages: 1081
I'm having to try to get stuff done before 23rd, because I know after that I'll be lucky to type ten words without interruption until about Jan. 5th.

Looking forward to the next part. This really is one of the best stories, IMO.
(Although I think we may have characters in the same geographical area - your 'Darkscape village' seems to be the same 'unknown' place my thieves have holed up...except for me it was just a small-holding. Ambiguity is good, though. The area is unknown as it is 'off-limits' in-game. Plenty of scope.)
  13:14:54  21 December 2009
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Hazapuza
(Senior)
 
On forum: 11/27/2008
Messages: 73
God damn... I haven't really read much of the stories here, but this is something totally different than most of the writings. Just make sure you finish this, so we can all praise it properly.

There's surely lots of surprises to come, but care to tell, are you aiming to connect all the loose ends between (and in) CS and SoC your own way, or is it "just a minor coincidence" that you've been solving these mysteries along the story?
  10:20:02  10 January 2010
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BobBQ
2007-2017
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 07/30/2007
Messages: 3336

---QUOTATION---
There's surely lots of surprises to come, but care to tell, are you aiming to connect all the loose ends between (and in) CS and SoC your own way, or is it "just a minor coincidence" that you've been solving these mysteries along the story?
---END QUOTATION---


Hmm... I'd honestly have to say it's probably some of both.

A Debt to Duty

“Tiger, I've got something here.” There was a clatter as Southpaw pushed aside several pieces of decayed wood. “Plastic crates of some kind... Looks like they're sealed pretty tight.”

Tiger climbed out of the wreckage he had been investigating and crossed over to Southpaw's section. “I don't see any damage,” he remarked, looking over the dull green rectangles. “Can you get that open?”

“Doesn't seem to have a lock.” Southpaw bent over one of the containers, inspecting it closely. “I guess this just lifts up and then... Aha!” He drew the lid back with care, revealing a row of neatly packed rifles. “Huh.” Evidently Tiger wasn't alone in expecting the ordnance to be... newer. “What are these?”

“Some kind of Mauser.” Tiger lifted one of the weapons out of the crate. A cursory inspection revealed a model number and an apparent factory name stamped in Cyrillic, plus a prominent crest atop the receiver ring. “I think it's Yugoslavian.”

“Is it good?”

“No rust.” Tiger opened the bolt and inspected the magazine interior, sniffing curiously. “It's coated in some sort of synthetic preservative.” A few moments of fumbling led to the bolt's removal. “The bore looks new.”

“That's encouraging.” Southpaw went to the next crate. “Let's try this one.”

***

The two stalkers emerged from the derelict village perhaps eight minutes later, having improved their odds of survival as best they could. Everything in the cache had turned out to be products of Yugoslavia or one of its successor states, perfectly preserved despite lying forgotten all through the winter. Southpaw opted to take one of the Mausers from the first crate, plus a Kalashnikov with a folding rifle grenade sight. Tiger meanwhile chose a short-barreled, folding-stock version of the latter to back up his Lee-Enfield. The rest of the inventory was repacked and camouflaged as before, left to rest until someone came back for it.

“This is a little better,” Southpaw said optimistically, “but shouldn't we bring something for the others?”

“There was nothing that would give them a definite advantage,” Tiger replied, “and Duty might confiscate the extra weapons for use against Freedom. We'd best not say anything about it unless there's an urgent need.”

“You like Freedom better?”

“I like having a balance of powers.” Tiger started to walk faster as the pair came back onto the northbound road. “We've lost enough time here – come on.”

There wasn't much to say after that. Tiger took point as they worked their way into the ravine, following the dark splashes of blood left by the retreating mutant. The clouds overhead thickened, a lone crow appearing above the loners. It would probably be raining again by nightfall.

“There's the bridge,” said Southpaw as the mangled trestle came into view. “I'm pretty sure I dropped the radio somewhere between here and there.”

“Which side were you running on?”

“Uh... I kind of zigzagged.”

“Then you take the left and I'll take the right.” Tiger altered his own path accordingly. “By the way, Southpaw, was the radio powered on?”

“Yeah, it was – I figured I'd keep an ear open in case any trouble came up in the Valley. The battery was almost full when I started out, so it was probably around eighty percent when I lost it.” He looked at Tiger curiously. “Can you, you know... feel it?”

“Maybe,” the man in the long coat hedged. “I'm not a metal detector.”

“So how did you, um...”

“I can't explain how it happened.” The hooded stalker stopped for a second, then strode across the road. “This must be yours,” he said, bending to pick up a handset in a rubberized housing.

“Wow... That was fast.”

“It was in plain sight,” said Tiger modestly.

“Lucky for us.” Southpaw flicked stray bits of dirt off the radio and brought it closer to his face. “Let's see... Southpaw calling Vampire, come in Vampire. Over.”

There was a delay of several seconds, and then a crackling reply. “Vampire here, over.”

“Phew,” the left-handed man whispered to his companion. “Uh... Vampire, be advised that there is a, uh, chimera in the vicinity. It's wounded and might be heading your way, over.”

“Yeah, we know. We saw it run past the farm and up towards the north end of the Valley. We're still waiting to hear from the Duty guys, over.”

“They weren't with you? Over.”

“The men in black were spying on Borov's base... Say, you mind coming over here? We need all the backup we can get, over.”

“Uh...” Southpaw looked at Tiger, but he remained quiet. “My buddy and I will be there in a little while, over.”

“We'll keep an eye out for you... Vampire out.”

“So Vampire is in the Dark Valley today,” Tiger remarked as the duo resumed their trek. “How many are with him this time?”

“Six or seven, I think... Why, something wrong about that?”

“Vampire has a bad reputation,” the more experienced stalker explained. “He prefers to join small groups raiding the badlands, but he's often the only one who comes back.”

“You mean... what, that he skips out on his comrades if they get into trouble? That he murders them?”

Tiger shrugged. “I don't know,” he admitted. “Better be careful around him, just in case.”

“He seemed okay when I passed by,” Southpaw mused, “but if you say so.”

They reached the bodies a couple of minutes later. A sticky mess was all that remained of the bandits, and nothing of theirs could be salvaged. There wasn't much left to bury either, not that Tiger and Southpaw had the time or the inclination to do so. “It's weird,” the latter observed, picking his way between detached limbs. “If that thing could take out all these guys, why run away from one man?”

Tiger could think of only one explanation. “It must have realized it couldn't hide from me.”

“You weren't kidding when you said it was smart.” Southpaw shook his head. “Man... nobody on the outside told me there were monsters like that.”

“Would you still have become a stalker if you had known?”

“I wonder...”

***

“It's too quiet.” Southpaw peered nervously at the barricaded ruins of the pig farm. “They're inside, right?”

“Yes.” Advancing slowly, Tiger led the way through the gate and approached the closest door of the west building. “Hello..?”

The unfriendly end of a silenced MP5 appeared between the crates stacked inside the entrance, accompanied by a camouflage-painted face. “About time,” Vampire grunted. The submachine gun disappeared. “Sergeant Bullet, our reinforcements are here.”

Vampire was joined by a Duty man in a balaclava as he began to drag the crates aside. “You, stalker,” he demanded of Southpaw, “what happened?”

“The chimera, it... It killed all the bandits in the Darkscape. It would have gotten me too, but then he showed up.”

“We shot at it and it fled,” Tiger concluded. “Did you see it also?”

“All too well,” Bullet growled. “The damned thing plowed straight into us and alerted the criminals with its howling... There were bullets flying everywhere. Brome dropped his weapon and ran away, and then I was separated from the others and had to withdraw. The chimera kept going – I wouldn't be surprised if it reached Monolith territory.”

“Better there than here,” Southpaw declared. “So what do we do now?”

“Brome, get up.” Bullet disappeared briefly, reappearing with a firm grip on the collar of a second, thoroughly miserable Dutyer. “You two, take this fool back to Rostok. Tell Voronin that Sergei, Vasko and Krivoi are missing.” He hefted his Abakan. “I'm going to stay here and reconnoiter the criminals' territory.”

Tiger looked around, estimating the rate of dusk's approach. “Let's hope the bandits aren't doing the same.”

“I can escort you as far as the path to the Garbage,” Bullet offered brusquely. “You shouldn't have any trouble past there.”

***

These last few days, as some historian once wrote, had been one damned thing after another. Tiger wasn't getting very far in his quest and that fact was starting to annoy him. A supply of pristine ordnance was all very well, but it was information he wanted. His first lead on Clear Sky's secrets hadn't paid off, and now he was left with two options: find someone who could crack the encryption on Drifter's PDA and keep quiet about it, or go try his luck in the Dead City. Neither option was likely to be fish-in-a-barrel, but where could he look for an alternative?

He had more immediate concerns, too – this was the second time in a month that he'd found himself stuck with the unenviable task of delivering bad news to a faction leader, and there was no question that Voronin wouldn't take it as kindly as Lukash. With the lights of Rostok shining dead ahead and the pending rainstorm unwilling to hang back much longer, the stalker knew he might well be in for a rough night.

The Duty personnel guarding the south entrance to the factory complex hit the trio with a portable spotlight as they crossed the bridge over the stake-lined perimeter trench. It wasn't much of a defense, though it did restrict the larger mutants to one easily covered intrusion vector. “Brome!” a voice demanded from behind the blinding beam. “What are you doing here?”

“Is that you, Sergeant Kitsenko?” Tiger called in reply. “Bullet sent us to report to the general.”

“Bullet, you say? Come over here.” The NCO kept the spotlight trained on the arrivals until they were close enough to illuminate with his comrades' personal headlamps. “Brome, where's your shooter?”

Brome studied his boots intently. “...Lost it.”

“You lost it,” Kitsenko repeated incredulously. “Go straight to headquarters,” he commanded Tiger and Southpaw. “I'll call ahead and tell them you're coming.”

“Thanks,” said Southpaw, and the three marched on. “I've never been in the Duty base,” he remarked as they passed Arnie's Arena. “Have you?”

“A few times.” Only when they absolutely couldn't keep me out, Tiger didn't add. The guards at the entrance to Duty's exclusive piece of Rostok let the visitors pass without hassle, though not without a smattering of wary glances. Tiger led the way into an underground area where several more were sleeping, while a pair tended to the spit-roasting of a pig. The walls were decorated with the mounted heads or whole stuffed carcasses of various mutants.

Over all of this presided General Voronin. He was ex-military through and though: a demanding leader with a stern face and a receding hairline, and a far cry from his easygoing predecessor Krylov. “Are you dumb?” he snapped at those who intruded into his domain. “Speak up!”

Tiger and Southpaw looked at one another, then delivered their report as concisely as possible. It proved to be the winning strategy, as Voronin looked very, very unhappy by the time they had finished.

“I see,” he said, his voice terrifyingly calm. “Thank you for bringing Bullet's message... Are you two looking for work?”

“I am,” Southpaw volunteered gingerly.

“Petanko?”

Tiger tried not to wince. “...At the moment, yes.”

“Good.” The general's voice warmed ever so slightly. “We are hiring some stalkers for an important job,” he went on. “If you're interested, go to the Hundred Rads. One of my men will be over in a little while.”

“We'll do that,” Southpaw answered promptly, in an apparent maneuver of preemptive appeasement. “Um...”

“Yes?”

The left-handed loner pointed to the chimera heads mounted on a plaque nearby. “How'd you kill that?”

“With a Simonov anti-tank rifle. Any other questions?”

“No, sir... C'mon, Tiger, let's go.”

Voronin barely waited for them to leave his sight before he began verbally tearing Brome a whole new plumbing system. The departing stalkers all but sprinted out of the base.

***

“Since you saved my butt, I'm buying.” Southpaw went to the bar and rested an elbow on it. “Evening, Barkeep.”

“Evening,” the tattooed man grunted. “What'll it be?”

“I'd like a fresh loaf, a Tourist's Delight and a can of the fizzy stuff.” Southpaw looked to Tiger for input. “And you?”

“The same but with a sausage, please.”

“Right.” Barkeep deftly exchanged edibles for spendables. “Enjoy.”

Southpaw rejoined Tiger at the corner table and attacked his food without more ado. “We did all right today, eh? Found some good stuff, got away from that mutant... What are you gonna do with the loot, anyway?”

“Not sure yet.”

“Hm... Hey look, it's the American president.”

Tiger glanced at the television behind the bar. “So it is.”

“What's he saying?”

The striped stalker listened for a few seconds. “I can't quite follow... Something about a Baltic trade agreement.”

Southpaw was poised to say something else when Brome stumbled into the bar. He looked as if he'd taken a heavy blow, though not necessarily a physical one. Ignoring the stalkers who'd escorted him back to base, he bought a large bottle of vodka, set himself up at the center table and set about drowning his sorrows.

“My ex went to the United States once.” Tiger wasn't sure what prompted him to bring that up – anything to distract himself from watching the despondent Dutyer, maybe. “Three months, under some sort of technical exchange.”

“Really?” There was a soft hiss as Southpaw popped the lid of his soda can. “What was it like?”

“She told me the food was inedible, the drivers were cowards, and half the people thought the Zone is in Russia.”

“Hope she straightened 'em out.” Taking out a pocket can opener, the sinistral stalker opened his portion of preserved meat-stuffs and began spreading it on his remaining bread. “Gotta defend our national pride, right?”

“Not her. She was Russian herself.”

“Oh.” Southpaw took a bite of his bread-and-spread and chewed it briefly. “Didn't think you were the type to go for Russians.”

“I don't see how it matters.” Tiger peeled back the wrapper on his sausage. “We speak their language and we do our business with their money.” He nodded towards the patrons gathered around the tables on the other side of the room. “How many of our comrades there have ever held a Ukrainian passport?”

“Yeah, that's true.” Another pause to bite, chew and swallow. “Sometimes my old man gets sentimental about the Soviet days, says people didn't have much back then, but they had each other... One big happy family and all that.”

“My father voted for independence,” Tiger recalled, “but it was never something he talked about when I was around.”

The conversation was punctuated by an impatient bark from Zhorik the doorman: “I said, come in! Don't stand there!”

As the stalkers continued to eat and drink, the latest entrant made his way into the Hundred Rads with quite a bit of wheezing, panting and stumbling. His next victim was Garik. “You can't go there!”

“Wow,” Southpaw muttered, looking over Tiger's shoulder. “What's up with that guy?”

Tiger turned his head as the intruder finally reached the bar. The man was thin to the point of being gaunt, with weary eyes and hair cut close to the scalp, and he wore a bulging backpack with a paratrooper AK slung on one side and a sawed-off shotgun on the other. He carried a second backpack and a bandit's knapsack – complete with a sloppily embroidered marijuana leaf – in his hands.

If Barkeep was surprised by this grotesquely overloaded figure, he didn't show it. “Hey, Marked One! You brought the documents from the Institute?”
  18:48:41  10 January 2010
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NATOguns
(Senior)
 
On forum: 10/11/2008
Messages: 66
Bandit:Come here I have some information that might be of use to you stalker.
Tiger: ....
Marked One: Tell me what you got.
Bandit: Nothing right now.
Tiger: ....
Marked One: ....
Bandit: Come he...
Marked One: ... Bang ...

In any case really good story keep it up!
  05:43:13  16 January 2010
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snorkbait
Nexus 6
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 11/21/2008
Messages: 1081

---QUOTATION---
Bandit:Come here I have some information that might be of use to you stalker.
Tiger: ....
Marked One: Tell me what you got.
Bandit: Nothing right now.
Tiger: ....
Marked One: ....
Bandit: Come he...
Marked One: ... Bang ...

In any case really good story keep it up!
---END QUOTATION---



lol!

Good addition. There's a real sense of the Zone in this story that makes it feel like a true extension of, and from, the game. It's a good mix of the familiar and the...umm...'fictional'.
 
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